Circle of evil, p.1
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       Circle of Evil, p.1

           Carolyn Keene
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Circle of Evil


  Chapter

  One

  WITH A SMILE, Ned Nickerson leaned toward Nancy Drew and put his lips close to her ear. “I thought this was supposed to be a small party,” he said loudly. “So far, I’ve counted thirty people, and another twelve are just walking in the door.”

  Laughing, Nancy raised her voice so Ned could hear her over the pounding rock music. “Maybe this is small to Joanna,” she shouted. “After all, forty-two people barely fill one wing of this house.”

  It was true. Joanna Tate’s home was such a huge, sprawling place that people jokingly called it the River Heights Hotel. The Tates were rich, and they loved to spend money—on their house, their cars, jewelry, antiques, and especially travel. That was the funny thing about them, Nancy thought. They had a fantastic house filled with just about everything money could buy, and they hardly spent any time in it. The three of them had barely arrived home from a month-long trip to Europe when Mr. and Mrs. Tate repacked their bags to catch another plane, this time to Mexico. When Joanna had invited Nancy to the party, she said she was tired of being on the move and wanted to spend a few weeks just lounging by the pool of the River Heights Country Club.

  The club was where Nancy and Joanna had met. Nancy’s father, lawyer Carson Drew, belonged to it, and so did the Tates. As a detective, Nancy was usually too busy working on cases to spend any time there, but one of the few times she had been there she struck up a conversation with Joanna.

  Actually, Joanna was the one who had started the conversation. She loved to talk, Nancy discovered, especially about things she had just bought or was about to buy. Nancy had never known anyone more into things than Joanna, and if it weren’t for her great sense of humor, her conversation would be boring after a while. In fact, the two of them didn’t have much in common except that they were both eighteen and they were both girls. But they had become friendly in spite of their lack of common ground, and Joanna had invited Nancy to her next big bash. Nancy had just finished a case and was definitely in the mood for a party.

  “This band is great,” she said to Ned, looking around the terrace where the five-piece band was playing. It was a warm summer night, and a lot of people had come outside to dance. “I should have known Joanna wouldn’t just pop a cassette into a tape deck. Trust her to hire a live band.” Tossing her reddish blond hair back from her face, she stood up and took Ned’s hand. “Come on, let’s dance!”

  The two of them found space on the crowded terrace and danced five songs, until the band took a break. Then they went inside and made their way to the refreshment table, where there was enough food to feed a small village for a year. Nancy was trying to decide between a piece of the twelve-foot-long hero or a slice of pepperoni pizza when Bess Marvin and Bess’s cousin, George Fayne, Nancy’s two best friends, joined her and Ned.

  “Isn’t this incredible?” Bess shook her long blond hair and laughed as she piled food on her plate. “I guess I’ll have to start my diet tomorrow.”

  George, who was tall and slim and never had to watch her weight, laughed, too. “I keep telling you that you don’t need to go on a diet. All you need is more exercise.”

  “I do exercise,” Bess protested. “I just danced for half an hour, thanks to that fabulous band. I never knew what you saw in Joanna,” she said to Nancy, “but I have to admit, she does know how to throw a great party.”

  “Where is Joanna, anyway?” Ned asked. “I haven’t seen her since we got here.”

  “Probably trying on another outfit she bought in Europe,” George commented.

  “There she is,” Nancy said, and they all turned as Joanna Tate, a short girl with frizzy brown hair and a wide smile, burst into the room. As George had said, she was wearing an outfit that couldn’t have been bought at a River Heights shopping mall, but her clothes didn’t stand out as much as her voice. As usual, Joanna was talking a mile a minute.

  “Nancy!” she cried, edging her way over to the food table. “Hi! Glad you all could make it.”

  “It’s great to be here,” said Nancy.

  “The band is excellent!” Bess exclaimed. “And your dress is gorgeous.”

  Joanna twirled around so that Nancy, Bess, George, and Ned could get the full benefit of her electric blue silk dress, which was embroidered with hundreds of tiny pearls. When she finished modeling, she asked, “Oh, Nancy, did I tell you about my new necklace yet?”

  “Necklace?” Nancy shook her head. “I don’t think so.”

  “Well, actually, I’m not supposed to mention it, but it’s so fabulous that I just can’t keep it a secret a minute longer!” her voice lowering a bit.

  “Why should you have to keep a necklace secret?” George asked.

  “Because,” Joanna explained, “it’s very rare and very valuable. It once belonged to a Russian countess, and my daddy paid a small fortune for it. He promised to give it to me when I’m twenty-one.” She rolled her eyes and giggled. “If he knew I was even talking about it, he’d cancel my credit cards!”

  “That must be some necklace,” Ned remarked.

  “It is,” Joanna agreed. “It’s absolutely gorgeous. I wish you could see it. It’s got diamonds and rubies as big as marbles!” Without waiting for anyone to answer, she turned to another group of people and started telling them all about the fabulous necklace her father had brought back from Europe.

  Laughing, Nancy and her friends went back to filling their plates with food, but before they had managed to swallow more than a bite or two, Joanna was back. “I just can’t stand it!” she said dramatically. “That gorgeous necklace is sitting in the house this very minute, and I just have to show it off or I’ll die. I’m going to get it now, but you have to promise me that you’ll never breathe a word of this to my parents. Okay?”

  “Look, if your parents really don’t want you to, maybe you should just forget it,” Ned suggested.

  “Right,” George agreed. “Besides, I don’t think anyone’s all that interested in seeing it. Most people just want to keep on partying.”

  “Believe me, they’ll forget about everything else once they set their eyes on this necklace,” Joanna told them. “I’m just going to sneak it out, give everybody a quick peek, and then sneak it back. Don’t go away. I’ll only be a few minutes!” Giggling with excitement, she took off through the crowd, telling everyone what she was about to do.

  Nancy laughed. “I don’t know how she expects to keep her parents from knowing. She’s already told everybody about that necklace.”

  “George was right, though,” Bess remarked. “Joanna’s the only one who really cares about it. I mean, an old necklace is nice, but I’d rather dance. Besides, at the rate she’s moving, by the time she gets upstairs, the party will be over.”

  “Bess does have a point,” Ned said as he watched Joanna make her way through the crowd. He turned to Nancy. “Come on, let’s try to find a place to sit. I’m starving.”

  Carrying two plates of food, Ned started moving through the crowded living room, looking for a chair, a footstool, or even a clear space on the floor. Nancy followed, carrying two glasses of soda.

  “I guess we’d better go out to the terrace,” Ned called over his shoulder. “I don’t see an empty square inch in here.”

  “Fine,” Nancy called back. “I could use the air, anyway.”

  Together, they stepped through the sliding glass doors that led to the terrace. Just as they did, the band started playing again, and everyone began dancing. The couple closest to the doors whirled around and crashed into Nancy. One of the sodas flew up, splashing her face and hair, and the other fell down, soaking her blue skirt and dripping through her sandal.

  “Sorry about that!” the couple called out, dancing away.

  Nancy wiped her face with
her hand, which immediately became sticky, too. “I was a little hot,” she said, joking. “But I wasn’t quite ready to take a shower.” Glancing down at her skirt, she shook her head. “Well, it doesn’t show too much, I guess.”

  “Sure,” Ned said. “That big splotch looks like part of the pattern.”

  “Thanks a lot,” Nancy replied with a laugh. “Yuck! Even my sandal’s sticking to my foot. I’ve got to go wash it off. Be right back.”

  Pushing her wet hair off her forehead, Nancy threaded her way back through the crowded room, past the food table, and into a hallway. She had never been in the Tates’ house before, but she knew a house that size would have plenty of bathrooms. She was right. She found one along the hall and another around a corner. Unfortunately, both of them were occupied.

  Nancy kept walking down the hall, then took a right turn, and finally a left. She ended up at the bottom of a short stairway. Nancy climbed the few stairs and found herself in another hallway. She was in a different wing of the house then, she realized. It was quiet; the music from the band and the laughter of the guests sounded far away.

  The hall was wide, with a deep, soft carpet and several closed doors on either side. One of them has to be a bathroom, Nancy thought. Stopping in front of the first door, she raised her hand and was just about to knock when she heard something that made her hand freeze in midair.

  It was a scream—a sharp, piercing scream—and it was coming from behind that door.

  Chapter

  Two

  FORGETTING ABOUT KNOCKING, Nancy threw open the door and ran into the room. It was a study, with bookcases on three of the walls and a stone fireplace on the fourth. Next to the fireplace was a painting, which had been swung out from the wall like a cabinet door. Behind it was a wall safe, also open. In front of the safe stood Joanna. She was holding a box, staring at it in horror, as if she had found a snake inside.

  “Joanna!” Nancy cried. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

  “Oh, Nancy!” Joanna’s small face crumpled, and tears started rolling down her cheeks. “It’s gone! I can’t believe it! What am I going to do?”

  Quickly crossing the room to Joanna’s side, Nancy looked at the box she was holding. It was red leather, padded and lined with white satin. It had obviously contained a piece of jewelry—Nancy could see the imprint in the satin—and that piece of jewelry had obviously been a necklace.

  “The diamond and ruby one?” she asked Joanna. “The one you just brought back from Europe?”

  Sniffing, Joanna nodded. “The one my father paid a fortune for,” she said miserably. “The one he’s going to absolutely freak over when he finds out it’s been stolen. What am I going to do?” she asked again. “If only I hadn’t shot my mouth off about it!”

  It was true, Nancy thought. Joanna had blabbed about the necklace to everyone, but it was too late to do anything about that. “What about the safe?” Nancy asked. “How many people at the party did you tell about the safe?”

  “I didn’t tell anyone about the safe,” Joanna said positively. “I suppose somebody could have found it, but no one knows the combination except my parents and me.”

  “You’re sure?” Nancy asked.

  “Absolutely.”

  Stepping closer, Nancy looked carefully at the lock on the safe. It looked perfectly normal, so it couldn’t have been broken into, or Joanna would have noticed. Whoever had taken the necklace knew how to pick a lock. Nancy didn’t know every person at the party, but she knew most of them, and they were all perfectly regular River Heights teenagers. Not the types who knew about getting into top-quality safes or pulling off a big-time jewelry theft.

  “When was the last time you saw the necklace?” she asked.

  “Three days ago, when we got home,” Joanna said. “I watched my daddy put it in the safe, and I haven’t been near it since, until now.” Her eyes widened. “You mean it could have been gone all this time and I didn’t even know it?”

  “Maybe,” Nancy said. “Somebody could have gotten into the house, I guess, but I don’t think they’d chance it while anyone was here.”

  “Then they wouldn’t have had a problem,” Joanna said. “I’ve hardly spent any time here since we got home, and the maids are both off till my parents get back.”

  “Listen, Joanna,” Nancy said, “I know this might ruin the party, but we have to call the police.”

  Joanna sniffed loudly. “I know,” she agreed and burst into tears again.

  There was a phone on the desk. Nancy crossed to it to dial the River Heights Police Department. After giving her name and the address of the house, she hung up and turned back to Joanna. “They’ll be here in about fifteen minutes,” she reported.

  Wiping her eyes, Joanna grabbed Nancy’s arm. “I just got an idea,” she said excitedly. “I know the police have to be in on this, but, Nancy, you’re a detective, too! And you’re good, right?”

  “Well, I’ve been successful before,” Nancy said without false modesty. “What’s your idea?” she asked, already guessing the answer.

  “You try to find the necklace, too,” Joanna told her. “I don’t care if you work with the police or by yourself. Just help find that necklace before my parents get back. Please, Nancy, I’m really desperate! Will you help me?”

  Nancy couldn’t help but laugh. “I get it,” she said. “If we find the necklace before they get back, then what they don’t know won’t hurt them, right?”

  Joanna nodded.

  “It sounds nice,” Nancy said. “But with the police in on it, I really don’t think there’s any way to keep it from your parents.”

  “I guess not.” Joanna looked ready to cry again, but after a few seconds, she cheered up. “But if the necklace is already back when they find out about it, it won’t be so awful. I mean, how mad can they get if the necklace is safe and sound?”

  Nancy laughed again. “I can’t argue with that,” she said. “Besides, I hate to say no to a new case.”

  “Oh, Nancy, thank you!” Joanna cried. “I feel better already. I’m just positive you’ll solve the whole thing for me!”

  “I’ll do my best,” Nancy promised. “But you’ve got to help me, too. You’ve got to tell the police and me everything you know. Don’t keep something back just because you’re embarrassed about it—like telling an entire party there was a valuable necklace in the house. And don’t worry about the police,” she went on. “I’ve worked with them before, and we get along fine. We’ll all do everything we can.”

  Five minutes later, two men from the River Heights Police Department arrived, and Nancy met Detective John Ryan for the first time. He was about twenty-five or thirty years old, and he was handsome, with dark curly hair and blue eyes. He’d be even more handsome if he smiled, Nancy thought. Right now, he looks like he’s at the end of a very bad day.

  “I thought I knew just about everyone in the department,” Nancy said after introducing herself. “You must be new.”

  “I’ve been working in Chicago,” he said shortly. Looking past Nancy and Joanna, he nodded at the crowded party, which was still going strong. “Nobody’s gone home, I hope. We’ll have to question everyone.”

  “Oh, do you really have to?” Joanna asked. “These are all my friends. They wouldn’t have stolen the necklace.”

  “You don’t know that for sure,” Detective Ryan told her. “Did you tell anyone here about it?”

  Blushing, Joanna nodded. “Just about everyone,” she admitted.

  The detective looked grim. “You’d be surprised what some people will do for money, even so-called friends,” he said.

  “She didn’t tell anyone about the safe, though,” Nancy said, trying to be helpful. “All she said was that her father had brought back a necklace. I don’t think anyone knew exactly where it was. Besides, whoever got into that safe had to have been a professional. I’m positive that no one that I know here could have done it.”

  Still not smiling, Detective Ryan gave Nancy a long
look. “Thanks for your opinion, Ms. Drew,” he said finally. “Now, if it’s all right with you, I’ll get on with the official investigation.” He told the other police officer to start questioning the party guests, then turned back to Joanna. “I’d like to see the safe now and get a good description of the necklace.”

  As the three of them walked to the study, Joanna leaned close to Nancy and whispered, “I thought you said you got along great with the police. So why is this guy treating you like you’re contagious?”

  “I’m not sure,” Nancy whispered back. “He doesn’t know me, so maybe he thinks I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

  “Well, tell him who you are, then!” Joanna said. “Once he knows, he’ll probably be glad to have you on his side.”

  Nancy turned and sneaked a look at Detective Ryan, who was a couple of steps behind the girls. He was frowning, and his handsome face looked as if it were carved out of stone. “I think I’ll wait,” she said. “I get the feeling he wouldn’t be impressed even if I were Sherlock Holmes.”

  As Detective Ryan checked out the safe and talked to Joanna, Nancy kept her mouth shut, but she watched him closely and listened carefully. He knew what he was doing, that much was obvious. He asked all the right questions, and he even got Joanna to admit that she might have told a few people about the safe. Not anyone at the party, but maybe some people at the River Heights Country Club, where she had been spending her days.

  “Joanna!” Nancy couldn’t help butting in. “You didn’t tell me about that. You said nobody knew about the safe.”

  “I guess I forgot.” Joanna looked embarrassed. “But I promise, Nancy, that nobody—absolutely nobody—knows the combination.” She looked at Detective Ryan. “I’ve also asked Nancy to help solve this case, and she said she would. She’s a detective, too, you know.”

  As Nancy had predicted, Detective Ryan wasn’t impressed. In fact, he looked disgusted. “A detective?” he asked, looking at Nancy.

  Nancy nodded.

  “An amateur detective, I take it?” Detective Ryan said.

 
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