by Janet Howson
a box of wine
Shirley had been battling with the dilemma for days and the problem was still buzzing away in her brain when she put the keys in the door of the church hall. It was the following Monday after the completion of Midsummer Night’s Dream and they would be setting off on their next theatrical challenge. This was fairly uncomplicated after the Shakespeare and wouldn’t take too much time to rehearse.
The question that was haunting Shirley needed an answer. Simple really to those who didn’t know the circumstances. They needed a lighting and sound technician for the Murder Mystery Evening they were presenting at Lauren’s golf club. All the usual technical members of the group were unable to do it and her daughter had committed herself to another drama group and couldn’t take any more responsibilities on. Jamie, her unfaithful and often violent husband was very good at one thing and that was the technical side of the theatre. He had worked all his life as a sound and lighting engineer, creating his own business. He would do it brilliantly. She didn’t really want him around during the rehearsals but he wouldn’t really need to come along until the end when they would be setting up at the golf club and she would let Lauren deal with him as she was director.
The hall flooded with light as Shirley flicked the switches. Its familiarity wrapped around her like a blanket. How many productions had she been involved in over the years. Hundreds, she expected. She found a table for her bag and then started pulling chairs out into a circle for the meeting. She hadn’t had any apologies so far which meant they could cast it tonight. This would be all down to Jordon. This was his creation and she would leave it to him to explain the plot.
“Anyone there?” The voice broke into her thoughts. Shirley smiled to herself. It was Jordon. She knew he would be the first to arrive as Jordon was always the first to arrive. Loyal and willing, she could always rely on him and recently their relationship had taken a different turn. A situation Shirley still felt nervous but excited about.
“In here, just putting the chairs out.”
The door was pushed open and Jordon entered backwards carrying sheets of stapled scripts and the asses head from Midsummer Night’s Dream balancing perilously on top
“I’ve brought back the illusive head before I lose it again. I will put it back into the costume store later.” He deposited everything on one of the stacking tables, rubbed his aching hips and started to help Shirley position the remainder of the chairs.
“Hopefully we should have everyone here. Even Stacey is making an appearance. I think it would be a good idea if you didn’t give her a speaking part. She has been through a tough time even though she will insist she is fine.”
“I have already spoken to her and she says she would like to prompt for this one. Who will be doing the technical?” Jordon looked at Shirley expectantly, pausing in his task.
Shirley felt herself blush. She had been dreading telling Jordon that the man who had hit her on many occasions and who she had cried on Jordon’s shoulder about would be her suggestion to tech for his play.
She was saved from replying by the fire door opening and banging shut as more of the group arrived with different degrees of noise.
They poured into the hall talking animatedly between themselves. Debbie and Annie were as vibrant as ever discussing some recent group concert. Jess and Patrick entered hand in hand. Lauren had given Jean a lift and was listening intently to a story Jean was telling her. Val had brought her daughter, Becky, who wanted to join the drama group; this was her first time down and she looked willing and enthusiastic ready to observe and learn. Sean had picked Nina up on route. He was looking particularly smart; Shirley assumed he would be dashing off at the end of the session for a date. Jason and Stacey arrived a bit later than the others. Normally very independent, Stacey had rung Jason, who lived fairly near to her place to ask if he wouldn’t mind picking her up. She still hadn’t fully recovered from the blow to her head she suffered when she fell in London trying to wrench her handbag back from a thief.
Shirley approached Stacey, “I am so pleased to see you, Stacey. How are you?”
“Oh I am fine. If I ever see that prize prat again he will be lucky if he lives to tell the story. The police haven’t found him so he is still out there snatching handbags from other unsuspecting girls.”
“Come and sit with me and let me know if you have had enough and one of us can run you home.” Shirley lead her to a chair helped her take her coat off and sat beside her. She then announced to the others, “okay everyone, time to stop the chat, grab a chair and I’ll hand you over to the very capable Jordon Radcliff.”
There was a drum roll of feet on the floor as Jordon looking embarrassed and shuffled the scripts into a neat pile on his lap.
“As you all know that time of year has come round when we take our latest Murder Mystery to Lauren’s golf club. I have called this one ‘The Ruby Revenge’. The basic plot is Joseph and Fiona Hollingsworth have invited family and close friends to celebrate their Ruby Wedding with them at a five- star hotel. The dinner is followed by a party. A lot of alcohol is consumed and most of the guests are very drunk particularly Joseph. All the guests stay overnight. In the morning there is a shock discovery. Joseph’s lifeless body is found in the hotel car park.
The guests all have motives to kill him: His long- suffering wife has found out about Joseph’s many affairs. The women involved are at the celebration. Caroline, an old school friend and Courtney, a work colleague. Caroline and Courtney find out out about each other on the night of the party. Fiona’s sisters Sylvia and Grace, both blame him for the breakdown of their marriages. The daughter, Samantha, has seen her mother getting more stressed, thin and wan with the behaviour of their father. They hate him for what he has done to her. John, Joseph’s former boss despises Joseph for levering him out of his job and getting the position himself. Tim, Carolyn’s husband has found out about his wife’s affair with Joseph and is ready to confront him. Dolly, Fiona’s mother has spent hours with her daughter sobbing on her shoulder and cannot cope with her decline and is seeking ways of putting it right. Richard has always been a very good friend of Fiona’s, secretly in love with her he cannot stand the way she is treated by Joseph.
In Act one the body is found and we are introduced to the characters involved. Everyone is trying to work out what happened.
In Act two we go back in time to the dinner and the various reasons for the character’s motives are revealed.
In Act three we see the murder scene in the hotel’s car-park.
Each act is preceded by one course of the three- course meal and before the murder scene each table is asked to vote as to who they feel the murderer is and there is a box of wine for the winning table. There is opportunity in the evening to question the various characters. Only the murderer can lie.”
“Sounds great, Jordon. Love it,” Lauren smiled encouragingly at Jordon. “It will be great fun to direct.”
“Thanks for that Lauren. Stacey has kindly offered to prompt. We are glad to see you back, Stace.” There was a chorus of approval from everyone as Stacey takes a dramatic bow.
“Right this is the cast, Fiona, you are Shirley and Sean you are Joseph. Nina you are Dolly, Jess is to play Sylvia, Grace by Jean, Caroline by Debbie, Courtney by Val, Tim by Patrick, Richard by Myself, and John by Jason. I hope that is okay. We have only four weeks to pull it together with Monday and Wednesday rehearsals, then one rehearsal at the golf club.” Jordon leaned back in his chair, relieved he had got that out of the way and started to pass the scripts round. “We can have a read through tonight and then introduce the stage directions on Wednesday. Any questions?”
“I’ve got to know before we read it all, who was the murderer?” Debbie piped up, “I bet it was the wife.”
“No, it was Richard, Fiona’s old friend, who had always loved her, the part I play.” He looked over at Shirley who had not missed the comparison to her own situation with her abusive and unfaithful husband, Jamie. They smiled at each other. Safe in the knowledge that of course it was only a play.
About the authorJanet Howson was born in Rochdale but moved to the South of England when she was seventeen. She loved writing and reading from an early age and wrote poetry and plays. She joined an amateur Drama group when she was eighteen and her love of the theatre began. She trained to be a teacher and her two subjects were English and Drama. She then went on to teach for thirty five years in Comprehensive schools in Redbridge, Havering and Essex. During this time she wrote and directed plays for the pupils and continued to be involved in Amateur Drama both as a performer and a director. Now she is retired, Janet has joined two writing groups and with the help and advice she has received here, started to write short stories and has had stories published in anthologies and her first novel, Charitable Thoughts can be found on Amazon Books. She intends to continue writing both novels and stories, adapting some of them into theatre scripts and radio plays.
The Best of CafeLit 8 an anthology published by Chapletown Books 2019
Stories included: Marking Time & Induction Day.
Nativity an anthology published by Bridge House 2019
Story included: Solution.
Charitable Thoughts a novella published by Austin Macauley
Can be found on Amazon Books
It happened in Essex tall tales from the Basildon Writers’ Group
Can be found on Amazon books