Mystery Script

[For those who couldn’t make it to the murder mystery dinner, or who did but couldn’t hear what people were saying, the following is what I’d written. I wanted the people with scripted parts to be placed around the room to make it seem as if it weren’t a play — which it wasn’t; it was supposed to be an interactive game — but things didn’t work out that way. Still, one way or another, it did work out.]

DOLLY CARSON introduces herself as The Mistress of Ceremonies of the Lost Souls Underground Club, extends a welcome along with a wish that her guests enjoy their evening, introduces Felix Tucker as a card dealer, Win Winslow as a bookie taking book on an upcoming boxing match, then raises a finger to her lips and cautions everyone to “speak easy.”

After everyone has their dinners, DOLLY CARSON introduces POPPY O’HARE as the Lost Souls own songbird.

When Poppy finishes her song, BESS JORDAN approaches her on the stage.

BESS JORDAN My name is Bess Jordan, and I have a petition to get more rights for women. Would you sign it?

POPPY O’HARE: I’m an emancipated woman. I don’t need anyone’s help. (She flounces off)

BESS JORDAN: (Calls after her) The nineteenth amendment giving women the vote is only the first step.

FLORENCE NASH: Poppy’s emancipated all right. She emancipated her way into my husband’s bed. My name is Florence Nash. I’ll sign.

CARMEN TRUJILLO: I’m Carmen Trujillo. I’ll sign, too.

During the meal, there is more talk about women’s rights instigated by BESS JORDAN , flirtatiousness from POPPY O’HARE, who is Win Winslow’s girlfriend, and snide remarks about flirtatious poppy from FLORENCE NASH, but most of the conversation is about the money everyone lost at the horse race that morning, when the least favorite (Milk Money) beat the favorite (Dandy Lion) at 50 to 1 odds.

It is widely known that a mysterious person known only as “Mr. Big” runs the rackets in the County, and it had been rumored that Mr. Big had fixed the race so that Sugar Beet (third place contender) would win. No one knows who to be angry with: Mr. Big for selling them out, a second person who sold out all of them, including Mr. Big, or the jockeys who only did what they’d been bribed to do.

When the meal is almost finished, DOLLY stands up and flings out her arms:

DOLLY CARSON: That was the slowest horse race in history.

CARMEN TRUJILLO: My husband is going to kill me when he finds out how much I lost.

JAMES PROWERS: I lost more than anyone.

CARMEN TRUJILLO: What are you talking about, Mr. Prowers? Milk Money won.

JAMES PROWERS: Call me James. James Prowers. Milk Money is my wife’s horse.

FELIX TUCKER: So? What’s hers is yours.

JAMES PROWERS: Milk Money is the worst trotter ever. Couldn’t beat a donkey.

FELIX TUCKER (bellowing): Shut up everyone, I want to hear this!

CARMEN TRUJILLO: Then why did she win?

JAMES PROWERS (points to Frank Faraday): Ask him. Frank Faraday. He’s the nincompoop who rode her.

FRANK FARRADAY: (Stands up) I didn’t mean to, Mr. Prowers. Honest. It’s just that all the other racers were so far behind. Usually I’m the one behind, on account of I’m bigger than all the other jockeys, and I didn’t know what else to do.

JAMES PROWERS: That’s why I hired him. He never wins. I figured with him on that dobbin I couldn’t lose. See, my wife wants to help me train horses, and she kept nagging me and nagging me, so I agreed that if Milk Money won, she could help.

FELIX TUCKER: I heard that Mr. Big fixed the race and that Sugar Beet was supposed to win. That’s why I bet on Sugar Beet. I only bet on sure things.

FRANK FARRADAY: Mr. Big did fix the race, but then that gambler Win Winslow came around and bribed the rest of the jockeys to lose. He tried bribing me, too, but Mrs. Prowers had already bribed me to win, and I am honest. Honest, I am.

WIN WINSLOW (who is at a different table, stands up): Are you talking about me?

FRANK FARRADAY: Yes, Mr. Winslow. Sorry.

WIN WINSLOW: No problem. I don’t care if everyone knows what I did

POPPY O’HARE: You’re not scared, baby? What if Mr. Big finds out?

WIN WINSLOW: Mr. Big has been running things too long. It’s time for new blood in this town, and I intend to be the new top dog.

FELIX TUCKER: So you’re the one who made the killing at the track?

WIN WINSLOW: That was me! I placed my bet under a phony name so that Mr. Big wouldn’t know who won, but now that I have my money and everyone knows I’m Mr. Bigger, it doesn’t matter. Mr. Big wouldn’t dare touch me.

POPPY O’HARE: But what about people who lost their money, like Felix Tucker or Carmen Trujillo? Won’t they come after you?

WIN WINSLOW: They can’t. They know if they did, they’d never be able to gamble in this town again.

JAMES PROWERS: I wouldn’t mind if something happened to you. My wife is at home right now, painting the barn pink.

WIN WINSLOW: (laughs): I hear you. That’s a fate worse than death. Hey, Effie! Bring me some of my Amaretto!

EFFIE tOWNSEND (bartender): Sure, Mr. Winslow. I’ll go get your special bottle (Goes in the back room.)

CARMEN TRUJILLO: I like pink.

JAMES PROWERS: A pink barn. I will be a laughingstock.

EFFIE tOWNSEND: (placing a glass in front of Win Winslow next to one that’s already there): There was only enough in the bottle for one drink, so this is the last of it.

POPPY O’HARE: I don’t know why people have to gamble. Why can’t they just watch the pretty horses run?

WIN WINSLOW: Without gambling, there is no horseracing.

POPPY O’HARE: (snuggling up to Win): But gambling upsets people too much.

WIN WINSLOW: I have business to conduct, Dollface Why don’t you go sing us a song?

POPPY O’HARE: Okay, Snookie. (She picks up a glass and takes a swig.) Ooh, that’s horrible stuff! (Goes to the stage area and begins to sing. After a verse or two, her words falter, she stumbles, and collapses.)

DOLLY CARSON rushes to the fallen singer, but she’s pushed aside by CHARLES PRESTON.

CHARLES PRESTON: Step aside. I’m a doctor. Dr. Charles Preston. (He bends over the body.) This woman is dead. Murdered. I can smell the bitter almonds from cyanide. Call the cops.

(General pandemonium, and cries of “No cops” and “No pigs” “No Coppers” and “I have to get out of here.”

Dolly CARSON: Sit down.

FELIX TUCKER (bellowing): Everyone sit down and shut up!

Dolly CARSON: Thanks, Felix. We don’t need the coppers. We can figure out who killed her and then turn the murderer over to the cops ourselves. (Points to Florence Nash who has been badmouthing Poppy all evening.) You didn’t like the victim, did you?

FLORENCE NASH: She was okay.

Dolly CARSON: That’s not what you were saying earlier.

FLORENCE NASH: Okay, you’re right. I didn’t like her. She was a flirt. And more. She was always going after my husband, and he left me, thinking she meant she wanted to be with him. But she was just playing around, and now I’m all alone. But I didn’t kill her.

Dolly CARSON: Do you know anyone beside you who would want her dead?

FLORENCE NASH: Everyone. All the women anyway. She flirted with our husbands.

BESS JORDAN: She put the woman’s movement back twenty years.

Dolly CARSON: You didn’t like her, did you, Bess?

BESS JORDAN: No. Didn’t hate her enough to kill her, either. We don’t need people like her. The woman’s movement is becoming stronger all the time. We can do anything men can, and better.

WIN WINSLOW: In your dreams!

Dolly CARSON: She was your girlfriend, Win, but you didn’t really like her, did you?

WIN WINSLOW: She was a flirt. And a gold digger. But she was beautiful and fun.

Dolly CARSON: Is that why you killed her? Because the fun was over?

WIN WINSLOW: I didn’t kill anyone. I don’t need to. I got guys for that. Besides, poison is a woman’s weapon.

BESS JORDAN: No, poison is a woman’s privilege, but men poison, too. We are all equal.

Dolly CARSON (Points to people at random and asks them questions): You didn’t like the victim, did you? What was your beef with her? Do you know anyone besides you who would want her dead? Do you have any information relative to this investigation?

Dolly CARSON (turning to Mildred Boggs): Mildred Boggs, you were sitting across the table from Poppy. Did you like her?

MILDRED BOGGS: No, but . . .

Dolly CARSON: What was your beef with her?

MILDRED BOGGS: Same as everyone else. With women like her around, no one’s husband is safe, but . . .

Dolly CARSON Do you have any information relative to this investigation?

MILDRED BOGGS: Yes. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. I don’t think Poppy was supposed to be the victim. I think it was Win Winslow. She drank from his glass.

Dolly CARSON: The bottle was in the storeroom. Anyone could have spiked it with cyanide. It could have been Felix Tucker. James Prowers. Carmen Trujillo. Effie Townsend. Or anyone here. So, Win, who wanted you dead?

WIN WINSLOW: No one wants me dead. Everyone likes me. I’m a likeable guy.

Dolly CARSON: Does anyone else have anything to say? (If there’s no response, or when the discussion dies down, Dolly holds up a ballot.) We don’t want to call the cops, and since no one has any pertinent information, and since no one is confessing, let’s take a vote.

While the votes are being tallied, people go get dessert.

After the votes are tallied, Dolly announces the winners of the voting for Most Dastardly Villain, Best Costume, and Best Role Playing, and thanks everyone for being such Keen Detectives.

After the applause dies down, it’s time for the truth to come out. If the right person was chosen to be the villain, the killer takes a bow and explains why he or she did it. If the wrong person is chosen, the real villain tells the truth.

***

So, who do you think is the killer?

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Playing at Being an Author

Yesterday was a true delight. I went to the museum where the upcoming murder mystery dinner will take place and met with Art Guild members as well as those who had volunteered to act in my skit. It was a thrill to meet the various characters, especially when I realized how perfect the casting was — as if I had written the parts specifically for those people.

The mistress of ceremonies of our fictional speakeasy explained how the room would be laid out, the seating she had planned for several of the key players, and what would happen after the murder. (We couldn’t let the poor victim lie there unmoving for the rest of the evening!)

After the logistics session, I explained the basic scenario for the story, and then we began to read through the script, with each person saying their lines. And oh, wow! What a rush! Hearing the words I had written coming out of the mouths of other people made me feel like such a Svengali (a Svengali who was kind and had no sinister purposes, that is), as if I were controlling, for the moment, all those lives.

Everyone seemed pleased with their parts, and as we read through the few pages of scripted dialogue, they really got into it. I could feel the smile on my face when I realized this mystery could really work. (I wasn’t too worried since I knew adrenaline and excitement would carry everyone through the evening, but I had no experience with this sort of mystery game, had no idea how to go about creating one, and wasn’t sure how the finished game would play out.)

During the actual event, the words (and characters) will become less my creation and more theirs as they adlib, take things further than what I had suggested, and get other non-scripted guests to participate.

I am looking forward to the experience of seeing my characters in full costume take on a life of their own. Writing is generally a solitary activity, even something like this mystery. I did have some input from other Art Guild members, but mainly it was me, my computer, and whatever I could pull from my mind and from my copious research into the 1920s, horseracing scandals, the woman’s movement after the nineteenth amendment had passed, and especially — most especially — how to create a murder mystery dinner.

During all the research and thinking and grabbing at words, we writers don’t necessarily feel like authors. We are so tuned to what we are doing, we feel the work rather than feel ourselves doing the work. After the writing is finished, and (if we are lucky) people read our creation, we don’t necessarily feel like authors because we don’t see people reading what we wrote, and if we do, we can’t see what is going on in their head while they are reading, nor do we hear what they are experiencing because reading is generally a silent activity.

So to hear one’s words? To see the effect of one’s writing on others? To have a chance to actually play at being an author? Utterly priceless.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Mysteries

Editing the murder mystery I’ve been writing for a dinner at the local museum on February 9, seemed as involved as any other editing job. There were a few small inconsistencies to repair, but the main thing I had to do was to add lines so that the characters can introduce themselves. I didn’t want to do a program with the characters and their roles listed, because in a way, everyone who comes to the dinner will have a part — as a visitor to the speakeasy if for no other reason. Those who will be set apart as possible villains, though, will have to have a name, otherwise, how would anyone be able to vote for the dastardliest villain?

Tomorrow will be rehearsal, though mostly it will be a matter of setting up the logistics of the mystery. Although no one but the mistress of ceremonies will have many lines to say, I don’t expect anyone to memorize their parts. (They can if they want to, of course.) For the most part, they just need to know what they are supposed to be doing and how the whole thing fits together.

I’m hoping people will get into the spirit of the thing and not just sit back and watch as the story unfolds, but if people prefer to watch, that’s okay, too.

I feel as if I should be nervous about the murder mystery because after all, the story was my creation, but I’m not. Or at least, not very.

Maybe it’s because so much is going on. Not just meetings and preparing for the dinner and attending the mayor’s strategic planning sessions, but also the house. The excavator should be available for rent sometime next week, so I’ll get to watch a different sort of play unfold — digging the foundation and pouring the cement and whatever else it takes to start building a garage.

I wonder if the dig will uncover some other weird bit of mystery to go along with all the other mysterious artifacts we’ve uncovered, such as the cistern, ancient sewage pipes, water where no water should be, bloody shirts, and a few miscellaneous bones.

Whatever happens, the dig should be interesting!

And so will the murder mystery dinner. If you are in the area, please join us for an evening of food and frolic.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Horseracing Scandal

I’ve been trying (still!) to figure out the mystery for the murder mystery dinner. Apparently, sometime back in the 1920s, there was some sort of racehorse scandal around here, which I thought would be a fun basis for the mystery, but so far no one has been able to find the details, so I need to make them up.

The trouble is, I know nothing about horseracing (except what I’ve read in Dick Francis’s books). I do know that women wear fancy hats for the Kentucky Derby, though I don’t know why. (My research shows that no one else really knows why or how the Kentucky Derby hat craze started, either, though it could be because a Derby is also a hat and they extrapolated from that, or it could be that southern belles and society ladies wore hats to the Derby, and when television showed the hatted women to the world, others wanted to join in.)

Despite the hat/horseracing connection, my mystery won’t have anything to do with hats except that both actors and guests are dressing up in 1920s attire for the dinner, and hats were one of the definitive cultural aspects of the era.

Rural horseracing would probably be different than at the big tracks, but I don’t know that it would matter except that the jockey’s might be easier to get to in the smaller venues, which would add to the mystery.

I think it would be fun to have so many different people try to fix the race in question that it will be the slowest race in history, with every jockey trying to lose, but I’m afraid such a scenario might get too complicated for a mystery dinner. But maybe not. We have about a dozen people lined up who want to have parts, and we will be assigning roles to anyone else who wants to play, though most of those roles will be along the lines of having them to talk about their big winnings or maybe their bigger losses at the track.

Although the dinner won’t take place until February, the story needs to be done sooner so that plans can be made. Which means, I’m down to just a week to figure it all out. I suppose if it’s too complicated, the other members of the art guild (the group that’s putting on the dinner) will help me sort it out, but they can’t sort it out if I don’t have anything to present.

It sounds like I just talked myself into going with the complicated scenario.

Luckily, I don’t have to write a novel, just the scenario, a few conversations, a few instructions, and then it will be done. So simple!

Except for the part about sitting down and actually writing it.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.