Authors: Franklin W. Dixon
Hardy Boys Casefiles - 24
Scene of the Crime
Franklin W. Dixon
"FRANK AND JOE HARRIS reporting for work."
A burly guard in a jacket that read "Movie Security" blocked the gate to the film set. His eyes moved slowly from the two boys to the list of names on his clipboard. The Grand Gambit, a big-budget Hollywood adventure-romance, had a closed set — so closed, it was locked.
The movie was being shot on location in the small, affluent town of Newbridge, three hundred miles south of Frank and Joe's hometown of Bayport. The place was crawling with TV crews and fans. Across the street from the enclosed set, a mob of teenage girls rushed forward to get a better look at the boys in the black van.
Seventeen-year-old Joe Hardy leaned out the window, showing off his broad, muscular shoulders. His blue eyes gleamed as he ran a hand slowly through his blond hair. "They think we're stars," he said, grinning at his dark-haired, eighteen-year-old brother.
Frank Hardy shook his head. "Pull your head back in," he said. "We're just stunt apprentices, remember? Undercover apprentices."
Three days earlier the Hardys had had a Hollywood visitor at their home, Sy Osserman, director of The Grand Gambit. He arrived just after the family had finished dinner, and fifteen minutes later Fenton Hardy, the boys' famous detective father, asked his sons to join their discussion.
Frank and Joe had seen pictures of Sy Osserman in the newspapers, of course. The director, who specialized in big-budget action films, was about fifty years old, short and squat, with a large bald head. His silk shirt was pink and looked custom-made.
"Perfect!" he said, greeting the boys. "You've got the look, and you're in shape." Mr. Osserman smiled and bobbed his shiny egg head once. "You take your act to the gym. I like to see that in young people."
"Sy is having a problem." Fenton Hardy stepped in to explain to his confused sons. "A series of strange accidents has caused shooting delays on his new film — "
"The Grand Gambit," Joe supplied the title. "I've read about it in the papers." The movie starred a hot new star, brash, twenty-one-year-old Burke Quinn, and his blond, real-life girlfriend, rock singer Kitt Macklin.
The boys' father nodded. "The film has gotten enormous publicity and lots of predictions that it'll be a blockbuster. But now it's badly behind schedule, and every day wasted means hundreds of thousands of dollars lost."
"I've got a lot riding on this project," Sy Osserman said, running a silk handkerchief over his glistening dome. "My last movie was a major flop. If this film doesn't go over, my career will be dead. Kaput!"
He gave the thumbs-down sign.
"Every time one of the important action sequences is shot, something goes wrong," Osserman continued. "And I know those accidents are suspicious."
"Sabotage?" Frank asked, his eyebrows raised.
"That's what Sy wants us to find out," Fenton Hardy said.
Frank tried to keep cool, but Joe didn't bother hiding his enthusiasm. School was out for the summer, and he was getting antsy just hanging out. He'd been hoping a new case would come their way.
"When do we start?" Joe asked, grinning.
"This will be a physically demanding assignment." Mr. Hardy studied Joe, then Frank. "I've suggested that you go undercover—as apprentice stuntmen."
Frank nodded. "Great. That way we'll be right in the middle of it."
"I'll arrange for union cards and credentials," Osserman added.
"I'm going to fly out to Hollywood in the morning to do a little investigating at that end," Mr. Hardy explained. He placed a hand on each of his sons' shoulders. "Remember, I want you to be extremely careful. Stunt work is dangerous enough — add some sabotage, and it could be deadly."
Now the Hardys were ready to begin. The security man checked off "Frank and Joe Harris" and stepped aside. Joe gave the girls one last wave as Frank drove the van through the gate.
The entire set was the size of a county fairground. It ran for nearly a mile from the edge of the Garfield mansion, where much of the film was being shot, to the famous Newbridge cliffs. The mansion was not behind the fence the movie crew had constructed. It was set off the road about one hundred feet, and guards were stationed along the front perimeter.
Following signs to the parking area, Frank and Joe drove through much of the lot. Crew people rushed all around them, moving props, electrical equipment, sound booms, lights, and cameras. They passed a couple of outdoor sets—one a replica of a city street, another of a country town. After those came the small buildings and trailers that housed the crew and equipment. And at the far end of the lot were the exclusive stars' quarters.
Sy Osserman was easy to spot. Wherever the director went, a host of assistants followed. Osserman was growling out a list of orders when he noticed Frank and Joe walking toward him.
Instantly his snarl turned to a smile. "Ah, my two new stunters have arrived." The director glanced around. "Where's Ray Wynn?" he shouted to no one in particular. "Tell the old captain I want to see him—pronto."
Seemingly out of nowhere, a thin, wiry man, with hard-edged features on a deeply tanned face, stood before them. He wore baggy old sailor pants and a work shirt. A sea captain's cap covered much of his white hair.
The director introduced Frank and Joe.
"I'm Ray Wynn, stunt captain." He glanced at the Hardys' union cards. The fake credentials passed the captain's inspection.
"Harris brothers, huh?" he mumbled. "You two seem a little young. But I'll see if you can handle the action — because that's what you're going to get, plenty of it."
"That's what we came for," Joe said.
The director left them to go to the next shot.
"Frank, your dark hair matches Burke Quinn's," the captain said. "Suppose you drive for him in the next sequence?"
Wynn led them to the costume trailer. In minutes Frank was fitted with a black tuxedo, and a car was taking him, Joe, and the captain to the Garfield mansion. Ivy covered the three-story brick-front Colonial house, which marked the end of Mansion Row — a half-mile stretch of glamorous homes on ten-acre lots lining the cliff that overlooked the ocean. Back in the 1890s these mansions had turned Newbridge from a sleepy sailing town into the center of high society.
The captain explained that they'd be shooting the scene at the mansion. It was supposed to be night, but it was being shot in daylight with a filter on the camera. Frank would drive a red Porsche across the front lawn toward the house at high speed. Kitt Macklin's stunt double would step out in front of the car to look as if she was going to be plowed down.
"You mean I'm going to drive a car straight at the house?" Frank asked. "Why would I do a crazy thing like that?"
"You've got me," the captain said. "That's what's in the script."
When they arrived, Sy Osserman had just called, "Action." Burke Quinn entered, dressed exactly like Frank, and walked along the front lawn with his arm around Kitt Macklin, who looked beautiful in an exquisite evening gown. He smiled and murmured in her ear.
"It wouldn't take much acting to do that," Joe whispered, staring at the beautiful singer.
Sy Osserman and a team of sound and lighting men kept pace with the actors just three feet off camera. After several takes Sy shouted, "That's a wrap."
Kitt instantly brushed Burke off and huffed away.
Next the crew moved across the lawn, to where the red Porsche was set up. Frank sat behind the wheel and carefully looked over the dash. He tested the clutch and the brakes. Everything seemed right. He was ready. Then he climbed out of the car and sat and waited. Frank had heard there was a lot of hurry-up-and-wait on a movie set, and now he was a victim of it.
Finally, when he thought they'd totally forgotten him, he was called and the car was returned to the set.
"Okay, Frank," the captain said, his eyes glittering. "Time to drive. Don't worry, the cable we've rigged to the rear of the car will stop you in time. I promise."
Frank looked at the mansion, thirty yards away. Standing by the door was a woman, who at first glance looked like Kitt Macklin.
"That's my daughter, Janet," the captain said. "I've raised her to be a top stunter."
Sy Osserman shouted through his megaphone for everyone to clear the area.
"Action!" he bellowed.
Frank threw the car into gear and roared forward. As he approached the house, the front door opened, and Janet Wynn stepped out directly in the car's path.
Sweat poured down Frank's temples as he continued to race toward her. Then, just a couple of feet before the house came a jolt that slammed him deeper into his seat. The cable held as the car screeched to a stop.
"Okay. Not bad," Sy growled. "But let's try this baby again."
Everyone was in place and Frank once more raced the Porsche across the smooth green lawn. This time he felt less worried. No sabotage here, he thought as the cable caught again.
"That's a wrap," Sy said, nodding happily. The fans gathered across the street roared their approval. "But let's take one more for insurance."
Frank put the car in reverse and rolled back to his starting point, awaiting his signal.
Frank floored the gas pedal and aimed the car for the house. Right on cue, Janet came out the door and onto the porch, framed by two heavy wooden pillars. She pretended to freeze in horror.
The Porsche reached the foot of the steps, and Frank waited for the cable's jerk. It didn't come!
He stomped on the brakes, but the pedal didn't respond. It sank mushily to the floor.
The car plunged ahead, smashing into the first brick step. Frank's hands were nearly thrown from the wheel. He didn't dare reach for the emergency brake. It took everything he had to fight the out-of-control car.
But even as he battled the steering wheel, the car hurtled up the steps, straight for Janet!
FRANK HAULED DESPERATELY on the wheel, sending the sports car into a high-speed swerve straight at the right-hand pillar.
Janet dove left off the porch, then somersaulted onto the grass just as the car crashed. The front end folded up like an accordion as the pillar collapsed, sending the roof of the small porch crashing down. Thick dust rose up all around the Porsche as debris battered the hood and smashed the windshield.
Joe dashed for his brother at full speed. He seized the driver's door and yanked hard.
"Frank!" he yelled. "Are you all right?"
After three heaves, the door screeched open. By now, the rest of the anxious crew had arrived.
"I'm okay, I think," Frank said shakily as Joe helped him out. "Just a little bruised."
The captain leaned over Joe's shoulder. "You were lucky to survive a head-on collision at that speed," he told Frank.
"How's the girl?" Frank asked.
"Fine," she said, coming up behind them.
Up close, Janet Wynn looked less like Kitt Macklin—but she was beautiful like Kitt. She had striking green eyes, long blond hair, and a dazzling smile. And, as her jump had demonstrated, she was athletic. Frank noticed the same glow in her eyes that he'd seen in her father's before the stunt began.
"Thanks for swerving," Janet said with a smile. "It showed me which way to leap."
"There shouldn't have been any reason to leap." The captain clenched his hands as he surveyed the damage to the car. "Not that I blame you, Frank. You did the sensible thing. But this should never have happened."
Frank took a few steps to check out his body and see how bruised he was. "Look at the brakes," he told Joe. "They sank straight to the floor when the cable didn't hold. I was lucky the seat belt held, or I'd have gone through the windshield. What happened to the cable, by the way?"
As members of the crew started to roll the smashed auto off the porch, Wynn answered, "Someone's checking it out."
When the car was on the grass, Joe crawled under it. "I don't think I'm going to find anything, but I should check," he called up to Wynn. A moment later he pushed himself back out.
"No good," he said. "That trip up the stairs destroyed the undercarriage. It's just too messed up to give us any ideas."
"Those brakes were fine." They could hear the anger in the captain's voice. "I checked them out myself. And cables that thick don't just break. If someone didn't tamper with this stunt, I'll trade in my union card."
"Don't lose your cool." Sy Osserman's voice was loud. He'd been the last to walk up, and Frank noticed how shaken up he was.
"We've just had some tough luck, that's all." Osserman sounded as if he were trying to convince himself. "Don't go talking about tampering, Captain. We wouldn't want our reporter friends to get the wrong impression."
The director's eyes darted over at the Hardys. He was pleading for help.
"Bad luck? I think that crash was the best luck possible. Made a great shot, and we've captured it all on film," said a voice behind them.
Together, Frank and Joe turned to the man who'd just joined the conversation. He was tall, with an athlete's build, black hair, a deep tan, and chiseled features. He smiled at them and clapped a heavy hand on Frank's shoulder. Frank winced.