Alright everybody, this is a new story of mine. Thank-you for clicking on it. Enjoy it and please tell me what you think.

Watch the Ball Drop

" Hey," Nancy said as she and her companion neared the twelve-story-tall building in front of them, " what happened to Frank?"

One of her escorts, Joe Hardy by name, looked down at her from his six-foot-three height with an impish grin. " And here I thought I was sufficient. One Hardy as a date just doesn't cut it, huh Nance?"

Nancy laughingly socked Joe on the arm. Frank and Joe had been her best guy friends ever since college. They had even opened a detective agency with her. Joe loved to tease her and Frank because they had a thing for each other, but they refused to admit it.

Rolling his eyes, Joe nodded toward the rear of the building. " Brother dearest is back there. Watching the comings and goings of anyone who uses the back entrance. Just a precaution."

Typical Frank, cover all the bases. " He can't just stay back there, Joe. He'll freeze!" She snugged her chin into her scarf for emphasis.

" Hey, I know. I told him to walk in with you- get some quality time- but no. He-"

" Shhh!" Nancy hissed. She and Joe were approaching the doorman, who took in their formal clothes with a pompous sniff.

Joe plastered on a smile. " Must suck to be out on a night like this. Do you go on break soon?"

" Not soon enough for my taste," the stuffy man said. He held the door wide open, as if wanting the two sleuths to leave him alone. " Enjoy your evening."

In just as much of a hurry to escape the doorman's critical gaze, Nancy and Joe scurried into the lobby of the luxurious Uptown House. The Uptown House was a live-in hotel, in which the rich and beautiful flaunted themselves and their money.

Joe checked his watch and pressed a minuscule button on the side. Then, as he gently steered Nancy to a wall, completely filled with a floor-to-ceiling portrait of the hotel's owner: Horas Peret, he whispered, " I just buzzed Frank. He should be walking through the door in a second; then we can all head upstairs. Mr. Peret is expecting all three of us to show up."

Nancy nodded. " This is gonna be a real sophisticated affair. I hope I don't goof."

" You, goof? Not possible!" Frank's voice said from behind.

Nancy and Joe made an about face. " Brother dearest!" Joe exclaimed. " Glad you made it. I was afraid that I would have to get Nan to the party all by my-oof!"

Nancy removed her elbow from Joe's gut; smiling at Frank before she did so. " Are my escorts ready to do some sleuthing?"

" You know it." Frank took Nancy's arm and walked with her to the elevator, with Joe straggling behind, trying to catch his breath.

In the elevator, each of the young detectives silently reflected on their job for the evening. They were to act as happy, young party goers, at the same time keeping watch for a nefarious jewel thief that was suspected to show up at the party that evening. The trio had been asked by the hosts, Mr. and Mrs. Peret, to attend. As their cover, the sleuths were pretending to be visiting business associates of the Perets.

The elevator came to a halt at the top floor. Its door opened onto a small anteroom, in which a uniformed butler stood waiting to greet the guests.

" You are here for the party, I presume?"

" You presume correctly." Joe answered chipperly.

The butler's expression remained apathetic. " Names please?"

" Harrow and Dillan." Frank replied.

Bobbing his head, the butler gestured for them to enter the larger room; where sharply dressed men and elegantly gowned women were mingling.

Entrusting their coats to the less-than-affable butler, the group sauntered in among the other guests. A few heads turned as the detectives made their way over to the Perets, who were laughing and chatting with an older man and a young lady.

" Ah! Nancy, Frank, and Joe. Welcome to my humble- ah - abode." Mr. Peret exclaimed as he glanced their way. Turning to his companions, the jovial-faced man made the introductions.

" Mr. Milweed and Joanna, meet my business -really, you could say proteges- Miss Nancy Dillan, Mr. Frank Harrow, and Mr. Joe Harrow."

" How do you do?" Mr. Milweed murmured without warmth.

" Charmed." Joanna drawled in an uninterested tone.

The sleuths were a bit miffed at the Milweed's attitudes. Mrs. Peret sensed the tension, so she said, " My, my, Nancy! I adore that dress!" Don't you think it's lovely Joanna?"

Joanna sniffed as she caste on swift, sweeping glance over Nancy's dark burgundy evening dress. " It's a bit plain, don't you think? Although the color is very nice." She gave the dress a second appraisal. " And it appears to be very sturdily made. An early Dior?"

More like a recent Hannah Gruen, Nancy thought. " Thank-you. And no, it's not Dior; it happens to be specially made." She smiled.

Joanna sniffed and turned back to her father. Small talk continued for a few moments, then the adults moved off toward the refreshment table.

The three detectives and Joanna wound their way through the crowd toward a large, covered glass case that stood on a dais against the wall.

"So, Joanna, " Joe began, " do you hang around parties like this often?"

" Well, duh!" Joanna flicked her raven hair over a spray-tanned shoulder and shrugged. "Where else would I be?"

Joe shrugged also. "Oh, I don't know. Times Square, maybe. Tonight is New Year's Eve, you know."

" Yeah, I know." Joanna breathed, staring into the middle distance. She did not speak for a moment.

Frank cleared his throat. " What business is your father in; if you don't mind my asking?"

That snapped the girl out her reverie. "Hmm? Oh! He's a dealer."

" Really? What of?"

" Art, rare books, historic stuff, ... and jewels. He's just sold off an emerald from Colombia. Big money for that one."

the group was now only two feet away from the covered display case. Whirling, Joanna fired a question at Nancy. " Do you have any idea what's under that glass? I do."

Refusing to let the sudden inquiry ruffle her, Nancy replied with a tiny grin. " I can guess. Jewels?"

" Yes." The dealer's daughter turned to gaze longingly at the case. " One of the most beautiful stones in the world is under there. Trapped under that glass!" Her eyes darted to Joe's face. " Don't you think that's horrible?"

Thinking that she was finally opening up, Joe agreed emphatically. " Listen, I can tell a few tales about being trapped; and let me tell you, it is not fun."

Nodding excitedly, Joanna grasped Joe's arm and towed him away from Frank and Nancy. As she pulled him along, she started to jabber on about "the liberal needs of nature."

" I have a feeling that Joe's going to be occupied for a while." Frank chuckled. " How about we scope out the crowd a little."

" Good idea. Make sure to keep an eye out for any suspicious-looking socialites." Nancy giggled.

Nancy and Frank made their rounds, stopping to chat briefly with the guests and the staff. Once they had a feel for the room, Nancy remarked, " All the guests are pretty nice, but the staff is kinda... detached."

" Yeah, I've noticed." Frank swept a glance around the room. "Looks like Mr. Peret stepped out. When he gets back, I want to ask whether or not these people are his regular staff."

" Yeah. They could be from some hired-help agency. I can't see Mr. Peterson using the hotel staff; that would take away from his paying guests."

A body bumped into Nancy from behind.

" Oh, sorry. I didn't look where I was- hello." The person who had bumped into the sleuth was a young man, probably in his early twenties, with closely-cropped red hair, a sharp nose, and glasses just a little bit too large for his face. Pretty cute.

" That's alright." Nancy smiled. " I'm sure it was an accident."

" An accident. Yes. Or maybe even fate." the red-head replied. He grinned beguilingly. " I'm sure it was fate."

Unable to help herself, Nancy smiled back and introduced herself as Nancy Dillan.

" Charmed, very charmed. My name is Reed Smothers, of the South Hampton Smothers."

Frank stuck his hand out, effectively blocking Nancy's hand from reaching Reed's. " Hi. I'm Frank Harrow, of the Bayport Harrows. Nice to meet you."

Reed stared Frank's out-stretched hand for a full five seconds before shaking it. " Hmmm. Of course. Bayport? I've never heard of it."

" It's a quiet, coastal town. Very peaceful."

Nancy held back a snort. Bayport was anything but peaceful for the Hardys.

Reed 'hmmed' and turned back to Nancy. They chatted for a few moments, until the orchestra struck up chord. " Care to dance." Reed asked.

Shooting a glance at Frank, who looked away, Nancy nodded. She and Reed swang into the waltz, leaving a miffed Frank behind to sulk.

Joe and Joanna had also shared the dance, but Joanna begged off when the next one started.

" I think I could use a little punch; I'm parched."

" Alrighty. I'll be right back." Outside, Joe was grinning; but inside, he was mulling over the long -and mostly one-sided- conversation Joanna had had with him. She was a nice enough girl when she opened up, and she was very open on ' natural free reign.' Which was apparently her belief that all people, animals, and things were ' born' free; and that having these things do stuff they were not ' born' to do was wrong. Joe had never thought that burning firewood was taking the tree from its destiny, to look beautiful and give off oxygen. However, according to Joanna, unless the tree agreed, burning it for warmth was murder.

Joe had just reached the punchbowl when Frank and Nancy strode up. Frank was trying not to scowl at the red-head that was with them. Joe had to snicker.

" Hi group! How's-" Joe's greeting was cut short as the lights flickered, then went out completely. Someone began to hurry across the floor, probably to find the circuit breaker. Mr. Peret's voice rang out of the darkness, telling everyone to remain calm.

Then, a split-second before the lights came back on, a far-off-sounding shriek rent the air!

" What was that?" a lady wondered, her eyes shifting nervously.

Frank, Nancy, and Joe were also scanning the room to see if anything was out of place. Nancy observed that the glass case seemed undisturbed; although the guests all looked extremely ruffled.

Two sharp gasps of surprise caught the girl sleuth's attention. Joe and Reed were staring across the room at an empty chair.

" She- she's-" Reed stammered.

Shaking his head in disbelief, Joe blurted out " Joanna! She's gone!"