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Authors: Carolyn Keene

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BOOK: No Laughing Matter
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Nancy nodded. “That's fine.” She updated Bess on her visit to the casino and her plan to slip upstairs to the office.

“You're kidding! I knew something was up when I saw you come out of that doorway!” Bess exclaimed, her eyes wide. Lowering her voice, she added, “So you really think Keith O'Brien is in on the operation, too?”

“Yes, but I haven't found out for sure who from Over the Rainbow is involved,” Nancy
said. “That's why I need to look around the office again.”

Bess glanced at something behind Nancy. “Bianca just came downstairs,” she said in a hushed whisper. “Maybe you should try to go up there now.”

Nancy glanced over her shoulder and saw that Bianca was talking with the cook and Johnny about the menu. “Here goes,” she said to Bess.

Forcing herself to walk slowly, Nancy went over to the waitress station and pretended to arrange the napkins. When she saw that Bianca, Johnny, the cook, and Tony were all busy, she slipped up the stairs and into the office.

Nancy closed the door behind her and turned the lock. At least that would buy her more time in case anyone came. She moved over to Bianca's desk and picked up the phone to call Ned. He answered on the second ring.

“Nancy, I'm glad to hear from you,” Ned's worried voice came over the line. “What was going on before? Why'd you hang up so suddenly?”

As briefly as possible she told him all that had happened since she realized that someone was eavesdropping on their phone call. “I didn't want you giving away what you'd found out about Allen Associates.”

“Actually, I didn't find out much,” Ned told her. “By the time I discovered there wasn't a business at that address, it was after business
hours. I'll have to wait until tomorrow to track down who supposedly runs Allen Associates.”

“Listen, I can't talk any more,” Nancy said with a nervous glance at the office door. “I'll call you when I get home.”

“Okay. Just be careful, Nan.”

After hanging up, Nancy noticed that Bianca's desk was clear except for a few files and an order form. Her Rolodex was bulging with names and addresses of suppliers, other restaurants, comedians, and friends. Nancy flipped through the cards but didn't see one for Gleason's, Fantorelli, or Allen Associates.

In the desk drawers Nancy found more files and records, but nothing to show that Over the Rainbow was in any way involved in money laundering.

Checking her watch, Nancy saw that she'd been up there for five minutes already. She had to hurry!

Moving to the other desk, Nancy saw that there was a light film of dust on the phone and pen holder. It didn't look as if anyone used the desk often. She started opening the drawers and wasn't surprised that they were empty.

“That's odd,” she murmured to herself as she tugged on the bottom drawer. “It's locked.”

Nancy found a letter opener in Bianca's top drawer. She slid it between the top of the locked drawer and the drawer. In just a moment Nancy
felt the lock release. She slowly let out her breath and opened the drawer.

Inside was a rack of files, which contained contracts for comedians, lease agreements. . . .

“Oops,” she said as the letter opener fell out of her hand and into the drawer. As she fished it out, her knuckles knocked against the drawer bottom. It sounded hollow. Nancy pushed aside the files and knocked harder. It definitely sounded like a false bottom!

Nancy felt a rush as she pushed the files to the back of the drawer and pried the drawer bottom up. When she finally pulled away the board, she stared down into the hidden compartment in amazement.

There was another leather-bound accounting book!

She grabbed it and flipped open the cover, her pulse racing. A single glance told her that this wasn't the ledger she'd seen at Peter Sands's office. This one was color-coded. A column in red was labeled “OTR.” The daily figures were close to the five-thousand-dollar mark that she had estimated to be the club's real receipts.

The next column was in blue. Nancy gasped when she saw the heading at the top of the column: Casino. The numbers there were added to those in the red column for a total that was closer to ten thousand dollars. That was the average amount in the comedy club's “official”
accounting book, the one she had seen at GS Accounting Associates.

Nancy ran her fingers down the next two columns. These were listed as expenses—a green column for the legitimate “OTR” expenses and an orange column for “AA.”

“AA” had to be Allen Associates! Since Nancy knew the company didn't really exist, she knew the figures marked in that column were bogus expenses. The figures pretty much matched the numbers marked in the “Casino” profits column. Still, even though Allen Associates was a fake company, this money had to be going to
someone.
The question was, who?

The remaining four columns in the ledger were all marked in black. Each was labeled by two initials: “J.N.,” “I.R.,” “A.Q.,” “F.S.” Nancy was fairly sure those initials indicated the identity of the people who received the profits from the gambling operation.

The sound of the door handle rattling startled Nancy. Someone was there—she had to hide the book!

Closing the ledger, she dropped it back into the drawer and pushed the drawer shut just as the door swung open.

Bianca strode into her office, glaring at Nancy. “What are you doing in here?” she demanded angrily. “Why was the door locked?”

Nancy's instincts told her to take the offensive with Bianca. Besides, chances were that her cover
had been blown anyway. “I know all about the gambling and the money laundering,” she said, meeting Bianca's gaze.

“What?” Bianca appeared genuinely puzzled, so Nancy reopened the drawer and brought out the color-coded ledger.

Bianca came over to the desk and examined the page Nancy showed her. The assistant manager was shocked as Nancy explained her interpretation of the various columns. When Nancy was done, Bianca sank down into her desk chair.

“You've got to believe me,” she said slowly. “I had no idea about any of this. I never go near that desk. It's Johnny's.”

Nancy was skeptical. “I thought he wasn't involved with the business side of the club,” she said. “Are you trying to tell me that the box of papers you and Tony were looking at tonight weren't fake receipts for the gambling profits? And that you
didn't
listen in on my telephone conversation before?”

“I'm sorry about the call,” Bianca said quickly. “I wanted to phone someone myself, and I hit the wrong button by mistake.”

She sounded sincere, but Nancy still wasn't convinced. “And the box of papers,” she prompted.

Bianca picked up her phone and pressed a button. “Tony, can you come up to the office for a minute?”

Nancy stifled the nervousness that rose up into
her throat. They wouldn't dare do anything to harm her, not when Bess and Rusty were still downstairs.

Tony arrived almost instantly. “What's up?” he asked. “This looks serious.”

“Tell Nancy why we had that box of supplies from Gleason's and why we've been acting secretive,” Bianca said, placing a hand on Tony's arm.

Tony seemed to be surprised by the request, but he just shrugged and said, “Bianca and I are throwing a surprise party for a good friend, Gregory, here at the Rainbow. We're kind of doing it quietly, behind Johnny's back—he won't let anyone use the club for private activities. But we figured after he'd gone home he wouldn't know. It's the only place we know of that's big enough.”

Fixing Tony with a probing gaze, Nancy asked, “What about that box of things you got from Gleason's this morning?”

“When we saw you there, we had just picked up party supplies,” Tony explained. “I know I clammed up when I saw you, but I was afraid that word of the party might get back to Johnny. He'd fire us if he found out.”

While Tony spoke, Bianca walked over to the closet and pulled out a box that had Gleason's printed on the side. She opened it, pulling out noisemakers and party hats.

“See? And as for the small box you saw me show Tony,” Bianca said, “it's the invitation to
the surprise party. I wanted to make sure Tony liked it before we made copies.”

She reached into the Gleason's carton and pulled out the smaller cardboard box Nancy had seen her with earlier. “We were talking about the wording of the invitation,” Bianca explained, plucking a paper from the box and handing it to Nancy.

Sure enough, the paper had photocopied pictures of a guy on it and cut-out letters from magazines.

When Nancy looked up, Tony was gazing at her curiously. “What's going on here anyway?” he asked. “What's with all the questions?”

Nancy and Bianca showed him the ledger Nancy had found. His reaction was one of such shock that Nancy's gut instincts were that neither he nor Bianca knew anything about the gambling or money laundering before.

“You found this in Johnny's desk?” Tony said, shaking his head in disbelief. “Are you trying to tell me that warm, funny Johnny is actually a crook?”

“It looks that way, although I still haven't found anything in this ledger that specifically links him to the gambling or the money laundering,” Nancy replied.

“Now that I think of it, it does seem as if Johnny is always around on the days when the accounting book has to go to the accountant,” Bianca added, giving a distracted tug to one of
her auburn curls. “He must come up here when I'm not around and add the phony receipts to the legitimate ones that I collect.”

“We still don't have proof, though.” Nancy pointed to the columns in black. “I have a feeling that the key lies somewhere in these initials. I wish I could make sense of them.”

“Maybe if we just play with them a little,” Tony suggested. He took a pen and piece of paper from Bianca's desk and began jotting the letters down in different combinations.

“Good idea,” Nancy agreed, taking another pen. She tried reversing the letters, then moving up and down the alphabet one or two letters from the initials.

“Look at this!” she said excitedly a few moments later. “If you move each of these letters forward one in the alphabet, ‘J.N.' becomes ‘K.O.,' and ‘I.R.' becomes ‘J.S.' ”

Tony and Bianca exchanged a look. “Keith O'Brien and Johnny Spector!” Bianca said in a shocked whisper.

“Exactly,” Nancy said. “I don't recognize the other ones, but—”

She broke off as the phone rang. Bianca stepped over to her desk and answered it.

“Hello?” She listened for a moment, then held the receiver out to Nancy. “It's for you.”

“Yes?” Nancy said.

“Nancy?”

Nancy recognized Bess's voice even though she
sounded very upset and scared. “Bess! Where are you? What's the matter?”

Nancy heard a muffled noise. Then a harsh man's voice came on the line. “Your friend is safe for the moment, Nancy.”

With a start, Nancy realized that it was Keith O'Brien! “Where have you taken Bess?” she demanded.

Keith didn't answer. “Back off, Nancy,” he growled into the phone, “or you'll never see Bess alive again!”

Chapter

Fifteen

N
ANCY
'
S MOUTH
went completely dry. Keith must have realized that Nancy had discovered his involvement in the gambling and money laundering. She had to try to convince him to let Bess go!

“It's no use, Keith,” Nancy said forcefully. “I've seen the casino, and I've got a ledger that connects both you and Johnny to the money laundering that's going on here.”

“It certainly would be a shame if you sacrificed your best friend just to show off your detective skills,” Keith said icily. “When Johnny saw you appear onstage, he contacted me right away.” He made a clucking noise over the phone. “I'm the one holding the gun, Nancy. It's not your move to call.”

“Keith—” Nancy had to work hard to keep her voice from quavering. “Carla Jones is willing to testify that Matt Goldin
didn't
open that bank account. He was set up.” She hesitated, then decided to take a chance. “When she tells Matt's lawyer that she lied on the stand, she'll identify you as the one who opened the account.”

There was silence at the other end of the line. She guessed right! It was Keith who had opened the account in Matt's name.

“You can't prove my involvement without the accounting book,” Keith finally spoke up. “And if you don't give me the book, Bess is history.”

Nancy decided to change tactics. “Keith, I'm sure it wasn't your idea to frame Matt,” she said calmly. “You were just protecting Johnny. If you help us get Johnny, I'm sure that the judge will go easier on you.”

“The judge!” Keith roared. “There won't be any judge. Tomorrow we'll do an exchange—the book for Bess. I'll call your house in the morning to tell you where and when. And, Nancy, if you value your friend's life, you won't call the police.”

BOOK: No Laughing Matter
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