Shoot the Messenger
A play in one act with four scenes
by Alfred de Grazia
Copyright © 2001 by Alfred de Grazia
Scene in Lorraine, Northern France, Jan 5, 1945. Play is set in cracked and half-roofed room of a blasted house, the door is blown away on one side allowing easy entrance for a small vehicle, the sidecar motorcycle. Occasional booms. One screaming shell passes overhead (startling -- men duck --until realizing it is friendly fire).
Captain Henry Everbast, nervous, restless, thirty years old, scared and aggressive. Authoritarian.
Pfc George Kawacky, driver, stupid slouch
Sgt. Jason Schmaltz, company clerk, bright, runs things
German Oberleutnant (Scene 4 alter ego of Captain Everbast)
Captain of heavy weapons company is proud of captured German "Sidecar" motorcycle. Scene opens with the machine, partially covered, being dragged in by the Sergeant and Pfc. Its cloths are removed and the three Americans stand admiring. It is camouflaged, yet a swastika painted on its side is visible.
Captain: Golly all git-out, as maw used to say and I mean shit, piss, and corruption for paw's sake! Just what I need for a good messenger service.
What's that man's name. He's always around. Never says anything, your man I suppose, Sgt Schmaltz?
Sergeant: Kawacky, Sir. George, Private First Class.
Captain: Can't he speak for himself? What kind of name is Kawacky?
Sergeant: I don't know, Captain Everbast, sir. American, I suppose. Like Schmaltz.
Captain: I know, Schmaltz is a German name. You don't have to keep rubbing it in all the time. O.K. George Kawacky, pfc, and hunderd per cent American is designated driver of this beautiful vehicle. You hear that, Kawacky?
Kawacky: Yessir. But...
Captain, exulting. Now no total dependence on stringing telephones. (Each time he compliments the car, he gives it a playful poke and pat. But we gotta erase that swastika insignia. Feels the tires, "Not much time on them, eh?")
Yuhknow? This Sidecar can go on paths a jeep cannot manage.
Kawacky: (low key despondency) I dunno.
Captain: And it can carry stuff, liquor, PX supplies, etc.
Schmaltz: And make a quick getaway with company records in an emergency.
And by a path of any kind.
Captain: I already said that.
Kawacky: I dunno.
Captain settles into the side car gleefully, facing wall, and gives imaginary instructions and commands, Turn left, next road! Speed up, we're being shelled! Pass that tank ahead of us!
He then gives a couple of real life commands to the Company Clerk who relays them to the driver, now on the saddle. (Co. clerk relays them to audience instead of to driver, however.)
Captain: Get over to Lt. Floss of ''C' Platoon, no, ''A ''Platoon, and give him this oral message. "Hold your position until further notice."
(But the driver's repetition is garbled, as is the clerk's to the captain.)
Sergeant: 'Hold in place until you're noticed.'
Driver: 'Hold yer place ef yer noticed.'
Captain: Shit, piss, and corruption! Get it straight, and the Co. Clerk tells driver ''get it straightened'' and the driver moves the machine around.
Captain: If you get stopped by an MP, tell him this belongs to G-2 CIC Colonel Snoop's. (He'll take it away for his guys if he thinks it's ours.) Don't forget, tell him it belongs to Colonel Snoop of G-2, Army HQ.
Captain: Now, let's stop fooling around. This is for real. Kawacky, go find Sergeant Pastafazu, wherever he is, and tell him "we might be here for four days, so string wire." I am not gonna write it down lest the enemy capture you and read it.
Schmaltz, do you think this is too secret to be written?
Sergeant: Oh yes, sir. They'll know we're stuck in a hole.
Captain: They're mighty stupid if they don't know that. Anyhow, we're not stuck, we're dug in. And be sure your morning report says so.
Sergeant: Reading from Special Order 101:
Written messages are risky. Not only may they fall into the hands of the enemy, but they spread information improperly among friendly troops. When carefully drawn, as they must always be, they are often too vague and ambiguous to be deciphered or they are executed improperly, because transmission by voice is more urgent or otherwise. On the other hand, oral messages are cryptic, vague, literal, discursive; they frequently answer a question with a question, are hyperbolic, illogical, and insufficient.
Captain: What in the Holy Name of Jesus does that mean?
Well, OK, make it oral. He tears up the message. So as not to fall in hands of the enemy.
Captain piles looted wine and rations into sidecar.
After you get through to the Sergeant, find Lt. Floss's position and give him these rations. Don't break the bottles, whatever you do. He has to give you some money for them. Twenty bucks to get from the Lieutenant, don't forget.
Wait now, Jest a minute..there was one other thing bothering me, what was it, oh, well, I forgit, let it go.
Kawacky: But, sir..
Captain: OK, you're all set to go now, so
get going. I have to take a crap.
Sergeant: Captain, sir, Kawacky is saying something about never having driven a motorcycle. Captain has disappeared.
Kawacky wheels out the motorcycle uncertainly, clumsily, complaining to Sergeant Schmaltz, I'm worried about giving our troops the wrong impression.
Schmaltz: Don't worry. They'll love it.
Scene 3. Later.
Racket outside. Captain snoring on cot, Sergeant Schmaltz looks out, calls "It's Kawacky back already." Captain awakens and sits up. Kawacky enters limping and clothes torn, dragging filthy motorcycle that has a broken wheel and twisted gear and bent metal -- a wreck and ruin.
Last message from Lieutenant Floss besieged is written - Schmaltz reads: "As per orders, I gave all required info to Kawacky to give you orally! I regret that I have but one life to give to my country, and here it goes."
Captain: Well, what's the message. Spill it.
Kawacky is speechless, in shock, Bah-too-flackossaycanyou see, not now, later, now it's funny, hah, hah, the swastika, he sobs. Enemy on flank. In force. Right flank. Left flank. Right oblique, March. Soupy, supper, sooply. Don't know. Both. When they saw it. Yes, maybe, no."
Captain: The hell with all that. But how did you wreck the machine? How? Dammit, anyhow, it's irreplaceable.
Kawacky points to right, up to gallery, to left. Wherever I am I drawd fire. He points to the swastika still visible on a dent on the sidecar.
Captain stands aghast: You didn't erase it? You dumb sonofabitch! You drew all our friendly firepower! You couda got us all killed.
Enraged, the Captain draws his .45 Automatic and Kawacky runs limping out, Captain chasing him. Shots are heard.
Sgt Schmaltz walks over, looks out the door, turns back, examines motorcycle, shaking head, saying "My God, oh my God, ...just look at that poor vehicle! No wonder the Captain went crazy!"
A scared yell: "Here they come!" Counterattack, explosions, small arms fire, commotion outside.
A German Oberleutnant jumps through doorway (It is Captain Everbast, redressed in German tunic, boots, and helmet, brandishing Luger). He is yelling, "Alt! Give up! I shoot!"
The German sees the ruined moto, looks closer, begins to utter tortured sounds, gives an anguished angry cry, turns accusingly to Schmaltz, whose arms are high in the air. You did it!
Schmaltz: No I didn't. I'm just the Company Clerk. And you are Captain Everbast, Captain, how did you ever turn into an enemy officer so fast?
Oberleutnant: Allen Offizieren are gleich, don't you know, you verdamnt Yankee fool?
Schmaltz: I thought so. I knew, I knew - Officer are all sons-of-bitches, regardless of nationality. But to see it with my own eyes!
Oberleutnant: No. Don't change the subject. You did it!
But machts nicht, so you didn't do it.
Somebody has to pay for this.
Schmaltz, you are in the pay of the enemy. I don't care what enemy.
Sergeant Schmaltz: But don't you see? You even know my name is Schmaltz and I'm true-blue 100% American. Captain, Oberleutnant, I'll even sign the morning report that Kawacky was killed in action against the enemy.. Which is true, it WAS you!
Oberleutnant: Don't confuse the issue.
And he shoots Sergeant Schmaltz.
Turning to the disabled Sidecar again, he cries piteously, Ach du lieber, look at meine shoenscht lieber Sidecar! He takes up a handlebar as if it were the hand of a dying lover and kisses it.
He turns to the twitching Clerk and shoots him again , exclaiming Bungler! Then screams to the sky Friendly Fire, Feindly Fire, What th' hell! and sticks the gun into his own mouth and fires it as the curtain falls to hide the scene.