Wednesday Morning Staff Meeting (A Homicidal Office Comedy in 3 Acts)

 

Wednesday Morning Staff Meeting 

(A Homicidal Office Comedy in  3 Acts)

 

An original stage play

By Rollie Tom Anderson

 

 

ACT I

 

The setting is a typical, functional office with four separate work areas, each containing a desk and a computer terminal in a neat arrangement. On one wall is prominently displayed a very professional-looking logo with the letters H.E.L. highlighted. There are three doors around the back and sides of the room. One door is marked “GENERAL MANAGER,” another “OFFICE MANAGER,” and the third door “MARKETING & SALES MANAGER.” The inside of the office manager’s room is visible to the audience in a narrow space stage right. Upstage, stage left, is a hallway that serves as the main entrance and exit-way for the cast.

            As the lights come up JUDY MORRIS, the marketing & sales manager, stands center stage, arranging copies of different reports on the desks around her. She is mid-twenties, very attractive, wearing a sexy short business dress suit and high heels. She is absorbed in her work, softly singing to herself, and doesn’t notice when STEVE PARISH, the office manager, enters from the hallway. He is a little overweight, forty-ish, with a heavy mustache and sideburns, but dressed neatly in a black business suit. He spots Judy, checks to make sure no one is around, and silently creeps up on her. He gets right behind, brings his arm around her waist and licks her on the neck. She reacts as if bitten by a zombie.

 

Judy: (Screams and jerks away in a panic, spilling some of her reports onto the floor.) Damn you, Steve, you filthy bastard! Don’t ever sneak up on me or put your germ-infested frog-tongue on me like that again! Damn you! You have no right to do that. No right at all! (She grabs a tissue and wipes her neck)

 

Steve: (Amused) Right? (Snorts) What’s right, darlin’, is you and me in a love knot. Judy, baby, I could make you feel like a woman for the first time in your life. Wouldn’t you like to know how it feels to scream like that in ecstasy?

 

Judy: Ugh! You make me ill. I’m warning you, jerk-off, I’m going to file a very serious complaint against you if you don’t keep your hands off me. You’re repulsive. Like a maggot on a marshmallow. Just go away and leave me alone!

 

(She stoops to pick up the spilled papers. Steve leans back and watches her leeringly.)

 

Steve: Ooo, Judy, you are such a sexy little trollop. It excites me to see you so mad. It wouldn’t hurt you to be respectful of your immediate superior sometimes, you know. You could get places a whole lot faster if you learned to play the game. It’s not as if you’re not smart enough.

 

Judy: (Straightening back up and facing him) The game? You really want to know what the game is, jackass? Well, it’s something called a sexual harassment suit and that’s something you really, really want to avoid, Mr. Parish, because once that gets on your employment record it never, ever goes away. Like bad credit and herpes, you get my drift? Don’t press your luck, Bozo. I promise I’ll make so much trouble for you you’ll be lucky to get a job changing sheets in a whorehouse!

 

Steve: (Still amused) I just love how your sensuous, full lips pout when you get riled. Now let me tell you something, you little tease. You’ll put up with whatever I wish to do around you because, my dear, you don’t have a gorgeous, shapely leg to stand on. I’ve got you over a barrel, which would be wet dream come true, and you’ll take it and not say a word to anyone. How’s that sound?

 

Judy: (Outraged) What? How dare you talk to me like that! You arrogant S.O.B.! Right after our staff meeting I’m going into Cynthia’s office and fill out a formal complaint against you. You hear? Somebody’s got to stand up to this kind of chauvinistic, macho behavior and I’m not afraid to be the one to do it.

 

Steve: And I say you wouldn’t dare.

 

Judy: Watch me.

 

Steve: You won’t because, if you do, I’ll tell her all about your little “sexcapade” with the office temp, Derek I think his name was, a few weeks ago. You mentioned employment histories, just how do you think that little item would look on your resume’? Hmm?

 

Judy: (Shocked) Wha… what are you talking about? I really don’t know..

 

Steve: Oh, have you forgotten that poor boy already? Is that right? Love is so very fleeting these days, isn’t it? Why, don’t you remember the passion and the panting you two shared in the supply room downstairs? You went in at approximately 6:08 PM and came out around 6:57 PM looking a bit mussed, shall we say?

 

Judy: (Indignant) Okay. So? He was helping me straighten things up in there. That’s all.

 

Steve: (Chuckling) Straightening his thing up? Is that what you said? I love it! You can be very funny when you want to be, Judy. See, you’re beginning to feel more comfortable around me already. That’s a good start. But seriously, you can stop the innocent crap now. Derek was kind enough to share his sexy adventure with my tape recorder the next day for a measly fifty bucks and, I must admit, his story would make a great letter to the Penthouse Forum. You know, the kind no one believes really happened? You’re an absolute animal, I hear. (Growls)

 

Judy: Just stop it! Shut up! You men are nothing but a bunch of drooling street dogs! I’m warning you for the last time, Steve, don’t ever touch me again or you’ll regret it. I mean it! I will fight back.

 

Steve: (Leaning in her direction and sniffing) Mmmm. Is that Obsession? You smell good enough to eat, honey suckle.

 

She backs away from him with a look of disgust on her face. At that moment there is heard a commotion of sound as three women enter the office through the hallway. They are KEISHA LORRAINE O’MALLEY, an African-American in her early thirties, VENITIA CAMPOS, a Hispanic in her fifties, and MELANIE CHANDLER, a plain-looking Caucasian in her early twenties. Judy turns her attention to them, obviously relieved. Steve coolly heads for his office.

 

Steve: Let me know when it’s time to start the meeting. I’ll be busy in my office.

 

Judy: (To the women, cheerfully) Good morning!

 

Melanie: (Brightly) And a wonderful morning to you, Ms. Morris.

 

Venitia: (Flatly) Morning.

 

Keisha: (Glancing around the room quickly) Um, you did bring the donuts, right?

 

Judy: Yes, Keisha, they’re in my office.

 

Keisha: Oh! In that case, a beautiful good morning to you. I’ll go get them. Excuse me.

 

She goes into Judy’s office and comes back with the box. Melanie and Venitia go to their desks and put their things down while Judy gets her reports together. Keisha stops near Judy, pulls out a donut and bites into it, then stares at her expectantly as she chews happily. Judy notices and stops what she’s doing.

 

Keisha: Well?

 

Judy: What?

 

Keisha: Well, honey, are you going to tell us how your big date went last night or are we going to have to wait till your mother calls and listen in?

 

Judy: Oh, that. (Sighs) He turned out to be just another stupid sports jock who talked about himself the whole time. Kept staring at my breasts as if they were goalposts on a football field. Unreal. I swear, I think I’d literally run down the church aisle with the first man who had the courtesy to maintain eye contact with me through an entire dinner. If he made a decent salary, of course.

 

Melanie: You’re always saying that, Judy. What about character? You can’t possibly believe how much a man earns is that important, can you?

 

Judy: Duh! Don’t be such a mindless romantic, Melanie. Of course it’s important. What do you expect to live on when the honeymoon is over? His good intentions? And the romance will come to an end, girl. Like the credit line on your Visa card. It always does. Without exception.

 

Venitia: Amen to that. You know, I wish I would have been more, how do you say it, selective when I hitched up with Randall. I was so young. All I knew was he had    deep blue eyes, a job and a new pickup truck and that was enough for me. If I knew then what I know now I would have married Horace Pringle in a heartbeat.

 

Keisha: Did you say Horace Pringle? He even sounds goofy. Who’s that?

 

Venitia: A true nerd if there ever was one. Lived down the street from me where the white kids lived but he thought I was a goddess. Asked me out all the time in high school. I just ignored him. Well, he goes off to college, falls in with some other nerds starting up a company dealing with computer software in the eighties, struggles along for five or six years and then strikes it rich. Now he’s one of the wealthiest men in this town. And all I have is this low-paying job, three ungrateful brats, a thirty-year mortgage on a run-down shack and Randall’s deep blue eyes.

 

Melanie: But deep down, Venitia, you know you really love your husband. Could you have ever felt that way about Horace?

 

Venitia: Love? Ha! Look, Melanie, if I can fake it with Randall I sure as hell could have faked it with Horace Pringle and be driving a much better car than my Ford Escort with the missing hubcap. And to think I was that close to having half a fortune. I’ll never forgive myself. Kinda like having the correct numbers in the lottery drawing but not having the sense to go buy a lousy ticket.

 

Judy: What a sad, sad story. I hope I haven’t overlooked a Horace Pringle in my life.

 

Keisha: Just listen to ya’ll. It ain’t that hard to be fulfilled. You find yourself a man like the one I’ve got and you won’t be worrying about how much he makes or what color his eyes are. I tell you my man is fine, fine, fine. He thinks I’m all that and I’ve got him hooked like a big mouth bass.

 

Venitia: Keisha, you just met him a week ago.

 

Keisha: And…..?

 

Judy: Oh, yeah. You never told us how his job interview went.

 

Keisha: Well, Jamal thought that because his cousin works there he’d have an inside track on the job, right? But do you know what those folks told him? They said he’d have to work on weekends and even some holidays! Ain’t that a bitch? He told them flat out that there was no way.

 

Venitia: But in that line of work wouldn’t you have to be ready just about 24 hours a day? I figure that’s the way things would go in the funeral home business. I mean, people croak on weekends and holidays, don’t they?

 

Keisha: That don’t matter. It ain’t for him. Jamal says he’s going to be patient and wait to find a job that utilizes his unique skills in a more creative fashion, know what I mean? But let’s not talk about him, though. Let’s talk about Judy’s stud boy. Will you go out with him again?

 

Judy: Well, sure. As long as he believes there’s a chance of sleeping with me I figure I can manage to get another two or three nice, expensive dinners out of him.

 

Melanie: That seems cruel. Don’t you ever feel badly about using somebody in that way?

 

Judy: No, Melanie, I don’t. That’s the sport of it. And the men know it, too. I’m afraid that you’ve just never had the confidence to play along. It’s not serious. You know what I’m looking for, though? I’m looking for a guy that’s six feet four, muscular, with curly black hair, dark and mysterious eyes, high cheek-bones who is ambitious and comes from a family that owns an established, profitable business. I don’t guess it’d matter what kind of business, though. I’m not particular.

 

Venitia: Oh, not at all.

 

Melanie: Gee, I’d settle for just one nice guy.

 

Judy: Oh, really? Is that so? Then go out with me and my girlfriends one night. This city is crawling with quote, unquote “nice” guys who are losers. All you’d need is an extreme makeover and they’d be all over you like Rogaine on a bald spot. In no time you’d change your mind about nice guys. Believe me.

 

Melanie: Are you saying you don’t want a nice guy?

 

Judy: Well, of course I want a nice guy. You think I want to spend the rest of my life with a jerk who likes to beat up on his wife and kids from time to time? What I’m trying to teach you is that there are nice guys and then there are nice guys. Understand?

 

Melanie: Not in the slightest.

 

Keisha: Me neither.

 

Judy: Well, maybe it’s because you weren’t in a sorority like I was. It’s just one of the essential things I learned in college. I don’t know how else to explain it.

 

Venitia: What? Are you saying that you’re more informed than the rest of us because we didn’t go to college and belong to some uppity sorority?

 

Judy: Oh! No way did I mean that. Please don’t take offense, Venitia. I’m just trying to help Melanie understand men and the singles scene. After all, it’s a fact that being in a sorority does give a girl certain, um, advantages when it comes to that kind of stuff. It just makes good sense.

 

Keisha: You know what I think? I think you and your middle-class girlfriends spent way too much time playing Dream Date when ya’ll were growing up. Life is not a Barbie-doll board game, Judy, and you need a serious reality check. Take my advice and find yourself an available, healthy man and love, love, love him. Don’t make it all so difficult.

 

There is another commotion of sounds as CYNTHIA ARMSTRONG, the General Manager, enters the office through the hallway. She is in her mid-fifties, wearing clothes that should be on a woman twenty years younger. She appears frazzled and frantic with her hair sticking out in every direction, carrying her keys in her mouth. She struggles with her large briefcase and her oversized purse. She speaks loudly but can’t be fully understood because of the keys.

 

Cynthia: Help me here! Somebody help me!

 

Melanie: (Going quickly to her aid, grabbing at the purse) Oh, my goodness, Ms. Armstrong. Let me help you with those.

 

Cynthia: (Impatiently) No, no, no! Take my keys and unlock my door! My door!

 

Melanie: More? More what? I don’t understand.

 

Cynthia: (Angrily) My keys! My keys! My keys!

 

Venitia, Keisha and Judy: Her keys! Her keys!

 

Melanie: Oh! The keys! Of course!

 

Melanie takes the keys out of her mouth and struggles briefly with the lock. Cynthia becomes more impatient with every passing second.

 

Cynthia: Ughhhhhh! Hurry up, Melanie. I’m about to pass out!

 

Melanie: Yes, ma’am.

 

Cynthia: I don’t believe this!

 

Finally the door unlocks and Cynthia rushes inside as Melanie holds the door. The other three share knowing looks and shake their heads slightly. A moment later Cynthia reappears, falling into the office and collapsing in a desk chair. She lets out a harried exclamation loudly. Melanie rejoins them.

 

Cynthia: Ughhhhh! The fumes! The fumes!

 

Keisha: Fumes? I don’t smell any fumes.

 

Judy: Neither do I.

 

Cynthia: No, no, no. Not in here. In my car!

 

Venitia: In your car? What’s wrong with your car?

 

Cynthia: No, no, no. It’s not my car. It’s the bus!

 

Melanie: The bus? You rode on the bus, Ms. Armstrong?

 

Keisha: That’ll be the day.

 

Cynthia: No, no, no. Don’t you people ever listen? I was in my car, stuck right behind one of those smelly, smoggy old buses in the traffic and I think I may have been poisoned by the exhaust fumes. Did you know they can cause serious brain damage? They should be outlawed! (She slowly rises and starts back toward her office) Oh, Lord! Ughhhhh! I’ve got to get my doctor on the phone before I lose consciousness. Is Steve here? Tell him I need him in my office as soon as possible. We have another crisis on our hands today. Ughhhh! The fumes! The fumes!

 

She disappears into her office and closes the door. Judy crosses over to Steve’s door and raps her knuckles loudly.

 

Judy: Cynthia needs you right this minute!

 

She rejoins the others. Steve comes out of his office and heads for Cynthia’s.

 

Steve: (Gruffly) Haven’t any of you heard of the intercom feature? We’ve got it here in this office and you can just buzz me when Cynthia calls. There’s no need to beat on my door like a drunk sailor. Is Sterling here yet? The little sheep turd better not be late for the meeting!

 

He goes into Cynthia’s office and shuts the door.

 

Venitia: Oh, heaven forbid he should miss one of those, swine-face!

 

Judy: Now, now, Venitia. These meetings are important. They open up communication channels between management and the workers and make for an over-all better office environment. They allow open interaction and create a forum for employee grievances and concerns.

 

Venitia: Ooo. That’s impressive, Judy. You learn that in college, too?

 

Judy: No, they don’t teach you everything in college. I picked that up in a magazine I was reading at my psychiatrist’s office last week. You see, you’ve got to keep your eyes open in today’s world. Learning is a full-time job that lasts a lifetime.

 

Melanie: Your psychiatrist said that?

 

Judy: No, Melanie, I was talking about the article. It was about improving one’s management skills.

 

Melanie: But what does your psychiatrist have to do with that? I’m confused.

 

Venitia: We know.

 

Keisha: I don’t know about y’all, but I just show up for the free donuts. (She grabs another and bites into it happily.) Mmm, mmm, mmm.

 

Venitia glances up at the clock on the wall. It’s 7:35.

 

Venitia: Oh, Lord. Sterling’s late again. Why does he do this to himself?

 

Sounds come from the hallway, then STERLING PORTER comes rushing into the office. He is in his early thirties, dressed in a shirt and tie, but it appears as if he wears the tie against his wishes. He wears glasses and is rather plain looking. The blazer he is carrying across his arm is tossed onto his desk and he snaps to attention in front of Judy with a mock salute.

 

Sterling: Sterling Porter reporting for the incredibly important and vital Wednesday morning staff meeting as ordered, sir, er… ma’am… whatever.

 

Judy: Sterling, you’re late again. You know the meeting starts promptly at 7:30. What is the problem?

 

Sterling: Traffic lights, sir! I mean your manager-ess-ness! All the lights ganged up on me this morning and coordinated their timing in order to thwart my best effort at being on time. It was a regular red-light revolt out there. What have I missed so far?

 

Keisha: The donuts.

 

Judy: You’re missing the point, Sterling. This company pays your salary and you owe them the courtesy of not being tardy to work. Would it kill you to get up ten little minutes earlier?

 

Sterling: (Relaxes his stance and thinks this over.) Let’s see. That would mean my daughter would have to stand outside of her elementary school door for an extra ten minutes because the public school system won’t let students enter the building until 7:00 sharp. You know, I think I’d rather know she’s safe and out of the freezing rain than to make sure I’m not a few minutes late for sugary donuts and office gossip. But that’s just me. Plus, it’s a thrill to play Gran Prix, racing through streets and running yellow lights in an all-out attempt to be prompt for this meeting. I need excitement like that in my life, you know?

 

Judy: Well, I’m sorry, but you know I’m going to have to write you up again. It’s the rules. I have no choice.

 

Sterling: I understand, Judy. Just add it to my pile. I forgive you.

 

Judy: Sterling, I’m just doing my job. Don’t take it personally.

 

Sterling: Oh, believe me. I don’t take anything in this office personally.

 

He goes over to the coffee maker and pours himself a cup. Steve comes out of Cynthia’s office carrying some papers and talking back at the unseen Cynthia as he shuts her door behind him.

 

Steve: Yes, ma’am. I will. I’ll see to it. Just lie down and breathe deeply like your doctor told you to. I’ve got everything under control. Relax and get some rest.

 

Turning, he spots Sterling and glances at the clock.

 

Steve: Just now arriving, Sterling? You’re late. I warned you last week about this, remember? See me in my office after the meeting.

 

Sterling: Sure thing, boss. Looking forward to it.

 

Steve: Okay, everyone. Have a seat and let’s get this meeting started. We’re already behind schedule and we’ve got lots of important things to cover.

 

He goes to the front of the room stage right and sits on top of one of the desks. Judy quickly hands a stack of papers to everyone, then takes a seat in a chair a little distance from Steve while the others pull their chairs into various positions facing them both.

 

Steve: Good morning, everyone. I thank most of you for being here on time. We wouldn’t ask you to show up thirty minutes early every Wednesday if it wasn’t important. Home Entertainment, Limited places high value on promptness so I suggest that those of you who find it hard to get here by 7:30 rearrange your priorities or you may soon find your priority is finding a new job. Now, on to this week’s business. You have in your hands a statement issued from the new regional manager. I’ve been asked to personally read it to you. Quote, ‘All employees are asked to please disregard and ignore any and all memorandums sent out by Vice-President Roy Crafton dating from May 20 to the present. Mr. Crafton is currently on medical leave until further notice after suffering from stress-related complications. Management sincerely apologizes for any confusion resulting from his rather puzzling e-mails. Especially those regarding glow-in-the-dark condoms, hot-water bottles, and world-wide conspiracies involving the “wonder bra, etceteras.”‘ Unquote.

 

Venitia: Aww. That’s a real shame. I always looked forward to Roy’s memos.

 

Melanie: You mean we weren’t supposed to take them seriously? He’s a vice-president.

 

Keisha: Melanie, honey, what they’re trying to tell you is that the man was nuttier than a Payday candy bar and they’ve tactfully removed him from his high-income job and put him in an all-expense-paid loony-lodge somewhere.

 

Sterling: The very same fate that awaits all creative people in big business.

 

Steve: All right, all right. This isn’t a subject for discussion, just something corporate wanted to clear up before the sexual harassment nazi feminoids got all stirred up and started making trouble. It’s over. Next you’ll find a copy of a feature article from the newspaper about our esteemed C.E.O., Theodore Callus. It tells about his meteoric rise in the business community over the years, as well as spotlighting his generous nature and well-known humanitarianism. I consider it required reading. Next is an announcement from Mr. Callus announcing layoffs in 25 of our cable systems in the West. This move will mean that 250 people will be out of a job, but the bottom line is that profits should drastically improve over the next fiscal year because of it. Quoting Mr. Callus. “It is hoped that these inconvenienced workers will be able to find employment quickly during the upcoming holiday season.”

 

Sterling: Wow. The heartfelt words of a true humanitarian.

 

Keisha: Always thinking of the welfare of the employees.

 

Venitia: Yes, and that’s just where they’ll end up. On welfare.

 

Steve: Oh, please! Try living in the real world for a change, people. Mr. Callus is under some very intense pressure right now to show the stockholders that we as a company can turn this thing around and become more profitable in a short time. I wouldn’t waste too much time feeling sorry for those who got laid off. It could have been any one of you just as easily. Besides, there are plenty of jobs out there if they’ll get off their fat butts and find them.

 

Keisha: Oh, sure. All they have to do is be willing to work for minimum wage flippin’ burgers or sacking groceries. I guess they should be thankful for the opportunity.

 

Melanie: You’re right, Keisha. You know, I think all of us should be thankful that we live in a free country where everyone can have a job. This could be the best thing that ever happened to those people if they’ll stop and count their blessings. I believe God has a purpose for each and every one of us and that all things happen for a reason.

 

Sterling: Listen, Melanie, God had nothing to do with them getting laid off. And King Greed had everything to do with it. They’re just God’s children and God’s children are expendable to these people. Don’t you get it?

 

Steve: Knock it off, everybody. This is a staff meeting, not Sunday school. In a sense he’s right, though. What you’d better learn from this news is that the new owners mean business and they won’t tolerate anything less than a 110% commitment to productivity from each and every employee. Prepare yourselves for some big, big changes in the near future. You’re going to be asked to do a whole lot more with the time you spend on the company clock around here, and you’ll either respond to the challenge or you’ll find yourself responding to the help wanted ads in the classifieds. And don’t think I’m just saying this stuff to hear myself make noise. I’m serious as coronary bypass surgery.

 

Melanie: The Lord works in mysterious ways.

 

Steve: Yes, Melanie, I guess he does. And, speaking of mysterious ways, I now turn things over to our lovely and talented marketing and sales manager, the voluptuous and alluring Judy Morris. Judy?

 

Judy rises, giving Steve an icy look as he slides off the desk and sits down in a chair behind her. She assumes proper posture before addressing the others.

 

Judy: First of all, due to unavoidable cutbacks and other complications, the annual company Christmas party will not be held at the local Steak and Suds as in years past. Instead, we’re going to go with a “south of the border” theme and have the party at the Taco Mucho on Elm Street. And I think it will be a nice change of pace, don’t you?

 

Keisha: Say what? We get bean and cheese burritos instead of prime rib? That’s not a change of pace, that’s a tasteless slug in the gut! You gotta be kidding! What kind of holiday treat is that?

 

Judy: Now, now, Keisha, sacrifices are sometimes necessary when there’s a change in ownership. It’s probably only for this year. If you want to know the truth, we’re lucky to get a party at all.

 

Venitia: Humph! Next year we’ll probably get milk and stale cookies with a ten-minute break!

 

Melanie: Oh, I don’t know. Taco Mucho’s not so bad. I hear the new “Stupendo supremo chalupa” is excellent.

 

Sterling: Oh, yeah. Who needs a juicy, sizzling Porterhouse steak sharing a plate with a steaming hot baked potato stuffed with real butter, sharp cheddar cheese, sour cream and chives when you can have real, authentic Mexican cuisine from a place that used to house a drive-through chiropractor! Mmm, mmm, mmm! What a benevolent favor upper management has bestowed upon we peons!

 

Steve: Can it, Sterling. You got better plans? Fine. Go elsewhere. Save the company some money. Now hear this! Nobody will be forced to attend the Christmas party so drop it. Let’s move on, please.

 

Judy: I’m very happy to announce that sales of premium movie channels were up slightly this month, but I’m disappointed in the fact that we still rank quite low in customer satisfaction. A lot of this is due to the uncertain status of things around here in the last six months, I’m sure, but now that we’re under new ownership I really expect to see complaints start to decline. Remember, people, we’re here to help our customers with their problems, not make them feel like morons. For example, Venitia, a Ms. Hesstern wrote a serious letter of dissatisfaction to Cynthia’s attention, claiming that you were rude to her when she tried to tell you that she had some fuzziness on her television. Is that true?

 

Venitia: Judy, the woman is legally blind! Understand? I kept trying to tell her that her cable picture is just fine, that it’s her screwed up eyes that are fuzzy! Look, we’ve sent three of our technicians out to her house in the last month and they all said there’s nothing wrong at all with the cable. When she wouldn’t accept my explanation I finally told her to move her ass closer to her set and quit bitching.

 

Judy: Oh, great. Is that what you learned from your sensitivity training, Venitia?

 

Venitia: No, that’s what I learned from common sense, Judy. She was wasting my time and the technician’s time. When dealing with a senile idiot it’s sometimes necessary to treat them like four-year-olds and get them off the phone.

 

Keisha: Good for you, Venitia. Judy, I’d like to see you try to deal with a pea-brain like Ms. Hesstern and not get frustrated.

 

Judy: But that’s not the point. The point is that we have to do whatever it takes to keep customers like her from writing ugly letters to the general manager about the way they’ve been treated.

 

Melanie: I agree. You’re right as rain to be concerned about our customers, Ms. Morris. They should always be our number one priority.

 

Judy: Customers? Screw them, Melanie! It’s me I’m worried about here. Complaints come up every time I get a review. I couldn’t care less about Ms. Hesstern’s psychological problems dealing with her ailments, just make her happy! I don’t care if it takes twenty service calls a month just to clean her glasses.

 

Sterling: (Sarcastically) That’s the spirit!

 

Steve: Sterling, keep your snide little comments to yourself. Judy, get on with it. We’re almost out of time.

 

Judy: Okay. Tomorrow we start a new promotion with the Starlight and the Showbiz channel. Now, the new pricing will actually be higher than before, but if we tell customers it’s a different package deal they’ll think it’s a bargain. Make sure to talk it up on the phones. Especially push it on the ones who want to lower their monthly bill by dropping premium services. Unemployment is up in the area, so we should be able to sell this package to those folks easily.

 

Keisha: Uh, you want to run that by me again? Logic tells me they don’t have any money.

 

Judy: Maybe so, but they’re at home, remember? They may be hungry, but if they have the Starlight channel at least they’ll be entertained. And what’s more important than that? It’s all in the way you explain it to them. For once, put the training this company has invested in each one of you to profitable use. Oh, and there is an incentive, too. Whichever one of you sells the most units over the next month will win a Showbiz tee shirt!

 

Melanie: Ooo! I love tee shirts!

 

Steve: That’s great, Melanie. But let me tell you something, people. Speaking of folks out of a job, if you guys don’t start selling more you just might find yourselves standing in the unemployment line, too. It’s a new ballgame around here. If you think I’m         just blowing smoke out my butt I assure you that I’m not. Those who don’t produce will not be here very long. I’ve been out of a job before and believe me, it’s no picnic.

 

Sterling: That’s a relief. I hate picnics.

 

Keisha: Me, too. All those ants and flies getting into your food and all.

 

Melanie: Oh, I don’t know. They can be fun. My family used to go on picnics every weekend. Sometimes we’d go to the beach and other times we’d go…

 

Steve: (Interrupting) All right! Enough already! You people just go on making jokes and making light of the situation. If you can’t do the job I’ll get someone in here who can. Do I make myself clear?

 

Judy: Steve’s right. We can all do better. Now, let’s move on to the fun part of today’s meeting, shall we? People at corporate who monitor your phone skills have been noticing that many of you are still referring to us as “Suburban Cable,” our old name. We all need to say “Home Entertainment, Limited” so I’ve come up with some catchy slogans that might help you and our customers relate to the new name.

 

Melanie: Um, I’m sorry, but it’s difficult for me to like a company whose initials are H.E.L. As you know, I have very strong religious convictions and it sounds too much like Satan’s playground for me to be comfortable with.

 

Judy: That’s what we in the marketing end of things thought customers would think at first, too, but then we realized that’s it’s just a matter of image.

 

Sterling: Yeah, Hell’s always gotten a bum rap, I think.

 

Judy: Exactly! But, if you turn it around and make it something cute it can work to our advantage. So, this morning I want each of you to put on your thinking caps and try to come up with a slogan or an idea that promotes a positive image of H.E.L. In fact, if one is good enough it might be used in an upcoming ad campaign. Here’s an example of what I mean. (Seriously, with a lowered tone of voice) “War is hell…. (Brightly) But so is romance, comedy and adventure! It’s all H.E.L.!” See what I mean? Getting it now? Okay, who’s first? Melanie?

 

Melanie: Well, I don’t know if this is what you’re looking for but how about something like “We’re H.E.L.lacious!”

 

Judy: Yes! That’s exactly what I’m looking for. Like “Give ’em H.E.L.!” How about you, Keisha? You got one?

 

Keisha: Um, how about “H.E.L.?..Yes!”

 

Judy: That’s cute. Not bad at all. It might grow on me. Your turn, Venitia.

 

Venitia: Okay. Here goes. “Bored with your TV? Go to H.E.L.!”

 

Judy: Hmm. I don’t know about that one. Maybe if you tried saying it with a little less venom in your voice. But, then again, it would be hard to tell someone to go to hell in a sweet manner. I’ll write that one down and we can work on it together later. All right, Sterling, I’m sure that spunky little creative mind of yours has come up with a few gems. Let’s hear them.

 

Sterling: Hey, why pay an ad company thousands of bucks when you’ve got a talent like mine right here in your local office? (Clears throat) “H.E.L. is where the home is.” No? Well, how about we sponsor a motorcycle race and call it “H.E.L. on wheels”? Or how about this slogan. “You don’t have to die to go to H.E.L.” Or maybe we could get some guy to dress up in a red devil’s costume, call himself Beelzebubba or something like that, go on an access channel and host a show called “H.E.L. tonight!” And we could start answering the phone with “What in the H.E.L. can I do for you?” or “Hello, how in the H.E.L are you?”

 

All of the women, including Judy, have been giggling at Sterling’s suggestions but Steve is not amused.

 

Steve: Boy, Sterling, you sure think you’re a real funny guy, don’t you? Nothing is serious to you around here, is it? Life’s just one big stand-up comedy routine. And Judy, what insolent nonsense! I don’t think any of this has anything constructive to offer. You should have cleared this stupid idea of yours with me before presenting it this morning. I would have stopped it before it began. Don’t you know that if we start answering the phone with “Thank you for calling H.E.L.” or putting Lucifer on television the Baptists will start picketing this building before the day is out? It’d make the hubbub we had by merely considering the Porno Channel look like a prayer meeting. Which, by the way, the marketing department screwed up. I’m still convinced it could have worked here and sent our profits through the roof if it would have been presented right. Listen up. All you have to do is answer the phone with “Thanks for calling Home Entertainment” and the problem is solved. Simple. If you can’t remember the name of the company that pays you every two weeks you’ve got some real problems. Anyone I hear answering in any other way or referring to this company as “Hell” gets written up. Period, the end. Got it? All right, folks, this meeting is adjourned. Get on the phones and try to act professionally. Sterling, I’ll let you know when I’m ready to see you. The rest of you have a nice day.

 

The meeting breaks up with everyone putting their chairs back in place and Steve going into his office and closing the door. He pulls out a Playboy magazine from his desk and settles back into his chair to peruse. Meanwhile, out in the office, Sterling, Keisha and Venitia get on the phones and talk quietly to their customers. Melanie approaches Judy at the front of the room where Judy is angrily gathering up her notes.           

 

Melanie: Excuse me, Ms. Morris.

 

Judy: It’s Judy, Melanie. Judy. After a year and a half it’s okay to call me by my first name, all right? When you call me Ms. Morris you make me feel like some old matronly schoolteacher or something. Gives me the creeps.

 

Melanie: I’m sorry. It’s just a form of respect, ma’am. I mean Judy.

 

Judy: Whatever. What is it you need, Melanie?

 

Melanie: Well, it’s about the security guard idea I brought up a few weeks ago. Sometimes when I leave here after dark I get scared about maybe some freak hiding behind one of the cars in the parking lot. It’s way too dark out there. I’d feel a lot safer if we had a guard on duty. Did you ever ask Cynthia about it?

 

Judy: Yes, I did, and you can forget about it. We’re over our budget and it just ain’t gonna happen. If I were you I’d start carrying some personal protection in my purse.

 

Melanie: Personal protection? You mean… condoms?

 

Judy: Oh, for heaven’s sake, Melanie. Mace. Pepper spray. Liquid Plumber in a squirt bottle. That kind of stuff.

 

Melanie: Oh! Is that what you carry?

 

Judy: Hell, no. I have a gun. A tiny little derringer pistol. And it’s absolutely adorable.

 

Melanie: My goodness! You have a firearm?

 

Judy: Damn straight. In designer colors, too! A girl who looks as good as I do needs to be able to protect herself. Any lowlife degenerate messes with me he’ll get a bullet in his privates. I always have it handy.

 

Melanie: Wow. I don’t know if I could ever intentionally shoot another human being.

 

Judy: Believe me, when the time comes you won’t hesitate. There are some weird perverts lurking around this part of town and it could happen at any moment. I’ve heard of two assaults in the last month. If I were you I’d at least buy a big can of pepper spray and hope it distracts whoever attacks you long enough for you to run like Seabiscuit on steroids.

 

Melanie: Now you’ve really got me spooked. I’d rather have a guard, but thanks for the advice, anyway.

 

Judy: Sure. Now get on those phones and sell, sell, sell!

 

Melanie: Yes, ma’am. I mean Judy.

 

Melanie returns to her desk and Judy starts for her office when suddenly and loudly Cynthia’s door swings open. She looks out at everyone with a suspicious, unstable expression on her face.

 

Cynthia: All right, people. You can stop with all your little whisperings and mumblings and such because I’m on to all of you! Oh, yes. You think I don’t know when you’re talking about me, don’t you. Well, you can just put a cork in it this instant because I’m here to tell you that I hear everything and I must also inform you that your un-cultured opinions of me and how I choose to run this office is of no interest to me at all. I’m still the boss around here and you better accept it. No more evil whisperings behind my back! You hear? No more talking quietly!

 

She disappears back inside her office and slams the door shut. The office staff, who have been motionless, go back to their activities without a word, indicating that this kind of behavior is quite common and not worthy of noticing. Steve’s door opens and he looks out cautiously. He then points at Sterling.

 

Steve: Sterling Porter, I’ll see you now.

 

Sterling nods, gets up and heads for Steve’s office. The other girls look concerned.

 

Keisha: Now Sterling, don’t go popping off that smartass mouth of yours. He’s just itching to find a reason to can you.

 

Venitia: Yeah, I don’t want to have to spend time training another sucker to do your job. Just remember to smile and nod. Smile and nod. And don’t take it personally.

 

Sterling: Relax, ladies. I’ve been through more of these one-on-one conferences than you’ve been through shoe stores.

 

Melanie: May God be with you.

 

Sterling: Thanks, Melanie, but I’m sure God has more pressing interests in the universe right now to worry about. I’ll be fine.

 

He enters Steve’s office and stands at attention.

 

Sterling: You wanted to see me, Lieutenant Parish?

 

Steve: Cut the crap, useless. Shut the door and sit down.

 

The lights dim on the rest of the stage, but the others remain, talking on the phones, working on their computers, etc. Judy goes into her office. The lights come up on Steve’s office. He stays behind his desk, but during the scene Sterling can pace freely downstage without any restraints like walls and such.

 

Sterling: (Sitting) You know, Steve, it’s been way too long since we had one of these little chats. I was beginning to think you didn’t like me any more. Does it mean the flirting stage is over between us?

 

Steve: (Shaking his head) Sterling, Sterling, Sterling. What will I do with you?

 

Sterling: Do with me? You make me sound like I’m a can of Play-dough or something. What’s the deal? Have I done something wrong?

 

Steve: No. In fact, you’re the only one around here who doesn’t make stupid mistakes like hanging up on customers accidentally or crediting payments to the wrong account. The problem with you, as always, is your attitude. Frankly, neither Cynthia or I think you care much about your job or this company at all. It’s as if we’re some kind of necessary evil in your life that you somehow manage to tolerate. Why can’t this be important?

 

Sterling: You know, I don’t remember any question on the job application that asked me “Are you willing to dedicate your life to this company?” Come on. It is a job, Steve. Nothing more, nothing less. Necessary, but not essential.

 

Steve: But it’s what you do for a living. Don’t you take any pride in your vocation? Don’t you want to make a lot more money? Don’t you want to get promoted?

 

Sterling: No.

 

Steve: No? What kind of answer is that? You spend forty hours a week doing something you don’t want to get better at? I don’t understand that kind of thinking. If this isn’t what you want to do with your life, why on earth are you doing it?

 

Sterling: I ask myself that very question every morning when I drag my sorry ass out of bed to come here. And you know why I do it? I’ll tell you why. It’s because I’m a chicken shit, that’s why. Plain and simple. I’m a coward.

 

Steve: You’re no coward. A coward’s scared of something. You don’t seem scared to me. What are you frightened of? Oh, don’t tell me. It’s the ever-present “fear of failure.” Right? Give me a break, Sterling.

 

Sterling: No, I’m not suffering from that. Scared of not being good enough, maybe. Worried that no one else in the world will have a clue as to what I’ve brought out of my imagination. Or worse, that they won’t care. That kind of stuff.

 

Steve: Oh, yes, I forgot about the great writer, Sterling Porter. Are you still playing that little game with yourself? I think that’s the root of your problem right there. When are you going to learn that writing is the hobby you tinker with in your spare time like stamp collecting or real estate? Get over it, Sterling. Life is harder than that! You grow up, you get a job, you work hard, you put in overtime, you do things to make the stockholders money, you stick with it and, after a few years, you start reaping benefits and moving up the corporate ladder. It’s not quantum physics. Why can’t you get with it?

 

Sterling: Because, to my ears, what you just described is the most pointless thing I can imagine. It may be fine enough for you, but what I want to be is an artist. A creator of stories.

 

Steve: (Laughing) What? A creator? An artist? Maybe you should leave that to the people who are good at that kind of stuff and don’t mind starving in order to do it.

 

Sterling: (Stands and begins to pace) What do you know about it? Huh? You think great art is a funny beer commercial! You can’t understand me. I’m a writer because I write! I don’t have a choice. I write because I have to. It’s my art.

 

Steve: (Sarcastically) So what is it you write, anyway? Dirty novels?

 

Sterling: (Angrily) No, you dead bolt! I write what comes out of me. Sometimes it’s a play. Sometimes it’s a novel. Sometimes it’s comedy. Sometimes it’s drama. Sometimes it’s a poem or song lyrics. It’s what I do when I’m not wasting my time here! Art is why I’m here on this planet. God creates, so should I. It’s not how much butt I pucker up to in order to rise up through some material ranking that counts. No way! How could it? When I stand before the Supreme Being someday he’s not going to ask me how much time I spent in this office, he’s going to want to know what I created down here. You see, I believe the only thing He can’t do in this whole far-fetched universe is to bring into being what only his creatures can conceive and fashion. My art is putting words together to express what I imagine could be. And what should be. And what depresses me is the guilt I harbor for not devoting every conscious moment to that task. Actually, I should say that privilege.

 

Steve: Privilege? Isn’t it a privilege to have a job?

 

Sterling: I consider it to be a privilege to exist.

 

Steve: Sterling, cosmic space cadets like you make me sick. Always have.

 

Sterling: Oh? How’s that?

 

Steve: How can you dare stand there and spew out such pretentious crap! You don’t realize just how insignificant you are, do you? All my life I’ve had to deal with self-important hairballs like you who think that everyone’s got their own special talent God Almighty gave just to them. What raw sewage! Let me tell you, Mister Artist, God didn’t give me anything except the skin over my bones. When I was growing up I was too clumsy to play sports, but all the cool guys were on the football team. I couldn’t carry a tune, but all the skinny dudes with the great-looking chicks played guitar in a rock and roll band. I’m too uncoordinated to dance, I can’t rhyme dog with frog, I can’t spell and I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler. Totally un-talented. But you know what? I got over it! Yes, indeed. It no longer bothers me because one day I realized that if I dedicated myself to a specific line of work and became the most productive, loyal and efficient employee in the company I chose to work for, it wouldn’t be too long before I’d make more money than all of you snobby losers ever dreamed of! Tell me, Sterling, how much lunch money has your art made for you lately?

 

Sterling: Not a cent. But that has nothing to do with it, Steve. What is money? Paper? Numbers on a bank statement? Power tools? Have you ever seen a tombstone engraved with “Nice life, but he only made a fraction of what he should have?”

 

Steve: Okay, let’s talk practicality, then. You mean some inner voice tells you that if you concentrated all your energies towards writing novels you’d be as successful as Steven King? For real? Fat chance, sucker. Your odds are better playing the state lottery. Oh, what’s the use? We’re getting way, way, way off the subject at hand. And the subject is your continued employment with this company. So here it is in black and white. What you choose to do on your own time is up to you, but while you’re on the clock in the real world I require you to assume a more professional profile. I’m putting you on official warning, Sterling. Take my advice. Start pulling your weight in the attitude department. You’ve got a steady paycheck that you deposit into your bank account every two weeks like clockwork. Count your blessings. Don’t blow it.

 

Sterling: Why is it that cranial dwarfs like you, just because you have a title like Office Manager, think you’re qualified to hand out advice? You have no authority and absolutely no right to tell me anything pertaining to my life!

Steve: All right. That’s it. You crossed the line, Sterling. It just isn’t going to be easy dealing with you, is it? I have no choice but to write up an official company reprimand…

 

Sterling: (Interrupting) Two weeks.

 

Steve: (After a surprised pause) You’re quitting? You’re nuts. Totally bonkers.

 

Sterling: Maybe so. How would one know if he’s gone insane unless he starts doing things that other people consider crazy? I don’t care. All I’m sure of is that it’s suddenly crystal clear to me that I can’t do this anymore. I can’t work under simpletons like you who think that their job is the most important thing in my world. I can no longer spend ten minutes on the phone telling Ms. Hesstern how to push the on and off button on her remote control and consider it time well spent. I can no longer live so much of my life being so unproductive and so uncreative. Yes, it’s time to move on. Finally. Thank God.

 

Steve: What an ignorant gerbil you are, Sterling. Instead of thanking God you’d better start begging him for some common sense. You’re getting too old to start playing games with your life. I’ll tell you what’s going to happen to you. You’ll pretend to be the great American writer you’ve dreamed of being for about two or three months until your measly savings run out and then you’ll find yourself taking a job in another office somewhere else doing the same things that bug you so much here. Except you’ll be starting all over at the bottom.

 

Sterling: Sorry, Steve, but this is the bottom.

 

Steve: (Shaking his head) You pathetic putz. Have it your way. I’ll get all the necessary papers for you to sign. And just for your information, Sterling, you won’t be that hard to replace. Get back to work.

 

Sterling: It’s not work. It’s waste. See you around.

 

Sterling calmly walks out of the office and goes back to his desk as if nothing has occurred. The lights come back up on the rest of the stage and dim in Steve’s office. Out in the office Melanie, who had left at one point during the previous scene, returns with a soft drink and a big bag of chips. She gives the chips to Keisha, who then holds the bag up and makes it do sort of a happy little dance in the air as she eats.

 

Venitia: (To Keisha) I thought you were going to try and lose some weight.

 

Keisha: I am. But not here. At home. I don’t want Jamal to think I eat all the time.

 

Venitia: And what about exercising? I thought you said you were going to start working out at least four or five days a week.

 

Keisha: I did.

 

Venitia: Really? You mean to tell me you worked out that many days last week?

 

Keisha: No, but then you’re talking about last week. I’m not. I’m talking about this week.

 

Venitia: Okay, so how many days have you worked out this week?

 

Keisha: None. But it’s only Wednesday, Venitia. I’ve got plenty of days left.

 

Venitia: We go through this every week, Keisha. You promise to start taking better care of yourself, then you end up putting it off till it’s too late. By God, if I can manage to work up a sweat every other day, you can, too.

 

Keisha: (Noisily rustling the bag of chips and putting another in her mouth) Venitia, honey, you know I love you, but this is not the time. I’m busy.

 

At that moment Cynthia comes bursting through the door and stands next to Melanie at her desk. Melanie is on the phone with a customer. Cynthia is livid.

 

Cynthia: Put the customer on hold. (Louder) Put the customer on hold, Melanie. Now!

 

Melanie: (Into the phone) Excuse me, sir. Could you please hold for a moment? Thank you.

 

Cynthia: The rest of you put whoever you’re talking to on hold, as well. How many times must I tell you people this? We have got to stop telling customers the truth! I was listening in on Melanie’s conversation just now and what did you tell the customer who asked if we were going to be adding the Chess and Checkers Channel to our line-up?

 

Melanie: (Sheepishly) Um. Well, I told him that we had no immediate plans to add it any time soon.

 

Cynthia: In other words, you told him the truth, right?

 

Melanie: I thought it was the truth.

 

Cynthia: It is the truth, but that’s wrong, wrong, wrong!

 

Melanie: But God doesn’t like for us to tell a lie.

 

Cynthia: A lie? A lie? Who said anything about lying? Look, a lie is what you tell your husband when you’ve had an affair. A lie is what you tell when you’ve been pulled over by the cops for speeding through a school zone. A lie is what you tell when the truth is unbearable. What we do here in this office is manipulate the facts, not lie. This is business, Melanie, it doesn’t count! Get it through your thick skull that we’re having to compete every day with satellite dishes, video downloads, computer game manufacturers and who knows what all in this city. When a customer calls and requests something we don’t have you tell them that it’s being seriously considered and will probably be added in the near future.

 

Melanie: But that’s not true.

 

Cynthia: Ughhhh! Of course it’s not. But the customer doesn’t know that!

 

Melanie: Then it’s a lie, Ms. Armstrong.

 

Cynthia: (Exasperated) Please don’t argue with me. Just trust in the fact that I know better. Is it so hard for you people to just do what I tell you to do? How can something be considered a lie if it was never true in the first place? Huh? Ughhhh! You’re giving me another migraine! I’ve got to go lay down. Ughhhh!

 

She staggers back into her office, slamming the door behind her. The workers in the office stare at her door quietly for a second, then go right back to what they were doing as if this, too, were an everyday occurrence, which it is.

 

Venitia: Like I was saying, Keisha. As a maturing woman, you have to start on some kind of workout routine in order to stay healthy.

 

Keisha: And, like I was saying, Venitia, this is not the time. I am a woman in love. And a woman in love is a hungry woman. But, then, maybe you wouldn’t understand.

 

Venitia: Don’t go there, Keisha.

 

Keisha: You brought it up, baby. By the way, what’s everybody having for lunch today?

 

Venitia: I don’t believe this. It’s not even nine yet and you’re worried about what you’re going to eat for lunch.

 

Keisha: Well, what else am I going to worry about? Eating is a joy for me. So many things in this world cause me pain and suffering. Eating doesn’t. Ever. All I ask for in this life is paychecks that don’t bounce, a good lover, kids that stay out of trouble, and a big ol’ cheeseburger and greasy onion rings for lunch. Is that really so much to ask? Tell me. Ain’t that enough?

 

Sterling: (After a pause) Sometimes I wish it was, Keisha. For some of us I wish it was.

 

Sterling stares into space. Keisha, Venitia and Melanie give each other puzzled looks, then turn back to their work. The lights fade to black. 

 

 

ACT II

 

It is the same office location, except that the clock now says 11:50. Melanie, Venitia, Sterling and Keisha are all on the phones with customers and they take turns in the spotlight as they converse aloud.

 

Melanie: Yes, I understand Mr. Cullendorf. But it’s just an adjustment to your bill reflecting the fact that your wife added the Spotlight channel to your service two weeks ago. Yes, sir. No, sir, you didn’t order anything called “pro-rated charge.” That’s just a billing term, not a new channel. Can you hear me okay, Mr. Cullendorf? Let’s start over. I’ll go over it again. Slowly.

 

Sterling: (Wearily) Thank you for calling Hell. Yes, you heard right. That’s our new name. No, I’m not kidding. H.E.L. Yes, I understand how it could be confusing. How can I help you? What’s that? No, Ma’am. Just because you have a cable box on your TV it doesn’t mean we can see into your living room or tap into your private conversations. No, Ma’am, Oprah was wrong about that. We don’t have the technology in place to tell what you’re watching. Yet. But I’m sure somebody somewhere is working on it.

 

Venitia: Maybe so, Ms. Peterbilt, but someone in your family ordered “Bouncing Beach Babes in a Lusty Leather Lather” last Friday night on Pay-per-view. No, the box can’t order movies on its own. Somebody has to push the buttons. Well, maybe it was your son. Okay then, perhaps it was your husband. No, Ma’am, I’m not insinuating that you have a bunch of perverts in your household. No, Ma’am.

 

Keisha: Sir, the next appointment we have for you is two weeks from Monday. Yes, sir, that’s right. Um, we’re just real busy, I guess. I don’t know, I’m no cable installer. Well, you could stick a coat hanger on the back of your TV in the meantime. It works pretty good for local channels. Excuse me? Look, sir, if you continue to use that kind of language I’ll have to put you on hold until you learn to give me some respect. Hello? Did you not hear me? Sir? Sir? Please hold. (Puts phone down) Butt-head. Told you not to call me names. See how you like hearing obnoxious ads for Wrestling extravaganzas for the next ten minutes. Hey, everybody, what’s for lunch?

 

Melanie: I was thinking of getting a salad from the deli.

 

Keisha: Salad? Again? You poor, undernourished child. Lunch is supposed to be the highlight of the day. For heaven’s sake, get a little lard in your bony butt, girl!

 

Melanie: Oh, no. I’m trying to watch my weight. I’ve been eating too much junk food.

 

Keisha: Watch what weight? I’ve seen dental floss with more fat on it!

 

Venitia: Keisha, I’m sorry to bring this up again, but I thought you were going on a diet for that new man of yours.

 

Keisha: (Sighs) Venitia, when are you going to get it? Once again, you’ve missed the point. What I meant was that I’m going on a diet when I’m around him, not here. This is how it works. I eat all day, as much as I want, then when Jamal comes and picks me up I can honestly say that I’m not all that hungry. He then gets the impression that I don’t eat very much. Simple stuff, really.

 

Melanie: And what if he asks you what you ate during the day?

 

Keisha: I lie, of course. It’s really none of his business. Child, there are four things a woman is allowed to lie about to her man without it counting as a sin. One is how much she had to eat when he wasn’t around. Two is how old she is, three is how much she weighs, and four is when her period starts.

 

Sterling: I’m sorry to butt in, ladies, but did I hear you say it’s all right to lie to men about when your period starts? Why is that?

 

All three women: (Together) To keep them guessing!

 

Sterling: Oh, I see.

 

Keisha: Enough of that. I’m starving. Who wants to go to the all-you-can-eat buffet?

 

Sterling: Not me. I brought a tuna fish sandwich, but I may just go for a walk. It looks like a nice day outside.

 

Keisha: Walk instead of eating? You need serious professional help, Sterling. How about you, Venitia?

 

Venitia: No, I want to finish up this stack of invoices before I take a break. You go ahead.

 

Keisha: Well, I guess that leaves you, salad girl. How about it? They have rabbit food over at the buffet, too, you know.

 

Melanie: Sure. Let me straighten up my desk and we’ll go. What about your customer? Is he still holding?

 

Keisha: That’s up to him. If he is he’s probably boiling over by now. Serves him right, though. He ought to know better than to call for new service this close to lunchtime, anyway. I have no patience when I’m hungry. (Picks up the phone) Sir? Mr. Luby? You still there? Feeling better? Okay, I talked with management and they said they’d do everything possible to get you hooked up sooner. Oh, yes, sir. I pleaded your case the best I could but we’re booked up solid. Yes, sir, you’re at the top of the list. Okay. You have a nice day. Bye-bye. (Hangs up) Jerk. Let’s get going, Melanie. We have to get there before all the good stuff is picked over by those pigs and heifers that work at the phone company down the street.

 

Melanie: I’m ready. Let’s go.

 

Melanie and Keisha leave through the hallway, leaving Sterling and Venitia alone in the main office.

 

Venitia: Oh, by the way Sterling, have you noticed the nice lady who just started working in the office next door? She looks adorable.

 

Sterling: No, I can’t say that I have. But when you say “adorable” it usually means “built like a tugboat.”

 

Venitia: Well, she’s no anorexic super-model, if that’s what you mean. But she’s as cute as a button. Just your type. I can get the scoop on her status if you want me to.

 

Sterling: Venitia, you know good and well that you’ll have her astrology sign, her personal romantic history and her home phone number in your files before the week’s out whether I ask you to or not. Why is it that women just can’t stand to know a man who doesn’t have a woman in his life? What demonic little imp inside you makes you so determined to find a match for me? Look, if I need a match I’ll buy a Bic lighter. It’ll burn hotter and last longer.

 

Venitia: Very funny. But I know you must be lonely. You can’t possibly be truly happy and complete without your feminine soul mate by your side. No man is an island, Sterling, remember that.

 

Sterling: I’m not an island, Venitia, I’m a peninsula. There is a considerable land bridge connecting me with the rest of civilization. And I’m not lonely, either. Why should I feel incomplete just because I’ve come to a place in my life where the mystery and allure of a relationship is gone for me?

 

Venitia: Because it ain’t natural, that’s why. You’re just afraid of getting hurt again.

 

Sterling: So? What’s weird about that? Damn straight I’m afraid. Why not be adverse to gut-wrenching, emotional pain? It’s a pretty worthy goblin in my book. In fact, the absolute worst agony I’ve ever lived through was not caused by a car accident or a horrible injury, it was caused by a woman. No thank you. I’d rather tame tigers.

 

Venitia: But Sterling, not every woman is untrustworthy like your ex-wife. Not every woman lies and cheats. Not every woman is cruel and heartless.

 

Sterling: I know, but every woman that I find attractive is. You see, it’s my own poor judgment that I’m really scared of. I’m an all-day sucker for a pretty face. I lose all sense of reason. When I fall for a girl who jump-starts my battery I go completely brain-dead. I’ll childishly believe every word she tells me when she says she could never, ever have a relationship that didn’t involve complete honesty and fidelity. And then, when she gets around to smashing my trusting soul on the rocks of reality she’ll look me straight in the eye and tell me I should have known better! And you know what? She’ll be right! Yes! Her true nature will be right in front of me the whole time like a flashing strobe light but I’ll refuse to see it because I’ll be “in love.” You know, I don’t mind learning new lessons in life, but I hate to learn the same ones over and over again. Enough’s enough.

 

Venitia: You’re just being negative. One of these days, when you least expect it, some wonderful female will come waltzing into your lonesome life and make you so happy you’ll forget all the others that came before. I can’t wait.

 

Sterling: Oh, please, Venitia. I hate it when people say that.

 

Venitia: Say what?

 

Sterling: “When you least expect it.” Everything in your life happens when you least expect it. Your plumbing backs up when you least expect it. You get food poisoning when you least expect it. You get a flat tire when you least expect it. If you don’t know something’s going to happen how can you possibly expect it?

 

Venitia: Jeez. It’s just an old saying, Sterling. Don’t get your jockeys in a twist. But come on. Don’t you ever wish you had love in your life deep down inside? To know that someone is right there beside you come what may?

 

Sterling: That’s what I got married for, I thought. I mean, I walked down the aisle, said the vows, forsook all others, did all that, co-produced a wonderful child who adores me and then watched as my wife figured out that the only thing screwing up her life and making her miserable was her choice of husband. Me! Fine, then. So be it. Like everything else, I got over it and moved on. I did the marriage thing, earned my fatherhood merit badge, and now I can do whatever I want to without having to consult anybody else. Is that so bad? I figure that we only truly fall in love when we’re young and naive and then we spend the rest of our lives trying to re-create that feeling in vain.

 

Venitia: How ridiculous. There are plenty of second marriages that last decades. People            fall madly in love every day in every age group.

 

Sterling: And another thing, since you’ve got me going on this subject, I don’t want to be anybody’s stepfather. What a no-win situation that is. It’s like being the assistant manager of the household. You might have a desk in the office, but you’ll never be considered the boss. Anyway, can you really blame me for staying at home every night when the women out there are all like Judy?

 

Venitia: Oh, don’t say that! It isn’t true. She doesn’t need a man, she needs a personal ATM machine!

 

While this conversation continues, Steve peeks out of his office, then sneaks silently inside the door of Judy’s office. Venitia and Sterling don’t notice.

 

Sterling: I guess what I’m really saying is that you need to accept that some of us guys just aren’t any good at relationships. I’m good at writing stories. I’m good at dealing with mental midgets who can’t figure out how to turn their television on. But I’m no good at girls. There’s just some vital ingredient missing in me that most men are born with that tells them how to play the macho leading role. When to get angry. When to be gentle. How to play the little mind games that go on. All that stuff. I’ve come up short in every relationship I’ve ever been in. Every one of them. A 100 per cent failure rate. There came a time when I just stopped trying any more. And that’s where I’m at right now. Doesn’t that make sense to you?

 

Venitia: Oh, I understand. And I still think you’re wrong. You’ve put up a barrier that no decent woman would ever spend the time to tear down. It’s like that wall around China or something. But I know you, Sterling, and there’s lots of good women, nice women, pretty women who would love to have a man with your great sense of humor and your easy-going nature in their life. They’re all around you but you won’t allow yourself to see them. And that’s very, very sad.

 

Sterling: I know they’re out there, Venitia. But, like I said, it’s me I don’t trust. I always seem to bring out the worst in the best of them. The biggest mistakes I’ve ever made were my choices in women.

 

Venitia: Hey! All the more reason to let me do the picking for you! I’ll find out all about that new girl next door and let you know if she’d be good for you or not. Okay?

 

Sterling: Do I have a choice?

 

Venitia: Certainly not.

 

Sterling: That’s what I thought. Knock yourself out. Just don’t…

 

Suddenly there is a loud bang and a bright flash of light behind Judy’s office door. Sterling and Venitia stand up, startled, then share a very worried, concerned look between them. Venitia carefully steps across the room to Judy’s door, cautiously opens it and looks inside. She puts her hand to her mouth, shuts the door quickly and looks back at Sterling who stands by his desk.  

 

Venitia: Oh, my cursed stars in heaven.

 

The door to Cynthia’s office opens and she steps into the doorway, looking just as startled and stressed as before.

 

Cynthia: What in the hell was that? Sounded like a terrorist attack out here!

 

Venitia: Um, um, I’m so sorry, Cynthia. It was me. I… I…

 

Venitia looks around quickly, spots a clipboard nearby, grabs it and makes a very loud popping noise by snapping the heavy clasp.

 

Venitia: This is what you heard. I accidentally let go of this thing and it made a loud noise. I’m sorry if I disturbed you. It startled me, too.

 

Cynthia: Disturb me? Startle me? Are you out of your mind? Sounded like a Goddamned drive-by shooting! Scared the holy poop out of me. And I was just starting to feel a little better. Ughhh! Can’t you people act like grownups and stop having stupid accidents? Oh, my Lord, look at what time it is! Why didn’t Steve wake me up like I asked him to? Now I’m going to be battling the lunch traffic to get where I have to be on time.

 

She disappears back into her office for a moment, then re-emerges with purse and briefcase in hand.

 

Cynthia: Okay. I’ve got to run. If anyone from corporate calls tell them I’ve gone to lunch with the city manager. If any of my friends call tell them I went shopping and I’ll call them back. If my husband calls tell him I’m at a church prayer meeting. Got       it?

 

Sterling: No problem. Take your time.

 

Cynthia: Oh? What’s that supposed to mean? You’d like me to stay away from the office all afternoon, wouldn’t you? You think I don’t know what you’re thinking but I know a lot more than you think I know. I’ll be back as soon as possible. We still have a major crisis on our hands, but that’s not really your problem, is it? Ughhh! The stress I have to deal with! You have no idea. Not a clue.

 

She leaves abruptly. There is a moment of silence. Venitia stares at Sterling.

 

Venitia: Shot dead. Right through his empty heart.

 

Sterling: What? Shot? Shot dead who with what?

 

Venitia: Steve. Judy. She shot him with her little gun. Big hole. Over and out.

 

At that moment Judy’s door opens and she staggers out into the office, still holding the single-shot derringer in her hand. She is obviously in shock. Venitia grabs her and steers her to a chair, taking the gun from her shaking hand. Sterling crosses the room and joins them.

 

Venitia: Here, honey, let’s have that nasty thing. There. You have a seat.

 

Sterling: My God, Judy. What happened?

 

Judy: Well…. I’m not too sure. I was standing at my desk with my back to the door. I was looking in my purse for lipstick when suddenly this hand came around and covered my mouth. I tried to scream but I couldn’t. Um, then I felt this other hand reach under my dress and grab me. So.. so ugly. I had my hand inside my purse and I was scared and mad and I felt my little baby pistol in there so I… I don’t remember exactly what happened next, but suddenly I heard this loud bang and there was a bright flash and then he was on the floor at my feet. He never moved or groaned or anything. He just fell. I guess I might have panicked or something but I didn’t really mean to… to…

 

She starts to cry. Venitia comforts her while Sterling goes into Judy’s office to survey the scene.

 

Venitia: There, there, sugar. It’s going to be okay. Everything’s fine.

 

Judy: (Sobbing) You know I warned him, Venitia. You’ve seen what he does to me. He tried to grab me earlier this morning before you guys showed up and I told him to stop or he’d be sorry. I told him I meant it and I did. I didn’t think this would happen, though. Never this.

 

Venitia: Now, now. I’m sure he regrets it already. Try to calm down.

 

Sterling comes back out of the office and shakes his head at Venitia. He takes a seat on one of the nearby desks.

 

Sterling: Right through the pump. Didn’t even have time to bleed onto the carpet. Zap. Just like that.

 

Judy: You… you mean he’s completely dead?

 

Sterling: Utterly.

 

Judy: Oh, my God. I’ve committed murder. The ultimate sin. My parents will be mortified. And so disappointed that I never used my degree in psychology.

 

Venitia: I’m sure they and everyone else will understand that it was self-defense. It couldn’t be helped.

 

Sterling: Um, that may not be the case, Venitia. Steve wasn’t armed and I don’t believe that sexual harassment is considered a crime punishable by death just yet. Judy, did you have a license to carry that pistol?

 

Judy: What? You mean I have to have a permit to defend myself? Who came up with that rule?

 

Sterling: See what I mean, Venitia?

 

Judy: Are… are you saying that I might go to prison?

 

Venitia: No one knows right now, Judy. You just need to settle down and Sterling needs to shut his trap.

 

Sterling: Sorry. She’s right, Judy. No use thinking about things like jail at a time like this.

 

Venitia: Sterling!

 

Judy: Oh, no. No way. This girl’s not spending one single night behind bars. Oh, no. I have nightmares about being incarcerated and I’d rather commit suicide than go to jail. (She tries to get up) Where’s my gun? I carry an extra bullet.

 

Venitia and Sterling restrain her.

 

Venitia: Sit, sit. Forget that. It’s bad enough right now with that turkey lying on your office floor without adding your skinny carcass to the pile. Stay in that chair. Give me some time to think.

 

Judy: I won’t be locked up over this, you guys. I swear I won’t let that happen. That creep just kept on and on and on. When he grabbed me this time I just snapped. Don’t you understand? I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t take it any more.

 

Sterling: But Judy, why didn’t you do the sensible thing and file a complaint? You know this company has strict rules about sexual harassment. They would have stopped it. It didn’t have to come to something like this. This is terrible!

 

Venitia: He’s right. The cops are going to be asking the same question. Why didn’t you just tell Cynthia what he was doing to you?

 

Judy: (Resumes sobbing) Well…. I would have but…

 

Venitia: But what honey? What stopped you?

 

Judy: Damn it! You remember that temp? That real cute guy who worked here a few weeks ago? You know. Derek?

 

Sterling: You mean the male stripper who’d broken his foot and was temping while he healed up? That guy?

 

Judy: Yes, that guy. Derek.

 

Venitia: Ooo. I remember him very well. How could any woman forget him? God, what a hunk of manhood! I batted my eyes at him so hard and so fast I ’bout wore my contact lenses down to the thickness of Saran Wrap! Yowza!

 

Sterling: Whatever. I still don’t understand what he’s got to do with any of this.

 

Judy: Well, he and I had what I thought was a discreet after-hours encounter of sorts but Steve somehow knew all about it. He paid the bastard off to tell all the slippery details into a tape recorder and Steve was threatening to play it for upper management if I said anything about his harassment. I was terrified that it might turn up on my job history. And something like that could kill my carefully planned career. Just ruin it.

 

Venitia: But Judy, what goes on between two grown, single adults after leaving work is nobody’s business at all.

 

Judy: That’s just it. We didn’t leave work.

 

Sterling: What do you mean? You two had sex right here in this office? Wow.

 

Judy: Yes, we did. Down in the supply room. Right on top of the copier.

 

Venitia: Judy, you should be ashamed of yourself! But at least that explains why the Xerox had to be repaired. You two sure screwed it up good.

 

Sterling: In more ways than one, it would seem.

 

Judy: I didn’t plan it that way, you guys. One thing just sort of led to another, you know? Now look at the mess it’s gotten me into. Why don’t I ever learn? (Sobs)

 

Sterling: Whoo, boy! This is one ugly CSI episode we have here.

 

Venitia: Maybe so, but we can’t allow this girl to do time in the joint for offing a scumbag lizard like Steve. We’ve got to think of a plan.

 

Sterling: Hold it. Just hold it a second. Are you in any way, shape or form suggesting that we try to cover up a homicide?

 

Judy: Homicide? (Wails) Oh, my God, this gets worse every minute. First it was only a murder and now it’s a homicide? I’m doomed to a life in the poky.

 

Venitia: Honey, you’re going to have to somehow pull yourself together while Sterling and I come up with a way out of this mess. Please don’t make it worse by getting more hysterical.

 

Sterling: Excuse me? You still haven’t answered my question. You can’t be serious about being accessories in this crime, can you? That’s against the law, dear.

 

Venitia: Well, I can’t just stand around and let them come take her away for plugging the human equivalent of a sewer rat. I’m sorry, but Steve Parish was dumpster grease and this was bound to happen to him sooner or later and you should realize that. No telling how many innocent females he’s mauled over the years. It had to stop. And now it has. The good thing is that we’re the only real witnesses and if we can come up with a way for the body to somehow disappear off the face of the earth we can save this poor child from Sing Sing. But I can’t tell you what to do, Sterling. Do what you feel you have to. I won’t hold it against you.

 

Sterling: Jeez. I don’t know, Venitia, this is really, really serious stuff we’re dealing with here. Don’t forget that Cynthia heard the shot, too.

 

Venitia: Of course I know it’s serious. I’m not stupid. As for Cynthia, she wouldn’t know a gunshot from a water balloon attack. She doesn’t suspect a thing. But right now I suggest that you figure out a way to head off Keisha and Melanie before they get back from lunch. Keisha I think could handle this calamity but Melanie would go off the high board, I’m sure. She’d have the police, national guard and Marine corps swarming all over this building within a matter of seconds. Hurry.

 

Sterling: You’re right about that. Plus I need some time to absorb all this and think about what we should do. Try to keep her quiet, though.

 

He leaves through the hallway, leaving Venitia to sit with the distraught Judy.

 

Venitia: Oh, my Lord, honey. Why couldn’t you have just shot his pecker off?

 

Judy: I’m going to be wearing a fluorescent orange jump suit with a number on it for the rest of my imprisoned life, aren’t I? What a horrible fate. And all because that slimy turd wouldn’t leave me alone. What will my sorority sisters think?

 

Venitia: Shhh. Try to be quiet. We’re going to figure out a way to make all of this go away. Somehow. Be quiet and let me think.

 

There is a brief moment of silence, then a bustling of activity as Keisha and Melanie return with white bags of food, followed by a nervous Sterling who indicates to Venitia non-verbally that there was no time to do anything to delay their entrance.

 

Keisha: (To Melanie) …And so I said to Jamal, ‘Jamal if I ever catch you coming out of one of those loud, nasty stripper whore clubs with a blonde sister hanging on to your biceps like Tamika’s husband did I swear I’ll get me a rusty razor and cut off…’ (Both she and Melanie spot Judy in Venitia’s arms at the same moment) Oh, Lord! What happened to her?

 

Melanie: Oh, my God!

 

They both set down their things and rush over to Judy and Venitia. Sterling leans up against a wall with his arms folded, watching from a short distance away.

 

Venitia: It’s all right. It’s okay. Our friend is just suffering from… from…

 

Judy: (Sobbing) It’s murder! Murder!

 

Melanie: Murder? What’s she talking about? What in the world?

 

Venitia: Um, it’s cramps! She’s come down with a major case of the monthly monsoon.

 

Keisha: Ooo, baby. I know first-hand how bad that can be, too. Poor thing.

 

Judy: (Still sobbing) A cold-blooded killer! Me, me, me!

 

Venitia: See? She’s hysterical. Pay no mind to her wild hallucinations.

 

Melanie: What’s a monsoon, anyway?

 

Keisha: Jeez, Melanie, it’s her period, okay?

 

Melanie: Oh! That! My goodness gracious.

 

Venitia: Unfortunately, we find ourselves dangerously low on supplies. Melanie, we need you to run to the drug store down the street and get some pads, okay?

 

Melanie: No need to do that. I’ve got some in my purse. I’ll go get them.

 

Judy: (Still sobbing) I think I’m going to be sick.

 

Keisha: This girl’s going to need more than pads, folks. This one’s a real twister!

 

Venitia: Keisha’s right, Melanie. We’re going to need drugs.

 

Melanie: No problem. I’ve got some aspirin, too.

 

Melanie goes to her desk and starts rummaging through her purse. Meanwhile, Venitia motions for Keisha to lean close.

 

Venitia: (Quietly, to Keisha) Get Melanie out of here! I’ll explain in a minute.

 

Keisha straightens back up as Melanie comes back with a bottle of pills and a small blue package.

 

Melanie: Here we go. I’m always prepared for the menstrual monster.

 

Keisha: (Looks at the package) What? Are you crazy? You call that a pad? You couldn’t wipe off your mascara with that thing! Girl, maybe you haven’t quite grasped the magnitude of the emergency yet. What we have here is no ordinary drip in the sink. This is a once-in-a-lifetime break in the levee! Hoover Dam’s collapsed! The Mighty Mississippi is at flood stage! The Red River is out of its banks! It’s out of control!

 

Judy: (Still sobbing) The horror! The horror!

 

Keisha: Don’t you get it? We need extra heavy-duty industrial-strength super-soakers, baby! Get your hiney down to that drug store and buy up the entire stock of feminine hygiene products right this minute! And forget aspirin. Get the double-strength Mydol! Get going!

 

Melanie: Yes, yes. Of course! I’m on my way!

 

Melanie runs back to her desk, grabs her purse and heads for the hallway. Suddenly she stops and turns around.

 

Melanie: Oh! Is there anything we need in the way of office supplies while I’m down there? Do we need pens? Liquid paper? Toner?

 

Venitia & Keisha: (Together) Just go!!!

 

Melanie leaves. Venitia lets out a relieved sigh as Keisha takes a seat on the other side of Judy. Sterling takes a seat facing them all.

 

Keisha: Well? Somebody want to give me a clue here?

 

Sterling: (Matter-of-factly) Judy shot Steve.

 

Keisha stares at Sterling, then at Venitia, then back at Steve.

 

Keisha: Right. That’s a pitiful attempt at a practical joke, you guys. Try again. Tell me the truth this time.

 

Venitia: That is the truth, Keisha. Judy shot Steve. Dead as chivalry.

 

Keisha: Oh, please. Then where’s the body?

 

Sterling and Venitia both point in the direction of Judy’s office. Keisha gets up, goes to the door, opens it and steps inside. There is a pause.

 

Keisha: (From inside Judy’s office) Whooooeee!! Jesus, Mary, and Martin Luther King!! Steve’s a stiff!

 

She reappears quickly and shuts the door behind her. Her eyes are wide.

 

Sterling: Told you.

 

Keisha: Judy! There’s a dead office manager on your floor!

 

Judy: (Still sobbing) Probably be lethal injection! And I absolutely hate needles!

 

Venitia: Shhh. Shhh. Calm yourself, Judy. We’re still thinking.

 

Keisha: The cops are on the way, right?

 

Sterling: No.

 

Keisha: No?

 

Venitia: No, we didn’t call them. We’re trying to think of a way to make this go away. We don’t need cops, we need ideas.

 

Keisha: No, what you need is an undertaker, that’s what.

 

There is a moment of silence as they all ponder this thought, then Venitia and Sterling look at Keisha as if coming to the same idea at the same time.

 

Keisha: What?

 

Venitia: You said undertaker. Isn’t Jamal’s friend an undertaker?

 

Keisha: It’s not his friend, it’s his cousin. And he just works at a funeral home. He’s not one of the guys who handles the dead bodies or anything like that. How gross.

 

Sterling: Yeah, but he knows the guys who do. Does he owe Jamal any favors?

 

Keisha: Shoot, Jamal’s the type that everybody owes. Know what I mean?

 

Venitia: Well?

 

Keisha: Well, what?

 

Sterling: Well, get Jamal on the phone and find out how one would go about making a body disappear. Judy’s going to be working on a chain gang by tomorrow if we don’t move fast on this.

 

Judy: (Wails) Chain gang?! Reserved seat in the electric chair’s more like it! I’ll never get my Lexus now!

 

Keisha: Hmm. Oh, why not? Judy, don’t let go of your dreams just yet. Let Keisha Lorraine O’Malley do a little investigating. Hang on.

 

Keisha goes to her desk and gets on the phone. Venitia looks at Sterling.

 

Venitia: Thanks.

 

Sterling: Thanks? Thanks for what? We’ve still got a corpse stuffed with a bullet in the marketing manager’s office and an emotional vegetable on our hands. I’m not too sure that the situation calls for polite thank-you’s.

 

Venitia: Maybe so, but I’m grateful for you not calling the police right away. I think our only hope is if Keisha’s boyfriend can help get us out of this predicament. In the meantime we need to get this girl into some kind of less-freaked-out shape. If Cynthia walks in here and finds Judy shell-shocked like this even she’ll know something’s very wrong with this picture. She may live in her own scatter-brained exclusive world and all but she’s not near as gullible and naive as Melanie. Let’s get some water down her and maybe we can get her to stop crying.

 

Sterling disappears into the hallway for a moment, then returns with a cup of water. Keisha is still talking on the phone. Venitia turns her attention to Judy. She gently but firmly slaps her on her cheeks.

 

Venitia: Judy. Judy! Come on, girl, you’re going to have to pull yourself together. You’re in a cesspool of trouble right now and we can’t have you limp as a dishrag when the boss gets back. You hear me? Straighten up.

 

Judy: (Sits up) Ow! Quit it! Stop beating me. You’ll mess up my rouge.

 

Venitia: (Takes the cup from Sterling) Here. Drink this. And, for heaven’s sake, forget about your runny makeup. Your biggest skin problem right now is saving it from a firing squad.

 

Sterling: I still don’t know about all of this cover-up stuff. Maybe we should just come clean about things and tell the police the truth. Self-defense. Plain and simple. Probation’s the worst she’ll get. It’s not like Judy has a history of this kind of thing.

 

Judy: Wrong. I’ve done this before.

 

Venitia: What? This is not new behavior for you?

 

Judy: No, you see, back in college I stabbed a guy with a butcher knife for trying to force himself on me at a fraternity party.

 

Sterling: You killed him, too?

 

Judy: No, he’s still alive I guess, but he’ll never father children of his own if you know what I mean. The bastard deserved what he got, though, just like Steve.

 

Venitia: Did they charge you with anything?

 

Judy: Aggravated assault. But the judge thought I was cute so my parents paid a big fine and I went on two years probation.

 

Sterling: Jeez. This is getting real complicated.

 

Venitia: Yes, but it means I was right all along. They’ll put her in the clink for sure this time. Judy, honey, listen to me. You’ve got to stop killing and maiming men who pinch your ass. Society frowns on taking the law into your own hands.

 

Judy: Well, why can’t they just leave me alone? That would be a better solution, I think. I know I’m sexy and alluring but what part of the word “no” is it that men don’t seem to understand? It never seems to stop.

 

Sterling: My guess is that it’s your overwhelming charm and grace, not to mention humility, that turns them into animals, Judy. They lose all control over their self-restraint when you’re around.

 

Judy: Charm and grace? What’s that supposed to mean?

 

Keisha hangs up the phone and rushes over, interrupting the conversation.

 

Keisha: Great news! There might be a way out of this crap after all. Jamal’s making some phone calls right now.

 

Sterling: Wow, that was fast. It doesn’t bother you to know that the man you’ve been sleeping with lately has extensive knowledge about how to dispose of an unwanted dead body?

 

Keisha: Not in the least, Sterling. Just because he used to be a gangster doesn’t mean he’s lost all his former connections. I mean, it’s not like he dumps corpses all over the county every day. No more than Judy attacks assholes like Steve every day.

 

Sterling: Don’t be too sure.

 

Keisha: Well, let me ask you this. Do you have any connections we can call, Sterling?

 

Sterling: No.

 

Keisha: Then shut up about my man, already. Compared to him, you’re useless. How’s the pistol-packing mama doing?

 

Judy: I’m feeling much better, thank you. You girls know there’s nothing like a good crying spell to get over a stressful situation. I’m going to be okay now. What’s done is done. It’s behind me.

 

Sterling: You women are incredible. First you shoot a man to death, you have a few sniffles over it, then it’s two choruses of “Let it Be” and it’s ancient history.

 

Venitia: Oh, bullshit, Sterling. You men are the ones who insist on stuffing and mounting your kills over the mantle. We women just take care of the business at hand and then move on. Our way is much better. Enough of that, though. Hurry, Keisha, tell us what Jamal said. Melanie will be back soon.

 

Keisha: Well, his cousin, Richard, who’s a Leo, works for a funeral home as you know. He told Jamal that lots of times the city brings over the bodies of street people and drifters who have no family to claim them and the home just cremates them and sends the bill to the government. He said sometimes there’s not even any paper work involved. They just pop ’em in the oven and there’s nothing left. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Or, in this case I guess it’s more like lust to dust. Get it?

 

Sterling: Yeah, real funny. But can it be done in this particular instance? Steve wasn’t some homeless bum off the streets, he was just a bum.

 

Keisha: That’s why Jamal’s looking into it carefully. Don’t worry, these guys don’t take unnecessary chances.

 

Judy: Keisha, you tell him if he can get me out of this I’ll give him anything he wants.

 

Keisha: I don’t think so, girlfriend. You let me take care of anything in the “anything he wants” department, okay?   If you want to owe somebody let it be all of us. We’re the ones risking our jobs for you. You can cook Jamal a chocolate pie or something.

 

Judy: You’ve all been so wonderful. I appreciate your support.

 

Venitia: Save the speech, Judy. We still have a body in the next room to get rid of. And we can’t have Melanie or Cynthia discovering our little secret. Tell you what. You guys cover for me and I’ll go in and clean up whatever blood and gore there is. It could’ve been a lot messier if Judy’d shot him in the head or something. Just keep anyone from coming in there until I’m done. It shouldn’t take that long.

 

Judy: Shouldn’t we be answering the phones, anyway?

 

Keisha: Why? We’re the cable company, remember? Our customers are used to being on hold. They might suspect something if we were efficient.

 

Sterling: Hold it. We seem to be overlooking one gigantic problem. Even if Jamal can get his cousin to cremate the body with no questions asked, how are we going to get Steve’s carcass over to the funeral home without raising somebody’s suspicion? Hauling a stiff out of the office on a two-wheeler in broad daylight might appear a little out of the ordinary.

 

Judy: I know. We could chop him up into tiny pieces and carry him out of here in big Tupperware containers. I saw a movie once where they did that.

 

Venitia: Judy, even if that wasn’t an idiotic idea we wouldn’t have the time. Now, I do have a plan to get the corpse to the funeral home that I think might work. But first I need to clean things up in there.

 

Keisha: What about his close friends or his relatives? Won’t someone start to notice that he isn’t around anymore and start asking questions?

 

Judy: I don’t think so. We all know he had no friends. His parents have been dead for a long time. He once told me he had a sister in Boise but also said that he hadn’t talked to her in years. His credit card companies will come looking for him long before anybody who could’ve cared about him will. I think we’re free and clear in that department.

 

Sterling: The only friend he had was in his mirror. Pretty sad.

 

Keisha: Poor bastard. Died with all the dignity of a mutt dog run down in the street.

 

Venitia: Let’s save the eulogy for later. We need to make it look like nothing’s wrong around here. Everybody get busy doing what they normally do.

 

Sterling: But “getting busy” is not normal in this office.

 

Judy: Venitia’s right. Let’s be about our business as usual. And when you get on those phones don’t forget to remind our customers about the human demolition derby extravaganza on pay-per-view this weekend. We still need to improve our sales numbers and make our quotas.

 

Keisha: Oh, give it a rest, Judy. Go put on some fresh eyeliner or something.

 

Judy: Ooo, good idea. I must look like an airline crash by now.

 

Judy goes out through the hallway, Venitia goes into Judy’s office and closes the door, and Keisha and Sterling return to their desks. Melanie comes in a moment later carrying a big bag of supplies and rushes for Judy’s office. Sterling jumps up and stops her just before she reaches the door.

 

Sterling: Melanie! Melanie! Hold on. Where do you think you’re going?

 

Melanie: Duh, Sterling! I’ve got to get this stuff to Judy immediately. You heard what we were talking about, didn’t you? There could be blood all over the floor by now!

 

Sterling: Not to worry. Venitia’s taking care of all that. Anyway, Judy’s feeling much, much better and she’s freshening up in the restroom right now. So why don’t you just come back to your desk and help me and Keisha with the phones?

 

Melanie: What? Now it’s not all that serious? You mean to tell me I just spent twenty-five dollars on Kotex for nothing? This really ticks me off, you guys. I’ll have you know I also broke a heel in my hurry to get back.

 

Melanie and Sterling are still standing right in front of the door to Judy’s office. Venitia cracks the door open slightly.

 

Venitia: Excuse me. Did I hear you say Kotex?

 

Melanie: Yes. The super-absorbent kind.

 

Venitia: (Grabs the bag out of Melanie’s hand and pulls it inside) Thanks. (Shuts door)

 

Melanie looks surprised at first, then looks angry. She beats on the door until Venitia cracks it open again.

 

Venitia: (Crossly) What?

 

Melanie: There’s a coke and a Baby Ruth in that bag I got for myself. I’d like them, please.

 

There is a pause, then the door opens just enough for Venitia to hand out the coke and candy bar to Melanie.

 

Melanie: Thanks for your trouble.

 

Venitia: Don’t mention it. Now go away. (Shuts door)

 

Melanie: Humph! The way you people treat me around here is a crime worse than murder!

 

Sterling: You don’t know the half of it.

 

Melanie: I beg your pardon?

 

Sterling: Never mind. Come on and help us out over here.

 

He leads her back to her desk. The lights fade out. 

 

 

ACT III

 

The lights come up on the same office scene with one obvious addition. Right in the middle of the main office sits a large, oblong cardboard box that happens to be the right size for a body to be concealed inside. The clock now says 1:15. Venitia hovers over the box, writing with a black felt-tip marker. Keisha stands nearby with a phone to her ear. They are alone on the stage.

 

Keisha: Okay, Venitia, the address is the Blissfull Farewells Funeral Home, 1777 East Grayson Drive with an 055 zip code. Got all that?

 

Venitia: Got it.

 

Keisha: (Sweetly, into the phone intimately) All right, baby. I told them you’d come through for us and you did. Thanks from everybody. I owe you big time for this and, you know, I can’t wait to pay you back. I might even do that thing again with the butterscotch and cashew nuts. You’d like that, huh? Oh? (Giggles) Well, now I guess we’ll just have to talk about that when I get home tonight. Kisses, lover boy. See ya.

 

Venitia: (Stands back from the box and admires her work) There! That’s as good as it gets. The perfect “Bastard in a box.” What do you think?

 

Keisha: I don’t know. Maybe I’m biased, but it looks like a cardboard coffin to me.

 

Venitia: That’s just because you know there’s a corpse inside. To anyone who didn’t know better it looks like a plain old shipping box. Trust me.

 

Sterling, who has been standing watch offstage, now enters through the hallway.

 

Sterling: No sign of Cynthia or Melanie yet. Is this it? Are you all done?

 

Venitia: Yes, sir. Neiman-Marcus at Christmas couldn’t have wrapped it up any better. The man from National Parcel Service will pick it up later this afternoon and deliver it to the Blissfull Farewells Funeral Home by tonight. No questions asked.

 

Keisha: And I just got off the phone with Jamal and he assured me that Steve will get the treatment he deserves. By this time tomorrow our former office manager will be a real smart ash. (Giggles) Know what I mean?

 

Sterling: Yeah, well, I’m glad you feel like you can joke about this. I, for one, still feel guilty about helping to dispose of a murdered man. We could really get in a lot of trouble if someone catches on. I half expect Lieutenant Colombo to come strolling in the door any minute asking uncomfortable questions. We’ve involved others in this who may not know to stay tight-lipped about what they’ve seen. Which    reminds me, Keisha, just how well do you know this boyfriend of yours, anyway?

 

Keisha: Huh? What’s that supposed to mean, Sterling? What conspiracy nonsense are you thinking, anyway? That Jamal’s some kind of undercover cop whose job it is to infiltrate renegade office staffs trying to get rid of the bloody torso of their recently butchered boss? Please! How much sense does that make?

 

Sterling: None whatsoever. I’m sorry, Keisha. I’m just paranoid. Something as macabre as this shouldn’t be going so smoothly.

 

Keisha: Relax. Don’t worry so much. Eat something.

 

Judy’s door opens and she comes out into the office. She looks weary, but neat and tidy. She joins the others by the box.

 

Venitia: He’s ready to ship. How are you feeling? You look a lot better.

 

Judy: Much better, thank you. Amazing what a short nap and three Prozac can do for a girl. I hardly remember a thing, to tell you the truth. That whole misunderstanding with Steve seems like a bad dream I had a long, long time ago.

 

Sterling: What? You call all this a misunderstanding? Good grief, I think it was more than that! A human being lost his life here today!

 

Judy: And I was assaulted! You seem to be forgetting that part of it. Do you think I came to the office today with the intention of killing that two-legged garden slug? Please, Sterling, drop it. What’s done is done. It’s taken me this long just to start getting over the trauma of today’s events.

 

Sterling: This long? It’s been barely over an hour! As for me, I don’t think I’ll ever get over this. A man I knew lost his life here today and I’m trying my best to keep from screaming out in revulsion over the fact that his inert body is lying in this box.

 

Venitia: Look, I understand how you feel, Sterling. We all do. But if we’re going to get away with this we have to put it behind us. I don’t mean to sound cold-hearted, but Judy’s got the right attitude. It’s over. We’d best be moving on and far, far away from this. In fact, this is the time when we should be getting our stories straight about what happened to Steve. We can’t have any discrepancies. Anyone been giving it some thought?

 

Keisha: Let’s just go the simple route. While Melanie and I were away at lunch and right after Cynthia left to go do whatever it is she does Steve came out of his office and mumbled something to the effect that he was fed up with things around here before walking out the door. Nobody has seen him since. Period. No elaboration needed. He just split.

 

Sterling: But what about his precious red Mercedes sitting out in the parking lot? Why wouldn’t he have taken it? How’d he plan to get where he was going?

 

Keisha: How should we know? We’re mystified, too, remember? All you and Venitia saw was his fat butt as he left the office right after noon. Leave the whys and wherealls to the detectives. Judy was working in her office and you two weren’t really paying attention to him, anyway. As far as any of us know he vanished into thin air. Which really isn’t a lie if you think about it the right way.

 

Judy: Keisha’s right. People disappear off the face of the earth all the time. Just like those people in the tabloids at the supermarket who get beamed up into spaceships. Maybe we could suggest that to the police.

 

Sterling: That must be the Prozac speaking.

 

Venitia: Um, I think we’d better stick with Keisha’s version and keep aliens out of it, Judy. It’s important that we keep it simple so we can all tell the same story. Steve Parish walked out of his office, left through the front door and never came back. No one has any idea where he might have gone. That’s it. Agreed?

 

They all assent with nods and grunts. There is a slight noise as Melanie enters the office carrying another large shopping bag. She sets the bag down and sighs wearily. Sterling and Keisha go back to their desks and look busy. Judy goes back into her office and shuts the door. Venitia helps Melanie empty the bag on her desk.

 

Melanie: Whew! That’s it. I refuse to run any more errands for this office today. My feet are killing me in these flip-flops. Next time you guys get together on your shopping lists and let me get everything in one trip. I’m exhausted.

 

Venitia: We appreciate this, Melanie. Sorry you had to go out so much but sometimes we just seem to run out of things one at a time. Go figure.

 

Melanie: Maybe so, but I guarantee we’ll never run out of liquid paper. I bought enough to repaint the break room with two thick coats.

 

Venitia: That’s nice, honey. Why don’t you go get caught up on some of your paperwork. I’ll put all this stuff up.

 

Melanie: Okay, it’ll be nice to sit down for a while. (Starts toward her desk, then notices the box) Good Lord, what’s that?

 

Venitia: What? Oh! The box! It’s nothing. Just a last-minute transfer of computer stuff to one of our new systems in another state. The N.P.S. guy will be along later to pick it up. It’s no big thing, believe me.

 

Melanie: Oh, yeah. (She starts toward Steve’s office as she digs into her purse) I almost forgot Steve’s stuff.

 

Venitia: Steve? Uh, he’s gone. I mean, he’s not back from lunch yet.

 

Melanie: (Stops and glances up at the clock) Really? He’s this late? How unusual. Did he say when he’d be back? I bought him a soda and a Three Musketeers while I was out. He hardly ever leaves the office, you know.

 

Venitia: Yeah, kinda seems strange, but maybe he had to run a personal errand or something. He ran out of here in a big hurry right after you and Keisha left for lunch and none of us has seen him since.

 

Melanie: Weird. And he didn’t go with Cynthia?

 

Venitia: No, and I expect her to get back any second.

 

Melanie: Well, I sure hope he gets here before she does. You know how upset she gets when he’s not here to supervise us. I think I’ll put his soda in the fridge in the break room and finish my salad while I’m in there. I’ll be right back.

 

Venitia: That’s fine, dear.

 

Melanie leaves the room. Venitia watches her leave, then slumps down into her desk chair as if all the day’s events have finally caught up with her.

 

Sterling: Venitia, are you sure you haven’t done this sort of thing before?

 

Keisha: Yeah, girl, I’m very, very impressed. Never saw you sweat.

 

Venitia: Thanks, but this is the last time I try anything like this again, I can tell you that.

 

Sterling: I’m still puzzled, though. I mean, I don’t really understand why you were so insistent on covering this stuff up. You and Judy have never been the closest of friends as far as I could tell. Why not let the law take care of it?

 

Keisha: Yeah, Venitia, I never thought you cared that much for any of us, much less little Miss Debutante. What’s up?

 

Venitia: (Sighs) I can’t say that I’m really sure myself. I reckon a lot of it stems from about 25 years ago. I had a pretty bad experience with sexual harassment from a real root hog of a boss at that time. He made Steve look like Billy Graham. Except back then a woman just had no choice but to take the constant humiliation if she wanted to keep her job. Managers certainly didn’t want to hear about it. Sexual harassment hadn’t even been invented yet. Well, I couldn’t help but notice the things that Steve was doing to Judy and it made me mad as hell. So when she did what she did today I felt… I guess I felt proud of her. Real proud. I don’t condone murder, of course, but I couldn’t stand the thought of her having to do time just for defending her pride and her femininity. It brought back a lot of terrible memories all at the same moment for me. Judy just did what I dreamed of doing so many times. I just never had the guts.

 

Sterling: Hmm. Well, the sooner we get that box out of here the better I’ll feel. This has been one long, long day and it ain’t near over yet.

 

Keisha: Amen to that.

 

Melanie comes back into the office. It is obvious that she is crying. She walks quickly to her desk and grabs a tissue from the dispenser. Keisha gets up and goes to her.

 

Keisha:   Melanie, Melanie. What is it?

 

Melanie: (Sniffling) She killed him. Why, oh why didn’t he see it coming?

 

The others share glances of genuine worry and alarm.

 

Keisha: What? What on earth are you talking about? No one killed anybody.

 

Melanie: Oh, yes, she did. It was written all over her face. He couldn’t help the way he was. If she’d only waited for him to have the operation things would have been okay. She’s nothing more than a murderer. I hate her. (Sobs)

 

Sterling puts his head in his hands. Venitia rises.

 

Venitia: But Melanie, you have to put yourself in her place. It was an accident.

 

Melanie: (Angrily) An accident? I’m sorry, Venitia, but this was no accident. She’d been waiting for just the right moment ever since she found out he had gotten Penelope pregnant. And she still doesn’t know that she has the AIDS virus. It was no accident. She just tried to make it look like one.

 

Sterling sits back up. He looks at Melanie curiously.

 

Sterling: Huh? Pregnant? AIDS? Who are you talking about, Melanie?

 

Melanie: Why, Alexis, of course! Who else would it be? That evil witch. “Times of Our Lives” hasn’t been the same since she joined the cast. I can’t stand her.

 

They all give out a sigh of relief.

 

Sterling: You mean this is all about a silly soap opera? My God, Melanie, you had us all thinking you were talking about something that had really happened. Please!

 

Melanie: But it did really happen. I just saw it on the break room TV. Alexis killed Ben and framed Penelope for the shooting.

 

Keisha: I don’t believe it. You really had me going, girl. I thought you were going to say that she had killed Jonathan. That would have really freaked me out.

 

Venitia: Jonathan? I thought he had moved to India with his psychotic cousin.

 

Melanie: No, that was his evil twin, Frederick. Jonathan’s the one who wants to be a priest but he still loves Felicia’s sister-in-law, Cassandra.

 

Venitia: Oh. But I thought he was gay!

 

Keisha: No, you’re thinking of Cassandra’s ex-husband, Billy.

 

Venitia: Yes, you’re right. I forgot.

 

Sterling: (Mainly to himself) The line between fantasy and reality around here is as thin as the tread on the tires of my ten-year-old Subaru. Unbelievable.

 

There is a loud, bustling commotion in the hallway.

 

Keisha: Scoot, everybody. Cynthia’s back. Look busy.

 

Cynthia appears, struggling with her keys again, carrying various shopping bags with labels like “Neiman-Marcus” “Saks” and “Nordstrom.” Melanie rises and starts toward her but Cynthia waves her off as if annoyed. She clumsily gets the door to her office open and heaves all the bags and herself inside. After a second she comes out into the office looking worried.

 

Cynthia: Did anyone call me? Anyone at all? I have to get my messages, you know.     Where is Steve? Holed up in his office as usual, looking at pornography?

 

They all shake their heads and shrug negatively.

 

Cynthia: Well, where in Hades is he? I tried to call his private line three times from my cellular phone but all I got was his stupid voice mail. And, of course, on our main business line all I ever got was the on-hold ads that give me a migraine. What’s with you people? Doesn’t anyone ever answer the phone around here?

 

Venitia: It got really, really crazy in here while you were gone. But now it’s dead, I mean quiet again. As for Steve, he left and didn’t come back.

 

Cynthia: Oh, yeah? Where did he say he was going? He knows he’s never supposed to leave the office while I’m away. What if someone from corporate called?

 

Sterling: I thought it was pretty weird, myself. Right after you left he kinda stormed out of here like he was mad or something and none of us has heard from him since.

 

Cynthia: Mad? Mad about what? I’m the one with all the pressure.

 

Venitia: I heard him mumbling something about being fed up.

 

Cynthia: And who isn’t? Well, he’s going to be a feast for the vultures when I get through with him. He knows I can’t leave this place with only Judy in charge. Please tell me that she’s here, at least.

 

Melanie: She’s in her office. Do you want me to call her for you?

 

Cynthia: Did I ask you to? No, I didn’t. If I need that skinny Miss America I’ll get her   myself, thank you. Just let me know when Steve sneaks back in here.

 

Cynthia starts back toward her office, stops, then slowly turns to stare at the big box. She walks to it. Venitia, Keisha and Sterling nervously observe.

 

Cynthia: What in Lucifer’s tar pit is that? Did we get a coffin delivered? That’s what it looks like.

 

Venitia: Um, no ma’am. It wasn’t delivered. We’re shipping something out.

 

Cynthia: We’re shipping something out? Who said to?

 

Keisha: Some manager at corporate.

 

Cynthia: Corporate? I thought you said no one important called while I was gone.

 

Sterling: Well, they never asked for you. It was some guy in technical operations, I think.

 

Cynthia: What was his name? Don’t tell me you didn’t get his name.

 

Sterling: Steve was the one who ended up talking to him. Maybe he knows.

 

Cynthia: I thought you said Steve left right after I did.

 

Venitia: He did. The call came in just before he took off. He poked his head out of his office for a second and told me and Sterling what to pack up in the box and where to ship it to. No biggie. It’s nothing we haven’t done before, Cynthia.

 

Cynthia: So you say. The problem is that usually I have to clear these things first. I don’t like the smell of this at all. What exactly are we sending out of here, anyway?

 

Sterling: A computer terminal.

 

Cynthia: In this size box? A little big, isn’t it?

 

Venitia: And a video monitor.

 

Sterling: And a fax machine.

 

Venitia: And a printer.

 

Sterling: And a desk chair.

 

Cynthia: Oh, really? (Looks at the shipping label) And we’re sending it to the Blissful Farewells funeral home on East Grayson Drive? I’m sorry, but this makes no sense whatsoever. Open this box immediately. I demand to know what’s going on around here without my approval.

 

Keisha, Sterling and Venitia share a panicked look. At that moment Judy comes out of her office carrying a square piece of paper.

 

Judy: Here, Venitia, this is the mailing address you were waiting for. Oh, hi, Cynthia.

 

Cynthia: Let me see that. (Grabs the paper and reads aloud) Home Entertainment, Limited. 500 Main Street. Putrid Creek, Wyoming? I wasn’t aware that we had a cable system in Wyoming. Or that people had TVs there at all, for that matter.

 

Judy: Well, we have a system there now. Hannah in marketing told me about it when I called back to check the address. It’s evidently a new acquisition for the company and they’re such a tiny system they only have one computer in the whole place. That’s why we’re sending this stuff up to them, I guess. According to rumors we’re buying up small companies in the western region right and left.

 

Cynthia: That’s what you heard? Really? Hmm, why didn’t they talk to me about it?

 

Keisha: You weren’t here.

 

Cynthia: Who would’ve told them that?

 

Judy, Sterling, Keisha and Venitia: (Together) Steve.

 

Cynthia: He’s a dead man.

 

Keisha: He knows that.

 

Cynthia: What?

 

Keisha: Nothing.

 

Sterling: Cynthia, why are you so concerned about this? What’s this got to do with anything?

 

Cynthia: Well, since you so boldly asked, I’ll tell you. My concern is that things like this always went through my office or they didn’t happen at all. Now all of a sudden these decisions are being made without my knowledge or consent! And I don’t like it. Not one bit. I don’t like being out of the loop. I don’t like finding out about company buyouts of new systems from lowly marketing grunts and sales managers! Somebody’s trying to keep me in the dark at corporate and there must be a sinister reason for it. I have a feeling they want to drive me out of my high position and large salary here but they’re about to find out that it’s not going to be so easy. No, sir. I’ve still got a bunch of friends in lofty positions in this company and I’m going to find out who is behind these shenanigans with a few carefully placed phone calls. I’ll be in my office and I don’t want to be disturbed for any reason unless that joke of an office manager comes crawling back in here. Send him right in. Got it?

 

She goes into her office and slams the door behind her. Sterling, Judy, Keisha, and Venitia look relieved. A second later Cynthia’s door opens and she leans out.

 

Cynthia: And that box doesn’t leave this office without my official general manager’s okay. Okay? It stays put until further notice. Is that clear?

 

Melanie: Yes, Ms. Armstrong. Clear as a bell. I’ll make sure no one goes near it.

 

Cynthia closes her door again. Venitia, Judy and Sterling shake their heads.

 

Keisha: (To Melanie) Well, look what we got here. The female equivalent of Barney Fife. Don’t you ever get tired of kissing her ass?

 

Melanie: Why do you say that? I’m just doing what I’m told. (Glancing around at the others) Am I missing something here? Why is everyone so uptight lately?

 

Sterling: It’s nothing, Melanie. Just go back to answering phone calls.

 

Melanie: Oh, I get it now. This has something to do with Steve, doesn’t it?

 

Judy: (Nervously) Um, what makes you say that?

 

Melanie: Hey, I’m no rocket scientist, as you know, but I think you guys are covering up something and, since he’s not around, I figure it must have something to do with Steve. Tell me if I’m wrong.

 

Venitia: You’re wrong. Steve’s completely out of the picture. Figuratively, of course.

 

Judy: Let’s not talk about Steve anymore, please?

 

Keisha: Yeah, he’s a dead issue. I mean he’s not important. That’s all I meant.

 

Cynthia’s door opens again and she steps out into the office.

 

Cynthia: On second thought, let the N.P.S. man go ahead and pick up the stupid package and take it to Alaska or Montana or wherever they want it to go. It’s entirely possible that the bigwigs at corporate are testing this office to see how efficient we can be in following spur-of-the-moment directives. Well, they’re about to see just how fast we can get a spare computer out of here when they ask for one to be shipped to another system. Good job, people. Carry on.

 

She turns to go back inside. Once again there is a sigh of relief from the conspirators. However, this is short-lived as Cynthia turns back around and heads for the box.

 

Cynthia: In fact, let’s open it up so I can make sure you packed it right.

 

Venitia: (Blocks Cynthia’s path) No need for that, Cynthia, I made double sure everything was clean and secure.

 

Cynthia: Out of my way, Venitia, I still want to check.

 

Venitia: But… but I used the last of the packing tape when I sealed it. We’re out.

 

Melanie: No we’re not. I just bought ten rolls this afternoon. It was on your list, Venitia.

 

Venitia: Thanks, Melanie.

 

Cynthia: Look, I have no doubt that you did it right but I would just feel better if I could see for myself. You don’t have to completely unpack everything, I only want a peek inside. It won’t kill anybody.

 

Judy: Don’t be so sure.

 

A phone line buzzes. Melanie answers.

 

Melanie: Ms. Armstrong’s private office. Just a moment. (To Cynthia) It’s someone returning your call, Ms. Armstrong.

 

Cynthia: Oh, take a message. I’m busy. Now, let’s open up this end.

 

Melanie: (Holding the phone) It’s a man and he says it’s very, very important. It kinda sounds like Steve.

 

Cynthia: Really? (Goes back to her office) I’ll take it in here. If it is that fool he’s going to wish he was one of the dearly departed when I get through with him. How dare he leave you people unmanaged.

 

She goes into her office and shuts the door. Sterling goes over to the box and looks down at it quizzically.

 

Sterling: Anybody know if Steve has his cellular phone on him?

 

Melanie: Probably not. He’s always leaving it lying around. Anyway, now that I think about it I don’t think that was him on the phone. He sounded too nice to be Steve.

 

Keisha: How late does that N.P.S. guy work? We really, really need to get this thing headed toward its final resting-place if you catch my drift.

 

Venitia: Don’t worry. Larry will be here soon. He’s had the hots for me for as long as I can remember and I asked the dispatcher to tell him it was me who personally asked for him to come pick it up. I guarantee he’ll run every red light that gets in his way to get here as soon as possible. Don’t sweat it.

 

A loud noise is heard from the hallway. LARRY, the N.P.S. driver comes into the office with his two-wheeled dolly. He is slightly overweight and balding, but smiling and cheerful. He walks over to Venitia.

 

Larry: Hello, everyone! A great day to be alive, isn’t it?

 

Sterling: (Looking at the box) Especially when you consider the alternative.

 

Larry: Of course! Oh, and a very special hello to you, Venitia. The dispatcher told me you asked for me personally. I’m flattered.

 

Venitia: You’d better believe it, handsome gringo. This is a very important package and I wanted to make sure that only the highest specimen of intelligent manhood would be in charge of it.

 

Keisha: You the man, Larry.

 

Larry: (Blushing) Oh, now. Stop it. You’re embarrassing me. But I do love it when you talk to me like that. You know, Venitia, me and you have a lot more in common than you’d think.

 

Venitia: Really? How’s that?

 

Larry: Well, it turns out that I have a second cousin on my mother’s side of the family who lives in Arizona and my Aunt Audrey swears that he’s a Latino. Just like you. Small world, ain’t it?

 

Keisha: Amazing. So that makes you a genuine Latin lover, huh? Is that your secret?

 

Larry: Si, senora. Mi amore esta grande. Or something like that.

 

Sterling: Hey, fantastic, Larry. I’m sure all the women are very impressed with the size of your love, but we have a lot of work to do, phones to answer, and shipments to ship out of here. Right?

 

Larry: Ooo. Mister nose-to-the-grindstone, huh? Every party has a pooper, I guess. (Laughs)

 

Venitia: Never mind him, Larry. But he’s right. This is a rush job and we need this thing to get where it’s headed in a hurry. Do it as a favor for me, okay?

 

Larry: On one condition. Agree to have lunch with me one day. My treat, of course.

 

Venitia: Only if you promise not to tell my husband.

 

Larry: What he don’t know won’t hurt him.

 

Keisha: Lunch? Where at?

 

Sterling: Keisha! Please!

 

Keisha: What?

 

Sterling: Let the man get on with his work. You can discuss restaurants later.

 

Keisha: I was just curious. Don’t have a stroke, Sterling.

 

Larry: (To Venitia) I’ll check in with you the first of next week, okay?

 

Venitia: Fine. But the deal’s off if this package gets lost.

 

Larry: Don’t worry. For a date with a gorgeous babe like you I’d personally carry it to its destination on my hands and knees! Stand aside, please.

 

Larry takes his dolly and approaches the box. He manages to get the two-wheeler underneath the carton, but grimaces as he attempts to lift it.

 

Larry: Good Lord! What’s in here, anyway? It’s like dead weight.

 

Venitia: I wouldn’t think it’d be too much for such a strong, muscular man like you.

 

Larry: Oh, don’t get me wrong. I didn’t mean to imply that I can’t handle it. It’s just… awkward. What is it?

 

Venitia, Sterling & Keisha: (Together) Computer stuff.

 

Larry: (Looks around at them curiously) I see. Must be older models. And tons of ’em.

 

He makes a few more unsuccessful attempts to move the carton, then stops.

 

Larry: Tell you what. I’ve got an idea. I’m going to go back to the truck and get a bigger dolly for this thing. I know I can lift it, but I don’t want to damage the box, you see. I’ve got another pick up about half a mile from here so what I’ll do is run on and take care of that, then make this my last stop. I should be back in about thirty minutes, okay?

 

Venitia: Now that’s disappointing, Larry. I was counting on you to get this ugly thing out of here. Are you sure you can’t take it now? Maybe we could help you.

 

Larry: Sorry, baby. No can do. You’re not union. (Starts to leave) Look, I promise to be back as soon as possible. I’m on the case and I won’t let you down. Don’t want to take any unnecessary chances with computer equipment, you know. I’ll be right back. Promise. (Leaves)

 

Venitia: Well, folks, if that’s the best he can do we’ll just have to live with it. Damn.

 

Judy goes back into her office while Keisha and Melanie get back on the phones. Sterling goes over to Venitia.

 

Sterling: Um, Venitia, I was wondering if you could help me find a file in Steve’s office?

 

Venitia: Sure, I’ve got time on my hands. Unfortunately.

 

They go inside Steve’s office and shut the door. The lights dim on the rest of the stage and come up on Venitia and Sterling. He sits on Steve’s desk and Venitia takes a seat.

 

Venitia: (Wearily) I’ve had easier days giving birth.

 

Sterling: Venitia, I’m quitting.

 

Venitia: (After a pause) Hmm. One measly murder and you’re out of here, huh?

 

Sterling: Oh, I don’t know. You see one homicide, you’ve seen them all, I guess. But no, ironically, I gave my notice to Steve just before he went and pinched his last fanny. It really has nothing to do with the shooting at all. Anyway, I wanted to be the first to tell you because we’ve been friends working here for a long time together and I didn’t want you to think it had anything to do with you.

 

Venitia: Well, this is as much of a surprise as seeing Steve facedown on Judy’s carpet. So what’s up? Did you find a better job?

 

Sterling: I’ve always had a better job than this one, it just doesn’t pay anything. I’ve told you about my writing many times before so you know what I’m talking about but I’ve finally decided to dedicate my life to it. It hit me this morning when I was in here with Steve. I’ve never had the guts to try and live off what I write but I can’t wait any longer. I can no longer exist like this, giving up eight hours of my day in order to make some people I don’t even care about wealthy as slumlords.

 

Venitia: Oh, Sterling. I can’t imagine this place without your biting sarcasm. Don’t you think it’ll be better around here without Steve, though? He won’t be hovering over us or bullying us anymore. Maybe his replacement will be a member of the human race and things won’t be so uptight in this office. Why not wait a few weeks before making up your mind?

 

Sterling: The thought did cross my conservative brain cells when I saw that bottom-feeder lying there in his own blood, but we’re both fooling ourselves if we think the next person to sit at this desk will be all that different. Don’t you see? It’s the very nature of corporate management to be competent assholes. It’s how they qualify for the position. No, the only way for me to take my art seriously is to force myself to depend on it for food and rent. I’m sick and tired of cursing the dawn every morning because rising from bed means coming to this pointless job and pretending that I’m doing something meaningful. It’s not meaningful to me.

 

Venitia: But why does it have to have meaning? Can’t you just take the money they give you for being here and continue to write at home? I don’t want you to go, Sterling. Over the years I’ve gotten so used to people I’ve become friends with walking out of here and never crossing my path again that I no longer allow myself to get to really know my co-workers. That way it doesn’t hurt when they leave. You taught me that. But I’ve always counted on you being here to lean on when things are crazy like today. I want you to stay.

 

Sterling: I know you do, Venitia. And I appreciate that. But this job drains me of my creative juices like a vampire. The best hours of my day are spent telling morons how to push buttons on their remote controls. By the time I fight the traffic to get home I’m lucky to have an original thought left in my skull. I’m tired of this feeling that I’m letting God down. I’m serious. As a father I know how thrilled I am when my eight-year-old brings me a picture home from school. Well, someday my Heavenly Father is going to want to see what I brought him from earth and I don’t want to give him some scribbles I produced in my spare time and a stack of pay stubs. I want him to be proud. I want to make him smile.

 

Venitia: My, my. So even God has a part in this, huh? You have been giving this some thought. I never knew you felt that way. Sterling Porter, the world-conquering professional writer. Well, I guess caring about you means I have be willing to let you go pursue your dreams. I’m sure going to miss you. I’m glad you told me like this, though. Thanks. If you would, however, please wait until tomorrow to tell Cynthia. I don’t think she’s having a sane day. Let’s get this particular ordeal over with first. Okay?

 

Sterling: Sure. And just let me say that I’m going to miss you, too. A lot.

 

Venitia: (Getting up and starting for the door, then pausing) You know, for some reason I’ve got a real strong feeling that you’re going to be successful as a writer. I’ve never read any of your stuff, of course, but I’ve always thought that you should be doing something with that twisted imagination of yours. What I’m going to miss most about you, Sterling, is how you managed to make me laugh when I thought there was nothing funny about the day I was having. You always knew how to get to me. And sometimes a good laugh is better than an extra paycheck. (She leans over and kisses him on the cheek) Good luck.

 

Sterling: Thanks. I’ll stay in touch. I promise.

 

Venitia: Good. I’d like that. Now, let’s go back out there before Keisha starts thinking that we’re fooling around in here.

 

Sterling: (Stands up) Or that we’re eating something.

 

They both laugh as they open the door and step back into the main office. The lights come back up on the rest of the stage. Melanie and Keisha are on the phones at their desks. From offstage is heard a loud, pitiful wail from Cynthia. Judy comes out of her office and everyone stares at the door to Cynthia’s office. Finally the door opens and a stunned Cynthia staggers out. She goes to a chair and collapses into it.

 

Cynthia: It’s not fair. A shameful crime. I should be able to sue the bastards.

 

Melanie: What is it, Ms. Armstrong?

 

Cynthia: After all the years I’ve put into this company and this business this is the thanks I get? This is my reward? It’s just not fair.

 

Keisha: Cynthia, what are you talking about? What’s not fair?

 

Cynthia: (Looks at Keisha with a dazed expression) I’ve done my very best to set an example of leadership for you poor things. That was my job and I performed it flawlessly. Without me and my education and experience this place would have been chaos in the asylum. Don’t they understand that it was me who made sure everything was done right? Me!

 

Melanie: Let me get you some water, Ms. Armstrong. You look awful.

 

Cynthia: No, you brainless nose booger! I don’t need a drink of water, what I need is justice! Do you hear me? Justice!

 

Judy: Um, Cynthia, perhaps you should let us all in on what’s got you so upset this time.

 

Cynthia: Upset? Oh, I’m more than upset. And, by the way, who told you you could call me Cynthia? For your information, Miss Clairol, I have been canned like a ham. Unceremoniously and rudely dumped into the river of premature retirement.

 

Melanie: (Gasps) They fired you?

 

Cynthia: Oh, yes. Told to step down. Move aside. Get out of the way. Drop dead.

 

Venitia: What about us? Are we out of a job, too?

 

Cynthia: Oh, no. That’s what’s so unfair. It’s not the great unwashed hourly workers, just the brightest and the best with the biggest salaries that are getting the pointed-tip boot around here! But why should I expect them to care that I’m nearing my mid-fifties and have a certain lifestyle that I’m supposed to maintain? Management positions that pay me even half of what I’m worth are non-existent! But that’s not their problem, is it? It’s my problem.

 

Sterling: Well, Cynthia, all of us have to lower our standards sometimes in order to survive. It’s not the end of the world. You’ll make out okay.

 

Cynthia: Ah. Exactly the kind of sarcastic remark I’d expect from you, Sterling. You have no idea what it’s like to be as cultured and intellectual as I am, do you? Kindly keep your smiley-face clichés to yourself. Your reality and mine are light years apart, junior.

 

Sterling: Thank God.

 

Melanie: But if you aren’t our boss anymore, who is?

 

Cynthia: Oh, haven’t you guessed? Steve is, of course!

 

There is a pause, then Keisha, Sterling, Venitia and Judy laugh out loud. Melanie is confused. Cynthia is still in a fog.

 

Melanie: What’s so funny, you guys? Does he even know yet?

 

Cynthia: Know? You ignorant adolescent, don’t you get it? He’s the one who’s been poisoning the heads of H.E.L. against me all along! That conniving little piece of buzzard excrement has been telling lies about me and brown-nosing every shirt and tie since they bought us. This is all his doing. And to think that I trusted him! I wish he was rotting at my feet.

 

Keisha: Be careful what you wish for.

 

Cynthia: No wonder the scumbag left the office. He knew what was coming down. The coward couldn’t stand to look me in the face. No matter. What’s done is done. I’m going home. You insignificant worker ants can do as you wish. Enjoy yourselves while you can because I guarantee you’ll all be sorry to see me go. Things aren’t going to be as easy around here as I’ve striven to make it seem. These new people are arrogant, conceited, self-righteous assholes who think they’re better than everyone else. Steve will fit right in, too. You just better watch your back when he’s around.

 

Venitia: Oh, don’t worry. We know how to handle Steve. He won’t last long.

 

Cynthia slowly rises, takes one last look around her, then walks slowly out of the office. She mumbles audibly to herself.

 

Cynthia: What am I going to tell my husband? What will the Rotary Club say? How will I pay for my Jaguar? I’ll die penniless in a welfare duplex! Ughhhh!

 

She leaves through the hallway. There is a moment of silence as the others contemplate the news. Larry comes strolling in cheerfully with a larger dolly in hand.

 

Larry: Venitia, my lovely flower of the orient, I’m back just like I promised. By the way, who was that woman who just left? Somebody who didn’t pay their cable bill and got cut off in the middle of her afternoon soaps? She seemed pretty upset.

 

Venitia: Never mind her. Just get this ugly thing out of here. I’m tired of looking at him. I mean it.

 

She goes over to the box and tears the fake address slip off. Larry comes over and wedges the dolly underneath. He strains, but lifts it up and back onto the dolly.

 

Larry: All right. We’re rolling now.

 

Keisha: Now don’t be like you usually are, bumping into corners and doors and dinging it all up. This box has to be delivered in the same shape it’s in now. Understand?

 

Larry: Sure thing, lady. (Looks at Venitia, points at Keisha) Who is she? The owner or something?

 

Venitia: Don’t worry about who she is, just do as she says. This is very important. Our lives, or rather our jobs depend on this box getting to where it needs to go without anyone asking questions. Can you handle that, Larry?

 

Larry: (Leaving with the box) No problem, beautiful. Larry’s got it all under control. Consider this box already delivered. As sure as death and taxes. And remember, darlin’, you owe me a lunch date.

 

Venitia: You got it, Romeo. Now get out of here before I change my mind. Beat it.

 

He and the box disappear. There is another brief silence as everyone but Melanie sighs in relief. Keisha goes to her phone and dials.

 

Keisha: Jamal? The turkey is headed for the oven. All right, baby. See ya. (Hangs up, then turns to the others) What a man. He is so resourceful. And so handsome, too! I’m a lucky girl.

 

Melanie: I really don’t understand you guys sometimes. Our boss got fired, a manager is missing, and you’re worried about cooking a turkey? Shouldn’t we be concerned about what’s going to happen to us, instead?

 

Keisha: It’s okay, Melanie. Change is natural. Just flow with it.

 

Melanie: Whatever. Something that hasn’t changed is the fact that I need to go to the little girl’s room. Back in a minute.

 

Melanie grabs her purse and disappears into the hallway. The others wait until she’s out of earshot to speak.

 

Venitia: Wow. Who could’ve predicted things would turn out this way?

 

Sterling: Yeah, think about it. Cynthia’s fired and Steve’s about to be roasted.

 

Judy: Wait a minute. This makes me general manager, doesn’t it!

 

Keisha: If you’re the general manager I’m Beyonce. Dream on, girl.

 

Sterling: You’re only queen for a day, Judy. Once corporate realizes that Steve’s not to be found they’ll have some flunky flown in to take over. It won’t take long.

 

Venitia: Well, I, for one, found Cynthia’s parting remarks pretty insulting. Did you hear what she called us? The “great unwashed hourly workers?” “Insignificant ants?” What an arrogant, uppity bitch! I hope she ends up on food stamps.

 

Sterling: Her bigotry is nothing we didn’t know about already, Venitia. I figure Cynthia is one broken fingernail away from a complete nervous breakdown right now. Her comments just go to show you how out of touch she is with the day to day world. Don’t take it personally.

 

Venitia: You always say that. I can take it personally if I want to. So there.

 

Judy: All I can say is that, as the highest-ranking manager in this office, I will strive to be completely respectful and considerate to all my employees.

 

Keisha: Oh, stick a hamhock in it, Judy. We saved your skin today, but you’re not completely out of the woods yet. Let’s see what happens when the authorities start looking into what has happened to our former office manager. You never know what could leak out about this, unintentionally or otherwise. You may be thinking promotion but you might end up with incarceration if this crap ever hits the fan.

 

Judy: (Defiantly) Look, everybody. Let’s get something straight right now. I shot Steve in self-defense. Period. And it was an unplanned accident, too. I didn’t come to work today with murder on my agenda. I really appreciate all you’ve done to make it go away, but it’s over. Okay? Please stop reminding me.

 

Sterling: Oh, yeah. Speaking of reminders, I’d like to take this moment to announce my resignation. And it’s not because of the murder. I came to this decision before Steve’s fatal mistake. I need to get on with my life’s work and the time has come to take the plunge. With the way things are I think my leaving might help to preserve our little secret, too. Anyone curious about Steve’s disappearance might come to the conclusion that he got the same feeling as me and just walked away from here.

 

Judy: Walked away? Are you kidding? Anyone who even remotely knew Steve would know he coveted Cynthia’s position for so long he would’ve given up his lifetime subscription to Hustler Magazine for it. You can’t leave us right now, Sterling. Wait until things settle down first.

 

Keisha: Yeah, man. Things are going to be more than crazy around here for a while. And don’t you think there’s a good chance of being promoted? You might double your salary if you’ll just hang a while.

 

Sterling: No, I’ve waited long enough. There’s always going to be a reason not to do what I need to do with my life. It’s just time, folks. Got to bite into the big bullet.

 

Venitia: Speaking of bullets. Judy, where is your gun? We need to throw that thing into the middle of the river as soon as we can. It’s evidence.

 

Judy: What? But I love my little derringer.

 

Keisha: Oh, please, child! Give it up! When’s it going to sink into that tiny cranium of yours that you killed somebody here today? Murder! That’s serious crime numero uno, baby cakes, and you’re acting as if you got caught littering or something. Do what Venitia says and hand over that damned firearm right now.

 

Judy: Okay, okay. Fine. Everybody calm down. I’ll give the gun to Venitia as soon as I remember where I put it.

 

Sterling, Venitia & Keisha: (Together) What?!!

 

At that moment Melanie walks in, staring at Judy with a very serious look on her face. She goes straight for Judy. In her hand is the gun.

 

Melanie: Looking for this?

 

Everyone tenses. Melanie stops right in front of Judy.

 

Melanie: It’s yours, right? I found it in the trash in the bathroom. And, on my way back, I overheard it all. Stood just around the corner and took in everything.

 

Judy: Wh… what? You overheard what?

 

Melanie: Enough. You know, you guys must think I’m the stupidest person on the planet. I’ll admit I’m not a professor of philosophy, but it didn’t take me long to figure out what had happened to Steve. I knew something fishy was up with the way y’all were acting, but I started to put it all together when Cynthia claimed that he was behind her getting the ax. Well, right then I knew he had to be dead as Abe Lincoln. Nothing else would keep him from being here to savor his victory and gloat.

 

Judy: Now, now, Melanie. You haven’t heard the whole story yet. I…

 

Melanie: (Interrupting) Quiet! I’m not finished. As I was saying, I knew he had to be flying with the angels or slithering with the demons, whichever the case may be, but I was really shocked when I found out that you had done the deed yourself. Of course, finding your gun in the trash was an obvious clue.

 

Venitia: Real smart, Judy.

 

Judy: Well, I wasn’t thinking straight at the time. I didn’t know where else to put it.

 

Keisha: Duh!

 

Melanie: And then I heard your unremorseful confession while standing just around the corner. You should be more careful, Judy. Voices carry, you know.

 

Sterling: See? I knew this would happen sooner or later.

 

Judy: So, Melanie. Now you know. What are you going to do? Turn me in?

 

Melanie: (Hands her the gun) Actually, I had something completely different in mind. What I really want to do is…. praise God! Hallelujah! The stinking jackass is dead! Judy, you’re not a criminal, you’re a saint! May the Good Lord give you peace and happiness for the rest of your days. I thank you from the bottom of my grateful heart. Thank you so much. (Hugs Judy)

 

Everyone relaxes but look at each other confusedly.

 

Venitia: Jeez, just when things couldn’t get any crazier….

 

Judy: Why, Melanie. You mean you’re okay with this, too? You won’t tell?

 

Melanie: Are you kidding? I wish it could’ve been me who shot the bastard! I’m only sorry I missed seeing the expression on his face when that gun went off in his fat belly. (Turns to the rest of them) You don’t know the hell that man has put me through. The slimy creep has been fondling me for years. Lewd suggestions. Gross jokes. A pinch in the hallway. A feel in the breakroom. He would even follow me into the bathroom! Calling me at home in the middle of the night, talking dirty. Nothing I would say to him or threaten him with would phase him. He never slacked off. He was lower than worm warts but I had come to feel that there was nothing I could do about it. Every time I told him I was going to file a complaint he’d threaten to fire me and make it look like I had harassed him! Can you believe that? Oh, but now the scum sucker is among the dead! Thank heavens. But why didn’t you guys let me in on the facts before they wheeled his cold butt out of here. I would have loved to have given that cardboard coffin a good, strong kick!

 

Venitia walks over to Melanie and gives her a big hug.

 

Venitia: My poor child. I was so blind. I didn’t know any of that was going on. I’m sorry. I know how you feel, though. I’ve been in that situation, too, and it sucks.

 

Keisha: Humph! I think he knew better than to try that crap with me. I would’ve slowly castrated him with a rusted paint scraper.

 

Sterling: So, Melanie, now you’re in on this, too. It’s very important that you know the official story we’ve all agreed on about what happened to Steve.

 

Melanie: Okay. What is it?

 

Venitia: He just up and walked out while you, Keisha and Cynthia were at lunch. Period. Nothing else to add. Never said a word about where he was going or when he’d be back. Nada. Took a hike and never returned. Keep it simple.

 

Melanie: Easy enough. Personally, I hope he’s fire walking in Hell right now.

 

The fax machine springs to life and prints out a sheet. Judy gets it and reads it over. She looks up at the others with a look of amazed disbelief.

 

Judy: Oh, my God. You’re not going to believe this.

 

Keisha: What now?

 

Judy: Listen to this. (Reads aloud) ‘To the new general manager Steve Parish and office staff. Home Entertainment, Limited hereby announces the sale of all its cable systems to Mega Media Corporation effective immediately. All existing management and staff positions are hereby terminated, although it is hoped that current employees will stay on for the remainder of the week at regular pay to help during the pending transition phase. While we realize that this news is sudden and unexpected by most of you, we at H.E.L. are confident that the enormous amount of money M.M.C. is paying us will deter any feelings of regret or concern we may have for the inconvenience this layoff will cause you. After all, it’s only business. Best of luck, Theodore Callus.’

 

Keisha: Must be a full moon.

 

Judy: I don’t believe this! How heartless! After all my hard work this is the reward I get? It’s like a crime but they walk away scot free!

 

Sterling: Hey, I’m looking on the bright side of this. Now I get to collect unemployment benefits.

 

Melanie: But I like my job! Especially now since Steve’s gone. What’ll I do?

 

Venitia: You’ll do just what Sterling and the rest of us will do, honey. We’re all going to march ourselves over to the state unemployment office two streets away and put our palms out. We’ve done our time in this dungeon and now that they’ve told us they don’t need us anymore it’s time to belly up to the welfare bar. That’s what it’s there for. Don’t be ashamed to take what you’ve got coming to you.

 

Sterling: And, best of all, it means no one’s going to come looking for Steve for a long time. Anyone who cares will figure he got the news and rode off into the sunset like the rest of us. A logical explanation. Just what we needed.

 

Melanie: The Lord works in mysterious ways.

 

Keisha: I’ll add an amen to that, girl. What are we waiting for? Let’s get out of here.

 

Judy: But what about the customers? Who’ll answer the phones?

 

Venitia: Let ’em ring. They can read all about it in the newspaper tomorrow. I really don’t care. For heaven’s sake, it’s a cable TV company. What do they expect?

 

All of them gather up their things and head for the hallway.

 

Keisha: You know, guys, there’s a Burger Delight on the way. Anybody hungry?

 

They all disappear into the hallway. The lights fade to black.

 

THE END

 

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“The ‘Train Wreck’ Reunion” – original script for stage

The “Train Wreck” Reunion

 

A dramatic play

by

Rollie Tom Anderson

 

 

ACT I

 

The setting is a common, unremarkable hotel lounge. The V-shaped bar is upstage left. The rest of the room is filled with nondescript tables and chairs and there are booths ringing the area in the background. The young, attractive waitress, SHERYL, is center stage. She is pushing three smaller tables and chairs together to make a larger one. The room is empty save for STEVEN, the thirtyish bartender, and TIM MASON, who sits in profile at the outer curve of the bar. Tim is in his late 50s, his hair salt and pepper. He is thin but not skinny and he’s wearing jeans, sandals and a Hawaiian shirt. He nurses a beer while glancing stage left from time to time as well as checking his watch.

            He swivels around to look at Sheryl. She has finished her little job and is standing back with hands on hips to survey the result. She looks over at Tim.

 

Sheryl: Will this do?

Tim: (Nods) That should be fine.

Sheryl: There’s five of you, right?

Tim: At least. Maybe some girlfriends or wives will come along. Or it could be a stag party. You never know with these guys.

Sheryl: Hey, the more the merrier I always say. It’ll be nice to have a table full of folks this early. Are your buddies the type to knock ‘em back hard at four thirty in the afternoon?

Tim: Used to be. I have no idea now days.

Sheryl: I gotcha.

 

She walks back to the bar. Tim finishes his beer, gets up off his stool and walks downstage. He looks in the direction of the audience with his arms crossed as if staring at a performance stage that isn’t there any more. He grins as if reminiscing about some event in the past.

            A man enters the bar stage left. He is JJ SLOANE. He is the same age as Tim but his hair isn’t quite as gray. He is tall, perhaps a few pounds overweight, and he is wearing jeans, Converse Judsons and a plaid shirt. He stops and looks around for a moment, then spots Tim. He quietly walks up behind Tim who is still staring toward the audience.

 

JJ: You come here often, sailor?

 

Tim turns to him.

 

Tim: JJ!

 

They hug briefly, then step back to look at each other.

 

JJ: Good Lord, you sure got old in a hurry!

Tim: Hell, I might be old but I thought you were already dead!

JJ: Just a nasty rumor. Don’t believe everything you read in the obituaries. Man, it’s good to see you.

Tim: Same here.

 

JJ takes a quick look around the room.

 

JJ: Anyone else here yet?

Tim: No. Just me and you waiting on the rest of them.

JJ: Just like it always was.

Tim: Of course!

 

JJ looks toward the audience and points.

 

JJ: Isn’t that where the stage used to be?

 

Tim turns and looks.

 

Tim: Yeah. I was just remembering that myself. I can still see it in my head.

 

They point as they talk.

 

JJ: It had a big red velvet curtain, right?

Tim: Yeah, it did. Real heavy and thick. It came down from the top in a semi-circle around the front of the stage. Very regal-looking. (Chuckles) Remember that night when it started coming up as we began our set and then stopped right at our ankles when the electric motor burned out?

JJ: Yep. I remember Randall got down on the floor and waved out to the crowd.

Tim: The club manager came running up as fast as his little legs would go because the audience was laughing. He had to pull it the rest of the way up by hand.

JJ: (Shakes his head slowly) I hated that stupid curtain. Made it feel like a sleazy Vegas lounge in here. But the owner thought it was classy for some reason.

Tim: Let’s see. (Points stage left) My organ and piano were on that side.

JJ: And I stood right next to you.

Tim: (Snaps his fingers) Hey, isn’t this the club where you…

JJ: (Looks down at his feet) Ripped my pants. Yes, this is the place.

Tim: Oh, my God. (chuckles) It was something to see.

JJ: That’s a night I’ll never forget. All I did was bend over to grab my guitar pick up off the floor and my pants ripped right up the back seam.

Tim: But no one knew it.

JJ: Least of all, me. So then I turn and jump up on the drum riser and start shaking my skinny tush for those chicks sitting at the front table to admire.

Tim: About that time I look up and all I see is your pale, funky ass shining in the lights. I think I went into shock.

JJ: I thought I felt a draft!

Tim: (Laughs) But you just kept on grooving to the music like nothing was wrong at all.

JJ: I was really caught up in the rock and roll moment, you might say.

Tim: And then Randall finishes singing and turns around. I’ll swear, his face is about a foot from your butt crack! (Laughs) Oh, shit. I’ll never forget the stunned look on his face. (Laughs) He stopped playing and just froze on the spot. It was like he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.

JJ: In the meantime I’m still clueless. Finally Chip notices, comes running over and slaps me hard right on the ass cheeks. That’s when I knew something had gone terribly, terribly wrong because that slap was skin on skin. I think my heart stopped.

Tim: (Laughs) We had to stop right in the middle of the song because we were all laughing so hard we couldn’t play. Or stand up, for that matter!

JJ: That’s one night when I was thankful for that curtain. It couldn’t come down fast enough. I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life. Before or since. Jeez, Louise.

 

            They share a laugh.

 

Tim: (Puts his hand on JJ’s shoulder) Makes for one hell of a story, though.

JJ: Glad you like it.

Tim: (Shakes his head) Man, those were some crazy days and nights we had in here together. (Gestures) Look at this room now. Just a place to get drunk in. No character. No atmosphere. No mystery. Just a bar like any other.

JJ: (Looks around) Not even a dance floor. What’s the point?

 

JJ looks over at the bar, then back at Tim.

 

JJ: What’s a guy gotta do to get a beer around here?

Tim: (Gestures toward the table) Come on. Let’s have a seat and the lovely Sheryl will take care of us.

 

They go to the table and sit down. Tim faces the audience and JJ sits on the stage left end. He pulls his chair out a little to where he’s more visible to the audience. Sheryl comes over and looks at JJ.

 

Tim: Sheryl. Meet JJ Sloane.

Sheryl: Hello, JJ. Tim, are all your pals going to be this good looking?

JJ: (Feigns embarrassment) Aww, shucks, ma’am. You’re too kind. But very observant!

Sheryl: What can I get you?

JJ: Just a light beer will do me fine.

Tim: Make that two.

Sheryl: Sure thing. I’ll be right back.

 

JJ turns and watches her walk away, then back to Tim.

 

JJ: Good Lord, I have neckties older than her. (He shoots her another glance) She’s hot, though.

Tim: Any woman under 50 is young and hot to me.

JJ: Speak for yourself. I was always a lot more picky than you were. They have to be under 45 for me to get interested. I do have my standards.

Tim: (Nods) I see.

JJ: You’re still married, right?

Tim: Twenty freakin’ years next month.

JJ: Wow. Congratulations. You’re a stronger, better man than I.

Tim: Strong? I don’t think so. Too weak to fight’s more like it.

JJ: You’re smart, then. I always think I can win an argument with a woman for some reason.

Tim: It’s never worth the effort. The secret is to keep your mouth shut and your head down.

JJ: (Smiles) I’ll try to remember that if there’s a next time in my future.

 

Sheryl delivers the two beers and sets them down in front of them.

 

Sheryl: Can I get y’all anything else?

Tim: No thanks. We’re good.

 

She leaves and JJ watches her walk away again. He turns back to Tim and whistles quietly. They both nod and take a swig of their beers.

 

JJ: At least you get laid on a regular basis. The single life of an old, divorced fart is a lonely and very pitiful one these days, my friend.

Tim: Oh? So you think I’m getting sex? Didn’t I tell you I was married?

JJ: (Winces) Oh, that’s right. Pardon me. (Taps his forehead) What was I thinking?
Tim: Really, JJ. Sarah’s a menopause poster girl. Been that way for years now.

JJ: I hear you, man. The wife’s Lake Desire has dried up, huh?

Tim: No kidding. I call her Sarah Sahara. Not to her face, of course. It’s bad, man. I have to beg and bargain for it like I was back in high school. And then it’s all over in five minutes.

JJ: That’s bad. My most recent wife turned into an untouchable like that but she didn’t have menopause for an excuse. She just hated sex altogether. And me, for that matter.

Tim: That’s the way my first wife was. Do you remember Rita? When we were engaged we fucked like ferrets! She dressed up really sexy all the time and even bought sex toys! Then as soon as the honeymoon was over she put a deadbolt on the pussy and hid the key. I never figured that out about women. (Shakes his head and takes a gulp of beer) I mean, what’s the deal? The good Lord gave us this fantastic gift of sex that a husband and wife can indulge in to their heart’s content without anyone thinking less of them for it. Plus, no venereal diseases to worry about! You’d think women would love it. But no. Aww, hell no! All of a sudden the wife sticks it in the same category as scrubbing off the scum in the shower! They turn it into a fucking chore! Literally. Why would they want to do that? I don’t see the point at all. Sex should be something a couple gets to look forward to. I mean, it’s not like I’m some kind of sado-masochist who wants to tie her up in leather and beat her with a rubber hose! I just want to fuck my wife. Is that too much to ask? How can Sarah stop wanting something that is obviously healthy for our relationship? And free? And fun?

JJ: (Shrugs) Because it ain’t fun for them anymore, I guess. Shit. Don’t ask me, man. I tried everything I could. Every time.

Tim: How long have you been divorced?

JJ: Two years now. And Sharla was my third wife! (Shakes his head in resignation) I’m permanently retired from marriage. My third time was definitely not the charm! I’m the proverbial three-time loser.

Tim: Sorry it didn’t work out.

JJ: (Takes a gulp of beer) Sorry? Don’t be. I am once again master of my own remote control. I can watch any kind of sports program or action movie I so desire without being nagged to death about it. These days sex takes a back seat to ESPN.

Tim: (Nods) Ain’t that the truth. (Sighs) Maybe we just used up our entire sex quota in our youth. Back in the day we used to score more than Tony Dorsett.

JJ: Got more ass than a toilet seat at a Mary Kay convention, did we not?

Tim: (Shakes his head and chuckles) Those days are over, my friend. Now I’m lucky to get a Goddamn peck on the cheek. And that’s after taking her out to a lobster dinner!

JJ: Been there, buddy.

 

There is a pause in the conversation. JJ turns and looks toward the door behind him, then back to Tim.

 

JJ: Where is everybody already?

Tim: Well, Chip’s primping in his hotel room upstairs and Milton and Randall… Well, they should be here by now.

JJ: Right. (Shrugs) Whatever. So, where are you working these days?

Tim: I’m office manager for the Travis Company. We make aluminum siding and roof gutters. Real exciting work. You?

JJ: Still with the phone company. Getting close to thirty friggin’ years now. I’ll probably die in my bucket truck.

Tim: You started there after the band broke up, right?

JJ: (Nods) Yep. Had to do something. My rock and roll glory days were over after Train Wreck jumped the tracks.

Tim: That’s when they ended for me, too. Had to get a real job like the rest of the world. But, boy, we had us some great times while it lasted.

JJ: Damn right, we did.

 

JJ holds his beer up and Tim clinks his against it. MILTON PAPPAS enters the bar stage left. He is much heavier set than the other two and almost bald. He wears jeans, cowboy boots and a rock and roll Tee shirt. He spots them and calls out.

 

Milton: Damn! They’ll let anyone in here!

 

Tim and JJ turn and rise when they see him coming towards them. They both hug Milton, then stand back and look each other over.

 

Tim: Milton. Great to see you, man.

Milton: You, too.

JJ: Good Lord, you’re fat!

Milton: (Lightly punches JJ on the upper arm) Gee, thanks. Up yours, JJ. You’ve got a Cadillac spare tire yourself, I see. You got no room to talk, Tubby.

JJ: I’m just yanking your chain, man. You look good.

Tim: Come on. Sit down and get a drink.

 

They go back to the table. Milton sits next to Tim, facing the audience. Milton looks around the room.

 

Milton: Where’s the freakin’ party? I thought I’d be the last one here. Traffic’s a bitch out there. And it’s Saturday! Anyway, how you guys doing these days?

Tim: Can’t complain. I got a wife, a teenager and a steady paycheck. That’s enough for me, I guess.

JJ: No wife. No kids. Same old job.

Milton: You’re with the telephone company? Still?

JJ: (Nods) Yep. I’d planned on being independently wealthy by now but I’m starting to think the lottery’s rigged. Have you noticed that they pick different numbers every time? What about you?

 

Milton shakes his head wearily.

 

Milton: Running Dad’s old business.

Tim: Laundromats?

Milton: Yeah. What can I say? People still gotta wash their clothes somewhere. I hate it but it puts food on the table and a roof over my family’s head. Not much more than that, though.

JJ: How’s Cathy?

Milton: Big as I am but meaner. Somehow we’ve lasted, though. No one else would put up with my sorry ass. I’m pretty sure of that.

 

Milton looks up toward the audience and scans the imaginary stage area.

 

Milton: This room sure has changed. (He points) The stage used to be over there, right?

Tim: Yeah. JJ and I were just…

Milton: (Smiling broadly) Aww, hell. (Snorts) Ain’t this the place where JJ…

JJ: …Ripped my pants.

 

Milton starts to laugh loudly and continues to laugh as he speaks.

 

Milton: Oh, God! Do I ever remember that night. I’m sitting in the back, just playing my drums and you jump up on the riser during the guitar lead like always. I’m just coastin’, checking out the cute babes sitting at the first table and then I realize they’re gawking like they’re in a state of shock! I’m thinking like, “What the fuck?” I mean, their mouths are hanging down to the floor and they’re all bug-eyed. I’m wondering what the hell is wrong and then I see Randall pull back away from his mike and turn around…

Tim: And he’s staring right at JJ’s asshole!

JJ: That’s a lovely mental picture.

Milton: (Excitedly) That’s right! But I still don’t know any of that yet. I can’t see anything’s wrong because JJ’s facing me and he’s just boogying on down. The next thing I know Chip races over and smacks JJ right on the butt. Sounded like a snare! I even heard it over my drums! You should have seen the look in your eyes, man! You looked like you’d been shot!

JJ: Damn right. It hurt like hell!

Milton: (Has to catch his breath from laughing before continuing) Oh, Jeez, that was funny. Then you jump down off the drum riser and turn towards the audience and that’s when I finally see your raggedy ass hanging out of your britches like a flashing neon sign. I mean, those pants of yours ripped from your waist to your crotch!

Tim: And our pants were so tight back then none of us wore underwear. There was nothing left to the imagination. Nothing at all. Pretty gross.

JJ: One of my better moments I’ll cherish forever.

Milton: I never laughed so hard in my life.

 

Milton slaps Tim on the back as they laugh together. JJ just shakes his head in embarrassment. Sheryl approaches the table and smiles.

 

Sheryl: Sounds like you guys are having a fine time over here. (She looks at Milton) And who is this handsome fella?

Tim: Sheryl, meet Milton Pappas.

 

She nods to him. Milton looks her up and down.

 

Milton: Hello, Sheryl. And just let me say that flattery will get you a generous tip and almost anything else you want. Would you be so kind to bring me a vodka martini, please? Heavy on the vodka.

Sheryl: Right away. (She glances at Tim and JJ) You two okay?

 

Tim and JJ nod. She leaves and all three watch her walk back to the bar.

 

Milton: Man, I need to get laid.

Tim: It’s a big boat. Jump right in with me and JJ.

Milton: What? You’re still married, aren’t you, Tim?

Tim: And your point is?

Milton: (Nods in recognition) Oh, never mind. Say no more. I understand. Completely.

JJ: We were just talking about that.

Milton: About how sex and marriage don’t mix? Don’t get me started. You guys are preaching to the choir. Man, how I miss good old-fashioned, sloppy and sinful fornication.   In my prime I had a hot new squeeze every month. When we played in clubs like this one finding horny babes was like picking peaches off a tree. Do you guys ever think about those days? Boy, I think about ‘em all the time. We should have been rock stars. What in the hell happened to us?

Tim: Well, Randall left the band in ’78, we couldn’t replace him and we broke up. That’s what happened.

JJ: We lasted six years, man. That’s longer than most. We had a damned good run.

Milton: (Nods slightly) I guess you’re right but, like I said, I’ve been thinking about it and I want to run an idea by you two before Randall and Chip get here. What if we put the band back together?

 

Tim and JJ grimace and shift in their seats.

 

Milton: Now, wait. Hear me out before you decide anything. I’ve still got my old tubs stored out in the garage and there’s this bar near where I live that would hire us on the spot. Hell, they have old farts our age playing there all the time and they aren’t anywhere as good as we were. We’d blow ‘em off the stage. Come on, guys. We could do it easy and it’d be fun again.

 

Tim and JJ squirm in their seats again and roll their eyes at each other.

 

Tim: (Sighs) Uh, I don’t know, Milton. It’d be weird.

JJ: More than weird. I think you’re out of your Goddamn mind! This ain’t “The Blues Brothers” movie, Milton. I’m way too old for that combo stuff.

Milton: (In disbelief) Too old? Who says so? That’s just being negative and defeatist-minded. You’re only as old as you tell yourself you are, my friends. Anything’s possible if you want it bad enough. Music is a gift, man. You can’t turn your back on your God-given talent.

Tim: Milton, get real. Chip lives two thousand miles from here and Randall still performs with his own band all over the country. What about them?

Milton: (Shrugs) Okay, so maybe I’m not really talking about them being involved. I’m talking about us three. My son is twenty-five, plays guitar and sings. He’s damn good, too. We could back him up. I’ve got it all figured out. We’d be a smash.

 

Sheryl arrives with the martini and sets it in front of Milton. He looks up at her.

 

Milton: Ain’t that right, darlin’?

Sheryl: What’s that?

Milton: We’re not too old to rock and roll, are we?

Sheryl: Who? You three? Not at all.

Milton: (Gesturing toward Sheryl to Tim and JJ) See? She agrees with me. And who’s going to argue with a sweet young thing like sexy Sheryl here?

Sheryl: Did you guys used to be in a band or something?

Tim: (Turns and looks at Sheryl) Yeah, we were rocking and rolling full time back in the seventies.

JJ: We used to play right here in this room, in fact.

Sheryl: Really? Right here at the Sheraton? What was the name of your group?

Milton: Train Wreck.

Sheryl: (Nods and smiles) All right. Cool name. I bet you guys were good, too.

Milton: Good? Baby, we were great!

Tim: We’re having our first official reunion here today. It’s been almost forty years since we broke up.

Sheryl: You should have brought your instruments with y’all and played some songs for me. I grew up listening to classic rock.

Milton: Funny you should say that. Performing again is what I’m trying to get them to do but they say they’re too old.

Sheryl: (Frowns) No way. You don’t act like old guys. I’m going to call my Dad and see if he remembers your band. He was around back then and I think he might have hung out here.

Milton: We were the best group in town, honey. Unforgettable.

Sheryl: I bet you were.

 

She leaves and they once again watch her walk away.

 

JJ: (To Milton) That’s not entirely true, you know.

Milton: What?

JJ: About us being the best. Are you forgetting Love Field?

Milton: Who? Them? (Waves him off) Forget about it. We were better than those bums. By a mile. They were hacks.

Tim: Hacks with a record deal, though.

 

Milton waves Tim off and sneers.

 

Milton: They just got lucky, that’s all. And anyway, where are they now? But don’t try to change the subject. Let’s get back to what I was talking about. I’m serious. We should be playing music together. (Looks at JJ) You complained about not getting laid. We’d have chicks hanging all over us again.

JJ: (Chuckles) Hanging all over their walkers is more like it.

Tim: Look, Milton, for starters, I don’t even have a portable keyboard any more. Just the old upright piano in the den and it ain’t going anywhere.

Milton: So? You can buy one. I can help you out in that department, too. I know a guy who’ll sell one to you for cheap. Not having equipment’s not a legitimate excuse. The truth is you’re just being a chicken shit.

 

Tim shrugs this off.

 

JJ: Okay, how about this. I haven’t even picked up my bass in ten or fifteen years. I couldn’t play “Louie, Louie” if my life depended on it. You gonna teach me how to play again?

Milton: (Rolls his eyes in frustration) Jeez. It’s like riding a bike. You never forget how to play. You know better than that. Anyway, I’m the one who would have to be physically working his butt off back there on the skins. All you two have to do is stand there and look pretty. Don’t be such negative thinkers. Shit, you both look like you could use some happiness in your lives.

 

Milton takes a sip of his martini and makes a face.

 

Milton: Crap! This isn’t a real martini. I’ll be right back. I gotta go get my money’s worth. In the meantime, please think seriously about what I’m saying. You’d both end up thanking me.

 

He gets up and goes over to the bar. Tim and JJ turn to each other and shake their heads.

 

Tim: (Shakes his head) Same old “never say die” Milton. Thinks he can badger anybody into anything.

JJ: Yeah. And he used to succeed, too. I did a lot of crazy things I shouldn’t have because of him. A lot of crazy things.

Tim: Well, he’s not going to talk me into this crazy scheme no matter how long he goes on about it. I think the boy’s been living in his own little “dreams still come true” world for way too long. That ship sailed a long time ago.

JJ: Sailed? I scuttled it and blocked the harbor with it. But I guess some guys just can’t let go of their glory days.

Tim: I personally find it really sad to go in a bar or a restaurant and see guys our age in a band, posturing and acting like they’re 21 again. It’s embarrassing because they don’t realize how ridiculous they look.

JJ: Yeah, but the fact is there are singers like our own Randall Wilkes out there who still think they can make it big in the music business.

 

Tim gives him a disbelieving look and JJ nods emphatically.

 

JJ: For real. He still thinks he’s going to be a star someday. I went to see Randall last year at “Pecan Fest” and we got to talk for a while. Any attempt to bring reality into the conversation was shot down by his insistence that anything is possible if you believe in yourself and if you never give up on your dreams. Kinda like Milton saying we’re just being negative if we don’t buy into their fantasy.

Tim: You mean, at his age, Randall still thinks he’ll be a rock and roll star? Really?

JJ: Yes. He really does. With him there’s always some new inside angle or important contact that he’s networking with to get a record deal. That big break he’s chasing is always just around the corner. He’ll probably still be playing in honkytonks when he’s 90 years old. And still waiting for his big break.

Tim: Probably. (Takes a gulp of beer) Think about it, though. What else could he possibly be qualified to do after this long? He’s been singin’ and strummin’ since he was thirteen. The real world would chew him up and spit him out, God bless him. He is what he is.

JJ: Well, not that I think my job is nirvana but I, for one, am glad to have an IRA and decent health insurance. With dental.

Tim: (Nods) Me, too. I guess we’ve completely sold out to the establishment. And all for a prescription drug discount at Walgreens.

JJ: Ya think? But seriously folks, back to what Milton was suggesting. Can you see yourself loading up your car with musical equipment, hauling it all into some dirty biker bar in the suburbs and setting it up, playing four sets of songs you’ve heard for fifty years, then tearing it all down when it’s over and driving home drunk at three in the morning with ten bucks in your pocket after you paid your tab? Does that sound like fun to you?

Tim: (Shakes his head) I guess it does to Milton.

JJ: And drummers always have more crap to screw with than anybody else! He must have some real issues with aging gracefully.

Tim: I think it comes down to the reasons why we did it in the first place. I think you and I did it for the creative outlet music gave us and the chance to be a part of something we could be proud of. We just wanted to exploit what little talent we had to its fullest. We also realized that we only had a small window of opportunity to get it done in. We knew we weren’t virtuosos but that didn’t matter. Something told us it wasn’t necessarily the most talented that got their faces on album covers, it was the fortunate few who found themselves in the right place at the right time. And that only happened to a tiny fraction of one percent of the musicians in the world. I think we just wanted a shot at it.

JJ: (Nods in agreement) I think guys like Milton were doing it for the carefree lifestyle it provided more than anything else. They could legitimately earn a living while carousing and carrying on in an endless party of excess. Being in a rock and roll band made it okay to do that, for some reason. Name one other job that allows you to drink while you work. Milton doesn’t remember the hard times because as long as the sex, drugs and rock and roll were happening he was being a success. He was the envy of every Joe Shmoe in the room. He had a wild, glamorous youth and now that he’s grown older he looks back and sees it as the most desirable and rewarding experience he ever had. And he’ll do anything to get it back. Even if it means dragging you and me out of retirement.

Tim: When you put it that way who could blame him?

JJ: I guess you’re right. As for me, I honestly don’t crave the spotlight any more. At all. And I certainly don’t feel like I have to justify my sentiments to Milton.

Tim: Me, neither. I got all of that out of my system a long time ago. I played piano with the Jones Brothers on and off for a year after we broke up but it never gave me the same thrill as Train Wreck did. To them I was just a hired hand. The bottom line was that I really got tired of playing with and for a bunch of drunks. And that’s what those guys were. Playing a gig was just an excuse for them to get shit faced. (Shrugs) Hey, to each his own. But I don’t want to get caught up in all of that tonight. We’re here for a reunion and it should be a fun thing.

JJ: (Takes another gulp of beer) I’m having fun just sittin’ here with you, man. And I could use another beer.

Tim: Me, too. (He drains his bottle)

 

Milton, who has been dallying at the bar talking with Steven and Sheryl, comes back to the table. Sheryl follows him over. Tim and JJ look up as they approach. Milton sits back down next to Tim.

 

Sheryl: You two ready for another round?

Tim: Please.

 

Sheryl grabs the empties and returns to the bar. They all watch her walk away.

 

Milton: That Sheryl’s a wild child. Let me tell you. Kinda reminds me of Dixie.

JJ: Dixie? You mean that blonde barfly that used to show up in every club we played? No way. She was a total slut. Sheryl’s a lot classier than Dixie ever was.

Tim: God, I haven’t thought about her in ages.

Milton: She was one of those women who always made herself available. I think she did everybody in the band at one time or another.

JJ: She gave me the crabs.

Tim: You’re lucky, then. She gave me the clap.

Milton: Oh, listen to you two. Crabs? Clap? Those were nothing. At least they were easy to deal with. They have STD’s out there now that make our little infections seem like mosquito bites. We lived in the golden age of free love, my friends.

JJ: (Nods) You’re right about that. If they’d had AIDS back in the seventies I dare say that none of us would be alive today. We thought condoms were just funny looking balloons.

Milton: I wonder where Dixie is these days?

Tim: Probably working some respectable, high-paying job where no one would ever suspect that she has a sordid past with Train Wreck.

Milton: And every other band that came through town.

JJ: Or she could be living in a van down by a river!

Tim: (Laughs and glances upward) Rest in peace, Chris Farley!

Milton: (Shakes his head wistfully) Say what you want about little Dixie but I’d go another round with her in a heartbeat. That lady loved to ball.

 

Tim and JJ start to laugh but realize that he’s being serious. They glance at each other, shrug and look away towards the bar. Sheryl brings them their beers and sets them down in front of them on the table.

 

Sheryl: Some guy named Chip just called the bar and said he’s on his way down from his room.

Tim: Thanks.

JJ: …For the warning.

 

She returns to the bar.

 

JJ: Ooo. Chip has decided to make time for us. I feel so privileged.

Tim: Don’t start, JJ.

JJ: What?

Tim: You know.

Milton: What? You and Chip still mad at each other?

JJ: Oh, please. I was just being sarcastic. You know I always gave him a hard time.

Milton: Well, before he or Randall gets here, did you guys give any more thought to what I was talking about? I’m serious as a heat stroke about putting a band together with you two. Let’s do it.

Tim: Milton, just let us think about it for a few weeks, okay? I really don’t think it’d be as enjoyable as you’ve imagined it would be.

JJ: We’re not young studs any more.

Milton: Neither are the Rolling Stones and they make millions every show.

Tim: (Shakes his head) Yeah, well, the Rolling Stones didn’t first make it big when they were 67 years old, either. You surely aren’t trying to compare us with Mick, Keith and Charlie, are you?

Milton: (Gestures with his hands in exasperation) There you go again with that stinkin’ thinkin’. You know exactly what I mean. I refuse to act my age. That’s when you start to die, boys. And I’m still a good drummer. Hell, I’m a great drummer. I hear what’s on my son’s Ipod and I can play rings around the youngsters out there today. Half the time they aren’t even real drums at all!

JJ: You’re probably right. And backing your son up in a band would be a wonderful experience for both of you. You should go for it. But find some guys his age to play with. You don’t need us.

Milton: But that’s just it. The musicians his age don’t want an old guy like me playing in my son’s group. They’ve already told him so. That’s why I need you two to do it with me. Good grief! You’re not seeing the big picture here, my brothers. What’s wrong with playing music, having a party and flirting with young babes?

Tim: I think my wife might have some problems with that scenario.

JJ: And these days I prefer quiet evenings with a good book and my dog to smoky saloons and aging bar floozies. I have to be honest with you. What you just described as fun sounds like a living hell to me.

Milton: (Shakes his head) You guys are ridiculously hopeless. You’ve done lost your souls. You’ve given up on your dreams and now you’re just waiting to die a slow death. I’m offering you a chance to get out of your pathetic ruts and live a little and you want to think about it? (Scoffs loudly) Well, I’m not going to join your pity party today. I’m going to have fun with my old pals starting right now.

 

Milton finishes his drink, leans back in his chair, turns and shouts to Steven behind the bar.

 

Milton: Steven! Another martini, my man. And make it exactly like I showed you!

 

Steven nods back. Milton turns back to Tim and JJ.

 

Milton: These kids today. Can’t even make a decent drink, for Pete’s sake.

 

Milton looks stage left and squints.

 

Milton: I’ll be damned. Look what the cat drug in!

 

Tim and JJ turn and look. CHIP BARONEY enters stage left and walks straight to the table. He is completely bald and wearing glasses but dressed a little nicer than the others in a Polo shirt and slacks. He is average height and weight. He smiles at them broadly.

 

Chip: Hey, guys!

 

All three rise from the table and Tim and Milton hug Chip. JJ only shakes his hand. Chip stands back and looks them over.

 

Chip: How come you three got old and wrinkled and I didn’t?

Tim: Obviously you need stronger glasses.

Milton: Yeah, and at least we still have some hair left!

Chip: Ouch! Let’s not go there, okay? Man, I haven’t seen any of you in so damn long.

Tim: Not since you moved out to the great Northwest.

Chip: I guess you’re right, Tim. That was when… 1982? Good Lord. Can it really be that long ago?

Milton: Doesn’t seem like it.

JJ: Not at all.

 

There is a pregnant pause for a moment where no one says anything.

 

Tim: (Gestures) Well, here’s our table. Let’s sit.

 

They all take their seats at the table. Chip sits next to Milton, facing the audience. Sheryl delivers Milton’s martini, then approaches Chip.

 

Tim: Sheryl, that’s Chip.

Sheryl: Hello, Chip. Can I get you something?

Chip: Yes. I’ll have a scotch on the rocks with a water back.

Sheryl: Right away.

 

Sheryl walks away and Milton nudges Chip.

 

Milton: Her name’s Sheryl. Hot stuff, huh?

Chip: (He glances at Sheryl) Very nice. But she’s still a baby, Milton. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.

Milton: Never.

 

Chip looks down the table.

 

Chip: So how is everybody?

 

The other three nod and shrug. Chip looks toward the imaginary stage into the audience.

 

Chip: What happened to the stage? (Points) Didn’t it used to be right over there? And isn’t this the place where JJ…

Milton, Tim & JJ: (in unison) …ripped his pants.

 

JJ nods his head in embarrassment.

 

Chip: (His eyes light up and he laughs) That’s right. It was here. What was the name of this club back then? The Jolly Roger or something?

Tim: The Jolly Fox.

Chip: Right! I used to stand on the end right over there. (Points stage right) I remember that night like it was yesterday. It’s burned into my brain forever. I looked over and saw JJ up on the drum riser and then I notice his bare butt shining in the lights. I’m freaking out. I think everyone in the room knew it before we did. So instantly I realize that he’s not aware of the situation at all and it was too loud to shout at him and get his attention. He’s got his eyes closed and he’s bopping to the music as hard as he can go. The only thing I knew to do was to jump over and slap him on the ass! The terrified look he gave me was priceless.

 

Chip, Milton and Tim laugh. JJ just nods.

 

JJ: I’ll never live it down, evidently.

Milton: Not as long as any of us are alive.

JJ: (Clears his throat loudly) So, Chip, what have you been up to the last couple of decades?

Chip: Oh, Lord. Where do I begin?

Tim: How about 1982 when you moved away?

Chip: Let’s see. I had gone back to school and finished my business degree and was working downtown for Prudential when I got the offer in Seattle.

 

Sheryl returns with Chip’s drinks and sets them in front of him. She looks down the table.

 

Sheryl: Everybody doing okay?

 

They nod to her and she returns to the bar. They all watch her walk away.

 

Chip: Anyway, I moved up there and I slowly but surely climbed the old corporate ladder at Pacific Life. I started dating Elizabeth around that time and then married her in ‘85. Had two daughters a year apart and both are already well out of college. Did pretty well for myself, I reckon. I travel a lot in my job but for some reason this is the first time I’ve come through here in a long, long time. Mom and Dad don’t live here anymore so I don’t even visit. When I found out I was coming down here for a convention I found Tim on the Internet and here we are. It’s kinda strange being back. The old hometown doesn’t look the same to me. But it’s great to see you guys.

Milton: You ever play your guitar anymore?

Chip: (Shakes his head) No. I don’t even own one. Don’t have the time for it.

Tim: Man, that’s a cryin’ shame. You were amazing.

Chip: (Waves him off) Oh, please. That was in another lifetime.

Milton: But we sure had a lot of fun, didn’t we?

Chip: That we did. Wasted a lot of time, too.

JJ: Oh? Really? How do you figure?

Tim: (Warily) JJ…

JJ: No, I want to hear all about how Chip wasted his time with us.

 

Chip takes a drink, then looks at the rest of them with slight exasperation.

 

Chip: Oh, come on. Don’t take offense. You know what I mean. It’s no secret that if we’d been more professional and focused we could have taken Train Wreck to the top. Instead, we frittered away any opportunities that came our way by constantly acting like a bunch of fraternity brothers on an endless spring break. I’m just saying that when you look back on those six years we spent together you have to come to the conclusion that we pissed away our time. And those were our prime years. We’ll never get those years back.

Milton: That may be, but that’s true for just about everyone no matter what they did when they were in their twenties. I didn’t piss away my time. I had an absolute ball.

Chip: Right. I’m surprised you remember any of it.

Milton: I remember more than you think.

Chip: (Shrugs) Look, let’s change the subject.

JJ: Let’s not. I’m intrigued. I want to hear more about how I pissed away my time.

 

Chip takes another sip of his drink, then nods.

 

Chip: Okay, JJ. Why not? I’ve actually given it quite a bit of thought over the years. When I look back on it all it seems to me that I could’ve spent my time more productively if I’d stayed in college and started my corporate career a decade earlier. It’s impossible to catch up to the people who got a ten-year head start on me. I guess I’m really just talking about myself here, but I was hanging on to my childish visions of being a rock star and I wanted to fly in the face of my Dad’s advice. He begged me to stay in school but I didn’t listen. I thought if we treated Train Wreck like a real business venture and stayed on course we could make it. We had the talent, the looks, the energy. Everything. But I could never get any of you to focus on the important stuff. I’d get one of you in line and then somebody else would go and get loony on me. It was like trying to corral a bunch of wild horses.

JJ: (Nodding) Hmm… So let me get this straight. If we’d just listened to you we would have gone big time. Guaranteed.

Chip: Well, look what happened to us by not listening to me.

Tim: What would you have had us do differently?

Chip: Everything. I mean, where do I start? We would have dressed better, practiced more and not allowed drinking or drugs into the mix. Now, don’t get me wrong, I was as indulgent as the rest of you when it came to pot and booze and I’m not proud of it.

JJ: (Sarcastically) Oh, I am.

Chip: That figures. And we would have focused on sticking with the proven songwriting formulas that created hit singles. We wouldn’t have spent so much time with Randall’s experimental music and Tim’s space rock and JJ’s jazz-fusion ideas. Nobody wanted to hear that weird crap. On the other hand, the songs I wrote sounded exactly like the records that were being played on the radio. They were trendy. It’s like any viable business, you have to give the people what they want in order to be successful. But we didn’t do that. Instead, we wasted our time. And that’s the bottom line.

Milton: (Shakes his head in disgust) Chip, you are still so full of shit. I thought the point back then was to have a good time.

Chip: Evidently.

Tim: Man, this takes me back. We must have had this argument a million times.

JJ: I’m still fascinated, Chip. So… You actually think you were smarter than the rest of us?

Chip: Hold on. I didn’t say that. (He looks at Tim and Milton) Anyone hear me say that? What I’m trying to tell you is that I had a plan that would have worked and you guys didn’t.

Tim: But one of the big reasons the record companies kept turning us down was because they said we sounded too much like groups that were already on the charts. One label even said they didn’t need another Three Dog Night because they already had one. Doesn’t that shoot down your “proven formula” and “follow the herd” theory right there?

Chip: (Takes a quick sip of his scotch) Not at all. The record companies were just trying to let us down easy. It was just a stock reason they gave for not signing a band. The problem was that we had no marketable identity. They’d come hear us at a showcase and they’d hear three or four completely different kinds of music from us. If we’d concentrated our energies on my radio-friendly commercial songs we would have gotten a deal.

JJ: And we would have been just another one-shot wonder, nothing more. I happen to think that if we would’ve emphasized what made us unique we would have set ourselves apart from the pack and really stood out. And the only way to accomplish that would have been to follow our creative muse wherever she would’ve led us. It’s only the bands that blazed their own trail that lasted, not the ones who were copycats.

Chip: (Shakes his head) You really believe that, huh? Well, I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree. But the harsh truth is that we failed. And that’s the legacy of Train Wreck.

Milton: (Makes a face) Jesus! What a fucking downer you are, Chip. A failure? I don’t feel that way at all. Never have. As far as I’m concerned, the best years of my life were spent playing in a band with all of you guys. I’ll never have closer friends as long as I live. And that’s not failure in my eyes. Far from it.

Tim: I don’t see how you can say we were a total bust, Chip. That’s pretty fucking harsh, man. Do you consider a small business a failure because they don’t grow into a huge corporation? Most groups back then were lucky if they stayed together for two years. We lasted for six. Name one band from around here that became stars.

Chip: Love Field.

Tim: Yeah? So what? Are they still stars? They cut three albums and had a couple of songs barely make it into the bottom of the charts and we all thought they hung the moon around here but, in the end, what exactly did they accomplish? Half of them ended up in rehab, one of them committed suicide and the other one plays in a band with Randall. It’s a real stretch to consider them a success.

Chip: I don’t know, Tim. At least they have something to show for it. You can still buy their CDs on Amazon.

JJ: (With sarcasm) Wow, man. What a brilliant legacy. They probably even have their own website! (Shakes his head) I remember running into Wayne, the lead singer, right after their third LP came out and he looked like a cadaver. He told me he once thought that if you could just somehow land a record deal it would all be a joy ride up Easy Street but he told me reality was anything but that. He said the nitty gritty was that they had spent 48 weeks the previous year riding from town to town in a filthy tour bus, eating shitty food and going days on end without a shower. Wayne hated everything about it. He said that when they signed their recording contract they unknowingly gave away their souls. He told me to be careful what I wished for.

Chip: (Gestures in agreement) Which leads me right back to my point. In fact, I’ll admit I was wrong to say that we should have followed my plan for making it to the big time. You’re right, JJ. We would have ended up just like Love Field. The truth is that we wasted a lot of time striving for something that was just a pipe dream. An unrealistic fantasy. And I bought into the illusion the same as you guys did. Now, in retrospect, we should never have treated it as anything other than a hobby and gotten on with our lives in the real world after we got out of High School. We’d all be better off today.

Tim: (Shakes his head) Sorry, but I don’t buy it. The upside certainly outweighs the downside for me. When I hear about what happened to Love Field it makes me think that maybe we got the better end of the stick. We were free to do as we pleased. We weren’t anybody’s slaves. We played music that we loved for a living. We got to open for major acts in concert. We got to write our own songs and record them in excellent studios. We got to travel all over the countryside on our own terms. We met more beautiful women in one month than most men will meet in a lifetime. I wouldn’t trade those days for anything and I certainly don’t consider them a waste of my time. That’s bullshit.

JJ: I’ll drink to that.

 

They all take a drink. Chip shrugs and shakes his head in resignation.

 

Chip: The more things change the more they stay the same. By the way, where’s our sex God?

Tim: Randall is being Randall. Fashionably late as usual.

 

Milton and Chip glance stage left.

 

Milton: Speak of the devil.

Chip: Hide your wallets.

 

RANDALL WILKES enters stage left. He appears younger and more handsome than the others. His hair is darker and longer and he exudes a certain confidence in his body language. He is dressed totally in black and has a diamond stud in his right earlobe. He spots the others and quickly strides over to the table with open arms.

 

Randall: Hey, hey, hey! The gang’s all here.

 

The others start to get up to greet him but Randall motions for them to stay seated.

 

Randall: No, no. Stay seated, fellas. Don’t get up for me.

 

They remain in their seats. Randall walks around the table and greets each one of them in turn, shaking their hand and patting them on the back. He starts with JJ.

 

Randall: John Johnny! You’re looking good, dude!

JJ: Whatever. Glad they let you out of jail for the weekend.

 

Randall turns to Tim.

 

Randall: Tim! The original piano man! Good to see you.

Tim: Same here, Randall.

 

Randall goes to Milton.

 

Randall: Milton. Have you lost some weight, dude?

Milton: I wish.

 

Randall stops and stares at Chip.

 

Randall: Good God Almighty. If it ain’t the Chipster himself!

Chip: Randall.

 

Chip rises and hugs Randall. He then stands back to look at him.

 

Chip: I don’t believe it. You haven’t changed a bit. You still look the same! So it’s true that plastic surgery really works!

Randall: Thanks, man, but this is all natural. Daddy’s rich and my Momma’s good lookin’. You don’t look so bad yourself.

 

Randall looks down the table at them all like a proud father would.

 

Randall: Wow. It’s so great to see you guys again. How long has it been since we sat down together? Ten years? Twenty years?

Chip: More than that, I’m afraid. Come on, have a seat.

 

Randall takes a seat on the opposite end of the table from JJ, next to Chip.

 

Randall: Sorry I’m late. We played a gig in Shreveport last night and we hit some traffic on the way into town.

 

Sheryl approaches Randall. He stops talking and looks her over. She finds him attractive and treats him differently than the others accordingly.

 

Randall: (Smiles at her leeringly) Well, hello, darlin’.

Sheryl: (Coyly) Hello yourself.

Tim: Randall, meet Sheryl. Sheryl, meet the one and only Randall Wilkes.

JJ: Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has entered the building.

Randall: Always happy to meet an angel.

Sheryl: (Smiles at him flirtatiously) What can I get you, Randall Wilkes?

Randall: Sweetheart, I could really use a light beer and I want to order a round of Kamikazes for me and my brothers, okay?

Sheryl: Will do.

 

She leaves and Randall actually stands up to watch her walk away.

 

Randall: Oh, God. I’m in love. First time today.

Chip: (He tries unsuccessfully to pull Randall down by his shirtsleeve) Sit down and act your age. She’s just a toddler.

Randall: (Continues to stand and look at Sheryl) Sorry, but you’re dead wrong. I don’t think she’s wearing Huggies under that skirt.

Milton: No, but you’re probably wearing Depends under those Levi’s!

 

They all laugh. Randall waves Milton off with a grin, sits back down and looks down the table at them.

 

Randall: So. How is everybody? I can’t believe we’re all together again. And it’s not for somebody’s funeral! It’s a miracle!

 

Randall glances over to where the stage used to be. JJ sees him start to point.

 

JJ: Don’t say it, man. Before you bring it up for the fourth time this afternoon I’d like to confirm to you that this is, indeed, the old Jolly Fox club where I ripped my pants and made a fool of myself. There. I don’t want to hear about it again.

 

Randall looks at JJ and then looks at the imaginary stage toward the audience. A smile of recognition spreads across his face.

 

Randall: Oh. My. God! (He points) The stage was right over there, right? The one with the heavy red velvet curtain!

 

Randall starts to laugh as he pictures the scene in his mind.

 

Randall: Jesus. How can I forget? We were playing some Doobie Brothers song, I think, and I had just stepped back from the mike for the lead break and I turned…

 

He laughs. JJ puts his head in his hands.

 

JJ: (In a moaning tone, loudly) Oh, Lord in heaven. Make it stop.

Randall: (Stands and acts out the event) I’m turning around to get a quick sip of beer and suddenly I’m face to face with your lily white, smelly butt. For the first time in my life I had become a real brown-noser! (He laughs) I was in total shock! It’s like I was paralyzed for a moment. I’m staring right into JJ’s full moon and I can’t believe what I’m seeing. I’m transfixed! (He sits back down, still laughing)

Tim: We all were.

Milton: Not me. I couldn’t see a thing, I tell you. I just felt this big collective gasp from the audience that sucked all the air out of the room!

Chip: So I finally realized that JJ doesn’t know what’s going on. Like any musician of merit would, I did what I had to do. I ran over and slapped him as hard as I could right on his bare ass to get his attention. (Smacks his hand) Whap!

Randall: (Laughs) That’s right! You almost hit me! And JJ, you instantly jump down off the drum riser and turn to face me and, I’ll swear, your mug is as red as a stoplight! We just stand there looking at each other for a second and then I burst out laughing so hard I couldn’t finish the song! I couldn’t do anything!

Milton: When I at last spotted JJ’s exposed rear end it finally made sense to me. All I knew to do was to hit the curtain button right behind me. Fucking tears of laughter were running down my cheeks. I couldn’t play another lick.

JJ: It took forever for that curtain to come down.

Randall: How embarrassing.

Tim: How funny.

Chip: How unprofessional.

 

All but JJ are still chuckling over the memory. JJ suddenly glares at Chip.

 

JJ: Unprofessional? Is that what you said, Chip?

 

Chip, who has been looking at Randall, looks down the table at JJ.

 

Chip: Yeah. Unprofessional. Look it up in the dictionary if you don’t know what it means. Mooning the audience is what I consider unprofessional.

JJ: What? You think I did it on purpose, asshole?

Chip: (Chuckles) If I were you I wouldn’t bring up the word asshole.

 

All but JJ laugh. JJ continues to glare at Chip. The uneasy atmosphere is broken by the return of Sheryl, who comes to the table with Randall’s beer and the five shot glasses.

 

Randall: (Rubs his hands together gleefully) Ahh. Sheryl, your timing is perfect. Here we go, boys. Let the party begin!

 

Sheryl starts with Randall and sets the shots down in front of each of them in turn, then goes back to the bar. Randall stands with his shot glass held out in salute.

 

Randall: (Clears his throat loudly) Here’s to the memory of the best rock and roll band to ever play in this town. To Train Wreck!

 

They all toast and gulp down their drinks. Randall sits back down. Chip grimaces.

 

Chip: Ugh! I forgot how nasty those things are.

JJ: Pussy.

 

Chip shoots JJ an odd, perturbed glance but says nothing.

 

Tim: Man, back in the old days we used to drink Kamikazes like Kool Aid. I don’t know how we did it.

Milton: Or how we still have functioning livers.

Chip: Just young and stupid is what we were, acting like there was no tomorrow. So, Randall, I hear you’re still singing and playing in clubs.

Randall: More than just clubs. I’m also playing for casinos, corporate functions, private parties. Hell, I’m as busy now as I ever was. I have a five-piece band and two female backup singers. The Randall Wilkes Band played over 200 gigs last year in 25 states.

Chip: Wow. I’m impressed. I really had no idea.

Tim: Do you still write songs?

Randall: Not as much, but I did meet a guy just last night in Shreveport who’s best friend works for a country label in Nashville. I gave him a demo CD, of course. Never say never.

Milton: But you don’t sing country.

Randall: (Shrugs) So what? Hey, if it’ll get me a record deal I’ll be the reincarnation of Buck Owens or Patsy Cline if that’s what they want. Enough about me, though. What’s everybody doing these days?

Chip: I’m a corporate executive in Seattle. Insurance.

Milton: Laundromats. Dad’s old business.

Tim: I’m the office manager at an aluminum siding company.

JJ: Still with the telco. Line technician.

Randall: (Looks around at all of them) So I’m the only one who’s still a working musician? Who’d have believed it?

Tim: (Raises his hand) I would. You were always the most natural of all of us. You were born to perform. You’ll do it till you die. In fact, I figure you’ll be the first person to ever sing at his own funeral.

Chip: (Shakes his head) I don’t see how you still do it night after night after night. Didn’t anyone ever tell you there are healthier and more profitable ways to make a living?

Randall: Oh, I tried my hand at different jobs after Train Wreck. You might recall that I quit the band because I was in love and Paula had convinced me to stop playing music and get a respectable job so her Dad would like me. (Nods at them knowingly) I know, I was an idiot. Anyway, I hired on doing construction for a while, I worked retail, I sold cars… But I just couldn’t stand having someone tell me what to do. I just couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I talked back to every boss I had. After marrying Paula and then divorcing her six months later I resigned myself to the fact that singing for my supper is what I do best. I haven’t stopped since. I wouldn’t know what else to do with myself now. Some people are born to be corporate executives like ol’ Chip here but not me. I was born to be a bandleader and a bar rat. Tim’s right. I’ll probably keel over while singing “Free Bird.” (Grimaces) What a sad way to go.

Milton: I’d trade places with you in a New York minute. You’ve still got hot babes lining up outside your door every night, I’ll bet.

Randall: (Shrugs) Well, I do okay in that department. Especially since I’m separated from Judy now. But let me tell you something. It ain’t like it used to be out there in Disneyland, boys. Even the most drop-dead beautiful woman is likely to have herpes, genital warts or worse. It’s smarter to try and keep the pony in the barn as much as possible these days.

Tim: (Waving Randall off) Cool it. I don’t want to hear about your sex life. I don’t have one.

Randall: (Frowns) Why’s that?

JJ: He’s married.

Randall: (Nods understandingly) Gotcha. Say no more.

 

Sheryl returns and begins to collect the empty shot glasses.

 

Sheryl: Y’all ready for another round?

Randall: Not just yet, gorgeous. But can I get you to come here for a second?

 

Sheryl walks over to Randall. He ogles her lecherously. The others sit back and observe in admiration of Randall’s flirting skills.

 

Randall: My, you’re pretty as a Mojave sunset. I feel like I know you. Have we met?

Sheryl: (Shakes her head) I don’t think so.

 

She looks over at the rest of them.

 

Sheryl: Oh, by the way, I called my Dad and asked if he ever heard of a group called Train Wreck but he hadn’t, unfortunately. But then I called my grandmother and she freaked out! She used to come here and see you guys all the time. She said you were the best group in town and that all of you were really, really cute! And she said she knew Randall best of all.

 

She turns back to Randall and smiles.

 

Sheryl: That’s you, right?

Randall: Yeah. But your grandmother? How can that be?

Sheryl: She’s only 58.

Randall: (Nods) Oh, right.

Milton: What’s her name?

Sheryl: Linda. Linda Meyers. But back then everybody knew her as Dixie. Do you remember her?

 

A stunned silence falls over the five men. Then they all solemnly shake their heads.

 

Randall: Um. No, darlin’, doesn’t ring a bell. Sorry.

Sheryl: (Frowns in disappointment) That’s too bad. She’s a real toot. I’m surprised you don’t remember her. Anyway, she said to tell y’all she said “hello.” Just holler if you need anything.

 

Sheryl walks away back to the bar. This time no one watches her. There is silence for a few moments as they all shift their eyes around at each other.

 

Randall: Holy shit.

JJ: Considering all the women I slept with back then, I used to have nightmares that some scraggly, snot-nosed kid would show up on my doorstep someday and tell me I’m his father. Now I have to worry about grandchildren I don’t know about? Jeez Louise.

Milton: (Looking around at all of them) You think it’s the same Dixie we knew?

Chip: Duh! Think about it, Milton. How many Dixies hung out here in the mid seventies? We knew all the regulars and I only remember one who called herself Dixie.

Tim: Dixie is Sheryl’s granny? She was hell on wheels. I’m surprised the old girl’s still alive.

Milton: (Snorts) She probably thinks the same thing about us.

Randall: (Gestures to them) I think we all had a few go-rounds with her, right?

 

They glance at each other and nod.

 

JJ: Oh, man. That means that any one of us could actually be Sheryl’s…

Randall: (Holding his palm up to JJ) Um, let’s not go there, okay?

Chip: I’m with Randall.

Milton: Ditto.

 

They share a moment of nervous silence.

 

Tim: (Slaps the table with his hands) Hey, how ‘bout dem Cowboys?

 

They all share a good laugh. The tension is broken.

 

Milton: Do you guys remember the time we intentionally skipped that gig in Corpus Christi and got caught?

Tim: Yes. We made up a “foolproof” story that the converted school bus we were traveling in broke down on the side of the road. Of course, it wasn’t much of a stretch to believe because it was such a piece of crap. It had no A/C and the stupid thing wouldn’t go over 35 miles per hour.

Milton: Yeah, and so we’re partying later that night at that club in Austin with the bus sitting out in the parking lot and the agent who had booked the gig walks in!

Tim: Man, was he pissed off. We were caught red-handed.

JJ: We ended up having to make up that job later on for free, didn’t we?

Chip: That taught us a lesson. We never missed another gig. Ever.

Randall: (Shakes his head) Damn. I don’t remember any of that.

Milton: Okay, here’s another one. Do you remember the time the front wheel fell off the rented truck on the way to Chicago? Randall, you and I could have been killed.

Tim: (Shakes his head emphatically) No, that happened on the way to Atlanta. The transmission fell out onto the highway in Chicago.

Chip: Chicago… Isn’t that where the lady in the apartment across the street from our hotel room kept stripping for us?

JJ: And Randall went over and tried to find her apartment. What a Bozo.

Randall: I never did figure out which one she was in. She seemed so friendly.

Milton: Oh, but the best part of that story is that I went out and bought those cheap binoculars and that’s when we started thinking that maybe she wasn’t a woman at all!

JJ: That was a dude for sure. There’s not a doubt in my mind.

Randall: (Shakes his head) Uh, uh. No way. She didn’t have a dingle!

JJ: He was just hiding it like the serial killer did in “Silence of the Lambs.”

Randall: (Shakes his finger at JJ playfully) Shut the fuck up, man.

Milton: What killer? You mean Hannibal Lecter?

JJ: No, stupid, the weird guy with the poodle.

Milton: Oh, him. Yeah.

Tim: I’m with JJ. That was a guy. He was just hiding his equipment between his legs.

Chip: (Shakes his head) No, no. You’re wrong. It was just a real skinny chick.

Milton: I never could decide for sure. She was pretty flat chested, though. Could have gone either way on that one.

Randall: I’m kinda glad I never found her apartment. Or his. That could have scarred me for life. I shudder at the very thought. (Sings) “Dude looked like a lady…”

 

They all share a laugh.

 

Milton: Jeez, we should write a book about those days.

Chip: No one would believe it.

Randall: Especially me. I’ve forgotten more than I could ever remember.

JJ: Not Tim. He’s got it all written down. I mean everything.

Randall: Really?

Tim: (Shrugs) Yeah, sorta. I just kept a journal and wrote stuff on calendars that I managed to keep from losing track of through the years. Nothing formal like a book or anything. Just notes.

Chip: I’d love to see some of that stuff. I try to tell Elizabeth about my life as a rock and roll musician and she thinks I make all those stories up. She’s never even heard me play guitar.

Randall: (Incredulous) Never? Man, I could tell her stuff about you that would make her divorce you on the spot! I can think of lots of shit you and I did that even these guys don’t know about.

Chip: That’s precisely why you’ll never meet her.

Tim: I’ve got every gig we ever played written down. Year, month and day.

JJ: (Nods) He does. I’ve seen the list. Every single gig.

Milton: (Looks at Tim) For real? That’s kind of anal, man.

Tim: Screw you. It’s not, either. I just paid attention, that’s all.

Randall: Actually, I think it’s rather cool. My total list of gigs would be thick as the Yellow Pages.

Milton: I sure hope you didn’t write down anything about Tulsa.

 

Randall and JJ immediately glare at Milton. Randall gets up and grabs Milton roughly by the shoulder. He leans in to Milton and speaks forcefully.

 

Randall: Shut the fuck up! You got that, amigo? Don’t say another word. Not one fucking word. Tulsa didn’t happen. It didn’t happen. We made a blood oath together. Don’t be a fucking shithead!

 

Milton forcefully removes Randall’s hand from his shoulder and looks up into his face.

 

Milton: I didn’t say nothing! Back off, Randall, before I get up and kick your ass!

Randall: Fuck you, man. We don’t bring up Tulsa. Ever. Got it?

Milton: Got it. Whatever. Sit back down, asshole. Jesus.

 

 

Randall glares down at him for a moment longer, then returns to his seat. He gulps down the last few swigs of his beer while the others just sit in silence. Milton straightens out his shirt. Randall slams down his now-empty bottle on the table and looks at the bar. Sheryl is not there.

 

Randall: (Loudly) Where’s our Goddamn waitress anyway?

 

The others look over towards the bar.

 

Tim: (Looking at Randall and a little perplexed) Chill out, Randall. She’s probably on break or something.

Randall: Well, I’m thirsty. Let’s belly up to the bar. Come on, guys.

Chip: I’m fine with what I’ve got. Y’all go ahead.

Tim: I’m okay, too. I don’t have the tolerance for alcohol that I used to. I need to pace myself or I’ll be driving home by Braille.

Randall: (Shrugs as he waves them off) Amateurs.

Milton: I’m in.

JJ: So am I. I prefer your company. (Looks at Chip) Always did.

 

The three of them get up and walk upstage to take seats at the bar, leaving Chip and Tim at the table. Tim and Chip sit back in their chairs and look at each other, nodding.

 

Tim: I worried that this reunion might be stiff and kinda timid but it looks like we’ve slipped right back into our old roles like we never broke up.

Chip: Yeah, I guess we haven’t really changed that much.

Tim: Just older and wiser.

Chip: Older, for sure. But wiser? I don’t know if that applies to all of us.

Tim: Hey, what the hell was that about Tulsa?

Chip: (Shrugs) I have no earthly idea. Maybe something about that stripper.

Tim: (Shakes his head) Who knows. It could be anything. So, what’s life like in Seattle?

Chip: Wet. Cloudy. But you get used to it. Kinda nice, actually. Stays cool all summer.

Tim: Your wife’s name is Elizabeth?

Chip: Yeah. She’s a keeper. Gave me two beautiful daughters that I adore. We’ve been together over 30 years now.

Tim: Same with me and Sarah. Three decades and one teenage son. Billy. He’s a good kid.

Chip: I’ll bet. (Takes a sip of his scotch) You ever run into anybody from the old crowd?

Tim: (Shakes his head slightly) Hardly ever. I guess they all just blew away with the wind.

Chip: What about Amanda?

Tim: Nope. (Smiles) But I figured you’d ask about her sooner or later.

Chip: Yeah, well… (He looks over his shoulder to make sure the other three are still at the bar) Just between you and me, she’s the real reason I moved so far away.

Tim: Really? I thought you said you got an offer you couldn’t refuse.

Chip: (Shrugs) So I lied. Truth is, I found the job after I got to Seattle. There was nothing left for me here except sad memories. I had to change everything I knew and move as far away as possible. Had a cousin who lived there.

Tim: I understand. (Sighs) Good old Amanda. She was something else, man. I thought you two were joined at the hip and would be together forever. Everybody did.

Chip: Most of all, me. She and I grew up in the same neighborhood. Sweethearts since birth. Went to the same schools. Altogether I guess we were a couple for almost as long as I’ve been married to Liz.

Tim: (Shakes his head) It was so weird when she left you.

Chip: Tell me about it. I’m not sure I’ll ever get over it.

Tim: Sure you did.

Chip: I wonder. I thought so, too, but when I was in the cab on the way to the hotel yesterday a lot of shit came flooding back. Along with that “stone in the pit of my stomach” feeling. We drove right past one of the apartments we used to live in and I actually got choked up.

Tim: (Surprised) You? The Iron Man?

 

Chip glances over his shoulder at the trio at the bar, then back at Tim.

 

Chip: Hey, we’re just buddies talking here, right? They don’t need to know about any of that.

Tim: Don’t worry. I don’t gossip. Never have. Never will.

Chip: I know. (Pats Tim on the shoulder) You’re one of the good guys, Tim. Discretion is a rarity in today’s world. You know, I’ve always felt bad about how I was so arrogant concerning relationships in the old days. You guys would have a daily soap opera going on about the girls you were screwing with and I’d just sit back all smug and say that Amanda and I were etched in stone together. There was no way in heaven or hell that we’d ever be torn apart. I was as sure of that as the sun rising in the east every morning. What a sorry jackass I must have been to you guys.

Tim: (Shakes his head) We didn’t think you were being smug. Hell, we were all envious of you. You had what we all wanted. Amanda was smart, sweet, gorgeous and totally dedicated to you.

Chip: Yeah, she was. Until I fucked it up.

Tim: Man, you didn’t do anything that the rest of us weren’t doing at one point or another. We all did a lot of bad things to the women in our lives back then. Don’t be hard on yourself.

Chip: (Takes another sip of his drink) That’s what I told myself for a very long time. Amanda had to be the most forgiving woman in the world but she always told me she wouldn’t put up with infidelity. That was the line I couldn’t cross. So I made it into a little game for my amusement. I hid all my little indiscretions from her so cleverly. More than once I even stopped the car, raised the hood and stuck my hands all over the engine so my alibi of having a breakdown would hold up when I came in at five in the morning. Ruined more than a few good shirts that way.

Tim: I never heard of anybody doing that.

Chip: Oh, yeah. I’d come in cursing the car and I’d be covered in grime and acting mad as hell just to cover my tracks. And Amanda would accept it every time without question. She had blind faith in me. She just wouldn’t allow herself to believe that I could lie to her face. Until that girl from Denver came down here.

Tim: What was her name? Jane or something like that?

Chip: Joanie. Don’t you remember? She and some girlfriend of hers decided it would be fun to drive down and show up unannounced. She came strutting into the Back Alley Club when Amanda was there and made a big scene when I told her to leave. Goes and tells Amanda all about our little on-the-road affair and then shows Amanda a Polaroid of me buck-naked in her bedroom.

Tim: Oh, yeah. That was pretty incriminating. Hard to talk your way out of that one. You might recall that I was the lucky man who had to drive you home that night because Amanda had taken your car. We pull up to your duplex and all I see is clothes flying off the porch onto the front lawn. Socks just floating down through the moonlight.

Chip: The worst night of my life. Of course, I put on a brave face. I tried to tell myself I was better off not living a lie anymore. Time to just cut the reins and live the guilt-free playboy life for a while. Yeah, right. After about two months of that bullshit I realized that Amanda was one in a trillion. It dawned on me that some other man was going to be holding her soft, naked body in his arms and I started waking up in the mornings with a broken heart. And I don’t mean that figuratively. My heart would ache like it had a rip in it. So, as you know, I tried to go back to her. But all my attempts to reconcile fell on deaf ears. It was over. She said she could never trust me again and said that I was scared of commitment. That was in ‘78, about six months before the band broke up. I fell into the deepest, darkest depression I’ve ever known and nearly overdosed one night.

Tim: (Nods) I remember that. You ended up in the ER. Scared the shit out of us.

Chip: I was a basket case. So when Randall quit I decided the only way to win her back was to stop playing music and go back to college. Kinda like what Randall did with Paula. You know, show her that I could become a straight and respectable citizen of the world. I even promised to marry her if she’d give me another chance. But I found out that there are some mistakes that you never stop paying for. Never. She moved on with her life and didn’t look back. I lost my soul mate, Tim, and I’ll never fully get over it.

Tim: (Grimaces) Come on, Chip. You did get over it. You carved out a great career for yourself and found a wife you’ve been married to for over 30 years.

Chip: I’m not saying I didn’t move on. What I mean is that I’ve had to settle for second best every day of my life since Amanda left me. Look, if your wife is the perfect one for you then I’m happy that you found her and married her and built a family with her. God bless ya. But I have to live every minute of every day knowing in my heart that I pushed away the one woman the good Lord intended me to be with. Liz is a great gal and she has my body and my mind but she’ll never get my heart because Amanda will have it forever.

Tim: (Raises his eyebrows in disbelief) Wow. That’s some pretty heavy shit to live with, man. But think of it from this angle, then. If you hadn’t met Elizabeth you wouldn’t have your two beautiful daughters that you adore.

Chip: Yeah, a shrink told me that once.

 

Tim gives Chip another surprised look.

 

Chip: (Shrugs) What? So I needed a little… help at one point. Don’t get judgmental on my ass. I explained to him that I truly cherish my girls more than anything in this world and can’t imagine my life without them. (Pause) I also told him I wish to God Amanda was their mother.

 

Tim just looks at Chip for a moment, takes a deep breath and shakes his head.

 

Tim: I don’t know what to say, man. That’s a really odd statement to make.

Chip: Tell me about it. But that’s how I feel. I don’t think I’ve ever told that to anyone else.

Tim: Well, whatever you do, never tell your wife.

Chip: I wouldn’t dare.

Tim: (Takes a gulp of his beer) I hope you realize that even if Amanda walked into this room right now it would never be the same between you two. Life doesn’t work like that. People change. Don’t walk around thinking everything would be perfect if she would’ve come back into your life.

Chip: Oh, no. Trust me, I don’t feel that way at all. Before I moved away I came to terms with the fact that I would never have another chance with Amanda. That the best I could ever hope for was to find the runner up. And I did. I do love Elizabeth but she’ll never replace Amanda in here. (Places his hand over his heart) Never. And that’s just the God’s honest truth.

 

He softly thumps his chest with his closed fist. They sit in silence for a moment. Finally Chip looks at Tim and sighs.

 

Chip: Jesus. What a turd I am to bring all that sad shit up. Today of all days. I really didn’t mean to, man. I guess being back in town and seeing all you guys just brought it all flooding back pretty strongly.

Tim: (Pats Chip on the shoulder) It’s okay. We’re the best friends you’ll ever have and that’ll never change.

Chip: You got that right.

 

JJ, Randall and Milton return to the table and sit down. They are laughing loudly.

 

Tim: What’s so damned funny?

Milton: Do you guys remember the time JJ forgot his bass?

Chip: Where was that?

Randall: It was in Houston. We were opening for Foghat. One of our first concerts.

JJ: Only our biggest gig ever.

Milton: We’re backstage, about ready to go on when JJ opens his guitar case and it’s empty!

JJ: (Nods) My bass was sitting peacefully in my living room at home on its fancy little stand. I had cleaned it the night before and forgot to put it back in the case.

Tim: Didn’t you have to borrow somebody’s bass to play?

Randall: Yeah, but it was a fretless!

JJ: Hell, I didn’t know the difference. I’d never even seen a fretless bass before. I just thought “how hard can it be?” (Shrugs) A bass is a bass. Right?

Milton: Anyway, so we go out in front of that huge crowd ready to kick ass and take names.

Randall: And we start off with that really heavy song of Tim’s.

Chip: “Hong Kong”?

JJ: (Snaps his fingers) Yeah. That was it! We couldn’t remember the name of that song over at the bar.

Randall: So we start into Hong Kong and suddenly I’m hearing this God-awful noise from somewhere and I turn to look and JJ is standing there and his face is completely drained of blood.

Tim: Pale as his ass. I can see him now.

JJ: I’m freaking out. My hand is sliding all up and down the thing and I don’t have a freakin’ clue as to how to find the notes because there’s no Goddamn frets and it hits me that I’m in big, big trouble. But we’re in concert so we can’t just stop in the middle of the song and find another, normal bass guitar. And then I realize that they have the brightest spotlight in the world aimed right at me for no good reason! I thought I was going to shit my pants.

 

They all laugh at the memory.

 

Milton: Didn’t a roadie finally find a regular bass for you to play?

JJ: Yeah, after two eternally long songs.

Chip: I’d forgotten all about that.

Randall: We thought we’d blown the whole concert but the review in the paper the next day was one of the best we ever got. They said we stole the show from Foghat.

JJ: Go figure.

Chip: I’d love to hear some of the old live tapes we recorded.

Tim: I was counting on that. Got y’all a little surprise. I brought some live stuff with me. Except it’s all digitized and transferred onto CDs now.

Randall: Great! Where are they?

Tim: In my car. Brought a boom box to play them on, too. But I don’t think they’d let us play them in here.

Chip: We’ve got my room upstairs. We can listen up there.

Milton: That’ll work. Me and JJ can go get us a bottle from the liquor store across the street.

Randall: How fitting will that be. Partying in a hotel room!

Chip: Just like the old days. I’ll take care of the bar tab. Let’s meet in the lobby in ten minutes.

 

They all finish their drinks and rise from the table. The lights fade.

 

 

ACT II

 

The scene takes place in one of the hotel’s elevators. The back wall and corners of the car are the only props. The area allowed for the interior of the car should be overstated in order to allow the audience the ability to see all of the characters.

            The scene opens with the five men standing and waiting for imaginary elevator doors to open. An attractive woman in a short, sexy red dress, HANNA WATERS, also waits. She doesn’t know any of them and vice versa. Tim carries an oversized workout bag that contains a small boom box and some CDs. Milton has a bottle of whiskey in a paper sack. They are mumbling to themselves as the door opens. They let the woman enter first and she goes to stand in the back of the car stage right. Randall gets in next to her, Milton next to him, then Tim in the back stage left. Chip gets in front of the woman stage right and JJ is the last to enter, standing in front of Tim stage left. Chip pushes a button on an imaginary number board in front of him. He then turns to Hanna, who is fumbling around in her purse.

 

Chip: What floor do you need to go to?

Hanna: Fifteen. Thanks.

 

They are silent for a moment.

 

Tim: This kinda reminds me of the hotel we stayed at in New Orleans.

 

Just as he says “Orleans” all of them react slightly because the elevator has stopped suddenly.

 

Milton: Uh, oh.

Randall: We’re not moving.

 

Chip pushes the button for their floor but nothing happens.

 

Tim: I think we’re stuck.

JJ: You’ve got to be kidding me.

Randall: Chip, what the fuck did you do?

Chip: I didn’t do a damned thing. It just stopped on its own.

 

Hanna is impatient. She gently pushes Chip out of the way.

 

Hanna: Excuse me.

 

She does nothing more than reach over and push buttons like Chip did.

 

Chip: It’s not working.

Hanna: Oh, crap. Not again.

 

She moves back into the corner and sighs heavily.

 

Hanna: (Exasperated) I don’t believe this fucking hotel.

JJ: Boys and girls, I do believe we are officially stranded.

Tim: (Sarcastically) Ya think?

 

Chip bends down and fiddles with the panel.

 

Chip: Isn’t there supposed to be a phone in here?

Randall: Just push that red emergency button.

 

Chip pushes a button and an alarm bell sounds.

 

Tim: Keep pushing it.

 

Chip pushes the button a few more times and the bell sounds each time. He stops and turns to the rest of them.

 

Chip: We know the bell works, at least. What do we do now?

Milton: Well, that’s a stupid question. We wait for somebody to come get us out, dumb ass.

Randall: How long will that take?

Milton: Another stupid question. Probably as soon as they can. Just stay calm, everybody.

 

There is a crackling, static sound. Then a female voice is heard in the car.

 

Voice: Is there an emergency?

 

They all instinctively look up at the ceiling of the car. They all answer “yes” in unison.

 

Voice: Please just let one person speak.

Randall: We’re stuck, lady!

Voice: Is the elevator moving?

 

Randall gives the others a disbelieving glance.

 

Randall: Well, now if it was moving we wouldn’t be stuck, would we?

Voice: Is there any message displayed on the front panel?

 

They all look at the panel in front of Chip.

 

Randall: No, just an up arrow.

 

There is silence for a moment.

 

Randall: Hello?

Voice: Yes, I’m here. The elevator has malfunctioned.

Randall: No shit, honey buns.

Voice: (Sounding like she’s reading from a script) Please remain calm. This is only a temporary situation. Please try to make yourselves comfortable while an emergency repair crew is summoned to resolve the problem. Do not, I repeat, do not try to open the doors manually.

Hanna: How long will we be in here, lady?

Voice: We will get you out of there as soon as possible.

Milton: See? Told you.

Hanna: Fuck.

 

All five of the men look at her. She doesn’t look back at them, just closes her eyes and leans back into the corner again.

 

Voice: Again, please stay calm and we will get you out of there as soon as we can.

Randall: Roger that.

 

They all stand and look at each other in bewilderment.

 

JJ: You heard the lady. Let’s make ourselves comfortable. We might be here a while.

 

JJ sits down on the floor and the other men follow suit. Hanna stays standing. Randall looks over at her exposed legs and smiles up at her. She gives him an exasperated look, then one of resignation. She lowers herself into a sitting position as gracefully as she can manage. Randall looks at her and smiles again. He holds out his hand to her.

 

Randall: My name’s Randall, darlin’.

 

She looks at him suspiciously, then reluctantly shakes his hand.

 

Hanna: I’m Hanna.

Randall: Very pleased to meet you.

 

Randall waves his hand at the others.

 

Randall: This is Train Wreck.

Hanna: I beg your pardon?

Randall: We used to be in a band together. We called ourselves Train Wreck. (Points) That’s Chip, Milton, Tim and JJ. We’re having our first official reunion today.

Hanna: Looks like it’s been a while since you played together. Who’d you play with? Glenn Miller?

Randall: (Snorts sarcastically) Oh, that’s funny. Baby, we’re old but we’re not that old. We broke up in 1978.

Hanna: Whatever. You’ll have to pardon me for not giving a shit.

 

She pulls a cell phone out of her purse and opens it. Randall looks at the others.

 

Randall: The bitch is crazy about me. I can tell.

JJ: No doubt about it.

Milton: This is fucked up, guys. We could be here for hours.

Chip: Anybody got any cards?

Randall: Why? So I can take all your money again like I did in Memphis that time?

Chip: That was a fluke. You just got lucky. Or you cheated.

Tim: (Shakes his head) No, Chip, you were just bad. You have no excuses.

 

Hanna closes her cell phone and angrily puts it back in her purse. They all look at her.

 

Hanna: Fuck!

JJ: There a problem, Hanna?

Hanna: Can’t get a fucking signal in this shit hole.

Chip: Trying to call your John?

Hanna: (Glares at Chip) Excuse me. Did you say my John? What are you saying? You think I’m a hooker? Fuck you.

Chip: Honey, I know a hooker when I see one. I travel for a living and I see your type in every hotel in every city. You might fool them but you don’t fool me. (Shrugs) Not that it matters to any of us one way or the other.

Hanna: Then mind your own business, motherfucker.

 

Randall grimaces and gives her a frowning look.

 

Randall: Damn, woman. You got a real dirty mouth on you. You’re no lady, that’s for sure.

Hanna: Fuck off, loser.

 

Randall looks at the others with a grin.

 

Randall: Told you. She’s in love with me.

Tim: She can’t help it. You’re irresistible.

 

Hanna closes her eyes and rests her head against the corner of the car.

 

Chip: Speaking of dirty mouths. Do any of you remember Maxine at the Red Door Club in Austin?

Tim: The bartender who knocked out that Hell’s Angel dude one night because he was messing with her girlfriend?

Chip: (Nods) Yeah. Her. She made Hanna here sound like a nun.

Milton: She wasn’t afraid of anybody, either.

JJ: Everybody was afraid of her, though. God Almighty, that was one tough broad.

Randall: All I remember about that club was the incredible amount of college co-eds that hung out there. And all of them beautiful women.

Milton: And all of them horny.

Chip: (Shakes his head) That place was a rock and roll den of iniquity. It ruined you guys.

JJ: (Irritated) Shut up, Chip. What did you know about it?

Chip: A lot more than you think.

JJ: Bullshit. You were a phony.

Chip: What’s that supposed to mean, JJ?

JJ: I’d be glad to tell you what I mean but I don’t think you want to hear it.

Chip: Try me.

JJ: Okay. You were nothing but a two-faced hypocrite and it sounds like you still are.

Chip: Eat shit, JJ.

 

The others are watching this escalate in wonder.

 

Randall: Hey, hey, hey. What’s with you two?

Chip: I don’t know. I got no problem. JJ seems to, though.

JJ: Damn right, I do. I’m just telling it like it was. And is.

Chip: And what’s that, dumb shit?

JJ: Just what I said. You’re a fucking hypocrite.

Chip: If you say so.

JJ: Yeah, I do. You sit there acting like you weren’t screwing around like the rest of us but we all know that’s a lie. Back in those days you’d sit at the bar on the breaks and look down your nose at us like you were some kind of morally superior being. You’d sneer at us like we were nothing but a pack of stray dogs. Then you’d come home and gossip to Amanda who’d turn right around and tell our girlfriends what we’d been up to and then we’d catch holy hell. Man, that used to piss me off big time! You were a fucking Judas!

Chip: (Indignantly) That’s crap and you know it, JJ. You didn’t stay with a woman long enough to call any of them a girlfriend. You’re an idiot. Who, exactly, would Amanda have told anything to? You got yourself in trouble. Don’t go blaming me for your stupidity.

Tim: Yeah, what’s eating you, JJ? All that petty bullshit that went on between you two should be dead and buried. You don’t need to be digging it up today.

JJ: You’re probably right, Tim. It’s just that I put up with so much crap from Chip back then. I ain’t going to put up with it now. No way.

Chip: (Waves JJ off) I don’t care what you think of me. Never did.

JJ: (Points at Chip) Good, because I think you’re a backstabbing motherfucker.

Randall: (Frowning) Damn, JJ. Ease up already. You’re shadow boxing.

Chip: No, no, no. Let him rant. Go on, JJ. Tell us all why I’m a backstabbing motherfucker. We’ve got nothing better to do. In fact, I’m enjoying watching you make an ass of yourself.

JJ: You think I don’t know, do you?

Chip: Know what?

JJ: That you ratted me out to Sandra and that’s why she dumped me. And then you had the nerve to cheat on Amanda with her. Oh, yeah. (Nodding) I know all about it, pal.

Chip: (Incredulous) Sandra who?

JJ: Sandra Jenkins. The tall blonde I lived with on and off for about a year back in ‘76. Don’t act like you don’t remember. You know exactly who she was!

Chip: (Shrugs) You’re delusional. I really don’t know what you’re talking about.

JJ: Well, I do so let me refresh your highly selective memory. I got the whole story right after the band folded right from Katy, her best friend and roommate. She said you called Sandra out of the blue one night and told her I was chasing every skirt I could while we were out of town. She said you even supplied her with names! You broke the non-negotiable rule of rock and roll, you son of a bitch. You don’t fuck with another band member’s girl. Ever.

Chip: (In mock resignation) If you say so, JJ. And what if I did, you son of a bitch? Maybe I was just trying to do the right thing by saving her from heartbreak. You didn’t deserve a decent girl like that. You went through women like they were Kleenex tissues so what made this one so special all of a sudden?

 

JJ suddenly stands up and looms over Chip, poking his finger in Chip’s face. He is livid.

 

JJ: Because I cared about her! I loved that girl! Adored her! And you broke us up just so you could get in her pants! Don’t you fucking deny it, I know what you did! Katy said you kept calling Sandra every day after that and then one night you showed up with a bottle of tequila and a shoulder to cry on. Then you fucked her till daylight! And after that night, after you got your nut, you never called her again. You’re nothing but a fucking maggot, you self-righteous prick!

Chip: (Angrily) Back off, JJ. Get your Goddamn finger out of my face!

 

Milton gets up and pushes JJ back, then stands between JJ and Chip.

 

Milton: Sit down, JJ. Sit down and stay down.

 

JJ pauses, glares at Chip, then sits back down reluctantly. The others are bewildered by JJ’s outburst. Hanna shakes her head in disbelief.

 

Hanna: Holy shit. You guys are fucking morons. All this over some old girlfriend from over a quarter century ago? Get a life.

JJ: It’s about a lot more than some old girlfriend, sister. That’s just the tip of the iceberg with this bastard.

Chip: Damn, JJ. You’re not going to let it go, are you? And what’s this made up “rule of rock and roll” you’re talking about? I always thought the only rule was all’s fair in love and war. I really didn’t think Sandra meant that much to you. I don’t think any of us did.

JJ: (Still angry) It’s not really about her at all. You still don’t get it, do you? This is about you, asshole.

Chip: (Exasperatedly) What the fuck?

JJ: I’ll tell you what the fuck! You always acted so holier than thou. You actually had the balls to lecture us on our behavior! You’d get into these long discussions about how you and Amanda were so perfect and how you two had this deep-seated, unbreakable trust between you. And all the time you were out there cheating and whoring just like the rest of us. As if the sermons you preached didn’t apply to you. You just thought it was okay because you were so sneaky and careful. And then I found out you schemed to turn Sandra against me, one of your closest friends, just so you could screw her and then dump her like yesterday’s trash. And you call me a bad guy? Jesus, man, it was one thing to fuck over your pristine Princess Amanda but to fuck over a true friend in order to do it?

 

Chip points his finger at JJ angrily.

 

Chip: (Loudly) You keep Amanda out of this. I mean it.

JJ: (Shrugs) You reaped what you sowed with her, buddy. She deserved better.

Chip: (Shouts) Shut up!

 

Chip and JJ glare at each other. Milton is poised to step between them again if necessary. Chip becomes distraught and emotional. He makes a gesture of surrender towards JJ.

 

Chip: Okay. I’ll fess up. Yeah, JJ, I made terrible mistakes with Amanda. Awful, unforgivable mistakes. Every single one of you knows it. And I have to live every day of my life with those mistakes. I know I wasn’t a good person back then. I know that all too well. You don’t have to remind me, JJ. I remind myself every Goddamn day.

 

Chip hangs his head for a moment and no one says a word. He finally looks back up at JJ.

 

Chip: You’re right, JJ. Right on every point. Is that what you need to hear? I’ll openly confess all my transgressions right here and now if that’ll make you feel better about yourself. I’m guilty of everything you said. I had no right to do what I did to you and Sandra. None whatsoever. And you’re right about that being just the tip of the iceberg. I committed sin after sin for years without a shred of conscience. And now those sins are my cross to bear.

 

He stops again and wipes his eyes. He is visibly upset.

 

Chip: I’m sorry, man. Truly sorry. I guess I was jealous of the life you guys were living. I wanted to sleep with girls like Sandra and keep Amanda at the same time. At some point I convinced myself that there really wasn’t anything wrong with doing that. It really wasn’t anything personal against you, JJ. Given the opportunity, I would’ve fucked over Tim, Milton or Randall the same way. Like I said, I wasn’t a decent human being. I wasn’t even a reliable friend. It took hitting emotional rock bottom for me to finally face my disgusting self after I lost everything that was dear to me. Especially Amanda.

Randall: We know that was hard on you.

Chip: You don’t know the half of it. (Pauses) All I can tell you is I’m not that same person anymore. Haven’t been for a long, long time. But, unfortunately, that’s the person you remember. I owe you all an apology. I’m so sorry.

 

They are silent for a moment. JJ looks at Chip.

 

JJ: (A little embarrassed) Yeah, well, I guess I’m sorry, too. I should never have brought it up but you made me mad. You totally pissed me off when you said we’d wasted our time playing together in the band and I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I had to get that out.

Chip: (Nods) Glad you did. You said some things that needed to be said. Still friends?

JJ: Yeah. Still friends.

 

They lean up and shake hands. Hanna rolls her eyes.

 

Hanna: I don’t believe this shit. What a Goddamn soap opera. You act like a bunch of old ladies.

 

There is a crackle and static sound from overhead.

 

Voice: Everyone doing okay in there?

Hanna: (Loudly) No, Goddamn it. Get me the fuck out of here. These creeps are mental midgets and they’re getting on my nerves.

Randall: We’re fine. Don’t listen to her.

Voice: Are you okay, Miss? Don’t be afraid to speak up if you feel threatened.

Hanna: Yeah, yeah. I’m peachy. Just hurry up. I’ve had about all of the “over the hill gang” I can stand in here.

Voice: We should have you out of there real soon. Hang on and be patient, please.

Hanna: (Under her breath) Fuck you.

 

Everyone shifts a little, trying to get more comfortable.

 

Randall: So am I hearing this right? Some of you agree with Chip in thinking Train Wreck was a waste of time?

Milton: (Points at Chip) I think only Chip Shot over there actually feels that way.

Randall: (Frowns at Chip) Christ. That’s a real slap in the face. Is it true? You really feel that way, man?

Chip: (Uneasily) I don’t know. I’m kinda confused right now. Not really, I guess. My being a total shit throughout all those years probably stains my outlook on it all. Maybe calling it wasted time is a little too severe.

Tim: Yeah, Chip. It is.

Milton: It’s disrespectful.

Chip: Again, I’m sorry. We were just talking, you know? (Addresses Randall) When I look back on the six years we spent together sometimes I just feel that, since we were never even offered a record deal or anything close to it, we could have spent that time doing something more practical. More lucrative, at least. That’s all I’m saying. Maybe I’ve just been away from you guys too long.

Randall: Well, hindsight is 20/20. You can get lost in the “woulda, coulda, shoulda’s.” I try not to get bogged down in regrets.

Tim: I think we did the best we could with what we had but fortune just didn’t smile on us. No one’s to blame for that.

Milton: Um, that’s not really true, Tim.

Tim: (Looks at Milton quizzically) What do you mean by that?

Milton: (Looks right at Tim) I mean that a lot of the blame for us not making it big falls right on you, man. No offense but that’s exactly what I mean.

Tim: What? How do you figure?

Milton: (Shrugs) Hey, it’s true whether you want to admit it or not. Like I told you and JJ earlier, I think about my days with Train Wreck all the time. Our band had it together. We were primed and ready for the next big step. Let me refresh your memory. We were playing over at the Rocking Horse and we got fired because we were late getting back up on the stage one night.

Randall: I remember that. The manager’s name was…. Clayton something. Um, Clayton Young. He was a real dick. Used to carry around a stopwatch to time our breaks and our sets.

Milton: But the thing was that the rest of us were all up on stage ready to play. But Tiny Tim here was back in the game room trying to get the high score on Centipede, for God’s sake.

Tim: (Confused) Okay. What of it? Come on, that bastard Clayton was just looking for a reason to can us because he didn’t want to pay us what we were contracted for.

Milton: Still, you gave him a reason.

JJ: (Tiredly) So? What’s your point, Milton? It was just one gig and the place went under and closed its doors a month later.

Milton: (Louder and with some frustration) The point is that the band that replaced us the very next night just happened to be Love Field. And that was the night those A&R guys from Black River Records just happened to come into the Rocking Horse and the next thing we know Love Field has a fucking record deal! The way I see it, if we’d been playing there that night like we were supposed to we would have been discovered instead. And our lives would have been totally different. It all could have been ours. We had the songs, the look, the talent. We had everything. But we weren’t there that night because Tim wanted to play a fucking video game!

Tim: (Incredulous) So… you’re blaming the fact that we didn’t become international rock stars on me. Thanks a lot, buddy. You’re unbelievable, you know that?

Milton: (Shrugs) Hey, if the shoe fits… It’s the little twists of fate that make huge differences. The way I see it you selfishly chose to keep playing some stupid video game instead of being a professional and it cost us our best chance to make something of ourselves. And, since we’re all being chummy and coming clean about the past here today I figure it’s time I told you how I feel. There ya go.

Tim: (Stares at Milton in disbelief) I can’t believe you’re serious. What a crock.

Randall: Come on, Milton. Life’s not black and white like that and you know it. There’s no possible way of saying for certain that those record guys would have even liked us at all. Love Field was a lot more hard rock than we ever were. Something about them grabbed their interest and the rest is history. You can’t just plug Train Wreck in that night and expect the same result. Get a grip on reality, man.

Milton: That’s easy for you to say, Randall. You don’t have to live in my reality. You’re still living the life I loved. The life you pulled out from under me the day you quit the band. You don’t have to drag your fat ass out of bed every morning to go fix filthy washers and dryers in the worst part of town and have to listen to complaints from scum of the earth ingrates. I hate my fucking lot in life. I’ve got an ugly heifer of a wife that doesn’t respect me and a spoiled son that thinks I’m some kind of relic from the Stone Age. I look at myself in the mirror and I see a man decaying right before my eyes. I drive around in my truck and I constantly daydream about the days when I was the drummer for Train Wreck. I was somebody special then. I had gorgeous women with perfect bodies flirting with me every night. I was smiling and laughing and having the time of my life back then. It’s hell living with the fact that all the good times I’m ever going to have ended when I was 28 years old. And I’m convinced that if Tim hadn’t fucked around and got us fired from the Rocking Horse I might still be living that life today.

Tim: (Shakes his head) Whatever you want to think, Milton. You want to blame me because your existence on this earth sucks? Go ahead. I don’t care. And I still couldn’t do shit to change it if I did.

JJ: (To Milton) You think we don’t miss those days, too? Of course we do. I mean, who wouldn’t? But evidently the rest of us figured out a way to let go at some point and move on.

Chip: (To Milton) The band failed for a lot of reasons, dude, but Tim really isn’t one of them. It’s not fair to say he blew it for us.

Randall: (To Milton) And whatever utopian existence you might think I’m living these days is just a cartoon fantasy floating around in your little pea-sized brain, man. It’s fucking hard work keeping everything in my band orderly and moving in the same direction day after day. I have to oversee everything. And it definitely ain’t like the non-stop party we lived back in the days. Not even close, my friend. Sometimes I look at getting up on stage and playing a set at one o’clock in the morning the same way you look at scrubbing down one of your washing machines. But I have to keep doing it for as long as I possibly can because it’s all I’ve got!

Milton: Okay, so maybe you guys deal with the past better than I do. Good for you. But you don’t know bad it gets in my head, though. If you did maybe you’d understand. (He turns to face Tim) I’m sorry for blaming you like that. That was wrong, I guess. But don’t you ever wonder why we didn’t get our big break? I just keep thinking it should have been us instead of Love Field. We were better in every way than those amateurs. And if it would have been us that landed that record deal I probably wouldn’t be carrying around a loaded .38 in my truck in case I finally get the nerve someday to blow my fucking brains out.

 

The others, including Hanna, all stare at Milton.

 

Randall: (Shocked) Say what?

Hanna: Man, you need some serious therapy.

 

Tim grabs Milton’s arm.

 

Tim: Say you don’t mean that.

Milton: It’s true.

Hanna: Jesus. I gotta get the fuck out of here. You guys are a bunch of potato heads.

 

Randall turns to her.

 

Randall: Whore, why don’t you just keep your snide comments to yourself? This ain’t none of your business.

Hanna: I’m glad of that.

JJ: (Concerned) Milton, you gotta know we’re all here for you anytime you start feeling like that.

 

Milton looks around at all of them and shakes his head.

 

Milton: Bullshit. When’s the last time you dropped by my house for a beer, JJ? Randall, when’s the last time you called up just to see how I’m doing? And Chip, somehow I seem to have slipped off of your Christmas Card list, compadre. You see what I’m saying here? You guys were my best friends, my partners in crime, my adopted blood brothers and then one day in the late seventies I woke up and all of you were gone. Fucking gone. You left me behind nearly four decades ago and you never came back. So don’t tell me how you’re there for me!

Tim: But Milton, none of us stay in touch very well. It ain’t just you. That’s why we’re having this reunion. Maybe after today we won’t drift so far away from each other again. Man, if I had known you were suicidal I’d checked on you more often, that’s for sure. You’re important to me. You’re important to all of us. Don’t be talking shit like that anymore. There’s not a single one of us who wouldn’t be absolutely devastated if something happened to you. You gotta believe that.

 

The four men nod at Milton.

 

Chip: Tim’s right.

JJ: Amen.

Randall: You’ve got my number. Call me anytime you like. Day or night.

 

Milton looks at Randall and grins.

 

Milton: Even when you’re on stage, shaking your skinny tush for a bunch of hot babes?

Randall: (Smiles) Even then. I could pipe you through the P.A.

Chip: There’s an idea. Suicide Hotline live on stage. Now that’s what I call high dollar entertainment!

 

Hanna shakes her head in disgust. Randall notices and looks over at her.

 

Randall: Problem?

Hanna: (Looks at Randall and shrugs) No, no. Like you said, it’s none of my fucking business.

Randall: No, if you’ve got a comment I think we deserve to hear it. Go ahead and say what’s on your mind.

Hanna: I’m not sure you guys are up to it emotionally.

Tim: We’re a lot tougher than you think.

Hanna: Okay, but don’t blame me if you don’t like what you hear. It’s just that I’m stuck here listening to you older-than-Adam jokers babble on about a bunch of petty grudges you still have between each other and it makes me sick.

 

She looks over at Chip and gestures toward him.

 

Hanna: Take Chip here for example. From what I can tell he seems to be doing all right for himself these days. He most likely grew up in a safe, sheltered all-white suburb where he had his own room in his parent’s cozy two-story brick house. Probably had a walk-in closet full of stylish new clothes to wear every day. And when the young, teenage Chip decided he wanted to be in a combo like the Beatles and The Monkees and play electric guitar his Mommy and Daddy ran right out and bought it for him. No problem. Then he let his hair grow out and, before he knew it, he had a whole lot of cute, skinny chicks with long, straight blonde hair just dying to be his steady girlfriend. (Looks around at the others) And I’m guessing that all five of you grew up about the same way. Am I right?

JJ: More or less. What’s your point?

Hanna: My point is that even after all these years you’re still a bunch of spoiled fucking brats! You didn’t have to grow up in a neighborhood like the one I was raised in up in Chicago where you woke up in the morning and you just hoped that the rats hadn’t eaten all your stale Cheerios. You didn’t grow up wondering who your father might be because your mom told you it could have been one of five different men. You certainly didn’t have to guess where she might be crashed at because she’d been on a weeklong whiskey and crack cocaine binge. And I’m willing to bet you didn’t have to sit alone in the dark at night listening to crazy people screaming and fighting over dope in the apartment next door until six in the morning. That’s just a tiny sample of what my childhood was like. I could go on and on if you want to hear more about it.

Randall: (Shakes his head) Sorry to hear that, darlin’, but what does that have to do with us?

Hanna: It has everything to do with you. You don’t even know how good you had it. What I’m saying is, besides the obvious fact that you didn’t have to grow up in the worst part of town, you got to be musicians! Don’t you know that every time you guys got up on stage and started playing rock and roll songs that all the people in the crowd would have given their right arm to be able to do that? To get paid to perform music, drink like fish and smoke reefer in the parking lot on your breaks? To have the bright lights shining on you and know what it’s like to be the center of attention every night? So what if you didn’t get to be superstars? You were already bigger than life to your audience. You got to live a fantasy for six years that most people can only wish to experience for five minutes. Let me ask you guys something. Have you ever paid for a prostitute? Any of you?

 

They all look around at each other and shake their heads.

 

Hanna: See? The pathetic, rich Johns I get paid to service are mostly your age and they’re all still searching in vain for that thrill, that sensation, that experience of being desired that you guys got to know firsthand. Y’all never have to seek out a hooker for some kind of erotic or taboo stimulation because you don’t sit around wondering what that elusive thing feels like. You know what it feels like. You experienced it hundreds of times. And you never had to pay for it. Not once. The horny chicks came on to you because you were in a Goddamn band! You were their fantasy fuck. They were helplessly drawn to you like moths to a flame. So when I hear that JJ over there is still furious with Chip because he was a back-stabbing asshole back in ‘77 or when I hear Milton threatening to shoot his head off because he thinks Tim selfishly cut him out of his place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame I want to vomit. Jesus! Count your blessings, you dolts! You got to do for years and years what 99.9% of the population can only dream they could do for one night! So I’m saying stop all your whining and enjoy the fact that you’re all still alive and healthy. And the fact that y’all still give a shit about each other. Some of us have never had friendships like the ones you have. Ever. Cherish what you’ve got. That’s all I wanted to say.

 

They are all quiet for a moment.

 

JJ: Good grief. We just got dressed down by a whore! We must be some awfully pathetic pieces of shit, guys.

Hanna: You asked for it, sucker. I warned you.

Randall: (Shakes his head) Nope, nope. I ain’t buying it. What you’re unaware of, Hanna, is the years of work we devoted to Train Wreck in order to do what we did for so long. You think all we had to do was pick up a guitar or a drumstick and start singing? It’s a lot harder than that. I assure you that none of us was born a musical prodigy or an instant virtuoso. That would’ve been nice but no such luck. For guys like us it was a constant struggle to learn how to play and sing. And while all of our teenage friends were out cruising and partying we were holed up in somebody’s musty, hot garage somewhere trying to figure out the chords to the newest Stevie Wonder song. We practiced until we had blisters on our fingers just so we could perform at the school sock hop for five bucks a man. We gave up relationships and more just so we could follow our dream of being a professional rock and roll band. And later on when our buddies would go driving by in their fancy new cars we were still puttering along in our beat-up vans, hauling amplifiers and stage lights to some hole-in-the-wall saloon in Bumfuck, Texas. And the competition to play even those shitty little gigs was fierce. Every band in the state was just itching for a chance to blow us off the stage and take our place. You make it sound like we had it served to us on a silver platter but it was dog eat dog all the way. What you saw was the payoff. What you didn’t see was the blood, sweat and tears that led up to it.

Hanna: I’m not saying you didn’t have to work for it. I hear you. But take some regular Joe who went to college and got a bachelor’s degree. He worked his butt off, too, but what was his payoff? A cubicle in some sterile office in a high-rise downtown? There’s no comparison at all. Your payoff was a whole lot more glamorous than his was by far. And I, for one, would have gladly changed places with you in a split second. Compared to my fucked up life you lived like heirs to the royal Goddamn throne of England.

Tim: She’s right, guys. We lived the high life. We really did. And, when you think about it, that look of envy on the faces in the audience was one of the big reasons we kept doing it for as long as possible. We should be thanking our lucky stars instead of fighting and telling each other what crappy people we were.

Milton: That’s what I thought this reunion was going to be about, anyway. Talking about the good old days and having some laughs. If I wanted to argue I would’ve stayed at home.

Tim: I think it comes down to this. We may have technically been adults back then but, compared to how old we are now, we were just kids who didn’t know shit from Shinola. We need to give ourselves some slack.

 

There is a pause, then Randall turns to Hanna.

 

Randall: So, Miss Hanna, I guess we’re indebted to you for setting us straight.

Hanna: Good. That’ll be fifty bucks each.

 

All the men laugh.

 

Chip: Yeah, right.

JJ: In your dreams, darlin’.

Hanna: (Shrugs) Hey, I figured it was worth a shot. I should have been a shrink. Easier than blowing all of you.

Milton: (Leaning forward and looking at Hanna) Um, how much would that cost me?

Randall: Damn, Milton! Ugh!

 

There is a cracking, static sound again from overhead. They all turn their heads upward.

 

Voice: Ladies and gentlemen, the elevator repairman is ready to get you out of there now. There will be a slight jolt, then the car will gently lower back down to the lobby level. Please do not try to open the door. It will open automatically when the car stops.

 

Just then they all react to a slight jolt as the elevator starts moving again.

 

JJ: Thank God. I thought I was going to have to watch Hanna blow Milton!

 

They all laugh as they get up from the floor.

 

Hanna: Don’t kid yourself. He couldn’t afford it.

 

The elevator door opens and they all step out into the lobby. Hanna steps away from them and dials on her cell phone. The others just stand in a circle.

 

Chip: Now, where were we?

Tim: I think we were on our way up to your room before we were so rudely interrupted.

Randall: So let’s grab another elevator. I ain’t afraid. I don’t think we’ll get stuck twice in a row.

Milton: You wouldn’t think so.

 

They look over at Hanna as she hangs up her phone.

 

JJ: Hanna? You still got a date upstairs?

Hanna: Yep. And he can’t wait to see me.

Tim: Wanna ride up with Train Wreck?

Hanna: (Shakes her head) No, thanks. I’ll take the next elevator.

Randall: Suit yourself, sister.

Tim: It’s been real. Good luck.

 

They exit stage right. Hanna exits stage left. The lights fade.

 

 

 

ACT III

 

The scene takes place in the living room area of Chip’s hotel suite. It isn’t extravagant but is still larger than an average room in that the bedroom is separate. The audience’s view is that of looking inward as if through the window. There is a couch stage left, a coffee table center stage and two chairs stage right. A bar is upstage with Tim’s portable stereo on it.

            As the scene opens Tim is standing and staring out the imaginary window towards the audience. Milton and JJ sit on the couch, Chip sits in the chair farthest upstage and Randall sits in the other chair. There is an open bottle of whiskey on the coffee table and there is a live recording of Train Wreck playing music from the 1970s. No one says anything at first while the song playing comes to an end. It will continue to play quietly in the background during the act.

 

Chip: Damn! That was some hot guitar playing I did on that song if I say so myself. I had forgotten how tight we were. I’m really impressed. Are you sure that’s us?

Randall: I wish I could still sing high notes like that! I sound like a castrato on some of those songs!

Milton: I’m telling you guys. No other band in town could touch us. We should have been cover boys for Cream Magazine! Or at least fabulously wealthy by now!

 

Tim is still looking out the window.

 

Tim: I think Chip is. Check out this room. And this view. I think I can see all the way to Saskatchewan from here. (Looks over at Chip) Must’ve really set you back a few pesos, compadre.

Chip: Not a penny. This is officially a “business trip” so it’s just another tax deduction for the company. Sometimes I get a suite bigger than this. In fact, sometimes I get a walk-in closet! It’s all booked by my secretary and I never know what kind of room I’ll have till I get where I’m going. It’s usually something like this, though.

Randall: You have a personal secretary? Jeez, Chip. You’re making me proud, my boy!

Milton: Is she hot? Be honest.

Chip: Actually, she is. She’s about 25 with dark brown hair, green eyes and a kickin’ bod. She turns heads, that’s for sure.

Milton: Aren’t you ever tempted to bend her over the desk and give her a big, fat raise?

Chip: Tempted? Every damn day. I’m not dead just yet. But I do know better than to take my lust beyond daydreaming. That’s the fastest way to find yourself poring over the employment section these days. Not worth it. I just get an eyeful whenever I can.

 

Tim turns away from the window and walks to the bar where he takes a seat on a barstool.

 

Milton: Let me ask you guys something. Just between us. Any of y’all ever cheat on your wives?

JJ: You mean current wives? That leaves me out. I don’t have one.

Randall: And I’m legally separated. That makes it not count.

Milton: I know, but what about when you were still married?

 

They glance around at each other for a moment.

 

JJ: (Shrugs) Okay, I’ll jump in. Yeah, I did. A few times. Can’t say that I’m particularly proud of it, though. But it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Randall: I cheated, too. Why do you think I’m estranged from my third wife? I never seem to learn my lesson. I’m a bad, bad boy.

Chip: Not me. Had several opportunities over the years but never did, thank God. (Looks at JJ) And no, I’m not bragging or trying to come off as some kind of goody two-shoes. I learned my lesson with Amanda.

Tim: I cheated. Once. About ten years ago. I don’t recommend it.

Milton: Shoot, I don’t care what y’all say. I would love to have a steamy affair but, as you can probably tell, I’m not exactly a chick magnet these days. And a funky old Laundromat is not where horny young ladies generally hang out.

JJ: Well, take it from me, Milton. It’s not worth the risk and it’s never as good as you think it’s going to be. It’s like someone once told me. No matter how good she might look, there’s some guy out there somewhere who’s sick to death of her.

Tim: Amen.

Randall: Ain’t that the truth!

Milton: I’m not talking about some kind of long-term relationship. I don’t want to break up my marriage. Can’t it just be a matter of spontaneous, consensual sex between mature and fun-loving adults?

Randall: No, Milton, it can’t. It isn’t like that at all. You might think it’ll be just a one-time, no-strings-attached hump in the hammock but the next thing you know she’s calling you at home and causing trouble. You find out real quick that you have very little control over what the chick is going to do. Didn’t you see “Fatal Attraction?” That wasn’t fiction, man. That was a Goddamned documentary!

Tim: Scariest man-movie in history.

JJ: Bar none.

Randall: In fact, I’ve got a true-life story about that very subject. (Leaning forward in his chair) I guess you guys didn’t know her but Janice was my second wife. She was a great gal and we had a really good marriage going for us. Had us a nice little place in the country. Then one day I came home from a road trip to Atlanta and this chick Rhonda, a girl I screwed one time up in Nebraska, is sitting on the front porch with my wife! Well, the next thing I know sweet little Janice is standing at the gate, shooting at me with a twelve-gauge shotgun as I’m trying to drive away from there as fast as I can! She blew out the back window of my truck and missed my head by inches! And, of course, Rhonda was one of those women who promised never to get emotionally involved. Yeah, right!

JJ: (Gestures at Randall) See, Milton? Like I said, it’s not worth it. Now, I’ll admit that I never had to dodge buckshot flying through my truck but I can definitely relate to Randall’s experience. Just forget it.

Milton: I don’t know. I think I’d be willing to roll the dice if the right babe came along. What about your affair, Tim? You get shot at?

Tim: No. Sarah never found out. Thank the Lord. But I really didn’t get away with anything. I have to live with the guilt for the rest of my life.

 

There is a brief silence as they all look at Tim.

 

Randall: Well, come on, man. Give us details. I told my story.

Tim: (Looks around at all of them) It stays in this room, right? I don’t need another divorce. Scout’s honor?

 

They all nod.

 

Tim: Like I said, it was about twenty years ago. I was in a really bad rut around that time. Seemed like my whole life had hit a brick wall. Things between me and Sarah were at an all-time low. Our joke of a sex life had virtually disappeared after she had Billy a few years earlier and I was in the grip of a serious middle-age crisis. I had a shitty job managing a collection agency call center. You can’t imagine anything more depressing. I despised my life. I remember I’d be driving home from work and thinking that I had nowhere to go. Nowhere that I felt comfortable. Nowhere I’d be happy to get to. Going home to the family was no pleasure. I’d walk in the door and Sarah would expect me to gladly take over entertaining Billy while she went and locked herself in the bedroom for her personal “downtime.” We had opted for her to be a stay at home mother so by the time I showed up she was at her wit’s end from being Mommy all day. I understood that. But there was no love between us at all. I mean none. We had become more like roommates who took turns babysitting our little boy. And this had been going on since he was born! I felt horrible and I looked worse. I’ve seen pictures taken of me from around that time and I looked like a zombie. My eyes and cheeks were sunk in and I was no better off than a walking corpse. I’d look at my situation and wonder how I ended up being so damned miserable. So unfulfilled. So insignificant. As far as I was concerned Hell had turned out to be a steady paycheck, a wife, a kid and a thirty-year mortgage.

Chip: I know what you mean. I’ve been there, too. The hardest part of raising kids is dealing with your own loss of freedom. You just get pulled down into a quagmire of boring routine.

Tim: Way, way down. Well, anyway, around that time this girl named Ursula comes to work in the call center. She’s in her late twenties. She’s actually kind of plain looking but she has the sweetest voice and smile you’ve ever seen. Soon it got to be that being around her was the only thing I could look forward to. Over about three month’s time we started to realize that there’s a real attraction going on between us. But we’re both married so we figure that it won’t go past the flirting stage, right? Wrong. I walk her out to her car one night and all of a sudden we start kissing. One thing leads to another and the next thing you know we’re screwing like a couple of teenagers in the back seat of her Toyota. After that it was on and off for about six months until one night she starts talking about divorcing her husband. That’s when the warning light turned on in my head. All of a sudden I could see where this little discreet affair was headed and I knew I had to put a stop to it. Easier said than done. Man, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. She told me she loved me and I looked her right in the eye and confessed that I didn’t feel anything. Nothing. And that was the sad truth. I broke that sweet girl’s heart into a thousand pieces just because I was unhappy with my home life and I have to live with that.

Randall: At least she didn’t shoot at you.

Tim: No. She ended up quitting a few days later and I didn’t see her again. As far as I know Sarah never found out. I was always having to work overtime so my coming in late was no big deal. I’m not sure she would have given a crap if she’d found out, anyway. So long as I didn’t expect her to satisfy my sexual urges.

 

There is silence for a moment. Tim lets out a sigh.

 

Tim: There were lots of times when I didn’t think Sarah and I would last but things eventually got better between us. We sensed that we were headed down the road to divorce so we started going to a church close to our house and got some relationship counseling there. I’m glad we did. It got us talking to each other again. Now I can’t imagine my life without her. My son Billy was asking me about marriage one day and I told him that if you’re going to make a marriage last for decades then you have to expect that there will not be weeks or months but years that’ll go by when you can’t stand each other’s company. That’s a fact. No relationship is perfect. You just have to lower your head and plow through those bad years to make it last. Otherwise don’t bother getting married.

Chip: From one who’s been married for more than thirty years, I say amen to that. It’s a constant struggle, no matter who you hook up with.

 

Milton holds up his glass.

 

Milton: (Sarcastically) To the holy bondage of marriage!

 

They all toast.

 

JJ: (Suddenly pointing at the boom box) Oh, man. You have a recording of us playing that Allman Brothers song? That is incredible! Turn it up, Tim.

 

Tim reaches over and turns up the music. Milton picks up the whiskey bottle and refreshes everyone’s drink while they listen and nod to each other. Tim turns the music back down.

 

Chip: Where was that recorded?

Tim: At the Trinity Bottoms club. Summer of ‘76.

Milton: Boy, does that bring back some memories! That’s about the time we opened for Jackson Browne and we hung out with him backstage. Which reminds me…

 

Milton reaches into his shirt pocket and pulls out a joint. He looks around mischievously.

 

Milton: You guys want to indulge in a little mother nature? For old time’s sake?

Chip: (Slightly repulsed) Jesus, Milton! Are you still smoking that crap?

Milton: Not every day.

Tim: (Shaking his head unapprovingly) Good Lord. Keep that stuff away from me. They randomly test us at work and I don’t care to get fired because I was in the same room as a pothead.

JJ: Same here.

Chip: Any of you guys want to smoke that shit, fine. But go down to your car and do it. Don’t be firing it up in my room. I get fined if they smell cigarette smoke in here, much less grass!

 

Milton looks around at all of them, then at Randall. He holds it up to him.

 

Milton: Randall? You’re my last hope, buddy. (Gestures) These guys are wussies.

Randall: Maybe later, Rasta boy. I’m doing fine with Mr. Jack Daniels right now.

 

Milton shrugs and puts it back into his pocket.

 

Milton: Whatever. Suit yourselves.

JJ: (Looking at Milton and Randall) I can’t believe you two still toke the rope. Haven’t you outgrown that by now?

Randall: (Sneers) Oh, that’s a load of grade A bullshit, JJ. You of all people have no room to talk. None whatsoever. I don’t believe there was a day that went by when you weren’t stoned to the gills. Don’t get preachy about it now.

JJ: I’m not preaching anything at all. Excuse me if I offended your tender sensibilities. If you want to get small that’s your business. I couldn’t care less. But while we’re tossing around regrets here I’ll tell you straight out that marijuana is my big regret from those days. Without a doubt.

Randall: (Chuckles) Remember how we used to sneak around so Chip wouldn’t know we were smoking weed?

Chip: What are you talking about?

Randall: Have you forgotten about the Chip rule? That’s what we called it. No Mary Jane tolerated under any circumstances. And drinking was only allowed on our nights off. Chip, you were so serious about it that we were scared even talking about pot in front of you.

Tim: It was like having a narc in the band. You laid down the law to us when we first got together in 1972. And you meant it.

Chip: (Folds his arms) Well, probably the best thing I ever did for you guys. Kept us all focused on getting better as a group.

Milton: Yeah, I remember the Chip rule lasting until one night in Denver in 1974.

Chip: (Nods) That’s where the Devil finally slipped me a Mickey.

Randall: I remember the exact moment it happened, too. It was an after-hours party at the home of that hot waitress named Carrie. There’s about 20 people there including us and we’re all sitting in her den just jabbering away with the stereo blasting out Derek and the Dominoes. One stoner is sitting on the hearth rolling one joint after another, lighting them and passing them on around the room. Like usual, we’re abstaining under the Chip rule and we’re just handing them on to the person next to us when JJ pokes me in the side. I look at him and his eyes are huge and he points over at Chip.

JJ: It was an unbelievable sight. Chip’s toking away on a joint and he’s trying his best to inhale without coughing his head off!

 

They all laugh. Chip is embarrassed.

 

Tim: I saw it, too, and I couldn’t believe it. It was like seeing Moses fall off Mount Sinai in a drunken stupor.

Chip: It was that cute girl’s fault. Bonnie. She kept saying I was acting like an old man and telling me I needed to loosen up. The real kicker was when she said grass made her horny. Me and Amanda weren’t getting along very well at the time and I guess I caved in as an act of defiance. Or resignation to the times we were living in. Whatever the reason, I just got tired of turning it down.

Randall: Bullshit. Bonnie had her tongue in your ear. It was an act of animal lust and you know it.

Chip: (Nods) Guilty as charged, your honor. I remember thinking at first that I didn’t feel anything. I ended up driving around Denver at four in the morning in Bonnie’s huge black ’64 Cadillac totally zonked. It’s a wonder I didn’t get pulled over.

Milton: We were so happy. It was like you’d signed the Emancipation Proclamation for the rest of us. We were free to fly at last.

Tim: And it was Katy bar the door after that. The genie was out of the bottle.

Chip: I’m glad it happened when it did. It made me realize that pot really wasn’t such a big deal at all and it allowed me to quit worrying about everything so much. What was really weird was when I found out that Amanda had been a closet toker for years without me knowing about it! When I confessed to her she brought out a joint to celebrate!

Randall: She’d been living under the Chip rule, too!

JJ: Well, I kinda wish we could have kept the Chip rule. Maybe I wouldn’t have wasted so much of my time being stoned after that. (Looks at Randall) You’re right as rain about how I stayed high most of the time back then. After it became okay for us to smoke marijuana openly I became the world’s worst pothead. I’d get stoned before I had my first cup of coffee. Then I’d get stoned before lunch. And after. Then I’d get stoned to go to rehearsal. Then again after supper. Then before, during and after the gig. The next day I’d start the whole routine over again. Moderation wasn’t in my vocabulary. Before that night in Denver I would either practice bass or try to write songs during the day. After grass became acceptable all I’d do is sit on my sofa and space out to Pink Floyd and Yes albums. I did that for years. They say pot is harmless but that’s a huge lie. It robbed me of all my ambition, my energy, my creativity. I didn’t even think about practicing or writing anymore. I try to tell the younger guys at work who joke about how they get around the drug tests that they don’t realize how that shit drains them of their appetite to achieve. For me it was an energy parasite.

Chip: It actually made me more creative, I think. But then I wasn’t doing it every day, either.

JJ: Oh, I’d get all kinds of song ideas when I was stoned. The problem was that I’d be too wasted to pick up the guitar and work it out. Or I’d actually record the idea on my little cassette recorder. Then later I’d play it back and wonder what I thought was so great about it. Man, I could have spent my time a lot more productively.

Tim: Come on, JJ. We all did too much of one thing or another. Don’t you think you’re being a little hard on yourself?

JJ: (Shakes his head emphatically) Not in the least. These days I’ll hear a song by Elton John or Steely Dan or The Eagles from the seventies and I realize that I might have written great songs like that, too. But I’ll never know because I chose to get stoned instead of dedicating myself to my craft. It was just so much easier to drift away in a cloud of smoke than to actually apply myself to getting better at being a musician and a songwriter. I hear about classical pianists who practice three or four hours a day and I think to myself “What if I would have practiced scales for just one hour a day?” One fucking hour. It would have made me a hundred times better. I could have accomplished so much more if I had exercised one single ounce of self-discipline. But no. I chose to get wasted every chance I got. And, as a result, I wasted any chance I had.

 

JJ pauses and stares at the floor for a moment, then looks back up.

 

JJ: So there you have it. That’s my regret. If I had one thing I could go back and change about those years it would be to stay as far away from marijuana as possible. It turned me into a vegetable. In many ways I was no better than a homeless alcoholic on the street. I’m really embarrassed about it.

Tim: Having my son made me quit smoking pot. Sarah never liked it much, anyway.

Chip: Same here with my first daughter. Plus Elizabeth said she’d kill me if she caught me smoking it. And she wasn’t kidding.

JJ: I quit when I almost fell off a telephone pole in 1982 after smoking a joint on my lunch break. Scared me shitless. I knew it was time to stop.

Randall: (Snorts) Just be glad you didn’t move on to the harder shit. I had to go into rehab at one point to get off of cocaine and meth.

 

They all look at him, surprised.

 

Randall: (Holds up his hand) As God is my witness. I won’t bore you with the details but it wasn’t pretty. Pot smoking was nothing compared to that shit.

Milton: Okay, okay. I put the evil joint back in my pocket. Good grief. Sorry I brought it up. Me no smoky!

Tim: Just shows how much we’ve changed over the years. We’re no better than a bunch of stodgy old cigar-chompin’ Republicans!

Chip: (Laughs) No kidding. I get into political discussions with my daughters sometimes and I end up sounding as conservative as Ronald Reagan! And to think I was once a card-carrying member of the Students for a Democratic Society! I protested against the Vietnam War on more than one occasion and now I find myself watching FOX news, cheering on the hawks that want to nuke the terrorists into oblivion! What in the hell happened to me?

Milton: That really is strange coming from you, Chip. You used to try to tell me how socialism was the political solution to the world’s problems. I was afraid you were really a communist at heart!

Chip: (Grimaces) Don’t ever tell that to my daughters. They’d never let me live it down. I was so idealistic in those days.

JJ: I wonder what it is that makes us grow more conservative as we get older?

Chip: I think it’s just that we’ve lived long enough to see how the world really works. We start realizing that there are cultures and religions out there that don’t give a rat’s ass about world peace and harmony between peoples. It’s their way or the highway to hell. If you don’t believe in their God then you’re no better than a demon. Period. We can sit over here and hope and pray for understanding and tolerance till we’re blue in the face. But the fact is that if we were in a room with a member of the Taliban he wouldn’t blink an eye at cutting our heads off and praising his God for the opportunity. No compromise allowed. It’d be like being in a cage with a hungry lion. He’d tear you limb from limb and never give it another thought. No remorse. No conscience. Once I realized that it became clear to me that the only way to preserve any sense of security for our way of life is to be aggressive and proactive in a very violent manner against those psychopaths. Kill or be killed.

Randall: What is it they say? A liberal is someone who hasn’t been mugged yet?

Tim: I don’t agree with your argument, Chip. While it’s true that I may not be the radical I used to be, I still hang on to some semblance of liberal thought. If we don’t preserve at least some dreams of global peace aren’t we all doomed to stay in a state of war forever? Didn’t we stand up to the system back in the sixties and basically tell them that we weren’t going to tolerate the country’s imperialist attitude towards the world any more?

Chip: (Makes a disgusted face) Oh, get off your high horse, Tim. What we objected to and protested against was the selective service! We didn’t want to be told we had to go fight in the jungles of Vietnam. We were having a great time getting high with a little help from our friends and exploring free love. Therefore we absolutely rejected the notion that we had some kind of an obligation to go kill people we didn’t even know. We didn’t give a fart about our country’s imperialist attitude. In fact, it really pisses me off when I hear some guy on Public Television portraying the generation of the sixties as being more altruistic and idealistic than the generations that followed. That’s bullshit! We weren’t nearly as worried about world peace as we were about saving our own hides. The truth is we wanted the war to end so the government would leave us the hell alone!

JJ: So you’re saying that if we’d had an all-volunteer army back then that most of us wouldn’t have cared in the least if we were fighting in Southeast Asia or Tijuana.

Chip: Exactly. We were peaceniks because it was in our best interest. Plain and simple.

Randall: I have to agree. We weren’t against the war, we were against the draft.

Chip: That’s the way I see it. And I’m not saying that was right or wrong. It’s just how it was. But don’t try to tell me it was because of some kind of enlightened mass consciousness.

Tim: (Shakes his head) I still don’t agree at all. You make it sound like we were a bunch of selfish narcissists. There was a lot more going on than self-preservation. We were questioning everything, not just the draft. Vietnam was the first time we’d seen the true horrors of war right in our own living rooms and our whole generation had to step back and ask what we, as a nation, were doing over there. It was morally wrong and we had to put a stop to it. So we did.

Milton: (Sarcastically) Tim, you pinko!

 

 

Randall: I hear what you’re saying, Tim, but I still have to take Chip’s side on this. I clearly remember when I was no longer eligible for the draft but I don’t remember the fall of Saigon. Of course, that’s because I got stoned and missed it, probably. But my point is that once I was out from under the threat of being drafted I didn’t give a damn about the war anymore.

JJ: I would have protested anything that threatened to take my bass guitar and my band away from me. The whole concept of the draft is so foreign to those who grew up after us they think we made it up. It’s true! I worked in a record store for a few months after the group disbanded. I was talking to some teenage boys one day and they couldn’t believe there was ever such a thing as conscription in America. They’d say, “Let me get this straight. Once you turned eighteen years old Uncle Sam could come and physically take you away from your family, your friends, your career, or your wife even and force you to become a soldier? And if you refused they could legally put you in jail?” I’d say yes and they couldn’t believe it. They just couldn’t believe it.

Milton: It amazes me when I hear today’s kids saying that the big, bad government is invading their privacy and stomping on their rights because they think the FBI is listening in on their phone conversation about what to pick up from the store on the way home from work. You want to know what an invasion of privacy really is? Imagine being legally abducted by the military police and transported to a booby-trapped rice paddy in Southeast Asia. Try living with that hanging over your head for a few years of your life and you’ll know what government intrusion really is.

Chip: You’re right. Kids these days don’t know how frightening the draft was. They think all we had to worry about was finding out where the next “Love-In” was happening. Conscription was real. And since our parents grew up with it they didn’t think twice about it. It was your duty to God and country to go fight in the army. Each one of us had to devise some kind of plan to avoid being drafted. It wasn’t just a matter of inconvenience. It was, in many ways, a matter of life or death. So, in tying all this back to my conservative outlook again, I’m for any kind of technical innovation in warfare that eliminates the need to take some snot-nosed kid and stick him in a jungle or a desert with a rifle. I want my tax dollars to be spent on a freakin’ laser that can zap a terrorist from a satellite! If that puts me on a par with Barry Goldwater then so be it.

Tim: I’m sorry, Mister Warmonger, but I think my tax dollars would be better spent on trying to build bridges than on weapons that can blow them to kingdom come. I’m not ready to give up all dreams of a better world just yet.

Chip: And that’s what I love about you, Tim. You’ve still got flowers in your hair. God bless ya!

Randall: (Makes a peace sign) Peace, love and Hari Krishna, man!

Milton: (Claps his hands together once and points to the boom box excitedly) Listen up! My favorite part of the gig! The drum solo!

JJ: Tim, for the love of all that is decent, could you fast-forward through that?

Milton: Don’t you dare!

 

They all stop and listen for a moment.

 

Randall: Gotta hand it to you, Milton. You were a drum-beatin’ fool!

Tim: Like a freakin’ machine, dude!

Milton: (Nods slightly) Yeah, but that was a long time ago. If I tried that today I’d probably have a heart attack!

Chip: Thank the Lord for the drum solo. It was always good for a quick pee break.

Milton: Pee break? That’s a pile of crap. You guys did a lot more than just take a leak. I’d look up through the sweat dripping off my brow and see all of you back at the bar flirting with chicks and knocking down shots of booze. I didn’t get a break like that so I should have gotten paid more. Some nights it would seem like forever waiting for you guys to come back up on stage.

JJ: Oh, just listen to you. Every time we’d bring up the idea of taking the drum solo out of the set list you’d throw a fit. You loved every minute of it and you know it.

Milton: (Holds up his hands in surrender) Okay, okay. You got me. It was my time to shine every night. Drummers never get much love, you know.

Tim: Bull. You got plenty of love as I recall. Chicks drool over drummers. I’ll never know why.

Randall: All I know is that listening to this makes me realize just how good we were. And how great the music was back then.

Chip: And keep in mind that we started from scratch together. Like you said in the elevator, no one taught us how to be a rock and roll band. We had to learn on the fly.

Milton: Sometimes I wonder where the young bands of today get their start. When we were under-aged teens we could play for Friday morning sock hops and at church dances and roller rinks on the weekends. That’s where we learned our craft. All those venues are gone.

Tim: Everything about it has changed. My son says his musician friends write songs via email.

Milton: He’s right. My son does that, too. No wonder the songs on the radio these days are so crappy. There’s no personal interaction going on. Sometimes Frank will play me something he’s downloaded that he really thinks is great and I have to wonder what planet he’s from. If he’s not listening to some kind of rap crap he’s listening to something that’s distorted and completely unmelodic.

Randall: (Points at Milton) Careful, Milton. That’s what our parents thought of Jimi Hendrix.

JJ: Jesus. We’ve become our folks. And they were hoping this would happen to us!

Milton: But it’s different now. You have to admit it. At least Jimi sang. Young people are missing out on the whole experience of music these days. Now they just download a song into their Ipods and listen to it until they get tired of it and then it’s forgotten. It doesn’t mean anything to them.

Chip: That may be so. But is that so different from the way it was in the fifties and early sixties? People just bought a 45-rpm single of a song they heard on top forty radio, played it over and over and then forgot about it. Same deal.

Milton: Yeah, but that was really before our time. When the Beatles came out we didn’t just want one song, we wanted the whole album. We wanted to hear what else they had to say. We wanted to see what they looked like. Don’t you guys remember how exciting it was to bring home a new album from the record store? You’d slice the cellophane with your thumbnail and pull out the sleeve and then carefully place the LP on the turntable and crank up the volume. Then you’d sit back and take in the artwork and the pictures while you listened to songs you’d never heard before. We had a sense of exploration with it all. A sense of wonder.

Tim: You’re right about the album covers. Sometimes I’d buy an album simply because the cover was cool. CDs are too small for the artwork to catch your eye.

Milton: And now with downloading from the internet there’s no artwork at all. And that’s a real shame. But what I’m saying is that music is no longer something that kids want to explore. Not like we did, anyway. They just want the instant gratification of getting that one song that they heard somewhere. They have no interest in finding out what other kinds of music the artist might open their minds to because they don’t have a physical, literal piece of something to touch. It’s just another computer file to them.

JJ: I can still remember how thrilling it was to listen to the Beatles’ Revolver Album for the first time. It blew my mind. I heard sitars and backward guitar leads and strange noises going on. I really didn’t know what to think.

Chip: Every new album was an event for me. The Who, Genesis, Pink Floyd…

Milton: I guess we were the fortunate generation. The lucky ones.

Tim: Hey, the way I see it, everything evolves and music is no exception. Let it be. If I tried to hold this conversation with my son he’d look at me like an old mule staring at a new gate. They don’t miss what they never had.

 

The song playing on the boom box finishes. For a moment there is silence between them.

 

Milton: We need to talk about Tulsa.

 

Randall glares at Milton.

 

Randall: (Loudly) No, Goddamn it. I said we don’t ever bring that up.

Milton: I heard what you said, Randall, but that doesn’t change the fact that I need to talk to someone about it and you guys are the only ones I can do that with. I can’t keep it inside forever. Sometimes I feel like it’s going to eat me alive.

Randall: (Stands up and points at Milton emphatically) I said no.

Milton: I don’t care, motherfucker. Deal with it.

Randall: I have.

Milton: Well, I can’t.

 

The two of them glare at each other.

 

JJ: Randall, I was a part of that mess too, you know. Milton’s right. It’s time to clear the decks about that night. Once and for all.

 

There is another pause, then Randall waves his arms in resignation and sits back down.

 

Randall: (Sarcastically) Fine, then. Let’s regurgitate the whole ugly experience so JJ and Milton can feel better. But don’t expect me to participate. Makes me sick.

Tim: Maybe it would be a good thing for all of us to finally hear what really happened. I always felt like there was something mysterious about that night. Chip and I only know so much if you recall.

Milton: It’s obvious Randall doesn’t want to talk about it and he doesn’t have to. But I’ll tell you what I remember. And believe me, it’s not exactly a fragrant waltz down memory lane. (Pauses to take a drink) We were all staying at that roach motel we always stayed at when we played Tulsa because it was cheap.

JJ: The Deville.

Milton: That’s the one. When was it? 1977? I remember that it was a weeknight and we were on our way back to the motel. The Gold Key Club shut down at midnight during the week so it was kind of early for us and we talked about going to Denny’s and getting a bite to eat. Randall was driving that old Chevy Malibu he had. We passed that stripper club on the highway and there was this really hot chick out by the road with her thumb out. She was kind of frantic-looking so we stopped and let her in and she just said to drive away fast. So we did.

Chip: I remember her well because she had to sit in the front on my lap. She said something about her boyfriend being an asshole. She was seriously pissed at him, I know that.

Milton: No kidding. She was livid. She was an exotic dancer at that club and she had caught her man doing something with one of the other strippers and she had stormed out. Kept saying she was going to get back at him big time.   Then she wanted to know if we wanted to party with her. She found out we were a group and said she’d always wanted to do a rock and roll band.

JJ: She was a true nymphomaniac.

Tim: What was her name?

Randall: Darlene.

Milton: (Nods) Darlene. I’ll never forget her name. Or what happened.

 

Milton closes his eyes and shakes his head.

 

Chip: Go on. It’s all starting to come back to me now. I remember she reeked of alcohol. It’s one time I regretted riding shotgun.

Milton: So we get to the motel and we all go up to the room that Randall, JJ and I were sharing. I bring out a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of vodka and she grabs the vodka and disappears into the bathroom. So we’re all waiting for her, sharing the whiskey and smoking a joint and she’s in there for a pretty good while.

Randall: We should have known something was going on in there.

 

Randall gets up and starts pacing anxiously around the room, occasionally stopping to look out the window.

 

Milton: Finally she comes staggering out and she’s obviously wasted out of her mind but she starts to strip for us. We can’t believe this is really happening. It’s like something we’d read in the Penthouse Forum. Pretty soon she’s naked as a jaybird and we’re all…

Chip: (Holds up his palm to Milton) Okay, Milton. Please. Tell us what we don’t know. There’s no need to go into details about the crazy sex. We were all there and we all took a turn with her.

Randall: Or two.

Tim: It got pretty wild, that’s for sure. We’d always wondered if that could really happen and we finally had our little groupie fantasy come true.

JJ: All of us were so wasted I’m surprised that any of us can remember much of it. The sex part’s still kinda hazy to me.

Chip: It’s not something I’m proud of in any way, shape or form. We took advantage of a woman that had some serious problems.

 

Randall, who has been staring out the window, turns to them.

 

Randall: Hey, it just happened, okay? It wasn’t like we forced her into doing anything. It was all her idea. She was really getting into the whole scene and kept saying she wished “Carl” could see what she was letting us do to her.

Milton: He’s right, Chip. She was wasted like the rest of us but she definitely knew what she was doing. The girl was seriously into it.

Tim: We know, so skip ahead in the story. I recall that, after about an hour of partying, Chip and I crawled back to our room and passed out.

Milton: Then it was just me, JJ, Randall and, of course, Darlene. The festivities go on for a while longer, then she disappears into the bathroom again.

JJ: That’s when I passed out.

Milton: I did, too.

Randall: (Resumes pacing the room) I think I must have been in better shape than you guys were. I stayed awake to make sure she was okay and that she wasn’t going to steal our wallets and guitars and disappear. She finally came out of the bathroom and climbed into bed with me. She passed right out and then I fell asleep. Around four in the morning I wake up because she’s having some kind of convulsion or something. She’s jerking around in weird spasms and it’s freaking me out. Then suddenly she stops and calms down. I checked her breathing and it seemed okay to me. I guess I fell asleep again but for some reason I woke up about twenty minutes later and I realize that she feels really cold and now she’s hardly breathing at all. I turned on the lamp next to her and I can see that she’s pale as a fucking ghost. I knew something was wrong with her so I got up and jostled Milton and JJ out of their comas.

Milton: I could tell something bad was happening because I’d never seen you freaked out like that, Randall.

JJ: Yeah. I was totally out of it but your terrified voice sobered me right up. I knew something was wrong.

Milton: I went over to her and tried to get her to wake up but she was limp as a rag doll. Her eyes were rolled up in her head. That’s never a good sign.

JJ: I went to get a wet washrag out of the bathroom and that’s when I see her stuff in the wastebasket.

Chip: What stuff?

Randall: The syringe and a foil wrapper. Seems that Darlene was shooting up smack in our bathroom before and after the party. JJ calls me and Milton in there and we just froze when we saw it. We’d never been around that crap before.

Milton: Plus she had gone through three fourths of that bottle of vodka by herself.

JJ: I figured we better get some help so I grabbed the phone to call for an ambulance.

Randall: And I stopped you.

 

Tim and Chip both stare at Randall.

 

Tim: What?

Chip: Why would you do that?

Randall: Why? I had a dozen selfish reasons. All of them seemed right at the time.

 

Randall stops pacing and sits back down in the chair. He is distraught. He shakes his head slowly, runs his fingers through his hair and looks down at the floor.

 

Randall: Good God in heaven, have mercy on my soul. How self-serving can a human being be?

Milton: (Leans forward in his chair) Randall, JJ and I went along with you. We didn’t argue about it. It’s not like you had to wrestle the phone out of JJ’s hand.

JJ: Milton’s right. None of us were thinking straight at the time. We were in a panic.

Randall: (Looks up at JJ) That’s no excuse. You wanted to call for help. I was the one who thought he knew better.

Chip: Why wouldn’t you call for help? I still don’t understand.

Randall: (Stands back up and starts pacing again) Because I was afraid. I freaked out. I was a coward who was only thinking about himself. Believe it or not, and you’re really going to think this is insane, I thought it would ruin my career as a rock star. I envisioned police and detectives converging on the room and finding our grass and her heroin. I pictured in my head these big, insinuating headlines if she died and what it would look like to the world. I had a ridiculously inflated notion of how important and admired I was at the time. I was Randall Wilkes, by God, the lead singer of Train Wreck, one of the hottest bands in the southwest and I was certain that we were all destined to be huge stars. And then in an instant I saw it all stopping dead in its tracks because some junkie stripper decides to overdose in our motel room and I panicked. I fucking panicked. So I stand there spewing out my self-centered, ego-driven point of view to Milton and JJ while Darlene slips further and further down towards death. Now you tell me. How can that not be solely my fault?

Milton: Because I was right there in the room with you, Randall. You need to remember that I agreed with you every step of the way. JJ was the only one of us who insisted on calling for help. There’s plenty of blame to go around. Why do you think I have nightmares about it?

JJ: Hey, don’t try to make me out to be some kind of hero in this story. Don’t you dare! I didn’t insist on anything. The argument against calling an ambulance made some kind of twisted sense to me, too. I became convinced that she could ruin us all.

Tim: So you’re saying that not one of you ever called for help? Now I’m almost afraid to ask, but what in the hell did you do?

Milton: I came up with a plan, that’s what.

Chip: Wait a minute. Hold on. You guys told me and Tim that her pissed off biker boyfriend showed up, pounded on your door at five o’clock in the morning, drug her out of bed and you never saw her or him again.

Randall: (Sits back down in the chair) That’s what we told you but it never happened. It was a lie we made up together.

Tim: I always wondered how the boyfriend knew where to find her.

JJ: We figured it was better to tell you two a false story than to implicate you in our little scheme. Believe me, you were better off not knowing anything.

Chip: Jesus. I’m with Tim in that you guys are starting to scare me. What in the fuck did you do with her?

 

Randall, Milton and JJ all look at each other.

 

Milton: I’ll tell them. I was the one who came up with the solution. (He takes a gulp of his drink) So we get her clothes on her and all the time we’re still trying to wake her up. But all she does is groan a little. That told us she was still alive, at least. In the meantime I send JJ out to see who might be hanging around in the parking lot. Randall and I grab her purse and the plastic bag out of the trashcan in the bathroom and wait for JJ to give us the all clear. We carry her out to the Chevy and lay her down in the back seat. We’re just praying that no one at the motel peeks out their window while we’re doing this.

JJ: It’s still about four thirty so there’s no one up and around at all.

Milton: There’s a hospital with an emergency room about two miles away so I drive there in a hurry. We pull up and there’s an ambulance in the bay unloading a stretcher so we park out on the street and watch and wait. It’s only about five minutes but it seems like hours. Finally the ambulance pulls away. I’m thinking we can just take her inside and let the nurses deal with her.

Randall: And that would have been the intelligent thing to do but I’m still worried about us being connected to the whole fiasco. I’m projecting in my mind the worst possible scenarios. Lots of questions and interrogations and bad publicity back home and what will our girlfriends say and on and on.

Chip: So, what, are you telling us that you didn’t immediately take her inside?

Randall: I thought it would be too risky so I wouldn’t let JJ or Milton do that. I talked them into leaving her lying on a bench about a hundred feet from the emergency entrance.

 

Randall gets up once again and paces. Chip and Tim look at each other in amazement. No one says anything for a moment.

 

Tim: What the fuck?

Milton: It’s all horribly true. I wish to God it wasn’t. We waited there in the car until we were sure no one was around, then I pulled up to the curb by the bench. Randall and JJ got Darlene out of the back seat and laid her out on the bench and then jumped back in the car. We left her purse there, too. I’m so paranoid in that moment I can’t even think straight so I peel out of there like some kind of maniac instead of driving normally.

JJ: I just knew someone around there had to have looked out because of the noise and gotten a description of the car. But I guess we got lucky.

Tim: I don’t believe this. So you just left her outside?

Milton: That’s the hell of it. We did just that.

JJ: I remember we stopped in an alley somewhere and threw the dope bag from the motel wastebasket in a dumpster. When we got back to the room I went down to the pay phone and called the hospital and told them they needed to check outside. I hung up before they could ask any questions. I went back up to the room and we all just sat there staring into space, lost in our own thoughts.

Randall: I kept thinking the police were going to come busting in any second.

 

There’s another pause as they digest this information. Randall takes a seat again.

 

Chip: I have to ask the obvious question. What happened to Darlene?

Milton: (Sighs heavily, then looks at Chip) She died. (Pauses) A small article about her appeared in the newspaper two mornings later. The story said a nurse found her outside on the bench after getting an anonymous tip. She died shortly after they wheeled her in. Officially it was ruled a drug overdose. The police were asking for anybody who might have seen anything suspicious to call them and report it. Said her name was Sandy Patterson but that she danced under the name of Darlene. Never saw another word about it.

JJ: While we were sitting there in the room after I came back from the pay phone we decided to tell you two the story about her boyfriend showing up in case you were ever asked about her. We saw no reason to let you know the whole truth.

Tim: Wow. I knew there was something fishy about that night because none of you would ever talk about it after that. I’d try to make some joke about Darlene but you guys would always drop it immediately.

Chip: Yeah, there was definitely a weird vibe floating between you guys for weeks after that. I just thought maybe you had a fight over her or something.

Randall: The three of us made a solemn oath to never speak of what we had done to anybody. If the police somehow managed to follow her trail back to our room we were going to stick to the story we told you two about the boyfriend. It’s all we could come up with.

 

There is silence for a moment. Tim looks around and tries to lighten the mood.

 

Tim: Hey, guys. Bad things happen. It’s all in the past now.

Milton: (Looks at Tim and shakes his head) But it’s something that never really goes away. I still have terrible nightmares about her. Or I’ll just be driving around in broad daylight and I’ll flash back to that bench outside the hospital. I can still see her blonde hair blowing over her face.

Randall: (Stands up and goes to the window) That shit happens to me, too. Out of nowhere I’ll get this vision of standing over her limp body on that bench and I’ll feel like I have this horrible sewer rat crawling around in the pit of my stomach. She was a troubled person who needed my help and I turned away.

JJ: Sometimes I’ll go months without thinking about it and then I’ll see some girl somewhere that reminds me of Darlene and I have to relive the whole thing again. It’s always there, lurking in the back of my mind.

Randall: (Still looking out the window) I just let her die.

Chip: Christ. I had no idea. I’m kinda glad I didn’t know.

Tim: Me, too. I really don’t know what to say. Or think. I guess maybe I would have done the exact same thing in your shoes. I don’t know.

 

There is another pause in the conversation.

 

Milton: It’s the worst thing I’ve ever been a part of. Or can even imagine being a part of. It’s strange. It’s almost like someone else did it. As long as the three of us never said anything about that night I could pretend that it didn’t happen at all. It’s like we got away with this inhuman crime as easily as shoplifting a Baby Ruth. We never got punished for what we did. But hardly a day goes by when I don’t look over my shoulder to see if somebody is following me. I see these shows on TV where some detective opens up what they call a cold case file and uses modern forensic techniques to track down the culprit and it scares the crap out of me. I worry that some DNA sample or something we forgot about that she had on her that night will lead the police back to us. Or some witness that saw Randall’s Chevy finally comes forward. It never really leaves me. Now maybe you can understand why I think about blowing my brains out sometimes. It’s not nostalgia, it’s guilt.

Randall: (Sits back down on the edge of his chair and faces Milton) Listen to me, Milton, you can’t do that to yourself. It was my fault that she died. Not yours. (Glances over at JJ) Or yours, either, JJ. Both of you thought we should call for help right off the bat. And it might have saved her life. Or not. We’ll never know. But if anyone is damned here, it’s me. I talked you out of making that call. I was more concerned about saving my own ass than the life of a human being who was in mortal danger. You want to live with something? Try living with that! I made a bad situation a million times worse. Sure, it would have been a mess explaining why she was there with us and why she was doing heroin in our bathroom. But it also would’ve been obvious that we didn’t intend to do her any harm and they would have let us go after a few hours of interrogation. Instead I put us in danger of being arrested for abandonment, leaving her to die alone on that bench just a few feet from the hospital door. What kind of fucking animal does that kind of thing? Me, I guess! I learned something horrible about myself that night that still makes me sick to my stomach. The only thing you two are guilty of is listening to me.

JJ: We keep tossing around words like blame and guilt but what are they really? To me they’re just puffs of air. No more than that. Now, justice. There’s an ominous concept. Justice is God walking up and down the hall outside your door. He knows. And he’s waiting. Nobody really gets away with anything. I’ll tell you what I finally did, though, and it helped. The whole thing stayed with me constantly for a long, long time until I finally went to confession at a Catholic church about fifteen years ago. I’m not even Catholic but it was driving me nuts so I drove to a town about four hours from here where I knew no one would know me. I never saw the face of the priest I talked to in the confessional. But it was a great relief to finally say it out loud to someone. I’ll never forget what happened to Darlene but at least I was able to leave behind some of the weight I was carrying on my shoulders.

Randall: You confessed, huh? What did he say to you after you told him? Wasn’t he shocked?

JJ: I think he was. He agreed that what I had done was a despicable sin. He didn’t try to whitewash it in any way. He kinda let me have it. He said it was contemptible and shameful. He told me I should pray every day and night for God to forgive me. But he also said that I had to forgive myself in order to move on and make my life productive. We’re all sinners in the eyes of the Lord, he told me. He said that from what I told him about Darlene he figured she was already speeding down the road to self-destruction and that her personal demons were probably going to bring her down soon enough whether I came across her path or not. He reminded me that the same free will that I exercised to try to avoid getting further involved with her predicament also applied to Darlene when she decided to shoot up heroin and gulp down a bottle of vodka. That there was enough fault to go around but that ultimately it was her tragic choices that led to her heart stopping.

Milton: So he told you she would have died anyway?

JJ: (Shakes his head) No, he didn’t because he didn’t know that for sure. He just reminded me that life isn’t black and white. There are mostly gray areas between right and wrong and that God takes everything into consideration before he judges. In other words, the Lord knows this wasn’t a case of premeditated murder. It was a case of negligence. It was a case of some foolish young men who allowed themselves to walk into the throes of iniquity with open eyes and then panicked when evil closed its fist on them. Anyway, ever since then I’ve been able to move on without nearly as much guilt. But I’ll never forget what went down that night.

Randall: A priest, huh? Maybe we should try that, Milton. I guess I figured God would strike me down on the front steps if I tried to walk into a church. I might have to try that myself. It couldn’t hurt. When I think about Darlene I think how she might have turned her life around by now. That no matter how far down she might have sunk she was still some mother’s baby and her life meant something to someone. But I couldn’t be bothered to make a phone call. Or to let anyone else make one.

 

There is another pause of uneasy silence.

 

Tim: I had no idea. But Milton and Randall, you guys need to listen to JJ on this. No matter what happened, what’s done is done. We all have remorse and regrets in our lives but there’s nothing you can do to change things that happened in 1977. Especially in this case. The bottom line is that Darlene killed herself and you may or may not have been able to do anything to stop her.

Chip: Tim’s right. I’m not fatalistic but if you trace things back far enough you can even blame me for it.

Milton: You? How in the hell do you figure that?

Chip: Well, the way I see it a lot of decisions being made differently could have changed the course of our lives but I can think of one really big one. (He points at Milton) Remember in 1975 when you begged us to pack up everything we owned and move out to Los Angeles? You tried to convince us that the only way we would ever be discovered was to go where discovering was being done?

Milton: Yeah.

Chip: And everyone was for it until I put my big foot down and refused to even consider it? The truth was that I was scared of losing Amanda because I knew she would never leave her family behind and move out there. But I could never have admitted that to you guys. So I argued that our best chance of making it was by staying right here in town and building up a huge following that the record companies wouldn’t be able to ignore. What a bunch of bullshit! The fact of the matter is I didn’t have the balls to risk everything. You talk about regrets! I have to live the rest of my life wondering what could have been if we had gone to Hollywood or New York and given it our best shot while we were still young and hungry. The irony is, despite my cowardice, I ended up losing Amanda anyway. And now I’ll never know what might have been. I know a lot of bands moved out there or up to Nashville and ended up failing anyway, but at least those guys know in their hearts that they tried.

Milton: I hear what you’re saying. I wish you would’ve listened to me for that very reason. But what’s that got to do with what happened in Tulsa?

Chip: Simple. If we had moved to California we would never have been in Tulsa that night at all.

Randall: (Waves him off) That’s ridiculous.

Chip: Is it? Can’t you think of a million roads we went down at one time or another that led to us picking up Darlene that night? Any one of us could have kept us from intersecting with her on that highway just by wanting to stop at a 7-11! Another five minutes and Darlene wouldn’t have been there. I admit that I’m shocked beyond belief at what I’ve learned today but that’s just a natural reaction. What it wasn’t was a homicide. It wasn’t an assault. You weren’t thinking straight. You guys did what you thought was best at the time and it turned out horribly. It was a mistake but it’s okay. Beating yourselves up over it decades later serves no purpose whatsoever. It’s ancient history.

Tim: And we still have each other. We lived through tragedies and heartaches and misunderstandings and betrayals but we’re still brothers. That’s important to remember. With us all is forgiven. We may not see each other very often but the bond between us will always exist. We’ll always be there for each other.

Milton: Good. Because I really needed to unload some serious baggage about that night in Tulsa. (Looks over at Randall) I’m sorry I brought it up, Randall, but I felt like I had to. It helps to know that it still bothers you and JJ, too. It was eating me alive.

Randall: I’m glad you forced me to talk about it. I haven’t been dealing with Darlene’s ghost in a healthy way. I just kept throwing dirt on her grave, trying to cover it up. I thought as long as it was a secret somehow that made it not real. But it really did happen and it’s a relief to know you guys don’t hold it against me. I sometimes think my biggest transgression was that I let you boys down all those years ago. Finding out that you’ve forgiven me is what I needed to hear more than anything else. Thank you all.

JJ: Good Lord. Now you’re really freaking me out. Thank you? Please, Randall. That’s so unnecessary.

Milton: And gay.

Randall: (Flips him off) Fuck you, Milton. I was having a serious moment of clarity and you pissed all over it. You’re an asshole, you know that?

Milton: So sue me.

Chip: (Shaking his head) Milton, you haven’t changed a bit. Still the king of horrible timing.

Tim: So… you guys okay about things now?

 

They all nod.

 

Tim: Good. This sad chapter of our history continues to stay just between us forever. Can we agree to leave it behind and never ever bring it up again? Make it a sacred Train Wreck secret?

 

Milton holds up his drink and they clink their glasses together in agreement. Chip glances at his watch.

 

Chip: Anyone famished like me? It’s already seven o’clock and I haven’t eaten since breakfast. I have a great idea, too.

Randall: Let’s hear it.

Chip: Allow me to treat all of you to a top of the line dinner at Daniel’s Texas Rose steak house around the corner. Their surf and turf is legendary.

JJ: Are you shitting me? Chip, that place is really expensive. I couldn’t afford a glass of wine in there.

Chip: That may be but it’s not being financed out of my pocket. My company will gladly pick up the tab. Keep in mind that I’m here for a convention. You four just happen to be executives with TW Incorporated and I’m just doing a little business with a potential client. A legitimate deduction if I’ve ever seen one! And, by God, we fucking deserve it. Everyone game?

Milton: Hell, yeah! Let’s go!

Randall: You don’t have to ask me twice.

 

 

They all finish their drinks and stand.

 

 

Tim: Chip, you really have changed over the years. You used to be the biggest skinflint I’ve ever known.

Chip: I was not.

JJ: Were, too.

Chip: No way.

 

 

Milton opens the door and they head out.

 

 

 

 

Randall: Oh, yes you were. Remember when we used to go to Austin or Norman and you’d make us all ride in the back of a U-Haul truck with the equipment so we wouldn’t have to take your car? It’s still a miracle that we didn’t die of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Chip: Wait a minute. You can’t blame me for that. That wasn’t my idea!

JJ, Tim, Randall and Milton: (Together) Oh, yeah, it was!

 

The door closes behind them.

 

 

 

The End

Tales from Lavender Island – “The Scam”

Tales from Lavender Island 

“The Scam” 

by Rollie Tom Anderson 

 

 

Far, far away in the mists of imagination there is a secret place on this earth called Lavender Island, so named because of its magnificent sunrises and sunsets of pink and violet.  Most of the island is covered by the Chicapah Forest; a magical wilderness inhabited by every kind of animal there is, as well as a few of the human species.  And the things that happen in their lives aren’t all that different from what you may experience in your own.

 

 

Our story begins in the busy town of Green Meadows.  Busy because it lies in a central location just off the main island road on the way to a major seaport, Ocean Bluffs.  All kinds of animals and humans come through Green Meadows to deliver their goods and wares to be bought and sold in the open markets.  At the same time, there is also a thriving community that has made Green Meadows home for generations.  Cad Weasel is one of those local residents.  He’s the town plumber, in fact.  He has a small but comfortable house, his work is steady and, all in all, he leads a normal, pleasant life.  The problem is none of this is good enough for him.  His best friend, Conrad Cardinal, sat in front of Cad’s house, hearing it all again.

“You call this living?” Cad complained.  “I call it slow death.  I’m so bored with it all.”

Conrad shook his head.  “There you go again, Cad.  Complain, gripe, complain.  You don’t have it so bad, my friend.  Remember that,” he said.

Cad rolled his eyes at Conrad.  “Oh, yeah?  Then why don’t you try crawling around under someone’s musty old house, fixing a broken pipe?  Or spend a hot summer day unclogging a stinky drain?” he said.

“But you’re an expert at that kind of stuff and your customers pay you quite well because you do such a good, professional job.  You should be proud,” Conrad replied.

Proud?” Cad shot back.  “Proud of what?  When it comes right down to it I’m still just a lowly plumber.  I’d give anything to be one of those well-dressed businessmen that strut through town every day.  Those guys are going places, doing things, meeting important contacts and buyers.  Now that’s what I call leading a full, productive life.”

“But you’re only looking at one side of it,” Conrad said.  “That kind of career has its drawbacks, too.  Those salesmen have deadlines to meet, weeks drag by without ever getting to be at home with their families, and they have serious financial risks involved sometimes.  It’s not all adventure and excitement, Cad.”

“You’re just saying that because you’re such a laid-back homebody, Conrad.  Not everyone thinks Green Meadows is the one and only place to live.  I don’t care what you say.  I’d jump at the chance to change places with one of those traveling guys.  Almost anything would be better than being a plumber,” Cad grumbled.

Conrad grinned at his friend and said, “Keep in mind, Cad, that the grass is always greener…..”

Cad interrupted him with, “…On the other side.  Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that saying my whole life and I’m sick and tired of hearing it.  Stay here if you want to.  I’ve got to get away from this house for a while.  I think I’ll go to the kangaroo races.”

 

Cad’s luck at the racetrack was just like it always was.  Bad.  He’d lost most of the money he’d brought with him and was about to call it a day when he struck up a conversation with one of the very types he so admired.  A weasel like himself, the stranger wore an expensive blue sport coat with gold buttons, a brown hat with a small, stylish feather in the band, and a fancy gold-handled cane.

Cad sidled up to him.  “Tell me, friend, do you have any luck you can spare me today?  I seem to be fresh out.  By the way, my name’s Cad.”

The stranger shook his hand.  “And I’m Wally Weasel.  Glad to meet you.  But, to answer your question truthfully, I think my luck ran out the front gate a couple of hours ago and I haven’t seen it since.  Sorry, pal.”

“In that case I’m sorry, too, Cad said with a sigh.  “At this rate I’ll be stuck in my dismal rut for the rest of my days.  I’ll never get out of here.”

“I take it that you live here, then?” Wally said.  “Oh, heavens, man.   Don’t say that!  You don’t know how good you’ve got it.  Sleeping in the same comfortable bed every night.  Having a familiar roof over your head when it rains.  Standing on your very own patch of ground you can claim for yourself.  Ahh, the ecstasy of stability!  You’re blessed with a great treasure, my friend.”

Cad chuckled.  “You’ve got to be joking.  You’re pulling my leg, right?  You actually think for one moment that being nothing more than a plumber in a small, insignificant town is something to be treasured?  Get real.”

Wally’s eyes widened.  “Excuse me, Cad, but did my ears actually hear you right when you said you’re a plumber?  Oh, how I envy you!  Did you know that ever since I was a child I’ve always been absolutely fascinated with pipes and fittings?  Drains and U-joints?  Valves and traps?  The art of controlling the flow of water as it makes its way through homes and businesses?  And Sewers!  Wow!  Incredible stuff.  You’re a very lucky man to possess such a wonderful skill.”

Cad was shocked.  “Mercy me!  I don’t guess I’ve ever met anyone who felt that way about plumbing.  But believe me, Wally, it gets real old real fast.  On the other hand, you seem to be the one who’s living the good life.  I mean, just look at you in comparison with myself.  You’re dressed like a king, you probably travel the entire island wheeling and dealing with many others just like yourself, and you get to meet new faces every day.  No week is the same for you.  Ever.  No, my friend, it is I who envy you.”

“Well, now.  Isn’t that amazing?” Wally mused.  “We’re about the same age, the same size and shape, the same color fur, but each of us yearns to walk in the other’s shoes.  Life’s funny like that, I guess.”

Cad nodded.  “You’re right about that.  By the way, where are you staying while you’re in Green Meadows?”

“As a matter of fact, I was about to ask you directions to a hotel,” Wally replied.

“Hotel?  I won’t hear of it,” Cad said.  “I have an extra room at my place and you can stay there.  I’d love to hear some of your “travel” stories.  You must have a million of them.”

“I’ll accept your offer only if you’ll show me your plumbing tools,” Wally said.

They shook hands again.  “It’s a deal, Wally.  Come along.”

 

With Wally astride his handsome, strong pony and Cad on foot, they trotted to the house where Cad prepared a delicious meal and lit a warm fire.  After much conversation Wally retired to the spare bedroom while Cad stayed up late into the night, thinking.  Before dawn revealed its first faint glow in the eastern sky, Cad made his mind up.  He’d switch identities with his new friend.  He wrote a note that read: “Since we both expressed a deep longing to be like the other, I’ve taken the liberty of trading my plumbing profession, this house and everything in it in exchange for your clothes and your pony.  Good luck in your new career.  I’m off to make my fortune as a successful businessman.  Sincerely, Cad Weasel.”

 

When Wally awoke hours later he found the note and let out a triumphant laugh.  “Ha, ha, ha!  Am I good, or what?  I set it up perfectly and he took it hook, line and sinker.  Me?  A plumber?  Ha!  I’d have to have a major clog in my mental pipes before I’d ever get my hands dirty like that.  Ha, ha, ha!”

Wally took his time, cooking up a hearty breakfast while chuckling softly to himself.  Then he went through Cad’s clothes and picked out the only decent suit in the closet.  He sat on a chair, rolled down one of his own socks and pulled out a huge wad of money.  His grin was as wide as his face could hold.

“So much cash!  So easily acquired!  I do believe I’ve committed the perfect crime.  Perhaps I should be ashamed of myself……. NOT!!!  Ha, ha, ha.”

 

Wally saddled up Cad’s old horse and left Green Meadows at a leisurely pace.  He breathed in the clean, crisp morning air and smiled as the warm sunshine caressed his happy mood.  A few miles down the road he came upon a law officer who was keeping watch over somebody seated at the side of the highway handcuffed.  Wally came to a stop next to them.  The officer was Sheriff Jacob Jaybird of Ocean Bluffs.

“Good morning, officer.  Can I be of any help?” Wally asked.

Jacob smiled at him.  “Good morning to you, sir.  Thanks, but I’ve got everything under control here.  My prisoner is restrained.”

Now, the one in custody was none other than Cad Weasel.  But, because of where he sat, the bright morning sun was shining directly into his eyes.  Wally Weasel was unrecognizable in the blinding glare.

“May I inquire as to what crime this fellow weasel has committed?” Wally inquired.

“Well, he’s innocent until found guilty, but he fits the exact description of the culprit who robbed Sam Weasel over in Ocean Bluffs, where I’m the town sheriff.”  Jacob stuck out his hand.  “My name’s Jacob Jaybird, by the way.”

“Oh, where are my manners?  I’m Randall Weasel of Summerfield.  You mean he’s a thief?  Heavens!  How on earth did you track down and apprehend such a dangerous criminal so quickly?”

“Well, the suspect was last seen heading towards Green Meadows.  He was this weasel’s size and age, he was wearing Sam’s expensive blue sportcoat with shiny gold buttons, a brown hat with a feather, a fancy cane, and riding on Sam’s pony.  A perfect match.  Oh, this is him, all right.”

“No, no, a thousand times no,” Cad whined.  “How many times do I have to tell you, sheriff?  You’ve got the wrong guy!  You’re making a gigantic mistake.”

Quiet!  That’s enough out of you,” Jacob said.  “Just sit still while we wait for the paddy wagon to arrive.”

“Are you sure he won’t give you any trouble?,” Wally asked.  “He seems a bit hostile.”

“Oh, he’ll be a good boy, trust me,” Jacob said.  “I’ve arrested much worse than this scalawag.”

“Okay, then.  I must be getting along,” Wally said.  “Have a good day, but don’t let him out of your sight for a single moment.”

Jacob nodded.  “Don’t worry, I haven’t lost one yet.  Good day, Mr. Weasel.”

Wally sauntered away slowly.  But as soon as he was out of the direct sunlight, Cad could finally see whom it was that had been talking to the sheriff.  He jumped up and gestured frantically.

Sheriff!!  That’s HIM!  Don’t let him get away!  He’s the one you’re looking for.  I just traded for these clothes and the pony with him!  Arrest that weasel!”

Jacob was getting annoyed.  “Okay, that’s it!  I told you to keep silent.  Now you’re going to have to wear a strip of tape over that loud mouth of yours all the way back to Ocean Bluffs.  Hold still!”

Jacob struggled to stretch the tape over Cad’s mouth but he kept on protesting.  “But…. but his name’s not Randall, it’s Wally.  Wally Weas… mm..mm..mm!!!” he cried.

 

Cad was now speechless.  Literally.  The sheriff had muzzled him with a wide strip of thick, sticky tape.  Wally heard the commotion behind him and stopped a short way down the road.  He looked back over his shoulder at them and called back.

“Is that criminal causing you trouble, sheriff?”

“Not anymore,” Jacob replied. “That’s one of the oldest tricks in the book.  Blame the first animal like yourself that happens along.  They never learn, though.  We’re good.  Continue on your journey, sir.”

Wally nodded at the sheriff, then rode on.  Sheriff Jacob turned his attention back to Cad, who was glaring at Wally as he rode away, free as a breeze.  Wally turned around once more and gave Cad a sly wink.  This infuriated Cad, who struggled angrily against his tight restraints.

Now Jacob was getting mad at Cad.  “Hey, you!  Calm down or you’ll find yourself riding to jail in a Billy Club-induced coma!  I’m not going to wrestle with you any more!”

 

Cad watched helplessly as Wally Weasel rode away.  Soon the police paddy wagon arrived and Sheriff Jacob cautiously loaded him inside, locking the steel door.  Once they got to Ocean Bluffs Cad was placed in a cell and questioned at length.  He told everything he knew about what had happened, but the sheriff remained skeptical and unconvinced.  Soon the office door opened and Sam Weasel stormed in, furious as a stirred-up hornet’s nest.

Sam spotted Cad.  “That’s the one, sheriff!  Let me at him!  Where’s the money you stole, weasel?  Tell me, you rotten thief!”

“Simmer down, Sam, simmer down,” Jacob said.  “He’s not going anywhere.”

“Make him tell us where the money is!” Sam demanded.

“I’m innocent, I tell you,” Cad pleaded.  “I’m not who you think I am.  Please listen to me.  This is all a big mix-up.”

Jacob was fed up with the whole matter.  “All right!  That’s enough out of both of you,” he said.  “We’re going to get some answers as soon as you start acting like civilized animals.  Now, Sam, I want you to tell me exactly what happened yesterday.  Our friend in jail over there says he’s Cad Weasel of Green Meadows, an honest plumber who’s lived there all his life.  He claims he was wearing your clothes and riding on your pony because he’d switched identities with somebody named Wally Weasel who he met yesterday for the very first time.  He now believes he was conned by this fellow weasel in order for him to make a clean getaway.  He also says he never saw any money and he’s never even been to Ocean Bluffs.”

Cad said, “That’s the truth, sheriff.  That cheat bamboozled me!”

Sam wasn’t buying Cad’s tale.  “A likely story.  You’re the one.  I’d recognize you a mile away.”

“Okay, Sam.  I took off after the thief the minute I heard about the robbery,” Jacob said.  “Therefore I’m pretty much in the dark about a lot of this.  It’s time you told me everything that happened to you.  And I want details.”

Just then Sam’s wife, Gertrude, came into the office.  Sheriff Jacob motioned for her to take a seat, then told Sam to go ahead with his story.  Gertrude ogled Cad with a suspicious eye as he spoke.

Ahem.  Let’s see.  I met this smooth-talking weasel the day before yesterday while making my rounds of the boat docks in the harbor.  My boss, Mr. Pelican, has me check on all the loading and unloading of his cargo.  I’m his right-hand man, you know.  Well, anyway, I run into this fella.  Says his name’s Frank and he’s the nicest, friendliest guy you’d ever want to meet.  Just has a happy-go-lucky way about him, you know?  He even treats me to lunch.  Tells me I could do a lot better than being a gofer for Mr. Pelican, that I’m talented, under-appreciated, stuff like that.  Now that’s when I think he found out I sometimes have to deliver cash payments to the ship captains from time to time.”

Jacob was surprised.  “You told him that?” he asked.

“Um, I’m not positive, but I might have,” Sam said.  “We talked about a lot of things.” 

“The man doesn’t have a brain in his head!” Gertrude snorted.

Shhh.  You’re going to have to stay quiet, Gertrude,” Jacob cautioned.  “Go on, Sam.”

 

“Well, the next morning I get dressed, go by the office, pick up a thousand-dollar payment for the captain of the “Matilda” and start out for the harbor.  There I was, just riding along, minding my own business, when somebody hits me from behind, on top of my head, with a hammer!  I fell down in a daze, but just before I blacked out I managed to get a good look at the bushwhacker.  It was the same weasel I’d met the day before.”  Sam gestured at Cad.  “And that’s him right in there!”

“What happened next?” Jacob inquired.

“It was almost dark when I came to.  I was in the dark woods so no one saw me lying there at any time.  My pony, my clothes and, most importantly of all, Mr. Pelican’s money was gone.  That’s when I came and told you.”

“How’s your injury?” Jacob asked him.

Sam seemed confused.  “Hmm?  What injury?”

“Your head, Sam, your head!” Jacob said. “ You just told me he hit you on top of the head with a hammer.”

“Oh!  Right!  It still throbs a little, but I’ll be okay in a few days,” Sam said.  “He must’ve hit me in just the right spot because I was conked out all day.”

“Hmm.  That’s quite a story,” Jacob mused.

 

Sheriff Jacob couldn’t put his finger on it, but something was beginning to stink about the whole mess.  For one thing, if Cad was the criminal, where was the money?  He surely wouldn’t have left the area without at least some of it.  And if the robber hit Sam hard enough to knock him out for that long, shouldn’t there be a lot more than a small scratch on his head?  Sheriff Jacob had enough experience to know when things didn’t add up.  At that very moment there was a knock on the office door and in walked Conrad Cardinal from Green Meadows.  Cad jumped up and ran to the cell door.

Conrad!  Thank heavens you’re here at last!” he exclaimed.

“I left home as soon as you called.  Hopefully I can clear this up,” Conrad said.

“You’re a close friend of the suspect?” Jacob asked him.

“Yes, sir,” Conrad replied.  “Known him since he was a baby.” 

“Where was he yesterday morning?” Jacob asked.

“I saw him and Steve Snake working in Pearl Porcupine’s yard, repairing her broken sewage pipe,” Conrad testified. “They were busy with it till the middle of the afternoon.  Plenty of witnesses besides me, Sheriff.  He never left town.  You’ve got the wrong weasel.”

“Just like I told you,” Cad said.

Jacob was convinced of Cad’s innocence.  He turned to his accuser.

“Now, Sam, it looks like he’s telling the truth after all.  The real culprit conned him into some kind of switch.  I’ll bet that clever critter hid the money in a sock or something so when Cad took his clothes he wouldn’t take the loot, too.  He sure played it cool on the road this morning.  He even fooled me.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” Sam shouted.  “Get up and go find him, sheriff.  You just said you saw him yourself!”

“Sam, by now he could be anywhere on Lavender Island,” Jacob said. “I’ll put out a standard alert to the other law enforcement agencies but if this shyster is as wily as I think you’ve seen the last of him and that money.  He knows all the tricks, I’m afraid.  But Sam, are you sure he didn’t con you, too?”

Sam turned red.  “What?  Con me?  Nonsense!  Why… why do you ask such a thing?”

Sheriff Jacob rose and unlocked the cell door, allowing Cad to come out and sit by the desk.  Sam was beginning to squirm in his seat as everyone looked at him.

Jacob sat back down and said, “Well, for one thing, scam-artists aren’t usually violent.  Why mug someone if you can get them to just hand the money over?  And another thing.  That stretch of road where you say he attacked you isn’t exactly off the beaten path.  In fact, I’m very familiar with it and I happen to know, as you do, there’s a lot of traffic on it at that time of the morning.  I’m wondering why no one else witnessed your robbery?”

“Um…. I don’t know, either,” mumbled Sam.

“Also, if the assailant was on foot and you were on your pony, how did he manage to hit you on top of the head with his hammer?” Jacob asked.  “Seems like he would’ve had to jump up on the pony first, yet you stated you never heard a thing.  How do you account for that?”

Sam was starting to sweat.  “Umm…. Umm…. I know!  Maybe he threw it!” he said.

Sam was really nervous now.  He could tell his explanations were getting more and more far-fetched.  His wife, Gertrude, walked over and glared at him.

“You know, something else is strange about all this,” she said.  “When I got home from work yesterday there was a whole pan of fresh trout in the fridge.  I smell something fishy here in more ways than one.”

Ahem.” Sam said.  “Well, uh….. maybe he, uh…. Oh, what’s the use?  I can’t lie about this anymore.  Okay, okay, okay.  I fell for one of that creep’s scams, too!” he confessed.

“Just as I thought,” Jacob said.  “All right, Sam.  Let’s hear the truth this time.”

Sam gathered himself before speaking.  “What I told you about meeting him was true.  But over lunch I told him how I love to fish and he told me the trout were so plentiful in the Jasmine River lately they were practically jumping onto the banks!  Well, I thought about that, then started to complain about how I never enjoy free time with my job and all, and how I’d love to take a day off to fish.  So he offered to do me a “favor.”  He suggested we meet up early the next morning.  He’d put on my clothes and take the pony and the money and, since we were about the same size and shape, he’d fill in for me.  He said no one would know the difference.  Now you’ve got to understand, this guy seemed so honest in the way he talked and acted that I decided to trust him.  Well, I had a great time at the river, went home, put the fish in the icebox, and then went to meet him at the spot we’d agreed on earlier.  I waited and waited for what seemed like forever.  Then it dawned on me that maybe I’d been….. tricked.”

Jacob nodded.  “I see.  So who put the scratch on your head?”

Sam stared at the floor  “I did.  I was so mad at myself for falling for such a stupid scam I could’ve beaten myself to a pulp!

Cad spoke up.  “Why, you little creep!  You were going to make me take the blame for it!  But you knew I was telling the truth all along!”

“Yes, and I’m sorry, Cad.  I panicked.  I began to realize the money was long gone.  I got confused and scared.  Believe me, though, I couldn’t have let you take the blame much longer.  My conscience was killing me.  I feel so ashamed!

Jacob wasn’t happy.  “Sam, I ought to throw you in that cell right now.  But, unfortunately, there’s no law against being stupid, so I can’t.  You do realize I’m going to have to tell Mr. Pelican you gave his money to a criminal who’d gained your trust, don’t you?”

Sam looked up at Jacob.  “No, Sheriff, you’re not.  I’m going to be a man about this and tell him myself.  He’ll probably fire me but that’s what I deserve for being so gullible.”

Jacob let out a heavy sigh.  “Look, Sam, I’ll talk to him anyway and tell him just how sly and crafty these characters like Frank, Wally, Randall or whatever his real name is really are.  I think I can get him to go easy on you.  Now all of you go back home.  I have a lot of paperwork to fill out.”

 

 

There’s not really a happy ending to this tale.  Sam and Cad learned the hard way that if something seems too good to be true it probably is.  They also learned you should always get to know someone thoroughly before you place a lot of trust in them.  There’s always a fine line between being friendly to strangers and being vulnerable to dishonest scam-artists.  And, of course, making up lies to cover up your own mistakes never makes things better.  Sam was fortunate.  His boss allowed him to pay back the lost money a little at a time and keep his job.  As for Cad, he realized a professional crook can lure you into his trap as easily as catching fish in a stream.  All he has to do is find the perfect bait.

 

 

THE END

 

Copyright 2000

Tales from Lavender Island – “Superstition”

Tales From Lavender Island 

Superstition 

by Rollie Tom Anderson

 

 

            Far, far away in the mists of imagination there is a secret place on this earth called Lavender Island, so named because of its magnificent sunrises and sunsets of pink and violet.  Most of the island is covered by the Chicapah Forest; a magical wilderness inhabited by every kind of animal there is, as well as a few of the human species.  And the things that happen in their lives aren’t all that different from what you may experience in your own.

 

 

This story takes place in Summerfield, a town on the edge of the Chicapah Forest where open meadows spread out for miles all the way to the coastline below Tyrant’s Mountain.  Three young girls live in this town who were born in the same year and have grown up together as close as sisters.  They are Wendy Wolf, Gracie Deer and Karen Kangaroo.

 

One day they were looking in the window of the Summerfield Mall Fabric Store.

Oooo!  Look, girls.  What pretty satin,” Gracie said.  “I’ll bet it’s expensive, though.”

“You’re probably right,” Wendy said.  “But it sure would make a great dress.”

“Oh, well, a girl can dream, can’t she?” Gracie said.  “Uh, oh.  I feel a sneeze coming on.  Ah…. ah…. ah… ACHOOOO!!!  Excuse me.”

“Bless you,” Karen said.

“Oh, that reminds me of something I’ve been reading,” Gracie said.

Wendy was confused.  “What does?  The satin?” she asked.

“No, no.  My sneeze and what Karen said just now,” Gracie replied.  “It’s superstition.”

“Hmm?  My saying ‘bless you’ is being superstitious?” Karen asked.  “No way.”

“It is,” Gracie said.  “I learned about it in a book.  Back when folks didn’t know better they thought your soul was in your breath.  They feared that if you sneezed too hard your spirit would leave your body and then not find its way back in.  So whoever was around a sneezer would say ‘bless you’ to help keep your soul inside you.  Silly, huh?”

“It’s not silly at all,” Karen answered.  “It’s just good manners.”

“If that’s so, how come nobody says anything after you cough or blow your nose?”  Wendy asked.  “If you ask me, I think all superstitions are dumb.  Let’s go to the music store.”

The three girls started walking.  Karen Kangaroo stopped them suddenly.

“Oh, my.  Let’s go down the other side of the mall,” she said.  “There’s a big ladder in front of us.”

So?  It looks sturdy to me,” Wendy said.  “I don’t think it will fall on any of us.  It’s not a problem.”

I know what’s wrong,” Gracie said.  “She thinks it’s bad luck to walk under a ladder.  That’s another superstition.”

“I am not being superstitious,” Wendy said.  “I’m just being safe.  A tool left on top could fall and hit us on the head if we walk under that ladder.  It won’t hurt to go out of our way.”

To make Wendy happy they avoided the ladder and continued through the mall.  They stopped at a fast-food restaurant, got their meals, found a table and sat down.

“Oh, goody!  I’m glad we decided to eat lunch early,” Karen said.  “All this walking and talking has made me hungry.”

“Karen, will you pass the salt, please?” Wendy asked.

“Sure, here you go,” Karen said.  “Ooops!”

            Karen dropped the shaker, spilling a small amount of salt.  She quickly picked some of it up and tossed it over her left shoulder.  Unfortunately, Pearl Peacock was sitting right behind her and salt grains hit the back of her head!

Gracie and Wendy were shocked!  “KAREN!!!” they both exclaimed.

“What’s wrong?” Karen asked, then turned to look behind her.  “Oh, no!  I’m so sorry, Ms. Peacock!  I didn’t mean to hit you.  I didn’t know you were there.”

Pearl brushed the salt off of her clothes and off of her feathers.  “Well, I never!” she grumbled.  “What were you thinking?  You should learn some manners!  Good grief!”

Karen slowly slid down into her seat as Pearl stormed away, mad as a bee.

“I am so embarrassed,” Gracie said.  “Everyone in here was looking at us.”

“Think how I feel!” Karen said.  “I’m the one who threw it all over her.  But I was taught by my grandmother to always throw spilled salt over my shoulder or something bad will happen.”

“Karen, something bad did happen,” Wendy said.  “You and your childish superstitions.  Enough already.”

“Here’s the true scoop.  People used to think that salt was magic,” Gracie said. “Spilling it meant good spirits were warning you evil was lurking nearby.  Since everyone thought good spirits lived on your right side and bad ones on your left, tossing a pinch over your left shoulder made the evil spirits be nice to you.  Weird, huh?”

“I’ll say,” Wendy said.  “Now listen to me, Karen.  Salt is not magic.  Got it?”

“Okay.  You don’t have to be mean about it,” Karen replied.  “I feel bad enough already.”

People were still staring at them so they put their food back into the paper bags and left.  They headed for the nearest mall exit but Karen once again asked them to stop.

“Oh, my,” she said.  “We’re going to have to go out another way.”

“What’s the problem now, Karen?” Wendy whined.

“Christine Cat walked across our path to that exit,” Karen explained.  “She’s a black cat!  Don’t you know what that means?”

Wendy rolled her eyes.  “I’m sure Gracie is just dying to tell us,” she said.

“Allow me,” Gracie said.  “Long ago folks believed that black cats were very close to witches and that, after about seven years, they actually became witches.  So everybody avoided his or her path.  They feared the ‘devil cat’ might put a spell on them.  Very, very silly.”

“Tease me all you like,” Karen said, “I’m not hurting anybody, am I?”

“Pearl Peacock comes to mind,” Gracie said.

“That was an accident and you know it,” Karen said.

“Let’s drop it,” Wendy said.  “We’ll go out that side door over there.”

“Let’s change the subject and talk about the school dance next Saturday night,” Karen said.  “I can’t wait!”

“Me, neither,” Wendy said.  “I hope they hired a good band.  I want to dance all night!”

“It’s Ramsey Raccoon and the Rebels,” Gracie said.  “I just love their music.  They rock!”

“Great!” Karen said.  “It’s going to be the best party of the year!”

“Let’s go rustle through each other’s closets and pick out what to wear,” Wendy said.

 

From Wendy’s they went to Gracie’s and then to Karen’s house.  As Karen and Gracie tried on clothes, Wendy sat on the bed.  She picked up one of Karen’s books.

“Is this new?” she asked.  “Rosie’s Astrology Guide.  I didn’t know you read this stuff,” Wendy said.  “But after today I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.”

“Don’t tell me you believe that nonsense, Karen,” Gracie said.  “It’s trash.”

Karen got mad.  “Just put it back if it bothers you,” she snapped.  “I’m not making you read it.”

“There’s no need to get upset,” Wendy said.  “Who am I to tell you what to read?”

“Astrology is just like the other superstitions,” Gracie said.  “Since the beginning of time folks were so amazed by the movements of the stars they started believing they controlled their lives.  But it makes no sense to think that where the stars were when you were born can tell you what will happen in your life fifty years later.  Most of those stars are billions of light years away and nowhere close to each other!  There’s no scientific proof for anything in that book.”

Karen was tired of Gracie and Karen picking on her.  “Oh, thank you Ms. know-it-all for yet another lecture!” she said.  “All you’ve done is make fun of me today and I’m really sick of it!”

“But Karen, we…” Gracie began.

Quiet!” Karen said, interrupting her.  “You don’t understand that these things have been passed along for ages in my family and that I don’t really care if you think I’m a fool.  If I want to believe in magic and charms it’s my business.  Please leave me alone now.  I’ll see you later.”

 

Gracie and Wendy left and walked home.  They talked about what had happened and agreed that if it was such a touchy subject with Karen they would just let it blow over.

“She’s pretty upset with us about all that stuff,” Gracie said.  “Let’s not bring it up again.”

“No problem,” Wendy said.  “But if she starts taking it too seriously again I’m going to say something.  What if Christine Cat had overheard Karen at the mall today?  That could’ve really hurt her feelings.  And that’s when this superstitious garbage gets out of hand.”

“You’re right, but for now I’d rather think about the dance and all the fun we’re going to have,” Gracie said.  “I’ve got to go now.  Bye.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Wendy said.  “Bye.”

 

Finally Saturday night came.  Gracie went over to Wendy’s where the three of them had planned to meet up before walking to the school dance.  But after waiting a while they began to worry about Karen.  It wasn’t like her to be late.  No one answered the phone at her house so they went over there. They knocked on her door and Karen finally opened it.

“Well, girl, it’s about time!” Gracie said.  “Get a move on.  We’re already running late!”

Karen looked sad.  “I’m not going to the dance,” she said quietly.

“Not going?  What’s wrong?” Wendy asked.  “Are you sick?”

“No, I feel fine,” Karen answered.  “I know you’re going to kid me again but I have to heed the warnings.  I’d be tempting fate to go to the dance.”

“You got warnings about a dance?” Wendy asked.  “What are you talking about?”

“It’s my horoscope,” Karen said.  “It told me ‘Beware of parties today.  Stay close to home.  This is not a good time to try to have fun.’  Now do you understand?”

“I understand, all right,” Gracie said.  “The stars are telling me that you’ve entered the twilight zone.  Please, Karen, forget about that nutty stuff and get your party dress on.  You’ve been looking forward to this night for weeks.”

“You don’t get it, do you?” Karen said.  “There’s been a great many times when the stars were right about everything.  I’ve got a strong feeling that this is one of those times.  I can’t risk it.”

“Karen, you’re not your grandmother,” Wendy said.  “You don’t have to live like this.  That ‘Rosie’ person who wrote that dumb book doesn’t know you any more than she knew your granny.  All she knows is that you paid twelve dollars for her book.  It’s a joke, Karen.  A joke on you.”

“That’s enough,” Karen said.  “What was good enough for my grandmother is good enough for me.  You two go have fun.  I don’t care what you do.  I’m staying home because I think I should.”

Karen rudely shut the door in their faces.  Wendy turned and started walking away.

“You’re leaving?” Gracie asked.  “Surely we can talk her out of this.”

“Go for it, my friend.  Me?  I’m not wasting another moment on her,” Wendy said.  “It’s like my mom told me.  Sometimes you just have to let them taste their own stale meatloaf.  She cooked it, she can eat it.  I’m going to the dance.  Maybe she’ll show up later on.”

“I hope you’re right,” Gracie said.  “Hold up a second.  I’m coming with you.”

 

The dance turned out to be one of the most exciting ever.  Ramsey Raccoon and the Rebels rocked the gymnasium for hours.  Wendy and Gracie danced with the boys in their class and spent the whole night talking about who had danced with whom.

Meanwhile, Karen spent a sad, lonely evening watching TV, wishing she was at the dance.

The next morning Gracie visited Wendy.  She had stopped by Karen’s on the way.

“Wasn’t last night the greatest?” Wendy said.  “I had wonderful dreams about it.”

“Me, too,” Gracie said.  “But I really wish Karen would’ve gone.  You know how funny she can be when she gets around a bunch of people.  It’s kind of tragic.  I don’t know what to say to her.”

“Maybe that’s the problem,” Wendy said.  “We’ve been saying too much and not doing enough.  Come on.  We’re going to cure her of her superstitious ‘disease.'”

 

They immediately went to Karen’s house.  After Karen answered the door Wendy went inside with Gracie following right behind.  Wendy took Karen by the arm and led her into her bedroom.

“I’m doing this for your own good,” Wendy said.  “You may get angry and hate me for the rest of your life, but I’m willing to take that chance because I care about you.  I’m going to prove to you that your superstitions are false.  Gracie, get all the astrology books you can find and put them in a sack so we can toss them into the trash heap later.”

Karen was shocked.  “What?” she exclaimed.  “Those cost money.”

“Sue me,” Wendy said.  “Now, get your umbrella out of the closet and open it up.”

“In here?” Karen asked.  “But it’s bad luck to open it inside the house.”

“Bad luck is guaranteed if you don’t do what I say,” Wendy said.  “We can do this the easy way or the hard way.  But it’s going to get done.  I knew you’d get mad at me.”

“You were right.  I am,” Karen said.  “But I think maybe you’re bluffing.”

OPEN THE UMBRELLA, KAREN!!!” Wendy shouted.

This even startled Gracie.  “She’s not bluffing,” she said to Karen.  “Do it.”

She shrugged, opened the umbrella, and threw it aside.  Wendy took Karen’s horseshoe from over the door.  Then she took a small mirror from her purse and carried it to the desk.  She put the mirror down and handed the horseshoe to Karen.

“Smash the mirror with the horseshoe,” Wendy ordered.

“That’s crazy,” Karen said.  “If I break a mirror I’m doomed to seven years of bad luck.  But you don’t care, do you?  Fine.”

Karen smashed it.  Gracie carefully put the pieces into a wastebasket.  Next Wendy led Karen into the kitchen.  She made her spill salt on the table but didn’t let her throw any of it over her shoulder.  Then they went outside and found a ladder leaning against a neighbor’s house.  Wendy made Karen walk under the ladder.  Twice.  Wendy spotted Christine Cat coming down the road.  She waited for her to go by, then led Karen right across her path.  By now Karen was furious.

“Have you finished ruining my life?” she asked.  “Or is there more?”

“One last thing,” Wendy said.  “Take everything out of your pouch.”

“Oh, of course!” Karen exclaimed.  “Here, take my lucky crystal, my lucky penny, my lucky wishbone, my lucky four-leaf-clover, and my lucky rock!  Take every charm I have to ward off bad luck.  I guess you’re going to trash them, too.”

“I won’t let that happen,” Gracie said.  “You’ll get them back.  Trust me.”

“Thanks, Gracie, but it won’t matter by then,” Karen said sadly.  “This is the last time I’ll see you because I won’t make it alive through the night.  Something terrible will happen to me because of what you’ve forced me into doing today.  I’m a doomed Kangaroo.”

“You’re wrong,” Wendy said.  “The sun will rise for you tomorrow morning just like it did today.  And the day will be what you make it, not what a book says it will be.”

“You’re so blind,” Karen said.  “There are powers at work around us that you can’t see.  They’ll never allow me to live.  I have angered the spirits in the worst way.”

“I’ll tell you what,” Gracie said.  “We’ll come by in the morning and take you to breakfast.  It’ll be my treat.  You’ll not only be alive and well, but hungry, too.”

Wendy smiled at Karen.  “Don’t worry,” she said.  “I would never do anything to cause you harm.  We’ll see you bright and early.”

“Yeah, right,” Karen said.  “It was nice knowing you both.  Farewell, cruel world.”

 

The next morning Wendy and Gracie went straight to Karen’s house.  They topped the hill above her home and stopped.  Down below Karen sat on a tree stump, crying.

“Oh, no!  Something bad must’ve happened,” Gracie said.  “What if we’ve hurt her?”

“What do you mean we?  This is all my fault,” Wendy said.  “I went too far.”

They both ran down the hill.  Karen looked up at them with tears in her eyes.

“Karen, what’s wrong?” Wendy asked.  “I feel terrible about this.”

“Nothing’s wrong, Wendy,” Karen said.  “Nothing happened.”

“What do you mean?” Gracie said.  “If nothing happened then why are you crying?”

“I’m crying because of my stupidity!” Karen said.  “I paced up and down all night worrying about what horrible things were going to happen at any moment.  I imagined tornadoes crashing through my roof, earthquakes swallowing me up and floods sweeping me away.  I was jumping at shadows for hours.  And then the most amazing thing happened.”

“What?” Wendy asked.

“The sun came up!” Karen exclaimed.  “And nothing bad or evil had occurred!  I was still alive without a single lucky charm in the house to protect me.  I thought of all the time and money I’ve wasted and I just broke down and cried.  You were right.  I’m a fool!”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” Wendy said.  “We all have silly habits.”

“And you have your whole life ahead of you,” Gracie added.  “It’s not too late to realize that you’re free to make your own destiny.  Just stop living in fear.”

“I have to thank you two for making me see the light,” Karen said.  “I feel like having a party.  I know, since I missed out on the dance let’s invite all our friends over this Friday after school.”

Now you’re talking.  That’s a great idea,” Wendy said.  “How about it, Gracie?”

“Hold on, let me check my calendar,” Gracie said, looking into her purse.  “Let’s see, this Friday will be…. oh, no!  We can’t possibly do it.  It’s Friday the thirteenth!”

“So?” Karen asked.  “I can’t think of a better day for it!”

With that, all three girls broke out laughing.

 

Karen never missed another dance or anything else because of superstitious beliefs.  She kept her lucky crystal, clover and rock but only because she liked the way they looked, not because she believed they had special magical powers.  As for her astrology books, she took great pleasure in throwing them into Summerfield’s trash heap herself.  Karen had learned that, outside of the normal accidents of life, she was the ruler of her own fate.  She left behind all her superstitions based on fear and ignorance of natural laws and got on with her life filled with hope, eager to take on the challenges of tomorrow.

 

 

THE END

 

Copyright 2000

Tales from Lavender Island – “A War of Words”

Tales from Lavender Island 

A War of Words 

by Rollie Tom Anderson

 

 

            Far, far away in the mists of imagination there is a secret place on this earth called Lavender Island, so named because of its magnificent sunrises and sunsets of pink and violet.  Most of the island is covered by the Chicapah Forest; a magical wilderness inhabited by every kind of animal there is, as well as a few of the human species.  And the things that happen in their lives aren’t all that different from what you may experience in your own.

 

 

 

Summerfield is one of the newest towns on Lavender Island.  The roads are smooth, the buildings are clean and the fashions are always in style.  But the citizens are no different from folks in any other city.  Yes, there are going to be some differences whenever animals of various kinds live close to each other, but the residents of Summerfield have gotten along pretty well ever since the town was created.

Beaver Dam was built sixty years ago, creating Prescott Lake and drying out the plain below it where Summerfield was established.  Families from all over the island moved there to make a new start.  They brought with them high aspirations, but they also dragged along some of their mistrust of other animals.  So deer settled near other deer, wolves built homes near other wolves, and so on.

 

Summerfield grew so fast that soon the city out-grew its tiny school and a solution was needed.  The mayor, Bella Bear, held a town meeting.  The leaders of the animal communities were invited to have their say.

“First, all opinions are welcome,” Bella began.  “Secondly, the final decision will come from your votes on a secret ballot.  Duncan Deer, you’re up first.”

Duncan stood up.  “Thank you, Mayor,” he said.  “We deer live on the outskirts of town.  We find the uncrowded conditions to be most pleasant.  That’s why I suggest a new school be built in our neighborhood.  There’s plenty of room for future growth and the kids will have a quiet atmosphere for learning there.  It’s perfect.”

“Very good, Duncan,” Bella Bear said.  “Stella Skunk, it’s your turn.”

“I’m a skunk and proud of it,” Stella began.  “I live with other skunks in the middle of town.  A new school should go in our neighborhood because it’s the right thing to do.  We always get left out.  Whenever we’ve had a park built or a pothole fixed it’s been in another part of town.  Now it’s our turn.  Duncan Deer says we should put a school in his area but he just wants us to buy his land to build it on.  Greed is his motive, not education.  A new school must be built near the skunks.”

As Stella took her seat Duncan stood up again.

“How dare you say I’m greedy,” Duncan Deer said.  “I demand an apology!”

“Calm down,” Bella Bear said.  “Stella was just voicing her opinion.  No offense should be taken and no apology is needed.  I do suggest we avoid name-calling.  That might cause hurt feelings.  Let’s keep this civil, okay?  Walter Wolf, it’s your turn.”

“Fellow citizens,” Walter said, “Duncan and Stella have strong opinions.  But they’re both wrong.  If anyone’s neglected it’s us.  The skunks and deer together make up half this town while there are only a few wolf families.  Our pups have walked a long way to school for years so we should build the new one in our area.  We’ve always been proud, helpful citizens and it’s time for our reward.  We’ve been slighted long enough.”

As Walter took his seat Stella Skunk jumped up.

“Say what?  I don’t believe my ears!” she said.  “Walter, you wouldn’t know discrimination if it bit you on the nose!  Try being a skunk for a day and then you’ll know what real persecution is!”

“Now, Stella,” the Mayor said, “you mustn’t take any of this personally, either.  We all want what’s best for our kids.  Carolyn Kangaroo, you’re next.”

“I have the solution,” she began.  “Let’s not build it at all!  Instead of a new school that won’t make anybody happy I say we remodel the old school.  It’s a strong building, it’s in the best part of town and a new one would just split our children apart.  We kangaroos don’t mind you coming into our neighborhood.  Let’s just fix what we have.”

As soon as Carolyn sat down Stella Skunk jumped up again.

“You stuck-up freak of nature!” she shouted.  “Our kids walk to school through rain and snow while yours have been hopping no more than a few blocks!  Of course you want to fix up the old school.  Of course you don’t want change.  You can’t stand the thought of your kids going where the skunks live, can you?  Well, that’s too bad!  The days of you ‘roos’ running everything in this town have come to an end!”

“Don’t speak to me that way, you little striped rat!” Carolyn Kangaroo shouted.  “If it wasn’t for us ‘roos’ paying most of the taxes you skunks, deer and wolves wouldn’t have a school at all!”

“That’s enough!” Duncan Deer said.  “As always, the skunks and kangaroos are drowning everybody else out and I’m sick of it.  That’s why we never get anything done.  We should build a school away from this madness and that place is in the deer sector.  Let us show you the right way to do it.”

“So the town would be perfect if deer were in charge, is that it?” Walter Wolf said.  “You’re no better than them.  You’re just rattling more of the ‘give me mine’ attitude that keeps us from finding solutions.  What a bag of gas you are.”

“Really, Walter?” Stella Skunk asked.  “You said the school should be in your part of town.”

“Yes,” Walter replied.  “But not for selfish reasons.”

“Baloney,” Carolyn Kangaroo said.  “You’re just trying to lay a guilt-trip on us about owing wolves something but it’s not working.  We took you in when no one else would.  Remember, we ‘roos’ have the votes to do as we want.  It’d be best for all to remodel the existing school.”

“Is that a threat?” Stella Skunk asked.  “I wouldn’t talk so tough, you overgrown cricket!  You don’t have the power.  There’s enough skunk, deer and wolf votes combined to yank that school right out from under you.  Don’t think we can’t do it.”

Bella Bear pounded on her desk.  “Order!  Order!” she shouted.

“I’ll tell you what, Mayor,” Carolyn Kangaroo said.  “Demand all the order you want.  I won’t listen to a stinkbug like Stella Skunk any longer.  We kangaroos are leaving.”

“So are the deer,” Duncan said.  “We’ll come back when the trash-talkers are kept out and rational minds are allowed to discuss things without being insulted.  Good night.”

“Oh, stick a sock in it, Duncan,” Walter Wolf said.  “All of you would love to run us wolves out of town and we know it.  Nothing changes.  I’m leaving.  It stinks in here.”

 

After they left Bella Bear sat down and sighed.  The three young friends, Karen Kangaroo, Wendy Wolf and Gracie Deer gathered around.  Embarrassed by the adults, they tried to comfort the Mayor.

“Don’t take it personally,” Wendy said.  “You did nothing wrong.”

“I do take it personally,” Bella said.  “I’m the mayor.  I’m supposed to lead these folks, not allow them to insult each other.  I feel useless.”

“We were all disgusted by our parents,” Karen said.  “We’re supposed to look up to them but my mom was a real jerk tonight, acting like kangaroos own this town.”

“Did you hear my dad?” Gracie Deer asked.  “Acting like deer are perfect.”

Nobody’s perfect,” Bella said.  “But all of them are fine folks.  Sometimes age-old bias rears its ugly head when there’s an important issue.  What a shame.”

“They’ll cool off in time,” Karen Kangaroo said.  “Things will get better.”

“I hope they do, Karen,” Bella Bear said.  “I really do.”

 

But they didn’t.  Bella held another meeting two weeks later and things got worse as soon as the meeting began.

“I’ve come here with news,” Stella Skunk announced.  “We skunks say put the school wherever you want or remodel the old one.  Either option is fine with us.”

“Why, Stella!” the Mayor exclaimed, “That’s a great attitude!”

“We don’t care,” Stella Skunk said.  “We’ll start our own school just for skunks.”

Bella Bear was shocked.  “You can’t do that!” she shouted.  “It’s not right.”

“It’s okay, Mayor,” Duncan Deer said.  “We’ll just build a school for deer.  That way our kids get the education they deserve.”

Oh?” Walter Wolf said.  “And what about us?  We don’t have enough wolves living here to afford a separate school.  You call that fair?”

            “May I jump in?” Carolyn Kangaroo asked.  “Walter, your pups will always be welcome in our school.  We kangaroos are broad-minded.”

“Sit on a tack,” Walter Wolf replied.  “You’ll allow us to go to a school we helped pay for?  I think not.  We’ll hold classes in our living rooms if we have to.  The wolf way.  In fact, we’ll allow you to buy back our share of your school!”

“Stop this!” Bella Bear said.  “You’re pulling the town apart.  This is bad!”

Gracie, Karen and Wendy, sitting in the back, spoke up.

“If you won’t listen to the mayor please listen to your children!” Gracie Deer said.  “We don’t want four or five separate schools.  We want to stay together.”

“That’s right,” Karen Kangaroo said.  “Just because you’ve got hang-ups about each other doesn’t mean we have.”

“We beg you not to do this,” Wendy said.  “Nobody gains anything.”

Walter Wolf pointed at Wendy.  “Sit down and behave yourself,” he said.  “Stay out of this.  Someday, when you’re older, you’ll understand.”

“Karen, be quiet,” Carolyn Kangaroo said.  “This is for your own good.”

“Gracie, this is grown-up stuff,” Duncan Deer said.  “I’ll talk to you later and explain it in terms you can understand.  I promise it’ll make sense.”

“Then perhaps you can explain it to me, too!” Bella Bear said.

 

The meeting ended and, once again, Bella Bear found herself with only the three girls for company.

“Separate schools.  How dumb,” Karen Kangaroo said.

“It’s what they want,” Bella said.  “They can do what they think’s best, even if they’re wrong.  Maybe I’m not right for this job.  Perhaps I should step down.”

“Oh, no!” Gracie Deer said.  “It would make things ten times worse.”

“She’s right,” Wendy Wolf said.  “Surely they’ll come to their senses and it’ll be you who’ll bring them back together to fix this mess.  You can’t quit.  They need you.”

“All right.  I’ll stay on for a while,” the Mayor said.

 

Summerfield became less of a city and more like a cluster of small villages.  Each animal community began to school their own kids.  An adult kangaroo wouldn’t speak to a deer; a wolf wouldn’t look at a skunk, and so on.  The three girls met secretly to avoid lectures from their parents.  What had started as a discussion about a new school had turned into a war of words that tore the town into hateful little pieces.

During this time the area got more rain than ever before, filling Prescott Lake and putting a strain on Beaver Dam.  Rising water had already flooded lower parts of the city.  But the residents were too wrapped up in their dispute to pay attention.

 

One day Bella Bear was visited by Buck Beaver, the manager of Beaver Dam.

“I’m worried,” Buck said.  “The dam wasn’t built to hold so much water.  The lake is full and we’re in for more rain.  You need to start thinking about putting up flood barriers in case the dam starts to leak or break apart.”

Bella was startled.  “Break apart?” she said.  “That would be a disaster.  Surely there’s something you can do to keep that from happening.”

“I’m doing everything I can,” Buck said.  “I’ve got crews working day and night to strengthen the dam but if the rains keep coming things could get bad real fast.  A town meeting might be a good idea.  How prepared are you for disaster?”             “I couldn’t get citizens to meet even if I gave away free cake and ice cream right now,” Bella Bear said.  “All the animals refuse to have anything to do with each other.  It’s a mess.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Buck said.  “The town could get swept right off the island if the dam fails.  You must get ready.  Some families are going to have to evacuate no matter what.  I’ve got to go back to the dam now.  Good luck, Mayor.”

 

Bella thought about why she had run for mayor.  It was because she loved the town and wanted to give it strong leadership.  The war of words was her greatest crisis and it sickened her.  She decided to stop the hatred that had taken over her city.  She went to each of the area leaders, inviting them to a private meeting in her office.  The next day they arrived at the same time and were not happy about others being there.

“Good morning,” Bella Bear said.  “Thank you for coming.”

“This was to be private,” Stella Skunk said.  “Why are these idiots here?”

“This is private,” Bella said.  “Private between me, you, Duncan, Walter and Carolyn.  It’s time you put aside your petty differences and start acting like good citizens.  We have a serious crisis on our hands that threatens our whole town.”

What crisis?” Duncan Deer asked.  “The school?  We’ve got a solution for that already.”

“And what a great solution it is, too,” Bella said.  “You’ve turned this town into a war zone, destroying friendships that have lasted years.  Well done, all of you.”

“I don’t have to listen to this,” Carolyn Kangaroo said.  “Excuse me.”

Bella Bear got angry.  “Sit down, Carolyn!” she shouted.  “I’ll tell you when you can leave.  Reports say Beaver Dam could fail.  As it is, we’ll have more flooding because of the heavy rains.  We have to take action.  Now!

“Here’s the wolf plan of action,” Walter said.  “We’ll take care of our own.  One of our families had to move already because their home has a foot of water in it.  We took care of them.  Just like the school issue, we wolves will be fine, no matter what.”

“Wrong!” Bella shouted.  “None of us are going to be fine.  If the dam goes so does Summerfield!  It wasn’t made for this much rain and more is on the way.  We have to put up a flood wall and we have to do it now!”

“Nice try, Mayor,” Stella Skunk said.  “But nothing’s going to make me work next to a kangaroo, wolf or deer.  They’ve never done anything for me.”

“Is that so?” Bella Bear asked.  “When your husband went to the hospital, who brought food to your kids and made sure they were looked after?  Carolyn Kangaroo, that’s who!  Carolyn, when that hailstorm put a hole in your roof who patched it up and never asked for a dime?  Walter Wolf, that’s who!  Duncan Deer, when fire damaged your house who loaned you money to repair it?  Stella Skunk did!  Walter Wolf, when one of your pups was lost who found him in a snowstorm?  It was Duncan Deer!”

“Things were different then,” Carolyn Kangaroo said.

“Why?  Because it was before you disagreed?” Bella asked.  “Look around you!  She’s not just a skunk, that’s Stella with the heart of gold.  Walter’s not just a wolf, he’s a good man who’d do anything for anyone.  Duncan’s more than just a deer, he’s a hard-working guy who cares about all of us.  Carolyn, you’re not only in the kangaroo family, you’re in our family.  You make sure everybody is cared for.  We’re friends.  Without each other we’re just wild animals.  We have a good city and it’s time to save it.  We can’t do that if we don’t forget what color our fur is and start working side by side.”

Walter scratched his head.  Stella stared at the floor.  Duncan shifted nervously.  Carolyn began to cry.

“I feel so… So stupid!” she said.  “You’re my friends and I’ve been horrible to all of you.  I’m so very sorry.”

“I’m guilty, too” Walter Wolf said.  “I apologize.  I hope you’ll forgive me.”

“I take back the hateful things I said,” Stella Skunk said.  “I’m really sorry.”

“That goes for me, too,” Duncan Deer said.  “I love this town and I forgot it’s all of you that make it the greatest place on Lavender Island.”

“I couldn’t have said it better,” Bella said.  “Let’s get busy.  Get everyone to the north end of town.  Walter and Duncan, get wood and sandbags out there.  Stella and Carolyn, stock the shelter with food and blankets for those who have to move from their homes.  If the dam breaks we’ll get no more than a few minutes warning and it looks like rain outside.  Go, people, go!”

 

The plan was to build a five-foot-high wall across the end of town, from the tree line to the river.  A team spirit grew in the town.  Wolves worked next to skunks.  Deer and bears worked next to kangaroos.  The young filled bags with sand and the old helped at the shelter.

It started to rain but the work continued.  By day’s end the wall stood two feet high and all were exhausted.  Bella Bear told everyone to get some rest.

Early the next morning she was awakened by a call from Buck Beaver.

“Sorry to wake you,” Buck said, “but I don’t think the dam will last through the day.  I hope you’re prepared because if it breaks apart you’re going to get a whole lot of water roaring straight at you like a runaway freight train.”

“We started building a wall yesterday,” Bella said.  “How much time do we have?”

“I wish I knew,” he said.  “It could go any time.  I’ll give as much warning as possible.  I’ll also say a prayer for you.”

“Thanks, Buck,” Bella said.  “We’re going to need all the help we can get.”

 

By sunrise the town was back at work.  Word had spread quickly and the people, despite being tired and sore, gathered at the wall and started building again.  By noon the barrier stood at four feet.  They had just taken a break when Gracie Deer came running.

Mayor!  We just got a call from Buck Beaver,” she panted.  “The dam has broken.  What do we do now?”

“We pray,” Bella answered.  “And we each get a wooden pole to brace the wall.  If it holds we have a chance.  Get ready, it’s going to be scary.”

 

As the last pole got set in place they heard a low rumble that grew into a loud roar.  But it wasn’t thunder, it was water crashing over the land, destroying everything in its path.  They nervously watched as it sped toward them.  It struck the wall like a giant’s hammer.  The barrier shook as some of the water poured over, sending a wave rushing into town.  But the wall held.  Most of the water flowed around the sides of the barrier into the river and woods.

It was nearly dark when the water finally started to recede.  It was then they knew Summerfield would survive.  Bella Bear gathered Stella, Duncan, Walter and Carolyn around her.  Damage reports were coming in from all parts of the city.

“We lost four houses but no one was injured,” Duncan Deer said.  “We’re taking the families into the shelter.”

“Downtown got lots of water but we’re okay,” Stella Skunk said.  “No injuries.”

“Some homes on the river were damaged but no one got hurt,” Walter Wolf said.  “The same story here,” Carolyn Kangaroo said.  “Our prayers were answered.  But we couldn’t have done it without you, Mayor.  If you hadn’t brought us to our senses Summerfield would be at the bottom of the lagoon right now.  We can’t thank you enough.”

“We saved our town by working together,” Bella said.  “We got this wall built and we took care of those in danger.  It’ll take the same effort to clean up the mess.  Let’s vow to never get caught up in our differences again.  Let’s focus on what we have in common.  We’ve still got so much to do.  Walter and Duncan, you stay here at the wall and watch for leaks.  Carolyn and Stella, come with me to the shelter so we can start planning the clean up.  Let’s go.”

 

A year later Prescott Lake had a new dam.  This time they made it twice as strong.  Summerfield had more flooding from time to time while it was being rebuilt, but the wall stayed up and never gave way.  The near-disaster ended the war of words and caused the people to count the blessings they shared together.  Plans for a new school were completed, and it was being put where the most would benefit, not where one neighborhood would gain an advantage over the others.  Variety in a town can create good ideas and dreams, but it can also create problems.  The leaders in Summerfield realized they needed open minds to keep their town healthy.  They had learned that everyone has a valuable place in society, and that is more important than the color of their fur.

 

 

THE END

 

Copyright 2000

Tales from Lavender Island – “Wild Rumors”

Tales from Lavender Island 

Wild Rumors 

by Rollie Tom Anderson

 

 

            Far, far away in the mists of imagination there is a secret place on this earth called Lavender Island, so named because of its magnificent sunrises and sunsets of pink and violet.  Most of the island is covered by the Chicapah Forest; a magical wilderness inhabited by every kind of animal there is, as well as a few of the human species.  And the things that happen in their lives aren’t all that different from what you may experience in your own.

 

“May you live in exciting times” is an old saying.  But life in a small town like Oakdale is usually not exciting at all.  Day-to-day living is very predictable, and that was the gripe of some of the youngsters one cool autumn day.  They were Mike and Maggie Mouse and their best friend, Sandy Squirrel.  They were tossing rocks into the creek.

“Is there any town on Lavender Island as dull as Oakdale?” Mike asked.  “I don’t think there is.  Nothing ever happens around here.  It’s so boring!”

“Summer flew by, fall’s here and winter’s just around the corner,” Sandy said.  “Soon it’ll be too cool to play outside and we’ll be stuck inside our houses for months.  What a drag.”

“I hope they get some new books at the library,” Maggie said.  “I love to read but I think I’ve read everything they have at least twice.  There should be some good movies coming out around Thanksgiving we can see, but that’s weeks away.”

“Speaking of movies,” Mike said, “ever since I saw that detective flick last month I’ve been trying to improve my private eye skills.  Trouble is, I know everything about my neighbors already.  Everybody in this town has lived here for ages and there are no secrets to uncover.”

“That reminds me,” Maggie said.  “I’m warning you again about snooping around in my room.  Take your detective skills somewhere else.  I deserve privacy and I don’t want you looking in my journals and stuff.”

“I didn’t mess anything up,” Mike said.  “How am I supposed to get better if I don’t get to sneak around?  I have to practice on somebody!”

“It’s still not right,” Sandy said.  “I know how Maggie feels.  She has to know that her diary and private things are safe from being looked into by others.  You have no business doing that.  Besides, that’s how ugly rumors get started.  If you only get part of the truth it can easily turn into a destructive lie.  You can’t let yourself be part of something like that.  You can ruin somebody’s reputation.”

“Gee, lighten up,” Mike said.  “I’m not going to spread lies about my own sister!  I’d be a real creep if I did.  I just think it’d be fun to be a real detective, solving cases.”

Just then Freida Fox and Dolly Duck joined them.  They had interesting news.

“Hey, guys,” Freida said.  “Have you seen the newcomers?”

Newcomers?” Sandy exclaimed.  “Someone moved to Oakdale?  Where?”

“The old place near Bringham Bear’s house,” Dolly said.  “They’re terriers.  Amos and Abigail Airedale.  It’s about time somebody bought that house.  It was starting to fall apart.”

“I love that house,” Maggie said.  “Have they got any pups our age?”

“Not that I know of,” Freida said.  “No one knows much about them.”

Hmm,” Mike mused, “this sounds like a job for Mike Mouse, Private Eye!”

“Uh, oh.  I don’t like the sound of that,” Maggie said.  “Remember last week when you thought Toby Toad was a robber because you saw him hopping away from the bank?  And it turned out he was just late for a dentist appointment?”

“And the time you thought Beth Bear was a spy just because she was using a telescope?” Sandy added.  “There are such things as star-gazers, Mike.  You need to check your facts first.  These people probably moved here to get away from city life and we don’t need to be prying into their business.  Keep your distance and let them get settled in peace.  Please!”

            “I never heard such worry-warts in my life!” Mike answered.  “I’m not going to break into their home, I’m just going to do some snooping around.  They won’t even know I’m there.  If they’ve got nothing to hide they’ve got nothing to fear, right?”

Maggie sighed.  “Just be respectful, okay?” she asked.  “Or I’ll tell Mom and Dad what you’re doing.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Mike said.  “Don’t worry so much.”

 

Mike got out his detective kit consisting of a pair of binoculars, a notepad and a tiny camera.  He put on his sunglasses and took off for the new neighbors’ house.  When he got there he crawled until he got to a row of thick bushes about forty feet from the front porch.  There he sat peering through his binoculars and taking pictures for a while.  He saw nothing unusual.  But that didn’t discourage him because a detective has to be patient in order to discover secrets.  He was willing to stay all day.

Finally, something happened.  Beth Bear showed up carrying a freshly baked cake.  She knocked on the front door and Amos and Abigail Airedale come outside to greet her.  Mike could see just fine, but hearing everything they said was difficult from that distance.  He strained his ears but only got bits and pieces of their words.

Amos smiled.  “Abigail, would you look at the cake Beth brought us!” he said.  “It looks and smells delicious.  What a nice thing to do.”

“Thank you so much, Beth,” Abigail said.

“No trouble at all,” Beth answered.  “Everyone in town is so pleased to have you move into this house.  I’m sure others will be coming by over the next few days to introduce themselves and welcome you to Oakdale.”

Mike was unable to hear what they were saying.  He got the part about the cake, but the rest was a mumble to him.  He wanted to get closer but, with them standing right there on the porch, he knew they’d see him.  He’d just have to listen harder.

“We’d ask you inside,” Abigail said to Beth, “but it’s such a mess it’s almost dangerous!  There’s hardly a place to sit.  Too many boxes!”

“Believe me, I understand,” Beth said.  “Did the move go smoothly?”

“For the most part, yes,” Amos answered.  “But I had a hard time draggin’ the washer down to the basement.  It looked smaller at the store but when they delivered it here it was monster-sized!  A real beast!  It barely fit through the door.”

“Goodness!” Beth said.  “Oh, I see you’re painting.  What color will the kitchen be?”

“I haven’t decided,” Abigail said.  “It’ll be yellow or green.  I can’t decide which.”

“Either color would look nice,” Beth said.  “Is that a piano in the living room?”

“Yes, it is,” Abigail said.  “Amos is a musician, you know.  He can cast a spell over me when he plays.  I’m sure you’ll be hearing it soon.”

Wonderful!” Beth exclaimed.  “I love music.  Well, I guess I should be on my way and let you get back to your unpacking.”

“What’s your hurry?” Amos asked.  “Please stay and have some of your delicious cake with us.  There’s fresh coffee already made.  Abigail made a pot of her famous brew and it’s a strong potion.  We need a break, anyway.  Have a seat here on the porch if you can find a spot.”

 

Amos went inside for the coffee and the two women searched for chairs to sit on.  They didn’t see Mike as he scurried back to where the girls were.  Mike was sure he had the “scoop of the year” and he couldn’t wait to tell them what he’d discovered.

“Well, well,” Maggie said, “If it isn’t Super Spy himself.  What earth-shaking things did you find out about the Airedales?  Are they aliens from the dog star?”

“It’s a lot weirder than that, Sis,” Mike said.  “He’s a magician and she’s a witch!”

“Oh, I’m sure!” Sandy said.  “They’re likely just normal folks like the rest of us.  Where did you hear such nonsense?”

“I heard it with my own ears!” Mike answered.  “They were talking to Beth Bear.  And get this!  The lady told Beth her husband casts spells.  And he said she brews potions!  I’m not making this up.  Here’s the real kicker!  I heard him say he has a monster dragon in his basement!  Can you believe people like that are living here?”

“No, I don’t believe it,” Freida said.  “I do believe your mental motor needs new spark plugs.  That’s crazy, Mike.  What about Beth?  Why didn’t she run away when they told her all this wild stuff?”

“I don’t know,” Mike replied.  “Maybe she’s one of them, too!  How well do we know Beth Bear, anyway?”

“I could almost believe witches and magicians,” Dolly said.  “But a dragon in the basement?  It’s going to take solid evidence to convince me of that.  Where’s your proof?”

“You want proof?” Mike answered.  “I’ll get you proof.  Then you’ll see I’m right about those two strangers.  Mike Mouse, Private Detective, is on the case!”

He rushed away, determined to get the “goods” on the new couple in town.

 

It turned cold that afternoon so the girls gathered at Sandy’s house to study in front of the fireplace with plenty of hot cocoa to drink.  They were just about to end their homework session when Mike burst through the front door, out of breath.

I’ve got it!” he exclaimed.  “I’ve got an eyewitness to prove my theory!  Me!  I’ve seen the dragon myself.  If any of you are brave enough, come see for yourself!”

Maggie was the first one up.  “Girls, this I’ve got to see!” she said.  “I’m going.”

The rest of them rose, too.  “Fine,” Sandy said.  “Let’s go see the evil beast!”

 

Mike led them to the Airedale’s house.  It was after eight o’clock and there were only a few lights on inside.  They went to a ground-level window on the side of the house that let them see into the basement.  The window was covered with grime, but they could make out blurry shapes.  Although Mike told them to be quiet, the girls couldn’t help but giggle about spying on their new neighbors.

Just then Amos opened the door at the top of the stairs inside and walked down to the basement floor.  It was dark, but they saw him pick up some kind of large tool.  Suddenly, what looked like a huge mouth filled with fire opened on the other side of the room, casting a dim light on Amos.  He bent over to scoop up something and tossed it toward the flame.  The five spies gasped as hot, yellow fingers of fire leaped out at Amos.  At that moment a loud roar echoed through the house.

They all had seen enough.  The girls felt no need to see more of the dragon under the Airedale’s house.  They ran like the wind back to their safe, secure homes.  Mike was right behind them the whole way, pleased that he’d been proven right.

 

The next morning Sandy’s parents, Solomon and Sheila, noticed she looked tired at the breakfast table.

“Sandy, is anything the matter?” Sheila asked.  “You don’t look well.”

“I’m fine, Mom,” she answered.  “Just tired, that’s all.  I didn’t sleep much.”

“Really?” Solomon said.  “Were you cold?  You should’ve asked for a blanket.”

“It wasn’t that,” Sandy said.  “I kept waking up from nightmares and it was hard to get back to sleep.”

“Nightmares?” Sheila said.  “About what?”

“Dragons and witches.  Stuff like that,” Sandy replied.  “My friends and I saw something really scary last night and I’m not sure what to think about it.  Will you promise not to laugh if I tell you what we saw?”

“You have our word on it,” Solomon said.  “No laughing.”

“Mike Mouse thinks he’s a private eye and he told me and my friends he heard a conversation between Beth Bear and the new canines that moved in recently,” Sandy said.  “He said the woman’s a witch and the man’s a magician and they have a fire-breathing dragon in their basement.  Sounds dumb, right?  Well, last night Mike said he had proof so we went and peeked in their cellar window.  It was dark and the window was dirty, but we could still see inside.  And guess what!  Mike was right!  Really!  We all saw the dragon’s fire as the magician fed him and we heard his loud roar.  Then we ran away.  So last night I had dreams the monster was coming after me.  Crazy, right?”

“Not at all,” Solomon said.  “I’m sure you thought you saw a dragon.  But do dragons exist?  You know they don’t so there has to be another explanation for what you saw, right?  The power of suggestion can be strong when the facts, not to mention the windows, aren’t clear.”

“You’re right, Dad,” Sandy said.  “I should know it can’t be a dragon.  I’m ashamed to admit my imagination ran wild like that.  But now I’m real curious to find out exactly what we did see.  I’ll pay them a visit this morning.”

 

Sandy finished breakfast and set out to meet the Airedales.  On the way she passed Mike and Maggie’s house.  They came outside to see where she was going.  She told them.  They said she was nuts.

“I’d stay clear of the witch’s house if I were you,” Mike said.  “It might be close to feeding time for the dragon and you could become part of the menu!”

“Nonsense,” Sandy said.  “I’m going over there to meet the new couple and see if they need help getting unpacked.  There’s no such thing as a dragon and you know it.”

“But we saw it with our own eyes!” Maggie said.  “It’s real and it’s hungry!  Don’t go.”

“It only exists in your imagination,” Sandy said.  “I’m going to find out what it really is and I’ll come back to tell you all about it.  I can’t live in fear of make-believe monsters.”

“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Maggie said.

“It was nice knowing you,” Mike added.

 

Mike and Maggie followed Sandy.  They watched from a distance as she went inside the house.  They sat behind a row of bushes for an hour waiting for her to come back outside, but no trace of Sandy was to be seen.  They feared the worst had happened to her.

“I knew it,” Mike said.  “She’s dragon chow.  We should never have let her go.”

“Why didn’t she scream or something?” Maggie said.  “Sandy’s no fool.”

“Don’t you see?” Mike said.  “The magician cast a spell on her or the witch put a sleeping potion in her milk or something.  Poor Sandy, she never had a chance.  I’m going to miss her.”

“Don’t talk like that!” Maggie said.  “I’ve got to do something.  I’m going to get Sandy’s father and see if he can rescue her.  Stay here and keep an eye out.  Don’t try to be a hero and end up being the next meal, okay?  When in doubt, run!”           

 

Maggie ran to Sandy’s house.  Solomon came to the door.

“Hello, Maggie,” he said.  “What’s up?”

“Something awful,” she said.  “Sandy’s in grave danger.  She went in the magician’s house an hour ago and she never came out!  The new people are evil!

“All right,” he said.  “It’s time to stop these wild rumors right now.  Let’s go.”

 

Solomon and Maggie went to where Mike was hiding.  There was still no sign of Sandy.  Solomon told Mike to come with him and Maggie.  They were going to meet the Airedales together.  They walked up to the front door and knocked.  Amos answered.

“Hi, folks!” he said.  “I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of meeting you.  My name is Amos Airedale.  Welcome to our home.”

“Nice to meet you,” Solomon said.  “I’m Solomon Squirrel and this is Mike and Maggie Mouse.  I understand my daughter Sandy is here already.”

Mike spoke up.  “Yeah!” he said, “we saw her come in so don’t deny it.  What have you done to her?  Did you feed her to your dragon?  We know about it, too!”

Amos was puzzled.  “Excuse me?” he said.  “Did you say dragon?  I don’t understand.  But yes, Sandy’s here.  She’s such a pleasant young lady, too.  Won’t you come in and join us?”

They went inside.  Just then Sandy came out of another room with Abigail Airedale right behind her.

Mike’s eyes got big.  “Sandy!  You’re alive!” he exclaimed.  “How did you escape?”

Sandy laughed.  “Escape?  Escape from what?” she asked.  “Mike, you’re silly.  But Dad, why are you here?”

“I came to make some new friends and end a wild rumor,” Solomon said.

“Was the witch showing you her flying broomstick in there?” Maggie asked.

Sandy rolled her eyes and shook her head.  “Maggie, you can stop now,” she said.  “Like I tried to tell you, Amos and Abigail are plain folks like everyone else in this town.  What she was showing me was her antique doll collection.  It’s really neat.”

“I’m sorry, but I’m still confused,” Amos said.  “First a dragon, now a witch?”

“I’ll explain,” Solomon said.  “Mike’s been working on his detective skills and yesterday he thought he heard you tell Beth Bear you’re a magician and Abigail’s a witch.  And they all think they saw you feeding a dragon in your basement last night.”

“It’s the truth!” Mike shouted.  “Five of us saw it through your cellar window.  Don’t pretend the dragon doesn’t exist.  We know better.”

Amos smiled.  “Oh, I won’t deny feeding a real beast down there,” he said.  “I’ll be glad to introduce you to it.  By the way, I’m a musician, not a magician.  I play that piano in the living room.  And the only witch’s brew Abigail makes is her great coffee.  Solomon, would you like a cup?  After that we’ll go downstairs and meet the dragon in person.”

While Solomon and Amos chatted over coffee Abigail offered to show Mike and Maggie the doll collection.  Maggie and Sandy went with her but Mike refused, staying near the front door.  He didn’t trust them.

Finally they all went down to the basement.  To Mike’s surprise there wasn’t a dragon at all; only a big, iron contraption with a steel door on it.  Amos went over to it and opened the door, revealing a smoldering fire inside.

“Here’s the only dragon in this house,” Amos said.  “It’s a coal furnace that you don’t find too often anymore.  You see, these old houses are heated by burning coal and letting the hot air rise into the house.  When I shovel in fuel the flames blaze up and outward through the steel door.  I have to be careful not to get too close.  If you were looking through those dirty windows I’m surprised you saw anything at all.  But if you’ve never seen a furnace like this one you could easily mistake it for some kind of monster.  As you can see, though, it’s nothing to be scared of.”

Mike still wasn’t convinced.  “What about the terrible roar we heard?  What was that?” he asked.

“That, my friend, was something called coincidence,” Amos said.  “That’s when two or more things having nothing in common occur at the same time for no reason.  Like last night.  When I was down here Abigail was washing dishes in the kitchen.  Every time she turns on the hot water these old pipes make a loud, groaning roar.  It’s awful.  It’s something I’ll get fixed as soon as I find a good plumber.”

“I can help you with that,” Solomon offered.  “I have a friend who’s a plumber and I’m sure he’d be glad to come by and take a look.  I’ll call him today.”

“Great!” Amos said.  “Now, are you kids satisfied there’s no dragon?”

Maggie was embarrassed.  “Mike, this is all your fault!” she exclaimed.  “I can’t believe you talked me into thinking evil things were going on over here.  Witches, magicians and dragons!  How stupid of me.  I feel like an idiot.”

“Now, Maggie, take it easy on your brother,” Solomon said.  “It was an honest mistake.  He just misunderstood what he heard and his imagination filled in the blanks.  No harm done.”

“Yeah, Sis,” Mike said.  “I didn’t twist your arm to make you spy through the window.  You were wrong, too.  I wasn’t trying to give them a bad reputation.  I just have to fine-tune my detective skills, that’s all.  I’m sorry if I caused any hurt feelings.”

“No apology needed,” Amos said.  “Now, if we’re finished learning about old furnaces and bad pipes I suggest we go back upstairs.  Beth Bear brought over the yummiest carrot cake and there’s plenty left for everyone, along with hot cocoa.”

 

They sat around the table in the kitchen for the rest of the morning and had a wonderful time getting to know each other.  It turned out that one of Amos’ friends was a genuine detective with the Oakdale Police Department and he promised to take Mike to meet him soon.

Mike and the girls learned it’s easy for wild rumors to get started without any real proof involved.  From that day forward they tried not to jump to conclusions, especially when the rumors were hard to believe.  When someone told them something odd or strange about someone else, they always tried to find out the whole truth before believing it.  Thanks to Sandy and her father, and their willingness to get the facts, the reputation of the newest residents of Oakdale was spared from a stain that could’ve caused all the people in town to fear and avoid them.

 

 

THE END

 

Copyright 2000

Tales from Lavender Island – “Running with the Pack”

Tales from Lavender Island 

Running With the Pack 

by Rollie Tom Anderson

 

 

            Far, far away in the mists of imagination there is a secret place on this earth called Lavender Island, so named because of its magnificent sunrises and sunsets of pink and violet.  Most of the island is covered by the Chicapah Forest; a magical wilderness inhabited by every kind of animal there is, as well as a few of the human species.  And the things that happen in their lives aren’t all that different from what you may experience in your own.

 

On Lavender Island there are two types of wolves.  The wild and dangerous kind that roam the countryside in packs and the “city wolves” that live peacefully among other animals in various towns.  Many of the latter are a mixture of domestic dogs and wolves.

Wendy Wolf had some Collie, some German Shepherd, and a lot of wolf in her genes.  In fact, she was so wolf-like it was hard to tell her apart from her wilder relatives.  But that’s where the similarity ended.  Wendy was as friendly and well behaved as any young animal in the town of Summerfield.

 

One day her cousin from Wheatland, Wanda Wolf, was visiting her.  They sat under a big pecan tree with Wendy’s friends, Gracie Deer and Karen Kangaroo.

“The other day in school I took a test where they try to find out what your future plans are,” Gracie said.  “Did any of you take that, too?”

“We all did,” Karen answered.  “I’ve always wanted to be a doctor.  I like helping others stay healthy.  I treat my dolls like patients, so I guess that’s what I was meant to do.”

“I’ll be a ballerina or an artist,” Gracie said.  “I love to dance, but I also like drawing and painting.  I want to be creative.  What about you, Wendy?  What do you want to be?”

Wendy shrugged.  “I’ve never been sure.  I change my mind all the time.  Mom says I have lots of time to decide, but it bothers me that I don’t even have a clue yet.  And you, Wanda?”

“Don’t feel alone, cuz,” Wanda replied.  “I’m the same way.  But I’m not worried, I’m still young and beautiful!  I do know one thing.  I want a lot of F-U-N in my life!  Good times and thrills.  Girls, I don’t see how you can stand the boredom here in Dullsville.  I mean Summerfield.”

“Wait a second, Wanda,” Karen said.  “Things aren’t any more exciting in your town of Wheatland.  We’re not the backward hicks you think we are.”

“Don’t get mad,” Wanda said.  “I was really talking about Wendy.  Her and her family are the only wolves in this town.  I just think she needs to get out more, that’s all I’m saying.”

“I disagree,” Gracie said.  “I’ve known Wendy as long as I’ve been alive and she’s no different from the rest of us.  There’s nothing wrong with our town.  It suits us just fine.”  Karen took a look at her watch.  “Oh, my! Come on, Gracie, we were supposed to be home by now.  See you girls later,” she said as they ran away in a hurry.

“No offense, cuz, but your friends are a couple of nerds,” Wanda said.

“No, they aren’t,” Wendy said.  “I love my friends.  Why do you say that?”

“Oh, they’re okay, I guess.  What I’m saying is that they’re not wolves like me and you,” Wanda said.  “That makes a difference whether you believe it or not.”

“I don’t understand,” Wendy said.

“Exactly my point!” Wanda replied.  “You need to visit me.  I’ve got friends who are genuine wolves and we can hang out together.  Then you’ll know what I’m talking about.”

Wendy thought for a moment.  “Okay, I’ll ask mom and dad first.  A change would probably do me some good,” she said.

 

The next Saturday she traveled to Wheatland.  Wanda showed her around the town.  At the movie theater they ran into Wanda’s girlfriends, Roxy and JoJo.  They were 100% wolves and new to Wendy in more ways than one.

Wanda introduced them.  “Roxy, JoJo, meet my cousin Wendy.  She’s from Summerfield.  Wendy, this is Roxy and this is JoJo.  They’re cool,” she said.

“Uh, Wendy, do you always stare like that?” Roxy asked.

“Yeah, like take a picture, dude.  It lasts longer,” JoJo added.

Wendy’s face turned red.  “I’m sorry.  It’s just…” she started to say.

Wanda interrupted her.  “You have to understand she’s the only wolf in the town where she lives.  She can’t help being a little out of touch with reality,” she said.

“No kidding, baby,” Roxy said.  “Step out into the modern world, girl.”

“It’s just that I’ve never seen a wolf with a ring in her nose before,” Wendy said.  “Or with her fur cut the way yours is.”

JoJo struck a pose.  “Cool, huh?  I’m thinking of getting a tattoo this summer on my ear or on my leg.  I haven’t decided where yet,” she said.

“Me, too,” Roxy said.  “So, where are you two headed tonight?”

“Nowhere special,” Wanda replied.  “It’s been years since Wendy’s been here.”

Roxy sighed.  “You haven’t missed a thing, Wendy,” she said.  “But once you get outside the city limits and into the wild lands things are quite different.  Right, Wanda?”

Wanda smiled.  “Oh, yes.  Very different, indeed,” she said.

“What do you mean by different?” Wendy asked.

“You’ll see,” JoJo answered.  “Come on she-wolves.  The moon’s coming up!”

 

The full moon rose to the top of the sky.  As soon as the four young wolves got away from the lights of Wheatland they began to run through the woods like bolts of lightning.  A few hours later they stood in a circle on a ridge in the shadow of Tyrant’s Mountain and howled joyfully at the bright moon.  Then they chased chipmunks that scurried away in fear.  Next they went to a stream where Wendy learned how to catch fish with her bare teeth.  She was having fun.  All the running, howling, and hunting had brought to the surface urges she’d never known before.  For the first time in her life she felt like a wild, untamed animal.  Just after midnight they started back to town.

Wow!” Wendy exclaimed.  “I’ve never known what freedom was until tonight.  I don’t think fish will ever taste the same now that I’ve eaten them fresh out of the stream.”

“I know,” Wanda agreed.  “I felt the same way my first time, too.  It’s great!”

Roxy laughed.  “Listen to you guys,” she said.  “That was nothing.  Wait until you run with the pack.  Then you’ll know what true freedom is.”

“You mean a real, out-in-the-wilds wolf pack?” Wendy asked.

Duh!” JoJo said.  “The pack’s where it’s at, Wendy.  They do as they please.  They go where they want.  No school.  No curfews.  Living for the moment, every moment.”

Wanda nodded to Wendy.  “They’re the coolest, cuz,” she said.  “The real deal.”

“But my folks warned me about packs,” Wendy said.  “They get into a lot of trouble.”

“Lies, baby, all lies,” Roxy said.  “Parents are just jealous of their freedom.”

“We’ve hung out with packs before,” JoJo added.  “No games, no nonsense.  What we did tonight’s nothing compared to what they get into.  Don’t repeat this, but we’re thinking of running away from home and joining up for good someday.  Aren’t we, Roxy?”

“You got it,” Roxy replied.  “You two should think about it.  It’s a real blast!”

“Maybe next time Wendy visits you can introduce us to the pack,” Wanda said.

“No problem,” JoJo said.  “You’ll be impressed, believe me.”

 

For the rest of the visit all Wanda could talk about was Roxy, JoJo and the wolf pack.  Wendy was thrilled over her night out in the wild and, while not sure about the pack idea, she was looking forward to their next night out.  Back at home Wendy found Gracie and Karen.

“So, Wendy, how are things in the wild, wild town of Wheatland?” Gracie asked.  “Do they really have anything there that we don’t have?”

“No, not really,” Wendy replied.  “They have a mall, a movie theater and a few parks to hang out in but nothing all that great.”

“That’s what I thought,” Karen said.  “So what did you and Wanda end up doing?”

“She introduced me to her friends, Roxy and JoJo.  They’re wolves, but they don’t look like any wolves I’ve ever seen.  They’ve got nose rings!” Wendy exclaimed.

“Rings through their noses?” Gracie asked.  “Ouch!”

“Oh, yes!” Wendy said.  “Plus they’ve cut their fur real short in places and they’re thinking of getting tattoos this summer!”

“I don’t know,” Karen said, “they sound like losers to me.”

“But they’re not,” Wendy said.  “They look tough, but they’re nice girls when you get to know them.  No different from us.  The best part was when we went out into the countryside and ran wild.  We howled at the moon, ate raw fish right from the stream, and ran and ran and ran!  I’ve never done anything like that before.  Just letting myself go.  It’s amazing!  Next time they’re going to let me meet some guys in a real wolf pack!

Gracie’s mouth dropped open.  “I hope you’re kidding,” she said.  “Are you nuts?”

“Not in the least,” Wendy replied.  “What’s wrong with a pack?”

“What’s wrong?” Karen repeated.  “Everything’s wrong, Wendy.  Haven’t you heard about the trouble they’ve been causing lately?  They’re bad news, girl.”

“But those are just false rumors,” Wendy said.  “Roxy and JoJo said so.  It’s in a wolf’s nature to run in packs.  They aren’t hurting anybody, they’re just having fun.”

“The wrong kind of fun,” Gracie said.  “They’re dangerous, Wendy, and that’s a fact.  If you don’t believe me, ask your mom.  She’ll tell you the same thing.”

“Okay,” Wendy said.  “But I think you’re both mistaken.  Not all packs are bad.”

“Just be careful and use your head,” Karen said.  “That’s all we’re saying.”

 

Wendy was very confused.  On one hand, she’d had a ton of fun running free with Wanda and her new friends.  On the other, her oldest and dearest friends were warning her that that kind of freedom could be dangerous.  Of all the opinions she could ask for she knew her mom’s would be the best.  That night they discussed the situation.

“Mom, I really like Wanda and her strange wolf friends,” Wendy said.

“I’m glad,” Wilma Wolf said.  “It’s energizing to experience new things, isn’t it?  When I was a young pup I did some ‘romping about,’ too.  That’s what we called it back then.”

You, mom?” Wendy asked.  “Wow.  Then tell me.  Did you ever, well, run with a pack?”

“No, I didn’t,” she replied.  “But, like everyone who has a little wolf in them, I dreamed about it and wondered how it would feel to be a wild animal.  When it came down to it, though, I knew it wouldn’t get me anywhere I wanted to go in life.  It didn’t feel right to me, so I stayed away from the packs.”

“I don’t see what’s so bad about them,” Wendy said.  “They’re just doing what comes naturally.  Gracie and Karen act like I’m going to rob a bank or something.”

“They just care about you, honey,” Wilma said.  “I do, too.  I can’t always be there when you have to make some of the harder choices in your life.  I’ve done my best to teach you right from wrong, but now you’re going to be out there on your own sometimes.”

“And it’s not always going to be easy, right?” Wendy asked.

“No, it’s not,” Wilma said.  “Just be loyal to your highest sense of truth.  All of us are tempted by our basic animal urges from time to time.  You have to assert your will and only do the right thing.”

“Ugh.  This ‘growing up’ stuff is confusing,” Wendy said.

“It can be,” Wilma said.  “But I believe in you, Wendy.  When the time comes, I think you’ll know which is the right path to take.”

 

The following weekend Wendy went to visit Wanda and they joined up with Roxy and JoJo again.  Wendy was eager to do the same fun things they did before.  But Roxy said tonight would be a little different.  They went out into the open countryside like before, but this time they ran up to a hilltop where a wolf pack was standing around.  Some of them seemed to know Roxy and JoJo, but most just eyed them warily.  Wendy stayed close to Wanda.

“These wolves are so freaky and different they make Roxy and JoJo look normal!” Wendy said.

Just then a very rough-looking wolf walked by.  An overwhelming odor wafted in the air behind him.

Ugh!  Who was that?” Wendy asked.  “He smells terrible!”

“JoJo told me that’s Fang, the leader of the pack,” she replied.  “He got into a fight with a skunk a while back and the skunk won.  He’s just now getting to where other wolves can stand to be around him again.  I think he’s cute.  Look, he’s going to speak to the pack.”

Fang jumped up on a big rock.

“All right, gang, listen up.  We’re going on a raid,” Fang announced.  “Nothing big, just a henhouse near Summerfield.  I’m in the mood for fresh eggs.  Let’s go!”

 

Quick as a flash, the pack took off at a gallop.  As they ran, Wendy stayed near Wanda.  She was nervous.  She wasn’t crazy about being part of a ‘raid’ so close to home.  She wasn’t even sure what a ‘raid’ was!

“Doesn’t Duncan Deer own the only henhouse in Summerfield?” Wendy asked.

“How should I know?” Wanda replied.  “And who cares, anyway?”

I do.  That’s Gracie’s home!” Wendy said.  “She’s my best friend.”

“Come on, Wendy.  Don’t wimp out on me,” Wanda said.  “We’re going to grab a few eggs, that’s all.  Get into it.  You’re a wild animal tonight.  Stop being such a goody-goody prude.”

Just then Fang came running up beside them.

“Hey!  What’s all the yapping about?” he snarled.  “Is there a problem?”

“Wendy thinks she knows the family that owns the henhouse,” Wanda said.

So?  Listen up, city girl.  When you run with the pack, the pack is your family.  You have no other friends or relatives.  Only the pack, got it?  The pack takes care of you and provides you with everything you need.  Change your way of thinking, baby.  Get with the program already.  Show us you’re one of us, okay?  I’m going back to the front.  Later, girls,” Fang said.

 

Wendy thought about what Fang had said.  Would it be so bad to be with her own kind, even if she wasn’t a full-blooded wolf?  She decided to relax and see what a night out with the pack would be like.  Finally they came to the crest of a hill near the henhouse.  Fang told everybody to sit still while he went down and took a look inside.  Wanda and Wendy waited together.

“Isn’t this exciting, cuz?” Wanda whispered.  “What if your nerdy little friends could see you now, hanging out with a real wolf pack!

“I was thinking that very same thing,” Wendy replied.  “But I have a bad feeling about this.  Something’s not right.  I can feel it.”

“Chill out, will you?” Wanda said.  “Please don’t embarrass me.  Just go along.”

Fang soon returned.  “Everybody listen up.  Forget the eggs and chickens.  What we have in there is a tender, helpless, young deer!  Who wants a snack when we can have a feast?” he said with a smile.

 

While the pack mumbled excitedly about their good luck, Wendy looked closely at the henhouse.  What she saw terrified her.  Fang was talking about Gracie!  She realized that this was one of those hard choices her mom had told her about.  She had to make a big decision on her own.  Should she stay back and let them corner and mercilessly attack her defenseless friend or should she listen to the voice in her heart that had always told her the right thing to do?  Wendy saw that the pack, including Wanda, had silently surrounded the henhouse.  Wendy took action.  She began to howl as loudly as she could.

AWOOO!!!  AWOOO!!!  AWOOO!!! she cried out.

Fang glared back at Wendy.  “Hey, you!  Stop that noise, you idiot!  Stop it!” he yelled.

But Wendy just howled even louder.  Lights flashed on at every home around the area and folks came streaming out, alarmed.  Gracie nervously peeked out of the henhouse door, holding her basket of eggs.  She heard the sounds of scrambling paws as the pack hurriedly retreated into the Chicapah Forest.  The wolves ran until it was safe, then stopped and gathered around Wendy.

“You’re no wolf, you’re a traitor!” Fang yelled at her.  “Who brought you along on this raid, anyway?  You’re a disgrace to your kind!”

Wendy stood her ground.  “But it was wrong!” she yelled back.  “I couldn’t let you attack a helpless animal, even if she hadn’t been my friend.  Wrong is wrong!

“Oh, forget it!” Fang said.  “Come on, gang, she doesn’t understand us and she never will.  Forget you.  Go home, little city-puppy, you don’t belong out here in the wild.”

With Fang in front, the pack slunk away disappointed.  Wanda stayed behind for a moment to confront Wendy.

“Well, I hope you’re proud of yourself, turncoat.  Thanks a lot.  Did you forget that I have to live around Roxy and JoJo?” Wanda asked.  “I’m a joke to them now.  You could’ve stayed back and not taken part in the raid, you know.”

“It doesn’t work that way,” Wendy said.  “If I hadn’t done what I did my friend might be gone forever and I would have been just as guilty as the rest of you.  Don’t you see that?”

“All I see is the creep who ruined my reputation!” Wendy replied.  “Get away from me!  Leave me alone!  I don’t want to know you anymore.”

 

The next day Wendy went to see Gracie Deer.  She wanted to make sure her friend was all right.  Gracie excitedly told her about what had happened the night before.

“And were they ever sneaky!” she said.  “I didn’t hear a thing as they surrounded me!  So there I was, all alone in the henhouse, picking up eggs, humming a song…”

Wendy interrupted her.  “…Wearing your red hat,” she said.

“Of course!  It’s my favorite!” Gracie said.  “Anyway, I was grabbing those eggs and putting them…”

Wendy broke in again.  “…In your blue basket,” she said.

Gracie gave her a strange look.  “Right,” she said.  “Hey, wait a second.  How could you know that unless… it was a wolf pack!  That was you howling, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, but I should never have been out there with them,” Wendy said.  “I’m sorry, Gracie.  I really am.  It was a very stupid and reckless thing to do.”

Sorry?  Are you kidding?  You saved my life!” Gracie said.

“Maybe,” Wendy said.  “But if I hadn’t been with the pack I probably would have been in that henhouse with you.  They would never have tried anything with both of us in there.  They’re really cowards when it’s anything close to being a fair fight.  Plus, I know I would’ve smelled Fang, the leader.  He has a bad odor problem.”

“A really, really awful stink?” Gracie asked.

“The worst,” Wendy answered.

Gracie began to laugh.  “Ha, ha, ha!  That’s super funny!” she said.

“I don’t get it,” Wendy said.

“It was so dark that I didn’t see them, so when mom and dad got to the henhouse and asked me what happened I told them I had almost been attacked by a group of crazy, wild skunks!”

 

Weeks later, when Wendy’s mom asked her why Wanda hadn’t called lately, she told her about her night out with the pack.  Wilma said she was proud of her for the choice she had made, even if it cost her her cousin Wanda’s friendship.  She said it also made some sense of the news that Wanda had recently gotten into some kind of trouble and was now grounded by her parents.  In the end, Wendy had learned that, while she could not always have a say in the decisions others might make, she alone had control over the choices she made for herself.

 

 

THE END

 

Copyright 2000