- Cherringham — A Cosy Crime Series
- The Authors
- Main Characters
- Playing Dead
- 1. All The World’s a Stage
- 2. On Your Marks
- 3. A Trip to The Theatre
- 4. A Call on the Director
- 5. A Chat with Ambrose Goode
- 6. Dinner at The Old Pig
- 7. Beginners’ Call
- 8. Hot News
- 9. Tempers Rising
- 10. The Purloined Pearl
- 11. The Players at the Ploughman’s
- 12. The Butler Speaks
- 13. Liaisons Dangereuses
- 14. An Unexpected Shock
- 15. And the Winner is…
- 16. Stage Villain
- 17. The Real Villain
- 18. The Performance
- Next episode
Cherringham — A Cosy Crime Series
“Cherringham — A Cosy Crime Series” is a series made up of self-contained stories. A new episode is released each month. The series is published in English as well as in German, and is only available in e-book form.
Matthew Costello (US-based) is the author of a number of successful novels, including Vacation (2011), Home (2014) and Beneath Still Waters (1989), which was adapted by Lionsgate as a major motion picture. He has written for The Disney Channel, BBC, SyFy and has also designed dozens of bestselling games including the critically acclaimed The 7th Guest, Doom 3, Rage and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Neil Richards has worked as a producer and writer in TV and film, creating scripts for BBC, Disney, and Channel 4, and earning numerous Bafta nominations along the way. He’s also written script and story for over 20 video games including The Da Vinci Code and Starship Titanic, co-written with Douglas Adams, and consults around the world on digital storytelling.
His writing partnership with NYC-based Matt Costello goes back to the late 90’s and the two have written many hours of TV together. Cherringham is their first crime fiction as co-writers.
Jack Brennan is a former NYPD homicide detective who lost his wife a year ago. Being retired, all he wants is peace and quiet. Which is what he hopes to find in the quiet town of Cherringham, UK. Living on a canal boat, he enjoys his solitude. But soon enough he discovers that something is missing — the challenge of solving crimes. Surprisingly, Cherringham can help him with that.
Sarah Edwards is a web designer who was living in London with her husband and two kids. Two years ago, he ran off with his sexy American boss, and Sarah’s world fell apart. With her children she moved back to her home town, laid-back Cherringham. But the small town atmosphere is killing her all over again — nothing ever happens. At least, that’s what she thinks until Jack enters her life and changes it for good or worse …
1. All The World’s a Stage
Getting into the deserted theatre had been easy. The alleyway at the back couldn’t be seen from the High Street and the rubbish bins made for an easy step-up. The new dressing room windows hadn’t shut properly since they’d been installed.
All he needed was a screwdriver to flip the catch and — click — the window opened easily.
He eased his legs over the window-sill and jumped down.
He was in.
He stood perfectly still in the darkness, not breathing, just listening to the old building.
He was alone.
He took out his pencil torch, flicked it on and checked his watch: 10 p.m. Rehearsals had finished at nine. Nobody would be coming back into the building at this hour. By now they were all in the Angel across the road, well into their second pints.
As long as he didn’t make a noise, he could do what he had to do and be home by ten thirty. Maybe he’d even have time to pop innocently into the pub for a swift half himself…
He slipped out of the dressing room into the corridor. Somehow at night, the smell of new paint in here seemed stronger.
He hardly needed the torch. Even with the recent renovations, he knew the layout of the rooms and corridors so well. Two fire doors — then the set of stairs — and now, here he was…
In the auditorium, just below the apron.
He flicked the torch around the space. Pristine rows of new seats, sloping up to the rear of the theatre until they were lost under the balcony. High windows at the sides, letting in a faint orange glow from the street lights outside.
He could see the fire exit signs glowing softly green. And up above, the Victorian stucco work; spotless. Cherubs playing harps, the gods of theatre drinking wine and looking jovially down.
Wasn’t like this when I was a kid.
He thought back to all those Saturday mornings sitting in here with his other Cherringham mates, watching films on the rickety old screen, throwing popcorn around, shouting, mucking about.
Watching the older kids snogging in the back row…
God, the place stank then. But now, with all that Lottery money thrown at it, the whole place ripped out and refurbished — the Cherringham Little Theatre was a building to be proud of.
Rebuilt inside and out with all the latest digital sound equipment and lights. A full schedule of music, comedy and theatre lined up well into next Spring.
And of course the Players, Cherringham’s very own amateur dramatic company, in residence with three productions planned for the inaugural year.
Shame the pompous idiots who ran the company couldn’t make better decisions. Couldn’t judge people.
Didn’t understand feelings.
His anger welled up again, but he calmed himself, took a deep breath.
No need to be angry. He was going to fix things, wasn’t he?
That’s why he was here.
He climbed the three steps on to the stage and slipped through the black drapes into the wings. Back here, he really did need the torch. Not a chink in the curtains for any light to get in.
He shone his torch up into the rigging above the stage.
He could see the thick metal bar which ran stage left to stage right. Various lanterns and spotlights hung down from it. Chains and ropes curled away from the bar towards the back of the stage, behind the scenery.
He knew from experience how heavy the lanterns and spots were. It was a two-man job setting up the lighting rig and safety was a constant mantra.
You didn’t want a light slipping from up there and dropping on to the stage. Especially during a performance. Crowded stage, actors below, concentrating on performance, listening for cues. Last thing they’d do would be to think of looking up — even if they heard a noise.
Five kilos — maybe ten — of sharp-edged metal, falling twenty feet.
That would hurt.
No. Would do more than hurt.
On a whim, he stepped out on to the stage again and sank down on one knee, facing the invisible audience.
“If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well. It were done quickly,” he said, his voice seeming to fill the theatre.
He couldn’t remember the rest of the speech.
He got up and checked that he still had the spanner nestled in his pocket. Then he headed over to the steel ladder on the side wall, put the torch in his mouth and started to climb up into the lighting rig…
I would have killed in that part, he thought.
2. On Your Marks
Graham Jones stood in the wings and felt another bead of cold sweat roll down his back. He stared at the rehearsal script clenched in his hands and tried to memorise the speech, but the words just seemed to swim in front of his eyes.
He looked at the other cast members on the stage in front of him. All merrily acting away — without their scripts!
What was wrong with him? Why couldn’t he do this? Why was he the only one still — what did they call it? — on script?
All this jargon. Marks. Calls. Flies.
It was all a terrible, terrible mistake.
He wasn’t an actor. He’d never done it before. What could possibly have made him think that he would be able to do this?
Greed? Pride? No. Love, plain and simple.
Ellie, barmaid down at the Ploughman’s had signed up for the auditions months back when the new theatre was announced and the Players issued their call for new talent. And she’d got the part as the leading lady!
Beautiful Ellie who pulled the pints and always gave him a special smile.
That smile, it’s got to mean something — hasn’t it? he thought.
He never had the courage to really talk to her there — the place was always so full of other men — well, it would be wouldn’t it? It was a pub after all…
But here, these regular evening rehearsals, surely here if he got a small part too, then she’d chat with him, and get to know him and then like him, and maybe even fall in love with him…
His mind always raced ahead with the fantasy…
And then they’d get married and she’d move in with him and his son and they’d all live happily ever after.
So he’d gone to the auditions and amazingly he had got the part and now—
“Hello, Graham! Earth calling Graham!” came the shrill voice of the director, Jez Kramer, from the stage.
Graham looked up and to his horror saw Kramer and the rest of the cast on stage, frozen, arms folded, all staring at him.
“For God’s sake Graham, are you ever going to hear your cue?”
“Oh — gosh — sorry, I—”“Don’t give me apologies, per-lease. Just give me your Police Constable Bull before we all die of shame out here!”
“Oh, right. Yes…”
Graham took a deep breath, marched on to the stage and looked for his mark, as he’d been taught.
Phew, there it is, he thought, spotting the small chalk circle on the wooden stage floor right next to Jez.
He positioned himself on it, then turned to face the auditorium.
“Well then, well then,” he said in his best police-acting-voice. “I hear there’s been a crime committed.”
“There certainly has, ladies and gentlemen,” said Jez, pointing straight at him. “This man has been caught impersonating an actor!”
For a second, Graham thought he must have got the page wrong. He didn’t recognise that line. But then he saw the cast burst out laughing. And he even heard snickering and laughter from backstage too.
They were all laughing at him.
This is so unfair, he thought. But then he laughed too.
Jez Kramer was a bully. And Graham knew how to deal with bullies. He’d dealt with them all his life. His solution was to surrender completely to them, to laugh at himself louder than they did and just put up with the humiliation.
Because eventually bullies got bored and they picked a new victim.
At least that was the idea.
He watched as Jez stepped closer and put an arm around his shoulder. Graham was familiar with this gesture. To the others it would look like friendly reconciliation. But he knew it was really subjugation. Manipulation.
“Graham, Graham, Graham,” said Jez in a chummy voice. “Whatever are we going to do with you?”
“I don’t know, Jez,” said Graham.
“Maybe we should stick you on a rocket and fire you on to the stage?”
“That would be funny,” said Graham. “But then you’d probably have to fire me off again.”
He watched Jez laugh. But he could also see that Jez was scrutinising him, making sure that Graham wasn’t taking the piss.
“Very good, Graham,” he said. “Just one teeny, teeny note though: do remember to address your line to the actors — not the audience.”
“Yes, yes. Of course.”
“You’re the local bobby, Graham. Called to the country residence of Lord and Lady Blake here.”
Jez gestured to the other two actors, Helen Edwards and Ambrose Goode. Graham nodded to them and felt reassured when he saw them smile back. Helen and Ambrose were old-school. Not newcomers, like Jez.
He realised Jez was still speaking and tried to concentrate again:
“…to investigate a priceless pearl which has gone missing.”
“Yes, yes, sorry Jez.”
“And do remember — it’s a serious whodunit, darling — not a Ray Cooney farce.”
He watched Jez step back. He seemed to be satisfied that Graham had got the point.
“Tell you what, Jez,” said Ambrose. “Why not get him to come in stage left instead? That way you can just give him the nod if he misses your cue.”
Graham watched Jez consider the actor’s suggestion.
“Splendid idea, Ambrose!” he said. “Brilliant, in fact. Perhaps you should be directing this.”
Graham felt the air on stage grow even colder.
“Well, I was, wasn’t I,” said Ambrose sullenly, “until you—”
“Stage left, it is then,” said Jez, ignoring him.
“Stage left?” said Graham.
“Yes, Graham,” he said, pointing to the wings. “The opposite of stage right. God. Just over there.”
Graham nodded. It seemed simple enough — but wouldn’t it cause problems with the … what was the word? Where they all stood on the stage…
The blocking, that was it.
“You sure?” he said. “Won’t we have to change all the positions round for the end of the scene and how will we—”
“Let’s deal with that when we get to it, eh?” said Jez. “Positions everybody, we’ve wasted enough time already tonight and I’ve got a rather important conference call I need to get home to — capiche?”
Graham hurried across to the other side of the stage. As he did, he saw Helen give him a quick thumbs up and mouth to him “You okay?”
He nodded back to her.
Even though she could sometimes be a bit pretentious, she always seemed to understand what he was going through.
In the wings, he looked out across the stage as Jez ran through the scene again. He followed the lines on his script, the action getting closer and closer to his own part, highlighted in yellow on the page.
Closer, closer, then the magic words from Helen herself: “If the Pearl of Bombay has been stolen then we shall never recover from the disgrace!”
He stepped confidently onto the stage and strode towards Jez.
Not a bad entrance, he thought. Not bad at all…
As he approached Jez, the director stepped back to give him room.
Graham looked quickly for his mark before remembering it would have to change now he was coming in from stage left — they’d just have to find him a new one.
He noticed Helen give him the slightest of nods and a secret smile. With new-found confidence he turned to Lord Blake, feeling for every moment like the local bobby, PC Bull, he was playing.
He drew a deep breath and heard his line echo around the theatre:
“Well then, well then. I hear there’s been a crime committed.”
He waited for Lord Blake to respond. But the line never came.