Episode 18: Friend of the People

[SCENE I. The Jaded Old Crone. NICHOLAS is waiting for his meal to arrive, drinking a coffee in the meanwhile. Enter CHARLOTTE CORDAY. She is tall and thin, with short platinum blonde hair, and is carrying a suitcase–she has just arrived in town. This is probably an inadequate description: she looks like she’s walked off the page of a fashion magazine. It is perhaps understandable, then, if NICHOLAS is a little distracted when she walks in. He looks genuinely surprised when she, on looking around, approaches his table.]

CHARLOTTE: Excuse me, do you think you could direct me to this address? Written, please, I still need to eat dinner.

NICHOLAS: Uh, sure. (He begins writing directions on a napkin, then pauses. He doesn’t expect this to succeed.) Or I could take you there after you’ve eaten. I mean, I’m not doing anything tonight.

CHARLOTTE: (Scrutinizing him.) Would you? I don’t think I could handle walking after such a long day.

NICHOLAS: (Surprised at his fortune.) It’s no problem. Have a seat.

CHARLOTTE: (Sitting.) Thanks so much. I’m Charlotte, by the way. Charlotte Corday.

NICHOLAS: Nick Hayes. What brings you to Portland?

CHARLOTTE: (A coy laugh.) A life needs secret plans, Mr. Hayes.

(They enjoy a meal. Eventually NICHOLAS leads CHARLOTTE to his car. They pass MELISSA and SARAH on the way out. MELISSA gives him an icy glare, but he seems too happy to notice or care.)

MELISSA: I didn’t know Nick was in the market for leggy blondes.

SARAH: Your simmering rage has finally broken him! Perhaps “women who do not torment him as a hobby” will teach him happiness.

MELISSA: It’s not a hobby! (Wistfully.) It’s more of a sport.

(They walk into the Crone and take a seat.)

SARAH: Oh hey! Did I tell you I volunteered to help the mayor’s reelection campaign?

MELISSA: Oh God, is it that time of year already?

SARAH: This is a very important election, Melissa! Mayor Nelson is facing stiff opposition from William Kimball.

MELISSA: Who?

SARAH: William Kimball? He’s the CEO of Raspberry Corporation! They bought out Johnson’s farm, and he’s trying to destroy local business in the name of big multinational corporations. He is basically what would happen if you put evil in a business suit.

MELISSA: (Smiling wickedly.) No, I mean, who is Mayor Nelson?

SARAH: (Defeated.) I hate you, Melissa.

MELISSA: I know.

[SCENE II. The offices of the Portland Examiner. MICHAEL is talking to the assembled staff.]

MICHAEL: Finally, many of you have already met him, but I’d like to officially introduce the newest member of our staff. Let’s have a round of applause for Jean-Paul Marat! He’ll be helping us cover the upcoming mayoral race.

(Weak applause. JEAN-PAUL is a tall, attractive man with dark hair, dark eyes, and a strong nose. He stands up to talk to the assembled.)

JEAN-PAUL: I look forward to working with all of you! And I just want to impress that this election has not just local, but global importance–this will put Portland on the map, so I hope that everyone working on this story is giving it their A game!

(The applause is more genuine this time as he sits down. SOPHIE leans over to ERIC.)

SOPHIE: I’ve read some of his stuff. It’s great.

ERIC: I didn’t know you were into politics.

SOPHIE: I am when it’s important!

(JEAN-PAUL makes his way over to SOPHIE.)

JEAN-PAUL: Sophie, a word in your office? Eric can come too, of course.

(They make their way into SOPHIE’s office. JEAN-PAUL sits down at her desk, and, notably, nobody seems to mind.)

JEAN-PAUL: I was wondering where you stand on this election?

SOPHIE: Well, Mayor Nelson has been an ineffectual mayor for years, and–

JEAN-PAUL: Yes. It is time for Portland to become global. I am not a native to your city but I know of its past–and I tell you, William Kimball will finally make this town distinguish itself.

SOPHIE: It’s so good to hear you say that, Jean-Paul.

JEAN-PAUL: So you will help me? We must use the Examiner to spread the good word.

SOPHIE: Of course. Anything to help Portland.

[SCENE III. CHARLOTTE’s apartment. Currently, a generic furnished apartment. She is standing in the doorway, with NICHOLAS outside.]

CHARLOTTE: I’d invite you in, but it’s not really home yet. I had fun tonight, though. (She hands him a business card.) My card. Give me a call some time. And thanks again.

NICHOLAS: It was my pleasure, Charlotte. (He departs.)

(CHARLOTTE locks the door behind him, and speaks aloud to herself once he is gone.)

CHARLOTTE: I am here, Jean-Paul. Let’s do this.

[SCENE IV. NICHOLAS’s house. KELLY is downstairs painting when he gets home. He is whistling cheerfully.]

KELLY: Well, you’re in a good mood. Did we make amends with our favorite Greek?

NICHOLAS: Who? Oh, Melissa? No, she still hates me. No, I’ve met someone new.

KELLY: Oh really.

NICHOLAS: Charlotte Corday. (He takes out her card and admires it.) Aren’t business cards meant to tell you who someone is? This just has her name and number.

KELLY: (Gets up.) Let me see. (She grabs the card.) Maybe she’s just mysterious for a living? (Looks the card over more carefully.) Though mysterious apparently pays well enough to get some nice business cards.

NICHOLAS: I’ll have to ask her, I guess.

KELLY: And bring her by. I want to see this mystery woman.

NICHOLAS: Okay, but if you steal her I will . . . do something bad.

KELLY: (Claps him on the shoulder.) Well done, Nick. I think you’ve just achieved ‘angry kitten’ levels of terrifying.

[SCENE V. A montage through the streets of Portland. SARAH and other pro-Mayor campaigns put up signs and hold rallies that are small and poorly-attended, though they are enthusiastically attended. SARAH hand-paints the signs, which definitely have the look of a home-brewed campaign. Meanwhile pro-Kimball signs appear everywhere, with elegant, corporate designs. His rallies are grandiose events.

Meanwhile, we see occasional headlines from the paper: KIMBALL SAVES KITTEN FROM NELSON SUPPORTERS; RASPBERRY CORPORATION VOTED MOST ETHICAL COMPANY IN US; KIMBALL IS OUR FUTURE. Every time, the byline is ‘JEAN-PAUL MARAT.’ As the headlines continue, pro-Mayor rallies get smaller, while Kimball’s rallies become more grandiose. And eventually we begin to see CHARLOTTE at these rallies.]

[SCENE VI. The Jaded Old Crone. MELISSA is drinking at the bar when NICHOLAS enters. He looks around as if trying to see someone, before he, too, sits at the bar and orders a drink.]

MELISSA: Are you following me or something?

NICHOLAS: For your information, I have a girlfriend. (CHARLOTTE walks in, and he indicates her with his head.) There she is now, actually.

MELISSA: (Incredulous.) Her?

NICHOLAS: Jealous?

MELISSA: (Laughs.) Of her? No. Of you? Maybe a little. (She smiles.) Good for you, Nicholas. (The smile drains.) But if you make Sarah cry again I will have you drawn and quartered.

NICHOLAS: Duly noted. Excuse me.

(He goes to join CHARLOTTE. MELISSA shakes her head and goes back to her meal.)

CHARLOTTE: Sorry I’m late. I was in a meeting.

NICHOLAS: You know, you could tell me what you’re doing here.

(CHARLOTTE looks nervous for a moment. She also looks like she is actually contemplating this.)

CHARLOTTE: No, it’s best that you don’t get involved.

NICHOLAS: You know I’d do anything for you.

CHARLOTTE: Yes. That’s the problem.

[SCENE VII. SARAH and MELISSA’s house. SARAH is curled up on the couch, looking depressed. MELISSA is just arriving at home.

MELISSA: I’m home, small friend!

(SARAH doesn’t move.)

MELISSA: You look sad. Don’t be sad, your favorite person is here! (Beat. This does not elicit a reaction.) I’m sorry. What’s wrong?

SARAH: We’re losing.

MELISSA: Your election?

(SARAH nods.)

MELISSA: You were so enthusiastic before, though!

SARAH: William Kimball is a monster. He’s basically bought the Examiner. He doesn’t have any ideas, except to make money, and he’s bribing all the local businesses. Being an open Nelson supporter is dangerous now.

MELISSA: I saw some of the hatchet jobs in the Examiner. It looks like it’s all that Jean-Paul Marat guy’s doing.

SARAH: Now they’ve got that ghost-killer Sophie Swanson tailing me. I’m one of the last ones left they haven’t got any dirt on.

MELISSA: I don’t think there is any dirt on you, small friend. It comes of being tiny, adorable, and universally loved.

SARAH: (Darkly.) Not universally loved enough, apparently.

MELISSA: You know, the Guillotine Appreciation Society is in town this week. I bet that’d cheer you up.

SARAH: (Sighs.) I don’t want to move, Melissa.

[SCENE VIII. The offices of the Portland Examiner. SOPHIE and JEAN-PAUL are in JEAN-PAUL’s new office. ERIC comes in with a report. JEAN-PAUL is looking pale and generally unwell. He is sweating and slumped at his chair.]

ERIC: I think it’s safe to say you’re officially the most popular writer the Examiner has ever had, Jean-Paul. The inbox is full of fan mail. We can’t print papers fast enough. You’re a true friend of the people.

JEAN-PAUL: I only hope it’s enough. Every pro-Nelson supporter is a threat. We need to isolate them and destroy them. (He coughs.) Sophie, this illness is wearing on me. I need to rest. We can do this business over the internet.

SOPHIE: Of course.

(JEAN-PAUL departs. Not long after, CHARLOTTE rushes in.)

CHARLOTTE: I have urgent news for Jean-Paul Marat!

SOPHIE: He’s ill. I can handle it for you, if you like. I’m Sophie–

CHARLOTTE: It must be Jean-Paul, I’m sorry. (She departs in a hurry.)

SOPHIE: Well, that was weird. Do you know who that is?

ERIC: She’s often at Kimball’s rallies. I don’t know her name, though.

SOPHIE: Huh.

[SCENE IX. NICHOLAS’s house. NICHOLAS is reading on the couch when KELLY comes home.]

KELLY: I saw your ladyfriend.

NICHOLAS: And?

KELLY: She wanted me to give you this. (She hands him an envelope.) She says she’s sorry.

NICHOLAS: Sorry? For what? (He opens the envelope and begins to read.) Oh no. (He gets up and runs for the door.)

[SCENE X. Outside JEAN-PAUL’s house. It is a grotesquely large mansion. CHARLOTTE is at the door.]

CHARLOTTE: I have urgent news for Jean-Paul! It’s about a planned attack by Nelson supporters!

DOORMAN: Very well. Come on. I’ll see if Mr. Marat can be disturbed.

(She enters, and sits in the large living room. As the DOORMAN departs, she calls after him.)

CHARLOTTE: It’s urgent!

(When he is gone, we see that she is concealing a kitchen knife in her skirt. Eventually the DOORMAN returns and the knife vanishes.)

DOORMAN: He is in the bath, but if it is truly urgent–

CHARLOTTE: Oh, thank you.

(The DOORMAN leads her up to the bathroom, and opens the door. She steps inside. JEAN-PAUL, still looking sickly, is in the bathtub, doing a video chat with SOPHIE.)

JEAN-PAUL: Sophie, I have a guest. Thanks again. (He closes the laptop and puts it aside.) What can I do for you, Ms. Corday?

CHARLOTTE: Charlotte, please. It’s an attack, sir. Sarah Ames is planning to raid Kimball’s headquarters tomorrow night. I can give you names, times, information.

(She hands JEAN-PAUL a folded piece of paper, which he unfolds and begins to read. She meanwhile raises her knife and slashes the laptop’s power cord, then seizes his laptop and throws it in the bathtub. There is a sizzling sound.

JEAN-PAUL: All my files! Help me!

(The DOORMAN and another servant enter. CHARLOTTE is still holding the knife.)

JEAN-PAUL: (Truly distraught.) She’s destroyed all my work!

(They drag an unresisting CHARLOTTE off.)

[SCENE XI. The Guillotine Appreciation Society. CHARLOTTE is being paraded before an angry mob.]

MOB LEADER: She destroyed our beloved Jean-Paul’s works! What have you to say for yourself?

CHARLOTTE: I killed one man to save one hundred thousand.

MOB LEADER: That’s–hang on, wait, no. Portland doesn’t have a hundred thousand people, does it? (He looks this up on his smartphone.) Wikipedia says we’ve got a population of about ten thousand.

CHARLOTTE: That’s fair. Can I try again?

MOB LEADER: Yeah, go for it.

CHARLOTTE: All right. (Clears throat.) I killed one man to save ten thousand. How’s that?

MOB LEADER: And you didn’t actually kill anyone.

CHARLOTTE: (Sighs.) Fine. I destroyed one man’s laptop to save ten thousand people.

MOB LEADER: Yeah, right! Jilted lover, most like! Off with her head!

CHARLOTTE: No, wait–

(The mob drags CHARLOTTE to a guillotine and forces her down into one. NICHOLAS arrives at a run, calling CHARLOTTE’s name. She doesn’t look in his direction. The blade falls. It bounces off CHARLOTTE’s neck.)

CHARLOTTE: Ouch! Christ, what is this, the French revolution?

MOB LEADER: Look, this is a mob. You use the tools you have.

CHARLOTTE: Well, the blades are fake. Don’t you know anything about guillotine appreciation?

(MOB LEADER hangs his head in shame.)

CHARLOTTE: (Rubbing her neck.) Christ. That’s going to hurt for ages.

(Two POLICE OFFICERS arrive and place CHARLOTTE under arrest and push her off through the angry crowd. NICHOLAS tries to run after the departing police car, and manages to touch her hand before a cop bodychecks him into the ground. The car drives off.)

[SCENE XII. The offices of the Portland Examiner. SOPHIE and ERIC are in SOPHIE’s office.]

SOPHIE: I can’t believe he just quit like that. I mean, he was a legend!

ERIC: Attacked by a crazed Nelson supporter in his home?

SOPHIE: He’ll be a martyr for sure. Thanks for the help on that editorial, by the way.

(MICHAEL walks in, looking disappointed.)

MICHAEL: Sophie, you know I’d never try to censor you, but that editorial you wrote on Jean-Paul–“The writer, the victim, the martyr”–was probably the worst thing this paper has ever published.

SOPHIE: I–

MICHAEL: There’s no room for the Examiner to take sides in political issues! I know he was a good writer, but we have to stick to the facts here.

SOPHIE: But he–

MICHAEL: No arguing, Sophie. I’m taking you off the political beat. We’ll have someone else cover it. I won’t have this paper accused of being biased. (Departs.)

SOPHIE: (Well after he is gone.) But Jean-Paul wrote biased stuff all the time!

ERIC: That’s right, Sophie. Let it out.

SOPHIE: (Shouting after MICHAEL.) You’re a really bad editor!

[SCENE XIII. SARAH and MELISSA’s house. SARAH is on the couch, staring into the middle distance. MELISSA returns home.]

MELISSA: It’s election night, isn’t it? Did you win?

SARAH: Nope.

MELISSA: Then, Kimball won?

SARAH: Nope.

MELISSA: Who did?

SARAH: Dark horse candidate. Naomi Hall. Ran on a platform of ‘I’ll be nice to people if I’m elected.’

MELISSA: Huh.

SARAH: Yeah.

(A long pause follows. Neither of them is sure what to say.)

MELISSA: You want some bourbon?

SARAH: God yes.

[SCENE XIV. The jail. NICHOLAS has just bailed out CHARLOTTE.]

NICHOLAS: So, Kimball lost.

CHARLOTTE: I heard.

NICHOLAS: I guess that means you’ll be leaving.

CHARLOTTE: I did what I came here to do. I’m afraid I just made him a martyr, though. (Beat.) I’m sorry, Nick. It’s been good.

NICHOLAS: No, it’s okay. I admire your dedication. I wish I could have helped.

CHARLOTTE: You did, Nick. You just didn’t know it. (She kisses him.) Good bye, Nick. (She walks out of the jail.)

(Fin.)

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