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Authors: Carolyn Keene

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BOOK: No Laughing Matter
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Sure enough, a few minutes later, Ned and the receptionist emerged from the building. As soon as they went into the luncheonette, Nancy hurried to the GS Accounting Associates office. Pulling her lock-pick from her bag, she went to work on the door. Within a minute the lock had
clicked open and she slipped inside, turning the deadbolt behind her.

In Peter's office the desk was still piled as high with papers as it had been the day before. It took Nancy a few moments before she spotted Over the Rainbow's accounting book. Next to it was a pile of files, the top one labeled, ‘Rainbow: Travel Receipts.'

Nancy flipped open the manila file folder. Inside were various hotel receipts and a receipt for an airline ticket. Studying the receipt, she saw that it had been issued to J. Spector. The destination was Hawaii.

A small shiver ran down her spine. The departure date was three weeks before—about the time Carla Jones had left on her vacation to Hawaii! Clipped to the ticket was confirmation of a hotel reservation under the same name, at a hotel on Maui, one of the islands making up Hawaii. Was she holding the receipt of the ticket Carla had used for her trip?

Hold it, Nan, she cautioned herself. Maybe Johnny had used the ticket himself. When she checked the return flight from Hawaii, she saw that it was for the day before. Nancy hadn't noticed a tan when she saw Johnny at the comedy club the night before. No one at Over the Rainbow had mentioned that he had been out of town, either, nor did he mention it himself. That definitely seemed out of character for him.
He probably would have mentioned a trip to Hawaii.

Nancy thought hard. She could call the hotel and get them to describe J. Spector. If they described a woman like Carla, then Nancy could be almost positive that someone had bought Carla a free trip to Hawaii, using Johnny's name and the Over the Rainbow account.

The question was, who could have arranged the trip? Peter and Bianca seemed the likeliest suspects, since they had free access to the book. And since Tony and Bianca seemed to be up to something, the bartender could be involved, too.

Nancy frowned as she considered another possibility. What if Johnny himself had arranged the trip for Carla? After all, the ticket was in his name and he
was
the owner of Over the Rainbow. He might have had a hand in framing Matt. That would mean that he was probably also involved in any gambling or money laundering that was going on.

Still, Matt had said that he was more of a figurehead than anything else. He didn't give the impression that he paid any attention to the business end of the club. If Johnny were involved in anything illegal, Nancy didn't see why Bianca and Tony would be so nervous around him.

Nancy was deep in thought as she slipped the ticket back into the folder. She was just opening
the heavy leather accounting book when the office door flew open.

Nancy's heart leapt to her throat when she saw the dark-haired girl in the doorway. It was Lisa Goldin. Lisa planted her hands on her hips and glared at Nancy with cold, dark eyes.

“What do you think you're doing here, Nancy?”

Chapter

Nine

N
ANCY
'
S HEART POUNDED
against her chest. She hadn't counted on Lisa's being in the office. How am I going to get out of this one? her mind screamed. I've been caught red-handed!

Thinking fast, Nancy decided to try to turn the tables on Lisa. “Actually, I wanted to ask you the same question,” Nancy said forcefully. “Why are you working with Peter when he could be the person who framed your brother?”

Lisa blinked, momentarily stunned. Then her whole body slumped forward. She sank into a chair next to Peter's desk and buried her head in her hands. When she finally looked at Nancy, her brown eyes were glistening with tears.

“Peter and I had just started dating when Matt was first arrested,” she began in a small voice. “I really like him a lot.”

So
that
was why Lisa was so defensive of Peter, Nancy realized. That still didn't explain what she was doing here, though.

“When it first came out that Peter was the one who'd found the canceled check that Matt supposedly deposited in that fake account. . . .” Lisa took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Well, I didn't want to believe that Peter had helped set him up, even though a little voice kept nagging at me.”

“So you decided to help out here so you could find out for yourself,” Nancy guessed.

Lisa nodded. “Besides, look at this place!” she exclaimed, gesturing around the messy office. “Peter can't handle it all on his own. The business is falling apart. The least I can do is try to help Matt hold on to it, so something will be left when he gets out.”

“Have you found any evidence that Peter
did
help set up Matt?” Nancy asked gently.

“No.” Lisa seemed both sad and relieved. “Peter's been very protective of the bigger accounts—the ones Matt wouldn't let him handle before. Every time I offer to help him, he brushes me off. The truth is, I haven't been able to examine Over the Rainbow's records yet. Today I made sure he had a lunch appointment so that I could take a look at them.”

“Take a look at what?”

Nancy and Lisa both whirled around as Peter Sands walked into the office.

“Peter! What are you doing back from lunch already?” Lisa asked, her hands flying to her face.

“I forgot a file.” Peter pushed his glasses up on his nose, then paused, staring first at Nancy, then at the open ledger on the desk in front of her. “What's going on here?” he asked, his eyes narrowing.

Suddenly Lisa burst into tears. “I—I think you may have s-set up Matt!” she stammered.

“What are you talking about?” Peter asked, a shocked look in his eyes.

“You were the one who found the canceled check that led the police to that fake account,” Lisa said, wiping her eyes. “Matt said he never saw the check and didn't go anywhere near the bank. I believe him!”

“I know that's what he said. Don't you think I wanted to believe him?” Peter asked.

Stepping in, Nancy said, “Maybe you'd better tell us exactly what happened, Peter.”

Peter leaned against the edge of his desk and crossed his arms over his chest. “I found the canceled check by accident. It was mixed in with a bunch of checks and papers from an account of mine. I don't know how it got there. Maybe I should have asked Matt about it before I investigated myself, but I just thought he was hiding something from me.”

So far this fit with what Nancy knew already. “Go on,” she encouraged.

“The check was from Over the Rainbow's
account, and it was made out to Gold Enterprises,” Peter continued. “It had Matt's signature. You see, he was allowed to sign checks for the club for amounts up to ten thousand dollars. The weird thing was that Gold Enterprises was what Matt had wanted to call our company, instead of GS Accounting.”

“So that made you suspicious of Matt?” Nancy asked Peter.

“Sure. Then I found out that Gold Enterprises was Matt's company—so I blew the whistle on him.”

Lisa had been listening silently to Peter's explanation. “But how did that canceled check get into your file?” she asked him now. “I mean, if my brother really was stealing money from the Rainbow, wouldn't he be extra careful?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Peter answered with a shrug. “But even careful people can make mistakes.”

That was possible, Nancy supposed. It was also possible that someone
else
had placed that check in Peter's file on purpose, so Peter would find it. Of course, whoever might have done that would have to know about the bad feelings between the two partners.

“Peter, did anybody besides Lisa know about the trouble between you and Matt?” Nancy asked.

Peter thought for a moment. “I complained to Tony about it sometimes, when I picked up the accounting book. But that's all.” All at once Peter
understood what Nancy was implying. “You don't really think someone planted that check for me to find, do you?”

When Nancy didn't say anything, Peter shook his head. “You have no proof that that's what happened.”

Nancy had to admit he was right. Somewhere she was just going to have to find proof.

“Look, let's continue this later,” Peter said, checking his watch. “I'm already late for my lunch meeting.”

After he'd left, Lisa turned worried eyes on Nancy. “Do you think he's telling the truth?”

Before Nancy could answer, Ned walked in. He was surprised to see Lisa there. “What happened?” he asked. “When the receptionist and I returned I saw Peter leaving.”

“I'll explain later,” Nancy said. Turning to Lisa, she said, “In answer to your question, my guess is that Peter
is
telling the truth. He seemed sincere, but we can't be sure without proof. Let's take a look at Over the Rainbow's accounting ledger. But first I want to make a quick call to Hawaii.”

Ned raised an eyebrow. “Is this a little surprise vacation for two?”

“I wish,” Nancy said, grinning. She told him and Lisa about the airline receipt that she had found in Over the Rainbow's travel file. “I'm going to call the hotel and ask them to describe the person who checked in under the name
Spector
,” she concluded. “Hopefully it's not a big hotel and they'll know who I'm talking about.”

Nancy dialed the number on the hotel confirmation notice and asked for the front-desk manager. “Hello,” she said into the phone in her best official-sounding voice. “Did you have a Mr. or Miss Spector staying with you recently?”

Nancy waited while she was put on hold. A moment later the manager came back on the line. “There was a Miss J. Spector here,” he said. “She checked out yesterday.”

When Nancy asked the manager if he could describe Miss Spector, he said, “Oh, she was a pretty young girl—cascades of blond hair cut in layers. I remember because she had me find a stylist to give her a trim while she was here.”

That definitely sounded like Carla Jones, Nancy thought. Now she just needed to know one more thing. “I'm calling from her business accounting office,” she explained. “We wanted to make sure that her account was paid for by the firm. Could you check on that, please?”

She could barely contain her excitement when she hung up a few moments later.

“Well?” Ned asked.

“Her bill was paid by a check from Over the Rainbow!” Nancy said.

Lisa's mouth fell open. “If they paid for her trip to Hawaii, that makes her testimony at Matt's trial a little shaky.”

“More than a little,” Nancy said. “But we need more. If Matt didn't open the Gold Enterprises account or sign the check, someone else did a very good job of forging his signature—good enough to fool two experts. We have to find out who that person is.”

Ned raked a hand through his thick brown hair. “And since all our suspects work at Over the Rainbow, we also have to have solid proof that there really was a money-laundering operation going on, as Matt claimed.”

“I say we start by taking a look at this book while we have the chance,” Lisa said, leaning forward to look at the Over the Rainbow ledger.

The three of them started poring over the leather-bound book. “Based on what Bess found out from Tony, and from what I calculated from last night's guest checks, the club's average take per night is around five thousand dollars,” Nancy said.

Lisa ran her fingers down the entries for each day's profits. “These records definitely show more income than that per night,” she said. “They show closer to
ten
thousand dollars, sometimes more.”

Two piles of receipts were wedged into the book. Ned took them out and glanced at them. “Hmm, looks like these are the guest receipts and totals from the bar,” he said. “And this other stack is of bills that Over the Rainbow needs to
pay out.” He reached for the calculator on Peter's desk. “I'll add these up to make sure the numbers match.”

A moment later he held up a slip of paper, frowning at it. “Check it out. This company is getting a nice payment—almost five thousand dollars.”

“What company is that?” Nancy asked, leaning over Ned's shoulder.

“Allen Associates,” Ned told her. “The payment is listed as a consulting fee.”

Lisa flipped back a few pages in the accounting book. “They get about the same amount every month! Nancy, do you think this could be a bogus payment?”

“Maybe,” Nancy said. “It's certainly something to check out.”

Ned copied the name and address from the receipt. “Definitely,” he agreed. “I'll track down Allen Associates myself. But first I think we could use some lunch. Pizza at Palsson's?”

Nancy smiled up at him. “Great idea! I'll see if Bess can meet us there.”

• • •

BOOK: No Laughing Matter
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