by Janet Howson
a pint of beer
An overwhelming sense of foreboding swept over Shirley as she helped pack up the car with the light and sound equipment needed for the evening. She slammed the door and got in beside Jamie, who was tapping his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel. As soon as she got in, he accelerated away at high speed, sending a spray of loose stones in their wake. Concentrating on the road ahead they sat in silence. The atmosphere was as chilly as the evening and Shirley could see her breath clearly.
“Don’t forget we are picking Val up,” she glanced at her sullen husband, not wanting to upset him before the performance. “It is going to be very difficult for her doing the Murder Mystery Evening so soon after Becky’s death.” There was no reply so Shirley tried again, “Thanks for stepping in to do the sound and lights, it is a job no one wants to take on.”
Shirley sighed and stared out of the window, watching the familiar streets, houses and shops pass by. She smiled to herself. She had decided, with Jordan’s help, to leave Jamie once the show was over. The years of physical and verbal abuse had taken its toll. She was mentally exhausted. Tonight was the night, the night of truth.
“Here’s Val’s house. Just pull in and honk the horn. She will be waiting for us.”
Jamie swung violently to his left, “A bit more warning wouldn’t have gone amiss, you trying to kill me?”
For the second time that evening Shirley smiled inwardly. It was very apt as the show was about the murder of an abusive disloyal husband and father. Jamie was all these things and more.
Shirley wound her window down, “Hi Val, sorry we’re late, Jamie had to work overtime so it’s all been a bit of a rush.”
“Blame me why don’t you, I’m your excuse for everything,” Jamie spat out his response under his breath.
“No problem, Shirley, it is good of you to pick me up. It’s made me come. I was getting cold feet today, I didn’t know if I could face an audience but now I’m on my way I am gaining confidence. I know Becky would want me to carry on.”
Val struggled into the back where Shirley had made room for her with all the light and sound equipment. “It’s a very casual affair, nothing to worry about at all. We do this every year at Lauren’s golf club. They seem to enjoy it and keep asking us back.”
Shirley and Val kept up a light conversation until they reached their destination, aware all the time of the brooding presence of Jamie. Once there he got out and unloaded all the gear and proceeded to take it inside. Shirley grasped the opportunity to whisper to Val. “We won’t be taking you home, so I’ve arranged for Sean to drop you off. I can’t tell you anymore at the moment but I’m leaving Jamie.”
“About time, girl, you have suffered in silence for too long, I’d have killed him by now.” Again Shirley recognised the similarities of her life and the murder mystery.
Jamie returned and the conversation came to an abrupt end. Jamie eyed them suspiciously, “What are you two whispering about? Not me I hope?”
“Just drama business. Come on let’s go in, we have loads to do before the evening begins. I think Lauren has to give a talk first, as she is Lady Captain, then the performance starts.”
The three of them disappeared inside the golf club just as a squeal of brakes announced the arrival of Sean who had brought down Veronica, his girlfriend, to help behind backstage. “Thanks for doing this Veronica, I will introduce you to the rest of the group. They will love you.” He lent forwards and kissed her on her cheek.
“Come on you great softie, take me to your leader. I am really looking forward to this.”
Sean loved how she was always so upbeat. Certainly a half cup full kind of person. “Hey there’s Debbie and Annie, I’ll introduce you.”
Debbie and Annie were getting out of Debbie’s husbands car. “All right Tommy, mate?” Sean shouted and waved.
“Can’t complain, well not much anyway,” Tommy gave Sean the thumbs up and drove off.
“Sean, who is this then?” Annie walked besides Veronica, “Looks far too good for you.” She laughed, “take no notice of me, I have known him too long. He couldn’t have me so he has had to look elsewhere. Debs, isn’t that right?” she turned and waited for Debbie to join them.
“Don’t tease her, Annie, you’ll put the poor girl off. He’s like a brother to us. Well, introduce us Sean.”
“Sorry,” Sean always felt clumsy and foolish when he was with Annie and Debbie. “This is, Veronica. Veronica, meet my Thespian buddies, Annie and Debbie.”
“Careful how you say that mate,” Angie nudged Debbie and they both fell into screams of laughter, as they all entered the golf club together. They were immediately shushed by a passing rather severe looking lady.
“Better watch you P’s and Q’s here girls.”
They spun round to see Jason with a tall good looking young man they had never seen before. “We don’t want anyone landing in the bunker!” His partner laughed at the joke.
“This is Nat and he has kindly offered to do us a top notch write up for the local rag as he has contacts with them. Nat these reprobates are all part of the group, Debbie, Annie, Sean and another.”
“I’m Veronica, nice to meet you both. My first time with the group as well, Nat. We novices will have to stick together.”
Laughing and chatting they made their way to the locker rooms to get changed. They passed the bar which was already full of members and guests. On the way out was a young man they didn’t recognise carrying a pint of beer, with Stacey who was reading a script.
“Hey, Stace, it’s great to see you. Who is this innocent looking young man you have brought down like a lamb to the slaughter?” Sean gave Stacey a hug.
“This is Dean. Dean meet Sean, Annie, Debbie, Jason and…”
“Stace, you’ve made it.” They all turned round to see Patrick and Jess, hand in hand, smiling at everyone. “I was so hoping you would come. Hey who are all these new people? Patrick, started to count heads, “three newbies, that is exiting. Now who…”
Patrick was cut off by Lauren who was trying to get the cast gathered together in the locker rooms for a quick talk before the evening began. “Come on folks, if you can get changed into your costumes and do your make-up. Is everyone here?”
“I don’t think Jean is here yet, I didn’t see her car in the car park,” Jess spoke up.
“Oh, no problem there, she arrived early with a very charming gentleman called, Colin. She’s like the cat that got the cream. Good for her, she deserves a bit of happiness. Now come on no more chatting,” Lauren literally pushed the group down the corridor past the golfing trophies and the team photographs on the wall.
Once everyone was together the talk was at first incessant as they all caught up on their news. Then Lauren called them together.
“Okay, I will do a short introduction then Jamie will take the lights down and the action will begin. Stacey will be just inside the door leading off the acting area ready to prompt, but hopefully won’t need her.” This was greeted with coughs and mock laughter.
“You know me, Lauren, line perfect… not, I only got down to it last night what with the burglary and..”
“No excuses, Jason, we all have a lot going on in our lives,” Lauren smiled at Jason knowing he was a loyal and trustworthy member of the group. “Right, break a leg and I will be sitting out front watching you all and I know you’ll do me proud. Oh, I almost forgot to say a big thank you to Jamie for stepping in to do the lights, I expect he is setting up in the hall so perhaps you could give him that message later, Shirley.”
Shirley glanced at Jordon. She hadn’t broken it to him that Jamie would be doing the technical side of his paly. She was always worried that one day Jordon would say something to him and it would end up badly, as Jamie had such a violent temper. Jordon’s face remained impassive.
As soon as the circle had broken up Shirley went over to him and put her hand on his arm. “I couldn’t find anybody else, Jordon. I meant to tell you, sorry. I expect you would have preferred no lights and sound at all rather than him doing it.”
“No problem. Come on we had better stand at the door and wait for our cues.”
From then on the usual tension, concentration and involvement moved the evening along at a brisk pace. This was only relaxed with the fifteen minutes between each act when the audience could ask the cast, in role, about themselves to enable them to gather clues as to who the killer was. They then had a course of the meal, three in total then each table submitted their decision as to who they thought the murderer was. The final scene was then to be shown.
Jordon stood pensively and waited for his cue. He had given himself the part of Richard, the murderer, and close friend of Fiona the abused, unhappy wife of the victim, Joseph. In this scene, he had to persuade Joseph to move his car so he could get him alone in the car park. Then in the cover of darkness hit him from behind with his car wrench. Then having achieved this he would return to the dinner. Sean was playing Joseph and he had to appear drunk and disorientated. This he did very well. Once again Jordon reflected the similarities to real life. He adored Shirley and often felt like killing her wayward, abusive, unfaithful husband, Jamie.
Jordon picks up his cue and delivers his lines and they both leave the stage. The lights black and would then come up on a car park scene with Richard and Joseph facing each other. However, the scene remained black. Both actors waited not sure what to do. They could hear whispers in the adjoining room and after what seemed ages the main hall lights were switched on and Lauren was standing at the back of the hall by the lighting board. Her scream reverberated around the crowded hall. Everyone span round in their seat. The rest of the cast came running out of the changing room weaving their way round the tables knocking over glasses and banging into chairs.
Shirley was the first to get to him. She felt for a pulse, hardly aware of the commotion around her and someone’s mobile phone being used to call an ambulance. The noise became a hollow echo and the room seemed to sway. She felt a strong pair of arms gently lift her to her feet. Jordon held her to him. He was as shocked as she was.
“There is nothing we can do. The ambulance is on its way. Here, sit down and we’ll try to get all the guests to leave as quickly as possible.”
Shirley was hardly aware of the hall emptying slowly as people realised what had happened. She knew someone was wrapping a blanket around her and realised she was shivering. She knew the husband she was going to leave that night had died. Her only thought was, how would she break it to their daughters?
The wail of the ambulance could be heard outside. Lauren went out to show the paramedics into the hall. It didn’t take them long to get Jamie onto a stretcher and into the ambulance.
“Who is coming with him?” the young paramedic asked.
Shirley tried to concentrate. That would be her, of course. “Oh, I will, I am his wife.” She stood up, still feeling sick and giddy. Jordon held on to her arm to steady her.
“I don’t think she is in a fit state to go, she is in shock.” He told the paramedic. “Shall I go with you, Shirley?”
“I am okay, Jordon. I have to go alone,” she looked into Jordon’s concerned eyes, “I need to say goodbye to him. I was going to say that to him anyway tonight but in a very different way. I will ring you.”
The rest of the cast looked on as Shirley left the hall with Jamie. There was a hushed silence then everyone started talking at once to each other. No one had liked him, because of the way he treated Shirley, but they wouldn’t have wished this on him.
After everyone had changed out of their costumes, they left Lauren to lock up. Jordon was the last of the cast to leave. He too was in shock. He had so often wished that something awful would happen to Jamie and it had.
“Penny for them, Jordon?”
“Oh, Lauren, sorry I’ll get out from under your feet. You must have a lot to sort out.”
“All done, I’ll walk with you to your car.”
They closed the hall door and walked down the long corridor to the entrance door which Lauren locked behind her.
“She’ll need you now more than ever, Jordon. We all know what you feel for her. She needs someone like you to get her through this,” she paused. “I know it’s none of my business but Val said Shirley was leaving Jamie tonight and moving in with you?”
“I’m there for her, whatever she decides. These are going to be tough weeks for her and her daughters. I will do all I can, but I feel so helpless.”
“You don’t need to do anything. Just take your cue from her.” Lauren squeezed Jordon’s arm, “See you soon and good luck.”
Yes, thought Jordon. Hopefully the cue from Shirley would be his cue to happiness. He smiled to himself and walked to his car to return home to wait for Shirley’s call.
About the author
Janet 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, ran drama clubs, worked with pupils from special schools, involving them in productions, worked with Chicken Shed after school 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 from the other members, has started to write short stories and her first novel, ‘Charitable Thoughts’ has now been published. 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