Bullets, Bounties, and Broken Hearts is a murder mystery designed for a dinner theater setting. It takes place in the late nineteenth century in the American west. Here lies the first act for your consideration. If you or your group is interested in obtaining performance rights, please contact me @ email@example.com. Costuming and consultation is also available.
Bullets, Bounties, and Broken Hearts
Who’s who is this shady story.
(In alphabetical order)
Dudley Do-Nothing: Town’s lovable loser. The departed bilked his mama’s widow’s pension and ultimately his inheritance. Is playing stupid just an act?
Lottie the Librarian: Winston’s beleaguered wife. Lost in her husband’s shadow, did she find inspiration in worlds of fiction? Did she trade her tomes for hubby’s tomb?
Madam Marcy: The town’s saucy madam and Haigstrom’s girl on the side. Was she really once engaged to Winston Haigstrom? Does passion trump all?
Reverend Righteous: Self-proclaimed purveyor of the Lord’s vengeance. Did he really slip that inside his bible? Does he have the faith to pull the trigger?
Silent Sam: No one ever heard him speak. Does sign-language convey his thoughts? Does being a mute make him the perfect hired gun?
The Station Agent: A witness to the crime, she was a familiar with both the victim and suspects. She knows the story well, and it is her’s to tell.
Winston Haigstrom: Is his nice guy portrayal an act? Is he victim of those jealous of his wealth? Or is he the personification of chicanery and salaciousness?
Narrator: (Enters set from Green Room carrying a lantern and goes about opening the station. When he/she notices audience, act startled.) Oh, I forgot. I was supposed to tell a tale. It’s a bit long-winded and full of chicanery. Anyway, it happened many, many years ago, on a ______ night much like tonight. (Whatever the weather is, fill in the blank.) Some say if you listen hard, the echo of scandal reverberates across time. What’s that? You’ve never heard of the outrage which I speak? My, you don’t know? Let me tell you, it was an event so salacious that, like blood, stains the fabric of this community to this very day.
(Train approaches, Horn, rumble, and bell) You see there was a gentleman named Winston Haigstrom, no, calling him a gentleman is too kind, a lie really. He was a nasty, mean, greedy, sort of fella. He would do anything to line his wallets: steal a widow’s pension, bamboozle families out of their homes, take a child’s lunch money. He embezzled Funds from Civil War veterans. Imagine that! Worse yet, it’s said he killed a young wife bearing a child. (Winston Haigstrom will be greeting guests and is standing at a buddy bar stage right.)
Winston: (Acts affronted hearing these allegations.) Lies, lies, they’re all lies! I’ve never done any such thing.”
Narrator: “Despite Mr. Haigstrom’s denials, an anonymous benefactor placed a bounty on his head. When Winston caught wind, he planned on catching the next train out of town.”
Winston: “Balderdash! I help old ladies cross streets. (Picks up donation jar and walks towards the ticket agent.) My generosity paved the roads of this town. I’ve funded construction of new churches. The girl, it was an accident, she stepped before my carriage. I’ve, ah never-mind, I need not defend myself to the likes of you. None of you deserve my kindness.” (Moves towards the door)
Hostess: HEY, Where are you going with our donations?”
Winston: (Tightens grip on donation jar and scoots through the door.)
Hostess: “STOP HIM! How are we going to pay for our summer play?”
Narrator: “See what I mean?”
Winston: (From offstage) “No Don’t… Please NO!”
A ruckus ensues. From offstage:
Dudley: “The Money’s mine!”
Marcy: “I shot him, it’s mine!”
Reverend: “The house of the Lord needs renovation!”
Lottie: “You’re all delusional, I shot the Mudsill, the Bounty’s mine!”
Dudley: (walks through the door with donation jar and approaches Hostess.) “Is this yours Ma’am?”
Hostess: “Yes, thank you.”
Dudley: “You’re welcome. I’d hate to see that… that tyrant get away with another outrage. It’s an honor to rid the world of his likes.”
Hostess: “You killed him?”
Dudley: “Yes I did, (said with pride) “Anything for a good cause.”
Marcy: (Walks through the door and loudly proclaims:) “Dudley, you’re so full of horse pucker your blue eyes turned brown. Anything for a pat on your back, eh? Kill a man… Pffft. You couldn’t squash a bug without squealing like a little girl.”
Dudley: (Faces Marcy) “Well-well, if it isn’t Madam Marcy, why am I not surprised? If a dollar bill fell in a forest you’d be the first to find it. That brassiere of yours is home to more dead presidents than Arlington National Cemetery.”
Marcy: (Puts hands on her hips, steps forward, and says with indignation) “You oughta know, you’re responsible for a few of them.”
Dudley: “I wouldn’t be seen in public with the likes of you…”
Marcy: “That would cost you more than you could pony-up – if you know what I mean.” (She runs a finger up his neck and flicks his chin.)
(A third suspect (Silent Sam) walks in, sits at the table, and places his gun on the tabletop, and watches the drama unfold.)
Dudley: (Acts revolted and steps back) “I wouldn’t touch you or your kind with a ten…”
Marcy: (Interrupts) “ … without a ten dollar bill.”
Silent Sam: (Laughs)
Dudley and Madam both turn to Sam.
Dudley: “When did you get here?”
Marcy: “He can’t answer your question, Sam is a mute. That’s why they call him Silent Sam.” (Makes quotes around Silent Sam.)
(Silent Sam shrugs and nods towards his gun. Using sign language he points to himself, then outside, makes a gun with his finger, shoots, points with his thumb out the door.)
Marcy: “Oh great, now the mute wants credit. What’s this world coming to? A girl can’t rid society of a peckerwood without an Odd Stick clamoring for her glory.”
Dudley: “Like that glory hole in your cat-house’s wall.”
Marcy: (Does the Italian flip off)
Dudley: “An upstanding gentleman does this community a favor, and now a hook… a manipulative madam wants props.”
Marcy: “You saying the mute did it?”
Silent Sam: (Acts proud, smiles and nods his head.)
Dudley: “He ain’t smart enough to talk, how he gonna kill someone?”
Silent Sam: (Signs to Dudley, I’m watching you.)
Marcy: “Just ‘cause he’s dumb doesn’t mean he’s stupid. He’s got a gun.”
Dudley: (Turns to Madam) “Yeah, and didn’t he shoot himself in the foot last year?”
Silent Sam: (Gives the up yours sign to Dudley.)
Marcy: (Looks to Sam and back to Dudley) “Yeah, so… Maybe he is Dumb and Dumber. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t collect the bounty.”
Marcy: “Don’t you play stupid! The Haigstrom Bounty!”
Dudley: “The what Bounty?”
Marcy: “Like you don’t know. (Pauses, thinking.) You’re just coppering your bet. (Steps towards Dudley… Taps his chest as she speaks) “Another reason you didn’t shoot that rascal, you didn’t have this thing called motive.”
Dudley: “You’re a hooker not a lawyer.”
Marcy: “Ain’t much difference.”
Dudley: “I have all the motive in the world. He bilked my mama’s widow’s pension… and my inheritance. (Opens eyes wide.) I had every reason to shoot ‘em between the eyes.”
Marcy: “He was shot twice in the heart.”
Dudley: “I have bad aim.”
Marcy: “And a thin story.”
Rev Righteous: (Approaches from station door. Slips Winston’s watch into his ‘bible’ and snaps it shut.) “It is true what Dudley says. Winston the Despicable, indeed absconded with the Late Mrs. Do Nothings estate, enough of a reason for Dudley to expedite Winston’s meeting his maker. Being fair and just, the creator would be merciful to condemn Winston to an eternity of scrubbing his armpits with brimstone and bathing in a lake of fire. What that Flannel mouth liar did to the Creator’s own church is beyond redemption and worthy of crucifixion… or being burned at the stake. Two bullets to the heart was an act of mercy only a man of the cloth, like myself, would be capable. Step aside children, I shall collect the bounty as recompense for the fleecing of the church’s coffers.”
(During the Reverend’s speech, the other characters react skeptically. Marcy crosses arms across chest. Dudley scrunches brows. Sam laughs when the Reverend finishes his story.)
(Everybody turns to Sam.)
Marcy: “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think mutes couldn’t laugh.”
Rev: “God works in mysterious ways.”
Marcy: (Steps closer to Rev.) “Like you spilling more horse pucker than a pack team during the Rail Road Day parade. I have it on good authority the dearly departed didn’t steal from the collection plate. That honor belongs to your own sticky fingers.”
Rev: (Act’s outraged!) “Blasphemiser! What an outrage! How dare you call into question the integrity of a man of the cloth! There is a special place in hell for heretics as yourself.”
Marcy: (Stands defiantly, maybe chomps gum or chew, crosses arms during the outrage line) “I do a better job hiding behind my bustier than you do your collar. Spare me your mumbo jumbo Reverend. You and I are more alike than you think. We both know something about this town’s secrets. How we tend to our flocks, that’s a different story.”
Rev: “Painted Lady!”
Dudley: “Reverend, Marcy…”
Dudley: (Whistles or a loud shout.) “Shut your Bazooes! We have more important matters than fighting like Kilkenny cats. What about the bounty? I’m in my rights to collect, that horse’s ass bilked my family.”
Rev: “He stole from the house of god. That is a greater evil.”
(Both Dudley and the Rev make skeptical expressions.)
Dudley: (Acts inspired and approaches Marcy.) “Hey, what about you? What’s your motive?”
Rev: “You’re doing a lot of talking but aren’t saying much.”
Dudley: “Yeah. Them jaws of yours sure like to flap.”
Marcy: “A lady doesn’t kiss and tell. Especially in this town.” (Acts indignant.)
(Everybody turns to Sam.)
Sam: (Points towards the body, makes a break sign, points to Marcy, points to his heart.)
Dudley: “Walter snapped Marcy in Sam’s chest?”
Rev: “No you moron, Sam’s saying that Winston broke Marcy’s heart.”
Marcy: (Steps back towards the table as if punched in the chest. Her anger builds as she talks) “It’s true. I loved him. We were going to elope, or so he said, then he gave me the mitten and took up with a less seasoned girl.”
Rev: “Hell have no fury like a woman scorned.”
Marcy: (Sitting down, she produces her gun and places it on the table.) “And vengeance rains hardest from the clouds of a broken heart. You, you, and you (she sneers at Sam) have your reasons, but none as bitter as mine. My motive trumps all. For that reason I shall collect the bounty. Matters of the heart… that no good Cross-patch.”
Dudley: (Looks at the Reverend and the audience and shrugs.)
Rev: “Not so fast. What about the Mute? What’s his story?”
Dudley: (Again shrugs) “I don’t know, he never said nothing.”
(Rev and Madam both stare at Dudley likes he’s retarded.)
Marcy: “Greed. Pure and simple. He’s an opportunist.”
(Sam looks into space as if he’s deaf too)
(Lottie the Librarian barges in. She moves to each character as she speaks to them) “Oh Kettle, look how black thy are. No, opportunism and you are familiars. Charlotte by day, harlot by night. And you, (stops before the Reverend) should be ashamed of yourself. Believing this, this (Pauses, looks up and down Marcy with disapproval) woman has an iota of feeling. You’ve been ministering malcontents too long. Maybe it’s time to lighten my donation envelope.”
Reverend: “That wouldn’t be necessary.”
Marcy: “I was too kind in referring to you as a less-seasoned girl. Frigid is more like it.”
Lottie: “Haaaa! You’re a calico queen… capable of turning multiple tricks on a single mattress.”
Marcy: (Unflustered. Looks at the librarian and grins.) Little Miss Prim and Proper, the keeper of books and all things bound, you ought to know why it’s called turning a trick.” (Pauses… Raises eyebrows as she stands.) “Any ideas?”
Lottie: (Takes a step back and shakes her head no.) “I don’t.”
Marcy: “It takes magic to rekindle a flame that you drowned with your aura of ice. If you spent a quarter of the time with your man as with your hard covers, maybe he wouldn’t have been such a scoundrel.”
Lottie: “Now it’s my fault he was a thieving, two-timing Four-flusher?”
Marcy: “It starts at home.”
Lottie: “Do you have any idea of what a nightmare he was?”
(Everybody nods in agreement.)
Lottie: “Making that man’s house was no easy chore. Is it any wonder I surrounded myself with literature? Fantastical worlds weren’t far enough away to escape his shadow. When the darkness of his soul eclipsed the faintest hope of the tomes accompanying my heart, what was a girl to do?”
Marcy: “Let the professionals handle it?”
Lottie: “Professionals? Ha, have you seen yourselves? If any one of you were capable I would have hired you and paid you with the departed’s money. But the lot of you… (Looks at Sam) “Speaks no evil.” (Looks at the Reverend) “Sees no Evil”
(Dudley covers his ears.)
Lottie: (Looks at Dudley) “Don’t flatter yourself, you’re too stupid to know evil. And you… (Looks at Marcy) You’ve had more evil inside you than both Sodom and Gomorra. You’re a bunch of ninnies, a girl had no choice but to do the job herself.” (Takes a gun from her purse and sits it on the table.)
Marcy: (Slowly she starts to clap.) “Bravo, you almost had me. I have to hand it to you, I pulled the trigger and I almost believed your act. It was worthy of award. You have a talent, if you’re ever in need, come see me, I have a position for you.”
Lottie: (Revolted) “I’d rather starve.”
Reverend: “While you’re making plans and talking morals and ethics, has anyone considered the Sheriff could be on his way? What are we going to do with the body? It is a private bounty after-all. I don’t want to end up in the pokey over this.”
Cast: (In unison, nods and mumbles approval.)
Marcy: He’s holed up in Superior.
Lottie: He only comes this way at election time.
Reverend: What about the deputy? He lives in town.
Dudley: (Looks at his watch) Probably full as a tick – you know, saloonagins.
Cast: (Nods and agrees)
Reverend: So how are we going to solve our little problem?
End Act One