The Strange Case Of The Buckled Swash – Episode 03

A palpable air of excitement circulated inside the small village hall on Saturday evening as the members of the Palmerston Players made their final preparations for the opening night of “The Brave Buccaneer”. “Break a leg, everyone!” Jean trilled encouragingly as they began to take their places for the opening scene. From behind the closed curtain she could hear the murmur of the first-night audience. It sounded as if the entire village had turned out. “It’s all going to go swimmingly. The dress rehearsal was a shambles, which is always a good sign!” Jean turned to see Peter, dressed in his pirate costume. He looked quite dashing, unlike Major General Tompkins who looked frankly ridiculous as he waddled past, his portly frame squeezed into a buccaneer’s outfit. “Remember what I told you!” he barked at Peter. “In our sword fight at the end of the first act I want you to come at me with a bit more conviction than you did at the dress rehearsal. Make it realistic, man! You’re supposed to be trying to kill me, not tickle me to death.” “Don’t tempt me,” Peter muttered. The first act unfolded without incident. There had been a couple of minor mishaps at one point Major General Tompkins had knocked over a cardboard palm tree which formed part of the set but the audience seemed to be enjoying it so far. They were approaching the dramatic climax, the sword fight between Major General Tompkins and Peter. Arabella, on cue, hurled herself dramatically between the two protagonists. “Stop!” Arabella wailed, throwing her hand to her brow and almost dislodging her wig in the process. “I will not have you fight to the death over me.” Major General Tompkins pushed her roughly to the floor. It was either an excellent piece of acting, Jean noted, or he had enjoyed doing it more than he ought. “Have at thee, varlet,” he squealed, prancing towards his opponent. Peter, his face a mask of cold fury, lunged forward and thrust his sword into the major general’s ample tummy. Letting out a blood-curdling scream, Major General Tomkins toppled forward, to lie prostrate on the stage. The curtain closed to enthusiastic applause. “Bravo, Major General, superb piece of acting,” Jean said as she walked onstage. “Major General?” ****The ambulance had departed, its blue lights off and siren silent, to take the body to the police morgue. On the stage, where the cast and crew were gathered, a tall man in his late thirties with dark hair waited patiently. “DI Barclay.” He flashed a warrant card. “Bedford CID. I’m sorry for the inconvenience but we’ll need to take names and statements from everyone present before we can allow you to leave.” “Inconvenience!” an ashen-faced Arabella exclaimed. “You talk of inconvenience when we’ve just witnessed Tim die on stage in front of our eyes.” “Not for the first time, either.” Ted snorted. “With respect, Mr . . .?” “Guilford, Ted Guilford.” “With respect, Mr Guilford,” DI Barclay continued, “a fatal accident is no subject for humour. As with any sudden, unexplained death, it is my job to establish the facts.” He turned to a shocked-looking Peter. “Under the circumstances I’m going to have to ask you to accompany me to the station.” “You don’t think . . .” “We simply need to establish the facts. And the salient fact is that the deceased died following your stage fight. It’s probably coincidental, but we won’t know that until we establish the cause of death. For the time being you are assisting us with our enquiries, nothing more.” Peter turned to Jean. “Jean, will you let Pippa know what’s happened?” “She wasn’t in the audience?” “No, she’s been out on some animal emergency all day. She came backstage earlier to let me know she was going home to have a bath and a glass of wine, and to wish me luck.” “I’ll let her know,” Jean said, putting a reassuring hand on his arm. “Don’t look so concerned, you haven’t done anything wrong, we all know that.” “Do we, though?” Arabella whispered sotto voce to Ted Guilford. “He certainly wielded that sword as if he meant it.” “As we both know, the man was a bully and a tyrant,” Ted replied with feeling, “but you can’t seriously be suggesting that Peter is capable of murder! It’s more likely the old goat suffered a heart attack. You saw that face of his, he must have been on a bottle of port a day.” “I could use a drink myself,” Arabella muttered. “My nerves are shot. I still can’t take in the fact that Tim’s actually dead. How long do you think they’ll keep us here?” “Not long. I mean, it’s straightforward. We all saw the same thing.” “You’re right. Funny, though . . .” “What?” “Just something Deirdre said earlier this week; that she was positive that tonight would turn out to be eventful. Almost as if she knew something was going to happen.” “You’d better rein in that imagination of yours. First you’re accusing Peter of murder and now you’re hinting Deirdre is implicated. You’ll be accusing me of a revenge killing next!” Arabella laughed nervously. “You’re right, I’m getting a bit carried away. I think what we all need is a good night’s sleep.”


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