What You See Is What You Get
New - 22 September 2008
We the Jury, a novel:
What You See Is What You Get
Constable Henry Whiting had often been in the Sessions House of Old Bailey, albeit more often as a witness than for other purposes. Accordingly, the idea of testifying before the court was nothing new. He was comfortable with the process and his confidence shown through the casual words of his testimony.
“I saw a great number of people, my Lord. I saw Mr. Penn speaking and making motions with his hands. I heard much noise, but I could not understand what he said.”
“Was Captain Mead there?”
Answering the Lord Mayor’s question, Whiting said, “I did not see him there. I cannot otherwise answer.”
Starling persisted. “What say you, Mr. Mead? Were you there?”
Mead stood up, indigent and thoroughly riled. But his voice maintained its military-trained composure. “It is a maxim of our law, my Lord,” he began, “that no man is bound to accuse himself. Why do you offer to ensnare me with such a question? Does this not show malice? Is it like and proper for the Court that ought to be counsel for the prisoner at the bar to act thus?”
Howell was on his feet. “Sir, hold your tongue. Your reprehensible conduct to dishonor this Court and show contempt cannot be tolerated.”
Mead glowered back, ready and willing to exchange volleys until all issues were decided. “All Quakers know well this witness, Mr. Whiting. In Bridgeward he was notorious in his diligence for arresting the Friends. It was his great delight. His testimony against us is false and prejudiced, and thus should be impeached.”
Starling fired back, “You, Sir, will not impeach, nor shall you demean any of his Sovereign’s loyal constables.”
“Does this court not demean the truth by…?”
Starling was on his feet, ready to prevent Mead from another word by the use of physical force if necessary. “Enough! It is the witness testifying here; not you, Sir! Silence! Or I will have you gagged!” When Mead stared back -- and then took his seat, crossing his arms in his only viable defense -- Starling sat back down and in an abruptly conciliatory tone, said, “Constable, you may continue.”
In Denver, Whiting leaned forward from the witness chair, gesturing to the large television monitor being wheeled into the courtroom.
“It was, of course, quite extraordinary that we were on the scene at the exact time of the explosion. But as you will see from the video, our original objective in being there was for something entirely different.”
The video came to life, showing Whiting standing on the street, a block from the impending explosion. He showed no hint of expecting the explosion and was instead simply doing his thing… whatever that was. It appeared to be that he was speaking directly into the camera, in his accustomed accusatory style.
“And so we can ask with some justification if the proposed revamping of this historic site, the original location of Tesla’s laboratories, if this even modestly expensive rebuilding is really in the best interests of...”
The explosion from the street floor of the building threw flames and debris across the street. The building was not initially precisely on camera, but with Whiting ducking for cover, the camera swung on its tripod to catch on film the toppling front wall as it began its deadly fall toward the street. The passersby caught in the explosion were already down and only a couple seemed to be aware of the building falling on top of them. The upper floors of the five-story building had begun to collapse inwardly, the lower floors already blown upward within the confines of the building and then falling back. Fire, smoke and debris were everywhere. There was no verbal reaction from any member of the film crew, including Whiting, who as he got back up, began to stagger, mesmerized by the scene. It wasn’t every day that one captures on videotape such an event.
As the video played, Whiting from the witness chair interpreted some of what was being seen. “The explosion had blown out the front wall of the lower floor of the building. The rest of the building’s front then collapsed and fell toward the street. The lowers floors had first buckled up and then all of the floors began to crumble and collapse.”
The video continued until it became ever more professional, documenting the aftermath in gruesome detail. Smoke, debris, dead and dying people littered the street, a scene with all the detail of a war-ravaged street immediately following the last gasps of a major battle. Numerous close ups of wounded, maimed and dead victims were shown, including several children. The only action was various victims staggering about and the first passerbys on the street trying to somehow attend to the wounded and dying.
“The devastation,” Whiting confided, “was unbelievable. There were dead people everywhere.”
Howell asked, “Were there any children hurt of killed?”
“A few children who had been playing nearby were killed. But I didn’t see any at the time. It’s just that I’ve never seen anything like this. It was terrifying.”
The video continued blissfully on, now showing an injured woman carrying the mutilated body of a child. After a few additional horrors of documented disaster, the video on the large screen TV screen turned to black. One really has to give credit to the cameraman who had shown such fortitude and comparative calm under such circumstances. It was quite a video, quite an achievement.
Howell walked calmly and deliberately to the front of the television monitor where he with dramatic finality turned the television off. His face appropriately grave, he turned back to Whiting, who was now in tears and emotional distress.
“Is it your testimony, Sir, that what we’ve just seen is an accurate, albeit incomplete description of that horrendous moment in the streets of Colorado Springs?”
Between the tears, Whiting managed, “Yes. Very definitely.”
Howell pursed his lips. “Would it be accurate to say that it was incomplete in large part because such videos can only barely touch upon the true horror encountered on that fateful day?”
“I think that would be accurate,” Whiting agreed.
Howell shook his head, acknowledging the universal agreement.
“It is not the prosecution’s intent to belabor this horror, but I must now ask you the jury to endure a bit more as we consider a detailed analysis of the videos, with our expert witness pointing out specific details.”
As the room began to darken for a second time, Henry Michel, in the jury box, could be seen leaning to one side, one hand coming up to grasp his mouth and jaw. He was frowning heavily, his head very slightly shaking from side to side. Next to him, Lola was silently sobbing, her eyes downcast. Jack, meanwhile, was sitting next to Katrina and was suddenly intrigued by her puzzled expression. Jack looked back to the video, and then back at Katrina.
Michel, with an intense frown, was behind Veer as they boarded the empty bus, again in the well-guarded courtyard of the Federal Building. The two men started down the narrow aisle, just as Thena and Henry Henley began boarding the bus. Michel glanced around the bus, looking for plants. Then very quietly to Veer he said, “Man, I don’t fucking believe it! They could have edited and spliced those tapes ten ways to hell! Shit! You can prove anything that way!”
Veer, clearly surprised, could only reply, “Didn’t you hear the witness? That reporter… or documentary producer, whoever he was?”
“What the fuck does he know? Looks to me like most of what he did was duck… or maybe just run for cover.”
“So what’s your point?”
“You don’t got the cameraman as the witness! Unless you got him… or somebody who can testify to the accuracy of the video… you don’t got shit! That means you got to talk to the man who took the shots, who filmed it, the guy who edited it, whoever put it all together... dem’s de guys you want to hear from.”
Veer frowned heavily. “You want a hoard of people coming to testify? The video’s not good enough for you? What you see is what you get.”
“Not the way they showed it!” Michel grabbed the back of the seat in front of his as he swung himself into a sitting position. “You just don’t start out filming some guy talking to hear himself talk, and then switch like a flash to document an explosion in progress! Geez, man! You think the guy behind the camera has no emotions; he wouldn’t be ducking for cover like that cowardly reporter?”
Veer took the seat across the aisle from Michel, still frowning. “I think we’re talking some major league nit-picking here. What are you trying to do? Drag this trial out by bringing in a whole carload of different witnesses for every little detail? We’d be here ‘til spring.”
“It’s like any trial, man. DNA evidence don’t mean jack, unless you trust the cops who collected the samples, the people who took them to the lab, the guys who analyzed the samples...”
“The man was an expert witness! He’s a journalist. He’s trained...”
“Oh really? Well, I know the dude! He’s been to my lab. He’s a mediocre has-been. Plus which he’ll do anything for money.”
Veer, his face one of sudden suspicion, stared at Michel. Thena, immediately behind them, had leaned forward to hear more of the conversation, while Henley in an equally propitious seat seemed only mildly interested. Lola, not unexpectedly was looking around as if she were lost. Walklet and Katrina had also boarded, with Walklet looking for a seat, and Katrina all ears to the tail end of the conversation.
Veer was still arguing. “What’d you mean you know him?”
“I’m a professional photographer. I specialize in computer-enhanced software, the kind where you can do most anything to videos. It’s very big in the advertising industry, if you get my drift. I know from personal, professional experience that you can do just about anything with photos and videos! I also know the dude who’s claiming to be an expert. We’ve worked together! I also know his cameraman, who interestingly enough, ain’t been around of late. Are you beginning to understand now?”
Veer was at a loss to say anything. Thena took the chance to enter the conversation. “Does the Prosecution know about your background?”
“They should… if they read the form I filled out for jury duty. They sure as shit never bothered to ask. I’m black! What kind of photographer could I be? Practice limited to family shots of others blacks?”
Veer, his eyes wide and face stone hard, was staring intently at Michel. The aisle was now slightly backed up, with Thena still intent upon the conversation, right behind Michel. Katrina was also listening, as Jack and Edward boarded the bus. Edward was already looking down the aisle, as if he already knew the gist of the conversation.
Thena smiled at Michel. “Trust me, I know what you mean about being black. But tell me, just how good are you?”
“Good enough to know that it’s damn hard for a cameraman in a war zone to take the quality videos we just saw. Whenever Armageddon happens right before your eyes… and unexpectedly at that… it’s hard to stay focused. I know. I was a photographer in the army and under fire in the Persian Gulf.”
“I don’t believe any of this.” Veer rose and moved to the rear of the bus. Michel looked back at him with utter amazement. He then turned back to Thena, who shrugged her shoulders.
“Must be a white guy thing.”
Michel abruptly smiled and gave Thena an appreciative wink. The others took their seats, with Katrina taking a long, studied look at Michel. The guards and bus driver joined them and the bus pulled out. Even with the demonstrators outside the courthouse vying for attention, the mood on the bus was now significantly different. Most of the demonstrators had turned to the alternative approach of being shaken and weeping, while the bus occupants clearly had their own fish to fry. Michel’s smile slowly turned to a frown as he looked at the crowd. He’d encountered crowds before.
It was time for the return trip the following morning. As the jurors began to take their seats, Thena suddenly stood back up and looked around.
Clearly concerned, she asked, “Where’s Henry Michel?”
Michel was nowhere to be seen. Thena slowly took her seat, her face a candid photo of genuine concern, laced with a sense of knowing. Veer on the other hand was smiling.
Veer, with the smile on his face becoming a grin, and with all the authority of someone who knows something that others don’t, finally said, “It seems as if our friend forgot to mention a number of relevant items in his jury interview. Like, for example, having been associated with some Patriot group a few years ago.”
Several of the others turned to look at Veers, who fairly glowed from the sudden attention.
Edward was incredulous. “Do you really believe that?”
Veer was nonplussed. “Why shouldn’t I?”
“No reason,” Edward replied.
Thena asked, “But what if it’s not true”
Veer smiled even more. “What if it is? Besides, who cares? By the time he disproved any of the allegations… assuming they were in fact groundless… he still couldn’t very well get back on this jury.”
Everyone looked around at each other, no one smiling but Veer… until the implication hit Duke.
“Hey! That means I just made the cut!”
“Lucky you,” Olivia replied, “But I’m still a spare.”
“Not to worry,” Duke confided. “If worse comes to worst, I’ll just add ex-lax to Lola’s morning cereal.”
“Uh,” Olivia quickly replied, “please don’t. I’d rather be on the outside looking in than… well… you know.”
“Meanwhile,” Duke announced, “As for me, they couldn’t have picked a better man! I’m going to do one hell of a job!”
Olivia couldn’t help but smile at Duke, whose chest size had just doubled. Several of the others shook their heads, slight smiles on their faces as well. Meanwhile, Edward had set down in the seat across the aisle from Katrina, and just behind Jack and Lin Sue. Quietly, Katrina leaned toward Edward, as he leaned toward her. Jack and Lin Sue tilted their heads as well.
“You remember,” Katrina began, “the film the prosecution showed of the experimental apparatus that supposedly caused the explosion?”
“Yes, but keep your voice down,” Edward counseled.
“Henry told me he later remembered having maybe seen it once before.”
Lin Sue frowned. “I don’t understand.”
“Henry wasn’t absolutely sure, but he thought it was the same or very similar to work he’d helped with a few years ago.”
Jack asked, “They sliced in some old tape?”
“Shhh…,” Edward said. “We’ll talk about it later.”
In the courtroom the large screen television was again being used, this time to show computer displays of e-mail messages and computer graphics. Howell was addressing the current witness, a Mr. Likely.
“According to your testimony, Mr. Likely, this e-mail message was posted on the Inner Net by the defendant, William Pence, and addressed to, among others, the second defendant, William Matson. Is that correct?”
“Yes, sir. The “from” address, “B Pence at do it now dot com”, is the first defendant’s e-mail address. The message was received by his server from his home cable link. The “to” address, “Billy Mat at go daddy dot com”, is the address for the second defendant, and was delivered to his home telephone. Furthermore, both messages were on their respective computers.”
“And would you kindly read the highlighted portions of this message?”
“Yes, Sir. It reads, ‘As far as I’m concerned NASA is short hand for Never A Straight Answer! Somebody needs to get people’s attention and make it clear that NASA is not doing its job and is nothing more than a lackey for the Department of Defense. I can’t think of a better way to show up those jokers than to do some hands on investigations of Cydonia. Maybe even bring back the Mars Pathfinder and give it to the Smithsonian.’”
“And what do you understand the reference to “Cydonia” to mean?”
“It’s an area on the planet Mars, where the so-called “Face on Mars” is located. It's well known in conspiracy circles.”
“And the last highlighted section?”
“It reads, ‘Hang the risk! We’ve got to get it off the ground and in front of the whole world, before NASA shuts us down. For good! This is not the time to chicken out.’”
“Has this message been changed or modified from the time it was sent?”
“No, sir. You can’t do that. The software doesn’t allow it.”
“Thank you, Sir. No further questions.”
Howell smiled as walked away. In the jury box, Edward turned to look at Katrina, who was biting her lip and staring straight ahead.
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