J.M.J.

A/N: Hello! Welcome to my newest story! This story is (as I plan it) the beginning of a new series which will also include Nancy Drew, although she's not in this story yet. I realize that the average American high school doesn't send students on school trips to foreign countries, but more unlikely things have happened in the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew universe. It'll be a fun ride, though, so I hope you stick around for it. As always, I will appreciate any feedback in the form of reviews, as well as follows and favorites. Thank you so much for reading and I hope you enjoy!

The Ruby Pendant

Chapter I

Darrin Byron was tapping his foot impatiently and glancing at his wristwatch. He wasn't liking this whole trip much, even if it was his own idea, and the waiting was making him nervous.

He was the political science teacher for Bayport High School. Over a year ago, he had thought that it would be a great opportunity to take some of the juniors and seniors on a class trip to another country over the summer to learn about that country's political system. The school board had looked into the cheapest possible option for doing so and had settled on just about the worst possible one, in Mr. Byron's opinion. The federal government was putting together a program to send students to a small eastern European country called Laurenia to help build housing and waterways for the poor. It had been an Iron Curtain country back in the Cold War days, but in recent years its government seemed to be trying to shape itself up and get along with the West better, but Mr. Byron still had his doubts. The fact that he and his students had been separated from the groups that had come from other schools wasn't helping matters any, either, nor was the rule that all the American students had to wear badges declaring their nationality.

"I don't know why they agreed to let high school students in on this program," Mr. Byron muttered under his breath.

One of his students, seventeen-year-old Joe Hardy, overheard him. "Hey, everything seems to be fine, Mr. Myron. Everybody seems happy we're here. No one's bothering us."

"Yeah," Mr. Byron admitted, although he was still unconvinced. For the sake of his students, he realized he had to put on the best face he could. "Of course, it's all fine. We're here on a program that has been put together by a joint effort between the United States government and the Laurenian government. The Laurenians aren't going to let anything happen to us. I'm just getting a little impatient waiting for the girls, that's all."

He and the boys in the group had already assembled in the lobby of the hotel, but the girls had yet to put in an appearance.

"They'll be here in a minute," one of the other boys, Chet Morton, assured him. His sister, Iola, was one of the girls in question. "Probably two of them just wound up wearing matching clothes and then they had to change and all the others are waiting for them." He grinned more than the comment should have warranted, but then so did all the other boys in hearing distance. When they had heard about the badges, every single one of them had bought matching t-shirts with the American flag on them and they were all wearing them today, "just to be sure they were following the rules," as they had told Mr. Byron.

"Besides," another boy, Biff Hooper, spoke up, "if anybody's going to get into trouble, it'll be us instead of the girls. We're the ones who have Frank and Joe Hardy with us."

As the others chuckled knowingly, the Hardys grinned a bit self-consciously. They had a penchant for getting into unexpected adventures and mysteries. Their dad, Fenton Hardy, was a former officer with the NYPD who had become a private investigator. Even though they were only eighteen and seventeen, respectively, Frank and Joe were already following in their dad's footsteps.

"We're not going to have any adventures or mysteries or anything like that this trip," Mr. Byron said, although it was obvious to all the students that he was the least convinced of this of any of them.

"From the way Mr. Byron's acting, you'd think we'd been dropped right into the middle of the Soviet Union in the 1960's," Phil Cohen said in a low voice to the other boys standing near him.

"I don't really get it," Frank Hardy agreed. "Laurenia doesn't have a very good history, of course, but they've done a lot of work reforming their government. They've got a democracy now and are trying hard both to get along with and learn from other countries, as well as take care of their citizens. That's what this whole program is about."

Speculation was cut short by the arrival of the girls in the lobby. There were twenty-three students in the group, fourteen boys and nine girls. All of the Hardys' particularly close friends had signed up for the program, including Chet, Biff, Phil, Tony Prito, Jerry Gilroy, and Jim Foy, as well as Callie Shaw, Frank's girlfriend, and Iola Morton, Chet's sister and Joe's girlfriend, plus Vanessa Bender, who had just moved to Bayport and had already become close friends with Callie and Iola.

"We've been waiting forever," Chet complained even though it had only been about ten minutes. "What took you so long?"

Dark-haired Iola rolled her eyes but didn't answer. Callie, Vanessa, and several of the other girls exchanged glances while one girl, Kristen Meyers, folded her arms and did her best not to make eye contact with anyone.

Finally, Callie, who was probably the most diplomatic of the group said, "There was just a little misunderstanding. It wasn't a big thing."

"I'll tell you about it later," Iola whispered to Chet and Joe, who were standing nearest to her.

"Okay, gather up, everybody," Mr. Byron said. "Here's the plan for today. Since we got in late last night after a long day of traveling, our liaison with the Laurenian government, Illya Láska, who will be meeting us here at the hotel in a moment, has arranged for us to spend today seeing some of the sights of the city here. He'll act as our guide for today, and then we will get to work on our project first thing tomorrow."

"See, we aren't that late," Callie said teasingly to Frank. "Even our guide is later than we are. Hey, wait." She glanced at his shirt and all the other boys' shirts. "You guys are really going through with it? All fourteen of you wearing matching shirts?"

Frank shrugged and tried not to grin. "There was no getting out of it. What difference does it make, anyway?"

"None, I guess." But Callie still shook her head.

About a minute later, a fair-haired man in a suit with a name badge on his lapel came through the outside door into the lobby. He came straight toward the group of students and addressed their teacher in a heavy accent, "Mr. Byron? My name is Illya Láska."

Mr. Byron held out his hand for the liaison to shake. "Yes, Mr. Láska, it's good to meet you. Thank you for putting together everything you have for us."

"It's no trouble. You can all call me Illya. Are you all ready to go?"

"I believe so," Mr. Byron replied.

"Good. I have arranged for us to use a bus. That way I will not have to ask you to drive, Mr. Byron. The traffic in our city can be difficult at times. This way, everyone."

They followed him outside to an old school bus which was parked right in front of the hotel. They all piled inside, and Frank, Joe, Callie, and Iola found themselves in the very front seats, directly behind the driver's seat.

"You speak very good English, Illya," Callie complimented their driver as he pulled the bus into the street.

"Thank you," Illya replied, checking over his shoulder for oncoming vehicles. "I spent most of my college years studying in the U.K. and Australia. That experience is why I got this job."

"It must be an interesting job," Joe commented. "Do you ever get to be liaison for important visitors, or just people like us?"

"Mostly people like you," Illya said.

"That seems kind of funny," Joe went on. "Your country must have a lot of exchange programs with other countries then."

"Yes," Illya replied, but rather than offering any more information on that, he began explaining what some of the landmarks they were passing by were, and soon all the students were so interested in what he was saying that all but Frank and Joe forgot to wonder about what he wasn't saying.

Finally, he stopped the bus in front of a large, castle-like building. "This is the Múzeum Umenia a Histórie, the Museum of Art and History. I have arranged for admission for all of us. You will learn a great deal about our country's history and culture here and, I hope, share some of the history and culture of your own country."

"Was this place once a castle?" Vanessa asked him as they all got out of the bus.

"Yes," Illya told her. "The castle was once the whole city, but of course the city has grown much larger since then. For many years, the castle was used as the government building for the city, but about fifty years ago, all of those offices were move to a more modern building in what is now the center of town. The castle was converted in a museum."

He led them into the massive structure. The old gateway had been made into a gatehouse, and a woman was sitting in it to take tickets. Illya spoke to her in their native language, and she checked a list before letting them through.

"We don't have to pay?" Mr. Byron asked in some confusion.

"Since you are guests of the government and this is a government-run museum so you don't have to pay," Illya explained. He turned so that he could see the entire group. "As you can see, the museum is very large. It will not be possible to see all of it today. Would you prefer to explore it on your own or have me guide you?"

The students looked at one another, waiting to see if someone would step up as leader and decide for all of them. After Illya had begun to look impatient, Frank stepped forward.

"I think we'd all rather have a guide. We'll learn a lot more that way."

"Very well," Illya agreed. "Although if anyone wants to leave the group at any point, we must all meet here at the front gate by twelve o'clock. There is much left that we will want to see."

The group started off with Illya explaining many of the artifacts and pieces of art to the students. A few of them listened with rapt attention, but not all. Mr. Byron had to tell a few of them to stop horsing around, and a few others wandered off on their own or lingered behind to look at something that had particularly caught their attention.

Despite the fact that Frank was the one who had spoken up in favor of a tour guide, he was also one of the ones who lingered behind. The exhibit that had caught his attention, as well as the attention of Joe, Callie, Iola, and Chet, was one on World War II. It was one of the most extensive they had ever seen, even including airplanes and a tank from the era.

"I wish Illya was still here," Frank commented. "I'd like to ask him about his country's involvement in the war."

"Look at this!" Joe was leaning close to the glass of one of the exhibits. "It's an Enigma machine."

"That's cool." Iola peered at it as well. "Those are the coding machine the Germans used that were practically unbreakable, right? But didn't the Allies eventually break the code?"

"Actually, the Poles broke the code before the war even started," Joe told her. "If I'm remembering right, the Allies also captured some cipher keys."

Chet had been examining the engine of one of the planes, but he now stood up. "Are you girls ever going to tell us what happened this morning, why you took so long to get down to the lobby and were all so uptight when you did get down there?"

Iola rolled her eyes. "You would have to bring that up again, Chet. I'd almost forgotten about it."

"It wasn't much worth remembering," Callie said. "Like I said this morning, it was just a misunderstanding."

"No, it wasn't," Iola insisted. "It was Kristen Meyers. She was being rude to Van again. As usual."

"What does Kristen have against Vanessa?" Frank asked.

Iola shrugged. "That Van's new in Bayport and everybody likes her and Kristen has lived here her whole life and nobody likes her."

"That's not true, Iola," Callie broke in. "It's not that everyone dislikes Kristen. She just has a hard time opening up to people. And I don't know what she has against Vanessa. Whatever it is, I'm sure it's just a misunderstanding, or a maybe a personality clash. Van's so outgoing and Kristen is so reserved that I could see how Van might make her uncomfortable."

"Well, whatever the reason, Kristen's still a pain," Iola insisted. "You guys should realize that."

"Not necessarily," Joe admitted. "Even though Kristen's in the same grade as me, I think I've maybe had, like, one class with her, and she never talked in that class when she could possibly avoid it. Honestly, I don't think I've ever talked to her."

"Me neither," Chet agreed, "but I've always thought she was cute."

Iola made a face. "Ew. How could my own brother have a crush on someone like that?"

Callie cast a pleading look at Frank, who took his cue from her. "I think we'd better catch up to the rest of the group now."

"Good idea." Callie gave him a grateful smile.

The five of them began following after the group, which had gone on into another room. All at once, there was a loud sort of pop from outside that brought them all to a standstill.

"What was…?" Iola began, but Joe had already shouted, "Gunshot!" and darted to the nearest window.

Frank followed him. Both boys were careful not to let themselves be seen by whoever was outside the window, which overlooked the courtyard. By this time, there had been several more gunshots and several people had begun screaming. As Frank and Joe looked out, they saw about a dozen people in tactical gear and full-face masks holding automatic rifles on the tourists and employees in the courtyard. The Hardys backed away from the window.

"What's going on?" Callie stepped forward and grasped Frank's arm.

"It looks like the museum is under attack," Frank replied.