Alligator Attack

WHEN Bess heard about the missing photograph of Mr. Drew, she ran from the living room and up the stairs. Deep in her suitcase she had left a snapshot of herself with Nancy, George, Ned, Burt, and Dave. Bess riffled through the clothes still in the bag but could not find the picture.

“That was stolen too!” she told herself and hurried back downstairs to tell the others.

George said angrily, “Nobody has been in this house. We locked all the doors and windows before we left and they were still locked when we came home. I’m sure the Resardos took those pictures!”

Everyone agreed but Mr. Drew warned them that they had no evidence to prove this.

“Why don’t we search their room?” George asked.

Before anybody could stop her, she bounded up the stairway to the couple’s quarters. But the Resardos’ door was locked and continuous knocking on it brought no response. Dejected, George returned to the first floor.

“Now what do we do?” she asked Nancy.

“Suppose I phone the orange sorting and packing house. Antin may be there.”

The worker who answered said that Antin had not been in all day. “He didn’t tell us he wasn’t coming, so we have no idea where he is.”

Nancy thanked him and hung up. The Resardos returned just as the group was about to eat dinner.

“Where have you been all day?” George burst out.

Tina and Antin scowled but replied they had received word a relative in a distant city was ill and had gone to visit him. The couple turned toward the stove and picked up two dinner plates which were warming. As they helped themselves from each of the pots, Mr. Drew approached them.

“One minute,” he said. “What can you tell us about all the photographs missing from the house?”

The Resardos looked at each other, then Antin said, “What are you talking about?”

When Mr. Drew explained, Antin declared he knew nothing about the pictures.

Tina spoke up. “I don’t either. Are you accusing us of taking them?” She began to laugh raucously. “What would we want with photographs of you people?”

Mr. Drew turned on his heel and walked into the dining room. The Resardos filled two plates, got out some silver, and sat down at the kitchen table to eat.

The others were surprised that they had not gone upstairs. Nancy, however, figured the couple wanted to hear the conversation in the dining room. In a whisper she warned the rest not to discuss the Billington case. If the Resardos had hoped to pick up any information, they were disappointed. The talk was general, mostly about the fascinating trip through the Space Center.

When everyone finished eating, the Resardos piled their dirty dishes in the sink as usual, and went up to their room.

“I won’t wash them!” Hannah Gruen said firmly.

Nancy smiled. “Tonight you’re not washing anybody’s dishes. You go into the living room and watch TV. Bess and George and I will take care of everything.”

While the girls were doing this, Mr. Drew telephoned the police to report the theft of the photographs. Two officers came to the house. They agreed that it appeared to be an inside job and asked to talk with the Resardos. The couple vehemently declared their innocence. As the police were leaving, they told Mr. Drew that without any dues there was little hope of apprehending the thief.

Tina and Antin cast black looks at the others, then went upstairs without saying good night.

In the morning, when Nancy and her friends came downstairs, she found that the Resardos had already eaten breakfast and left the house. Their dirty dishes were piled up in the sink!

Hannah Gruen stared at the dried egg on the plates and the stained coffee cups in disgust. But she said nothing and started getting breakfast for the others.

When Mr. Drew came down, Nancy said, “Dad, I haven’t had a chance to tell you about a darling house that’s for sale.” She described the Webster property.

He smiled at her enthusiasm. “I’ll look at it,” he said. “I can see you’ve fallen in love with the place.”

While they were eating, a telephone call came for Mr. Drew. After a few minutes’ conversation, he returned to the table and said he must leave for River Heights. “Something important has come up and I’ll have to return home at once. Will you girls drive me to the airport?”

“Of course,” Nancy replied. “Do you want me to call and see about planes?”

“If you will, please.”

Nancy found out that if they left the house within ten minutes, her father could catch a non-stop flight to New York from Melbourne and get another plane to River Heights soon afterward. She hurried upstairs to tell her father and help him pack.

When Mr. Drew and the girls were ready to leave, he said to Hannah, “Take care. Better lock yourself in.” The housekeeper nodded.

Two hours later the girls were ready to return from the Melbourne airport. Bess spoke up, “Let’s take a scenic route home.”

“All right,” Nancy agreed. She consulted a road map and figured out what direction to take.

As they neared the area of the Cape, Bess spotted a long, wide ditch of water choked with water hyacinths, with bluish-violet lily-type blossoms.

“Oh I want to get some of those!” she said. “Please stop.”

“They are pretty,” Nancy agreed and pulled up to the side of the road.

Bess jumped from the car and went over to pick some of the blooms. After plucking several, she laid them at the edge of the water.

“Don’t lean over so far or you’ll fall in,” George warned her cousin.

Bess rested on her heels and reached for another beautiful flower. Just as her hand touched it, something rustled among the leaves. The next moment an alligator thrust its snout from among the leaves and opened its jaws wide!

Bess screamed, jerked back, and sat down hard on the muddy bank. The alligator moved toward her! Terrified, Bess scrambled up and ran to the car. The alligator disappeared under the water hyacinths. Nancy and George had hopped from the car to help her in. Bess was trembling and now began to sob.