There's trouble backstage! Peppermint Penny's clothing shop is having a back-to-school fashion show, and Nancy is one of the models. Everything is perfect -- until somebody cuts a hole in the show's star attraction, a black velvet coat from Paris. Meanwhile, Brenda Carlton is passing out copies of the Carlton News. Her new gossip column says that Nancy did the damage. Now Nancy and her friends have to turn a fashion disaster inside out and catch the real cut-up at the show!
Chapter 1: Best-dressed Detective "I can't believe we're going to be in a real fashion show!" eight-year-old Nancy Drew said to her friends. They had just walked into Peppermint Penny's, their favorite store. "I wonder if we'll get to keep the clothes we model," her best friend Bess Marvin said. Nancy's other best friend, George Fayne, shook her head. "Bess! If you had any more clothes, your closet would burst." Bess smiled at her cousin. "It already has!" The girls were excited. The fashion show would be held right inside Peppermint Penny's. The models were kids from River Heights. Two of those kids were Nancy and Bess. "Wow!" Nancy said. "Peppermint Penny's has never looked like this." The girls looked around the store. A long red carpet ran from the back of the store to the front. Rows of chairs lined both sides of the carpet. Tied to each chair was a colorful balloon. Above the racks of clothes were signs that read, Back to School. "I don't get it," George said. "We have three weeks of summer vacation left. Why do all the signs say, Back to School?" Nancy smiled. "So we can have a back-to-school fashion show!" "Nancy, look!" Bess said. She pointed to a clock on the wall. "It's already one o'clock. The fashion show starts in just an hour." Nancy saw the owner of the store, Penny, rush by. She and her salesgirl, Tara, were counting chairs. Penny had short dark hair and blue eyes. She was wearing black pants and a shiny red blouse. Tara had brown hair and freckles. She wore a striped T-shirt and tan pants. "I'll bet Penny and Tara are as excited as we are," Nancy said. "And probably as nervous," Bess said. She turned to George. "Did you change your mind about being in the show?" "Not unless I can model my jeans and soccer shirt," George said. Bess rolled her eyes, but Nancy giggled. As cousins, Bess and George were nothing alike. "That's okay, George," Nancy said. "You're going to help us change into our outfits during the fashion show." The other kids who were going to be models began to arrive. Nancy saw eight-year-old Kendra Cartwright and nine-year-old Scott Mancuso. Then Nancy saw someone she didn't expect. "Don't tell me Brenda Carlton is in the fashion show,"Nancy said, groaning. "Maybe she's modeling snooty pants," Bess said giggling. "I heard that, Bess Marvin!" Brenda snapped. She walked over to the girls. "Since when do detectives model clothes?" Brenda asked Nancy. "Since today,"Nancy said. Nancy was the best detective at Carl Sandburg Elementary School. But she also liked nice clothes. "What about you, Brenda?" Nancy asked. "What are you doing here?" Brenda's eyes lit up. "I'm writing an article for the Carlton News," she said. "What else is new?" George muttered. The Carlton News was Brenda's own newspaper. She wrote it at home on her computer. "Are you writing about the new clothes in the fashion show?" Bess asked. "No," Brenda said. She gave a sly smile. "I'm writing a gossip column." Nancy stared at Brenda. Gossip was another word for rumors. "Gossip can be mean, Brenda," Nancy said. "Especially when it's not true." Brenda flipped her dark hair over her shoulder. "Who says it won't be true?" "You have made up stories before, Brenda," George said. Brenda looked angry. "I won't have to make these up. There'll be plenty of juicy things to write about here!" Nancy watched as Brenda left to look at a stack of sweaters. "What can be worse than having Brenda Carlton here today?" Bess asked. George pointed to the door. "How about Orson Wong?" Nancy saw eight-year-old Orson walking into the store with his brothers, the six-year-old twins, Lonny and Lenny. The twins were going to model boys' clothes. "We're going to be in a fashion show!" Lonny shouted as they ran over. "We're handsome!" Lenny bragged. "Not with ice cream all over your face," George said. The twins grinned as they crunched on their favorite chocolate Panda Bars. Then Nancy noticed that Orson was wearing a black beret on his head. "Is that part of your magician's costume, Orson?" Nancy asked. She knew that Orson wanted to be a magician when he grew up. "I'm not a magician anymore," Orson declared. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. "Orson the Awesome is now Orson the Artist!" He held up the paper. It was covered with one big splotch of white paint. "What did you do?" George asked, "Spill your milk?" "You know nothing about great art!" Orson snapped. He pointed to the painting. "This is a picture of a polar bear. A polar bear in a snowstorm." Nancy tilted her head. She couldn't see a polar bear or a snowstorm. "Tell them what you're going to paint next, Orson," Lenny said. "For my next project," Orson announced, "I'm going to paint insects." "Bugs?" Bess gasped. Orson nodded. "But this time I'm going to paint them on black velvet. Like those paintings you see in fancy diners." "Where are you going to get all those bugs?" George asked. "I already have the bugs," Orson said. "But I can't find the black velvet." Just then Penny called for attention. "Will everyone working on the fashion show please follow me into the stockroom." "That's us!" Nancy said excitedly. Orson stayed behind while the other kids followed Penny to the room in back of the store. It was filled with piles of boxes and racks of clothes. Nancy and Bess knew which clothes they would be modeling. The kids had tried on the clothes a few days ago. After Penny chose what they would wear, she hung nametags over each outfit. "There's my pretty skirt set," Nancy said. She could see her nametag hanging over the pink plastic hanger. Penny raised her hands for attention. "During the fashion show you can all change behind the boxes," she said. "Girls on the right side of the room, and boys on the left." Lenny turned to Nancy, Bess, and George. "And you'd better not peek!" Lonny waved his Panda Bar. "Or else!" "Lonny. Lenny," Penny said. "You're not allowed to eat around the clothes." "But if we put the Panda Bars in our pockets, they'll melt," Lenny whined. "There's a mini fridge against that wall," Penny said, pointing. "You can put them in there until after the show." The twins grumbled as they walked toward the fridge. "Now," Penny said. "Are there any questions about the fashion show?" Nancy raised her hand. "Why are we modeling winter clothes in August?" "That's a good question, Nancy," Penny said." Stores always show clothes one season early, so people can look forward to buying new clothes." "You mean you sell bathing suits in February?" Bess gasped. "Brrr!" Nancy saw Tara rush into the stockroom. She was holding a big flat box. "This has just arrived, Penny," she said. "It's from Lulu's of Paris." "It's the coat!" Penny said excitedly. She ripped the box open and smiled. "I didn't expect it so soon." Penny carefully pulled a girl's coat from the box. It was made of black velvet and had shiny silver buttons. "It's beautiful!" Nancy gasped. "Excuse me!" a voice called. Nancy and the others whirled around. A woman with silver hair and gold dangly earrings was standing at the door. There was a soft, flowered handbag on her shoulder. "Are you Peppermint Patty?" she asked. "I'm Penny," Penny said. "I am Mrs. Vanderpool," the woman said. "And I would like to buy some hair barrettes for my babies." "How old are your little girls?" Penny asked. Mrs. Vanderpool pulled two tiny Yorkshire terrier dogs from her bag. "They're only three years old," she said. "Doggies!" Lenny cried. "Let's pet them!" Lonny said. Mrs. Vanderpool placed her dogs down. She looked at the coat. Then she touched it. "That is the most stunning black velvet I have ever seen. I must have it." "But it would never fit you, Mrs. Vanderpool," Penny said. "Not for me!" Mrs. Vanderpool declared. "My dogs need new collars for their coats. That black velvet is the perfect material." "Your dogs wear coats in August?" Scott Mancuso asked. Mrs. Vanderpool nodded. "Air-conditioning makes them shiver." Penny shook her head. "Sorry. But we need the coat for the fashion show." "Phooey!" Mrs. Vanderpool snapped. She picked up her dogs and marched out. "Mrs. Vanderpool lives in one of the biggest houses in River Heights," Nancy told Bess and George. "My dad showed it to me while we were taking a walk one day." "If her house is so big, why does she have such small dogs?" George asked. Penny held the coat up again. "Now," Penny said. She looked around the room. "Who's going to model this?" All of the girls raised their hands. Penny smiled at Nancy. "Me?" Nancy gasped. "You," Penny said. She helped Nancy put on the coat. "It looks so nice with your reddish blond hair, Nancy," Bess said. Nancy felt like a princess. Until Kendra Cartwright shouted out, "It's not fair! That coat should go to me!"