Read an Excerpt
Cold, wet flakes pelted Nancy's face as she raced down the icy sidewalk. The scream had come from her right, but she couldn't see anyone. Then she spotted a figure sprawled on the ground.
"Are you all right?" Nancy cried out. Reaching the person, Nancy crouched down. A girl's frightened face looked up at her from beneath a coat hood.
"Yes!" the girl replied breathlessly as she struggled to her knees. Nancy grasped her elbow and helped her to her feet. "I was grabbed," the girl explained, "from behind. I screamed and hit out, but then I slipped on the snow and fell."
The girl bent down to brush away the slush clinging to her coat and jeans. Nancy noticed large footprints in the snow, leading between two buildings and into a parking lot.
Bess dashed up. "Are you guys okay? Ingrid!" she exclaimed when she saw the girl. "What happened?"
"You two go back to the shop," Nancy said quickly. "I'm going to follow these tracks."
"No!" Ingrid grabbed Nancy's arm. "You might get hurt."
Nancy gave her a reassuring smile, then took off down the alley. She didn't want to waste time explaining to Ingrid that she was an experienced detective who had been in lots of dangerous situations.
The footprints were wide apart, as if the person had been running. Nancy followed them to the large parking lot behind the row of shops. A sudden movement at the far side of the lot caught her eye. Someone jumped into a dark-colored car and slammed the door. Then Nancy heard the motor roar.
She ran toward the car but it zoomed from the parking space. Skidding on the snow, it raced out of view. Disgusted, Nancy kicked the snow. If she'd only been a second earlier, she could have at least seen the car's license plate number. But she did notice that the person was tall too tall to be a woman, she decided. When she compared her footprint to one of the tracks, she could see that the other person's foot was much larger than hers.
Bending down, she inspected the print closer.
The sole of the shoe or boot had pressed a diamond-grid pattern in the snow. She would have to point that out to the police.
When Nancy got back to the shop, Ingrid had pulled off her hood. Dotty was handing her a cup of steaming cocoa. Bess was looking down worriedly at her.
"I followed your attacker," Nancy said to Ingrid. "Unfortunately, he got away. And I didn't even get a license plate number."
"That's too bad." Ingrid looked up from her hot drink. She had long blond hair pulled back with two barrettes. Her pretty face was still red from the cold. Nancy noticed she spoke with a slight accent.
"I don't even know if it was an attacker," Ingrid admitted. "He might have just bumped into me maybe I panicked and slipped on the Ice."
Nancy furrowed her brow. "I don't think so. He sure took off running that doesn't sound like an innocent bystander to me. I think we'd better call the police. There were some interesting footprints they'll want to see. The sole made a pattern in the snow."
"I'll call and report it." Dotty reached for the phone beside the computer register.
Ingrid Jumped up, and said, "Don't bother." Then she smiled sheepishly. "I didn't even see the person. It was dark, and he came up behind me. I thought someone grabbed me that's why I screamed. But I might have been confused." She chuckled. "That's probably why he took off all that yelling scared him."
Bess frowned. "I don't know, Ingrid. It might have been a mugger."
Ingrid waved her hand. "Look, if I make a report, the police will want me to hang around. But next Sunday I'm headed back to Germany for the holidays. I've saved all fall for this trip, and I don't want it ruined."
Ingrid's reasons made sense, Nancy thought. Still...
"Well, the most important thing is you're all right," Dotty said, placing the phone back on the hook.
"Thanks to..." Ingrid started to say something, then she spotted the replica Happy Birthday Bear leaning against the register. "What's he doing out here? I didn't put a price tag on him yet."
"So that's why you'd tucked him away in the back corner," Dotty said, reaching for the bear. "I found him this evening when I was looking for more gift boxes. I hadn't realized he'd been delivered already."
"Yes. I unpacked him earlier," Ingrid explained. "But the shop was so busy I didn't get to tag him and put him out."
"And I'm glad, because guess what?" Bess asked, taking the bear in her arms. "Dotty sold him to me! She says she has enough bears, so I can add him to my collection. Isn't that wonderful?"
Ingrid looked surprised. "B-but I was hoping to buy him for my cousin, Karl, in Germany," she stammered. "His birthday is right before Christmas."
"Ingrid's mom is German," Dotty explained to Nancy. "Her dad's American, but he was in the military, so their family has lived in Germany most of her life. When her father retired this year, they came back to the States." She turned back to Ingrid. "Why don't you buy Karl one of these cute Christmas bears? He'd probably like it better."
Ingrid bit her lip. "Well...I had my heart set on the Happy Birthday Bear. It just seemed right."
Nancy looked over at Bess. She was hugging the bear tight, an anxious expression on her face. Nancy could tell that her friend was weighing the idea of giving the bear to Ingrid.
"I'm sorry," Dotty said. "I ordered several, but only a limited number are sent to the States, so it could be a month before I get another one. Wait!" She snapped her fingers. "I know what I can do."
Moving behind the counter, Dotty picked up the phone. "I'm sure Arnold Smythe at Totally Toys ordered some."
She punched in the numbers, then waited "Arnold? It's Dotty. Glad I caught you."
While Dotty talked, Nancy unbuttoned her coat. She'd gotten hot from running. Ingrid was quietly sipping her cocoa, while Bess cradled the bear.
"It's all set," Dotty declared when she hung up. "Arnold received one yesterday, and he'll be happy to save it for you, Ingrid."
"But his shop is in Ardmore," Ingrid said. "Isn't that an hour from here?"
Dotty nodded. "Not to worry. Write me a check, and I'll have Larry pick up the bear in the morning. You'll have your bear by the afternoon."
Ingrid smiled. "Okay. And thanks." She set down the cup. Then she picked up her purse and rummaged through it for her checkbook. "By the way, Dotty, I need my paycheck."
"Oh, right," Dotty chuckled. "After you came all the way out here in the snow, it would be a shame to forget it." She went into the back room.
Bess grinned at Ingrid. "That's great we'll both have our bears."
"Yeah." Ingrid smiled back at Bess, but Nancy thought it seemed kind of forced. Ingrid obviously didn't want to wait for another bear.
"You're going back to Germany for Christmas?" Nancy asked her.
Ingrid nodded. "Most of my friends and relatives live there, and I really miss them."
"How long have you been here?" Nancy asked.
"Since the summer," Ingrid said. "I just finished college in Germany, then I came back to live with my folks. I've been pretty lonely though. I was really glad when Dotty hired me this fall. She laughed. "I'm a bear collector, too I guess I hung around the store so much, Dotty took pity on me and hired me."
Dotty came out and handed Ingrid her paycheck. "So who's working tomorrow?" she asked the girls.
"You are," they both chorused, looking pointedly at the shop owner.
Dotty rolled her eyes. "That's right. Well Tuesdays are always slow, and with the snow I doubt we'll have many customers. Ingrid, why don t you come by in the evening and pick up your bear? I'll probably close around six."
"Let me get my coat," Bess said. Nancy slipped on hers, and she and Ingrid started slowly toward the front door.
"Hey, why don't you have dinner with Bess and me tomorrow night?" Nancy suggested. "We can take you to the local hangout and introduce you to some of our friends. There will be lots of college kids around during the holidays. A good friend of mine, Ned Nickerson, will be home in a couple of days."
"Ned's just a friend?" Bess said as she came from behind the counter
Nancy blushed. "Well..." She knew Bess was teasing her because Ned was really her boyfriend.
"I'd love to have dinner with you guys." Ingrid's expression brightened. "It's hard to make new friends."
"We'll pick you up around five," Bess suggested. "Then we can stop by the shop with you to pick up your bear."
The three of them waved goodbye to Dotty, then stepped out into the snow. Nancy and Bess walked Ingrid to her car, then went on to Nancy's Mustang.
"I hope it wasn't a mistake not alerting the police," Nancy said to Bess.
"Oh, it'll be fine," Bess said. "In this crazy weather the guy might've mistaken Ingrid for someone he knew. Maybe he was sneaking up to surprise her, and when she started screaming, he freaked out and ran. I know I would have."
"Yeah, I guess," Nancy said, unlocking the car door. She just hoped Bess was right.
"Hmmm. That's funny," Nancy said to Bess and Ingrid when they pulled up in front of Beary Wonderful. "The closed sign is on the door already, but it's only five-thirty."
"Dotty probably closed early because there weren't any customers," Bess said from the back seat of Nancy's Mustang. "I mean, the street's practically deserted. Not everyone is brave enough to drive in the snow like you, Nancy."
Ingrid opened the car door. "Let me jump out and see if she's still there. Otherwise, I can get my bear tomorrow."
Nancy put a hand on Ingrid's arm. "Wait a second. Something doesn't look right. Doesn't Dotty keep an outside light on all the time?"
Ingrid nodded. "That's right. When I close up she always tells me to switch it on."
Nancy slid out of the driver's seat. A chill wind was blowing, and she wrapped her coat tighter around her.
"Hey, I'm coming with you!" Bess shouted as she jumped out of the backseat.
Quickly Nancy strode around the front of the Mustang to the shop's door. She turned the knob "It's not locked," she said in surprise.
"That's weird," Ingrid said. She was right behind Nancy. "When Dotty puts the closed sign out, she always locks the door."
Bess grabbed Nancy's arm. "Let's call the police," she whispered urgently.
"Let's look around first," Nancy suggested. Maybe Dotty's working in the back room and just forgot to lock the door. Or maybe someone called while she was closing up and distracted her or..." Nancy's voice died as she pushed open the door. She had a nagging fear that Dotty hadn't done any of those things.
The three girls stood frozen in the open doorway. Without the outside light the shop was dark and shadowy. Bess gripped the back of Nancy's arm as she and Ingrid followed Nancy toward the computer register.
"I'll go turn on the lights," Ingrid whispered.
"No," Nancy said. "We stay together until we find out what's going on." She reached in her purse for her pocket flashlight. After turning it on, she swung it around the shop. Dolls and bears grinned at her as the beam flickered over their faces. She aimed the light toward the counter and the cash register.
"Nothing looks out of place," Bess said. "Wait!" She pointed to the floor in front of the counter. A red Christmas ball lay shattered on the carpet.
Lowering the flashlight, Nancy ran the beam along the carpet, then up to the red velvet covered shelves of the locked case. Behind her Ingrid and Bess gasped. The ornaments glittered in the light, but the rest of the case was empty. Dotty's valuable bears were gone!
Copyright© 1993 by Simon & Schuster Inc.