A radio play written for a workshop run by Firesign Theatre alumni. If only we had known about podcasts.
Cast of Characters
Thorndike Rose: Sounds like he should be narrating a story by Raymond Chandler. Talks like he has a toothpick between his teeth.
Narrator: This is Rose. He should sound different when narrating, with some effects adding presence to his voice. Perhaps the narrator’s voice should have a little echo.
Jasmine D’Vine: Femme fatale.
Clive Muswell: Voice like Peter Lorre.
The Star: Speaks with a well-known Memphis baritone, best known for singing. Thought to be dead.
Police Officer: Choose your favorite accent.
Brunhilda D’Vine: A cross between the Wicked Witch of the West and Bette Davis.
(Theme music up and out.)
ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the Thorndike Rose Mystery Show, sponsored by B & S Fertilizer. Remember, it takes a lot of manure to make one Thorndike Rose. This week’s episode: “Jas’s Singer.”
NARRATOR: Name’s Rose, Thorndike Rose. I’m a private dick ’cause I like low pay, enjoy being shot at , and I always manage to rise to the occasion. (pause) I just finished up a case and I think you oughtta hear about it while you sit there listening to your radio, eating your dinner, waxing your car, sanding down that table left by the people who used to live in your house because it was too big to move out of the living room, or whatever it is people do when they hear voices coming from furniture. Join me now as we go back into my past, yesterday to be exact.
(Sound of the previous spiel played in reverse.)
NARRATOR: It was a day like any other. I had shown up for work in the late afternoon, having spent the previous night really getting into the 24-hour cable sports channel. I was sitting at my desk killing time. (Sound of alarm clocks going off and being silenced by gunfire.) I go through a lotta clocks. (One last alarm; shot misses; Rose curses and shuts it off by hand.) I could hear her coming up the stairs. She walked with an easy backbeat. (Runway music up and under. Delicate knock at the door.)
ROSE: Yea? Come in! (Door opens.)
JASMINE: Mr. Rose?
ROSE: Take a seat honey. (Sound of high heels on linoleum until Jasmine sits. Music out.)
NARRATOR: She looked like she had an easy backbeat, too.
ROSE: What can I do for you?
JASMINE: I want to hire you.
ROSE: Glad to hear it. What’s the job?
JASMINE: It’s my Aunt Brunhilda. (bursts into tears)
ROSE: I see.
NARRATOR: I thought about taking her in my arms and comforting her. Her lips puckered as she wept. The tears rolled off her lips down onto her dress. The way her bosom heaved with every sob, threatening to fly right out of her low-cut gown, caused my heart to swell with pity.
JASMINE: Cut it out. I’ve calmed down now.
ROSE: So, what seems to be the problem with your aunt?
JASMINE: She raised me from a little girl when my parents died in a tragic rotisserie accident. I love her dearly. She has managed my trust all these years. She made many sacrifices in her personal life and I’ve always respected her for it, but now… (renewed sobbing)
NARRATOR: I thought about taking her in my arms and rubbing up against her. Her cheeks swelled as she wept. The tears rolled off her face down into a puddle on the floor. The way her knees heaved with every sob, threatening to tip her chair over, caused my eyes to bob up and down.
JASMINE: I said to cut that out. (pause) My aunt has brought a man into the house who threatens to destroy us. He’s eating us out of house and home and spends all her money on more food. I saw him eat three boxes of chocolate pudding pops last night alone.
ROSE: Have you spoken to her about it?
JASMINE: I haven’t the heart. She’s very attached to him. He waited on her at a Denny’s.
ROSE: Does this freeloader have a name?
JASMINE: Not that I’ve heard. He has a nice singing voice though.
NARRATOR: I found myself staring out the window, thinking about life, about how life had brought this beautiful, innocent, pure little thing vamping into my office. What kind of a world is it where a kid loses her parents in a backyard grilling tragedy? How can people treat a dame that has so many curves in such a twisted fashion? I was thinking about a lot of things: dames, smokes, cops, cooking utensils… my mind wandered… where it would go… there’s a hole in the ceiling…
JASMINE: Mr. Rose? Mr. Rose? Can you help me?
ROSE: Miss, what would you like me to do about it?
JASMINE: I want this man thrown out of my house.
ROSE: I can’t do that.
JASMINE: I could make it worth your while.
NARRATOR: She blinked her eyes at me and I responded to her like a Schnauzer to a dog whistle.
ROSE: I could talk to him, at least.
JASMINE: I’d rather you did it when my aunt and I were out. Tonight our bridge club meets. Could you do it then?
ROSE: I’ll drop by. Write your address down for me.
JASMINE: Here you go. I wrote down my private phone number, too. (pause) Goodbye, Mr. Rose. (Jasmine’s walking music up and under.)
ROSE: What’s your name?
JASMINE: Jasmine D’Vine, but you can call me Jas. (Woodwinds trill. As her footsteps retreat, the music fades out.)
NARRATOR: After Jasmine, I mean Jas, left, it wasn’t long before I heard another set of footsteps outside. These were a lot more masculine.
(Knock on Rose’s door. Door opens.)
MUSWELL: Mr. Rose? I am Clive Muswell. May I come in?
ROSE: Welcome to Grand Central Station. Have a seat.
MUSWELL: (settles himself in) Thank you, but I’ll just use it here.
ROSE: I see.
MUSWELL: You do?
ROSE: I think so.
MUSWELL: Then you can take care of it?
ROSE: I’m not sure. Can you afford me?
MUSWELL: Assuming you are worth it…
ROSE: You get what you pay for, but you knew that when you walked through that door. Don’t let it slam on your way out. Just leave the payment on my desk in small, non-sequential bills.
MUSWELL: I suppose you will be discrete?
ROSE: My discretion is my own.
MUSWELL: It is a woman.
ROSE: That’s not unusual.
MUSWELL: She brought a commodity to me, a certain singer, a pop singer. At least, he used to be one.
ROSE: Would she be D’Vine?
MUSWELL: She most certainly was. She walked, well, shall I say, in a way that brought pleasure to my eyes. Her name was Jasmine.
ROSE: What did she want with you?
MUSWELL: I have a recording studio in my home. She wished to use it. I play numerous musical instruments with a certain level of ability. I have always found the greatest pleasure in the aural arts. I was a boy soprano. Perhaps you heard me sing.
ROSE: I doubt it.
MUSWELL: How unfortunate. Perhaps I can send you a recording of myself when I was younger.
ROSE: Don’t put yourself out.
MUSWELL: But to return to the point at hand, Ms. Jasmine required my services. I recorded her singer, such as he was.
ROSE: You didn’t like him?
MUSWELL: He sang in a style my ears could not easily tolerate. I have trained my ears to enjoy only the finest music, you see. It is a small passion of mine. I am really a man of only simple ways.
ROSE: What happened after you made the recording for Ms. Jasmine?
MUSWELL: The recordings are put onto acetate tapes. I have a very old studio, you see. I keep the tapes in a vault until they can be pressed into records. Well, they were stolen last night. I was out at dinner in a little place on Ninth Street. They serve the most divine whitefish. When I arrived home, I had been burglarized.
ROSE: Anything else stolen?
MUSWELL: No, only the tapes. It was very unusual, I believe. Of course, you would know that better than I would.
ROSE: This whole day’s been pretty unusual. I’ll tell you what. I’ll come over to your place.
MUSWELL: Here’s my card. I can meet you there in twenty minutes.
NARRATOR: I didn’t like Muswell. Maybe it was the strange way he talked. I felt I’d met him somewhere before.
MUSWELL: Good day, Mr. Rose.
ROSE: Good day, yourself. (Muswell exits)
NARRATOR: I put on my gun and holster and tried to make sense of what had happened so far. I guessed Muswell was following Jasmine. He probably wanted to know what she’d been to see me about. I’d have to be careful at his place because he’d want information I wasn’t prepared to offer. I went down the stairs to my car. (sound of Rose descending many stairs) It was parked out front. When I stepped outside, I tripped over Muswell’s body. He lay in a heap on the stoop. Blood leaked from his chest like an old faucet with a bad washer. He clung to his life like Velcro. He motioned me toward him, trying to speak. I turned my ear to him.
MUSWELL: (dying) He sings off key.
NARRATOR: I realized there was little sense in going over to Muswell’s. A crowd was starting to gather. I heard sirens approaching. (sound of sirens) Picking myself up, I went back up to my office. (Sirens fade. Sound of Rose walking up stairs, panting heavily as he arrives at his floor.) I could see a large hulking shape through the frosted glass of my door. It reminded me of Sidney Greenstreet, only larger. I drew my gun. (Sound of him sketching furiously.) I slowly opened the door. (Squeaking door.)
STAR: (breathing heavily) Man, you gotta get your elevator fixed.
ROSE: (drops his gun) Oh my god! You’re… .
STAR: Yeah, yeah. Everybody recognizes me. That’s why I don’t go out any more.
ROSE: (walks to his desk and sits) It could be the spandex and sequins.
STAR: Other people have told me that. If they weren’t so darn comfortable…
ROSE: I’ve heard that. How’d you get in here? I didn’t see you come in.
STAR: I used the back way. The janitor let me in. I told him that he could sell the sighting to the Enquirer. You got any pudding pops?
ROSE: No, no freezer.
STAR: That’s tough. I’ll send you some over if you like?
ROSE: Thanks, but I’ll get by without.
NARRATOR: That was when he took off his sunglasses. (Angelic choir coda.)
STAR: I need your help, Mr. Rose.
STAR: A number of people think I’m dead.
ROSE: I had heard that.
STAR: You, too, hunh? Rumors sure travel fast. Why my momma used to tell me that a rumor was like greased lightning rolling down a freshly paved sidewalk.
ROSE: (pause) You don’t say? (pause) What was the problem you came to see me about?
STAR: I don’t know if you realize it, but I recently recorded a new song.
ROSE: I had heard that.
STAR: It was paid for by a Ms. D’Vine.
ROSE: You don’t say.
STAR: She’s been very kind to me. I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I think she might be taking advantage of me. It’s happened to me before. Would you be willing to check her out for me? I don’t have much money, but I should once the record is put out. I usually did all right with my old stuff.
ROSE: Don’t worry about the money. How did you get my name?
STAR: I looked through the phone book and your name was circled.
ROSE: That yellow pages ad is really paying off.
STAR: While I think of it, could you come by the place where I’m staying tonight? It’s the D’Vine mansion. Ms. D’Vine told me we were gonna be robbed tonight and I could use some protection.
ROSE: I think I can manage it. I should be in the neighborhood.
STAR: By the way, do you do hits?
ROSE: You mean top forty?
STAR: I mean hits. Like killing somebody for a price. There’s this writer named Goldman…
NARRATOR: I felt a cold hand run up and down my spine.
(Rose laughs as if being tickled by a cold hand.)
STAR: What’s so funny?
ROSE: Nothing. Nothing really. Is it cold in here or is it just me?
STAR: You got any pudding pops around here?
ROSE: Nope, gave ’em up for Lent.
STAR: Look then, I really have to be going. I’ll get back to you about this writer thing.
NARRATOR: As he shambled out the door, I knew it was the last I was to see of that legendary figure. It was all starting to come together. Jasmine D’Vine had arranged for herself to be the sole possessor of a very rare musical recording. She wanted to make it even more unique by bumping off the singer. She hoped to implicate me as the murderer. Her aunt fit in somehow and I was going to find out how. There was a knock on the door.
(Knock on Rose’s door. Door opens.)
OFFICER: I’m sorry, Thorndike, but I have to take you downtown for questioning.
ROSE: What’s the trouble?
OFFICER: Seems a number of people talking to the dead body on your stoop. The lieutenant would like a few words with you.
ROSE: Let me get my coat. What happened to your partner, Rosencrantz?
OFFICER: He’s getting an autograph from a client of yours.
I went downtown with the police. They put me through the mill over Muswell. (Sound of a mill turning and Muswell jabbering from a well.) After sunset, they finally decided they couldn’t hold me any longer. It was a terrible night out, raining cats and dogs. (Sound of cats and dogs falling from great heights.) I raced over to the D’Vine place like a cheetah running downhill with the wind at his back. Luck was with me and I wasn’t pinched for ignoring the traffic laws.
(Sound of Rose running out of the police station, leaping into his car, banging his head on the door, speeding through traffic, and screeching to a halt in front of the D’Vine mansion. He runs up to the door, heavily worn out, and knocks, using a large metal knocker. He waits, breathing hard. Finally, he rings the doorbell. The bell plays the theme to Shaft. A large wooden door slowly opens.)
BRUNHILDA: May I help you.
ROSE: Hiya, Bruno. I’m looking for Miss D’Vine.
BRUNHILDA: She’s not here. (Door starts to close.)
ROSE: Don’t close that door in my face! You… ! (Door slams shut.) Never mind.
NARRATOR: My breathing sounded like a locomotive on a long uphill. (Cast breathes in rhythm of a locomotive.) As I calmed down, (Sound of locomotive pulling into a station. Conductor yells in distance: “Everybody off that’s getting off!”) I considered what my next plan of action should be. I decided to try skulking. I skulked around the side of the house and peered in a window. (Sound of Rose skulking on the lawn.) I could see Brunhilda in there with her back to me. She looked pretty good from this side. I thought she must exercise. I thought about her in a sweatsuit. I thought about me in a sweatsuit. I thought about me in her sweatsuit. (pause) She turned around suddenly. It was Jasmine! (Cast gasps. Some swoon.) She stared at me, just as astonished as I was.
JASMINE: I’m astonished!
NARRATOR: I barged through the window.
(Sound of breaking glass.)
ROSE: Aaaahhh! That hurts! I’m bleeding! Oh, my God! I’m gonna die!
NARRATOR: Let me take that back. (pause) I knocked on the window and Jasmine walked over. She coolly unlocked the window and let me enter.
JASMINE: I do not!
NARRATOR: Just do it!
JASMINE: Oh, all right. (She opens the window.) Won’t you please come in? We need to have a denouement.
ROSE: Why, thank you.
NARRATOR: I had to confront her. I knew that. I had to be tough on her, like Bogart always was. Except she looked at me with those lips puffed out just waiting to be kissed. I took her in my arms.
(Sound of a sudden blow and Rose’s sudden intake of breath followed by groaning.)
JASMINE: Never mess with a femme fatale, Rose. (Sound of a drawer opening.) You know what this is, Thorney?
ROSE: It looks like a Saturday Night Special.
JASMINE: Don’t you wish you’d supported Gun Control? Never mind that, now. I’m afraid I have to kill you, Thorndike.
ROSE: What about your meal-ticket, the singer?
NARRATOR: I had to buy myself time as I moved into position to lunge.
JASMINE: I’ll take care of him next. I’ll call him down here and use your gun. It’ll be a tragedy for the whole world and I’ll own his last recording.
ROSE: You’ve made your last record, sister!
NARRATOR: I leapt on her. She fell over and dropped the gun. I grabbed it and fired. (gunshot)
JASMINE: Ouch. I’m shot. Oh. Oh. Oh.
NARRATOR: It was obvious. Jasmine was evil and she had to die. I’d read enough Raymond Chandler. I sawThe Maltese Falcon forty seven times in one week. It wasn’t pleasant, but I always knew I wanted to be a private eye and private eyes are true-to-themselves, tough-hearted, no-women-allowed kind-o’ guys. I was just gonna stand there and let her blood run out on the carpet until the matter was finally settled.
JASMINE: Don’t be ridiculous. (Gasps from the rest of the cast.) I’m not going to put up with this tripe. Give me that microphone.
(Sound of Jasmine and Rose struggling over the narrator’s mic.)
JASMINE: Give me the microphone!
ROSE: No! I’m the narrator!
JASMINE: You’re bad at it!
ROSE: I most certainly am not!
JASMINE: Oh yeah? Well, I’m sick and tired of the attractive, young woman being the daughter of Satan or some such. I am not some scarlet harlot doomed to death because she’s been around a little bit.
ROSE: Oh, yeah! It says I’m the narrator in the script!
ROSE: Here on the first page. (Sound of pages being flipped.)
JASMINE: (tears page out of his script) There, that’s gone!
ROSE: (apoplectic) Why… You… Humph! (he stalks off)
JASMINE: (as the narrator) Jasmine noticed she was bleeding and saw Rose looking down at her like a cat examining a fishbowl. She took out her hankie and pressed it onto the minor gunshot wound, stopping the bleeding. Then, Jasmine dragged herself to her feet, crawling up Rose’s body. He froze there amazed by her stamina. When she was level with his face, she looked him squarely in the eye and said, (in the non-narrator’s voice) “Just because I’m smarter than you doesn’t give you the right to kill me off.”
ANNOUNCER: Jasmine D’Vine evaded the police and is living somewhere in Southeast Asia, hoping to marry a despotic ruler on his deathbed. Brunhilda D’Vine has been released from the basement of the D’Vine mansion, where her niece had kept her for the past seventeen years. She is looking for work, preferably something involving good light and fresh air. The rock star is on tour in the show Slim Whitman As You’ve Never Seen Him. Thorndike Rose is looking for work in a better radio serial. The cast for this episode of the Thorndike Mystery Show has been: (insert castmembers’ names). Be sure to order your Thorndike Rose Cutlery Set. Remember it doubles as a handy-dandy decoder for all the secret messages included in Dashiell Hammet’s novels. And introducing the new Thorndike Rose “bris ” set. Give the lad something in exchange that he’ll always cherish.