The Romantic Novelists Association south group holds regular flash fiction challenges – the first line is provided and the maximum length specified. My entry for this challenge was the winner!

“Blimey,” said matron, “I wasn’t expecting that.”

“Stop, stop!” Derek ran his hands through his hair. “Alexis, for the last time – this is a serious drama and you’re making it sound like a Carry On movie! Can you please…”

“You hate me!”

Derek thought that might be true; after all, she’d been landed on him by the play’s financier. “No, I …”

“I’m going for a break!” With a toss of her perfect blonde curls, Alexis Connor stormed from the stage, leaving the rest of the cast shaking their heads.

“Everybody take a break,” Derek sighed. “I’ll go and talk to her.”

Alexis didn’t reappear when the cast reassembled, and couldn’t be located for the rest of the rehearsal. In fact, she was only found when one of the set changers tugged on the rope that raised one of the flats. The one-time leading lady was quite dead, her head staved in.

The police were summoned. Detective Inspector Short, a tall thin man, proceeded to search the theatre and question the cast and crew, his faithful and tactful sergeant, Sheila Blunt, in attendance.

Two days later, he summoned everyone to the stage, where a series of chairs had been laid out. Exchanging worried looks, everyone sat down.

“So,” said Short, “many of you had reason to dislike Miss Connor, but all of you claim when you saw her last she was well. But one of you must have seen her again later, hit her with a blunt instrument, several of which have been recovered, and then concealed her body at the back of the stage.” He turned to his first suspect. “Waldo Wiggins, you’re the play’s writer, is that correct? You stopped Miss Connor in the wings after she left the stage and begged her to do justice to your words. She said her part was laughable and pushed past you, and that was the last time you saw her, correct?”

The elderly writer tapped his walking stick n the ground firmly. “Yes.”

DI Short turned to his next suspect. “Mr Black, you’re the play’s director. You told us that after Miss Connor stormed off the stage, you went to her dressing room and tried to talk her into returning for the rest of the rehearsal. When you failed, you left her alone.”

Derek nodded and Short turned to Carol Smart, the costumier. “Miss Smart, you told us you saw Miss Connor heading towards the lounge bar, still wearing her costume, and chased after her asking her to remove it before it got dirty. Despite your entreaties, she refused, and that was the last time you saw her.”

“That’s correct,” the costume designer quavered.

“Mr Johnson, you’re the leading man? In the play, your character has a relationship with the matron played by Miss Connor, is that correct?”

“It is.” The exquisite Lionel Johnson considered his nails, looking bored.

“And when the director told you to take a break, you went to the lounge bar, where you met with Miss Connor, who according to you tried to seduce you.”

“She failed,” he snorted. “Wrong gender entirely!”

“Yes, well,” Short blinked. “You told us that after you rejected her advances, she flounced out and you never saw her again.”

“Not alive, no.”

The DI swept his gaze across the anxious faces in front of him. “So,” he said, “who killed Alexis Connor? Was it Waldo the writer in the wings with his walking stick? Or could it have been Derek the director with the dowel in the dressing room? Or Carol the costumier in the corridor with the cosh? Or finally, could it have been Lionel the leading man in the lounge bar with the lamp?”

Sergeant Blunt gazed at him adoringly. “So who was it?” she gasped.

He shrugged. “Frankly, my dear, I don’t have a clue!”