Chapter One: A Bad Feeling CHAPTER ONE A Bad Feeling
“SERIOUSLY, GEORGE?” I ASKED, SETTING my fork down with a clang. “Another photo?”
“That one didn’t capture just how smooth these mashed potatoes are!” George said as she snapped yet another picture with the camera on her phone.
I sighed as she scowled at her latest effort before lifting the phone again. I was starving and couldn’t wait to eat, but George is one of my best friends, and I know her quirks well. When George is focused on something, she gets in a zone, becoming oblivious to anything other than her current obsession. I was just going to have to wait until she got a photo she was satisfied with.
Next to me, Bess, my other best friend and George’s cousin, gave me a sympathetic smile. She knows how George gets too.
Finally George looked up at us. “All right. Photographed, filtered, and shared.” She held up the photo she’d posted. I couldn’t argue with the results. The image was flawless and the food looked delicious. “Sorry that took so long,” George said through a mouthful of potato. “I wanted to do the food justice. When Hannah gets back, I’ll show her how many likes it got. I keep telling her if she set up an Instagram account for her food, she’d get a huge following. She’d be a star!”
My frown softened. “That’s actually really nice of you.”
Hannah Gruen’s our housekeeper. She’s been taking care of me and my dad since my mom died when I was three. She was supposed to stay with me while Dad was away at a lawyer’s conference in Washington, DC, but her sister broke her leg, so Hannah had had to hop on a last-minute flight to go and take care of her. When George and Bess found out, they were worried about me getting lonely, so they offered to come stay for a few days. The plan was to make it a real girls’ weekend.
Before she’d left, Hannah had whipped up some of our favorite foods: mashed potatoes for George, oven-fried chicken for Bess, and a tomato-and-mozzarella salad for me.
“So what exactly is this conference your dad’s at, Nancy?” Bess asked.
“It happens every year. Lawyers from all around the country get together and talk about updates to certain laws. There are panels and speeches and parti—”
George’s phone buzzed loudly against the table, cutting me off. Without thinking, she reached for it and tapped the screen.
I felt my stomach drop. The three of us had been so busy recently, we’d barely been able to spend any time together. George had been working overtime at the Coffee Cabin, saving up for a new laptop. Bess had started dating a new guy named Teddy. And I’d been wrapped up consulting with the River Heights PD on a case.
I’m a detective. Usually I help find items that have been stolen or track down saboteurs, but sometimes the police ask me to provide a second pair of eyes on matters that are stumping them. This last one had been a doozy involving a car theft ring, and I had put in a lot of hours.
That’s why I’d really been looking forward to the three of us spending time with one another and catching up, but if the last ten minutes had been anything to go by, George was going to be distracted by her phone the whole night.
Besides, we had a rule about this.
“No phones at the table, George!” I reminded her.
She pulled her hand back sheepishly. “I know. I’m sorry! I can’t help it. It buzzes and I reach for it.”
“You’re like one of Pavlov’s dogs, George!” Bess quipped.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked George, crossing her arms.
“Pavlov did an experiment where he rang a bell every time he fed a group of dogs. Soon, they’d drool whenever they heard a bell. That’s you when your phone buzzes.”
“Rude! But accurate,” she admitted much more quietly.
“Maybe I should lock your phone in my dad’s safe,” I suggested.
George’s eyes widened. “Well, if you lock up mine, you’ll need to lock up Bess’s, too! She’s been sneaking texts with Teddy under the table since we sat down.”
I turned to Bess, eyebrow raised. She was bright red and could barely meet my gaze. Bess hates breaking the rules and is the politest, kindest person I’ve ever met. Still, it was clear from her expression that George was telling the truth.
“I’m sorry!” she said. “Our relationship is just so new, I didn’t want him to think I was ghosting him.”
I have to admit, I was a little surprised. Not that a boy was interested in Bess—she’s one of those people who can smile at a guy, and he’s instantly smitten. Cashiers and waiters are pining for her all over town. And it’s understandable. She’s pretty, but more than that, I think they can sense her inherent kindness. No, what shocked me was how invested she seemed in this Teddy. Bess tends to keep her relationships pretty casual.
“What about you, Nancy?” George asked. “Are you telling me you haven’t played any Words with Friends
with Ned since we’ve been over?”
“No!” I answered firmly, but I had to admit, the thought had crossed my mind. Ned’s my boyfriend, and we’ve been caught up in an epic Words with Friends
battle for the past few months. He’s ahead of me, but only by one game. And when we’re in the middle of a close match, it can be hard to resist making a move, even if I’m tied up with something else. “To be fair,” I said, “he’s at his grandmother’s and he doesn’t have any service there.”
George laughed. “See? Staying connected is just a way of life now. We shouldn’t fight it.” George loves anything techie. She’s been coding since she was little, and she’s always the first to buy the latest gadget. I don’t have a problem with technology—it’s definitely helped me solve more than one case—but I don’t love it the way George does. And while I can momentarily get as caught up in social media as the next person, I like to take a break from it every once in a while.
“It’s just that I really wanted tonight to be about us,” I explained. “I’ve barely seen you two in ages. George, I’m sure you’ve had some memorable customers you want to vent about. And Bess, don’t pretend that you don’t want to tell us all about how great Teddy is.”
been kind of bursting to tell you about him,” Bess admitted.
George leaned forward. “I don’t know if the planets have been aligned in some weird way—you know I’m not into astrology stuff—but this week was a killer at work.”
“But hearing about it isn’t the same if we’re all keeping one eye on our text messages or Instagram likes,” I explained. “It’s as if we’re not really here.”
George and Bess both nodded.
“You’re right,” Bess said.
George handed me her phone. “You probably should
lock this up.…”
As soon as I had my fingers wrapped around the case, the phone buzzed in my hand. George made an exaggerated grimace. “Take it away, Nancy! It’s killing me not to look!” She slumped down in her seat, pretending to be dead.
I giggled. “You’re so ridiculous.”
Without hesitating, Bess handed me her phone too. She has incredible self-control. “Really?” I asked.
She nodded, though it looked like it pained her.
“Wow. Teddy must be some guy,” I said.
“He’s really nice,” Bess replied, blushing.
“And cute!” George added. “Don’t forget who introduced you!”
Bess shook her head. “I’ll never forget, because you’ll never let me!”
“Hang on one second. Let me put away our phones, and then I want to hear all about him.”
I ran down the hall to my dad’s office and unlocked the safe. He’d never told me the combination, but I’d figured it out a long time ago based on a pattern I’d noticed in some of his other passwords. He likes to combine the numbers of dates that are significant to him. His phone password is my mom’s birthday plus their wedding anniversary. Once, when I was home sick and bored, I tried my birthday plus his on the safe’s lock, and it’d worked. People think being a detective is about finding clues, and that’s a big part of it, but being good at recognizing patterns is key, and I’d learned pretty early on that people tend to be very consistent.
I popped open the door and dropped the phones on top of our passports and other important papers, then locked it up again.
The rest of the evening passed exactly how I’d hoped.
Bess told us all about Teddy. By the time she was listing his astrological sign (Libra), favorite color (blue), and favorite ice cream flavor (a tie between cookies and cream and pistachio), George and I were doubled over, laughing at how enamored our best friend had become.
Then George told us about the awful customers who’d come to the Coffee Cabin over the past week, and I cracked up at her impressions of a lady complaining that the coffee didn’t taste organic.
“What about you, Nancy? How’s the car-theft case going?” Bess asked.
“I was riding along with one of the officers when they pulled over one of the thieves!”
“Does that mean you were in a car chase?” George asked, bouncing up and down.
I shook my head. “The guy didn’t even try to get away. He thought he had the perfect explanation for driving a car that wasn’t his.”
“Let me guess,” Bess said. “He was borrowing it from a friend?”
“No, get this. He claimed he was reviewing cars for Car and Driver
“But it would be so easy to prove he was lying,” George said.
I shrugged. “Not everyone is a criminal mastermind.”
After we’d cleaned up the dishes, we all tried out the moisturizing masks that Bess had brought with her. We even convinced George to use one, and she hates all that primping and fussing. George is
more the roll-out-of-bed-and-pull-on-some-clothes-from-the-floor type. She complained loudly at first, and I think the only reason she agreed was because neither Bess nor I could threaten her with photographic evidence, since our phones were locked up. Twenty minutes later, she couldn’t stop marveling at how her skin glowed. I think if Bess hadn’t stopped her, George would have camped out in front of the bathroom mirror for the rest of the night.
Once we managed to drag her away, we went back down to the kitchen and made ice cream sundaes while we argued about which movie to watch, then got into our pajamas, set up the air mattresses in the living room, and resolved to stay up to watch them all.
I fell asleep around two in the morning in the middle of To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
It was a fantastic night. That’s why I was surprised to wake up with a start several hours later with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I have learned to trust my instincts over the years, and right then, they were screaming that something was very wrong.
A movie I didn’t recognize was playing, and George and Bess were asleep next to me. I turned off the TV and lay very still, listening carefully, but all I heard was the hum of the refrigerator and George’s quiet snores.
I was pretty sure there wasn’t an intruder in the house, but the feeling that something was off wasn’t going away, so I reached for my phone to see if anything big had happened in the world. And then remembered I didn’t have it with me. Slowly, careful not to wake George and Bess, I got up, padded to Dad’s office, and unlocked the safe, then took out my phone and turned it on. Seventeen missed calls, all of them from my dad! The first one had come in at 8:23 the night before. My heart started racing and sweat coated my palms.
I took a deep breath. If something had happened to Dad, he’d need me calm and in control. I looked at the screen again. There was one voice mail, and it was two minutes long. My hand was trembling as I hit play.
Everything was muffled, as if Dad’s phone was still in his pocket when he’d called. At first, I could only make out the sound of footsteps—two sets of them. I recognized one immediately as Dad’s, but the other pair sounded quieter, like the person was smaller and a little behind him. A woman, maybe? I could hear Dad’s breathing. It was shallow and fast. He was scared.
A new bolt of fear went through me. My dad didn’t scare easily.
After a moment, I heard Dad say, “You don’t ha—” and then there was something else, but the lining of his pocket rubbing against the speaker created too much noise to make out what. I replayed the message and turned the volume all the way up, pressing the phone as close to my ear as I could, but I still couldn’t understand what else he’d said. Frustrated, I took a deep breath, trying to focus. Maybe Dad would stop walking and I’d be able to make out what was happening.
I heard more footsteps—it sounded like they were going down stairs. Then I thought I heard a door open and shut, but I couldn’t be sure.
When Dad spoke again, it was hard to hear exactly what he was saying, but it sounded like, “Where are you taking me?” And then nothing. The message just ended.
I called Dad’s cell phone as I sprinted down the hall. The call rang and rang and rang, and then: “This is Carson Drew. Leave a message and I’ll call you back as soon as I can.”
“Dad! Call me! Let me know you’re all right!” My voice sounded breathless and thin. I hung up as I reached the living room and threw on the lights.
George groaned as she rolled over, pulling the blanket over her head.
“George, Bess! Wake up! It’s an emergency!”
Bess’s eyes blinked open, and she focused on me, confused. “Nancy? What’s happening?”
“Wake up!” I repeated, ripping the blanket from George’s head.
“What’s going on?” she complained, rubbing her eyes.
“I think my dad’s been kidnapped!”
George and Bess both sat up abruptly. “WHAT?” they shrieked.
I held up the screen so they could see all the missed calls, then played the voice mail. They didn’t have any more luck making out what Dad had said than I’d had.
“I know your dad probably took his laptop with him, but does he still have that old desktop?” George asked me, now wide awake.
I nodded. “In his office.”
A few moments later George was settled behind his desk, typing rapidly and clicking links. “Your dad is a very smart man. He set up a Find My Phone account. Do you happen to know his password?”
“Of course. It’s NancyD123. I know all his passwords.”
George blinked. “Well, that’s definitely not secure. I thought I taught your dad better.”
Bess tapped the desk. “Focus, George! You can scold Mr. Drew once we know he’s safe.”
“Yeah, okay. Give me a second.”
I let out a deep breath, waiting impatiently as the program ran. It felt like it was taking forever, but only a few seconds later, an address flashed on the screen.
Hands shaking, I typed it into the search engine on my phone. “That’s the Adams Hotel, where the conference is being held. Dad’s staying there.”
“If his phone is at the hotel, maybe he’s at the hotel too,” George suggested.
“Yeah,” Bess agreed. “Maybe this is all some kind of misunderstanding.”
“Maybe…,” I said, but I wasn’t convinced. What we could hear of the message was too weird, and seventeen calls was too many to be an accident.
I tapped his number again, hoping that this time he’d pick up and give me a completely boring explanation for what had happened. And then George, Bess, and I could go to Nick’s Diner for french toast and laugh about this whole incident.
“This is Carson Drew. Leave—” I hung up. No french toast for us.
“Maybe he’s still asleep,” Bess offered, but without any conviction.
I shook my head. “It’s after seven, and my dad wakes up at six on the dot every day. He’s part man, part alarm clock.”
Suddenly my phone buzzed in my hand with a number I didn’t recognize.
“Is this Nancy? Nancy Drew?” a man’s voice said on the other end.
“Yes, this is she.”
“My name’s Jesse Wei. I’m friends with your father. We’re both at the conference in DC.”
“Is he okay?” I asked. I could hear my voice rising an octave. “Have you seen him?”
“That’s why I’m calling. Carson’s missing.”