The Phantom of Nantucket
“LAND HO!” MY FRIEND GEORGE CALLED, waking me from my nap.
It took me a second to recall where I was, but I grinned as soon as I remembered. I was on a ferryboat headed toward Nantucket Island for a Labor Day weekend of beaches, ice cream, and museums. It had been a busy summer of work and family obligations, and I was looking forward to some time off before the fall.
I sat up straight and looked at where George was pointing. Through the fog, I could just make out the edge of the shoreline and a lighthouse standing tall above the rocks. Painted in bright red-and-white stripes with a glass top that allowed the light to shine through, warning arriving boats of the rocks, it looked exactly how I had hoped it would.
“It’s just like a postcard!” I exclaimed.
A voice boomed over the PA system, “We will be docking at the Nantucket Ferry Terminal in approximately twenty minutes. Please take the time now to gather your belongings and clean the area around your seats. Thank you.”
I put away the book I had been reading before I drifted off.
“We’d better wake Bess. You know she’ll want to put herself together,” George said, rolling her eyes.
My best friends Bess Marvin and George Fayne are cousins, but you’d never guess it. They’re about as opposite as you can get. Bess isn’t a girly-girl, but she likes to wear nice clothes and her hair is always perfectly styled. For this trip, she was wearing seersucker pants, a pink collared shirt, and a yellow V-neck sweater. She fit in seamlessly with the other tourists on the ferry. George, on the other hand, keeps her hair short so she doesn’t have to think about it and wears jeans and sneakers every day. I’m more in the middle. I’m not the fashionista that Bess is, but I like to look nice. I guess that’s why the three of us are best friends. We all fit together, and we each have our own place.
I shook Bess’s shoulder gently, and she woke with a start. “What’s happening?” she asked through a yawn.
“We’re almost there,” I told her.
“Oh, good,” Bess said, reaching into her purse and pulling out a hairbrush. “I’m tired of . . . moving.”
I knew what she meant. It had been a long trip. We’d left our hometown of River Heights at seven a.m., and now it was almost five p.m. When Bess’s mom’s oldest friend had invited us all here for the opening of her daughter Jenna’s exhibit at the local nautical museum, I hadn’t realized just what a journey it would be to get to Nantucket.
“I counted,” George said. “We’ve been on four different types of transportation today: car to the airport, plane, bus to the dock, and now ferry.”
“Maybe Jenna will have bikes we can ride to get that number up to five,” I joked.
Bess wrinkled her nose. “I don’t think Jenna’s the type to ride bikes.” She offered George her hairbrush.
“Why not?” George asked, declining the brush. I took it instead.
“She’s just someone who really focuses on whatever she has to do. She got straight As in college. Jenna is just an unpaid intern at the museum, but apparently she hasn’t been to the beach once all summer. She’s spent all her free time in the library! While she was there she made some important discovery, so they gave her a show to curate all by herself. The whole reason her parents can’t come to the opening is because they never imagined she would have her own show so soon. They bought tickets to Italy months ago.”
We could hear the engines of the ferry slowing. People around us started to get up.
“She sounds intense,” I noted.
Bess nodded. “That’s a good word for her, but she’s also really nice. We’re going to have fun this weekend, I promise.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are docking. We will be disembarking from the starboard side of the ship,” boomed a voice from the loudspeaker.
George, Bess, and I exchanged looks. We weren’t quite sure which direction starboard was, but everyone around us was headed toward the right side of the ferry, so we followed them. George lagged behind us, lugging her gigantic backpack. She practically staggered as she adjusted to its weight.
“I still don’t understand why you felt the need to bring so many electronics with you,” Bess commented.
“What else are you supposed to do on vacation?” George asked.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Bess pondered, “lie on the beach, go for a hike, shop—”
George cut her off right there. “That might be what you do on vacation, but when I’m on vacation, I play computer games, read on my tablet, see what’s happening on the Internet. . . .”
Bess shook her head as she held open the door to the outer deck of the boat. From here we could see people gathering on the dock, waving to the ferry. Walking to the side, Bess peered into the crowd, looking for Jenna.
“There she is!” Bess shouted, waving.
“Which one is she?” I asked.
“Come on, Detective Drew, you can figure it out,” Bess joked. My friends like to tease me because in our hometown of River Heights I’m something of an amateur sleuth. A while ago I discovered that I was pretty good at solving mysteries, and now people ask me to help them if they think someone is stealing from their business or cheating in a competition . . . things like that. I scanned the crowd, searching the sea of pastel polo shirts until I saw a serious-looking young woman in a Nantucket Nautical Museum sweatshirt standing with perfect posture, her long brown hair tied back into a tight ponytail.
“I see her!” I exclaimed, pointing.
“You solved the case!” Bess laughed.
“I wish they were all that easy,” I joked back, as we walked down the ramp off the boat. I glanced at George. It was unusual for her to be quiet for this long. She was staring down at Jenna, looking slightly nervous. George is always so confident and tough; it hadn’t occurred to me that she might be anxious about fitting in with Jenna. Bess and Jenna had known each other their entire lives—their moms had been friends since childhood—but Jenna’s family lived several states away from us. Still, Bess’s and Jenna’s families saw each other every year; they even had a tradition of going skiing together. George and I had heard stories about Jenna for years, but neither of us had ever met her. Originally, Bess’s mom had said that my boyfriend, Ned, could come with us to Nantucket, but George had asked me whether it was okay if it was just the three of us. She didn’t want to feel like a third wheel with Ned and me and Bess and Jenna. I would have said yes no matter what, but it worked out perfectly, since Ned’s family always took their annual camping trip over Labor Day weekend.
“Hello, Bess.” Jenna greeted Bess with a stiff hug.
Bess introduced us to Jenna. “This is my cousin George Fayne and our friend Nancy Drew.”
Jenna took both of our hands in a firm, businesslike shake. “Thank you for coming. It’s great to know that the reception won’t just be myself and Pete, the museum’s director!”
I noticed the baggage cart making its way down the ramp with our luggage. We followed Jenna as she led us to where it would stop.
“I’m sure the reception will be great,” I said. “Bess’s mom told us you made a really big discovery about a shipwreck?”
Jenna pushed us through the crowd, making sure we would be the first people to get our bags. “It is significant, but you never know how the public will react to something like this, and it’s extra important that it go really well. . . .”
Jenna trailed off, and I couldn’t help but wonder what she was going to say. That’s one problem with being a detective: You can’t stand unanswered questions.
“What makes the reception so critical?” I asked.
“Mr. Whitestone, the president of the museum’s board of trustees, is coming. If he’s impressed by the turnout and the exhibit, Pete says there’s a really good chance he’ll offer me a permanent position.” Despite herself, Jenna broke out into a big smile.
Bess hugged her. “Jenna, that’s amazing! This has been your dream job since you were a little girl. Congratulations!”
Jenna put her finger to her lips. “Don’t jinx it! It’s not a done deal yet. I still need everything to go perfectly tomorrow night.”
“Yeah, but it will. I mean, I know you; you’ve probably checked everything a hundred times already,” Bess said.
The baggage carts pulled up and George, Bess, and I retrieved our suitcases. Jenna checked her watch. “The museum is actually just up the street. Do you mind if we stop by before going back to my house? They’re hanging a brand-new exhibit banner at five thirty. We could just make it.”
“Mind?” Bess said. “We wouldn’t miss it!”
We followed Jenna out of the parking lot around the ferry dock, past a row of seafood restaurants, ice-cream parlors, and T-shirt shops. The streets were made of cobblestone and the sidewalks, paved in red brick.
“Is this why people call Nantucket the Little Gray Lady?” I asked Jenna as we passed a row of gray-shingled buildings.
“It’s actually because of all the fog, but your reasoning also works,” Jenna said with a laugh.
The late-afternoon sun made the whole place aglow with a magical light. With the narrow streets and weathered buildings, there was a real sense that you were walking the same streets that people had walked two hundred years ago.
Bess read my mind. “If it weren’t for the cars, I’d almost feel like we’d gone back to the past,” she sighed. “It’s beautiful.”
Jenna nodded. “As a history buff, it’s one of the things I love most about this place. It’s very dedicated to preserving the past. Take its whaling history. The island was originally settled in 1659 as a whaling colony. Nantucket dominated the trade for almost two hundred years. Given how people feel about whaling now—and the fact that it almost drove whales to extinction—some places might try to hide its association, but Nantucket has a museum with a permanent exhibit on whaling right in the center of town.”
“You’re definitely going to get that job,” George said. “I usually think history is boring. I’m all about the future”—she waved her smartphone in the air—“but you make it seem really cool.”
Down the street, a woman who looked to be about Jenna’s age walked toward us, pushing a man in a wheelchair. Jenna’s face lit up in a big smile, and she waved. The woman stopped, and Jenna introduced us.
“This is Marni, my best friend on Nantucket, and this is her grandfather, Mr. Fraiser,” Jenna told us. We all shook hands.
“Mr. Fraiser is my favorite person on the island. Can you guess why?” Jenna asked.
“Because he’s the oldest person on the island?” George asked, half under her breath.
“George!” Bess hissed, hitting her.
Jenna laughed. “That’s okay. It’s true. He’s a hundred and four!”
My jaw dropped. I couldn’t help it. I’d never met anyone over ninety before.
“Congratulations!” George said.
Mr. Fraiser nodded, but he seemed to be thinking about something else. I couldn’t blame him. He was 104. He’d earned the right to think about whatever he wanted.
“Not only that,” Jenna continued, “but Marni’s family has lived on the island for seven generations.”
“Wow,” George exclaimed. “You’re like island royalty.”
“Unfortunately, we don’t get crowns,” Marni said with a chuckle, “just bragging rights.”
Bess checked the time. “Jenna, it’s five twenty-seven. We should probably go if we’re going to make the banner hanging.”
Jenna nodded. “Right.”
“We have to head home,” Marni said.
A disappointed look flitted across Jenna’s face. “You do?” she asked, confused.
“Sorry, Grandpa’s pretty tired. The sneak peek at the exhibit earlier wore him out.”
Jenna seemed a little upset, but she mustered a smile. “Okay. Well, I hope you liked it. Sorry I had to leave before you finished seeing all of it.”
Marni gave a nod. “No problem. Once Grandpa’s settled, how about I come join you guys for dinner?”
“Sure,” Jenna said. Marni headed off, pushing her grandfather.
“I don’t envy her having to push that wheelchair on these cobblestones,” I observed. Marni seemed out of breath after only a few steps.
“She’s used to it,” Jenna said.
We walked quickly, and after two blocks, Jenna stopped us. “Here we are,” she said.
We were standing in front of a large brick building. A mural depicting a boat chasing a whale with a harpooner at the ready was on one of the outside walls. It was captioned Going on the Whale. Leaning out of a window near the top of the building was a kind-looking middle-aged man hanging a banner.
“Oh good, you’re here,” the man called down to Jenna. “I was getting worried!”
“You know I wouldn’t miss this, Pete!” Jenna yelled back.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a guy leaning on the corner of a building, watching Pete hang the banner. The guy kept checking his phone and seemed fidgety.
“Does he look like he’s up to something?” I asked Bess, nodding toward the guy.
She laughed. “Nancy, you’re on vacation. I order you to relax.”
I knew she was right. I was making something into a big deal when nothing had even happened. My brain just wasn’t used to not having a case to solve. That man was probably waiting for his date to arrive or something.
Pete looked down at Jenna from the window and gave her a thumbs-up. “Just a few more seconds,” he shouted. It took all my willpower not to turn and see how Mr. Fidgety reacted to this news, but I could feel Bess’s eyes on me, and I wanted to prove to her that I could be on a real vacation—detective work not included.
“You ready?” Pete shouted at Jenna.
Jenna nodded, turning to Bess. “Can you take a picture on your phone? I know my parents are going to want to see this.”
“Of course!” Bess said, getting herself into position.
“On the count of three,” Pete yelled down. “One . . . two . . . three.”
He unfurled the banner. It dropped down the side of the building, billowing with a satisfying whoosh. When it finally fell into place, a gasp went through the crowd that had gathered outside the museum.
The banner advertised MYSTERY OF THE ELEANORE SHARPE SOLVED!
But written across it in bright-red letters was the word LIAR!