GARDNER, 40s, conservative office attire, no jacket, sleeves rolled up. His tie is red.
FRENCH, 20s, conservative office attire, no jacket, sleeves rolled up. His tie is blue.
The entire play takes place at one unvarnished wooden desk in a smallish office, at which two chairs are set facing each other at a 90-degree angle - GARDNER is in the 'usual' spot behind the desk, while FRENCH fills a chair near the downstage corner of the opposite side. Both, while sitting in these seats, must be visibly encroached upon by some obstacle, whether wall or piece of office furniture, that prevents them from significantly shifting their alignment or posture.
NB: An ellipsis (in the form ... or (...) if outside the bounds of an existing sentence) denotes a silently expressive moment, flexibly set between a pause and a beat.
(At lights up, both men are busily going through large piles of meticulously organized papers, perusing them, scribbling figures, occasionally using large financial tape calculators for more involved arithmetic. FRENCH hums a quiet extemporized melody, and his calculations are punctuated with small flourishes - twirling his pencil, stacking papers with fastidious exactitude, jabbing away at his calculator - he brims with evident relish for his work. GARDNER is slower and more deliberate, almost halting, in his movements, though never less than efficient.)
(After a time, clearly distracted by the humming, GARDNER looks over at FRENCH with obvious disdain. This prompts FRENCH to obligingly quiet his song until it is barely audible, but his gradual re-absorption in his work is paralleled by an inevitable re-emergence of the hum, to which GARDNER eventually must again silently object. This exchange repeats itself several times without evident alteration.)
(After an appropriate interval, FRENCH suddenly checks his watch with his usual élan. Seeing the time, he sets down his pencil.)
FRENCH: Time for break.
(GARDNER checks his own watch, then a clock on the wall, before shaking his head and rubbing his eyes, leaning back in his chair as best he can. FRENCH doesn't wait for him, reaching into a brightly colored lunch-bag he retrieves from under his chair and taking out a bright red napkin. He carefully unfolds it and sets its edge up parallel to the desk's, before opening the lunch-bag again to retrieve a granola bar, a small orange, and a cheerily decorated juicebox. He lays these items out in a precise order on the napkin, gives them a small 'Wait a second' gesture, and diligently re-stows the lunchbox beneath his feet. GARDNER should by now be watching with a sick, fascinated sort of horror. FRENCH, after some obvious deliberation and perhaps a false start or two, solemnly removes the straw from the juicebox, inserts it, sips, nods appraisingly, and returns the box to its sector of the napkin. Unwrapping the granola bar, he daintily begins to eat it, holding his head over the napkin in case of crumbs.)
(GARDNER reaches into an open desk drawer, pulls out a large and ungainly revolver, and carefully aims it at FRENCH's face.)
(FRENCH immediately stops eating. While the rest of his body remains utterly, utterly still and his eyes stay glued to the gun - as they are until further notice, following its slightest movement - his forearms descend slowly to the tabletop and he gently sets down his granola bar. The 'click' of the gun being cocked is deafening in the sudden silence.)
GARDNER: Maybe I should just kill you.
(GARDNER abruptly sets his gun down on the desk, barrel pointing at FRENCH and directly opposite to FRENCH's lunch. He again sits back and relaxes as much as his seat will allow.)
GARDNER: You're on the Anderson account? (...) I know your mouth is full. (...) You can just nod.
(FRENCH nods. During GARDNER's line he chews and swallows his remaining mouthful as discreetly as he can.)
GARDNER: Yeah? That's a tough one. The big boys looked at that one upstairs last week - I talked to Mitch about it - and they didn't want to touch it. “Hairy account.” That's what Mitch said. Hairy! They must think a lot of you. You are a sharp young thing, that's why they sent the Anderson account down to you. Your special touch. You won't let them down. I bet - well, yeah, I bet they told Anderson himself that you're the man, no worries with you, All Quiet On The Western Front with our man French.
GARDNER: Very welcome, but - really - let's get down to brass tacks. Talk turkey. Have it out man to man. That's the only way of resolving an issue, don't you think?
GARDNER: What's the matter, now? Cat got your tongue? Wouldn't you - be honest, wouldn't you be forced to say that having it out man to man is the only way of resolving an issue?
FRENCH: Sure - sure, Gardner. That's right. (Embarrassing, protracted attempt at 'Let's be friends' smile.) You know best.
GARDNER: Of course it is! Without a doubt. You're no dummy. You see me, all this, you know where I'm coming from? Yes! Yes...
(Pause. GARDNER beats a short tattoo on the stock of his revolver. During the rest of the play, except where stated otherwise, the actor may feel free to improvise such intimidating little games in any way not requiring him to pick the gun up.)
GARDNER: Have you ever seen a gun fired into a man's head?
GARDNER: Pay attention - have you ever seen a gun, a gun like this one, fired into, by which I mean right into, a man's head?
FRENCH: Only in movies?
GARDNER: Only in movies! Right. (...) Messy business. (...) Very messy business...so don't expect an open casket for the folks. You aren't expecting an open casket for the folks, are you?
GARDNER: Come again?
FRENCH: No, I don't expect an open casket. (...) For the folks.
GARDNER: Good! You're no dummy, are you?
FRENCH: No. I don't think so.
GARDNER: Good. (...) So are you doing anything this weekend? Something nice with the girlfriend? (...) Sometimes I like to go to the park with my wife, go to the park and walk around, get some fresh air. I walk - I used to jog, but I just don't seem to have the time anymore. (…) Oh God, I know, you don't have to say it, I know I should, I should MAKE the time, I'm probably have a heart attack before I'm fifty, just BOOM!, every valve is just gonna burst out of my fucking chest and there'll be -
FRENCH: -no open casket?
(Pause. GARDNER is aware that FRENCH has just scored a point; he leans forward and inspects FRENCH's lunch setup.)
GARDNER: I'm sorry, why don't you have some more of that granola bar? You keep your strength up. Young man like yourself, what you need's some nutrition. Go ahead. (...) Right now. Eat it all up.
(FRENCH gingerly shifts his focus from the gun to GARDNER.)
FRENCH: I'm not really hungry right now.
GARDNER: No? Hmmm. (...) I tell you I can still remember, like it was yesterday, when you walked in that door and we started to share this office. Just a young pup, that's what you were, just so eager to eat up the world! (...) It really was a shame when they took your desk away and made you come over here to work. Those big boys have no sense of dignity. No sense! Two grown men to a desk, I ask you, how does that help productivity? Worst part is, they probably have that sassy little desk of yours sitting in the basement collecting dust and paying rent. But it's cutbacks, they say, and you're lucky to have a job. And I've had to make the sacrifice. I used to have all my family pictures sitting over there - right there, where you are, where you work. Now I don't have room. (…) Still. I'm not complaining. I'm not in the position you're in. You have nothing. I have seniority. I have drawers.
(GARDNER makes a show of opening and closing some drawers, illustrating seniority.)
GARDNER: You see? Twenty years an earner. So I've got drawers. And I can't put out the pictures of my family anymore. But you're lucky to have a job, they say! Those big boys. They really kill me. They kill you?
GARDNER: Bad choice of words on my part. Shame on me.
FRENCH: Look, Gardner. I'm really sorry for all of this - I'm sorry about, about the desk? And everything. If I had my choice none of this would have ever happened, I would never have intruded like this, but you know I never ever had that choice. You know that, don't you? That I never meant any harm?
GARDNER: Meant to harm? 'Course you didn't. Nobody does, situations like these, no, nobody means to do any harm at all. I found myself in the same...“situations” when I was younger. People like you and me get no say-so in the matter. We're all in here to survive, circling, sniffing each other out, staking out our dignity. It's natural. And you have the hungry look in your eyes still, French, I can see that - looking to take your place as...pack leader, as it were. Yeah, you sit here every day, working across from me, sniffing, dreaming of my position. My drawers. The question remains, though - what would keep a young hound like you happy? My desk? My car? My house? (...) My wife? She's a fine woman. Still in her prime. If you catch me. (...) You've met her, now isn't she a fine woman?
(Pause. GARDNER smiles expansively.)
FRENCH: ...yes. Fine woman.
GARDNER: What's the matter, French? You seem hesitant. You seem put off. You do like my wife, don't you? You're not suggesting that you're too good for her, are you?
GARDNER: No. No, of course not. That's not what you're saying. Because that would be pretty insulting to me, wouldn't it? To say - to my face - that my own dear wife isn't good enough for you but she's still good enough for me. No. That would be quite the claim, with me sitting over here on this side of the desk.
FRENCH: Linda's a beautiful woman - a fine woman. Really quite a lady-
GARDNER: -and now, of course, you're overdoing it.
GARDNER: (Making a production of casually laying the gun on his side of the table.) We have, however, departed from the issue at hand, haven't we?
FRENCH: Excuse me?
GARDNER: Listen up, champ. We have to some degree departed, diverted from the issue of the day. Have we not?
FRENCH: I suppose so.
GARDNER: Well we either have, or we haven't. So which is it?
FRENCH: I guess we have.
GARDNER: We have business to settle; there are propositions to be made. I hope you're following me on all of this - and I hope we're speaking man to man by now. Let's not forget our business.
FRENCH: No. No.
GARDNER: And so I want you to think very carefully. We're playing for top dog here. We're not just pissing on the tree.
GARDNER: What will it be then, French?
(Pause. GARDNER slowly scrapes his hand against the grain of the desk.)
FRENCH: ...I'll go. If that's what you want. You won't see me ever again.
(GARDNER's hand comes back to rest upon the gun-butt.)
GARDNER: Go? I don't want you to go. That's not it at all. I thought that you were no dummy. Isn't that what we agreed? That you weren't a dummy?
GARDNER: Yes! And so, with that premise established, why would you choose right now to go and say something that a dummy would say? Why would you do that? You're not mocking me, are you? No, you're not fucking around with me. You wouldn't do that. You wouldn't do that with this gun on the desk, would you?
FRENCH: No. No, Gardner, I wouldn't, I just want to make things right -
GARDNER: And don't we all? Isn't that always the way? It's just animal instinct, you know, that need to “make things right”. Of course that's what you want to do. Anyone would.
FRENCH: I know the way things are, Gardner. I hear things. Look - I'll tell them it was my fault. I'll tell them you had nothing to do with it.
GARDNER: (...) To do with what?
FRENCH: We all make mistakes. That's not a crime. Not for us, anyway. (...) And the way we've been working overtime, and those performance reviews, and all the pressure, it's been murder. (...) Those - problems - with the Barrow account? Man. I'll let you have Anderson if you want it. It's a tough one, but it really is right in your ballpark. Very - established.
GARDNER: What the fuck are you talking about?
FRENCH: It's just that they can't blame you for Barrow, they should have been able to check the numbers themselves before they went ahead wi-
GARDNER: Barrow account? What the hell are you saying?!
GARDNER: Are you saying you think I screwed the Barrow account? That wasn't my fault at all. That whole shitpile had nothing to do with me. Who the hell are you to suggest that I'm to blame on that one?
FRENCH: I'm not suggesting anything. You know me.
GARDNER: (...) You. You haven't followed me at all, have you? You haven't been listening to a single - goddamn - thing.
FRENCH: I have been listening.
GARDNER: No, you haven't been listening at all. Goddamnit - Barrow account. What the fuck do you know about Barrow? Shit, that's what you know about Barrow. Shit.
FRENCH: Look, Gardner, I'm sorry. I'm sitting here having my snack for break and then you pull a gun out of your desk and threaten my life, and I'm trying to listen, I know things are tough, and I'm sorry I heard things about the Barrow account and thought you might be worried for your job, but I'm not trying to take your job, you can ask anyone, I'm the first to defend you, you've taught me everything I know, all the way, ever since I got here, and I want to move up but that doesn't mean that I would get you fired or anything - I wouldn't do that. It wouldn't be fair! We're friends - aren't we?
(Pause. Gardner is smiling again, this time with some sincerity.)
GARDNER: Yes. We're friends. I'm sorry, French. I'll admit that I should have made myself somewhat more clear. I mean, I am willing to kill you. Let's not make any mistake about that. I have quite reconciled myself to the task of your murder, even sketched out elements of the later disposal of your broken corpse. But other things? (...) They can get confused.
FRENCH: But why hurt anyone, Gardner? You don't want to hurt me, or anyone. You're a good man. You have a family. A job. A good job. And if you're having some trouble right now...well, why don't you just put the gun away and then we can sort -
(GARDNER picks up the gun, cocks it, and aims it at FRENCH's head in one smooth and blisteringly fast motion.)
GARDNER: Please don't be stepping out of line, French. I don't like that tone at all. I won't be patronized by some young office shithead. I'm not feebleminded. (...) You know what it's like on this side of the desk? (...) You're damn right. You can't know. You're not me. You're just some wet-behind-the-ears office clerk with his tiny pecker in his hand. And you think it'll all come to you without any get-go? Goddamnit!, when I was your age I had some ambition, some drive - now look at you, BAM!, strolling in at 9:10 every day hummin' away like a fucking songbird, and ZIP!, you're out of here at five on the dot. You have to wake up, son, you have to wake up. (...) But you're beyond that by now, aren't you? You've got your job and your car and you've got the edge of my desk for your goddamn granola bars or whatever you bring in here and you expect you'll just sail up to “Vee Pee Acquisitions” without getting any shit on your prissy little shoes. And I'm here making you a proposition, and you can't even clue into it because you're such a goddamn dummy. (...) Now. What do you have to say for yourself?
FRENCH: (...) I don't know.
GARDNER: You - come on. You don't know? You don't think. Goddamn. What good are you? You're wasting my fucking time!
FRENCH: I can't say anything because you're sticking that gun in my face! For the love of God, what do you want me to say?! What do you want to hear?!
GARDNER: I AM MAKING A PROPOSITION!!!
(GARDNER's arm seems to sink under the weight of the gun.)
GARDNER: All of this fucking misery and the pressure and the calls down from the big boys - all of it should be stuffed down the dumper. And I should pack the car and go down to Mexico. Guiltless escape to the pleasures of the Gulf. Leave it all. Because it's not worth it - not one goddamn bit...I'm not going to be a casualty. I'm not going to be the patsy. I'm not taking it on the chin.
FRENCH: (...) So leave.
GARDNER: SHUT YOUR MOUTH! (...) You're such a goddamn dummy. Maybe I should just kill you now.
(GARDNER stands up, holding his gun at his hip.)
GARDNER: A very simple proposition.
GARDNER: Take it.
FRENCH: (...) What?
GARDNER: TAKE IT!
GARDNER: Take it all - you sit on this side of the desk. You take the drawers; you put the family pictures on the edge; you take it all. The goddamn pressure and the numbers and Mitch and the accounts and my ulcer; you take it all - as the biggest favor you ever received, which you will accept. You want to get ahead? You want to be V.P. someday? Take it. Some seniority. Some responsibility. Not squatting at the edge of a desk eating your shit. Take it. Take my car, and my house, and my wife. Take it all. You could have the whole goddamn package. (...) And then I could walk out clean. Think about that, French. Think. You can't really have it any finer than that. The numbers all work...
(GARDNER, exhausted, sits down and points the gun back at FRENCH's forehead.)
GARDNER: ...or I shoot you in the head.
FRENCH: (...) That's quite a proposition, Mr. Gardner.
GARDNER: There - there must be some dignity at the end of the day.
FRENCH: Yes. Yes, I suppose there should.
(FRENCH raises the granola bar to his mouth, takes a savage bite, and chews.)