Crosscurrents, p.1Carolyn Keene
LOOKS LIKE you’ve found an admirer, George,” Nancy Drew teased. She pulled up her coat collar to ward off the brisk March wind that swept in from the nearby inner harbor and blew her reddish blond hair into her eyes.
“I’m sure he’s a better swimmer than most of the guys I date,” George Fayne answered, laughing. She leaned against the low stone wall of the seal pool at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, smiling at the huge spotted seal that had crawled onto a rock a few feet away. “Look at those sweet black eyes,” she added.
As if embarrassed by the attention, the seal grunted, twisted off the rock, and dove into the pool of clear water. His hind flippers hit the surface with a clap, sending a cold splash in George’s direction.
“Whoa!” George gasped, jumping back and brushing a few drops from her short, curly dark hair. “Was it something I said?”
“Maybe that’s his way of being friendly,” Nancy suggested.
Both girls looked up as a young woman climbed over the low wall that surrounded the seal pool. She was carrying buckets brimming with silvery fish and was wearing a jacket with the words National Aquarium in Baltimore printed on it.
“Oh, it’s feeding time,” Nancy said. She glanced at her watch. “Dr. Winston isn’t expecting us until ten-thirty, so we have another fifteen minutes. We might as well stay here and watch breakfast being served.”
“Raw fish.” George wrinkled her nose. “Not my first choice for breakfast. I’m glad we had those muffins at the coffee shop in the hotel.”
Nancy and George had taken a flight to Baltimore from Chicago the night before. On Saturday Nancy had received an urgent phone call from the aquarium’s director, Dr. Jonathan Winston. Dr. Winston, an old friend of Nancy’s father, Carson Drew, had mentioned a “problem” at the aquarium, but he had been hesitant to discuss it over the phone.
Nancy had readily agreed to meet with him on Monday morning. She had always wanted to see the famous aquarium, and this case would give her the perfect opportunity. Since George had been able to come along, Nancy hoped they would find time for fun as well as sleuthing.
As George mugged for the seals, Nancy leaned back and studied the aquarium building. Topped by a shimmering glass pyramid, it was a conglomeration of concrete squares, rectangles, and a single towerlike cylinder. A blue neon wave curled around the cylinder, and geometric shapes had been painted in bright colors on the lowest portion of the building.
“Welcome to the National Aquarium in Baltimore,” the tall, slender young woman said to the small crowd that had formed to watch the feeding. She stood on a concrete patio between the seal pool and the angular aquarium building. Her voice was amplified with the help of a small microphone clipped to her jacket collar.
She tucked her wispy copper-colored hair behind her ears, then knelt down and threw a few fish toward the eager seals. “I’m Megan O’Connor, a marine mammalogist. As you can see, it’s feeding time for our seals.”
No sooner had Megan tossed out a few fish than the whole pack began to stir. They flopped off the rocks and swam over to her.
Megan stood on a stone platform and wiggled a dead fish at her feet. One seal wobbled out of the water and inched toward her. “This is Lady,” Megan explained. “She’s a gray seal, and she’s going to vocalize for you.”
On cue, the seal began to grunt and growl. The audience laughed at the piglike noises.
“Lady is definitely not a soprano,” Nancy joked.
“Lady is demonstrating the sound that all seals make,” Megan told the crowd. “We know that seals call to one another. They are social animals, and they love company.”
As Nancy watched, Lady took a fish as her reward, then dove back into the water. Despite the seal’s awkwardness on land, underwater she was as graceful as a dancer.
Nancy was impressed at the way the seals responded to Megan. Continually using the fish as incentive, the young woman prompted the animals to do their tricks for the crowd. Each seal responded to his or her name. One zipped through the water at great speed. Another opened his mouth and displayed his sharp teeth. And Ike, the seal that had been flirting with George, used his hind flippers to splash the crowd.
“I guess Ike’s a real party animal,” George said as the seal sent another splash in her direction. George, who was lithe and athletic, had no trouble ducking the icy spray.
“Oh, look,” said Nancy. She pointed to a baby seal that had leapt out of the water. It edged toward Megan’s feet, then nuzzled her leg, just like an affectionate puppy. “Oohs” and “Aahs” rose from the crowd.
“Hi, Asia,” Megan said, kneeling down to rub the seal between the eyes. “Asia is a two-month-old seal pup, our newest addition to the seal pool. Last week she weighed in at about eighty pounds.”
“She’s adorable!” commented George.
Nancy nodded, then glanced at her watch. “Time to head inside,” she told George, and turned away from the seal pool.
George followed Nancy to a walkway at the right of the pool. It led to the aquarium’s private entrance, which Dr. Winston had described on the phone. The girls found the warm corridor to be a welcome relief from the cold, wet wind.
A long desk stood beside a staircase to the aquarium. Nancy approached the desk and spoke to the uniformed guard. “I’m Nancy Drew, and this is my friend George Fayne. We have an appointment with Dr. Jonathan Winston.”
“If you’ll just sign our guest book, I’ll call upstairs,” the guard said, sliding the book toward the girls.
Nancy and George signed their names, then looked around as they waited for the guard to finish his call. Nancy watched the monitors lined up on the wall in the guard’s station. One screen showed the seal pool, where the mammalogist was still talking to the crowd. Although she wasn’t familiar with the sights on the other monitors, Nancy thought she caught a glimpse of a group of triangular rays and a whale with a rounded nose.
The guard hung up the phone, handed badges to both girls, and motioned toward the staircase. “Dr. Winston’s office is just upstairs and down the hall to your left.”
Upstairs, Nancy and George made their way past office cubicles abuzz with the sounds of employees chatting, phones ringing, and computer printers clattering. “Where are the fish?” George asked.
“Don’t worry, we’ll see the rest of the aquarium,” Nancy promised. “This is the stuff that goes on behind the scenes—the work you don’t see.”
Nancy was halfway down the hall when she noticed a stocky man with salt-and-pepper hair standing in the doorway of an office at the end of the corridor. He was nervously drumming his fingers on the doorjamb but stopped when he saw the girls.
“Nancy Drew?” A smile lit his face. “You must be. You have your father’s eyes,” he said, stepping forward to shake Nancy’s hand. “I’m Jonathan Winston. I’ve heard a lot about you over the years. Carson thinks you could solve the mysteries of the world, given half a chance.”
Nancy tried to ignore the heated blush that crept up her cheeks. “That’s Dad for you,” she mumbled, then quickly added, “This is my friend George Fayne.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Dr. Winston said to George, then gestured toward his office. “Please, come in . . . take off your coats and sit down. I just buzzed one of my curators, Annie Goldwyn, whom I’d like you to meet.”
Warmed by the winter sunshine that streamed into Dr. Winston’s office, Nancy and George took off their jackets and hung them on a rack in one corner. Nancy went over to the windows, which offered a view of Baltimore’s busy harbor, and looked out for a moment. Then she turned back to the office. She noted that the furnishings were modest. A set of beige director’s chairs faced a modern pine desk that was covered with files, memos, and phot
“I appreciate your making the trip here, especially on such short notice,” Dr. Winston said. He closed the door and went over to sit behind his desk.
Nancy sat down in one of the director’s chairs, and George took the chair beside her.
“You didn’t say much over the phone,” Nancy admitted, “but I sensed that this was important. And you mentioned a deadline . . .”
“Friday,” he said, nodding gravely. “It’s our ten-year anniversary, and we’re planning a big bash here. It’s our chance to thank the contributors whose financial donations have helped us over the years. And of course the press will attend, so it will be a publicity event, too.”
Nancy counted off the days in her head. She had less than a week to unravel the case.
Dr. Winston’s eyes darkened as he added, “If people get wind of the trouble we’ve been having, the future of this aquarium will be in jeopardy. So far, we’ve managed to keep things quiet, with the help of our discreet security force and some trusted employees. But I’m afraid word of our problems is going to leak out and attract some bad publicity.”
Just then Nancy heard a knock on the door. As she glanced over, the door popped open and a young woman with tousled brown curls poked her head in. “It’s just me,” she said cheerfully.
“This is Annie Goldwyn,” Dr. Winston said, and introduced her to Nancy and George.
The petite woman, who looked to be in her midtwenties, shook hands with both girls, then said to Nancy, “The boss told me all about you. I’m so glad you’re here.”
Annie had warm brown eyes and a pixie smile. She was a bundle of energy, and Nancy liked her instantly.
“We appreciate the welcome,” Nancy said.
“And we’re excited about seeing the aquarium,” George added.
“Great! I think our little home has a few surprises to offer,” Annie responded. “Even for two teen detectives.”
“The detecting part is Nancy’s department,” George put in. “I just came along to keep her company.”
“So,” Annie said as she pushed aside a stack of papers and perched on the edge of Dr. Winston’s desk, “have you folks gotten down to business?”
“Not yet,” Dr. Winston said, shifting uncomfortably. He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. Nancy could see that whatever the trouble was, it was taking a toll on him. “We’ve been receiving some threats—” he began.
“Menacing notes,” Annie put in. “We think it’s because of the Chesapeake Bay Task Force, a volunteer group I organized about a year ago to help clean up the bay and protect wildlife in our area. It’s sort of a watchdog against pollution.”
Dr. Winston stared out the window at a tugboat that was coursing through the gray-blue waters of the harbor. “Someone out there wants the task force stopped—immediately,” he said gravely.
Nancy frowned. The scope of this case was bigger than she had expected. It wasn’t just a matter of a problem at the aquarium. This was something that might affect the entire Chesapeake Bay area. “Did you save the notes?” she asked.
“Certainly.” Dr. Winston reached into his desk drawer, pulled out a manila folder, and handed it to Nancy.
She rested the folder on her lap and opened it to study the first note. It was a plain white sheet of paper with a handwritten message in block print: “ ‘Kill the task force, or I’ll kill the animals,’ ” she read aloud.
“That was the first one we received,” Annie explained. “All of the notes promise trouble here at the aquarium if the task force isn’t disbanded.”
“Has this anonymous person followed through on any of the threats?” Nancy asked.
Annie nodded. “That’s what really scares me. Last week, we found one of our birds—a scarlet ibis—with a skewer through it.”
Nancy’s stomach turned at the thought. This was the act of a truly sick mind. “Where was the bird found?” she asked.
“It was left on a rock in our South American rain forest exhibit, which you’ll see later,” Dr. Winston answered.
“What kind of person would kill an innocent bird?” George asked, looking disgusted.
Nancy was wondering the same thing. “Are you sure the dead bird was related to the threats?”
“There was a note attached to the skewer,” Dr. Winston explained.
“I’ll show you,” Annie said as she took the folder from Nancy’s lap and sifted through the papers until she pulled out a note that read: Victim of the task force. It was written with the same block lettering on plain white paper.
“That’s an odd way to get the point across,” Nancy said.
“Since then the notes have been vicious,” Annie explained. “I’ve been finding them everywhere—on my desk, on my car, in my mailbox at home. . . .”
After a pause, she added, “I’m not about to disband the task force, but I’m beginning to get the creeps, and my boyfriend is getting antsy.” She glanced over at Dr. Winston and added, “Stuart had a fit when he found one of the notes on the windshield of my car.”
Dr. Winston frowned. “I had hoped to keep this problem from outsiders—in the family, so to speak. Do you think Stuart will tell anyone?” he asked.
“Don’t worry about Stuart,” Annie replied. “He can keep a secret. But I want to get to the bottom of this. And I don’t want any more of our creatures to die.”
Just then there was a sharp knock on the door, and in came a thin black woman. Nancy remembered seeing her in the cubicle next to Dr. Winston’s office.
“This just came for Annie—by rush messenger,” she said, smiling as she handed Annie an envelope.
“Thanks, Delores,” Annie said. The woman nodded, then ducked back out of the office.
“As I was saying,” Annie continued, tearing open the envelope, “we have to protect the . . .” Her voice trailed off, and her brown eyes widened with alarm.
“What is it?” Winston asked.
Annie didn’t answer. She just stared at the note, which she clutched in one tight fist.
Moving to Annie’s side, Nancy read the note aloud: “ ‘Kill the task force, or we’ll kill Annie Goldwyn.’ ”
THAT’S AWFUL!” George exclaimed.
“Are you okay?” Nancy squeezed Annie’s shoulder sympathetically. She could understand why the young woman was frightened.
Annie shook her head in disbelief. “What a creep!”
“This is out of hand,” Dr. Winston said firmly. Turning to Nancy, he added, “We must protect Annie at all costs. I wanted her to take some time off, but so far she’s insisted upon facing the situation head on. But after this, I—”
“I can’t run away and hide,” Annie protested. “This is one battle I’ve got to stay and fight.”
Nancy admired the young woman’s courage. “I understand,” she told Annie. “But this is a personal threat.”
“I’ll report it to the police just as I did the other notes,” Annie said, folding her arms, “but I’m not backing off.”
“What about suspects?” Nancy asked, looking Annie in the eye. “Is there anyone you know of who has a grudge against you?”
Annie paused for a moment, biting her lip as she considered the question. “I’ve been trying to narrow it down. There’s only one person I can think of who might get a kick out of scaring me. And that’s Chris Marconi.”
“Chris?” Dr. Winston’s mouth opened in disbelief. “Chris Marconi is a curator here,” he explained to Nancy and George. “But I find it hard to believe he’s the one causing this trouble.”
Annie shrugged. “I can’t really accuse him, but I have to admit that we haven’t seen eye to eye on things for quite a while. We don’t agree on methods of animal care. He doesn’t approve of the way the task force is being run. And he hates my boyfriend. It may sound petty, but I think that Chris could be the one behind the notes.”
Dr. Winston was shaking his head. “I can’t imagine a member of our own staf
“I hate to point the finger,” Annie said, “but that’s my honest opinion.”
“And it’s worth checking out,” Nancy said, reassuringly. “In the meantime, can you use your security force to protect Annie?” she asked Dr. Winston. “At least she would be safe at work.”
“I’ll instruct them to keep a special watch over Annie. But the overall question of security—especially for the animals—is tricky.”
Dr. Winston gestured toward the building behind him. “Our aquarium is vulnerable, to say the least,” he admitted. “We have more than a million people touring the building each year, and we pride ourselves on allowing public access to the animals. We guard the animals carefully, of course, but a person probably could harm one of them if he or she were sneaky and careful enough.”
“Did visitors have access to the bird that was killed?” Nancy asked.
“Yes, of course. Our birds are free to fly anywhere they like under the glass roof of the rain forest. As a general rule, we try to avoid caging our animals. And our visitors roam through the same area, which means that anyone could have captured the scarlet ibis.”
“Let’s face it,” Annie said, pushing back her dark curls, “we’re sitting ducks.” A small smile lit her face. Judging from her pun, Nancy could see that Annie was recovering from the shock of receiving a death threat.
Nancy sat back in her chair and considered the situation. If she wanted to find out why someone was trying to stop the Chesapeake Bay Task Force, she needed to find out more about the organization. “Tell me about the task force,” she said to Annie. “How many people are members?”
“Well, technically more than a hundred people are involved,” Annie explained. “Whenever someone gives us a donation, we add his or her name to the roster. But there are only about a dozen active members, and most of them work here.”
“I’d like to see a list of the members,” Nancy suggested. “And maybe you can point out the key players for me.”
“Sure, that’s easy enough. I’ll get you a copy of the roster right away.”
Crosscurrents by Carolyn Keene / Mystery & Detective / Young Adult have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes