Well, it's been thirteen good days since the publication of The Assassins' Village and we've had some exciting moments. I have to say sales have been tremendous and the reviews received are simply fantastic. Thank you to all of you who've read the book and taken the trouble to write a favourable comment on Amazon. So far - fingers crossed - we are 100% with a full house of 5*****!
The only downside is no sales from the German market - yet. And as one fan said last week, 'They don't know what they're missing!'
This Sunday I have posted Chapter 1 for your perusal. It is one of the longer chapters of the book and I beg your indulgence - but it does set the scene nicely and introduces a fair number of the cast. So here goes... enjoy it!
Chapter One. The previous Tuesday evening. 24th August
Were such things here as we do speak about? Or have we eaten on the insane root that takes the reason prisoner? Macbeth. Act 1 Scene 3
Alicia stood in front of the hallway mirror. A freckled face, pale and thin, stared back at her. Smoothing back her unruly red hair she heard the deep tone from the old clock striking in the hall. The sound echoed along the hallway and into the living room beyond. Alicia counted the chimes. Seven o’clock! Time to go. Swiftly, she gathered up the sheaf of scripts for the forthcoming play reading, tucked the bundle under her arm and threw open her front door. The evening’s sweet scent from a frangipani tree reached her and she took a few seconds to steady herself before closing the door behind her.
She was going to be late. It was a nuisance; she needed to compose herself. It was important to be in control. Especially tonight as she intended to instigate the first of her carefully laid plans. He would not get away with it.
Alicia told herself, keep calm. The walk would take just a few minutes if she passed through the church grounds. Crunching up the jagged stone steps Alicia glanced at the Greek Orthodox Church that gave its name to the village; Agios Mamas. It loomed in front of her, large, rectangular and faced in the local pale-coloured sandstone. The Church had been rebuilt in 1860 after the earthquake that had shaken its original foundations. Now, it served its purpose well. Its regular congregation of mostly black-clad old ladies was swelled on Saints’ days with visiting families. She imagined the rows of dutiful women as they sat nodding in the back of the church, surrounded by the heady smell of incense and candles. Alicia was not one of the worshippers. Her faith and allegiance belonged to another deity altogether. Something she rarely mentioned to anyone who knew her, and if she did then it was with complete reticence. The New Woman World Alliance was secretive in its ministry to outsiders. When questioned about the order, Alicia remained tight-lipped about its overall aims and functionality. Only once had she made the mistake of letting someone know its secrets.
Years ago, when she was an art student on a year’s sabbatical she had journeyed through Pakistan, India, and far up into Bhutan and beyond. Somewhere in the wild and arid hills she strayed into a sect different from anything else she had known. Feeling compelled to stay; she had been indoctrinated with its scriptures. Forgetting her people back home in Ireland Alicia turned her back on her College education as she took up the narrow life the sect demanded of her. To this day she remained committed. And because of this commitment she had to stop Leslie and his vile threats.
Alicia walked down the path to the road that wound its way around the hillside eventually leading to the rehearsal venue. The sun’s rays slanted down through the half- ruined buildings, casting long purple shadows in the broken darkened doorways and windows. Tumbledown houses mixed in with the renovated stone works, a startling blend of courtyards, paths, Venetian arches, and gardens drenched with flowers, all behind a jumble of walls.
The air smelt of over-ripened grapes and she could hear the low drone from the wasps as they buzzed in the overhead vines. Swallows and doves fluttered in the soft evening sunshine before disappearing into the gaping holes of the empty dwellings. It could have been creepy, but Alicia never found it so. She loved the solitude in the labyrinth of the deserted houses that stood in quiet sentinel before those still inhabited. It suited her covert nature. A flight of pigeons made her pause. They swooped down from their high roost in an empty two-storied house. Alicia felt the beating of their wings as they swarmed around her; faltering, fluttering, a renewing of position before they made off down the valley.
At the end of the cobbled path she caught up with Yanoulla picking her way down the rough slope. Alerted by footsteps behind her, Yanoulla turned to greet Alicia.
‘Alicia. Kalispera. How are you?’
The slim, blonde Cypriot woman fell in beside Alicia. She was a few years older than the Irish woman and it was noticeable. She was plain, ugly even; her large nose dominated and spoiled her face. Tonight she looked weary, despite the pleasant smile.
‘And good evening to you, Yanoulla. I am well and you?’
‘Yes, thank you. Are you excited about tonight?’
They rounded the corner catching sight of the open-air theatre. Alicia’s heart gave a lurch. Village and town theatres were all very well, but the thought of directing Shakespeare at the amphitheatre always filled her with an excited inner glow. The villagers were fortunate having been awarded a grant from the European Union to build their own theatre and Alicia was determined to make this production her best.
‘Oh yes. I always like beginning new plays, especially Shakespeare. This year we have the makings of a very good cast. I hope everyone will agree with my final choice.’ As she spoke she knew she would have trouble. There was always one or two who would disagree with anything. They had already had their inaugural committee meeting and the cast auditions. Most roles had been cast and agreed a week ago. However, as director she had the final decision, and had decided to make a couple of changes. Well, she would address that if and when the problem arose.
‘I too am looking forward to this year. Making costumes is a lot of fun and I love the challenge.’ Yanoulla was an expert with her needle and in the past Alicia had been indebted to her. Apart from her sewing, Yanoulla had introduced Kristiakis to the group. His huge physique was an asset when building wonderful stage sets.
Reaching the bottom steps of the amphitheatre they said hello to the members already gathered; lounging and chatting on the stone steps; enjoying the evening sunshine.
A tall dark Cypriot man was sitting by himself near the top. He rose to his feet and approached the two women. After a brief nod to Alicia he took Yanoulla to one side and rapidly addressed her in Greek. Yanoulla’s face grew still as she listened to her lover. When he had finished talking, Yanoulla replied in the same language. Alicia’s Greek was nowhere near perfect but she knew enough to understand a lovers’ tiff when she heard one.
Shaking his head, Kristiakis took a look at his watch. Without another word he left an angry looking Yanoulla and bounded back up the steps and out of the theatre.
Turning to Alicia, Yanoulla looked furious and miserable; white-lipped. Alicia raised her eyebrows in question, waiting for an explanation.
‘I am sorry, Alicia, but, Kristiakis cannot be here for tonight’s casting. He has to go to Limassol. He is –’ she paused, unsure how much to tell her.
Alicia had clearly heard the name Marina mentioned in their conversation and could guess that the predatory Krisitakis had other and better things to do that night. She sought to spare Yanoulla’s embarrassment, as she liked the Cypriot woman.
‘Never mind, it’s not important that he can’t make tonight. You can fill him in later. Come and sit with me at the top of the steps.’ She gave her a smile of encouragement.
Yanoulla shook her head and turned away; her face flaming. She sat down, a pensive, worried look upon her face. ‘Thank you, Alicia, but I’ll stay here for a moment. I’ll join you in a minute.’ Her accented voice was heavy with disappointment.
Alicia knew Kristiakis reputation well. He’d always been a womaniser and he would never change. It was probably why he was still single. She couldn’t see their relationship lasting. She nodded her understanding.
Kristiakis and Yanoulla were the only Greek Cypriots belonging to the group. At first Kristiakis had been reluctant to involve himself with any expats; especially the British, it was Yanoulla who had persuaded him to help backstage. Yanoulla was at least ten years older than the single Kristiakis and Alicia failed to see what Kristiakis could see in her. Alicia was secretly peeved that an older woman could attract a man so sexy and handsome. Kristiakis was a man wrapped in an aura of mystery. Dark tales of his youth followed him concerning his impetuous involvement with the guerrilla organization EOKA. Whispered stories passed down between the older locals, somehow never managed to translate into a comprehensive history for the expatriate community. Of course, embellished anecdotes made it impossible to tell what was genuine. Whatever the truth, Kristiakis was locally known as “Kristiakis the Bomber”.
Leaving a sour-faced Yanoulla, Alicia made her way over to a group of three people.
Lolling on a step was Tony; hopefully sober this evening with his mind in focus for once.
He had made a disgusting spectacle of himself the other night at the annual cast party. The other two with him were Ann and her neighbour Diana. As Alicia neared them, she heard Tony plaintively whining an apology to Ann.
‘I can only repeat what I’ve already said, Ann. Look! I am sorry for ruining your new shoes. If you want to give me the bill I’ll happily replace them. I don’t know what came over me.’
Ann looked nearly as cross as when she first saw her new white shoes being destroyed. She drew her matronly chest up with indignation and launched into him with a tirade. ‘For God’s sake Tony! You’ve got to start to get a grip of yourself. No, no there’s no point in apologising now. This isn’t the first time you’ve over done the alcohol and acted like a complete and utter tosser.’ Sixty-something and a northerner, she was renowned for not standing any nonsense and when angered her northern accent was even more pronounced. ‘What’s more you’re a bloody mess. You need to clean up your act.’
She waved a hand in his direction. Apart from the sour smell of booze, both imbibed and spilt; his off-white crumpled linen shirt and trousers reeked of stale cigarette Looking disgusted, Ann hadn’t yet finished. ‘And finally, Tony no, I am not interested in reading your latest play. The last one was pure filth. Can’t you write something with a story for once?’ Ann didn’t wait for an answer. Mumbling something to the younger woman standing next to her she stalked off to sit further away. Diana gave Alicia an apologetic shrug and followed her.
Alicia knew Tony was writing yet another of his sleazy little plays. Nobody was very interested in performing any of his offerings, despite him saying that it was – very Pinteresque - and nothing like the ‘usual hackneyed rubbish’ put on out here. Irritated, she too could imagine just what it would be like, awful. No doubt he had been trying to persuade Di and Ann to put his idea forward for a later production. Well, she knew Ann would be difficult to persuade once she had made up her mind and Diana was clear-thinking herself. He stood no chance.
Alicia looked around for a good place to sit. Most people were seated in small groups. Diana and Ann had found seats at the back and were chatting to Steve, Di’s handsome, rugged husband. They were relative newcomers to the village, and as yet had given Alicia no problems. Diana was about forty years of age. She stood tall, with shoulder length dark-wavy hair and enormous green eyes fringed by long sooty black lashes. She was pretty and vivacious, an asset to the theatrical group.
Alicia turned her attention back to the other regulars. Karl had not yet arrived, but then he was always late. His memory was getting bad. Even so, he made the most of his appearances, both on and off stage, late or otherwise. Karl really was the most irritating man and he was going to be even more irritating later on. She gave a little shudder. He would of course, consider it a God-given right that the lead part of Macbeth was already his. Privately Alicia thought him to be a pompous ass, especially when it came to auditions.
Leslie lounged against the steps. Here was another who relished in being the centre of attention. Alicia was thankful she only had to contend with his artistic talents when it came to set design. She could not have coped if he too had been an actor. She thought it strange that Leslie was here at all. His expertise wouldn’t be needed until they were well on the way with rehearsals. Perhaps he had another reason, he usually did.
Alicia didn’t have time to go and confront him now. She needed to get started with the casting. But just seeing him there made her feel nervous. She had to find a moment to ask him about his book and his intentions, and tonight if possible.
Tony surprised Alicia when he mentioned Leslie’s black book of memoirs at the recent cast party. Actually, Tony was drunk and quite emphatic about it. ‘Leslie’s got a book full of nasty little secrets. I tell you he’s got something on everyone written down in it. He’s an absolute bastard,’ he’d complained.
Tony was right. Leslie had intimated to Alicia that the book contained some very dark and interesting snippets. It was alarming. Her private life was her own and she would do anything to keep it so. Alicia had not had a chance to speak to him lately. She felt he had been avoiding her.
Alicia had wanted to speak to him at the cast party, but Leslie had left after only a sip of the sparkling wine; not his choice of course. Leslie always left early. He was an artist and made it clear they were lucky to have his attention at all. His superior art came before their “little amateur productions.” His words and certainly not hers. Leslie reluctantly gave a hand with stage design, and instructions on how best to paint the set. With the set completed, he wanted nothing more to do with them.
Again, Alicia thanked her luck that he did not act. Karl and Leslie, two prima donnas preening on stage would have been hell for everyone.
Alicia took a deep breath; it was time for her directors’ persona to take over. She enjoyed being in charge of what she most loved. She took another glance around at the gathered cast; channelling her vision. She knew she had a talent for directing. She could see with perfect clarity, how to block the moves for each scene in the play that was to come and she rarely made a mistake when it came to casting. She used her actors as puppets of her own making. Now, as she stood in front of everyone her whole demeanour and character changed; firm, direct and skilful in handling a cast.
‘I don’t want to read Duncan! It’s – well, I don’t consider it’s the right part for someone like me,’ said Karl, his eyes blazing as he confronted Alicia.
‘Sorry, Karl I know what I am doing.’ Alicia continued undeterred. ‘You are perfect for the part.’
‘I have always played Macbeth in the past!’ Karl sat a little apart from the rest of the group. His body was rigid with agitation; his eyes flashed as his temper began to take hold of him.
‘Yes, you have before now. However,’ Alicia replied quietly, taking a deep breath, and hoping her voice would not waver before she finished. ‘It’s a huge part that is both demanding and perhaps more to the point requires a younger, more virile man. You know you much prefer fewer lines to remember these days. You found the last play really tiring and had some difficulty learning your lines.’
An expectant hush fell over the cast as her words hit home. With exchanged glances and raised eyebrows, one or two winced as if they could feel the hatred flare up between Karl and Alicia. Diplomacy had never been one of her finer points.
Karl leapt to his feet, waved his hands in the air dramatically and then stamped his foot. She almost recoiled as he spat his retort at her.
‘Yes, but Duncan! He’s an old man who’s bumped off early in the play! Are you suggesting that I can’t remember my lines? If so, then you are being outrageous! Really, Alicia I don’t understand your casting and besides, you have no one else with enough stage presence or experience to carry off the rôle of Macbeth.’ He finished with a flourish, puffing up his chest and managing to splutter in a fine old rage at the same time.
The irregular members of the company shuffled in their seats in embarrassment. They were clearly unused to the tirades of Karl the Actor. Those who knew him of old looked on with amusement on their faces and some with more than a little malicious enjoyment at his fury and discomfiture. Alicia felt she had the majority with her; and she was right. Karl, despite being a fair actor in the past, did find it increasingly difficult to remember long chunks of prose. With long periods rehearsing and the subsequent stress it created, he was left wrung out and exhausted.
Nowadays, every time a new play was cast Karl played up. He threw his weight around with childish histrionics whenever he was offered something that he considered beneath his talents. This evening was no exception as he was clearly demonstrating.
Karl honestly knew that if he had been given the lead he would have been scared to death. That did not stop him playing a rôle. It was tedious but expected. Eventually he would settle down and accept the less demanding part Alicia wanted him to play. Before he had a chance to carry the argument further Alicia addressed the rest of the cast.
‘Moving on, there are only a couple of changes,’ she said clearing her dry throat. ‘Steve, I would like you to read Macbeth.’
A ripple of surprise flowed between them. Steve had played cameo roles in two previous productions, but her choice caught them unawares. Steve looked stunned. He opened his mouth to say something and then promptly closed it as he glanced over to Diana with a look of unexpected pleasure. Diana gave her husband a return look of sheer pride.
‘Well done,’ she mouthed and grinned at the dawning consternation on his face.
The others agreed with Alicia. As long as the actors could handle it they welcomed new blood taking the principle rôles.
Quickly, Alicia read through her notes. ‘I know Tilly isn’t here, but she already knows I want her to play Lady Macbeth. She will let me know for certain in a day or so.’ Nobody was surprised at this announcement; Tilly played a formidable leading lady.
Alicia carried on, dishing out the other characters. There were a few good-natured moans and groans but most were happy with her casting.
Sitting next to Alicia was Diana. Alicia meant to cast her as one of the three witches, a perfect character role. She hoped she would accept the part.
Pausing, Alicia noted Karl still looked grim and sulky as he threw a furious, black look across to Steve and then back to Alicia. Pouting, and with a voluble and melodramatic sigh, he opened his as yet unlooked at script and turned the pages until he found his opening scene.
There was a bellow of rage from Leslie. ‘Is this some kind of sick joke?’ he demanded.
With a gasp everyone turned to look at him, shock registering on their faces at his rude outburst.
‘Well?’ he asked.