ACT IV

A remote bus shelter. Night.

Orson is asleep in the shelter, gently snoring. A copy of Newton’s Principia rests on his lap.

Enter DOUGLAS. He is wearing a dinner jacket and carrying a briefcase.

Douglas steps into the shelter, looks at his watch.

Douglas sits next to Orson. He sees the book in his lap and picks it up.

After a quick flick through the Principia, he decides the book is not for him and replaces it.

DOUGLAS: A fine night. A fine bloody night. Probably the finest night there’s been in a long time. But then, what do I know about nights?

Douglas looks at Orson.

DOUGLAS: So what have we here? A vagrant? A fugitive from the law? Or just another pisshead?

Douglas nudges Orson in the ribs.

DOUGLAS: Oi. Wake up.

Orson wakes up.

DOUGLAS: I was just saying what a fine night it is.

ORSON: You nudged me.

DOUGLAS: It’s restful here, isn’t it? You can stare at the stars and the stars will stare right back at you and neither of you need give a damn about the other. The Universe goes about its business; you go about yours.

ORSON: You’ve been looking at my book.

DOUGLAS: Never understood why God created so many stars. Seems unnecessary. One or two, I wouldn’t mind. I’d be fine with that. But billions? That’s just showing off.

ORSON: You looked at my note book and then you nudged me. There’s a name for people like you.

DOUGLAS: And what name would that be?

ORSON: I don’t know.

DOUGLAS: Just think of the effort God put into making all those stars. Must have taken him ages. If he’d spent a little less time making the sky pretty and concentrated on what he was going to put beneath it, the world wouldn’t be in the mess it is today. That’s the trouble with God – no sense of priorities.

ORSON: Are you a religious man?

DOUGLAS: God, no.

ORSON: Then why do you keep going on about God?

DOUGLAS: I don’t.

ORSON: Since you rudely awoke me, you’ve mentioned God three times.

DOUGLAS: Have I? I hadn’t noticed. Strange that. I’ve always been a committed atheist.

ORSON: God and the bloody stars.

DOUGLAS: What have the stars to do with it?

ORSON: You asked why God created so many of them.

DOUGLAS: Why would I do that? I’ve no interest in the stars. Can’t see the point of the bloody things.

ORSON: Would you prefer an empty sky?

DOUGLAS: Now there’s a thought. Unending darkness going on for ever and ever. I’d be comfortable with that.

ORSON: You’ve something against the stars?

DOUGLAS: The thing I hate about stars is that they encourage people to dream and I don’t think that’s a healthy thing.

ORSON: The world needs dreamers.

DOUGLAS: And what use are dreamers? What we need are more thinkers – people who deal with life as it is. Dreamers are trouble. Look at that Hitler chap for instance. Dreamt of a thousand year Reich. Made a right mess of things.

With a yawn, Orson looks at his watch.

ORSON: Have you got the time? I’m not sure this watch is working. It was made in Singapore.

Douglas checks his watch.

DOUGLAS: Damned thing’s stopped.

ORSON: The last bus…

DOUGLAS: Went hours ago. You’ve missed it.

ORSON: Good.

DOUGLAS: I hate buses. You may have noticed there’s quite a few things I hate – stars, watches, buses.

ORSON: And God.

DOUGLAS: I don’t hate God. When did I say I hate God? I probably would if I thought he existed, but I don’t. Do you know what my biggest hate is? The thing I hate above all others?

ORSON: Cellophane wrapping. I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t hate cellophane wrapping.

DOUGLAS: The descant recorder. Torture in a tube. Must have been invented by a madman. Why parents give them to their children, I’ll never know. So far as I can tell, the descant recorder has only two purposes. One is to annoy the crap out of people. The other is to serve as a repository for spit.

ORSON: They make good pea shooters.

DOUGLAS: Never mind landmines and chemical weapons. If the United Nations wants to make the world a better place by banning things, they should start with the descant fucking recorder.

ORSON: They always play Frère Jacques. Have you noticed that?

DOUGLAS: And the only time anyone plays Frère Jacques is on the descant recorder.

ORSON: London’s Burning. That’s another one.

DOUGLAS (testily): Yes, yes! No need to labour the point. All I’m saying is that there’s nothing I hate more than the descant recorder. Now let’s leave it at that. I don’t wish to discuss the matter further.

ORSON: Are you going to be here long?

DOUGLAS: What the hell business is it of yours? You think you own this shelter?

ORSON: Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t mean to imply that I want you to go away. I’ve no objection to your presence here. Quite the opposite. I’m glad of the company.

DOUGLAS: So you should be. I’m very good company.

ORSON: You can stay as long as you like as far as I’m concerned.

DOUGLAS: That’s good of you.

ORSON: It’s just that I’m waiting for a young lady. I have an assignation.

DOUGLAS: At this time of night? You’ll forgive me for saying so, but I rather think you’ve been stood up. What time is this young lady of yours meant to be here?

ORSON: Tonight.

DOUGLAS: When exactly?

ORSON: We didn’t settle on a precise time. She’ll be here before the first bus comes.

DOUGLAS: I wouldn’t count on it. Women are invariably late. They have a pathological fear of being on time.

ORSON: Is that so? I hadn’t realised.

DOUGLAS: You astound me. A certain inbuilt tardiness is a prime characteristic of the female of the species. I thought everyone knew that.

ORSON: Not me. When it comes to women, I know precious little.

DOUGLAS: What are you? A eunuch?

ORSON: A mathematician.

DOUGLAS: Now there’s a funny thing. As soon as I set eyes on you, I thought to myself, ‘Hello. What do we have here then? Looks like a mathematician.’ And I was right. Of course, I did first consider that you might be a vagrant, a fugitive or a pisshead but there was something about you that just screamed ‘mathematician’.

ORSON: The book’s a dead giveaway.

DOUGLAS: I’d hate to be a mathematician. I’ve known a few in my time and they’ve all been virgins. Nothing against virgins but what’s the point of them?

ORSON: I can state quite categorically that I am not a virgin.

DOUGLAS: Good for you! Virginity’s not a healthy thing. It causes mental disorders – and spots. Hitler was a virgin. Did you know that? I bet he was as spotty as hell underneath all that make-up. Thankfully, I lost my cherry to my French teacher when I was thirteen. That’s why I’m so sane and grounded.

ORSON: If your French teacher was anything like mine, it must have been a wonderful experience.

DOUGLAS: Would have been better if he’d been a woman, but you can’t have everything.

An awkward silence ensues.

DOUGLAS: So when did you lose your cherry? At school was it? A furtive fumbling behind the bike sheds which led to something more?

ORSON: In all the time I was at school, I never once went behind the bike sheds.

DOUGLAS: Not even for a smoke?

ORSON: I’ve never smoked. I did consider having a cigarette straight after I lost my virginity, but none were available.

DOUGLAS: You seem to be avoiding the question. I’ve no interest in what you did or didn’t do after your first taste of the forbidden fruit. I just want to know when it happened.

Orson looks at his watch.

ORSON: If this watch is right, it was just under six hours ago.

DOUGLAS: Six hours? Do you mean to tell me you’ve spent your whole adult life without ever once getting your end away?

ORSON: Up until about six hours ago.

DOUGLAS: Well, that explains your complexion.

ORSON: Of course, this watch could be wrong.

DOUGLAS: So what was it like? Was it all you’d ever dreamt it would be? Or was it a let down as tends to be the case?

ORSON: I’d rather not say. It’s a private matter.

DOUGLAS: Was she a screamer? Did she cry out with every thrust? Or was she more restrained than that? Perhaps she just groaned?

ORSON: It would be ungentlemanly of me to go into details.

DOUGLAS: Ungentlemanly, my arse. You’re a bloke. Half the fun of parking the pink Rolls Royce in the hairy garage is bragging about it afterwards.

ORSON: I don’t like to brag.

DOUGLAS: Bragging is an essential part of the mating ritual. What was she like? A raver? Was she drunk? I bet she was a bit of a dog. No offence, but I can’t see you pulling anything that wouldn’t look better with a bag over its head.

ORSON: She charged me fifty pounds. I only had thirty on me. So I paid the balance with my credit card.

DOUGLAS: Fifty pounds? You did say fifty pounds? That’s a bit steep.

ORSON: That’s what I thought, but as I’d no previous experience in these matters, I was hardly in a position to argue. And I didn’t begrudge her the money. Making love to strangers can’t be easy.

DOUGLAS: Nothing to it. Close your eyes. Open your legs. Think of England.

ORSON: All the same, it’s not a nice way to make a living.

DOUGLAS: Fifty quid! I tell you what, my son, you were done good and proper. Next time you fancy getting your leg over, take yourself down to Harwell Street. Number forty-seven. Ring the bell twice. Say you’ve come to read the gas meter.

ORSON: And ask for Rosa.

DOUGLAS: Bloody Hell! Rosa! I might have known. She’s got a nerve charging you fifty quid.

ORSON: I suspect Rosa’s not her real name.

DOUGLAS: The cheating, lying, two-faced little slut. I’ve told her before about ripping off the punters. That kind of thing gives prostitution a bad name.

ORSON: You know Rosa?

DOUGLAS: Know her? I own her! Got the whole of Harwell Street sewn up, I have. When I took over, that place had a terrible reputation. People were getting fleeced left, right and centre. I thought I’d put a stop to all that.

ORSON: Perhaps she made an honest mistake.

DOUGLAS: If it wasn’t for me, those girls would still be freezing their arses off behind the gasworks. And I’ve always been a good employer. You ask any of my bitches. They’ll tell you I’m the best pimp any tart could ask for. Never took more than a minimal commission – barely enough to cover my expenses. Fifty quid! It makes my blood boil.

ORSON: I’ll know better next time.

DOUGLAS: I feel bad about this. Really I do.

ORSON: It’s not your fault.

DOUGLAS: But it is my fault! I’m responsible for the behaviour of my girls. As their employer, I have a duty to see that they act in a fair, ethical and professional manner. The Johns must get a fair deal. I’m going to make this up to you, really I am.

ORSON: There’s no need.

DOUGLAS: There’s every need. You’ve been cheated and I have a moral obligation to put things right. Supposing… (considers his options) supposing I kill her?

ORSON: I’d settle for a refund.

DOUGLAS: Bless you, sir. You’re a kind man. A kind, forgiving man. If everyone was as sweet as you, this world would be a better place. But they’re not, are they? You’re a lamb floundering in a sea of sharks. And that’s why I can’t let Rosa off lightly. You can see that, can’t you? I have to make an example of her.

ORSON: If you killed her, you’d be losing an asset.

DOUGLAS: I’d be cutting off my nose to spite my face, but what else can I do?

ORSON: Couldn’t you just beat her up?

DOUGLAS: Good thinking. I like that idea. But I have a better one. How about if you did it? That would be more fitting.

ORSON: I’m not sure I could.

DOUGLAS: I’d hold her down for you. You’ll soon get the hang of it. Please say you’ll do it, sir. I’d feel so much better.

ORSON: This means a lot to you, doesn’t it?

DOUGLAS: It does, sir. It does.

ORSON: I can see you’re in pain.

DOUGLAS: I am. I am.

ORSON: Very well. If you hold her down, I’ll give her a bloody good kicking.

DOUGLAS: Oh, that’s so kind of you. You’re a real gent, you are. I’m glad we’ve got that settled. We’ll sort her out tomorrow. Shall we say 2pm?

ORSON: Three would be better.

DOUGLAS: Three o’clock it is then. Let’s shake on it.

They shake hands.

DOUGLAS: My name’s Douglas by the way.

ORSON: Orson.

DOUGLAS: So what’s it like being a mathematician, Orson?

ORSON: Dull, Douglas. Very dull.

DOUGLAS: I can imagine. It must be a bit like being an accountant.

ORSON: I expect so.

DOUGLAS: My brother was an accountant. Possibly the most boring man in the world. And I don’t mean that unkindly. I loved that guy like – well, like a brother. It broke my heart to have to kill him. I wept for days afterwards.

ORSON: I can see why you’d be upset. But – if it’s not a personal question – why exactly did you kill him?

DOUGLAS: Caught him fiddling my books. Ironic really – considering that’s what I paid him for. Only he was meant to fiddle them in my favour, not his. I bet you’ve never met a murderer before, have you?

ORSON: Well, actually…

DOUGLAS: People like murderers. Have you noticed that? They find us fascinating. I expect it’s because we represent something in themselves – something innate and primal – which they daren’t unleash. I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve told me that knowing I’m a killer has changed their lives. We’re a form of therapy for all the dull grey people out there who are too scared to take life by the balls. There’ll come a day when the newspapers declare murder the new rock’n’roll.

ORSON: There’s something magic about this bus shelter. I meet the most interesting people here.

DOUGLAS: Ever thought about doing a bit of killing yourself? It would do wonders for your self-esteem. Instead of apologising for being a mathematician, you’d be able to look people in the eye and say, ‘I am a killer’. You’d never be stuck for something to talk about at dinner parties.

ORSON: I don’t go to dinner parties.

DOUGLAS: I expect a man of your intellect finds them a bit dull.

ORSON: I’m never invited.

DOUGLAS: Well that’s my whole point, isn’t it? One quick murder and – bang! – you’re a celebrity. People will be begging you to grace their table.

ORSON: To be honest with you, Douglas, I don’t see myself as the murdering type.

DOUGLAS: We’re all the murdering type. That’s what makes us human.

ORSON: Besides, who would I kill?

DOUGLAS: Does it matter? The world’s full of potential victims, Orson. Go out and pick one.

ORSON: It would have to be someone I knew – at least to start with.

DOUGLAS: If you need a few pointers, I’d be delighted to oblige.

Orson stands up and looks to left and right.

DOUGLAS: Still no sign of her? Tough luck, old chum.

ORSON: She’ll come. If you’d been there last night you wouldn’t doubt it for a second. There was this real chemistry between us. A spark.

DOUGLAS: Love at first sight?

ORSON: To begin with I barely noticed her. We chatted about this and that but it was only to pass the time. I actually felt like telling her to piss off. But then she showed me how she killed her husband!

DOUGLAS: How she what?

ORSON: Killed her husband.

DOUGLAS: She’s a murderess? Oh my dear Orson, what a dark horse you are! And there was me rabbiting on about being the first killer you’ve ever met. It never occurred to me that you might actually be dating one. There’s more to you than meets the eye.

ORSON: I wasn’t trying to deceive you.

DOUGLAS: Of course not! I didn’t think that for a moment. You’d have told me straight away if I’d let you get a word in edgeways. It’s my own fault for being so full of myself. I’m going to have to learn some humility one of these days.

ORSON: If truth be told, I don’t think of her as a killer.

DOUGLAS: And that’s as it should be. Never forget she’s a woman first and a killer second. Do that and you won’t go wrong.

ORSON: Her husband’s her only victim so far.

DOUGLAS: It’s not a number’s game, Orson. All you need to qualify as a murderer is one murder. Simple as that.

ORSON: I wouldn’t like it if she went on killing. It’s good that she murdered her husband – otherwise we’d never have met – but I don’t think she should do any more.

DOUGLAS: Then be firm with her. You put your foot down and tell her her killing days are over. From now on, she’s to stick to doing the housework and making babies.

ORSON: I don’t like babies. And it’s going to be hard to settle into a life of domesticity with the police on our tail.

DOUGLAS: She could assume a new identity.

ORSON: But I love her the way she is. I want us to go on the run together. Maybe rob a few banks here and there.

DOUGLAS: Like Bonnie and Clyde!

ORSON: Or Butch and Sundance.

DOUGLAS: You know, I like you, Orson. I really do. And it’s not often I say that to anyone. You’ve got ambition. You’ve got spunk. Hard to believe you’re a mathematician.

ORSON: Of course, it will mean an early death for us. One morning, we’ll wake up to find ourselves surrounded by armed police. We’ll have no choice but to shoot our way out.

DOUGLAS: You’ll be ripped apart in a hail of bullets.

ORSON: We’ll be famous.

DOUGLAS: You’ll go out roaring like lions.

ORSON: Years from now they’ll be making films and writing songs about us.

DOUGLAS: Splendid stuff. I wish I had your courage. Unfortunately, I’m cursed with a streak of cowardice a mile wide – not to mention a pathological drive towards self-preservation. If I so much as suspect that the police are on to me, that’s it – I’m gone. South America here I come.

ORSON: I’d prefer the North Pole.

DOUGLAS: To each his own. I like a bit of sun myself. Can’t stand the cold. Beginning to wish I’d worn a coat. Hadn’t realised it was so chilly.

ORSON: You shouldn’t be out dressed like that. I’m all right – I’m amazingly warm blooded. But you look frozen.

DOUGLAS: I’ll survive. Another twenty minutes and I can go home. I only live down the road.

ORSON: In the big house on the hill? Sunny Oaks?

DOUGLAS: That’s the one.

ORSON: I’ve often wondered who lived there. Beats me why you’d want to come out on a night like this.

DOUGLAS: Just killed the wife. No one wants to stay at home with a corpse, do they?

ORSON: So you’re on the run as well?

DOUGLAS: Not a bit of it. As soon as I’d done for the old girl I called in certain business acquaintances. They’re what are known in the parlance of the underworld as removal experts. By the time they’ve finished, there won’t be the slightest hint of anything untoward. And then I can go back and get my head down.

ORSON: And your wife?

DOUGLAS: It’ll be as if she’d never existed. These guys are the best in the business. They did such a good job with my brother my parents think I’m an only child.

ORSON: Amazing.

DOUGLAS: Pity your lady friend didn’t avail herself of their services. But then I don’t suppose she could afford it. These guys don’t come cheap.

ORSON: I can imagine.

DOUGLAS: A fine night, isn’t it? Not a cloud to be seen anywhere. Pity there’s no moon though. I do enjoy a good moon.

ORSON (pointing skywards): Isn’t that the moon over there?

DOUGLAS: Where? (squints at the sky) Oh yes. I think I see what you’re pointing at. You reckon that’s the moon then?

ORSON: It’s pretty unmistakable.

DOUGLAS: To you maybe. But I don’t often go out at night. It’s been years since I last saw the moon. So that’s what it’s like these days. It’s changed a bit, hasn’t it?

ORSON: Not so far as I can tell.

Douglas gets up and walks around. He rubs his hands to warm them.

DOUGLAS: Did I mention you’ve missed the last bus?

ORSON: Yes.

DOUGLAS: Did I also mention I think your lady friend’s stood you up?

ORSON: She’ll be here before sunrise.

DOUGLAS: I hope so, Orson. I really do. You’re a nice guy and you deserve all the happiness a loving relationship can bring.

Douglas glances down the road.

DOUGLAS: Hello. Who’s this? It looks like your lady friend hasn’t let you down after all.

Overjoyed, Orson leaps to his feet.

ORSON: I knew she wouldn’t.

DOUGLAS: What is she wearing? It looks like some kind of uniform.

Enter Cawthorne.

DOUGLAS: Oh, it’s you, Cawthorne. I might have known. How the devil are you doing?

CAWTHORNE: Hello, Douglas. You’re up early.

DOUGLAS: Just killed the wife.

CAWTHORNE: You finally got around to it then?

DOUGLAS: I kept putting it off, hoping she’d get better, but in the end I had no choice.

CAWTHORNE: I’m sorry to hear that. I would have liked to have met her some time.

DOUGLAS: Issued many tickets today?

CAWTHORNE: No. I seem to have gone car blind.

DOUGLAS: Car blind?

CAWTHORNE: I think I’ve seen so many cars that my mind has started to filter them out. It’s like the ticking of a clock. After a while, you just don’t hear it any more.

DOUGLAS: Sounds like you need a holiday. I suppose I should introduce you to my new friend.

CAWTHORNE: We met last night. You watch out for him. He’s a pervert. A regular little sex fiend.

DOUGLAS: Is he really? He kept that one to himself. I tell you, Cawthorne, this guy’s full of surprises.

CAWTHORNE: He’s a mathematician. I can’t abide mathematicians.

DOUGLAS: Orson’s not like other mathematicians.

CAWTHORNE: Oh. And in what way is he different?

DOUGLAS: For a start, he’s not a virgin.

CAWTHORNE: Get away! You’re pulling my leg.

DOUGLAS: Take a look for yourself. You can see he’s not a virgin.

CAWTHORNE: He was last night.

DOUGLAS: Not any more. He’s been to Harwell Street.

CAWTHORNE: Must be a pataphysicist then.

DOUGLAS: Possibly. I hadn’t thought of that.

CAWTHORNE: Perhaps he can explain what’s happened to all the cars.

DOUGLAS: It’s worth a try.

CAWTHORNE: Hey, you! Mathematician! Where have all the cars gone?

ORSON: I’m sure they’re out there somewhere.

CAWTHORNE: Take a look around, you smart-arse. Do you see a single car anywhere?

ORSON: Absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence.

CAWTHORNE (to Douglas): He doesn’t half talk a load of bollocks, doesn’t he?

DOUGLAS: It’s one of his many talents.

CAWTHORNE: Anyway, can’t stand here chatting. Things to do and all that. See you around some time.

DOUGLAS: Take care now.

Exit Cawthorne.

DOUGLAS: So how long have you been a pervert?

ORSON: I’m not sure that I am.

DOUGLAS: Oh come now. No need to be modest. If you can’t be a murderer, be a pervert – that’s what I always say.

ORSON: You don’t want to pay any attention to Cawthorne. He thinks I’m a pervert because I’m writing a mathematical and geometric analysis of the Kama Sutra.

DOUGLAS: Sounds fascinating.

ORSON: Would you like to see it some time?

DOUGLAS: No.

ORSON: It’s taken me ten years so far and I’m not even halfway through.

DOUGLAS: Does it have pictures?

ORSON: Only diagrams.

DOUGLAS: Oh.

ORSON: My next book’s going to be a monologue on the vector paths of knives used in murders.

DOUGLAS: What does that mean?

ORSON: Well, there are many different ways to stab someone.

DOUGLAS: You astound me.

ORSON: For instance, you can stab someone in a straight line which is the shortest distance between two points. Or else you can describe an arc through the air.

DOUGLAS: A sort of up and under?

ORSON: In layman’s terms.

DOUGLAS: Sounds very inefficient. Me, I’m a straight in and out man. No messing about.

ORSON: Is that how you killed your wife?

DOUGLAS: As it happens.

ORSON: Perpendicular or horizontal?

DOUGLAS: I don’t follow.

ORSON: Did you bring the knife down or did you thrust it forward?

DOUGLAS: Oh, I see what you mean. Now let me think about this. She was lying face down on the bed in her favourite night gown. It’s made of Chinese silk covered in dragons. She looked exquisite.

ORSON: So basically your thrust would have been downwards?

DOUGLAS: More or less. I can’t be sure of the exact angle though.

ORSON: Did you twist the knife once it had entered her?

DOUGLAS: No need. She died immediately. Got her right in the heart. She wouldn’t have felt a thing. Like I say – straight in and straight out again.

ORSON: I propose that all knife attacks can be placed into one of three categories – thrust, hack and slash. Of course, there’s bound to be some overlap.

DOUGLAS: Thrust I can see. But what’s the difference between hack and slash?

ORSON: A hack is an up and down motion.

DOUGLAS: Like Norman Bates?

ORSON: Exactly. And a slash is from left to right or right to left.

DOUGLAS: What if it’s a frenzied attack? Cut after cut after cut?

ORSON: That’s where the maths gets complicated.

DOUGLAS: I had no idea there was so much to the apparently simple act of snuffing someone. You’ve opened my eyes for me, Orson, and I thank you for that from the bottom of my heart. You should write a manual. You could call it Fifty Ways to Kill Your Lover. Bound to be a best seller.

ORSON: I can’t afford a best seller. I have my reputation to think of.

DOUGLAS: I’m going to ask you a personal question here, Orson, and I hope you don’t mind. It’s just that I’m curious to know what stroke you would use.

ORSON: Hard to say really. It would depend on the situation, but I think I would instinctively go for the hack.

DOUGLAS: Interesting.

ORSON: But not a straight-forward hack.

DOUGLAS: No?

ORSON: What I’d do is this. (demonstrates) I’d bring my arm up – thus. You notice I didn’t go straight up. I veered slightly off the perpendicular.

DOUGLAS: I saw that.

ORSON: And then forward (demonstrating still) and down – like so!

DOUGLAS: Oh bravo. Not only a mathematician, but an artist too!

ORSON: I need to work on it a bit.

DOUGLAS: No. That was perfect. Poetry in motion. I wish I had a video camera to record it.

ORSON: You’re too kind, Douglas.

DOUGLAS: You’ll have to teach me how to do that some time. Tell you what, why don’t you come up to the house tomorrow after we’ve dealt with Rosa? We’ll knock back a few drinks, shoot some pool and have a man-to-man about the mechanics of murder.

ORSON: Thank you. I’d like that. Perhaps I’ll wear my dinner jacket.

DOUGLAS: I’m afraid I won’t be able to feed you though – what with the wife being dead and all that.

ORSON: We could always get a takeaway.

DOUGLAS: Now there’s an idea. I haven’t had a takeaway for ages. Pity the wife won’t be around. She was fond of takeaway food. And I think you and her would have got on just fine.

ORSON: It sounds like you’re beginning to regret doing her in.

DOUGLAS: I’m going to miss her, that’s for sure. But when you’ve got to move on, you’ve got to move on. If there was any other way…

Douglas breaks off and shakes his head sadly.

DOUGLAS: Life’s unfair, Orson. She was a bloody lovely woman. She didn’t deserve to die so young. But what choice did I have? She was going around telling people I was dead and I couldn’t have that. It was making my life complicated.

ORSON: I can imagine.

DOUGLAS: Take last Sunday for instance. I was on my way to meet a supplier when I decided on a whim to drop in on my parents. They’re always delighted to see me. I’m their favourite son. Actually – as far as they’re concerned – I’m their only son. So I pull up in their driveway and knock on the door. My mum opens it and there I am expecting cries of joy and hugs and kisses and what happens? She screams and faints. That’s odd, I thought to myself. The silly bitch has never done that before. So then my Dad comes to see what the noise is all about and the old bastard bursts into tears. ‘Dad!’ I say to him. ‘What the merry hell’s going on? Have you and Mum gone senile?’ ‘No, Son,’ he says. ‘We thought you were dead.’

ORSON: How awful.

DOUGLAS: Once he stopped blubbering, he told me how my missus had rung to say I’d been stabbed to death by person or persons unknown. Gave me a right queer feeling, that did.

ORSON: It would.

DOUGLAS: I walked into the living room and there’s this old geezer in a black suit waving a tape measure around. Turns out he’s from the funeral parlour. ‘Are you the late, lamented deceased?’ he asks me. ‘No I bleeding ain’t,’ I says to him but he’s not having any of it. Next thing I know, he’s all over me with his tape measure. ‘On what side does sir dress,’ he says. And then he’s showing me this catalogue full of coffins, asking me which one I’d like to be buried in. You should have seen the price of them. Some of them cost more than a second hand car. And for what? A wooden box. I told him I wouldn’t be seen dead in one.

ORSON: They get away with murder, these undertakers.

DOUGLAS: I was just about to strangle the little toad with his tape measure when my mum walks in and starts screaming all over again. That was too much for me. I couldn’t get out of there quick enough. All that trouble just because the missus decided to tell one little lie. I had to kill her, didn’t I? I’m not at fault here. Any man in my shoes would have done the same. You can see that, can’t you?

ORSON: You had no choice. She’d put you in an intolerable position.

DOUGLAS: You don’t know the half of it. When I got home, I couldn’t get my car up the drive for all the wreaths laid on it. So I popped down to the office, only to find it empty. My workers had taken the day off as a mark of respect. And then to top it all, I sit down to breakfast next morning, have a glance through the local paper and find myself reading my own obituary.

ORSON: I was in the local paper once. A short piece about my house being vandalised. They printed it in the entertainment section.

DOUGLAS: Quite put me off my toast that did.

ORSON: They got the caption underneath my photo wrong. Spent the next week having to convince total strangers that I wasn’t Immelda Marcos.

DOUGLAS: Two column inches – that’s what they gave me. Not much to show for a life, is it? The local lollipop lady got three. And you know what made it worse? The headline – ‘Hardware Magnate Kicks the Bucket’. What kind of crack is that meant to be? Some people have no respect for the dead.

ORSON: Shoe companies kept sending me free samples.

DOUGLAS: So I went straight down to that newspaper office to give the editor a piece of my mind. You should have seen his face when I stormed in and he found himself face to face with a dead man. He screamed and fainted – just like my mum. Next day’s headline read, ‘Can Opener King Rises From the Dead’. Should have read, ‘Newspaper Editor Shits His Pants’.

ORSON: One hundred and fifty pairs of shoes I had. And all several sizes too small.

DOUGLAS (chuckling): ‘Newspaper Editor Shits His Pants!’ Now that would have been some headline.

ORSON: What did you just say?

DOUGLAS: ‘Newspaper Editor Shits His Pants.’

ORSON: Before that.

DOUGLAS: How much before that?

ORSON: You were saying about the headline. What was it?

DOUGLAS: ‘Can Opener King Rises From the Dead.’ That’s me, that is. You must have seen my slogan : ‘You can buy cheaper elsewhere, but never forget the Can Opener King died for your sins’. I thought that one up myself. What’s up, old chap? You look like that editor did just before he fainted.

ORSON: I’ve suddenly realised I’m wasting my time here. It’s a racing certainty I’ve been stood up.

DOUGLAS: That’s the spirit! Don’t hide from reality. Take your punches like a man. That’s what I’ve always done. If I get knocked down, I get right back up again. Fuck me, I’ve even risen from the dead. That makes me like Jesus Christ, doesn’t it?

ORSON: Or Count Dracula.

DOUGLAS: I hadn’t thought of that. Mind you, I’d rather be Jesus than Dracula. I mean, who wants to sleep in a coffin? Did I mention I’m not a night person? It’s those bloody stars. They get on my tits. I never come out after sunset if I can help it. Looks like your young lady has much the same attitude.

ORSON: Her name’s Jessica.

DOUGLAS: Jessica? Funny that. My wife’s name is Jessica. Small world, hey?

ORSON: All my life, I’ve been a boring, miserable apology of a person wrapped up in loneliness and self-pity. I thought things were finally going to change. It seems I was deluded.

DOUGLAS: Hey, now. You don’t want to get yourself worked up over some dozy bint.

ORSON: What was I thinking? I should have known it wasn’t going to work out. Nothing ever does for me.

DOUGLAS: Oh listen to yourself! Snap out of it. Do you think you’re the only person who’s ever been stood up? It happens to the best of us.

Douglas puts a comforting arm around Orson.

DOUGLAS: Do you mind if I give you a bit of advice, Orson? One man of the world to another? You go out there. You find this woman of yours. You take her in your arms and tell her how much she means to you. Tell her you love her. And then kill the bitch.

ORSON: I can’t do that.

DOUGLAS: Do it quickly. Do it cleanly. She doesn’t have to feel a thing. Make love to her and wait until she falls asleep.

ORSON: Is that what you did? Did you make love to your wife before driving a knife through her heart?

DOUGLAS: Damn right I did. Believe me, Orson, she died a happy woman.

ORSON: It’s good to know that.

DOUGLAS: Wherever she is now, she’ll understand why I did it. And more importantly, she’ll know I never stopped loving her. In a way, I did her a favour, because she’s with God now.

ORSON: You don’t believe in God.

DOUGLAS: But she did. That’s what matters.

ORSON: I once had a puppy. It was the loveliest, sweetest puppy you could ever imagine – playful, affectionate, full of life. After he died, I went for a long walk and ended up at this bus shelter. It was night by the time I got here. There was no moon, just a glistening cascade of stars. I looked up and – I don’t know why – but one star in particular caught my eye. It shone brighter than all the rest and I thought to myself, ‘that’s him. That’s my beloved little puppy’.

DOUGLAS: What was his name?

ORSON: I don’t remember.

DOUGLAS: Show me this star then. The one you think might be your dead dog.

ORSON: I can’t. All stars look the same to me.

DOUGLAS: A pity.

Douglas walks to the front of the stage and gazes upwards.

DOUGLAS: It’s kind of comforting to think that all those billions of stars might be the souls of the departed. They’re waiting for us up there, aren’t they, Orson? The Milky Way is proof of God’s love.

ORSON: You don’t believe in God.

DOUGLAS: And I hate stars. Wish I didn’t. My wife loved the night sky, but then she loved so many things. She was just the way you described your puppy – playful, affectionate, full of life.

ORSON: She didn’t deserve to die, did she?

DOUGLAS: Of course she didn’t. I’ve already said as much. God always takes the best ones.

ORSON: You don’t believe in God.

DOUGLAS: Why do you keep saying that? Just because I don’t believe in the Almighty, that’s no reason I can’t talk about him. Jesus, Orson! Why do you have to be so prosaic?

ORSON: You think you’re better than everyone else, don’t you? You think being a killer makes you superior.

DOUGLAS: Well, it’s true. Try it yourself. You’ll see I’m right.

ORSON: Maybe I will.

DOUGLAS: I’d be so happy if you did. I know we’ve only just met, but already I look upon you as the son I never had. Or rather the son I had until I killed him.

ORSON: How to go about it though? That’s the question.

DOUGLAS: May I recommend poison?

ORSON: Poison’s good. But how would I get hold of it?

DOUGLAS: I know where you can get a gun.

ORSON: I won’t use a gun. It’s against my principles.

DOUGLAS: How about a knife then?

ORSON: A knife would be appropriate.

DOUGLAS: I have just the thing.

Douglas excitedly opens his briefcase. He takes out Jessica’s paper knife.

DOUGLAS: What do you think of this? Isn’t it a beauty?

ORSON: May I see it?

DOUGLAS: You can have it. My gift to you.

Douglas hands the knife to Orson.

DOUGLAS: I bought that in Singapore. Amazing what you can get over there.

ORSON: There’s blood on it.

DOUGLAS: Really? I thought I’d cleaned it thoroughly.

ORSON: You killed your wife with this.

DOUGLAS: I should have left it at the house for the removal men, but I couldn’t. It has sentimental value. Thought maybe I’d bury it in the woods until I was in the clear.

ORSON: And you’re giving it to me, even though it means so much to you?

DOUGLAS: I know you’ll put it to good use.

ORSON: Thank you, Douglas. I’m touched.

DOUGLAS: Have you decided yet who you’re going to kill?

ORSON: One candidate stands out above all the others.

DOUGLAS: Your young lady?

ORSON: No.

DOUGLAS: Who?

ORSON: It’s best you don’t know.

DOUGLAS: Very sensible, Orson. What I don’t know, I can’t tell. That’s good thinking. You’re going to be a natural at this murder lark – I can see that.

ORSON: Murder is easy if you have the right motivation.

DOUGLAS: There are two types of people in this world – those who kill and those who would like to.

ORSON: So now I have a weapon and I’ve decided upon my victim. Which just leaves the question of which stroke to use.

Orson walks up to Douglas.

ORSON: A thrust?

Orson thrusts the knife, stopping just short of Douglas’ belly. Douglas looks down at the knife without apparent concern.

ORSON: A hack?

Orson brings the knife up and back down again, narrowly missing Douglas who is now a little apprehensive.

ORSON: Or a slash?

Orson swings the knife in a horizontal arc. Douglas jumps back.

DOUGLAS: Steady there. You could do me some damage.

ORSON: What’s your opinion, Douglas? What suits me best? Thrust, hack or slash?

DOUGLAS: Which do you feel most comfortable with?

ORSON: The hack. It appeals to the mathematician in me. If I get it right, I can describe a parabola in the air before landing the fatal blow.

DOUGLAS: I hope you don’t think me ignorant, but what’s a parabola?

ORSON: A parabola is the locus of a point which varies in such a way that its distance from a fixed point is equal to the distance from a fixed line.

DOUGLAS: Well, I never knew that. You live and you learn.

ORSON: The thing is, Douglas, I’ve suddenly realised I’ve been rather limited in my outlook. I had assumed that all knife attacks could be placed into one of three categories – thrust, hack and slash. But I’ve just thought of one more.

DOUGLAS: That’s brilliant! May I see it?

ORSON: Certainly.

Orson swings the knife up and into Douglas’ gut. Douglas gasps. He grabs hold of Orson’s knife hand.

DOUGLAS: That wasn’t nice.

Orson removes the knife. Douglas clutches at his bloody wound.

ORSON: How are you feeling, Dougie?

DOUGLAS: Strange, and a little shocked. Funny – you’d have thought there’d be more blood.

ORSON: If I remember my anatomy right, I’ve ripped open your duodenum.

DOUGLAS: I’m not dead.

ORSON: Not yet. But you soon will be.

DOUGLAS: I think you’re right. I’m definitely dying. Mind you, it’s not as bad as you might think. In fact, it’s quite pleasant in an odd sort of way.

ORSON: You’re not mad at me, are you?

DOUGLAS: Mad? No, I’m flattered you should choose me as your first victim. It’s quite an honour.

ORSON: You’d better sit down.

DOUGLAS: Bless you, sir. That’s very considerate.

Orson helps Douglas to the bench. They sit down together.

DOUGLAS: Fiendishly clever of you to chose me as your victim. I’d be the last person expecting it.

ORSON: It had to be you, Douglas. You understand that, don’t you?

DOUGLAS: Not entirely.

ORSON: Jessica deserved better than straight in and straight out.

DOUGLAS: Who’s Jessica?

ORSON: Your wife.

DOUGLAS: Oh, yes. She was called Jessica, wasn’t she? A beautiful, tender person – so full of life.

ORSON: You should have killed her with a parabola.

DOUGLAS: I can see that now. A parabola. The locus of a point which varies in such a way that its distance from a fixed point is equal to the distance from a fixed line. I wish I’d known.

ORSON: It’s not your fault. You’re not a mathematician. Don’t blame yourself.

Still clutching his stomach, Douglas points to the sky.

DOUGLAS: Look! There. Do you see it?

ORSON: What?

DOUGLAS: That star. The bright one. It wasn’t there before, was it?

ORSON: I don’t know. I couldn’t say.

DOUGLAS: It’s her. It’s my Jessie.

ORSON: It’s just a star.

DOUGLAS: She’s speaking to me, Orson. You can’t hear her, can you? Her words are only for me.

ORSON: What’s she saying?

DOUGLAS: She’s saying, ‘Put on the wings and arouse the coiled splendour within you; come unto me!’

Douglas coughs feebly. He is close to death.

DOUGLAS: The Can Opener King is once more knocking on Death’s door and this time he ain’t coming back. When I’m gone, Orson, look for two bright stars circling each other for all eternity. That’ll be me and Jessica.

Douglas falls to the ground and dies.

ORSON: Goodbye, Douglas. I think we both understand now why God created so many stars.

Orson stands and contemplates the heavens.

ORSON: Still too many of them though.

Orson shivers.

ORSON: I wonder which of those stars is my puppy?

Enter Cawthorne – running.

CAWTHORNE: Murderer! Pervert! Mathematician!

Exit Cawthorne.

Orson remains staring at the sky.

Cawthorne returns and confronts Orson.

CAWTHORNE: What have you done?

ORSON: I killed him. It was necessary.

CAWTHORNE: Not him, you fool! I’m talking about the sky.

ORSON: The sky?

CAWTHORNE: Look, damn you! Look!

ORSON: I don’t see anything unusual.

CAWTHORNE: The stars!

ORSON: What about them?

CAWTHORNE: They’re disappearing. They’re going out one by one.

ORSON: My God. You’re right. The sky is dying.

CAWTHORNE: First it was the cars and now this! Ever since you lost your virginity, the world’s gone crazy.

ORSON: I’m not sure there’s a connection there.

CAWTHORNE: Stop doing it!

ORSON: It’s not me. I have no control over this.

CAWTHORNE: Damn you! Why can’t you leave Nature alone? Why must you forever poke and probe at her and demand she gives up her innermost secrets? Why?

Orson is too numb to answer. He can only shake his head.

CAWTHORNE: Put the stars back! They’re not yours. They don’t belong to you.

ORSON: I don’t have them.

CAWTHORNE: Thief! Coward! Pataphysicist!

Cawthorne runs off-stage crying –

CAWTHORNE: He’s stolen the stars! He’s taken the heavens.

Orson watches Cawthorne depart.

ORSON: Mad. Quite mad. What the hell’s a pataphysicist?

JESSICA (offstage): Orson? Are you there, my love? Did you wait for me?

Enter Jessica.

ORSON: Jessica! It’s you. It’s really you!

JESSICA: Did you think I wouldn’t come?

ORSON: Oh Jessie!

JESSICA: I want to be with you, Orson. Nobody else but you. From now till the end of time.

ORSON: You will be.

JESSICA: Talking of time, have you got a watch that’s working? I think mine’s a bit slow.

Orson shows Ramsey’s watch to Jessica.

JESSICA: No – it’s right. Unless we’re both slow.

Jessica spies Douglas’ corpse.

JESSICA: Hello. What’s this? There’s a dead body in the bus shelter, Orson. He looks familiar.

ORSON: It doesn’t matter, Jessie. Nothing matters now except that you and I are together.

Orson takes Jessica’s hand.

ORSON: Look at the sky, Jessica.

JESSICA: So many stars. I used to wonder what they meant. Now I think I know.

ORSON: They’re disappearing. The Universe is dying. It’s the end of the world – the end of everything.

JESSICA: Every end is a beginning. Without winter, there can be no spring. I began to realise that when I saw the headline, ‘Can Opener King Returns from the Dead’.

ORSON: What are you talking about?

JESSICA: The Can Opener King died for your sins.

ORSON: That means nothing to me. Say something comforting.

Jessica points to the sky.

JESSICA: Do you see that star there? The bright one?

ORSON: Sirius?

JESSICA: Is that what it’s called? I didn’t know. It spoke to me, Orson. I was walking from the pub when something made me look up. All of a sudden I was filled with all the feelings of childhood. Do you remember what it’s like to be a child?

ORSON: I suppose so. Vaguely.

JESSICA: To come in from the cold and snuggle up on a settee in front of an open fire? Nothing could touch you then. You knew you were safe, that the world was a wonderful place and everything was as it should be.

ORSON: I don’t ever remember feeling that way.

JESSICA: But you did, Orson – only over the years you forgot. I forgot too. I forgot a whole lot of things until tonight. I looked up at Sirius and all of a sudden everything became so real, so solid. I was back in the world of my childhood.

ORSON: I don’t understand.

JESSICA: You’ve been programmed not to. I was programmed the same way. But then a star spoke to me. I was hit by an intense beam of light filled with information. It penetrated my mind and overwrote my erroneous programming. I suddenly knew that my existence has meaning. I could see the purpose of Creation.

ORSON: You had an exegesis.

JESSICA: My mind is still sorting through the data, trying to make sense of it all. I’m beginning to remember who I really am and what I was put on this Earth to do.

ORSON: You hallucinated, Jessie. It was probably caused by temporal lobe epilepsy. My Uncle Julian suffered from that. Swore blind he could see angels. You can’t be programmed by a beam from outer space. It’s not possible.

JESSICA: And the stars going out? Is that possible?

ORSON: I don’t know.

JESSICA: Whoever sent me that beam has a message for you – two messages. The first is that you have nothing left to fear.

ORSON: And what’s the second?

JESSICA: Bugger Godel.

ORSON: Soon there won’t be any stars left. Just an empty sky. Unending darkness going on forever.

JESSICA: And there’s something else the beam told me. It’s do to with light. Did you know that for a light beam there is no time? All the things a particle of light does from the moments it’s born, it does in an instant. Time is an illusion brought on by our material desires.

ORSON: We’re going to die, Jessie.

JESSICA: No one has ever died; no one ever will. Death is an illusion.

ORSON: I’m scared.

JESSICA: That’s because you haven’t been listening. We’re about to become pure light. When that happens time will cease to have meaning. Without time, we cannot die.

ORSON: This shouldn’t be happening. The Universe can’t suddenly wind down like this. It doesn’t make sense. The maths doesn’t add up.

JESSICA: It has nothing to do with maths.

ORSON: Perhaps it’s the bus shelter. I always said it was a magical place.

JESSICA: This is where Space becomes Time.

ORSON: I’m so glad you’re with me. I couldn’t face this on my own.

JESSICA: Shall we sit down while we wait for the end?

ORSON: We might as well.

Jessica and Orson sit down in the bus shelter.

ORSON: Only four stars left now. Three… Two… One. Just one star remaining out of all the billions that once graced the heavens.

JESSICA: Perhaps it’s your puppy.

ORSON: It’s Sirius – the Dog Star.

JESSICA: That’s where the beam came from. Our Space Brothers and Sisters are watching over us. They’re waiting for us to come home.

ORSON: And now that’s gone. Thank God we still have the moon.

BLACK OUT. A dog howls.

ORSON: Don’t panic, Jessie. It’ll soon be sunrise. The light will return.

JESSICA: We are the light, Orson.

From out of the darkness comes a deep, rumbling sound.

ORSON (terrified): Sweet Jesus! It’s the Gates of Hell. They’re opening!

JESSICA: It’s the bus, Orson. The first bus of the day.

ORSON: Good God. It’s on time!


THE END

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