Paul Ashford Harris

Black Swan Rising

(Draft October 2013) by Paul Harris (Copyright 2011)

Characters:

David Feeth
40's - Investment Banker
Alex Feeth
17/18 - David's daughter
Arnold Wells
50's - Managing Director of Arkon
Ingrid Wells
17/18 - Arnold's daughter
Laurence Sherman
60's - Investor

Three screens upstage above set. Minimal furniture/props/levels/lighting define areas.

Pre set - the screens contain continually changing newspaper headlines announcing pre GFC international and local events such as the Enron collapse, 9/11, the .com crash, NSW State Labor Government dealings, weather events such as Tsunamis, earthquakes, etc. These are accompanied by an audio track with news items describing the same events.

(The screens/audio could also be used to reinforce action with appropriate news items throughout the play.)

SCENE 1a

Special up on David running and talking on the mobile.

David:
Gillian···I can't pick Alex up. I told you. She won't talk to me thanks to you. And now you've talked to the press so fuck you, pick her up yourself.

Rings off, takes a deep breath.

SCENE 1

Lights up. Laurence's luxury serviced apartment. He sits naked beside the pool reading the S.M.H.

David:
Hi Laurie. 38 minutes from the City. Not bad.
Laurence:
As you are well aware David it's Laurence. Laurie is a bus driver. You're dripping with sweat. Do you have to run everywhere?
David:
(towelling himself down, and stretching) Do you have to conduct meetings in the nude?
Laurence:
Get that disgusting gear off, have a shower and join me.
David:
I have no intention of strolling around here naked.
Laurence:
Don't be so bashful. (waving the S.M.H.) See you've made the press again.
David:
The bitch did that. She's poisoned my daughter's mind. Alex won't communicate with me beyond the "how's school?" stuff.
Laurence:
I assumed it would be quite prestigious having your fornicating father all over the popular press. Perhaps you need to find a way of spending more time with her. She could join you for a triathlon.
David:
You hauled me all the way out here. I'm here so shall we get on with it?
Laurence:
You know why I insist on "one on one" meetings. Security. How do you know your office isn't bugged?
David:
Come on Laurence.
Laurence:
Look at today's Herald. (waves it again) There's someone here up on an insider trading charge. The evidence is a string of emails they retrieved. He's gone. How's some smart Alec QC going to get him out of that?
David:
We can't operate as if it's the 1950's.
Laurence:
And here's someone busted for drugs. The police have his mobile. You're all slaves to your mobiles.
David:
You're being obsessive.
Laurence:
The Police have access to a record of all mobile calls. So when you're shagging some tart and pretending to be in your office you better hope no one is tracing your calls.
David:
What did you drag me out here for?
Laurence:
I've been very disturbed lately, waking up in the middle of the night.
David:
So? Take a pill.
Laurence:
Someone sent me that book "Black Swan". Nassem Nicholas Taleb.
David:
Haven't read it.
Laurence:
Experts were convinced that the World contained only white swans; black swans did not exist - until the discovery of Western Australia. Years of accepted wisdom destroyed in a heartbeat. It's keeping me awake.
David:
It's sending me to sleep.
Laurence:
Taleb's key points are simple but compelling. One, A Black Swan is an event completely outside the expected, two, it has extreme consequences, and three, experts concoct ex post facto explanations.
David:
So?
Laurence:
Black Swans are happening everywhere - tsunamis, volcanoes, earthquakes··· but especially in financial markets. The big events are all Black Swans. Enron, the .com crash, September Eleven···something's going on and it's disturbing me. Taleb says they're random events but I think they're deliberate.
David:
Earthquakes are deliberate?
Laurence:
Some organisation is setting out to destroy World capitalism.
David:
The Masons?
Laurence:
(Glares)
David:
OK. OK. There's a lot of what looks like random disruption occurring.
Laurence:
Rumsfeld knew, "Unknown unknowns". It's Black Swans he's talking about. Anyway I've decided to act. I'm selling all my risk assets and buying gold. Not gold shares, gold, as in bars.
David:
Gold, huh. So where do I fit in?
Laurence:
There is one significant asset I want you to deal with.
David:
Oh yeh. Which one?
Laurence:
Great Northern. A Company called Great Northern. It's Great Northern that is disturbing my sleep. I own twenty percent - a lot of money - and I don't think they know what they're doing.
David:
Why?
Laurence:
They've done absolutely nothing for the last few years. I went to see the new Managing Director, a weasel called Adrian Cole. It's fair to say I was underwhelmed. So, I ask myself, "Why am I entrusting my hard earned savings to this bunch of talentless time servers?" Fortunately there's a straight forward answer. I've decided to sell my Great Northern shares - the lot.
David:
It's a pretty average Company. No growth, can't control its costs. But the sector's due for consolidation, so there is an opportunity to sell.
Laurence:
You better get on with it. I hear nasty things about Great Northern's Government contract. Someone else's Labor Party mates are better connected than their Labor Party mates.
David:
What's made you so nervous?
Laurence:
I went to Gabriel's Exhibition opening. My very good friend Minister Maggotini was there.
David:
The Minister for Mates.
Laurence:
He's a great admirer of art.
David:
Likes nudes does he?
Laurence:
We need each other. (beat) The Company says the Government keeps changing the specs and the Government says the Company's messed up on delivery. You wouldn't have to be a rocket scientist to be sceptical about any business based on a ten year contract with the Government of New South Wales. The conundrum is whether they're incompetent or corrupt. In any event, they're the last people I would want to base a business on. Get me out.
David:
Sounds like lawyers at twenty paces.
Laurence:
That's a major problem. Everyone loses except the lawyers; an immutable law of nature.
David:
O.K. Let's get on with it but for once you're going to have to be reasonable about price.
Laurence:
'Reasonable'. A weasel word for weakness.
David:
Our fees will naturally reflect a modest premium for dealing with your eccentricities.
Laurence:
Just bear in mind investment bankers are a dime a dozen. Don't push your luck. (Gets up and puts on some clothes) That's my time limit in the sun for the day. It's a delicate balance between enough vitamin D and melanoma. Now, lunch? I'll have some sent up. It will distract me from listening to you dressing up your outrageous fee proposal.
David:
Sounds good. Lunch I mean.
Laurence:
What would you like?
David:
A 250 gm rare steak, bloody. I need to get my iron up.
Laurence:
I'm surprised you're eating steak if you're going to run back to work. Don't you know what happens to meat? It nestles in your gut and rots. Causes disgusting wind.
David:
Vegetarian crap! Burning calories is the key. In a US experiment they fed pythons cooked steak and raw steak. Python's lie around for days after eating, doing nothing.
Laurence:
Like Investment Bankers.
David:
(ignoring him) The pythons used nearly 25% less energy digesting the cooked steak i.e. they retained more calories. It's not how much you consume, its how much you store. Running burns the calories off.
Laurence:
No wonder your wife is divorcing you.
David:
I wish you'd agree to use the phone.
Laurence:
You should be pleased you had to run here. You can run and use the mobile at the same time. Good for your breathing. I'm off to wash my hands. (exits)

David's mobile rings. He answers and listens.

David:
Shit! (rings off. raises voice) Changed my mind about lunch, I need to get going.

Laurence returns.

Laurence:
Never mind, I can't abide the smell of seared flesh.
David:
Let's stop dicking around Laurence. How much do want for those shares? You already have a figure so what is it?
Laurence:
What do you think?
David:
I haven't done the sums. So, what's your number?
Laurence:
$1.75.
David:
Don't be ridiculous. That's a 60% premium over the market.
Laurence:
If you can't get it I'll find someone who can.
David:
I'll look at the numbers but I can tell you now that's absurd.
Laurence:
You better have a damn good reason why.
David:
We'll set a price we can deal at. We don't start jobs we can't finish; and we tell the client the facts of life early.
Laurence:
Yeh, I'll bet. In the meantime sort your personal life out. (Waves the newspaper) You should have stayed off the mobile, this is not good for business.
David:
(getting up and preparing to run back) You better tell me quick if you change your mind about selling.
Laurence:
Go ahead and put the wheels in motion assuming you can meet my price expectations.
David:
So how will we contact each other? Jungle drums?
Laurence:
I'll contact you.
SFX: Message in.
David:
(consulting his mobile) Jesus now she's insulting me by text.
Laurence:
I rest my case.
Snap to black. SFX: Message in. Text on screen
Hey Alex where r u?
SFX: Message in. Text on screen
Sorry Ingie fkn dad let me down I'll call u Screen out

SCENE 2 David's office. Alex bursts in

Alex:
You bastard Dad. You never do what you say!
David:
Sorry Alex. Last minute meeting I couldn't miss.
Alex:
You live at meetings. I hate your bloody meetings. I missed meeting Ingrid. Why can't you cancel them?
David:
It doesn't work like that Sweetheart.
Alex:
I don't care what you say. You never keep your word. Never.
David:
(pause) You came in to tell me that.
Alex:
And don't tell Mum to fuck off either.
David:
So you heard.
Alex:
Guess what. Mum actually talks to me.
David:
I didn't actually say "fuck off."
Alex:
Yes you did.
David:
To be precise I said "fuck you."
Alex:
Fuck you. Get a life. (storms out)

SCENE 3 Ingrid's bedroom.

Ingrid:
I called your home. Your Mum sounds really upset.
Alex:
She's a bit spaced out. She's been giving the Sav Blanc a nudge.
Ingrid:
Why?
Alex:
My fucking father. Mum caught him screwing around.
Ingrid:
You're kidding. Did you know?
Alex:
Never know anything with my dad Ingie. Don't even know what he does. Investment Banker. What's that?
Ingrid:
He must make lots of money. That's a great car he's got. So cool and he never looks daggy like my dad.
Alex:
Your dad's a little stylistically challenged but at least he's always in a good mood.
Ingrid:
He's grumpy at the moment. I reckon he'd rather be away in the country.
Alex:
I bet he's not screwing around.
Ingrid:
Who knows? (pause) What's your Mum going to do?
Alex:
Kick him out I guess.
Ingrid:
What do you think?
Alex:
She should. I reckon he's been screwing around for ages.
Ingrid:
How come?
Alex:
Just some stuff, funny phone calls. I overheard stuff. Gross. Then he just disappears. Business he tells Mum. And he's always staring at girls with big tits, right in front of Mum as if she wasn't even there. It's so gross.
Ingrid:
My dad just talks about work.
Alex:
It's funny how your dad likes birds.
Ingrid:
Why wouldn't you like birds?
Alex:
My dad can't see the point, as if there has to be a point.
Ingrid:
What are you going to do?
Alex:
I'm not going to let him get to me. Every time I talk to him I arc up. Then I feel like shit. Fuck that, he's not my fucking keeper. (Ingrid's mobile buzzes. She looks down and frowns). Something wrong?
Ingrid:
Sort of. A message from Amber, from her stupid group. (Alex leans over and grabs the phone)
Alex:
Is this the first one? This is pretty messed up.
Ingrid:
No, there have been a couple. So what I reckon.
Alex:
You didn't tell me Ingie. We said we'd tell each other everything. No secrets.
Ingrid:
I was going to tell you but she told me not to.
Alex:
Jesus. The bitch. Let's send a reply. Give her heaps back.
Ingrid:
No. It'll only make it worse.
Alex:
We'll go and see her.
Ingrid:
I have to fight my own battles Alex.
Alex:
Let's both go. I'm not putting up with crap like this.
Ingrid:
I'm not asking you to. It'll go away.
Alex:
It won't Ingie. Shit never goes away. We'll both go, O.K?
Ingrid:
O.K. (beat) By the way, dad wants to know if we would do a 10km run to raise $10,000 for one of his bird projects. Get sponsors and stuff.
Alex:
Why not? 10km's not much, but who are you going to scrounge $10,000 off? Do you reckon we can get commission?
Ingrid:
Never even thought of it.
Alex:
No, forget it. I'm up for it. What's your dad giving?
Ingrid:
$500 so he said. What about your dad if you're still talking to him?
Alex:
That'll be a challenge. I wonder if I can con him into it. Could be a laugh.
Ingrid:
Bet you ten dollars you can't.
Alex:
I'll bet I can. A bubbly at the Kakadu Bar, if they'll let you in.
Ingrid:
Course they'll let me in. I bet I don't even get asked.
Alex:
Bubbles on that as well?
Ingrid:
(gives her a punch) I look just as old as you anyway.
Alex:
In your dreams.

SCENE 4 David's office.

(Laurence is sitting at a coffee table reading the paper. David enters in a suit)
David:
Morning Laurence, thanks for coming to my place for a change.
Laurence:
My pleasure. Nice coffee. So what's the verdict?
David:
Ignoring the Government contract, not a cent more than $1.20. With the contract we could mount an argument for another 25cents, $1.45 tops.
Laurence:
I told you I want $1.75. Not a cent less.
David:
So justify it.
Laurence:
I don't have to, you do.
David:
Laurence, you're just not going to get it. I could tell you that you will and then let you down gently but I know you. Might as well get the tears over early. We might find the bigger fool but you need to accept the bottom line value and we'll fight like hell to get you more. OK?
Laurence:
Look, you go for $1.75. If you come back with something else I'm listening. That's all. Leave me the analysis. I love fiction. We'll work out a fee which will incentivise you; I know how much you guys love that.
David:
Incentivise away.

SCENE 5 Office of the Managing Director of Arkon - Arnold Wells.

Arnold is sitting at his desk. Enter David.

David:
Sorry I'm late. I've spent all morning groveling to a client.
Arnold:
Excuse me while I vomit.
David:
(walking behind Arnold's desk to study a photo) Great photo.
Arnold:
It's a white bellied Sea Eagle. It took me half a day to catch that photograph.
David:
I didn't know you were in to birds. Me too.
Arnold:
(ignores David's 'joke') Did you know economists think the destruction of the Sea Eagles' habitat has no impact on the economy so they don't price it? An 'externality' they call it.
David:
Economists: all fart no crap. Anyway - the report.

Opens his laptop and sets it up on the table. Arnold does the same.

Arnold:
Coffee?
David:
I'm off caffeine until after the triathlon. Thanks for the one on one Arnold. Gives you an opportunity to respond before we unbag the cat at the Board meeting.
Arnold:
We have to be singing from the same hymn sheet David.
David:
It doesn't pull any punches.
Arnold:
My shoulders are broad.

The charts appear on screen.

David:
Number one, your Company has had no growth for five years. Result. Your shareholders are seriously pissed off. (points at chart). Why no growth? Simple. You are not driving your balance sheet hard enough.
Arnold:
Say what you mean. We're not borrowing money. David - my first job is preserving the corporation.
David:
Arnold. Arkon is getting behind. Frankly Arkon's vulnerable. Compare your brand against competing products. (points at chart) Lots of 'reliables', 'good service' 'quality product' but too many 'lacks innovation,' 'not technically up to the minute' and even 'boring'. The reason? Skinny marketing budgets and lack of R&D. (points at chart)
Arnold:
It's a balance. Shareholder demands. Ability to spend on marketing and R&D.
David:
Arnold. Your peers have been spending at a higher percentage of sales on both marketing and R&D and their products rate well where yours are weak.
Arnold:
We've always had the view quality trumps bullshit.
David:
That's the problem. Too much quality. Your stuff lasts twenty years.
Arnold:
We boast about it.
David:
Well you shouldn't. Obsolescence in three years max. How the fuck is the manufacturing cycle going to work otherwise? Make 'em buy a new one!
Arnold:
So, exchange quality for marketing bullshit?
David:
Marketing is not bullshit. Neither's R&D···you only win about 20% of contracts because you refuse to take any development risk. You've missed out on some big contracts lately. Great Northern got the State Government for example.
Arnold:
Great Northern. We were more than competitive with them! Something wasn't right.
David:
Ok, so how do we get off our arses and on to the front foot? There is a bold strategy available. The Company you just mentioned, Great Northern, is vulnerable···
Arnold:
Ridiculous! We cannot···
David:
When you see the spread sheets and combined figures you will find the argument compelling, very compelling···
Arnold:
David! They are far too···.
David:
I know what you're going to say. "they are far too big for us." Am I right?
Arnold:
Well yes. We've looked and they are too big!
David:
You need to take some very aggressive action or you'll end up as the shit on someone else's toilet paper. The fact is this is a very opportune time. The Banks are in a lending frenzy. We've run the numbers based on bank debt and the results are electric. Take a look at case 'E'.
Arnold:
(he looks) Alright···OK···I agree···If we could reproduce those numbers...
David:
It would improve your contract "win" rate too. GN have some great long-term contracts, especially that development contract with the Government···
Arnold:
Alright···alright···but how can we do it?
David:
Two steps. I happen to know where we can get hold of 20% of GN right now. We grab that first and then we're in the box seat to takeover the whole company.
Arnold:
But once we buy 20%, under takeover rules we can't buy any more shares without making an offer for the whole Company? Correct?
David:
That's broadly correct, but that's what you want to do! Buying the 20% is essential because it means you've locked out the competition, there's no other big block of shares to buy. After Laurie's holding, the next biggest is only a couple of percent. You've put yourselves in the driving seat.
Arnold:
Laurie? Laurie who?
David:
Oh···sorry···the key shares in Great Northern belong to someone who is also a client of ours. He has 20% and that 20% is the key to unlocking the whole of Great Northern.
Arnold:
Anyone we know?
David:
The other client?
Arnold:
Yes.
David:
Oh···a bloke called Laurie Sherman.
Arnold:
I know who Laurie is. A friend of mine reckons rule one in this City is never buy anything from Laurie Sherman. Rule two's the same as rule one. He's smart and that scares the hell out of me. Why is he selling?
David:
Completely different objectives Arnold! The 20% for you is an important step towards taking over the whole company···for him it's just freeing up a bit of cash.
Arnold:
What about finance?
David:
We know we can get the debt you need. The Bank officers' bonuses depend on them making their loan targets. They're leaping out the windows with their pants around their ankles clutching a bag of money and yelling "come and get it." All we need to do is grab some of it. It's Christmas all year round.
Arnold:
I hate debt.
David:
It's all about debt. Leverage, leverage and leverage!
Arnold:
Sounds like a firm of undertakers.
David:
O.P.M. Other People's Money. It built the world you and I live in.
Arnold:
What?
David:
Borrow every cent you can.
Arnold:
I was raised to hate owing money. It was steeped in my blood. Never trust the banks. It's a risk.
David:
Calculated risk. Cards, horses, the Stock Market. They're all the same. Risk gets me up in the morning.
Arnold:
Risk keeps me awake at night.
David:
Click chart F. See the number bottom right? That's your share price if you do this deal. A 50% to 100% improvement. Arnold, this is a Company transforming opportunity. We've spent three months and 280 pages to get here. You have to stand up and be counted on this one. Like someone said "There is a time in the affairs of men" etc.
Arnold:
Tide. "There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune." The Bard.
David:
Whatever. You get the sentiment.
Arnold:
I need to consider if I can take the Board with me. Everyone's terrified of lawsuits since One Tel, plus some of them have the concentration span of a two year old.
David:
How about, "the shareholders are about to bone you so you better do something. Fast."
Arnold:
That might do it.
David:
They bone the Board they'll bone you. Think about it.
Arnold:
(pause) The risk of something like this is astronomical.
David:
Arnold, it's not possible to live in the 21st Century without risk. Just say a prayer then roll the dice.
Arnold:
Yes but with you guys it's never your money.
David:
It's not yours either. That's one of the beautiful things about corporations.
Arnold:
What? Gives us a license to blow it all on the Dapto Dogs? David. We're there to protect the shareholders.
David:
If the donors want Trustees they'll employ them. They want returns.
Arnold:
We'll assess the real risk and the case will need to be convincing.
David:
Arnold, have a look out the window. See that sign on the top of the tower building?
Arnold:
Which one. QT Corp?
David:
Yes, QT, a totally transformed company over the past decade, made by aggressive takeovers. Fred O'Hanlon is one of the most respected CEO'S in the City. He got an O.A. last year.
Arnold:
I think that's an A.O.
David:
Arnold, you have his capacity and now you have a chance to demonstrate it. Arnold Wells O.A. I like it. This is a "no brainer" mate.
Arnold:
(pause) I'm not disagreeing. We need to go one step at a time. That's all.
David:
We'll handle your Board. We've been down this road many times. Note: (indicates screen) the combined businesses will be more than twice the size of Arkon. (claps Arnold on the back) You're going to get a 100% pay rise···but don't get too excited, you'll earn it. You'll need a new Finance Director too.
Arnold:
What'll that cost?
David:
The Search firm's done a run down. Seventy-fifth percentile - otherwise you get rubbish.
Arnold:
That's ridiculous. If everyone pays in the seventy-fifth percentile it guarantees packages just keep going up.
David:
Well you can't pay in the fiftieth percentile. That's average and I've never heard a Managing Director say he wants someone who's average. Anyway, plenty for you to chew on.
Arnold:
I need to look at the numbers David, including the remuneration data.
David:
That's fine. One more thing. The top ten positions in each Company should be made to reapply for their jobs. We do psyche and I.Q. tests and choose the best candidates. The success of this transaction will depend on management, management and management.
Arnold:
It'll be unnerving for some but if we are going to shake the place up I suppose it's hard not to agree.
David:
Good. Also, and this is bit more controversial, we suggest you do the tests too. Not, I emphasize, as a job application, but just to let you get a handle on the process so you can fully evaluate the results. It's entirely up to you though.
Arnold:
Jesus. I don't know about that. Who sees the results?
David:
The Board has access to the other results but yours will remain confidential. For your eyes only. It will really help you if you've never done one.
Arnold:
OK···I'm curious. I might have to sack myself.
David:
It's a good decision Arnold. "Know thyself" as they say.
Arnold:
We should get the Board to do it.
David:
Are you kidding? You want to get both of us sacked?
Arnold:
Maybe this is going too far too fast.
David:
Arnold, you owe it to Arkon and you owe it to yourself to pursue this deal. Take your time, look at the numbers but its time to revitalize Arkon and if I can be so bold, yourself.
Arnold:
All I can say is I'll give it very close attention. We'll talk tomorrow. By the way, (reaches into briefcase) here's your fee agreement back. Take it away and reduce. It's outrageous.
David:
It's standard market rates Arnold. Martin's seen it and thinks it's ok.
Arnold:
I'm running Arkon not the Chairman. I decide on the fees we pay.
David:
Arnold, we never discount. We're the best and our reputation supports us. When the going gets tough you'll be glad we're around.
Arnold:
Perhaps I should check with your competitors?
David:
The fees are where they should be. Have a think about it and check by all means···and also check the last paragraph re conflict of interest.
Arnold:
(Arnold looks at him quizzically)
David:
Well···your first step is buying Laurie Sherman's 20% in GN and Laurie's a client of ours too so we need you to be clear that there could be fees on both sides.
Arnold:
If you're getting two fees you can reduce ours.
David:
I told you···
Arnold:
···think it over. (beat) By the way, are you going to the girl's cricket match on Saturday?
David:
Oh shit. I forgot all about it.
Arnold:
Alex is coming with us. Do you want a lift?
David:
Don't know if I can make it.
Arnold:
You should come. She's bloody good your Alex. Test potential I reckon.
David:
Maybe I will then. Thanks. I'll let you know.
Stage dark. SFX: Message in. Text on screen
hey Ingie come for a run?
SFX: Message in. Text on screen
haven't done Jollie's essay yet
SFX: Message in. Text on screen
give him a wink instead lol Screen out.

SCENE 5 (b) After cricket match

David:
(approaches Ingrid) Heh Ingrid, well played. 56 not out woahhh (tries to high 5 her but she looks bemused).
Ingrid:
Thanks Mr Feeth. Wasn't Alex good? You must be proud of her. Four wickets.
David:
She bowled well. Can I make a suggestion? A bit more bottom hand. It'll give you more control. I used to play first grade. First drop. Pretty handy. So, bit more bottom hand. (He physically places her in position)
Alex:
(approaches) What's up with you two?
Ingrid:
Your Dad's just giving me some advice.
Alex:
Oh yeh, what?
Ingrid:
More bottom hand.
Alex:
(starts to laugh) Come on Ingie, Mrs Wilson wants to see us.
David:
I was just going to show her.
Alex:
Come on Ingie.
Ingrid:
Thanks Mr Feeth. Bottom hand. I'll try that.
David:
I'll show you next time.
Alex:
(as they walk away) Like hell you will.
Ingrid:
I know what he's saying. He's right.
Alex:
Me for a friend or Dad for a coach. One or the other.
Ingrid:
He's just trying to help. That's all.
Alex:
A bit more bottom hand.
Ingrid:
I'm sure it's nothing like that.
Alex:
Lets go.

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