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"Scramtown"

April 2020

By Arnold Serapilio

Mortimer Waverly!

Act I Scene 1

 

 

The stage is divided 50/50 into two sets: stage left is a condensed approximation of the fifth floor. We see study alcoves, windows, and bookshelves. Stage right is a condensed approximation of the Trustees’ Room. We see the oblong table with chairs around it, a notepad and pen sitting on the table in front of one of the chairs, the hutch that houses Washington’s private library, and paintings on the wall surrounding the table. One painting in particular stands out; an oversize rendition of a fluffy cat, perhaps a Maine Coon, wearing a suit, wisps of smoke from the lit cigarette that protrudes from the cigarette holder in the cat's paws.

 

Lights up on stage left. DETECTIVE SCRAMTOWN, standing mostly in shadows, nibbles at a peanut and butter and jelly sandwich.

 

SCRAMTOWN (chewing): Peanut butter and jelly. Why do I eat peanut butter and jelly? I don’t like peanut butter and jelly, never have. I do like whiskey, see, what private dick doesn’t? Whiskey and shadows are what I like, not this goopy childish nonsense. For Pete’s sake, this jelly doesn’t even have any seeds in it! Imagine that! And I call myself hard boiled? I’m about as hard boiled as an egg. No, this will not do. I like my jelly like I like my underbellies...seedy.

 

Enter BAXTER stage left. He walks over to Scramtown and slaps the sandwich out of his hand.

 

BAXTER: You can’t eat that in here, this is a library!

 

SCRAMTOWN: Baxter, you twit! Confound it, man.

 

As Baxter exits stage left Scramtown lights a cigarette, takes a healthy drag.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Yes, this is better anyway. Now where were we. The name’s Detective Scramtown, private eye. Folks call me when things get hairy and they just can’t cope with the po-lice. I have seen some strange things in my day boy, let me tell you. But this one here, this one takes the cake. It all started when I got a visit from my close personal friend Baxter, see. He’s the number two down at the Boston Athenæum. Comes down to my office, tells me he’s got a case for me and that I’m not going to believe it. ‘Try me,’ I tells him. I tells him, ‘You don’t know the things I’ve seen.’ So he sits down and as he’s fumbling with the back of the chair I can tell he’s shaken—something’s got him spooked. He looks haunted. I pour him some scotch and the bugger’s downed it all before I’ve even finished handing it to him. Tells me the library’s beloved cat has gone missing. I say, ‘What do you mean cat, isn’t a library supposed to be all about books?’ because I’m sharp see, and naturally suspicious besides. So Baxter goes on to tell me that this cat—Madame Squeakerton they call her—she just up and disappears one day. One minute she’s there and then the next minute...gone. Just like that. I tell him I have my doubts she’s missing. ‘That’s a big building you work in,” I says to him. ‘How do you know she’s not just hiding out somewhere?’ He tells me he has access to every space in the building, if she was around he would know. Feeds me some line about how there’s this toy, this ball of yarn with a little bell knotted off at one end, and when you ring the bell she comes running, emerging from wherever she’s hiding at the time. And he was ringing the bell in vain until it went missing. Her food bowl, meanwhile, remains untouched.

 

Scramtown pauses for another drag of the cigarette.

 

But here’s where it gets...weird. Shortly after Squeakerton vanishes, what should appear on the wall of the Trustees’ Room but—

 

Spotlight on the painting of cat on stage right.

 

this. And wouldn’t you know it, the cat in that painting is, so I’m told, a dead ringer for our precious Madame Squeakerton. What’s more, nobody seems to know where the painting came from…

 

Lights down on stage left, lights up on stage right. Scramtown is now seated at the table in front of his notepad. CIRCULATIO is seated in one of the other chairs.

 

CIRCULATIO: I don’t know why you’ve got me in the hot seat here, I certainly haven’t done anything wrong.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Calm down, son, easy does it now.

 

CIRCULATIO: Don’t you tell me to calm down! Don’t you dare tell me! I will not be condescended to by some penny ante would-be detective.

 

Circulatio had better watch his mouth.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Son. I need you to answer some questions, and I need you to be truthful, ok? You do that and we will not have a problem, see.

 

CIRCULATIO: I’m not on trial here.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Exactly right. We are just two people talking.

 

CIRCULATIO (coming around): Just talking.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Right. So. Lay it all out for me, real nice like.

 

CIRCULATIO: The Athenæum has a cat. Madame Squeakerton. Everybody loves her. Well, except Baxter, but he doesn’t love anything.

 

SCRAMTOWN: He is a bit of a pill, isn’t he?

 

CIRCULATIO: Madame Squeakerton, though. She’s such a pwecious wittle cute cute. And everybody, the staff, the membership, we all love her. In fact there is competition among the staff as to who gets to feed her. We had to come up with a system whereby we rotate feeding duties on account of everybody loves her and all.

 

SCRAMTOWN: When did Madame Squeakerton go missing?

 

CIRCULATIO: Last week, I think. Everything’s been a blur since she left though. I was the one who went to feed her, and she never came. I rang the bell any everything. I thought maybe she was fooling around in the stacks because she likes to knock books off the shelf and just leave them laying around in random places...drives me nuts. This is how books go missing, you know? You take a book off the shelf, you set it down somewhere else, and that’s it. We’ll never see that book again. I mean, it’s just common courtesy: if you’re going to remove a book from the shelf then return it to its rightful place! And if you don’t know what its rightful place is, then ask! Or better yet, just hand it over to a staff member! Don’t guess, and don’t leave it laying in some obscure spot where it will go unnoticed for months.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Are you still talking about the cat?

 

CIRCULATIO: Missing books. Day in and day out, that’s all I do. I live and breathe missing books. You know, sometimes I have nightmares about the missing books. I dream I’ve been tasked with finding a book—sometimes it’s several books, on a bad night—but of course it isn’t on the shelf where it should be. So I check other spots, you know, I try and guess how the call number could have been misread and shelved correctly according to that mistake, I try to anticipate the mistakes, but nothing. Finally in a moment of desperation I return to the spot on the shelf where the book lives and surprise! It’s there. Even though that was the first spot I checked. But no matter, the book is here in my hands now, wonderful! I open it up just to make one hundred percent sure it is the book I am looking for, wanting to cross reference the title, author, publication date, et cetera. But now, the inside cover is blank! With worry setting in I start thumbing through the pages, they’re all blank, each and every one of them! The words themselves are missing now!

 

SCRAMTOWN: OK. But Madame Squeakerton—

 

CIRCULATIO: Now I am really freaking out. ‘The words! The words!’ I shout, although you know how in dreams when you experience terror and you try to cry out for help but your words are all slurred and incoherent, or else no sound comes out at all? Ever experience that one, Jack?

 

SCRAMTOWN: Name’s not Jack—

 

CIRCULATIO: And then I wake with a start. Ever wake with a start, Jack? That’s when you shoot up into a sitting position and as you’re doing that you regain consciousness of the waking world. And you usually think, ‘Why am I sitting up right now, wasn’t I just sleeping?’ And then you realize you are drenched in a cold sweat. And then—

 

SCRAMTOWN: Let’s get back on track with Squeakerton—

 

CIRCULATIO: It’s MADAME Squeakerton! Show some respect!

 

SCRAMTOWN: What did you do when you came to understand that Madame Squeakerton was missing?

 

CIRCULATIO: I notified Baxter. He waved me off, per usual. I don’t think he likes cats very much.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Interesting. And it was you who discovered the painting too, yes?

 

CIRCULATIO: Yes.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Can you walk me through that one, please.

 

CIRCULATIO: Well, I was on the hunt for a missing book—what else is new?—and I was doing a sweep of this very room.

 

SCRAMTOWN: The ‘Trustees’ Room?’

 

CIRCULATIO: The very same. Sometimes people leave things in here after meetings, pencils, notebooks, the like. And the occasional book from our collection.

 

SCRAMTOWN: You were doing your due diligence.

 

CIRCULATIO: Exactly. So I’m in the room and I’m scanning for the book—

 

SCRAMTOWN: Which book?

 

CIRCULATIO: Mind Your Matter by Mortimer Waverly.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Any idea what it is about?

 

CIRCULATIO: That’s the weird part. I think the catalog referred to it as a book of the occult. A member had been asking about it, said it’d come recommended.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Do you know this member’s name?

 

CIRCULATIO: Mathilde. She is tasty.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Longtime member?

 

CIRCULATIO: Can’t be sure. I’ve only seen her around recently, come to think of it. Figure if she’d been around long though I would’ve noticed her. She doesn’t exactly blend in. Anyway as I’m looking for this book I am thinking about Madame Squeakerton, wondering where the heck she is and hoping she is not hurt. When all of a sudden BAM! I’m staring at her, in painting form, right in front of me on this huge display that I had never seen before in my life.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Have you established provenance on this painting? Are you sure it wasn’t an old painting that had been in storage and the resemblance to Madame Squeakerton was entirely coincidental?

 

CIRCULATIO: No I have not and yes I am sure. But don’t take my word for it, ask the Lieutenant.

 

SCRAMTOWN: The Lieutenant...he’s the curator of paintings, yes?

 

CIRCULATIO: He is. Anyway I see this painting and I just start screaming. ‘Aaaah! AAAAAAHHHHHH!’, real unhinged like. And then I feel faint and I collapse to the floor in a quivering heap. I think I black out because the next thing I know it’s hours later and I’m being kicked out of the room for an admin meeting.

 

SCRAMTOWN: The Lieutenant, you say?

 

CIRCULATIO: The Lieutenant.

 

Lights down stage right.

 

 

Act I Scene 2

 

 

Lights up stage left. Scramtown takes a drag of his cigarette, regards it lovingly.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Nicotine. My one true friend in a rotten world. Everywhere you turn, somebody is getting into something they should not be getting into. Everywhere you look, someone is losing his grasp. Take this Circulatio fellow, for example. This guy looks at painting and is instantly reduced to a blubbering mess? I got a bad feeling about that guy. He is on edge. I’ll be keeping an eye on him. For now though, let’s talk to this ‘Lieutenant,’ see what he knows.

 

Lights down stage left. Lights up stage right. Scramtown is back in his spot at the table. THE LIEUTENANT is standing in front of the cat painting, studying it closely.

 

LIEUTENANT: The composition really is quite striking. Note the way the cat’s eyes seem to follow you wherever you go, suggesting work that breathes, that is alive. Note the smart suit the cat wears—I think she pulls it off quite nicely. Sure, she’s wearing white which is risky especially if it is after Labor Day—

 

SCRAMTOWN: Lieutenant, when I said, ‘Tell me everything you know about this painting,’ I meant who painted it? When did the Athenæum purchase it? Who hung it? I am trying to establish provenance so as to rule out the rather silly idea—an idea that nonetheless has some folks sufficiently freaked—that this painting ‘magically’ appeared here. So. If you will kindly indulge me.

 

LIEUTENANT: O.

 

The Lieutenant sits down.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Great.

 

LIEUTENANT: Let me tell you, friend. I run a tight ship around here.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Is that a fact?

 

LIEUTENANT: I am responsible for the acquisition, cataloging, and preservation and conservation of each and every painting in this joint.

 

SCRAMTOWN: That sounds like a lot of work for one man.

 

LIEUTENANT: Delegation my good man, delegation.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Still. Seems like an awful lot for one person to keep everything straight. I tell you it’s enough to make a body snap. How many paintings are in the collection?

 

LIEUTENANT: Seven thousand, four hundred, twenty-six.

 

SCRAMTOWN: That accounts for ol’ Madame Squeakerton here?

 

LIEUTENANT: Seven thousand, four hundred, twenty-seven.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Tight ship indeed.

 

LIEUTENANT: I beg your pardon, friend? If you are implying I am not competent, well...I’ll give you ‘what for!’

 

SCRAMTOWN: I apologize, Lieutenant. I don’t know what came over me. I only meant to suggest that anybody is fallible.

 

LIEUTENANT: I keep a close eye on inventory. Nothing goes in or out without my knowing.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Absolutely, I’m sure your skills are unmatched. Say, how about this painting of Madame Squeakerton? How did that one find its way into the collection?

 

LIEUTENANT: Yes, how did that one find its way into the collection, how indeed?

 

SCRAMTOWN: Are you asking me?

 

LIEUTENANT: I am merely reposing the question. It is a good question.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Well then yes. That is what I am asking you.

 

LIEUTENANT: And it is a valid question. How indeed does any painting come into our possession? Some we purchase—some are donations. It is invariably one of those two options.

 

SCRAMTOWN (losing patience): And which option might this one be?

 

LIEUTENANT: Another valid question. Indeed, which one? For it could only be one of these two options.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Let me put it to you differently. Did you initiate or otherwise authorize a payment for this painting?

 

LIEUTENANT: No, friend.

 

SCRAMTOWN: And have you, in reviewing your budget, your expenditures, come across any line item referencing this painting?

 

LIEUTENANT: No, friend.

 

SCRAMTOWN: To your knowledge, has the Boston Athenæum paid for this painting?

 

LIEUTENANT: No, friend.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Right. So it was donated then, is that your contention?

 

LIEUTENANT: No, friend.

 

SCRAMTOWN: You have no idea where this painting came from, do you?

 

LIEUTENANT: Not as such, no.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Is there anything you can tell me about this painting that you think might be helpful?

 

LIEUTENANT: You might speak with Baxter. He is an art enthusiast and, from what I am given to understand, an avid painter.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Let’s switch gears. Tell me about this cat, this Madame Squeakerton.

 

LIEUTENANT: She is such a wittle cutie. Such a wittle fwuffy-fwuff.

 

SCRAMTOWN: So they say. And tell me, this cutie, this ‘fwuffy-fwuff,’ did she have any enemies?

 

LIEUTENANT: Well there is the business of this hawk that often perches in a tree right next to the window that overlooks the Granary. You can see this tree from each floor, and sometimes when the hawk catches her eye she’ll run from floor to floor—

 

SCRAMTOWN: I meant human enemies.

 

LIEUTENANT: O. Well…

 

SCRAMTOWN: Go on.

 

LIEUTENANT: I am loath to even mention this for fear it will sound like I am making an accusation, and by gum, I am decidedly not! Innocent until proven guilty, that’s what I always say…

 

SCRAMTOWN: ...and?

 

LIEUTENANT: Well...one time I ran into Circulatio in the break room. He was washing out Madame Squeakerton’s food bowl.

 

SCRAMTOWN: I’m with you so far.

 

LIEUTENANT: And, well...quite frankly he was grousing about how he’d just caught her knocking books off the shelf. How she’d look him right in the eye as she did it, too. Taunting him. Suffice it to say he was not exactly mental stability personified.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Interesting.

 

LIEUTENANT: I’m telling you this so you get as full a picture as possible. But I do not think he had anything to do with her disappearance. Are you going to find her, detective?

 

SCRAMTOWN: I am certainly trying.

 

LIEUTENANT: Because people are talking about it at the library. There are rumors going around. Our membership is distressed. As a runner of a tight ship I do my level best to squash any silliness, but. There is one member who springs to mind, I believe her name is Mathilde—

 

SCRAMTOWN: The alluring one? Circulatio mentioned her too.

 

LIEUTENANT: She is quite beguiling, yes. She came to me recently asking about that painting, just as you have asked me today. Turns out she and this cat had a ‘special connection’ as I believe she worded it.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Would you characterize her interest in the cat as...unusual?

 

LIEUTENANT: Not as such, no. Everybody loved that cat. I mean, loves that cat. Except maybe Baxter but he doesn’t like much of anything.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Old nay-saying Baxter.

 

LIEUTENANT: Old nay-saying Baxter indeed.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Circulatio mentioned a missing book he seemed to attach significance to. Mind Your Matter by Mortimer Waverly.

 

LIEUTENANT: Mortimer Waverly, now there is one odd duck.

 

SCRAMTOWN: You know this man?

 

LIEUTENANT: He is one of our longtime members.

 

Lights down stage right.

 

 

Act I Scene 3

 

 

Lights up stage left. Scramtown paces deliberately as he thinks out loud.

 

SCRAMTOWN: So. I’ve got a missing cat that everybody seems to love. I’ve got a mysterious painting of said missing cat that falls out of the clear blue sky that nobody knows a darn thing about. And I’ve got a missing book on the occult written by one of the members.

 

Scramtown takes another drag of the cigarette.

 

I am really craving some seeded raspberry jelly right now.

 

Lights down stage left, lights up stage right. Scramtown and Waverly shake hands.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Mr. Waverly, thank you for taking the time to sit down with me. I know you’re a busy man.

 

WAVERLY: Think nothing of it, I could use the diversion. I am working on my next manuscript.

 

SCRAMTOWN: If this is a bad time—

 

WAVERLY: Your timing, and your wording, are perfect. For I am working on a book about time!

 

SCRAMTOWN: Is that a fact? I won’t pry—

 

WAVERLY: In this book I explore the meaning of time. How it guides us. How it restricts us. How it frames our existence—contextualizes it. How it is constantly shifting, an amorphous idea that no one person can fully wrap his brain around on his own, and that just when he thinks he finally gets it, is finally standing on solid ground, he finds that alas, he has been standing in quicksand the entire time, but it is too late, he has no time left, he is already buried.

 

Long, pregnant pause.

 

SCRAMTOWN: O...K…Mr. Waverly—

 

WAVERLY: Please call me ‘Wavy.’

 

SCRAMTOWN: Right. Wavy. You’re a member here, is that correct?

 

WAVERLY: As correct as the void that is a black star.

 

SCRAMTOWN: I’m going to put you down as a ‘yes’ to that question. How long have you been a member here?

 

WAVERLY: Time is such a tricky proposition. For what may feel like an eternity to you is but an instant to your neighbor. Time is but a wisp of smoke, ethereal, fleeting.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Um. Let’s try this. Who was in the White House at the time you joined?

 

WAVERLY: I believe it was Calvin Coolidge.

 

SCRAMTOWN: That puts us somewhere in the 20 year range, 21, 22, 23, somewhere thereabouts?

 

WAVERLY (sighing): If it pleases you.

 

SCRAMTOWN: So Mr. Waverly—

 

WAVERLY: Wavy.

 

SCRAMTOWN: I’m sorry, Wavy

 

WAVERLY: No sweat, my pet.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Um. I understand you wrote a book titled Mind Your Matter, is this correct?

 

WAVERLY: Indubitably.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Can you please explain what this book is about, relegating your response to the domain of the planet Earth?

 

WAVERLY: In short—in long, they’re the same—it is a step by step, in layman’s terms, guide to harnessing the power of the brain to manifest substantive change to one’s form at the tiniest levels, atomic if you so choose.

 

SCRAMTOWN: You mean—

 

WAVERLY: Precisely, my astute sleuth. It is a how-to on re-arranging matter using only the power of the mind.

 

SCRAMTOWN: It cannot be done!

 

WAVERLY: Oh, but it can—just use that impeccable brain of yours!

 

Silence as Scramtown stands, leans into Waverly, staring him down. Finally, after a couple beats, he sits back down.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Nah. Didn’t work.

 

WAVERLY: You should read my book. For anyone who does may wield enormous power! In fact all you need to do is simply hold the book in your hands and it will imbue the holder with certain...supernatural characteristics.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Is it possible somebody could have used your text to turn Madame Squeakerton into a painting?

 

WAVERLY: Affirmative. I wrote the book with the best of intentions, but there is nothing to stop anybody from applying my method to nefarious ends.

 

SCRAMTOWN: And Madame Squeakerton?

 

WAVERLY: She’s a wittle fwuff-fwuff cute-cute.

 

SCRAMTOWN: You mentioned whoever holds your book wields enormous power. Wavy, I have to ask, are you carrying this book on you right now?

 

WAVERLY: Heavens no!

 

SCRAMTOWN: Would you submit to a thorough pat-down so I can verify this?

 

WAVERLY: Heavens yes!

 

Scramtown pats down Waverly. He’s clean.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Alright Wavy, you are free to go. Oh, one last thing since I have you here: hows abouts a complimentary replacement copy of your book for the library’s collection? Anything we can work out there?

 

WAVERLY: What am I, made of money?

 

Waverly extracts a one hundred dollar bill from his pocket as he heads toward the door and blows his nose with it. Lights down on stage right.

 

 

Act I Scene 4

 

 

Scramtown is looking a bit tired now.

 

SCRAMTOWN: What a loon, eh? Time and quicksand and atomic levels...did you catch any of that? And boy does he have confidence in the power of his own writing! He is kooky for sure. But is he responsible for the disappearance of Madame Squeakerton? I think not. As it stands the only thing I can credibly accuse him of is being a cheapskate. Then there’s the Lieutenant. Self-serious, sure. But cat-napper? Or worse? I don’t see him summoning the level of alertness to carry it all off, if you really want to know. That leaves us with Circulatio. Now this guy needs his head examined. You saw him in there. The man is on. Edge. And this cat apparently liked to screw with him. You would be appalled by what a man can do when he feels he’s been pushed too far, see. And he knew about the book. Maybe it was never missing. Maybe he found it and started looking through it. Got hooked on Waverly’s masterful prose. Became inspired to make a change in his life. Went too far…

 

Lights down on stage left. Lights up on stage right. Circulatio is back in the hot seat. He is wearing a shaggy sweater.

 

CIRCULATIO: Look, I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it I tell ya! I swear! You gotta believe me!

 

SCRAMTOWN: You know what I believe, Circulatio? I’ll tell you what I believe. I believe you hated that cat, that Mrs. Squeakface—

 

CIRCULATIO: IT’S MADAME SQUEAKERTON, SHOW SOME RESPECT! And I didn’t hate her, I didn’t...I loved her…

 

Circulatio is on the verge of tears. It wouldn’t be the first time a grown man has cried in front of Scramtown. And it usually means one thing: earnest regret over a bad decision made on impulse.

 

SCRAMTOWN: You did love her.

 

CIRCULATIO: I mean, sure we had our differences. But that’s inevitable when you are talking about a human and a cat. We’re two different people.

 

SCRAMTOWN: You are. People can love each other but they still have friction, doesn’t mean they don’t love each other. Yes, yes of course...you didn’t hate Madame Squeakerton, you loved her...you loved her so much you kidnapped her, brought her home with you. You see her each and every day, don’t you?!

 

CIRCULATIO: I don’t, I don’t, honest!

 

Scramtown walks over to where Circulatiois seated.

 

SCRAMTOWN: You know one thing that all cat owners have in common, son?

 

CIRCULATIO (sobbing): No, what?

 

SCRAMTOWN: Oh, a cat lover can be a man or a woman. Can be young or old, black or white, religious or not...but do you know what they all have in common?

 

Scramtown is looming over the trembling Circulatio now, his hand outstretched toward his sweatered shoulder.

 

They are all, without fail, eternally, and ever to their chagrin, covered...IN CAT HAIR!!!

 

Scramtown yanks at Circulatio’s long-haired sweater, expecting stray cat hairs to come off in his hand. No dice.

 

CIRCULATIO: What are you doing, stop it! You’re going to ruin my sweater.

 

SCRAMTOWN (deflated): I...thought you had cat hair on you.

 

CIRCULATIO: No, it’s just the material of the sweater.

 

SCRAMTOWN: But you look like a cat in it.

 

CIRCULATIO: What can I say? I miss Madame Squeakerton.

 

The two sit in silence for a beat.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Well this is uncomfortable isn’t it?

 

CIRCULATIO: It sure is.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Still. I think you did it. And I can prove it. Empty out your pockets.

 

CIRCULATIO: What? Why?

 

SCRAMTOWN: Just empty them. Now.

 

Circulatio complies. Pencil, scraps of paper with call numbers hastily jotted down. No sign of Waverly’s book.

 

SCRAMTOWN: That everything?

 

Circulatio nods.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Are you sure, son? I know the look of a man who is hiding something.

 

CIRCULATIO: It’s going to look worse than it is.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Ah, so there is something.

 

CIRCULATIO: You’re going to take this the wrong way—

 

SCRAMTOWN: Let’s have at it, man!

 

Circulation withdraws Madame Squeakerton’s ball of yarn from his pocket and hands it over to Scramtown.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Carrying around a memento of your latest victim, eh sicko?

 

CIRCULATIO: It’s not like that!

 

SCRAMTOWN: Oh sure. You probably don’t even know what it’s doing in your pocket, right? ‘Gee, how’d that get there? I guess it just jumped into my pocket unsuspectingly!’

 

CIRCULATIO: I’m telling you, no—

 

SCRAMTOWN: Give it up, son. You know where she is. And you’re holding her toy hostage because you don’t want anybody to find her. Sing it!

 

CIRCULATIO: No! I love Madame Squeakerton and I would never do anything to hurt her. She’s my wittle fwuffy fwuff! Honest, you gotta believe me!

 

SCRAMTOWN: WHERE’S THE CAT, SON?

 

CIRCULATIO: I don’t know!

 

SCRAMTOWN: WHERE’S WAVERLY’S BOOK, SON?

 

CIRCULATIO: I don’t know! Believe me, I hate missing books. Once they go missing they don’t come back. And this one was especially annoying because Mathilde probably wouldn’t even be asking for the book if Baxter hadn’t recommended it to her.

 

SCRAMTOWN (getting quiet): What did you just say?

 

CIRCULATIO: Baxter. He recommended Mathilde read Waverly’s book. She mentioned it to me when she enlisted my help to find it. Why, what does that matter?

 

SCRAMTOWN: I’M COMING FOR YOU, BAXTER!

 

Lights down stage right. End of Act. I.

 

 

 

 

 

Act II, Scene 5

 

 

Lights up stage left. Scramtown lights another cigarette.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Let’s game this out. Baxter. We all know what a drag Baxter is. Doesn’t like cats? He doesn’t like anything. I once asked him what kind of music he liked, after he’d criticized my saying that I enjoyed jazz. You know what he told me? ‘I don’t like music.’ ‘I don’t like music!’ As if all music was a monolith. As if music doesn’t possess the power to transfigure your pain into something beautiful. ‘I suppose you don’t like fun either?’ I had snapped back, thinking he’d have nothing to say to that. Know what he said? ‘Never much cared for fun, no.’ Honestly. So I have no trouble at all believing Baxter could have it in for this cat, especially one so darn cute. Maybe he was jealous of this cat. Was sick of her getting all the glory. Thought it was high time to do something about it. As associate director he has access to every space in the building—he said so himself, you heard him—even spots the rest of the staff can’t go. Maybe he didn’t kill her, no. He hides her! Somewhere nobody will stumble across her, somewhere nobody will hear her scratching at the walls. Poor wittle kitty. Then he uses his painting skills to paint a picture of her to suggest something otherworldly is at play and get folks all riled up. You thought you were being clever, didn't you Baxter, by coming to my office hat in hand, asking for my help, but you slipped up didn’t you, you underestimated me…

 

Lights down stage left. Lights up stage right.

 

BAXTER: Scramtown, you are treading treacherous waters here my friend.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Oh I’m your friend am I? Your age-old friend? Going to play that card, are you?

 

BAXTER: Well I am sorry to report I am using the term loosely here. You certainly aren’t acting like a friend. I don’t very much like being accused.

 

SCRAMTOWN: And I don’t very much like being jerked around! You kidnapped Madame Squeakerton. You hate cats—hate everything—miserable, rotten wretch that you are. You had Circulatio’s feedback that she was messing with the books and you didn’t like that—books are possibly the only thing you do like. So you nabbed the cat and you hid her away. Painted her picture and hung it on the wall to get everybody thinking that she had somehow transformed. And then you come to me begging for help, betting that in doing so I would unconsciously assume you were innocent of any wrongdoing. All signs point to you, my friend.

 

BAXTER: You are wrong on so many levels.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Cram it, I’m not finished. There are two things I can’t quite work out. One: what does Waverly’s book have to do with any of this? It’s not really magic, is it? Two: if you were trying to deflect attention why would you recommend the book to Mathilde? At first I thought you were trying to frame her for this supposed magical transformation, but the timeline on the chain of events doesn’t track.

 

BAXTER: Are you finished?

 

SCRAMTOWN: I’m ready for you to start giving me some answers, if that’s what you’re asking. So go ahead and try to refute me on any of what I just said.

 

BAXTER: First of all, I don’t hate everything, I’m not a monster. I’m just introverted. Second: I love Madame Squeakerton. She’s a wittle cutie-patootie. On this matter there is simply no debate.

 

SCRAMTOWN: If that painting is any indication I am inclined to agree with you there.

 

BAXTER: Third. And I want you to really hear me: I did not kidnap, nor did I kill, Madame Squeakerton. To think! Nor did I paint a picture of her to lead people into believing she somehow transformed into a painting—that is an absurd conjecture on your part and quite frankly, shame on you. You should know better. Fourth: I never recommended Waverly’s book to anybody. And fifth—

 

SCRAMTOWN: Wait a minute wait. Circulatio told me that Mathilde told him she was interested in reading Waverly’s book because you had recommended it to her.

 

BAXTER: That’s not correct.

 

SCRAMTOWN: If you’re lying to me—

 

BAXTER: Which I am not.

 

SCRAMTOWN: —then that would mean Circulatio lied to me. Or else Mathilde lied to him.

 

BAXTER: Circulatio is...a handful, but one thing he is not is dishonest.

 

SCRAMTOWN: And fifth?

 

BAXTER: Yes. It was not my idea to hire you. Oh, don’t get me wrong, you are perfectly capable. But frankly I didn’t want to waste your time. I was certain Madame Squeakerton simply wedged herself into a vent or a seldom-used storage closet. I wanted to take care of this problem myself. I’ve been looking for her every chance I get. Would have been easier if I had had her toy though.

 

Scramtown reaches into his pocket, pulls out the ball of yarn with the bell knotted at the end that he shook down from Circulatio.

 

SCRAMTOWN: You wouldn’t mean this one?

 

BAXTER: That’s the one! Where did you find it?

 

SCRAMTOWN: Circulatio was holding onto it.

 

BAXTER: That makes sense, he loves playing with that cat. More than he loves shelving books, it seems sometimes.

 

SCRAMTOWN: But wait, so if it wasn’t your idea to hire me, then whose was it?

 

BAXTER: That would be Mathilde.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Boy, she’s got a lot of friends.

 

BAXTER: She’s...hard not to like.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Name keeps coming up.

 

BAXTER: She’s quite beguiling.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Might you say—

 

BAXTER: Yes. She is some dame.

 

SCRAMTOWN: One more thing: are you carrying Mortimer Waverly’s Mind Your Matter on your person?

 

BAXTER: No I am not.

 

Baxter empties his pockets as proof.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Methinks a Mathilde I shall meet.

 

Lights down stage right.

 

 

Act II, Scene 6

 

 

Lights up stage left. Scramtown is munching on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Mmmmmm! So much better with the seeds. So, so much better.

 

He eats the last big bit in one bite, wipes his hands on his trousers.

 

OK! Let’s get this over with.

 

Lights down stage left, lights up stage right. Scramtown is seated in his usual spot. Mathilde is circling the table and weaving around the room. She moves with a deliberate, languid grace.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Are you sure you don’t want to sit down, miss?

 

MATHILDE: When I want to sit, I sit.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Very well. I would like to ask you a couple questions. OK?

 

MATHILDE: If you must.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Mathilde, if I may—come to think of it I don’t even know your last name.

 

MATHILDE: I answer to whatever I want, whenever I want. Mathilde is fine.

 

SCRAMTOWN: How long have you been a member of the Boston Athenæum?

 

MATHILDE: What business is that of yours?

 

SCRAMTOWN: Is it a problem for you to answer this simple question?

 

MATHILDE: Is it a problem for you I don’t divulge a piece of personal information about myself?

 

SCRAMTOWN: That depends, Mathilde.

 

MATHILDE: On what?

 

SCRAMTOWN: Why don’t you let me ask the questions...and you just worry about the answers, OK?

 

MATHILDE: Fine. If you must. I don’t know...seven years?

 

SCRAMTOWN: Interesting.

 

MATHILDE: How’s that?

 

SCRAMTOWN: Well it’s just that...everybody around here seems to know you now, and yet nobody can recall seeing you around here any longer than say...one week, two tops?

 

MATHILDE: Maybe I don’t come in very often.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Maybe that’s it. I hope you won’t take this the wrong way but...you are very hard to miss.

 

Mathilde wanders by where Scramtown is seated, brushing up against his shoulder.

 

MATHILDE: I could say the same thing about you, love.

 

SCRAMTOWN: So you’re telling me you’ve been a member here for several years, that’s your story?

 

Mathilde slinks over to the painting of Madame Squeakerton.

 

MATHILDE: Such a wittle fwuff-fwuff.

 

SCRAMTOWN: You approached Circulatio asking after a book by Mortimer Waverly titled Mind Your Matter. Why?

 

MATHILDE: Mind your manners?

 

SCRAMTOWN: The title is Mind Your Matter. Ring any bells?

 

MATHILDE: Bells?!

 

SCRAMTOWN: You know Mathilde, this will be easier for both of us if you stop acting so evasive.

 

Mathilde waltzes over to Scramtown and nuzzles his cheek, whispers in his ear:

 

MATHILDE: Who’s evasive?

 

Mathilde embraces a cold and distant Scramtown.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Avid reader, are you?

 

Mathilde withdraws abruptly, sashays to the other side of the room.

 

MATHILDE: Why do you ask?

 

SCRAMTOWN: You’re a member here, aren’t you? This place is lousy with books. Stands to reason you’d enjoy them.

 

MATHILDE: I’ve read a thing or two in my day.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Take the book you have in your pocket, for instance. The one I could feel through your blazer when you rubbed up against me?

 

MATHILDE: Come again?

 

SCRAMTOWN: Let me explain. Just now, when you were trying to distract me. You kind of leaned into me and I felt something hard, shaped like a book. I fancy you’re an avid reader and like to carry around with you whatever you happen to be reading at the moment. So my question to you is: what book is in your pocket, Mathilde?

 

The two stare each other down in silence. Mathilde is coiled, brooding. She reaches into her blazer, withdraws a book, sets it down on the table in front of her. Scramtown gets up and walks to the other side of the table to retrieve the book. Before he can grab it she slams her hand down on the book and his hand comes down on top of hers. They eye each other again. Finally she withdraws her hand.

 

Well well well, what have we here...Mind Your Matter by one Mortimer Waverly. Say, wasn’t that the book I was just asking you about?

 

Mathilde says nothing, just continues shifting about.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Seems a little, oh...unusual, doesn’t it, to lie about a book you’re reading? Unless of course you didn’t want me to know you were reading this book. A book, I am told, that bestows upon its reader great power. Now why would that be, exactly?

 

MATHILDE: How do you know—

SCRAMTOWN: Heard it from the man himself, Mathilde. Mortimer Waverly. Odd man, that one. Member here, in fact.

 

MATHILDE: He is?

 

SCRAMTOWN: News to you I take it. Very well. Let’s crack on with it then, Mathilde. You kidnapped Madame Squeakerton.

 

MATHILDE: I did nothing of the sort!

 

SCRAMTOWN: You don’t expect me to believe you turned her into this painting then, do you? With the help of this book?

 

Mathilde leaps up to grab the book Scramtown is brandishing. She is not successful. A struggle ensues. Scramtown is able to wrest the book back from Mathilde’s grasp, and in doing so a bookmark is knocked loose. He manages to trap the page it was marking before the bookmark falls to the floor. He reads from the page:

 

Those who heed these steps shall set themselves free/be whatever it is they want to be.’

 

He looks up from the text, puzzled.

 

You don’t mean…

 

Mathilde steps into Scramtown’s personal space.

 

MATHILDE: Yes. I am Madame Squeakerton!

 

SCRAMTOWN: But that would mean his book…

 

MATHILDE: ...is really magic. I know. It is.

 

Scramtown paces frantically.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Yes, yes of course! You were a cat once. A playful cat that everybody loved. You liked to knock books off the shelves. One day, you knocked this book off the shelf and it fell to the floor, open. Cat that you were, you inquisitively sniffed around, and your paws made contact with the page. And you inadvertently unleashed its awesome trans formative power. This book...it turned you human!

 

A stunned Scramtown collapses into his chair.

 

MATHILDE (clapping): Yaaaay, the big important detective man figured it out...how long did that one take you? But yes, I turned myself human. And I’m glad, glad I tell you! You think it’s so easy being a little kitty? In such a big building? With all those open spaces and loud, weird noises? Where are the cozy nooks, I ask you, WHERE ARE THE COZY CAT NOOKS? I NEED TO BE SURROUNDED ON ALL SIDES!

 

SCRAMTOWN: But the painting...how do you explain that?

 

MATHILDE: I made it. And then I hung it on this wall.

 

SCRAMTOWN: To throw people off your trail. And the book? I suppose you told Circulatio that Baxter had recommended it…

 

MATHILDE: ...to make Baxter look suspicious, yes.

 

SCRAMTOWN: And you urged him to enlist my help—

 

MATHILDE: In the hopes you would ultimately trace everything back to him and see his coming to you as a cover for his guilt.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Well played.

 

MATHILDE: Why thank you.

 

SCRAMTOWN: But...why? Why all the skulduggery?

 

MATHILDE: Because, silly. Us cats are smarter than you humans. And it’s fun to toy with you.

 

With her cat-like reflexes Mathilde snatches the book from Scramtown and scampers around the room.

 

SCRAMTOWN: Get back here this instant!

 

Scramtown chases Mathilde around the room, under the chairs, up over the table, she is always just out of reach. It is only when Mathilde begins purring that Scramtown snaps out of his stupor.

 

Come here kitty kitty, come here. Give me that book back, kitty.

 

Mathilde has started to scale the hutch that houses the George Washington private library.

 

Here kitty kitty…here cutie kitty…

 

He pulls the ball of yarn with the bell knotted at the end from his pocket, starts shaking it vigorously. Mathilde, unable to resist anything that dangles, drops the book and begins swatting at the string, knocking it from Scramtown’s hands. As she rolls around on the floor with the ball of yarn Scramtown grabs the book.

 

That’s a good kee-ty. Cute wittle fwuffy-fwuff. That’s a good keee-ty.

 

Lights down stage right.

 

 

Act II Epilogue

 

 

Lights up stage left. Scramtown stares somberly out one of the windows.

 

SCRAMTOWN: There you have it, folks. After I changed Mathilde back into Madame Squeakerton I had to destroy the book so it could not cause any more chaos. Everybody is thrilled to have Madame Squeakerton back, though I’m not sure she is happy to be back—I think she had really taken to her human form. But it had to be done. These are the moral dilemmas you face as a private detective. I didn’t tell Baxter what happened. He wouldn’t have believed me anyway. Instead I told him Mathilde had kidnapped the cat, that I was able to coax her into doing the right thing: returning the cat and quietly bowing out of Athenæum life. Everybody asks about her, though. And quite frankly I don’t blame them. When she leaned into me real close—well, she smelled like a million bucks, and let’s just leave it at that. Yes, she was some dame.

 

Baxter enters stage left.

 

BAXTER: Ssssh!!! No talking up here!

 

SCRAMTOWN: Baxter, you drip.

 

Lights down stage left. Somebody creeps onto stage from left. Spotlight up; it’s Waverly. He has a fresh copy of Mind Your Matter under his arm. He looks around to make sure nobody is around—nobody is. He walks over to a shelf and shifts some books to the side, making room for his own, which he then slips onto the shelf. He then shifts the other books back so that his is now snug as a bug in a rug among the rest of the books. Looks around again, still nobody’s watching. Creeps off stage left. 

 

LIGHTS OUT