Who Killed the Queen of Spades?
A Short Play set in modern times at the Griffin Hotel, Ludlow
ACT I - Friday evening, 6 p.m.
In the bar of the hotel. Jean and Brenda are sitting at a table, drinking glasses of wine from an opened bottle on the table. Tom and Liz join them.
The table and chairs are all in keeping with the date of the Hotel, which originated in Jacobean times.
Brenda: Hi, you two. Come and sit here with us. Have you been here long?
Liz: No we just arrived. Aren’t the rooms something? Do you have a 4 poster bed in your room too?
Brenda: Yes, we have separate rooms - and each of them has one. And isn’t this place really awesome. That James I lounge, where we had coffee - that is an original room dating back to 1600 something.
Jean: And I am really enjoying the atmosphere of this place. You remember that first book I wrote - Consequences - well Charles Walker from that book stayed here in this very place in 1851. It’s all down in his diary.
Tom: And did he say what he thought of it?
Jean: He said it was ‘cold and damp’ and mentioned that they had a Travellers’ Lounge. And I think he had a few problems due to his vegetarianism.”
Brenda: Maybe his ghost is still lurking around.
Liz: Since you have writing pretentions, Jean, why don’t you write a murder mystery about staying in this hotel? It's very Miss Marple or Poirot, isn’t it? Even the bridge part would fit in nicely with them.
Jean: What, do you mean - one of the bridge players gets murdered by one of the others?
Tom: Yes, why not?
Jean: Well, we know the where - but what about the who and why?
Brenda: Well, for starters, you could murder Pam. Did you hear the way she was complaining? I expect the hotel staff would like to murder her. On and on she went.
Liz: Well, she did have have a point. They came by train, and lugged their luggage up from the station, only to find that their room wasn’t ready. The rest of us got in at 3 and at 4 they still hadn’t been given a room.
Tom: So they checked and found they were supposed to be in Room 103 and asked for the key. The lady at the desk, who they said was very unhelpful, told them they couldn’t go in because the curtains had fallen down and hadn’t yet been put up.
Liz: So Pam said they didn’t mind about curtains, they just wanted to have a place to settle in. So they were given the key - and I don’t think they have curtains even now. She is very upset.
Jean: Well, I feel sorry for them, but I don’t think I would feel in any way compelled to murder Pam, just because she's complaining. Lots of these people I don’t even know - so I can hardly have an excuse for popping them off. But now Joyce. I expect there are several here who would be quite prepared to pull the trigger.
Liz: I heard her say she had telephoned down to the desk to complain and said, ‘I think you might like to know there are cobwebs hanging from my canopy.” And she has had problems with her room being cold.
Brenda: It’s all part of the ambiance - the cobwebs. My room is cold too.
Jean: Mine is just fine. But let’s leave the Who for awhile and the Why might become apparent as the weekend goes along. Let’s talk about the How. Any suggestions for the method of doing the deed?
Brenda: Have you had a look in the bridge room? It’s actually the Hall built in 1800 for cockfights, prize fights and auctions. Plus they have a minstrel gallery and everything. Somebody could shoot the victim from there and get out down the fire escape.
Liz: And they have swords and battle axes on the walls. That would do the trick.
Jean: But you could hardly get away with a murder like that - too public and too bloody.
Tom: Well, I think Agatha Christie’s method of choice would be poison. Everyone has drinks while they're playing bridge - at least water if not beer or wine. And with everyone moving about, how easy to slip the poison into the appropriate glass. No fingerprints on the glass, and the person would just collapse. Probably the initial response would be to think the person had had a heart attack or stroke - due to the excitement of the occasion.
Jean: Well, you certainly have given me food for thought - but now I think its time for more important food. Dinner is served. What have you chosen?
They get up and start moving towards the door. Brenda: I’ve chosen the salmon. I’ve heard the food here in wonderful.
ACT II. Saturday morning, the Bridge room.
The set is a card table, set up for playing two hands of duplicate, with four chairs around.
Brenda and Jean are playing North South - so stay in their same place. As the scene starts, their partners at the table are Gordon and Ann. The round has just finished, so the cards are being put back into their boards and Jean is writing up the score.
Brenda: Isn’t the food here wonderful? But I've eaten far too much of that fabulous breakfast. No need for lunch for me.
Ann: What are you going to do with your free time this afternoon?
Jean: We think we might walk around the town with a guide. As long as the weather stays fine.
Gordon: (to his partner) You should not have put me in four hearts. That was completely the wrong bid. You should have stuck with your spades. I had three of them.
Ann: (very annoyed) And how was I to know that? I assumed that you had five and I had three. It seemed the best contract.
Gordon: Well it wasn’t. We will probably have a bottom on this round thanks to you. And that other three No Trump went way off too.
Ann: You can’t blame that on me. You bid it!
Gordon: I know I did, but I assumed that if you had a void in the opponent’s bid suit you would have had the sense to take me out of it. We were four down and if you had bid your hearts again, I would have left it, and we would have only been one or two down.
Ann: Always my fault when we lose and always due to your good bidding and play when we win. There are some times when I feel like I could murder you!
Brenda: Hear that Jean? Must take some notes, here, folks.
Gordon: I think everybody has finished now. (He stands up and shouts) Everyone move for the next round.
He and Ann move to the next table, and Marion and Mike move onto Jean and Brenda’s table.
Brenda: Hi guys.
Marion: Hi. How are you getting on?
Mike: No time for socialising. Get on with it. You’re dealer.
Marion: No bid.
Jean: 1 No Trump.
Mike: 2 Hearts
Brenda: No bid.
Marion: No bid.
So the bidding having finished, Brenda leads a card, and Marion puts her hand down as dummy.
Mike: That was a transfer, you dummy. Can’t you remember anything I tell you? You should have bid spades.
Marion: I’m sorry. I forgot.
Mike: You forget everything.
They settle down and play the cards through, one at a time which take a couple of minutes. Then that round finished and recorded, they move to the next hand.
Brenda: Did you enjoy dinner last night?
Mike: Can we just get on with what we came here to do. I must say Brenda, I was very pleased with your lead on the last round - as it gave me three extra tricks. But I thought you had more sense than to lead that. I sometimes wonder if you women understand this game at all.
Jean: No bid
Mike: 2 Clubs
Brenda: No bid
Marion: 3 Clubs
Jean: No Bid
Mike: 3 No Trump
Everyone else “no bids” and after the lead, Marion’s cards are put down.
Mike: Do you never remember anything? You have to have at least 8 points to give me a positive reply.
Marion: Well I have the Ace and King, and thought you might like to know about my clubs.
Mike: Well I’ll go through it again with you later. Scatter brain.
Brenda: Arsenic, anyone?
Jean: I think you might be right.
Mike: What are you on about? Can we just get on and get this round played!
So they settle down to play, and the curtain closes.
Saturday evening, 11.30 p.m. Bridge has just finished for the night. Jean and Brenda have gone into Brenda’s room for a nightcap.
They are sitting in two easy chairs, with the TV on a table nearby - but not turned on.
Brenda: So you didn’t enjoy it much then?
Jean: I just don’t see why, when we've paid all that money for a bridge holiday, that he has to mess it up by making us play with complete strangers?
Brenda: My partner, Gladys, was very nice. We had a good time. She taught me a lot of things.
Jean: Well, my partner, Barbara, was hopeless. She started the evening by saying, ‘I always bid up so I start from clubs and work up from there.’ So I asked her if she did that even if some of her suits were longer, but she said she didn’t really know. What a twit.
Brenda: Oh, well, never mind. We can partner each other again tomorrow. Have you thought any more about a murder victim for your play?
Jean: I think Mike and Gordon still have to be top on the list. I could cheerfully have murdered Mike several times, and can’t really understand why Marion puts up with him.
Brenda: She doesn’t seem to mind his comments. But when it's serious bridge, he usually refuses to play with her. He wants to win so badly.
Jean: If anybody might murder him, it should be her. But also Gordon. For being in charge he was very shirty with his partner. Is he always like that?
Brenda: Typical man. They like to win - and if they lose, they want to do it to somebody who is of an equal standard to them, not to the likes of us.
Jean: I think that was my highlight of the weekend so far - beating them twice -and by such a big margin. But when he forced us to play with strange partners tonight, I think lots of people there hated him enough to consider the odd bit of arsenic.
Brenda: Seriously, if you were really doing this, how would you get a hold of arsenic?
Jean: Look at this (and she takes a little bottle out of her bag). This is what Philip was given to take if he ever has a heart attack again. He got this renewed every few months because supposedly it gets less effective if it is not within a certain date of its being made. This is an old one and I forgot I had it with me.
Brenda: What is it?
Jean: A sort of digitalis I think. You're supposed to spray it into your nose if you think you're having a heart attack and it dilates the blood vessels or something and possibly helps.
Brenda: So you think that might murder somebody?
Jean: It’s probably made from foxgloves and everybody knows that you can poison people with foxglove juice.
Brenda: So how would you get the person to sniff it?
Jean: You wouldn’t. You'd just take off the spray top and dump the entire contents into their drink - it would be best in beer which is bitter tasting anyway.
Brenda: I think both Gordon and Mike drink beer.
Jean: Well, there you go then. They had better be careful not to annoy me tomorrow, or who knows what might happen?
Brenda: You are just joking, aren’t you?
Jean: Of course, but in order for a book to be convincing, you have to become the characters that you write about, and put yourself in their mind set. There is no point in trying to be convincing as a murderer unless you, the writer, can understand the motivation behind the crime.
Brenda: Another G and T?
Jean: No, I’m off to bed. Shall I pick you up for breakfast at 8.15?
Brenda: Sure. Good night.
Jean gets up to leave and the curtain comes down.
ACT 4 - Sunday afternoon.
Bridge room. Everyone is gathered around for the prize giving. Gordon has centre stage, with a table set up for awarding the prizes which are all bottles of wine. The others are seated around with a table nearby with several drinks on it. The rest of the bridge group - are meant to be around, but just out of sight and only those characters already involved in the play can be seen.
Gordon: That concludes the prizes for the teams. Now to get on with the rest of the prizes. First prize on Friday night, Marion and Mike.
They go forward, each take a bottle of wine, the rest applaud, and Ann takes their picture.
Gordon: Now first prize on Saturday morning, that goes to Tom and Liz.
They go forward, shake hands with Gordon, get their picture taken and then sit down again. Everyone applauds.
Gordon: We tried something new on Saturday night, and from what I have heard, most of you thought it was a lot of fun. I think we might do that again. Anyway, the winners for that are me and Ann. I can’t take a prize with being in charge and all, but I think Ann should take one.
She goes forward, handing the camera to Tom who takes her picture with Gordon.
Gordon: So that the end of the prize giving for this time. Thanks to everyone for a very enjoyable weekend. And I hope to see you all in the spring at Beaumaris. Have a safe journey home. Cheers everyone.
Jean: It looks like we were just about the only ones not to win something.
Everyone looks around for their glasses and Jean takes a glass of beer on the table nearby.
Brenda: Not that one. That’s Mike’s! Jean put it back!
Jean: No, I’m sure this is mine. It's so hot in here, I could drink a whole jug.
She quickly drinks down the glass. She then gets a very puzzled expression on her face, and falls on the floor.
Brenda: She has a bad heart. I think she must have had a heart attack. Get a doctor, quick.
Everyone rushes around but it is evident that it's too late. Curtain down.