Hyrum (13) sitting in the chair of a federal bankruptcy judge in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Nearly 20 years ago I prosecuted a man for pointing a gun at his wife during an argument. My two oldest children, Brian (then 8) and Erin (then 6) sat in the first row on the edge of their seat, their eyes wide in anticipation of seeing their dad in action. This play is based on the facts and characters of the actual trial (which I won). Some of the characters very closely resemble real people. Others are totally fictitious. I, of course, do not resemble Mr. Butcher in the slightest. I hope you enjoy this comic play in one act, posted scene by scene each day over the next week.
CHOCOLATE: A COMIC PLAY IN ONE ACT
by Roger Evans Baker
• The Honorable Marsha P. Stone, Judge of the 13th District Court
• Mr. John Butcher, Prosecuting Attorney
• Mr. Gil Sullivan, Defense Attorney
• Victor S. Bull, the Defendant
• Ashton “Flapper” Cuff, Court Bailiff
• Officer Harold Ketchum, Police Officer
• Vickie Hicks, Bull’s 17-year-old niece
• Judd “Snoops” Lawson, Bull’s duplex neighbor
• Ernest “Tubby” Brown, Bull’s drinking buddy
• Winowna Darling Bull, Bull’s 76-year-old mother
The Scene: From a raised judicial dais, an elegant leather judge’s chair stares out over the country courtroom. Beneath the bench stand two scratched and peeling wood-veneer tables. At one table sits the State, incarnate in the prosecutor, who nervously awaits announcement of the judge’s appearance. At the other sits the defendant, in new jeans and new t-shirt, who leans over repeatedly to whisper to his attorney, himself dressed in jeans, but with a shirt, tie, and leather- elbowed jacket. The bailiff, weathered and toothless, slouches in his chair waiting for the judge’s arrival. Behind the bar, rows of orange-cloth benches contain an assortment of characters in a variety of dress, from stained t-shirts and holey denims to suits and ties, one of the latter often sitting by one of the former. With a deep sense of her own importance, the judge enters the courtroom without warning, and the bailiff springs to his feet, hurrying to fulfill his function with all the dignity he can muster.
BAILIFF ASHTON “FLAPPER” CUFF. (loud and crisp, like a trumpet heralding the queen’s appearance) All arise! The 13th District Court is now in session with the Honorable Marsha P. Stone presiding! Please be silent and orderly throughout these judicial proceedings!
JUDGE STONE. (rolling her eyes and waiving a delicate hand at the wrist) Thank you, Flapper. That will do.
FLAPPER. (unabashed) You may now be seated!
JUDGE STONE. (cheerfully) Very well. Shall we begin? Let’s see. The first case on this morning’s busy, busy calendar is State v. Victor S. Bull, for threatening with a dangerous weapon. (With a dismayed shake of the head; to herself, but so that everyone can hear.) My, my, what is the world coming to? (Resuming her normal voice.) The State appears to be represented by Mr. Butcher, and the defendant, Mr. Bull, is obviously represented by Mr. Sullivan. (Audible aside to Mr. Sullivan.) Really, Gil, the least you could do is trade in your denims and tweed for a suit.
MR. SULLIVAN. (swaggering, with a country-western twang) You know me, Mayam. No frills. What you see is what you get.
JUDGE STONE. (disdainfully) Apparently. Well. Are we ready to proceed with the trial, Mr. Butcher.
MR. BUTCHER. (chipper and confident) Yes, Your Honor. Ready as always.
JUDGE STONE. That’s a good fellow. Are we ready, Mr. Sullivan?
MR. SULLIVAN. I reckon.
JUDGE STONE. (looking at her elegant watch with affected disinterest) Yes. Well. I suppose you have an opening statement, Mr. Butcher.
MR. BUTCHER. (hesitating at the Judge’s tone) Of course, Your Honor, but a brief one. You see, on the night of July 7th, this very man, sitting at this very table, came home drunk after hours at the Dead Donkey Saloon. (The prosecutor’s voice begins to rise, sounding accusing and contemptuous.) Then this man–no, hardly a man–this scoundrel had the audacity to accuse his wife, (who happens to be a bar maid at the Dead Donkey), of cheating on him. He got in her face, spewing fumey insults. She was understandably disturbed by this animal behavior, pushed him away, and called him a fitting expletive, something resembling an animal’s backside. In vicious response, this barbaric male, a disgrace to the sex–
MR. SULLIVAN. (indignantly) Now hold on there, pardner. Judge—Mayam—“hardly a man” is one thing; “scoundrel” is another thing; but “barbaric male” and “disgrace” are downright nasty. Hundreds of people in this town drink. They’re just havin’ a good time with their buddies. My client here is no barbarian, and I’ll ask the persecutor here to mind his manners.
JUDGE STONE. (patronizingly) You were getting a little out of hand, you know, Mr. Butcher. Continue with your brief opening statement, but please discipline yourself.
MR. BUTCHER. (humbly) Yes, Your Honor. I’m sorry, Your Honor. When I think about this, person, I just become excited, you know, heated, riled. (His voice rising.) My blood begins to boil.
JUDGE STONE. (in a warning tone) Mr. Butcher.
MR. BUTCHER. (sincerely humble) I do apologize, Your Honor; I’ll try really hard to be civil.
JUDGE STONE. You do that. Go on.
MR. BUTCHER. (making an obvious effort to remain calm, but quickly becoming animated) As I was saying, to his wife’s very normal reaction of calling her staggering, screaming husband a “horse’s ass,” he lurched for the closet, whence he withdrew a loaded gun, and waived it around, repeating, “So I’m a horse’s ass, am I?” Then he actually fired the gun. Blasted a hole through the ceiling, right into their bedroom and through their bed. Scared for her life, she grabbed her sweet niece, Vickie–who, thank God, is still with us today–and they ran, barefoot, to the gas station two blocks away to call the police. When the police arrived, was Victor Bull in the house? No. Is he anywhere to be found? No! (Triumphantly.) Ah, but the diligent Officer Ketchum did find him, hiding, pretending to be asleep–
JUDGE STONE. (with authority, to an agitated Mr. Bull) Mr. Bull! Please! You must control yourself. If you cannot sit still in your seat, I shall have the bailiff shackle your legs to it. And no more grunting or moaning noises. In due time you’ll have a chance to tell your side of the story. (To herself.) I’m sure there is one. (Resuming her normal voice.) Are you quite finished, Mr. Butcher?
MR. BUTCHER. Yes, Your Honor. Almost, Your Honor.
JUDGE STONE. (affecting weariness) Very well. Do continue.
MR. BUTCHER. (calmer, but still excited) As I was saying, Your Honor, Officer Ketchum found the defendant hiding, pretending to be asleep. (With absolute conviction.) This man is guilty, Your Honor. Oh is he guilty: guilty as a boot stuck in the cold March mud.
JUDGE STONE. (affecting disinterest) Yes. Well. I’m sure you have an opening statement of your own, Mr. Sullivan.
MR. SULLIVAN. (confidently) Darn right, Mayam. Short and sweet. Say it like it is. It’s all lies, and we’ll prove it to ya’ right shortly. Pretendin’ to be asleep–indeed. I suggest we get on with it.
JUDGE STONE. (sighing) Bailiff Cuff, please have the witnesses stand and be sworn all at once. Saves time, you know.
BAILIFF CUFF. Yes Sir—Ma’am—Your Honor, Sir. (Like a preacher in a tent revival.) All the witnesses arise and repeat after me! Do you most solemnly swear! Upon all that is sacred and holy! To tell the truth! The whole truth! Nothing but the truth! So help you God and his heavenly host?
WITNESSES. (intimidated, in concert) I do.
JUDGE STONE. (whispering as the witnesses answer) Flapper. There’s no host here—just God.
FLAPPER. (obsequious) Right. Sorry, Your Honor. (preaching again) So help you God?
WITNESSES. (hesitating, in staggered response) I do.
FLAPPER. (like a rifle shot) You may be seated!
JUDGE STONE. (commanding, with apparent renewed interest) Call your first witness, Mr. Butcher.
[Check back tomorrow for Scene 2!]