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The Rotten Crowd
The Rotten Crowd
Setting/Opening: New York, the coast, a mansion owned by someone who knew how to spend money. A party courses its way through the house and surrounding gardens and pool like blood through the heart. Camera trails behind a curvy 25 year old, auburn-haired woman in a shiny emerald green dress. It is 1925. She carries a bottle of champagne and moves her way through the crowds, greeting and meeting shining guests. She seems to be seeking something, standing on her toes and looking above everyone’s heads.
Ruby: (surrounded by a mixed group of men and women, to a tall hawk-nosed blonde woman) No, of course I haven’t seen him. Who has? I’ve only constructed this sort of haphazard mental image of him. He has money and knows how to spend it and that is all that matters. (She takes a sip from the champagne bottle in her hand and fans her face.) I must have some air! Do excuse me, darling.
Hawk-Nose: Oh yes, but do hurry back.
(Ruby stands on her toes to kiss the woman’s cheek and waves at the rest of the group as she departs, weaving her way through the crowd, her eyes searching everyone. She finally bursts through the masses to the pool area, where people are sparse, couples draped over each other expensively.)
Ruby: (bumps into a man.) Sorry, love! The champagne! (A winning smile and a stumble down a gravel path, down which she loses both of her shoes, leads her to the bay. Clutching the hem of her dress, her knees give out and she sits on the sand, water lapping at her bare feet.)
Ruby: (mumbles to herself.) Oh, now, what was his name… I seem to have forgotten. But he was quite dull. Mother would never approve.
(A sharp laugh sounds from behind her and her head jerks up.)
Jay: You seem to have lost your shoes. I hope you don’t mind that I picked them up for you. (He dangles a pair of heels from his finger.) May I? (Gestures to the sand beside her.)
Ruby: Oh, yes darling, please do. You look like you need the air as much as I do. Here, have a drink. I just love champagne. It is one of those lovely things in life that make you feel too big for your skin but not big enough for the world. Know what I mean?
Jay: (Takes the bottle, just brushes his fingers against hers, his lips turned up at the corners.) In fact, I do know what you mean. I feel that way at the moment, too big for my skin. (Swigs.)
Ruby: That Gatsby fellow has the knack for doing that. You ever met him? I hear he is wonderful and terrible at the same time.
Jay: How can that be…miss…?
Ruby: Oh, I feel like a big fool. Mother would be outraged. Anyways, my name is Ruby Fletcher. (She holds out her hand, too close to his face, her face flushed.)
Jay: It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Fletcher. (Takes her hand and kisses it.)
Ruby: Oh, sir, charm drips off of you like a faucet. Don’t you ever lose that.
Jay: Oh, no, never.
Ruby: If I didn’t know better I would call you Gatsby. (She nods to herself as though she has made up her mind.)
Jay: Why would you call me that? (Genuine curiosity filters into his voice and face.)
Ruby: Well, for one, you have that money glow. Only people who know how to spend money have it. You definitely have style. (Here she smoothes the lapel of his dress shirt with her fingers.) And charm, obviously. (Her fingertip touches a dimple in his cheek.) The only thing wrong with you seems to be that you are heavily sad. Don’t deny it, I can see it. People like Gatsby have no reason to be sad. (She leans back on her elbows in the sand and kicks a tiny spray of water into the air.)
Jay: (studies her for a long moment.) Are you rich, Miss Fletcher?
Ruby: Richer than most people, I suppose. I can wear a different dress every day of the week. But I wouldn’t call myself rich.
Jay: Why not?
Ruby: (takes his hand in hers and looks up at the stars.) I’m too sad to be rich.
Jay: (scrutinizes her face in the light from the party behind them and is silent for a long moment. With his free hand, he looks at a silver pocket watch.) Miss Fletcher, I am terribly sorry, but I must go.
Ruby: (nods thoughtfully.) Your date? Is she pretty?
Jay: I suppose so. (He quirks a lopsided smile at her.) Can I walk you back to the party? (As she nods, he reaches out to wipe off her feet with his own handkerchief and slips her shoes on for her.)
Ruby: You are kind. I hope that you become rich.
Jay: (Helps her stand and nods, hands her his handkerchief.) Thank you. I hope you do too, Miss Fletcher.
They walk in silence back towards the party, avoiding couples kissing in the shadows of hedges and empty champagne glasses. One moment they are together and the next, Ruby is by herself, looking lost. The hawk-nosed woman appears around a corner and air-kisses Ruby. Ruby glances down at the handkerchief to see a luminous J.G. embroidered in gold thread.
Hawk-Nose: Honey, I am quite certain that you missed him!
Ruby: (confusedly.) Who?
Hawk-Nose: Gatsby of course! He was suave, made of money just like you said… (She continues talking but music fades her out. Ruby is looking around her, suddenly completely aware of what has just transpired. She knows it was him who helped her with her shoes. Zoom camera out over the party.)
(Zoom in on a tall man in a dapper suit holding a Scotch glass, talking very loudly with a thick Southern accent to a group of women. He has the kind of arrogance that hits you in the face and stings.)
Walker: Can you believe that woman? She told me that my voice wasn’t deep enough.
Woman: Would you have taken the part? It sounds like a crummy one. Only five lines?
Walker: Well, big actors have to start out small. I would have taken anything I could get my hands on. I have no idea why they wouldn’t have wanted me anyways. I mean… (He takes a half-step backwards and gestures to his well-tailored suit and shiny shoes. The women ooh and aah.)
Walker: Excuse me, ladies, but I must find my date. I am sure she is frantic, looking for me.
Woman 2: Why wouldn’t she be? I mean, look at you. If you can’t find her, come back for us. (The other women nod their heads like identical glittering birds, bobbing feathers and sparkling sequins.)
Walker: (turns and saunters through the crowd, aimed toward some interior room in the mansion, draining his glass as he goes.)
Jay: Ah, I have finally found you, old sport! So nice to see you! (Claps his hand on Walker’s shoulder.) We have business to discuss, don’t we?
Walker: Jay! It’s about time we met up. (whispers) I thought you were never going to invite me up here. All that speculation in the papers had me worried!
Jay: We have business! I wouldn’t forget that. Now, let’s go fill up that cup, old sport.
(They walk off through the crowd, swaggering with the kind of purpose that only money could provide. People look at Jay and whisper behind their hands in fascinated wonder. Walker feels pulled into the bubble of the mysterious and instant fame. They enter a dimmed interior room. A small desk sits along the wall with stacks of papers sorted neatly. Two hard-backed chairs sit by the desk. A lone lamp is lit.)
Jay: You have those papers with you, old sport? (A bottle of something dark appears from a drawer in the desk and Walker holds out his glass.)
Walker: You already know that I do. Would I have shown up if I didn’t? Felton is not a man to be crossed. (He sits down arrogantly in one of the chairs and crosses one leg over the other, ankle over knee.) Here are the papers. (He slides them out of an inside pocket of his suit and nonchalantly flicks them onto the desk.) And a little something extra for me. (Another paper is pulled from another pocket.)
Jay: Felton doesn’t know what he is getting himself into. (Leans arms onto desk and examines the words carefully, a worry line appearing between his eyebrows.)
Walker: He wants to extend the contract. Keep the drinks flowing, if you know what I mean. I wouldn’t want to upset him if I were you. (He takes a sip and smiles wickedly.)
Jay: (becomes suddenly still. His voice is deadly cold when he speaks.) Don’t you dare threaten me, Walker. (Jay turns to face him, his fists clenched and shaking.) Who pays for your hopeless attempts at fame? Me, Walker, not Felton. Don’t toy with me like the women out there at my party. (He points at the wall fiercely.)
Walker: I work for Felton. (Leans forward, sounds slightly scared.) I am not afraid. I will just tell him that you are opposed to the terms propositioned. (His head tilts towards the papers.)
Jay: Get out, Walker. Leave the grounds and don’t come back. Tell Felton what I said.
(Walker doesn’t move.)
Jay: I SAID GET OUT! (The bottle of liquor smashes against the wall behind Walker. Jay’s face is red and his pulse throbs in his throat. Walker moves towards the door, feigning anger to hide his fear. Once out in the hallway, Walker moves quickly, almost at a run, disappearing into the swirling mass of the crowd.)
(Camera flashes back to Jay standing in the office, his hand curled around the crumpled papers then zooms out, moving down the hallway to a vast ballroom with sparkling chandeliers and dancing couples. Zoom in on an aging woman in a black dress dancing with a man half her age. She laughs at him but her eyes move around, seeking out her next prey.)
Miriam: Darling, where did you learn to dance so well? I haven’t had a partner sweep me off my feet in ages! (She makes eyes at a dashing blonde man holding her hands. He laughs heartily and bends her into a dip as the song ends. Sadly, she is no longer looking at him, but at the man who has surreptitiously entered from a side door.
Miriam: Honey, it is devilishly hot in here. Mind getting me something to cool me off? I will be here, waiting for you. (She winks and the blonde man scurries off. Miriam sighs and gives a weary shrug. This man is an arrogant fool and she can’t stand him. But the one who just happened to enter her field of vision. She slinks through the crowd like an eel and steps into his path.)
Miriam: Have we met before? I got the strangest sensation that we haven’t and that it needed to be remedied.
Jay: (Smiles and holds out his hand. Miriam is delighted and extends her hand. Jay kisses the back of her hand and she sinks down into a curtsy, much too old fashioned for this lively party.) I do not believe we have. But we most undoubtedly should.
Miriam: Miriam O’Connell. I am quite sure you know my husband, the owner of O’Connell Rigging, just off the coast.
Jay: Is your husband here? (He scans the crowd, clearly enjoying what he sees, the product of his wealth. His gaze stops, seems shocked, at the image of a glittering woman surrounded by a golden glow. Miriam notices, of course, but decides that she can still play with this obviously classy man.)
Miriam: Oh, he must be around here somewhere. Probably drinking his liver cold. (She picked at her fingernail for a moment and then glared at the golden woman.)
Jay: (taking obvious pains to wrench his gaze from the woman, turns to Miriam.) If that is the case, Mrs. O’Connell, allow me to escort you to the dance floor. (His smile is radiant, a hunter knowing that he has met a formidable prey.)
Miriam: You know the Charleston, sir? It is such a fun dance.
Jay: Yes. I learned from a great teacher. (Miriam saw his glance stop on the golden woman and she squeezed his hand tighter, showing ownership on a man who was clearly not hers to own. They dance, adding a separate depth to the shimmer of sequins and silk suits. The music rattles the glass candelabra and champagne bubbles erupt everywhere. Once the Charleston ends, a slow, sad, lilting melody settles over the people, slowing everything down, making the trails of light drip like water. Miriam’s cheek presses against Jay’s and the slide around the floor.)
Miriam: (sudden realization waking up her face.) Sir, you have not told me your name.
Jay: I saw no need to. Tomorrow morning, this will all be a dream. Don’t want to spoil it too soon.
Miriam: It would not be spoiling. I want to know the name of my dashing, dancing prince. I need something to help me sleep at night next to my horrid husband.
Jay: (looks thoughtful for a moment.) I am a man. Not rich, but certainly not poor. I would choose rum over champagne. I have secrets. I have made mistakes. I am in love and I have known incredible loss. I am just a man, Mrs. O’Connell. And that is what you must be content with. (Jay sees a blonde man with a glass in his hand over Miriam’s shoulder. Suddenly he spins her away from him, their hands losing touch and she stops in the middle of the blonde man’s arms, confusion in her eyes. Instantaneously she turns to look for her partner and cannot find him for a moment. She then sees the golden girl moving towards a door following the shadow of a man in a silk suit.)
(Soft, slightly mysterious music plays as the camera spins around the crowded ballroom and moves down the hallway, following Jay and the golden girl. Brief glimpse of them in an abandoned stairwell, his fingers on her cheek. Then the camera moves to show each character abovementioned in various spaces throughout the house, all with a bit of a stunned look on their faces. The camera zooms straight up, through the levels of wealthy strata and through the roof, looking down at the lights flashing and people moving. Then turns toward the stars, flashing quickly and then…dark.)