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Authors: Margaret Yorke

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Cast For Death (6 page)

But there was nothing to show that Sam had ever been there.

 

Part V
1

 

Patrick did not care for the architectural style of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, but he had spent many happy hours inside it, so, like a
jolie laide,
it charmed him as he walked towards it from the big car park beside Clopton Bridge. He crossed the road and went through the gardens. A few people stood on the river bank looking at the swans, and more were strolling about in front of the theatre.

Patrick’s former pupils were employed all over the world in various ways; some taught; some were journalists; some were civil servants, a few were politicians. He had lost track of many, but he remembered that one had a job here behind the scenes in the theatre, though in what capacity he could not recall: publicity, perhaps, or was it to do with finance? Never mind, it did not matter.

He enquired for Denis Vernon at the box office, where no one had heard of him, so they sent him round the side of the building to the office entrance, telling him to try there.

Some minutes later Patrick was being led along echoing stone corridors, past door after door, and at last was deposited in a small office where two girls were typing and a young man with close-cropped hair was talking into a telephone.

It took Patrick a moment to recognise Denis, for when last seen he wore shoulder-length locks; shorn like this he looked startlingly naked.

Denis gestured at Patrick and went on talking animatedly into the telephone about some cheque that had gone astray. The two girls looked up; one looked straight back at her typewriter again, but the other smiled and invited Patrick to sit down. There was one small, frail chair available, its back to the wall, and sitting in it, Patrick’s legs stretched almost across the width of the room, which was long and narrow, with a counter running along one side on which the two typewriters rested. Behind Denis, a window overlooked the town; the office was warm and snug: no wonder, with so many people in it, Patrick thought. Photographs of scenes from various past Stratford productions hung on the wall, and he amused himself by trying to identify the players and the plays while he waited. Soon Denis replaced the telephone with a thump and came surging across the room, to the peril of the other occupants. Patrick had forgotten how vigorously he always strode about.

‘Well, Patrick, how nice! What are you doing here?’ he exclaimed heartily.

‘Just passing through,’ said Patrick, feeling suddenly fatigued by this exuberance. ‘I remembered you were here and thought you might have lunch with me – just a snack in a pub somewhere.’

‘I’d love it. As it happens, I’m free today,’ said Denis. He glanced at his watch. ‘In half an hour? At the—’

Patrick cut him short and named a pub where the beer was famous.

‘Jean will show you the way down,’ said Denis, and Jean, the more friendly of the two girls, rose to lead him back to the outer world.

Patrick would have enjoyed finding his own way out, with a chance to prowl about in this interesting place, where suddenly you saw a row of costumes on a rack, or another corridor leading off into the unknown fascinations of the backstage theatre. As he followed Jean, who looked good from the rear in her tight trousers, an actor he recognised passed them. He wore the current uniform of dark brown corduroy trousers and waistcoat, over which could be thrown cloak or doublet, which the company had adopted latterly. Jean told him as they went along that this side of the theatre had formerly been dressing-rooms; now most of these were on the river side of the building. That accounted for the long, narrow shape of the office they had just left.

The play tonight was
Othello,
a repeat of the previous year’s successful production, though with a different cast. Patrick thought that he might try to pick up a ticket for it; he had seen it last year with Joss Ruxton as Othello and had enjoyed it; the director had steered away from some of the gimmicky tricks which had so enraged faithful Stratford theatregoers in recent years.

Denis arrived at the pub five minutes late. He burst in, almost knocking over a mild youth who was standing by the door drinking a coke.

‘Well, Patrick, how’s everything?’ he cried, and without waiting for an answer went on, ‘sorry I hadn’t time for you in the office. It’s all go, go, you know. Season proper starts soon and there’s lots to do.’

‘I’m sure there is,’ said Patrick. ‘What will you drink?’

‘It’s lucky you found me free today,’ said Denis, when they had got their beer. ‘Hi, there!’ he called to a group on the other side of the room, which was heavily timbered, rather dark, and loaded with atmosphere, some of it genuinely old. His acquaintances across the room waved back.

‘Are they theatre people?’ Patrick asked. ‘Your friends?’

They were. Denis named them for him. They were all connected with the administration; none were actors.

‘How long have you been here?’ Patrick asked.

‘Three years.’

‘You must know most people in Stratford by this time?’

‘Oh, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that,’ said Denis modestly. ‘There are so many. But a lot, a lot.’

‘You like it here?’

‘Oh yes. It’s alive – exciting,’ said Denis.

Patrick could believe it. Although Denis was rather overpowering, his enthusiasm was endearing; Patrick often grew depressed by the negative approach of so many people to their lives and occupations.

‘I suppose you’re busy with rehearsals now?’ he asked.

‘Only the first plays,’ said Denis. ‘They get them together in the last eight weeks – the casting’s often not finished till then.’

‘So late?’

‘That’s right. The leading actors are agreed sooner, usually, but not the others. Actors live very much from day to day. They get offered things, and take them, and then aren’t available when they’re wanted later.’

‘You mean suddenly a film part turns up, or something?’

‘Yes. Or television – they’re gone for ten weeks if they land a series, and perhaps it may lead to another, whereas a season here may not. If someone from television says, “We want you on Wednesday,” they’d be mad not to take it.’

‘A bird in the hand, you mean.’

‘Yes.’

‘Must make the producer’s job difficult.’

‘Oh, it does. There’s a lot to be thought of, you know. You want someone for a big part who’ll accept a small one in another play, and so on.’

‘And I suppose they have to fit in together, as a team?’

‘Oh yes.’

Patrick had not realised quite how last-minute it all was. He had imagined that the director sat down a year ahead selecting his cast from the top to the bottom and signing them up then and there. Such eleventh-hour planning would not suit him as a way of life.

‘There’s a bit of a panic on now, I believe. Chap they’d got for Friar Lawrence in
Romeo and Juliet
later in the year jumped in the Thames last week,’ said Denis blithely.

Patrick sat up. Here it was.

‘What?’ he said.

‘Mm. Sam Irwin. Not well known, but a good actor. He’s been here before. They wanted him last year, but for some reason he couldn’t come.’

‘I remember Sam Irwin,’ said Patrick. ‘Why did he jump in the river?’

‘I’ve no idea. Pressure of life, I suppose,’ said Denis.

While they ate thick slices of cold ham and baked potatoes, Patrick discovered that most of the actors lived in lodgings or flats round the district; some of the permanent staff had houses in Stratford; Denis himself had a flat in a new block in the town.

‘Have they found anyone to take Sam Irwin’s place?’ Patrick asked after a while.

‘Oh, bound to have,’ said Denis. ‘They’ll have rung round the’Had he been up to audition?’

‘He wouldn’t audition – not someone like him, who’s been around for ages. Things aren’t done like that here,’ said Denis kindly. ‘He’d have been chosen and would have accepted – probably all through his agent. He might have come up to arrange about digs or something like that. I don’t know. Why?’

‘Oh, I was just curious,’ said Patrick. ‘It seems odd that he should jump in the river when he’d got a season here planned. What else was he going to be?’

‘Oh, something or other in
Julius Caesar
– Cinna, was it?’

‘Cinna the poet? Or the other one?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Hm. Cinna the poet came to a sticky end too,’ said Patrick.

‘Irwin’s career does seem to have been rather a stop-go one. Maybe he didn’t feel he could cope with the challenge here,’ said Denis, with surprising insight. ‘He’d have had at least one more part – probably not a very big one – in
Henry V.’

‘You mean he may have got stage fright?’

‘Could be.’

Some shock or other had made Sam’s heart stop before he could drown. Was it the sudden chill of total immersion, or the terror of being bound and stuffed in a sack? But why should anyone want to tie him up and stuff him in a sack? It all came back to that.

Patrick walked back with Denis to the theatre, with the aim of trying to get a ticket for the evening performance. Just as they arrived, he saw Sergeant Bruce, last seen in Sam’s Hammersmith digs, and an older man in plain clothes, leaving the stage door. They got into a large black car and drove away.

So the police had learned of Sam’s commitment here and come to enquire about it. And they had come from London, not merely asked for a report from the local force.

He wondered what they had been able to learn. What a pity the case was not a Yard one; then he could have asked Colin.

He decided to postpone
Othello
until another time.

 

2

 

It was not at all difficult to discover the name of Sam Irwin’s agent. Patrick simply went round to the stage door of the Fantasy Theatre and asked, after driving straight to London from Stratford-upon-Avon. By this time the cast were beginning to come in for the evening performance. The stage door-keeper telephoned somebody, and a man appeared whom Patrick recognised as the actor playing Malcolm. He supplied the answer straight away, said he was grieved about Sam, and announced that he meant to go to the funeral.

Patrick was glad to find some evidence that Sam had been regarded, if not with affection, at least with esteem, by his colleagues. It was too late to call on the agent now; that must wait. The evening lay blankly ahead, and he thought of Liz. He got into the car and drove to Bolton Gardens, where she lived.

Liz took some time to answer the bell, and he had almost given her up when at last he heard her disembodied voice over the entry-phone as he stood on the step outside the old house in which she had a flat. She sounded surprised when she heard who it was below, but bade him enter, and the door unlocked to admit him.

Her flat was on the third floor. It had only two rooms, apart from the bathroom and kitchen, but they were large. Patrick had not been there for some time; there was a comfortable feeling of familiarity, however, as he walked through the door which Liz had left slightly ajar and into the hall, where a vase of daffodils stood on a small table under an old, gilt-framed mirror. Liz appeared at once, wearing a towelling robe.

‘I was having a bath when you rang,’ she said.

Patrick kissed her. He always did when they met, but chastely. Now he suddenly kissed her a second time, and with more fervour.

She looked surprised, but pleased.

‘You look very seductive,’ he said.

‘Do I?’ She laughed, blushed slightly, and added, ‘Good.’

It was Patrick’s turn to look surprised.

‘Are you expecting anyone?’ he asked suspiciously.

I should say yes, thought Liz, but she answered truthfully.

‘No. I’ve got a manuscript to read. I was going to spend the evening with it.’ Liz was a publisher’s editor.

‘Come out to dinner instead,’ said Patrick, and rather spoiled it by adding, ‘to make up for the other evening.’

‘All right. Since you press me, I will,’ she agreed.

‘Oh, Liz, I didn’t mean it like that,’ said Patrick, aware suddenly of how graceless he sounded. ‘What a boor I am.’

It was unlike him to castigate himself.

‘Give yourself a drink while I get dressed,’ she said, suppressing an impulse to reassure him. ‘You know where everything is.’

‘Hang on a minute,’ said Patrick, putting a hand on her arm as she turned away. Her hair was damp round her small, pointed face, and her eyes were large and dark. There were shadows under them. She looked up at him, and there was an instant when either of them might have drawn back with a laugh or a light remark, but neither did. Patrick kissed her again, and less chastely this time.

After some moments they did move apart and gazed at one another in wonder. Then the habit of years reasserted itself; they both laughed, Patrick released her and the incident was over. Liz disappeared into her room, and Patrick went into her sitting-room considerably shaken.

Watch it, he told himself. Liz’ll throw you out if you get those sort of ideas about her; you’re a brother figure to her, no more. You can’t treat Liz like some other girl; she’s vulnerable, and you’ve known her too long. Besides, you don’t want any complications.

When she came back, wearing a long blue skirt and a striped shirt, looking somewhat Edwardian, she behaved as if nothing had happened, sitting in the one armchair and not beside him on the sofa. She seemed composed. While dressing, she had wondered, in some agitation, what mood to adopt, and had decided to play for safety.

The foolish pair sipped their drinks in detached amity.

‘Have you any more news about Sam?’ Liz asked.

 

Part VI
1

 

Patrick drove back to Oxford late that night feeling unsettled. Liz had seemed different. All through dinner he had found himself noticing how their minds dovetailed, how swiftly she picked up an allusion, something he had hitherto taken for granted. And she was nice to look at, sitting opposite him in the candlelight.

They talked about Sam, and Patrick described his visit to Stratford-upon-Avon.

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