The Case of the Photo Finish (5 page)

BOOK: The Case of the Photo Finish
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“Sorry, no comment,” Nancy said. The flash went off again. “Excuse me,” she added. “There's somebody I have to speak to.”

“Wait,” Barbara said as Nancy walked away. “I wanted to ask—”

Nancy pretended not to hear. Barbara might just be doing her job, but it was getting in the way of Nancy doing
job. How could she investigate the case if people kept interrupting her?

She edged through the crowd, keeping an eye out for Marta, Helga, Ramsay, and Cheryl. So far the evening had passed without incident.

Soon Nancy found herself next to one of the glass doors that opened onto the terrace. Light filtered through the doors, throwing an inviting circle of warm light onto the shadowy terrace. Nancy was thinking of stepping out for a breath of fresh air when she saw Cheryl walk by outside, followed a few moments later by Willy.

The light from the ballroom barely reached them as they met at the edge of the terrace. After a short embrace, they started hand-in-hand down a flight of stone steps that led to a lower terrace.

Nancy smiled to herself. Cheryl hadn't been kidding when she told Nancy that romances blossomed fast at these events.

Just then a furtive movement outside caught Nancy's eye. Someone was creeping down the steps after Willy and Cheryl. The slim white oval of a face in profile shone dimly for a moment as the follower glanced back toward the building. Then he or she was lost to the darkness.

Nancy did not hesitate. Slipping through the
door, she ran on tiptoe across the upper terrace, then paused at the head of the stairs to listen and to allow her eyes to adjust to the dark. She thought she heard the murmur of voices from somewhere below, but otherwise the night was quiet and still.

She crept down the steps to the lower level, then paused to get her bearings. Gradually, she began to pick out shapes in the darkness—tables, chairs, folded sun umbrellas. Near the edge of the terrace she could barely make out the silhouettes of two people sitting very close to each other. They were talking in low tones.

Nancy's breath caught in her chest when she caught sight of a third silhouette, not far from the couple, leaning forward as if about to spring!

Trying not to make any noise, Nancy began to run toward them, but her foot caught the leg of a misplaced chair, sending it clattering to the paving stones.

“Who's that?” came Willy's voice.

Footsteps ran in Nancy's direction, and instinctively she spread her arms to block the person's escape. Whoever was running must have been able to see her in the darkness, however, because the footsteps suddenly stopped. Metal scraped on the paving, and Nancy sensed, more than saw, the chair being raised high to smash her to the ground!

Danger at Dawn

The chair came whistling toward Nancy's head. Making a lightning-fast dive, she rolled to the side, and the chair crashed to the ground just to her left.

Before her assailant could try again, Nancy lashed out with her feet, striking a solid blow that caused her attacker to let out a yelp of pain. But before Nancy could get up, her assailant turned and raced toward the steps.

“Hey, what is this?” Willy shouted. “What is happening there?”

“Sounds like a fight,” Nancy heard Cheryl say. “Come on!”

Nancy sprang to her feet just as Cheryl and Willy ran up to her.

“Who is that?” Willy demanded, grabbing Nancy's arm. “What is going on?”

“It's me, Nancy. Somebody just attacked me.” She pulled free and started toward the clubhouse, but the person who had attacked her was already out of sight. “Too late.” She let out a sigh of disappointment. She checked herself for injury, but other than some scratches and a soiled dress, she was okay.

“Who was it?” asked Cheryl. “And what were you doing here, anyway?”

“Right after you went outside, I noticed someone follow you down here,” Nancy explained. “I didn't like the look of it, so I followed him.” Recalling the assailant's high voice, she added, “Or her. When I made a noise, the person turned to run, but I was in the way.”

“I thought I saw someone swing a chair,” Willy said.

“Uh-huh. Luckily I was able to duck out of the way,” Nancy said.

“Are you okay?” asked Cheryl, a worried look in her brown eyes. “Did you get hurt?”

Nancy shrugged. “A few scrapes, that's all. I should go wash up, though. I must be a mess.”

“Do you want me to come with you?” Cheryl asked.

“No, thanks. I'm fine,” Nancy replied. “But I think you two had better get back inside. I doubt whoever it was will try anything there.”

As Nancy headed to the ladies room, she looked carefully around her. She had a suspicion
she knew who the attacker was. When she came out of the ladies room, she ran into George, who took one shocked look at her scraped hands and rumpled dress, and asked, “What happened to you?”

“You should see the other guy,” Nancy quipped. “I'll fill you in later, George. Right now I want to see if I can locate someone.”

“Oh, look,” George said in a low voice as she and Nancy walked through the ballroom. “Those must be the Johannsen twins. They're both world-class sprinters from Denmark.”

Nancy followed George's gaze and saw two tall, lanky blond guys with nearly identical features. “Do they compete against each other?” she asked.

“Sometimes,” George said. “But usually they divide up the events. The story is that they train by chasing each other around their dad's farm.” She laughed, then said, “There's Marta. I hope she's feeling okay. She's awfully pale. That weird phone call this afternoon really shook her up.”

Nancy looked in the blond girl's direction. She saw immediately what she was looking for: there was a red mark on Marta's shin that looked as if she had bumped into something—or been kicked.

As George and Nancy drew near, the German girl met Nancy's gaze, and Nancy thought she detected a look of fright on her face. Then Marta
turned abruptly and headed in the direction of the ladies room.

Nancy started after her but stopped when she felt a hand on her arm.

“Hi, guys,” Cheryl said. “Are you all recovered, Nancy?”

“Pretty much so,” Nancy replied. “Listen—I—”

“Well, I don't know if I am,” Cheryl interrupted. “I know this is a huge drag, Nancy, but would you mind driving me back to the house? After all that's happened today, I need my sleep. Besides, I want to go out real early tomorrow and check out the track.”

Nancy hesitated, but the tired look on Cheryl's face decided her. She would have to wait until morning to confront Marta about the attack. “Sure, no problem,” Nancy said. “How early is real early?”

Cheryl laughed. “What time does the sun come up? No, I'm exaggerating. I usually get up at around six. But don't worry, I don't expect you to take me to the track. If you show me the route on my map, I'm sure I'll be able to find my way there on my own.”

As they turned to go, Eric called, “Hold it—great!” Nancy blinked when the flash went off, and when she opened her eyes, she found herself looking directly into Helga's intent gaze.

Nancy thought fast. Helga was certainly close
enough to have overheard Cheryl's plans. If she told Marta, and if Marta had been about to do something to Cheryl when Nancy interrupted her on the terrace, Marta might try again.

And what better setting for mischief than an empty running track at dawn?

• • •

The alarm buzzed, and Nancy reached her hand out and groped around on her bedside table until she found her clock. She turned off the alarm and held the clock near her face to see the time. Six o'clock. Right on schedule.

Quickly and silently, she got out of bed and dressed. Within minutes, she heard the door to the guest room open and close. Nancy waited until Cheryl had left the house. Then, grabbing a pair of binoculars, she headed for her car.

The drive to River Heights High took less than five minutes, even though Nancy had gone a roundabout way so that Cheryl wouldn't see her. Rather than use the parking lot, Nancy left her car on a nearby side street, then walked across the campus to the athletic field.

It was a beautiful day. The air still held a slight chill, but the sun would soon dry the dew on the grass. Nancy shaded her eyes against the glare and scanned the field. At first it looked empty, but then she glimpsed someone ducking behind the far corner of the bleachers.

She craned her neck for a better look, but the
person was now out of sight, and she didn't have time to go searching. Cheryl might arrive at any moment.

Nancy climbed the stands to the announcer's booth. From there, she could see the whole field and still stay out of sight. She didn't want to make Cheryl any more uneasy than she already was. Besides, there was still the possibility that Cheryl herself was somehow involved in the case. She might be using this time to set a trap for Marta.

A dot appeared at the entrance to the field. Lifting her binoculars to her eyes, Nancy focused on the dot. It was Cheryl, riding Nancy's ten-speed bike. She rode up to the foot of the stands, propped the bike against a bench, and sat down on the grass to do some stretches.

Nancy's gaze was distracted by a flash of light being reflected from the opposite end of the track. She brought the binoculars back up to her eyes and saw Eric half-hidden by the wall at the end of the stands. He was aiming a long telephoto lens at Cheryl.

Cheryl had been pretty steamed after he'd scared them in the Drews' backyard the day before. Eric was probably trying to stay out of her way to avoid making her mad again. Still, Nancy would have to keep an eye on him, just in case.

Looking back at the field, Nancy saw that Cheryl was upright now, propping each ankle in turn on the front wall of the stands and bending
over to touch her forehead to her knee. Nancy shook her head. She considered herself to be in pretty good shape, but hanging around people like Cheryl was starting to make her feel downright lazy.

Cheryl finished her stretches, took off the jacket of her warm-up suit, and started down the track at an easy, loping pace.

Raising the binoculars again, Nancy swept the entire field from left to right, then back again. Eric was still there, taking pictures, but otherwise the area was empty and peaceful.

Nancy glanced back at Cheryl just in time to see the runner trip and go sprawling face first onto the cinder track. After a moment, she pushed herself up onto her knees and started to examine the track. Nancy saw her look down at something in her hands, then around at the stadium, as if she was expecting to see somebody there. Nancy was relieved that she didn't look injured.

Nancy got to her feet. She was about to go down to help Cheryl when she noticed some movement under the bleachers at the near end of the field. Focusing her binoculars on the spot, she saw that a person—no, two people—were crouched beneath the stands.

Leaving her binoculars in the announcer's booth, Nancy moved down the bleachers as quickly and quietly as she could. But by the time
she reached the spot where the two people had been lurking, they had slipped away. A second later, Nancy spotted them walking quickly away from the field in the direction of the gate. She immediately recognized Barbara Williams and Steve Bukowski, the photographer who had been with Barbara at the River Heights Country Club the night before.

“Hey,” Nancy called. “Wait up, I want to talk to you!”

They didn't look back, only walked more quickly. Nancy broke into a run, and they, too, began to run.

“Oh, no, you don't,” Nancy muttered. With a fresh burst of speed, she closed the distance between them and launched herself at Barbara.

A Lost Clue

Barbara cried out as Nancy tackled her to the ground. “Let go of me! What are you doing?”

Barbara struggled up into a sitting position and glared at Nancy. A few steps away, Steve was staring at the two of them, a look of total astonishment on his face.

Nancy got to her feet. “Funny,” she said. “I was just about to ask you the same question. Why were you hiding under the bleachers just now?”

“That's none of your business,” Barbara said. She peered down at the bulky brooch pinned to her blazer. “If you broke my microcassette recorder, you're in big trouble.”

“I'll take that chance,” Nancy told her. “Let me guess. Somebody tipped you off that you'd get a big story about Cheryl Pierce if you came here this morning to watch her train.”

Barbara didn't answer, but her expression told Nancy that she was right.

“Then, when you saw her fall,” Nancy went on, “you realized that the big story was her so-called accident. But your presence here meant that it wasn't an accident, and you were afraid that might look suspicious. So you tried to get away without anyone seeing you. How am I doing so far?”

“We have as much right to be here as you do,” Steve said. He was about to say something more, but Barbara motioned him to be quiet.

“I'm not denying your right to be here,” Nancy told them. “But if somebody laid a trap for Cheryl, and you had advance knowledge of it and didn't warn her, that makes you accessories to the crime.”

Nancy knew her words sounded harsh, but she had to make Barbara and Steve understand how serious the situation was. “Please, it's very important that you tell me everything.”

Barbara and Steve exchanged a nervous look, and finally Barbara said, “Okay, I got an anonymous tip to be here this morning. But it wasn't the way you think. Nothing was said about Cheryl getting hurt. I thought I was going to find out that she was doing something dishonest.”

Nancy nodded. She had thought of that possibility, too. “How did you get this tip?” she asked.

“I found a note in my jacket pocket when I got home from the reception last night.”

BOOK: The Case of the Photo Finish
5.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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