Authors: Carolyn Keene
Two Points to Murder
REAT, WE'RE ALMOST
there," Nancy Drew announced, swinging her bright blue Mustang down the interstate's exit ramp.
In the backseat, Bess Marvin giggled in excitement. "All right! Emerson College, look out! Here we come!"
"You mean, look out, Emerson
," George Fayne teased, twisting around in the front passenger seat. "Admit it, Bess . . . you came along on this trip mostly to meet a lot of cute undergraduate guys, right?"
"Wrong!" Bess gave her shiny, straw-blond hair an indignant toss. "How come you always assume I've got boys on the brain? The truth is, I came along to help Nancy with her case."
"Yeah, right," George drawled.
"I mean it! If I happen to meet some gorgeous hunk . . . well, that's just a bonus."
bonus." Nancy grinned, glancing at her friend in the rearview mirror. Like George, she knew that unless Bess was seriously in love, meeting guys would always be the curvy, blue-eyed girl's number-one priority.
Whatever Bess's motives, though, Nancy was glad she was along. Both Bess and George were a big help whenever she was working on a case.
Smoothly Nancy brought the car to a stop at the end of the ramp, then turned toward the center of Emersonville. From her previous trips there, she knew they would have to drive through the town to get to the college.
Behind her, Bess was mildly ticked off over the ribbing she was getting. "You know, I'm not the only one with an ulterior motive for going on this trip," she grumbled.
"Are you referring to me?" George asked, playfully batting her lashes.
"You know it. I mean, what have
been talking about ever since we left River Heights? Nancy's case? No way! All you're concerned about is seeing a couple of big-deal basketball games."
"Well, can you blame me?" George said, suddenly growing defensive. "Emerson's the hottest team in the nation right now. If they win their last three games they'll grab their division title and go to the NCAA playoffs!"
Nancy smiled. Normally, George had a great sense of humor, but when it came to sports Bess's slender, dark-haired cousin was deadly serious.
"Besides," George added, grinning wickedly at Bess, "that's different. Basketball is what this case is all about."
," Nancy stressed. "Coach Burnett wasn't too specific about what he wants me to investigate, remember?"
The night before Nancy had received a frantic call from Pat Burnett, the head coach of Emerson's top-ranked basketball team. Because he had been in a hurry, he hadn't been able to explain much. All he had said was that a highly unusual and extremely serious threat was facing his team. He needed her help badly, he had said.
Unable to resist his plea--or the promise of a new mystery to solve--Nancy had promised to round up her friends and drive down the very next day. It didn't matter to her that the details of the case were unclear. She'd learn them once she got to the college, she knew.
The three friends rode in silence for a few minutes. Outside the car, houses with snow-dusted lawns gradually gave way to Emersonville's business district, which was bustling in spite of the below-freezing temperature.
As she drove, Nancy's thoughts turned to her own ulterior motive for taking this case--Ned Nickerson. Her boyfriend was an Emerson student and co-captain of the basketball team. It was going to be great to spend time with him, especially after the separations they had recently endured due to his schoolwork and her sleuthing.
A troubling question hung in her mind, however: Was Ned as excited about seeing her as she was about seeing him? Ordinarily, she would have been positive that he would be, but at the moment she wasn't so sure. Lately there had been some unsettling signs--letters that were less personal than before, phone calls that were shorter than their familiar talkathons. They were starting to drift apart, she felt, and that had her worried.
Beside her, George was stifling a laugh. "What's so funny?" Nancy asked.
"Oh, nothing much. You just drove by the main entrance to the college, that's all."
"What!" Nancy stomped on the brake pedal and swung the Mustang onto the shoulder. Glancing out the rear window, she saw that George was right: The entrance was at least a hundred yards behind them. She felt her cheeks grow warm. "Sorry. I guess I wasn't paying attention."
"Don't worry about it," Bess said. "Even detectives make mistakes."
"Especially when they've got their minds on other things," George added. "Like certain Emerson boys."
"You mean the ones whose names are spelled
N . . . e . . . d
Now Nancy was really embarrassed. There was ho point in denying that she had been thinking about Ned, though, she knew. Bess and George would see through her in a second.
For a moment she wondered whether to confess her fears to her friends, but quickly she decided against it. They were sure to tell her that she was worrying about nothing. And who could tell? Maybe she was. Anyway, there was only one way to find out. After checking the road in both directions, she gunned the car into a U-turn.
"Okay, I confess. Now quit the kidding, you guys, and help me find the sports center."
As it turned out, she didn't need any assistance. She remembered the way easily. The enormous building was on the far side of the campus beyond a cluster of science labs and next to the football field. Nancy spotted a parking space near the front entrance and turned into it.
"All right!" George said, zipping up her down-filled ski parka as she leapt out of the car. "This is what I like to see!"
"Yeah, a whole building devoted to self-torture," Bess finished. She pulled on a pair of pink wool mittens. "I don't understand it, George--don't you ever get tired of working out?"
"Come on, let's get inside. It's freezing out here," Nancy urged, locking her door. She was wearing jeans, boots, and a fleece-lined leather flight jacket, but even so the icy winter wind was making her shiver.
Inside, a security guard instructed them to sign the guest register, and a moment later they made their way into the main gymnasium. The basketball team was finishing their practice with a scrimmage. Sneakers squeaked on the polished wood floor as the players ran up and down the court.
It took Nancy a moment to spot her boyfriend. At six-feet-two, Ned stood out in most crowds, but among his supertall teammates he looked almost short. She hoped he would notice her on the sidelines, but it wasn't until a foul brought the action to a halt that he did.
"Hey, Nan," he called, sending her a half-hearted wave as he jogged over. "You made it. How was the drive down?"
A small lump formed in Nancy's throat. Some hello, she thought. Where were his usual "Hey there, gorgeous" and "It's great to see you"?
"The drive was fine," she managed to say. She waited for him to kiss her or give her a sweaty hug, but he didn't do either. Instead, he merely nodded at Bess and George.
"Glad you guys could make it. Come on, I'll introduce you to the coach."
Pat Burnett was a tall, silver-haired man in his late fifties. Nancy had seen him on the sidelines at games she had attended but had never met him before. His gray eyes shone with gratitude as he shook her hand. Standing with him was a stocky, pleasant-looking gentleman who appeared slightly older.
"This is Ed Riggs, our team physician," Ned said, introducing them. "Well, I guess I'd better get back on court."
"No, that's all for this afternoon," the coach pronounced. "Got to keep you fresh for tonight's game." Lifting his whistle, he blew a short blast. "Showers, everyone! And remember, I want you back here and in uniform no later than seven-thirty
The team drifted noisily toward the locker room. A few players walked past the sideline to get a closer look at the girls, and one--a tall, lanky, dark-haired boy--even stopped.
"What gives, Nickerson?" He grinned. "Hogging the girls for yourself?"
"Mike, this is Nancy Drew," Ned said. "Nancy, my co-captain, Mike O'Shea."
Nancy smiled politely as she shook hands. She had heard all about him from Ned: He was a senior, and the team's star forward. He and Ned were also fraternity brothers and good friends.
Mike beamed. "Ned's told me a lot about you. In fact, sometimes I think he doesn't know how to talk about anything else. How come you don't visit us more often?"
"Just busy, I guess," Nancy said, blushing. It felt good to know that Ned talked about her when she wasn't around. Maybe she
worrying over nothing.
Mike's question bothered her, though. Had Ned complained to him that she didn't visit enough?
A minute later the players were gone. The coach turned to Nancy and her friends. "Let's go to my office. We can talk more comfortably there. Ed, will you join us?" he asked the doctor.
The coach's office was along the main corridor leading from the gym. Crammed with trophies, citations, and photographs, it was an impressive testimonial to a long and successful career. Dr. Riggs brought in extra chairs, and as he did Nancy felt a tingle of excitement run through her. Finally she was going to learn what this mystery was about!
"I'll get right to the point," the coach said, once they were all seated. "Someone is trying to ruin my team's chances of winning the division championship, and they're doing it with practical jokes."
Dr. Riggs nodded in agreement. "These aren't your average practical jokes, you understand. They are dangerous pranks that are intended to rattle the players' nerves. We know they're deliberate because they usually happen during games."
"Last Tuesday, for instance," the coach went on. "At halftime during our game against State, someone threw a smoke bomb into the locker room. My boys coughed themselves silly, and the second half was a disaster. Our rebound and foul-shot percentages were terrible. We won the game in the end, but not by much."
"The incident the week before was bad, too," Dr. Riggs said. "The boys arrived here for the game, only to find that the locker room had been trashed. Lockers were pulled over, and equipment was strewn everywhere. Someone had even slashed open a couple of balls."
"How awful!" George said.
The coach addressed Nancy. "Ned tells me that you're a whiz at getting to the bottom of things. Can you get to the bottom of this? I'd hate to lose the division title just because some fool upset my team."
Dr. Riggs agreed. "I'm retiring at the end of this season, Miss Drew, and I'd like nothing better than to leave on a whining note."
There was a short silence. Secretly, Nancy was disappointed. Finding a practical joker didn't seem like much of a challenge. She was used to tougher puzzles.
"Coach Burnett, tell me--why are you asking
to look into this? Can't the campus police handle it?" she asked.
"Evidently not," he said in disgust. "They did investigate for a while but got nowhere. Now they tell me they can't be bothered anymore . . . they've got more important matters to deal with."
"Yes, it seems someone is picking out students at random and beating them up. Well, assaults are serious, but our problem is important, too. If we lose even one of our last three games, we'll lose the championship! That's why I took Ned's advice and called you, Nancy. These pranks have got to stop!"
Nancy knew that the pranks would probably stop on their own. Sooner or later most practical jokers lost interest in their activities. Still, telling that to the coach wasn't going to put his mind at rest. He wanted action
"Coach Burnett, have you told anyone else why I'm here?" she inquired.
"No, I thought it best not to mention it. That way you can pretend you're here to see the games, if it will help your investigation."
"It will." Because of Ned there was no hope of working undercover, but even so she wanted to remain as anonymous as possible.
Nancy was about to promise the coach that she would do her best when a commotion in the hall stopped her. Through the door they heard shouts and the sound of people running.
Crossing the room, Coach Burnett opened the door. Outside, Nancy could see members of the team dashing toward the gym. They were clad only in shorts, and from their expressions they were obviously upset.
"Jefferson!" the coach barked. "What's going on?"
A tall black player stopped by the door. His voice was tense. "I'm not sure, Coach, but the word is that somebody from the team just hung himself!"
NSTANTLY THE COACH
bolted out the door and hurried after his team. Nancy and her friends were right behind him. It took only seconds to reach the gym, and as they entered it Nancy's stomach twisted in horror.
Hanging by a noose from one of the backboards was a human figure!
"Oh, no!" she heard George whisper behind her. Bess came up a moment later and stood next to them. "I don't believe it!" she gasped.