The Billionaire’s Lie
by Ella Gohari
The son of an abusive father and absent mother, Aldon Merrick was left orphaned at age 14 after his house burned down with his parents inside. Alone without a cent to his name, Aldon survived by running a fairly profitable drug dealing operation, grabbing the attention of the financial manager for a mafia crime family. Said manager mysteriously disappeared soon after, leaving the position open for Aldon. His quick wit and eye for a good deal despite his very young age won multimillionaire and fellow mafioso Enzo Capriosa’s favor, who hired him for his legitimate investment business. Quickly rising through the ranks, Aldon inherited Enzo’s company at age 22 after Enzo’s “work accident,” where he was decapitated. Aldon continued to grow his corporate empire, Airgaed. His successful investments made him one of the richest businessmen in the world. Despite this wealth, Aldon is hated by the public, plagued by rumors of his past and tales about his ruthlessness and brutality toward anyone he encounters. A mentally unstable relative of one employee, Marrow Grandin, decided to take matters into his own hands by kidnapping Aldon, only to end up dead himself. Now, Aldon is on trial for Marrow’s murder, streamed publicly for all to see, with the demons of his past and present coming to haunt him…
Aldon Merrick: A billionaire investor who clawed his way to the top from nothing. Known for his viciousness, coldness, and drive to succeed no matter the cost. Despite attempts to live a drama-free life, he cannot shed the scars of his past. Rumored to have murdered his mentor, Enzo Capriosa, in order to inherit Airgaed, and is currently on trial for the death of Marrow Grandin.
Daniella Vannevar: Computer scientist serving as the CTO of Airgaed. Aldon discovered her fresh out of college and funded every idea she had regardless of cost for over a decade. Responsible for much of Aldon’s recent monetary success, as she founded a popular social media site, Socifluent, with close to a billion registered users under Airgaed’s name. Public loves her. Loyal to Aldon over all else, the only person Aldon truly cares about and vice versa.
Supporting characters include Lucas Pergone, the best attorney money can buy, Catherine Flavia, the district attorney for Manhattan, and Jason Horner, a judge in Manhattan.
INT. JUDGE HORNER’s New York City courtroom. ALDON MERRICK sits next to his attorney, LUCAS PERGONE, facing JUDGE HORNER. Cameras are trained on his face, recording his every move. His expression is passive, betraying none of his thoughts.
JUDGE HORNER: Let it be known that on this day, the 14th of August in the year 2023, the district attorney, representing the Manhattan Borough, is seeking to charge Mr. Aldon Merrick with second degree murder and manslaughter for the death of Marrow Grandin. Mr. Merrick, how do you plead?
ALDON: Not guilty, your honor. [His voice is level and confident.]
JUDGE HORNER: Very well. [bangs gavel] We will proceed with opening statements.
D.A. FLAVIA: [stands up and faces the jury] Members of the jury, three months ago, Marrow Grandin—by all accounts a friendly, diligent, kind man—was brought to the breaking point when his sister-in-law and self-described ‘platonic soulmate,’ Lila Ranmer, was fired from her dream job as assistant to Aldon Merrick and vanished a few days later. Mr. Grandin was driven to insanity, blaming Mr. Merrick himself for her suspect disappearance.
[FLAVIA pauses, making eye contact with every member of the jury before continuing]
D.A. FLAVIA: Mr. Grandin abducted Aldon Merrick during his lunch break, but, per Mr. Merrick’s own admission, never intended to kill nor seriously injure him. He just wanted answers as to where Miss Ranmer had gone. An hour after Mr. Merrick disappeared, however, Mr. Grandin was found dead in an underground bunker with multiple stab wounds to the chest. We will show that Mr. Merrick—who was not present at the crime scene but whose DNA was a match to the strands of hair found on Mr. Grandin’s person—was responsible. [sits down]
PERGONE: [stands up and faces the jury] Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we are faced with a baseless accusation that, if entertained, will ruin a hardworking, dedicated man’s life. Yes, Aldon Merrick is known by many of you as a ruthless individual, but underneath the surface, he is a man like you and me who deserves a fair trial. I am certain by the end of this, after seeing all the evidence, you will not convict an innocent man, Mr. Merrick, of murder. [he sits down]
D.A. FLAVIA: The prosecution would like to call Mr. Aldon Merrick to the bench.
[ALDON walks up cooly, his posture straight and assured. He places his right hand on a copy of the U.S. Constitution, specially requested by him to swear on before the trial.]
JUDGE HORNER: Do you solemnly affirm that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth under pains and penalties of perjury?
ALDON: I do. [he sits down]
D.A. FLAVIA: You were taken from an alleyway 15 miles away from your office, correct? [ALDON nods] You are also proficient in three forms of martial arts and carry a knife with you at all times, correct? [ALDON nods again] So, then, how was Mr. Grandin able to not only predict the exact alleyway you were going to be in, but manage to kidnap you, seeing as though he is not trained in any combat and was not carrying a weapon with him at the time?
ALDON: I am not infallible. He hired two musclemen, significantly stronger than me, to hold me down while he put a bag over my head. This disoriented me. As for the alleyway, you previously mentioned that his sister-in-law was my assistant. I presume she told him what my normal schedule is. Yet another reason why she deserved to be fired.
D.A. FLAVIA: Funny you mention Miss Ranmer. Why, exactly, did you fire her?
ALDON: [rage begins to seep into his once-calm tone] She was useless. She was constantly changing my schedule without consulting me first, and prioritized the most idiotic events.
D.A. FLAVIA: But you knew she was mentally unstable, yes? And that she depended on her job to sustain herself and her children? [ALDON nods] What happened to her, after you fired her?
PERGONE: Objection! Relevance?
JUDGE HORNER: Overruled, it could be important.
ALDON: I do not have enough time, nor do I care to keep track of my former employees.
D.A. FLAVIA: Let’s change topics. Mr. Merrick, you mentioned in your interrogation that Mr. Grandin said he didn’t want to hurt you, he only wanted to talk. When did this happen?
ALDON: [tilts his head] Did I say that? I cannot recall exactly. I believe it was after he had taken me to his underground bunker.
D.A. FLAVIA: [unamused] And how exactly did he keep you in this bunker?
ALDON: One of his henchmen knocked me out during transit. When I awoke, my arms were bound by rope and I was shackled to a chair.
D.A. FLAVIA: Were you and Mr. Grandin alone? [ALDON nods] What did you discuss?
ALDON: He mentioned our status as enemies quite a few times, which I found amusing, seeing as though I barely knew Miss Ramner, let alone him.
D.A. FLAVIA: Anything else?
ALDON: [he pauses, then grins in amusement. The smile looks wrong on his face] Ah, now I remember. We discussed unrequited love.
D.A. FLAVIA: What do you mean by that?
ALDON: It may come as a surprise to the Grandin family, and my most sincere apologies to his widow who I know is here [voice dripping with sarcasm] but Marrow Grandin was very much in love with his dear sister-in-law. More than love, actually. I would say obsession.
D.A. FLAVIA: That is quite an accusation. Do you have proof?
ALDON: He told me himself. The entire reason why he kidnapped me was so he could avenge Miss Ramner’s apparent suicide brought on by her… sudden unemployment. He said she loved me, and my firing her shattered her heart. [he laughs to himself] She thought we would end up together, imagine that.
D.A. FLAVIA: Ignoring your glee at Miss Ramner’s death, did you ever give her a reason-
ALDON: A reason to think I returned her affections? Ha. No, never.
D.A. FLAVIA: This still doesn’t explain why Mr. Grandin ended up dead an hour after your kidnapping. You said you were alone with him, were you still armed with this knife? [FLAVIA motions to her team, who hand her a knife coated in old blood. ALDON nods at the knife as FLAVIA’s team projects a pathology report onto the court screen. FLAVIA turns to face the jury.]
D.A. FLAVIA: Here is Mr. Merrick’s custom, gold-plated knife. As you can see by the projected report, pathologists confirmed it is covered in Mr. Grandin’s blood. Detectives have determined with 99% certainty that this was the weapon used in Mr. Grandin’s stabbing. [she turns to glare at ALDON] How did Mr. Grandin’s blood end up on your knife?
ALDON: [presses his lips into a line] He stabbed himself.
D.A. FLAVIA: Why would he stab himself? Didn’t you say he wanted to avenge Miss Ramner?
ALDON: He was stricken by grief and very unstable. All it took was- [he cuts himself off]
D.A. FLAVIA: All it took was what?
ALDON: [a beat of silence] He was very unstable.
D.A. FLAVIA: Are you implying that you convinced him to commit suicide?
PERGONE: [jumps up from his seat] Objection, your honor! Leading the witness.
JUDGE HORNER: Sustained. Mr. Merrick, you do not need to answer that question.
ALDON: [smiles smugly] I cannot possibly be blamed for the actions of an insane man.
D.A. FLAVIA: Perhaps not, but there are holes in your story. You said you were bound by rope, so how did you leave the scene before police found you by tracking your phone location?
ALDON: I called a… friend.
D.A. FLAVIA: Who is this friend?
ALDON: Daniella Vannevar.
D.A. FLAVIA: Airgaed’s CTO and your second-in-command, yes? [ALDON nods. FLAVIA’s team projects a complete record of ALDON’s phone calls the hour before and after MARROW’s death.] On the screen are your cell phone records, which show every number you called, obtained by police as part of a warrant. As your phone records show, you called Miss Vannevar only once in this time period 30 minutes before Mr. Grandin’s death. Why did Mr. Grandin let you use your phone?
ALDON: [visibly getting more uncomfortable] I managed to convince him to let me call Dani- [he clears his throat] ahem, Miss Vannevar. He felt it was pertinent that I did so.
D.A. FLAVIA: How did you convince him? It seems rather stupid that he would hand you a phone and trust you to call Miss Vannevar and not the police, but what I find even more interesting is that you only needed to talk with her for 3 seconds.
ALDON: Mr. Grandin and I had something in common. He felt… sympathetic toward my plight.
D.A. FLAVIA: Mr. Merrick, it seems you are purposefully being vague. You are not taking my time and the jury’s time seriously. If you do not change your attitude, I think we are done here.
ALDON: I am simply answering your questions, Miss Flavia. I have no intention of wasting anyone’s time, especially not yours.
D.A. FLAVIA: Forgive me if I have a hard time believing that. [walks back to her team, who hurriedly discuss something unintelligible. FLAVIA hums in agreement and walks back to the witness bench] Before we call other witnesses, I have one final question: did you or did you not persuade Mr. Grandin to kill himself?
ALDON: [no hesitation] I did not.
D.A. FLAVIA: [annoyed] Fine. We would like to call Daniella Vannevar to the stand.
[ALDON’s impassive demeanor briefly crumbles into one of pure rage, with a hint of fear, before he reels his emotions in again. DANIELLA practically skips to the witness bench, ALDON’s eyes trailing her every move as he walks back to his seat next to PERGONE. DANIELLA places her hand on the same booklet ALDON swore on before.]
JUDGE HORNER: Do you solemnly affirm that you will tell the truth-
DANIELLA: I do! [way too excitedly for the situation]
JUDGE HORNER: Miss Vannevar, I am unsure you grasp the seriousness of this-
DANIELLA: [expression immediately changes into an unnaturally cold one reminiscent of ALDON’s a few minutes prior] My most sincere apologies, your honor. I am just impatient to defend my dearest… friend, Aldon Merrick, against this depraved defamation of his character. [there is a dark, threatening edge to her tone before she regains her cheery exterior] Let’s begin!
D.A. FLAVIA: Oookay then. Let’s start with the basics. You consider Mr. Merrick to be largely responsible for your current success, correct?
DANIELLA: Yeah. I was a broke kid in my senior year of undergrad when he found me and changed my life. No matter how dumb my ideas were, he would take them seriously. [she sighs] No one respects young people, we’re always delegated to the back of the room because people think we’re inexperienced. But… he’s different. [she smiles wistfully] It’s why Socifluent is so successful today, I mean we’re up to a billion users now, and it’s why-
D.A. FLAVIA: [cuts her off] So, would you say you owe Mr. Merrick a debt, in a way? For all he’s done for you?
DANIELLA: I guess? It’s not like that though. We’re equals, we don’t owe each other anything.
D.A. FLAVIA: But, if it came down to it, would you do anything for him?
D.A. FLAVIA: Even helping him get away with murder?
PERGONE: [jumps out of his seat] Objection, leading!
JUDGE HORNER: [annoyed] Sustained. Miss Flavia, keep your questions in the realm of reality, not hypothetical.
D.A. FLAVIA: Miss Vannevar, no one knew Mr. Merrick was missing, as he is notorious for disappearing without warning for hours, correct? [DANIELLA nods] What did he tell you in that three second phone call that made you know he had been kidnapped?
PERGONE: Objection, relevance!
JUDGE HORNER: Overruled, and Mr. Pergone, please limit your interruptions.
DANIELLA: I… can’t answer that.
JUDGE HORNER and D.A. FLAVIA simultaneously: Why not?
DANIELLA: It’s private.
D.A. FLAVIA: You’re in a courtroom and your ‘friend’ is on trial for murder, and who knows, you might be an accessory. I think it’s in both your best interest if you answer.
DANIELLA: [sighs] Fine. He told me he loved me.
[There is an audible gasp from the jury. ANTON is known for being a bachelor. To hear he is in love is shocking. ANTON, jaw set, glares at FLAVIA’s back from his seat.]
D.A. FLAVIA: Why would that make you look for him?
DANIELLA: I’ve always known he loved me, just as I’ve loved him, but we’ve never said it. It’s like… saying it would destroy the relationship we already have. To hear those words from his mouth… I knew he had to be in danger.
D.A. FLAVIA: So you dropped everything, tracked his location, and found him? [DANIELLA nods as if it was the only logical reaction] Was Mr. Grandin already dead by the time you got there? [DANIELLA nods again] What did Mr. Merrick say about it?
DANIELLA: [begins twirling her hair] Oh, I don’t know, we were so caught up in the moment-
D.A. FLAVIA: [crosses her arms] Drop the act before you perjure yourself.
DANIELLA: [posture completely changes so she is leaning forward on her elbows] Ugh. Fine. He told me that Marrow stabbed himself.
D.A. FLAVIA: You don’t seem too upset over it. Are you pleased that Mr. Grandin’s dead, then?
DANIELLA: [closes eyes, as if to reorient herself] No. No, of course not.
D.A. FLAVIA: [unconvinced] I see. You claimed in the interrogation that you freed Mr. Merrick with his knife, yet your fingerprints—and his own, for that matter—are nowhere to be found. Only Mr. Grandin’s remain on the blade. How is that possible?
DANIELLA: Aldon’s worn gloves to hide his fingerprints ever since he joined the ma- uh- ever since childhood. I guess I kind of took up that habit. See? [shows her gloved hands]
D.A. FLAVIA: It’s convenient that you seem to have an explanation for every question I throw at you. I just don’t understand why you fled the scene if you were innocent.
DANIELLA: We were in shock, and terrified.
D.A. FLAVIA: You sure got over that ‘terror’ quickly. [pinches the bridge of her nose and sighs before turning toward JUDGE HORNER] Your honor, my team requests a recess before we turn over the floor to the defense.
JUDGE HORNER: Granted. [bangs gavel] You have 15 minutes.
[The courtroom empties as people file out of the chamber. ALDON catches DANIELLA’s eye.]
DANIELLA [mouthing silently]: We got them.
[ALDON prepares to leave. As he passes by DANIELLA, he hands her a piece of paper. In neat cursive, it reads: Do not celebrate yet, my dear. We must determine the jury’s verdict… and persuade them to change their mind if they are incorrect. DANIELLA reads it, then crumbles the paper up. She grins at ALDON.]
[location transitions out of the courtroom and to the exterior, where a reporter is interviewing two bystanders who watched the trial on Socifluent. They get a notification on their phones.]
REPORTER: I recognize that sound. Socifluent. Well, that’s a coincidence.
BYSTANDER #1: [distracted by his phone] Wow, this trial is viral! Not surprised honestly. Number one trending is Aldon x Daniella. [a beat of silence as he continues scrolling through his feed] There’s a super popular survey on here called Guilty or Not.
REPORTER: As viewers of the trial, I think your opinion is quite important. What are your thoughts on it?
BYSTANDER #2: Don’t get me wrong, Aldon Merrick’s mean, but a murderer? I don’t think so.
[BYSTANDER #1 nods and clicks “not.” Close to 80% of those polled agree.]
REPORTER: There you have it, Manhattan. According to the public, Aldon Merrick is innocent.
BYSTANDER #1: Honestly, with all the publicity this trial’s getting, I’m not sure how the jurors are ever gonna stay unbiased. It seems… impossible.
[silence as they look uneasily at each other, slowly realizing that a publicly streamed trial of the ‘King of Social Media’ was doomed from the start. ALDON’s laugh can be heard faintly in the background as the scene fades to black]
As Writing Editor-in-Chief of the Patriot Post school newsmagazine, Ella Gohari is constantly writing. She especially enjoys writing long, in-depth articles about politics and science. Her science interest also manifests itself in her science research and participation in the science society Sigma Xi.
What is your main source of inspiration?
A few years ago I was playing a heist video game where the player was a criminal mastermind who was dating another member of the crew. Inspiration struck me and I imagined a criminal genius who had a soft spot for one person. However, I never developed the idea. Fast forward to the present day… I became quite disillusioned with social media CEOs after a congressional trial revealed they knowingly spread misinformation and hate in order to make money with no consequences. I wanted to write a piece showing the potential danger of allowing billionaires to get away with virtually anything. I combined the two ideas and so this play was born.
What message do you hope to convey to the reader through your piece?
I hope to convey the message to not be influenced by social media. We are barreling down this path where social media controls the narrative, and its gotten to the point where misinformation is more easily spread than actual facts. The potential consequences of this are dire; what’s stopping social media CEOs from censoring anything that paints them in a bad light? TikTok, for example, already censors anti-Chinese government sentiment, and the Facebook whistleblower trial didn’t get a lot of attention despite revealing Facebook’s wrongdoings. It’s terrifying to me that a small group of people can get away with (apparently) anything.
What was the most difficult part of your writing process for this work?
I’ve never written a play before, so I had to adjust to the format. While plays include some descriptors, they are very dialogue-heavy. It was hard to limit myself to including only a few extra details about how I imagined my characters looked as they said their lines.