Nancy’s old friend—and former paralegal to Carson Drew—Alex Burgess is making a movie…and it’s filming in River Heights! On the first day of shooting, Alex invites Nancy, Bess, and George on set for a behind-the-scenes peek at how a movie is made. George is excited for a closer look at the cameras and special effects, and Bess is mostly around to get a glimpse of the film’s leading man: handsome actor Brian Newsome!
But right before the camera starts rolling there’s an explosion in the catering area. Turns out someone put firecrackers in the coffeemaker. Not too long after that, Brian’s costume is found streaked with blood. And threatening notes show up scrawled on the scripts: SHUT IT DOWN OR YOU’LL BE SORRY.
Can Nancy track down the set saboteur before the film’s dangerous final scene? Or will the entire production go up in flames first?
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A Script for Danger
“I THINK I’M GOING TO faint.”
Bess Marvin, my best friend, lifted up her sunglasses and surveyed the scene in front of us. It was a hot morning in late June and we had just arrived at the River Heights train station, which was filled with giant trucks, trailers, and a few dozen spectators, all waiting as anxiously as we were.
“He’s just a person!” snorted George Fayne, my other best friend and Bess’s cousin. Although she and Bess are related, they are complete opposites. Take their outfits this morning: Bess was dressed in an elegant blue wrap dress with intricate embroidery along the neckline. Her hair curled softly around her face, and she was wearing just the right amount of mascara to make her lashes look “natural but flirty,” according to her. George, on the other hand, was not pleased about getting up so early and could barely be bothered to throw on a pair of cutoff jean shorts and a faded T-shirt that had been through one too many spin cycles.
“Ned texted me to say that he saved us a good spot,” I said, shepherding my friends through the small but eager crowd in the parking lot. Many people were holding signs that read BRIAN, I LOVE YOU! and RIVER HEIGHTS WELCOMES BRIAN NEWSOME!
Although I wasn’t as starstruck as Bess, I certainly felt like this was a special moment—a real film crew was about to start shooting a movie in River Heights. The director, Alex Burgess, had worked in my dad’s law office before pursuing his dream of directing films. Neither my dad nor I were surprised when Alex made the move to Los Angeles. Although he had been a diligent paralegal, he’d always been obsessed with movies.
Alex had struggled at first, working in a diner while writing the screenplay for his film The Hamilton Inn. His sacrifices had paid off, though, and now here he was, ready to bring his story to the silver screen.
But it wasn’t Alex the crowd had come to see; it was the star of his film, Brian Newsome, who played a handsome doctor on the hit television drama Hospital Tales. As my friends and I made our way through the shrieking fans, I noticed that many of the girls in the crowd were dressed as nicely as Bess was.
“Nancy! Over here!”
My boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, stood at the front of the crowd with a camera around his neck; he freelances as a part-time photographer for the River Heights Bugle.
Bess barely said hello to Ned, craning her neck toward the side of the parking lot. “Have you seen him yet?”
Ned smiled. “Brian should be here in about fifteen minutes, Bess.”
I caught George rolling her eyes and grinned. George usually has little patience for Bess’s celebrity crushes.
“Nancy, I cannot believe you know the director of an actual movie! This is so cool!” Bess continued.
I nodded, adding, “It’s really generous of Alex to invite us here to see the set!”
George yawned. “Why is the coffee cart closed?” she grumbled. Besides not being a morning person, she also hated being hungry. The combination of the two had turned her into a full-on grouch.
“Several businesses in and around the train station had to shut down for the day to accommodate the shoot,” I explained, “so Alex wanted to do something special for the business owners and employees to thank them. Especially because he’s from River Heights.”
“So they lose a whole day of business and all they have to show for it is a photograph with some fake doctor?” George snorted.
“Um, Hospital Tales is one of the most watched shows on television,” Bess snapped, “and Brian Newsome happens to be an amazing actor, Georgia.”
Everyone knows that the best way to ruffle George’s feathers is to call her by her real name, but I jumped in before George could unleash a snarky comeback. “The movie is paying all the businesses too,” I said. “And Alex invited a few old River Heights friends to come to today’s photo op, like my father and me. He thinks it will be helpful to have familiar faces here.”
“We’re lucky,” Ned agreed, looking up from his camera. “I’ve heard that most movie sets are closed to the public because of issues with security and sound and—”
“Psycho fans?” George smirked, elbowing Bess, who ignored her.
“They’re going to ask everyone to leave the set before they start shooting,” I announced.
“Leave where?” Bess asked hopefully. “Where does the set end?”
“Technically ‘the set’ refers to the area that will be on camera,” Ned replied, “but I’m guessing they’ll clear out the whole train station and the parking lot, because it’s filled with their trucks and trailers. Sorry, Bess.”
“So, what’s this movie about, anyway?” George asked, yawning again.
“All I know is what I read in the Bugle,” I said. “It’s a mystery about a brother and sister who move back to their hometown to run their family’s old, run-down hotel . . . which might be haunted.”
Bess added, “Brian Newsome will be playing Dylan Hamilton, and Zoë French is going to be playing his sister, Malika. Zoë’s done some television as well as theater and commercials, but the Hollywood Times thinks that The Hamilton Inn could be her big break.”
“I guess those are for the actors, then.” I pointed toward the parking lot entrance, where three long white trailers were lined up. One of the trailers had two doors labeled DYLAN and MALIKA. The door to an especially tall trailer was cracked open slightly, and I could see racks of clothes lining the walls. I figured that was the costume trailer.
It was impressive, really: the vehicles, the bright lights, the crew members wheeling crates and trunks of equipment around, the tangle of wires running all over the ground.
“Wow,” I said. “Making a movie is a lot more complicated than pointing a camera and yelling, ‘Action!’”
“No kidding,” George muttered. “I just wonder how they feed all the actors.”
Ned grinned. “There are pots of coffee and pastries, George.” He pointed to a table covered in breakfast goodies that was set up near the entrance to the train station.
“For us?” George’s eyes widened with joy.
“That’s what I heard!” Ned laughed. “Plus, isn’t that Mayor Scarlett chowing down on a bagel over there? She isn’t part of the crew.”
“If you say so, Ned!” George trotted off happily.
I smiled at Bess. We both knew that the best way to improve George’s mood was by promising free food.
As George waited in line for breakfast, I noticed a fortysomething woman in a wide-brimmed straw hat and brightly colored floral pants speaking angrily to Mayor Scarlett. I was toying with the idea of trying to get closer to hear what she was saying when something bumped softly into the side of my head.
“Oops, sorry,” a voice apologized.
I turned to see a pale girl in her early twenties holding a metal pole with a professional-looking video camera attached to the top of it. I could barely see her features underneath her heavy, dark-rimmed glasses. A lone wisp of her chestnut-brown hair was visible from underneath a white baseball cap.
I suddenly recognized the girl’s face. “Cora? Cora Burgess? Is that you?” I asked.
She nodded, eyeing me suspiciously.
“I’m Nancy Drew, Carson Drew’s daughter. Alex used to work for my dad.” I stuck out my hand.
She raised her eyebrows in recognition. “Oh, right. Hi, Nancy.” After a few seconds of awkward silence, she took my hand in a feeble shake. Cora was Alex’s younger sister, and I’d met her a few times when she visited her brother in my dad’s office. As I remembered, she hadn’t been terribly friendly back then, either.
Just then George returned with a cinnamon roll in one hand and a croissant in the other. “You guys should get over there if you want some. All the good stuff is going fast,” she announced.
“No thanks,” Cora replied, looking disgusted. “That food has been sitting out since, like, six a.m.”
“Hey, as I remember, it was your dream to go to film school, Cora,” I said, changing the subject.
Cora nodded slowly. “Yeah, I’m in my second year. I’m doing a behind-the-scenes documentary about Alex’s movie this summer.”
“Wow, that’s amazing!” Bess exclaimed, clearly impressed. Before I could introduce my friends, Cora said, “Excuse me, I have to get back to it. Nice to see you, Nancy.” She disappeared into the crowd.
“You’d think she’d be more excited about being behind the scenes on a real film set,” George remarked. Flaky bits of croissant fell onto her shirt, and she brushed them off.
“Well, it was her dream to be a filmmaker.” I shrugged. “Maybe she’s jealous that her brother just changed careers”—I snapped my fingers—“and is already directing a movie of his own.”
Ned smiled and patted my shoulder affectionately. “That’s our Nancy,” he chuckled. “Always looking for motives, even when there’s no mystery.”
Bess and George smirked. It’s true that I have a knack for sleuthing. My friends like to tease me about it sometimes, but when I’m working on a case, they’re always right by my side. Together we’ve solved more than a few big mysteries.
“Oh! There he is!” Bess’s excited shriek was nearly drowned out by a chorus of others. A black town car pulled up next to one of the trailers, and Brian Newsome stepped out. I could see why he was so popular. His dark-brown hair waved perfectly over his strong, square forehead. His sharp blue eyes had a friendly glint as he smiled, revealing a row of gleaming white teeth. Ned ducked in front of the crowd to get photographs.
Bess jumped up and down, practically hyperventilating. “I can’t believe Brian Newsome is in River Heights right now!” she squealed. “I have to get his autograph and a picture of him and a handshake!” She hurried off behind Ned.
“We might need a medic for that one,” I joked to George, who shook her head.
“He’s just a person,” she repeated, “although, I guess he is cute in a famous-movie-star-kind of way.”
Moments later a blue sedan pulled into the parking lot and Alex, the director, got out of the passenger seat. He looked exactly as I remembered him: tall and skinny, with hazel eyes and stick-straight brown hair that seemed to be growing in every which way. He was wearing a plaid shirt, dark jeans, and tennis shoes. The driver of the car, a caramel-haired, big-eyed woman in her thirties, walked beside Alex. She was wearing black jeans, a black T-shirt, and black sneakers, and she had a serious expression on her face. Finally a tiny, stunning young woman emerged from the backseat. She had the longest, curliest dark hair I’d ever seen, with olive skin and deep dimples in her cheeks. She was dressed in a ruffled blouse with jeans, accessorized with worn cowboy boots and a tangle of silver necklaces. Nobody paid much attention to this trio, however. All eyes were on Brian as he happily posed for photos with excited fans.
Even Mayor Scarlett was among the people who had collected around the television star. “It is such an honor to have an actor of your caliber in our small town,” she gushed.
Brian looked at her like it was the nicest thing anyone had ever said to him.
“It’s an honor to be here, Mayor Scarlett. When I read Alex’s script, I knew I had to be a part of it. I even turned down the lead role in the Blue Ranger film because their shooting schedules overlapped.”
I raised my eyebrows at George, who, as usual, was glued to her smartphone. “What Blue Ranger film?” I whispered. She frantically typed on her touchscreen.
“A huge superhero movie that’s going to start filming in a month,” she replied after a few seconds. “It’s based on a comic book, and apparently the budget is”—George almost choked on the words—“two hundred million!”
Brian stood before his adoring crowd and announced, “Thank you all so much for coming. I have to step into my trailer for a moment, but I hope to have the chance to meet each of you in the coming days.” He walked toward the trailer labeled DYLAN before anyone, including Bess, could get an autograph. She came back to stand with us, dejected.
“I was so close!” she cried.
“Don’t worry,” I comforted her. “I’m sure Alex can make it happen.”
Right at that moment, Alex noticed us and started waving. “Nancy! Hey, thanks for coming.” He ran over and grabbed my hand excitedly.
“Hi, Alex,” I replied, shaking firmly. “These are my friends Bess and George, and my boyfriend, Ned, is over there taking photos. My dad really wanted to be here, but he got stuck in a deposition this morning.”
“Oh, that’s fine. I know how it gets with Carson.” Alex winked. “Anyway, stick around and I’ll introduce you to Brian later; he’s really nice.”
The woman in black pulled him away toward a podium. I caught Bess’s eye, which looked like it was about to pop out of its socket at the mention of having an actual conversation with Brian.
Meanwhile, Cora had repositioned herself and was standing next to me again, fiddling with her camera.
“Who’s that?” I asked, gesturing toward the woman in black. Cora glanced up. “Oh, that’s Lali. She’s the producer.”
George’s ears perked up. “I’ve always wondered what a movie producer actually does.”
“Lali does everything,” Cora replied. “She gave Alex notes on his script, made the budget, found the investors, and negotiated all the contracts. It’s her job to make the director’s vision a reality from beginning to end.”
George digested this information and asked, “So Alex decides how he wants the movie to look and feel and Lali makes it happen?”
Cora nodded. “Within reason, of course. But Lali’s been doing this for years. Alex is lucky to have someone like her on his first film. You know, because he’s still so green.” She made a face and ambled away.
After she had gone, George said, “The only person who seems green to me is Cora. Green with envy.”
Bess nodded. “You might be right about her, Nancy.”
A loud whistle silenced everyone, and a high-pitched female voice rose from the front of the crowd. “Hi, everybody!” An Indian girl in skinny jeans with her dark hair piled on top of her head stood on a black wooden box, brandishing a bullhorn. She was wearing a plain T-shirt and cargo pants, with a headset strapped on her head.
“I’m Nysa, the first assistant director for The Hamilton Inn,” she boomed. “We’re going to arrange a formal photo for the Bugle, so everyone please move to one side, okay?”
Nysa walked over to the food table, where a grizzly-looking man in his sixties was refilling the coffee machine, replenishing the pastries, and laying out an assortment of other snacks. He was dressed in a khaki vest and sun hat that made him look like he was about to go fishing.
“Sal, I’m going to need you to move craft services over to the other side of the lot,” Nysa instructed.
“Are you kidding me, Nysa? This is where you told me to put it. You want it moved, you move it!” Sal’s loud voice and harsh tone caught the attention of several bystanders.
“Why does it always have to be like this with you, Sal?” Nysa sighed, and a young man in his twenties came to help her move the table. I noticed that the man—probably an assistant—was formally dressed in a pressed white shirt and khakis, which made him stand out from the T-shirt-and-jeans-clad members of the crew.
“Be careful!” Sal groaned. “You better not break anything!”
“Wow. Someone sure woke up on the wrong side of the bed,” Bess observed as Sal threw up his hands and marched away angrily, disappearing somewhere behind the trailers.
Alex stood in front of the crowd and spoke into a microphone. “Our producer, Lali, and I would like to thank the citizens of River Heights who have been so supportive of The Hamilton Inn. We’re pretty stoked to be working in my hometown.”
Everyone cheered. Lali took the microphone from him to say, “I’d especially like to thank Mayor Scarlett for allowing us to film here.” The mayor beamed as she stepped forward and stood next to Alex.
I suddenly heard sharp tones and a scuffle behind where we were standing, right in front of the trailer housing the bathrooms.
“I don’t have time for that right now!” I turned around to see Brian speaking sharply to the well-dressed man who’d helped move Sal’s table. George noticed too and threw me a quizzical look. Brian had lowered his voice to an angry grumble, so it was impossible to hear what he was saying, but his body language indicated that they were still arguing.
Meanwhile, Alex invited the curly-haired actress to stand next to him. “This is Zoë French, the costar of The Hamilton Inn,” he said proudly. “She’s going to be a big deal one day, so get a picture now before she’s on every magazine cover!”
Zoë stood with poise. “Thanks, Alex,” she said. “I’m really proud to be a part of this.”
Alex continued, “And finally, the star of our film. You all know him from Hospital Tales . . . Brian Newsome! Where are you, Brian?” Alex searched for his lead actor, who finally emerged from the back of the crowd, beaming. Brian joined the rest of the crew and Mayor Scarlett as they posed for the cameras.
Just as the camera flashes started to go off, a hissing noise echoed throughout the parking lot. It seemed to be coming from behind a truck that was parked right next to Alex, the mayor, and the actors.
Before anyone could react, a deafening explosion ripped through the air.