A/N: Hi there! Thanks for reading! This is the beginning of another full-length story. It's not the continuation of the WW2 arc that I've hinted at, but I'm working on that one. It's just taking a long time, so until it's ready (which will hopefully be sometime!) here's this story. It's a little more of a classic Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys mystery. The first several chapters are just Nancy, but don't worry if you're a Hardy Boys fan - Frank and Joe will have plenty to do. Thank you in advance for reading and for possibly reviewing, favoriting, and/or following! I always appreciate feedback on my writing!
Speaking of my writing, I've got something exciting going on with it. If you're interested, check out the last paragraph on my profile. However, you're here for the story, so without further ado, here it is! Enjoy!
Secret of Mount Calliope
Trouble in Colorado
"The end of the Christmas season is the worst," eighteen-year-old Bess Marvin complained as she regretfully took and ornament from her family's tree and put it in a box.
"Yeah, and the worst part of it is all the red and pink Valentine's Day decorations that are going up," added her cousin, George Fayne.
Bess paused a moment, trying to decide on the best response to this. Then she sighed. "Ordinarily, I'd make some crack about how unromantic you are, George, but Christmas decorations are so pretty and Valentine's Day decorations are such an eyesore, I have to agree with you."
George froze in pretended shock. "Nancy, did you hear that?" she asked her other closest friend, Nancy Drew, who was helping them undecorate. "Bess actually agrees with me about Valentine's Day of all things. This is a historic moment. It should be documented."
She whipped out her phone and snapped a picture of Bess before the blonde girl could protest.
"Ugh, George, I must look awful in that," Bess complained.
"Well, maybe a little." George tried to say it with a straight face, but as she looked at the picture which showed Bess with a very odd expression of her face, she couldn't help breaking into laughter.
Bess looked over her shoulder and her face turned beet-red at the sight of the photo. "George Fayne, you delete that...that abomination immediately!"
"No way!" George only laughed harder. "It's going on Twitter."
Bess's eyes widened with horror. "George, no! No, no, no, no, no!"
"It wouldn't stand up in court as evidence that Bess agreed with you anyway," Nancy pointed out as she tried to mediate the situation.
"Who cares about that now?" George asked teasingly.
"Okay, if it's blackmail you want, I'll pay anything." Bess was beginning to realize that her cousin was teasing her, and so she decided to go along with it.
George rubbed her chin. "Hmm. A tempting offer. I'll have to think about that."
Just then, Nancy's phone chimed to alert her that she had a text. Bess and George probably would have gone on with their bantering, but Nancy interrupted by announcing, "Ned's going to drop by in a minute. He says he has a case for us."
Although she was only eighteen, Nancy had already gained a reputation as an amateur detective. Friends and acquaintances and even strangers often came to her, asking for help in getting to the bottom of puzzling situations. Ned Nickerson was no stranger, though. He and Nancy had been dating for some time, and Ned frequently helped Nancy with her cases. However, it wasn't very often that Ned was the one to come to Nancy with a problem.
The other girls quickly forgot their argument in their excitement over a new case. Bess and George were Nancy's most frequent sleuthing companions. Although they occasionally complained or teased Nancy about it, they were always excited by the prospect of a new case, and the conversation swiftly turned to that topic.
Within a few minutes, dark-haired Ned Nickerson arrived at the Marvins' front door. He was a student at Emerson College, which was a couple hours' drive from Nancy's hometown of River Heights. School was starting the next Tuesday, and so Ned was busy getting ready to leave.
"Hi, girls!" he greeted them, giving Nancy a small kiss on the cheek. "Still working on the undecorating?"
"Yeah," Bess replied. "It's depressing. Why do we have this tradition? Why don't we each just undecorate our own house? Then we'd each only have to undecorate one house instead of three."
"Because doing it together gives us an opportunity to make such wonderful memories." George waved her phone with a lopsided grin on her face.
Bess blushed, but the last thing she wanted was for anyone else to see that horrible picture, so she said nothing. Maybe she could get ahold of George's phone later and delete it herself.
"What about the case you mentioned, Ned?" Nancy asked. Once a mystery had been brought up to her, she was always impatient to hear the details.
"It sounds like a good one," Ned told her. "The only problem is that you'd have to go to Colorado to solve it."
Bess gave a small squeal and clapped her hands. "Going to Colorado is a problem? This time of year? When we could go skiing in the Rocky Mountains?"
"I've got to agree with Bess there," George added.
"Ha!" Bess exclaimed. "Now you agreed with me on something. I'll have to document this." George had just enough time to make a face before Bess snapped her picture, which only made the end result worse. Bess grinned as she looked at it. "This is going on Twitter and Instagram."
Ned cast a questioning glance at Nancy. "Did I miss something?"
"Nothing too much," Nancy told him. "Come on. Let's sit down in the living room and talk about the case. What connection do you have to Colorado, anyway?"
"I have a cousin who lives there," Ned told her. "Cole Warner. I don't know him all that well. He's about twelve years older than me and has lived in Colorado pretty much since he graduated college. He came up just last July for a family reunion. I mentioned your detective work to him, Nancy, and so when all this started happening, he thought he'd see if you would be willing to get to the bottom of it."
"The bottom of what?" Nancy asked.
"At the moment, it looks like extortion, but Cole thinks there might be more to it."
Ned took a sat down on the loveseat with Nancy beside him, while Bess and George each took seats in armchairs. All three girls listened with close attention to what Ned was saying.
"You see," Ned explained, "Cole is a firefighter in the town of Calliope, Colorado. It's about the same size as River Heights - so just big enough to have a paid fire department, but there's only about fifteen or twenty guys in it. About three weeks ago, Cole found a letter on the windshield of his car when he was leaving work. It wasn't signed and was typed. He ignored it at first, but then a few days later, he got another letter, and since then he's been getting them more frequently. In the last few days, he's gotten one each day. They've also started showing up inside his house or his car, and he's getting pretty worried."
"What do the letters says?" Bess asked.
"They all have the same general message," Ned replied. "They're all warning him to either leave Calliope or join the local firefighter union. Otherwise, according to the letters, he'll 'regret it'."
George raised an eyebrow. "Someone's trying to force him to join a union? That doesn't make much sense."
"Maybe if a majority of the other firefighters belong to the union," Nancy said. "Do they?"
"No. Cole says there's only seven members," Ned explained. "He's asked the others who aren't part of the union if they've been getting similar letters, and apparently they have. Most of them are pretty sure one of the unionized firefighters is behind it to try to increase membership, but Cole thinks that's a little far-fetched. He's starting to think he should go to the police, but then again, he'd like to know whether it really is one of his co-workers before he does that."
"Even if the person writing these letters isn't serious about the threats, it's still illegal to send threats like that," Nancy pointed out. "And if whoever is doing it is breaking into people's houses and cars, then that's even more concerning, whether the threats are serious or not. Going to the police wouldn't be a bad idea."
"True," Ned agreed, "and Cole probably would if he could get a couple of other guys to back him up, but none of them are willing. He thinks that if you could learn what was going on, then maybe the whole thing could get cleared up without the police getting involved at all."
"I'll ask Dad what he thinks when he gets home," Nancy said. "It sounds like the other firefighters are probably right and it's just one of the unionized men. Still, there could be something bigger behind it."
"And a skiing vacation would be fun, anyway," George added. "Are there any ski resorts near there? Oh, uh, provided Bess and me are invited."
"Of course," Ned assured her. "And there is some pretty good skiing over there. The town of Calliope is right next to Mount Calliope, which is a big resort. Cole's invited me to come skiing there before, but with school there's never been enough time." He frowned in disappointment. "I wish I could come this time. It would be even more fun with all of you along."
"I wish you could come, too," Nancy said. "I suppose Cole wants us to come as soon as possible."
Ned nodded. "I guess if you go, it'll cancel our plans on Sunday for the play and dinner."
Nancy squeezed his hand. "We probably couldn't leave that soon, anyway. I should call Cole and work out those details."
Ned took a slip of paper from his pocket. "Here's his number. He asked me to give it to you. Oh, one more thing. Part of why Cole is hesitating to go to the police is because he's worried that whoever is behind this might try to retaliate against him, and since he has a wife and a young daughter, he definitely doesn't want that."
Nancy nodded. "I can understand that. I'll talk it over with Dad and then give Cole a call."
Later that evening, Nancy had told her father, Carson Drew, about the case. Carson was a lawyer and had handled his share of mysterious cases, often with Nancy's help. He knew that Nancy loved traveling for her cases, although it did worry him at times. This case, however, didn't sound particularly dangerous, especially since the client was a cousin of Ned, which instilled a great deal of confidence in him.
Bess and George also secured the permission of their parents for the trip, and so Nancy placed a call to Cole Warner to discuss the case and plans for the trip with him. When he answered, Nancy was instantly struck with the fact that he sounded nervous.
"Wow, that's really great of you, Nancy," Cole said without enthusiasm. "I'm really grateful that you'd even consider it."
"But…?" Nancy asked.
Cole chuckled nervously. "You're as good as Ned says, aren't you? Yeah, I guess there was a 'but' coming. See, there's been some new developments, and…" He sighed heavily. "I don't know what to do. It's starting to look like this is going to be dangerous, and I'd hate for you to get hurt on my account."
"What's happened?" Nancy asked, her heart beating faster.
There was a long pause, and then Cole said, "I got another letter just since I talked to Ned earlier. This one was the most threatening yet. The person who wrote it said that they'd come after my daughter if I didn't do what they said, or if I called the police. I don't know what to do. If I call you in, they'll probably figure out who you are and what you're doing. I can't take the risk for either you or my family."
"It's possible," Nancy admitted. "But this person still hasn't actually done anything?"
"Then I think you should go to the police anyway," Nancy said. "It could be they're all talk, but they still have to be stopped."
"No. I've thought about. Believe me, I've thought about nothing else since I got that letter. It's a small town, Nancy. You can't do anything without everyone else learning about it. If I go to the police, whoever this is will find out about it in no time."
"Then let me investigate," Nancy said. "I'm sure we can come up with some story that will sound plausible so that no one knows why I'm really there. I could give a different name, and pretend that Bess and George and I are just there for the skiing. Ned told me that Mount Calliope is fairly big resort."
"It is," Cole agreed. "That might work. You could even stay there if you want to pay for it. It's pretty expensive. In fact, I just remembered. A couple weeks ago, I mentioned to some of the guys that I invited one of my cousins from the Chicago area to come skiing up here. If we said that you're my cousin, they'd probably buy it." He paused again. "But what if they don't? It's risky."
"Very," Nancy confirmed, "but I think it's the least risky thing you can do. If you give into their requests or leave town, who knows what might happen? The person behind this might just decide that they can push anyone they want around, and you'll be putting all the other firefighters at risk. And then if you ignore their requests indefinitely, they might decide to carry out their threats."
Cole sighed. "Yeah. You've got a point there. Okay. All right. We'll try this."