Chapter One: The Ghost Rider
"I hope we're not late," Nancy Drew said as she eased her foot off the brake of her blue Mustang and inched the car forward a few feet. "The bus gets in at nine-thirty."
Nancy's friend George Fayne glanced at her watch. "We've got plenty of time, Nan," she said. "Thirty seconds, to be exact."
Nancy smiled. "Thirty whole seconds. What a relief." She steered the car into the right-hand lane.
The smell of exhaust filled the Mustang, and the morning sun glared brightly off the rear window of the car in front of them.
"This chess tournament has turned downtown into one giant traffic jam," George said. "It's a much bigger deal than I thought."
"If River Heights were hosting a major volley-ball tournament instead of the International Junior Masters Chess Championship, you wouldn't be so surprised," Nancy replied with a sly smile.
"Right, and if this were volleyball, I'd be playing, not watching," George said.
"That's true." Nancy held her right hand up to block the glare. She could tell it was going to be an unseasonably warm day for spring. She was glad she'd dressed in cotton shorts and a light denim jacket.
"We've got to get out of here," George said, tilting her sunglasses up on her forehead and scanning the situation. "There," she said, pointing to an alley next to the convention center. "Cut through to Riverside Park."
Nancy deftly wheeled the car into the narrow space and accelerated, missing an obstacle course of metal trash cans.
"Good driving," George said as the car popped back out into the bright sun.
"Good scouting," Nancy said as she turned down the quiet boulevard running between the park and the wide Muskoka River. She looked out the driver's-side window, then slowed the car. "Ever see anything like that before?"
"What're they doing?" George asked. "Spraying for bugs?"
Workers with shiny steel tanks strapped to their backs were spray-painting rows of alternating black and white squares on the ground in the middle of the park. Each square was about four feet on a side, and each row had eight squares.
"No, not bugs," Nancy said, laughing. "It's a chessboard. They're painting a big chessboard on the grass."
George pointed to some painted figures that stood in the shade under a couple of tall oak trees. "Those must be the game pieces. Look at how tall they are. They're bigger than real people."
Two men were unpacking a crate while a third removed a large wooden box from a truck in the parking lot. As the girls drove past, they saw the workers lift a statue of a robed woman from the crate and set it on the grass.
Nancy recognized the chess piece the figure represented immediately. It was the queen. She wore a crown and was much taller than the other pieces. She appeared to be nearly seven feet tall.
"She's so calm and beautiful," Nancy said. "I could imagine her leading a battle to protect her empire."
"Me, too," George said. "But some of the other ones look kind of creepy. I see pawns, a couple of bishops, the knights. What are the names of the pieces that look like castles? I always forget."
"Those are the rooks," Nancy said.
"Oh, right," George said. She settled back into her seat. "That was amazing. This tournament's going to be fun."
Nancy pulled into the bus station parking lot behind a television news van. A crowd had gathered at the front door of the station lobby.
"Looks like we're right on time," Nancy said as she parked the car.
The two friends stepped out of the Mustang just as a silver bus with a bright red stripe down the side pulled up in front of the station. It said Chicago-River Heights above the windshield.
The crowd surged forward from the station platform, lining up beside the bus door. Young children with their parents, teenagers, and even some older people pushed against one another, holding tournament programs and ballpoint pens in the air. The bus driver forced the door open, pushing a few eager kids back. "Give us room, folks," he said.
Nancy and George stood up on the platform, out of the way. As the passengers started to get out, someone bumped into Nancy, elbowing her in the ribs. "Watch it!" a voice snapped.
Nancy turned to see Brenda Carlton, the reporter for Today's Times, making her way to the front of the crowd.
"I've got a story to cover, Drew," Brenda said. She tossed her head, flipping her long, dark hair back at Nancy. "What are you doing here? Are you a chess groupie?"
Before Nancy could answer, passengers began to step off the bus. Most of them were regular travelers from Chicago, but a few were obviously tournament participants. A little girl with red curly hair, no more than seven years old, climbed down the steps, holding her mother's hand. She had a fluffy teddy bear cradled in one arm. Camera flashes went off. Cries went up from several people in the crowd, asking for autographs.
"That must be Emily Drexler," Nancy said. "I think she's the youngest kid in the tournament."
The little girl smiled and handed the bear to her mother so she could sign her name on the back of a boy's chessboard.
More calls went up from the crowd as a tall, willowy girl stepped from the bus, carrying an overnight bag. She was followed by another girl and a plump, balding man.
"There they are," Nancy said to George. "That's Donna Winston and her sister, Danitra. Come on."
Nancy had never met Donna and Danitra, but her father, Carson Drew, a well-known criminal lawyer, had tried several big cases with their father, Howard Winston, in Chicago.
Mr. Winston had called a couple of weeks earlier to say that the whole family was coming to River Heights to watch Donna compete in the tournament. However, at the last minute Mr. and Mrs. Winston had had emergencies at their jobs andcouldn't make it. At Nancy's urging, Mr. Drew offered to let Donna and Danitra stay with them.
Nancy had been looking forward to meeting the Winstons, and sixteen-year-old Donna looked just as her father had said she would: slender, about five foot nine, with black shoulder-length hair cut to frame her pretty face, and chestnut-colored skin. She wore a navy blue suit that gave her the appearance of being a young businesswoman.
At fourteen, Danitra was shorter and dressed more casually than her sister. She had on a red sweatshirt and wore her hair in rows of braids, each ending with four or five red or white beads.
Nancy and George tried to get through to Donna, but the crowd was going wild. People were yelling her name, grabbing at her arms, and holding up objects for her to sign. Nancy could only wave from the platform, hoping Donna would catch sight of her and realize who she was.
Finally Nancy caught Donna's eye. "Over here!" she called.
Donna gave back a girl's pen and then held her hand out toward Nancy, pretending she was drowning in a sea of people.
Nancy reached forward and pulled Donna up onto the platform.
Donna smiled. "You must be Nancy. Thanks for rescuing me."
"It's great to finally meet you, Donna," Nancy said. "I'm so glad you guys are going to stay with us."
"So am I," Donna said. "This is my sister," she said, gesturing toward Danitra. "And this is my high school coach, Norris Stricker."
The man's face was flushed from the heat. He wiped his face with a handkerchief and nodded to Nancy and George.
"Will you be staying with us, too?" Nancy asked Coach Stricker.
"No, no. I'm registered at the Ambassador Hotel downtown," Stricker said. "By the way, I certainly hope there's a quiet place at your house where Donna can practice."
He's certainly all business, Nancy thought. "Yes, I think so," she replied. "Donna can use my dad's office whenever she wants."
Danitra piped up. "Don't mind Coach Stricker. He thinks chess is Donna's entire life."
Stricker frowned. "I'll have none of that smart talk this week, young lady. Donna must focus on winning this tournament."
"That's right, Danitra," Donna said gently to her little sister. "Dad said you could come and watch, but I've got to focus on my matches."
At that moment Brenda Carlton pushed past Nancy again and stuck a tape recorder in Donna's face.
"Donna Winston," she said. "How does it feel to be the number-one-ranked junior player in the United States?"
Donna shrugged. "It feels great, I guess. I play chess because I love it, so I really don't feel that much extra pressure."
Nancy saw Norris cringe.
"What about the Dutch champion, Greta van Leeuwen?" Brenda asked. "If you beat her, you could be the highest-ranked teenager in the world. How do you feel about that?"
"I'd love to be number one," Donna replied. "But I've got to win first."
"She'll win," Norris said into the microphone. "She's the best."
"That's quite a guarantee," Brenda said. She seemed to have more questions, but Donna ended the interview.
"We need to get our bags off the bus now," Donna said.
"Yes, let's get back to my house and get you settled in," Nancy suggested.
Once the crowd had finally cleared away, the girls were able to grab the Winstons' bags and load them into the Mustang.
Coach Stricker insisted on taking a cab to the hotel. "Call when you get settled in," he said to Donna. "We'll set up a practice schedule for this week."
Donna got into the front passenger seat and nodded. Nancy pulled out into the street.
"Sounds like your coach pushes you pretty hard," George said from the back.
Donna sighed as she smoothed her hair back. "He just wants to help me play better."
"He wants her to play chess twenty-four hours a day," Danitra said to Nancy and George. "He even makes her play tapes of famous chess games while she sleeps."
Nancy laughed. "Does it work?" She headed toward the park so she could show Donna the huge chess set before heading home.
Donna shook her head. "I don't know."
"How long have you been playing?" George asked.
"Since I was a little girl." Donna reached into her bag and withdrew a leather case the size of a notebook computer. "My grandfather gave this to me when I was three."
Nancy drove to the side of the park farthest from the river this time. She wanted a good look at the giant chess pieces under the trees. Up ahead, she watched a worker open a crate in the back of the truck and position a dolly to bring a chess piece down the ramp to the street.
Nancy took her eyes off the road for a split second to look over at Donna.
"Watch out!" Danitra cried from the backseat.
Nancy looked out the window in time to see what looked like a horse -- a gleaming white stallion -- charging right at her side of the car!
Copyright © 1999 by Simon & Schuster Inc.