by James

He cleared his throat a second time, and then in his best back of the throat east end growl, said, ‘Hello, is that the local rag? I have some news for you, for your society pages.’ The voice that twittered down the line was obtuse and cheery. He closed his eyes as he waited for the torrent of words to fade, and then, with a sigh, added, ‘Yes, I mean for Gail’s Goss.’

He clutched the handset to his chest and pressed the back of his other hand to his soon to be fevered brow. Oh, these people, in these provincial towns! He composed himself and put the telephone back to his ear.

Forgetting the growl, he said, ‘It’s about the noted thesp, and raconteur, Alexander D’Rivelle, in town to take a starring role in a ground breaking adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders. Well, as well as bringing new depth and gravitas to the role of Arthur Hastings, I thought you might like to know that the debonair D’Rivelle has also been seen on the arm of a certain leading lady soon to be seen at the Playhouse as Cleopatra in-‘

He leant back and starred for a moment at the bare-naked bulb poking through the pitted plasterboard ceiling of his dressing room. He forced another smile on to his face. ‘Right, so you have a pen at last…?’

It wasn’t that his star had fallen – this was merely the downward portion of a soon to come upswing in his fortunes. It was a vital part of things – like ski jumpers. They could not soar so high if they did not first plunge down a steep icy track. Oh, but this play. For a moment his heart quivered at the memory of the test audiences tittering as the leading man – Wan Lee, native of Beijing and scourge of accent coaches everywhere – took umbrage to declare that no, he was not a Frenchman, he was a Belge-man.

And the moustache! Whose idea was that? To replace Hercule Poirot’s perky bristles with a Fu Manchu and a soul patch?

A tap the door. ‘Mr D’Rivelle? We’re ready for the photos now.’

Twenty minutes later and they were still waiting for the arrival of Wan Lee. D’Rivelle felt sorry for the half dozen bikini maidens with their goose pimpled flesh puckering beneath threadbare dressing gowns. Sexing up Poirot – yet another one of the director’s terrible ideas. His biggest eventually joined them on the stage, Wan Lee flouncing beneath a kimono whilst berating his makeup lady who was vainly trying to primp his moustache into an upwards direction.

‘Ah! Drivel! How you today?’

D’Rivelle forced a smile. ‘Oh, you know old boy. Managing, you know.’

It was going to be fine, because here were the photographers ready to take the publicity shots of him on the upswing.

The director stepped forward. ‘Right, ladies. Gowns off, and cup those breasts with your hands seductively. And where’s the head? Come on Colin, step lively. Fetch that severed head for Mr D’Rivelle to hold. And this time, splash a bit of the ketchup over Dinah’s chest.’