DISCLAIMER: I wish I did own the characters of Nancy and George and the whole River Heights gang, but sadly that dubious honor belongs to the mysterious Carolyn Keene. No copyright infringement is implied/meant/deliberate in anyway, shape or form.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Again, this is the Nancy Drew of old, and as such, expect cheesy dialogue and action. Really, it's all good, clean fun.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Nancy Drew and the Mystery of the Leather Bar
By Del Robertson
Nancy and Bess sat in a booth near the back of the River Heights Diner. Nancy preferred the booth situated nearest the restrooms so she could see anyone coming or going. Being a good detective, it was normally her custom to sit with her back to the wall. Unlike Helen, Bess knew of Nancy's preference and made no effort to sit in Nancy's place.
Bess sat, eating her blueberry and peach filled pancakes and sipping her third cup of coffee. As she talked about the latest gossip her husband brought home from work, Nancy found herself zoning in and out of the conversation. Usually, she enjoyed these early morning breakfasts with Bess. Bess was an invaluable tool when it came to knowing what was currently going on at the River Heights Police Station. Why, it was because of Bess that she knew about the Hardy Boys' Case that Lou McGinnis was working on.
This morning, though, she found her mind wandering. Her thoughts kept straying back to last night at Leather and Lace. She kept replaying the scenario of the previous evening over in her mind. From the moment she walked in the front door, to her dance with the bare-breasted woman on the dance floor, to Helen insisting that she remain locked in her office until closing time.
Not that she hadn't made valuable use of the time alone. It had taken her all of five seconds to pick the lock on the desk drawer with her trusty bobby pin. She had gone through all of Helen's paperwork in the amount of time she had. And, she found it curious that for a business that was losing money every month, Helen continued to keep a hefty fire insurance policy on the establishment.
"Nancy!" Nancy blinked, to find Bess waving a blueberry stained fork in front of her face. "Earth to Nancy!"
"What?" Nancy shook her head, as if to physically shake away her distraction. "I'm sorry, Bess. What?"
"I was just saying how it's terrible that another body was found in the park this morning."
"What?" Nancy sat up straight in her seat, focusing all her attention on Bess. "Another woman?"
"Yep. Sexually assaulted and strangled, then left by the fountain in the park. Some health-nut jogger found her about five this morning. Poor Brad's really having to work overtime because of this crime spree. You would think with police advisories out, telling women to stay off the streets after dark, someone would listen."
"Have they identified her, yet?"
"No, Brad says she didn't have a license on her. Not even a wallet. All he could tell me was she's a tall blonde."
Nancy's heart skipped a beat. Oh, no! I have to call Helen as soon as I can get away from Bess.
"And, what about you, Ms. Drew?" Bess asked, around a forkful of pancakes. "Where were you until three in the morning?"
"How did you know I was out until three?"
"One of the guys saw you driving home. He mentioned it to Brad this morning. Odd thing, too, he didn't say Ned was with you."
I should have known; the ever-vigilant police force hard at work in River Heights - Bess' ultimate source for all gossip. Nancy opened her mouth to respond when the waitress suddenly appeared at her elbow. Wordlessly, she poured more coffee into Nancy's cup. Nancy thanked her, then waited for her to move away before answering Bess.
As she waited, Nancy glanced out the window. There was a dark colored sedan parked across the street from the diner. Nancy could have sworn it was there yesterday, as well. Squinting, she was almost positive she could make out the figure of a man sitting behind the wheel, staring in her direction. He's probably just waiting for someone who works here. Maybe he's their ride home. That would certainly explain why I've seen him two days in a row.
"I was working a case, Bess." Nancy hesitated, then added. "And for your information, Ned and I are no longer a couple."
Bess' fork fell into her plate with a clatter. She sat there, mouth hanging open in shock. "Oh, Nancy! I'm so sorry." Then, she picked up her fork, continued eating. "Don't worry, I'm sure he'll come around."
"I don't want him to come around, Bess." At Bess' quizzical expression, Nancy felt the need to elaborate. "Ned's nice, but I'm not in love with him."
"I don't believe it! Nancy Drew - in love!" Bess leaned forward, conspiratorially. "It's Lou McGinnis, isn't it? Brad saw you leaving his office yesterday - and he told me he thought he saw a spark there!"
"Hey, sorry I'm late," George appeared at the table, dressed in running shorts and a half-tee.
She did a few lunges as she cooled down from her morning run. Nancy couldn't help but admire her body as she flexed. The corded muscles in her thighs, the six-pack on her tanned abdomen. George caught her looking, gave her a quick wink. Flustered, Nancy looked away.
"Hey, George! What'll it be?" asked the blonde, slightly pudgy waitress.
"Just a juice today, thanks!" George slid into the booth beside Nancy, nudging her over with her thigh. "What are we talking about?" she asked, looking expectantly from Bess to Nancy and back again.
"Well, Nancy was just telling me how she's dumped Ned because she's in love with Lou McGinnis."
"Bess," Nancy reached out, taking Bess' left hand in both her own. When she was positive she had Bess' full attention, she continued, "It's not Lou."
Bess looked Nancy in the eye as she denied the information her husband fed her. In disbelief, she glanced at her cousin. George subtly nodded her head. As realization dawned, her eyes grew the size of saucers.
"Nancy Drew, how could you?" Bess jerked her hand free.
"Bess, please, try to understand. I didn't plan this. It just happened."
Bess stared at Nancy and George in dismay. Just then, the waitress appeared at the table with George's juice. Nancy firmly believed good manners would win out and Bess wouldn't make a scene with a Diner employee present. Bess, however, had other ideas.
"I guess that explains everything now, doesn't it? Why you always called me your slightly plump friend. And, why you always thought I was good for shopping, but not for sleuthing!" Bess turned to the waitress, eyes flashing. "Patty, I need a container to go. I can't finish this here."
As the waitress moved off to get the box, Nancy leaned in, whispering. "Bess, please. You're over-reacting." Nancy's eyes darted nervously around the diner, praying Bess' hysterics weren't disturbing too many patrons.
"Oh, you must have thought I was so stupid! To not see it there in front of me all along. The little signs. Like you and George sharing the same sleeping bag on campout after campout instead of bringing along an extra!"
"Now, Bess. You know that was because George always forgot hers and you wouldn't let her sleep with you because she snores."
The waitress reappeared, Styrofoam container in hand. Bess snatched it from her grasp. "You - " She pointed her fork at Nancy. " - I don't blame. And, I will always support you. Just not right now." Bess turned her plate upside down. Her pancakes landed with a resounding smack in the bottom of the container. "Catch me for breakfast next Thursday; I'll be fine by then."
Nancy stared at Bess in mute shock. All she could do was nod her head in silent agreement.
"You - " Bess pointed her fork at a deer-in-the-headlights frozen George. " - You, I blame. I knew all along that you wouldn't rest until you sunk your teeth into Nancy." George started to protest, but Bess cut her off with a wave of her fork. "If you even think of hurting her the way you did Emily - or you use her and leave her the way you did Debbie - well, you just better watch out! The entire River Heights police force won't be able to keep you from my wrath!"
With that, Bess slammed shut the lid of her container. Grabbing the to-go box off the table and her purse from the booth, she stormed off, leaving a speechless Nancy and George in her wake.
"Well," George spoke at last, turning to a still speechless Nancy. "I guess that's Bess' way of giving her blessing."
Nancy squirmed on her barstool. She took another sip of her ice tea. She didn't know how Becca made it, but her glasses were without a doubt better than any Nancy had ever tasted. Must be the little umbrellas, Nancy thought, removing the pink parasol from her drink, daintily sucking the tea off the end, and placing it on her napkin. I'll have to ask her if she uses a secret ingredient. I'm sure my women's book club would love a pitcher at our next meeting.
She glanced around the room, scanning the crowd. She recognized several of the customers from the night before. She had meant to return to the bar last night, but George thought it might be best to lay low for a day in case someone remembered her from the night before. A little reluctant to dive back into the scene, she had readily agreed with George's assessment. Thankfully, no women were attacked while she took last night off.
Nancy furtively glanced around again, before looking down. With a firm yank with both hands, she adjusted her red corset. Delicately, she smoothed out the white lace that adorned the top of her bustier. Who knew leather could be so restricting?
"Need a hand with that?" a husky voice breathed in Nancy's ear.
"OH!" Nancy swiveled around on her stool, already recognizing the voice. "I'm so glad you're here!"
"Really?" A devishly charming grin was Nancy's reward.
"Yes. Oh - not because of that." Nancy's eyes darted to where her friend's hand was already at her gold chain, ostensibly offering it as a prize to Nancy. "I heard there was a body found in the park. And, she had long, blonde hair and - "
" - And you were afraid it was me?" Nancy nodded. "Sorry to disappoint, but I'm still alive and kicking."
"And, I'm glad. But - " A frown marred the other woman's features. "But - I can't, with you. You understand?"
The tall blonde shrugged. "Sure. Just a dance, then."
That's how I got into trouble last time.
Nancy found herself once again being led to the dance floor. The tall woman spun her around, twirling her out, then in again. Nancy squealed as she landed in her dance partner's embrace. The woman grinned ear-to-ear at Nancy's response.
She was wearing an outfit almost identical to the one she wore the other night. This time, however, she wore buttercup yellow leather pants. Black biker books and that same black leather vest completed the look. As she saw Nancy taking in her appearance, she allowed both hands to drift to the front of her vest, holding it open for Nancy's perusal.
Her breasts swung freely, the gold chain acting as a pendulum between the two of them. Her nipples were large and erect, the gold clamps drawing Nancy's attention. She longed to reach out and release those clamps, to free those fat nipples. Her hands visibly shook with the exertion to not reach out.
Nancy forced her gaze upwards, away from temptation. She focused on a tattoo just above the woman's left breast. A heart with an arrow through it. Inside, an inscription that read Helen. Nancy's face flushed with realization.
"Helen," Nancy pointed at the tattoo. "Is that the same Helen that owns the bar?"
The woman's gaze followed Nancy's finger. "Yeah." She had the decency to blush. "She's my ex."
"Things ended well, then?" Nancy asked above the music.
"No. We had a knockdown, drag out fight when it ended. Can't stand the sight of each other."
"But, you kept the tattoo. And, you're here."
"Too expensive to remove. I keep it as a painful reminder." She shrugged. "And, I'm great friends with Taylor." She saw Nancy's blank look. "Helen's partner. She owned the bar before she met Helen, you know. When they had their commitment ceremony last year, Taylor signed over half the bar to Helen as a sign of their love. The only condition was that Helen agreed I could still hang with Taylor."
"Wow." Nancy felt the woman's hands on both her hips, guiding her to the music. "You and Taylor must be really good friends."
"The best." She tried moving her hands around, over Nancy's buttocks. She was surprised when Nancy countered her move, returning both hands to her waist.
"I haven't seen Helen tonight, have you?" Nancy questioned.
"Nah." The blonde shrugged. "Then again, I wasn't looking for her." She spun Nancy around, then quickly stepped in behind her, pressing herself against Nancy's back. "What's with all the questions; I thought you wanted to dance."
Hands circled Nancy's waist, effectively holding her in place. She tried to squirm, but she couldn't break free of the taller woman's grasp. She felt one hand move up to openly cup her breast. The other inched its way lower. Nancy bit her bottom lip, screwed both eyes closed as she waited for the inevitable contact.
"I'm sorry, but I have to cut in." Nancy's eyes flew open at the sound of the voice.
George! Standing there, in front of them. Wearing a pair of black cowboy boots and faded blue jeans, ripped out in several places, showing her tanned flesh beneath. Some of the rips were high on her thigh, revealing glimpses of her black, cotton boxers beneath. A biker's chain hung from her belt loop. She wore a white muscle tee, a sleeveless, blue flannel shirt. As she stood there, arms folded across her chest, she flexed her muscles, causing her biceps to bulge.
"Later. We're dancing," growled the tall blonde.
George stepped forward, grabbing the other woman by the arm. "It wasn't a request." She flexed again, applying pressure to the blonde's forearm.
The woman let go of Nancy. As she did, George let go of her. She pulled Nancy to her with one arm about her waist. Her eyes never left the blonde as she backed into the crowd, rubbing her wrist and forearm. So territorial - so passionate. George makes me feel so . . . wanted thought Nancy.
George took the blonde's position on the dance floor, pulling Nancy in close to her. They found the rhythm, moving together. Nancy stared up into George's chocolate brown eyes, melting into their depths. Arms languidly slid around George's neck, into her long, ebony mane. She felt George's hands on her hips, palms sliding over her trousers.
"Glad you agreed to let me come now?" George asked, lips at Nancy's ear.
Nancy nodded, moving in closer to George's athletic frame. They were dancing so closely now, there wasn't room for a sheet of paper between their bodies. Nancy soon became lost in the sensations; had to bite back a groan as George's thigh moved between her legs.
"Who was your friend?"
"Don't know," Nancy answered. It was hard to think clearly with George's fingers drawing tiny circles on the small of her back. "I didn't get her name. But, she's Helen's ex."
"An ex with a motive for revenge, maybe?"
"Possibly," Nancy agreed. "Come to think of it, she ran the other way when she saw me talking to Helen the other night."
"Maybe you should ask Helen about her."
Nancy bit her bottom lip. "Good idea. Problem is, no one's seen Helen tonight."
George leaned in impossibly closer, nibbling on Nancy's earlobe. "Why don't you hangout with the bartender. Maybe she's seen something unusual. I'll circle the bar, keep an eye out for Miss Helen."
"O-okay." Nancy's voice broke as George licked and sucked at her neck. Reluctantly, she allowed George to end their dance. She watched as George slipped off towards the opposite end of the club, blatantly staring at the brunette's derriere as she walked away. Oh, I just love cowgirl butts! As casually as possible, Nancy made her way back to the bar.
Nancy sat at the bar, idly sipping her second glass of tea. She swiveled her chair around so she could easily see Helen's office from her seat. So far, there was no sign of the owner. Odd behavior for someone who insisted I work this case.
"This seat taken, honey?" asked a rather tall woman dressed in a shimmering gown with matching heels and purse.
"No, by all means - " Nancy encouraged.
The brunette sat down, ordered a gin and tonic. As Becca moved off to make the drink, the brunette pulled a compact from her purse. She flipped her long, blonde hair over her shoulder. Elegant, manicured fingers applied a touch-up coat of lipstick. As she puckered her lips, she caught Nancy staring out of the corner of her eye.
"What can I do you for, honey?"
"N-nothing," stammered Nancy. "I was just noticing how pretty you are."
"Thank you, honey." She snapped her compact shut and shoved it back into her purse as Becca returned with her drink. "My name's Marti - with an "i", not a "y"."
She held out her hand like royalty. Perplexed, Nancy shook it as best she could with her own hand. "Nancy, but with a "y". I love your dress, by the way. I have an almost identical one in blue."
"Well, thank you, Nancy. My, aren't you just full of compliments?" Marti took a long draw on her drink. "Wow. I needed that." She sighed in relief. "I swear, the women here are so grabby tonight. And, some of the boys aren't much better."
"I know what you mean," Nancy responded, remembering her adventure out on the dance floor. "It's so nice to meet someone so - normal."
Marti laughed. "I know, sweetie. Sometimes, the whole scene can just be so overwhelming."
Marti bowed her head, placed one hand to her luxurious blonde locks, and lifted the entire headpiece away. Nancy nearly spewed her drink as she caught sight of Marti's short haircut hidden beneath the wig. He briskly ran a manicured hand through his crew cut. "Sometimes, you just have to say screw it! and let your hair down, you know what I mean, girl?"
Speechless, it took all Nancy's motor skills to simple nod her head.
"If you don't mind me saying so," Marti leaned in conspiratorially, lowered her voice, "You don't seem the sort for this scene. What are you doing here, sweetie?"
"Well, I am kind of new to this whole thing," confided Nancy. "I know Helen Corning. She asked me to come by. But, I haven't seen her all night."
"Hmmm. Not like Helen to miss a night." Marti craned her neck, looking around the club. She frowned. "Have you tried the back?"
"You mean her office? No, she hasn't been in there all night."
"No, not her office, girl. The kitchen area. Sometimes, she likes to hang out back there. Her girlfriend, Taylor, thinks she's the next Emeril. It's all you can do to pry her away from the frying pan."
"The kitchen?" Nancy craned her neck, trying to see the kitchen area from where she sat.
"You'll never find it that way, Nancy." Marti slid off her barstool. She readjusted her wig, grabbed her drink and her purse in one hand. With her other, she took Nancy by the arm. "Come on, I'll show you."
When Marti pulled Nancy off her barstool, she quickly spun around. Oh, my! Still not used to these heels! Both of Nancy's arms flailed as she tried to regain her balance. Marti attempted to help, but only succeeded in throwing her farther off kilter.
Nancy felt herself collide with someone. Heard the muffled shout as her elbow collided with the soft tissue of a passing nose. She caught the edge of the bar with her fingertips, barely managing to save herself from falling.
"I am so sorry," Nancy apologized before even turning around. "I am forever and always bumping into someone!"
"I know," came the muffled man's voice.
Nancy's brow furrowed, her lips frowned. Hesitantly, she slowly turned around, already guessing what she might find.
"Ned!" In a leather bar. "Is your nose broken?"
Nancy pulled a white handkerchief from her purse, passed it to Ned. He stood there, holding his nose, blood running freely between his fingers. Becca appeared instantly, passing Nancy a cold towel with ice chips wrapped inside. Nancy moved to Ned's side, pleading with him to let her put ice on it.
As she connected with the side of his nose again, he screamed in pain, jerked the compress from Nancy's hand. He glowered at her from behind his icepack. Marti stood looking on, barely able to contain her laughter.
"It'll be fine."
"Ned, what are you doing here?"
"You know him, honey?" Marti looked Ned over from head to toe, openly appraising him.
"Yes," Nancy confirmed. "Ned's a - "
" - Dear old friend." Ned supplied, cutting Nancy off. He grabbed Nancy by the arm, pulling her off to the side. "We just need a moment."
Ned towed Nancy to a secluded section of the club, near a potted plant against the wall to the left side of the entrance. The plant was nearly as tall as Ned. A large, leafy fern, it served to shield them from prying eyes.
"Ned, what are you doing here?" she asked, between hissed teeth. "And, dressed like that?"
She took in Ned's outfit once again. A pair of leather chaps over a pair of tight denim jeans. He wore no shirt, exposing his less than stunning physique. George has nice abs - Ned just has - well, a thick waist, thought Nancy. A pair of red suspenders were attached to his jeans. Looking him over, Nancy spotted a red bandana hanging from his back pocket.
"You could have used that instead of my clean, white handkerchief."
Ned followed Nancy's gaze to his rear end. With three fingers, he quickly tucked the bandana back into his pocket. "It's part of my outfit.."
"Outfit?" Nancy questioned "As in disguise?"
"Yes. You're not the only one working here." He looked Nancy over from head to toe. "I presume you are working, aren't you?"
"Of course!" At Ned's warning look, she lowered her voice to a more acceptable level. "I'm working on the Girls-In-The-Park case. What are you working on?"
"The same thing," Ned confirmed. "The police needed someone to come in undercover and get to the bottom of this case."
"So, we're here for the same thing?"
Nancy nodded her head, slowly started to back away. "You follow your leads and I'll follow mine. Deal?"
"Deal." Ned agreed, quickly turned on his heel and went the opposite way from Nancy.
"That your guy?" asked Marti as soon as Nancy rejoined her.
"What?" Nancy glanced at Ned's retreating backside. "No. We're just - acquaintances."
"Right." Nancy caught the disbelieving tone, gave Marti a look. Marti held up her hands in mock-surrender. "Don't shoot me, honey. Come on, let's get you to that kitchen before you run into any more ex's."
As Marti led Nancy into the kitchen, Nancy immediately felt the hairs on her arms stand on end. The kitchen seemed to be deserted. Something's not right here. Cautiously, she made her way around a large, walk-in cooler that blocked her view of the rest of the kitchen. As soon as she rounded the corner, she saw what was amiss.
There was a man, leaning over a woman in a chef's uniform. One fist was firmly wrapped in the collar of her shirt. She was bent backwards over a counter. Her head rested atop a chopping block, diced onions and peppers on the same block. He held the knife to the brunette's throat, so forcefully that droplets of blood were beginning to well up on the woman's skin.
"You find a way to get the rest of that money, or your girlfriend won't be coming back. You understand?"
That poor woman must be Taylor! "Hey!" shouted Nancy.
As Nancy and Marti rushed into the food prep area, the man looked up at them. He was stocky, with a cap pulled over his hair and a full day's worth of stubble on his chin. As he spotted Nancy, he let loose the woman's collar. Stumbling backwards, he made his way across the slick kitchen floor. He ran out a screen door, letting it slam shut behind him.
Why, that's the same man I saw being rude at the Diner! I'll bet he's involved in this case somehow!
Nancy rushed to the woman, who was still laying awkwardly on the chopping board, one hand reflexively clutched to her throat. Blood seeped from between her fingers. "Are you okay?" Nancy asked, pausing to attend to the woman.
"I'm fine," Taylor managed to choke out between her tears. "But, they've got Helen!"
Nancy looked at the screen door, then back at Taylor. She saw Marti grabbing a white towel from the counter, soaking it with cold tap water. She bit her bottom lip, momentarily hesitating.
"Marti, take care of her. Then, go to the floor. Find the man I was talking to earlier. Ned's with the District Attorney's office; He'll know what to do!"
Waiting only for a quick nod from Marti in response, Nancy bolted towards the door, barreling through it. She ran ten paces out into the alley before the broken, uneven asphalt caused her to slow her steps. Warily, she looked around.
It was well past dark and there was only one poorly lit street lamp located in the alley. Several dumpsters lined the way, spaced sporadically at the metal exit doors up and down the strip. The smell of rotten cabbage permeated the air, presumably from the restaurant three doors down.
She heard an engine starting. She never would have spotted the all-black van in the alley, except for the illumination of the red taillights as it was cranked. Desperately, she ran towards the vehicle. That's the last time I wear stiletto heels! The van began to lurch forward, slowly making its way down the pothole-filled alley.
Why, he's not even turning his headlights on! That practically screams get-away vehicle! Pushing her personal discomfort aside, Nancy raced down the alley after the panel van. She was afraid of losing the vehicle when she saw him stop at the end of the alley. As he waited for cross-traffic to clear, she was able to catch up.
Desperately, Nancy reached for the back of the van. She tried the handle on the back door. To her relief, it was unlocked. She jerked the door open in one motion. Helen lay there on the floor of the van, hands and feet tied with nylon rope. Her mouth was gagged with a white handkerchief. Desperate eyes silently pleaded with Nancy for help.
The van began moving again. Making a spontaneous decision, Nancy hurriedly climbed into the back of the vehicle. She crouched down on the carpeted flooring, trying to keep her balance as the van made a sharp right turn. I need a clue so the police will be able to pick up our trail! Thinking quickly, Nancy threw her handbag out onto the street.
Now, to untie Helen and see what we can do about getting out of here! Gingerly, Nancy made her way back towards Helen. The woman was securely bound hand and foot. Nancy reached out, taking Helen's hands in both her own, trying to work the nylon cord off her wrists. Helen's eyes grew wide as Nancy struggled with her bindings. Why, the poor thing's scared to death!
That was the last thought Nancy Drew had before her entire world went black.
A clanging bell rang mercilessly in her skull. She struggled to open her eyes. A wave of vertigo overtook her, forcing her to close them again. Taking several deep breaths to steady herself, she gingerly blinked her eyes open again.
She was in what appeared to be a basement. Without moving her head, she cautiously took in her surroundings. Helen was seated on the floor not more than ten feet away from her. Her arms and legs were still securely bound. However, the gag had been removed from her mouth. Must not be any danger of anyone hearing us and coming to our rescue if we shout for help.
Another girl was laying on the floor across the room. Like Helen, her arms and legs were bound with nylon cord. The woman's blouse was ripped open, dark bruises mottling the flesh around her neck and breasts. Her breathing was shallow, and she appeared to either be sleeping or unconscious.
Several wooden shelves filled with gardening tools and hardware lined the walls. Workbenches with circular saws and other tools were located to her immediate left. A wooden door situated between two bookcases filled with an assortment of gas cans, mason jars and old newspapers caught her attention. Looks to be a workshop of sorts.
Nancy felt cold brick behind her with her fingertips. She attempted to move her aching arms, found she couldn't. She stretched, feeling with her fingertips around her wrists. Handcuffs! She glanced down at her feet. They were tied with yellow, nylon rope.
"Oh! What happened?" asked Nancy.
"What happened, was you got too nosy for your own good!" A harsh voice taunted near her ear.
Nancy could feel the hot breath, the touch of someone's fingers in her hair as they held it back from her ear. The overwhelming stench of cheap cologne assaulted her nostrils. She attempted to turn her stiff neck to see who was taunting her. A harsh slap was her reward for her effort.
"That's enough!" shouted a female's voice.
"Why? We're going to kill her, anyway, ain't we?" asked the voice of the thug nearest Nancy.
"Well, we have to now, don't we?" Nancy recognized the voice, but couldn't place it. Was she at the bar?
"Yeah, but not before we have fun with her, right?" A solitary finger stroked its way across Nancy's cheek, tracing her jawline. Nancy fought down an involuntary shudder.
"There's no time for that, you fool!" came the acerbic female voice. "Don't you recognize her? That's Nancy Drew. Her fiancée is with the District Attorney's office. How long do you think it's going to take for the cops to be swarming all over us?"
"Drew? That Detective Dame?" Recognition finally dawned on the thug. "What are we going to do?"
"We have to kill them all. Now. And make sure no evidence is left behind."
Nancy felt the man abruptly leave her side. Heard the two of them rummaging around the basement. Cautiously, she opened her eyes again.
The man she had seen running from Leather and Lace earlier held a gas can. He was hurriedly dousing the four corners of the room in gasoline, liberally splashing the liquid on wooden shelving and work benches. He backed up the staircase, spilling a trail of gasoline as he went.
Craning her neck, Nancy was just barely able to see the blonde woman light a piece of scrap cloth with her lighter. She tossed it halfway down the stairs before darting out the basement door with her accomplice.
"Oh, Nancy! I'm so sorry about this!" Helen wailed, watching the flames lick at the wooden staircase leading from the basement.
"What are you sorry about, Helen?" Nancy asked, rubbing her head against the concrete wall. "What do you have to do with this?"
"Oh, it's all my fault! Taylor owned the bar and was doing just fine before I came along. Then, I wanted to renovate and fix it up."
"And?" prodded Nancy. She felt the bobby pin slip from her hair, deftly caught it in her open palm behind her back. Straining, she reached with stretching fingers, trying to locate the lock on the handcuffs.
"I overextended the bar's credit. And, we started losing business. The bank turned me down for a loan."
Nancy found the lock, bent the bobby pin until it fit. She glanced at the staircase. The flames were working their way steadily down the stairs, over the wooden railing. The fumes were beginning to get stronger. And, Nancy was worried that the other prisoner hadn't moved, yet. She has to be out cold!
"What happened, Helen?" prodded Nancy, through gritted teeth.
"A gentleman turned up in the bar one day, said he could help me out with a loan."
"What gentleman?" Nancy eyed Helen suspiciously.
"Baloney Tony? You took out a loan with River Heights most notorious mobster?"
"I didn't know he was with the mob."
"The last guy who took out a loan and didn't pay was cut up into thin slices of luncheon meat. Why do you think he's called Baloney Tony; because he owns a delicatessen?" Nancy heard a satisfying click as one side of the handcuff opened. She hurriedly slid her hand out, bringing her arching arms around to her front. Realization dawned as she massaged her aching wrist. "You couldn't pay back the loan, could you?"
"And, all these girls that have been found in the park; They were all last seen at your bar." Nancy glanced to her right. The fire had spread to the bottom of the stairs and the wooden wall nearest the staircase was now a solid wall of fire. "They were all sent as a warning to you!"
Helen nodded. "Tony sent word, saying the longer it took to pay, the more customers would be - " Helen's voice broke off with a wrenching sob. "And, I couldn't afford to pay anymore than I already was. We were so far into the red, we were having problems with our suppliers! I was having to find cheaper suppliers, but they all wanted to be paid cash upfront before they'd deliver!"
Nancy felt the cord around her ankles loosen, then slip free. "And you never thought of canceling that huge fire insurance policy I saw in your office? That alone would have saved you several hundreds of dollars every month."
"I thought about it, but I didn't think it would be a good idea." Helen looked pointedly at the fire blazing along a row of cabinets. "What if Tony found out and set fire to the bar? Then, we'd have no club, no insurance money, and no way to pay him off!"
"I see your point." The smoke was becoming thicker, stinging Nancy's eyes. She felt tears streaming down her face. The woman on the floor began coughing. Nancy stepped out of her bonds, rushed to Helen's side. "And, tonight they decided to up the ante by snatching you?"
Helen nodded. "I guess Tony lost his patience. He thought he could squeeze more money out of Taylor if they took me." Helen laughed ruefully. "But, Taylor doesn't know about any of this mess! I've been doctoring the books; Trying to take care of things on my own without worrying her."
Nancy swiftly untied Helen's wrists, then moved to the woman laying prone on the floor. Nancy slapped the woman's face. Other than her eyelids rapidly fluttering, she didn't stir. Maybe they drugged her! Behind her, she could hear Helen working with the bonds around her ankles.
A beam crashed down, landing mere inches from Nancy and the prone woman. Instinctively, Nancy dove, covering the woman with her body. As the beam landed, several burning embers landed on the back of Nancy's halter top. She hurriedly brushed them off, grabbed the unconscious woman by the wrists and dragged her across the floor.
Helen joined her as she crouched down against the far wall of the basement. The fire was spreading rapidly, devouring the bookshelves containing the newspapers. Nancy prayed the remaining gas cans on the shelves were empty. Otherwise, they might become dangerous fireballs once the metal containers heated up.
"What are we going to do?" Helen asked, between hacking coughs.
"We have to get out of here!" Nancy shouted, covering her mouth and nose with her hand. She spotted the little wooden door wedged in between two bookcases.
Helen followed Nancy's gaze. The fire was already rapidly engulfing one bookcase, the fire spreading from both the top and bottom. "Nancy, you can't! The fire's spreading too quickly!"
Disregarding Helen's pleas, Nancy crouched low, ran to the door. Wrapping her hand in a scrap of cloth, she tried the handle. It turned, but the door refused to open. Nancy spotted the Master Lock attached to a metal hasp farther up the door frame. It's locked! Desperately, Nancy looked around for something to pry the lock off with. Too late! The fire's already engulfed the tools!
Nancy reached for her hair, pulling another bobby pin out. Even as she worked the lock, she kept one eye on the fire. The flames were licking closer, the heat was becoming unbearable. Nancy felt the skin on her right arm begin to blister. It's no use! I won't be able to pick the lock quickly enough!
"Nancy!" shouted Helen as flames licked at the top of the doorframe. "Watch out!"
"It's no use!" Nancy yelled. "We'll have to try to break it down!"
Desperately, Nancy took a running start, hit the door with her shoulder. The door moved, but was able to withstand her blow.
"Hello! This is the River Heights' Police! Is there anybody there?" came a disembodied voice from the other side of the door.
"YES!" Both women screamed in unison. Nancy beat on the door with both fists, trying to attract the officers' attention.
"Are you in the basement?" came the voice again.
"Yes!" Nancy shouted. "But the door's locked!"
"Stand away from the door!"
Nancy did as instructed, rushing over to huddle with Helen. Several resounding thuds echoed against the door. The flames swept over the top of the doorframe, and onto the other bookcase. Nancy glanced to her right. Flames were spreading rapidly across the opposite wall. She huddled closer to Helen and their unconscious companion, watching the deadly fire eat up inch after inch of remaining space. Her entire body was racked with coughs, causing her to bury her face in Helen's sleeve.
She barely heard the splintering of wood over the crackling of the fire. Then, the sounds of the door being knocked from its hinges. She looked up just as Lou McGinnis and several officers rushed into the basement, George following closely on their heels.
Blankets were thrown over their shoulders as they were rushed through the open doorway. Dimly, Nancy saw the unconscious woman being thrown over someone's shoulder in a fireman's carry. She breathed deeply, then was wracked once again by choking sobs as she attempted to inhale the fresh night air.
"Easy there, Nan." George's arms were wrapped tightly about Nancy, helping her up the basement staircase. Nancy allowed herself to lean on George as they made their way up the stairs and into the open clearing beside the house. She buried her nose in George's neck, inhaling the fresh scent of George's shampoo.
As Nancy's breathing returned to normal, and her vision cleared, she lifted her head from George's shoulder. She blinked rapidly, trying to adjust her eyesight to her new surroundings. George kept one arm wrapped reassuringly around Nancy's waist as she gingerly explored.
There were rows and rows of cornstalks flanking the property. That explains why they felt they didn't need the gags. They brought us to a farmhouse. A red dirt road ran perpendicular to the house. Gravel crunched beneath their shoes as the women stepped onto the winding driveway in front of the two-story building.
Helen Corning and their fellow victim were being loaded into an ambulance. A paramedic tried to persuade Nancy to join them, but she waved him off. She dimly heard George promise to bring her by the hospital later. She spotted Lou McGinnis standing next to a squad car, two suspects handcuffed beside him. An officer grabbed the scruffy man from the club and shoved him in the back of his squad car, slamming the door behind him.
Nancy shook off both George and the blanket draped over her shoulders. Gravel crunching beneath her heels, she marched, fists clenching and unclenching to where Lou McGinnis stood. As she approached, she heard an officer reading the blonde her rights.
With a purposeful stride, Nancy walked right up to the blonde, and slapped her across the face. "That's for trying to kill me!" Nancy shouted, as Lou McGinnis attempted to restrain her. Nancy reached out, managing to grab the front of the woman's blouse, tearing it just above the pocket. "And, I want back the tip I gave you!" she screamed, throwing the "Patty" nametag to the ground, crushing it beneath her shoe.
Two days later, Nancy sat in the River Heights Diner with George, Bess and Lou. Their waitress, a perky brunette by the name of Sherry, brought a fresh pot of coffee to the table. "How was it, sugar?" she asked, picking up Nancy's plate.
"Oh, it was so sinfully good!" Nancy exclaimed, rubbing her stomach. "But, I couldn't possibly eat another bite."
"Well, I guess it's safe to say you've gotten your appetite back," teased George.
The waitress laughed, moved off to another table.
"Thanks for the breakfast, Lou," Nancy said, dabbing at the corners of her mouth with a napkin.
"No, thank you, Nancy. Because of you, we were finally able to find enough evidence to put a major mafia figure behind bars."
"You got enough to put Baloney Tony away?" asked Bess. "That's big news."
"Yeah, it is." Lou took a sip of his coffee, flashed Bess a grin. He was enjoying telling Bess something about the department she didn't already know for once. "Seems Tony owns the farmhouse you were being held in. And, Ronnie and Peggy are both turning state's evidence. They were up against some pretty hard time for murdering those girls. But, with them confessing that Tony signed off on the hits, well, he'll be away for a long time."
Nancy beamed at the good news. "What about Helen?" she asked, turning suddenly sober.
"She's our star witness. She's agreed to testify against Tony Bologna, as well. With her testimony, we can also charge him with extortion." He shrugged. "I understand she might be on the outs with her business partner, but at least she's not looking at jail time for being an accomplice, or hindering an investigation, or anything of the sort. The D.A.'s office is willing to treat Helen Corning as a victim in this investigation."
"Which, technically, she is." All heads turned to look at Bess. "Well, think about it; given the right circumstances, any of us could have made the same mistakes Helen did."
"I don't know, cuz," George quipped. "Tell me which loan shark I have to make a deal with to have you sleeping with the fishes."
Bess feigned indignation, then gave up, and laughed out loud. George and Lou joined in the laughter. Nancy chuckled, too, relieved that Bess and George seemed to be on speaking terms again. I guess Bess really is ready to be supportive of our relationship.
"But, seriously, Nancy," Lou said, sipping his coffee. "You're lucky we found you in time. Ronnie and Peggy were leaving the farmhouse just as we arrived. They swore they'd been home all evening - and we had no reason to suspect otherwise. If it hadn't been for George spotting the smoke coming up through the floorboards - Well, let's just say you got off lucky with only minor smoke inhalation and a two day stay in River Heights General Hospital."
"Yeah," agreed Nancy. "Good thing you sent Ned undercover at Leather and Lace. I still need to send Marti a thank-you card for convincing him to call in the calvary."
Lou stared at Nancy, a puzzled expression on his face. "I'm not sure what you mean, Nancy. It's true Ned raised the alarm. But, he wasn't working undercover."
"He wasn't?" asked Nancy, both eyebrows arching.
"No." Lou shook his head. "It's against policy for anyone in the District Attorney's office to be involved in any kind of undercover work with the department. It'd be ethically unconstitutional for a lawyer to arrest someone, and then prosecute them, as well."
"Oh." Realization dawned then. "OH! That means Ned was - "
" - There on his own," supplied George.
"I guess I owe Ned a thank you, then." I've already thanked George in private - twice.
George took Nancy's hand in her own, squeezed it tight. "Maybe you can have Marti thank him for you. I think she might be just what he needs."
Nancy laughed, enjoying breakfast and good times with her friends and loved ones. But, although she was reveling in the moment, her mind was already thinking ahead, wondering what her next exciting case might be.
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