Here’s a final piece from Herding Ravens, coupled this time with a brief theatrical adaptation I did of the story which was published in another collection, Wild Tracks. The Chairman Comes to Callcopyright © 2012 by Christopher ConlonThe Chairman of the Board of Insomnia came to visit me one night. He didn’t look as I’d expected: first of all he wasn’t a woman, a svelte alluring lady with arched eyebrows and a black dress covered with sparkly sequins. No, he was very much a man, big, block-shouldered, in a gray business suit and sunglasses. He arrived in what at first I thought was a limousine but then realized was a hearse. I could see it at the curb outside when I went to answer his knock. Who drove it, however, I don’t know, though the hands I could see on the steering wheel looked oddly skeletal.The Chairman didn’t wait for me to ask him in. He didn’t even greet me, just marched right through the doorway and stood in the hall looking around. At least he seemed to be looking around. Because of the sunglasses I couldn’t see his eyes. “Nice place you got here,” he said, his voice low, hollow, echoing, like a voice at the bottom of a well. “Thank you,” I said. “I like it.”He asked if I had anything to drink. I asked in return what he would prefer. He shrugged, stepping into my living room, leaning down to see the various items on the knick-knack shelf. “Whatever you got,” he said. “Coffee’d be good.”“At three in the morning?”He didn’t answer.I went to the kitchen and started it brewing. He followed me in, took a chair at the table and turned it around, sat on it in reverse, his arms folded over the back.“I don’t have any decaf,” I warned.The Chairman of the Board of Insomnia didn’t respond.At last the coffee was ready. He took his with cream and sugar, surprisingly elaborate in his preparations, stirring and mixing. “Ain’t you havin’ any?” he asked.“No,” I answered, “it’s far too late for me.”To my surprise, he chuckled. “You got that right, brother,” he said. “Better have some, just the same.”I knew better than to argue with him. I poured myself a cup, drank it black and too fast, scalding the roof of my mouth.“That’s it, you got it now, you got the idea,” he said.“When—how long will you be here?” I dared to ask.“Relax,” he said. “We got all the time in the world. Pour yourself another cup.”“Please, I—I must work tomorrow. I must get some sleep.”“Sleep?” He chuckled again, then began to laugh. It was a strange sound, hard, metallic, not humorous at all but rather sarcastic, mocking. “Sleep?” His teeth were huge, bigger somehow than his mouth, sharp and deadly-looking, like a shark’s. “You don’t seem to understand,” he said at last, when his laughter was done. “I’m gonna be here a long time. A real long time. In fact,” he said, “you might think of me as a sort of permanent houseguest.” He drained his cup. “This is damn good coffee,” he proclaimed, holding out the empty cup to me. “Pour me some more. And have some yourself while you’re at it, pal. It’s gonna be a long night.” The Chairman Comes to Callcopyright © 2014 by Christopher ConlonCASTMan…Young. Pajamas, eyeglasses.The Chairman…Older and bigger than Man. Business suit, sunglasses. TIME: Middle of the night. The present.PLACE: A small room. Door upstage or slightly off.PROP LIST: Two chairs, small table with half-full coffee pot, two cups. (Sound: knocking on door. Starts slowly, grows louder and more insistent.)MAN (entering, disheveled from bed, slipping on eyeglasses): Coming, I’m coming! (Stands at door) Who is it? (Pause.) I said, who is it?CHAIRMAN (off): Open up.MAN: What? Who is it?CHAIRMAN (off): Open the door. Now.MAN: Are you with the police?
CHAIRMAN (off, chuckling): Sure, buddy, that’s it. The police.MAN: How do I know you’re really with the police?
CHAIRMAN: Who else would be knockin’ at three in the morning? MAN: I—I don’t know.CHAIRMAN: So open the door.(Man opens door. Enter Chairman, all swagger.)CHAIRMAN: Thanks.MAN: What do you want?CHAIRMAN: Nice place you got here.MAN: I said, what do you want? Am I in trouble?CHAIRMAN: In a way. You could say that.MAN: Why? What have I done?CHAIRMAN: Relax, bub. You ain’t done nothin’.MAN: Then—why…?CHAIRMAN: I’m here representin’ the Board.MAN: Board? What board?CHAIRMAN: Oh, you know the Board, pal.MAN: I don’t know the Board. I don’t know what you’re talking about.CHAIRMAN: Got any coffee?MAN: Coffee? At three in the morning?CHAIRMAN: I work late hours.MAN: I don’t. I have to get up early.CHAIRMAN: So what? You wasn’t sleepin’, was you?MAN: Well…no.CHAIRMAN: Why not?MAN: I…I often suffer…from…CHAIRMAN: Suffer from what?
MAN: From…CHAIRMAN: Spit it out.MAN: Sleeplessness! I can’t sleep. Often.(Chairman nods, looks around apartment.)CHAIRMAN: Hey, there’s coffee right here. MAN: No, that’s…CHAIRMAN: What?MAN: Leftover. It’s leftover from this morning.CHAIRMAN (reaching for the pot and cup): I don’t give a damn.MAN: It’s not even hot. It’s cold.CHAIRMAN: Don’t matter.MAN: You won’t like it.CHAIRMAN: Lemme be the judge of that. (He drinks.) What are you talkin’ about? This is good coffee. Damn good.MAN: Please, who are you? What do you want?CHAIRMAN: Pull up a chair. Let’s talk. (He turns a chair around, sits backward on it, sips the coffee.)MAN: No, I…I have to go to work in the morning…Please, if I’m in some sort of trouble…CHAIRMAN (chuckling): Buddy, you have no idea. Sit down. (Pause.) I said sit down.(Man sits.)MAN: You said you were from…a Board…?CHAIRMAN: You should really have some of this coffee.MAN: What Board is it? That you’re from?CHAIRMAN: Insomnia.MAN: What?CHAIRMAN: That’s the Board. Board of Insomnia.MAN: And you’re…?CHAIRMAN: The Chairman.MAN: Chairman of the Board?CHAIRMAN: Of Insomnia.MAN: I didn’t know there was a Board for that.CHAIRMAN: We’re around. We don’t make waves. Mostly we do our work at night. When other people are sleepin’.MAN: Yes, that…that makes sense, I suppose.CHAIRMAN: But we’re not. We don’t.MAN: Sleep?CHAIRMAN: Yeah. (Drains his cup.)MAN: Please, what do you want?CHAIRMAN: I want more of this coffee. (Stands, gets it.) You need to have some, too. (Pours second cup.) MAN: No, I don’t…I really don’t want any.(Chairman steps close to Man, holds cup out to him.)CHAIRMAN: Take it.MAN (taking it, resigned): Thank you.CHAIRMAN: Now drink.MAN: It will keep me up all night. I have to get some sleep.CHAIRMAN: Sleep? (Laughs, then drains cup in one quick motion.) You think the Chairman of the Board of Insomnia visits just anybody, mac?MAN: No, it’s…a great honor, I’m sure.CHAIRMAN: Drink. (Man sips tentatively.)MAN: There. Now, please, if you don’t mind…(Moves to stand; Chairman pushes him back into chair.)CHAIRMAN: Don’t try that again.MAN: I’m sorry. It’s just that…CHAIRMAN: What?MAN: I need to sleep. I really do need to sleep.CHAIRMAN: Drink your coffee. (Man drinks.) You ain’t sleepin’ anytime soon, pal. You know that, don’t you?MAN: I’m beginning to realize.CHAIRMAN: You knew all along. It’s like this a lot, ain’t it? Night after night.MAN: Yes. It is.CHAIRMAN: You’re one of us. One of the people.MAN: People?CHAIRMAN: People who’re awake at three in the morning. People who stare at clocks in the dark. People who’d pay money to be able to drop off but they just lay there hour after hour listening to the sound of the clock and the traffic outside. People who push off the bed sheets and pull them on again later and toss and turn and try to count sheep and get up to listen to music for a while or watch TV and then get back into that bed and think, “Now, now I’ll sleep.” But it don’t work. You don’t sleep, do you, pal? You don’t sleep at all. MAN (emotional): No. Not very much.CHAIRMAN: It’s hell, ain’t it?MAN: Yes. It’s hell.CHAIRMAN: Sleepin’ pills don’t work. That ain’t real sleep. You know that.MAN: No. They’re worse than…nothing. They don’t help at all. I don’t have a chance to…CHAIRMAN: That’s what I’m here to offer you. (Stands, gets more coffee.)MAN: What?CHAIRMAN: A chance.MAN: What chance? What do you mean?CHAIRMAN: I’m authorized to make you an offer, pal.MAN: What offer?CHAIRMAN (looking at him, sitting again; gentler approach): Join the Board.MAN: What?CHAIRMAN: Become a member. Work under me. We need people like you.MAN: People like me?CHAIRMAN: You’re qualified. I never seen a guy so qualified.MAN: What would my…responsibilities be?CHAIRMAN: What d’you think? (Drinks.) MAN: What you’re doing? Now?CHAIRMAN: That’s it.MAN: How?CHAIRMAN: Any way you can think of.MAN: And my…my targets…?CHAIRMAN: We call ’em clients.MAN: My clients…?CHAIRMAN: You’ll get a list. Don’t worry ’bout a thing. You’ll like ’em. They’re all people like you. Just like you.MAN: And like you?CHAIRMAN: Sure, like me. I didn’t get to be the Chairman overnight, you know. This work ain’t easy. MAN: No.CHAIRMAN: But it’ll give your nights meaning. Your nights ain’t never had much meaning, have they, friend?MAN: No. CHAIRMAN: So will you take the job? Become a member of the Board?MAN: I wish I’d never let you in here.CHAIRMAN: Let me in? Buddy, I’ve always been here. Every night. With you.MAN: Yes, I see that. I see that now. (Pause.) What time is it?CHAIRMAN: Who cares? We got nothin’ but time. MAN: I suppose that’s right. (Pause.) Will I be—trained? CHAIRMAN: You can start tonight. Make some calls with me. You’ll catch on in no—MAN: —time?CHAIRMAN (chuckling). You got the idea.MAN: And if I say no?CHAIRMAN (shrugs). That’s on you, friend. I can keep comin’ back. Again and again, night after night. You can just keep starin’ at that clock in the dark. And it’ll never change. Ever. MAN: Ever.CHAIRMAN: We want you, pal. We really do. I’m sincere. (Puts hand on Man’s shoulder, brotherly.) So what d’you say?(Pause.)MAN: All right.CHAIRMAN: Great. (Standing.) Wanna start now?MAN: Yes, but just one thing.CHAIRMAN: What?MAN (drains cup, stands): Do I have time for another cup of coffee?CHAIRMAN: That’s one thing we always have time for. (He pours coffee for both, hands cup back to Man. They drink.) Yes, sir. Damn good coffee. (Drains his cup.) Finish up and let’s get movin’, pal. It’s gonna be a long night. #