Authors: Gordon Korman
“Hey,” Logan whispered. “Did somebody switch dogs on us?”
Melissa trained her flashlight on the ghostly creature before them. It was the real Luthor, all right, covered in the white fluffy stuffing that had once been inside the sleeping bag they'd laid down for his comfort. Savannah's “sweetie” had passed the hours by tearing it to pieces. The big Doberman had also made a mess of the blankets and comforters they'd strewn across the floor to muffle the sound of dog toenails.
Logan took a step back from the ferocious glare he was receiving. “Give him the food â quick.”
It was gone in a millionth of a second, and Luthor was advancing on them menacingly.
Melissa had been prepared for this possibility. She had learned from Griffin that a good plan allows for all contingencies. Her phone was already set to the Skype app, and the call was going through to Savannah.
It was so dark under the covers that the girl was barely visible. “Have you lost your minds? It's the middle of the night? I'm surrounded by sleeping girls!”
Melissa did not mince words. “Talk to Luthor!” She held the device in front of the big dog's angry dark eyes.
The change in the Doberman was instant and total. His raised hackles suddenly lay flat as if by magic, and his growl became a delicate whimper. He sat obediently before the screen, drinking in the beloved face and listening to the beloved voice.
“Oh, Luthor, I've been so worried about you. . . .”
,” Logan put in dramatically. “We're the ones who are about to be ripped to shreds.”
“Tell him he needs to go for a walk,” Melissa instructed urgently.
Savannah soothed Luthor as Melissa clipped the leash on to his collar. The Doberman balked, however, when they tried to lead him back to the ladderlike steps.
“It's too steep,” Savannah explained. “He can go up that kind of staircase, but down scares him. He thinks he'll fall.”
In the end, they had to lower Luthor and themselves via the electric hoist platform, praying that no one would notice the power humming in the otherwise silent woods.
At that point, Savannah's Ebony Lake counselor came to investigate the mumbling, so the dog whisperer had to hang up and pretend to be talking in her sleep. Luckily, though, Luthor was so excited at the prospect of escaping his imprisonment in the attic that he bounded out of the barn, dragging Melissa at the end of the leash. Logan stayed behind to raise the platform before scrambling to catch up.
They watched the Doberman run and play in the moonlight, awestruck by his raw boundless energy. Luthor raced around the quadrangle at Thoroughbred speed, as if circling some imaginary triple-crown track. If any bleary-eyed camper happened to stagger out of one of the cabins, the poor kid would be flattened.
“Too bad the Klingon can't see this,” Logan said wanly. “Nobody messes with you when you've got a killer dog on your side.”
“He's not on our side,” Melissa reminded him nervously. “He's on Savannah's, and she can't stay on Skype for three weeks straight. We're going to have to learn to handle him.”
“I'm an actor, not a lion tamer.”
am?” It was the closest Melissa ever came to a challenging tone. “I'd rather take on the world's most complicated computer virus.”
Luthor leaped to snap at a low-flying moth, sailing four feet off the ground.
“Maybe we should try to reach Savannah again,” Logan put in uneasily.
The Doberman continued to frolic in the compound, his breakneck speed slackening as he burned off the pent-up energy of his confinement. Eventually, he trotted over and rejoined them. He wasn't friendly, exactly. But he allowed Melissa to clip the leash back on to his collar. It was time to go for a walk.
For secrecy's sake, they sought the cover of the woods. Logan mumbled uneasily as they strolled, rehearsing lines from the many commercials he'd auditioned for:
“. . . the cereal guaranteed to stay crunchy in milk . . . clinically proven to kill bad breath germs on contact . . . does your taco sauce give you heartburn? . . .”
Luthor stopped in his tracks so suddenly that Melissa rear-ended him.
Logan was surprised. “What â ?”
Then they spotted the flashlight beam, creating the illusion of moving shadows in the dense foliage.
“The counselors?” Logan whispered fearfully.
“Shhh!” Melissa hissed.
The two campers hunkered down beside the dog and watched as the newcomer approached them. They could just make out his face in the glow of his own flashlight â a man, probably a little past middle age, with a neatly trimmed beard and mustache.
Not a counselor, for sure,
As the man grew close, she dared to reach out a hand and cover Luthor's snout, hoping the Doberman would take the hint and stay silent â instead of swallowing her arm halfway to the elbow. Some part of Luthor's show-dog training must have kicked in, because he froze and made no sound.
The man passed no more than ten feet from their hiding place and continued in the direction of the camp. No one spoke until the rustling of his footsteps faded out.
“Who's that?” Logan breathed.
“I don't know, but I don't like it,” Melissa replied. “Let's see if we can find out what he's up to.”
“Are you crazy?” Logan rasped. “We're out way past curfew with a fugitive dog! If we get caught, we'll be kicked out of the Showdown, and then the Klingon will take over the whole enterprise!”
“Griffin told us to watch out for suspicious strangers,” she reminded him. “This guy could be working for Swindle. If they tracked Luthor to Ebony Lake, because of Savannah and Griffin, they could probably find us. Swindle knows all the kids on the team.”
They followed the bearded man by the glow of his flashlight. He went all the way to Camp Ta-da!, crossing the compound as if certain of his destination.
Melissa, Logan, and Luthor held up at the edge of the clearing. To Melissa's amazement, the man headed straight for the performance center.
“Did someone tip him off about Luthor and where we're hiding him?” Logan managed, shocked.
“I don't see how. . . .” Yet the evidence was right there in front of them â the stranger striding purposefully toward the converted barn. She turned to Logan. “You raised the platform, right?”
“Of course,” Logan replied. “But if he knows where to look . . .”
In trepidation, they listened for the hum of the lift coming down. Nothing.
“Maybe he took the stairs,” Melissa whispered.
But a moment later, the flashlight beam reappeared, and the stranger left the barn. Melissa, Logan, and Luthor scrambled to get out of his path, watching as he reentered the woods and moved off in the direction he'd come from. After a few minutes, his footsteps could no longer be heard. Eventually, the light vanished as well.
Melissa was white as a sheet. “Griffin was right! Swindle sent a new spy!”
“Now we have to find another hiding place for Luthor,” Logan mourned. “I haven't got that kind of time, you know. It's going to be hard enough to put together a decent show with the Klingon bossing everybody around.”
“It seems to me that the safest place in camp is the spot where the guy just looked,” Melissa argued. “Now that he's ruled it out, he'll search somewhere else next time.”
“That doesn't mean we can relax,” Logan argued. “He could be back.”
She nodded. “In fact, I think we can count on it.”
he afternoon was hot â but not half as hot as it was inside the warthog costume. It was raining lightly, and every drop made the fur wet and heavy. The effort required to raise his arm was almost more than Logan could muster.
“Mary Catherine â”
The captain of the Showdown team didn't hear him. She bustled about, barking orders as she assembled her cast for the next number â “Hakuna Matata,” from
The Lion King
“Mary Catherine!” Logan shouted to project his voice beyond the cocoon.
She peered in his eye-holes. “Yes, Logan?”
“Well . . .” How could he explain it? Here he was, a professional actor, who had been in real TV commercials. And how had she cast him? In an outfit where no one could see if he was acting or not, portraying a neckless swine. “It's just that â well,
could play this part.”
“I know you'll rock it.”
“But I don't want to rock a warthog!” he wailed. “I want to play a meaty character!”
She lowered her eyes to the warthog's big stomach. “No one's meatier than Pumbaa.”
“Not that kind of meaty! I want multiple dimensions, complicated emotions, inner pain!”
“Pumbaa has lots of inner pain,” she reasoned. “He has gas!”
She moved on to Bobby Delancey, who played Timon, leaving Logan seething and sweating. The Klingon was doing this on purpose. She knew that if Wendy saw him acting in a halfway decent role, she'd kick Mary Catherine out and make
captain of the Showdown team!
They were all in their places when there was a thunderclap, and pelting rain had them scrambling for cover. By the time Logan lurched into the performance center, the warthog suit had soaked up at least twenty extra pounds of water.
Mary Catherine looked down her nose at him. “Logan, you're going to have to take better care of your costume than that. If it's ruined, your parents get charged, you know.”
Logan was too exhausted to argue with her. “Let's just do the number and get it over with.”
“This stage is too small for âHakuna Matata,' ” she decided. “Take off your head, and we'll work on Melissa's solo.”
Even through the dense wet fur, Logan heard the whimpered protest from his shy friend.
“I've picked the perfect song,” Mary Catherine went on. “âMemory' from the musical
. It's one of the most famous songs in the history of Broadway, so the audience will be expecting great things.”
“I can't â” Melissa stammered. “I mean I don't â I mean I never â”
“This is your part,” Mary Catherine said firmly.
Something snapped inside Logan and he threw off the top half of his costume. It would have been very dramatic if he could have tossed it clear in a single swashbuckling motion instead of tunneling out like an escaping prisoner, but true actors had to be able to improvise.
“You don't want her to sing âMemory' in the Showdown,” he accused the Ta-da! captain. “You want her to sing it
so you can make fun of her, and then cut her from the performance.”
Mary Catherine skewered him with laser eyes. “Well, she can't just do
. It's a group revue. Everyone's supposed to take part. Those are the rules, you know.”
“I can work on set design,” Melissa offered.
At that moment, a loud yelp resounded directly above them.
“The performance center ghost!” exclaimed Athena with an anxious laugh.
“No, that's not it,” Logan put in quickly. “A falling branch must have hit the roof.”
The campers regarded one another nervously. None of them had ever heard a tree branch bark before.
* * *
The Showdown was always held outdoors. The stage was at the base of a large hill, which served as a natural grandstand for the audience. Each year the host camp was in charge of building a set and a lighting arc on the existing platform.
Dozens of upturned eyes watched in amazement as the chandelier rolled over the top of the array and came hurtling down to the stage. A crash of shattering glass blasted from the speakers.
The campers all gasped â and then applauded. Hunched behind her laptop on a tree stump, Melissa took a small bow. Behind her hair, her face flushed as it always did when she received any kind of attention.
“Wow!” Logan exclaimed, goggle-eyed. He'd always known his friend was a genius, but he'd never imagined that her tech skills could be applied to the theatre!
“Not bad.” Mary Catherine didn't look too pleased at the idea of credit going to anyone except herself. But this special effect â for their
Phantom of the Opera
number â couldn't be ignored. “Definitely pretty good.”
Melissa pounded the keyboard and the “chandelier” rose on its system of ropes and pulleys and disappeared behind the arc lights, poised for its next fall.
“How did you make it
so real?” asked Athena breathlessly. “I mean, the chandelier's just a wooden scenery board! I could have sworn it was glass breaking into a million pieces!”
“I downloaded the clip from the Internet,” Melissa replied in a voice so soft that everyone had to strain to hear. “I also got jungle sounds for
The Lion King
, a helicopter rotor for
, and a tornado for
The Wizard of Oz