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Where's Mary Sue When You Need Her?

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Mary Sue (or simply Sue) is a usually derogatory expression for a fictional character who is an idealized stand-in for the author, or for a story with such a character....Mary Sue characters are generally marked by overdescription with extraneous, tacked-on paragraphs describing in great detail their distinctive appearance or possessions, even if they have no significance for the plot and seem out of place. For example, a Mary Sue would not be said to carry a gun. The model, color, appearance, and special features of the gun would be described all at once.

Although 'narcissistic' Sues and 'unintentional' Sues (characters that develop into Sues due to the author's subconscious) remain common, some authors now write Mary Sues deliberately as a form of parody.

—From the entry on “Mary Sue Fan Fiction” at Wikipedia, version of August 7, 2005 (likely).



I managed to fumble the black cloak and neon purple light saber behind my back before Daria and the others started to file in. At first, I was pretty pleased with myself for getting invited to the “Choose Your Fanfic Author Day” ceremony, but now I was starting to get nervous. I hadn't finished the one semi-ambitious story I started, and the one piece I'd sent out to fan sites I hadn't started myself. Had someone made a mistake? Was I about to be tossed out on my fat flabby ass?

It didn't help matters that everyone here was better dressed than I was. Aside from the standouts—The Angst Guy in his tuxedo with a penguin perched on his shoulder, Angelinhel with wings sprouting from her shoulders, Brother Grimace in military dress and armed to the teeth—everyone looked as though they were dressed for a wedding or bar mitzvah or some other formal event, which, of course, this was. Me? I showed up in an unpressed shirt and jeans, with my work ID on a laniard around my neck. I may as well have tattooed Cube Slave Dork on my forehead.

So what? I thought. Angel had told me this would be short, and I was going to work afterwards. Just smile, don't pick your nose, and take out the cape when the wind picks up. Bwa ha ha ha ha ha! I'm an Angst Lord! Look on my posts, ye citizens of Lawndale, and despair!

Daria and Jane came to the edge of the clearing first. I heard Daria utter the words “grammar-deficient twelve year old hack,” and immediately got nervous again. I blinked, and noticed I was sweating. Great, I thought—she's going to see I'm sweating and pick me out so she can make life hell for the newbie.

But she didn't pick me. She made a beeline for The Angst Guy, and said something to Jane about learning from a professional writer. I breathed a sigh of relief. It also restored my faith in Daria's integrity—she really must be willing to suffer for her art if she's going to pair up with TAG on her own, I figured. Then the Fashion Club let out a unison cry of disgust at Lobinske's nickname, which only caused Jane to pick him. She's no fool, I thought, and felt a small thrill at being so close to her.

The other characters then made their picks: I saw Sandi go with Brother Grimace (!), Quinn with Angelinhel (!!), and Burnout Girl with ad nauseam (there's somebody else who's no fool). I was so absorbed in watching it, I forgot I was part of it and didn't notice that someone had come up beside me.

“MacGillicutty?”—there was a nervous laugh—”That sounds like a fun name.”

I almost jumped out of my skin. I took a breath, called to mind Hunter S. Thompson's injunction to Maintain, and turned to see Stacy Rowe, pigtails and freckles, standing by my side—and I immediately regretted the whole Angst Lord shtick. By my lights, Stacy's the one member of the Fashion Club who really does mean well. Maybe I'd ship her with Ted DeWitt-Clinton. It'd been done before, but so what? Besides, what did Wyatt Gywon's teacher in The Recognitions say—the people who do things their own way are the ones who can't do things the right way?

I shrugged. “It's a name,” I replied and tried my best to give a friendly smile. And of course, just at that very moment, the wind had to rise. I pulled the cape out from behind me in a single gesture that almost smacked Stacy across her nose—and dropped my light saber.

Stacy picked up the light saber, saying “Here's your light saber—EEP! Light saber?!?! Are you an Angst Lord?”

I took it from her and patted her on the shoulder. “It's a lot of bullsh—I mean, a lot of baloney, Stacy. Everything's going to be fine.”

It did no good. “Ohmigod—ohmigod—you're going to kill me in some horrible way or send me to some alternative universe where I'll be married to some horrible wife-beater or something else terrible, I know it, I just know it!” she hyperventilated.

The clouds were turning black, which meant the ceremony was over. I looked up at the sky and felt glad to be heading home. “Really Stacy, it's going to be fine,” I said, scanning the list of dimensional portals Angel had given me. “Nothing bad is going to happen, I promise.”

“Really?” she stopped her panic breathing and had a glint of hope in her eye.

“Really,” I said and tried to give a friendly smile again.

“Oh, DARN IT!” she cried. “And Waif said that Angst is so hip right now.”

My stomach lurched as I remembered Stacy in “Fair Enough.” This was going to take more time and effort than I thought, and I still had to get back home and back to work.

“Actually,” I said through clenched teeth, “Val magazine says that sunny, romantic comedy fan fiction is what's edgy right now.” I started towards the portal.

“But you can't take what she says seriously—she showed up at Lawndale High mixing primary colors in the daytime!”

I turned just as a clap of thunder tore through the air (hey, maybe BG did know what he was doing when he gave me the cape and saber.) “Look,” I said—

—and didn't have a chance to finish, because Stacy was already puling loudly before me. “I'msorry, I'msorry, pleasedon'thurtme, don'tmakethethundersoloud, please Mr.AngstLordMacGillicutty please!” She was crouched down on the ground with her hands over her head.

I folded up the cape and tucked it under my arm with the light saber. Then I reached down to pull her to her feet. “C'mon, Stacy,” I grumbled, tugging at her. “This won't be so bad. It's just one story, and you even get some down time before it starts.”

She got up and followed along side me, head down, and chewing her lips. Finally, she said, “Oh Angst Lord MacGillicutty—”

“Please, just call me Scissors, OK?”

“OK...um—Mr. MacGillicutty? Where are we going first, if the story isn't going to start right away?”

“Just back to where I live. New York. And we better hurry if I'm not going to be late for work.”

“Work?” There was a definite note of disgust in her voice. “Who works during the summer?”

I rolled my eyes. “Guys like me, in their 40s, with a mortgage, who live in a nation with no national health coverage.”

“Sounds like it'll be boring.”

I didn't take the bait. Just you wait, missy—you'll learn the meaning of the old Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times.”

Of course, before the day was done, I would too. But I'm getting ahead of myself—

Chapter Text

The only dimensional portal I could get to after the little pairing-off ceremony led to a Good Times Chinese restaurant on Fulton Street just off of Broadway. Great. Right around from where I used to work for the Bank-that-shall-not-be-named, and a favorite lunch spot for some of my ex-managers. Like I'd really want to run into Tony Bonelli with an animated cartoon character by my side—and carrying a heavy black robe and neon purple light saber, for Chrissake's.

I should have been so lucky. Instead, there were a couple of NY's Finest who were out to make quota early.

“Excuse me—sir! That a fictional cartoon character you with?” She was a tough looking Latina whose nametag improbably read O'Brien.

“Um...yes?”

“Ohmigod! Did I get you in trouble, Mr. MacGillicutty? Ohmigod! Ohmigod! We're not gonna go to jail are we?”

Leave it to Stacy to keep cool under pressure. Fortunately, Officer O'Brien's partner—a large, pasty faced blonde guy whose name was apparently Hauser—took Stacy aside and calmed her down. “It's all right, young lady—just need to ask the author some questions.”

Officer O'Brien pulled a chair from a table and sat down, motioning for me to do the same.

She took our her pad and began to write a summons. “Have your name, sir?”

“MacGillicutty, Scissors.”

“That M-C or M-A-C?”

“M-A-C.”

“Right. Have a license to write in Manhattan, Mr. MacGillicutty?”

I swallowed. I had, but I let it lapse. “N-No, but I live in Brooklyn.”

She looked up from her pad and gave me a cynical glare. “And you never write at your job?”

“No, no—I mean, maybe a little sometimes—”

“Have a license to write in King's County, Mr. MacGillicutty?”

I breathed a bit easier. “Yes—here it is, officer.”

I took the small yellow card from my wallet and gave it to her. She wrinkled her nose at it. “It's still valid, but it's old. When'd you get this—was Paul Auster still in Brooklyn?”

I nodded. She wrote down my address from my license and handed it back to me. “Here's the deal, Mr. MacGillicutty,” she said, taking a pack of Old Golds from her pocket—just like a cop to smoke Old Golds—“back when your license was issued, county of Manhattan would recognize King's County writers licenses. But since Auster left Brooklyn, and Jonathan Lethem started to talk trash about Manhattan, there's been some changes, you following me so far?”

“Yes,” I replied and sighed. I knew I should never have subscribed to McSweeney's. As if they'd ever publish fan fiction anyway.

“Fortunately for you, it's not so bad. You just have to register your Brooklyn license at the Municipal Building on Centre St—if we don't have any problems with your friend here—” she turned to Hauser, walking towards us with Stacy. Stacy had been crying and was shredding a tissue.

“It's OK,” Hauser said. “She's just from some animated series on MTV got cancelled back in '01.”

“Oh, I'm so sorry, Mr. MacGillicutty,” Stacy burbled. “I-I couldn't take the pressure! I had to tell him everything!”

Officer O'Brien turned over my license and smirked. “Says here you're OK for fan fiction, but I wouldn't bring your friend along if she's gonna keep blubbering like that.” She looked back at Hauser. “No copyright problems?”

Hauser shrugged. “Technically, yeah, but she was a minor character—”

“Minor character?” Stacy wailed. “But Sandi always said that the Fashion Club was the backbone of the show!” She was now sobbing uncontrollably.

Hauser sighed. “Like I said, minor character. More paperwork than it's worth.”

“Then that's it,” O'Brien said, tearing a sheet of paper from her pad and handing it to me. “This is a summons for you to appear 30 days from now in Criminal Court Building, 100 Centre Street. You register your license in Manhattan before that, you can just send a certified copy of the registration to the address on the back. Or you can show up to your hearing with the registration. But if you don't register by then, it's $50 per word per day. Got that, Mr. MacGillicutty?”

I nodded contritely. Being an Angst Lord didn't cut any ice with the NYPD. I wasn't even going to try.

Hauser and O'Brien left. I heard them cracking jokes about the light saber on the way out—“Neon purple? What the hell color is that?”—and figured I better just go over to the Municipal building and get it over with. I'd have to make up some excuse for my job but I'd rather burn a personal day than have to face that fine.

Chapter Text

I called my boss and left a voice mail that there was a plumbing problem in my building and that I'd have to stay home to let workers in and out of my apartment. I'd used it before, but I felt comfortable with it because it had been true in the past and would be true in the future. A pre-war apartment building isn't just nice moldings and wood floors; it's also bad pipes, Rube Goldberg electrical connections, and—for the poor fools who bought the basement apartment without getting an engineer's report—floods whenever it rained. Despite this, people were still willing to pay a premium for the location, location, location. Only in New York. (and Silicon Valley, I suppose)

Stacy wasn't prepared for the heat when we left the Good Times Chinese restaurant. “Euw—it's so hot! Could we get a diet soda somewhere?”

I shrugged. I wanted a seltzer myself. “Fine by me,” I said, and started back into the Good Times restaurant.

“Um—do we have to get it there?”

“What's the matter with it?”

“Well, it's just kind of...dirty in there, don't you think?”

I sighed and rubbed my eyes. “Stacy, I am getting you a can of soda, not a piece of sushi. I fail to see—”

“EEP! I'm sorry, I'm sorry, you're right, please don't get mad at me, please, please!” There was real terror in her eyes. I was too worn down to find any satisfaction in it, and it wasn't even 10AM.

“All right, all right,” I said, holding up my hands as if to press back against the waves of fear she was emitting. “No harm, no foul. It's OK, Stacy.”

She looked like a deer caught in the headlights. “Promise?”

“Honest to God, cross my heart, and all that other BS. Now, what kind of soda you want?”

“Um—a Diet Ultra Cola, please?”

I grit my teeth and considered what the fallout of my next statement might be. Bracing myself, I told her, “Stacy, we don't have Ultra Cola here. Is there some other kind of diet soda you'd—”

“NO ULTRA COLA?” she screamed and pulled a swoon. I managed to grab her before she hit the pavement—but not before her shriek had attracted a crowd.

“Whatsa matter with her?” a middle-aged woman with big hair and a Louis Vuitton bag asked me.

“Uh...first time in town. I guess she got a little excited. And it's a pretty hot day, too”

“Aw, tell me about it,” the woman replied. “I'm on Shore Road in Bay Ridge, and it was so beautiful”—this she pronounced ‘be-you-tea-full’—“there this morning, and then my girlfriend says she wants to come into the city to shop at the Century 21 store—and here I was, thinking all the time it had got knocked down on 9/11—anyway, it's so nice where I am, and I come in here and it's like PHEW!” She fanned her shirt a bit for emphasis. She bent down and patted Stacy's face. “C'mon sweetheart, you'll be OK—maybe you want a cold drink, yeah?”

Stacy's eyes fluttered open. “But-but Mr. MacGillicutty says they don't have Ultra Cola here!”

The woman's friend had elbowed her way in. “What? Sure we got Ultra Cola here. There's a fancy supermarket a block away, corner of John and William. They got all kinds of imported soda.”

“Actually, it's not an imported soda—more of a regional specialty,” I cut in. I wanted the crowd to break up before somebody recognized Stacy and called the NYPD. Hauser and O'Brien had gone light on me, but next time I might not be so lucky.

“Try the place on John anyway,” the woman insisted. “Just a block away.”

“OK—thank you,” I replied and made to exit the scene when the first woman tapped me on my shoulder. “That girl,” she whispered in my ear, “she a cartoon character?”

Busted, I thought. I just made a sad face and nodded.

“Oh God, they're nothing but trouble,” the woman replied, still in a conspiratorial whisper. “My niece's youngest one, he used to watch Ren and Stimpy, and then he figures out how to get one of them here—that was more than five years ago, and she's still finding bits of cat litter everywhere.” She gave me a pat on the back. “You better get going, and keep an eye out so you don't get a summons for copyright violations—and just get her whatever. My grandkids, they scream for Coke. I just pour Pepsi into an empty Coke bottle, they don't taste a difference.”

“Thanks,” I said, and hurried towards John Street, thinking you never really know about people, do you?

The store had all sorts of overpriced Italian specialties, including tiny bottles of aged balsamic vinegar that ran into the mid-three figures. They didn't have Ultra Cola (no surprise there), but I managed to convince Stacy that a bottle of sparkling mineral water wouldn't violate her diet.

“You're sure this is just like regular water?” she asked as we stood on the checkout line.

“Absolutely,” I said. Images of force-feeding her prosciutto and whole-milk mozzarella until she was as big as Mrs. Johannsen began to dance through my head.

What was Brother Grimace doing with Sandy by now? Probably forcing her to crawl through a mile of broken glass to lick the lips of the last man who kissed Quinn alive. Angelinhel had probably given Quinn Tourette's syndrome or worse. And I didn't even want to think of what TAG was doing to Daria.

And me? So far I got a summons for writing fan fic without an up-to-date license in Manhattan, and I bought Stacy a bottle of sparkling water. Some Angst Lord I was. If only those cops, Hauser and O'Brien—-

Hauser and O'Brien. Where had I heard those names before? No, I hadn't heard them, I'd read them. But where?

“EXCUSE ME, THAT'LL BE $4.50 FOR THE WATERS, PLEASE!”

“Oh, sorry, sorry...” I paid, and Stacy and I went out and sat in the plaza by the College of Insurance and had our water.

Stacy looked up and around. “Gosh, it's so exciting to be someplace other than Lawndale! So—when people go on dates here, are there fancy restaurants? Anything like Chez Pierre here?”

“Like that, and much, much better,” I replied. I was trying to figure out where I knew the names Hauser and O'Brien from.

Stacy's eyes lit up. “Really? Do you think we could, like, go to one of them?”

I sighed. “People like me can't get reservations at places like that. Besides, even if I could get a reservation at those places, it wouldn't be for months.”

Stacy was crestfallen, but I didn't care. There was something funny about those cops, and I needed to know what it was.

Chapter Text

It's not a long walk from the corner of John and William to the Municipal Building, and you get to pass by the Brooklyn Bridge on the way. Despite that, we hadn't gone the two blocks to Broadway before Stacy began to complain.

“It is much further? Because if it is, I'll have to redo my toenails!”

I looked at her feet. She was wearing closed toe sandals with pastel blue colored canvas tops. “Do they rub against your toes that hard?” I asked.

“It doesn't matter! I don't want to mess up my pedicure!” There was something shrill in her voice that I couldn't recall hearing in the series.

“It's not much further—we just turn the corner here and walk a few blocks. Besides, why do you care about your pedicure if nobody can see your toenails in those sandals?”

“God, you don't-understand-Fashion-AT-ALL!” She was almost shouting, and her entire demeanor was different; rather than nervous, she was waspish. She was also sweating visibly. It was hot, but we'd just had our cold water and stayed in the shade most of the time. I shook my head. There's a reason she's in the Fashion Club and not just a sweet minor character, I figured, and walked on without replying.

We walked the few blocks to the Municipal Building in silence. I was tempted to point out City Hall and the Brooklyn Bridge to her, but decided they'd be lost on someone who'd bite your head off if you questioned her need for perfect toenails. In fact, I hardly bothered to look at her until we reached our destination. When I did turn to her, I was shocked at what I saw. She was drenched in sweat and had her arms wrapped around her torso, as if she were trying to shield herself from something. “Are you OK?” I asked.

“I just need to get to a damn bathroom so I can fix my toes, OK?”

I jumped back and decided not to raise any more objections. In fact, I figured the first order of business should be to find a bathroom for Stacy. Besides, O'Brien said I shouldn't have her around at the licensing bureau.

Of course, this being the Heart of Darkness of NYC bureaucracy, things weren't that simple.

“Where's the nearest ladies room?” I asked the bored-looking woman at the information desk.

“What's your business here, sir?” she replied, not looking up from her desk.

“Will you just tell her I need to get to a bathroom to fix my toenails?” She actually grabbed and started to shake me.

This got the woman's attention. She looked up at Stacy with that expression of infinite distain that can only be mustered by those who've spent years at a job whose total misery is only matched by its absolute security and laid down the laws the of Municipal Building. “Now you see here, Miss—restroom facilities in this building are not a general public convenience, but here for the employees of the building and people here on business with the City of New York, you understand? And you better stop shaking that gentleman before I have you removed.”

Stacy let go of me, muttered “sorry,” and stared at the floor, clenching and unclenching her fists.

The woman looked at Stacy and emphatically said, “Thank you, Miss!" She cast her gaze back and forth between the two of us. “Now that we're behaving like civilized people, let me ask you again: what is your business here, please?”

I took out my King's County writer's license and offered it to her. “I need to register my Brooklyn writer's license in Manhattan.”

“You need to what?” She looked at me, incredulous. “You mean you want to apply for a Manhattan writer's license because you moved from Brooklyn?”

“No—no,” I said, rummaging through my pockets for the summons. “I got a summons, see—here it is,” I said, handing it to her. “And the officer who gave it to me said I have to register it at the Municipal Building.”

She looked over the summons with a grimace. “I never heard of any such form as a 27B/6,” she said, handing me back the summons, “but they're changing things up at the Writer's Bureau all the time. I can't hardly keep up anymore.”

Stacy ceased her fidgeting and stepped up to the desk. “Now that you know we're here on business with the city, can you please tell me where the damn bathroom is?”

The woman wasn't having any of it. “Now just hold on, young lady. Your friend here might have to do business with the city, and he might not. Wouldn't be the first time some street officers didn't understand the laws they're supposed to enforce. And your friend could also just be in the wrong place. Maybe he needs to get this form 27B/6 over at Borough Hall in Brooklyn if he's moving to Manhattan.”

“But I'm not moving!” I said.

“You mean you already moved?” she asked.

“No, I—look, the officer who wrote the summons, O'Brien, she told me I had to register if I wanted to write when I was in Manhattan."

“You mean you're still living in Brooklyn?”

“Yes.”

She threw up her hands. “If you're still living in Brooklyn, then I don't see what you have to do. You got a Brooklyn license, and Brooklyn is still part of the City of New York, no matter what those stuck up yuppies in Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope think. And the trustafarians in Williamsburg? Those spoiled kids are on their own damn planet, you ask me!”

Stacy had started to pace back and forth, rubbing her arms and hissing with each breath she took. I had a ticket that carried a heavy fine unless I got one lousy little piece of paper. Something had to be done.

I looked over the summons and sighed. “Look—isn't there—”

The woman cut me off. “Your young lady friend's in a bad way over there, you know that?”

I shrugged. “Honestly, I don't know what it really is. She says she has to paint her toes, but I don't—”

“Let me ask you a question,” she said, leaning back in her chair. “You weren't born in Brooklyn, were you?”

“No, I wasn't.” Suddenly I was afraid, but of what I couldn't say.

She chuckled. “Not born in Brooklyn—of course not. Otherwise, you might have an idea what's going on.” She looked over at Stacy again, squinting. “She a cartoon character?”

I nodded.

The woman rolled her eyes and sighed. “Lordy, lordy. All right, tell you what. Take your summons up to the 12th floor, and go to Special License Adjudications up there. And your friend can use the bathroom for whatever it is she needs, OK?”

“Thank you, thank you,” I murmured, and dashed over to take Stacy by the hand. “12th floor, Stacy, OK, just an elevator ride away.”

“About fucking time!” she hissed.

I couldn't imagine Stacy Rowe talking that way. There was certainly nothing in the show to suggest it. I hadn't the command of the fan fiction corpus that others have, but I couldn't think of anything there that would hint at it, either. I was so deeply shocked I said nothing, and just rushed her over to the elevator.

Her palm was clammy and quivered in mine. I started to wonder who was the Angst Lord here, and who was the character.

Chapter Text

We reached the 12th floor and Stacy bolted from the elevator, running first one direction down the hall and, on finding no bathroom there, turning and dashing the other way, almost running me over as she passed the elevator. She skidded into the ladies room and I breathed a sigh of relief and wondered what the woman at the Information Desk could have meant: “Not born in Brooklyn—of course not. Otherwise, you might have an idea what's going on." Could it be the bathroom needed a Fashion Club plaque? Or was she overdue making some strange obsequy to Tommy Sherman's unquiet soul? No, that was the cheerleaders who did that. Maybe she just needed to go to the damn bathroom and couldn't bring herself to say it. I could hear in my mind's ear Tiffany's response to a straightforward statement of such a need: “Stacy—Eeeeuuuuuwwww.”

I looked up and down the hall and saw no one else there, which struck me as odd. Wouldn't an office like Special License Adjudications have a line out its door, just like every other city bureaucracy? Or had the woman downstairs given me the wrong floor? I checked the directory by the elevator and there was a listing for Special License Adjudications in room 1203 at the opposite end of the hall from the ladies room. At first I considered waiting for Stacy to be done with...whatever it was she had to take care of (could the mere possibility of a less than perfect pedicure turn the sweet member of the Fashion Club into such a harridan?) before going to the office but decided against it; she knew why we'd come to this floor, and if I weren't in the hall when she emerged, she'd have to deal with that. Maybe that could be the entire fic: Stacy lost in a deserted corridor in a city far from home, dashing from door to door, finding them each locked, her screams going unheard...

My gaze had traveled to the high ceilings of the hall as I strolled toward its opposite end and considered how best to acquit myself of the tale of angst I had committed to write, so I was surprised when my vision returned to what was directly before me, and I saw a man sitting on a bench immediately outside room 1203. Whether he had quietly come out of one of the offices or passed me unnoticed in the hall as he came from the elevator it was impossible to tell. I inclined to the first idea. He was of medium height, thin, beardless, and strikingly snub-nosed. He was one of those red-haired types who possessed a milky, freckled skin (did Quinn use a bronzing lotion or did she dye her hair?). He was obviously an immigrant; the broad, straight-brimmed straw hat he had on made him look distinctly exotic. His chin was up, so that his Adam's apple looked very bald in the lean neck rising from the loose shirt; and he sat there, sharply peering up into a corner of the hall out of colorless, red-lashed eyes, while two pronounced perpendicular furrows showed on his forehead in curious contrast to his little turned-up nose. Sitting there as though surveying the architecture of the hall, the man had a bold and domineering, even a ruthless air, and his lips completed the picture by seeming to curl back, either by reason of some deformity or else because he grimaced. They laid bare his long, white, glistening teeth to the gums.

I didn't realize it at first, but I had been staring at him tactlessly, and the stranger began to return my gaze so directly and with such hostility that it was plain his intent was to force me to withdraw my eyes. Rather than shy away, I decided to play feign cluelessness (something not very difficult in my case) and strike up a banal conversation. “Here for the Special License Adjudication office?” I asked.

He shrugged. “A plague,” was his response, in an accent I couldn't identify.

“A plague?” Now I really was bewildered.

“These licenses, sir—a plague.” The word sir came out like a serpent's hiss. “So many and such confusion about them.”

“Oh! Yes, a plague of licenses, sure.” I sat down next to him and shivered. The bench was unusually cold. “And you're here because of—”

“Genre violations, that is what they call it, sir.” Now every s was a threatening hiss. “The tragic must have no element of humor, and no deaths in what is comic, and such like. They send a subpoena to an unknown such as me, while the celebrities violate the same canons with impunity.” He shook his head as his lips curled back yet further. “A plague, sir—that is what all such regulation amounts to.”

Suddenly the door to 1203 opened and a voice called out, “Next!”

I gestured for the man to go ahead of me, but he shook his head. “My case requires some time, sir—please, you first,” he said removing his hat and bowing slightly.

“Are you sure?”

“Please sir—as I said, my case requires some time.”

I thanked him and went inside. It was an antechamber, with two women, one fat and one thin, sitting at their desks knitting. The thin one got up, knitting still in hand, and came towards me asking what my business was. Before I was halfway through my story, she turned and led me into one of the offices where a corpulent bureaucrat wheezed an apology to me, deplored the inability of beat cops to understand the regulations they were supposed to enforce, gave me a blurry photocopy of the regulations governing writing licenses in the five boroughs, warned me not to infringe on copyright (“Fan fiction! A marvelous new genre, but you must take care!”), and bid me adieu.

I had been in the office for no more than 45 seconds tops when I was out in the antechamber again, and the slender secretary pulled two documents from a drawer, embossed them with a seal on her desk, handed them to me, told me to send one in with my summons and keep one myself, and let me out.

I stood in the hall, stunned by how quick and painless the process was, and looked at the documents. Neither one was a 27B/6.

“Mr. MacGillicutty? Is everything OK? I didn't get you into any worse trouble, did I?”

I looked up from my papers to see Stacy Rowe, as nervous and obsequious as usual, sitting on the bench.

The red-haired man with the straw hat was gone.

I felt again the same undefined dread that first came over me when the woman at the Information Desk asked me if I was born in Brooklyn. Small, subtle things weren't making sense. Why had Stacy gotten so worked up, so out of character? Where did I know the names Hauser and O'Brien from? What happened to the red-haired man? Why did I have such an easy time in the Special License Adjudications office?

I feigned calm (something quite difficult in my case), looked at my papers, and replied, “No, everything's settled, Stacy. Let's head back to my place and just sit for a while. By the way—did you see a red-haired man out here?”

She sat up on the bench. “Red-haired man? No, should I? I didn't miss someone important, did I? Oh, no, did he hold the key for me to escape some terrible fate?” She was terrified and on the verge of tears again.

I took her by the arm and patted her on the back. “It's OK, Stacy, the story hasn't started yet. I just saw somebody out here when you were in the bathroom and wondered if you saw him, that's all.”

“Oh.” She actually relaxed a bit. “Are you sure I didn't make any trouble for you by not seeing him?”

“No trouble, Stacy, promise. Let's get going.”

As we waited for the elevator, I thought about asking her about her toenails, but decided against it. I had had enough of ferocious, bitchy Stacy for one day.

But Stacy had other plans.

Chapter Text

We left the Municipal Building and walked west along Chambers to the subway station. Stacy had babbled a bit on hearing that we were going to take the subway home—“Oh no, you're going to make it like that movie where those terrorists took over a subway train!”—but I set her straight— “No Stacy, and besides, The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 took place on the Lexington Avenue line.” After some unintentional comedy at the turnstiles (Stacy was terrified that the turnstile arms would crease her linen outfit), we were finally down on the platform, and Stacy could get down to serious fretting:

“Ohmigod, ohmigod—how many of these people are muggers?”

“Eep! That guy is looking at me and his shirt doesn't match his khakis at all!”

“EEUUUWWW! Was that a rat? Don't let it bite me! Don't let it bite me!”

I said the bare minimum necessary to keep Stacy from apoplexy and just sat on a bench, disconsolate. The heat on the platform was oppressive, Stacy's anxieties were intolerable, and I was suddenly overcome by a wave of homesickness. I wanted nothing more than to be back in my little apartment, surrounded by the shelves of books I'd read someday, and to put on some music—something consoling, probably one of Bach's cantatas. Too bad for Stacy that I didn't have Boys 'R Guys or whatever horrid product of the culture industry that her unformed libido and underdeveloped intellect took for music. I needed to be at home not only physically but emotionally and aesthetically.

I looked at Stacy and remembered my own high school years and shuddered. She and the rest of the Fashionistas would have shunned me, but that would have been par for the course. Austin Covello's “A Day in the Life of Stacy” had it right: Daria and Jane's little group was the truly cool and exclusive one, and they were the ones not to cross. Then there was Andrea's remark to Daria and Jane in “Mart of Darkness”: “Go on—cut me up like you do everyone else.” It was the Darias and Janes, the self-proclaimed individuals on the periphery of mainstream popular crowd, who were the true rulers in high school, like the shadowy advisors to kings whose names are lost to history; people who could, with an idle comment seemingly meant for no one, cause their suggestible and intended audience to take the action they desired, and so direct the course of events anonymously. Stacy was a non-entity.

I rubbed my face in my hands. Bad craziness, I thought—all you have here is an annoying houseguest and a story to write, and it's making you regress to contemplation of your grandiose and completely wrong theories of high school hierarchy? It's just the heat, the travel, and the need to be home. And why doesn't the damn train come?

I checked my watch. We'd been waiting for almost half an hour. I looked at Stacy and saw something inside her had changed again. I was about to ask if she were all right when she looked at her feet and muttered, “Just standing here in this heat is going to mess up my pedicure.”

Go ahead—take a chance, I figured. Say it. “Stacy, why don't you just sit down and touch up your toenails here? Nobody's going to notice, let alone mind.”

She grabbed me and almost pulled me up from the bench. “YOU—STILL—DON'T—GET—IT!!!!!!”

Now people were watching. There were a few laughs. Someone yelled, “I like your neon blue light saber, asshole!” I wasn't embarrassed. I was just scared. I was looking into the face of someone in the grip of some total need that controlled her and that I didn't understand. So I just sat there, staring into her brown eyes and only feeling fear eat at my insides. Some Angst Lord I was. If the train would ever come, maybe the best thing Stacy could do would be to throw me in front of it.

And then, as if on cue, I noticed from the corner of my eye a glimmer of light in the tunnel where the express train ran.

“Train's finally coming Stacy.” My mouth was dry, and I had to force the words out.

“How long?” She wasn't shouting anymore, but she still held onto my shirt.

“About fifteen—twenty minutes tops to my stop.”

“And then?”

“Less than ten minutes walk to my place.” With that, the train's rumble rose to a roar as it came into the station. Stacy let go of me, dashed to the nearest train door, and elbowed the leaving passengers aside to get on rather than wait for them. I followed her after everyone getting off at Chambers left the train and stood over where she sat but didn't otherwise acknowledge her.

We made the journey in silence. The air conditioning in the car was frigid, but she had broken out in a light sweat when we reached my stop. Once above ground, she hissed at me, “Now where?”

I said nothing and motioned for her to follow me, but I had to step up my pace as she was constantly trotting ahead of me. When we finally reached my apartment, I was exhausted. At last, I thought, she can do her damn toes and we'll be done with this. I'm not going out again today.

I came in and sat down at the chair by the door next to my bookshelf. I suppose it would have been polite to offer Stacy my chair, but it didn't matter. She made straight for the bathroom and stopped cold before its door. “This is disgusting!” she cried. “I can't paint my toes in here!”

Oh, to be a middle-aged bachelor with a tiny apartment. I lay my head down on the table. “Then use the bedroom.”

I heard a door open. And then a yell: “EEEUUUUWWWW! Boys underwear!”

I lifted my head off the table, swallowed hard, and said the obvious. “Stacy, why can't you just do your toes in here?” I steeled myself for her reply.

She came back into the living room, disheveled and wild-eyed. But the hammer blow didn't fall. “Guess I'll have to,” she murmured, looking not at me but straight ahead. She paused. Then, facing me, she spat out, “But you can't look!”

I breathed a sigh of relief, said, “Promise,” and turned to face my shelves. So many books, so few of them I'd finished. My gaze drifted to the large glass paperweight with a piece of pink coral in it. S— had gotten it for me last year, just before she was diagnosed. It was a lovely thing, the glass smooth and soft as a large tear. That and Daria (the show) were the two last gifts she'd given me. What would she have said if she could see me now?

I didn't want to think about it. I blinked and stole a glance at Stacy from the corner of my eyes. She was sitting down across the table from me and had gone as far as to prop her bag in front of her feet so I couldn't see what she was doing. I quickly looked away and returned to scanning my bookshelves just as I heard the crack of a match and caught the smell of sulfur in my nostrils. I stifled the urge to make a quip and tried not to look at the paperweight.

After what seemed like an eternity, Stacy let out a contented sigh and said, “All right, I'm all done.”

I turned to face her. She seemed oddly placid. “You really must have some pedicure,” I said. “I'd like to have a—”

It happened in an instant. She made a slight gesture with her hand—what was she holding?—and my left eye was burning with pain. I closed both eyes by reflex, felt some cool fluid wash over my right eyelid—did she spray something at me?—lurched forward to the edge of my chair, and began pawing at my stinging left eye. My thrashings made me slip from the chair onto the floor just as there was a loud report, and I felt something whiz over my head and heard it slam into the wall behind me.

Stacy Rowe is shooting at me! I realized.

Blind, I shoved the table away from me, felt it hit her, and then used it to keep her pinned her against the wall. Another shot tore through the corner of the table, knocking it off and hitting me in the shoulder.

Stacy Rowe is trying to kill me!

I panicked and began grabbing arms-full of books and tossing them at her while keeping her pinned against the wall. She had got off one more shot—where it landed I don't know—before I grabbed the paperweight and threw it. I heard the sickening thud, a yelp of pain, breaking glass, and a heavy thud almost simultaneously. I managed to open my right eye and saw Stacy's gun before me on the floor, just out of reach.

I dove for it and grabbed it.

I got up, shaking, and tried to point the gun at her. She slid out from behind the table and was laughing a wild, insane laugh.

“I know it's not everybody's idea of foreplay, and it's not a side of me they could put on the show, but now that we've really got to know each other, how 'bout you and me getting busy, Scissors? Let's do it on the rug here—this is the only clean room in your place.” She wriggled like a pole dancer, undid the button on her pale tan linen capri pants, untied her pigtails, let out that awful, insane laugh again, and came towards me.

She looked like her Christina Aguilera alter ego.

I hate Christina Aguilera.

So I hit her with the butt of the gun when she dove for it.

It knocked her over, but you'd think I'd tickled her. She was flat on the floor, laughing and laughing. I crouched down to point the gun at her again and get some answers when I noticed little packets of white powder behind her bag. Along side it were an old-fashioned glass hypodermic, a spoon, a small bottle of alcohol, a length of cord, and a box of matches from Chez Pierre. I looked at Stacy's feet, finally out of their sandals, and saw pincushions of needle-marks around her toes.

No shooting up in the arms, not with short-sleeves in warm weather. Ditto for your backside if you were going to wear a Waif approved teeny bikini. That left the toes. Of course you were stuck with closed toe sandals, but...

“Not born in Brooklyn—of course not. Otherwise, you might have an idea what's going on.”

The woman at the desk knew Stacy was starting to go through withdrawal because she'd seen it back in the days of pre-gentrification Brooklyn, when they called Park Slope Park Slop because the dregs lived there.

I looked over the mess Stacy's so-called foreplay had caused. Books were everywhere, their spines snapped, and their pages littering the floor. But then I saw the shards of the paperweight, the coral inside it broken, and felt...

...nothing. I never had such a paperweight. S—never gave me one. Furthermore, S— was still alive. She'd laughed at me for the whole Angst Lord business on the phone last night.

Writer's License? In this city? You couldn't spit in New York without hitting someone writing a screenplay.

Or at least not in my New York.

“This isn't my home,” I muttered. “This isn't my dimension.”

Stacy's laughter suddenly was twice as loud. “Oh Scissors,” she gasped between chortles, “you are so naïve.”

“No,” I said, swallowing. “Just slow.” I felt moisture return to my mouth and calm to my mind. “This is no big deal. A little manipulation with the dimensional portals, some new memories, and a murder attempt is all. Just fun and games between consenting adults.” I paused and licked my lips. “I've been set up.”

Stacy laughed and rolled onto her side, exposing a page from a broken book. In bold face in the middle of the page was the title Hauser and O'Brien.

I bent down to pick it up. The author's name in the upper right corner was William S. Burroughs—the pages were from a copy of Naked Lunch. I gathered together a few more of them from the floor and skimmed the passage—

O'Brien was the con man, and Hauser the tough guy. A vaudeville team. Hauser had a way of hitting you before you said anything just to break the ice. Then O'Brien gives you an Old Gold—just like a cop to smoke Old Golds somehow...and starts putting down a cop con that was really bottled in bond. Not a bad guy, and I didn't want to do it. But it was my only chance...I hit a vein right away. A column of blood shot up into the syringe for an instant sharp and solid as a red cord. I pressed the plunger down with my thumb, feeling the junk pound through my veins to feed a million junk-hungry cells, to bring strength and alertness to every nerve and muscle. They were not watching me. I filled the syringe with alcohol...I squirted a thin jet of alcohol, whipping it across his eyes with a sideways shake of the syringe. He let out a bellow of pain. I could see him pawing at his eyes with the left hand like he was tearing off an invisible bandage...I snapped two quick shots into Hauser's belly...

No wonder their names seemed familiar. Along with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Naked Lunch was one of the favorite novels of my drug-addled high school years. Whoever set me up had a sick sense of humor, and a literate one at that. The beginning and intended end of my day were here, right down to the alcohol Stacy sprayed in my eyes once she finished shooting up.

The man with the red hair! I began to claw through books and papers until I found it—he was from Death in Venice. And I remembered the paperweight from 1984.

Stacy had almost exhausted herself with her laughter. I grabbed her by the hair, but she just giggled. “Who set me up, Stacy? C'mon, who did it?”

She broke out in loud peals of laughter again. So I hit her with the gun butt again. I bloodied her nose and made her howl as if she were watching the Marx Brothers.

“Who was it, damn it! Was it TAG? Brother Grimace? Angel? Goddamn it, stop that insane laughing!” And then I began to smack Stacy Rowe again and again. It only made the laughter worse. I stopped only when I got tired. And finally the damned laughing died down.

“Oh Scissors, you are so naïve,” she repeated, hiccupping slightly. “Who do you think it was?” She tried to wrap her arms around me. I pushed her away.

“TAG, probably. He's a big reader.”

“You think you know what you're dealing with here, but you really don't.” She gave me as sultry a smile as someone whose face is bleeding profusely can give. “It was Daria.”

Chapter Text

“Daria? I don't believe it.” I sat down on the floor beside her.

Stacy giggled and tried to wrap herself around my thigh, but I planted my foot in her belly and pushed her away, which she found as funny as a classic episode of The Simpsons. “You know, there are other ways of trying to take a gun away from somebody,” I yelled over her cackling. “Pretending that you're all hot and bothered over someone you wouldn't ordinarily give the time of day isn't very convincing. And that damn laugh gives your game all away.”

She quickly got quiet, then rolled over on to her hands and knees, fixed me with a smoldering expression, and began to crawl towards me. The blood on her face and in her hair only added to the aura of malignant desire she exuded. I felt a shiver pass through me. Sure, you think I'm a fool or a pervert or both. You try facing down a beautiful, bleeding junky who can't seem to distinguish murderous glee from mad desire. If you're not going to leave the room alive, you may as well make your last moments as wild as possible.

But she couldn't keep her seductress' face, and started laughing again. I groaned, put the gun—a large, heavy nickel-plated revolver—down the back of my pants, and got up, dragging her with me. “Let's get you cleaned up, Stacy, and have you button your pants and put your hair back in pigtails. Then you're going to answer my question, and this time, no bullshit.”

I pushed her into the bathroom in front of me—and seriously, it wasn't that messy—grabbed a washcloth, some cotton balls, and hydrogen peroxide. As I wet and wrung out the washcloth in the sink, she leaned against the wall and pouted. “Button my pants? Don't you like my thong?” She put her thumb in the stretch elastic and snapped it. It was white satin, the sort of thing that was supposed to make any dope who saw it feel he was looking at a real piece of high class tail, even if she needed to shoot up between her toes every hour. I slapped her hand away, leaned one arm against her to pin her to the wall and keep her from trying reach around me to grab the gun—although I'm so chubby she probably couldn't have reached—and buttoned her fly. Then I grabbed her wrists, spun her around, put her in what I hoped was a half nelson, and rubbed her face from behind with the wet washcloth.

When I spun her around to face me, I saw how little damage I'd done. You'd think that smashing somebody's face over and over again with the butt of a heavy gun would leave it a pulpy mess, but aside from a fat lip, a bruised cheek, and a cut in her scalp (how the hell did that happen?), she was all right. Her nose had stopped bleeding on its own.

School bullies always told me I fought like a girl. I guess size was the only thing I had on Stacy. It wasn't much, but it was something.

I pushed her towards the sink and took out the gun. “Clean up that cut with the peroxide and put your hair back in pigtails.”

She did up her hair and then dabbed at the wound with a cotton ball until the bleeding stopped and frowned at her reflection. “I'll need some foundation to cover up this bruise.”

“I'll get it,” I said and turned to go get her bag.

“Never mind,” she sighed, and stepped in front of me. The bruised cheek made her resemble her racecar driver alter ego at the end of Is It College Yet? but instead of the expression of triumph she wore there, her expression was one of defeat. I almost felt sorry for her, then realized that was the shortest path between her and the gun and shoved her out in front of me. I shoved her again in the living room, making her sit where I had sat by the door, and sat myself down by her bag and works.

“Can I have my things?” she asked.

“You don't need another shot already?”

“No—I just want to fix my face.”

Keeping the gun and one eye on her, I reached down, gathered up the packets of junk, and pocketed them. “Right—just like you need to fix your pedicure. Why don't I hold onto these until I get an answer I can believe, huh?”

She frowned at me and gave me the finger.

“That's better,” I said. “You don't like me. I'm fat, I need to cut my hair, and I have your gun and your stash. I don't have a nice car, and I can't get a reservation at the hot restaurant du jour. A Fashion Club member not liking me makes sense. Do it some more.”

“Stop trying to sound like Phillip Marlowe,” she snapped. “It doesn't suit you.”

“I'll talk like goddamned Stephen Dedalus if I want to as long as I have the gun. Want to hear me prove by algebra that Hamlet's grandson is Shakespeare's grandfather and that I'm the ghost of my own father?”

“Dedalus didn't say that, Buck Mulligan did.”

“Whatever,” I replied. “Now, let's start from the top. Who set me up?”

She drew her legs into the chair and gave me a truly petulant look. “I told you—it was Daria.”

“And I told you I don't believe it was her. Give me another name or some explanation.”

“And I told you think you know what going on here, but you don't.”

“Excuse me?”

She sighed and uncurled herself in the chair. “Use you brain, all right? Or is your head as empty as Kevin Thompson's?”

It was my term to laugh a little. “OK then—let's play pretend. I'm Kevin, and you're Mr. DeMartino. I've just given a really stupid answer to an obvious question. Now you try to explain it so even the QB can understand.”

She was silent for a moment and gave me a truly hateful look. Then at last she said, “All right Scissors—let's start from the beginning. Who do you suppose organized this little party?”

I shrugged. “Angelinhel, I guess. She called me about it. What's that got to do with anything?”

She put her hand to her forehead. “Now I really do know what Mr. DeMartino must feel like. No, no, no—do you think an obvious Angst Lord could have gotten all of us together for ‘Choose Your Fanfic Author Day’?”

It made sense. I don't know why it didn't occur to me before. “Keep talking.”

“Basically, Daria's tired of fan fiction. She's especially tired of angst. We're all tired of angst.”

“So you're telling me Daria approached Angel about this?”

She shook her head no. “ I said Daria organized it. Angel did have the idea originally, but without Daria none of us would have gone along with it—because Daria saw an opportunity.”

I felt a shudder of fear again but managed to contain myself. “To do away with all the Angst Lords at once?”

“Not necessarily do away with. They're not all chumps like you.” She paused for a response, but I let it pass. “Easier to give TAG a pass down to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station for the penguins. And you can bet Brother Grimace is having a great time in a hot tub with Ann Coulter right now.” She gave me a nasty smile, but I still wasn't biting.

“Then why the big subterfuge with me? I know how much Ann Coulter's speaking fees are; I can imagine what she charges for hot tub visits. You could have bought me off for a lot less.”

She gave that awful laugh again and I froze. I kept the gun on her but now my hand was trembling. “Bought you off with what, Scissors? Look at you—you're the textbook example of a man who lives a life of quiet desperation. What are your loves, what are your vices?”

“I love S—,” I replied defensively. My mouth was getting dry again.

“Sure you do—that's why you two haven't gotten married or are at least living together after five years. I mean, look at this sorry little place!” She kicked at the books and papers on the floor. “You buy books you start and never finish. You have a small collection of wine you keep saving for parties you're afraid to throw because you're worried no one will show up. You don't go to see movies anymore—you have your four or five favorites, and it's as if you're afraid that something new or even a classic you haven't seen before will disturb their order. When was the last time you heard any live music? Or made a new friend?”

My face was reddening as she went on. It was true, all of it.

“It comes down to this,” she continued. “You have a stagnant relationship with a woman in another city and a job you hate. But, ah ha! One day you discover a TV show called Daria that's a direct descendant of the last show you had any use for—Beavis and Butthead. You're curious, you go on the web and you discover not only a community but a sub-culture of writing around the show.” She kicked at the books and papers again. “A wannabe writer, you warm to it. You write a little story. You try to rewrite it. You finish someone else's story. You write a few of those awful ‘Scenes No Daria Fan Fiction Should Have.’ Someone actually calls you—the guy with an unfinished story and an unbegun story to his credit—an Angst Lord, and even gives you the saber and cape. Tell me it didn't click in your head, ‘This is it, here's my creative community, here's my genre.’ Go ahead, tell me that wasn't what you were thinking.”

My cheeks were burning now. She—and Daria—had seen right through me. “OK,” I finally stammered. “So I did think that. So what? Why try to kill me?”

She threw up her hands in dismay. “What's the first thing I said? Daria's tried of fan fiction, we're all tired of fan fiction. Daria's tired of angst, we're all tired of angst. So we buy off the older, tougher, smarter ones, and get rid of the clueless newbie. And then we'd have an example. Mess with us, you'll come to a bad end.” She was silent for a moment and then sighed. “And it would have worked if it wasn't Daria's idea to splatter your brains with that cannon. I don't know why I let her talk me into using a .357. A .22 between your eyes would have done the job just the same, and I'm comfortable with that gun.”

I sat and turned the story over in my head. It made sense. I realized I should have trusted my first instincts, that there was something wrong with my being there to begin with. But then other questions presented themselves: what would happen to Stacy now that she'd failed? Why would she tell me all this?

I was still turning those questions over in my head when she asked, “Does it all make sense now? Can you give me my bag so I can fix my face?”

I looked at her. The bruise was starting to darken.

“OK,” I said, nudging the bag towards her with my foot. “I'm keeping your stash and works for the time being. No fast moves and no funny business.”

She sighed and got up. “God, you're so dumb you don't even know when you've won.”

She bent down over the bag as I posed the question to myself again: why would she tell me all this now?

She'd tell me the whole story if she didn't expect me to get out alive.

I collapsed on her with all my weight, and hammered at the base of her skull with the butt of the .357. She had just gotten a small pistol—a .22, I guess—out of the bag and was trying to turn it up to shoot me, but I kept her arm pinned against the floor. Once the butt came up bloody, I figured I had stunned her, and I took an awful chance and got up and went to grab her pistol. But I'd miscalculated; she was still alert and rolled over and away from me.

Then I did the sort of thing that got me a reputation for fighting like a girl back in grade school. I lunged at the wrist of her hand holding the gun and bit it as hard as I could.

She gave a scream of surprise and pain and loosened her hold on the gun—and I snatched it away.

I scrambled to my feet, both guns on her. She got up slowly, her eyes blazing.

We said nothing, and just glared at each other for a moment. Then I kicked over her bag to see what else she had in it. There was a small, nasty-looking hooked knife, something that looked like a Blackberry email/cellphone device, and a few more little bags of heroin. I stooped over and grabbed these, keeping my eye and a gun on her, and stood back up.

Finally, she spat at me. “Lucky,” she hissed. “You're fat and weak. You should be dead, asshole.”

I tucked the small gun into the back of my jeans and wiped my face with my shirtsleeve. “I guess luck is all it takes sometimes, Stacy. And I've got all your weapons and all your stash. I can just stand here and watch you start to jones. That what you want?”

The answer was brief and bitter. “No.”

“Then tell me how to get home—to my world.”

She pointed to the floor. “She the gadget that looks like a Blackberry?” I nodded. “It's a portal reconfiguration device. That's how I got you here. It's also how you got your false memories. Dimensional portals subtly affect the consciousness of those who travel through them, so if you can reconfigure a portal, you can alter the mind of someone passing through a portal.”

I picked it up and scrolled through the list of realities, noting the one it was set to originally—“Terra, bureaucratic mods, Scis mems”. There were an enormous number of others. I noted two others in the list—“Lawndale std” and “Terra std.” Then I scrolled back to the first one, tapped on it with a stylus, and saw it give me the location of the nearest portal. It was in a Good Times Chinese Restaurant that should have been an overpriced coffee place on 7th Avenue.

“Can I send you back to Lawndale without going with you using this gadget?” She nodded. “Then here's the deal—let's head on over to the Chinese restaurant, and I send you back to Lawndale. Then I go home and take care of Daria.”

She had started to sweat again. “You're going to give me my stash back first, right?”

I shook my head. “Not a chance. You go back to Lawndale and wait for me—and let me guess, it was Daria who got you hooked on junk in the first place, right?”

She nodded. “Maybe luck can get you home, but you'll need more than luck if you're going to tangle with Daria. Besides, if I go back and tell her that you got away—”

“—she'll gut you like a fish for failing. Am I right?”

“Fuck you,” she sneered.

“I'll take that as a yes,” I replied. “And I figure that since she had such a fancy scenario for my demise, she'll have an equally elaborate and painful one for her minions who fail. You'll just run home and get the runs and the dry heaves and try to keep out of her sight. Again, am I right?”

She spat again, but I dodged it. “Fuck you to death.”

“Such a lovely vocabulary for such a beautiful young girl,” I said, and got a jacket from the closet. I put it on and put the .357 in the inner pocket. “It's all wrong for the weather and I'm sure you can see the gun, but we're only going a few blocks. Get going.”

We went to the corner of 7th and Lincoln Place. Instead of the coffee place I loathed, there was a Good Times Chinese Restaurant. We went in, and into the bathroom before the proprietor could object. I locked the door behind us, as he started to bang on the door and call, “Hey! Customers only! Come out!”

I looked at the Blackberry-like gadget. The display (which was very legible for such a small device) had changed to display a list of portal configuration parameters. I set the one labeled TARGET DIM to “Lawndale Std” and left the others blank. The rear wall of the bathroom, which had been solid a second ago, was now a shimmering blue.

Stacy turned to me to make a final plea. “Please, just one packet to take with me! I don't want to go cold turkey—”

I shoved her through the wall. “Back whence you came, bitch!” I watched her disappear and felt myself relax.

I was a weak, miserable jerk who fought like a girl and who owed his life to luck. I'd been unable to put two and two together.

But I was alive. And the owner was still banging on the bathroom door.

I then set the gadget so that the TARGET DIM field read “Terra std” and took out the guns and laid them on the floor. I put the gadget into my pocket, took a deep breath, and stepped into the wall—

—and emerged into a dirty but familiar smaller bathroom. I stepped out to be greeted by the smell of brewing coffee and the sight of at least a dozen people hunched over their laptops, drinking lattes, cappuccinos, mochas—anything but ordinary coffee—and insufferable conversation.

“McSweeney's is so yesterday. N + 1 is the new hip magazine. I submitted a piece on the birth of the death of theory for the next issue.”

“I didn't have distribution for my last film, but it got some good notices, especially in Film Attack! and Lacan Limited. If I can get some funding with the new screenplay I'm writing—”

I almost fell on the person who was taking about a screenplay and stuck my head between him and his friend. “Listen,” I gasped, “you don't have to have a writer's license in this town, do you?”

He gave me a filthy look. “Excuse me, I'm talking to my friend here.”

I grabbed him by his designer tee shirt. “Look, you have no idea what my day has been like. Just answer the damn question: Do you need to have a license to write in this town?”

He was so shocked he was sputtering. “Of—Of course not! Why on Earth do you have to—”

I let go of his tee shirt and kissed him on his bald pate. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

“Like, what's going on here? Is there a problem?” I turned around to see a sullen, multiply pierced barista who obviously thought that working at a coffee shop that wasn't Starbucks gave him street cred.

“Problem? No problem at all!” I was giddy. “I'll have a Cafe Americano with two shots of espresso. Just a—a performance! Yeah, I—I teach, uh, performance art at Pratt. It's a performance piece, has to do with writing, the decay of the public space, and the administered world.”

The barista wasn't impressed. “We have a poetry night for that stuff. You shouldn't, like, hassle people who—”

I walked past him, placed a five on the counter, and went to the door. “That's the problem with society today,” I shouted, opening the door. “There's no space for the spontaneous, for the unexpected! Art as commodity is everywhere, but art as praxis is caught between the Scylla of capitalism and the Charybdis of government intervention! Haven't you read your Horkheimer and Adorno?” I exited the shop to scattered applause and the barista whining, “Like, an Americano with two shots is six bucks, man!”

I was breathing freely for the first time that day. No one was shooting at me, and no bizarre situations confronted me. I didn't even give a damn that I needed to call my real work to give some bogus explanation of why I wasn't coming in.

I was on top of the world because I was going home to write.

It was payback time.

Chapter Text

...there remain certain fine distinctions posing some little difficulty for the average lay observer persuaded from habit and even education to regard sculptural art as beauty synonymous with truth in expressing harmony as visibly incarnate in the lineaments of Donatello's David, or as the very essence of the sublime manifest in the Milos Aphrodite, leaving him in the present instance quite unprepared to discriminate between sharp steel teeth as sharp steel teeth, and sharp steel teeth as artistic expressions of sharp steel teeth, obliging us for the purpose of this proceeding to confront the theory that in having become self referential art is in itself theory without which it has no more substance than Sir Arthur Eddington's famous step "on a swarm of flies," here present in further exhibits by plaintiff drawn from prestigious art publications and highly esteemed critics in the lay press, where they make their livings, recommending his sculptural creation in terms of slope, tangent, acceleration, force, energy, and similar abstract extravagancies serving only a corresponding self referential confrontation of language with language and thereby, in reducing language itself to theory, rendering it a mere plaything...

—from Crease, opinion in Szyrk v. Village of Tatamount et al., U.S. District Court, Southern District of Virginia No. 105-87


One sentence summary: Jake gets an unexpected windfall, and Quinn considers a different way of paying for college.

This story takes place at the beginning of the summer after "Is It College Yet?"

(...la-la LA La la...)


DARIA
in
"FODDER FIGURE"

by Oscar Crease


ACT I.

INT. MORGENDORFFER KITCHEN. SUMMER AFTERNOON.

(Music: Samuel Barber, "Knoxville: Summer of 1915")

(Jake is sitting at the kitchen table, reviewing paperwork from Raft. Daria is beside him, reading the Lawndale Sun-Herald. Helen is in the background, talking on her cell phone.)

JAKE: Dorm fees, activity fees, student health insurance fees—What is all this stuff? What happened to plain old tuition and room and board?

DARIA: (From behind the newspaper) They're still there, Dad—the bursar just gave them a bunch of new friends to play with. You'll find them somewhere in those papers.

JAKE: (Suddenly sunny) Hey, thanks Kiddo! (Goes through more papers) $15,000 a semester? We could all take a helicopter ride for that kind of money!

DARIA: (Still behind the newspaper) Still sorry I didn't get into Bromwell?

JAKE: (Putting down the papers) I hate to say this kiddo, but I'm afraid we're going to have to starting thinking about..(pauses) ...military school.

DARIA: (Sighing, puts down the newspaper) Dad, it's OK. I'm getting a National Merit Scholarship, a Pell Grant, a loan, and mom's arranged a deferred payment plan for the rest. (Picks up the paper.) With all that and a job as a life model for art classes over at BFAC, I figure I'll be set.

JAKE: (Brightening again) That's great, kiddo. (Beat. Then suddenly) Model? Daria, have you been talking to Quinn? That's terrific!

(Helen comes into the foreground, talking on her cell phone)

HELEN: Of course it's unreasonable for him to counter-claim. If he hadn't lost his arm, he'd still be able to do his job, and our client wouldn't have lost any revenue at all! I mean, what's happened to the notion of personal responsibility?

JAKE: (Picking up a large envelope from the table) Swyne and Dour, Attorneys at Law? What on earth could this be? (Opens the envelope. It contains a thick sheaf of paper. He takes one look at the first page and leaps up from the table) OH, THE HORROR, THE HORROR! HE'S COME FOR ME FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE!

HELEN: (Perfectly composed) Eric, can I call you back in a moment? Just a little something I need to take care of here. Thanks! (Hangs up.) Jake, what the Hell is going on?

JAKE: (Pointing at the sheaf of paper on the table) That—that whatever-it-is, Helen! It's from some lawyers in New York City! My own father—it must be a lawsuit! From beyond the grave! (Shakes his fist at the sky) Damn you, old man! Why can't you let me be?

HELEN: (Annoyed) Jake, for heaven's sake, get a hold of yourself! Let me look this thing over. (Picks up the envelope) Swyne and Dour—that's a white-shoe firm if there ever was one. (Picks up the sheaf of papers. Reads to herself as she flips pages of the document:) T.E. Morgendorffer...irrevocable trust...beneficiaries being Jacob Morgendorffer and all legitimate children...revealed to Jacob Morgendorffer upon the majority of Jacob Morgendorffer's eldest legitimate child...(puts it down, puzzled) This is a trust for you and Daria and Quinn—

JAKE: Daria and Quinn? You mean the old bastard is suing the girls, too?

HELEN: Jake! Listen to me! It's not a lawsuit, it's a trust!

JAKE: A trust?

HELEN: Yes. It seems your father put aside some assets for you and any children you might have.

JAKE: Assets? You mean money? For me? And the kids?

DARIA: (From behind the paper) Darn it. And I was so looking forward to that job.

HELEN: That's enough smart remarks, Daria. (Flips through the document) It's a peculiar one, though. You weren't supposed to know of its existence until your eldest child reached majority or you turned sixty.

JAKE: So...how much money is there?

HELEN: It doesn't say. We have to contact the trustee at Swyne and Dour. (She shuffles the papers) It's a Mister Harry Lutz.

JAKE: Hmpf. Just like the old man to keep us all hanging like that. Probably spent it all on beer!

HELEN: (Exasperated) Jake—

JAKE: He's just taunting me, the selfish old bastard! Well, I'm not going to take it anymore! (Shakes his fist at the sky again) It's one thing for you to thumb your nose at me, old man, but when make fun of my kids—that's crossing the line, damn it!

HELEN: JAKE, WILL YOU CALM DOWN!!

JAKE: (Suddenly cowed) Eep! (Sits down)

DARIA: (Still behind the newspaper) Guess it's back to freezing my butt off in front of art students for pizza money.

HELEN: (Pulls down the paper) And since when have you been so keen on taking your clothes off in front of strangers? My goodness, Daria, it was hard enough to get you to take off your glasses to try contacts for a while.

DARIA: Jane tells me BFAC pays something like $25 an hour for live models for drawing classes. And I wouldn't have to take off my glasses, just my clothes. (She gives her famous half smile)

HELEN: All right Daria, but if you're trying to shock me, it's not going to work. I was a model myself for some drawing courses back at Middleton.

JAKE and DARIA: (Shocked) You were?

HELEN: (To Jake) Sweetheart, don't you remember? (Suddenly dreamy) It's why you and all the other men would lean out the window and shout obscene comments...

JAKE: (Similarly dreamy) Now I remember...boy, those were the days, weren't they, honey?

HELEN: (Coquettishly) They sure were, lover.

DARIA: (Getting up) OK. I'll leave you young people alone. If you need me, I'll be upstairs irrigating my visual cortex with ammonia.

CUT TO:

INT. MORGENDORFFER FOYER.

(Daria is about to walk up the stairs as Quinn enters. She's wearing combat fatigues.)

QUINN: Hey, Daria.

DARIA: Hey, Quinn. (Does a take) Um...Fashion Don'ts party coming up?

QUINN: (Sighing) Daria, you've got to get with the times! The Fashion Club broke up at Jodie's party!

DARIA: Right. And you're dressed like a soldier because—

QUINN: Not a soldier, Daria, a Marine! I ran into this really cute guy down at the mall—he's a Marine recruiter and his name is Chuck Turgidson—

DARIA: (Incredulous) Turgidson?

QUINN: Daria, what did I just say? Anyway, Chuck was telling me all about the Marines and all the opportunities they offer for women today and how they provide job training and can even pay for college! Isn't that great?

DARIA: (Visibly shaken) Quinn—you didn't apply, did you?

QUINN: Of course not! I'm just playing along until he takes me to Chez Pierre, duh!

DARIA: (Relieved) You know, sis, I never would have thought I'd ever be thankful for your shallowness, but—

QUINN: I just signed some papers so I could get the college money and stuff. Smart, huh?

DARIA: (Says nothing, her face all shock and dismay)

(Music: Alban Berg, Violin Concerto, 2nd mvmt)

CUT TO:

INT. MORGENDORFFER LIVING ROOM.

(Quinn is sitting on the sofa, disconsolate. Daria sits beside her. Helen stands in front of the TV, addressing them. Jake paces behind her, drinking from a cup of coffee.)

HELEN: My God, Quinn! How could you be so—so idiotic?

DARIA: I guess extremism in pursuit of a hot date is no vice.

HELEN: (Vehement) That's enough, Daria! (To Quinn) Thank goodness you still need parental approval to join the military at your age, young lady, or you'd be in quite a fix. I'll have to dig up your birth certificate and call this Sgt. Turgidson to clean up this mess!

QUINN: But Mu-OM, he was so convincing! We just started talking about the different uniforms—I never knew there was formal wear for marines; I always just thought it was battle stuff like this (Indicates her fatigues) —and then we started talking about what the guys who join have to do in recruit training and how buff they all get and before I knew it I was just putty with a pen in my hand!

JAKE: I tell you Helen, it's the old man—he must have cursed me! I didn't go into the service, so he's making one of the girls join! The sins of the father visited on his children! Oh, why didn't I go to 'Nam so Quinn could be spared—

HELEN: JAKE!!! STOP THAT NOW!!!! Quinn is not going into the army—

QUINN: Mu-OM, it's the Marines!

DARIA: Semper Fi, Date or Die.

HELEN: And that's enough out of both of you two! First I'm going to call this Turdigson man and straighten out Quinn's mess. Then I'm going to talk to this Harry Lutz—

QUINN: Who's that? It isn't the Harry I knew, is it? Because I think I'm going to that fancy new Indian place, Madhar Pai, with a Harry I met at the mall—

HELEN: Quinn, it's no one you know. It's— (throws up her hands up) —Oh, I give up. Ask your father to explain. Honestly, sometimes I wonder (goes into the kitchen)

QUINN: Daddy, who's Harry Klutz?

JAKE: It's not Klutz, honey, it's Lutz—Larry Lutz.

QUINN: But Mom just said his name was Harry.

JAKE: (Worried) Oh no—maybe it was Harry. Oh God—my memory's going! Better take another Ginkgo Balboa! (rushes off)

QUINN: (Sighing) Daria, what's going on?

DARIA: Sorry, Private. The details of this mission are available only on a need-to-know basis.

QUINN: Ha, ha, very funny, Daria. Now will you tell me what's going on?

DARIA: I'm not at liberty to disclose that, marine. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to terminate the headache this nonsense have given me—terminate with extreme prejudice.

CUT TO:

INT. DARIA'S ROOM

(Music: Bela Bartok, Piano Concerto No 3, 1st mvmt)

(Daria is on the phone with Jane. As the conversation alternates between them, we cut from Daria's room to Jane's room.)

DARIA: ...so then Mom storms off to call the lawyer, and I left Quinn on the couch wondering what's going on.

JANE: (Working on a detailed abstract drawing) Gosh, aren't you the caring sister, huh amiga?

DARIA: Excuse me?

JANE: Look, I thought you and Quinn had reached some kind of understanding or at least truce over the past few months. Now she goes and makes a huge goof that could land her in real trouble, and you just bust on her and leave her in the dark about some potential good news.

DARIA: Jane, I thought Quinn was finally getting some sense in her head. You know—caring about something other than dating and clothes. Now she's backslid in the worst possible way. I'm really disappointed in her. Besides, she's not going to have to join the Marines anyway. She'd need parental permission at her age, and Mom and Dad aren't about to give that. So Mom will bail her out, she'll probably still go on a date with this Sgt. Turdigson, and nothing will have changed.

JANE: So she backslid—what did you expect, that'd she'd become you over the summer? Cut her some slack. If you want her to change, try being there for her. She's probably embarrassed as all hell.

DARIA: (Sighing) OK, you're probably right. I guess I'm just a little bitter because... (Pauses)

JANE: (Raises an eyebrow) Yeeesssss?

DARIA: (Sighing again) I'm bitter because I'm kind of lonely right now.

JANE: Lonely? Jeez, Daria—don't tell me you're pining for Tom?

DARIA: No, no—I've had enough smug upper-class entitlement to last me at least until the government reinstitutes the 70% tax bracket. (Beat) But someone to date would be nice...

JANE: Tell me about it. But at least you haven't fallen for a good-looking jerk who's stuck in the '40s.

DARIA: Jane, the way I'm feeling right now, I'd settle for a good-looking jerk who's stuck in the '70s.

JANE: Well, Quentin Tarantino's taken, so you're safe on that count.

DARIA: Darn. And I was hoping for a role in Pulp Fiction 2.

JANE: Speaking of movies, how about an impromptu bad movie night? They're pre-empting Sick, Sad World to show "The Blood in the Red White and Blue" tonight.

DARIA: The ultra-violent civil war movie that was plagiarized from some play by a history professor? I thought it couldn't be shown because of that.

JANE: Well, I guess the legal issues have been cleared up, because it'll be on tonight in all its gory glory.

(Quinn enters Daria's room. Her expression is downcast.)

DARIA: Um...I'll see how things shake out here. I should go, because I've got a soldier in my room who's suffering from the prospect of combat fatigue.

JANE: Remember, you win a war by making somebody else's sister die for their country.

DARIA: Gotcha. Later. (Hangs up the phone) Well, Private Princess, what do you have to say for yourself?

QUINN: I really messed up, didn't I Daria?

DARIA: Ummm...I'd say you didn't meet your mission parameters, no.

QUINN: That's right, make fun of me! Do you have any idea how...how dumb I feel right now? And I thought I was getting the best of him!

DARIA: (Sighing. She's doing a lot of that, isn't she?) Look Quinn, I can understand you wanting to date this guy—

QUINN: You can?

DARIA: Yes. (Pauses.) Although breaking up with Tom was the right thing to do, I...I'd like somebody to date. (Pauses again. Then, sotto voce:) Even just for the summer.

QUINN: (Overcome by surprise) You would? Daria! We are sisters, after all! (Give her a hug)

DARIA: (Recoils) Eep!

QUINN: (Releases her) Sorry. (Bubbly as ever) Anyway, let's get to work on finding you somebody. (Takes her planner from a pocket.) Now I remember you didn't hit it off too well with Robert, although that was because we were trying to reinstate the yearbook pages for clubs and you were kinda into that weird Ted guy who was a member of that cult—

DARIA: Quinn, don't you think we should wait for your situation to get cleared up first?

QUINN: (Sober again) Oh. I guess you're right.

(Jake appears at Daria's door)

JAKE: (Voice full of apprehension) Girls, your mother just got off the phone with those lawyers in New York. She wants us all in the living room.

QUINN: (Also apprehensive) OK. (Leaves)

DARIA: Ours is not to question why... (Leaves)

CUT TO:

INT. MORGENDORFFER LIVING ROOM.

(Daria, Jake, and Quinn are sitting on the sofa. Helen is standing before them.)

HELEN: All right. First, about Quinn's situation: I called this Sgt. Turgidson, and he says it's no problem—although we do have to go down to the recruiting office with Quinn's birth certificate, and I'm sure he'll want to try to twist my arm about letting Quinn join—

JAKE: Don't do it, Quinn. Military school was bad enough—

HELEN: Jake, what did I say about interrupting?

JAKE: (Just makes a swallowing sound)

HELEN: Now, about the trust. (She sighs) There's a bit of paperwork to go through, and we might have to all head up to New York with Daria and her birth certificate and her letter of acceptance to Raft but when all's said and done...(Pauses)

DARIA: What, Mom?

HELEN: There's over four million dollars principal in the trust.

DARIA and QUINN: (Shocked) Four million?!?!

JAKE: (Horrified) You mean the old bastard is suing me for that much?

HELEN: No, Jake! He's LEFT YOU AND THE GIRLS FOUR MILLION DOLLARS!

(...la-la LA La la...)

END ACT I.

(COMMERCIAL LEAD IN: Daria and Quinn reacting to the amount of money in the trust.)

(You are now entering commercial hell. Please keep your hands and elbows away from the spectacular commodities. Any satisfaction they offer is illusory anyway.)

DeGrassi Unscripted: Get to know the daily routine of an impossibly telegenic teenage girl who doesn't suffer from bulimia, have a harpy of a stage Mom, or get stalked by teen boys and middle aged men alike. Nope. Nothing like that. Just normal teenage fun, like rehearsals for a popular television show, daily sessions with a personal trainer, and a recording session for a guaranteed hit single. You know, stuff that every teen does daily?

The new Sosumi SUV. 3 MPG/City, 5MPG/Highway. So tough, Sosumi motors guarantees it'll kill all the occupants of any passenger car it collides with at over 15MPH. (Guarantee not offered in CA, CT, or NV) Act now and get the same 120mm M256 smoothbore gun developed by Rheinmetall GmbH of Germany used on the Abrams M1 tank installed free.

Dozens of hot teens jumping and swimming around some idyllic pier. What does this have to do with the carbonated sugar-bomb the commercial is hawking? Beats me, but we're getting awfully close to the commercial that Bill Hicks warned us about.

(You are now leaving commercial hell. Almost makes you nostalgic for those "Real World" commercials, doesn't it?)

ACT II.

INT. MORGENDORFFER LIVING ROOM.

(Music: Igor Stravinsky, Prelude to Act I of "The Rake's Progress.")

As before)

JAKE: (stunned) Four million...it can't be! It's impossible! It's a trick!

HELEN: Jake, what did I—

JAKE: Eep!

QUINN: Wow—I could buy Chez Pierre with that kind of money!

DARIA: Mom, what did you mean when you said there was four million principal in this trust?

HELEN: (Sighing) Thank you, Daria. Now listen, before you all start counting your chickens (glares at Quinn) or expecting the sky to fall (glares at Jake), I have to review the terms of the trust with Swyne and Dour—

QUINN: Eeuuuww, what an ugly name!

HELEN: Quinn, will you please...?

QUINN: Sorry. (Beat) Won't say a word. (Beat) Prom—

HELEN: Quinn!

QUINN: Eep! (Makes a motion as if she's zippering her mouth shut)

HELEN: (With the weight of the world on her shoulders) As I was saying, I have to review the trust with the New York attorneys. It's not clear whether we have access to the full principal, whether we are only going to get income generated by the principal, if we can draw on it only for certain purposes, or some other arrangement. I'm no estate lawyer, but it's easily the most confusing document I've read in my career.

JAKE: Isn't that just like the old man! Here son—here's four million for you and your kids! But you can't have it the way you need it—oh, no, you've gotta grovel for it! Well, that's it! You can take the four million and stick it where the sun doesn't shine! (Shakes his fist at the floor) Which is probably where you are right now, Dad—in hell!

HELEN: (To Daria and Quinn) Come on, girls—let's just let your father wear himself out...

(Helen, Daria, and Quinn leave the living room as Jake rants on)

CUT TO:

INT. QUINN'S ROOM.

(Quinn is on her telephone. We can hear Jake ranting in the distance.)

QUINN: Hello? Mrs. Rowe? Is Stacy there?

CUT TO:

INT. ROWE HOUSEHOLD

(Sounds of vomiting in the background)

MRS. ROWE: I'm sorry Quinn, she can't come to the phone now. She's got the most awful intestinal flu or something. I though it'd be over by now, but if it doesn't get better by tomorrow—

CUT TO:

INT. QUINN'S ROOM.

QUINN: OK. Tell her I called, please? Thanks! (hangs up)

(Daria enters)

DARIA: Hey. Who you calling?

QUINN: I just tried to call Stacy, but her Mom says she's sick.

DARIA: (Suspicious) Stacy's in town?

QUINN: Yeah. Why do you ask?

DARIA: (Frowning) Um...no reason. I just thought she was out of town, that's all. (She leaves)

QUINN: (On the phone) Hi, Sandi?

CUT TO:

INT. SANDI GRIFFIN'S ROOM

(As the conversation following alternates between Quinn and Sandi, we cut from Quinn's room to Sandi's room.)

SANDI: Hey Quinn. Did you hear that Stacy has some kind of awful disease?

QUINN: Yeah. I just called her house.

SANDI: I guess it's like that karma stuff—what goes around comes around or whatever. (Beat) Not that I'm bitter because she put that curse on me.

QUINN: Um, Sandi, I thought we couldn't be sure if Stacy put that curse on you.

SANDI: Quinn, it's only logical! Stacy wanted me to lose my voice, and after that I did lose my voice.

QUINN: Well, if you say so.

SANDI: Anyway, let's not bicker. The Fashion Club days are behind us.

QUINN: Absolutely.

SANDI: And I only want Stacy to get better as soon as possible.

QUINN: Me too.

SANDI: Even though she did give me laryngitis.

QUINN: Umm.

SANDI: What's that supposed to mean?

QUINN: Sandi, I didn't say anything!

SANDI: Yes, you did—you said 'Umm.'

QUINN: I did not!

SANDI: Yes, you did!

QUINN: Oh Sandi, I thought we weren't going to bicker.

SANDI: Oh. (Beat) Good point. (Pause) So...what's new with you?

QUINN: Well, there's good news and bad news—actually, it's more like news that could be good and news that probably isn't bad, although the news that could be good could be really, really good, and the news that probably isn't bad might not be news at all.

SANDI: (Slightly annoyed) Well...what's the news that might not be bad?

QUINN: You mean the news that might not be news?

SANDI: Whatever.

QUINN: I thought I was closing in on a date with this really cute guy, but I ended up signing up for the Marines instead. But I wasn't really signing up because at my age I still need permission from my Mom and she's not going to give it although we have to go down to the recruiting office and he'll probably try to get me to sign up anyway, but Mom won't go for it, but at least I'll have another chance to try to get him to take me to Chez Pierre.

SANDI: (holding the phone away from her ear until Quinn stops talking) Oh....Well, I see how that might be...uh, news. What's the other stuff?

QUINN: My grandfather might have left us four million dollars.

SANDI: (faints dead away)

QUINN: Sandi? Sandi? Hello? (She taps the hook on her phone repeatedly) If we do get that money, first thing I'm doing is getting a new phone!

(Music: Wire, "Free Falling Divisions")

CUT TO:

INT. DARIA'S ROOM,

(Daria is pacing the floor. There is a knock at the door.)

DARIA: Sorry, the emotional roller coaster is full up. Please wait for the next ride.

(Helen comes in)

HELEN: Sweetie, I just wanted to say how proud of you I am that you're keeping your cool through all this.

DARIA: (Distracted, continues pacing) Um...thanks.

HELEN: Your father seems to have calmed down a bit, and I'm sure Quinn has already figured out ways to spend the entire principal and then some. But we really can't know what the situation is until we speak to someone from Swyne and Dour.

DARIA: (Still pacing) Uh huh.

HELEN: And even if the entire lump sum is ours to spend, that much money can be a lot of responsibility. You can't just keep it in a bank account—you have to create an investment portfolio, worry about inflation eroding the value of the principal, be aware of the tax consequences of various investments— (Stops. She notices Daria is still pacing.) Daria, are you all right?

DARIA: (Stops, suddenly self-conscious) Um...yeah. Yeah. I'm fine. Why do you ask?

HELEN: You seem like there's something on your mind.

DARIA: (Sighs [again!] and sits down on the bed) Mom...suppose you trusted someone to do something for you and they didn't come through. Or at least you think they didn't come through. What would you do?

HELEN: I'm not sure what you're getting at, Daria. Does this have to do with Jane?

DARIA: No, not at all. Someone else.

HELEN: Well, who is it then? Is it Tom? (Suddenly realizes something) Oh, my goodness, Daria! Don't worry—I'm behind you whatever it is you decide to do if—

DARIA: No Mom, it's not Tom. And I'm not—

HELEN: Thank heavens!

DARIA: Right. (Beat) It's actually one of Quinn's friends. I wanted her to do a favor for me.

HELEN: One of Quinn's friends? I didn't know you got along with any of them that well.

DARIA: Well...let's say she was the best person to do this thing and—

(Jake suddenly appears at Daria's door, ebullient.)

JAKE: Helen, Daria—I've got it! I figure the whole thing figured out! It's not a trick at all!

HELEN: (In a "here we go again" tone of voice) Jake, of course it isn't—

JAKE: No, Helen, it's more than that! It's the secret of my relationship with my father! He—he never hated me at all! He just wanted me to be tough and strong and raise some good kids! Sure, he was a little harsh, making me sleep on pine needles and sending me to military school, but he really, really, really wanted me to be a man! And now that I've made it through—now that I've raised two great kids— (Hugs Daria)

DARIA: Dad, is this really necessary?

JAKE: (Releases her, oblivious to what she's said) —now that I've proven myself, me and my kids—the ones he wanted me to have—we'll come into his full patrimony! Four million dollars! Goodbye model railroading, hello railroads!

HELEN: Jake! We're not certain about anything except the amount of money in the trust! We don't know if we can get a hold of it, or if we can—

JAKE: But Helen, it's the only possible outcome! To wait for my kiddo to go to college—

QUINN: (sticks her head in Daria's room) Uh, did something happen? And if it did, is it good or bad?

JAKE: And Quinn! You're going to continue in a Morgendorffer tradition! Military school wasn't so bad for me—if you want to join the Marines, I'm behind you 100%!

CUT TO: Look of shock and dismay on Quinn face.

SFX: Loud dissonant chord.

CUT TO:

INT. JANE'S ROOM. EVENING.

DARIA: So now Dad's got a plan to spend all the money on depressed railroad stock because he thinks it can only go up, he's after Quinn to join the Marines, and Mom looks like she's ready to have a stroke.

JANE: Sounds grim. What about that other thing?

DARIA: Hrm...Quinn says Stacy might be back in town.

JANE: And she didn't call?

DARIA: Well, that's the thing. Just because Quinn says it doesn't mean it's true.

JANE: You think something happened?

DARIA: That's what doesn't make sense. If she had problems, why'd she come back? You think she'd either stick around to finish the job, or—

JANE: (Pointing at the TV) Hey—it's on!

TV Announcer: Tonight's presentation of "The Blood in the Red White and Blue" has been cancelled due to legal difficulties.

JANE: Awww!

DARIA: I knew there were problems with that movie.

TV Announcer: In its place, we're pleased to have an encore presentation of Sick, Sad World.

JANE: Hey, that's not so bad.

SSW Announcer: They gave her a good-bye party at 65... miles per second! Retirement by rocket, next on Sick, Sad World.

DARIA and JANE: (Disappointed) Repeat. (Jane switches off the television)

JANE: Now what?

DARIA: I think I better go home. I have a feeling something stupid and/or disastrous has happened in my absence.

JANE: There you go again, letting your intuitions overrule your reason again.

DARIA: Right. Next thing you know, I'll be getting my tarot cards read. Later. (She exits)

JANE: Later. (She switches the TV back on, and flips through some channels. Suddenly:) Hey, Daria! Get back here! You gotta see this!

(Daria enters after a moment)

DARIA: What's so exciting?

JANE: Look—tarot cards! Some coincidence, huh?

CUT TO:

The television screen. It's one of the final scenes from Orson Welles' Touch of Evil. Welles, as corrupt, bloated cop Hank Quinlan, is asking the mysterious Tanya, played by Marlene Dietrich, to read his fortune.

********************
(Quinlan's fat hand spreads tarot cards over the table)

Quinlan: Come on, read my future!

(Tanya, in a cloud of smoke, suddenly has a regretful expression across her face)

Tanya: You haven't got any.

(Low shot of Quinlan pulling back from the table)

Quinlan: What do you mean?

(Back to previous shot of Tanya)

Tanya: Your future is all used up. (Pauses. Then, consolingly) Why don't you go home?
********************

DARIA: And on that note... (she leaves)

FADE TO BLACK.

FADE IN:

EXT. MORGENDORFFER HOUSE. NIGHT.

(Music: Henry Mancini, Theme to "Touch of Evil")

(Daria is coming up the walk way to her home. She opens the door, goes inside, and into the kitchen where her mother is speaking to a handsome black man who resembles Denzel Washington. There are numerous piles of paper on the kitchen table, along with an accordion folder)

HELEN: (Extremely fatigued) Well, I do appreciate your coming here, Mister Basie, even if it was to be the bearer of bad news.

BASIE: Sorry about the situation, but the terms of the trust and the way it was managed— (notices Daria and stands up) Is this your daughter, Mrs. Morgendorffer?

HELEN: Yes, that's Daria. Daria, this is Mister Basie. He's with Lepidus, Holtz, Blomfeld, Macy, and Shea.

BASIE: (Smiling) I'm impressed. Got it all on the first go. (Shakes Daria's hand)

HELEN: Oh believe me, when you have to say you work for Vitale, Davis, Horowitz, Riordan, Schrecter & Schrecter more than a few times, you can remember any firm's name. (They both laugh.) Are you sure I can't convince you to stay a bit longer?

BASIE: Thanks, but sorry. Only reason I'm down this way is that I'm on the way to visit family in Virginia. If it wasn't for Harry Lutz just giving me that call—

HELEN: Well, I suppose it's better to burst the bubble now than to let ourselves get carried away with dreams. Thanks again, Mister Basie.

BASIE: Thanks for your hospitality, Mrs. Morgendorffer. Good night, Daria.

(He leaves. Helen sits down at the table and sighs)

DARIA: Um...I guess this means the well is dry?

HELEN: God, Daria, I wish it were just that. (Thumbs one of the pile of papers)

DARIA: So...there's no four million, or we can't touch the four million, or—

HELEN: Oh, there's four million all right. And under the terms of the trust, we can invade the principal as we like at this point.

DARIA: What's the problem, then? And why is somebody from another law firm involved in this?

HELEN: Swyne and Dour are the trustees. Lepidus, Holtz, Blomfeld, Macy, and Shea do custodial services for Swyne and Dour's trust department. And that's where the problem lies.

DARIA: Mom—English please?

HELEN: Let me back up a bit. Now that your father's got it in his head that this shows that his father was a good man, he's been—well, a little lightheaded. Now his father was a good father, the best of fathers. He won't hear otherwise.

DARIA: And this has to do with the trust how?

HELEN: Not the trust itself, Daria, what your grandfather put in the trust. Daria.. (Pauses) Daria, you grandfather lied to your father. He was never in military service. He was a black marketer. He had military contacts, but he was never in the military himself. (Hangs her head)

DARIA: You learned all this today?

HELEN: (Nods her head. Continues) The trust was originally funded by money from a Swiss account. Your grandfather funded the account by the sale of gold.

DARIA: So...?

HELEN: Daria, the gold was...it was taken from concentration camp victims.

(Daria sits down by her mother as the news sinks in.)

(Music: Arnold Schoenberg, "Verklärte Nacht")

FADE TO BLACK.

END ACT II.

(COMMERCIAL LEAD IN: Daria sitting down next to Helen.)

(You are now entering commercial hell. Don't press your nose against the TV screen, because it'll leave a mark, and the ad for that special TV screen cleaning cloth has been pulled because the chemical used in the cloth was found to cause cancer in lab rats. But you can probably still find some in your local supermarket because the recall logistics weren't that thorough.)

Image: a shotgun being placed on a counter in a gun shop and then taken off from the other side.

VO: Pump action 12 gauge shotgun: $750

Image: several boxes of ammunition being placed on the same counter and then taken off from the other side.

VO: 5 boxes of 12 gauge slugs: $12.50

Image: a bland single-story office building in a suburban industrial park during the daytime

VO: The looks on their faces when they find out you weren't kidding...

Image: flashes of light from inside the building.

SFX: screams and gunfire.

VO:...priceless.

X-FADE TO: Samuel L. Jackson sitting on a stool, holding the same shotgun from the first image.

JACKSON: The Brownington Classic Postal 12 gauge. When you absolutely, positively have to kill every last muthafucka in the room...accept no substitutes.


Image: A great crowd of people pressed up against observation windows looking down on a stock market trading floor. On the floor, the brokers and specialists view the crowd with increasing apprehension. Suddenly, the windows shatter in slow motion, and the crowd begins to leap down onto the exchange floor. As they do, the specialists at one desk leap out with automatic weapons (still in slow motion) and begin firing into the crowd. Everyone who's leapt down is hit and falls, and then the specialists begin firing into the crowd still on the observation desk.

VO: You've worked hard to become a successful investor. You cut your teeth on classic value investing. You know it's the condition of a business, not its stock price at a given moment, that matters. And you'll be damned if the great unwashed who've drunk the Kool-Aide about capitalism generating wealth for all are going to jump into the market and distort stock prices even further. At Alsaka LLP, we understand the need of high-net worth investors to be insulated from market chaos. Our internet brokerage Nanotrade only offers advice on the latest industry fads and real-time execution for small traders, reducing the effects of ignorant and uninformed market activity on large holders of major, stable American businesses. Alsaka LLP. Keeping the barbarians from the gates of wealth for more than twenty-five years.


Image: Black and white shot of a young (!) Orson Welles in the children's ward of a hospital. He's wearing a derby and a handsome long coat with a white scarf at his neck.

WELLES: Has your child been diagnosed with melanoma on the face? And if so, did you use TV EZWipes (holds up the package) to clean your television screen? If so, you may be entitled to a large monetary settlement—not tax free, unfortunately—to care for your poor little dying child, whom the callous health and insurance bureaucracies treat as just one of many little dots that one day may simply stop moving.

JOSEPH COTTEN: (Off screen) Harry—

WELLES: (To Cotten) Be just a minute, old man—where was I?—Ah! The law firm of Lime and Martins has helped many a family to get the funds needed to give their child the proper care in the time they have left—

CUT TO: a nurse taking a stuffed animal from a crib and dropping it in a wastebasket.

CUT TO: Welles again.

WELLES: —not to mention sufficient funds to console yourself after the loss of your dear little angel— (puts his hand to his stomach. Takes a roll of tablets from his pocket) —damned indigestion; these tablets are the only thing that help it— (takes a tablet from the roll) So in your hour of need, remember Lime and Martins, the law firm that understands that from ground level—

COTTEN (Off screen) Harry, Callahan will be here soon!

WELLES: (To Cotten) It's Calla-way old man, how many times must I remind you?—as I was saying, Lime and Martins. We understand that from ground level, your child isn't just a dot.

(You are now leaving commercial hell. Did you clean the screen? You should. Because things are going to get progressively darker from here.)

ACT III

FADE IN:

INT. MORGENDORFFER KITCHEN. AS BEFORE

DARIA: But Mom, I don't understand. If the money was (struggles for the word) tainted, why did we even get notified of the trust?

HELEN: That's the thing. While Swyne and Dour were always the trustees, they changed custodians and portfolio managers several times since the trust was created.

DARIA: Which means?

HELEN: (Sighs) The trustee is legally responsible for the trust. They may—and most big firms do—farm out the work of actually making investment decisions to another firm, and that's the portfolio manager. Also, they usually have another firm hold the portfolio itself, and that's the custodian.

DARIA: So Lepidus, Holtz, Blomfeld, Macy, and Shea held the portfolio. Who managed it?

HELEN: (Thumbing through some papers) A large firm...here it is: Alsaka, LLP.

DARIA: (Suspicious) Alsaka?

HELEN: (A faint, exhausted laugh) Just like Alaska with two letters switched. Anyway, at the time the trust became available, Swyne and Dour had Alsaka perform a due diligence check on the portfolio to make sure there were no improper investments. In turn, Alsaka had Lepidus, etc., give them a statement of the current holdings, which was, of course, fine, and based on that, Alsaka reported to Swyne and Dour that the current portfolio was fine. But Lepidus, etc. traced through the entire history of the transactions and... (sighs) It's amazing what you can discover just by following a paper trail. (Beat. Takes a piece of paper from the pile) I mean, your Grandma Ruth will be arrested if she ever sets foot in Austria.

DARIA: But Mom...don't you think that Dad could accept this? He's hated his father for so many years, and he's only loved him for less than a day.

HELEN: It's not just that, Daria. Even though your father hated his father's cruelty, he always believed his father was strong and honest. Cruelty doesn't preclude integrity, and I think the belief that somehow his father had integrity kept him... (She looks away, biting a finger)

DARIA: (Concerned) Mom?

HELEN: (Turns back to Daria. Her eyes are moist, but she's not crying yet.) Remember I said to you your father needed certain illusions to function? I was...it was unfair of me to say that, Daria. Everyone needs to believe something in order to function. They don't have to be illusions. Often the things people believe about themselves and the world are true. But even when they're true, people just take them on faith.

(Helen pauses and turns away again. Then:)

HELEN: Your grandfather was cruel to your father. And he hasn't gotten over it, even after all these years. But that's because he's taken on faith that his father meant well. Part of what makes your father a good man is that he wants to be as strong as his father was without being as cruel. He wants to have integrity without forcing his way of dealing with the world on you and Quinn. (A tear runs down her cheek.) There have been times at night when I've heard him talk in his sleep, and he'll say, "Thanks, Dad, for making me strong." (Pauses. Another tear runs down her cheek) I never knew your grandfather, and frankly, being on the outside I couldn't see any reason that Mad Dog was a man who meant well. But I didn't need to. You father did because— (There is a catch in her voice. She continues) —because if he didn't all the cruelty would be meaningless. It wasn't in the front of his mind, but now it is. It's as if everything he endured has finally been redeemed. I have no idea what taking that away will do to him. (Sighs. More tears run down her cheek.) I'm sorry, dear, did that make any sense?

DARIA: (Nods. Pauses.) So where's Dad now? It's not that late.

HELEN: He was quite busy after you left for Jane's. First he made Quinn go through as much Buxton Ridge-style physical training as he could without the obstacle course. Then he started drinking to his father's memory with the good brandy. I had to put him to bed at 8. If he'd stayed sober, he would have been here when Mister Basie arrived and... (her voice trails off)

DARIA: How are we going to break it to him?

HELEN: I suppose a family meeting first thing in the morning would be best. (She gets up from the table, gathering the papers together as she does.) I've got to get some sleep. It's been a long day, and I think tomorrow will be even longer. Goodnight, dear. (She leaves)

(Shot of Daria sitting at the kitchen table, lost in thought)

FADE TO BLACK.

BLACK.

SFX: A stick banging on the inside of an empty trashcan.

JAKE: (VO, shouting, still black) Reveille, Reveille! C'mon Quinn, drop your—

QUINN (VO, still black. Sleepy:) Dad-DY!

JAKE: (VO, still black) No, that doesn't work. (Pause) Hey, got it!

CUT TO:

INT. DARIA'S BEDROOM. EARLY MORNING.

(Daria has just turned on her light and is listening to the off-screen conversation.)

JAKE: (VO) Let go of your ti—

QUINN: (VO) DAD-DY!!!!

JAKE: (VO) —and grab your kit! Mess downstairs in the kitchen in fifteen minutes! I expect to see this bed made and all your scrunchies put away before then!

(Daria throws the covers over her head.)

HELEN: (VO. Sleepy.) Jake, what in God's name—

JAKE: (VO) Jake? I don't see any Jake here! It's GUNNERY SERGEANT MORGENDORFFER to you!

HELEN (VO.) Never mind, I'm going back to bed....

SFX: Door closing.

JAKE: (VO) C'mon, soldier! Get a move on! You think Charlie takes as much time as you to get out of bed? Charlie's gonna eat your breakfast, steal those scrunchies, and bayonet you by the time you're ready for chow! That's why you've got to be...

DARIA: (singing to herself to drown out Jake's shouting) la-la LA La la...la-la LA La la...

FADE TO BLACK.

FADE IN:

INT. MORGENDORFFER KITCHEN. MORNING.

(Helen is sitting at the kitchen table, cup of coffee before her, on the phone, looking absolutely miserable.)

HELEN: (On phone) I know it's inconvenient, Eric, and if it were up to me, I'd be in the office right now. But this business with Quinn and this nonsense with the trust— (Pause. Then:) —I appreciate the offer of reduced rates for asset management, Eric, but when all is said and done, there won't be any assets to— (Pause. Then:) —well, I'm really not in any position to— (Pause. Then:) —oh, I suppose there's no real harm. Current trustee is Swyne and Dour in New York—

CUT TO:

INT. ERIC SCHRECTER'S OFFICE.

ERIC: (Alarmed) Swyne and Dour! Helen! You're not thinking of moving to New York, are you?

(As the conversation following alternates between Eric and Helen, we cut from the Morgendorffer kitchen to Eric Schrecter's office)

HELEN: Of course not, Eric! I'm just talking—

ERIC: Look, Helen, I know it looks like we've been dragging our feet on the partnership, but—(sotto voce)—but it's mostly Jim Vitale's doing, honest! He says he wants somebody with experience at a white shoe firm in a major city on board! But if you have an offer on the table from Swyne and Dour—

HELEN: Eric, I'm only talking to them about—

ERIC: Helen, you don't have to play games with me. I'm on your side, I've always been on your side. If you want to take the day, that's fine. But please, call me back this afternoon, so we can at least make a counter-offer?

HELEN: (Blinks. Then, somewhat brightly) I...don't see why I shouldn't do that, Eric. After all, it's the least I owe the firm.

ERIC: Thanks, Helen. Between you and me, I'm pretty sure I could match whatever they're offering—less any relocation and signing bonus, of course.

HELEN: Well, thank you, Eric. I'll call you later. (Hangs up)

(Daria enters, still in her bedclothes)

DARIA: Hey Mom. What was that?

HELEN: Well, maybe some good will come of this fiasco. Eric mistook what I said about talking to Swyne and Dour about the trust to mean that I was interviewing with them. I may get that partnership after all.

DARIA: (Brightly, just as she did when Jane told her she had gotten into BFAC) Mom! That's great!

HELEN: Thanks, sweetie, it's been a long time coming. (Beat) Now if only I knew where your father and Quinn were.

DARIA: They weren't here when you got up?

HELEN: No. (Sighs) I suppose I shouldn't have gone back to bed after your father pulled that stunt this morning. Frankly, I'm surprised Quinn went along with it.

JAKE: (Off-screen, becoming progressively louder) C'mon, move it, Princess! Whattsa matter, measly 50 pound pack too much for you in the summer heat? Are you going to die on me, Private Princess? Don't do that—that would break my heart, Private! Come on, pick up those feet, goddamn it!

CUT TO:

INT. MORGENDORFFER FOYER.

(Quinn enters, in combat fatigues, wearing a heavy pack, sweating profusely, and in tears. Behind her, Jake enters, wearing a drill instructor's uniform.)

JAKE: (Shouting) Have you had enough PT, Private?

QUINN: (Panting, sobbing) Daddy—

(Jake slaps her savagely.)

JAKE: It's not Daddy, it's Sir, Goddamn it! Now answer the damn question! Have you had enough PT, Private?

(Helen and Daria run into the frame.)

HELEN: (Shouting) JAKE, HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND?!?!

JAKE: Damn it, there's no Jake here—

(Helen slaps him fiercely, knocking his drill instructor's hat off. Then she slaps him with her other hand, knocking him down. Then she falls on him, pounding him with her fists.)

HELEN: DAMN YOU, YOU MISERABLE BASTARD! HOW DARE YOU LAY A HAND ON OUR CHILD! HOW DARE YOU!!!!

DARIA: (Trying to come between them) Stop it! Stop it! STOP IT!

JAKE: (Fending off Helen's blows) Damn it, Helen, I'm just trying to get the girl ready for the real world! Be a father to her like my father was to me!

(Quinn falls down. Daria rushes over to her.)

HELEN: (Still struggling with him) Like your father? Do you know what your father really was Jake? Do you? DO YOU?

JAKE: He provided for me and the girls, didn't he?

HELEN: That's BLOOD MONEY, JAKE! It came from the gold of concentration camp victims! YOUR FATHER WAS NEVER IN THE MILITARY! HE WAS THE WORST SORT OF WAR PROFITEER!

(They stop fighting. Daria is cradling Quinn in her arms.)

DARIA: Quinn, can you talk?

QUINN: (barely conscious) ...need...some...water...

DARIA: I'll get it. (Lays her down gently and runs out of frame)

JAKE: (To Helen) You're lying. That's impossible.

(Helen gets up and stands over him.)

HELEN: It's the truth, Jake. Your father was in Vienna at the end of the Second World War, but he wasn't there for military service. He was taking...he was taking gold collected by Nazi camp officers in exchange for getting them to South America.

(Jake stands up as she says this.)

JAKE: Not true, not true—you can't know this. It's a lie.

HELEN: (Vicious) It's the truth, Jake. And your mother knows it, too. And do you know what he was doing in Korea, while (snide tone enters her voice) little Jakey was just a toddler? He was a pimp!

(Daria returns with water for Quinn. Quinn drinks slowly)

JAKE: Oh, I get it! You're just after the money, damn it! Old Jakey has a little good fortune come his way, something that shows his Dad cared for him more than your mother, and you can't stand it! (Pauses. Helen doesn't reply.) Well? Isn't that the truth? Answer me, damn it!

HELEN: (Quietly) I was wondering how I was going to tell you this, because I was afraid it would hurt you. But the moment you hit Quinn...(pauses)...you're a stranger to me now, Jacob Morgendorffer. No one raises a hand to my child. And I don't care how it makes you feel now. (She walks out of frame.)

(Daria looks on from the side, holding Quinn, who is sobbing quietly)

JAKE: (Calling to her) The truth hurts, doesn't it, Helen? My father cared for me more than your mother cared for you! And I'm going to care for my kids and provide for them just like he did for me!

(Helen re-enters the frame with a the accordion folder of documents we saw at the end of Act II.)

HELEN: (Again, quietly) You want the truth, Jake? (Hurtles the folder at him with all her might. An edge of it catches him in the forehead, cutting him.) WELL, THERE'S THE TRUTH, AND THAT'S ONLY THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG! And if you don't like copies, the number for the Austrian and South Korean conciliates are in there, so you get the facts right from the source! Call the Wiesenthal Center! Call the Army, call any branch of the service you like!

(Jake stoops down, grabbing at the papers)

JAKE: (Muttering) No, no...forgeries, they must be...all this...

(Helen grabs an envelope)

HELEN: (Cold and cutting) Oh? Just start with one piece, just one piece, and check it out. See what's in here, and see if it isn't true. Then try another. I studied law, Jake, I know about the provenance of documents, and these are all genuine. Your father was a cruel, lying criminal. (Pauses) And it seems you're following in his footsteps. (Goes over to Daria and Quinn) Daria, is Quinn all right?

DARIA: (stroking Quinn's hair as she sobs quietly) Physically, she may be a little dehydrated...I don't know about emotionally, though...

HELEN: Let's go upstairs, and put her in bed. (They pick up Quinn and carry her to the stairs.)

QUINN: (weakly) I can make it, Mom.... (she ascends the stairs, with Daria by her side. Helen remains behind)

HELEN: (To Jake) You can look through that for a while, but I won't have someone who's struck my daughter staying under my roof. (Pauses) I should call the police for what you did. Consider it the last act of mercy you'll get from me.

(She ascends the stairs. Jake has opened the envelope Helen gave him and is reading its contents. His hands are shaking as he does.)

FADE TO BLACK.

FADE IN:

INT. QUINN'S ROOM.

(Music: Beethoven, Piano Sonata 29 in B flat, "Hammerklavier", 3rd mvmt. Does not fade, but plays throughout)

(Daria is helping Quinn out of her combat fatigues and into bed.)

QUINN: (weakly) ...guess I really messed up?

DARIA: Quinn, what are you talking about? Dad's the one who's—

QUINN: (as she lies down) —No. I messed up. If I hadn't tried to get a date with that Turgidson guy I wouldn't have accidentally signed up for the Marines and Dad wouldn't have gone off trying to be like his Dad and—

DARIA: (Puts her finger over Quinn's lips) Sshh. It's not just that. It's the business with the trust and everything it means to Dad...

QUINN: (a hoarse whisper, on the verge of tears again) B-but I really wanted to b-be able to d-do everything that he w-wanted me t-t-t— (reaches for Daria and begins to weep) E-e-everyone's right, I'm so s-s-stupid, a-a-and I c-c-can't...

(Daria sits on the edge of the bed and simply holds her and lets her sob for a while. Then she lets go of Quinn:)

DARIA: (softly, looking her in the eye) Quinn, remember when I had to take over for Mr. O'Neill's class? (Pause) Remember what I said to you then?

QUINN: (blinks away tears, trying to remember. Suddenly, a faint smile plays across her face) Y-yeah. You said—y-you said that (Swallows. She's still crying, but she's starting to laugh as well.) —that you could n-never face y-yours-self if you ever d-did anything n-nice f-for me. (Hugs Daria)

DARIA: (Closes her eyes and holds on tightly to Quinn. Softly, on the verge of tears herself) Good. Just as long as you remember that I would never do anything nice to you. Never.

QUINN: (Crying into Daria's shoulder) Y-yeah. Me n-neither. P-p-promise.

DARIA: (A whisper) Me too, Quinn. Promise.

(They hold each other for several minutes [you're reading this, not watching it, so don't complain. Besides, what's wrong with long takes?] as Quinn sobs and Daria just holds her. Finally, Quinn stops crying and lets go of Daria.)

QUINN: I think I need to take a nap...Are my eyes like really, really red?

DARIA: 'Fraid so. (She gets up from the bed.)

QUINN: Good. 'Cause I don't feel like going out with anybody for a month anyway. (She lies down and closes her eyes.) What do you think's going to happen with Mom and Dad?

DARIA: I don't know, Quinn. I don't know.

QUINN: Me neither. (Beat. In a sleepy, child-like voice:) Just to be sure, if something like this ever happens to you, I promise not to be nice to you just like you weren't nice to me now, OK?

DARIA: I know, Quinn.

QUINN: (light, girlish sleeping sounds)

(Daria gets up, walks out of Quinn's room, and across the hall into her room. She picks up the phone and dials a number.)

CUT TO:

INT. ROWE HOUSEHOLD

MRS. ROWE: Hello?

CUT TO:

INT. DARIA'S ROOM

DARIA: Hi, um, Mrs. Rowe? This is Daria Morgendorffer, Quinn's sister?

(As the conversation following alternates between Daria and Mrs. Rowe, we cut from Daria's room to the Rowe Household)

MRS. ROWE: (Distraught) Oh, Daria, I'm sorry—I can't talk now. Stacy's disappeared!

DARIA: Disappeared?

MRS. ROWE: She was having the most awful stomach flu or something since the day before yesterday, but she kept on insisting she didn't want to go to the doctor. And when I got up this morning, she was gone!

DARIA: I'm—I'm very sorry, Mrs. Rowe. I hope everything will be OK.

MRS. ROWE: Thank you, Daria—sorry, but I have to go now. I've got to call the police. (Hangs up)

DARIA: (Frowns at the phone for a moment and then dials another number)

CUT TO:

INT. JANE'S ROOM

(Jane is sitting in front of her computer when she picks up the phone)

JANE: Yo!

DARIA: Hey.

JANE: So, did anything stupid and/or disastrous happen?

DARIA: (Sighs) Jane, for once, words fail me.

JANE: (Whistles) That bad?

DARIA: You have no idea. The trust was funded with blood money—gold from concentration camp victims—

JANE: (Horrified) Get out! Your grandfather was double-dealing when he was in the service?

DARIA: He was never in the service. He was just a black marketer. Every significant fact about him...everything is a lie.

JANE: I'm...I'm just...wow. (Pauses) How is this affecting your dad?

DARIA: (Sighs) He just found out just a few minutes ago. But as of last night, he thought the trust meant his father was a good guy who cared about him deep down. And so military school became a good character-building experience for him, and therefore Quinn should join the Marines. He woke up at 5AM to act out the first half of "Full Metal Jacket" with her.

JANE: God! Is she all right?

DARIA: She'll be OK after some rest. But...

JANE: Go ahead.

DARIA: Well, he was playing the R. Lee Ermey part to the hilt, so he hit Quinn.

JANE: (Expression of shock on her face)

DARIA: And that made Mom decide to drop the news on him like the Enola Gay dropped Little Boy on Hiroshima. Judging by the look on his face, I'd say his worldview suffered comparable damage. I don't know what's going to happen between them now. (Pause) Jane?

JANE: Yeah, I'm here. I guess that...well, words fail me too, amiga. (Pause) Hey, listen, if you need or can take a break from all this, I've dug up some neat background on that movie.

DARIA: "The Blood in the Red White and Blue?"

JANE: Yep. But I guess you've got stuff to—

DARIA: No, I can talk for a bit. Besides, I could use some lunacy that doesn't involve me personally. So what's the story behind the story?

JANE: Well, you were right—the producer of the movie, guy named—get this—Constantine Kiester was sued by a history professor named Oscar Crease—

DARIA: Crease?

JANE: Yeah, you've heard of him?

DARIA: (Slight pause) No...it just seems funny that someone named Crease should be involved in a suit.

JANE: Que ironico, amiga, because Crease was one of these litigation mad cranks. Before he brought the suit against Kiester, he tried to get a product liability suit going because he was run over by his own car.

DARIA: Excuse me? How does someone get run over by their own car?

JANE: Haven't dug that one up yet, but the short version of the Kiester/Crease conflict is that Crease had written a civil war play called "Once at Antietam" that he sent to Kiester back in '77 when Kiester was working as a TV producer. Kiester returns the play to him with a note saying it's unsuitable—

DARIA: (Affectlessly) -Ha—ha.

JANE: Huh?

DARIA: (deadpan) Unsuitable. Lawsuit. Crease. I don't know how much more pun-ishment I can take.

JANE: O-Kaayyy. Anyway, Kiester sends Crease a rejection slip. But then, in '90, Kiester brings out "The Blood in the Red White and Blue," which parallels "Once at Antietam's" plot without borrowing any of its dialogue. Crease tries to sue using some jailhouse lawyer who never passed the bar and, of course, loses. But then Crease's father, who's a judge on the circuit court in Virginia, without his son's knowing, draws up an appeal that wins the case for him.

DARIA: Nice to know that somebody's father comes through for them.

JANE: Ah, but not so! Crease's father had a clerk who wrote some reminiscences of old Judge Thomas Crease, and the best thing the Judge could say about his son was that he was "stupid but not venal." He wrote the appeal because he thought the lower court's decision was a travesty of the law. When Oscar found out, it was as if the bottom fell out of his world, and pretty much screwed up his life.

DARIA: Jane?

JANE: Yes?

DARIA: Why do you find this interesting?

JANE: I—I don't know. It's the twisted family dynamics, I guess. Makes me feel like we Lanes aren't so crazy after all.

DARIA: And what does that make us Morgendorffers?

JANE: Excuse me?

DARIA: A twisted father-son relationship where the father does something that seems to be helping the son but ends up tormenting him makes you feel better about your family. Meanwhile, the exact same thing is going on here: my grandfather's trust seemed to prove to Dad that he was a good man, but instead it's given us proof of exactly how horrible he really was. So that means you must feel that you're a whole lot less crazy than we are. Gee, thanks, Jane. I don't know what I'd do without your support.

JANE: Daria, that's not—

DARIA: (Slams down the phone. Puts her head in her heads for a few moments. Then she leaves her room again and notices her mother at the top of the stairs.)

DARIA: Mom? What are you doing there?

HELEN: (Grimly) I'm watching your father. He's been going through those papers Mister Basie left. I think it's starting to sink in.

DARIA: So...what are you going to do?

HELEN: I've told him he has to leave after he sorts through those papers. I don't care if what he did to Quinn was the sort of thing his father did to him. I won't stand for it.

(Off-screen: we hear Jake start to sob.)

HELEN: (blithely) Well, it sounds like he's finally learning something. Excuse me, dear, I'm going to call work.

(Helen walks away.)

CUT TO:

INT. OVERSHOT SHOT OF MORGENDORFFER STAIRWAY.

(Daria slowly walks down the stairs, looking at her father, kneeling on the carpet, weeping)

CUT TO:

INT. MORGENDORFFER LIVING ROOM.

CLOSE-UP: JAKE'S RIGHT PROFILE W/DEEP FOCUS OF DARIA DESCENDING THE STAIRS IN THE DISTANCE.

(Daria approaches him tentatively. Jake is not histrionic, and isn't even sobbing loudly, but he is weeping all the same. He's shaken to the core.)

DARIA: Dad...

JAKE: H-Hey, kiddo...D-did you know about th-this stuff? (Gesture at the papers around him.)

DARIA: Yeah.

JAKE: (Hangs his head) G-guess you think your old man's pretty dumb.

DARIA: No, I don't. (Pause) I think you were way out of line to slap Quinn, though.

JAKE: (Almost a whisper) Yeah. Yeah, I was. It's just that...

DARIA: Yes?

JAKE: (No longer crying, but in a slow, thin, desperate voice) I've been lied to all my life.

DARIA: I'm...I'm sorry Dad.

JAKE: (Not in response to her, voice as before) One of my earliest memories is of my old man coming back from Korea, wearing a uniform...one of the first stories I could remember him telling me was about this one battle he was in...the Chosin Reservoir...one of the worst battles in history...he was never there...(takes a few papers from the pile around him)...he was...(chokes on the words)...at the rear, procuring underage girls for the brass with Corporal Ellenbogen...(recovers)...it's how they knew each other...

DARIA: How could that be in here?

JAKE: (holds out the papers to Daria) I thought this was all a pile of forgeries...then I opened this one envelope addressed me...the old man's handwriting on it...his handwriting on all the pages...

(Daria takes the pages from Jake.)

CUT TO:

SHOT OF YELLOWED PAGES, LONGHAND WRITING. TEXT READS:

never got the idea that the way to really get things done was to go around the rules. I kept waiting to hear from Ellenbogen that you had a little Morgendorffer in you, that you'd cut out on PT or tried to run some short con on the guys at Buxton Ridge. Instead, nothing. Absolutely pathetic.

Maybe by now, life's knocked some sense into your thick head and you can do something with whatever's left of the money here. And if there's nothing left, I wouldn't blame the shysters handling it—that sort of thing is what made me and what this country's all about, after all. But in case you're still a sap trying to get by doing what people say they want you to do, let me tell you about Korea.

If you can't sell ass to soldiers, you're well and truly fucked. But you can also be well and truly fucked if you do sell ass to soldiers because they're all rowdy bastards who kill for a living. So you sell ass to officers, because they're generally better behaved. Problem is that officers have special tastes, and the higher up you go the more special their tastes become.

CUT TO:

PREVIOUS SHOT, DARIA AND JAKE IN MORGENDORFFER LIVING ROOM

DARIA: (Putting a hand on his shoulder) Dad, I know this is all a shock that your father was so bad, but—

JAKE: (Brushes her hand off angrily) That's not the point!

DARIA: What?

JAKE: (Looks down and away from her) He...he did want me to become something, and he was trying to point me in that direction. I just didn't get it. I didn't get that instead of trying to follow the rules, I was supposed to break them. (Pauses) I've been lied to all my life. How could I have not seen through it? He wanted me to see through it. That was the point. (Looks at Daria) You must have realized it at some point, right kiddo? I mean, for just about every possible situation, my old man made sure there was a bad experience connected to it—the only way out would be to say screw the rules, screw the law! You must have seen the truth from when you were little—not wanting to be with the other kids, keeping your mouth shut. You had some plan, some idea of how to get around things. Am I right?

DARIA: Dad, I know this must be the most upsetting—

JAKE: (Getting up) Damn it, Daria, tell me you're not as blind as I was! Tell me—

HELEN: (Off-screen) Jake!

SFX: Feet running down stairs.

JAKE: —Daria, tell me you understood. Tell me you got the point.

DARIA: Dad—

(Helen enters the frame)

HELEN: Daria! Get away from him!

JAKE: (whispering) Tell me it wasn't meaningless!

DARIA: (swallows quickly, then whispers) I understood, Dad.

JAKE: (closes his eyes, almost inaudible) Thank God!

(Helen swoops in between Daria and Jake and pulls Daria away from him)

HELEN: Are you satisfied, Jake? Do you see what your father was?

JAKE: (simply nods)

HELEN: Good. Now go upstairs, get some things, and get out of this house. Leave a message with Marianne as to where you're staying. I'll call you tomorrow.

JAKE: (starts towards the stairs and then stops) Helen—what I did was wrong, but I know that now. It won't happen again.

HELEN: You're absolutely right it won't happen again. That's why you're leaving.

JAKE: Helen, please—we've spent so much time together, been through so much. One...one instant's mistake can't—

HELEN: (steel in her voice) Oh, yes it can. Yes it can.

(Jake turns and goes up the stairs. Helen and Daria remain behind.)

HELEN: Daria, what was your father saying to you?

DARIA: There was a note from gran— (Stops, corrects herself) —Mad Dog to him in these papers. Turns out there was a method to his madness, but the method was itself madness. (She hands Helen the letter)

HELEN: (takes the note, and reads it with furrowed brow) Oh my...this is just...it's not insanity as criminal law defines it, but...(flips through the pages)...no. This is simply evil.

(They go over to the sofa and sit down)

DARIA: I don't see how he could expect strict parenting and military school to make Dad into a criminal, unless he gave Dad three-card monte lessons first.

HELEN: (sharply) Daria!

DARIA: Sorry. (Sighs) I just wish none of this had happened, that Dad still just hated his father, and that Quinn never thought she could trick a marine recruiter and get a date with him.

HELEN: But it has, and it can't be undone—well, Quinn's problem can. But as for your father...I suppose much of it is my fault. I knew he'd have a real collision with reality one day. I just hoped you girls would be at college by then. (Beat) But I shouldn't have relied on that, because a weak person who's been thwarted will want to lash out at a weaker person, which means you and your sister would be the likely targets. (Looks through the note) So your father was talking to you about this note? What was he saying?

DARIA: That...that he'd been lied to all his life.

HELEN: It's a terrible thing to find out you've suffered for no reason.

(Jake comes down the stairs in the background, carrying his bags.)

DARIA: But that's the thing. He still thinks there's a reason.

HELEN: How could he, especially after reading this? It's absurd to expect someone to spontaneously develop criminal sensibilities, especially in the situations his father put him in! This is just more abuse, cruelty for the sake of cruelty—from beyond the grave!

(Jake puts down his bags and stands in the background, listening.)

DARIA: Dad takes it seriously. He thinks he was supposed to see through the lies. He thinks he failed his father because he didn't. (Swallowing nervously) He thinks the lesson his father was trying to impart was that the only way to accomplish anything is to break rules, to break laws.

HELEN: (Puts down the note, puts her head in her hands) Dear God!

DARIA: (A tremor in her voice) A-and then he asked me if I had figured it out.

HELEN: What?

(Jake leans forward but does not intrude.)

DARIA: He wanted to know if I'd already figured out Mad Dog's worldview. He thought if I didn't, what he went through would have been meaningless. (Beat) I told him I did.

HELEN: (Goes over to where Daria is sitting on the couch and holds her. For once, Daria does not resist. In a small, tender voice:) Dear...I know you meant well, but that was a mistake. A terrible mistake.

(Jake comes closer. His expression is a mix of confusion and fear.)

DARIA: (Whispering) Why Mom? It's not true but—he was like someone...someone about to fall—

HELEN: (Interrupting, but still in a small, tender voice:) That's exactly why, dear. Now your father knows he's been lied to all his life. What he can't accept is that his father was evil, so he's looking for a justification for those lies. But they can't be justified. They shouldn't be justified, because that would be justifying evil. And if someone gives him a justification for the sort of evil his father committed, then it's a license for him to do similar things. It's why I won't allow him in the house after he slapped Quinn—and after the way he slapped Quinn. I know it was a moment's mistake, but that doesn't matter. He can't unslap Quinn. To act as if he could would be to sanction that.

DARIA: (Says nothing, wraps her arms around her mother)

HELEN: I didn't want to believe it for the longest time, but it's true that...pity really can be a great danger. A great danger.

(While Helen has been speaking to Daria, Jake's expression has become more and more confused. When Helen finishes speaking, he steps back quietly to the foot of the stairs and clears his throat. Helen and Daria break their embrace.)

JAKE: (woodenly) I'll be staying at LeGrand. They're still a client. I'll give Marianne the number. (He turns to go, then stops.) Helen—could I have that note from my father?

(Helen says nothing, but holds out the pages to him. He goes over to her and takes them.)

JAKE: (mumbling) Thanks.

(He walks back to the door, takes his bags, and leaves)

HELEN: (Taking Daria into her arms again) Thank God...what a morning...what a morning...

FADE TO BLACK.

FADE IN:

INT. JANE'S ROOM. LATER THAT MORNING.

(Jane is on the telephone with Daria, who's now in her regular attire. As the conversation following alternates between Jane and Daria we cut from Jane's room to Daria's room.)

JANE: (Shakes her head) And it isn't even noon yet.

DARIA: Yeah. (Pained expression on her face) Jane, I'm really sorry that—

JANE: Oh, will you stop already? (Playfully) You apologized when you first called up, and it wasn't necessary because I knew you were going through hell, you interrupted your story twice to apologize, which made it all the harder to follow, and now you're apologizing again? Screw you, Morgendorffer!

DARIA: (smiling) Go to hell, Lane!

JANE: Hey, save me a table at the food court since you're already there. So now what?

DARIA: Quinn's still recovering from that march, and Mom's trying to capitalize on a misunderstanding with her boss. I'd like the company, but I don't know if it's the best time—

JANE: Sounds like it's far from it.

DARIA: —and I don't want to go anywhere until things start to settle down.

JANE: Gotcha. Tell Princess Grace I'm sure she'll be dating in no time.

DARIA: I will. I never thought I'd look forward to seeing Quinn bubbly and vacuous.

JANE: Wow, so the lake of fire has frozen over down there?

DARIA: Next time you're over, bring your skates. Later.

JANE: Later.

(Daria hangs up the phone and stares blankly into space for a moment. Then she removes her glasses, and drops her head into her hands. She shakes as if sobbing, but we hear nothing.)

X-FADE TO:

INT. MORGENDORFFER KITCHEN.

(Helen is on the phone)

HELEN: Don't worry on that count, Glenn—I've always taken care of the assets. (Sighs) And actually, it's more than just diary entries to document his erratic behavior: I kept a folder because...I knew this day would come sooner or later. I just hoped the girls would both be away at school.

CUT TO:

INT. GLENN'S OFFICE.

(Glenn is a pleasant looking fellow, with a light beard and moustache.)

GLENN: Hell of a thing to have to prepare for but...I guess that's one reason why Swyne and Dour are scouting you.

(As the conversation following alternates Helen and Glenn, we cut from the Morgendorffer kitchen and Glenn's office.)

HELEN: Where'd you hear that about Swyne and Dour?

GLENN: I ran into Eric Schrecter at that overpriced coffee place. He was practically having kittens about it. (Laughs) Must be a relief to be getting away from that clod.

HELEN: (Nervous titter) Yes, Eric can be...trying.

GLENN: OK, Helen. I'll get on this right away. Sorry about everything, but—oh, what does it say in "Hamlet?" "With mirth in funeral and dirge in marriage?" So—with mirth in divorce and dirge in great career move? (Weak laugh) Sorry, you know what I mean.

HELEN: Thank you, Glenn, I do. Goodbye.

(Helen hangs up the phone. She looks pale and tense. The phone rings.)

HELEN: Eep! (Picks up the phone) Hello?

CUT TO:

INT. JIM VITALE'S OFFICE.

(Jim Vitale, who resembles James Woods, is sitting in an Aeron Chair, holding the phone to his ear with his shoulder, chewing gum, and tossing a ball between his hands. Eric Schrecter cowers in the background.)

VITALE: (Friendly but slightly belligerent) Hey, Helen, Jim Vitale here. Just got done talking to Eric about your offer from Swyne and Dour. (Chortle) Kinda blind-sided us there, Helen. Always figured if you were gonna move, it'd be to Baltimore or DC, but the Big Apple? (Whistles) Man, oh man, you must be one happy camper, huh?

(As the conversation following alternates between Helen and Jim Vitale, we cut between the Morgendorffer kitchen and Vitale's office.)

HELEN: (Frazzled) Well, it is a big change and—

VITALE: (Aggressive) Ask you something, Helen? Mind if we see the offer? Know it's unusual, but you know—if were gonna try to counter, I want to make sure we do the best we can. Maybe you can fax it here?

HELEN: Jim, I'm surprised at you—it's confidential, of course—

VITALE: Yeah, yeah, and everybody enforces non-compete clauses, right? (Chortle) Come on, Helen, give us a break here. I want us to make you the best offer we can, huh?

HELEN: I could give you the particulars—

VITALE: Helen, Helen, whacha doin' to me here? Then have you turn around and say we can't match something because we don't offer it? We're no huge white-shoe firm, and you know it. Stop with the hard ball; gimme a break. Tell you what: I'll have Marianne go over and you give her the offer, OK?

HELEN: That's hardly proper to—

VITALE: You have an offer on paper, yeah?

HELEN: I shouldn't disclose—

VITALE: It's firm, right? Everything spelled out?

HELEN: —I'd expected to talk to Eric about—

VITALE: Ooohhh—you expected to talk to Eric about it. What you got against me, Helen?

HELEN: I—why, nothing, of course—I just expected—

VITALE: So let's talk, Helen! Let's see the paper, and get moving!

HELEN: And I said and you know it's not proper—

VITALE: C'mon Helen, who do you think you're talking to? You know the law isn't what's in the books, it's what lawyers do with it. (Brief, exaggerated sigh) Guess you're really set on moving up in the world, huh?

HELEN: No, I'm open to—

VITALE: So why you breaking my balls, then? Let's see the paper, and let's talk!

HELEN: Jim, actually, I don't—

VITALE: Helen, c'mon—give me a chance! Give the firm a chance!

HELEN: Jim, let's discuss this tomorrow early, all right? 7AM?

VITALE: 7's no good Helen—what about 6?

HELEN: That's fine.

VITALE: Good. Take care of this early. (Stretches and sighs) You know, I was talking to Bill Peyton about this. (Beat) What do you think of Bill?

HELEN: Bill? Well, I think he's—

VITALE: Good guy.

HELEN: Certainly.

VITALE: Straight shooter.

HELEN: Of course.

VITALE: Never heard of you. (Stops tossing the ball back and forth)

HELEN: What?

VITALE: (With exaggerated emphasis and precision) I said that Bill Peyton, managing partner at Swyne and Dour, has never heard of Helen Morgendorffer. And I said to Bill, shit, that's weird, because I've got Mark Schrecter's idiot kid in here claiming that you guys are gonna poach her. Then Bill says, who you gonna believe, me or that asshat? And I say, Bill, I understand if you think Helen's good and it's just business. Besides, if you take her, I figure we can hire somebody fresh out of school to keep wiping Eric's butt. And he says to me, that's what she does? I say yeah, and he says, then I don't wanna hear about her, because anybody who's been cleaning up Eric's messes for any length of time is ruined as a real litigator. (Beat) He sure plays it close to the chest, doesn't he, Helen?

HELEN: (Silent. Embarrassed look on her face.)

VITALE: OK. I'll cut the shit. Thought you could wag the dog, huh, Helen? I don't know if you tried to play Eric or if dumbfuck here misunderstood something you said and you just went along with it, but either way, you do not mess with me. I won't take it. Neither will Sue Davis, Paul Horowitz, Hank Riordan, or Mark Schrecter. You shouldn't mess with Eric Schrecter either, but that's not because he won't take it, but because he's an IDIOT (throws the ball at Eric) —

ERIC: (Ducking) Eep!

VITALE: —who is just gonna turn around and go fuck up everything for the rest of us. So—in order to put this little episode behind us, why don't you get here at 5 tomorrow morning so me and Sue and Hank can review your billing and your performance, 'Kay? Later. (Slams down the phone)

CUT TO:

INT. MORGENDORFFER KITCHEN.

(Helen looks stricken, still holding the phone to her ear.)

CUT TO:

INT. JIM VITALE'S OFFICE.

VITALE: (Standing up and shouting at Eric) Your father will CRUCIFY you for this, you know that?

CUT TO:

INT. MORGENDORFFER KITCHEN.

(Helen slowly puts down the phone as Daria enters to the side. Daria's eyes are red.)

DARIA: Mom?

HELEN: (Silent)

DARIA: (A bit louder) Mom?

HELEN: Eep! (Takes a breath) Daria, I'm sorry—you startled me—

DARIA: Mom, are you OK?

HELEN: I'm fi— (pause) No, I'm not fine. That was Jim Vitale on the phone. Seems Eric's misunderstanding didn't make it past the shark's bullshit detector. (Sighs) I don't know why I thought it would.

DARIA: Are you—could you get fired?

HELEN: (Laughs bitterly) No, they're just going to rake me over the coals early tomorrow morning. (Beat) I'll never make partner. I've been kidding myself ever since I got here. (Sits up in her chair, as if steeling herself for what she's about to say.) I have job security because clients like Eric, but he couldn't litigate his way out of a wet paper bag. (Look at Daria) Dear, your eyes are red—have you been—

DARIA: (under her breath) crying, um, yeah.

HELEN: (Opening her arms) Come here, sweetie.

DARIA: (reluctantly goes to her mother)

X-FADE TO:

INT. LEGRAND HOTEL LOBBY

(Jake is at the reservations desk with a clerk. He's wearing a tennis shirt, shorts, and sunglasses.)

CLERK: I'm checking, but...sorry, Mr. Morgendorffer, I know you have the preferred vendor special, but we're booked solid tonight. I could offer you a suite at 60% off tonight and tomorrow we have—

JAKE: (Says nothing, turns and goes away)

CLERK: Mr. Morgendorffer? Mr. Morgendorffer? We have a double tomorrow...

CUT TO:

INT. JAKE'S OFFICE

(Jake opens the door and tosses his bags onto the floor. He goes to his phone and presses a button.)

AUTOMATED PHONE VOICE: You have—no—messages.

(He groans, opens a suitcase, and takes out the note from his father. He sits down at his desk and starts to read.)

X-FADE TO:

INT. JAKE'S OFFICE.

(Light and shadows on the walls indicate it's late afternoon or early evening. Jake is still sitting at his desk, reading the note.)

X-FADE TO:

INT. JAKE'S OFFICE

(It's dark except for the desk lamp on Jake's desk. He's still reading the note. There's a bottle of Old Smuggler whiskey on the desk. It's 2/3rd full.)

X-FADE TO:

INT. JAKE'S OFFICE

(Jake has pinned the pages of note on the wall behind him, and pointed the desk lamp to illuminate the wall. He faces the note, and scribbles on a legal pad. The bottle of Old Smuggler is 1/2 full.)

X-FADE TO:

INT. JAKE'S OFFICE

(Jake's annotations are now pinned to the wall alongside the note. A pot of coffee has replaced the bottle of whiskey. He's talking on the telephone)

JAKE: Hello, is this Jim? Jim Ellenbogen? Jim, my name is Jake Morgendorffer—my father knew your—Oh! OK! Listen, I need some information on a joint venture of theirs—something that my dad and yours would have wanted to handle a certain way...

X-FADE TO:

INT. JAKE'S OFFICE

(Jake is sitting at his desk, looking at his watch. The note and annotations are no longer on the wall behind him.)

POV: A PAD ON JAKE'S DESK WITH THE NOTATION "Luxembourg +5" ON IT.

POV: JAKE'S WRIST WATCH. IT READS 4:45

CUT TO:

(Jake sitting at his desk, picking up the phone, and dialing a long number.)

SFX: Phone beeping rather than buzzing. Phone goes off hook

VOICE: Alsaka Luxembourg SA...

CUT TO:

INT. LEGRAND HOTEL LOBBY

(Jake is at the reservations desk with a clerk. He's dressed as before, looking rather more scruffy and tired.)

CLERK: I'm sorry about yesterday, Mr. Morgendorffer—

JAKE: (Gruff) No problem. You have a double for me today, right?

CLERK: Yes sir.

CUT TO:

INT. LEGRAND HOTEL ROOM

(Jake emerges from the bathroom, freshly showered and shaved, with a towel around his waist.)

CUT TO:

INT. A GUN SHOP IN LAWNDALE.

(Shot of the counter from above. We see a shotgun begin placed on the counter from behind it.)

VO: So that's a Brownington Classic 12, $699.99...

(5 boxes of shells placed on the counter from behind it.)

VO: ...5 boxes of slugs, $10.00...

(A shotgun bag placed on the counter from behind.)

VO: ...and a bag, $74.99.

CUT TO:

(Shot of the proprietor of the store and Jake)

PROPRIETOR: Think you'll be very pleased with the Brownington, Mr. Morgendorffer. One of the few products of any type whose popularity is deserved.

JAKE: (Putting the gun into its bag). Uh huh.

(Takes out his wallet and tosses a credit card at the proprietor. The proprietor runs the card and hands the slip to Jake.)

PROPRIETOR: What you shoot, Mr. Morgendorffer?

JAKE: (No expression) Trap.

PROPRIETOR: Trap? (Turns away from Jake to his shelves) Why, you should use the right load for trap and skeet—got some nice shells especially for trap—

(Jake walks out)

PROPRIETOR: (Turns around and shakes his head.) He's one closed-mouthed son-of-a-bitch...

(Takes a box labeled TV EZWipes from beneath the counter, pulls a sheet from it, and begins to wipe the counter top with it.)

FADE TO BLACK.

END OF ACT III.

(COMMERCIAL LEAD IN: Jake leaving the gun shop.)

(You are now entering commercial hell. Please return your food trays to the upright position and fasten your seat belts. We are all going down.)

Image: children watching classic cartoons on television while their parents look on lovingly.

SSW ANNOUNCER: Are classic animated figures your children's best friends—

Image: Elmer Fudd pointing a double-barreled shotgun at the backs of the parents' heads.

SSW ANNOUNCER: —or your worst enemies? Cartoon conspiracies, on a special Sick, Sad World!


Image: Happy Herb's car lot.

TRENT: (Singing)


You don't have a car or your present car sucks
Go to Happy Herb with a few thousand bucks
And you can drive here—

Image: The Happy Herb sign being papered over with one that reads "RALPH SPOILSPORT MOTORS"

SFX: Sound of a record needle being pulled across a record.

RALPH SPOILSPORT: (VO) Hey friends, Ralph Spoilsport of Ralph Spoilsport Motors, World's largest New Used and Used New car dealer here to tell you that Happy Herb's here in Lawndale has been taken over by Ralph Spoilsport, so now you can come now to Ralph Spoilsport's here in Lawndale and turn that money you've been hiding in your mattress into the car of your dreams.

CUT TO: Interior of a television studio recording booth.

(Mrs. Johannsen is standing next to Ralph Spoilsport.)

MRS. JOHANNSEN: But I don't dream about cars (wheezes) I dream about chocolate, damn it!

RALPH SPOILSPORT: —And if it's chocolate you're after, then check out this beauty: the all new Lauriel del Cacao Mocha Supreme Coupe with dulce de leche butterscotch leather upholstery and a loop of the original "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" playing in the glove compartment.

Image: Glove compartment opens to a scene with the Oompa-Loompas singing

OOMPA-LOOMPAS: (singing) Oompa-Loompa—

Image: A thick hand slamming shut the glove compartment.

CUT TO: Television studio recording booth.

(Mrs. Johannsen grabs Ralph Spoilsport by the collar.)

MRS. JOHANNSEN: I don't want a movie either, (wheezes) I want some chocolate, God damn it!

(Rocky Rocco enters the frame holding a medium sized chocolate falcon)

ROCKY ROCCO: (insinuatingly) Mrs. Johannsen, I'm Rocky Rocco.

MRS. JOHANNSEN: (Drops Ralph Spoilsport, who disappears into a tropical paradise. wheezes) You coulda fooled me. (wheezes) Thought you were Joel Cairo there for a second.

ROCKY ROCCO: Not at all, Mrs. Johannsen, not at all—just here because your mentioned chocolate and I thought a chocolate Maltese Falcon would satisfy your sweet tooth—

MRS. JOHANNSEN: (Grabs for the black bird) Gimme that!

ROCKY ROCCO: Not so fast, Mrs. Johannsen— (She reaches out and slaps him) Why, you— (he fumbles in his jacket, pulling out a gun. Mrs. Johannsen grabs his hand and crushes it; Rocco yelps with pain.)

MRS. JOHANNSEN: See here, shorty, when you're slapped, you'll take it and like it! NOW GIMME THAT CHOCOLATE!

(Mrs. Johannsen grabs the chocolate falcon and starts eating it with one hand, while slapping, punching and otherwise abusing Rocky Rocco with the other.)

NICK DANGER: (VO) Chocolate Maltese Falcons, fresh out of Grandma Feeney, maker of Grandma Feeney's moleskin cookies. The stuff that dreams are made of.


Image: A flight of stairs running top/left to bottom/right. Linda Griffin enters from the top, and begins speaking to the camera.

LINDA GRIFFIN: Hello. I'm Linda Griffin, Vice President of marketing here at KSBC-TV. Too often, small to mid-sized local businesses think that the only media buys available to them are print ads and radio time. Not so. At KSBC-TV, we offer a number of media buying plans tailored especially to Lawndale entrepreneurs. You don't have to be Andrew Landon or Angier Sloane to get—

(Mrs. Johannsen and Rocky Rocco enter the frame from the top of the stair, fighting with each other.)

ROCKY ROCCO: All right! All right! Take the falcon, but give me back my pickle!

MRS. JOHANNSEN: Damn it, it's a vegetable! And I need a balanced diet!

(They fall forward, toppling Linda Griffin, who falls to the bottom of the stairs)

LINDA GRIFFIN: (Howling in pain) My leg...it's broken!

(Pull back to reveal a cadaverous-looking man who's been watching this little tableau on a wide-screen television. The caption at the bottom of the screen reads "Ferdinand Bardamu, Attending Physician, Cedars of Lawndale.")

DR BARDAMU: ...We see it all the time...some idiot comes rolling into the emergency room, wailing about an injury that isn't life- threatening...usually the result of some job-related fiasco that would never have happened if the fool hadn't been so enthusiastic about wage-slavery in the first place...in the old days, we would have slapped them and told them to shut up...the problem with medicine today is that we coddle the sick...X-rays, CT-scans, complete blood work, urinalysis, the works—and all for an infected pimple!...it's too much, I tell you...in fact, I'm sure Lime disease is nothing but old-fashioned malingering, don't doubt it!...now take this Griffin woman...shrieking as if she were about to die from a hairline fracture of the tibia...so when they wheeled her into the ER at Cedars of Lawndale they did a work-up on her that was really first-rate...me, if she hobbled into my practice back in La Garenne-Rancy, I'd have just put a cast on her and tossed her out...all right, a few grains of morphine as well...I'm a sucker for a good figure, and she still has one, even at her age...

SFX: Beeper going off

DR BARDAMU: ...blasted thing! Oh, for the days when the sick knew their place... (he exits the frame)

VO: Cedars of Lawndale. It's the standard of care.

(You are now leaving commercial hell. Please remain seated until we have reached bottom.)

ACT IV.

INT. HELEN'S OFFICE

(Marianne is sitting at her computer, fretting and checking her watch.)

POV: MARIANNE'S WATCH READS 10:15AM

(Marianne drums her fingers nervously on the table.)

SFX: PHONE RINGING

MARIANNE: (Jumping up in her seat) Eep! (Answers the phone) Helen Morgendorffer's office...No, she's in a meeting right now, can I—

(Helen enters the frame looking exhausted, defeated, beaten-down, etc.—you get the idea)

MARIANNE: —she just walked in. Let me see if she's available. (Puts the call on hold)

HELEN: (in a slightly hoarse voice) Who is it Marianne?

MARIANNE: He says he's a Mister Glenn E—

HELEN: (interrupting) Oh, yes, I have to take that. (Picks up the phone) Hello, Glenn. I suppose you got everything?

CUT TO:

INT. GLENN'S OFFICE

GLENN: It's all in front of me, Helen. (Whistles appreciatively) I should have clients who are even a quarter—no, an eighth!—as thorough. Divorces don't get much easier than this!

(As the conversation following alternates between Helen and Glenn, we cut from Helen's office to Glenn's office)

HELEN: Actually, Glenn, I'm not sure if I want to proceed right now. Things have...(pauses)...things have changed.

GLENN: Helen, what are you talking about? The guy hit your daughter yesterday, and from everything here, I'd say he's a ticking—

HELEN: (Rubbing her eyes as if trying to relieve a headache) Jake's a good man who has problems. I think I was a bit hasty yesterday.

GLENN: Helen, listen to yourself! I know you don't do family law, but this is—it's classic! It's a painful step, but it's a necessary one! Are you going to drag this—look, I don't want to say loser—

HELEN: (sharply, but still somewhat fatigued) Glenn! That's not fair!

GLENN: Whoa, whoa, let's back up a little. By your own detailed account, you've been carrying more than your fair share of the family burden for more than ten years. You've given emotional and financial support to this man for all those years, and he hasn't—hasn't done anything substantial with it, that an OK way to put it?

HELEN: (distant) I suppose.

GLENN: And now the guy loses it, hits your daughter, and you want him to stick around? It's just putting off the inevitable—you know that. You want to go through this when you hit New York and are doing high profile work for Swyne and Dour?

HELEN: (dryly) I'm not going to New York, Glenn.

GLENN: (incredulous) You mean you're turning down Swyne and Dour because—

HELEN: (flatly) I never had an offer from Swyne and Dour. Eric misunderstood something I said.

GLENN: (rather shocked) Oh. (Beat) Helen, I'm sorry that—

HELEN: Glenn, there's nothing to be sorry about. There was no offer, so I didn't refuse or lose anything.

GLENN: I know. (Beat) It's just that...you deserve better than to be cleaning up Eric Schrecter's messes, you really do. You going to a white-shoe firm in New York made sense. (Pauses. Then:) Oh God, don't tell me Vitale—

HELEN: Oh yes.

GLENN: That SOB. Just remember, he's a thug in negotiations, but he can't litigate either. A thousand times smarter than Schrecter, sure, but he's such a vicious sleaze he generates negative sympathy for his clients in open court. They can't get rid of you.

HELEN: I know, I know. (Beat) So do you understand why—

GLENN: Helen, look, I do divorces. The only way to do divorces and stay sane is to detach. I learned that long ago.

HELEN: It's the same with corporate—you detach from the moral—

GLENN: You detach, but a corporation's personhood is just a fiction. Divorces—it's real flesh and blood. You detach from real people—what I'm saying is, I'm sorry if I'm callous, but I can't help it. Just do me one favor, OK, and it's a favor to yourself too, yeah?

HELEN: (rolling her eyes) What is it, Glenn?

GLENN: Right now, he's out of the house. Keep him out, don't talk to him, treat it as if you're going through this until—until things settle down in other parts of your life, OK? Keep him at arms length until—

HELEN: I understand, Glenn. Anything else?

GLENN: No, that's all. Be careful, Helen, all right?

HELEN: I will, Glenn. (hangs up)

CUT TO:

INT. GLENN'S OFFICE.

GLENN: (Hangs up. To himself:) Damn. At least Schrecter's dad'll be crucifying him for this.

CUT TO:

INT. HELEN'S OFFICE.

HELEN: Marianne?

MARIANNE: Yes, Helen?

HELEN: Did my hus— (catches herself) Did Jake call yesterday?

MARIANNE: (Checks the message log) No, he didn't Helen.

HELEN: (puts her head in her hands) Oh, God, please...

MARIANNE: Helen, are you all right?

HELEN: (looking up) What? I'm fi— (Pauses. Shakes her head) I'm terrible, Marianne. This has been one of the worst days of my professional and personal life. (Closes her eyes and grimaces at what she just said) I'm sorry—I shouldn't burden you with things like that. But (opens her eyes) I was in with Jim Vitale since 5 this morning, and I am having...

MARIANNE: (Quite nervous) It's all right, Helen—you don't have to tell me.

HELEN: No, I want to, and you should know because... (pauses)...because I may have to rely on you for some favors right now, and you deserve to know why you're doing things. My husband and I are having some difficulties right now. It may end in divorce.

MARIANNE: Oh God, Helen, I'm so sorry.

HELEN: We had words yesterday. He's not staying at the house. He was supposed to leave a message with you as to where he'd be. (Blinks her eyes) I'm worried about him. He tries to be good, but he's not...he's not a strong man.

(Eric Schrecter enters in a tizzy)

ERIC: Helen—I didn't know the shark would go ballistic on you—

HELEN: (Annoyed, but exhausted) Eric—

ERIC: Please, you've got to believe me! I want what's best for you—

HELEN: (Gaining strength) Eric—

ERIC: I mean, Swyne and Dour would be your type of place! Doesn't matter if—

HELEN: (Almost shouting) ERIC!

ERIC: (Suddenly cowering) Eep!

HELEN: (at a normal volume) Eric, do you have anything for me other than my current cases?

ERIC: Um...no, not right—

HELEN: (Stoically) Then I'll get back to work.

(She takes up some papers from the table and starts to study them. Eric stands in front of her desk for a moment, then wanders out.)

X-FADE TO:

INT. DARIA'S ROOM

(Daria and Jane sit on the bed, talking)

DARIA: ...and on top of everything Mom had to be in the office at 5 this morning to catch hell.

JANE: Jeez, you guys don't seem to be able to catch a break, huh?

DARIA: Not right now, no.

JANE: And to think it all started with what seemed like good news.

DARIA: Yeah. I thought that money would guarantee college and grad school. (Wistfully) "What you seek in vain for, half your life, one day you come full upon, all the family at dinner. You seek it like a dream, and as soon as you find it, you become its prey."

JANE: (whistles) That sure is a chipper, sunny quip. Original?

DARIA: No—Thoreau said it to Emerson. Mr. O'Neill must have missed that one when we were doing "Walden". (Sighs, leans her hand in her hand.) What I wouldn't give to be able to sneer at his trite, superficial optimism now.

JANE: Well, when Quinn's back to her bubbly self—

DARIA: You mean if.

JANE: (Astonished) What?

DARIA: Quinn rousted herself up at 5 to try a less strenuous version of what Dad put her through yesterday. After she woke up yesterday afternoon, I told her what happened with me and Dad. She was even more upset with me than Mom was, and told me that I was lying to Dad like his father did. She—she wants to—

JANE: Don't tell me she wants to join the Marines now!

DARIA: No—she wants to investigate military colleges instead of Pepperhill—The Garrison, Georgia Military College, places like that.

SFX: Door opening and closing.

QUINN: (VO, from downstairs. At the edge of exhaustion. Chanting:)


I don't wanna hear Boys 'R Guys—
Just semper fi, and do or die!

(Daria and Jane rush out of her room, and down the staircase. Quinn is downstairs in the living room, sweating profusely, wearing combat fatigues, and carrying a pack that's about half the size of the one she was carrying yesterday, which makes it still a substantial one.)

DARIA: (taking the pack from her, solicitously) C'mon Quinn, take it easy now.

QUINN: (panting) I think—I think maybe I could be able to do what Daddy wanted me to—maybe by next week! (Flops down on the sofa)

DARIA: Quinn, you don't have to—

QUINN: (Sharply) Yes, I do! Isn't it time somebody didn't just tell Daddy the truth, but gave him something to be proud of?

DARIA: (Exasperated but not unsympathetic) Quinn, what's the matter with Dad isn't going to be fixed by your being able to do basic training.

QUINN: No, but it's a start! And—and if Mom and Dad break up—

DARIA: We don't know that that's what's going to happen?

QUINN: Whether it is or not, I want—I want to be the one—I mean, someone—who didn't let him down! Mom let him down by just dropping the news about his father—

DARIA: That was because he hit—

QUINN: Once, just once, and I'm OK now, right?

JANE: (sotto voce) Yeah, sure.

QUINN: (Turning to Jane) I heard that!

JANE: (embarrassed) Look, Quinn, don't you think you're overreacting?

QUINN: (Shouting) NO! I don't think I'm overreacting! I think I'm trying to be somebody who doesn't pile new lies (glares at Daria) on top of the old ones that Daddy got from his father. And besides, yesterday was the first time anybody's ever expected me to do something that was...(struggles for the words)...that was more difficult than just...(her face gets redder and redder; she's on the brink of tears)...what I usually do! I didn't want to do it! It was hard! But I've always been able to get out of doing hard things and I used to think I was being clever but then I started to wonder if people didn't let me get out of doing hard things because they just figured that I couldn't do them in the first place! (Catches her breath and wipes her eyes with her sleeve. Softer voice.) But yesterday, I had to do everything by the numbers and it was hard and I couldn't quite do everything but I almost did, and Daddy wouldn't let up. So he must have thought I could do these things. (Beat) I'm not going to let him down. And I want to see if I can be more than (glares at Daria again) what some people think I can be.

DARIA: (Coming towards her) Quinn, come on—you're tired, you're not thinking—

QUINN: Yes, I am thinking! And what I'm thinking is that you really weren't nice to me yesterday! You're used to a sister you can look down on, and you got a chance to play that you were all sweet and concerned while keeping me somebody you can look down on!

DARIA: (Shocked, hurt) That's not—

QUINN: Yes, it is, yes, it is, YES IT IS!!! (Pounds on a sofa pillow) What would happen to your little world if I was good at something you couldn't look down on? All the years I was embarrassed by you, the joke was on me, because you knew that come college and then the real world, being popular and getting dates and stuff wasn't going to matter, because being a brain and getting good grades and into a good school and all that other stuff would set you up for a good job and a way in the world. I'd just be your loser sister, the airhead who only thought about clothes and boys, and everything would be the same, except you wouldn't just have Jane here to laugh at me with you—it'd be all your new friends at Raft who were all brains and going places, too! But being a brain was easy for you. You didn't have to work at it! And you got out of ever making the effort to be nice to other people all the way back when we were little and Mom and Dad had that big argument. You think they would have had that argument if you had said you were going to try to get along with the other kids, just try even a little bit? And now they've had an even worse argument and it's all about something I didn't want to do and if I could have done what Dad wanted me to there wouldn't have been any argument and it's just like it was when they had the argument about you only worse because Dad's not home because Mom threw him out and I can't— (there's a catch in her throat; her eyes begin to redden again) —I can't be the reason they split up! (She breaks out sobbing and runs upstairs)

(Daria and Jane are silent for a moment. Then:)

DARIA: (Ashen faced, even flatter than usual affect) I'm sorry you had to see that. (Beat) Maybe you should better—

JANE: (Very softly) Yeah, I understand.

(They walk to the door together. Jane opens it and turns to hug Daria, who does not respond at all. She releases her, a look of painful embarrassment on her face.)

JANE: You'll call me if—

DARIA: Of course. (Beat) Sorry I didn't...couldn't...(Sighs)...it's all too much to take in, and it's hard to... (Stares at the floor, in a rushed whisper) Thanks for being there.

JANE: (Nodding, somewhat hurt) OK. Later. (She leaves)

(Daria sighs and turns to go up the stairs)

SFX: Phone rings

(Daria goes to pick up the telephone)

DARIA: Hello?

CUT TO:

INT. HELEN'S OFFICE

HELEN: (Careworn and exhausted expression) Sweetie, it's me. Has your father called there yet?

(As the conversation following alternates between Helen and Daria, we cut from Helen's office to the Morgendorffer living room)

DARIA: No, Mom. Was he supposed to?

HELEN: (sighing) No—remember he said he'd leave a message with Marianne as to where he was staying? He didn't call.

DARIA: (Swallowing, seized by worry herself, but trying not to let it show) Oh. (Beat) Did you try his cell phone?

HELEN: I only get his voice mail.

SFX: Ringing phone.

(Marianne picks it up)

MARIANNE: Helen Morgendorffer's office. (Beat) Oh, Mr. Morgendorffer! Yes, right away! (Puts the call on hold. To Helen) Helen, it's your husband!

HELEN: (Covering the receiver, to Marianne) Thank heavens! (On the phone, to Daria) Daria, he just called now—I'll call you right back. (Fiddles with phone to get Jake's call) Jake! Did anything happen? I was— (Beat) —I was worried about you, dear.

CUT TO:

INT.LEGRAND HOTEL ROOM

(Jake is wearing slacks and a dress shirt and, even though he's inside, sunglasses. The gun bag is on the bed behind him)

JAKE: (Terse, unresponsive to Helen's concern) I'm fine, Helen. Damn place didn't have a double last night, tried to push a suite on me at a discount. Had to sleep in the office. I'm here now—room 1203.

(As with other phone conversations, we cut between Helen and Jake)

HELEN: At your office? Oh, Jake, that's terri—

JAKE: (Cutting her off) Wasn't so bad really. Listen, Helen—

HELEN: (leaning forward in her chair, as if hoping for some acknowledgement of her changed attitude) Yes?

JAKE: About the business with Quinn...(Pauses. Takes off his sunglasses. His expression is grim) I'd like to fix the situation with that recruiter for her. I figure that's the least I owe her after—after what I did yesterday.

HELEN: (Surprised, but also wary) Oh! That's—that's very thoughtful of you, Jake.

JAKE: (Putting the sunglasses back on) Besides, I know how hard it is to get time away from those bastards at your office.

HELEN: (Laughs nervously) Yes, that's...that's true, that's certainly the case.

JAKE: (Still terse) I know I can't undo certain things I've done, Helen, but I'd like at least to make this one thing right. Least I could do after what happened with Quinn.

HELEN: Well...

JAKE: Understand why you might be reluctant, Helen. But I'd like to take care of this for you...and her...

HELEN: (Nervous titter) Oh, I'm not reluctant...I'm just thinking of everything you'll have to get together—

JAKE: Just the birth certificate, right? Surprised the bastard didn't take one look at her driver's license and tell her to go home.

HELEN: (Sighs) Seems she has a fake that says she's old enough to drink.

JAKE: (Sudden interest and brightness in his tone of voice) Really? That's...that's great!

HELEN: What?

JAKE: I mean—it's nice to know the girl has some spunk, Helen. It's not as though we didn't try to...(pauses, fumbling for the words. Then, in a slightly conspiratorial tone)...put one over on the man back in our day, eh?

HELEN: (Slight giggle) I guess we did, didn't we?

JAKE: So...will you call the girls and tell them I'll be picking Quinn up?

HELEN: (Relaxes) All right. I'll do that.

JAKE: Fine. I can be by the house at 1PM.

HELEN: Thank you, Jake.

(Helen hangs up the phone. She dials another number.)

CUT TO:

INT. DARIA'S ROOM

(Daria is pacing the floor, talking to herself.)

DARIA: Let's see...Mom: shark kibble for the big boss. Dad: thrown out of the house, gone missing for a night. Quinn: searching for depth in all the wrong places. Jane: tries to reach out to me and gets a shoulder padded with dry ice. Me: talking to myself. (Stops pacing. Beat.) Yep, this is a low point in my life. (Starts pacing again, then stops) Stacy: missing? Mission accomplished, incomplete, or failed?

SFX: Phone rings

DARIA: (To herself) Go ahead, pick it up. It's probably just news that they're getting divorced. (Picks up phone) Hello?

CUT TO:

INT. HELEN'S OFFICE:

(As the conversation following alternates between Helen and Daria, we cut from Helen's office to Daria's room)

HELEN: Daria? I just spoke to your father. He's all right; they didn't have a room at LeGrand for him last night, so he slept at his office.

DARIA: So he's rested and refreshed for the triathlon today?

HELEN: (Sharply) Daria!

DARIA: Sorry. Just...(Sighs. Sits down on the bed.) Just trying to brace myself for the inevitable next piece of bad news.

HELEN: Well dear, bad news isn't inevitable. I think your father's come to his senses somewhat: he wants to take Quinn over to the recruiting office today and clear up that mess. Considering what happened to me this morning and the hours I'll be expected to put in the near future, it was very thoughtful of him.

DARIA: Mom—are you sure that's a good idea?

HELEN: Why wouldn't it be?

DARIA: Well...what you said about him yesterday.

HELEN: Dear, he lost control for a moment. That's all.

DARIA: (Dissatisfied) Um.

HELEN: And what does that mean, Daria?

DARIA: What does what mean?

HELEN: That terse little 'um' you just emitted right now. What aren't you saying to me?

DARIA: (Sighs. Then, in sorrow rather than anger:) OK. You had to be in the office at 5AM to get bawled out by Jim Vitale. Dad probably got very little sleep last night and probably had a bottle of cheap bourbon to keep him company. Yesterday Dad was at his worst and lowest point and when you were calm and confident, your best judgment was to keep him out of the house. Today, you're frazzled and upset and Dad is likely even more overwhelmed by the truth about his father. So maybe your judgment isn't the best, and he's even more volatile than he was yesterday. (Sighs again) Sorry, but that's what the situation looks like.

HELEN: Daria, I appreciate your concern, but you're overreacting. I just spoke to your father. I don't know how, but he's much better than he was yesterday. Besides, what are you worried he might do?

DARIA: That's just it. I don't know.

HELEN: (Trying to be comforting, but too fatigued and frayed to succeed) Look dear, your father will be over for Quinn at 1 this afternoon. I'm sure it'll be fine. Maybe...maybe this will all blow over by this evening, just like that fight we had when you were little.

DARIA: (Sighing) I hope so.

HELEN: I do too, dear. Tell Quinn about this; I've got to get going. 'Bye. (She hangs up the phone)

(Daria gets up, goes out of her room, and knocks on Quinn's door)

QUINN: (VO, flat) Go away.

DARIA: Quinn, Mom called. Dad's coming by at 1 o'clock to take you to the recruiter to unenlist you. (Beat) Quinn, did you hear that?

QUINN: (VO, flat) Yeah. Dad's coming by at 1. We're going to see Sgt. Turgidson.

(Daria turns to go, when Quinn pokes her head out of the room.)

QUINN: Daria, did Mom say if she and Dad were—

DARIA: (flatly) Mom thinks it could blow over by this evening.

QUINN: (Looking at the floor) God, I hope so. (Beat. Looks at Daria.) Daria...I'm sorry I lost my temper with you before.

DARIA: (Look of relief and gratitude on her face) Thanks, Quinn. (Pause) You know, if you really want to go to some place like the Garrison—

QUINN: (Sharply) And I do—

DARIA: (With concern but without conviction) Well, I'm behind you whatever you want to do.

(They embrace briefly. Quinn expression is slightly annoyed, Daria's confused, concerned, and despairing.

QUINN: I'm going to rest a little bit and then do some more PT.

DARIA: (Sad) OK.

(Daria turns and goes back to her room.)

X-FADE TO:

INT. LANE LIVING ROOM.

(Trent is sitting on the sofa strumming idly on an out-of-tune guitar, trying to compose a song)

TRENT:


When what I see
Isn't really there
Then I start to fear
That what's out there
Isn't really real
Oh, are you there
Little soldier, little soldier,
Are you there?

(Jane enters the frame, eating from a tube of cookie dough.)

TRENT: Uh, Janey? I wouldn't eat anything from the fridge right now.

JANE: (Mouth full) Fhay Fhat?

TRENT: I had some of the leftover Kung Pao chicken for breakfast this morning, and I thought I saw Daria's sister running by afterwards. She was wearing fatigues and carrying a heavy backpack.

JANE: (swallowing) No, that's real.

TRENT: Whoa, Janey—I think you've had too much of that cookie dough already.

JANE: No, Trent—see—

TRENT: And she was like chanting this weird chant:


I don't wanna go to Cashman's
Just send me back to Vietnam

See how she put the stress on the wrong syllable in "Cashman's"?
I can't imagine Daria's sister doing something like it. It must
be—

JANE: Trent, Daria's whole family has been going to hell. Their dad got it in his head that Quinn should go to military school—

TRENT: (Suspicious) Why'd he think that would be a good idea? I thought he hated military school.

JANE: Well, it all started when Quinn enlisted in the Marines without meaning to... (her voice trails off as Trent's expression becomes more and more skeptical)

TRENT: I'd just throw out the cookie dough now, Janey, and start drinking a lot of water. (He leaves the frame)

JANE: (Calling after him) But wait! I didn't tell you about the four million dollar trust that's tearing them apart.

TRENT: (VO) Um.

JANE: (To herself) Ok-kay, that went over well. What to do, what to do. (Looks around the room.)

CUT TO:

POV: JANE SEES A PILE OF ART BOOKS

CUT TO:

INT. LANE LIVING ROOM.

JANE: (Sighing) Might as well return these overdue library books. (Picks them up, flips through one) Euw, Szyrk, what was I thinking?

CUT TO:

INT. DARIA'S ROOM.

(Daria is pacing the floor.)

DARIA: (To herself) Now Quinn hates me. And to think I used to pray that she'd get drafted.

(Devil Daria, with horns and pitchfork, appears by the side of her head.)

DEVIL DARIA: (To Daria) Oh ye of little faith—and gratitude. Isn't a horrible fate for your sister what you always really wanted?

(Angel Daria, with wings and a small harp, appears by the other side of her head)

ANGEL DARIA: (To Daria) Hey, you always cared about Quinn. You just wished she wasn't as shallow. I admit, a military college might be kind of harsh, but it really might bring out the best in Quinn. Give her some discipline, make her care about something greater than herself.

DEVIL DARIA: (To Angel Daria) Excuse me?

ANGEL DARIA: (To Devil Daria) What?

DEVIL DARIA: You mean we both want the same thing for Quinn but for different reasons?

ANGEL DARIA: (Nonplussed) Hm. I guess we do. Must be the new millennium.

DEVIL DARIA: I'll say. Pizza?

ANGEL DARIA: Why not? Our work here is done.

(Angel and Devil Daria disappear)

DARIA: Clowns to the left of me, jokers to my right, here I am, stuck in the middle with... (Sighs, voice trails off) What to do, what to do. (Looks around the room.)

CUT TO:

POV: DARIA SEES A PILE OF BOOKS

CUT TO:

INT. DARIA'S ROOM.

DARIA: (Sighing) Might as well return these overdue library books. (Picks them up, flips through one) Euw, Gaddis, what was I thinking?

FADE TO BLACK.

FADE IN:

INT. LEGRAND HOTEL ROOM

(Jake is sitting in a chair and talking on the phone. The gun bag rests on his lap.)

JAKE: (grimly sneering) So I'll be picking up the little brat at 1, and then I guess it'll be time to see how good old Jakey's eye still is, heh— (pauses. Then in a surprised tone) —Really? You think that she— (pauses again.) —well, that's an option I really hadn't considered. It's the same net effect, I suppose. (pauses) As a matter of fact, she does show some (giving the word an almost indecent emphasis) initiative that her sister doesn't, but don't you think— (pauses) —true, if she already has it, she'll work out just like—well, what our fathers hoped for, I guess—but the rest of it, if we take this path— (pauses yet again. Then laughs and sets down the gun bag by his feet. He seems considerably relaxed.) —So just like that? And they won't give me any problems at the High School? (pauses. Laughs again.) Terrific! Jim, I've got to hand it to you. I'm glad I didn't just let that...that harridan roll over me. Thanks again. So long. (He hangs up the phone, and settles back in his chair, putting his hands behind his head.) Peace of mind, sweet peace of mind— after all these years! (Picks up the television remote.) Maybe I can catch a little something before heading out to fix things, heh heh...

CUT TO:

The television screen. It's another scene from Orson Welles' Touch of Evil. Welles' Hank Quinlan is having a drunken, acrimonious discussion with his partner Pete Menzies, played by Joseph Calleia:

********************
Quinlan: (as he drinks coffee) Did I ever tell you the smart way to kill, Pete?

Menzies: (slightly impatient) Sure, sure, strangling.

Quinlan: Clean, silent.

Menzies: (more impatient) You told me all that. Come on, finish that coffee.

Quinlan: That's how my wife died. I don't usually talk about my wife.

Menzies: Never when you're sober.

Quinlan: (looking at him, almost stricken) She was strangled, Pete.

Menzies: (slightly conciliatory) I know, I know.

Quinlan: Binding cord—she was working up at the packing plant, so the killer had it right to hand...smart, smart...
********************

CUT TO:

CLOSE UP: JAKE'S FACE.

(Jake is wearing a thoughtful expression as he watches this)

X-FADE TO:

EXT. LAWNDALE PUBLIC LIBRARY.

(Daria and Jane, both approaching the entrance from opposite directions, are so caught up in riffling through their respective books that they don't see each other and collide just as they reach the door, knocking each other down and strewing their books around them.)

JANE: (Looking at the books scattered around her, angry) Hey! Why don't you watch— (looks at who bumped into her and the anger drains from her face, replaced by an expression of embarrassment and hurt.) —Oh! Um—

DARIA: (Similarly awkward) Uh—fancy running into you here?

JANE: Yeah...

(They both stare at each other in silence for a moment. Then, each speaking over the other:)

{ JANE: I'm sorry I made that gibe at Quinn before— }
DARIA: Jane, I shouldn't have been so cold when—

(Pause again as they look at each other. A slight smile of relief comes to Jane's face. Daria shrugs.)

DARIA: Well, now that we've gotten that over with—

JANE: Yes. (Picks herself up and extends a hand to Daria, which Daria accepts) What were you taking back?

DARIA: (Gathering the books as she speaks to Jane) Just a bunch of books by authors whose reputations are inversely proportional to their works' readability and enjoyability.

JANE: Ah. Sounds like the sculptors I was looking at. (She bends over to pick up her books.

DARIA: No, no—let me. (Hands her pile to Jane as she gathers the art books)

JANE: (Looking at the books) No wonder—this one sounds uncharacteristically cheery for you: "A Frolic of His Own" by William Gaddis.

DARIA: (Grabbing the last book, standing up) Actually, that was the most annoying of the bunch. I didn't get more than fifteen pages into it.

JANE: (Whistles) Wow, the mighty Daria Morgendorffer, defeated by a book? What would Mr. O'Neill say?

DARIA: O'Neill would probably just repeat the received words of praise for Gaddis' work, and urge me to try again so he could say he has a student who's read an author he hasn't. But with my family as dysfunctional as it is right now, I don't want to deal with an author whose style is deliberately difficult and whose jokes are just groaners.

JANE: (Flipping through the book) Groaners? How bad?

DARIA: Well, one character is in the hospital for getting run over by his own car—

JANE: Excuse me? How does someone get run over by their own car?

DARIA: The ignition was broken, and the character was too cheap to get it fixed, so he'd hot wire the car. One day, there was a puddle of water by the side of the car and out of fear of electrocution he stood in front of it to start it instead of by its side with the resulting comic effect I just mentioned.

JANE: Actually, that does seem kind of funny. The guy seems like a candidate for a Darwin award.

DARIA: But that's not the worst of it. The character wants to sue the car company for product liability. His car is a Japanese car made by a company called Sosumi.

JANE: (Breaks out laughing.)

(Daria frowns at her, and Jane quickly regains her composure)

JANE: Uh...I guess it really isn't that funny. (Beat) Hey, didn't we have this conversation before? Only I was saying something like what you're saying, and you were saying something like what I was saying?

DARIA: Excuse me?

JANE: Remember the movie "The Blood in the Red White and Blue" and the screwed up story behind it?

DARIA: (Furrows her brow) Hmmm...you're right. Maybe "A Frolic of His Own" is based on that story.

JANE: (Still flipping through the book) Hey, he mentions Szyrk and Cyclone Seven!

DARIA: What?

JANE: Look in that big volume on the bottom of your stack there— that's a monograph on Szyrk's work. He's a real sculptor, and a really, really bad one.

DARIA: (fumbling with the books) As bad as that guy Dotson from Ashfield?

JANE: Worse. Daniel Dotson was just a sleaze who made bad sculpture. Szyrk's a self-righteous lunatic who makes dangerous sculpture.

DARIA: (flipping through the monograph) Dangerous how? Does he make kinetic sculptures with razor wire and circular saw blades?

JANE: Just about. He's most famous for a series of public sculptures, each called Cyclone Seven. They're huge, labyrinthine works in steel with sharp edges that have a nasty habit of trapping children and small animals in their innards.

DARIA: (As she turns a page in the book) Eep! This? (Shows the page to Jane)

JANE: Yep, that's Cyclone Seven all right—one of them, at least. The first time a Cyclone Seven caught someone was back in 70s. A fourth grader was stuck in one on Long Island for more than five days. The police and fire department was at the ready with acetylene torches to cut it open so he wouldn't starve or worse, be electrocuted if the statue got hit by lighting. (Beat) But when somebody offered the kid ten dollars, he came out none the worse for wear.

DARIA: Hmpf. If I could find a way out of my situation, I'd do it for free.

JANE: (oblivious, caught up in the story) Then in '90, a dog got caught in one in a town called Tatamount down south. And the dog was killed when lighting struck it.

DARIA: Jane?

JANE: Yes?

DARIA: How do you know all this?

JANE: It's all a sidebar to the saga of "The Blood in the Red White and Blue" and "Once at Antietam," amiga. When the dog was caught in Tatamount's Cyclone Seven, there were lawsuits, requests for preliminary injunctions, and all that other legal stuff flying back and forth like crazy. The town wanted to tear down the sculpture; Szyrk claimed that would violate his freedom of speech and so on. The whole mess ended up under the jaundiced and arbitrary eye of old Judge Thomas Crease, father of Oscar Crease, author of "Once at Antietam." Poor old Oscar—it's as if he was caught in some legal black hole or something.

DARIA: (Darkly, realizing something) Or a cosmic meat grinder.

JANE: Huh?

DARIA: Jane, can we put off returning these two books (takes "A Frolic of His Own" from Jane and hangs on to the Szyrk book, handing the rest to Jane) and go back to your place and you go through this all with me?

JANE: Okaaay—but what about Quinn, your dad, all that other stuff?

DARIA: (almost a whisper) I'm thinking this might be more important.

JANE: (also almost a whisper) But why?

DARIA: (conspiratorially) Let me put it this way: maybe I shouldn't have been so fancy with what I asked Stacy to do.

X-FADE TO:

EXT. MORGENDORFFER HOUSE.

(Jake stands at the front door, fumbling with his keys. He is carrying the gun bag.)

QUINN: (VO, from inside the house) San-DI, my mind is made up! I'm not going to Pepperhill! (Pause) But there is no more Fashion Club any more! So you can't make me or any of us do— (Pause) Look, if you really want to talk about it, I can be over later. (Pause)

(Jake unlocks the front door and goes inside. We see Quinn, dressed as she normally is, talking on the phone in the living room.)

QUINN: No, I don't know when! Daddy's supposed to be here now to take me to see Sgt. Turgidson and— (notices her father. In a tone of deadly seriousness.) —Sandi, he's here. I'll call you when we're done. (Hangs up the phone. She slowly turns to her father and with a solemn face, gives him a salute.)

JAKE: (mild chuckle) At ease, Sweetie.

(Quinn runs to him, and hugs him, sobbing)

QUINN: (choking back tears) I'm sorry, Daddy, I'm sorry!

JAKE: (puts down the gun bag, strokes her hair gently) Quinn, what do you have to be sorry for?

QUINN: (still trying not to weep) That I couldn't do—that I couldn't do the PT and everything else you wanted me to— (starts crying) —and that you and Mom had such a big fight because—

JAKE: (bends over to be face to face with Quinn and puts his finger over lips to hush her) It's all right now, Quinn. It's not your fault.

QUINN: (eyes growing wider) B-but if I had done everything and I hadn't had a problem—and then Mom told you all that stuff and Daria said—

JAKE: (takes her in his arms. In a soothing tone of voice) That's between them and me, Quinn. You had nothing to do with it. Don't cry, hon. I'll take care of that. (Beat) Right now, we have to take care of your situation.

(He holds her for a short while until Quinn cries herself out. They separate and Quinn wipes her eyes.)

QUINN: (Catching her breath) I-I was able to do the three mile march this morning. My pack wasn't as heavy as you made it yesterday, but I think I could work up to it.

JAKE: (genuinely surprised) Really?

QUINN: (Nods. Somewhat woodenly:) And—I decided that I'm not going to go to Pepperhill. I want to go to a military college.

JAKE: (Really astonished now) Quinn—I just don't know what to say. (Beat. Then, in a conspiratorial tone) Your mom says you managed to get this whole enlistment thing started with a fake license. How about showing your old man that fake ID of yours?

QUINN: Eep! Why do you—

JAKE: It's all right, sweetie. I have to say I was—well, I was impressed. (with increasing bitterness) I know your mother doesn't approve, and Daria's just like her—that two-faced lawyer talk, saying one thing to me and another to you and your mother—Gah! (he clenches his fist just as he used to do when he was on the verge of an outburst against his father, but now he catches himself and calms down.) You know, maybe your grandfather wasn't squeaky clean, but he knew what he wanted and how to get it. I'm just glad to see some of that passed down to one of my girls! C'mon, let's see that ID!

QUINN: (hovering between embarrassment and pride) OK...let me get it. (She goes to her purse, which is on the sofa, takes a wallet from it, and goes back to Jake.) Here it is. (While Jake looks at it, she notices the gun bag) Hey, what's this?

JAKE: (Examining the license) Huh? Oh, that's a shotgun, sweetheart.

QUINN: Can I...can I take a look?

JAKE: Ummm....if you tell me where you got the license. How's that?

QUINN: Oh! I...I don't know. It was either Joey, Jeffy, or Jerry got it for me.

JAKE: Jerry? I don't remember a Jerry.

QUINN: Whatever—he wanted to go clubbing with me but I didn't have ID, so he said he could get me one as long as I could get him a photo of me and he said he'd pay for it and everything.

JAKE: (Gives her back the ID. Seriously) Now Quinn, I want you to listen to me about this—the next time you find yourself in a position where somebody says they'll do something for you that isn't on the level— (pregnant pause)

QUINN: (Tensely) Yes, daddy?

JAKE: (Back to the conspiratorial, sly tone) —you find out how to do it yourself, so you can cut out the middleman next time, right?

(They both break out laughing, although Quinn's laughter is somewhat forced. Then Jake gets on his knees and unzips the gun bag. Quinn crouches down next to him, marveling at it.)

QUINN: (hushed tones) Wow—can I hold it?

JAKE: Sure thing. Just don't point it at me. It's not polite to point a gun at somebody unless you intend to shoot them. (grins)

(Quinn picks it up, still entranced by it.)

QUINN: So is this what you learn to shoot if you do real recruit training?

JAKE: No sweetie, those are rifles.

QUINN: (Puts it back down in the bag gently) What's the difference?

JAKE: Maybe you'll get to find out later, huh? C'mon, let's go.

X-FADE TO:

EXT. AERIAL SHOT OF A CAR DRIVING (Same as the opening shot of "Esteemsters," actually)

CUT TO:

INT. CAR

(Jake and Quinn are in the front seat. Quinn looks rather sleepy.)

JAKE: You dozing off there, Quinn?

QUINN: (Yawning) Yeah. I'm not used to PT. (Nods off for a moment. Then:) Daddy?

JAKE: Yeah, sweetheart?

QUINN: How'd I do yesterday? (Tries to keep her eyes open)

JAKE: You did— (Puzzled expression. He really doesn't know how well she did. Then) —I mean, you did great, Quinn. It's just that a drill instructor has to push recruits. It's then only way to make 'em hard.

QUINN: (Closes her eyes) Oh. (Nods off for a moment. Then:) So...so you think I could have made it through recruit training?

JAKE: I'm sure you could. I'm sure you could.

QUINN: (Smiles and closes her eyes.)

X-FADE TO:

INT. CAR

(Lawndale High is visible through the car windows. Quinn wakes up as the car stops.)

QUINN: (Rubs her eyes, then becomes alert and nervous as she looks out the window) What are we doing at school?

JAKE: Just wanted to get your transcripts, sweetheart. Don't want this Turgidson guy to give me any guff.

(Jake gets out of the car. Quinn watches him go into the school building, and then sits back in her seat with an anxious expression on her face.)

X-FADE TO:

INT. CAR

CUT TO:

CLOSE UP: QUINN ASLEEP

QUINN: (Mumbling)...don't want...Cashman's...just...back to Vietnam...

SFX: CAR DOOR SLAMMING

(Quinn wakes up abruptly. Jake, sitting next to her puts on his seatbelt.)

JAKE: (To himself) That took longer than it should...cost more, too...

QUINN: Huh? Everything OK?

JAKE: Everything's fine, sweetheart. (Beat. Then, sotto voce:) Got everything we need to fix your situation.

(Jake starts the car and they pull away from Lawndale High. Quinn looks back at the school receding in the distance, an expression of regret and fear on her face.)

X-FADE TO:

INT. CRANBERRY COMMONS MALL. STORE FRONT OF THE USMC RECRUITING CENTER FOR LAWNDALE

(The front of the USMC Recruiting Center is all glass, and through it can be seen Sgt. "Two Buck" Chuck Turgidson, who resembles a young and quite lean George C. Scott, sitting behind a desk reading a book with the title on its spine "World Targets in Gigadeaths, 1999-2000." Quinn enters the Recruiting Center followed by Jake.)

SGT. TURGIDSON: (Looking up from his reading) Hey—Quinnicita! (Puts down the book and stands up.) Suppose this is your dad here, yeah?

JAKE: (Shakes Sgt. Turgidson's hand) Jake Morgendorffer, Sergeant.

SGT. TURGIDSON: Sergeant Chuck Turgidson here, Mr. Morgendorffer. Let's all sit down, shall we? (They sit. To Quinn:) Now see here, little girl—you weren't such a cutie—pardon me being so, uh, familiar, Mr. Morgendorffer, but I'm sure you understand your little girl's quite the charmer—like I was saying here Quinnicita, you could be in a whole mess of trouble if old Two Buck here didn't think you were the bee's knees! Good thing your Mom called up and—

JAKE: (Quietly but with authority) Sergeant, could I speak to you privately about the situation? (To Quinn) You don't mind, do you sweetheart?

QUINN: (Quiet, woodenly) No, daddy.

SGT. TURGIDSON: (Slightly confused) Well, uh, Mr. Morgendorffer, it's all quite straightforward, we don't have to, uh, engage in recriminations—

JAKE: That's not what I—

SGT. TURGIDSON: (Becoming more and more defensive) —I confess we are sometimes, uh, rather aggressive, shall we say, in pursuit of our recruiting goals for a particular period, but—

JAKE: Sergeant, please—

SGT. TURGIDSON: —it's not the case that we engage in anything like press-ganging or any other—

JAKE: (As if barking an order) Sergeant!

SGT. TURGIDSON: (Reflexively) Yes, Mr. Morgendorffer, sir!

JAKE: (Again, quietly but with authority) I'd simply like to discuss the situation. No recriminations, no criticisms, nothing of that—

SGT. TURGIDSON: (Relieved) Well, Mr. Morgendorffer, I am glad to, uh, just speak to you about the matter of your daughter here—

JAKE: (Interrupting) Privately, please.

SGT. TURGIDSON: Uh—well, certainly, sir, certainly. (To Quinn) If you'd just, uh, just go into the other room back there, Quinnicita, (indicates a door down a hallway in the rear of his office) your dad and I, we're gonna have a talk about this.

(Quinn gets up and goes into the room, closing the door behind her.)

SGT. TURGIDSON: Now Mr. Morgendorffer, it's all really quite straightforward—while we don't, uh, don't usually make this sort of slip up—I have to tell you though sir, the ID she had was quite good—there is a form— (rummages through his drawers) —yes! As I was saying sir, we have a form that we need to fill out to void Quinn's enlistment—good old form CRM-114—although I have to say Mr. Morgendorffer that I'm duty bound to try to, uh, persuade you that—

JAKE: (Putting some papers on Sgt. Turgidson's desk.) You don't need to, Sergeant. Quinn is eighteen years old.

SGT. TURGIDSON: (Pauses, taken aback) I'm sorry, sir, what did you just say, Mr. Morgendorffer?

JAKE: (Pointing to the papers) I said that Quinn is eighteen. Here's a certified copy of her birth certificate and her high school transcript, indicating she graduated.

SGT. TURGIDSON: Mr. Morgendorffer, you just—you'll have to forgive me, sir, but when your wife called the other day—

JAKE: Sergeant, my wife and I are having...difficulties. Allowing Quinn to shirk her commitments is something she—my wife, that is—has been doing for too long.

SGT. TURGIDSON: But Mr. Morgendorffer, your wife—she told me that Quinn's drivers license was a fake, and, at some risk to my, uh, my position here sir, I followed up and confirmed that, and—

JAKE: You're right Sergeant—Quinn's license is a fake, but she's eighteen now. You see Sergeant, my wife is a lawyer.

SGT. TURGIDSON: (Rolling his eyes at the convulsions of the situation) I see, sir, I see. (He picks up the high school transcript.) Well—impressive grades, I must say! And what's this—"Dian Fossey Award for Dazzling Academic Achievement in the Face of Near-Total Misanthropy" (Whistles. Puts down the transcript.) I must say, Mr. Morgendorffer, this paints quite a, uh, different picture of Quinn than she presents in person.

JAKE: She can be a bit of a chameleon, it's true. It all, she is smart, and also sometimes shows...initiative, if you know what I mean.

SGT. TURGIDSON: I do, Mr. Morgendorffer, I do.

JAKE: I actually think the service would be good for her. Make her do something with her abilities.

SGT. TURGIDSON: And I can tell you, Mr. Morgendorffer, we be more than happy to have a young lady with such, uh, such outstanding achievements as part of the Corps! (They both stand up and shake hands)

JAKE: When will she have to report for recruit training?

SGT. TURGIDSON: Beginning of next week. Bus leaves bright and early at 0500 Monday just outside the mall here.

JAKE: Could I speak to Quinn alone for a moment?

SGT. TURGIDSON: Oh, please! (Gestures to the room down the hall. Jake goes inside, closing the door behind him.)

CUT TO:

INT. BACK ROOM OF USMC RECRUITING CENTER.

(The room is windowless, lit by harsh fluorescent bulbs, and contains only several folding metal chairs. Quinn is sitting on one of them, facing the wall. Jake stands at the door.)

QUINN: (Without turning to face Jake) So...what now?

JAKE: (Struggles to compose himself. This is harder than he thought it would be) Quinn...(Doesn't walk around to face her) Quinn, the outcome of this isn't going to be your mother thought it would be.

QUINN: (Sighing) I figured. (Tears start to fall down her cheeks, but she does not sob.)

JAKE: (Surprised. Quietly:) Why?

QUINN: (Still facing away from him, still silently weeping.) Because I made you and Mom have the biggest fight you two ever had and I knew you were going to do something when we were back at the house because you were being nice to me like I'm nice to a guy I'm going to dump. (Pause) But I thought maybe if I was nice to you and told you what I'd been thinking that maybe I could change your mind—and it's true, I don't want to go to Pepperhill, and I do want to be able to do everything they do in recruit training, but you probably don't believe me because...because everybody thinks I'm stupid and weak and why should you be any different. But I don't want to be stupid and weak, I swear I don't. (Pause) But when you went by the school, I knew you didn't care. I know that the A/V and computer geeks at school can forge anything and that's why I lied and said I didn't know where Joey, Jeffy, or Johnny got my ID.

JAKE: Johnny? I thought you said it was Jerry.

QUINN: Whatever. (Sighs) So when you went by the school, I knew for sure that you were...you were going to tell Sgt. Turgidson I'm eighteen. (Beat. Then, with great bitterness:) And Mom's always so busy with her frickin' job and Daria has always really hated me underneath everything and...(puts her head in her hands. Then sits up, still facing away) So I'm in really big trouble now for trying to get out of enlisting and I'm going to go to jail, right?

JAKE: (Very surprised, tenderly, quiet) No, Quinn—you're not going to jail. (Still quiet, but now sternly) But—since everything says you're eighteen, you can't get out of your enlistment.

QUINN: (Turns to him, shocked) You mean—you mean you think I can make it? You believe I can do this?

JAKE: (At a loss for words. A positive response is the last thing he expected. Then:) Yes, Quinn, I think you can.

(Quinn gets up from the chair, and hugs Jake, burying her face in his chest. Jake, nonplused at all this, simply strokes her hair, not looking at her, a blank expression on his face.)

QUINN: Thank you, daddy. I want to make you proud. I won't lie to you, like Mom or Daria. Thank you. (She releases him.)

JAKE: (Still nonplussed) Don't tell me you want this, Quinn.

QUINN: I don't. I know you did it because you're angry at me. But I think I need it. And this is the only time I can remember that anybody's expected me to do something besides... (frowns) ...besides what I usually do. (Pause) I realized that sometimes people will let you go on doing what you're always been doing because it help them feel better about themselves—because they look down on the person you are, and they're afraid of the sort of person you could be. (Beat. Then, with disgust:) Like Daria.

JAKE: I know what you mean, sweetheart. I—I heard her and your mother talking about me yesterday. They didn't know I overheard them. (The same rising anger that used to be directed to Mad Dog: ) They just seem to think old Jakey here can't handle the truth— (again, he catches himself and calms down) —but I'll talk to them tonight.

QUINN: Are you and Mom—are you going to get a divorce?

JAKE: I don't know sweetheart. But if we do, you should know it has nothing to do with you.

(They stand in silence for a moment.)

QUINN: When do I have to leave?

JAKE: Next Monday morning. 5AM.

QUINN. 0500, you mean.

JAKE: That's right.

QUINN: Can I take anything?

JAKE: I guess Sgt. Turgidson can tell you.

QUINN: (with a rueful smile) Sandi's gonna freak. (Beat) Daddy, can you drop me at her place instead of home?

JAKE: OK. Ready to go?

QUINN: No. But I don't think that should stop me.

(Jake opens the door, and Quinn goes out ahead of him. Sgt. Turgidson is waiting for Quinn with more forms, and we hear him give a playful rebukes—"Shouldn't mess with the USMC, young lady, but now you're in, we're damn glad, and I do mean damn glad to have you!"—before we:)

X-FADE TO:

EXT. SANDI GRIFFIN'S HOUSE

(Jake's Lexus is parked in front, and we see Quinn get out and go inside.)

CUT TO:

INT. CAR.

(Jake takes out his cell phone and dials a number.)

JAKE: Hey, Jim—didn't expect you to answer!

CUT TO:

INT. LEGRAND HOTEL

(Jim Ellenbogen, a middle aged man with longer hair than is becoming to someone his age, wearing an unpressed shirt and jeans and his work ID on a laniard around his neck, is sitting in a lounge chair while talking on his cell phone.)

ELLENBOGEN: Yeah, I managed to get an earlier flight. What about you? Are you on schedule? Got the younger one taken care of?

(As the conversation following alternates between Jake and Jim, we cut from Jake in his Lexus to Jim in his room at LeGrand.)

JAKE: Yeah, and I have to hand it to you...I was worried about there being a big scene, but she—

ELLENBOGEN: She practically thanked you for it, yeah?

JAKE: Yeah—Hey! How'd you know that?

ELLENBOGEN: I've made a study of kids, Jake. If you wanna do that, first thing is, don't have any of your own. (laughs) Then you can look at 'em with an unprejudiced eye. Young girl runs around like that—she wants her dad to make her toe the line. And that stuff you told me about her believing in angels and the rest of that new age crapola—those types, they're always looking for a transformative experience. They want enlightenment to come up and bite them on the ass. She sounded like a natural for getting pushed into the service. She'll come back from recruit training a different person—which is good for you, because you're gonna be long gone, man, long, long gone. When's she have to report?

JAKE: Next Monday.

ELLENBOGEN: Hrm...still think the earlier we do this, the better. The young one, Quinn—she back at home?

JAKE: No, she's at a friend's.

ELLENBOGEN: Which one?

JAKE: Sandi Griffin. The one who—

ELLENBOGEN: —was President of that Fashion Club, right?

JAKE: (Whistles) Wish I had your memory, my man, wish I had your memory.

ELLENBOGEN: (Taking a book and a pile of papers from a bag at his side.) It's not memory—I just take a lot of notes. I can make sure she stays there until after it's all done. Now—what about a diversion? Tell you what—why don't I come by your office and we can figure something out there, all right?

JAKE: Sounds good, Jim.

ELLENBOGEN: Glad you're into this, Jake. Other men might have chickened out or had reservations.

JAKE: (The rumblings of rage in his voice) After I discovered how those two really felt about me—I mean, it's one thing to be lied to because someone wants you to do something with yourself and he feels being straight about it would screw up the process. It's another thing to have the truth kept from you because people think you can't handle it—lousy BITCHES!

ELLENBOGEN: Whoa, whoa, whoa there, Jake—remember that revenge is a dish best eaten cold. It's a cliché, sure, but that doesn't mean it isn't true.

JAKE: (Recovering from his spasm) OK, OK...so now what?

ELLENBOGEN: Say we meet at your office in about an hour?

JAKE: Sounds good.

ELLENBOGEN: Catch you there, Jake. (He hangs up the phone, and begins thumbing through the papers and book. The top page on the pile of papers has a large title reading "Where's Mary Sue When You Need Her?" and the book is William Gaddis' "A Frolic of His Own.")

X-FADE TO:

(Jake and Jim Ellenbogen enter. Jake goes to his desk and sits back in his chair while Jim stands in the middle of the room, as if taking it all in.)

JAKE: (With a bitter laugh) Office, sweet office! To think I wanted to make something out of this place...that I needed to prove myself...

ELLENBOGEN: You felt you had to make it in business to be manly?

JAKE: Yeah...Gah! Thought it was all about hard work and brains...networking was a chance to pitch what you knew or what you could do to big shots...and that they got where they are through smarts and hard work. (Shakes his head) This whole affair has been an eye-opener for me. (Beat) I just could kick myself that I didn't see it before...

ELLENBOGEN: (Examines the wall behind Jake's desk) Don't be so hard on yourself, Jake. There's a multi-million dollar industry out there devoted to pulling the wool over people's eyes, especially when it comes to success. (Turns and walks in front of the desk to face Jake.) You know who Terry Perry Barlow is, yeah?

JAKE: (Almost muttering) Yeah. Lousy faker.

ELLENBOGEN: I heard that story about him saving his balloon crew—what'd you say, Jake?

JAKE: I said he's a lousy faker. Met him at an Eatertainment conference. (Shakes his head) Invited me and...(Pause. He has to contort his mouth around the name to get it out) Daria to go on a balloon ride with him. (Gathering steam) And I was so worried about making a good impression on my daughter, the one with the brains, that I got up at 5AM—5 friggin' AM!—to go on a balloon ride with (now thoroughly angry, in sing-song mockery) the guy who saved his crew's life ripping the balloon open with his teeth! (Slams his fists on the desk) Another lie! His pilot Arno did that! (Falls back in his chair and fumes) It keeps coming back to the same thing—I've been lied to all my life. But sometimes it was an obstacle to overcome, something to make me stronger, and the rest of the time, something to keep me down.

ELLENBOGEN: Damn—that's impressive Jake.

JAKE: Huh?

ELLENBOGEN: I'm impressed you got the inside scoop on Barlow. I mean, I heard that Barlow's story was bullshit, but it was just a rumor. You—you got the goods, Jake, you got goods on him. Probably be worth something to Barlow for you to keep your mouth shut, don't you think?

JAKE: (Thinks for a moment. Then, his expression suddenly becomes sunny and relaxed) Hey, you're right! Thanks, Jim. (Suddenly confused) But why would we want to shake down Barlow once we get the Alsaka money and get things going again?

ELLENBOGEN: Can never be too rich or too thin, Jake. (Pats his belly) I gotta work on one of those, but after tonight, you'll have 'em both, am I right?

JAKE and JIM: (Both laugh)

JAKE: So...you still think I should take care of the...obstacles by...(sotto voce, conspiratorially) letting it all hang out, eh?

ELLENBOGEN: Absolutely. Chicks been gettin' liberated for a little too long now—they're part of the problem. (Beat) Or at least, your problem. Got anything to drink here?

JAKE: Sure do! (Takes bottle of Old Smuggler and two shot glasses from his desk, and pours two shots. Takes a glass and makes a toast.) Bottoms up! (

ELLENBOGEN: (Holds Jake's arm to keep him from knocking it back.) Got a better one for you, Jake. (Taps his shot glass against Jake's.) Confusion to our enemies! (He drinks)

JAKE: Confusion and more! (He drinks) So...about diversions—

ELLENBOGEN: You attached to this place, Jake?

JAKE: You mean—Lawndale?

ELLENBOGEN: No—I mean your office here in particular. Anything of sentimental value?

CUT TO:

CLOSE UP OF JAKE LOOKING AT HIS DESK.

CUT TO:

JAKE'S POV: PHOTOS OF HELEN, DARIA, AND QUINN ON HIS DESKTOP

CUT TO:

PREVIOUS VIEW OF JAKE AND JIM.

(Jake takes the photo of Quinn off the desk and leaves the photos of Helen and Daria)

JAKE: (Indicates photo of Quinn. Grimly) Aside from this, nothing. Whole place could burn down—

ELLENBOGEN: My thoughts exactly.

JAKE: But—just a fire in this office?

ELLENBOGEN: Fires spread, Jake. I mean, these places are supposed to be built to code so fires will be contained, supposed to be a lot of flame retardant materials...(taps against the wall)...but then you know, one day a whole strip mall or office building or whatever will go up, and it comes out corners were cut, the contractors bought off the building inspectors, the unions turned a blind eye so they could get people jobs, the big tenants wanted to place built ASAP and besides they've got insurance, the town wants to increase the tax rolls—just not in anybody's interest to do it right, just to do it fast. (Taps the wall) What this country's all about, after all. Our fathers knew that and they took as big a piece of it as they could. It wasn't something they liked, and you can't give that info to a child—a kid would crumble right away. So you do what my dad and your dad did—pass on the standard lies, but try to leave a trail out of the forest of lies to the place they got to.

JAKE: When I first read that note—I thought dad was disgusted with me, that he was torturing me. Then I read it again and again...(pours and downs another drink)...and I realized he was still trying to help me, trying to reach out...he just wasn't into this...this girly crap we've got these days.

ELLENBOGEN: (Puts his hand on Jake's shoulder in a comforting gesture) It's not that—your old man was taken from you suddenly. I mean, when I go I want it to be like that—a good fast heart attack. But when it's fast like that, you don't see it coming, you don't get a chance to say what you really want to say to family, loved ones. (pours himself another shot but just sips at it) Watching my dad go from cancer...that's a cruel thing. But when he knew he only had a little time left, he dropped the pretenses and let me in on the whole deal. (Takes another sip) Because my old man knew he wasn't gonna see any grandkids, he changed his trust for me so I could get my hands on it at 40. The money was good, sure, but it's the other stuff—the notes, the stories, all the stuff looks like memorabilia—that's the real booty. How they did it, who they got dirt on—and that stuff doesn't go out of date, what with your military families have traditions of service and perversions going back to the civil war and beyond. The Alsaka money is nice, but the intellectual capital's the prize. I got half of it, and now the other half's come to you—and that's means Morgendorffer and Ellenbogen are back in business. (Downs his drink) I just hope there's another war coming up. Peace is bad for our line of business.

JAKE: So are self-righteous wives and daughters. (Fills both glasses) So you think a little barbeque will keep the Lawndale PD occupied, eh?

ELLENBOGEN: (Smiles) I can guarantee it, Jake.

JAKE: (Shows picture of Quinn to Jim) What about keeping her away from the house tonight? Or at least until it's over?

ELLENBOGEN: I figure Quinn there is gonna sleep over at Sandi's. Let's you and me run by the house, and I'll bring her a change of clothes. You can stay at home and get things ready for Helen and Daria. I'll be by to help you clean up after. (Raises the shot glass) Confusion to our enemies.

JAKE: (Taking up his glass) Confusion and more. (They drink)

X-FADE TO:

EXT. GRIFFIN HOUSE.

SFX: Doorbell ringing

CUT TO:

INT. GRIFFIN HOUSE.

(We see the foyer of the Griffin house but no one in the frame. In the background, we can make out the voice of Sandi and Quinn, arguing.)

LINDA: (VO) Sam, could you get the door?

(Sandi and Quinn are still arguing in the background. Nothing happens.)

LINDA: (VO, frustrated) Chris, could you get the door?

(Sandi and Quinn still arguing. Nothing happens.)

LINDA: (VO, more frustrated) Sandi, could you—oh, the hell with it.

(Linda Griffin, on crutches, comes into the frame and opens the front door. Jim Ellenbogen is outside holding an overnight bag.)

ELLENBOGEN: Ms. Griffin? Name's Jim Ellenbogen, friend of the Morgendorffers. Came by to drop off some stuff for Quinn.

LINDA: (Slightly offended) Oh! Well, I don't think Quinn will be needing anything. She's probably going home soon.

ELLENBOGEN: (Steps inside, much to Linda's annoyance) You never know with kids, Ms. Griffin, you never know. (Cocks his head in the direction of Sandi and Quinn's bickering.) Fighting like cats and dogs one minute, swearing undying friendship the next. (Turns to Linda) Quinn and Sandi—I think they could be friends like Daria and Jane, don't you think?

LINDA: Excuse me? Like who and who?

ELLENBOGEN: You know, Quinn's sister, Daria, and her friend Jane. (walks in and sits down on the couch)

LINDA: That is an extremely unflattering comparison, and I don't think I invited you in, Mr. Ellenborger.

ELLENBOGEN: That's OK, Linda, you don't have to stand on ceremony with me. And it's Ellenbogen, not Ellenborger. (Winks at her. Looks at the side table, on which there are several bottles of prescription medicine. He picks one up. Whistles.) Tylenol three for a bad fracture like yours? Bardamu's getting to be a real son-of-a-bitch in his old age—not that he was ever young, mind you. (Laughs)

LINDA: Now look Mr. Ellendorffer—

ELLENBOGEN: (Smiling) Ellenbogen.

LINDA: Whatever. I am asking you to leave, now, and if you don't I'll call the police.

ELLENBOGEN: That's OK, Linda, I understand. (Instead of getting up, he reaches into his pants pocket and takes out a bottle) I figured you might be hurting a bit, so I bought some of these. (He opens the bottle and shakes two pills onto his palm, which he holds up to Linda.)

LINDA: (About to shout, then stops herself, and looks more closely at the pills. Beat. Then, in a quiet voice) Is that really—

ELLENBOGEN: Yup. 'Ludes. Takes you back, doesn't it?

LINDA: (Straightening herself) Very funny, Mr. Ellenbogen—

ELLENBOGEN: Bingo! Third times the charm.

LINDA: —but I don't need to indulge in...in any pharmaceutical nostalgia. Besides, they're not painkillers.

ELLENBOGEN: Sure. But it must be boring as all hell, to be stuck in the house like this. (Puts the pills on the side table) Besides, I figure they'll bring back memories for Tom too, don't you think?

LINDA: (Sits down on the far end of the couch from him, but with a very angry expression) How the hell do you know all this?

ELLENBOGEN: (Smiles, holds his hands out) Just the damnest thing...I'm always meeting people who know folks who ended up in Lawndale, who have relatives in Lawndale...you folks here, just seems like a fascinating place. But this is the first time I've been here myself. Go figure. (Beat) Seen Jim Vitale recently?

LINDA: (Seething) Tell me how much you want, and get out.

ELLENBOGEN: What?

LINDA: Give me a figure and I'll get it to you, but get the hell out of my house.

ELLENBOGEN: What, you think I'm going to tell Tom? I'm surprised at you. (Gets up) Actually, I understand. People change, grow apart objectively, but have to stay together and keep up appearances for the kids.

LINDA: (Swallows. Then she uncoils herself in a seductive way while maintaining her angry expression) So...I guess it's something else you want?

ELLENBOGEN: (Raises his eyebrows, surprised) Wow. (Beat) You know, Linda, let me just say—you're a beautiful woman, and...and it would probably be a peak life experience for me—but I'm really just here to drop off some stuff for Quinn. (Shrugs) I only thought it might be nice to bring a present for you and Tom. (Points to the pills) Actually, that's not all of it. (Takes a bottle from the overnight bag and hands it to her. She does not take it, but stares at the label with astonishment.)

LINDA: (Amazed) Oh God...

ELLENBOGEN: Not the sort of thing you find on Chez Pierre's wine list, eh?

LINDA: (Still amazed) Absolutely not.

ELLENBOGEN: I figured that since Vitale's a real oenophile, you might have caught the bug from him. (Gestures towards her with the bottle) C'mon, take it!

LINDA: (Reaches out to grab it) FOR GOD'S SAKE, DON'T SHAKE IT! (takes it from him gently, as if cradling a child. The wine in the bottle is a deep gold. The label, which is slightly moldy, reads "Chateau d'Yquem Lur Saluces 1945" in a simple golden script. Then looks up at Ellenbogen. In rapt tones) Jim was bidding on a bottle of this recently at an auction in New York...said he wanted it to be a treat for us...he lost out, though...

ELLENBOGEN: Sometimes the one that got away comes back. (Taking up the bag) Can I drop this with Quinn?

LINDA: (Puts the bottle next to her on the sofa. Subdued, but still wary) I don't get you. Who are you?

ELLENBOGEN: (Shrugs) I told you—Jim Ellenbogen, friend of the Morgendorffer's. (Beat) Actually, friend of Jake's. I haven't met Helen or the girls yet.

LINDA: You mean Jake Morgendorffer knows—

ELLENBOGEN: Nope. Not gonna tell him, either. Jake's a good guy, but it's none of his business.

LINDA: So how do you know all this? And don't give me that line about meeting people from Lawndale.

ELLENBOGEN: (Sighs, puts down the bag, sits back down on the sofa) OK, OK...I live in Brooklyn. I'm a friend of Bill Peyton's.

LINDA: (Puts her hand on her chest, laughs silently) God...God! (Shakes her head) Bill! He is a lunatic.

ELLENBOGEN: But a generous and thoughtful one, yeah?

LINDA: (Nods) Yes, he is.

ELLENBOGEN: Do me a favor? Don't tell Jim that I told you—because then Jim's gonna tell Bill, you know that?

LINDA: Men and their little games! All right, I won't. (Reaches out to shake his hand) Thank you very much.

ELLENBOGEN: No, thank you, Linda. (Picks up the bag) So I'll just drop this with Quinn and be going.

LINDA: You're kidding, right?

ELLENBOGEN: What?

LINDA: A friend of Bill Peyton's pulling a crazy stunt like this—that makes sense. But somebody who Bill would trust with a bottle of d'Yquem '45 running an errand for Jake Morgendorffer? Doesn't make sense.

ELLENBOGEN: I know Jake through family. His father and mine were friends.

LINDA: (shakes her head) It's a strange world after all. (takes one of the pills from the table) So these are—

ELLENBOGEN: They're real.

LINDA: (Says nothing, eyes bug)

ELLENBOGEN: Hey, Bill tells me Jim always says the law isn't what's in the books, it's what lawyers do with it. But I figure Bill and Jim would appreciate it if they didn't have to do anything on your behalf because of my other, uh, gifts there.

LINDA: (Taking both pills into her hands) Of course.

ELLENBOGEN: I'll drop this upstairs and be going then. I'll let myself out.

(Linda watches Jim go upstairs, and then takes one of the pills, putting the other one in one of the bottle on the end table.)

CUT TO:

INT. SANDI'S ROOM.

SANDI: (Exasperated) Quinn, I think you have like finally lost your mind!

QUINN: And that's just the sort of thing Daria is thinking about me right now.

SANDI: Will you stop comparing me to your loser sister?

QUINN: I'm not comparing you to Daria—she's a lot smarter than you are, but you both want me under your thumb.

SANDI: OK, so your sister is a brain—since when did—

SFX: Knock on the door

SANDI: Mom, we're like busy now?

ELLENBOGEN: (VO) Sandi, it's not your Mom. I'm Jim Ellenbogen, friend of Quinn's dad? I'm here to drop off her stuff.

(Sandi goes to open the door)

QUINN: (Harsh whisper) Sandi, stop! I don't know anybody with that name!

(Jim opens the door and strides in)

ELLENBOGEN: (Annoyed) I said I was a friend of your father's, not your friend, young lady. (Drops the bag on the floor. To Quinn) There's some stuff for you. I think your Mom and Dad will need some time to themselves tonight, if you know what I mean. And it's disgraceful that the two of you are arguing like this. Quinn, you're only here for a few more days before recruit training starts—don't you think you should try to make peace with Sandi? (To Sandi) Same goes for you. Would the Fashion Club have been worthwhile if you just had Stacy and Tiffany in it all these years? And what about when Quinn helped you lose weight? But if you two want to be a pair of stereotypical high school bitches, be my guest. (To Quinn) Being a princess will cut no ice with a drill instructor, and you know it. (To Sandi) And if you don't get it together, you're going to a friendless, lonely harridan by the time you hit thirty, if not sooner. (Goes to the door) But go ahead, you girls do what you want! Second place is fine as long as nobody else is first, right? (Slams the door)

SFX: Feet going down stairs, door opening and closing.

QUINN: Who was that?

SANDI: Don't ask me—he's your father's friend.

QUINN: But I never heard of him!

SANDI: (A look of shock comes over her face) Ohmigod—Mom! (Runs out of the room)

CUT TO:

INT. GRIFFIN HOUSE LIVING ROOM WITH VIEW OF STAIRS

SANDI: (From the stairs) Mom, are you OK?

LINDA: (Flipping through a magazine.) I'm fine, Sandi. What's the matter?

SANDI: There was this creepy guy who just—

LINDA: (Puts down the magazine and turns to her. Sharply:) That was not a creep. That was Mr. Ellenbogen. He may be...a little unusual, but he's friends with some very important people in New York. I hope you didn't insult him.

SANDI: (Very surprised) Um...no. He didn't give us the chance. (Comes down the stairs. Sotto voce) He just like said we should get along, dropped Quinn's stuff, and stormed out.

LINDA: Well, the way you two are arguing is most unbecoming. (Stretches languidly)

SANDI: And he said that Quinn should like stay here tonight.

LINDA: And what's so horrible about that?

SANDI: (Shocked) Mom!

LINDA: (Bemused) He said that you and Quinn were friends like Daria and Jane...I wonder what he meant by that?

SANDI: Euw! Quinn's sister is like—

LINDA: —Someone who's a pretty subtle operator? Steals her best friend's boyfriend and keeps her friend around?

SANDI: Eep!

LINDA: (Smiles) I'm just repeating what you told me, Sandi. (Fluffs a pillow and leans back on the sofa) If Quinn has to stay here, then Quinn has to stay here. And I'm too tired from having to hobble around on these crutches to intervene. Now go upstairs and keep it down.

(Sandi turns and goes upstairs. Linda takes a remote control from the end table and fiddles with it. 70s disco music starts playing softly on a stereo. She closes her eyes and waves her arms, as if trying to do the hustle while lying down.)

CUT TO:

INT. SANDI'S ROOM.

(Sandi enters the room and sighs. Sam and Chris have come in the meantime, and are fawning over Quinn. The bag has been opened; Quinn's change of clothes is fatigues.)

SAM: That's so amazing!

CHRIS: You're gonna be like GI Jane!

QUINN: (Basking in their attention) Well, I'm going into the marines, and a GI is somebody in the army, although sometimes people use it to mean any soldier, but since Demi Moore was supposed to be a Navy SEAL in that movie, it really didn't apply at all, so it's no wonder people are confused.

(Sandi, ignored, starts to rummage in the bag)

CHRIS: Are you gonna learn hand-to-hand combat?

(Sandi finds a clipper in the bag and stands up.)

QUINN: Uh huh!

SAM: That'll be so cool!

CHRIS: Hey—you're not going to have to shave your head, are you?

SANDI: Yes, she is.

CUT TO:

CLOSE UP: SANDI'S FACE, SMIRKING

CUT TO:

FLASHBACK: The dream sequence from "Of Human Bonding" where Sandi cuts off Quinn's hair as she sleeps and then stands triumphant before bolts of lighting in a window.

CUT TO:

CLOSE UP: SANDI'S FACE, SMIRKING

CUT TO:

PREVIOUS VIEW OF SANDI, QUINN, SAM, AND CHRIS

SANDI: It'll be such a shame...all your beautiful hair, cut off...and they make you keep it that way all through training, don't they?

QUINN: (Says nothing. Looks daggers at Sandi)

SANDI: And gee, your dad packed a trimmer in with all this military stuff. I guess maybe he wants you to cut your hair before you go home. He probably wants you to get used to it.

QUINN: (Very quietly) I guess he does.

SANDI: (Tosses the clippers onto the bed, sighing) It'll be such a shame. I guess I better take a picture of you before you do it so we can remember what you used to look like.

QUINN: (Taking the trimmers from the bed. Again, very quietly) There are plenty of pictures of me like this. I think I want to see what I'll look like as a recruit. (She stands before a mirror and plugs in the trimmers)

SANDI: (Alarmed; this is not what she expected) Wait! I have to get my camera!

(Quinn turns on the trimmer)

SAM: No Quinn—not yet, please!

CHRIS: Just keep it a little while longer, please?

CUT TO:

MEDIUM SHOT OF QUINN LOOKING AT HERSELF IN THE MIRROR.

(She starts to trim her hair, and great red locks fall away from her face. In the mirror, we can see Sam and Chris grabbing her hair as it falls. As she continues to trim her hair, we slowly zoom in on her face. There is both a resignation and a hardness to her expression unlike anything she's manifested before. As the last bit of her hair falls, we've zoomed to a close-up of her face in the mirror. Her gaze is steady, and she passes a hand over the fuzz on her scalp calmly and gracefully.)

CUT TO:

PREVIOUS VIEW OF SANDI, QUINN, SAM, AND CHRIS

(Sam and Chris are clutching hunks of Quinn's hair and sniffing back tears while at the same time entranced by Quinn's new appearance. Sandi is slack-jawed with disbelief. Quinn brushes the remaining hair off herself with slow, graceful movements and then, with the same deliberation and grace, walks up to Sandi.)

QUINN: (softly) How do you like it, Sandi?

SANDI: (struggles for words, but nothing comes)

QUINN: (Still softly) I like it, Sandi. Do you like it?

SANDI: It's...it's different, Quinn.

SAM: (Looks at the hair in his hands, and then at Quinn. Awestruck) It's beautiful, Quinn!

CHRIS: You're beautiful, Quinn. It's amazing!

QUINN: So take a picture of me now, Sandi.

SANDI: (Swallowing) But...you can just look at yourself—

QUINN: Why won't you take a picture of me, Sandi?

SANDI: I'll...I'll take a picture of you, Quinn.

QUINN: Really?

SANDI: Really.

QUINN: Just like you would have taken of me with my hair?

SANDI: Yes.

(Quinn slaps Sandi, who falls to the floor. Sam and Chris jump back in surprise. Sandi clutches her cheek and starts to cry. Quinn crouches down next to her.)

QUINN: (Still softly) I don't want one like you would have taken of me with my hair. There wouldn't have been any film in the camera. Isn't that right?

SANDI: I—no, I wouldn't do that!

QUINN: Yes, you would.

SANDI: No—no, I swear!

QUINN: Stop lying. That Ellenbogen guy was right. I don't have the time for it. (She sits down cross-legged next to Sandi) We don't have the time for it. (To Sam and Chris) Can you guys like give us some space? Your sister and I have to talk.

(Sam and Chris look nervously at each other and then simply nod and leave the room.)

(Sandi gets up and wipes her eyes. She sits cross-legged facing Quinn.)

SANDI: OK. You're right. There wouldn't have been any film in the camera. Happy?

QUINN: No.

SANDI: Well, what the hell do you want then?

QUINN: A friend.

SANDI: What?

QUINN: I said I want a friend. I've never had one before. Funny how you can be totally popular and have no friends, isn't it?

SANDI: I'm your friend.

QUINN: You're not my friend. You're the closest thing I have to a friend, but you're not my friend.

SANDI: Quinn, I am your friend.

QUINN: No. You don't like me. You need me, but you don't like me. I know because I feel the same way. (She looks away from Sandi. The light in the room is starting to turn golden.) I'm scared, Sandi. I'm scared that I won't make it through training, and I'm scared of what'll happen if I do make it through training.

SANDI: So don't go!

QUINN: I have to go. It's out of my hands. (Looks back at Sandi.) I'm pretty sure that if I make it through training I'll have friends because training is supposed to be like that because you have to learn to depend on each other and stuff. But if I leave here without any friends it'll mean...(She looks away from Sandi again)...it'll mean that I wasn't even good at the things I thought I was good at or that they were just phony. So either I wasn't really good at being popular, or being popular means that lots of people put up with you and even like to have you around, but don't really like you. (Beat) And in either case, it'll mean (She has to contort her mouth around the name to get it out) Daria was right.

SANDI: I...I don't know what you mean. (Beat) But there's something scary about it.

QUINN: (Derisive laugh) Think about how scary it must be if you understand it, Sandi. That's what I'm scared of. And that's why I'm not scared of you anymore. (She stands up) You have to fight what you're scared of. You were scared of me.

SANDI: (Gets up, looks her in the face.) No. Never.

QUINN: (Doesn't blink, merely raises an eyebrow)

SANDI: I was not scared of you.

QUINN: Uh huh.

SANDI: I was not!

QUINN: (Sighs) Whatever. (Goes to the bag and starts packing it) Maybe I'll stay at Tiffany's tonight. At least with her, I won't even want to try—

SANDI: What do you mean?

QUINN: I mean there's no way Tiffany could be my friend. Or Stacy.

SANDI: Stacy's still missing—did you hear?

QUINN: No. Do you care?

SANDI: Do I care? Of course I care! Stacy—

QUINN: —was a dishrag. (Sighs) I mean, I hope she still is a dishrag. I don't want anything bad to happen to her, but it's not like we could be friends. (Closes the bag, gets up) You and me, we were close enough to fight—I mean close as in close like equals. It's only equals who can fight for a while because they're closely matched. Funny thing it's the same for friends. At least that's the way it seems right now. Goodbye, Sandi. (She starts for the door)

SANDI: Wait! (She catches Quinn by the arm) You're right—I was scared of you. I'm still scared of you. But now I'm scared for a different reason. Before it was like I was afraid that you would take the Fashion Club away from me. Now you're like this totally different person.

QUINN: I don't feel like a totally different person.

SANDI: You act like one. (She bends over, scoops up a handful of hair, and holds it out to Quinn.)

QUINN: (Looks at the hair, puzzled by what Sandi means. Then she realizes and starts to laugh.)

SANDI: (Seeing Quinn laughing starts to laugh too.)

(Quinn goes over to the mirror and laughs at her image. Sandi, still laughing, comes up behind her and rubs the fuzz on Quinn's scalp. Quinn pushes her away, giggling, but falls over backwards as she pushes Sandi. They both land on the floor, laughing. After a while, they exhaust themselves.)

SANDI: Feels good to laugh.

QUINN: Yeah. How come we never laughed much?

SANDI: I don't know. (Beat) What now?

QUINN: Cheeseless pizza?

SANDI: Sounds good. (Then, looking at Quinn head) Uh...since you're going to be seen in public with me, could you like—

QUINN: Wear a cap? No.

SANDI: (Frowning. Then) OK. I mean, it's not like there's a Fashion Club anymore. (Gets up) God, how are we doing to clean up all this hair?

QUINN: Get Sam and Chris to clean it up?

SANDI: No. They'll start fighting over who has more of it. (Sighs) Let's worry about it later.

QUINN: OK. Let's go.

SANDI: Um...I'll meet you downstairs.

QUINN: OK. (She leaves the room)

(Sandi takes a lock of Quinn's hair from the floor and gathers it in a scrunchy. Then she pins it to a cork bulletin board and leaves the room. We zoom to the bulletin board, and see that it's a collection of Fashion Club memorabilia: old Fashion Club meeting minutes, outfits torn from Waif, and a photo booth strip of four shots of the Fashion Club, with Quinn and Sandi vying for position in the center of the frame.)

X-FADE TO:

INT. JAKE'S OFFICE

(A pattern of dying golden light on the wall behind the desk indicates it's sundown. Jim Ellenbogen enters, carrying a suitcase and a package. He places them on Jake's desk, sits down, and busies himself opening the package. Throughout what follows, the light on the wall becomes dimmer and dimmer.)

ELLENBOGEN: Let's see—from Rancho de la Ribas, Montana...(hums as he opens the package. Then sings:) "Moving to Montana soon/Gonna be a dental floss tycoon"...(he tosses aside sheets of decorative tissue paper and then exclaims:) Whoa!

(He takes from the package a remarkably large revolver with a rubber grip and gleaming white stainless steel finish. There is a Post-it note on the barrel, which he removes and squints at.)

CUT TO:

POV: JIM READING THE POST-IT NOTE.

(The note reads "When you've drained away every last ounce of her humanity, every shred of dignity she has, and just when she's getting ready to bend down and kiss your feet, tell her you got the gun—from me.")

CUT TO:

PREVIOUS VIEW OF JIM IN JAKE'S OFFICE.

ELLENBOGEN: (Laughing) That I shall, sir, that I shall. (He pours himself a shot from the bottle of Old Smuggler) To you, sir, the proprietor of Rancho de la Ribas, the greatest Arabian horse farm and private command bunker in the American Northwest. (He drinks and grimaces.) Damn...why couldn't Eigen and Gibbs been the ones to drink the d'Yquem?

SFX: Cell phone ringing

ELLENBOGEN: (Takes his phone from his belt, looks askance at it, and opens it) Jake? What goes on?

CUT TO:

INT. MORGENDORFFER KITCHEN

(Jake is sitting at the kitchen table, shotgun on his knee, and a pair of large goggles on his forehead)

JAKE: Just wanted to know where we are with the diversions there, Jim.

(As the conversation following alternates between Jake and Jim, we cut from Jake's office to the Morgendorffer kitchen.)

ELLENBOGEN: (Taking various tools and bottles of powders and fluids from his suitcase) Doing fine, Jake, doing fine.

JAKE: OK. I was just wondering—how will you know when to, uh, get things going? I don't know when Helen's going to get home, and we didn't talk about any signals or whatever. (He puts the goggles over his eyes.) Man, these infrared goggles you gave me are something!

ELLENBOGEN: Oh! Signals! Right, of course...well, I guess—

JAKE: (sticking his head into the cabinet under the sink) So that's where she hid my wok, damn it! No wonder she hid all the flashlights, too!

ELLENBOGEN: Jake, why don't you—

JAKE: (Takes the wok from the cabinet and gets up. With rising anger:) All those years of cooking, trying to be the damn wife—and what'd I get for it? More abuse! A bowl of penne a la pesto dumped on my head! Damn it, if I were a damn woman, I could have called the cops on her for wife beating! Damn you, Helen! Damn you!

ELLENBOGEN: Jake—focus, man, focus!

JAKE: (Catching himself) Right. Sorry.

ELLENBOGEN: Don't be sorry. It's fine. Anger is an energy. Conserve it, that's all I'm saying.

JAKE: (Sitting down, putting the goggles on his forehead) Got it. Thanks.

ELLENBOGEN: No problem. Just remember, man—you are cooking tonight. A cold entrée of revenge à la Jake, right?

JAKE: Right.

ELLENBOGEN: Now—signals: don't call on my cell again until you see Helen in the driveway. And then, just let it ring and go into voice mail. Got it?

JAKE: Got it.

ELLENBOGEN: I'll be down the block from the time you make the call in under 5 minutes. When you need me to come in and clean, just flash the kitchen lights.

JAKE: OK. (Beat) And you're sure Quinn is-

ELLENBOGEN: Absolutely.

JAKE: But what about Daria? You might be waiting out there a while—or what if she gets home before Helen?

ELLENBOGEN: (Grimaces and rubs his eyes) Don't worry. I've taken care of that, too.

JAKE: You sure?

ELLENBOGEN: (sighing) Positive.

JAKE: Don't know how you do it, my man. But I'm damn glad you do.

ELLENBOGEN: I'll give you a few pointers after this is over. Over and out. (Hangs up the phone. To himself:) Christ, getting Daria back home at the right time—only the most important thing in this whole enterprise, and I completely forgot it. (He then takes a sheaf of papers from his suitcase and flips through them. Reads aloud:) "Coincidence gets you out of plot jams that a more skillful writer would have avoided." (Sighs again) Ain't it the truth? (Looks at the tools and chemicals) Oh hell, why bother? (Takes another bottle of d'Yquem '45 from his suitcase along with a corkscrew and appropriate stemware. Opens the bottle and pours himself a glass. In resigned tones:) To coincidence, the salvation of those less skillful writers like myself. (Is about to drink. Then stops, regards the wine in the glass. In a lower, more satisfied tone:) No. Here's to the unswerving punctuality of chance. (Smiles and takes a long sip.)

FADE TO BLACK.

FADE IN:

INT. JIM VITALE'S OFFICE.

(Lights are on, indicating the sun's gone down. Jim Vitale is talking on the phone.)

VITALE: (Bedroom tones) You little minx, what's got into you? (Pause. Laughs) I mean, besides me, Linda...(Pause)...OK, OK, you got a surprise for me—so what's wrong with tonight? Tom's out of town and— (Pause) Christ almighty, Helen Morgendorffer's kid? Why'd you— (Pause) Wait, wait—you're not making any sense, Linda. What does Bill Peyton have to do with this? (Pause. He rolls his eyes as he listens) OK, you didn't mention Bill Peyton. I'll strike it from the record and direct myself not to consider that statement. (Pause) All right...tomorrow then...y'know Linda, there's this Helmut Newton photo that I always liked...(Pause)...actually, she's wearing a neck brace and has a cane instead of crutches, but you...(Pause)...that's what I like about you, gorgeous—you're up for anything. (Pause) Me too. Ciao, beautiful. (Hangs up the phone. To himself:) Shit.

(He gets up and paces for a moment. Then he stops, picks a ball up from his desktop, and starts to toss it between his hands. A smile creeps across his face.) Sure...sure...why not? (He tosses the ball onto his desk and goes out of his office.)

CUT TO:

INT. HELEN'S OFFICE.

(Helen is still working, alternately reading, writing on a legal pad, and typing on her computer. Marianne has gone. Jim Vitale enters without Helen noticing. He approaches her desk and leans down on it without her noticing. Then:)

VITALE: (Gently) Hey, Helen.

HELEN: (Startled) Eep! (Catching herself) Oh, Jim—sorry, I was caught up in—

VITALE: Yeah, yeah, you're doing asshat's work for him. Sucks, doesn't it?

HELEN: (Fatigued) Jim, if you've come in here just to remind me of my limited role at the firm—

VITALE: (In soothing tones) No, I'm serious. It sucks doing Schrecter's work, doesn't it?

HELEN: (Returns her attention to her books, papers, etc.) What are you getting at, Jim?

VITALE: Look, I know this morning's meeting was tough on you—

HELEN: (Derisively) Interrogation lights would have added to the ambiance, certainly.

VITALE: —but I can't have you jerking asshat around like that. Clients know his dad, and his dad was a fantastic litigator. And they figure like father, like son, you know? He's a draw, what can I say?

HELEN: (Not looking up from her work) Um.

VITALE: Lawndale's a weird place, you know? You got Angier Sloane and Andrew Landon here, and they're pretty much 70% of the local economy. But those guys are never gonna come down from Mount Olympus to make decisions about their businesses' day to day representation, so they fall back on their lieutenants for little details like that—-and those guys are usually part of the Lawndale business scene that Sloane and Landon swallowed up, and those are the same people who remember Eric's dad and figure Eric's gonna do right by them, you know?

HELEN: (Still not looking up from her work) Where is this going, Jim?

VITALE: (Ignoring her question, continuing his soliloquy) I mean, these guys are provincial. They can't accept someone who doesn't fit their preconceived notion of "lawyer" as being one, much less a good one, know what I mean?

HELEN: (Still not looking up from her work) Please, Jim, get to the point.

VITALE: OK. Point 1: you're a good lawyer. Point 2: you must have known the score about your chances of making partner within six months of starting here. So why the hell did you stay in Lawndale?

HELEN: (Finally looking up. With an expression of infinite distain that can only be mustered by those who've spent years at a job whose total misery is only matched by its absolute security) Jim, I have two daughters and a husband to support—

VITALE: A husband to support? What's that about, Helen? I thought Jake had his own business.

HELEN: (With a defeated sigh) He does. It's just that...it's never been very profitable.

VITALE: Understand, Helen. Must be tough on you. (He goes and sits in Marianne's chair) Look, I can't offer you a partnership and I'm sorry about that. The little minded guys we cater to—they couldn't accept you as a partner.

HELEN: So why do they accept Sue Davis?

VITALE: Ah, see—that's like Eric's situation. They accept her because they knew her father, Jack. But unlike asshat, she is a good lawyer. In fact, she's probably better than Jack was—

HELEN: Probably?

VITALE: OK, definitely.

HELEN: Absolutely.

VITALE: No argument.

HELEN: But she works harder than he ever had to—

VITALE: —because of the little minded guys we cater to. And that's with the edge she has. Don't tell me you didn't figure this out a long time ago. And your kids and your husband—so you stick it out here two years and move on. Better for you, better for them. But you didn't. What's up with that?

HELEN: Jim...how much lower do you expect me to sink?

VITALE: (Laughs) Helen, what the hell you talking about? I know I was a total ball-buster this morning, but that's business. Incidentally, I've had young hot-shots out of the Ivies who would turn into whimpering cry-babies 30—45 minutes, tops, into a review like that. You're good, you're good.

HELEN: (Returning to her work) Thank you. Now since you say so, I might as well get back to being good at my work.

VITALE: Relax. Let asshat swing in the wind a little. Besides, his dad wants him to swing in the wind a little. (Beat) I respect you, Helen. I like you. It's too bad I can't offer you advancement in the firm. But a smart, good-looking woman like you—we could have some good times, you know?

HELEN: (Standing up, mortified) What did you say?

VITALE: (Unruffled) I said we could have some good times, Helen. You and me.

HELEN: Are you—are you so ignorant and arrogant that you don't realize that—

VITALE: (Laughs) Helen, Helen—you think I don't know the definition of sexual harassment? There's no quid pro quo here. I can't do anything for you and the firm needs you to do asshat's job. And I am certainly not going to create an intimidating or offensive working environment here, because, as I just said, we need you to do asshat's job. This is a sincere come-on, Helen.

(He gets out of the chair and walks towards her with open arms, a broad smile on his face. Helen steps out from behind her desk and slaps him. He rubs his cheek and laughs)

VITALE: Damn—that was a good one, Helen. Was it as good for you as it was for me?

(NB: In the following, at NO TIME does Vitale put his hands on Helen)

HELEN: (Shaking with rage) You—are-disgusting, you know that, Jim Vitale? You are the most disgusting person it has ever been my misfortune to work with!

VITALE: (Grinning and chuckling) Helen, Helen—c'mon! Don't hold back! Tell me how you feel!

(She slaps him again. He laughs more. She slaps him yet again.)

VITALE: (Laughing as Helen continues to slap him:) Whoa! My daughter! My sister! My daughter! My sister!

HELEN: (Now in tears) YOU—SON—OF—A—BITCH! (She pushes him over. He falls flat on his back, still laughing, and starts to clap)

VITALE: (Pointing at her) It is such a cliché but it is absolutely true in your case, Helen. You are goddamn beautiful when you're angry.

(Helen goes back behind her desk, sits down, and starts to weep uncontrollably.)

SFX: Phone ringing.

(Vitale gets up, straightens his tie, and answers the phone.)

VITALE: (Perfectly calm and polite) Helen Morgendorffer's Office. (Pause) Oh, hey Daria. Your Mom's a little busy right now, but she can be with you in minute, OK? Lemme put you on hold and she'll pick up. And congrats on getting into Raft. Hell of a school. Hold on, OK, sweetheart? (Puts the phone on hold. Takes a handkerchief from his pocket and hands it to Helen. Then to Helen, in gentle, soothing tones:) You need a glass of water or something?

HELEN: (Wiping her eyes) You're a complete bastard. A sick, sick man.

VITALE: (Nodding, sympathetically) That's true. But I can also be a good guy, and fun to be around. (Tenderly) I know how frustrating it must be, raising two kids without somebody who can pull his weight. But you know I'm somebody who won't crumble. I know I deserved everything you just laid on me and more. And that's why I like you Helen—a weaker person would have been afraid to dish that out. That's what I find attractive in you—you're strong. You've got principle. You don't want this, that's fine. I'll never mention it again. But anytime you want somebody who won't crumble and who can be there for you, I'll be there. (He leaves)

(Helen wipes her eyes with Vitale's handkerchief for a moment, stops, stares at the handkerchief, and throws it into her wastebasket. She takes a deep breath and picks up the phone.)

HELEN: Daria? What it is dear?

CUT TO:

INT. JANE'S ROOM.

(Music: American Music Club, "Goodbye Reprise #54")

(Jane is sitting at her computer, typing furiously. Daria is sitting on Jane's bed.)

DARIA: Mom? Are you all right?

(As the conversation following alternates between Daria and Helen, we cut from Helen's office to Jane's room.)

HELEN: I'm fine dear—why do you ask?

DARIA: I don't know...you just sound kind of—

HELEN: I'm just worn out, sweetie. It's been a long day.

(Jim Vitale enters with a glass of water)

HELEN: ...and it's not over yet. (She does not take the glass, but glares at Vitale.)

DARIA: Um...OK. Anyway, I'm over at Jane's, and I called the house because I thought you might be home—

HELEN: Yes? (Still glaring at Vitale)

DARIA: —and Dad picked up the phone.

HELEN: He did? Is he still there?

DARIA: I think so—but should he be there?

HELEN: (takes the water from Vitale without acknowledging him) Daria, why shouldn't he be?

DARIA: Well...I know you didn't have much time to talk to him today...do you think having him back in the house right after—

HELEN: (Slightly annoyed) Daria, we had this conversation today already! It's as if you're scared of your father!

DARIA: It's not that I'm scared of Dad—it's just that if you want things to be better, don't you think you should talk to him?

HELEN: Of course I'm going to talk to your father. Why'd you think I asked if he was home?

DARIA: But...you'll be tired—Dad'll be worn out—neither of you will—

HELEN: (More annoyed) Young lady, this is the same thing you said this morning, and it's as irrelevant now as it was then! My goodness, you're talking as if this were going to be some adversarial proceeding.

DARIA: Well...maybe it is.

HELEN: (Finally angry) That's enough, Daria. You're talking about your father as if he were some monster. He's not. And just so you know, I'm going home now to talk to him. I very much doubt you'll find any blood or damage to the furniture when you get home. (Slams down the phone)

CUT TO:

INT. JANE'S ROOM

(Daria puts down the phone, a forlorn expression on her face.)

DARIA: (To herself) And the scars on Quinn aren't visible either, so I guess that's OK too...

CUT TO:

INT. HELEN'S OFFICE.

VITALE: (Still sympathetically, softly) Something I should know about?

HELEN: (Getting up) Absolutely, positively not! If you think you can act again the way you did tonight—

VITALE: Believe me, I won't.

(Helen is silent for a moment. Then:)

HELEN: I don't know which is more frightening—that I can't trust you or that I can trust you. (She starts gathering up her things)

VITALE: Look Helen, if you need some time—as a matter of fact, why don't you take tomorrow so you can wrap up this whatever-it- is, OK? We'll make it a comp day. God knows you have a few of those coming.

HELEN: (Without looking at him) I'll be in tomorrow as usual.

VITALE: That's fine, too. I'm sure asshat will appreciate it. (Goes to the door. In a bedroom voice) Good night, Helen. (Goes out)

(Helen stops what she's doing as Vitale says "Good night" and tenses up as if struck by fear. She remains that way for a moment after he's left her office, and then crumples down into her chair, sobbing uncontrollably.)

FADE TO BLACK.

FADE IN:

EXT. MORGENDORFFER HOME.

(The front door and living room window are in frame.)

SFX: A car pulling into the driveway.

(As the scene progresses the 'camera' dollies back slowly until the entire house is in frame. We see Helen enter the frame from the right and go up to the front door. She gets her key from her bag, but before she can open the door, Jake opens it. His expression is peaceful.)

JAKE: (Quietly) Hi honey.

HELEN: Oh, Jake, it's good to—I mean—I'm sorry. I'm so sorry!

(She drops her bag and crumples into his chest, weeping. He puts his arms around her loosely but does not lean down to look at her. His gaze is set in the distance, his expression indifferent.)

JAKE: It's all right, Helen, it's all right. We're together again, aren't we?

HELEN: (sobbing) I've had the worst day—you can't imagine.

JAKE: Sure I can. Come on in and tell me about it.

(They go into the house and the door closes. For a while we hear only fragments of dialogue from Helen, usually containing the words "Vitale," "Schrecter," "beast," and "idiot." Then the silhouettes of Jake and Helen in the living room window are visible. Jake is standing closer to the edge of the window [and center of the frame] while Helen walks around him, gesturing, sobbing, and occasionally stopping to hug him. After one clinch, she stands back from him. Then we hear:)

JAKE: Oh, Quinn! (Laughs) I took care of that all right!

(Jake's voice becomes inaudible but it's obvious he's speaking, making gestures as he does. He remains in the same spot while speaking. Suddenly Helen staggers back as if struck, although Jake hasn't touched her and is standing where he was. Then she straightens up and we hear:)

HELEN: YOU VILE, VICIOUS—YOU BASTARD! HOW COULD YOU DO SUCH A THING TO OUR DAUGHTER? OUR LITTLE GIRL?!? DARIA WAS RIGHT!

(We see Helen run at Jake and the light go out in the living room. There is silence for a moment. Then the light goes back on in the living room. Only Jake is visible.)

FADE TO BLACK.

FADE IN:

EXT. PARKING LOT OUTSIDE BUILDING WHERE JAKE HAS HIS OFFICE

(Jim Ellenbogen sits on the margin of well-manicured lawn that surrounds the parking lot. He has the bottle of d'Yquem '45 and a glass by his side. He checks his watch, takes a sip, and checks his watch again.)

ELLENBOGEN: (To himself) Why bother checking your watch? Just wait for the cop to arrive. You've always wanted to talk back to a cop, right? Well, here's your chance. (Takes a sip of wine) Oh great—now I'm talking to myself. Just like Daria did in "See Jane Run." (Takes another sip of wine) Oh, the hell with it. I've talked to myself for years, before I ever saw Daria, before I ever saw Beavis and Butthead, for that matter. (Holds the glass at an angle and scrutinizes the wine) Beautiful color...but I wonder what the '45 really tastes like.

(As he takes another sip, a policeman appears in the left of the frame)

POLICEMAN: Excuse me sir, but you're in violation of the open container law. I'll have to ask you to close that bottle, please.

ELLENBOGEN: (Swallows, stands up) About time you got here!

POLICEMAN: (Narrowing his eyes) Beg your pardon, sir?

ELLENBOGEN: I mean...(to himself) Damn it what do I mean? And why antagonize somebody who's just doing their job? Ah hell— (to the policeman) —You like sweet wines, officer?

POLICEMAN: I'm not allowed to drink on duty, sir, and I've asked you once to close that bottle. If you don't cooperate, you'll get a summons and maybe have to come to the station with me.

ELLENBOGEN: Don't be a sap! It's Chateau d'Yquem '86. I know the label says it's '45 but I never had the '45 where I'm from, so I could never have it here, capice?

POLICEMAN: (Taking out his summons pad, sighing) Sir, are you driving?

ELLENBOGEN: Nope. Can't. (Taking another sip of wine) Say, is there anybody on the Lawndale PD named Hauser or O'Brien?

POLICEMAN: (Tearing off the summons) All right sir, here's your summons for violating the Lawndale open container law. Now, I'm asking you for the last time—will you please close the bottle? Because if you don't, I will have to arrest you.

ELLENBOGEN: I wouldn't bother about that. You'll have bigger fish to fry this evening.

CUT TO:

EXT. OFFICE BUILDING

SFX: Explosion, breaking glass

(There's a bright flash from one of the offices followed by tongues of flame leaping from the shattered window.)

CUT TO:

EXT. PREVIOUS VIEW OF ELLENBOGEN AND POLICEMAN

POLICEMAN: Shit! (Grabs his walkie-talkie from his belt) Central, this is Officer Buttle at Halcyon Hills Office Park, do you copy?

VOICE FROM WALKIE-TALKIE: We copy Tuttle, go ahead.

POLICEMAN: I said Buttle, not Tuttle.

VOICE FROM WALKIE-TALKIE: Buttle, sorry. Over.

POLICEMAN: I have a 904 here, over.

VOICE FROM WALKIE-TALKIE: 904, copy. Is it contained?

CUT TO:

EXT. OFFICE BUILDING

SFX: Explosion, breaking glass, creaking girders

(Windows to either side of the first have blown out, and the roof over the first is sagging slightly)

CUT TO:

EXT. PREVIOUS VIEW OF ELLENBOGEN AND POLICEMAN

(The Policeman covers his head to avoid the spray of broken glass. Ellenbogen covers the top of his wine glass)

ELLENBOGEN: (To the policeman) Told you you'd be busy.

POLICEMAN: (Ignoring him, into the Walkie-Talkie) Negative, Central, the fire is spreading, copy. VOICE FROM WALKIE-TALKIE: Did not copy that, Tuttle—

POLICEMAN: Damn it, it's BUTTLE

VOICE FROM WALKIE-TALKIE: Buttle, sorry, did not copy. Please repeat, over.

CUT TO:

EXT. OFFICE BUILDING

SFX: Explosion, breaking glass, creaking girders, and crumbling masonry.

(The entire side of the building is aflame, and the roof over the windows where the blaze started has collapsed.)

CUT TO:

EXT. PREVIOUS VIEW OF ELLENBOGEN AND POLICEMAN

(Ellenbogen has begun to walk away from the policeman)

POLICEMAN: The fire is spreading, Central, do you copy? The fire is spreading like goddamn Anna Nicole Smith for an octogenarian multi-millionaire, do you copy?

VOICE FROM WALKIE-TALKIE: OK, Tuttle—

POLICEMAN: BUTTLE, damn it, BUTTLE!

VOICE FROM WALKIE-TALKIE: OK, sorry—Buttle, we copy. Remain at the scene for Lawndale FD and backup, copy.

POLICEMAN: Copy. (Notices Ellenbogen leaving) Hey—come back here!

ELLENBOGEN: (Points at the fire) Didn't I say you'd have bigger fish to fry?

POLICEMAN: Damn it! (He unholsters his gun, points it at Ellenbogen) Stop right there! You're under arrest—suspected arson! (Ellenbogen continues walking) Damn it, I said stop!

ELLENBOGEN: (Turning around) Or what? You're gonna use deadly force on a guy armed with a bottle of dessert wine?

POLICEMAN: (Inching towards him) Who'd know if I did, you pain in the ass? Huh?

ELLENBOGEN: (Points towards the building) Well, those surveillance cameras on the building are pointed at us and they're still working—you can see the LED blinking on that one there. And I know for a fact the video feed goes off-site. Now, they're gonna crawl over those tapes after this little barbeque is over—

CUT TO:

EXT. OFFICE BUILDING

SFX: Explosion, breaking glass, creaking girders, crumbling masonry

(A larger section of the roof collapses, and the flames shoot up into the sky. The windows on the building next to it are beginning to buckle from the heat.)

CUT TO:

EXT. PREVIOUS VIEW OF ELLENBOGEN AND POLICEMAN

ELLENBOGEN: —and find that you, Officer Buttle, shot and killed an unarmed man instead of trying to help anyone who might be trapped in that inferno—which, I guarantee you, will be the worst in Lawndale's history. Can you imagine the field day the Sun-Herald is going to have with that?

POLICEMAN: (Frowns miserably, but does not put down the gun)

ELLENBOGEN: —To say nothing of how often you'll be cited as "Officer Tuttle" in the articles, on radio, television—are you following me, Officer?

POLICEMAN: (Slowly puts down the gun) All right, you win, you son-of-a-bitch. Just—just get the hell out of here, OK?

CUT TO:

EXT. OFFICE BUILDING

SFX: Breaking glass.

(The windows that were buckling on the building next to the one in flames break. Embers from the blaze fly into the open windows, kindling a new, small blaze there.) CUT TO:

EXT. PREVIOUS VIEW OF ELLENBOGEN AND POLICEMAN

ELLENBOGEN: Fine, officer. (Shakes his head) Shame to miss the blaze, though—it'll be spectacular.

(Ellenbogen exits the frame. The policeman stands staring at the blaze, starting to sweat from the heat.)

CUT TO:

INT. JANE'S ROOM.

(Jane is seated at her computer, squinting at the screen. Daria is seated on her bed, flipping madly through "A Frolic of His Own".)

JANE: Here's something: a whole website devoted to annotations of Gaddis' novels.

DARIA: Anything about the characters in "Frolic?"

JANE: No, but they hunt down about every legal and literary citation in the book. (Pause) Looks like he didn't make up any of the legal references. So maybe the book is like "In Cold Blood"—a non-fiction novel. Why obsess about it?

DARIA: I'll stop obsessing once I find something that says it's a non-fiction novel, OK?

JANE: (Throws up her hands in despair) OK...so far we've found that the law firms involved with the trust that got this whole horror story started were also involved in Oscar Crease's legal battles—a coincidence, and as coincidences go, not a very impressive one, because they're both big firms.

DARIA: (Continues to flip through the book, does not look up) Um.

JANE: And then we find that these same law firms are mentioned prominently in "A Frolic of His Own", which counts as no coincidence, because the damn book seems to be based on the whole Crease family drama. What's wrong with you, Daria?

DARIA: (Sighs) Maybe I'm cracking up. Maybe there's nothing to any of this. But somehow...(she taps on the book)...I feel there's something in or about this damn book that explains his whole situation.

JANE: (Rolls her eyes) God, maybe you are ready for the tarot cards.

DARIA: Excuse me?

JANE: Tarot cards—don't you remember you said you were ready to get them read the other night and then that scene from the old movie on TV came on. (Imitating Marlene Dietrich) "Your future is all used up. Why don't you go home?"

DARIA: Jane, this may sound crazy, but unless I figure this out, I think my future will be all used up.

JANE: (Pauses. Then, in disbelief: ) You're serious, aren't you?

DARIA: (Nods her head.)

JANE: Well then, I guess it's back to the dark Satanic search engines for old Jane Lane here...

X-FADE TO:

EXT. OVERPRICED SEATTLE COFFEE

CUT TO:

INT. OVERPRICED SEATTLE COFFEE

(The former alt.lawndale.com and Café Lawndale is bustling with faux bohemians and corporate climbers alike. In the midst of all this, Jim Ellenbogen carries a coffee and looks for a seat. He comes to a table where an attractive young woman sits reading one of the Harry Potter novels while taking notes on a legal pad.)

ELLENBOGEN: Miss? Mind if I sit here?

YOUNG WOMAN: No, go ahead.

ELLENBOGEN: Thanks. (Sits down, takes a drink of coffee) Nothing like a good cup of coffee.

YOUNG WOMAN: True. Too bad you can't get one at this place.

ELLENBOGEN: (Laughing) Are you saying this place only lives up to its name?

YOUNG WOMAN: Well, it is overpriced, and it is from Seattle...but I don't know if I'd call it coffee.

ELLENBOGEN and YOUNG WOMAN: (Both laugh)

ELLENBOGEN: You know, I like your outfit, but aren't shoulder pads like that a bit out of date?

YOUNG WOMAN: These aren't shoulder pads—they're wings. (Wiggles them slightly) See?

ELLENBOGEN: Hrm. Must be hard getting clothes that fit.

YOUNG WOMAN: You have no idea. Almost as hard as getting a good cup of coffee in Lawndale. (Beat) As a matter of fact, I'd do anything to get a good cup of coffee in this town.

ELLENBOGEN: Anything?

YOUNG WOMAN: (Nodding) Anything.

ELLENBOGEN: Really?

YOUNG WOMAN: (Pauses. Then: ) No.

ELLENBOGEN and YOUNG WOMAN: (Both laugh)

ELLENBOGEN: So besides making brittle, witty chatter in a bad coffee joint, what brings you to Lawndale? You don't seem like a native.

YOUNG WOMAN: I was told there'd be a hot time here tonight. I'm starting to wonder if I was misinformed.

SFX: Dull explosion in the distance.

(People rush to the windows. There is a dull red glow on the horizon.)

ELLENBOGEN: (Looking at the crowd) I don't think you'll be disappointed.

YOUNG WOMAN: (Trying to peer past the crowd) Ooh! It's a fire! Where is it?

ELLENBOGEN: Halcyon Hills Office Park. (Beat) Guess all those reflections that would burn up the trees somehow got reflected back onto the buildings.

YOUNG WOMAN: Or something like that?

ELLENBOGEN: Or something like that. (Takes a large gulp of his coffee)

YOUNG WOMAN: Must be quite big for us to see it from here.

ELLENBOGEN: Quite. I think it may tie up the entire Lawndale Police and Fire Departments until it's under control.

YOUNG WOMAN: That would be very convenient for people who are up to no good.

ELLENBOGEN: I suppose so. Obsessed stalker schoolteachers could snap the necks of their prize students with impunity.

YOUNG WOMAN: Yes. And writers other than Salman Rushdie under the threat of fatwas from lesser ayatollahs than Khomeini could slay their oppressors.

ELLENBOGEN: True, that. (Finishes his coffee in one gulp and stands up) Well, it's been a pleasure, Ms—?

YOUNG WOMAN: (extends her hand) You can call me Angel. And you are Mister—?

ELLENBOGEN: (shakes her hand) Ellenbogen. Jim Ellenbogen.

YOUNG WOMAN: A pleasure, Mr. Ellenbogen.

(Ellenbogen turns to go. The young woman calls to him: )

YOUNG WOMAN: Before you go, Mr. Ellenbogen—one other thing about this town I'd like to mention.

ELLENBOGEN: You mean besides the fact that it's impossible to get a good cup of coffee here?

YOUNG WOMAN: Yes. (Pauses) Some people here, even the allegedly smartest ones, will believe—anything!

ELLENBOGEN: (Nodding to himself) I'll keep it in mind. Good night, Ms. Angel.

YOUNG WOMAN: Good night, Mr. Ellenbogen.

CUT TO:

INT. JANE'S ROOM.

(Daria is on the bed and Jane is at the computer as before)

DARIA: You've been quiet a while. Found something?

JANE: No. Just reading old Judge Crease's decision in Szyrk versus Village of Tatamount, et al. (Snickers) Old Judge Crease didn't restrict his opinions to matters of law—he passes pretty harsh judgment on contemporary art, too.

DARIA: Like what?

JANE: Listen to this: (she affects a snide, condescending tone) "there remain certain fine distinctions posing some little difficulty for the average lay observer persuaded from habit and even education to regard sculptural art as beauty synonymous with truth in expressing harmony as visibly incarnate in the lineaments of Donatello's David, or as the very essence of the sublime manifest in the Milos Aphrodite, leaving him in the present instance quite unprepared to discriminate between sharp steel teeth as sharp steel teeth, and sharp steel teeth as artistic expressions of sharp steel teeth, obliging us for the purpose of this proceeding to confront the theory that in having become self referential art is in itself theory without which it has no more substance than Sir Arthur Eddington's famous step "on a swarm of flies," here present in further exhibits by plaintiff drawn from prestigious art publications and highly esteemed critics in the lay press, where they make their livings, recommending his sculptural creation in terms of slope, tangent, acceleration, force, energy, and similar abstract extravagancies serving only a corresponding self referential confrontation of language with language and thereby, in reducing language itself to theory, rendering it a mere plaything." (back to her ordinary voice) The nerve!

DARIA: I'll say. Anybody reading a sentence that long should be eligible for parole at the second subordinate clause.

JANE: No, no—it's worse than that! The idea that because art becomes meaningless or at best illustrations of theory when it becomes self-referential is just—I don't know, it's infuriating! And worse, it's ignorant! Art's always been about itself—painting is about paint! Sculpture is about stone, metal, or these days, whatever! Would old Judge Crease have found the David to express (back to the snide, condescending tone) "harmony as visibly incarnate" (back to her ordinary voice) if it wasn't for the fact the viewer marvels at the way Donatello captures human sinew and bone in a material as hard as bronze? If investigating what the materials can mimic is great, why should investigating the capabilities of the materials themselves be a decline? And to claim that self-referentiality makes something meaningless—damn it, it's completely the opposite! If the viewing subject looks at a work that somehow involves itself in the viewer's experience—even something as crappy as Szyrk's Cyclone Seven—then that person becomes involved in it because they're made aware of looking at the work! I mean, isn't that what every damn lowest-common-denominator art appreciation lecture or pamphlet or whatever tells you is important in a piece of art—how much it involves you, how much it speaks to you? You take a bunch of little kids to a museum, and where do they have the most fun? The contemporary stuff! They get it immediately! But then some damn fifth grade art teacher who can barely do a decent figure drawing herself comes along and says abstract and non-representational art is crap—hell, I showed her! (She cackles and rubs her hands together) A photo-realist drawing of her and her boyfriend parked down by the Giant Strawberry—it was just the a coat of varnish away from being indistinguishable from a regular black and white photo. Not that her husband would have bothered to check it, heh heh heh...

(Her laughter trails off as she realizes how far off the track she's gone, and that Daria has been unmoved by both her defense of contemporary art and her story)

JANE: (in a much subdued tone of voice) So I got carried away. Stuff like that pushes my buttons, you know?

DARIA: (sighing) Look, let's just get back to work, OK?

JANE: OK. (Turns back to the computer)

(A moment passes in silence)

DARIA: (To herself) Hmpf. Judge Crease's decision is in here, too. (Beat. Then: ) Jane, what were you saying about self-referentiality?

JANE: (Without turning around, clicking around on her computer) Just that Crease has it backwards. Self-referentiality is a way for the artist—or writer, I guess—to get the viewer, reader, whatever, to be more deeply involved in the work.

DARIA: Hrm. "Help me Will! Pale Fire."

JANE: What?

DARIA: Nothing. (Muttering to herself) Words, words. (Sighs, closes and puts down the book and rubs her eyes.) I must be cracking up. Even the idea that some investigation of self-referentiality might shed some light on this mess...as if it had anything to do with my problems. Or that Stacy being missing might have anything to do with them. I mean, Mom thought that somewhere along the line something would happen to Dad. Quinn isn't shallow by nature, it's a willed effort on her part—no wonder she cracked up, too. And me—I got a little too fancy with something I probably shouldn't have done—

JANE: (Without turning around) He deserved it. They all do.

DARIA: (Standing up) No. Not all of them.

JANE: (Still at the computer) What about Penguin guy?

DARIA: Him least of all. You want to know what the upshot of our little meeting was? (Jane turns around as Daria gets up, reaches into a pocket, and produces a slip of paper that she hands to Jane.)

JANE: A $100 gift certificate to Books by the Ton? That's it?

DARIA: That's it.

JANE: No super special psychological traumas, hideous humiliations, political torture?

DARIA: Nope. He got me the gift certificate and we sat in the food court and talked a little. That's it.

JANE: You sure he's not buying you off? (She hands the gift certificate back to Daria)

DARIA: It'd take more than $100 gift certificate to Books by the Ton to buy me off, Jane. (Giaconda smile) I found it hard to believe, but there is at least one genuinely decent human in the batch. (Beat) Actually, around him, I almost felt...

JANE: (Arches an eyebrow in expectation of something risqué) Yeeesss?

DARIA: ...I almost felt...maternal.

JANE: (Waves her hands at Daria dismissively) You are getting soft—and losing it, too. (Turns to go back to the computer)

DARIA: Wait—stop. You're right. I guess I was looking for an easy way to tie it all up. But there isn't. It's a mess, and I'm just looking for a way to...I don't know if it's to find order in all this or impose order on it. But order is what I want here. (Picks up the copy of "Frolic") All these coincidences are just false trails...things to cling to while your life swirls down the vortex of seeming self-referentiality.

JANE: Hey, it could be worse. No one's died.

DARIA: Yet.

JANE: Well, there's a difference between your situation and the Crease business.

DARIA: Not that there were really any similarities to begin with. (Beat) Besides, Oscar's father died while his troubles were going on, and Mad Dog died before I was born.

JANE: But he wasn't the only person who died in the Crease family, amiga. Oscar's brother-in-law, Harry Lutz, died too, and under suspicious circumstances to boot. So you've got two dissim—

DARIA: (Shocked) Excuse me? Who died?

JANE: I just said, it was Oscar's brother-in-law—

DARIA: No, his name—did you say Harry Lutz?

JANE: Yeah—you heard of him?

DARIA: (With mounting fear) Was he a lawyer? Did he work for Swyne and Dour?

JANE: (Now also afraid) If I answer "yes" to both those questions, will you scream?

DARIA: No.

JANE: Then yes.

DARIA: And when did he die?

JANE: 1990.

DARIA: Jane, what would you say the odds are for there being another Harry Lutz working at Swyne and Dour today?

JANE: Hey, it was hard enough keeping a C average in math, and now you're asking me to—

DARIA: (Adamant) Well?

JANE: (Swallowing) Err...slim to none?

DARIA: That's what I figure, too. So much for self-referentiality. You can't see all the way to the end of a repeated reflection in facing mirrors, and you can't have a con that's genuine to the last detail—because otherwise it'd be legit. (Sits down on the bed) I've been set up. (Beat) We've been set up.

JANE: What now?

DARIA: (Standing up) Wake up Trent, go out in the Tank, and find Stacy. (She bends down and starts undoing a boot.) Do whatever it takes to find her.

JANE: But wouldn't doing whatever it takes include having—

DARIA: (Taking off her boot, shaking some packets filled with white powder from them) —some of Stacy's favorite candy? (She stands up, plants her foot back in the boot, and tosses the packets to Jane. Then she bends over again to lace the boot up.) When I said whatever, I meant whatever, Jane. She's got to be in a seriously bad way by now.

JANE: What about you?

DARIA: I'm going over to my folk's house. When you find Stacy, ring me, and come by with her in the tank.

JANE: Daria, you think that's a good idea? I mean, with the way your dad is right now—

DARIA: Jane, the day I can't handle my parents is the day Kevin Thompson wins the Nobel Prize in Physics. I'll be all right. If anything, I've got to stop whatever might be going on there. (She leaves)

JANE: (Looking after her, putting the packets in her jacket pocket) Godspeed, Indiana Morgendorffer.

CUT TO:

EXT. JANE'S HOUSE. NIGHT.

(We see Daria walking out of Jane's house determinedly. There's a great fire in the distance illuminating the night sky, which is overcast with purple-black clouds, not unlike the color of a fresh bruise. We follow her as she heads home.)

DARIA: (VO) OK. The situation's not hopeless. Mom and Dad are either arguing or canoodling. If they're arguing, break it up. If they're canoodling, leave them alone—and try to bleach the sight of them like that out of your mind. Fix the situation with the trust. Get the proper authorities to take the money before Dad gets his hands on it. Make sure Dad hasn't spent it before you do—that'd be a real train wreck. Train wreck—model trains—railroad stock. Ha ha. Funny, Morgendorffer. About as funny as sending Stacy to kill that loser. What was I thinking? Was I thinking? She is a good shot. And he's no threat. That means it must be one of the others. Should have known they couldn't stay bought. But which one?

SFX: Sirens

(A fire truck passes her on the street. Daria stops and watches it recede in the distance. She notices the fire.)

DARIA: (VO) Nice little bonfire over there. Wait—that's Halcyon Hills!

DARIA: (Out loud) Oh God, I'm such a fool...

(Daria continues walking, an angry expression on her face.)

DARIA: (VO) Of course. What a smooth bastard, to just sit and dodge every question about what it would take to get him away from fan fiction...

DISSOLVE TO:

INT. FOOD COURT AT A MALL

(Daria and The Angst Guy are sitting at a table, picking over a plate of cheese fries. Daria is leaning forward in a confrontational pose; The Angst Guy is relaxed and distracted.)

********************
Daria: Look, let's cut to the chase. Give up fanfic, and I can make you rich.

TAG: (As if he's only half-heard or misunderstood her) That's OK, Daria. Things are better now I have a new job. (Gazes off into the distance. Beat) What do you think about dialog for exposition? (Smiles warmly, blinks) It's usually given as advice for beginning writers, but I think it can be overdone, and actually make it harder for the reader to follow the story.

Daria: OK—What about women? 'Pneumatic bliss,' as Eliot wrote in 'Whispers of Immortality.' Just never write another word.

TAG: (Again, as if he's half-heard or misunderstood her) Women? Oh, I'm happily married for a while now, thanks. About Eliot—he's great for epigraphs, don't you think? Christopher Hitchens wrote something in a recent issue of "The Atlantic" where he claimed that Eliot barely understood "The Waste Land" himself, but does that really matter—even if it's true, I mean? There are so many great passages in that poem. Its music is incredible.

Daria: (Frowning, looking daggers at him.) Um. Even the opening line, right?

TAG: (Jovial laugh) Oh, come on—that was a great part for you!

Daria: (Still giving him the evil eye)

TAG: (Winks at her) Admit it—you loved it. I know you're good at heart, Daria. (Gives her a warm, open smile)

Daria: (Unable to sustain her gaze, she blushes, and breaks out laughing) OK, you're right—I did get into it. (He takes her hand under the table and she blushes even more.) One question—the penguin stuff. How'd that get started?

TAG: (Shrugs good naturedly) Couldn't tell you. Your guess is as good as mine. I don't mind as long as I get to write.
********************

DISSOLVE TO:

EXT. PREVIOUS SHOT OF DARIA.

DARIA: (VO) He's good, no denying it—he just sat there and played the complete nice guy, the guy who just needs to write, and all the while he's setting in motion some sadistic fantasy of generational revenge—but he couldn't resist using the Mirror of Archimedes, could he? So you think you've got the fire this time, Mr. Angst Guy? Well, accidents will happen—just ask Tommy Sherman.

(A smile broader and more malicious than her usual Giaconda smile crosses her face. Then she stops.)

DARIA: (VO) But what about Stacy? She came back, and she didn't give me a report. Maybe she didn't kill him—but there's no way MacGillicutty could have done this. Completely out of his league. So she fails, but leaves him stuck in the duplicate dimension, and comes back here to try to score on the sly. Meanwhile, I'm bamboozled by Mr. Nice Angst Guy. Makes sense. Besides, he's a big reader.

CUT TO:

EXT. MORGENDORFFER HOUSE.

(Daria is heading down the walk to the front door. The living room light is on.)

DARIA: (VO) OK. Lights on, but no screaming. They must be canoodling. Hope they're not downstairs.

CUT TO:

INT. MORGENDORFFER HOUSE.

(Daria enters, goes into the living room, and looks around. It's empty.)

DARIA: (VO) OK. Nobody here. They must be upstairs. At least I was spared the sight of Mom and Dad in a lip-lock on the couch. (Beat) Wonder if there's any lasagna out in the kitchen.

CUT TO:

INT. MORGENDORFFER KITCHEN

(Helen is slumped over the table as if asleep. Daria raises an eyebrow at this.)

DARIA: (VO) Maybe Dad didn't come home—or didn't stay home. But why is she asleep? It's not that late yet.

DARIA: Mom?

(No response. She goes over to the table.)

DARIA: (Louder, slightly agitated) Mom?

(She leans down and shakes her mother's shoulders. Still no response. She then tries to lift her mother's torso off the table. As she raises her, the tip of one of her boots pushes against the leg of the chair that Helen sits on, and this topples over the chair and Helen along with it. Helen lies face up on the kitchen floor, her eyes open and unresponsive, a bit of red-brown foam coagulated on her lips. There is a bit of cord wrapped around her neck so that it's dug into her flesh there. Helen is dead, strangled.)

DARIA: (Horrified, stricken) Oh GOD! (Falls to the floor beside her) Mom! (Closes Helen's eyes, takes her head in her arms, and begins to weep.) Oh, Mom—Oh oh oh...I'm sorry, I'm sorry...why didn't I get here sooner?...Oh oh...I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, Mommy...(choked with sobs, begins to rock back and forth like a small child)...Mommy, mommy, mommy...

SFX: Loud click, like a circuit breaker being thrown, but much amplified.

(The lights go out. We can see Daria and her mother in silhouette; the glow from the fire at Halcyon Hills Office Park backlights the scene through the sliding doors behind the kitchen table.)

CUT TO:

CLOSE-UP: DARIA'S HEAD IN PROFILE

(Daria is looking up and around. Occasionally the light from the distant fire will cause the rivulets of tears on her face to glimmer. But we can see that fear has now overtaken shock and grief in her mind.)

DARIA: (Clears her throat) Who's there? (Beat) Hello? (Beat. Then louder.) Hello? (Beat. Then softer and tentatively.) Dad?

JAKE: (VO. Softly) Hey kiddo.

CUT TO:

JAKE'S POV THROUGH NIGHT VISION GOGGLES

(A high contrast black and white medium shot view of the end of the kitchen where Daria sits on the floor beside her dead mother. She gently releases her mother's head and slowly begins to crawl backwards towards the sliding doors.)

CUT TO:

INT. MORGENDORFFER KITCHEN

(The scene is shot from a low angle behind Daria's back. By the faint light of the distant fire, we see Helen's body on the floor, Daria beside it, and Jake at the end of the kitchen, wearing the goggles and carrying the shotgun. Daria stops crawling when she notices the glint of the gun barrel.)

JAKE: You like it, kiddo? Rope. Got the idea from an old movie I saw on cable the other day. No fingerprints, although I guess they can do DNA these days. But I liked it for the personal touch—"Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer," right? (Slight laugh.) Funny to think that all the time I felt so close to your mother, I didn't realize she was my enemy. My real enemy.

DARIA: (Between breaths; she panting from fear) What—what do you mean, Dad?

JAKE: I mean she was the real obstacle between me and success or any sort of fulfillment. All this time, all these years, I kept blaming my old man, and thought that she was my salvation. Then the news about trust comes out, and I thought I misunderstood the old man—he wasn't cruel, he was just trying to make me strong.

DARIA: But Dad—the money, it was—

JAKE: (Cruel laugh) Just like your mother, aren't you, kiddo? Trying to save old Jakey from himself, making sure he's doing the right thing. And trying to keep the status quo by keeping me trapped in a cage of hate—hate for my father. Oh, you and your mother could handle a man paralyzed by hate, too self-absorbed in past pain to understand the current pain that was being inflicted on him, right? So you jumped on the first little thing—

DARIA: Blood money is not a "little thing," Dad!

JAKE: That's where you're wrong, kiddo, that's where you're very wrong. My old man didn't take part in the genocide. Nobody died because of him. Sure, Nazis got away because of him, but he was just doing what our country was doing on a smaller scale. He was stripping the Germans of their assets. Did we have qualms about accepting Werner von Braun and V2 rocket parts after the war? I don't think so—and he was somebody who caused deaths. Getting what you need to protect yourself in bad world, it's what it's all about, kiddo. Doing that for your family, no matter what it takes—it's what a father does. My dad passed that money and his papers to me so I could do that. But that wouldn't have sat well with your mother—Oh no, self-righteous Helen (spits out the name) Barksdale couldn't stand for that! (with mounting rage) What, with all the hours upon hours she spent slaving away to make partner in that lousy backwater law-firm and nothing to show for it after years—she couldn't stand to see me have a little good fortune! And to have one of her sisters get all the money from her mother and the other one have real financial success—well, that was enough success to have in her family! So she belittled every success I had and kicked me every time I was down! That's the kind of loving, supportive wife she was, Daria—she used ME to make herself feel better about her failures! (Coldly) There's only so much a man can take—if he's going to stay a man, that is. And I intend to.

DARIA: (Speechless, looks from Helen's body to her father and back again)

JAKE: Oh, I know what you're thinking there, kiddo—how could I do such a thing to the mother of my children? You can't even begin to imagine it. You haven't even been alive as long as I've had to deal with the self-righteousness, the rage, the condescension your mother gave me. You understand? YOU HAVEN'T EVEN BEEN ALIVE THAT LONG. But I just took it, and I took it because I didn't know any better. Because I thought she was my salvation—hell, she was my ruination! She wanted me broken as a businessman, as a father, as a man! And she certainly didn't want old Jakey giving any serious parental attention to the right daughter—his daughter.

DARIA: (Shocked) What? You mean—

JAKE: (Subdued again) I'm not talking biology, Daria, I'm talking temperament. You're Helen's daughter, not mine. You've got that same moralizing streak, the same contempt for success, (voice rising slightly) the same contempt for me (voice falls back to previous level) that your mother had. (Beat) You didn't think I could handle the truth. Irony is, kiddo, you don't know the truth. When you read that letter in with the papers from the trust, you figured 'cause my old man's words were harsh that he was just being cruel. But if that were true, why would he give leave me the money and give me the details of his operations? He was a hard man for a hard time—he didn't have any use for that touchy-feely crap. When your mother threw those papers at me, I thought the person to turn to was you—the wrong daughter.

(Daria stands now. She's trembling.)

DARIA: Wrong daughter? So I'm the wrong daughter and Quinn's the right one?

JAKE: Yep. Quinn knows what she wants and doesn't let the (mocking tone) moral questions (normal tone) stop her. She's already what my old man wanted me to be. Sure, up to now she's been mad for dating and the Fashion Club, but a stint in the service will point her in the right direction. She's the Morgendorffer, you're the Barksdale. I mean, you were the smart one after all. Quinn was all bubbly and friendly, but you were the one with promise. Or so your mother said. So she just kept on trying to get you to make friends with the other kids when you where little, and I just went along with it—except for that one evening we had that argument. Your mother said you didn't know any better. I said that's what you wanted us to think. (Beat) Well?

DARIA: (In a dry whisper; she's overcome with fear) Dad—please. You need help; let me call someone.

JAKE: Someone? Maybe the police? (Laughs) You can try, kiddo, but I think they'll be busy tonight—see the fire in the distance there? I think the Lawndale PD and Fire Departments are going to have their hands full tonight.

DARIA: (In a panic) Then Jane. Or Trent. Or—

JAKE: Jane-o's not going to help you out of this one. Don't know if her brother would be awake yet. And you still haven't answered the question.

DARIA: What question?

JAKE: Whether or not you knew any better about getting along with the other kids. Did you? And if you knew that you didn't want to get along with them, did you try to make us think you didn't know the difference?

DARIA: (Breaks out in sobs again) I don't know, I don't know!

JAKE: Sorry, kiddo—wrong answer.

CUT TO:

JAKE'S POV THROUGH NIGHT VISION GOGGLES.

(He raises the gun, pointing it directly at Daria's chest. Daria stands before him, transfixed with fear. He pumps the action, and at the last possible moment, Daria leaps to the right, into the dining room. Jake shoots, breaking the sliding glass doors.)

CUT TO:

INT. MORGENDORFFER DINING ROOM.

(Daria is crouched behind the door, panting.)

CUT TO:

INT. MORGENDORFFER KITCHEN.

(Jake is still standing where he was. He gives a brief laugh.)

JAKE: Gotta say, you've got excellent reflexes, Daria. Wouldn't know your favorite sport was sitting around watching Sick, Sad World from that jump. I think I'm going to enjoy this—been a while since I've hunted. (Takes slow, deliberate steps towards the dining room) You know, since this whole thing started, I've begun to remember some things—some good things, happy times—about military school.

CUT TO:

INT. MORGENDORFFER DINING ROOM.

(Daria is taking her boots off. She grabs a handful of plastic packets filled with white powder from one and stuffs them in a jacket pocket.)

CUT TO:

INT. MORGENDORFFER KITCHEN.

JAKE: Yeah, me and a couple of the other kids would ditch out on the weekends when Corporal Ellenbogen had watch—he could be so harsh when it came to PT, but he'd turn a blind eye to other stuff, you know? We'd go into the woods with a .22 short rifle—varmint gun, the other kids would call it. We'd go shoot rats, rabbits—couldn't take down anything bigger than that with it. But one time, we went out with a 12 gauge shotgun—thought we were going to take down a deer, ended up shooting a bunch of tin cans instead. It was a great time.

(He steps into the dining room)

JAKE: But what about your good times, kiddo? Don't tell me you didn't love making life a living hell for old Jakey—the constant parent/teacher conferences when you were little, trouble with the teachers and other kids—you were always the one who got the attention, the one I was most concerned with. And why? Because it was supposed to be the other side to you being so smart and perceptive. (shouting) Well, if you were so damn perceptive, how come you didn't realize you were driving me insane? (Low tone of voice) So you knew, didn't you, Daria? You knew and you didn't care about me, because it was you and your mother in on it together.

CUT TO:

JAKE'S POV THROUGH NIGHT VISION GOGGLES.

(Jake sees the tips of Daria's boots sticking out from under the dining room table.)

CUT TO:

PREVIOUS VIEW OF MORGENDORFFER DINING ROOM.

JAKE: So tell me, kiddo—you understood all along, didn't you?

(He raises the gun.)

JAKE: You knew what was going on, just like I thought—it was all meaningless, wasn't it?

CUT TO:

LOW-ANGLE SHOT OF JAKE'S LEGS

(Daria, pushing herself by her stocking feet, slides noiselessly from behind the dining room door and back into the kitchen.)

CUT TO:

PREVIOUS VIEW OF MORGENDORFFER DINING ROOM.

JAKE: (Harsh whisper) It was, wasn't it?

(He pumps the action and lets out another shot, blowing the corner off the dining room table. Of course, only her boots are there.)

JAKE: (Laughs) Good one, kiddo, good one. I guess you do have a little Morgendorffer in you after all.

CUT TO:

INT. MORGENDORFFER KITCHEN.

(Daria is crouched down by the broken glass from the sliding door. She takes off her jacket and uses it to pick up one of the larger shards of glass. Through the door to the dining room, we see Jake beginning to go back into the kitchen. Daria stands now, flat against the wall, holding the jagged edge of the glass above her head, posed to strike.

JAKE: (Now standing in the door between the living and dining rooms) Yeah, you do have some Morgendorffer in you after all. But it's too little—

(He now leaps through the door, past Daria's reach, and turns on her with the shotgun.)

JAKE: —and too late!

(He pumps and fires the shotgun, hitting her in the belly. She drops the glass and slides down the wall to a seated position on the floor.)

JAKE: (With a great sigh of relief) Free at last, free at last! Thank you, Dad—and thank you, Jim Ellenbogen! (Looking at Helen and Daria) Gah, what a mess! Clean-up time.

(He walks out of frame.)

SFX: Loud click, like a circuit breaker being thrown, but much amplified.

(Jake walks back into the frame, and flashes the lights on and off in the kitchen. Then he sits down at the kitchen table.)


I saw the lights in the Morgendorffer kitchen flash and started towards the house. I figured it was finally safe to drop authorial control over the situation and savor the fruits of my labors; Daria was not dead but badly gut-shot, just like Mr. Orange in Reservoir Dogs. I wanted her to see my face and hear what Angel and BG had to say about her bribes before she died.

I wasn't worried. I knew I could handle Jake, and I had the Smith and Wesson .500 Magnum in my bag.

I should have remembered what Stacy said.

Chapter Text

—How do you think it came out then! How do you think it ended!
—But we've always known the answer to that one haven't we, in madness and death, old sport. Madness and death.

William Gaddis, A Frolic of His Own


I stepped carefully through the broken glass sliding doors and into the Morgendorffer kitchen. Daria was slumped on the floor, a pool of blood slowly growing around her.

“Hey, Jim!” Jake called.

I ignored him and bent down to check the pulse in her neck. It was faint, but she still had one. I looked at her face in the faint glow from the fire at Halcyon Hill and wondered what idiots could find her face plain, let alone unattractive. True, she didn't have Quinn's retroussé nose and her cheekbones weren't as pronounced. Her features were not cute but rather elegant, and there was something wild about such refined, human features being framed by a long, thick auburn mane. Even unconscious, she radiated a savage intelligence.

“Hey, Jim!” Jake called again, and got up from the table.

I knelt down in the pool of blood and cursed Jake for disturbing the moment. This was the first time I saw my enemy face to face, and I wanted to linger in it undisturbed. I wanted to draw my hands through her hair and study her face in the half-light until she came to and have the first thing she saw be my face. I wanted to see if, with death imminent, she could maintain her glacial superiority when she realized that I was the one who delivered her to death. I wanted to see if those eyes—such delicate lashes she had!—would widen with shock or narrow with rage when I told her that her bribes had bought nothing. And I wanted to run my hands through her hair, graze lightly with my fingers the convex arcs of her cheek, the single, definite edge of her jaw, and the concave slope of her neck.

Could this be anything like what Stacy felt in my duplicate apartment before I took her second gun from her? No; Stacy had enough time to look at me to see I wasn't attractive—and she was a lunatic who had to pump heroin into her veins every hour to keep going. This was the first time I saw Daria face to face, and she was beautiful. I had been moved by desperate self-defense to drive her to her death, but now that she was there, didn't I have the right—yes, the right—to some prize for my triumph, even if it was only to gaze at her face and stroke her face and run my hands through her hair?

“Is the brat dead, or does she need another blast from the old Brownington here?”

Jake was standing over my shoulder, shotgun at the ready. His voice was loud and smug and hollow. Acts of violence against weaker people had made him feel strong, and now that they were done, he could feel the strength—or rather the illusion of strength—ebbing within.

I stood up and looked at him. The expression he wore was pathetic, puppy-ish. It was important to get the approval of his new surrogate father—me—for what he had done. That he had killed his wife and shot his child didn't register. He was a weak half-wit. I needed someone to do my dirty work, and he was a natural because he was so unstable and out-of-touch with reality. But now that I was done with him, he sickened me. My emotions must have shown in my face, because his eyes were suddenly filled with disappointment.

“You did fine, Jake,” I said, turning away from him to switch the light on. “Exceptional. Now with no ties and no family, Ellenbogen and Morgendorffer can finally be back in business.”

He tossed off the night-vision goggles, let out a whoop of joy, and ran up to hug me from behind. “Free at last, free at last—thank God—and you, Jim, my man, thank you!—I'm free at last.” He let go of me, and I turned around, a forced smile on my face. He sickened me now, taking the great quote from the end of Martin Luther King Jr.'s most celebrated speech, and using it to celebrate brutal crimes I manipulated him to commit. I'd put those words into his mouth once already, but for a former child of the '60s to say them of his own free will in such circumstances vanquished any qualms about what I was about to do.

“Maybe not free, Jake—getting the business up and running again is going to be a lot of work. Rewarding, but a lot of work.” I caught myself as I saw the glee drain from his face. “Not to deprecate what you've done tonight, and how good it must feel to be out from under the heels of these harridans, but let's move on to the next phase—let's go from triumph to triumph.” The puppy glee returned to his face, and I flashed him a big smile as I went up to take the shotgun from him. “Let's go into the living room and review the papers while the police and fire departments are occupied, and then get out of here. Tomorrow by this time, you'll have a new identity, a fat bank account, and you'll be sipping Chateau d'Yquem '45 as you watch the sunset in Nice—how's that sound, eh Jake?”

“I can't wait!” he cried, heading into the living room before me and turning on the light there. “I always loved tropical drinks!”

I was about to groan when I remembered that Nabokov had Pnin mix the greatest of all white wines with grapefruit juice in his eponymous novel. Or had Nabokov simply used d'Yquem as synecdoche for Sauternes? Or was d'Yquem cheap enough in the America of the 1950s to use as a basis for a fruit punch?

I was preoccupied with these questions as I walked behind him, taking the .500 magnum from my bag.

He plopped down on the couch with a satisfied sigh and spread his arms across its back. “So—where do we start, my man? Got all the papers in this accordion folder on the coffee table here—I tried to put 'em in chronological order, but that didn't make sense, so I tired to organize 'em by topic, but then Daria came up the walk, and—say, that's quite a gun you got there!”

“Isn't it?” I replied, holding it up. “It's a Smith and Wesson .500 magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world. It was a present from someone I met through the internet—a horse rancher in Montana, and quite the gun connoisseur.”

“A horse rancher! And in Montana, too! Man, that's beautiful country up there.” I could see he was dying to ask me to hold it, but he wasn't up to asking for it himself. “What'd you do for this fellow to get such a present?”

“A favor—one that has to do with getting Ellenbogen and Morgendorffer up and running again, in fact.”

“Man, oh, man, sign me up for some of that! This fellow have a name?”

That was the prelude for asking to see the gun. And so it was also the prelude for my using it.

“I actually don't know his real name, and he doesn't know mine. Considering our respective lines of work, it's better that way.” I put my bag on the table. “If you want to get an idea of the sort of work he's involved with, take a look at the papers in the bag labeled ‘The Winters of Those Gone Before.’”

Jake began to shuffle the papers in my bag as I held the grip in both hands, planted my feet as firmly as I could, and started to raise the gun. Suddenly a shadow of recognition passed over his face, and he raised his face to me, aghast, just as I was about to pull back on the hammer of the huge revolver.

“You're—you're one of those damn—those damn—” he stammered, as he struggled to understand the situation.

“Fan fic authors?” I replied tersely. “Sure.”

“So that means you're not Jim Ellenbogen.” His eyes flashed between the gun and the entrance to the kitchen. I don't know if the fear of being shot kept him from grasping the full horror of what I'd made him do, or if he simply couldn't accept such a blow all at once. I tried not to let the loathing I felt spill out—just get it over with!—but couldn't help wanting to see how the full force of the realization hit him. So I continued the conversation.

“Nope, not Jim Ellenbogen. There's never been a Jim Ellenbogen. Name's Scissors MacGillicutty. It's been—well, interesting writing you, Jake. I would say it's a shame your part in this yarn has to end like this, but—I've got issues in my life with abusive fathers. It's not a tradition that should be handed down across generations. I think you of all people can understand that.”

And with that, it hit him. He didn't crumble—I have to give him that much—but he cringed and broke out in a hideous sob. “Oh God—Helen! Daria! What have I done, what have I done?”

Now I did pull back the hammer on the .500. “Exactly what I wanted you to do, Jake.”

As much as I tried to prepare myself for the recoil, it still caught me off-guard. The article on the gun Brother Grimace sent me did note one thing that kept me from falling over backwards: it said the recoil was more like a shove than a jolt. But it was still a hell of a shove. If I hadn't planted my feet firmly I would have fallen over.

I hadn't really aimed, but wherever I'd hit him, it had been enough to flip him over the back of the sofa. The soles of his shoes were peeking over its top. Cautiously—and with aching shoulders and wrists from the recoil—I approached the sofa and looked behind it. His chest was a great bloody mess. I crouched down to check his pulse, but then saw the trail of blood, bone, and gore from the exit wound and realized I didn't have to.

I stood up and felt the urge to utter some valediction for this weak, stupid man I had so cruelly used when I heard a slight moan from the kitchen. And then came that unmistakable monotone, but much softer, more feminine—and knowingly feminine—than I had ever expected: “Hello, Scissors. I'm impressed.”

The hair on the back of my neck stood up at the sound of her voice. Literally. After hearing it on the show, imagining it in my mind's ear so many times reading fan fiction, and overhearing her for a brief moment at the “Choose Your Fanfic Author Day” ceremony, Daria Morgendorffer was finally speaking to me.

Suddenly everything underwent a sudden, but subtle, change. Or was it that finally hearing her voice speaking to me and acknowledging what I had done—how does she know that?—chilled me? Subjective, objective, or both, a sinister charge now suffused the air and radiated from every object. There was a reddish cast to the light from the kitchen that made it seem an antechamber to the realm of the damned. I knew there was a rational explanation: it was just the light from the fire at Halcyon Hills as it grew brighter. But knowing that didn't cancel the dread I felt as I walked towards the kitchen. Instead, I thought of the brief moment in “The Teachings of Don Jake” where Daria told her story by the fire, and the flames were reflected in her glasses. Those little dots that were her eyes, those parts of the body supposed to be windows onto the soul, were replaced by hell-fire, as if hell-fire itself was within Daria.

I entered the kitchen and saw that the red light from the fire was burning brighter and brighter in the distance and that the kitchen was still just a kitchen, yet I hesitated to look down at Daria. When I finally did, the malignant atmosphere intensified. Blood had soaked her tee shirt and skirt and spread well beyond where she sat on the floor. But she was still alive, and for the first time I could see her eyes. They were a profound brown that shimmered even in the flat kitchen light—or was it just an oblique reflection of the fire? Then there was the smile. The very smile that conveyed only detached superiority on television now exuded hothouse sensuality and voluptuous doom. And as the fire tore away at the dark sky in the distance, and this strange being radiated fantastic evil in the most banal of all possible surroundings, I understood the epithet “Angst Lord” was utterly backwards. We weren't Lords but Priests and Priestesses of Angst; the witty sarcasm of Our Heroine wasn't “a great way to deal,” as Amy Barksdale said in “I Don't,” but the echo of distant laughter at every conceivable evil that banal normality tried to banish, but never could. She was the Angst Goddess whose servants we were, and every piece of fan fiction that put her through hell and back was actually an offering to her; we sacrificed our own sense of horror at the wrongs and tragedies of everyday life to her greater allure as a fictional character.

Suddenly, her smile became wider and the sinister atmosphere lifted. “It's all right—I'm really dying,” she said, all traces of evil and Eros gone from her voice. “Come on, sit down”—here she took a finger and made a circle in the blood by her side—“and we'll talk. There aren't as many cracks in the ceiling here as there are in my room, but they're still worth noting.”

I sat on my heels just beyond the puddle of blood. Now I was thoroughly confused—and everything I wanted to say and rehearsed inside my mind for this moment fled from me.

“Well, well,” she said, breaking the silence. “Whoever thought a middle-aged dork like you could destroy my magnificent malignancies?”

“The Wizard of Oz?” I guessed. I was too nonplussed by my own changing moods to respond to the insult.

“Correct. Not quite what the Wicked Witch of the West says as she's melting, but close enough.” Looking down at the puddle of blood, she sighed, “I guess, 'I'm bleeding! I'm bleeding' just doesn't have the resonance, does it, Scissors?”

“No, it doesn't.”

“And this is not the moment you were expecting, is it?”

I just nodded. My mouth was too dry to speak.

“Not what I expected, either.” She shifted position slightly as if she were trying to get comfy in the pool of blood. “For someone who doesn't think things through, you've wreaked considerable havoc.”

“Excuse me?” It came out as a surprised rasp.

She gave me an indulgent smile, amused that she could make me croak out her signature phrase. “You wrote your pseudo-canon fantasy to get back at me for sending Stacy after you, right? And then to relinquish control and enter this world, you set a dimensional portal reconfigurator to send you to standard Lawndale, and here you are. Doesn't anything strike you as strange about that?”

“Why should it?” Even as the question came out, I realized where she was headed.

“If there is such a dimension as standard Lawndale, it would only contain the show's episodes, wouldn't it?”

I felt a terrible dizziness overcome me. Frightened that I would collapse, I took a deep breath, stood up, and pointed the gun at her.

Daria's mildly quizzical expression did not change. “Well?”

I took another breath and concentrated on holding the gun steady. “So this isn't standard Lawndale.”

Daria nodded, a patient teacher guiding a slow student through the steps of an argument. “And if this isn't standard Lawndale, what must it be?”

I began to sweat. “Another trap.”

“Yes, but one you made for me. You shouldn't have entered it.” Her smile contracted and her eyes scintillated. “It would have been enough maybe to have me bleed to death on the floor here and have Jane and Trent arrive too late, but you couldn't resist the chance to gloat at me. But now you can't. Strange, isn't it?”

I could feel my heart beating rapidly, and I began to take quick, short, and shallow breaths. One part of my mind was screaming Shoot, shoot! while another was trying in vain to find the right response or the right question while yet another was urging me to flee.

She took her eyes from me to regard her wound and the puddle of gore where she sat. “Who'd have thought the Misery Chick had so much blood in her,” she murmured, wiping a crimson hand on her jacket. “And you, poor Mary Sue,” she continued, raising her head and locking her glittering dark gaze onto mine, “are of three minds, like a tree in which there are three blackbirds.”

“I'm not Mary Sue,” I stammered. “I haven't saved anybody, haven't bedded anyone—I don't have a fantastic wardrobe or any of that. This was just self-defense.”

“Pretty elaborate self-defense. You could have just gone home and not written anything. But no, you had to had to get fancy, even fancier than I got.” She closed her eyes and took a breath. Life was flowing out of her and it was an effort to talk. But what else was there for her to do? Other than talk, there was nothing to be done. Realizing this, I began to calm down, but kept poised over her with the gun. At length she opened her eyes—just a bit—again. “Dad,” she said.

“I'm not your father, Daria.” Was she trying to trick me?

“That wasn't a salutation, it was a question. Where's dad?” She shut her eyes again.

“In the living room.”

“Dead?”

“Yes.” There was a moment and I rather stupidly added, “Sorry.”

“No you're not.” She shifted herself again in the blood, this time almost lying down in it. “Poor dad. But I don't have time for regrets, do I? Sit down and talk. Besides, you owe me some answers.”

I already bloodied my knees from when I first knelt next to her, so I crouched down in the gore next to her, still keeping the gun on her. The blood was cool and sticky and it made me shudder, but I also felt an echo of that same thrill I had when I first sat next to her. Yet I couldn't touch her. I didn't dare.

Her eyes flickered open. “Not Mary Sue. Too bad. I could use to be rescued by someone, even if it was a fan fic writer with an ego whose size was inversely proportional to that of their craft.” She closed her eyes and continued in a murmur. “Do you know what I see when I shut my eyes? I see people in your world, going about their lives. It's all perfectly ordinary, except for one thing. The people I see—their imaginations and dreams are full of me. What if they were real? Would that make me reverse clairvoyant? A fiction, a dream that can speak to the living.” She chuckled and opened her eyes slightly.

“You said you had questions.”

“I did, didn't I?” Her eyes closed again.

“But I have some, too.”

“Fair enough.”

“Why Stacy?”

“She's easy to control—I mean, it's easy for me to control her—a good shot, and I thought you'd feel sorry for her.”

“Makes sense.”

“My turn. What happened to her?”

“Sorry—I can't tell you that.”

She opened her eyes and let her head loll towards me. Their sparkling was definitely coming from within. “Can't? Even now?”

“Let's say I was very lucky. And every second here is making me more and more superstitious.”

“That's not my fault. This world is your doing.” She turned her head away from me to stare at the ceiling. “Not fair that you get to withhold information, especially now.” There was mock-petulance in her voice, as if she were trying to imitate a small child. “I get another turn. Did you have help?”

“Yeah.”

“Was it the Angst Guy?”

“Hold that—it's my turn now.” The gun was starting to feel heavy and painful in my hand. “Why'd you tell Stacy that you bribed all the other Angst Lords—and then lie to her about what you gave the ones who took the bribes?”

“Two questions, but one answer. I didn't want you making contact with them if something went wrong. But from your question, I see you must have been in contact with them. Now my turn—was it the Angst Guy?”

“No. He thinks you're basically good.”

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” she sighed. “He's projecting. Or you're lying.”

“Nope. It's the truth.”

We sat in silence for a while after that. The blaze at Halcyon Hill was starting to dim now, and as it did I felt some sense of confidence and control return. You've done it, you've beaten her, I thought. It was just shock that made everything so weird. You didn't want to shoot Jake and it was risky even to come here, but it's done. I watched Daria breathe, her inhalations shallow but steady. Her eyes were still closed. Is she unconscious or resting? Finally, I got the nerve to stroke her cheek. She didn't respond, so I decided she must be unconscious. Her skin was beautifully soft. I brushed aside a bit of hair to reveal an ear, small, perfectly formed, and labyrinthine in its folds. With my finger, I traced its ridges and crevices, thinking, Would you have killed her if you knew she was this beautiful? I withdrew my hand and pondered that as she opened her eyes, this time devoid of any dancing lights—Was it just my imagination before?—and said flatly, “It must have been the Angst Guy. Nothing else makes sense.”

“No. It wasn't him.”

“Who was it then?” For the first time, there was doubt in her voice—or was it fear? Were these questions substitutes for what she really wanted to say: Save me!

I felt calm enough to be cruel again. I held the .500 up, admiring it. “Beauty, isn't it? It was a present from someone who heard about my situation and wanted to help.”

“I couldn't care less about the gun—who helped you?”

I looked at Daria now. “That's what I'm trying to tell you. I'm just trying to give it to you in a way that won't give you too much of a jolt.” I smiled; this was the exact opposite of my intentions, of course.

She took a deep breath and with a great effort raised herself from her supine position. “Just tell me, damn it. I don't have much time.”

“I got it from a rancher.”

“That tells me a lot.”

“OK—I got it from a horse rancher.”

Her expression fell. “A horse rancher,” she repeated in a hollow tone.

“Yes.”

“In Montana?”

“Yes.”

She closed her eyes and a tear fell from one. “Damn it,” she muttered and drew a deep breath. “Damn it, damn it, damn it!”

“I liked it too.”

“That's not fun—” she began to cry out, but stopped, embarrassed. “And here I thought Grimace was a man of his word,” she spat out at last.

This was the moment I had been waiting for. She had underestimated the Angst Lords, and the incantatory power of fiction. It was now time to apply the last turn of the screw.

“Don't feel bad. If it's any consolation, Angel was a hold out, too.”

Daria shook her head. “I couldn't figure her out. All she wanted was a cup of coffee.”

“A cup of coffee? Oh, I was talking about Angelboy, not Angelinhel. She gave you up right away.”

That pushed her over the edge. If she could have screamed, she would have—instead, she threw back her head, opened her mouth wide in shock and horror, and let out what might have been a prolonged death rattle. As she did, I started to laugh, and even tried to twirl the gun a bit—

—and then the lights in the house went out, the flames in the distance leapt, and I began to hear voices all around me—

“Qu-inn, your date is here!”

“Damn it, those bastards aren't going to take away my days!”

“We're the kind of friends who can't stand the sight of each other.”

“Officer, it's not even my car!”

“Cool thoughts. A river running to the ocean—far away from here.”

—and saw all around me flickering images of Jake, Helen, Jane, Quinn, Daria, and every other character from the series and even some I had imagined from fan fiction—Renfield's Veronica, Robert Nowall's—

—and then I realized I wasn't holding the gun anymore. Daria—the one I had Jake shoot, not the one hovering by the toaster or the one in the yard getting into the refrigerator box or the one by the front door taking gifts from Ted, Trent, and Tom—had it, and was pointing it at me.

“Sorry if the house seems a little crowded right now, but it can't be helped,” she laughed—and now I couldn't see her eyes at all, her glasses reflecting a campfire that wasn't behind me. “I mean, you did win this little battle, and I am dying—or rather the particular possible Daria you wanted to battle is dying, and I can't control your perception of all the other possible Darias or other characters anymore.”

“That's for me!”

“But it's penne a la pesto, and judged by the standards of penne a la pesto, it's very good.”

“Look Kevin—the Pigskin Channel.”

“Confusing, isn't it? But since I can't focus my possibilities, you'll just have to concentrate a little harder” —here she pulled back the hammer on the .500 and put the barrel against my forehead, and suddenly it was only me and Daria in the kitchen, Daria a blood soaked mess, about to die, and me terrified that her last act would be to make sure I went first.

“How wonderfully the prospect of death concentrates a human mind,” she said, contempt fairly oozing from the word human. “To say nothing of the fact that your mind is especially noisy—and filthy.”

I couldn't speak. I was just trying to compose myself for the inevitable exposition that would precede the total void of death and hearing in my mind's ear Stacy's warning that I'd need more than luck if I were to go against Daria.

“Ah, Stacy could do the same, if only she understood a few things.”

You can read my mind?

“Why not? I'm a possibility in a world you've selected, so have access to the entire contents of your mind. By the way, that business about Angst Lords actually being Angst Priests with me the Angst Goddess—I liked that, it was almost on target. But it's not religion but metaphysics that might allow you understand what's going on here—might.”

I blinked and hoped she would go on long enough that she'd lose the strength to pull the trigger.

“Not nice, Scissors—but I'll let that pass because time—or rather your limited perception of time—is of the essence. It's not a limitation I have—or any other fictional character, for that matter. In brief: humans are finite. Their being is defined and exhausted by a sequence of actualities in time. Fictional characters, on the other hand, are infinite possibilities. Our being is the set of what might be the case in an infinite set of possible conditions. The only limitation to our being is what is the case—the restricted world of facts. But we do exist, and it's only a limitation of human language that unactualized possibilities are the synonymous with the non-existent. Where any actual Daria Morgendorffer is, I'm not. Otherwise, I'm present throughout time and space.”

My fear was now compounded by confusion.

“Don't worry, just a little more, and it'll all be over. See, there are no dimensions, only perspectives. The usual human perspective is the one of normal consciousness and sense data. But there's also the imagination, and the imagination is the means by which humans can catch a glimpse of the possible. What people think are windows onto other dimensions or devices that transport them to other worlds and so on are simply means for changing the input to your senses from the actual to what's usually a restricted subset of possibilities—specifically one that structurally resembles the one set of actualities.”

She paused and drew her face closer to mine. “Ah, some of it's getting through. But it looks like you need an analogy to help you understand. You could think of the universe—since there is only one—as a film or video facility where many different films, shows, etc., are being made with a limited set of camera and sound recorders. But of these different movies, whatever, only one will be released. That is the subset of the actual. Now think of the limited recording facilities as your senses—the real world, the one that's released, is external to it and your viewpoint doesn't define it. So under ordinary conditions, you have a restricted view of a finite world.”

She pulled away from me, keeping the gun on my forehead. “Now the point of this analogy. What happens when you point a video camera at a monitor?”

“Infinite recursion,” I managed to stammer. “An image of the monitor holding a image of the monitor going on forever.”

“But neither the camera nor the monitor can capture that infinite recursion, can they?”

“No.”

“Now you selected a possible narrative and then used a perspective changing device—a portal reconfigurator to use the vulgar nomenclature—to perceive the possibilities you had already selected in your imagination. But once you place yourself within a stream of possibilities that you had already selected, you not only lose control over them, you can't restrict your perceptions of other possibilities. I've been keeping the other streams out of your consciousness ever since you stepped in here. You'd have been dead or gone mad otherwise. And that, my sorry little Angst Lord, is the real last turn of the screw. Not any petty nonsense about bribes and betrayal among humans. You cannot betray what you cannot confine. We are infinite and transcendent, the stuff of your dreams. Humans first perceived us when they first began telling each other stories, but the possible existed before them and will survive their extinction. The line from Chinatown you like so much—'You may think you know what's going on here, but you really don't?' De te fabula narratur—the story is told of you.”

And with that, she took the gun from my forehead—and began to stroke my chin with the barrel. “Maybe that's not the last turn of the screw for you. Maybe, like just about every other human, what you fear most is the realization of your dreams.” She took off her glasses and drew herself close to me. “You wanted to touch and caress me since you first got here, but you couldn't admit to yourself that you just wanted me. You had all these ridiculous rationalizations about victory and kept telling yourself you wanted only to touch my face and run your hands through my hair and no more. You even deny you want me in your dreams, you're so scared of yourself.” She came closer still, brushing her cheek against mine, and whispered in my ear: “But now I'm here, and I have the gun and I won't be denied—kiss me. Kiss me—it'll be everything you've ever feared you couldn't resist.”

She put her lips against mine and we kissed.

I can only say I will never forget the taste of her blood in my mouth. Everything else was beyond description, shrieking nightmares and sweet passion utterly interwoven.

“There,” she murmured as she drew back, “you've had the experience of your lifetime in a kiss. Don't say I never gave you anything. And now, I'm afraid our time together is up—it's been nice talking to you, but I don't have the strength to hold your perceptions together much longer.”

With that, she gave me her Giaconda smile, pointed the gun at her heart, and pulled the trigger.

I didn't realize I was screaming until Jane and Trent grabbed me.

Chapter Text

How far civilization is from procuring the enjoyments attributable to that state! For example, it is astonishing that there exists no association of dreamers in every large town to support a journal that takes notice of events in the light peculiar to dreams. Reality is but an artifice, good only for stabilizing the average intellect amid the mirages of a fact; but through this in itself, it rests on some universal understanding: let us see, then, if there is not, ideally, some quality—necessary, evident, simple—that can serve as a type. I want, for my own satisfaction, to write down a certain Anecdote, as it struck the gaze of a poet, before it is divulged by the reporters set up by the crowd to assign each thing a common character.

Stéphane Mallarmé, “An Interrupted Performance" (Henry Weinfield, translator)


“Scissors! What the hell happened? Are you hurt? Damn it, Trent—see if she's dead—I have my hands full—Stop screaming, stop screaming, STOP SCREAMING!”

Jane shook me so hard I thought I would crumble—literally, as in crumble to dust, and maybe I might have if I hadn't looked over my shoulder to see Daria, very dead but still with the damn smirk on her face, slumped against the wall behind me. I don't know why the same sight that made me start screaming a moment ago would now make me stop screaming, but it did. She was in one place, and not moving; there was only one Jane, and she had her fingers dug into my shoulders; and Trent was only bending over Daria's body and not going out the front door with Monique or driving by to pick up Daria on the way to Alternapalooza at the same time.

Trent looked at the gaping wound in her chest. “She's dead as Tommy Sherman, Janey. Deader, I'd say.” He shut her eyes and took the gun from her hand. “How'd you get her to shoot herself, man?” Then he noticed the arm that held the gun hung lower on her torso and pressed around her should and neck. “Whoa—this thing dislocated her shoulder.” He stood up, marveling at the gun. “Quite a piece.”

“Scissors—look at me, stop staring at Daria.” Jane had stopped shaking me and was trying to look into my eyes. I turned and saw blue—the blue of her eyes, lovely azure—staring at me, and I almost panicked again. I thought I might fall into that blue and never emerge—there was an infinity of different blues inside the one blue of her eyes and somehow I could see them all—but then she spoke and snapped back into focus.

“What the hell happened? You said you were going to shoot Jake, let her bleed out, and then give us a signal.”

“I—I messed up,” I stammered. “I got Jake—he's in the living room and then I came in here and—” I didn't know what to say next. Did Jane have the same powers or did she realize the same things Daria did? “Ah, Stacy could do the same, if only she understood a few things.” So Stacy didn't realize what she was or didn't realize the full extent of what she was, but did Jane? Did Trent? Without Daria, was I going to die or go insane?

“Then what?” Jane shook me again. And suddenly the single word Maintain floated into my consciousness. Treat any apparition as you would a hallucination. Focus on what you usually take for granted as real. There's more going on here than you'd like, but there is one thread of events that does concern you. Cling to that.

I shut my eyes—maybe I could avoid overloading my vision that way—and started to talk. “I went over to her after I shot Jake, and...” Out of the darkness, I saw the events I was recounting replay themselves as if I were a spectator to them—when suddenly I saw Daria pull a knife from her boot and jab me in the neck. I opened my eyes with a startled gasp and would have screamed again if I hadn't seen Jane so clearly at that moment. There will still swirling figures around her, and I knew I had to be careful about looking her straight in the eyes, but she was definite enough to take as real. But what could I say? “—It was just crazy talk! I can't remember exactly what it was, but it was...I can't even describe it! It scared me, OK? I know that sounds dumb because she was there on the floor bleeding and I've got the gun, but I was still scared. And then...” I let my voice trail off, hoping that she would finish my sentence.

“And then she grabbed the gun?”

I nodded.

Jane let go of me with a sigh of disgust. Trent had fished the packets of heroin from Daria's jacket pocket. “Well, we got the candy,” he said, holding out the little bags to Jane.

Jane frowned at him. “That's just what she would carry with her. Go up and check her room—inside the cheese sculpture and the skull. Just break them open; we don't have time for subtleties.”

I could see the Fashion Club holding a blush-a-tion in the living room at the same time Jake and Helen were preparing for Family Court.

“SCISSORS, WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?” Jane's scream blasted me back to—to what exactly? One thread, one narrative among many? How could I lock onto this one possibility and not left the others crowd it? And even if I did that, what might Jane do? Even though the end result was what we planned, she obviously wasn't happy about how I'd handled the situation—and then I realized: she doesn't understand what she is. Daria could see things others could not, could see better than others, and it wasn't eyesight she was talking about.

“Ah Stacy could do the same, if only she understood a few things.” As could any of these characters. It made sense that the one writer among them grasped the essence of what being a fictional character was—to transcend the limited moment of human consciousness and the finite span of human life.

“SCISSORS? DAMN IT, CAN'T YOU HEAR ME?” She had grabbed me and was shaking again.

“Sorry, sorry—guess I'm a little shocked, is all.” I sighed. Maintain. Maybe the others can't control your perceptions that way Daria did, but they can't mess with them the way she did, either. “I was just...just lucky the way it turned out.”

“Damn right you were lucky! Anybody else but this twisted little cruller would have blasted you with that cannon. How could you—how did you let her get the damn gun?”

“Hey—it doesn't matter now, does it, Jane? She's dead—you wanted her dead, I wanted her dead. Does it matter now? Really?”

Jane let go of me and ran her hands through her hair in frustration. “No, you're right. Doesn't matter how we got to the end game, but we got there. It's just—you're just amazingly lucky, that's all. You should be dead.”

“That's what Stacy said to me.”

“She was right. Then again, maybe luck is all it takes.” She bent down over Daria's body. “I can't believe it—after all these years, you were going to cut me and Trent out when you went away to Raft. And that after muscling in our racket when you first got here! How the hell was Trent supposed to pay the mortgage for our house?” She grabbed Daria's head by the hair and shook it. “And why the hell did you have to bring smack into our town? Dealing nose candy to the Fashion Club was stress enough!” She threw Daria's head back to the floor with disgust and stood up. “And now we have a nice little batch of junkies to cater to,” she groaned. “And prescription pain-killers for the football team. And no hotshot lawyer as a family member to run interference.”

I marveled. I wanted the exposition of her situation to take place like this, and lo and behold, it did. Maybe I could still exercise some control?

The sight of Tom getting up out of Daria-shaped rocking chair in a desolate attic room visible through the kitchen window didn't disturb me as much as it would have a moment ago.

“You're going to keep selling smack?” Keep this narrative going. Maintain, maintain.

“What choice do I have? Maybe once what we did with Stacy gets around, there'll be a little fear in them, but I don't want to have to make stuff like this—” here she gestured around her “—a regular part of business!”

“You know, Janey, maybe we just should have put her in Mom's kiln.” Trent had walked back into the kitchen, carrying Daria's cheese sculpture and some of her medical exhibit bones. The cheese had been patched in a corner with duct tape. “She just packed the powder into these things.”

“OK, fine. We're almost done here. Let's show Ms. Morgendorffer's enforcer what'll happen if she wants to go independent.”

They walked through the broken glass doors ahead of me. As I approached the kitchen table, I saw a flicker of light that resolved into Daria and Jake sitting at the table, Jake going through paperwork from Raft, and Daria reading the Lawndale Sun-Herald.

“$15,000 a semester? We could all take a helicopter ride for that kind of money!”

“Guess I'll have to set up a pushcart and sell some of those left-over hot dogs from Basement Bob's, huh Dad?”

“SCISSORS! Get out here”

I shook my head and walked through the doors. I actually wanted to watch that one, but I didn't have time.

Trent had parked the tank on the Morgendorffer's back lawn. “Let's get this over with,” Jane snapped at me. “That fire's dying down, and I want to be back at Casa Lane before Lawndale's finest disperses from Halcyon Hills.”

With that, Trent opened the side door of the Tank, and there in a miserable ball, sweating and panting, was Stacy Rowe. “I told you we'd take care of Daria,” Jane gloated. “It took brains, will, and some luck—” she shot me a nasty glance out of the corner of her eyes “—but the big bag brain is dead. Want to see?”

Stacy pushed herself off the floor, looked at me, Jane, and Trent through glassy confused eyes, muttered, “You're lying,” and vomited on the floor of the Tank.

“Oh Jesus, not again!”

“It's OK, Janey, I've got a spare shirt to clean it up.”

“Could be worse,” I said. “She could have had the runs.”

Jane and Trent glared at me.

“All right, all right—I'll help you two clean up the basement! Sorry I said anything.”

Trent and I each took an arm and led Stacy—poor, still jonesing Stacy with rope burns on her wrists and ankles from being tied up for so long—back into the Morgendorffer kitchen, with Jane following behind. We brought her over to Daria's body, and actually dangled her face over Daria. At first she let out what sounded like a choked sob—but then it continued. It was a sick little laugh, the most she could muster in her weakened state.

“Uh huh—huh huh...uh...huh huh—so she's really dead. Huh huh...uh huh. I'll never take another hit. Thank God. Thank God.”

“You'll never take another hit?” Jane hissed. “Get a clue—this is what'll happen if you go independent!” Trent and I let her dangle closer to Daria's body.

Stacy looked over her shoulder at Jane. “You don't get it. I'm not going independent. I'm getting out.” She turned to spit on Daria's body. “I hope you're in hell, you brainy bitch! I went through three years of torment because I once tried to be nice to you. That'll teach me.” She paused and then went wild in our arms and tired to kick Daria. “I wish you were still alive so I could kill you again myself! Three years! All for trying to be nice! Vicious bitch! Compared to you, Sandi is goddamn Mother Teresa!”

“Enough of this—let's get her out of here!” Jane cried, and we carried her, kicking and moaning, back to the Tank and tossed her inside. Then I dashed back in to grab my bag and we were off.

Jane sat in front with Trent. I did the best I could to mop up the mess with Trent's spare shirt and then sat down across from Stacy in the back.

“Long time no see, Stacy.”

She had fallen back into a semi-stupor, but she could still hear me. “Not long enough, Scissors,” she croaked.

“Hey, you're out from under Daria's thumb. You should thank me. What was it she had on you?”

“I'd like to know that myself,” said Jane, turning around.

Stacy made another brief, rasping laugh. “No chance. It dies with Daria. I told you, I want out.”

Jane cocked an eyebrow at her. “Fix you a shot when we get home.”

Stacy moaned in reply. “Hell no. Worst is over. Never again. Never.” She rolled over on her back, and let out a sigh. “First the Fashion Club breaks up, and now this. This is the best year of my life.”

“And we're home, guys,” Trent announced. “No place like home.”

“More like 'no place like out of place',” I muttered, marveling that I had gone this long without seeing any apparitions.

Surprisingly, Stacy was able to get out of the Tank under her own power. “You need me anymore—and don't ask me to clean up a mess I made when you held me against my will, OK?”

“You sure you don't want a shot? Not even a little one to ease you down?” Jane asked again.

Stacy shook her head violently. “I said I'm out! Got that, Lane? I am O-U-T of the life.”

Trent turned to Jane, a grim look on his face. “Janey—”

“Don't worry, Trent,” Stacy interrupted. “I saw what happened to Daria. Think I'm a fool? I want nothing to do with the scene anymore, and that includes talking to anybody about it, especially cops.”

Trent and Jane exchanged looks. Finally, Jane said, “OK, you're out. But if anything—and I mean anything—goes wrong, you'll be the first person we'll think of.”

Stacy began to walk away while facing towards us. “You kept a much lower profile than Daria did—nothing's going to go wrong.” She wiped her mouth on her sleeve. “But don't think that you could just come by one day to cross me out, either. Unless that fool's luck”—here she pointed at me—“is your special power.” And with that she turned and ran into the darkness.

“You think we should just let her go like that?” Trent asked.

I watched her figure recede into the night. “She's got a story to give her mother,” I replied. “She snuck out to go to a party even though she was sick and ended up blacked out for days because she drank when her stomach was still sensitive. Or something like that.”

“And how can you be so sure?” Jane asked. “You aren't driving the situation anymore.”

I shrugged. “Call it a hunch.” I turned to go inside. “Guess it's time to clean the basement.”

“Naw, man, I'll take care of that. Besides, it doesn't amount to much more than throwing out some of her clothes,” Trent replied. “But you—Scissors, you've got to get yourself cleaned up.”

I looked down at my clothes and saw I was pretty well covered with blood. “OK—got something for me to wear while they're in the wash?”

“Uh—I don't think anybody in our family is quite as, you know, wide as you are.”

“Yeah—I think the only thing might fit him would be Grandma's old nightgown,” Jane laughed.

I nodded approval. “Good enough for me,” I said, and we went inside.

Casa Lane seemed comfortably cluttered and free of anything that had the least bit of foreboding to it. I didn't mind puttering around in Jane's Grandmother's nightgown; in fact, there was something soothingly silly about it. I occupied myself with looking through various artist's monographs scattered around the living room while Trent took care of the basement and Jane made eggs and chorizo. After flipping through a sketchbook of Jane's—she did do excellent life drawings, but that rent-a-cop at Crewe Neck must have been tragically repressed to neglect his duties because of it (and how'd Jane get it back?) —I wandered into the kitchen and sat down.

“I can't tell you how sick of pizza I was,” Jane said spooning out ever-so-slightly soft scrambled eggs onto a plate. “And Daria's choice of toppings—Gah!” She took the chorizo from another skillet and dumped it into a bowl. “Trent—food's ready!” she called. She brought the plate and bowl to the already set table, shaking her head. “Of course, if your usual meal is microwaved lasagna, I can understand how your culinary sensitivities might be—stunted, shall we say?” She then put serving spoons in the eggs and sausage, and looked about, frowning. “Trent—I said the food is ready!” She sat down with a sigh and started to serve herself.

“If you hated Daria all this time, why'd you wait for me to come around to do something about it?” The second the question left my mouth, I realized how utterly tactless it was, but Jane replied nonchalantly.

“I didn't really hate her at first—and actually, what you saw on the show for, say, the first and second seasons was representative of our friendship off-screen.” Jane was a surprisingly dainty eater, holding her fork upside-down and loading it with tiny bits of egg and fragments of sausage, and then chewing slowly and calmly. “It wasn't long after we got out of the self-esteem class that she came around, asking if—well, asking if I knew anywhere she could get some pot.” She wiped her mouth precisely, using just the corner of a cloth napkin. “At first, I was a little surprised to find out she smoked—but then I was really surprised when I found out that she didn't smoke and wanted a piece of the action. Trent especially didn't appreciate it—and speaking of whom—Trent, the food is on the damn table and getting cold!—because that was the only thing standing between us and mortgage foreclosure.” She shook her head and took another tiny bit of egg. “But no, Daria assured us we'd not only be making as much as we did before, but even more.”

“And that didn't pan out? Or you did make more, but not as much as she promised?”

Jane shook her head. “No, we made out like bandits. But Daria didn't want to keep it to weed and a tiny—and I mean tiny—bit of coke, oh no. Hallucinogens, pharmaceuticals, smack—you name it, she wanted to sell it. And she had the connections to get it, too. It was incredible.”

“I hope you don't mind me asking this—but were any of those connections back in Highland, Texas?”

Jane nodded vigorously. “She got a lot of the pharmaceuticals from these two—I couldn't describe them—I mean, calling them idiots would be too generous. They were obviously deeply into their own merchandise—to the point of brain damage, I mean.” She speared a whole hunk of chorizo and looked at it on the end of the her fork. “There's a line of merchandise I'm not going to carry anymore. The people it attracts—ugh!” She put the hunk of chorizo down on her place and cut off a small corner of it. “Seriously, I'd rather deal with junkies—I mean, if I didn't have to deal with junkies at all, I'd be much happier, but between junkies and pill-heads it's no contest.”

“But I thought you said you'd still sell to the football team?”

“I did, didn't I? Well, maybe I won't—but then again, they only cop when football season is on, so maybe we could stand it.” She paused to eat another tiny piece of sausage. “But yeah, that was Daria's plan—whatever it is, sell it. And if there isn't a market for the addicting stuff, there'll be one in a little while. She went over this just before we went to Brittany Taylor's party back in sophomore year. You know when Trent says, 'Don't do anything I wouldn't do?' He was really talking about that. He didn't like the idea one bit.”

“But that was early on—you said the two of you were friends at the start.”

Jane frowned and pushed her plate back. “I know—to tell the truth, I thought it would be exciting. Not just the money, but dealing in really illicit stuff. It was stupid of me.” She rested her chin on her hands, and then covered her face as if suddenly overcome by complete fatigue—

—and when she raised her head, it was Daria's face I saw, and suddenly the kitchen was the Morgendorffer kitchen, and then it was Daria who said, “But I guess it was the money that finally won me over to Jane's way of thinking. I mean, Mom was making good but not great money, while Dad was spending it, and I'd be damned if I didn't go away to college—”

“SCISSORS! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG? DAMN IT, STOP SCREAMING!” Jane slapped me, and suddenly I was in the Lane kitchen again—except I was huddled down in a corner, short of breath.

“How long—how long was I like that?”

Jane's expression was anxious and angry. “What the hell happened? You just started screaming—”

“How long, Jane? How long?”

She threw up her hands. “I dunno—a good two, three minutes, maybe.”

“Sorry,” I said, getting up. “Ever since Daria shot herself I've been having these—I don't know, weird panic fits—”

She breathed a sigh of relief. “Well, to give my dear departed amiga her due, it's probably nothing that couldn't be made better with pizza—”

“Pizza?”

Jane cocked an eyebrow at me. “You do remember we ordered pizza, don't you? Especially after being adamant about getting a half one with anchovies?”

I looked down and noticed I was still wearing my blood-spattered clothes. “Um—yeah, sorry—maybe these things are almost like seizures, and I—”

“So much for Stacy,” Trent interrupted as he entered the kitchen. “Mom may have problems with heat variations in her kiln for a while—”

I shut my eyes and concentrated. I don't like this version. I want the old one.

I opened my eyes and saw Jane pushing back her plate, frowning. “I know—to tell the truth, I thought it would be exciting. Not just the money, but dealing in really illicit stuff. It was stupid of me.” She rested her chin on her hands, and then covered her face as if suddenly overcome by complete fatigue.

I held my breath and didn't blink.

And then Jane raised her head from her hands, and her eyes were bright with tears. “But money—it may sound corny, but money can't give you back your soul. Nobody ever got hurt, and I mean badly hurt, by drugs before she came to town. I mean, you had the ones who were smoking pot and going nowhere, and Brooke—I guess her coke habit contributed to the problems she had with her nose job. But when people started to die—”

I might have gotten back where I was, but it was going to be tough going. Maintain.

“Who died?”

“Ever wondered what happened to the girl who was telling Sandi and Tiffany who was popular and who wasn't at Brittany's party? Tori. Her family lived in Crewe Neck, and she always used to be annoyed that we could only get her a gram of coke once a month or every six weeks. But then Daria steps in and—well, let's say Tori suddenly needed some big increases in her allowance, OK? But then one day Daria decides to cut her off so Tori will start getting crazy—and so she can sell Tori her some smack to calm her down.” Jane paused and two tears—little worlds in themselves, don't look too closely, pay attention to Jane—ran down her cheeks. “Long story short, Tori OD'd. But not before Daria fed her enough smack, coke, pills, ecstasy, whatever to turn her into a street person. Her parents turned her out, but she'd go back to Crewe Neck and steal stuff and pawn it on Degas Street.” Jane sighed. “She died in an alley—she might have been turning tricks for all I know—but all Daria could say was 'On the downside, we've lost a customer. On the upside, it's nice to know that natural selection still works.' She just—she just hated people, and she didn't care what happened to them.” She looked away and bit her lip. “And because she was so damn smart, and the money was so good, and—I don't know, maybe I even had a crush on her, all right? I mean, I grew up in this rotten town, and it didn't take me long to figure out that I didn't fit in. Elementary school was torture, middle school was torture, freshman year in high school was torture. But then I had a stroke of good luck and this other person who didn't fit moved to town and we clicked and I didn't have to be alone.” Jane sighed and turned her head. “Then I slowly discovered she was a sociopath.”

I nodded sympathetically, but I didn't buy it. Weren't drug dealers popular people? Maybe people didn't want to openly associate with them, but didn't they enjoy a kind of sub rosa popularity?

Maybe the narrative had shifted. Or maybe Jane was deceiving herself and not lying to me. Either way, I didn't try to shift focus and didn't want my context to shift from under me.

Jane turned back to face me and asked, “How'd you get her to shoot herself—or did she? Did she just pass out and you held the gun in her hand.”

What to say? “I told you, she got the gun away from me. But then—like I said, she was making crazy talk, weird stuff. What she was saying was scaring me more than the gun.” True as far as it goes. “And then she said that it was nice talking to me and—and she shot herself.”

Jane rubbed her eyes and sighed. She had started to cry in earnest now. She didn't sob, but there was a small, steady flow of tear from her eyes. “I'm sorry I gave you hell back at her house—I never did anything like this, at least not directly, and maybe I still...maybe there's some part of me that likes her or even loves her, but—it couldn't go on. She was going to run things from Raft, and have Stacy and a few others do her dirty work, and when asked her about Trent she just gave me that damn smile and said she was sure he could land on his feet—and then she had the nerve to say he might be asleep when it happened...”

She suddenly covered her face with her hands and broke out in loud sobs. “Why the hell did I let it go on for so long? You know how many Lawndale teens died because of her? Tori was just the first one—I can't remember who was next, but it just kept happening and happening—and...and...alright! I even thought it was funny myself at the start! We'd go sit outside, and Daria'd say, 'Notice anything different?' and I'd shrug and she'd smile and say there's one less annoyance in Lawndale! And it took this long for me—I mean, what's wrong with me if I think somebody dying is funny?”

“What about Tommy Sherman?” Things weren't changing, appearing, or vanishing, but this situation was becoming itself incoherent.

“That was the beginning—at first she said he didn't deserve to die, and that she was sorry he died. But then she started asking me if in my heart, I didn't really feel glad when he died...and at first I said no, but every so often she'd bring it up, and then one day—one day I agreed with her...and now I've kidnapped somebody, I had somebody murdered...”

The only thing I could think to do was to go up and put my arm around her. She was right—she had become a criminal, and a terrible one at that. But she wasn't real—this was a story playing itself out—

It's only a limitation of human language that unactualized possibilities are the synonymous with the non-existent.

We are infinite and transcendent, the stuff of your dreams. Humans first perceived us when they first began telling each other stories, but the possible existed before them and will survive their extinction.

Did I hear that or only remember it? Did the difference matter?

OK, so Jane—the one I have my arm around—is a possibility. She's one among many.

Yet she's real—or rather, she exists. What she lacks is actuality.

How does that make sense? It doesn't make sense!

And as I turned these thoughts over in my mind, the Lane kitchen melted into a desert stretching off as far as the eye could see in one direction, while decaying into a dark impenetrable forest in the other. Strange birds flitted over our heads as sand gathered about our feet and suddenly I wasn't afraid of it anymore, and I wanted to tell Jane that it was all right, that she wasn't a criminal—or least wasn't only a criminal, that she was also just good Jane Lane, and that there were possibilities where she had never dealt drugs, where she and Daria went off to Boston and stayed friends and had fabulous adventures. I wanted to point out the birds to her, ask her if she thought the dunes in the distance were beautiful, show her the amazing glass dome expanding above us, and the set of the Daria and Jane show that kept coming into the corner of my vision but that I could never really quite get a glimpse of. But how could I even start to explain that? As she sobbed into her grandmother's robe, I saw the desert turn into a rocky coast, beaten by waves and wind, and yet her sobs were louder than that. Then it struck me: she was clinging to me because I was human and finite and moved through time. Daria had said that the possible was omnipresent, that it filled space and time completely—and so despite their unboundedness, they were essentially frozen forever—


If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.

—and unless there was not just intelligent but imaginative life on other planets, then the extinction of humans would mean the end—no, not the end: rather, mark the boundedness of where they were not and provide the only motion, the only beauty in their infinity of stasis.


The greatest poverty is not to live
In a physical world, to feel that one's desire
Is too difficult to tell from despair. Perhaps,
After death, the non-physical people, in paradise,
Itself non-physical, may, by chance, observe
The green corn gleaming and experience
The minor of what we feel.

Did I remember those snatches of poetry or was someone or something whispering them to me? They expressed perfectly the situation of the many possibles who populated our stories, plays, and myths. And as I understood that, I felt completely at ease and able to control what I saw, hear, and touched. The shore and forest slowly shrank back to the Lane kitchen, but not before I allowed myself a glimpse of a sunset landscape where deer walked upon mountains, quails cried spontaneously, and pigeons made uncertain arcs on the horizon before sinking into darkness.

“Jane—you didn't know better. How could you? Your parents left you alone here, you and Trent had to make money the best you could—you were prey for a sociopath.” I ran my hand over her hair, that amusing asymmetrical cut, and felt a pang of sorrow that inside, she was an infinity of frozen moments like this one, and that part of her would always be caught in this grief and guilt.

She wiped her eyes on her grandmother robe and looked up at me. “Sorry,” she whispered, and suddenly gave a wry smile, as if she grasped the absurdity of the scene. “Maybe I should give up the life, too—just leave it behind, try to live the way normal people do.”

“And how're you going to go to school, Janey?” Trent had just walked into the kitchen. “How're we going to keep the house?”

“Someone could write a story where you won the lottery?” That was the second completely tactless thing I said that evening.

“Wouldn't happen to us, man. Maybe another world, but not us.” So he understands a little—or is this just the thread I'm following? “Thanks for the thought, though.” He bent over the table. “Ummm...eggs. Why didn't you tell me they were ready, Janey?”

“Just sit down and eat, Trent.”

“Think I will. Oh, Scissors—your stuff will be dry in a little while.”

“Thanks, Trent.”

He sat down at the table, helped himself to a small portion and began eating as carefully as Jane did. I found myself wondering just how neglected Jane and Trent must have been—somebody taught them table manners, and beautiful ones at that. “Good eggs,” he murmured between bites.

“You'll be going when your clothes are ready?” Jane wasn't crying anymore, but her eyes were still red and there was a tone of sadness in her voice.

“I guess so—nothing else for me to do in Lawndale anymore.”

“Um,” replied Trent. “Well, I don't know if you're supposed to say 'thanks' to somebody who helped you murder somebody else—”

“I'm not a mobster—this was self defense.”

“Guess that means no?”

“I'd rather not be thanked for doing something that was necessary but so ugly,” I said. “Besides, if I weren't so lucky, I might not be here.”

Jane and Trent ate in silence while I went downstairs to wait for the dryer. Somehow, seeing Mystik Spiral's practice space wasn't as overwhelming as I thought it would be. Maybe it was because I knew I could just lose focus and see and be someplace else. Or maybe it was because there was one last thing that was bothering me.

“ I've been keeping the other streams out of your consciousness ever since you stepped in here. You'd have been dead or gone mad otherwise. And that, my sorry little Angst Lord, is the real last turn of the screw.

She saved my life.

She saved my life and fed me enough information that I could survive once she—the particular Daria—died.

Why? Because she was a good person? ”You cannot betray what you cannot define.“ She wasn't even a person—and she knew it completely.

She did it so I could return and tell the story. Of course.

The dryer stopped spinning, and I removed my clothes and changed in the basement. Then I went back upstairs to say my good-byes to Jane and Trent.

Jane was in the living room, watching the television.


“Are beings from another dimension invading ours—and running up massive
debts on your credit cards? Interdimensional identity thieves, next on Sick, Sad
World!”

“I'm off. Where's Trent?”

Jane clicked off the TV. “He's upstairs, asleep. Tonight was more activity than he gets in a year—maybe even a decade.”

I nodded. “Jane—can I ask you a question about Daria?”

She shrugged. “What haven't we discussed?”

I sat down on the couch. “When you first got to know her, before you realized things were out of control—did you love her?”

She shrank back in revulsion. “God, I said I might have had a crush on her, but we never—”

“That's not what I mean. I mean—did you love her as a friend? Like the Greek word agapé”

She thought for a moment. “She was captivating and fun to be around and filled a big void in my life, but—no, I don't think so.”

“You sure?”

“Positive.” She shook her head. “Actually, no, I'm not positive. Maybe I'm just saying that because I don't want my personality to self-destruct because I played a part in killing the person I was closest to in the world.”

“Including Trent?”

She closed her eyes, sighed, and nodded. “Yeah—including Trent. You must think I'm a sociopath, too.”

I got up and shrugged. “We play the cards we're dealt, Jane. People want to think they're in control of their lives—they're not. Hell, I'm not. To get caught up in this crazy business—almost killed twice in a week, and nobody that I could tell about it back where I come from. Unless I want to spend some time in Bellevue, of course—but I don't.”

She got up and we briefly embraced. “Goodbye, Scissors—think we'll ever see you again?”

“Maybe,” I lied. “Goodbye, Jane.” And then I walked out into the Lawndale night.

I actually didn't notice much on the way to the Good Times Chinese Restaurant. I kept turning Daria's words over and over in my mind, marveling at them, and considering their consequences. If the possible exists, then does God exist? Of course—but does that mean that humans are saved? And if we are, is that even something we want? Eternal stasis? I felt my understanding slip away as I arrived behind the restaurant and set the TARGET DIM on the portal reconfiguration device—vulgar nomenclature, indeed!—to “Terra Std.” The wall of the back of the restaurant shimmered and I hesitated.

Should I bring the device with me? I can control my perceptions when I'm here now.

And suddenly I tossed it away from me and stepped through the wall to emerge in the same old bathroom of the same old coffee shop I hated. I came out of the bathroom and left the place unnoticed, although the barista might have shot me a dirty look. The hell with him. What I'd been through the past few days would melt all his piercings.

It was a hot night again, and I was dead tired. When I reached home—my home, my real home—I found that S— had left a message for me, ridiculing the Angst Lord business and complaining that if I was going to write fan fiction, why didn't I write something like the series? “I miss laughing at how Daria and Jane see through everything and make fun of it all.”

I sighed and turned it over in my mind. I felt like the director John L. Sullivan in the screwball comedy Sullivan's Travels. Yes, I had learned the value of a laugh—it's all some people have—but to really know just how precious it is, you have to take a long journey, one that runs along the path of despair.

Before I turned out the light, I realized that I still had my Stacy fic to write—the business that started it all. I sighed and decided it could wait. Just committing this to paper—or in this day and age, disk—would take long enough.

It was good to be home.

August—November 2005
Brooklyn, NY

THE END