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"Whenever Mother was trying to be kind to me in my youth," Miss Henry twinkled, frankly enjoying the company she was entertaining in her room, "she would call me impetuous. I was applying that adjective to you when you were ten years old, Nancy!" She leaned over toward Dave as far as her frail frame, fairly swallowed up in her recliner chair, would allow. "And I can tell she hasn't changed much. So when I heard she had gone gallivanting to Powhatan without a back-up plan, I wasn't surprised. I'd done that a few times in my own youth! Some of us just should not have been allowed to read Nancy Drew! My mother was one of them; she told me with a straight face that it poisoned young girls' minds. But I was a determined little girl, and Father
" she said, enjoying a reminiscent smile"well, he was wrapped around his little girl's pinky finger! I got every Nancy Drew story that came out in those days, first editions all! After all, nothing was too good for his little Esther, no matter that it drove Mother to distraction!"
"Nancy Drew first editions?" Dave gaped. "You know how much you could get for those?"
"The sentimental value is higher, Dr. Miyazaki," Miss Henry chuckled. "I read those poor books to pieces! Rather like Miss Morgan here, as I recall." She and Nancy exchanged yet another affectionate glance, neither still quite believing the other was really there. "Which reminds me," she said, shifting to a more businesslike tone, still ever the efficient head librarian even in her eighties, "of a favor you could do me, Miss Morgan. See, I've rather prided myself on having met a number of well-known authors in my time. I once met James Thurber in Connecticut. His eyesight was failing even then, but he did his best to autograph my copy of My Life and Hard Times. I met your sister's favorite author, too, Nancy, Lois Lowry, some years before she wrote The Giver. Agatha Christie once, when she was touring in this country. I even met Stephen King at about the time he wrote Carrie! I must say, I badly underestimated his potential; I thought him a rather lurid author, myself. That was only a few years before I hired you, in fact."
"I remember, Miss Henry," Nancy mewled, still marveling at being able to reminisce with her beloved first employer. "But what does that have to do with a favor from me?"
"Oh come, Miss Morgan!" Miss Henry chided, a brilliant twinkle in her gray-blue eye, and Nancy followed that eye to the modest but full bookshelf which stood beside her chairand understood as Miss Henry reached out a thin arm and took a thoroughly dog-eared hard-cover volume off the shelf. "I've read every word your daughter's had published, Nancy," she smiled, affectionately turning open the hard cover of Abby's Little Girl Lost, the autobiographical novel of her captivity at John Michael Walton's hands. "I followed that story from the very first
and I knew that if any young woman could have survived that ordeal, Nancy Morgan's daughter would. She inherited your strength, Nancyyours and Richie's both." She glanced down at the photo gracing the inside jacket cover"She is certainly her father's daughter! Every bit a Dwight!" she smiled down at Abigail's picture, and as Miss Henry imbibed Abby's picture, Nancy and Dave both noticed that the entire shelf was lined tightly with every book Abby had written, all first editions and well-worn from use
"I'll bring her tomorrow, Miss Henry, I promise! She'll be happy to autograph all of them!"
"And I also imagine she'll be happy to hear how your little jaunt to Powhatan nearly left her nonexistent, I suspect!" she winked, to Nancy's instant discomfiture
The direct approach was an utter failure. Nancy had presented herself to the receptionist at the Powhatan County Coroner's Office with all the polished professional gravity an intelligent, confident seventeen-year-old young woman could muster, asking that as the representative of Mr. Richard Dwight, all materials concerning the autopsy and release of Mr. Harold Dwight be immediately released to herand had been bluntly dismissed by the rather bored, mid-fortyish woman behind the desk. That information could only be released directly to the deceased's next of kin, who was his wife Lauren Dwight, and the body could only be released to the family with the permission of the county coroner Dr. Wilkins, who was holding the body for public safety reasons. Nancy had hardly managed to open her mouth to protest before the receptionist cut off any debate with a firm declaration that the matter was closed and would Nancy and her friend please leave the premises immediately before the authorities were called. Which left the two sleuths very quickly evicted to the sidewalk with no results for their sally
"I knew this wouldn't work, Nancy," Mary Catherine sighed, smirking quietly. "We're just kids! You couldn't actually expect that they'd just hand you Mr. Dwight's body, could you?"
"Well, it was worth a try, at least," Nancy grimaced. "I'd bet she told us just what she told Richie, that they were keeping the body for public safety reasons. Maybe we could get Mrs. Dwight down here if we could help her feel a little bit better, well enough to travel at least. At least that way they wouldn't have that excuse for not releasing the body."
"Public safety reasons?" Mary Catherine still smirked, thinking on the receptionist's rejection. "That doesn't make any sense at all! What does the coroner think, that maybe he's radioactive or something?" She shrugged, cast her eyes in the direction of St. Dismas, where she hoped to find Father D'Antoni to salve her wounded spirit. "Well anyway, it's not like"only to have her shoulder seized by a suddenly-feverish Nancy.
"I'd bet you're right, Cat!" Nancy gaped, her eyes wide with the brilliance of a new theory. "Maybe he is radioactive!"
"Nancy, I was just kidding!" Mary Catherine sighed. Nancy can be so silly sometimes!
"But you might still be right!" Nancy pressed. "Think about it! Trailhead blew up in 1941, right? Well, what was going on back then? That was when they were first figuring out how to use atomic energy! They needed uranium! Maybe that was what happened at Trailhead! They were trying to find uranium, there was an accident, and Lawrence died in the accident! And if they needed uranium then, think about how much more they need now, especially with the way the President's been talking lately about the Soviets! They were finding more uranium, and they had another accident that killed Richie's dad!"
"Sorry to rain on your parade, Nancy," Cat smirked dismissively, "but there wasn't nuclear fission until 1942, remember? History class? All that stuff about squash courts under football stands and stuff like that?"
"Which means they would have been looking for the uranium before that!" Nancy argued. "I bet that's what happened! If only we could prove it!" And as soon as she spoke, a very familiar light was going off in Nancy's eyes
"Oh no you don't, Nancy!" Cat cautioned. "You're thinking about sneaking into the coroner's office to check the body! I don't know about you, but I really don't like the idea of getting arrested! My family's got enough of a reputation as it is, no thanks to Mary Ann! We don't need a jailbird in the family too!" Still the dangerous light glowed in Nancy's blue eyes. "And besides, how would we be able to tell if he was radioactive or not? We'd need some kind of, what do they call it? That thing they use to detect radi"
"A Geiger counter!" Nancy interjected. "Well, if they're afraid Mr. Dwight is radioactive, they'd have to have one already there! And besides," Nancy further argued, "if he's radioactive, it'd probably be in his autopsy report, wouldn't it? All we'd have to do is get that report and we'd know!"
"And I still end up being a jailbird!" Mary Catherine objected. "I don't think Mom would like having to come down here and bail me out of jail for trespassing!" But still Nancy's eyes glowed brilliantly
Nancy had returned to the O'Doolan homestead well after Dave and her children. After introducing Abbie, Richie, Mia and Mikey to a delighted Miss Henry, Nancy's reminiscences with her old boss and friend drew out long and languidly enough for Dave to take the hint and abscond for Stoneville and let Tim himself bring Nancy back. The take-out food from the Sweet Pea Diner was already tepid by the time Nancy returned, her mind still on Miss Henry and the adventure down into Powhatan with Mary Catherine, which was enough to remind her that for Cat, this day had been an unprecedented ordealshe edged up to her bedroom, once again occupied by its former resident
Who lay curled up on her familiar old bed, her eyes utterly vacant as her agile brain tried desperately to process what had happened to her that day. Nancy edged inside
"I'm sorry I had to go to the nursing home, Cat," Nancy apologized, seeing the distraction in Cat's face. "I
" No, she couldn't really say she was sorry to have gone, not with the miraculous rediscovery of Miss Henry, but
"He proposed to you," Nancy breathed. "He really asked you to marry him?"
were talking about you and Richie, how
how you went off with him after graduation. He was apologizing for not having your courage, and
and he took my hands, Nancy
and yes, he asked me to marry him. And now, knowing what David told us
was it really for me, Nancy?" Cat asked timorously. "All those years
was he really waiting for me? He knew I'd joined the sisters, Nancy, he said he knew all along! And
he could have been happy, Nancyhe could have married someone else, had a happy life
"Cat," Nancy murmured, sitting on the bed beside her friend and taking her hand, "is it so impossible to think he loved you so much he didn't want anyone else? That if he couldn't have you, he wouldn't have anyone at all?"
"So he threw his life away?" Cat peeped.
"Only if you count starting a successful company and making himself wealthy as throwing your life away, Cat!" Nancy tried to giggle. "Hadley True, multimillionaire. Actually, it's not all that unbelievable to me."
"So what do I do?" Cat squeaked. "I couldn't give him an answer, I practically ran out of the restaurant! I can't just run out on the Sisters, Nancy, you know that! But he's waited thirty years, just for me
"You follow your heart, Mary Catherine," Nancy advised gently, squeezing her hand, and Cat sighed as if it hadn't been the first time she had heard that advice that day. "You do what you think is right." Just as she had herself, starting in this very bedroom
Morgan family curfews were made of iron, leaving Nancy no choice but to return home despite her grand idea to decipher the mystery at the coroner's office. But she had not at all abandoned her grand idea
First had been the phone call to Richie. He was tired, worn down from perhaps the hardest day of work that hard worker had had his entire life, but the sound of Nancy's voice instantly revived him. He had seen nothing particularly unusualnot that he could have identified an abnormality as a mining neophytebut one of the old-timers, who had been one of his dad's old friends, had made an offhand remark that struck him odd. "Old man Wheeler was just gabbing at lunch break about how long he and Dad have worked the mine," he reported. "Said that they'd dug out practically as far as Trailhead in their day. I must have looked curious or something, 'cause he said that yeah, the owner of Pine Branch bought up the part of Trailhead that wasn't collapsed and made it part of Pine Branch. Supposed to have cost him a pretty penny, according to old man Wheeler!"
Which explains a whole lot of things, Nancy realized as she listened to Richie talk. That's why the burglars might have worried about us investigating Trailhead! Pine Branch and Trailhead are all one mine now! And maybe
if the mines both blew up because they were looking for uranium, I bet Lawrence was probably radioactive too! If only I could find out!
She talked over her day with Richie, her rejection by the coroner, and Richie confirmed what the receptionist had said to her was just what she had also said to him. And then she sprang her theory on him
"Well, you'd need one of those Geiger-thingies to check Uncle Lawrence's grave," Richie mused. Where do you get one of them things? I guess you can't just pick them up at the store, can you?" And Nancy had yet another inspiration
"I know just where to get one, Richie!" she gushedwhich led her to Mary Catherine's room that evening
"I'm surprised your mom let you sleep over here, Nancy," Cat muttered bitterly. "Our family's reputation and all."
"Mom knows better than that," Nancy dismissed. The idea of sweet little Mary Catherine O'Doolan as a loose woman was as absurd to Mrs. Morgan as it was to her daughter
"And this way, I can get hold of a Geiger counter, and we can go check out my idea without breaking into the coroner's office."
"Nancy, where could you find a"and Cat's mind quickly came up with a theory"No way, Nancy! It's breaking and entering!"
"It's our school, Cat!" Nancy countered. "They don't even keep it all locked up! I bet they still have the windows in the weight room all open to get the smell out of it! We can get in that way, get into Mr. Bailey's supply room, and nobody would even know! Richie already said he'd drive us to where his uncle's buried tonight after his mom goes to bed, we check it out, and we could have our proof right there!"
"Or we could get arrested and spend the night in a jail cell!" Mary Catherine objected.
"No we wouldn't!" Nancy retorted. "Mr. Tanner"the ancient old custodian"doesn't even leave his office when he's in there late! Nobody would be around!"
"I'm going to regret this!" Cat huffed as she threw herself with a disgusted sigh onto her bed
"If we get arrested, it's all your fault, Nancy!" Mary Catherine sulked as they edged around the dark Stoneville High School premises in the pitch dark of midnight. They had had to wait until Mary Denise, the youngest of the clan, was thoroughly asleep before setting out on their jaunt, but finally the two young sleuths were on their way in the night to Stoneville High and the Geiger counter Nancy was determined to have. Both were in their darkest clothesjeans and their darkest tops, their gym shirts from the past school yearand allowed themselves only a single flashlight for emergency light, thus far unneeded. A careful examination of the building suggested that Mr. Tanner the head custodian was indeed ensconced in his office, and the only light as the two snoops approached the weight roomwindows still open, Nancy exulted silentlywas a small streetlight at the corner of the building. Rock-paper-scissors had decided that the smaller, more agile Mary Catherine would be the one to crawl up on the outside window ledge and wriggle through the window to open the door for Nancy. It was a duty Cat was not thrilled with even as she wriggled through the window into the amazing stench of the weight room. Breaking and entering, Cat scolded herselfby the time I'm done, Mary Ann will be the good one in the family!
But no noises as she dropped into the room, only the intense smell of sweat and liniment which had her hand to her nose as soon as she had landed on her feet. She waited a long momentstill no noiseand made her way to the door. The old crash bar yielded to her hand, and in an instant Nancy had slipped inside, her eyes blinking from the smell. When she suggested they get out of there and to Mr. Bailey's storeroom, Cat readily agreed.
"This is so creepy!" Cat whispered as she and Nancy tiptoed down a dark hallway toward the stairwell toward Mr. Bailey's room. Nancy nodded, understanding immediately; they both were used to the old halls filled with students and teachers, alive with activity and conversation, or quiet in a late-afternoon rest, a scattering of students and coaches going to and from their practices. This was different; the old, narrow hallways were nearly pitch-dark but for an occasional dim light mostly at the intersections of corridors, the plaster upper walls deep gray, the wainscoted lower walls a glistening near-black, the creaking of the ancient wooden floors ominous in itself, particularly in the near-darkness through which Nancy and Mary Catherine crept. Each creak of a board sent shivers through the young sleuths, as if they were walking through a haunted house. But after what felt to them entirely too long an interval, they found Mr. Bailey's roomdoor mercifully unlocked, as most of the building wasand from there the storeroom. Not daring to turn on an overhead light, Nancy played the flashlight beam over the shelvesand right there
"Got it!" she exulted, finding the box in which the Geiger counter rested. A quick check confirmed the presence of the device"Let's get out of here!" Mary Catherine nodded, relieved to have achieved their mission, and they two sleuths edged back into the hallway with their treasure slung under Nancy's arm. They reached the corner of the hallway
"Hey you! Get back here!" They gasped