The Theatre at Quartermain was an open air affair, the sort that anyone could attend. The actors were sheltered from the elements by a canvas canopy, while the audience would make do as best they could. The most popular production at the Theatre at Quartermain was The Jack and Alice Show, which was a serial comedy that the low classes enjoyed. Lydia Barnes played the lusty and conniving Alice, while Kevin Travers portrayed the oft put-upon Jack.
The content of the short plays was often formulaic: Alice would enact a cockamamie scheme to get her husband out of the house so that she could have a tryst with younger men. Jack would fall for his wife’s ploy and fall into some misadventure, arriving back home in time to find Alice jilted and alone; the final act would always be laced with double entandres and bawdy gags, usually at Jack’s expense.
Lydia Barnes enjoyed greater success than most actresses, though she would never play the more refined roles she always wished for. When she played the Lady Macbeth two years ago, the audience roared in laughter when she delivered the lines about the dagger and her dirty hands.
Lydia’s persona was completely different from Alice’s. She was a quiet woman, very reserved, and often lonely. She enjoyed the company of several foppish hangers-on, but these came and went with the seasons. When she was found murdered in a alley, the whole city was aghast.
“Bet you never thought you’d see Alice like this, eh Conners?” asked Stewart as he lifted his end of the stretcher. Conners rolled his eyes and shook his head.
“You keep on like that, we’ll get yelled at again, and I don’t want anyone thinking I’m the same low class as you.” said Conners gruffly.
When he was a lad, no one expected Conners would make anything of himself. He came from poverty, had no family to help make his way easier, and looked like he was more brute than intellectual. However, beneath his low, apish brow was a keen mind. He memorized medical texts like they were children’s songs and soon found himself as a member of Her Majesty’s Service as one of the heads of the technical team.
“She looks like she was done same as last,” suggested Stuart, indicating the hole in the woman’s head. “The big man’s got to be vexed by now. Twice in two days.”
“Prescott’s got a job ahead of him.” Conners didn’t envy the Inspector. He knew that the Chief Constable has high expectations and that he would be furious that another murder happened. He felt glad that he didn’t have to capture the lunatics, just decipher what they did to the bodies they left in their wake.
Late Monday Afternoon
“You’re cooperation is highly appreciated, Mr. Travers,” said Prescott amiably.
“It is no problem, Inspector. All I wish is for the malevolent cur that did this to poor Lydia is brought to justice. Anything that helps that happen is a mere pittance.” Kevin Travers spoke with a deliberate cadence and a vague accent that bespoke someone that spent their life being someone else. Prescott instinctively distrusted actors; they spent their lives obfuscated by personas. How easily could a master actor portray innocence? If an actor could portray a cursed Danish prince believably, what would stop them from telling convincing lies?
“Then first, I must ask where you were last night.” said Prescott.
“I was with my wife and a few select guests. We played parlor games with our guests through the evening, and then retired at a late hour.”
“When is the last time you saw Ms. Barnes?”
“After Saturday night’s show. There was nothing particularly strange.” said Travers, looking blankly into the distance.
“You never know where the day will take you. You wake up, live your life, and then something like this happens. It makes one truly appreciate the minutes of life, doesn’t it? One never knows when something terrible may happen. You don‘t suppose this villain is scheming to kill actors?”
“I have some suspects in mind,” said Prescott, “and I will not rule out any motive.”
“Do you remember anyone strange from Saturday night?” asked Prescott.
Travers cocked his head and stroked his chin. His eyes rolled upwards, as though he were reading the answer in his brain.
“There was a young man that tried to grab Lydia’s hand when she exited the first act. As you know, there’s little separation from us and the audience. I’ve insisted that they find a real auditorium for the show. That theatre is little more than an alley. If we moved the show indoors, we’d increase profits tenfold. Not to mention it would be safer. We’re always being touched by people. It’s like being in a den of lions sometimes.”
“The young man that tried grabbing her hand: was there something out of sorts about it? You said you are frequently touched.”
“Yes, I would say it was out of sorts. He clutched her hard about the wrist and tugged at her. A couple of burly-boys in the crowd wrestled the young man away. I would have thought he was a fevered admirer, but he was yelling that she was a whore. Hardly appropriate. While Alice is a whore, Lydia was a respectable lady. Sometimes people of the artistic temperament can lead very, shall I say unsavory, lives. Driven by passion and given to madness. Lydia wasn’t that type. She just liked to make people smile.”