Below we present the complete text of ‘Immortal Visitor’; episode 1 of On the Fence.
ON THE FENCE
EPISODE #1 – IMMORTAL VISITOR
by Philip Craig Robotham
Cover Illustration by Miyukiko
Edited by Margaret Wilkins
Copyright 2013 Philip Craig Robotham
Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) Edition.
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Serial #4: On the Fence
Claire Templeton, crime reporter, often wonders what she sees in her boyfriend, Tully Bing.
Being bookish and timid, he just isn’t her type. But when the information Tully provides about the black market puts her in touch with a fence who is quickly murdered by means that can only be described as magical, she and Tully are drawn into a brand new faery plot to destroy the city, sever and isolate the mortal realm, and pave the way for a faery takeover.
With her sometime ally, Tony Wells, effectively neutralized by a clever faery plot, Claire finds herself working for and with the High Queen of the Realm of Darkness. Unfortunately, the Queen tops Claire’s list of suspects with regard to who’s behind all the mayhem. Can Claire solve the case and save the day before her hometown becomes a giant crater? Tune in to “On the Fence” and listen as the mystery unfolds.
Episodes in the Host Your Own “Old Time Radio Drama” series are designed to provide a fun dinner party experience for 6–8 participants. Read along, taking on the role of one or more of the characters in the story, and listen as the exciting drama unfolds. This is the theater of the mind, where the special effects are only limited by your imagination, and your participation will build a memory that you’ll treasure for years to come.
ON THE FENCE
TONY WELLS: Private Detective
CLAIRE TEMPLETON: Crime Reporter
FRED: The Magical Sword
MAB: High Queen of the Dark Realm
TULLY BING: Cartographer and researcher (current boyfriend to Claire)
FERGUS THE FENCE: Small-time purveyor of stolen goods
SFX: SFX operator (1 required)
SCENE 1: INT. — CROWDED CAFETERIA — MORNING (TULLY, CLAIRE)
- MUSIC:  OPENING THEME — LET IT FINISH.
- SOUND:  (WALLA) BREAKFAST NOISES IN A CROWDED CAFÉ — ESTABLISH AND UNDER.
- CLAIRE TEMPLETON: (NARRATING) As a crime reporter, accustomed to lots of night work, I tend not to be categorized, by those who know me, as a morning person. For that reason, meeting my “boyfriend” — and you gotta believe me when I say I hate that word — at the university cafeteria first thing in the morning was not something I was accustomed to doing. It helped that the morning edition had a nice “by Claire Templeton, Crime Reporter” byline underneath its main headline.
- TULLY BING: Thanks for coming at such short notice, honey.
- CLAIRE TEMPLETON: Honey?
- TULLY: I was trying it on for size.
- CLAIRE: Tully Bing, how long have we been seeing each other now?
- TULLY: (NERVOUS) A couple of months.
- CLAIRE: A couple of months. And in all that time, have I ever given you even the slightest reason to believe that Ma Templeton’s eldest daughter, Claire, is the sort of girl to encourage the application of “cute” pet names to herself?
- TULLY: Well, no. Not as such.
- CLAIRE: Not as such, no. (BEAT) I’d suggest then, that if you don’t want me to break each and every one of those soft academic fingers of yours, you don’t ever try and do that again.
- TULLY: But…
- CLAIRE: No buts. What am I here for this morning?
- TULLY: Dammit, Claire, why can’t we have anything normal about our relationship?
- CLAIRE: (ADMIRING) Tully Bing! That almost sounded assertive!
- TULLY: Sorry, it’s just that…
- CLAIRE: And then you go spoiling it with an apology. Damn, but I don’t know what I’m doing here with you.
- TULLY: (BITTERLY) Me neither.
- CLAIRE: (MORE GENTLY) Look, precious…
- TULLY: And that’s another thing, you use names for me all the time.
- CLAIRE: Oh for crying out… You know, you’ve got a really unattractive tendency to whine, kid?
(BEAT AS CLAIRE GIVES IN AND EXPLAINS) From me a pet name is cute. From you, it’s possessive and proprietary… and you can guess how things’ll turn out if you start getting possessive and proprietary, can’t you?
- TULLY: (SLIGHTLY SULKING) Yeah, heaven forbid I should want to have you to myself?
- CLAIRE: (IMPATIENTLY CHANGING THE TOPIC) Just tell me why I’m here, already?
- TULLY: Aside from me just wanting to see you?
- CLAIRE: (WARNINGLY) Tully!
- TULLY: Alright. You know how things have gotten a little strange since that business with the troll?
- CLAIRE: You’re getting pretty good at understatement there, sunshine… (BEAT) but is a point coming along any time soon?
- TULLY: Well, I know you’ve been involved in a bunch of strange stuff since that business with the troll, but things have been getting weirder for me too.
- CLAIRE: (PATRONIZING) Oh, Tully. Are you getting jealous? Is that what this is about? You know you don’t have to make things up to feel like you’re a part of my life.
- TULLY: Claire, if you don’t shut up and let me get on with this…
- CLAIRE: (SUDDENLY ALL BUSINESS) Alright, genius. Impress me.
- TULLY: Ever since we came back from… well, from wherever that was, I’ve been able to find things.
- CLAIRE: I’m sorry, what now?
- TULLY: I can find things. Give me a map of the city and tell me you want something, and I can find it.
- CLAIRE: Tully, honey, I don’t quite…
- TULLY: Things I couldn’t possibly know the location of. I can find them if I have a map in front of me. Somehow I just know where they are.
- CLAIRE: I’m still not sure I get…
- TULLY: Look, you know how you told me your next story was going to be about the black market in stolen goods in the city?
- CLAIRE: Yeah?
- TULLY: Well, I know nothing about the black market, right? But look at this.
- SOUND:  SOUND OF MAP BEING UNFOLDED ON THE TABLE — LET IT FINISH.
- CLAIRE: Tully, are those what I think they are?
- TULLY: Ahuh, that’s the location of every black-market front operation in town. And look here. See these two, sitting like spiders at the center of a web. These two are the biggest operators in the city. Everything — and I mean everything — eventually makes its way through these two.
- CLAIRE: (AMAZED) How did you?
- TULLY: That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. I haven’t the foggiest. I mean, I’ve always been interested in maps. That’s why I do the research I do at the university — but this? I’ve got no explanation.
- CLAIRE: But this is fantastic! This one here, the first big nexus. That’s Lefty Louie’s club. But this second one? I don’t know this one.
- TULLY: That’s ’cause it’s new. Only recently set up.
- CLAIRE: But how do you know that?
- TULLY: It’s the patterns. I’m not sure how to explain it. This one over here, Lefty Louie’s, it’s well established, like a waterhole that game have been using regularly for years. This one, over here, is like a new water source that’s just appeared. It’s beginning to disrupt the old movement patterns but isn’t quite established and the patterns haven’t settled down yet.
- CLAIRE: That’s brilliant! I’ve never seen anything like it.
- TULLY: Doesn’t it bother you, even a little bit, that this ability isn’t natural?
- CLAIRE: You’re kidding right? This could net me the biggest story of the year.
- SOUND:  SOUND OF CHAIR PULLING BACK AND FOOTSTEPS DEPARTING — LET IT FINISH.
- TULLY: Hey, where’re you going? You haven’t even finished breakfast.
- CLAIRE: (AT A DISTANCE) No time. I’ve got to go set up a meeting with Fergus the Fence. It’s time to see what I can discover about the new player on the board.
- TULLY: (BITTERLY) Just great!
- MUSIC:  (BRIDGE) NEUTRAL SCENE ENDER — LET IT FINISH.
SCENE 2: EXT. — AN ALLEY IN ONE OF THE SEEDIER AREAS OF TOWN — LATER THAT MORNING (CLAIRE, FERGUS)
- SOUND:  (WALLA) DISTANT TRAFFIC, A CAT BEING SCARED BY A FALLING TRASHCAN LID, ETC. — ESTABLISH AND UNDER.
- CLAIRE: (NARRATING) There’s something nerve-racking enough about waiting in an alley for a contact to arrive and don’t get me wrong, it comes with the territory, but, when your contact is also twenty minutes late, I think you can be forgiven for feeling a little skittish.
(BEAT) I’d used all my feminine charms on Fergus to get him to cooperate in the first place, and, when that didn’t work, I’d threatened to tell the cops about the stolen goods in his warehouse. Fergus the Fence was a lot of things, but stupid wasn’t one of them and he’d agreed to help me out. But if this was a double-cross I could be in some serious trouble.
- FERGUS THE FENCE: (OUT OF BREATH) Claire. Claire. You gotta help me!
- CLAIRE: Fergus! What’s the matter?
- FERGUS: That place you sent me. There’s something not right about it. It’s a front.
- CLAIRE: Yeah, I know that, already. They fence stolen goods.
- FERGUS: No. No. The fence is a front. They handle stolen goods alright, but that’s just a way of finding special items.
- CLAIRE: What do you mean?
- FERGUS: Claire, there’s no time. You gotta hide me!
- CLAIRE: You’re not making sense, Fergus. What’s happened?
- FERGUS: Look, I went there alright, like you said. It’s a big apartment building. From the outside, it looks abandoned. Inside it’s… well it’s opulent.
- CLAIRE: Who’s been teaching you words like that?
- FERGUS: I’m serious. This place was swish. I met the boss, a little guy — calls himself Mr. P. I made like I was there on business — I’d been thinking about visiting the joint since I’d heard they started operation anyways, so it wasn’t exactly a lie.
- CLAIRE: So?
- FERGUS: So they take me in and show me around. I’m impressed. He’s happy to take anything I bring him… but…
- CLAIRE: But..?
- FERGUS: Come on, Claire, can’t we get outta here? I already told you they’re after me… and sister, there’s something not right about ’em.
- CLAIRE: Fergus, you’re fine. I need to know what you found out.
- FERGUS: (STARTING TO SOUND MORE PANICKED) Aw, sheesh. Alright, but you gotta protect me, okay?
- CLAIRE: Okay, calm down.
- FERGUS: It was like this: they said they’d handle anything I brought ’em, but they was particularly interested in anything old or strange… artifacts Mr. P called ’em. If I came across anythin’ like that, he’d make it completely worth my while.
- CLAIRE: And you thought that was a little strange?
- FERGUS: Well, yeah, sort of. You know, I thought, maybe Mr. P has a thing for antiques, and maybe there was a way I could use this to my advantage.
- CLAIRE: And…
- FERGUS: Well, anyways… I’m walking out the door and nobody seems to be paying me any mind so I duck behind a partition. I figure I’ll see if I can pick up anything useful with a little eavesdropping…
(BEAT) Claire, these guys ain’t natural and I’m getting’ nervous. Can we please get outta here?
- CLAIRE: (IMPATIENTLY) For crying out loud, Fergus, you’d be done by now if you’d just get to the point.
- FERGUS: Look, I ain’t crazy, Claire! You gotta believe I’m telling you exactly what happened. I’d been hiding for just a few seconds when everything started turning pale and see-through like. Suddenly the partition is gone and I’m standing in this big gutted building. The employees are slowly turning into huge black dogs and Mr. P… Mr. P is turning green and shrinking into this goblin-like thing. I think they’s aliens or something. Anyway, Mr. P’s talking to one o’ the dogs about destroying the city when he looks up and sees me standin’ there without nothin’ to hide behind. I just ran. But he sent the dogs after me. They’ve been tracking me all over town.
C’mon, Claire, that’s everything I know. You’ve gotta help me.
- SOUND:  DISTANT HOWLING — GETTING CLOSER — LET IT FINISH.
- FERGUS: (ALMOST CRYING) You gotta do something. You gotta get me outta … urk (CHOKING NOISES).
- CLAIRE: Fergus, are you okay?
- FERGUS: (MORE CHOKING NOISES).
- SOUND:  UNDER — FLAME, HISSING AND BUBBLING — UNTIL THE END OF THE NEXT DIALOG.
- CLAIRE: (NARRATING) Fergus’ skin began to change color before my eyes. First, it went grey then black and began to flake away as if he was being burned from the inside out. He crumpled to the ground and began to dissolve completely until there was nothing left but a foul-smelling puddle on the ground.
- SOUND:  LOW WOLF-LIKE GROWL — LET IT FINISH.
- CLAIRE: (NARRATING) I looked up and saw a huge black shape at the entrance to the alley. It was black, shaggy, and wolf-like. It eyed me hungrily for a moment then turned and padded away. It was at this point that I decided I’d better enlist the aid of Tony Wells.
- MUSIC:  (BRIDGE) OMINOUS SCENE ENDER — LET IT FINISH.
SCENE 3: INT. — OFFICE OF TONY WELLS, PRIVATE EYE —MORNING (TONY, MAB, CLAIRE, FRED)
- TONY WELLS: [CUE] (NARRATING) They say it’s always darkest just before the dawn… and who am I to argue with the “it’s-half-full” crowd. After all, things often do have a way of working themselves out. But I’ve been at this job a little too long to believe, even remotely, that life brings along many happy endings. The revolving door of hapless spouses, hoping against hope that the one they love isn’t cheating on them; the roster of blackmail victims hoping to be rescued from potential scandal; even the occasional client wanting to discover the dirt on a business associate or their daughter’s latest suitor — all teach you one thing: that life is in no way fair, and that, while things do occasionally work out, they just as often don’t. Perhaps it’s just that the people who present themselves at the shabby office door of Tony Wells, Private Detective — depressingly few though they be — just aren’t being seen at their best. Maybe. To quote another of the “old wives” brigade, “you can’t always judge a book by its cover.” Anyway, the person who came knocking on my door next was about to test the truth of both those proverbs.
- SOUND:  SHARP KNOCKING ON DOOR — LET IT FINISH.
- TONY: Come in.
- SOUND:  DOOR OPENS QUICKLY AND HIGH-HEELED SHOES ENTER —LET IT FINISH.
- MAB: (IMPATIENTLY/IMPERIOUSLY) Mr. Wells? I want to hire you!
- TONY: (NARRATING) I looked her over and immediately smelled money. Whoever this dame was, she was from the better end of town. Everything, from the tasteful angle of her hat, through the line of her elegant suit, to the exquisite gold wedding band on her finger, and the tips of her expensive shoes, screamed money. But at the same time, it all felt wrong.
(TO MAB) And what brings you to my humble offices this fine morning, Miss…
- MAB: I already told you, Mr. Wells, or are you as stupid as you look? And it is Mrs, or hadn’t you noticed?
- TONY: Yes, Ma’am, you’ve stated that you wish to hire me, but it is customary to get a little background before entering into a contract and you seem to be if you’ll pardon my saying so, a long way from your usual neighborhood.
- MAB: I see. (BEAT) I’m being set up, Mr. Wells. And, since the perpetrators of my distress are almost certainly grubby little individuals of low character, I thought I would find a grubby little individual of my own to even the odds, someone who is as happy to play as dirty as they are. Does that satisfy your need to know why I am at your particular door, Mr. Wells?
- TONY: Not remotely, but we’ll let that pass for the moment. It’s my job, so I am willing to help, but only in so far as that help can be given legally. I don’t know what you’ve heard about me, but if you’re looking for a leg-breaker you’ve come to the wrong place.
- MAB: Is that so? Well, perhaps I have heard wrong. But you needn’t worry about soiling what’s left of your conscience. I won’t be asking you to do anything contrary to your laws.
- TONY: (NARRATING) “Your laws,” she said. That should have tipped me off to just how far out of town her neighborhood was and, beautiful or not, I was more than half inclined to send her packing without even hearing her out. Sometimes I should listen to my hunches more closely.
(TO MAB) Alright, you’d best tell me why you are here and what you want.
- MAB: Fair enough. My husband is a very powerful man and, like all powerful men, he has rivals, one in particular who is every bit his equal and opposite.
- TONY: And I take it, this rival is the source of your distress?
- MAB: You assume correctly. Some extremely valuable items were recently stolen from my husband’s rival. He is planning to make a formal accusation against me. I have no knowledge of where these items are, how they were obtained, or who has taken them. Despite this, I am assured he has strong evidence implicating me in the matter. This would seriously embarrass my husband and provide his rival with a significant advantage. I need you to find the thieves, return the stolen goods, and so clear my name.
- TONY: And that name would be, Ma’am?
- MAB: Are you such a fool? That name would be Mab, High Queen of the Realm of Darkness.
- MUSIC:  (STING) OMINOUS MUSICAL ACCENT — LET IT FINISH.
- TONY: [CUE] (NARRATING) I looked the High Queen of the Realm of Darkness over with something approaching terror. If Fred, my magical talking sword — and, yes, I’m being literal here —was correct, then my small office currently was host to one of the most powerful beings in existence, and one, moreover, with a reputation for cruelty and cold calculation that would make the Borgias blush. If even half the stories were true, I was in big trouble.
- MAB: Well, Mr. Wells? Do we have a deal?
- TONY: You want me to investigate the theft of artifacts from the fae realms. Do you have any idea where in the three realms they may have been taken?
- MAB: Oh, I have a fair idea that the items are being sold here, in your own home city.
- TONY: Sold. I see. So you want me to find the items and, hopefully, track down the culprits who stole them in order to prove your innocence?
- MAB: (DECEPTIVELY MILD) That’s right.
- TONY: And this rival of your husband…
- MAB: Is Oberon, High King of the Realm of Light.
- TONY: Sweet Christmas!
- MAB: (MOCKING) You almost sound afraid, mortal.
- TONY: That just shows I’m still sane.
- MAB: Maybe you’re not such a fool as I thought. Will you take the job?
- TONY: I guess I will. So long as you know you are only contracting me to attempt the task. I can’t guarantee I’ll get to the bottom of this mess for you, but I will try my best.
- MAB: I would expect no less.
- TONY: My usual fee is twenty-five dollars a day plus expenses. It’s traditional to pay a three-day retainer up front.
- MAB: (AMUSED) That will not be a problem.
- TONY: And I expect to be paid in the coin of the realm, not Leprechaun gold or anything that can’t be spent at the local drug store.
- MAB: Yes, yes. I’m aware of the stipulations of your standard contract.
- TONY: Alright then.
(NARRATING) I put my standard contract in front of her and we both signed it. When it was done she looked up at me with a disconcertingly predatory smile. Behind me, my sword, which had been propped in the corner of the room, fell over with a loud thud.
- MAB: Before I go, I’d like you to pass this on to Claire Templeton, your reporter friend.
- TONY: What is it?
- MAB: Just a pendant. She can use it to summon me — once only — by calling my name three times.
- TONY: What’s the catch?
- MAB: (ICILY) Your impertinence is beginning to wear on me, mortal. I am not in the habit of explaining myself to such as you, but since it may prove helpful, I’ll give you to understand this much… A number of things have been set in motion that will place Miss Templeton in need of my aid. As this will serve my own purposes admirably she will not find herself placed under any obligation to me for receiving and using this gift. Does that satisfy?
- TONY: Well enough.
- MAB: (IMPERIOUSLY) Then I bid you farewell. I believe Miss Templeton has just entered your hallway.
- SOUND:  MAGICAL CHIME — LET IT FINISH.
- CLAIRE: (NARRATING) I’d just come up the stairs to the level which held Wells’ office. From the hallway, I saw the light under Tony’s door brighten to the point that I had to look away before it faded again into its usual pale daylight hues. I hurried forwards.
- FRED: (ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR) Haven’t you been listening to anything I’ve been telling you, boss? You can’t try to make a deal with noble fae. They always get the better of it.
- TONY: Well you were right here and I didn’t hear you giving any warnings. Some magical adviser you are.
- FRED: She had me under a spell, you moron. I couldn’t warn you if I wanted to. But I’ve warned you enough before.
- TONY: Aw, dammit.
- SOUND:  KNOCKING ON DOOR. DOOR OPENS — LET IT FINISH.
- CLAIRE: Hi, boys. Didya miss me?
- TONY: (DRILY) Our last guest told me you’d be coming.
- CLAIRE: It’s like that, is it? Well, I gotta say I miss the witty repartee. I’m feeling a little cheated here.
- TONY: I was getting my morning scolding from the magical sword in the corner when we had ourselves a supernatural visitor. It’s taken the shine off things.
- CLAIRE: Fair enough. I need to talk with you seriously anyway.
- TONY: You know, Fred was telling me earlier that I can take an apprentice. Someone to take over the job if I get killed or incapacitated. Someone who can fetch me coffee and do my dry-cleaning etc. You wouldn’t happen to be looking for an opening, would you?
- CLAIRE: There’s a quip I can’t quite remember that seems to provide an appropriate answer. Something about Satan skating to work? Do you know the one?
- TONY: Hey, you wanted the banter.
- CLAIRE: That was then. Now I want to get down to business.
- TONY: Okay, shoot!
- CLAIRE: (NARRATING) Ignoring the temptation to take the invitation literally I got down to business. I told Tony about my morning meetings with Tully and Fergus the Fence. By way of exchange, he told me about his own visitation. I was particularly interested when he informed me that Mab had mentioned my name and I watched apprehensively as Wells put the locket on the table between us.
(TO TONY) Do you think this is all connected?
- TONY: The fae are as complicated in their political games as anything I’ve ever encountered. There are always wheels within wheels within plans with these guys so there’s no way to be sure. But it does look like there’s a connection and I figure Mab, at least, wants us to look into it.
- CLAIRE: Isn’t this the kind of thing you’d normally bring the other Covenant Protectors in on? I mean an overheard threat to the existence of the mortal world by a magical creature of some sort etc.
- TONY: Yeah, I guess it is? Fred, can you call in the cavalry?
- FRED: I’m not sure I can.
- TONY: What? Why not?
- FRED: Well, you’ve bound yourself to Mab via contract. This kind of violates your neutrality and…
- SOUND:  MAGICAL CHIME — LET IT FINISH.
- CLAIRE: (NARRATING) Suddenly I was the only one in the room. Wells and the sword were gone.
- MUSIC:  (BRIDGE) OMINOUS SCENE ENDER — LET IT FINISH.
- MUSIC:  CLOSING THEME – LET IT FINISH.
CASTING SHEETS — MAJOR CHARACTERS
TONY WELLS: I used to work as a detective in the City Police Department. Now I’m a private detective in a city full of liars, cheats, killers, and con-men. You’d think that would have made me a cynic. And I guess it has a little. But underneath the hard-boiled exterior, I actually give a damn. I do this job because I want to keep people safe from the animals and predators who roam the dark side of the city. I believe in heroes, or at least I want to believe in them.
CLAIRE TEMPLETON: I’m the crime reporter for the Star City Tribune. I know everyone in this town from the mayor down to the guys who pick up your garbage at four in the morning. I’m good at my job too, which is why I get myself into so many scrapes and tight corners. I’m fearless, determined, and always get my story — even when there’s no one with the courage to print it!
MAGIC SWORD (FRED): I’m a magical sword and I inherit my personality from the world around me. I’m a wise-talking smart alec who’s always laughing at the expense of my owner. Possibly because I can’t be destroyed — magical remember — I see myself as superior to ordinary mortals. Nothing bothers me particularly and I love giving advice. I will probably be advising my new master on the proper etiquette for being swallowed by a dragon while he is being munched upon.
TULLY BING: I’m a cartographer — which means I like maps. I make maps of everything. Recently I’ve developed an ability with maps that is scaring me to death. But then, everything scares me to death. I’m dating Claire Templeton. That scares me to death too. Nothing’s normal with her and I never know where I stand. She seems to like it that way.
MAB: I am Mab, High Queen of the Realm of Darkness. I am… calculating. I am beautiful, cold, and cruel. I don’t like humans, except as playthings. They are usually beneath my interest. But the balance must be maintained. That is my overriding commitment. The balance must be maintained. Of course, if I can make a small profit while keeping things in balance, then, of course, I’d be a fool not to. The balance is delicate and adjusting it takes no small amount of finesse.
CASTING SHEETS — MINOR CHARACTERS
FERGUS THE FENCE: I’m just a little guy, you know? Not so important in the big scheme of things. I handle a little “misplaced” merchandise from time to time. Nothing too big. Mostly, I’m left alone. Never play in the big-boys’ pool. That’s my motto. It’ll only end in tears.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Philip Craig Robotham grew up in a house full of books and has held numerous jobs as a teacher, computer programmer, graphic and web designer, e-learning consultant and, most recently, writer. He currently lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife and two sons. When he was younger and fitter he enjoyed martial arts, but in recent years his hobbies have tended towards more sedate fare (board games, movies, books, and role-playing games).
He is extremely grateful for the encouragement he receives from his biggest fans — his wife and two boys — all of whom read and enjoy his scripts and in general make his life worth living.
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