“He’s looking this way again,” Nancy Drew’s friend George Fayne said for the third time in five minutes.
Nancy’s bright blue eyes glinted mischievously as a teasing smile played at the corners of her mouth. She had noticed the tall, handsome, sandy-haired young man flashing George a quick, friendly smile when they first arrived near the starting line of the Cactus Marathon, a twenty-six-mile race held in Tucson, Arizona. He was tall and lanky, and even from thirty feet away Nancy could see that his eyes were a brilliant blue. He couldn’t seem to stop checking out George.
“Too bad you already have a boyfriend,” George said casually.
“He’s interested in you, not me, one-oh-nine,” Nancy said, referring to the number George was wearing. Smiling, she added, “And unless you’re hiding something from me, you’re available.”
George didn’t respond, concentrating instead on her warm-up exercises.
As George stretched, Nancy studied the huge shopping center parking lot where the starting line was located. Nancy estimated the crowd at a thousand people, most in jogging attire. Blue police barricades divided the starting area from traffic, and from a long line of cars more runners were being dropped off for the event.
Nancy was glad she had worn shorts, a white cotton blouse, and sandals. The desert sun burned down on them. It was going to be hot.
Nancy noticed George cast another quick glance in the direction of the sandy-haired guy, who was wearing number 71. Simultaneously he turned and caught George’s eye. Unlike most of the other runners, who were surrounded by friends, Nancy noticed that he was alone. He waved at George and gave her a friendly smile before jogging in their direction.
George started blushing.
“Hi! I’m Cory Weston,” the young man said cheerfully as he approached. “Are you from Tucson?”
“I’m George Fayne. And this is my friend Nancy Drew,” George replied. “We came all the way from River Heights, Illinois.”
“Cool, ” Cory said. “I’m from a little closer, a ranch outside Bisbee, Arizona. It’s near the Mexican border, about two hours southeast of here.”
“I hope I do okay in the marathon,” George said. “I’m not used to running twenty-five hundred feet above sea level. I know being this high can really slow you down if you’re not used to it. But I guess that’s no problem for you.”
Cory laughed. “Our ranch is at about five thousand feet, and I do most of my practicing on the gravel roads around where I live. So, yeah, I guess you could say I’m used to the altitude. But the heat still gets to me. And it’s supposed to hit eighty-five.”
George groaned. Nancy held up the plastic water bottle. “Don’t worry, George, there’ll be lots of water along the way.”
“Those are the runners to watch,” Cory said, pointing toward the starting line. Five young men with long, black hair and dark, copper-colored skin stood together, talking quietly. They wore shorts and T-shirts. Short in stature, their arms and legs rippled with muscles.
Nancy noticed Cory’s obvious admiration of them. “They’re Tarahumara Indians,” he explained. “They’ll beat us all, and they won’t even be breathing hard when they’re finished.”
“Tarahumara?” Nancy asked. “A friend of my father, an anthropologist, is sponsoring them at this race. We’re supposed to keep an eye out for him.”
“You don’t mean Dr. Bingham Stone, do you?” Cory asked.
“Yes!” Nancy exclaimed. “Do you know him?”
Cory paused. He seemed to be searching for an answer. “By reputation,” he said finally. “He sponsored some Tara runners last year, too.”
“Why are they such good runners?” George asked, gazing at the line of young men.
“Running is part of their culture,” Cory explained. “In fact, the name of their tribe means ‘the people who run.’ They come from the Copper Canyon region of northern Mexico, and stories about Tarahumara races are legendary. They can go for hours, up and down rugged mountains, without ever breaking pace.”
Just then Nancy saw something that stunned her. “They’re not wearing running shoes! Are they going to run in their bare feet?”
Cory grinned. “I’ve read that the soles of their feet are as tough as tree bark. Running shoes would probably give them blisters.”
“And they win marathons that way?” George asked, incredulous.
“Not always,” Cory said. “Some Tarahumaras have raced in the Olympic Games, but not all that successfully. They complain that the marathon is too short. They run for different reasons than we do — like delivering messages — some times with packs on their backs over great distances. So they consider twenty-six miles too short.”
“What does Dr. Stone look like?” George asked Nancy. “Do you see him?”
“Dad said he’s tall and has a gray beard,” Nancy replied. “Maybe we should go over and ask the Tarahumara runners if they know where he is.”
“Speaking of people we can’t find,” George said, “what happened to Frank and Joe?”
Their close friends Frank and Joe Hardy had accompanied Nancy and George to Tucson be cause Joe was also competing. Nancy and Frank’s job was to support George and Joe with water, foot massages, and blister care.
George turned to Cory. “We’re supposed to meet our friends at the starting line this morning. I’m running with a guy named Joe.”
“Is he your boyfriend?” Cory asked with a disarming smile.
George laughed. “Oh, no,” she said quickly. “We’re just good friends.”
“George isn’t seeing anyone special these days,” Nancy interjected, giving her friend a wink.
George blushed and changed the subject. She stood on her tiptoes, and with the flat of her hand shading her brow, searched the crowd. “I hope we can find the Hardys.”
Although they lived far from Nancy, on the East Coast, Frank and Joe Hardy had a lot in common with her. They were all successful sleuths, and quite a few times the friends had joined forces to solve mysteries.
Nancy heard a familiar voice behind her. “There are the best-looking girls in Arizona!”
When Nancy turned, she saw Joe Hardy jogging toward them, dodging other runners. The bright sunlight glinted off his blond hair. Joe wore gray shorts, dirty white sneakers, and a baggy, faded green T-shirt that was so old and full of holes it barely held together on his stocky, muscular torso. Behind him, his dark-haired older brother, Frank, sauntered along at a more leisurely pace.
“How do you keep the fans away?” Joe teased after he’d stopped beside them.
“Very funny,” George said, turning to Cory as Frank Hardy came up behind Joe. “Cory, these are our friends Frank and Joe Hardy.” Turning to the Hardys, she said, “This is Cory Weston. He’s from Bisbee, a town south of here.”
Cory shook hands with both of them. “Actually, I live on a cattle ranch.”
Joe looked suddenly intrigued. “Does that mean you’re a cowboy?”
Cory threw back his head and laughed. “Well, when I’m not racing I wear a Stetson and drive a pickup truck, so yeah, I guess I am. George says that you’re running, too.”
The younger Hardy nodded with obvious pride. “And I’m doing it in three hours,” he said confidently. “George, too. We thought we’d run together and pace each other.”
Nancy saw Cory’s eyes light up. “That’s my goal, too. Maybe we can — I mean if you don’t mind, maybe I could run with you.”
Joe looked at George. “No problem with me.”
George smiled at Cory. “Great idea,” she said. “We may as well share our misery.”
“We should see if we can find Dr. Stone before the marathon starts,” Nancy suggested.
“That anthropologist friend of your dad?” Joe asked.
Nancy nodded and pointed toward the starting line on the other side of the police barricades. “Those are the Tarahumaras. I should go over and ask if they know where Dr. Stone is.”
Nancy started toward the Indian runners, with the others following. As she approached, she saw one of them step out in front. He was slightly taller than the others — although still only about five-ten. He saw Nancy approaching, and she watched him scrutinize her, his head tilted at a slight angle.
“Hi!” she called out when she was only a few feet away. “I’m Nancy Drew, and my father’s a friend of Dr. Bingham Stone. I’m supposed to look him up. Do you know — “
“Bing!” the young man said, his face lighting up. To Nancy, he sounded like any American kid, especially the way he called Dr. Stone by a nickname. “Sí,we know Bing.”
By this time the eyes of all the Tarahumara runners were on Nancy. The tall one turned and spoke to the others in his own language. One, wearing a red bandanna around his head, rapidly replied. The tall one turned back to her.
“My name is Tasio Humada.” He gestured to the man with the red bandanna. “And my friend Chacho says Bing had to take care of some business but will be here soon.”
Chacho gave Nancy a wide, friendly smile. Tasio extended his hand, and Nancy clasped it firmly. The Tarahumara’s hand was limp in hers, making it, at most, a lukewarm greeting. His gaze, however, was so intense that Nancy found it unsettling.
“I’m with some friends,” Nancy said a little awkwardly. The others had caught up and were waiting beside her. Cory Weston held back, as if unsure whether to join the group. Nancy introduced everyone.
Tasio beamed as he gestured to the other Tarahumara runners, naming them one by one. “My friends Chacho, Patricio, Celedonio, and Vitorio.”
Just then an announcer’s voice boomed through the sound system, amid a loud, blood curdling screech and a burst of static. Nancy glanced at her watch.
“It’s three minutes to eight,” she announced. “I guess they’re asking everyone to take their places. We’ll have to look for Dr. Stone during the race.”
She was interrupted by Frank, shouting, “Look out!”
Nancy spun around just as she heard the screech of rubber on pavement, a loud crash, and splintering wood. Cory was behind her, and Tasio stood beside him, as a runaway car smashed through the wooden police barricades, heading straight toward them!