This almost Edwardian drama focuses on the upwardly mobile and well connected Servis family, who live in a comfortable townhouse in Adelaide Street just off the centre of Belfast. The family is visited by a man calling himself Inspector Slugger O’Toole, who questions the family about the death of a young girl called Govern. Over the course of the evening, the entire family, under interrogation by Inspector O’Toole, are revealed to have been responsible for the young girl’s abandonment, humiliation, reputational ruin, and eventual death.
The play opens with an evening dinner party at the Servis home. Joe “Public” Servis, a retired wealthy beverage wholesaler and local politician, and his family are celebrating the forthcoming engagement of their daughter Sybil Servis to Severn Trent , the son of a rival beverage wholesaler. Also in attendance, home on leave, is Private Walter Servis, Sybil’s younger brother, who is revealed as having a drinking problem inasmuch as he cannot fund his free and easy living. After dinner and over the port, Joe makes a speech to Severn and Walter about the importance of transparency - that a man must "be open and honest and accountable in all his dealings” - so that when called before “his maker and regulator” he is able to meet him with confidence and an easy conscience.
The party is interrupted by the Servis’s butler Cyril announcing the arrival of Inspector O’Toole, who explains that he must speak with the family concerning the death of a young woman at the local infirmary earlier that day. O’Toole explains that the young woman named Govern killed herself in despair. He intimates that the girl left behind a diary naming certain names, including members of the Servis family, and that it is his duty to question the family and understand their involvement.
Joe, Walter and Severn all initially claim to have no knowledge of the girl. O’Toole produces a photograph of Govern that he shows discreetly to Joe, who acknowledges that he knows her. He eventually admits that he dismissed her from the board of one of his companies for alleged procurement failures, in reality he just wanted her off the board as she asked too many questions, but denies any further knowledge of her or any responsibility for her death.
Sybil enters the room, and despite Joe's attempts to dissuade her, she is drawn into the discussion. Sybil is initially dismissive but after some prompting from O’Toole and sight of the photograph, she admits that she also recognizes the girl. Sybil confesses that she had met her at a client’s wash up meeting and that she thought the girl had mocked her while she was outlining the findings of an Internal Audit report. Given this supposed mocking Sybil had privately recommended Govern’s dismissal to her client but in retrospect Govern’s behaviour had been blameless; Sybil had just had a bad day at the office. Sybil is guilt-ridden and willing to accept blame for her and her father's part in the girl’s downfall.
Mrs Hydra Servis enters the room as O’Toole continues his interrogation He reveals that the girl also had another name of Nance. Severn Trent starts at the mention of Nance, though initially admits nothing. Sybil immediately becomes suspicious and, together with O’Toole, force Severn to admit that he met Nance the year before in a hotel bar frequented by consultants looking for work and had later given her money and arranged to see her again. Severn describes her as pretty, but lonely and destitute and in need of help. Sybil guesses that Severn and Govern were briefly lovers recalling a period in her relationship with Severn when he was remote and distant. Inspector Slugger O’Toole then reveals that Severn had installed Nance as his mistress in a friend's flat for several months, promising to take care of her, before ending the relationship and requesting that she move out. Mr and Mrs Servis are horrified, but Sybil acknowledges the truth. Severn, ashamed and distraught, excuses himself. Sensing that he may not return, Sybil gives back the engagement ring she received earlier in the evening, signalling that their engagement is over.
O’Toole’s attention turns to Hydra, identifying her as the head of an independent charitable organisation to whom Nance turned for help. Despite Hydra’s haughty and defensive responses, she eventually admits that Nance had appeared before the charity's committee, pregnant and destitute and asking for financial help. Hydra self righteously declares that she convinced the other committee members not to support Ms Gover/nance’s application, based on her own suspicions that Gover/nance was lying about her past. She dismissed a story told by Gover/nance that the father of her child had offered to give her money, but that she didn't accept it because it was stolen. Despite vigorous cross-examination from Inspector O’Toole, Hydra denies any wrongdoing for failing to help Gover/nance, and declares that the blame lies firmly with the father of Gover/nance’s unborn child.
Sensing what is to come, Sybil begs her mother not to continue, but O’Toole plays his final card and reveals an incriminating hand written note. This provokes Hydra into saying that the feckless father should publicly confess and accept all the blame. The drunken Private Walter re-enters the room, and after brief questioning from O’Toole, breaks down and admits that he had met Gover/nance and forced her into having sex with him. Walter also admits that he stole £50 from his father's business to pay Gover/nance off. Reacting to the moment Joe and Sybil break down, and the family begin to argue before Walter screams at Hydra and Joe, "You killed Gover/nance not me! " Inspector O’Toole eventually imposes quiet on the family and then abruptly leaves after accusing each of them of contributing to the death of Gover/nance.
After O’Toole’s departure, the family descend again into a violent argument. Walter and Sybil, both tormented by their own guilt and horrified by what they see as the family's collective responsibility for the death, demand that their parents face the truth. Sybil begs her parents to accept the consequences of their actions. Joe and Hydra turn on their children, accusing them of disloyalty.
Severn now returns. He tells them he has spoken to a police sergeant and has been told that there is no Inspector O’Toole on the police force. Joe Servis makes a call to the Chief Constable, who confirms this fact. Severn points out that if O’Toole was lying about being a policeman, then he might be lying about a dead woman. Joe Servis makes a call to the infirmary who state that no dead woman has been admitted that evening. Severn argues that no one knows for sure that each member of the family had dealings with the same woman, after all Inspector O’Toole was careful to show the photograph to each of them alone one at a time. Severn continues saying that each of the Servises could have been talking about a different woman, and that Inspector Slugger O’Toole's unifying theory of a single death caused by the whole family cannot be supported. Severn convinces the family that they cannot be held accountable. He then makes a second call to the Chief Constable to be told that there is definitely no dead body The elder Servises and Severn celebrate to Sybil and Walter's disgust. Joe dismisses the evening's events as smoke and mirrors. He chastises himself and his family for revealing their guilty secrets and concludes that Inspector O’Toole was planted by a rival politician to try and discredit his business and reputation.
The play ends suddenly with a telephone call taken by Joe. He turns to his family and haltingly says that a girl has been found dead in the infirmary next to an open diary and that the police are on their way to the house to question them.
Here lies Ms Governance
Misused by Joe
Misused by Joe
Accused by Sybil
Bruised by Severn
Abused by Hydra
Well and truly f***** by Walter
Reputation restored by Inspector Slugger O’Toole
Reputation restored by Inspector Slugger O’Toole