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Authors: Carolyn Keene

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062 Easy Marks

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Nancy Drew Files #62

Easy Marks

Carolyn Keene

Chapter One

N
ANCY
D
REW STUDIED
the heavyset, balding man seated behind his wide mahogany desk. Harrison Lane was president of People’s Federal Bank, one of the largest banks in the River Heights area. As he spoke—his voice confident and self-important—Nancy knew one thing for certain. He was lying.

“As a trustee of Brewster Academy, I’m very concerned that this scandal not become public,” he droned on. “That’s why I’ve asked you here today. I’ve heard of your detective work, and I want you to find out who is running this transcript-changing racket and stop it before the school’s reputation is damaged beyond repair.”

Nancy’s blue eyes focused on the man’s wedding ring, which he’d begun twisting. His hazel eyes also gave him away as not telling the whole truth. They were darting around his office, not focusing on any one thing.

As a successful amateur detective, Nancy had learned to trust her instincts about people. And Lane’s body language—the darting eyes and fidgeting movements—was practically shouting to her that he was insincere. At the very least, he was withholding an important piece of information.

Nancy uncrossed her long legs and leaned forward in her chair. “I don’t want to be rude, Mr. Lane,” she broke in, “but I don’t think you’re being entirely straight with me. Is there something you’re not telling me?”

Lane’s eyes widened in surprise. This was obviously the last thing he’d expected to hear. “I’m afraid you’ll have to be satisfied with the information I can give you, Ms. Drew,” he sputtered.

Pulling her bag onto her shoulder, Nancy stood up and headed for the door. “I’m sorry, Mr. Lane. I just can’t work that way. Without all the facts, I’d be wasting my time. Goodbye, and good luck with the case.”

Nancy had already opened the door when he called, “Wait! You’re right. I haven’t been completely candid with you.”

She closed the door and turned back to him. Now maybe she could find out what was really going on.

“The real reason I’m so worried about this is that—well, it involves my daughter Sally,” Lane went on in a lowered voice. He stopped fiddling with his ring and gazed squarely at Nancy. “Yesterday I discovered that she paid one thousand dollars to have her marks from last year electronically altered on the school’s computer. Our culprit is getting money from these kids.

“I was making a deposit to her college fund and I saw that a thousand dollars had been withdrawn,” he explained. “When I went to use my bank card, I noticed that it wasn’t in its usual spot in my wallet. Sally and my wife are the only ones who would have the opportunity to take the card, withdraw the money, and then return the card to my wallet. I confronted Sally, and she admitted she had used the money to pay someone to change her grades on the school’s computer. Naturally, as her father, and as a trustee of Brewster, I’m alarmed.”

“Of course,” Nancy told him. “Do you know who she paid?”

“She swears she doesn’t know,” said Lane, shaking his head.

Nancy raised a skeptical eyebrow.

“I know it sounds unbelievable,” he went on. “It has something to do with an unsigned message on a computer—something like that. Maybe you’d better get the story from her.”

“Maybe I should,” Nancy agreed.

 

Nancy turned up the collar of her denim jacket as she went down the wide front steps of the bank, heading for her blue Mustang in the bank’s parking lot. It was late September, and all around her the maples rustled in brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow.

Soon Nancy was steering her car away from downtown River Heights. As she followed the directions Harrison Lane had given her, she noticed that the houses became larger, the lawns more perfectly kept. She pulled onto Evergreen Road and stopped in front of a huge, white clapboard house with a long, glassed-in porch on the left.

Nancy walked to the door and rang the bell. She half expected a maid to answer, but instead a tall blond girl wearing a black miniskirt pulled open the door. She had the same hazel eyes as Harrison Lane. “Hi. I’m Sally. And you must be Nancy Drew. Daddy called to say you were coming,” the girl said in a high, breathy voice. “Come on in.”

“Thanks,” Nancy said, smiling politely. She followed Sally through an elegantly furnished living room and out onto the glassed-in porch. Well-tended tropical plants grew in pots all around them. “So what do you need to know?” Sally asked as they settled down on a flowered couch.

“Why don’t you just tell me the whole story, from the beginning?” Nancy suggested.

Sally nodded. “I don’t know if Daddy told you this, but I’m not exactly a brain in school. Daddy has this dream of sending me to Washburn University—that’s where he and Mom went. Anyway, with my grades, there’s no way I’ll ever be accepted there. So, when I found this message in my E-mail, I couldn’t say no.”

“In your what?” Nancy asked, confused.

“E-mail,” Sally repeated. “My computer mailbox. Brewster has this awesome new computer system. Everybody in school has their own E-mail box. We can send messages back and forth, and get school notices and homework assignments—you name it. I can even access it from here, with my personal computer, but during the day I just use the terminals at school.”

“I see,” Nancy said. “So this message turned up in your computer mailbox offering to alter your grades for a thousand dollars,” she surmised, remembering what Sally’s father had told her.

Sally nodded. “That’s right. It was last Tuesday, a week ago.”

Nancy’s eyebrows drew together in a slight frown as she said, “I don’t get it. How did you know it wasn’t a joke?”

“Because whoever sent it already knew everything there was to know about my transcript,” Sally replied. “My grade-point average, term by term, ever since ninth grade. My PSAT scores. Even the marks I got in particular courses. How could he know that much, unless he had a way of breaking into the school records? And if he could do that, I figured he could probably change the records, too.”

“Hmm. I’d like to see that message,” said Nancy. “Is it still in your E-mail?”

“Are you crazy?” Sally scoffed, laughing bitterly. “And take the chance that someone might see it? I copied down what I needed to know, then I deleted the whole file.”

Too bad, thought Nancy. Now there was no way to examine the message for clues Sally might have overlooked. “How did you pass on the money?” she asked aloud. “Was that in the message, too?”

“Sure. All I had to do was deposit it in the person’s account. I used the quick-deposit box at Daddy’s bank. Simple!”

Nancy sat up straighter. “What about your copy of the deposit slip?” she asked. “You didn’t throw that away, did you?”

“I don’t think so,” Sally said slowly. “It’s probably still in my jacket pocket.” She jumped up and ran out of the room, reappearing soon after with the pink carbon in her hands. “One thirty-four, dash fifty-two, seventy-two, nine,” she read from the paper. “That’s the account number.”

As Sally spoke, Nancy pulled a small notebook from her bag, flipped it open to a fresh page, and copied down the number. Then she jotted down some of the information Sally had just given her. It was certainly a lucky break that the account was at Sally’s father’s bank. Harrison Lane could help her trace the owner of the account.

When Nancy looked up from her notebook, Sally was staring at her, a troubled look in her eyes. “You must think I’m a real creep, huh?” she said.

Nancy wasn’t sure how to respond. “I’m sure you’re sorry for what you did—” she began, but Sally cut her off.

“Come here,” she said, pulling Nancy back through the living room and into a study. Black-and-white photographs hung on all the study walls. “Dad on the Washburn football team,” Sally said, pointing to one of the pictures. “And here’s Dad graduating from Washburn. Mom graduating from Washburn. Mom and Dad at the Washburn University Senior Formal. Ever since I was little, all I ever heard was, ‘Someday when you go to Washburn . . .’ I just couldn’t let my parents down.” Tears brimmed in Sally’s large eyes.

“Hey,” said Nancy sympathetically. “I’m not here to judge you. I’m here to figure this thing out.”

Quickly Sally brushed away a tear. “I hope you find out who’s doing this. I bet I’m not the only one who’s been approached. If there’s anything I can do to help, just tell me.”

“Well, there
is
something,” said Nancy. “You mentioned that you can get your E-mail from Brewster on your home computer. Would you show me how it works?”

Sally nodded. “Sure, come on. The computer’s in my room.”

Nancy followed Sally upstairs to her bedroom. A yellow floral spread and matching canopy adorned the bed in the middle of the room. Over by the window was a computer desk with a PC on top of it.

Nancy watched as Sally turned on her computer, plugged the telephone into the modem, dialed the Brewster Academy number, and finally logged onto the school’s system. “There’s another message in my box,” Sally told her, stiffening.

“That’s funny. I checked my E-mail when I left school today and there weren’t any messages. This must have come in after three.”

“See what it says,” Nancy urged her.

Sally tapped a couple of keys and the screen cleared. Then lines of writing began to scroll upward from the bottom. Nancy leaned over Sally’s shoulder to read them:

Your record has been corrected. Keep your mouth shut about this. What goes up can come down. And little girls who play with fire sometimes get burned.

 

Chapter Two


T
HAT’S A THREAT
!” Sally cried, a small quiver in her high-pitched voice. “This person is turning out to be a major creep!”

“That’s for sure,” agreed Nancy, frowning. She did some quick mental arithmetic. If more students were involved, each paying a thousand dollars, then a lot of money was at stake. No wonder the grade changer was so nasty—he wanted to make sure no one threatened his operation.

“Would you print that out for me?” Nancy asked.

“Sure.” Sally hit the Print Screen button on her keyboard. The printer began to chatter, and a moment later Sally tore off the page and handed it to Nancy.

“Hmm,” Nancy said as she studied the paper. “What are these numbers across the top? I recognize today’s date, but what are the rest?”

Sally glanced at the page. “That’s the time of transmission. And see this—09.176? The 09 refers to the E-mail facility, and 176 is my box number. And that IW443 is the sender’s password. The first two letters are usually initials. I don’t know anyone with those initials, though.”

Nancy made notes next to each number as Sally explained. “How could I find out which terminal this was sent from?” she asked.

“I’m not sure. I’ll ask around and see if anyone knows,” Sally volunteered.

“Good,” Nancy said. “You were right that this message was sent after school hours. It says 4:09 here. Do you know which parts of the school stay open after three?”

Sally shook her head. “Not really. I’m not big on after-school activities. Some of the classrooms must be open, though,” she said. “There are all sorts of clubs and meetings after three.”

Still gazing at the paper, Nancy went to sit on the edge of Sally’s bed to think. After a moment she looked back up at the blonde and said, “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. First I’m going to try to trace the bank account number. If we’re lucky, that information will lead us right to the grade-changer and the case will be wrapped up.

“If that doesn’t work,” she continued, “I’ll have to go undercover at Brewster.”

“Wow,” said Sally in an admiring tone. “Sounds like a great plan.”

“Let’s just hope it works,” Nancy told her. “In the meantime I need you to try to find out if there are other kids who’ve been contacted by this anonymous grade-hiker. Try not to be obvious about it, though. Whoever it is could be dangerous if he senses you’re trying to find out his identity.”

Sally nodded. “You can count on me.”

Nancy smiled at her. “Good.” She flipped her notebook shut and tucked it in her purse, then stood up. “That’s about it, except for one last thing. Is there anyone you suspect?”

Sally ran a hand through her blond hair. “Well . . . there is one person, but—” she began hesitantly.

“But what?”

“But he’s a real sweet guy,” Sally replied. “The only reason I thought of him is that he’s a computer whiz. His name’s Victor Paredes. If anyone could break into that computer, it would be him. He’s a senior.”

Nancy nodded, making a mental note of the name. The two girls went downstairs just as Harrison Lane was coming in the front door. After greeting him, Nancy made arrangements with him to check out the account number. Then, after saying goodbye to Sally and her father, she left.

Twenty minutes later, as she pulled into her driveway, Nancy saw Hannah Gruen, the Drews’ long-time housekeeper, rushing out the door. “What’s the matter, Hannah?” Nancy called from her car.

“Nothing, dear,” said Hannah, smiling warmly. “I’m spending the evening with a friend, that’s all. Oh—here comes my taxi now.” Hannah waved and headed down the driveway toward the cab that had pulled up. “Dinner’s warming in the oven,” Hannah called over her shoulder. “Eat it before it gets dried out.”

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