Read an Excerpt
Chapter 2: Secrets and Spies
"No way," George said. "Nobody really wins those contests, do they?"
"Not nobody, but pretty close." Nancy squinted at the fine print on the wrapper. "'Number of grand prizes awarded: One,'" she read. "'Odds of winning the grand prize: approximately one in four million four hundred thousand.'"
Noah's mouth dropped open. "Wow."
"If you're not going to eat your candy, Bess, could I have it?" Kenny took the chocolate from Bess's limp hand. "Thanks."
Tyler elbowed his way to Bess's side. "Let me see."
"No, I want to see," Emma said.
Bess swallowed hard. "Just a second." She held the wrapper over their heads. "I'll read it to you: 'The grand prize includes one million dollars in cash, one trip for four to Kings Commons Amusement Park in Royal, Illinois, and thirty Crown Jewels bars per month for twelve months. Employees of Royal Chocolates or Kings Commons and their immediate families are not eligible to win. To claim your prize, make a photocopy of the winning wrapper. Mail the original to '"
"That building right over there," George finished for her, pointing to Royal Chocolates headquarters.
Noah was scribbling numbers in his notebook. "Do you realize, Bess, that if there are ten thousand people at Kings Commons today and I bet there are judging by the length of these lines you'd have to fill up about four hundred amusement parks this size to find four million people? So to be the lucky one out of four million is pretty astronomical."
"I'll say." Bess blinked. "It doesn't seem real."
"It'll seem real when you've talked to the people at contest headquarters," Nancy said. "So why don't you walk across the parking lot and do that right now."
"And could you ask them," Katie piped up, "about the trip to Kings Commons? Like, do they think you could substitute another prize?"
"Or maybe you could give the trip to someone else," Emma suggested.
Bess laughed. "I don't suppose you have someone else in mind?"
"Enough!" Andrea said. "Let's give Bess a break and let her talk to the contest people. She'll bring us news in a little while. In the meantime let's go on one more ride and then have lunch on Bess."
Bess smiled weakly. "Thanks. But do you think you could spare Nancy? I'd really like some moral support."
"We've got everything under control," George assured her. "Take your time."
"We'll take a ride on High Tea." Andrea pointed to the oversize rose-patterned teacups that crossed overhead, carrying passengers from one side of the park to the other. "We'll have lunch at Uncommonly Good and meet you at the Moat Float at, say, two o'clock."
"That sounds great. We'll see you then." Nancy felt a drop of rain on her face. She pulled her hair back from her face and wound it into a ponytail.
"Thanks for coming with me, Nan," Bess said as they waited to have their hands stamped at the exit gate so they could reenter. "Holding on to this wrapper makes me very nervous."
Nancy grinned. "You've checked your pocket about five times in the last two minutes."
"I know. It's weird to think that one little piece of paper can be worth so much money. If Andrea hadn't said something to make me look, who knows? I might have thrown it in the trash." Bess took a deep breath. "Anyhow, I'm glad I'll be able to help the Sleuths stay in business."
Nancy smiled. It was just like her friend to think of others first. "Bess, you know Andrea was joking. She wouldn't hold you to your promise to give half the money to the Science Sleuths."
"I know," Bess said, "but I want to help and now I can."
Nancy squeezed Bess's hand. "You're such a good person, Bess Marvin."
"I'm a very lucky person." Bess looked up at the six-story brick administration building and read the sign above the main entrance: "Welcome to Royal Chocolates. We treat you Royally." She brushed a drop of rain from her eye. "I'll say."
Bess and Nancy approached the receptionist's desk. "That's the biggest candy dish I've ever seen," Bess whispered.
The receptionist smiled. "Help yourself"
"Thanks." Bess took a crown-shaped chocolate wrapped in purple foil.
"Hi," Nancy said. "We were hoping you could help us. My friend just won a prize in the Crown Jewels contest. And since we happened to be in the park, we were hoping we might be able to come and claim it in person."
"I'm sorry," the receptionist said. "The marketing department is too busy to handle the small prizes. They're dispensed from another location. So if you would just mail a copy of the wrapper "
"It's not a small prize," Bess interrupted. "It's the grand prize."
The receptionist sat up straighter. "The grand prize?"
"Okay," she said slowly. "Why don't you have a seat? Someone from marketing will be with you in a moment."
"She seemed surprised when I said I won the grand prize, didn't she?" Bess commented as they watched the receptionist make a phone call.
"I guess it's pretty unusual for people to walk in off the street and claim their prizes," Nancy said.
"Yeah. I wonder what the odds are of getting the winning wrapper while you're actually in the park. One in a hundred million?"
The receptionist motioned for them to approach the desk.
"They're expecting you upstairs in marketing," she said. "That's on the fifth floor. Take a right when you get off the elevator and wait in the reception area. Joyce Palmer is the contest administrator. She'll meet you there shortly."
Nancy pressed the Up button beside the elevator. "Thanks for your help."
On the fifth floor the chocolate brown walls were hung with prints of Royal Chocolates wrappers through the decades. Warm chocolate-chip cookies were spread on a table beside a carafe filled with cocoa. "If I worked here, I'd gain fifty pounds," Bess whispered. She poured herself a cup of steaming hot chocolate and took a sip. "Ow!" she cried.
"Burned your tongue?"
"With something this good, there's always a price," Bess murmured.
Nancy took a cookie and closed her eyes as she savored the taste of butter and chocolate mingling on her tongue. She was startled out of her reverie by the sound of an irate male voice.
"Joyce!" the man shouted.
"Joyce," Nancy whispered to Bess. "She's the person we're supposed to see, right? Maybe she's coming to get us."
Bess tapped her foot. "I hope so."
"Joyce!" the voice repeated. "In my office. Now!"
"Then again, maybe she's not." Nancy relaxed in her seat and popped the rest of the cookie into her mouth. "I'm going to have to get the recipe for these," she murmured.
"Yes, Mr. Tumey?" said Joyce in a high-pitched voice.
"Tell me, Joyce. Why is it that our company holds contests?"
Nancy felt her muscles tense and glanced over at Bess. Although they could not see what was going on in Mr. Tumey's office it was clear from his tone that he was very upset. Nancy was afraid they were about to overhear an unpleasant conversation.
"I'm not sure what you're asking," Joyce stammered. "I mean, you know why we "
"Why do we run contests?" Mr. Tumey repeated.
"We run contests," Joyce replied, "to entice shoppers to buy our candy with the prospect of winning a prize. It gives us an edge over the competition and increases our sales."
"Not only have we not increased sales," Mr. Tumey shouted, "but they have dropped by ten percent. We have made an outlay of millions of dollars in prizes and marketing materials only to lose money!"
"I can't stand this." Bess cleared her throat loudly.
Mr. Tumey's voice continued to get louder. "Can you understand why this makes me upset? Why this makes my bosses upset?"
"Of course." Joyce's voice wavered. "It makes me upset, too. But no one could have predicted this would happen."
"That's your job, Joyce. You have to be able to predict this kind of problem."
"But you were enthusiastic about the contest you and Mr. Castle approved the idea."
"We approved the idea based on the facts that you presented to us," Mr. Tumey said. "It was your responsibility to do the research."
Nancy squirmed in her chair. She wondered whether Mr. Tumey would be yelling at Joyce if he knew there were visitors in the office.
"That Mr. Tumey sounds mean," Bess whispered. "I'm glad we don't have to talk to him."
"I presented you with all the facts we had at the time," Joyce said. "Obviously I couldn't have predicted that Pleasant Candies would launch a new candy at the exact same time that we ran our promotion. I couldn't know that Golden Bars would be a caramel-filled candy bar just like Crown Jewels."
"They do taste the same," Bess whispered to Nancy.
"It was your job to know," Mr. Tumey said. "Market research is your area. Furthermore, do you think it's a coincidence that Pleasant Candies launched this new candy bar at the same time we ran our promotion? That they undercut our price by five cents? That they duplicated the taste of the Crown jewels chocolate? Somebody at Pleasant knew our plans, Joyce. Pleasant Candies is paying someone to steal our secrets."
Joyce gasped. "Are you saying you think there's a corporate spy?"
"I know there's a corporate spy." Mr. Tumey paused. "I want you to stay alert, Joyce. We have to find this person before Pleasant carves out a greater share of our business. Before something else happens. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Mr. Tumey. I'll do what I can."
"See that you do."
Nancy stood as Joyce strode out of the office with her head down.
"I'm sorry," Joyce said. "Can I help you?" Then her hand went to her mouth. "Oh, no. I'm Joyce Palmer. You're waiting to see me, aren't you? I completely forgot."
"Yes," Nancy said apologetically. Joyce must know that they had overheard Mr. Tumey's every harsh word, she thought.
"We're sorry to bother you. We know you must be busy." Nancy shook Joyce's hand, then introduced herself and Bess.
"The receptionist said something about your wanting to claim a contest prize. I don't know why she sent you to me." Joyce bit her lip. "But come have a seat in my office. We'll see if we can take care of it for you."
Joyce offered Nancy and Bess some hot chocolate.
"No, thanks," Bess said immediately, her tongue going to the roof of her mouth.
Joyce settled into her chair. "All right, then. What can I do for you?"
"This is kind of hard to believe, but" Bess fumbled around in her pocket for the wrapper "I seem to have won the grand prize in the Crown Jewels Sweepstakes."
There was a long pause. "The grand prize?" Joyce repeated.
"Yes. You know, a million dollars, a trip to Kings Commons..."
"I'm sorry," Joyce interrupted. "But what you're saying is absolutely impossible."
The smile froze on Bess's face. "I'm sorry," she stammered. "I don't understand. Why is it impossible that I won?"
"Well," Joyce said, "there's only one grand prize. And it's already been awarded."
Copyright © Simon & Schuster Inc.