I'm beginning to think Sydney and Vic's marriage was doomed from the start. First Sydney's best friend, Candy, tried to sabotage the wedding. Then Vic's onscreen beau brought a knife to the ceremony -- and it wasn't just for cutting the cake. Luckily, we caught her before any damage was done.... But is she the real culprit? Or does someone else have it in for these two newlyweds?
Strange things kept happening on the happiest day of Sydney and Vic's lives -- and now trouble has followed them on their honeymoon! Some things just don't add up, and I need to get to the bottom of it before Sydney -- or Vic -- is seriously hurt.
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October 04, 2009
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Excerpt from Model Suspect by Carolyn Keene
So this is what it feels like to live the lifestyle of the rich and famous," Bess Marvin said, peering out the airplane window.
Leaning over from my seat next to her, I glanced out and saw a tiny, lush island ringed with white sand beaches. The midday sunlight sparkled off the azure waters of the Caribbean, making me squint.
On my other side, George Fayne let out a snort. "Yeah, right," she muttered, twisting and wriggling in her seat in an attempt to find a comfortable position for her long, jeans-clad legs. "I'm sure the rich and famous don't have to travel in coach."
Bess rolled her eyes, and I laughed. Bess and George are cousins and my lifelong best friends. But any possible resemblance ends there. Bess is what you might call a glass-half-full kind of girl. She has a sunny nature to match her sunny blond hair, and prefers to see the best in people until they force her to do otherwise. George, on the other hand, can be a little too quick to see the dark side of any situation.
"Don't complain," Bess told her cousin. "We're just lucky Sydney wants all three of us to come down and investigate this latest trouble instead of only Nancy. After all, she's the real sleuth in this bunch and everyone knows it."
I smiled at the disgruntled look on George's face. "Don't be silly," I told both of them. "The Nancy Drew Detective Agency would be nothing without the little people who've supported me all these years."
I was just kidding around and they both knew it. I don't really have a detective agency. However, I am pretty well-known around our hometown of River Heights for solving crimes now and then. And it's true that I probably couldn't have figured out most of them without help from Bess and George.
And it was a good thing I had their help now. Because the mystery we were facing looked like a seriously tricky one.
It all started when Bess and George's other cousin, Sydney Marvin, had gotten engaged. Sydney was a few years older than us and had a successful career as a fashion model in New York City. Her fianc? -- now husband of a few days -- was Vic Valdez, the star of a previous season of the hit reality TV show Daredevils. The two of them were blissfully in love and had been eager to get married.
However, things went wrong almost from the moment they'd announced their engagement. First Sydney received a series of threatening e-mails. The police in New York investigated but didn't come up with anything. And things had only gotten worse from there.
"I still can't help wondering," I mused now, speaking more to myself than to my friends, "why would anyone want to keep a happy couple from getting married and starting a life together?"
"Who knows?" George retorted. "Why do murderers kill people? Why do arsonists start fires? People are weird."
Bess shot her cousin a look. "Very helpful," she said. "There are lots of reasons someone might want to mess up Syd and Vic's wedding -- and now their honeymoon, too. That's practically all we've been talking about for the past couple of weeks, remember?"
"True enough," I agreed, glancing down at my lap as the seat belt sign pinged on overhead. "And we came up with tons of motives and suspects. But that was when we were back home in River Heights with the entire wedding party to work with, not to mention the TV crew...."
Oh, right. That was another thing. When Sydney and Vic became engaged, the two of them had struck a compromise regarding their wedding plans. Sydney got to hold the wedding in her hometown of River Heights, just as she'd always dreamed, instead of in New York City where they both lived. In exchange, Daredevils got to film the whole thing. The producers wanted to create a special about the wedding to include as a DVD extra and on their website, and Vic was pretty sure the extra exposure would help him launch his career in show biz. So when the happy couple had arrived in River Heights, they'd been accompanied by an entire entourage consisting of the film crew, several other Daredevils cast members, and assorted others.
That was pretty much where my friends and I had come in. Sydney asked all three of us to be bridesmaids. That meant we had a front-row seat for everything that came next. Like watching Vic almost take a sip of jet-fuel-laced punch. And seeing threatening e-mails and texts come in to Sydney's phone on an almost daily basis. And all kinds of other trouble, from mixed-up deliveries to a swarm of biting ants.
It wasn't until the day of Sydney's bridal shower that I'd finally figured out who was behind most of the trouble -- it was Sydney's friend and fellow model, Candy Kaine, who was also a bridesmaid. It turned out that Candy, who had introduced Sydney to Vic, had been jealous of their relationship from the get-go. She admitted to pulling most of the pranks in a last-ditch attempt to break them up so she could grab Vic for herself. However, she'd sworn up and down that she hadn't had anything to do with that dangerous jet fuel incident -- or with the original spate of threatening e-mails, either.
With the wedding only a week away at that point, I jumped right back into investigative mode. If Candy was telling the truth, that meant there was still someone out there who thought it was a good idea to try to poison people with jet fuel. And I definitely wanted to find out who it was!
As it turned out, she was telling the truth. The trouble had continued, ranging from more threatening messages to dangerous stunts like hiding shards of glass in Vic's cake at the rehearsal dinner. But it wasn't until the day of the wedding ceremony itself that I'd cracked the case -- or so I'd thought. Circumstantial evidence had pointed to the mischief being the work of Akinyi, Sydney's best friend, roommate, and fellow model, and Jamal Washburn, Vic's best buddy since childhood. Akinyi and Jamal had been a couple for a while about a year earlier. I'd realized that they were on the verge of getting back together, and a timely story about an old fight between Jamal and Vic and some additional factors had led me to accuse them of being the saboteurs. The police had taken them away, causing them to miss the wedding.
But then, during the ceremony, something else had happened. Pandora Peace, another bridesmaid and former Daredevils contestant, had pulled a knife out of her bouquet and advanced toward the happy couple up on the altar. She claimed she was just planning to perform a Native American blessing, but the police hadn't thought much of that excuse -- especially after they searched her hotel room and found tons of circumstantial evidence implying that she'd been behind most of the other recent pranks as well. They dragged her off to jail, though she protested all the while that she was innocent.
And so the case had seemed -- finally! -- to be closed. Seemed being the operative word. Because the next thing we knew, a mysterious message had arrived from London. It included a copy of the Daredevils contract, with one particular clause highlighted. That clause specified that contestants couldn't have any current or prior connection to anyone involved in the production of the show. At the top was a note: HERE ARE SOME THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW. THE WRONG PERSON IS IN JAIL. THE CROOK IS STILL OUT THERE! YOU HAVE TO DO SOMETHING. SINCERELY, A CONCERNED CITIZEN
Pretty mysterious, right? Well, not really. See, I'd already figured out that Pandora was involved in a secret romance with Dragon, a current Daredevils contestant who was a groomsman in the wedding. There was no return name on the envelope, but I was pretty sure Dragon had sent it, trying to clear his girlfriend's name without destroying his chances on the show.
Given everything that had happened, that might not have convinced me on its own. But then I got an urgent e-mail from Sydney. At that point she was already on her honeymoon on the tiny, idyllic island of Cayo de Oro, where Daredevils had arranged a private, superluxe honeymoon for her and Vic. The message had included a photo of a trashed hotel room with a threatening message written on the wall in blood red -- ENJOY BEING NEWLYWEDS. YOU WON'T BOTH BE ALIVE FOR LONG! There had also been an attachment with e-tickets for me, Bess, and George, and a plea from Sydney to come down and solve this latest mystery.
So here we were, beginning our descent into the Cayo de Oro airport. "So do you think this new vandalism is connected with everything that happened back in River Heights?" Bess asked.
"I don't know. But either way, we're sort of starting fresh with our suspect list," I pointed out. "Without the TV crew or the wedding party around, who's left?"
"Vic?" George suggested. "I mean, other than Syd herself, that's pretty much who we've got, right?"
Like I said, George is pretty quick to jump to the most cynical conclusion. Still, I was surprised to hear that she continued to harbor suspicions about Sydney's new husband. I'd thought by then we were all convinced that he and Sydney were truly in love. Not to mention that George is a huge fan of Daredevils in general and Vic in particular.
But I had to admit she had a point. "I guess he's got to be on the list," I said reluctantly. "It's true that he had the access, and that he could've faked that jet fuel thing to throw people off...."
Bess smoothed out the skirt of her pretty floral sundress. "At least this time we won't have all those TV cameras around complicating things. That should make it a little easier to figure it out." She smiled. "We'll just have to do our best to play the parts of relaxed tourists enjoying some fun in the sun."
"Sounds good to me." George strained against her lap belt to get a look out the window as the plane banked. "I wonder if they have parasailing here. I've always wanted to try that."
"Focus, guys," I said. "George, do you really think Vic could have done all this stuff?"
Bess frowned, finally seeming to tune in on what her cousin had said. "No way," she said. "Vic loves Sydney -- he'd never do anything to hurt her. I can't believe he had anything to do with any of this."
"Then who did?" George argued. "What, do you think Sydney has a secret split personality and her evil half is trying to sabotage her good half?"
Bess rolled her eyes. "Don't be silly," she said. "Anyway, how do we know this new incident has anything to do with what happened before? It could be totally unrelated."
"After that envelope from Dragon?" George shook her head grimly. "Seems pretty unlikely."
"I have to agree with that," I admitted. "But we should keep an open mind, I guess."
The plane banked more steeply, and the captain came on the loudspeaker to say that we'd be on the ground in ten minutes. Another glance out the window showed Cayo de Oro glittering up out of the Caribbean Sea, looming larger and larger. Exactly what were we going to find down there?
* * *
"Welcome to Cayo de Oro!" cried a large man with a beaming smile on his broad face. "The island where all your dreams come true!"
"Thanks, dude." George shot the guy a sloppy salute as we hurried past toward the luggage carousel. The tiny island airport was charming, from the friendly greeter to the wicker chairs in the waiting room to the soft calypso music playing over the sound system. But we weren't here for that stuff. I was already turning over motives and suspects in my head. Not that I had much to go on in either category. With any luck, maybe things would look more promising once we reached the resort where Sydney and Vic were staying.
Luckily, our luggage turned up quickly. We grabbed it and headed for the exit.
"Syd said she'd send a car," Bess reminded us.
George was looking around. "Yep, and it looks like that's our ride over there," she said, pointing to a short, middle-aged man dressed in navy linen shorts, a white shirt, and sandals. He was holding a hand-lettered sign with our names on it.
We followed the driver through the airport's glass doors. Outside, the tropical heat hit us like a wet paper towel in the face. It was mid-afternoon, and the whole island had a sleepy feel to it. People were lounging at the bus stop across the way, not seeming in much of a hurry; the fronds of the palm trees lining the parking lot swayed gently in a light breeze. A gleaming black stretch limo was parked at the curb. The driver led us toward it and then started busily packing our luggage into the trunk.
"Now, this is more like it," George said approvingly as we climbed into the car's air-conditioned interior. "Looks like maybe we'll finally get to enjoy some of that celebrity lifestyle after all."
The limo was awfully nice. The seats were cushy leather, and there were several cold bottles of water and soda resting in a silver ice bucket beside one of the seats. George grabbed a cola right away, while Bess couldn't stop oohing and aahing over the fancy entertainment system.
But I didn't have much interest in any of that. My mind was still clicking along, turning over the facts and questions of the case. Could the vandalism in Sydney's room really be a whole new culprit at work? There didn't seem to be any other likely answer. Not unless we wanted to go with George's new top suspect: Vic.
"Of course, that doesn't mean there couldn't be someone else we don't know about," I murmured, trying hard to come up with any theory that didn't involve Sydney's beloved new husband as the bad guy.
George glanced up from the mini fridge she'd just discovered under the seat. "What was that, Nance?"
I blinked, realizing I was thinking aloud again. "Oh, nothing," I said. "I was just thinking -- what if someone from back home followed Vic and Syd here to Cayo de Oro without them knowing about it?"
Bess's blue eyes widened with alarm. "You mean like that MrSilhouette guy?"
That was exactly what I'd been thinking. About a year earlier, Sydney had had some trouble with an Internet stalker who went by the handle MrSilhouette. My friends and I hadn't known anything about it until Sydney had received a cameo necklace -- a pendant with a silhouetted head on it -- at her bridal shower. As it turned out, Candy had slipped it into the pile of gifts, hoping to make Sydney freak out enough to cancel the wedding. But now I wondered -- what if the real MrSilhouette was still out there stalking Sydney?
"It seems possible, right?" I settled back in my seat as the driver jumped in up front and started the car. There was a soundproof barrier between the front seat and the rear compartment, so I felt safe continuing our discussion. "What if MrSilhouette has been hanging around this whole time, maybe spying on Sydney and adding to the trouble whenever he gets a chance?"
"Creepy!" Bess commented with a shiver.
George looked skeptical as she unwrapped a package of cashews. "Sounds more like the plot of a movie or something than real life," she said. "Besides, how would someone like that get close enough to plant that jet fuel, or whatever? Security was crazy tight during all the prewedding stuff."
"The only thing Syd knows about MrSilhouette is that he's got this shiny bald head, right?" Bess said thoughtfully. "So he'd stand out in a crowd, at least if he's young."
"We don't know that he's young," I pointed out. "But you're right -- one of us probably would have noticed if there was some random bald guy hanging around."
See, that was all Sydney really knew about MrSilhouette. He'd once sent her a single photo of himself taken from behind. It showed nothing other than the back of his bald head.
"What about that bald cameraman, Butch?" Bess said. "He's the only bald person I can think of who was around for most of the mischief -- well, at least if you don't count Syd's dad's bald spot."
I nodded thoughtfully. Butch was part of the Daredevils camera crew. He was brusque and rude and seemed to have a bad attitude toward most of the people he was filming, including Vic.
"Yeah, except he never seemed to pay any particular attention to Syd one way or the other. Plus he was the one who saved Vic that time his hair caught on fire, remember?" I shrugged. "But I suppose it wouldn't hurt to call the Daredevils production office and confirm that Butch has been safely over in London shooting the next season of the show since before Syd and Vic left for the honeymoon."
George didn't seem to be paying attention anymore. She'd rolled down the window on her side and was staring out and ahead.
"Check it out," she said, sounding excited. "I think we're here!"
I glanced out the window just in time to see a beautifully landscaped sign slide past proclaiming that we were entering the Oro Beach Resort. The limo slowed to negotiate the twisting drive leading to a large cluster of thatched buildings surrounded by palms. Manicured garden beds overflowed with riotously blooming tropical shrubs and flowers, and off to one side I could see part of a rolling, grassy golf course.
"Wow, it looks nice," Bess said. "Check out the waterfall!"
"I can't wait to see the beach," George added.
The window between the front and back seats slid open. "Here you are, ladies," the driver announced politely as he guided the car to a smooth halt at the curb in front of the largest thatched building. "Please enjoy your stay on Cayo de Oro."
"Thanks," we chorused.
The driver was already climbing out, probably intending to hurry back and let us out of the car. But I was perfectly capable of opening a car door myself, and was feeling far too impatient to wait. So I reached over, pushed open the door, and hopped out.
"Look this way, Miss Drew," a gruff voice called out.
I blinked, almost stumbling back against the car as a huge TV camera was shoved in my face.