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Mark Reid

1st draft completed ‌ ‌

The main room of an isolated farmhouse. One door leads straight outside. Others lead to a kitchen and a corridor. There is a second floor. This is the retreat of SMITH JOHNS, a writer acclaimed in his youth and now battling though late-middle-age disrespectfully. It’s night, and windy. The door opens, and Smith enters. He’s accompanied by EXELBY HARRIS, a younger man, respectable and fairly confident although not in his natural habitat. Smith How long have we got? Exelby (looking at his phone) Thirty minutes? Smith That won’t work out here. Exelby You got a wifi code? Smith looks at him blankly. Can’t kid a kidder. Smith Not here. Exelby You’re joking? How will we… Smith What? (beat) What do we need to do? Exelby Oh. Just. Aren’t we…? Smith We’re talking. We’re just talking. That’s all I was planning. Or, maybe not just talking. Maybe drinking. 2

Pause. Exelby You bastard. Smith Don’t play the innocent with me. Exelby You won’t destroy my life. Smith Oh calm down. Exelby I’m not staying here is there’s drink. Smith You’re not going anywhere. You won’t get far on foot and I’ve got the car keys. Smith tosses them. Exelby makes a lunge for them but Smith easily snatches them out of his grasp. I can keep the booze away from you as easily as these keys. Seriously, you’ve been dry what? Fifteen years? Exelby And how long were you dry for? Smith Touché. But you know my history and you’re still here. So my question is, just how much of you secretly wants to be back on it? Because there’s no way you’d have agreed to come here without knowing exactly what you were letting yourself in for. Exelby They were right about you, you’re a sanctimonious fuck. Smith The difference is, I’ve never pretended to be anything else. 3

Exelby I thought you were on my side. Smith You thought you could trust me. Exelby I thought you had integrity. Smith ‘Who’s ‘they’? Exelby You go on and on in all your work about how up front you are, how down the line straight as a die what you see if what you get bollocksSmith Who? Have you told anyone about this? Exelby Now I find it’s not a scoop you want; it’s a drinking buddy. Smith It won’t even be a scoop if you’ve told everyone. Who have you told? Exelby I’ve not posted it on Facebook, if that’s what you mean. Smith You haven’t got Facebook. Exelby Well thenSmith So you haven’t told anyone? Exelby I haven’t told everyone. Smith Oh shit. Exelby I have conversations. 4

Smith Seriously, you of all people. Exelby This isn’t supposed to be a secret. Smith Yes. Yes it is. That’s what a scoop is. Exelby No, it’s justSmith It’ll be ruined. Exelby Gonna call the whole thing off? Drive me back to town. Pause. Smith Goddamnit. Exelby It’s fine. I don’t mind. Smith No. (He’s had a bright idea) This is it isn’t it. Of course. This is the story, the risk we take. Exelby We can just rearrange. Smith I won’t have another drink. Exelby Another? Smith (Looking through some drawers) I need the right notebook. As Smith gathers together the accoutrements of his trade – a wad of paper and a selection of pencils; Exelby looks round the space and checks out the framed pictures scattered around the room. 5

Exelby is this your way of name dropping? Smith You recognise them? Exelby Can’t place most of them. But it looks like I’m supposed to. Smith pauses and looks over at him. It’s just how it seems. Smith (Goes back to his prep) Most of those people wanted their photo taken with me, not the other way round. Exelby Many happy memories I guess. Smith happy times come and go. Exelby They certainly do that. Smith When did you know what you were doing could bring down a government. Pause. Exelby reassesses his situation. Exelby When the government resigned. Smith That was when you realised? Exelby Yes. Smith Okay. When did you first imagine that you might have some disruptive effect. 6

Exelby I’ve done nothing wrong. Smith AbsolutelyExelby I didn’t plan any of this. Smith No. Exelby I didn’t know this was going to happen. Smith I realise. Exelby I didn’t mean for any of this. Exelby breaks down in tears. Suddenly Smith looks really uncomfortable. He stands by for Exelby to recover, but Exelby continues. Smith rolls his eyes. Exelby is deep in emotional release and shows no sign of stopping. Smith’s discomfort continues as he feels helpless and needs to get the conversation back on track. He moves in closer to Exelby to comfort him. In a typically awkward masculine way he takes Exelby in an embrace, which only releases more of Exelby’s emotion. Smith holds him as he lets it out. Slowly Exelby gets it out of his system and his sobs ease as he breathes more easily. It wasn’t my fault. Smith No one thinks it was. No one is saying that. Exelby But now they’re after me. Smith And you’re afraid. 7

Exelby They’ll blame me. No one will know the truth. Smith That’s why you’re here. That’s why you came to me. Together we can get your story out there. Everyone can see what you did, why you did it. Exelby It’s too late. They’ve already decided. You can’t change people’s minds once they’ve decided. I’m already the bad guy. Smith You don’t watch the news, do you? Exelby I know what goes on. Smith You think it’s you against the world. Exelby Just the people who matter. Smith Then you have a very low opinion of a great number of very important people. Exelby It’s okay for you. You don’t care what anyone thinks. But no one is trying to put you in jail. Or kill you. Smith Now you’re just exaggerating. Exelby Of course they want me dead. Smith I mean about me not caring. (beat) I care a great deal and it hurts me to think that someone has such a low opinion of me. Pause. 8

Exelby I meant it as a compliment. (beat) It’s something I admire you for. Smith I care deeply. I just don’t let it get in the way of who I am. Exelby That’s not all there is to it. Smith Over forty years ago I wrote a book. A novel. I guess my first big bit of writing. The problem with writing stuff at that age, something that you want to be epic, to contain everything; you don’t know anything yet. You think you do, but it’s not so. Worse than that, you don’t know anyone. Maybe you’ve managed to lose some friends, but acquaintances are still rare. So you write what you know, but those people still know you. And when they find out what you’ve written, what you’ve told the world you know, they don’t recognise it, and they don’t agree. Some of them tell you. That’s fine. Others don’t say a word, and eventually never say another word to you again. And that’s hard, because you’d like to lean from those people, but it’s gone, like the library at Alexandria. Exelby But still, you put it out there. You wrote it, and it made you famous that book. Smith No. I never published that book. It still hasn’t seen the light of day. Exelby That’s not The Tortoise Diaries? Smith The Tortoise Diaries was what I wrote to repair the damage, to make amends by writing them as they wanted to be seen, not how I actually saw them. (beat) The whole thing was a lie. 9

Exelby That book made your reputation. It inspired a generation. A whole new world of writing can out of that book. Smith Is it any wonder I turned to drink? Pause. Exelby Did it work? Smith The drink? Exelby The book. Did it repair the damage? Pause. Smith The drink definitely worked. I’ve never yet regretted a drink. (beat) No, it didn’t work. And that was why after that book I promised myself never to tell another lie in prose. And I’m not going to start now. And I don’t care if people don’t like what I do, or come to hate me. I don’t care if they want to lock me away, or try to kill me. It’s too important. And I think you see that too. (beat) Besides, if you’re right and you can’t change their minds there’s no harm, in having your side out there. Pause. Exelby We’re just chatting. Smith We’re just chatting. How long have we got? Exelby I, I don’t know. Did we- (he looks at his telephone for the time) I’m surprised she’s not here by now to be honest. 10

Smith No one ever gets here on time. There’s a knock at the door. I stand corrected. But Exelby looks panicked. Exelby That’s not her. Smith No? Exelby That’s not her knock. Smith is concerned and a bit nervous. Another knock, Exelby shakes his head and Smith stirs himself in to action. He instructs Exelby to hide in a large cupboard, calls out he’s on his way and heads over to the door. He opens it with a flourish. Standing in the doorway is TESS BURNS; a highly regarded television journalist. Smith How may I help? Tess Is he here? Smith Who may I say is calling? Tess Don’t be an imbecile. Smith I recognise that voice. Tess Shall I come in? Smith I’m afraid Mr Johns isn’t at home right now. 11

Tess You know full well it’s not you I’ve come to see. Smith takes Tess’ coat, which he hangs in the cupboard over Exelby. Nice place you haver out here. Quiet. Must be productive, without the distractions. Without all the bars and twenty-four hour supermarkets selling coffee liqueurs. A good place to get lots of writing done I bet. Undisturbed. Smith Have you arranged a rendezvous? I hope I’m not going to be in the way. Tess Oh don’t worry Mr Johns. It is essential that you’re here. Otherwise I wouldn’t think of troubling you. Smith I guess I have to be here to be troubled. Tess Is he here? Smith That’s the second time you’ve asked that and I’m still not sure I’m any the wiser. Would you like a drink; I was just going to have a drink. Tess What are you offering? Smith (looking in a large Ottoman chest by the door.) The usual; whiskey, gin, should have some sherry, or I could crack open a bottle of wine. There might be some lager out the back, though I wouldn’t count on it. It doesn’t tend to last long. Tess Wine then. 12

Smith Come on through, it’ll be in the kitchen. Tess Where every good party ends up. Exeunt to the kitchen. Long pause. Then tentatively, Exelby opens the cupboard door and peers out. He retreats, but emerges again as he gains confidence. He makes his way to the front door, but as he reaches it there’s a hammering at the door. Exelby doesn’t think he can get back to the cupboard, he instinctively checks the Ottoman, and judging there’s space he dives in. The hammering continues. Smith barrels out of the kitchen, wine glass and bottle in hand. Tess following stands in the doorway. Smith opens the front door to find a couple standing in each others’ arms; PHIL and SAMantha. Phil cheers. Phil I was right. (points at the bottle) Good man. Sam I’m disappointed Smithy. I thought you’d be on the vodka by this hour. Phil He has a guest, Sam? Sam I’ve been a guest here many times and I’ve never had wine. Phil We’re always already pissed when we arrive. Sam I’m not pissed now. Phil We’re definitely a bit tidy. Sam I drove here okay. Phil I’m not sure that couple in Conniscliffe would agree. 13

Sam A bit of a scare. Never did anyone any harm. Imagine, the believe themselves so close to death that it inspires a reawakening, that from this moment on they pledge to treasure every second, and as soon as they get home they quit their jobs in the bank and book a flight to Fiji where they dedicate their lives to helping the poorest and sunning themselves on the beach. As she has delivered this speech to the room she has found herself face-to-face with Tess. She’s suddenly chocked speechless. Phil I told you he had a guest. Smith Ah, of course, my apologies. Sam, Phil, I’d like to introduce you to this woman who hasn’t actually told me her name and I haven’t had a chance to ask but now seems as good an opportunity as any. This has made Phil exclaim Ha! As Sam turns to him, her openmouthed surprise turning to open-mouthed disapproval. Phil The thing is, he’s not even joking. Smith For heaven’s sake. (beat) I recognised the voice, I’ve just not been able to place it. Come on. At leave it’s saved on introductions. Tess walks forward to Smith to shake hands. Tess Tess Burns, reporter and radio voice, pleased to meet you. Smith tucks the bottle under his arm to free his hand. 14

Smith Charmed, I’m sure. Phil Great, now that’s out of the way, where’s our wine? Smith Where it’s always been. Phil heads to the kitchen, obviously quite at home. Sam What are we doing this weekend then Smithy? Twister? Food fight? Swim? Tess I’m sure we’ll have time for all three. Sam (delighted) Aw you’re staying too? Smith It seems so. Tess I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Smith Isn’t it quite a time to be out of circulation, what with the government in turmoil. Aren’t you missing all the action. You don’t want to miss the story. Tess I have a feeling this is the real story right here. Phil returns with wine and glasses, hands one to Sam and pours. Sam Definitely. A weekend at Eganthorpe is one to remember. Phil I’d be very surprised if you didn’t get a story here this weekend. 15

Sam Do you remember that weekend, we were all here, the three of us and Abigail, and we started like on Thursday evening and we literally danced all weekend, we put on that old fifties compilation you made and we were dancing on the table and you fell off at one point and smashed your glass and it went in to Abigail’s leg and there was blood everywhere, I mean everywhere, it got in to those trousers I was wearing, you know, with the embroidery, never getting that out, and we had to rush her to hospital and… Beat. Phil That was last weekend. She needed four stitches. Sam Yeah. Smith No one is going to hospital this weekend. Phil (to Tess) So you’re not covering the big story? Sam Oh Phil, don’t talk shop. Phil Tess doesn’t mind, I hope? Tess No, it’s fine. Phil Makes a change t be the one being interviewed. Sam Boring. Tess It is what I do. Phil You actually understand what’s going on then? 16

Tess I’m getting there. Phil Can you explain it? Sam As if to an idiot. Phil Just start at the beginning. Sam (taking off her coat) Oh my God we’re gonna be here all day. Sam goes to put her coat in the cupboard. She is interrupted by Smith. Smith Allow me. Sam Oh, gosh! (to Tess) You have put him on his best behaviour. (she sits herself down and makes herself comfortable) Smith has gone to hang up Sam’s coat and has to cover his shock at discovering Exelby has disappeared. Tess It wasSam Hold it! (dramatic pause) More drink! Smithy, we need more drink. Smith Um, shall we all go through to the kitchen. Phil It’s fine; we’re comfortable here. The night is young yet, plenty of time. Sam And we’re live in five, four, three, two, one; Go. 17

Phil We’re joined tonight be Tess Burns who’s going to explain everything to us. Tess, what’s going on? How did it all start? Tess The big question, really, is how it’s got to this point. Massive government corruption and incompetence is nothing new, as we’ve seen with historic failures such as Carillion, and the socalled expenses scandal. Exposure of these failing through whistleblowing and leaks happens constantly that many assumed we were immune to them. It turns out we’re not. What’s different this time? Phil And what do you think it is? Tess Not a what, but a who. When Dick because PM he had no competition. He’s never really had to fight for anything all his life. Now that a fight is called for he actually has no idea what to do. Phil What do you make of the figure on the other side, the person who found all these emails and leaked them to the papers. Tess I don’t know. (beat) Yet. Phil Some people are calling him a hero. Sam Some of us aren’t. Tess Indeed. Sam Everything was just going along so nicely. There was no politics in the news, it was all just celebrities and puppiesPhil Just because it’s not in the news doesn’t mean it’s not happening. 18

Sam But why do I need to know about it? It’s not like I can do anything about it. I’d like to find that man and throttle him for what he’s done to this country. Phil He’s only telling the truth. Sam What do we need to know the truth for? It’s only one person’s opinion. Smith He probably doesn’t realise, to be fair. Sam Fair!? What have you ever been fair? If you had your way I bet you’d wring him for everything you could get. Smith That’s absolutely not true. As a matter of fact I believe he deserves a fair hearing. Tess And you’re preparing to give him one? Smith If only I could. Sam Who knows why anything happens. Chat shit as much as you like, but if he woke up in a bad mood, or had a stone in his shoe, or ate some dodgy fish it would all be different, it really doesn’t matter. Smithy, can we dance? Let’s put some music on. Phil We’re talking. Smith goes to a sound system and plays some big band music. Maybe Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Sam and Smith get up and dance. Phil looks a little annoyed, Tess amused but inscrutable. Phil empties the rest of 19

his bottle into his glass but it’s a dribble. He signals to Tess and they head off to the kitchen. As soon as they’ve gone, Sam and Smith kiss. They make moves to have sex, but suddenly Smith holds things up. Smith Is this okay? Sam seems unfazed but also unbothered. After a second of consideration, they continue, finding themselves on the Ottoman, but it seems to fizzle out before they get anywhere. Sam What’s the matter? (no reply) What are you anxious about? Smith I’m not really. Sam (stroking his head) Oh darling Smithy. Don’t worry. Tess isn’t here for you. I can tell. She’s not in to you. You don’t need to worry. Smith It’s not that. Sam Though I don’t see why she’s here. Women like her are always chasing something. It must be exhausting to be honest. Smith How can you tell she’s not in to me? Sam Just, I don’t know, the way she looks at you. Or doesn’t, more like. Smith She has a strange way of looking, like a doctor or a detective. Or a scientist looking at everything through a microscope. No one wants to be looked at like that, surely? You’ll never find love if you’re looking for it like trying to find a mushroom on the fallen leaves. 20

Sam She’s not looking for love, though. Smith Good, cos she’s not going to find it here. Sam I wonder what she is hoping to find here. Smith has a thought and double-checks the cupboard again. Smith Peace and serenity, I expect. Sam Then she’s on a wild goose chase here. Tess laughs loudly from OS. A couple of moments later Phil runs in dressed in a chicken costume, pecks at Sam and Smith, and runs out again. Smith I’ll have you know that peace and serenity are the two things I value the most here. Phil re-enters without his head and runs round and round the room, knocking Sam and Smith about, knocking things over. He captures Sam in an embrace and carries her out to the kitchen. Smith shakes his head indulgently, then realises he has to search for Exelby. The Ottoman is about the last place he goes to look. At pretty much the same moment, Exelby screams, Smith drops the lid, the others return from the kitchen to find him, and he twirls and sits on the Ottoman. Phil clucks like a chicken at him. Sam Phil says you’re missing all the fun. There’s a knock at the door. 21

Smith This house is a twenty minute drive from the nearest place you could dignify with the word village, before the track peters out and there’s another couple miles walk. It’s February. It’s cold. It’s rained all morning so most of the footpaths will currently be mud baths. You two (Phil and Sam) I can understand, you’ve done it enough sober. You… (Tess) You’re after a story. So God knows why you’re here. (Pause) So who are we expecting? Pause. There’s another knock. Tess Are you going to answer it? Smith It could be anyone. Tess I suspect if it was a mad axe man or a werewolf, they wouldn’t be knocking. Smith Maybe they’ll go away. Knocking. Tess If it’s that much of an ordeal to get here, they’re unlikely to give up quite so easily. Sam Oh fuck it. Sam goes over and opens the door to reveal BRAD WILSON in his full Deliveroo uniform. Brad Deliveroo. Smith You got the wrong house mate. 22

Brad Ummm… Smith Fuck off. Sam Smithy! Phil clucks and pecks at Smith. Smith Seriously. We haven’t ordered anything. What’s he gonna do? He’s doing a job, he’s come here to drop some stuff. He’s then gotta fuck off anyway. All I’m saying is, fuck off and don’t drop the stuff. Beat. Brad I’m supposed to bring it in. Smith I don’t want your sort in here. Before I know it there’ll be half-adozen of you, sitting in the corner puffing on those vape things and tweeting about how much you hate capitalism on your iPhones. Sam Who ordered it? Smith No one ordered anything. Sam I’m really curious. Phil clucks and pecks at Smith. We might as well see what it is. 23

Smith I won’t hear the end of this. Phil clucks and pecks. (To Tess) What do you think? Tess I’m just observing. Smith Of course you are. Brad Please, come on. It’s fucking heavy. Smith Aww bless. Brad I’m not carrying it back. Smith I don’t care what you do with it. Sam I wanna know what it is. Phil clucks and pecks. Smith It’s not going to be exciting. Sam I’m excited now. Smith Then you’re setting yourself up for a disappointment. Sam I can’t wait to find out how disappointing. Tess Let him in Smith. Smith You all ganging up on me now? 24

Phil clucks and pecks. Okay. Brad moves to enter the cottage. Smith holds him back. If you’re a kangaroo, you can hop in. Brad I’m a Deliveroo. Smith shrugs and stares him out. Phil clucks and pecks, now turning his attention to Brad. Tess and Sam watch amused. Com on man. (Pause) It’s heavy. The silence is intense, the challenge palpable. You can almost feel Brad being bested. It’s not that his spirit is broken, but that Smith seems to encourage and energise him. He starts to believe he could possibly do it. He makes a tentative attempts. Smith Yes. With more gentle encouragement he is able to get more and more bouncy until it is enough for Smith to let him in. He bounces into the middle of the room, stops and takes off his backpack. Pause. They all stand and look at the backpack. No one makes a move. Silence. Brad Should I…? Smith Woah. 25