Inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s High and Low (1963)

HEAVEN AND HELL

BY W.L HOWARD

 

Cast of Characters

JOHN ORLAND BRYAR, a self-made black man runs a small shoe

business

LINDA, his wife, balances her career with being a mother

JAMES, his first son, 25, resents the attention his younger

brother receives

JUNIOR, his ten-year-old son, excels in school and sports

DETECTIVE HARRIS WILCOX, a cynical working man, he just wants

to do his job

NARRATOR/VOICE, a dual figure, he represents a real force in the

Bryars’ lives.

ACT 1

The Curtain remains down.

NARRATOR

It was a normal Monday for the Bryar family; made up of John, the patriarch, Linda, his high-minded, strong willed wife, Junior (age ten), their pride and joy who excels in all things, and their other, much older son James. John managed his shop, the name of which is unimportant, James co-managed the shop, his responsibilities felt unimportant, Linda presided over a small private elementary school, the name of which is unimportant, and Junior continued being at the top of his 5th grade class, his classmates, of course, being unimportant. Tuesday went much the same. Wednesday offered a slight twist in that they finally went to Wednesday church like they always mean to. Thursday, was just like every Thursday except Junior prayed a little longer than usual because he had a big test that day. Friday John had a meeting with a Mr. Korvell, a big-time property owner looking to buyout an entire block to turn it into a strip mall, John’s little shoe store being in the way. James was also there. Saturday, they volunteered at a soup kitchen. Sunday, church, then football. These are good people. A blessed family. A praying family. Strain now and you can hear them praying yesterday morning.

(Four prayers can be heard behind the curtain. John’s first, then Linda’s, Junior, and finally James. Their prayers overlap.)

These were the type of banal, uneventful days that one so easily takes for granted. As their story progresses, they will look back on these days with longing. Because yesterday was only partly ordinary. That is, only three-fourths of yesterday went as planned. Because Junior didn’t come home and John came home late. Yesterday, the nice world the Bryars were dwelling in was shattered. When John woke up this morning, it was Tuesday, and his son had been missing for 16 hours.

SCENE 2

(John and Wilcox stand in the guest restroom having a private conversation)

WILCOX

Mr. Bryar, we wanted to be square with one another.

JOHN

Yes.

WILCOX

And you feel you’ve been square?

JOHN

I do.

WILCOX

I’m sorry, but that can’t be.

JOHN

Detective, you tell me where I’ve been false, and maybe I can explain.

WILCOX

Why were you late coming home?

JOHN

I’m not a machine. I’m mostly on time, but you still can’t set your watch by me.

WILCOX

Five hours late?

JOHN

We went over this.

WILCOX

Yes, and I’m sorry, but you lied.

JOHN

What does this have to do with my son?

WILCOX

Maybe nothing. Probably nothing, but I can’t know for sure until you’ve told me the truth.

JOHN

The truth has nothing to do with what’s happened.

WILCOX

You generally run your shop from opening to about Six p.m. Correct? You got home at 11. Your wife had already called us. We were here waiting for you. She, nor anyone else had an idea where you were.

JOHN

I’ve told you.

WILCOX

Once you leave your shop at six, your son, James takes care of things until closing. It’s true your son wasn’t in the shop that day. We verified that.

JOHN

He was talking with the local big-shots. They want to buy us out.

WILCOX

So you stayed on and worked late, but your employee, a young kid named Preston said you actually left earlier than usual and you trusted him to close shop.

JOHN

What exactly do I owe you. I don’t owe you this. It has nothing to do with what’s happened.

WILCOX

You’re sure.

JOHN

Completely.

WILCOX

If you were home with your wife would you have called the cops?

JOHN

I don’t know. I would have been scared.

WILCOX

But would you have called us?

JOHN

Of course. Do you think I’m hiding my son?

WILCOX

On the day your son goes missing, you come home late, which your wife says has never happened before. That’s odd. Out of respect, I’m asking you straight, instead of leaving it to my own imagination, what possible correlation there could be.

JOHN

I’m telling you straight, none.

WILCOX

In the brief period that I’ve known you, you have been damn sure about a lot of things; a damn sight surer than I could ever be, about things out of your jurisdiction.

JOHN

That’s not true. There’s so much that I don’t know. That’s become abundantly clear these past  several hours, but this isn’t one of those things. This is my life. This is about my small life apart from Linda and my two sons. They take up ninety-nine percent of my life and this is about my one percent. I’m the only one with jurisdiction there.

WILCOX

Now, you see Mr. Bryar, that’s some mighty provocative stuff. You are creating more questions than answers. We are two men standing in a restroom, I had hoped with our defenses down, wanting to be square with one another, doing everything right and possible to find your son. There’s no need for this-I won’t talk without my lawyer present-attitude you’re assuming. I’m not out to get you John, and I am getting familiar, because John, we’ve got ourselves a good-old-fashioned mystery brewing with the highest most precious stakes imaginable. You are not helping the puzzle by hiding the pieces. Is it your wife? She’s not here. She can’t hear us, I’m pretty sure.

JOHN

No it’s not my wife. What’s that meant to suggest? ‘‘Is it my wife?’’

WILCOX

I don’t quite know what I’m suggesting, only you’re leading me to some very basic assumptions; the way you’re talking. What I’m inclined to believe is none of my business, but there is a scenario, not as fantastic a notion as it at first seems.

JOHN

It being.

WILCOX

Organized crime.

JOHN

What?

WILCOX

Organized crime.

JOHN

Is that supposed to be some big revelation?

WILCOX

There are no small revelations and I said a scenario.

JOHN

Organized crime?

WILCOX

Organized crime exists.

JOHN

So what it exists?

WILCOX

Have you ever had any dealings, legitimate, less than, or elsewhise with potentially left of legit organizations? Superficial as they might have been.

JOHN

No.

WILCOX

You are a rather affluent businessman.

JOHN

Absolutely not.

WILCOX

Think John.

JOHN

I don’t need to think. This is ridiculous. I own a small shoe store.

WILCOX

There’s no need to be so absolute and indignant about it. Odds are Mother Theresa herself bought bad curry once from a shady vendor.

JOHN

I’m sure.

WILCOX

Where you claimed you were, what caused you to come home five plus hours later than usual, we know just isn’t so.

JOHN

So what.

WILCOX

So where were you? Who’d you meet with?

JOHN

Nobody.

WILCOX

Nobody’s an alias out of The Odyssey. Who’d you meet with?

JOHN

Nobody.

WILCOX

Maybe you aren’t but I am working way too awfully hard to be going in circles.

JOHN

That’s the truth. Nobody.

WILCOX

How about the whole truth?

JOHN

The whole truth? It’s not much longer. I just drove.

WILCOX

Drove where?

JOHN

Nowhere. Anywhere.

WILCOX

I don’t follow.

JOHN

I didn’t want to go home. I’d never felt that before.

WILCOX

You had something else you wanted to do?

JOHN

Listen to me. Really listen to what I’m saying. I didn’t want to go home.

WILCOX

Had you and Linda some kind of row?

JOHN

No.

WILCOX

I’m not tracking.

JOHN

I drove home, down Henrietta Street, past the fueling station, same as every Monday. Same as always. Only all of a sudden I started reaching for my neck. For my tie. I wear a tie to work. It felt like a noose. And I reached my house, and I slowed down, and my tie got tighter. Then I looked at my fuel gauge, and I kept on driving. For five hours, I kept on driving. Felt like a holiday.

WILCOX

I see.

JOHN

Do you?

WILCOX

Sure, I’ve worn a few nooses through the years.

JOHN

You have kids?

WILCOX

One girl. Full-grown lady now. Doesn’t want much to do with me. Lives out in hippie Oregon. I don’t understand her.

JOHN

What would you do to get her back?

WILCOX

I want to say anything, but all I’ve come up with is two or three lame phone calls a year.

JOHN

I meant if you were in my situation.

WILCOX

Something stupid probably, and it wouldn’t work. The best thing you can do is trust us, and not take matters into your own hands. This isn’t Ransom and you’re not Mel Gibson.

JOHN

I don’t know that movie.

WILCOX

Good. The best thing you can do is trust us.

JOHN

I’m trying.

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