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Talk of the Town
Nancy? Nancy? Earth to Nancy Drew!"
I blinked, snapping out of a daydream as I picked at some lint in my bedroom carpet. "Sorry, Bess," I said, swallowing a yawn. "What were you saying?"
Bess Marvin, one of my best friends, dipped her nail polish wand into the bottle of pink liquid on the desk in front of her and studied me. She propped one bare foot on the edge of my desk.
"Weren't you listening to what I just said, Nancy?" she demanded.
My other best friend, George Fayne, smirked and rolled over on my bed. "Poor Nancy had probably passed out from the nail polish fumes." George waved one hand in front of her face and wrinkled her nose.
Bess rolled her eyes. Even though she and George are cousins, they couldn't be more different. If Bess is everyone's idea of the perfect girl, with her blond hair and pretty, feminine dresses, George defines the word tomboy. She keeps her dark hair cropped short wash-'n'-wear hair, as she calls it and lives in jeans and sneakers.
I fall somewhere in the middle of the two of them. I'm nowhere near as interested in clothes and makeup as Bess I'm lucky if I remember to dab on a little lip gloss most days. And I occasionally might even forget to comb my hair before leaving the house. On the other hand I don't mind doing a little shopping now and then, or putting on a pretty skirt and some makeup for a special date with my boyfriend, Ned.
Somehow, though, despite all our differences, our three-way friendship works. George and I do our best to tolerate Bess's incurable love of clothes, Bess and I try to look interested when George starts rambling on about the latest computer gadgetshe wants to buy, and the two of them are always ready to help out with my own favorite hobby solving mysteries. Lucky thing, too, since that's something I've loved doing since I was knee high to a leprechaun, as my father would say. I've never really gone around looking for puzzles to figure out and crimes to solve. They just seem to find me.
At the moment, however, without a case to solve, I felt a little bored. I usually enjoy just hanging out in my room with my friends, but I was feeling kind of restless. "I was just saying that I wonder how much it would cost to have this done at Indulgences." Bess gestured toward her pink toenails.
George groaned dramatically. "Do you have to keep bringing up that stupid place every two seconds?" she asked.
I glanced at her in surprise. Bess had been talking almost nonstop about the fancy new day spa scheduled to open that weekend in our hometown of River Heights. It was a little annoying, true but George sounded downright irritated. That wasn't really like her. She can be impatient, but she usually finds Bess's girlier interests and comments more amusing than annoying.
Bess didn't seem to notice George's reaction. She was staring into space thoughtfully, the nail polish wand suspended over her foot. "Do you think it's going to be as expensive as everyone says?" she mused. "I mean, they don't actually mention any prices in the commercials or anything. But I heard the price for a facial is going to be three times as much as it would be at Head to Toe."
"I guess they have to pay their expenses somehow," I commented, sitting up and leaning against the foot of my bed. "They rebuilt the old candy factory practically from scratch. And that fancy Roman bath-style mud room thing they show on the ads doesn't look like it was cheap to build either."
Bess nodded. "That looks cool, doesn't it?" she said. "I heard the owner, Tessa What's-her-name, designed it herself. I guess it's supposed to be the centerpiece of the whole place. The article about the grand opening in this morning's newspaper says they imported something like seventy-five different types of mud from all over Europe and South America, and the tiles in the mud room were all handcrafted in Spain. I've never seen anything like that around here."
I nodded. From what I could tell from the television commercials that had been running almost nonstop for the past couple of months, none of us had seen anything like Indulgences before at least not in our quiet Midwestern town. River Heights features numerous barber shops and a handful of salons, including one called Head to Toe that offers a few spa services such as facials and massages. But Indulgences was going to be different the kind of fancy, full-service spa one might find in a big city like Chicago or New York. It was supposed to feature everything needed for a day of relaxation and rejuvenation, including mud baths and saunas, a staff of masseuses, a lap pool, and even a restaurant and juice bar.
"I bet it'll be successful," I said. "River Heights might not be a very big city, but there are lots of wealthy people here, partly because of Rackham Industries. I'm sure a lot of people would like to get pampered in style now and then, even if it costs a little more than they're used to."
Bess nodded. "I hear that," she said. "In fact, I was just thinking it might be fun to go to the grand opening tomorrow and splurge on a facial or something." She grinned, revealing the dimples in her cheeks. "Maybe we could even check out that Roman mud bath!"
"Forget it!" George growled, her voice suddenly so loud that I jumped a little. "There's no way I'm wasting my time on something like that."
Bess scowled at her. "Fine! You don't have to bite my head off, though," she said, sounding slightly wounded. "It was just an idea."
I stared at George, startled by her hostility. As I said, she's usually much more tolerant of Bess's interests even when she doesn't share them. Why would she get upset about something so minor? I wondered if she was having money trouble again. George isn't what you could call a master budgeter. Usually any money she earns is spent the second she gets it, if not before. And she can be a little touchy when she's feeling broke.
Even George herself seemed to realize her reaction was a little over the top. "Sorry," she muttered, not meeting our gaze. "I just wish we could talk about something other than that stupid spa for a change, that's all."
"Have I been talking about it that much?" Bess said sheepishly. "Sorry. Hey, but that reminds me I meant to ask you guys if you saw that new show on TV last night...."
We were still chatting when there was a knock on the half-open door a few minutes later. I glanced over and saw my father standing in the doorway. He poked his head in and looked around, taking in the scene Bess with one foot still propped on the desk, half her toenails painted pink; George lounging on the bed picking her teeth; and me sprawled lazily on the floor. He smiled.
"Sorry to interrupt," he said. "It looks like you girls are in the middle of some very important business."
"Very funny, Mr. Drew!" Bess said, smirking.
There aren't many people in River Heights who would dare joke around with Carson Drew. He's one of the toughest, most highly respected, and successful lawyers in town. But Bess and George have known my father since they were in diapers, so they see right through his big reputation to the sweet, funny, caring man he is, outside the office and the courtroom.
Sometimes I wonder what my family might have been like if my mother hadn't died when I was three. But one thing I can't imagine is not being as close to Dad as I am, thanks to so many years of relying on him to be both father and mother to me. It's also tough to picture not having Hannah Gruen in our lives she's been our housekeeper practically forever and is totally a part of the family.
Dad stepped into the room. "Hey, you girls had better be nice to me," he teased, his eyes twinkling. "Otherwise I might not share the exciting free gift I just received and came up here to tell you about."
"What is it?" George immediately sounded interested. She always loves getting stuff for free.
Dad reached into his pocket. "I just finished a case for Ms. Tessa Monroe, owner of Indulgences Spa," he said. "I guess she appreciated my efforts, because she gave me these free passes for her grand opening tomorrow." He pulled his hand out of his pocket to reveal several tickets. Then he shrugged and grinned. "Now, I don't think a facial is really going to do much for my old mug, and I've got an unnatural fear of saunas. So I started thinking, who do I know who might be able to use such a thing?"
"Me! Us!" Bess squealed, leaping up out of her chair so fast that she almost upended her nail polish all over my desk. She grabbed it just in time, righted it, then rushed over to grab the tickets out of Dad's hand, as if fearing he might take them away. "Oh, thank you, Mr. D! We were just talking about how awesome it would be to go, and how expensive it is...."
Dad laughed at her enthusiasm. "You're welcome," he said. "But if you girls are going to use the passes, you'll have to break the news to Hannah and her bridge club. They were next on the list."
"Oh. Do you think Hannah wants one of the passes?" Bess asked immediately, a look of concern crossing her pretty face.
I chuckled. Hannah is what some people might call "a handsome woman." From what I can tell, that means she's attractive in a no-nonsense, practical, get-away-from-me-with-that-perfume-sample-if-you-value-your-kneecaps kind of way. She never fusses much over her clothes or her short, salt-and-pepper hair. I could easily imagine her enjoying a free day at the theater or a gardening expo or even the zoo. But a fancy day spa? No way.
"I think Hannah will be okay," I assured Bess. Then I shot my father a smile and wink. "Thanks, Dad."
"No problem." Dad glanced at his watch. "Gotta go. I need to make a couple more calls before dinner. Hannah says it'll be ready in half an hour, by the way."
He hurried off down the hall. I glanced at Bess, who was staring gleefully at the passes in her hand.
"I guess your dream came true, Bess," I teased playfully. "Looks like we're spa-ing it up tomorrow."
"Yeah," George said, her voice flat. "Looks that way."
Bess shot her a glance. "Oh, come on," she said. "It's not like you'll have to spend a cent of your hard-earned money. You can't possibly complain about going now."
"Want to bet?" George muttered.
I shot her a curious glance. "Don't you think it could be fun?" I asked, honestly perplexed that she was still dragging her feet now that the money issue was solved. "I mean, I'm not exactly a spa buff either, but it will be cool to check out the new place and get a little pampering, right?"
George just shrugged. Her face was still set in a frown.
Bess and I exchanged a glance. It was no surprise that a day of facials and manicures wasn't making George jump for joy, but normally she was up for trying something new and different especially something free.
"Are you okay?" Bess asked her cousin with concern.
"Of course!" George responded quickly. "Why do you ask?"
"It's just that you seem so down on this whole spa thing "
"Fine, fine," George interrupted grudgingly. "If it means that much to you to go let someone rub mud all over you and stuff, I guess I'll give it a try. It might not be that horrible."
I grinned at Bess. "That's the spirit!" we said in unison.
When we trooped downstairs a few minutes later, we found Hannah in the kitchen. She was humming softly under her breath as she mixed something in a large ceramic bowl. There was a large pot bubbling on the stove nearby, and the enticing scent of her special seafood chowder filled the room, making my mouth water. The small television on the counter was tuned to a local news broadcast, the sound turned down low.
"Smells great, Hannah," I said hungrily, taking a deep sniff.
Hannah glanced up and smiled at me. "Should be ready before long."
"Hey, you guys!" Bess said urgently, staring at the TV set. She hurried over and turned up the volume. "Check it out they're talking about Indulgences!"
George rolled her eyes. "For a change," she muttered sarcastically.
I stepped forward to peer at the tiny screen. "Isn't that Marletta Michaels?" I asked, recognizing the reporter, a striking woman in her fifties with an impressive upsweep of platinum blond hair. "I thought she usually covered, like, real news stories." I shot Bess an apologetic glance. "You know what I mean."
"You're right, Nance," George said. "But she's also a real supporter of vegetarianism, remember?"
I nodded, recalling a two-part series the reporter had done recently about the health benefits of a vegetarian diet. "I remember. So what?"
"Nancy, haven't you been paying any attention at all?" Bess puffed out a loud sigh, sending a strand of her blond hair flying. "Honestly, I don't know how you can be so sharp and organized about solving mysteries and so scatterbrained about everything else..."
I just grinned. It wasn't the first time I'd heard that. Bess's exasperated comment was just a variation on what my friends, my father, Hannah, and/or Ned told me every time I accidentally left the house wearing mismatched socks or locked my car keys in the trunk for the umpteenth time.
"So fill me in," I said. "What's the connection here?"
"Indulgences is supposed to be totally vegetarian and organic and stuff," Bess explained. "It's one of their big selling points. I'm sure that's why Marletta Michaels is interested in it."
Sure enough, when we stopped talking long enough to listen to what the reporter was saying, I realized she was discussing the spa's organic vegetarian menu. "...and absolutely no meat at all," Marletta finished, sounding very pleased as she emphasized the last two words. "A breath of fresh air in this area, indeed. I know I'll be first in line to sample their secret-recipe vegetarian chili." She smiled at the camera. "And now, over to Stacey Kane with a look at how the grand opening will affect another local business."
The picture switched to a different reporter, this one a pretty young blond woman. She was standing on the sidewalk in front of the Head to Toe salon.
"Guess they're trying to find out how the competition feels about the new place," George commented.
The young reporter started interviewing the proprietors of Head to Toe, a pair of grandmotherly looking women wearing matching pink aprons over their neat pantsuits. While the reporter maintained a concerned expression, the two older women never stopped smiling pleasantly.
Hannah glanced up from her cooking. "It's a shame," she commented. "Those ladies over at Head to Toe have really built up a nice business for themselves over the years. Hope this new place doesn't steal too many of their customers away."
"It probably will," George said darkly. "A big, fancy place like this new spa could run them right out of business."
I shrugged. "I doubt it," I said, turning away from the TV as a commercial came on. "They don't seem to be going after the same kind of clientele, you know? Head to Toe isn't really a full-service spa or anything. It's just a place where people can get a little extra pampering while they get their hair cut."
"I think Nancy's right," Bess agreed. "Indulgences seems more like it's trying to appeal to the country club set. People like that don't go to Head to Toe for haircuts and facials anyway they probably travel to a bigger city or something."
"Maybe you're right." George leaned against the kitchen counter. "But I'd hate to think we helped send those nice ladies out of business, you know? Maybe we should spend the day at Head to Toe tomorrow instead. You know, support local small business."
I stared at her. "What is up with you today?" I demanded, my curiosity finally taking over. "Why are you so down on Indulgences? It's like you have a personal vendetta against it. Did Tessa Monroe once knock you down and steal your ice-cream cone or something?"
George refused to meet my gaze. Instead she stared fixedly at Hannah's mixing bowl. "That reminds me, it's almost dinnertime," she said. "If I'm going to have to spend all day tomorrow in vegetarian land, I'd better fill up tonight."
Without another word she hurried out of the kitchen. We could hear her sneakers slapping against the hallway floor, then the sound of the front door swinging open and quickly slamming shut.
"What was that all about?" I wondered aloud. "Is it just me, or was she acting really strange?"
Bess shrugged. "You got me," she said, already heading toward the door. "But we'll have to discuss it later. George drove me here. See you tomorrow!"
She took off at top speed. I wandered out of the kitchen and into the next room, where I watched from the window as Bess caught up with her cousin just in time to stop her from driving off without her. A second after Bess climbed in, George's car took off with a squeal of tires.
I watched it go, still astonished at George's behavior. What in the world was wrong with her?
Copyright © 2005 by Simon & Schuster, Inc.