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"I just love The Nutcracker Ballet!" George Fayne declared. Opening a copy of the River Heights morning newspaper, she showed her best friend, Nancy Drew, the ad for the ballet. It was being performed by Madame Dugrand's Dance Academy, a local ballet school.
"I'm glad we're getting a chance to see the performance this year," George added as she pulled off her lavender ski hat and shook out her short dark curls. "Remember when we danced in it?" she asked Nancy.
"I sure do," Nancy said, a smile on her face. "It must have been about eight years ago. Whenever I think of The Nutcracker, all I remember is Bess tripping over a mouse tail and knocking both of us into the Christmas tree."
"We didn't make very good soldiers, did we?"
With a chuckle, George folded the newspaper and put it back on the dashboard of Nancy's Mustang.
"Let's hope Madame Dugrand's latest students at the dance school are more dedicated." Nancy gave her shoulder-length blond hair a toss as she started the blue sports car. The two friends, who were both eighteen years old, were heading out of the state park, where they had just finished cross-country skiing.
"Bess couldn't wait to get away from dance class, remember?" Nancy went on. "All those arabesques and plies were not her idea of fun."
"That's for sure," George agreed. "Which is why I can't believe my crazy cousin Bess is actually working at Madame Dugrand's school today."
Nancy gave George a puzzled look. "I thought she was shopping for Christmas presents."
"She's helping sew costumes," George said. "She met Madame Dugrand at the mall the other day. They started talking about The Nutcracker, and Madame said she was afraid the show wasn't going to be ready on time."
"Why?" Nancy raised her brows. "The dance school puts on The Nutcracker every year, so don't they already have the costumes and props?"
"I think Bess is helping to alter some of the costumes to fit the dancers," George explained. "Anyway, Madame told Bess that the rent for the school unexpectedly went way up, and the building needs a lot of repairs. I guess Madame is hoping this year's production will be super sensational to help pay for everything. So she wants the show to be perfect. And you know what a soft touch Bess is. She immediately volunteered to help with the costumes."
"Mmmm," Nancy said thoughtfully. "Plus, it was her way of getting out of going cross-country skiing with us."
George laughed. "You're probably right. Bess can sew sitting down, so it won't seem like work to her. I also have a hunch Bess volunteered so she could hang out with Shana Edwards."
"Shana always was really nice," Nancy agreed as she passed a slower-moving car. "I guess we always knew she'd be the one from River Heights to make it as a ballerina in New York City. But The New York Ballet Company performs their own Nutcracker. Wouldn't you think Shana would rather dance in that one?"
"Bess said Shana came back because Madame Dugrand asked her to," George explained. "Madame hopes that having a famous alumna in the school's production will help make it a big success."
"I hope she's right," Nancy said. "I've always liked Madame Dugrand, and I know how important the ballet school is to her."
"Hey, why don't we stop off there right now?" George suggested. "We can surprise Bess, and take her to lunch with us."
"Good idea." Nancy flipped on the turn signal and made a right down Main Street. "I need to buy a ticket to the gala in Shana's honor, anyway."
George sighed. "I wish I could go to the gala, too. But the competitors' party for the cross country ski race is that same night."
"Maybe Shana will be there today," Nancy said. After turning into the parking lot of the dance school, she pulled the Mustang into the first empty spot.
The school was located in a flat, rectangular building that had once been a small warehouse. Madame Dugrand had installed rows of tall windows into the brick walls and added skylights to the roof. Inside, she'd built two large dance studios, dressing rooms, an office for herself, and a large recital hall.
"The place looks just like it always did," George remarked as the girls headed up the snowy walk to the double front doors. Just then, she hit a patch of ice. "Whoa!" she cried as her feet slipped underneath her.
Nancy grabbed her friend's elbow, but it was too late. George fell to the sidewalk with a plop. "Are you okay?" Nancy asked. She couldn't help but grin at her friend's disgruntled expression.
"Yeah," George said. "I can't believe it. I skied all morning and never fell once."
Nancy helped her friend up. "I don't think it's your fault," she said. "The sidewalk should've had sand or salt on it. Remember how Madame was always so careful? She didn't want one of her precious ballerinas to hurt themselves.
"We'd better tell her, then," George said, slapping the snow off the back of her pants.
As they continued up the walk, Nancy saw that the ice hadn't been cleared from the steps, either. "This is pretty dangerous," she commented.
But George had already entered the building. When Nancy stepped into the hall beside her friend, she quickly noticed the chipping paint on the walls and the scuffed linoleum floor.
"Brings back old memories, huh?" George said.
Nancy nodded. "Bess was right, though. The place is a lot more run-down than I remember."
"Repairs are expensive," George said as the two of them started down the hall. "And Bess told me that, because of the rent increase, Madame's strapped for money. This year she's been teaching most of the classes herself, with help from some of the older students, who get a tuition break."
"That means less money coming in," Nancy pointed out. "Let's hope for Madame Dugrand's sake that bringing Shana back will draw a huge crowd for The Nutcracker."
"Speaking of ballerinas," George said, stopping in the front foyer and looking around the empty halls' "where is everyone?"
Nancy could hear the faint sound of piano music. "They must be in class."
"Bess is probably in the wardrobe room," George said.
"It was in the basement, right?" Nancy said. "Let's go look for her there."
The girls started down the dimly lit stairs Cobwebs hung from the high ceiling.
"I don't think I'd like to come down here alone," George whispered. "It's kind of — "
"Who's there?" someone called in a shrill voice, cutting George off. An elderly woman with a cane hobbled into the dark, narrow hall below. Stopping at the foot of the stairs, she peered up at them through round granny glasses. Her wispy, snow-white hair looked like a halo around her forehead.
"I'm Nancy Drew," Nancy said politely. "And this is George Fayne. We're here to see — "
"Nancy! George!" Bess exclaimed, coming out of the wardrobe room and stopping beside the elderly woman. "What a nice surprise. How was the skiing?"
"Great," George said as she and Nancy made their way down the rest of the steps. "We stopped by to see if you wanted to have lunch with us."
Bess glanced over at the elderly woman, then said hesitantly, "I don't know if I should. I'm in the middle of putting lace on Clara's nightgown."
The white-haired woman smiled kindly. "Go eat, dear. You deserve a break."
"Oh, all right," Bess said. "But first, I want to show my friends your handiwork." After introducing Gertrude Wolaski to Nancy and George, Bess said, "Mrs. Wolaski is the most talented seamstress in the world."
"Now, Bess," Mrs. Wolaski said, shaking her head modestly. "Don't carry on."
"I'm not carrying on," Bess insisted. "You're a magician with a needle and thread."
"That's only because I spent thirty years of my life sewing for my husband's dry cleaning business," Mrs. Wolaski informed the girls.
Bess led the way down the short hall and into a medium-sized room. Long fluorescent lights shone down on several racks of costumes. Two sewing machines were set up on large tables littered with scissors, straight pins, and patterns. Spools of thread were stored on racks on the walls, next to bolts of many colored fabrics.
Now that Nancy was standing next to the elderly woman, she could see how tiny she was. Mrs. Wolaski's rounded shoulders and hunched back made her look even smaller.
"How'd you get into the costume business?" Nancy asked, waving at the rows of gowns, mice suits, soldier uniforms, and ballet tutus.
Mrs. Wolaski laughed. "Well, I love the ballet. About a month ago I was at a recital here at the school and mentioned to Madame Dugrand that I used to sew. And as you know, Madame can be very persuasive. So I volunteered to help with the Nutcracker costumes. Not that an old lady like me has anything better to do." The wardrobe mistress smiled. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I must find Lawrence. He promised to pick up more pink tulle for me yesterday."
The girls said goodbye, then watched as Mrs. Wolaski limped slowly back into the hall with the aid of her cane.
When the woman had gone, Bess grabbed Nancy's hand. "I want you both to see the Sugar Plum Fairy costume Mrs. Wolaski is making for Shana," she said excitedly. Riffling through a rack of costumes, Bess pulled out a dress with a bodice of shimmering silver satin and a skirt of wispy silver tulle. Clusters of pink beads decorated both the shoulder straps and the skirt.
"It's beautiful," Nancy said, touching the gossamer fabric.
"It looks expensive," George commented. "I thought Madame was trying to save money."
"Shana's costume had to be special, but we're just altering most of the others." Bess hung up the Sugar Plum costume, then pulled out a soldier uniform. "Does this remind you of anything?" she asked, a twinkle in her blue eyes. "Like opening night of The Nutcracker when I stole the show?"
"Is that what you did?" Nancy teased as she and George burst out laughing. "I thought you fell on George and me, and we all knocked the big Christmas tree over."
"Well, maybe it was more like that." Bess giggled, then frowned slightly. "Let's hope this year's Nutcracker is more successful. Nothing else seems to be going right for Madame Dugrand."
Nancy raised her brows. "You mean like the rent increase?"
"It's worse than just that," Bess said. "A lot of little things have been happening around here, and they're beginning to add up.
"Like what?" George asked.
Bess's voice dropped to a whisper. "Well, two girls had toe shoes stolen from their lockers. And there's been a lot of bickering among the kids and parents, too, about who got what part."
"There was always grumbling," Nancy reminded her. "I mean, even though we weren't very good dancers, we still thought we should've had the lead roles." Bess slid the soldier uniform back with the others. "Yeah, but this seems different. Madame's so nervous it's affecting everyone."
"How's Shana taking all of this?" George asked. "She did come all the way from New York for the production."
"I don't know if Shana has any idea of what's going on," Bess said, taking her coat from the back of a chair. "But I do know she wants to see you both."
"Great," George said.
"Let me buy a ticket to the gala, then we can find Shana and say hello," Nancy suggested.
"Good idea," Bess said.
The girls headed upstairs, where the hallway was no longer empty. This time, several older boys and girls dressed in sweats and leotards were limbering up before the next class.
When Nancy, George, and Bess reached Madame Dugrand's office, the door was open. Looking over Bess's shoulder, Nancy noticed that the small area was filled with file folders and papers. Madame Dugrand, a slim, attractive woman in her early fifties, was sitting in a swivel chair behind an old-fashioned rolltop desk. The desk was cluttered with papers and envelopes, and to the right of it was a computer on a stand.
Bess knocked on the door frame, and Madame looked up from an open ledger. When she saw who it was, she smiled brightly. Nancy thought that despite her gray hair, Madame hadn't aged since they'd been students eight years ago.
"Bess!" the directress exclaimed, standing up. "How do the costumes look?"
"Great. The Sugar Plum Fairy costume is a work of art." Bess stepped into the office, then motioned to Nancy and George. "I brought two former students to see you. And one of them wants to buy a gala ticket."
Madame's smile widened. "Nancy Drew and George Fayne! What a pleasant surprise!"
"Nancy's the one who needs a ticket," George explained. "I wish I could go to the gala, too," she added quickly, "but I have a party that night after a cross-country race."
"You always were athletic," Madame Dugrand told her. "And, Nancy, what are you up to these days?"
"She's only the best teen detective in the world," Bess cut in.
Nancy laughed. "Not exactly 'the best.'"
"Well, I'm glad you'll be able to come to the gala," Madame said as she opened her desk drawer and hunted for the tickets. "As I recall, you three used to know Shana — "
Suddenly, a high-pitched alarm went off
Bess jumped nervously. "What's that?"
In a flash, Madame Dugrand rushed past the girls and into the hall. "The fire alarm," she called over her shoulder.
Following Madame Dugrand into the hallway, Nancy asked, "Was there a fire drill scheduled for today?"
"No!" Madame exclaimed, breaking into a jog. "This must be a real fire!"
Copyright© 1992 by Simon & Schuster Inc.
Posted January 16, 2003
Wow! this book is awesome! it kept me going and guessing. A new clue that lead away from the person you suspected in everycorner! I couldn't put this book down! this is why i gave it 5 stars!
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Posted January 6, 2003
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