Chapter 1: The Ballerina Painting
"This is really cool!" eight-year-old Nancy Drew said. She held up a long, skinny lamp filled with red and orange goo.
"I think it's kind of gross," Nancy's best friend Bess Marvin said, wrinkling her nose. "What is that stuff in there?"
George Fayne, Bess's cousin and Nancy's other best friend, laughed. "I don't know, but you'd better not let the customers hear you calling it gross, or no one will buy it," she said.
Nancy, Bess, and George were helping out at a weekend-long garage sale. A bunch of families in Nancy's neighborhood had organized it, and it was being held at the Ramirezes' house. Rebecca Ramirez was a friend of Nancy's, but she was in a different third-grade class at Carl Sandburg Elementary School.
It was an hour before the sale was set to start, and the Ramirezes' garage and driveway were hopping with activity. Neighbors kept coming by with boxes of stuff to sell. Nancy, Bess, and George were taking all the items out of the boxes and arranging them on card tables. Rebecca's brother, Todd, who was twelve years old, was helping a neighbor unload some used furniture from a pickup truck.
"We have to keep track of who's selling what," Mrs. Ramirez told Rebecca. The two of them were sticking price tags on everything.
Mrs. Ramirez pointed to the goo-filled lamp Nancy was holding. "For example, the Hilliards are selling this lava lamp."
"Lava? You mean, like the stuff that comes out of volcanoes?" Bess said, her blue eyes wide.
"It's not real lava, Bess," Mrs. Ramirez said with a smile. She glanced down at her clipboard, and then up at Rebecca. "On this list, the Hilliards are number twelve. So you need to write 'number twelve' on the price tag. And as far as the price goes...let's see, how about five dollars?"
"Sure," Rebecca said. She uncapped her purple magic marker and picked up a sheet of small white stickers. She wrote: "#12/$5." Then she peeled off the sticker and stuck it to the base of the lamp. "Piece of cake!"
George pulled an old leather baseball glove out of one of the boxes. "I'm selling this. What number am I?"
Rebecca peered at her mother's clipboard. "You're number five, George. How much do you want to sell it for?"
"How about two dollars?" George suggested. Rebecca nodded and wrote "#5/$2" on one of the stickers.
All the girls were selling things they had outgrown. Nancy was selling a parka that was too small. Bess was selling a doll she no longer played with and half a dozen CD's she no longer listened to. Rebecca was selling her Halloween costumes from last year and the year before. And in addition to her baseball glove, George was selling her old toy kitchen, which had been sitting in her family's basement for a long time.
Nancy reached into another box and pulled out a pen that was lying in a dusty candy dish. It wasn't like the ball-point pens she had at home. It was pretty and gold-colored and engraved with the initial N.
"N for Nancy!" she said to her friends. "I'm going to buy this later, if I make money from my parka. I can write in my blue notebook with it." Nancy was the best detective at her school, and she liked to solve mysteries. Her dad had given her a special notebook with a shiny blue cover in which to write her clues.
"I've already decided what I'm going to buy," Rebecca said. She picked up a necklace that was lying on the card table and held it up to her neck. It was made of pink glass beads that shone in the light. "Isn't it totally awesome? It's my favorite color!"
"I'm trying to decide between a bunch of comic books and this cool old game called Train Robbery," George said.
Bess frowned and glanced around. "What am I going to buy?"
Rebecca pointed to a box of vintage hats. There was a black one with feathers, a red one with satin ribbons, and even one covered with plastic flowers and fruit. "How about one of those hats? They're really cool."
Bess shook her head, which made her blond ponytail bounce back and forth. "I don't know. I'm not in a hat mood today." And then her eyes lit up. "There it is -- that's what I want to buy!"
She pointed to a painting that was propped against the leg of a gray card table. Painted on canvas, it was a picture of a young ballerina in a white tutu with tiny white flowers on it. She was standing on pointe, with her arms stretched gracefully to one side.
Bess bent down in front of the painting. "Isn't it beautiful?" she said breathlessly. "It would be perfect for my room."
Mrs. Ramirez peeked at her clipboard. "The seller asked that we put ten dollars on that painting." She scribbled "#23/$10" on a sticker and stuck it to the back of the canvas.
"Ten dollars!" Bess groaned. "That's too much money! I bought a new CD at the mall yesterday, and I only have two dollars left from my allowance."
"Maybe you'll have enough money after you sell your old CD's and your doll," Nancy said helpfully.
Bess looked doubtful. "I guess. I just hope no one buys the painting before my stuff sells."
Mrs. Ramirez tapped on her watch. "Speaking of which -- the sale starts in half an hour. We'd better get back to work, girls. The customers will be here soon."
The five of them continued to unpack boxes and stick price tags on all the merchandise. It was an unusually warm day for April, and as they worked, Nancy got hot and thirsty -- and a little hungry, too. She was glad Mrs. Ramirez had set up a table with juice and blueberry muffins for the volunteers.
At eight-thirty, customers started to show up. Nancy didn't recognize any of them at first. There was a tall, dark-haired man wearing a suit and bow tie. There was a couple with a cute little baby. And there was a short, red-haired woman dressed in a paint-spattered sundress. They were wandering through the yard and the driveway, picking stuff up and inspecting it.
"I guess no one paid attention to the part of the ad that said, 'No Early Birds,'" Mrs. Ramirez said with a sigh.
"Early birds?" George repeated.
"It's a standard rule with garage sales. Sometimes people show up before the sale officially starts to try to buy the good stuff before everyone else. They're called early birds." Mrs. Ramirez shrugged. "I suppose it can't hurt to let these people look around -- but no one buys anything before nine o'clock sharp, okay?"
"Okay," Rebecca said, nodding. "Hey, speaking of early birds..."
Nancy followed Rebecca's gaze. Brenda Carlton and Alison Wegman were coming up the driveway. Brenda and Alison went to Carl Sandburg Elementary School, too. Brenda had her own newspaper, the Carlton News, which her dad helped her do on the computer. Alison was Brenda's best friend.
"Looks like a bunch of junk to me," Brenda said to Alison, glancing around. Then she pointed to Bess's ballerina painting. "Except for that," she added.
"It is kind of cool," Alison agreed.
"It's super cool," Brenda said. She walked up to the painting and picked it up. "Wouldn't it look great in my bedroom?"
Nancy noticed that Bess had stopped unpacking boxes and was listening intently to Brenda and Alison's conversation.
"Sure," Alison said to Brenda. "How much is it?"
Brenda peered at the price tag. "Ten dollars." She put the painting down, reached into her jeans pocket, and fished out a ten-dollar bill. "Hey, that's exactly what I've got. Hmm, maybe I'll buy it."
Bess rushed up to Nancy and grabbed her arm. "Brenda wants my painting," she whispered. "There's no way I'm going to get it now!"
Copyright © 2000 by Simon & Schuster Inc.