Authors: Gordon Korman
he small screen showed the two-lane road cutting a ribbon through the trees as far as the electronic eye could see. Phone in hand, Melissa watched intently.
Logan peered over her shoulder. “Don't tell me you hacked into a satellite.”
Melissa agitated her head, creating gaps in the curtain of hair that usually obscured her face. “Of course not. I've just placed a few wireless webcams in the trees.” She tapped the screen, and the angle changed slightly.
Logan yawned hugely. “It's too early. How come these plans can't happen at a decent hour? An actor needs plenty of rest to practice his craft to the best of his ability.”
Melissa was patient. “The pantry truck doesn't make its run on our schedule. It delivers to all the camps up here at the crack of dawn so everything is ready before the kids get up.”
“I'm not feeling my character,” Logan warned.
“You don't have to win an Oscar,” Melissa soothed. “You just have to get the driver to stop.” She tensed. “Get ready. Half a mile.”
Sure enough, the white panel truck had appeared in the distance on the monitor.
“All right, I'll do it,” Logan conceded. “But it won't be art.”
Melissa stepped back into the cover of the trees. “Break a leg,” she whispered.
Logan stood a little taller. It was the standard good-luck message for an actor about to take the stage.
He could see the vehicle now, and hear its motor shifting into second gear as it climbed the grade. Logan waited until it was about a hundred yards away, and then stepped out into the road, waving his arms, the picture of confusion.
The truck jerked to a sudden halt, and the driver jumped out. “What's the matter, kid? Are you okay?”
It was just the cue line Logan had been waiting for. “I â I'm not sure.” He stared at the man blankly. “What am I doing here? I was in bed a minute ago, and â I must have been sleepwalking!”
The man looked shaken. “It's a good thing I was paying attention. I could have run you down. Can I get you a bottle of water? I've got some in the back â”
“No!” Logan exclaimed, a little too sharply.
If the driver had turned around at that instant, he would have seen Melissa helping Griffin, Savannah, and Luthor out the rear of the payload. It was terrible acting, but it kept the man's attention on Logan instead of the great escape that was taking place behind him.
“What I mean is â” Logan stammered, recovering â “I'm fine now. I'm sorry for stopping you.” Luthor and the three kids were almost in the cover of the trees. “You can go.”
No sooner were the words out of his mouth than Griffin tripped on a rut and went sprawling headfirst.
“On second thought, I'm feeling woozy again!” Logan fairly bellowed.
No actor should have to work under these conditions. Johnny Depp would never put up with it.
Logan watched, wide-eyed, as the girls dragged Griffin out of sight, Luthor trotting by their side. Was that a Care Bears shirt Griffin was wearing? Who was in charge of wardrobe for this operation? Not anybody with the right to call himself The Man With The Plan.
“Whoops, false alarm,” Logan announced as soon as the others were out of sight.
“Get in the truck,” the man offered. “Let me give you a ride home. Are you from that theatre camp?”
Logan's actor's preparation had not included that question. “Of course â” he stammered â “not.” The last thing they needed was a concerned truck driver asking questions about a kid wandering out on the road at six o'clock in the morning. “Bye!”
He ran off into the woods, leaving the man scratching his head.
When Logan rejoined the team at a small clearing in the cover of the woods, he found Savannah speaking to Luthor in the quiet manner that had earned her the reputation as Cedarville's premier dog whisperer.
“I have to go back to camp now, sweetie. You'll be staying here with Melissa and Logan. I know it isn't what you had in mind, but you three are going to have so much fun together. . . .”
much fun,” Griffin put in. “He has to be quiet. All that barking nearly blew our cover at Ebony Lake.”
“And don't forget to tell him about the
theatre going on,” Logan added. “This isn't just a camp-camp, it's a
camp, and some of the people here are going to be actors for their real careers. He can't expect us to drop everything and go get dog biscuits or whatever.”
Savannah was annoyed. “I won't tell him that. It's insulting. Besides, he wouldn't know what to make of a message like that. An animal's comprehension comes from emotional intelligence and sensitivity.”
“He wasn't so sensitive when he was trashing my basement,” Logan complained.
Savannah faced him furiously. “If you've got a problem â”
Griffin quickly interposed himself between his two friends. “It works against the plan if we fight among ourselves. The whole point of all this is to keep Luthor out of Swindle's grubby hands. We're doing you a favor, Savannah.”
The dog whisperer was instantly contrite. If it weren't for Operation Hideout, her beloved Doberman would be back with his former owner, the sleazy S. Wendell Palomino.
“Sorry, Logan,” she said emotionally. “I'm so grateful to you guys for stashing Luthor up here. It's just not safe for us to keep him at Ebony Lake anymore.”
“It helps us, too,” Melissa assured her. “If we let Swindle get rich off Luthor's dog show winnings, he'll use the money to come after all of us.”
“Keep your eyes peeled for anybody who might be a private investigator working for Swindle,” Griffin instructed. “Whoever it is will be undercover, so you have to be careful. Watch out for delivery guys or forest rangers who poke around asking nosy questions. It could even be a new counselor â nobody's above suspicion. Got it?”
Melissa held up her phone for the others to see. “Here comes the laundry truck heading west.”
“That's our ride home,” Griffin confirmed. He turned to Logan. “Ready for some more acting?”
“The sleepwalking thing isn't really working for me,” Logan mused. “You know, dramatically. Maybe I should be a parachutist who blew off course.”
“Except there's no parachute,” Melissa pointed out.
Logan sighed. “We need a props department.”
“Just be something,” Griffin hissed. “If we miss the truck, it's a twenty-five-mile hike back to camp.”
“Leave Luthor with me,” Melissa said courageously. “Go catch your ride.”
There wasn't even time for an emotional farewell scene between Savannah and the Doberman. Instead, the animal expert made an elaborate show of handing the leash over to Melissa. “Be a good boy, sweetie. I'll see you soon.”
They heard the brakes of the truck, followed by Logan's voice. The young actor had abandoned his parachutist story, and was portraying a lost hiker. There was no time to lose. In another moment, the opportunity would be lost forever.
“Go!” whispered Melissa.
With a brave smile for Luthor's sake, Savannah allowed herself to be pulled away by Griffin. As Logan distracted the driver of the van, the two renegade campers circled around the back of the truck, eased open the rear gate, and hid themselves behind stacks of linens.
The instant Savannah was out of sight, the change in Luthor was glaringly obvious. His calm deserted him, and he began to pace the clearing, twitching nervously.
Shy Melissa Dukakis had only just reached the point where she felt comfortable talking to people. To deal with this very large, very frightening animal was going to take every milligram of fortitude she could muster.
“Calm down â uh â sweetie,” she ventured in her best impersonation of Savannah.
The endearment, coming from anybody but his beloved dog whisperer, was not to be tolerated. The growl seemed to begin at the tip of his tail, traveling through that oversized body, and emerging from behind those very sharp teeth.
Melissa nearly swallowed her tongue. “Luthor â uh â sir â” Her hand visibly shaking, she reached into the bag of food Savannah had brought along, and produced a bone-shaped dog treat.
Luthor snapped it down in a flash, but it failed to settle him.
Logan reentered the clearing. “Well, that's done â”
The big dog turned on him with a sharp bark, freezing him on the spot.
Melissa might have been quiet and timid, but her experience with Griffin and his team had taught her one important truth:
let a plan get out of control.