By Walter Howard 

FADE IN:

EXT. EMPTY STREET-NIGHT

A young black male, early twenties, walks the quiet humid streets of Pittsburgh in the summer. A car drives by prompting him to stick a thumb up in request. The car drives on. After a good deal more walking, another car approaches. His thumb goes up, and this time his request incites a hesitant stop from a gorgeous luxury vehicle. The passenger door swings open in front of him, and he, in turn, hesitates before entering. He looks at his benefactor; a middle-aged white male-perfectly groomed and wearing glasses meant to guarantee intellect. The car moves.

WHITE STRANGER

I’ve never done this before. Loathe to admit, I haven’t always been so concerned with my fellow man.

BLACK STRANGER

What made you start with me?

WHITE STRANGER

I’d like to say a renewal of faith, perhaps even a change of heart, but those notions don’t often factor in to real world character. I picked you up-better put- I decided to stop, out of curiosity.

BLACK STRANGER

All the same to me, thanks.

WHITE STRANGER

You are welcome. Is there somewhere I’m taking you?

BLACK STRANGER

Nowhere specific. I’d be grateful to travel with you for as long and far as you’ll have me.

WHITE STRANGER

Simply looking to get away, hmmm?

BLACK STRANGER

That’s putting it plainly, yessir.

WHITE STRANGER

Been there. I might not look it, but I have.

BLACK STRANGER

You seem to have arrived at something. This is a nice car you’re drivin’.

WHITE STRANGER

You noticed? I’ve had my share of success.

BLACK STRANGER

It’s almost inspiring.

WHITE STRANGER

Can I ask you something?

BLACK STRANGER

Shoot.

WHITE STRANGER

Do you know me?

BLACK STRANGER

How do you mean?

WHITE STRANGER

I mean, do you know who I am? Are you familiar with my work?

BLACK STRANGER stares sideways.

WHITE STRANGER

It’s not important.

BLACK STRANGER

Now that you mention it, you do look familiar.

WHITE STRANGER

I only ask because if you knew my name, I was prepared to ask you yours.

BLACK STRANGER

Karl Mallory.

WHITE STRANGER

Ralph Carter.

KARL

Now I’ve definitely heard that name before. Something in politics.

RALPH

Strike one.

KARL

What happens at strike three?

RALPH

I declare myself a novelist though there are those who could offer a rebuttal.

KARL

A novelist, huh? What kind of novels?

RALPH

The kind that everybody reads but no one really respects. Trifles. I writes murder stories.

KARL

The only books I really read.

RALPH

Could it be? A fan? Pinch me.

KARL

Do you not have many fans?

RALPH

I do actually. I don’t respect my fans. I look down upon them. What does that say about me that I look down upon my own fans?

KARL

You don’t respect yourself.

RALPH

Bingo.

KARL

I don’t know though. Those glasses alone probably cost more than my entire wardrobe. You must really be raking it in.

RALPH

You’re saying there’s a limit to how sorry you can feel for me?

KARL

Exactly. And I don’t mean to get personal.

RALPH

Duly noted. Continue.

KARL

But I would bet all the money I don’t have that you got a smoking hot wife.

RALPH

That I do.

KARL

What I imagine, the kinda woman I’m picturing-

RALPH

His eyes grow carnal.

KARL

The kinda woman I’m picturing is worth all the respect I have for myself.

RALPH

You would think. I did think.

KARL

Then?

RALPH

You get older. You get old.

KARL

How old are you?

RALPH

I turn fifty next month.

KARL

What starts to happen?

RALPH

What starts to happen is you get to thinking. You spend a lot of time solitary, in your house, and mine is a very big one.

KARL

What about your wife?

RALPH turns slightly towards KARL but is somewhere else entirely.

RALPH

You want to see something?

KARL

Sure.

RALPH pulls out his wallet and takes out a picture of his wife. He then hands a small photo to KARL.

RALPH

No let down?

KARL

None.

RALPH

Keep it.

KARL

What?

RALPH

It’s a present.

KARL

I don’t want to seem ungrateful and ask a weird question, but what do I do with it?

RALPH

More picturing. More imagining. That picture of her will be as useful to you, as the flesh and blood genuine article has been to me. Have your way with her. I have.

KARL pockets it.

KARL

Can I ask where we’re going?

RALPH

You said you didn’t care, remember?

KARL

That’s right. I did say that.

Silence.

KARL

I’ve always wondered how you writers come up with all that stuff.

RALPH

All that gouging out cat’s eyeballs with pen knives and hiding wives in walls stuff.

KARL

For example.

RALPH

Well I suppose there has to be a screw or two loose somewhere. Do you know, for all the kvetching and words of contempt, I’ve always wanted, prayed even, to write one great murder story. One that really shocks without being cheap.

KARL

People don’t shock easy.

RALPH

Everything’s so derivative now.

KARL

My uncle used to call his food great trash. He used to say, “I ain’t no gourmet.”

RALPH

A character. Not for a novel, but for an anecdote. If only I knew what you’re trying to express to me.

KARL

Serve it up and smile.

RALPH

Ah, in other words, if I can’t achieve what I aspire to, aspire to what I can achieve.

KARL

That sounds about right.

RALPH

Inspired thinking. You are coming along quite nicely Karl.

KARL

I get all kinds of ideas.

RALPH

And I’ll bet they just flow and flow and flow. Am I right? No self-doubt.

KARL

Are you working on anything now?

RALPH

I am.

KARL

Could it be your great murder story?

RALPH

Not likely. Better try for great trash.

KARL

Then maybe I could help.

RALPH

Maybe.

KARL

What’s it about?

RALPH

A man- a wealthy man-smothers his gold-digging, fornicating wife, then takes off with her in the trunk of his car.

KARL

Then what?

RALPH

I was thinking he might pick up a stranger hitchhiking as he drives.

KARL

Why would he do that?

RALPH

Maybe he needs someone to confess to. Someone harmless.

KARL

So he’s not Catholic, and he’s never heard of priests.

RALPH

You have a better idea?

KARL

Not yet. But let’s go ahead and say that the hitchhikers harmless-I’ll give you that although it’s no guarantee-what happens to the hitchhiker after the confession.

RALPH

That’s what I don’t know yet.

KARL

You don’t have a why. You don’t have an ending. And I’m not sold on how your guy kills his wife. What I like about this kind of shit is all the weird and interesting ways someone can kill another person.

RALPH

How would you do it?

KARL

Someway really grisly. I saw this one shit right, where the wife gets it to her with piano wire. Almost takes her head clean off. You want the reader to close his eyes for a few seconds, ya know?

RALPH

You’re wonderful. I ought to take you to the Q and A’s I do at old ladies’ book clubs.

KARL

And back to your hitchhiker. I don’t buy it. A killer would want to be alone.

RALPH

The whole interest for me was the unlikely bond of two strangers that forms when murder is involved.

KARL

If you’re hell-bent on it then you have to kill the hitchhiker after the confession.

RALPH

I’ve considered that. It’s a little obvious.

KARL

It’s a paperback seller right?

RALPH

Has some of my New Canaan snobbishness rubbed off? Yet and still, my readers are cheap, not easy.

KARL

What if the two meet before the murder? Or, what if the guy confesses but the stranger has a story himself that would keep him from really judging it.

RALPH

Coincidence much. He just happens to pick up a man with a past?

KARL

Coincidences happen. Otherwise there’d be no word for it. What if the rich dude paid the stranger to murder his wife? That’s murder and money. What if he paid the stranger to seduce his wife?

RALPH

The stranger wishes.

KARL

So that he can walk in and commit a crime of passion. Money, sex, murder.

A sudden violent crash. Both men are a little worse for wear but alright. They get out of the car to see what they’ve hit. A deer. They stare at its corpse.

RALPH

Let’s move him.

They carry it over to the side of the road.

RALPH

Have you ever done any writing Karl?

KARL

None sir.

RALPH

You seem to have a perfect mind for this. What if I asked you to spend the night at my house? What if I asked for your help?

KARL

What about your wife?

RALPH

What about her?

KARL

Won’t she mind?

RALPH

No need to worry about her.

They reenter the car and take off.

FADE OUT

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