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Authors: Carolyn Keene

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BOOK: No Laughing Matter
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His face was more gaunt than Nancy remembered, and his blue workshirt hung loosely from his shoulders. Matt's trial had ended just a few weeks earlier, but already he'd lost a noticeable amount of weight.

“Ned, you won't believe . . .” Nancy's voice trailed off when she realized that Ned was talking to Dennis Lassiter at the front of the room. Taking a deep breath, Nancy started in Matt's direction. She didn't know what she'd say to him, but she couldn't just ignore him.

“Nancy! I thought that was you.”

Matt was trying to smile, but only one side of his mouth turned up. His skin was pale, and there were circles under his brown eyes. “Can I
talk to you a minute—alone?” he asked, trembling slightly.

“Uh, sure,” she replied. Nancy wasn't sure whether it was okay to leave the rest of the group, but Matt seemed so upset that she couldn't say no.

She followed him out of the lecture room and into the hallway.

“Nancy, you're the only one who can help me,” Matt said urgently.

“What do you mean? How can I help?” she asked. Matt had already been convicted. She didn't know what she could possibly do for him now.

Matt fixed her with a desperate gaze. “I didn't steal that money from Over the Rainbow. I was framed!”

Chapter

Two

N
ANCY WAS STUNNED
. She wanted to believe Matt. He didn't seem like a criminal, but who would have thought that Dennis Lassiter was a crook, either?

“You've got to believe me, Nancy,” Matt insisted. Under the harsh fluorescent lights, his face was ghostlike.

“Tell me what happened,” Nancy said calmly, leaning against the wall to listen.

Matt took a deep breath, raking a hand through his hair. “Well, you know I had my own accounting firm, GS Accounting Associates,” he began. “Over the Rainbow was one of my biggest clients. About six months ago I was going over their books and I noticed that they had suddenly started doing terrific business. They were making
twice as much money as they had only a few months before.”

“So you got suspicious?” Nancy guessed.

“First I tried to justify it,” Matt explained. “The club had just gotten a hot new MC, Rusty Smith, and he brought in other really good comics. I thought, well, maybe business has really improved. But realistically I knew there was no way the club could be bringing in that kind of money.”

Matt glanced nervously over his shoulder before continuing. “I started going through the club's receipts very carefully. I didn't recognize the names of some of the companies the club bought supplies from, and some of the receipts just had amounts listed. What the club had bought wasn't itemized.”

Matt's story was beginning to sound like what Dennis Lassiter had described, Nancy realized. “You mean you thought they were laundering money?” she asked.

He nodded. “I had no proof, though. So one night I went to the club to see what kind of crowd came in and how much they ate and drank. I stayed around until the end of the evening, and then I asked Bianca Engel—she's the assistant manager—how much money they'd taken in. She acted strange and told me she'd check on it.

“The place was practically empty, so I decided to check out the main cash register to see if there were any receipts tucked away.”

Nancy stared at him. “Didn't you think someone would see you?”

“It seemed like the right thing to do at the time,” Matt said miserably. “I had my hands on a bunch of credit-card receipts when the bartender, Tony Fry, caught me. Of course he thought I was trying to rob them, so he started screaming, ‘Get the blasted cops!' He's British and very excitable.”

Nancy noticed that Matt was beginning to sweat. Telling this story was obviously upsetting him.

“It looked bad, especially since there were several hundred-dollar bills stuck to the receipts I had fished out of the cash drawer,” Matt went on. “I told Tony I was just looking for a key to the office upstairs, but I wasn't very convincing.”

“What did he do?” Nancy asked.

“The owner, Johnny, had come over by then. He's a pretty easygoing guy. He kind of laughed the whole thing off. But I felt as if he didn't quite trust me after that. Then this whole thing happened. . . .”

Matt's voice trailed off as Ned walked out of the lecture room. “Oh, there you are, Nan,” Ned said.

Nancy introduced Ned to Matt. “You can trust Ned to be discreet, too,” she told Matt.

“Listen, why don't I show you around while I tell you the rest of the story,” Matt suggested.

After telling Professor Greer they'd be taking a brief tour, Nancy and Ned rejoined Matt. He led them to his room. Inside there were two sets of bunk beds, a couple of straight-back chairs, and a desk. Some effort had been made to add personal touches to the room. Nancy noticed a picture of Matt and his sister, Lisa, pinned beside a top bunk. Matt followed her gaze, then quickly looked away.

“I'll be right back,” he said. “I have to inform my supervisor that I'm with you.”

While he was gone, Nancy quickly filled Ned in on what Matt had already told her.

“Wow!” Ned let out a low whistle. “Do you think he was really framed?”

“I don't know,” Nancy said with a shrug. “I guess it's possible, but I wonder why—”

She broke off as Matt returned. He gestured for them to sit in the two chairs, while he perched on a bottom bunk. “I keep hoping I'll wake up one morning and find out this is all a nightmare,” he said, sighing deeply.

“Nancy's already told me a bit about your suspicions of money laundering at Over the Rainbow,” Ned said gently.

“It's too bad I got arrested before I could prove anything,” Matt said, shaking his head. “About a week after the cash register incident, I was arrested for embezzling money from Over the Rainbow. The police claimed that I had opened an account under the name Gold Enterprises.
The account had ten thousand dollars in it—a check from Over the Rainbow for that amount had been deposited. My signature was on the check and on the bank's signature card to open the account. At the trial a bank teller testified that I had opened the account, but I didn't.”

This sounded like a frame-up, all right—if Matt Goldin was telling the truth. “Couldn't your lawyer prove you were innocent?” Nancy asked.

“He tried, but there wasn't enough evidence to prove I was being framed. I even hired a private investigator, a guy named Keith O'Brien.”

Nancy's next question was drowned out by an amplified voice coming from the hallway: “Paging Ned Nickerson. Please join your group in the warden's office.”

“I guess that's our cue to leave,” Ned said apologetically, getting to his feet.

Nancy paused at the doorway. There wasn't enough time to ask all the questions swirling in her head, but she had to ask just one. “Matt, do you have any idea who framed you?”

Matt rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he got up from the bunk. “I hate to even think this, but before my arrest, Peter Sands, my junior partner, was getting more and more dissatisfied. He felt that I wasn't giving him the big accounts. The truth is, I didn't think he could handle them yet. He was the one who found the canceled check that was deposited in the Gold Enterprises account.
He said that I had accidentally left the check in the file of one of his clients, but I know I didn't.”

“So you think it's possible he was in on the money-laundering operation?” Ned asked. “Or that he was paid off by the people behind the operation?”

“Anybody with access to the accounting books could have been involved,” Matt told him. “The owner, Johnny, barely pays any attention. He's mostly there to enjoy the comedy—kind of like a figurehead. Everybody knows him. When I tried to talk to him about taxes and receipts, he turned the conversation to the great old comedians.”

Matt looked imploringly from Nancy to Ned. “Do you think you can help me?”

“I'll check into it,” Nancy agreed, smiling at Matt. She wasn't sure she could really help him, but she would do her best to get at the truth.

• • •

“Matt was desperate for someone to believe him, so I said I'd check it out,” Nancy told Bess over the phone early that evening. She held the phone to her ear with one hand while she applied mascara with the other, peering into the mirror over her dresser.

“I hope he really is innocent,” Bess's voice came back over the line.

Just then Nancy heard a car pull into the driveway. “Ned's here,” she told Bess. “I have to go. See you at the party.” Cindy Ribelow, a
friend of Bess's, had decided to prolong the holiday season with a post-New Year's party. When Bess invited Nancy and Ned to come along, Nancy had jumped at the chance. After her morning at Fairwood, she needed some fun.

Nancy gave a final brush to her long reddish blond hair and quickly surveyed her outfit. Her blue sweater matched her eyes, and the jeans hugged her slender figure. After giving her reflection an approving nod, she ran down the stairs, grabbed her fleece-lined leather jacket from the hall closet, and hurried to the door. She opened it to find Ned standing there, ready to knock.

“You look great,” he said, bending down to give her a soft kiss that sent a pleasant shudder up and down her spine.

“You look pretty good yourself,” she returned, glancing at the fisherman's sweater and corduroys he was wearing under his open parka.

After they climbed into his car, Ned said, “I need your advice, Detective Drew. I decided that Matt Goldin's case would be perfect for my business ethics paper, but I'm not sure he's telling the truth. What do you think?”

Nancy buckled her seat belt and settled back against the cracked vinyl seat while Ned backed out of her driveway. “I want to believe him, but the only way to prove he's innocent—or guilty—is to do a little investigating.”

“Well, I've got a head start on you,” Ned said, grinning at her. “Before I came over here, I went
to Over the Rainbow and talked to Bianca Engel, the assistant manager. She wasn't helpful at all. In fact, I got the cold shoulder. She just said that they wanted to put the whole incident behind them and that if I was curious about the case I should read the newspaper accounts and talk to Matt's lawyer.”

“She's right about talking to Matt's lawyer, anyway,” Nancy said. “But she does sound—”

“What's this guy's problem?” Ned interrupted her, gazing up at his rearview mirror.

Nancy turned in her seat to check behind them. A van with a pair of powerful headlights was bearing down on them. “The driver's crazy to be going so fast,” she said, squinting into the glare. Facing forward again, she tugged on her seat belt to make sure it was secure.

Ned pushed down on the gas pedal to put a little distance between them and the van, but the van quickly closed it. The driver probably just wanted to pass, Nancy reasoned. She saw that Ned was hunched forward in his seat, his jaw set as he concentrated on the road that was leading onto a bridge.

The van was a few feet from their rear bumper now, Nancy saw as she glanced out the rear window again. The white haze from the headlights made it impossible to see the license plate, but she could just make out that the van was white, with a stripe across the front. Its bumper seemed to be twisted and bent.

“Ned, maybe you should slow down,” Nancy suggested.

Before Ned could answer, the van rammed them. Nancy's heart jumped into her throat as the jolt threw her back against the seat.

“I'm out of control!” Ned cried as his car skidded and swerved wildly.

Nancy gasped when she looked out the front windshield. In a moment they were going to crash into the guardrail and plunge into the river below.

Chapter

Three

N
ANCY HELD
her arms straight in front of her, bracing them against the dashboard, her heart pounding like crazy. She heard her own voice talking, but it seemed as if it was coming from someone else. “Easy, Ned. You've got it.”

BOOK: No Laughing Matter
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ads

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