The Usual Place

Lights up in The Usual Place, a greasy spoon café somewhere in Chicago. It’s a rather sleazy café as far as cafés go, but it still has a certain charm to it. There are a lot of neon signs and wooden brewery posters up on the wall advertising drinks the restaurant does not sell. Many couches and easy chairs line the walls of the room and the café is dotted with small tables. The smell of cappuccino and dishwater lingers heavy in the air. It’s raining heavily outside. A waitress, VALERIE, sits looking generally disinterested behind the counter chewing her usual bubble gum and filing her nails. She is thin and wears her hair in that ugly waitress style. You know the one. She sports a New Jersey accent despite the fact she lives in Chicago. A larger, older man in a vest, LESTER, is cleaning things around the room and trying to make the place as pleasant as possible. Lester is the owner of The Usual Place and it is his pride and joy. PRESTON, a neurotic businessman reading a newspaper, sits alone in the back of the café with a cup of coffee. Next to him sits a black briefcase with a logo that reads “Lava Java” that will later turn out to be IMPORTANT. Smooth jazz plays in the background. The front door is DR with a door to the backroom UR and a brewing table in between them.

 LESTER: Hey, is it still raining?

VALERIE: Cats and dogs.

LESTER: Maybe that’s why business is so slow today.

VALERIE: Mmhm.

LESTER: Or the traffic.

VALERIE: Lester, it’s a Tuesday afternoon. No one goes out on Tuesday.

LESTER: People go out on Tuesday.

VALERIE: No they don’t.

LESTER: I went out on Tuesday last week.

VALERIE: Tuesday is out, hon. No one who’s in style goes out on Tuesday. (PRESTON coughs and readjusts his newspaper. They ignore him.)

LESTER: How can Tuesday be “out?” It’s Tuesday.

VALERIE: I don’t know, it just is.

LESTER: Who says?

VALERIE: The papers. The magazines. Don’t you read? Honestly, Lester, you’re so uncultured sometimes.

LESTER: Well then culture me a little. What is “in?”

VALERIE: Wednesday.

LESTER: Wednesday.

VALERIE: Wednesday and Arbor Day. Arbor Day is very in right now.

LESTER: How can Arbor Day be in when Tuesday ain’t?

VALERIE: I don’t know, that’s just the way it works!

LESTER: Help me with these dishes.

VALERIE: No.

LESTER: Why not, are dishes out too?

VALERIE: Oh no, dishes are in and washing them is very fashionable, but I’m on my break.

LESTER: You’re not on break for another hour.

VALERIE: I’m on lunch.

LESTER: Val, it’s 3 ‘o clock.

VALERIE: No I mean I’m sitting on a croissant roll.

LESTER: Get offa that! That’s for the customers!

VALERIE: (Takes the croissant roll from underneath her and offers it to Preston.) Croissant roll? (Preston peeps over his paper, shakes his head and goes back to reading.) Oh well, I tried. (She takes a bite of the croissant.) Eh. (Puts it back on the counter and begins filing her nails again, probably on top of the croissant roll.)

LESTER: Valerie, stop filing your nails on the counter.

VALERIE: Well then where should I file them?

LESTER: Don’t file them at all!

VALERIE: Have you seen my nails? If I don’t trim them I’ll look like a cougar. (She does a little cat gesture.) Rawr.

LESTER: You are a cougar.

VALERIE:  One time I flirt with a minor and you just won’t let it go.

LESTER: He was fourteen!

VALERIE: How was I supposed to know? In my defense, he was very tall and had he had a masculine jaw line.

LESTER: He was wearing a Spongebob t-shirt.

VALERIE: What can I say? I like a man in yellow.

LESTER: See? You are a cougar.

VALERIE: I choose to take that as a compliment. (Preston takes a sip of his coffee)

LESTER: Just don’t file your nails on the food.

VALERIE: Fine, I’ll just file them over the coffee, like usual. (Preston stops mid-sip, spits the coffee back into his cup nonchalantly and puts it back on the table. He goes back to reading.)

LESTER: (Noticing Preston) Oh, sir, no. I’m sorry about my waitress. (Valerie does a little wave) Don’t worry, there’s no fingernails in the coffee. I guarantee it. See? (He gestures to a poster on the wall) It’s our company policy. “No fingernails in your coffee, guaranteed.”

VALERIE: There is rat crap in it though.

LESTER: (Throws his dish towel at her) She’s just kidding. Here, let me get to you something to make it up to you. I’ll get you something for free. You want something to eat? Bagel?

PRESTON: Um, no thank you.

LESTER: A donut? Tea?

PRESTON: I’m really not hungry.

VALERIE: (Holding up the half-eaten croissant roll) Croissant roll?

PRESTON: No.

LESTER: Aw come on, I insist. You want another coffee? I can get you another coffee. It’s on the house.

PRESTON: No, thank you.

LESTER: Really it’s no trouble at all.

PRESTON: Sir, please. I don’t want anything. Thanks. (He begins to read his newspaper again)

LESTER: I’ll get you a coffee. (Goes behind the counter)

PRESTON: (Getting up and following him) No, sir, please! I don’t want another coffee. I’ve already had my caffeine intake for the day and I don’t want to over-stimulate myself.

LESTER: (Brewing) Come on, live a little!

PRESTON: You don’t understand, sir. I can’t exceed my allotted coffee allowance! If I do I get… nervous.

VALERIE: Oh, what’s wrong with being a little nervous?

PRESTON: Everything. I begin to get… jittery. Things scare me. Birds. Trains. That bit at the top of the escalator where it goes back into the floor. People. Oh, especially people.  I- I can’t talk to them. I become afraid. Afraid that they won’t listen to what I have to say, or that they won’t like what I have to say and that they’ll yell at me or stab me.

VALERIE: Stab you? Honey, that’s ridiculous. This is Chicago. No one here is going to stab you. They’ll shoot you instead. It’s much quicker.

PRESTON: Oh my.

LESTER: Stop scarin’ the man, Val. Here’s your coffee. (Offers it to him) Well go on. Take it.

PRESTON: I can’t.

LESTER: Why not?

PRESTON: I’ll be shot.

LESTER: You’ll be fine, take the coffee.

PRESTON: I can’t be shot today. I have a very important meeting at three thirty. I can be shot tomorrow but I can’t be shot today.

LESTER: Drink the coffee.

PRESTON: Maybe I’ll take the coffee tomorrow.

VALERIE: Great idea, hon. Wednesdays are very in.

LESTER: I brewed it especially for you.

PRESTON: I can’t get blood on this suit, either. It’s a rental. If I get blood on it the rental people will start asking me questions that I am not ready to answer.

LESTER: Well if you’d drink the coffee then you’ll have the energy to run away from the guy shooting you!

PRESTON: I think you’re overestimating my athletic ability.

LESTER: Just drink the damn coffee!

PRESTON: You’re getting angry! See, I knew this would happen, I knew it!

LESTER: I’m not angry! I just want you to drink the coffee!

PRESTON: This is escalating. The conflict is escalating! (Preston begins to freak out. He removes a handkerchief from his pocket to wipe his brow and breathes slowly and deeply. He closes his eyes.)…One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six-

LESTER: What are you doing?

PRESTON: (Reciting neurotically) Stress Tip #4: The Kindergarten Teacher: If a situation is getting too stressful, simply close your eyes and count to ten. Counting to ten will allow time for the situation to calm down and will ease both you and those around you. You made me lose count. I have to start over. One. Two. Three-

LESTER: What are you talking about, no one’s stressed here-

PRESTON: (More neurotic) One. Two. Three. Four-

VALERIE: Oh let him do his little therapy thing Lester. Counting is very in, you know.

LESTER: He’s gonna scare the other customers away!

PRESTON: (Even more so) ONE. TWO. THREE. FOUR. FIVE.

VALERIE: What other customers, Lester? Nobody ever comes in here!

PRESTON: ONE! TWO! THREE!!!

LESTER: Well fine. Then you drink the coffee.

VALERIE: I don’t want your rat crap coffee!

PRESTON: (In one breath) One two three four five six seven eight nine ten!!!

VALERIE: (Beat) Well I don’t know about you two, but that counting sure eased me. (Loud thunder booms from outside.)

PRESTON: Okay! Okay. Not working. (He stiffly walks over to his table and buries his face in his newspaper.)

LESTER: What is he doing? What is this?

VALERIE: Don’t be so rude. I’ll ask him. (Walks over to Preston) Hey. What’re ya doin’, sir? (Rips the newspaper out of his hands. He sits in the exact same spot and acts like the newspaper is still there, determinedly reading its invisible words and avoiding her gaze.) Sir? (No response) …Hello?

PRESTON: (Quickly and quietly) Stress Tip #25: The Switzerland: If all else fails just ignore the problem and it will go away eventually. (He continues to sit and intensely stare at a newspaper that isn’t there.)

VALERIE: (Waves her hand in front of his eyes. No response.)…Huh.

LESTER: Great, now we got that sitting in the back of my café.

VALERIE: (Balancing a cup on his head) I dunno, I kinda like him. I think we could make a game or something outta this.

LESTER: What are people going to think when they see that?

VALERIE: Well they’re certainly not going to think our drinks are very well-caffeinated.

(The bell over the door rings. Two sopping wet girls in rain coats, JASMINE and COLE, enter holding umbrellas. They are each about 26 years old and both attractive, though Jasmine should be strikingly pretty. Jasmine is wearing a hat that covers most of her face.)

COLE: Ugh, finally. It’s feels great to be somewhere dry again! (She takes off her raincoat) Is there a place where I can put this awful thing?

LESTER: (Excited to have customers) Certainly miss! Welcome to The Usual Place! (To Valerie) Could you take care of our other customer for me, Val?

VALERIE: Who, the stiff? (Lester does a cut motion across his neck.) Oh, right. Him. Gotcha. I’ll be right over Mr. Stiff, sir. (Valerie pretends to write down his order. As the scene goes on Valerie looks for various ways to hide Preston, but she can’t move him. Eventually she brings out the dishrag Lester threw at her and drapes it over Preston’s head, leaving him comically exposed)

LESTER: (To Cole, taking her raincoat) I’m afraid we don’t have a coat rack, miss. Do you mind if I just put this in the back?

COLE: As long as it’s not on me, I do not care. Heck, I will pay you to get that thing as far away from me as possible.

LESTER: I might just take you up on that. (To Jasmine) And what about you, miss? Can I take your hat?

JASMINE: (Taking off her hat) Such a gentleman! Why the formality, uncle? This used to be a casual restaurant.

LESTER: (After a moment, recognizing her.)  …Jasmine! Is that you?

JASMINE: Hi, Uncle Lester! (They hug. The raincoat is wrapped around her back. Laughing,) You’re getting me all wet.

COLE: You know, Jazz, that really shouldn’t be happening when you hug your uncle.

LESTER: (Chuckling) Who’s your vulgar friend, here?

JASMINE: Oh, how silly of me. Uncle Lester, this is my friend Cole, from LA. Cole, Uncle Lester.

COLE: Hey.

LESTER: It’s so good to see you! My God, it’s been… what, two years?

JASMINE: Yep! Haven’t seen you since… the last family Thanksgiving, I think.

LESTER: How are you? How’s LA?

JASMINE: Oh, I’ve been fine.

COLE: “Fine?” That’s a bit of an understatement. You would not believe the luck this niece of yours has. She flies into LA with, what? Five hundred dollars?

JASMINE: Three hundred, actually.

LESTER: Three hundred!?

COLE: Yeah, by all rights she should be starving in a gutter somewhere right now, but as luck would have it she nails a her very first dance audition in town and gets a job that most of us LA dancers would kill for. On her second night!

JASMINE: (Embarrassed) Oh, it’s not that impressive.

COLE: Like hell it’s not! So she must be sleeping with an agent or something because this girl here gets booked for shows for almost a year. It took me ages to get that good of a gig!

LESTER: Oh, you’re a dancer out there too?

COLE: Something like that. I do musicals and whatnot and I write on the side. Started out as a stripper though, so none of that Hollywood princess bullcrap for me.

VALERIE: (Perking up) Oh hey! A fellow nightwalker, huh? I used to be a stripper myself!

COLE: No kidding!

VALERIE: Yeah! But then my parents told me to get a real job when I turned eighteen. Figures. Now I make a living here, at this fine establishment.

COLE: Uh huh. (Surveying the restaurant) You know, I gotta admit Jazz, when you said we were going to “The Usual Place” I figured you meant Giordano’s.

LESTER: Bah! That rat hole’s got nothing on my café.

COLE: Oh, do you have pizza?

LESTER: Well, uh, no.

COLE: Darn. I was looking forward to trying some of that famous Chicago pizza so I could tell everyone back home to shut up about it.

LESTER: Hey, at least you got to experience some of our famous Chicago weather.

JASMINE: Oh, uncle, don’t get her started-

COLE: Too late, I’m started! I’m started so hard that I’m practically at the finish line!

JASMINE: She’s been complaining about the rain her whole way over here.

COLE: Of course I have. Rain sucks. The weather here is terrible. It’s wet and cloudy everywhere. I’ll take smog over fog any day.

JASMINE: Come on, Chicago’s not that bad.

COLE: The city smells like garbage and we ran into like forty bums on the way over here.

JASMINE: Forty is a little much.

COLE: I dunno, Jazz, we were waist-deep in bums. You literally tripped over one of them.

JASMINE: But he was a nice bum! After I apologized he only chased us for two blocks.

COLE: I can’t believe he managed to run that fast in those pink crocks.

VALERIE: Oh, you met Steve!

LESTER: Are you sure? It could’ve been Marco. Sometimes he steals the other bums’ shoes.

VALERIE: Which one is Marco? Is that the guy that looks like Nicolas Cage with mutton chops?

LESTER: Nah, the one with the bad comb-over and the scarf.

VALERIE: Oh yeah, Marco!

COLE: See? Too many bums.

JASMINE: LA has plenty of bums.

COLE: Yeah, but LA has cool bums. LA bums are like shooting stars. All you have to do is wait five minutes and a new one passes by, more amazing than the last. In LA you get bums like men in bikinis-

VALERIE: Mankinis-

COLE: Mankinis. Or robot suit bums. Or mankini bums wearing robot suits. Here all the hobos are just depressing. “Oh, my wife left me, can you spare a dime? I fought for our country, can you spare a dime? Ma’am, I’m saving up to replace my orphan dog’s kneecaps, spare a dime?” Give it a rest.

JASMINE: You can be so mean sometimes.

COLE: I’m not made out of dimes, Jazz.

LESTER: Speaking of, were you two lovely ladies thinking of ordering anything this afternoon?

COLE: Oh, right. Food. Man, I am starving.

VALERIE: (Offering the croissant roll again) Croissant roll?

COLE: That has a bite taken out of it.

VALERIE: So that’s a no?

COLE: (Considers) Pass.

VALERIE: Suit yourself. (Takes another bite) Eh. (Puts it down)

JASMINE: Oh! Uncle! I completely forgot! Cole, you have to try Uncle Lester’s special 100% Perk-You-Up Sunshine Coffee.  It is the best coffee. In the world.

VALERIE: Uncle Lester’s what?

LESTER: Aw, Jasmine, don’t go telling everybody about it.

JASMINE: Why not?

LESTER: Eh… it’s sort of a… I dunno, a secret recipe thing. It’s not even on the regular menu.

JASMINE: What!? But uncle! That’s your best drink!

LESTER: It’s a VIP drink, you know? Something for the just the regulars.

VALERIE: What regulars? (Lester shoots her a look)

JASMINE: You’d have more regulars if you sold your specialty coffee as a regular menu item.

LESTER: We don’t’ need any more regulars, we’re doing fine. We’re practically packed as it is. You just came in on an off day.

JASMINE: (Unconvinced) Uh huh… Well, I’m a VIP customer aren’t I?

LESTER: Of course you are!

JASMINE: Then I’d like two of your special Uncle Lester’s Perk-You-Up 100% Sunshine Coffees, please.

LESTER: Well… alright.

JASMINE: Yay!

LESTER: But I might be a little rusty. It’s been a while since I last made one of these. (He starts throwing some ingredients into two coffee cups.)

JASMINE: I’m sure it’ll be perfect.

COLE: No pressure, gramps, but I flew across the country and walked twenty four blocks in the rain for this drink. It better be damn well worth it.

LESTER: Oh, it will be, miss. The Usual Place never disappoints!

VALERIE: Ha.

LESTER: Valerie, make yourself useful and grab me some cinnamon from the back room.

VALERIE: There’s cinnamon on the counter.

LESTER: Powdered cinnamon. This recipe calls for a stick. Get going.

VALERIE: (Exits out the back) I’m working on my break, Lester. I better be gettin’ overtime for this!

LESTER: Aw, can it. Take a seat, girls. This takes a while to make. Make yourselves comfortable. (They sit)

JASMINE: Wow. This is so nice. It’s just like old times. There’s something about this place, you know?

COLE: What, like, nostalgia?

JASMINE: No, it’s different than that. Sitting in café in the city while listening to faint jazz and watching the rain. It’s really relaxing. It feels like I’m in a movie.

COLE: What’s so special about that? You’ve been in movies before.

LESTER: (Stops brewing) You were in a movie?

JASMINE: It’s nothing big. Just some background roles.

LESTER: I can’t believe you never told me!

JASMINE: I guess I didn’t want you to get excited if it all came crashing down.

LESTER: Wow. Real movies. My niece is a celebrity!

JASMINE: Well I wouldn’t say that.

COLE: Oh, stop being so modest for once in your life. Accept a little praise!

JASMINE: I don’t see what the big deal is. Movies aren’t so great. (Looks out the window) I can’t believe you don’t like the rain, Cole. It’s so beautiful.

COLE: Plenty of things are beautiful that aren’t wet and cold.

VALERIE: (From off) Lester!

LESTER: What?

VALERIE: Where’s the cinnamon sticks!? I can’t find the cinnamon sticks!

LESTER: To the left of the white chocolate.

VALERIE: White chocolate!?

LESTER: Yeah!

VALERIE: I don’t see it!

LESTER: How can you not see it? It’s right there in the orange box.

VALERIE: Well it’s not there!

LESTER: Of course it’s there!

VALERIE: I’m looking next to the white chocolate, and it’s not there! Help me look!

LESTER: It’s the big orange box labeled “Cinnamon Sticks!”

VALERIE: I’ll give you a stick!

LESTER: Alright, I’m comin’ back there! (To girls) Excuse me a moment, ladies.

COLE: Oh, go right ahead.

VALERIE: Lester!!!

LESTER: I told you, I’m comin’! (Exits)

COLE: (Shouting after him) Don’t take too long though, I’m still thirsty!

JASMINE: (Notices the flower in the middle of the table) Oh, these are new. I wonder if they’re real. (Picks it up and smells it)

COLE: …Well?

JASMINE: Ah… ah… I think… (Sneezes) Yes.

PRESTON: (From underneath towel) Bless you.

JASMINE: Thank you!

COLE: …What was that?

JASMINE: I sneezed.

COLE: No, not your allergies. I’m talking about the “bless you” from Casper the Friendly Ghost. No one’s in here but us!

JASMINE: Wow, the café’s haunted! First the flowers and now this? Uncle Lester must really be moving up in the world.

COLE: Huh. I guess one of the customers didn’t like the coffee and your uncle must have killed them.

JASMINE: Oh, Cole, don’t be silly! Uncle Lester would never kill anyone. (Joking) Well, not after the last time anyway.

PRESTON: (Horrified at the idea) Eep!

COLE: There it was again! Who the hell keeps doing that?

JASMINE: (Noticing Preston) Maybe it’s that man with the towel on his head.

COLE: (Turns around) Huh. I’m amazed we didn’t notice that before.

JASMINE: (Going over to him) Well he’s been expertly hidden.

COLE: (Rips the towel off of his head. Preston is still holding the same face.) What’s your story, statue? (No response) Hello? Huh, he’s not talking. Try sneezing again, Jazz.

JASMINE: (Unconvincingly) Achoo.

COLE: Wow, how could you not be an actress with talent like that? Wonder what this guy’s deal is. (Knocks on his head with her fist) Hey, you awake?

JASMINE: He must be shy.

COLE: Or maybe he’s the stuffed body of the man your uncle killed, and when the other customers sneeze he comes to life for just a brief second just trying to escape and get revenge on his murderer.

JASMINE: Wow, how could you not be a writer with an imagination like that?

COLE: Ha ha.

JASMINE: Maybe this man is a mime.

COLE: I don’t think so. He’s not nearly annoying or French enough.

JASMINE: What if that’s his trick? He could be a mime in disguise.

COLE: “Mime in Disguise”: The hit screenplay by Jasmine Wright.

JASMINE: (Giggling) Better than “Sneeze Ghost.”

COLE: Hey! Sneeze Ghost had personality! And he was someone kids could relate to! That’s more than I can say for Mimey.

JASMINE: In what way was Sneeze Ghost relatable?

COLE: Children sneeze.

PRESTON: (Face still focused) Stress Tip #25: The Switzerland: If all else fails just ignore the problem and it will go away eventually.

COLE: What?

JASMINE: Hm?

PRESTON: (Repeating it for them out of courtesy) Stress Tip #25: The Switzerland: If all else fails just ignore the problem and it will go away eventually.

JASMINE: Oh!

COLE: You understand that mumbo jumbo?

JASMINE: No. Uh, well, yes. It’s a stress relief technique. I… read about it once in a magazine.

COLE: So this guy’s stressed, huh?

JASMINE: I guess so.

COLE: What’s your name, stress statue? (No response)

JASMINE: Maybe he’s gone into shock.

COLE: Or maybe he’s just nervous being around two beautiful ladies.

PRESTON: (Realizing that being around beautiful ladies also makes him nervous) Oh, well. I… um…

COLE: Don’t worry about it, statue man! I used to get nervous around pretty girls all the time too. Here, how about this: We tell you our names and you tell us yours. Fair deal?

PRESTON: T-that sounds acceptable.

COLE: I’m Cole.

JASMINE: Jasmine.

PRESTON: I-I’m… P-P-Preston.

COLE: Stresston, huh?

PRESTON: No, you must’ve misheard me. My name is Prest-

COLE: Kind of a silly name, isn’t it? Stresston.

PRESTON: My name isn’t-

COLE: It sure is fitting though, considering how you’re always wigging out and all.

PRESTON: (Slightly offended) I do not “wig out.”

LESTER: (From off) Alright girls, we got the cinnamon!

PRESTON: (Wigging out) Hide me!

COLE: What?

PRESTON: Hide me. Please. I don’t want that man to see me. If he sees me I’ll have to drink the coffee and if I drink the coffee I’ll be shot and my dry cleaners will not be pleased.

JASMINE: What do you mean?

PRESTON: He’s forcing me to drink the coffee!

JASMINE: Uncle Lester wouldn’t do that.

LESTER: (From off) I cannot wait to see you girls drink this coffee. I won’t let you leave without tryin’ this stuff!

JASMINE: Huh.

PRESTON: Hurry, get me a towel!

COLE: Why don’t you just leave while he’s in the back?

PRESTON: Well it would be rude to leave without paying my bill.

LESTER: (From off) This door is stuck, but man, when I get out there you are going to love this coffee.

PRESTON: Please!

JASMINE: (Grabbing the towel) I’ve got it! (Drapes the towel over Preston) How’s that?

PRESTON: Too straight! The waitress put it on crooked before, they’ll be able to tell! (She adjusts it.) Perfect!

JASMINE: Shh!

LESTER: (Coming through door with two cups of coffee) There we go! Val, I thought I told you to oil that darn thing.

VALERIE: (Coming through door) It didn’t work.

LESTER: Well what did you use?

VALERIE: Vegetable oil.

LESTER: Minimum wage ain’t good enough for you. (Excited) Alright, who ordered some coffee?

COLE: I’ll take that! (Swipes coffee)

LESTER: That’s a pretty special drink there, young lady. It’s been my specialty for thirty years. (Cole sniffs it) Make sure you go slow though, it’s a lot of flavor for one drink. You might not be able to take it all in at once.

COLE: Don’t be silly, I can take whatever you can brew, old man.

LESTER: No, miss, it’s really not-

COLE: Bottoms up! (Drinks all of it at once. Except the cinnamon stick, of course.)

LESTER: Well, I warned her.

JASMINE: How is it, Cole?

COLE: (Cole’s eyes widen and she moves wildly like she’s in a musical number) This is the best mother-lovin’ coffee I’ve ever had in my whole life! (She dances around a café table yelling various “Yahoo”s and “Whoopie”s, then suddenly stops, struck by an idea) My god. I can’t keep this to myself! I’ve gotta go and show the whole world how great this is! This is the best coffee ever!!! (Skips out the door)

LESTER: Hey, hey! Wait a minute, miss, it’s raining out there, you can’t get rainwater into the brew, it ruins it! (Runs after her) And you didn’t pay for it yet! (Exits)

VALERIE: You won’t tell on me if I go take a nap in the back, will ya Jasmine?

JASMINE: Go for it Val.

VALERIE: You’re such a sweetie. Thanks! (Exits)

JASMINE: (to Preston) They’re gone.

PRESTON: (Exploding out from underneath the towel) Thank goodness! I have to get out of here! I have a very important meeting across town in half an hour, and if I’m late then I’ll be fired!

JASMINE: Hey, It’ll be fine-

PRESTON: I have to leave right now. (Heads for the door, stops) Oh, but I haven’t paid yet! Maybe I’ll just go, no one will notice. …But what if they do notice? Then they’ll call the police, and even if I make my meeting and it goes well- which it might not- and I don’t get fired they’ll catch me and throw me in jail and I’ll get fired anyway!

JASMINE: Preston-

PRESTON: (Pacing) I’ll have to pay. I’ll just have to pay before they come back. What was the price? I don’t want pay too little or I’ll get arrested. I can’t pay too much or I won’t have enough bus fare to get home. And I can’t ask the owner or he’ll shoot me!

JASMINE: Uncle Lester wouldn’t-

PRESTON: I’ll just have to guess. Ten dollars? Ten dollars seems right. (Stops to take out his wallet) Will that include tip? I’ll just have to guess. I’m a good guesser. Am I a good guesser? Oh, I can’t remember!

JASMINE: Are you okay?

PRESTON: W- My wallet’s gone. My wallet is gone! MY WALLET IS GONE. That’s it! I’m poor and trapped in Chicago and someone is going to shoot me and I’m going to be fired! (Jasmine walks behind him and starts massaging his shoulders) And then I’m going to be arrested and… and… (Embarassed) What are you doing?

JASMINE: Stress Relief Tip #13: The Masseuse. When life is too much for you, ask a trusted friend or fellow member of the Stress Relief Foundation (who is willing) to give you a calming back massage. This will relieve stress and create a closer bond between you and another member of the SRF.

PRESTON: You… you were a member of the Stress Relief Foundation?

JASMINE: Still am. “Follow tips one through twenty-five, think tranquil thoughts and soon you’ll thrive.”

PRESTON: Really? You seem so very… composed.

JASMINE: You think so? Good.

PRESTON: I don’t mean to offend, but isn’t the organization meant for the more… neurotic sort?

JASMINE: Usually, yeah, but… Oh, I shouldn’t bother you with my silly little problems.

PRESTON: No, no, go right ahead. I don’t mind at all.

JASMINE: It’s really nothing. Don’t worry about it.

PRESTON: Stress Relief Tip #1: The Buddy. Always be willing to talk about your feelings with other people if it makes you feel better. (He gestures to a chair) Go on, sit.

JASMINE: But I haven’t finished with your back rub yet.

PRESTON: Oh, I feel much better already, thanks. Go ahead.

JASMINE: (Sits) Well okay. So, I don’t know if you heard earlier, but I’m a dancer out in Hollywood.

PRESTON: Oh I was eavesdropping the whole time, miss.

JASMINE: Well, I don’t mean to brag, but I’m kind of getting to be a big deal out there you know? I just got my third movie deal, but I’m still just a Hollywood starlet and most of us are pretty poor, so I have to work more than one job.

PRESTON: I see.

JASMINE: And the pressure sort of gets to me sometimes, but I don’t… well, I don’t want to let on, you know? Because there’s so many people out there and they’ve all been so nice to me and I don’t want them to think I’m ungrateful! Like Mr. Godot- he’s the man in charge of the new movie I’m in.

PRESTON: Mm hm.

JASMINE: I always see him and he always asks me, “Jasmine my girl, how are you today!” And I’m always really stressed and really tired, but he got me two big parts in these new movies and I can’t say “Well sir, I’m feeling a little overworked and I would really like a break.” That’s like spitting on all of his hard work that he did just for me, and I don’t want him to feel unappreciated, so I just smile and say “I’m great sir, never better!” And my choreographer is just the sweetest woman you could ever meet. She always asks me (German accent) “How are you doing Jazz, do you need a break?” And I’m sweating everywhere and my feet are killing me, but if this sixty-three-year-old woman can put in the time to teach me overtime then the least I can do is show her I appreciate it, so I say “No Genie, in fact I’m feeling great. Just a little shaky on that last number, could try it again?” And Cole. Oh. I can never let Cole know how exhausted I am. I love her to death and she’s my best friend and she just doesn’t get as many parts as me even though she’s been in the business for so much longer than I have and it would just be terrible if I let on how much this success was wearing me down. (Mocking) “Gee Cole, you know that role I just got? The one you’ve been waiting for, for two years now? Yeah, it’s just so much work, I wish I never got the part at all!” That’s like peeing on her! That’s like taking her dreams and peeing on them! I’m sorry, am I boring you? I’m boring you aren’t I? I’m so sorry, I always do this.

PRESTON: Not at all. In fact, I love hearing people talk about how stressed and insane they are. It makes me feel better about myself.

JASMINE: Okay good, because I am not done venting yet. Do you know how hard it is? How hard it is to please everyone all the time? And I never get any recognition for it, because it’s a secret! I work three jobs to make everybody happy. Where’s my happiness, huh? Who’s working their butt off and flopping down on an uncomfy mattress every night for me?

PRESTON: My mattress is kind of uncomfy.

JASMINE: Thanks. That means a lot to me. Hey, do you wanna drink? You must be thirsty.

PRESTON: Oh no thank you, I can’t stand coffee.

JASMINE: Alright. So. What do you do for a living?

PRESTON: I’m a coffee salesman.

JASMINE: Really.

PRESTON: It’s true. In fact my briefcase over there contains the newest coffee flavor formula that I’ve whipped up for my coffee company.

JASMINE: Wow, so you’re an inventor?

PRESTON: Something like that. Research and development.

JASMINE: Neat!

PRESTON: You think so? Most people don’t care about R&D that much.

JASMINE: Yeah, it’s really cool. Can I see what the formula looks like?

PRESTON: Oh no! No. Absolutely not.

JASMINE: Oh.

PRESTON: It’s nothing personal, of course. It’s just that I’m not allowed to leak this formula to anyone before my big meeting today with Lava Java today.

JASMINE: Wow, you work for Lava Java?

PRESTON: That’s right.

JASMINE: I hate that place. (Afraid she’s offended him) Oh! No offense, of course. I’m sure you work very hard and come up with a lot of interesting flavors.

PRESTON: Don’t worry about it. I hate it too. Everyone hates Lava Java. They’re always demanding new formulas. Their quality is disgustingly low. It’s just so commonplace these days that everyone accepts it.

JASMINE: Yeah, I know what you mean. So, when is your meeting?

PRESTON: Three thirty.

JASMINE: It’s almost three thirty now.

PRESTON: (Checks his watch) Oh my. Oh. Oh my goodness. (Begins to freak out) Oh, cummerbund! Oh, rocky road!

JASMINE: (Realizing what he’s doing) Stress Tip # 17: The Pottymouth. Cussing is scientifically proven to relief stress in dangerous situations. It is also offensive. Compromise! Use nonsense curses so no one is offended and you are relieved of stress.

PRESTON: Oh, flabberghasted figwidgets!

JASMINE: Calm down, Preston! It’s okay! You can still make it, the Lava Java headquarters is only one block away!

PRESTON: But I can’t leave until I pay! I’ll be shot and arrested! In that order!

JASMINE: Here, my uncle owns the place! I’ll pick up your tab.

PRESTON: No, I can’t let you do that! What if he shoots you!?

JASMINE: (Grabs his arms and looks him straight in the eye) I would feel terrible if you missed your meeting and got fired because you were nice enough to listen to my problems. Please, I’ve got your tab. Just go.

PRESTON: (Takes a deep breath and exhales) Okay. Thank you. Thank you very much. I’ll pay you back, I swear.

JASMINE: Don’t worry about it.

PRESTON: Please. I never worry about anything. (Preston heads for the door. Just when he reaches it Lester and Cole open the door, sopping wet. Cole’s coffee rush has long since died.)

LESTER: We’re back. (Preston drops the briefcase and lets out an enormous, high-pitched, girly scream. He looks at Lester, looks at Jasmine, looks at Lester again, all while still screaming. He stops for a second to take a breath.) Hey, did you ever pay your bill? (Preston screams even louder and sprints out the building, leaving his briefcase on the floor. Beat.) Another satisfied customer.

VALERIE: (Coming out of the back room) What’s with all the yelling? Can’t a girl take a nap around here (notices Lester) after she has finished her shift like a good employee?

JASMINE: How was the coffee, Cole?

LESTER: She loved the coffee. The rain was a different story.

JASMINE: It’s not that wet outside, is it?

COLE: (Spits out a mouthful of rainwater) You tell me.

JASMINE: Do you want to switch shirts?

COLE: No Jazz, I’m fine. I was a stripper, I’ve been worse off than this.

JASMINE: Are you sure? I don’t want you to catch pneumonia or- (stumbles on Preston’s briefcase) Hm? Oh no, Preston’s briefcase! (She picks it up and heads for the door) He must’ve dropped when he got scared that you were going to shoot him.

LESTER: I wasn’t gonna shoot him!

JASMINE: Be right back. (Gets halfway through the door)

LESTER: Jasmine, where are you going!? Forget that guy, he didn’t even pay his bill!

JASMINE: I told him I’d cover it. Here, (she fumbles in her coat pocket and takes out her wallet and throws it to Lester) take whatever he owes out of there. I have to go! (Exits)

LESTER: Jasmine, wait, you didn’t even drink your coffee yet!

COLE: Oh, let her go old man. Once Jazz sets her mind on something she won’t stop until it’s done.

LESTER: This coffee’s gonna get cold. I made it special.

VALERIE: (To Cole) Dearie, you look like a poodle that just went through a car wash. Here, come in the back. I’ll give you one of my old smocks until your shirt dries.

COLE: Thanks. Hey old man, next time someone you offer someone that miracle coffee make sure you lock the front door, okay? (Exits with Valerie out the back)

LESTER: I’ll try to remember that. (He wanders behind the counter and starts rifling through Jasmine’s wallet.) Alright, let’s see. What did that guy order? A decaf… a bagel? No, I offered him a bagel, but he didn’t take it because he had diabetes or something. Just a coffee… five dollars. What the? (Takes some bills out of the wallet) These are all fifties! How much does she have in here? (Counting bills) Fifty, a hundred, one fifty, one seventy, two seventy- Why does she have hundreds in here!? What, is she tryin’ to get mugged? She’s got a couple hundred in here. (Takes out a bill and considers taking it) …No, I couldn’t! She’s been so good to me, I couldn’t… couldn’t I? She would donate. I know she would donate. She couldn’t bear to see the Usual Place close down… (He reluctantly takes a couple bills and starts to put them in the cash register)

VALERIE: (Coming out from the back, to Cole) Don’t’ worry about getting it wet, dearie, I never wear that thing anymore- (Notices Lester) Lester! What do you think you’re doing!?

LESTER: Nothing! I was just counting out the man’s bill!

VALERIE: You dirty old liar! (Lightly slapping Lester across the face with every word) You were stealing that little angel’s money! I can’t believe you would even think about doing such a thing! That girl’s never done anything wrong to anyone in her life!

LESTER: I was just-

VALERIE: You were stealing your niece’s money because your store is going down the toilet!

LESTER: I… I was. I’m sorry, Val, I just… I can’t lose this place. And Jasmine can’t lose it either. You saw the look on her face when she walked in here! I couldn’t take seeing her walk up to this place to find an eviction notice or an empty building.

VALERIE: What you mean is that you couldn’t take yourself walking up to an empty building.

LESTER: Hey now! I might be a crook, but I am by no means a selfish crook.

VALERIE: He said, holding his niece’s life savings above his empty cash register.

LESTER: I didn’t put any in there yet! This money was already here!

VALERIE: The only thing in your cash register is a lonely moth!

LESTER: Don’t sass me, Val, I can still fire you any time I want, don’t you forget that!

VALERIE: Oh shut up, Lester, you know you can’t fire me! I’m the only one who’ll work for you for the non-existent wage you pay me every month!

LESTER: You hardly work at all!

VALERIE: ‘Cause I don’t wanna work for a crook!

LESTER: I’m not a crook!!! …I’m not a crook. (There is a long, tense silence)

VALERIE: …One. Two. Three. Four –

LESTER: (Exhausted) What are you doing?

VALERIE: Stress Clue number forty-something: The Kindergarten. Count to ten and all your problems will disappear. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Nine. Ten. There. Don’t you feel better now?

LESTER: You forgot eight.

VALERIE: I did not. Eight is very “out” this season. I wouldn’t be seen within two miles of an eight. People would talk, and then what would happen? My reputation would go down the toilet faster than a pet goldfish, that’s what.

LESTER: Hey, you know I wasn’t… happy to take that money, right-?

VALERIE: Oh yeah, I know all that. You didn’t want to but you were doing what you thought you had to do, even though it was wrong. I know just how that feels. That’s actually the job description for my old stripper firm. Don’t worry about it, Lester. I know you’re a nice guy.

LESTER: …Thanks, Val. Oh, and could you not-

VALERIE: Yeah yeah, I won’t tell Jasmine. I’m sure as hell not gonna be the one to clip that little angel’s wings.

LESTER: Val, what would I do without you?

VALERIE: Probably die.

LESTER: Hey. Feel free to take whatever from the counter. No one comes in here to eat anyway.

VALERIE: Way ahead of you, boss man. (Takes the half-eaten croissant out of her pocket, takes a bite) Eh. (Puts it back on the counter) Because I’m a nice person I’ll let you keep it.

JASMINE: (Comes in through the door very wet and very frazzled. She has been doing her best to keep the briefcase dry) Uncle!

LESTER: Jasmine, are you okay? You look awful.

JASMINE: Quick, uncle, I have to use your phone! Preston needs this case or else he’s going to get fired, and they wouldn’t let me into the Lava Java building.

VALERIE: Heartless jerks. Who would kick a pretty girl like you out in the rain?

JASMINE: Please, I need to call Preston or the administration or the help desk or somebody!

LESTER: (Goes over to her) Jasmine, Jasmine! Calm down! It’ll be alright. I’ll call the man. You just go and sit down and drink your coffee.

JASMINE: But-!

LESTER: It’ll be fine! Just calm down. You’ve done enough.

JASMINE: I… okay. (She sits at the table, still jittery)

VALERIE: I’ll get you your coffee, dear. I kept it nice and warm for you. (Goes behind the bar to grab the coffee)

JASMINE: Thanks Val.

LESTER: (Dialing a phone on the back wall and looking through a phone book) Let’s see here… Larry’s Italian Takout… Last Call Diner, Lassie Looking Classy Taxidermy… Lava Java, here we go. (Dials) Hello? Lava Java? Yes. This is Lester Wright… I’m trying to reach a Mr. Preston… (To Jasmine) What was his name again?

JASMINE: You were right, it’s Preston.

LESTER: Preston what?

JASMINE: I don’t know. He didn’t tell me his last name.

LESTER: Check his briefcase. Maybe his address and full name are on it somewhere. (To phone) I’m sorry, I only know his first name is Preston. Yes, do you know anyone named Preston? (To Jasmine) He knows a few Prestons.

JASMINE: He works in the R&D Department.

LESTER: (To phone) He works in the R&D Department. Yes, R&D. Mm hm? Oh, I see. (To Jasmine) He said he’ll need a last name to do a search on their database. Find anything on the briefcase yet?

JASMINE: No, it’s a company briefcase. Nothing on it is personalized.

LESTER: Well we don’t know his last name, but he left his briefcase in my store… About ten minutes ago. Apparently it was very important. My store? I run the Usual Place. …The Usual Place. It’s that little café, you know the one. …On Brook Street. I’m only a block away from Lava Java, sir. …What do you mean, “Oh, that place?” I don’t know if I like your tone!

JASMINE: Uncle!

LESTER: Oh, right, sorry. Look, we really need to get this Preston his briefcase, his job depends on it. You still need a last name? Can’t you just look up “Preston?” No. I see.

VALERIE: (Returning with the coffee) What if his last name was “Dried.” Wouldn’t that be funny? Preston Dried! Hah! (The other two don’t respond) Fine. When I’m on Saturday Night Live, then we’ll see who’s laughing.

LESTER: Can’t you just ask around? Sir, I’m sure you’re busy but- Don’t you dare put me on hold. Don’t you-! (Beat) They put me on hold. Nobody leaves me on the phone with The Girl From Ipanema! (Hangs up and dials again)

JASMINE: (Getting up) Maybe if I make another run I can get him his briefcase.

VALERIE: You sit your butt down, Jasmine.

JASMINE: But-

VALERIE: But nothin’! You haven’t even gotten a chance to drink your coffee yet. You’ve done enough. Here, just drink your drink and relax.

JASMINE: But Preston-

VALERIE: You wouldn’t want to disappoint your uncle after all of the blood, sweat and tears he put into that thing, would ya?

JASMINE: Well… no.

VALERIE: Good. (Walks off) Oh, and I wasn’t kidding about the blood, sweat and tears. Those are actually some of the ingredients.

JASMINE: (Cheering up) Nice try, Val, but I know all the ingredients in this coffee.

VALERIE: Really? I can’t believe you’re still willing to drink it.

LESTER: (Impatiently) Come on, come on… Hello? Hello? Yes, I’m looking for a man named Preston. He left his briefcase at my- Oh. It’s you again.

JASMINE: Wow, I’m getting butterflies in my stomach. I haven’t had this coffee in such a long time. I wonder if it still holds up… (She smells the coffee.)

LESTER: Now you listen here, my niece is counting on this briefcase getting to Preston What’s-his-nuts on time, and you aren’t going to- Hey, the Usual Place is not a two-bit diner you son of a-

JASMINE: Cheers. (Puts the coffee to her lips and closes her eyes)

LESTER: No, I’m putting you on hold! (Slams the phone against the receiver just as an enormous thunderclap booms outside and the lights go out. It is nearly pitch black. There is some mild screaming/shouting from Valerie and Lester and then silence.)

VALERIE: …One. Two. Three. Four.

LESTER: Can it, Val.

JASMINE: Wow! Uncle, your coffee is so good I think the flavor made me go blind!

LESTER: Huh. I guess I hung that phone up harder than I thought.

VALERIE: The power’s out, you idiot!

LESTER: Oh. Right. That’s weird. Val, didn’t we pay the electricity bill this month?

VALERIE: I think so.

LESTER: Must be the storm then. Here, I’ll fiddle with the fuse box. Let’s see if I can get the back-up generator up and running… There we go!

(The lights come back on, though they are dimmer than before. In the doorway stands LEVI, a rugged and roguishly handsome man dressed as a private detective. Levi is dressed in a stereotypical trench coat and matching fedora. He looks generally MYSTERIOUS. He has entered completely silently. The other three characters notice him and all scream and begin to freak out.)

VALERIE: Who the hell are you!? (A jazzy, film noir-era detective saxophone plays from somewhere stage right.)

LEVI: (Narrating himself) I walked into the café, my hat still dripping from the rain. A seedy looking joint by the name of “The Usual Place.” The scent of cappuccino and dishwater hung heavy in the air. A scent I was more than familiar with: the scent of justice.

VALERIE: (Walking up to him) Well? Are you gonna answer my question or are you just gonna sit there talkin’ to yourself like a schizophrenic parrot?

LEVI: She asked me my name. Her voice was like that of banshee’s and her breath made me feel I was downwind of a landfill. Burnam, I said handsomely, Levi Burnam, ace detective.

LESTER: Oh great, it’s this knucklehead.

VALERIE: You know this guy?

LESTER: Yeah he’s… he’s one of our regulars.

VALERIE: I’ve never seen this rude-y patootie in my entire life! Whaddaya mean he’s a regular?

LESTER: He usually comes in when you’re off work.

VALERIE: I’m here until ten every night!

LESTER: Yeah. He comes in around midnight.

VALERIE: We’re not even open at midnight.

LEVI: Everything is open if you use intuition!

LESTER: The back window’s lock is busted.

LEVI: Intuition is the name of my crowbar.

VALERIE: Well. Would you like a table, mister Bumblebee?

LEVI: Burnam. Levi Burnam. As in, Levi “The detective that’s so hot, he’ll catch any criminal and burn’em” Burnam.

VALERIE: Then I’ll make sure your table is fireproof.

LEVI: No need, ma’am. The only thing I’m hungry for is justice. (Another saxophone riff plays. Levi turns around to look through the door.) Thanks, Mac. (Takes out fifteen dollars and hands them to MAC, a completely ordinary-looking man with a saxophone.)

MAC: (Walks in, taking the money) No problem. (Exits)

JASMINE: What do you mean? Everything is “just” here. No thieves or arsonists or anything.

LESTER: (Guilty) Heh. That’s right. No thieves. That reminds me Jasmine, I’ve still got your wallet. (Tossing it to her)

JASMINE: Oh, thanks.

LEVI: Oh! Wait a sec. (Leans out the door) Hey Mac! Get back here for a second. (Mac rushes back in, sax at the ready.) Right now, I’m on a top-secret assignment: The Case of the Serial Killer’s Suitcase! (Mac plays a soulful and mysterious sax riff to accompany the case’s announcement.) It’s very important. And very secret. (He takes out five more dollars and slaps them into Mac’s outstretched hand. This is all very routine for Mac) Bridge tonight at the roost?

MAC: You know it. (Exits)

LEVI: Alright, see you later. (To the others) That’s Mac. I hire him to make my entrances and exits more interesting and mysterious.

LESTER: Where does a bum like you get that much money to blow on something like that?

LEVI: I’m a big-name private eye. I make a lot of money.

VALERIE: Well I’ve never heard of you.

LEVI: Emphasis on the private.

LESTER: I saw you sleeping in the gutter in the rain last week. You’re no P.I, you’re just another homeless nobody.

LEVI: So it would appear, my stupid, stupid friend. To the untrained eye I’m nothing more than another schizophrenic man who lives two blocks over and climbs through your dumpster for dinner every night, but as any fellow detective could see I am actually undercover. I need to question you all for an investigation I’m doing.

JASMINE: Could we see some identification?

LEVI: Some what?

JASMINE: You know. Some identification. That’s what they say in the movies. It’s raining outside and the lights went out and it’s all mysterious and everything. It seemed like the right thing to say.

LEVI: Ah, of course! My identification. (Takes a magnifying glass out from somewhere in his trench coat.) See? I’ve got a magnifying glass. That means I’m a real detective.

JASMINE: I was thinking more along the lines of a Chicago Police Department I.D.

LEVI: You know, you shouldn’t be so suspicious all the time.

JASMINE: Oh. I’m sorry.

VALERIE: Don’t be sorry, Jasmine! That’s not a very detective thing to say at all, is it? I thought you detective-types loved being suspicious.

LEVI: Maybe those other so-called-sleuths, but are any of them famous investigators?

LESTER: Yes.

LEVI: Exactly! It’s nice to keep a healthy air of gullibility about you when working on a case. I think it makes things more interesting.

LESTER: Look, if you’re not gonna order something then you’ll have to leave. No loitering, read the sign.

LEVI: (Looking through his magnifying glass) “No fingernails in our coffee, guaranteed.” Well I don’t see what that has to do with anything. …Or do I?

COLE: (Coming out of the back room) Hey, Miss Waitress, where did you say the bathroom was- (Noticing Levi) Whoa. Well, well, who is this rugged hunk of man?

LEVI: Evening.

COLE: Evening, officer. (Seductively) Is there anything I can… help you with?

LEVI: As a matter of fact there is. I can’t help but notice that you’re very wet.

COLE: Oh, you have no idea.

LEVI: That would mean you’ve been slinking around in the rain, correct?

COLE: That’s right.

LEVI: Well Ms.- I’m sorry, I didn’t catch you name.

COLE: Colleen. Colleen Sprayberry. But you can call me Cole.

LEVI: Ms. Sprayberry, there are three types of people that go slinking around in the rain: Criminals, whores, and businessmen . Which one are you?

COLE: Would you like to find out?

JASMINE: Cole!

COLE: Yes, Jazz?

JASMINE: I’m very sorry for my friend, officer Burnam. She tends to be a little… up front with people.

LEVI: Really? I hadn’t noticed.

VALERIE: You wouldn’t notice a mustache if it was right under your nose.

LESTER: Look, Mr. Detective, we’re all very busy people here and we have to get a briefcase to our friend over at Lava Java, so if you wouldn’t mind telling us why you’re here-

LEVI: Aha! That is why I’m here, my good man.

LESTER: What is?

LEVI: The briefcase, the briefcase, you fool! I’ve been tracking that briefcase for months! That’s the reason I’m undercover! I’ve been tapping into Lava Java’s phone conversations for months and it’s finally paid off!

JASMINE: What are you talking about?

LEVI: (Narrating) The lights in the greasy spoon seemed to dim as the handsome detective revealed the truth. (Talking) That briefcase is full of a dangerous chemical weapon that’s been working its way around the country! If I don’t stop it before it reaches the Canadian border then it will become a matter of international security.

JASMINE: That’s ridiculous! The only thing that’s in there is a coffee recipe!

LEVI: How do you know?

JASMINE: Preston told me.

LEVI: Ah yes… the notorious terrorist, Preston Dried.

VALERIE: Hah! Saturday Night Live star and a psychic. My future’s lookin’ up!

JASMINE: No! He was so nice! A little high-strung maybe, but still nice!

COLE: I dunno, Jazz. That guy was a little too nervous to be toting something as mundane as coffee in his big, black, secret briefcase.

JASMINE: Cole!

COLE: (Admiring Levi) A face this cute can’t be wrong.

LESTER: I’m sure it’s nothing as dangerous as a chemical weapon. Let’s just open it and show the man.

JASMINE: No! (Suspicious silence) No. He said nobody can see this recipe before he gets to the Lava Java headquarters. It’s a secret! He could get fired!

LEVI: And if it’s a chemical weapon we could get fired. Literally. Like, our flesh will disintegrate and our eyeballs will melt out of their sockets.

JASMINE: B-but he-

LESTER: One little peek will hardly hurt, Jasmine. Right, Val?

VALERIE: Don’t look at me, I’m with Jasmine on this one. Private is private. If you can’t hide your most treasured belongings in a briefcase where can you hide them? Besides, privacy is very in.

LEVI: (Narrating his actions) Tensions mounting, I had to take charge and I walked towards the capricious briefcase. (Talking) That’s a pretty good title actually. (Takes out a notepad and a pen) The Case of the Capricious Briefcase… I like that. It rolls off the tongue.

JASMINE: (Hopping up) Wait! You must be tired from your long walk in the rain. Before we open the briefcase, wouldn’t you like some coffee? (Offers him her half-empty cup of Sunshine Coffee.)

LESTER: Hey, Jasmine, don’t give my special stuff to this guy!

LEVI: …Well, I am feeling a little parched. (Takes the coffee) Thank you. (Drinks it, the lights dim save for a single spotlight on Levi as he looks up into the light like he’s just had an epiphany. Narrating,) The rich and complex flavors of the coffee danced on my tongue. My taste buds were singing songs of joy the likes of which I had never heard, and doubted I would ever hear again. What was this feeling? Wonder? Joy? No. Something much, much more. I was unstoppable. A crime-solving machine. Not even Moriarty himself could stop me while I’ve got this cup of Joe in my grasp. I could see a ray of sunlight in the distance bursting through the clouds and shining only on me. Far away, on the edge of the horizon I could see something. Hope. That was it. That was the feeling. The hope that justice will prevail. The hope that the sun will always shine through. The hope that every moment from here on out would be as good as this one for the rest of my life. Forever. (The normal lights come back up and all of the other characters are staring at him impatiently)

JASMINE: So? How is it?

LEVI: (Still staring off into the light that isn’t there anymore) Pretty good.

LESTER: So. How about that briefcase?

LEVI: Oh. Right! The briefcase.

JASMINE: Aren’t you going to finish your coffee?

LEVI: Later. Right now the only caffeine rush I need is a jolt of the truth. Maybe with a side of the cream of justice. And two lumps of sugar.

COLE: (She has had a notepad and has been writing down some of his nonsense for a while now) What kind of sugar?

LEVI: Just sugar. I’m watching my figure.

JASMINE: (Trying to distract him) I really think you should finish the coffee. I-It’ll get cold!

LEVI: Thanks for your concern, but I’ll just have the juice jockey over there brew me another cup.

LESTER: It’ll cost you extra.

JASMINE: Uncle!

LESTER: I’ve got a business to run, Jazz.

VALERIE: (Trying to help Jasmine) Ya want a croissant roll?

LEVI: No thanks.

VALERIE: But it’s really good!

LEVI: No time! Those terrorists are following our every move, we have to work fast! (All the characters except Valerie gather around the briefcase, which is now on the table as Levi tries to crack its code.)

VALERIE: (Still trying to distract Levi) Alright fine. (Tosses the croissant off in a random direction) Suit yourself! What’s in this coffee, anyway? Besides the blood, sweat, tears and rat crap, I mean.

LEVI: Almost there…

VALERIE: It can’t be that special, can it? (Picks up the coffee and goes down center so she’s blocking the briefcase reveal)

LEVI: The tension mounted as the last tumbler clicked into place…

VALERIE: I’ll be the judge of this stuff. (Drinks the coffee)

JASMINE: Oh, Preston I’m sorry…

LEVI: The ace detective undid the final latch of the life-or-death briefcase to reveal…! (He opens the briefcase, all of the characters look amazed to see what is inside)

VALERIE: (Long, amazed inhale like she’s about to go into a monologue like the others. Uninterested,) Eh.

 .

END OF ACT ONE

———-

.

ACT TWO

.

(All of the characters are sitting around the opened briefcase staring at it. Inside of the briefcase sits a disturbing-looking green liquid in a tube. No one is quite sure what it is. There is a moment of silence.)

COLE: So. Is it a chemical weapon?

LEVI: Well, I can’t tell by just looking at it. And we can’t move it either. There might be some kind of security mechanism in the case that will explode if we take it. Or if we drop it.

LESTER: So what do we do?

LEVI: We’ll have to taste it.

VALERIE: Taste it.

LEVI: Naturally.

VALERIE: Are you out of your mind!?

LEVI: Who are you, my psychiatrist?

JASMINE: I still think it’s just coffee.

COLE: It’s green, Jazz.

JASMINE: Maybe it’s for a St. Patrick’s Day special.

LESTER: Here, I’ll call the police. If it turns out this is a bomb or a grenade or something then I don’t think any of us want to find out by drinking it. (He gets up)

LEVI: No! Don’t call the police; they always get in the way.

LESTER: Aren’t you a police officer?

LEVI: Of course not. I’m a private investigator working for a secret branch of the U.S. government that I’m not supposed to tell you about.

VALERIE: You just told us.

LEVI: Well. Damn. Now I have to erase your memories. (He reaches into his trench coat and pulls out some white pills) Here, eat these.

VALERIE: No.

LEVI: Oh well, I tried. (Eats the pills himself)

JASMINE: You guys, I don’t think it’s a bomb or anything. I mean, the only evidence we have is Mr. Burnam’s word, and I don’t think that’s very reliable. No offense, Detective.

LEVI: (Chewing) None taken.

JASMINE: We should just close the case and give it back to Preston and forget any of this happened. I’m sure this is just the new coffee formula he was talking about. (She goes over and closes the case)

LEVI: Now wait a second, miss, you don’t have any evidence that supports your claims.

JASMINE: Preston told me, and I trust him.

LEVI: Really. And why do you trust this man?

JASMINE: We… we talked.

LEVI: What did you talk about?

JASMINE: Things.

LEVI: Things, huh? How do I know you’re not an accomplice? (Everyone rushes to defend Jasmine with things along the lines of “She would never,” and “I know this girl,” and “See here, mister!” and “My niece a terrorist? I don’t think so.”) Whoa, okay, okay! Let’s just calm down here, everyone. (Takes out the jar of white pills) Would anyone like a Tic-Tac?

COLE: Those are the pills you were trying to feed us before.

LEVI: Really? I don’t remember that.

JASMINE: (Heading for the door) I’m sorry, but I really have to get going. Preston might still have a chance of keeping his job and every moment we waste is another moment he could get fired!

LEVI: (Standing up) Be careful, if you drop that thing and it is a chemical weapon then it might explode. I’ll might let you go after you answer one question.

JASMINE: Okay.

LEVI: What were you talking about with this Preston fellow?

JASMINE: Oh. Wouldn’t you rather ask a different question?

LEVI: No.

JASMINE: Well… we were, uh… Talking about. Stocks.

LEVI: Stocks.

JASMINE: Yes. Mine were looking up this semester. Can I go now?

LEVI: No. That fish is three days old and I ain’t buyin’ it. Damn that’s clever. (To Cole) Write that down.

COLE: Right away, Officer Sexy.

LEVI: That’s not my name.

JASMINE: Listen, Mr. Detective, I’d love to tell you what I was talking about earlier, but I can’t. It’s really… personal.

VALERIE: Oh, is that all? Here, I’ll make it easier for you, Jasmine. Last week I kissed a rat I found sleeping in my apartment because I wanted to know what it would feel like. (Silence) What? Don’t judge, I’m trying to help you out!

COLE: …Why did you-

VALERIE: I wanted to know what it would feel like to be a princess, okay?

LESTER: What are you talking about?

VALERIE: You know, like that princess in the story? The Princess and the Rat?

LEVI: Oh, that one’s my favorite.

COLE: I think you’re thinking of “The Princess and the Frog.”

VALERIE: Really? Darn. Now I’ve got to kiss a frog, too. Word’s gonna get around the animal kingdom that I’m a floozy. And that I’m not really a rat princess. How do you like that?

LESTER: Don’t worry, Val. You’ll always be a rat princess to me.

VALERIE: Aw, really? Thanks, Lester! You old softie.

JASMINE: (To herself, but very aloud) Huh. I can sneak out of here right now while everyone’s distracted.

LEVI: She said aloud.

JASMINE: Did I? Darn.

LEVI: Now come on, miss, out with it. What were you and that Preston fellow talking about?

JASMINE: Stocks.

LEVI: You already said that.

JASMINE: Stock…ings. Stockings.

LESTER: Is it lady things? I can leave the room if you feel awkward talking about lady things in front of your uncle, Jasmine.

JASMINE: No… it’s just… I…

LEVI: Miss, I’m going to ask that you hurry up and tell me the truth, because you’re wasting my time, yours, and- if he’s innocent- this Mr. Preston’s.

JASMINE: …Okay. We were talking about… ways to relief stress together.

COLE: (Snorts) So you were talking about having sex with him?

JASMINE: (Angry) No, I wasn’t talking about having sex, Cole! (Cole is taken aback by this.) We were talking about being members of the Stress Relief Foundation because we’re such nervous wrecks all the time, okay? And I didn’t want to tell you because it was a secret, and I didn’t want you to worry about me!

COLE:Oh.

LEVI: (Narrating) There was an awkward silence after the vixen dropped a bombshell bigger than the one she was hypothetically carrying. I figured I should give them some space. (Talking) I figure I should give you two some space-

VALERIE: We heard you, you moron.

LEVI: Oh. I’ll just be out then. (Exits, Narrating) It appears the frumpy waitress could read minds. I would have to keep my guard up in the future.

LESTER: Uh, whaddaya know. I’ve got to polish something. In the back. Bye. (Exits to the back room)

VALERIE: …Hey wait a minute! You were insulting me earlier, weren’t you Lester?! Get back here, you rat!

LESTER: (From off) As you command, princess.

VALERIE: Oh! (Exits)

COLE: …Jazz? Are you okay?

JASMINE: (Looks away from her, gripping the briefcase) Maybe.

COLE: Jazz…

JASMINE: (Not fine) I’m fine.

COLE: You are not.

JASMINE: Yes I am.

COLE: Jazz.

JASMINE: Cole.

COLE: Jazzberry.

JASMINE: Cole Miner.

COLE: Jazzercize.

JASMINE: Roller Cole-ster.

COLE: Jazzmanian Devil.

JASMINE: Cole-ca Cola.

COLE: Jazzper the Friendly Ghost.

JASMINE: Stop, drop and Cole.

COLE: Jazzma Attack.

JASMINE: …Crap, I can’t think of anymore.

COLE: Sit down.

JASMINE: I don’t want to sit down.

COLE: Well I do. (Guides her over to a chair and sits her down. Cole sits across from her in another chair. Jasmine defensively wraps her arms around the briefcase like it’s a teddy bear and she’s a six year-old.) Talk to me Jazz.

JASMINE: Hello Cole.

COLE: Hello Jazz.

JASMINE: It’s still raining, have you noticed?

COLE: Talk to me about your problems, Jazz. Why are you stressed and why don’t you want to tell me?

JASMINE: I’m not stressed.

COLE: Yes you are. I can tell. Your left eyebrow always twitches when you’re stressed.

JASMINE: (Covering her eyebrow) It’s not twitching. I’m just winking at you because you’re pretty.

COLE: Jasmine, come on. I’m your best friend. You can tell me stuff, okay? I’m your buddy.

JASMINE: …Stress Tip #1: The Buddy.

COLE: Is that your stress business? The STD?

JASMINE: SRF.

COLE: Same difference. So why are you stressed?

JASMINE: I’m not that stressed. I was just overreacting. Under pressure from that detective, you know? I don’t like being put on the spot.

COLE: Is it the three jobs you’ve been working?

JASMINE: How did you-

COLE: We room together, Jazz. I start to notice when you come back late every night at the same time every day.

JASMINE: Really?

COLE: Well, a little, but mostly I just noticed the uniforms in your closet.

JASMINE: Am I that transparent?

COLE: It’s not a bad thing to be stressed, Jazz. I mean, it sucks, yeah, but it’s not unusual. Why didn’t you tell me you were having so much trouble coping with it?

JASMINE: I already said. I didn’t want you to worry.

COLE: God dammit Jazz!

JASMINE: (Afraid she’s offended her) What?

COLE: Stop being so… so nice all the time!

JASMINE: But I like being nice.

COLE: Haven’t you ever heard the phrase “nice guys finish last?”

JASMINE: I’m okay with finishing last. That means everyone else in the race will feel a little bit better about themselves at the end.

COLE: That’s exactly what I’m talking about!

JASMINE: You don’t like me being nice?

COLE: I don’t like seeing you get hurt! You let people walk all over you! You have to stand up for yourself once in a while!

JASMINE: I don’t want to. What if I hurt their feelings?

COLE: Screw their feelings! Here, I want you to practice. Yell at me. Tell me everything you’ve ever wanted to say that you never did because you were afraid I’d get mad at you or I’d feel like we weren’t really friends.

JASMINE: …I don’t know. You seem pretty good most of the time.

COLE: Come on, Jazz! Anything!

JASMINE: …Okay. (Takes a large breath) Sometimes I wished you brushed your teeth more often.

COLE: …Really?

JASMINE: Was that too much? I’m sorry.

COLE: No, that was all you could come up with? That’s pathetic! Come on, really insult me. Let it all out. Pretend I’m just a big punching bag of catharsis and I just handed you the boxing gloves.

JASMINE: Well, alright. Here goes. You don’t sing as well as you think you do, you have trouble hitting every note past a high F sharp.

COLE: Good! See, that’s more like it! What else?

JASMINE: Uh. I get scared we’ll hit something whenever you drive us places.

COLE: Good.

JASMINE: You blow me off at dance practice a lot and I think we both suffer for it. You always drink too much at bars, that haircut you got two months ago wasn’t actually your style, I was lying when I said it looked good on you. That red dress of yours makes you look really slutty and you fart in your sleep.

COLE: Okay good, I- wait, really?

JASMINE: Yeah.

COLE: Wow, that’s disgusting. I’m sorry.

JASMINE: I’m sorry you’re sorry.

COLE: No, you’re relapsing! And we were getting so close, too.

JASMINE: I don’t feel any better.

COLE: No?

JASMINE: No, insulting you just makes me feel worse.

COLE: Really? Weird. Usually helps me.

JASMINE: It’s not that I feel pent up hatred for people, it’s just… I don’t know, I don’t want to disappoint anybody.

COLE: You thought you were going to disappoint me?

JASMINE: You. My uncle. Everyone.

COLE: Jasmine, how could you possibly disappoint me? Or anyone else, for that matter? You are amazing. You are goddamned amazing, you know that? You’re good at everything. You’re on the fast-track to becoming a celebrity and a movie star, you made it up the ranks of the Hollywood ladder with nothing but pocket change and a smile. You can dance, sing, act, and you’re pretty. Have you noticed? Because you are really goddamned pretty.

JASMINE: Cole, I’m not that-

COLE: (Standing up) And you know what the best part about you is? It’s that you’re nice. It’s that you’re the one willing to put up with everyone else’s crap and not say anything about it. You’re the girl that doesn’t drink at the party just so she can drive everyone home. You’re the girl that leaves an extra tip for the waiter even though he forgot to put in your order. You’re the girl that organizes other people’s birthday parties and works 3 jobs but still has time to volunteer at local charities and runs around town dropping of applications for your roommate and picking up her slack because she overslept again. You are the nicest person I’ve ever met in my entire life, and, for some reason that I will never be able to understand for as long as I live, you chose me. Out of everyone in the whole wide world to be best friends with, you chose me: mean little Colleen Sprayberry, the nothingest nothing in the world to be best friends with, probably so you could make her life fucking awesome. You are my best friend, Jazz, and I love you. Okay?

JASMINE: Oh Cole! (Gets up and hugs her, drops the briefcase.) Thank you.

COLE: (Still hugging) No problem Jazz.

JASMINE: And you’re not the nothingest nothing. You’re great.

COLE: Yeah, I know. You know something Jazz?

JASMINE: What?

COLE: It’s a good thing that stuff in the briefcase wasn’t a terrorist’s bomb, because if it had been we would’ve exploded when you dropped it.

JASMINE: (Breaking the hug) Huh? (She looks down and picks up the briefcase) You’re right! That means Preston’s innocent!

COLE: Well, not really. It might still be acid or anthrax or something.

JASMINE: (Opening the briefcase) I’m going to drink it.

COLE: Why.

JASMINE: Because if it is a bomb, then someone else will have to test it. It’s my fault this briefcase is still here in the first place, and I’d feel pretty terrible if someone else had to blow up because of me.

COLE: Well if it is a bomb then you’ll feel pretty dead.

JASMINE: Come on, Cole, you remember what that detective said. You have to maintain an air of gullibility about you while investigating things!

COLE: That detective is a moron.

JASMINE: I thought you were all into him.

COLE: I’m into his pecs and chiseled jaw, not his brain. Also he called me “ma’am.” Every guy should know that you call a beautiful young woman such as me “miss,” not “ma’am.” “Ma’am” is a word for old ladies and slave girls who are talking to old ladies.

JASMINE: (Taking out the tube of green liquid and undoing the top) I think I’ll be fine. I have a good feeling about this.

COLE: Jazz, even if that junk isn’t lethal it’s still green coffee.

JASMINE: (Sniffs it) It smells… surprisingly familiar.

COLE: That’s either a good thing or a very, very bad thing.

JASMINE: Well, here goes nothing. Cheers. (Drinks it.) What the…?

COLE: You dead?

JASMINE: I don’t think so.

COLE: Huh. So, on a scale of one to green, how was it. Green? Yeah, I thought so.

JASMINE: This is really strange.

COLE: I know. Green coffee. Why would you do that?

JASMINE: No, I meant the flavor… it’s… it’s the same as Uncle Lester’s coffee.

COLE: So your Uncle brews chemical weapons?

JASMINE: No, but this coffee… is almost identical to the 100% Perk-You-Up Sunshine Coffee.

COLE: Almost?

JASMINE: It’s missing a little cinnamon and the beans were a little old, but yeah, otherwise it’s the same.

COLE: Weird.

VALERIE: (Bursting in) No, Jasmine, don’t drink the acid!

COLE: Too late, she’s already dead.

VALERIE: Darn. And I thought I timed my heroic entrance just right, too. Heroes are very in you know.

JASMINE: Val, were you eavesdropping on our private conversation?

VALERIE: I do it because I care. Now quick, Carly, bring Jasmine over here so I can perform the Heinrich Maneuver and get that acid out of her stomach.

COLE: One: my name is Cole, two: it’s not acid. It’s some sort of gross, evil twin brother coffee version of Lester’s drink.

LESTER: (Bursting in) Wait, someone stole my secret coffee recipe!?

COLE: You were listening too, old man?

LESTER: Well, I, uh, I couldn’t just stand by and let Valerie eavesdrop on your important friendship speech. I tried to peel her away from the door, but she wouldn’t move, so I ended up hearing everything you said.

VALERIE: That’s a load of (saying it like it’s spelled) bologna, you were sitting there even before I was. I can’t believe you’d just lie like that.

LESTER: I can’t believe you just pronounced bologna so wrong. And I can’t believe someone stole our coffee!

JASMINE: Great minds think alike I guess.

LESTER: I aughta take Lava Java to court! That’s flavor theft right there!

JASMINE: They haven’t put this flavor on the market yet.

LESTER: Okay, then I’ll give the briefcase back to them, wait five months, and then I’ll sue them!

JASMINE: Uncle Lester!

LESTER: I’m only kidding Jazz.

VALERIE: No he isn’t. Huh. That coffee sure is weird-lookin’.

LESTER: I wonder what the flavor’s name is.

COLE: Verdant Vomit, maybe?

JASMINE: I’m a little worried, uncle. I want Preston to keep his job, but if I get this briefcase back to him then Lava Java will have your best flavor. It’ll be too much competition for The Usual Place. (Awkward pause)

VALERIE: Lester? Isn’t there something you need to tell her?

LESTER: Right. Look, Jasmine, sweetie, I’ve got some bad news.

JASMINE: What is it?

LESTER: Well, uh…

VALERIE: Go on.

LESTER: I might have to… close down The Usual Place.

JASMINE: What!?

LESTER: Yeah, I know. It’s tough for me to face it, but I don’t think I’ll be able to fund the old girl anymore.

JASMINE: But uncle, you can’t! You love this place, you live to serve coffee!

LESTER: I know Jazz, but I can’t afford it. There’s no customers anymore.

JASMINE: What about the regulars you were telling me about?

LESTER: I was exaggerating. Most of the guys we get in here these days are nutjobs like that detective guy or tax collectors.

JASMINE: Oh, I know! I could pay your bills!

COLE: Jazz, no-

LESTER: Jasmine-

JASMINE: I make a lot of money! I could send you a check every month. However much you need.

LESTER: Jasmine, I heard you talking with Cole a few minutes ago. You can’t take on three jobs, be a starlet and send the money back to your deadbeat uncle and his two-bit diner all at once.

JASMINE: You’re not deadbeat! And this place is great, it’s not two-bit! How can you say that? I know what this place means to you more than anybody else.

LESTER: Jasmine-

JASMINE: It’s great! Great food, great coffee, great service! (Valerie blows a large, unsightly bubble with her gum and it pops all over her face.) All this place needs is a little… publicity!

LESTER: Trust me Jasmine, I’ve tried. I’ve tried for twenty, long years. I had a shot at my dream and… well, it was fun while it lasted. I’m not going to take away your dreams just so I can wallow in mine for a little while longer.

JASMINE: But uncle!

LESTER: I’m sorry Jasmine, but I’ve made up my mind. I’m throwing in the dish towel.

JASMINE: You can’t! We built this place together!

LESTER: Jazz-

JASMINE: (Teary) This was my childhood! This was everything we ever worked for twenty years ago! I lived here! I spent more time here than I did with my parents! This was our gift to each other. Doesn’t that mean anything to you? Don’t you love me anymore?

COLE: (Silence) …Caw, caw! Oh, what’s that? I think it’s the cry of the rare and endangered Awk Hawk. Better go look for it. Caw, caw. (Exits quickly through the back.)

VALERIE: Oh, maybe I should go too… Birdwatching is very in, ya know? (Valerie slowly and awkwardly makes her way to the back door, which she reluctantly opens. She gives an awkward little backwards glance and exits)

LESTER: Jasmine… of course I still love you. You’re all the family I got left now that Amelia’s gone. You’re like a daughter to me.

JASMINE: Then why? Why tear down everything you’ve worked for your entire life?

LESTER: Because, I can’t handle the old girl anymore. She had a good run.

JASMINE: (Burying her head in his chest, crying) But uncle, you can’t just… you can’t just..!

LESTER: Hey. Hey. Why are you cryin’? What’s wrong? You’re gonna be famous. You’re gonna be a big movie star, just like you always said you would. And you know who’s gonna be first in line at every premiere? You’re Uncle Lester, that’s who.

JASMINE: You can’t just…

LESTER: Shh… Come on now. (Lifts up her head) Where’s that smile, Jazz? Where’s that big, angel smile of yours?

JASMINE: Uncle…

LESTER: Come on Jazz, show me that smile!

JASMINE: Uncle, I’m twenty six.

LESTER: Just one smile, come on! (Grabs her face and lifts up her cheeks so she has a big, fake-looking grin.) Good! That’s a good first step. Now show me a real smile! (Jasmine reluctantly gives a little grin and then goes back to pouting) Aw, that’s it? Come on, you gotta do better than that.

JASMINE: I don’t want to.

LESTER: Come on Jazz. Don’t make me sing that old smiling song I used to sing to you when you would cry when you were a toddler.

JASMINE: Uncle, you wouldn’t.

LESTER: (Singing badly and loudly on purpose) Crying brings rainclouds, smiling brings sun!

JASMINE: Stop.

LESTER: (Louder) Just always smile and you’ll have lots of fun!

JASMINE: Uncle, stop! I’m smiling! See? I’m smiling!

LESTER: Good!

JASMINE: Please don’t sing again. It just reminds me of when I was a kid even more.

LESTER: Well that’s good, isn’t it? See, you won’t lose your childhood because I’m closing down the café. As long as I’m around, everything will be just fine. Hey, one day you might even be able to open up a different restaurant! When you’re famous! And everyone will come from miles around to drink coffee and look at that bright smile of yours. Okay?

JASMINE: Okay.

LESTER: (Outstretching his arms) Hug?

JASMINE: Hug. (They hug)

VALERIE: (Bursts out from the back, teary-eyed, mascara running) I lied! Birdwatching is out! Birdwatching is VERY out! (Waddles up to them and sits with them.) That was the single most adorable thing that I have ever seen! I didn’t want to get involved, but I can’t stand to see you so sad! Oh, Lester, let’s keep the old place open! I’ll stay here every night! I’ll work overtime! I’ll stop spitting in the salad! I promise I’ll keep workin’ here until the day I die! (Tightly hugs both of them)

LESTER: Hooray.

JASMINE: Thanks, Val. That means a lot to me. It’s… okay. The Usual Place was fun while it lasted. I’m okay with it closing.

VALERIE: No you’re not.

JASMINE: You’re right. But I… I can accept it. I don’t really have any other choice, do I?

LESTER: She’s right Val. Unless a solution to all our debt comes walking through that door, then I won’t be able to fund the old girl anymore.

PRESTON: (Walks in through the front door, wet and head hung low like a wilted flower) Go ahead and shoot me.

JASMINE: Preston! (Getting up and going to him) Oh my gosh, what happened? You look terrible!

PRESTON: I was fired. Lava Java kicked me out.

JASMINE: Oh Preston, I’m so sorry… It’s all my fault.

PRESTON: It is.

JASMINE: But… why did you come back?

PRESTON: Stress Relief Tip #5: The English Gent. If you can’t shake the feeling of stress, try relaxing at a local café and drinking a cup of coffee or two while reading the newspaper. (Takes out a wet, ruined newspaper) …Aw.

JASMINE: Are you okay?

PRESTON: Not really. All I’ve got left is the shirt on my back and my briefcase full of state-of-the-art revolutionary coffee formulas. What am I supposed to do with that? (Jasmine and Lester share a glance)

LESTER: …Unless a giant boulder of money comes rolling through that door then I won’t be able to fund the old girl anymore. (Beat) Dammit.

JASMINE: Preston, I can’t apologize enough. I tried to bring you your briefcase, really I did!

LESTER: It’s true. That asshole at the reception desk wouldn’t let us contact you.

PRESTON: Oh, that must’ve been Maury. He always was kind of a jerk. Always made me nervous. He was always a little too specific with his questions.

LESTER: Yeah, he wouldn’t even do a search for you without your last name. All we could say was that your name was Preston.

PRESTON: That is my name.

LESTER: No, we needed your last name.

PRESTON: That is my last name.

LESTER: Then what’s your first name?

PRESTON: Preston.

LESTER: Your name is Preston Preston?

PRESTON: My parents were terrible people.

VALERIE: Well how do you like that?

JASMINE: Oh, Preston! I forgot, I have something else I need to apologize to you for.

PRESTON: Besides crushing my life’s aspirations?

JASMINE: Yes, besides that. I took a sip of your special coffee.

PRESTON: Oh. Well I guess it doesn’t really matter, now that I’m fired and all.

COLE: (Entering) Hey Valerie, where did you put my wet clothes- Oh, it’s Stresston. I was wondering whose voice that was.

JASMINE: Yeah, I was just telling him that I drank his coffee. After uncle got done revealing that he was closing up shop.

COLE: After you revealed to me that you were secretly stressed.

JASMINE: Right.

VALERIE: After I revealed that rat kissin’ thing.

COLE: People sure are confessing a lot of their secrets today.

LEVI: (Bursting out of the back, he is holding a box of blueberries and his mouth is stained blue-purple) I too have a confession! I have been eating your blueberries.

PRESTON: My heart rate just quintupled.

LESTER: How the hell did you get back there!?

LEVI: Intuition!

VALERIE: Hey Lester, aren’t those the molded blueberries from the other day? (Levi continues to eat the blueberries)

LESTER: You mean the ones I asked you to replace?

VALERIE: Yeah those.

LESTER: Good job.

VALERIE: I knew you would see things my way eventually.

PRESTON: This is all very exciting. I should leave before I have a heart attack. Could you hand me my briefcase?

JASMINE: I’ll get it! (Hops over to the briefcase)

LEVI: Wait, is that your briefcase, sir?

PRESTON: It is.

LEVI: (Taking out a pair of handcuffs) Could I ask you some questions?

PRESTON: Oh. Oh god. Oh god, you did call the police! And you didn’t pay my tab, even though you said you would!

JASMINE: No, I-

PRESTON: It’s happening! It’s just like I thought! First I get fired and then I get arrested!

LESTER: And then you get shot.

PRESTON: And then I get shot!

JASMINE: Uncle!

LESTER: What? I’m just trying to help the guy out.

LEVI: Sir, calm down, I just need to ask you some questions.

PRESTON: Then put away the handcuffs.

LEVI: (He does) Your name is Preston, correct?

PRESTON: T-that’s correct.

LEVI: Hah! I knew it. What’s your last name?

PRESTON: Preston.

LEVI: No, I said your last name.

VALERIE: Oh for god sakes.

JASMINE: Mr. Burnam, this man isn’t the terrorist you’re looking for. He’s just a coffee salesman.

PRESTON: Terrorist? Oh no, how did you find out!?

COLE: What?

JASMINE: What?

LEVI: What?

PRESTON: It’s true! I knew I’d get caught! I knew it, I knew it, I knew it!

JASMINE: S-so that stuff I drank really was a bomb?

COLE: Oh my god Jazz, you’re gonna die!

JASMINE: Aw man.

LESTER: You son of a bitch, you’ve killed my niece!

VALERIE: To be fair, she was the one who decided to drink the death coffee.

PRESTON: Death coffee? Bomb? What are you all talking about? I just knocked over an American flag on my neighbor’s terrace last weekend.

LEVI: And you considered that… terrorism?

PRESTON: I got so worried. I thought I should pick it up, but if I did then he might notice the angle it was tilted at had changed, and then he might have a forensics expert come in and find my fingerprints on it. So then I got nervous. But then I remembered if you drop a flag on the ground you’re supposed to burn it. So I set it on fire and left.

COLE: And that was the most logical course of action for you?

PRESTON: Stress Tip #16: The Arsonist: Your problems are much easier to deal with when they’re on fire.

JASMINE: Stress Tip #16 is The Herbalist: Try natural remedies to reach your desires.

PRESTON: Really? Boy have I been doing it wrong.

LEVI: So you’re not a terrorist?

PRESTON: Not that I know of. I might be a sleep terrorist though.

COLE: A sleep terrorist?

PRESTON: Yes. I frequently sleepwalk and sleep talk. I’ve been caught sleep dancing and sleep knitting on multiple occasions. It’s possible I may be a sleep terrorist. Unlikely though.

LEVI: Well. That’s good! But I guess I still have a case on my hands, don’t I?

LESTER: What you have on your hands are my stolen blueberries.

LEVI: Hey, you’re right! You know, with observation skills like yours you might make a fine detective one day. Maybe even as good as me.

COLE: That’s a tough aspiration right there.

JASMINE: Say Preston, you have other unreleased flavors, right?

PRESTON: That’s correct. You don’t think those are bombs too, do you?

JASMINE: I would hope not.

PRESTON: Me too. Bombs make me nervous.

COLE: Everything makes you nervous.

PRESTON: I don’t know if I like your insinuation.

COLE: Why not?

PRESTON: It… it makes me nervous.

JASMINE: Well I was wondering, you’re out of a job, right?

PRESTON: We have established this, yes.

JASMINE: It just so happens that my uncle runs this café here, and we were looking for some ways to attract new customers.

PRESTON: Your uncle?

LESTER: Me.

PRESTON: Oh, right. Him. You’re not going to shoot me, are you?

LESTER: For the tenth time, no.

PRESTON: This is only the second time, actually.

LESTER: I’m not going to shoot you.

PRESTON: Good. Bullets make me-

COLE: Nervous?

PRESTON: No, bullets make me dead.

JASMINE: I was wondering if… well… uncle, I don’t really have the power to make this decision.

LESTER: I think I know what you’re getting at Jasmine. Mr. Preston, are you looking for another job at the moment?

PRESTON: I should think so.

LESTER: Well then I think I have a proposition you might be interested in-

VALERIE: Lester, wait!

LESTER: What is it, Val?

VALERIE: I just got the BEST idea: What if you hired Preston to make new flavors for the Usual Place so we could stay in business! That way we’d all keep our jobs!

LESTER: …Brilliant, Val.

JASMINE: So? What do you say, Preston?

PRESTON: Well… it’s not a bad proposition. Could I use the flavors I was going to sell to Lava Java? They were going to make the company a fortune.

LESTER: You betcha! Anyone intent on ruining Lava Java is alright with me! You’re hired. (Shakes his hand)

PRESTON: Excellent. I feel… content. My goodness this is strange. It’s an exuberating feeling!

JASMINE: What is?

PRESTON: Nothing! I feel nothing! No jitters. No heart rate escalation, no increase in blood pressure, no convulsing, nothing! It’s incredible!

LEVI: I think that’s cause for celebration! Mr. Wright, drinks for everyone, on you! (They all murmur in agreement)

LESTER: I’ll go and brew the best batch of Sunshine Coffee I’ve ever made. (He goes behind the counter and begins brewing, the rest of them sit around a table)

JASMINE: You know Preston, it’s funny, that green coffee you made is almost identical to my Uncle Lester’s special Sunshine Coffee.

PRESTON: Really?

JASMINE: Yep! But it’s not quite as good. You need to steep a cinnamon stick in it, you can’t use the powdered kind.

PRESTON: You could make that assessment from one sip?

JASMINE: I grew up making up coffee flavors myself.

PRESTON: That’s quite an impressive tongue you’ve got there.

VALERIE: Jasmine made up half the menu here.

COLE: Geez Jazz, is there anything you suck at?

JASMINE: Well, I’m not a very good salesman.

COLE: That’s because you’re a girl.

JASMINE: Saleswoman, then. I’m no good at lying.

COLE: You’re an actress. Lying is your job.

JASMINE: Acting is harmless lying.

COLE: Not if you’re playing a murderer.

LEVI: You’re an actress?

COLE: We both are.

LEVI: Could I get your autographs? (Narrating, offering them a pen) I tried to play it cool as I offered the girls a pen, but somehow I felt as though they could see right through me.

JASMINE: Sure.

COLE: Nope. (Jasmine writes her name on a napkin and then hands it to Cole, who does the same)

LEVI: What are you two doing in Chicago?

COLE: Jasmine had a dance audition but her director was out in Chicago this week, so she decided to show some intuition by coming out to the Windy City herself. She’s sure to nail the part.

JASMINE: Actually, I made that up.

COLE: What?

JASMINE: I actually came here to get some of Uncle Lester’s coffee to calm my nerves and inspire me. It’s always made me happy before, I figured it would work again.

COLE: Wow. You totally had me fooled. See? You are a good liar.

JASMINE: Oh wow. I guess I am good at everything.

COLE: Cheater.

JASMINE: Sorry.

LESTER: (Coming over with a tray of coffee) Six Sunshine Coffees, comin’ right up! Enjoy. (He sits down with them)

COLE: I’ll be sure to drink this one slowly.

LESTER: Good.

JASMINE: A toast! To The Usual Place!

ALL: To The Usual Place (They clink their glasses together and drink)

JASMINE: It’s fantastic, uncle.

LESTER: Thanks.

COLE: Yeah, the flavor is still a little much to take. Drink too much of this at once and you start Sound of Music-ing.

PRESTON: This really is almost the same as my coffee… I can’t believe how similar it is.

LEVI: (Narrating, the same spotlight centers on him) The rich and complex flavors of the coffee danced on my tongue. My taste buds were singing songs of joy the likes of which I had never heard, and doubted I would ever hear again-

VALERIE: (Placing her hand over his mouth, the lights come back to normal) Shut it. Eh. I still don’t see what so great about this stuff. It’s just coffee.

COLE: Maybe it doesn’t mix well with that gum you’re always chewing.

VALERIE: You might have a point there. (Takes the gum out of her mouth and takes another sip) Oh my God.

LESTER: Well?

VALERIE: It’s exactly the same.

LESTER: You have no sense of taste.

VALERIE: Taste is out anyway.

JASMINE: (Looking out the window) Hey look, the sun’s out again!

COLE: Thank God.

LEVI: (Going to the window) Wow, would you look at that. It’s almost like a metaphor or something.

LESTER: Why are you still here?

LEVI: Me?

LESTER: Yeah, don’t you have terrorists to catch or something, Mr. Hot-shot detective?

LEVI: You’re right, citizen. Injustice still lurks around every corner of this city, and it’s up to me to stop it. Thieves… Murderers… Arsonists…

PRESTON: Sorry.

LEVI: (Ignoring him and going on with his monologue) This town is full of people like that. Why, just around the block some scumbag double parked. Somewhere in the city an orphaned, legless boy is driving around with tears in his eyes, just trying to find a parking spot.

VALERIE: If he doesn’t have any legs then how can he drive?

LEVI: (Ignoring her) It’s not an easy job, but somebody’s got to do it. It’s me against a vast world full of darkness and lies. Nevertheless, I must remain strong. I’ll root out every bit of evil with the torch of justice… and when I find those criminals, I’ll burn ‘em… Levi Burnam. (He gestures towards the door) Hit it, Mac! …Oh, right. He’s not here. Can… can I try that again? You guys don’t mind, do you?

COLE: Eh, go ahead.

LEVI: Thanks, that means a lot to me. (Narrating) I’ll burn ‘em… Levi Burnam. (Exits while miming a saxophone and tooting his own version of the sax riff that Mac played earlier)

VALERIE: Why did he say his thoughts out loud? Did anyone ever ask him? (No answer) Really? No one else is the least bit curious? Okay, fine. Just me I guess. Whatever.

PRESTON: You know, he just left without paying.

LESTER: …Damn, he did, didn’t he?

JASMINE: It’s alright, I can cover his bill.

LESTER: Nah, it doesn’t matter. I’m more miffed that I gave that guy of all people two cups of my best coffee.

PRESTON: As your new business partner, I’d suggest putting that coffee on the normal menu. More people come in the store that way.

LESTER: I suppose I should. Maybe people will be more inclined to pay for it that way.

JASMINE: (Finishing her drink) Well, I’m done. How about you Cole?

COLE: Are you kidding? How did you drink that stuff so quickly?

JASMINE: I was one of the people who made it, remember? My body is used to it.

COLE: Did you break into song and dance your first time too?

JASMINE: Yeah. Back when I was eleven.

VALERIE: It was adorable.

COLE: And what about you, Stresston? You start dancing your first time?

PRESTON: If I try to dance my body shuts down in fear.

COLE: Oh.

JASMINE: When you’re finished Cole, do you want me to show you around the rest of Chicago?

COLE: Yeah, sure, now that it’s not raining anymore.

VALERIE: Aw, you’re leavin’ so soon?

LESTER: Yeah, you just got here! I haven’t seen you in two years!

COLE: Don’t worry, old man. Our return flight’s on Sunday. We’re in town all week.

JASMINE: And we’ll visit you every day! I promise! Oh, assuming that’s alright with you, Cole.

COLE: Are you kidding? Magic coffee, schizophrenic detectives and bomb threats? This place is awesome.

PRESTON: Yes. “Awesome.”

COLE: I’d visit every day for a month if I could.

LESTER: Well I’d appreciate the business.

COLE: Hey Jazz, since you’re so eager to leave, could you in the back and grab my raincoat?

JASMINE: Sure. (She does)

VALERIE: She’s an angel, that girl.

COLE: And what am I, chopped liver?

VALERIE: (Putting a supportive hand on her shoulder) You can be whatever you want to be.

COLE: Said one stripper to another.

VALERIE: That’s right.

PRESTON: Y-you were strippers?

VALERIE: Yeah. What about it?

PRESTON: Well, nothing. It’s just I’ve been nonchalantly rubbing my leg against the pole underneath this table for the past few minutes, but now I’m a little worried. Does anyone have a moist towlette?

LESTER: You don’t need to worry, Preston, Valerie scrubs these tables clean every fortnight.

PRESTON: Somehow that doesn’t make me feel any better.

LESTER: Well if you want, you can clean the place up.

PRESTON: That sounds good. I am a bit of a neat freak, I must admit.

COLE: There’s a shocker.

PRESTON: Yes, that fact does tend to surprise people.

JASMINE: (Returning) I’ve got your coat.

COLE: Oh, good. I was just about finished. (Takes one last sip) Ahh. (Rises)

LESTER: You two heading out?

JASMINE: Yep.

VALERIE: It was so good to see you! (Hugs Jasmine)

JASMINE: You too, Val.

VALERIE: Oh, and it was nice to meet you too, Cole!

COLE: Same.

LESTER: (Hugging Jasmine) Come home more often, okay?

JASMINE: Okay uncle!

COLE: You brew a mean coffee, old man.

LESTER: Be sure to tell your friends out in LA about The Usual Place!

COLE: Trust me, I will.

JASMINE: And it was nice talking with you, Preston.

PRESTON: Oh. Yes. Quite.

JASMINE: Sorry about getting you fired and all.

PRESTON: No problem. (Jasmine and Cole head for the door)

LESTER: Hey, I’d better see you two tomorrow nice and early, you hear me?

COLE: Don’t count on it old man, I don’t get up until noon, even if it’s not raining.

JASMINE: We’ll be here, uncle. Bye!

LESTER: Goodbye. (They exit)

VALERIE: Such nice girls.

LESTER: Valerie, could you clean up?

VALERIE: Do I have to?

LESTER: You want to make a good first impression for our new employee, dontcha?

VALERIE: Not really.

LESTER: Val.

VALERIE: Oh fine! (Goes over and grabs the dish towel and begins to wipe down the table)

LESTER: Come on, Mr. Preston, I’ll show you around the place.

PRESTON: Sounds good. (They exit through the back. As soon as the door closes Valerie stops working and sits down, beginning to file her nails again.)

LEVI: (Reentering, Narrating) I walked back into the quiet little diner. Somehow it seemed much cozier then the last time I’d been there. I frequented the place often, but for some reason or another, the waitress never remembered me.

VALERIE: Oh, what are you doin’ back here?

LEVI: I’m still a little hungry. That croissant roll you offered earlier is still up for grabs, right?

VALERIE: Go ahead, I guess.

LEVI: (Grabs the croissant roll on the counter and looks around) They already cleared out, huh?

VALERIE: Yeah, the coffee here stinks. You shouldn’t come here. Ever again.

LEVI: Speaking of, I’m still a little thirsty. Could I get a drink?

VALERIE: (Grabbing a glass behind the counter) Sure. Here, this one’s on the house.

LEVI: (Drinks it) Huh. That’s an… interesting flavor? What is this?

VALERIE: Dishwater. (Levi starts spitting and wipes his tongue on his sleeve) You’d be surprised what people will eat when we tell them it’s “on the house.” Lester and I make bets on it sometimes.

LEVI: You know, you shouldn’t be so mean to a cop. It might get you into trouble.

VALERIE: I hate to break it to you mister Burn-bum, but you’re not a real cop.

LEVI: Aren’t I?

VALERIE: You’re not like any cop I’ve ever seen.

LEVI: That’s because I’m part of a secret, high-up CIA group.

VALERIE: Prove it.

LEVI: Alright. (He reaches into his trenchcoat)

VALERIE: If you pull out that magnifying glass again I swear I’m going to break it into a million little pieces, and then that new guy is gonna have to clean it up, and that’s a real dick move by you.

LEVI: Haha, not quite. (He takes out a special badge and throws it to her)

VALERIE: (Reading) Levi Burnam, six-year member of the Scribe Society. Codename: Hedera. Field Agent. Hair color: brown, eye color: brown, face shape: handsome. (Standing up) Oh my God… you’re the real deal, ain’t ya!?

LEVI: I keep telling you I’m undercover, but you people never listen to me. Could I have my badge back?

VALERIE: Of course, Mr. Detective. (She hands it to him)

LEVI: Of course, I can’t let you remember any of this.

VALERIE: What do you mean?

LEVI: (He puts on a pair of sunglasses and takes out a device that looks like some sort of high-tech, small camera) Smile.

VALERIE: What are you-?

(He flashed the camera in her face and a bright light illuminates the stage for a split second. When it goes back to normal he takes off the sunglasses and puts the camera back in his coat. Valerie stands there, dazed and confused.)

LEVI: (Chuckling) It gets me every time.

VALERIE: (Coming to her senses) W… what the? Why did I get up again? (Noticing Levi) Hey, what are you doin’ here!?

LEVI: Nothing, just came back for this croissant roll. (He takes a bite) Hey, this is pretty good.

VALERIE: Would you get outta here!?

LEVI: (Narrating) At the request of the she-beast, I turned around and headed out the door. There was justice out there, and all I had to do was find it. (Talking) See you next Tuesday. (Exits)

VALERIE: What a loon. (Goes back to filing her nails)

LESTER: (Reentering, calling back to Preston) Yeah, bathroom’s right around the corner. You’ll find it. (To Valerie) I see you’re slacking off again.

VALERIE: I’m on my break.

COLE: (Reentering, out of breath) Hey.

LESTER: Hey. You want to buy some more coffee?

COLE: No, Jasmine forgot her hat. She’s such a ditz sometimes.

LESTER: Valerie, go get that hat.

VALERIE: I’m busy cleaning this table.

LESTER: You’re not getting much done.

VALERIE: Yeah it’s gonna be a long cleaning session.

LESTER: Could I maybe ask for this cleaning session to be shortened?

VALERIE: You can’t rush genius, Lester.

LESTER: Fine, I’ll get the stupid hat.

COLE: Wait, don’t bother, she left it on the counter. (Grabs the hat)

LESTER: Oh. Well, I guess I’ll be seeing you tomorrow.

COLE: Yeah. But before I go, I have a favor to ask you.

LESTER: Yeah?

COLE: (Takes out a wad of bills and tosses it to Lester) Here.

LESTER: What is this?

COLE: It’s five hundred dollars.

VALERIE: The coffee only costs five bucks, Cole.

LESTER: What’s this for?

COLE: Even with Preston here, you’re still in debt, right? Well there you go. I just want to help you out. That should help you get through the week, alright? See ya. (She turns to go)

LESTER: Wait, why are you giving this to me? This is a lot of money young lady, I can’t take it.

VALERIE: I’ll take it if you don’t want it.

COLE: It’s not for you, old man. It’s for Jasmine. It’s pretty obvious this place means a lot to her. I can’t let you go getting her hopes up just to get this place shut down, right?

LESTER: This is too much.

COLE: Look. I owe Jasmine a lot, okay? I figure this way I’m just paying back a little bit of the debt I owe to her. If this place is still open next year then that’s enough to make her happy.

LESTER: I-

COLE: Don’t argue. Just take it. I’ve got three hundred more. If Jasmine can make it through Hollywood with three hundred bucks, then I can make it through one week in Chicago.

VALERIE: That’s real nice ‘a you Cole.

COLE: I know. So don’t tell Jasmine, got it?

LESTER: Why not?

COLE: I can’t have her knowing I’m all nice and shit. I give you the money and you don’t tell Jasmine, that’s our deal. Understand?

LESTER: Yeah. Alright, I get it. Thanks. Thanks a lot.

COLE: No problem. (Heads out the door, stops, turns around) Oh. And tell Stresston to stop worrying so much, alright? It’s not good for his heart. See ya.

VALERIE: Bye! (Cole exits)

LESTER: Jasmine’s in good hands with that girl.

VALERIE: I’ll say.

LESTER: (Goes behind the counter and starts to clean the glasses again) I wish I had a waitress like her instead of you.

VALERIE: Oh you’re just sayin’ that.

LESTER: Yeah. Now help me wash those dishes.

VALERIE: I’m still on my break.

LESTER: You are not!

VALERIE: How do you know?

LESTER: Because I’m your boss, that’s how I know! (Over the next couple lines the lights slowly fade to black)

VALERIE: You couldn’t boss your way out of a paper bag!

LESTER: I bet you I could.

VALERIE: Prove it.

LESTER: (He picks up a takeout bag and punches through it.) There. I did it.

VALERIE: It doesn’t matter. Paper bags are out anyways.

LESTER: Well what’s in this week?

VALERIE: Let’s see… wallpaper, UFO sightings, the color yellow, Russian Dolls, sunshine, Tuesday-

LESTER: Kissing rats?

VALERIE: No actually- Oh, wait a minute, Lester! (Lester begins to guffaw loudly) You better not bring that rat thing up whenever I’m chatting with a customer! Especially a handsome one!

LESTER: (Still laughing) You mean like the preteen in the Spongebob shirt?

VALERIE: Yeah, just like- Why you-! Lester!!!

(Laughing and lines cut out, fade to black.)