Stung by a Million Gnats by William Jackson


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ACT ONE

SETTING: Hoosier County Courthouse on the town square is a big old
brick building with a clocktower above and cool marble-and-oak
hallways inside. To walk into it is to enter the atmosphere of another
era. The courtroom is recently remodeled, furnished with rows of
modern blue chairs and a new blue rug.

AT RISE: (A silhouette of a man in a football uniform moving
rather mechanically, almost insect-like-large helmet-head atop huge
shoulders, tapering legs, growing larger and larger till it
overshadows all. Then from the darkness the Hoosier County Courthouse
becomes clearer. Insects buzz and whirr this warm September day.)

Above the proceedings, floating and drifting about on another level,
the spirit of handsome-faced Huston Jones observes the trial being
held here to determine if the policemen who shot him about one year
previously were negligent in their handling of his violent actions at
the time of arrest. He wears a flashy warm-up suit, brand-new Nikes
and cool Oakley shades.

HUSTON JONES: (seeing the people gathering. Whenever Jones raps he
steps into the light, and when he's done he slips out)
All these people—whatta they know or see?
They don't even know the first thing about me.

FOLLY HUTCHINGS-HASTINGS: (with TV News microphone Three years ago,
football star Huston Jones, a married man with a newborn daughter, was
nearing completion of undergraduate work at Hoosier State University.
He had planned to next get a job as a health instructor. But then he
died in a police altercation. It has never been determined why the
normally calm, well-liked ex-gridder irrationally started menacing
strangers while out jogging along a city street, and then died in a
violent encounter with police.

He was shot four times during a scuffle with police at a city garage.
There is no evidence the police had an intent to harm him. It was
confirmed by police that Huston Jones did not fire a gun. Though he
did have a tool, a long tire-iron he was carrying in his hand.

When I spoke with his wife Samantha, who is now suing the Police
Department and Hoosier City for wrongfully taking her husband's life
in a civil rights crime, she said: "The original inquiry into the
incident was bogus. The police were both incompetent and racist. I
want justice, to clear my husband's name. If Huston was behaving so
violently, why were no policemen taken to the hospital to care for
their injuries? They outnumbered Huston. They killed him."

(Newscaster and widow's video image both fade. We see inside the
courtroom.

RUBENSTEIN: (the plaintiff's attorney is short and thin, attractive
with sharp features, black hair with a white forelock, her dark eyes
accentuated with mascara. She is speaking to Samantha inside the court
room)

Can you believe this-I'm supposed to have an intern. Well then,
where the hell is she? Haven't seen her for days. What'm I gonna
do? Hey, is my bra-strap twisted?-It's driving me nuts!

SAMANTHA: (smoothing out the strap). She's just a college kid. Maybe
she's at class. Yeah, it does look like it's twisted up or
something. It's bunched up weird.

RUBENSTEIN: (reaching under her sweater to fix bra, she leans over
awkwardly, then quickly turns to Royal and the policemen looking at her)

What are you looking at? Like what you see? Want me to shimmy? You
think I'm here for your entertainment? Stare too hard at my cleavage
you're your eyes might pop out!

(They turn away quickly, and she resumes conversation with Samantha)

I hope I'm not crazy to trust an intern at a time like this? She's
such a little pierced pischa. Where she is right now is anyone's
guess. Said she could get the video file and get back here with time
to spare! Maybe she got lost, or she just quit, went on to something
else. OK I'll shut up. Not to worry. It'll be fine. (joking) Serenity now!

(Crossing her fingers)

HUSTON JONES: Over a year hangin' on, and that's a lot
in this jail system of my tired thoughts.
I need to see if I can leave,
but want to see how this unweaves.
Won't have to haunt this world in doubt
once I see how it all works out.
One way or other I'll be free,
ready to go out peacefully. Get it over.

TV NEWSWOMAN: (smiling blonde with wide eyes, she is speaking into an
ice cream cone-shaped microphone)

This is Folly Hutchins-Hastings, reporting live from Hoosier County
Courthouse. The plaintiff's attorney, Judy Rubenstein, representing
the widow, Samantha Jones, made her opening remarks to the jury today,
in the civil suit against Officer Dan Pointer and Hoosier City.

(Her cool blue eyes look directly into the TV camera which transmits
them into Hoosier City homes; then the screens segue to an artist's
sketch. Portraits of the lawyers and jury made of strokes of oil
crayons. Prosecuting attorney Judy Rubenstein stands quietly, looking
intently with curiosity and care at the variety of faces in the
audience. They are the jury-that is, the lawyers can address the
audience directly in their presentations.)

The lawyers, Judy Rubenstein and Paul Royal, and witnesses rise as
Judge Janice Kendall enters. She looks very old, with white hair and
wrinkles; she is dignified, laid back, but capable of being amused at
some times and stern at others. As she gives the signal “Please be
seated,” they settle back into their seats.

JUDGE KENDALL: (to Rubenstein) Counselor, you may present your opening
statement.

RUBENSTEIN: (She moves around the courtroom gracefully, light on her
feet). Your honor, and members of the jury, I'll be up front with
you. I'm going spare you all the fancy Latin law terms. I'm a
straight shooter, I tell it like it is, OK? (Well, also this is my
third trial so I don't actually know the Latin terms, I'll grant
you that.) Look. We will show how inappropriate responses by Officer
Pointer, who was trained by Hoosier City, caused the untimely death of
Mr. Huston Jones.

(Rubenstein looks to Samantha, as if to absorb the depth of her loss
into her speech.)

Huston was a big man. Big, but gentle. He was a good kid from a decent
family. Kept his nose clean, worked hard. School work was not that
easy for him, but with help from the Athletic Department's tutor
programs he was able to keep up a 2.07 grade average. A promising
young man with a bright future. Evidence will reveal that this
ex-football player was unnecessarily overpowered by force.

We will show that Huston's ticket was his strong body, given by his
parents and built up by his own hard work. That was his ticket. And it
was the very thing that later was the cause of his demise- they took
his life from him because he was so strong. His strength did him in.
Huston at his best could bench-press over450 pounds. He was a fine
athlete and more than one school in Ohio sent scouts to recruit him at
his high school. But he also had his troubles. He was a misunderstood
and ailing man after four years in college. His life had been punted
to the sidelines. Because he was husky-most football players
are-he could seem a little threatening. But you don't kill a man
for being disturbed. Unless you're poorly trained and confused. Then
you have to pay for your mistake, even if you wear a badge.

(Pointer shifts a little in his seat, raising an eyebrow and shaking
his head.)

HUSTON: (on another level, to himself)
I worked out hard to build my muscle.
But I got smoked in a violent tussle.
I lived on the surface, then fell through
underside of me, underside of you.

RUBENSTEIN: (to the six attentive faces) Ladies and gentlemen of the
jury, when Officer Pointer committed the homicide (Royal stands up and
the judge motions him to sit.) which needlessly took a young man's
life. We intend to prove Hoosier City was negligent in police
training, deficient and incompetent in its policy regarding use of
deadly force and handling the mentally disturbed. We will show it was
Officer Pointer initiated the scuffle that ensued.

(When this line is said, there is a photo projected onto the wall for
all to see. The photo of the city street where the violent incident
took place. The photo shows a part of a red brick wall, a hurricane
fence with its diamond-shaped chain links, with a gate, sidewalk, a
lamppost, and a sewer lid. Later, when Pointer re-enacts the struggle,
and when witnesses recall moments of the incident, the photo appears
to have some variations, as the focus of memories changes.)

When Huston began to move his arm, Pointer grabbed the tire iron which
Huston held, and then he grabbed at Huston. As they scuffled, the
police officer's pistol fell to the ground, and he also dropped his
nightstick. When Officer Pointer recovered his gun, he fired it,
killing Jones, just like that.

HUSTON: Just like that, he snuffed my ass;
just like that and just that fast.
When he go and call me a "boy"
He thought he'd just try to annoy
But inside he tore me down
He hit a deep down nerve instead
A hit that led to me being dead

TV NEWSWOMAN: (walking toward the camera, in the hallway, her blue
eyes flashing, she explains to viewers at home).
Defending Hoosier City, which is being sued for negligence by the
widow, Mrs. Samantha Jones, defense attorney Paul Royal made opening
remarks to the six person jury. Ms. Jones seeks two million dollars
and damages.

ROYAL: (looking from face to face in the audience).
Ladies and gentlemen, I submit to you that this is an open and shut
case, sad but simple. The city stands squarely behind Officer Pointer.
He did nothing wrong that Tuesday a little over a year ago. Far from
it. Pointer encountered Mr. Jones next to the City Service Center
after being alerted by the radio in his squad car to answer a
complaint on that first day of school in the fall semester. The
complaint was that a man of Mr. Jones's description was running amok
threatening a motorist with a tire iron.

I will show how Officer Pointer dealt with this man who was in fact
dangerously attacking them with a tire iron, in a vacant lot between a
shed and a six-foot hurricane fence. How the glassy-eyed man dared the
policeman, egging him on: 'Go ahead, motherbleeper, pull the trigger.
Blow me to my dreams, we're going to die,' he said. Those were his
exact words. Officer Pointer told him 'Put down the tire iron.' He
then asked Jones, 'What are you doing?' and got no coherent answer.
The incoherent glassy-eyed man just lunged at him.

HUSTON: (short-haired, noble cheekboned, eyes calm, half-lowered,
neatly mustached)
He called me 'boy,' and made me mad.
I guess I blew up, next thing I was dead.

ROYAL: In a crisis, we can be aware of only so much. One thing is
certain. Jones said to him, 'We're going to die!'

RUBENSTEIN: If he said it, it was talk. Bravado.

JUDGE KENDALL: Miss Rubenstein, it is not permissible for a prosecutor
to interrupt the defense's opening statement. You are out of order,
and treading on precarious ground.

RUBENSTEIN: I'm sorry your honor-I.

JUDGE KENDALL: Silence! Get your act together.

RUBENSTEIN: Oy!

HUSTON: I reached for my back pocket, lookin' bad,
Like I'm goin' for my gun, gun I never had.

ROYAL: (taking a deep breath, he focuses; looking at notes, he speaks
firmly) And it got worse, a whole lot worse. Pointer reached out for
the tire iron. At first Jones began to raise it up, as if maybe
cooperating, a matter of trust, you understand. But Jones swung his
left fist hard connecting with Pointer. The officer responded in the
line of duty, self-defense.

RUBENSTEIN: (as people in the courtroom express dismay) I object, your
honor, to this line of conjecture. Was there a witness?

JUDGE KENDALL: Overruled. Silence! No interruptions during openings.
You are not allowed to speak!

ROYAL: Jones grabbed Pointer's gun when it fell. And that move changed
everything in an instant. The berzerk man-

HUSTON: I see now that moment of chaos so clear
I had no choice, built up all them years.
I lunged out hard, I wanted revenge!
For a lifetime of hurts, wasn't gonna cringe!

RUBENSTEIN: (as people in the courtroom shout) I object! Your honor!
Prejudicial language. It's blatant! Move to strike 'berzerk'.

JUDGE KENDALL: (staring at her and glaring at shouters) I will have
you removed! You may not interrupt. You must wait your turn. Ladies
and gentlemen! I request you keep in mind this is a courtroom, not a
sports arena! I will have this trial stopped right now if you persist.
Not another peep!

RUBENSTEIN: (mimes zipping her lips). Sorry, your honor. It won't
happen again. I promise.

JUDGE: Let the word be stricken from the record. You may proceed.

ROYAL: Jones got hold the officer's weapon. He's on top of Pointer.
Next thing anyone knew shots rang out. But Jones was still not
subdued. He had a surge of adrenalin. Jones grabbed the nightstick and
hit Pointer. Jones was even then not subdued. He was bleeding and
still not surrendering. He saw Jones' finger curled around the trigger
of the gun. Pointer strained hard against Jones's grip, trying to stop
the turning cylinder, trying to prevent further harm.

HUSTON: If I knew then what I know today
Woulda made it turn out some other way.

ROYAL: Jones was still moving and Pointer had to hit him on the back
of the head with a gun again and again. Jones, like a zombie, just
would not stop.

RUBENSTEIN: (Stands up) I must object-prejudicial language.

(Judge Kendall shakes her head "no," and Rubenstein sits down)

ROYAL: Jones kept coming in rage. Officer Pointer resisted, used
appropriate force each step of the struggle. The inevitable happened.
Jones, bleeding from five bullet wounds, fell.

(Samantha tries to be cool, quietly whispering complaints to
Rubenstein)

HUSTON: My body was my ticket to success,
Where's the camera recorded the prize I'd get.
Final edit showed just flesh, blood, gore
splat all over the cutting room floor.
If you don't take a risk no one knows you exist;
take the wrong risk you might as well not exist.
Take your pick which, that or this, if you wish,
You pick wrong your name's crossed off the list.

ROYAL: It may be unfortunate, in fact it is a sad mishap by all
accounts. Nevertheless it's true that the shooting was reasonable
and necessary and justified by the actions of Mr. Jones. This is a
quick study uncomplicated by cloudy gray areas. A violent man assailed
an officer of the law, who legitimately believed his life was in
jeopardy. Subduing a man running amok, Pointer in self-defense
fatally shot him. End of story.

HUSTON: They always said Try to be the best
so I bulked up like all the rest.
Had to amp up to get on board,
couldn't back out, went outta my gourd.
Got so fed up there wasn't any let up,
next thing I'm down, dead, couldn't get up.

ROYAL: Without Jones' aggression arousing Officer Pointer's fear for
his own life we would not be here. Ladies and gentlemen, consider
that: there would have been no untimely death if Jones had not taken
the offensive and attacked. The sooner we all accept that fact, the
sooner we can all put this dreadful event behind us.

(Judge looks toward Rubenstein and motions for her to proceed.
Rubenstein looks into each juror's face, showing them all her concern,
trying to read their thoughts)

JUDGE KENDALL: Please proceed! Now!

RUBENSTEIN: (restraining her anger by proceeding) I'd like to call the
plaintiff to the stand.

(Samantha Jones, her face reminiscent of a young Billie Holiday's,
takes the stand, lifting her hand she takes the oath.)

RUBENSTEIN: Your husband, Huston Jones, was a lineman for the Hoosier
Hustlers. He weighed what-260 pounds?

SAMANTHA: Yes, mam.

RUBENSTEIN: What was he like as a person? Was he a mean man? A
troublemaker?

SAMANTHA: No, not at all. He was like a teddy bear. Cuddly, nice,
agreeable.

(Royal makes a sour face of disbelief)

RUBENSTEIN: Did he like people?

SAMANTHA: Yes. He was an extrovert, he loved the loud applause of the
crowds.

RUBENSTEIN: What were his long-range goals? What can you tell us about
his interests, values?

SAMANTHA: He wanted to play pro ball. He played college football at
Hoosier State to get a degree. But was dying to get into a pro
football team. He didn't have a mean bone in his body. He cared for
his family and helped people in trouble. He was awarded a plaque for
his team spirit. I still have it on the wall at home. He was not some
messed up doofus who was always getting into trouble. No way. Not
Huston. No one could believe he'd die for nothing. He had everything
to live for!

RUBENSTEIN: How would you describe your relationship with him; was it
stable?

SAMANTHA: Yes. We did everything together.

RUBENSTEIN: Mrs. Jones, when did you meet your husband?

SAMANTHA: We were in high school together in Dayton. We got married
before our high school graduation, when I had Tiffany.

RUBENSTEIN: Are you an athlete, also, is that what you and Huston had
in common?

SAMANTHA: No way. Bad guess. He liked me because I did other
things-I played piano, I was a ballet dancer. He liked my poetry,
and my singing. He loved my cooking.

RUBENSTEIN: How was his appetite the day of the incident?

SAMANTHA: Good. The same as always. We had fried fish, or fried
chicken, greens, mashed potatoes. I made johnnycake in the skillet…

RUBENSTEIN: Good times. What I'm trying to get at is, was your
husband depressed?

SAMANTHA: No, he seemed OK that day.

RUBENSTEIN: What I'm driving at is, even young people sometimes get
despondent, lose their appetite for life. Everything seems tiresome,
pointless.

SAMANTHA: No way. No, that was not the case with Huston.

RUBENSTEIN: Tell us about your relationship with Huston. When did you
first meet him?

SAMANTHA: We hooked up during his junior year in high school. See, I
never liked the body-builder types all that much. He really had to
prove himself to me before I cared. When the football team in high
school held a fund-raising dance to benefit a teammate with leukemia,
and Huston was one of the organizers, I began to change my tune. He
was a caring guy. Within a year our daughter was born.

RUBENSTEIN: How would you characterize his attitude when he first
started at Hoosier State?

SAMANTHA: We never had all that much money but we had enough to be
comfortable, and we had our dreams-he had a position to play, and he
lifted weights to keep in shape for the NFL someday. All I know is he
went to lift weights one day as usual and never came back home. He was
beautiful, strong. I never knew he could be gone so fast.

RUBENSTEIN: Your honor, I'm done questioning this witness.

ROYAL: I would like to cross-examine the witness

(Rubenstein sits down.)

You and your husband-Did your feelings for each other stay the same?
Even during the last month of his life?

SAMANTHA: Yes. Well, he worked so hard at Hoosier U., so, gradually,
some of the fun went out of him. Maybe he got more set in his ways and
serious. But that was no reason for them to kill him. He coulda
changed. We all have bad times.

HUSTON: I always remember the day that we met,
because it's a night I can never forget.
I said 'Hey baby, whatchoo name is?
A class by yourself, ain't nothin' the same as.”
All the other guys complimenting your beauty;
I broke the ice with a slap on your booty.

(He goes closer to her and caresses her.)

SAMANTHA: (looking at Huston)
We shared a lot. Things went OK. Then at some point he got hurt,
turned into a victim.

ROYAL: (looking through papers) You mean he felt victimized by the
system when his future was unsure?

SAMANTHA: Yes.

ROYAL: He was in school five years? and still never graduated? Didn't
you and most of your friends do an ordinary four-year program in four
years?

SAMANTHA: (Looking up at the ceiling with a glare) Not necessarily.
Things happen.

ROYAL: (looking at a paper and tapping his pencil) School records show
his poor grades-I see here once in Badminton, he got a C-.

SAMANTHA: Badminton wasn't his thing.

ROYAL: He couldn't even make a C+ in an easy course! He got a C-.

RUBENSTEIN: (her voice rising with anger) Now I object to this
uncalled-for sarcasm, your honor. Records also show he scored As and
Bs.

ROYAL: (flipping through papers) Yah right, let's see, hmm, in
Bowling, and oh yes "Self Instruction in Art." And "Remedial
Math"-he sure got a lot of Cs.

SAMANTHA: When blonde-haired kids get those grades they're called
'gentleman's C's.'

ROYAL: OK so maybe he coulda been anything- but he was falling apart
because he was going nowhere. He was angry, walking around full of
rage, resentment.

SAMANTHA: That's not true. You don't have any right to insult him.
Show a little respect for the man. Just because he's not here to
defend himself doesn't give you the right to rake him over the
coals.

(Royal looks at her with an uncomprehending expression)

RUBENSTEIN: Your honor, I object to defense's speculation and
badgering. He's making a mockery.

JUDGE KENDALL: Defense will refrain from mocking and badgering.

ROYAL: Who did his homework, Ms. Jones?

SAMANTHA (resentfully) What? Oh good God! What's that suppose to
mean?

ROYAL: I simply mean, who did his homework for him?

SAMANTHA: He did it himself, Mr. Royal. Why wouldn't he?

ROYAL: He needed you, didn't he, because he couldn't read-

SAMANTHA: Oh that's just ridiculous. That's not true! This is
offensive!

(Others in the courtroom begin to speak and shake their heads.)

ROYAL: I notice that none of his teachers will be testifying. Why?

RUBENSTEIN: Your honor, they weren't asked. This is a misleading
question. Everyone who knew him said he was said he was smart and
kind.

ROYAL: Ms. Jones, did your husband use marijuana, mam? Remember now
you're under oath.

SAMANTHA: (taking a deep breath) Occasionally he might have
experimented when he was in high school, like anybody else, but he
wasn't a heavy user, never used any hard drugs at all.

ROYAL: He was the kind of student who worked hard and sometimes got
Cs. He used drugs, though not heroin, or crack. Am I correct?

SAMANTHA: Who's on trial here? He was smart. A little dyslexic. He
wasn't into drugs. He was just trying to succeed. Kept on trying
like he was a damn machine. That was his only crime.

ROYAL: I'd be realistic about this. He was a star in high school.
Maybe he reached his peak then, and his hopes of becoming a pro
football player faded with his last college game, which he spent
mostly on the bench. He was too short. He tried to bulk up but his
hopes were finally deflated. He must've felt like a loser. Sadly,
maybe he wanted to die.

SAMANTHA: (to Judge Kendall) That's wrong! This is just
unbelievable. It's lies! He's got no right to say these things.

RUBENSTEIN: Conjecture, your honor. I object. The defense is
offensive, trying to cause stress to the witness, cause her to become
emotional. He is not even asking a question. He's inventing a
death-wish!

ROYAL: But he said so that last day. Those were his words. I'm
reading from the deposition given by the arresting officer. 'Blow me
to my dreams,' were his own words. Wow. Verbatim. Can you tell us
where his head was at? Isn't it true he was depressed and likely
wanted to die?

SAMANTHA: No! No! He would never say that. He didn't want to-you so
full of it! I don't hafta take this! These are lies.

ROYAL: Now see here! I'M JUST DOING MY JOB!

JUDGE KENDALL: (pounding gavel, hammering more) Silence! Order! I can
find you in contempt and have you removed


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