Simon Brett

Star Trap




‘Actually,’said Gerald Venables, after a sip from his wine glass, ‘there’s a bit more to it than that.’

‘Ah,’ said Charles Paris. ‘I thought there might be.’

Gerald took a long pause and twiddled the stem of his wine glass. Charles wondered what the catch would be. Gerald was a good friend but was unlikely to be offering him a job from purely altruistic motives. And if it were just a gesture of goodwill, he wouldn’t have made it over lunch at Martinez.

‘In fact,’ the solicitor picked out his words like a philatelist handling stamps, ‘there may be something rather odd going on in this show.’


‘Well, as you know, a West End musical is a very large financial undertaking and with any large financial undertaking there are probably as many people who wish it to fall as succeed. And the… people whom I represent are very anxious that this particular show should succeed.’

‘You mean you’ve got money in it?’ Charles knew this would make Gerald bridle. Though well known in theatrical circles as a speculator, the solicitor would never admit to his involvement.

‘One of the people whom I represent,’ came the frosty professional reply, ‘has a considerable financial stake in the venture. It is on his behalf that I am approaching you.’

Charles winked. Gerald deflated, smiled and moved the conversation away from money. ‘Listen, Charles, the reason that we want you in the show is that we need an investigator on the spot to keep an eye open for anything untoward.’

‘I see.’

‘And, of course’ (remembering that even as cynical an actor as Charles Paris had his professional pride) ‘because you would be absolutely ideal for the part.’

Charles inclined his head graciously and looked up for more information.

‘You see, Charles, the reason I thought of you was because of that business in Edinburgh that you sorted out… the murder of that boy — what was his name — Marinello?’

‘Something like that. I’m flattered, Gerald, but I think to say I sorted it out is a slight exaggeration. I was there…’

‘It comes to the same thing. And then there was the Marius Steen business.’

‘Again I would hardly say that I…’

‘Don’t worry what you think. I think you can do the job required and I’m asking you. I mean, it may be that there’s nothing to investigate. In that case think of it just as an acting job. After the tour, you’d have a contract for nine months in the West End, you’d be pretty well paid — it’s not a bad offer, is it?’


‘And you haven’t got anything else major coming up at the moment, have you?’

As an actor, Charles replied instinctively, ‘Well, there are one or two things I’m considering, which may possibly…’ Then he decided there was no point in trying to impress Gerald. ‘No, nothing major.’ Or why not be completely honest? ‘Nothing minor either, as it happens. And I had a somewhat uncharitable letter from the Inland Revenue this morning.’

‘So you’ll take the job?’

‘I suppose so.’

‘That’s terrific.’ Gerald punctuated the agreement by refilling their wine glasses. He seemed relieved, which amazed Charles. Surely he never thought the offer might be refused. Or perhaps, from his position of extreme opulence, Gerald was unaware of the general scarcity of acting work at a time when theatres were paring down the size of their permanent companies, when big cast plays were no longer being written or produced and when even the BBC was making cutbacks in its programme hours. Nor was he probably aware of the precarious system of final demands and delaying letters by which Charles conducted his financial affairs.

‘What about a sweet?’ Gerald airily summoned the waiter with a well-tailored gesture and, as often before, Charles was impressed and amused by his friend’s smoothness. He did not envy it, he had long ago decided that certain sorts of success did not interest him, but it was still entertaining to see a successful man at work. Everything about Gerald was right — the beautifully cut charcoal grey pin-striped suit, the residual tan from an August spent with his family in their villa in Corsica, the silver hair cut just long enough to be trendy, the chunky gold ring and identity bracelet, the almost imperceptible aura of expensive after-shave. Charles was always amazed by people who could live like figures in glossy magazines and by people who wanted to. For him the basic challenge of getting from day to day more than occupied his time.

The sweets were sorted out and they both tucked into monster slices of strawberry gateau. Charles wiped a stray blob of cream from the side of his mouth and asked, ‘What’s been happening, Gerald?’

‘In the show, you mean?’

‘Yes. There must be something strange for you to go to these lengths to get me involved.’

‘Yes. Two things have happened. They may both have been accidents, and they may be completely unconnected, but it’s just possible that someone’s trying to sabotage the whole venture.’

‘What were the “accidents”?’

‘The first came on the second day of rehearsal. There was a guy called Frederick Wooland who was rehearsal pianist for the show. As he was on the way to the Welsh Dragon Club where they’re rehearsing, he was shot at.’

‘Shot at? You mean someone tried to kill him?’

‘No, not really. It was only an air rifle. He just got a pellet in his hand. Not very serious except that he won’t be able to play for a couple of weeks and they’ve had to find a new rehearsal pianist.’

‘Usually if you hear of someone being shot at with an air rifle, it’s just kids fooling about.’

‘Yes, I agree. That may well he what it was in this case. It’s a fairly rough area down there.’

‘Where is the Welsh Dragon Club?’

‘Elephant and Castle.’

‘Hmm. Presumably the pianist didn’t see who shot at him?’

‘No. First thing he knew was a stinging pain in his hand.’

‘Were the police told?’

‘Oh yes. It was all official. They seemed to think it was kids. No great surprise. It’s not the first lime that it’s happened round there.’

‘In that case, I can’t see why you think there’s anything odd about it. It doesn’t sound as if it bad anything to do with the show at all. Perhaps the only lesson is that managements should be prepared to pay a bit more money to get rehearsal rooms in slightly nicer areas.’ He pronounced the last two words in his best Kensington Lady accent.

‘Okay. Yes, I admit, on its own, that doesn’t sound much. But exactly a week later there was another accident. The day before yesterday.’

‘What happened this time?’

‘One of the actors fell down some stairs and broke his leg.’

‘Where? At the rehearsal rooms?’

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