Read an Excerpt
The Radio Mystery
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Hodges Soileau
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 2003 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
Rain hammered the roof of the boxcar. Six-year-old Benny Alden looked out the window.
"It's been raining forever," he said with a sigh. Usually he liked playing in the boxcar with his brother and sisters. The four of them had found the boxcar in the woods and lived there for a while, after their parents died. Then their grandfather, James Alden, found them and brought them to live with him in his big white house in Greenfield. Grandfather had the boxcar towed to his backyard as a special surprise for his grandchildren. When they weren't traveling and having adventures, the Alden children used the boxcar as a playhouse.
"It's only been raining for two days—it just seems like forever," twelve-year-old Jessie said, smiling at her younger brother. "Why don't you work on this puzzle with Henry and me?"
"Or paint with me?" ten-year-old Violet offered. "It's a perfect day for using watercolors."
Henry Alden stood up and looked out the window. At fourteen, he was the oldest of the four Alden children. "Here comes Grandfather. He looks like he has news."
Grandfather came into the boxcar shaking his dripping umbrella. "This weather is only good for ducks," he remarked. "But it's nice and dry in here.
"How would you like to go to Pennsylvania for a few days?" Grandfather asked the children.
"Is it about a new mystery?" asked Violet. The Alden children loved solving mysteries.
"How did you guess?" Grandfather replied.
Benny didn't need to hear any more. "Let's go!"
Jessie laughed. "Benny's always in a hurry to go solve a new mystery."
"What's the mystery about?" Henry asked.
"I'll tell you everything once we're on the road," said Grandfather. "I'd like to be in Pennsylvania before dinner."
An hour later, the Aldens left Connecticut behind and were on their way to Deer Crossing, Pennsylvania.
"So why are we going to Deer Crossing?" Henry asked.
Grandfather changed lanes, then replied, "This morning I got a call from my friend Jocelyn Hawley. She lives in Deer Crossing and runs a local radio station. Jocelyn didn't want to go into detail over the phone, but apparently the station is in some kind of trouble. I've told her before what great detectives my grandchildren are, and she asked if you would come and help."
"Wow!" said Benny. "Do you think we'll get to see inside the station?"
"I'm sure of it," Grandfather said.
As they crossed the Pennsylvania border, the rain cleared and the sun broke through the clouds. After a while, Grandfather turned off the interstate and onto a road along Deer River. A tall metal tower with a blinking red light and the letters WCXZ loomed over the village of Deer Crossing.
"That tower must be part of the radio station," said Henry. He checked the directions Grandfather had given him. "Jocelyn Hawley's house should be at the end of this street."
"It's been a while since I was last here," Grandfather said.
A large redbrick house with a wide, welcoming front porch stood on a hill before them. As the Aldens' minivan climbed the gravel driveway, two figures came out of the house.
A woman about Grandfather's age smiled warmly and waved as they stepped out of the car. "I'm so glad you came," said Jocelyn Hawley. She wore slacks and a blue sweater that brought out the blue in her eyes. Dangly silver earrings set off her short gray hair.
"I'm overdue for a visit," Grandfather said. "Let me introduce my grandchildren, Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny. Children, meet Jocelyn Hawley."
"You guys are the detectives?" said the girl standing beside Jocelyn. She was about Henry's age, tall and slim, with long red hair.
"And very good ones, from what I hear," Jocelyn said. "This is my granddaughter, Gwen."
"Hi," Gwen said. She smiled, but not as warmly as Jocelyn.
Jocelyn moved toward the front door. "Let's go inside so you can get settled. Dinner is nearly ready. We can talk while we eat."
The Aldens were given the top floor of the Hawley house. When they had unpacked, the children and Grandfather trooped downstairs to the large family room, where snacks had been set out in front of a low, snapping fire.
"Help yourself," Gwen said, pointing to glasses and a pitcher of cranberry juice on the coffee table. After they had finished their snacks, the Aldens helped Gwen carry everything back to the kitchen. Then Jocelyn called them to supper.
When everyone's plate was loaded with spaghetti, green salad, and warm bread, Jocelyn began her story.
"My husband, Luther, bought the radio station many years ago, just after we were married," she told the Aldens. "It was a lovely station with programs like a household hints show, a breakfast show, easy-listening music, and live dramas,"
"I've always tuned into the station on business trips," said Grandfather. "Luther was a great DJ."
"Luther called the station the heartbeat of Deer Crossing," said Jocelyn. "He never made much money because he did things the old-fashioned way. But he loved that station."
The Aldens smiled and Jocelyn went on. "Once a man from a big corporation offered Luther a lot of money to sell the station. The man wanted to cancel Luther's old-fashioned radio shows and play 'all hits, all the time.'"
"What happened?" asked Henry.
Gwen passed the breadbasket. "Gramp refused," she said proudly. "He said no amount of money would make him give up his old programs."
"The man left," Jocelyn added. "He knew Luther would never change his mind."
Grandfather smiled. "Luther always knew exactly what he wanted."
Jocelyn smiled back. "After Luther died, people asked me if I'd change the format to something more modern."
"Like 'all hits, all the time?'" Violet guessed.
Jocelyn nodded. "But I didn't. The radio station really is the heartbeat of Deer Crossing. And I love the old-fashioned programs just as much as Luther did. I'm proud of the station and of the programs we play."
"I like it, too," Gwen put in. "Gran's station is really fun to listen to. It's the kind of radio people had back in the old days, before everyone had a television. We even put on a live mystery show. I'm the sound engineer," she added proudly.
"A live mystery show!" Benny repeated. "That sounds great!"
"The episodes are twenty minutes a day, five days a week," Jocelyn told them. "Each week we do a new play. A local woman writes the scripts and waiters and waitresses from the Route 11 Diner act for free. And Gwen does the sound effects. She's very good."
"Sounds like fun," Henry said.
"It was fun," Jocelyn said sadly. "Until these things started happening."
"What kinds of things?" Jessie wanted to know.
"Lights going out, blood-curdling screams," Gwen replied with a shiver. "People think it's a ghost."
"That's just a story," Jocelyn said.
Benny's eyes grew big. "Why would a ghost haunt a radio station?"
"Not just any ghost," said Gwen mysteriously. "We have our very own special ghost at station WCXZ."CHAPTER 2
The Ghost of Station WCXZ
"A special ghost!" Benny breathed, awestruck. "Tell us about it!"
"Let's have dessert first," Jocelyn said.
Everyone helped clear the table while Gwen brought in dishes of chocolate pudding with whipped cream.
"Years ago," Jocelyn said, "radio stations put on plays. Writers wrote the plays, and actors read the parts on the air. The radio plays were very popular. The actors whose shows were on the air in big cities were sometimes very famous."
"Like people on TV these days," Jessie said.
Jocelyn nodded. "Many, many years ago, there was a young woman in Deer Crossing who wanted to be a radio star. Her name was Daphne Owens. She played in nearly every radio show on WCXZ. Those shows could only be heard in Deer Crossing, but Daphne was sure her big break was just around the corner."
"Big break?" Violet asked.
"Onto a show at a bigger radio station," Gwen explained. "If she got on one of the city stations, millions of people would hear her."
Jocelyn went on. "One day, Daphne heard about a talent scout from the city, who was visiting small stations, looking for good actors to hire. Daphne bragged to everyone in town that when the talent scout heard her, he would hire her on the spot. Soon she'd be famous."
"What happened?" Benny asked.
"The day the talent scout came to WCXZ, a huge thunderstorm disrupted the broadcast," Jocelyn said. "The lights went out and the equipment went haywire. The talent scout didn't have time to wait. He went on to the next station."
"What did Daphne do?" Henry asked.
"Daphne lost her big chance," said Jocelyn. "She didn't show up for work the next day. Or the next."
"She was never seen in town again," Gwen said dramatically.
"People guessed Daphne was so upset, she just picked up and moved," Jocelyn said. "But nobody knew for sure."
"She never called or wrote to anyone in Deer Crossing?" Jessie asked.
Jocelyn shook her head. "Not a word. It was very strange. After a while, people quit worrying about her."
"At the station, they joke that Daphne Owens is 'haunting' the place whenever anything goes wrong," Gwen said.
"It's no joke now," Jocelyn said seriously. "The last few times the lights have gone out, objects have mysteriously disappeared. So far, the station has lost a headset and a set of rare records. These 'hauntings' are costing the station a lot of money."
"People blame the ghost for the stolen things?" Violet wanted to know.
"Not me," Jocelyn said. "I don't believe in ghosts."
"The strange things always seem to happen while we're broadcasting the daily mystery show," Gwen said. "Some of the cast members are threatening to quit. They're scared."
"Can you hire new actors?" Henry wanted to know.
Jocelyn sighed. "That's another problem. The cast works for free. If they quit, I don't know how I'll find anyone else willing to work for nothing. I can't afford to pay them. And I'm worried that if things keep going wrong during the live mystery show, people will stop listening."
Gwen shook her head sadly. "That would be awful."
"That's why I called you," Jocelyn concluded. "I'm hoping you'll be able to help us find the ghost."
"We'd be happy to help," Henry said, speaking for them all.
"That's great," Jocelyn said, relieved. "Gwen will take you to the station tomorrow morning. You can watch the live mystery broadcast and look for clues."
As the Aldens headed upstairs to their rooms, Gwen stopped them.
"My grandmother really loves that station," she said. "I hope you know what you're doing."
Jessie looked at her, surprised. "We'll do our best."
"Your best had better be good enough!" Gwen spun on one heel and left, her long red hair swinging behind her.
"I don't think Gwen likes us," Violet said.
"She's probably just upset about the trouble at the station," Henry said. "We've got a 'ghost' to catch tomorrow. We'd better get to bed."
The next morning, Gwen greeted the Alden children with glasses of fresh orange juice. "Good morning," she said, with no trace of the night before's unpleasantness.
Grandfather was finishing his breakfast. "If I eat another waffle, I won't be able to move!"
"Great," said Benny. "That leaves more for me."
When they had eaten, the four Aldens and Gwen stacked their dishes in the sink. "The station is right in town," Gwen told them. "It's a short walk."
She led the way down Main Street. They passed the Route 11 Diner, which was across from a small park with a fountain and jogging paths. Next was Earl's Auto Sales, then a small one-story building with WCXZ on the front door.
The kids walked into a tiny lobby facing a glass-walled room. A slender, blond man wearing headphones waved at them. Then he punched some buttons, took off his headphones, and came out, smiling. Music played from speakers mounted near the lobby ceiling.
"You must be the Alden kids," he said. "Jocelyn told me you were coming. I'm Avery Drake."
"Avery is the DJ and engineer," Gwen added.
"Ever been in a radio control booth before?" Avery asked. "Come on in."
The Aldens eagerly followed him inside.
"What's that?" Benny asked, pointing to rows of buttons and dials built into a desk. A box of doughnuts sat on top, next to a green plastic sports water bottle.
"That's called a console," Avery said. "These buttons and switches control the sound, music selections, and commercials that you hear on the radio."
"Nice turntable," Henry commented. "Our grandfather has a record player at home."
"We still play records." Avery held up a large plastic disk. "Before cassettes and CDs, people played records on record players. We have a CD changer, too, but Luther kept his turntables. Some of his records are valuable."
"We heard a set of records was stolen," Jessie said.
Avery's face darkened. "I hope you kids can get to the bottom of this ghost business. Jocelyn Hawley has had a hard time since Luther died."
"Have you ever seen the ghost?" Benny asked.
"I'm not sure," Avery replied, frowning. "The day the records were stolen, I thought I saw someone—or something—slip out the side door. But when I looked outside, no one was there."
"Who could it have been?" Henry asked.
Avery shook his head. "I have no idea. I only caught a glimpse. The culprit hasn't been leaving any clues behind. I'm almost starting to believe that it really could be a ghost."
"Are you the only DJ?" Violet asked.
Avery nodded. "The station airs from nine in the morning until eight at night. It's off the air overnight. If I need a break, like now, I put on a long record. I play preprogrammed shows from six to eight in the evening, so I can go to dinner. I usually go running then, too."
Jessie noticed a blue duffel bag in the corner. A cubby with a curtain drawn halfway revealed hangers and a mirror.
"May I talk into your microphone?" Benny asked.
"Benny!" said Violet.
Avery laughed. "Not this time, Benny. But you can listen on the headset while I cue up a commercial." He slipped the earphones on Benny's head and punched a few buttons on the console. Benny heard the song end and a jingle for Earl's Auto Sales warbled through the headphones.
"It's almost time for the live mystery show," Gwen said, glancing at the clock. "I need to check my tapes and props. Why don't you look around the rest of the station yourselves and meet me in the soundstage in a few minutes?"
The soundstage was another glass-walled room that faced one side of Avery's booth.
Two women and a young man were standing in the center of the soundstage, reading aloud from yellow-covered notebooks. A third woman, with spiky black hair, arranged standing microphones in front of the three readers.
Before Gwen went into the soundstage, she said, "That's DeeDee, Gayle, and Sean. They are our actors this week. Workers at the diner take turns being on the show."
"Let's go down here," Jessie suggested, motioning toward a narrow hallway. The hallway divided the soundstage and control booth. At one end was a door marked EXIT.
"This must be the side door that Avery saw the ghost slip out of," Violet said. "I guess it leads outside."
Benny was examining a gray metal box built into the wall next to the door. "What is this?" asked Benny, pointing to the box.
"It's probably a fuse box," Jessie replied. "We have one that looks like that in our basement. It controls the electric lights and the power."
Off the hall, the Aldens found a small room. Plastic chairs were pulled up around a scarred table in the center of the room. A soda machine stood next to a counter that held a tiny microwave.
"This must be the room where people take breaks," Henry guessed.
Jessie peered into a display cabinet opposite the soda machine. "Look at all the trophies and plaques the station got for being a local sports sponsor."
Violet noticed a framed black-and-white picture showing two football players and a cheerleader in old-fashioned uniforms. Other photos showed groups of people talking into microphones. A pretty girl with a ponytail was in nearly every picture.
"I wonder if these are people who used to work at the radio station," she said.
Gwen stuck her head in the room. "We just finished the run-through," she said.
"What's that?" asked Violet.
"It's when we read through the script with the sound effects and everything," Gwen answered. "A rehearsal. We're about to broadcast the show. You'd better come watch, since you're supposed to be detectives. Be ready for anything," she added.
"Gwen acts like we're the enemy," Jessie whispered to Henry as they left the break-room. "I'd like to know why."
The spiky-haired woman who had been setting up microphones frowned when the Aldens came through the soundstage door with Gwen.
"I'm not crazy about extra kids on the set," she said.
Gwen ignored her. "These are the Aldens," she announced to everyone in the room. "They're visiting."
The actors smiled in the Aldens' direction. The spiky-haired woman kept frowning.
"This is Frances St. Clair," said Gwen, introducing the woman. "She writes the mystery show script and the commercials."
"But I don't plan to stick around Deer Crossing forever writing jingles," Frances said.
"Where are you going?" Benny asked.
"Hollywood," she said. "Just as soon as I finish my movie script. It'll be made into a big movie, and I'll be rich and famous."
Excerpted from The Radio Mystery by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Hodges Soileau. Copyright © 2003 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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