Death of a Mercenary: Act 1 - Scene 1


ACT I - SCENE 1


COLLEGE DORMITORY ROOM -- WASHINGTON, DC -- FALL 1986

STAGE BLACKOUT

OFFSTAGE, the sound of a jogger doing his run fades in: rhythmic breathing, feet pounding the pavement, the crunching of dry leaves, and the noises of a busy metropolitan street filtering in and out.

THE MUSIC of a Michael Jackson's "Thriller", played by a local radio station fades in and the jogger fades out. The song concludes, immediately followed by station identification, followed by the voice of a FEMALE DISK JOCKEY.



[Disk-jockey's dialogue will be improvised by the performer]

DISK-JOCKEY
(OFFSTAGE VOICE OVER)

After a weather update, a commentary about the upcoming Oliver Stone film, "Platoon". She talks about Stone's other movie release early in the year, "El Salvador", and ends her commentary by stating the fact that Oliver Stone wrote the screenplays for two of the most violent and controversial drug-related movies in recent years: "Midnight Express" and "Scarface".

STAGE LIGHTS UP

A Small COLLEGE DORMITORY with Spartan furnishings is revealed. The furnishings are arranged galley style (all alongside one wall) on the right sidewall (up stage) to the entrance. The furniture arrangement along the wall is as follows: a WOODEN CLOSET with floor to ceiling double doors -a LONG MIRROR on one door- is at the right corner next to the entrance; the closet is followed by a BUNK BED.

After the bed, follows a DESK and CHAIR with an overhead BOOKSHELF; a READING LAMP folds over the desktop. The bookshelf contains a few art related BOOKS, several VIDEO and AUDIOTAPES, a RADIO-CASSETTE player, and an 8 x 10 framed PHOTOGRAPH. On top of the desk is a TELEPHONE.

On the floor next to the desk, at the end corner of the wall, is a small REFRIGERATOR with a compact TELEVISION-VIDEO CASSETTE PLAYER placed on top of it. The wall across the entrance is made-up of glass windows extending from mid-wall to the ceiling.

Original OIL PAINTINGS and a CLEVELAND INDIANS (baseball) POSTER decorate the wall above the bed. AN EASEL with a painting in progress is set near the window. An area rug is spread along the side of the bunk bed.

MR. GUNTHER (61) examines the painting on the easel through thick dark-framed reading spectacles. He has the look of a college professor, dressed in a woollen weave square pattern sport coat (European cut), shirt and tie (silk), dress slacks and "very shiny" black leather oxfords. On his head, a pecan colored wool felt fedora; tucked under his arm, a black nylon umbrella with curved wood-grain handle and silver-tone metal tip.



DISK JOCKEY (V. O. CONTINUES)

She continues with a news bite in which president Ronald Reagan speaks about the (Nicaraguan) "Contras" and his commitment to assisting the "freedom fighters" struggle against the communist regime (aka the Sandinistas) threatening to spread their tactics and ideology in Latin America. Then, she concludes the segment with the sound of an-other top ten hit.

While the song plays on the room's radio, sounds of students going about their business in a crowded and congested area begin to filter in.

Enter AGUSTIN (39). He is dressed in running cloths. His shirt is wet with perspiration after his late-afternoon jog. He stops at the entrance overtaken by complete and total surprise when he sees Mr. Gunther waiting for him.


GUNTHER
(Turning around, 'favorite uncle' act)
Stop staring at me; I'm not a ghost yet!
(He turns off the radio)
Come in and close the door. We've lots of catching up to do.

AGUSTIN
(Closing the door, annoyed)
Mr. Gunther, what the hell are you doing here?

GUNTHER
(Shrugging innocently)
I was in town and stopped for a visit -clear the blood. (genuinely bewildered) Now, how in blazes did you manage a room in an all girls' school? -and a Catholic one at that!

AGUSTIN
(Laconic)
It's a gift.
(He grabs a towel from the closet, dries his face and changes to a clean sweat-shirt)


GUNTHER
Back in college without missing a beat. I'm proud of you! -even though you don't seem happy to see your old mentor.

AGUSTIN
I want to be left alone; you're the last person I expected to see.
(Then, with a questioning look)
I thought you went back to Israel?

GUNTHER
(Sneer)
The Mossad has no sense of humour. Besides, it's too early to retire and something new has come up. Might be of some interest to you...

AGUSTIN
(Having gone through this before)
There is nothing you can say that could be of interest to me.
(He gets a can of soda from the refrigerator and opens it)


GUNTHER
Don't be such a bore! Hear me out! Just for a minute. Then, if you feel the same, I'll be on my way. You'll never hear from me again.

GUNTHER gives him his most endearing smile. AGUSTIN studies him for a moment making up his mind. He then sits at the edge of the bed and drinks from the can.

AGUSTIN, face neutral, gestures Gunther to have a seat. GUNTHER places his hat and umbrella on top of the desk and, as he pulls the chair away, he notices a framed photograph resting on the bookshelf and picks it up.


GUNTHER
(Looking at the picture with interest)
Ha! All the family is here! The 'Tasca Club' in Panama City, yes?

AGUSTIN
(His face revealing nothing)
Yes. Back in 77. (then) -The year that Elvis died.

GUNTHER
(Surprised)
Has it been that long? My Lord! Almost... ten bloody years!
(Then, looking up at Agustin)
But you! Haven't aged a day and looking better than ever.

AGUSTIN
(Embittered sarcasm)
It's all a result of the happiness I felt when I made it passed the age of thirty... alive.

GUNTHER
(Scrutinizing Agustin's face)
You've done better than survive! You are a bloody miracle! Even the scars have disappeared.

AGUSTIN
(Tired of the cat and mouse game)
Look deeper. Everything hurts. (then) If you have something to say, say it. I have plans for the evening.

They stare at each other without giving in. After a beat, Gunther drops all pretences of joviality and his usual no-nonsense self emerges.


GUNTHER
Very well -you ungrateful pup.
(He sits)
Are you familiar with the present situation in Nicaragua?

AGUSTIN
(Shrug)
Not really. Peter Jennings is all I get.

GUNTHER
Then you don't know much. It's a cluster-fuck. Even worst than before!

AGUSTIN
(Going straight to the point)
Which means, business is good.

GUNTHER
(With a satisfied grin)
Can't complain. It's a sellers market. But since Reagan's been president, the war has taken a new twist.

AGUSTIN
(Puzzled)
War? Which war?

GUNTHER
The war on drugs! Or haven't you heard?

AGUSTIN
("Surprised")
Oh, that war. (then) What happened to the Sandinistas?

GUNTHER
We're still fucking them -bloody bastards! But things were getting a bit dull until the Almighty smiled upon mercenaries and gave us Ronald Reagan. He wants to teach the Sandinistas a lesson but Central America is too far away for Americans to give a damn. (with a sigh) And why would they? Violence is fine when it's ten thousand miles away! But Reagan knows that if he can get the American voters on his side, he can fart when-ever he wants. So instead of focusing on Central America, he singles out the nation's greatest fear, then shoots and declares a 'war on drugs' on national television!

AGUSTIN
(Trying to follow)
So what? Nixon did the same in 71.

GUNTHER
You're right. But this time, is not just rhetoric! This man deserves an Oscar! The nation thinks he's so bloody marvellous that Congress caved in. Handed him everything he asked for. All the resources of the federal government -and I mean everyone: DEA, FBI; even our old friends -the Christians In Action [ the CIA]; Departments of Defence, Customs, and State; Coast Guard -and even NASA; all involved one way or the other with one single goal in mind: to win the ratings war on the telly!

AGUSTIN
(Getting bored)
Wonderful! Who's winning?

GUNTHER
(With a funny look)
Who do you think?

AGUSTIN makes a face that says, "of course".


GUNTHER
Mind you, The Sandinistas and the drug traffickers are all feeling the pinch. So they formed a business alliance that is making things here look down right humiliating. The buggers are bloody good at the game, you know. Makes the Mafia look like Shriners.

AGUSTIN
And this is where you come in -just like old times. (with a look) -unless, you are working now for the government.

GUNTHER
(With an expression of disgust)
Oh please, don't make me puke! -Too many rules and regulations and not much profit to show for it. (then with delight) Fortunately for us, the game is still the same. The Americans can not legally carry on a war in another country without an act of Congress. So, they have hired me to bring in the goodies. (smiles expectantly) Should I go on?

AGUSTIN
(Sarcastic, but interested)
Oh, please, Mr. Gunther, do tell! What kind of goodies are we talking about?

GUNTHER
They need information, my boy! The kind that could end a lot of distinguished careers if the press gets a hold of it; the kind that can not be obtained through legal channels or bought from illegal ones -they already tried. The deal, literally, is to go in and get it! Just like old times! (wide smile) Interested?

AGUSTIN feels drawn by Gunther's words and becomes angry for his own weakness. He decides to put the business at an end.


AGUSTIN
(Moving towards the door)
I don't have time for this.
(Opening the door)
You better leave.

GUNTHER
(Ignoring him, calmly)
Let me finish. It gets better.

AGUSTIN remains still by the door, silent. Gunther continues.


GUNTHER
(Grinning seductively)
To get to this information we have to go in deep inside the jungle, make our way through hostile territory and infiltrate a base full of east Germans, Bulgarians, Cubans and other foreign commie scum -not to mention the locals. But to pull it off -and this is were you come in, we are going to need help from some of your old friends, the Miskito Indians. They control the pathways. (then, wide smile again) Don't you love it?

AGUSTIN
(Chuckles in stunned amusement)
I think you are mad.
(Then, knowing perfectly well he is serious)
Why not send in the Contras and blow the place up?

GUNTHER
Oh, they will! -after we take out the goodies. They just don't know it. (then) So what do you say?

AGUSTIN
(Not giving it a second thought)
Fuck off.

GUNTHER
(Confidently pressing on)
You will be paid a thousand dollars a day, plus expenses, and a bonus upon completion. I know you can use the money.

AGUSTIN
(Softly but adamant)
Fuck... off.

GUNTHER
(Taking a deep breath)
Agustin, listen to me, you bull-headed mule! (then). All you have to do is help me plan the operation, make some introductions and supervise the training. (wheedling) You won't have to go in. No risk involved. (then, reasonable, one businessman to another) You can finish this internship in a couple of weeks, spend the rest of the fall in a warm place, and be back with your family to enjoy the holidays! The job will take no more than a month and then you can do what ever you want. I'll even pull some strings for you.

AGUSTIN
You came a long way for nothing.
(Then, with finality)
The answer is no.

GUNTHER
(Taking a bite)
So that's it. You're just going to quit? Hide away in a girl's dorm and feel sorry for yourself?

AGUSTIN
(Scoffs, not falling for the guilt trip)
Go try that shit on someone else! (then) Did you really think I was going to say yes?

GUNTHER
(With malevolent confidence)
Yes! I did. (then) And I think that you might still change your mind.

AGUSTIN
(Suspecting a trick)
And why would I do that?

GUNTHER
(With total conviction)
Because I know you better than you know yourself! I... made... you.

AGUSTIN remains still, a painful wound opened inside. For a couple of beats he looks back at Gunther with defiant eyes, his darker side emerging, unconsciously turning the ring on his finger. The gold band with images of panthers over a field of enamel black is identical to the ring Gunther is also wearing -the symbol of a very exclusive group. Then quietly he closes the door and turns to Gunther.


AGUSTIN
(A charged whisper ready to erupt)
Mr. Gunther, I have partial hearing in one ear, I'm going blind in one eye and my face has been put together... twice! The man you made is broken. He doesn't work anymore. He lives only in my nightmares and I'm not letting him out.

GUNTHER remains quiet; eyes locked in silent confrontation. Slowly, AGUSTIN regains his composure.


GUNTHER
(Looking away, in a kinder tone)
Well, perhaps I was wrong. I'd figured you missed the excitement... (sighs, then takes a card from his pocket and places it on the desk) But just in case, I will leave you a number where you can make contact. It will be active until noon tomorrow and receptive to your old code.
(He stands to leave, hat in hand)


AGUSTIN
(Chilly and with a show of finality)
Good bye, Mr. Gunther.
(Extending his hand)


GUNTHER
(Shaking hands)
Cheerio, my boy. I wish you well. Judging by these paintings, you're in your way to a new life.

GUNTHER puts on his hat, collects his umbrella, and, as if catching his attention for the first time, picks up the photograph from the desk.


GUNTHER
(Ponders)
Jim, Sean, ...Helena. (then) Do you keep in contact with them?

AGUSTIN
(After a seconds hesitation)
No.
(Then, wanting to know, but cool)
Have you heard from them?

GUNTHER
Oh yes! (frowns) Jim, well, I miss dearly; we all do. Helena, now using her real name, lives in France, with her husband; a diplomat from Venezuela. (smiling) She's still a stunning woman. The French adore her! (chuckles) She berates them and they love it!

AGUSTIN, for a moment, is lost in memories.


GUNTHER
(Handing back the photograph, as if reading his mind)
And yes, she mentions you all the time. (then, serious) She asked me, if I was to see you, to tell you that she misses you and that she was wrong -whatever that means. She also wants you to know that she would like to see you again, but that if you do not want to, that she understands.

AGUSTIN
(Absorbs this, nods, then)
And Sean? How is he doing?

GUNTHER
(Lighting up)
Sean has retired to a respectable life -at least by his standards, and is doing quite well at it. He owns and operates a (some hesitation) tourist resort in Arizona. You should stop in for a visit. It's quite a place! (then, with calculated timing) Oh, and there is something else you should know. (a beat) Sean is the other person I had in mind for the job, if you turned it down.

AGUSTIN is shocked by this revelation but his only visible reaction was to blink once. He maintains his cool businesslike persona.


AGUSTIN
(After a beat)
You can't be serious! He's not qualified!

GUNTHER
(Not caring for arguments)
That is your opinion. I say he is! I trained you both myself. You have the edge, but he can do it!

AGUSTIN
(Blowing it off)
If Sean wants to do it, so be it! Only, tell him to remember Jim's prediction.

GUNTHER
(Curious)
Which was...?

AGUSTIN
(Ominous)
"This life's a killer. If a bullet doesn't do it, the pressure will."

GUNTHER
(Absorbs this, then stoically)
Jim was right.

MR. GUNTHER turns and exits.

AGUSTIN walks to the entrance and looks down the hall following Gunther with his eyes. Then he turns back, locks the door and crumples against it with an explosive sob. The strain of keeping up his cool self-controlled persona intact has been an act has left him drained. Visibly upset, he pulls himself together as he studies the photograph he has been holding. He then returns it to its place on the desk top .

>Next he picks a Ruben Blades* CASSETTE TAPE from the shelf, puts it in the player, and the song "Buscando a America" plays. He sits on the bed and takes off his running shoes. Then he grabs the still unfinished soda can, takes another sip, and leans back against the wall staring at the painting, trying to regain his composure.

>For a while he remains still, listening to the music. Then again he reaches out for the photograph on his desk and lays down on the bed holding the photo at arms length above his head. As the music plays and increases in volume, Agustin's arm (holding the photograph) slowly drops to his chest as he falls asleep.

THE NIGHTMARES return and he relives the past.




* See lyrics at the end of play


TRANSITION TO SCENE 2

OFFSTAGE, background noises of a busy Central American dance club begin to filter in. A spotlight focuses on Agustin's sleeping form and the rest of the room goes into total darkness. Then the lights around Agustin fade in low revealing a blurred club scene around him.

In the shadows, people are dancing, siting at the bar and in tables around the dance floor engaged in drinking and animated conversation. Then the spot light on Agustin fades out to black, and when all the light come back on, the previous set is gone and the club setting for the next scene appears.



END OF ACT I - SCENE 1




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