Read an Excerpt
If you had told me when my friends Bess Marvin, George Fayne, and I left for an all-expenses-paid vacation to Costa Rica that we wouldn’t want to get on the plane to come back, I wouldn’t have been surprised. But I wouldn’t have been able to come close to imagining why!
“You feel guilty leaving, don’t you?” Bess asked me as we tried to settle into our tiny airplane seats for the long flight back to Chicago. “After what happened to Sara . . .”
I sighed. “You know me, Bess,” I said, reluctantly clicking my seat belt closed. “I hate to leave a mystery unsolved.”
Maybe unsolved is the wrong word. Partially solved would be more accurate. See, when George won a vacation for two at the Casa Verde eco-resort in Costa Rica, she and Bess decided they couldn’t leave me behind. So we split the cost of my plane ticket, and off we went—to the gorgeous, supposedly relaxing, supposedly “green” Casa Verde resort.
When we arrived, however, it became clear that we were about to get a little more than we bargained for. Almost as soon as we met our fellow vacationers, all journalists who were attending Casa Verde’s press tour to celebrate its opening, things started to go wrong. At first, it was little things—stolen luggage, a dognapping. (The dog in question, Pretty Boy, was quickly recovered—and, in fact, was yapping away in first class with his owner as the three of us prepared for departure.)
But soon, it got more and more dangerous until people were narrowly avoiding getting hurt—yours truly included. After getting a little too up close and personal with an alligator, and finding out firsthand what happens when your zip line is cut (spoiler: you fall!), I was getting the feeling that someone at Casa Verde wanted us gone. And as it turned out, I was right. Several people at Casa Verde had things to hide: Among them, the fact that Casa Verde wasn’t, well, quite so verde after all.
Casa Verde was billing itself as a state-of-the-art eco-resort, but in fact, all those fancy environmentally friendly fixtures and systems that were touted on their Web site were never actually installed. Instead, one of the brothers who owned the resort, Enrique Arrojo, had used substandard systems—and pocketed the money he saved. He claimed he was saving for his daughter Juliana’s college education, but I was beginning to wonder if it was that simple.
One of his veterinary workers, Sara, had confessed to pulling the pranks that had made our stay so eventful—all to bring the journalists’ attention to the ways Casa Verde was really hurting the environ-ment it claimed to be protecting. She had claimed, though, that she wasn’t behind the most dangerous stunts that had threatened me. And right before we left—right after confessing to Enrique and his brother Cristobal that she had sabotaged their press tour—she had been the victim of a poisonous ant attack!
I had so wanted to believe that Casa Verde’s problems were over, but Sara’s attack certainly made it look like someone is still holding a grudge.
“Look at it this way,” George suggested, glancing up from her techie magazine. “At least when we get home, you can do some research on this Cassandra Samuels.”
I nodded. Cassandra Samuels was the final ill-fitting piece of the puzzle. She worked for Green Solutions, the consulting firm that had supposedly advised Enrique and Cristobal on how to build an eco-friendly resort. And—more intriguingly—it seemed that she was Enrique’s secret American girlfriend. Enrique’s daughter Juliana had insisted to me that her father wasn’t capable of all these scary attacks—that he must have had a co-conspirator, someone who had talked him into the scheme. At this point, if such a person existed, Cassandra Samuels seemed the most likely suspect.
“Oh . . . Em . . . Gee,” a bubbly voice squealed in front of me, and then I heard a sharp “Yip!” and groaned. Bess, George, and I all turned to where Deirdre Shannon and her cousin, Kat, were coming down the aisle with Pretty Boy—Kat’s precious, recently dognapped, extremely neurotic Chihuahua. Since Deirdre and Kat were traveling first class—Kat had paid to upgrade both their tickets—we hadn’t been expecting to see them again until we landed. “Are you guys as happy to get on this plane as we are?”
Kat sighed, her platinum blond curls bobbing as she shook her head in exaggerated frustration. Kat lived in Los Angeles, and made her living working as an extra. She fancied herself an actress and, while nice enough, could be a bit overwhelming.
Bess smiled patiently. “We’re glad to be getting home, for sure,” she agreed. “Though we still have some unanswered questions.”
“What do you mean?” asked Deirdre skeptically.
“Well,” I said, “for instance, what happened to Sara?”
Kat shrugged. “You mean those ants?” she asked. “That stunk. But I guess those are the hazards you face working with animals. Right, boobie-boo? ” She turned to Pretty Boy, cooing at a high pitch, and George gave me a desperate look, like Make her stop!
“Um,” I said quickly. “Well, yeah . . . But it seemed like more than an accident to me, you know?”
Kat looked thoughtful. “You mean like when Pretty Boy was dognapped?”
“Yeah,” George agreed, nodding. “Maybe someone was trying to send a message.”
Kat stared off into space, seeming to think about this, but Deirdre didn’t look convinced. “Either way,” she snapped, “who cares? That was the worst vacation I ever took. Thank goodness we got it for free, otherwise I would be on the phone with my credit card right now, disputing the charges.”
Kat glanced back at her cousin, then nodded. “Yeah,” she agreed. “Whatever was really going on there, I’m just glad to be done with it.”
Deirdre glanced at me. “Not everyone feels the need to snoop around in other people’s business, Nancy. All I know is I’m going to kiss the ground when we get back to Chicago! I’ve had enough nature to last a lifetime.”
George smirked. “Does that mean your environmental phase is over, Deirdre?” Before we’d left on our trip, Deirdre had claimed to “heart” the earth.
Now Deirdre sighed dramatically. “I suffered through a whole week with a low-flow showerhead,” she complained, reaching up to grab a lank, dark lock of hair. “I think I’m all paid up on the environmental front for at least a year.”
Just then, a flight attendant tried to make her way up the aisle, but paused behind Deirdre and Kat, who were blocking her. “Ladies,” she said, “I’m afraid you’ll need to take your seats. We’re preparing for takeoff. And miss, your dog will have to return to its carrier and be placed under the seat.”
“I know, I know.” Kat rolled her eyes, hugging Pretty Boy close and glancing sideways at me. “I swear,” she whispered after she and Deirdre had moved aside to let the stewardess through. “The way people treat Pretty Boy sometimes! It’s like he’s an animal or something. Well, ta!”
“Ta,” echoed Bess, waving gamely. Then Kat and Deirdre disappeared behind the first-class curtain, and we settled in for our flight.
“Well,” George said with a sigh, “I guess this is ‘;good-bye, Costa Rica.’”
I nodded, looking out the window at the gorgeous scenery with regret.
Good-bye, Costa Rica, I thought. You’ll be out of sight, but not out of mind.
Back in Chicago a few hours later, Bess, George, and I stumbled out of the plane, cranky and sleepy-eyed. It was only mid-afternoon in Chicago, but after hours in the sky, it felt much later.
“Where do we go to get the bus to River Heights?” Bess asked, groggily searching the signs overhead. We’d all taken an express bus to the airport last week, and planned to return to River Heights, our hometown, the same way.
George playfully poked her arm. “We have to get our luggage first, ditz,” she reminded her cousin. “Remember all your beloved clothes? Not to mention the bags and bags of souvenirs you brought home.”
Bess shrugged. “I like to remember the experience, okay?”
I snorted. “Bess, I don’t think you’ll ever forget our week at Casa Verde.”
We’d walked down the long terminal and now stepped onto the escalator that led down to baggage claim. We’d already said our good-byes to Kat, who was catching a connecting flight to L.A.; Deirdre had followed her to her new gate to see her off.
“Hey,” George piped up, pointing lazily to the left as we stepped off the escalator. “Is that kinda weird?”
© 2010 Simon & Schuster, Inc.