Int. Bedroom – Morning
An alarm clock buzzes. It is 7am.
PRESTON (V.O.): 1. Alarm clock. Wake. Set it back 5 minutes. Sleep 5 minutes. Wake. Set it back 5 minutes. Sleep 5 minutes. Get out of bed urgently.
Int. Bathroom – Morning
A figure, Valerie, is showering behind a curtain. There is the sound of an electric toothbrush.
PRESTON (V.O.): 2. Brush teeth whilst showering and washing hair. 5 minutes max. If you shower longer, then you use more water than a bath. Use a gentle shampoo. That way you can wash your hair every day. Don’t waste time with conditioner. Piss for sure, poo only if necessary. Shave if you’re a man, though beards are quicker. Some people have an irrational dislike of beards.
Int. Bedroom – Morning
Valerie is glimpsed opening a wardrobe door and standing behind it, tossing clothes from it to her bed.
PRESTON (V.O.): 3. Dress. Quickly. Don’t choose what to wear, just take the next item on the rail – it’ll be fine. Briefly check your appearance in the mirror, using fingers to fix hair. Regret that your shoes need polishing, but there’s never time for that.
Int. Kitchen – Morning
A toaster stands idle. Valerie is glimpsed walking past the kitchen doorway.
PRESTON (V.O.): 4. There’s never time for breakfast, either.
Jumble of images: commuters boarding trains, driving cars, waiting at tube platforms, people walking and crossing roads, people standing on buses, red traffic lights, ticket barriers.
PRESTON (V.O.): 5. Your journey to work is the most important part of the day. Know at least three alternative routes, in case of disaster, repair, weather or strikes. On the way, read a paper or listen to the news on the radio; even small pieces of information can lend authority. Avoid being late if at all possible.
Ext. Office building – Morning
Valerie walks towards the main doors of an office building.
PRESTON (V.O.): The time you arrive is one of the very few things your bosses can systematically measure.
Valerie looks up at the building and hesitates, letting others enter ahead of her. Then she enters too.
Int. Office Building – Morning
A middle-aged man, Preston, has turned from his desk towards the window. He looks down at the people arriving at work. He holds a coffee mug in his hand, and takes a noisy sip. He drinks like that because the coffee is too hot to drink otherwise. The mug has a business logo on it; it was a gift from a supplier.
PRESTON: 6. The rest of your working day will be unimportant. So relax.
A voice talks to Preston but we do not see the source.
DISEASED MIND: You don’t seem very relaxed.
Preston replies without turning away from the window.
PRESTON: You’re right.
He takes another noisy sip from his mug.
DISEASED MIND: Rules 1 to 3 are good. Rule 4 is superfluous. Rule 5 is too general. And rule 6 is a suggestion, not a rule. If it was a rule, you’d always be breaking it.
PRESTON: I’ll rewrite them later today.
Preston turns away from the window, towards his desk.
PRESTON: So tell me, what’s on my mind this morning?
The camera tracks back to reveal what Preston is talking to. On his desk there is a grey human brain, slightly smaller than average, immersed in a spherical goldfish bowl.
DISEASED MIND: Proposition 1…
PRESTON: Nothing ever changes.
DISEASED MIND: and Proposition 2.
PRESTON: Nothing we do ever makes the slightest bit of difference. In other words, the same as usual?
DISEASED MIND: No. They’re going to be tested today.
A fire alarm blares out unexpectedly.
Int. Office Reception – Morning
Valerie is standing in front of the reception desk. A young male security guard sits behind it. She is startled by the alarm. People stream past, joining the queue to swipe their pass and go through the full-height security gates.
GUARD: (shouting over the alarm) Don’t worry, it’s just a test.
The alarm stops on the word ‘test’.
GUARD: (still shouting) See? (lowers voice to normal) See? They test the alarm every week, at random times.
VALERIE: How will anyone know when there’s a real fire?
GUARD: (pauses, thinking) The alarm will go on for longer. (beat) Can I help?
Valerie relaxes a little and places her hand on the reception counter.
VALERIE: My name is Valerie Valencourt. I’m here to see David Rubnick.
GUARD: Is it your first day?
VALERIE: Yes, yes it is.
The guard looks over a list attached to a clipboard on his desk. He runs his finger very slowly down the list. He turns over the pages methodically, and slowly. He does this for three full pages, by which time he has gone through the whole list. He shakes his head.
GUARD: No, you’re not on the correct list. Let me see if you’re on the wrong list.
The guard pulls out a second clipboard and checklist, runs through it, as before. Valerie tries not to appear impatient.
GUARD: I’m sorry, you’re not on that list either.
The guard sits looking at Valerie, with an air of finality. Valerie pauses for a while, expecting the guard to continue, and then realizes he is not going to.
VALERIE: But I am here.
Valerie smiles and looks at the guard. He does not know what she wants. She smiles and rapidly directs her eyes from the guard, to his phone, back to the guard, and back to the phone.
VALERIE: Could you call him?
VALERIE: David Rubnick.
GUARD: Well, I would, but you’re not on my list. And that means his number isn’t on my list either. On either of them.
He holds up the first clipboard and list to show Valerie, as if to prove his point.
GUARD: You should call him instead.
Valerie rummages around her handbag and pulls out her phone and some A4 sheets of paper where she has printed out emails. She checks her phone and turns over the pages. She fumbles through them, subtly revealing her nervousness. An older man, Thimbleby, interrupts by walking up to the counter and addressing the guard directly.
THIMBLEBY: Don Thumbleby for Preston Dirges.
Valerie stands to one side to make more room for Thimbleby, who crowded her. Though she has not found the number for David Rubnick, she bites her lip and waits patiently for the guard to finish with Thimbleby. Thimbleby fills out the visitor’s log whilst the guard checks his list and calls Preston. Valerie’s phone starts to ring as she holds it.
RUBNICK (O.S.): Is that Valerie? It’s Dave Rubnick here. Are you on your way?
VALERIE: I’m at reception right now…
Rubnick interrupts her mid-sentence. Meanwhile, the guard hands visitor passes to both Valerie and Thimbleby.
RUBNICK (O.S.): Great. I’m in my office, waiting for you. Fifth floor. Come straight up.
The line goes dead. In the background, Preston arrives at the far side of the security gates.
VALERIE: Can I just go up? That was Mr. Rubnick on the phone. I’m late.
Valerie turns and briskly walks to the security gate, unsuccessfully swiping the visitor’s pass that she has just been given.
GUARD: Miss! I can’t just let you go through. Mr. Rubnick needs to come down to collect you.
Valerie turns back to the guard, flustered. Behind the gate, Preston raises a hand in the guard’s direction, attracting his attention. Thimbleby steps in front of Valerie, and the guard presses a button to open the gate for Thimbleby. It closes in Valerie’s face as she attempts to push through behind Thimbleby. Preston steps up to the other side of the see-through plastic gate, and talks to Valerie. The gate is closed between them, but their faces are unusually close together.
PRESTON: (to Valerie) Are you having some difficulties?
PRESTON: (to the guard) It’s okay, let me deal with it.
VALERIE: It’s my first day, and I’m late. I need to see David Rubnick in HR.
PRESTON: Dave Rubberduck?
VALERIE: David Rubnick.
PRESTON: That’s what I said.
VALERIE: No, you said…
Valerie stops, realizing she does not want to continue her sentence.
PRESTON: (to the guard) Don’t worry, I’ll take her up.
GUARD: I can’t let her through.
PRESTON: Why not?
GUARD: She didn’t ask for you.
PRESTON: (whispering to Valerie) You could ask for me now.
VALERIE: (whispering to Preston) Good idea.
Valerie turns to the guard, and opens her mouth to speak. She stops herself and turns back to Preston.
VALERIE: (whispering to Preston) What’s your name?
PRESTON: (whispering to Valerie) It’s…
THIMBLEBY: (impatient) Preston?
VALERIE: (whispered) Preston! (to guard) I’m here to see Mr. Preston, please.
Preston waves a hand towards Thimbleby, dismissively, indicating he should be patient. Meanwhile, with his other hand, Preston is giving a thumbs up to the guard.
GUARD: Well I don’t know. (pause) What’s his surname?
PRESTON: (to guard) Have you checked to see if my name is on the list?
The guard picks up his clipboard and list, and starts to run his finger through it, again.
Whilst continuing to look toward the guard, Preston pulls out his swipe card, and pokes it through the gap in the security gate. The guard’s view of this is obscured by Valerie. Valerie hesitates to take Preston’s card at first. Preston shakes his card at her, whilst still looking at the guard.
PRESTON: (whispering to Valerie, without moving his lips) Come on then.
GUARD: No, you’re not on this list.
The guard holds up his list, and taps on it, as if to show Preston, even though they are standing far too far apart for Preston to be able to actually see what is written on it.
PRESTON: Why don’t you look at the other one?
GUARD: I was just about to do that.
Valerie grabs Preston’s access card, swipes it, and hurries through the gate. The guard steps around as if to chase her, but stops as they disappear up the fire stairs. The guard sits back down at his counter, muttering to himself and shaking his head.
Int. Fire Escape Stairwell
Preston is marching up the stairs, taking them two at a time and counting them as he does. Thimbleby and Valerie follow behind.
PRESTON: Four, six…
VALERIE: Thank you.
PRESTON: …eight. Don’t mention it. Ten.
Thimbleby tries to keep pace with Preston but cannot. Valerie, in her heeled shoes, is even further behind. She makes noisy progress. Preston reaches the first floor landing and waits. Thimbleby joins Preston on the landing, and eyes him curiously, but Preston pretends not to notice. Preston talks to Valerie instead.
PRESTON: Come on, I thought you said you were late.
VALERIE: I wasn’t late. I arrived on time. It was the guard that made me late.
PRESTON: It’s not good to be late, for whatever reason. People don’t like to wait. I know I hate waiting.
Valerie arrives at the landing, a little out of breath. Preston is holding out his hand, with the palm upwards. She takes it, thinking Preston means to help her with the final step. Preston shakes Valerie’s hand, in a parody of a handshake, but with his palm still facing upward. She lets go, but he still holds his hand out.
PRESTON: My pass?
VALERIE: Oh, yes. Here you are.
She hands Preston his pass. He swipes to open the fire escape door, and holds it open for Thimbleby. As Thimbleby walks through, Preston shuts the door behind Thimbleby and shouts at him through it.
PRESTON: I just need to take this young lady up to the fifth floor. You don’t mind waiting, do you?
It is obvious from Thimbleby’s expression that he does mind. Preston acts like he’s oblivious to Thimbleby’s reaction, turning and marching up the next flight stairs, once again counting as he does. He goes a little more slowly this time, so it is easier, but still difficult, for Valerie to keep pace.
VALERIE: I thought you said it was rude to keep people waiting?
PRESTON: Sixteen. It is. Eighteen.
VALERIE: Then what about him?
PRESTON: Him? Twenty. Thimbleby? Twenty-two. He’s not people. Twenty-four. He’s an auditor.
VALERIE: That’s not a very nice thing to say. What’s your job, that you should be so unkind to an auditor?
PRESTON: Thirty. My job? Thirty-two. I’m an auditor, I suppose. Thirty-four.
VALERIE: Then what makes you better than him?
PRESTON: Thirty-eight. Well, because he audits me – forty – and doesn’t know what he’s doing. And because – forty-two – I do know what I’m doing. That’s two reasons why – Forty-four – I’m better than him. Forty-six. But don’t worry – forty-eight – I’ll make it up to him. Fifty. He’s going to find plenty of things wrong – fifty-two – with my work – fifty-four – and that’ll make us both very happy. Fifty-six.
VALERIE: (breathless) Why would that make you happy?
PRESTON: Fifty-eight. Because he’ll find all the things – sixty – I want him to find – sixty-two – and that means – sixty-four – he’ll be so busy and so satisfied – sixty-six – that he won’t find any of the things – sixty-eight – that I don’t want him to find. Seventy!
Preston reaches a landing and momentarily turns back to face Valerie.
PRESTON: So we’ll both go home happy. He’ll feel like he made a difference, whilst I ensured he didn’t make me any trouble that I didn’t want him to make for me.
Valerie joins Preston on the landing. She tries to suppress the urge to pant.
VALERIE: Can’t we take the lift?
Preston stops and looks around momentarily, then thinks.
PRESTON: No, we can’t. First, taking the stairs is actually faster than waiting for the lift. Second, walking upstairs helps you stay fit. Third, it’s a better use of time than staying fit by going down the gym after work. And fourth, we’ve already arrived at the fifth floor.
Preston swipes his card and opens the door for Valerie.
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