6. All the Things You Could Have Been if Not for Me
Part 6. The final chapter of a play about people who are tied together for better and worse, by family, love, hate and fate.
DAVID OLDMAN. Mid-fifties, libertarian broadcaster.
JANET SMAIL. Early-fifties, David’s long-time producer.
SOPHIE WILLIS. Thirties, barrister, David’s daughter.
MIKE VAN KLEE. Thirties, well-known actor, Sophie’s partner.
TIA MERCER. Thirties, struggling content creator, Sophie’s best friend.
TAMA THOREAU. Thirties, author, isolationist.
It’s set in the present.
Tama comes to live on bail with Sophie and Mike. David tries to have a heart-to-heart with Janet about her fading mental powers. Sophie discovers that Tama is in love with her - which matches her feelings towards him precisely. Mike wins an acting award, and is on the receiving end of a drunken truth bomb from toxic Tia. Janet tells Mike she’s been fired by David after three decade’s loyal service, after developing early onset Alzheimer's.
DAVID Congratulations on your award, saw you on TV.
MIKE Would you like a drink?
DAVID Nope. Too much work to do. How can I help?
MIKE David I’ve asked you here because life is taking a big shit on my face at the moment and I’m trying to wipe off as much as I can.
DAVID Proposal didn’t go down well, huh?
MIKE It didn’t actually, it was a few months back, thanks for asking.
DAVID She’s a tough nut, my Soppy. She just won’t crack.
MIKE I’m not here to talk about Sophie. That’s done. I’m over it. I’m here to talk about Janet.
MIKE Because she’s my friend.
DAVID She’s a better friend to me.
MIKE So why did you fire her?
MIKE Let her go, managed her out, whatever you want to call it.
DAVID She said I fired her?
MIKE Her exact words.
DAVID You must think I’m such a cunt.
MIKE I do, yes.
DAVID In fact, on the strength of that, my face would have to be the first image to come up when you Google the word ‘cunt’. My face, top left hand corner, then infinite rows of pictures of literal cunts. To fire a close and trusted colleague of thirty-two years on the mere suspicion that she is on the cusp of a significant health crisis.
MIKE It’s happening. She has early onset Alzheimer’s.
DAVID Does she?
MIKE You knew that.
DAVID I suspected.
MIKE That’s why you fired her.
DAVID I fired her. Her exact words huh?
MIKE Exact words.
DAVID I am such a cunt.
MIKE Yes, we both agree.
DAVID Are you interested in hearing a slightly different perspective on the matter?
DAVID It’s my own personal one, so, it wouldn’t stand up in court.
DAVID Judges are very reluctant to accept the testimony of a convicted cunt.
MIKE Just say it.
DAVID From my perspective, nine days ago I sat in this chair at this table while she sat where you are now and I brought to her attention some concerns I had about, yes, about her performance, but only to illustrate my concerns about her. I suggested a number of ways we could deal with them before she stood up, threw a glass of chardonnay in my face and never came back to work. Never called me, never emailed, never returned my calls, wouldn’t open up to me when I went round to her apartment and banged on the door and shouted her name and refused to leave until she came out. I called the police from her veranda because I thought she’d topped herself. Now forget the stress this put on me. Forget that I experienced a very similar situation with MY OWN WIFE so long ago it feels like only yesterday, let’s keep the focus on Janet. By the time she did open up, which she only did to prove that she was alive, she said not one word, and instead passed me a note…
He fetches a note out of his wallet and tosses it on the table.
DAVID This note, in fact, which I still carry in my wallet to remind myself of the cunt I am. Read it, go on pick it up and read it so you can see for yourself that she knows me so well that given the circumstances, she has decided, while still in possession of sound mind and judgement to quote ‘jump before I am pushed.’ After thirty-two years. After thirty-two years she knows what she has to do to preserve her dignity because she knows exactly, precisely the kind of cunt I am.
Mike reads the note and passes it back to David.
DAVID So the other perspective you might like to consider is that Janet is a very strong, very smart and very proud woman, and at the moment of her greatest weakness, at the moment of her greatest fear, after thirty-two years of building up credit with me, not only was she less than willing to face the suggestion that her powers might be diminishing, but she was utterly unwilling to consider that I might love her, and care for her enough, not to be a cunt. How is she?
MIKE Not bad, not good. Preparing for the worst.
DAVID Is there anything I can do to help her?
MIKE I’m not sure.
DAVID What I mean is, can I give her any money?
MIKE I don’t know that she’d take it.
DAVID She would if it came from you.
DAVID What are you doing in life, Mike?
MIKE I’m not sure.
DAVID I hear you’re leaving the show.
MIKE I have. It’s done.
DAVID And I understand that my daughter has rejected your proposal.
MIKE It goes a bit beyond that.
MIKE You’ll have to discuss that with her.
MIKE I’m going overseas.
MIKE Australia, Los Angeles. Still in the process of deciding.
DAVID Who’s your manager?
MIKE I don’t have one. I’ve got some leads.
DAVID Who’s giving you advice? Helping you run your life? Assisting you to figure out who you should talk to and what strategies you should employ?
MIKE That would be me I guess.
DAVID You’re not suited to that role.
MIKE It’s my life.
DAVID I know.
MIKE And I’m not really here to talk about me.
DAVID No, you’re not. You’re far too nice a bloke for that. I know a person you need to speak to. Wonderful manager, producer, friend, guru. I’ve worked with her a lot. Plenty of juice in the tank, few small issues, but well worth overlooking them, if you want results.
DAVID For a period of, say, two years, as you relocate, I would like to offer to pay her salary, through you, in order to help you advance your career.
MIKE But --
DAVID This is a business deal. In return for this consideration I’ll expect a two percent cut of your net personal income over those two years up to the value of money invested plus a premium of seven and a half percent per annum compounding. If you do well, we both do well. If you don’t, then I guess I’ve made another bad business decision, like the time I invested in grass skiing. You ever skied on grass, Mike?
DAVID Neither has anyone else. Nor should they. It’s not the same. It’s a silly, silly compromise. But I’ve done a few silly things in my life. Always with good intentions, but you can’t bank those. Now. I have to go back to work. Training up a new producer. Last thing I want to be doing at this stage of my life. Truth is I want to retire. Anyway. Do you mind picking up the bill?
They haven’t ordered anything.
DAVID Think about my offer overnight, accept it, and send me through your account details. I’ll draw up the contract and email it through. Oh and Mike --
DAVID Don’t let Janet know I have anything to do with this. Jesus. What am I worried about? You’re a great actor, you’ll sell it like…
David clicks his finger, and leaves.
INT. DAVID’S HOUSE.
David sits with Tia, holding her camera, and flicking through a series of photos taken with a long range lens from outside Sophie’s house of Sophie and TAMA within, hugging and sharing a kiss. Clothed, but unmistakably tender and romantic.
TIA It’s all backed up on a hard drive, and in the cloud, in case you were thinking of deleting them.
DAVID You’ve thought of everything, haven’t you.
TIA I never went to law school, but am I right to think that it’s illegal to be romantically involved with your client? Not to mention, he’s a murderer. Allegedly. Probably. Let’s be honest. He totally did it.
TIA Did you know he pointed a gun in my face? Anyway. This puts me in the middle of a mental shit storm. Cos she’s my best friend, and I’m the one who discovered him, and that’s why everyone started going out there to see him and that’s why the girl got killed, and I’m like --
DAVID How much?
TIA -- how much worse can this whole thing get before it gets better, right?
DAVID How much do you want to shut up, and back off and go overseas and stay gone?
TIA That’s... I don’t even, wow. How do you put a price on that kind of a --
DAVID Full and final. Final. Means no more.
TIA Are you --
DAVID Last time I paid you to shut up. I didn’t think you’d hang around. That was a mistake.
TIA The mistake you made was to fuck a fourteen-year-old girl.
DAVID You destroyed me.
TIA David. That is unfair.
DAVID My wife died because of you.
TIA I didn’t tell your wife. You did.
DAVID My daughter hates me.
TIA Not cos of me. She doesn’t know about me.
DAVID If you think none of that has anything to do with you, then you are delusional. What am I saying? It’s a fact. You’re delusional.
TIA Everyone is responsible for their own actions.
DAVID Yes, they are.
TIA I was fourteen.
DAVID Tia. You came to me, my room, in the middle of the night, when you knew my wife was away. Unbidden.
TIA You know how you looked at me.
DAVID I didn’t ask for it.
TIA You didn’t take much convincing.
DAVID I was not in control of my senses.
TIA I was fourteen. And you were a married man. It was your job to be the responsible one.
DAVID You were paid. Full and final.
TIA That was then. For that. This is different.
DAVID You hang around, you get closer to my daughter? You help her through her mother’s death?
TIA David, this is now, why are we dredging up the past?
DAVID Why don’t you go to Sophie with this? Extort her.
TIA Sophie is my friend. And you’re the one who bails her out when she’s in trouble.
DAVID You’re a virus.
TIA It’s the least you can do. After what you did. If it wasn’t for you my life would be very different.
DAVID If it wasn’t for me, I truly believe you would have found someone else’s dad.
TIA What makes you think I didn’t?
DAVID How much?
Tia writes a figure on a piece of paper and slides it across to him. He resents the theatre of it, but glances at it.
DAVID You’re kidding.
TIA I think it’s very reasonable.
DAVID You’re delusional.
TIA They report your salary in the paper every year.
DAVID That’s pre-tax, pre everything.
TIA I know you’re good with money.
DAVID It’s been so long since you last blackmailed me, I can’t remember. Do you take instalments?
TIA One-off. In full. Upon receipt I leave the country. I never come back.
DAVID Could you say that last bit again?
TIA I. Never. Come. Back.
DAVID I just love the sound of that. It’s music to my ears.
INT. JANET’S HOME.
Janet has a laptop-based livestream setup.
JANET I’m thinking of relocating to LA. Thoughts? Questions?
The comments start streaming in.
COMMENT LA home of TV why not?
COMMENT 2 OMG watch out [famous Hollywood opinionista].
COMMENT 3 Come work out of my coworking space #ColoftSanta Mon.
COMMENT 4 Don’t go will miss you in AK!!!!
COMMENT 5 What will [Popular VPN] do now you don’t have to pretend to be in US to watch shows? They’ll have no customers [ROLF emoji]
INT. MIA’S APARTMENT.
Tia sits cross-legged in the dark watching True Justice on demand on her laptop. Her screen is projected. A bottle of vodka is sitting by her side. She takes the occasional swig.
MIKE For four years I have stood before you in good faith, and conducted myself with honesty and integrity. And all that time you sat on your throne and pretended to care, while underneath it all, the verdict was a fait accompli. I’ve been scratching my head trying to think what it was that was stopping us achieving True Justice in this court. And all along it was you.
The sound of a gunshot. Mike looks down. A bloodstain appears on his white shirt.
MIKE Objection your honour.
The reverse angle shot. The Judge (played by Sophie) sits behind the bar holding a smoking pistol. Mike slumps to the ground.
JUDGE Objection overruled.
Police rush to tackle the judge.
Tia shakes her head. She changes the tab to stuff.co.nz where the headline article is Breaking News: Thoreau Not Guilty. She clicks on the accompanying video. It loads. A doorbell. Mia stands.
DAVID (V/O) So this is it. Today is my last broadcast. Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of my life. If there’s one message that I hope has got through after all this time, it’s this. Individual rights means individual responsibility.
David enters, wearing a cheap black tracksuit, cheap new sneakers and holding a small sports bag.
He faces a tipsy Tia, who grabs at the bag. He gives it to her. She plops down cross-legged to open it on the floor.
DAVID (V/O) I believe it’s up to each of us to make an honest assessment of who we are, and what we’ve got to offer.
The video plays. A beaming Sophie and relieved TAMA stand before a nest of microphones. Sophie talks animatedly. We don’t hear what she’s saying. David looks at the laptop screen.
Tia unzips the bag. Her eyes open wide, and she starts to remove bricks of cash.
DAVID (V/O) And then once we’ve figured it out, we should go for it. By ourselves. And never look back.
Tia reaches back for another brick, and pulls out a noose. Standing behind her, David produces a rubber ball from his pocket out stuffs it in her open mouth.
DAVID (V/O) If everyone in this world got off their chuffs, and acted in their own self interest --
He takes the noose, slips it around Mia’s neck, and squats over her neck as he uses his weight to throttle her.
DAVID (V/O) For the benefit of themselves and whatever it is they care about, I know the whole world would be a much better place.
Tia struggles, but she’s too drunk and incapacitated to do so effectively. She soon passes out. David drags her out of sight, into another room.
On the video Sophie finishes taking questions, and leads Tama away.
DAVID (V/O) Today, after thirty-four years on the air, I’m signing off. It’s my voice that you hear every day, but this show wouldn’t be possible without the many, many people, that allow me to have my say. There’s too many to mention them all by name, but I have to make special mention of one in particular. Janet.
David returns to the stage. He works quickly, covering his hand with his sleeve and using it to close the laptop, so as not to leave fingerprints. He places the ball in the bag, scoops out the bundles of money and stuffs them in his underpants.
DAVID (V/O) My producer Janet Small has been with me for thirty-two of my thirty-five years on air. Now, as I fade into the sunset, the dawn’s rising on her new career. She’s off to the states to become a new media star in some field I don’t even pretend to understand. But it’s big, and I’m proud of her.
David picks up the bag, and walks it to another part of the stage. He takes a black plastic garbage bag from his pocket.
DAVID (V/O) Janet. You made me the broadcaster, and the man I am today. I wish you all the best on this exciting new chapter of your life. To my daughter Sophie, and my late wife Rachel, I love you girls so much. I never stop thinking of you.
David takes off his tracksuit, shoes and socks and stuffs them into the garbage bag until he’s down to a singlet and his underpants. He puts the sports bag into the garbage bag, ties it up, and tosses it away.
DAVID So that’s me, David Oldman, done, finished, over and out. From now on, if you want me to listen to what you’ve got to say, you’ll have to buy me a drink. All Talk’s not going anywhere though, so keep ringing in, keep up the chatter and remember: It’s your right to have your say.
He’s about to walk away, when Sophie comes onto stage. David stands facing her in his singlet and underwear, which bulges with money.
SOPHIE Dad. Dad. It’s me. I’m sorry to do this like this, but you aren’t picking up your phone and I need to... I’ve got some bad news, and I want you to hear it from me first, if you haven’t already. Dad. Tia is dead. She was found in her apartment this morning and she appears to have... She hanged herself. She was drunk and for some reason decided to... And I know you never particularly approved of her, or our friendship, but she was my best friend for a long time, and we were very close. And we did a lot of the same things, and now she’s dead and I’m not. And I think what it comes down to is that she didn’t have someone like you to look out for her. Because she made some really bad choices but so did I, and when everything went really badly for me, at those crucial moments of my life, you found a way to put everything right. And I’m sorry that it’s taken this long for me to acknowledge that. I’ll never think you’re perfect. And I’m always going to bear a lot of resentment towards you, for the way you treated mum. I know you say I don’t know all the details, but what I know is that I can’t forgive that. I can’t let that go. I guess we never fully know all the reasons why people do the things they do. But I know that you protected me. In amongst all the bad stuff you protected me, and you helped make me who I am today. So, I’m grateful for that. Thank you. Yeah. And I’ve got more news. More big news, but the most important thing to say now is that I lo-
VOICE (V/O) Mailbox full.
DAVID Open voicemail.
VOICE (V.O) You have one new voice message. To listen to your message press one.
SOPHIE Dad. Dad. It’s me.
INT. LOS ANGELES CAFE.
Mike sits sipping a smoothie. Janet enters in a flurry, with a big paper diary.
JANET Sorry I’m late, Uber always sends me fascinating drivers.
MIKE That’s OK. I just got here myself.
JANET Right. Big day. So, Bill’s going to be here in ten and he’s going to want an answer. He won’t be able to guide you, because he’s a good manager, but you’re taking him beyond the edge of his experience. So, this is what we have to decide. I think you need to go with Jimmy at [Big Agency].
MIKE I liked him a lot, yeah, but [Bigger Agency] is [Bigger Agency].
JANET Verve has [Big star], and you. You like them and they will push you. To my mind, this is the test, there’s a new [Big TV show franchise/creator] series being cast. You know [Big name]?
MIKE [Wrong show]?
JANET No. Sweetheart.[Big Show], [Big Show] and [Biggest Show]. I say if Verve can get you in front of the casting director, that’s the deal, right there.
MIKE Nice. Cool.
JANET You look a little under the weather. Are you under the weather?
MIKE Tired. I was at a party last night with some of the other kiwis.
JANET Tell me who was there.
Janet pulls out pen.
MIKE Umm. [Kiwi actor in Hollywood]
Mike begins to list kiwi actors in Hollywood. Janet takes notes.
EXT. DEEP IN THE FOREST.
David, Sophie and Tama are in hiking clothes. Sophie and Tama walk hand-in-hand.
TAMA We’ll leave you to it then.
DAVID Right you are.
TAMA I feel stink about leaving you out here without a gun.
DAVID Don’t worry about it.
TAMA If the pigs start scratching around, best thing to do is make some noise and throw a rock. Don’t let them feel welcome.
DAVID Got it.
David looks at Sophie.
SOPHIE Good luck.
DAVID No such thing as luck. But there is doing someone a favour. Thank you. Both. This is just what I needed.
TAMA No worries. I’m just glad someone’s still got a use for the place.
SOPHIE You can do whatever you like, but you’ve got to email every day. To let us know you’re alright.
DAVID Will do.
SOPHIE Otherwise we’ll worry.
DAVID I won’t have you worried.
Tama reaches into his backpack and pulls out a copy of his book.
TAMA It’s kind of against my principles, but, I’d like to give you a hard copy of my book.
DAVID Hope you’ve signed it.
TAMA Nah. Hard copy just seemed more you. It’s got really specific descriptions and hints and stuff. In case everything goes belly up.
DAVID You sure you’re happy to head back this morning? That was a big hike in yesterday.
Sophie looks awkwardly at Tama.
DAVID Of course you want to go. You’re young, you’re in love.
SOPHIE We’ll be thinking of you, Dad.
DAVID Bugger that. Take care of yourselves. I’m looking forward to this.
SOPHIE See you in a few weeks then?
DAVID Yeah, something like that. Unless I like it. Who knows? Man alone. Looking out for number one. Just as nature intended.
Sophie gives David a hug. Tama shakes his hand. They walk away holding hands, David waves them goodbye. He looks over the audience as if over a magnificent view. He hikes back up to the house and is gone.