Authors: Carolyn Keene
Bess held a piece of hot, cheesy pizza high over her plate. A single string of cheese stretched between the slice and the pie on the table.
“Anybody want to place bets on how high I can lift this slice before the cheese snaps?” Bess asked, laughing.
Nancy grinned at her friend. “No bets, please
ânot when we're trying to track down an illegal gambling operation,” she teased.
Ned took a huge bite of his slice, then washed it down with some soda. “I've been thinking about those receipts you saw, Nan, the ones for cards and chips and champagne. I think we should try to find out where this gambling is taking place.”
“If you were a gambling operation, where would you be?” Bess asked.
Nancy slowly pushed aside her slice of pizza. “You know Caribou, that dance club around the corner from the Rainbow? It seems like a hangout for teens, but I've seen older people go in there, too.”
Bess snapped her fingers. “Right! Like that couple we saw the other night. It doesn't make sense that they'd go to a dance club that plays rock music and only has a juice bar,” she said, giggling.
“Hmm,” Ned said. “It's worth checking out. Maybe you two should go to the club tonight after you get off work.”
“Sounds good to me,” Bess said. “That's the kind of investigating I like. Yikes!” Bess exclaimed, looking at her watch. “I'm supposed to be at Over the Rainbow in ten minutes to rehearse with Rusty.”
After Bess left, Nancy turned her full attention to Ned. “I'm already dressed for work, but I don't have to be there for over an hour,” she said.
“What do you say we go back to my house to relax?”
“Good idea,” he agreed. “I feel as if my mind is on overload.”
As Ned drove toward her house, Nancy's mind sorted through all they'd learned. “Tonight I'm going to search the office again for some concrete proof that Over the Rainbow is laundering money for a gambling operation.”
Nancy paused, glancing out the windshield at the passing traffic. She blinked as something caught her eye.
“Ned! Look at the van that's just passing us!” she exclaimed, pointing through the windshield. “It's the same one that tried to run us off the bridge!”
RE YOU SURE
it's the same one?” Ned asked, peering straight ahead. He gripped the steering wheel tightly.
“Positive,” Nancy replied. “I saw the twisted bumper and the blue stripe as it was passing us. Whatever you do, don't lose it!”
They followed the white compact van to an industrial area. It pulled to a stop outside a warehouse dotted with small windows. Ned stopped next to the curb a short distance away.
Nancy did a double take when she saw a small man with graying dark hair get out of the van and slam the door behind him.
“Hey, that's the same guy I saw at the comedy club, right before I found that box of receipts!” she exclaimed. “I wonder if he was there to drop
off the box. I practically ran into him on the stairs. If he got suspicious, he could have followed me back upstairs and knocked me out.”
She and Ned watched as the man went into the warehouse. A moment later he came out and peered up and down the street before motioning to someone inside. Two beefy guys appeared pushing a handcart with two felt-covered tables loaded on top.
Nancy took her binoculars out of her purse and focused on the tables. She could see little card squares etched in the felt. “I can't tell whether those tables are for poker or blackjack, but they're definitely gambling tables!” she said triumphantly.
After the tables were loaded into the back of the van, the two men went back into the warehouse. This time they returned with the top of a roulette wheel.
“Bingo!” Ned said under his breath. “They're taking a big chance loading this stuff in daylight.”
Nancy continued to look through the binoculars. “It's not illegal to make or ship gambling equipment. They could say they're shipping it to Las Vegas or Atlantic City. Gambling is legal there.”
“That's true,” Ned agreed with a nod. “But I doubt that van is going to either of those places. I'll bet anything this van is heading to a gambling site right here in River Heights!”
Nancy watched as the two guys slammed the
van doors. Then she lowered the binoculars. The small man with the graying hair practically vaulted into the driver's seat and pulled the van in a tight U-turn. Ned let him get a short distance ahead before following.
“He's turning,” Nancy said a few minutes later. Ned followed, but Nancy was dismayed that the street they turned into was thick with traffic. Up ahead, the van accelerated through a yellow light.
“I can't make that light,” Ned groaned, hitting his hand against the steering wheel.
“I can still see him up ahead,” Nancy said. “He's making a right!”
After the light changed to green, Ned still had to switch lanes. By the time he made the right, then tried to pick up speed, the compact van was nowhere in sight.
“Sorry, Nan,” Ned said, letting out a disappointed sigh.
“Oh well. We tried,” she answered, trying to sound more cheerful than she felt.
“Wait, I have an idea.” Ned's brown eyes suddenly shone excitedly. “Let's go back to the warehouse and pretend that we're with the guy in the van. We could say that he forgot something and try to sneak a look at the address on the order form.”
Nancy straightened up. “Ned, you're brilliant!”
Ned circled back to the warehouse. “Maybe I
should talk to them,” he suggested, pulling his car to a halt in front of the warehouse. “They'll be more likely to think that a big hulking guy like me would be in on this delivery than a beautiful, incredibly smart redhead.”
“I think that was a compliment,” Nancy said, leaning over to plant a kiss on his cheek. “Okay, you win. I'll watch from the car.”
Nancy hunched down in her seat and watched through the rearview mirror as Ned went inside the warehouse. A minute later he came back out and hurried to the sedan.
“I should be an actor,” he said, slipping in behind the wheel and starting the car.
“What did you find out?” Nancy asked.
“I found the foreman and told him that we forgot the bottom of the roulette table. He seemed pretty confused. Then he checked the order and said that we already had the bottom. So I told him, well, somebody's got it wrong.”
Nancy grinned at him. “And you just happened to sneak a peek at the address on the order form?” she guessed.
“You got it,” he said proudly.
When he repeated the address to her, Nancy's eyes widened. “That's on the same street as Over the Rainbow. It's probably too late to catch them unloading the van, though. I can check the address when I get to work.”
Ned glanced at his watch. “Speaking of work,
don't you have to be at the club? It's twenty-five to four.”
“What time does the bank close?” she asked.
“Four, I think. Why?”
Nancy had a glint in her eye. “I'd like to pay another visit to our friend Carla Jones. If we confront her with the things we've guessed about her vacation, she just might crack.”
“Good idea, Drew,” Ned said. “I have a feeling that her tan is going to start peeling when she sees us again.”
â¢Â â¢Â â¢
By the time Nancy and Ned arrived at the North Central Bank, it was a quarter to four. This time Carla Jones spotted them as they sat down to wait. Nancy carefully watched her face, which visibly paled beneath its tan.
Carla still had a couple of customers to finish with before walking over to join Ned and Nancy. From the wary expression on her face, Nancy could tell that Carla wasn't pleased to see them.
“Listen, I have a lot to do. I don't have time to talk to you,” Carla said, before Nancy even opened her mouth. “Besides, I don't have anything more to say.”
“We won't keep you long, Carla,” Nancy pressed. “It's just that I'm a little confused about that trip you took. Your manager said you won the trip, but you told us that your uncle paid for it.”
Ned stared straight into Carla's eyes. “And then we were going through some accounts at Over the Rainbow and I found your ticket,” he added.
“That's impossible,” Carla snapped. “You couldn't trace that ticket to meâit didn't even have my name on it.”
Carla gasped as she realized her mistake, then focused on the floor.
“Do you admit that someone from Over the Rainbow paid for your trip to Hawaii?” Nancy pressed her advantage.
“I admit I went to Hawaii,” Carla mumbled, still not raising her head. “As far as I know, it's perfectly legal to take a vacation.”
“Lying on the witness stand is a federal crime, Carla,” Nancy said solemnly. “You could be in big trouble if you don't cooperate.”
There was a long pause before Carla finally looked back up at Nancy and Ned. “Am Iâam I in big trouble?” she asked, her voice a whisper.
“That depends,” Ned put in. “If you tell us the truth now and help us find out who framed Matt Goldin, the court will take that into consideration. You might get off easier.”
Carla sat down heavily on the leatherette chair next to Ned. “I agreed to lie on the witness stand in exchange for the trip,” she stated flatly. “I knew it was wrong, but they made the trip sound so terrific and I couldn't have afforded any kind of vacation this year.”
Tears were beginning to well up in the teller's eyes. Nancy opened her purse and pulled out a small package of tissues, handing Carla one. “Who was âthey'?” Nancy asked.
Carla shrugged. “A guyâI don't know who. We made all the arrangements over the phone.”
“Did he have a British accent?” Ned asked, leaning forward.
“No, I'm sure he wasn't British,” Carla replied firmly.
Nancy thought back to her conversation with Tom Irwin, Matt's lawyer. “You testified that Matt opened that account. You even identified him in court. What really happened?”
“A man did come in and open an account for Gold Enterprises. He deposited a check, too,” Carla said. She lowered her eyes before adding, “It wasn't Matt, though.”
“Who was it? What did he look like?” Ned asked.
“I don't know. He kept his sunglasses and a hat on the whole time. He didn't have a beard, so I knew he wasn't Matt.”
“Do you think you'd recognize the man if you saw him again?” Nancy asked Carla.
“Maybe,” the teller replied. “People come in every day and open accounts, but he did have a striking face, even with his sunglasses on. I might recognize him.”
Nancy was disappointed not to get a better description of the person, but at least she now
had proof that Matt had been framed. “Are you willing to tell Matt's lawyer this?” she asked.
“Yes,” Carla said emphatically. “I haven't been able to live with myself ever since this happened. I didn't even have a good time in Hawaii. The whole thing was a big mistake.”
“Thanks, Carla,” Nancy said with a smile. “I'll be sure to tell Matt's lawyer how helpful you've been.”
Nancy and Ned were silent as they left the bank and got back into Ned's car. Ned waited until he pulled out into the late-afternoon traffic before speaking.
“You were right on that one, Nancy. Matt really was framed,” he said.
“Whoever opened the account in his name must have forged his signature,” Nancy added. She folded her arms across her chest. “We know Bianca didn't open the account, since it was a man.”
“But Tony could have,” Ned put in. “Or even that guy we saw in the van today.”
“I'll see what I can find out tonight at work,” Nancy said.
â¢Â â¢Â â¢
Nancy was late for work when Ned pulled into the parking lot of Over the Rainbow.
“I'm just going to check on that address quickly before I start my shift,” she said. “I'll call you when I get home if we turn up anything at Caribou later.”
Ned leaned over to give her a long, lingering kiss. “Just be careful,” he said gruffly. “Meanwhile I'll follow up on Allen Associates. I'll let you know the second I find out anything.”
After Ned drove away, Nancy walked over to the entrance to Caribou. Sure enough, the address matched the one Ned had seen on the delivery order.
It was still early. The dance club's neon sign was dark and window blinds were drawn. There was no sign of the white van. Nancy walked up to the heavy, tinted-glass door and cupped her hands around her eyes to see better into the darkness.
All of a sudden Nancy was struck by the feeling that someone was watching her. The next thing she knew, a heavy hand had clamped down on her shoulder.