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Authors: Carolyn Keene

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BOOK: Let’s Talk Terror
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“George, did you come in my car?” Nancy asked.

“Yes!” George called up to her.

“Can you back it up under this window?” Nancy asked.

“I think so.”

“Good. There's a rope in the trunk. If you can loop it around the air-conditioner supports, you might be able to drive the car forward and yank it free!”

“Got it!” George yelled. In a minute Nancy heard a car backing into the alleyway. Behind her, flames were inching across the room. The smoke was making everything dark. Nancy felt as if she might pass out. She would have if it hadn't been for the small hole letting air in.

Suddenly the air conditioner was jerked, and Nancy knew that George and the car were working the supports loose. Just as the heat from the flames grew unbearable, there was the screeching of tearing metal and the air conditioner fell out, landing hard with a crash.

In no time Nancy was through the hole, and holding on to the ledge, she lowered herself to the ground. Gulping fresh air, she looked down. The alley was about seven feet below her feet. Nancy braced herself and let go.

She landed hard. At the impact, her lungs hurt—but she was alive! George put an arm around Nancy and helped her up. Together they staggered back to the car. “I'm okay, I really am,” Nancy gasped. “Now go call the fire department. I'll wait here.”

George took off, and Nancy climbed into the car. She backed it a safe distance away from the burning building, which was now fully engulfed in flame. One by one, the windows exploded, and flames shot out like grasping fingers.

Nancy slumped over the wheel. “That caller
was right—somebody really means business,” she whispered, still trying to steady herself. “And something tells me it wasn't Laura Salvo.”

Just then George came back. “Are you okay?” she asked, opening the driver's side door. “You look horrible.”

“I feel wonderful,” Nancy rasped, coughing a couple of more times as she slid across the seat so George could get in. “How did you get here so fast?”

George giggled and gave her friend a quick, tight hug. “I got to thinking after you left,” she told Nancy. “I didn't know if Laura Salvo even knew your last name. I decided I had to come after you.”

“Thanks,” Nancy said with a smile. “Anytime you want to use your head to save my life, I give you permission.”

The fire crew arrived moments later. “Smoke inhalation can be serious. You were lucky,” one fire fighter told her as Nancy took a dozen deep breaths from the portable oxygen supply they carried. “In fact, I recommend you get to a hospital to have your carbon monoxide level checked.”

“Can't,” Nancy said. “The person who set this fire is out there somewhere, and I've got to stop him—or her.”

“Are you sure you don't want to go to a
hospital?” George asked when they got back in Nancy's car.

Nancy leaned back in the passenger seat. “No way, George.”

“Well, where to?” George asked, starting the engine.

“Let's go to Susan's place,” Nancy said. “I want to call Lieutenant Dunne right away. I want to talk to Susan about the show being canceled, and how she found the note in her box. Oh, and Laura Salvo, and—”

“Okay, okay,” George agreed, laughing at Nancy's eagerness. “But you'd better lie down while you make your calls. I'll make some soup and get your clothes clean. You're a mess.”

“George,” Nancy said, as they headed north toward Old Town, “who from the show could have set that fire? Who was missing from the studio today?”

“Practically everyone,” George told her with a frown. “Right after you and Lieutenant Dunne left, the Sterns assembled everyone in the studio. They announced that taping was suspended until further notice because the insurance company had insisted on it. There'll be no more shows until—”

“Until we catch the people behind this,” Nancy finished for her. “And if we don't do it fast, the show will be history.

“So who do you think is behind all this, George?” Nancy continued.

“Don't ask me,” George said with a crooked grin. “You're the detective.”

“Samantha Savage and Vic Molina were in that garage together,” Nancy said. “Why? We don't know. Then there's that note I found the night of the benefit—the one from Samantha's friend Mort, whoever he is. Vic had that date with her, though. That's what bothers me.”

“Huh?” George said. “I don't get it.”

“If they're working together to sabotage ‘Marcy!' why advertise the fact by having a very public date together? Secret meetings in a parking garage, yes, but not a date at a big party. Besides, neither of them works at Stern Productions.”

They parked on Susan's street and let themselves into her apartment. Susan wasn't home, but there was a message from her on the machine. “Hi,” her voice announced, “I'm at Marcy's because she's really upset. I'll call later. Bye.”

“Poor Marcy,” George said.

Nancy shook her head sadly. “I'm going to get cleaned up,” she said, heading for the shower. But as she stood under the running water, a sudden spell of dizziness overtook her. “Whoa,” she said out loud. “I'd better go lie down.”

She threw on her robe, went to the living room, and lay down on the futon. A few
minutes later George came in and set down a bowl of hot soup next to her.

“You really look terrible,” George said. “Are you sure you're okay, Nan?”

“I'm fine, I'm fine,” Nancy insisted. Then, seeing that George wasn't going to leave her alone, Nancy added, “Could you go get me some magazines to read, George? I think I'll take your advice and stay in bed this evening.”

“Good idea,” George agreed.

After George left, Nancy quickly got to work. She found Laura's number and dialed it, but she wasn't home. Nancy left a message to call her at Susan's. The Sterns' number was unlisted. Nancy jotted down a note to see them first thing in the morning. Then, and only then, did she dial Lieutenant Dunne's number.

The lieutenant had already been briefed on the fire by the crew on the scene. “Look here, Nancy,” he said in a worried voice. “This is dangerous. From now on, I want to know your whereabouts every second of the day. I've already got a guard on Marcy Robbins, maybe I ought to put one on you, too.”

“I can take care of myself, Lieutenant Dunne,” Nancy insisted. “I'll be much more careful from now on, I promise. By the way, did you get a report on the fingerprints? The ones on the marker?”

“Oh, that,” the lieutenant said. “Yes, I did. We got two sets of prints. One was the cleaning
lady's. The other didn't match up with any in our criminal files.”

“Well, of course not,” Nancy said, trying to mask her impatience. “We're not dealing with career criminals here, Lieutenant. Can't we get prints on everyone who works at Stern Productions?”

“Nancy,” the lieutenant said, stopping her. “Even if we could, the marker would only be circumstantial evidence. Who's to say it's the marker that was used to write the note? By the way, the pay phone had no prints on it—neither did the scarf. Now that they won't be taping the show for the time being, we shouldn't have any new mischief to contend with.”

“Let's hope not,” Nancy said. “But if the show does shut down permanently, it means that the criminals will have succeeded. We can't let that happen!”

“Don't get carried away, Nancy,” Lieutenant Dunne said. “It's my job to save lives and keep the public order, not to see that a TV show stays on the air.”

Nancy said goodbye and hung up just as George reentered with the magazines. “I'm going down to the basement to wash our clothes,” George said, gathering up Nancy's smoky outfit and adding some of her own things.

Nancy picked up the latest issue of
Primetime
, the entertainment news weekly. The issue was dated for the coming Monday, Nancy noticed.

On the cover was a picture of Gene Martinez and Carol Bell, the stars of “Southern Star” and “Miller's Dream.” Apparently, the two had a real-life romance that was leading them to the altar.

Nancy read the article, which showed a picture of the happy couple, along with a relaxed-looking Vic Molina. “We picked Vic Molina as our best man because he's been such a good friend,” Carol was quoted as saying in the article. “Vic is a warm, caring person,” Gene agreed. “He's a great guy and a terrific producer.”

Vic Molina obviously inspired loyalty in people, Nancy thought. Even Marcy had nice things to say about him.

Next, the name
Marcy Robbins,
in boldface type, caught Nancy's eye.

Marcy's was one of the names mentioned in “Let's Dish,” a gossip column written by Lydia Luster.

Let's dish about Marcy Robbins. I don't care how young she is, she sure has managed to make lots of enemies. Rumor has it her producers are getting cold feet about signing her on for more shows, despite her ratings. According to a very naughty little
songbird I know, contracts will be offered to the show's NEW HOST the day this magazine hits the stands!

Nancy's eyes widened. Someone was going to replace Marcy! Was it too late for Nancy to solve the case? Had time run out?

Chapter

Eleven

N
ANCY BLINKED HARD
and gritted her teeth. A new host for “Marcy!”? It couldn't be happening. She couldn't let it happen! She reread the article.

“ ‘According to a very naughty little songbird'—that has to be Samantha Savage,” Nancy said out loud. “Now, how would she know about Marcy being replaced before anyone else does?”

Nancy thought hard. If it was true, it meant that the Sterns must have gone looking for a new host as soon as there was trouble. Not very loyal of them, Nancy couldn't help thinking.

One thing, though—Samantha Savage seemed to be involved. She could be the key to
the whole mystery if Nancy could get her to tell what she knew.

Nancy's gaze fell to the bottom of Lydia Luster's column, where two more names in boldface caught her eye.

Samantha Savage and Vic Molina are scheduled to have their big date as this magazine hits the stands. After sailing on Lake Michigan and eating at fabulous El Chizote, it'll be a hot night of dancing at Parallelogram. Between dances, Samantha will autograph free posters of herself for buyers of her new CD. So even on a hot date Samantha Savage is all business. Look for exclusive pix next week.

Nancy bounded out of bed, flushed with excitement. All the new information she'd taken in buzzed through her head. First of all, the magazine was dated for the next Monday, but today was Wednesday. According to the article, Vic and Samantha were on their big date on that very day, at that very moment! If they had been sailing that afternoon, neither of them could have set the fire. They would have been surrounded by reporters and photographers everywhere they went.

Of course, that didn't mean they weren't behind the threats. They could have been
working with someone at Stern Productions, and
that
person could have set the fire.

All along, Vic and Samantha had been at the center of Nancy's suspicions. It was time to put those suspicions to the test.

A plan began forming in Nancy's mind as she put on clean clothes and fresh makeup. By the time George got back with the laundry, Nancy was ready for action.

“George, we're going out,” she announced, walking up to her friend and taking the laundry from her hands. “I'll put this with our stuff while you read the
Primetime
on the bed—the ‘Let's Dish' column, second paragraph.”

“Huh?” George said, but picked up the magazine and read it, wide-eyed. “A new host?” she cried. “How can that be? It's so soon, and how did ‘a naughty songbird' find out about it?”

“That's what I'd like to know!” Nancy said. She checked her watch. It was seven-thirty. “Come on, George. We're going to Parallelogram.”

“You're sure you're up to dancing?” George asked, concerned.

“I'm not going to be dancing, George
—you
are.” Nancy gave her friend a wink. “Get changed, okay? Put on your best dress.”

George did as she was told. “Nancy, I don't like that gleam in your eye one bit. What are you cooking up?”

Nancy giggled. “You're going to make a perfect spectacle of yourself, George. By this time tomorrow, your face will be on the cover of every tabloid in Chicago!”

The girls got the address of Parallelogram from the telephone book, and by the time they'd found the place and parked, it was past eight o'clock. The club, on a wide boulevard shaded by trees, was open for business. Still, it was early, and even though Samantha Savage was scheduled to be there, the line in front wasn't all that long. Nancy and George found themselves inside in just ten minutes.

BOOK: Let’s Talk Terror
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