April 2012

Tails of the City

In a dark realm between graphic novel and film storyboard lives a cautionary yarn about innocence...and murder  by SARA GRAN / illustrations by ISTVAN BANYAI

[ A BUS STATION, LOS ANGELES, NIGHT. Commuters mill about, as do prostitutes,
pimps, drug dealers and the homeless. A kitten cries, unnoticed. From the background,
a big black cat, TOM our hero, watches all this with a sardonic expression.
1 ]

TOM:
Get a load of this...

[ A slick adult cat approaches the kitten. ]

SLICK CAT:
Why so blue, little friend?

TOM:
Never take help in a bus station.

KITTEN:
See, I’m gonna be a star! I can act AND sing! But I turned around for a second
and everything I own is GONE!

SLICK CAT:
Why, don’t worry. We take care of each other round here.
How’s a nice fish dinner sound?
And then sleeping in a cozy house on a soft pillow?

KITTEN:
That sounds great, but why would you do all that for me?

[ Slick Cat leads Kitten out of the bus station.2 ]

SLICK CAT:
I love to help. After a few days, I might ask YOU to do something...
something real fun...for a lonely cat whose wife doesn’t understand him.
Some company with a handsome young fellow like you...

TOM:
Nothing’s free.

[ Tom struts through the streets of a decaying downtown L.A.’s Skid Row.3
There are posters in the background for a new mayoral candidate:
VOTE FOR EWING! BRING THE
FAMILY BACK TO LOS ANGELES!
The homeless live in tents, many with cats and dogs.
A pack of wild dogs greets Tom as he passes by.
4 ]

WILD DOGS:
What up, Tom?

[ Tom pauses in front of Ewing’s downtown election headquarters,5 where Ewing
is making a speech in front of a crowd of reporters. No one notices Tom.
6 ]

EWING:
...rid our town of the VERMIN who have taken over like ANIMALS, and restore
our city to a clean, safe, wholesome Los Angeles...

TOM:
The difference between us and them is they THINK they run the city.
We KNOW we run the city.

[WALTER’S DONUTS, a dingy little joint 7 where CHERYL, a young, pretty, spunky,
not so bright blonde, like a kid from a Busby Berkeley musical, is having coffee.
]

WALTER ( to Tom ):
Hey, buddy!

CHERYL ( to Tom ):
There’s my guy!

[ Cheryl scratches Tom, and he purrs like a drunk. Despite Tom’s cynicism,
they adore each other.
8 ]

CHERYL:
How about a sleepover tonight? But later, I gotta special date!

TOM:
They’re all special to her.

[ LATER THAT NIGHT. Tom climbs a fire escape on a tenement, past the
racially diverse urban squalor in the windows, catching snippets of turmoil and
tragedy: a family fighting at the dinner table because there’s not enough food;
a young wife slapping her husband across the face, crying,
“Just tell me the truth for once, FOR ONCE...”
9 ]

TOM:
Meow.

[ Tom enters the building and goes through an open door to Cheryl’s room.10
Cheryl’s face is bruised and bloody. Tom is horrified. Cheryl is crying,
watching Ewing on TV.
]

CHERYL:
Thought I could trust a guy on TV. Guess he knew what I was good for.

[ Tom realizes Ewing is the man who beat Cheryl.11 ]

TOM:
The girl may not have much for brains, but I like her.
A heart like that’s hard to come by in this city. And someone’s gonna pay for this.
See, there’s three things they don’t understand.
First, WE run this city. Second, they need us more than we need them.
And third—well, let’s save that for later.

[THE SAME NIGHT. Tom watches Ewing in front of his headquarters,
talking to another young pretty girl with stars in her eyes.
12 ]

EWING:
A girl like you could go far. You know, I used to be an actor...

TOM (disgusted):
They never stop falling for it, but this score won’t be too hard to settle.

[ LATER THE SAME NIGHT. Tom approaches a ragged but cute
house a few blocks from downtown.
]

TOM:
It’s easy to find people to take pity on a sweet, innocent pussycat...
The hard part is pretending to be one.

[ JAMIE, our girl reporter, at her computer.13 ]

JAMIE:
Hey, pal, I’m happy to see you, but I need to dig up dirt on this %^&* Ewing
for the Times. Come back tomorrow, okay?

[ IN JAMIE’S YARD. Tom stops to speak with Jamie’s dog,
JONES—big, stupid and friendly.
14 ]

JONES:
Hiya, Tom! Wanna play fetch?

[ Tom makes a face. Like that would happen. ]

TOM:
Er, maybe later. How about a different kind of a game?

[ THE DONUT SHOP THE NEXT NIGHT. Tom sits at a window table
with Cheryl, sunglasses covering her face. She drinks her coffee and looks blue.
Walter looks sad for her. Tom looks down.
]

CHERYL:
How about another coffee, Walt? Nothin’ to look good for now anyways.

[ OUTSIDE WALTER’S DONUTS. Jones the dog is dragging Jamie the reporter
to the shop.
15 ]

JAMIE:
We never go this way! And their donuts taste like s--t on a...

[ Jones barks at the window where Tom and Cheryl are sitting.
Jamie recognizes Tom.
]

JAMIE:
Is that...?!

[ Jamie and Jones enter the coffee shop. ]

TOM:
Meow.

JAMIE ( to Cheryl ):
I think we’re sharing a cat.

CHERYL:
Oh, he ain’t mine. We’re pals. I’m...

[ Jamie notices Cheryl’s bruises, shocked.16 ]

JAMIE:
What happened to that pretty face, sister?

[ INSIDE THE DONUT SHOP. Cheryl and Jamie huddle
conspiratorially. 17  OUTSIDE. Tom and Jones talk. 18 ]

TOM ( to Jones ):
You did all right, smart guy. How about another game?”

JONES:
I like games! Is it fetch?

[ THE NEXT DAY, OUTSIDE EWING’S OFFICE. Tom watches as the
scene is set very precisely for the coming “accident.”
]

TOM ( smugly ):
And now...

[ IN A CAR PARKED ACROSS THE STREET. Jamie is in the driver’s seat,
watching Ewing’s office through a camera’s big zoom lens. Cheryl sits next to her,
talking on the phone. Jones is in the backseat, the window open.
]

CHERYL ( into the phone )19:
All I need’s a little something to get me outta town. Wouldn’t want me
goin’ to the papers, wouldya?

[ INSIDE EWING’S OFFICE. While he talks on the phone, Ewing gets a gun
from his desk...to kill Cheryl.20 ]

EWING ( into the phone ):
I’ll be right out. I’ve got the money.

[ IN THE CAR. Jamie, camera at the ready, sits with Cheryl. ]

CHERYL:
Look, here he comes!”

[ Just as Ewing leaves his office, Tom gives Jones a signal.
As Cheryl and Jamie look on, Jones jumps out of the car and in front of a bus.
21
The driver slams on his brakes, skidding...22 ]

JAMIE:
“Jones, NO! Stop!”

[ ...causing a car to swerve the other way—which makes it cut off the bus, with both
vehicles jumping the curb—and, sadly, squish Ewing to death.
23 ]

TOM:
“Oops...I mean, meow.”

[Cheryl, Jamie and Jones stand over the spot where Ewing died.
Tom stands to the side.
24 ]

TOM:
Like I said, there’s three facts people just don’t get...
ONE, we run this city, not them. TWO, we don’t need them—they need us.
And THREE...

[ A crowd starts to gather around Ewing’s body.25 ]

JAMIE ( to Cheryl ):
So whatchya doing tonight, sis?

CHERYL:
Oh, I got a date with a CLASSY guy tonight. Nothin’ like this one—a PRODUCER!

TOM:
...We Always Win. 26

- End -