The Case of the Photo Finish (8 page)

BOOK: The Case of the Photo Finish
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“Oh, not right before his event,” Cheryl exclaimed. “Can't it wait?”

Willy held up his hand. “It's all right, Cheryl.” Then, turning to Nancy, he said, “You are trying to find the one responsible for all these accidents, yes? I will help however I can.”

“Thanks,” Nancy said. “Do you remember where you were standing when the lights went out?”

He furrowed his brow. “I think I was near the end of the bench, over there.” He pointed. “Yes, that is right, I remember.”

Nancy looked around and began to feel a slight stirring of hope. Anyone who wanted to get to the light switches from the pool area would have had to go past Willy first.

“Who was standing near you?” she continued.

“Ah, that is more difficult.” He fell silent. Finally he said, “No, I am sorry. People were moving around so much. You understand.”

“Do you recall seeing Marta? Helga?”

He shook his head, then said, “Wait, Marta I remember. I saw her at the edge of the pool before Cheryl started to dive.”

“You're sure? Did you see which way she went?”

“That I cannot say.” He frowned. “I think I wondered if she was leaving the pool, so she might have been toward the door. But I cannot be sure.”

He glanced at his watch and added, “I am sorry, I really must go to the track to warm up.”

“Thanks, you've been a great help,” Nancy said. “And good luck in the fifteen hundred meters.”

As Willy strode away, Cheryl turned to Nancy and said, “Marta's the one, isn't she? That innocent look of hers is a lie!”

“Well . . .” Nancy hesitated. “If Willy's recollection is right, it means that she could have turned off the lights. It doesn't mean that she
A lot of other people were here, too. And whether Marta had a part in any of the other incidents, we just don't know.”

“Maybe you don't,” Cheryl said grimly, “but
do. And I'm not going to take it lying down!”

She pulled her sweatshirt over her head and stormed off toward the locker room. Nancy hurried after her. Mr. Hornby was counting on her to head off trouble, and right now Cheryl was like a bundle of dynamite looking for a place to explode.

Cheryl pushed through the locker-room doors, with Nancy right behind her. Inside they found Annelise sitting on a bench in front of an open
locker whose door was beat up and dented. Annelise looked up, startled. She was in her shorts and jersey, and a folded pair of white warm-up pants was lying next to her on the bench.

“Have you seen Marta?” demanded Cheryl.

“She and Helga were here a few minutes ago,” Annelise told her. “She changed into running clothes and left. I think you will find her at the track.” She stood up and pulled on the white pants.

“Hey!” Cheryl said. “How'd you rate a fresh warm-up suit? You must know somebody!”

“It is so stupid,” Annelise replied, looking embarrassed. “I spilled some juice on my pants. It is a guava juice I always drink when I am in training or competition, and it made a bright pink stain.” She gestured toward the open locker. “I tried to get it off, but it looked dreadful. So I told the man in the supply room, and he gave me these new pants.”

Cheryl nodded distractedly. “Well, I'd better change and get over to the track. I need to have a talk with someone.”

She reached in the pocket of her sweatshirt for, the key to her locker. “What—?” she murmured, pulling a piece of paper from her pocket.

“What is it?” Nancy asked.

Cheryl unfolded the paper, and the color drained from her face.

A second later, she handed the sheet to Nancy.

“Go home now,” the note read, “before it's too late.”

Marta's Confession

Nancy reread the threatening note, then asked, “This wasn't in your pocket before, was it?”

Cheryl blinked. “No, no. I would have found it when I dropped my locker key in, wouldn't I?” She fell silent for a moment, then burst out, “Who's doing this? Who's after me? I've never done anyone any harm. Why does somebody want to hurt me?”

“I don't know,” Nancy admitted. “But I'm going to do everything I can to find out.”

Holding the note by the corners, she studied it closely. The words in the message had apparently been cut from a glossy magazine. But what kind of magazine?

“What is it?” Cheryl asked.

“Nothing,” said Nancy. “Not yet, at least. I wish I had a pair of tweezers with me.”

“Tweezers?” Annelise asked. “One moment.” She reached in her locker, withdrew a cosmetic bag, and rummaged around inside it. “Here,” she said, holding out a pair of tweezers.

Nancy took them from Annelise. “Thanks.”

With one blade of the tweezers, she carefully pried up the edge of “before,” the longest word in the note, and peered at the underside. “I can make out what looks like part of a drawing of a cigarette,” she announced. “The name of the brand starts with
‘Wee'? I never heard of it.”

“In Europe there is a brand of cigarettes called Weekend,” Annelise said. “American words are very stylish in many European countries.”

“That might be what it is,” Nancy said thoughtfully. “If so, whoever constructed this note used words from a European magazine.”

“But all the words are English,” objected Cheryl. “Would you find them in a foreign magazine?”

“It might be from England,” Nancy pointed out.

Annelise said, “Also, in Switzerland, we have magazines in English, you know.” She sounded slightly offended. “Even very popular magazines, for men, for women, even for fans of sports. You will find magazines in English much more easily in Europe than I will find magazines in German or French here in your country.”

“Oh, I'm sure you're right,” Cheryl said hastily. “But doesn't that mean that whoever made this note must have brought the magazine from Europe?”

Nancy shook her head. “Not necessarily. I've seen some foreign magazines right here in River Heights. There are a few newsstands that sell them.”

Nancy gave Annelise back her tweezers, then carefully folded the threatening note and put it in the side pocket of her gym bag. “I'll take a closer look later, when I get home,” she explained. “Right now I want to go back to the track and ask some questions.” She sighed. “I just wish I felt sure of getting answers.”

• • •

Nancy showed her host family pass to the guard at the entrance to the field, and he waved her through. Bess spotted Nancy and came rushing over.

“Isn't it wonderful?” Bess exclaimed. “Marie-Laure placed in the preliminaries! That means she'll be in the finals tomorrow.”

“That's great,” Nancy said. She shot her friend a curious smile. She'd never seen Bess so enthusiastic about a sports event. Ordinarily, Bess's reaction was a politely suppressed yawn.

“Hey, is anything wrong?” Bess asked. “Anything new, I mean? I saw that girl who's staying
with George a few minutes ago. She looked really upset.”

Nancy raised her eyebrows. “Marta? Which way did she go? I want to ask her a few questions.”

Bess waved down the field. “Over that way, I think. Listen, I'm going to go watch the discus throw, okay? What did you say that guy's name was, the Canadian? I'm planning to be his cheering section.”

“Ramsay,” Nancy told her with a laugh. “Ramsay Roberts. I'll see you later, Bess.”

As she walked alongside the track, she heard the announcer give the last call for the 1500-meter run. That was Willy's event, she remembered. The competitors were gathered near the starting blocks, stripping off their warm-up suits. The starter and his assistant had taken up their positions on either side of the track. A whistle blast sounded from the judges at the finish line, and Willy and the seven others moved onto the track and stood near their starting blocks.

“Runners,” the starter shouted, “to your marks!” He raised a pistol over his head. The runners crouched down with one knee on the surface of the track, leaning forward so that part of their weight was on their hands.


They pushed themselves up into a position that
looked impossibly hard to hold. At last, the sharp pop of the pistol rang out, and the runners exploded off the starting blocks.

“Pretty impressive, isn't it?” came a voice.

Nancy looked around and found herself face-to-face with Barbara.

“Watching these guys makes me feel a little guilty for being such a creampuff,” the reporter added.

Nancy smiled but didn't say anything.

“Listen,” Barbara said. “I want to help you on your case. And not just because it might make a terrific story. I saw what happened back at the pool. Whoever's doing this stuff has to be stopped before someone gets badly hurt.”

“I agree,” Nancy said. “But—”

“You're thinking about this morning, aren't you? But I really didn't know what was going to happen. If I had, I would have warned Cheryl.” She looked earnestly into Nancy's face. “Okay, so you don't trust me,” she said. “I can't really blame you. But I'm going to see what I can dig up just the same. And if I get anything useful, I'll pass it on to you. Deal?”

Barbara was right. Nancy
trust her. Except for pushing Cheryl off the stands, Barbara had been nearby every time Cheryl had had an accident. She could easily have made the calls to Marta, too, and she certainly seemed willing to
go to a lot of trouble to get a good story. Nancy had no proof, but maybe Barbara herself would provide some. As long as Nancy kept a careful eye on her, it might be helpful if the reporter thought that she and Nancy were on the same side.

“Deal,” Nancy told her.

Turning her attention back to the track, Nancy saw that the runners were rounding the last turn and entering the homestretch. Willy wasn't in the lead, she could see that. But as the pack drew closer, she spotted him in third or fourth place.

“Go, Willy!” she shouted.

He couldn't possibly have heard her amid all the cheering, but he seemed to put on an extra spurt of speed a moment later. In the last few yards he drew almost level with the runner in second place. From where she was standing, Nancy couldn't tell whether he actually passed him or not, but at the very least he had come in third. That would guarantee him a spot in the finals.

“Whew!” Nancy let out the breath she had been holding and tried to shake some of the tension out of her shoulders. When George had asked if she would be one of the hosts for the athletes, she had agreed, but she hadn't expected to become so involved in the competitions.

“Okay, I'll catch you later,” Barbara said. “Wish me luck.”

“Sure, Barbara,” Nancy replied with a smile. And I'll double-check any facts you give me, she added to herself.

As Nancy turned away, she saw Marta a few feet away. The German girl was staring to her left with a desolate look on her face. Nancy followed the direction of Marta's gaze and saw Willy talking to some of the other competitors from the 1500-meter run.

Marta—and Willy? Nancy snapped her fingers. Of course! She strode quickly over to Marta and said, “That was you at the country club last night, wasn't it?”

Marta's blue eyes widened. “I was at the country club, yes,” she said carefully. “We all were.”

“You saw Cheryl and Willy taking a walk on the terrace,” Nancy pressed. “You followed them. I saw you. What were you planning to do? Simply spy on them? Or attack them with a chair, the way you attacked me?”

“I . . . I . . . This is madness! What are you saying?” Marta backed away defensively. “I would never do such things to Willy! I love Willy!”

Marta gasped, and her hand flew to her mouth. Her eyes filled with tears, and a look of misery came over her face. “Yes, I followed them,” she said after a long pause. “But not to hurt them.
Just to know for sure that it was over. And then someone came—I didn't know it was you—and I was so ashamed, so afraid to be discovered, that I—”

“What is this here?” Helga came rushing over, wedged herself in front of Nancy, and took Marta by the shoulders. After a stream of rapid-fire German directed at Marta, Helga turned on Nancy.

“This is not correct!” she exclaimed. “You are clearly part of this conspiracy to upset Marta and make her lose. But it will not be allowed to continue. I am going this moment to file a report with the chairman of the games. Marta, come!”

Marta gave Nancy a pleading look, then turned and followed her trainer.

Nancy watched in frustration as Helga and Marta made their way through the crowd. She had finally managed to talk to Marta, only to be interrupted. Nancy knit her brow in concentration. Had Marta been on the point of saying something important when Helga interrupted?

A voice calling her name interrupted Nancy's thoughts.

From the middle of the field, Cheryl waved and called out again, “Nancy,” then came over to her. “I've been looking for you,” she said. “Did you watch Willy's race? Wasn't he terrific?”

For a moment, Nancy thought that perhaps Cheryl's
excitement about Willy had overcome her worry about the accidents and the threatening note. Then Cheryl's expression darkened.

“Listen, I hate to ask you this,” Cheryl went on, frowning, “but would you mind taking me back to the house for a minute? Some lowlife took my lunch from my gym bag. It's only a can of protein drink, but it's the only lunch I eat on days when I'm competing. Look, I refuse to let these pranks get in the way of my performance. If you don't mind, I'd really like to pick up another one.”

“I'd be glad to,” Nancy told her. “But are you sure you have time? Aren't you racing soon?”

BOOK: The Case of the Photo Finish
6.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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