A One Act Play

The 10:04 To London—
In Love and War

By G. L. Horton
copyright © 2003 Geralyn Horton

listen to this monologue on podcastMira, 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 is important.

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 of us.

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 understand.

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 murder.

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.



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