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"The Afterlife List"

It turns out I can now post my Round 1 entry to the NYC Midnight Screenwriting Challenge, which placed third out of twenty-five in my group. The prompts for this story were: Genre -- Crime Caper, Subject -- a Last Will and Testament, Character -- a Journalist.


This one got me into the second round.


THE AFTERLIFE LIST With a con this big, somebody has to go to jail.





FADE IN:



INTERIOR. REMOTE TV SHOOT


NATALIE, a young woman, enters the TV shoot, navigating around the box lights and cameras. A producer attaches a lavalier microphone to Natalie’s orange prison jumpsuit. A prison matron stands off to the side. JANE, a female journalist greets Natalie and they sit on folding chairs.


JANE

Welcome, Ms. Bournish.


Jane crosses her legs, but Natalie sits with her feet together and hands in her lap as if they are still shackled. Jane turns to the producer offscreen who counts down from five.


JANE

Ms. Natalie Bournish, you’re considered one of the most notorious con-women in recent memory.


NATALIE

Not something to be known for, I think.


JANE

Yes, I think you are right about that. You were accused, and you pled guilty, to trying to steal your dead uncle’s billions from over seven hundred worthy charities. I have to ask you, Why?


NATALIE

Why did I do it, or why did I confess?


JANE

Both, please. Let’s start with why you confessed.


NATALIE

An onset of conscience? A fear of giving all that money to lawyers? I don’t know. Maybe just a need to get a good night’s sleep.


JANE

Or, maybe because the evidence was overwhelming? It was, right? Overwhelming?


HOLD ON NATALIE’S IMPASSIVE FACE.


JANE (cont.)

That explains—sort of—why you pled guilty, but why did you steal billions in the first place?


NATALIE

Try to steal it! I never actually saw a penny of it. And it was one billion. You said “billions.” It was only one billion.


JANE

(sarcastic)

Excuse me. You stole a billion dollars from charities.


Natalie shrugs indifferently.


JANE

You still haven’t answered the question. Why?


Natalie shifts uncomfortably in the folding chair. She plays with a wisp of hair.


NATALIE

Because I could. Opportunity knocked and I answered the door. My uncle was a bastard, but he taught me well.


INT. A GENTLEMAN’S STUDY


An old man, NATHAN BOURNISH, a middle-aged woman, SOPHIA LIGHTSIDE, and Natalie sit in overstuffed club chairs in a well-appointed study. The walls are hung with the heads of a bear, a zebra, and other big game trophies. Glass cases full of works of art line the walls.


Sophia is dressed in a severe business suit, her black hair, flecked with grey is tied up in a bun. Natalie is also wearing a suit, but much more casually. She is holding a glass of red wine while Nathan sips a whiskey. Sophia is holding an iPad.


SOPHIA

You know they’re coming for you. From all sides.


Nathan shrugs.


SOPHIA (cont.)

(consulting her iPad)

One hundred forty-two lawsuits. Six indictments in various jurisdictions. Oh, and the I.R.S. is out for blood.


Nathan shrugs again and chuckles, then sips his whiskey.


SOPHIA (cont.)

That’s it? Nathan, if you’re lucky, I might be able to keep you out of jail, despite definitely being convicted. But by this time next year, a good chunk of your fortune will have evaporated.


NATHAN

(grinning)

Sophia, my dear, by this time next year, I’ll be dead.


Natalie gasps, but Sophia just stares.


SOPHIA

So it’s true, then?


NATHAN

It’s true. Six months, or thereabouts.


NATALIE

Uncle, what are you talking about?


NATHAN

Natalie, you’ve been like a daughter to me. Hell, I convinced your mother, God rest her soul, to name you after me. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to worry, but now that the diagnosis is confirmed, I guess it’s time. It’s the ‘Big C’ and it has spread all over.


Natalie is teary-eyed.


NATHAN (cont.)

Don’t cry, my child. At least I won’t have to spend my last days in prison. But, until I go to whatever afterlife I’m destined for, I have one last job for you.


Natalie rushes over and kneels at Nathan’s side, tears running down her cheeks.


NATALIE

(crying)

Anything, Uncle. Whatever you need.


Nathan looks to Sophia, who nods.


SOPHIA

Natalie, your Uncle has instructed me as his personal lawyer to draw up his Last Will and Testament. He has some very specific requests. First, his entire holdings in, and his seat on the board of, Bournish Industries goes to your cousin, Nathan, Jr. That amounts to about sixteen billion of Nathan’s roughly thirty billion in assets. The remaining fourteen billion is to be liquidated and the funds distributed to as many worthy charities as you can come up with.


NATALIE

Me? Wait. Uncle Nathan, you’re giving away fourteen billion dollars? Why for God’s sake?


NATHAN

Because I want to rest in peace in the Afterlife.


NATALIE

(confused)

Okay, I guess. So, are we talkin’ universities and museums? So you get buildings named after you?


NATHAN

Screw them! They’ve got more money than they know what to do with already. No, I want you to find hundreds, maybe even a thousand charities that can do good with my money. If it takes a million dollars to stock a foodbank, do it. If it takes ten million to buy computers for poor kids, do it. Give it all away.


NATALIE

(coldly)

And me?


Nathan and Sophia share a look and they both smile shrewdly.


NATHAN

Natalie, my dear, you’re my executrix. I’m sure we can figure something out.


INT. TV SET

JANE

That was pretty out of character for you uncle. He didn’t exactly have a reputation for being a philanthropist.


Natalie nods ruefully, then becomes serious.


NATALIE

He became very concerned about his standing in the Afterlife, there at the end. But what you say is very true. I guess that’s why I figured I could get away with it.


JANE

Oh?


NATALIE

I figured it would be the dancing dog syndrome. You know, when you see a dancing dog, you don’t question how well the dog dances. I figured the shock of Uncle Nathan giving away his fortune would be enough to keep anyone from looking too closely.


JANE

(grinning)

That was your a fatal mistake, wasn’t it?


NATALIE

Indeed. I didn’t count on cynical journalists like you to start digging up dirt.


INT. BEDROOM

Nathan is lying in a hospital bed, surrounded by blinking and beeping machines. An oxygen mask is on his face and IV tubes are connected to both arms.


DR. TRIMBLE walks away from the bed toward the door.


Sophia, Natalie, and another woman enter. They are greeted at the door by the doctor, who shakes his head.


DR. TRIMBLE

Whatever business you have with him, do it quickly. I doubt he’ll last the night.


Natalie sniffs back tears as they approach the bed.


NATHAN

(voice barely above a whisper)

How many?


NATALIE

Seven hundred forty-two, Uncle. They’re all worthy candidates. I have the list here.


Natalie takes a sheaf of papers out of her satchel.


NATALIE (cont.)

Do you want to review the list?


Nathan waves his hand weakly and pulls the mask aside.


NATHAN

(husky whisper)

Get on with it.


Sophia takes a document from her briefcase, but Natalie stops her.


NATALIE

Here, Sophia, use this one. I just added a couple new charities to the list.


SOPHIA

(suspicious)

Did you vet them?


NATALIE

Of course. Just like the others.


Sophia looks concerned, then puts her copy of the will away. With a shaking hand, Nathan signs the last page, Sophia witnesses it, and the other woman, who is a Notary Public, stamps it with her seal.


Natalie kisses Nathan’s forehead and Sophia squeezes his hand before they leave the bedroom.


When they have gone, Nathan pulls off his mask, reaches over, and turns off the machines one by one.


VOICE-OVER MONTAGE

Jane’s voice is heard in voice-over while a series of shots show charities being surprised with multi-million dollar checks, like Publisher’s Clearinghouse.


START MONTAGE

- A haggard woman running a soup kitchen opens mail with a $1,000,000.00 check and faints.


- In a church-run recreation center, a coach holds up a check while basketball players gather around cheering.


- School teachers open crates of laptops.


- A disheveled long-haired, bearded man wearing a U.S. Army jacket is ushered into a brand new apartment.

END MONTAGE


JANE

(V.O.)

It was like Christmas morning for dozens of well-deserving charities. Things went swimmingly … for a while.


INT. TV SET


JANE (cont.)

Then not so much. Your cousin filed a lawsuit and was granted an injunction freezing the distribution of the funds.


NATALIE

(derisively)

Sixteen Billion wasn’t enough for the greedy S.O.B.


JANE

That’s a bit disingenuous, don’t you think?


NATALIE

Look, at the end of the day, after that <beep> lawyer, Sophia Lightside, came forward with the original will, the lawsuit was thrown out, the charities got their money, and there was only a billion-dollar discrepancy.