Like all good mysteries, it begins with a letter on her desk and a cry for help.
don't shake it (to the beat)
"Oh, Miss Drew," the victim's companion tells her, wringing her hands in worry and leading her up what may very well be the most decrepit staircase she's seen in her life. "I cannot thank you enough for coming all the way out here to help little ol' me."
Nancy brushes a stray strand of hair out of her face, readjusts her hair band and tries to overcome the chilly winter weather. If it feels like the staircase wobbles precariously as they go up, it's probably due to an overactive imagination. "You don't have to thank me, Mrs. McGuffin," she easily replies, one hand on the handrail and another on the strap of her bag. "After seeing your letter, I couldn't just ignore it. Though... if you don't mind me asking—why did you specifically ask for me?"
Mrs. McGuffin falters in her steps. Nancy almost crashes into her back, but almost is the keyword here. Fortunately for both of them, McGuffin resumes her trek up the stairs and gives a sad little chuckle. They have successfully avoided an accident on this wobbly staircase. "Well... Let's just say Henry's delicate. He was my late husband's best friend, ya see? And now he's mine..." she says, climbing the stairs with surprising agility for an 76-year-old widower. "I don't trust the authorities to be handling this. You saw his picture, didn't you? A delicate soul, I tell you."
Well, she's heard stranger things. More ludicrous reasons, too. It doesn't stop her from raising her brows sky high. "And you trust me to bring him home safe?"
"Sure do," comes Mrs. McGuffin's response, "And I know Henry will trust you, too, when you find him."
She's a little flattered by the trust that's being placed on her, but there's hardly any time to be thinking about that. They reach the top of the staircase soon enough, making a stop at the third floor of McGuffin's humble apartment complex, and head straight for a door on the far side of the hallway. McGuffin rummages around the pockets of her coat for the apartment keys, mumbling what may or may not be a foreign curse as she squints at the color coded labels on her keychain before she locates the one they need.
She then reaches forward, placing a hand on the knob and unlocking the apartment. The door swings open with the most horrifying squeak she's heard in all her life.
When Nancy takes a peek inside, a portrait on the opposite side of the room stares back at her.
"Well," Mrs. McGuffin says, a sense of grandeur in her tone and a notable reluctance to step further inside in her body language. "This'll be your apartment—free of charge until you find good ol' Henry. Make yourself at home, Ms. Drew."
The apartment, of course, smells like dust, dog slobber and year old laundry. She does not blame Mrs. McGuffin for not wanting to join her inside.
"Thank you," Nancy replies, brimming with courtesy and tact. Also, a really strong stomach. "I'll do just that."
And if her paranoia goes up by 78%, she blames it on the portrait in the living room-cum-kitchen-cum-dining room. The whole beady eyed, pale skinned look—it does not suit the subject of that portrait. Or anyone, really. Not even that one fake ghost she unmasked at Ryokan Hiei.
She's very grateful when she finds the bedroom is divided from the rest of her apartment.
She's slightly less grateful when she realizes it's 11:49PM and her internal clock has been thrown way off due to the drastic change in timezones. She is filled to the brim with nervous energy she cannot spent at the moment and, honestly, she may be ready to vibrate off the walls at this point of the night. She employs her newfound insomnia to do some impromptu sleuthing.
Here is a list of random tidbits she's discovered in the last hours of her life:
- As it turns out, her apartment smelling like dog slobber is no accident; a dog used to sleep here. This gives her a whole new perspective on the origin of the mysterious stains on her furniture. It's—very fascinating. For a lack of better words.
- The one and only staircase leading up to the third floor does, in fact, wobble precariously every time she does so much as to sneeze at it. She will not be mentioning this to Ned or her dad.
- Mrs. McGuffin has a bloated bank account and a three floor apartment complex to her name, courtesy of her late husband. Awesome.
- The portrait on the wall is also bolted to the wall.
- And she cannot find a way to take it down. Ugh.
Here is a list of helpful tidbits she has discovered in the last hours of her life:
It's going to be one heck of a long week.
But she'll drown in her sorrows after she's properly collapsed on her bed, at 8:56AM.
For now, someone should wake her up once the sun's gone down again.
She wakes up at 11:39AM, the sun shining through her window and burning her retinas.
The apartment complex's one and only tenant is surprisingly chattier than she expected him to be.
For a middle aged man with a handlebar mustache and a permanent frown, that is.
"Ah—so little Henry's gone missing again, eh?" he says, stroking said mustache and making use of the most inappropriate adjective Nancy can think of. She saw Henry's picture. Little is not a word she could use.
"He did," she replies, eyelids heavy from sleep deprivation. "Do you know where he could be, Mr. Toews?"
But Mr. Toews merely shrugs. A car blaring ABBA's greatest hits briefly passes by the building, and she catches him wiggling his hips ever so slightly. She pretends she sees nothing. "Can't say I do," he tells her, as Super Trooper completely fades away. "But I do know the poor landlady is hopelessly lost without him. You best be finding him real soon, yeah?"
"I will," she says, then, "Thank you for your time, anyway."
"Sure thing," comes the response, "Talk to you later, Ms. Drew."
And they do talk later, but all he says is:
"Ah—so little Henry's gone missing again, eh?"
She blinks. Stares. "Excuse me?"
"Can't say I do," he responds, nonsensically. "But I do know the poor landlady is hopelessly lost without him. You best be finding him real soon, yeah?"
She is sleep deprived. Her apartment smells like hand-me-downs from the previous century. Maybe this can lead to hallucinations.
She excuses herself and has a long, long phone-call with Bess and George.
But not too long, because by the end of the day, her bag is filled to the brim with items of questionable importance.
When she goes interview the last person to see Henry, the strap of her bag catches on a hook on the wall and off her shoulder it goes. The contents are spilled all over the floor, including (but not limited to) discolored spare keys, rusty handles, foot-long levers and misplaced puzzle pieces. None of these have been of any help so far.
"W— Whoa!" the last person to see Henry exclaims, warily staring at the mess on the floor. How embarrassing. "How'd you fit all of that in such a small bag?"
Nancy blinks and glances down at her belongings, as if the answer to that question should be obvious. When it becomes apparent that it isn't, she explains.
He looks a little gobsmacked, to say the least. "That's amazing."
"Oh, it's nothing," she responds, all smiles and modesty. "Just a little trick I picked up down the road."
As if she didn't have a good enough reason to (temporarily, of course) take down the portrait on the wall, she finds blueprints for the building in some of McGuffin's old files. Why she was looking at those files while searching for someone who's gone missing—it doesn't matter.
"What's this?" she asks, pointing to the additional room hidden in, you guessed it, her apartment.
"Why," Mrs. McGuffin begins, just as surprised as she is. "I don't know. I never spotted that before, I tell you."
Three guesses as to what's blocking the entrance to that hidden room. The first two don't count.
"Hey," Ned later tells her over the phone, as she presses her lips together and omits the number of times she's nearly fallen off a building or almost had something heavy fall on her during the past three days. "Why not look for a mechanic?"
"A mechanic?" she asks, not quite following.
"Yeah," he insists, all in good pep. "Mechanics have tools for taking out bolts, right?"
Well, yes. Yes they do.
The only mechanic in town tells her to buzz off, though. Says a skinny little thing like her (quote and unquote) has no business borrowing a tool that powerful. Bummer. But she doesn't let it get her down.
In any case, borrowing things from people's workshops isn't stealing. It's collecting evidence. Expanding her inventory. She'll return it as soon as she's done with it, really.
It's worked out well for her in the last who-knows-how-many cases.
When she finally takes down the portrait, she finds things are never that easy.
"It's locked," she deadpans. There is a keypad on the steel door hidden behind the portrait and enough space for four digits on the screen. There are ten thousand combinations to try and her lifespan is only long enough for maybe a quarter of that.
She still hasn't found what all these keys, levers, handles and puzzle pieces are for. They're starting to get a teeny bit lovelorn.
Later, she combs through every building in this town with new-found determination. She needs that code.
And she would have found it in record time, if not for her fellow tenant stopping her to ask—
"How old are you?"
Well, at least he's stopped repeating the same thing.
"Me?" Nancy responds, halfway through scratching seven layers of grime off an inch long plaque on the wall. "I'm 18-years-old."
"That young, ey?" comes his response, "And how long 'ave you been solving mysteries?"
The car with ABBA's greatest hits comes back at the same hour as last time.
Fernando blares at full blast, and she can't help but to think Mr. Toews looks a little boggled.
On the bright side, she finds the code that will open the door an hour later. It's the late Mr. McGuffin's day and month of birth, unsurprisingly enough.
Now, if only she knew what to do with the assortment of cogs and weighted figurines she found on the other side of the door.
Also, what to do with the revelation that it isn't so much a hidden room as it is a hidden labyrinth, leading all the way to the first floor of the building and then going completely underground.
At least she found a flashlight at the entrance.
Puzzles seem to be the answer to all of her inquiries, for some reason.
And in a fatal mistake, the reinforced door at the end of the labyrinth swings shut on her, dooming her to a death by hunger and-slash-or sheer boredom.
—Or it would have, had she not slipped past it at the very last second. The hem of her sweater gets caught on the door, but she manages to rescue it after gently tugging it out. As she wipes the grime and dirt on her hands with a handy dandy handkerchief she had the foresight to bring with her, she turns on her heel and examines the hallway she's found herself in. Everything is soggy, gritty and dark. Shockingly enough, she gets great cell phone reception here.
Good to know.
As she makes her way down the hallway, using the flash light she had found before entering the labyrinth itself, she hears it. Whimpering. Someone is whimpering.
She knows that type of whimper.
"Henry!" she shouts, keeping one hand on the wall and another on her flashlight. "Henry, are you there?!"
The whimpering gets closer. Then—it becomes panting mixed with the sound of rushing footsteps. She moves to meet those footsteps.
And when she does, she comes face to face with the victim, a little humid and hungry but relatively unharmed. What a relief.
"There you are," she says, kneeling down and holding her unoccupied hand out. "Come here, boy. I won't harm you."
Henry tilts his head at Nancy's hand.
He sniffs it.
Then, he barks and proceeds to give her a slobbery kiss on the palm of her hand.
What a good dog.
Here is a list of mysteries she has successfully solved today:
- The mystery of where Mrs. McGuffin's canine best friend, Henry, had gone missing.
Here is a list of mysteries she has certainly not solved today:
- How, exactly, Henry got stuck inside a hidden room.
- Why that hidden room exists in the first place. It's an apartment complex built by a loving couple, not a haunted manor, for Pete's sake.
- Whether or not that one driver will listen to anything besides ABBA greatest hits.
And considering her spectacular track record—all of these mysteries will be solved sooner or later.
But her friends would have to wait for her letter in order to find out how.