Disclaimer: I do not own the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew or any related characters. My use of the characters is intended for entertainment purposes only. Each character will be treated with respect and integrity.
A/N: Dear Readers, I'm honoring a promise I made to several readers and reposting this story. It was posted here several months ago (not completed). I pulled it, along with all my other stories, and revised it. In the past, this story was the third in my series. I've since reworked it and it is now the first story.
I like the characters older, so Nancy and Frank are 29 and Joe is 28. The first few paragraphs will give you their back-stories. Frank and Nancy are a couple. This story doesn't touch on what happened to Frank and Callie's relationship, or Nancy and Ned's, but I have a future story planned that does.
This story is more thriller, action oriented. There is some romance, but it doesn't drive the story. Now, without further ado ...
Nancy was drinking heavily – two cups of coffee in the morning and two cups in the afternoon. No small wonder she was having trouble sleeping.
Why all the coffee? The new business. She and Frank and Joe Hardy had opened a detective agency in her hometown four months ago. A year before that a case the brothers were working on had brought them to Chicago where Nancy, twenty-eight at the time and a rookie detective, was working the same case. The three detectives had teamed up and solved the case.
Even through the case ended, the attraction Nancy and Frank felt for each other had not. With no significant others in their lives they'd began dating. Long distance to be exact and Frank Hardy was nothing if not exact. Frank and Joe lived in Bayport, New York, eight hundred forty miles from Nancy's hometown of River Heights, Illinois.
The way Frank looked at it, that was eight hundred miles too many. He took the problem in hand and came up with a solution – start their own detective agency.
Nancy and Joe readily agreed.
River Heights was chosen as the place to base their business because of its proximity to Chicago. Some big cases might come their way, but at the same time they weren't in direct competition with the thousands of other detective agencies in the Windy City.
Nancy had spent five years in Chicago working a beat and although she'd finally made detective, she didn't relish what the future held – more murder cases than she cared to think about coupled with gun, drug, and gang-related crimes. A small town girl at heart, she realized the big city was devouring her. She needed to get out, return to her roots, to her home and widowed father and longtime housekeeper Hannah Gruen.
Nancy also wanted to be her own boss, work the cases she chose, not the next one in line. So, when Frank suggested they start their own agency she hadn't hesitated, her answer had been a resounding yes.
Joe had been onboard, too, but his motivations had been different. At nineteen he'd lost his girlfriend in a fiery car bomb and that single event had propelled him in an unexpected direction. At his parents' urging, he'd gone to college, but it had been a wasted effort. He hadn't been able to focus, lacked the required concentration, and soon dropped out only to enlist in the army. The army proved a good outlet for his active, inquisitive nature and he became a highly rated MP (military police). The physical training, experience, and travel kept him on the go, confronted with ever-changing situations and living in the moment, the place he liked to live. Two years ago, after seven years in the army, he'd said good-bye and returned home to partner with his brother at their father's detective agency.
Frank, the older brother by one year, had finished four years of college then surprised his family by following Joe's example and joining the army. Beneath Frank's reserved exterior burned a fierce desire to prove himself, make it on his own, and not live in his father's shadow. Five years in the Army, three as a MP and two as a Special Agent in the Army's prestigious Criminal Investigation Division had let him do just that. Two years ago he'd called his brother, told him he was getting out of the army and going home with plans to eventually start his own agency. When the time came he hoped his brother would be by his side.
The time came four months ago and Joe had been there, by his side, as promised.
The Endeavor Detective Agency.
The words were stenciled on the glass front door in elegant script. In association with the Hardy Detective Agency came after in small print. The office, housed in a charming red-brick building two streets from downtown, was nestled between an insurance office and a travel agency, the ideal location for a fledgling detective agency.
Farmers, the insurance office next door, had provided the detectives a steady flow of jobs since they'd opened. The jobs dealt mainly with car accident claims, on-the-job accidents, insurance claims, and minor vandalism cases, but the detectives weren't ones to quibble and the jobs helped pay the rent.
Nancy poured herself half a cup of coffee – time to cut down on the caffeine – and sat at her desk, a large wooden affair with a cushy, red swivel chair. The desk, situated front and center in the office, faced the large plate glass window overlooking the street.
Nancy took a sip of her coffee and poked at the papers on her desk. She had just finished investigating a car accident for Farmers. Nothing more to do except type up the report something she wasn't in the mood for at the moment. She had the office all to herself and rather enjoyed the peace and quiet.
Frank was out interviewing witnesses in yet another accident claim. Joe was working a missing teen case. His search had taken him two hours northeast to Chicago where Bess Marvin, a friend of the detectives, lived and worked. Bess had graciously offered Joe the use of her extra bedroom and he had graciously accepted.
Around ten that morning Joe had called to report the missing teen found and in his custody. The kid had spent the past week moving from friend to friend and place to place nicely evading Joe. But the cat and mouse game grew old for the teen's so-called friends and one finally ratted him out.
Shortly before one o'clock, Joe handed the boy over to his stressed-out angry parents and with the case over was now headed home. Nancy expected him in the office anytime.
She sipped her coffee and poked at the papers again. The report wasn't going to type its self.
Ah, sit back, finish your coffee and then type up the report, she told herself.
Cup in hand, she leaned back in her chair and put her feet up on the desk. She had a perfect view of the Italian diner across the street. Family owned and operated, Ragazzi's served lunch and dinner seven days a week. The prices were reasonable and the food delicious. Nancy, Frank, and Joe were already shameless regulars.
It was late afternoon on a gorgeous spring day. The sun was blindingly bright and the temperature was in the high sixties. People were taking advantage of the mild weather and many ate outside at the diner's fenced in patio. Today almost every umbrella-topped table was occupied. One table in particular drew Nancy's attention. She watched a fidgety young woman sitting alone sipping a drink. A large black handbag accompanied the woman – so large it had a chair of its own.
Nancy noticed the woman's quick glances at her fellow diners and her long searching stares up and down the street. She checked on the black handbag, too as if she thought it might leap off the chair and run away.
Finally, she finished her drink, pulled the handbag onto her lap, withdrew some cash and placed it on the table. She stood, glanced around then headed across the street. Her long, sure strides reminded Nancy of a thoroughbred racehorse. A mane of dark brown hair bounced on the woman's shoulders as she headed for the door of the Endeavor Detective Agency.
Nancy yanked her feet off the desk and sat up. A minute later the woman entered the office. The atmosphere in the office changed instantly and the air practically crackled with electricity.
Something told Nancy this was their first big case, the one that would establish the Endeavor as a legitimate detective agency. With her heart a flutter, she rose to greet the woman.
True to form, the woman quickly took stock of her surroundings scanning the office. What she thought of the place she kept to herself.
At last a set of beautiful amber colored eyes came to rest on Nancy. "And you are?"
Odd question Nancy thought with a whiff of resentment. The woman had come into her office. Shouldn't she be introducing herself to Nancy?
However, always the professional Nancy extended a hand. "Nancy Drew, private detective."
"Oh." The woman ignored the proffered hand.
Nancy couldn't tell if that 'oh' was one of disbelief, disappointment, neither or something else entirely. She decided to ignore it, drew back her hand and tried the direct approach. "Can I help you? Miss …"
"Romanoff. Tasha Romanoff."
"Perhaps you'd like a seat?" Nancy motioned to a set of black wingback chairs in front of her desk.
"Oh." The woman glanced at the chairs, chose one and sat. She smoothed down her tailored black jacket and adjusted the collar of her blue silk blouse.
Still restless, Nancy thought as she sat. She hoped Miss Romanoff had a larger vocabulary than what she'd displayed so far otherwise this was going to be a very short conversation.
Having deemed the office suitable Tasha Romanoff revealed the purpose of her visit. "I need protection. Do you provide that?"
Nancy detected the slightest hint of a Russian accent. "We can. What makes you think you need protection?"
"Oh, it's not for me." Tasha crossed a shapely pair of legs encased in black jeans and adjusted the black bag sitting on her lap.
"Oh?" Nancy felt a small measure of satisfaction in using that word.
Tasha fumbled in the black bag. The top of her blue silk blouse fell open revealing a nice bit of cleavage and a ruby studded cross. Nancy was no jewelry expert, but with the way the light glinted off those rubies she surmised they were the real thing.
Tasha withdrew a large envelope from the handbag. "This. This needs protection." She handed the envelope to Nancy.
The envelope was large, twelve by eighteen inches long and about eight inches high. It was the type with bubble wrap inside. "What's inside?" Nancy asked holding the envelope. It wasn't unduly heavy, but whatever was inside was something substantial.
"I .. I can't tell you." Genuine fear shone on Tasha's face and she clutched the ruby cross as if it were a talisman.
Trying to ward off evil spirits? Nancy wondered and laid the envelope on the edge of the desk closest to Miss Romanoff.
"Please," Tasha insisted a touch of panic in her voice and pushed the envelope back toward Nancy. "If anything happens to me you must open the envelope. There are instructions inside."
Nancy frowned. "Let me make sure I understand. You want to hire the Endeavor Agency to protect – this?" She laid a hand lightly on the envelope.
Tasha nodded and her sleek mahogany-colored hair fell forward framing her amber eyes perfectly.
Nancy admired that sleek hair thinking her blonde tresses, shimmering with coppery highlights, seemed brassy in comparison. With a slight sigh she wrenched her focus back to the envelope and applied some common sense. "Why not use a safe deposit box at a bank? It would be perfectly safe there."
"Yes, I thought of that, but .. but that would require I have a key. If someone gets to me then they can get to the key .. and the envelope. That is not safe enough. If I don't have the envelope and I don't know where it is then I cannot possibly give it up. Nothing they do can do to me – nothing at all – can force me to reveal its whereabouts."
Nancy wondered who 'they' were. She sensed a real danger surrounding Tasha and thought perhaps the Endeavor should not take this case.
Tasha picked up on Nancy's wariness and said, "Please Miss Drew, you are my last chance. No one knows I'm here. I've been very careful and I will make it worth your while." She reached into the handbag, withdrew a stack of bills and placed them on the desk with a firm thud. "Fifty thousand dollars. If that is not enough …"
Nancy's dark blue eyes flew open and she stifled a gasp. "It's .. it's plenty. Umm, it appears money is not a problem."
"No, it is not," Tasha assured her.
"Then Miss Romanoff, I have to ask, if you have the financial resources to hire anybody you want, why come to this agency? We're brand new, relatively unknown, and don't have all the specialized personnel or equipment a large agency could offer you."
Tasha pulled her chair closer to Nancy's desk. "You see Miss Drew that is precisely why I have come to you."
Nancy's dark blonde brows knit together in confusion so Tasha explained, "That's what they are expecting me to do. Go to a big agency, hire lots of bodyguards, cower in a corner always wondering where they are and when they will strike." Tasha sat up a little straighter and a fire burned in her amber eyes. "I do not cower Miss Drew. Besides, your advertisement says you are associated with the famous Hardy Detective Agency."
"True," Nancy said a bit hesitant. She pushed a strand of reddish-blonde hair behind an ear and wondered what was in that envelope, and who Miss Tasha Romanoff was, and who exactly she was afraid of?
"So, I think if you need more personnel or equipment as you say, you can get it most discreetly." Tasha sounded more confident than Nancy felt.
Nancy paused. She didn't want to go running to the Hardy Detective Agency, not on their first big case. "Of course, if we needed assistance we could contact the Hardy Agency, but …"
Tasha leaned forward and laid a hand on top of Nancy's. "Please. I beg of you. You really are my last chance."
Before Nancy could respond the back door opened. It was hidden behind a staircase that led to an upstairs loft apartment. In tromped a weary Joe. His hair – short, blond, and wavy – looked like he had driven all the way from Chicago with the windows down. He saw the woman parked in front of Nancy's desk and gave a polite nod.
Nancy rose and did the introductions. "Miss Romanoff this is Joe Hardy one of the Endeavor's private detectives."
Tasha got to her feet. "Hardy? Are you related to the owner of the Hardy Detective Agency?"
"Yes," Joe said approaching the woman. He got the distinct impression a handshake wasn't welcome so he didn't offer his hand. "I'm the younger son." He mentally sized up the woman, about the same age as him, late twenties, classy, nice clothes, and attractive.
Tasha turned to Nancy. "Now I am confident you can take my case."
Joe looked to Nancy for an explanation.
"Miss Romanoff wants to hire us to protect this." Nancy pointed to the envelope lying on her desk.
Joe nodded at the envelope. "That? For how long?" He also noticed the stack of money wrapped in a wide white band lying next to the envelope.
Nancy saw the direction of Joe's gaze and said, "Miss Romanoff will pay us fifty thousand dollars to guard the envelope."
Joe's eyebrows shot up. "That's a lot of money." He eyed Tasha with new interest.
"It is." Tasha squared her shoulders and lifted her chin. "But what is inside that envelope is very important. So, will you take the case?" She waited for an answer.
Joe shrugged. "I don't see why not. How long do you need us to guard the envelope?"
Tasha took a shallow breath and a flicker of fear passed over her face. "I'm not sure. Perhaps a week – maybe more. And … and if anything happens to me then you must open the envelope and follow the instructions inside."
Sounds easy Joe thought and asked, "And how will we know if something happens to you?" He studied Tasha's face. Fear and determination shone in her eyes. He'd noticed the Russian accent, too. She hid it well, but certain words gave her away.
Nancy broke in, "We'll need Miss Romanoff to sign a contract and provide us all her contact information, phone number, address, etcetera …" To Tasha she said, "We will check-in with you once a week."
"Of course." Tasha stiffened then sat.
Nancy got out the necessary paperwork. Joe excused himself and headed to the kitchen counter behind Nancy's desk. He felt Tasha's eyes follow him appraising his broad backside. He was six feet tall and weighed two hundred ten pounds, most of it muscle, so there was plenty to appraise. He stood at the counter wondering what he wanted – coffee, soda, or water? The drive from Chicago had been long and hot and he was thirsty. He settled on water. He retrieved a bottled water from the small fridge under the counter. As he twisted the cap Nancy came up beside him. Their eyes met – both blue, both vivid. She handed him a note then returned to her desk and Tasha.
Joe sipped the water and read the handwritten note, Nancy's handwriting, When Tasha leaves, follow her.
Joe slipped the note into his pants pocket and finished his water. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, tossed the empty bottle in the trash basket and said, "Excuse me ladies."
He walked past Nancy's desk and to his room. Frank had claimed most of the upstairs loft as his domain, so that left Joe the storage room on the ground floor. If one entered the office by the front door Joe's room was to the left. He had turned the ten by twelve foot space into a bedroom. It wasn't much to look at, but Joe didn't need much. A double bed was pushed up against one wall. A bookcase (filled with trophies and knickknacks and not many books) stood along the wall opposite the bed. Some low shelves, that Joe had built, ran along the brick wall that faced the street. Posters and pictures brought the remaining three gray walls to life and a thick shag rug warmed the cement floor. One small window, set high on the brick wall, provided light and air.
What more could a guy ask for? Besides, compared to some of the quarters he'd lived in during his seven years in the army, this was a luxury suite.
He tugged on a black, leather bomber jacket and pulled on a black baseball cap. The cap clashed with the jacket but Joe wasn't concerned with style. The cap's function was to hide his blond hair. He grabbed a small black kit off the low shelves and stuffed it into his jacket pocket then leaned against the bedroom door and waited. He heard Nancy saying good-bye to Tasha. After Tasha exited through the front door of the office Joe stepped out of his room.
Nancy was waiting for him. She held up a piece of paper. "Here's the address Miss Romanoff gave."
Joe took the paper. "Okay, let's see if it's the real thing." He headed to the back door and to his truck parked in the alley behind the office. Moments later he was following Tasha's gray Volkswagen Jetta. The address Tasha had given was for a new development of condos in an upscale neighborhood.
Joe flipped down the truck's visor and followed Tasha through the late afternoon traffic. He wondered who she was and what secrets the envelope held.