Read an Excerpt
Watch out, Nancy!" Bess shouted.
I slammed on the brakes of my car just in time to miss an SUV speeding down Bluff Street. "Oops!"
"I'm telling you, Nancy," George said. "You've got to stay focused!"
"Sorry," I said. "I was just thinking about the library celebration and how we should decorate for it."
Actually George was right. I did need to stay more focused. The problem is, I usually have so much on my mind that it's racing a hundred miles per hour. It's pretty hard to stay focused with that kind of a brain.
Let me fill you in. We were headed to the Mahoney Library a private library started as a pet project by the mother-in-law of the current Mrs. Mahoney, who is the wealthiest person in River Heights. In just a couple of weeks the library would be celebrating its seventy-fifth anniversary and I was really excited because I had been recruited as a volunteer to help plan the festivities.
Frances Corning, the head librarian and the mother of a friend of mine, Helen Corning, had asked me to chair the decoration committee. The focus of the whole event would be the old clock. It was donated many years ago to the library by a local River Heights jeweler, Ben Mullins. It is so cool too. The face of the clock has large Roman numerals and is set inside a gold base. In each corner Mr. Mullins etched the face of a person famous in the history of River Heights. He never told anyone who the four people were, though so people just keep guessing. It's kind of funny. Everyone in town is sure it's their relative's face on the clock.
"Nancy!" George shouted. "The light's still red!"
"I know, I know," I said. "I was planning to stop."
"It's usually not a good idea to stop in the middle of the intersection, Nancy," Bess said. "It makes it hard for cars to go through."
As you can see, George and Bess like to tease me, but I couldn't ask for better friends. Both of them help me so much on my cases, even if they get in the way sometimes. Take Bess, for starters. For her, every crook has a very good reason for committing his or her crime. Bess just doesn't want to believe that people really do bad things. And sometimes, well...they do.
With George, I can never get through the mall without a trip to all the electronic stores. As if that wasn't bad enough, she feels that she has to explain in intricate detail how everything works. She knows more than most of the people who work there. Of course, that also means George is able to help her mother with her catering business. She can find anything and everything on the Internet.
I turned a corner and merged into traffic. "This morning I was thinking about all the stories I remember people telling about the library clock," I said. "It's really been a big part of the lives of a lot of people in River Heights."
"Yeah. Didn't you meet Ned under the clock?" Bess asked.
"No, I had already met him but that's where we had our first date," I said. "Ned wanted to go out with me, but he had a test the next day, so I suggested we just meet in the Mahoney Library. He picked the spot: under the clock. He said it inspired him."
I actually met Ned Nickerson in junior high. He's studying English lit at the university. He's always loved to read; in fact, he has a habit of going to the library in his free time, closing his eyes, and picking out a book. Ned and his family used to live in Washington D.C., but his father gave up all of that to be the publisher of the River Heights Bugle. I'm glad he did, because otherwise, we wouldn't have met!
"I don't have a good story about the clock," Bess said, "but I have one about the jeweler who made it."
"If you're talking about the legend of the buried treasure, Bess, everyone's already heard it," George said, "and as far as I'm concerned, it's the sort of thing you only read about in old mystery books."
"Well, maybe and then maybe not, George," I said. "There certainly are a lot of people in River Heights who believe it."
For as long as I can remember, one of the most talked-about legends of River Heights had to do with Ben Mullins and the library clock. When Mr. Mullins died almost penniless, his family was in shock. They all thought he was a wealthy man. After the funeral, several family members said that right before Mr. Mullins died, he started talking about spending all of his money on jewels and then burying them somewhere, but leaving a map showing the location so that his relatives would have to use their brains to find their inheritance. Mrs. Mullins told everyone that she just thought he was beginning to lose his mind and must be talking nonsense, but when it turned out that there was almost no money in their savings account, she began to believe that he had been telling the truth. So did a lot of other people in River Heights. For several months so the story went you'd see people all over town digging up vacant fields and the banks of the Muskoka River. According to the people who would talk about the treasure hunt, Mr. Mullins also left secret messages in some of the jewelry-store ads that he ran in the newspaper before he died. After a while most people stopped looking. Still, there was the occasional fortune hunter who was sure he knew where to look. If anyone ever found the buried treasure, though, they never talked about it.
"Thanks for agreeing to help me on the committee," I said. "I think we'll have a lot of fun."
Bess giggled. "Some of us will, at least," she said mysteriously.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Oh, Bess, cut it out," George said. She looked over at me. "My cousin here thinks I only agreed to be on the committee because of Ellis Lamsley."
I raised an eyebrow in surprise. "Who's Ellis Lamsley?" I asked.
George blushed, which is very unusual for her. "He's the new librarian," she said. "He's also a marathon runner who's placed in several meets in the state, and I thought he might be willing to give me some pointers after my committee work, of course."
"I didn't even know there was a new librarian," I said. "Lamsley. That's an unusual name."
"It's not that unusual, Nancy. I checked it out on the Internet and I checked out Ellis," George said, her blush deepening. "Everything I had heard about him is true." She turned to Bess. "And you know, he fixes up old cars in his spare time. Maybe after he and I have run a few miles, you two could take apart his car and put it back together. Fun, fun!"
"Ha, ha, ha," Bess said.
Bess had actually gone on dates like that before. She never bragged about her talent for anything mechanical, but she had it and she loved tinkering more than anyone I knew.
Just as we came up to the parking lot of one of the town's newest supermarkets, I remembered something I had to do. "I told Hannah that I'd pick up a couple of jars of pimentos for her," I told my friends, "and if I don't do it now, I'm sure I'll forget it."
I signaled to get into the right-hand lane, gave a friendly wave to the man who blasted his horn at me as I steered to the right and turned into the lot, then drove down the aisles until I found a parking space as close to the building as possible.
"I refuse to comment on what just happened," George said.
"Good," I said. "I'll be right back."
I jumped out of my car and hurried up to the front door. I was almost run over by one of those shopping carts in the form of a kiddie car. Just as I found the aisle where I thought the pimentos would be, I saw my friend Lucia Gonsalvo heading in my direction.
Any other time I would have been delighted to see her. Lucia is our own River Heights fortune-teller. She has a small shop downtown on River Street, and I usually love listening to her stories. But there was no time for stories now.
"Oh, Nancy! Nancy! It is fate that has brought us together next to the pickles!" Lucia called. She has an accent, but I've never been able to place it and Lucia has never talked about where she lived before she moved to River Heights. "I have been thinking about you all morning, and they have not been good thoughts."
"Really, Lucia?" I said, preparing myself for one of her dramatic stories. "Why not?"
"Can't you see it? There is a dark cloud that surrounds your head!" Lucia said. "You must be very careful today. Something bad is just waiting to happen to you."
I looked up. Right above me one of the banks of lights was out. "There's your dark cloud, Lucia," I said.
"Oh, Nancy, Nancy, I guess I'm just being silly," Lucia said. She regarded me for a moment with her piercing dark eyes. "Still, I think you should be on your guard today."
"All right, Lucia," I said, "I promise that I'll pay very close attention to what's happening around me."
"Good," Lucia said. "You know I rarely feel this strongly I just have a feeling you should be careful. Now, you'll find the pimentos at the end of this aisle."
How did she know? Well, I guess a lot of people knew my dad loved pimentos.... "Thanks," I said, casting her a questioning glance. "I'll see you later!"
I hurried past Lucia, found the pimentos, and took two jars from the top of a stack.
I paid for the pimentos and hurried back to my car. George had the door open and was starting to get out.
"What's wrong?" I asked.
"What's wrong?" George said. "You were taking forever!"
I explained about Lucia but didn't mention what she had told me.
"Did you see Deirdre in the store?" Bess asked.
"No, I didn't," I said. "Why?"
"Well, she arrived right after you left, parked in a handicap space, ran inside, then came back out with a small sack," Bess said.
"And while she was in the store, a car with a handicap tag drove by and couldn't find a place to park," George added.
"That's Deirdre for you," I said. I quickly hopped into the driver's seat. As I pulled out of the supermarket parking lot, I looked at my watch. "I told Mrs. Corning we'd be there at nine o'clock, when the library opens and we'll make it with a couple of minutes to spare. Excellent."
"Who else is on the committee, Nancy?" Bess said.
"Just Ned but I haven't told him yet," I said. "I think the four of us can handle everything that needs to be done, don't you?"
"Definitely," George said. "Anyway, I'd prefer to be on the committee with just you guys."
"Hey, Bess," I said, changing the topic, "I have a favor to ask...."
"What is it?" Bess said.
"Well, Ned's parents are having a party tonight for a family friend from Washington D. C., and he's invited me," I explained. "It's dressy, so I was going to have you look over some of my outfits to tell me what you think goes best together."
Bess brightened. There's nothing she loves to do more than help me coordinate my clothes. I personally like the simple, casual look because, unlike Bess, haute couture has never been an interest of mine. For that night, though, I needed help.
"I'll help. And when I'm finished with you, everyone will think you just stepped from the pages of a fashion magazine!" Bess said.
I couldn't help but giggle.
"Who's the family friend?" George asked.
"Ned actually didn't tell me a name," I said, "but he's one of the president's advisers."
"What president?" Bess asked.
I looked at her. "The president," I said. "The one who lives in the White House."
"Oh, that president," Bess said.
I nodded. "Exactly," I said, pulling up to the library. "Well, we're here, so wait, why are all those police cars in the library parking lot?"
George and Bess leaned forward and looked.
"Well, I'm sure it's not because Chief McGinnis is checking out a book to read!" George said.
I rolled my eyes at her. My friends are never very charitable about Chief McGinnis. Of course, he really is, well...kind of lazy, I guess you'd say. And he gets very irritated when I solve a mystery that's totally eluded him. Still, we try to be civil to each other. After all, he is the chief of police of River Heights!
I parked the car, and the three of us jumped out and headed toward the front of the library. Just as we reached the steps, Chief McGinnis opened the door and came out of the building.
When he saw us, he stopped and held up a hand. "I see you were listening to your police scanner again," he said.
I took a deep breath. Chief McGinnis always likes to tease that I have a police scanner and that I listen to it all the time, hoping to find a mystery to solve. Everyone knows I don't.
"No, we have a committee meeting here at the library this morning," I said, "but what's going on?"
"My officers and I have everything under control, Nancy," he said, "so you can just go on to your committee meeting."
I gave him one of my biggest smiles, trying to pretend I didn't know something was up. "Okay," I said.
"We'll all sleep better tonight, now that you're on the case!" George said, winking at me.
The three of us headed toward the front door, but Chief McGinnis stopped us with, "Okay, okay, I'll tell you but you don't need to worry about trying to solve the case, because that's my job."
I stopped. "Well, of course!" I said. Excellent. Funny how all we had to do to get the chief to spill the beans sometimes was to act uninterested.
"Somebody stole the library clock last night," Chief McGinnis said. "Now there's just a big hole in the wall where it used to be."
Copyright © 2005 by Simon and Schuster, Inc.