Authors: Ellery Queen
THE DEATH OF DON JUAN
ACT I. Scene 1.
An early account of the death of Don Juan Tenorio, fourteenth-century Spanish libertineâwho, according to his valet, enjoyed the embraces of no fewer than 2,954 mistresses during his lifetimeârelates that the great lover was murdered in a monastery by Franciscan monks enraged by his virility. For four hundred years poets and dramatists have passed up this ending to Don Juan's mighty career as too unimaginative. No such charge can be brought against
Don Juan, they tell us, planted the seeds of his own destruction when he harrowed the virtue of a certain noble young lady, daughter of the commander of Sevilla. While this sort of thing was no novelty to the famous gallant, it was to the young lady; and Don Juan found himself fighting a duel with her father, the commander, whom he killed.
Here the poetic imagination soars. Don Juan visits the tomb of the late victim of his sword. A marble statue of the grandee decorates the tomb. Don Juan invites the statue to a feast, an inexplicable gesture under the circumstances. Having failed in the flesh, the ensculptured nobleman leaps at this second chance to avenge his daughter's ruptured honor. The marble guest shows up at the feast, grasps the rouÃ© in his stony clutch, and drags him off to hell. Curtain.
This Don Juan changeling counts among its affectionate foster-parents MoliÃ¨re, Mozart's librettist Da Ponte, Dumas
, Balzac, and Shaw. Now to the roster must be added the modest name of Ellery Queen, who has fathered his own. According to Ellery, Don Juan was really murdered in a New England town named Wrightsville, and this is how it came about.
From the days of William S. Hart and Wallace Reid, Wrightsville's dramatic appetite was catered to by the Bijou Theater in High Village. When in the course of human events the movies' fat years turned lean, the Bijou's owner bought up the old scrap-iron dump on Route 478 and on the site built Wright County's first alfresco movie theater, a drive-in that supplanted Pine Grove in the Junction as the favorite smooching place of the young in heart.
This left the two-by-fours nailed over the doors of the abandoned Bijou; and the chairman of the Wrightsville Realty Board, whose office faced the empty building from the other side of Lower Main, vowed at a Board lunch over his fourth old-fashioned that one dark night he was going to sneak over to that eyesore on the fair face of High Village and blow the damn thing up, he was so sick of looking at it.
When, suddenly, Scutney Bluefield bought it.
Scutney Bluefield was a rare specimen in the Wrightsville zoo. Where the young of the first families grew up to work with their money, Scutney played with it. Seven generations of Bluefields had labored and schemed so that Scutney's life might be one grand game. As he often said, his vocation was hobbies. He collected such unexpected things as chastity belts, MiniÃ© balls, and shrunken heads. He financed one expedition to prove the historicity of Atlantis and another to unearth the bones of Homer. He flitted from Yoga to Zen to voodoo, and then came back to the Congregational Church. And the old Bluefield mansion on the Hill was usually infested with freeloaders no one in Wrightsville had ever laid eyes onâ“my people collection,” he called them.
Scutney Bluefield looked like a rabbit about to drop its first litter, but there was a sweet, stubborn innocence in the portly little bachelor that some weedy souls of the region found appealing.
Scutney bought the Bijou because he discovered The Theater. To prepare himself, he lived for two years in New York studying drama, after which he financed a play and watched the professionals spend his money in a lost but educational cause. He hurried home to organize an amateur company.
“No, indeed, no red barns surrounded by hollyhocks for me,” he told the Wrightsville
reporter. “My plan is to establish a permanent repertory theater, a year-round project to be staffed by local talent.”
“This area hasn't supported professional companies in years, Mr. Bluefield,” the reporter said. “What makes you think it will support an amateur one?”
One of the little man's pinkish eyes winked. “You wait and see.”
Scutney's secret weapon was Joan Truslow. Joanie was what the boys at the Lions and the Red Men luncheons called “a real stacked little gopher,” with natural ash-blond hair and enormous spring-violet eyes. She had been majoring in drama at Merrimac U. when the arthritis got her father and 'Aphas was forced to resign as town clerk. Joan had had to come home and take a job as receptionist at The Eternal Rest Mortuary on Upper Whistling. She was the first to answer Scutney's call, and her audition awed him.
,” he had confided to Roger Fowler. “That girl will make us all
Rodge was not comforted. A chemical engineer, he had used his cut of Great-Uncle Fowler's pie to buy one of the blackened brick plants standing idle along the Willow River in Low Village and to convert it to Fowler Chemicals, Inc. His interest in Scutney Bluefield's Playhouse was strictly hormonal; he had been chasing Joan Truslow since puberty. To keep an eye on her, young Fowler had offered his services to Scutney, who was not one to look a gift horse under the crupper. The Playhouse needed a technician-in-charge to be responsible for carpentry, props, lights, and other dreary indispensables. So long as the backstage crew functioned, Scutney did not care how many opportunities Roger seized to corner the stage-struck Miss Truslow and,
sotto voce, con amore
, try to sell her a bill of household goods.
Scutney did the Bijou over, inside and out, and renamed it the Playhouse. It cost him a fortune, and of course Emmeline DuPrÃ©'s was the first voice of doom. (Miss DuPrÃ©, known to the cruder element as the Town Crier, taught Dancing and Dramatics to the children of the already
“Scutney will never see a penny of his unearned lucre,” Miss DuPrÃ© announced.
For once the Town Crier seemed to cry true. The Playhouse was a resounding flop, Joanie Truslow notwithstanding. Scutney tried Shaw, Kaufman and Hart, Tennessee Williams, even (these were conceived in desperation and born calamities) Ionesco and Anouilh; comedy, farce, melodrama, tragedy; the square and the off-beat. They continued to play to dwindling houses.
“Of course, we're not very
yet,” Scutney reflected aloud after a lethal week.
“Joan's colossal, and you know it,” Rodge Fowler said in spite of himself.
“Thank you, sir.” Joan's dimple drove him crazy. “I thought you were against careers for females.”
“Who's against careers for females? I'm just against a career for you,” Roger retorted, hating himself for driving the dimple to cover. “Look, Scutney, how much more of your ancestral dough are you prepared to drop into this cultural outhouse we call home?”
Scutney said in his precise, immovable way, “I am
giving up yet, Roger.”
editorial said: “Is local taste so low that our favorite amusements must be TV Westerns and dramatized deodorant commercials, and movies that give our children the willies? At a time when Wrightsville is reflecting the nationwide jump in juvenile delinquency, alcoholism, dope addiction, gambling, prostitution, and what have you, the community should be supporting Mr. Bluefield's efforts to bring us worth-while dramatic fare. Why not attend the Playhouse regularly, and bring along your teen-agers?”
The empty seats kept spreading like a rash.
A letter to the
signed Cassandra, in a literary style indistinguishable from Emmeline DuPrÃ©'s, suggested that the Wrightsville Playhouse be renamed the Haunted Playhouse.
When the town's snickers reached the Hill, Scutney's pink eyes turned a murderous red. Very few people in Wrightsville were aware of the paper thinness of Scutney Bluefield's skin.
He flung himself into the Viking throne in his catch-all study, and he thought and he thought.
All at once the name Archer Dullman flew into his head.
Ten minutes later Wrightsville's patron of the performing arts was driving lickety-hop for the airport and the next plane connection to New York.
ACT I. Scene 2.
Ellery checked in at the Hollis, showered and changed, cased the lobby, toured the Square (which was round), and returned to the hotel without having seen a single familiar face.
He was waiting for the maÃ®tre d' (also new to him) in a queue of strangers at the entrance to the main dining room, thinking that time was being its usual unkind self, when a voice behind him said, “Mr. Queen, I presume?”
“Roger!” Ellery wrung young Fowler's hand like Dr. Livingstone at Ujiji. The truth was, he had met Rodge Fowler less than half a dozen times during his various visits to Wrightsville. “How are you? What's happened to this town?”
“I'm fine, and it's still here with certain modifications,” Roger said, blowing on his hand. “What brings you this-a-way?”
“I'm bound for the Mahoganiesâvacation. I hear you're Wrightsville's latest outbreak of industrial genius.”
“That's what they tell me, but who told you?”
mail-subscriber from way back. How come you've joined a drama group, Rodge? I thought you got your kicks in a chem lab.”
“Love,” Roger said hollowly. “Or whatever they're calling it these days.”
“Of course. Joan Truslow. But isn't the company folding? That ought to drop Joanie back into your lap.”
Roger looked glum. “
The Death of Don Juan
“That old stand of corn? Even Wrightsvilleâ”
“You're not getting the message, man. Starring Mark Manson. Complete with doublet, hose, and codpiece. We open tomorrow night.”
“Manson.” Ellery stared. “Who dug him up?”
“Scutney Bluefield, via some Times Square undertaker named Archer Dullman. Manson's a pretty lively corpse, Ellery. We're sold out for the run.”
“So the old boy still packs them in in Squedunk,” Ellery said admiringly. “
Death of Don Juan
â¦ This I've got to see.”
“There's Scutney at that corner table, with Manson and Dullman. I'm meeting them for supper. Why not join us?”
Ellery had forgotten how much like a happy rabbit Scutney Bluefield looked. “I'm
you're here for the opening,” Scutney cried. “You will be, Ellery, won't you?”