A Mild Concussion: A Play in Two Acts by Steve Hauk

Major creators, whether in the arts or sciences, are often victims of their own creativity. Literary work is plagiarized, inventions are stolen. The creative force behind television, Philo Farnsworth, is one example of the latter. The computer age is no exception. Stories are legion of ideas stolen or plagiarized. In most cases the usurpers are not particularly creative but adept at business and gaining an edge, while the creators are often inept when it comes to the world of business, or simply not interested. There have been exceptions to this, Thomas Edison among them. This play is about a creative genius lacking the ruthlessness to rank profit over an idealistic outlook. In some ways he sets himself up for failure, which is no reason that he should be exploited. The play is very loosely based on something that really happened, but does not pretend in any way to be a history. As I write early in the directions, “all is in doubt.” Yet not quite all is. There is no doubt Ryan was brilliant and idealistic and that he was exploited and eventually destroyed. If it was in part through his own character flaws, it was as much through those who preyed on him for their own profit and glorification.

 

A Mild Concussion

The Rapid Rise and Long Fall
of an Idealistic Computer Genius

A play in two acts
by Steve Hauk

Copyright © 2014 by Steve Hauk. All rights reserved.

Characters:
RYAN, a computer scientist
DONNA, his wife
ROBIN, once worked for Ryan
JOHN PERSONS, a microcomputer entrepreneur
JIM, associate of Ryan’s
FIRST MAN, representing a giant company
SECOND MAN, the same
A YOUNG NURSE

Act One
The First Day

Music. Hard rock. Dancing. Sensual and menacing figures. All
figures except Ryan suggested by shadows. Ryan staggers, falls,
striking his head. He wears jeans, cowboy boots, a vest. This is a
memory play. A slight haze over everything, a surreal quality.
Nothing is absolutely real. Just glimmers of reality and the
perception of what might or might not have been. All is in doubt.

A siren. Figures _ shadows or silhouettes _ gather around Ryan’s
body. He struggles to his knees. Siren dies out. Figures back
away. Then the figure of a woman approaches; Ryan holds out
his hand, she takes it. He stands.

Blackout. Music stops. Lighting up to indicate the spare
representation of a living room, a few pieces of furniture, a small
bar. Ryan in a chair, his eyes closed. No longer wearing the vest.
The same woman sits by him, holds a damp cloth to his forehead.

Ryan is in his early fifties. He is slim, roughly handsome. Until a
year or two ago he was in fine physical condition, but since then
he has gone through particularly bad times and shows it _ some
darkness under his eyes _ which can still sparkle at times with a
high degree of intelligence and humor _ gauntness in his face,
and a slowness of movement brought on by the fall he has just
taken, and alcoholism.

She _ Robin _ is a woman in her early forties, attractive. She is
dressed for an evening out of respectable club and/or bar-hoping
_ but the night has dragged on excessively and punishingly and
she and her clothing show it.

On the periphery, in their own light and surrounded by shadow,
two men in suits, standing together; Jim and Donna, standing
together; John Persons, alone; the Nurse, alone.

A suspended window indicates darkness. The outside lighting will
move toward dawn at the end of the first act.

ROBIN (To audience): Ryan makes me think of a bird called
killdeer. He’s wounded _ in many ways _ and the Killdeer is a bird
which continually plays the wounded creature . . . This time,
though, Ryan is truly wounded, and that also eventually happens
to the killdeer . . . (Smiles.) Of course.

DONNA: I’m not surprised Ryan found a woman to take care of
him _ he was always good at that. God knows, I did it long
enough and helped him to achieve what he achieved. Isn’t that
what the first spouse always does? And then is thrown aside?
(Pause.) But he’s a gifted man . . . and sometimes I miss him,
especially his humor.

ROBIN: I hadn’t seen him for years, more than two decades.
Then, last night, I saw him on the floor of a local club, after a
terrible fall _ that’s what they think it might have been, a fall. It
could have been something else. There will probably be an
investigation. He opened his eyes, all these people around _
and recognized me! I couldn’t believe it. After all those years.

DONNA: Ryan died two days after the fall.

NURSE: He had been misdiagnosed . . . If they had brought me in
a little earlier . . . well, I take it back _ if the doctors missed it,
who’s to say I wouldn’t have, too . . . On the other hand, who’s to
say I would . . .

JIM: I had the feeling he was dead before he died . . . He gave
away so much in his life . . . it became a habit . . . and then he
gave away his life.

FIRST MAN IN SUIT: That’s meant for us _ his “giving away”
things.

SECOND MAN: Don’t believe it.

FIRST MAN: Slander, grounds for a lawsuit.

A moment, then they all look at Persons.

PERSONS: No comment _ for the moment. (Pause.)

Ryan opens his eyes. Robin removes cloth from
his forehead, looks at him.

ROBIN: Go slowly, please . . . you’re injured.

RYAN: No, I’m . . .

ROBIN (Just noticing): There’s blood, on the back of your head _
where you struck your head. Lift your head, please . . .

She raises his head, dabs at the blood with the
cloth.

RYAN (Pause): I drink . . . An everyday thing . . . What’s a
killdeer?

ROBIN: Oh . . . I thought you were . . .

RYAN: Out?

ROBIN: Yes . . .

RYAN: Well, I was . . . that doesn’t mean . . . (Studies her a
moment): I didn’t _ don’t know _ about this bird . . . Why is it
called a Killdeer?

ROBIN: That’s the sound it makes! `Killdeer! Killdeer!’ Especially
when it flies off after faking an injury.

RYAN (Pause): Why would it do that . . . what you just said _
fake an injury?

ROBIN: Well, it’s a silly bird _ a beautiful bird but a silly bird. It
makes it’s nest on the ground . . . in dunes . . . on a beach. So
very vulnerable, the nest and the eggs, and when they are born,
the chicks . . . If you approach the nest, the parents will limp off,
faking a broken wing or leg or whatever . . . lead you away from
the nest. Amazingly, it works. It would have to or the killdeer . . .
as a species . . . would be extinct.

RYAN: So not so silly.

ROBIN (A beat): No, I guess not completely silly _ when you think
about it. The ruse is clever, the silly part is making its nest on the
ground.

RYAN: Sounds like some people, doesn’t it? . . . Building on flood
plains, earthquake fault lines . . . you name it. . . . Anyway, I may
be silly but I’m not extinct _ yet.

ROBIN: You’re famous.

RYAN: You think so.

ROBN: Oh, sure, cover of Fortune, Time.

RYAN: People say that. I didn’t make Time . . . People imagine
that.

ROBIN: Well, Fortune, Newsweek?

RYAN (Pause): Maybe . . . It all blurs. Long time ago in any case.
(After a moment, looks toward window.) What time is it?

ROBIN: I don’t know . . . Wednesday, approaching dawn . . . very
early . . .

RYAN: This will sound stupid _ really dumb _ but the year? . . .
wait, I know _ 1995?

ROBIN (Smiles): You get an `A.’

RYAN (Thinks a moment, then with a sheepish smile) : I’m afraid I
don’t know the month.

ROBIN: July, late July.

RYAN (Pause.) I apologize for this because I know I should, but
. . . but I’m afraid I don’t know you.

ROBIN (Pause): I worked for you, a long time ago. (Pause.) My
name’s Robin.

RYAN: You worked for me _ the early days?

ROBIN: There were a lot of us; I was one of dozens. No reason
for you to remember me . . . I wasn’t one of the `geniuses’. . . But
you were encouraging. I was young, I didn’t know how rare that
would be _ encouragement. I’ve always appreciated the way you
treated me . . . the others.

RYAN: Thank you . . . I’m in my home? (Smiles.) I mean, it feels
familiar _ is it?

ROBIN (Nods): I drove you here, in your car. You gave me
directions . . . when you could.

RYAN: It was a long haul . . . difficult, I’m sure . . . sorry. Drunk
passenger, no street lights to speak of . . . People get lost trying
to find this place in the daytime . . . sober. (Pause.) So . . . what
happened?

ROBIN: You don’t remember anything?

Ryan starts to stand.

ROBIN: I wouldn’t . . .

RYAN: I need to . . . (He takes a few steps, shaky; she hovers
nearby, at first a hand on his arm.) So, I drank too much . . .

ROBIN: I’m sorry _ did you hear me when I said you struck your head?

RYAN (Somewhat forced blase’): I was drinking _ right? _ and
stumbled . . .

ROBIN: You were drinking, yes _ but add to that, you took a
nasty, heavy fall . . . I really can’t overemphasize . . . I heard the
thud across the room _ over loud music, loud talking . . . We all
did . . . Fifty, sixty people, some drunk . . . I saw you on the floor.
That’s when I recognized you. (Pause.) I really do think we should
get you to a hospital. (Pause.) Since we arrived here you’ve been
talking to people . . . people who are not here.

RYAN: Have I? . . . been doing that lately . . . Anyone in
particular?

ROBIN: Your wife, I mean your first wife . . . Donna . . . she
treated me well, too . . . your children . . . other voices . . .
(Pause.) You don’t remember anything before? . . . An ambulance
was called, you refused attention . . . said you’d be OK.

RYAN: I was with? . . .

ROBIN: You were alone as far as I could tell. (Pause.) Well, no
one claimed you. I just happened to be there. You recognized me
. . . (A beat; a little embarrassed.) . . . then. . . for a moment at
least . . . Held your hand out to me . . . I was surprised you’d
remember me . . .

RYAN: Did I say your name?

ROBIN: No. You didn’t know it . . . I brought you here, to your
home, at your request, since there didn’t seem to be anyone else.
I was happy to do it because . . . Well, you seemed very alone for
. . . (Pause.)

RYAN: For . . . ?

ROBIN: For who . . . whom you are . . . (Pause.) But now . . .

RYAN: Yes?

ROBIN: I don’t think you should have refused medical attention
. . . You should have let them . . . the paramedics . . . take you to
the hospital.

RYAN: Well, I don’t remember and I’m OK . . .

ROBIN: That’s what I thought at first . . . hoped . . . sober you up
_ everything’s fine . . . I’ve done it before _ not with you, other
guys . . . it’s well known you drink . . . but _ you see _ you’ve
been in and out of consciousness . . . several times . . . the last
few hours . . . So I think . . .

RYAN (Simply): It’s happened before.

ROBIN: Has it? . . . . Really?. . . Pass out, come back like that?
Really? . . . I need to tell you, this is the first time you’ve been . . .
conversant.

RYAN (Small smile): With you, you mean?

ROBIN (Also smiles): Right, you’ve been conversant with others,
but not me. (Pause.) And the police _ they’ve called. Several
times. They want to talk to you _ when you’re able.

RYAN (Pause, serious): What do the police want?

ROBIN: To know what happened, naturally . . . Stand still. (She
pushes the hair off his forehead.) I don’t know how you can see
and we don’t want you tripping . . . and because it was . . . violent
. . . your accident . . . and because of who you, who you are . . .

RYAN: Was, you mean, before it all went to hell . . . I’m not
anyone anymore . . . to speak of . . .

He looks at her a moment, attracted, but moves
away.

ROBIN : Where are you going?

RYAN: The bar _ something to hold onto . . . not to drink . . .

ROBIN: You’re talking about . . . it went to hell six, seven years
ago?

RYAN: Around. Little longer. I don’t remember a lot at the best of
times . . . lately . . . a kind of ongoing fog . . . And now . . .
(Pause.) Hey, are you a reporter? . . . (Smiles.) I was on my way
then . . . injured but not faking it, no kill . . . what do you call that
bird?

ROBIN: Killdeer. It’s called a killdeer. A precocial species _ as in
precocious _ chicks born with their eyes open, able to run in
minutes . . . from predators.

RYAN (A beat): No killdeer, not me . . . I get caught . . . Why do I
have a headache?

ROBIN: Well, that fall.

RYAN: Oh, right . . . slipped my mind, not a good sign.

ROBIN (Pause): It was _ what? _ fifteen, twenty years ago you
got the idea?

RYAN (Suspicious): How do you know this?

ROBIN (Smiles to reassure him): I followed your career _ in the
papers, the computer magazines. I’m sure thousands of people
know that.

RYAN: Sorry, you’re right, of course . . . Stupid of me. (Pause.)
I’ve been . . well, no reason, really, to care anymore, what gets
out . . .

ROBIN (Pause): Years later _ about the time you did it and
became famous _ I read a quote by you, “It will change the world
as we know it.” And it did and I thought . . .“I knew him once . . .”

RYAN (Looks at her a moment, smiles): “The computer world as
we know it.”

ROBIN: An operating system to tie all personal computers in the
world into . . . (Genuinely curious.) I’ve always wondered _ do you
mind if I ask? _ if I’d put a few thousand in at that time _ not that I
had it _ what would I be worth today? A million? Ten? Something
like that?

RYAN: But your life would have spiraled downward, Robin. You’d
be a major depression case with the rest of us. The industry is
littered with bodies _ and souls.

ROBIN: You changed the world.

RYAN (Politely correcting): The personal computer world.

ROBIN: Well, almost the same thing.

RYAN (Considers pouring a drink, pushing a glass around bar
surface): But not quite . . . No one remembers anyway.

ROBIN: I do _ was it exciting?

RYAN (A beat _ his natural, broad humor beginning to return,
turning away from the glass): Oh, sure _ most exciting moment in
my life, except the time I visited Niagara Falls. Anyway, your ten
million, that’s stretching it. That’s about what what’s his name
offered me for the whole company a year ago.

ROBIN: Who’s what’s his name?

RYAN: You know . . .

ROBIN: Who?

RYAN: What’s his name . . . (Indicates his head and trouble
thinking.) . . . Oh, boy . . . guess I did hit it pretty hard . . . guy with
the glasses and slicked down hair . . . Most depressing day in my
life, except the time I visited Philadelphia. I said _ this was very
late in the game, understand _ just last year if I recall _ heyday
over, bottom falling out, I fly to see him _ I say _

Lighting change. Robin gone. John Persons, older,
steps forward, in a rumpled gray suitcoat over a red V-neck
sweater. We will see him at various times at age twenty-two
or so, to his present age of forty-three or forty-four.
He wears rumpled slacks and a red V-neck sweater over a
white button-down; when he plays older he wears the gray
suitcoat he has on now; when younger, he does not wear the
suit coat. Persons is average looking, his hair slicked down
but not enough to hold down his natural cowlick; he wears
glasses and could probably lose a few pounds. He is a very
intense, difficult-to-ignore presence. He is pushy, combative,
quick on his feet.

RYAN: How can you offer so little after what you did _

PERSONS: What?

RYAN: You know . . .

PERSONS: No, I don’t. Is this why you wanted to see me, Ryan,
recriminations? . . . because I’m busy and _

Starts to leave.

RYAN: No, don’t go, John, please . . . We’re in trouble and _

PERSONS (Turning back to him; subtly aggressive): You arrive
unannounced . . . Do you think I can just drop every _ who’s in
trouble?

RYAN: The company and, and _

PERSONS: Sure it is. I know that. The industry knows that. Why
you’re here. Are you blaming us?

RYAN: Because _

PERSONS: Look!

RYAN: No, I don’t _

PERSONS: You want _ need _ to sell?

RYAN (Some pain): I can’t remember this _

PERSONS: What? Remember what?

Light dims on Persons as he takes a few
steps back. Robin back in light, moving
close to Ryan.

RYAN: _ remember this now. I don’t want to . . . not now . . . head
throbbing . . .

ROBIN: Remember what? . . . Are you OK?

RYAN (Smiles sheepishly, a beat): Sorry . . .

ROBIN: I’m calling the hospital . . .

RYAN: No, please _ get the hospital involved and the police will
follow for sure; this business, everyone hears everything . . . I
need to sort this out . . . come to some . . . resolution . . . He
called. Persons. Years ago. When I first met him. The first time.
No one’d heard of him.

ROBIN: Persons? Do you mean John Persons? Everyone in the
world has heard of John Persons.

RYAN: Not then. I was on all those covers before Persons . . .
The idea was still forming . . . coming together as a concept. I was
close . . . and excited. Floating, every day _ floating in this unreal
world of ecstatic anticipation. Everything was better . . . food . . .
sex . . . driving fast . . . flying! . . . I couldn’t wait to get back to the
tool shed and the computer and begin composing. I hadn’t been
so excited since the day . . . (Searching.)

ROBIN: You saw Niagara Falls?

RYAN (Gives her a funny look): Yes _ Niagara Falls! How can
anyone forget Niagara Falls? . . . I don’t know what’s going on
with my head. So one day I received a call from . . . (Searching.)

ROBIN: Persons.

RYAN: Yes _ Persons! He had been thinking of forming a
company _ inspired by mine! . . . That’s what he said . . . he was
in town. Could he drop by? Donna welcomes everyone. We
invited him to dinner, to spend the night. Persons was so young. I
was, back then? . . .

ROBIN: Twenty-nine, thirty?

RYAN: Thank you, about that _ almost decrepit. He was twenty-one,
-two, something like that . . . looked fifteen . . .

Lighting change. Robin backs away. Persons, appearing
much younger, minus suit coat, and Donna step forward.
She is dark, attractive, wears dark slacks and a white
blouse.

PERSONS: . . . kind of you to invite me . . .

RYAN: . . . sounded twelve.

PERSONS: I know it was sudden . . . but driving up the coast
. . . passing though . . . lovely house . . .

RYAN: Not much room . . . two small kids . . . I work in a tool
shed _

PERSONS: Well, we’re all struggling, aren’t we? . . . Looking for
our niche _

RYAN: _ and the payments . . .

PERSONS: _ pioneer days. I heard someone say that recently,
good description. We’re like (Indicating he and Ryan.) Lewis and
Clark . . . (Smiles.) Navigating upriver . . . against the current . . .
Anyway, money shouldn’t be a problem long for you . . . from
what I hear.

DONNA: What do you hear?

They both look at her.

RYAN: Drink, John?

PERSONS: Thank you, but I don’t drink . . . You do?

RYAN: Now and then. Sure.

PERSONS: I don’t disapprove, not at all. But surprising, someone
with your gifts . . . Something could happen to that talent, couldn’t
it? Isn’t that a concern . . . with genius, you don’t want to . . . rock
the boat, do you?. . .

RYAN (Uncomfortable): No. Well, I . . . maybe I do . . .

PERSONS: They say you’re working on an interesting operating
system . . . intriguing concept . . . bold application . . . almost
visionary . . .

RYAN: I wish. Right now I’m just at the point of, of _

DONNA: Shouldn’t we eat? . . . John? . . . Ryan?. . . (Pause.)
Hungry?

They look at her. Persons considers. Lighting change
as Donna and Persons step back, just Ryan and Robin.

RYAN: So he stays over. We talked and talked. He stayed up
late. Maybe the whole night. I got up to go to the john about _
well, like this hour, whatever that is _ and saw the light under his
door . . . I heard him on his computer, tip-tapping away. He left
early, before we woke . . . (Pause.) He left a thank you note . . .

Ryan unsteadily walks front, distracted.

ROBIN: He was typing?. . .

RYAN: Something . . . (Puzzles, smiles.) . . . The thank you note?
. . . At the time . . . at the time as I recall . . . I didn’t think anything
of it. Well, maybe that he was composing, being creative . . . Now
I know _ how wrong that was . . . His mind doesn’t work that way
. . . Instead, he . . . (Pause.) Sorry . . . But I envied him at that
moment, if that was what I was thinking about. Everything’s fuzzy
now, so can’t be sure of anything . . . that fall _ that’s what you
said, right, I took a fall? (Pause.) What I meant is, I can’t work at
night. Too bad. For me the night’s for other things. Why I get in
trouble _ for instance, last night _ (Smiles at her.) _ if we’re to
believe the rumors. (Pause.) I need to work on that . . . once I
clear my head. Once this . . . headache . . . goes away . . .
(Pause.) Donna wasn’t sure about him . . . reserved judgement.
Suspicious, as I recall . . . she has better instincts . . . than I . . .
He showed up several times over the next year or so . . . usually
unannounced . . . as I got closer to . . . to . . . (Can’t find the
word.)

ROBIN: `Composing’ ? _ Composing it?

RYAN: Yes! _ as it became more clear . . . clearer . . . as I began
to finally visualize it . . . (With difficulty.) . . . to conceptualize . . .
the program . . . he must have known, an instinct . . . But then I
think . . . (Depressed.) I’m sorry, what did I just say?

Light dimming. Persons approaching, wearing the
rumpled suit coat, older demeanor.

PERSONS: Are you blaming us?

RYAN: What?

PERSONS: Are you saying we stole from you? Because if that is
what you are saying _

RYAN: No, of course not. Did you?

ROBIN: What?

Lighting change as Persons steps back.

RYAN: Oh, thinking of something else. Not very well. Something
that happened more recently _ not clear what, but it nags at me
. . . Wondering _ just at this moment _ if I was pushed.

ROBIN: Your fall? . . . . Last night? . . . You said you didn’t
remember.

RYAN: Something’s come back . . . a glimmer . . . and feeling . . .
a soreness in my back, as if someone had shoved me. Perhaps
that precipitated the fall. Of course, I was so bombed, it wouldn’t
have taken much, much of a shove . . . I’ve dissipated badly . . .
muscle tone goes, balance follows . . . I think that’s the sequence
. . .

ROBIN: They said . . . (Pause.)

RYAN: Said . . . ?

ROBIN: . . . you knocked over a stool, falling. Perhaps that
accounts for _

RYAN: Who said?

ROBIN: Television news.

RYAN: Television? Television has it? (Looking off, looking back.)
And . . . what did television say again?

ROBIN: That you knocked over a stool _ when you fell.

RYAN: And so the soreness in my back . . . Sure. I guess . . . But
why did I fall?

Spot on Persons, in suit coat, as he comes forward
a few steps, chin out.

PERSONS: Are you blaming us, Ryan?

RYAN: What?

PERSONS: Are you saying we killed you? _ that is, rather,
caused your fall? . . . Because, Ryan, if that’s what you are
saying _

RYAN: No! Yes! Did you? (Pause, looks at Robin.) Did I just say
something? I did, didn’t I? It’s . . . I’m dizzy . . .

Persons steps back, spot off.

RYAN (Looking at audience, but to himself): John Steinbeck got a
call one day from his hometown _ Salinas . . . California . . . It’s,
it’s 1938, or around then and he’s in a little cottage twenty miles
away on the coast putting the finishing touches on “The Grapes
of Wrath.” A woman _ friend for years, high school classmate _
calls and says, “John, what’s this talk you think people are after
you because of what you’re writing? It’s not so! We all love you!
We’re having a picnic today in Salinas. Please come. We want to
see you, like the old days.” . . . So he went and it was great for
him _ a picnic in the sun . . . life rich, heady _ the promise of a
great novel . . . friends, warmth, wine . . . and then two cowboys
approach and one sticks a gun under his chin and says, “If you
write another fucking word about farm workers being exploited,
we’ll blow your fucking head off.” (Pause.) Well, they didn’t,
because all those people were there . . . otherwise . . . and
Steinbeck overcomes . . . the trauma . . . and writes for another
thirty years . . . but the gun stuck under his chin was real . . . it
could have gone off and we wouldn’t have. . . what? . . . “East of
Eden.” (Pause.) He thinks about such things. He knows himself
and he knows what he might do if he lives. He moves to the East
Coast _ to New York. He applies for and receives a license to . . .
naturally . . . own a gun. (Pause.)

Lighting change.

ROBIN (Coming forward, to audience): All kinds of stories came
out about what happened to Ryan that night . . . That a biker
brawl led to his death . . . He died from a heart attack . . . blow to
the head . . . suicide . . .

Lighting change.

RYAN: Slow suicide then . . . (Sexy smile.) Did we ever . . . Robin,
did we . . . ?

ROBIN (Smiles): You were faithful in those days . . . you looked
me up and down a time or two . . .

RYAN (Pause): Did I really ask what I think I just asked you or
am I . . .

ROBIN: You asked it.

RYAN (Smiles): But I didn’t try anything _ good and good. We
were close then . . . Donna and I . . . (Ryan temporarily loses his
balance, grabs a chair before Robin can get to him.) Fuck . . .
Ryan is temporarily in his own light.

RYAN: So he showed up a few months later . . . We’re all still
young . . . early 1974, maybe `73, somewhere in there. Right
decade, I’m sure. (Smiles, mocking himself.) Twentieth Century.
He . . . You know . . . (Frustrated.) . . . him! (Coming toward
Robin, searching _ before Robin can speak.) No! I’ll get it for
God’s sake! _ Persons! . . . John Persons. (Visibly relaxes.)
That’s it, you know . . . something eludes you, think of something
else . . . I used to advise my students to try it. That’s the way I
compose. Easy . . . not thinking directly of the problem . . .
Drifting, in a way . . .

A phone rings.

ROBIN: I’ll just be a moment, do not, Ryan . . . do not do anything
. . .

Lighting change. Persons, young, and Donna
approach as Robin moves off.

RYAN (Suddenly exuberant): . . . drifting, in a way . . . freeing the
mind! . . .

PERSONS (Eager): And then _ ?

RYAN: . . . I try, John, to let my subconscious kick in. Well, the
opposite of “try,” really . . . open the way for it is better . . . and
when it does _

PERSONS: When it does?

Donna turns away. Ryan and Persons, momentarily
sharing this world, do not notice.

RYAN: It’s like _ you know, John _ it’s so wonderful! It’s like _ it’s
what I imagine it’s like _ to compose music. It pours out, the
binaries becoming notes. And look _ when you look at it, isn’t the
computer keyboard like a piano? A chess board? Hell _ a lit up jet
control panel as you cross the country in the middle of the night
with the whole country sleeping below you . . . There’s a beauty
there, isn’t there? . . . Don’t you think . . . a kind of elegance?

PERSONS: Yes, yes, I think so, Ryan _ I know what you are
saying. I’ve felt this myself! . . . Those moments! . . .

RYAN: Or am I overstating it?

PERSONS: No, no, I don’t think so.

RYAN: I knew you’d understand, John.

PERSONS: Well, sure . . . it’s something . . . we both . . .

RYAN: We can talk.

PERSONS: Of course.

DONNA: How . . . how do you compose, John?

Lighting change, Persons and Donna
step back. Robin returns.

ROBIN: Well, that’s interesting _ now there’s a story that has you
falling off a ladder.

RYAN (A beat): What story?

ROBIN: A call just now about your fall last night.

RYAN: Oh, yes, the fall . . . I forget, but maybe that’s a blessing. I
thought the biker brawl story seemed . . . I mean, I ride, but . . .

ROBIN: But you were wearing a biker’s vest, Ryan . . . with
Harley-Davidson patches. I took it off you because there was
blood . . .

RYAN (Pause): Oh, well, sure, I wear that vest sometimes, but
would that cause a brawl? . . . (Shakes his head as if to clear it.)
Someone hit me, that’s what’s implied? Some biker? . . . And that
last one again _ ?

ROBIN: Falling off a ladder.

Ryan’s own light, dim, softly pulsing.

RYAN (Amused): Falling off a ladder in a `nightclub’? What would
I be doing on a ladder in a nightclub? Adjusting the lights?
(Grudgingly, smiles.) Well, I stick my nose in . . . Wait, you’ll see,
someday they’ll program lighting _ lighting “concerts,” on a disc,
gorgeous compositions of _ (Catches himself.) . . . All I
remember is _ all I remember is my head on the floor, looking up
at dancing bodies, thinking _ or maybe they were brawling bikers
looking like dancers _ I remember thinking, “Please do not step
on my head . . . Please, oh God, please do not let them kick me in
the head . . . I still have use for it . . . It has more to do . . . more to
. . . finish . . . ”

A silence. Lighting back to normal.

ROBIN: Do you?

RYAN: Have more to do . . . finish? Of course. (Trying to focus.)
People think you do something . . . you should be content with
that . . . even if that thing has been taken from you . . . Do you
think I want to spend the rest of my life . . . not doing what I was
meant to do? Not . . . testing myself?

ROBIN (Softly): Why did you go alone, Ryan?

RYAN: Go where?

ROBIN: The club . . the fall.

RYAN: Oh, the fall. Did I go alone? Did I? I don’t remember.

ROBIN: No one has come forward . . .

RYAN: To say they were with me? Then I guess I was alone.
What are you saying? I’m not popular? . . . That’s not news.
Word’s out I’m bad luck. The man who could have . . . could have
had it all . . . but let it slip through his fingers. (Pause, rubs his
forehead.) I did, didn’t I? . . . That’s what happened, isn’t it? . . . I
blew it. Made all the wrong moves.

ROBIN: I don’t know. I told you, I only know what I read . . .

RYAN: A lot of that _ this I do remember _ is bullshit. The stuff
with the suits, for instance _

ROBIN: Suits?

RYAN: Suits. The kind of people . . . I’m . . . I’ve always been . . .
uncomfortable with . . .

Lighting change. Donna and Jim step forward.

Jim is thirty-five, a straight-forward, uncomplicated
appearing person, casually dressed.

JIM: The “suits” are here, Ryan.

DONNA: They’ve taken a room in town.

JIM: They want to meet with you.

RYAN: The suits . . . Oh really, I can’t . . . You do it . . .

JIM: They want to talk to you. You’re the one they’ve come to see.

RYAN: I was about to leave for the track.

JIM: Look, Ryan . . . these are very powerful men. And this is an
important thing we are talking about, something we have been
working a long time to achieve . . .

DONNA: Jim’s right. It’s an opportunity that may not come around
again, Ryan. You should think about that.

JIM: The fruit of your genius, Ryan.

DONNA: They’ve come to us. That’s a point . . . Still, if you . . .

JIM (Glances at her, mildly disapproving): Not us to them. We
have the leverage at this point.

DONNA (Glances at him): That’s so, but it is Ryan’s creation.

JIM: But it’s for the taking now.

RYAN (Pause): We don’t need them. Money’s not a problem.
We’re doing fine. We’re growing.

JIM: Ryan, we’re talking more than fine _ we’re talking huge.
We’re talking the world _ the PC world. They can place our
operating system in every personal computer _

RYAN: _ In the world? Well, this is very exciting. As exciting as
the first time I saw _

DONNA (Cutting him off): Ryan, this is serious. Whatever
decision you make, I am with you. But I want you to think about it,
I don’t want regrets.

Donna waits. Ryan gives no sign of acknowledging
the gravity of the situation.

DONNA: Ryan?

RYAN: I’m sorry, Donna. I’m going to the track _ I’m going to take
the Lamborghini around the oval a few times.

DONNA: That is what you are going to do now _ race your
Lamborghini around the track?

Ryan nods.

DONNA (To Jim, who’s about to protest): No, let him be. (To
Ryan.) Do as you wish. I just hope this is what you really want.

She steps back. Jim looks after her, looks toward

Ryan, waits.

RYAN: I can think when I am behind the wheel. It . . . frees me up.
I thought she understood that.

Jim nods, shrugs, steps back.

Lighting change. Ryan and Robin.

ROBIN: Did you go racing that day?

RYAN: I think so.

ROBIN: Think so?

RYAN: The most traumatic episode in your life _ not dramatic,
traumatic _ do you remember everything? In the proper
sequence, scale . . . ? I’ve never been clear about that day . . . or
days. I wasn’t sure what had happened the day after it happened.
Time shifts . . . Events . . . incidents recede or become
exaggerated . . . What you imagine becomes real, and reality
becomes dreamlike . . . surreal . . .

Lighting change.

RYAN: . . . and you begin to doubt it.

DONNA (Not moving forward): Or, Ryan . . .

RYAN: Yes?

DONNA: Perhaps you simply don’t want to remember.

RYAN (Smiles): There’s that, too.

Lighting change.

ROBIN: What?

RYAN: Maybe I simply don’t want to remember.

ROBIN: And the fall _ ?

RYAN: Has nothing to do with my memory of that . . . those days
. . . (Frustrated.) I don’t think it does. (Pause.) I went racing _ no,
driving fast, racing myself. But the suits were there when I
returned. That part has been left out of the story. . . It’s a story
they love repeating. “The day he could have owned the world, he
drove around and around in circles” . . . It’s catchy _ even amuses
me _ and makes me look like an idiot . . . So of course they keep
it out there, keep it alive . . . Makes it seem I deserve what
happened to me . . . Justifies what they did . . . But I met with the
suits, that day or the next. Whenever the hell it was. I think I finally
realized it was a business _ as I drove around the track I realized
it was a business. It was as if the words were stenciled on the
windshield of the Lamborghini: It Is Business, Ryan. This is
Business.

ROBIN: What else could it have been?

RYAN: I’m not sure _ I had been a teacher, for a government
institution, what did I know about business? _ you teach, you
grade papers _ you hope you inspire and instill passion _ you get
your paycheck. Maybe I thought it was discovery . . . innovation
. . . education . . . fun! . . . those things . . . Things I would never
associate with what people call business. Anyway, it was new . . .
a new science; in a way an art, part mathematics part
composition, like music _ business hadn’t fully sunk its claws into
it . . . yet. It _ software, the concept of it _ was still . . . virgin . . .
territory. No one knew how to copyright it, protect it . . . No one
knew if you could copyright it. All I knew was suddenly I was
doing it _ and doing it well! And it was consuming me! (Pause.) As
I remember. (Pause.) If I remember. So we met . . .
Lighting change. Misty, shadowy. The two men in
suits approach. Their faces kept in shadow.

RYAN: There had been three suits. One had left _ to report back
to suit headquarters, I suppose. So we met _ and I knew it was
business. (To them.) You propose? I think you have a proposal
for me.

FIRST MAN: You’ve kept us waiting, you know.

RYAN (Uncomfortable, awkward, but trying to assert himself):
Sorry. I was involved in something . . . Tell me what’s on your
minds.

SECOND MAN: You know who we are and you kept us waiting
anyway.

FIRST MAN: We flew across the continent to meet with you.

SECOND MAN: In the company jet _ one of the company jets.

FIRST MAN: Don Hatcher had to return to the home office

RYAN: Don Hatcher? . . .

FIRST MAN: There were three of us. Now there are two.

SECOND MAN: Don’s reporting on what’s gone on here.

FIRST MAN: Which has been very little. The story is you brushed
us off to drive a car around a track.

RYAN (Smiles, more at ease _ “Who wouldn’t skip a meeting to
drive a Lamborghini?”): A Lamborghini, a red Lamborghini.

SECOND MAN: We heard that you like speed.

FIRST MAN: Is that a death wish kind of thing _ the love of
speed?

RYAN (Smiling, offhand): Naw . . . if it was?

FIRST MAN: Well, then we’d have to think about it. (To Second
Man.) Wouldn’t we?

SECOND MAN: Would we? Why?

FIRST MAN: It would make a difference.

SECOND MAN: I don’t see that. Once an agreement is signed . . .

FIRST MAN: Oh, right.

RYAN (A beat): I’m sorry, you had a proposal . . .

The two men look at each other.

FIRST MAN: Right.

SECOND MAN: Righto.

FIRST MAN: We have developed a hell of a new personal
computer, if we do say so _ the _

SECOND MAN (Warning): Richard.

FIRST MAN: Well . . . model name’s not important.

Donna approaches. They look at her a moment.

SECOND MAN: Can do anything.

FIRST MAN: Or could _

SECOND MAN: _ if it had an operating software system. We
mean, a system worthy of its excellence.

FIRST MAN (Pause): What we have is, frankly . . . limited.
A general silence.

DONNA: So then it can’t do much?

Ryan smiles.

FIRST MAN (Irritated she’d have a question): What’s that?

DONNA: Your new computer, as is.

FIRST MAN (Clears throat, somewhat hostile): Well, sure _ that’s
the point. But it could.

SECOND MAN: If it had a superior operating system.

A general silence.

DONNA: A brain, you mean.

Ryan smiles.

FIRST MAN (A beat): Well . . .

SECOND MAN: You might call it that. Maybe nerve system’s
better.

DONNA: Otherwise it functions . . . well?. . .

FIRST MAN: The new computer?

SECOND MAN: Of course it does!

FIRST MAN: No problem there.

DONNA: Adds numbers, subtracts and multiplies, too, but can’t
communicate, you mean. Other than that . . .

SECOND MAN (Rattled, irritated): Look, the thing is: it’s all there,
except for _

FIRST MAN: _ you know.

SECOND MAN: And John Persons says you have one.

RYAN: John said that?

FIRST MAN: Yes.

SECOND MAN: He recommended you.

RYAN: John Persons?

FIRST MAN: Yes.

RYAN (A beat): John’s a friend.

Donna looks away.

FIRST MAN: Well . . .

SECOND MAN: If you say so.

RYAN (After a pause): So you talked to him _ John Persons _
first?

FIRST MAN (After looking at other man): Yes.

DONNA (Turning back quickly): Why didn’t you go with him?

FIRST MAN: With . . . ?

RYAN: Donna means with John’s operating system _ for your
new computer.

DONNA: If he has one. Does he?

SECOND MAN (A beat): Look, I don’t think we can talk about
that.

FIRST MAN: John wouldn’t like that.

SECOND MAN: We keep our dealings _ (Looks at other man.) _
what?

FIRST MAN: Compartmentalized.

SECOND MAN (Nodding): Compartmentalized.

FIRST MAN: It’s the ethical thing to do.

DONNA: He knows we have one.

FIRST MAN: That’s between you and him.

SECOND MAN: Not us.

DONNA: He knows about us, we don’t know about him.

FIRST MAN: Look _ (They’d rather not talk to her; pointedly to
Ryan): _ we’d really like to work something out. We’d like to do
business . . . (Again excluding Donna.) . . . with you.

SECOND MAN (Only to Ryan): There’s something here for both
sides.

RYAN: Which is _ (A flicker of anxiety _ and perhaps pain _
registers on his face.) . . . specifically?

SECOND MAN (Registers on this, a beat): Well . . . excuse me,
you’re OK?

RYAN: Yes.

SECOND MAN: You’re sure?

RYAN: Yes.

The two men exchange looks, making a mental
note of this. Donna has missed it, but realizing
she has missed something she moves protectively
to Ryan’s side.

DONNA: Ryan?

FIRST MAN (To Donna): Excuse me. (To Ryan after a glance at
his friend _ this has been rehearsed.) Before we proceed _

SECOND MAN: _ we need you to sign _

FIRST MAN: _ a nondisclosure agreement.

He pulls a folded paper from his suit coat
pocket.

SECOND MAN: It simply says this meeting _

FIRST MAN: _ never took place _

SECOND MAN: _ generally and, of course, as pertains to the
particulars.

A general silence. First Man taps the paper in the
palm of his other hand. Ryan, unsteady, and Donna
look at each other.

RYAN: We’re not here then.

FIRST MAN: That’s a good way of looking at it.

RYAN: If we’re not here, how can we sign it?

SECOND MAN (Shrugs _ “What can I say?”): That’s another way
of looking at it.

DONNA: What are the particulars we wouldn’t be disclosing?

FIRST MAN (To Ryan): Our business arrangement, naturally.

RYAN: So . . . our operating system . . . our software . . . (Falters,
takes a deep breath.) Sorry . . . in your computers?

FIRST MAN: Yes.

The two men exchange glances.

SECOND MAN: That’s it.

FIRST MAN: We don’t discuss it at this time . . . With people, the
press . . . Eventually it becomes known. When we’re protected.
Both sides.

RYAN: What kind of royalty are we . . . not talking about?

SECOND MAN (After a glance at Donna): How does _ would you
feel better about the disclosure _ about this agreement _ if I
whisper it? (Approaches Ryan, whispers in his ear, then backs
away.) How does that strike you?

RYAN (Pause): As . . . as not enough.

FIRST MAN: You realize we are talking several million computers
_ just to begin with! Take that number and multiply by _

DONNA (Impatiently, suddenly): He’s a mathematics genius, for
God’s sake. He figured the numbers _ tabulated them,
extrapolated them and square-rooted them _ the instant they
were out of your mouth. He doesn’t think about it _ it just
happens. Do you understand him at all? Do you?
A general silence; they shift uncomfortably.

RYAN (Pause): Donna . . . (A beat): We’re being dictated to, but
. . .

DONNA: Ryan, remember, it’s just money.

SECOND MAN: But?

RYAN (To Donna): Meaning?

DONNA: Don’t make money the determining factor _ whatever
you decide to do.

FIRST MAN: So, but?

RYAN: I’ll consider the offer, we’ll consider the offer _ if . . .

FIRST MAN: If?

RYAN: _ if you sign a nondisclosure agreement with us. (Pause.)
I think that’s fair.

SECOND MAN (A beat): It’s out of the question. We don’t sign
disclosure agreements of any kind, Ryan . . . It is Ryan, isn’t it?
. . . (A beat.) Because, Ryan, you don’t seem to understand us at
all.

FIRST MAN: If you’ll take a moment and look at this document,
you will see it states we are allowed unfettered _ (To Second
Man.) Is that the word? Yes, unfettered use of any information we
may wish to use, privately or publicly, on you and/or your
company.

SECOND MAN: And as you might understand, signing a
nondisclosure agreement with you would contradict the unfettered
provision.

First Man taps document on his hand as
others stand silent. Ryan and Donna look
at each other.

DONNA (Finally; British accent, to Ryan only, smiling): Lovely.

RYAN (Smiles and nods at her and them; British accent): Quite, I
say. . . (He staggers, stumbles forward, grabbing his chest _
stricken) I say! . . .

DONNA: Ryan!

Lighting change as Donna repeats Ryan’s name. Ryan
and Robin. Robin goes to Ryan’s assistance. Ryan takes
a moment to regain his balance and composure.

RYAN (Smiling sheepishly): Clumsy lately, but I think that’s what
happened . . .

ROBIN (Holding his arm): And just happened again _ which was?

RYAN: Irregular heartbeat.

ROBIN: Still?

RYAN: No _ just imagination . . . memory . . . (Moves away from
her.) No reason to stumble like that . . . then . . . I recovered in
moments . . . then, like now . . . I guess I was _ am _ being like
that shore bird of yours _ the, the _ ?

ROBIN: Killdeer. It’s _ they’re called _ killdeer.

RYAN: Right _ killdeer. Drawing the predators away, away from
the nest, pretending an injury, a broken wing or something _ isn’t
that what you said? (Smiles.) Scared me, that’s all. I didn’t know
what it was . . . then.

ROBIN: Your heart?

RYAN (Nods): That was the first time. Well, a few hours earlier,
on the track just a quick few beats, taking a curve in the red
Lamborghini . . . I dismissed it. Thought it had something to do
with the coming meeting with the suits. (Pause, laughs.) Thought
it was me composing _ da-da-da, da da. Binary rhythms, you
know. (Smiles, looking at her.) Or perhaps you don’t. Then, at the
suits meeting, I pretty well knew it was something else.

ROBIN: And that had something to do with your decision _ your
health?

RYAN: What decision?

ROBIN: Not to go with them.

RYAN: I didn’t go with them because a lump sum, for the rights to
my work into perpetuity, seemed like a raw deal. Maybe health
figures into perpetuity, I don’t know.

ROBIN: I thought they offered a royalties deal. Isn’t that what you
said?

RYAN: Did they? Did I? I don’t know. I don’t remember that . . .

ROBIN: You said a royalty on each computer, with the computers
numbering into the millions.

RYAN: No. I think . . . I think . . . Sorry, head’s throbbing a bit . . .
I think I asked for a limited royalty contract and they said “lump
sum, perpetuity. Plus, sign the disclosure.” If I indicated otherwise
. . . did I?

Robin nods.

RYAN: I don’t know, maybe that happened. (Pause.) Anyway,
whatever they offered _ we weren’t going to get by the disclosure
requirement.

ROBIN: So you said _

RYAN: “Sign my disclosure.” Another way of saying kiss my ass.
(A beat, small smile.) I’m afraid I’m not very good at this, am I?

Lighting change. Donna and Jim move forward
a bit.

DONNA: You’re not. We’re not. So take it, Ryan, take the deal.
Let’s be done with it before it destroys us.

RYAN (Looking front, not at them): That’s no deal.

DONNA: Don’t take it then. I don’t know. I don’t know what you
want. I just don’t know.

JIM: Donna, if he doesn’t . . .

RYAN: If I don’t?

JIM: You could _ we could _ be left out.

DONNA (Weary): Is that so bad?

JIM: But it all comes from _ it all stems from _ Ryan. Without him,
it isn’t. It is his creation. How can he be left out of that? That
doesn’t seem right to me.

DONNA: But it happens, doesn’t it? Isn’t that a pattern in the . . .
world?

Sudden lighting change. Ryan and Persons,
stepping forward, older.

PERSONS: So, I ask you again, why are you here? What do you
want? . . . Ryan, you must understand I’m busy.

RYAN: We have, John . . . John, we have a number of
stockholders . . . not wealthy . . . good, honest people . . . In
deep . . .

PERSONS: Yes?

RYAN: Who could be hurt . . . Deeply invested, close to life
savings tied up in the company . . . Some of them . . .

PERSONS: And? . . . That’s too bad but what does that have to
do with me _ and my company _ Ryan?

RYAN: I’m fine, myself and the rest of the board, we’re secure,
covered . . .

PERSONS: Same question applies. (Looks at wristwatch.) I’m
waiting, Ryan. (Pause, sighs loudly.) I assume, you fly a thousand
miles, you must have something on your mind. Something
important to say. (A beat.) Something difficult for you to say.
Ryan turns away, bites his lip.

PERSONS: You have trouble with this kind of thing, don’t you?
Some sort of hang-up, isn’t it? . . . (A beat; suddenly intensely
curious, moving toward Ryan): You flew yourself, as usual?
Ryan turns back.

RYAN: What does that have _ ?

PERSONS: Plenty! I thought something was missing. You usually
march in with your pilot’s helmet in the crook of your arm, scarf
thrown back, like some sort of World War II hero. Swashbuckling
. . . swaggering . . . big smile . . . But not today. (Pause, waits.)

RYAN: Right, John, I didn’t fly myself . . . but we were talking
about _

PERSONS: No, you didn’t. I’d heard that maybe . . . you weren’t
anymore . . . flying, I mean . . . for some reason . . . (A thoughtful
pause, then with extra animation, pacing, in a way stalking him.)
But, Ryan, you’re a famous flyboy! The flamboyant genius!

RYAN: John . . .

PERSONS: Wait: the devil-may-care pilot who jets himself across
the continent at the drop of a hat! . . . under a star-lit sky, reciting
poetry! . . . while the rest of us . . . the rest of us unbathed nerds
. . . the popular perception . . . we’re having trouble tying our shoe
laces . . . Isn’t this what I’ve read? . . . Is written? . . . You’re the
un-nerd of the computer world. You never fly commercial _ you
never let anyone fly for you _ unless . . . (Looks at him
differently, moves closer again, circles him.) . . . unless they took
away your pilot’s license. Did they? . . . Is that what happened,
Ryan? . . . What’s wrong? Were you stripped of your license?
Grounded, isn’t that what they call it? (A beat.) Something
happened. Are, are we looking at a drinking problem? . . . I hope
we are not looking at a serious drinking problem, Ryan . . .

RYAN (A beat): Do you, John?

PERSONS: Because we all know . . . have known for a long time
. . . that you have a propensity . . . A weakness toward . . .
(Pause.) . . . for . . . (Wants Ryan to say it.) Ryan? . . . (Pause.)
Well, you can’t say I didn’t warn you, years ago, can you? Do you
remember, Ryan _ that first night at your house? Talking about
your gift? The danger of abusing it? (A beat _ pointedly.) Donna
was there. Ask her, she’ll remember.

RYAN (A beat): Fuck off, John.

PERSONS (Pause, shrugs): Well.

Persons steps back, shaking his head.

Lighting change, Ryan and Robin.

RYAN (Smiles): I don’t think I said that. I wanted to. But I needed
him. Anyway, it was probably better that he thought I wasn’t flying
because of a drinking problem than a . . . a health problem. You
can kick the booze, or so they say. But if he knew I might be
about to kick off . . . well . . . and the odds of that seem to have
gone up considerably in the last few hours . . .

ROBIN: He was . . . for a long time you thought he was your
friend.

RYAN: By then _ and for some time _ I knew he wasn’t. But I had
for years _ admired and respected him. His fight . . . intensity . . .
tenacity . . . his . . . tunnel vision . . . (A beat.) That’s what kind of
genius I am. So the . . . where was I?

ROBIN: Persons, your friend.

RYAN: Before that.

ROBIN: The suits?

RYAN; So the suits, giving up on me, fly up to see John _ and
miracle of miracles, he suddenly has an operating system. One
that would work for them. I thought, “Wow, to come up with
something like that in twenty-four hours after years of trying, that’s
something.” (Pause.) That’s what I really thought . . . was blown
away. (A beat, somewhat unsure.) I mean, it’s not that farfetched.
Someone with John’s talent . . . It can happen, you know?
(Pause.) You know? . . .

Lighting change, Jim and Donna step forward. Ryan
pours a drink.

JIM (With urgency): They’ve made some kind of deal _ Persons
and the suits. That’s the word.

RYAN: The word? What word?

JIM: That is what they are saying, what is being said. Word gets
around quickly.

RYAN (Shrugs): Screw `the word.’ It’s really none of our
business. We have enough on our own plate.

He offers Jim a drink, who declines with an
impatient gesture.

JIM: Ryan, two days ago he sends the suits to us because he
doesn’t have an operating system. How can he have one now? It
doesn’t make sense.

RYAN (Looking off): As you say, he sent them to us. John was
doing us a favor. Otherwise, why would he do it?
He drinks.

JIM: Because he didn’t have anything. Because he needed us . . .
He would have wanted something eventually, a cut, a partnership,
a percentage of the licensing fee _ something. (A beat.) Ryan, he
knew he could talk you into something like that, no problem _ (A
beat, considers.) _ and in the long run get the better part of the
deal _ something for nothing is probably what he had in mind.

RYAN (Pause, flushes, deeply embarrassed): That’s what John
thought?

JIM: Yes. Of course he did. Is that a surprise? (Pause.) Face it,
Ryan: you’re an easy touch . . . not a . . . you’re not a
businessman . . .

RYAN: And? . . .

JIM: And?

RYAN: And I’m . . . naive?

JIM (Considers): . . . Let’s just say you’re not exactly
Machiavellian. (Pause.) Sure, you’re naive _ so was Othello. It’s
nothing to be ashamed of . . .

Ryan smiles, still embarrassed, makes a quick
little toast with his glass to Jim. Both look away.
There’s a general silence.

DONNA (Thoughtfully, softly, and to break the silence): Well, it
does happen.

JIM: What happens?

DONNA: They come up with their own program in a day . . . a
sudden inspiration. Some of Ryan’s best ideas have come
suddenly.

JIM: Yes, I understand that. But it doesn’t usually come packaged
and ready to go as an operating system. And if it did happen _ if
they were on the verge, close _ even if they saw it as a remote
possibility down the line – would they have sent the suits to us?
No, no way in hell.

Ryan moves off.

DONNA: So. Does it really matter?

RYAN: Donna’s right. We’re getting all the business we can
handle. (Drinks.) Jim, we’re in a million computers and still
growing. What’s the problem?

JIM: We can lose business, Ryan. As fast as companies pop up in
this business, they go away . . . disappear. No one has signed on
with us for forever. We don’t do perpetuity contracts, remember?
That’s someone else. Maybe we should.

DONNA: Whatever program they have, it won’t be better than
Ryan’s.

JIM: What if it’s just as good as Ryan’s, Donna? (Pause.) What if
it is Ryan’s?

RYAN: John wouldn’t do that. That’s not something John would
do.

JIM: Really? (A beat.) I don’t think there’s anything he wouldn’t do
. . . to come out on top. (Pause.) Look, I’m not saying . . . I mean,
I don’t know where they got it . . . it’s just, from what I hear . . . it’s
an awful lot like . . . and if you believe in unbelievable coincidence
. . . nearly incalculable odds . . . well, you’re the genius, I’m not
. . . (Pause.) I’m sorry, I’ve got to go, I’ve got family . . . (Starts to
go, stops.) Remember that, Ryan _ factor that in _ most of us
have family.

Jim steps back. Donna looks at Ryan, he
doesn’t look at her. Ryan sets his drink down,
moves back.

DONNA: Ryan, where are you going?

RYAN (Shrugs): I don’t know.

DONNA: It’s night _ you can’t go racing.

RYAN: No.

DONNA: Don’t fly . . . not tonight, Ryan, please. I’d worry . . . I
can’t . . .

RYAN: No. I don’t fly if I’m not . . . right. You know I wouldn’t do
that.

DONNA: Then why don’t you stay?

Ryan hesitates, shrugs apologetically.

RYAN: I don’t know, I’m sorry.

Lighting change, Donna steps back. Ryan and
Robin.

RYAN: It was after that . . . a few days later, we realized Jim had
been right about Persons.

ROBIN: It’s like your program?

RYAN: It’s almost exactly mine, with a tweak here or there for
appearance’s sake . . . As Jim said, the odds are, well . . . say
. . . say someone takes “Hamlet” and changes the title to . . .
“Lars” . . . (He smiles.) . . . and moves the play from
Copenhagen to, say, Tuscaloosa . . . and Polonius becomes
Felonius . . . (A beat, but can’t resist: with a sly smile.) Portia a
. . . Lamborghini . . . That sort of thing . . . So blatant it’s kind of
funny. (Serious again.) The thing is, those tweaks . . . they’re not
harmless. They cause crashes . . . which cost money . . .
sometimes . . . could cost . . . lives . . . (Pause, he hesitates,
having difficulty with his balance; takes a deep breath.) . . . so
they sold my work _ now called something else, of course _ to the
suits, interesting that . . . I’ve never heard of selling anything that
belonged to someone else. I didn’t know you could do that. A neat
trick. (A beat, with a whimsical, sad smile.) In that area, it must be
admitted, they’re . . . innovative.

Lighting change and Jim takes a step forward.

JIM: There’s only one thing to do, Ryan: we have to take them to
court.

RYAN: I didn’t get into this to sue people, Jim. My God, it’s the
last thing I want to do with my life _ waste my time that way . . .
Besides, we don’t even know if we can.

JIM: Well, we have to do something or we go down. We
eventually get ground into the dirt. They’re taking over the
business overnight. Using what you created, they’re four times
our size . . . And they’re just not growing, they’re taking our
customers with them. (A beat.) It continues, we’re history _ a
footnote, one of dozens of little footnotes in this business that
come up with a good idea and are buried because of it. The
reward of innovation is destruction . . . But none of them had or
have your vision, Ryan _ and I hate to see you go their way.

RYAN (Really to himself, a slight note of panic): It’s about
education, Jim . . . Don’t you see that? It’s innovation . . .
communication . . . discovery. It’s supposed to be fun, like . . .
like music!

JIM: Music’s a business, Ryan! Get your head out of the . . . out
of wherever the fuck it is.

RYAN (Off somewhere): John and I spoke of that once. You
weren’t with the company then. He agreed with me, about the
beauty of it, the excitement of breaking new ground. I had this
idea _ a long time ago _ that we might work together someday,
create something magnificent.

JIM: Are you kidding _ you and John? Oh, for Christ’s sake,
Ryan _ he’s going to bury you! (Pause.) I think he already has.

(Pause.)

He steps back, Donna moves forward tentatively.

(Pause.)

DONNA: I think, Ryan, whatever’s going on with you and John
and the suits _ the whole business, actually _ it’s becoming
beside the point now, isn’t it? . . . I mean, you’re so far removed
. . . from me, now the kids . . . maybe there’s nothing left. (Pause.)
Or is . . . or is your creativity all we ever had in the first place?

(Pause.)

She remains. Ryan takes an unsteady few steps,
having trouble with his balance. He looks around
for Donna but can’t find her. He grabs a chair
for support, takes a few deep breaths. Looks at
Robin.

RYAN (Smiles, shaken): I’m remembering a little too much . . . It’s
(Indicating his head.) . . . the old noggin . . . it’s suddenly working
. . . but . . . all of a sudden I wish it wasn’t . . . don’t appreciate the
. . . clarity . . . not at . . . (Pause.) . . . Robin, could you give me a
ride to . . .

ROBIN: Sure. Wherever.

RYAN: To . . . Or maybe better, call an ambulance, please. I’ve
always wanted to ride in an ambulance _ (Smiles.) _ all that legal
speed, you know.

ROBIN (Briskly): OK.

She starts to move off quickly.

RYAN: Because this headache . . . is acting up a bit . . . And I
think you might be right _ (Pause.) _ I think I might be in some,
some trouble . . . (Smiles, waits.)

Light fades.

End of Act One

 

Act Two
The Final Day

 

In dim light, Ryan and a Nurse. He is in the chair, leaning back;
she has pulled up a chair to be nearby, pages through a
magazine. He is in different clothes, casual and comfortable, but
similar; he now wears the motorcycle vest with Harley-Davidson
patches. A strip of gauze on the back of his head. His eyes are
open. The Nurse is attractive and young.
On the periphery: Persons; Jim and Donna, together.
It is evening twilight; the act will advance into darkness.

RYAN (After a few moments): It’s like, it’s what I imagine it’s like
to compose music . . .

The Nurse smiles wanly, watches him from the
corner of her eye.

RYAN: . . . the binaries becoming notes . . . The notes appearing
out of nowhere. (Pause.) There’s a beauty there, isn’t there? A
kind of elegance?

Persons moves up a few strides.

PERSONS: Speaking to me, Ryan? . . . To anyone? . . . `A kind
of elegance’? Well, it’s neither here nor there anymore, if you ask
me . . . You’re dying and you know it. So why go on about the
beauty of composing programs? Once it was . . . acceptable . . .
tolerable . . . But now? . . . You might as well talk about building a
house or founding a business _ you’re not going to do either.
They make as much sense as composing a program. It’s futile.
(Pause.) You’re no longer in the game. Not a player. (Pause.)
You’re history _ if that . . . if you’re lucky . . . (Pause.) If I allow you
to be. (Pause.) History. (Pause.) Because, Ryan, the winner
writes the history. Everyone knows that. (Pause.)

RYAN (Not looking at him): Do they? . . .

PERSONS: Yes. But I’ll tell you what I’ll do _ I’ll think about it,
about you getting some credit, I mean . . . because I really don’t
think you should be forgotten . . . I feel a certain responsibility that
you’re . . . remembered . . . But . . . well . . . I will have to think
about it.

RYAN (Pause): Good of you, John.

PERSONS: I pick up on your tone, but you think about it, Ryan _
you haven’t been cooperative . . . I want to do what’s right, but
you don’t make it easy . . .

RYAN: No, I meant it _ good of you, considering . . . considering
all that . . . (Breaks off, adrift.)

PERSONS (A bit awkward): It’s . . . that’s OK . . . glad to consider
it.

He steps back. Lighting change.

RYAN (To Nurse, after a moment, refocusing, a friendly smile):
Hello.

NURSE: Hello.

RYAN: You’re? . . .

NURSE: Certainly not John. Or Donna or Jim. You’ve been calling
me John or Donna or Jim. And some other names, including your
children. You miss your children. (Pause.) I’m a nurse _ Helen.

RYAN: My nurse?

NURSE: Your nurse. We’ve already met by the way.

RYAN: Sorry . . .

The Nurse shrugs.

RYAN: There was someone earlier . . .

NURSE: A woman _ Robin.

RYAN: She won’t be coming back?

NURSE (A beat): I don’t know . . . she was very upset . . . felt she
let you down . . . nice lady.

RYAN: It’s that bad?

NURSE: Not so bad. But the doctors feel it’s a good idea for you
to be observed. Someone to keep an eye . . .

RYAN: Because I have . . . ?

NURSE: A mild concussion . . .

RYAN: That’s the diagnosis?

The Nurse nods.

RYAN: Which is better than . . . ?

NURSE: . . . than moderate or severe, of course . . . or any other
number of things that can happen when a person takes a hard
fall.

RYAN (Considers): Well . . . so . . . (Pause.) What are they
saying . . . ?

NURSE: Saying?

RYAN: In the papers . . . ?

NURSE: I’m not sure I understand . . .

RYAN: The papers, television, about . . . from what Robin had
said . . .

NURSE: About you? It might not be a good idea to . . . (He looks
at her, she considers.) Well, quite a lot. You create things, things
which I cannot begin to understand. You’re a very creative man,
perhaps a genius.

RYAN: About the other night, I mean . . . the fall.

NURSE (Considers again; a pause): There’s speculation, that’s
all.

RYAN: Speculation? . . .

NURSE (A beat): Well, perhaps suspicion.

Silence; she regrets having said this.

RYAN: Suspicion? . . .

NURSE: Well, most likely you fell . . . that’s the feeling . . . but
maybe pushed . . . (Pause.) That would be suspicious, of course
_ being pushed . . . But someone bumping into you . . .
accidentally . . . that seems more likely . . . that seems to be a
theory . . . and you drinking too much . . . You did, didn’t you? . . .
That is more than implied . . . (A beat.) And maybe something
else . . .

RYAN: Something else?

NURSE: In addition to the . . . to the drinking . . .

There is a silence.

RYAN: Stuff? . . . Using stuff? . . . That’s what they’re saying? . . .

NURSE: Look, I shouldn’t have said that, this isn’t something I
should be . . .

RYAN (Shrugs): It’s possible . . .

NURSE: Because your health is what matters.

RYAN: What else?

NURSE (A beat, sighs): What it comes down to . . . no one
knows, really . . . (Pause.) What I mean is . . . it’s been almost two
days now since the accident and no one’s come . . . coming
forward . . . about it . . . (A beat.) From what I’ve read and heard
. . .

RYAN: Well, that’s not surprising with me . . . lately. People have
careers to protect . . . Dangerous knowing me if you want to keep
your job, much less . . . advance . . . much less . . . (Pause.) . . .
much less . . . (Pause.) Have _ do you happen to know _ have the
police spoken to me? They wanted to speak to me _ that’s what
she . . . (Searches.) . . . Robin . . . said.

NURSE: Not to my knowledge. You don’t know?

RYAN: No. I think perhaps . . . I don’t think so . . . I’ve been to the
hospital? . . .

NURSE: Of course _ you know that. I just said _

RYAN: Do I know that? . . . I don’t know much . . . (Pause.) How
much time do I have?

NURSE: That’s an absurd question, especially for a `genius’ . . . If
there was any doubt about that, you’d still be in the hospital, for
sure.

RYAN: It’s just that . . . something’s happening . . . going on
. . . (Looks at her, smiles): You just sounded like my first wife _
Donna.

NURSE (Also smiles): How many have you had?

RYAN: You really want to know?

NURSE: Well, I was going to ask you to do the usual thing in
cases like this _ recite the alphabet, count to ten. You know,
every few hours or so. But if you want to count wives instead, that
would let you off lightly _ let me off lightly _ if you’ve had less than
ten.

RYAN (Thinks, smiles): I’ve . . . this is funny _ maybe a godsend
_ but I think I’ve lost count. You know, the . . . (Gestures to his
head.) . . . fall.

NURSE: Don’t worry. Typical concussion case . . . Are you
married now? The papers don’t say.

RYAN: I’m not sure . . .

NURSE (Laughs): Classic concussion case, for sure.

RYAN: I mean, I don’t know if it’s gone through _ this last . . .

(Searches for the word.)

NURSE: Divorce? . . .

RYAN (Bitterly): Yes . . . last I recall, was in the throes of . . .
a . . . (Searches for word.) . . . a . . . divorce.

NURSE (Smiles, strokes his forehead once, then takes her hand
away.) Please. Try to relax. Do it sitting up. Reasons of
observation. We don’t want you sleeping just yet. A precaution.
I’m the one observing. That’s part of my job.

RYAN: And waiting?

NURSE: I do a lot of that, too . . . (Ruefully.) That’s for sure . . .

RYAN (Pause): I feel . . . (Pause, moves a hand across his
eyes.)

Lighting change. The Nurse steps back.

NURSE (From a distance): Don’t drift off, please don’t close your
eyes.

RYAN: I suppose I should thank you, John.

NURSE: And please keep John out of it.
Persons steps forward, studies Ryan for a
few moments.

PERSONS: What’s that, Ryan ? _ I caught you drifting there a bit.
Thought we might have lost you _ I mean, you lost me. Your
imagination’s not what it used to be.

RYAN (Not looking at him): Do you mean . . . memory?

PERSONS: Almost the same thing, don’t you think?

RYAN (Smiles): Maybe . . .

PERSONS: The great ones _ they have . . . had . . . both. You
were one of those, but you’ve lost one . . . or another . . . I hope
not both . . . that could be the end.

RYAN: You said . . .

NURSE (Sounding far away, almost an echo): Eyes open, please!
. . . Thank you and keep them that way. I’ll get you . . . something
to drink . . .

She stands off.

PERSONS: She cares about you, Ryan. Another one falling for
you . . . amazing . . .

RYAN: I think you said . . . you said you’d see that I was
remembered.

PERSONS: Considering it . . . No commitment yet . . . No
promises . . . “Maybe’s” the best I can do for you now. (Pause.)
Or for anyone else, for that matter.

RYAN (Smiles, amused despite himself): John. You’re a kind of
mad dream, aren’t you? A sort of devastation?

PERSONS (Considers it, somewhat amused himself): I don’t
know, am I? Perhaps. (Moves around a bit, pauses, considers.)
Ryan, remember we both gave speeches once, a convention
somewhere . . . Miami or Boston or somewhere _ one of the stops
in the early days anyway, when it was all still so new . . . And you
looked out at all those faces, all those hopeful upturned faces with
their pasty complexions and big ideas, and you said, “There’s
room for all of us. There are opportunities for all of us in this
business. There’s so much we can do. We’re only at the
threshold. It’s just the beginning” . . . You were inspiring, I give
you that. My God, you made it sound like we were capable of
saving the world.

A silence. Ryan says nothing.

PERSONS: They loved you for that . . . those people . . . for
saying that they were going to be part of it . . . for giving them
hope. I’ve never had that, that ability to inspire, so I’ve had to be
. . . had to cultivate other talents. (Pause.) But I understood my
weaknesses . . . limitations . . . and did something about them,
whereas you . . . you didn’t. Simply didn’t bother. I guess you
thought the world would accommodate you, but it doesn’t work
that way.

A silence. Ryan says nothing.

PERSONS: Anyway, I followed you to the podium and, and what
did I say, Ryan? Do you recall? (Pause.) Ryan?

RYAN (Some head pain, looking down, pause): What I said,
John?

PERSONS (Irritated): Not what you said, Ryan _ we just went
over that. You’re not concentrating very well, are you? What I
said.

RYAN: Well . . . (Pause, looks up, off.) I think it was . . . it’s been
so long . . . was it something like, “Sorry, Ryan . . . there’s only
room for one in this business”?

PERSONS: Good. You can remember when you want to, can’t
you? And how did that crowd respond, Ryan? . . .

RYAN: I’m sorry, I _

PERSONS (A sudden anger and passion): It _ they _ laughed,
Ryan! I told them, I warned them _ and you. I put it out there. I
didn’t give them false hope like . . . Well, not that you did . . .
intentionally . . . I think you believed what you said . . . But . . . it’s
. . . what you told them . . . it was nowhere, Ryan. A dead end.
Time has proved me right. (Pause.) There was even press there,
for God’s sake. They laughed. All of them, including the press _
including you. Do you remember that? Because I sure do. (A
beat.) I told you _ all of you _ there was only room for one . . . for
me . . . I was proud of that _ proud of myself for being forthright
. . . honest about my intentions . . . and none of you took me
seriously.

RYAN: Now I remember _ you laughed when you said that, John
. . . You smiled.

PERSONS: And?

RYAN: That’s why they laughed.

PERSONS (Interested): What’s the point? They didn’t take me
seriously?

RYAN: Of course they took you seriously. They laughed because
you laughed. They feared you _ it was nervous laughter . . .
forced . . .

PERSONS: Did you laugh?

RYAN: Sure, but because I didn’t believe you. They were smarter
than me. I’ve always been stupid that way _ lie to me and I
believe you, tell the truth and . . . (Gestures.)

PERSONS (Irritated): You didn’t believe me? Christ, Ryan.

RYAN: How could I? I couldn’t _ still don’t _ see how anyone _ in
all seriousness _ could believe something that . . . that narrow
and confining _ I mean, room for only one in a field so vast, with
so much potential for good, with so much talent eager to
contribute. What kind of ego claims that? It would be a crime to
put that into one person’s, one company’s hands . . .

PERSONS: Nothing gets done your way, Ryan. . . . that’s
anarchy.

RYAN: Have you ever heard of “creative chaos”?

PERSONS (Impatiently): Whatever the process, usually just one
emerges. A dominant figure. Look at history . . . Besides, how
many of those so-called creative types that were in that audience
that day, Ryan _ how many do you think are still with us? . . . Not
many . . . You’re among the last.

RYAN: What do you mean by `still with us’?

PERSONS: Still in the field, of course.

RYAN: Still in the field? Screw the field _ some of them are dead,
John.

PERSONS: Yes, that may be.

RYAN: Died while young, John _ a few by their own hand . . .
hands.

PERSONS: Right.

RYAN: Disillusioned . . . depressed . . . betrayed . . . fucked over
. . .

PERSONS (Weary): It happens, Ryan, it happens.

Simultaneously, Nurse approaches with a glass
as Persons backs away and lighting changes.

PERSONS (His voice becoming distant): Are you blaming me for
them?

NURSE: Open your eyes, please.

PERSONS: Are you blaming me for you?

NURSE: Now!

PERSONS: Because if you are _ remember, Ryan, I’m the one
who decides . . .

NURSE: Drink this, please.

PERSONS: . . . and I don’t forget . . . I thought you understood
this . . . I thought you realized . . .

Persons is gone. Ryan drinks from glass, looks
at her. She waits a few moments.

NURSE: How do you feel?

RYAN: I feel a . . . a slight buzz. (He smiles at her.) That was
quick.

NURSE: Is it a good or a bad buzz? (Noticing his smile.) Oh _
right, it must be good.

RYAN: As good as I’ve felt in some time . . . Is it legal?

NURSE: You must be feeling very good. It will relax you. You can
sleep now, if you wish, but I will have to wake you now and then.
(She pushes the hair back off his forehead.) Just to check.
Nothing to worry about.

She leaves. Lighting change. A few moments of
silence.

JIM’S VOICE: Ryan, we can’t afford to delay any longer _ we
need to sell now.

RYAN: Sell? What do you mean?

Donna and Jim both move forward, Donna
somewhat reluctantly.

JIM: The bottom’s falling out. The company’s at fifty-million and
slipping. We have to do something about it _ soon.

RYAN: It’s amazing to be in trouble and be worth fifty million _ or
maybe it’d be more amazing the other way around.

JIM: Our reputation’s a bit shaky. Word’s out you’re not . . . you.
Next month at this time it could be forty. And the month after that
_

RYAN: Right . . .

JIM: Sinking ship . . . You forget, but there was a time we were
pushing a couple hundred million.

RYAN: I don’t forget. Those were the days . . . cover of . . . cover
of . . . (Pause.) . . . what? . . . something . . .

DONNA (Pause): But we’re fine, Ryan.

RYAN: Us. Financially . . . that’s what you mean.

They assent through silence.

RYAN: Well . . .

JIM: But there are others, Ryan, who aren’t, who are heavily
invested.

DONNA: Non-partners, people not on the board. But good people
who trusted us . . . believed in us . . .

JIM: Mortgages, college education funds, you know, tied up _
with _ in _ us . . . We can’t let those people lose everything.

DONNA: We can survive it, they can’t.

JIM: We should have sued when we could . . .

Donna gives him a look.

RYAN: Oh, right _ sue. I forgot about that. (Brightly hopeful.) Too
late?

JIM (Smiles ruefully, glances at Donna): Oh, yes, missed the
seven-year window some time ago. By six or seven years. Went
by like that. Papers sat on the lawyer’s desk. Sat and sat. He
didn’t know what to do _ out of his depth. And we, we weren’t
much better _ we sat and sat, did nothing.

DONNA: Jim . . .

RYAN: I said, screw them. I’ll come up with something new,
something even greater. There’s more where that came from, for
God’s sake.

DONNA: But there has been, Ryan . . . you’ve developed . . .
innovated . . . educational programs for kids, an encyclopedia of
the internet _

JIM (To Donna, interjecting): But nothing to top himself. Not the
next brilliant concept. That’s what he’s talking about and that
hasn’t happened. We had to have that. Well, we had it, but he _
we _ gave it away.

DONNA (Irritably): Nothing was given away. It was taken . . .
everyone knows that . . . the law wasn’t clear . . . You just said
as much . . . and Ryan’s not done, and it can’t be just on his
shoulders.

JIM (Shrugs): You usually get just one great concept, even the
`geniuses.’ Whitney the cotton gin, Franklin electricity, Morse the
code, Farnsworth the TV _

RYAN (Very dry, distant, ticking them off): Edison the telegraph
transmitter _ phonograph player _ incandescent lamp _ alkaline
battery _ talking movie pictures _ microphone . . . the, the
whatever he set his mind to . . .

A silence.

DONNA (Pause): You’ve been ill, Ryan . . . You’ve been sick.

JIM (To Donna): Which is why we need to get this done as soon
as possible . . . We can’t . . . sustain . . .

RYAN (Pause): And _ again _ you want me to . . . ?

JIM: Not want _ what we want is no longer . . . anything. It’s what
we need to do.

RYAN: Sell it? Sell the company now?

DONNA (A beat): There’s no choice, Ryan.

JIM: That or stand by and watch it die . . . better someone else
have it than that.

A silence. They both look at him.

RYAN: If that happens we get out OK, but the others _ the others,
they lose?

JIM: Right. If we could get, say, twenty-seven, hell, twenty-five
million, that would protect them, get them their money back. And
the buyer will be getting a wonderful deal . . . a steal, actually . . .
having the stability we lack.

RYAN: Selling a life’s work _ it would include everything we’ve
done, everything we have in development . . .

JIM: Everything? . . . I don’t know . . . we could hold back on
some of the latter, perhaps . . . Some of those . . . concepts . . .
that we’ve been working on that are . . . well . . . not quite there
yet . . . I mean, who’d know?

Ryan looks at him.

JIM (A beat): OK _ but you can’t give them those things that are
still in your head, that are not on paper. They don’t get that for
their lousy twenty-five million. Please don’t screw yourself again,
Ryan. You keep saying “screw them”, but you’re the one who
gets it. You screw yourself. Don’t give them what’s still up here _
that’s still yours.

RYAN (Pause): No . . . not that . . . they can’t have that . . . .
(Smiles, taps his head.) If it’s still there . . . big question.

A silence. They watch him, waiting.

RYAN (Catches himself): Oh, right _ business.

Lighting begins to change.

RYAN (A long pause): There’s . . . well, there’s only one person
I know who could write a check for . . . that amount . . . just
. . . like . . . that. Just . . . write . . . it. (Pause, he smiles slightly,
ruefully.)

A silence. They watch him as he looks down,
considers.

RYAN (Pause, shrugs): OK, that’s settled _ meeting’s concluded.

JIM: You never did like long meetings.

RYAN: Meetings period. (Pause.) OK, I’ll fly up and see him.

(Pause.)

DONNA (Pause): Don’t fly yourself, Ryan.

RYAN (Smiles): Don’t worry. Haven’t you heard? _ my pilot’s
license’s been revoked . . . health reasons . . .

The Nurse approaches, then waits in a separate
light. Donna exchanges a look with Jim, who hesitates,
then steps back.

DONNA: Ryan . . .

RYAN: Yes?

DONNA: The papers are going through . . . when you return, our
divorce should be final.

RYAN: Oh, right. (Pause.)

DONNA: I don’t think we’ll see each other again . . . (A beat.) Do
you? . . .

RYAN: No. Well, by chance . . .

DONNA: Take care of yourself . . .

RYAN (Pause): Thank you . . . you too . . .
Lighting change as Donna steps back.

NURSE (After a moment): Did you doze?

RYAN: No . . . (Begins to struggle to his feet.) I’m going to the
airport. I have to fly to _

NURSE: To the where? . . . The airport? (Smiles.) Oh, you’ve
been dozing, for sure.

RYAN: Oh, yes, I suppose . . . I thought I was . . . .

NURSE: Yes. I know _ going to the airport . . . not tonight you’re
not.

He stands cautiously.

NURSE: Steady . . .

RYAN: What are they saying?

NURSE: About what?

RYAN: There’s not been something more? . . .

NURSE (Pause, considers): They _ the radio _ say there’s going
to be a formal investigation.

RYAN: Of my death?

NURSE: Of the accident.

RYAN: It will come to the same thing . . . no? . . . accidental
death?

NURSE: No! . . . (Pause.) Let’s hope not, shall we?

Ryan falls to his knees.

NURSE (Going to him): But I think we do have a problem here.
She drops to one knee, tries to support him.

NURSE: Look at me.

RYAN (Trying to rise): I have to get to the airport. I’m a pilot, you
know.

NURSE: You’re a grounded pilot _ Isn’t that obvious to you?

RYAN: I have to see John . . . to sell the . . . people depending on
it . . .

NURSE (She tries to look into his eyes): You’ve seen John _ that
was years ago . . . John is a very powerful man now _ he would
not see you. I do not even think he is presently in the country. He
is done with you. Don’t waste your . . . strength on him. (She
snaps her fingers in front of his face.) Wake up! _ now! _ quit
dreaming!

RYAN (Small smile): `He wouldn’t see me?’ . . . I see you’ve been
doing your homework, Nurse Helen.

NURSE: But not my job. You distracted me . . . You’re good at
that . . .

RYAN: Like that bird . . . the . . .

NURSE: No talking about birds. (Takes his head in her hands.)
Your eyes are glassy. (Pause.) Tell me about that bird . . .

RYAN: I thought . . .

NURSE: I changed my mind . . . And look at me while you do it!
. . . What is it called?

RYAN: It’s called . . . called . . .

NURSE: Yes? It’s called?

RYAN: A . . . (Mild triumph.) . . . a . . . killdeer!

NURSE: And the killdeer is good at _ what? (Waits.) Distracting
people, isn’t it? . . . That’s what it does!

RYAN (Boyish smile): Yes _ predators. Throwing people off its
trail . . . faking injury . . .

NURSE: Just like you, right? . . . (Pause, still looking into his eyes
_ with deep concern.) Well, no more . . . No more killdeer. This is
very real . . . I’m going to make a phone call, Ryan. You will sit _
and wait _ understand?

RYAN: So I’m dying . . .

NURSE: No, you are not dying. But it’s not good. We need to get
you to . . . Look at me _ I want to see your eyes again! (Looks into
his eyes, a beat.) Maybe a mild hemorrhage . . . be quiet and sit
still.

RYAN (Smiles): First a mild concussion . . . and now . . . is there
such a thing as a mild hemorrhage? . . .

NURSE: It’s possible . . . for one to lead into the other . . . (She
brushes the hair back from his forehead, looks at him, pauses.)
Don’t stand. Let’s hope, shall we? That’s important. You’re better
off where you are . . . Don’t exert yourself _ we want to keep your
heart rate down. That’s important too. I’ll be back in a few
minutes.

RYAN: Another ambulance?

NURSE: Yes.

RYAN (Smiles): If you don’t mind, I’d rather not _ I didn’t like the
last ride.

NURSE: You’re not supposed to like it.

She goes, completely leaving the stage.
A radical lighting change, moody with a blue or green
tint. Persons steps forward into Ryan’s space, will
look “at” Ryan in this scene as if Ryan is standing,
at eye level. Ryan remains on the floor, looks straight
ahead.

RYAN: . . . Could be hurt, John . . . People deeply invested, life
savings tied up . . .

PERSONS: Sad, Ryan, sad sad, but what does that have to do
with? . . .

RYAN: I’m fine . . . rest of the board . . . all taken care of . . .

PERSONS: Question remains the same . . . (Looks at
wristwatch.) I assume, you fly this distance . . . you have
something . . . .

Ryan makes an effort to rise, can’t.

PERSONS (Said flatly, metalically): . . . . something difficult for
you to say . . . hang-up you have . . . Where’s the devil-may-care
. . . ? (Shaking his head, now ironically.) Grounded . . . abusing
your gifts . . . Someone like you, given that kind of genius, one in
a million _ hundred million _ and pfitt! (Shakes his head, starts
off.) Ask Donna . . . I warned you . . . Long time ago. You should
have listened. Look, I have people waiting . . .

RYAN: John! . . .

Persons hesitates.

RYAN: The company, John! Twenty-five million for the company _
to you. Worth almost double that . . . easy!

PERSONS (Stops, interested): Really? For everything? . . .

RYAN: Yes . . .

PERSONS: Everything . . . all patents . . . all projects in
development? . . .

RYAN makes an effort to rise, can’t.

RYAN (Frustrated, as he falls back onto his knees): Yes!

PERSONS (A beat, cocks his head): Projects you inaugurated?
. . . we can’t do it if it doesn’t include projects you _

RYAN: Yes! . . .

PERSONS: Holding nothing back?

Ryan doesn’t respond, stares straight ahead,
his eyes dull, glassy.

PERSONS: Of course _ not you. Not Ryan . . . Stupid of me . . . I
apologize for the remark. (Pause.) What about? _ what about, you
know, what’s still in your head? . . . (Pause.) Ryan?

Ryan doesn’t respond, stares straight ahead.

PERSONS (Smiles): No, I guess not. That would be asking a lot
. . . though there has to be a question of . . .

RYAN (Smiles, slowly): What’s left there, yes . . .

Persons nods. Ryan makes a weaker effort to stand.
Persons studies him dispassionately.

PERSONS: One thing I have to know, Ryan _ why would you
come to me with this opportunity?

RYAN: Because I think I finally understand business, John . . .
and . . . and you’re the person who can write the check . . .

PERSONS: Yes? And?

RYAN: And . . . (Pause.) . . . and I still . . . I don’t know . . . I still
had some kind of hope . . .

PERSONS: Well . . . (Studies him a moment.) I’ll tell you what,
Ryan, I’ll tell you _ I’d like to do it, I really would . . . but you’ve
weakened that company of yours considerably, and I can’t _ I am
responsible to other people, too, you know, just as you are _ and I
can’t justify . . . justify that kind of money on a company that’s
faltering . . . (Pause.) So I’ll tell you what I’ll do, out of respect for
our past friendship, our shared . . . tribulations _ I’ll write a check
right now (Pulls a pen and checkbook from his suit coat pocket),
this minute, for . . . say, twelve million dollars _ and the deal is
done.

A silence broken by the audible click of
Persons’ pen. He clicks it several times.
Ryan waits a moment then smiles.

PERSONS: Why are you smiling, Ryan?

RYAN (Pause): Because . . . because, John, you know what the
company’s worth _ and that I’m going to tell you . . . to go fuck
yourself.

PERSONS (Pause): I think you probably will . . . (Small smile.) . . .
did . . . and that’s . . . that’s unfortunate.

RYAN: You are making a bad business decision, John.

PERSONS: Perhaps.

RYAN (Taking a great effort): It will go to someone else _ a
competitor _ and that competitor will come after you like I wouldn’t
. . . should have, but didn’t.

PERSONS: Perhaps.

RYAN: And cost you money.

PERSONS: Maybe.

RYAN: Money, John.

PERSONS (Immovable): Right. I hear you, Ryan.

Ryan tries to rise.

RYAN (Pause, he tries to concentrate, then smiles): You know . . .
it’s kind of funny, John _ I think I just said I finally understood
business . . .

PERSONS: And?

RYAN: Well, if I do . . . well then I have to ask myself . . . why
would John Persons . . . a business genius . . . intentionally make
a bad business decision? . . . What does John Persons have to
gain by that? . . .

PERSONS (Pause): I guess, Ryan . . . (A beat.) I guess you’ll
never know.

A silence, then Persons clicks pen _ the sound
again heightened _ and replaces it and checkbook
in his suit coat pocket. Sound of a siren in
the distance. Ryan tilts his head in the direction
of the sound; Persons does not hear it.

PERSONS: But If you want to be remembered . . . (Light dimming
on him.) If you don’t want people to . . .

The stage begins to darken.

PERSONS: . . . don’t want people to forget . . . because, Ryan,
they do . . .

Persons steps back and watches with others.

Ryan tries to rise, but can’t.

RYAN (After a few moments): That’s something I . . . I don’t . . . I
simply . . . don’t . . . can’t . . . understand . . . what you would
have to gain by that . . .

The Nurse approaches tentatively. Ryan tries to rise
but can’t. The siren draws nearer then winds down as
the pulsating lights from the ambulance flash through
the room, at first with the rhythm of a heartbeat, then
steadily decreasing.

Ryan’s head drops slowly as his body folds into
itself, then remains still.

End of Play

Steve Hauk About Steve Hauk

Steve Hauk is a playwright, short story writer, and art expert in Pacific Grove, California. Co-curator of This Side of Eden—Images of Steinbeck's California, the inaugural art exhibition at the National Steinbeck Center, he has written on John Steinbeck for Steinbeck Review and is the author of two CINE Golden Eagle award-winning PBS-telecast documentaries narrated by Jack Lemmon, Time Captured in Paintings: The Monterey Legacy and The Roots of California Photography: The Monterey Legacy. His plays include Fortune's Way, or Notes on Art for Catholics (and Others)The Floating Hat, Reflections of an American Mossad, A Mild Concussion, and The Cottages, Scenes from Lives Interrupted. Steinbeck: The Untold Stories, a book of fictional stories based on incidents from Steinbeck's life, has been published by SteinbeckNow.com.

Comments

  1. The story told in this play is an amazing one…full of intrigue and injustice and dreams dashed. It is also one that everyone in our newly joined, computerized world would be fascinated to know. It should be read and most of all performed in productions around the country and in the larger computerized world.

  2. Steinbeck wrote at least three play-novelettes and, notably in “Burning Bright,” wasn’t afraid of experimenting with form, style, or function. But would today’s digital audience find reading a new play online, absent context or explanation, a meaningful experience? The process of formatting Steve’s superb script for upload to SteinbeckNow.com relieved any doubt. Careful attention to dialog and stage direction–required to move “A Mild Concussion” from typed to digital page without (I hope) error–revealed subtle rhythms of rhetorical and dramatic development in Steve’s as-yet unproduced piece. Too subtle for one-time reading in print, perhaps, but perfectly paced for audience effect when staged. The immediate result? I better understand what dramaturgy really is. The end result? More scripts (I hope!) from Steve and other playwrights who aren’t afraid to experiment with online publication.

  3. Dixie Layne says:

    I have had the privilege of reading many of Steve Hauk’s works over the years, and I have found them fascinating – particularly those with an historical foundation. This play is both thought provoking and informative and has a strong historical foundation. It deserves to find its way to the stage.

    • Steve Hauk says:

      Dixie, I’ve always said you would be a great producer. You’d be a natural. Now if you were in New York, with all this power to get work done, well . . .

Trackbacks

  1. […] story, and the chapter about him in Evans’ book convinced me to get to it. So I wrote the play A Mild Concussion – the Rapid Rise and Long Fall of an Idealistic Computer Genius, which has been published on this […]

  2. […] lives in the Pacific Grove home once owned by John Steinbeck’s friend Ed Ricketts. In stories and plays set in Pacific Grove, Monterey, and Salinas, Steve captures the spirit of Steinbeck and his […]

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