Read an Excerpt
The Rock 'n' Roll Mystery
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Robert Papp
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 2009 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
The Greenfield Music Festival
"Benny, are you playing with that again?"
Twelve-year-old Jessie Alden stood watching her six-year-old brother. Benny held a ukulele—a very small guitar with four strings. His fingers were struggling to get some sound out of it.
"I can't seem to make it ... work," he said, a little frustrated.
He and Jessie were inside a large white tent—one of dozens that had been set up on the fairgrounds at the edge of town. The Greenfield Music Festival drew a huge crowd every year. More than twenty different groups would be performing this year, playing jazz, blues, classical, and rock 'n' roll. The Alden children loved the festival—and this year they'd gotten a chance to be volunteer workers there!
Henry, who at fourteen was the oldest, was helping out in the stage area. Ten-year-old Violet, who was a very good artist, was painting signs. And Jessie and Benny were busy setting up "The Instrument Petting Zoo." It was a special tent run by Mr. Lessenger, who owned a music store in Greenfield, and it was one of the most popular features of the festival. Children could try all types of musical instruments—guitars, violins, drums, horns, and flutes.
Benny shook his head and laughed. "I'm never going to be able to play this!"
"You can if you practice," Mr. Lessenger replied. He was a cheerful older man with white hair and glasses, and he loved helping children discover the joys of music.
"It takes time, Benny," he continued. "Don't be discouraged. The greatest musicians in the world couldn't play a note when they started."
"Really?" Benny asked. That made him feel better.
Most of the instruments were set neatly on their stands, and their cases were stacked in the corner, out of the way. "Looks like you've made some good progress since I was last here," said Mr. Lessenger.
"We're just about finished," Jessie replied. "We just need to make sure everything's in tune."
Mr. Lessenger nodded. "That's great, Jessie. Thanks so much for all your help. And I hope you're having fun playing the instruments. I see Benny on the ukulele over there, but what about you? Have you tried anything?"
"No, not yet," Jessie answered. "But I'm thinking about the piano. I like the sound of pianos very much."
Mr. Lessenger nodded. "That one over there was built over fifty years ago, so it sounds great."
Jessie seemed puzzled by this. "I don't understand. Doesn't it sound worse as it gets older? Doesn't it wear out?"
"Oh, no," Mr. Lessenger replied with a smile. "Many instruments get better with age. They've been played so much that everything gets sort of 'broken in.' I have customers who will pay a lot for older instruments, and custom instruments, too."
"What does 'custom' mean?" Jessie asked as Benny continued plinking and plunking in the background.
"It means it was made just for one person. Many musicians don't buy their instruments in an ordinary store. They order them specially made from scratch."
"Wow, making instruments—that sounds interesting," Jessie said.
"It is," Mr. Lessenger went on. "Custom-made instruments are often more beautiful—and sound much better—than instruments made in factories. Some of the best instruments I've ever had in my store were either very old or custom-made."
Another person joined them in the tent. He was a young man with messy black hair. Mr. Lessenger had introduced him earlier in the morning—his name was Tim, and he worked at Mr. Lessenger's store.
"I'm all done," Tim said. "There's nothing else to unload from the truck, so I'll head back to the store now."
"Okay, good," Mr. Lessenger said. "I'll see you over there in a little while."
Tim turned and left without another word. When the Aldens had first met him, he hadn't seemed very friendly. He just nodded but didn't say hello, and he didn't speak to Jessie or Benny when he carried the instruments from his truck to the tent. Maybe he was just the "quiet type," Jessie thought.
After Tim left, Jessie busied herself tuning the guitars. She had to use something called a "pitch pipe," which had six short silver tubes sticking out of it, three on each side.
When she blew into each tube, a single musical note came out. The six strings on each guitar were supposed to match the six notes made by the pitch pipe. It took Jessie about fifteen minutes to tune all the guitars. Benny's ukulele had already been tuned.
"Okay," Jessie said, "now that that's done, let's take a little break. We'll get some doughnuts, and we'll bring some over to Violet and Henry. They must be hungry, too."
"Oh, boy, doughnuts!" Benny said, jumping off the chair and carefully setting the little ukulele back on its stand. Benny Alden had the biggest appetite of any six-year-old in Greenfield.
They walked together across the big field. It was a bright, sunny day—perfect weather for a festival. At one of the food tents, Jessie bought a bag of powdered doughnuts and four bottles of apple juice. Then she and Benny headed towards the big stage in the middle of the fairground. This was where all the bands would play during the festival.
They'd been watching it go up all morning, and every hour it grew bigger. The stage platform had been built first. Then, two towers of colored lights were put up. After that a row of lights was added across the top, including a huge spotlight. Finally, a giant white curtain was hung as a backdrop.
As they walked toward the stage, Jessie noticed Tim, the young man who worked at Mr. Lessenger's store. He was standing behind a tree—almost as if he was hiding. He was talking to a young woman with a ponytail that was so long it went all the way down her back. Tim had told Mr. Lessenger he was going right back to the store, and yet here he was. Jessie watched as Tim and the girl shook hands. Then Tim looked around, to see if anyone was watching, but he didn't seem to spot Jessie.
That's odd, Jessie thought.
Jessie hurried to catch up with Benny. She didn't say anything to him about Tim. It probably wasn't important, she thought.
There were at least twenty people working busily around the stage. One man was fiddling with dozens of knobs and buttons on something called a control board. The Aldens had learned that the control board could change all the sounds during a concert—the high sounds of violins and flutes, and the low sounds of bass guitars and big drums. It could make things louder or softer, and it could also create special effects like echoes. A sign hanging from it said, "Please Do Not Touch."
Another man was testing the lights from a second control board, turning on the green lights first, then the red ones, then the blue ones. There was a certain excitement in the air, too, as if something big was about to happen.
Jessie and Benny found Violet on the other side of the stage, carefully painting a tall wooden sign.
"You look like you could use something to eat and drink," Jessie told her. She was always taking care of her brothers and sister, very much like a mother would.
"Thanks, I sure could." Violet chose one doughnut from the bag and twisted the top off her bottle. She took a long sip of apple juice, then said, "I'm just about done with the sign. How do you think it looks?"
The background had been painted white, and the words "Tonight Only" were in dark green letters at the top.
"I'm going to add 'the Greenfield Four' and some instruments next," said Violet.
"It's terrific," Jessie said.
"It sure is!" Benny added.
"Thanks," Violet replied. "They're going to hang it up tomorrow night when the band plays."
The Greenfield Four was one of the most popular bands in town. There were two men and two women—all very talented. When the four of them sang together, their voices blended beautifully. They played many different instruments, too. It seemed as though they were good at everything!
The band played in the Greenfield area all the time, often at one of the schools or at a charity event. Alan and Amy Keller were the band's leaders, and they were also married. Karen played piano and guitar, and Dave played drums.
"I'll bet Karen will love the sign," Jessie said to Violet. In addition to being a member of the Greenfield Four, Karen had also been giving Violet guitar lessons for the past few months.
"I hope so," Violet replied. "No one will see it until the end of the festival, since the Greenfield Four will be the last band to play."
"Why's that?" Benny asked.
"Because they're the most popular," Violet said. "It'll be the perfect end to the festival."
"And also," Jessie added, "because the man from the record company will be here then."
"Oh, that's right," Benny said. "I forgot about that. Why is he coming again?"
"He travels all over the country, looking for talented new groups," Jessie told him." As soon as he finds them, he has them make albums for him. Then their CDs are sold all over the world."
"So this is the Greenfield Four's big chance to become famous," Violet added.
On the other side of the stage, Henry, the oldest Alden came huffing and puffing as he carried a large coil of black cable over his shoulder. He was followed by a man who was carrying another, larger coil. The man's name was Raymond, and he was a "roadie." He traveled with bands wherever they went, helping to set up all the equipment.
Raymond was small and muscular, with very dark bushy hair and a thick mustache. He was friendly enough, but, like Tim, he seemed kind of quiet. The Aldens also noticed that he was very good at his job.
"Those two have been working so hard," Violet said.
Henry and Raymond came around to the front of the stage. Raymond smiled.
"Thanks for loaning me your brother today. He's been great."
"That's good," Jessie said. "A little hard work never hurt anyone. Right, Henry?"
Henry was still trying to catch his breath. He tried to say something, then just nodded instead. Everyone laughed.
Jessie opened his juice for him and handed it over. Henry drank half of it in one long sip. Then he grabbed a doughnut from the bag and took a big bite.
"I never had any idea how hard it was to build a stage," he said.
"Harder than living in a boxcar?" Jessie asked.
Henry managed to smile. "Well, not as much fun," he replied.
After their parents died, the Aldens had run away from home. They knew that their grandfather was trying to find them, but they had heard that he was mean. They found an abandoned train car—a boxcar in the woods—and cleaned it up so they could live in it. Their grandfather still found them, though, and the children were delighted to learn that he wasn't mean at all. He took them back to his home in Greenfield, and he brought their boxcar along, too! He set it up in the backyard so the children could play in it anytime they wished.
"You do this kind of work every night, don't you Raymond?" Benny asked.
"Just about, Benny," Raymond said. "And it is a lot of work. But I'm lucky this time—I have all these great volunteers to help." He patted Henry on the back and said, "Take five minutes, Henry. You've earned it. Then meet me in the back with that cable. We've still got plenty to do."
"Sure," Henry said.
After he was gone, Violet said, "Guess what else I heard?" The others leaned in close. "I heard the TV station is going to come. They're going to show the Greenfield Four's concert on television."
"Wow!" Benny said.
"That's great," Jessie added. "Thousands of people will see them!"
Violet nodded. "That's right. So they've really got to play their very best."
"Boy, I sure hope so," a voice behind them said. The Aldens turned to see Alan Keller from the Greenfield Four. He had sandy blond hair and a deep, powerful voice.
"Hi, Alan," Violet said. "How does everything look?"
"Perfect," Alan replied, admiring the stage. The sparkle in his eyes told the Aldens he couldn't wait to get up there and play.
"Everything is just perfect. And I want to thank you kids again for all the hard work you're doing."
"It's no problem," Henry said. "We're all having fun." The others nodded.
"Well, I'd better get back to the rehearsal studio," Alan said. "There's not much left for us to do now but practice."
"Good luck," Violet told him.
"Thanks." Alan turned and left.
The children spent the rest of their break finishing their juice and doughnuts and watching everyone work on the stage. One man stopped by and said he wished he had a bottle of cold juice just like Henry did, so Jessie promised to bring him one. Then they watched a woman with a clipboard test the sound system to make sure each speaker worked right. And then there was a tall, thin man who paused to admire Violet's sign. Henry had seen him helping with some of the electrical equipment. He had a beard, glasses, and a black beret.
"Do you like the Greenfield Four, too?" Benny asked him.
"Never heard of them," the man said, though he smiled. The man adjusted his glasses and continued on his way.
Henry checked his watch, then took the last sip of his juice. "Thanks, that was delicious. I have to get back to work now."
"You're welcome," Jessie said. "Come on, Benny, we have to get back, too. Break time's over."
Just as they were about to leave, Alan came around the corner of the stage again. He was closing his cell phone and putting it back into his pocket. He looked pale now, almost sick.
"Are you okay, Alan?" Henry asked.
"I just got a call from Amy," Alan said.
"Is something wrong?" Jessie asked.
Alan looked as though he couldn't believe what he was about to say.
"There sure is—all of our instruments have been stolen!"CHAPTER 2
The children rode their bikes over to the Greenfield four's rehearsal studio. It was a large room with big windows and a high ceiling. The Aldens had been there several times during the past week, listening to the band practice. Everyone had been so excited about the festival.
But the mood was very different now. Alan was standing in one corner, speaking quietly to a Greenfield police officer. Nearby, a young man was sitting behind his drum kit. Dave was the "funny one" in the group, always quick to make a joke or smile—but he wasn't smiling at the moment. Amy Keller was talking with another police officer, who was taking notes.
Karen looked hurt and confused. She stood on the far side of the room, by a row of empty guitar stands. She was young and pretty, with straggly brown hair and lively green eyes. She stared in disbelief at the empty keyboard racks, the drum kit with no cymbals, and the cables thrown aside carelessly.
When she saw the Aldens, she tried to be cheerful.
"Hi, kids," she said, smiling weakly.
"Karen, we're so sorry," Violet said. "What happened?"
"Someone came in during the night and took most of our equipment."
"Have the police found any clues yet?"
"No," Karen said. "Amy is giving them a list of the items that were stolen."
"It looks like a lot," Violet said.
"It is," Karen told her. "Guitars, basses, horns, keyboards ... I don't know how we'll be able to play tomorrow night." As soon as she said this, she looked twice as upset. The concert was supposed to be the band's "big break." Now it looked like it might not happen at all.
"Can't you just borrow some instruments?" Benny asked.
Karen shook her head. "It wouldn't be the same. A lot of our instruments were made just for us."
"You mean they were custom-made?" Jessie asked, remembering what Mr. Lessenger had said before.
"That's right," said Alan. He slumped into a chair next to Karen. "Like my painted guitar. Not only does it look different, it has a special sound, too."
The children had always noticed Alan's guitar at concerts. It was beautiful—the wooden body had been painted with a colorful autumn leaf design.
"We do our best when we play our own instruments." Karen sighed. "And it would take days to program new keyboards." She put her head in her hands. "There's no way we could do that now. We have to get ours back."
"We promise to help," Violet said, trying to make her feel better. "We've solved a few mysteries before."
Karen smiled. "We can use all the help we can get. Time is running out fast."
"Leave it to us!" Benny exclaimed.
After the police were gone, the Aldens went to work. They searched every inch of the big room for clues. Jessie and Benny checked every window, but they were all locked tight. Violet went to each spot where an instrument had been taken, hoping for something like a torn piece of clothing or maybe a footprint on the floor. No such luck. Henry was looking around the door—the only other way into the room aside from the windows—when he noticed a small plastic cover on the wall, next to the light switch.
When he lifted the cover, he found a keypad underneath. The buttons looked like the buttons on a telephone—each one had a number and three tiny letters on it.
"Is this an alarm system?" he asked.
"Yes," Amy replied. She was a tall woman with blond hair. "We had it put in a few years ago."
"It must've been off last night," Henry said. "If it was on and someone broke in, the alarm would've sounded, right?"
The four members of the band looked at each other.
"I figured it had been accidentally left off," Karen said with a shrug.
"Me, too," Dave said. He was twirling a drumstick between two fingers.
"No, I'm sure I turned it on when I left," Alan told them. "That's what I told the police."
Henry looked back at the keypad. "Then how could the thief have broken in without the alarm going off?"
"Good question," Alan replied.
Excerpted from The Rock 'n' Roll Mystery by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Robert Papp. Copyright © 2009 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.