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Chapter One

The Lawyer's Soirée

"Georgiana, how nice of you to come to our little soirée," Carson Drew cooed as he escorted his daughter's friend down the marble hall towards his formal sitting room. He took care to walk unhurriedly as his companion, more than eight months pregnant, waddled somewhat. A little dizzy, she had to stop and rest on a bench halfway down the corridor.

     "Time was," she reminisced ruefully, "when I could charge down this hall to the very end before you knew that I was here."

     "And you will again," he reassured her. "No doubt chasing after those mischievous children of yours!"

     George Fayne had once been the tomboyish chum of her lawyer friend, Nancy Drew. In days of youth, only a year ago, she had been a willowy, athletic girl-not at all what is called shapely, but attractive in a gamin way. She had treasured what she acknowledged to be her nondescript figure because it was eminently adaptable for disguise. She had rejoiced in donning costumes of all kinds, not only in her theatrical profession, but also when going undercover, helping in her friend Nancy's detective capers. But now she found herself transformed, and not by makeup and costumes! Where once she was thin, now she was thick. Not only had she a distended belly, but she knew that she was fat all over. Her breasts were enormous, making her voluptuously-shaped cousin Bess Marvin look positively anorexic by comparison. George wore a festive lavender-and-pink paisley print dress that would have become her if cut to her formerly svelte dimensions, but which now hung on her like an enormous potato sack. As her body expanded she felt her thespian opportunities contract apace. And when the twins were born, they would require her full attention. What would be her chance for applause and adventure then?

     The reluctant mother-to-be huffed and puffed and then slowly stood up. Mr. Drew, ever gallant and exceedingly patient, offered his sturdy arm.

     "Take your time, Mrs. Watson," he said gently.

     The truth is that there was no such person as Mr. Watson. George's surname was really still Fayne. Mrs. Watson was a pseudonym George had adopted and with which her friends went along. The new name gave her a role to play, so that she could marshall her considerable thespian talents to sustain her in all the physical and social changes she was forced to endure. When her unexpected pregnancy seemed too much for her to endure, she made it a game and pretended it was make believe. Thus when she was sick she could award herself imaginary Oscars for the most convincing job of sheer wretchedness. Currently she was refining her new arts of immobility and faintness. All this was possible because the new name made it seem that she was stage center every moment of her life. Unfortunately the uncomfortable costume could not come off until the play was done. The drama, nine months long, was tightly scripted for a few more weeks. Then she was contracted to act the part of a mother, also named Watson, in a sequel that might run for many, many years. And, to make matters worse, she would have to share the proscenium much of the time with two cute children. Actors always dreaded playing against children; they were always upstaged.

     Near the end of the hall, the stately, plump George and her escort turned left and entered the little-used reception room. George had never seen it before except when it was deserted, with the antique furniture covered in white shrouds like so many stiff corpses. It had always given her the shivers to look in that mausoleum. When as a high-spirited girl she had raced up and down the Drew hallway she had always performed the return leg of the circuit just a little faster than the trip down.

     But now, even before she had turned to look, George knew that something lively was going on inside that formerly sepulchral room. The lights shone cheerily, casting their diffracted emanations far into the marble hall. And she could hear the tinkle of merry voices and laughter.

     "Jorge!" shouted Bess as she strode over to greet her cousin. Bess, of course, unless she was in the throes of some wasting disease, would never appear remotely anorexic. She had a plumpness that now enhanced her natural womanly beauty, though it promised annoying weight problems in future. She was wearing a crimson cocktail dress, cut in the latest décolleté fashion. As she towered over her cousine enciente on her excessively high heels she placed her welcome kiss on George's forehead.

     "You will need a pilot's licence to fly in those shoes," George remarked, somewhat chagrined at being accosted by her cousin as if she were a tiny child.

     "Sorry, Georg," said Bess, immediately understanding her chum's complaint. "But I think to bend over or squat down would be a worse form of condescension. These pumps looked so fantastic on the shelf in the store and even on my feet when I looked in the mirror. I didn't realize until I wore them around more modestly shod humans that they would make me four inches taller!"

     "I thought an engineer and mathematician like you would be able to figure that out," rejoined George.

     "I guess my fashion sense obliterated my common sense," Bess confessed.

     "Well, let that be a lesson to you!"

     "Yes, mommy," teased the now less repentent Bess.

     George instinctively stuck out her tongue.

     "Save that game for your daughters, little mother."

     The mock spat would have continued indefinitely had it not now occurred to George to scan the others in the room. To her mortification the whole crowd of people therein, who had been chatting merrily before her entrance, now all seemed to be as silent as the grave and staring at her! George felt as if she were going to faint!

     A handsome slim girl with reddish hair and mousy wire-rimmed spectacles, clad in a plain dark maid's uniform with a primly starched white apron, and about the same age as George and Bess, hastily put down the two trays of canapés she had been hoisting, and rushed to help catch the falling guest. The maid grabbed George by one arm while concerned host Carson Drew supported the other.

     "Nancy, take Mrs. Watson into my office and lay her on the couch until she feels better," he instructed.

     "Yes, Mr. Drew," said the intrepid domestic as she walked George back to the hall. "Shall I call Dr. Nickerson?"

     "It is not necessary, Nancy," replied her employer. "I expect the doctor here very soon as he is to be one of my guests tonight. I will have him check on her as soon as he arrives. In the meantime see that she is comfortable and that all her needs are attended to."

     Nancy guided her charge gently down the hall to Carson Drew's downstairs office. The room, though very professional in appearance, was graced with several comfortable chairs and a long couch. George gratefully sat down, kicked off her constricting shoes and put her swollen, tender feet up on the soft cushions. The maid, rather impertinently, also sat down and gratefully removed her own pumps.

     "You have no idea how much my feet hurt, Georgiana," confided the servant. "I have been running around all day to get ready for Father's party."

     The apparent servant Nancy was none other than the renowned lawyer and sleuth, Nancy Drew, daughter of her ostensible master!

     "Nancy, why do you let your father treat you like this?" asked George, who after she had recovered her wits, wondered at seeing her friend in this new lowly role.

     "It is my punishment," revealed Nancy. "I blew our last big legal case through too much grandstanding in court."

     "I was there in the visitor's gallery," gushed George. "I thought you were fantastic. I really liked that bit where you said the witness's testimony was immaterial, irrelevant, and incompetent. I just love alliteration!"

     "Thanks, Georgie, but I am afraid that the judge and jury both saw through my act, and knew then that I hadn't a leg to stand on. Dad was just livid. He told me that winning the case depended on being subtle, playing our cards close to the vest-and not wearing that blazing pink outfit that Bess had given me for my birthday."

     "I thought you looked stunning."

     "I looked, as Father reminded me, too conspicuous and not like one whose legal ideas needed to be taken into account. I messed up all around."

     "So you were demoted?" guessed George.

     "Yes, I am reduced to being a household servant for a whole month. Then, if I do my job well, he will start me off again on a few easy cases. I guess I will have to work my way back up to being his partner."

     Nancy glanced at her tiny, cheap watch.

     "I'd better not stay here too long. Your nearly passing out was a good excuse to rest back here with you, but I had better not stay away from the party too long. Both Dad and Hannah will be livid if I don't get the hors d'oeuvres out before the principal guests arrive."

     The defrocked detective reluctantly strapped the less than comfortable pumps back on her throbbing feet and stood up.

     "I would think Hannah would sympathize with you," offered George.

     Hannah Gruen was the Drews' capable and generally sympathetic housekeeper. She generally ran the household unaided, or with only such temporary help as was deemed needed. With this lavish entertainment in the offing, however, she was only too glad to have the extra help around the house that defrocked lawyer Nancy could supply.

     "I think she is in league with my father to make me feel like a real servant," said Nancy with a shiver. "Before she treated me like a favorite niece. Now I feel like I am a clumsy underhousemaid who has just broken one of Mistress Rebecca's favorite porcelain statuettes."

     At just that moment Nancy's beau, Ned Nickerson, strode into the office, whistling a snatch of the Londonderry Air. He instinctively kissed Nancy, then stepped back in mock astonishment.

     "I love your new look, Nancy."

     "Thank you, kind sir," she replied demurely, then beat a hasty retreat.

     "Poor Nancy!" he remarked in a tone that made George not at all certain how much compassion he really felt towards the disgraced sleuth. He then turned towards the patient.

     "Well, and how is the lime jello holding up today?" he asked with a sly grin.

     George and Bess had once, in The Mystery of the High Road Inn, effectively impersonated women in an advanced state of pregnancy by wearing lime gelatin strapped to their bellies. That adventure turned out to have been both harrowing and traumatic for both cousins, though it had not been devoid of such comic scenes in the early stages of the investigation.

     In a flash George thought of three cutting ripostes to Ned's colloidal remark, but just as quickly she decided to reject them. For Ned's reference to food made her too hungry to consider talking of anything else.

     "Lime Jello" was all she managed to say, but Ned, reading her tone of voice, immediately understood.

     "You want food. That's the heart of the problem. Imagine asking you to a feast and then having you faint dead away from hunger! What sloppy hosts these niggardy Drews appear to be! I'll send cousin Bess back with a few select bites for you-for the three of you-right away."

     And with that Ned slipped through the door and disappeared down the hall. The recumbent girl waited a good long time for the expected sustenance to arrive. During that time she could hear the fashionably late guests traipsing down the marble hall. One particular party arrived with a good deal of fanfare. Mr. Drew could be heard bowing and scraping just outside the office door.

     George felt left out. Ever since the beginning of her third trimester she had been shunted to one siding or another. Everyone was trying to take care of her, but in so doing they were excluding her from all that seemed worthwhile and interesting in common life. She was not allowed to drink any alcoholic bevereges. She could not keep up with her peers' active lifestyle and was made to rest often. Part of her wanted so much to be mixing with the other people, maybe important people, gathered down the hall, and even more to visit with her friends. On the other hand, she really didn't feel like moving. So she just reclined further on the couch, looked up at the rococo ceiling, and indulged in a steaming bout of maudlin self-pity.

     It was not George's fault that she was pregnant. At least so she told herself again and again. Bess told her so whenever she asked about it, and so did Nancy. Yet she did wonder if she could have prevented it.

     She had gone on a date with an actor friend of her thespian colleague Montague Forsythe. At least she had assumed the man was a friend of Monty's. After leading-man Monty was found unconscious in the remains of his Jaguar coupe next to an embankment along the Old River Road, actor Ashley Fitz-Hume had seemed a godsend to the River Heights Players. They had been about to début their new production of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Monty had been cast as both Viola and her brother Sebastian in what was to have been an acting tour de force, with a special multi-mirror device to assist him in those rare scenes when both characters were on stage at once. After the casting decision had been made, Monty had claimed that the choice was a natural one for, "it is stupendously amazing how much I look like myself." Without Monty the much-anticipated production was a shambles-until Ashley stepped in.

     Ashley looked so like George that the director hastily paired them as Sebastian and Viola. Both knew the lines, and quickly adapted themselves to the director's interpretation. George was enabled to go on with the show by the cheering news that, though his jaw was wired shut, Monty was not critically injured. Ashley told her that he was a friend of Monty from the days before Monty had moved to River Heights from Carbon City. Ashley and George were the cast clowns and enjoyed each other's company while they horsed around backstage. Because they were both excellent actors, the production was a triumph.

     After the last performance of their run, the entire cast had gone out to celebrate. George and Ashley had been the last to leave Mazzaferatta's, the Italian restaurant on Main Street. Walking home in the early hours of the morning, Ashley took George "to see his mother" in a dark tenement building. "It's all right," he assured her. "She never goes to bed until after I get home."

     But the flat they entered was strangely empty. There was not even a stick of furniture to be found. George had no opportunity to remark on this strange circumstance, for she was suddenly knocked to the floor by her companion. Stunned, she was speedily bound at the wrists by her unexpected assailant. George did not like to remember the rest of her adventure. Every time she tried to relate it to Nancy, to help Nancy collect the evidence needed to bring the scoundrel to justice, she burst into an unremitting flood of tears.

     What was so unfair, George brooded, was that the man had gotten clean away. There were no clues. He had left many fingerprints, but they were not on file with any government agency. Monty, when asked later, had said that he knew no one named Ashley Fitz-Hume and that, as far as he knew, there was no one in the world who looked the least bit like George. When Carson Drew pursued an intensive investigation in Carbon City, he came back empty-handed. Apparently no one by that description or name had ever lived in or around that metropolis. Nancy had several times wondered, with a worried look, if the false reference to Carbon City was an important clue. But it had not helped her to crack the case.

     To George, the victim, had come the entire punishment. She was left with the trauma, the guilt, the terror, the shame, and two impending unplanned children. Daughters whom she hoped to love one day, but about whom, right at that moment, her emotions were decidedly mixed. She found it difficult to sleep at night and, when she did fall asleep, her dreams were not pleasant. She often woke up screaming. She washed herself obsessively but never felt quite clean. And she hated someone more than she previously could have imagined hating anyone-this execrable person was irrevocably tied to her by blood!

     Sometimes George fantasized herself killing the father of her children. Then, she hoped, the connection, and the stain, would be obliterated. At other times she pictured herself generously forgiving him. But she could not hold onto the illusion for long. Unfortunately, she could not currently imaginge herself becoming such a noble, happy George.

     Yet she hated, even more than Ashley himself, what Ashley had done to her. He had made her soul unpleasant to contemplate. So like her in physiognomy, he was her darker self. His terrible act had impregnated her not just with progeny, but also with an unwanted new facet of her personality-stinker George.

     Just before George had got to the part of her sulk in which she fancied herself the hapless target of all of the world's injustice, Bess came limping in juggling a silver tray with croissants and a jello mold in the shape of the city of Aberdeen. George could see that one heel of Bess's left pump had partly broken off. A gleam of sunshine entered her soul. There was some justice in the world, after all.

     "Sandy, guess who just got here!" gushed Bess, apparently oblivious of the deplorable condition of her fashionable shoe.

     "Who?" compliantly asked the famished George as she greedily snatched the proffered tray.

     "Why, Dr. Samuel Johnson, all the way from London!"