Mystery Stories Home Page
Copyright 2004 by Michael E. Grost
A Jacob Black "Impossible Crime" Mystery
By Michael E. Grost
Hollywood, June 1925. Jacob "Jake" Black was both a pulp magazine writer of adventure stories, and a Hollywood screenwriter at Mammoth-Art Studio. Jake was also an unofficial consultant with the Los Angeles Police, helping them solve a number of mysteries. Jake's current project had nothing to do with mystery - or so he thought. Jake had been working as a volunteer with the crew of an advanced racecar for several weekends, learning more about racing for pulp magazine stories he was writing. Soon the wheels in Jake's head started turning. Why not make a movie about the racecar, as well as some short stories? Jake also had the idea of showing Mammoth-Art star Gregor von Hoffmansthal as a racecar driver. He thought this would be great for Greg's image. Greg was Jake's best friend.
Soon, the fast-talking Jake was pitching the idea to Mammoth-Art Studio head J. D. Upshaw and his vice-presidents. Jake pitched himself as the writer and director of the film, too. Jake was a successful screenwriter at Mammoth-Art, but had never directed a movie before. Jake wore a tasteful Savile Row style British suit to the meeting. He wanted to look his absolute best while making the pitch. It took all of Jake's nerve to make himself a candidate for the director's job. Upshaw liked the idea however, and Jake was now making his directorial debut with Speed Angels.
Jake also proposed making the film a color spectacular. Mammoth-Art Studio had long been a pioneer in the use of two-color Technicolor in its newsreels. This was a film process that showed red and green, but not blue or other colors. Someday a full color filmmaking process would be available. But for now, two-color Technicolor was an impressive innovation in movie making. Jake loved everything involving technology - many of his pulp stories were about airplanes. Jake talked the Studio into shooting the racecar drama in this process. Mammoth-Art had made a number of complete newsreels in two-color, but this was its first color fiction film. The film would be a two reeler, and run around 30 minutes. It was typical of Mammoth-Art to start novice directors out on short films, which had smaller budgets and involved less risk for the studio.
"We've got to make something spectacular," Studio head J. D. Upshaw told his employees, "that will be a smash with the public and talked about in the industry. Go all out! Make it half an hour long - twice as long as any other color film we've made! Make it a landmark in motion picture history! Make a film that every kid in America, every father and mother and grandfather, will want to see! Make a film that will wow them in London and Paris and Tokyo!"
Jake had some ideas about color, which he passed on to the studio's designers.
The racecar was repainted to make it more appealing in the film. It was now a flaming red, with big white numbers on the side, and green trim near the exhaust. It looked spectacular on film, which could capture red, white and green with startling vividness. Jake also had ideas about the costumes. Mammoth-Art's costume department created snazzy new racer outfits for the drivers and crew. These were shiny red leather one-piece jumpsuits. They were of the same brilliant shade of red as the racecar. They made it clear that the crew all belonged to the team that maintained the car. The suits were covered with white letters and numbers, giving each crew member's name in white on the back, and team number in silver on the front and sleeves. The suits had green chevrons outlined in silver on the sleeves, and green trim around the numerous silver chrome zippers all over the suits. The clothes were spectacular and glamorous. They looked like a brilliant color dream on screen.
Most of the racecar's "crew" in the film were Mammoth-Art actors. But there were two exceptions. Jake brought in one of the racecar's real life mechanics, Sam Teplinski, to play a small role as a crewman. Jake had known Sam ever since the helicopter mystery Jake had solved - Sam had been one of the mechanics on the helicopter's crew. Sam was also an ambulance driver, and in recent months had taken a lead role in the development of the new racecar, both as a driver and a mechanic. Sam had told Jake about the experimental racecar, and a fascinated Jake was soon working part time on the crew to learn more. Jake was always on the lookout for new subjects for his pulp adventure stories. Sam was a full-blooded Native American, a descendent of one of the many small California tribes that had lived in the region for thousands of years before the arrival of white men.
There was a long tradition at Mammoth-Art of directors playing a small role in their films. It was a kind of visual signature. Jake had no hesitation about what role he wanted to perform: he was a member of the racing crew. Jake was in a red racing suit, like all the other members of the car's crew.
A third member of the crew was a real actor, but someone Jake knew best from his detective work. Officer Thomas O'Brien was a young Los Angeles policeman, who had aspirations of being an actor. He had had a few tiny movie roles, and Jake cast him as a member of the racecar's crew. Jake also engaged O'Brien to be his assistant during parts of the filming.
The racing scenes in the movie would be shot at Jacaranda Park, a race track in Los Angeles.
Two real life mechanics from the track were hired to help maintain the cars used in the film. They would not have on-screen roles.
Hal Pinckham was around forty years old, with blue eyes and sandy hair. He had been head mechanic at the track for over a decade. He was a soft-spoken man, always quietly coming up with a fix for the racers' mechanical problems.
Helena "Peggy" Puccini was a twenty-three year old, petite with glistening black eyes. She worked as a mechanic at the track. Peggy was an expert on motor repair of all sorts of racecars. She was around 23 years old, with red hair and freckles. Jake thought it was unusual to see a woman in this sort of job.
"I've been fascinated by racecars since I was eight," she told Jake. "I learned everything about them I could hanging around racetracks - my folks had a concession stand at Jacaranda Park. Eventually I started getting jobs fixing cars at the track," she said proudly.
Peggy looked vaguely familiar to Jake. He could not place where he had seen her before.
There was to be a press gathering tomorrow to promote the film. It would be held outdoors, at studio head J. D. Upshaw's mansion. The racecar would be on display, in the pavilion next to the swimming pool. The pool was a perfect circle, with gentle steps leading into the shallow end, and a deep end for diving. Upshaw hated water, and never used the pool. He only had it, because what would a Hollywood mansion be without a swimming pool? He usually let the kids from a local orphanage use it on weekends. The pool was full of floating toys for kids: inner tubes, toy boats, beach balls, little floating toys in the shape of sea animals. A separate fence around the pool allowed visitors like the orphan kids to use the pool, without opening the estate grounds as a whole.
The pavilion was made in the shape of an icosahedron. The various triangular facets, 20 in all, were made up of transparent glass. Normally they were plain colored, but an electrical arrangement let moving patterns of colored lights illuminate each of the facets separately. In honor of the two-color film, a moving, changing pattern of red and green lights had been created for a band of triangular facets that ran around the upper surface of the icosahedron. They created a dance like effect. The Upshaw estate was a landmark of modern art and architecture, and the lights were part of the color music movement in Symbolist Art. The patterns were controlled by computing machines built by the famed Spanish scientist Leonardo Torres y Quevedo. Jake had met Torres the year before, and had a chance to study his algebra and chess-playing machines.
Jake was glad the racecar was in the covered pavilion. There was supposed to be a rainstorm that night. The pavilion would keep the valuable car dry.
Both Hal and Peggy helped install the car. The two mechanics ensured it was not damaged during the move to the estate.
The caretaker let Jake, Hal and Peggy out of the pool gate of the estate. Jake could see the gleaming red racecar, reflected in the crystal clear waters of the pool. The gatekeeper locked the pool gate behind them. A long outdoor staircase, gently sloped, led down a corridor between two high fences to a second gate. Red and green lights illuminated the interior of each step. The lights danced in a constant motion pattern, just like those in the icosahedron. The stairway led down to the public street on the side of the Upshaw estate. A uniformed Studio guard let them out the gateway there, after checking their Studio passes. Upshaw was taking no chances with the valuable racecar. The street gate at the foot of the stairway was a large glass triangular arch. The guard could shelter inside a glass cubicle at one end of the arch, and still see everything on both the street and the staircase. The outside of the triangular arch was covered by a glass staircase. People could walk up the arch, and sit on an observation platform at its peak.
Jake showed up the next morning, a half hour before the press preview.
The pool water was a bright blue.
The only one present was a dismayed looking Harry Callaway. Harry was Mammoth-Art Studio's top publicity photographer.
"Harry," Jake said gently, "this is the wrong color. Everything in our film is red and green."
"I know, Jake!" Harry said. "I had nothing to do with this. Upshaw is going to hit the roof!"
"Look what I got in the mail this morning!" Harry went on. He held out a blue envelope to Jake. Inside was a pale blue piece of paper, on which someone had typed a message with a blue typewriter ribbon.
"Think Blue!" it said.
"The pool was clear when we left last night," Jake said. "And the gate leading from the pool to the rest of the estate was bolted and chained last night. It's still all chained up."
"The pool was still clear when I checked it out at six AM, when I came on duty. No one has been in or out of the street gate since then," the guard at the street gate told Jake. "Not till Mr. Callaway went in this morning." Jake knew Al Kucinich, the member of Mammoth-Art's security force who manned the gate. Al was in his twenties, fiercely loyal to Mammoth-Art, and both ferocious and incorruptible. Jake had known Al over a year, since the Ponson case.
"I did not even see anyone on the street this morning, until Mr. Callaway showed up at eight," Al continued. "Of course, the big rain storm that swept through around seven kept pedestrians off the streets. The first I knew about the blue pool was when Mr. Callaway came back down the stairs and told me."
The muscular Al looked impressive in his black cop's uniform. The studio-designed uniforms looked as realistic and as intimidating as possible. In fact Al looked more like a policeman than most real life cops did. Policeman Thomas O'Brien had once complained to Jake about this, when O'Brien had encountered Al on a previous case.
"I'm standing right next to this fake Studio cop," O'Brien told Jake with a wry grin, "and everyone comes up to him and asks for help! Wish we real policemen had a uniform one tenth as sharp as the Studio ones. He salutes better than I do, too," O'Brien went on ruefully.
"That's the movies for you," Jake said philosophically. "They are just like life, only better."
Harry passed off the blue pool as a "color contrast" to the assembled reporters. None paid any attention to it, and the press preview was a success, with many photos taken of the racecar and star Greg. The whole racecar "crew" was present, in full costume, for the photo shoot.
Greg was #7 in his team number; Jake was #9; Sam was #1 and Thomas O'Brien #4 on their red leather racing suits.
Greg put on his boots for the photographers' cameras. They were huge, made of shiny red leather the same shade as the suit, and were fastened by dozens of bright silver buckles that went up nearly to the wearer's knees. He tucked the legs of the suit into the top of his boots. Both the suit and the boots were surprisingly comfortable - the tailors in the costume department really knew their business.
Greg seated himself on the green leather seat of the racecar. He strapped his red leather racing helmet on his head, and brought up the red and silver goggles to his eyes. The huge Greg was somewhat of a tight squeeze in the car.
The photographers kept popping pictures.
Harry also took photos of the team and the racecar. These still photographs were in full color, a rarity at the time.
"I'm using the color process developed by Louis Lumière," Harry told Jake. "We are going to put them on display in theaters showing the finished film."
"Have you ever done color photography before?" Jake asked.
"I've made around thirty color portraits," Harry replied. "Some were for movie magazine covers. Others were part of my exhibit at the gallery." Harry had had a one-man photography show there the year before. "Color photos are quite expensive, so this is a rare opportunity."
After the reporters left that afternoon, Upshaw had a chemist in.
"This pool has been dyed with Blue Color 57A," the chemist said. He was a serious looking guy in his thirties, with close-cropped hair. "It's a harmless additive used in industrial food production, completely non-poisonous. You've probably eaten it in cookies. It's usually stored in tubes, like toothpaste. Just a toothpaste size squeeze would color the whole pool. It works instantly."
"Instantly?" Jake asked.
"Yep," the chemist said, "just a small squeeze of it added to the water, and the pool would turn blue right away."
"That would mean that Harry or Al the guard would be the only two people who could have put the dye in the pool," Jake thought to himself. He did not say this out loud. Jake was sure that neither Harry nor Al would do such a thing. Neither one would go against Mammoth-Art's interests. He pondered a bit.
"Could the dye have been lobbed in over the fence, maybe in a squirt gun?" Jake asked the chemist.
"Not likely," the chemist replied immediately. "It's heavy, sticky, and gets into everything. There would be traces of it dripped all over the concrete if some had tried this. It's probably too heavy to be lobbed at all."
"The whole thing seems impossible," Jake said out loud.
"I wouldn't worry too much," the chemist went on. "As pranks go, this one is harmless. Just drain and refill the pool, and everything will be as good as new."
Jake had already shot an award banquet ceremony, in which officials presented Greg and the team with a huge silver racing trophy. Greg was all done up in a snazzy dark green tuxedo, complete with double-breasted vest. He looked incredibly dashing.
Jake had also shot footage of Greg, Sam and the rest of the racing team touring the real life factory where the car was made. For this, the whole team was garbed in formal dress uniforms, the same shade of red as their leather racing suits. The formal team uniforms were something like a cross between pilots' dress uniforms and police uniforms, only in a bright red cotton twill, with huge patch pockets, silver badges on the chest, tall black boots and shiny silver buckles and collar insignia. They were worn with a white dress shirt, and red tie. The team sported the same red police-style caps they had worn with their racing suits. The uniforms looked exceptionally smart and dressy. The gorgeous uniforms had a party-like feel, as if the team were dressed up for a night on the town. They seemed designed to make their wearers look like figures of romantic fantasy. Jake loved them.
Logic was unimportant in silent film costuming. Everyone wanted to see movie stars dressed up to the nines.
Meanwhile, the engineers at the factory, some real, some Mammoth-Art actors, all wore long white lab coats, white dress shirts, and a wide variety of multi-colored red, silver, white, green and black ties.
Both the lab coats, and the red dress uniforms worn by the racecar crew, had been Jake's idea. Jake felt the costume department had really surpassed his expectations with them. Jake also had some ideas for the factory itself.
The designers from Mammoth-Art had also had much of the factory repainted, in brilliant shades of red, silver and green. Some walls were full of checkerboard racing patterns. Others were full of dazzling spirals, made up of red, white and green curving lines. They had a hypnotic effect when looked at. Revolving machinery at the factory was also painted in green and red spirals, that seemed to circle endlessly. A huge piston at the plant was painted the same color red as the team's uniforms. Its relentless forceful ramming motion was cut in as a recurring refrain in the factory scenes. There were dissolves from the piston to the racers in their fiery red uniforms.
Patrick O'Donahue played a reporter in the film, covering the track meet. The handsome young Irish actor wore a snappy reddish-brown suit, with a red bow tie. His tie was the same shade as the racecar. So were the red pencil with which he took notes, and the red wrappers on the chewing gum he kept popping into his mouth. He looked like a fresh, good-natured smart aleck.
Jake had already shot scenes of O'Donahue interviewing Greg at Greg's office. The "office", a set back at the studio, was something like a business office - Jake had told the art director he imagined it like a stock broker's office. The set was full of red leather furniture: Greg sat on a huge red leather throne like chair, behind a large wooden desk, and there were red leather couches and chairs. Along one wall was a scale model of Greg's red racecar, to which the men could point. There were also bookcases full of silver racing trophies, and lots of photographs on the walls, in red frames. The carpet on the floor was full of swirling red, green and silver lines, which formed a dizzying series of spirals and wavy patterns. Greg wore his red pilot's style dress uniform. All in all, he looked like a top official in the snazzy office.
The two-color process involved a sophisticated camera. Light entering the camera was split by a prism into two beams. One passed through a red filter, picking up only the color red; the other beam through a green filter, capturing green light. The two images, one for red light and one for green light, were fixed by the camera on the negative side by side.
Later, when the negative was printed in the lab, two positive color prints were made, one of the red image, one of the green. Each print was made with a colored dye. These were glued together, making a print that showed both red and green.
Jake shot a comedy sequence on the street that Tuesday. This would involve motorcycles, not racecars. The comedy relief episode was a piece of free-form whimsy, and had little logical connection with the rest of the film.
Jake had Mammoth-Art comedian Seltzer Floyd, in a red and green version of his regular clown suit, entertaining little kids at the race track.
Seltzer was handing out green, white and red striped candy canes to the kids when a villain showed up, in a black old-fashioned suit and a handlebar mustache. The villain distracted Seltzer's attention with a puff of black smoke, then stole Seltzer's huge bag of candy. Seltzer set off a gun, which unfurled a white and green flag saying "HELP!". Sam and Jake ran up, wearing their red leather racing suits, and carrying huge shiny red cylinders. They shot jets of bright red seltzer water out of them at the villain, who promptly caught a passing old black jalopy driven by more mustached bad guys. The villains were part of Seltzer's regular troupe. Most were big, tall, tough looking men. Many were over a foot taller than Seltzer. They regularly menaced Seltzer in his comedy shorts. They never smiled, and always looked serious and menacing, no matter how absurd the situations they and Seltzer found themselves in. They played everyone from cops chasing Seltzer to outlaw cowboy gangs. Here they were done up like villains in old time stage melodramas. Even though this was a color film, they were in head to toe black.
Greg came roaring up chasing after the crooks on a huge motorcycle, painted the same fiery color red as his racing suit. Greg started shooting off huge arching jets of sticky red foam at the bad guys, squirting it out of a red cylinder attached to the front of his bike. The fiery red foam shot a dozen feet in the air. The other racers immediately followed Greg on their matching motorcycles, including Jake and Sam. Each racer had his team number in silver on his red bike. Bringing up the rear was Seltzer, riding on an absurdly small green and red peppermint-striped motorcycle. Seltzer's cycle was remarkably fast, if small, and soon he was weaving in and out of the other cycles, speeding toward the front. Seltzer, who was born into a family of circus acrobats, started doing a series of comic stunts on the tiny cycle. First he rode on one leg, then standing on his head on the cycle seat, then lying down on the bike.
Meanwhile, Greg had unraveled a huge red lariat, twirling it through the air while riding his cycle. Greg soon lassoed the villains and their car, bringing them to a halt. The heroic racers then came to a stop in a circle, surrounding the villains on their red motorbikes. Seltzer went around to the racers, pointing out everyone's seltzer bottle fastened on the bikes. Each racer squirted a huge jet of red liquid foam at the villains, from the jutting red cylinder at the front of his cycle. The jets arched higher and higher, virtually exploding from the high pressure in the tall cylinders. The villains promptly got out huge black umbrellas, and put on long black raincoats, warding off the attack. The racers looked baffled and stymied, sitting there on their huge cycles. Seltzer aimed a small bottle at the chief bad guy. Its thin green jet of seltzer bounced harmlessly off the villain's shiny black rain slicker. Our heroes decided to try a different approach. Seltzer handed each racer a lariat. Each racer then lassoed a different villain. As the racers tied up the captured villains with their bright red lariats, the courageous-now-the-fighting-was over Seltzer squirted each helpless villain in the face with his seltzer bottle. Seltzer then grabbed back the bag of stolen candy. The last shot showed Seltzer standing on a mound of hog-tied villains, throwing candy to a mob of happy little kids.
The whole sequence lasted around three minutes on the screen, shot in the breathless style of silent comedy. It was many little kids' favorite part of the finished film. "Fun at the track" the sequence's sole title card read.
The Studio maintained teachers, who taught its cowboy movie performers how to ride, use a lariat and other cowboy tricks with rope. Jake had taken the class too, on the pretext that it would help him with his writing. Actually, Jake had wanted to use a lariat since he was a little kid. Now, Jake could twirl a lasso with the best of them. He loved jumping through a rope he was twirling, and other cowboy tricks. Jake had had no trouble finding Mammoth-Art players who could lasso for his film - most of the actors on the lot were expert cowboys.
A second blue envelope arrived for Harry the day before the big racetrack shoot. It said, "Keep thinking blue!" It was unclear what anyone could do about it. Jake made sure that security arrangements would be tight at the racetrack.
There were no crowds at the race. Jake planned to intercut crowd shots, to be taken later that week during a real race. The camera set-ups for Greg's racing shots were too complex, and the two-color process too demanding, to allow the filming of a real race. Instead, all of this morning's filming would be especially staged for the camera. This would also increase safety, always a big concern during a movie shoot.
The racetrack was glad of the publicity, and also glad to get the track's snazzy new paint job.
The racetrack itself had been repainted. Its wooden stands and buildings were now mainly a soothing shade of green, with white trim. Occasionally, bright red and green checkerboard areas had been painted onto the walls, to give a jazzy racing flag effect. Checkerboard regions of the walls in red and white or in green and white could also be found. The red leather racing suits of the team really stood out against the green walls. The track referees had been provided with green and white checkerboard flags to wave, to start and end the races. The costume department had also given these officials new uniforms: white dress shirts with green ties, white golfing sweaters, and white slacks. The traditionally seedy looking officials looked more clean cut than they had in years. They also stood out vividly in the color footage. Jake also sent in several clean cut, wholesome looking young actors in really good suits, to pretend to be track officials, congratulating Greg before the race. Jake was not taking any chances with his star's image. Like most silent stars, Greg had to combine glamour with a 100% good guy reputation. Greg was not a goody two shoes. His films were made to entertain, not to preach. But they always had to be morally unobjectionable. Parents had to be comfortable taking their kids to them. Plus, adults too wanted to see a film with a real hero.
For the camera, Jake had to show his identification to one of the new "track officials", before being admitted to the track. This friendly young man waited politely while Jake unzipped a back pocket on the trousers of his red leather jump suit. Jake pulled a shiny red leather wallet out of his pocket, and opened it up for the "official". Inside was a shiny silver badge, like a policeman's, with Jake's team number 9 on it. The badge matched one Jake wore on the front of his high peaked red uniform cap, which Jake sported on a jaunty angle on his head. The handsome young "official" gave Jake a million dollar, movie star smile, and pumped Jake's hand in a manly manner. Jake closed up the wallet, and returned it to his rear pocket, closing up the pocket with its huge silver zipper. The official, dressed in a sharp black three piece suit that would have done any stockbroker proud, waved Jake into the track through a green and white checkerboard door.
The whole scenario did not make too much sense to Harry. As he had said to Jake last week, why couldn't the track official just check the badge on Jake's police style uniform cap? The huge, stiff cap was hard to miss, being the same brilliant shade of red as Jake's racing suit. The silver badge in front, over the cap's shiny black visor was pretty conspicuous, too. But still, it was Jake's biggest bit of business in the scenario, and Jake duly showed up, smiled, and hit his chalk mark for the camera. When Harry saw the sequence on the screen, he realized Jake was right. It did add a sense of respectability to the proceedings.
This film was the first time Jake had been on camera solo. He knew enough to smile, and otherwise keep his actions low key. Jake also knew to keep as still as possible when he was in the background of group shots. Any motion on his part would distract from the actions of Greg in the foreground. Jake began to realize a little bit what actors went through. It was good experience for his work as a scriptwriter.
Now that he was off-camera for the rest of the day, Jake stripped off the red leather gauntlets he wore with his racing suit, fastening them to a green thong on the side of the suit's belt, provided for that purpose. Jake set up the next shot.
The interior of the car's engine had been carefully cleaned and polished the night before. The chrome tubing gleamed silver in the bright sunlight. Two metal caps had been painted different shades of green. The whole engine looked like a beautiful piece of abstract sculpture. Jake was busy taking close-ups of the engine. The racing team's mechanics reached in, protected from the heat of the car by their large red gauntlets.
Felicia Alburton had shown up, to cheer Greg and Jake on. She was also pleased to meet Sam again, whom she hadn't seen since the helicopter mystery. Felicia had followed the Studio's instructions about permitted colors in clothes, and worn an elegant, formal light green dress with a huge matching picture hat. A distinguished looking pair of "officials" in good suits welcomed Felicia to the race, in front of the camera. Felicia was a famous author of romantic novels, and the studio frequently included shots of her in its publicity. She had a heavy following among women readers. Felicia was also considered an "authority" about romance, and was often quoted in the press about all things concerning love and matrimony. Her presence would simultaneously confer both glamour and respectability on the race proceedings, in the view of many of her readers.
Harry Callaway was present, to shoot more color still photographs of the production. Harry was in a regular business suit. He had no intention of appearing before the camera, something he rarely did. Even Harry was dressed in gray. He would not have dreamed of wearing a blue suit, blue being a taboo color in today's shoot. Yellow and gold were also nowhere to be seen around the track.
The most important person working with Jake on the shoot was the assistant director, popularly known as the AD. Despite his title, the AD was not really Jake's assistant. Instead, the AD's job was to make sure every performer, car, prop and crew member were in place and on time for each shot. Being an AD was a prestigious, well paid job in Hollywood. Today's AD was a wiry looking man of around 35, who radiated energy and good cheer.
Peggy was a familiar sight at the track, bicycling all over, rushing to the assistance of disabled cars. Her bike was red, and Jake's film crew had not needed to replace it with another bike for today's filming. Peggy's bicycle was very low slung, almost as low as a kid's tricycle. She drove it with her legs stretched out in front of her. The bike was her own design.
"It's more energy efficient than a standard bike" she told Jake and Felicia. "I build the bikes myself, in my workshop here at the track."
Felicia was fascinated.
There were two large saddlebags attached to the rear of the bike. Peggy used them to carry her equipment.
Peggy's boyfriend Slim ran the souvenir stand at the track. He was a typical racetrack tout, good looking in his cheap but flashy suit. He seemed tacky to Jake, and a lot less respectable than the hard working Peggy. Jake could see why a flashy type like Slim might impress a naïve young woman, without much worldly experience. He hoped that Slim would not lead Peggy into heartache.
While Peggy occasionally would slip into long shots filmed by Jake at the track, Jake made sure to exclude Slim from the movie. Slim conveyed the wrong image of non-respectability to Jake.
Sam did some maintenance on the exhaust pipes, that emerged in the center of the racecar's front hood. Sam lay face down on the car, stretched out along the long front nose cone of the racecar. Jake had the camera on a crane, looking straight down on Sam and the car. It was a striking shot. Sam's red leather jumpsuit exactly matched the color of the car. Sam inched his way forward over the surface of the car, checking the series of exhaust pipes jutting out of the hood. It was a slow, stop-and-go process. Sunlight shone off of the back of Sam's shiny leather suit, and the polished surface of the racecar. Sam motioned for Greg to get in the car. Greg jumped in the seat, and tested the engine. Sam sat up grinning, straddling the nose of the car, his legs wrapped around the sides of the car. Sam gave a big thumbs up gesture, and stood up, adjusting his cap at a jaunty angle. Sam's badge, with his team number 1, glittered in the sun.
Jake was filming the shot where Greg's red racecar went through two tunnels, on the far side of the track. The shot opened with the red car coming out of the first tunnel, then driving three hundred yards to the right and into the second tunnel. It would look spectacular on screen, but was actually a fairly simple shot to set up.
"Action!" the assistant director called out.
Two cars were scheduled to come out of the first tunnel before the red one. One was silver, the second was green. The silver car emerged.
Then a bright blue racecar came out of the first tunnel. It was the forbidden blue color again!
The blue racecar was shaped like all the others. It was car #22, according to the gold numbers on its side and hood. Gold was also a taboo color in today's shoot.
The frustrated looking AD was about to yell "Cut!" when a signal from Jake stopped him. Jake wanted a record on film of whatever the blue car was going to do. It was clearly some sort of interloper on the film, not a car the studio had hired. It reminded Jake of the blue pool, and the second blue message that Harry had received this morning.
The blue car moved with painful slowness down to the mouth of the second tunnel. It clearly wanted to linger as long as possible in the shot. The green car whizzed past it. So did the red racecar. The driver of the blue car stuck a blue and gold pennant out of the car, and waved it. Finally the blue car disappeared into the mouth of the second tunnel. The silver, green and red racecars had already gone into the second tunnel.
Soon the cars would emerge from the other side of the second tunnel. Jake could not see this, which was hidden by a track building, but he had his assistant Thomas O'Brien watching there, to make sure there were no injuries or mishaps. Soon after this the cars should be visible to Jake on the track again.
The silver car, the green car and the red racer all showed up on the track, beyond the building. At the same time, Peggy rode out of the mouth of the second tunnel on her bicycle, on its left. This was where the cars had gone in the second tunnel, a minute before.
There was no sign of the blue car. Jake signaled for the AD to yell Cut. Jake and the AD were already racing to the mouth on the left of the second tunnel.
"Did you see the blue car?" Jake asked Peggy.
"What blue car?" she replied.
The tunnel was as dark as night inside. Jake grabbed a lantern by the second tunnel's entrance, and ran into it. The lantern cast an eerie white light on the tunnel roof and walls. It was a simple wooden tunnel, made of solid looking wooden beams. There were no doors anywhere in the sides or ceilings, as far as Jake or the AD could tell. Soon Jake and the AD had emerged outside the second tunnel's far end.
"Did you get a good look at the blue car when it emerged from this end?" Jake asked O'Brien there.
"What blue car?" O'Brien said.
O'Brien had not seen the blue car here at all. "I've been watching the shooting for the last fifteen minutes," O'Brien went on. He pushed up the peaked cap of his red racing suit. "In fact, I haven't seen a blue car at any time today. The silver, green and red racecars come out of the second tunnel, right on schedule, though."
Impossible as it seemed, the blue car had gone into the tunnel, and vanished.
Jake asked the drivers of the cars on the track, if they had seen anything.
"There was something strange about the blue car," the driver of the green car said. This was Mammoth-Art cowboy actor Tom Wilson, playing a major supporting role in Jake's picture as Greg's biggest rival. Wilson wore a spectacular, green metallic racing suit, that glittered like a million emeralds in the sun.
"There was no exhaust coming from the blue car's tail pipe," Wilson went on. "This was strange - every other car on the track was putting out exhaust." Greg, who had been driving the red racecar, nodded in agreement.
In Jake's screenplay, the racer played by Wilson would eventually help his rival Greg, when Greg's tire blows out. This selfless act of sportsmanship will cost Wilson the race. Jake thought Wilson would be perfect for the high-minded racer. And it would give Wilson a rare non-cowboy role.
The driver of the silver car hadn't seen anything. "I was the first car out in front," Paul Rozier, the driver, said, "and all the action was taking place behind me." Paul had met Jake and Greg during the Milwaukee school mystery they had solved. Paul was an expert fencer, and after his graduation from high school, had come to Los Angeles and played a few small roles in swashbuckling pictures while working his way through college. Paul was wearing a fancy, double-breasted silver leather racing suit, full of zippers and silver buckles.
"I've seen that blue car in a hangar," Hal told Jake. "Peggy and I just saw it this morning." He led Jake and the AD into one of the many hangars at the track used to store racecars. This hangar was rented by a racer named Samson, who was not at the track today. In a row of eight racers, a blue car with 22 on the hood was third from the left. It looked like the car that had disappeared from the tunnel.
Jake had Hal open the hood. Inside, the engine crammed into the space under the hood was faintly warm. The gold and blue pennant was on the seat of the car.
"This hangar is on the far side of the track from the tunnel," Jake said. "How could anyone get a bright blue racecar all the way over here without anyone seeing it? It seems impossible."
No one had an answer.
Jake sat down, and started up the blue car's engine. It made a loud roar, and exhaust came out its tail pipe, just like any other car.
Hal had not been seen anywhere during the appearance of the blue racecar on the track. Jake wondered if Hal had been driving it.
Jake did not want to disrupt his schedule any more. He was sorely tempted to drop everything but the mystery of the blue car. But he had a whole team waiting to continue the shooting. After all, nothing had happened other than twenty minutes of lost time, and a ruined piece of film. Jake determined not to let anything keep him from filming. The AD set up the tunnel shot again, and this time it all went perfectly.
Next on the schedule were some medium shots of Greg in his racecar, pulled over for a pit-stop near the stands. A lighting crew had been setting up this shot while the tunnel scenes were filmed.
Everyone was ready for this shot of Greg and the racecar.
Except Greg. He was nowhere to be seen.
This was very unlike the punctual Greg. Greg was a real professional. He was ALWAYS on the set for his shots. He would take a brief break to freshen up while he was not needed, then return immediately to the set. While he would sometimes joke in a friendly way with the crew during a lighting change, he never horsed around on the set.
A hasty search by the AD's assistants did not turn up Greg.
Jake brought in Al Kucinich, who was heading up security that day. Mammoth-Art had stationed its own security guards around the track, as was its custom during location shoots. Al Kucinich was at the main gate. Al, like the other guards, was wearing his black police uniform.
"My men are watching the gates of the track," Al told Jake, "Greg has definitely not left the race course."
"Maybe Greg left the race course, while nobody was looking," someone suggested.
"You mean a famous movie star, six feet two inches tall, wearing a bright red leather suit, somehow left the track and nobody noticed?" Jake asked. "This is ridiculous. There is tight security at all the doors."
A thorough, exhaustive search of the whole racetrack was ordered. It turned up nothing.
Impossible as it seemed, Greg had vanished.
This was an impossible event that Jake could not ignore. The star of his picture, and his best friend was missing.
Jake had Al call the police.
Jake recalled horrifying headlines in last week's paper. There were a rash of unrelated kidnappings of movie stars recently. The stars had been held for ransom by various punk hoodlums and gangsters. Some of the stars had been returned unharmed. One was not so lucky.
Jake got violently upset.
Jake forced himself to calm down.
If ever Greg were depending on him, now was the time. Jake could not fight against gangsters. But he could use his brain power, to try to solve the mystery.
Greg must still be on the track somewhere. Hidden in a place no one had thought of looking. Maybe it had something to do with the mystery of the blue car. Jake was not sure that the two were the same mystery. He had never heard of cheap hoods pulling a stunt like the blue car. Still less of their announcing it in advance with the messages in the blue envelopes. Still, the kidnapping and the blue car could hardly be a coincidence. There was probably some link...
Near the entrance to the track were a series of cannonball trees. The Couropita trees produced huge red flowers, followed by large fruit that looked like brown cannonballs. The trees were odd in that both flowers and fruit were on special branches that curved off the base of the trunk of the tree, near the ground. The top of the tree, with the main branches and leaves, produced no flowers or fruit at all. Inside the fruit were large nuts, which were closely related to Brazil nuts, something that Jake loved. Jake sat down under the trees, stretching his legs. He stared at the beautiful red and white flowers. The flowers were spectacularly asymmetric, and curved over a brush of red and purplish stamens. They reminded him of the red racecar. He began to think about the case.
Jake confronted Peggy. They rapidly discussed the case. And the stunt involving the disappearing blue car. An embarrassed but defiant Peggy admitted her involvement with the blue car.
"It was just a harmless stunt!" Peggy said. "And I had nothing to do with Greg's disappearance," she added.
"Tell me," Jake told her urgently, "Do you have any more of the special racecars on the lot? Ones that are empty under the hood where the engine would be?"
"I made a back-up," Peggy said. "A good mechanic always makes a spare."
"Show it to me at once!" Jake commanded.
Peggy took them towards one of the many storage hangars in the track. Jake flagged down Al Kucinich on the way, and two other security guards who were with him. Peggy showed Jake the auto, a blue car identical looking to the one that disappeared earlier.
"Get this hood open!" Jake ordered. A bewildered looking Peggy obeyed.
Inside the engine cavity, a bound and gagged Greg was laid face down in the space.
Jake and Al soon had Greg free. Greg stood up, stretched his huge frame, and seemed unharmed.
"I knew you would come for me, Jake!" a happy Greg told his friend. Greg and Jake stood there side by side, both in their red leather racing suits.
"A masked gunman cornered me in the wash room," Greg told them. "He led me through a tunnel under the tracks, tied me up, and stuffed me in this strange racecar. It does not seem to have an engine at all!"
"He told me he was going to ransom me for big bucks," Greg went on. "I never saw his face."
Jake turned to Peggy. She looked really frightened.
"I know nothing about this!" she said. "I would never harm anyone."
"You told Slim about the cars," Jake accused.
A frightened looking Peggy wanted to deny it. Instead, she slowly nodded her head. "Slim couldn't be involved in anything like this!"
Al and his fellow guards soon captured Slim at the souvenir stand, turning him over to the police.
Slim confessed everything. He had seen his big opportunity to get rich, when Peggy told him about the racecar stunt she was planning. He had kidnapped Greg, stuck him in the car, and planned to hold him for ransom. Slim had not told Peggy anything about this, and she was not involved.
"People could have searched this hangar all day, and never suspected anything," Jake later told the police. "All the other racecars have engines packed tightly under their hoods. There would not be space to store a cat in them, let alone a man Greg's size. Slim probably planned to tow the phony racecar, with Greg inside, right out of the track that night, after the film people left. Then hold Greg for ransom."
The rest of the day's shooting was brought to a successful close.
Afterwards, Jake, Felicia, Greg, Al, Peggy, Harry, O'Brien, Wilson, Paul and Sam were all talking about the events of the day. Jake, O'Brien, and Sam had changed out of the red racing outfits back into the regular business suits they had worn to the track that morning, while Greg and Wilson had donned full white tie and tails. Harry took some more publicity photographs of Greg and Wilson with the racecars.
Jake was discussing how the stunts were done.
"I tend to believe that Peggy was not involved in Greg's kidnapping," Jake said. "But she was responsible for the pool, and the vanishing blue car."
"It's hard to get noticed," Peggy said. "I've tried several times to get a job interview at Mammoth-Art's Special Effects department, but no one would talk to me. So I came up with this scheme to show you what I could do."
Jake suddenly recalled seeing Peggy waiting in the lobby of the front entrance at Mammoth-Art. It explained why her face looked familiar.
"All I wanted was a job at Mammoth-Art," Peggy said. "I just planned some harmless stunts, so you all would see what I could do as a special effects person. I had no idea that Slim would take advantage of them to kidnap Gregor von Hoffmansthal."
"You and Hal were the only persons present at both of the incidents, but not the other locations where nothing happened," Jake said to Peggy. "We had the same cast and crew at all times, but stuff only went wrong at the pool and the racetrack. The other people at the track were not at the pool, except for Hal. This could just be a coincidence - someone from the crew could have held off with incidents at other times. Still, it was suggestive, and made me take a closer look at you." Jake decided it would be tactful not to mention that his friends Harry Callaway and guard Al were also present at the pool and track.
"Hal was not involved in the stunts at all," Peggy said. "He knew nothing about them."
"Before you left Upshaw's, the night before the preview," Jake told Peggy, "you put some blue food color in a toy boat floating on Upshaw's pool. It floated there harmlessly all night. When the big rainstorm came the next morning at seven, it swamped the little boat, causing it to sink to the bottom of the pool. The swimming pool immediately turned blue."
"How did the blue car vanish?" Greg wanted to know.
"The car that disappeared is not a real car," Jake went on. "It is actually just a thin paper shell over a bicycle, supported by balsa wood struts. The shell can be torn off, then folded up and put away in a small space, such as the saddlebags on the back of the bike. You are left with just a bicycle, one that looks just like the low riding bike Peggy pedals around the track. The fake car has no engine. It only moves when the rider pedals the bicycle inside it. Powering the car-bike was easy. There is very little extra weight beyond the bike itself. Balsa wood weighs almost nothing. The saddlebags were empty.
"What happened at the track was this. Peggy was waiting inside the first, left hand tunnel, in the fake car. She then pedaled the fake blue car down the track, and into the second tunnel. She tore off the paper covering off the car. She folded it up, and stuffed it and the balsa wood struts supporting it, in the saddlebags on the bicycle. She was just left with a harmless looking bike. She also took off the blue headscarf she wore, which from a distance looked like a helmet. She put that and the pennant she waved in the saddlebag, too. Then she rode the bike back out the mouth of the tunnel, where she had just entered.
"The blue paper car was painted to look exactly like a real blue racecar, the one in Samson's hangar. That real car never left the hangar at all. It just sat there. But we got the misleading impression that they were the same car. Earlier that morning, Peggy had left a similar pennant on the seat of the real car in the hangar, and warmed up its engine.
"Due to the noise of the cars on the racetrack, no one noticed that the paper car made no noise. We were all too far away at the camera to distinguish individual car sounds. The drivers of the other racecars couldn't hear much above the roar of their own engines. And of course on film none of the cars makes any noise. Film is silent. Wilson did notice that the blue car emitted no exhaust. It had no engine! And the slow speed the blue car was driving was another clue. It was as fast as Peggy could pedal.
"I never asked O'Brien on the far right side of the second tunnel whether he saw Peggy going into the tunnel," Jake went on. "If I had, I would have learned that O'Brien had not seen her ride in on her bike. And I knew she hadn't entered from the left side mouth, where we were watching. This would have given us a strong clue to what happened in the tunnel."
"The fake blue racecars were easy to make," Peggy said. "I've been making model airplanes in balsa wood all my life. The blue cars were made using the same technique, but on a larger, life-size scale. They hardly cost anything either."
"Peggy made a second duplicate blue car, one that wasn't used in the stunt in the tunnel at all," Jake went on. "When Slim learned about it, he kidnapped Greg and stuck him in it. It made a perfect hiding place."
"It was just intended as a harmless stunt," Peggy said. "To get me a job. The fake cars have no gasoline or engine in them. If you needed to crash or burn one for a scene in a picture, it would be completely safe. They can't explode. You really need safe special effects like that for motion pictures. I can provide them."
"The motion picture industry is brand new," Peggy went on. "There are many woman working in it in craft positions. It is a good career."
"Women are good at picture work," Felicia Alburton interjected. "They have an eye for detail, and that is what is needed for the complex craftsmanship demanded by pictures. It's an established fact," she declared emphatically. Felicia was an ardent feminist. Her belief about women and detail was widely shared in the picture industry.
Felicia gave Peggy her card. "Come and see me Monday at the studio," Felicia told Peggy. "I'll introduce you to the head of the Special Effects department at Mammoth-Art."
At first Jake was annoyed with Peggy for interrupting his shoot. But he felt even more grateful to her for showing him the car where Greg was hidden. Jake decided to forgive and forget. He sent her a pass to the premiere of the film, along with an ironical gift of a dozen blue roses. They were the only splash of blue at the otherwise red and green themed premiere.
For the film's premiere at a Hollywood movie palace, instead of the usual white beams of light sweeping the sky, there were huge red and green beams. The movie stills, displayed in the familiar glass cases around the theater, were Harry's color photos, instead of the usual black and white. They too caused a sensation with the moviegoers at the theater. The racecar was displayed on a huge raised platform in the theater lobby, where it attracted crowds.
Jake's old friend, French reporter Claude Dufay, was touring the States on a news story, and managed to attend the premiere. Dufay, who was a specialist in racing and airplane news, loved the film.
The film was a big hit. Many people went back to see the thrilling color spectacle a second time. Or as Variety headlined: "RAINBOW RACER REVS REPEATS".
Peggy was cleared of all involvement in Slim's crime. She had never done anything criminal, other than some misdemeanor vandalism coloring Upshaw's pool, and he declined to prosecute Peggy. Instead, Upshaw gave her a stern lecture, and hired her into Mammoth-Art's Special Effects department.
"I've rather have her working for me, than working against me," he told his vice presidents.
Author's note: For more on two-color Technicolor, and many other aspects of motion picture technology, please see Barry Salt's Film Style and Technology: History and Analysis (Second Edition, 1992) - Technicolor is discussed on pp. 149-150. For the development of color still photography, see Beaumont Newhall's The History of Photography (1982). For Leonardo Torres y Quevedo and the early history of computing machines and techniques, see Charles and Ray Eames' A Computer Perspective (1973, 1990). All three of these books are fascinating.
Aside from the real-life inventors mentioned in the tale, Louis Lumière and Leonardo Torres y Quevedo, all the characters and events in the tale are fictitious.