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Authors: Carolyn Keene

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BOOK: No Laughing Matter
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Ned turned the steering wheel hard to the left, away from the edge of the bridge. A little loose gravel flew out from the screeching wheels, but the tires finally caught and the car swung left. As Ned brought the car to a full stop, the van whizzed past.

Nancy felt as if an eternity had elapsed in the past few seconds. All she could do was sit still, gulping in air.

“Are you okay, Nan?” Ned asked, his voice husky. He reached over to touch her shoulder, and Nancy could feel his hand shaking.

“I-I'm okay,” she replied. “That was some fancy driving, Nickerson.” They both giggled from nervous tension. “I couldn't get a plate number,” Nancy went on, “but it was a white compact van, with a twisted front bumper. It had a stripe across the front. Blue, I think.”

Ned looked at her appreciatively. “Only Nancy Drew would notice all that in the middle of being run off a bridge.” He steered the car across the bridge and pulled up on the shoulder on the far side. “Come here,” he said, unbuckling her seat belt. She scooted closer so he could put an arm around her.

“Ned, who do you think that was?” Nancy spoke into the collar of his parka, then pulled back to take in her boyfriend's face. “Could someone from Over the Rainbow have followed you? Did you notice anyone behind you before you got to my house?”

Ned frowned for a moment, thinking. “Wait a second,” he said, slapping the steering wheel. “I do remember seeing a white compact van parked in the lot. I only noticed it because it was taking up two spaces. I didn't really pay any attention after I left, though. If the van followed me, I didn't notice.”

“Well, if it
was
the same van, my guess is that someone didn't like your asking questions at Over the Rainbow. And whoever it was was worried enough to scare you. It's probably a message for you to stop asking questions.”

“Which makes me think there might be some truth to Matt's story,” Ned added.

Nancy drummed her fingers on the dashboard. “Was the assistant manager the only person you talked to? Did anyone else hear?”

“The bartender was hanging around,” Ned told her. “And a guy with red hair was talking with an older man in a suit. I think the older guy was the owner.”

Nancy shot her boyfriend a worried glance. “Well, someone there has made you a target. This project could turn out to be dangerous, Ned.”

“Hey, I can handle it,” he said, pulling out onto the road. “But for right now, I'm in the mood to party!”

• • •

Cindy Ribelow's party was in full swing by the time Nancy and Ned arrived. Through the front window they saw a crowd dancing in the living room, while smaller groups hung out, talking and eating.

“Hi, Nancy!” Cindy said when she answered the door. Nancy had met the energetic blond-haired girl a few times at Bess's house. “And you must be Ned, right?”

“Guilty,” Ned told Cindy, grinning. He and Nancy squeezed their jackets into an already stuffed closet, then surveyed the living room while Cindy excused herself to open the door again.

“Nancy! Ned!” Bess called, waving from
across the room. Her bright red jumpsuit stood out in the crowd, and it set off her petite, curvy figure.

“I'll catch up with you in a minute,” Ned said, eyeing salads, salsa and chips, and desserts on the dining-room table, just beyond an arched doorway.

“Try not to inhale everything at once,” Nancy said, grinning at her boyfriend.

As she made her way across the crowded living room, Nancy saw that Bess was talking to Lisa Goldin, a petite girl with olive skin and sad brown eyes.

“It's such a mess!” Lisa was saying as Nancy walked up to her and Bess. “I'm sure that Matt didn't do it, but it's so hard to prove.”

Turning to Nancy, Lisa added, “Bess told me that you saw my brother at Fairwood today. I hope you can help prove that he was set up.”

“I'm certainly going to check into what's going on at Over the Rainbow,” Nancy promised. “I want to talk to Matt's lawyer, too. Do you know his name?”

Lisa frowned, groping for the name. “Irwin? Yeah, that's it. Tom Irwin. He's with a firm called Martel and Donnelson.”

Nancy wasn't sure how to phrase her next question, so she just asked it point-blank. “Lisa, do you think your brother is innocent?”

“I
know
that Matt didn't steal that money!” Lisa said adamantly.

“What about his junior partner, Peter Sands?” Nancy asked. “When I talked to Matt, he said that Peter may have had something to do with framing him.”

Panic flashed into Lisa's brown eyes. “Peter's just not that kind of person,” she said, focusing first on Bess, then on Nancy. “Matt shouldn't be spreading rumors about him.”

Nancy was surprised at Lisa's reaction. Why was she defending Peter so strongly against her own brother?

“Peter's working night and day,” Lisa went on coolly. Her attitude toward Nancy had visibly stiffened. “Since Matt went on trial, business has really gone downhill. Peter's fighting to hold things together.”

She rubbed her temples wearily, then said, “I have a really bad headache. I'm going to say goodbye to Cindy and go home.”

As Lisa made her way back toward the foyer, Bess grimaced at Nancy. “I guess we hit a sore spot,” Bess said. “She definitely didn't like what Matt said about Peter.”

“Mmm. I wonder why—especially since Peter Sands helped put her brother in jail,” Nancy said, more to herself than to Bess.

Nancy was quiet as she tried to think of where to start her investigation. Matt had been arrested six months earlier. If he
had
been set up, it wouldn't be easy to find evidence. The person who had framed him had had six months to
cover his or her tracks. Still, Nancy could contact Peter Sands, Matt's lawyer, and—

She snapped her fingers as an idea came to her. “The only way I'm going to get closer to the truth is to get inside Over the Rainbow,” she told Bess. “Do they serve food and drinks there?”

“Sure,” Bess replied. “They have a great menu. People eat and drink while the comedians are on stage.”

“Do you think they'd hire me as a waitress?”

“In a flash,” Bess answered. “I'm sure they need extra help. Over the Rainbow has gotten really popular since they hired a new comic from Chicago, Rusty Smith. He's hysterical!”

“You've seen his show?”

Bess nodded. “A couple of times. And I saw him once on one of those comedy channels on cable. He happens to be totally gorgeous as well as funny.”

“Bess, get a grip,” Nancy said, laughing. “Listen, do you think it's too late to go over there now to see if I can get a job? I hate to leave the party, but I want to start investigating as soon as possible. Matt's future could depend on it.”

Bess nodded across the room to where Ned was talking to a blond-haired guy. They were both devouring brownies. “Do you think we can tear Ned away from the food?”

“Actually, I don't think he should go with us,” Nancy said. She briefly told Bess about the white van that had rammed them.

“Nancy, that's awful!” Bess exclaimed, her blue eyes wide. “You guys could have been seriously hurt!”

“It was pretty scary,” Nancy agreed. “That's why I don't want anyone from the club to see him. If they realize that we know Ned, we could all be in danger.”

• • •

“Here we are,” Bess announced, pulling her red Camaro into the parking lot of a small complex of buildings.

The complex was in an area that had been run-down until a developer renovated it recently. Now it was a bustling commercial district that was especially popular with teenagers. There was a dance club, a pizzeria, and Over the Rainbow.

As she and Bess got out in the parking lot, Nancy checked for the white van but didn't see it anywhere. The girls' breath made white puffs in the cold air as they hurried to the entrance, which was lit up by a stylized neon sign. When they opened the door, they found themselves in a spacious, rectangular room with exposed brick walls and a stage at one end. Round café tables took up most of the floor space near the stage. At the opposite end of the club were the bar, an old-fashioned jukebox, and double doors leading to the kitchen.

“Looks like the last show is over,” Nancy said, glancing at the empty stage. People were getting
up from their tables, paying their checks, and leaving.

“I wonder who we should talk to about getting a job,” Bess said in a low voice. “Do you think that manager Ned talked to is here now?”

As Nancy glanced around the club, her attention was caught by a man and woman behind the beverage counter. The man was tall, with very pale skin, dark hair, and hazel eyes. He was dressed in black jeans and a white button-down shirt, and he was talking urgently to a petite, slender woman with a headful of auburn curls. They were both in their early twenties.

“So, what did you tell him?” the man asked in a heavy British accent.

Probably Tony, Nancy decided. The bartender who had caught Matt with his hands in the cash register. Turning to Bess, Nancy put a finger to her lips and took a step closer to the bar. She deliberately turned her back to the man and woman so they wouldn't suspect that she was listening, but all of her attention was focused on what they were saying.

“He was asking a lot of questions about what we were doing and when,” the woman replied. “I didn't answer anything directly.”

“Well, we took care of him. He won't be nosing around asking questions anymore,” the guy said.

Nancy's eyes widened. It sounded as if they
were talking about Ned! She had to hold herself back from whirling around and confronting the guy, but she knew she couldn't give herself away.

“We can't have this leak out,” the woman said. “If Johnny ever finds out, we're dead.”

Chapter

Four

N
ANCY
'
S MIND
was whirling. If they were talking about Ned, that could mean that these two had a hand in framing Matt and that there really was a money-laundering operation—or
something
illegal—going on.

“May I help you girls?”

The woman's voice broke into Nancy's thoughts. As she turned around, Nancy saw that the man and woman were staring at her and Bess.

“Um, hi!” Nancy said. She introduced herself and Bess, then said, “I wanted to speak to the manager about getting a job.”

The woman's face relaxed into a smile. “I'm Bianca Engel, the assistant manager,” she said, sweeping auburn curls from her eyes. “And this is Tony Fry, our bartender. As a matter of fact, we
are a little short-handed right now. Do you have any waitressing experience?”

“I've worked in a few different restaurants,” Nancy explained. She didn't add that it had been when she was working on cases!

“Well, I'll know soon enough, firsthand, if you know what you're doing,” Bianca said. “I won't bother with checking your references. We open at five and have two shows—one at seven and one at nine. The restaurant starts serving at five-thirty. Come in at four tomorrow afternoon, and I'll show you the specifics of this restaurant.”

Tony leaned over the counter and extended his hand to Nancy. “Let me be the first to welcome you formally into our humble family of overworked and underpaid workers. Consider me your partner in crime.”

Nancy chuckled nervously. She didn't miss the glare that Bianca shot at Tony. If the two
were
involved in something illegal, Bianca didn't want Tony advertising that fact—even jokingly.

“We've got to close up now,” Bianca said. She lifted a hinged panel in the counter and stepped out from behind the bar. “See you tomorrow, Nancy. Nice meeting you.”

Nancy barely got the word
thanks
out of her mouth before Bianca headed for a staircase at the back of the club.

“Ladies,” Tony said, lifting an imaginary hat from his head and bowing slightly. Then he busied himself at the far end of the counter.

The moment he had stepped out of earshot, Bess let out a breath. “Did you hear what they said?” she asked in a whisper. “It sounds like they're the ones who ran you and Ned off the road!”

“I thought the same thing,” Nancy said. “They must be involved in something illegal if they'd do something that extreme to keep Ned from sticking his nose in their business.”

Bess giggled. “You mean in their dirty laundry.”

Both girls pivoted around together as a man with flaming red hair stormed out onto the stage. He was followed by a young woman.

“Sandra, I can't believe you're picking this moment to fly to London to do a play. We're in the middle of a run here,” the man said, throwing up his hands.

“Rusty, stop being so dramatic,” the young woman said patiently. “It's a great play and a fantastic opportunity for me. I know you'll be able to find someone else for this sketch.”

BOOK: No Laughing Matter
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