Read an Excerpt
The Movie Star Mystery
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 1996 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
Who's in This Old House?
Smile and say cheese!" said six-year-old Benny Alden. He raised a camera and pointed it at his sister Violet.
Violet smiled. But she didn't say cheese. Instead she said, "Oh, Benny, you know that camera doesn't have any film in it."
Benny's elder brother, Henry, said, "That camera is so old it probably doesn't even work anymore."
"I know," said Benny. "I'm pretending."
Jessie stopped and raised her arm dramatically. "Cheese," she said to Benny.
"What are you pointing at?" Benny asked.
"I'm pretending I see a dinosaur," Jessie said. "Quick, take my picture."
Benny raised the camera. He pressed a button. "There! Now I have a picture of you and the dinosaur, Jessie."
The Aldens all laughed and their dog, Watch, wagged his tail.
The four Alden children were taking a hike through the woods near their hometown. They had once lived in an abandoned boxcar in these same woods. They had been orphans. They hadn't known that their grandfather, James Alden, was looking for them.
But then Grandfather Alden found them and took them to live with him in his big old white house on the edge of the town of Greenfield. He even moved the boxcar to a new place behind the house so that the four children could visit it whenever they wanted.
"There's an old barn up ahead," Henry said.
Jessie nodded. "And a clearing," she remembered. "We can have our picnic there."
Benny said, "I'm going to take some more pictures." Holding his camera tightly, he ran ahead of them.
The rest of the Aldens followed him up a steep hill. They'd almost reached the top when they heard voices.
"It doesn't matter where you hide the loot. Forget about it," a man's deep voice said impatiently.
"You'll be sorry you didn't take care of it," a second male voice said.
"Right now, I'm going to take care of you," the first man said.
Jessie, Henry, and Violet exchanged looks of amazement.
"Robbers?" whispered Violet in disbelief.
"It sounds that way," Jessie whispered back.
"Come on," said Henry, and led the way up the hill.
"It'll never work," said the second man. "You'll never pull it off."
"Oh, yeah?" said the first man. "I've done it before and I can do it again."
Just then, the Aldens saw Benny standing at the top of the hill. He was staring down in the direction of the voices and he wasn't even trying to hide.
"What if the robbers see Benny?" Violet gasped.
Without answering, Henry ran forward to grab his younger brother. But he wasn't fast enough. Suddenly Benny began to slip and slide down the hill toward the voices.
"Oh, no!" gasped Violet. She and Jessie quickly joined Henry at the top of the hill. They saw a short man with jet-black hair pulled back into a short ponytail, who was lying propped against the barn below. He wore faded jeans and a denim jacket and his eyes were hidden behind dark glasses. A taller man with a round stomach, chin-length brown hair, and a neatly trimmed, gray-streaked brown beard stood over him. He was dressed all in black and had a pair of dark glasses pushed up on his forehead.
The man on the ground said, "Go ahead, Stefan. Give it your best shot."
The tall man raised his arms.
As Benny reached the bottom of the hill, he said in a loud voice, "I have a camera, too, but it's not as big as yours."
At that moment, Watch barked and pulled his leash from Violet's hands. He ran down the hill and up to the man lying on the ground and began to lick his face.
Sitting up, the man began to laugh.
Henry, Violet, and Jessie ran down the hill after Watch and Benny.
"Wow," said the tall man, who was holding the camera. "What are all you kids doing out here in the middle of nowhere?"
"This isn't nowhere!" Benny said. "This is Greenfield."
"Greenfield," said the tall man. "Right."
"My name's Benny," Benny went on. "We're taking a hike. We live in Greenfield. That's my sister Violet. She's ten. And that's our dog, Watch. We don't know how old he is. We found him when we were living in the boxcar. We were orphans then, but we're not now."
"That's quite a story," said the man sitting on the ground. He was scratching Watch's ears while Watch's tail wagged happily. He glanced at the tall man. "Sounds like a movie to me."
"It's not a movie. It's true," said Jessie.
"That's Jessie," Benny said. "She's my oldest sister. She's twelve. Henry is fourteen. He's the oldest." Benny raised his camera. "Can I take your picture, too?" he said to the man on the ground.
But both men threw up their hands as if to hide their faces. "No pictures, please," said the tall man.
The man on the ground cleared his throat. He said, "I'm Harper Woo. Everyone calls me Harpo. And this is—"
The tall man interrupted, "Smith. George." He smiled a little and said, "By all means, call me George."
Harpo gave George a look of surprise. Then he got up and began to brush grass and twigs from his pants.
"Why are you taking pictures of Harpo?" Jessie asked George.
"Uh ... I'm in a photography class," said George.
"We're rehearsing for a play," said Harpo at the exact same moment. The two men exchanged glances. Then George cleared his throat and said, "For publicity. I'm a photography student and taking pictures of Harpo for publicity for a play he's in."
"Oh," said Violet. "I like plays. Is it going to be in Greenfield?"
"Greenfield," said George. "Sure. It's a nice, quiet town, isn't it?"
"Yes," said Henry. "Is the play going to be at the community center?"
"Sure," Harpo echoed George.
George put the camera into a bag and zipped it up. He hoisted the bag over his shoulder. "We'd better get going," he said to Harpo.
"What's the name of your play?" asked Jessie.
Bending over, Harpo picked up a big heavy leather satchel. "Nice to meet you kids," said Harpo as if he hadn't even heard Jessie's question. He and George walked quickly away through the underbrush and disappeared from sight.
"I hope it's a good play," said Benny.
"I don't think there is a play, Benny," said Jessie, with her hands on her hips. Her eyes narrowed. "The community center is closed for remodeling, remember?"
Henry nodded. "It's true."
Violet's eyes widened. "Do you think they were lying?" she asked.
"If they're lying," Benny said excitedly, "maybe they really are robbers. Let's follow them!"
"Yes," said Jessie. "I think you're right, Benny. Come on!"
Quickly, the children began to walk through the woods in the direction the two men had gone. Benny forgot about being hungry. Watch tugged at his leash, sniffing the ground.
Although they went as fast as they could, the Aldens couldn't find the two men. They crossed a stream and worked their way around a blackberry patch. They climbed over the trunk of a huge fallen tree and went up and down several more hills.
Finally they stopped at the top of a hill. "Maybe, if we are very quiet, we can hear them walking in the woods ahead of us," Violet suggested.
So the Aldens and Watch stayed very still and listened hard. They didn't hear any footsteps, however. They only heard birds calling and the tree branches creaking in the wind.
Jessie sighed. "I guess we lost them."
"I think I've lost me," Benny said. "I don't know where we are!"
"Don't worry, Benny. I know where we are. I can see a road through the trees right over there," Henry said. "I'm pretty sure it's Old Farm Road."
"Let's have our picnic here," Violet said. "We can sit on this nice flat rock."
"Good idea," agreed Jessie. "And then we can follow the road home."
As the Aldens ate their lunch, they talked about the two mysterious men. They all agreed that they had never seen them around Greenfield before.
"And if they were from Greenfield, they would know the community center was closed now," Benny reminded everyone.
Henry took a bite of his cheese sandwich and chewed thoughtfully. Then he said, "They talked about hiding loot. We all heard them. That really does sound as if they had robbed a bank."
"Maybe, if they are bank robbers, their pictures are on wanted posters at the post office," Benny said.
"It's possible, Benny," said Jessie.
"The loot could have been in that big black leather bag Harpo was carrying," said Violet.
"But there haven't been any robberies around Greenfield," Jessie said. "Or even in Silver City."
"What I wonder is where George Smith could be taking photography lessons. They have classes at the community center sometimes, but not now," said Henry.
"When we heard them talking about loot, maybe they were just practicing the play," Violet said. "Maybe Harpo plays a bank robber in the play."
"If Harpo and George are telling the truth, then why did they lie about the play being at the community center?" asked Jessie.
"If they aren't from around here, maybe they got it mixed up. Maybe they meant the community center over in Silver City," said Violet.
"But they wouldn't even tell us the name of the play," Jessie argued. "And you know why? Because there isn't a play."
"I think they are bank robbers and we should catch them and get a big reward," said Benny. He reached into the bag of chocolate chip cookies, then stopped. "Uh-oh," he said. "I ate the last cookie. How did that happen?" Benny held up the bag with a look of comic dismay on his face.
"I guess that's a mystery, too, Benny," Jessie teased him.
After cleaning up and making sure they hadn't left any litter, the Aldens walked down the hill onto Old Farm Road.
Henry pointed and said, "If we go that way, we'll come to the road that leads straight back into Greenfield."
"I don't think this road is used very much anymore, except by the farmers who live along it," Jessie said.
They began to walk along the grassy edge of the road. Benny held Jessie's hand. Violet looped Watch's leash around her wrist so he couldn't pull away. She didn't want him to run in front of a car.
But Jessie was right. Nobody used the old road very much anymore. The children didn't see a single car.
"Up ahead, just around this curve, is a mansion," Henry remembered aloud. "The Radley mansion. No one lives there now. It's been deserted for years."
"Is it haunted?" Violet asked.
Henry chuckled. "I don't think so. Not every deserted house is haunted, you know."
"I'm not afraid of ghosts," Benny said. "We even caught one once, don't forget."
Just then, Henry stopped and pointed. "Look," he said in a hushed voice. "The gates to the Radley mansion are open!"
"Did a ghost do that?" asked Benny, his voice getting squeaky with excitement.
"No," Henry answered. He paused, studying the rusted gates that had been pushed back to reveal a weed-covered, rutted driveway. He added, "At least, I don't think it was a ghost."
Just then they heard the sound of a motor. A truck came into view from the other direction. It slowed down in front of the open gates, then turned up the driveway and disappeared in a cloud of dust.
"That definitely wasn't a ghost," Jessie said. "That was a moving van."
The Aldens walked up to the open gate and peered down the driveway. They could see a long stretch of recently cut lawn. Curious, they walked a short distance up the drive past piles of branches beneath trees and recently trimmed shrubbery.
At the end of the curve in the driveway, they stopped.
"Look at the house," Violet said. "It's beautiful!"
The big old house sparkled in the afternoon sun, shiny with a fresh coat of white paint. Deep purple shutters, also newly painted, framed the windows. Purple was Violet's favorite color.
"I wonder who's moving in," Jessie said.
"Why don't we go ask," Henry said. "We can knock on the door and welcome them to Greenfield."
They started walking again. They didn't get far, however. A young woman appeared on the front porch of the house as the moving crew opened the back of the truck. She nodded and pointed at the open door behind her. She was dressed in black jeans, a black turtleneck sweater, and bright red sturdy sneakers. When she gestured with her hands, her short fingernails flashed red with nail polish that matched her sneakers. Her long, shining black hair was pulled back in a single braid and she had on a baseball cap.
Then she saw the Aldens and jumped from the top of the steps. She walked very quickly toward them.
"Hi," said Henry. "Welcome to—"
"Who are you?" the young woman demanded in an annoyed tone. "How did you get in here?"
"Through the gate. It was open," Benny said.
"Well, you can just turn around and walk right back out," she said. "Go on. Shoo."
"We just wanted to welcome you to—" Henry tried to speak again.
The woman folded her arms. "Go," she said, her brown eyes narrowing. "Now."
Without another word, the children walked down the driveway and back out to the road, with the woman silently following them. She slammed and locked the gates behind them. Then she walked back up the driveway.
"I don't like her," said Benny.
"Some people just aren't very friendly," said Violet. "Maybe the other people in the house are nicer."
"Maybe," said Henry. "But somehow I don't think we're going to get the chance to find out."
"Come on," said Jessie. "Let's go home."
As they walked away from the gates of the old Radley mansion, Benny looked back over his shoulder and made a face. "I hope the house is haunted," he said. "Then they'll want us to come and catch the ghost and solve the mystery of where it came from."
"Oh, Benny," said Jessie. She laughed. "There's no ghost and no mystery, at least not at the Radley mansion."
But as she and the rest of the Alden family would soon find out, Jessie was wrong.CHAPTER 2
They're Going to Rob That Bank!
Don't forget my book about Jesse James," Benny told the librarian at the Greenfield Public Library the next day. "He was a famous bank robber, you know."
The librarian laughed. "I know. He and his brother, Frank. I used to like to read about them, too."
Benny said, "I can't read this book yet, at least not all of it. But Violet said she would help me."
"I will," said Violet. She smiled at the librarian and put the books she had just checked out into her backpack. The Aldens had come to the library early that morning to return books and check out new ones. Watch had stayed at home with the Aldens' housekeeper, Mrs. McGregor, because dogs weren't allowed in the library.
One of the reasons Benny wanted to go to the library was to learn more about bank robbers. "It might help me find clues," he explained.
As they walked out of the library, Jessie said, "Let's go to the post office."
"Why? Do you have a letter to mail?" asked Henry.
"No. But maybe we could look at the wanted posters," said Jessie.
Violet's eyes widened. "Do you really think we'll see a picture of George Smith or Harpo Woo on one of the posters?" she asked.
"We'll see Mr. Smith and Mr. Woo," Benny said.
"How do you know that, Benny?" asked Henry, smiling a little at his younger brother. "You haven't read any of your books about bank robbers yet."
Benny pointed. "Because they are right across the street by the bank."
The four Aldens stopped and stared. They saw two men, but the men weren't Harpo Woo and George Smith.
"Where, Benny?" asked Jessie.
"Right there," said Benny. "Those two men. They're in disguise."
Violet blinked in disbelief. Then she said, "You're right! That is George Smith and Harpo Woo."
Sure enough, at first the two men who stood outside the bank did not look much like the two men the Aldens had met the day before, but at a second glance it was clear who they were. George had his dark glasses on and today he had a hat pulled low on his forehead. He was wearing jeans, a colorful vest, and a turtleneck sweater, and his beard was no longer brown streaked with gray but jet-black.
Harpo's black hair had been tucked up under a broad-brimmed hat. He was wearing his dark glasses as he had the day before, but today he had a black goatee and long sideburns.
As the children watched, a short man in a windbreaker, new-looking jeans, and heavy black shoes walked briskly up to the two men. He was very tan and had silver hair slicked back. He, too, wore dark glasses. The two turned to him as he spoke.
The silver-haired man gestured and the two men looked warily around. The man who called himself George Smith nodded and pointed down the street, and the man in the new jeans walked on.
"Is he a bank robber, too?" Benny asked.
"I think he was just asking directions, Benny. Don't let them see us," said Henry, and pulled his sisters and brother back to stand in the shadow of a doorway.
As the Boxcar Children watched, George raised a camera and took a photograph of the building. Today he didn't have the big camera he had had the day before, but a small silver one. Harpo appeared to be talking to his own left hand.
"Harpo has a tape recorder," Violet said. "In his left hand. I wonder what he is recording."
As Harpo talked and George took photographs, they both kept glancing nervously up and down the street.
"Do you think they're planning to rob the bank?" Benny asked. "Maybe we should call the police!"
But before the Aldens could do anything, Harpo glanced down the street and seemed to freeze for a moment. Then he said something to George.
In response, George grabbed Harpo by the arm and pulled him into a blue van parked on the street near the bank. Then George jumped in the van himself, started it, and drove quickly away.
Excerpted from The Movie Star Mystery by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1996 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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