Two hit-men, Ben and Gus are waiting in a basement room for their assignment. Ben is the senior member of the team and is reading a newspaper when the action begins. Gus is the junior member and is tying his shoes as the play opens. Gus asks many questions of Ben as he gets ready for their job and tries to make tea, including questions about their job (Gus seems to be questioning the concept of being a hit-man). They argue over the semantics of “light the kettle” and “put the kettle on”. Ben continues reading his paper most of the time, and reads excerpts of it to Gus sometimes, it seems, to change the topic of conversation. Ben gets increasingly more animated in his newspaper story-telling, and Gus’s questions become more and more pointed, and at points nearly nonsensical. As the tension rises the physicality of the two players increases accordingly.
In the back of the room is a dumbwaiter, which delivers occasional food orders. This is mysterious and both characters seem to be puzzled as to why these orders keep coming. At one point they send up some snack food that Gus had brought along. As these orders come in, the tension builds to the point where they even come to blows. Ben has to explain to the people above via the dumbwaiter’s “speaking tube” that there is no food. This whole sequence is rather odd because the basement is clearly not outfitted for fulfillment of the orders.
Gus leaves the room to get a drink of water in the bathroom, and the dumbwaiter’s speaking tube whistles (a sign that there is a person on the other end who wishes to communicate). Ben listens carefully—we gather from his replies that their victim has arrived and is on his way to the room. Ben shouts for Gus, who is still out of the room. The door that the target is supposed to enter from flies open, Ben rounds on it with his gun, and Gus enters, stripped of his jacket, waistcoat, tie and gun. There is a long silence as the two stare at each other before the curtain comes down (the implication is that Gus is the person that Ben has been employed to kill).