Nancy Drue and the Matter of the Missing Masterpiece
By Cordelia White
Nancy Drue blushed as she caught Ned watching her fasten her bra. Coyly, she turned her back to him. It wasn't that she was doing anything illicit. She was nineteen after all. And if sex outside marriage wasn't exactly encouraged in her neighbourhood, there was nothing sleazy about it. She and Ned had been together now for a year, and whereas she doubted if she would ever chose to marry him, he was someone of whom her lawyer father definitely approved.
Trying not to catch his eye, because she was aware that if she did so the blush would deepen, Nancy hooked her bra at her sternum, swivelled the bra around, so that the rear fastening was in its proper place, eased her breasts into its underwired cups, and looped the straps over her shoulders, letting them rest comfortably in place there.
She turned and looked at Ned. There was no reason why she should blush. Both of her best friends enjoyed sex. Bess liked hunks and in that respect liked nothing but the best. George too certainly liked sex. At first Nancy had thought George's interest in women had been a passing phase. But it wasn't.
Ned, sitting up in bed, took in Nancy’s underwear-clad form. Nancy looked great in her bra and panties. A frisson of disappointment settled on him whenever she dressed. Nancy liked to dress the part of the young detective, choosing smart suits, tailored skirts and, except when Levi 501s were required, formal trousers. She had great legs, but she was naturally conservative in her dress sense, and he had never seen her in a short skirt. Her choice of undies was less conservative. She had shapely breasts that were nicely framed by the structured, demi-cup bras she chose. The one she had chosen that day was lace-trimmed and Ned felt an extra frisson when he saw her in it. She had a narrow waist and slim hips and, although she chose plain cotton panties, she preferred the style that comprised triangles of material at front and back and narrow elastic which snaked over both hips.
Ned looked at her once more and found himself becoming aroused again.
"Must you go, Nance?" he asked, as she perched on the edge of the bed and pushed her feet into her pantyhose.
"'Fraid so," she replied, standing, to ease the sheer nylon up her thighs over her slender hips. “Things to do.”
She sat again to push her feet into her waist slip and then stood to raise that over her hips.
"You could stay," Ned suggested tentatively.
“I have to meet Professor Willard in an hour. But I may want to snoop around after that. So I want to go home first and change into some pants,” she added.
“If I said please …”
Nancy turned to face him and leaning over kissed him on the forehead.
“Later,” she said.
She kissed his forehead again. Then, suddenly aware that he was looking not at her face, but at her shapely breasts as they hung in the cups of her bra, Nancy blushed again. Why did men stare so? She wondered if George had that trouble. Bess probably enjoyed it.
"I have to go," she said sharply.
She turned her back again, and reached for her shirt. Then she stepped into her skirt and fastened it. It was chic and she felt good in it ....
.... and covered up.
Had the picture not disappeared, the whiteness of the wall would have remained unquestioned. The room was large and had probably been decorated the same way since the 1950s. Where there was no wooden panelling, the walls had always been painted white.
Now that the picture was gone, the white was revealed as off-white, grey even. The contrast between the white of the normal wall and the truer, brighter white revealed by the missing painting gave the game away.
"Who has access to this room?" Nancy asked courteously.
Professor Willard evidently had a trained eye for a work of fine art. Certainly, he was interested in the female form. Up until now his eyes had searched out every contour of Nancy's figure. Reluctantly, however, he stopped trying to speculate what style of bra the young detective was wearing and what she might look like without it to concentrate on the matter in hand.
"Myself," he said, proudly, "Professor Jackson, the Principal, Mrs Lockhart, the bursar ..." He thought for a moment. "...That's all."
"And what about the cleaners," Nancy asked. She wasn't a detective for nothing. She had noticed that the room was kept immaculately clean.
"An agency cleans. But, Mrs Lockhart always unlocks for them, checks the room when they finish and locks up."
Nancy looked at the two other paintings in the room. The small private school had been left all three by a benefactor.
"And those? They are real, aren't they?"
Professor Willard smiled smugly.
"Of course," he said.
"Strange," Nancy commented, as if to herself.
"What?" Williard asked.
"They are not alarmed, either are they?"
None of the paintings in this room were alarmed," Professor Willard said, “more's the pity."
"So," Nancy said. "Why weren’t those taken as well?”
"The police asked that," Willard commented, dismissively "But they thought there was no time to take all three out of their frames. And clearly the thieves would have been spotted, if they tried to carry them away without doing so."
Nancy looked at the two remaining paintings. Both had large elaborate frames that would defy any attempt to smuggle them out. The discarded frame on the floor was similar. As a theory, it seemed perfectly plausible.
"The missing painting is easily the most valuable of the three," Willard commented, dryly. “They had very good taste.”
Detective Megan Parker had a fondness for Nancy. Four years earlier, she had been a rookie cop attached to Carson Drue, Nancy’s lawyer father, to do legwork when he was doing work for the state. So she had watched Nancy and her friends grow up and had found a protective streak. Megan was now twenty-seven, an attractive and elegant woman, good at police work and recently promoted to detective and to sergeant. And Nancy Drue had turned nineteen. But Megan still hadn’t stopped watching out for the young detective.
“Don’t you think you ought to leave well, alone, Nancy?” Megan asked in a voice designed to show concern rather than an attempt to mother.
“I’d rather keep going,” Nancy replied, trying not to give that, ‘not that again’ look.
“Well,” Megan said. “You can do as you please but that doesn’t mean that I should help you.”
“Of course, not, Nancy said, smiling. “But you will.”
Perhaps Megan knew when she was beaten. Or perhaps she thought that at least if she helped, she might get some say over what happened next.
“Okay,” she said softly. “So what do you want to know.”
Could Professor Willard or Mrs Lockhart have taken the painting?”
“How do you know?”
“They couldn’t. There wasn’t time.”
“The CTV would have shown them leave.”
“But whoever took the painting removed it from the frame. It could have been smuggled out.”
“It wouldn’t have folded. We know that much. The canvas is too stiff. And the CTV would have shown a large package.”
“What about if one of them had rolled it around her body under her clothes.”
“Again, too big. And in any case there wasn’t enough time.”
It was there at a quarter to six when Professor Willard took a group in to see it. That’s quite certain. The cleaner arrived fifteen minutes later, got the key from Mrs Lockhart and immediately discovered the painting missing. Only fifteen minutes elapsed until the police arrived, during which time no one left the building.
“Could the cleaner have moved it?”
“Again no time. Even if she were in collusion with Willard or Lockhart, it is not possible.”
“Could either Willard or Lockhart have taken it between a quarter to six and six?”
“And do what with it. It would have taken most of that time to remove it from its frame.”
“Unless she had already started that.”
“Yes, that’s possible. But she even so, she couldn’t have left with it.”
“Could one of them have hidden it somewhere in the building or grounds and then gone back for it?
“We searched everywhere before anyone was let back in. And besides, we’ve been examining everything that goes out since. So the problem of size is still an issue.”
Nancy smiled. “Thanks, Megan,” she said.
Megan looked Nancy over. She was wearing a smart leather jacket, blue 501s and maroon ankle boots. She was no longer a child; the young woman was fully in evidence. It was a slim, shapely woman.
“What will you do next?”
“I have to meet Bess and George on campus; then I am going back to the scene of the crime.” She smiled.
“Be careful,” Megan said.
Thank goodness for digital cameras with telephoto lenses. Greg Best watched the three women walk towards the library. To do that they would have to walk in front of him, and he would get a good view of all three. As they did so he took a few random shot of all of them, fully aware that there would be little to see as it was autumn and all three wore jackets and jeans. He had been watching Nancy Drue and her friends since they had arrived on campus as freshmen a over a year ago ago, collecting photos of them and writing up Nancy’s cases for the campus newspaper. The “Nancy Drue Website” was one of his too. So far he had been unable to get any revealing photos of any of them. The best he could do were shots of George Faye in tennis gear or out running. At least he had pictures of her legs. So far he had nothing worth getting of Drue at all.
As the three young women came nearer, Best zoomed in on their breasts. None of the women was a slouch in that area. He chose Martin, who had the biggest breasts of the trio and focused on them. Martin’s woollen jacket was opened enough to reveal the fine merino wool sweater that hugged the swell of her chest. He shot off ten shots, knowing that none would be particularly worth keeping, but that he would never discard any. He just had time to take a couple of shots of each women’s faces before they reached the library door. There, he noticed Drue say goodbye to her friends and go off alone. He cursed himself for not being in a position to follow her.
Best watched Drue for a second through his lens before turning to catch the denim-clad bottoms of her two friends as they entered the library. Had any of them lived on the campus, he might have got a decent shot. Setting off a fire alarm might bring them out in their night wear. Or there might be some other means of getting a candid shot or – the thing he most craved – an article of their intimate underwear. But that seemed unlikely. All three lived in off-campus accommodation. Drue, he knew, lived with her father, the famous district attorney. No hope there. The police would keep a very close eye on that house. Martin, the glamorous one, also lived with her parents. They were rich and would be very difficult to get near. Faye might be easier. She lived in an apartment locally. There might be a chance there, especially if she found a boyfriend on campus. Then there was his other project … the tennis player.
That did look hopeful. It was risky. If he got caught, he would be thrown off the newspaper and his excuse for his camera work would go. He might very likely get thrown out of the University. His parents would kill him.,. But the potential rewards made the risk worthwhile.
Becky Woodthorpe was an A-grade student and editor of the campus newspaper. She also had a body to die for and she sometimes worried that her looks might have something to do with it. Rudyard Montgomery was a latter-day Citizen Cane. He owned newspapers in the USA, Europe, Canada and Australia and although some of his titles could affect the standing of presidents, other were rather more salacious. Yet throughout his stable of titles, the paper that Becky edited was the only student newspaper. The paper was now eight years old. It had been set up by Montgomery’s son, Dominic while he was a student and had been bankrolled by his father. Two years later it had won a national award. Dominic, now an executive in Montgomery Newsline Corp still took an interest in it, and it is he who had interviewed and appointed Becky earlier that year. Becky found Dominic charming, even if he was overly fond of holding conversations with her chest. The problem was his younger sister, Muriel. Muriel Montgomery was a chip off the old block like her brother. She was in the final year of an English degree, but she was also managing editor of the newspaper. She would have liked to have been the editor herself, but Montgomery wanted the paper to be independent of his family. So it had been agreed, Muriel would be managing editor and they would interview for the post Becky now held. There were just two problems. The first was that Muriel made no secret of the fact that she hadn’t wanted Becky. Becky was too independent, and besides Muriel would have preferred a handsome jock, someone with neither the brains nor the breasts and legs of Becky Woodthorpe; breasts and legs which Muriel could only see as competition. Secondly, the two women wanted to take the paper into different directions. Under Dominic and the intervening editors, the paper had become a crusading student newspaper, something that Montgomery had welcomed provided it didn’t crusade too near to home. But Muriel had other ideas. Under her it would dig a very different kind of dirt.
So more and more, Becky found herself going to Muriel, who was one year senior to her, for instructions. It was Muriel who had insisted that the paper took a constant interest in the exploits of Nancy Drue. And it was Muriel who had stopped her following her story about toxic waste disposal. It was not that Becky was not willing to bring some heat to bear on Drue. The same age, they had briefly been friends in their first year. But they had drifted apart. Muriel thought Drue just a little too smug, and besides they were in competition, or rather Becky was in competition. They were both A-grade students. If anything Becky was doing better. But she had to work for it. It all came so very easy to Drue. Becky knew that an ideal story would be one in which Drue and her friends messed up. That too would suit Muriel Montgomery. But Muriel wanted rather more than that. Only a front page picture would be a snap of Drue caught literally with her pants down would suit her. The latter stood for everything that was anathema to Becky on journalism, but it was secretly something that she was not adverse to.
“Got anything, Greg?” Becky asked when the louse entered her office.
The louse gave Becky’s legs a long look before replying. Rudyard Montgomery had decreed that the editor should dress not as a student but as a fully-fledged business person. Muriel Montgomery had interpreted this as suits with above-the-knee skirts. She might defy her, but it would only give Muriel something to grouse about.
/Damn this skirt/, Becky thought, trying not to tell Best what she thought of him. It wasn’t her idea to hire him. Becky didn’t even think him a good photographer. No that had been Muriel And Becky was stuck with him.
“Not yet, Best said. “Drue went off on her own. I decided not to follow her.”
/Thank goodness for small mercies/, Becky thought. One day campus security would apprehend Best. No doubt when that happened Muriel Montgomery would come out squeaky clean and she would take the fall.
Best gave Becky’s legs another long look as he left. She sometimes thought that that was why he came to see her: to check her over. Of course, she was right./ /
The School was situated in fifteen acres. Nancy circumvented the main building and wondered what route the thieves had taken.
There had been rain, and Nancy was pleased that she had gone home to change out of her skirt and nylons into pants, socks and boots.
A set of footprints would have provided handy clues. But there were none.
Curious, Nancy thought. It was a chilly spring day and there had been enough rain recently to leave the ground soft enough for some footprints. Indeed, it was soft underfoot. Picking her way gingerly over the soft ground, the young detective made her way to the window at the rear of the building which she calculated was the one through which any burglar should have gained access and egress. As she did so, Nancy remembered her time in bed with Ned that morning. Ned had been as attentive to her needs as ever. But there was something missing.
Nancy had indeed located the right window. Through it she could see the room where the two extant paintings still hung. But there were no footprints, even though the ground was soft. Nor was there any sign that the window had been recently opened.
“What do you think you are doing, young lady?” a voice said.
Nancy spun around to see a middle-aged woman standing there, with a fierce look on her face.
“Professor Willlard …”
“I don’t want to hear about that imbecile,” the woman spat. “I am the domestic bursar and I want you gone in thirty seconds. Or I shall call the police.”
Nancy looked at the woman. She had a hard face and a bearing that went more with Victorian Britain than the twenty-first century USA.
“Very well, Mrs Lockhart, I’ll go,” Nancy said pointedly. “But I am pretty sure that I know who stole your painting.”
She turned and marched away. In truth, Nancy was coming to some sense of how the matter of the missing masterpiece might be resolved. But she was still no nearer to solving who had taken it. Still, although dedicated to the truth and honesty, Nancy did not consider that she had lied. It was a ruse not a falsehood that she had uttered.
And the ruse worked.
“Wait …” the young detective heard the Domestic Bursar say.
But Nancy didn’t wait.
Bess Martin took a sip of coffee and tried to concentrate on her book.
It was typical.
Nancy always got to investigate in the most unromantic places.
Why did it have to be a sorority from which the paining had been stolen? Could it not have been a fraternity?
Bess and George could have gone with Nancy, but they preferred to stay put. George had to keep to her training regime. Bess … well Bess had other current interests.
George Faye looked up from where she sat next to her, just in time to watch two women approach.
“My, my,” said one. “If it isn’t the bimbo and the dyke. Where’s the Geek?”
George snarled but said nothing. Bess, however, took up the challenge.
“Don’t speak to my friends like that,” she snapped.
The two arrivals were nineteen, the same age as Bess and George. Both were blonde. The taller of the two, Chase Lowther wore a short blue dress under a very expensive silk jacket. The other, Courtney Mason wore a smart check skirt and jacket, over a silk blouse. Bess and George had termed them the two Cs. Nancy wouldn’t have approved had she known.
“My, my,” Chase said slowly, “the Bimbo speaks. Perhaps you’re a Dyke, too, Martin. Perhaps you go down on your friend regularly.
“I don’t think so,” Courtney chipped in. I think Martin goes down in quite a different way.”
“Go away,” Bess hissed.
They laughed and turned. Then, Chase looked back over her shoulder.
“Your parents may be well-off and belong to the country club, Martin,” she taunted . But that is never going to convince me that you’re any less of a weirdo than the Geek and the Dyke.”
Nancy put the phone down and turned to her father.
“Thanks, Dad,” she said.
Her lawyer father smiled. He was inordinately proud of his daughter and more than tolerated her unorthodox lifestyle. Not that he entirely approved of her desire to investigate every misdemeanour. But, he had to admit that it had not affected her grades. So, he helped her out from time to time.
“So are you going to tell me who did it and how?” he said.
Nancy smiled. “I just need two more bits of evidence. Then I’ll tell.”
She hooked her bag over her shoulder and picked up her car keys.
“See you later, Dad.”
“Stay out of mischief.”
Best knew that if he were caught that would be the end of his University career. The girls’ locker room was simply out of bounds to men. He waited in the shadows until the security patrol had gone. The two officers were both young and female and rather good looking. He had seen them before. Tonight both wore jackets, as it was chilly out, but even so Best could see enough of their uniform-covered chests to know that he liked what he saw. He had timed them for three nights now. They were always passed this point within half an hour of now and they didn’t come back for two hours.
He waited for them to pass, knowing that they would not be back for an hour, then he crept into the locker room. He was vigilant enough to know that the female changing facilities were little used at this time. But he also knew that the person he was seeking would definitely be there. Making sure that he was not being observed, Best slipped in through the front door. There was no CCTV to record his presence. There would have been once, but a student campaign supported by the campus newspaper had had them removed the previous summer, after one of the security staff had been found filming female students heading for the tennis courts in their tennis outfits. Nor, it went without saying, were there cameras in the women’s changing room where Best headed.
The swimming pool was at the end of the building. Best was naturally drawn there to look. But first he needed to plan. The door to the men’s locker room was on the right. The women’s entrance was much further down. All he had to do now was slip in get what he wanted and get out. His car was parked within fifty yards. He could be in an out in three minutes.
First, he had to make sure that his target was there. She spent most evening in the pool. He would have to make sure that she was swimming, otherwise there would be nothing of hers in the locker room. He went into the men’s room. It was empty. Thankful for his luck he went to the back from where he could see into the main pool.
/Shit! /It too was empty. All that effort for nothing.
Then two women appeared. Perhaps not. They turned and walked in his direction. Both wore racing suits, cut high in the leg. Best felt a frisson of arousal. They looked fantastic. But neither was the right one. They turned away and dived into the pool.
He wanted to watch, but it was too risky. He would have to get out before someone saw him. She should have been there. But she wasn’t. How could he have miscalculated?
Reluctantly, he left the building and went back to his car.
“What can I do for you?” Professor Willard said. He gave Nancy a long look, running his eyes up and down the full length of her body. “I thought that you had finished here.”
“I need to look around a bit more,” Nancy said. “Outside please.”
“Oh, oh,” Willard said evasively. “Can I ask why and what you are looking for?”
Nancy smiled as sweetly as she could. “Nothing in particular. You did say I could look around anywhere I wanted.”
“Oh, yes,” I suppose so, Miss Drue.”
The area outside the building was large, but it was completely secluded. There were only two ways on and out at the rear, a large set of double gates on one side and a small side entrance in the red-brick wall at the other.
Nancy had already ascertained that both had been locked on the night in question.
That wasn’t what interested her.
She made her way around to the area where a large garden shed sat. It had been searched by the police and yielded nothing. But Nancy knew that they hadn’t been looking in the right place.
At the side of the garden shed. Just far enough away to prevent unexpected gusts of wind from causing accidents, there were the remains of an autumn bonfire. Nancy selected a stick and rake in them. There she found exactly what she was looking for. It wasn’t surprising that the police hadn’t found it. That wasn’t what they would have been looking for.
Nancy turned to go.
As she did so, a large hand clamped over a large handkerchief her mouth and nose. Its aroma was sickening, cloying.
Nancy recognised it as chloroform. But the recognition was no use at all. Nor was struggling. Within seconds she had fallen into unconsciousness.
Had she been conscious, she would have felt herself being lowered to the ground, and seen the coil of rope dropped by her side. Then she would have felt fingers unfasten her trouser belt and set about removing her jeans.
To be continued.
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