Authors: Carolyn Keene
Nancy Drew pushed her shoulder-length reddish blond hair back from her face and squinted her eyes to get a better look. She leaned to the left, then to the right, trying to see around a tall man in a checked sport coat, but all she could see were the many people who had assembled in front of the River Heights City Hall. The building was draped with colorful flags from around the world, and a big banner over the entrance read, “Welcome International High School Games.”
The eighteen-year-old detective and her good friend George Fayne had come for the ceremony being given by the city in honor of the students.
“Can you see? Are the buses coming yet?” Nancy asked.
George, who was a little taller than Nancy, stood on tiptoe and peered over the heads of the
crowd. “I don'tâYes, there they are. They're just pulling up to the curb!”
A wave of applause began at the far side of the square, where the bus was, and swept through the crowd toward Nancy and George. When Nancy craned her neck, she could see two lines of young athletes in matching white warm-up suits filing across the open space in front of the City Hall steps. Some of the teenagers looked solemn, almost scared, but others were grinning and waving to the spectators.
“There's Marta,” George said.
“The girl who's staying with you?” Nancy asked. Like the Drews, George and her family had volunteered to put up one of the visiting athletes in their home. “Where? Which one?”
George pointed. “The one with the short blond hair, right behind the guy with the headband.”
“Oh, yeah, I see her,” Nancy said with a nod. “Is she nice?”
“I don't know yet. I've said about five words to her so far, like, âHello,' âWelcome to River Heights,' and âYour bedroom's this way.'â”
“That's more like ten words,” Nancy observed with a teasing smile.
George rolled her eyes. “Whatever. No, I guess Marta's all right,” she continued. “But her trainerÂ .Â .Â . We weren't really figuring on
visitors. It's lucky we have twin beds in the guest room. Still, it's a terrific chance to get to know a
really great young athlete. I bet we'll be watching some of these kids in the next Olympics.” Sports was George's greatest passion, so she was especially excited about the games.
“I like those special passes to the field that host families receive,” Nancy added, grinning. “Being able to wander around will be a lot more fun than sitting in the stands the whole time.”
Nancy had been looking at the athletes as she and George spoke. “Oh, look,” she said, pointing. “There's Cheryl Pierce. She's the one who's going to be staying with us. I hear she's a hot favorite to take home some gold.” She sighed, then added, “I wish the company that donated all those warm-up suits had chosen a color other than white. They all look like hospital orderlies.”
“Shh! They're starting,” George said.
A man in a blue suit had moved over to the microphone at the top of the steps leading to City Hall. As he tapped on the mike, the TV crews turned on their floodlights.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the man began, “I've just received a phone call from the mayor. He asked me to apologize to all of you for being late, most especially to our talented and dedicated young guests from around the world. Unfortunately, his car had a flat tire across townâ”
The crowd let out a collective groan, and the TV crews turned off their lights.
“It will be a few more minutes before he can
get here. In the meantime, maybe some of you would like to mingle with our visitors and give them a more informal welcome to River Heights.”
Nancy took George's arm. “Come on,” she said. “I'll introduce you to Cheryl, and then you can take me to meet Marta. I wonder if they know each other?”
The two friends made their way through the crowd to where the athletes were milling about.
“There she is,” Nancy said, then called out, “Cheryl!”
The young woman who looked around was tall and slim, with dark skin and curly long black hair. When she saw Nancy, she flashed a warm smile.
“Cheryl, this is my friend, George Fayne,” Nancy said.
“Hi, George,” Cheryl said, holding out her hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“Hold it!” someone called. “This way!”
Nancy looked around to see a young guy wearing a torn Washington Redskins sweatshirt. He was kneeling on the pavement and aiming a camera at them. A second camera dangled from his shoulder. After snapping a couple of shots, he stood up, grinning.
“That's Eric,” Cheryl said. “Eric Land. He's from Washington, too.”
“Do you always bring your own photographer to meets?” George asked.
“Not really,” Cheryl said with a little laugh.
is putting on a big sports photography contest for high-school students. Eric came up with the idea of following one of the kids who's in the meet. I guess since he's taken some pictures of me before, he thought of me.”
“It was nice of you to agree,” said Nancy, stepping aside as the photographer leaned past her to get a close-up of Cheryl. “Doesn't he make you a little, um, self-conscious?”
Cheryl laughed again. “I don't even notice him anymore,” she said. Then, becoming more serious, she added, “And I figured it would be good publicity for the sport. Track and field events don't really get the attention they deserve.”
“And it is so flattering to have your picture always taken as well,” a harsh, accented voice broke in. “Easier to be a star before a camera than to win against honest competition.”
Cheryl's face froze, and her dark eyes fixed on someone behind Nancy. Looking over her shoulder, Nancy saw an older woman standing there. Her gray hair framed a wrinkled, weathered face, but her body was trim and fit.
“Why, Ms. Roth,” George said, stepping forward. “I didn't see you. This is my friend Nancy Drew, and this isâ”
“Helga and I know each other,” Cheryl said coldly. “I think we met in Italy last time, right?”
“Bologna, in October,” the gray-haired woman
replied. “Marta was suffering from a bad cough, which allowed you to win the one-hundred-meter sprint.”
“I was sick, too,” Cheryl retorted. “But I wouldn't have tried to use that as an excuse if I had lost the race. I call that tacky.”
“This word I do not know,” Helga said. “But you must not expect such good luck this time. Marta is in perfect condition. She will win every event she enters.”
“Good for her,” Cheryl replied. She turned her back on the trainer. Helga Roth stared at her for a long moment, then walked away.
Nancy took in Cheryl's stony expression, then shot George an inquiring look. She couldn't help wondering if the angry exchange they'd just witnessed was simply because of the competition between the two athletes or if there was something more to it.
“I guess I'd better go,” George said apologetically to Nancy and Cheryl, then followed Helga.
“Marta and her trainer are staying with George's family during the meet,” Nancy explained.
“I'm sorry if I was rude,” said Cheryl. “I don't mind competition. In fact, I need it. Good opponents make for better race times.”
“Hey, I like that,” Eric said from just behind her. “It'll be a great quote for our article.”
article, Eric,” Cheryl reminded him.
“Please don't get me any more involved than I already am. I have other things to think aboutâlike winning a raceâremember?”
Eric merely grinned and snapped another close-up of Cheryl and Nancy.
“I hate people who brag,” Cheryl said to Nancy. “It's even worse when they can't live up to their words and then make all kinds of excuses. I mean, for Helga to say I didn't win that race in Italy fair and squareÂ .Â .Â .”
As she listened to Cheryl, Nancy couldn't help wondering about the competition between Cheryl and Marta. Nancy had earned a reputation as a first-rate amateur sleuth in River Heights, and from what she had just learned, it sounded as though the competition might provide some intrigue as well as plenty of excitement.
“Do you know a lot of the athletes here?” she asked Cheryl.
Cheryl shook her head. “Far from it,” she replied. “I've met some of the American kids, of course, and a few of the ones from Europe. I've been to two big meets over there.”
“That must have been exciting for you.”
“You bet it was.” Cheryl's dark brown eyes sparkled. “I never thought I'd get to see Europe before I even got out of high school. You see, my mom works in the post office back in Washington, and we don't have a lot of money for traveling.
But after I started winning at regional track meets, some people in my neighborhood organized a committee and raised the money to send me to these international meets.”
“That must make you feel really good,” Nancy said warmly.
“Oh, it does,” Cheryl agreed. “But it's kind of a burden, too. Everyone has such high hopes for me. I feel like I have to win. And if I don't, if I have an off dayâand that can happen to anyoneâit's not just me I'm letting down. It's all my supporters, too.”
“That's a lot of pressure to be under,” Nancy said sympathetically. “I know what it's like when everybody expects you to succeed. It's hard to keep that from getting in the way.”
Glancing over Cheryl's shoulder, she noticed a familiar face in the crowd. “Oh,” Nancy said, “there's my friend Bess Marvin. Come on over and meet her. I think you'll like each other.”
At that moment, however, the man in the blue suit tapped on the microphone again, and Nancy and Cheryl turned to listen.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began, “I'm happy to say that the mayor is now here with us to welcome our honored guests. Will those of you who will be participating in the River Heights International High School Games please take your places in the stands?”
He motioned toward a set of temporary bleachers
made of a pipe frame and wooden planks. Nancy recognized them as the ones that showed up in the River Heights High gym whenever a winning streak drew extra fans to basketball games.
“Excuse me,” Cheryl said. “I'd better get over there.”
“Sure,” Nancy replied. “I'll see you after the ceremony.”
Young athletes in their white warm-up suits began heading for the bleachers. Those who got there first had to clamber over the lower benches to reach the upper rows. This slowed them down, and a traffic jam developed at the bottom of the stands.
As more and more athletes climbed up and crowded in, the stands became so full that Nancy began to wonder if there was enough room for everyone. Cheryl was standing in the top row, right on the end, next to the railing. She was looking out at the crowd, and when she spotted Nancy down below, she waved.
Nancy was raising her hand to wave back when suddenly the cheerful smile left Cheryl's face and was replaced by an expression of surprise and alarm.
In the next instant, Cheryl toppled forward over the railing, flinging out her arms. Nancy watched in horror as Cheryl plunged headfirst toward the pavement below!
Nancy held her breath. Cheryl reached desperately with one hand for the pipe railing. She had almost fallen beyond reach of it, but she managedâjust barelyâto get a hold on the rail. Then Cheryl's body jerked around and banged into the end of one of the footboards.
But the young athlete didn't lose her grip on the railing and hung suspended ten feet above the ground. Nancy thought she saw Cheryl wince, but the athlete managed to find a foothold on the piping, and she climbed carefully down to the ground. A group of spectators bunched around her.
Nancy dashed through the crowd toward the stands, and as she drew nearer, she heard somebody ask Cheryl if she'd been injured in the accident.
“Accident!” Cheryl exclaimed in a loud voice. “No way! Somebody shoved me. And I bet I know who it was, too!”