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I was sitting around the house, reading this junky Western novel and recovering from my latest case, when my friend George Fayne dropped by with some interesting news.
Maybe a little too interesting.
"What! You've already made our plane reservations?" I cried, shooting up from the living room sofa. "What have you gotten us into, Fayne?"
"A fun time," George replied, with a toss of her short dark hair. "I saw this great airfare deal written up in today's paper. It includes a week in Moab, Utah, at a hostel called the Ranger Rose." She pushed a newspaper into my hand. "Here, Nancy. Take a look."
I glanced skeptically at the picture on the front. Gorgeous red cliffs and strange rock formations popped out at me. A lone pair of hikers strolled down a wilderness path under a huge, deep blue sky. Above the scene a headline read, MOAB, UTAH: HIKER HEAVEN.
"Maybe you'll even find a mystery there," George added slyly.
I smiled. George knows how to grab my attention. I've never met a mystery I didn't like. In fact, I'm known throughout my hometown of River Heights for getting to the bottom of cases that stump our local police force. But I'm the first to admit the truth — there's no way I could solve them without a secret ingredient: friends. Three of them, specifically. George and her cousin Bess Marvin are my two best friends and co-sleuths, and my boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, helps me sometimes during his college breaks.
"Moab sounds awesome," George continued. "There are two national parks nearby, Arches and Canyonlands, with amazing hiking and mountain biking trails. There's also rafting on the Colorado River, horsebackriding — every kind of wilderness sport you can think of. You've got to come, Nan. We have till tomorrow to phone in our credit card numbers."
Pushing back my shoulder-length strawberry blond hair, I cast my mind back to the sixth grade, when I wrote a report on national parks. Since then, I've been lucky enough to visit a bunch of them — Yellowstone, Acadia, Grand Canyon, you name it. But Arches and Canyonlands were unknown to me. I got curious.
"Maybe," I said, against my better judgment. I mean, hadn't I told Dad I'd help him do research this week? As a busy River Heights lawyer, he gets kind of stressed. Dad and I are close — especially because my mother died when I was three. So I like to make sure he's not overworked.
"Don't let me down, Nancy," George urged.
Outdoor adventures are George's passion. I wasn't surprised this vacation appealed to her. But did it appeal to me?
Her brown eyes scanned my face. I gave her back the article — and the thumbs-up sign.
"Yes!" George said. "And by the way, Nancy, that Western you're reading is perfect pre-vacation reading."
The rain pounded on the car like Niagara Falls on our way from the airport to Moab. I struggled to see the road ahead of me. A two-foot wall of mucky red water rolled toward us. A flash flood?
"Easy, Nancy," Ned urged as I fought to keep the car steady. "Keep your eyes on the taillights of that car ahead of us. Don't go too fast or we'll hydroplane off the road."
The wall of water hit us with a hard slap. I felt the car lift up, like a speedboat rolling through waves. If my throat had allowed me to choke out words, I would have croaked, "No traction!" Could a car make it through so much water? I clutched the steering wheel, hoping the current wouldn't sweep us away.
It seemed to defy the laws of physics, but the car kept plowing forward. Red water swirling. Rain pounding. Visibility, zero.
"If those taillights ahead of us disappear, it means a flash flood swept the car away," Bess said miserably.
"Stop it, Bess. You're making Nancy nervous," George said. Actually, not a word my friends could say would have made me nervous. The towering walls of water cascading down the cliffs surrounding us did that job just fine.
I held my breath, squinting, always keeping the taillights of the car ahead of us in sight. Our windshield wipers made a rhythmic whoosh sound as they swept the water back and forth.
"The rapids on the Colorado River will be awesome tomorrow," George declared. "Maybe we should go rafting instead of hiking."
"How can you think of sports at a time like this, George?" Bess moaned. "Our lives are in danger! Haven't you heard about flash floods in the desert? They sweep away everything in their path — cattle, trees, cars."
"As long as the storm spares your suitcase, Bess, you'll be okay," George teased.
Bess shot her cousin a withering look, then studied the map, her long blond hair partly hiding her profile. It seemed like a million years passed, but finally I saw the neon sign of a Mexican take-out place shining through the rain, heralding the outskirts of Moab. No sight had ever seemed so welcome.
"Looks like we're finally in Moab, guys!" Bess crowed. "Three cheers for civilization."
Sometimes I can't believe how different George and Bess are, since they're cousins. Bess's idea of hiking is running to the next designer clothing sale, while George is a serious athlete. Bess is trusting, but George is skeptical. Bess is short while George is tall. The list of opposites goes on, but the great thing is that despite their differences, my friends are devoted to each other.
You may be wondering how George and I roped Bess and Ned into coming with us. I'm not sure what George said to Bess, actually. Maybe something about all the cute guys in Moab — bikers, kayakers, and park rangers. But whatever George did, it worked — Bess seemed eager to come. As for Ned, well, when he bought hiking boots at the River Heights mall the same day I told him of our plans, it seemed pretty clear to me that he wanted to come too. I would have invited Ned on the spot except I thought he still had exams. I'd forgotten the exact date they ended — three days ago. Anyway, I'm really glad he's with us. Flash floods don't seem quite as scary with Ned around.
The car ahead of us turned right at a crossroads, but that was okay with me. Civilization was popping up everywhere around us in the form of gas stations, fast-food restaurants, and ugly motels.
"The Ranger Rose is on Main Street," Bess said, consulting her map. "Just a couple more blocks." The fast-food joints soon gave way to unique little restaurants and stores, including a bunch of bike rental places. "There it is!" Bess cried, pointing to a beige adobe-style building with a painted rose over the front door. A red sign attached to the wall announced THE RANGER ROSE in script. A small parking area was on the left.
Ten minutes later we stood inside the lobby with our bags, totally drenched. The hostel wasn't frilly, but luckily it was clean and comfortable. Three guests shared each room, and there were bathrooms down the hall.
Outdoorsy types in rain ponchos wandered in and out of the front door, unfazed by the weather, their faces tanned from sunnier days. This place had George's name written all over it. I wasn't so sure about Bess.
"Does it usually rain like this in Moab?" Bess asked the desk clerk, a deeply tanned young woman wearing a T-shirt with the words Biking Fool on it.
"Rarely," the clerk replied. "But don't worry, the sun will be out soon. The only clue that it's rained at all will be the crazy Colorado River. It's going to roll!"
George brightened. "How can we make reservations to go rafting?" she asked.
Bess groaned. "George, we've only just recovered from one life-threatening situation. Can't we just relax for a while?"
The clerk broke in. "I recommend hiking in Arches before you do anything. It's a great introduction to the high desert."
"The high desert?" Ned echoed. He brushed a lock of brown hair back over his eyes — a typical Ned gesture I've always been fond of.
"The Utah desert has a fairly high elevation," she explained. "It doesn't get quite as hot as the lower deserts like Death Valley in California. Also, there are mountains nearby with pine forests. You can go horseback riding on trails."
"Awesome," I said, eager to do it all. "But first let's get settled, guys. After our long trip, I'm heading straight for a hot shower."
An hour later Bess and I waited for the others in the lounge downstairs, which was full of mismatched canvas chairs and Mexican rugs. I wore jeans and a black tank top with a green-and-pink beaded necklace. Hoping to influence the weather, Bess wore a turquoise sundress. A tall handsome dark-haired guy strolled in and shot Bess an appreciative glance. He was maybe nineteen. I reconsidered my earlier impressions of the Ranger Rose. Maybe this place had Bess's name on it after all.
He grabbed the chair next to us. "I'm Nick. Nick Fernandez. Did you girls just get here?"
Bess did most of the talking, introducing us and explaining how she was looking forward to all the wilderness sports this area offered. Nick lit up. "Maybe I can join you at some point, Bess. Especially if you go mountain biking. That's what I love most."
Ned and George hurried in, their hair still wet from showers. "Have you looked outside, Nancy?" Ned asked. "The sky's clearing."
Smiling, Bess and I introduced Nick to George and Ned, and the five of us chatted about a mountain biking race Nick had recently completed. "I came in third," he told us. "Got to do better next time."
"Don't be so hard on yourself, Nick," Bess said. "Third is great."
Before Nick could respond, a perky young woman with shoulder-length dark hair walked in, followed by a middle-aged woman with long gray hair. Nick introduced us to Priscilla and Margaret Powell.
Priscilla scratched her ski jump nose with its dusting of freckles. "Mom and I arrived at the Ranger Rose two days ago," she explained. "It's a small place — cramped, some would say — so all the guests are bound to meet. And by the way, please call me Missy." With her hair tucked neatly under a tortoiseshell band and her pressed khakis, Missy looked like the ultimate preppie. Margaret was different. Sporting patched jeans and multipierced ears, she peppered her speech with sixties expressions.
"We just arrived a couple hours ago," I told her as we shook hands.
"Groovy!" Margaret said, smiling. "Well, Missy and I are pleased to meet you. I hope you find Moab as far out as we do."
"Speak for yourself, Mom," Missy retorted.
Margaret ignored her daughter's rudeness. "Years ago, I hung out in a commune in the mountains nearby. We all lived in harmony with nature." Taking me aside, she added, "Missy's father and I are divorced. She lives with him and his new wife in Southampton, New York, in a mansion the size of Buckingham Palace. Before this trip, Missy and I hadn't seen each other for several years. I'm not sure she approves of my lifestyle."
"Why not?" I asked, curious. Margaret sure seemed like an oddball. Why was she telling me, a perfect stranger, all this private stuff?
"I live a simple life on a farm in Vermont," Margaret went on. "I grow my own vegetables and raise goats to make organic cheese. I also run the local health food store. It's just not Missy's scene. The instant she went to college, she split."
"At least she agreed to come with you here," I said.
"I insisted," Margaret said, her chin set. "I left her some money in trust for when she turns twenty-one, but I wasn't going to let her have it if our relationship continued to be such a bummer. I do have a few rules."
Missy sidled up to us. "Mom, are you being honest? Are you telling Nancy that you dragged me here against my will?"
I stared at her. Why was Missy being so rude to her mother?
Margaret looked hurt. "Yes, baby, I brought you here. But it was to fix our relationship. You see, the desert has healing vibes."
"Mom, I need a dictionary to understand you," Missy said petulantly. "Are you ready for dinner? There's a sweet French restaurant I noticed down Main Street."
"Is it organic?" Margaret asked as she and Missy went out the door.
I stared after them. I'm used to plenty of eccentric characters in River Heights, but these two seemed wackier than most. I wondered if they always argued so much.
Nick turned to us. "Do you guys want to grab a burger?" he asked, glancing shyly at Bess. "There's a good place next door. Awesome chocolate malts."
"Perfect!" Bess pronounced happily. "I was worried at first, but Moab is working out just fine." And with those words, I relaxed. More than anything, I like knowing that my friends are happy.
We all returned from dinner around the same time. "Shouldn't French food take longer to eat than burgers?" George asked the Powells as we all fixed ourselves tea in the lounge.
"Not if you dine on salads," Margaret said. "I'm a vegetarian, and Missy wasn't in the mood to eat."
The detective in me perked up. "Really? Why not?" I wondered.
Margaret shrugged. "Ask her."
I was just about to obey when Missy plunked down her tea mug and glared ferociously at her mother, her lower lip trembling.
Uh-oh. Missy was spoiling for another fight.
"You act like you're so full of peace and love, Mom, but you're really just a control freak," Missy yelled. "Controlling me with your stupid money. Well, I don't need it. Dad gives me plenty!"
"Please, Missy, not now," Margaret said. "Not in front of others."
Missy clenched her fists. "Hypocrite!" she cried. "You're always telling me to let out my feelings — well, here they are! You never allow me anything I want. I'm leaving this dump. I'm going home to Dad and Mollie tonight!"
Copyright © 2004 by Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Posted June 11, 2013
Posted February 8, 2005
I loved this book! Out of all the Nancy Drew;Girl Detective books this was probably the best! Very suspensful and I loved the characters! If you love Nancy Drew than this book is for you!
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Posted March 25, 2013
Posted July 25, 2010
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