The Mystery of the Jeered Journalist
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! While I base this mostly on the books, it is with the idea that the basic events of the 1970s Nancy Drew television series' episode The Ghostwriter's Cruise happened in the book universe. I love the TV series, but I'd rather set this in the book verse because of the characterizations and other things the TV series altered. The episode is important to the story despite the book verse because ever since I first saw it perhaps fourteen or fifteen years ago, I have been fond of H.M. Wynant's character Peter Howard. Hence, I really wanted to bring him in for more fun and have Nancy actually team up with him on a case. I adored that they danced together in the episode. If they had solved that case together too, I probably would have sailed over the moon!Chapter One
"What a beautiful hotel suite!" Bess Marvin declared. She spread her arms for emphasis, standing and gazing at the lovely and expensive furniture and accessories.
"The Chicago Amateur Detectives Convention always provides the best for its guests," Nancy Drew smiled in approval as she set her luggage down on the bed. She was sent an invitation every year, and although recognition and praise usually embarrassed her, the convention generally had something interesting that made her want to attend. Her close friends, who often helped her in solving mysteries both at home and abroad, were happy to attend with her.
"They've got some pretty good stuff for sports fans too," Bess's cousin George Fayne remarked. She was standing at the window, gazing down at the tennis courts.
"It's just too bad that we didn't make it here in time to get settled before the opening dinner," Bess frowned. "It's not that long of a drive from River Heights. Who would've thought we'd get caught in that horrible traffic jam!"
"Well, if we could have left earlier, maybe it wouldn't have happened," said George. "Nancy and I were ready while you were still trying to decide what perfume to bring!"
"I wanted the best possible scent for the occasion," Bess declared, sticking her nose in the air. "And at least we made it here in time to hear that dreamy Allan Parker give his speech at dinner!"
"That was a good speech," Nancy interjected with a nod. "Mr. Parker has solved a lot of important cases."
"No more important than yours, Nancy," George said. "But he gets a lot more recognition than you."
"That's alright. Anyway, he's been at it a lot longer." Nancy opened her suitcase and began to sort through her belongings. "I wanted to talk to him after his speech, but I couldn't seem to catch up to him."
"Yeah, because he was being mobbed by all those reporters." George leaned on a chair.
"Wouldn't it be exciting to solve a case with him?" Bess exclaimed.
"Even if you got knocked out, beat up, kidnapped, and looked a complete mess when he saved you?" George quipped.
Bess opened her mouth to retort, but the horrible crash against the hotel room door right then was more than enough to make her and the other girls jump a mile and forget the topic. "Oh Nancy!" cried Bess.
"What is that?!" George burst out.
Nancy headed for the door in determination. "There's only one way to find out," she declared.
"Don't open the door!" Bess exclaimed. "There could be some horrible man out there, just waiting to grab one of us!"
"So I'll stand ready with my karate," George said, positioning herself near the door.
But it was most unnecessary. As Nancy eased the door open, not sure what she would find, a body came crashing in onto the floor. Bess screamed.
"Holy smokes!" said George. "Who is that?!"
"Is he dead?!" Bess wailed.
Nancy dropped to her knees next to the body and felt for a pulse. "No, Bess, he's not dead," she soon reported. "And something about him seems familiar." She tried to gently push on his shoulder to turn him onto his side, but he was too heavy for her to be able to move him very carefully. "Help me move him, George," she said then. "I don't want to hurt him worse."
George dropped down next to her and together they managed to position him on his side, so he could breathe easier. "I remember him!" George cried now. "Peter Howard! He was on the cruise ship when we went with John Addams and his niece!"
Bess stiffened, obviously remembering what she had been told about that adventure. "He wasn't the one trying to kill Mr. Addams, was he?!"
"No, Bess. He said he was a reporter representing a magazine syndicate." Nancy examined him for visible injuries as she spoke. "I can't say I liked him much, but he wasn't trying to hurt Mr. Addams. He just wanted to have Mr. Addams' notes on his autobiography and wanted to go through me to get to them."
"He's quite handsome," Bess said in approval. "If he wasn't so much older than me . . ."
"Why should that stop you?" George teased. "Younger girls with older men is getting to be more common these days. Anyway, I thought you liked older men."
Bess made a face. "Not this much older. He must be close to fifty! I'd rather have a man closer to my own age, thanks." She leaned down, placing her hands on her knees. "How is he, Nancy?"
Nancy frowned. "I'm not sure," she admitted. "He hasn't shown any signs of regaining consciousness. There is this bump at the back of his head. . . ." She indicated its location under his dark hair.
"We'd better call an ambulance," said Bess, straightening and hurrying to the phone.
George was frowning too. "So somebody hits him in the head and he stays awake long enough to stagger down the hall and conveniently crash into our door?"
"Either that or someone deliberately left him here," Nancy said. "And it doesn't make much sense either way. I can't imagine why anyone would leave him on purpose. How would they even know that any of us know him?"
George folded her arms. "And if he came here himself, was he trying to find you to get help?" she wondered.
"I can't figure out how he'd know we're here," Nancy said. "But then again, I guess if he's a good reporter he should be able to learn something like that easy enough. Maybe he saw us at the dinner, even though we didn't see him.
"Of course, it could all just be a bizarre coincidence."
Bess hung up the phone. "The ambulance is on its way," she reported.
Nancy nodded. "Good." Hesitating, she then began to search through Peter's pockets.
"Nancy, what are you doing?!" Bess exclaimed.
"I'm looking for any clues about what happened to Mr. Howard and why," Nancy said. "But strangely enough, all of his pockets are empty. Whoever did this to him might have already found what they wanted."
"It could have been just a simple robbery," George said.
"It could have been," Nancy agreed. But from her tone of voice, she was not convinced.
The man groaned then, weakly curling his fingers on the carpet. Nancy perked up, resting a hand on his shoulder. "Mr. Howard?" she called. "This is Nancy Drew. Can you hear me?"
He struggled to force his eyes open. "Nancy Drew?" he mumbled. Despite his obvious pain, his lips curled in his best attempt at a charming smile. "I'm sorry to blow in like this, Miss Drew."
"Do you remember what happened to you?" Nancy asked.
"I wanted to talk with you," he said. "They caught me first. Tried to take my notes."
"Tried?" Nancy frowned. "Your pockets are all empty, Mr. Howard."
"They took my wallet then," he said in vague annoyance. "It's a good thing I took my money out of it. And as for my notes, well . . ." He smirked. "I hid them."
"Maybe you shouldn't try to talk, Mr. Howard," Bess said in concern. "I called an ambulance."
"Ambulance? I'll be alright." He tried to sit up and promptly clenched his teeth against the pain. A hand went to the back of his head. "I've been through worse than this on some of my stories."
"Mr. Howard . . ." Nancy gave him a long look. "Are you really trying to get a story for the magazine syndicate you said you represent? I have a hard time believing they would be interested in the Chicago Amateur Detectives Convention."
"They would be . . . if I could prove one of the leading international amateur detectives is a fraud," Peter replied through clenched teeth. He slumped against the footboard of the nearest bed, dizzy.
"Not Nancy!" Bess cried in horror.
"Please!" Peter held up his hands in desperation. "Don't yell." He closed his eyes in pain. "And no, it's not Miss Drew. From what I've seen and heard, Miss Drew's skills are very genuine."
Nancy frowned. "Then who is it?" she queried.
Bess could not control the squeal of outraged disbelief. Peter cringed again, but she did not seem to notice.
"Why, it could never be him!" she declared. "He's a wonderful detective! And he gave an amazing speech just tonight, all about the crimes he's solved and the criminals he's fought with. How could you ever think he could be a fraud?!"
"I don't just think it without any proof," Peter said with impatience. "All of the evidence I've been collecting is in my notes."
"And where did you hide your notes, Mr. Howard?" Nancy asked. She was withholding her opinion of this revelation. It seemed incredibly outlandish, to think that Allan Parker could be a fraud, but she had encountered so many people who were not as they seemed that she was willing to withhold judgment until she saw the evidence.
"They're in my . . ." But Peter trailed off, stiffening at the sounds of footsteps up the hall. "What's that?"
George, who was closest to the open door, looked out. "It's the paramedics," she announced.
Nancy got up to see. But she only studied them for a moment before she went rigid and shut the door, locking it as best as she could.
"Nancy, what are you doing?!" Bess exclaimed. "You can't lock the paramedics out!"
"I'm not so sure those are the real paramedics, Bess," Nancy frowned. "One of them was trying to sort through the equipment like he couldn't figure out what anything was for."
"Maybe it was his first time out," George suggested.
But Peter looked worried. "Did one of them have a scar along his left arm?"
Nancy thought about it and nodded. "I saw something on his arm," she said.
"I did too," George realized. "It was raised up. That's called a hypertrophic scar, isn't it?"
"Then they aren't the paramedics," Peter said darkly. "Heaven knows what they did with the real ones."
Nancy grabbed the phone, her heart increasing in speed. Whether or not this had anything to do with Allan Parker, Peter Howard was definitely in danger. And now, Bess and George and Nancy herself were as well.
She dialed the front desk, praying that the hotel detective could be sent up before the fake paramedics managed to break through the door.