A Short Play by Bernard Weiner
Copyright 2014 by the author.
First staged reading 11/20/14 by The Playwrights' Lab as part of the annual Writers With Attitude festival, at the Mill Valley Public Library, Mill Valley, CA.
BOOSE: female, Asian- or African-American, in 30s.
HAKKE: male, white, late-40s.
ERNEST: male, white, late-30s, very average looking.
(ERNEST's house. Walking from the front door to the living room.)
ERNEST: Your badges indicate Homeland Security, but I'd like to see some photo IDs, please. (ERNEST takes a good look at the IDs.) You should know that I'm not political -- I'm just an accountant.
HAKKE: We're here because we've received a report on you from our I.T. department.
ERNEST: "I.T."? Isn't that something to do with computers?
HAKKE: Normally yes, but in this case, "I.T." refers to Inappropriate Thoughts. Our early-warning system, so to speak.
ERNEST: Not familiar with that office, but why am I not surprised that it exists?
BOOSE: (beat) They focus on deciphering electrical brain patterns. In dreams.
HAKKE: In the past several years they've had some major breakthroughs in nanotechnology and microwave transmitting. Now they're able to reproduce dreams. Even at a distance.
ERNEST: And how does this all relate to me?
HAKKE: (looking at documents in his hands) Well, let's use a sample dream, and maybe it will become clear to you: "Subject is carrying something inside of a back pack. He's very careful not to jar it or bump into anything. A large fish flies into the scene, grabs the backpack in its talons, and lets it go over a lake. Subject loudly expresses anger, curses the fish."
ERNEST: Your I.T. guys can intercept dream images just like that?
BOOSE: "Just like that" involves highly complicated research in neurology, electrical emanations, radio-waves, wi-fi, and so on. But in essence, yes, just like that. (beat) Would you like to know whose dream that was?
ERNEST: Not really. But whoever's dream it was, your relating it to me is an unconscionable, and I would guess unconstitutional, violation of someone's privacy.
HAKKE: Doesn't surprise me that you'd like to stop the process before it goes much further, since that was one of your dreams. From last night (looks at the paper). Actually this morning at 5:43.
BOOSE: Would you like to contribute something to this conversation, Ernest?
ERNEST: I have no memory of having had that dream -- I rarely am able to recall my dreams. But even if those electrical impulses came from my brain waves, the content lends itself to innumerable interpretations.
HAKKE: Homeland Security doesn't have to meet the usual burden of proof to use BPE, Brain Pattern Evidence, so I emailed the dream to one of our forensic psychiatrists. Would you like to hear his interpretation, Ernest?
HAKKE: OK, here it is: "Given the extra care about keeping the contents of the bag as safe and still as possible, it's not outside the realm of probability that the subject was dreaming of some kind of explosives. Inasmuch as the Boston Marathon suspects concealed their bombs inside backpacks, I'd say the dream is more than likely about a bomb. The flying fish could refer to Western, Christian culture and values protecting the citizenry."
ERNEST: Look, you Homeland Security people deal with terrorists and bombs and such all the time. So naturally you will interpret dreams and messages along those lines; what's the saying?: "To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Someone else might see something totally different. For example, maybe there's a birthday cake inside the backpack that the guy is taking home for his son's surprise party. When somebody or something ruins that plan, dropping it into the water, he's really frustrated and pissed off." Makes as much sense.
BOOSE: What about the giant fish?
ERNEST: Sometimes a fish is just a fish.
(On the street)
HAKKE: That guy is dirty.
BOOSE: You think everybody's dirty.
HAKKE: I hate these liberal wise-asses who bring up the Constitution. He's hiding something. We should have cuffed him and put him in custody. We could have scared-out some interesting conversations.
BOOSE: Might make more sense to think long-term here, maybe turn this guy, make him an informant.
HAKKE: Long-term is great if we have the luxury of time. But [you've seen the reports of] increasing chatter on terrorist websites about an impending attack, and we have the report from I.T. on his dream. We may not have much time to find out when and where the bomb will go off.
BOOSE: OK, let's go lean on him. Maybe we can get him to reveal some truths.
(at ERNEST's home. He is seated at the middle of the couch; BOOSE and HAKKE stand behind separate chairs facing ERNEST, creating a visual triangle)
ERNEST: Why are you back here?
BOOSE: (beat) Well, in addition to your suspicious dream, your name surfaced when we were interviewing others about an ongoing investigation.
ERNEST: An investigation about what? What was the crime?
HAKKE: We can't tell you that. It's an ongoing investigation.
ERNEST: I would never have guessed that you work for the government.
HAKKE: You can lose the attitude. (beat) Do you know someone named Mary Andrew?
ERNEST: Yes, of course I know Mary. She's a parent in the school our kids go to. She and I serve together on the curriculum committee.
BOOSE: Do you see each other in any other capacity?
ERNEST: We see Mary and her husband at school events. Otherwise, my wife and I have very little contact with her.
HAKKE: So, if I understand you correctly, you have semi-regular contact with Mary Andrew through the school and occasionally at various school social events. Is that a fair assessment of your relationship?
ERNEST: Yes, especially because that's what I just told you. But I'm having trouble figuring out what you're aiming at here. Do I need to have an attorney present?
HAKKE: Are you feeling guilty about something?
BOOSE: Perhaps by the fact that you've communicated with Mary Andrew four times in the past two days -- three text messages and one phone call.
ERNEST: Mary are I are finishing up the curriculum committee's recommendations for next year, which are due on Monday. Of course we contacted each other.
BOOSE: You are not a target in this investigation, Mr. Abbott; we're just trying to get a few questions answered.
HAKKE: For example, are you a religious man, Ernest?
ERNEST: This is America, sir. My religious views are none of the government's business.
HAKKE: Take the wax out of your ears: I didn't ask about your religious views, I asked if you consider yourself a religious person. Sweet and simple.
ERNEST: (beat) Yes.
BOOSE: Do you consider Mary Andrew a religious person? Do you attend the same church, for example?
ERNEST: Now you're going way over the line. I will not supply you information about any of my friends and colleagues.
HAKKE: Without getting into classified matters, we can tell you that on two occasions your friend Mary has written checks to so-called humanitarian foundations that passed on some of those funds to a Palestinian orphans' charity. That money could have worked its way to extremist groups in the Middle East.
ERNEST: Now that's what I call "firm evidence."
BOOSE: The threat we are working on is real, Mr. Abbott. Which is why Homeland Security is permitted to ask as many questions as we wish, about a wide variety of concerns. As a good patriot, we anticipate that you will want to answer our questions. In the furtherance of national security.
ERNEST: Of course I'm a patriot. That's why I find these questions intrusive, maybe even in violation of constitutional safeguards. I am now asserting my right to not answer any more questions until I have my attorney present.
BOOSE: We understand, Mr. Abbott, but we are obliged to tell you that given the nature of national-security investigations, Homeland is permitted more leeway when questioning -- or even charging -- suspects or witnesses.
HAKKE: As a matter of fact, we are permitted to do pretty much anything we want.
ERNEST: I get the threat. But as far as I know, I am neither a suspect nor a witness to anything illegal, so I am asking you politely to leave my home. (stands up and moves toward the door) I will be happy to meet with you again when my lawyer is by my side. (THEY exit)
(ERNEST makes sure BOOSE and HAKKE have exited the premises and driven away. HE then turns on radio and ups the volume on some music. HE goes to a locked box, takes a key from his pocket, opens the box and removes a disposable cell phone. He goes over near the sink, turns on the faucet, and makes a call.)
ERNEST: Hi. Sorry to call so late, but thought you should know that they suspect you're involved in something …. it's pretty clear that they're tapping phones and internet traffic. …. No, they didn't say, but these guys are Homeland Security. It's terrorist-related … They were interested in how I knew you and how often we communicate, that sort of thing. …. No, of course I didn't say anything about--. ….. OK, i'll let you know when it looks like it's safe to proceed. (ends call)
(The following morning. HAKKE and BOOSE are sitting in their car.)
BOOSE: I realize I'm the newbie here, but I find this very upsetting. First, we were told that this is all about an imminent bomb attack, verified by all the chatter on militant websites. This is a "high-priority investigation," the chief said. And now, poof!, it turns out it was nothing.
HAKKE: It's not uncommon for terrorist hackers to just pull our chain on occasion, watch us scramble around for a bomb attack that isn't real. It's kind of an exercise for them, to see how much we reveal about our strategies and secrets.
BOOSE: OK, I can understand all that. But we went all out on this: Tapping phones and computers, questioning all those people about Mary Andrew and Ernest Abbott. We may have done permanent damage to the reputations of those two as possible terrorist sympathizers. And the only actual secret we picked up was their love affair. We are proving what the liberals say about us-- that we're rampaging bullies].
HAKKE: Two people inconvenienced.
BOOSE: Three -- his wife – maybe their kids as well.
HAKKE: Big fucking deal. Collateral damage. Suck it up. We have work to do.
(Blackout. END OF PLAY)#