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Authors: Carolyn Keene

078 The Phantom Of Venice

BOOK: 078 The Phantom Of Venice
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Mid-Air Meeting

A Shot in the Dark

The Watcher in the Shadows

Falcon Palace

A Glass Menagerie

Unseen Eyes

Shell Game

A Sinister Sign

Ghost Story

Rendezvous with Danger

Secret Search


Dark Deeds

Game Plan


Night of the Omelet

Mid-Air Meeting

The plane lights had been dimmed while the jetliner winged across the Atlantic through the midnight darkness. Nancy Drew had dozed off twice already during the flight from New York, but each time had awakened after only a short nap.

Why am I so restless tonight? she wondered. It can’t be just the thought of riding in a gondola tomorrow and seeing the sights of Venice!

The famous young sleuth had been called to Italy to help solve a baffling crime connected with one of her father’s law cases. The prospect was exciting, but Nancy had investigated many other mysteries before, and she was too experienced a traveler not to be able to sleep aboard a plane.

No, her restlessness tonight, Nancy sensed, had
nothing to do with crimes or mysteries, even in glamorous foreign settings. She suspected her unsettled state was an emotional response to a question that had been troubling her ever since her plane took off from Kennedy Airport:

Am I or am I not in love with Ned Nickerson?

Recently the two had decided to date other people and cool their own romance, which had been simmering since high school days. Since then, Nancy had had one or two romantic encounters which struck sparks, but Ned remained always in the back of her mind as someone safe and rocklike and comforting—someone she could always count on and turn to, no matter how the shifting winds of fancy might blow.

Their phone conversation just before she boarded the jetliner seemed to reignite all the feelings they had had for one another when they first met . . . and now, hours later, the warmth of that exchange still glowed in Nancy’s heart.

Somehow, it seemed, she and Ned would always be on the same wavelength. But was that emotional rapport love?

She still wasn’t sure . . .

With a sigh, Nancy flicked on her overhead seat light and glanced at her wristwatch. Almost 12:45. They had been in the air for six hours, with two more to go before landing in Rome.

Nancy set her watch ahead six hours to Italian time, then picked up the paperback mystery she’d been
reading, which had fallen into her lap the last time she dozed off.

A girl was walking up the aisle. Somewhat taller and slimmer than Nancy, she had straight, pale blond hair and large gray-green eyes, and looked about nineteen or twenty. Seeing a fellow traveler her own age awake, she smiled vaguely in passing.

Nancy returned the smile and was surprised when the girl stopped. “Mind if I join you?”

“Not at all. Please do!”

The other girl dropped into the empty aisle seat beside Nancy. There was something shyly appealing about her manner and appearance, Nancy thought.

“I expected the plane to be more crowded, didn’t you?” she murmured.

“Yes, there must have been quite a few cancellations,” said Nancy. “Not that I mind . . . I prefer having a little more elbow room.”

“Have you done a lot of traveling?”

“Well, yes . . . a fair amount, I suppose.”

“I wish I had! This is the first time I’ve ever been so far away from home on my own.”

Nancy smiled again. “Are you on a vacation tour?” she asked politely.

“No . . . I wish I were.”

There was such a sad, pathetic note in the girl’s voice that Nancy immediately regretted having asked. “I—I’m sorry if I reminded you of something unpleasant,” she murmured.

“You needn’t be. I’d much rather be flying to Italy than staying in New York!”

Her response sounded defiant. Nancy was intrigued by her sudden change of tone.

“You live in New York City?” she asked.

“Yes . . . And you?”

“In a town you’ve probably never heard of, River Heights.” As she spoke, Nancy found herself wondering about the other girl’s background.

Her yellow silk shirt and beige designer slacks had obviously come from an expensive boutique, yet the total effect seemed oddly lacking in chic. It was as if the girl hadn’t yet achieved her own distinctive style. The one uniquely personal touch was a flame-colored East Indian kerchief loosely knotted about her throat. It seemed to hint at secret fires within.

I’ll bet she has plenty of spirit, deep down, Nancy speculated. She just hasn’t learned how to express her real self yet.

As the thought flickered through her mind, she realized the other girl was studying her closely.

“Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?”

Nancy shrugged. “It’s possible.”

The girl continued observing her for a moment, taking in Nancy’s red-gold hair and vivid sapphire-blue eyes. Then she shifted her glance with a sudden awkward little laugh. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to stare. It’s just that your face seems awfully familiar. Maybe
that’s why I sat down—because I thought we might know each other. My name’s Tara Egan, by the way.”

The teen from River Heights smiled. “Nice to know you, Tara. I’m Nancy Drew.”

“Nancy Drew?!
 . . . Of course! I
I recognized you. You’re the famous detective who keeps solving all kinds of mysteries!”

Nancy nodded, slightly embarrassed. “I don’t know about ’famous’. I’ve been lucky enough to unravel a few cases.”

“I saw you on TV just the other day, in connection with some witchcraft case in England.”

Nancy nodded again, racking her brain for some polite way to change the subject, as the other girl went on, “And now you’re flying to Italy!”

“Yes, to meet my father. He’s there on business. Er, whereabouts in Italy are you heading, Tara? Rome?”

“No, Venice.”

Nancy smiled. “Well, well—small world! That’s where I’m going, too.”

“Hey, how about that!” Tara exclaimed. “I wonder if we’ll be traveling together all the way?”

When they discovered that they were booked on the same connecting flight from Rome to Venice, she was delighted. “Oh, that’s wonderful, Nancy! Suddenly I don’t feel all alone any more.”

“I’m glad, too, Tara. It’ll be nice having company.”

The discovery that they would be fellow passengers
all the way seemed to inspire Tara Egan to confide in her new friend. She explained that she lived in Manhattan with her mother and her mother’s second husband, in a high-rise condominium overlooking the East River.

“My stepfather is a real estate broker,” she added. Nancy was surprised at the sudden venom in her voice.

“You sound as though that’s a crime,” she said gently, smiling to soften her words. “I know several realtors back home who are very nice.”

“You wouldn’t think my stepfather’s very nice,” Tara retorted. “He’s a slumlord.”

“You mean he owns rental properties in poor neighborhoods?”

“Yes—and spends as little as he can to keep the places liveable. But mother thinks he’s wonderful! They were both against my going to Italy. I was shocked, Nancy. I couldn’t
they’d try to stop me from going over to collect Daddy’s last personal belongings. They said we could simply have them shipped to New York. Isn’t that awful? Imagine not caring enough to go over to find out what happened to him, and how he spent his last days! I told them I was going anyhow—like it or not. I had enough money of my own saved up to pay for the trip, so they finally realized they couldn’t stop me.”

As Tara paused indignantly for breath, Nancy did
her best to sort out what she had been saying. “When did you last see your father?” she asked.

“About five years ago. He’d just come back to New York from the Far East and he called up—right out of the clear blue sky, you might say. Mom didn’t want to see him, and she wasn’t too crazy about me seeing him, either, but I made such a fuss that she finally had to agree. He took me out to lunch and dinner and a Broadway show, and then the next day we drove down to the Jersey shore and swam and laid around on the sand all afternoon, soaking up sunshine—it was just a terrific day! I loved every minute of it!”

Tara choked up for a moment, and Nancy saw tears glistening in her eyes. She squeezed the other girl’s hand and said, “Your father spent most of his time out of the country, did he?”

“Oh, yes! Daddy traveled all over the world. In fact, from what Mom’s told me about him, he always seemed more like an adventurer than an artist, which is what he was supposed to be. He could never bear to be tied down to one spot. That’s what led to their divorce, I guess. He was the art director for an advertising agency when they were first married. But he quit to go paint in Mexico, and after that I guess he never did hold a steady job. He’d sell a few paintings through a gallery and use the money to go off and paint somewhere else. After a while Mom got tired of not having a home of her own.”

“I can imagine,” Nancy said sympathetically. “Did you hear from him after your parents broke up?”

“Oh, yes. He’d send me postcards and letters from all over, or copies of travel articles he’d written and illustrated for various magazines. . . . At least he
to. During the last few years, though, I didn’t hear from him very often.”

Daylight was already visible outside the window, and the plane’s cabin lights had gone on. Nancy opened the curtains to the first rays of morning sunshine. She didn’t mind the fact that she’d probably missed her last chance for a final nap before landing. She wasn’t feeling at all sleepy, and she was too eager for another glimpse of Italy to want to drowse off again. Besides, people and their problems always interested Nancy, and she found Tara Egan’s story genuinely engrossing.

“Had your father settled in Italy, or was he just visiting there?” she inquired.

“Oh, he’d been living in Venice for quite a while. He wrote me once that it was the most beautiful city in the world—the perfect place for an artist to live. He wanted me to come and stay with him, but he—well, he never had enough money to send me a plane ticket, I guess, and of course my mother and stepfather would never have
of paying my fare just so I could see him!”

Again Tara’s voice broke with an edge of bitterness, and again Nancy squeezed her hand.

“He must have been fairly young,” the titian-haired teen murmured reflectively.

“Yes, he was in his early forties, just a year older than Mom. He died in an accident. He . . . he drowned in a canal.”

“Oh, how awful, Tara! I’m so sorry. How on earth did it happen?”

“We don’t know exactly. In fact we know nothing at all of the circumstances. We were simply notified by a telegram that gave no details—which is another reason why I made up my mind to go over.”

The stewardesses began to serve breakfast, and the girls’ conversation lagged. When they resumed chatting, Tara deluged the teenage sleuth with questions about her mystery cases.

Presently the pilot announced over the intercom that they would soon be landing, after which both girls become too excited and absorbed in preparing to disembark to have much time for talking.

At last the jetliner touched down, and the passengers filed out into a reception lounge at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci Airport. It was jammed with people waiting to greet arriving friends and relatives.

Lines moved quickly and within minutes after claiming their luggage, the girls cleared Customs. A single skycap in an orange uniform grabbed up both Nancy’s and Tara’s suitcases and led the way past busy airport shops and through a corridor that connected to the domestic flight terminal.

After less than half an hour’s wait, they were able to board the airliner that would carry them to Venice. As they winged across the Italian boot, Tara fidgeted and chatted in bursts. She seemed to grow more and more ill at ease the closer she came to her destination. Finally she asked, “Will someone be meeting you when we land, Nancy?”

The strawberry blond shook her head. “No, Dad planned to, but at the last moment a business meeting was scheduled that he can’t avoid.”

“Then would you come with me?”

“Of course, if you’d like company.”

“Oh, I would, Nancy! You see, Daddy wasn’t living by himself in Venice at the time of his accident. He had a—an Italian lady friend.” As she said this, Tara threw a sidelong glance at her companion. When Nancy nodded understandingly, she went on with a forced, nervous laugh. “Now that I’m almost there, I guess I’m a little uptight about meeting people and introducing myself as his daughter!”

Suddenly Nancy realized that her new friend was on the verge of tears again. She sensed, too, that for Tara, what lay ahead would be almost like attending her father’s funeral.

BOOK: 078 The Phantom Of Venice
3.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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