Authors: Franklin W. Dixon
Melody's face turned beet red. “Zack, our director, will explain everything,” she stuttered.
Frank couldn't help noticing that Melody looked a little upset. Was there a problem with the script?
“I don't think that's very professional,” Willow said. “We always have four weeks of rehearsal when we put on a show at Shore Point High.”
Shore Point was a town down the coast.
The filmmakers' ad must have traveled pretty far,
“Trisha and I had the lead parts in the last two plays,” Willow added. “Christy does musicals.”
Christy nodded. With Willow around, Christy didn't need to do much talking.
“I was in the Shore Point Players' production of
The Miracle Worker,
” Willow said. “We had six weeks of rehearsal there.”
Frank looked at the girl with new respect. He'd seen that show. Now he recognized Willow as the wild young Helen Keller in the play.
“And all of us attended Professor Davies's Summer Acting Workshop here at the university.” Willow poked Melody. “Although he was talking about stage productions, he said the minimum rehearsal timeâ”
“When I was on
we needed only about twenty minutes to rehearse my scene.” Chet interrupted. “Of course it took a couple of hours to get the makeup right.” He gave Willow the superior smile of a seasoned television actor.
Chew on that, amateur girl.
Willow gave him a look most people would only use on wormsâugly, unprofessional worms.
Frank hid a smile. If Willow got this kind of
response out of the normally easygoing Chet, this was going to be a very interesting film.
He glanced over at Joe, who was following the byplay. Well, at least there'd be pretty girls in the film. But they obviously didn't play nice.
Trisha came back, carrying several crumpled-up sheets of paper, which she tossed into the classroom's trash can.
A moment later the door opened again. “Everybody here?” a voice asked.
Melody shook her head. “One teamâ”
“We'll start without them.” The voice interrupted.
Frank blinked at the first person who entered the room. The woman in the business suit matched the tone of the voice he'd heardâbrisk and confidentâas she went to sit behind the instructor's desk. But he'd have sworn he'd heard a male voice.
The person who followed was male, a tall, skinny guy with a narrow face. He joined Melody to stand by the desk as the clear owner of the voice made his entrance. “Hi, everybody. I'm Zack Harris. Why don't you kids take a seat?”
Zack had an animated, sharp-featured face tipped with a little brush of a goatee. With his bright red hair, he looked a little like a cartoon fox. “I'm directing the project. Ms. Joan Athelney is our producer.”
The seated woman nodded, running one heavily jeweled hand along her gold necklace.
Now we know where the money for this thing is coming from,
“Leonard Kerwin is director of photography, and Melody Litovsky is doing research and scripting.”
Neither of the other two students said a word.
Zack Harris gave his audience a big, toothy grin. “And you guys, and girls, are going to be our actors.”
His voice has the same friendliness as a used-car salesman's,
“I really look forward to working with you, and working hard, because at the end of the coming five days, we'll have made a movie.”
A small cheer came from Willow and her friends. Frank could understand that. They had been expecting weeks of rehearsal. Frank knew that film had a more rapid pace than stage plays, but five days?
This was moving way faster than he'd expected. He'd come here to find out if he, Joe, and Chet would even be involved in this film. Not only did Zack take that for granted, he expected them to be done in less than a week!
“H-how do you figureâ” Willow started to speak.
“And you areâ” Zack interrupted.
“Willow Sumner,” Melody quickly said, rolling back some pages and holding out her clipboard. “She and her friends took the Summer Acting Workshop with Professor Davies.”
Zack glanced at the board. “So, Willow, did Davies do much improv with you?”
Frank knew the word was theater slang for “improvisation.” His parents had taken him to New York to see improv performances at which actors came up with characters, scenes, and dialogue from following suggestions called out by the audience. There were even TV shows that used the idea to create skits and scenes.
But a whole movie improvised?
“We did some class exercises,” Willow said warily.
“Then you know how it works. We'll put you in a situation, and you'll have to work your way out of it. You won't even have to act, just be yourself.”
For the bossy Willow, that might be a drawback,
Frank thought. But he couldn't help watching Melody Litovsky as Zack spoke. No wonder she'd looked upset when Willow demanded to see a script. An improv film wouldn't need a scriptâor a scriptwriter.
Frank began to think the behind-the-scenes story might be more fun than the actual movie. He
looked at the three students and could almost write the plot himself. Melody and Kerwin had probably hooked up with Zack, figuring his fast talking would make it easier to get some money to make their film. To judge from the amount of jewelry on Ms. Athelney, Zack had found a rich producer, butÂ .Â .Â .
“Our budget will allow us to shoot for three days.” Zack's smile got even bigger. “That should give us enough footage to make a feature-length film!”
There it was, Frank thought. Most student projects were short films, twenty minutes or so. Zack wanted to create something four times as long.
I bet he had to dump his friend's script to do it,
Frank thought. He looked over at Kerwin's tight expression.
isn't making him too happy either.
“So why did you need us to bring boats?” Joe asked.
“That's part of the fun.” Zack brought his hands together in a sharp clap. “Also, it's why we're calling the project
The door flew open, and a handsome face peeked in.
“Hey, is this the movie thing? Sorry we're late. I was helping my bud Hal move out of his dorm, and there was all this traffic. We got held up.”
The salesman's smile slipped off Zack's face at the interruption, but it soon reappeared. “As I was saying, welcome to
This time he was cut off by a loud, metallic crash.
“Sorry!” a voice outside shouted.
Zack sighed, looking around at his audience. “Okay,” he said. “I suppose we might as well start by introducing the McGuffin.”
“Who's this McGuffin?” Joe Hardy asked as Zack stepped outside. “An actor? The stunt coordinator?”
Kerwin shook his head. “You'll see.”
A second later two newcomers came staggering in, carrying a large piece of metal junk.
At least that was what it looked like to Frank Hardy. Somebody had welded together a bunch of steel rods and balls into something five feet tall, that was very hard to move around. The two guys almost dropped it twice just getting it through the door.
“Hey, Hal, watch it!” The guy who'd first poked his head through the door said as he managed to keep the ugly thing from crashing to the floor. He
grinned at the girls. “I'm Andy Slack,” he said. “Everybody calls me the Slacker. And this is my best bud, Hal Preston.”
Zack paid no attention, his eyes on the large, ugly metal construction. “This is the McGuffin,” he announced.
“And what's that?” Trisha asked.
“I guess you're not fans of Alfred Hitchcock.” Zack gave them a superior smile.
The girls shrugged.
“Hitchcock was a director of mystery films, a cinematic genius, I'd say, and I know Ms. Athelney will agree with me.” Zack smiled at the businesswoman. “Whatever caused the mystery or action in Hitchcock's films, he called the McGuffin. It could be a clue, a person, an eventâ”
Or a really ugly thing,
Frank finished for him silently.
“In our film this is what you'll be looking for,” Zack said. “First you'll have to find it; after that you'll be searching for whichever team has gotten hold of it. Tomorrow evening bring your boats to the Bayport Marina. You'll get a package of charts andÂ .Â .Â . other things that should lead you to where the McGuffin will be hidden. Find it, keep hold of it for three days, and bring itâwell, clues about what you
should do with it will be in the package for you too.”
“What about filming?” Willow Sumner asked.
“Yeah,” Chet said. “Lines and things.”
“There's no script.” Zack looked as if he were above such things. “Our film will be improvised. Each boat will have one of us along as camera-person.” He turned to the girl with the clipboard. “Melody, I suppose you should go with the girls.”
Zack then turned to Andy and his friend Hal. “I'll be with Andy here. That leaves you with the other guys, Sprock.”
Joe looked at the tall, bony guy. “Sprock?”
“It's a dumb nickname,” Leonard (“Sprock”) Kerwin growled, “from the days when film had sprocket holes.”
“We'll all be using digital cameras,” Zack said. “They're much more handy, which will be good, since the whole film is going to be shot on Barmet Bay.” He sent another toothy smile toward Ms. Athelney. “Just like the first film of that famous Polish directorâ”
Frank tuned out. Apparently, what's his name was another favorite of the woman who was putting up the money for the film, but even she looked a little embarrassed at the way Zack kept kissing up. Ms. Athelney fidgeted in her seat, running a hand
through her shoulder-length brown hair. Her restless hand, with a glinting gold and ruby ring, had revealed her right ear for a moment. A bare ear. No earring.
Shiny gold watch, shiny gold necklace
but no shiny earrings?
Maybe she lost them,
Frank thought, and glanced around the floor. Anything was better than sitting and listening to Zack's voice.
“So, there you have it,” the would-be film genius finally said. “You'll have a day to get your boats ready. We'll meet at the marina tomorrow evening at six. You'll tie up, get your packages, and decide on a course. The next day at noon we'll set off, and we'll be filming to see if you guessed right and whether you get caught.”
“The boats have to stay overnight at the marina?” Andy Slack said. “Who's gonna pay for that?”
“Already taken care of.” Zack shot another cheesy smile at Ms. Athelney.
He's spreading it pretty thick,
Frank thought. From the look on Melody's and Sprock's faces, they agreed with him.
Maybe Joan Athelney also agreed, but her serious expression didn't give any emotions away. She looked at her gold wristwatch. “I think that covers everything,” she said, “and I have a meeting. Good luck to all of you.”
With a nod to everyone, she left.
Zack looked around, realizing he'd been subtly upstaged. Ms. Athelney had effectively ended the meeting. “I'm sure we all have lots to do.”
“Yeah,” Sprock Kerwin said, clearly trying to keep a grin off his face. “Lots.”
Taking their cue from Zack, the filmmakers left. The eight kids in the room looked at one another for a long minute.
Hal ran a hand through his dark, spiky hair, shooting a frown at his pal. “This sounds like one of those dumb reality shows on TV where they make people jump through hoops.”
“Except there's no prize,” Joe added.
“What are you talking about?” Chet demanded. “We'll be in a feature-length movie.”
“Yeah, a movie with no script.” Christy O'Hara smirked. “I wonder how writer girl with the clipboard liked that tidbit of information.”
“Better for us,” Trisha Eads said. “No lines to learn.”
“Yeah,” Chet said quietly. Frank could see the wheels turning in his friend's head. Without a script the camera would end up pointing mainly at whoever gave the best performance. Chet probably thought his TV experience would be a plus.
Willow Sumner tossed her hair over one shoulder.
Looks would count too. “So,” the girl said to Andy, “what kind of boat have you got?”
Andy's face broke into another grin. “We've got a bunch of them,” he said. “My dad's a fishermanâ”
“And he figured you'd be helping him out now that you decided to ditch college,” Hal said.
“He gave me the summer to explore choices.” Andy glared at his buddy. “I'd say this is an interesting choice.”
“How about you guys?” Trisha said, walking over to Joe. “What kind of boat do you have?”
's a great boat!” Joe said, but he yelped as the toe of Frank's shoe caught him on the ankle.
“Whoops, sorry,” Frank said, collecting his brother and Chet. “Yes, we've got a great little boatâand a big job getting it ready by tomorrow evening.”
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Joe was still complaining about Frank's interruption the next evening. “I can't believe you kicked me!” He glared at his brother.
Frank rolled his eyes and turned toward Chet. “How are you doing with the sleeping bags?”
Chet climbed aboard with three bulky nylon sacks. “Last load.”
A full moon rode the clear skies overhead. Its light was bright enough to read by. Frank opened
the package they'd been given. “Let's get down to business.”
The first thing they found was a folded map of Barmet Bay with some odd squiggles drawn on it.