Phoenix Lights Episode 1 – Pilot
It’s June 1946 and private eye Pal Vargas is every bit the classic film-noir detective, right down to the hat and is deep in thought until secretary Minnie Brown opens the door with a beautiful woman in tow. Emma Blaise is a woman with a problem only Pal can solve: her husband is missing, and his late-night top secret military experiments just might have something to do with his disappearance. It sure doesn’t help that Pal is hearing things…
Phoenix Lights is written by Kitt Keller and features the voices of Shonda Royall as Pal, Jamie Hendricks as Emma, Jenae Hirsch as Minnie, William Crook as the radio announcer, and Kitt Keller as the Joyce Cigarette Girl.
Music and sound by Conrad Miszuk and Cody Sean Hazelle.
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MFX: INTRO MUSIC
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for joining us this evening for the Joyce Cigarette Radio Hour. Joyce Cigarettes, the smooth smoke that 9 out of 10 doctors recommend. Rejoice with Joyce!
It’s the one for everyone:
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ANNOUNCER Yes, big thanks to Joyce Cigarettes for sponsoring our program. And now, we take you back to the dusty desert streets of Arizona for the mysteries hidden in the heart of a little town they call Phoenix, back to the offices of Private Detective Pal Vargas…
MFX: Monologue underscore music begins.
SFX: A lighter, then an inhale and long exhale.
MFX: Awkward piano playing. The hint of a melody, but nothing in particular.
PAL MONO: You ever notice how certain instruments have a kind of shorthand? See a man playing a harmonica—even just hear it—and you know he’s down on his luck. You hear a violin you think, there’s a man who don’t mess with nobody unless they’re worth at least a million bucks. You hear an accordion? That’s somebody who wears a bright green suit with a yellow tie. A saxophone? Now, that there is sex. Pure and simple.
SFX: Another inhale/exhale of the cigarette.
PAL MONO: Moms all over the country tote their kids to piano lessons every week, and you know why? ‘Cause the piano’s classy, but it ain’t stuffed up.
SFX: Fingers tapping.
PAL MONO: Nobody tells ‘em that their kid’s gonna do nothing but raise a ruckus til the neighbors complain. Speakin’ of which…
SFX: Window opens.
PAL: (yelling) Hey! A guy can’t hear himself think with that racket.
MFX: The piano stops. The underscore music continues.
PAL: (muttering) Thank Christ.
SFX: Another drag on the cigarette. Frustrated sigh.
PAL: It’s too hot to smoke. I need a drink.
SFX: The clink of one ice cube, then two. Footsteps approach. A door opens.
MINNIE: Detective Vargas? Pal?
PAL: (sighing) It’s mister.
MINNIE: Detective Mister
PAL: Mr. Vargas; Christ, Minnie, you work for me. (beat) Not tonight.
SFX: A click as Pal turns off the radio; the music stops.
MINNIE: I hope you’re talking to that bourbon and not me.
PAL: Yes, Minnie, the bourbon works for me. You, however—
MINNIE: You’d be working out of a cardboard box without me and you know it.
PAL: You got anything useful to say or you just want to interrupt my thinking time?
MINNIE: Your “thinking time”?
PAL: Yes, Minnie. I think. I am a creature of thought. I’m deep and intellectual. I have an inner life you couldn’t even dream of.
MINNIE: You’re shallow and that cigarette you dropped is about to catch your desk on fire.
SFX A shuffle and thump as Pal stamps out the cigarette.
PAL: It’s an experiment. I’m putting together a monograph on cigarette ash.
MINNIE: Nice try, Holmes. I’ve read Conan Doyle too.
MINNIE: Be nice or I won’t tell you.
PAL: Not giving me much of an incentive.
MINNIE: Well, I just thought you’d be interested.
PAL: In what, a lecture?
MINNIE: In a client.
PAL: Don’t play with me, Minnie; it’s the middle of the damn night. Why are you even here?
MINNIE: Nobody runs into trouble after bankers’ hours?
PAL: Nobody who needs to see me. Tell ‘em to go to the cops. The night is my time to brood, not my time to listen to you nag or to drunks telling me their sob stories.
MINNIE: Put on your tie.
PAL: I’d rather choke on it.
MINNIE: Go ahead. You got ninety seconds.
PAL: You know what? Get out of here.
SFX: The door closes. Footsteps leave.
PAL: (under her breath) Shit.
MFX Soft underscore for monologue
PAL MONO: It’s this damn heat. Everybody and their dog is going out of their damn minds, including you, Pal; yes, I know.
SFX: Fingers rapping.
PAL MONO: There’s something about the desert in June, namely that it’s Hell on earth with a couple of street lamps. There ain’t much to this city yet, but what there is is melting out there into the Sonoran like hot tar. Out that window, there’s nothing but empty streets; it’s too late for the street cars and too early for the barflies to stagger home. The air is clear and empty except that the heat makes it waver. I can see to the mountains and the stars on top of them; the stars that I saw growing up in Chicago, almost the same stars I saw in France—or I guess exactly the same ones just from a different angle; I never gave much of my time to astronomy. The moon’s barely an eyelash tonight and the clouds are building up over the valley. The air has a sort of constant dust to it; everything warm and brown like a photograph.
MINNIE: (muffled) This way, please.
SFX: Footsteps approach.
PAL MONO: Hey, come on, you want a client to see you slouched over in a chair sweating like a drunk? Okay. Get up and stare out the window like you’re thinking of something important. First impressions, Vargas, first impressions.
SFX: The door opens.
MFX Monologue underscore music stops.
MINNIE: Mr. Vargas, this is Mrs…
MFX: Saxophone flourish, leading back into underscore music.
PAL MONO: And if it ain’t a sight to see. When I turn, Minnie’s in the door with this…woman. She’s leaning on the doorframe. She’s got a suit on that’s so tight I can’t breathe. Not a hair out of place. The kind of woman who’s either hiding something or on the lookout for something she’ll have to hide.
All right let me guess: rich, definitely; probably widowed. Got a little dog somewhere that looks sweet until it bites. And why’s she here? Blackmail, probably, or a step-kid digging too deep into the circumstances that widowed her. If it ain’t blackmail, it’s boredom: a pretty woman looking for a thrill who’s read one too many detective novels and thinks a private dick’s the best way to scratch her itch. Once, a lady came with some cock-and-bull about a jewel statue and smugglers; she had me backed into a corner with her lips on my cheek before I could tell her my calendar was already full. Huh. ’46 was a good year. Mmmm, Verna… Boy, was she surprised.
And now this dame, reclining against the door like Cleopatra. Her suit’s the color of heavy cream, so white it soaks in all the light from the lamps and the streetlights outside and even the stars and that tiny speck of moon. Her eyes are flicking up and down; she’s examining me just like I am her, and she’s none too impressed, goddamnit, even if I am. Lovely eyes, gold ringed with brown; honey in molasses. I take back what I said. This ain’t a story I’m going to guess.
Now, let’s see. There’re no runs in her stockings and her lipstick is smart as an advert, gloves as clean as the suit, so she ain’t just coming from the scene of a crime—not unless she’s stone-cold—
MFX Sharply end underscore for monologue
EMMA: (cutting off Pal’s train of thought) You’re a detective.
PAL: Uh, yeah, I am. (recovering). Well spotted.
EMMA: I wasn’t sure how to start.
PAL: Telling me my job seems as good a place as any.
EMMA: It’s how they always start off in stories.
PAL: I wouldn’t know.
EMMA: Not much of a reader?
PAL: I prefer the classics. Ever read…say, Gaboriau?
EMMA: The primogenitor of the detective genre…Bit of an obvious choice, don’t you think?
PAL: I like what I like.
EMMA And you fancy yourself a bit of a Monsieur LeCoq*, do you?
PAL What brings you all the way to my lonely office this fine night—or did you suddenly come over desperate to discuss the merits of literature?
MINNIE: (clearing her throat) This is Mrs. Blaise.
PAL: Thank you, Minnie. (to EMMA) Get you a drink?
EMMA: I wouldn’t say no.
PAL: But would you say yes?
MINNIE: (you can practically hear her eyes rolling) I’ll get you a bourbon. (hissing) Behave, Pal.
EMMA: Thank you, Miss Brown. Neat.
PAL: Oh, that bottle’s empty.
MINNIE: Already? I guess you’ll drink gin.
PAL: No, I guess you’ll run along and get the lady another bottle.
PAL: Since that’s your job.
MINNIE: I’m going.
SFX: Door opens and closes; footsteps moving away.
SFX: Ice cubes hitting glass. Drink being poured.
EMMA: Turns out I prefer gin.
PAL So, Mrs. Blaise. How can I help you? What are you looking for on this dark and dusty night— secrets? buried treasure? a lost little doggie, perhaps?
EMMA My husband, Mr. Vargas, not a tawdry letter or a lost dog, and I do not think that your intimations are appropriate.
PAL Fine, fine. Sorry for intimating. This time of night it’s easy to make assumptions.
EMMA Understood. I …my husband has disappeared. It’s affected my nerves…I keep thinking that—
SFX (cutting EMMA off mid-line) Alien noises! Wind, static, metallic growls—a unidentifiable cacophony.
PAL (cutting her off) What the hell? What the hell is that? What—-
SFX Alien noises become more complex, but move into the background. We are in Pal’s head, hearing her thoughts, as the noises rage around her.
PAL MONO: (transfixed) Suddenly, all I see is light. Some curious, bright object. Motionless, but with the sound of incredible speed. The room suddenly bright as day. Like a ball of fire froze in time. The light is…white? green? blue?
What would happen if you took the Northern Lights and bottled them all together, a whole year’s worth—that’s what this is. Massive. So loud. So close. So—
SFX: The noise reaches a breaking point. A shattering electronic sound.
PAL: (heavy breathing) [beat] The hell was that?
SFX: The alien noises vanish into silence.
SFX: Thunder. Then, rain.
EMMA: (quietly, to herself) A thunderstorm. Why would it—? Not here. (to Pal, with false brightness, pretending nothing had happened, but breathing heavily) Mr. Vargas? Mr. Vargas? Are you all right?
PAL: (snapping out of it) What?
EMMA: You should close that window; it’s really starting to blow out there. I can see it startled you as much as it did me.
SFX Thunder, more rain.
EMMA: Listen to that thunder! Monsoon’s coming early this year. We don’t usually get storms like this til August.
PAL Not til August.
SFX: Footsteps. The door opens.
MINNIE: Here’s that bourbon for you.
EMMA Thank you, Miss Brown. This storm is such a something, isn’t it?
SFX: Bottle thunks onto desk.
MINNIE: Pal, why do have th— Mr. Vargas, why do you have the window open in this? I…You okay, Pal?
SFX: Window closes.
PAL: (muttering) Goddamn shell shock.
EMMA: Mr. Vargas… Mr. Vargas!
PAL: Yes. Sorry.
EMMA: I’ve come to you because you’re supposed to be the best.
MINNIE [snort laughs]
MINNIE: I’ll just leave you to it then.
SFX: Door closes.
PAL: So this husband…
EMMA: We live out at the Air Force base.
PAL: He a pilot?
EMMA: A scientist. That’s the other reason I’ve come to you.
PAL: My sterling reputation among scientists?
EMMA: I must ask if you treat all your clients so combatively.
PAL: I got no problem with you, Mrs. Blaise, just your timing. You got any idea how late it is?
EMMA: (significantly) Have you?
PAL: Late. Too late to be out chasing runaway husbands.
EMMA: I have money.
PAL: I can see that.
EMMA: And you are a detective, aren’t you?
PAL: That’s what they tell me.
EMMA: Mr. Vargas. If you are determined to play games, I can go up the street to Mr. Atwater. His rates are comparable to yours, his office is located in a better part of town, and his reputation is—
PAL: All right, all right. Weather’s got me shook up, that’s all, like you said.
EMMA I am here, Mr. Vargas, because I am desperate. I am here because I need your help. (bitterly) There—have I asked prettily enough? Are you going to find it in your manly heart to help me?
PAL Whoa whoa whoa! Mrs. Blaise, please don’t take me for that kind of…Look, if I gave you the wrong impression… [clears her throat] Okay. Please, tell me what’s happened. No tricks, no accusations—I’m here to help you. Please, sit back down. Have a drink. If you don’t feel like I’m the… man to help, you can take the bottle and I’ll give you the names of some guys I think might be able to give you what you need. I’m sorry, Mrs. Blaise. Please. Tell me everything.
EMMA: Everything… My husband is a researcher out at the base. He’s been working on a project, very hush-hush. Top secret. Locked up so tight there’s not even gossip.
PAL No gossip? Hard to believe; worst gossips I’ve ever come across were airmen. Not much to talk about on base but who’s doing what, and nothing better than something nobody’s supposed to know about. Those are the morsels men salivate over.
EMMA I trust that shows you just how secret the Alpha team project is; how important it is that the secrets stay that way.
PAL Alpha team, huh? I see the Air Force ain’t much better at naming things than the Army. So what happened to the top secret Mr. Blaise?
EMMA Dr. Blaise. Two weeks ago, he didn’t come home from the laboratory. Now, that’s not so unusual.
EMMA: No. He often works late or goes out to the desert for a few days, working on experiments.
PAL: Without telling you?
EMMA: Sometimes. You know how men get. So caught up in their work. Anyway, I waited a couple days, thinking I’d hear from him, but no. Nothing. After three days, I was worried. Allan can be absentminded when it comes to his schedule, but he’d never just vanish. I went to talk to his CO at the laboratory and…nobody would talk to me. Not a word beyond, “Thank you for your concern, Mrs. Blaise.” I’ve heard those same words from man after man, airman after airman, straight up the chain of command: “Thank you for your concern, Mrs. Blaise. No need to worry.” “Thank you for your concern, Mrs. Blaise. No need to worry.” “Thank you for your concern, Mrs. Blaise. No need to worry.” the exact same words, the exact same tone, day after day, nothing more, for two weeks, Mr. Vargas.
PAL: That’s the military for you.
MFX Underscore music begins.
PAL MONO When I joined up, I thought I’d found paradise. Here I was, scrawny kid from Chicago with nothing to my name but wide-open eyes and a knack for getting myself out of the scrapes I got into. Button me into a uniform and all of sudden, I was somebody. I was important because I could understand the things that important men needed to know. And the women…
There wasn’t a lot of welcome for me as a kid, and no place neither for women, or men for that matter, who didn’t fit into boxes. Growing up, my ma and abuela and Tía Lupe spent, geez, years trying to get me to behave instead of trying to be just like Diego, my brother. Then I joined up and suddenly, I wasn’t alone anymore. I wasn’t just the skinny kid tagging along behind Diego’s friends; I wasn’t the older kid coming home middle of the night with my lip split from fighting; I wasn’t the one who made abuela cry by cutting my hair off short and smoking them long cigarettes the bad boys smoked. I was a WAC among WACs, and maybe not everyone there had the same story as I did, but most of ‘em did.
When the war ended, the army decided it didn’t need a ragtag outfit of butches in uniform and we all got turned out into a world that wanted nothing to do with us. But like I said: I got a knack for getting out of scrapes. Turns out it doesn’t take much to make a man. Just a hat and a swagger.
MFX End underscore music.
EMMA That’s why I’ve come to you.
EMMA You were a soldier, Mr. Vargas.
PAL How did you know that?
EMMA I asked around. I didn’t want to consult with some busted-up gimcrack first-number-in-the-phone-book gumshoe Mr. Vargas. I wanted a man who could find Allan. Find out where he’s gone or where he’s been taken.
MINNIE (quiet, muffled from outside the door) Taken?!
PAL (long sigh) Might as well come in. Mrs. Blaise, I believe you’ve met my secretary—
PAL …Miss Brown.
EMMA I hope you could hear all right out there.
MINNIE Oh, I always can. Another drink anyone?
PAL Just sit down. What was the last date and the last time you saw him, your husband?
EMMA June the 14th.
PAL And you have no idea what he was working on for the Air Force?
EMMA I might have something.
PAL All right. How much do you know?
EMMA How strong is your bourbon?
PAL So it’s that kind of project.
EMMA That kind of project.
PAL I think I understand why you’re here in the middle of the night.
MINNIE: I’ll get some ice.
MFX: Outro music.
ANNOUNCER: What’s happening in the night skies of Phoenix? Is Vargas seeing the things that aren’t really there? And the most pressing question of all…what happened to Allan Blaise? Join us again next week on the Joyce Cigarettes Radio Hour.
MFX: Outro music
CREDITS: This has been a production of the Never Rad Miscellany. The Never Rad Miscellany is Produced and Directed by Conrad Miszuk, and co-produced by Megan Taliaferro. The sound effects are mixed and performed by Cody Sean Hazelle, who is also reading the credits.
Phoenix Lights is written by Kitt Keller, with sounds by Cody Sean Hazelle, and music by Cody Sean Hazelle and Conrad Miszuk. The Announcer is played by William Crook. Pal is played by Shonda Royall. Minnie is played by Jenae Hirsch. Emma is played by Jamie Hendricks.
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*Emile Gaboriau is widely considered to have invented the mystery novel. His detective of note was Monsieur LeCoq; so influential was Gaboriau that Sherlock Holmes mentions LeCoq specifically in “A Study in Scarlet.”