THE JOKE ACT ONE

A PLAY IN FOUR ACTS BY TONY KNEIPP

WARNING: SOME WORDS MAY OFFEND SOME READERS

 

Act One Scene One

Scene: The office of the Tropicana Motel, in reality the town brothel.

(Our story takes place in the Queensland coastal resort town of Endeavour Beach - a tropical paradise of palm trees and white shining sands as shown on the tourist brochures and postcards. There are three main industries in this sundrenched Shangri-La - sugar, tourism and marijuana.

On the outskirts of town stands a motel, the Tropicana. It has seen better days - the new highway has cut it off from the town proper, consigning it to oblivion. However, the Tropicana has found a new way to pay its way - it is the town brothel.

In the office of the motel sits the proprietor, Amber Morgan - a woman of some experience who has also seen better days.

The lights come up on stage to reveal Amber seated at her office desk. Amber is now in her forties, well groomed and smartly dressed, although she is wearing somewhat too much makeup and jewellery. A bottle of gin, a small bottle of tonic and two glasses sit to one side of the desk. Amber is doing her accounts. She counts a pile of bank notes in front of her, and makes a note of the total in a small black book on the desk beside her. After some brief calculations in the book, during which she quickly grabs a calculator to work her sums out, she then begins to count out three separate piles of notes of roughly equal amounts. She then pulls three manila envelopes out of a desk drawer, then picks up a pen and makes a mark in the corner of each envelope before placing the three piles of money in each of the envelopes. She seals two of the envelopes, and tosses them into a desk drawer. The other envelope remains unsealed on the desk in front of her.

Amber has a visitor that she is clearly expecting - a young police constable, Sean Hall. There is a knock on the door.)

Amber: Come in Sean. (Hall enters. He is a young constable in his mid-twenties in full uniform. He removes his cap, and ignores the second chair, standing in front of the desk instead.) Punctual as ever, I see. Want a drink? (She gestures to the bottle of gin, etc. on the desk in front of her.)

Sean: No, I've got to go straight back. I'm on till ten tonight.

(Amber pours herself a gin and tonic, then picks up the envelope and hands it to Hall.)

Amber: There you go!

(Sean turns his back to Amber, counting, then turns around, accusingly:-)

Sean: It's a bit light on, isn't it?

Amber: I knew you'd be cranky. Look, there's nothing I can do about it. I've got costs too, you know. And business just hasn't been that good this month. There's good months and bad months - you know that!

Sean: But it's not good enough. What am I going to say to the blokes back at the station? It's my fat chubby little arse that's on the block and it's me they're going to jump on. You're putting me in the shit.

Amber: It's not that bad, surely. There's been bad months before.

Sean: You know what Kelly's been saying? If we don't get our act together he's going to shut up shop and start up a new place in town.

Amber: (gasps, turning pale) He wouldn't dare!

(She pours herself another drink, and has a slug.)

Sean: He would! The man's a prick - and totally up himself! The trouble is, he's pulling in so much money at the moment, they all think he's a fucking genius. They say him and God go way back, and without God's say-so you don't even get a look-in.

Amber: I guess that's where the real money is these days. But there's still good money in this game. Your problem is you're young and impatient.

Sean: And what about the money?

Amber: (smooches up to him) Oh Sean, you can make them see reason!

Sean: I'm not so sure. And what are you going to do when you shut up shop? Get a real job? Go on the pension?

Amber: Fair go Sean. I'm not that old, I've got a few good years left in me yet! (She preens herself as she looks in a mirror on the wall behind her.)

Sean: If only we could get a slice of the real action!

Amber: Look Sean, you don't want to get mixed up in all that shit. This is civilised by comparison. It's too risky, you'd be treading on too many toes. You'd just be a guppy in a poolful of sharks.

Sean: Risky my arse! Every time we talk about this you keep saying the same thing, but the whole thing is tied up so tightly nothing ever gets out. If a cop gets caught with his pants down, his dick in one hand and a bag full of cash and dope in the other, they always pass it off as some kind of undercover sting - all very hush-hush and no more said.

Amber: That's fine for you. I don't have a badge and uniform to hide behind.

Sean: How it works there is, if anyone asks, like internal affairs or the commission come sniffing around, if you have to say anything, you tell them, like, you're my informant. You get to hear a lot in a place like this. As for the rest of it, well, you know the line, you just rent the rooms, the girls are all individual operators, nothing to do with you.

Amber: Yeah, I know.

Sean: And then if they ask me, I back you up. I say you've been assisting police in the investigation of a serious crime. I can get you on the register of informants, make a couple of small payments, so it all looks good and above board.

Amber: (sarcastic) It all sounds just too easy. Why aren't we doing it already, then?

Sean: All I know is God says who's in and who's out. Without his say-so we wouldn't get a look-in. I've heard lots about him, but I don't even know who he is. All I know is he's a senior D, and he knows pretty much everything that goes on, state-wide.

Amber: (half drunk) I know who he is - the cunning old bastard!

Sean: You! Pull the other one! How the hell would you know?

Amber: Jeez, Sean, you sound just like the rest of them, all making out I'm some ignorant bitch who wouldn't know anything. I wasn't always in a flea bitten hole like this you know. (sneers)Endeavour Beach, best little place in the world. The hicks around this place are so pig ignorant they don't even realise what a bunch of hicks they are! (reminiscing, nostalgic)In the old days, back in the Valley, I was really someone then. Brunswick Street on a Friday night - you knew you were alive. Not that I ever worked on the street, mind you. I always had far too much class for that!..(more abruptly, back to earth) But what would a young brat like you know about all that? The past's another world - no point in feeling sorry for myself, is there? (She starts pouring herself another drink.)

Sean: (He moves over and grabs the bottle from Amber.) Are you jerking my chain? You and God - old mates?

Amber: Fair dinkum Sean, no bullshit, me and God were as thick as thieves back then. Him and the rest of the mob. 'Course, he was only a constable then, got to sergeant just before I left. He's come a long way since those days. I was top of the heap then- always in demand. You wouldn't know to look at me now, would you? (She preens herself again.)

Sean: (grabs her by the arms) So who the fuck is he? Tell me!

Amber: Well aren't you the tough guy! Use your head, Sean. You don't rat on guys like God. He's a lot scarier than you are, you know. Besides, we're old mates.

Sean: (lets her go) Yeah, yeah, I'm sorry. I think I'll have that drink after all.

(Sean sits down, as does Amber. Sean pours a drink for each of them.)

But look, what about this? You could get onto him, talk to him about us getting in on the joke. (He waves an arm around, with a contemptuous gesture.) And I don't mean this!

Amber: Why would I want to do that?

Sean: (He pulls the envelope out, and tosses it up lightly in one hand, as though weighing it.)

You don't want to find yourself eating dog food, do you? It wouldn't do anything for your complexion.

Amber: (surly) I'll think about it.

Act One Scene Two

Scene: Inside the Endeavour Beach police station.

(This is our first glimpse of life inside that bastion of law and order, the Endeavour Beach police station. We will now have a chance to observe the close rapport and camaraderie between Constable Sean Hall and his experienced and respected superior officer, Sergeant Brian Kelly.

As the lights come up on stage we see Constable Hall at his desk working at a computer terminal. He is in uniform. Sgt Kelly, standing nearby, also in uniform, moves over to Sean.)

Kelly: Well, if it isn't God's gift to the good citizens of Endeavour Beach!

Sean: You're the one who's mates with God, not me!

Kelly: Shut up, you little idiot! Walls have ears.

Sean: What? Here? In the inner sanctum? You're kidding!

Kelly: Mate, I wouldn't be so proud of being such an ignorant little prick if I was you. It only takes one smart arse little know-it-all like you to wreck a perfectly good scene. If you'd only keep your mouth shut, do what you're told and wait your turn I might have some use for you. But you've got to be the star turn, the main attraction, Mr Hot-dog. That's no way to do business. The whole idea is not to make waves. You're better off being average and boring, almost invisible.

Sean: That must be easy for you!

Kelly: Well, so much for the small talk. I've come to give you the good news. You'll be going to a new posting for a little while. I reckon I can pretty much guarantee you'll be the top cop there.

Sean: Where?

Kelly: Bowman's Crossing.

Sean: Bowman's Crossing - where the hell is that?

Kelly: (pulls a map out of his hip pocket, unfolds it, and points) There!

Sean: Bloody hell!

Kelly: We share the relief posting with Gibbo's mob. It's our turn, and you're it.

Sean: How long?

Kelly: Two months - unfortunately!

Sean: You're just trying to get me out of the way - it won't work.

Kelly: So far, so good.

Sean: What about the Tropicana?

Kelly: Don't worry, mate we'll take care of business while you're gone. You won't even be missed.

 

Act One Scene Three.

Scene: The office of the Tropicana Motel.

(Constable Hall is now halfway through his two months of exile. He has taken advantage of a weekend off to return home to Endeavour Beach to see his wife and two young children. But before going home to his family, he takes the opportunity to catch up with old friends and the latest gossip. And so it is we find him once again in the office of the Tropicana Motel.

As the lights come up, Amber is sitting at her desk, with Sean sitting opposite her.)

Amber: So how's woop-woop?

Sean: Pretty exciting. The publican's wife had a baby the other day. It was a major event.

Amber: That good? Well you're halfway there, only four more weeks to go.

Sean: So how's things been here?

Amber: So-so. You were right about Kelly. He's been on my back ever since you left, throwing his weight around, bitching about the money, really giving me the shits. Just think, I actually used to like the guy once!

Sean: Is business that bad?

Amber: Not really. It's better than it was. But some greedy bastards are never satisfied. Anyway, I can see that things aren't just going to go on smoothly the way they were. Are you still keen on what we were talking about?

Sean: Sure, but what odds? Like I said, you need an in.

Amber: I've had a word with God about it.

Sean: (suddenly very interested) Really? What did he say?

Amber: I got the definite impression that he had the shits with Kelly too. They never were the best of mates. I remember there was some bad blood between them for a while, this is years ago. Anyway, he called him a greedy bastard.

Sean: Knows him well, obviously.

Amber: He had to think about it, and get back to me, but it's OK.

Sean: OK? What does that mean?

Amber: We've got the green light. We can set up shop. But there's rules, of course.

Sean: Rules are cool. So we play by the rules. Like what?

Amber: We're only allowed to do pot. We're specifically not allowed to have anything to do with hammer or go-ee.

Sean: (sarcastic) Well, that's a worry, isn't it? So when do I get to meet him?

Amber: That's the other rule. You don't. He was very specific about that. If he even gets a whisper that I've let you in on who he is, he'll pull the plug. All contact is to be through me.

Sean: (surly, sulking) That means I'll just have to take your word for everything.

Amber: Look, Sean, we've come this far, let's not argue about that. He runs a tight ship, always did. But think about it. If you were in his position, you'd be paranoid, too. You certainly wouldn't want your name being bandied about from one end of the state to the other. Anyway, it's the only way he'll let it go ahead. I said yes, of course. If you get cold feet, we can always bail out.

Sean: No, no, that's fine. We should give it a go, at least. I just thought it would be a bit different, that's all. So what about the rest of it? What's his cut?

Amber: Two thousand a month, plus 20% of all our profits.

Sean: That's a bit steep!

Amber: He's not one just to skim a bit of the cream off, is he? You know sharks like that are going to take the biggest bite. Anyway, that's the deal. Obviously Kelly was falling a bit shy of the mark, at least in God's eyes.

Sean: And how do we pass it on?

Amber: That'll be my department. Basically, it's just depositing the money into an account.

Sean: (sarcastic, bitter) Don't tell me, let me guess. You're the only one to know.

Amber: Stop whinging so much about it, Sean. There's no way I'm going to rip you off. That'd be stupid. And I'm certainly not about to stiff God.

Sean: Seems like you're the keen one now.

Amber: Well, I've had a bit of time to think about it, haven't I? I certainly don't want to spend the rest of my life in this hole!

Sean: So when can we start?

Amber: Pretty much straight away if we want to.

Sean: Kelly's not going to be happy.

Amber: You can say that again!

Sean: So how are we supposed to deal with that?

Amber: Basically, he just said we should get on with our own business, and leave Kelly to his own affairs. He'll only step in if things get out of hand.

Sean: What a slap in the face for Kelly! I can see that I'm going to enjoy this!

(pauses, thoughtfully)

There's a hell of a lot to think about, though. We need capital, suppliers, people to deal the dope for us at the street level. What did God say about supplies? Did he put you onto anything?

Amber: No, not really. He said from time to time he'll be putting stuff our way, but it's basically up to us. We need our own contacts. But he can put us onto some local contacts who can help us move the stuff, and they might have some suggestions about where to source the stuff, too.

Sean: It's not exactly the way I'd imagined it, but I'm sure we can handle it. Did he say why?

Amber: Just that things keep changing, people come and go, the local and volatile nature of the market, to quote God.

Sean:My head's spinning just thinking about this. It's like Christmas has come early this year. But really this couldn't have happened at a better time. I know where we can get enough dope to give us a kick start, and the best thing is, it won't cost us a cent!

Amber: You're dreaming, Sean, where do you get a deal like that?

Sean: The thing is, we don't pay for it, we just take it.

Amber: So it's a rip-off. I'd figured that much out. But most growers keep a close eye out for that sort of thing. I don't know about you, but shotguns and booby traps aren't my idea of fun. So where is this dope?

Sean: In the lockup, back at Bowman's Crossing.

Amber: Breaking into a cop shop? It's fucking mental!

Sean: It's better than putting up our own money.

Amber: What if we get caught in the act?

Sean: We won't.

Amber: And what about the fallout?

Sean: Well, this sort of thing's happened before, but no one's ever been charged, that I'm aware of. Of course, suspicion will be cast around in all directions, but as long as we're careful, we'll be right. It could be anyone. No one got done for this crop, so of course, the obvious conclusion will be, whoever it was has picked their moment, and come along and got their crop back.

Amber: So when are you thinking of doing this?

Sean: The sooner the better, while the gear's still there. Next weekend. The publican's throwing a party next Saturday night. The whole town 'll be as pissed as a newt. The cop shop's well away from the pub. It'll be the perfect time. About four in the morning they'll all be dead to the world, or else too pissed to remember their own name.

Amber: Won't you be missed?

Sean: I'll have to turn up at least for a while, of course. If I stay sober enough, and time it right, I'll be able to slip off, do the job, and slip back to the party, and no-one the wiser. What an alibi! I'll have half the town swearing I've been there the whole bloody night!

Amber: And how do we break in?

Sean: That's the beauty of it. I've got keys. It's got to be a proper break-in though. The stuff's all in one of the cells. All I need to do is cut the lock off with an angle grinder, then bash the front door in on the way out. The whole place belongs back with the ark. It'll be like breaking into a piggy bank.

Amber: So what've I got to do?

Sean: You'll provide the transport. We need a ute or a van. I've got some plates you can use. All you've got to do is cruise up quietly, lights off, knock gently on the door, and I'll open up. What could be easier?

Amber: This deserves a toast. (Amber pours a gin and tonic for each of them and hands one to Sean.) To business!

Sean: To business!

Act One Scene Four

Scene: Outside the Bowman's Crossing police station before daybreak.

(We now find ourselves outside the Bowman's Crossing police station early one Sunday morning, well before daybreak. The village was bigger ten years ago, but then the rail line closed down. Now it boasts of two shops, a pub, and, as we have already mentioned, a police station, where we are about to witness a break-in. This particular break-in is very much an inside job.

As the lights come up on stage, Amber, dressed in overalls, and wearing gloves and a beanie, is at the door of the Bowman's Crossing lockup, stage right. She looks around furtively, then knocks three times gently.)

Sean: (Offstage, from behind the lockup door, softly) Who is it?

Amber: It's me, Amber.

(The door opens and Sean sticks his head out. He also is wearing overalls and gloves.)

Sean: Just wait here!

(Sean runs back inside and emerges moments later carrying two large garbage bags.)

Sean: Start loading these up!

(Amber grabs the bags and staggers off to the car offstage stage left with them. Meanwhile, Sean ducks back inside and reappears with another two bags. This continues until a dozen bags have been produced and loaded up.)

Sean: (with the last two bags) That's it. Get it started up.

(Sean disappears back inside the door. The scream of an angle grinder on metal shatters the silence of the night. Just as suddenly the cacophony ends, and Sean reappears, carrying a bag from which he produces a 2 pound hammer and a cold chisel. He locks the front door, then checks carefully to see that it is locked, rattling the door just to make sure. He then proceeds to attack the lock with the cold chisel, bashing the door open. He then puts the tools back in the bag and exits in a hurry stage left in the same direction as Amber.)

Sean: (offstage) Let's go.

(The stillness of the night is again broken by the slamming of a car door, the revving of the motor and the screech of tyres and brakes as our two protagonists make their getaway. We hear them speeding off into the distant darkness of the countryside.)

Act One Scene Five

Scene: The pulpit of the local church.

(To most people in Endeavour Beach, Constable Sean Hall is a model citizen and police officer, not just concerned with getting the job done and getting paid, or enforcing the letter of the law in some petty spiteful way. Instead he is enthusiastically involved in community affairs, ever ready to help out with projects or problems, and has accordingly been welcomed with open arms by the local community, in spite of being just another blow-in from down south. Constable Hall turns up with his wife and two young children to his local church every Sunday without fail. The pastor of the congregation, the Reverend Ernest Grice, is equally enthusiastic in his support for our upstanding young constable.

As the lights come up we see the Reverend Grice in the pulpit.)

Grice: It is my great pleasure, here in the sight of God, to present today an award from the Endeavour Beach Progress Association to a member of our congregation, for outstanding service to the community, and particularly the younger members of our community. I am speaking, of course, of Constable Sean Hall.

Constable Hall has gone far beyond the mere requirements of his position, to do all that he can to help make Endeavour Beach the better community that we are all so proud of. This is all the more remarkable given that Sean has only been among us for less than two years. In that time, thanks to his tireless efforts, we have come to know him very well indeed, and our lives are the richer for it.

As you know, Sean has given a great deal of his own time to many community projects, the most outstanding of which is the "Adopt-a-Cop" reach out to youth program at our high school. I am sure you are all aware that our young people today face many difficulties and temptations. We can now talk to people across the world whenever we want to, but increasingly we seem to have difficulty in communicating to the person sitting next to us, our families, our friends, and our neighbours.

We turn on our televisions, and sex is everywhere, and yet love is nowhere to be found. Those core values of love and commitment, as embodied in the Holy Family, and which are the cornerstone of our church and our community, are constantly ridiculed and lampooned, while young people are told again and again through the images that bombard them constantly that if they are not experienced in sexual matters, that somehow there is something wrong with them, that somehow their character is not fully developed.

Likewise, we see a constant stream of messages that tell us that it is somehow cool to take drugs, even if the law says clearly that it is not. Even more importantly, it is breaking God's law. The single most effective tool against drugs is a Bible in every home.

Taking drugs is like opening a window to our soul through which every vice and every temptation can enter and take advantage of our confused and weakened state. Addiction is a sin. The Bible says we must not be mastered by things. It tells us to keep the body pure as it is a temple of the Holy Spirit. If you are stoned out of your mind, how can you know right from wrong? You are like putty in the devil's hands - easy prey. And without fail those who allow themselves to be mastered by drugs begin to neglect their obligations and duties, and become lazy and untrustworthy. Sin means we are falling short of our potential and failing to live up to God's plan.

It is a sad day when we are forced to admit that some of our schoolchildren have experimented with drugs. It is imperative that we have zero tolerance of drugs within our schools. Our children are our future. That is why we have been so very lucky to have someone like Constable Hall to provide some guidance and advice, as well as an outstanding role model, to our younger citizens as they approach adulthood. We also give our deepest thanks to his wife Amanda and his two lovely children. They are a fine example of a Christian family.

As most of you will be aware, the Endeavour Beach Progress Association was itself presented with an award from the government for the most outstanding program. This is our way of saying thanks to the individual who did the most to achieve that excellent outcome. Sean has also been outstanding in every other aspect of his police work. I am reliably informed that his arrest rate, especially as regards drug offences, is significantly higher than that of any other officer in the region. We greatly value his support and his leadership in our efforts to maintain and improve Endeavour Beach, and not just to promote a lifestyle of sun, surf and leisure, but a purposeful, meaningful, Christian lifestyle, with all the responsibilities and rewards that that entails.

Sean, can you come up here, please.

(Sean appears on stage, and approaches the Reverend Grice at the pulpit.)

Grice: Congratulations and our sincerest thanks. (Grice hands over a certificate, then shakes hands with Sean.)

Sean: Thank you.

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