Johnny Pepys, the Gangster Diaries (one-act play)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic

Johnny Pepys (peeps, after Samuel Pepys, the famous English diarist), an underling in the Capone gang, is summoned to take dictation of Capone's memoirs after Capone has been wounded in a gunfight with the Feds. Members of Capone's gang are worried those memoirs (diary) could fall into the wrong hands, and they put the heat on Pepys. Meantime, Pepys is playing both ends, selling secrets to a rival gang. Elliot Ness (The Untouchables) sends a sultry undercover policewoman to Pepys in hopes of using her charms to seduce him into revealing the whereabouts of the diary. A cute satire on The Untouchables. (This was staged twice in Manhattan, once at the Kraine Theater and again in midtown in conjunction with the New York Independent International Film Festival.)

CHARACTERS

THE BAD GUYS:

AL CAPONE, Chicago's most notorious gangster

JOHNNY PEPYS ("Peeps," after Samuel Pepys, the British diarist), a skinny, toothpick-chewing Capone underling, 20s, who has been called upon to keep a diary

ROCCO, one of Capone's hoods BRUNO, ditto

THE GOOD GUYS:

ELIOT NESS, head Fed

RICO, his associate

CARLUCCI, likewise

MOLLY SANDERS, an attractive policewoman, 30s, who must exert her charms on Pepys to obtain that diary

EILEEN, a chorus girl smitten with Capone LOUISE, her friend, also a chorus girl

SETTING

Capone's tenement hideout on Chicago's South Side. The time is a spring morning of the Prohibition Era.

The scene is a tenement flat on Chicago's South Side and current residence of one ALPHONSE CAPONE, gangland's most notorious hood. The big gefilte fish himself is laid up in bed recuperating from a gun battle, with his arm bandaged in a sling.

JOHNNY PEPYS, a cocky, toothpick-chewing hood hardly out of his teens, steps forward, outfitted in slacks and guinea tee.

PEPYS: When I was a young kid, I used to write in my diary -- you know, it was something I did, like some kids collect postage stamps or build model airplanes.

(beat)

Well, one day not long ago, after I had started working for Mr. Alphonse Capone, the big gefilte fish himself, I get a call to come to his bedside. Do you believe -- me, Johnny Pepys, a nobody, a poor schlepola from the streets. And I get this call to come see Mr. Alphonse Capone, the big kingpin himself.

(beat)

Anyway, the deal was this -- poor old Mr. Capone had gotten himself shot up pretty bad in an ill-advised gun battle with the feds, and suddenly, feeling every bit his age and mortal after all, he decides maybe it's a good time to dictate his life story, you know, in case he should suddenly go schmutz, for someone to put it down in a diary. And who do you think he chose for that someone? Yup, that's right, little ole Johnny Pepys. (beat) Oh yeah, maybe I oughta introduce myself -- my name is Pepys, Johnny Pepys. Nice to meet you. And immediately I know what you're thinking -- Pepys, what kind of a name is that? Well, to tell you the truth I borrowed it, that's right, from this guy named Samuel Pepys. An English guy, you might have heard of him -- he was famous for once upon a time keeping a diary.

(beat)

So anyway, there I was standing in the presence of gangster royalty hisself, Mr. Alphonse Capone, and he's saying "Johnny" -- like I was his son or something -- "Johnny, I got a few things to tell you. I gotta few things to get off my chest because I know you're smart, and I know I can trust you . . . Johnny, you know a thing or two about keeping a diary and that's exactly what I want you to do."

(beat)

And did he tell me a few things? You bet he did. And maybe a few things I really didn't want to know -- like the secret whereabouts of his breweries, and certain other sensitive details of his money-laundering schemes. And now certain colleagues of mine were getting nervous, really nervous, 'cause they were figuring, what if this information should fall into the hands of the wrong people? What if Johnny boy should start to sing and this privileged information should fall into the hands of the feds? So I was really starting to feel the heat, okay? These boys meant business. And I knew darn well that if I hoped to live just a little while longer, I had better take it up with Mr. Alphonse Capone, the gefilte fish himself. Yeah, if I wanted to remain among the duly living and breathing, it behooved me to pay a visit to the man himself, which is what I did.

(He crosses to Capone)

So, how you feeling this morning, Mr. Capone -- you getting the kinks worked out?

CAPONE: I'm feeling good, Johnny, pretty damned good.

PEPYS: You know, with all due respect, Mr. Capone, maybe it wasn't such a smart thing you did, you know, shooting it out with the feds. I mean, you got boys on the payroll who are supposed to take care of that. But I guess sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do, right, Mr. Capone?

CAPONE: That's right, Johnny. You gotta show 'em up close, with a fist in the face, who's boss. So, you bring that diary?

PEPYS: That's what I wanted to talk to you about.

CAPONE: You got a problem, Johnny? You got a problem, spit it out.

PEPYS: Do I have a problem, Mr. Capone -- do I have a problem? Do wild bears spit in the woods, does a stitch in time really save anybody a dime? Do I have a problem -- you bet I do. It's about that diary.

(Enter ROCCO and BRUNO, two of CAPONE's henchmen)

ROCCO: Morning, boss.

(He gestures to BRUNO, they quickly brace PEPYS against the wall)

CAPONE: Hey -- what are you doing, what are you doing?

ROCCO: What are we doing? We're gonna beat the sh-t out of this little punk over here, then we're going to trash that diary. Alphonse, have you any idea what will happen if that journal should fall into the wrong hands, have you any idea? (beat) You want your Christmas dinner served to you in Joliet, that's fine. But we're not taking the fall because you got some idiot idea into your mind about achieving immortality by keeping some sort of a diary. (to Pepys) Now, where's that f--king diary?

CAPONE: Hey, hey, hey -- wait a minute. Who gives the orders around here?

ROCCO: You ain't in any condition to give orders to anyone. (to Pepys) Come on, sh-tface, produce.

CAPONE (pulls gun): Hey, you don't talk to him that way, you don't ever talk to him that way. Johnny's like a son to me, right, Johnny? I'll f--king blow your head off.

ROCCO: Alphonse, listen to me.

CAPONE: Get outside and do what I pay you to do.

ROCCO: Alphonse, maybe it's not registering with you. Little creepo there starts to talk about what's in that diary, and all of us are going for a long walk. I already know for a fact that the feds are casing this joint. They find that diary, and we're dead. (to Pepys) So now, if you want to live to take a few more breaths, you little worm, you better give.

CAPONE: Rocco -- this is the last time I'm gonna say it -- you leave him alone. Get out there and do what I pay you to do. The diary is strictly a matter between me and him.

ROCCO: You're gonna regret this, Alphonse, oh boy are you gonna regret this. (to Pepys) As for you, you puny sh-tworm, you just dare to open your mouth and rat out the contents of that diary, you just try it. Just wait till I get you alone. C'mon, Bruno.

(ROCCO and BRUNO go out)

CAPONE (fondly): Johnny -- come here, Johnny.

(PEPYS approaches the bedside)

Johnny, you're like a son to me.

(slight beat)

PEPYS: You know, maybe Rocco is right, Mr. Capone. I mean, you still got that bullet lodged in your arm, and if the feds should raid this place and get their hands on the diary, that could spell big trouble.

CAPONE: Let them raid, Johnny, what difference does it make as long as I got you? Where is it, Johnny, where's the diary?

PEPYS: It's right over there, Mr. Capone -- in the drawer.

CAPONE: Go get it, Johnny. You go get it and you open that diary and you don't worry about what anyone says. Take down what I have to say, Johnny, 'cause this is important to me.

PEPYS: Mr. Capone, with all due respect --

CAPONE: What's a matter, Johnny, you worried? My boys leaning too hard on you? That's not my Johnny. No, you just forget about it. Now come on, be a good boy and get that diary.

(PEPYS fetches diary from drawer, crosses back to CAPONE)

That's more like it, Johnny, now you're thinking smart. I knew I could trust you the first time I laid eyes on you. Who is that boy, I said, that new kid. Oh, they said, he's just some punk who likes to keep a diary. But I saw something in you, Johnny, I saw potential. I said to myself, Johnny has potential. Here's a kid who's smart, who takes an interest. Others might think of you as nothing more than a lousy, rotten little two-bit hood, Johnny -- but not me, no, not Mr. Alphonse Capone. Here's someone with class, I said, here is a man of letters. So now, where were we?

PEPYS (thumbing through diary): I think we were up to the sardine shop, Mr. Capone.

CAPONE: Oh yeah, the sardine shop -- what a dumb idea. See, Mamma saw this vacant store front across the street from Frankie Dago's. Frankie "the Wop" Dago, the dumbest wop that ever walked the earth. Anyway, there's this empty storefront, and we were hard up for money. So Mamma gets it into her head that we're going to rent that place and open up a sardine shop. 'Course, Mamma didn't think too bright, you know how it is. There were already about sixty sardine shops on the block, but no one could talk to Mamma. So I said, Mamma, maybe instead of sardines we could sell something else. . . You gettin' this down?

PEPYS: Yessir, Mr. Capone.

CAPONE: Like prosciutto, Johnny.

PEPYS: Prosciutto, Mr. Capone?

CAPONE: Prosciutto. God's gift to the Italians. We had prosciutto for breakfast, Johnny -- prosciutto for lunch -- prosciutto for weddings and bar mitzvahs.

PEPYS: Bar mitzvahs, Mr. Capone?

CAPONE: I'm kidding, Johnny. When a new baby was born, when a guy got a raise and wanted to brag about it, when someone took communion, how do you think we celebrated? That's right, Johnny -- prosciutto.

PEPYS: You ever get tired of prosciutto, Mr. Capone?

CAPONE (scolding): Johnny. . . !

PEPYS: No offense, Mr. Capone, just wondering.

(ROCCO and BRUNO make a hasty entrance)

ROCCO: We gotta get you out of here, Alphonse. Feds are on the way up. I told you this place was hot. They match up that slug in your arm, that's trouble.

CAPONE: This is my home, Rocco. This is sacred.

ROCCO: This is a sh-tty little walkup, Alphonse, in a crummy part of town, but we don't have time for that now. We gotta get you out of here. (to Bruno) Come on, gimme a hand.

(They help CAPONE to his feet; ROCCO addresses PEPYS) Out of the way, sh-tworm.

(They carry CAPONE out)

PEPYS: The diary -- I gotta hide it. What am I gonna do?

(He looks around frantically; sound of NOISE without)

Oh God, they're coming. The lights.

(He moves to light switch, turns off light)

PEPYS: I got it -- here. They'll never find it here.

(He hides diary under bed mattress, goes out. Several beats, then ELIOT NESS and two associates, RICO and CARLUCCI, come in. One of them snaps on the lights)

NESS (gun drawn): All right, Capone -- this time I got you. (looks around in disbelief) Come on, I could have sworn he was here. Carlucci, look around. Rico, get the fire escape. No small-time hood is gonna slip out on me. (He moves to bed, sniffs around) Aha -- the distinct odor of criminal filth. He's been here all right, the sheets are still warm.

CARLUCCI: Nothing here, Eliot.

(RICO returns from fire escape, heaves a shrug)

NESS: If I know Capone, he'll be back. The criminal nesting instinct. Look at this place.

CARLUCCI: What a dump. Wait a minute -- what's this?

NESS: What is it?

(CARLUCCI has found a loose page from the diary on the floor)

CARLUCCI: Looks like a page torn out of something.

NESS: Lemme see that. (appropriates slip of paper) It's a page all right, and look at that -- it must have been torn out of a diary. Listen to this -- "When I was a kid, I stole a lot. Fish from the fish monger, trinkets from old ladies. I even stole candy and cigarettes from the newsboys." Just who do you think wrote this? I'll give you three guesses. So that's it, huh, a wounded Capone suddenly gets it in his mind he's going to write his memoirs. He wants to keep a diary, huh? Well I've got news for Mr. Big Fish Capone, he's not gonna do it on my time.

RICO: Come on, Eliot, you think he'd be that stupid?

NESS: Yeah, I think he'd be that stupid. Never underestimate Capone's vanity or his ego. So suddenly the big man has decided he's singing for posterity, isn't that cute. This is a page from a diary all right. Now, all we have to do is find the rest of this little journal, and we can put Capone away for good. Rico, get down on the street. Talk to your sources. I wanna know what the story is behind this diary. If Capone has decided to keep his memoirs, I wanna know about it. And I want a 24-hour stakeout on this place. I know Capone has been here, and he'll be coming back. All right, snap to. Let's go.

(They go out. PEPYS returns, scratches his chin trying to remember where he hid that diary. He checks the drawer, opens it. Nothing. Starts back toward the bed when BRUNO appears, gun in hand)

BRUNO: Looking for something, punk worm?

PEPYS: Geeze, you startled me.

BRUNO: Ness found that thing, it's probably on its way down to the crime lab right now. Which would make torturing and killing you academic.

PEPYS: Take it easy.

BRUNO: Well?

PEPYS: It's safe, okay?

BRUNO: It better be. I got a little plan, Peepo boy, and you're gonna like it. It goes something like this -- you and me are going in together, see, like chummy chum chums, and if we can get the feds to give us a promise of immunity, what's to prevent us from selling out the big balloon himself and turning over that diary? They'd even be willing to come up with a big chunk of change, I'd bet. We pocket it and disappear, and blowhard Capone takes a long trip up the river. Everyone's happy, and you live to write your poetry another day. You like my plan?

PEPYS: You want to rat out Mr. Capone?

BRUNO: Come to think of it, you don't have a choice, do you, unless you wanna feel what it's like to get worked over. See, I'm real good at that, I've had a lot of practice. I usually start in with the butt of my gun, working it real hard breaking up your nose and face. Little punks like you always start squirming and pleading -- it disgusts me. But guess what, no, Bruno isn't through yet. I like to slam you around a little, real hard, you know, like ricocheting your head off the wall. Then I break your arms and legs, and when you're howling in agony crawling around the room begging for your life, I put a slug in your head. . . So what do you think, weasel worm, we got a deal?

(SOUND from without)

PEPYS: Someone's coming. Let's get out of here.

(They quickly go out; enter CARLUCCI, NESS and RICO) CARLUCCI I'm sure I left it here. There it is. (He crosses to table, retrieves his hat)

NESS (he covers his nose): Phew -- every time I come in here the smell gets worse. (a beat) You ever get tired of all this, Rico?

RICO: What are you trying to say, Eliot?

NESS: A man is tough, a man has principles. What does he get? He's made to wallow in the mire with a lot of criminal vermin. He gets dirty, right up to his elbows, real dirty, and worse -- his whole soul begins to rot. . . This wasn't the way I envisioned it. . . A man has dreams, a man is human. You think I wanted to live in a crummy two-room flat with a goody two-shoes wife, wearing cheap clip-on ties, while fat-faced Capone over there and his hoods get to whoop it up all night, sloshing down the finest bootleg gin and pawing a bunch of dropdead gorgeous women?

CARLUCCI: What are you trying to tell us, Eliot, that you want to throw in your badge?

NESS: No, that would be too easy. I'm not gonna rest until I put that swine Capone away for good. I want to see the streets of this town wiped clean. I want that diary and I'm going to get it. (beat) Rico, you and the boys dig around, see what you can come up with on a smalltime hood named Johnny Pepys. My informers are telling me he's connected to this little diary of Capone's. While you're at it, find Molly Sanders for me. I think she's gonna come in real handy. (beat) Carlucci, keep an eye on this place. Capone's been here before, he's bound to come back.

(He moves to window, looks out)

Chicago, one heck of a town. A lot of decent, hard-working people and all they want is a piece of a better life. We're gonna clean up this town, boys, and make it safe and respectable again. We meet back here in an hour, agreed? All right, let's go.

(Exit NESS and company. Enter JOHNNY PEPYS and ROCCO, who is prodding him with a gun)

ROCCO: All right, Pepys, inside. Now come on, give.

PEPYS: Take it easy, will you.

ROCCO: My good buddy Johnny, who's selling secrets to the Indians. Only we had an agreement, remember? You've been selling diary dirt to Bugsy Moran, but I have yet to be cut in on my share.

PEPYS: If Mr. Capone ever found out about this he'd kill me.

ROCCO: That was 50/50, Johnny, and I don't want to hear no squawking. Give, Johnny boy, if you know what's good for you.

(PEPYS roots in his pocket, brings up a wad of dough)

PEPYS: This wasn't my idea, remember?

ROCCO: That's fifty big ones, Johnny, and you know better than to short me.

(PEPYS hands over the money)

PEPYS: There you go.

ROCCO: Nice, very nice. You're a smart boy. You double-cross Rocco, Johnny, and I'm not as friendly as Mr. Capone. "My boy Johnny, don't you mess with my Johnny." Stupid jerk.

PEPYS: Mr. Capone's getting real pissed. His joints are getting raided. ROCCO You keep on singing, Peepo boy, to our good friend Bugsy, or I'm gonna get even more pissed. (SOUND from without) What was that? . . . We better get out of here.

(They make a quick exit. Enter now two attractive chorus girls, EILEEN and LOUISE)

LOUISE: You sure this is the right place?

EILEEN: Sure I'm sure.

LOUISE: 'Cause this is a pretty crummy looking joint.

EILEEN: Mr. Al Capone don't live in no crummy joint.

LOUISE: Then this can't be the right address.

EILEEN: We're in the right place, I got it written down right here. (shows slip of paper) While you were busy high-kicking it the other night, me and Mr. Capone were getting cozy over drinks. He wrote it down right on this slip of paper, said anytime you feel like it, tootsie, come on up to my place. Well, here we are.

LOUISE: Yeah, and the cockroaches never had it so good.

EILEEN: You're just jealous 'cause Mr. Capone has a great big crush on me.

LOUISE: Yeah, I'm jealous all right, it's not everyone who gets to win the heart of a coldblooded killer. Meantime, I don't see no signs of the man himself. Honey, between you and me, I got a feeling he was pulling your leg.

EILEEN: Hey, I think the place is kind of cute. . .To think, he probably slept right over there in that bed.

(She crosses to bed)

LOUISE: Yeah, along with the lice and the cockroaches.

EILEEN: You're just jealous.

LOUISE: Of that fat, smelly gangster? You gotta be kidding. Look, we're liable to catch fleas if we hang around here much longer.

(EILEEN smooshes her face in the pillow)

EILEEN: Mmmmm, the warm, virile scent of a gangster.

LOUISE: I think you're losing it.

EILEEN: I'm your little everything, mister big bad killer Capone, crush me in your big strong arms.

LOUISE: Yeah, crush me, crush me, Mr. Capone, who cares if you're a cold-blooded murderer. Look, I'm not stupid. What would Capone want with a girl like you?

EILEEN (re: her breasts): What would he want? What do these look like, jelly donuts?

LOUISE: So you got a pair of tits. Whoop-de-do.

(EILEEN displays a little leg action)

EILEEN: What about that, huh?

LOUISE: Legs? They come cheaper by the dozen.

EILEEN: He could have had any girl he wanted from that chorus line. Instead, he went for me.

LOUISE: How would you like your funeral arrangements, with one wreath or two?

EILEEN: Jealous.

LOUISE: Look, I don't think you fully comprehend, this is a guy whose name isn't in the social register -- this is a cold-blooded killer.

EILEEN: Maybe so, but he'll always be sweet little Alphonse to me.

LOUISE: Let's get out of here, he's not gonna show.

EILEEN: I guess he must have gotten detained somewhere, on important business.

LOUISE: Yeah, he probably had a few extra people to bump off. Let's go.

(As they begin to exit, who should come in but CAPONE and the hoods, with JOHNNY PEPYS)

EILEEN: Mr. Capone?!

CAPONE: Who are you?

EILEEN: Mr. Capone, don't you remember?

CAPONE: Get her out of here.

EILEEN: The other night, at the club.

CAPONE: You still here.

LOUISE (to Eileen): My good friend Mr. Capone.

CAPONE: Beat it -- both of you. Now.

 ....END OF EXCERPT -- FULL SCRIPT AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK AND KINDLE ON AMAZON.COM

This play was first presented at the Kraine Theater on East 4th Street in Manhattan, February 18-21, 1998. Directed by James Fischer. 

It was subsequently staged in conjunction with the New York International Independent Film & Video Festival, I.T.N. Loft, 873 Broadway, Suite 303, on December 10, 2000.  Directed by James Fischer.

 

 


Submitted: May 17, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Ron Micci. All rights reserved.

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