FISH OUT OF WATER
A comedy in one act by
Peter D. Wilson
ZENOBIA: Reception clerk
ORVILLE: Cruise manager
PAT: Diplomatic messenger
PASSENGERS: 7 male & 16 female (one female pseudo-American)
The reception area of the river cruiser "Onegin Arcadia". A desk is placed diagonally mid-left with a telephone and possibly a typewriter or word-processor. One chair is behind it and others wherever convenient near an easel bearing various notices UR. The ship's restaurant may be supposed to be off stage right, the bar lounge off stage left. A door UC leads to a narrow side deck, railed, with access to unseen stairs, and an internal stairway to the cabin deck is unseen DR.
Peter D. Wilson
29 August 2006
Copyright © 2006, 2016
Zenobia is seated at the desk busy with an administrative task.
Anne enters right from the restaurant and approaches the desk.
ANNE: Excuse me ...
ANNE: I’m sorry to be a nuisance, but would it be possible for some of us to change from group A to group B for tomorrow’s tour?
ZENOBIA: How many will that be?
ZENOBIA: (checking a list) Yes - that will be perfectly all right. What names?
ANNE: Gardner, Thompson, Booth and Schlossberger.
ZENOBIA: (surprised) Schlossberger?
ANNE: Yes - why?
ZENOBIA: She asked to change from B to A.
ANNE: When was that?
ZENOBIA: Yesterday afternoon.
ANNE: Oh, she’s evidently changed her mind again today. You know what she’s like.
ZENOBIA: (shuddering) Yes.
ANNE: Well, thank you so much.
ZENOBIA: You’re welcome.
Anne returns to the restaurant.
Mike with Evelyn, Dennis with Yvette and Walter with Sue enter from the restaurant on their way to the bar in the lounge. Their banter is completely light-hearted.
MIKE: The usual, everyone?
Murmurs of assent from everyone but Sue.
SUE: Not for me, thanks; I’ll just have a bitter lemon.
MIKE: Are you sure?
SUE: Yes, thanks. I had rather more wine at dinner than I intended.
WALTER: You didn’t complain at the time.
SUE: I’m not complaining now. It was very nice. I just don’t want to make a fool of myself.
DENNIS: Afraid of making a pass at the captain’s sidekick?
YVETTE: I wouldn’t call that so very foolish. He is rather dishy.
DENNIS: I can see I’ll have to keep an eye on you.
MIKE: Well, it’s worth keeping.
YVETTE: Thank you, kind sir. And to what do I owe such compliments?
DENNIS: He’s after something, you can be sure.
YVETTE: Well, if it’s what you usually have in mind, he isn’t going to get it.
MIKE: (mock-melodramatic) La belle dame sans merci! Spurned again ... (Normally) Anyway, that’s two beers, a gin and tonic, one Grouse, one Kahlua and a bitter lemon. Right?
WALTER: I’m glad the right priorities are reasserting themselves
MIKE: "A woman is only a woman ..." - what was the rest of it?
DENNIS: "But a good cigar is a smoke."
EVELYN: Not in here, it isn’t. You can do what you like on deck.
DENNIS: May I hold you to that?
EVELYN: Neither literally nor figuratively. Get away with you!
MIKE: A bit off the point anyway. Grab a table, will you? And make sure it’s nowhere near that insufferable Schlossberger woman.
He moves off left towards the bar. Evelyn is about to follow but is struck by a thought.
EVELYN: Just a moment - what about tomorrow’s programme?
WALTER: (who is nearest to the easel) It isn’t posted yet.
DENNIS: Never mind, there’ll be plenty of time later on. Come on!
There are no objections and the party moves off left.
Ruth and George enter right, in earnest discussion, together with Iris and Brian. They cross slowly
RUTH: … all very well, but I don’t see why you don’t simply put the stuff back in the reactor to fry it all. It seems the obvious thing.
GEORGE: Because it simply wouldn’t work - at least, not for most of it. Apart from the actinides, the only elements that really qualify are technetium and iodine – and there are serious doubts about iodine. You’re much better off simply sticking the whole lot down a hole where most of us could forget about it.
BRIAN: Better still not making the stuff in the first place.
IRIS: For heaven’s sake - do you have to keep talking shop?
GEORGE: Sorry – but you did raise the question.
IRIS: I wish to goodness I’d kept my mouth shut!
BRIAN: We should do more with wind and tide, anyway.
GEORGE: Certainly, up to a point. But I’m not going to inflict all that on Iris! If you really want it, I’ll send you my notes when we get home.
Brian and George carry on slowly to the bar. Ruth and Iris look casually at the notice board..
RUTH: Why on earth do men get so tied up in their boring concerns that they forget everything else?
IRIS: They’d probably say much the same about us.
RUTH: Surely we don’t go on anything like that?
IRIS: Haven’t you heard Queenie Whatsername after one of her bridge sessions?
RUTH: I suppose there has to be an exception to prove the rule.
IRIS: Or Karen Pargeter on golf? Linda Williamson on GM crops?
RUTH: Oh, all right. Point taken. By the way ...
RUTH: Oh, nothing. Come on - they’ll be on their second round if we take much longer.
They move briskly to the bar.
Orville enters left and goes to the desk.
ORVILLE: Have you got the excursion lists for tomorrow?
ZENOBIA: Nearly done. There was a bit of confusion when one party changed its mind.
ORVILLE: Any problem?
ZENOBIA: No, there was enough slack to take it. I’ll be just a few minutes - barring any other snags.
ORVILLE: Thanks, Zenobia.
He heads for the door UC.
Queenie has entered from the bar and is hovering.
QUEENIE: (penetratingly American) Say, is Zenobia really your name?
ZENOBIA: Yes, but most people just call me Zena. What can I do for you?
QUEENIE: It’s about the noise in the lounge - can’t something be done about it?
ZENOBIA: There were supposed to be sound-proofing tiles on the ceiling, but the refitting was running late and that job had to be put off. I’m sorry.
QUEENIE: But in our bridge school we can’t hear the bids. We can’t hardly hear ourselves think, in fact.
ZENOBIA: I suppose we might ask the dining room staff to clear a table for you in there.
QUEENIE: That’s no good - the tables are the wrong shape. Can’t you just ask people to be quiet while we’re playing?
ZENOBIA: I doubt if they would - at least, not for any length of time. It is a public room, after all.
QUEENIE: I’d have thought they might have had more consideration.
ZENOBIA: Have you thought - would you put yourself out for them?
QUEENIE: That’s different - we don’t disturb anyone.
ZENOBIA: Some people were very cross about your calling during the concert last night.
QUEENIE: Well, we had to raise our voices to make ourselves heard over the caterwauling. Why shouldn’t we?
ZENOBIA: Quite a lot of people wanted to hear the music. Perhaps they thought you might have had more consideration.
QUEENIE: We’ve paid good money for this cruise and we don’t expect it to be spoiled by other people.
ZENOBIA: Yes, of course. But so have the other passengers.
QUEENIE: See here, young woman, I don’t like your attitude.
ZENOBIA: I’m sorry, Mrs. Schlossberger. Perhaps you’d like to lodge an official complaint.
QUEENIE: You know, I think I may very well do just that.
She sweeps off indignantly leaving Zenobia rather agitated.
ORVILLE: Those lists - but you seem upset.
ZENOBIA: Oh, it’s nothing.
ORVILLE: Come on, out with it.
ZENOBIA: All right. It’s that dreadful Mrs. Schlossberger again.
ORVILLE: I might have guessed. What’s she on about this time?
ZENOBIA: She was complaining about the noise level in the lounge - wants everyone else to shut up while her party’s playing bridge.
ORVILLE: Good lord!
ZENOBIA: Honestly, I’ve met arrogance before, and some pretty extreme examples, but she takes the biscuit.
ORVILLE: I’d say the whole packet.
ZENOBIA: And then - I know we agreed to let it rest, but I let it slip out that other people were angry at her spoiling the concert.
ORVILLE: How did she react to that?
ZENOBIA: As you might expect - it was everyone else’s fault.
ZENOBIA: I’m afraid there’s going to be trouble.
ORVILLE: What sort?
ZENOBIA: She complained of my attitude, and I suggested she should make it official. She said she probably would.
ORVILLE: Well, we are supposed to be tactful with even the most awkward customers, but that woman goes beyond all reason. If she does put in a complaint, make sure it comes to me - I’ll know what to do with it.
ZENOBIA: Thanks. I’m sorry to be making difficulties for you.
ORVILLE: Dealing with difficulties is what I’m paid for. And life could be very boring without them!
ZENOBIA: No fear of that.
Enter Anne, Helen and Xanthi from the restaurant.
HELEN: Well, here goes.
XANTHI: I hope we won’t have another do like last night. It was so embarrassing - I didn’t know where to put myself.
ANNE: I know how you feel. But we’d better get a move on. Queenie will be getting impatient.
XANTHI: Getting? She always is.
HELEN: It won’t do her any harm to wait a bit. I must have a word with the girl at Reception.
XANTHI: Is there anything new on the notice board? I’ve left my glasses in the cabin.
ANNE: I don’t think so.
HELEN: (to Zenobia) Excuse me ...
HELEN: I’m sorry to disturb you ...
ZENOBIA: It’s quite all right. How can I help you?
HELEN: It’s about last night. I believe our carrying on with the bridge game during the concert caused some resentment.
ZENOBIA: Well - yes, I’m afraid it did.
HELEN: We tend to get carried away, I’m afraid. Is there any way we can apologise to everyone without making too much of a song and dance about it?
ZENOBIA: Hmm - I don’t think that’s really necessary. But it probably would be appreciated if you could keep your voices down in future.
HELEN: Well, we can try - not that I think there’s much chance with you-know-who. But I really think we should do something more positive to make peace. If we were to draft a little note, could you type and copy it? - I know it would make more work for you -
ZENOBIA: Work is what I’m here for.
HELEN: That’s very kind of you. Though one for every cabin seems an awful lot ...
ZENOBIA: We could put one on every table in the restaurant.
HELEN: Oh, excellent. Thank you so much.
ZENOBIA: You’re welcome.
Helen returns to Anne and Xanthi.
HELEN: If we draft an apology for the disturbance we caused last night, she’ll get it distributed.
ANNE: What sort of apology?
HELEN: That’s up to us. I think fairly informal ...
Enter Queenie left.
QUEENIE: What the hell are you three playing at? I was beginning to think you’d gone overboard.
HELEN: We were thinking about an apology to the rest of the passengers ...
QUEENIE: Apology? What do you want to apologise for?
XANTHI: For making so much noise during the concert last night.
QUEENIE: It was nothing to the noise those so-called entertainers were making.
ANNE: No, but other people wanted to listen to them, not to us.
QUEENIE: Huh! There’s nothing to stop you apologising if you think you must, but you’re fools if you do. And if you think I’m going to do anything of the sort you’ve got another think coming.
ANNE: But surely ...
QUEENIE: You have to insist on your rights. No one else will do it for you.
HELEN: I don’t think there is a right to disturb other people’s enjoyment.
QUEENIE: Who was making the disturbance in the first place? Come on! If we don’t get back there someone else will have grabbed our table.
HELEN: Well, will you at least try to keep your voice down?
QUEENIE: Why on earth should I?
XANTHI: (goaded too far) Because you’re a pain in the neck!
The other three are thunderstruck.
XANTHI: I’m sick of this whole bridge business. I don’t even like the game particularly - I only joined in because you needed someone to make up the foursome, and now you’ve upset everyone else on the boat with your appalling behaviour I want nothing more to do with it. I’d be far happier reading a book.
QUEENIE: But Xanthi ... I don’t understand. Helen, can’t you persuade her?
HELEN: I doubt it. In fact I don’t think I want to. If I’d had the guts I’d probably have said much the same myself.
QUEENIE: But why ... ?
HELEN: How about a quiet game of Scrabble?
ANNE: Suits me.
QUEENIE: (incredulous) Scrabble! What the devil’s come over you?
HELEN: Queenie, I don’t want to be offensive, but you seem to be missing the point. Have you ever tried to see yourself as you appear to other people?
QUEENIE: No, I’m not interested. Why should I be?
HELEN: You do make it difficult! I don’t suppose it’s ever occurred to you, but you really should try to understand that the world doesn’t revolve around bridge.
QUEENIE: But what else ...?
HELEN: (finally snapping) Nor, if it comes to that, around you.
Queenie is temporarily dumbstruck by these heresies and collapses into a chair. The other three move to the bar. Zenobia notices and comes solicitously to her aid.
ZENOBIA: Are you all right, Mrs. Schlossberger?
QUEENIE: (vaguely) What?
ZENOBIA: Do you need any help? Can I get you something?
QUEENIE: (recovering herself) No, I do not, and you cannot. If you think by trying to ingratiate yourself you can get out of ...
ORVILLE: Is anything the matter, Mrs. Schlossberger?
QUEENIE: I’ll thank you not to butt into what doesn’t concern you, young man.
ORVILLE: But anything that upsets passengers on this ship does concern me. What’s the problem?
QUEENIE: Oh ... Get knotted, the whole damn lot of you!
She stalks off to the bar.
ZENOBIA: What can you do with her?
ORVILLE: Short of putting cyanide in her coffee, very little, I’m afraid.
ZENOBIA: I wonder no one’s done it. But I suppose there’s time yet.
ORVILLE: Now don’t wish that on us! The last thing we want is a police investigation.
ZENOBIA: Why, is there something ... ?
ORVILLE: No, nothing to interest them. But it would completely disrupt the cruise. And if we do have Hercule Poirot on board to clear it up he’s very well disguised.
ZENOBIA: We might have a Miss Marple.
ORVILLE: Now that should provide you with a little harmless amusement - working out which of the crowd it might be.
ZENOBIA: I wonder ...
ZENOBIA: We were going to have another concert from the sextet, but after last night I can’t see them wanting to risk a repetition.
ZENOBIA: How about a competition to identify Miss Marple?
ORVILLE: Hmm. Instead of find the murderer, find the sleuth? It’s an idea. How would you work it?
ZENOBIA: I hadn’t thought it out. It was only a silly comment.
ORVILLE: Maybe not so silly. Fancy working it up a bit?
ZENOBIA: All right. I’ll see what I can do.
Enter Tom right.
TOM: Excuse me …
TOM: Are you busy?
ORVILLE: Not particularly. Why?
TOM: It’s only a trivial point –
ORVILLE: Never mind – it’ll probably make a pleasant change from the more serious ones.
TOM: Well, I overheard someone mention that there was a descendant of the line’s founder on board, as one of the crew. Is that right?
ORVILLE: Yes, as it happens. It’s Grigori, the barman on duty tonight.
ORVILLE: Why the interest – if you don’t mind my asking?
TOM: Well, I suppose that makes him a slightly more distant descendant of the legendary Eugene Onegin.
ORVILLE: Yes, but I still don’t see why –
TOM: It’s just something I’m contemplating.
Enter Jim from the restaurant.
TOM: Oh, Jim, have you a moment? (To Orville) I’ll tell you more if it comes to anything.
JIM: What? Oh, yes; what is it?
ORVILLE: (to Zenobia) Very odd. I wonder what all that’s about.
ZENOBIA: It looks as though you’ll just have to wonder for the time being.
Exit Orville DR.
TOM: (taking Jim aside) I’d like you to treat this as confidential for the present.
JIM: Yes, of course. What is it?
TOM: You’ve probably heard that the Government’s setting up a public consultation on fisheries policy.
JIM: Well, yes. It was on the news only last week. But I don’t see what it has to do with me.
TOM: I’m coming to that. Now I know we’ve only been acquainted for a couple of days, but you’ve struck me as having a lot of common sense. Would you care to be on the committee being set up to handle the consultation?
TOM: It would only mean a half day meeting every couple of weeks for about three months. And there’s a nice little honorarium - not that it signifies, of course.
JIM: But I don’t know the first thing about fisheries!
TOM: Excellent. That’s the one essential qualification. And of course your position would look good on the reports.
JIM: I don’t understand ...
TOM: It’s quite simple. People who know anything substantial about the subject might come up with the wrong conclusion, so naturally we want people who don’t - they’ll have an open mind.
JIM: I dare say, but there’s a difference between an open mind and one completely blank. And what’s the point of having a public consultation if you’ve already made up your mind on the result?
TOM: To get a whole range of opinions. One of them’s bound to be more or less the same as has been decided - close enough to tweak into it, at any rate. Then at the end of the period we announce that as the conclusion, with a few added bells and whistles that the Civil Service will provide, and Bob’s your uncle.
JIM: So that’s how it’s done. Well, I can’t say that a little extra pocket money would be unwelcome ... How much, as a matter of interest?
TOM: Only nominal, I’m afraid. Ten thousand. Plus expenses, of course.
JIM: Ten thousand! That’s ...
TOM: I’m sorry it’s so paltry. But the department’s having an economy drive at present. Anyway, I’ll speak to you later about it.
Tom goes towards the bar.
Carol has emerged from the restaurant and overheard something of the conversation.
CAROL: What was all that about?
JIM: (bemused) He’s just offered me ten thousand quid for three months’ occasional work on a Government committee.
CAROL: There must be some mistake, surely. What committee?
JIM: Something to do with fisheries policy.
CAROL: But you don’t know anything about it - do you?
Helen comes from the bar with a slip of paper that she takes to the desk and discusses inaudibly with Zenobia. Hearing something of the following conversation she takes notice and returns rather more urgently to the bar.
JIM: Not a thing. But he said that was what was wanted. Keeping an open mind and all that.
CAROL: Sounds fishy to me.
CAROL: Sorry, it just slipped out. But the people on these committees - they may not be specialists in the subject, but they’re usually distinguished in some field or other. And I don’t mean to disparage you, dear, but being a redundant lecturer isn’t all that great a distinction.
JIM: Hmm. He said something about my position looking good on reports. You don’t think he could have mistaken me for someone else, do you?
CAROL: It looks rather like it. But who?
JIM: How should I know? I’m not a mind-reader.
CAROL: Well, I should play him along if I were you. We could use that ten thousand.
Helen returns with Anne.
JIM: I know. But when he finds out ...
CAROL: Who says he’s going to?
HELEN: (quietly) Excuse me, Sir Charles ... (Jim takes no notice. More loudly) Excuse me.
HELEN: I don’t mean to blow your incognito, but we weren’t told what name you were using.
JIM: What the dickens are you talking about?
HELEN: Oh, I’m sorry ... My mistake. (Sotto voce) Right, we’ll keep up the pretence. But we must speak with you - in private. (She scribbles a brief note on a slip of paper and surreptitiously slips it into his pocket).
CAROL: What is all this?
HELEN: Just a case of mistaken identity, I’m afraid. I’m sorry to have bothered you. Come on, Anne.
Helen and Anne exit UC.
CAROL: What on earth’s going on?
JIM: Search me.
She does, and retrieves Helen’s note.
CAROL: "Cabin 206, nine o’clock." Why, you two-timing rat!
JIM: Honestly, Carol, I don’t understand it any more than you do.
CAROL: That’s what they all say.
JIM: Who do?
CAROL: Philanderers when they’re found out.
JIM: But I’ve never seen the woman before this holiday!
CAROL: All right, I was only joking. But it’s the standard response, isn’t it? Though frankly I can’t see you being that quick off the mark.
JIM: Thank goodness for that!
CAROL: And Phil Anders or whoever he is would probably be less obvious. What are you going to do about it?
JIM: I don’t know. What do you think?
CAROL: It’s peculiar, but I’m interested. I think you should keep the assignation.
JIM: Are you sure?
CAROL: Yes. But I’m coming too! What’s the time now?
JIM: Ten to nine.
CAROL: Then we’d better get our drinks and be on our way.
Jim and Carol exit to the bar.
Karen, Vera, Nerys, Ursula, Linda and Freda enter from the restaurant and approach the desk. During the following conversation, Karen surreptitiously puts an envelope on the desk.
ZENOBIA: Good evening, ladies. What can I do for you?
KAREN: Er - I’m afraid this is a bit embarrassing -
KAREN: It’s about tomorrow evening. - we were going to give another recital, you remember.
ZENOBIA: Of course ...
KAREN: But after last night -
VERA: It really was intolerable.
NERYS: It was quite impossible to concentrate. How we ever managed to keep together goodness only knows.
URSULA: I’m afraid I didn’t at times.
LINDA: Didn’t you? I didn’t notice.
VERA: I did - but they were tricky bits anyway.
ZENOBIA: Ladies -
KAREN: I’m sorry, we’re wasting your time. The point is - I’m sorry -
FREDA: For goodness’ sake stop beating about the bush. The point is that we simply can’t perform again under those conditions or anything like them.
KAREN: Quite. I’m dreadfully sorry to let you down, but in the circumstances ...
ZENOBIA: Please don’t worry about it. I was talking to Orville about it earlier - we can’t expect you to put up with that sort of background again.
ZENOBIA: Actually three of the bridge party were very embarrassed and apologetic about it.
FREDA: I should hope so - and I can guess who the odd one is.
LINDA: It isn’t exactly a Mastermind question.
URSULA: We don’t like letting people down ...
ZENOBIA: Of course you don’t. That’s understood.
URSULA: But can you find anything else to fill the slot?
ZENOBIA: Maybe. But it isn’t the end of the world if we don’t. Please don’t worry about it.
KAREN: Thanks for being so understanding. It’s a great relief.
The sextet troops off to the lounge.
ORVILLE: It looks as though we may need your "Find the sleuth" game.
ZENOBIA: I’ll try to work something out.
George and Brian enter from the lounge.
GEORGE: Damn - missed them.
BRIAN: Can’t be by much. Did you manage to set up that bug?
GEORGE: Yes, on the party wall in 208, back of the closet. Someone left the door open to visit another cabin. We should pick up anything that’s going on in 206.
BRIAN: Good. Better go and monitor it. I’ll keep an eye on Schlossberger.
They leave, Brian left, George DR.
Tom enters right and approaches the desk.
TOM: Have you a moment, Zena?
ZENOBIA: Yes, certainly.
TOM: I hear that the plans for tomorrow’s entertainment have fallen through.
ZENOBIA: Yes, I’m afraid so. The sextet felt that they couldn’t perform adequately in the conditions - you know what last night was like.
TOM: The wonder is they carried on as they did. Well, I’ve an idea for a little alternative.
ZENOBIA: That could be very helpful. What is it?
TOM: You remember I was asking earlier about Grigori?
ZENOBIA: About his being one of the Onegins, yes.
TOM: And I’m sure you know Pushkin’s piece about the egregious Eugene, or at least the opera on the subject.
ZENOBIA: Only in outline, I’m afraid.
TOM: The bit about his fatal duel with Lensky, at any rate.
ZENOBIA: Yes, but ...?
TOM: Well, Lensky wasn’t quite the innocent that people suppose. In fact he had an illegitimate daughter.
ZENOBIA: (not very interested) Oh?
TOM: And to cut a long story short, I’m a fairly distant descendant of hers. I’ve had a word with Grigori, and I gather tomorrow’s his day off. He’s quite willing, as a bit of amusement, to have a spoof duel that may or may not even the score.
ZENOBIA: By spoof, I hope you mean without lethal weapons?
TOM: Of course. No weapons, no injuries, no mess on the floor - at least, none that can’t easily be cleared up.
ZENOBIA: That’s a relief! What sort of duel, then?
TOM: A battle with paper darts - see who can get the most into a suitable receptacle. And after we’ve done our bit, anyone who feels like it can have a go.
ZENOBIA: Hmm - sounds a possibility. I’ll have a word with Orville about it. Thanks for the suggestion.
TOM: You’re welcome.
Jim and Carol enter DR.
TOM: Hello, returning to the fray?
CAROL: Yes, I fancy a nightcap. Will you join us?
TOM: Thanks, but will you excuse me? I’ve a little problem that needs some attention.
JIM: Nothing serious, I hope?
TOM: Fortunately not, but thank you. By the way, have you thought about that little matter we were discussing earlier?
JIM: Yes, but I’m still thinking.
TOM: No desperate hurry. Good night.
Tom and Carol head for the bar but ..
ZENOBIA: Oh, Mr. Cartwright ...
ZENOBIA: There’s an envelope here addressed to you.
JIM: Oh? Who from?
ZENOBIA: I’ve only just noticed it. I think Miss Pargeter must have left it a few minutes ago.
JIM: Without comment?
ZENOBIA: She didn’t say anything about it. But then she had something else on her mind. Of course I can’t be sure it was her.
CAROL: How many women do you have chasing you?
JIM: Now don’t start that again. It’s getting embarrassing.
CAROL: I wonder why you’ve suddenly become attractive to so many of them.
JIM: Come off it. Helen was only interested in business. We’ve no idea what this is about. And in any case, two hardly amount to "so many."
CAROL: Don’t forget me.
JIM: You’re not chasing - you bagged me long ago.
CAROL: That may not stop you wriggling.
JIM: You needn’t worry. I don’t even know who Miss Pargeter is.
ZENOBIA: She leads the choral sextet that performed last night.
CAROL: Oh, it’s Karen. I didn’t know her surname.
CAROL: Well, you’re right. I don’t think I do need worry too much there.
CAROL: Miaow yourself. You weren’t any too flattering last night. Anyway, what’s in that envelope?
JIM: It’s addressed only to me.
CAROL: Don’t give me that. Come on, open up!
Jim opens the envelope, takes out a single sheet of paper and looks startled.
JIM: It’s marked "Confidential."
CAROL: Let me see.
JIM: Not here, I think.
He returns the sheet to the envelope, pockets it, and they depart to the bar.
George enters DR and heads for the bar but bumps into Brian emerging from it.
BRIAN: Ah, there you are. Any luck?
GEORGE: Total washout, I’m afraid.
BRIAN: What went wrong?
GEORGE: I dunno. All I got was a buzzing noise. Well, practically all.
GEORGE: There were women’s voices in the background, but nothing intelligible.
BRIAN: Win some, lose some. Come and have a drink.
Both leave left.
Enter Orville DR.
ORVILLE: Have you had a chance to finish those lists?
ZENOBIA: Yes, here they are.
He posts them on the easel. A moment later the engine sound slackens enough for him to notice.
ORVILLE: Hello ...
ORVILLE: We’re slowing down.
ZENOBIA: Coming to a lock?
ORVILLE: Shouldn’t be - we’re not due for another couple of hours or so. I’ll nip up to the bridge and see what’s happening.
Enter Brian left.
BRIAN: We seem to be slowing down.
ZENOBIA: Yes. Orville’s just gone to find out why.
BRIAN: Something untoward, then.
ZENOBIA: It looks like it.
The telephone rings and Zenobia answers.
ZENOBIA: Reception ... No, he’s just gone up to the bridge ... I see. Right. (Replacing the receiver) Damn!
ZENOBIA: Yes. Orville’s getting briefed about them. He’ll explain in a few minutes.
Nerys enters from the bar.
NERYS: People are saying that something’s wrong. What’s happening?
ZENOBIA: I’m not sure, but it’s nothing directly affecting the ship. Orville’s gone to find out - he shouldn’t be long.
An assorted crowd emerges from the bar and mills around in a confused hubbub. Queenie’s voice inevitably rises above it.
QUEENIE: What the hell’s going on, that’s what I want to know.
ZENOBIA: We all do, but if you’ll try to be patient for a moment ...
QUEENIE: Patient? Why should I be patient? We’ve a right to know.
ZENOBIA: You will, as soon as we have anything to tell you.
Orville enters UC and has almost to fight his way to the desk. He uses a mobile phone as roving microphone for the public address system.
ORVILLE: Can I have your attention, please, ladies and gentlemen? (The noise gradually subsides) Thank you. You’ve probably noticed that the ship has slowed down - in fact, we’ve all but stopped. If you’ve looked at the river ahead you’ll have seen an unusual cluster of lights; there’s a kind of traffic jam.
BRIAN: Why? What’s happening?
ORVILLE: It seems that a barge about ten miles ahead was badly loaded, the cargo shifted, and with the resulting damage the vessel sank.
GEORGE: Can’t we get past it? Surely the river’s wide enough.
ORVILLE: That’s true, but much of it is shallow. The barge skipper apparently tried to get out of the deep channel when he realised he was going down, but when the bow struck, the current swung the stern round and the wreck lies cross-ways.
TOM: Right across?
ORVILLE: Practically. Small craft can get by, but nothing this size.
FREDA: So we’re stuck?
ORVILLE: Not quite. We’re going slowly ahead, and the river authorities are bringing up a lifting vessel in the hope of swinging the stern of the wreck far enough to allow one-way traffic, but it’s going to take time. Those things can’t move fast. And of course even then we’ll have to wait at times for traffic coming the other way - probably at reduced speed.
HELEN: So what about tomorrow’s programme?
ORVILLE: Washed out, I’m afraid. There’s no chance at all of docking as we intended. We shall of course refund the cost of any excursions that have to be cancelled. I don’t expect any more news tonight, but if I hear anything definite at a reasonable hour, I’ll let you know. Thank you.
Most of the crowd disperses, except Queenie.
ORVILLE: Well, Zenobia, it looks as though we’ll need all the ideas for entertainment that we can get. Better work up your "Spot the sleuth" idea.
ZENOBIA: Do you think it’ll be more than a day’s delay?
ORVILLE: I didn’t like to say, but we’ll be lucky if it isn’t. Keep quiet unless people ask.
QUEENIE: (quietly) Do you know what happened to the barge crew?
ORVILLE: They’ve been taken off. They were never in any real danger - didn’t even get their feet wet, apparently.
QUEENIE: Thank you. Good night.
ORVILLE: Good night.
He turns to Zenobia, then suddenly registers the incongruity and stares in astonishment after Queenie as she leaves DR.
ORVILLE: Good lord!
Lights and engine sound fade out.
Fade in the next morning. The engine rumble has ceased. Orville and Zenobia are still at the desk.
Enter Karen DR.
KAREN: I say - you haven’t been here all night, have you?
ORVILLE: No, it just feels like it. Actually we packed up not long after the big announcement.
KAREN: Is there any news?
ORVILLE: Afraid not. None that I’ve heard, anyway. You probably realised we’ve anchored.
KAREN: Yes, I heard the racket. No point in wasting fuel if we aren’t going anywhere, I suppose.
ORVILLE: Exactly. Sorry if it disturbed you.
KAREN: Couldn’t be helped. But we were thinking - with not docking, and I don’t suppose there’s any chance of being ferried ashore ...
ORVILLE: Not really. There’s nothing for you along this stretch anyway.
KAREN: It does look pretty industrial. ... so with people being at a loose end on board it would really be rather inconsiderate not to have this evening’s recital, for all that we said last night; would you like to reinstate it?
ORVILLE: That would be very helpful - thanks very much.
ZENOBIA: Actually ...
ZENOBIA: I think the bridge school’s broken up, so you shouldn’t have the same problem.
ORVILLE: Unless Mrs. Schlossberger manages to assemble another coterie.
ZENOBIA: From what people have said it doesn’t seem very likely. I’ve never known anyone to make herself quite so unpopular in so short a time - that’s just between ourselves, of course.
KAREN: Of course. You might almost think she was doing it deliberately. Anyway, I think I hear the others coming - I mustn’t disturb you any longer.
Exit right to the restaurant. Vera, Ursula and Linda enter DR chattering inconsequentially and follow, exchanging brief greetings with Orville and Zenobia in passing.
ORVILLE: "Doing it deliberately" ... I wonder.
ORVILLE: Sorry - I was talking to myself.
ZENOBIA: Careful - you know what they say!
ORVILLE: Yes. But I wonder if Miss Pargeter could have had something there. Did you notice last night ... ?
ORVILLE: After the announcement about the hold-up, no one showed the slightest concern for anything but their own interests - except one.
ZENOBIA: Mrs. Schlossberger.
ORVILLE: Yes. She of all people the only one to show any sign of human kindness. Extraordinary.
ZENOBIA: You think she’s putting on an act for some reason?
ORVILLE: Maybe. Goodness knows why. And there are one or two other odd things going on aboard this boat.
ZENOBIA: That mystery around Mr. Cartwright, you mean?
ORVILLE: That’s one of them. I think perhaps you’d better identify your Miss Marple fairly quickly.
Freda and Nerys enter DR and approach the desk.
FREDA: Good morning, Zena. Any news?
ZENOBIA: Nothing so far, I’m afraid. Mind you, I expect every effort will be made to clear the channel quickly - an awful lot of traffic is being held up.
FREDA: I suppose so. There’s one other thing ...
FREDA: I think someone’s been poking around in our cabin.
FREDA: When I went to get something from the closet last night, I found this stuck to the back wall behind some clothing. I don’t remember its being there before.
She hands over the bug placed by George the previous evening.
ZENOBIA: What is it?
ORVILLE: May I see? (Zenobia passes it to him) Hmm. I think it might be some kind of eavesdropping device. Was anything missing?
FREDA: I don’t think so. I’ve checked everything of any value.
ORVILLE: You say you don’t remember it before?
FREDA: I’m pretty sure it wasn’t there when I unpacked, or I’d have noticed.
ORVILLE: That’s worrying. Better be a bit careful about locking when you’re out.
NERYS: Come on - I want my breakfast!
FREDA: Sorry -
They move to the restaurant.
ZENOBIA: Should we issue a general warning? In case anyone does lose something?
ORVILLE: It’s a thought. Better not make an issue of it, though - don’t want to start a panic, along with all our other worries.
ZENOBIA: Legally, I think we’d be covered by the note in the ship’s information leaflet.
ORVILLE: Leave it at that, then, unless something else crops up.
Enter Jim and Carol DR.
JIM: Morning, Zena - Orville. No news, I suppose?
ORVILLE: I’m afraid not. Though the lifting vessel should be getting pretty close by now.
CAROL: And how long after ... ?
ORVILLE: There’s no telling. It depends on how the wreck’s lying. Sometimes the only way is to retrieve the cargo and dismantle the hull.
JIM: But that could take ages!
ORVILLE: They’re pretty nifty at it, I’m told. But it would certainly mean more delay. Let’s hope it isn’t necessary.
JIM: So this is a fairly regular occurrence?
ORVILLE: Two or three times a year, apparently. So procedures are well established.
Enter Evelyn DR.
EVELYN: Good morning, Mr. Cartwright.
JIM: Oh - morning.
EVELYN: May I have a word with you?
JIM: Yes, certainly. You’d better get your breakfast, Carol.
EVELYN: Actually this concerns both of you. (She draws them aside; sotto voce) I don’t want to worry you, Sir Charles, but ...
JIM: Look here, this is getting monotonous. What on earth is all this "Sir Charles" business?
EVELYN: Yes, yes, I know you have to keep up the incognito, but this is rather urgent. We’ve established that the kidnap gang is fairly definitely aboard -
CAROL: Kidnap gang?
EVELYN: Sh! - but we’re not quite sure who it may be.
JIM: It’s getting more than monotonous now - positively ridiculous!
EVELYN: I’m afraid our intelligence isn’t as good as it might be.
JIM: (with feeling) You can say that again!
CAROL: No, remember - (in a cod French accent) "I shall say this only once!"
EVELYN: Please, be serious!
JIM: How the hell can we take all this nonsense seriously?
EVELYN: All right, keep up the pretence. It won’t do any harm - but I doubt if it’ll do any good.
CAROL: What’s the use of arguing, Jim? No one believes you.
George and Ursula enter DR and go quietly to the desk.
JIM: All right. Just for the sake of argument - What did you want to tell us?
EVELYN: Nothing specific -
CAROL: After all that!
EVELYN: (ignoring her) - just a general warning. With the ship at anchor you’re more vulnerable - it would be much easier to get you off than when we’re under way. It may be that the hold-up has been deliberately engineered for that purpose -
CAROL: This is getting worse than ridiculous!
EVELYN: - and I noticed a couple of suspicious-looking approaches last night.
JIM: What, Helen Booth and Tom Grainger? One of them was giving us much the same warning as yours -
EVELYN: Which was that?
EVELYN: Well, it might be genuine - the department’s motto does seem to be "Let not thy left hand know what the right doeth." But it might be a ploy. And the other?
JIM: Tom was offering me a job.
EVELYN: Ah. I should be particularly careful of that. Well, enjoy your breakfast - but keep your eyes open.
George and Ursula cross to Jim.
GEORGE: Excuse me ...
JIM: Oh, not another one!
GEORGE: I’m sorry?
JIM: (repentant) No, it’s I who should be sorry. For the rudeness. It’s just that I keep getting accosted ...
GEORGE: The price of celebrity, I’m afraid.
JIM: But ...
CAROL: Remember - no one believes it.
GEORGE: (mystified) Eh?
JIM: Just something between Carol and me. Is this another warning?
GEORGE: You’ve had some already?
JIM: I’m losing count.
GEORGE: Well, be careful. I don’t think all these people are as innocent as they seem.
CAROL: What do you mean?
GEORGE: Some of the warnings may be just to misdirect your caution.
JIM: In other words, don’t trust anyone?
GEORGE: That’s about it. I can’t tell you anything more definite.
CAROL: So can we get our breakfast now? I’m ravenous.
GEORGE: Then enjoy it!
Carol and Jim move towards the restaurant, in that order.
A paper dart sails out of the lounge and Tom follows to retrieve it.
ORVILLE: Practising for the duel?
TOM: Partly that, partly checking what sort of range would be sensible.
ZENOBIA: Does Grigori know you’re stealing a march on him?
TOM: Being descended from a bastard doesn’t mean I have to behave like one! We’re doing this together. Oh, Jim!
JIM: (turning back) Yes?
TOM: Are you still thinking about you know what?
JIM: On reflection I think better not. But thanks for the offer, all the same.
TOM: Is that definite?
JIM: Yes. Sorry.
TOM: Well, it was worth trying.
Jim continues to the restaurant.
TOM: Oh, Orville, for the time being we’ve got a packing case for use as a target, but it isn’t terribly sightly. Is there anything that would be a bit more dignified for the actual occasion?
ORVILLE: How big should it be?
TOM: Well, the case is roughly a couple of feet square.
ORVILLE: I can’t think of anything that might serve any better. Tell you what, though ...
ORVILLE: One of the deck hands is good at making decorations. I could ask him to tart the case up a bit.
TOM: That sounds as good as anything. Thanks.
Exit to the lounge.
GEORGE: What was all that about?
ORVILLE: He suggested a kind of darts match as a form of entertainment and to settle some kind of family feud.
The desk telephone rings and Zenobia answers.
ZENOBIA: Reception ... Yes ... Oh, I see. He’s having his breakfast just now - I think we should be able to get him quite quickly ... (to Orville) Telephone call for Mr. Cartwright ...
GEORGE: I’m going in - shall I tell him?
ZENOBIA: Thank you. It’s rather urgent.
Exit to restaurant.
ZENOBIA: It’s the consulate.
ORVILLE: Something to do with whatever funny business is going on?
ZENOBIA: They said it was personal.
ORVILLE: That could mean quite a lot of things.
Enter Jim right, chewing a mouthful of toast.
ZENOBIA: I’m sorry to interrupt your breakfast ...
JIM: Quite all right. Mr. Farrell said it was supposed to be urgent. (Taking the telephone) Hello? ... Yes ... I see; how serious? ... Right. Full marks for efficiency. Thank you. ’Bye. (Replacing the receiver) I’m afraid that means more disturbance ...
Enter Carol right
CAROL: What is it, dear?
JIM: It’s mother - she had a severe stroke during the night - isn’t expected to last the day. (To Orville) They’re sending a boat to take me off - can you tidy up any loose ends here?
ORVILLE: Of course. I’m sorry about your mother ...
JIM: Thanks, but it isn’t altogether unexpected. She’s had a nasty do before.
ORVILLE: You’ll both be going, I suppose?
JIM: (glancing at Carol, who shakes her head) No, she and Carol could never get on. Best I go by myself. And now I’d better throw some luggage together.
ORVILLE: I can’t say I’m used to this sort of situation - thank goodness - but the consulate does seem to be pulling out the stops more enthusiastically than I’d expect.
CAROL: Well, Jim’s brother has a few strings and doesn’t mind pulling them.
ORVILLE: Not what you know but who you know, eh?
CAROL: Something like that. I’d better go and make sure that he hasn’t forgotten anything vital.
Exit DR. A launch is heard approaching, coming alongside and stopping with engine idling. A slight bump is followed by the appearance of Pat UC carrying a bundle of newspapers.
PAT: Hello, I’m from the consulate.
ZENOBIA: Yes, we were expecting you. Mr. Cartwright isn’t quite ready yet - shall I give him a ring to hurry up?
PAT: No, there’s no desperate hurry. By the way, with your being stuck here, I thought you might like to have some of today’s papers that came in on the morning flight.
ZENOBIA: That’s a kind thought. I’m sure our people will be very grateful.
PAT: They’ll have to share, I’m afraid.
ZENOBIA: Of course. I’ll make an announcement. (On the PA system) Can I have your attention, please. I’m sorry there’s still no definite news of the hold-up, but by courtesy of the consulate we have some of today’s British newspapers at the reception desk. As there are only a few, please don’t take them away.
Mike, Sue, Walter, Dennis, Yvette and Evelyn are already entering DR heading for the restaurant, but divert towards the desk.
WALTER: What have we got here? Telegraph, Times - of course - Guardian, Mail and Express.
He picks one and moves slightly away from the desk. During his reading, other passengers enter and hover, listening.
DENNIS: Has it got the Test score?
SUE: (to Mike) If your head’s really bad, Zena may have some aspirin.
MIKE: It usually upsets my stomach. Don’t worry, I’ll survive.
WALTER: Hey, look at this!
WALTER: A photo of someone who looks a bit like that Cartwright chap.
YVETTE: What about him?
EVELYN: Read it out, Walter.
WALTER: All right. "The millionaire industrialist Sir Charles Carter was attacked last night outside his home in Bromley. One of the assailants was armed but was thwarted by Sir Charles’s dog Pickles, which bit him and caused an accidental discharge of the firearm, wounding the accomplice. Both are now under police guard in hospital." These muggings are getting altogether too much!
SUE: (looking from one side) There’s a bit more.
WALTER: Oh, yes. "Sir Charles is due to attend crucial talks on the continent about a rescue package for the vast Broadarch assembly plant, which is vital to the economy of the area, and the attack is suspected to be the work of criminal gangs that have shown signs of wanting to take over the town for their own purposes. Asked if this would affect his plans Sir Charles said it would not, as he had suffered only superficial facial injuries and the meeting wasn’t a beauty competition."
YVETTE: Shows a healthy sense of humour, at any rate. How badly was he hurt?
WALTER: Can’t see. The photo isn’t really all that good.
SUE: Nice one of the dog, though.
MIKE: There would be. Anything else?
WALTER: (cursorily scanning the pages) Nothing much ... another politician caught with his pants down ...
EVELYN: Come on, I want my breakfast!
WALTER: Right-o. (Returning the paper to the desk) Thanks, Zena.
Queenie enters DR and heads for the desk, then notices Pat.
QUEENIE: Pat McCarthy! What on earth are you doing here?
PAT: Just running an errand. Collecting a passenger with a domestic emergency.
QUEENIE: Ah, yes. I heard about that.
PAT: And you?
QUEENIE: (moving him away from the desk) Keeping an eye on the Carter look-alike.
PAT: Has he twigged?
QUEENIE: I doubt it - too much competition. I’ve spotted people from DEFRA, the DTI, Metropolitan Police, MI6 - and they’re just the ones I remember seeing somewhere before. Goodness knows who else, and how many others if there’d been more vacancies on the cruise.
PAT: Might any of them remember you?
QUEENIE: I doubt it. They were only passing contacts, at most. The wig makes an enormous difference.
PAT: And with that corny accent they probably think you’re CIA.
QUEENIE: Perhaps, if I hadn’t made myself conspicuously objectionable to all and sundry.
PAT: I thought they did that naturally.
QUEENIE: Better be careful where you say that. Anyway, it’s a pity we can’t keep it up a bit longer, though I shan’t be sorry to drop the pose. I think I shall suddenly see the light with apologies and drinks all round on the last night.
PAT: How’s your boss on expenses?
QUEENIE: Reasonable - I don’t push them. Though on reflection it had better be drinks for a selected few. And perhaps I’d better be a bit less sudden about it. Now, one or two things to discuss - in the lounge, I think.
They exit left.
ZENOBIA: Do you ever get the impression that we might as well be part of the wallpaper?
ORVILLE: Yes, and we keep it that way - no mention of anything overheard except in real need for a serious reason. Anyway, it looks as though your "Spot the sleuth" game would have had altogether too many targets.
ZENOBIA: Might have been harder to spot the non-sleuth.
ORVILLE: By the way - I’ve been meaning to ask, though it seems a bit of an impertinence - how did you come to have such an unusual name?
ZENOBIA: Well, the original Zenobia was a famous queen of Palmyra in the third century.
ORVILLE: Famous for what?
ZENOBIA: Getting her own way, mostly, until she came up against a Roman general. I suspect she got him in the end, too.
ORVILLE: And do you always get your own way?
ZENOBIA: Quite often!
ORVILLE: I’ll bear that in mind. But what’s the connection with Palmyra?
ZENOBIA: That’s where my parents met. Dad was working on an archaeological dig, and Mum was a British Council teacher there.
ORVILLE: They sound an interesting couple.
ZENOBIA: They are. I think you’d like to meet them.
ORVILLE: And I think you may be right.
The telephone rings and Zenobia answers.
ZENOBIA: Reception ... Yes ... Right, I’ll tell him. (Replacing the receiver) The captain would like to see you on the bridge.
ORVILLE: I’m on my way.
Exit UC. Pat and Queenie enter left at about the same time as Jim and Carol DR. Jim carries a small travel bag.
QUEENIE: Hey, Zenobia, about that complaint I was going to make last night - forget it. In fact I think I owe you an apology.
ZENOBIA: (surprised) Oh. That’s all right.
QUEENIE: Thank you. Now some of those bits of glassware in the shop caught my eye - could I have a closer look at them?
ZENOBIA: Of course.
She finds the appropriate keys and accompanies Queenie DR.
PAT: Ready now, Sir?
JIM: You go ahead. I’ll be with you in a few minutes.
PAT: Of course - understood. Shall I take your bag?
JIM: Er - yes, thank you.
PAT: Goodbye, Mrs. Cartwright.
CAROL: Goodbye. Look after him, won’t you?
PAT: I shall.
Exit UC, with the bag.
JIM: And you look after yourself. I’m sorry to leave you ...
CAROL: It was my own choice. Now get along - don’t keep him waiting any longer.
JIM: Right. (After a brief embrace) ’Bye, dear. See you soon.
CAROL: ’Bye. (In a clearly audible whisper) Good luck, Charles.
Exit Jim UC. Carol slowly follows and leans on the rail. The launch is heard to rev up its engine with much splashing, and as the sound fades Carol follows with her eyes into the distance.