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Chapter Sixteen

A Bizarre Plot

As the busboy at the Tub and Basin strolled around the restaurant collecting used dishes and cutlery and wiping down vacated tables, he rarely took his eyes off of the booth at which sat a couple who seemed set on exploring each other's hearts. It was not, as Hannah feared, someone who wished to aid Ashley in a plan to harm Nancy. Rather it was a friendly face, if the Drew housekeeper could have detected it under the spotty makeup which simulated the ravages of excruciating acne. Ned Nickerson, in one disguise or another, had been tailing Nancy much of the time since she had arrived in Spring Rock. He did so because he knew that she was specially vulnerable in her altered state of mind. And that she was not in her own mind was, he freely confessed to himself, his own fault.

        On the night after Carson Drew and his daughter, together with Nancy's friends, had held their council of war on the mysterious disappearance of Lady Asta at Spring Rock, Nancy and Ned had concocted a strange stratagem. Ned, had recently developed a new skill that greatly aided him in relieving without drugs the chronic pain of some of his patients. Nancy had earlier asked him to try to hypnotize her, just for fun, but Ned had demurred, telling her that his new talent was part of the healer's repertoire, and no more than penicillin was it to be put into the service of idle amusement. That night, however, Nancy had an inspiration as to how Ned's gift could be put into practical effect.

        "Ned, look at me," Nancy implored. "What do I look like?"

        "A sweet and darling young lady that I love very much," answered Ned dutifully.


        "A dashing mature woman, the scourge of crime and protector of the entire system of American law, whom I admire and esteem very much," amended Nick, trying this time to do Nancy full professional justice.

        "No, no, Ned, I was not asking you to be politically correct," insisted Nancy. "I wanted you to look at me with fresh eyes. Pretend that you have never seen me before. What do I look like?"

        Ned stepped back a few paces, made a box with his two hands, and peered at Nancy mock-intently through the aperature.

        "I see," he said deliberately, "I see, I see a rather dumpy, post-adolescent under-parlor-maid."

        "Don't overdo it, chum."

        "Well, to be plain, I see a servant, a comely maid."

        "You see a maid."

        "Right," confirmed Ned. "That is what I see-a maid."

        "Now," continued Nancy, "who have you been listening to these last few minutes?"

        "Well, not a maid, but Nancy Drew."

        "Because . . ." Nancy was leading Ned on, in the manner of a none-too-scrupulous trial lawyer.

        "Because, no matter how well you get yourself up as a servant, you keep acting and speaking like Nancy Drew."

        "There! You admit it!" ejaculated Nancy trimphantly.

        "Admit what?" protested Ned.

        "That you will have to hypnotize me."

        "What?" queried Ned. "You've lost me. How on earth does that follow?"

        "Don't you see that I will be in real danger in Spring Rock? I am not as good a thespian as dear old George. No matter how I try to act the sullen and uninterested little maid, I will not be able to properly conceal the ace private investigator. It will project from my eyes like lamps cutting through peasoup fog. I will be spotted before two days are gone, and all four of us-Hannah, George, Bess, and myself, not two speak of two unborn babies-will be in mortal peril!"

        "Then don't go," said Ned.

        "Oh Ned, don't you see that I can't let the side down. Dad would be disappointed, and George and Bess would still go like troopers and be in danger, and I would be so ashamed, and besides, I'm anxious to do this! So hypnotize me! Make me into a real maid. One who will apparently not notice anything, but will remember everything."

        "You want me to hypnotize you so that you will forget who you are?"

        "Yes. Can you do it, Ned?"

        "I am not sure whether I can do it," said Ned firmly. "But I can tell you this. I won't even try."

        "Why not Ned? It is such a clever plan," wheedled Nancy.

        "Nancy, first of all it would not fool anyone, because all your friends would know and that would give you away. Second, your father would never allow it. And third, I don't like playing with your mind in that way. While you were hypnotized you would have to believe that you had lost your memory. During that time you might undergo a lot of suffering. And there might be unpredictable long-term effects on your psyche."

        Ned's reasons for not hypnotizing Nancy were all potent ones. This Nancy acknowledged to herself. Nevertheless she persisted in wanting to pursue her daring and unprecedented scheme. She decided to attack Ned's weaker arguments first, then to make a head-on assault on his apparently impenetrable bastions.

        "I can answer your first two objections easily," said Nancy with a more casual air than she felt inside. "We will have to convince Dad that I really have lost my memory. I know how we can fake an electrical injury that will make a bout of amnesia seem plausible. Once I am recovered from the apparent physical effects, and he understands that I think I am a maid, you must convince him that the effects are only temporary and that my memory will come back by itself. Make him think that mental recovery is unlikely for a month or two. In the meantime the best thing for me will be to go about my new life as a maid. That way I will get to go on the expedition to Spring Rock. Dad won't be there, so he will not draw attention to himself or to me by treating me as other than an ordinary maid."

        "Don't you think this will be rather hard on him?" objected Ned.

        "That is your one really good argument," admitted Nancy. "He would never approve in advance, and will be a chief victim during my charade. But I am convinced that he can take it. Especially if you give him confidence that the long-term prospects are rosy. I'm counting on you for that."

        Ned gulped inwardly. He knew that all this, if it transpired, would be just as hard on him as on Nancy and Carson Drew. He was the one who would be responsible. He would have to lie to Mr. Drew. Repeatedly. He would have anxiety about the outcome of this completely unprofessional and unethical experiment. And, worst of all, he would be exposing his true love to more dangers than he even cared to enumerate.

        But Ned still hoped to convince Nancy that hypnosis would be manifestly impractical.

        "What about George and Bess? Your friends would treat you very strangely if they knew you to be under a hypnotic spell, or even if they, like your father, think that you are suffering from amnesia."

        Ned thought this argument unanswerable. But even he had not accounted for the full deviousness and resourcefulness of his longtime cherished friend, Nancy Drew!

        "I have thought of that. This is the very crux of my plan," explained Nancy. "This is what will make it all work. George and Bess, and even Hannah, are not to know that there is anything amiss with me. They are to be coached by Dad-and you will have to convince Dad to do this-to treat me as if I were just who I am, at least for this month. You will have them told that I have decided to do some elaborate acting to get ready for playing my part in Spring Rock. Before we get there I am pretending that I am a real maid, and that they are to treat me as such. They will never suspect that I am not the ordinary Nancy, and they will call me Nancy, and everything will be, for them, as natural as anything. And George doesn't have to miss a beat worrying about me as she approaches the end of her pregnancy."

        "You sound as though you think that you have it all worked out, Nancy."

        "I have," said the intrepid young sleuth confidently. "I have it worked out down to the tiniest detail. "My name will be Nancy O'Donnell. And I have the entire backstory for her written down in this notebook." Nancy brandished what looked like an alarmingly thick spiral-bound tome.

        "I've seen folio incunabula smaller than that. There's one in your father's collection."

        "Don't worry," Nancy smiled. "I have what you need to tell me under hypnosis boiled down to a few pages. The rest is just a backstory I needed to get those summary pages right."

        "When have you had time to work on all this?" Ned was stalling at this point and hoping that Nancy would make an incautious admission that would let him off the hook.

        "I have been burning the midnight oil," Nancy yawned. "But I'll get lots of sleep while I'm recovering from electrical shock. You must make sure I do. I can afford to be someone else, but I can't afford to be too sleepy when I am in Spring Rock."

        "But what about you?" exclaimed Ned, "This is going to be very stressful on you. Can you even imagine what it will be like to operate without memory for days and even weeks? To think that you are someone else, a person of a very unprivileged status? To be someone else, with another personality and values? Who knows what kind of effect this might have on you? Perhaps permanent psychological damage."

        "I am willing to undergo the rigors of this deception," said Nancy. "Because I want to protect Bess and George and the babies, and because I think that this may be the only way to safely find a crack in the fortress wall that has clearly been erected around the activities at Spring Rock. And it is not only that I want to put an end to whatever nefarious deeds are being done using the center as a cover, but I want to save the life and the soul of a young woman who might be a promising doctor, and who, but for some rogues, might have her whole life ahead of her!"

        "To do this, are you willing to risk your own soul?" cautioned Ned. "To be hypnotized in this way is a bit like lobotomy. And you know how awful a procedure that is."

        "But it is temporary!"

        "You never know the trauma your mind might sustain. When you are brought back, it could be quite confusing and unpleasant for you. You might have very bad dreams as well. Your emotions could be quite confused. You personality could be altered, and not for the good."

        "Ned, Ned, you lack confidence in me," Nancy nearly sputtered. "I have a cast-iron soul. No, better than that, titanium-alloy steel. When I wake up from being Nancy O'Donnell, I will resume my old identity with very little strain. And if some minor strain there be, it will have been a small price to pay for so much to gain."

        "I don't know," Ned continued to hesitate.

        Nancy spang into Ned's arms and kissed him. The truly strongest arguments, she calculated, are non-verbal. After she had continued to hold him in her firm and loving embrace for four minutes, she felt his resolve begin to melt. After she gave him a chance to breathe, she led him from her room.

        "Let me show you how the electrical part works . . ."