On the afternoon of February 27, the blue sky was calling. Nancy lay on her bed with her arms splayed above her head. It would have been nice to stay at home, sit for a little while, enjoy the time between cases (however briefly it lasted), and be reminded that a second was only as short or as long as it lingered in the mind. However, as usual, there was too much to cover before enjoying herself. For the day she had to stay in the house to match and retain the gravity of her rumination. A minute in the lovely, cheery outdoors, and all good thought would float up from her like a balloon.
But memories of yesterday involuntarily jutted into her peace of mind.
A football sailed over the blue convertible.
Nancy smiled wanly as she started up the engine and pulled out of the driveway, watching her rearview. The kids waited until she was halfway down the street before doddering over to her backyard, carrying their childish din farther from her ears.
She loved River Heights.
Of course, she had to love it… she was born here, and, for the time being, it looked like she would be spending a lot more time here. This most recent case felt like it would be her last—at least, the last of its type.
Blinking as a strand of titian hair blew into her face, Nancy turned on the radio to stop her thoughts. She had already given this plenty of deliberation, certainly enough to be considered well-informed when she arrived in Bayport.
Most of the time Nancy found her mind preoccupied with the latest… just because the investigation stopped didn't mean her thoughts did. So if the day had been full of ivory chunks and poacher profiles, it would have been a very normal day, indeed.
But of course nothing was that cut and dried.
The images plaguing her now were eight months old.
Nancy lay her head against the headrest and put the car on cruise control.
Funny how you didn't know your life had been on the rail until derailing, now as her life's calling started slipping away.
A familiar voice on the radio caught her ear. She turned it up.
"-any indications as to which way the network is leaning?"
"Light Of Our Love is still going strong, I'm happy to report," a male voice replied. "We haven't heard from the network yet, but we're hopeful for the green light for next season!"
Light Of Our Love…?
"It's been announced that Serena is leaving the show after this season. How has her departure affected the star element? Can we expect to see any new names for this show?"
Serena! It sounded so familiar, Nancy mused.
"It's still too early to tell," the interviewee laughed. "And somehow I'm always the last one to know about these things."
"This is Pattie Williams reporting from WWB in New York. Thank you for talking to me, Rick."
A switch turned on in her mind. Rick Arlen! Of course! It had been...
Exactly how long had it been?
She sighed and switched off the radio.
The rest of the drive was spent in silence. Nancy tried to concentrate on the road. Usually someone called, making it easier.
Nancy bit her lip.
In any case, no one called.
In any case, she had more important worries now.
When the "Welcome to Bayport" sign swept past her, Nancy was prepared. Soon she was pulling into the Hardy's driveway as Frank and Joe played football in the backyard. She perked up a bit. They always managed to cheer her up, even without saying anything.
Fenton Hardy stood on the porch, and now he came down to greet her.
"Hello!" Nancy smiled brightly and shook his hand. "Thank you for talking to me."
Fenton returned the smile. "Always a pleasure, Nancy."
"Hi Nancy!" Joe called.
She waved at him before Fenton led her into the house and then into the living room. He gestured to the seat opposite him. She sat.
"How did your last case go?"
"Kind of shaky. A hard one to solve. I had to stay on my toes." Nancy clasped her hands in her lap. "I thought it was a little weird at first. Like maybe I was getting worse at solving cases. And that would be strange… I've been solving cases since I was sixteen."
"And you're how old now? Twenty?"
Nancy nodded. "It's gotten difficult." She moved her thumb back and forth over the back of her other hand. "After I thought about it, it seems most likely that I'm just less believable as a teenager. More people are recognizing me, anyway. On that last case my cover was almost blown. The people whom I was investigating were suspicious from the get-go, and I had to solve it fairly quickly, since what little trust they had could fall away so easily. And it's so easy to do background checks nowadays. Last week I was visiting my friend in Vermont, and people looked at me as if they knew who I was." Nancy laughed. "That was a big tip-off."
"Seems the news of your work has spread," Fenton said wryly.
"Unfortunately." She looked down, surprised by a small red crescent on the spot just vacated by her thumb. "I'm afraid I'll never be able to work in the same way again."
"That's life." Fenton leaned back in his chair. "I left NYPD and moved here when Frank and Joe were quite young. Nothing like looking into the eyes of your sons when a case has gone sour. I knew I had to keep them safe; it wasn't just about me and Laura anymore."
"I've thought a little about options," said Nancy, forcing her hands still. "Until now, college wasn't possible. I would have been away too much. I'm not sure how much it would help at this point. How much of it do you think would be valuable to me, Fenton?"
"Hmmm." Fenton's mouth tightened in a contemplative frown. "Studying criminology or forensics could help, I suppose. One has a social focus while the other is scientific. So if you did choose to study criminology, psychology would couple well with that. However…" He paused. "Those are designed to prepare students for a career in investigation, as well as other disciplines, but for your sake we'll focus on that. You already have years' worth of practical knowledge and experience, so I'm not sure how useful four years of studying criminology will be. You might learn a little more in the forensics program because it is a more specific study and you might know less about it, but, again, it comprises merely part of the skill set for this type of work, work at which you've already proven yourself to be proficient. Of course extra knowledge doesn't hurt, but the question is in whether that knowledge is worth four years of study, some of which will be overlap."
"Okay." Nancy said. "And I think it's too early for me to start off as a private investigator. I'm still too young."
"I agree." Fenton looked at her. "And I'm guessing that this is your main point of concern?"
"Too old to continue what I'm doing right now and too young to keep going in the same career path? Yeah, that's pretty much it. I'm looking for some sort of bridge, I suppose."
"Have you considered police work?"
"Yeah, I have." Nancy bit her lip. "Most private investigators start off that way, I know. You did."
"What do you think about it?"
"I don't know. I've done so much already, it feels like it might be a bit the same… and without the travel, you know? It feels a little inhibiting." She looked up quickly. "Not that I don't think police work is useful or admirable, I'm just not sure if it's for me—at least right now. And on the other hand, a lot of my friends have started going to college. I've always been curious about that."
"Do you think that would be better for you at this point?"
Nancy opened her mouth to speak, then stopped. For a moment she sat, trying to reconcile the quiet in the room with the clamor of her thoughts. Then she tried again. "I don't know what I think. Or what I want. I'm comfortable with what I'm doing, and I'm not sure which choice will be easier to adapt to. If I go to college, I'll probably wind up studying at the police academy anyway. At the same time, I'm not sure how I feel about doing the same things in the same locations right now. It seems…"
"Boring?" Fenton grinned. "It can be. Especially before you get out of uniform. Patrol is hardly ever fun."
"Mmmm-hmmm," Nancy said, trying not to frown.
"However, working on the force will give you credibility as a private investigator. It will show that you know how to work with others—most likely you'll be working with a partner—it will give you access to sophisticated forensics equipment and teach you how to use it, and it will encourage you to hone and develop your investigating methods. You've already built a name for yourself, but this would even further strengthen your reputation."
Nancy's mind raced. She needed to at least consider police work, she told herself. After all, it had been good enough for Fenton for a long, long time. It would offer an added skill set, and it was obviously his favorite choice. Still… "I could be a reporter," she added aloud. "Mom did that for a while."
"You could," said Fenton. "That provides good training for your investigation methods, as well. Journalism places a high emphasis on ethics and objectivity, both important in knowing your boundaries and ensuring that you are always fair with those whom you investigate. Also, the objectivity helps in clearing your head from any sympathies with suspects. Those focuses give a definite precision to your investigations. When you consider all possibilities equally, even the ones you dislike, you will always find the truth or what is closest to the truth."
She nodded slowly. It sounded promising, especially the "fair sleuthing" bit. She had a bad habit of looking through other people's bags without permission, which was probably illegal. Was it illegal? The question had been itching at her mind for the last few years now, but she was always too tired to remember to check. By the time she did remember, she was already on another case. And investigative reporters had to obtain their information legally; if not, it couldn't go into what they wrote afterward.
But the contents of those bags had been instrumental to solving the cases in a timely manner, so what would the solution be to that? The lawful one? Nancy winced. Damned if she knew. It just meant that she had to find other ways, lawful ways, and to do that, she would have to become a better detective. More observant.
There was still so much she needed to learn. Nancy felt a headache coming on. Now all of the options sounded good. "Are there any other plausible options you can think of?" she asked.
"A rather simple one," Fenton said right away. "Talk to your father. See what he can tell you. You won't need to represent or fight anyone in court, obviously, but if you know how a criminal might think, that would be helpful in reconstructing or even solving a crime. Chances are, such dialogue won't go on your resume, but people will know you by your name. You've got that connection—use it," Fenton said. "As a matter of fact, you have to be twenty-one to enroll in the police academy. If you decide to go that route, you've got a little downtime."
Nancy smiled. "Thanks. As it is, I think I'll have a little downtime anyway, since I have a lot to consider."
"You certainly do." Fenton replied with a spark in his eye. "Try not to be too worried. Change is exciting. You may not feel stable right now, but remember that you're still quite young."
"I will. Thanks, Fenton!"
"Anytime, Nancy. I wish you the best of luck."
They shook hands again, and Nancy left. Frank and Joe had gone. She was too tired to talk, anyway. An eight-hour drive took a lot out of anyone.
Stifling a yawn, Nancy stretched her arms up and back. She had left early this morning and returned just two hours ago, going straight to her room. She hadn't moved since.
She had fought it. Bed is for sleeping, she told herself. Desk is for making decisions.
The yawn forced its way on her.
That was her answer.
She turned onto her side. Everything was changing in her professional life—
And in her personal life—
Shutting her eyes tight, Nancy forced herself to think of something else. She and Ned had made their choices. No use thinking of what if.
Back to the present dilemma, the professional life, the vibes that told her that continuing on such shaky ground could be dangerous—
It was odd, but they weren't the kind of vibes that scared her. They just gave her straight knowledge, the feeling that if she went on doing the same thing she always had, someone would catch her, which would result either in her being taken off the case or stuck in a situation she might not be able to get herself out of.
That would put a damper on productivity for sure.
But what about all the cases that would just slip by, and all the trouble that wouldn't be stopped—
No. Nancy gritted her teeth. She needed this time. Every second of spare time she had before the next case was precious. And now, with more calls than ever, the next case could be tomorrow or the day after that.
And she would be no good to any client until she got these problems ironed out.
Her eyes snapped open.
That was it. She would go on hiatus. No more cases until this was all sorted out.
No matter who called.
That way the torrent of problems would stop for long enough for her to think.
Sufficient progress, she told herself, and breathed and sank back into the covers. Already she was losing consciousness as her head hit the pillow.
"Yeah?" she replied.
"You've got a visitor." Carson called up the stairs.
She sat up. "A visitor? Who?"
"I don't think he's from around here."
That tipped her off. Nancy hopped off her bed and left her room.
"He told me his name when he called. I believe he said it was—"
Making quick work of the stairs, Nancy greeted her father as she passed him and redirected her attention to someone standing in front of the piano, looking away. Windows washed out the drawing room. Her vision began to readjust as the figure turned.
And as she saw, she stopped.
"Sonny Joon," she muttered.
He had kept the purple frames for his glasses, and that was about all he had kept.
Mainly since his hair was orange like the sun. A bright, light shade, the kind you got from looking at it for too long.
And she couldn't help but notice how it brought out his brown eyes—
Nancy cleared her throat. "Sonny Joon. Good to see you." I guess, she added to herself.
"Likewise!" Sonny grinned. "This is official business. Want to grab pancakes?"