Episode 24: Reign of Terror

[SCENE I. The offices of the Portland Examiner. CHARLOTTE is looking over some emails and muttering to herself.]

CHARLOTTE: I still don’t care about kraken sightings off the coast, Sarah.

(JEAN-PAUL MARAT enters and looms over her desk.)

CHARLOTTE: (Not looking up.) I’m kind of busy. I’m sure the receptionist will–

JEAN-PAUL: Hello, Charlotte.

(She looks up abruptly and glares.)

JEAN-PAUL: I thought I’d pay you a visit, since I’m back in town. See how things are going.

CHARLOTTE: They’re going . . . quite well, thank you.

JEAN-PAUL: How’s your new mayor? I hear he’s quite the charmer.

CHARLOTTE: Is that meant to be some sort of a threat?

JEAN-PAUL: I would never. Just stopping in, for old times’ sake. (He raps his knuckles on the desk and turns to depart.) We should do lunch sometime. When you’re not busy, of course.

CHARLOTTE: I’ll see if I can pencil you in.

JEAN-PAUL: Of course you will. (On his way out, he picks up one of the papers and glances over it.) Tsk. Whatever happened to that Swanson girl? Now there was a reporter. (He departs.)

(After several moments, CHARLOTTE picks up her phone.)

CHARLOTTE: Nick, this is Charlotte. I need to speak with you concerning a . . . professional matter. Call me. (She hangs up.)

 

[SCENE II. The mayor’s office. NICHOLAS is meeting with JEAN-PAUL.]

JEAN-PAUL: So, I hear from a reliable source you are in need of some new staff.

NICHOLAS: Not really. I mean, I have a guy whose only job is to dust the plants. Check it out. (He pokes his head out of the office; there is a man dusting off some poinsettias in the lobby.) Is that not the best thing ever?

JEAN-PAUL: I can think of some better things, I think.

NICHOLAS: (Sitting back down.) What sort of staff did you have in mind?

JEAN-PAUL: Well, you’ve got some press problems. I note that nobody at the Examiner holds you in particularly high regard.

NICHOLAS: Melissa’s hit piece on my plan to destroy Christmas was probably a bit unnecessary.

JEAN-PAUL: You can’t trust women, Mr. Mayor.

NICHOLAS: You can call me Nick.

JEAN-PAUL: The part that strikes me as unnecessary is how you let them walk all over you. I see no push to resist what can only be seen as a concerted propaganda effort to weaken and destabilize the mayor’s office.

NICHOLAS: (Looking helpless.) What do you propose I do?

JEAN-PAUL: I want to work for you, Nick. I want to make you a hero. Portland deserves a strong mayor. You’ve got four years to give them one.

NICHOLAS: I think it’s closer to three now, actually. So, are we talking a speechwriter, or–

JEAN-PAUL: Speechwriting, press secretary, campaign manager. With me on your team, we can do great things.

NICHOLAS: I guess welcome aboard. It’s about time I had an ally in this city.

JEAN-PAUL: You won’t regret it. (They shake hands.) Now, I had best leave you to your work. May I suggest a press conference tomorrow?

NICHOLAS: Oh, sure. I’ll email you with the details.

JEAN-PAUL: Excellent. (He departs. NICHOLAS picks up the phone.)

CHARLOTTE: Hello?

NICHOLAS: Charlotte? It’s me.

CHARLOTTE: Oh, good, I needed to tell you–

NICHOLAS: I was just calling to let you know I’m having a press conference tomorrow. I’ve hired a new press secretary. It’s about time Portland saw my vision for, uh, Portland’s future, right?

CHARLOTTE: Okay, but listen, you need to–

NICHOLAS: Great. I’ll see you there, I guess. Unless you’re sending Melissa or someone?

CHARLOTTE: No, I–

NICHOLAS: Either way. Later! (He hangs up.)

 

[SCENE IV. A press conference in the town square. Various REPORTERS are gathered. NICHOLAS approaches the podium.]

NICHOLAS: I’ll keep this brief. I’ve hired a new press secretary, a Mr. Jean-Paul Marat. He will take any questions you have. Thank you. (He departs the podium to some shouted questions. JEAN-PAUL assumes the podium.)

JEAN-PAUL: People of Portland. Some of you may recognize me as the victim of senseless sabotage at the hands of Charlotte Corday, the editor of your local newspaper. The same newspaper that regularly publishes poison about your mayor-elect. I made the mistake of bowing down to her vile ways then, but I will not do so now. I will stand up for what is good in this town. Now, are there any questions?

REPORTER: Is it true that the mayor was planning to send jackbooted thugs to destroy Christmas?

JEAN-PAUL: This accusation has been made by a woman whose conception of reality is at best dangerously unstable. If Miss Xenakis thinks that the mayor had a plan to destroy Christmas, I invite her to come forward with the evidence.

MELISSA: Would documents bearing the seal of the mayor’s office ordering an anti-Christmas strike team work? Because I have those.

JEAN-PAUL: I’m sure we’d all like to see–

MELISSA: They went live at the Examiner’s website half an hour ago. (Beat.) We’ll wait.

JEAN-PAUL: An obvious fabrication. I see no reason we should waste time with this. Does anyone have any serious questions?

REPORTER: Since your work was sabotaged by Ms. Corday, you have written many beautiful paeans to America’s corporate culture. What’s your stance on making Portland friendly to big corporations?

JEAN-PAUL: My opponents–Miss Corday and her cohorts–like to pretend that they are fighting for equality. Do not believe them. They can talk about equality because they conceal the great injustices done to the job creators in our community. I will fight for their rights with every fiber of my being. It is every man’s right to deal with his oppressors by devouring their palpitating hearts.

REPORTER: So you advocate letting Portland’s rich people devour the hearts of the poor?

JEAN-PAUL: Not the poor. Their oppressors. People like Miss Corday and Miss Xenakis. People who–(NICHOLAS begins frantically gesturing at him.) I believe the mayor wishes to speak for himself.

(NICHOLAS quickly resumes the podium.)

NICHOLAS: Thank you, Jean-Paul. Two things I’d like to address myself. First of all, you’re fired, please find somewhere else to be. Second, the rumors of a war on Christmas are true. What the Examiner isn’t telling you is that this was to be a preemptive strike. If we didn’t destroy Christmas, Christmas would destroy us. Thankfully, the operation was cancelled, as the threat was apparently neutralized.

(Long silence.)

NICHOLAS: So, uh, merry Christmas?

REPORTER: So you’re saying you won the war on Christmas?

NICHOLAS: . . . yes. I am officially declaring victory in the war on Christmas. And with that, I’m concluding this press conference. If there is a merciful God he will make us all forget that it ever happened. Good night. (He retires from the podium.)

 

[SCENE V. The offices of the Portland Examiner. MELISSA is drinking coffee and looking smug in the break room when CHARLOTTE walks in.]

CHARLOTTE: I’m still not sure how you got those secret Christmas strike orders.

MELISSA: My sources are secret. And very possibly sexy.

CHARLOTTE: I’m also not sure why you’re publishing hit pieces on the man who tried to save you from captivity.

MELISSA: I’m giving him the chance to do the right thing. Christmas was destroyed. Someone needs to fix it.

CHARLOTTE: Surely there are more direct ways?

MELISSA: People love Scrooge and the Grinch way more than they love generic Christmas-loving characters. I can’t even name any offhand. In the end he’ll thank me.

CHARLOTTE: I have my doubts.

MELISSA: Doubt all you want, ma chérie. I am never wrong about these things.

(Fin.)

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