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Intrigue

I've always liked the idea of writing work that can exist across two genres; I'll let you decide just which genres this tale might straddle.

Conrad Thorn looked across the set to the beautiful Rosa Espinho and she looked back longingly, like a caged bird looks pleadingly at a cat. The director had failed to notice her talents again. Conrad yelled at his cast as he rose to his feet from his chair. This was an extremely tense moment in the series and Conrad demanded all the drama of a season defining cliffhanger.

“What do you call this? This is not acting! My aunt Silvia could do better than you half-witted imbeciles, and she died six years ago!”

Conrad rubbed his sweaty forehead and then his long, thin nose that seemed to be forged in a permanent sneer above his vicious moustache. “Luke,” Thorn began, striding over to him. “Emotions are very complex. You are very simple. Therefore, just stand there and look pretty, all right?”

Luke Broadbent, the lead male and pin-up former bodybuilder, looked stunned at first, then, prepared to resume his so-called acting.

“And Gloria,” Conrad continued, still in full flow, “You must try and remember what it was like to act with some confidence. I seem to remember you did it once before, please don’t make me think that I was dreaming.”

Gloria St. Francis glared at Luke, then her personal assistant and then put on her typical hurt star pose; arms crossed, leaning on her left leg, rolling her eyes. Conrad took his seat and waved his arms listlessly. “Lighting! Mike! Let’s roll and, please God, please, let them finally act!” The scene restarted again and Gloria strode into view and faced Luke.

“What’s wrong, my darling?”

“You know very well, you cheating, manipulative swine!” Gloria paced over and slapped Luke then gasped, clasping her cheeks.

“Damn you, Mrs. Curtis. I should never have left Marina for you.” Luke sneered at Gloria.

“And I should never have murdered my husband for you!” The revelation hung in the air, like a helium balloon escaping from the grip of a lost child.

“Cut! Rosa – finish up here.”

Conrad got up and left as soon as he could, abandoning the rest of the crew to attend to the details of packing up and catering to the needs of the cast. The executive producer ordered the film to go to print and the set to be packed up carefully; with the series renewed for another season, they needed the set and props to be kept in pristine condition. Luke removed his shirt without care whilst Gloria lit a cigarette.

“Damn him, if Conrad barks at me one more time, I swear, I shall strangle him,” murmured Luke. Gloria did not disagree. Both had come with Conrad from the West End with promises of regular, high-profile work and the inevitable fame but, for the last two years, all they’d earned was criticism and abuse from their former mentor.

The producers demanded that Luke and Gloria remain part of the cast until the end of the next series. And if a further series was green-lit by the networks, they could either negotiate new contracts or expect the script writers to come up with another imaginative demise for their characters.

“Luke, even though I used to be Conrad’s lover, I hate him. I wish someone would get rid of him. All he’s done is put us down and trap us with these shallow roles.”

“Yes, but surely, if he were to die, you would inherit his fortune.”

“That’s beside the point. I can’t help if the divorce lawyers have been dragging their feet.” Luke stepped closer, glancing swiftly to ensure they were alone and could not be heard.

“Eighteen million is exactly the point!”

“Leave it alone, Luke. I have a book signing to get to.” Gloria’s personal aide scuttled over and began preening the ageing celebrity.


===


Rosa Espinho, who had finished overseeing the close of another day’s filming came over to Luke and put her arm around his waist.

“Mister Broadbent, as the executive producer, I think I should tell you that management believes you would make a great replacement for Conrad.”

“Oh, Rosa, please, call me Luke. I couldn’t possibly take over from such a well-respected director. Plus, he has a five-year contract. Unless something tragic happens, he is in charge.”

“But Luke,” she purred, “when his contract is over you would be the next in line, if you play your cards right. Unless, like you suggest, something tragic happens.” Rosa looked up at his striking jaw and flashed him the kind of smile that had helped to secure her current position.

“Five years from now, I intend to be in your shoes,” Luke smiled, tossing a hair from Rosa’s perfect, peach cheek.

“Five minutes from now, you could be in my bed…” Rosa led Luke away.


===


Rosa shook her head and gazed at the newspaper that creased beneath her petite hands. How could it have happened? At this of all times, how could it have happened? Rosa had long wanted Conrad to show an interest in her but now he was gone and the chair she sat in would never be filled by his frame again. The tabloids loved this kind of thing, of course; Beloved Director Slain in Mansion; Who Killed Conrad Thorn? Police Seek Showbiz Murder Suspects.

There was nothing she could do but control her sobbing, despite her dislike for public displays of weakness. Even when Luke appeared from the dressing room, she couldn’t stop shaking. He was no substitute for Conrad – and what he could have done for her career.

“Morning. Whoa! What’s the matter, baby?”

“Conrad!” She wiped away her bleeding mascara with the back of her hand. “Oh, Luke, Conrad’s dead!” Off she went again. Blubbering and yowling. Luke pressed her cheek against his impressive pectorals, his trunk-like arms knotted around her slender and delicate torso. He screwed up his nose and curled his lip as the dampness sapped through his thin, cotton t-shirt.

“What happened to him, Rosa?” Luke tried to remove her wet face from his chest.

“He was shot,” she sniffed. “Last night, about an hour before you got to my apartment.” Their eyes suddenly met and Rosa’s mouth gaped.

Gloria and her attendant stood in the door frame. Gloria was beaming and she walked directly over to Luke, grabbed him by the arm, and dragged him aside.

“Luke, you were right – you’re looking at an eighteen-million-dollar woman now.”

“I can’t believe you’re happy that Conrad’s dead, not after what you said yesterday.”

“Aren’t you? You said you wanted him dead.”

“I do, I mean, I did. But how can you come here and gloat around his colleagues and friends?”

“You’re right. I’m sorry, I’m probably just a little light-headed.” Gloria looked at Rosa, who now stood beside Luke’s right elbow. "I’m assuming from the look on your faces that you two slept together last night?”

“What business is it of yours?” Luke became urgent and loomed towards Gloria. “I was with her all night. All night, Gloria, so don’t start judging us; you’re drunk.” He seemed threatening now and Gloria visibly backed down by half-turning away but her expression remained unchanged.

“I wasn’t implying anything. All I meant was … well, good for you. I’m sure you both have watertight alibis now.” She paced away to wardrobe as Luke noticed Rosa was weeping again.


===


At around 11pm in an expensive LA suburb, Gloria St. Francis poured another glass of Chardonnay for Luke Broadbent before squeezing his hands across the candlelit table in her spacious main dining room.

Their eyes met and both smiled simultaneously. She sipped her wine and spooned a mouthful of Crêpe Suzette between her bright red lips. He glanced around before returning his gaze to this gorgeous creature that sat before him.

“Divine,” she declared.

“It was quite the performance, my darling. Now that nosy little assistant has given me the perfect cover.” They sipped their wine, with the appearance of controlled ecstasy.

Their serenity was interrupted by a knock at the door. Turning the handle, Luke reeled as the door burst open.

“Gloria St. Francis, we are arresting you on suspicion of the murder of Conrad Thorn.” The detective held his warrant in from of him, not expecting the residents to take the time to read it. Another officer slapped handcuffs on the startled actor. Luke stepped through the open archway between the dining room and the reception room, perhaps to intervene, as the intruders turned to face him.

“Mr. Luke Broadbent?”

“Yes…”

“I’m charging you with being an accessory to murder. You will have to come with us too.” Another officer snapped handcuffs on Luke as well. He looked to Gloria who was aghast. “You will both be held for questioning, where upon, should you cooperate you may be released.”

The detective nodded to the officers and the two suspects were taken outside.


===


Sat in the holding cell, Luke and Gloria simply gazed at the floor, not knowing what to do. They had answered the questions the police had asked and been altogether very helpful, yet they were still held in custody. All they could do was wait for their lawyers to arrive.

“You’ve got a visitor,” said the police officer. It was Rosa.

“Gloria. Luke. I hope you’re comfortable in here,” she said calmly.

“We didn’t do anything, Rosa, you have to get us out of here!” yelled Luke. He wasn’t reassured by her grin.

“I’m quite sure you didn’t but is there a jury who would agree with you? The only two suspects in a high-profile murder case turn out to have been lovers…” She let her revelation sink in. “Tut, tut. It doesn’t look good now does it?”

Gloria raged and lunged at Rosa through the bars. “Come her, you bitch! I’ll rip your throat out!” The officer stepped forward and Gloria backed down. Rosa quickly reassured him with a winning smile and a casual wave of her manicured hand.

“I suppose that divorce paperwork won’t matter now, will it? The money will remain in the Thorn estate, won’t it?” Now it was her turn to look at them like a cat prowling outside the aviary. “And I suppose it will remain in the family now.”

“Why do you look so pleased, you pen pushing parasite.”

“I would have thought a woman of your… romantic experience would be able to figure it out.” The confusion faded from St. Francis’ face, fading like a sunset.

“Rosa Espinho? Rosa Thorn!”

“I don’t understand,” interrupted Luke.

“Conrad’s daughter, I assume,” Gloria addressed their tormentor.

“So much nicer than Alison, I think… And,” she directed her attention to Luke now, “How do you think I learned to act?” She turned without looking back, leaving her two victims horror-struck.


===


Gloria and Luke stood side-by-side in the court room, four police guards surrounding them. The jury re-entered via a side door and the judge soon followed. Sat near the two defendants were their lawyers and next to him, separated by the gangway, was the prosecutor and his counsel. The balcony above the court and much of the seating at ground level was filled with journalists and photographers. A few seats were taken up by close friends and relatives of both the victim and suspects.

The heavily robed judge banged his gavel solemnly. “Court is in session. Take your seats.” He looked across at the foreman of the jury. The fracas quietened momentarily. Just the sharp click of camera shutters prevented utter silence. “Foreman, have you and the jury reached a verdict?” The stout, shirt-sleeved man to the end of the benches stood, smarted his tie and unfurled a piece of paper.

“Yes, your honour. We find the defendants…” Just then, everyone assembled turned to face a sudden noise from the very rear of the courtroom…

“Cut! Cut!” The director marched to the bench and turned so she was facing the judge and defendants. “We need to amp up this drama, I don’t feel it.” She clicked the button on the side of her walkie talkie. “Balconies – I need to hear more murmuring from you! Steve! That boom’s in shot over the judge’s shoulder…”

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