Nancy Drew Mistery Stories #64: Captive Witness
For a moment, the group stood stunned by the professor's announcement. Then everyone tried to talk at once.
"No rooms? How are we going to brush our teeth?"
"Or take a bath?"
"Or do my nails?"
"Wait! Wait! Wait!" Dr. Bagley called. He held up his hands, quieting them down. "The hotel manager has assured me that he will make every attempt to see that we get proper accommodations at another hotel. He understands that we're the victims of practical jokers. Now if we will keep our heads, we can muddle through. So let's go back inside and splash some water on our faces in the lobby rest rooms and freshen up a bit. We'll be able to have a lovely dinner while the hotel stores our baggage and makes other arrangements."
"Excuse me, Herr Professor." The speaker was a rather stout man with a huge, black mustache and an easy, smiling manner. "Excuse me. Professor Bagley? I couldn't help overhear your conversation with the desk clerk when you checked in. Permit me to introduce myself. I am Herr Adolph Gutterman. I think I may be able to help you."
Hesitantly, the professor extended his hand. "Pleased to meet you, I'm sure. But I think we're being taken care of quite adequately."
Herr Cutterman looked doleful. "Oh, Professor, excuse me, but I don't think that's true. Of course, the hotel will try. But this is the height of the tourist season. Every hotel is booked to overflowing!" He laughed and made a sweeping gesture. "The hotel will not be able to help you. But I can."
Dr. Bagley was obviously becoming annoyed by Herr Gutterman's insistent manner. "Well, perhaps so," he said, a little coolly, "but let's give the hotel a chance. Now, if you'll excuse me, my people are famished. We must go in to dinner."
Moving right in step with the professor, Herr Gutterman was not to be put off. "Excellent idea," he cried, thumping him on the back. "I'm hungry, too. I'll join you and explain how I can assist you."
Resigned to his fate, the professor forced a smile and nodded, being too well mannered to be rude even though Herr Gutterman was obviously proving himself a pest.
As they passed the desk, Herr Gutterman received a look of irritation from the manager. The fat man returned it with a wide smile and said, in a booming voice, "Yes, it's a shame that we have hotels in Salzburg that fail to honor their reservations, but there are always a few rotten apples in every barrel."
The manager, watching Herr Gutterman virtually take charge of Professor Bagley's group, snapped his pencil in anger.
Once in the dining room, Herr Gutterman proceeded to explain what he was offering without anyone having asked him to do so.
"I am in real estate," he announced, "and I deal in properties all over Austria. It so happens that I know a very nice, small hotel just a few blocks from here. I had reserved a large number of rooms, more than twenty, for another group that canceled out just this morning. I am offering you these rooms."
The offer was tempting, but the professor, completely put off by the loud, aggressive manner of the real estate man, refused to commit himself. "As I said before," he repeated politely, "well wait to see what the hotel can do for us."
"Suit yourself, Herr Professor, suit yourself," boomed the realtor, again slapping the professor on the back.
George leaned over and whispered to Nancy, "I think if he whacks the professor once more there's going to be violence."
Nancy nodded. "You know, George, I think I've seen Herr Gutterman before, but I don't know where."
George looked at the realtor. "Hmm. If I had ever seen a two-hundred-fifty-pound, six-foot man with a big, black mustache and a loud voice like his, I think I'd remember where."
As they talked, Herr Gutterman kept up a running fire of conversation—or, rather, a monologue—as he told poor jokes, provided most of the laughter, then complained about the bad service and bragged about his vast wealth. By the time dinner was over, everyone was thoroughly sick of him.
To their astonishment, however, he picked up the check for the group and paid for it before anyone knew what he was doing. He then led the unwilling students out of the restaurant and back to the hotel manager's desk where he loudly banged on the bell despite the fact that the manager was standing less than three feet away.
"A little service, please," he rumbled.
"What is it, Herr Gutterman," the manager inquired icily.
"I wanted to know if you have obtained rooms for my friends on Professor Bagley's tour. If not, I shall escort these unfortunate people to my hotel and see that they are treated as all guests in Salzburg should be treated. I tell you, Herr Schoenburg, your hotel is a disgrace to the nation. A disgrace!"
"Weasel!" hissed the hotel manager. "How dare you come in here and behave this way. Bruckner! Bruckner!" A tall, strong young porter came striding across the room. "Escort Herr Gutterman out of the hotel."
Herr Gutterman, flashing his fat smile, held up both hands. "That won't be necessary. I am leaving. But you, my friends," he said, turning to Professor Bagley and his group, "can meet me on the sidewalk after this incompetent gives you his bad news."
With a flourish, Herr Gutterman waddled away through the doors and into the street. The manager, flushed with embarrassment, turned to the professor.
"Sir, I am chagrined to have to tell you that I cannot find you accommodations. Believe me, if I could do anything to make up for this terrible mistake, I would."
The professor nodded and rubbed his chin. "What do you suggest we do? We must sleep. Tomorrow we begin our tour here in this city."
The manager passed one hand over his eyes. "Much as it pains me," he said, "I think you had better accept Herr Gutterman's offer."
Reluctantly, the professor agreed and the forlorn group filed out onto the sidewalk where Herr Gutterman, completely unperturbed by his recent dismissal from the hotel, was waiting with a smile and a bear hug for the professor.
"Now," he rumbled, "you come with me and you will be treated as honored guests." Subdued, the group followed Herr Gutterman down the street, instructing the bus driver to bring their bags as soon as possible.
To their surprise, the hotel, though small, was clean, neat, and pleasant in appearance. Nancy, Bess, and George were assigned a large room with bunk beds. Their bags arrived as they were testing the mattresses and checking whether the water faucets worked.
Leaving the other girls to unpack, Nancy went downstairs to make her long-delayed call to her father. But when she reached the phones in the lobby, she found they were in use and would be for some time since there was a long waiting line ahead of her.
The clerk on duty motioned her to come over to the desk and told her that if she was in a hurry she could use the pay phone on the street half a block away. Nancy thanked him and hurried out the door, turning left and walking along the quiet, dimly lit street until she saw the booth. It was on the opposite side built against a high stone wall. Nancy entered, fumbled for her Austrian coins, and then dialed the number of her home in River Heights.
"Hello!" It was the cheerful, deep voice of her father, Carson Drew.
"And who might this be?"
"Very funny. Who else calls you Dad?"
The lawyer laughed. "How are you, dear? How do you like Austria?"
"Beautiful. But so far our bus driver was kidnapped, a car almost ran over Ned, a man tried to steal the professor's luggage, and somebody canceled our hotel reservations."
Her father groaned. "Well, it sounds like a typical trip for my Nancy. Do you know why all these things have been happening?"
Nancy hesitated. Dr. Bagley had sworn her to secrecy about the orphans, and she couldn't violate her promise. "Well," she said, "let's say I'm working on it, Dad. But tell me about Vienna and the stolen film. It sounds fascinating."
Carson Drew proceeded to outline the case. Kurt Kessler, a noted film director from an Eastern European country, had defected to America more than a year before. He had managed to smuggle out several valuable reels of film, which he had since edited into a documentary condemning the oppression of human rights in his native land. The film was entered in a very important film festival to be held in Vienna during the coming week.
"This morning," Carson Drew said, "Kessler received a call from the festival authorities. His film has been stolen. Unless be can recover it by Wednesday morning, the world will not see or hear his story."
"But why can't he get another print made from the negative and rush that to Vienna?" the girl detective asked.
"He thought of that, of course," her father said. "Unfortunately somebody on the other side thought of it, too. Kessler made the mistake of leaving his negative at a laboratory for printing. He should have stayed with it to protect it. But he didn't, and an hour later the laboratory burned to the ground. The negative was destroyed. The stolen film, if it still exists, is the only copy of Kurt Kessler's Captive Witness."
Nancy whistled. "But if government enemies stole it," she said, "don't you think they destroyed it right away or at least took it out of Austria? After all, that fire in the lab was probably a case of arson."
"Right," Mr. Drew said.
"So we're probably on a wild-goose chase," Nancy said, somewhat crestfallen.
"No, I don't think so. I have reason to believe that Kessler's enemies will take good care of the film because they want to trade it for something even more valuable to them."
"That," the lawyer said, "is what my beautiful, talented daughter is going to have to figure out."
"I appreciate the compliment, Dad, but what I need are some solid leads."
Carson Drew sighed. "Well, I wish I had some. The best I can offer is one contact. His name is Richard Ernst and he's the official at the film festival who can tell you the details about the theft. Contact him at the festival office. That's about all I can tell you. Oh, except for one thing. Be careful and watch out for two enemy operatives. One is tall, heavy-featured, with blond hair and blue eyes. The other is shorter, wiry. He has a bad complexion. Pitted skin."
Nancy almost dropped the phone. "Oh, Dad, say no more. I think I know the fun-loving pair personally."
"Yes. I wish I could explain on the phone but—" Nancy stopped. "Dad! Dad, did you hear that? It sounded as if someone were tapping this line."
There was a long pause and then her father's voice came through. "That's not possible on this end, Nancy. Remember we had our phone system constructed to make taps impossible? And at great expense, I might add." There was another pause. "Nancy, be careful. If there is a tap, it's on your end."
A chill ran up the girl's spine. She wondered how it could have been done so quickly. No one knew she was calling from a public phone booth. Then she remembered how the hotel clerk had specifically beckoned her to the desk and told her about the pay phone. It had been a setup!
"Dad," she said. "Dad?" There was no answer. She jiggled the hook. "Dad, can you hear me? Dad?" After a few seconds, she gave up and tried to dial again but the line was completely dead now.
As she hung up, something banged and scraped violently across the top of the phone booth and the light went out. Suddenly, Nancy found herself alone on the almost completely darkened street as the figure of a tall man moved slowly, purposefully, toward her.