Stage fright takes on a whole new meaning when the Hardys go behind the scenes.
While on a student exchange program in England, Frank and Joe help out with the dress rehearsal for a new murder-mystery play. But suddenly Joe is nearly cooked by exploding stage lights! An accident? Maybe. But when “accidents” start happening all over the production, a real mystery is in the air.
Rumors are flying about the spirit of an actress who died in the theater one hundred years ago. Could the culprit be a vengeful ghost? Or is this the work of something—or someone—a little too close to this world for comfort?
Chapter 1: A Trial in London "Cold-blooded murder, m'lord?" the tall woman in the tweed suit asked. Frank Hardy watched from the balcony as the woman approached the judge's bench. "Look at that boy." The woman pointed to Chris Paul, who was Frank and his brother Joe's English host for their two-week student exchange visit in London. Frank's brown eyes narrowed as he watched his thin, pale-skinned young friend shift nervously in his seat. "He is only seventeen," the woman continued. "Just like you," Frank whispered to his blond, blue-eyed brother sitting next to him. But Joe Hardy's nose was buried in a history textbook, and he wasn't paying attention. "No matter how much he hated Professor Wick," the woman went on, "he could not have bludgeoned him to death in the gymnasium." A man suddenly strode toward the woman in the tweed suit. Grabbing her by the shoulders, he moved her two feet to the right. "I've told you ten times, Emily. You're blocking the audience's view of some of the business if you play the scene from there," Frank heard the man say to Emily Anderson, the actress playing the defense lawyer. "Yes," Emily replied with her clipped, British accent, "but they get a farbetter view of me." The other cast members onstage chuckled, and Frank realized Emily was joking. "Heads!" yelled a stagehand, and the seven actors in the cast immediately looked up and moved out of the way as a heavy piece of scenery was lowered by the cables of the fly system onto the stage. "Sorry for the interruption," the stagehand said. "I'm sorry, Dennis," Emily went on with her conversation. "It feels terribly odd for me to be standing so far away from the judge at that point." "Trust me, Emily, I'm the director," Dennis Paul replied. Frank watched the director, who had the same pale skin and red hair as his son, Chris. Mr. Paul strode back to the edge of the stage, down the steps, and into his seat in the third row. "Chris's dad sure is a perfectionist in rehearsals," Frank whispered to Joe. "I guess he must be under tremendous pressure, being the director and the playwright. I don't know how he teaches full-time, too." "Mmm," Joe replied, not looking up from his book. "Earth to Joe," Frank said, tapping lightly on the side of Joe's head. Joe finally looked over. "Sorry, Frank, I'm cramming for a history quiztomorrow. Chris has been ribbing me that English schools are better than American schools ever since he came to stay with us in Bayport last year," Joe explained. "I'm going to prove him wrong." "What does the quiz cover?" Frank asked. "The Colonial Rebellion," Joe replied. Frank furrowed his brow, puzzled for a moment. "That's what Chris kiddingly calls the American Revolution," Joe explained. "It's strange, learning world history from another country's point of view." Frank nodded, agreeing. He looked up at the ornate decorations on the ceiling and noticed the paint and the gold leaf flaking off from age and neglect. "This theater must have been incredible when it was built." "You'd think in two hundred years, they might have gotten around to repainting it," Joe joked. "Mr. Paul said this used to be a very fancy part of London," Frank explained, "but the whole area looks run-down now." The Hardys' returned their attention to the stage. "Most every student feared Professor Wick," Chris Paul said, now in the witness stand onstage. "He was cruel and unfair if he didn't like you, and he didn't like me." As Frank watched Chris Paul working onstage with a cast of professional actors, he felt proud, but envious of his young host. "Think of it, Joe," Frank said quietly. "A week from now, this theater will be filled with an opening night audience and the London press. Chris is a year younger than I am, and as one of the stars of the show, he's going to be the center of attention." "He's welcome to it," Joe said. "If I was on that stage in front of all those people, my stomach would be doing back flips. I'd be sweating bullets!" Frank smiled, then added, "It must be exciting for Mr. Paul, watching his son make his theater debut." "Probably the same way Dad felt when we solved our first mystery," Joe replied. Frank nodded. As amateur sleuths, he and his brother were also following in their father's footsteps. Fenton Hardy had once been a police officer and detective and was now a private investigator back in the United States. Joe heard a sound behind him. Turning around, he saw Jennifer Mulhall, the young technical director, popping out of the lighting booth at the top of the balcony and trotting down the steps of the aisle to the front row of the balcony. Jennifer had short brunette hair and dark eyes. Although she was only about five foot two, Joe thought she radiated confidence and commanded respect from everyone on the technical crew. Noticing Joe watching her, she motioned him over. Joe shimmied sideways down the row and followed Jennifer to the wall of the balcony. "Spot me, will you?" Jennifer asked. "Spot you?" Joe asked. Grabbing on to an iron ladder fastened to the wall, she climbed up and motioned for Joe to follow. They went up twenty feet, then Jennifer hopped off onto a catwalk. The narrow metal platform ran across the width of the theater behind a grid suspended from the ceiling. From the grid hung dozens of lights of various shapes and sizes. Joe looked down to the floor of the Quill Garden Theatre more than fifty feet below him. "Don't worry, Joe, if you fall at least you'll end up with a good seat in the stalls," Jennifer assured him with a smile. "The stalls?" Joe asked, not understanding. "The orchestra section," Jennifer replied. "That's what you Yanks call it. Come on then." Jennifer offered Joe a hand, and he carefully stepped onto the catwalk. "I guess you can't be afraid of heights if you're a technical director." "You can't be afraid of anything," Jennifer replied, leaning far over the railing of the catwalk. "I need to adjust the focus on this Fresnel." "What?" Joe asked, unfamiliar with the word. "I'll show you," Jennifer replied. "Just be sure I don't topple over." Leaning farther over the rail, she tapped the side of the powerful light with her gloved hand until the light moved an inch or two to the left. Joe watched the stage. Chris Paul, whose face had been partly in shadow, was now clearly illuminated. "I see now," Joe said. "You hadn't aimed the light at the right spot." "It was aimed right yesterday," Jennifer told him. "So either I didn't tighten the bolt well enough or the ghost has been at work." "The ghost?" Joe wondered. "The Ghost of Quill Garden," Jennifer replied. "She's been mucking about in this theater for more than a hundred years." "A real ghost?" Joe asked, with a doubting smile. "I don't believe in ghosts, either," Jennifer replied. "But I believe in her because I've seen her. I did a revival of Pygmalion two years ago. Late one night when I was working alone onstage, hanging lights on a truss I had lowered from the fly space above the stage, I saw this white figure floating across the catwalk above me." "That's a long way up from the stage. From that distance, it would be hard to see," Joe pointed out. Jennifer ignored him. "She didn't hurt me. She was just out and about for a stroll. I shut my eyes, and when I opened them she was gone." "You'd been working with bright lights. Maybe when you first looked, your eyes were adjusting to the darkness," Joe offered. "I told you what I saw," Jennifer said, shrugging. "The rest is up to you." Joe and Jennifer watched rehearsal from the catwalk for a few moments. "I can't believe I'm here," Joe said quietly to Jennifer. "Yesterday, Frank and I were sitting in a classroom in Bayport. We flew out of New York City last night, and this morning we arrived at Heathrow Airport and took a train to Victoria Station. A double-decker bus took us to Islington, where we attended classes at a British school, and tonight we're at a rehearsal for the world premiere of a play written by, directed by, and starring our host family!" "I tried to convince Dennis to give your visit a miss," Jennifer told Joe. "With the show opening so soon, I figured the last thing he needed was a couple of American teenagers knocking about his house. But he said you came highly recommended by your headmaster." "Headmaster? Oh, you mean our principal," Joe translated. "Right. He said you were good boys who never caused trouble," Jennifer recalled. "Well, we are good," Joe agreed, smiling. "And I guess we don't cause trouble, but we sure have a knack for finding it." "Something's not right," Jennifer said suddenly. "She's in shadow." Joe peered down and realized what Jennifer meant. Emily Anderson had crossed to the edge of the stage and was no longer in the light. Jennifer moved down the catwalk, then lay down on her stomach. "Joe, I need you to hold my legs. Would you mind?" Joe nodded, stepped down the catwalk, and kneeled, holding Jennifer's legs while she stretched out under the railing of the catwalk to adjust a light that hung lower than the others.
Frank watched how gracefully Emily Anderson glided across the stage toward Chris. "I tell you that my client is an innocent victim," she stated firmly, placing a hand on Chris's shoulder. Frank looked up from the action onstage to the lighting grid, shaking his head at Jennifer's daring.