Chapter One:Festival Weekend
Nancy Drew spotted the green-and-white sign she'd been looking for: Exit 9A -- Emerson College. She put on her blinker and steered her blue Mustang convertible off the interstate onto the exit ramp. As she neared the intersection, the light changed to red. She braked to a halt and tucked a strand of reddish blond hair behind one ear.
"We're almost there," she announced.
From the backseat, Nancy's friend Bess Marvin said, "Good thing. I'm starved!"
Bess's cousin George Fayne was in the front passenger seat. She laughed at Bess's announcement. "Duh," she said. "Admit it, Bess -- you're always starved!"
Nancy glanced over her shoulder. The warm breeze had tousled Bess's long blond hair and put a gleam in her bright blue eyes.
Bess folded her arms across her chest and gave a little shiver.
"Are you chilly?" Nancy asked with concern. "Should we put the top up?"
"Chilly? No way!" Bess replied. "I'm excited, that's all. I love world music, but I practically never get to hear any of it live. Why don't we have a festival like this back in River Heights?"
"Nobody to organize one, I guess," George said. She pulled her red-and-blue cap a little lower over her dark brown curls.
The light changed. Nancy turned right onto Campus Road.
George leaned forward to switch radio stations. A burst of syncopated drumbeats sounded over a thumping bass, and then a high voice wailed in a language Nancy didn't recognize. After a few moments the music faded.
"It's Friday and you're tuned to ECR, Emerson College Radio," the announcer said. "And that was the Rai Rebels, from Algeria."
"Wow!" Bess exclaimed. She grabbed George's shoulder. "I've got their CD. They are awesome!"
"The Rai Rebels are just one of the big attractions at this weekend's Worldbeat Festival," the announcer continued. "We'll tape all the performances for future broadcast. But if you want to hear them and all the other fantastic bands live, better get your tickets today. They're going fast!"
"Uh-oh -- I hope we can get in," George said.
"Don't worry," Nancy replied. A tune with a strong Latin beat came on. "Ned took care of getting tickets. He lined up places for us to stay, too."
Ned Nickerson was Nancy's longtime boyfriend. He was a student at Emerson College.
"I didn't know Ned was such a fan of world music," George remarked.
"He's not especially," Nancy told her. "But the president of the club that's sponsoring the festival is a friend of his -- a guy named Cyril. He's from Australia."
"An Aussie?" Bess said. "Cool. Is he cute? Does he have an accent?"
"Does he have a pet kangaroo?" George joked.
Nancy grinned. "No idea. You'll have to find out for yourselves. Anyway, it's really important to him for the festival to be a big success. So naturally Ned's pitching in. And, I don't know...I got a feeling there may be something funny going on. The kind of thing we might be able to help with."
"A mystery, you mean?" George asked quickly.
Nancy had a big reputation as a detective, and both George and Bess often helped in her investigations.
"Nothing I can put my finger on," Nancy said. "But it wouldn't hurt to keep an eye out for any problems."
"That's exciting," Bess said eagerly. "What about the Rai Rebels? Will they be around all weekend? Do you think I could meet them?"
Nancy and George laughed.
"Where are we meeting Ned?" George asked.
"He said to call him when we got there," Nancy replied. "Would you do it?"
George's shoulder bag was on the floor in front of her seat. She rummaged around and pulled out her cell phone. "What's the number?" she asked.
After Nancy told her, she punched in the numbers. In a second she said, "Hi, Ned, it's me, George. We're here, on Campus Road. Um, let me look....We just passed Harding Lane. Okay, see you."
She disconnected and turned to Nancy. "He says to park by the gym. He'll meet us there."
Nancy turned through a stone arch onto the Emerson campus. The lawns on either side of the tree-lined road were thick with students talking, reading, and playing Frisbee in the spring sunshine. Nancy followed the signs to the gym parking lot and pulled into a vacant space.
"Emerson College," she said, reaching for the button that raised the top. "Last stop."
Nancy got out of the car and straightened up. As she glanced around, she felt her heart give an extra thump.
Ned was striding across the parking lot toward them. A huge grin lit up his handsome face and dark eyes.
"Hey, there," he called. A moment later he was giving Nancy a hug that lifted her off her feet. As he put her down, he whispered in her ear, "I've missed you so much."
"I've missed you, too," Nancy whispered back.
After Ned said hi to Bess and George, the three girls retrieved their backpacks from the trunk. Then the group set off across campus.
"I told Cyril and some of the others we'd meet them at the student center," Ned said. "Are you hungry? We can get a bite while we're there."
"Sounds good," Nancy replied. Bess gave her a grateful look. "What's the program?"
"After you meet some of the gang, we'll get you settled in," Ned said. "I've got a festival steering committee meeting at six. You wouldn't believe how many last-minute details we have to take care of."
"What should we do about dinner?" Nancy asked.
"No problem," Ned assured her. "If you can wait, we can all grab something after the meeting. Then a local Afro-Cuban group is jamming at Holden Hall -- that's one of the dorms. Last time they played, they let me sit in on conga drum."
"Why, Ned," George said, "I didn't know you were a drummer."
Ned gave her an impish grin. "If you'd been there and heard me, you'd know I'm not. I had a lot of fun pretending, though."
"What about the Rai Rebels?" Bess asked. "I can't wait to hear them live."
"Don't worry, you will. They're part of the concerts on Saturday and Sunday on the quad," Ned told her, "And I think they're playing at the dance Saturday night, too."
Bess's eyes sparkled with anticipation. The weekend had barely started, but Nancy could see that for Bess, it was already a great success.
The student center was a big old-fashioned building that had once been the president's mansion. They pushed through the carved oak doors and paused to look around. The entrance hall was two stories high, with wood-paneled walls and tall, narrow stained-glass windows. The row of computer terminals against one wall looked out of place in such an antique setting.
The aroma of french fries and hamburgers drifted over from a grill at the far end of the hall. Ned looked past Nancy and waved to someone at one of the tables set up in the center of the room.
Nancy turned. A tall, muscular guy with light brown hair and a deep tan was smiling and waving back. On his T-shirt was a blindingly bright graphic of a surfer and the words Bondi Beach.
Nancy remembered that Bondi Beach was a famous surfing spot in Australia. Aha! she thought. That must be Cyril.
"Hey, Cyril," Ned called. "Come meet our visitors."
After the introductions, Bess asked, "Why don't you have more of an accent?"
George winced and nudged Bess with her elbow. Bess gave her an injured look, then added, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend you."
Cyril grinned. "Offend me, Bess? Not a bit of it," he replied. "I've a fair dinkum accent. But I syve it for when I'm wif me mytes. If Mel Gibson can sound like he's from Kansas City, why can't I?"
"Hello. You must be Ned's friends from River Heights," a soft voice said.
"Oh, hi, Joann," Ned said to a thin girl with straight short black hair. "Meet Nancy, Bess, and George. George, Joann offered to put you up."
"Great," George said. "I really appreciate it."
"Joann? Is that an Asian name?" Bess wondered out loud. George nudged her again. Bess wrinkled her nose at her.
The girl gave her a brief smile. "Oh, no," she said. "At home I am Xiao Yan. When I came here to study, I decided to call myself by an American name that would be easier for people to say. I chose Joann because it sounded so familiar. Do you like it?"
"Um, sure," Bess said. Her cheeks turned pink.
Nancy could see that Bess felt embarrassed about asking Joann about her name. "Joann's a nice name," she said, jumping in. "But I like Xiao Yan, too. Did I say it right?"
"Oh, yes, very good," Joann said. She looked over at George. "Would you like to go by my room now? You could drop off your things."
Ned broke off his conversation with Cyril. "Why don't you wait a little," he suggested, glancing at his watch. "Penny and Dina said they'd come by to meet Bess and Nancy. Bess, you're staying with Penny, and Nancy's with Dina. Once they get here, we can work out how to link up later."
"I hope Dina's okay," Cyril said. "When I saw her a couple of hours ago, she seemed on edge."
"The campaign's probably getting on her nerves," Ned told him. He turned to Nancy. "Dina's the club's treasurer now and is running to succeed Cyril as president of the International Friendship Club. It looks like a tight race."
Cyril laughed. "Times do change. Last year no one wanted to be president. Criselda, the outgoing president, almost begged me to stand for office. I was elected by a vote of twenty-one to zero. But here we are now with two candidates and everyone else choosing sides. It makes things lively, but I do wish people didn't take it quite so seriously."
"Who is Dina running against?" asked Nancy.
"A bloke named Vlad Miuskin," Cyril replied. "Very serious, very intense. He's from Rethalstan, in Eastern Europe. Same part of the world as Dina, as a matter of fact. She's from Gorvonia, right next door."
"That's quite a coincidence," George remarked.
"No coincidence at all," Cyril told her. "Their countries have been going at it hammer and tongs for generations. When Vlad found out a Gorvonian might be the next IFC president, he decided to try for it himself. Or maybe it was the other way around."
"People should try harder to get along with one another," Joann said. "Even if they are from countries that disagree. Why else have an International Friendship Club?"
"Maybe you should run for president of the club, Joann," Bess suggested.
Joann gave her a look of alarm. "Oh, no," she gasped. "That would not do. I am no politician."
"I'm not, either," Cyril joked. "My record proves that. Seriously, Joann, you should think about standing for election. It would do the IFC a world of good to have you on the board."
"You are kind to say this," Joann murmured. "Please excuse me. There is something I must do."
Nancy watched Joann cross over to the nearest computer terminal a few feet away. She wondered why the girl had reacted so strongly to Bess's suggestion. Was it something from her culture that made her nervous about making herself stand out? Or maybe she was simply very shy.
Joann typed briefly, not bothering to sit. Nancy saw what looked like an e-mail program come up on the monitor. Joann stared at the screen. Suddenly she clutched the computer shelf with both hands. The blood drained from her face, and she swayed forward. As her knees gave way, she started to slump to the floor.
Copyright © 2000 by Simon & Schuster, Inc.