Absolutely Historical – Chapter 1
Chapter 1 – James Madison’s Bones
(Professor Henry “Hank” Nickels — a history professor with a receding widow’s peak, black steely eyes and a toothy grin — is scribbling practically incoherently on a blackboard as his T.A., Josh Styles, a husky bespectacled undergraduate student, looks out over the disinterested class far too seriously…)
Professor: Our President is not American.
(Some students look up while Josh nods, even though he doesn’t know what’s coming next…)
(Graduate history student Mary Winthrop is racing across the Princeton campus straightening the belt on her dress and speaking — or rather, being spoken to — on the phone with her father…)
Mary: Yes, dad.
(She gasps and does an awkward leap over a wannabe hippie strumming a ukulele on the quad…)
Mr. Winthrop: What’s all that heavy breathing? Are you having sex?
Mary: Yes, dad. I’m having sex while talking to my father on the phone.
Mr. Winthrop: Well, what then?
Mary: Nothing. (dodges a frisbee) I’m just late.
Mr. Winthrop: Good god, Mary Louise Winthrop. You’re pregnant?
Mary: (ducks into Winthrop Hall) What? No. I’m late for class. (slides into Lecture Hall B)
Mr. Winthrop: Why, that’s even worse! I’m paying good money for your…further education, Mary Louise. I expect you to make it to class on time.
(Mary slinks into a seat in the back row and smiles at Prof. Nickels’ turned back, blowing a curl of brunette hair out of her eyes. Josh scowls at her, wedged into his small corner desk that looks like it was stolen from an elementary school. Mary rolls her eyes and whispers…)
Mary: Dad, I have to go.
(She hangs up just as Prof. Nickels turns around, having nearly completely covered the blackboard in unintelligible chicken-scratch…)
Professor: Yes that’s right, the President is not an American. But I’m not speaking about our current Commander-in-Chief. I’m referring to our fourth President. Our smallest President. James Madison. James Madison was a Pygmy, abducted from the island of Papua New Guinea by corporate interests and installed in a puppet regime controlled by the Astor family.
(The bell rings and detached students start filing out. Josh stands rigidly at attention by the door, eying down every exiting student with disdain. He puts a hand at Mary’s chest, bringing up the rear of the line, and she slaps it away…)
Josh: (a pudgy finger pushes up his glasses) The professor would like to speak with you.
(Mary trudges over to the professor’s cluttered desk, where he’s busily shuffling papers…)
Mary: Professor Nickels, I’m sorry I was late. My alarm didn’t go off and I realize that’s a lame excuse, but–
Professor: (finally looks up) Winthrop, we’re going to Virginia.
Mary: Um. Pardon?
Professor: (grins) We’re going to dig up James Madison’s bones.
Professor: There’s a distinct bone structure to the Pygmy that is unmistakeable to the trained eye.
(Josh is hurtling the professor’s Astro Van down I-95 toward Northern Virginia with the professor in the passenger seat and Mary in the back…)
Josh: (chuckles) Pygmy. (glances at Mary in rear-view mirror) ‘Cause he’s little.
Professor: Eyes on the road, Josh.
Josh: Yes, sir.
Mary: Wild conspiracy theories aside, professor; isn’t digging up a Founding Father’s skeleton a pretty serious federal crime?
Professor: Not as serious a crime as John Jacob Astor instituting a puppet regime and changing the course of history.
Mary: (stares at the back of her history professor’s head curiously) You’re pretty sure of all this, aren’t you Prof. Nickels?
Professor: (cranes his neck toward the back of the van) As sure as can be, Winthrop.
Josh: Pee break, professor?
(The professor’s eyes narrow as he stares out at the setting sun’s rays piercing through purple clouds…)
Professor: Pee break, Josh.
(The three scale a fence and whisk across a field toward the Montpelier estate under the shroud of darkness…)
Mary: (holding her dress up as she runs behind the professor) This is so illegal.
Josh: (giggling) This is fun!
Professor: (shovel in hand) This is historical.
(They arrive at James Madison’s tombstone and Prof. Nickels tosses Josh the shovel…)
Josh: I’m gonna dig up a grave by myself?
Professor: One of us has to keep lookout.
Josh: But there are two of you.
Professor: (throws up hands) Tonight we make history!
Josh: (sighs, begins to dig)
(After a few hours, Josh reaches the coffin with a thud and Mary and the professor peer down into the hole…)
Josh: (looking up at the professor, forehead beading with sweat in the moonlight) Shou–should I open it?
Professor: (leaps down into the grave) Let me. Historical times call for historical measures.
(Prof. Nickels cracks open the old coffin with his shovel and a musty cloud of dust escapes. The professor puts his mouth in the crook of his elbow and peers inside at the President’s rotting skeleton and his shoulders slump…)
Professor: I was wrong. He’s not a Pygmy at all.
Mary: (peering down with a disgusted look on her face) Well…he is little.
(Josh pats the professor’s back…)
Josh: It was a noble attempt, sir.
Professor: All that research down the tubes. Let’s pack up and re-bury this petite leader of the free world.
Josh: You think they used a child coffin?
Guard: What in the blue blazes!
(Mary turns and nearly topples back into the grave as a security guard shines his flashlight on her and then down on Josh and the professor…)
Josh: (holding shovel) It’s not what it looks like.
Guard: It looks like you dug up the grave of our fourth President of these United States, James Madison Jr.
Josh: Okay, it’s exactly what it looks like.
(Prof. Nickels climbs out of the grave and approaches the guard with his hands raised…)
Professor: Sir, I am Professor Henry Nickels of Princeton University. My students and I were merely conducting an investigation into the veracity of President Madison’s American heritage.
Guard: Lemme get this straight. You not only came here in the middle of the night to defile the resting place of one of our nation’s Founding Fathers. You’re also questioning whether he was an American?
Professor: Well, not anymore. (claps hands, grins) We cracked the case!
Guard: I’m calling the police.
(Mary quickly leaps in front of the professor, flits her dress, smiles and tugs at the guard’s lapels…)
Mary: Maybe there’s something I can do?
Guard: I’m gay.
Josh: (drops shovel, pushes Mary out of the way, squeezes guard’s arm, winks) Maybe there’s something I can do.
Guard: I’m gay. I’m not desperate.
(Mary and Josh turn back to the handsome, mature professor expectantly…)
Professor: (sighs) Maybe there’s something…I can do?
Guard: What, you think all gay guys are sluts? I am actually in a very healthy relationship, thank you very much. You know, you can’t just solve everything with sex.
Professor: (reaches for wallet) Fine, then how about money.
Guard: Well see, now you’re talking.
(Early that morning, an exhausted Josh Styles pulls the professor’s Astro Van back into his spot on campus outside Winthrop Hall. The three dejected adventurers pile out, covered in dirt and defeat…)
Mary: Sorry that James Madison turned out to be just a short American, professor.
Professor: Yes well, you can’t win them all. Go get some rest, Winthrop. Back to work next week.
Mary: And class.
Professor: Yes, and class.
(The professor watches Mary trudge back to her dorm and hands Josh a box…)
Professor: Take this back to my office for further studies.
(Josh peers inside at a tiny skull and grins…)
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