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Authors: Carolyn Keene

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Nancy's mind was going in another direction. If Preziosi was barely breaking even, she thought, Paola would have to have another source of income to open her gallery—such as selling stolen Etruscan jewelry, for example.

Of course, there was still the possibility that Andreotti was lying and was really helping Paola traffic her stolen goods. She still hadn't seen what was in the sack Paola had given him.

“I noticed you came in with a Preziosi bag,” Nancy said casually. “Claudia, do you think it could be the pin?”

Claudia looked at Nancy in alarm, obviously not knowing how to respond.

Turning back to Signor Andreotti, Nancy quickly improvised. “This morning a customer's package was switched by accident. She bought a fake Etruscan pin, but when she got home she had a scarf instead,” she said smoothly. “Claudia turned the store upside down looking for that pin. Finally we figured it must have been put into another bag by mistake.”

She gave the dealer a shy smile. “Perhaps Paola gave you that bag. She could have taken the pin by accident.”

“I haven't even looked in it,” Signor Andreotti said. “It's a gift, for my advice on her gallery. I told her it wasn't necessary.”

“Well, would you mind checking for us? Just to be sure?” Bess asked, picking up on Nancy's ruse.

Signor Andreotti pulled the fabric sack out of his drawer. Taking a small, flat package from it, he carefully split the tape holding the lid closed, then pulled it off.

Nestled inside the box was a beautiful leather belt.

Claudia gave a deep sigh, making Nancy realize she had also been holding her breath. It looked as if Signor Andreotti was telling the truth.

“I guess someone else has the pin,” Claudia said slowly. She looked even more dejected than Nancy felt.

“I hope you find it,” Signor Andreotti said, putting the belt back in the drawer. “Now, how can I help you girls?”

The vague moodiness Nancy had detected in Claudia earlier seemed to have returned. Claudia got up abruptly. “I think Nancy has something to ask,” she said, moving toward the door. “Unfortunately, I have to get back to the store.”

Claudia barely waved goodbye, and then she was out the door. She hadn't been her usual cheerful self that day, Nancy thought. And seeing the belt had made her even more glum than before. It was almost as if she was disappointed that Fabio Andreotti wasn't the thief. Nancy couldn't shake the feeling that Claudia was hiding something, but she had no idea what. Or maybe
she was just ashamed that her detective friends couldn't seem to crack this case.

Signor Andreotti was looking at her expectantly, Nancy realized. She took a deep breath, then said, “I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but someone is stealing Etruscan jewelry out of people's homes.”

She and Bess told him about everything, including the fact that someone had ransacked their room. “Since you're a dealer,” Nancy concluded, “we thought you might be able to help us. We were hoping to uncover a clue as to where the jewelry could be going.”

The art dealer's initial expression of surprise had changed to one of close interest while Nancy talked. “Well!” he said now. “So this is the mystery behind your necklace.” Nancy and Bess nodded.

“The jewelry is almost certainly being smuggled out of the country,” Andreotti continued. “Each piece is one of a kind. They would be easy to spot, even in Milan or Florence.”

“How could they be smuggled out of the country?” Nancy asked.

The art dealer considered her question for a moment. “One way is to send it out with regular shipments sent by a legal company. Then the jewelry would be very difficult to detect.”

“What kind of company?” Bess asked.

“Any company that ships out of the country. One that exports wine, for example.”

That didn't exactly narrow down the number of possible choices, Nancy realized. The three of
them fell into a thoughtful silence. Signor Andreotti finally spoke up.

“Why don't you set a trap?” he suggested, his eyes twinkling. “Tempt the thief with something he or she can't refuse.”

Nancy frowned. “But if we don't know who the thief is, how can we lure the person into a trap?”

“Let me think,” said the art dealer, tapping his fingertips on his desk. “There's a gala tomorrow night for a very talented artist who is having a big show. Perhaps we could set something up.”

Bess jumped on the idea. “You mean, arrange for someone to wear an Etruscan necklace?”

“Yes, and I know just the right person!” Signor Andreotti said triumphantly. “A friend of mine is visiting from France. I even have the perfect necklace for her to wear. I am sure she would be happy to be a—how do you call it?—decoy.”

Signor Andreotti and the girls excitedly pieced together their trap. In the middle of the planning Nancy sat back in her chair and slapped her forehead.

“Wait a minute. How can we be sure that the thief will be among the guests?”

“It's the right crowd,” Signor Andreotti said, showing her the list. Nancy didn't know most of the names, but several of the women who had been burglarized were listed, including Sandro's mother. Paola Rinzini's name was penciled in at the bottom.

“I invited Paola at lunch,” Signor Andreotti explained. “Give me a list of people you suspect,
and I will add them. I'm one of the hosts, so I'm sure there won't be a problem.”

Nancy wrote down her name and Bess's. Then she added Claudia, Sandro, Massimo, and after a moment, Karine Azar. When Signor Andreotti saw the list, he whistled.

“It's a good thing our artist is very young. I can say I invited you to generate excitement about the show among the younger generation.”

After they had gone over all the details of the plan Signor Andreotti recommended a few stores for the girls to visit to buy items they would need the following night.

As the girls got up to leave he said, “I'm glad you came to me. I would do anything I could to help my friends and to keep our treasured antiquities here in Italy. Besides,” he added, ushering them to the door, “this is the most fun I've had in years!”

• • •

When Nancy and Bess returned to Pensione Antonio, Bess paused at the telephone. “Maybe we should call Claudia,” she said to Nancy. “I mean, she's been so nice to us. I hate to think of her as a suspect now. Maybe there's a simple explanation for how she acted today.”

“Good idea,” Nancy agreed. She found one last
gettóne
in her purse, plunked it into the pay phone, and dialed Claudia's home number.

When Claudia answered, Nancy greeted her, then said, “Claudia, you seemed upset in Signor Andreotti's office. Is anything wrong?”

There was a short silence. “I guess I was hoping
this thing would be over.” Claudia's voice finally came over the line. “I feel responsible for dragging you into this. I took you to Massimo's stand and the store, and all of a sudden people are losing their jewelry!”

“But most of the jewelry was probably stolen before we even got to Rome,” Nancy said. “Listen, Signor Andreotti was a big help. He even invited us all to some gala tomorrow night for a young artist. He said he thought it would be fun, and he's putting Sandro, Massimo, Karine, and you on the list, too. Won't that be great?”

Nancy didn't give away the real reason they were all being invited. She couldn't if there was any chance that Claudia was somehow involved in the thefts.

“Great,” Claudia said, but her tone was flat.

Taking a deep breath, Nancy decided to make one last effort. “Claudia, you sound terrible. Please tell me what's wrong.”

“It is just this silly fight with Sandro,” Claudia said, her voice breaking slightly. “It is nothing to worry about. By the way, Massimo and Sandro and I want to take you and Bess sightseeing tomorrow. There is a special church we think you will enjoy.”

The girls arranged to meet at the Spanish Steps the next morning. After hanging up, Nancy and Bess dropped off their purchases in their room, then changed into dresses for dinner. They decided to splurge on one of the better restaurants listed in their guidebook.

• • •

“Boy, I think that was the best veal I ever tasted,” Bess said afterward as they wandered through the streets near the Pantheon, where the restaurant was located.

The streets and piazzas were packed with young people hanging out. As they walked Nancy pulled out her guidebook and flipped to the “Eating Out” section.

“Are you up for dessert?” she asked Bess. “There's an ice-cream place near here that's supposed to be great. It's called Giolitti.”

Bess's blue eyes lit up. “Say no more—let's go!”

It was obvious that Giolitti was very popular. When the girls arrived, it was packed with locals and tourists alike. Dozens of colorful flavors were set out in stainless steel drums. Men in waiters' jackets pushed one another out of the way, scooping the
gelato
neatly with spatulas.

Bess read the flavors. “
Gianduia, crèma, pistàcchio, cioccolato,”
she said, throwing her hands in the air. “I can't figure this out! I'm just going to pick a color.” A cone piled high with ice cream and fresh whipped cream passed near her nose. “And I'm getting the cream.”

The
gelato
was the most delicious ice cream Nancy had ever tasted. Fully satisfied, the girls headed back to their pensione.

“I'm beat,” Nancy said as she unlocked the door to their room and pushed it open.

As she stepped into their room she was startled by the sight of a dark shape on her bed. “Don't come in, Bess,” she ordered, freezing in place.
When the shape didn't move, she reached out slowly and turned on the light.

Bess gave a little screech.

In the middle of Nancy's bed sat a gruesome stone gargoyle's head. Next to it was a slip of paper with words scrawled on it in red paint.

Nancy's stomach lurched as she read the jagged writing: “Rome is a crumbling city. Get away before it crumbles on you!”

Chapter

Nine

O
H, NAN, THE THIEF
is really after us,” Bess whispered, her face white.

“Well, he's going to be disappointed, then,” Nancy said grimly. “I don't scare easily.”

Gingerly she reached out and touched the head. It rocked slightly on the mattress but was surprisingly light. Nancy lifted it easily and carried it closer to the light. The head seemed to be made of some sort of dense foam.

“More threats,” Bess said gloomily. “That at least means we're getting closer, right? I guess I should be happy.”

“But who is the thief we spooked?” Nancy wondered. “Both Fabio Andreotti and Paola Rinzini know we're on the trail now. And Massimo, Sandro, and Claudia all know we've been investigating.”

Coming over to Nancy, Bess made a face at the gargoyle. “Where does a person find a head like that in Rome?” she asked.

“It could be a stage prop of some kind, or a model,” Nancy said. She set the head down on the dresser. “Or maybe it could have come from an art school.”

The two girls looked at each other. “Massimo and Karine both go to art school,” Bess put in.

“Well, let's see if we can track down the culprit this time,” Nancy said. The two girls went down the hall and found Signora Verona sitting behind the desk. When Nancy finished telling her what had happened, the pensione manager was beside herself.

“Someone in my family has been watching that door all day,” she told the girls. “We even made a new rule: guests may not have visitors in the rooms.” She gestured to a hand-drawn sign above the front desk. “No one has been in or out of here unless they have a room.”

“The head is pretty large,” Nancy observed. “It would be hard to smuggle in, except in a big bag. Did anyone check into the hotel today?”

The woman looked through her records. “A German family checked into room seven this morning,” she told them. “And a young man from Milan arrived this afternoon.”

Nancy jumped on the information. “Was he Italian? Can you remember what he looked like?”

Signora Verona narrowed her eyes in concentration. “He was attractive. I think I remember black hair, kind of wavy, but he was wearing a hat. I
thought that was strange for the summer. He had one duffel bag.”

Massimo had wavy black hair! Nancy thought with excitement. “Which room is he in?” Nancy asked. “I'd like to ask him about this.”

“Room three, at the end of the hall. He gave the name Francesco Ponti.”

While the girls followed Signora Verona down the hall Nancy translated for Bess everything the pensione manager had told her. “Massimo again,” Bess said under her breath. “It's looking more and more like he's our thief.”

Nancy and Bess waited silently while Signora Verona knocked on the door to room three. There was no answer.

BOOK: Rendezvous in Rome
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