"Hey Nancy, over here!" George waved from across the restaurant. Nancy could see the back of a blond-haired head in the booth, sitting across from George. She guessed that it must be Bess. Waving back, though in a manner less broad than George, Nancy weaved through the tables in order to join her chums.
Nancy had been spending the morning at the library poring over editions of local newspapers going back a year or more, looking for patterns or other clues in the disappearances of young women and men. The eyes behind her glasses felt decidedly sandy from staring at newspapers and microfilm. She had been looking forward to a quiet lunch in order to gather her thoughts so that she could go back to the reading room refreshed and with, perhaps, a few new insights and plans for avenues of further research. When she saw George and Bess, however, she cheerfully surrendered her plan. She knew that talking to her friends sometimes helped her. And even if this didn't happen, her mind often returned to work refreshed from a bit of a social break.
"Got the old nose to the grindstone again," jollied George as Nancy sat down next to her. "I can see scarlet welts between the bridge and the nostrils."
"Don't listen to her," Bess reassured. "Your nose looks fine, not red at all."
Nancy got into the spirit of the badinage by pulling her compact out of her purse, looking with exaggerated concern at the face in the mirror, and applying mock pats of powder to her nose and cheeks.
"Don't forget the glasses," pursued George. "They look positively shiny."
"Why do you wear those old glasses, Nancy?" asked Bess. "I know for a fact that you can see perfectly without them."
"How do you know?" Nancy delayed.
"It's because Mom wonders too," Bess pursued, "and she's your optometrist."
A little concerned, Nancy looked around the restaurant to detect if anyone appeared to be paying attention to their conversation. When she replied she lowered her voice.
"Bess, I don't like to have this get around, but I don't in fact have any need for these glasses," said Nancy confidentially. "I wear them to help with my disguise. So please don't let anyone else know."
"What disguise?" interjected George. "You look like plain old Nancy in those beastly glasses, especially because you always wear those beastly old glasses."
"That's the point. Everyone knows that Nancy Drew sports glasses," explained Nancy. "So when I want to be in disguise I take them off and, presto chango,"-taking her glasses off Nancy looked at her buddies and flickered her eyelashes just a bit-"I am a different girl. What do you think?"
Bess and George had to admit that she looked different without her glasses. If they had seen her come in the restaurant without them on, and were not expecting her, they might not have spotted her.
"That's just my point," said Nancy. "Whenever I want to go undercover I will change how I dress, how I wear my hair, and so forth, and drop the glasses. You, my best friends, would have to look twice to recognize me. Others, who might have only seen me briefly, or who knew me by reputation, would be completely fooled."
"What a clever ruse!" approved George.
"But Nancy," inquired Bess, "why go through all the trouble of wearing glasses your whole life, when you can disguise yourself just as well by not wearing them, then putting them on?"
"Ah, that's where I am very subtle," boasted Nancy, to her credit a little self-mockingly. "Everyone expects people to use glasses as a disguise. I plan to fool them by going the other way round. It is easy for someone who does not need glasses to adopt eyewear with a plain lens. But a suspicious observer will notice the lack of thickness and curvature in the lens. And, except for me, someone who wears glasses all the time actually needs them. If they took them off they would give themselves away by bumping into doors, and take away from the purpose of their disguise by not being able to notice things."
"But what about contacts?" pursued Bess, whose mother clearly kept her optically informed.
"Ah, grasshopper, listen and we will hear how Mistress Nancy is very subtle indeed!" interrupted George.
"Contacts might eventually give a person away-they can be spotted in the eye-and they are a lot of trouble to a person living undercover and not used to wearing them. I guess if one needed glasses and wanted to be in disguise, contacts would be the only thing. I'm just glad that I don't need them. It will make my undercover life so much simpler."
Bess was intrigued. "Simpler? Do you have a mission in mind?"
"Can I come?" asked George. "I'll wear a beard. No one expects a girl to do that."
Nancy laughed. "You're wrong, George. That's just what we expect you to do."
Bess's curiosity seemed unstoppable. "Come on Nancy, 'fess up. What's up?"
"Nothing," insisted the sleuth, "at least for now. I just want to be prepared. One never knows when one will have to go undercover."
George thought she detected in Nancy's reply an unspoken appeal to go no further in this line of conversation. Accordingly she changed the subject with an awkward but effective segue: "Nancy, at least in your current getup"-she was wearing a plain blouse and skirt, almost a school uniform-"you won't raise any suspicious eyebrows nosing around in the library. Did you find out anything that will help with the kidnapping and slavery case?"
"Nothing that forms a pattern that I can make out," answered Nancy, more comfortable now that the discussion was approaching the area of her morning's concerns. "Just a lot of missing kids, some from River Heights, a few from Plainview, one from Hanson's Corners, three from Middlemarch, and a bunch from towns closer to Carbon City. Most of them were troubled or in trouble, but a few were just alone and unprotected. The slavers seem to be alert for every opportunity. There are so many young persons around us who are in trouble of some kind. It would be hard-impossible-to predict where they might strike next."
"But in order to kidnap someone," Bess suggested, "the criminals must somehow be aware of an opportunity. The person in trouble can't just be in a quiet and obscure mess. They, like Lucy, must be advertised."
"Maybe we could set a trap," suggested George.
"I thought of that," preempted Nancy. "But we can't ask some innocent to put him or herself into public disgrace or some other predicament, just so that we can expose them to abduction!"
"How about one of us?" George persisted. "I'm perfect, so that's out. But what about Bess?"
"What about me?" rejoined Bess, half indignantly.
"Well, you are under a lot of pressure from your parents to go into your father's engineering business."
Bess was very good at mathematics. When she won all the math and science prizes at the high school graduation no one who knew her had been surprised. Her father had wanted her to go away to study at M. I. T. or Caltech, but Bess did not wish to leave the company of her friends. One day last winter she had gotten Ned Nickerson to take her to Emerson College where she spent the whole day talking to the Dean of the Engineering Department. The upshot of it all was that Bess was allowed to graduate from Emerson the following spring without having to take a single course. And she made a bargain with her father and the Dean: if they gave her another year of furlough to "get her fingernails in order," and to have another chance or two for adventure with George and Nancy, she would enter the Ph.D. program and help put the Dean's research to rights. She made no promise about her father's business, but her dad had seemed pleased anyway.
"Forget it," she countered. "I have my dad quite happy with me at present and I will have no messing with my parent's feelings."
"Then it's up to Nancy," reasoned George.
"That occurred to me as well. But Dad says no. He says such publicity won't do Drew & Drew any good. And he is very protective of me as well. Ever since Mom died in a ferris wheel accident when I was four, he has been determined not to let me get myself exposed to extreme danger."
"But Nancy, you are in extreme danger in all of your adventures!" Bess exclaimed.
Nancy winked at Bess confidentially. "Don't tell Dad," she advised.
Just then the waitress arrived with the margarita pizza the cousins had ordered. They invited Nancy to share and asked the waitress to bring an extra ice cream soda for Nancy.
"The two slices you eat, Nancy, will save an inch off of my embattled waistline," Bess reasoned out loud.
The chums dug in. In the midst of enthusiastic mastication the conversation languished. When the girls were sated, however, they attempted to pick up one of the threads of their earlier conversation.
"Well Nancy, you have told us what you don't know," George summed up. "Tell us something that you do know."
Nancy looked at her friends as one does who has a secret they are dying to tell.
"I knew one of the girls who is missing," she announced. "And both of you knew her too."
"Tell," said Bess and George together in choral and much practiced unison.
"It's Clare Benson."
The secret out, Nancy thought about her old friend and sighed, "Poor Clare!"
"Wasn't she your best friend before . . ." ventured Bess.
"Before I knew you guys. Yes. Clare and I were very good friends, at least until after junior high school."
Nancy told her current chums the sad story of the older relationship, and what had happened since to Clare. Nancy and Clare had first been thrown together because they each had a lawyer father and the fathers were partners. Since both Mr. Drew and Mr. Benson were widowers they let their daughters play "hostess" for the business dinners they had with each other, and occasionally, with clients. Nancy loved to prepare the dinners because she wanted to be helpful and because she was entranced by the aura of mystery that she wove around the dealings of her father and his associates. Clare liked to be a hostess and to bask in her pretend role as woman of the house and woman of the world. While Nancy would doll herself up as an executive assistant, Clare would dress like a fashion model. Once because it was President's Day, Clare and Nancy dressed up like Jackie Kennedy and Hillary Clinton-respectively. Neither lawyer father was amused.
When they entered high school Clare, who had always been more interested in talking about fashions and boys, was much more physically developed as a woman than Nancy was. She became less interested in talking to Nancy about the stuff of their shared childhood fantasies: mystery stories, secret codes, computing machines, and what goes on inside the F.B.I. Nancy, on the other hand, found her fascination with such things growing. By the time that Nancy had started to mature, she and Clare had long since ceased to be close.
Soon Clare became sophisticated in her dress and tastes and was one of the popular arbiters of fashion and the gate-keeper of the "in" crowd. Nancy made no attempt to be "in." Though she silently mourned what had been lost, she could not both maintain her self-respect and follow Clare. At a distance and from behind her adopted glasses Nancy watched her friend's social advancement. To give her credit, Clare made no attempt to socially stigmatize Nancy, though many of the popular set openly denigrated Nancy as "odd." One, who had actually read a book once, called her "Harriet the Spy." Clare herself no longer mentioned or noticed Nancy at all.
The only girls that would consent to hang out with Nancy were Bess and George. These two were also known to be strange. Curious teachers could find no obvious reason for the ghettoization of the intrepid three. They looked like normal girls, and were each more attractive than most. Although they were all smart, they did not make a parade of their cleverness or learning. The subtle difference was something in the invisible aura that surrounded each of them. This indefinable "something" was a factor that most girls instinctively detected and rejected. Bess and George and Nancy were peculiar; they did not fit in. Well, there was one obvious thing that set them apart. They were only moderately interested in boys. Boys had only a peripheral place in their world, on a par with art or music, and not quite up on the level of food.
Loyal Nancy, happy as she was with her newer chums, never lost interest in the career of her old childhood companion Clare. She was distressed to discover that, popular as she was, Clare appeared less happy than when she was younger. In public, which was the only time Nancy saw her, Clare's persona was vivacious and full of high spirits. But to sharp-eyed Nancy this gaiety seemed forced. After graduation, Nancy heard increasingly disturbing reports of Clare Benson's irresponsible and unpredictable behavior. Clare soon developed a reputation as being wild.
One night, according to a newspaper report that Nancy had recently read, Clare had failed to come home after a particularly rambustuous party. She had been missing for a month.
After Nancy's sad narrative was complete, George observed, "It kind of strikes home, doesn't it now?"
Bess said, "Perhaps she was not kidnapped by the slavers. We can hope."
"The trouble is," Nancy countered, "that I can't think of any alternative explanation explaining her absence that would indicate that she might still be alive."