Authors: Joan Lowery Nixon
N A FEW MINUTES,
Debbie Jean came over. “Come on in the kitchen,” she said to Sean and Brian. “We need to talk.”
Sean made a face. Debbie Jean was the bossiest person he’d ever met. She always wanted to take over. “Whose house is this, anyway?” Sean muttered.
“If you don’t know, you’re in real trouble,” Debbie Jean said, and giggled. She plopped down in one of the chairs at the kitchen table and said, “My grandfather gave me twenty dollars for my birthday, so I want to hire you.”
Sean stopped wrinkling his nose as though he smelled something terrible, and looked surprised. “For what?” he asked.
Closing her eyes and holding the back of one hand to her forehead, Debbie Jean sighed dramatically. “I want to be in this movie. I
to be in this movie,” she said. “It’s my big chance.”
“What big chance?” Sean scoffed. “You’re only an extra.”
“That’s better than being a stand-in,” she snapped. “At least
face will be in
of the camera.” She slapped a twenty-dollar bill on the table in front of Brian. “You and Sean are the Casebusters. You solve cases,” she said. “So solve this one. Find out who’s trying to make people think this film is jinxed—besides Sam. Save this movie!”
Sean reached for the twenty, but Brian was faster. He grabbed it and shoved it back at Debbie Jean. “My partner and I will take this case,” he said, “but keep your money.”
Sean picked up the money as he said, “We may have expenses. Make that, we
“Nothing we need to charge for. Give back the money,” Brian told Sean.
Debbie Jean snatched the money from Sean and stuffed it into the pocket of her jeans. “I’m ready. Let’s talk business,” she said.
Brian pulled out his notebook and looked from Debbie Jean to Sean. “Okay. We’ll begin by writing down what we found out about some of the people connected with this film,” he said. “I’ll start with the notes I made about Dakota’s father, Ralph Wayne. According to what Maria told us, he’s the one who didn’t like the first script and caused so many problems that the head scriptwriter was fired.”
Debbie Jean said, “Put down Frank Hightower. His last two movies flopped. I overheard someone say that Mr. Hightower wants to start his own production company and make adventure movies. What if he wants out of this movie he’s unhappy with so he can make films with his own company?”
Brian shook his head. “From everything we’ve heard, Mr. Hightower really needs this movie to build his reputation again. You saw how he nearly came apart when everything went wrong today.”
Sean nodded agreement and said, “He closed down the set awfully quick. Remember, Maria told us it costs a lot of money to close down a set.”
“Put down Justin Moore’s name,” Debbie Jean said. “He could have faked being poisoned to get publicity.”
“That’s dumb,” Sean said.
“No it isn’t,” Debbie Jean said. “He got lots of publicity. So did his mother.”
“Justin’s not like that,” Sean said. “He’s a nice guy.”
Brian said, “Our first step is just to list the possible suspects. Then we start collecting information and eliminating the ones who don’t seem to be guilty.” He wrote more notes before he added, “We’ve got to think about the whole series of problems the film company has had. I don’t think that Justin and his mother could have pulled them all off.”
“But I heard that Mrs. Moore wants her son to be the star of the film, not Dakota Wayne,” Debbie Jean said.
Sean gulped. He’d actually heard Mrs. Moore say something like that to Justin. But Sean refused to admit that Justin had a part in any of this. He said, “Mrs. Moore wouldn’t do anything to hurt her son or his character.”
Sean grinned evilly at Debbie Jean. “Anyway, how about Dakota Wayne? I got the idea, from things his dad said, that Dakota would like to get out of the film. He doesn’t enjoy playing kids anymore.”
“Don’t say anything against Dakota Wayne,” Debbie Jean warned. “He’s gorgeous. He’s wonderful. He gave me his autograph.”
But Brian kept writing. “Okay, so he’s wonderful and maybe he can even wiggle his ears, but we’re trying to solve a case,” he said. “Right now, everyone on that set’s a suspect.”
“Not Maria,” Sean said.
“Sure. Even Maria.”
Although Debbie Jean scowled at him, Brian went on taking notes. “Tiffany told me that Dakota is wealthy,” he said. “Because of his father’s business investments, he’s set for life. He doesn’t have to make this movie.”
Sean remembered the pay-and-play clause. “Yeah. And even if the movie folds, Dakota will get paid.”
“Okay. We’re all agreed? Dakota’s a suspect and so is his dad,” Brian said.
“How come?” Debbie Jean asked stubbornly.
“Dakota’s playing the part of a little kid in
New Guy in Town
,” Brian explained. “And he’s not a little kid anymore. If the film critics and the public think he’s miscast, the movie will probably bomb. It won’t help Dakota’s career if his newest movie is a flop.”
“Don’t forget Max. He blamed the grip for knocking over the light and fired him,” Sean said.
“He’s not completely to blame. We were there. We heard Dakota’s father talking the assistant director into firing the guy,” Brian answered.
“You’ve got a lot of names and information written down,” Debbie Jean said, “but it doesn’t tell you who’s jinxing the movie. How are you going to find out?”
“By narrowing our list down until we come to the one person who has the motive and the means.”
“What does that mean?”
“Somebody badly wants that film shut down for what he—or she—thinks are good reasons. That’s the
. And somebody was able to be on hand when each of the problems took place. That’s the
“Can you do it?”
“We’re the Casebusters, aren’t we?” Sean bragged, but he couldn’t help wondering how they were going to come up with the answers.
FTER DINNER THAT EVENING,
Brian and Sean rode their bikes to the hospital to see Justin.
A nurse at the desk shook her head. “We’re supposed to see that Justin doesn’t have too many visitors,” she said.
A grandmotherly nurse stepped up and smiled. “I think we can make an exception here. Justin’s feeling lonely and unhappy. I’m sure that he’d like to talk to boys his own age, not just grown-ups.”
The other nurse shrugged, and Brian said, “Thanks.”
“Justin’s mother just went down to the cafeteria,” the older nurse said. “I’ll take you to his room.”
Justin lay sunk in pillows, looking bored. But he smiled and sat up in bed as Sean and Brian came into the room.
“Hi, Sean,” he said.
“Hi,” Sean said. “This is my brother, Brian. You were talking to him earlier, but I didn’t get a chance to introduce you. Brian’s an extra in your movie. We came to see how you were feeling.”
“And to ask if you know who gave you the soft drink,” Brian said.
“But Detective Kerry said—,” Sean began. He stopped when Brian frowned at him.
Justin shrugged. “I don’t know who gave us the drinks. We were all talking, and then the drinks were handed out. I wasn’t paying attention.” He thought a moment. “Why? What does it matter?”
“Just curious,” Brian said.
Justin hugged his arms and drew back against the pillows. His eyes were wide and scared. “Was it the drink that made me sick?” he whispered. “Did somebody put something in it?”
“Detective Kerry tested the drink,” Brian said. “He told us that nothing had been put in it.”
“Then why did you ask about it?”
“I just wanted to make sure,” Brian said. Justin looked so miserable that Brian tried to cheer him up. “Hey, look. It’s all over. There’s nothing to be scared about.”
Justin didn’t look cheered up. He looked even worse. “Something’s wrong isn’t it?” he whispered. “I was on the steps to our trailer when the light standard fell. I saw it go over.” He shivered. “It’s the jinx, isn’t it?”
“No,” Brian said. “Take our word for it. There’s no jinx. There’s just someone who wants this movie to fail, and we’re going to stop him.”
“How?” Justin asked.
“We don’t know yet, but we will. Trust us. We’re private investigators. We call ourself the Casebusters, and we’ve managed to solve all kinds of cases.”
Justin managed a smile. “Okay, Casebusters,” he said. “Go for it.”
Sean pulled a slightly squashed candy bar out of his pocket and handed it to Justin. “Here,” he said. “I brought you a present.”
“You shouldn’t have brought him candy. They won’t let him eat it,” Brian said. “He has to eat the hospital food.”
“Hospital food is yucky. I remember from when I had my tonsils out. That’s why I thought Justin would like a candy bar,” Sean said.
Justin grinned at Sean and tore at the wrapper. “Thanks. I love candy,” he said. “My mom only lets me eat what she calls
, so she never allows me to eat candy.”
The nurse came into Justin’s room, and he slipped the opened candy bar under the sheet. “Time to leave, boys,” the nurse said. She shooed them out into the hall just as Mrs. Moore stepped out of the elevator.
Mrs. Moore hurried past and into Justin’s room, as though she didn’t really see Brian and Sean. But just as Brian and Sean reached the elevators, they heard Mrs. Moore let out an angry shout.
“Oh-oh. She found the candy bar,” Sean said. The elevator doors opened and he jumped inside the elevator. He hoped Justin wouldn’t tell her where the candy came from. He didn’t want someone as nervous and excitable as Mrs. Moore to get mad at him.
S BRIAN AND SEAN
left the hospital, Brian said, “Let’s ride home past your school.”
“Why? Nobody will be there at night,” Sean said.
“That’s the point,” Brian explained. “The equipment trucks and trailers are parked on the school grounds, and nobody should be around, except maybe for a watchman.”
“You mean, we’re going to take a look and see if someone’s there who shouldn’t be?” Sean asked.
“Right,” Brian said.
“What if the watchman chases us away?”
“We’ll see what happens when we get there,” Brian said.
As Brian and Sean rounded the last corner on their bikes, the school building loomed up ahead of them, its darkened windows like rows of closed eyelids.
Far beyond the building, near the outer fence, however, a light flickered, then went out. Brian and Sean braked quickly.
“Did you see that light?” Brian whispered.
“I think it was in one of the trailers,” Sean answered.
“Third from the right,” Brian said, “Look! There it is again.”
“Uh-oh. That’s Maria’s makeup trailer,” Sean said. He sneaked a hopeful look at Brian. “Of course, it could be the night watchman.”
“Let’s find out,” Brian said. He led the way to the main gate and found it padlocked.
“We can’t get in here,” he said. “Ride around to the back.”
Slowly, cautiously, they did. The streetlight at the corner lit only a small area, so the low, wide-spreading branches of the trees along the street created a dark tunnel. Brian and Sean rested their bikes against a tree and took off their helmets.
The lights flickered again, and Sean gave a sigh of relief. “Look, Bri! It’s nowhere near Maria’s trailer.”
a night watchman,” Brian said.
Sean looked over his shoulder at the creepy blackness. “Okay. Good. Let’s go home.”
“Not until we’re sure,” Brian said. He walked to the fence and along it until he suddenly stopped and held out an arm to stop Sean from going any farther.
” Sean walked right into Brian’s arm.
“Be quiet!” Brian whispered. “I hear someone.”
A voice spoke so close by that both Brian and Sean jumped.
“I’ve got it,” a man’s voice said. “I was right. It must have fallen out of my pocket.”
A woman answered, “Good,” and Sean and Brian immediately recognized her voice—Maria.
“I gave you that little pocketknife,” Maria said. “I would have been unhappy if you’d lost it.” She paused, and her voice became quiet and serious as she asked, “Max, were you in my trailer?”