Who am I?

 

LIST of CHARACTERS:

            NORMAN

            LANCE

[Scene: LANCE’S house]

ACT ONE.

[Scene 1]: LANE’S house.

We see a living room; modern with some classic, homey touches.  LANCE is sitting on the couch reading a book.  He is dressed casually and looks to be waiting for something, or someone.  There is a long period where nothing happens, but then the doorbell rings.  LANCE puts down the book on a small table next to the couch and stands up, going over to the door and opens it with the chain lock still in place so that the door only opens a few inches.

 

From between the open space we can see a young man standing, also dressed casually.  This is NORMAN.

 

LANCE.  (a pause): Can I help you?

NORMAN.  (a long pause): Is this… (stumbles with his words) Is this the residence of 2502 Maple Avenue?

LANCE.  Yes.

NORMAN.  (we see from the crack in the doorway that NORMAN is looking around at the front porch.  After another pause…): And do you know where I can find a Mr. Bernard?

LANCE.  I do.

LANCE’S tone is very passive and annoyed and NORMAN does not know how quite to respond.

 

NORMAN.  (after a long silence where his mind was pondering how to continue): If it isn’t too much trouble could you get him for me, please?

LANCE.  (a long pause): No, not at all.

HE closes the door and unchains it so that he can open it properly.  He does so and we can now see the full appearance of NORMAN. He looks rather tentative.

 

LANCE.  (gesturing for NORMAN to enter): Please, come in.

NORMAN.  Thank you very much.  (He comes in and watches LANCE close the door.  He get’s a bit startled when Lance relocks the door and inspects it to see if it secure, but he masks this bafflement with humility, glad that he had gained entrance): I hope I haven’t barged in on anything important. 

LANCE.  You haven’t.  (A pause and he turns to NORMAN): Please, sit down.  (NORMAN sits on the couch): Would you care for anything to drink?

NORMAN.  Just a water, please.

LANCE.  Of course. 

NORMAN watches LANCE go into the kitchen to get the glass of water and realizes how small the house is.  The kitchen, dinning room and living room are only separated by a ceiling high, wide column that hosts the bathroom – small compared to others – and a plastic curtain which contains an unknown item, or items.  Against the column stands a piano that strikes NORMAN’S interest.

 

LANCE.  (From the kitchen): I don’t think I quite got your name (he walks into the living room bearing the drink of water and places it on the table in front of NORMAN).  You never told me when I answered the door; and you know it can be rather dangerous not knowing who it is you are inviting into your home. 

NORMAN.  (Smiles): I apologize.  Norman Reich.  And yours?

LANCE.  (A long pause looking at something that isn’t there): May I ask how you came to know Mr. Bernard?  (He sits on the piano bench across from NORMAN).

NORMAN.  Well, I wouldn’t say I know him…

LANCE.  No, you don’t.

NORMAN.  He contacted me through the phone… asked me if I would oblige in an offer to meet with him.

LANCE.  He did?

NORMAN.  Yes.  He did.  I asked him what the occasion was and he said that it wasn’t formal: he just wanted to talk with me.

LANCE.  About what?

NORMAN.  He didn’t say.

LANCE.  He didn’t?

NORMAN.  No.  He didn’t.  I asked him, but he said that it would be better left till the meeting, which made me curious.

LANCE.  I’m sure it did.  Is it part of your nature – your character – to oblige in curiosities?

NORMAN.  Yes, it is.  I’m quite drawn the unknown, it’s like a magnetic pull: it’s the magnet and I’m a helpless paperclip. 

LANCE.  Why a paperclip?

NORMAN.  Why do you ask?

LANCE.  I’m curious.  (There is a pause.  NORMAN looks at LANCE questioningly, not sure how to interpret this response.): What is your occupation, Mr. Reich?

NORMAN.  That is something which I am not too proud of to share with anyone.

LANCE.  Well, what if Mr. Bernard were to ask you this?

NORMAN.  Then I would tell Mr. Bernard exactly what it is I said to you in response.  (A long pause): So are you going to show me to Mr. Bernard?

LANCE.  (Another long pause): Do you like books, Mr. Reich?

NORMAN.  (Playing along): Yes.

LANCE.  And what genre do you prefer the most?

NORMAN.  Lately I have become very fond of fiction.  I am currently reading The Count of Monte Cristo by… (he looks troubled): That’s funny; I can’t quite remember the author’s name.

LANCE.  That’s quite a feat, Mr. Reich.  If my memory serves me right, that book is well over a thousand pages in length.  How far into it are you?

NORMAN.  Halfway.

LANCE.  And when did you start?

NORMAN.  Three days ago.

LANCE.  My goodness!  That is quite some accomplishment.  (A pause): So I take it then that you have a good number of books in your collection?

NORMAN.  Actually I go to the library when I wish to read.  I can usually read one book a day depending upon the number of pages it has.

LANCE.  Fascinating!  (Another pause, this one longer): Would you like to see Mr. Bernard’s library?

NORMAN.  Will Mr. Bernard be in there?

LANCE.  There is a certain chance that he will be.

NORMAN.  Alright.  (He stands up).

LANCE.  (He himself getting up as well): Well then – (he gestures for NORMAN to follow): this way.

NORMAN follows LANCE past the column and the kitchen to a door where, next to it there stands a small electric organ with hymnals opened to specific pages.  LANCE opens the door and there is a jingle to signify that someone is entering the room.  With the door open he stands against it, gesturing for NORMAN to enter the back room.  NORMAN does so and LANCE closes the door, the two of them now in the room where there is a large bookshelf to the left, two computers – one across the room from the other – and another door that looks like it leads out of the house.  A couch occupies the space beside that door.  In front of the bookshelf there is a dinning table with four chairs placed around it. 

 

LANCE gestures to one of the chairs and NORMAN sits in it.

 

LANCE.  (Sitting down as well, across from NORMAN): Very large, isn’t it?

NORMAN.  (Looks over at the shelf in awe): For a household library it is quite extravagant.

LANCE.  Why extravagant?

NORMAN.  (There is a pause): Why do you ask?

LANCE.  Of all the words you could have chosen, you decided to use something extremely literate.

NORMAN.  Well, I do read, so I think that would make me literate.

LANCE.  Yes, but you are now reading something that is above normal levels of literacy, and a good reader always speaks to others at that same level, wouldn’t you find?  However, there is also the writer who must always be in practice with his vocabulary, speaking to others in the same manner as he would if it were something out of the pages of a book.  But then there are other writers – writers of nonfiction – who must keep the same practice so that they appear more intelligent than their audience by use of a strong and knowledgeable vocabulary…

NORMAN.  (Annoyed): And your point?

LANCE.  When do you usually go to the library?

NORMAN.  You’re avoiding my inquiry –

LANCE.  Just bear with me.  When do you usually go to the library?

NORMAN.  On the weekends.

LANCE.  Okay.  So you go to the library on weekends.  Now – what do you do on the weekdays?

NORMAN.  Like every other normal person I go to work.

LANCE.  And what is it you do?

NORMAN.  I thought we agreed that I wasn’t going to answer that question. 

LANCE.  We didn’t agree to anything; you simply stated that you were not proud of your job, so I left it at that until now.

NORMAN.  (Angrily): Why?  Why are you asking me these questions when it is none of your concern?  I did not come here to meet with you!  I came to meet with Mr. Bernard!  Now, where is he?!  (He stands up, knocking his chair back).

LANCE.  I don’t believe I gave you my name.

NORMAN.  No you did not!  But I bet I can guess it.

LANCE.  Can you?

NORMAN.  I can.  And if I do guess it right then you will show me to Mr. Bernard?

LANCE.  Fair enough.

NORMAN.  And you will give me three tries.

LANCE.  Of course.  Three tries, nothing more, nothing less. 

NORMAN.  But my answers will come unawares.

LANCE.  Will they?

NORMAN.  Yes.  I can at least make some of the rules to make it fair.

LANCE.  Anything otherwise would be blasphemy.

NORMAN props up the fallen chair and sits in it again.

 

LANCE.  But, of course, so far you have made up all the rules.  I would imagine that I would at least get my turn making the canon.

NORMAN.  Very well.

LANCE.  If you cannot guess my name within three tries you will not meet Mr. Bernard and you will leave and never return.

NORMAN.  Fine.

LANCE.  (A pause): I know what it is you do.

NORMAN.  (A bit startled): Really?

LANCE.  Yes – actually I knew even before you came here.

NORMAN.   So you knew I was coming?

LANCE.  I did. 

NORMAN.  Did Mr. Bernard tell you?

LANCE.  No, I’m afraid not.  (A long pause): Goodness, you forgot to bring your drink.  I’ll get it for you.

LANCE exits the room closing the door behind him while NORMAN sits in his chair, never moving, but looking over at the bookshelf and the number of volumes that sit there.  There is a wide range of religious and fiction books, but no history – except for Bible history – and politics. 

 

NORMAN.  That is odd.

LANCE enters the room with the glass of water in his hand.  He closes the door behind him and places it on the table in front of NORMAN, who looks at it curiously.  LANCE sits back down and looks at NORMAN and then the water.

 

LANCE.  I apologize.

NORMAN.  For what?

LANCE.  I did not put ice in your glass when I first poured it.

NORMAN.  Are you mad?

LANCE.  What do you mean?

NORMAN.  Mr. Bernard asks me to come all the way down to his residence so that we can meet with each other – for reasons I do not know quite why – so I come down here in obligation –

LANCE.  Out of curiosity.

NORMAN.  (A pause): When I get here, instead of the door being answered by Mr. Bernard it is answered by you, which struck me as very odd.  Now – seeing how you have asked me the majority of the questions since my arrival I believe I am entitled to return the favor.

LANCE.  Why not?

NORMAN.  Do you live here?

LANCE.  Yes.

NORMAN.  And where does Mr. Bernard live?

LANCE.  Here.

NORMAN.  Are you two partners?

LANCE.  What kind of partners?

NORMAN.  Business partners… Work partners… (With some hesitation): Love partners?

LANCE.  Business partners.

NORMAN.  Why do you both live in the same house when you are nothing more than business partners?

LANCE.  Our type of business requires lots of attention and is very time consuming.

NORMAN.  And what, might I ask, is your business?

LANCE.  Politics.

NORMAN.  Really?

LANCE.  Yes.  You could never imagine how much time you have to put into politics.  You have to be able to think clearly and get inside the people’s heads.  You have to know what it is they want and how you can get it to them without breaking any of the rules.

NORMAN.  So you look for loopholes?

LANCE.  Sometimes – when a specific case proves itself difficult. 

NORMAN.  What kind of politics?

LANCE.  Democracy, of course.  We do live in America.

NORMAN.  No doubt.  What party do you favor?

LANCE.  None, actually.  Mr. Bernard and I are Independents.  Whatever benefits the country we find a way to do it and then we go in for the kill without influence from party loyalty. 

NORMAN.  You said you knew what it is I do – what my occupation is?

LANCE.  Yes, I did.

NORMAN.  Then what am I?

LANCE.  You are a writer, Mr. Reich. 

NORMAN.  Am I?

LANCE.  Aren’t you?

NORMAN.  (Quite alarmed): Then what is it I write?

LANCE.  (Getting up from his chair he goes over to the computer behind NORMAN, who is turning he head around to keep his eye on him, and turns on the computer, sitting in the computer chair and pressing a button that turns on the screen): There is a fellow who writes political nonfiction and tries to persuade his audience to think what it is he thinks.  He is very clever at doing so and has such a wonderful knowledge of the English language that he had nearly convinced Mr. Bernard and me – well, his articles he wrote for the Times anyway.  Mr. Bernard doesn’t like to read anything nonfiction that deals with politics.

NORMAN.  I’ve noticed.  There is nothing but fiction and religion on those shelves.

LANCE.  Very observant of you, Mr. Reich. 

NORMAN.  One must be a good observer to be able to write.

LANCE.  True.  (A pause): This writer, however, does not make public appearances and refuses to be seen by anyone.  The poor fellow will probably end up like Howard Hughes – or probably is already. 

NORMAN.  And what are his beliefs and opinions?

LANCE.  He thinks that religion poisons this country to the core.  He doesn’t have any religious beliefs whatsoever and so he takes it out on us – people like Mr. Bernard and I – and says that we should stop.  I do not understand why though, when Christianity is such a charitable faith.  I agree with him, however, when he speaks of the foolhardiness of Islam – a rather vile and disgusting religion.  They only care about whether they are going to kill or be killed.

NORMAN.  What is his name?

LANCE.  No one knows for sure because he uses a pen name.  You’re a writer, so I assume you know what that is.

NORMAN.  Certainly.

LANCE.  Anyway… This man has been having some trouble lately.  There are mobs sprouting up all over the place looking for him.  Just the other day, a group of African Americans – angry at this author’s lack of support towards them – thought they knew who the man was and stormed into a local residence and kidnapped the man living there, taking him to the police.  Of course, the man in that house was not him.

NORMAN.  What is his pen name?

LANCE.  Don’t you know?

NORMAN.  I do not.

LANCE.  (A long pause): There is one thing Mr. Bernard and I agree upon with this author.

NORMAN.  Really – and what is that?

LANCE.  He suggests that our country’s symbol be changed.

NORMAN.  What do you mean?

LANCE.  Right now our national symbol is the bald eagle, a rather poor choice.  The author suggests that it be changed to the cowboy for what better symbolizes America better than the cowboy?

NORMAN.  Could you show me the titles of his books?

LANCE.  Of course.

LANCE takes the mouse in his hand and clicks a few things on the computer, then goes at the keyboard, typing some web address until he stops and turns to NORMAN.

 

LANCE.  Can you see them?

NORMAN.  (Looking at the computer screen cautiously and with a certain edge that makes him uncomfortable): America Today: a Treatise on the State of our Nation and what should be Changed by Rick Roman.  An awkward title.  So Rick Roman is his pen name is it?

LANCE.  Apparently so.  (A long pause): You write nonfiction.

NORMAN.  I do?

LANCE.  Yes.  You do.  (He gets up from the chair and goes over to the other computer table – this one having drawers – and sits in the chair over there.  NORMAN has a worried look upon his face):  You know, the one thing I love about the cowboys – one of the reasons why they should be our national symbol – is because they always named their guns and treated them like a person.

NORMAN.  And why does this have any relevance… Mr. Bernard.

LANCE.  I am not Mr. Bernard.  That was your first try.

NORMAN.  (Edged and angry): Then I will use my second!  You are Mr. Bernard!

LANCE.  And where do you think this will get you?

NORMAN.  I know it doesn’t matter because I know you are still going to show me to Mr. Bernard!  (A long pause): Fine!  I’m a writer.  I write political nonfiction.  I do not talk about my profession because I know it will get me killed because I am Rick Roman.  I am that writer!  You were right.  Now that you know who I really am, will you please show me to Mr. Bernard? 

LANCE.  Wrong! I knew who you were even before you walked into this house and before I even called to invite you here. 

NORMAN.  So you admit that you are Mr. Bernard?

LANCE.  I am not Mr. Bernard, and that was your last try.  But because I am a kind hearted person, I will still show you to him.

NORMAN.  (A pause): So even though you know who I am you’re not going to kill me?

LANCE.  Why don’t we have Mr. Bernard answer that question?  (He opens one of the drawers and pulls out a gun, fully loaded): Say hello to Mr. Bernard.  (He points the gun toward NORMAN). 

NORMAN.  (Standing up): So you are going to kill me?

LANCE.  Do you want to know my name?

NORMAN.  So you’re not Mr. Bernard.

LANCE.  No, of course not.  Didn’t you listen?  I gave you so many clues as to who I was and what I was going to do, and yet you didn’t back away.  You kept at it, becoming more curious as I went on, making you want to delve for more because I was giving you nothing.  Like you said: you are a paperclip… Now I suppose that makes sense.  Paperclips can barely keep anything together without giving the user trouble.  My name is not Mr. Bernard, its Lance Hildebrand – pleasure to make your acquaintance.  (He stands up with the gun still pointed at NORMAN).  

NORMAN.  You set me up.

LANCE.  Yes I did.  You see, this is what happens to people like you who try to destabilize this nation.  You end up as dead as a doornail.

NORMAN.  How cliché? 

LANCE.  I rather like clichés.  (He steps closer to NORMAN so that they are face to face in a very uncomfortable, close position that unsettles NORMAN): They’re common and everyone knows what they mean – very universal.  When I told you my business was politics I meant that I throw out bait to any politician who takes it and then Mr. Bernard here decides whether he likes them or not.  So far he hasn’t met anyone that strikes him as… friendly. 

NORMAN.  Has he made up his mind about me?

LANCE.  Not quite yet.  I still have to ask one more question.

NORMAN.  (Terrified): What is it?

LANCE.  Why haven’t you taken a sip of your water?

NORMAN.  Why would you ask that?

LANCE.  O… he has made his mind.  (There is a long and uneasy pause): Apparently Mr. Bernard does not quite enjoy your presence on this earth, so he has decided to rid us all of you.

NORMAN.  Are you truly willing to murder me?  What about the police when they learn that I have disappeared.

LANCE.  You wouldn’t have contacted them before you came would you?

NORMAN.  What if I did? 

LANCE.  How would you know I was a killer?

NORMAN.  How would you know I was a writer?

LANCE. I…

NORMAN.  Can you prove it?

LANCE.  Your phone number was the one that I found when I browsed for Rick Roman…

NORMAN.  And that is apparently his real name.

LANCE.  Then what are you?

NORMAN.  Then reach into my left pocket.

LANCE reaches into the pocket as NORMAN says and pulls out something that looks like a wallet.  He opens it and we see that it is a detective’s badge.

LANCE.  (Heatedly): You haven’t won because the only one who has the power to take life right now is me.

NORMAN.  Is that a fact?

LANCE.  Quite.  (HE levels the gun at NORMAN): I don’t care if you are from the FBI, because you know too much you are undoubtedly going to die.  (He goes to pull the trigger but nothing happens).

NORMAN.  What’s wrong?

NORMAN tackles LANCE to the ground and grapples for the gun.  The fight lasts for a few minutes until NORMAN is victorious and stands with the gun in his hand.

He levels it at LANCE.

NORMAN.  Now let me clear some things up for you.  First off, Rick Roman is not a pen name but the real name of the author of those books that curdles your blood so much.  You had the phone number right, but he did not answer it, I did.  He had hired me for protection because of the fiasco with the African Americans that other day you read about.  When you gave me address of your residence I decided to come to find out if it was a threat, which it turned out to be.  So now I’m going to turn you in for the murders of all the politicians you invited over for dinner.  The reason you haven’t killed me is because you forgot to turn off the safety switch.  (He turns it off).

LANCE.  NO!  (He lunge at NORMAN to try and get the gun away from him, but then a shot is fired and LANCE stumbles back onto the floor, dead).

A long pause, where NORMAN stares at what he just did.

NORMAN.   This is finished.  (For the first time he picks up the glass of water and takes a nice big gulp of it.  He then lowers it with an astonished look on his face):  Poisoned.  (He dies). 

BLACKOUT

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