Wrapped in his venerable feldspar dressing-gown and awaiting his daughter's morning appearance, Carson Drew paced back and forth in front of the desk in his upstairs office. He actually had three offices: one on the top floor of the tallest building in River Heights, and two at home. He interviewed his corporate clients downtown, but preferred doing most of his private consultations in the spacious "library" downstairs. The more compact and comfortable room in which Drew was collecting his thoughts was his inner sanctum, the place to which he retreated when he wished to consult only his closest associates-or himself.
Nancy was evidently taking a long time with her toilette that morning. Carson blamed the influence of her friend, young Bess, who had introduced her to the "exact science" of manicuring using conic sections. He thought the combination of mathematics with feminine adornment bizarre and misguided, a more than quantum waste of time. The impatient father in himself was consoled by the thought that such indulgences were not positively dangerous. And, indulgent father that he was, he allowed her to relax for a few moments before she would feel herself compelled to take work in hand which, he realized with no little guilt, was in its nature beyond her tender years.
Momentarily exhausted by his perambulations, the lawyer settled his bulk into a comfortable chair in the corner, one that had been a favorite of his wife Cassandra. This set his mind going in a new direction. He remembered her often sitting in that chair, her legs tucked up in a lotus position, peering at him intently as she sought to divine his closely-guarded thoughts.
Cassie and Carson had often worked together on criminal cases. She had been no lawyer, or even apprentice as Nancy now was, but had been a pure amateur. Cassie was a brilliant sleuth with apparently supernatural skills at ferreting out the solution to a mystery. Unfortunately, she had also been reckless, with no sense of self-preservation, as she tumbled headlong in pursuit of the solution to a crime. For several years she had been lucky and had escaped even the slightest injury-often, however, by only the slimmest margin. Carson Drew had built his now formidable reputation in part upon the results of his wife's exploits. But, then, in The Clue in the Gypsy's Tent, the whole partnership had ended tragically. Cassie was kidnapped before his very eyes and hustled away in a crowd so dense that he had found it fruitless to pursue. Before he could locate the gang, they contrived an "accident" on a ferris wheel which took her life and those of four innocent others. The bereaved husband had required a prolonged stay at Shady Rest to recover from his shock and despair. The criminals were never found.
Nancy had grown up in partial ignorance of this formidable and ghastly heritage. She was told that her mother sometimes "helped" her father in his work and that she had died in an accident. Since Nancy had her mother's insatiable curiosity and penchant for what the unsympathetic called "meddling," Carson did not discourage her from trying to help him. He did, however, train her very carefully and was gratified to find that she possessed both caution and common sense. Since she loved mystery, as her mother had, he let her have as many mysteries as she could handle, but made sure that they were of a relatively safe nature. All of the mob cases he had handled by himself downtown, far from Nancy's prying eyes. Here at home, from Nancy's fourteenth birthday on, they had together discussed many a disputed inheritance, traced countless relatives of orphaned children, and located much missing antique furniture. None of the perpetrators with whom the girl had had to tangle were hardened criminals. It was only their understandable panic at being relentlessly pursued by the young detective that put Nancy in any peril at all. She was cool and resourceful and had been able to extricate herself in every case. Carson congratulated himself that he had been able so far to bring her along so carefully.
Drew had had a backup plan for the eventuality that Nancy might have shown herself inclined too closely to imitate her mother. A number of years ago, quietly and through an intermediary, Carson had bought the Shady Rest Nursing Home and Clinic. At the first sign of any great intuitive leaps from Nancy, he would have developed enough interesting symptoms and illnesses to keep her occupied visiting him there for years. Hopefully, in such an atmosphere, he and the Shady Rest staff would be able to harness her investigative skills to the field of medicine.
He was relieved to find Nancy a bit of a plodder. While she was in high school he had initiated her into the mysteries of law, and on her eighteenth birthday had given her the present of a "partnership" in his firm, now named Drew & Drew. She wasn't a full lawyer yet, as she still had to pass the bar exams, but she did much valuable work for him and the local renown she received for the solution of mysteries was good advertising for their business.
The Carbon City slave ring case was not what the River Heights lawyer had in mind, however, even for his precociously capable junior partner. This was the kind of work that should never have been conducted outside of his downtown office. The girl Lucy, however, had come to them at home, and now, for better or worse, Nancy was irrevocably drawn in. Carson had tried to keep her occupied with visiting Lucy and doing library research, but now that Bess and George had informed Nancy of the nefarious doings at the High Road Inn, it was clear that there would be no holding his daughter back from a more active role in the investigation.
Carson got out of his wife's chair and began to pace again, and only stopped when he heard Nancy's footsteps coming down the hall.
"Good morning, Dad!"
The junior partner was a vision in blue: she wore a flapper dress the hue of the clear summer sky at Biarritz and a matching 1920s bonnet that wrapped tightly around her head. Her impeccable nails, though blue as well, were of a subtly contrasting shade that by a trick of the eye gave the impression of being relatively red.
"Zelda Fitzgerald, I presume."
Nancy smiled indulgently. Since it was a Saturday she did not interpret her father's comment as criticism. Their only "clients" today would be George and Bess and she was really dressing for them. And since she realized that one wry comment was about her father's limit for banter, she pressed right on to the business at hand.
"Bess and George's mystery and the Carbon City slave ring are clearly the same case."
Carson knew that Nancy got a distinct pleasure out of being able to make such pronouncements.
"Yes," he agreed. "No doubt at this moment Joni Masterson is in the hands of the slave gang in Carbon City, along with your friend Clare. And these are the same rascals from whom our unfortunate client Lucy has escaped."
"But you have not yet called in the police," Nancy observed.
"No," replied the wily lawyer. "The police are already well informed about the dastardly deeds of the gang. We will not find them, or their victims, any sooner by raising yet another hue and cry. And I don't think that a raid on the High Road Inn will disclose much in the way of evidence. All the police could do would be to close that depot down as a link to the crime center, wherever that is, somewhere in Carbon City. The inn is the only clue that we have for now. We will have to set a watch on it and wait for developments."
"Cannot the police stake it out?"
"They might," Carson Drew ventured. "But then again, I have no control over what they may or may not do. They are under a lot of public pressure to appear to be doing something. They may deem it better to have a noisy raid on a local slaver's nest-with reporters tipped off and cameras running-than to do some quiet, but more productive investigative work. In any case once the nature of the High Road Inn becomes known throughout the force, this knowledge will come to the attention of the underworld very quickly, either through an informant or by a subtle change in the pattern of police behavior."
"So will we do the stakeout ourselves?" inquired Nancy.
"There is a detective I know, a very capable man, who is a master at this kind of job," her father replied. "I can have him in place tomorrow."
"I have a better plan, Father."
Carson had been afraid of this.
"I will drive up the old highway, stop by the restaurant, and pretend to be a customer. We know that Mrs. White is now running the place all by herself. I will keep her distracted by ordering the most exotic dish on the menu, one that requires constant and intense supervision while it is cooking, and while she is in the kitchen I will poke around the inn looking for clues."
Her father thought the plan too risky. Mrs. White was watchful and suspicious and no doubt served her customers items prepared in advance, frozen, and then microwaved. Nancy would be sure to be caught. Then, even if she were able to escape from the wicked proprietress, the Drews would have lost their advantage of surprise and the High Road part of the criminal operation would be permanently closed, severing the only thread of a lead that they currently had. And, he added, it was not likely that there was more of significance to be discovered in and around the public areas of the inn beyond what George and Bess had already learned.
On having her plan dashed a momentary pout flashed across Nancy's mouth. It had hardly lingered long enough to register on her father's consciousness, when it was transformed into a radiant smile.
"I have a new and better scheme!" she announced triumphantly. "I remember that Bess told me Mrs. White has a 'Help Wanted' sign out front. I will take on an assumed name and apply for that job! That will give me plenty of time to look around and the excuse to investigate other parts of the building. No doubt I will stay in the room in which Joni slept. I am sure that I will find clues right there!"
This was a daring plan, and its dangers were immediately evident to Nancy's concerned father.
"Nancy, look what happened to the previous waitress!" he expostulated. "Even if you deceive Mrs. White-and I think she is probably quite a sharp customer-you may be kidnapped just like Miss Masterton was. And I hesitate to think what might happen if you don't deceive her. These people are desperate criminals. Who knows to what lengths they might go to silence you."
Carson could not help thinking about Nancy's mother's fate. Telling her the sad but instructive story was on the tip of his tongue, but he found, as he had found before, that he could not bear to open this subject with his daughter.
"But Father," Nancy implored. "I haven't told you my entire plan. There will, in fact, be plenty of backup for me. I will almost never be out of touch. I will call in once a day from the public phone. And I will take a special two-way radio with which to check in with you after dark. And-this is the best part-I will get Bess and George to visit me every day. Bess is a master of disguise and George, well she is mistress of being disguised. They will come in dressed differently each time so that Mrs. White will never know that they are the same people."
Nancy looked at her lawyer father in what she hoped was triumph, but was actually a mute and pathetic appeal. Had she been able to look at herself in the mirror at that moment she would have died of shame. Her unconscious had, however, chosen to project the face most likely to overwhelm her father's parental resistance. He gave in, but attached additional conditions.
"My hired detective will watch the inn nonetheless. And he will have the additional responsibility of caring for your safety. He will camp out in the nearby wood, disguised as a hobo in case anyone sees him. He will be positioned so as to have a view of your bedroom window. You are not to hesitate to signal him if you even suspect that you might be in trouble." Carson put a distinct emphasis on the word "might."
Hoping to aid her cause by presenting even more safety features, Nancy suggested that Ned too might help to look out for her.
"I don't want to overwhelm poor Mrs. White with a whole crowd of detectives," Carson explained. "And I need Ned to stand guard over Lucy. I have reason to suspect that, if my connection with the Shady Rest institution should become known, our patient might be in danger even there. I have asked Ned, for the time being, to sleep in the on-call bunk at the Home and to work double-shift."
Nancy was disappointed. She didn't really feel that she needed the extra protection, but had been hopeful that Ned might be able, in some way, to share her adventure. Oh well, she thought, Ned might have his own adventure. And she would have her girl chums in and out with her all the time that she worked at the inn.
All of sudden Nancy started chuckling to herself. Her father asked her what was so amusing.
"I was just wondering," Nancy replied smirkingly, "with all those visits to the restaurant, how Bess's figure will be able to stand the strain."
"You have just reassured me," Carson commented in a dry and deadpan manner, "that Bess is just the person for this task!"