Bess's room was only two doors down the corridor. George was so preoccupied with worry about Bess's drug that she didn't bother donning her ill-fitting headgear. It was fortunate they didn't encounter any of the thugs who regularly patrolled the hallways. Nancy opened the door by deftly pressing a secret combination, taking very little more time than if the door had already been unlocked. Inside, the room was bright, decorated luridly in soft phosphorescent pastels, with lacy fabric draped on the walls and garlanding the canopied beds. The whole chamber stank of cheap perfume and the kind of incense used to mask the smells of an opium den. Bess sat on one of two beds, dressed in a sheer and rather frilly pink negligee, and wore an idiot grin on her face.
"Helloo George," she exclaimed as she spotted her cousin coming in. "I'm feeling ooh soo gooood." Her voice was a lethargic drawl.
As soon as she heard that well-remembered slur in Bess's voice, the blood in George's veins turned to ice. She knew instantly that Bess was back on the drug. Pixie dust.
"You gave her the dust," George stammered accusingly.
"Yes," said Nancy. "It was the only way I could keep her safe. The gang will leave her alone as long as she is high. It's when she comes down that they will expect me to force her into prostitution. If the dust were an addictive drug—and I told them it was—then Bess would have to work in the brothel for her next fix. That is how they operate here. Bess is not so high now as she was a few hours ago, but it will be a while yet before they send some one to check up on her. As far as they know, I am 'training' her for a life of slavery and sin. But, fortunately, before this day is done I will have taken the steps needed to avert that nightmare."
As far as Nancy was concerned keeping Bess on pixie dust was part of an elegant plan. Things did not look so simple to George. Nonetheless, she could see that there was nothing to be gained by transferring even a portion of her mounting distress to her well-meaning friend. As far as Bess's future suffering was concerned, what was done was done. They would have to face the agonies of her withdrawal later. It was clear that Nancy had the heavy burden of executing a plan to apprehend the entire slaver gang. Sometime within the next few hours she might be in extreme danger and would need her undistracted wits about her. So George decided to hold her own counsel on the devastating effects of pixie dust.
"So Bess is safe," continued Nancy. "Now I want you to be safe too."
"How?" asked George.
Bess heard every word of the exchange between her chums, but appeared not to care about the content of their remarks. She seemed vaguely happy to have them in the room with her and signaled her mood of extra contentment by rolling her eyes asynchronously and quietly humming "St. James Infirmary" in French.
"I have a plan. Dressed as you are now you will not long survive anywhere in this building. The next thug who recognizes you will shoot you in a more inconvenient spot than the one I chose. So it follows that you must get dressed as a woman. Which, as it turns out is convenient, since you are one."
"Where will I go?" asked George. Stressed and worried as she was she couldn't resist one last quip—"And I hope you don't baptize me with one of your ridiculous names."
"Don't worry. You won't need a name. I want you to stay here and keep a watch on Bess."
But who will protect me? wondered George, filled with a nameless dread.
Nancy went to the chest of drawers and extracted another negligee.
"Put this on," she ordered. "There is makeup aplenty on the vanity. Don't worry if it's not your color. If it's slightly off it will make you look that much more convincing. And don't forget to remove that mustache. That won't be convincing at all."
George quickly got out of her rumpled pimp attire. The billowy filmy nightdress was a bit ample for the young, athletic girl. It made her look as tawdry as she was beginning to feel. While she applied her makeup—thickly to alter her appearance as much as possible—Nancy folded up George's mannish clothes and put them into a plastic bag. She secreted the bag under the bed.
"If anyone but me comes in," Nancy instructed. "Act drugged. Look sort of woozy and happy, lengthen your vowels, and don't make too much sense."
"In other words, act normal."
Nancy glared at George for not taking her instructions seriously.
"Or I could pretend to sleep," George counter-suggested.
"But don't really sleep," Nancy told her. "I need you to stand watch like a good soldier."
"Some soldier," observed George ruefully, as she glanced at her painted and half-naked image in the mirror. "Some guard. Can't I even pack a rod?"
"No one would need x-ray vision to spot a gun lurking in that outfit," remarked Nancy. "Besides, you'll be much safer without one."
Nancy moved towards the door. "I really have to go now. Bye, Bess."
Bess said a melodious good-bye which seemed to her a good segue into "The Streets of Laredo." So she followed it there.
Almost at the door, Nancy turned on her heels and faced George.
"George, if your disguise is going to work you will need a needle mark."
She rummaged in her copious bag and extracted another syringe and a vial of liquid.
"What is that?" asked George anxiously.
"Don't worry," assured Nancy. "It's just a saline solution."
George hated getting shots when she was a little girl, and didn't tolerate it much better now that she was virtually an adult. She winced in anticipation. Even if it were only salt water, it would hurt while it was going in.
Nancy tapped the syringe to make sure their were no air bubbles trapped inside. No sense killing her chum through carelessness.
Anticipating the needle George closed her eyes. When the needle went home she nearly jumped.
"You hit my bone!"
"Don't be silly," said Nancy.
The girl detective packed up her medical kit and prepared again to leave.
"Good bye, Cinnamon."
This was a devilish Parthian shot, even for Nancy. George was about to stick out her tongue at her departing chum, when she was distracted by a peculiar feeling. Her legs seemed to stretch out a very long way and so did her arms. She knew that any signal from her brain would take hours to reach her extremities. Time seemed to decelerate towards a stop. From George's point of view Nancy took an epoch to pass through the doorway. George realized she was pixilated. She wanted to scream at Nancy for giving her the dust, but her mouth would not obey. Her vocal chords were so distant that she understood that she would have to write them an airmail letter. But where was there any paper and a pen? George slowly turned around on her chair, lost her balance, and descended in a slow spiral that went down and down and down into a pit lined with pillows and filled with the feeling of Christmas. No longer cognizant of the existence of the drug, but only remembering the perfection of the universe and her own content therein, George lay on the floor and happily contemplated a cockroach who appeared to be strolling over to greet her.
Bess, who by this time was clear-headed enough to notice that George was unaccountably sleeping on the floor, came over and sat down next to her newly oblivious cousin.
"Don't woorry, Geoorgie," she cooed. "Beshie will guaard you. We're very shaafe heere."
For Bess had a plan. It was a simple but effective plan, one that she knew she and George could carry out, even if her cousin was a little under the weather.
Bess was now aware that she was on the pixie dust drug, and, being an experienced user, she remembered the stages that the drug put a person through. First there was total bliss—combined with complete physical incompetence. George was in that place now, she realized. Then the ability to function slowly came back, and along with it, a manic and overestimated sense of capability. Bess remembered her experiments with the drug in high school. In the second stage she had solved Goldbach's Conjecture, Fermat's Theorem, the four color map problem, and other previously unsolved mathematical problems. Well, while doing the math under the influence, it all seemed to be going quite well. Days afterward, however, when she read over her written work she could neither understand what she had written nor recall how the proofs went. She well remembered the disappointment at discovering the lies that had been told her by the drug. She had merely experienced the feeling of doing great things. Nothing real or important had actually been accomplished. The stage after the manic one, unfortunately, was a growing craving for more dust. She didn't like to think of that.
But Bess knew that she was not at the end of the middle stage and that the feeling of despair the drug left behind was still hours away. She felt so good that she didn't care what would happen to her at any time so distant as hours in the future. That was the price she willingly paid for being so effective right now. Previously when she had been middle-stage pixilated she had been only falsely competent. But now, she realized, she really was master of the entire situation. She supposed that her great intellect had somehow subdued the drug this time—practice helped turn the trick—and that she was now able to direct it to her own purposes. Too bad she had no paper or she might be able to record some brilliant thoughts while she was waiting for George to wake up to the middle stage.
Nancy's plan, whatever it was, was probably not good enough to capture a whole gang of criminals, Bess had surmised. Therefore, whether Nancy knew it or not, she would need assistance. And who better than myself? Bess asked herself. No one, was the immediate answer. Bess had a deep plan, one that could not possibly fail to save Nancy, and Joni, and Clare, and Eleanor Roosevelt, and Gandhi, and the whole wide world. But first she had to wait until George was finished listening to that cockroach.
With George's head cradled in her lap, Bess sang softly, "Summertime."
For the moment the living was easy.
In the next room down the hall Nancy contemplated two further evidences of her handiwork. Joni and Clare were clearly recovering from their latest injection. However, they looked surprisingly agitated. Nancy wondered if emerging from the dust made people disoriented.
"Nancy, Nancy love," pleaded Clare, "be a good girl and give me some more of your wonderful drug."
Joni, much more modest in style, did all of her pleading with her eyes. If eyes could snatch a hypodermic needle out of Nancy's purse, Joni's would have.
When she had first given these girls pixie dust Nancy had instructed them to pretend to be addicts when the drug's euphoric effect had worn off. This was to ensure that any potential mobster witnesses would not suspect the novel narcotic was really useless for the purposes of enslavement. But Nancy was taken aback by these all too convincing supplications. Furthermore, they seemed useless because there was no one around to witness this scene but herself.
"Nancy, I'm afraid." Clare was taking a new tack.
"Afraid of what, Clare?" asked Nancy, working as much reassurance into her voice as she could speedily muster.
"I am really not a good actress," confessed the enslaved girl. "I don't think I can keep acting addicted much longer. What if one of those horrible men comes in here and sees that I am not truly addicted? What will he do to me? And you will be in trouble. You need to stay out of trouble, if only to save me—and Joni. So please, inject us again, just once more to keep us busy until your wonderful rescue is complete."
Nancy had to admit the justice of Clare's argument. Something about the tone of voice Clare used made her nervous, however. It wasn't like Clare. It was as if her personality had recently been subtly altered, and for the worse. Although she was assured that the drug was not addictive, Nancy wondered if it was otherwise habit-forming. Or was Clare so unhappy or hedonistic that she just wanted to bury her life in chemical oblivion? And silent Joni made Nancy more troubled still. But she didn't have the time or energy to investigate. She decided to give the girls another shot, then look into the matter later.
In a matter of minutes both girls were rendered peaceful. Nancy determined to have a long discussion later with Bess about the side-effects of her wonder drug. Bess must have experienced them—or perhaps, being a very strong-willed person, she was less susceptible than these others?
There was no use visiting longer with the drugged girls. She had a much more important consultation on her calendar. In another room, in an office on another floor, was a man who was her co-conspirator in a scheme to overthrow from within the entire criminal syndicate of Carbon City—her father, Carson Drew!
Like herself, but by a different route, Nancy's father had penetrated the inner circle of the slaver gang. He was now the lawyer, or "mouthpiece," for the criminal band. So effective had he been in his demonstration of how he could subvert and defeat the legal system, without recourse to tried and true gangland tactics such as bribery or intimidation of witnesses, that he was now accepted in a leadership role and respected for his sage advice. Nancy now proceeded to call on him for counsel as well—but to receive wisdom of a type that the mobsters would scarcely approve.
Carson looked up as Nancy entered his new office. He was dressed expensively in a sandstone suit and contrasting iridescent carmine tie. If Hannah Gruen had been there to observe him her jaw would have gone slack with amazement. It was not the understated look that the lawyer always selected for himself. Of course, had Hannah been present, Nancy's new look—her "Chantelle" persona—would have caused her to faint. Fortunately the Drew's housekeeper was in New York City and thus safely ignorant of such sartorial innovations.
"Dad, I'm worried about the girls who are on Bess's dust. Bess told me that the drug was not addictive, but I can see that it's having an unhealthy effect on Clare at least, and maybe Joni as well."
"There is not much we can do about that now, Nancy," he replied. "I promise that we will have them all put under observation at Shady Rest before they are released to their families. But now, we have to turn our complete attention to the events of tonight. The best we can do for the kidnapped young people is to have them rescued as soon as possible. Only then can we begin to treat them for the ravages of illicit drugs and venereal diseases."
"Is our trap all set for tonight?" asked Nancy.
"Everything is in motion," her father explained. "The police are on station. I have arranged that tonight's conference will take place in a venue that can be controlled to suit our purposes."
"Then go over my part with me," Nancy asked. "I want to make sure I have it down to the last detail."
The lawyer looked at his daughter approvingly. It was well never to be too overconfident about one's preparation. Nancy might make a good trial lawyer some day.
"There will be a gathering of the entire mob in the main upstairs storeroom at nine-thirty. It is a big room that can accommodate the whole crew amply. And the ceiling is very high. We don't want to tip our hand and make our prey nervous through a feeling of claustrophobia. There are many packing cases and large boxes scattered around the edges. These do not have to be shifted because there is still a lot of open area remaining to set up chairs for the meeting. These objects will be an important aid to your safety. All the prisoners will be locked up and drugged so that even the most lowly gunsel can attend. Every thug will be there—without exception. I have been placed in charge of security. You won't see me, but I will be close by, in a room that can monitor the proceedings and that controls the locks and electricity. I will make sure the doors are secured, but locked to hold people in and not to keep them out. The windows will be closed and covered, but a large and unreachable skylight left open for ventilation. Of course that is not the only reason we want that aperature uncovered. You are to position yourself directly under the skylight. When I am sure that everyone is present, which will probably be after the meeting is underway, I will turn off the power, plunging the room into utter darkness. There is no moon tonight, so the skylight will afford no substantial light. As soon as that happens you are to take this flare gun and fire it through the skylight."
Drew handed his daughter the flare gun.
"It's not loaded. Check the safety and get a feel for the trigger," he instructed.
Nancy tested the action several times. When she was satisfied she loaded it, set the safety, and placed it in her purse.
"The flare will be the signal for the police," the lawyer went on. "They are already apprised of the warehouse location, but are hanging well back until they are assured that all the fish will be in the net. It took all my influence to get them to adopt this strategy. It is essential for our future safety and peace of mind that none of these vengeful criminals escape—none at all. To aid in the roundup, some police have been brought in from River Heights and other towns from which youngsters have been abducted. It's only just and proper that all the communities concerned in the kidnappings have representatives in at the kill."
"No feds!" interrupted Nancy.
"No feds. I understand Bess would not like that."
"It would hurt her feelings."
"Enough said," acquiesced the indulgent father.
He then continued.
"When it becomes dark you must make your way briskly to a place of shelter somewhere in the room. For I want you out of the way of any panic or gunfire that may ensue. Pick out your destination before you sit down and make sure there is a fairly clear path. You should have time to get there while the others are still wondering what is going on. Meanwhile the cops will be closing in. I will put the lights back on just in time for the police to confront the gang with an overwhelming show of force. The thugs will be arrested and their reign of terror over this state's youth will be at an end."
Nancy hated to express doubts about her father's plan.
"What if something . . ." she started hesitantly.
"Goes wrong?" he finished. "This is, I admit, a scheme which under ordinary circumstances I would by no means endorse. But if we should continue to do nothing but wait for a better opportunity we are in grave and growing danger, and so are all those we seek to protect. It is imperative that we do something, right away—tonight—to end this intolerable situation. This plan is the best I could concoct upon short notice. If we all survive the next few hours, at least the danger will be over." Then he added both seriously and with a twinkle in his eye, "And I will never let you out of my sight again. Taking off for Carbon City without my permission was quite out of line! Young lady, after tonight, you are grounded!"
The young sleuth looked at her father with affectionate eyes. Worn and haggard as he looked, he still had the charismatic power that had won him many a trial verdict. And the gay charm he displayed in acting the nonchalant paternal role won her heart every time. She walked up to him and gave him both a warm embrace and a tender filial kiss.
Then Nancy turned around and strode over to the mirror by the wall opposite. While Carson tenderly removed the greasepaint marks of his daughter's affection from his craggy physiognomy, Nancy adjusted her makeup and otherwise put on her "battle face." Tonight it was do or die. The young detective was determined to do her best in what might prove to be the most dangerous confrontation of her life!