“This seems like a peculiar way for your father to get in touch with you,” Mrs. Byrd remarked. “Why didn’t he phone if it’s urgent?”
“I don’t understand it myself,” Nancy answered, as she tore open the letter.
The message was typewritten and was succinct. Nancy was to return home at once. Her father needed her. She was not to try to communicate with him. He could not explain why. It was signed “Dad.”
Nancy read the letter to Mrs. Byrd. “Oh, I couldn’t let you start out at this time of night alone,” the woman said at once. “You must wait until morning.”
“This whole thing doesn’t seem like Dad,” Nancy reflected. “He wouldn’t send a terse note like this even if he
in some kind of trouble.”
Mrs. Byrd was very much concerned. “It seems to me he would have called you on the phone in an emergency,” she offered thoughtfully.
“Yes,” Nancy agreed, “that’s why this puzzles me so. But don’t you worry about it, Mrs. Byrd. This is something I’ll have to try to figure out myself.”
“But, my dear,” Mrs. Byrd repeated, “it’s impossible for you to do anything about it at this hour.”
Nancy carefully studied the note again. Suddenly she became aware of a familiar scent of perfume. The young detective held the envelope to her nostrils. It had been handled by someone who used the distinctive Blue Jade scent which Bess had purchased!
Instantly Nancy was alerted. “It wouldn’t surprise me, Mrs. Byrd, if this letter is a phony! I’m going to call Dad, even though it’s an unearthly hour to waken him.”
She picked up the receiver in the hall. No sound reached her ears. “I’m afraid the line is dead,” she told Mrs. Byrd. “Does this happen often?”
“It has never happened before,” Mrs. Byrd said. “I made a call after supper and everything was all right then.”
Nancy stood in perplexed silence. Had her father tried to get her, found the line out of order, then given the note to the couple? The woman might have carried the letter in a handbag which contained a purse-size bottle of the Oriental perfume.
“In that case I ought to start for River Heights,” Nancy thought. But a feeling of suspicion about the whole thing overpowered her. It might be a trap. The telephone line could have been cut. One or more persons might try to capture her on the road.
“But why?” Nancy asked herself repeatedly. She came to the conclusion that the Hale Syndicate was back of the incident. They must have found out she had reported her suspicions to the police and somehow had learned where she was staying.
She turned to Mrs. Byrd and said, “I’ll wait until seven o’clock, then try the phone again. If it still isn’t working, I’ll go to town and call Dad.”
“Thank you, dear.” Mrs. Byrd patted Nancy on the shoulder. “But don’t go anywhere alone. Take Bess and George with you.”
Promptly at seven o’clock Nancy tried to get in touch with her father but the phone still was not working. Joanne was already up, but Nancy roused Bess and George. The three girls were astounded to learn about the note.
“We’ll get breakfast in town,” Nancy told Mrs. Byrd as she prepared to drive off with her friends. “And if I don’t have to go to River Heights, I can do your shopping, too. Suppose you give me the list.”
Halfway to town, George said suddenly, “Nancy, isn’t your gasoline tank nearly empty?”
Nancy nodded. “I’m glad you reminded me. Watch for a station and we’ll stop.”
Presently Bess sighted one on the main road. “It’s the same place we stopped to eat on our way to the farm,” she said.
“So it is,” George remarked.
“I can phone from here,” Nancy decided.
She turned in at the gravel driveway, but as two other cars were ahead of her, she drew up some distance from the pump.
“How about getting breakfast here after you phone?” Bess suggested.
The girls agreed. Bess and George entered the lunchroom while Nancy went to an outdoor phone booth. She had her father on the wire in a few moments.
“Dad, did you send me a note last night?”
Quickly his daughter explained her question. The lawyer said grimly, “It’s plain to see someone wants to harm you in one way or another. Please be very careful.”
Nancy promised and said, “Anyway, I’m glad you’re all right.”
After Nancy hung up, she dialed the phone company to report that the Byrd line was out of order. A few minutes later she joined Bess and George at a table and whispered the result of her conversation with Mr. Drew.
“Oh, Nancy, this means you’re in danger!” Bess said worriedly.
“I thought at least I’d be safe at Red Gate Farm,” Nancy said.
“I wonder,” George muttered.
The girls were the only customers in the restaurant. No one came to wait on them. From an inner room, evidently used as an office, they could hear excited voices.
“Something’s wrong,” Nancy said to her companions.
Just then two men came out of the office in company with the gasoline-station attendant and the woman who served as waitress of the restaurant. The woman was talking excitedly.
“We found the twenty-dollar bill in the cash register at the end of the day. It looked like any other money, and we didn’t suspect anything was wrong until John took the day’s receipts to the bank. And of all things they said the bill was counterfeit and they’d have to turn it over to the Secret Service!”
“Yes,” one of the agents spoke up, “we’ve just come from the bank and it’s a counterfeit all right. There’s been a lot of this bad money passed lately. The forgery is very clever.”
“What am I going to do?” the woman cried. “We were cheated out of twenty dollars! It isn’t fair to hard-working people like John and me. Aren’t you Secret Service agents going to do something about it?”
“We’re doing all we can,” one of the men replied. “We don’t have much to go on.”
“It was a girl who gave me the bill,” the woman explained. “There were several of them in the party. I’d recognize—Oh!” she shrieked. “There’s the very girl!” She pointed an accusing finger at Nancy Drew.
Nancy and her friends stared in astonishment. They could not believe what they had just heard.
“Arrest that girl!” the woman screamed. “Don’t let any of them get away—they’re all in on it together!”
“Just a minute,” one of the agents said. “Suppose you explain,” he suggested to Nancy.
The excited woman, however, was not to be calmed. She rushed toward Nancy and shook her fist at the girl. “Don’t deny you gave me that phony bill!” she almost screamed.
“I neither deny nor affirm it,” Nancy said, turning to the agents. “I did give the woman a twenty-dollar bill, but how do you know it was the counterfeit?”
“It was the only twenty we took in that day,” the waitress retorted.
Nancy’s thoughts raced. “I’ll take your word for it,” she said quietly.
Opening her purse she took out another twenty-dollar bill. The woman snatched the money and handed it to one of the Secret Service men. “Is this good?” she asked crisply.
The agent examined the bill. Then he looked at Nancy. “Where did you get this?”
“From my father. He gave me both bills, as a matter of fact. One was for car emergencies.”
Instead of giving the bill to the woman, the man put it into his pocket. “This is serious business, young lady. The bill you just gave me is also counterfeit!”
Nancy was thunderstruck. Bess and George gasped. Before any of them could speak, the lunchroom woman cried out, “She’s one of the gang! Arrest her!”
For the first time the station attendant spoke up. “Take it easy, Liz. These girls don’t exactly look like counterfeiters.”
Liz sniffed. “People don’t usually go around paying for sundaes with twenty-dollar bills!” she said tartly.
“My father gave me the money because I was going on a vacation.”
“A likely story!” the woman sneered.
“It’s the truth!” George spoke up indignantly. “The idea of accusing my friend of passing bad money on purpose! It’s ridiculous!”
“Ridiculous, is it?” the woman retorted angrily. “You’ll sing a different tune when you’re in jail!”
“You can’t have Nancy arrested. She didn’t realize it was counterfeit money!” Bess protested. “George and I have some cash. We’ll pay you twenty good dollars to make up for the bad one.”
As the cousins pooled their funds and handed over the money, the woman quieted down. “Maybe I was a little hasty,” she admitted. But she was not entirely cowed. “How about your father?” she asked Nancy. “How come he had counterfeit bills?”
Nancy said she did not know, but certainly he had not acquired them dishonestly.
One of the Secret Service men said, “Suppose you tell us who you are, and—”
“I’ll tell you who she is!” came an authoritative voice from the doorway.
A Hesitant Hitchhiker
UNOBSERVED by the girls, an automobile had driven up and parked near the filling station. A tall young man had alighted and started for the lunchroom. Upon hearing the amazing conversation inside, he had halted. Then, realizing Nancy was in need of help, he had stepped inside.
“Karl!” Nancy cried out. She had never before been so glad to see anyone!
“It looks as if I just got here in the nick of time.” Karl Abbott Jr. smiled.
“They’re trying to arrest us!” Bess exclaimed.
“You’re kidding!” Karl cried in astonishment.
“It’s no joke,” Nancy returned earnestly, then told him of her predicament.
“Look here,” Karl said bluntly, turning to the two Secret Service agents, “you can’t hold these girls.”
“Who are you?” one of the agents demanded.
“My name is Karl Abbott, and these girls are friends of mine. As it happens, my father is living at Red Gate Farm in Round Valley, where they also are staying. I was on my way there when I thought I’d stop for a bite to eat. Lucky I did, too!”
“These girls may be friends of yours,” the unpleasant woman spoke up shrilly, “but this girl had better explain why she gave me counterfeit money!”
“If you’re accusing these girls of deliberately trying to pass counterfeit money, you’re crazy!” Karl Abbott cried out.
“You’re willing to vouch for the honesty of this young lady’s father as well?” the agent asked.
“Most definitely. This is Nancy Drew. No doubt you’ve heard of her father, the famous lawyer. If you haven’t, you soon will!”
“Not Carson Drew of River Heights?”
“Yes,” Karl replied.
“Why didn’t you tell us who you were?” the restaurant owner asked.
“You didn’t give me a chance to tell you anything!” Nancy retorted. “And you didn’t seem ready to believe what I did have to say.”
The two agents looked at each other. One asked to see Nancy’s driver’s license, then with a smile he said, “Too bad you have such a loss because of the counterfeit money. The outfit which is distributing the twenty-dollar bills is a clever one.
“The money is turning up in many places. I’ll get in touch with your father to find out where he was given the bills. Incidentally, we understand a few women are mixed up in the racket. That’s why we detained you.”
“Let’s get out of here!” George urged.
The girls hurriedly left the lunchroom with Karl. The government agents leisurely followed them outside.
As Nancy was about to step into her car, she thought of something. It occurred to her that by some remote chance the investigators might be interested in the phony message which she had brought with her.
“This may or may not have anything to do with the case,” she told them, handing over the scented note. “But the signature is a forgery, and the perfume has some mystery to it.”
She gave a brief account of her own involvement with the mystery, beginning with her encounter on the train with the man who had mentioned “the Chief,” and ending with the code.