The Brass Button – Joshua Giovanni Honeycutt

Racconto finalista al Gadda Prize 2011.

The stage is divided in two parts by a thin wall that has a passage in the middle. Spectators see only the thin profile of the wall. The two parts of the stage have separate illumination systems: when one part is illuminated the other is dark. In each part there is only a glass table, and two chairs, which according to the scene are at the table or in the corners. The scenes alternate from one side to the other of the stage without interruption, with the actors either already in position in the newly illuminated part of the stage, or moving from one part to the other of the stage through the passage if needed to be present in subsequent scenes.

When nothing is written, the chairs are at the table and the actors are already in position at the beginning of the scene, and haven’t moved from one scene to the other(except for the inspector, who is present in every scene and therefore always moves through the passage. I will not be writing about this specific movement.).

Characters: PM: fairly young dressed in a suit. – Inspector (ins.): fairly young dressed in the Judiciary Police’s uniform. – Priest/Don (pri.): in his fifties, fairly chubby but strong, dressed in a cassock. – Mrs Xxx: single elderly woman, dressed in long skirt and blouse

1.(The scene is set in the office of the Public Ministry in Pordenone. At the table there are an inspector of the Judiciary Police and the Public Ministry himself. The office is slightly dim, they are sitting at the glass table sipping some coffee and talking about a murder case. The PM is reading a sheet of paper.)

PM (reading): So, you’ve written here that the man confessed after you found the cassock with the missing button, is that right?

Ins.: Yeah, that’s right. I’m telling you this has been the strangest case I’ve ever solved. There are just some things a guy has trouble understanding, that’s what it is. Sometimes I wonder why people just do what they do, and then shove it up other people’s noses. Poor guy, just another victim isn’t he? The first time I saw the guy – well – I would never have thought…

2.(Flashback. The scene is set in a church. The last lights of the day are shining through the colored windows. The priest at the altar is folding the altar cloth when the inspector approaches him from the other end of the building. //The inspector enters the scene trough the passage making the sign of the cross. The chairs are in the corners.)

Ins.: Hello, don, I’m inspector Renzi of the Judiciary Police, may I have a few word with you about what happened the other morning?

Pri. (whispering): Sure, brother, you may. Do follow me to my office, though, it is not good to talk of these things in the house of the Lord.

3.(The two men move to the priest’s office through the passage. The office is small and contains only the glass table as a desk. The priest’s face shows despair, his words are insecure and whispered. The inspector has a very professional tone. The light here is very bright.)

Pri.: Please take a seat, in-inspector, how may I be of assistance? I really do-do not think I can be of much help.

Ins. (after taking a seat): This is your parish, right, don? Well, I hardly see how anyone more than you can help us solve this case, which I am sure you want to get off your shoes as soon as possible. When did you start building the foghera, the bonfire?

Pri. (taking a seat in front of the inspector): It wa-as around mid-December, the 15th or the 16th at the most.

Ins.: And is there in your opinion someone who would have had a reason to try to hide a male body under the bonfire? Is there anyone who was acting suspiciously while you were building the foghera?

Pri. (in a stronger tone, but still in despair, hitting his fists softly on the desk): No, brother, no. To only think of it – not in my parish, not in my church. Where has Lord’s grace gone? This is my parish, this is my church! I really don’t have a clue, inspector, my church didn’t need all this.

Ins.: And, don, what were you doing in those days?

Pri.: I was here, as always. I am always here. (In an even stronger tone, without despair) Am I a suspect, inspector?

Ins.: There are no suspects at the moment, don, but it is my job to ask questions to anyone who may have something to do with this case, with this parish, and with all due respect you are the one individual who is most present here, don. In any case this is enough for me, if I need to ask you anything else I will come back.

Pri.: I am always here, inspector, always. You may come when you please.

4.(The scene is back in the PM’s office. Everything is as in scene 1.)

PM (reading): And the evidence you found under the bonfire is a brass button and some bullets, uh? You put everything in the case’s box, didn’t you?

Ins.: Yes, sir, it’s all in the box. That evidence was all found among the ashes which also the body was found in. The bullets had been shot by a couple of chaps towards the bonfire on the night of 28th December, according to Mrs. Xxx, the perpetua, the priest’s house keeper. She had heard the shots during that night, but hadn’t had the courage to go out and see what was happening, she only heard some young men’s voices. No one else had seen or heard anything, because the whole church and its grounds, where the bonfire was, are on a hill, just outside town. Strangely enough, the priest that night wasn’t present… The morning after Mrs. Xxx’s questioning the famous two chaps turned themselves in. They confessed shouting at the bonfire, but absolutely denied killing anyone. They were only sixteen, and one of their fathers had told them to turn themselves in, in order to defend themselves more easily from the murder accusation, instead of risking a lot more by being eventually found with the gun. The two at the moment were arrested on the charge of illegal possession and use of a firearm, pending further investigations regarding the murder case. That same afternoon I went to visit Mrs. Xxx, wanting to show her some pictures of the two young suspects.

5.(Flashback. The scene takes place in Mrs. Xxx’s house. It is small, and the light is very dim. A vase of flowers and some cassocks are on the table. The woman is hesitating to answer the inspectors questions, she is very shy They are both already seated as the scene starts in medias res.)

Ins. (setting some pictures on the table): Madam, do you recognize the young men on these pictures? Are they the ones who were shouting that night?

Mrs.: No, inspector. I am so very sorry, but I’ve already told you, I couldn’t see anyone, ‘t was too dark, I was afraid, I was.

Ins. (his eye is caught by one of the cassocks on the table, in particular by its buttons. Speaking distractively): That’s alright, madam. (Regaining attention) Those cassocks there – have you by any chance mended one of them lately?

Mrs.(in a more secure tone): Yes, inspector, I have. In fact I sewed a button to one last week, the don had lost it!

Ins.: And do they all have these same buttons here?

Mrs.: Yes, they do, inspector, and this really does get me upset sometimes, because they are so hard to find. The one I mended last week has a non-matching one now!

6. (The scene is back in the PM’s office. Everything is as in scene 1, but the PM is not reading anymore.)

PM.: And this is why you asked for that warrant, isn’t it? A bit risky you know, but I usually trust your instinct and I gave it to you.

Ins.: This is exactly why I asked for the search warrant, because I was sure I would find that mismatching button on one of the priest’s cassocks, as I did, in the end. At that point, (he winks) you know my instincts are never wrong, I was sure I was going to get a confession.

7. (The scene is set in the priest’s house. It is very bright. // The chairs are in the corner, and on one of them various cassocks and some Mass dresses are hanging, as it is simulating a wardrobe.)

Ins.: Good evening, don. I have a search warrant and would like to take a look at your cassocks.

Pri. (losing a shade of color in his face): What for, inspector? I will do what you ask, even if I don’t see of what help it could be. (The priest takes from the chairs only the colored Mass dresses and lays them on the table) Here is everything you asked for.

Ins. (looking from the dresses on the table to the priest): This is not what I was asking for. I want to see your cassock, the black, everyday ones, don. (extracting the button found among the ashes and putting it on the table) I need to look at the buttons.

Pri. (looking first very attentively at the button on the table, then turning towards the chair, where the cassocks are): This is the one you are looking for. (Giving the cassock to the inspector, speaking very slowly) Do you know that those are brass buttons, inspector? (speaking very loudly and fast) He was a bastard I’m telling you! He had mistreated her, beaten her, and most probably caused her death! (Moving from the table to the empty chair, where he sits) And he had the guts to come back to town after all these years, and ask for confession? Ask ME for confession, ME of all men on earth! You know what, I’m telling you I DID WELL! I fulfilled my mission, I did the Lord’s will! Libera nos a malo, the Lord’s Prayer says, doesn’t it? Well, that’s what I did, I LIBERATED THE WORLD FROM SOME EVIL, from a bastard! (More calmly, taking his breath)This is my confession, I have nothing else to say.

Ins. (producing handcuffs): Mr. Xxx, you are under arrest on the charge of murder.

8.(The scene is back in the PM’s office. Everything is as in scene 6)

PM: So this is it, aye, he killed him because of an old story with this woman?

Ins.: Yeah, exactly. In youth, before Mr. Xxx became priest, this terrible episode occurred. The poor priest was in love with her, with this woman who was brutally beaten by the bonfire victim. Never brought to trial, the man after many years showed himself in town again, and eventually went to church to remind the poor priest of the old and painful story. The priest didn’t think twice a strangled the bastard. He then put the corpse in a wooden box and hid it under the wood that was being used to start building up the bonfire. Nobody noticed anything strange because it is normal for the priest to work first hand. The don had become priest in order to try and run from the evil he had experienced, but in the end it caught up with him. He tried to free himself of it, committing a murder he had probably only dreamt about, but didn’t pay attention to the one element that snuck up on him, the brass button.


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