Other nights I’d have stayed in, watching the telly, or gone shopping at Tesco’s, but tonight there was a play on at the village hall, Brother, Oh, Brother! a farce set in a monastery, of all places. Anyway, I thought a trip to Tesco could wait till tomorrow. Why not have a laugh, instead of listening to a load of drab, sour-faced, overweight women arguing with the checkout operator?
So I found myself seated on one of four rows of chairs, about half occupied. I looked around and nodded to people I recognised, embarrassed not to know their names when one or two greeted me by mine. But there, thank God, was old Jack Hargreaves, a bit of a bore about his bloody beehives, but at least a friendly, recognisable face. He came over.
“Hello, John, good to see you. Not seen you at one of these before.”
“Oh, er, no, I was, … er, busy, the last time.”
“I think you’ll enjoy this one, the last one was written by the same guys. It was really funny. The Great Village Bake Off!” He chuckled at the memory. “Oh well, mustn’t gas any more. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll sit with Fanny or I’ll be in trouble.” He winked and walked several chairs away to join his large, white-haired wife.
I took a seat next to a sallow-faced fellow of unshaven appearance. He smelt a bit too. I noticed a large holdall under his chair. I was debating whether to move, when lights came on above an area which had been converted into an imaginative stage, depicting a brewery-type scene. A rotund bald-headed man, dressed in a monk’s habit, appeared. “Brother Paul, Brother Paul,” he called.
Another monk appeared from behind a backdrop of a wall, composed of large pink monastery-type bricks. “Yes, Brother Derek?”
“Well, Brother Paul, I need some advice. Is it proper for a member of the brethren to use e-mail?”
Brother Paul smiled. “Yes, brother, as long as there are no attachments!”
The audience laughed politely. Outside, in the distance, I could hear sirens.
“I say, Brother Derek, do you have change for a ten-pound note?” asked Brother Paul.
Brother Derek shook his head solemnly. “Change comes from within, brother!”
More polite laughter. The sirens sounded louder and I noticed the fellow next to me was sweating profusely and fidgeting. Suddenly he jumped up, opened his holdall and pulled out a shotgun. “All right everybody, hands up, I’m taking you all hostage!”
I could see what looked like bundles of banknotes in the holdall. We all laughed. The two ‘brothers’ looked nonplussed.
“Up against the wall, the lot of you. Now! You monkeys too!” He gestured towards the ‘monks’ with the shotgun, his finger itching on the trigger. I began to feel very nervous. Surely, this couldn’t be part of the play?
There were flashing blue lights outside now and I acted instinctively, recognising the style of the gun and noticing the safety catch was on. I grasped the barrel with both hands and his surprise was palpable. Beady narrow yellow eyes glared into mine with hatred. Then there was an ear-shattering explosion, the gun jerked in my hands, and a huge hole appeared in part of the ‘monastery wall.’
The door burst open and the place was filled with yellow-jacketed officers. “Armed police, nobody move!”
The man dropped the discharged gun and raised his hands. He was quickly handcuffed and led away.
A tall, authoritative figure came forward. “I’m Inspector Andrews. I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but the show must not go on.” He smiled whimsically. “And you, sir,” looking at my shaking hands, “that was brave and, if I may say so, extremely foolish!”
“Oh, yes, er, sorry.”
He turned away, organising bustling officers.
I guessed maybe I’d been wrong about the safety catch.
Featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II: 88 Little Stories
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