Imagine, Nancy -- me, a world-famous model!" Bess Marvin's lively blue eyes were shining, and the smile on her face was more than intense. She ran her fingers through her long blond hair and struck a nonchalant pose, gazing at herself in the mirror.
"This is fantastic news, Bess," Nancy Drew said, rereading the letter that had come for Bess the day before. "'Dear Bess Marvin,'" she read aloud. "'We're happy to inform you that you've been selected as a finalist in the Face of the Year contest jointly sponsored by Smash Clothing, Elan Modeling Agency, and Teen Scene magazine.' It really is incredible," Nancy concluded.
Bess continued to gaze at her reflection in the closet door mirror. "All I did was lose a few pounds, and suddenly my whole life has changed," she said with a happy sigh. "I guess it was worth it to turn down all the ice-cream cones, brownies, mocha cheesecake . . ."
"It's really great," said George Fayne. Bess's cousin and good friend, who was sitting on Bess's bed. "When I took those pictures, I never dreamed they'd actually get you into the finals."
"You didn't?" Bess spun around and faced her cousin. "George Fayne -- are you saying I'm not beautiful enough to be a model?"
Nancy held up a hand. "Hold on, Bess," she said. "George just means she's surprised because there was so much competition."
"Right!" George's wide brown eyes were fixed innocently on Bess. "You were the one who said over five thousand girls sent in their pictures -- "
"And only eight were selected as finalists," Nancy finished for her. "That's pretty amazing."
"It is, isn't it?" Bess said with a sigh.
Nancy brushed back her silky reddish-blond hair and glanced quickly at George. Ever since the letter had arrived, Bess had been subject to some pretty wild mood swings.
Now, for instance, when Bess turned back to the mirror she was biting her lip and frowning.
"Those pictures George took made me look so glamorous. Let's face it, I'm not that pretty in real life." She turned from the mirror and flopped down on her bed.
"You are too!" George insisted.
"I agree," Nancy added. "But even if you weren't, there's no sense worrying about real life now. This is a modeling contest! You're going to be treated to an all-expenses-paid trip to Chicago, get a makeover by a professional makeup artist, and have your picture taken by world-famous photographers. It'll be the time of your life!"
Bess nodded, her expression brightening. "You're right!" she said, sitting up. "Besides, the judges aren't only looking for beauty. We'll be judged on personality as well." Bess had no doubts about her personality. "And with you two there, how could I help but be a winner?"
George raised her eyebrows and bit her lip. "Bess, I didn't want to tell you, but I can't go. I'm playing in the All-County Tennis Tournament this week."
Bess winced. "What about you, Nan? You can come, can't you?"
"Better say yes, Nan," George suggested. "Without you there to hold her down, Bess may float off planet Earth."
"I wouldn't miss it for the world," Nancy said with a grin. "In fact, if we're leaving tomorrow, I'd better go home and pack right now!"
"Hurry! Please, sir," Bess sounded truly desperate. She was standing on the sidewalk in front of the Chicago Inter-Continental Hotel with Nancy, waiting while a bellhop loaded their suitcases onto a wheeled luggage carrier.
The elderly man just smiled and hefted the last bag onto the pile. "Ready, ladies?" he said, pushing the cart through the doorway.
Bess stopped short just inside the lobby. "Oh, no!" she shrieked, staring at her hand in horror.
"What's the matter?" Nancy asked.
"Just look at that chip on my fingernail! I was so careful, too!"
Nancy examined the offending nail. It was barely noticeable. "It's tiny, Bess. You can fix it when we get upstairs."
"Oh, no, I can't," Bess moaned. "I didn't bring that shade." She squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head helplessly. "Oh, please, please, let there be a store in Chicago that sells Heavenly Pink. I'll die if I can't find it."
"Gosh, Bess," Nancy ventured. "Is nail polish really worth dying for?"
"I guess I am getting carried away, huh?" she said, apologizing. She hurried across the thick red-and-black carpet to the reception desk.
"Hi, I'm here for the Face of the Year contest," Bess announced to the man behind the desk. He wore a gold pin with his name, Mr. Johnson, on it.
Mr. Johnson peered over the counter at Bess and adjusted his glasses. "Are you one of the contestants?"
"Yes," Bess said, a little annoyed. "I'm Bess Marvin, and this is my friend, Nancy Drew. She's staying with me."
"I only asked because the other contestants have already left for the pier. They're doing a 'Welcome to Chicago' shoot there. It's two blocks north on Lake Shore Drive."
"Oh, no, we're really late! I'm so mad I wasn't ready when you got to my house," Bess said to Nancy.
"Sign here, and I'll have your bags brought to your room. Suite four hundred twelve," Mr. Johnson said calmly. "Good luck."
"Thanks," said Bess, who was running for the glass sliding door.
Nancy followed, and soon the two were dashing up Lake Shore Drive, searching for the other contestants. The scenery was breathtaking, with the skyscrapers of the city towering over the lake. Bess was too nervous and hurried to notice.
"There they are," Nancy announced after only a block and a half. She pointed across the street to a huge pier jutting out into Lake Michigan. A truck with its own electric generator was parked on the pier, and farther out a group of young women were arranged at a railing.
"Great!" Bess said excitedly, stepping off the curb to cross the street.
"Whoa," Nancy said firmly, taking her friend by the arm and pulling her back. "Let's wait for the light."
"Ooh, I can't believe it. There's Kelly Conroy!" Bess whispered excitedly as they stepped onto the pier. She pointed to a young woman with dark auburn hair and green eyes who stood in a small cluster of people about twenty feet from the sidewalk. "I recognize her from the picture by her column in Teen Scene."
At that moment Kelly turned and caught sight of Bess and Nancy. She waved and started walking toward them, a big smile on her face. She wore a smart black jacket with brass buttons and epaulets, skinny black pants, and ankle-high black boots. "You've got to be Bess," she said when she reached them. "I recognize you from your photo. Hi!"
"Hi,"said Bess, staring at the columnist. "I can't believe I'm actually meeting you. I mean, I read your column every week. It's the best."
"Can I quote you? I'm Kelly Conroy," the columnist said, and she extended her hand to Nancy. "You're not one of the contestants, are you? Bess makes eight -- "
"No , " answered Nancy quickly. "I'm just here with Bess. My name's Nancy."
"Excuse me, Kelly," said a tall, handsome man of about thirty who had joined them. "Bettina wants to talk to you about the group shot."
"Thanks, Thom. " Kelly turned back to Bess and Nancy. "Well, I'll see you later, girls. Meanwhile, meet Thom Fortner. He's the public relations person for Smash Clothing and also for the contest. Thom, this is Bess Marvin, one of our finalists, and her friend Nancy."
"Oh, hello, Mr. Fortner, Bess gushed. "I just love Smash Clothes. I wear them all the time."
"That's nice to hear," Mr. Fortner told her. "And please, call me Thom."
"Thom! Thom!" Nancy turned and saw a tall woman with frosted hair and dangling royal-blue earrings wave at him. "What are you doing? I need you here, too!"
"Sorry, Bettina. I didn't realize." The public relations man raised his eyebrows in an amused gesture. "Excuse me, ladies. When Bettina calls, we all answer."
"Bettina Vasquez works for Elan Agency," Bess told Nancy. "She runs the place for Monique Durand. That's what they told me when I called to make arrangements for my trip."
"Young lady!" Bettina was shouting over Kelly Conroy's head. "If you want to be in the shot, you'd better join us, too."
"Who, me?" Bess looked confused.
"Yes, darling, you," the woman said icily.
"She doesn't seem very nice. But then, a big shoot like this must mean a lot of pressure for her," Nancy said as they walked toward the others.
The closer they got, the more Bess seemed to freeze up. Nancy thought she knew why. Standing near the iron railing, with only Lake Michigan behind them, were seven of the tallest, most beautiful girls she had ever seen.
"I suddenly feel short," Bess whispered.
"It's called 'petite,'" Nancy said, patting her friend on the arm.
"Hi, you must be Bess," said a honey blonde with a wide smile and warm brown eyes. "I'm Maggie Adams."
"Hi," said Bess, studying her with obvious dismay. Maggie was tall and willowy. Her skin was luminous, and her features were perfect.
"Don't worry," Maggie said reassuringly. "You haven't missed a thing. We've been here for an hour, but they haven't taken a single shot yet."
"This is so unprofessional," said one of the girls, an ash blonde with catlike golden eyes.
"Have you worked as a model?" Bess asked.
"Of course I have," the girl snapped.
"But I thought this contest was only for amateurs," Bess murmured.
"Er -- I worked for charities," the girl responded with an insincere smile.
"I'm Bess Marvin. This is my friend, Nancy Drew."
The girl nodded and turned her back on them. "When are they going to start shooting?" she complained to no one in particular. "It's freezing out here."
"That's Heather Richards," Maggie told them in a whisper. "She's from New York."
Heather was right, though. The wind had begun to blow off the lake. Even for a fall day it was chilly. Nancy pulled up the collar of her light wool jacket and stuffed her hands into her pockets.
"Everybody," Maggie was saying, "this is Bess Marvin and her friend Nancy. Now let's see if I can remember all the names! Bess, you've already met Heather. This is Trudy Woo, Carey Harper, Alison Williams, Diana Amsterdam, and Natasha." One by one the lovely girls nodded and introduced themselves.
"Hi, Bess and Nancy," said Trudy Woo. She had glossy black hair, cut blunt and in bangs, and sparkling almond-shaped eyes.
Next to Trudy stood tall, slender Carey Harper. Her dark hair was twisted into a thick French braid, giving her a soft, classic look. "Welcome," Carey said, taking Bess in with a pair of amazing blue eyes that seemed to leap from her face when she smiled.
"Hi," Bess gulped before she turned to her next competitor.
"We wondered when you were going to get here," the girl said with a warm smile. "I'm Alison Williams." Alison was tall, like Maggie and Carey, but her skin was a rich chocolate brown, set off by large, glowing black eyes. Her glossy jet-black hair was parted on one side and held in place with a simple gold clip.
"Hi, Bess, I'm Diana," the next girl said. Diana's face had a delicate elfin quality, with mischievous aquamarine eyes. Diana and Trudy weren't quite so tall as the others. But Nancy noticed with dismay that Bess was by far the shortest of the contestants.
Natasha, who nodded at Bess and Nancy from the end of the group, had full, pouting lips, a short, slender nose, and enormous green eyes.
All in all, Nancy had to admit that the Face of the Year contestants were a pretty impressive-looking group. Bess shook hands with each girl in turn.
"I'm sorry," Bess said when she got to Natasha, "I didn't get your last name. "
"It's just Natasha," the girl said with a thick European accent.
"That's beautiful," Bess said. "I'm never going to remember everyone's name, though."
"Don't worry," Maggie said. "There's no test. And besides, we have plenty of time to get to know one another. We'll be here all week."
"Okay! Okay, girls! Listen up!" Bettina Vasquez was clapping her hands and shouting to get everyone's attention. "We're ready for the first shot! Line up in this order, please! In the back row, Heather Richards, Natasha, Carey Harper, and Alison Williams. Maggie Adams, Trudy Woo, Diana Amsterdam, and Bess Marvin, you'll be in front."
"Excuse me, Bettina, may I talk to you a moment?" Heather Richards said politely as the girls began taking their places.
"Could I please stay in the front?" Nancy heard Heather ask. "I'm terribly afraid of the water."
Bettina rolled her eyes impatiently and waved a hand. "Maggie Adams, you're tall. Would you please change places with Heather?"
"Sure," soft-spoken Maggie answered.
None of the other girls said anything when Heather rejoined them, but Nancy could tell they found the blond New Yorker less than charming.
"Okay, ladies." A bearded photographer wearing a red sweatshirt and gray jeans stepped out in front of the group. "I want you each to make sure you can see the lens. Some of you in front may have to scrunch down a little -- "
"Wait for me," a man's voice rang out. Nancy turned around. A tall, incredibly handsome blond man with chiseled features was rushing up to the girls. Nancy recognized him from dozens of commercials, although she didn't know his name. "I'm in this shot, too!"
"Roger Harlan!" Bess shrieked, totally forgetting her cool.
"That's my name," he said with a dazzling smile that reached all the way up to his perfect blue eyes. "Sorry I'm late. I was filming a commercial."
"Roger, move in between Alison and Maggie, would you, darling?" Bettina asked. She and the handsome model obviously knew each other.
"Okay, folks," the photographer explained. "Pretend the lens is your best friend. You're just standing -- "
The photographer's words were interrupted by a sharp crack. The contestants were all screaming as the iron railing behind them gave way. Before Nancy -- or anyone -- could react, there was a splash -- one of the girls had plunged headlong into the lake!