A One Act Play
The 10:04 To London
In Love and War
By G. L. Horton
copyright © 2003
Mira, a fashionably dressed beautiful woman no longer young,
sits down at a table in the cafe carriage of the mid-morning train
from Brighton to London.
May I join you? ... Thank you. I'm Mira. You don't know me, but
I am a friend of Jeanine's. I brought us cappuccino and biscuits
-- is that all right? ... I've often seen you, at the Pavilion
Cafe. You bring out that notebook and write in it while you nurse
your cappuccino. But I never would have spoken to you if I hadn't
seen you talking to Jeanine. Sweet Jeanine, such a friendly person.
Not very bright, but then in a way that's good. She isn't the
type to have a scheme in mind, is she? Jeanine told me that you
are writing a script for a film. ... No? But you have done? You
know how? .... Maybe you aren't the one I am meant to find, but
I think at least it's safe to talk. You have an honest face. Intelligent,
but honest. So I decide to take a chance. This train is an excellent
place to talk, yes? No one in this half of the carriage at all,
and while we can see people coming and going, we can't easily
be seen. I can tell you my story without fear of being overheard,
and you will tell me whether you think you can turn it into a
film. No, don't talk, please. Don't ask questions. Just listen
to me straight through-- I promise I won't waste your time. This
You hear this all the time, I suppose. Everyone everyone thinks
their life should be a movie. All boring! But my story's not like
that-- it has a plot, because it's about a plot-- by a villain
bigger than life, who is representative of hidden evils that effect
everyone. And the heroine-- me-- is also big, yet in a way, representative.
The threats against me are always at hand, waiting for the mastermind
without scruples to use them. This is how we exist, this is what
lies beneath our veneer of civilization. So you see, I must be
very careful. If certain people were to find out that my story
was about to become public, my life would be in great danger.
But once my story is out, and everybody knows, I think I'll be
safe again. That's if I make a million dollars and my picture
is in all the papers. Like Erin Brokovitch. She had dangerous
enemies, but who would dare to hurt her, once she has been played
by Julia Roberts? Everybody loves Julia Roberts-- and she could
play me, Julia could. She wouldn't have to do so much character
work, or look cheap and vulgar, either. I was born with a sense
of style. I knew all about high fashion before I could spell it!
Certainly long before I could afford to buy myself any. First
I made my own. But I am getting ahead. My family is what you'd
call cosmopolitan. No money, usually, but if once in a while they
get any, they know how to spend it. My father was a citizen, with
a British passport, but his family is international traders. From
peddlers to shipping magnates. He told me that his grandfather
imported goods from all over the world, and met and married his
wife in Singapore. Great Grandfather lost all his money in the
Great Crash of 29, and after that he tried one scheme after another.
My father worked for him from an early age, never living in any
place long enough to go to school, but he spoke 8 languages and
he taught me 4 of them. I learned 3 more on my own, and I'm determined
to learn at least 2 more before I'm finished-- my father would
want me to.
My mother was Greek, a poor relation of one of those big shipping
families, but beautiful, not like the rich girls. Sometimes my
father did well, and we had luxuries: sometimes he failed and
we had nothing. As long as he was alive, though, I was sure that
I was going to be someone special, someone big. I was his princess,
his rising star. I would be creative. I would dance or paint,
or design, or make films. I would travel the world. But my father
died at a low point, when I was 14, and my mother being hopeless
about business I had to leave school and work to support the two
At first I was in a little shop, an ordinary shop that taught
me nothing but the basics-- which thanks to my father I already
knew. But I was striking in appearance, and I liked to be around
artists. Soon I was modeling for painters and photographers and
doing little designs of my own. I had no trouble selling them.
People would buy them off my back.
At every step I felt my father was watching over me, guiding
me to the people and experiences I needed to be able to stretch
my wings and become the person I had it in me to be. That's what
I did: so simple, so hard. Whatever I wore, or showed, people
wanted one like it. Soon I was hooked up to the world of fashion,
designing my own line and traveling to exotic places where I was
discovering furnishings and objects and accessories-- things that
people who liked me and liked my designs would like, too. I was
invited everywhere---people thought of me as someone exciting
to be around. I was a jet set pet-- that was the jet set era.
I didn't think of myself as particularly English, then. I know
I don't sound particularly English. You may think that that was
from my mother-- she never became fluent: she preferred to speak
Greek, or almost anything but English. But in fact it was my father.
He understood that the English all sound English in a particular
way: a way that ties them to a particular location and marks them
as of a particular class. Other Englishmen ÒplaceÓ them, and even
if they don't do this consciously, they are uncomfortable when
anyone seems to be out of place. Actors learn to break out of
this, and my father did, too. To do business, to deal with all
nationalities and classes, he had to make himself acceptable wherever
he went. He passed that chameleon quality on to me. Like Eliza
Doolittle, I can sound like a Cockney guttersnipe or a Hungarian
princess-- and a whole lot more, besides. When I speak the English
think I am perhaps Canadian, the Canadians think I may be Australian,
or perhaps from somewhere in the Northern US. Americans of course
don't think much about such things. They are impressed by English
accents generally, and if one's grammar is good they will assume
that one is at least upper middle class. Use English slang, Americans
figure you for an artist-- like John Lennon. (laughs) Ah! You
I think you might be the perfect one to tell my story, because
you will also understand how what happened to me is such an English
thing. I don't think Americans are susceptible. On the other had,
someone purely English can never really understand what I mean
when I say I was a citizen of the world, on top of the world.
I had a perfect life, a fairy tale life. I was young, I was beautiful,
and I had a dream job-- in fashion, with clients all over the
world. A house on the beach in Hawaii, a house in France. I could
follow the sun, cover my self with sun lotion and lie on the beach,
or head to my one of my friends' places in Switzerland to ski.
I had many friends, beautiful people and rich ones. And boyfriends:
everything I thought I wanted. And then I fell in love. I've never
been in love with a person-- don't look shocked-- you know, some
people just aren't made that way. Lovers are lovely, but for me
one will do as well as another. I've never been obsessed with
any of them in the storybook way, the way that takes one's life
away and makes one over. But I fell in love with a piece of property.
I fell in love with a view.
My old friend phoned me up and urged me to come and see this
wonderful space he'd found, in a derelict building. He offered
me my dream life, all the magic potential, on top of it. A penthouse,
with 360 degrees of panorama, all the ocean the eye could take
in, stretching away and away. On the other side the old town,
Brighton looking as it must have looked to the Prince Regent when
he decided to build himself a palace there. As soon as I stood
in that space, I knew I had to have it: make it mine and keep
it forever. This is so English! This, my tragic flaw, my downfall.
Oh, I know old Europeans who kill themselves trying to keep the
family estate that goes with their ancient name, and there are
tribal people who just lie down and die if they are separated
from their ancestral lands. But to come upon a place in mid-life,
and feel as if it had been waiting just for one person from the
beginning of time, that it is my personal destiny-- this is the
reason I went past reason and past pleasure; went from smiling
on the beach to shivering in a urine soaked hallway and then into
the dock, criminally charged.
I fell in love with this space, this flat at the top of an historic
building that was on the brink of collapse but had great potential.
I bought the penthouse leasehold, and began to restore my penthouse
and then the whole building to its former glory. But the land
on which the building stood was owned by this vile subhuman murderer
of a landlord, a master criminal who tried to take my lease away
and force me out. I dug in and fought him with all the intelligence
and cunning and money I had. Which was a great deal, but scarcely
enough to defeat a man who had even greater resources along with
absolutely no compunction, no scruples whatever. He had clever
well-connected friends in the law to lie for him. He had simple
ignorant people to bully or bribe. And most of all he had thugs,
the lowest meanest burglars and assassins, to do whatever he wanted
them to do to get him his way. You probably know all about that--
it all came out at the trial. If you were in Brighton at the time?
Or know people who were? You must have heard at least some of
it. I think it was the biggest story that happened around Brighton
in the last hundred years.
All I wanted was to keep what I had, to live in the penthouse
I'd bought and made beautiful! Which at this time was already
worth ten times what I'd paid for it, and would be worth a hundred
times that if the whole building had been done over as I had worked
it out for all of us living there to do together. Then I got this
piece of paper, this insulting piece of paper from the landlord
offering me 14 thousand for my beautiful flat!
But I'm getting ahead. I couldn't let that criminal get away
with it. If I had to give up my other places, my south of France
and my beach house, and stand and fight for this one place, that's
what I was going to do. I knocked on doors, I did the research,
I explained to all the rest of the tenants what our rights were.
How if we stuck together every one of us could end up with either
a beautiful apartment in the most desirable location and the most
elegant building ever designed. Or the others who didn't care
about that could sell out for enough money to live well where
ever they wanted to live. No settling for 10 or 12 or 14 thousand
and letting the landlord get rich from us. They all saw what their
lives could be, how we could all gain, and they trusted me and
we banded together and refused to give in. Democracy in action.
So the master thug turned off the heat, and the water. He encouraged
the hoodlums to spray paint the walls and urinate in the halls.
He arranged for dope deals and muggings and lawyers coming round
to tell people who owned flats that the building was condemned
and they had no right to be living there any more. Well, it couldn't
be condemned! Not without breaking the law, because it was an
historic building, an architectural gem, and the government is
obliged to take care of it and to keep it alive. But you can't
image the back room connections--- can you believe? My lawyer
became his lawyer! Behind my back working for this thug, to throw
me out. Telling lies, filing charges. That was the worst of it.
The very worst moment of all may have been when this person,
this trusted respectable lawyer who had written my proposal for
co-oping the property and had heard all the horrendous details
of my harassment, got on the stand as a character witness for
his old school friend the criminal millionaire murderer. How the
murderer was a nice man, a good man, in all the years he had known
him and been his friend-- had never done any thing that was bad
or illegal. But the lawyer knew! He had to know! He helped him--
if not to do the crimes, then at least to cover them up.
In this country, they are connected, all of them. The lawyers
and those who employ them or recommend them to the big money consults:
they are like a feudal class. They have one set of rules for themselves
and another for the people. I suppose it it the same everywhere--
but in the third world you expect it, you are prepared. But when
you discover that this is the famous English justice and rule
of law! They make the rules, to seem on the surface as if they
are fair. But they know the loopholes ahead of time. They count
on them to get away with all that they get away with, including
I can't say his name. Of course you know his name and face, from
the publicity. If you don't know it you can find it out easily
enough-- a half hour in the library would tell you all you need
to know. I don't avoid saying it to keep it secret-- it's worse
than that. It's as if he is a demon, and saying his name will
summon him up from hell. When we make the film, we must use a
false name. Everyone who needs to know will understand. They will
know who he really is and who I really am. But we won't have put
the true names out there, we won't court bad luck. His very name
is bad luck.
The only reason the landlord didn't get away with shooting the
tenant who was a hold out along with me was because he shot him
in front of his son. The thug's son turned out not to be what
they all thought he was. His son broke the code and told the truth.
All that expensive Old School education: cold blooded murder shocked
him! None of them expected that-- they expected the young man
to lie like all the rest of the murderer's empire of subordinates.
That's the job. The function. You exist to say what the boss wants
said, and the truth can go hang.
So he's in prison. I should be safe. He is proven guilty by law
and it should be all right for me to tell the truth and name names.
After all, the names are on the record. But the mastermind is
still in charge of his empire, he's still running it, from prison.
He can still get me. I'm still looking over my shoulder. Even
though I won, the game goes on-- that was just a battle. I don't
generally approve of the death penalty, but for a man like that?
Prison doesn't stop him: all the evil, all the power, is still
in his hands. He has other people to set fires and commit burglaries
and shoot guns for him. I know that I will never sleep peacefully
in what's mine-- the place that's meant to be mine and the only
place my heart is content to live-- until that man is dead.
Last month I was asleep in my bedroom when I was woken up by
this awful crash, the violent sound of breaking glass. It was
terrible: a violent and shocking sound-- not as if a stone or
the wind broke a window, but like something, or someone, was punching
through. I ran into my lounge, and there was glass all on the
floor and the furniture smashed in with violence-- my home was
violated. And then I saw him! There was a man on the balcony,
outside my window, on the 12th floor. He was breaking in. I ran
to the telephone and called the police. I rang and rang before
I get through and then I say Òcome quickly, help me, there's a
man breaking into my apartmentÓ and she says to me Ò I'm sorry
madam, all the officers are busy, you'll have to waitÓ. And I'm
hysterical, I shriek: ÒBut he's here now, he's coming in!Ó And
she says, ÒCall back when he gets in, possibly by then--Ó...!
And I slam down the phone and dash down the stairs to my neighbor,
I pound on her door till she wakes and lets me in. She says ÒStay
here, I have locks and bars on my windowsÓ. Then I calm down enough
to remember that I too have bars on my windows. He will have to
work very hard with heavy tools to get in, this burglar. Or worse
than burglar, this hit man sent from my thug of a landlord to
kill me as an example to frighten all the tenants out of the building
so he can demolish it and build his hotel on its grave.
The next morning the police come, not totally about my break
in but because there is a dead body lying in the alley below my
balcony. The hit man must have been drugged out of his mind. He
tried to jump from my lounge balcony to the balcony next to it
and slipped and fell. This would be a good scene for the film--
an ending, don't you think? ... Of course it isn't an ending in
real life, but we could make it seem as if it was. Show him stalking
me early on, plant mysterious glimpses at him in the background.
Make the hit man seem important and his death a relief from fear.
A professional killer. Though he was probably just some poor desperate
addict doing the landlord's bidding so as not to lose his drug
supply. Also, we could play up one of my sexy boyfriends as the
male love interest-- no harm done, my current boyfriend won't
be jealous, and my penthouse doesn't care either-- she knows how
great a grip she has on my heart. Anyway, the film could show
my boyfriend rushing to save me when the police won't come, and
frightening the burglar so we think he is running away, and in
the morning we see the body and the love interest embraces me
and says I don't have to be afraid any more! Though of course
I do. As long as my landlord is alive and richer and stronger
and better connected than I am.
But you must see-- that's how the film could free me! Make me
a million dollar celebrity, somebody who has been played by Julia
Roberts. Somebody that no one would dare to kill. .... Yes, but
something says to me that you are the one to write this film.
Part of my destiny. .... No, don't answer now. I don't want a
snap judgment, even in my favor. I'm going to get off at the next
stop. While you are in London, you can think about it. When you
return, I'll call you, and we can meet at a safe place, where
we'll be able to talk.