Phoenix Lights Episode 2 – The Force of Air
It’s June 1946, and strange things are in the air. Beautiful, mysterious Emma Blaise has come to private eye Pal Vargas for help: her husband is missing, and nothing about his disappearance adds up. As Pal tries to get answers from Mrs. Blaise, they both find themselves caught in a web of lies and misdirections. In the desert, everyone has something to hide…
Phoenix Lights is written by Kitt Keller and features the voices of Ryan Jenkins as Pal, Jamie Haas as Emma, Jenae Hirsch as Minnie, William Crook as the announcer, and Kitt Keller as the Joyce Cigarette Girl.
MFX 1 OPENING FANFARE
ANNOUNCER: Good Evening, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for joining us tonight for the Joyce Cigarette Radio Hour. Joyce Cigarettes, the smooth smoke that 9 out of 10 doctors recommend. Rejoice with Joyce!
MFX 2 Joyce jingle:
Yes, it’s the one for everyone:
They’re Smooth! Fresh! Mild!
A real smoke that’s not a joke
And never dulls your smile.
Joyce! Joyce! Joyce!
The doctors’ choice!
ANNOUNCER: 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, to the offices of that rakish private detective with secrets of his own, Pal Vargas…
MFX 3 Vargas theme
ANNOUNCER: Last week, Detective Vargas met a new client.
ANNOUNCER: A client…with a secret.
EMMA: I need your help, detective.
PAL: Tell me, Mrs. Blaise: what’s troubling you?
EMMA: My husband.
It always is, isn’t it?
MFX 4 Dramatic cue
EMMA: He’s missing.
ANNOUNCER: A beautiful woman. Her military scientist husband gone without a trace. Did he run? Or is something more sinister at play? Can Pal get to the bottom of this disappearance? Find out in this week’s episode, “The Force of Air.”
MFX 5 Monologue underscore music.
PAL MONO: The desert is like a woman: she runs deadly hot or chilling cold and nothing in between. When the war ended, there weren’t a lot of jobs for people like me…I left the army with nothing but a bum right arm and basket full of nightmares. Lucky thing I’m left-handed.
I came out here to Arizona because it was the furthest thing from France I could imagine.
PAL MONO: No more freezing winters or jerry bombs or baguettes (I’ve never had much use for baguettes). I wanted them cactus I saw in photographs. I still remember the first time I saw a saguaro in the flesh—you know, them cactus that look like a drunk man putting up his fists in a bar? Damn near split myself in two. I guess I thought they’d be smaller. I came out here for a change. I wanted to be warm when I slept. I wanted quiet, clear air, and for the most part, the city’s delivered.
Like I said, there weren’t a lot of jobs for somebody like me, but my abuela always said, “Pal, you gotta make your own luck.” Well, she ain’t never called me “Pal” ‘cause she wasn’t one for nicknames, but the rest of it she said. And when I got here, I noticed something. This city’s growing, and it’s got the growing pains any growing thing gets. There’s grime and dust building up: theft and grift and cruelty and murder and all the things that grow wherever there’re people.
There are folks here who fell through the cracks, just like I did, but they’re still falling.
And I thought to myself, “Pal, you gotta make your own luck.” I always been good at figuring things, at looking around to see what was really going on, good at getting into places I didn’t technically belong.
PAL MONO: It’s what I did for the Army; it’s why I got a bullet in my arm even though my pay stubs just said codebreaker. I took what little dough I had left and put up my shingle: Pal Vargas, Private Detective.
And because my skin is brown and my name is Mexican, ‘cause I ain’t up in the fancy part of town, I got clients. A few a first, then more. Mostly good people looking for a sympathetic face when the cops won’t offer more than an unfriendly boot. Some folks on the border of trouble looking for a way out. Once in a while, some bad hombres who thought they’d pull one over on me, get me to do their dirty work, but I ain’t a fool about the civilian world just because I grew up in a uniform.
And that all brings me to tonight, to this sweaty June night with a sudden storm hammering on the window and lightning burning the sky to a crisp. To the woman in front of me, the most gorgeous dame I’ve ever seen, who’s looking me right in the eye and telling me, Pal, you have to help me, though she ain’t calling me “Pal.”
MFX 6 End monologue underscore music.
PAL: What all do you know about what your husband was working on, Mrs. Blaise?
EMMA: You of all people should know what the US military means by “secret.”
PAL: I know it’s a big red word stamped across a manila envelope that’s meant to make it as secure as Ft. Knox. I also know that soldiers could give small-town biddies a run for their money when it comes to gossip, and that a man will tell his wife a lot—maybe more than he thinks he’s telling. Especially if his wife looks like you.
EMMA: Mr. Vargas!
PAL: Let’s not play games. You know you’re a beautiful woman; in fact, you’ve been playing it up all night. You dressed up to come to my office tonight, you put on a suit that shows you to your best advantage, you got on lipstick and your eyes are made up. You’re no fool. You’re worried I won’t help because messing around military business is a damn death wish, especially top secret stuff, so you rouged up your cheeks and leaned on the doorframe and asked me as prettily as you could.
EMMA: I want to find him. I need to find him.
PAL: And if you can get any kind of an advantage…
EMMA: I’ll take my business elsewhere.
SFX 1 Chair on ground.
SFX 2 Footsteps.
SFX 3 The door opens.
SFX 4 The door slams.
MINNIE: Wait, Mrs. Blaise!
EMMA: Miss Brown.
MINNIE: Pal didn’t mean nothing by it.
EMMA: Mr. Vargas has made his—
MINNIE: Pal gets in his own way. He notices things and keeps on noticing, but he never learned not to say everything he thinks. But Mrs. Blaise, he’s a good detective. He’ll find your husband.
EMMA: I don’t need to be insulted by anyone, least of all—
PAL: I didn’t mean it as an insult, Mrs. Blaise.
PAL: This world isn’t fair to women; believe me, I know. You have to scrabble and grasp and fight for anything you get and at the end of the day, you’re still fighting a current so strong it could wash away mountains. I respect that.
EMMA: You certainly don’t seem to.
PAL: Respecting something don’t mean letting it get away with lying.
PAL: I see a woman who understands the world and who’s going to navigate that current using any tools she has. I’m going to help you, Mrs. Blaise—nothing wanted or expected in return besides my fee. But I’m no fool either. I see a woman who needs help and who’s playing the ingenue to get it, but I also see that you know more than you’re telling.
EMMA: Do I?
PAL: You’re in costume. This ain’t how you dress or how you live. You’ve seen enough pictures—and, I’d guess, tangled with enough stubborn men—to know that you’ll catch more flies with honey, so you’ve honeyed yourself up. All this glamour is is a performance.
MINNIE: Pal, shut the hell up.
MINNIE: I’m saving you from yourself, Mr. Vargas. Mrs. Blaise, can I have a word? In the hall.
EMMA: All right.
SFX: 5 Footsteps.
PAL: [Sighs] Dammit, Vargas, get a hold of yourself.
MFX 7 Monologue underscore music.
PAL MONO: The thing is, she is hiding something, no doubt about it. I can see in the way she—
SFX 6 Pal’s monologue and underscoring are abruptly cut off as the door slams.
We cut to the conversation between Minnie and Emma outside.
MINNIE: Wait! Look, Pal’s an idiot.
EMMA: You aren’t instilling much confidence, Miss Brown.
MINNIE: Please call me Minnie. I hate “Miss Brown”; it makes me feel like a secretary.
EMMA: All right, Minnie. Why should I stay here another minute?
MINNIE: In the first place, because even if he is a tactless rhinoceros, Pal’s right. You are in costume. A military wife can’t afford a suit like that; that means it’s either borrowed or you’ve tucked the tags in. You ain’t shocked by things that oughta shock you—I said “hell” in there and you didn’t even blink an eye.
You keep checking your lipstick in your compact and you adjusted your posture and your, um… tops…over and over. If I looked like you, I’d do the same thing because men are just a whole lot of eyeballs looking for something to pop over and you can’t trust ‘em to do the right thing unless there’s something in it for them.
MINNIE: But Pal, I mean, Mr. Vargas, ain’t like that. He’d help you if you came in here with a hunchback and a wart and a dead front tooth and I know it because he got Ruby Garcia back the money her dirtbag man stole from her and she had two dead teeth and he never once thought about turning her down. As much as it’s possible, he’s a good man. I trust him.
EMMA: How old are you, Minnie?
EMMA: And you think you know the world.
MINNIE: No. But I know Pal Vargas.
EMMA: If you needed help…?
MINNIE: I’d ask Pal, no matter what it was.
EMMA: All right.
SFX: 7 Cut back to Pal’s monologue.
MFX 8 Underscore jumps back in.
PAL MONO: —in a desert? I think about the desert hawks, how they fly so silent. How they know just the right way to perch on top of a prickly pear or a saguaro and never get a needle through the foot. If you ask me, the Phoenix skies are—
SFX: 8 Door opening.
MFX 9 [SIMULTANEOUS WITH ABOVE] Monologue underscore cuts out sharply.
PAL: Mrs. Blaise!
EMMA: Well, Miss Brown has convinced me that you’re the man I should employ. I have my doubts, but…
PAL: I’m sorry about before. Please, Mrs. Blaise.
SFX: 9 Chair scuffs.
PAL: Tell me everything you can. Minnie?
MINNIE: Yes, Mr. Vargas?
PAL: Can we get some more ice?
MINNIE: Of course.
PAL: Thank you.
SFX: 10 Door closing.
EMMA: Allan is a man of science, an astronomer. During the war, the Air Force started a program employing technicians, scientists, computer programmers—all sorts of researchers—to work on a variety of top secret projects. Allan was never much of a fighter, but he wanted to serve his country, so he joined the project.
EMMA: We moved out here, to Phoenix, and the Air Force set him up with an observatory and a lab. He has a small staff—three other researchers and an engineer—and they have been working together since we arrived.
PAL: Who are they?
EMMA: Harry Ji is an astrophysicist; he was at Harvard with Allan. Katrina Botkin is a computer specialist. Major Edgar Holloway is the one in command; he’s an engineer who got his start as a pilot. Then there’s Allan, of course, and—that’s everyone.
PAL: All right. So that’s his team. Any of them missing too?
EMMA: No, but we’re all anxious. Maj. Holloway is technically the commanding officer, but it’s really Allan’s lab. He’s put his heart and soul into his work there, and everyone knows it. We’re all afraid that Allan’s just the first.
PAL: What was the lab studying, Mrs. Blaise?
EMMA: That’s top secret.
PAL: But you know what it is.
EMMA: …I have an idea.
EMMA: Look, just by coming here, I’ve put everyone in danger. If I were to actually tell you any more, I’d be risking all our safety and yours as well. Allan is missing. What he was working on doesn’t matter; what matters is where he is now.
PAL: And if he’s missing because of what he was working on, then knowing everything I can about it is the only way I can find him.
EMMA: I…I can’t. [beat] (angrily) And you, look at you, sitting there all high and mighty with your gin and your judgements! Telling me I’m all an act, that I’m trying to to to…seduce you into helping me! Telling me you understand me; well, I understand you too! You say this is a costume? What about yours?! Your pulled down hat and trench coat straight out of a dime store novel, your office like a picture set. I bet you chose this office in particular too, because of the streetlight, so you’d be backlit when you met clients and you could look out the window and brood with the shadows from the blinds across your face. You think I’m a fraud? Look in the mirror.
There is a tense moment until PAL laughs.
PAL: I was right; you are good. Years I’ve been in this office and nobody ever noticed that streetlight, not even Minnie.
The tension is broken. EMMA joins in the laugh gently.
PAL: So we’re both set dressing here. I think that means we’re on the same level. (the mirth leaves her voice) Okay, Mrs. Blaise. What are we going to do?
EMMA: I’ll tell you every thing that I can, but I will determine what I tell you and when. Do we understand each other?
PAL: All right. We’ll work from here.
MFX 10 Monologue underscore music.
PAL MONO: Nobody’s even nailed me like that before. For a moment, I it’s like she can see right through me completely, like a ghost, right into my core. Like she can see the hours I put into making sure my office looked like a detective’s office, with the right cabinet and desk, with the right coat rack and the right coat to hang on it. After I signed the lease I went down to the store and bought up a bunch of pulp novels and comic books and set to making sure that anyone who set foot in the building knew I was the detective. Made sure the air was smoke and dust and the light came in the windows just so and my name on the door was just worn enough to seem distinguished. She can tell. I’ve always known the day I became a real private dick was the day I bought the hat.
PAL MONO: I guess I got so used to used to keeping secrets I made myself a crack shot at spotting the secrets other women are trying to cover up; it shoulda occurred to me that I wouldn’t be the only one who could.
MFX 11 End monologue underscore music.
EMMA: Everyone’s worked together so long it’s become a family. No one on the team would have hurt Allan intentionally, and an accident would have been reported.
PAL: How certain can you be about your husband’s colleagues? Don’t take this the wrong way, but families have been known to turn against one another.
EMMA: Not this family. Harry was with Allan at Harvard; we’ve known him 10 years. His family’s Korean, so he struggled at the university; the old guard didn’t have much love for a- a- I don’t want to say what they called him. Allan is Jewish; they bonded over being misfits. We all did. Harry lived with us for two years after we married. They’ve worked together like brothers since 1936. Nothing could destroy that. Miss Botkin is a bit of an odd duck at first; she tends to rub people the wrong way because she’s very brusque and she doesn’t suffer fools. But she’s fiercely devoted to her work and her colleagues. I thought she’d bite the General’s face off when he told her not to worry about Allan; she’s like a tiger protecting her compatriots.
PAL: How old is she?
EMMA: Forty-five, I believe. Does it matter?
PAL: Maybe. Go on.
EMMA: Next is Major Holloway. He’s an engineer, got his start as a pilot before realizing he was more interested in designing planes than flying them. He’s the commanding officer for the lab. About 55 years old, since that apparently matters. He’s gruff, but essentially friendly; wouldn’t hurt a fly. He’s upset about getting the runaround from the brass, but he’s a lifelong airman and won’t go against what they say. He’s…dependable.
PAL: Boring, you mean.
EMMA: A bit, yes. But avuncular.
PAL: Okay. And everyone gets along?
EMMA: Until Allan vanished, there wasn’t a trouble to be found in the lab. The work was going smoothly as far as I can tell. Top brass were interested, but not so interested that it caused any difficulties. There have been over night experiments lately, which are new. Those are going well.
PAL: Over night? Where?
EMMA: Out in the desert. You know Dreamy Draw?
PAL: Can’t say I do. Is it nice?
EMMA: It’s desert; I couldn’t tell you more than that. An astrophysicist doesn’t look much at scenery when there’s an experiment to be done. The name sounds nice though. Dreamy Draw…like a ranch in a western.
PAL: When do the experiments happen?
EMMA: Over night. Allan, Harry, and Maj. Holloway would drive out Thursday morning and set up the equipment. The experiments ran dusk to dawn; the three of them would be back by late Friday afternoon to write up the results.
PAL: And Miss Botkin didn’t attend these nights?
EMMA: It wasn’t her area of expertise exactly and she preferred to stay behind at the lab. And, I’m afraid, there were some untoward assumptions made about a woman driving into the desert alone with three men for an overnight stay.
PAL: People thought she was there for more than just the computers?
EMMA: It was implied that she was too comfortable with Maj. Holloway.
PAL: Right. So Miss Botkin missed out on a significant part of the work because of gossip.
EMMA: In truth, Mr. Vargas, I think that Katrina was uninterested in sleeping on a camp cot out in the desert.
PAL And what about you then?
EMMA What about me?
PAL Unfriendly gossip can be the basis for many a disappearance, Mrs. Blaise. Did you get any of the treatment Miss Botkin got? Whispers that you might be a little too close to Dr. Ji or Major Holloway or some other airman perhaps?
EMMA That’s not the kind of thing I go in for, Mr. Vargas.
PAL I never said it was. Still, it’s good to know the scuttlebutt going on around somebody who’s gone missing, you understand.
EMMA The nastiness was confined to Katrina. It seems that since the War ended, airmen have had a difficult time understanding that women can do more than just knit.
PAL Fragile creatures, men. Never know what they’ll come up with. Somedays it’s hardly worth it being one.
EMMA Since the alternative is being a woman, it doesn’t seem so bad.
PAL True, true. Tell me, Mrs. Blaise, how long have they been doing these experiments?
EMMA: Since mid-April.
PAL: Just the three of them every time?
EMMA: Yes. But Harry and Maj. Holloway would never hurt Allan!
PAL: And what are they looking for exactly out there in the sand? I’ve been through the desert once or twice; never saw anything worth my investigation.
EMMA: That’s a shallow point of view, Mr. Vargas.
SFX: 11 A low droning sound begins in the background. It continues, growing in volume, over the next lines.
PAL: I’m not a man who thinks too deeply about cacti and quail and scrub brush. I got other things on my mind.
EMMA: Harry, Allan, and Maj. Holloway—well, mostly Harry and Allan, the Major was mostly there to keep the equipment in check—were measuring atmospheric phenomena. There had been some…sightings, I suppose you’d call them, or events, out in the desert reported by a few residents.
PAL: Not a lot of residents out that way.
EMMA: Enough that they’d been reporting unusual things to the police and Allan is always so curious; he likes to know everything that’s going on.
EMMA: He reads the Republic every day, and the base newspaper too, even some of the little rural newspapers from around the area. He saw a few little mentions in the paper and thought they might have a connection to what they’re studying.
PAL: Which is what, exactly?
EMMA: I’m not sure how best to put it other than “atmospheric phenomena.”
PAL: What’re two astrophysicists doing studying that? I’m no egghead, but I know “astro” means your man was studying space, which last time I checked, was a little bit past the atmosphere.
SFX The droning continues.
EMMA: The experiments were set up to monitor interactions between the atmospheric conditions in the desert and a theoretical low-Earth orbit infiltrate. The lab’s focus was on a series of phenomena that seemed to indicate that some kind of astral event was interacting with the upper atmospheric regions and causing visual and auditory effects on the surface. Harry and Allan were hoping to catch one of the events in action using monitoring equipment that they’d designed with Katrina and the Major.
PAL: So they were just ‘monitoring’?
EMMA: (artificially lighthearted) It’s all very technical; I really couldn’t tell you anything else.
PAL: And what about the other member of the team? What was he up to?
EMMA: What do you mean?
PAL: Before, when you told me about the team, you said there were three researchers and an engineer working with Allan. That makes 5. Botkin, Ji, and Holloway, plus Allan is just 4. You’ve left someone out, Mrs. Blaise. Who is it?
PAL: Someone dangerous? Someone you’re afraid of?
SFX: 12 The droning sound has become noticeable.
PAL: Hey, d’ya hear that?
EMMA: (with false lightness) Hear what?
PAL: Some kinda…
SFX: 13 Alien noises, the same as from episode 1.
PAL: What the hell? What the hell?
SFX: 14 The sounds continue for several seconds with both Pal and Emma reacting. The sound stops suddenly and completely.
PAL: (panting slightly) Was was that?
EMMA: (also panting) What are you talking about?
Don’t gimme that, I know you heard it too or saw it or…You felt
it same as me. What the hell is going on here?
EMMA: I don’t know. I don’t know what it is. None of us does.
MFX: 12 Outro music
ANNOUNCER: Who was the mysterious fifth member of the Blaise research team? Why is Mrs. Blaise so afraid? Can Pal Vargas get to the bottom of things before it’s too late? Join us next time on the Joyce Cigarette Radio Hour for more adventures with Pal Vargas, Private Eye.
MFX 13 End fanfare
CREDITS: This has been a production of the Never Rad Miscellany. The Never Rad Miscellany is Produced and DirectedThe Quality Control Records Interstitial is written by Matt Braman, and voiced by Briauna Kittle, Ricco Machado-Torres, Jamie Haas, and Conrad Miszuk, with music and sound by Cody Hazelle. by Conrad Miszuk. The sound effects are mixed and performed by Cody Hazelle. The credits are read by Matt Braman.
Phoenix Lights is written by Kitt Keller, with sounds by Cody Hazelle, and music by Cody Hazelle and Conrad Miszuk. The Announcer is played by William Crook. Pal is played by Ryan Jenkins. Minnie is played by Jenae Hirsch. Emma is played by Jamie Haas. The Joyce Jingle is performed by Kitt Keller.
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