DRESSED TO KILL
"I hoped that Mrs. White was sound asleep and that there were no other accomplices lingering about. If just one of the gang were to realize that I had not been killed my plan would be frustrated and I would be in great danger. So I opened the door to my room carefully. No one was about in the hall or in the dining area. I crept through the kitchen and into the back hall and carefully looked into Mrs. White's room. Her hinges must have been well-oiled too, for the door didn't make any noise at all as I opened it. She was lying peacefully in bed, breathing quite somnolently. She snored in such a weird manner that I'm sure she could not be faking sleep unless she had taken the precaution of taping herself and practicing to sound like herself asleep. And to do that would be quite bizarre."
"But you did that Nancy," George interrupted. "Remember last summer? You fooled me and Bess even though we know what you sound like asleep quite well."
"Still, does it seem likely that she did so?" Nancy asked.
George thought of Nancy's unnecessary glasses. No one else in the world would do that. It seemed that Nancy Drew was a unique specimen.
"No, I'm sure you're right. It would take a strange mind like yours to think of that."
"A prepared mind," corrected Nancy. "Most people don't take the precautions that I do."
"Did you coat your stomach with buttermilk?" inquired George.
Nancy looked at her friend quizzically.
"Sorry," repented George. "Humor too esoteric. The reference is to TV Batman. Go on."
Nancy brushed aside the obscure popular culture reference and proceeded with her story.
"I knew that I had to get rid of the unconscious assassin so that he would not wake up and cause me trouble. Handing him over to the police would be nearly as bad for my plans. I had to find a place where he would be kept under constraint for a couple of weeks, yet well cared for. I remembered that Hannah Gruen had sturdy relations who owned a farm five miles from the inn. So I carefully dragged my would-be killer through the lobby and out across the parking lot to the edge of the road. It's a good thing he was small.
"It took me twenty minutes to find where on the road he had secreted his car. I had already appropriated his keys so that I was able to drive the vehicle and park it nearer the inn. I hauled the body to the car and laid him in the back. Feeling more comfortable about his breathing than before, I put a light gag in his mouth in case he awakened prematurely. I drove half an hour to the roadhouse on the edge of Hendricksville and parked far away from the lights of the place, so no one would be able to spot the body in the back. Then I went in and made a call to Hannah Gruen in New York.
"She panicked at first when I woke her up in the middle of the night, but she quickly understood what I wanted. When I told her that I needed to stay undercover to avoid further assassination attempts she quickly fell in with my plan. She would keep my secret and she said that she would call up her nephew to warn him that I was coming. She told me how to drive there, even apprising me of landmarks that I could spot in the dark.
"Dolph Gruen left his porch lights on to help me navigate and met me out at the car. Together we hauled the trussed gangster out of the car and carried him upstairs to a guest room. His wife Mary was there with her army nurse's kit. After I had cuffed the hood to the brass bedstead, she inspected him for damage.
"'We'll monitor him for brain damage for the next day or so. It's likely he has only a minor concussion. When I'm sure he is all right we'll incarcerate him in the coal cellar.'
"Dolph sat down on a chair opposite the bed with a shotgun across his lap.
"'I'll take the first watch,' he said.
"It seemed I was leaving the hoodlum in capable hands. I thanked both of them effusively then headed back to the inn. There were a few more loose ends to tidy up.
"I thought of going back inside the inn to take my suitcases downstairs and to tidy up my room. Then I realized that was probably the old crone's 'rice bowl,' and that she would be rightly suspicious if some outside assassin knew enough how to put things away. Besides I thought it better to give the interior of the inn and its proprietress a wide berth. I had been fortunate so far, I didn't want to press my luck.
"I found the unfortunate detective's body in a clump of bushes. It was already bagged and weighted for delivery to the river. It was a painful job dragging the huge corpse out of the trees and over some pretty rough ground towards the car. When I leaned back my pumps got buried in the soft ground and I nearly fell over. I had just retrieved my shoe from the dirt, tidied it up, and was preparing for another haul, when, suddenly, two strange men emerged out of the dark!
"In a flash my gun was in my hand. You see, I had been expecting these guys. They were the 'insurance men,' sent to look over the scene and make sure the job was properly done. It seemed fortuitous that they found me just when I was occupied with the disposal of the detective's corpse.
"'Easy now, sister,' said one. 'We're from the CC outfit. Just checking on your job.'
"'They didn't tell us it would be a hit lady,' said the other.
"I bristled noticeably at this remark. It wasn't hard to fake. This guy was a Neanderthal! I told him not to give me any crap about men being stronger. In the modern world firearms technology makes us all equal. I said that my bullets will cut down a person just as well, more efficiently than his because I am a better shot. As I made my harangue I made sure that my gun always remained pointed exactly at his left ventricle. He got the point.
"'Sorry, sister,' he apologized.
"The other thug was more businesslike. 'Where is the body of Miss Drew?'
"I told them that I had had lots of time to get rid of the now deceased busybody kid. She was now swimming with the fishes. But shifting this bulky detective fellow was a much harder proposition, I told them. Then, keeping in mind the attitude of the Neanderthal, I decided to go all ladylike and let him act galante. I supervised the two of them carrying the now stiff detective to their own car.
"'I will need a ride to headquarters at Carbon City,' I told them.
"The smarter guy was skeptical. 'Why do you want to go there? It's dangerous for us have any more contact with you. You should go back to where you came from. The money will be sent to you in the usual way.'
"I told him that it was too hot for me in my home state. I had just killed the Hardy boys in Bayport. When that news got out there would be hell to pay all over that state. And if I were caught, the investigators might soon conclude that I had killed Nancy Drew as well. Then the trail could well lead to the northern mob. It was safer for me, and for them, if I went to Carbon City."
"You told them you killed the Hardy boys!" interrupted George. "But what happens when they find out that Frank and Joe are still alive?"
"I happen to know that the Hardy boys are in Scandinavia, pursuing a matter of such delicacy that they will need to stay pretty much undercover for several months or more. There is, of course, no news of their deaths, but the Scandinavia story—a matter of public record—is so unlikely that the mobsters will assume it has been fabricated to cover up an event that must be deeply embarrassing to the authorities. I told them that the police knew in advance that there was a contract out on the boys and that the whole Hardy family was being held in protective custody. In excruciating and convincing detail I related how I penetrated the jail with its cordon of police officers and killed the sleuths right under the nose of their police commissioner father!"
"Gosh!" exclaimed George. "You have some nerve!"
"I think I impressed them," admitted Nancy with an expression that was momentarily quite the opposite of crestfallen. "And the story landed me here. You might say that my Bayport fib served as a passport into the inner circles of the Carbon City slavery gang."
"But I still wonder . . ." George started a question, but trailed off into musing.
"What?" asked Nancy.
"Oh, lots of things. Like where you got that tawdry name."
"Chantelle? I only wear that name when I don't care what people think of me," quipped Nancy. Then, after a pause, she continued, "Actually I hadn't prepared a pseudonym in advance. I know that sounds careless, but there it is. I had to come up with something fast when the thugs asked my name. Without missing a beat I came up with Chantelle McGee."
"Chantelle McGee," George rolled the name around on her tongue as though it were a cheap Bulgarian wine of unpleasant vintage. "Nancy, that name is so awful that it's brilliant!"
Nancy gave her appreciative chum a modest bow.
"The two 'insurance' thugs brought me here and the rest was easy. For, once inside, I had a secret 'recipe' that I was sure would interest them. Remember Bess's drug, the chemical she made for her high school senior science project?"
"Not pixie dust!" exclaimed George.
"Yes, pixie dust," confirmed Nancy. "I watched Bess when she was mixing up the first batch, and I remembered the recipe. I knew that if I could supply the gangsters with a drug ten times as potent as heroin, perfect for the control of enslaved prostitutes, they would take me into the gang and I could use the administration of the drug as a pretext in order to look for the missing girls."
"But Nancy," protested George, "how could you introduce such a powerful narcotic into the criminal world?"
"I thought of that," Nancy admitted. "So I have managed to keep the secret of its manufacture to myself. So far. And if I can keep my secret until tonight I will be home free."
"What about the kids they are giving the stuff to?" persisted George.
"The effect is great, I grant you," Nancy admitted. "But Bess told me that it was non-addictive. The whole reason she made it was to be a transfer drug to get people off the other junk. Then when they eased off this stuff withdrawal will be already over. So I have had it distributed to all the young people they are holding here. When they get released pixie dust can be given to them until they are entirely weaned from the illicit substances."
"But the federal agents . . ." George started.
"Are just big spoilsports," Nancy continued. "I just don't see why they confiscated Bess's lab setup and made her promise not to make any more dust. Don't they want to win the war on drugs?"
George wasn't finished. "Aren't you afraid that you will get in a mess of trouble for making and distributing this drug?"
Nancy gave George a strange yearning look. "I am in so much trouble already," she confessed. "That I don't think my blowing a little pixie dust on Carbon City will add noticeably to my cares. There has been a contract out on me. As soon as they know I'm alive . . ."
"Gosh, Nancy." The extreme seriousness of the young sleuth's situation was just beginning to dawn on her chum. She didn't know what further to say.
"Don't worry dear," said Nancy as she patted George's arm. "I've been in bad situations before. And," she added brightly, "I'm sure Daddy will think of something."
The false gangster consulted her watch and immediately stood up.
"It's getting late now. We'll have time to hash everything out in more detail when this is all over. Right now I'd better run over to Bess's room and see if she is ready to receive us.
Before George could say a word Nancy had run out of the room and left her alone with her thoughts.
And these reflections were troubled ones. It was clear to George that Nancy had not been given the whole story about pixie dust. Bess had probably been too embarrassed to tell her detective friend, but George knew every sordid detail of Bess's struggle with addiction to the new "miracle" drug. After testing the dust on mice Bess had observed that the creatures showed no sign of dependency on the drug. She wrote this up in a term paper that Nancy saw before it disappeared into the hands of the F.B.I. Nancy knew only of Bess's earliest self-experimentation. Bess had told both Nancy and George that though she enjoyed her drug experience she could take the stuff or leave it. Her clear mind afterwards told her that being on the drug was a waste of time.
That's what she told us, and perhaps herself, George mused bitterly. But the night she found Bess pixilated to the gills and puking on the floor was not a pretty thing. And it was worse when she was coming down! She screamed for the dust and fought George to get it. She nearly scratched her friend's eyes out! George had to stun her cousin with a blow to the head in order to subdue her sufficiently to tie her up. George spent that Easter week alone with Bess in the family cabin up north while the chastened inventor sweated out withdrawal. It was a week from hell. When she got through it all, Bess was not only angry with herself and thoroughly scared, but disappointed in herself as a scientist. The cousins pored over Bess's earlier animal experiment results and found that Bess had mistakenly given the mice far too small a dose to be meaningful. She had miscalculated the rate at which the tiny creatures could metabolize and excrete the drug. Bess was mortified. When the feds showed up she was too discouraged and heartbroken to resist. She never wanted to hear of the stuff again. George hoped that the authorities would keep the formula a dark secret forever. She hoped and prayed that the pixie dust saga was at an end.
Now it was clear that the dreadful genie was again out of the bottle. Not knowing its fiendish power Nancy had apparently administered the narcotic to a number of young people including, most likely, Joni and Clare. These kidnapped children were perhaps now addicted to the most powerful drug known to humankind! What will Bess say when she discovers the dreadful sequel to her chemical nightmare? George wondered how she could explain to Nancy that she had made a serious mistake, and had brought a prolonged horror to the lives of those she had hoped to save.
When she returned a few minutes later, Nancy found George looking grim. Her boyish chum was looking at the floor pensively with her head in her hands.
"Are you all right?" Nancy asked with some trepidation. She knew that George had recently sustained a blow to the head and, in addition, had been seriously frightened when Nancy had fired her gun at her. Nancy wondered if George was about to succumb to shock. It had happened before.
George forced herself to assume a nonchalant air. "I'm okay," she said. "I'm just worried."
"Well don't you worry," Nancy clucked after the fashion of a condescending middle-aged matron. "I am just about to take care of everything."
She helped George to her feet.
"Now let's go see Bess."