The Case of the Photo Finish (10 page)

BOOK: The Case of the Photo Finish
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“It's mine! I took that shot. It was at a meet a couple of months ago. That was the first time I met Cheryl, right?”

“Right.” Cheryl nodded. “I remember.”

“This looks like it was cut from a magazine,” observed Nancy.

“Yeah,” said Eric. “It must be from
Der Läufer.
It's a German sports magazine. The name means ‘the runner.' That's the only place I sold the photo.”

Nancy looked at the reverse side of the picture. “It does look like German,” she observed.

“May I look?” Willy inquired from behind Nancy. He looked over her shoulder, bending down to get a clearer view. “Yes,” he said. “This is German. It is about a track meet that happened very recently. It must be the latest issue of the magazine. I have not yet seen it.”


I
have,” Cheryl said. She thrust out her arm and pointed at Marta. “She was reading it yesterday!”

Eyes wide, Marta stared at Cheryl. She took a nervous step backward. Helga stepped in front of Marta and glared at Cheryl. “You will leave her alone,” she announced. “If you do not, I will do my best to have you disqualified from the games and barred from international competition.”

Cheryl's face paled, but she stood her ground.
“Make her show us the magazine,” she insisted. “I bet the page with my picture on it is missing.”

A look of worry crossed Helga's face. She turned and spoke in a low voice to Marta, who began to look even more nervous.

“You have no right to make demands on us,” Helga said, turning back to face Cheryl. “Even if a page is gone from a magazine, it proves nothing at all.”

“Then it
is
gone!” Cheryl exclaimed. “I knew it!”

“What's going on here?” The starter pushed his way into the circle of runners. “Didn't any of you hear the last call?”

Nancy stepped over to him and said softly, “I think this race should be postponed a few minutes.”

“What? Who are you?”

Nancy showed him the note Mr. Hornby had written on his card.

“Well,” he said slowly, “you'll have to speak to the referee. He's the only one who can make a decision like that.” He looked around, raised his arm over his head, and waved it in a circle. “He'll be right over.”

A barrel-chested man with gray hair strode up a few moments later and said, “What's the holdup, Fred?”

“This young lady would like the girls' hundred
meter delayed,” the starter said, indicating Nancy with his thumb.

Nancy again produced Mr. Hornby's card, explaining that two of the runners had just been put under unusual pressure, and that it wouldn't be fair to run the race before they had time to recover.

The referee thought for a minute or so, tugging at one earlobe, then nodded. “Five minutes, no more,” he said. “Fred, you tell the contestants. I'll pass the word to the announcer.”

“A delay?” Cheryl asked. “Because of me? Well, don't bother. I'm pulling out!”

Nancy looked at her in surprise.

“Wait,” Willy called to the starter. He put his arm around Cheryl's shoulders. “Do not listen to her. She is very upset and does not know what she is saying.”

“Yes, I do!” shouted Cheryl. She pulled away from Willy. “I'm saying I've had it! I don't know why Marta hates me so much, but if she wants to win this badly, let her. I hope the medal chokes her! Everyone will know that she won it dishonestly.”

“You came a long way to run in this race,” Willy pointed out. “You will make yourself very sad if you do not do it.”

“Yeah, and I could wind up very dead unless I get away from this place,” said Cheryl. “You
don't believe me? Ask Nancy what happened to us just an hour ago!”

Eric came forward and said, “Cheryl, you're not going to let yourself be intimidated, are you? What about your sports career? What about our project?”

“It's your project, not mine,” Cheryl reminded him. “And I couldn't care less about it.”

“Well, you should care,” said Eric. “You've got the ability to be a star. A couple of solid wins, my photos in
Athletics Weekly
, some news stories about how you triumphed over a campaign of threats and dirty tricks—
everyone
will know your name!”

Willy stepped between Eric and Cheryl. “This is enough,” he said. “If she is to run, Cheryl must have time to find her center. We shall leave her alone now, and she will prepare herself, yes?”

“She can speak for herself,” Eric said, raising his voice. “All I want is for her to stay in the race and win.”

Willy put his hand on Eric's shoulder. “I tell you, you are bothering her,” he said, giving Eric a little push.

Eric pushed back. “Keep your hands to yourself, buddy,” he said, sticking out his chin.

“Will you two stop it?” pleaded Cheryl. “Just let me alone, both of you!”

Before either of the guys could react, the starter came over. “Everyone except the runners
in the girls' hundred-meter sprint please clear the area . . . at once,” he instructed in a forceful voice.

Willy and Eric glared at each other for a few seconds more, then turned and walked toward the sidelines.

Nancy had watched their angry exchange closely, but neither young man had revealed anything except that tempers had quickly heated up. Catching Cheryl's gaze, she raised a questioning eyebrow.

Cheryl took a deep breath, let it out, and said, “Oh, I guess I'll run. That's what I came here for, after all. And anyone who tries any tricks on me
is
going to be very sorry!”

A whistle blast from the finish-line judge gave the “all ready.” Nancy and Bess watched the runners remove their warm-up clothes and take their positions at the starting line.

“Come on,” Nancy said. “If we hurry, we might catch the finish.”

As they walked up the track, Bess said, “There's something weird about that note in Cheryl's bag. Spooky, I guess I mean.”

Nancy glanced over at her friend. “You mean the way the word
b-l-u-e
was used instead of
b-l-e-w?
My guess is that it was just a matter of which word was easier to find in a magazine headline.”

“That makes sense,” said Bess. “But why put
that picture of Cheryl on the note? I mean, it had to come from that German magazine, right? Why give away a big clue like that?”

Nancy frowned. “And the most recent issue of the magazine, too. It probably hasn't reached any American newsstands yet. That means our note writer is almost certainly a European athlete who knows German well enough to read sports magazines in that language
and
who just arrived from Europe, bringing the magazine along.”

“In other words, Marta, who, according to Cheryl, was reading that same magazine just yesterday,” Bess said.

“I don't know,” Nancy said slowly. “It's almost
too
obvious, like a frame-up. But who's behind it?”

“Beats me,” Bess said.

“Unless it was Eric,” Nancy said, thinking out loud. “He's the most likely person on this side of the Atlantic to have a copy of that issue of the magazine. And he seems to turn up every time another dirty trick is played on Cheryl.”

At that moment the sound of a gunshot interrupted the two girls. They turned around to see the eight runners in the hundred-meter sprint come tearing down the track toward them. The runners' cleats scarcely seemed to touch the track, and the athletes were so evenly matched that Nancy couldn't tell who was leading.

As they whizzed past Nancy and Bess, Nancy
saw that Marta had a small lead, but that Cheryl, the cords of her neck standing out like ropes, was starting to draw even. Annelise, a pace behind them, was holding on to third place.

Bess grabbed Nancy's arm and jumped up and down in excitement. Then, abruptly, the race was over. The pack of runners breasted the ribbon, coasted to a stop, and walked tiredly back to the finish line. Nancy hadn't been able to tell who the winner was, and apparently the judges were having trouble deciding, too. The judges' assistants and the timers huddled together for what seemed like forever.

Finally, the head finish-line judge shook her head and walked across to a field telephone to call the results up to the announcer's booth.

13
A Secret Source

Cheryl, Marta, Annelise, and the other runners stared expectantly up at the loudspeaker as it crackled to life.

“Ladies and gentlemen, here are the results of the girls' hundred-meter sprint. First place, Cheryl Pierce of Washington, D.C., with a time of 10.74 seconds. Second place, Marta Schmidt of Leipzig, Germany . . .”

Cheryl let out a yelp of joy, danced a few steps in place, and reached out to give Willy a hug.

“Well done,” Willy said, grinning. “Aren't you happy now that you decided to run?”

“You bet I am!” Noticing Nancy and Bess at the sidelines, Cheryl beckoned them over. Just before they reached Cheryl, Marta approached.

“Congratulations,” the German girl said. “You
ran very well.” She offered her hand, a little stiffly, and Cheryl took it, just as stiffly.

“Thank you,” she said. “You ran very well, too.”

Then Marta walked over to where Helga was waiting with her warm-up jacket.

Cheryl accepted handshakes from Nancy, Bess, and the other runners, then started walking back to the starting line to collect her belongings. Nancy was about to follow when she heard raised voices from the sidelines.

“You shoved me on purpose,” Eric was saying. “You ruined my shot of the finish!”

“Ha!” Steve replied. “You stepped in front of me. What do you expect me to do, take pictures of your back? And anyway, you don't need help from anyone else to ruin your shots. You can take care of that all by yourself.”

Fists clenched, Eric took a step in Steve's direction. “Yeah?” he said. “You'll change your tune after I win the
Athletics Weekly
contest.”

“When pigs fly,” Steve retorted. He put a protective arm in front of his two cameras but did not retreat.

“Hey, you fellows,” the finish-line judge called. “Stop fighting and clear the area. Any more problems from you and I'll have your press passes lifted.”

“Yes, ma'am,” Eric muttered. Giving Steve a
parting scowl, he stalked off toward the starting line.

“Boy, is Eric in a bad mood,” Bess said. “That's two fights he's nearly gotten into in less than ten minutes. Maybe he
is
behind the dirty tricks.”

“I'm not convinced of it,” Nancy replied slowly. “But it's a possibility I can't just push aside. Hey, there's George,” she added, and waved.

“That was some finish, huh?” George said as she came over to them. “You must have been glad to see Cheryl win.”

“Sure,” said Bess. “But do you know what happened before the start? Cheryl almost pulled out of the race.”

“She did? Why?”

“Another note,” Nancy said. She told George about someone cutting her brake line and about the threatening words and slashed-over photo. “The odd thing,” she concluded, “is that the picture came from a German sports magazine called
Der Läufer.”

“Really?” George looked at Nancy with narrowed eyes. “I've seen a copy of that. It was in Marta's wastebasket this morning. I pulled it out and saved it because I thought it might be interesting.”

“Do you still have it?” Nancy asked excitedly.

George nodded.

“Can you run home and get it?” Nancy continued. “If it's the right issue, take a look to see if
page—Hold on a sec.” She retrieved the threatening message from her pocket and checked the page with the photo of Cheryl. “See if page twenty-three is missing.”

“Can it wait until the games finish for the day?” George asked.

Remembering the way her brake pedal had felt as it sank to the floor, Nancy said, “It could be a matter of life and death.”

“I'll go right away,” George said.

“Thanks, George,” Nancy said. “Come back as soon as you can. I'll be around here somewhere. Oh—and while you're home, check for a European magazine in English, with words cut out of the pages.”

As George rushed off, Bess took Nancy's arm and pulled her back from the edge of the track. The men's relay races were being announced.

“Oh, look, there's Ramsay,” Bess said, pointing over Nancy's shoulder. “I must have missed the second round of the shot put. I wonder how he did. I'll be right back.”

Looking over, Nancy saw that the Canadian athlete was talking to Barbara, who waved when she noticed Nancy and Bess. A few moments later, she was at Nancy's side.

“I've got some information for you,” Barbara said in a low voice. “Will you walk me over to the press booth?”

The press booth was a roped-off enclosure
equipped with tables and chairs at the far end of the grandstand. When they reached it, Barbara pulled a couple of folding chairs into the corner and sat down.

“I feel like I've been on my feet for two solid days!” she exclaimed. “Anyway, here's the thing. I've been interviewing as many of the athletes as I can. They're all starting to get edgy about this meet. Most of them don't know exactly what's been going on, but they sense that
something
is, and they don't like it a bit.”

“I'm not surprised,” said Nancy. “That's one of the reasons I want to get to the bottom of this case as quickly as possible.”

Barbara nodded. “Well, maybe this will help. I met this sportswriter today, a very experienced guy who's covered events all over the world. And while we were talking, Helga Roth walked by. He was very surprised to see her here. According to him, during the last Summer Olympics, she was accused of pulling a series of dirty tricks against members of another team. Nothing was ever proven, apparently, but a lot of people believed that there must have been something to the accusation.”

BOOK: The Case of the Photo Finish
9.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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