Wednesday Morning Staff Meeting
(A Homicidal Office Comedy in 3 Acts)
An original stage play
By Rollie Tom Anderson
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, 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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.