Authors: Joan Lowery Nixon
A woman wearing huge, very dark sunglasses took Sean’s arm. “C’mon, kid, out of the way,” she said, and pulled him off the set.
“But I want to talk to Justin,” Sean told her.
“Not now. No way,” the woman said, but her voice softened. “You can stand back here and watch, if you want.”
People hurried around the set, straightening things and picking up almost invisible items. Maria kept powdering Justin’s face and smoothing his hair.
A crew member ran in with the basketball and put it into position. “Found it in a trash can!” he yelled.
“Who’d do a dumb thing like putting it in a trash can?” Max yelled, but he glared at the kids on the Redoaks Junior High basketball team.
“Hey, we didn’t—,” Sam started to say, but Max turned his back and stared into a viewfinder on one of the cameras.
A large, sunburned man, who was dressed in a white T-shirt and jeans, walked onto the set and squatted next to Justin. “In this scene you’re talking to your big brother,” he said. “You’ve heard he’s running with the wrong crowd in his sixth-grade class, and you’re worried about him. When you say your line I want to see some real concern on your face. Okay?”
“Okay, Mr. Hightower,” Justin said.
So that’s Frank Hightower, the famous director, Sean thought.
Mr. Hightower left Justin and sat in a director’s chair in front of a computer. On the chair’s canvas back was printed
Mr. Hightower gave a cue, and the assistant director called, “Places up, please. Rehearsal. Quiet all around.”
Throughout the large group of people working on the film others yelled, like an echo, “Quiet! … Quiet! … Quiet!”
Justin stepped onto the piece of colored tape, and Mr. Hightower walked over to him, talking quietly about what he wanted Justin to do.
Justin nodded, and Mr. Hightower walked back to his chair. “Rehearsal up!” he called.
The other voices called, “Rehearsal up! … Rehearsing! … Quiet!”
On cue, Justin looked at a spot at the head of the stairs and talked to an invisible character. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Good. Let’s do it again,” Mr. Hightower said. “This time look just a little more worried.”
Justin went through the scene again and again.
Sean edged closer to Maria. “Is this a ghost story? Is Justin talking to something nobody sees?”
Maria shook her head. “In this scene Justin’s talking to his big brother, but these are close-up shots of Justin. The director doesn’t want to waste Dakota’s time by using him anywhere he can’t be seen. He’ll shoot Dakota by himself, then do the long shots with the boys together.”
Finally Mr. Hightower called for the scene to be filmed. Maria rushed to Justin with her comb and powder puff, and his mother straightened his shirt collar.
“Roll tape. Camera,” the assistant director called.
Someone from the sound department, who worked at a machine filled with windows and dials, called back, “Speed.”
“That means the sound tape is ready,” Maria whispered.
“Action!” Mr. Hightower called.
Sean watched as a digital clapboard, with information about the scene, the take, the date, and other stuff, was snapped in front of Justin’s face.
A camera and seated cameraman rode on a dolly with thick, silent rubber wheels, which was slowly pushed forward. Justin went through the scene. Then he did it again. Five times. Or was it six? Sean yawned.
“Good work, Justin,” Mr. Hightower said. “That’s a wrap. Next, we’ll—”
Mr. Hightower was interrupted as a cluster of people arrived and surrounded him.
Brian and Sam stepped up next to Sean. “That was it?” Brian asked. “All that setup and waiting for less than thirty seconds of film?”
Mr. Hightower suddenly jumped to his feet. “Great! Just great!” he yelled. “It’s only time and money. Didn’t anyone think this through before firing the guy?”
Max answered, “If the grip was responsible for the falling light standard …”
“He says he wasn’t. Get him back on the set. On top of everything else, we can’t afford a work strike.” Mr. Hightower grimaced and rubbed his fingers through his hair. “All right, people,” he yelled. “We’re taking an hour break. Hopefully, we’ll settle our current problem by then.”
Justin, munching on another candy bar, stepped in between Sam and Brian. He looked up at Sam and said, “You talked about a jinx. Tell me more about it.”
Brian smiled as he interrupted. “Sam is full of scary stories. Don’t pay any attention to him.”
Justin didn’t smile back. He wiped the back of his hand across the chocolate smear on his mouth and said, “Tell me. I want to know.”
Sam shrugged. “It’s just that bad things keep happening on the set of
New Guy in Town
, so some people think that—”
“Some people who are dumb and superstitious,” Brian interrupted.
“There’s no jinx,” Sean said, although he honestly couldn’t help wondering.
“I think there is,” Sam said in his spooky voice.
Someone, hurrying past, shoved soft drinks into everyone’s hands. Sean and Brian automatically said, “Thanks,” but neither of them looked up to see who’d given them the ice-cold cans.
“Cut out the scary stuff, Sam,” Brian said.
“Yeah. Accidents happen,” Sean said.
Justin sighed. “My mother told me this film is my big chance. I don’t want to lose it because of a jinx.”
“It’s my big chance, too!” Debbie Jean squeezed into the group.
Mrs. Moore’s voice rang out. “Justin? Where are you?”
“I gotta go,” Justin said.
He looked so unhappy that Sean blurted out, “Hey, after you’re through today, why don’t you meet me here on the playground. My friends Matt and Jabez and some of the other kids are going to get together and play baseball. You can play any position you want.”
“I’ve never played baseball,” Justin said. “Thanks for asking me, though. After filming I have to do my schoolwork and learn my lines for the next day. I work until bedtime.”
“Justin!” Mrs. Moore shouted.
“Gotta go,” Justin said, and he ran to join his mother.
Maria joined the group. “I heard you talking about the jinx,” she said. “I didn’t believe it at first, but now I do. Everything has been going wrong. That’s proof there’s a jinx, isn’t it?”
Brian shook his head. “It’s more likely that someone’s just trying to make everyone believe that the film is jinxed.”
“Nobody has to pretend there’s a jinx when a whole series of crazy things happen to
there’s a jinx,” Maria said.
Brian tossed his empty soft drink can into one of the large trash cans that stood nearby. Then he pulled out his notepad and pencil. “Have you been with the company right from the start of
New Guy in Town
?” he asked Maria.
“It depends on what you mean when you say, ‘right from the start,’ ” Maria answered. “I was signed to supervise makeup as soon as the story was set to film.”
“Then you wouldn’t have been there when the head scriptwriter quit. You wouldn’t know what caused the problem,” Brian said.
“I wasn’t there, but I know,” Maria said. “Everybody talked about it. The head scriptwriter quit because of Ralph Wayne. He’s Dakota Wayne’s father and also his business manager. Mr. Wayne kept insisting on changes. Then he said that the whole script was bad and would ruin his son’s career. He demanded a new writer and a new script.”
A sudden scream caused Sean to jump and drop his soft drink can. The workers and sightseers on the set froze, staring as Mrs. Moore ran out of her trailer. “Help! Please help!” she cried. “Justin’s been poisoned! Somebody call 9-1-1!”
R. HIGHTOWER RAN TO
the Moores’ trailer, while at least a dozen people pulled cellular phones from their belts and dialed.
Brian took one look at Sean’s spilled soft drink and said, “That may be it!”
“I haven’t got time to tell you now. Hurry up, Sean! We’ve got to make sure that—”
“Sure of what?” Sean asked, but he ran with Brian to the trailer.
It took a while to squeeze through the crowd that had formed outside the trailer’s door. Then, when they made it, one of the grips blocked the door. “Outta the way,” he ordered Brian.
“I just want to get—”
“Look out!” someone called as the paramedics appeared. The crowds of people parted, and Brian and Sean were pushed aside.
In just a few minutes the paramedics reappeared, carrying Justin on a stretcher.
As the crowd inside the trailer followed the paramedics to the ambulance, Brian whispered to Sean, “Stay here!” He disappeared into the trailer. Within two minutes he came out, holding a soft drink can wrapped in a paper towel.
Sean’s eyes widened, and he clutched his throat. “That’s the stuff we were all drinking!”
“Don’t look so scared. You weren’t poisoned,” Brian said.
“What are you going to do with that can?”
“Give it to one of the police. There are some police cars over there.”
Sean glanced in the direction Brian was looking. “Detective Kerry just drove up.”
Brian gave the soft drink can to Detective Kerry and explained that Justin had been drinking from it. “There’s still some of the drink left in the can,” he said, “in case you want to test it.”
“We certainly do want to test it,” Detective Kerry said. “Good thinking, Brian.”
The short, small-boned man who Sean and Brian had seen earlier walked up to Mr. Hightower, who was standing nearby. The short man had his arm around Dakota Wayne’s shoulders.
“He’s always around Dakota,” Sean whispered. “He must be Dakota’s father.”
“Frank, the limo’s arrived,” the man said to Mr. Hightower. “Dakota and I are leaving.”
“Leaving? What are you talking about, Ralph?” Mr. Hightower’s voice kept rising as he spoke. “You can’t leave! The break’s only for one hour, and then we’ll be ready to film Dakota. The paramedics told us that Justin’s vital signs are good. He’s got a stomachache but he doesn’t show signs of having been poisoned. It may be one of those twenty-four-hour bugs. Also, we’re rehiring the grip so there won’t be a strike. Production’s already way behind schedule. You can’t—”
“Frank, you must understand our position,” Ralph Wayne said. “As Dakota’s father, I’m extremely concerned for his health. If there’s even a small chance that someone’s poisoning the cast of
New Guy in Town,
then I can’t allow my son to remain on the set, where he’ll be in danger. Dakota’s much too valuable.”
Dakota said, “Dad, nothing’s going to happen to me. You just heard Mr. Hightower tell us Justin didn’t show any signs of being poisoned. I’d like to stay.”
Mr. Wayne shook his head. “No, Dakota. We’re leaving.”
Mr. Hightower’s face grew red. He shouted, “No matter what, you’d better have Dakota here on the set on time Monday, or I’ll file a complaint with the Screen Actors Guild and make a lot of noise with the press. As you well know, a kid who’s difficult to work with will find it hard to get jobs!”
“We’ll see about that,” Mr. Wayne grumbled. He grabbed Dakota’s arm and marched out of the school yard and to the curb, where a long black limousine stood waiting.
Mr. Hightower sank into his chair with a groan. Finally, he raised his head and said, “Max, tell everyone that production will be shut down for the rest of the day. Tell them to report back to the set Monday morning at six.”
“Uh-oh,” Maria said. “That’s a big surprise. It costs an awful lot of money to shut down a set.”
“But neither of the stars are here,” Sean said.
“Max could take the shots they need of the extras and the background,” Maria said. She shrugged. “Oh, well, it doesn’t matter to me. I get a paid afternoon off.”
ON THE LOCAL
five o’clock news the top story was Justin Moore’s illness. There had been no signs of poisoning, and Justin was now feeling fine, but his doctors decided to keep him overnight for observation.
The story of Justin’s illness even made a national entertainment television show. Justin’s mother was interviewed and spoke of her son’s brave desire to return to work to save the film, in spite of his illness.
Detective Kerry dropped by to see the Quinns, just as the newscast had finished. “I thought you boys would like to know that nothing had been put in Justin’s soft drink,” he said to Brian and Sean. “We checked the can for fingerprints, but there were too many, and most were smudged.”
“I wonder why Justin got so sick that his mother would think he was poisoned?” Sean asked. “I hope it doesn’t happen to him again. If the movie isn’t made, he’ll be out a lot of money.”
“No, he won’t,” Detective Kerry said. “I was told that the major actors, the director, and the cinematographer have pay-or-play contracts. That means they’ll get paid even if the movie is never made.”
“Wow!” Sean said.
“Unless, of course, a natural disaster is responsible, like an earthquake or a hurricane.”
Sean groaned and promised himself to catch a look at the local weather report. All sorts of crazy things had gone wrong. All Donner Productions needed now was a volcanic eruption or a tornado!