"Bess, wake up! We're here!" George Fayne said, looking out the window as the bus pulled into the dockside parking lot. She shook her sleepy cousin by the shoulder.
"The sea air is famous for putting people to sleep," said Nancy Drew, who was sitting across the aisle. "But George is right -- this is no time to doze. Come on, Bess, wake up!" The three girls had traveled from their home in River Heights, and had finally reached their destination: the small Cape Cod harbor of Woods Hole.
As Bess roused herself, the girls gathered their belongings and emerged into the late-morning bustle of the busy Cape Cod dock. Half a dozen cars were already lined up, waiting to move onto the ferry. Several foot passengers stood on the dock, waiting with their suitcases.
Staggering off the bus, Bess sleepily brushed the blond hair from her eyes and yawned. "Buses always make me sleepy."
George rubbed her hands together briskly. "It's chilly out here. I could really use something hot to drink. Why don't I try to find us some tea?"
"Yes, tea or hot chocolate would be great. Thanks," Nancy said. While George headed for the snack bar beside the ticket office, Nancy and Bess gazed out at the choppy waters of the harbor. A huge ferry was just backing into the dock, several gulls swooping and squawking above. Big doors opened in the ship's hull, and a line of cars began to drive out. Meanwhile, people were walking down from the upper decks on a metal gangway.
Once the ferry was cleared, the boarding quickly began for the forty-five-minute trip back to Martha's Vineyard, a large island south of Cape Cod. "Where on earth is George?" Bess asked worriedly, looking around for her cousin. "If she doesn't hurry, we'll miss the ferry."
"Here I am," said George, appearing at her side. With her was a young man who was carefully holding a cardboard tray with four containers of hot chocolate. He was tall and lanky, with untidy sandy-colored hair and a friendly manner. He smiled a lopsided grin at Nancy and Bess, gesturing for them to help themselves.
"This is Bill Zeldin," George said. "He's going to the Martha's Vineyard Film Festival, just like we are. He knows all about the films, and he works for that film critic -- you know, the famous one -- "
"Slow down, George! Let's get in line first," Nancy interrupted, laughing. As they joined the passenger line, Nancy smiled warmly at Bill. "Hi, I'm Nancy Drew, and this is Bess Marvin."
Bill smiled and shook hands with Nancy and Bess. "Are you in the movie business?" he asked.
Nancy smiled and shook her head. "Not at all," she replied. "My dad got complimentary passes for us. He's a lawyer, and one of his clients owns a chain of movie theaters. We're just ordinary people who like movies."
"How refreshing!" Bill declared. "In my job I meet too many movie people. All their gossip and backbiting gets to me after a while."
After handing their tickets to the ticket collector and tossing away their hot chocolate cups, the girls and Bill climbed the metal ramp onto the ferry. Bess looked around excitedly at their fellow passengers. "I'll bet there are lots of famous people on this boat," she gushed.
Bill craned his long neck to scan the crowd on the passenger deck. "Looks like old Robert Hastings is here," he said. "I would've thought he'd fly to the Vineyard. It's more his style."
"Who's Robert Hastings?" Nancy asked, following Bill's line of vision.
Bill pointed to a heavyset, dark-haired man in a pin-striped suit. "He runs the Ohio Festival of Film in Yellow Springs every summer," he explained. "He's a pain in the neck to deal with. My boss -- I work for the film critic Joan Staunton -- has been battling with him for years. He doesn't like critics; he thinks they have too much power." Bill winced. "And after our last encounter, I'm not so sure he'll be happy to see me."
"Why? What happened?" Nancy asked curiously.
"Well, he had called Joan for some information about a famous director," Bill said. "People are always calling Joan with questions like that -- she's written quite a few film biographies and reference books. She asked me to do the research at the film library we use in New York. It took longer than I'd expected, and when I called Hastings back with the answers, he was furious! He said he'd needed the information immediately to make an important decision. You could say he's difficult."
George looked puzzled. "If he runs his own film festival in Ohio, what's he doing here?"
Bill shrugged. "He probably thinks it's a good idea to check out the competition," he said. "Besides, rumor says he tried to snatch Velma Ford away from the Vineyard Festival, and he lost out."
"Who is she?" George asked. "Never heard of her."
"Yes, you have," Nancy said. "She was a star in those old-time silent movies."
"George, you didn't read the film festival schedule that Nancy's dad gave us," Bess chided her cousin. "Velma Ford starred in several movies by Joseph Block, the director they're honoring this year. She's speaking tonight at the opening of the festival."
"Why don't they get Block himself to speak?" George asked.
"Because he's dead, silly," Bess responded. "Those movies were made ages ago. And apparently, he had a tragic early death." Bess sighed dramatically.
"I happen to know a lot about Block. Joan is writing a biography of him, and I've helped her with the research," Bill put in. "He died in a car crash in 1929. And right after that, Velma Ford retired, even though she was only twenty-three years old. She'd worked with other directors, but Block was the one who'd made her a star. I guess after he died, she lost interest in acting."
Just then Bill's eyes brightened. "Speaking of Velma Ford -- I'll bet that's her!" He pointed across the deck at a fragile-looking elderly woman. She wore an ankle-length velvet coat and a huge black satin hat, with a dark veil hanging over her face.
Bess gasped excitedly and grabbed George's arm. "It's her!" she said in a stage whisper.
"Shhh!" George said, disentangling herself from her cousin's grasp. "She'll hear you!"
The woman slowly but grandly made her way toward one of the deck chairs in the bow of the ferry. A cluster of people trailed behind her. As she lifted her dark veil, the girls glimpsed a white face with large, heavily made-up eyes and scarlet lipstick outlining a bow-shaped mouth.
"She looks incredible, doesn't she?" Bill murmured. "I've only seen rare pictures of her for the past sixty years. She stays inside her New York apartment. She hasn't left it for years.
Bess sighed and said, "It's so romantic. She sounds like Greta Garbo. 'I want to be alone!'" Bess put her hand to her forehead in a melodramatic gesture.
"She just went off to be by herself?" George asked. "She must have been lonely."
Bill nodded. "She probably was, from time to time. But she chose that exile for herself. The Hollywood studios asked her to come back repeatedly, and Broadway producers tried to get her to appear on stage. But she always said no."
"Did she have a companion?" Nancy asked.
"She's had a series of paid companions over the years," Bill answered. "Well-trained, of course -- they don't talk to the press. That young woman in the glasses, walking behind her and carrying a blanket, is probably her current companion."
They watched as the elderly star seated herself on the deck chair. Her young companion settled the actress comfortably and laid a plaid mohair blanket over her legs. A group of people hovered around, one offering coffee, another asking for an autograph. It was like a small court of admirers paying homage to a queen.
As people came and went around her, it was just possible to catch fleeting glimpses of Velma Ford. Nancy thought she had never seen such an odd and magnificent outfit. Beneath the velvet coat was a flowing silk dress, colored with deep blues and purples. Her tiny feet were encased in black satin high-heeled slippers.
"I'll bet everyone on this ferry is going to the festival," Bill spoke up, interrupting Nancy's reverie. "Tourist season on Martha's Vineyard doesn't start until June, and I can understand why. It's freezing out here! Why don't we all sit inside, where it's warmer.
The girls agreed, and they followed him inside through a steel door into the snack bar. They ordered tea and muffins at the counter, then took their food over to a table.
As they sat chatting, the door swung open. Nancy and her friends saw Robert Hastings enter the room, deep in conversation with a woman. Hastings sounded angry.
"If Velma Ford is going to bless this festival with her first appearance in sixty years, she'd better watch her step," Hastings was saying. "I have a feeling things won't turn out the way she thinks. In fact," he added with a nasty grin, "I wouldn't be surprised if the edited Block films aren't at all what she expects."
"What does he mean by that?" Nancy asked after Hastings had moved out of earshot.
"I don't really know," Bill said, looking at the festival director with a thoughtful expression. "I did hear that Robert Hastings was bargaining with Cameo Studios to get first dibs on the Joseph Block films. Maybe he knows something we don't about the way they were finally edited."
"Edited?" George asked. "I thought those movies were made ages ago. Why would the studio edit them now?"
"All old movies have to be restored eventually," Bill explained. "The material that films used to be printed on -- nitrate stock -- falls apart with age. The restorers cut the deteriorated film frame by frame and remount it on modern stock, then rephotograph it. They use a computer to fill in what's missing with computer graphics."
"Wow!" George looked impressed.
Bill nodded. "It's amazing what they can do. There's even a new way to reprocess the film to eliminate the jumpy quality of the old silent movies."
"You're kidding!" Bess said. "You mean, like the way Charlie Chaplin used to walk, all jerky and speeded up? I thought that was because the movie cameras were so primitive."
"No, Charlie Chaplin's walk looked perfectly normal when the movies were first made," Bill said. "So you see, the restorers can really add a lot to an old movie. Unfortunately, while they're working on the movies, they sometimes cut and rearrange scenes, too. Anything's possible."
Just then Bess gasped, almost choking on her blueberry muffin. "Look over there! I'm sure I've seen that guy before. Isn't he a rock singer?"
Bess was staring at a handsome young man who had just walked into the room. His thick brown hair was tied back in a ponytail, and he was dressed all in black.
Bill shook his head. "You're close, but he's not a musician," he said. "He's a producer, and his name is Henry Block. In fact, he's the great-grandson of Joseph Block, the director we were talking about earlier. Maybe he'll speak at the opening event, too." Bill grinned and added, "But I bet he's also here to look for potential investors. Young producers are always hard up for money."
Soon the ferry began to slow down, and Nancy, George, and Bess rose to collect their suitcases. Bill stood up and said, "It's been nice meeting you, girls. Have a great time at the festival."
Nancy said, "Thanks for filling in the background for us. Maybe we'll see you at the opening event this evening." Bill shook their hands and left to pick up the backpack he'd left on the lower level.
The girls came out onto the outer deck. Leaning on the rail, they watched the ferry backing into its slip at the Vineyard Haven dock. Then they headed down the gangway into the town of Vineyard Haven. Edgartown, where the festival was based, was in another corner of the triangle-shaped island.
Shading her eyes, Nancy looked around for the car-rental office where they would pick up their car for the week. She quickly spotted it right across the street, in the middle of a row of shops. Bess and George waited on the dock with their luggage while Nancy trotted over to get the car.
As she swung the red rental car up the street leading to the dock, she saw Bill Zeldin chatting with the cousins again. She pulled up, and Bill leaned down to speak to her. "Do you think I could hitch a ride with you?" he asked. "I'm planning to rent a bike in Edgartown, but I have to get there first." He grinned and readjusted his heavy back pack.
"Sure, no problem," Nancy said. She fumbled for the trunk-release button and popped open the trunk lid. Bill and the girls loaded their bags in the trunk, then they all climbed in and set off.
Nancy drove and George navigated, studying the map in the travel guide she had brought. The road to Edgartown was like a leafy tunnel, with tall oak trees arching overhead.
As they pulled into Edgartown, Bess admired the graceful nineteenth-century houses lining the main street. "I had no idea Edgartown would be so beautiful," she said, pointing at an ornate white building fronted by Grecian columns.
"It's not what I expected," Nancy agreed.
"When I heard the festival was in a seaside resort, I didn't picture anything as New Englandy as this."
"Could you drop me at the corner of South Water Street?" Bill asked. "That's where my hotel is." He scrabbled in his jacket pocket and took out a folded piece of paper. "Here it is: the Harbor House Hotel."
George located South Water Street on the map, and they dropped Bill off at a large, imposing hotel overlooking the harbor. They made plans to meet in the lobby of the theater where the first film was to be shown that evening.
George spotted their hotel, a 150-year-old former whaling captain's house called the Lookout Inn, on Main Street. Early spring flowers brightened the flower beds in front of the white clapboard house. Cheerful flowered curtains hung in the bay windows on either side of the front door. As they entered, Bess cooed over the beautiful antiques in the lobby.
As the girls were about to check in, there was a sudden commotion behind them. "Did you really think you could get away with this, Mr. Forelli?"
Nancy turned to see Velma Ford, her eyes blazing, confronting a short, balding man with a mustache.
Nancy whispered, "That must be the festival director. I wonder what has Ms. Ford so upset?"
Steven Forelli was doing his best to calm down the irate actress. "I assure you, Ms. Ford, we didn't know until the last minute that the studio had sent this re-edited version."
"I demand that you withdraw this film and replace it with another!" Ford declared in a throaty, dramatic voice. "If you don't, I'll make sure that your opening night will be an evening you'll never forget!"
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