A short play
GLORIA PENNINGTON is 85 years old, healthy and pleasant, well-dressed in an unremarkable style. She speaks respectable standard English freshened occasionally by a lick of gum-chewing slang from her younger days.
OFFICER JAMES PRATT is 30 or so, a policeman in uniform, clean-cut, capable, and pleasantly respectful.
WILLIAM BARRETT is 19 or 20, cocky, tough, and intelligent, dressed in clean jeans and T-shirt with no emblems or lettering.
SETTING: The not very large front room of a house. The furniture is out of date but tasteful and in good condition. Shelves and glass-front cases display collections of tasteful art treasures, not knickknacks. Original paintings crowd the available wall space. (For simplicity of production, these treasures may be suggested to the audience’s imagination through the dialog and action as the characters admire them.)
The front entry is stage right. Downstage center is a nice wooden table with two chairs opposing, or almost opposing, set toward the ends of the upstage side. On the table is a plate full of home-made ginger-snap cookies. Upstage center is a window that will soon admit a bright shaft of daylight but now is curtained or shaded. Even so, the scene is pleasantly lit by other windows and lamps and is not gloomy.
In the wall at stage left is a large fireplace with a mantel prominently displaying several ornate hand-painted ceramic plates. (Again, the mantel and plates may be suggested to imagination by the dialog.) Farther left of the fireplace is a door, presumably to the kitchen. A plush reading chair and lamp complete the room.
The lights come up on GLORIA reading at the plush chair with the lamp on despite the diffuse daylight of the windows. The doorbell rings. She places her bookmark, closes the book and sets it aside, turns off the reading light, rises and opens the door.
PRATT: Hi, Miss Pennington. We’re a little early.
GLORIA: Come in!
PRATT: Then if you’re ready, I’ll go back to the car and get Mr. Barrett.
GLORIA: Yes, you do that.
(PRATT disappears from the doorway. GLORIA turns gracefully away from the door and regards the upstage window. She walks to it and ties back the curtains (or raises a blind) to admit a shaft of clear sunlight. The room brightens. She returns to the doorway. A few seconds later, PRATT reappears.)
Come in, come in.
PRATT: (Enters, followed by BILLY in handcuffs.) This is William Barrett. —Mr. Barrett, Miss Gloria Pennington. —We have about an hour till we have to get him back.
GLORIA: Oh, that’s fine. We’ll just get acquainted.
(A long pause as she smiles at BILLY.)
Come on in, young man. May I call you Billy?
GLORIA: Yes, you’re William, right?
BILLY: So you want to change it to Billy?
GLORIA: I have a great-nephew named William, and we call him Billy.
BILLY: And I remind you of this great-nephew?
GLORIA: (Pleasantly.) Not much. But I’m gonna call you Billy anyway. Officer Pratt, we won’t need you for a while. We just want to talk a little. Can you take off his handcuffs?
PRATT: I think so.
(Removes handcuffs and stows them. Begins to shut the door.)
GLORIA: If you don’t mind, Scooter, just wait outside. I’ll be fine.
PRATT: All righty.
BILLY: (Amused.) Scooter?
GLORIA: Oh, I’ve known Officer Pratt since I babysat him, so I can call him Scooter. Of course, it wouldn’t work for you to call him that. —Sorry, Officer Pratt.
PRATT: That’s okay, Miss Pennington. That nickname don’t hurt. Lot of good memories.
BILLY: So it’s okay to call you Scooter?
PRATT: Why don’t you try it?
BILLY: Hey, Scooter.
PRATT: (Pleasantly.) Hey, Billy. —I guess outside will be fine. I can have a smoke.
GLORIA: Oh, Jim. Well, I’ll call you if we need you. When we’re out of time, just come on in.
PRATT: Will do.
(Exits, closing the door.)
BILLY: Thanks, it’s nice to get those off. I’m surprised he trusts me that much.
GLORIA: Trust? Oh, I doubt that. This house is wired like Fort Knox. Officer Pratt’s outside, and there’s always a patrol car within a half mile. You wouldn’t make it across the alley.
(She goes to the table.)
Cookies? I made them this morning.
BILLY: (Crosses upstage of GLORIA and takes three cookies from the tray, starts eating one while looking around the room.)
You seem to have a lot of pull with the cops.
GLORIA: I guess you could put it that way. They sure keep a close eye on me.
(She takes one of the cookies from his hand and takes a bite of it as she picks up the tray and disappears with it through the door at stage left. She returns immediately without the tray, still eating the cookie.)
Take a seat, Billy.
(Indicates the stage-right chair at the table. She sits in the stage-left chair.)
BILLY: (Remains standing. Walks a little upstage, behind her.)
GLORIA: (Not turning, contemplatively eating her cookie. With mock surprise.)
You’ve been here before. —Oh, I guess the light’s a little better this time.
BILLY: These paintings look pretty valuable.
GLORIA: I imagine they’re worth a good five or ten years. Did you see those hand-painted plates on the mantel?
BILLY: (Crosses to the fireplace.) Pretty nice. Family treasures?
GLORIA: One of them. The rest I collected. I collect a lotta art. Those are my special favorites. People have offered me fifteen thousand apiece for them, but I’m not selling.
BILLY: You must be rich.
GLORIA: No, just a good collector.
BILLY: You have to be rich to collect stuff like this.
GLORIA: No, you just have to know what it’s worth. I take the time to study things and learn their value. Knowledge is power. A lot of times, people don’t know what they got. They have this precious, beautiful piece of work, but to them it’s just a knick-knack and sometimes they just throw it away. “Make me an offer.” You wave twenty dollars and they grab it. I didn’t give over a hundred dollars for any of those plates. One of them I got for five.
BILLY: (Crosses back stage right of her.) Why are you telling me this shit?
GLORIA: (Calmly.) Nothing I tell you is shit. Clean up your mouth or I call Scooter and this interview is over.
BILLY: Why are you telling me how much this stuff is worth?
GLORIA: Because it’s interesting. These things are beautiful and I’m proud of them. That’s twice you’ve shown an interest in my stuff, so I’m telling you. Maybe you’ll be a collector someday.
(GLORIA turns her head slightly and gives him a brief smile.)
GLORIA: But I guess you didn’t have much of a chance to look around the first time.
BILLY: How did they get here so fast? You couldn’t have called them. You never even knew about it till the next day.
GLORIA: What gives you that idea?
BILLY: The cop who cuffed me said “Shut up or you’ll wake up the house.” None of the lights came on. They just dragged me back out through the window before I got halfway in.
BILLY: WHAT’S SO F—
(GLORIA raises a warning finger.)
What’s so funny?
GLORIA: It’s a funny picture. I bet you looked pretty stupid.
BILLY: It’s like they followed me here.
GLORIA: No, they watch this place pretty carefully. You just picked the wrong house to break into, that’s all. They’ve been staking me out. If I walk out of that door, an alarm goes off somewhere and a squad car shows up.
GLORIA: I’m afraid I have a few skeletons in the closet.
BILLY: You? You call cops by their baby names.
GLORIA: Well, that’s just Jimmy.
BILLY: What are they watching you for?
GLORIA: (Pause.) Let’s talk about your own brush with the law.
BILLY: I’m not sure I have to talk to you. Why did they bring me here?
GLORIA: I asked them to.
BILLY: I’ve never heard of this. I doubt if it’s even legal.
GLORIA: What, you’re afraid we’re going to disappear you or something? Don’t worry, pretty soon Officer Pratt will take you back to your clean, safe cell. Meantime, we’ve got less than thirty minutes, so let’s get started.
BILLY: Why should I want to talk to you?
GLORIA: I think legally they’re calling it “restitution.” Or “community service” or something. They called it something. Ask your lawyer.
BILLY: (Pauses.) Why isn’t she here?
GLORIA: We don’t need her. We’re just going to talk.
BILLY: I shouldn’t meet you without my lawyer here. —I want my lawyer.
GLORIA: We talked to her. She knows, and she agreed.
BILLY: She agreed?
GLORIA: Let me put it this way, Billy: No lawyers. No cops. This is voluntary. It can’t make your situation any worse than it already is. You talk to me for a while, or else you just go straight to prison. Take your pick.
BILLY: (Carefully.) Why?
GLORIA: Because I am interested. I have a stake in you.
BILLY: I’m not a f— I’m not a racehorse.
GLORIA: You’re sure not the fastest thing around.
(Points to the chair. BILLY sits.)
I’m trying to decide if you’re worth betting on.
BILLY: Why didn’t you come to the courthouse? Isn’t that where they do this stuff?
GLORIA: Usually. But I asked them really nice and they agreed to bring you here. I don’t go to the courthouse much.
BILLY: Why did you want to see me?
GLORIA: Don’t kid yourself. I would be just as happy if I never had to look at you. I didn’t even go to your trial, you know. I’ve had enough trials to last me a lifetime.
BILLY: And that’s why you don’t like courthouses.
GLORIA: (Testily.) That’s why I don’t like courthouses. —This wasn’t my idea, it was Judge Belford’s. He wanted me to try to help you. I only agreed if he let me pick the place.
BILLY: He thought you could help me? Bullshit.
(GLORIA gives him a warning glance.)
Is this some kind of victim’s rights thing? You get to watch me squirm and say “I told you so”?
GLORIA: No, it’s not about that – relationship. (Carefully.) Purely by coincidence, I have some special experience with the world of crime.
BILLY: So you said.
GLORIA: Yes. I have a past. You don’t get as old as me without having some kind of a past. (She gestures outdoors. Wearily:) And the past follows you for a long, long time.
BILLY: Why would you want to bring me into your house?
GLORIA: To the crime scene? Because this is my turf. I used to feel safe here. I want my sense of safety back. You busted into my house, spread broken glass all over the floor. I don’t feel safe anymore. I wanted to meet you here under my own conditions this time. I don’t feel safe in my own home, and I want to know what you’re gonna do about it.
BILLY: What am I supposed to do?
GLORIA: I don’t know. You tell me.
BILLY: Restitution? Like mow your lawn, paint your house? —What’s so funny?
GLORIA: For breaking and entering, attempted burglary? You’ve got to be kidding. You think I could relax with you hanging around my house? You think I’d enjoy your company?
BILLY: When I get work, I can get some money together and pay you back for the window.
GLORIA: How are you going to pay off the rest of it?
BILLY: There was just the window. If anything else was broken, it was the cops, trying to make it worse for me.
GLORIA: The cops didn’t destroy my sense of security in my own home. The cops didn’t smash my faith in the goodness of people.
(BILLY laughs, GLORIA doesn’t.)
I want to live in a town with good people. I don’t want to live in a town with scumbags. I’ve had it to here with scumbags and I’m through with them.
BILLY: You really think there aren’t a thousand other people in this city who would smash your window to steal one of these fifteen-thousand-dollar dishes?
GLORIA: No, I know there’s plenty of scumbags in this town. I’ve known them all my life. I guess I can’t blame you for that. All you did was remind me of that unpleasant fact.
BILLY: There’s more than one kind of scumbag.
GLORIA: What’s that supposed to mean?
BILLY: Don’t you feel guilty, walking off with a fifteen thousand dollar plate for five dollars, and not telling the owner what it’s really worth? What’s the difference between that and robbery?
GLORIA: Probably mutual agreement.
BILLY: That mutual agreement was worth exactly five dollars. You still bagged fourteen thousand, nine hundred ninety-five. I call that robbery. I don’t see much difference.
GLORIA: Maybe I judged you too quickly.
(She gestures toward the upstage window.)
After you bashed in that window, were you planning to come upstairs, wake me up and offer me five dollars for one of those plates?
BILLY: You know what I mean.
GLORIA: Sorry, kid, there’s a big difference between your method and mine. You sneak around. You break windows. You scare people.
BILLY: Look, how much do I owe?
GLORIA: Oh, Billy. Billy Billy Billy. It’s not the money. It cost about six hundred dollars to fix that window. The insurance paid for it. Officer Pratt cleaned up the floor for me. It’s the rest of it. You just brought back memories of all the lousy people who make this town stink, and it’s just depressing. It’s just not acceptable. I won’t live with it.
BILLY: So what do you want from me? An apology?
GLORIA: The judge wanted me to talk to you. You’re just a kid. You’re experimenting with life and making lousy decisions. You could wise up. You might be worth something.
BILLY: (Stands and walks a little away from her.) Oh, this is like— Are you a social worker?
GLORIA: No. The judge wants me to tell him if I think you could use a second chance.
BILLY: And what do you think?
GLORIA: I don’t know. People are hard to read. —Want another cookie?
(She disappears through the door stage left, returns with two cookies. She gives him one, sits and starts eating the other.)
What would you do if you didn’t go to jail? —Sit.
BILLY: (He sits, not eating the cookie yet.) I don’t know. What should I do?
GLORIA: What should you do? Don’t you have any ideas? Like, change. Become a good guy. Get a job and make your own money.
BILLY: Go to church, get married. Run for senator.
GLORIA: No. No, just be one of the good guys. We need good guys. You’re in training for scumbag, but we have plenty of scumbags around here already. They’re a buyer’s market. We need to put the scumbags in jail and populate the town with good guys.
BILLY: (Starts eating the cookie.) And that’s what you want me to do. Become a good guy.
GLORIA: (Slams her palm on the table. BILLY jumps.) Of course that’s what I want you to do! That’s what the judge wants you to do. Everybody you meet—
(The front door opens. PRATT puts his head in.)
PRATT: Everything okay here, Miss Pennington?
GLORIA: Everything’s fine. I was explaining about art collecting and I got a little… too enthusiastic.
(PRATT looks back and forth between GLORIA and BILLY.)
We’ll be fine.
PRATT: I can wait in here.
GLORIA: No, I’ll be all right, Jimmy.
PRATT: Okay. (Exits and closes the door.)
GLORIA: (More subdued, but intense.) Officer Jimmy wants you to become a good guy. Any girl who’s ever dumb enough to love you is gonna want you to be one of the good guys. She’s gonna hope like hell you’ll be nice to her and not hit her and stay out of jail and make your home a safe place and make nice friends and have them over. She’ll make cookies for them. Everybody in this town wants you to become a good guy. Tell me, are you having trouble figuring this out?
BILLY: And if I don’t promise to be a good guy, you tell the judge to send me down.
GLORIA: Promise? Billy Boy, you have to do a lot more than promise. You have to convince me, and I’m a hard sell. —And yes, I have reason to think the judge will listen to me.
BILLY: (Glances around at the door.) Does it occur to you that I have friends?
GLORIA: Actually, the idea never crossed my mind. It’s pretty hard to believe. (Leaning a little closer, inspecting him.) I bet you had a mother too. I bet she had such high hopes.
BILLY: I have friends.
GLORIA: (Watches him closely a moment, then leans back.) Oh. You mean like people who got your back, as the kids say.
BILLY: Kind of like that. They’d be pretty glad to see me get out of this. They might be pretty mad if I get sent down.
BILLY: (Glances back at the door a little uncomfortably.) You know what I mean.
GLORIA: Billy, I want to be safe in my own home. Everybody has a right to that. I’ve worked hard for a long time to make myself safe, and now you’re telling me I’m not safe from your friends.
BILLY: I’m not telling you anything.
GLORIA: You’re saying you got friends who know where I live.
BILLY: (Stands and walks toward the kitchen.)
(Disappears through the kitchen door, returns with the plate of cookies, eating one.)
You have nothing to worry about, Miss Pennington.
(He sits at the table, eating cookies.)
I’ll look out for you. I’ll make it one of my responsibilities as a free man.
(GLORIA carefully reaches over and slaps the cookie right out of his mouth. BILLY half rises, stops himself, glances back toward the door. He sits back and takes another cookie from the tray, begins eating it.)
You might not want to do that again.
GLORIA: Billy, I’m too old to take a little snot like you seriously. You don’t know me. You don’t know what scares me. You sure don’t.
(She slaps him again and parts of the cookie go flying.)
BILLY: I’m telling you not to do that again. —I suppose you’ll report this conversation to the police.
GLORIA: Why not? The judge asked me very specifically to tell him if you threatened me in any way. He was pretty clear about that. Let me tell you something. You’re the one who is scared. You are just now thinking, “I took a blind alley and I’m not sure I had enough information. I think I would like to back out of it now.”
(BILLY does not reply.)
(BILLY sits still.)
Okay, I’m gonna let you back out of it. Shall we start over?
BILLY: Start over with what?
GLORIA: How are you going to pay back the trust and security you robbed me of?
BILLY: You said yourself, there’s no way. That’s just the way the world is.
GLORIA: What do you mean, “That’s just the way the world is”? That’s just the way it is wherever you are, which is the only part you can see. Wherever you’re not, things are fine. Figure it out. You make the world a dump, not me. You’re the problem.
BILLY: Me? You don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m no different than a thousand other guys out there. If it wasn’t me, it would be someone else. There’s no such thing as safety. Live with it.
GLORIA: No, thanks. That would mean living with people like you.
BILLY: Well, here I am and you’re stuck with me. If I go to jail, someone else will be your problem.
GLORIA: Another threat?
BILLY: No. I mean if it’s not me, it’s somebody else. There’s guys like me all over the place. I’m not the problem, and I can’t fix it. You’ll always have to live with “people like me.” You can’t get away from “people like me.” We’re part of the community.
GLORIA: Community! —Listen, I’ll get away from you a lot faster than you will. I’m eighty-five years old. You have to live intimately with a dirtbag for probably another fifty or sixty years. Unless you do society a favor and kill yourself.
(BILLY doesn’t answer. He just looks at her.)
You’ve actually considered it, haven’t you?
BILLY: Why am I even talking to you?
GLORIA: (Points to the door for an answer.) We’re right back where we started. We always come back to this. How are you gonna pay back what you took?
BILLY: So you won’t tell the judge what I said — about my friends? That’s the deal?
GLORIA: Don’t worry about the judge.
GLORIA: He doesn’t need to know. You don’t scare me. I can take care of myself.
BILLY: That’s good to hear.
GLORIA: I know some people too. My peeps are bigger than your peeps.
BILLY: You mean Scooter?
GLORIA: Whom I recommend you continue to call “Officer Pratt.” He was very indulgent, probably because I was here. Don’t be fooled by it.
BILLY: Me and my friends can usually keep out of their way.
GLORIA: I have other friends.
BILLY: You’ll call your quilting club and gang up on me?
GLORIA: I don’t quilt.
BILLY: You’ll ask all your—
GLORIA: Just— just— You oughta shut up and listen more.
Do you know what I do for extra cash?
I play the organ at the church.
BILLY: That’s pretty scary.
GLORIA: Quiet. You know where I built my chops?
BILLY: Your what?
GLORIA: My skills. You know where I honed my keyboard skills?
BILLY: Why don’t you tell me? —Those are good cookies.
GLORIA: This town went through a kind of depression about fifty years ago and nobody could get jobs. But I did.
BILLY: That’s interesting.
GLORIA: I got a really good job. Know what kind of work I did?
I played background piano music for wedding receptions, convention dinners, all kinds of formal events at a chain of large hotels in this town. It was steady work. I’d play for five or six hours straight. No tips, but decent pay.
BILLY: Shall we talk about the restitution?
GLORIA: I’m trying to tell you something that might keep you alive, so shut up. Who do you think owned the hotels in this city fifty years ago?
BILLY: How old do I look to you?
GLORIA: His name was Walter Harrington.
BILLY: Heard the name. I think.
GLORIA: He was the father of a friend of my kid sister. They used to date back in high school. Nine or ten years after I started working for the hotels, my boss died, kind of suddenly. His boy took over the business. He was a few years younger than me. I thought, Great, now I’m working for Benny maybe I can move up in this corporation. Maybe I won’t have to play piano while I breathe other people’s cigar smoke for thirty or forty hours a week. Get a job with more money, more security. I asked Benny, and he said, “What you good at?” I said accounting. I can do books. He said I happened to say just the right thing, because they just had to let their bookkeeper go. The job was mine.
BILLY: Who Harrington?
BILLY: Ben Harrington?
GLORIA: You recognize the name.
BILLY: Everybody does. They teach about him in school.
GLORIA: I bet they do. Our local anti-hero. But the kid wasn’t as good a businessman as his old man.
BILLY: And he lost money and blamed the bookkeeper, and you lost your job.
GLORIA: No, no, he was making money like crazy. No one knows that better than me. No, he was good at making money, but not so good at covering his tracks, no good at knowing who he could trust. He got himself caught. Oh, he wasn’t any worse than his father, he was doing the same things the old man did, but he was stupid and he got caught.
BILLY: Ha! You’re kidding. That was a famous case. The cops took your whole organization apart. Not just Harrington, but everybody. You mean those were your friends?
GLORIA: That was the kind of company I used to keep.
BILLY: And that was your little brush with the law? Not bad. That’s why the cops watch you?
(He takes a cookie from the tray, pops it in his mouth, chews it slowly.)
So those are your badass friends.
(Swallows and starts eating another cookie.)
Some peeps. All your friends are in prison. The ones who are out are probably in nursing homes or the cemetery.
(Leans toward her.)
Nobody has your back. You got no friends.
GLORIA: Officer Pratt is my buddy.
BILLY: Scooter’s not much of a badass, though, is he. You have to admit. And your childhood friend and his people are out of commission.
GLORIA: That’s the truth. They indicted about everybody but the kitchen staff. None of us got less than ten years unless we were too small-time to bother with. All the bad boys got really hard time.
BILLY: Except the guy who testified against him. They said one of his lawyers took the stand for several days straight. Not too bright. I wonder if that guy even survived the trial.
GLORIA: It wasn’t a guy.
BILLY: Yeah, it was his lawyer.
BILLY: No, he— his—
BILLY: But you were his—
It wasn’t a guy. It was a gal. It was me.
If there’s one person you have to be able to trust, it’s your bookkeeper.
BILLY: You must be even stupider than you look.
GLORIA: And yet here I am. Benny’s in jail, the rest of his people are in jail, or as you say, playing shuffleboard or dead. You, you’re on your way to jail. Me, I’m baking cookies. Have another one.
(She picks one up, tosses it to him, rises, picks up the plate and carries it out through the kitchen door.)
BILLY: You must be crazy.
GLORIA: (Returns with one cookie, eating it.) Maybe I am, but I’m not stupid. Don’t ever call me stupid again.
BILLY: Why did you do it?
GLORIA: Do you know what Benny did to people?
BILLY: But you didn’t mind his money. You didn’t mind working for him.
GLORIA: Not until I found out he was a scumbag.
BILLY: Come on, you said you worked for him for ten years.
GLORIA: Only a few months for Benny, only about two months in accounting. His old man and I were never pals. He was a nice boss. I think he liked me, but he must have figured out I was a good kid so he never let me in on the real business. After his boy Benny took over and handed me the books, it took me about one week to figure out the operation was rotten. It took me another couple of weeks to see how rotten it really was, through and through. I wondered why he had so many “legal expenses.” When protection money came in, you know what credit column he said to put it under? “Protection.” Definitely not as smart as his father. But dangerous. Very dangerous. It made the last few weeks interesting.
BILLY: Then why didn’t you just quit?
GLORIA: I had to gather information. I could nail Benny right away, but that wasn’t enough. It took me over a month to get the rest of the stuff together, to get the whole organization. We didn’t have copy machines, Billy. If we wanted copies, we had to re-type all that stuff by hand. If we wanted signatures, we had to include an extra carbon. That was dangerous. What if he wondered about the extra carbon? Later on I got in a hurry and I started photographing documents. That was dangerous, too. You had to do it at night when nobody else was there, but those old flashbulbs made a lot of light. Very nervous work.
BILLY: You must be … You must have really hated his guts.
GLORIA: He was my friend. I liked him. But he was a scumbag, and I had to take him down.
BILLY: Why? He wouldn’t have bothered you.
GLORIA: (A little heatedly.) Because I didn’t want to live in a town with scumbags.
BILLY: Holy shit.
GLORIA: Watch that mouth or I’ll stuff one of those fifteen-thousand-dollar plates in it. I doubt if Officer Pratt would mind.
BILLY: So why are they watching you?
BILLY: The cops. You’re clean. Why are they always watching your house?
GLORIA: Witness protection. What do you think?
BILLY: (Absorbing this.) Don’t they just change your name and move you to another city?
GLORIA: I don’t want to move to another city. I told the prosecutor, “This is my city. My name is Gloria Pennington. I like the name. I got it from my mother and father and I’m not changing it for some cheap thug. I’m not moving to Oregon for him.” You let those guys have their way and they own you. I didn’t want to move. I decided to move him instead. Him and all those pissants he had working for him.
BILLY: So for the last forty years they’ve had to stake out this place?
BILLY: For one witness?
GLORIA: Just some wiring, some radio equipment, changing the patrol schedule around. That’s their job. They’re cops. This is as good a place as any to catch criminals.
(Gestures at BILLY with her cookie.)
They do turn up here every so often, you know. They crawl out of the woodwork at night.
BILLY: Forty years of stakeout for one witness?
GLORIA: I was a pretty good witness, and Benny was a pretty bad man. There was something in it for the cops, too. Along at the first, that’s how they picked off the stragglers. Some of Benny’s people came looking for me and walked into a trap. But really, they set up the permanent stakeout because that’s the only way they’d get my help. They wanted very much to take Harrington’s operation completely down. They didn’t want to leave any roots. They didn’t want to leave any seeds. I could give them the roots and the seeds, everything they wanted. All I asked for in return was permanent protection.
BILLY: So it is the cops. They’re your friends.
GLORIA: It’s a little more than that, Billy. It’s the entire law enforcement establishment, from Scooter on up to the state attorney general, plus the FBI and the ATF under nine administrations. Yes. I think I can say they’d do about anything for me.
(Long pause as BILLY stares at her.)
So you see why I’m not really scared of you and your pimply friends.
BILLY: Why did you bring me here? Why did the judge send me here?
GLORIA: I told you. We want to know whether the city will be better with you on the street or in jail. You’re just a kid. Why start you on a jailbird career if you might be one of the good guys? —Eat your cookie. You won’t get a lot of them like that in the pen. I used homemade sorghum syrup instead of that grasshopper spit they sell in the stores.
BILLY: (After a pause.) So you really want to help me.
GLORIA: Billy, I’d love to, but I’m afraid you’re not too interested in helping yourself. —How long are they talking?
GLORIA: Your sentence, Billy.
BILLY: Eighteen months.
GLORIA: Yeah, I figured this probably wasn’t your first offense. I wonder why Judge Belford thought you were worth bothering with.
(Peers at him.)
He must have seen something. Darn if I can.
BILLY: Maybe twelve. I could get time off for good behavior.
GLORIA: Good behavior would be refreshing.
BILLY: I could do it.
GLORIA: Hard to believe. If you can’t behave yourself out here, where you have options, freedom — where everybody really wants you to be one of the good guys — how are you going to keep yourself in line in there, where nobody expects anything good from you? Where all your friends are convicts? Where some guard is always just hoping you’ll screw up so he can beat the daylights out of you?
BILLY: Well, that’s … But you can help me. You can talk to the judge.
GLORIA: I don’t think so. I have to be honest with Judge Belford. He trusts me. I’d have to say I’m not very impressed.
But you know, people change. Maybe you can, too.
(She contemplates him.)
Prison might just be the perfect place to change you.
BILLY: Look, I don’t want to go to prison. It won’t help me. It won’t … make me a good guy. Please. Tell me what to do.
GLORIA: Just turn back the clock, Billy Boy, and re-run this visit without the threats, without calling me stupid for risking my life to take down a gang of criminals, and without hogging my cookies like it was Free-For-All Day at the Pastry Barn. Just act like you have a plan, some idea what you want to do, besides bull your way out of trouble.
BILLY: They’re very good cookies.
GLORIA: Cookies! You know, you do kind of remind me of my great-nephew. Thank you. When you get out in eighteen months, I’ll bake some fresh for you. Tell you what: if you get out in twelve, I’ll let you eat the whole batch yourself.
BILLY: You’re not going to help me.
GLORIA: I can’t do it for you.
BILLY: Talk to the judge, Miss Pennington. I’ll try.
GLORIA: Good. That’s the spirit. I want to see what you learn in a year or so. You could be a whole different man when you get out.
BILLY: I could be dead.
GLORIA: Oh, now you’re being melodramatic. It’s not very likely. Just be careful about the friends you make.
(BILLY closes his eyes.)
Get up, Billy. Time to go.
(GLORIA crosses and opens the door.)
He’s all yours, Jimmy.
PRATT: He try anything, Miss Pennington?
(Enters and crosses to BILLY with the cuffs.)
GLORIA: Perfect gentleman.
PRATT: Glad to hear it. Stand up please, Mr. Barrett.
(BILLY stands and PRATT cuffs him.)
Find out what you needed?
GLORIA: We’ll need to talk again when he has more time.
PRATT: I got you. So I don’t need to ask Judge Belford to stop by tonight?
GLORIA: Oh, don’t bother him, Jimmy. Let him get home to his supper.
PRATT: Good enough. Thank you, Miss Pennington.
(Starts away. BILLY holds back.)
BILLY: Miss Pennington.
GLORIA: Yes, Billy.
(BILLY says nothing.)
Remember, Billy, the whole batch.
(PRATT gently pulls BILLY away and out the doorway. GLORIA looks after them a moment. Calls to him.)
Two dozen fresh ginger snaps, Billy. The whole batch just for you.
(She closes the door, goes to the window and closes the drapes or the shade, then goes to the plush reading chair and sits quietly for a few seconds before she turns on the lamp and takes up the book.)
Fade to black.