The Case of the Artful Crime

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Contents

1
A Birthday Surprise

2
Trapped!

3
Hotter by the Minute

4
Stakeout

5
Night Visitors

6
Missing Pieces

7
A Startling Appearance

8
Murky Water

9
Newsworthy Clues

10
Relative Danger

11
A Change of Plan

12
Danger in Disguise

13
The Dragon's Eye Ruby

1
A Birthday Surprise

“Surprise!” Nancy Drew sang out as she turned her blue sports car into the restaurant parking lot.

Carson Drew smiled. He'd realized his eighteen-year-old daughter was up to something. Now he had an idea what it was. “This doesn't look like the law library to me,” he teased.

Nancy pulled into a spot right outside the low, white, stucco building. The ceramic tile around the door and windows gave the restaurant an air of Southwestern elegance. An arched sign over the front door read The Arizona House.

“Did you really think I would drag you to the law library on your lunch hour?” Nancy asked skeptically.

“At first I did,” her father said with a laugh. “I know how you get when you're on a case. You don't think about anything else.”

Nancy had to admit her father was right. Once she was immersed in solving a mystery, there wasn't much that could distract her.

But, as it happened, right now she wasn't working on a case at all. She'd made the whole thing up, telling her father she needed his help in finding her way around the law library of nearby Westmoor University so she could research a clue. It had simply been a ruse to get him away from his busy law practice for a special lunch.

“I wouldn't forget your birthday,” Nancy said with a toss of her shoulder-length, reddish-blond hair.

Carson Drew shook his head. “If you want to know the truth, I was so busy preparing a defense for court tomorrow that
I
forgot it was my birthday.”

“Like father, like daughter, I guess,” Nancy said brightly as they got out of the car and headed up the fieldstone walkway. “Bess says this restaurant is terrific,” she added, referring to her close friend Bess Marvin. “She's been working in the coatroom, filling in for a friend who's out sick. Bess just raves about the food.”

Carson held open the restaurant door for Nancy. “If Bess says the food is good, then I believe it,” he commented. “I've never seen anyone who loves food more than Bess.”

Stepping inside, Nancy and her father became part of a small crowd milling in the wide front hallway. Off to the left was a lounge. To the right
was a coatroom, which could be seen from the hallway. Nancy checked to see if Bess was there, but the room was empty. “The dining room looks pretty busy,” Carson noted. “I hope they can seat us.”

“No problem, Dad,” Nancy assured him. “We have a reservation.” Weaving through the crowd, Nancy made her way to the reservation stand and greeted the maître d'. “Hi, I'm Nancy Drew. We have a reservation for one o'clock.”

The slight, dark-haired young man adjusted his glasses and ran his finger down the list of names penciled into the reservation book under Tuesday. “Drew . . . Drew . . . Drew . . . ” he muttered.

“It must be there,” Nancy insisted, frowning. “I called last week.”

“I'm sure you did,” he said. “But I'm afraid that someone has completely botched up the reservations.” He gestured to the people waiting in the hallway. “Most of them had reservations, too. I'm sorry, but you'll just have to wait.”

“All right,” Nancy said, turning away in frustration. How could this be happening? She'd wanted everything to be perfect.

As Nancy headed back to her father, she saw that Bess had already found him. “Isn't this place fabulous!” Bess gushed when she spotted Nancy. “I was just in the kitchen getting myself some lunch. They're so nice about feeding their employees. You can have whatever you want, except the shrimp and lobster. They're too expensive. I was telling your
dad that even though the place is busy, I don't have anything to do. It's such a warm day, no one has coats. It
is
unusually warm for early May, don't you—”

Noticing Nancy's expression, Bess stopped her chatter. “What's wrong?” she asked.

“They've lost our reservation,” Nancy told her friend glumly.

“Oh, no!” Bess cried. “I'd heard something about a whole bunch of reservations being messed up. Everything is going wrong around here lately. Let me go talk to Lee. He's the maître d'. There's
got
to be a table for you.” Brushing her blond hair back off her shoulders, Bess made her way to the reservation stand.

Despite her annoyance, Nancy had to smile as she watched her friend in action. First Bess tried charm, batting her bright blue eyes at the maître d' and smiling her prettiest. Then Bess's hands flew to her hips and storm clouds of anger swept across her face. All the while, Lee kept shaking his head or shrugging his shoulders helplessly. Things didn't look too good.

Nancy was just about to suggest a different restaurant to her father when Bess waved them forward. “They're setting up a table for you now,” she said.

“Follow me,” Lee said, leading them into the bustling main dining room.

“It's beautiful, isn't it?” Bess said as she and Nancy followed Carson and Lee to their table.

Nancy nodded, taking in the creamy pastel pink
walls with a border of native American art along the very top. A cactus garden in the center of the room was lit by an overhead skylight.

Lovely though the restaurant was, something about it seemed wrong to Nancy. Then she realized that it was the unframed oil paintings that hung on the wall to her right. They were landscapes, but the scenes seemed to be of the northeast. There were tall pine trees, snowcapped mountains, and sparkling blue lakes. There's nothing Southwestern about them at all, Nancy thought. What an odd choice. Then she dismissed the paintings from her mind.

Turning her attention back to Bess, Nancy asked, “So how did you get us a table?”

Bess lowered her voice so that the maître d' wouldn't hear. “I reminded Lee that Shawn wanted to see you.”

“Shawn?” Nancy questioned.

With a sheepish look, Bess explained, “Shawn Morgan. He's the owner and chef. I hope you don't mind, but Shawn has this problem, and I told him all about you.”

“Bess!” Nancy cried, then lowered her voice. “Don't you remember? I told you I didn't want to take any more cases for a while. I'm planning to visit Ned before he starts exams.” Ned Nickerson, Nancy's boyfriend, was away at Emerson College. Nancy had been so busy throughout the early spring that she'd planned—and then had to cancel—five different trips to see Ned. “I haven't seen
him for ages.” There was a pleading look in Nancy's blue eyes.

“Don't worry. This is just an itsy-little simple thing that you can probably figure out in a day,” Bess cajoled. “You've just got to talk to Shawn. He's a great guy, and I promised him you would help. Please, Nancy.”

“Here's your table,” Lee said. The staff had hastily set up a small table near the swinging kitchen door.

“Is this the best you can do?” Bess asked the maître d'. “This is Siberia.” She turned to Nancy. “That's restaurant talk for the worst table in the house.”

“It's fine, Bess,” Carson said with a quick glance at his watch. “I only have an hour until I meet with a client.”

Nancy and her father took their seats, and Bess pulled up a chair beside them. “Don't you have to work?” Nancy asked with a laugh.

Bess checked quickly over her shoulder. “I don't see any customers with coats, and I hate just sitting there. It's boring. I'll go back in a minute.”

A waiter appeared dressed in black pants, a black denim apron, and a blue denim shirt. A red bandanna at his neck put the finishing touch on his western attire. Nancy looked around and saw that the other waiters and waitresses were dressed the same.

“Welcome to the Arizona House,” their waiter said as he handed Nancy and her father menus.

“Try the mesquite-grilled salmon,” Bess advised,
reading over Nancy's shoulder. “It's Shawn's specialty. He's an awesome cook. Chef, I mean. Chefs don't like to be called cooks.”

Nancy was still studying the menu when Bess suddenly grabbed her arm. “I don't believe it!” she exclaimed. “There he is. That's him!”

“Who?” Carson asked.

Bess leaned in close to Nancy and her father. “See the guy who just came in?” she whispered. “The one standing in the hallway? That's got to be Harold Brackett. You know who I mean—the food critic who reviews restaurants for
The Illinois News
and
Fine Foods
magazine.”

Nancy followed Bess's gaze across the restaurant and spotted a handsome man of medium build in his early thirties. He was wearing an expensive-looking gray suit and a yellow silk tie. His clothing and regal manner gave him a distinguished look. “What makes you think that's him?” Nancy asked.

“Everyone around here is talking about Harold Brackett's review of Le St. Tropez in yesterday's
Illinois News,”
Bess said. Le St. Tropez was the poshest restaurant in River Heights.

“Elliot, the prep cook, has a friend who works there,” Bess continued. “He says no one even suspected it was Brackett until the end of the meal. But then this guy who had been sitting all alone started telling the waiter everything he hadn't liked. Brackett gave the restaurant a pretty poor rating. In the review he griped about all the same things that the complaining guy at the restaurant
had talked about. The guy must have been Harold Brackett.”

“Harold Brackett hates every restaurant he reviews,” Carson noted, putting down his menu.

“I know. That's what everyone says,” Bess said. “So anyway, since he reviewed Le St. Tropez, that means he's in this area. And this is the city's newest restaurant. Don't you think he would check it out while he's here?”

“Sounds logical,” Nancy said. “But why are you so sure that's Harold Brackett? Have you seen a picture of him somewhere?”

Bess shook her head. “Oh, no, no one has. Harold Brackett likes to remain anonymous. But Elliot's friend said he was tall, had very dark hair, and wore a yellow tie. Rumor has it that Brackett
always
wears a yellow tie. Plus, he's alone. And a gorgeous guy like that could easily get a date. It has to be him.”

“Maybe he's on a business trip,” Carson suggested.

“Or maybe he's a creep and nobody likes him,” Nancy teased.

“He's definitely not a creep,” Bess said, frowning. “You can just tell from looking at him. He looks like a soap opera star. Or at least a game show host.” Bess got up and looked toward the kitchen. “I want to warn Shawn that Harold Brackett might be here. I'll be right back.” A moment later, Bess disappeared into the kitchen.

Nancy and her father had just finished ordering
when Bess returned to the dining room. Behind her was a sandy-haired man in his mid-twenties wearing chef whites. Grabbing the chef's arm, Bess nodded toward the man with the yellow tie. “That's him,” Nancy overheard her say.

“Could be,” Shawn said slowly, scrutinizing the man who was following Lee to a table near the doorway. “He looks like the type. I'll make him an extra-special lunch, just in case.”

Bess turned toward Nancy's table and said, “Shawn Morgan, this is Nancy Drew and her father, Carson Drew. Nancy is the friend I told you about. The one who might be able to help you.”

Shawn smiled ruefully as he shook their hands. “Pleased to meet you both. Has Bess told you about my problem?”

“No,” Nancy replied. “Just that there is one.”

“I'd better get back to the coatroom,” Bess said. “I just saw a mink stole walk in. Can you imagine? In this weather? Have a good lunch.”

As Bess crossed the restaurant, Shawn settled into the chair she'd been sitting in. “I'll make this story short so you can enjoy your lunch in peace. Here's the bottom line. I think someone is trying to put me out of business. Every time I turn around, something is going wrong.”

“What sort of problems have you been having?” Nancy asked.

Shawn shrugged. “Take your reservations, for example. Bess told me what happened. I truly apologize, but that's just the kind of thing that's
been going on. This morning I discovered that someone had torn off the bottom half of all the pages in the reservation book. I'm pretty sure the book was fine when I left last night. And I was the last person out. We copied the names on the top part into a new book, but the names and numbers on the bottom couldn't be found.”

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