The Litmus Test - A short film

FADE IN:

 

 

INT.  TRENT AND TARA’S APARTMENT- - NIGHT

 

It’s 10:3 p.m. in the trendy Richmond apartment of TRENT LITMUS, 25, and his girlfriend of two years, TARA SATER, 27.  The THEME SONG OF ‘UNDERBELLY’ bellows from the TV while the couple is sloppily strewn on the couch wearing tracksuits and hoodies.  Trent is engaged in the show, while Tara is dazed and inattentive. 

 

                                   DISSOLVETO:

 

LATER:

 

Trent is still watching the show while Tara is flipping through women’s magazines at a rate that doesn’t allow for much reading.  Her occasional glances at Trent go unnoticed, so she gets up and leaves the room.

 

                                   DISSOLVETO:

 

LATER:

 

Tara enters the lounge with a bag of chips and a soft drink.  She sits on the couch next to Trent who looks up at her briefly, pushing the doona in her direction before returning his attention to the television.  Tara is offended by Trent’s insensitivity and leaves the lounge again.  The CLOSING MUSIC TO ‘UNDERBELLY is heard while Trent grabs for the remote control.

 

                                   DISSOLVE TO:

 

LATER:

 

Tara enters the lounge reluctantly, hoping to cozy up with Trent.  He’s asleep on the couch with the remote control locked firmly in his grip.  Tara turns right around, retreating to the bedroom.  On the coffee table sits Trent’s mobile.  CU of the vibrating mobile that is lighting up in bright red, displaying the word ‘ANONYMOUS’.  ECU of Trent’s closed eyelids twitching while he sleeps.

 

                                        CUT TO:

 

 

INT.  TRAIN - MORNING

 

ECU of Trent’s closed eyelids as he sleeps on the train.  Montage of Trent’s morning commute:  His rocky ride in the carriage amongst a sea of suits, to his de-boarding at Melbourne Central station, going up the escalator and spilling out onto Elizabeth Street.

 

                                        CUT TO:

 

 

 

 

 

EXT.  ELIZABETH STREET - DAY

 

Trent is scurrying down the sidewalk on his way to work.  He’s wearing khaki trousers with dress shoes, a business shirt with a jumper over it, and a backpack.

 

                                        CUT TO:

 

INT.  CALL CENTRE - MORNING

 

Trent is sitting in his cubicle wearing a headset, giving a sales pitch.

 

                    TRENT

                            Look, if you want the $69 plan I can offer you two months interest free, plus                               I’ll throw in free Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn Apps. How’s that sound?

(Beat) Fantastic.  Well, I’ve got your details here, so le’mme give you a call after lunch with the info on that Galaxy S-three, and we’ll take it from there.  Okay, Sue?

Great.  You’re a champion, Sue.  I’ll talk to you then. See ya.

 

Trent throws his headset to the desk and stands.  He leans over the wall of the cubicle to talk to his neighboring workmate, JERRY.

 

                    TRENT

               (raising his hand for a high-five)

Yeah, baby!  That’s four deals before break, mate.  I think it’s time for a cuppa.  You want one?

 

                    JERRY

Nah, I’m good.  I only got one deal on the board.  I need to get my ass in gear.

 

 

Trent pushes a button on the speakerphone.  His floor manager, NEV, answers.

 

                    NEV

          Yeah?

 

                    TRENT

Nev, it’s Trent.  I’m goin' on my break now.

         

                    NEV

          Yep.

 

 

Trent hangs up, reaches in his pocket and produces a handful of shrapnel.  He starts counting twenty-cent pieces when his work phone rings. 

 

                    TRENT

          Hello?

 

                    NEV

               (O.S.)

          Litmus.

 

                    TRENT

          Yeah? 

 

                    NEV

               (O.S.)

          You going for a coffee?

 

                    TRENT

          Yeah, why?  You want one?         

 

                    NEV

               (O.S.)

          I’ll take an Earl Grey tea.  Come over, and

          I’ll give you the money.

 

                    TRENT    

          All right.

 

 

                                       

                                         CUT TO:

 

INT.  CAFE - DAY

 

Trent is waiting in a queue to order his coffee.  The cafe is bustling with an anxious lunch crowd.  Trent’s mobile rings.

 

                    TRENT

          Hello?

 

A male voice is heard through the phone.

 

                    UNIDENTIFIED CALLER

               (O.S.)

          Ahmed.

 

                   

                    TRENT

          Hello?  Anyone there?

 

Trent hangs up, looking at his phone with a confused expression that quickly turns to indifference.  He gets to the counter.

 

                    BARISTSA

          What can I get you?

 

                    TRENT

          Can I get a skinny latte and

          an Earl Grey tea, please?

 

He steps aside to wait for the drinks.  His mobile rings again.

                   

                    TRENT

          Hello?

 

                    UNIDENTIFIED CALLER

               (O.S.)

          Ahmed.

 

                    TRENT

          No, this is not Ahmed.  Who is this?

               (Two beats)

          What number are you trying to reach?

 

The voice doesn’t respond.  Trent is starting to get irritated. 

 

                    TRENT

          Hellooo?

               (under his breath)

          Fuckwit.

 

He turns off his mobile and puts it in his pant pocket.

 

                    BARISTA

          Skinny Latte and Earl Grey.  Sugar is over there.

 

                    TRENT

          Thanks.

 

He gathers the drinks and snakes his way back through the queue.  Exits cafe.

 

EXT.  STREET - DAY

 

Trent crosses the street to where his office building is and plants himself on a step to have a cigarette.  He puts the drinks on the step below him, gets out a cig and lights up.  He picks up his latte and takes a couple deep drags off his smoke while observing the busy street scene.

 

Up walks a courier holding his motorcycle helmet in one hand and a parcel in the other.  As he walks up the stairs where Trent is sitting, his boot kicks the cup of Earl Grey, sending it splashing across the stairs.  The courier is oblivious to his action.  Trent, although startled and pissed off, says nothing to the offender.  Instead, he looks around awkwardly, ashamed at his lack of confrontation.  Just then Trent’s mobile rings again. 

 

                    TRENT

          Yeah?

 

                    UNIDENTIFIED CALLER

               (O.S)

          Ahmed.

 

Trent says nothing and hangs up.  He’s completely fed up with the way his day is unfolding.  He sucks one last drag of his cigarette, stomps it out, and goes back into the building.

 

 

INT.  NEV’S OFFICE - DAY

 

Trent drops a five-dollar note on Nev’s desk.

 

                    TRENT

          They’re out of Earl Grey.

 

                    NEV

          Aww.

 

 

Trent walks back to his cubicle.

 

INT.  TRENT’S CUBICLE - DAY

 

Trent’s neighbour, Jerry, is wielding a toy dart gun.  When Trent walks up, a suction dart goes whizzing past, narrowly missing his nose.

 

                    JERRY

          I’m the terminator!

 

                    TRENT

               (not impressed)

          Fuck off.

 

                    JERRY

          What’s your dilemma?

 

Trent shakes his head as if to say, 'don't ask'.  He puts his headset on and punches out a number.

 

                                        CUT TO:

 

INT.  NEV’S OFFICE - DAY

 

Nev is sitting with his headset on, listening to calls while taking notes.

 

                                        CUT TO:

 

INT.  CALL CENTRE - DAY

 

Various cuts of different call centre staff giving pitches.

 

                                       

 

 

 

                                    CUT TO:

 

 

INT.  NEV’S OFFICE - DAY

 

Nev, still listening on his headset, has a concerned look on his face.  A few seconds later, he dials a number.

 

                                        CUT TO:

 

INT.  TRENT’S CUBICLE - DAY

 

 

                    TRENT

               (talking on phone)

          Yeah, mate.  What we’re offering is a plan

          to beat all plans.  I’m talking two handsets to

          start, with an option to add as many additional

          sets to your network over the first twelve

          months at the base rate of $89 per month

          on the initial two units. I’m sure you’d agree

          that’s a plan not to be matched by any other

          carrier.  Now, what I’ll first need to do in

          order to get you started on this is to get your

          details and--(two beats)  Aw, okay.  No

worries, Abe.  Thanks anyway, mate.  Yeah, see ya.

 

Trent hangs up.  Seconds later his desk phone rings.

 

                    TRENT

               (into phone)

          Hello?

 

                    NEV

Trent, it’s Nev.  That last call was a bit dodgy, mate.  You sound like you’re selling encyclopedias in Woop Woop.  C’mon mate, what’s wrong with you?  Liven up.        

 

                    TRENT

               (sarcastically)

          Yes, Neville.

 

                    NEV

               (returning the sarcasm)

          Thanks, mate...for nothing.

 

There is a click on the line.  Nev has hung up.  Seconds later, Trent’s desk phone rings again.  He answers quickly.

 

                    TRENT

          Yeah, good one, dickhead!

 

                    UNIDENTIFIED CALLER

          Ahmed.

 

Trent is stunned.  He remains silent, hoping the voice will say something else.  He stands to observe the call centre, thinking he might catch one of his workmates playing a prank on him, but everyone is hard at work with their noses to the grindstone.

 

                    TRENT

          Who the hell is this?  (beat) Nev?  Hello?

 

He throws his headset to the desk still looking around suspiciously.  With no clues presenting themselves, he pulls out his mobile and swipes the screen.  It indicates that there are five unread text messages.  They all read, ‘Ahmed’.  He checks the number from which they were sent and calls it.  He hears an AUTOMATED VOICE.

 

                    AUTOMATED VOICE (O.S)

          The mobile number you have dialed is either out

of service or turned off.  Please check the number and dial again.

 

Trent tosses his mobile on the desk in frustration, resigning himself to his chair.  He sits deep in thought, fidgeting worriedly.

 

                                        CUT TO:

 

EXT.  CITY LANEWAY - DAY

 

Trent approaches a laneway bar.  Tara is sitting in the front window waiting for him.  She waves with a welcoming smile.  Trent enters the bar.

 

 

INT.  BAR - DAY

 

                    TARA

          Hey, you.

 

                    TRENT

          Hey

 

Trent joins Tara at the table.  Tara’s already got a cocktail.

 

                    TARA

          Get yourself a drink.

 

                    TRENT

               (tense)

          Nah, I’m cool.

 

                    TARA

          What’s up with you?

 

                    TRENT

          Something’s going on.

 

                    TARA

          What do you mean?

 

                                        CUT TO:

    

EXT.  LANEWAY - DAY

 

Point of view from across the street with the side mirror of a car in the foreground, the couple can be seen sitting in the front window with Trent's erratic hand gestures and Tara's interested response as he tells the story.

 

                                                                                                                  CUT TO:

 

INT. BAR – DAY

 

                    TARA

          Well, did you call the number?

 

                    TRENT

          Of course.  You think I'm a fucking moron?

 

                    TARA

          Le'me see your phone.

 

                    TRENT

          Why?

 

                    TARA

          I want to see the number.

 

Trent hands over the phone.  Tara checks the last numbers and fiddles around with some other buttons.

 

                    TRENT

          Well?

 

                    TARA

          What?

 

                    TRENT

          What do you think?

 

Tara is concentrating on the mobile screen, not answering.

 

                   

                    TRENT

          Are you playing Angry Birds?

 

                    TARA

          Oops.

 

                    TRENT

I can't fucking believe you.  This shit is buggin' me out and you’re playing games.

 

                    TARA

          Are you scared?

                    TRENT

          Not scared. Just kinda’--Well, a little

          freaked out.

 

                    TARA

So, what are you going to do about it?

 

                    TRENT

          What do you mean?

                    TARA

          Nothing.  I gotta' go to the lil' ladies room. Be right back

 

She goes to the toilets, leaving Trent to ponder his situation.  Trent goes to the bar and gets himself a beer.  While he's standing at the bar his phone alerts him to a new message.  He reluctantly views the message.  CU of mobile screen. It reads:

         

          'R U SCARED?

          JUST ME-BRING TP J'

 

Trent laughs in relief, looking around tensely.

 

                    TRENT

               (to bartender)

          Hey, man.  Can I get a roll of toilet paper?

 

                    BARTENDER

          Whaddya got loose bowels?

 

                    TRENT

               (laughing awkwardly)

             No, man.  My girlfriend is in the toilet and she's out of paper.

 

 

The bartender produces a roll from under the counter and hands it to Trent who disappears to the back.  Camera pans the entire bar, passing by Trent and Tara's table which has nothing but Tara’s cocktail on it.  At the end of the 360-degree pan Trent re-enters the shot.  As he walks through the bar the camera is now behind his head facing their table.  Trent stops in his tracks.  There is now a folded newspaper sitting on his table with a large clump within it.  He walks slowly through a dizzying crowd of people, staring at the newspaper, then sits.

 

Finally able to control his shaking hands, he opens the paper to find a large manila envelope stuffed with a fat roll of $100 notes, a 9mm handgun and a series of surveillance photos of a middle Eastern man he doesn't recognize.  Just then his phone alerts him to another text message.  He jumps at it with simultaneous anger and fear.  CU of mobile screen shows the message:

 

          'YOUR TARGET'

 

He's still flipping through the photos when Tara returns to the table.

 

                    TARA

          Thanks for that.  It’s a good thing you were

          here.  Otherwise I would’ve had to drip-dry.

               (nodding towards the table)

          What’s all this?

 

                    TRENT

               (angrily holding up one

               of the photos)

          Do you know this man?

 

Tara is confused, and quite frankly, pissed off by Trent’s tone.

 

                    TARA

          What the fuck’s up your ass? 

 

She takes the photo.  Inspects it

 

                    TARA

          Who the hell is this?

 

                    TRENT

          You tell me.

 

                    TARA

          Wha--?  Why would I know?

 

                    TRENT

               (sarcastically)

          I don’t know, Tara.  That’s why I’m asking

 

                    TARA

          I guess I’m supposed to know what’s in

          the envelope too.  Huh?

 

                    TRENT

          I’ll tell you what’s in the fucking envelope,

               (lowering his voice)

          A shitload of cash. And a gun.  Look at this!

 

He hands the mobile to Tara.

 

                    TRENT

Your target!  It came through just as I was looking at the picture.  Someone’s watching me in here. Look around.  None of these people are really having conversations.  They’re all going through the motions, pretending to have a good time.  But they’re really all watching me to see what I’ll do. 

               (leaning forward)                                 We’ve gotta’ get outta’ here.

 

                    TARA

          Trent!  Calm down.  Don’t get hysterical.

 

Trent is fidgeting in his chair, looking around the bar, trying to hear the words of the ‘contrived conversations’.  He’s running his hands through his hair and beginning to sweat.  Feeling claustrophobic, he rashly pulls off his jumper and places it behind him on the chair.

 

                    TARA

          Let’s just go over what’s happened and figure

          this out.  Now, who gave you the envelope?

 

Tent’s not paying attention, still rubber necking the bar patrons.  Tara reaches over and grabs Trent’s shirt collar.

 

                    TARA

          Trent!  Listen to me.  No one is watching you.

          Don’t get paranoid.  Just tell me who

          gave you the envelope?

 

                    TRENT

          No one.  It was just here.

 

Tara nods, looking out the window briefly.

 

                    TARA

            Okay, now when is the hit supposed to take place?

 

                    TRENT

          Hit?  Who the fuck are you, Dexter?  There’s not gonna’ be any hit, Tara.  Jesus Christ,        what kinda shit are you talking?  I don’t know about you, but I’m getting the fuck outta here.

 

                    TARA

       Don’t be stupid, Trent.  If there is someone watching you, they’ll surely have someone     waiting outside. 

         

                    TRENT

          So, you do think I’m being watched.

         

                    TARA

          Of course not.  All I’m saying is we need

          to be rational and think things through before

          you go running out the front door like some

          paranoid jackass.  Just tell me, were

          there any other details about the job?

 

                    TRENT

          No.

 

                    TARA

          Did you count the money?

 

                    TRENT

          No, but it’s enough to choke a horse.

          It doesn’t matter anyway.  I’m clearly

          not the one they’re looking for.  As if I’m

          a fucking hit man.  I’ve never even held a

          gun, much less fired one. 

 

                    TARA

          What about the newspaper?  Was there

          anything--

 

                    TRENT

          Would you just drop it?  Stop playing

          detective.  It’s simple.  I’m bailing right

          now.  If you’re coming with me then get

          off your ass and let’s go.

 

Trent stands.  Tara is looking out the window.  EYELINE CUT to a WHITE SEDAN with black, tinted windows sitting in repose across the street. Trent’s mobile rings.  Trent stares at it wide-eyed, terrified to answer it.  Tara picks it up instead.

 

                    TARA

          Hello?

 

Tara listens stoically as--

 

A GROUP OF FRIENDS at the other end of the bar sings happy birthday to a mate.

 

CU TRENT’S FACE watching Tara as she listens intently.  Very businesslike, she hangs up the phone and places it back on the table.  Trent is shaking.  He’s analyzing Tara’s face for a sign.

 

                    TARA

          Four minutes.

 

Trent continues to stare at Tara while he considers the implications of Tara’s words.  He’s frozen.  Sweat is beading down his temple.

 

                    TRENT

          I—I—gotta go.  I’m not supposed to be here.

 

Still in a daze, he starts collecting his things to leave. Tara roughly turns him around by the shoulders, shaking him back into reality.

 

                   

 

                        TARA

         Trent!  Listen to me carefully.  However the fuck they got you involved in this doesn’t       matter.  The fact is, that is now your money paid in advance for a job you must do if you want to make it outta here alive—to say nothing of my well being just by my association to you. Now you’ve got exactly four minutes to decide what you’re going to do.  Are you hearing me?

 

 

 

Trent shakes his head affirmatively.  Tara takes the gun from the envelope then takes Trent’s hand.  She lays the gun in his palm, closing his hand around it.  Tara takes a step back, looking Trent up and down.  Showing a hint of a smile, she shakes her head in approval.

 

                    TARA

          You can do this, baby.  I know you can.

 

She reaches back into the envelope, grabs the roll of cash, and holds it up for Trent to see.  One of her eyebrows rises slightly, mimicking one corner of her mouth.

                                       

INTERCUT:

 

ECU Tara’s approving eyes.

 

TO:

 

ECU of Trent’s worried eyes that start turning more confident with Tara’s seal of approval. 

 

TO:

 

Tara’s eyes.

 

TO:

 

P.O.V. CUT to CLOCK on the wall reading 4:26 p.m. then—

 

TO:

 

Trent’s eyes, which are now stone cold. 

 

He’s stroking the gun confidently.  Finally, in one swift motion, he raises the gun and cocks it, but, in doing so he accidentally pulls the trigger and, CRACK, the gun fires.  Everyone in the bar SCREAMS, dropping to the ground.  Trent is stupefied, juggling the smoking pistol. Tara stares with her hands over her mouth.  Trent looks at the gun, then at the clock.

 

P.O.V CUT to CLOCK, which is now shattered with a bullet hole through it.

 

Everyone in the bar is still, waiting for Trent’s next move.  He’s looking around the bar, still frazzled by the gunshot.

 

INTERCUT:

 

FACES OF SCARED BAR PATRONS looking around at each other.

 

Tara is staring at Trent with her hands over her mouth, waiting.  Trent looks at the gun in his hand, then at Tara.  A wry smile grips his face.  He has made his decision—again. He runs and jumps onto the bar, cocking the gun properly this time. TRENT

          Alright everybody, in about four minutes

          there’s gonna be an assassination, so I

          Suggest everyone get the fuck on the floor

          and say their prayers to sweet Jesus while

          you got the chance.

 

The bar patrons start flipping the tables on their sides for protection.  Tara looks up at Trent with glowing eyes.  Trent gives his best action hero grin.  He jumps down and helps the patrons with the tables.  Tara stuffs the roll of money in her purse and joins in.  When a satisfactory wall of tables has been built, the patrons duck down behind it, while Trent and Tara set up behind the bar facing the front door with the gun. 

 

                    TRENT

               (to Tara)

          How much time do we have left?

 

Tara looks at the clock that still shows 4:26.

 

                    TARA

               (yelling out to bar patrons)

          Time check!

 

                    PATRON 1

          Four twenty seven.

 

                    PATRON2

          Four thirty four.

 

                    PATRON3

          Four twenty eight.

 

                    TRENT

          Shit.

 

                    TARA

          Don’t worry. 

 

The bar is silent with thick tension.  Trent and Tara are staring wide-eyed at the front door, waiting for the target.  Suddenly, Trent’s mobile, which is still sitting on the table in front of the window, rings.  Tara looks at Trent with an inquisitive look. 

 

Trent tentatively walks around the bar pointing the gun with his outstretched arm.  His eyes are darting about as he reaches the table, picks up the phone, and answers it.

 

                    ANONYMOUS MALE VOICE

               (whispering)

          Litmus.

                   TRENT

             Yeah?

 

There is no forthcoming response.

 

          TRENT

          This is Litmus.  Who’s this? Where’s the

          fucking target?

 

 

               ANONYMOUS VOICE

          Game over.

 

                    TRENT

          What the fuck you talking about?  What about

          the hit?  (long beat)  Hello?

 

Confused, Trent drops the phone on the table and turns around.

 

                    TRENT

               (long beat)

          Well, everyone, I guess you all got lucky today.

 

The bar patrons are getting out from behind the tables one by one.  Trent takes a glance out the window, shoves the gun into the back of his pants, and walks over to retrieve Tara.  He takes her in his arms, hugging her tightly with his back to the front window. 

 

Behind Trent’s back Tara raises her hand and gives a thumbs-up sign.  Through the front window, the white sedan can be seen with one of its windows slightly rolled down.  Out of the gap comes a hand returning Tara’s sign.  The window then closes, and the car drives away. 

 

Tara and Trent look at each other lovingly and exit the bar arm in arm.  Various bar patrons are standing around watching the couple leaves.  One of the male bar patrons walks up to the front door and peeks out, making sure the couple is out of ear shot.

 

 

                    MALE BAR PATRON

               (to bar crowd)

          Okay everybody, that’s a wrap.  Great workshop.

I’ll be e-mailing everyone with the details of the next gig.  Thanks to everyone.  Well done.

 

The bar crowd applaud themselves, breaking into discussion groups about their respective performances while straightening the tables.  The bartender hits the play button on the stereo which promptly belts out some beaty track.

 

                                   FADE TO BLACK