Shining Tower scene 1


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Scene 1

guns

Sound of a machine gun fades. Pause. Two Black men sitting before a ragged wall, Malcolm, 25, smoking, and Henry, mid-50s. The muzzles of two multi-barreled anti-aircraft guns intrude slightly into the scene, crumpled Coke cans and cigarette packs strewn around their feet. They take earplugs out of their ears.

Malcolm

(excited, even exhilarated)  It’s that L&M moment!

Henry

Huh?

Malcolm

We stopped them cold.  They never even got close!

Henry

(slow, bored)  They never get close, kid.  No big deal.

Malcolm

Man, you’re such a downer.  You know, you’re lucky I don’t report you.  If I didn’t pity your being such a burnt-out old man.

Henry

Something you’ll never be.

Malcolm

And whyizzat?

Henry

Cuz you’ll never grow old.

Malcolm

Fuck you, gramps.  You know, as a Black man, I find your lack of political consciousness a total embarrassment.  Didn’t they teach you anything back when?

Henry

PC 101, PC 201, PC ten-01, sure.  I know all that shit.  Did a stint as an instructor for you whippersnappers — back when.  Led ’em in the Gunner’s Oath.  (pompously, standing with one finger raised)  This wall is our sacred mission, our holy spirit, our mother and father, the very blood flowing through our veins.  This wall keeps our community righteous.  Without it the white man would reduce us to devil-worshiping infidels.  This wall keeps our community clean.  Without it the white man would ravage our women.  This wall keeps our community alive.  Without it the white man would drown us in a sea of blood.  —  (whispers)  But not you and me, of course.  (normal voice)  By striking down the unclean elements among us who would rupture, fracture, expose and endanger our community, we preserve our community, our heritage, our womankind, our, uh, oh yeah, our culture, our destiny, our culture, wait, I just said that, our unity … all that shit.  (sits back down, leans back in his chair)

Even believed it once.  (tear in his eye)

Malcolm

Till your brain rotted out.  (pause)  Old fool.

Henry

I suppose I am, mud wrestling with punks like you.  But I figure, what with you being fresh out of the academy, I owe you a chance.  One chance.

Malcolm

You owe …

Henry

Whyn’t you just shut the fuck up and listen for a change.  Humor an old fool, if you want to put it that way …

Malcolm

Why should …

Henry

(suddenly on his feet, his hand gripping Malcolm’s jaw and pushing it back, his voice very slow and deadly)  Humor.  An.  Old.  Fool.  For.  Just.  A.  Moment.

Malcolm manages a nod, Henry nods back, sits back down, his voice once again laid back.

.First, tell me how you got here.

Malcolm

I wanted to serve …

Henry

No, no, no!  I mean how did you get here — at this exact spot, at this exact time?

Malcolm

I don’t understand …

Henry

Cuz your looking for some fancy conceptual bullshit and I’m talking mechanics.  I mean, let me make it simple enough even you can understand.  What happened to the man you’re replacing?

Malcolm

They told me he retired.

Henry

I suppose that’s one way to put it.  At age 22.  To be just a bit more specific, last night while I was in the can, he looped a cord around the trigger of that there gun, stood in front of two of the barrels, and gave it a yank.  Fucking mess.  Then the gunners on either side of us heard it, opened fire, the ones next to them panicked, started blasting, and for a few minutes we had a major battle, or so they said on the 10 o’clock news.  They had one hell of a time getting everyone to stop.  Things’d quiet down for half a minute, then one jittery asshole would think he saw something, and the whole line would start up all over again.  For you, though, instant job.  Doesn’t it fret you that your name tag just says Temp 24?

Malcolm

Hmmm.  But so?

Henry

Then there was the guy before him, he just hung himself, and the guy before him, he … well, I’d hate to worry your dreams, but every partner I’ve had for the last 20 years has done himself in, one way or another.

Malcolm

Aaaah, you’re just raggin’ on me!  Old man.

Henry

Be polite.  Pretend you’re gathering evidence for your report.

Malcolm

Damn right, I’m gathering evidence. I’ll …

Henry

My favorite was this guy, about four years ago.  Look at that building a little to our right, the real big one.  Kind of standing alone in the rubble, about a hundred yards off.  The one they used to call the Empire State Building.  Before the world went dark, it was a favorite place for people to end their earthly travails, they’d jump right off the observation deck.  Sometimes they’d land on people on the street, kill them too, company in hell, I guess.  So they put up this wire mesh to catch the bodies.  But you can’t see that anymore, they took the mesh down for scrap.  Anyway, this guy, actually, his name was Malcolm, too, see, I remember the names, not just the numbers, this guy Malcolm, he disappears one day, and he’s replaced, of course, can’t be short-handed in a hot sector like this, you know, but this guy disappears, and a half day later, I’m real lucky, cuz I just happened to be looking up at the time, I’m looking up and I see this guy, a little speck up on top, and he takes a big leap and does this perfect swan dive, all the way down, kersplat.  Damnedest thing I ever saw.  Turns out it was the greatest inspiration of my entire life.

Malcolm

Oh yeah?

Henry

Yeah.  I suppose I’m not being as clear as I might.  Too kleptic.  No, cryptic.  That’s it, cryptic.  Let me start over.  That bunch of crazy niggers we just shot down, them ugly, crazy, traitorous, starving niggers swarming out of the ruins, and a’lusting for our women, what did you see?

Malcolm

A mortal threat to everything we stand for.

Henry

See see see see see!  Like with your goddamn eyes!

Malcolm

Apostates!

Henry

You could see treason rising from their auras?  See see see see see!

Malcolm

People …

Henry

(rises to his feet)  And that’s why you’re so royally fucked!

Malcolm

So what do you see?

Henry

I see nothing.  Nothing at all!

Malcolm

How …

Henry

Seeing is a funny thing. I used to see people out there, just like you.  When things get real bad, them charging niggers sometimes get kind of close.  Then you watch their heads blow up when the explosive shells hit, and their bodies catch fire as the incendiaries light, and the armor-piercing ones that drop a whole pile with one bullet, so you start to see that, and frankly most of us can’t take it very long.  Whatever you call them.  The Gunner’s Oath just isn’t enough.

Malcolm

So how do you take it, if you’re so damn clever?

Henry

Simple.  I don’t see it.

Malcolm

But you just said …

Henry

Like I said, seeing is a funny thing.  I finally learned to aim and pull the trigger, and see nothing.  I sort of see the smoke, I guess, I hear nothing through my earplugs, the vibration of the guns becomes the rhythm of my heart.  The stench of cordite is sharper than the smell of ripped-open bodies.  I see a paycheck and I see the end of another day.  And I’d wake up screaming in the middle of the night and have to pop a few more tranqs.  But then I got inspired, see, and I got me this hobby …

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