VII. CREATIVE ACCOUNTING 

 THE FAIRWEATHERS' 

 

Ophelia

Otis

Ophelia

Otis

Ophelia

Otis

Ophelia

Otis

Ophelia

Otis

Ophelia

Otis

Ophelia

Otis

Ophelia

Otis

Ophelia

Otis

Ophelia

Otis

Ophelia

Otis

Ophelia

Otis

Ophelia

(Nighttime, some time later. OPHELIA sits at her husband’s desk, reading a book of bound newspapers.)

 

Henry. James. Black.

 

Well, well. We are a sad story, aren’t we? Dickens himself couldn’t spin a tale of more misery. Byron might. But Havisham has nothing on you, old son. Strange how the world turns, and we along with it. A king may well stoop to beggary, in the fullness and breadth of time…

 

(Turning the page) He wasn’t lying about that doctorate, you know. “University of Geneva. Egregia cum laude, biomechanical philosophy, 1876.” Later revoked, of course, but that’s only good business. Credit and credentials are similar in that way: given in faith, but guarded with interest.

 

First sign of potential: 1871. A bright child, of course, but ’71 proves the fact. The award: the Kepler Cup Honourate for Achievements to Science. His invention: the Clairaudient Transistor. His age: sixteen and three months. Too expensive to produce, the patent is substantial, and bolsters the fortunes of family Black. Old money as they are, the bolstering is purely formal, but does much to carry a country name to town and to repute. The Swiss school follows, and ah, what’s this? (Turns a page) Not two years out its doors, the young Doctor takes a wife!

 

Jessica Claire Moncrieff. Now there’s a girl who moved beyond her station… Knot tied in St. Paul’s, and Lord Gladstone cut the cake! Would that we were all so lucky to catch the eye of landed gentry. Oh well. Can’t be all that grand. She’s dead now, after all…

 

(Turning pages) Smiles, smiles, smiles. A son – a home – a cavalry commission! Services to the crown! Every moment lived in print, every triumph set in stone… all the way to the very end.

 

Did you know what would happen, I wonder, Doctor Black? You must have known. You were a clever man – perhaps too clever, to a fault. Did you know before you threw the switch that the smiles would end that day, that the press would enshrine it forever in ink?

 

No, I don’t think you did. I think you knew the moment after. I think then, one heartbeat after your hand left the dial, you knew what you’d done to your precious invention. Your Homunculus. Your machine to save the world from death.

 

Ye had become it.

 

The fire played its part, but it was the press that destroyed him, of course. The litigations took his fortune, but it was the press who bankrupt his good name. “The Doctor of Death.” “Frankenstein’s Folly.” Or here, more succinctly put: “Madman.” “Murderer.”

 

Gone went the smiles, along with wife and son. It must weigh on the mind, I suppose. The remorse. The regrets. The waste. That sort of thing.

 

(OTIS enters with an open ledger.)

 

Yes, the waste – precisely! The family fortune: siphoned off in compensation claims. His practice and properties: seized for damages owed… And still, even after the debts have been paid… Stocks and bonds (a substantial portfolio): liquidated, to a fault, for no favourable rate of return. The manner house mortgaged, his banking credit all but void…

 

Our man is nothing if not thorough.

 

Need I remind you, it’s been almost a month since the ink dried on his latest loan and, once again, we have yet to see a single shilling of return?

 

I have yet to find the need to be reminded, no.

 

What I don’t understand is why? Why the hell does he do it? The accident is one thing, but all that wealth and privilege – his name, his station, his very profession – all blown to bits on some… some… queer pursuit! A whim! Why? Why?

 

Why does a mad man endless pace his padded cell? Or a prisoner mark the days in lines upon the wall?

 

Dashed if I know!

 

Because the human mind, when faced with insurmountable despair, retreats to a place of familiar industry. In life he invents, so in his inversion of life… he resolves to invent a life. Why should we care the method of his mania? It is less the sum of his efforts than their singular, expensive parts. We should merely be glad he does so… and at so favourable a return…

 

If we ever wrest a single shilling from him, you mean… which I’m not at all entirely certain we ever will. It was one thing when the house remained in trust… there is something secure in land value, not to mention that vast collection of Oriental teak. It had a fiscal value and no small amount of charm. Monetary collateral, it goes without saying, in the proverbial bank…

 

I take it, my beloved, you draw near a conclusive thought…?

 

Henry Black was a wealthy man, and you’ll note, my turtledove, the emphasis on my phrasing’s tense. He was a wealthy man. A wealth, need I remind you, he does no longer have…

 

Wealth is measured in numerous forms, only one of which need concern us. What he lacks in property and fiscal standing he may possess in assets… yet unknown.

 

The man is bankrupt, dear heart, without a penny to his name. What remains in “assets” amount to the clothes on his back, and the contents of that absurd quayside shack he’s let with funds from our own pocket. Our own pocket! We’re less creditors to his manias as we are willing investors…

 

A calculated indulgence, my pet. One balanced to tip in our favour.

 

On what grounds? While, I admit, there was an initial willingness on my part to finance his inspired misadventures – the excursion to New York to see a man about a diode… The appointments with the Haitian mystic, none of them receipted… The endless, endless telegraph bills to some young Jew at the Zurich Polytechnic… Yes, Germany! Can you believe it?

 

Yes, I admit perhaps there was even a certain… frivolity… in exploiting his many peculiar vices. But it’s only to be expected, given the outlandish circumstances.

 

Certainly, it’s not every day a man of his standing choses to self-destruct in such a fashion, let alone to do it at our very doorstep. We are to be afforded our follies. And while our fortunes may have flourished while others might have floundered, I think, this time, we have pushed our exceedingly good luck too far /

 

(OPHELIA slaps OTIS hard on the face. A silence.)

 

(Quietly) When have we ever dealt in “luck”?

 

And to think I call you husband.

 

While not known to be a common occurrence, I have been guilty, from time to time, of making errors in… client calculation. You clearly see an outcome I have failed to see. Would you care to show me your working?

 

Henry Black is no genius. He is correct in his assessment of his contemporaries –Edison and Mister Tesla are indeed wealthy individuals – but he remains deluded in the belief of his own aspirations.

 

Henry Black is a failure. What renown he once had has faded between the lines of tabloid newsprint. He is rejected by the fraternity he ideals, and forgotten by the people who bleed his sorrows dry.

 

What he hopes to accomplish is of no value to anyone but himself. What he has, however, may be of substantially more lucrative opportunities…

 

(OPHELIA opens the desk draw, brings out a file of invoices.)

 

(Reading) “Blue gold grains, seventeen ounces”… “Essence of jade, powdered”… “Adamantium filings, mined and boxed in India”… His itemized expenses certainly make for an intriguing inventory.

 

As you have noted, we are something akin to “investors” in his enterprise…

 

… And as such, have a legal claim in its inherent value, whatever it may be. Agreed!

 

If, that is, there is anything worth claiming.

 

Bar invoices of raw material – for which this is something of an indication – we have no way of knowing. I’ve never laid eyes on this dockyard “laboratory”, let alone examined the interior…

 

Then perhaps it’s time we discovered the extent of our madman’s genius, and paid the good doctor a visit?

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