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Authors: Carolyn Keene

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BOOK: No Laughing Matter
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Eleven

N
ANCY SPUN AROUND
with a gasp. The sun, low in the western sky, blinded her, so at first she didn't recognize the man standing in front of her.

“Keith,” she said, trying not to betray her nervousness. “What are you doing here?”

“Just out for a walk,” he said, giving her a warm smile. “I see you're curious about this place, too. I always hear good music pounding out, but I haven't had a chance to come here yet.”

There was something about his explanation that was too smooth. “How's the investigation going?” she asked, watching him closely.

Keith laughed. “Nothing new on my end. I was just going to ask you the same question.”

“I don't have any solid proof,” she answered vaguely. She wasn't sure why, but her instincts told her to keep quiet about Carla and her
suspicions that Over the Rainbow was inflating its profits and expenses.

Nancy glanced down in order to avoid Keith's probing green eyes. “Oh—I'm really late,” she said, gesturing at her watch. “I'll catch up with you later.”

Before he could say anything, Nancy turned and walked hurriedly toward the entrance to the comedy club. She hadn't considered Keith a suspect before.

Now that she thought about it, though, Keith could have been the one who'd knocked her out in the office the night before. She had told him that she was going to snoop around up there. And that phone call she'd received at Tom Irwin's office—that was right after she'd made her lunch date with Keith. She vaguely recalled telling him about her plans to visit the lawyer's office.

Nancy mentally shook herself. She couldn't prove anything without solid proof, and that, unfortunately, was one thing she didn't have yet.

Hurrying into the comedy club, Nancy found Bianca setting up the tables with Jenny. “I'm so sorry I'm late,” Nancy said breathlessly.

Bianca didn't quite meet Nancy's eyes. Her manner was stiff, almost cold. “That's all right. You're here now.” She handed over the pile of silverware she had been placing on the tables. “Why don't you finish up here.” With that the manager headed for the stairs at the rear of the club.

“Talk about a cool reception,” Nancy murmured under her breath, following Bianca with her eyes. Was it just because she was late, or was it possible that Bianca knew about her investigation? After their meeting at Gleason's, Bianca might have become suspicious.

Jenny was setting up tables at the opposite end of the club. Nancy waved to her, shrugged out of her jacket, and got to work.

“Hi, Nancy,” Bess greeted Nancy a moment later, jumping off the stage and coming over to the table Nancy was setting. “I was afraid you weren't going to make it today.”

“I got held up,” Nancy explained. In an undertone, she told Bess about following the van and about her run-in with Keith outside the dance club. “I guess we'd better keep an eye on him tonight if we see him, as well as on Bianca and Tony,” she finished.

“Sounds good,” Bess agreed. “Nancy, if that stuff was delivered to Caribou, then maybe there really
is
gambling there.”

Nancy shrugged. “Hopefully we'll find out after we get off work tonight.” She nodded toward one of the tables near the bar, where Rusty and Johnny were sitting. Loud laughter rang out from the table. “After finding that ticket with Johnny's name on it, we can't rule Johnny out as a suspect, either,” she added.

“I'll keep an eye on him,” Bess promised. “Actually, Rusty told me that Johnny used to be
a pretty famous comedian in the old days. I think he might even do a little stand-up comedy tonight.”

Just then Rusty got up from the table and gestured to Bess, before heading toward the stage. “Oops, duty calls,” Bess told Nancy.

“How's the routine going?” Nancy asked.

“I'm having a lot of fun, but it's not like it's my life's career or anything.” With a smile, she hurried backstage after Rusty.

As Nancy finished setting up, she glanced around the room. Tony was busy behind the bar, cutting up lemons and limes. Bianca wasn't in sight, so Nancy assumed she was still up in her office.

Nancy had just finished placing the last piece of silverware when Keith walked into the club. He sat down on one of the barstools and began talking to Tony. As Nancy walked by on her way to the waitress station, he smiled and said, “Tony tells me Johnny might be performing tonight.”

“So I hear,” Nancy said politely. “I wonder what his jokes are like.”

Keith chuckled to himself. “Oh, he's a riot, all right. I've known him for a few years now, and he always manages to bring down the house.”

“Um, yeah, sure.” Nancy was barely listening. The club was beginning to fill up, and she was too busy now to pay any attention to Keith or to think about the case.

Before long Rusty went on stage to introduce
the opening act. “I've got a surprise for you tonight. How many of you remember Johnny Spector? Well, he owns the Rainbow, and it's been too long since he's graced the stage with his presence. So please give a warm welcome to the Big Guy himself—Mr. Johnny Spector!”

The crowd broke into wild cheering. Johnny's style was different from that of the younger comedians. He delivered a lot of one-liners, instead of telling stories or doing impressions, but Nancy had to admit he was funny. The crowd loved him.

As Nancy came out of the kitchen after placing a food order, Tony gestured to her. His hand was cupped over the telephone receiver, which he waved at her.

“It's for you.”

Hurrying over to the bar, she took the phone from him. “Hello?”

“It's me.”

It was Ned, and Nancy knew he wouldn't call her at work unless it was important. “Hi! How are you?” she said brightly. She shot a nervous glance at Tony, who was already busy at the far end of the counter. Keith was only a few feet away, though, so she had to be careful.

“Remember those payments to Allen Associates, the consulting firm? I found something very interesting,” Ned said.

“What?” Nancy asked, her tone and her expression casual.

“I traced the address on the receipt, and it's an empty lot. There is no such thing as Allen Associates,” Ned's excited voice came back on the line.

Nancy was about to ask him if he'd found out who had created the company, when she heard a faint click over the line.

Someone was listening in on their conversation!

Chapter

Twelve

N
ANCY HAD
to get off the phone before Ned revealed anything more!

“Um, listen, it's really busy here. I have to go, okay?” Without waiting for an answer, she hung up.

Nancy's whole body filled with dread as she scanned the room. Who had been listening in?

Tony was behind the bar, and there wasn't another extension there that he could have picked up. Keith was still sitting near Nancy—he couldn't have picked up an extension either.

Nancy looked up as Bianca walked down the stairs. The manager glanced briefly at Nancy, then went into the kitchen. It had to have been her, Nancy reasoned. Tony could have alerted her about Nancy's call before he handed Nancy the
phone. Bianca could have been listening on the extension in her office!

“Nancy, you've got three or four orders up,” Jenny called over to her, hurrying past with two plates.

Nancy sighed and headed for the kitchen. She picked up three dinner plates filled with food, balancing them on her hands and arms, then hurried to her tables. After serving the food, she glanced at her watch.

She had a fifteen-minute break coming up after the next comedian. The way things were going, she didn't want to wait until the end of her shift to check out the dance club. If someone was onto her, she had to get over there before anyone got to her! Maybe she could slip out on her break and check around for the gambling operation.

As Nancy returned to the bar to pick up a drinks order, she noticed that Keith was leaving. He'd gotten up from the bar and was standing next to the door talking to Johnny. They laughed uproariously about something. Then Johnny slapped Keith on the back, and Keith left. She wished she could follow him, but she couldn't leave.

“Tony, I have to talk to you for a minute.” Bianca's stern voice interrupted Nancy's thoughts. “Look at these and tell me what you think.”

Bianca had stepped up to the counter. Nancy
couldn't believe it when she saw what the assistant manager was holding. It was a cardboard box the exact same size as the one in which Nancy had found the gambling receipts the night before!

Nancy didn't want to call attention to herself, so she hunched over the counter, pretending to add up some checks. She watched out of the corner of her eye as Bianca opened the box and took out a piece of paper. Nancy's heart started pounding. Was Bianca showing Tony one of the gambling receipts?

“I don't think that works,” Tony said, frowning at the paper.

“Do you think it's too much?” Bianca asked.

Tony shook his head. “No. We've got to make it look real.”

What was going on? It sounded to Nancy as if they were talking about faking the accounting books, right out in the open!

Suddenly Tony's expression became guarded. “Bianca, put it away,” he said under his breath. “Johnny's coming.”

Nancy glanced back over her shoulder and saw Johnny approaching the bar.

Bianca quickly slipped the paper back in the box and closed the lid. “Uh, hi, Johnny,” she said nervously. “You were great up there.”

“Thanks. It felt good,” Johnny said too loud. “I haven't been on a stage in a long time.”

“You should do it more often,” Tony told him, forcing a grin. “You really brought the house down.”

Bianca chimed in, “We should make you a regular act, Johnny. Why don't you talk to Rusty about it?”

“Nah, you kids want to hear the new comics. I just do the old material. I'm like a dinosaur around here,” Johnny said, but Nancy noticed that he was pleased by the compliment. “Hey, Tony. How about a cold soda?”

He waved to someone across the club. “I see another old dinosaur. Thanks for the soda,” Johnny said, taking the glass Tony offered him. “Keep up the good work.”

Tony and Bianca smiled stiffly as Johnny walked over to his friend. As soon as he was out of earshot, they both sighed out loud.

“He didn't see anything, did he?” Bianca asked worriedly.

“No, but I thought all this craziness would be over by now,” Tony said. “I've been jumping out of my skin for weeks!”

He stiffened as his gaze lit on Nancy. “What can I get you, Nancy?” he asked, suddenly businesslike.

“Um, two ginger ales, Tony,” she told him. She wished she could peek at what was in the box, but Bianca had closed it. With a sigh, Nancy returned to her work.

After she had delivered her sodas, Nancy saw that it was time for her break. She told Jenny to cover for her, then got her leather jacket from the coat check and hurried outside.

The cold air felt refreshing as she walked the short distance to Caribou. Although the two buildings were connected, they had separate entrances. When Nancy opened the door to the dance club, she could hardly believe how loud the music was. A beefy guy wearing jeans, a black shirt, and a leather vest stood next to the door. Behind him, Nancy saw a dim, cavernous room. Colored lights strobed over the crowd of people filling the dance floor.

“Ten bucks to get in,” the guy at the door told her.

Nancy flashed him her brightest smile. “I just wanted to look around,” she said, shouting so he could hear her over the music. “My friends and I are thinking about renting this space for a party.”

The beefy guy hesitated, then yelled back, “Okay. You can look around, but don't let me catch you in there dancing.” He grinned, showing off two gold teeth.

Nancy started to move past him, then paused. “Are there other rooms besides the big club space?” she asked.

“Sure, we have two rooms you can rent for private parties upstairs,” he said loudly, gesturing toward a staircase that rose up to the right,
behind him. “But you can't go up there now. They're rented.”

“Oh, okay,” Nancy said. She was relieved when a couple came in the door behind her, and the doorman turned his attention to them. Stepping behind him, Nancy quickly slipped up the stairs.

She found herself at one end of a long hallway. At the far end was a man in a tuxedo, standing in front of a door, a clipboard in his hand.

Seeing a rest room near the top of the stairs, Nancy ducked into it. Luckily it was empty. If there
was
gambling going on in that room, she reflected, the guy with the clipboard probably wasn't going to let just anybody in. She had to figure out a way to get past him.

Nancy perched next to the rest-room door, opening it just a crack to peer out. Before long, a well-dressed couple came up the stairs. It sounded as if the woman was complaining about the music.

BOOK: No Laughing Matter
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