A Theatrical Surprise
A knock at the Smith’s farmhouse door was answered by the daughter of the house, Lucy. A stout but smartly dressed lady in her late forties stood expectantly. Lucy was relieved that it was not the dairyman’s son, Jim, who had been pestering her. “Good evening, Mrs Long, have you come to see Ma?
“No, my dear, Lucy, it is you I have come to see. May I come in? I must say you are looking very pretty in that flowery frock. Was that what your Ma made for your eighteenth birthday?”
“Yes it is, thank you. Do step inside. Ma is out and Pa is in the yard. An axle on the hay cart has broken and he and Jed are attempting to repair it, rather unsuccessfully, so far. You are very welcome, as I am very tired of hearing about it. Some female conversation will cheer me very much.”
Lucy showed her visitor into the parlour before going to make coffee.
Mrs Long was a woman made stout by twelve births, the only survivals of which had been the very first two, a boy and a girl, now grown and many miles away. She had also buried two husbands, the first from a heart attack and the second from a bullet in the civil war and having been left well-provided for by both, she now enjoyed indulging herself in voluntary work and leisure. She also saw herself as a refining influence on the young ladies of the district.
Lucy returned with coffee and her own apple cake. Mrs Long looked delighted. “Oh, my dear, you must have known I was coming.” Whereupon, she helped herself to a large piece in a very unrefined way and tucked in as though it were the first slice of cake she had had after a fast, which could never be true. Fasting was a word unknown to Hetty Long.
Lucy sat down in her mother’s chair, for she knew its usual occupant would be away all afternoon. After a previous mistake, Mrs Long knew not to sit in Pa’s chair and had made herself comfortable on the Chesterfield.
“To what do I owe this pleasure, Mrs Long?” Lucy asked as she poured the coffee and took a slice of cake.
Taking a pamphlet from her bag, Mrs Long said, “Well, I know how much you enjoy the theater and especially that Romeo and Juliet in Boston when visiting your cousins. You went on so about that handsome actor Wilkes Booth. Well, I went with my sister when he played it here in Washington and you are right. He is very handsome. You should have heard the swooning sighs when he came on stage. I understand he is appearing at Ford’s Theater in three weeks and I thought we could go together. Ask your Ma and Pa if you want. I don’t suppose Jed would be interested. There’s a rumour that the President will be going.”
“Thank you so much for thinking of me, Mrs Long. I dreamt about Mr Wilkes Booth for so long after Boston, imagining I was Juliet. I would love to come with you. I’ll ask Pa but I can tell you now that he won’t be interested, being convinced the theater is for those with nothing better to do and he always thinks he has something better to do. I’m not sure that even the possibility of seeing Mr Lincoln would be enough encouragement. Jed will always side with his Pa, so I think it will be just we women. Ma will have to come or Pa won’t let me go. He’s so old fashioned. What’s the play?”
Mrs Long sipped her coffee before leaning forward to take another piece of cake. “It’s called ‘Our American Cousin and is supposed to be very funny.”
“I don’t really care what it’s about. Let me see the pamphlet.” She took and perused it but looked disappointed. “It doesn’t say that he is in it. A Mr Harry Hawk is in the lead. How disappointing.”
“I’m sorry, dear. I must need new spectacles.” The look of embarrassment on Mrs Long’s face was palpable. Lucy knew that sight was not the problem. For all her attempts at refinement, it had become increasingly clear that Hetty Long could not read.
Lucy raised a smile. “Never mind. I’m sure it will be good, anyway and we might see the President. Oh, and Mr Wilkes Booth is a regular there, so we might see him even if he isn’t in the play.”
Three weeks later, outside Ford’s Theater, Mrs Long, Mrs Smith and Lucy were on the outside of a jostling throng, swelled to the maximum, as much because folk had heard the rumour about the attendance of Mr and Mrs Lincoln, as by any real desire to see the play. Lucy was alert in case she should catch a glimpse of her hero, which she did. She pulled on her friend’s arm and pointed him out.
“Look, there he is! He must be heading towards the stage door. He isn’t the lead today so perhaps he is kindly allowing Mr Hawk to have all the glory. What a wonderful man.”
Hetty Long and Mrs Smith strained their necks trying to see where Lucy was pointing. “Oh, yes,” said Mrs Smith, “I’m surprised he isn’t taking a day off. Stage work is hard. Must be doing some backstage duty or he just wants to see the President like so many others. Are we are actually going to get the seats we’ve paid for? This crowd is very boisterous.” Then they saw that the delay was caused by the arrival of the presidential party. The crowd dispersed after this had entered and the three women went in and took their seats.
“Oh,” said Lucy. “Just think – not only have I just seen my favourite actor but we will see the President, too. This will certainly be a night I shall never forget!”
© Rosemary J Wells 2017
In the Right Place at the Right Time.
She could see a young man sitting on the edge of the cliff. He was sobbing his heart out and she wondered if she could help but it would be tricky. Not being a trained counsellor, she could tip him over the edge, both figuratively and literally. Nevertheless, it would be unthinkable to stand by and do nothing. Perhaps she was meant to walk that way that day to be in the right place at the right time to help. Taking a deep breath, she slowly made her way towards him.
He heard her and turned his head, “Stay away! I’ll jump.”
She sat down where she was. “Okay,” she said gently. “I’ll just sit here and you can talk if you want to. Something terrible must have happened to you and I thought I might be able to help.” She had better not say too much – let him take the lead, then hastily added, “I’m Maureen, by the way,”
He looked intently at his knees and the tears continued to flow. “Nobody can help me. I don’t want to live – nothing to live for now.”
There was silence for about a minute but it seemed like an hour.
The sobbing slowly subsided. Maureen, who had been slowly and carefully sliding forward an inch at a time, reached into her bag, found a tissue and held it out to him. To her surprise he took it readily.
“Thanks,” he sniffed and then blew his nose dramatically. “You see… my wife left me for my brother. She took the kids: they always loved Uncle Mick. He always made them laugh, you see. I haven’t got a good sense of humour – boring, she says. Because I couldn’t sleep, I was so tired and had an accident while delivering petrol – that was my job. Smashed into a car, put three people in hospital and spilled petrol all over the road at a roundabout. Very dangerous thing, petrol. It cost a fortune to clear up. I lost my job and yesterday they took away my licence for five years. Only because I didn’t kill anyone, they said I was lucky because I didn’t get jail straight away but a suspended sentence. I’m glad I didn’t kill anyone but I’ve got no job, yet I now have to pay money for the kids, even though she walked out on me. It just ain’t bloody fair. I’m no good at anything else but driving, so I can’t see a way out but doing away with meself. I ain’t gonna be missed, am I?”
Maureen had moved beside him but he didn’t seem to have noticed. “I’m sure your children will miss you very much, no matter what you might think and despite what you have been led to believe.” She wanted to put her arm round him but decided against it.
He gave his nose another good blow. “Thanks for being kind but I don’t believe you. They made their feelings known loud and clear. I’m no use to anyone now except for what they can get outta me. Well, I’m gonna scupper their plans. They ain’t getting a penny out of me. There ain’t even money for birthday presents now and I’d like the kids to see I do love ’em despite everything.” He took a photo from his jacket pocket and gave it to Maureen.
She studied it. “They’re lovely children: two boys and a girl. The eldest boy looks just like you. You can’t want them to think they drove you to suicide. It will hang over them all their lives. Children tend to discover the truth when they grow up.” She handed the photo back. He put it inside his shirt next to his heart. That could be an ominous sign. She wasn’t sure what to say next.
There followed another period of silence as both parties contemplated the immediate future.
He was in dire straights, unable to see ahead. She was not sure that there was anything more of comfort she could say.
He turned to look at her for the first time. “Unless you can think of some magic words to put this all right, there is one thing you could do for me.”
“I promise and I never break my promises.”
“Right, well this is harder than I thought it’d be. I never liked heights. You could give me a push.”
So she did.
R J Wells © 2017
The Justice of Fame – ( Winner of Trophy in January 2017)
I waved as the train left the station. That way I blended in with the other passengers who had friends and relatives on the platform.
It had been just a bit too risky to arrest our quarry there, knowing Atkinson to be armed and dangerous. I waved two waves back and forward out of the window, then one up and down: the signal to the sergeant to pass the word down the line that Atkinson, murderer of eight people including his sister and mother, was on the train. I had been chosen for this job because of my experience in discrete tailing of suspects. Some had even suggested that I could once have been a spy.
There was only one more stop on the line and there a number of constables in plain clothes would wait until the public was out of the way, keeping him in their sights until they saw the right opportunity to pounce. We knew he had a knife and a gun. The timing had to be perfect.
I sat diagonally across and a little way down the carriage from him. I peered furtively over a magazine. He was surpisingly calm. A steward came down the aisle taking orders for tea and coffee. Atkinson ordered coffee.
A shadow came over me and I looked up to see the smiling steward. “Nothing for me, thank you.” I said, trying to stay as concealed as possible behind the magazine.
“Here, aren’t you that Detective Chief Inspector from Exeter?” Declared the steward, loudly. ” Yes, you are. I saw you on the telly last month asking for information about that runaway murderer. Did you catch him?”
Disaster! Why did the Chief Constable insist that I was the best man to stand in for him as the public face of policing while he was having his hernia operation and the Super was on holiday? Why did I accept?
There was a scream from the other end of the carriage. Atkinson had grabbed the woman next to him and had his knife at her throat. Terror radiated from her eyes. “Stay away from me,” he shouted. “Don’t come anywhere near me or she’ll be headless.” Pointing to a tall man in the opposite seat he ordered, “Pull the cord.” The man froze. Atkinson shouted again. “Pull the bloody communication cord!” This time the man complied. The train lurched to a halt.
Atkinson let the woman go, ran out of the carriage and exited the train onto the dark and bleak moor where he quickly vanished from our sight.
I tried calling Sergeant Reed but there was no signal. They would soon realise something had happened but nothing could reasonably be done until first light. What a mess. Now we had a dangerous murderer abroad at a major tourist destination. Thank goodness it wasn’t the height of the season.
The new Assistant Chief Constable authorised a helicopter search of the area immediately on our reaching the station and telling what had happened. I was not looking forward to the dressing down but that would have to wait. I had a feeling that I would not be chosen to trail anyone again thanks to my fifteen minutes of fame.
The helicopter search was fruitless. In the dark this was not surprising, even with searchlights. In the morning I joined in the search from the air while two hundred constables, drafted in from neighbouring forces scoured the moor on foot. He had to be found quickly.
For two days no trace of our murderer was found. At least we had no evidence of his doing anything terrible. I was in the helicopter with Reed, feeling frustrated and dejected when our pilot, Danny, called through the intercom that he had noticed something that looked like clothing below. It wasn’t moving. The ground around was all a bit boggy so we had to land a little way away. “Be careful,” Danny shouted. This mire has swallowed a lot in its time.” We picked our way across the bog. There was a coat lying on a mound of moss. I recognised it as Atkinson’s. Sergeant Reed unfolded a plastic evidence bag and put the coat inside. Perhaps the mire had claimed justice.
We came to the edge of an ancient stone quarry. Reed got on his stomach to safely peer over the edge. We could have a gun trained on us and were on the alert. Reed took a breath in and declared, “Bloody hell, so that beast really exists! We’d better look out for a monster.”
I lay down beside him to see. Below, at the bottom of the quarry was the lifeless body of Atkinson, torn, bloody and with parts of him missing, presumed eaten. The legend had got him. Danny went back to the helicopter to radio our position and information.
Back at headquarters, the debriefing was brief, as was my interview with the ACC. My days of action in the field were effectively over thanks to my apparent fame but I would be very useful relating to the public. I could see many TV appearances looming on the horizon and considered whether it would be possible to take early retirement but neglected to voice my thought to the ACC. I was promoted to Superintendent, a desk job, more appropriate for celebrity police. At least I didn’t get demoted, sacked or lose my pension.
Anyway, the press was no longer interested in me. I had not caught the murderer. That accolade went to a ghostly big moggy who might or might not exist. The local tourist industry appreciated the publicity and the tax-payer did not have to pay to keep a murderer alive and all because of my few minutes of fame.
Does the legend exist? If not, what did that to Atkinson? I am so pleased that walking on the moors has never appealed to me.
©️Rosemary J Wells 2017