THE XMAS STIFF
by Daniel Valentine
A FARCE IN ONE ACT
(4 F, 2 M)
ORSON, regular customer
SHANNON, cocktail waitress
BULLET, exotic dancer
ROCKY, exotic dancer
SCENE: A hole-in-the-wall “gentlemen’s club” on the second floor of a three-story building just a few blocks from Chinatown in Washington, D.C. A bar with stools is situated by a small elevated stage, with “Merry Xmas” scrawled in white shoe polish on a mirror behind it. A neon sign above the bar reads “lST LADEEZ Show Bar.” Stairs near the bar climb to a dressing room on the third floor. On one wall, there are several windows with floor-to-ceiling velvet curtains pulled closed. Outside the entrance door, which is kept open during business hours, there is an ill-lit landing. Unseen stairs lead to the street below. There are tables and chairs, a booth or two, and a decorated Christmas tree. A sign on a wall reads “Exotic Dancers – No Cover – No Minimum.”
It is a late afternoon on the day before Christmas during one of the worst blizzards of the year.
Before the curtain rises, various voices from a TV, separated by white noise, are heard as someone yet-to-be-seen channel-surfs:
“The clock is ticking for today’s guests. This may be their last Christmas. So, please, stay with us and help us get them into the holiday spirit. Today! Surprise holiday make-overs for death-row inmates” . . . “Hundreds of years ago, did he predict this season’s Super Bowl winner? Next. The amazing Nostradamus!” . . . “It’s a little crazy out there on this Christmas Eve afternoon” . . . “Everybody’s kind of shivering” . . . “More than a foot of snow is predicted” . . . “Today! Some of your favorite movie stars get the surprise of their lives when convicted stalkers reveal their secret celebrity crushes. How will our stars react?” . . . “Look, Daddy, Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings” . . . “Omigod! This is so amazing. It’s so cute. Have you ever seen a prison uniform on a convicted mass-murderer that fits like this? So, Franco, what did you do? Tell us about the hair.”
(The curtain rises just as CAROL-LEIGH, remote in hand, clicks off the flat-screen TV behind the bar.)
CAROL-LEIGH: (Disgusted.) There’s nothing on.
(She places the remote beside the register. Standing at the cocktail station, cutting lemons, is SHANNON. ORSON, the lone patron, sits with a Corona before him, his coat hangs from the back of his stool. BULLET, fully-dressed, is dancing halfheartedly on the stage, one eye on the clock.)
CAROL-LEIGH: (To Orson.) So, Congressman. How come you’re not back home in your district caroling with constituents?
ORSON: I’d rather look at naked women.
(He swivels on his stool to watch the dancer.)
BULLET: Carol-Leigh, I’m not taking my clothes off for one customer. Congressman or no. I don’t think I should have to.
(The sudden sound of the howling snowstorm outside is heard momentarily as the door to the street opens and closes.)
ORSON: (Turning back to Carol-Leigh.) Who’s dancing besides Bullet?
(A lone man in an unzipped jacket, sporting a Redskins ball cap, holding his stomach appears in the doorway. He is missing one shoe. He looks around, then makes his way to a semi-secluded table by the Christmas tree. Picking up her cocktail tray, Shannon leaves to serve him.)
CAROL-LEIGH: Rocky is here. (Gesturing to the upstairs dressing room.) Cricket or Ursula or Shiloh or whatever Laura is calling herself these days is a no-show. She simply didn’t come in. Candy was supposed to dance but called in sobbing. Her dad died.
ORSON: Poor kid.
CAROL-LEIGH: It’s the fifth holiday he’s died on this year.
(Shannon sets both napkin and coaster down in front of the new customer.)
SHANNON: Can I help you? We have a holiday special on pitchers.
(The customer rocks back and forth on his seat, clutching his stomach.)
CUSTOMER: How much is a beer?
CAROL-LEIGH: So, anyway, Bullet and Rocky are tag-teaming it.
ORSON: That’s it?
CAROL-LEIGH: Hey, it’s Christmas Eve. It’s snowing. It’s cold. A person would have to be crazy … Like me.
(The customer struggles to rise.)
CUSTOMER: Seven bucks! SEVEN BUCKS? For a beer? (Looking around.) Where am I? The Four Seasons? (And he collapses onto the floor.)
CAROL-LEIGH: I called Wendy. She doesn’t feel well. I called Breezy. She has a cold. Stormy didn’t answer her phone. I called Fury. She has a twenty-four-hour virus. I called Moonflower. She has a bug. I called everybody. Bambi, Barbie, Bunny …
SHANNON: (To customer.) Sir? Excuse me. If you’re going to stay, you need to buy a drink. You can’t just flop out. We’re running a business here. Sir? Sir?
CAROL-LEIGH: (To Orson.) You want to fill in?
ORSON: Sure. If I can dance on the bar. (He loosens his tie and unbuttons a shirt button.)
(Carol-Leigh takes a dollar from the tip jar and slaps it down on the bar before him.)
CAROL-LEIGH: Please. Business is bad enough.
SHANNON: (Poking the body with her big toe.) Get up, you. Get up, honey. You okay? Are you alive? Damn!
CAROL-LEIGH: (To Orson.) Another Corona?
(He checks his watch.)
ORSON: You’re open till seven tonight?
CAROL-LEIGH: Somewhere thereabouts.
SHANNON: (Now at the service bar.) Carol-Leigh, there’s a dead man under the Christmas tree.
ORSON: (Re: beer.) Sure. Why not? One more.
(Carol-Leigh uncaps another Corona.)
SHANNON: I’m not lying. We’ve got a problem.
(Carol-Leigh sets the bottle on the counter.)
CAROL-LEIGH: Did you say there was a dead man?
SHANNON: Take a look for yourself.
(Orson swivels around on his barstool.)
ORSON: Somebody died? You’re kidding. What now, just now?
(Carol-Leigh comes from behind the bar and goes with Shannon across the room, passing the stage.)
BULLET: What’s up?
(Orson follows close behind.)
(The music on the jukebox stops and Bullet steps down from the stage and hurries to see what’s happening as Carol-Leigh kneels down and feels the man’s wrist for a pulse.)
CAROL-LEIGH: Oh, my God! (She flips the left side of his jacket open and puts an ear to his heart and holds it there.) My God, he is dead. (She gets to her feet.) I thought you were joking.
ORSON: Well, so much for Happy Hour.
BULLET: (Upon seeing the body.) Oh, man! Is he dead?
SHANNON: Oh, yeah.
ORSON: (re: Bullet.) Wish I’d had a camera. You should have seen your face. Your eyes went–
BULLET: Hey, man, some things still surprise me. A dead body is one of ‘em. What happened?
(Orson crouches and flips open the right side of the man’s jacket.)
ORSON: Looks like he’s been stabbed.
ORSON: Looks like. Check that out.
BULLET: Merry Christmas.
CAROL-LEIGH: (sighing) I don’t need this.
ORSON: (Still squatting, puzzled.) There’s not much blood.
BULLET: Depends on the weapon. An ice pick doesn’t draw blood.
ORSON: That true?
BULLET: An ice pick’s quite a weapon.
ORSON: Better than a knife?
BULLET: Oh, yeah.
ORSON: (Standing). Really? (To no one in particular.) Every day you learn something new.
CAROL-LEIGH: Whether you want to or not.
BULLET: You can stick a knife cleanly into someone and not kill him. But an ice pick causes internal bleeding.
ORSON: How do you know that? What are you, some sort of expert on ice pick-related homicides?
BULLET: Yeah, man, matter of fact. I know all about it. My ol’ man showed me. You gotta know where the organs are. An inch either way and you’ll hit a rib.
ORSON: Bullet, you’re so full of it.
SHANNON: I believe her. Ever seen her boyfriend? He looks like Ted Bundy should have.
CAROL-LEIGH: I’m just glad he didn’t get his brains blown out on the carpet.
SHANNON: Hey, it just hit me. He’s missing one shoe. Maybe somebody stabbed him for his shoe.
BULLET: That could be. Some mugger doing some last-minute Christmas shopping for a one-legged friend.
ORSON: Who is he? (To Shannon.) Do you recognize him?
SHANNON: It was his first time here.
BULLET: Welcome to 1st Ladeez Show Bar! We obviously made a good impression on him.
CAROL-LEIGH: Does he have any I.D.?
(Orson crouches on his heels again and rolls the body on its side a little to get at the man’s hip pockets. He gets to his feet.)
ORSON: Nothing on him.
BULLET: Another day at the office.
CAROL-LEIGH: If D.C. ever gains statehood, a good state flag would be a black banner with the chalk outline of a corpse in the upper left-hand corner.
ORSON: What are you going to do, Carol-Leigh?
SHANNON: Sshh! She’s thinking.
CAROL-LEIGH: (Beside herself, tapping a finger on her forehead.) No brains suddenly.
BULLET: Take your time, Carol-Leigh. The dude’s not goin’ nowhere.
CAROL-LEIGH: (At last.) We have to get him out of here.
ORSON: You’re not going to report it? Call 9-1-1. I’ll call. (He turns to go get his cell from his coat.)
CAROL-LEIGH: Wait a minute. We don’t want the cops here.
ORSON: (Sarcastically.) Oh, you’re worried about the cops. Well, when you put it that way. (Losing it.) Have you lost your marbles?!
CAROL-LEIGH: Orson, it’s Christmas Eve. By eight I want to be home. I don’t want to stay around here all night answering questions from the police. I have two dogs who depend on me.
BULLET: (Agreeing.) We call the cops, we could be here forever.
SHANNON: And I’m starving! Big-time. I haven’t eaten all day. I skipped breakfast. I had a birth-control pill for lunch.
BULLET: Carol-Leigh’s right. We’re talking about Channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, and 11 outside and all that stuff.
ORSON: Did you say Channel 9? (Reconsidering.) My mother watches Channel 9. (After a pause.) Get rid of the sucker. Like roll him down the stairs and out the door. See ya bye!
BULLET: Now you’re talkin’!
CAROL-LEIGH: Shannon, take him outside. Immediately.
SHANNON: Who, me? You want me to pick up a dead body? I don’t think so. Sorry, no way.
CAROL-LEIGH: I’m very, very serious.
SHANNON: Oh, yeah, sure-sure. Gimme a break. Bill Gates could walk in here and he couldn’t give me a big enough tip.
CAROL-LEIGH: Stubborn one. Pleeeeeeeese?
SHANNON: No, period. I ain’t gonna do it.
SHANNON: Forget it. Not me!
SHANNON: It’s not in my job description. If you want him outta here, you do it.
ORSON: Guys! Guys! C’mon! I’ll do it. Let me get my coat. (To himself on his way to the bar.) Channel 9. My mom watches Channel 9.
(Rocky, the only other dancer, appears on the stairs from the dressing room above. She is sporting reindeer antlers and a Santa’s hat.)
ROCKY: (Upon seeing Orson at the bar.) Hi, guy. What’s happening?
ORSON: Oh, not a heck of a lot. A customer just got murdered.
ROCKY: (Laughing.) You’re teasin’. You like my holiday headgear? (She turns around modeling it for him.)
ORSON: (Eyeing her curiously.) I wouldn’t wear it.
ROCKY: On me, dummy! Isn’t it cute? I’m Dancer, one of Santa’s reindeer. (She striking a serious pose.) Because I, too, am a dancer. (Then she laughs at herself.)
ORSON: (The politician.) Yes, very lovely.
CAROL-LEIGH: (Shouting.) Hey, Orson! C’mon!
(Orson shrugs into his coat.)
ORSON: I’m coming. Excuse me, Rocky. I’ve got to take the body outside.
ROCKY: You’re just pulling my chain. (She gaily walks with him, her only concern in life at the moment: the antlers.) They’re not very practical for dancing. In the dressing room, they were off and on. But– (She stops in her tracks. Stocked.) Gosh, business is sure the pits. Where are all the customers? (Then she sees the body. She gives a little gasp and looks away, then looks, then looks away again.) Oooooo! Somebody close his eyes. Put a tablecloth over him! Put something on him!
BULLET: Where’s my body glitter?
ROCKY: Don’t be bad. Where’d he come from?
CAROL-LEIGH: (To Orson.) Ready?
(He nods and grasps the dead man’s ankles as Carol-Leigh clears a path of chairs.)
ROCKY: Oh, my gosh! What are you guys doing?
ORSON: (To Carol-Leigh.) Where to?
CAROL-LEIGH: Down the back fire escape.
(He drops the legs–kerplunk.)
ORSON: No way. Impossible. This is a big guy here. He’s not big-big, but he’s big. He’s tall.
(Bullet uses her fingers to tabulate on an imaginary hand-held calculator.)
BULLET: (Aloud to herself.) Just how many does it take to carry a dead body down a fire escape in a snowstorm?
(Carol-Leigh gives the problem some thought.) Out the front. But don’t let anybody see you.
ORSON: Yes, Ma’am.
CAROL-LEIGH: Just make sure.
ROCKY: You’re going to take him out into the street?
(Orson bends down, gripes the dead man’s ankles again, and begins to tug the limp body toward the entrance.)
BULLET: Welcome to Carol-Leigh’s Carryout. Yes, we deliver.
ORSON: (Panting.) Damn. (Puffing.) He’s heavy.
CAROL-LEIGH: Don’t strain your back.
ORSON: I can’t tell you … how much … I looooove doing this … Hell, I don’t even know this guy.
(He stops to catch his breath, letting go of the man’s legs again–plop.)
ROCKY: (Sighing.) Boy, I’ve just about had it with this place. I’d like to find a real job. This is not a fun place anymore.
CAROL-LEIGH: (To Shannon.) Go look out the window. Tell us when it’s clear.
(Shannon hurries to one of the windows, throws open the curtains, and rubs off the steam. Snow is falling, wind howling, and it’s hard to see anything clearly.)
ROCKY: How can you do this, Carol-Leigh? (She fiddles nervously with the crucifix at her throat.) This is bad. (Orson repositions the body and grabs it under the armpits.) This isn’t good. (He walks backwards in a half-crouch towards the door.) This is bad. (The dead man’s head dangles between his knees.) Don’t you feel this is wrong, Carol-Leigh?
CAROL-LEIGH: Not at all. It’s Christmas Eve. I don’t want to stay around answering questions from the police all night. (To Shannon.) Tell me when it’s clear.
ROCKY: (To herself.) I want to leave. I want to go home right now.
BULLET: Take the body with you.
ROCKY: (Glaring at her.) I love you, too. (Chants.) I want to get off work, I want to get off work, I want to go home.
CAROL-LEIGH: Exactly. That’s what I’m saying. If we call the police, we won’t get out of here till late. (She pats Rocky tenderly on the shoulder.) It’s going to be all right, Rocky. Just relax. Get it together. Don’t go off the deep end. (After a pause.) Sit down!
(Rocky sits. Orson, winded, pauses to catch his breath again.)
ORSON: How did I get myself into this?
CAROL-LEIGH: (Humoring him.) Hey, you said last night. “I sure wish this place would get some new bodies!” Quote unquote.
ROCKY: I heard that.
CAROL-LEIGH: You only get three wishes. That was a dumb one.
(Orson pulls the body out the door onto the landing.)
CAROL-LEIGH: Watch your step.
ORSON: Yes, Ma’am.
CAROL-LEIGH: Just be careful.
ORSON: Yes, Ma’am
(And poof!–he disappears backwards out of sight with the body. There is a quick succession of heavy thumps and Rocky leaps up and flinches to each one as if her own head were being bounced on wooden steps)
ROCKY: Oh, boy! (THUMP, THUMP, THUMP.) Oh, man! (THUMP, THUMP, THUMP.) We’re going to get in trouble! (THUMP, THUMP, THUMP.) Oh, my gosh! (And KABOOM!) FUCK!!!
(And they all turn and stare at her, mouths agape. Prim-and-proper Rocky has never uttered a bad word in her life! All are stunned, so much so that they don’t hear Orson screaming for help at the bottom of the steps.)
ORSON: (Off.) Get him off ‘a me!
ROCKY: Oops! Four-letter word. Did I just say one?
ORSON: (Off.) Get him the hell off ‘a me!!
CAROL-LEIGH: (Returning to Planet Earth.) ORSON!!! (She rushes to the landing, afraid to look but does.) You okay?
ORSON: (Off.) If I can get myself untangled here. (After a pause.) Someone get the door.
BULLET: (Volunteering.) I’ll get it. I got it.
(Carol-Leigh makes a last-minute look-see around the area.)
CAROL-LEIGH: Wait a sec! He’s gotta hat. (She scoops the dead man’s ball cap up from off the floor and hands it to Bullet who rushes off down the steps, twirling it on a finger.)
BULLET: (Half to herself.) What’s he gonna do without his hat?
ORSON: (Off.) Is it clear?
CAROL-LEIGH: (Relaying the question to Shannon.) Is it clear?
(Shannon takes a good look.)
SHANNON: Okay, now!
CAROL-LEIGH: (Relaying her reply.) GO, GO, GO!
(There is the sound of howling wind from outside as the street door opens and shuts.)
SHANNON: (Like a sportscaster.) He’s out the door. He’s slipping and sliding, but he’s still on his feet. So far so good. Bullet is standing look-out on the corner.
CAROL-LEIGH: Smart girl.
CAROL-LEIGH: Oh, terrific.
SHANNON: She’s stepping from foot to foot. She’s either cold or she’s gotta pee.
CAROL-LEIGH: I love it.
(Rocky stands clutching her crucifix, eyes shut, praying silently but mightily, crossing herself from time to time.)
CAROL-LEIGH: What now? (She hurries to the window.) What now?
SHANNON: He’s dragging the body, leaving a corpse-trail in the snow.
CAROL-LEIGH: For crying out loud! (She stands on her toes attempting to look over Shannon’s shoulder.) What’s going on? What’s going on?
SHANNON: (Whirling around.) What’s going on! What’s going on! Stop asking me what’s going on! (She looks out the window again.) Oh, no! (She taps her nails frantically on the glass. She tries to open the window to no avail. She throws her arms up in despair.) I want a Christmas bonus.
CAROL-LEIGH: What’s going on?
SHANNON: A patrol car’s coming!
CAROL-LEIGH: (With outstretched arms heavenward.) Why me, Lord?
SHANNON: (Shouting, horror-struck.) LOOK OUT! COME BACK!
(There is the sudden wail of a police siren and all three freeze, panic stricken, as the red beam of the siren lights up the room. The patrol car zooms by, the siren growing gradually fainter, as Shannon takes a quick sneak-peek down below. Sighing with relief, liking what she sees, she pulls the drapes shut.)
SHANNON: Let the wake begin!
(Rocky opens one eye.)
ROCKY: Mission accomplished?
SHANNON: Party down!
(Orson and Bullet come up the stairs.)
ORSON: Well, that’s enough of that. Let’s have some fun. I’m through with dead bodies.
(The two join the others now at the bar.)
CAROL-LEIGH: Thank you very, very much.
SHANNON: You guys are great. (To Orson.) Gimme a cheek. (She gives him a peck.)
(Bullet hugs her breasts, shivering all over.)
BULLET: It’s cold out there. My God, it must be two degrees. When I got outside, I thought: This is really stupid. I’m not dressed!
ORSON: You have goosebumps all over you.
BULLET: I’m cold! (Teeth chattering uncontrollably.) Never been so cold.
(Orson takes his coat off.)
ORSON: You’ll catch pneumonia. (He drapes it over her shoulders.) Don’t you drop dead on us. Have a brandy to warm you up.
CAROL-LEIGH: On me. I’d like to buy everybody a round.
ROCKY: (A teetotaler.) Can I have a drink of water, please? (She fumbles in her purse and produces a tiny bottle of pills.) I have a bad headache. (She flips the top off with a thumb) I need Advil. I can’t work here without Advil. (She shakes the bottle. It’s empty! She’s crushed.)
(Orson pats her tenderly on the back.)
ORSON: Hey, it’s going to be all right. Smile. ‘Tis the season. (Then cheerfully to the others.) C’mon, lets get this party started. Let the good times roll.
(Carol-Leigh lines up a row of snifter glasses and fills them. They hold up their drinks and toast, ab libbing “Merry Christmas,” etc. Then throwing their heads back, they all down the contents in one gulp, except for Rocky who takes a hefty-sized organizer from her bag to make an entry.
CAROL-LEIGH: (To Orson, re: the body.) Where’d you put him?
ORSON: Where else? In the rear of the alley. Beside the Dumpster.
ROCKY: (To herself, half-aloud as she writes.) Advil.
ORSON: On an abandoned La-Z-Boy. Where he’ll be comfy.
ROCKY: (Rethinking her entry.) A crate full of Advil!
(Carol-Leigh collects the glasses and gives the bar a once-over with a bar towel.)
CAROL-LEIGH: (Half to herself.) I can’t believe there was a dead body in here.
BULLET: (Blowing on her hands.) With the crowd today, he fit right in. He didn’t tip me, either.
SHANNON: I’m disappointed there wasn’t more blood. He looked like my ex.
ROCKY: (Shocked.) Shannon!
SHANNON: Just joking.
BULLET: Wishful thinking, you mean.
SHANNON: You’re right. If I had an ice pick, I’d like to put fifty holes in him.
ORSON: (To change the subject.) Did he pay his tab?
SHANNON: Who? Oh, the dead dude?
BULLET: Yeah, did he pay his tab?
SHANNON: He stiffed me!
ROCKY: Ho, ho, ho. I want to take a shower. I feel dirty. Don’t you guys feel dirty? This was bad.
ORSON: I’ll take a shower with you.
ROCKY: Don’t be naughty!
ORSON: C’mon! It’ll be fun! I’ll get a room.
ROCKY: No! (A pause.) But you can tip me if you want to. (She lifts her gartered leg.)
ORSON: Don’t trip on the body going out. (Laughing.) That’s a good tip. That’s a good one, isn’t it? (No one laughs.) Hey, what do I look like, the Federal Reserve? I’m not.
ROCKY: (Pouting.) Aren’t you going to tip me for Christmas? (Orson reluctantly peels off a single from a wad in his pocket and slips it in her garter.) Only one? I have a ten, a five, and three ones. If you give me two dollars, I can get a twenty-dollar bill.
ORSON: (To the others.) Miss Sting here. (To Rocky, rolling his eyes.) Okay, okay, give me the ten and the five and the two ones and I’ll give you a twenty as a Christmas gift.
(The two carry out the transaction, much to the amusement of the others, and Rocky tucks the twenty in her garter.)
ROCKY: What time is it?
(Orson checks his watch.)
ORSON: Not even six.
ROCKY: That’s all it is? (She straightens her antlers.) I don’t feel like dancing another set? (To Orson.) You have five singles for the jukebox? It only takes dollars and I only have a twenty.
(It is then that another sudden gush of wind rushes up the stairwell from outside. There is the sound of footsteps and all eyes turn toward the entrance. A solitary figure, not unlike the dead man, in a Redskin ball cap, appears in the doorway, his shadow stretching across the floor, falling just short of their feet. The figure gives no greeting, just stands and looks about.)
STRANGER: (After a glance.) Dead, huh? (After a long pause.) Catch you later. (He descends the stairs.)
(For a moment, it is very quiet. All are noticeably startled. Bullet breaks the silence.)
BULLET: Man, was that weird, or what? (She turns to the others.) Am I the only person who thinks that was weird?
SHANNON: Weird. That was weird.
SHANNON: Certainly was that.
SHANNON: That, too.
ORSON: As much as I like here, I’m getting the hell outta here. One more drink and I’m outta here. I don’t want him catching me later.
BULLET: What’d he say? “Dead, huh?” I hope he meant business.
CAROL-LEIGH: Who was it, someone taking a sneak peek?
ROCKY: (Terrified.) I’m not so sure. (Clutching her crucifix once again.) For a moment, I thought it was him.
SHANNON: Me, too.
ROCKY: Maybe the Man upstairs is telling us something.
SHANNON: That’s what I was thinking.
ROCKY: It’s Christmas Eve. Santa knows who’s been naughty and nice.
CAROL-LEIGH: What if … I don’t know. This is exhausting me. What if …
BULLET: Spit it out, Carol-Leigh. What are you trying to say, we should bring him back in?
ROCKY: (All for it.) Yeah!
SHANNON: Maybe we should.
ORSON: I like the idea.
BULLET: He’s upstairs, he’s downstairs. Corpse in, corpse out. I wish y’all would make up your minds.
ROCKY: Hope he’s still out there. I had CDs stolen out of my car a week ago. It was the second time.
SHANNON: (Taking a cell phone from her purse.) Carol-Leigh, what do you want?
CAROL-LEIGH: I want to wake up and say I had the weirdest dream. I want to go home. I want my mom.
SHANNON: No, on your pizza. (And dialing Domino’s
The Curtain Falls)