The Case of the Photo Finish (6 page)

BOOK: The Case of the Photo Finish
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“May I see it? Do you have it with you?”

“No, I'm afraid . . .” Barbara hesitated, and her face turned pink. “Well, I burned it.”

Nancy stared at her, unbelieving. “You did

“I burned it,” she repeated apologetically. “A reporter has a duty to protect her sources.”

“Do you remember what the note looked like?” Nancy asked. “Was it typed? Handwritten? What kind of paper?”

“It was just an ordinary piece of white paper, sort of glossy, with a scribbled note in pencil.”

“Too bad you burned it,” Nancy mused out loud. “Handwriting is hard to disguise, and glossy paper is the best kind for lifting prints.” She looked back over her shoulder toward the track, then said, “Well, thanks for your help. I'd better go see how Cheryl is.”

“We'll come, too,” Barbara said. “I'll feel awful if she's hurt.”

The three of them walked back onto the field and found Cheryl still standing near where she had fallen, talking to Eric. Nancy approached them quickly, with Barbara and Steve not far behind her.

Cheryl glanced over her shoulder, saw Nancy, and said, “I was just talking about you, Nancy.
This is getting serious. Somebody just tried to break my neck. Look at this!”

She held out her hand and showed Nancy a length of transparent nylon fishing line.

“It was stretched across the track at ankle height,” Cheryl added. “If I'd been running full out, instead of warming up, I could have been badly hurt.” She paused and glanced at Barbara and Steve. “What are they doing here?”

Nancy quickly told her about the anonymous tip.

Barbara put her hand in her jacket pocket, and Nancy was pretty sure she was turning on her microcassette recorder. “I noticed you fell a few minutes ago while warming up,” the reporter said to Cheryl. “Did that have anything to do with the harassment people are talking about?”

Barbara's concern for Cheryl sounded genuine, Nancy thought, but she obviously wasn't concerned enough to respect Cheryl's privacy. Could it be that Barbara's interest went beyond just wanting to get a scoop?

“I couldn't tell you,” Cheryl replied, obviously annoyed.

“Hey, let her alone,” Eric said suddenly. He stepped in front of Steve, who had just raised his camera and aimed it at Cheryl.

“Why? You have an exclusive contract?” Steve demanded. “This is a public place, you know. I have a right.”

“You don't have any right to harass people,” Eric insisted. “And that's exactly what you're doing.”

Steve sidestepped him and said, “Let's ask her. Cheryl, am I harassing you?”

“Look, I came out here to be alone,” Cheryl said, “not to have people fighting over me. The meet starts in a couple of hours, and I want to be calm and together for it. So if you'll all excuse me—”

“Do you want a lift back to the house?” Nancy offered sympathetically.

“Thanks, but I'd rather use the bike—as long as no one tags along and bugs me, that is.” Cheryl looked sharply at Barbara and Steve and started across to the bleachers, where she had left her jacket and the bike. A few moments later, she rode out the gate.

“We'd better get moving, too,” Barbara said to Steve. “Listen, Nancy, I'm sorry if I got angry before. I'm not used to having people tackle me, that's all. Can we get together later on? I'd love to hear your ideas about this harassment business.”

And tape them, Nancy added to herself. Aloud, she said, “That's a great idea, Barbara. I'll see what I can do.”

Once Barbara and Steve were out of earshot, Nancy turned to Eric and asked, “What were
doing here at six-thirty in the morning?”

“Taking pictures of Cheryl, of course.” His raised eyebrows hinted that Nancy was crazy for even asking the question.

“But how did you know she would be here this early?” she pressed.

Eric shrugged. “I heard her mention it to you last night, at the party. Besides, Cheryl usually looks over the track first thing on the morning of a meet.”

“When did you get here?”

“A little after you and a little before Cheryl,” he replied with a grin. “I saw you climbing up into the announcer's booth.”

Nancy sighed. She had hoped that Eric might have arrived early enough to get a glimpse of whoever had tied the nylon trip wire across the track.

“I'd better get moving,” she said. “See you later.”

Nancy climbed up to the announcer's booth to retrieve her binoculars, then headed for her car. She pulled into her driveway just as Cheryl was walking the bike into the garage.

“Hi,” Cheryl called, emerging from the garage. She seemed to have regained her good spirits. “I'm starved.”

“Me, too,” Nancy replied. “Let's see what we can find to eat.”

The girls were just sitting down to a breakfast
of granola topped with raisins and fresh sliced strawberries when the phone rang. Nancy glanced at her watch, then grabbed the receiver.

It was George. “Nancy,” she said in an urgent voice, “this is getting serious. Marta got another threatening phone call about ten minutes ago. She's been hysterical ever since. Helga is starting to wonder if she should call a doctor.”

“Same kind of call as yesterday?” asked Nancy.

“I guess so,” George replied. “I didn't hear this one.”

“Too bad,” Nancy said. “By the way, where was Marta before the call?”

George hesitated. “Out for a run, I guess. She and Helga were both gone by the time I woke up. I thought they were together, but I guess not, because Marta got back a few minutes earlier than Helga.”

“Hmm,” said Nancy. She glanced at her watch again. “I don't have time to come over before we go to the games. You'll just have to do your best to calm them down, and we'll go over everything later. I'll see you at the games, okay?”

She hung up the telephone and walked slowly back to the kitchen table. The case was getting more confusing every minute. New attempts had been made to sabotage both Cheryl and Marta, and both girls had a reason to want the other out of the competition. Marta and Helga had both
been out of the Faynes' house early enough to have set the wire. And Cheryl could easily have stopped at a phone booth on her way home to make that second threatening call to Marta; that might explain her renewed good mood. So far, it certainly seemed as though they were trying to sabotage each other.

Nancy drummed her fingers on the kitchen table, concentrating. Somehow it seemed too neat. And then there were the reporters and photographers. How did they fit in?

“Nancy?” said Cheryl. Her voice sounded loud, as if she had already spoken three or four times without any response.

Nancy blinked. “Sorry, what is it?”

“I was wondering if you have a bathing suit I could borrow,” Cheryl said. “We're about the same size, I think.”

“I guess so. Why?”

“They announced yesterday that the high school pool will be open for us during the games,” Cheryl explained. “I thought I'd take advantage of it. There's nothing like a few fast laps to soothe you and cool you off.”

Nancy nodded. “I'm sure I can come up with something,” she said.

“Bring one for yourself, too,” Cheryl called as Nancy started up the stairs. “I love to have company when I swim.”

• • •

Nancy dropped Cheryl off at the locker room and strolled over to the athletic field. The stands were already starting to fill up with spectators, and the athletes were gathering on the grass near one end of the stands, waiting for the opening parade.

Nancy walked in their direction. She had been hoping to talk to Marta that morning—about the second phone call
about the previous night's attack—but so far she hadn't seen the German girl or her trainer.

As Nancy approached the athletes, Willy waved and called to her. Annelise was standing next to him.

“Good morning,” he said, smiling, as Nancy came over. “What a beautiful day, isn't it?”

“It sure is,” Nancy replied, glancing around her. “Hi, Annelise. Are you enjoying your visit to River Heights so far?”

“Yes,” the Swiss girl said. “It is very nice here.”

“Can you tell me about the history of your town?” Willy asked Nancy. “The history of America interests me very much.”

“I can tell you a little, I think,” Nancy said. She searched her mind for some of the local history she had had to learn in grade school. “Let's see—”

“Attention, please,” a loud voice rang out, and Nancy turned to see a man in a blue satin
windbreaker who was speaking into a bullhorn. “Will the athletes please take their places for the opening parade.”

“Excuse me,” Willy said. He and Annelise moved over to where the other athletes were lining up. Just then Cheryl came jogging over, on her way back from the gym. She took her place among the other athletes, wearing a very solemn expression. This moment clearly meant a lot to her.

There was a stir in the crowd, and Helga Roth appeared, holding the arm of the official in the blue windbreaker. She was talking rapidly, and although her voice was too low for Nancy to hear her words, Helga's whole body conveyed a sense of urgent intensity. The official listened, shook his head, then listened some more.

From the loudspeakers came the opening music of a lively march. The athletes straightened their ranks, and as the first of the competitors stepped out onto the track, the spectators began to cheer.

But at that moment, Helga shouted, “There! Cheryl Pierce—she is the one!”

A Serious Charge

At the sound of her name, Cheryl stopped so abruptly that the young woman behind her in line almost tripped over her.

“Excuse me, miss,” the man in the blue wind-breaker said to Cheryl. He took her arm and led her out of the line. “Would you mind coming with me, please?”

Nancy moved closer so she could hear.

Cheryl stared at the man, then looked back at the parading athletes. Over half the athletes were already out on the field.

“What is it?” Cheryl asked. “Can't it wait?”

“I'm sorry,” the man said. “Questions have been raised that may affect your eligibility to participate in the games. Until they're settled . . .”

Cheryl's jaw dropped. “Eligibility? What do you mean?
Are you trying to say you're disqualifying me?” She sounded completely bewildered.

Nancy glanced around. Not far away, Barbara was pulling her microcassette recorder from her jacket pocket. Behind her, Nancy heard the familiar click-whirr of a camera—Eric's. Helga remained just a few steps away, watching and listening closely.

The last of the entrants were marching onto the field, and Nancy saw that Marta was among them. The German girl looked over at Cheryl and the official with an expression that seemed to be somewhere between frightened and sly.

“I am not disqualifying you,” the official said. He glanced around uncomfortably at Barbara, Nancy, and Eric. “It's simply that—look, hadn't we better talk this over in private?”

“Away from my friends, you mean?” Cheryl said. “Sorry, but no way. Whatever you've got to say to me, you can tell me right here and now.”

“Very well, young lady,” the official said. “According to Ms. Roth, your conduct yesterday and today has been totally unsportsmanlike. She says that you have deliberately harassed your rival Marta Schmidt to the extent of making threatening phone calls to her. I'm sorry, but we simply cannot overlook that sort of behavior.”

“And you took her word for it, without any proof?” Cheryl asked.

“Ms. Roth is an Olympic medalist,” the man replied stiffly.

“And I'm just some kid you've never heard of, is that it?”

“Hello, Robert,” came a deep voice. “What's the problem here?”

Nancy glanced over and recognized Lionel Hornby, the chairman of the games committee.

“Mr. Hornby,” the official in the windbreaker said. He stepped over to Hornby, and the two men spoke for a moment in low, guarded tones.

After a few minutes, Hornby looked around. “Ah—Ms. Roth?” Helga stepped forward, and they spoke for a minute or two longer. Helga seemed to become agitated.

Finally Hornby nodded. “I see,” he said calmly. “And I understand your concern. You may be sure that I shall do all I can to deal with the matter.”

Helga did not look satisfied, but she seemed to realize that she had reached a dead end. When she stepped away from the two men, she turned to glare at Cheryl and Nancy.

Hornby walked over to Cheryl. “Ms. Pierce?” he said. “I'm sorry you're missing the opening parade. Ms. Roth has made some serious charges, you understand. We have to look into them carefully. We may need to ask you some questions later on. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy your participation in the games.”

“You mean I can go?” asked Cheryl, looking relieved.

Hornby nodded and said pleasantly, “That's right. And I hope you'll forgive this misunderstanding.”

Cheryl turned and looked daggers at Helga. “Some people I'm going to find hard to forgive,” she said in an icy voice.

As Cheryl walked toward the field, Hornby caught Nancy's eye and motioned with his head for her to join him.

“What's the story here, Nancy?” he demanded. She quickly filled him in on what had been happening, and as she spoke his face grew more and more grave.

“This is terrible!” he exclaimed when she had finished. “Why didn't you say something to me before this?”

“I realize now that I should have,” Nancy admitted.

Hornby shook his head slowly. “We have to stop this before it destroys the games. Nancy, will you try to get to the bottom of all this and find the person responsible? You'd be doing a big favor for everyone who's worked so hard to bring the games to River Heights and make them a success.”

BOOK: The Case of the Photo Finish
10.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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