A drama in one act
IAN: A retired biochemist, in his sixties or early seventies. Has been employed in sensitive international negotiations but can now afford to show some trace of impatience with people and types that have caused him difficulty. He uses the Gilbert & Sullivan reference in Scene 1 to establish a friendlier rapport with Sally than had at first looked likely.
SALLY: Early twenties, very attractive. A junior newpaper reporter and member of a small environmentalist group. Her initial rather tarty appearance is intentionally deceptive.
JULIAN: Slightly older, an aspiring managerial type, informally the leader of the group, smooth and manipulative; the odd occasion when his basic decency shows through is surprising even to himself. Ian's assessment of him, though understandable, is less than just.
KEVIN: About Sally's age and her boy-friend, fellow-member of the group. An electrician or some such artisan, with a sense of social inferiority that he would never admit but leads to aggressiveness and unreasonable jealousy. Stubborn but with great integrity that causes agony when he realises he is in the wrong.
ELSIE: Middle-aged, motherly owner of a Scottish bed-and-breakfast house.
The near future
The eight scenes are mostly too short to warrant more than the most cursory adjustments to the setting, which should therefore be composite to represent Ian's sitting room, Julian's flat, Kevin's bed-sitter and the Scottish B&B.
Ian's sitting room. Ian, casually dressed, is seated with a newspaper, occasionally glancing at his watch. The door bell rings and he answers it.
IAN(off) Hello. Miss Henderson?
SALLY(off) Yes. I'm sorry I'm late - I missed a turning and got stuck at road works.
Ian ushers her through. Her costume though smart is rather short in the skirt and low-cut in the blouse.
IANThey're a devil if you don't know the way round. No matter. Do sit down. Would you like a coffee - or something stronger?
SALLYThank you, but better not.
She sits down and prepares to take notes. Ian sits at an angle to her.
IANRight. Now what's all this about? Your editor or whoever it was seemed rather vague about it. In fact completely vague.
SALLYSorry, I was on another job, the editor was out too and I had to ask his secretary to make the appointment. There wasn't time to explain. But it's about this GM treaty that's been in the news.
SALLYYou were involved in the negotiations that led up to it, weren't you?
IANAs a technical adviser, yes. Not one of the negotiators - that was a job for the diplomats.
SALLYYes, so I understand. But I gather that its success or failure hinged on convincing the people actually involved on the other side to accept a particular approach.
IANIt was an essential step, certainly.
SALLYSo I wondered if you could explain the issues in a way that our readers would understand.
IANI doubt it. People without a scientific background seem to have a mental block against technical ideas.
SALLYIn what way?
IANThey accuse you of "blinding with science" however simply you try to explain. If you don't, of course, you're hiding something.
SALLYIsn't that a rather sweeping generalisation?
IANPerhaps, but ... Sorry, we seem to be getting off on the wrong foot. My fault. Can we go back a step or two?
SALLYI suppose you've had some bad experiences. But don't you think the Press could help in putting the ideas across?
IANTo be fair, it sometimes tries - quite often, in fact. But it never seems to get the story right.
SALLY(almost singing) What, never?
IAN(recognising the allusion) Hardly ever. So you're a Gilbert and Sullivan fan, are you?
SALLYI was in a production of "Pinafore" only a few weeks ago.
IANAs the gallant captain's daughter?
SALLYNo such luck. In the chorus.
IANWhile I suppose the lead was taken by a lady of mature years and ample dimensions who had to drop an octave for the top notes and would have been far better cast as Little Buttercup.
SALLYHow did you guess?
IANI've been involved with amateur groups - not singing, I might say. Ah, well ... But we digress. I'm afraid that on anything at all controversial, much of the Press is inclined to give a very - well, unsatisfactory account. You must have seen what it's been like even over a simple thing like dealing with nuclear waste.
IANYes, in essence. A matter of solidifying the stuff and sticking it in a suitable hole in the ground. The real complications are mostly in the politics.
SALLYWell, perhaps we should let that pass.
IANYou aren't convinced, I take it.
SALLYFar from it. But that's beside the point. Getting back to the treaty, what I should like is an account suitable for ordinary people of what it provides and why it was so difficult to agree.
IANWhy the interest? It's a fairly arcane subject.
SALLYWell, it was on the national news, and your name was mentioned ...
IANWas it, indeed? I missed that.
SALLY... so it's become a matter of local pride. People want to know what it's all about. Preferably without too many technicalities.
IANHmm. A pity you can't ask Sue Collins about that.
IANAn American State Department lawyer who finally convinced the Japanese officials of what should be done. I haven't much time for lawyers as a rule, but she was really impressive - put it over in terms even a politician could understand.
SALLYI dare say she did, but a junior reporter on a provincial paper can't get at the State Department, and I can get at you.
IAN(wryly) Well put.
SALLYI'm sorry, that must have sounded dreadful.
IANNot at all; it was accurate, succinct and to the point. I wish all journalism had those qualities.
SALLYWell, thank you. Do I gather you haven't much time for politicians either?
IANLet's say I have difficulties with them and leave it at that.
SALLYWe all do, if we want a straight answer to a question.
IANThat's the least part of it. Anyway, on the treaty, I'll see what I can do. Are you familiar with the general idea of genetic modification?
SALLYMixing genetic material from two different kinds of plant so that the result could have the desirable qualities of both?
IANYes, broadly. That's one aspect of the situation. And for the other, you probably know that pharmaceuticals are extremely big business.
IANNot everyone realises, though, that while the profits can be enormous, so is the expense of trying constantly to find new products that will keep ahead of mutations that disease bacteria and viruses evolve to defeat them. And when they are found, some of those products are difficult to make artificially from scratch, but much easier starting from intermediates provided by certain other organisms.
SALLYLike heroin from opium?
IANAn unhappy example, but yes. Unfortunately those other organisms aren't always as co-operative as we'd like. Maybe they won't grow well in production conditions, or they make just a little of the material we want along with a lot of other stuff that is useless or a positive nuisance. You can probably see where this is heading.
SALLYYou take the genes responsible for making the material you want and put them into another plant that can be grown easily without the disadvantages?
SALLYBut where does the treaty come into it?
IANThere's one particular product - its proper name is about a yard long but for our purposes we can just call it A -
IAN- that can be made by two approaches from quite different intermediates. We and the Americans have chosen one route; the Japanese have gone for the other.
IANUnlike ours, the Japanese process could be altered fairly easily to yield product B, which might have very nasty uses in chemical warfare.
SALLYWhat sort of uses?
IANBest not pursue that.
SALLYWhy? - Oh, of course ...
IANYes. The treaty is to make as sure as possible that it never happens.
SALLYWhat was the difficulty? Does anyone really think the Japanese would do it?
IANProbably not, but the United Nations has insisted on formal verification. Not just for this particular product, but for any that might have dual-use possibilities. Actually, it's probably wise for the sake of public relations if nothing else.
SALLYWhat sort of verification would that involve?
IANThere lies the problem. Our intermediate isn't on the route to product B, so verification on our plant would be little more than a check on which process was running. For the Japanese it would be much more complicated, involving rather intrusive investigations, and quite understandably they complained of unfairness.
SALLYNational pride? Commercial security?
IANA bit of both, but more importantly it could add quite a lot to production costs and put them at a commercial disadvantage.
SALLYWhat could they do about it? If it weren't for the treaty, I mean.
IANAt a pinch - and for a time it looked a serious possibility - they might simply have told the UN to get lost - putting it in more diplomatic terms, of course. That would have meant a real crisis in other areas as well. To avoid it, we needed something a lot closer to even-handedness - what's sometimes called "equality of misery." And the Americans insisted that they weren't going to burden their industry with a load of fruitless expenditure just to assure the UN - which they're not too keen on these days for other reasons - that they weren't doing something that would be impossible anyway.
SALLYWhy couldn't the Japanese simply adopt the other process?
IANThey weren't going to pay for a licence when they'd got a perfectly good process of their own. And we weren't ready to sacrifice intellectual property rights.
SALLYSo it could have been a stalemate?
IANIt looked very much like it.
SALLYHow did you get round it?
IANWell, to cut a long story short, I devised a way of making sure that the B variation of the Japanese process couldn't be run on their plant as it was eventually to be set up, and moreover demonstrating the fact without too much trouble.
SALLYWould it work for anything with dual use?
IANNot directly, in general, but the same principles might apply in some instances.
SALLYAnd in this one it solved the problem?
IANNot entirely, because in practice it was still going to be more costly and intrusive for the Japanese than for the Americans or us. That was where Sue Collins came in. The chief Japanese representative at the decisive meeting hadn't been involved until the technical discussions were practically over - he probably wouldn't have understood them anyway - and raised objections. She explained to him that although the scheme bore more heavily on them than on anyone else, without it the UN would insist on very much more elaborate verification procedures all round, and everyone would be worse off, the Japanese especially. That swung the day. Afterwards it was just a matter of tidying up the administrative detail.
IANYes, it was certainly a relief. It had taken a couple of years' work, but it was worth it.
SALLYDid it mean your going out to Japan?
IANA couple of times, yes, just for a few days.
SALLYWhat did you think of it?
IANI liked the country, and found the people delightful, but couldn't stand the food.
IANI'm not much of a fish-eater in any case, but raw ... ugh!
SALLYHow did you manage, then?
IANBy avoiding it as far as possible.
SALLYHow far was that?
IANA lot less than most of us would have liked! It was notorious that people who spent any length of time out there came back noticeably thinner than they went.
SALLYSo you weren't sorry your visits were short?
IANIn that respect, at any rate. On the last occasion we had to spend a night in Tokyo before catching the flight home, and went out to look for a meal - anything but Japanese. We searched for what seemed an age and thought we might be reduced to eating in a hamburger joint or going back to the hotel - not that there was anything wrong with it, quite the opposite, it was just too blandly international - but then found a curious little Mexican restaurant that we thought worth trying. It actually turned out to be rather good.
SALLYWe? You took your - er - partner?
IANA professional colleague. It was a working visit, with no provision for social companions.
SALLYA pity. I'd have jumped at a chance like that.
IAN(humorously) And I never knew it!
SALLYOh, I didn't mean ...
IANIt's all right, only joking. In any case it would have had to be a wife or nothing, and I've never married.
SALLYOh? May I ask ...?
IANI'd have liked to, but it didn't happen.
SALLY(sensing a "personal interest" story) What went wrong?
IANI don't think we need go into that. (He notices with amusement that Sally's skirt has ridden up as though accidentally to an enticing extent.) I wonder ...
IANMiss Henderson, you're an attractive young woman -
SALLY(taken aback) Thank you, but ...
IAN- it wasn't a compliment - and I think you're well aware of your assets. You've made quite sure that I should be aware of them, too. So what are you after?
SALLYI beg your pardon!
IANWhy this attempt at visual seduction? I'm not complaining, mind you. But neither am I fool enough to imagine your having any personal interest in a man three times your age. And it isn't just showing off; you aren't the type. That seems to mean you want something else - something that you wouldn't simply ask for in the normal course of an interview. What is it?
SALLYWow! You don't beat about the bush, do you?
IANI prefer to be straightforward. How about you?
SALLYWell, fair enough; I'll try. You've probably realised that I'm keen on Green issues.
SALLYThere's a group of us worried about the whole business of genetic modification.
IANAnother one? I'd have thought Greenpeace and so on were quite enough.
SALLYWe don't like their approach. It's too aggressive - too simplistic. Oh, they get good news coverage, and it goes down well with the public, but even if they're right in the conclusions we've a feeling that they rely more on prejudice than reality in getting there.
SALLYWhat we want is to have a serious discussion on a scientifically respectable basis, suited to our level, without making a lot of noise over it.
IANHaving already made up your minds on the outcome?
SALLYWe have a point of view that we want to put. We think it holds on general principles, but our position will be a lot stronger if it can stand up to genuine objections. But we don't know how to answer them on their own terms. So we hoped I might persuade you to come and talk to us about them.
SALLYYou will? Just like that?
IANCertainly, if I can fit it in.
SALLYAlthough you support GM?
IANI'm always open to reasonable arguments. After all, there may be some I haven't considered. And your point on standing up to sensible criticism is quite valid, but it cuts both ways.
SALLYI suppose it does.
IANIs that all you want?
SALLYIn the first instance, yes. I don't expect a "road to Damascus" conversion.
IANThen you only had to ask. Why all the foreplay - if you'll pardon my putting it like that?
SALLYThe piece for the paper is genuine enough.
IAN(lightly) That isn't quite what I meant - as I think you know perfectly well!
SALLY(amused) All right. My father was a professional soldier. He said it was always a mistake to skimp an attack and then have to strengthen it, except as a ploy to trick the enemy. Better to throw in the main force at the outset.
IANSo I'm the enemy, am I?
SALLYWe thought so. At least, a part of it.
IANAn opponent, anyway.
SALLYA friendly opponent, if that isn't too much to ask?
IANIf you and your pals will have it so. It suits me. What specifically do you have in mind ...?
Julian's flat. He is trying to make notes against the distraction of Kevin mooching around the room and occasionally picking up a magazine or newspaper but unable to concentrate on it, repeatedly looking anxiously at the clock or the telephone.
JULIANFor goodness' sake settle down, Kevin. You're making me dizzy, let alone wearing out the carpet.
KEVINI can't help wondering how Sally's getting on.
JULIANNeither can I, but fretting about it won't make any difference one way or the other.
KEVINI wish you'd never thought of the scheme.
JULIANI don't see why. It may work. If it doesn't, we're no worse off.
KEVINBut suppose it works all too well?
JULIANWhat do you mean?
KEVINThat he thinks she's an easy lay and goes for it.
JULIANAfraid he'll be totally smitten and sweep her off her feet?
JULIANLook, I know we don't like his views or his work, but that doesn't make him any kind of sex maniac. He's getting a bit long in the tooth for it, anyway.
KEVINI wouldn't count on it. Look at my uncle Fred.
JULIANDidn't know you had one. What about him?
KEVINActually my great-uncle. Never put a foot wrong, for all anyone could tell, until he was over sixty and then went right off the deep end. Seemed to get even randier as time went on.
JULIANSounds like something out of Tom Sharpe. Tell me more!
KEVINThat's about all I know. I never met him and Mum was cagey about the details. Except that he was eventually found dead in bed with a floosie in Torremolinos.
KEVINNo, the woman's husband found out what was going on and shot them both.
JULIANVery melodramatic! Pity you didn't get more of the story. But anyway, wearing yourself into a frazzle won't help.
KEVINAll very well for you. It isn't your girl friend being used as bait.
JULIANShe isn't a tethered goat waiting for a tiger. She's a sensible woman, quite capable of looking after herself.
KEVINI noticed you didn't suggest Sheila for the job.
JULIANOf course not. Sheila's a wonderful girl and I love her dearly, but let's face it, she doesn't have the same qualifications.
KEVINYou didn't tell her that, surely.
JULIANShe's no illusions about her appearance. If anything too modest. If only she'd take a bit more care ... But if anyone was to do it, Sally was the obvious choice.
KEVINI never did like the idea. And why hasn't she phoned?
JULIANMaybe she's still having to work on him.
KEVINHow far do you think she'd have to go?
JULIANNot the whole hog, if that's what you're worried about. The essence of this sort of thing is to tantalise - to hold out a suggestion of something still to come.
KEVINHow come you know so much about it? Have you ...?
He is interrupted by Sally's entrance.
KEVINAh, there you are!
JULIANAt last! He means.
KEVINWhat kept you? And why didn't you phone?
SALLYA, a traffic jam, and B, I forgot to charge it and the battery's flat.
KEVINWas he horrible? I've been so worried ...
JULIANThat's true. Talk about pacing the cage! If I'd kept my eyes on him you'd have to untwist my neck like a fathom of rope.
SALLYIt's sweet of you, Kevin, but really, there was no need. It was all perfectly civilised.
KEVIN(darkly) So was Casanova.
JULIANBut did it work?
SALLYWell, at one point I thought he was going to make a pass, but I was completely mistaken.
KEVINWhat did happen?
SALLYHe saw through the ruse straight away.
KEVIN(to Julian) I told you it was a daft idea! (To Sally) Did he turn nasty?
SALLYNot at all. Quite the opposite, in fact.
KEVINSo he did try something on?
JULIANKevin, stop playing the jealous lover. It doesn't suit you.
SALLYThere's no need to fret, anyway. My assets, as he called them, didn't seem to whet his appetite all that much. A pity, really. I rather fancied myself doing a Mata Hari.
KEVINIs he - one of those?
SALLYNo sign of it. I think he appreciates a woman just as much as you do, only he doesn't go about it like a rampant bull.
KEVIN(aggressively) Are you saying ...?
JULIANCalm down, Kevin. No one's saying anything. The point is, where do we go now? Is there anyone else we could try?
JULIANWhat do you mean?
SALLYHe's perfectly willing to talk to us without any inducement. All he needed was to be asked.
KEVIN(exasperated) Then why the hell didn't you say so?
SALLYYou didn't give me much of a chance.
KEVINYou could have given us a thumbs up or something.
SALLYAnd in your state of mind I can guess what conclusion you'd jump to - particularly as I was late getting here.
KEVINMy state of mind ...!
JULIANCome on, Kevin, you know she's right. As it was you'd more than half convinced yourself that she'd at least been ravished.
KEVINThere's no need to exaggerate ...
JULIANWho was exaggerating?
SALLYBoys, boys, calm down! There's no need to fight. We've got what we wanted a lot easier than expected, that's all. Why make a drama of it?
JULIANThat's what I call good sense. What exactly have we got?
SALLYHe'll come and meet us on Thursday evening. He suggests you have a list of prepared questions, though there's no need to stick to them if a different line looks promising.
JULIANDoes he want to see them beforehand?
SALLYIf there's any call for detailed information, yes, so that he has time to check his facts. Otherwise he's quite ready to take them cold.
JULIANRight. We'd better get down to composing them. I've got some ideas but what do you think for a starter, Kevin?
SALLYOh, and Kevin ...
SALLYIf you don't mind, I think you'd better let Julian or me ask them.
SALLYWe agreed we're opponents, but that we'd try to keep the discussion friendly.
KEVINFriendly? With people like him?
SALLYHe probably thinks he's acting for the best. In fact I'm sure he does. We disagree, but I've tried to show him that we want to put rational arguments - that we're not just a bunch of mindless fanatics.
KEVINWhy should he think we are?
JULIANIf we behave like reasonable human beings, he shouldn't. That's the point.
KEVINAre you saying I'm unreasonable?
JULIANCool it, Kevin. Don't keep looking for insults where none's intended.
KEVINIf that wasn't ...
SALLYNo one's saying you're unreasonable, Kevin, but plenty of people are. Unreasonable, I mean. And your indignation does tend to run away with you. You're inclined to get too heated in argument.
KEVIN(vigorously) And why not? With people like him set to ruin the world. Surely that's enough to be heated about?
JULIANYes, but we're asking him to help. We'll get nowhere if you start yelling at him.
KEVIN(yelling) I never yell!
Julian's flat. A period of discussion has evidently come to an end, and Ian is packing papers into his briefcase.
JULIANWell, thank you very much, Dr. Kendrick. It's very good of you to give up your time like this.
IANYou're very welcome. I've often tried to get just this sort of session, with no takers. People are always complaining about a lack of information, but it's amazing how suddenly they lose interest as soon as it's offered.
IANI can only suppose they prefer to cherish their prejudices. It's very refreshing to find people ready to listen. But you've been very quiet, Kevin. Hadn't you anything to say?
KEVIN(with a sour glance at Julian) Questions enough. But the others can put things better than I do. I need time to sort my ideas out.
IANThey may be all the better for that. If you'd like another session when you're ready, I'd be very happy to ...
JULIANThat would be a good ...
(speaking together with)
KEVINThere's no need ...
IAN(after a brief pause) Hmm. Do you have a casting vote, Sally?
SALLYI think we'd better talk it over and let you know - if that's all right?
IANCertainly. I'm pretty well booked up next week, but after that I've a fairly clear ten days - so far. In case it starts to fill up, you'd better let me know as soon as you've decided.
JULIANOf course. I'll come back to you in a couple of days; will that be soon enough?
IANShould be. Right, until then ...
SALLYThanks again. Good night.
Sally shows him out while Julian tidies a few pages of notes.
JULIANWell, Kevin, what was all that about?
JULIANSuddenly turning uncooperative.
KEVINWhat do you mean?
JULIANTurning down an offer to answer questions that you yourself said you had. Come to think of it, exactly like the characters that Kendrick mentioned.
KEVINI simply decided I didn't particularly want the answers - at least any that that stuffed shirt would give.
SALLY(returning) Kevin! Those were exactly the kind of answers we wanted.
KEVINAnd you believed he'd give them to us straight?
JULIANI don't see why not.
KEVINMore fool you, then.
SALLYWhat's got into you? Why go to all the trouble of getting a recognised expert to answer our questions, and then refuse to believe him?
KEVINHe said he wasn't an expert on the most important questions.
SALLYWell, that suggests honesty, doesn't it?
KEVINNo, only ducking responsibility.
SALLYIn any case, if he isn't actually an expert in his own right, he's worked with people who are. He's bound to know far more than any of us do about these things.
KEVINMaybe. But I just think that if we take the truth to be more or less the opposite of what he says, we shan't be far wrong.
JULIANKevin, that's simply prejudice. Exactly what we're supposed to be avoiding.
KEVINAnd where has sweet reason got us? Nowhere.
JULIANWe've only just started.
KEVINNot us. The whole Green movement.
SALLYNow that simply isn't true. Look at all the controls that have been set up.
KEVINBut people like him can still talk their way round them. Or buy their way ...
JULIANBetter be careful where you say that sort of thing, Kevin. It's probably actionable.
KEVINLet 'em sue if they feel like it. What good would it do them?
JULIANVery little, but none at all for you. For goodness' sake stop sulking.
KEVINI am not sulking!
SALLYLook, I think we do need to ask him some more questions, if only who else to approach about those where he can't give a first-hand opinion.
JULIANThere's no need for you to be involved, Kevin, if you don't want to.
KEVINYou're not leaving me out of it.
JULIAN(exasperated) For goodness' sake! What do you want? One way or the other, make up your mind!
Ian's sitting room. He is sorting a wad of papers. The door bell rings and he answers it.
IAN(off) Sally! This is a pleasant surprise.
SALLYI'm sorry to interrupt whatever you're doing.
IANDon't worry - it's only an admin job. I'm glad of the excuse.
SALLYI'd have phoned, only ...
IAN(as they enter) Come on through, anyway. Make yourself at home. Coffee?
SALLYNo, thanks. I haven't much time.
IANNot a social call, then.
SALLYNo. I've brought a draft of my piece on the GM treaty, in case you'd like to look over it.
IANThat's very thoughtful of you - thanks, I should.
SALLYAfter your comments about the press never getting a story right it seemed best. I'd have had it done earlier only other jobs kept cropping up and I had to cover them first.
IANWell, you've been pretty quick anyway. When do you need it back?
SALLYThe sooner the better. Not more than a week, if you can manage it.
IANI thought you were going to say tomorrow morning! I shouldn't take more than a day or so. Shall I drop it into your office?
SALLYThat'll be fine. And there's another thing ...
SALLYI'm afraid it's rather difficult ... Look, you've given up a good bit of your time and I'm really grateful for your help ...
SALLYYou see, we discussed what you told us the other day, and there were some things we wanted to follow up - Kevin particularly ...(Pause)
SALLY... but he suddenly went very strange. You probably remember the confusion over whether we wanted another meeting or not.
IANIt did seem a bit odd.
SALLYAfterwards he said in effect that he wouldn't believe a word you said, and turned generally rather nasty.
SALLYI don't understand what's got into him. He's usually dead keen for discussion - almost embarrassingly argumentative at times.
IANHmm. So it seems out of character. I couldn't help noticing - forgive me if I'm rushing in where angels fear to tread - he's very fond of you, isn't he?
SALLYI think so, but I don't see what that has to do with it.
SALLYYou surely don't think he's ... jealous?
IANI scarcely know him, of course, but it looks a distinct possibility.
SALLYBut that's ridiculous! It isn't as if ...(She stops in confusion)
IANAs if I were any competition. Go on; you might as well say it - it's true enough.
SALLYHe doesn't own me. And if he did, I haven't given him any reason to worry.
IANYou wouldn't need to. Jealousy isn't rational, Sally. Or rather it has a twisted logic of its own. Once the seed is sown - and a mere nothing can do it - everything seems to confirm and nurture it. Even the most innocent trifles can take on a dire significance. It's a horrible state to be in.
SALLYThat sounds like personal experience. Sorry, that's me rushing in now.
IANYes, I've been through it. So I pity any poor devil in its grip. It's like a knife twisting in the guts.
SALLYCome to think of it, he has been a bit edgy at times when we're in company. He gets so intense! I often wish he could be a bit calmer. More like Julian, say.
IANDon't wish that. Rightly or wrongly, I think I'm a fair judge of character, and I'd say Kevin's worth ten of Julian.
SALLYI rather think Kevin might agree with you there, on the quiet.
IANNo bad thing, within limits. Humility's a virtue, right enough, but it doesn't mean denying real qualities. It's best based on a true assessment. From the little he did say, Kevin struck me as a very sound character. I'm not so sure about Julian. This is strictly between ourselves, of course.
IANEr ... This may seem an impertinence, but do you mind if I ask a personal question?
SALLYIt depends how personal.
IANHow serious is your attachment to him?
SALLYHow do you measure it? But enough to want it made permanent.
IANThat's good enough. And does he want the same?
IANIt isn't obvious at all, I'm afraid. Some men can get absurdly possessive for very dubious reasons, sometimes over little more than a passing fancy. Often it's just a form of injured vanity ...
SALLYKevin isn't like that.
IAN... or simply a lack of self-confidence. Do be careful. I dare say he'd make a devoted husband, but there's a risk - not a certainty, as he may snap out of it, but certainly a risk - that he'd always be suspicious of any other association. That could make things very difficult for both of you. However happy you are as a couple, you can't go through life isolated from the rest of the world.
SALLYHmm. Now you mention it, there have been moments ...
IANCan you talk to him about it?
SALLYIt never got to the point where I felt I had to.
IANI think perhaps it has without your noticing.
SALLYMaybe. But I'd have to choose the moment.
IANYes, you will, very carefully indeed. Pick the wrong one and he'd take it as confirming his suspicions. And you'd better get advice from someone more experienced than me. What about your parents?
SALLYAfraid not. Dad died a few years ago, and Mum ...(sighs)
SALLYShe always gets the wrong end of the stick if I try to discuss anything serious, and there's no shifting her from whatever conclusion she's jumped to.
IANDifficult. Still, there are other people you could try ...
They are interrupted by a hammering at the door. Ian excuses himself and goes to answer it.
KEVIN(off) You've got Sally in there, haven't you?
IANShe is here, yes, but ...
Kevin barges through and grabs Sally.
KEVINWhat the hell do you think you're doing here?
SALLYHaving a civilised conversation - until you arrived. Let go of me!
IANI don't know what you think you're playing at, Kevin, but while you're in my house you'll either be civil or ...
KEVINYou keep out of this. It's between ...
He pushes Ian away; Ian stumbles, trips and falls, banging his head on a table edge. His stillness is not immediately noticed.
SALLYKevin! Whatever's got into you?
KEVINI'm not having that old whatsit messing you about.
SALLYYou're the only one messing about. For goodness' sake behave yourself.
KEVINI'll behave as I damn well like.
SALLYYou just can't go around barging into people's houses and shoving them about like that. You haven't even the excuse of being drunk.
KEVINOh, stop lecturing.
SALLYKevin! Do you really want to be one of those pathetic little assault cases filling up gaps in the news? I'm terribly sorry about this, Dr. Kendrick ... Dr. Kendrick? Are you all right?
KEVINNever mind him. Let's get out of here.
SALLYShut up for a moment - I don't like the look of him.
KEVINI never did.
Sally kneels beside Ian and tries to rouse him.
SALLYHe doesn't seem to be breathing.
KEVINJust pretending. Playing for sympathy.
SALLYKevin, you pig-headed idiot, this is serious. He's really hurt.
KEVINBut surely ...
SALLYFor heaven's sake, if you won't do anything useful yourself, get someone who will - call an ambulance!
Julian's flat. He is carefully reading a newspaper, Sally sitting moodily staring into space.
JULIAN(laying the paper aside) Well, your piece looks good. It goes well with Kendrick's obit.
JULIANPutting them together gives it quite a boost. Gives you a boost too. Your own by-line - quite an achievement for a junior.
SALLYI'd have preferred to do without that kind of boost. In fact I wouldn't have handed the piece in at all, only the editor insisted on having it.
JULIANI should think so. "Famous GM expert's final words" - what editor could resist it?
SALLYHis heading, not mine. It horrified me. Not even really true.
JULIANCould have been worse. Think what one of the tabloids would have made of it.
JULIANAnd of course it would have wanted a shot of you in your Mata Hari kit. Or a lot less.
SALLYNo chance. Kevin would have had a fit. Give it a rest, Julian.
JULIANThat's a point. Where is he? Haven't seen him for days, and when I rang he was distinctly short with me.
SALLYHe's very upset about the whole business.
JULIANSurprising when he'd taken such a dislike to the fellow.
SALLYWell, it was a nasty shock, realising he was dead.
JULIANI suppose so.
SALLYWhat are you getting at?
JULIANI'm not getting at anything. Why so prickly all of a sudden? There's no need to jump down my throat.
SALLYSorry, my nerves are a bit on edge.
JULIANI thought news reporters were hardened to unpleasant events.
SALLYThey may be, in time. I haven't been at it very long, remember. And I'm not sure I'd want to be hardened all that much.
JULIANDon't tell me you're going in for the bleeding heart stuff.
SALLYHuh! Not likely. People who write that sort of guff must be really hardened. It's utterly cynical. I don't want to lose the ability to feel for people's pain.
JULIAN(gently) Be careful, then. You're likely to get badly hurt yourself.
SALLY(surprised) Are you all right?
JULIANYes, of course. Why?
SALLYYou actually sounded sincere then.
JULIANAs if I were ever anything else! (In mock sorrow) You grieve me, Sally.
SALLYThat's more like the usual Julian.
JULIANSo we only need to get back the usual Sally and the usual Kevin. Perhaps you'd better go and see what's up with him.
JULIANThat doesn't sound very enthusiastic. What's going on?
SALLYI don't know. He's been off work for three days. He's been pretty distant with me, too.
JULIANHave you had a row?
SALLYNot really. Though I was pretty sharp with him when he burst in on my talk with Dr. Kendrick.
JULIANWith reason, I imagine. Tact isn't exactly his strong point.
SALLYI know. But I've called him names over it often enough before, and it's always been like water off a duck's back.
JULIANEffect of shock, then?
SALLYIf it was as simple as that I'd have thought he'd be over it by now. Or at least the worst of it.
JULIANThis gets worrying. I really think you ought to try and see him. I'll come with you, if you think it'll do any good, although ...
SALLYNo, I think it's best if I go alone. But thanks all the same.
JULIANRight. Will you come back here and report, or ...?
SALLYNo, but I'll ring when I've got some news.
Kevin's bed-sitter. He is snoozing in a chair, with a half-packed travel bag and some loose clothing beside him. There is a knock at the door.
KEVIN(waking with a start) Uh? What ... Who is it?
SALLY(off) It's me, Sally. May I come in?
KEVINYes - it's not locked.
SALLY(entering) You sound as though you've just woken up.
KEVINI have. Suddenly felt knackered and had to have forty winks.
SALLYAre you all right?
KEVINI haven't been sleeping at nights. Then I'm fagged out during the day.
SALLY(noticing the bag) Are you going away?
KEVINWhat does it look like?
SALLYThere's no need to be like that.
SALLYYou weren't meaning to slope off without even saying goodbye, were you?
KEVINOf course not.
SALLYThe way you've been lately, I'm not sure there's any "of course" about it.
KEVINSorry, you're right. I did rather hope to get away without your noticing - for a while, at least.
SALLYThen how long are you going for?
KEVINI'm not sure.
SALLYYou must have some idea.
KEVINWell, actually ...
KEVINI probably shan't be coming back.
SALLYWhat, not at all?
KEVINOh, for goodness' sake!
SALLYYou don't seem the same person lately. What's the matter?
KEVINIt's that business with Kendrick. It just goes round and round in my head and nothing will drive it away - not for more than a minute or two. At night there's no getting away from it at all. If only I could go back a week and play it differently!
SALLYBut you can't. And it would probably turn out just the same anyway.
KEVINI suppose you're right. But it doesn't help very much.
KEVINI don't know!
SALLYOne thing's certain - running away from it won't help.
KEVINI'm not running away.
SALLYThat's true enough. You'll be taking it with you, just as surely as that bag. More surely, because it's inside you.
KEVINIf only there was some kind of left-luggage office for unwanted memories.
SALLYThey say confession's good for the soul. For the mind, too.
KEVINTo a parson? You know what I think of them. I couldn't.
SALLYWell, a counsellor, then. It seems to be a thriving business these days.
KEVINI dare say. But I don't see that it would help me.
SALLYIt must do some good. Otherwise ...
KEVINI'm sure it does - for the counsellors. Must give them a mighty good opinion of themselves.
SALLYAll right, let's look at what happened. You pushed him and he fell. You could do that a hundred times and no harm would come of it.
KEVINBut it did this time.
SALLYYes, but he could easily have tripped over that rug with no one else there at all.
KEVINMaybe so. But it happened this time because I pushed him.
SALLYIt was an accident, Kevin. It isn't as if you meant him any harm.
SALLYWhat do you mean?
KEVINWhen I went to that house, Sally, I had murder in my heart. I didn't recognise it at the time, but it's as plain as a pikestaff now.
SALLYYou're imagining it.
KEVINNo, I'm not. I wanted to kill him, and because of what I did he died. I'm as guilty as if I'd clobbered him with an axe.
SALLYCome off it. You didn't clobber him deliberately, and you obviously didn't have an axe or anything like it. The very worst an inquest might decide is manslaughter, and it's a thousand times more likely to be accidental death.
KEVINTo hell with the inquest! I'm talking morally.
SALLYLook, Kevin, we've all done things we're desperately ashamed of. However much we'd like to, we can't do anything about them now, not directly. The best we can hope to manage is to even the balance, by doing a bit more good than we're strictly obliged to.
KEVINI suppose that may be a possibility.
SALLYSo there'll be no more talk of going away?
KEVINI'm sorry, but I have to.
KEVINBecause there's too much here to remind me.
SALLYYou'll have to stay for the inquest, anyway. We'll both be needed as witnesses.
KEVINOh, that. I hadn't thought ...
SALLYYou can't just skip off. That would certainly give people nasty ideas.
KEVINI suppose so. But then ...
SALLYWhat about your job?
KEVINI've chucked it in.
SALLYKevin! That's stupid.
KEVINMaybe, but I've done it.
SALLY(slowly making up her mind) Would it help if ...
SALLY... if I came with you?
KEVINYour own career's just taking off. You can't abandon it now.
SALLYI could - if you wanted me to.
KEVINSally, you're marvellous, but you can't.
SALLYWhy not? If it's worth giving up yours ...
KEVINIt's not that. Don't you see? I'm trying to get away from reminders. You'd remind me of what's happened more than anything else could.
SALLYI hadn't thought of that.
SALLYWhere will you go?
KEVINI've relatives up in the Highlands. I've arranged to stay with them for a while.
SALLYIs that really wise?
SALLYYou won't have the city bustle to take your mind off your worries.
KEVINI've usually found that the hills calm my mind.
SALLYLet's hope they do. And after that?
KEVINI'll see what turns up.
SALLYI'll miss you, Kevin. More than I can say.
KEVINI'm sorry. I'll miss you, too. Maybe, if I can sort myself out ...
KEVINOh, it's no use. You'd do better to forget me.
SALLYNow don't start the noble renunciation stuff. It doesn't suit you.
KEVINYou're probably right. You usually are.
SALLYSo let's just wait and see how things turn out.
Julian's flat, some weeks later. Julian is preparing for an evening out. The doorbell rings and he answers it.
JULIANSally! You just caught me.
SALLYThank goodness I did. I tried to phone, but couldn't get through.
JULIANThere's a fault on the line. What's up?
SALLYIt's about Kevin -
JULIANYou've heard from him?
SALLYNot directly. But about him.
SALLYYou look as though you're going out - do you have time?
JULIANFor this, yes.
SALLYWell, there was a call at the office from the police in Aviemore.
JULIANThe police? What's he been up to?
SALLYDid you hear about that avalanche in the Cairngorms?
JULIANYes, it was on the news last night.
SALLYIt seems he was one of those caught in it. Not dangerously hurt, thank goodness, but a broken ankle and a bit of concussion that left him confused. He didn't have any identification on him, but before he came round they found my business card in his pocket. The editor thinks there's a story in it - apparently he pulled out a couple of tourists who'd have been suffocated otherwise.
JULIANWith a broken ankle?
SALLYI think that may have been in a secondary fall. Anyway, I'm travelling up tomorrow.
JULIANWill you be all right by yourself?
SALLYThanks for the thought. Another time I'd have been glad of company, but as it is ...
JULIANYes, I understand. Well, thanks for letting me know. Give him my good wishes, and keep me posted. But now ...
SALLYYes, of course. I'll be off - have a good evening!
A room in a Scottish B&B. Elsie is fussing around Kevin who is on a settee with one lower leg encased in plaster. He looks very tired and drawn. A few books are on a table beside him. He yawns and picks one of them up, examining it critically.
ELSIEWill you be all right now, Mr. Andrews?
KEVINYes, thanks, Mrs. McDonald.
KEVINAs far as I can be.
ELSIEI'm afraid that leg'll hurt for a while.
KEVINCould be worse.
ELSIEAye, there'll be some who might wish they could feel a hurt or two. And would have been more but for you, they tell me.
KEVINI don't really remember much about it. (He yawns again.)
ELSIEYou'll be needing a rest, I think.
KEVINI hardly slept at all last night.
ELSIENo surprise in that. Well, maybe you will now. Just call out if you need anything - I shan't be far off.
He leafs through the book without much interest. He yawns again, his eyes close and after a few seconds the book slips from his hands. He begins to snore gently. Lights dim to suggest a passage of time. After a little while the snores close with a snort, light returns, and Kevin blinks awake. He starts up, looks around in puzzlement, then realises where he is and relaxes with a relieved smile. Elsie taps gently on the door and enters on tiptoe.
ELSIEOh, you're awake. I didn't want to disturb you ...
KEVINYou didn't, thank you.
ELSIE... only there's a young lady to see you. Shall I ask her to wait?
KEVINNo, let her come in.
ELSIEYou're sure you don't mind?
KEVINNot at all. If it's who I think -
ELSIEShe just said she was a friend.
KEVINThen it probably is. I do want to see her.
Elsie withdraws and ushers Sally in.
SALLYKevin! Thank goodness you're all right.
KEVINIt's good to see you, Sally. Thanks for coming all this way.
SALLYActually it's on expenses. The paper wants your story.
KEVINTo hell with the story! It can wait.
SALLYThey told me you had a broken ankle, and a good deal of bruising. How do you feel?
KEVINNot just marvellous - bloody marvellous!
SALLYThat's a bit different from the last time I saw you.
KEVINI told you a spell in the hills would do me good.
SALLYYes, but this is ridiculous. What's got into you?
KEVINI don't know, but it's a lot better than the last time you asked that question.
SALLYWhen was that?
KEVINWhen I crashed in on you and Dr. Kendrick.
SALLYAh, you're giving him his title now. That's an improvement, at least.
KEVINNever mind that. I was asleep just before you came ...
SALLYYes, I'm sorry to have disturbed you.
KEVINIt's all right, I'd woken up. But I had a really peculiar dream. It started off with that scene in his place, but then it shifted. I don't know where it was supposed to be, but we were talking together. I tried to apologise for what I'd done, but he wasn't having it ...
SALLYI'm not surprised. Apologising is hardly enough.
KEVINNo, you've got me wrong. He said I didn't need to. I'd paid my debt with this business in the avalanche.
SALLYThat's a thought. So it's forgive and forget, eh?
KEVINNot forget. He was very hot on that. "Remember never to let jealousy get the better of you again."
SALLYSounds pretty good advice.
KEVIN(mischievously) So you'd better not give me cause for it, had you?
SALLYOh, so we're back together, are we?
KEVINIf you'll have me.
SALLY(teasing) I'll have to think about that. Oh, by the way -
SALLYI don't know what prompted me, but I asked about your old job. It's still vacant.
SALLYOh, Kevin ...
SALLYIt's wonderful to have you back again!
She hurls herself at him.
KEVINMind my bloody foot!
Peter D. Wilson
Seascale, 25 August 2005
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