“You can do it, Nancy!” Judy Noll called. “Just a few feet more!”
Nancy Drew gripped the thick rope in her hands and hauled her body several more painful inches up its length. Her muscles strained to hold her in place. She could feel sweat trickling down her sides under her sweat suit.
“It’s not as easy as it — looks!” Nancy gasped. Already she had climbed nearly thirty feet above the floor of the FBI Training Academy’s cavernous gym. She peered down at Judy standing far below and felt dizzy.
In a gray sweat suit like Nancy’s and with her blond hair pulled up in a ponytail, Judy looked like a two-inch version of Nancy as she steadied the rope at the bottom. Several other women in regulation sweat suits performed calisthenics nearby. A group of young men jogged around the edge of the gym, sending echoes from the slap of shoes against wood resounding across the room.
“First time’s the hardest,” Nancy heard Judy call. She glanced down again and saw the athletic young woman give her a thumbs-up sign. “Go for it!”
Nancy focused her attention on the rope once again. She wished she had worked harder at her weekly aerobics sessions back home in River Heights. Nancy and her friend George Fayne had recently joined a class together. All the regular exercise in the world, Nancy suspected, still couldn’t have prepared her for her training with the FBI.
Just a little farther, she reminded herself. So far you’re doing great.
With a final surge of energy, Nancy yanked her body up the last two feet of the rope. She slapped the ring that held it at the top, making the metal clang against her palm.
“Way to go, Nancy!” The gym echoed with the sound of Judy’s clapping. Nancy started to wave to her audience — and then froze. Judy had stepped back from the rope to applaud. That meant, Nancy realized, that the rope was — “Whoa — !” Several dozen of Nancy’s fellow trainees watched as her rope swung jerkily, sending Nancy half sliding, half falling all the way down to the floor of the gym in a few seconds.
She landed with a loud thump. “Are you okay?” she heard Judy cry. “I’m sorry — I just let go for a second. I didn’t realize — “
“Don’t worry about it.” Nancy blew a loose strand of reddish blond hair out of her face and struggled to stand on shaky legs, rubbing her backside with a rueful grin. She heard new applause — loud and slow — and glanced over at the group of male joggers who had stopped running to witness her fall. The guys were grinning broadly. A tall, sandy-haired, good-looking man in the front gave Nancy a mock salute.
He must think I’m the world’s biggest klutz, Nancy thought, feeling her face grow warm. She wondered who the recruit was. As an agent-in-training, he had to be at least five years older than Nancy — but he was awfully cute.
“I just burned my hands on the rope a little, that’s all,” she told Judy, turning away. “They told us when we applied for training that life with the FBI could be dangerous. It looks like they were right!”
“You were doing great until I goofed,” Judy insisted loyally. “Especially considering the fact that you just got off a plane last night. The rest of us have been here two weeks already.”
Nancy smiled. She had only met Judy that morning before breakfast, but she knew that the young woman took her training very seriously. Judy had a law degree, but she didn’t consider that nearly as important as becoming a special agent for the FBI. Nancy couldn’t help admiring her determination and drive. She also wondered why she of all people had been chosen to be Judy’s bodyguard.
Then, though, this case had been weird from the very beginning, Nancy knew. It began with an urgent phone call from Special Agent Daniel Burr at dinner on Monday night. Agent Burr had told Nancy how much he admired her detective work, and asked whether she might help the bureau with an important case at their training academy.
It seemed that Judy Noll, one of the FBI’s newest recruits, had been shot at a few nights earlier. Judy was the daughter of a very powerful senator — Sam Noll, of Iowa — Burr had explained. The previous Friday night Judy had been in her dorm room with a bad cold while the other trainees were attending a lecture. Two shots were fired through her bedroom window. Luckily, they missed Judy and landed in the wall behind her bed.
“But why call in — me?” Nancy had stammered, secretly thrilled at the idea of working for the bureau. She noticed that her father, Carson Drew, was listening carefully to her side of the conversation. “How can I help?”
“You’re young and female,” Burr had replied. “If you posed as a new trainee, we could pair you up with Judy without arousing suspicion. You’d act as her bodyguard while we investigated the case. And while you were at it, you could keep your ears open and find out whether any of the other recruits have a grudge against Judy. Because this case is so important, I’ve been given permission to handle it my way,” Burr had added. “I’ve looked forward to working with you for a long time.”
On Tuesday night Nancy was on a flight from Chicago to Washington, D.C. Agent Burr had picked her up at Dulles Airport, driven her the two hours to the academy, in Virginia, then outlined her mission in his office once they arrived. He had given Nancy the name Nancy Douglas and explained that she was to pose as a translator with a master’s degree in French who had volunteered to help with a secret, very urgent FBI mission. Like all other agents, she would have to go through basic training. The urgency of her mission would explain why she had entered the training program two weeks late.
It was after midnight by the time Agent Burr had finished briefing her. Nancy had had time for only a few hours’ sleep in the dorm before she was wakened at six to begin her daily routine — breakfast followed by two hours of physical training.
“I can’t wait for afternoon classes,” Nancy confided to Judy. “Gathering evidence, finger printing, cross-examining suspects — that’s my kind of education!”
“What good does it do to know how to cross-examine someone if you’re not physically fit enough to catch them?” Judy pointed out with a grin. “But don’t worry, you may be a weakling today, but in a week you’ll outclimb me.”
“Speaking of which,” Nancy teased, swinging her the rope, “it’s your turn, pro.”
Judy gave her a cocky grin. “Fine. I bet I can make it to the top in less than three min — ” She was interrupted by a loud, shrill whistle.
“Noll! Douglas!” a voice roared.
Nancy turned to see Samantha Havlicek, their phys ed instructor, striding toward them.
“You two seem to be exercising your mouths more than your bodies,” the woman commented in a sharp voice that Nancy thought perfectly matched her spotless sweat suit, gleaming white athletic shoes, and dark, no-nonsense braid.
“Agent Noll was just giving me some pointers,” Nancy said. Burr had told her that trainees were called agents even though they hadn’t graduated.
“I saw those ‘pointers,'” Havlicek snapped. “Sliding down the rope like a monkey! What do you think this is, a playground? I don’t know who pulled the strings to get you into the course this late, Douglas,” she said to Nancy, “but don’t think for a minute you’ll get any special treatment from me. Fifty push-ups for both of you for disrupting training. Then Agent Noll will take a turn at the rope.”
“She sure is tough,” Judy grumbled after Haylicek had stalked off toward another pair of trainees.
“You can say that again.” Nancy got down on the floor beside Judy to begin her push-ups. She glanced around to make sure none of the other trainees were close enough to hear her. “She sounded suspicious about my being here, don’t you think? That last remark of hers was pretty unnerving.”
“Don’t worry. She’s just mad.” Judy started doing push-ups, and Nancy followed her lead. “At least she made us do this instead of running laps.”
“What’s wrong with laps?” Nancy blushed. “Haven’t you noticed that cute guy over there?”
“Who, Jeff Abelson?” Judy sniffed. “I should warn you, Nancy, he’s the world’s biggest flirt. He’s asked out practically every female here in the past two weeks, and the worst part is, each girl said yes. The only women he doesn’t like are the ones who turn him down. I guess that’s why he’s been rude to me the past few days.”
“You wouldn’t go out with him?” Nancy gasped for air as she pushed herself up for the tenth time. “Why not?”
“I think he’s just interested in me because of my father,” Judy replied breezily. “I have to watch out for people like him — people who try to get close to me so they can ask a senator for a favor. He probably thinks that I can help him get a job in Washington. You know, Nancy, it’s not easy being the daughter of a rich and powerful man. You always wonder who your real friends are.”
“I hadn’t really thought about that,” Nancy said, suddenly uncomfortable.
“Of course not,” Judy said. “Why should you? But, anyway, watch out for Jeff. I can tell he has his eye on you.”
Embarrassed, Nancy concentrated on her exercises. She noticed that twenty-three-year-old Judy was having little trouble with her push-ups. Already, Judy had proved better at sit-ups, vaulting, and jumping jacks than Nancy. She reminded Nancy more of an Olympic athlete than a damsel in distress.
The night before Agent Burr had told Nancy why he had had to hire someone from outside the bureau to work on this case. The FBI had determined that the shots were fired from behind a tree outside Judy’s window, though the shooter’s footprints had been erased. Later analysis had determined that the bullets imbedded in the bedroom wall were academy issue. With no record of any outside visitors the night of the shooting, it appeared that the bullets must have been stolen from a locked cabinet at the firing range. That meant that the shooter was probably a trainee, an instructor, or possibly an agent who knew his or her way around the academy.
“Judy’s not the most popular trainee we’ve ever had, but she’s not hated,” Burr had told Nancy. “The attack may have been aimed at hurting her father, but he claims he has no enemies who would do such a thing. In any case, until I know who shot those bullets, I can’t afford to trust anyone here.”
“Twenty-four, twenty-five — halfway there!” Judy gasped, momentarily interrupting Nancy’s thoughts.
Nancy grimaced and kept pushing. She remembered Burr’s look of relief when she’d said, “How do you want me to proceed?”
“We can’t put you in the same dorm room as Judy because that would cause suspicion,” he had answered. “But we can give the two of you the same training schedule. While we continue with our investigation, you stick close to Judy at all times, without drawing attention to the fact.”
I wish he’d told me to bring along some vitamins, Nancy thought as she fought to match Judy’s pace. She glanced at her partner and felt better. Drops of sweat had popped out on Judy’s face and were dripping off the tip of her nose.
“Forty-nine, fifty!” Judy gasped.
“Alors!” Nancy cried, collapsing onto her stomach and hoping her high school French sounded okay. She was glad there wouldn’t be any foreign language classes here, or she’d risk blowing her cover. Excited as she was about taking classes on criminal investigation, it was scary to think that one of her classmates might be the person who tried to hurt Judy.
“Not a bad show, kid.” Nancy felt someone press a shoe into her lower back. Nancy pushed up, but the shoe refused to move. She arched her back finally and spun around, sending the owner of the shoe shooting backward. Standing up, Nancy saw that the woman was her roommate, Marianne Risi.
“Oh! Sorry,” Nancy said as Marianne continued to stumble backward. Marianne was a few inches shorter than Nancy, but she was fit and strong. Her brown, curly hair was held in place with a blue headband. Her dark eyes seemed anything but friendly now that she had landed on the floor.
Nancy extended her hand to help Marianne up. “You must be Agent Risi. I’m your roommate, Nancy Douglas. I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to meet before. You were asleep when I got in last night, and you left this morning before I woke up.”
“I make a habit of working out early.” Marianne refused Nancy’s help as she stood upright. “You won’t get anywhere in the bureau if you sleep in till six o’clock.”
Nancy blushed. “It’s in — my first day here,” she stammered. “I guess I didn’t realize we were supposed to — “
“Come on, Nancy,” Judy interrupted, getting up from the mat. “It’s my turn to climb that rope. “
Marianne turned to smirk at Judy. “What’s the matter, Noll? You don’t like your servant taking time off to talk to someone else?”
“Lay off it, Marianne,” Judy said smoothly. “We’re supposed to be working out, that’s all.”
“Why bother? When push comes to shove, Daddy can probably work you into any job you want in the FBI anyway. You might as well cut class and go have a milk shake with your little friend here.”
“See you later, Marianne.”
Judy stalked away with Nancy following. “What was that all about?” Nancy asked.
“She’s just a creep,” Judy told her partner. “Too bad they put you in with her. Her last roommate quit the academy after just three days. She said it was too much pressure. I bet I know where some of that pressure came from.”
“She seems to resent you especially,” Nancy pointed out.
“She’s like that with everyone, I think,” Judy said. “She finds your weak spot and homes in on it. Of course, she tries hardest to get to me, since I’m her main competition for top rating in the class.”
Nancy shook her head. The gym was full of competitive trainees all determined to let nothing — and no one — get in their way. Nancy guessed some of them might be pretty outraged if they thought Judy had an advantage over them because of her father’s influence. As far as Nancy could tell, though, Judy played fair.
“Let’s use that rope in the corner.” Judy pointed to a part of the gym that was almost empty. “We’ll be able to talk there.”
Nancy followed Judy to the rope and steadied it for her.
“Wish me luck,” Judy said with a smile.
“You bet!” Nancy replied. She watched Judy begin her climb. After all those push-ups, Nancy knew that even Judy’s arms had to be aching, but the trainee didn’t hesitate for a second. Nancy admired the ease with which Judy pulled herself steadily up to the ceiling. Clearly Judy was determined that not even a gunman was going to get in her way.
“You’re almost there, Judy!” Nancy called as the young woman inched closer to the top.
“Nancy, something’s not…” Judy began, her voice trailing off before she screamed.
Nancy looked up. Judy was grasping frantically at the rope with one hand. To her horror, Nancy saw that a section of rope right above Judy’s head was frayed. Judy was barely hanging on by a thread!
“Hold on, Judy!” Nancy called. It was too late. Nancy felt the rope grow slack and loosen in her grasp. Judy let out a scream and plummeted!