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  • Writer's pictureBrittany Brinegar

Castle Island Murder - Sneak Peek



Chapter 1 – Golden Ticket



A chandelier swayed on the ceiling and the crystal beads clanked together in rhythm with the bouncing light. The heels of my stylish pink pumps clipped as I raced across the foyer, a woman on a mission. Thunder cracked, extinguishing the dimly lit grand hall.


“Can’t this search wait ‘til morning?” my best friend asked.


“No. People don’t simply vanish into thin air.”


“They do in a creepy castle.”


“We can’t leave until we find him.” I grabbed a penlight from my pocket and pointed the beam at a solid stone wall. “He stood right here just before he disappeared.”


“This is getting way too spooky. Can we please get out of here?”


“You can if you want but I’m staying.” I rubbed my hands along the cold stones and tugged on the sconce. With a gust of wind, the secret passageway opened. But it wasn’t treasure hidden inside the vault. A suit of armor crashed to the ground with a ringing thud.


My friend released an eardrum-shattering scream. “H…him!”


I flipped the helmet visor and stared straight into the cold dead eyes of my boss. “I guess Mr. Covington isn’t missing anymore.”


“Pssst.”


I blinked and tore my gaze away from the script. I became so engrossed by the opening scene of the murder mystery I lost track of the world around me. It didn’t help matters that I put myself in the high-heeled shoes of the lead character instead of her bumbling, screaming BFF, the role for which I was actually cast.


A wad of paper smacked me upside the head, courtesy of my annoying coworker. “Pssst.”


“What do you want, Deborah?”


“Can I borrow a pen?”


I rubbed my temple. “What for?”


“I’m making corrections.”


“To the script? I think the writers frown on actors changing their lines.”


“Oh, but I must. This is all wrong for my character. She doesn’t sound British.”


“Because she isn’t.”


“You clearly didn’t see my rewrite on page twelve.” She turned over her pages and gestured to the sea of red. “I’m out of ink.”


“I wonder why?” I tossed her a pen and returned to the scene. But this time, I refused to indulge in the daydream. I didn’t need to be the star of the movie to be content. After months and months of rejection, I finally caught a break. Being cast as the best friend in a made-for-TV movie mystery was a dream come true.


Even if I was stuck with Deborah Lane.


I first met the crazy actress a year earlier on Halloween night when we were hired as extras in a horror movie. And according to Deborah, we bonded while running through the cornfield from a crazed killer. Which unfortunately for us was real and not part of the horror movie plot.


And now it seemed as if our careers were intertwined. Any progress in Hollywood came with Deborah attached to my hip like a conjoined twin. She called us the next Laverne and Shirley but a more accurate comparison made her Janis to my Friends. She was the annoyance I couldn’t quite shake.


Furthering my inability to escape her, we were cast in Castle Island Murder as the main character’s squad – the sidekicks the gutsy amateur sleuth turned to when she was stuck in her investigation.


A smile crept across my face and I could hardly contain my excitement. We were a few days away from filming on location and tonight was the final chemistry read with the producer.


“What has you all smiley?” Deborah asked.


“Nothing.” I shrugged. “I’m excited… and a bit nervous.”


“Which explains why the perpetually late Becky Robinson finally showed up early to a meeting.” She exed out a huge section of dialogue. “Can’t say the same for the rest of these losers.”


Despite numerous auditions, screentests, costume fittings, and table reads, this final chemistry test left me more than a little worried. What if the producer bigwig didn’t like the goofy back-and-forth banter Deborah and I were hired for?


“Why are you so panicky? We already got the part and this is nothing but a formality.”


“Until the cameras roll, we can still be replaced.”


“Or long after. Ask Eric Schultz.” Her elongated, brown eyes glared as she assumed I didn’t understand the reference. “The original Marty McFly from Back to the Future. They filmed like half the movie before recasting with Michael J. Fox.”


“Thanks, I feel so much better.”


“Glad I could help, Short-Round.”


I cringed at the nickname she pegged me with. “To be on the safe side, we should play it cool and not rock the boat tonight.” I bit my lip as I spewed cliches.


“Is that comment directed at me?” She wiggled the red pen. “Because this is only in the interest of creating a superior movie.”


Something told me the producer wouldn’t appreciate her last-minute contributions. Speaking of, where were the others? I dug through my purse for the scribbled note.


Chemistry Test – 8 p.m. w/ Phillip Sorensen.


I checked my watch. Five after eight and everyone else pulled a no-show. Panic set in as my mind spiraled to the worst-case scenario. What if I made a mistake with the meeting location and instead of being early, I was late? Or what if they rescheduled?


“Are you sure we’re supposed to meet Mr. Sorensen at eight at night and not in the morning?” I asked.


“Relax Max, you’re starting to sound whacko.”


Coming from Deborah, the label was not a positive sign. I sucked in a deep breath and tried to take her advice. The meeting was nothing more than a formality.


The office door burst open and the lead actor sauntered inside. I met him briefly at the table read but he hardly spoke two words to me. Even though I was an official member of the cast, I found myself slinking into the background as if I didn’t belong.


Zac Lamb removed his leather jacket and plopped in a rolling chair. “Where’s Phillip?”


“Not here yet.”


“Brilliant. Then I’m not late.” He ran a hand through carefully styled dark-brown hair.


I narrowed my gaze as I attempted to place his face. Ever since I met Zac, I tried to remember what I knew him from. He appeared in numerous Hallmark movies and a few commercials but something else struck a familiarity.


Deborah elbowed me. “Take a picture, it’ll last longer.”


“Does he look familiar to you?” I whispered.


“Duh, he’s in the movie with us, playing the smalltown sheriff. He and the prince are crazy about our best friend. Hence why they dubbed it a love triangle.”


“Besides that.”


Zac propped his feet on the table and drummed on the filing cabinet. “Who are you guys again?”


“Becky and Deborah,” I said.


“Did they switch things up or something?” He thumbed through the script. “I don’t remember those names.”


“Violet and Hazel,” Deborah corrected. “Don’t mind her. She isn’t a method actor. You call cut and she’s out of character.”


“Ah, no worries. Neither am I.” He tilted a computer monitor to check his reflection in the screen. “You gotta know when to disconnect from a role. Where the character ends and you begin. That’s what John does and I don’t have to tell you how successful he’s been.”


My forehead wrinkled. An actor named John didn’t exactly narrow things down. Wayne, Krasinski, Cleese… and those were only the tall ones. “John who?”


“Aren’t you adorable? John who?” Zac patted my cheek. “Stamos, babe. Only one of the greatest actors of our generation.”


I snapped, finally connecting the dots. Everything from his hair to his attitude was a dead ringer for Uncle Jesse from Full House.


“Have mercy.” Deborah rolled her eyes. “Surely you can’t be serious about Stamos?”


“The guy has no limits.” He counted off areas of expertise on his fingers. “Comedy, drama, heart-felt family moments, musical talent…”


Deborah scrunched her nose. “You described Barney the purple dinosaur.”


Zac’s chair popped a wheely as he leaned back. “Is she for real? How can you not like Stamos? Back me up, Hazel.”


I was still confused about how Zac based his entire persona on his favorite actor. “Um, I liked him on Full House and ER.”


“Cut, it, out. He wasn’t the best character on his only show,” Deborah said. “And don’t get me started on the later years of ER. Also known as the skip-a-reno seasons.”


Zac tilted his head to the side. “The seasons he single-handedly saved?”


“If by saved you mean ruined? Then yes, I agree.” Deborah crossed her arms. “Beauty only takes you so far.”


“Ha.” Zac’s upper lip curled as he sputtered for words. “I see what you’re doing, Violet. You’re messing with me, aren’t you?”


“I do not joke about TV.”


I massaged the tension forming in my neck. This wasn’t going well. Who knew John Stamos could be such a controversial topic among our cast members?


The door opened and the leading lady arrived. My head drooped and I exhaled. “Thank goodness.”


Courtney Finch dumped her oversized purse on the table and zipped her sweatshirt. “Is Zac prattling on about John Stamos again?”


“I don’t prattle.” His eyes crinkled at the edge. “I’m simply sharing my interests. Like how you talk about your little munchkins.”


“And you listen?”


“Of course.”


“How many do I have? What are their names?”


He snorted. “Well, there’s the little one and the bigger one…”


Courtney tied her golden locks into a bun and plopped onto her chair. “Where’s Phillip? It’s almost passed my bedtime.”


“Nice of you to dress up for us, Court.” Zac waved at her outfit. “Are those your fancy sweatpants?”

“Not everyone can afford to spend forty minutes styling their hair.”


“At least spend ten.” He motioned to her frizzy blonde mess. “Or is this like the before shot of the princess makeover?”


“This is the ‘I’m a mom who doesn’t like being out after dark’ look.” She twisted in her seat and sighed. “Deborah, I thought we discussed the rewrites.”


Deborah’s pen hovered above the page. “I’m only making tiny corrections. Miniscule really.”


“You can’t be British.”


“But the prince is.”


“Because he’s from England. We’re playing Americans.” Courtney held out her hand and beckoned for the pen.


“Fine.”


“Nicely done.” My eyebrows crinkled. “She wouldn’t listen to me.”


“It’s all in the glare.” She circled a finger over her face. “If the acting thing didn’t pan out, I would have been a kindergarten teacher.”


Despite not being glammed up, it was no surprise as to why the studio cast Courtney as the lead with her Hollywood blue eyes and spirited personality.


Zac slid closer. “Hey, why does this scene direction say my character takes off his hat?”


“Because he was wearing one but isn’t anymore,” I said.


“Hats are for bald people or emergencies. You don’t cover up hair this good.” He adjusted the shape of his pompadour. “Add it to your rewrites, Violet.”


Deborah clicked her pen and thought better of it. “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”


“How much longer are we going to wait for Phillip?” Courtney checked her wristwatch as she yawned.


“Not to mention the other guy.” I pointed to the prince’s empty chair. In all our preproduction work, I never met him. Based on his lack of availability I started to believe he was actual royalty.


“I’m thinking my character could do a number in the middle of the movie to win over the detective.” Zac strummed an air guitar. “I can sing like Stamos and do his famous lip curl.”


“This isn’t a musical,” Courtney said.


“Come on, Pretty Mama.” He hopped out of his seat and serenaded us with a song. “I’d like to see the prince do that.”


“Oh Mylanta.” Deborah slapped her forehead. “Uncle Jesse was doing an Elvis impression.”


“Who?”


“The original singer of Heartbreak Hotel,” I said.


“Anyway, do you think Phillip would go for it?” Zac asked.


I thumbed through my script. “Perhaps we should read lines to pass the time. Are y’all game?”


The door creaked and the freakishly tall blonde producer rushed inside. “I apologize for my tardiness. I drove to the wrong studio by mistake. I know we talked about coming here but I forgot.”


“We started to worry about you, Sweetums.”


My gaze jerked to Deborah. Sure, she was weird but a cutesy nickname for the producer took her to a new level in the oddball territory.


“What was that?” I asked.


“What?” Her forehead wrinkled. “Did I forget to mention Phillip and I are an item?”


“Yes, you did.”


“Are you positive?” she asked.


“I think I would have remembered.”


Phillip unfolded smart glasses and pushed them by the bridge. “Alrighty, we should start since we’re running out of time. Does everyone know what a chemistry test…” he trailed off. “Where’s Jim, Jerry, Jeff… you know the prince guy?”


Courtney leaned forward. “Do you mean Liam?”


“Yeah, him.” He tightened his necktie. “We ought to wait until he gets here. Chemistry means nothing if no one comes.”


I twisted my head to the side, suddenly lost. Phillip Sorensen was like a walking typo. Nothing he said made sense.


Zac propped his feet on the empty chair. “Boss, what are the travel arrangements?”


“I’m not sure but we chartered a plane to Texas.” Phillip adjusted his glasses. “Everyone except Deborah will fly.”


“Binx doesn’t like planes,” she explained. “My cat.”


“We can bring our pets?” I asked.


Her posture straightened. “We should carpool! Road trip.”


Me and my big mouth. “Maybe, but my friend already agreed to dog sit.”


“Which friend?” Deborah asked.


“Lois.”


“Isn’t she an assistant to the director?”


“Um…”


Deborah clapped. “This is perfect we can all go together in my van.”


Zac raised a finger. “For the record, I’m taking the private plane.”


“No one invited you, Hair Boy.” Deborah rolled her eyes. “Not enough room for all your goops and gels.”


“My hair is my money maker, babe.”


Phillip removed his glasses. “Why is he calling you babe, Deborah? Is there something you want to tell me?”


Zac waved. “I use the term of endearment for everyone. Relax.”


“You’re hiding something.” Mr. Sorensen pointed. “Is it because he’s better looking than me?”


“I don’t care about looks,” Deborah said. “Which is why I’m with you, Sweetums.”


Phillip’s face contorted. “You guys better not be lying to me because I can always tell.”


“Court, explain it to him. Don’t I call everybody babe? It’s my thing.”


“He does and it’s very annoying,” she said.


“Alright.” Phillip tugged on his cufflinks. “Glad we cleared that up.”


My eyes darted and I wondered when I slipped into the Twilight Zone with the quirky bunch. Deborah and Zac were odd but Phillip Sorensen acted like two different people, a Jekyll and Hyde, with a crazy jealous streak.


“This is going to be a long fifteen-day shoot.” Courtney leaned closer to me. “You and I will need to stick together if we expect to survive.”


I nodded. “Deal.”


“So, Short-Round,” Deborah elbowed me. “What do you say about carpooling?”


“I’m not sure if there’s room for me and Lois and another friend might come…”


“It’s a big van.”


“We don’t pack light.”


“Decent point. My cat requires a lot of paraphernalia.” She tapped her temple. “I’ll keep thinking on it.”


Phillip reached across the table for Deborah’s hand. “What are you going to do on the long car ride without me? A whole day apart might as well be a lifetime.”


Deborah shuffled the pages of her script. “So, should we take this from the top?”


 

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Coming 3-17-23



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