Reconstitution (Full Screenplay)

Hoped for/ideal cast:
Jean Connelly:  Bryce Dallas Howard
Stanley Balto:  Denzel Washington
Wolfram Smidgen:  James McAvoy
Vera:  Kate McKinnon
President Lang:  Bryan Cranston

 

 

Reconstitution

A Screenplay by
Robert Lampros

 

View from the back of the White House Press Room, the platform is empty except for the podium and two flags, the chairs are filled, journalists making last minute notes and talking to each other.  In the left corner by the platform stands a Secret Service Agent, while the right wall is lined with cameramen holding shoulder-mounted news cameras.

Jean sits in the second to last row of chairs, holding a digital tablet, preparing to record audio and take notes.  View of podium from her perspective, over the heads of the journalists in the dozen or so rows in front of her.  She turns and looks back at the line of reporters standing behind the last row of chairs, they wait quietly for the President to appear.  Jean faces forward and sits up straighter, looking over the heads at Deborah, a woman in the first row of chairs talking quickly to the man sitting next to her.

The President enters the room and steps up to the podium.

PRESIDENT LANG    
January twenty-fifth, two thousand eighteen, will be remembered, not merely as a tragic day, but more significantly as a day when truth prevailed over falsehood.  The people who died in Dubthach Stadium yesterday, the fathers, caring patriarchs of bright, beautiful families.  The mothers, loving protectors and nurturers of vibrant, happy children.  The sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, who all gathered to celebrate life together peacefully…  They came to watch a basketball game in the company of those they know and value most, their closest family and friends.

Jean thinks of something and writes a few notes on her tablet.

PRESIDENT LANG
The moment the shots began, and terror wrenched the peace of that atmosphere apart, evil struck a blow against the very fabric of our society—that which makes us one nation, one America.  Our freedom to assemble and enjoy ourselves without fear of oppression or violent attack constitutes the essence of what makes it such a blessing to be American.  Without this freedom the principles our forebears labored, fought, and died for, don’t shine through and illuminate this land.  But those principles did shine through yesterday, in the midst and aftermath of the violence, our better angels showed up and went to work.  The Koreston Police, Fire Department, the stadium’s security officers, employees, the shellshocked players and spectators at the game, and indeed the victims themselves, responded to the emergency with courage, strength, and a real concern for the safety and well-being of others at the scene.  A greater love prevailed yesterday, a selfless love, far truer than hate, doubt, or terror.  And no matter how they might try to destroy our love, the terrorists can not and shall not win, because the war’s already won.  Thank you.

Wolfram stands up in front of the platform.

WOLFRAM                
We’re only answering a few questions today.  This isn’t the time to discuss the attack’s implications for security, gun rights, or foreign policy, so please limit your questions to the shooting itself.

He steps aside.

PRESIDENT LANG                
Nods to a journalist in the third row.
Mr. Gregson.

GREGSON                 
Thank you, Mr. President.  Can you tell us more about Mizreb’s connections to KESG (pronounced key-sig), or other organized terror groups?

PRESIDENT LANG    
The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security are working with the Koreston Police and the suspect’s family to know more about his motives and possible involvement with active terror groups.  Mrs. Chambet.

CHAMBET                 
Have the authorities discovered evidence of Adnan planning the attack with anyone?  A student from the University, friend or family member?

PRESIDENT LANG
So far there has not been any indication of Adnan Mizreb having planned the shooting with a partner or partners.  His parents are hardworking American citizens.  His father is a pharmaceutical chemist, his mother sells dresses in a shopping mall.  These are typical Americans like you and me.  As the investigation continues, all pertinent facts will be released.  Deborah, why don’t you close the meeting today.

DEBORAH
Mr. President, considering this marks the fourth mass murder involving an assault weapon in the last twelve months, do you regret your failure to compromise on gun control during your first term?

PRESIDENT LANG
Looks at Deborah for a moment, then down at podium.

WOLFRAM
Surprised and angered, almost walks over to conclude the meeting, but hesitates.

PRESIDENT LANG    
Judging from what we know at present the suspect obtained the gun illegally.  While this particular type of rifle is available to purchase in a majority of States, I do not believe gun control restrictions would have played a significant role in preventing this attack.  That’s it for today, ladies and gentlemen.  Thank you for your time.

He walks off the platform with Wolfram following.  Jean stands up as the room ignites with voices, texting, and phone calls.  She looks once more at Deborah and starts edging her way out of the row of chairs.

President Lang and Wolfram walk down a West Wing hallway toward the Roosevelt Room.

PRESIDENT LANG                
Straight for the jugular.

WOLFRAM
My fault, Mr. President.  I should have closed the meeting immediately after your statement.

PRESIDENT LANG
You’d think twenty-two bodies in the morgue would prompt a bit of respect from that woman.

WOLFRAM
All’s fair in war, sir.

They turn a corner.

WOLFRAM
Should we run the interview with Mizreb’s family, sir?

PRESIDENT LANG
Yeah, go ahead.

They enter the Roosevelt Room, where a Secret Service agent stands near the door, and two men and a woman sit at the table with laptops and papers in front of them.

PRESIDENT LANG
Where are we?

MAN 1            
Adnan’s closest friend at the University’s been talking.  He says they went target shooting a few times about an hour south of town, mostly corn fields and woods there.  He claims, and I quote, “Addie wouldn’t take the M4, only the .38 Special.  It was like the rifle was sacred or something.”

PRESIDENT LANG
What about the motive?

WOMAN                    
Sounds more like a Columbine than a religion or politically motivated attack.  These guys were angry, at their peers, at themselves, the faces they saw on tv.  Mizreb joked about making an RPG where the shooter could walk into the world of television and “shred the stars of his favorite shows.”

WOLFRAM
That’s cute.

MAN 1
The friend didn’t quite share his desire for carnage.  Jonathan tried to calm him down when he took it too far, change the subject to girls or video games.

PRESIDENT LANG
Where are they on the source of the weapon?

MAN 2
We think he bought the M4A1 from a dealer in Chicago.  Mainly sells narcotics, but acquires a stray bag of firearms on occasion.  The thirty-eight we don’t know yet.

PRESIDENT LANG
Find out, please.

MAN 2            
Yes, Mr. President.

*       *       *

Jean drives on a street in Washington D.C., talking to Vera on speaker phone.

JEAN
Can you grab lunch today?

VERA
I can’t leave work, but if you stop by I’ll have André fix you something.  How’d the press thing go?

JEAN
President Lang made a beautiful statement about the shooting, then Deborah Elm burned him on gun control.

VERA
You didn’t ask a question?

JEAN
No, they ended the session after that.  I’ll see you at eleven, okay?

She walks into a busy news studio, past several side offices, through the main room, and past a news desk where two reporters are broadcasting.  Jean stands watching for a minute.

TODD
If your ride is bumpier than usual in to work today, you might blame potholes.

SHEILA
Seen them all over, turns out you may drive over fewer than normal right now.  CDN’s Monique Green has been checkin’ out the roads, and has more on why that is.  Hey, Monique.

MONIQUE
Via monitor.
Hey, guys, you know our warm weather has been really good for the D.C. Department of Transportation.  We’re driving along now on Brewster Rd. in northwest D.C., and we’ve got some potholes here on this stretch.  There are a couple of trucks in front of us—you know, the extreme freezing and then the thawing, that’s what makes the craters in the road.  Here we go, oh yeah, we got some, and then on the other side of the street here…

Jean’s boss, Stanley, stands beside her behind the cameras, and they talk quietly.

STANLEY
Smidgen sent an email, reproving the “shameful conduct” of Mrs. Elm this morning.

JEAN
Smiles faintly.

STANLEY
“In the wake of a national tragedy there is expected a modest level of dignified restraint, and reverence for the Office of President of the United States.”

JEAN
Did she respond?

STANLEY
Not yet.  Knowing her she will, though.

JEAN
May I have a word with you in your office?

STANLEY
Always.

They enter Stanley’s office and he closes the door behind her.  He pulls out the chair, walks around the desk, and they sit facing each other.

STANLEY
What’s up, Jean?

JEAN
I want to have a sit down with the President, one-on-one, to discuss his stance on gun control.

STANLEY
Stares at her a moment.
You want to have a televised conversation with President Thomas Lang about the one issue he’s refused to talk about for six years?

JEAN
Yeah.

STANLEY
You.

JEAN
Thanks a lot, Stanley.

STANLEY
You aren’t the most logical choice for an interviewer.

JEAN
I’m a D.C. journalist with a successful nightly program.  Whether he knows it yet or not he’s going to need to give America a thorough answer for his intractability on this issue, more than reciting the Second Amendment.

STANLEY
Probably so, but why would he sit down with you?

Medium closeup on Jean’s face as she looks at him, thinking.

Adnan Mizreb’s burial, a priest, a few government officials, police officers, and two groundskeepers stand around the closed casket in a cemetery on a quiet hillside.  Medium closeup on small headstone reading:

RESTING PEACEFULLY
IN THE ARMS OF GOD
A.M.
1999-2018

Also engraved on the headstone, a thin bouquet of flowers growing up the left side, curling slightly over the letters.

PRIEST
Reading from a prayer book.
All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.  The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned…

View of Mizreb’s parents’ house from outside where a number of vehicles, reporters, and angry protesters line the street.  Inside the sunlit living room, Mr. Mizreb sits on a couch with luminous window blinds behind him.  We see through the lens of one of the cameras being used to film the interview.

INTERVIEWER                      
Can you tell us something about what Adnan was like growing up?

MIZREB
Adnan was a playful child.  He spent hours running with the other children in our neighborhood, in the streets and fields around our home.  They’d make up different games, cops and robbers, king of the mountain, and he would never want to come inside for dinner. 
Laughs weakly, tears in his eyes.
He just wanted to keep running around outside.

INTERVIEWER
How about when he got older, in middle school and high school, what did he like to do?

MIZREB
Normal things, you know.  Athletics, video games…  He did not like to study, but, uh…
Shrugs his shoulders, stares blankly.

INTERVIEWER                      
What teenager does?

MIZREB
Smiles.
Right.  Adnan, he did have frequent tantrums in his older years.  If his mom or I told him to work harder for a test or term paper, he’d occasionally lose his temper and yell, or go into his room and slam the door, and we’d hear him cussing.  He did not like being told what to do, my son.  He was, oh, what is the word?  Bullheaded.

INTERVIEWER
Smiles warmly.
Thank you, sir.  Can you tell us more about your whole family?  How did you and your wife meet?

Jean sits at a small table near the front window in the restaurant Vera manages.  She looks out the window at cars passing on the street.  Vera falls into the chair across from her and freezes her face in a goofy smile.

JEAN
Laughs.
What’d you order?

VERA
Are you ready?

JEAN
Just tell me what I’m eating.

VERA
Are… you… ready?

JEAN
Yes, I’m ready.

VERA
André is preparing for you our smoked trout BLT—

JEAN
Ooooh…

VERA
And on the side flash-fried Brussels sprouts with garlic and lime.

JEAN
More intensely.
Ooooooh…

VERA
And for dessert…

JEAN
Yeah?

VERA
Are you ready?

JEAN
Anger.

VERA
Warm banana and ale bread pudding.

JEAN
Oh!
Drops head on tabletop.

VERA
A la mooode.

JEAN
You’re too good to me, Vera. 
Glances around the semi-crowded restaurant.
How’s business?

VERA
Not great.  We’re working on a Spring menu that’ll have people crawling on the ceiling.

JEAN
What?

VERA
Points up and raises eyebrows.

JEAN
That’s, a little terrifying.

VERA
What’s up with you?

JEAN
Preparing for an interview.

VERA
Interview, what interview?  You never…  You never said anything about an interview.  With whom is this interview taking place?

JEAN
Mouths silently.
The President.

VERA
Mouths silently.
The who?

JEAN
Glances covertly side to side, whispers.
The President of the United States.

VERA
Exaggerated surprise and realization.
Wait, I thought you’re a local news person.

JEAN
I am, and that’s exactly why he’ll grant the interview.  I’m gonna call him and say, “President Lang, this is Jean Connelly with CDN News.  You’ve been neglecting the local press.  It’s high time you gave me an hour to sit down and talk about gun control.”

VERA
You think he will?

JEAN
Probably not.

VERA
Yeah, no way in hell.

Mizreb’s parents’ living room, interview being concluded.

INTERVIEWER
Mr. Mizreb, given the horrific nature of your son’s crime, is there anything you want America to know about Adnan?

MIZREB
I know that certain people are afraid of people like me.  I was born in Iran, I have brown skin, and there are those from my birthplace who despise this country.  However, this is not who I am, nor my wife, Ranim.  We are true Americans.  Our son…
Starts crying.
His hate… 

Breaks down into heavy weeping.

INTERVIEWER
Okay, that’s enough.  Turn the camera off, please.

*       *       *

Wolfram Smidgen on a bench near a fountain in a park (preferably a fountain with mermaids).  He’s eating a sandwich and talking on his phone.

WOLFRAM
Did you get enough for the full half hour? 
Waits while interviewer responds.
Great, send it over and we’ll take a look.

President Lang sits at his desk in the Oval Office, reading some papers.  The phone beeps, and his assistant speaks over the intercom.

ASSISTANT
Mr. President?

PRESIDENT LANG
Yes, ma’am?

ASSISTANT
Stanley Balto, the head of CDN News, left a message for you to please call him at your convenience.  He said he has something important to discuss regarding the shooting.

PRESIDENT LANG
Looks up from papers and thinks for a second.

Stanley and Jean wait in his office, Jean in a chair and Stanley pacing behind his desk.

STANLEY      
Stops pacing.
What makes you think he won’t laugh and tell us to go cover the St. Albans Walk-a-Thon?

JEAN
Steve’s already covering the St. Albans Walk-a-Thon.

Phone rings.  Stanley looks at Jean, and picks it up.

STANLEY
CDN News, this is Mr. Balto.

Oval Office, President Lang on the phone.

PRESIDENT LANG
Hello, Mr. Balto, I just received your message.  What information do you have about the attack?

Stanley’s office.

STANLEY
No information, Mr. President.  A journalist of mine has a proposal she believes to be of the utmost importance to our country, uh, in light of recent events.

Oval Office.

PRESIDENT LANG
Okay, let’s hear it.

Stanley holds phone out to Jean.  She walks to the desk and starts talking.

JEAN
Hello, Mr. President.  I’m sorry to trouble you right now, I know you’re very busy.  My name is Jean Connelly and I’m a nightly anchor for CDN.

PRESIDENT LANG
Through phone.
I know you, Jean, I watch your show on occasion.

JEAN
Well, as you also know, this latest tragedy has got people as serious as ever about gun control regulations.  Contrary to what you said at the meeting today, a near majority of the American people believe a ban on assault rifles could’ve helped to prevent the massacre in Koreston and the losses of many other lives over the past year.  I think—and I don’t want to overstep any boundaries here—it would be a very good idea for you to talk with someone politically neutral about your stance on this issue, and how you plan to address the problem during your remaining two years in office.

PRESIDENT LANG
Someone like you, perhaps?

JEAN
I’d be a new face for the public.  There’d be no grounds for personal bias among the viewership, sir.

PRESIDENT LANG
Silent for a few seconds.
This is a good idea, Ms. Connelly.  Let me run it by some folks and get back to you.  We may prefer a more familiar and established interviewer for this particular job.

JEAN
I understand, sir.  Thank you for your time.
She hangs up the phone, and she and Stanley stand quietly for a moment.

Interrogation room, Adnan’s friend, Jonathan, talks to an interrogator.

JONATHAN
No, it wasn’t like he was planning some jihad, holy war attack or something.  Addie didn’t even pray.

INTERVIEWER
You didn’t know about the shooting ahead of time?

JONATHAN
No way.  I told you this already, ten times already.  I knew he was gonna do something, I didn’t think he’d actually pull the trigger.  It’s like I said, it was…
Searches for the word.
Fantasy.

INTERVIEWER
You had no knowledge of when or where this attack would take place?

JONATHAN
No.

INTERVIEWER
Are you willing to take a polygraph to confirm that?

JONATHAN
Vehemently.
Yes.

Aerial view of Washington D.C., fast forward through late afternoon and beautiful sunset.

President Lang and Wolfram sit in Air Force One with some other officials and Secret Service agents as the plane prepares to take off.

WOLFRAM                
It can’t be McFeely or they’ll accuse us of lobbing you easy pitches.  It’s got to be someone from LQVN, or someone else, someone new.

PRESIDENT LANG
Not Connelly?

WOLFRAM
Laughs.
No, sir.

PRESIDENT LANG
Looks out window at lights passing along runway.
Keep the press about this trip to a minimum, will you?  I don’t want it to look like a PR exhibition.

WOLFRAM
With all due respect, sir, we need to bolster your image concerning this issue.  As long as you’re visiting the wounded and bereaved, we might as well—

PRESIDENT LANG
The public knows about this trip, they don’t need to see it.  Request a minimum of coverage please, Mr. Smidgen.

Reaction shot of Wolfram looking irritated, then subduing his anger.

Jean alone in her house that evening, laying on the couch, reading a book.  Quiet music from the stereo.  The title of the book is A Bolt from the Blue and Other Essays, by Mary McCarthy.  She finishes reading a chapter and sets the book aside, walks over to the window, and looks outside at the quiet street.

Jean walks down the suburban street at night, past one-story houses and under the occasional streetlight.  It’s cold and she has her hands in her coat pockets, she tilts her head back and looks up as she walks, looks up at the softly twinkling stars beyond the treetops.

Jean back in her house after the walk.  She checks her phone and sees that Vera called while she was out, and calls her back.  Their conversation cuts back and forth from Jean’s house to Vera’s house, while some of their lines are heard through the phone without a cut.

VERA
Hey, Jean, how’s it goin’, babe?

JEAN
I’m bored but I don’t feel like working.  Why’d you call?

VERA
Just checkin’ on my babes.  Seein’ how my Jeanie’s doin’.

JEAN
I could use another bread pudding, actually.

VERA
Oh, next time you gotta try the Warm Apple Crostada with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Caramel Sauce.  It’s part of our dinner menu.

JEAN
How’s Alex doing?

VERA
Who?

JEAN
Your husband.

VERA
Oh, he’s around.  On the roof, probably, with his telescope.  Did you see the news?  About the President?

JEAN
Yeah, he’s in Koreston.

VERA
Yep, and he’s doing the interview.

JEAN
What?

VERA
They announced it just now, he’s gonna discuss his position on gun control with Charles Stockton, and air it this Sunday evening.

JEAN
Silent, medium closeup on her face.

VERA
That’s good, right?

JEAN
Silent.

VERA
You didn’t think he’d do the interview with you, did you?  For reals?

JEAN
Not really, no.  Thanks for telling me, Vera.  See ya later.

VERA
Wait, waaaaiii—
Jean hangs up the phone.

The next morning in Jean’s office, she sits at her desk reading over the notes for her show that day.  Close-up on the sheet of paper and slow pan down over the typed headlines and stories.
–     Sixteen year-old girl missing from Alexandria, Virginia.

(brief story follows)
–     Russian spy ship spotted off the coast of Delaware.
(brief story follows)
–     Congress moves to strike down D.C.’s assisted suicide law.
(brief story follows)
–     Police search for suspects after ATM theft.
(brief story follows)
–     Man killed by vehicle in Md. identified.
(brief story follows)

Stanley walks up and knocks on the open door.

STANLEY
Hello, Ms. Connelly.

JEAN
Don’t even say it.

STANLEY
If it makes you feel better—

JEAN
Ah…  Yeah?

STANLEY
Reveals heart-shaped box of chocolates from behind his back, smiles, then walks over and sets them on her desk.

JEAN
Smiles.
Chocolates?  Valentine’s Day isn’t for two weeks.

STANLEY
Sits down in a chair across from her.

JEAN
Oh, no.  Here we go.

STANLEY
You know the first week you started working here, the first day—the Monday after I hired you…

JEAN
Waits impatiently.

STANLEY
You walked in with your bag slung crooked around your shoulder, venti chai latte in your hand, ready to save the world.

JEAN
Please, spare me this talk.

STANLEY
I thought you’d drop out after a couple months, work for higher pay somewhere, and fewer hours, but no.  You stuck with us.

JEAN
Smiles artificially, nods.

STANLEY
Since then you’ve been the motor of this operation.

JEAN
The motor?

STANLEY
Ferrari, Formula 1, all cylinders firing, engine of this place.  One of the best decisions I’ve made.
Looks down for a second.  
This town…  It’s the lion’s den.  We have to keep our arms out, wide.  And trust we don’t get eaten alive.  
Stands up, walks over, and kisses the top of her head, then walks to the door, and pauses.
All set for today’s broadcast?

JEAN
Nods lightly, tears in her eyes.

STANLEY
Okay.
Walks away.

*       *       *

A woman lays in a hospital bed with her leg slightly elevated in a cast, and her left shoulder bandaged due to a bullet wound.  She flips through channels on the television with the remote in her right hand.  A nurse enters.

NURSE
Hi, Savannah.  How’s it going today?

SAVANNAH
Oh, not bad.  These soaps are terrible.

NURSE
Looks at tv.
I thought you loved Nightdreams Exposed.

SAVANNAH
I did, until Manuel started an affair with Persephone’s step daughter.  Is it time for meds again? 

NURSE
Actually, you have a visitor, all the way from Washington D.C.  President Lang?

He enters the hospital room, waves, and stands at the foot of Savannah’s bed, and smiles at her.

Wolfram stands near a window in a quiet area on the same floor of the hospital, talking on his cell phone.

WOLFRAM
Listens for a few seconds, looking out the window.
We have to give them something…  Half our country’s screaming for blood, if we don’t—

Looks out window, listens.
If we don’t throw them a bone, at least tightening restrictions, we’re going to have a million anti-gun activists loading up on weapons.

Hospital room, President Lang sits beside Savannah’s bed.

PRESIDENT LANG
Middle school or high school?

SAVANNAH
Ninth grade.  She just started going to “ragers.”

PRESIDENT LANG
Smiles.
Most kids are more responsible than they let on.  I think they exaggerate their wildness sometimes to scare us, make us care more.  Jeremy likes to brag about his close calls on the road, when he’s angry at me, at least.

SAVANNAH
Aren’t they the worst?  My mama would have whooped me senseless if I’d said some of these words.

Wolfram at the window.

WOLFRAM
Okay.  Okay, yes, sir.  I will pass that along to the President.
Listens for a second, stares out coldly at the horizon.
We’ll see how this plays out next week.

Hospital room.

PRESIDENT LANG
What was your favorite movie when you were a kid?

SAVANNAH
It’s a Wonderful Life.  Watching Jimmy Stewart around the holidays just made me feel… safer.  What was yours?

PRESIDENT LANG
The French Connection.  Well, Savannah, we’re certainly working to make you feel safer now.  God bless you.

CDN News Studio, Stanley sits at a news desk preparing to speak live on television.  We see him on the screen of a news camera, then on a monitor, then straight ahead, centered in the frame.

STANLEY
Good evening, Washington.  I’m Stanley Balto.  I run the newsroom here at CDN.  I’ve lived and worked in the D.C. area for most of my life, and I can proudly say, in spite of its many flaws, this city is my home.  In a couple of days the President is going to give an interview about one of the major issues dividing our nation.  We don’t often discuss these kinds of issues here, we mostly report on things like weather, traffic, and local news of a more idiosyncratic character, but I wanted to say a few words tonight about what has become a foreboding subject in the minds of many Americans.  When news comes in of another shooting, whether it’s a murder/robbery in the street or a mass shooting in a different city, part of me wishes that firearms just didn’t exist.

Wolfram rushes into the living room of his apartment, picks up the remote from the table, clicks on the television, and turns to channel five.

STANLEY
On Wolfram’s tv.
And I agree, we live in a problematic world.  My question for you, and for the leaders here in Washington, and for gun rights advocates all over the world, is how far are we willing to stretch our ideals in order to combat the world’s problems?

Center frame in newsroom.
I don’t have any answers.  It’s challenging enough for me to keep my studio operating at a halfway functional level.  But I do know this.  Something has to change, today.  We need new laws, new restrictions, and new programs regarding gun control that more closely line up with the America we want our children and grandchildren to grow up in.  Above all, we need courage here in Washington.  I hope we see some of that overdue courage in the President’s interview this Sunday.  Thank you for listening.  Stay tuned for Jean Connelly and our nightly news.

*       *       *

Jean sits alone in an all but empty bar, stirring a whiskey with a straw. Close-up on her face as she watches the ice cubes revolve in the glass. Flashback to her loading a bag into a packed car in the lot of a condo complex. A man stands behind the car, talking quickly, the sound is muffled and the words unintelligible.

ROB
Suddenly the words are clear.
It wasn’t you, Jean, it wasn’t you or me. Don’t waste this.
Extends hands, steps toward her.

JEAN
Stay—away from me.

ROB
You don’t know what you’re doing.

JEAN
Turns from organizing the bags in her car.
I’m jumping ship. I’m leaving a bad situation… before we both drown.

She closes the door, walks around the back of the car, through his outstretched arms, and gets in the driver’s seat.

Back in the bar, she keeps stirring the whiskey. Two young women sit a few seats down, talking and laughing.

WOMAN 1
Can we have three more Apple Jacks, please?
Looks over at Jean.
Do a shot with us.

JEAN
No, thanks, I’ve had more than enough.

WOMAN 1
You might as well. We’re in the vortex.

JEAN
The vortex?

WOMAN 2
Yeah, the place where good men go to fall.

JEAN
Keeps looking, thinks for a second.

President Lang and an assistant stand in a side room of the White House as he finishes preparing for his interview.

PRESIDENT LANG
The amendment clearly states, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” I understand the necessity to adapt this nation’s laws to better help us govern this land, but this is the Constitution, established to “provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liverty.” The blessings of Lib—of Liberty.

ASSISTANT
Sounds great, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT LANG
Don’t flatter me, Ms. Baker. I sound like a malfunctioning robot.

ASSISTANT
“What do you say to those who hold the view that the Second Amendment is completely obsolete in today’s America?”

PRESIDENT LANG
I sympathize with the desire to see stricter gun regulations, however I would strongly caution anyone who’d dare to label any part of this document obsolete, especially of the Bill of Rights.

ASSISTANT
“Do you have any firearms, President Lang?”

Wolfram stands on the balcony of his high-rise apartment, staring out toward the Capitol Building. Storm clouds, lightning, and thunder on the horizon.

Jean sits in her office at CDN, watching footage of Jonathan’s (Adnan’s friend’s) interview on a news website.

INTERVIEWER
We know that Mizreb purchased the rifle from a drug dealer in Chicago, but we haven’t been able to trace the source of the other gun, the .38, not used in the attack. Can you tell us where he got that one?

JONATHAN
Looks down quickly and shakes his head.
I don’t know for sure where he got the revolver.

She reverses the video and watches Jonathan’s response again.

JONATHAN
Looks down quickly and shakes his head.
I don’t know for sure where he got the revolver.

President Lang and Charles Stockton in the Blue Room of the White House, cameras rolling.

PRESIDENT LANG
I sympathize with the desire to see stricter gun regulations, however I would strongly caution anyone who’d dare to label any part of this document obsolete, especially of the Bill of Rights.

STOCKTON
Do you have any firearms, President Lang?

PRESIDENT LANG
I do not own any guns, no. I do have several friends, some old college buddies, whom I go hunting with on occasion. Deer, turkey, quail, a couple times a year, but I don’t have guns of my own.

Jean in her office, searching through old news articles online, comes across an article in The Columbus Observer from two thousand and ten. “Driver, Pygmy Goat Wounded at Fair.” She starts reading.

Blue Room, interview.

STOCKTON
What do you have to say to people who claim your intractable position on gun control is the result of billions of dollars from the gun lobby, and has nothing to do with our civil liberties?

PRESIDENT LANG
I’d recommend that they take a look at my record. My years in office have demonstrated a profound respect for the Constitution of the United States.

Jean’s office. She continues reading the article. Close-up on screen:
Both the demolition derby driver and the goat were shot by a .38 caliber revolver, however the shooter could not be identified. Acer said, “He darted out from behind the trees by the changing tents and fired four quick shots.”

Blue room, interview.

PRESIDENT LANG
To be completely honest, Mr. Stockton, I don’t like guns. When I get news of yet another mass shooting, or of one more gun-related death in the streets of this or any city across our nation, there’s a part of me that wishes firearms just didn’t exist. The tragedy in Koreston has solidified the necessity for regulations on the sale and distribution of certain types of guns in every State in America. I pray the time it takes to implement those restrictions doesn’t give opportunity for the loss of more innocent lives.

*       *       *

Jean, Vera, and two children, a three year-old girl and five year-old boy, walk up to the edge of the Red Panda exhibit at the D.C. Zoo.

VERA
Look, Squibbles, look at the pandas.

MARY
Those not pandas.

JEAN
They’re red pandas, see? Right there on the sign.

MATTHEW
Red Pandas?

VERA
They’re kind of like sloths. They just sit there in the tree all day. Don’t they remind you of your Uncle Alex?

The four of them walk slowly over a bridge spanning the elephant exhibit.

JEAN
This could mean a big shift in Lang’s approval ratings in the next two years.

VERA
Can he even make a change like this in that amount of time?

JEAN
He’s going to try. He wouldn’t say what he said unless he was planning to follow through immediately.

VERA
What’d your boss say?

JEAN
Freaked. Last thing he expected to hear.

They approach the fence of the alligator pond, where half a dozen gators swim and lay 5-10 yards away from them.

VERA
Extends arms like jaws and closes them on Matthew’s face and head.
Chomp, chomp, chomp.

MATTHEW
Shrieks and darts away.

JEAN
You’re probably the worst grownup at the Zoo today.

Jean and Vera sitting at the bar in her restaurant, not very crowded, the large window on the opposite side of the room bright with sunlight.

VERA
Takes a sip of her drink.
Your hair looks delicious in this lighting.

JEAN
Looks at her, surprised and alluring.

VERA
Golden-strawberry angel hair pasta.

JEAN
Brushes it back over her shoulder.

VERA
With olive oil and cinnamon.

JEAN
Be careful. I might steal you away from your husband.

VERA
Pshhh. He’d pay you to take me.

JEAN
I used to think we could actually change. All of us, you know, wake up and live… without chains on.

VERA
Squints thoughtfully.

JEAN
I thought I could help the people here stop pushing and pulling and just believe in ideals again.

VERA
You do.

JEAN
Huh?

VERA
You help me believe.

JEAN
In the traffic report? The weather? The propped-up scandal of the week?

VERA
In God. And in truth. Because you report on the little stuff, it helps me believe in everything. And be careful what you say, I feed people food for a living, and they just turn around and poop it out.

JEAN
Ugh.

VERA
Fart sound from mouth.
You give people info, stuff that matters. Some of it really does make a difference.

JEAN
This country needs to know… We’re not alone.

*       *       *

Classroom of the University in Koreston. A female professor stands at the whiteboard in a small lecture hall, half-full of students.

PROFESSOR
Writes on board:
Muscogee
Seminole
Chickasaw
Choctaw
Cherokee
Turns and speaks.
Thousands of Native Americans from each of these tribes were forced to leave their homes and walk westward.
Turns and draws arched lines from right to left.
Starting in 1830, and by 1837 about twenty-five million acres of land had been made available for the settlers. Can anyone tell me from the reading, approximately how many Native Americans died on their journey?

After class, a female student, Melissa, stops at the desk on her way out.

MELISSA
Do you have the essay I turned in last week? On the Boston Tea Party and civil rights?

PROFESSOR
Hi, Melissa. I think so…
Flips through a binder on the table.
I don’t see it here, I must have left it at home. How are you holding up?

MELISSA
I’m fine.
Smiles.

She walks down a hallway of the building, checks emails on her cell phone. One email has the subject line, “Coffee Tonight?” and is from dhasselhoff@hotmail.com. Melissa looks confused for a moment, and keeps walking.

Wolfram sits alone in his apartment, a laptop on the table in front of him. The screen shows a photo of the President and Stockton during the interview. The headline reads: “No More Innocent Lives,” says President. Wolfram stands up, irritated, and walks back and forth behind the couch. He laughs incredulously. A thought occurs to him, and he stops walking.

Jean works out on an elliptical machine at the gym, sweating, and reading a book on her tablet. On her way to her car, her phone rings.

STANLEY
Through phone.
Not coming in today?

JEAN
I’m polishing my report on the eagle sanctuary. Joe will record it tonight.

STANLEY
In his office.
Alright, alright.

JEAN
Getting into her car.
There’s something else, about the shooting in Koreston. Mizreb’s friend has been hiding something.

STANLEY
Thinks for a moment.
Careful what you search for, Jeanie. Quite a few snakes in the grass today.

Jonathan sits at a table in a coffee shop similar to Starbuck’s, scrolling through messages on his phone. Melissa sits down across from him.

JONATHAN
Sets phone aside.
Thanks for meeting me. I know it’s been crazy recently.

MELISSA
What do you want to talk about?

JONATHAN
Who contacted you? The police? The Feds?

MELISSA
Confused.
Nobody. No one at all.

JONATHAN
Leans forward.
Don’t lie to me. There are… a lot of things I can do, to make your life… difficult.

MELISSA
Threatening me now? You think that’s smart?

JONATHAN
More calmly.
No. You’re right. Don’t think I won’t know about it. If you do start talking, I’ll know.
Looks around the coffee shop.
Addie would want us to stick together.

MELISSA
Laughs.
Try to understand, you’re not my boss. You’re not my boyfriend. Jonathan, you… Please don’t contact me again.
Stands up, walks away.

A U.S. General, General Albertson, walks down a hallway in the Pentagon, and enters his office. On the desk beside his keyboard is a paper coffee cup. He picks it up, removes the lid, and dumps a small amount of liquid into the trash can beside his desk, then turns the cup upside down and slides a circular paper disc off the bottom. He turns the disc over, and reads the typed message. Close-up on the words:

The field only reveals to man
his own folly and despair,
and victory is an illusion
of philosophers and fools.

The General places the paper disc between his palms, and rubs his hands quickly back and forth for about ten seconds. He turns it over and reads:
                                                             s         o   l          d
                                                                  v          s
                                                                      s                      o   s

He walks into the bathroom, drops the disc in the toilet, and flushes.

*       *       *

Through a handheld news camera, Jean walks down a gravel road, past large cages with various kinds of eagles inside.

JEAN
Holding microphone.
Some of these majestic birds are free to leave their cages and take to the sky, however there are a number of injured eagles which must remain in captivity until they have healed and can safely fly and hunt in the wild.

She slows and approaches a sign on the front of a cage holding two bald eagles, one perched on an artificial tree limb and another standing on the ground facing the camera.

JEAN
Points at the sign with the eagles’ names.
Here we have Ahab and Archer. They must have grouped them together because they have similar sounding names. It looks like the one on the ground might have an injured talon, he’s kind of bowlegged on one side. As you can see, the one on the branch looks healthy.

The eagle on the limb spreads and flaps its wings.

JEAN
Hello, wow! Powerful wings indeed.

Wolfram Smidgen sits alone at a café table in a shopping mall, drinking espresso from a tiny mug, and glancing around nervously. On the table is a newspaper, open and folded back in quarters. He sees Stanley enter the café area, and stands up to greet him.

STANLEY
Good to see you, Mr. Smidgen. I hope you haven’t been waiting very long.

WOLFRAM
Not at all. It’s nice to see you too, Mr. Balto. Thanks for sitting down with me.

STANLEY
Of course. How can I help you?

WOLFRAM
Well, I’m sorry. I’m sorry Ms. Connelly wasn’t able to host the interview she’d suggested. Charles seemed like a better choice to present such a pivotal moment.

STANLEY
I think Jean understood that. She’s grateful you took her advice.

WOLFRAM
Slides newspaper around so Stanley can read it. Headline: Lang Calls Committee On Gun Regs.
The President is moving quickly on this. We need qualified journalists to help with the PR. If yourself and Ms. Connelly would be willing, we’d like you to do a special on recent gun violence in the U.S., to be aired on LQVN.

STANLEY
Laughs, nods slowly.
Mr. Smidgen, I’ve lived in this city for about as many years as you’ve been alive, but even before that I learned you never get something for nothing. You either have to buy it, steal it, or spend a lifetime earning it. I’d say thanks for the offer but that wouldn’t be too honest, seeing as it’s likely some kind of shark bait. Why don’t we just part ways?

WAITER
Approaches.
Can I get you something to drink, sir?

STANLEY
No, thank you.
Stands up to leave.

WOLFRAM
It’s a legitimate offer, Mr. Balto. Your experience could be useful in bringing the President, and our government, through a critical situation.

STANLEY
Extends right hand.
Please tell him I’m sorry.

They shake hands, and Stanley walks away.

Jean stands facing the news camera, speaking into a microphone. Behind her the row of eagle cages extends down the gravel road into the background.

JEAN
As we’ve observed today, the Washington D.C. Eagle Sanctuary is both home and hospital to some of the most exquisite birds of prey in the world. From the relatively small Booted eagle, to the much larger Steller’s sea eagle, the variety of species here is astounding, and includes, of course, the national emblem of our country, the American Bald Eagle.

A man with a bald eagle perched on his forearm walks into the frame, and transfers the bird onto Jean’s left shoulder. She winces slightly and tilts sideways under its weight.

JEAN
Struggling as the eagle grapples for a better hold on her shoulder.
You might not know this, but one of our Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, wanted to make the turkey our national bird. Right now I kind of wish they would have.

Pan right from Jean and eagle on a screen in the studio, to Jean seated at her news desk watching the last few seconds of her report. She turns to face the camera.

JEAN
Thank you for watching, everyone. I hope you enjoyed that report as much as I did. This has been the CDN Evening News. Our Capital, Your City.

*       *       *

White House Press Room, the seats are filled, journalists, cameras, the podium stands alone on the platform.  Wolfram steps into the frame and rests his hands on the podium, looking out over the crowded room.

WOLFRAM
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  I’d like to give a brief statement in order to clarify to some extent the truth, regarding the allegations surrounding the President’s decision to pass laws restricting the sale and distribution of certain firearms.  The notion that anyone in this administration has worked in conjunction with KESG (pronounced key-sig), accepted funding from any terrorist organization, or granted them any measure of influence in shaping our domestic or foreign policy, is outrageous.  The Koreston shooting was the last straw, and while he has been quiet about this issue until now, President Lang intends to complete the work of implementing responsible gun regulations by the end of next year—in spite of the swarming cloud of unfounded theories obstructing that work right now.  Whether or not members of KESG or other terror groups would benefit from such laws being passed in the United States is simply irrelevant.  The questions we should be asking are, “Will this legislation be good for Americans?”  “How likely is it that this legislation will contribute to a safer more peaceful homeland?”  “What should we do to facilitate tranquility, prosperity, and wellness for future generations?”
Looks down at notes.
We need to focus on goals that align with the true values of this nation, and not on unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.  Thank you for your time.

He walks off the platform and exits the room to an uproar of questions and flashing cameras.

Inside a gun/army surplus/survival store, the camera moves past a wall with hunting rifles, assault rifles, and shotguns mounted and leaning against it, then curves left and down, moving over a long glass counter and a row of dozens of handguns, then turns left and up, passing boxes of ammunition, kevlar vests, various targets, and other supplies, then curves left again, completing a spiral, and settling on Jean, a cameraman, and an employee who is speaking.

KEVIN
I take it shooting maybe two, three times a month.  She’s a beautiful weapon, the ACR.

JEAN
Do you ever use it for hunting?

KEVIN
Hunting with automatic weapons is illegal in the State of Alabama.  No, I fire that gun at the rifle range, strictly at the rifle range.

JEAN
How many guns do you have, total, if you don’t mind saying?

KEVIN
Including pistols?

JEAN
Yes, everything.

KEVIN
Thinks for a few seconds.
Twenty-five—no, there’s the five-shot Remington, the cross bow…  Do cross bows count?

JEAN
No, just firearms.

KEVIN
Twenty-six, then.

JEAN
What would you say to people who want to make selling certain types of firearms illegal?

KEVIN
Looks silently at her for a moment.
I’d tell ‘em I’ve got a Constitutional right to keep and bear arms, and that’s a right our Forefathers guaranteed to protect us from tyrannous governments.  It’s a right I hold near and dear.

Medium close-up on Jean nodding.

Jean and two crew members driving down a street in an SUV, through a residential area of Alabama, past houses and cars and people every so often, working in their yards or walking on the sidewalk.  Silence inside the car.  They pull up to a hotel in a fairly nice area of the town, and Jean gets out at the front entrance, while the other two drive off to park.

She enters her hotel room, sets her backpack on a chair by the door, and walks over to the mini-fridge.  She takes a bar of chocolate and small bottle of brandy out, and sits in a chair by the glass door.  Medium-close shot of her leaning back in her chair, tipping the front chair legs off the floor, eating the chocolate, and staring out the window.

Jean jogs along streets and paths in Tuscaloosa, while listening to Modest Mouse’s, “Missed the Boat,” on headphones.  We see different scenic views of the town in the early evening.  She returns to the hotel and meets her crew in the lobby.

JEAN
You two look handsome.  Where ya off to?

CAMERAMAN
Remy wants to check out the karaoke bar up the street.  You want to go?

JEAN
No, I’m kind of tired.

REMY
Sings.
Somewhere, beyond the sea…  Somewhere, waiting for me…  My lover stands—

JEAN
Starts walking away.
Hate to miss that.

Television screen showing Adnan as a child, swinging a plastic bat as his dad pitches tennis balls to him in a small backyard.  The video camera bounces and drifts slightly, and his mother says, “Good hit, Addie!” when he hits a ball and starts to run the imaginary bases.  Next on the screen, the camera approaches his mother in the kitchen of their home, as she prepares Chicken Shawarma Kabobs and rice, and we hear Adnan’s voice:

ADNAN
And here is my beautiful mother, making my favorite dinner, chicken shawarma.
He zooms in on the line of kabobs on the stovetop, then back out at his mom.
Pose for the camera, Mama.

RANIM
Go away, Adnan, I am busy.
She pushes the camera away.

Next on the screen, an indoor skating rink where middle schoolers are playing roller hockey.

MIZREB
From behind the camera in the stands, as Adnan steals the puck and breaks away toward the goal.
Go, Son, go!

He takes a shot and misses wide, the fans jump in their seats and settle down again.

Mr. Mizreb pays for the stack of DVD’s at the front counter, takes his credit card and receipt, and leaves with the stack in his hands.  It is morning.  As he approaches the corner of a gray brick building, a man on the other side of the street starts crossing towards him.  We see Mr. Mizreb walking down the sidewalk, beyond the shooter’s back, about forty feet away.  He sees him and keeps walking, the shooter draws a black handgun, Mr. Mizreb sees it and drops the DVD’s and raises his hands.  The shooter fires a bullet into his heart, but Mr. Mizreb manages to turn and start running.  The shooter fires a bullet into his right shoulder blade, and he falls forward and sideways against the gray brick wall.  He looks up, dazed, at the shooter.  Close-up of the gun in profile as it fires one more bullet.  Slow fade to black.

Jean and her crew load their bags into the SUV in front of the hotel.  Her phone rings.  She checks the name.

JEAN
Hey, Stanley.

STANLEY
Hello, Ms. Connelly.  Did you all leave yet?

JEAN
Packing the car right now.

STANLEY
I need you back in D.C.  Adnan’s father’s just been killed.

She closes the car door, looks up in disbelief.

*       *       *

Wolfram sits across the table from a beautiful woman in an elegant, dimly lit restaurant.  As they silently finish eating their lunch entrées, he glances up at her and sips his wine.  The door to his apartment opens and they enter, Wolfram first, then he closes and locks it behind her.

WOLFRAM
Would you like some more wine, I have—

The woman pushes him back against the door and kisses him.  He lets her, but doesn’t reciprocate her enthusiasm.

WOLFRAM
Just a moment.

WOMAN
Stops kissing his neck.
Huh?

WOLFRAM
Just… one second.
He places his keys and wallet in a bowl on the kitchen table, removes his jacket, and hangs it on the back of a chair.
Are you sure you don’t want another glass?

She walks slowly towards him, takes his tie in her hand, turns, and leads him through the living room and down the hall.

In his bedroom (still daytime), he sits propped up in bed with his laptop in front of him, while the woman sleeps naked beside him.  On the screen is an article and photo of the corner where Mr. Mizreb was shot, a perimeter of yellow tape, crowded with police, journalists, and civilians.

In the Roosevelt Room, President Lang, Wolfram, two men in military uniforms, and a few others sit quietly at the table, while two Secret Service Agents stand beside the doors.  Lang stands up and paces back and forth behind his chair, then stops and leans forward on the chair back, looking around at each person seated at the table.  They continue waiting for a few seconds.  A voice speaks from one of the laptops, which shows a mountain range in the desert.

SOLDIER
The target has entered the red zone, sir.

GENERAL
Thank you, Captain.
He turns to look at the President.

PRESIDENT LANG
Bows his head, closes his eyes for a moment, looks at the General, and nods.

GENERAL
Fire when ready, Captain.

A missile launches from a U.S. Military base in the desert, flies low through the air as the land rushes by below.  The rocket accelerates over the low plain leading toward the mountain range several miles ahead, toward a cave-like opening at the foot of one of the mountains, a few vehicles and crates outside the entrance.  The missile enters and detonates, fire erupts from the opening, followed by dust and falling boulders from above, sealing the cave shut.  Silence, and the view of the mountain becomes the same image on the General’s laptop in the Roosevelt Room.  He turns and nods to the President.

On his way out the door, Wolfram is accompanied by Lang, and they walk out through the White House together.

PRESIDENT LANG
Thanks for your help today, Secretary Smidgen.

WOLFRAM
My pleasure, sir.  I’ll have a statement drawn up for the evening report.

PRESIDENT LANG
“Our battle is more full of names than yours,
 Our men more perfect in the use of arms,
 Our armour all as strong, our cause the best;
 Then reason will our hearts should be as good.”

WOLFRAM
You think we should let Shakespeare handle our PR from now on?

PRESIDENT LANG
I’m sure he’d refuse.

WOLFRAM
Smiles.
What should we do about Mosul?

PRESIDENT LANG
Looks at him sternly for a second.
Tell the truth.

Jean and Vera on exercise bikes, sweating, in the back row of a crowded Spin class, and talking over the music (If possible, “You Shook Me All Night Long/Good Girl” Remix), with occasional interruptions from the instructor.

VERA
Two more months of this, my buns are gonna be rock hard.

JEAN
You already have a great body.  It’s me who needs to get in shape.

INSTRUCTOR
Okay, Ladies, let’s take it up out of the saddle.
She stands up on her bicycle, and the rest of the class does likewise.
Still on a flat road, we’re approaching our first hill.

JEAN
Did you hear about Adnan Mizreb’s father?

VERA
Course.  I haven’t isolated myself completely.

JEAN
They’re saying it was a lone gunman, a guy who went crazy, and hates Muslims.

VERA
Well, his son was a terrorist.

INSTRUCTOR
Two, three, here we go.  Find those glutes, wake ‘em up!
She dials up the resistance on her bike and starts pedaling faster.

JEAN
I don’t think his dad had anything to do with the attack.  I think it was all him, and his buddy, Jonathan.

VERA
That smokin’ little frat boy?  They cleared him already.

JEAN
Yes, they did.

INSTRUCTOR
Back in the saddle.  We’re headin’ back to our jumps.
Sits down again.
Take it down, keep it here.

The rest of the class sits down and dials down the resistance on their bikes.

VERA
What about your big special report?

JEAN
We have some more footage to get, but so far we’re on schedule.

INSTRUCTOR
Two, three, here we go.  Up…
Stands up riding, class follows.
Down…

Sits down, class follows.
Up…

Stands up again, class follows.

*       *       *

Wolfram Smidgen in a park with the dome of the Capitol Building in the background.  He’s talking on his cell phone.

WOLFRAM
Listening, composedly distressed.
Do you understand what’s happening?  …The truth is coming to light.  Lang’s accounts are being investigated by three different committees, as we speak…  I hope to God they find no ties between them…

Listens, settling his eyes on the Capitol Building.
I’m telling you to wait.

Jean introduces the evening news from her desk in the studio.

JEAN
To camera.
Tonight on CDN Evening News, a bus carrying nineteen children and three adults, including the driver, overturned yesterday on a Maryland interstate, on its way to Washington D.C. for a field trip.  Four students and one teacher have been hospitalized, and the teacher, Terry Isaacs, is in critical condition.  Also, The Sound of Music heads to the Kennedy Center this week.  Nathaniel Waterloo, who plays Captain Georg von Trapp, stopped by CDN to talk about the upcoming production.  But first…

Footage of a staggered line of brown and yellow ducklings waddling up a “duck ramp” at the Capitol Reflecting Pool.

JEAN-VO
Ducklings are in luck!  Two new ramps have been installed at the U.S. Capitol Reflecting Pool to provide easier water access to families of ducks—and the ducklings have already figured out how to use the new amenity.

The ducklings turn and waddle toward the water, starting down the declined plank over the ledge.  They slip and fall, sliding and splashing into the pool, as Jean talks.

JEAN-VO
Warmer weather has allowed for an increase in the pool’s duckling population, but its slanted edge was making it difficult for them to get back into the water.

Stanley approaches Jean as she’s removing her microphone after the broadcast.

STANLEY
Good show, lady.

JEAN
Thank you, kind sir.

STANLEY
Cup of coffee, ten minutes?

They stand between two stone lions on the front steps of the CDN News studio.

STANLEY
Will the special be done in time to meet the new deadline?

JEAN
Saturday’s the day.

STANLEY
Can Joe finish editing without you?

JEAN
I trust him with it.  Whether or not Smidgen’s people approve it is a different story.

STANLEY
Don’t worry about that.  Listen, we need everything ready by the time that special airs.  Mizreb’s death may be the start.  We have to act before the earthquake gets worse.

JEAN
You want me to go to Koreston?

STANLEY
Go, get what you need, and be back by Sunday.  Who knows, your work might be what saved the world after all.

*       *       *

An underground warehouse in the Middle East, four guards armed with assault rifles stand on opposite walls near the steps at the front of a large room full of crates and various containers of weapons, ammunition, and chemicals.  The sound of the metal door at the top of the steps (out of frame), clanking and swinging open.  A voice shouts (in Arabic), “Hurry up, lock it in!”  The sound of a metal case dropping on metal rails, and the voice yells (in Arabic), “Careful!”  The sound of the case sliding down the rails on either side of the steps, and the backs of two men, side by side, walking backwards down the steps with the case in front of them (about the size of a refrigerator), come into view at the bottom of the steps, and slide the case onto two pallets on the floor in front of the steps.  The guards don’t move as the five men transporting the case center it on the pallets and prepare to store it among the other crates of weapons.

In the small bedroom of a house in an unspecified Middle Eastern city, a white man (soldier) in plain clothes sits at a table with a laptop in front of him.  On the screen, bank account information showing a recent transfer of $75,000,000.  He opens a new window on the screen, a blank message box, and types, “The beans have been planted.  Say hello to the farmer.” and clicks send.

General Albertson sits at the desk in his office, reading an email on his computer.  The phone beeps and his secretary’s voice speaks.

SECRETARY
General Albertson, President Lang for you, sir.

He stops reading and looks from the screen to the telephone, thinks for a moment.

GENERAL ALBERTSON
Thank you, Sarah.
Picks up phone.
Hello, Mr. President…  I’m doing well, how about yourself?

Obligatory smile.
Of course, not the fairest weather…

Listens for fifteen seconds as Lang speaks.
Yes, sir.  I will be there.  Eight o’clock…  You too, Mr. President.  Mm-hm, God bless.

Hangs up phone, sits back and stares blankly at screen for a moment.

In the classroom at the University in Koreston, Melissa sits among students spaced every other chair, taking an exam.  Close-up on page, multiple choice question:  “A prominent leader and medicine man of the Chiricahua Apache tribe, he both raided and resisted U.S. and Mexican forces in southwestern American territories and northern Mexican states, following the end of the war with Mexico in 1848.

a) Chief Touch the Clouds
b) Thayendanegea (Joseph Brant)
c) Tisquantum (Squanto)
d) Geronimo
e) Sacagawea

She reads over the answers, and circles “d.”  She exits the class and sees Jean standing across the hall waiting for her, but Melissa doesn’t seem to recognize her.

JEAN
Walks after her.
Melissa.  Can we talk for a minute?

MELISSA
Keeps walking.

JEAN
Catches up to her, walks alongside.
I can help you, if you talk to me.

Jean and Melissa sit at a table in a study room of the University library.  The front wall of the room is glass, and we see them speaking for a few seconds but don’t hear what they are saying.

MELISSA
We weren’t even officially “together.”  I went over to his place once or twice a week, and we’d watch tv and hang out.  Neither of us wanted a relationship.

JEAN
Why didn’t you tell the police?

MELISSA
Adnan and I stopped seeing each other almost half a year ago.  What could I have told them?

JEAN
It was serious enough for his mother to know about you.

MELISSA
He exaggerates.  He probably told her so she’d think he was normal.

JEAN
Melissa, I know there’s nothing I can say to make sense of what happened—the shooting.  And I know you know more than you’re letting on.  I’m trying to help us to be more protected from this type of violence in the future.

MELISSA
Glances up at her, then back down at the table.

JEAN
When you were with him, did you ever see or hear anything that might indicate his being connected to a terrorist network?

*       *       *

Wolfram Smidgen stands behind a row of desks in a room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.  A large flat-screen tv almost covers the wall in front of them, and is divided into twelve equal sections, each one showing a different news channel, some from foreign countries.  Most of the sections are muted, while a few have people speaking and footage playing simultaneously.  Headlines: 

  1. Dutch Lawmakers Approve U.K. Trade Deal with Ukraine
  2. KESG Blast Kills Dozens at Family Gathering in Iraq
  3. More Than 150 Pot Shops Busted in Detroit
  4. South Korea Leader Orders Investigation into Unreported U.S. Launches
  5. Bangladesh Cyclone Wreaks Havoc in Rohingya Refugee Camps

He walks down a hallway, past several doorways, and stops at one to lean in and talk to his assistant.

WOLFRAM
I’m going out to grab some lunch.

ASSISTANT
Okay, Mr. Secretary.

He walks through the hall toward the front entrance of the building.  View of doors from outside, one door opens and Wolfram emerges, starts down steps and down the walkway to the street.  As he walks toward Pennsylvania Avenue, the camera zooms out at a medium-fast pace to reveal the entirety of the Eisenhower Building, the front courtyard, and then the White House and front lawn next door, continuing to zoom out until all of downtown D.C. is visible in the frame.

On a restaurant patio overlooking a lake, college students stand and sit around tables, drinking beer and eating appetizers.  Jean stands inside the glass doors, looking out at the students.  She sees Jonathan sitting with a few other kids, talking and laughing.  Jonathan slides three empty glasses onto the outside bar.

JONATHAN
Three more Heineken’s, please.

BARTENDER
Coming right up.

JEAN
Finally getting back to normal around here, huh?

JONATHAN
Looks quickly at her.
You’re that reporter.  Don’t you have a show coming up in a few days?

JEAN
That’s the plan.  I’m hoping you can answer a question for me first.

JONATHAN
One question?

JEAN
What do you think they’re going to do when they find out you pushed Adnan into killing all those people?

JONATHAN
Laughs.
I don’t know what you heard, but—

JEAN
God knows.  And the authorities know about Fairfield.

JONATHAN
So what?  I didn’t shoot those people, Addie did.  You get the hell away from me.

JEAN
What you did as a child, plus giving Addie the .38, your life’s over.  Good luck finding a job.

JONATHAN
Angry.
I don’t need a—

Looks away, then back at her.
This is harassment.  You have no right to be here.

Leaves a twenty on the bar, takes the beers, and walks away.

Smidgen walks along a street, turns into a park, and continues on a path while fixing a thin black adhesive strip to a black zip drive.  Near the center of the park is a fountain (different fountain than the earlier scene), light crowd in the surrounding area.  He enters the square and walks past the fountain, bending quickly to hide the zip drive underneath its outer edge.  He glances around rapidly as he keeps walking and exits the square on the other side.

Deborah Elm rides in the passenger seat of a golf cart, beside a man with gray hair, and they stop on a fairway a few hundred feet from the green.  She removes her phone from her pocket and checks the message:  Private Number: “Keating Park.  Center fountain.  Southeast side, under the outer edge.”

Early evening, as the sun is setting, she walks toward the fountain, a little nervous, and kneels down to look under the edge.  Seeing the zip drive, she stands up and walks a few paces, removes it, puts it in her pocket and keeps walking.

*       *       *

Stanley and Joe in the editing room at CDN, watching Jean’s gun violence special on the center screen.  She is walking down the sidewalk in a quiet, sunny neighborhood, and talking into a microphone.

JEAN
Some believe having the right to carry a concealed firearm serves to promote peace, by discouraging would-be attackers from preying on others.
She stops walking.
But what’s keeping the people who lawfully carry guns from misusing them in public—with potentially fatal consequences?

The special cuts to Jean interviewing a man in the front yard of his house.

JEAN
Have you ever drawn a weapon on a human being?

MAN
Few times.  Never had to shoot nobody.

Monique knocks on the door to the editing room, and opens it.

MONIQUE
Mr. Balto, you might want to see this.

They walk into the main studio, where a few large screens are showing a national news channel with Deborah Elm speaking to the camera.

DEBORAH
We can clearly hear President Lang’s voice on this recording.  There is no question that this is the President of the United States.
The screen splits to show a man at another desk.
In your opinion, is there any way to tell when this conversation took place?

He starts replying, as Stanley reacts.

STANLEY
No, no, no…  What is this?

EXPERT
So we know the file was saved onto the drive approximately forty-eight hours ago, but we can’t as yet determine when the President spoke these words.

DEBORAH
Can we hear the recording again, please?

PRESIDENT LANG
Slight static.
The next one gets cleared by me…  Make sure they know that…

Angry.
Now they can trace those weapons to us.

DEBORAH
An investigation into the specific types, quantities, and locations of the weapons is currently underway.  Neither President Lang, nor any member of his administration, has made a statement.

JOE
Could it be fake?  Can they fabricate someone’s voice like that?

STANLEY
They can and they did.
He looks at the screen a moment longer, then turns and starts to leave.

JOE
What about the show, are we gonna—

STANLEY
On his way out.
Still on, tomorrow night.

Jean sitting near the back of an airplane, dark outside.

FLIGHT ATTENDANT
Bell rings.
Good evening, passengers, please fasten your seatbelts and return your seat backs to their upright and locked positions.  We will be landing at Ronald Reagan National Airport in about fifteen minutes.  I repeat, we will be landing in Washington D.C. in about fifteen minutes.

Aerial view of D.C. at night, followed by a time-lapse shot of the sun rising over the downtown area.

A conference room in the Capitol Building, twenty or so of the President’s Advisors, Generals, and Chiefs-of-Staff, (including Wolfram and General Albertson), sit quietly around a long rectangular table.  President Lang enters, walks to the head of the table, pulls out the chair, sits down, and looks up at them.

PRESIDENT LANG
Thank you all for being here this morning.  I don’t intend to bore you with any stale anecdotes about the time before I came to Washington, the years when the thought of my becoming President would have been pretty funny.  I should say that I’ve always loved this nation.  It’s not our freedom that I love, or our ideals, our values, or our history.  I love it cause it’s mine.  And yours, and the bums who sleep outside on benches, or in the woods, it’s theirs too.  The United States is everyone’s.

When I took office I swore to faithfully execute my duties, and to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.  In the course of carrying out that promise I’ve made some enemies, some of whom are right here at this table.  Some have devoted themselves to undermining my work with blatant lies, vindictive accusations, and treasonous plots to cast my presidency in the most sinister shades of darkness.  Don’t think for one instant that either your actions, or your intentions, have gone unobserved.

A number of you might cringe upon hearing this again, but my grandfather fought and died for this country in the first World War.  He took a stand for this place, marched off to hell, and died there, in part so we could serve here, free from the threat of hell overtaking our own shores.  If you disagree with my agenda to increase regulations on certain firearms, that’s fine, you’re free to oppose me.  But if you’re operating under the assumption that you have any chance of getting away with treachery…
He looks around at them again.
You’d better take a step back, and find a different way to go.

He stands up, walks out of the silent room.

*       *       *

Stanley in the control room of CDN, watching a national news channel as Jean and their crew prepare for the broadcast.  On the screen, four people sit behind a desk talking fervently about the audio recording.

ANCHOR
We have to be real, here.  How much evidence do you need?  There are at least two offshore bank accounts holding a combined five hundred and thirty million dollars, which have been linked to known business associates of men in Lang’s administration, and now we have undeniable proof that he oversaw an illegal arms trade.  What could convince you at this point?

GUEST
Hold on, can we back up a second?  The accounts being linked to President Lang’s administration, hasn’t been proven yet—

ANCHOR
Rolls his eyes.
Hasn’t been—okay, I guess it hasn’t been proven that you’ve appeared as a guest on this program, either.

Stanley watches, dismayed, then looks out at Jean behind the desk in the studio.  A crew member in the control room starts calling his name, but he keeps looking at her as she reads over her notes, then looks back at him through the glass, and smiles.

CREW MEMBER
Speaks into headset microphone.
Yes, sir, Mr. Stockton, he’s ready.
Switches microphone off.
Stanley, you in there?  They’re ready to roll at LQVN.

STANLEY
Puts on headset.
All set, Ms. Connelly?

JEAN
Takes a breath, and nods.

The intro to LQVN’s Thursday night program begins on two of the monitors in the CDN control room, while Jean stays on the other screens.  Charles Stockton appears facing the camera, from his desk at LQVN.

STOCKTON
Good evening, ladies and gentleman.  Tonight we have a special report from a journalist you may not know.  She’s a local D.C. reporter named Jean Connelly, and she hosts the CDN nightly news on weekdays at six p.m.  Jean’s been traveling the country for the last few weeks, interviewing and doing research on the subject of gun violence in America.  Here she is to introduce the piece, live from Washington.  Hello, Jean.

JEAN
Hi, Mr. Stockton.  Thanks for letting me be a part of your show.  It’s an honor to be here.  Before we air the special, I’d like to address a couple issues that are of the utmost importance to the American people.  The shooting last month in Koreston was, as we all know, a senseless tragedy.

Wolfram sits staring at the tv in his apartment, half-empty whiskey bottle on the table in front of him.

JEAN
Adnan Mizreb was a severely disturbed young man, isolated, depressed, and therefore vulnerable to hatred and evil.  However despite what most of the media, and the authorities have stated, he was not the only one responsible for the attack.

Vera lays stretched out on the couch in her house, a glass of wine and a bowl of Funyuns on the table.

VERA
Alex, get in here, Jeanie’s thing is on tv.

JEAN
Adnan’s friend, Jonathan Rand, who’s now in custody, both helped him to plan and pressured him into committing the murders, as well as supplying Adnan with the thirty-eight caliber revolver as a backup weapon.  Jonathan acquired the gun at least eight years ago, and possibly used it in two thousand ten to wound a driver at a demolition derby in Fairfield, Ohio, where his older brother was competing.

Wolfram watches tv, anxious and perplexed.

JEAN
An anonymous source who was close to Adnan has claimed and is willing to testify that Jonathan, quote, “offered her money to help him go through with it.”
She pauses a moment, looks down at her notes.
The last point I’d like to address concerns the recent accusations directed at President Lang and his administration.  After the Koreston shooting I spoke with the President about interviewing him on the topic of gun control, but later Secretary Smidgen informed us of their decision to go with a more experienced journalist.
Flashback to Wolfram and Stanley at the café as Jean continues talking.
Soon after the interview, my boss received an offer to begin work on a special to be aired nationally, the program we’ll be showing tonight.
Flashback to Stanley and Lang talking (new scene), then investigators searching files on computers, and monitoring Smidgen’s communications).
When Stanley saw the Secretary’s change of heart about our competence, he could tell something was wrong, and went to talk with President Lang, who discovered not only Smidgen’s connections to certain members of KESG, but also his efforts to spread the lies we’ve been hearing.

Wolfram watches Jean on tv, realizes what’s happening and becomes enraged, then back to Jean in the studio.

JEAN
As for the audio that’s just been released, it’s easy enough to replicate a person’s voice now.  We managed to do more than that in less than twenty-four hours.

She turns to look at the large screen beside the news desk, where an image of the White House Press Room appears, the empty platform, podium, two flags, cameramen, and chairs full of journalists.  Wolfram enters the room and steps up to the podium.

WOLFRAM
Hello, America.  I falsified evidence in order to frame Thomas Lang.
Smiles, and walks out of the frame.

Wolfram in his apartment, bows his head for a second, then grips the edge of the glass table and flips it over, shattering it against the tv and wall.

WOLFRAM
Points at Jean’s face on the cracked screen.
I’m gonna kill you.

He walks down the hall toward his bedroom, and we see Jean and hear fragments of her words through the broken tv.  Wolfram walks out of the dark hallway with a small black handgun, over the shattered glass on the carpet, and to the front door, opens it, and walks out into the hallway of his apartment building.  He slams the door and starts left toward the elevators, about one hundred feet away, where a Secret Service Agent steps into view.  Wolfram sees him, keeps walking, and starts to raise the gun.  The Agent draws his gun and shoots Wolfram in the right shoulder, his arm falls to his side, but he does not drop the gun.  Staggering a little, he keeps walking, reaching over with his left hand to take the gun from his right.

SECRET SERVICE AGENT
Aiming at him.
Don’t do this, sir.

Wolfram grips the gun in his left hand, walking slowly, about forty feet from the Agent, and raises it quickly to shoulder level, and the Agent fires a bullet through Wolfram’s heart.  He falls forward and sideways against the wall, similar to Mr. Mizreb, and lies dead with his upper back and head against the wall.  The Agent approaches slowly and kicks the gun away. 

*       *       *

Upper and Lower Senate Garden, bright, sunny, early Spring, the sound of the fountain and a few people sitting and walking nearby.  Jean sits on a bench with the Capitol Building in the background.  Vera approaches, and she smiles.

VERA
Hey, hot stuff.  Want to have a drink?

JEAN
With you?  Anytime.

VERA
How do I know you won’t run away, to New York or something, and leave me stranded here?

JEAN
Looks down at her feet, up again.
To be honest, there’s a good chance I’ll do that.  I’ll come back and visit.
She stands up, and they start walking along the row of trees.

The camera rises above the fountain as they walk away, their conversation slowly fading out.

VERA
Can I come with you?

JEAN
Come with me?  I don’t even know your name, lady.

VERA
Mi nombre es Antonella.  Cómo te llamas, Rojita?

JEAN
This… isn’t fun anymore.

VERA
No, please…  Let’s do the whole day like this.

JEAN
Shut up, Vera.

VERA

 

 

~  Music and Credits  ~

 

One thought on “Reconstitution (Full Screenplay)

  1. John Morris

    Bob,
    You have an uncanny knack for pinning down a character’s voice, and command over each ingredient of, presumably, a five-Act play. Your weapon of choice is the scene, and I think you do each scene justice with a fully realized cast at your disposal. Once you have the characters distinctly drawn into their own corners, you simply need to pull the string and have the game-pieces interact before you. I enjoyed your play, which, some say is the precursor to the novel? I look forward to reading more of your work as it’s made available. –John Morris

    Reply

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