The Case of the Photo Finish (2 page)

BOOK: The Case of the Photo Finish
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Cheryl glared up at the stands, and Nancy followed the direction of her gaze. There, at the railing, looking down, was blond-haired Marta, the runner whose trainer had confronted Cheryl a few minutes earlier.

“Come on, admit it, Marta,” Cheryl called up to the stands. “You were right behind me. You saw your chance to make sure that you won an event or two this weekend. So you gave me a little push, right?”

Marta's face turned bright red. “This is a very serious thing you are saying,” Nancy heard the girl say in a shaky voice. “I am not at fault if you are clumsy and trip. You must watch your step better.”

“You're the one who'd better watch your step,” Cheryl retorted. “If I—”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the voice over the loudspeaker boomed. “His Honor, the mayor.”

Apparently, no one had noticed the disturbance except for a small circle of people at the end of the stands where Cheryl had fallen. Cheryl gave a frustrated shrug and turned away from her argument with Marta.

The mayor, a tall man with wavy gray hair and bushy eyebrows, stepped up to the microphone and raised his arms to acknowledge the applause.
As the clapping died away, he began: “My friends, our city of River Heights is honored to welcome some of the finest, most dedicated young athletes in the world. This weekend, the eyes of sports fans everywhere are turned toward River Heights.”

Nancy tuned out. Whatever the mayor had to say, it could hardly be as important as the question she had to grapple with. Had someone just tried to push Cheryl off the stands? Ten feet wasn't an enormous drop, especially for an athlete, but Cheryl could easily have pulled or bruised a muscle. Even a minor injury could hinder her performance in the meet. Would Marta do such a thing?

Nancy glanced up into the stands again. Marta's trainer, Helga, was sitting next to Marta, looking even grimmer than before. Was she concerned because of the attack on Cheryl and the accusation against Marta? Nancy wondered. Or because the attack had failed?

Struck by a sudden idea, Nancy glanced around at the crowd until she spotted Eric's Redskins sweatshirt a dozen feet away. She started edging toward him.

“Eric?” she said in a low voice, so as not to disturb the mayor's speech.

“Oh, hi,” he said, startled.

Several spectators looked around, frowned, and said, “Shh!”

Nancy leaned closer to him and whispered, “Did you see what happened before, when Cheryl fell from the stand?”

“I sure did,” he muttered. “That was a close call. I hope it doesn't hurt her chances in the meet.”

“Did you get any pictures of the fall?”

“Well . . . I can't be sure. I glanced over just as she started to fall. It took me a moment to get the camera up to my eye, so I missed the first few seconds of the action.”

“Oh,” Nancy said, disappointed.

“I managed to grab a few shots, though,” Eric continued.

“Would your photos show who was standing near her when she fell?” Nancy asked.

“Maybe. It depends on the field of view. I zoomed in pretty quickly. Why?”

“Cheryl said that somebody pushed her,” Nancy told him. “I'd like to know if she's right. Because if she is, whoever did it might try again.”

Eric raised his eyebrows, and a look of excitement came into his eyes. “Wow, what a story! ‘Danger Stalks Teen Track Star.' Or better yet, ‘Prize Photos Hold Crucial Clue.' ”

“Listen, this isn't a game,” Nancy cautioned him. “Cheryl might have been hurt just now. Her fall could have been an accident, of course. But if it wasn't, and if your pictures can help head off another attack—”

Eric looked apologetic, and his cheeks flushed. “I know, I'm sorry,” he said. “I can't help talking like that sometimes. I really do want to help. The only thing is, the camera's loaded with color slide film. It might be hard to find a lab that'll develop it in a rush.”

“See what you can do, okay?” Nancy said. “And if I can help—”

A burst of applause signaled the end of the mayor's speech. Nancy looked up to see him come down the steps and start shaking hands with the athletes and the other guests as they filed out of the bleachers.

“Excuse me,” Eric said. “I need a shot of Cheryl with the mayor.” He hurried away, already raising one of his cameras to his eye. Nancy looked after him and shook her head. Obviously, Eric was totally wrapped up in his project. She just hoped he remembered to take a break from taking pictures long enough to get his film developed.

“Ground Control to Nancy Drew,” a voice said. “Come in, please.”

Nancy glanced around and saw Bess Marvin, George's cousin. “Oh, hi, Bess,” Nancy said. “I noticed you in the crowd just before the mayor's speech, but there wasn't time to say hello.”

Bess's blond hair shone in the sunlight. Focusing her sparkling blue eyes on Nancy, she said,
“You look very thoughtful. The mayor's speech must have made quite an impression on you.”

“I didn't hear a word of it,” Nancy replied. She quickly filled Bess in on Cheryl's fall.

“Hey, I saw that! She's your guest?” Bess paused and studied Nancy's face for a moment. Then, rolling her eyes, she said, “Uh-oh. I know the signs. You smell a mystery. You think her fall wasn't an accident, and you're planning to find out who pushed her. Right?”

“Right,” said Nancy. “I'm not sure of what really happened. I suppose it's possible that it was an accident, but Cheryl accused another runner named Marta, who's staying at George's house. Marta denied it, of course.”

“Marta—she has short blond hair, right?” Bess asked. “I met her. What's the problem?”

Nancy frowned. “I don't know either of them, so I don't have any reason to believe one more than the other. I'll just have to keep my eyes open.”

Bess shook her head. “I guess I'm lucky. The girl who's staying at our house is a fifteen-year-old named Marie-Laure, from the South of France. She's really shy and doesn't know a word of English, but she's got the longest legs I've ever seen. She does the high jump.”

Nancy noticed Cheryl walking in their direction with a girl with a brown ponytail and a tall
blond guy whose deeply tanned face ended in a pointy chin. Their warm-up suits showed that they, too, were participants in the track meet.

As the trio came up to Nancy and Bess, Nancy said, “Cheryl, are you okay? That looked like a nasty fall, even though you did a great job of recovering yourself.”

Cheryl rubbed her shoulder. “I think I'll have a couple of bruises, but nothing that will stop me from competing. The nerve!” she exclaimed. “Having somebody bad-mouth me is one thing—I can let that just roll off—but when people start shoving me off a grandstand, I draw the line!”

“Are you positive—” Nancy began.

“You bet I am!” Cheryl broke in. “You can ask Annelise. She was right there the whole time.” She gestured to the girl and boy she'd been walking with. “Nancy, meet Annelise and Willy. They're from Switzerland, and they both speak better English than I do. The Swiss are incredible linguists, you know.”

Willy smiled. “We have to be,” he said with only a trace of an accent. “Our country has four official languages—German, French, Italian, and a language called Romansh that nobody outside of Switzerland even knows about. English is the unofficial fifth.”

“Five languages,” Bess said, shaking her blond
head in amazement. “And I thought learning just one extra was hard enough!”

Nancy introduced Bess, then turned to Annelise. “Cheryl says that you saw someone try to push her from the grandstand. Is that right?”

The Swiss girl thought for a moment. “I did not really see what happened,” she said. “It is possible that someone bumped into Cheryl, but I did not see it. I'm sorry.”

“I think maybe I know what happened,” Willy said to Cheryl. “In the crowding, someone pushed into you by accident. Then, when you fell, the person was too frightened to admit what had happened.”

“It could have happened like that,” Cheryl admitted reluctantly. “But I was sure I felt a hand on my back, shoving me. And Marta was right there. Still, maybe I shouldn't have accused her—not without proof. But I was really furious.”

Marta did seem like the most likely suspect, thought Nancy. But she knew it was dangerous to jump to conclusions without evidence. “Is there anyone else who would have reason to push you?” she asked Cheryl.

“No one that I can think of,” the runner replied.

Nancy looked around. The crowd had thinned out now that the ceremony was over. George was still there, standing on the steps of City Hall with
Helga, Marta's trainer. They didn't seem to be talking to each other, Nancy noticed. Marta joined them a moment later; she had a knapsack on her back.

Turning back to Cheryl, Nancy asked, “What happens now?”

“Those who wish to go back to the athletic field may take the buses,” Willy replied. “Most of us will go to the homes of our hosts.”

“Oh, Cheryl, I've got my car here,” Nancy said, smiling at her guest. “Would you like a lift back to the house? You could unpack or whatever.”

“Sure, that'd be great,” Cheryl replied. “Hang on, I have to get my gym bag from the bus.”

As she hurried away, Nancy realized that she hadn't seen Eric and his cameras for five or ten minutes. She hoped he'd gone in search of a lab to develop those slides for her.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Nancy,” said Willy, holding out his hand.

“A great pleasure,” Annelise echoed, offering her hand as well.

“Thank you.” Nancy shook their hands. “It's been great meeting both of you. And good luck in the games.”

Cheryl came back as Annelise and Willy were walking away. “They're nice,” she observed. “A little formal, but that's just their style. Underneath it, they're really sweet.”

The two girls headed for Nancy's car and drove to the Drews' house. Nancy went to the kitchen to fix a snack while Cheryl went up to the guest room to relax for a while. Nancy had finished peeling and slicing some carrots and was starting to prepare a yogurt dip when she heard Cheryl cry out, “That does it! When I get my hands on that little creep, I'm going to tear her up and throw away the pieces!”

A Sticky Clue

Nancy dashed out of the kitchen and up the stairs to the guest room, stopping in the open doorway.

Cheryl was standing in the middle of the room, staring down into her open gym bag, which lay on the bed. Her fists were clenched, and she was breathing heavily.

“What is it?” Nancy asked. She could guess who the “little creep” was, but she had no idea what had happened to make Cheryl so angry. “What's wrong?”

“Take a look,” Cheryl said angrily, pointing to the gym bag.

Nancy crossed the room to the bed. At first she didn't see anything out of the ordinary in the bag—just shorts, tops, a pair of running shoes, a magazine, and a small bag that seemed to contain
toiletries. But everything seemed to have the same yellowish brown tinge.

Then, Nancy noticed a small jar that had rolled into the corner of the bag. The top was off. Reaching in, she pulled the jar out, holding it carefully by the rim.

The label of the jar had the word
in gold letters across the top and a picture of a bee wearing a golden crown in the center. Nancy didn't need to read the English translation at the bottom of the label. Her fingertips and nose had already told her that the jar had once contained honey—and that the contents were now all over Cheryl's running gear.

“What a mess,” Nancy said, frowning. “How did it happen?”

“Somebody put that gunk in my bag, that's how,” Cheryl replied. “And I know who! Just wait till I catch up to her!”

“Catch up to whom?” Nancy asked, although she was pretty sure she knew whom Cheryl was referring to.

“Marta, that's who! Or maybe it was Helga, her trainer. It doesn't matter.” Cheryl reached into the bag and pulled out what looked like a leather insole. “My orthotics are probably ruined!” she wailed. “Do you know how long it takes to have these things made and fit? And how much they cost? What'll I do?”

“We can try to clean them off,” Nancy suggested. “And we can throw the clothes in the washer. They'll be ready in an hour.”

Continuing to hold the honey jar by its rim, Nancy held it up to the light. “Did you touch this?” she asked.

“I don't think so,” Cheryl said. “But I might have. I reached into the bag to pull out some things, then I felt that guck. Why?”

“There might be fingerprints,” Nancy said. “There are a few smudges, anyway. I'll keep the jar safe and take a closer look later. When was the last time you knew for sure the bag was all right?”

Cheryl gave her a curious glance. “You sound just like a detective,” she said.

Nancy let out a little laugh. “Well, to tell the truth, I am. I'll tell you all about it sometime. But for now, what about the bag?”

“Let me think.” Cheryl knitted her brow in concentration. “Oh, okay—I was looking at a magazine on the bus. When we got to the ceremony, I stuck it inside my bag.”

“Would you have seen the honey jar if it was already there?” asked Nancy.

“Well, sure! I remember now, I rummaged around inside for my comb. There wasn't any jar of honey in my bag then.”

“And then you left the bag on the bus?”

“Uh-huh. On the luggage rack.”

Nancy glanced down. The ID tag attached to the strap of the bag was easy to spot. Anyone could have known the bag was Cheryl's.

“Why do you think that Marta or her trainer put the honey in your bag?” Nancy continued. “Did you see either of them acting suspiciously?”

“Nooo.” Cheryl said slowly. “But Marta always takes some special kind of honey wherever she goes. It's part of her training diet.”

BOOK: The Case of the Photo Finish
9.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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