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Mystery Dinner Theatre
written by: Mark Kuglin
Although highly displeased with his wife Margie and the reason for their outing, Bill Reynolds had to admit the mansion and its grounds were impressive. Highly manicured and tastefully done landscaping— which included Greek and Roman statuary lining both sides of a long cobblestone entrance drive— had led to an ornate twenty foot tall fountain in front of a white, multi-columned monolith.
For a few moments, Bill found himself mesmerized by the view. He was so awestruck--as he surveyed his surroundings-- he didn't hear Margie leave their Mercedes. His tranquility, however, was short lived. It was abruptly ended by the sound of screeching tires behind him.
At the sound of the noise, Bill spun around in his seat. And after he did, he disdainfully watched a plump, mid-sixties, badly dyed redhead wearing a polka dot dress and an equally aged reed thin man— in an outdated tweed suit— exit a beat up old Ford.
As the couple slowly strolled in his and Margie’s direction, Bill sat unmoving and stewed in silence. Margie had begged him for weeks for this outing and if they left now he knew he'd never hear the end of her whining.
With great reluctance, Bill accepted his fate. He pasted a smile on his face, exited the Mercedes and approached the couple. But before he could address either of them, the man extended his hand and cordially said, “I’m Harry Larsen and this is my wife Harriet.”
Throughout the introductions and everyone else's subsequent pleasantries, Bill put on a masterful performance to conceal his contempt.
Christ! If being married to a clown isn't bad enough, I’m stuck with two real ones…….
Bill’s brooding came to an abrupt halt when everyone's attention was diverted by a voice calling out, “Welcome to Mystery Dinner Theatre.”
Turning in unison—towards the mansion’s front door, both couples were momentarily shocked by the sight of four figures in hooded, red robes and gothic makeup. After a brief quizzical look at one another--and before any of them could speak, a raven haired beauty theatrically announced, “I am Mistress Alexandra, your hostess. Please step inside…We'll have a glass of wine in the parlor before we get started.”
Once again, Bill artfully hid his contempt.
Christ! This place is full of clowns….
After being ushered inside, the guests were seated at a highly polished mahogany table and served wine under the soft light of ornate chandelier. The festivities had only been underway for a few minutes when a head unexpectedly rolled across the table. And in the process, it clipped an empty wineglass which sent it flying into the one on the opposite side— a perfect 7-10 split.
The head’s unexpected maneuver was not to Mistress Alexandra’s liking. Instead of creating a shock filled moment, the absurdity of its acrobatics elicited a round of laughter. In response, Mistress Alexandra apologetically said, “That was a pity, but please do not let it ruin your experience.”
“I, I,…” Margie stuttered. “I didn't know what to think…It looked so real.”
“Shut up!” Bill snapped. “It was a prop, you idiot!”
“Don't you dare call her that!” Harriet hissed.
“Who the hell…,” Bill shouted before being cut off.
“Mr. Reynolds!” Mistress Alexandra interjected with authority. “I will not tolerate that sort of behavior. I will not allow you or anyone to disrupt the proceedings.”
“Bill…please,” Margie begged. “I really want to do this.”
“I don't have time for this nonsense,” Bill angrily retorted. “This charade is costing me time and money.”
“But you promised,” Margie once again begged— this time with tears welling in her eyes.
“Mr. Reynolds,” Mistress Alexandra said in a soothing tone. “I assure you, this won't take more than an hour.”
“Fine…But not one minute more.” Bill belligerently replied.
“Then it's settled,” Mistress Alexandra said cheerfully, “In the meantime, let's have another drink and then we'll start.”
While the fresh drinks were being served, Bill forwent conversation and just stared at the other couple.
Lady, you're a clown but you’ve got guts…I can't say the same for twerp husband…Christ! He’s as useless as Margie….
A minute later, Bill was snapped back to the proceedings when Mistress Alexandra announced, “It's time to begin.”
And then--after a lengthy theatrical pause, Mistress Alexandra said, “Upstairs, there are exhibits of murder and other crime scenes…Each of you will be guided to view them alone…Afterwards, we’ll reconvene here and you will independently decide who was the perpetrator…The couple with the most correct answers will win a weekend getaway for two…Shall we begin?”
Without waiting for a response, Mistress Alexandra assigned Mr. and Mrs. Larsen--and then Margie— to their respective guides. She then turned to Bill and said, “Mr. Reynolds, you’ll be with me.”
Bill and Mistress Alexandra climbed an ornate staircase to the mansion’s second floor in complete silence. When they reached the landing, Mistress Alexandra directed Bill— with a theatrical wave of her hand— to follow her down the hallway. Just before they reached the end, they came upon an open doorway where she stopped and said, “This is exhibit A.”
And with another wave of her hand, she gestured him inside.
As he stepped around her, Bill shot Mistress Alexandra a condescending look. His disdainful attitude, however, shifted to one of confusion the moment he crossed the threshold and saw several trees and park benches— to his immediate left and right— and two parallel rows of tall shrubbery that extended deeper into the room.
Bill’s confusion was short lived. It was immediately replaced by curiosity and he slowly ventured forward. After taking half a dozen steps— into the parallel rows, he reached a bend that was in semi-darkness. He paused, to peer around the corner, then glanced up and realized that the shrubbery was now on an overhead trellis and it was blocking most of the light. Momentarily distracted, Bill absentmindedly took another step, tripped and then fell.
When Bill turned his head to see what he stumbled over, fear suddenly gripped him. Mere inches away— and staring at him with terrified blue eyes— was the face of a long haired blonde girl. Instantly panicked, he quickly scooted away and it took him a moment to realize it was a mannequin.
After he regained his composure, Bill took a closer look. The mannequin he tripped over was curled up in the fetal position and her clothes were in tatters. It was quite obvious she had had a hellish experience. And in an instant, a long suppressed memory came flooding back.
No!…It can't be…
Unsure of what to do or to believe, Bill quickly retraced his steps to the doorway. He was moving so fast, he bumped into Mistress Alexandra as he re-entered the hallway. “Are you ok?” she asked. “You’re sweating and you look like you’ve seen a ghost…If you’re frightened...”
“I’m not frightened!” Bill interjected—with feigned bravado. “Don't be absurd, it's just hot in here.” After a brief pause, he then asked, "What else do you have to show me? I’m a busy man, I need to end this foolishness as soon as possible!”
“As you wish,” Mistress Alexandra replied. “Exhibit B is over…”
Without waiting for her to finish, Bill strode past Mistress Alexandra and opened the door she was pointing at. Greeting him— as he entered— was the sight of an all too familiar oak paneled office with a life-like mannequin of his ex-partner Gerald Williams seated at his desk.
“What the hell is…?” Bill screamed— before being distracted by a pinprick in his neck.
A few hours later, Bill regained a state of semi-consciousness. And for the first few minutes, he shook his head back and forth and softly moaned. His head was throbbing and he found himself unable to open his eyes beyond a squint. The only one of his senses that was functioning properly was his hearing. And from somewhere nearby, he could hear scratching noises.
When he was finally fully alert and able to open his eyes, Bill panicked when he realized he was securely strapped to a chair in a ramshackle room. With horror, he discovered that the scratching noise was the sound of rats scurrying in what was left of the walls. And in an instant, he was screaming, “Help! Somebody help me!”
Bill continued to scream until he was hoarse and then started to cry. He was scared out of his wits when a voice behind him venomously hissed, “You’re absolutely pathetic!”
A few seconds later, Bill recognized its owner.
“Mistress Alexandra you may as well move to where I can see you,” Bill said--with false bravado.
“Not yet!” she replied angrily— while coming up from behind and gagging him. “There are some things we need to go over.”
After pausing a moment, Mistress Alexandra then added in a taunting voice, “You really disappointed everyone— Margie included— none of us thought you would crack so easily.”
Upon hearing his wife’s name, Bill tried to respond through the gag. Intrigued—by what he might have to say, Mistress Alexandra lowered it. Now free to speak, Bill lashed out at her and Margie.
“What the hell does that idiot Margie have to do with any of this? That half-wit couldn't find her way out of a paper bag…Untie me at once!.…I’m an important man, you'll never get away..."
His tirade was cut short when Mistress Alexandra slipped his gag back in place.
“You are an important man...But your lifetimes worth of treachery and villainous actions are going to keep most people from searching….And as far as getting away with it, we already have...Right now, the others are dismantling the exhibits.”
After pausing for a moment, she added wistfully, “It was a shame you broke so quickly…Mr. Williams’ office was supposed to be last…There were several more exhibits for you to view."
Mistress Alexandra then stepped in front of Bill. The split second she did, his muffled rantings stopped. Totally perplexed— by the sight of the long haired blonde in front of him— Bill cocked his head and pleaded for an answer with his eyes.
Grinning malevolently, Mistress Alexandra said--with faux civility, “I’m going to leave you now but don't worry. The rats will keep you company.”
She then paused for a moment—to enjoy the look on his face— before heading towards the door. On her way past Bill, she vehemently hissed, “I’m exhibit A you asshole!”