What A Reason To Die
What A Reason To Die49 mins 251 49 mins 251
Mr. Charles Blackwood: Elderly head of the Blackwood family.
Ms. Annie Blackwood: Daughter of Edward Blackwood (the brother of Charles Blackwood.)
Mr. James Blackwood: Son of Edward Blackwood (the brother of Charles Blackwood.)
Mrs. Emily Abbott: Daughter of Helen Blackwood, who is the sister of Charles.
Mr. Thomas Gardener: Secretary to Charles Blackwood.
Robert: the butler of the Blackwood household.
Martha: cook in the Blackwood household.
John Benson: Inspector
Julian Price: Chief Detective
Act 1: Rumbling Thunder
(The Blackwood Manor dining room; the furniture and decor suggest a 1920's setting. The room is richly furnished, and at its centre is a large oaken table with ornate chairs around it.)
(It is lunch time. Charles Blackwood is seated at the head of the table. Immediately to his side are James and Annie Blackwood. Right across the table sits Emily Gardener.)
James: I don't see how you can possibly blame me, uncle. I am ready to work. I never wanted to live as a burden on others. What you are saying now is unreasonable...
Charles: (sarcastically, cuts in) of course, of course. But tell me, what a man can do; if you fail at everything you touch! I have given you everything you have; I have raised you and Annie; clothed and fed you since that weak brother of mine died. Died bankrupt no less! He never came to anything; nor will you two. Now should I sue the insolent pup I have raised, talking back at me?
(James clenches his fork, his knuckles are white)
Emily: (softly) Charles, is there any point in speaking this way of your brother?
You know all of us are grateful to you...
Charles: (cuts in again after a grim laugh) you show your gratitude strangely, niece. You stay and bear me, only hoping to get paid handsomely through my will, when I die. Do you think I believe one word of what you speak is genuine? Damn you all! I have to carry the Blackwood’s on my shoulders. Not one but me, has the spine to support themselves. I tell you, I'll have none of it.
Annie: (In an outburst, talking very fast) Why? You have made it so! I never hated you; not when Father died, despite how you treated him, and not when you brought us up in this strange manner. But you enjoy this, don't you? You old crank. You never let James try a career in the army; you discouraged him from studying for the Bar. You wanted us to grow up only as your dependants; powerless. You made us playthings of your stupid whims.
James: (Standing up) you killed our father. He would not have killed himself, if you had not shamed him so. Yes, he lost all his money speculating on the markets; does that give you, as his brother, the right to insult him and treat him in this degrading way? He was bankrupt and could not bear to ask for help. Your behaviors did nothing, but push him on to suicide. If it were not for Annie, I would leave this house today.
Charles :( Suddenly furious and outraged) Do you think you can? Do you think I'll let you? You will do as I say. You will all do as I say. (Gets up, trembling) You all hate me, but you have to live with it don't you? (His voice betrays a queer sort of enjoyment) You have to do what I tell you to, live as I tell you to. (He chuckles softly and walks out of the room)
James: Who does he think he is? The sick old miser better die, and quickly, or I swear to God... (Recollects himself)He loves power; he wants us to be his puppets. (Turns towards Annie) We cannot go on like this. Let him cut us if he chooses. Will you leave this house? We can work for a living. I will cut wood or till the soil, or sweep houses...Anything rather than this life.
Emily :( sadly) we cannot live like that, after living in a mansion, since our child-hood. We must bear it. This will not last. (Softly, but forcefully) He cannot last.
(The study of Charles Blackwood) There is a large writing desk with an inkwell. It is evening, and a candle has been set at the corner of the desk. Charles is seated and is writing. Emily enters and stands before the desk)
Charles: What? No, I know what you want. You all, who speak with so much,
despise, say that, all I have is my money, and no soul! You lathy creatures then come and beg for that money itself.
Emily: Uncle, you hate us. You have no wish for me to stay here. I shall not bother you. I will go away, work as a secretary to someone, or become a typist. Scrape my own living. (In an altering tone of voice) You are rich and I never would hold that against you, you have earned everything. I just want something to make a start. I am all alone. Will you not help me this much? You must still have some feeling for your family, despite all you say. I will trouble you no longer then...
Charles: Let me show you something. (Opens a small pouch, lying on the desk)
I keep this in my bedroom chamber. It is always there in my chest of drawers.
(He overturns the pouch; tens of diamonds spill out). Each one of these is worth a fortune. I keep them next to me, so that I can look upon them, when the fancy strikes me! I earned these...perhaps it would not do, to tell a lady how I earned some of these! These are power. I treasure them. One of these would set you up nicely; independently. (He puts them back in the pouch). One of these would give my nephew a start in life; enable him to make his own way in the world. (His voice lowers, as if sharing a secret). What can these buy me though? I have money; enough of it! But I treasure them. They buy me my power in society. Today, say what I might; do what I might; because of these, no one can oppose me. I am respected, not loved! No...But it has never been love in the hearts of other men, which has got me so far- always it has been fear!
Emily: This is not right. I know there is something more than power and wealth. No, I am not rich, nor talented, nor powerful, but I pity you. You will not try to win another's love. You do not know what it means to be part of a family. You only want to control us. Your only joy now, is to wield that power of yours, on everyone around you. I am sorry for...
James: Uncle, I will ask you one last time. Will you allow us to have a life of our own? If you do, I swear you will not hear a word from me, or Annie against you. We will stay by your side, if you wish it. We will do our best to make you happy. However you may have treated us in the past, we want to forget that, and make amends for any wrongs we may have done you. Why harbor ill-will? Even now I feel you wronged father. You tricked him out of his legacy, so that, while you lorded over it, this mansion went mushroom hunting and riding in the country side, with the gentry, who looked down upon us; father- he was working his hardest to support us. We can still set aside the past.
Charles: Young fool. Why do you think I care for what you feel? You want to leave. The road is right there. Go and beg from someone else for a living.
James: I will not beg! I will work. Tomorrow I and Annie will go away. (Looks Charles in the eye) You never even let me learn how to earn a living, you tried to stop and impede us at every turn. All you ever wanted us, was to live a life of your choice, be at your mercy and listen to every command of yours. We will not live here as your slaves. A life of hardship, away from here, is better. You want to sever all ties. So be it. They mean nothing more to you anyway, than strings by which to control us. We will be your puppets no longer.
Charles: (sardonically) so the pup is now a de ant cur!
(Emily and James walk out one after another. Emily is seen shaking her head while doing so)
Charles: (barely audible, with great strain in his voice) Well, we will see if you can defy me.
(He gives a wild laugh. Then, continues laughing hysterically for a while. The lights gradually dim out and only his laughter can be heard.)
(The Blackwood Manor dining room) It is dinner time. Charles is seated at the head of the table; again .He is wearing a night gown. Emily and Annie are seated far from both each other, and Charles. James is absent.)
Charles: (in an undertone) well, he is too sulky to bear my presence. We will see if he can run away so easily.
Charles: I asked Thomas to dine with us today. Anyway I have to discuss certain matters with him, which I thought you all might want to hear. I have decided that whatever I leave in my will shall be to one person. After all what is the point of this home, without the money it takes, to run it. Thomas here assures me that the law allows me to gift it all, to one person. And that need not be any relation of mine by blood. After all, as you all say, (looks around the table slowly), family means nothing to me. If people are not grateful to me for what I have done, for them, just because they are family, what can I do? (Looks directly at Thomas now, for the first time sounding kind) I would like the Blackwood name to carry on, but only if there are men to carry it. I do not see them here!
(The others all look startled. Annie's face has gone white. Thomas looks extremely embarrassed.)
Charles: Think over this. But I have decided. You claim that you want all ties to be severed. Sever them then. (He pushes away his plate of half eaten food and gets up.) Thomas, have my lawyers here tomorrow at ten. And arrange for two servants to sign as witnesses, the gardener perhaps. I will see you tomorrow, make sure of these matters. (Smiles towards Thomas, who blanches at the smile) Let us get this settled tomorrow.
Emily: You cannot do this. The law gives you the right. But you have no moral right. (Suddenly looks at Thomas sharply) I don't know what you have said to him. (Looks back at Charles) I don't know what you mean to do with all that money. Why do you want to will it away from your family? Will you go to any length out of spite?
(Charles refuses to answer. He walks out.)
Annie: He will. Spite is all that he lives for now. Don't waste your words on him; he has no heart for you, to move with words. Goodbye cousin. I and James shall leave early tomorrow.
Act 2: Lightning Strikes
(A room in the Blackwood Manor, Thomas is at the telephone. He looks nervous and keeps looking over his shoulder, as if to make sure no one else is in the room. It is rather late at night. The rest of the house seems to be sleeping; no other noises can be heard)
Thomas: You know I need that money for my mother; I will pay you back slowly. (A short pause) No, no. I will, but how can I get the money by next week. (In a begging tone) Try to understand. (Half to himself) Even that old man is giving it all away to the charities, they think I am stealing their legacy but I am hit just as hard... at least under the old will I could have repaid...(louder now) No, listen, I will pay you, but you have to give me time. Please, without the treatment she will die. Listen to me. What should I do to satisfy you? (Suddenly takes the phone off his ear, and slowly puts it down, as if the other person has hung up.)
(Emily suddenly enters the room. Thomas gives a visible start.)
Thomas: Just a personal matter. (Looks down away, from Emily)
Emily: I was just looking for a book. Such arguments always leave me uneasy. I couldn't sleep. (Realizes she has been answering, while Thomas has not asked her anything, and suddenly looks very awkward. Speaks suddenly and abruptly now)
(Emily leaves. Thomas looks puzzled for a moment, looks towards the telephone and looks worried again. After a moment he leaves as well.)
(The hallway before the bedchamber of Charles Blackwood, the air is smoky. The doorway to Charles' room is at one end of the stage. Flames can be seen licking out from under it, into the corridor. Smoke has filled the air. A bell is ringing, and the fire is seen gradually spreading from the doorway. James and Thomas are present at the center of the stage.)
(Emily runs in shortly, followed by Annie. Emily is seen to be wearing a cloak while Annie is in just a nightdress.)
(Annie starts coughing. The men are slowly seen to shake of their dazed state of panic!)
Emily: How on Earth..?
Annie: (in a choked voice) help! Somebody get help!
Thomas: (shouts) I am calling the firemen.
James: (So far he has just been standing next to Thomas, staring, looking towards the door of the bed chamber. He has not moved or said anything so far.)
(The flames have spread halfway down the stage. The smoke has grown dense enough to partially obscure the characters from view. Thomas rushes out. Robert and Martha come in, only now. They seem paralyzed by fear. James grabs Annie's hand and pulls her away. They both exit. Simultaneously, Emily leads Robert and Martha towards the exit, on the other side of the stage. The smoke gradually obscures everything from view. A moment later, sounds of men's voices, as well as the sound of rushing water are heard. We see the shadowy figures of fire fighters. Soon the light of the fire is no longer seen. Thick smoke obscures the stage and the scene ends.)
(The sitting room of the Blackwood mansion- It is morning. Everyone is wearing black or grey. There is a somber air in the room. There are once again rich furnishings, but everything is in a slight state of disarray. James, Annie, Emily and Thomas are present; seated.)
(Martha and Robert enter)
Robert: (in a hesitant tone) Pardon me... But is the master dead?
James: (in an absolutely toneless voice) yes.
(Martha lets out a soft wail)
Thomas: I believe the police shall be arriving shortly.
Emily: How could the room go up in flames like that? How? I saw his bed. It was burnt to a cinder. As though his bed had caught fire and then the flames had spread from there.
(Inspector Benson arrives.)
Benson: My chief will be here shortly. As I understand it, the fire occurred late last night. (They all nod) We will need to inspect the room. I take it nothing has been moved. (They all nod again). We will need to speak to you individually afterwards. We shall try to do this as quickly as possible.
James: I will take you to the room. Perhaps the ladies could be excused.
Benson: Thank you. Certainly.
(Chief Detective Price arrives. Everyone rises. Thomas escorts the ladies out. The servants leave as well. Price looks at each one of them as they exit. A moment later, James leads both the policemen out, from the other side of the stage.)
Act 3: The Deluge
(A burnt down room- There is a bed with a side-table and a chest of drawers some distance away. The window is closed. An extinguished fireplace is also seen. The walls and floor are sooth-stained. On the bed is a completely burnt body, past recognition. The bed has clearly taken the worst damage. The side-table is relatively unharmed.)
(James enters, followed by Chief Detective Price and Inspector Benson)
Price: (Looking towards the bed intently, and then glancing around the room quickly.) Odd!
Benson: (looking towards James) Thank you sir. We will speak with you shortly.
(James leaves, sighing as he does so)
Price: Definitely not an accident. (He goes up to the bed and examines, murmuring.) The blanket was doused in fuel, cooking oil of some sort as well. A piece of wood to start the fire! Still there, Hmm!...(pauses, then looks up at the inspector) He burned to death, because someone took that torch, fashioned from a piece of wood, alight at one end, poured oil all over his bed, and set it aflame.
Benson: But how come he was still on the bed, didn't he awaken and struggle. Or did they kill him first, and then burn him to hide it; make it look like an accident.
Price: (shaking his head doubtfully) it’s possible, but I don't think that we are dealing with such a simple-minded killer. The autopsy will show, I suspect, burning to be the cause of death. The killer is not so stupid, as to think, we would believe, a man could burn to death in his bed with a flaming torch left at the scene; all by accident. No there is something much more strange afoot.
(He goes up to the body and looks closely.) Inspector, meet the people down-stairs and talk to them. I will read your report and interview them tomorrow, personally.
(He goes to the chest of drawers and opens them. One is jammed. He pulls it open, and pulls out a torn bit of discolored green cloth, that was stuck inside.)
Price: The diamonds are in this drawer, or at least some of them; I imagine only the old man knew how many were there. Inspector, this was not a happy household. When you talk to the ladies, give away nothing, but ask for everyone, to let us examine their belongings. This bit of cloth got here last night. Some woman has been prying into these drawers, and hurriedly enough to get her dress stuck in it. I wonder---
Benson: How could it be, that the old man did not struggle. Look at the sooth marks on the bed, there is nothing behind his arms or back. He simply lay still, if he had tossed and turned, there would be sooth everywhere.
Price: You are correct. But perhaps talking to the relatives will shed some light. I will speak to the secretary now. There is more than just that amiss inspector, we have a dead body and a killer, but I think there has been theft as well. Presumably the killer thought he would benefit from the will. Then why steal? I don't think it was just to throw us of the scent; too obvious for that.
Benson: It could be a crime of passion. That James didn't seem to be sorry at all, for his uncle's death. None of them did. (Uncertainly) You know together they might have arranged it. One person, woman or man, would make it next to impossible, to prevent all struggling, but together they could, perhaps...
Price: (cutting in) It is always a mistake to theorize without data. Let us not get carried away. I shall speak to the secretary and will await your report.
(Price leaves, followed by Benson)
(A room in the Blackwood Mansion- Price and Thomas are present. Thomas has two rolls of paper in his hand.)
Thomas: Yes I knew the contents of the first will, (Taps one of the rolls of paper) stating that the family fortune was to be equally divided among James, Emily and Annie, with substantial legacies to myself as well as to Robert, the butler. But I had no idea that subsequently he willed it all away to the charities. (Looks towards the other roll of paper) I am in shock.
Price: I take it, you thought he was disinheriting his family, after what happened yesterday, at dinner, I mean --.
Thomas: (looking uncomfortable) If you want to state it baldly, I thought, I would be getting more. You must see though that Mr. Blackwood was a very odd, old man. It would be just like him to confound all our hopes and expectations. (The last line was said with great bitterness)
Price: (producing the discolored green cloth from the scene of the crime) Look, the guidelines for such investigations would have me keep you all in the dark. But you are not a member of the family, and if you really knew nothing of the new will, it would count in your favor. The fact is he was killed. This piece of cloth... have you seen someone dress with fabric of this kind.
Thomas: Was he really killed, murdered, I mean. What! Burnt to death! My room is the closest to his, and I didn't hear a scream. (Shudders) Ghastly (looks back at the cloth) Look sir, I am not one to accuse anyone, but that cloth came from Emily Blackwood's dress. That much I will say with certainty.
Price: Hmm..., but then. Very well, we shall say no more of this. Kindly tell the others to co-operate with Inspector Benson.
Thomas: Oh good Lord! What am I to think? The old man really was killed. I'll tell you another thing Detective, there was nothing but hate on both sides. Not that he was a generous boss to me, but to burn a man to death, how could you even wish that upon someone.
Price: Do not disturb yourself unduly, and leave the thinking to me. Most importantly don't go around spreading what we have spoken of. Benson will stay here tonight, I think.
Thomas: (in a scared voice) you think that's necessary.
Price: (nonchalantly) it is certainly advisable. A man has been burnt to death. Someone here is desperate, probably even scared, out of his wits. None of you are to leave the house without informing Benson. (To himself) and yet, burning is a strange way for an assassin to take---.
(Price walks out abruptly, Thomas leaves from the other side of the stage, his head bowed in thought.)
(Hampshire police station, Chief Detective Price’s office. Price is seated at his desk with a notebook and pen in hand. On a board behind him is a schematic of the scene of the crime. Benson is standing in front of the desk with several sheets of paper. A handkerchief, with the initials J.B in gold, is kept in a plastic bag on the table.)
Price: Thank you for your report. These then are the full statements of the Blackwood family members, as to the happenings on the day, before the murder. Benson, have you ever contemplated on why a man might be killed. Of course! For love, money, vengeance, all the usual motives. But not one of them fits in here.
Benson: Sir, pardon me, but aren't there enough suspects to go around; James Blackwood, about to leave home when Charles threatens to disinherit him. And
what do we find under the bed, that! (Points at the handkerchief) He left behind his name, embossed in gold, at the crime scene. Then, there is Emily Blackwood. I have it from trusted sources, that she had just lost her whole allowance, and more at the races. He kept a tight leash on all of them, and she needed the money badly.
Price: And she left a torn bit of her dress stuck in the drawer with the diamonds in it. I think she is not our killer, then...
Benson: What, she has a motive, and there is evidence that she was there! Let's bring her in. Search her. Of course she is guilty.
Price: Calm down my friend. You are too enthusiastic in denouncing a killer. I never said she was not guilty. Just that she did not kill him. (Pauses for a second, stroking his beard) Don't you see? They all have motives. James, Annie, Emily, even Thomas could have done it. But the first question to ask here, is not who, but how? How on earth do you burn a man to death without his struggling? He did burn to death, Benson, the autopsy confirmed it yesterday.
Benson: Poison, maybe. They drugged him first, and burnt him later, to make it difficult for us, to find residues of the poison in him.
Price: Exactly, he was numbed to the pain, even unconscious, maybe, before they set him to fire. But what a risky way to kill! There are guns enough in that house. A shot would have done it. Or, if they were scared of the noise, even a knife! He was a weak old man; a knife to the heart, while he was sleeping, would have ended it silently. Even a lady could have done it. Did they really hope to pass it off as an accident?
Benson: I don't know what to make of this. In any case the only alibi James has is given by his sister. Annie claims that she was playing the piano and James was listening. This went on until late at night. They both retired to their bed rooms after that. Emily has no alibi at all.
Price: Don't sound so skeptical Inspector. It would rather be suspicious if they produced alibis for that time of the night. Did you get the leftovers of the food served at dinner on that night?
Benson: Indeed, I was lucky that the cook did not clean the dishes that night, but left it for the maid, who comes in the morning. But I really don't get why someone would poison him first, and then burn him. Surely, if one is poisoning, that would itself kill the poor soul. (In a tone of utter incredulity)And why are you ruling Emily out as a suspect...
Price: (cutting in, trying to sound patient). Inspector, let us proceed logically. We know from forensics, that this was not an accident. Also we know that
neither James nor Annie nor Emily is a halfwit, to think that Scotland yard would believe that a man, lying peacefully in bed, would spontaneously combust and, what's more, burn away to death, without a scream or a muscle moved. Do you see, Inspector? There was some very good reason why the death was by burning, after poisoning him, that too... (Benson looks as if he is about to speak. Price holds up a hand, stopping him.) No, of course I don't know why they did that, when I know that, I will know who killed him, as well! (Calming down) A woman who poisons her victim, then for some inexplicable reason manages to burn him to death; all this, mind you, with the door of the room having to be broken open when the firemen arrived, is not one who leaves behind clothing at the crime scene!
Benson: Was the door locked?
Price: I talked with the fire department; they said the men had to break open the door. At least the door was solid enough not to just burn down. So yes, it is known, that he was locked in from inside. (In a slightly ironical tone) Proper locked room, murder mystery isn't it?
Benson: It is impossible.
Price: (suddenly in deep contemplation) At last it is something sensible that you say. And yet we have a man burnt to death, have we not?
Benson: (bewildered) There is the handkerchief...
Price: (somewhat infuriated) Yes, Emily's dress, James' handkerchief. Why did we not find Thomas' tie pin, or a broken off bit of Annie's hair-band! (With great emphasis and stress) There is a great mind at work here, a cruel cunning mind. Why kill in that way, I must find it out ,I must!(calming down) There are two separate things, a perfect murder and a set of clues, clues only a panicked fool, of a murderer, would leave, but they are there. (His voice slowing and trailing) Clues put there, as if deliberately by hand...
Benson: Let us at least, go and question them; see how they react to that (points at the handkerchief). Let us surprise Emily with the evidence, perhaps she will break. She knows something, all right. Let's get it out of her. Who will you interview first, Emily or James?
Price: Neither. (In a tone of decision) Let us go. Ask Martha to meet me first.
Benson: What? The cook ? She had no reason to kill him. Both she and the butler have been there for over twenty years. I am sure she is innocent.
Price: You never spoke a truer word. Of course she is innocent, so let us
get her testimony first. Then we will deal with the lies that will surely follow, when we interview the family members. Let us go, the chase has begun now.
(Price leaves with his notebook in hand; Benson gathers the evidence on the table and follows him out)
(The living room of the Blackwood Mansion- The sense of disorder is gone. Everything is properly arranged. Detective Price is seated in the most imposing armchair, while Inspector Benson is seated next to him. Enter Martha wearing a plain grey dress. She looks worried)
Price: (in a gentle soothing voice) look here, Martha, I want to assure you that, we all know you have nothing to do with this dreadful business. I know you are uneasy about talking to the police. Listen to me; I will be frank with you. Something horrible was done to Mr. Blackwood. You are loyal to him are you not?
Martha: Yes. (Hesitantly) He was a strange man though...
Price: (eagerly) go on.
Martha: I almost think he was rather kind to us; me and Robert that is, almost...almost to be, all the more unkind to the family. Oh! (Bursts into tears, pauses, then continues in a choked voice) It's a horrible thing to say. He was always generous with wages, with leave. But he was a queer, cruel man at heart. I remember him telling me that I could take leave, while ordering that the children should not be allowed to go out at all. It was another way to show his spite. Oh... what am I saying, I don't know. It was very strange; he was so very strange....
Price: (Suddenly as if shaking himself, out of a reverie) you must put such thoughts out of your head. I want to ask you some concrete questions.
Martha: Yes. I have something to tell you as well, something important. The cooking oil that is kept, with all the other kitchen stores, is all gone. (Shudders) Was it that, that was used.., that caught fire.
Price: Where are all these stores kept? When did you notice this?
Martha: We keep all such stores in the store room, next to the kitchen. I have a key, but another one, is always hung in the dining room, with a set of all the other keys of the house. Only last week, Robert went and got us supplies, the oil should have been full, at least three or four liters of it. The morning after the fire, I found the kerosene stove; out of fuel. All the fuel stored was gone as well.
Price: You have been most helpful, Martha. You may go now.
(Price turns to Benson and gestures, Benson nods and then leaves.)
Price: (to himself) He was a queer man indeed. (Looks intently at the handkerchief)
(Annie Blackwood enters.)
Price: (Shows her the handkerchief.) Is this your brother's?
Annie: (sounding genuinely puzzled) I don't think so, no. I have never seen it before. Why?
Price: It is no matter. Could you ask your brother to come in?
Annie: Detective, you know that there was no love lost between us and Charles. I admit in all honesty, that I and my brother were worried he was going to disinherit us. But believe me, what’s done to him; you cannot possibly think one of the family members would... (Beseechingly), could it really not have been an accident?
Price: Do not worry yourself like this, madam. I tell you he was killed. But I tell you, whatever we do, we are going to be very careful, you need not fear. You, or anyone, for that matter, shall not be falsely accused.
Benson: What nonsense! Not his handkerchief? (In a mocking tone) Why it's got his name on it!
Price: You may be right. But unfounded assumptions are the death of our profession. (Softly) It has not, after all, quite got his name on it.
(James Blackwood strides into the room)
James: What is all this nonsense about a handkerchief? Ask me whatever you want, but then I am leaving. I and my sister were going to leave this house. We will do so. I do not understand why you coppers keep spreading rumors about me.
Price: (Stands up and hands James the handkerchief) There is really only one question to ask. This was found at the crime scene. It bears your initials. Is it your?
James: So this is what all the fuss is about. Well my answer is no. And don't ask me whose else’s it could be. (In a blustering voice), that is your job to know. I am leaving now, if you have nothing more to say.
Benson: (rising) just one moment sir, I believe, we shall have to take you,
into custody. Considering the evidence...
Price: If you insist on leaving, I don't see any other choice. (Nods at Benson, who takes a step forward)
James: (All his bluster breaking down) I can't imagine you would believe any of us capable of such a deed. Do you know that Annie and I will be penniless, if the new will goes through? You want to destroy my reputation as well. My grandfather, Jonathan, built this house. It is ours by right, after Charles. (Angrily) You don't know how Charles pushed my father to suicide, how he tricked grandfather into believing that my father was a wastrel and would never come to anything. He hated our side of the family, all along. You suspect me and Annie, and maybe Emily as well, just because, as the whole wide world knows, we hated him. Well it is only a natural feeling to have after what he did to us. Growing angrier still) Damn right, we hated him! He robbed us! He ruined us!
Benson: Ah, so you killed him, burnt him for it. Was it for the money that you killed him, or was it revenge for your father?
(James goes red, looks like he could hit the inspector at any moment)
Price: Stop this! Listen sir, I have no wish to hurt your reputation. If you will remain here, for just one more day, then tomorrow, I believe, I shall be able to bring this dreadful case to a close.
(James walks out)
Benson: Shall I arrest him, sir?
Price: Of course not! (Exasperated) Really Benson, are you hard of hearing, or do you lack a head. Did you not hear one word of what he said?
Benson: Why he said nothing. He just went ranting about his families
tale of woe . He can't hide it you see. They never can, the killers, you know...
Price: (cutting in) Sometimes, I am forced to think you are hopeless. You see a pair of initials on a handkerchief, and leap to the obvious conclusion. You could still be right, but is there not another glaringly obvious possibility?
(Looks pointedly at the inspector for a moment and then continues) Even when you know that the handkerchief appeared inside a room, locked from the inside. Even, when the real truth regarding the handkerchief is revealed; just now, right in front of you!(Excitedly) You still can't imagine that possibility, just because you have assumed something crucial. I still can't say what will come of all this, but we have neglected an important suspect in the killing of Charles Blackwood.
Benson: I don't know where you are heading.
Price: Think Benson, think. All along it was suspicious, was it not? A gold embroidered handkerchief, really, with poor little James, who doesn't have a penny of his own. But we are wasting time. The report from testing the dinner served that night should be ready by now. Let us go collect it.
(Price leaves followed by the frowning inspector)
(The Hampshire Police Station, Detective Price's office. Benson is standing with a report in hand; Price is next to him, also standing with a mug of coffee in his hand)
Benson: (in a despondent sort of voice) the tests have all come back negative. No alkaloid or other known poison was in any dish eaten by Charles Blackwood, that night. He did not partake of wine or other drinks, so it can't have been administered through that.
Price: (jubilantly) Excellent, excellent. I was right.
Benson: (bewildered) But he was not poisoned!
Price: You are back to that old foolishness; of course he was poisoned, or else would he not scream, would he not struggle. Don't you remember the ash patterns we saw, as if, he just lay back still, and hardly moved as he burned.
Benson: So he was not poisoned at dinner time. But there was no opportunity afterwards. Everything is just getting more and more tangled.
Price: (sips the coffee and then looks at the inspector and smiles indulgently)
Say rather that everything is clearing up. Off to the home of the Blackwood’s.
Benson: Whatever for?
Price: Let's wrap up this case.
(Price strides out followed by a doubtful looking Benson)
Act 4: Eye of the Storm
(The living room of the Blackwood Mansion- Robert and Martha are standing at one corner. James, Annie, Emily and Thomas are seated in a semi-circle. At the center of this semi-circle stands Detective Price. At the other side, but close to the center of the stage, Inspector Benson is seated. He holds the napkin and the shred of discolored green cloth in his hands.)
(Every member of the Blackwood family as well as Thomas look worried. Their bodies are stiff and taut with stress. Price is at ease. The inspector and the servants look on curiously.)
Price: I am happy to declare that this dreadful case is at its conclusion. (Everyone else looks slightly incredulous) When we were called in, after this tragic fire, several natural questions and curious circumstances, presented themselves to my mind. I could just hand in my report and declare my findings, but given the painful nature of the happenings, and somewhat uniquely arcane nature of my findings, I thought it wise to explain my methods and findings to all concerned, in this sequence of events.
James: Just point out the killer if you really even know who did it. There is no need of all this song and dance!
Price: (tone heavy with irony) Point out the killer... as you will shortly realize, things are not as easy as that. Kindly bear with me till then! First let us recall the unfortunate events of that night. Charles, Blackwood was found burned to death, in his own bed, with the door locked from inside, the bedchamber and the window closed from the inside. We have established the veracity of these facts beyond doubt. Clearly this was no accident; the fuel used to burn him was taken from the kitchen of this very house. Also forensics shows that he must have been numb, or at least his senses must have been dulled, by some drug, before he was burnt, while still alive. This is also verified by the lack of struggle marks, nature of sooth marks and so on .Another fact is that the dinner had no drug in it, and Charles Blackwood touched neither food nor wine after dinner. Very well, so far we have been in the realm of hard cold facts.
Emily: It is impossible, no outsider could have done this, nor even God forbid anyone from the household. (With a quavering voice) God himself struck him down!
Price: I doubt it was God who magically transported this handkerchief and this shred of Emily's dress, there though (Taking both these things from Benson).
(Emily sees the cloth shred and goes white.)
Price: Dear lady you had better confess.
Thomas: What? (In a tone of utter incredulity) she killed him and framed James!
Price: Oh dear, you too are jumping to conclusions.
Emily: (Stands up and whispers) not one of you will believe a word I say.
Price: (In an utterly composed tone) Not me, I don't need to believe, I know. I know you went to Charles' room, and I know you stole. Stole a handful of those diamonds, and left behind a shred of cloth from your dress, stuck in the drawer. And then you scurried back. I know you stole; that is the boring part. But you saw something unusual, did you not?
Emily: (In a voice filled with fear) How can you know? But then, you know also... that I had nothing to do with the fire. (Eagerly now) tell them, you know it right, I have been so scared, I was going to run away, sell the stones; but if I ever spoke up, they would call me a murderess. Oh God! (Frantically) How did you find out? But tell them; tell them I didn't kill him; that I never even saw...
Price: (Cutting her off) Yes, I know you never even saw him. Quite strange, is it not, that in the dead of night Charles Blackwood would be on a stroll. The bathroom is adjacent to his room, but you didn't even hear him in there, did you? No, of course not, you would not have, but tell me Emily, you saw some other things, did you not? You might well have seen very important things, if you had had eyes for anything, apart from the diamonds in the drawer.
Emily: I saw a heap of old suitcases, on the side-table. A photo of my mother, old family memorabilia; I didn't understand how come he was not there, I still don't.
Price: I knew all along that the thief was not the killer, one crime done so hastily, so much in panic; the other planned meticulously and perfectly executed...
Emily: (interjecting) I know who really killed him. Thomas did! (Thomas stands up, his face red.) I overheard him talking over the telephone, while I was heading back to my room. But how could I have spoken, admitted I was awake at that ungodly hour. I heard everything. (Looks straight at Thomas) You knew the contents of the new will. You needed the money. You were not getting much under the old will but you are in debt, aren't you? And what is more out of all of us you needed the money right then, to pay the loan sharks. Just getting the will changed would not do it; he had to die now, so you could
Pay off her debts. Can you deny it?
Thomas :( standing up) It is a lie! (Looking at Benson) This is madness. You know she was there. She admits the theft, of course she won't confess to murder. She is just going along with the nonsense that man (points at the detective) is dreaming up.
Emily :( stands up and righteously proclaims) Thomas, you killed him!
Thomas: You did!
Price: Wrong, both wrong! Please sit down both of you. (They sit)
James: Are you going to stand accusing us all in turn?
Price: (ignoring the question) what about James here? His handkerchief, or so we all seem to think, was found inside the fated room.
James: (outraged) how many times I should tell you, that is not mine. Has anyone here seen it? No! Do I go around buying gold embossed handkerchiefs? Do you think so?
Price: There you are wrong; one of us here has probably seen this handkerchief on that very night. Is it not so, Emily? (He hands her the handkerchief)
Emily: (shock spreads over her face, collapses into her chair) Yes. I have.
Oh James, how....
Annie: Even if you found his fingerprints, in that room, I'll not believe that of my brother!
James: (Earnestly) by all I hold sacred, she is lying.
Price: (his voice is icy calm): and you would have taken that oath in vain. Because it was that handkerchief she would have seen on the side-table, along with the other belongings of her mothers. Part of the things of the Blackwood family, of the generation gone by, kept with the eldest Blackwood. Are you still not able to see it? Yes the handkerchief was at the scene of the crime, but it is not yours, but your grandfather's, Jonathan Black.
(There is silence all around)
Price: It was like a light-bulb in my head, when James said that name. That was the moment when I knew.
Annie: Stop this. What did you know? Will you say I killed him, now? You have accused and cleared all others.
Price: No. there is a figure, not here with us now, but clever, cunning and cruel. This figure has dominated the whole story so far, has he not? A suspect never considered; never considered, out of blindness, out of the stupid human nature that compels us to look away from horrible truths. And Oh! This is one horrible truth.
Emily: What could be more horrible than the fact that he was killed for money, or vengeance, or any reason really? What is worse than burning your own kin, howsoever he was, to death.
Price: Oh, but there is. Let us think clearly for a moment here. These clues, they were always distractions, a beautiful smokescreen of misdirection. I never for a moment believed that our killer was one to kindly leave his signed hand-kerchief as a calling card. Nor would I believe that Emily, panicked, scared, hurrying away with the diamonds, would burn her uncle to death.
I knew it in my bones, it was all wrong. The psychology was all wrong. All the events of the day, before the drama about the will being changed; it all was to hide one thing, and one thing only.
The choice of fire, a horrible, gruesome death, it really is the only sure way, is it not? The reality is in what all of you cried out in the beginning, it really is impossible. At least the way I have said. So I must have missed something, right. Because none of us will believe someone arranged all the clues I found, drugged the victim without touching his food or water, burnt him alive and vanished after locking the door from the inside.
(Everyone is listening spell bound, the lighting, and very soft background music is gradually changing to sense an increasing air of horror)
I did make a mistake. There was one man who could kill Charles Blackwood in this very manner, with ease. This person arranged the clues to point away from himself, and to everyone else, and consigned Charles Blackwood to the flames, relishing not the death of his victim, but rather the deluge of trouble and danger he would be letting loose shortly, on the innocents who would be suspected. Deriving almost sadistic pleasure in doing so.
This was a unique case. I have seen murder dressed up to look like a suicide. I have even met those con artists who have faked their deaths, to make it look like murder. But here was a man, so devoted to his agenda of spite and destruction, that to destroy the lives of his intended victims; all of you, he willingly chose to go the whole hog; to destroy himself!
Do you see at last, the person who killed Charles Blackwood, was the only person who could have, in so horrible a manner done so; Charles Blackwood himself!
Benson :( Everyone else is too stupefied to speak, they look on gaping) Sir, how did he do it. I can see why he would; that was what he lived for in his old age; to fulfill his desire for spite. But how could he---
Price: Exactly, the question we are taught to ask, why does a man kill another? Motive is the key. For power, for love, for money, to remove an obstacle, but of all these, the strongest is a deep rooted hatred; when in one person’s heart,
enters the real wish to cause pain and suffering, to another person; when only the destruction of another person's life can satisfy the criminal; that is one of the strongest motives. So it was, in this case. Only here, we were not searching for a reason to kill, but a reason to die. (Speaking faster now)
He would have planned it out calmly- Fuel from the kitchen, throwing suspicion on members of the household. The revelation, regarding the will, hours before the deed, which was bound to attract the attention of the police!
He would have some drug with him, he was an old man, surely he had pain killers, or perhaps he used some poisonous mushrooms, I take it, he still occasionally went out mushroom hunting, with members of Hampshire's high society.
He would know how much to take, in either case, to numb all sensation within a few minutes. But he could not leave it at that. If his body revealed traces of poison, we would find out what it was, we might trace it down to him, and conclude suicide. Same problem with guns or knives, the angle of the wounds, blood splatter and forensics could give it away.
He would have thought of jumping out of his window, but even that could be attributed to suicide or accident.
He took refuge in the very horror of the deed. He got the fuel. It would have taken some time, getting together all of it and carrying it upstairs. I knew Emily would only have made it into the room if he was absent, (looks at Emily).
That night t was not a night of sleep for Charles', he was preparing for an eternal sleep, leaving behind the seeds of destruction, on those he hated. He got the handkerchief out and guessed that we would jump to the thought of murder and here was a clue pointing to the man who had just tried to defy him. (Looks at James)
He poured fuel all over the bed. We didn't see any container of fuel at the room. It seemed odd all along. He carried it back; he had all the time in the world, but a murderer's first instinct would have been to leave it to burn and flee, destroying evidence and finger-prints. Then he got back to his room, lit a piece of wood from the fireplace and got into bed. He waited for the drug he had chosen to take effect. Then when he was about to lose consciousness, he plunged it down, flaming onto his blanket. He timed it to perfection.
Emily: It is too horrible.
Annie: This is true though isn't it? It is the only way it could have happened. I feel sick.
Thomas: He did not change his will though. (All their faces brighten slightly)
That old will stands.
Price: Indeed, but I think you will find that those diamonds are nothing but a fake. His lawyers tell me the house is mortgaged many times over, and almost all the money left is in old stocks, that are worthless. He had been planning this for a good long while...
(A shadow is cast over all of them, once more)
James : I still can't imagine he would go to such lengths...
Price: Yes. It is scary, is it not? He hated all of you so very much. Enough to die, just to see you destroyed.
James: What a reason to die.
All the others in unison: What a reason to die!