It Was a Zeppelin I Tell You

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: The Imaginarium
Second of five short plays about the First World War. Not the usual stories about trench warfare, but more about the lives that were affected at home, and the change in society.

A drunk man tries to convince a policeman that he has seen a Zeppelin over his town.

Submitted: November 03, 2018

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Submitted: November 03, 2018

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A policeman walks on. He paces confidently up the street until his foot slides slightly and he looks down realising he has stood in a dog turd. He starts to scrape it off by rubbing his foot on the ground. As he is trying to clean his shoe a drunk, Charlie, comes wandering up the road to him.

CHARLIE

Ah, there you are Constable.
The policeman looks around and then back to Charlie.

POLICEMAN

Hello there Charlie, what brings you down this street at this hour?

CHARLIE

I saw something.

POLICEMAN

Pink elephants I shouldn’t wonder.

CHARLIE

No, something more important to the country.

POLICEMAN

Ah now then, when you say country are you referring to this fine nation and its empire or just the collection of fields and cattle around the village?
Charlie is confused; he doesn’t understand what the policeman is talking about.

CHARLIE

Eh?

POLICEMAN

Hadn’t you better be getting back home?

CHARLIE

What for?

POLICEMAN

It’s late; won’t your wife wonder where you are?

CHARLIE

I don’t think so. She knows I’ll probably be at the pub or somewhere between.

POLICEMAN

Yes I suppose so. It’s a wonder she puts up with it.

CHARLIE

She’s a very understanding woman.

POLICEMAN

Yes she must be, otherwise she’d have left you by now.

CHARLIE

I’m sure she would if she had somewhere to go.

POLICEMAN

What about her sister?

CHARLIE

(Laughs) They don’t exactly get along.

POLICEMAN

Well I don’t know; if we can’t get along with our families where would we be?

CHARLIE

On the throne of a European country?

POLICEMAN

No arguing with that.
They both shake their heads sagely.

POLICEMAN

Come on Charlie, you’d better get along; your wife will be worried about you?

CHARLIE

Yes I suppose so, but then she worries about me at all times of the day.

POLICEMAN

I’m not a bit surprised. It’s a wonder to medical science that you can walk home at all the amount you drink.

CHARLIE

Oh I just have a few drinks to be sociable.

POLICEMAN

Sociable with who? A gang of sailors on a gin tour of the East End?

CHARLIE

(Distracted by the thought of gin) I didn’t know there was a gin tour.

POLICEMAN

Come on now Charlie, stay focused on the task at hand. You have to get yourself home.

CHARLIE

Not before I tell you what I saw.

POLICEMAN

I don’t want to know what you saw. I might have to arrest you for looking.

CHARLIE

You can’t arrest me, I’m a model citizen.

POLICEMAN

Yes a model citizen for the state you’re in.

CHARLIE

I’m just fine; all I need to do is get a message to the Prime Minister.

POLICEMAN

You’re not going to ask him to keep the pubs open all day again?

CHARLIE

It’ll happen one day; you mark my words.

POLICEMAN

Yes, and I suppose they’ll ban smoking from pubs as well.

CHARLIE

Now don’t be stupid.

POLICEMAN

Who are you calling stupid? I could have arrested you by now.

CHARLIE

Okay, arrest me and take me back to the station. I can phone the Prime Minister from there.

POLICEMAN

I’m sure he’d be happy to be woken up by you at this hour.

CHARLIE

He will when I tell him what I saw.

POLICEMAN

I am not going to phone up the Prime Minister at this hour, just so that you can tell him what you saw on your way home from Dog and Duck.

CHARLIE

Ah, but you can’t refuse to ring him see; I’ve got rights.

POLICEMAN

Indeed you have. That’s one thing King John overlooked when he grabbed his quill at Runnymede.

CHARLIE

You have to tell someone I’ve been arrested.

POLICEMAN

I would certainly do that, but wouldn’t you rather I let your wife know you’d been arrested?

CHARLIE

Why would I want you to tell my wife? She’s the reason I go drinking.

POLICEMAN

Yes, and from what I gather you are the reason she lets you.

CHARLIE

No, I want you to tell the Prime Minister.

POLICEMAN

Although I have no doubt he will be gratified to get a message from you, I imagine he has weightier considerations on his mind at the moment.

CHARLIE

I don’t care what you think, I have to get a message to him, and if you’re going to arrest me I will have to send it to him from there.

POLICEMAN

I don’t want to arrest you. I would rather get you home. You can do what you like from there.

CHARLIE

Don’t you want to know what I saw?

POLICEMAN

What I want is a nice hot bath, a cup of tea and an early night. Instead I’m out here helping herd stray husbands back to their places of abode.

CHARLIE

You’ll want to hear this; trust me.

POLICEMAN

Trust you should I? I would sooner trust the Kaiser himself.

CHARLIE

You could end up working for the Kaiser if you don’t listen to me.

POLICEMAN

(leaning in towards Charlie) What exactly was in those glasses the barman was serving tonight?

CHARLIE

Only the usual, but that’s not the point.

POLICEMAN

Very well then let me hear it; what was this earth shattering event you saw when you left the pub?

CHARLIE

A Zeppelin.
The policeman is completely unconcerned at Charlie’s latest drunken tale. He looks around at the sky.

POLICEMAN

Doesn’t seem to be any sign of it now.

CHARLIE

It’s probably gone by now.

POLICEMAN

Oh I shouldn’t wonder. They are very quick and easy to frighten. Still, it’s probably more afraid of you than you are of it.

CHARLIE

It probably went behind a cloud or something; I only saw it there for a brief moment.

POLICEMAN

Well I’ll tell you what; you go on home and I’ll keep an eye open for it I’m sure it’ll turn up.

CHARLIE

Thank you Officer, and what will you do when you see it?

POLICEMAN

Well the way I see it is that if it does show up and no one claims it within six months it’ll be yours.

CHARLIE

This isn’t funny.

POLICEMAN

I know, but it is late and I’m doing my best.

CHARLIE

You should take this seriously, the safety of our nation is at stake.

POLICEMAN

I’m more concerned with the state of your sanity.

CHARLIE

Listen here; there’s nothing wrong with me.

POLICEMAN

That’s rather a matter of opinion.

CHARLIE

I’ll have you know I’m very popular down the pub.

POLICEMAN

Ah yes I believe you’ve been single handedly keeping the local brewing industry going in these trying times.

CHARLIE

Yes and you should listen to me.

POLICEMAN

I have been listening to you.

CHARLIE

So you will investigate what I saw?

POLICEMAN

I have investigated it; I had a look around the scene of the crime and the perpetrator has fled the scene.

CHARLIE

Aren’t you going to follow them?

POLICEMAN

Well I could get my bicycle and give chase, but I fear I might struggle to keep up when we reach the North Sea.

CHARLIE

It’s a job for one of those new-fangled aeroplanes.

POLICEMAN

I’m afraid our local constabulary doesn’t have such a machine at its disposal.

CHARLIE

Of course it doesn’t; you’ll need to let the Ministry know.

POLICEMAN

I don’t think the Ministry has any aeroplanes to spare, and we don’t have any pilots down at the station.

CHARLIE

No, I mean get them to shoot down the Zeppelin.

POLICEMAN

I can’t go telling the Ministry every time a drunk thinks he’s seen a Zeppelin; they’d be sick of hearing from me. This is your third this week alone.

CHARLIE

But it was a Zeppelin this time I swear.

POLICEMAN

I know you do. I was there at closing time on Saturday when the barman stopped serving.

CHARLIE

What?

POLICEMAN

I’ve never heard language like it.

CHARLIE

Eh?

POLICEMAN

The air was positively blue.

CHARLIE

But what about the Zeppelin?

POLICEMAN

I’ll tell you what, we’ll have a good scan of the sky, and then you can get along home.
They both stand and scan the sky. After a couple of times when Charlie thinks he has seen something but realises there is nothing there; Charlie points.

CHARLIE

There; did you see it? There was something there.
The policeman moves closer to his side to see where Charlie is pointing.

POLICEMAN

Oh yes I think I can. It’s got a kind of sickly yellow colour to it.

CHARLIE

(Having lost sight of it and not remembering any yellowness to the shape) Er..yes. Can you still see it?

POLICEMAN

Yes, yes I can.

CHARLIE

It’s a Zeppelin isn’t it?

POLICEMAN

I don’t believe so.

CHARLIE

Well what is it then?

POLICEMAN

It’s your finger, and it shows how much you smoke.
Charlie drops his hand and the policeman steps away.

CHARLIE

I’m wasting my time trying to convince you. I’ll go down to the station and speak to the Sargeant.

POLICEMAN

You won’t get much sympathy from him; he told me not to report any more of your stories to him.

CHARLIE

He wouldn’t tell you such a thing.

POLICEMAN

Oh I’m afraid he would. Constable, he said, if you bring that drunk into this station one more time I’ll burn your truncheon and take the pea out of your whistle.

CHARLIE

Sounds painful.

POLICEMAN

Yes indeed, so imagine what he would do to you?

CHARLIE

He can’t do anything to me; I’m a civilian.

POLICEMAN

Yes a very inebriated one. I’m sure he’d be happy to take you off the streets until you sober up. I should think a couple of months should do it.

CHARLIE

A couple of months? Just how drunk do you think I am?

POLICEMAN

Well put it this way; I’d like to say something to you that was really insulting but you’d be too drunk to understand it.

CHARLIE

Well I can’t go spending a couple of months in prison. What would my wife do?

POLICEMAN

Celebrate I should think.

CHARLIE

Oh really, and I suppose your house is the very model of matrimonial bliss?

POLICEMAN

My wife and I have a very amenable relationship thank you.

CHARLIE

Yes I can just hear you now: (putting on the air of a policeman) Good evening madam, you ‘ave the right to remain silent.

POLICEMAN

Yes, very droll. I suppose you would say something along the lines of: (putting on the air of a drunkard) ‘ello love, ‘ows about a pint of your best poison and half an hour in the alleyway after closing time.

CHARLIE

Half an hour in the alleyway, that’s disgusting.

POLICEMAN

Yes I’m sorry Charlie, I did go a bit far.

CHARLIE

(Looking around thoughtfully) Half an hour indeed.
The policeman shuffles around on his feet wishing he’d not said what he had said.

CHARLIE

Half an hour; I don’t know where I’d find the energy.
The policeman is very much relieved.

POLICEMAN

Come on Charlie it really is time you were getting along; before I say something you’ll realise I should regret.
Charlie thinks and looks round. He doesn’t want to anger the policeman, but he needs to let someone know what he has seen.

CHARLIE

Listen Constable, I know I’ve often come down this street drunk, and I’m often a nuisance to you, but I beg you to listen to what I have to say. I think it could be of great importance to the country.

POLICEMAN

You seem to have gone all serious on me Charlie.

CHARLIE

Yes well the security of this country will do that.

POLICEMAN

You really think you did see something this time don’t you?

CHARLIE

Yes, yes I do.

POLICEMAN

I know they’ve bombed Belgian cities but they haven’t come over here.

CHARLIE

They could do though, couldn’t they? The sea isn’t going to stop them.

POLICEMAN

No I suppose not. But if they did...

CHARLIE

Yes, if they did.. it wouldn’t just be those boys over in the trenches.. our wives, the children that play in these streets, even old Peg and her dog would be in the war.

POLICEMAN

You don’t really think...

CHARLIE

I do really think.. I’m sure I’ve seen it.

POLICEMAN

But I heard no explosion.

CHARLIE

Neither did I, but it doesn’t mean they won’t come back.

POLICEMAN

Yes, they could just be checking the place out, looking to see whether it is worth them bringing bombs this far.

CHARLIE

Exactly, pick a dark night when you can hope to sneak in and out without being seen.

POLICEMAN

Staying high enough so that the engines won’t be heard.

CHARLIE

When they come back they won’t be sightseeing. They’ll stay lower and who knows what they will do to us.

POLICEMAN

Well they reckoned without the English drunkard on his way home from the local hostelry.

CHARLIE

So you believe me then?

POLICEMAN

Let’s just say I believe there is enough evidence to start an investigation. If there is anyone else who’s reported seeing something I’m sure the ministry will want to know. I’ll get back to the station and report this.

CHARLIE

Do you need me to come down?

POLICEMAN

No, I need you to tell everyone you know that they need to keep a lookout on the night sky. If that was a Zeppelin and it does come back, we’ll be ready.

CHARLIE

(Looks at the policeman and seeming more sober) Good night Constable, God keep you safe in your bed tonight.

POLICEMAN

And you Charlie.
The two men walk off in opposite directions.
 
End


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