III. "BUSINESS AS USUAL" 

 THE WAREHOUSE 

 

Henry

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(Suddenly: an explosion off stage. Lights up in the warehouse, a makeshift laboratory across two levels consisting of: a table with chemical apparatus, a large crank wheel, and an upright object covered in a painter’s drop sheet. The sounds of lapping waves are heard somewhere close.)

 

(After explosion) Tim! What in bloody hell was that?

 

(Unseen) A moment, Master Henry!

 

Now, please! I have returned, we have work to do, and time, strictly speaking, is of the essence.

 

(Another explosion off.)

 

Tim, for Pete’s sake… Explain yourself!

 

(Tim enters, covered in smoke and oil, wearing overalls and a cap.)

 

The boiler, sir. It’s not “cooperating”, shall we say, with your latest “improvements”…

 

(Listens) It sounds perfectly operable to me.

 

Now. I’m fine, by the way.

 

Tim, enough mucking about. Our fortunes have taken a turn for the better. There’s not a moment to lose.

 

I take it, by some miracle, you were successful in your grovelling, then?

 

I object to the terms, but yes, indeed.

 

What you do? Rob a bank?

 

Our dear creditors saw fit to grant us one small… final… clemency. And Tim? You need not sound quite so surprised.

 

Me, Master Henry? Surprised? It’s like you know my fervent nature somehow.

 

Tim, it’s been a trying day, and if you continue to value a meal in your belly and a roof above your head /

 

Such as it is.

 

Such as it is, you’ll fetch your coat and put pen to paper and attend yourself to my instruction.

 

Coat? Where am I going? It’s almost lunchtime.

 

We’re advancing, Tim. Lunchtime can wait.

 

That’s very well for you to say, you weren’t the one up to your shins in bilge water nabbing it.

 

Nor, can I judge from the fishmonger’s vocal reception this morning, were you. If you value your hands, he advises you refrain from his cod cart until further notice.

 

Well advised.

 

Besides, I detest cod. What possessed you?

 

I apologise, Master Henry, but in case it slipped your mind, we’re not quite above the line that states that beggars can be choosers.

 

There was a time, Tim /

 

(Wearily) Yes sir, there was a time…

 

A time when a common fish farmer would think twice before reprimanding a member of my staff… and when my staff would refrain from common pilfery, come to think.

 

If my actions caused offense to your delicate sensibilities, I do rightly apologise, Master Black. I advise you to direct all complaints to the man who failed to raise me proper, and take the matter up with him.

 

Tim, I will not apologise for your inherent failings.

 

And thus the Master learns the value of a joke.

 

I should think I have an acute understanding on the value of many things.

 

Exactly! For how else could you know I would shape up to read and write and make sums and speak proper /

 

(Abruptly) For God’s sake, Timothy!

 

(Beat.)

 

Please. Fetch your coat.

 

(Tim fetches his coat, puts it on with a great show. Stands expectant. Henry hands Tim a folded paper.)

 

You’ve a graphite and pad?

 

Sir.

 

Very good then. Take this letter of credit down to Bristol’s Alchemical and receive the following: pyrite, acetone, sodium carbonate /

 

Bristol’s? Not that belligerent barnacle…

 

(Testily) What exactly is your issue with Bristol’s?

 

He’s a cheat, is all. Charges me twice and a half the going rate for sulphurous oxide. Says I smell enough already. And he’s a dirty liar…

 

Eccleston’s then, at the university morgue. He owes me a favour.

 

That man’s not right. He tried to sell me dog balls in a preservative. And enquired about my skull size…

 

Must I repeat myself, Tim?

 

Pyrite, acetone, carbonate of sodium… A right witch’s brew and no mistake.

 

The scientist, Tim, does not indulge such tawdry aspersions. What we do is this laboratory is science, not high-street flimflam. I resent it.

 

Yes, well, that’s business as usual. Anything else?

 

One more thing, and this the most important of all. Six ounces of quicksilver derived from red refined cinnabar.

 

Not likely, sir. Red cinnabar’s a controlled substance, even in this town /

 

Six ounces, am I clear?

 

(Resentfully) Mercury. Six ounces. Clear as mud.

 

(Wearily) Tim, please…

 

I’ll see what I can do.

 

(Tim goes to leave.)

 

And Tim? (Tim stops) Do hurry, please.

 

(Tim exits.)

 

(Henry is alone in the laboratory. He moves to the upright shape covered by the painter’s drop sheet. He pauses, lays a hand on it, slowly bends his ear to place against it, listening, hearing something – a whispering voice, a heartbeat, nothing.)

 

(The afternoon fades, lights crossing to another part of the stage.)

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