A Jolly Good Show – Episode 35

WORD was quickly passed around that Cyril Broom was calling for a special meeting of the entire company to discuss a matter of urgent importance. They gathered one morning, sitting in the first two rows of the stalls, chatting and speculating on the reason for calling them together.

Cyril’s wife, Enid, sat at the end of the front row, tight-lipped. If she knew anything she was evidently saying nothing. Kate sat next to Lennie Douglas. He smiled benignly at her. His battered face always seemed to light up when it broke into a smile.

“What do you think it is, Lennie?” she asked.

“Oh, summat and nowt,” he replied. “It might be about a new act to replace Johnny instead of them short films Nesbo gets narked about.”

Kate nodded. She waved to Delia as she arrived and she came to join them. Max Reynolds had gone to sit next to Fabio and Rosa. Nesbo came in, glanced round and settled himself in his overcoat at the opposite end of the front row.

Kate watched him for a moment. Since she’d given him that letter she hadn’t had two words out of him apart from the professional conversation of their act and the expression of his sorrow when he’d heard about the death of Aunt Norma.

Everyone else in the company had rallied round and comforted her. She hadn’t told anyone about the money. She needed time to think.

“Hello! What’s this?” Lennie said as Cyril Broom came in with Will Griffiths and a tall, red-haired man. Will sat next to Enid.

Cyril coughed nervously and stood in front of them, the red-haired man standing slightly behind him saying nothing, his eyes wandering along the two front rows.

Cyril began.

“Thank you all for attending. What I have to tell you is important.” His large, bland face was a little shiny. Everyone went quiet.

Cyril continued. He turned slightly to the red-haired man.

“I’ll introduce this gentleman in a moment, but first of all I want to show you this.” He put his hand into the inside coat pocket of his jacket and produced an envelope. Kate thought she recognised it.

“I got this letter the other day.” He took out a folded sheet of plain paper. “It says . . .” he cleared his throat “. . . Be warned. Death is near. Someone will die on stage. Needless to say, it’s not signed.”

Cyril looked at the company. For a moment there was silence. Then Lennie spoke.

“Ah! I’ve died on stage a few times. Especially at the Glasgow Empire.”

There was a little murmur of nervous laughter.

“It is the bad joke. From a cracked pot,” Fabio shouted. There was a murmur of agreement and a little laughter.

Cyril nodded.

“I thought that, but somebody has gone to the trouble to cut out every word from newspapers and paste them on to a piece of paper. The writing on the envelope is deliberately disguised.”

Kate remembered it an untidy scrawl as though a right-handed person had written it with their left hand. She glanced at the man standing next to Cyril, passive, expressionless, but with eyes that seemed to move from face to face of the assembled company.

Delia spoke.

“So what did you decide, Cyril?”

“Like Fabio, my first reaction was it’s some idiot, and I thought I’d just burn it. Then I thought, better safe than sorry, so I asked Will to check everything. Will?”

Will Griffiths stood up.

“Cyril asked me to do a complete safety check. I looked at the stage trap doors, all the lights, particularly the big, heavy spot lights. Everything is fine. But then I inspected the flats.”

The flats were the great canvas sheets of painted scenery suspended high above the stage on heavy beams of wood.

Will paused for a second.

“I found that one of the ropes holding a flat had been cut. Almost in half.”

There was absolute silence.

“When Will showed it to me I went to the police.” Cyril turned to the man next to him. “This is Detective Sergeant Jones.”

All eyes switched to the red-haired man.

“I don’t want to alarm you unduly, ladies and gentlemen, but we must take this threat seriously. Can anyone suggest who might have a grievance against your troupe?”

People sat thinking, a few shaking their heads, then an idea came to Kate.

“Percy Hatton, Sergeant. A man we found out was stealing material from Lennie Douglas. We exposed him. It could be him.”

“By heck, yes!” Lennie exclaimed. “Or more likely it’s his boss, Kenny Wakefield.”

There was a growl of approval.

Sergeant Jones’s eyes were on Kate.

“Thank you, miss. I’ll get all the details later.

He produced a small notebook and flicked over a couple of pages. He suddenly looked up.

“I believe you use knives in your act, Signor Milano,” he said, staring at Fabio.

Fabio looked horrified. Rosa clung to him.

“Why you pick on me? I do nothing. Why?”

There were cries of “No! No!”

Nesbo stood up and raised his hand for silence.

“Sergeant, you wouldn’t know, but the knives that Fabio and Rosa use in their act are stage knives. The blades are not sharp. They are, in fact, smooth and rounded, for safety, you understand.” He sat down to a chorus of approval.

Max Reynolds stood up.

“Will, if the rope on the flat had snapped what would have happened?”

Will Griffiths shrugged.

“The whole beam would have crashed down and anyone underneath would certainly have been badly injured, or even killed.”

“Which flat was it, Will?” Max asked.

“The Alpine scene, meadows and mountains. The one for your act, Max.”

Kate felt Delia’s hand tight on her arm.


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