Manage episode 344756795 series 2034979
A classic-style caper, chock-a-block with art theft, swindling, and romance!
Written and produced by Julie Hoverson
Cast List Algernon Winthrop - Will Watt Bartholomew Hetheredge - Glen Hallstrom Harriet Carter-Nelson - Julie Hoverson Attendant - Russell Gold
"What kind of a place is it? Why it's a gentleman's club in the 1930s, can't you tell?"
THE PERFECT PIGEON
Algernon Winthrop, a young gentleman whose profession is art broker - with a secret life as a gentleman thief
Harriet Carter-Nelson, country heiress, who has inherited some paintings
Bartholomew Heatheredge, elder bachelor, friend and confidante of Algernon
Butler, discreet and very well trained
THE PERFECT PIGEON
MUSIC TO OPEN - LIGHT 1930s JAZZ
OLIVIA What do you mean what kind of place is it? Why it's a private room in a proper Gentleman's Club in London in the 1930s - can't you tell?
SCENE 1 THE CLUB ROOM
SOUND RADIO PLAYS JAZZ IN ANOTHER ROOM
ALGY Bartholomew, old man - believe it or not, I've been HAD.
BART [mock incredulous] Algernon Winthrop the third? "Had"? Hold on, shh! [beat] No, no... I don't think I hear the trumpet hailing the end of all things, so how could You possibly--
ALGY Hush! Do you want to hear the story or not?
BART [teasing] I dunno - do I?
ALGY You're the only one I can tell, so I expect you can guess what this is in regards to.
BART [knowing smirk] "Art"?
ALGY Yes. I was approached last Wednesday week by [wistful] a vision of loveliness--
BART Male or Female?
ALGY Female, of course! You know which direction my loveliness runs. A trim auburn lass with a back like she'd been born on a horse.
BART There is something to be said for centaurs.
ALGY She said she had been referred to me as a leading authority on certain kinds of paintings.
BART [chuckles expectantly] A-ha!
ALGY Well, I am! And I have the advantage of being outside the normal rope and cap mobs.
BART Someone with no affiliation to bat for.
ALGY Correct. [sigh] She invited me to her country estate, and how could I refuse? There are untold treasures hidden in mouldering attics throughout the land!
BART Better you than me. I loathe the country.
ALGY You loathe anything beyond a ten minute walk from this club.
BART Very true. [arch] Oh, you've reminded me, we're in a club. That means there is hot and cold running alcohol to hand. Shall we?
ALGY I'll stick to a weak Gin and Tonic, if you don't mind. I may have ...work... to do later.
SOUND GENTLE BELL RINGS, GENTLE DOOR OPENS
BART Drinks, please. G and T, heavy on the T, and some of that port I'm so fond of.
BUTLER Excellent selections, sir.
SOUND DOOR CLOSES
ALGY [chuckling] He'd say that regardless of what you asked for.
BART True, but he would say it with a subtle sneer in his voice. Frankly, I can't remember the vintage of the port in question... but apparently he does.
BART I know you won't recount anything juicy until he returns, so tell me more about this girl?
ALGY Harriet Carter-Nelson. Last heir of some family or other. Was left the only house not entailed to a distant chinless wonder. Took possession, found it rather a crumbling heap, but discovered there were some potentially salable items hidden about the place.
BART Items in the "canvas" line, I assume?
SOUND TAP AT THE DOOR
BART Come in.
SOUND BUTLER ENTERS, PUTS DOWN DRINKS, LEAVES
ALGY [sips] Perfect. Gem of a man.
BART Can't remember his name any more than the vintage, but I do try and appreciate him whenever I have the chance.
ALGY Appreciate him a bit for me, too, would you?
BART Certainly. [drinks] Now, the canvasses.
ALGY After an hour or so of driving - the place was halfway to Inverness - I came upon a stark silhouette set against a striking sunset.
BART You paint such pictures with your words.
ALGY I suppose an eye is an eye, for all that. Checking the coordinates, I discovered I had arrived. More striking still was the vision of loveliness that greeted me at the door.
BART NOT a butler, then?
ALGY No. There was some sort of staff about, but she was expecting me, and made certain to be ready upon my arrival.
BART Curiouser and curiouser - a woman who doesn’t make one wait an half hour for her entrance? I like her already.
ALGY [rueful] As do I. She lacks that sheen of plasticine that so many women don the moment they "come out" and never seem to take off again. Everything about her seemed so natural. So genuine.
SCENE 2 OUTSIDE THE HOUSE
SOUND FROGS, NIGHT NOISES
HARRIET I'm so pleased you found it! Come in, come in! Oh, no wait - sorry. You should turn your car around before the light goes. Some of the ground is boggy and it's quite treacherous in the dark.
ALGY I'll be perfectly fine.
HARRIET [mock sigh] Your funeral. Come along.
SOUND FOOTSTEPS ON GRAVEL THEN WOOD, DOOR SHUTS
ALGY I didn't realize there was any civilization this far into the hinterlands.
HARRIET Oh, there isn't. Not really. But I love it out here. The country is so beautiful - nine weeks out of the year. Between mold season and mosquito season.
BART [Voice Over] Enough with the flirting - tell me about the paintings.
ALGY [VO] Give me a moment to wallow in our collective wit, won't you?
BART [VO] One more moment, then. Proceed.
HARRIET There's a set of rooms that's quite liveable, and a few larger enclosed spaces that might pass for human habitation. [drops the banter] I'm hoping - truly - that some of the paintings will be worth enough that I can sell them and [loving] rescue the poor house. [clipped again] You did say you have contacts and know people who might be looking to buy?
ALGY I shall do the best for you that I can.
ALGY [VO] And I would. Whatever my other interests are, once I give my word, I always keep it.
BART [VO] Particularly to such a lovely young thing, eh, wot?
HARRIET It's very kind of you.
ALGY Well, I do expect to make some little commission on it, of course.
HARRIET Of course. Right through here.
SCENE 3 THE CLUB ROOM
SOUND ALGY DRINKS
ALGY [disgusted sigh] and it was ... tragic.
BART Strong word.
ALGY Strong feeling. The room she took me into was hung with a dozen limp landscapes.
ALGY Oh, you know the type "Aunt so-and so painted this in 1860 on the French Riveria". Or "Grandmama was always well regarded for her eye for beauty".
BART Good night. And after such a long drive!
ALGY And watching that look of hope slide off her dainty face. The light going out in her hazel eyes.
SCENE 4 INSIDE THE HOUSE
SOUND SLIGHT CREAKS WHEN THEY WALK
HARRIET That bad?
ALGY I may be able to get you an odd bob or so - perhaps from an American. Not more.
ALGY It happens to the best of us.
ALGY [VO] She turned away, and the line of her shoulders spoke volumes.
BART [VO] Reading her shoulders? On a first date? [chuckles]
ALGY I-I-- Perhaps I should... go?
HARRIET No. [coming to a decision, almost teary] I... Can I trust you?
ALGY Goodness, would anyone say no to that?
HARRIET [burst of laughter] Goodness be blowed! I'm going to take a chance. People have said good things about you. Come along.
SOUND WALKING, CREAKING, UNDER VO
ALGY [VO] She took me deep into the bowels of the house, into some sort of secret room. I watched closely as she tweaked various odds and sods on a rococo mantlepiece, and a panel slid open.
SOUND CREAK AS PANEL SHIFTS
SOUND HOLLOW MOANING WIND
HARRIET There's a family ghost, but it's benign.
ALGY Spirits have never bothered me.
ALGY [VO] And in this room - by gad!
BART [VO] Yes?
ALGY [VO] Arrayed around the walls were a good dozen of what looked like genuine Old masters. Undiscovered, possibly unknown.
BART [VO] Real?
HARRIET Yes, but. Problematic.
ALGY How so?
HARRIET Apparently, according to unverifiable family lore, one of our ancestors was quite the notorious bandit.
HARRIET Highwayman, I believe they called the titled ones. He raided everything within a week's ride, they say, and stashed most of the boodle here. Everything that could be sold easily, went long ago. Gold, jewels, things like that.
ALGY Well, if they were stolen so long ago, I doubt there would be any debate as to the ownership.
HARRIET [very doubtful] Oh... I'm sure. It's just...
HARRIET [pitiable] There's no money. Not a sou. I can't possibly defend even the slightest case. A solitary whisper of doubt, and I'll lose everything.
ALGY I see.
HARRIET And without concrete provenance, there's no legitimate way I can sell even one of these. Tragic, isn’t it?
ALGY There are plenty of people who would buy, provenance or no. You might not get full measure, but that all depends on your patience and negotiating talent.
HARRIET [exasperated] Buyers there may be, but I wouldn't know where to find them!
ALGY I would.
HARRIET [still fuming, not hearing him immediately] And even if I did, I wouldn't know the first thing to say-- [breaks off, realizing] What?
ALGY I know all the right people. If you can trust me with any one of those, I'll get you top dollar.
HARRIET But why would you help me? And how can I possibly trust you?
ALGY Oh, I'll take my standard commission, of course. And I'll play you fair on the first one, if for no other reason than in hope that you'll let me take on the rest.
HARRET [worried musing] It's a big step. The mere thought of letting them out of my sight terrifies me. It's not as if I have insurance or anything. If the worst should happen - I'd be lost.
ALGY If I could, I would buy one outright from you - at a discount, you understand - and hazard a chance I could make a profit. But these are far out of my range, unless I were to insult you by offering a pittance.
HARRIET A pittance would at least keep body and soul together until you were able to sell it. Could you - manage something in a down payment? Even just call it an assurance - we could write up a contract and everything!
ALGY Oh, I don’t think we need go that far. But I could advance you something, if you don't mind waiting a day or two.
HARRIET [musing] Let's see - a day or two for you to get back, then I have to arrange a lift into the city, to get to the bank, and back....
ALGY [amused] Are you hinting that you would prefer cash?
HARRIET Am I that transparent? [sweetly] I used to be quite a good liar, I'm told, but desperation does wear one's nerve a bit thin. And the local shops no longer honor this house with credit.
ALGY I could manage, say, a thousand pounds assurance. If you'll let me take that small one.
HARRIET A thousand? You think this is worth so much?
ALGY Ten times that, at least.
HARRIET My hero! I'll have it crated and ready for transport when you return, will that be all right?
SCENE 5 THE CLUB ROOM
BART You didn’t.
ALGY I did.
BART And which one of the limp landscapes did you purchase for a thousand pounds?
ALGY [sigh] A rather dreadful view of some lighthouse that's slightly off plumb.
BART [laughs heartily] And what do you plan to do about it?
ALGY What do you think?
BART Can you find your way back in again?
ALGY I believe so. I truly would have played fair with her, but...
BART What can she expect? Swindling a notorious art thief like "The Badger"?
MUSIC - TIME PASSES
SCENE 6 THE CLUB ROOM - NEXT DAY
SOUND DOOR OPENS
ALGY [entering melodramatically] Oh, Bart! Bart, my old chum! All is lost!
SOUND DOOR SHUTS
BART Sit, dear boy. Sit and tell! Is this your enchanting titian-haired siren?
ALGY Enchanting! Enchantress is more like it!
BART Why? Don’t tell me you couldn't get back into her secret painting room?
ALGY [chortles sarcastically] Oh-ho-ho. It's far worse than that.
BART Ah. Good thing I laid on some rather strong liquor when I got your cable. Drink up.
ALGY [drinks] There's really not much to tell.
BART I hope you have more than that! This is expensive stuff!
ALGY I got into the house. Even managed to find the right combination of whorls on the carving - she’d pushed a number of extra thingumees, did I mention that?
BART So she knew you were watching?
ALGY [sighing admission] Yes. She's frightfully brilliant.
BART Let me get this straight - this charming chit of a girl has fooled you twice, and yet you still admire her?
ALGY I admire her because she has fooled me twice.
BART And her loveliness has nothing to do with it?
ALGY Well... [smiling] it certainly doesn't hurt.
BART [beat] So... you got into the room.
ALGY Yes. Yes. I got in.
BART [exasperated] And?
ALGY Every one of the frames that I had so closely examined not two weeks before was filled... with landscapes!
BART THE landscapes?
ALGY For all I know she has an infinite supply of the blasted things! [sudden realization] By Jove!
ALGY I can't believe it never occurred to me before - what if I'm not the first?
BART Whatever do you mean?
ALGY What if this little minx has pulled this same trick on other so-called art dealers?
BART [chuckles] Are you outraged at her daring, or because she didn’t pick you first?
ALGY There she was, dressed in plain homespun, crying infinite poverty, when she may have just held up half the crooked daub handlers in Piccadilly!
BART I can see why you admire her.
ALGY The beast!
BART I can't wait to meet her.
BART You'll have to bring her around sometime.
BART Well, you are going to see her again, aren’t you?
ALGY You old dog. You know everything. [beat] She should be here any minute.
BART Then I expect it’s a good thing I’ve dropped a word here and there about a niece who might be coming into town any day now, isn’t it?
ALGY I don’t know why I even try--
SOUND KNOCK AT DOOR
SOUND DOOR OPENS, BUTLER ENTERS
BUTLER Sir, there is a young lady here to see mister Algernon Winthrop. I told her merely that I would inquire...?
BART Proper, as always. Don’t give her any definite answer, there’s a good chap, but bring her on up.
BUTLER [slightly miffed] Very good, sir.
SOUND DOOR CLOSES
BART That. That is definitely the sound he would make if I placed an order for anything substandard.
ALGY I say, Bart, hide me, would you?
BART What and leave your young lady entirely in my clutches?
ALGY I know you’ll get something out of her, and all the more if she doesn’t realize I’m here.
BART [indulgent] That door there. It has a lovely large keyhole, and a connection to the corridor. I’ll ferret out whatever she's hiding. You’ll get your hands on those paintings yet.
ALGY Oh, I already have plans for that.
BART Oh? What--?
SOUND KNOCK ON DOOR.
SOUND SCRAMBLE AS ALGY HIDES
SOUND HIS DOOR QUIETLY CREAKS SHUT
BART [calling] Come in.
SOUND HER DOOR OPENS
SOUND BART POURS DRINK
BUTLER [introductions] Miss Harriet Carter-Nelson. Mister Bartholomew Heatheredge.
SOUND FOOTSTEPS, DOOR SHUTS
[NOTE: from this point until she "overplays her hand", BART and ALGY are pulling a con on Harriet to get her to trade back the painting]
BART [suddenly stern] Please have a seat, Miss Carter-Nelson. I pray you won’t take offense at my not rising, but my gout has been simply murder this past week.
HARRIET [uncertain] But... I was invited here by Mister Winthrop?
BART I have sent him on some trifling errand, in hopes that we might finish our business without his interference.
BART Poor Algy has a lamentably sentimental nature when it comes to these things.
HARRIET Pray enlighten me of "these things" that you are speaking of?
BART I assume you will not be adverse to endorsing this.
SOUND PAPER PRODUCED WITH A FLOURISH
HARRIET What is it? [almost a laugh] A bill of sale? For--
BART The painting currently in Mr. Winthrop’s possession.
HARRIET But it’s--
BART Practically worthless? Nonetheless, Mr. Winthrop requests that you make it over to him in its entirety, in return for monies which have already changed hands - to wit, one thousand pounds.
HARRIET Why should he want to claim ownership of the silly thing?
BART [fraught with ominous meaning] Why indeed. [brisk] All you need concern yourself with is your signature on that document, placing the item into legal custody of my client.
BART Did he fail to mention that I am his family solicitor?
HARRIET [worried] Solicitor. Yes, I believe he overlooked that.
BART Come, come. He won’t be gone all day.
HARRIET No. I would like to hear the reason for this.
BART [furious] Miss Carter-Nelson! I am not here to give explanations, merely to get one of two outcomes from you - and while my preference would be for you to regain your painting, and my client his money, that is undoubtedly out of the question. Should the need arise, I am also prepared to begin legal proceedings.
ALGY [outside] I say, Bart, have you got someone in there?
HARRIET [musing] Lamentably sentimental, you say?
BART Mister Winthrop, perhaps you would--
HARRIET [loud, over him, cheery] Come in!
SOUND DOOR OPENS, ALGY ENTERS
ALGY Good gracious! Are you keeping secrets from me, old man?
BART I am merely trying to legitimize the transaction that passed between you two--
HARRIET [flirty] He’s trying to get me to sign over all ownership of that painting.
ALGY Oh! Good job. Go on.
HARRIET You... you actually WANT it?
ALGY [hinting] It’s not a matter of what I want--
BART [cutting him off] AHEM. It’s a matter of making the entire situation clear and above board. The painting has more than been compensated for.
HARRIET [suspicious] What do you plan to do with it?
BART [rising irritation] That is none of your concern! The only thing that needs to happen here and now is for you to transfer title or return my client’s deposit.
HARRIET This is hardly fair. I should need to consult a solicitor as well - see to it that this bill of sale is proper and aboveboard!
BART You’re right, of course. If you will give me the name of your solicitor, I can contact him directly. [muttered] Probably best to have him on hand, regardless, just in case Mr. Winthrop decides to take my advice as to... legal action.
HARRIET Mr. Winthrop, I just want to--
ALGY You can call me Algernon, if you like, Miss Carter-Nelson.
HARRIET [hesitant, confused] Algernon. Very well, but I--
ALGY And perhaps I might be allowed to call you Harriet?
HARRIET [a bit wry] Will it help convince you this does not require legal action if we are on a first name basis?
ALGY [laughs] Perhaps.
HARRIET [slightly wheedling] Will it help convince you to let me in on the big secret about the... uh... painting in question?
ALGY Oh, that. It’s really quite simple--
ALGY [fatuous] Hush, Barty. I know how to handle women.
ALGY Shall I ring and have someone bring you a lozenge? No? Very well. [confidential, pleased] Now Harriet. I can take a joke as well as the next fellow. Don’t you agree?
HARRIET You’ve been a pip.
ALGY And I’m sure you feel that perhaps I’ve only got what I deserve, as I may very well have been on the verge of stealing your lovely old master, or at the very least short-changing such a poor but lovely young heiress.
HARRIET You would be surprised how many might consider such dastardly deeds, given our relative positions.
ALGY [annoyed] How many? [smooth again] Well, I can assure you that I would have played fair with you - and got you the best possible deal--
BART That is all moot. Why don’t you just null the entire transaction and give the painting back. The colonel-- [catching himself in a mistake] I mean, the person in question - ahem - has stated a clear unwillingness to own any piece of dubious origin.
HARRIET [musing] A Colonel?
ALGY I suppose you must have realized by now that I have a potential buyer for the painting, and that I will be making back - mm - more than my thousand.
HARRIET For that drab thing?
ALGY Some pieces sell on merit, others on sentiment. The best salesmen are those who find the right customers.
HARRIET How much?
BART As far as you are concerned, it is one thousand pounds, already paid, and an agreement on my client’s part not to litigate for false pretenses.
HARRIET No, really, [very warm] Algernon. How much?
ALGY [melting] I’ve been offered five thousand, but only with a clear title.
HARRIET [shock] Five? For Great Aunt Ermintrude’s "Impressions of a Baltic Lighthouse?"
BART [muttered] A leaning Baltic lighthouse.
ALGY [annoyed] A Baltic lighthouse a certain colonel recognizes as a place near where he was once stationed in his youth. A place he used to meet his one true love.
HARRIET [amazed] Truly?
ALGY So he says, and I was of no mind to disabuse him.
HARRIET Suddenly I have been hit with a terrible guilt complex about having taken such foul advantage of you.
ALGY Oh really?
HARRIET Such a sentimental streak - I never would have suspected it.
ALGY I hide it well.
BART [snort of laughter turned into cough]
HARRIET I think the best way to handle this is to give you your money back and call it all even.
ALGY Oh, really?
HARRIET Yes. And, just to show what a good sport I am, I’d - I'd like to make a present of the silly thing to your friend -um- colonel, uh...? [hinting]
ALGY [breaks down laughing]
BART I fear you’ve overplayed your hand, young lady.
HARRIET I? Whatever do you mean?
ALGY You are adorable.
HARRIET [offended] You make it sound as if I was a puppy!
ALGY [still trying to stop laughing] No, no, no. You are far cleverer than any puppy.
HARRIET I should hope so. [huff] I think this is where I should take my leave.
ALGY [suddenly sober] No.
HARRIET [wary] Why?
ALGY There’s still the matter of my money.
HARRIET Get it from your colonel!
SOUND A BIT OF A SCUFFLE AS HE STOPS HER FROM LEAVING
BART Here now! Here now! I will not have this! Sit down, both of you!
SOUND THEY BREAK APART WITH A GASP
BART I said sit!
SOUND CHAIR NOISES
SOUND DRINKS POURED
BART I have the perfect answer to this dilemma, if you will just be quiet and listen.
ALGY He probably does. He’s very clever.
HARRIET I think you both find yourselves too clever by half.
ALGY You fit in quite nicely, then, don’t you?
BART How odd. I distinctly recall-- Did I not say to be quiet?
ALGY [teasing] We’ll be good, papa.
HARRIET Are you planning to mete out justice like old king Solomon?
BART Do you want half a painting? [beat] Good. Now. The way I see it, your problem, Miss Carter-Nelson, is you wish to preserve your home, and are going about it in this rather nefarious manner.
BART This is no time for prevarication, miss --Harriet.
HARRIET I am using what little I have to save my home. Yes.
BART Very well.
HARRIET And if I happen to take slight advantage over those who otherwise would have taken similar advantage of me--
ALGY I already told you, Harriet darling, I would never have--
HARRIET But I couldn’t know that, could I?
BART Hush! [beat] I swear you bicker like-- well, we’ll leave that for the moment. [chuckles] And your problem, dear boy, is you would love to get your hands on the lovely old masters this young woman consorts with.
HARRIET [amused] You make it sound quite filthy!
ALGY [quiet] Not the only thing. [up] Yes. I would love to be the one to discover such lovely pieces and be able to find them good homes. Even legitimate ones.
BART Oh, well then - the answer is simple.
HARRIET Oh? Really?
BART You two should marry.
HARRIET [startled, outraged] What?
ALGY Capital idea. Was thinking something along those lines myself.
HARRIET oh! [indignant gasp] Here!
SOUND PURSE CLICKS OPEN, COUNT OUT MONEY
HARRIET Here is your blasted thousand pounds.
SOUND MONEY TOSSED ON TABLE
SOUND PURSE SNAPPED SHUT
HARRIET [huff] Good day!
SOUND SHE LEAVES, SLAMMING THE DOOR
BART [chuckle] She suits you.
ALGY [confident] Just a matter of time.
BART Make sure to send along some of the wedding cake, there's a good chap.