Authors: Simon Brett
Table of Contents
CAST, IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE
SO MUCH BLOOD
AN AMATEUR CORPSE
A COMEDIAN DIES
THE DEAD SIDE OF THE MIKE
MURDER IN THE TITLE
NOT DEAD, ONLY RESTING
WHAT BLOODY MAN IS THAT?
A SERIES OF MURDERS
A RECONSTRUCTED CORPSE
SICKEN AND SO DIE
DEAD ROOM FARCE
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First published in Great Britain in 1983
by Victor Gollancz
eBook edition first published in 2012 by Severn House Digital an imprint
of Severn House Publishers Limited.
Copyright Â© 1983 by Simon Brett.
The right of Simon Brett to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
ISBN-13: 978-1-4483-0008-2 (epub)
Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.
This ebook produced by
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Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.
To Little Fat Jack
SUNLIGHT, FILTERED THROUGH
the stained glass armorial bearings of the De Meaux family, splashed bloodstains on the painted flooring. The maid, Wilhelmina, pert in her black and white uniform, entered through the heavy oak door to answer the telephone's insistent summons.
âGood afternoon. Wrothley Grange,' she intoned, economically providing both temporal and spatial information for those unable to afford programmes.
âNo, I'm afraid Sir Reginald De Meaux is not available at the moment. When he's working on his collection of duelling swords in the study he does not like to be disturbed,' she continued, thoughtfully revealing the name and a little of the character of her employer, as well as planting a useful murder weapon.
âI'm sorry, Mr Laurence, the butler, has just had to pop down to the village,' she apologized, raising comforting expectations that, when Something was Done, there would be at least one obvious suspect who might have Done It.
âNo, I'm afraid Lady Hilda is in the rose garden and Master James is playing tennis with Miss Kershaw,' she responded, filling out the cast list a little.
âNo, Professor Weintraub has gone for a walk with Miss Laycock-Manderley and Colonel Fripp,' she continued, mopping up most of the rest of the cast.
âWhat, me?' Coy giggle. âOh, sir, you don't want to know my name. Well, it's Wilhelmina,' she confessed readily, completing the dramatis personae (except for the policemen in Act Three).
âOh yes, certainly sir, I'll take a message, just let me get a pencil and paper.'
This she did, and stood with the one poised over the other. âRight. I'm ready. Yes, and the message is . . .? What? Did you say . . . Murder . . .?'
She looked at the receiver with eight-years-at-stage-school's worth of amazement.
âWho's there? Who's there?' she demanded jiggling the buttons of the telephone.
She replaced the receiver and looked out front. âWell, I declare,' she said, momentarily perplexed.
But her confusion was short-lived. âMust have been a crank,' she concluded with an easily satisfied shrug, and went over to the mantelpiece, her feather duster poised, to draw attention to another potential murder weapon, a heavy brass candlestick.
With her back thus conveniently to the French windows, she did not perceive the entrance of James De Meaux, dressed, for reasons of plot, in dazzling tennis whites and, for reasons of vanity, in a lot of body make-up. She did not see him deposit his racket on a leather armchair, nor apparently was she aware of his approach behind her until his arms were chastely round her waist.
âOh, Mr James,' she protested, fluttering her feather duster without much conviction in order to evade his grasp.
âCome on, Willy. One little kiss,' James demanded roguishly.
âNo, James, not here. Someone might come in. I must go.' She made for the door, but was prevented from reaching it.
âYou weren't so coy at half-past eleven last night in the summerhouse,' James reminded her (at the same time setting up a useful point of reference for the untangling of alibis which lay ahead in Act Three).
âThat's as maybe,' Wilhelmina reprimanded him primly. âWhat a girl does when she's got her uniform on is very different from what she does when she's got it off.'
There had been considerable discussion during rehearsal as to whether this was a deliberately funny line and as to how it should be played. The final decision to play it straight was vindicated by total lack of reaction from the Rugland Spa audience, except for a dirty guffaw from a fourteen-year-old boy who hadn't wanted to come but been dragged along to the theatre by his parents.
âOh, come on,' James pleaded.
âNo, really, Mr James. There's you engaged to Miss Kershaw and â'
âShe won't mind.'
âShe'll be a pretty strange fiancÃ©e if she doesn't.'
âShe won't mind, because she won't know. Look, Willy, you know the situation . . .'
In spite of Wilhelmina's rueful nod, James still proceeded with his explanation, because, although she might know the situation the audience did not. âThe old man's money only comes to me if I'm married when he pops off. Now, I know there's no chance of him dying in the near future . . .' (Tragic irony, this, if the audience did but realize it.) âOn the other hand, I don't want to get caught on the hop, so it'll be safer if I marry Felicity now just to be sure.'
âHuh. I thought you really loved me â but all you want is a bit of skirt.'
âI do really love you. But even if I did just want a bit of skirt, my father wouldn't wear it.'
This line, which no one had thought of as suspect during rehearsal, was greeted by huge laughter. Anxiety glinted in the eyes of James and Wilhelmina. It intensified as they heard an echoing giggle from behind the door of the tall cupboard by the fireplace.
âHe's got this social thing about dangling with tomest â er, tangling with domestics,' James fluffed on desperately.
Wilhelmina put a full stop after these two words (which were all that the author had supplied in the script), and the pair of them waited ten seconds until the door opened.
It admitted Lady Hilda De Meaux, who informed them that she had something of enormous importance to impart to her son. On his own.
Wilhelmina made for the door. But before she could reach it (and before Lady Hilda could reveal her secret), Felicity Kershaw appeared through the French windows in tennis whites, complaining that James was jolly lazy and that she was fed up with always looking for his balls in the long grass (another moment which made the recalcitrant fourteen-year-old think that he had perhaps hitherto underestimated the theatre as a medium of entertainment).
The cast all looked nervously at the cupboard door, from behind which another snort of laughter had been heard.
A little idle banter ensued between Lady Hilda and Felicity about how much they could do with a cup of tea, and Wilhelmina was despatched to make the necessary arrangements. She made for the door.
But her exit was again delayed, this time by the return from their walk of Professor Weintraub, Miss Laycock-Manderley and Colonel Fripp. The Professor, fuzzy in tweed and garlanded with binoculars, cameras and tape-recorder, expressed his hopes for good bird-watching during his stay in the area, stating the intention to try his luck the following day over beyond the pine forest.
Colonel Fripp, moustache and hackles bristling, advised caution. Surely the Professor knew that in the pine forest was a top-secret army research establishment.
No? Really? The Professor feigned surprise. How interesting.
In the ensuing pause Miss Laycock-Manderley suddenly announced that she had returned from their walk early because of a premonition. She was, she explained, psychic, and she was experiencing a strong sense of evil. Something awful was going to happen at Wrothley Grange. The feeling was very powerful. âIt's happened to me before,' she confided, âin many different ways. But I've never had it like this.'
Here was another line to tickle the fourteen-year-old's sense of humour, and again the cast had cause to look with irritation at the cupboard door. Beneath its make-up, Lady Hilda's face set in an expression of annoyance as she laughed off her guests' fears and once again suggested-the cure-all of tea.
James thought this was a jolly good idea, Felicity confessed to being parched, and Professor Weintraub joked heavily about the way everything in England stopped for tea.
Wilhelmina (for whom the Act had now degenerated into a series of frustrated attempts to exit) was once again sent off to fetch tea. She made for the door. But before she reached it, Lady Hilda remembered that they would not have enough tables for so large a party. Would Wilhelmina mind getting one of the folding card-tables out of the cupboard by the fireplace?
âNo, of course not, milady,' enthused Wilhelmina, glad perhaps of another door to make for.
In the front row of the Circle, the time-freckled hand of Leslie Blatt, the play's author, squeezed the knee of his eighteen-year-old companion. âThis bit's good,' he wheezed. âNever fails.'
Wilhelmina turned the handle of the cupboard and the door swung outwards.
The body of an elderly man in tweeds fell out. It landed neatly on its back in the space between a sofa and an armchair.
Stuck in its chest was a duelling sword. The red light from the window intensified the glistening wet redness on his shirt-front.
The cast, disposed in a neat semicircle around the body, gasped as one.
âOh no!' screamed Lady Hilda. And then, for purposes of identification, âIt's Reginald!' Finally, for those in the audience of particularly slow perception, she added, âKilled by one of his own duelling swords!'
The duelling sword trembled and swayed as the body shook with suppressed giggles.
The curtain fell to a clacking of geriatric applause.
As soon as it was down, Lady Hilda's face lost its last vestige of benevolence. âBloody unprofessional!' she stormed. âI will not work with people who behave like that. Either he goes or I go!'