“You can do a lot better than that, Nancy Drew!” said Bess Marvin. She was seated next to Nancy in the first row of the hard bleachers and gave Nancy a playful nudge with her elbow. “Let’s use the team’s time-out to practice. It’s ‘BEDFORD! BEDFORD! USE YOUR MIGHT! GET THE BALL AND FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT!'” she shouted into the chilly autumn afternoon.
Laughing, Nancy tilted her head and peeked around Bess to give George Fayne a look that said, “She’s hopeless.” George, who was Bess’s cousin and Nancy’s other best friend, understood the look perfectly.
“She’s not easy to please, is she?” George said with a wry grin.
“Okay, Bess,” said Nancy. “Is this right?” She took a deep breath. “‘Bedford. Bedford. Use your might. Get the ball and fight, fight, fight!’ Any better?” she asked.
Bess pretended to be disgusted by Nancy’s lack of enthusiasm and looked straight ahead, out across Bedford High’s stadium. She wrinkled her nose and slipped her hands into the pockets of her down jacket.
“Hey! It’s hard to root for a team that was your archrival all through high school,” Nancy said. “How do you do it, Bess?”
“Bess isn’t cheering for Bedford, Nan,” George said. “She’s cheering for Bill Ellman.”
Bess lowered her eyelids and turned to glower at her cousin. She opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted by the team returning to the field. Just in front of the stands the Bedford cheerleaders jumped to their feet to welcome them back.
“Go, Bedford! Hooray, Bill!” Bess cried, standing and waving to the tall, broad shouldered fullback wearing the Bedford yellow jersey with a royal blue number eleven.
The fullback hardly acknowledged Bess’s wave. He simply shot her a tiny nod before donning his helmet and trotting back onto the field to join the huddle. His jaw was set, and a tiny muscle moved in and out just above his jaw bone.
“He’s tense,” Bess explained. “It can’t be easy to lose with college scouts in the crowd.”
“Especially since Bradford’s been undefeated,” George added. Her face reflected genuine concern. Sports were George’s major passion, and she must have sensed the tension Bill was feeling.
“There’re still four minutes to turn things around,” said Nancy, rising to her feet. “GO, BEDFORD!” she shouted, putting her heart into the cheer this time. “BEAT CLIFFSIDE!”
“GO, BEDFORD! BEAT CLIFFSIDE!” The rest of the spectators picked up the cheer and turned it into a slow chant that grew steadily louder and stronger. Spreading out along the edge of the field, the cheerleaders faced the crowd and swayed, first left, then right, with their bright yellow and blue pom-poms held high above their heads.
Cynthia Tyler, captain of the squad and Bess’s new friend, stood on the fifty-yard line. Her honey blond curls followed the side-to-side movement. Soon the whole crowd was swaying and singing, supercharged with energy.
“Cynthia’s enthusiasm is contagious,” Nancy remarked.
George nodded, then smiled. “She isn’t just rooting for Bedford, either, you know.”
“True enough,” Bess agreed. Rob Matthews, Cynthia’s boyfriend was Bedford’s quarterback and Bill Ellman’s best friend. They had introduced Bess and Cynthia.
“Wave to the camera!” Cynthia called up to the three girls as a local TV cameraman swung by the edge of the field, a hand-held camera on his shoulder.
Bess obliged with great enthusiasm. “To think that Bedford has three potential high school All-Americans and a possible state championship!” she said after the cameraman swung past her to pan the rest of the crowd. “What a team!”
“I know about Bill and Rob,” George said over the roar of the crowd. “But who’s the third player up for All-American?”
“Lonnie Price, number twenty-two!” Bess shouted. “He’s the defensive end. Lonnie, Bill, and Rob are best friends. It would be fantastic if they all made All-American and won the state championship.”
“Here they come!” said Nancy as the team broke out of their huddle and lined up for the next play.
The Bedford fans seemed to hold a collective breath as Rob tossed a pass downfield. Racing to meet it, Bill stretched his arms out, his head up, eyes on the spiraling ball.
Oomph! The air was forced out of him as he was broadsided by a two-hundred-pound line-backer. He did manage to retain possession of the ball, but only by falling on it, though.
“Poor Bill,” cried Bess, covering her eyes.
“Don’t give up, Bess, Bedford can still win,” said George after the whistle blew, signaling the clock to stop.
“You really think so?” Bess asked, worried, her eyes shifting to the scoreboard. Still twelve to seven.
“Sure,” Nancy answered, reaching around her friend’s shoulders to give her a hug. “One touch-down and they can win.”
Bess obviously cared a lot about Bill. When Bess first started dating him, George couldn’t help teasing her cousin about seeing a high school boy. But Bess hadn’t let the jokes get to her. “Bill’s special,” she’d said. “Not because he’s going to be an NFL star, not because of his superhuman physique and gorgeous aqua eyes, or that glossy chestnut hair of his. He’s special because he just happens to be incredibly sweet.”
Everything Bess had said about Bill seemed to be true. He had rugged good looks, and despite one or two small mistakes he’d made that day, his athletic talent was impressive.
A sharp whistle brought the girls’ attention back to the game. The teams lined up, and the center snapped the ball. As Rob dropped back for another pass, the cheers from the Bedford stands reached new heights. Cynthia’s voice was practically hoarse as she urged the fans on.
“They can’t lose,” Bess murmured worriedly. “They just can’t.“
“I think Rob’s going to run this one himself!” George cried excitedly. Just then the quarterback rolled out, then sprinted down the field. He was racking up a good gain, too, when a Cliffside defender broke free and charged at him.
“Look out!” Nancy yelled as the Cliffside tackle blew through open space and smashed into Rob, knocking him backward. Rob’s helmet went flying, its strap broken. With a sickening crack, his bare head hit the ground. The crowd’s roar instantly quieted to a nervous murmur.
“He’s not moving,” Bess said, her eyes glued to the field, where the fallen quarterback lay sprawled. Cynthia stood by the cheerleaders’ bench, stunned, her hands to her mouth. The Bedford trainer rushed up to Rob, kneeling at his side.
“Oh, please, please, let him be all right!” Cynthia cried out suddenly, tears rolling down her cheeks.
“Come on,” Bess said, leading the way off the bleachers and over to the cheerleaders’ bench. Nancy and George followed.
“He’ll be okay, Cynthia,” Bess told the girl when they got there. She hugged her new friend’s shoulders.”Look!” George pointed. “He’s getting up!” Nancy turned to see Lonnie Price and Bill Ellman helping Rob to his feet. Slowly they walked him over to the players’ bench that was next to the cheerleader squad’s. Nancy could tell Rob was still dazed, but at least he was conscious. The worried-looking coach signaled a substitute onto the field, and play resumed with only fifty seconds left in the game.”Come on, Bedford!” Nancy cried, still at the cheerleaders’ bench. Barely audible over the roar of the crowd, Nancy heard Rob and his coach arguing.”I’m fine!” Rob shouted. “Put me back in!“
“Sit down,” the coach ordered, pointing Rob back toward the bench.Just then a groan went up from the stands. Cliffside had sacked Rob’s substitute.”No! This is our last chance!” Rob said, standing his ground and grabbing the coach by his jacket lapels.
“Fourth down and twenty yards to the goal,” George commented sadly. “I guess Bedford is finished.” A huge roar from the crowd drowned out George’s voice. Nancy glanced over and saw Rob walking determinedly to the twenty-yard line. He was back in the game!
“Go, Rob!” shrieked Cynthia and Bess.
“He’s out of his mind!” George exclaimed.
Rob took the snap and faded back to pass. With linemen coming at him from both sides, Rob couldn’t find a free pass receiver, so he tucked the ball under his arm, lowered his head, and blazed through the middle. He broke two tackles and fell into the end zone just as the clock ran out. The new score flashed on the board. Bedford — thirteen; Cliffside — twelve.
“They did it! They did it!” a jubilant Bess shrieked. “State championship, here we come!”
The other Bedford fans had joined them on the field, screaming in triumph and pressing toward the players. The team lifted Rob and Bill to their shoulders and were carrying their heroes up and down the field with fans crushing in on all sides.
Cynthia, knowing she couldn’t get close to Rob, ran over to Nancy, Bess, and George. “We’re going to Touchdown to celebrate!” she shouted. “Want to come?”
Bess nodded enthusiastically. “You bet.”
“Great!” Nancy, Bess, and George followed Cynthia as the girl wove a path through the crowd to the parking lot exit.
They all piled into Nancy’s Mustang — George and Bess in back, Nancy and Cynthia up front. “You’ll have to give me directions to the restaurant,” Nancy said, turning the key to start the engine. “I don’t remember Touchdown from the last time I was here for an extended stay.”
“I should know the way — I work there,” Cynthia said with a laugh. “Just go out Main, then take a right onto Bedford Avenue.” She smiled warmly at Nancy. “Did you live in Bedford before?”
“Nancy solved a case at Bedford High once,” George answered from the back seat.
“She worked undercover,” Bess added proudly. “On a spy case.”
“You mean that guy Darryl Gray?” asked Cynthia, putting a hand to her mouth. “You solved that case?”
“George and Bess are my publicity agents,” Nancy said, joking.
“Wow,” Cynthia said, impressed. “He was delivering secrets to the Russians, wasn’t he?”
“That’s right,” Nancy said, stopping for a red light. “He did help convict the big guys, though. In the end they let him off easy.”
They were silent for a few minutes. “I sure hope Rob is really okay,” Cynthia murmured finally.
“He will be,” Bess said confidently. “They’ve still got two more games to win. He can’t get injured now.”
“I don’t know.” Cynthia fluffed out her hair with her hands. When Nancy glanced at the girl, she noticed that Cynthia’s deep blue eyes seemed sad.
Cynthia pointed the way for Nancy to go, then turned her attention to Bess. “Have you noticed, Bess, when we’re out together, the boys are totally absorbed in the team? They act like nothing else matters.”
“I have noticed that the past couple of times,” Bess said with a nod.
“These guys are on the threshold of big college careers. There’s a lot of attention on them,” George reminded them.
“There’s Touchdown, Nancy,” Cynthia said, pointing to a long brick building with a green and white sign. Other kids were pouring into the restaurant, walking under the green and white goalpost that was set up in front of the entrance. Both the 0‘s in Touchdown were football shaped.
Nancy managed to find a parking space, and the girls piled out of the car and twisted their way through a crowd milling out front.
“The guys should be here soon,” Cynthia remarked, opening the heavy wooden door and looking for a free table. “They have to shower first, though.”
“There’s a table,” said George, spotting a lone empty table in the rear.
After they were seated, Nancy had a chance to look around. Football jerseys, helmets, and insignia hung from all the walls, along with autographed pictures of dozens of football stars. Completing the football theme were two giant TV screens at either end of the restaurant, tuned in to a college game.
The noise in the place was overwhelming. Long lines of thrilled fans stood at the counters, placing orders and excitedly discussing Bedford’s victory.
Behind the food counter a tall, thin beanpole of a guy waved to Cynthia and flashed her a goofy grin. He looked silly in his kelly green Touchdown jersey, with its big number 42. Cynthia waved back.
“That’s Edgar Chessman,” she told the girls. “He’s my best friend at this place. Makes a mean block-and-tackle sandwich, too,” she added.
Edgar approached them, his grin fading. “A little warning, Cynthia,” he whispered. “Pete’s on the warpath today. Be cool, okay?”
Cynthia looked puzzled. “That’s all right. I’m off today, Edgar,” she said.
“Still, I just wanted you to know,” he answered, looking over his shoulder at the other side of the restaurant, where two men were obviously having a heated conversation.
“Pete Shepard runs this place for American Theme Restaurant Corporation,” Cynthia explained. “That’s him over there — the big redheaded guy with the mustache.”
“The one who looks like he’s yelling?” asked Bess.
“That’s Pete,” said Cynthia with a knowing sigh.
“Who’s the other guy?” asked George, pointing to the guy with dark curly hair that Pete was shouting at.
“Him? Oh, that’s Mark Gatwin, the assistant manager,” Cynthia said. “He’s nice — a lot nicer than Pete, that’s for sure.”
Almost as if he’d heard her, Pete turned in their direction just then. “There she is!” he bellowed at the top of his lungs, pointing at Cynthia. His small eyes were flashing angrily. Shoving Mark aside, he marched over to the girls’ table.
“What’s the matter, Pete? What’s wrong?” Cynthia asked, her pretty face full of concern.
“Don’t play dumb with me, Tyler!” Pete boomed. “You know what’s wrong!”
Cynthia cast a worried look at Nancy and Bess before turning back to Pete. “Sorry, Pete, but I don’t. Really.”
“I’m talking about the fact that you’re a thief!” He said loudly enough for most of the onlookers to hear. “You stole money from this restaurant!”
“Th-that’s not true,” the cheerleader stammered.
“Don’t bother to deny it, Cynthia,” Pete stated flatly. “I’ve got proof. Don’t show up for work anymore. Got it? You’re fired!“