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Fiction

Lab Rats: Scene V

A six-part play from the LabLit fiction series

Robin Plevin 24 February 2008

www.lablit.com/article/355

You’ll never get a lectureship with this hanging over your head, wrongly accusing someone of fraud

Editor’s note: We are pleased to present the fifth episode of a six-part lab play by Professor Robin Plevin about the sins and secrets of a group of university researchers in Scotland.

Scene II – Conclusions

(Late night in the coffee room the same day. James comes in and makes himself a cup of coffee. He sits down and just stares into space. Cathy comes in.)

James: Oh, hello.

Cathy: Hi.

James: What brings you here?

Cathy: I came to see a pigeon. Can I have some coffee?

James: It’s the Gold Blend. The milk’s in the door, the big carton.

Cathy: I know. You always seem to have enough to go around.

(Cathy makes herself a coffee)

James: I don’t think Simon’s in. I just came back to get my stuff.

Cathy: I didn’t come to see Simon.

James: You’re dressed up.

Cathy: I was going out. Can’t you tell? I’ve got my Wonderbra on and my see-through blouse.

James: Must have caused a stir at security.

Cathy: Eddie wasn’t there – I used my new swipe card to get in.

James: Typical! Just when I’m on my way out they get a proper swipe card system.

Cathy: Have they sacked you yet?

James: Not, not yet. I don’t think they will if they can help it, it’s too risky. But Liley gave me the “your future’s some where else” speech this afternoon. They’ve got to tread lightly because if they try to sack me then the Union will get involved and everything will come out. So they’re paying me to stay away until I get another job. (pause) But I’m done, now. Finished. No-one will touch me in this lab again, not even Del Boy. And the look on Sandra’s face. Isn’t it funny how things can change so quickly?

Cathy: What do you mean, everything will come out? After all of the trouble you’ve caused, you still think Simon made up his results. That’s ridiculous, Simon wouldn’t do that. He just wouldn’t…

James: Stop. Stop right there. I can see the reason for the visit now. Very touching, I’m impressed, coming down to plead on behalf of your beloved Simon. It doesn’t matter, he’s safe, he’s untouchable, or at least he thinks he is. I’m impressed though, love knows no bounds where he’s concerned.

Cathy: Look, I’m not here for Simon. I’m here because I’m concerned about you. This will ruin you’re career – retract your accusation and apologise! You’ll never get a lectureship with this hanging over your head, wrongly accusing someone of fraud. You know what it’s like. Word will get out and you’ll be blacklisted for being troublesome. All your late nights, all the sacrifices will be for nothing. I care about you enough to know that this is what you are, this is what you do – this is your life. More than anyone else in this place, more than anyone else I’ve ever met. Don’t throw it all away just because of what happened to us.

James: Oh dear, you have been taken to the cleaners. What happened, did Simon fuck your brains out? You think I’m jealous of you and your London wide boy? Okay, we went our separate ways, fine, but this isn’t about that. This is about someone who thought he was so smart that he could cheat his way to the top, who thought he was so clever that nobody would notice him fabricating his data. And in the meantime he could allow Del Boy to flush a year of his life down the drain trying to repeat something that had no chance of working. And he would know that everyone would think that it was something Del Boy was doing wrong because he’s a misfit, and therefore he must be stupid.

Cathy: I never though he was…

James: Oh yes, you never doubted Del for a moment. Mr Sociopath. And what’s more, Waterman’s to blame. Because he’s been cheating all his life. Rejecting someone else’s paper so he can publish the work himself, dumping on somebody’s grant so that it doesn’t get funded. Stealing ideas from his students and postdocs and anyone else he can, and repackaging them as his own, and all the time pretending its okay. If anyone is to blame for Simon making up his results, it’s Waterman, because he created the atmosphere that encouraged it to happen.

Cathy: Oh come on, how do you know that?

James: Because I’ve seen it before. Everywhere I’ve been.

Cathy: But he’s under a lot of pressure, to get grants and papers.

James: That makes it still okay to let Simon to make up his data?

Cathy: He isn’t allowing anyone to make up their data. You’re doing this out of spite. You’re obsessed with labelling Simon a cheat.

James: Why, because of you?

Cathy: Because of me? Don’t make me laugh. That’s one reason I know wouldn’t be a factor in all of this, because it might suggest you actually felt something for me. You’re jealous of Simon’s success.

James: Success. Success in what, fixing his results?

Cathy: It’s rubbish.

James: Cathy, it’s the truth.

Cathy: Okay. How do you know he’s done all this? How do you know he fixed his results? Come on, tell me, clever boy, how are you so sure?

James: (almost shouting) Because I fixed my results!

(Silence)

Cathy: You. Fixed your results? I don’t believe it. When?

James: In the States.

Cathy: Are you serious?

James: I’ve done the same thing myself. So I could spot it easily. That’s how I knew.

Cathy: Why?

James: Why? I don’t know why. My boss was hassling me for a result so I made something up just to get him off my back. Then it was easy just to do a bit more. An experiment here and an experiment there. Before you know it you’re way down the line, making things up.

Cathy: And that’s why you left, they found out.

James: Oh no, my supervisor didn’t look any further than the results. They never do. No, I didn’t get found out, but I was sick to my stomach for what I’d done. So I left even though they wanted me to stay. They were grooming me for a faculty position, I had a lectureship all lined up.

Cathy: But you left under a cloud. They said you had a bust-up with your boss.

James: I had an affair with his wife.

Cathy: Oh.

James: It wasn’t like what you think.

Cathy: What do I think?

James: I didn’t break up their marriage. The affair happened afterwards. She was my dentist. She was a dentist and I had toothache so I went to see her. My boss, he recommended her.

Cathy: Bet he regretted that.

James: Not as much as I did.

Cathy: Why?

James: You don’t want to know.

Cathy: Oh, I do.

James: She got pregnant. Or rather, we got pregnant.

Cathy: Oh, I see. How ironic.

James: She had an abortion. It was a really difficult time.

Cathy: Yes, I can imagine. The spectre of something coming in between you and your lab work, you must have been distraught. That would have been a big change in your lifestyle.

James: I would have stood by you.

Cathy: Well, it doesn’t matter now, does it? I didn’t get pregnant so you’ve nothing to worry about.

James: I regret how it turned about between us.

Cathy: You’re such a hypocrite. You’re no better than Simon. All your talk about scientific integrity, it’s just a load of crap.

James: I know and I can’t stand myself for it. But I can’t go back now and tell them that I fixed my results. Who’d fuckin’ believe me. And anyway, as you said, it’s what I do. I have nothing else.

Cathy: But why? Why did you do it? You work so hard.

James: Because sometimes working hard is not enough. It doesn’t put you at the top of the pecking order. I guess I thought it was what I had to do. To get a lectureship.

Cathy: So you had to turn Simon in.

James: I couldn’t ignore it, not a second time.

Cathy: Well...what will you do now? They’ll not let you stay here.

James: I don’t know. I’ll get another post-doc job somewhere. My publication record is so strong someone will take me. I don’t have to get a reference from Mike.

(pause)

Cathy: Right, I’d better go.

James: I’m sorry for what happened.

Cathy: Well, if Simon did make up his results then he deserves to be kicked out.

James: No, I mean about you and me. I let you down, I know that now.

Cathy: You certainly did.

James: I would do anything to get you back.

Cathy: Oh James, no. Not now.

James: I love you, Cathy.

Cathy: Oh no, no, please. Not now…of all the times I needed you to say that to me in the past. And you wait till now. (tearful) You bastard, you fucking bastard.

James: We could try again. I can cut back. I’ll spend more time with you. If you just give me another chance I’ll…

Cathy: No James, I can’t.

James: Please, take me back.

Cathy: I can’t. Despite everything inside me that says yes. I can’t, because going through losing you a second time is more than I could bear. You hurt me so much.

James: I didn’t know.

Cathy: You didn’t bother to ask.

James: I’m sorry.

Cathy: I would just lose you again.

James: No, you wouldn’t.

Cathy: I would. And you know I would. There's only one thing you live for and it’s never going to be me. It’s a set of test tubes or a protein. It’s a piece of DNA on a gel. It’s a read-out from a counter. Those are the things you love, not me.

James: (starts to cry) I’m sorry.

Cathy: I know you are. (she holds his head in her arms) Hey, don’t. cry.

James: I’m so sorry… (he cries, and she cradles him.)

Cathy: (pause) Hey, come on. You’ll be okay. Now, you watch yourself, because the thing you love the most destroys you. Don’t let science do that to you. (lets go of him; James starts to wipe his tears.) Right, I’ve got to go now. I’m meeting Simon. To tell him it’s over. Not that it ever really started. That’s how much you affected me, it made me turn to someone like Simon for comfort. (moves to door) You know, you have the ability to profoundly effect how people feel about you. Me, Del Boy, Sandra – we all loved you. Eddie and Jean too. That’s a very dangerous power to have. To make people love you. I wonder if you realise that?

(exit Cathy)

(James cries uncontrollably)

(Scene ends)

[Continued next week]