DAMSEL IN DISTRESS
Nancy Drew opened the front door of her house with irritation. Ordinarily, the housekeeper, Hannah Gruen, would have attended to this task, but she was away in New York, nursing a sick relative. And Nancy would have been more eager to welcome visitors had this not interrupted her attendance upon an interview her lawyer father was having with a very interesting, and extremely distressed, client. She hoped that outside waited some itinerant vendor that she could easily dismiss. And, if it wouldn't delay her overmuch, it would satisfy her to dispense a flea in his or her ear.
Much to her surprise, both welcome and exasperating, she was provided with a view of her friends, Bess and George, on the front step. Recovering rapidly from any visible trace of ill humor, like the perfect hostess that she endeavored to be, Nancy threw open her arms in welcome to her two chums. So preoccupied was she with her conflicting emotions, and her mastery of them, that she failed to notice that her guests were bursting with news they longed to tell. As she led them into the parlor, she decided to let them in on a story of her own.
"Upstairs," she pointed as they passed the staircase, "Father is conducting an important interview." Not looking in the direction of her friends, she continued oblivious of the fact that they too-mouths open, poised, and ready to fire-were about to make disclosures of at least equal interest. They sat down and turned politely attentive faces towards their friend.
"I was upstairs with him until you rang the bell," said Nancy..
Bess and George looked properly contrite.
"Don't worry," said Nancy reassuringly, "I won't miss a thing. Dad is taking notes, and he will fill me in after. And I'm sure that I will have plenty of time for further conversation with poor Lucy."
"What is wrong with her?"
"Why did she come here?" the two cousins nearly chorused their interrogatories together.
"She was a slave, and she has escaped from Carbon City."
"Oh Nancy," Bess interjected. 'There hasn't been slavery around here for ages and ages. Ever since the War between the States, and that was such a long time ago."
"And Carbon City is north of here," observed George, "across the Mason-Dixon line. There never was slavery there. At least, not much, I don't think."
"Well girls, it looks like the Underground Railroad is operational again. And this time, it's operating in reverse."
Seeing the confusion in the faces of her chums, Nancy decided to be less perversely economical with her facts.
"Have you heard of 'white' slavery?" she asked.
"You mean enforced prostitution?" offered George, who was a better student of history than Bess.
"Yes," Nancy explained. "Young women and men, even teenage girls and boys, who could be white or black or Asian or whatever race, are abducted by a gang and taken to a big city where they are forced to serve as prostitutes. They are not paid at all, unlike regular prostitutes, so therefore they are really slaves."
"Why don't they just escape?" asked Bess.
"It's hard to do. They have no money, they are held in a strange city, they are locked up and guarded, and often they are kept in a state of stupor and dependence on drugs. It's a horrible existence."
"Poor kids," commiserated Bess.
"But, obviously, one such did escape," George said.
"Yes, and she told us a story almost too horrific to tell."
"Do tell us," intoned the cousins simultaneously, like a pair of ravenous sharks rising to the chum.
Nancy paused to relish the disparity of information one moment longer before she shared the story with her eager friends. A comely girl when she cared to smile, Nancy could look perfectly devilish when she was up to mischief, or stern and intent when engaged upon a mystery. She had long, flowing hair partly restrained by a Lord of the Isles tartan hair band. Her glasses, of a style at least a generation old, failed to disguise her bright and eager look. Although a few months older than her friends, she looked several years younger, even attired as she was in a businesslike teal suit with matching pumps. Indeed, the older she tried to look, in order to be more plausible as her father's associate in the detection of crime and the defence of the innocent, the more she looked like a little girl dressed in her mother's clothes. Bess wished Nancy would settle for being a kid a bit longer, she would be more attractive that way. But then, perhaps, there would be fewer mysteries, and life, though running smoothly, would be far lest exciting.
"Lucy comes from here in River Heights," Nancy announced,
Before she could go on with further details, Bess interrupted. "Here! Could they come and kidnap any one of us at night?"
"No, you silly goose!" George jumped in, "they generally take girls who are runaways or who are alone. Easy pickings. People in trouble."
As Bess settled down, Nancy continued, "Lucy comes from the Corner Hollow neighborhood. Not poor folks, but not well-to-do. She went to Seven Corners, halfway to Carbon City, to work as a bank teller. When the bank was robbed last year, she fainted straight away. When the other teller tried to press the alarm, he was shot. The injured teller, who is now paralyzed from the waist down, accused Lucy of being an accomplice to the thieves and shamming her swoon. Though nothing could be proved against her, she was treated like such a wretch that she felt she had to quit. Too ashamed to go home, she took a bus to Carbon City and there tried to find a new job. But her spoiled reputation had been spread far and wide, and there were no takers. One day, when her money was almost run out, a man called on her at her rooming house and gave her the card of a shop that he said would be glad to employ her. They knew who she was, he told her, knew that she was wronged, and would happily right the wrong that had been done. She was so desperate that she decided to visit the address on the card the very next day.
"Much to her surprise, when she arrived at the street and number, the address was not in a normal business zone, but in a dilapidated tenement area. She knocked on the door of the triplex house with misgiving. She was briefly reassured when the same man she had already met welcomed her and invited her in. He told her to wait and apologized for the location. Our shop is so crowded, he said, so we are forced to do our interviews in this humble and private location. He went into another room and she could hear that he was making a phone call. A moment later he returned with some refreshment. Cookies and ginger ale, though she thinks now that the soda tasted funny. She didn't remember anything else after that, for clearly she was drugged!
"When she woke up, she was lying on a shabby bed in a spare-looking room. The only other furniture was a chair and a chest of drawers. There was a washstand and mirror on the opposite side from the window-which was barred! She was wearing a flimsy nightgown. She recalled that she felt elated, but wondered why. When she got up-her body seemed to move very slowly, though she said comfortably-she strolled over to the mirror to have a look at herself. It seemed like another person, or at least an older version of herself, was looking back from the mirror. She wondered if she had fallen asleep like Rip Van Winkle and had awakened many years later. Her face was rather sloppily covered with heavy makeup, done up in a lurid manner. She knew that her face could only pass as a plausible human visage in dim light, at night, but in the bright day, as it was then, she looked a perfect harridan. She looked at her hands. They did not look wrinkled; she had apparently not been hard at work. Her nails were long, scarlet, and, as she proved by experiment, artificial. There were needle marks on her arm."
Nancy looked at her silent friends.
"All of this shocks you," she explained, "but Lucy felt nothing. No horror or revulsion at her changed condition, just a numbness, more like a sense of being disembodied, combined with the most perfect sense of well-being that she had ever felt. As she learned afterwards, it was the narcotics working on her. Only it was later, and not right then, that the drug exerted its greatest power. For she was only happy for one more hour. Then doubt, anxiety, and loathing began to seep in. As dusk descended she began to understand her position. Without the drug required to support her indifference to her fate, and feeling the early physical pangs of withdrawal, she began to cry, then to scream and bang on the door. A strange man came in and gave her a knowing smile. She collapsed on the bed in tears. He held his hand over her face until she stopped. 'Listen,' he told her. 'This is the deal. You want to feel happy, right?' She nodded yes. 'I will make you feel happy, every day. But this is what you must do to earn your keep, every night.' And he told her. Plunged into despair and longing to die, she looked around the room for some means of escape from her now hideous life. At this moment he held the needle out in front of her face. Like the captive she now understood herself to be, she nodded, held out her arm, and submitted to the terms of her slavery."
At this point Carson Drew entered the room. As befitted his legal occupation, Drew, whose features were craggy in a way that bespoke mountain-like solidity, wore a granite-colored suit whose somberness was only partly offset by a tie in the palest shade of lapis lazuli. Although he affected sternness, he was betrayed by a hint of sympathy that sparkled in his soft gray eyes.
"I'm not sure it's right to be so free with that poor girl's secrets, Nancy," he said. "It's not very professional."
"Father, I'm sorry. I know I should have consulted you first. But Bess and George are my dearest and most discreet friends." She looked at the chums imploringly. "And we often work on cases together."
"I don't know if I want them working on this one at all. Nor you either, except in an administrative capacity," Carson protested. "It is much too dangerous. This is not one of your lost inheritance cases with bungling, fraudulent claimants. This is the mob."
"But Bess and George can still help-with research!" spluttered Nancy with hopeful enthusiasm.
"I still have my library card," quipped George.
"How is Lucy?" inquired Nancy, hoping to get conversation on another track.
"She is asleep now," her Father replied. "I have called for a doctor to visit, and a nurse to stay with her for the time being. It is my opinion that she should not be left alone for a minute. At least not for a number of days, even weeks."
"Will we be keeping her here that long?" Nancy wondered. "Too bad Hannah is away. She would know what to do."
"That is indeed unfortunate," her father agreed. "But I have a practical alternative. We will take her to Shady Rest Clinic."
"Ned works there!" Nancy interjected. Her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, who often escorted her to dances and other functions, went to Emerson College in pre-med. During the summer he worked as a nurse at Shady Rest. "When I become a doctor, I shall know to trust nurses as I trust myself," he had told Nancy. Nancy, who had seen him at work while on one of her cases, knew him to be a strong and gentle presence, a sort of Florence Nightingale-only with surpassing physical strength.
"I had thought of that," her father responded. "I will make sure that Lucy is assigned to Ned's ward and advise him of her special need for protection. We can't have the gang hunting around for Lucy, or abducting her again!"
"Sir, since we already know the worst about Lucy's story," implored George, "perhaps you could tell us how she managed to get away."
Carson Drew smiled. He was in most circumstances the height of propriety, but was quite vulnerable to the importunities of his daughter Nancy and her friends, all of whom he viewed in a paternal light. Accordingly, he sat down and faced the eager visages of the younger generation, composing in his mind the story, insofar as it could be told.
"Lucy worked for this 'gentleman,'" he began, "for some six months. After a while, though she was still dependent, the ability of the drug to cloud her thoughts began to dissipate, and she made plans to escape. She learned to dissemble the level of ecstasy she felt, so her . . ."
"Pimp," George offered.
Carson reddened, not just at the story he was compelled to tell, but that a young lady, however ineptly named, should know, or be so ready, with such vocabulary.
"Just so," he conceded. "Her pimp did not realize that to keep her subdued a higher, and more dangerous level of narcotic was requisite. So she was able to keep her eyes open for the . . ."
"Main chance!" jumped in Bess.
Drew sighed. He just did not understand youth any more. Girls of such proper society, trusted companions of his daughter, such ideas! His mind reeled.
"Go on, Dad," interposed Nancy. She was accustomed to these spells of cross-generational vertigo. When not exasperated by them, she found them charming and endearing.
"Well," he gathered himself for what he hoped would be the stretch run, "she found with the return of summer, she would be given a little more liberty. Her, well, pimp thought that she was looking a little pale, even for a well, um, lady of the night, so he took her for an outdoor stroll now and again. For safety, he always brought along another gangster. She noticed that when they went out they went down an elevator and passed several guards along the way. A this late date she learned that for the last half year she had been an unwitting inhabitant of a fortress.
"Her best chance, her only opportunity, then, lay when she was outside. One day last week, while passing an outdoor cafe, she feigned a swoon. The two men placed her on a chair, then the pimp went inside to fetch a drink, while the guard stood over the apparently senseless young female. The thug apparently was more on the watch for outside interference-a policeman, for example-than he was concerned about what the girl might do. While he was looking away, she rose as quickly and quietly as she could-it was a fairly noisy thoroughfare-and dashed away, hoping to lose herself amongst the many milling pedestrians. She nearly made it clean away, but the . . ."
"Gunsel," Bess offered.
The lawyer just looked up as if imploring divine mercy.
"The gunsel, sensing a commotion behind him, must have turned around just in time to see her bright red dress racing through the crowd. Instinctively, he drew his gun and fired. Unfortunately for him, this had the opposite effect of the one he desired. Lucy redoubled her speed and escaped. The panicked crowd raced with Lucy, giving her better cover. Several alert young men grabbed the thug from behind and pinned him until the police came." He looked at Nancy. "You see I have verified the young girl's story independently."
Bess and George, who were generally in awe of Mr. Drew, thought nothing of his telling the story from an omniscient point of view.
"How did she manage to get here?" asked Nancy.
Carson looked embarrassed. Nancy understood. Nancy looked at her chums and they, too, after a slight hesitation, also understood.
"She must have figured, might as well steal a sheep . . ." George wandered to a premature halt, sheepishly.
"And with the money she raised," prompted Nancy.
"She bought some less lurid clothing, had her hair cut so that she would look different, then took a bus to River Heights. Seeing her native town appearing so normal and unchanged, Lucy felt, quite understandably, that she was not ready to go home. She felt so shamed. And with withdrawal coming on, she could barely contain herself. It was a spectacle that she would not willingly present to her family.
"It then occurred to her that she remembered a certain lawyer, who had a detective daughter, and she desperately hoped that we might understand her predicament and be able to help her. It was several years ago-one of your first cases, remember, Nancy-when we helped her mother?"
"Oh yes. The Case of the Exploding Emeralds."
"That was Lucy's mother?" exclaimed Bess. "What a dear she is! So gentle. She will not be ready, unprepared, for a trial like this one."
"We must get Lucy better first," announced Nancy. "And I will help take care of her until she is ready to go home."
"But there is more to this than helping Lucy," said her father. "When she got here, the first thing she did, barely after introducing herself, was to make an appeal for the rescue of the many young people still help in captivity and degradation in the gangster's fortress in Carbon City."
"We can help," offered George.
"Yes, I know you want to. Let us," and Carson looked pointedly at this moment at his daughter Nancy, "keep this case upon a legal level for the time being. I will ask you and your friends to help me with research and in making discreet inquiries."
Nancy and her chums nodded mute assent.
"That means no going to Carbon City," he pronounced.
"Not just yet," agreed Nancy.
"I'll let you know, young lady, when it's safe to go there."
Nancy looked properly cowed by this assertion of authority, but did not precisely assent.
The telephone rang, and Mr. Drew dashed off to answer it in his office. Nancy escorted her friends to the door, telling them that she would call them later if there was any news.
As soon as the door closed behind them, George was reminded of the news they had intended to tell Nancy. Somehow, their mystery seemed so small and tenuous beside the big crime that the Drews were dealing with. When they got to the Fayne's, where Bess decided to stay overnight, they discussed Joni's story again and were tempted to call up Nancy. But upon further consideration they determined not to burden or distract Nancy with it.
"It's not a mystery yet, really," suggested George. "Let's wait and see. Perhaps it will turn out to be nothing at all."
Bess wasn't so sure. She mulled it over in bed, and couldn't sleep for what seemed ages. The more she thought about the High Road Inn, the more she was convinced that trouble lay ahead. She was determined to keep an eagle eye on poor Joni.
Just as she was about to fall asleep, Bess heard a scream. It was George! She was having a nightmare! She was afraid of something and would never admit it while awake, but her sleeping self had given her away!