On Tuesday House had to bite his bottom lip to the point of drawing blood to prevent himself from crying out in pain when he was woken by a spasm in his thigh. He frantically swallowed whatever first dropped into his hand groping around the nightstand and systematically started to knead the ruined flesh. „Huh?" Wilson had obviously been woken by the movement - fuck! House hated doing that to him.
„I'm ok, go back to sleep!"
Wilson consulted the alarm clock on his side of the bed. „It's 08:00h; time to get up anyway. I'll run the Jacuzzi for you."
House sighed. „Ok... And then you go back to bed."
„We have to be in Trenton at eleven."
„Exactly, so you've plenty of time to get more sleep, which you need."
„Not as much as the reassurance that we'll be there on time."
„Listen, I know perfectly well that you didn't sleep last night before I did, and by that time it was at least half past three. If you get up at 09:00h you won't look as zombified as you do now in the first place and need less time to doll yourself up."
„You think that logic is impeccable, don't you?"
„In actual fact I do."
Wilson got up. „I'll run the Jacuzzi now one way or the other, and I'll decide whether to go back to bed pending if I recognise the guy looking at me from the bathroom mirror or not, compromise?"
„Compromise. But believe me, you won't recognise him."
Wilson came back a couple of minutes later looking traumatised.
„Going back to bed then?"
„Yes, I had a vision of my great grandfather's corpse in the mirror."
„Do you even have a memory of him?"
„No, he died in a tsarist pogrom in 1915. That's when my great grandmother took Bubbe and Aunt Zelda and left. Anyway, yes, I look like shit."
„I'll back in about an hour with coffee, ok?" House gently kissed Wilson's eyes shut and went for his bath in a vague hope of relief.
Together with the meds kicking in the warm water jets helped to bring the leg out of spasm somewhat and House felt reasonably secure on his feet again when he brought Wilson his coffee and two cinnamon cookies. He hated having to wake him again, but by now it was almost a quarter past nine and definitely time to get up and moving even by his standards. He set the mug down on the nightstand and gently shook Wilson. „Time to wake up, Jimmy love..." He was really feeling quite unusually tender this morning.
„Coffee is getting cold..."
„Shit, what time is it?"
Well, that had woken him up anyway. „09:15. I'll make you some breakfast and get dressed while you have your coffee, then I won't be in your way."
„Fuck, you said you'd wake me in an hour, that's nearly an hour and a quarter now! And what about your breakfast?"
„I'm not hungry."
„Doesn't mean you don't have to eat."
„Yeah yeah, I'll have something." Wilson was unfortunately right. „Just get yourself ready and leave me the fuck alone!" He ignored Wilson's worried look at that. What exactly did he expect an hour and a bit before he was supposed to defend himself for something completely idiotic in court? There was only so much Polyanna he could do on the best of days, and this was by no means one of them.
They dressed and breakfasted in silence and only started talking again in the car on the way to the courthouse in Trenton. Wilson was driving, because while the spasm was now finally gone, House's leg still wasn't playing particularly nice with the stress he was trying to con himself into not feeling. Wilson lay his hand on his good thigh: „How about after this we just drive straight on to Brigantine? It'll be a hot day and the beach will do us both good."
„In these clothes?"
„I can run into a mall on the way and get shorts and towels while you wait in the car."
„I guess... Let's wait and see how I feel after this is over, ok?"
They fell silent again until they met their entourage of witnesses and well wishers outside the court house. Gina was looking solemn and grown up in her blue sailor dress and loosely tied hair, while Cuddy was looking alternately amused and annoyed at seeing him up in court as the defendant once again and Rachel just seemed to take in in her stride. Foreman brought good wishes from Jada and from Chase, both of whom had to work, and complimented him on his suitably sober choice of suit and tie, getting a grunted acknowledgement along the lines of that he, House, had already known about sober suits and ties when Foreman had still been shitting his pants. Jack was looking absurd in the way only a student could, in what had clearly been his prom suit, a white polycotton shirt and a tie he had obviously nicked from Wilson. Ella Kaminski had invested her three hours of outfit shopping well, looking every inch the retired business woman in a discreetly patterned beige linen dress accessorised with a light cardigan, handbag and shoes in cream. Adrian and Dr Wyatt came over talking and giving off an optimistic vibe, which made House feel marginally better. Matty, also unsuccessfully dressed up as a competent adult, came over with a card. He smiled at House: "Here, that's from everyone in the building. Well, almost everyone I guess..."
House took it and looked; it said good luck and was signed by everybody who wasn't a witness anyway. „Thanks!"
The his phone rang, Danny's tone. „Hi Greg, just meant to wish you good luck! And from Joe, too."
„Sorry I didn't come; me and court rooms just don't go well together."
„That's ok. You just do what's best for you." And he meant it, the memory of Danny's latest psychotic break was still too fresh to want anything else for him.
„I will. Call me when you're done there, ok?"
„Will do..." For some reason Danny's call had made Alvie pop back into his mind, and the fact that it was nearly two weeks since he had promised him a visit. He made a mental note to call him in the afternoon and arrange a date and time. „Talk to you then, bye!"
„Bye!" They finished the conversation.
There was also an e-mail from Stacy, apologising for her absence due to a long scheduled medical appointment, but reassuring them that really House had nothing much to fear. Unfortunately that didn't do much to actually make him feel better, but at least she'd tried.
About 20 yards away the plaintiff's side of the proceedings was congregating, representing everything that was, as far as House was concerned, wrong with America, including the fact that they were undoubtedly thinking exactly the same thing about him and his entourage. The Reverend was wearing one of his, at a rough estimate, 76 black acrylic suits that he obviously thought was giving him the gravitas of a spiritual leader, even though all it was really giving him was BO. With him were a woman in a blue, calf length dress clearly made from tablecloth fabric, opaque hosiery and sensible shoes, a man also dressed in the austere acrylics fashion, a younger woman with a dress sense that could only be described as gaudy, a nondescript couple in modest dress and finally a young family with three kids, two boys and a girl. The older boy and the girl were huddled into their mom's skirt, whereas the middle child was looking at House with undisguised curiosity. Being looked at like that made him feel slightly uncomfortable, but at least the curiosity meant there was hope for the kid. He gave him a little smile, causing the boy to start and flee back to his mom. „Leave my child alone, you pervert!" she shrieked across to him.
„I'm not doing anything. He looked at me, I gave him a smile, being a friendly kind of guy and all." He gave her a completely shit-eating grin.
„You're grooming him, I know your type!"
„Grooming? I hardly ever groom myself, what on Earth would make you think I'd make the effort to do that with a kid? Besides I wouldn't know his choice of cosmetics!" He was now beginning to enjoy himself. Wilson, in the mean time, seemed to be dying a thousand deaths.
Adrian chuckled: „I think you're giving your boyfriend another brain haemorrhage here. And don't forget that, no matter how harmless or not, these guys will try to use all your behaviour against you."
„Meh..." From the corner of his eye House could see a light blue BMW convertible pull into a staff space on the parking lot. The driver was a Latina, forty-ish, and there was a big bumper sticker on the back stating that judges do it on the bench. He found himself hoping to whichever powers ruled the universe that she was the judge in charge of his case and that her bumper sticker indicated a good sense of humour as well as a free spirit. But then of course she would only hand down the sentence, and the jury would be quite a different matter. For FUCK's sake, what had he got himself into? He groaned, as his leg once again registered its disapproval of the whole situation. „Let's go in" he said. „I won't be able to stand for much longer." As the ramp was about six miles long, Foreman helped him up the few steps to the entrance and they went in.
Outside the court room Adrian gave everyone a last briefing., starting with Gina: „Ok, you know what you've got to do, right?"
„Yes, just tell everyone what I saw."
„Exactly. And make sure you don't say what you think of these people, just the facts."
„And some of the people the Reverend brought might say mean things or ask questions that might make you feel bad, but you can't let that affect you."
„What does affect mean?"
„It means that whatever they say, you shouldn't let that make you feel bad."
„I won't, they're stupid!"
„And that is something you definitely shouldn't say in there."
„Cos that's what I think of them and not just what I saw."
„That's it. Do you think you can do that?"
She nodded vigorously. „Yes!"
Adrian now turned his attention to the adult witnesses. „I guess you all know the drill?" Everyone nodded, Foreman in a particularly vigorous way. It wasn't the first time he had to help extract House from the soup after all.
The usher came and brought House and Adrian into the court room while the witnesses were led away to be called when their time to testify came. Inside, they sat down next to each other, House fervently hoping that the judge would show mercy and let him make his statements from his seat, because at this stage he didn't trust his leg to even hold up as far as the dock ten feet away. Another usher came in. „Please rise for her honour, justice Carla de Santos." House broke into a cold sweat getting up, putting as much weight as he could on the walker as he could and desperately trying to ignore the 3/4" masonry drill in his right thigh. Thanks goodness judge de Santos immediately bade them to sit down.
She confirmed the personal details: "Are you defendant Dr Gregory House, born June 11th, 1959 in Waukegan, Illinois, resident at 294 Nassau Street, Princeton, New Jersey?" House made to get up again to confirm that, but was stopped by the judge. „You may remain seated."
The Reverend protested: „That's favourable treatment!"
„No", the judge corrected. „That's reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Standing obviously causes the defendant difficulty and pain."
„Great, about time he did penance."
„Well, you're perfectly free to run your church with that attitude. This. however, is my court room and my attitudes apply ." House couldn't help himself but poke out his tongue at the Reverend. „Defendant, this is also not a second grade class room. Kindly behave!"
„Sorry, your honour, and thanks for letting me sit. Yes, I am Dr Gregory House, native of Waukegan, Illinois." House found it a bit surprising that the Reverend turned out to be from Vermont, in his experience religious fanatics didn't grow well in that soil, but that was the way it was. Next, House sneaked a look at the jury - a mixed bunch, which he hoped would work in his favour.
The proceedings started. "Defendant, you are accused of having forced a sexual act upon the plaintiff on Sunday, 25th May this year, what do you plead?"
"Do you deny the act of kissing the plaintiff and forcing your tongue into his mouth?"
"No, but I deny the act was sexual or sexually motivated."
"Kisses are either motivated by friendship and affection, or they are sexual in nature." The DA, a Mr van Aldenhoven, cut in. "I think we can regard it as obvious that you don't feel either friendship or affection for the plaintiff. Hence the approach must have been sexual."
House opened his mouth to reply to that allegation but Adrian gestured at him to be silent: "Mr van Aldenhoven, I think you might change your opinion on that once we have heard the testimony from Dr Wyatt over there. Dr House's mind does not operate as simply as you are suggesting."
Dr Wyatt acknowledged that with a nod and Adrian went on.
"As this trial proceeds you will find that, if my client is guilty of anything at all it is minor assault under severe provocation. This kiss was his long-delayed response to a three-year-harassment campaign from the plaintiff on grounds of sexual orientation, which my client and his partner, witness for the defence Dr James Evan Wilson, bore with admirable restraint by ignoring it."
"So why couldn't they have gone on ignoring it, sparing us all having to sit around a stuffy court room on such a glorious day?" Judge de Santos asked.
"They could not ignore the harassment any longer, because not only were the plaintiff and his congregation creating a nuisance for innocent by-standers by staging a picket outside their apartment building, but also because the picket caused particular emotional distress to their seven-year-old honorary granddaughter, witness for the defence Gina Elizabeth Blythe Cuddy."
House nodded in acknowledgement, causing the judge to involve him in the conversation again. "What exactly happened?"
"Regarding Gina's emotional distress?"
"She is usually a very happy, even-tempered child who will deal with difficult situations rationally by talking through them, but that night she came to our bedroom crying because the picket had given her a nightmare."
"How are you so sure that nightmare was directly connected to the picket?" The DA asked.
"I think we'll leave the explanation of that to the witness" Adrian said, making it very clear in his tone that was a statement and not a suggestion.
The first witness for the defence was called, squeezing House's shoulder in passing. "Dr James Evan Wilson, born February 28th, 1969 in New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada, resident at 294 Nassau Street, Princeton, New Jersey?"
"Are you even an American citizen? How can we be sure anything this man says can be trusted?" The Reverend did not seem happy.
"I'm not sure how my place of birth and citizenship are relevant to any of this, but if it helps you deal with the nightmare of having to listen to the testimony of a Canuckistani I can assure you that I grew up on Long Island since the age of six and have held dual citizenship since I was 21."
The judge didn't seem too happy either: "Reverend, establishing the trustworthiness of the witness is my job, and not yours! Dr Wilson, I can tell you're good at sarcasm, but there's a time and a place for that and this is not it, so kindly skip it!"
"Sorry, your honour, I will. My name is Dr James Evan Wilson, born in New Westminster, BC."
"What is your relationship to the defendant?"
"We've been best friends for fifty years and lovers for twenty."
Mr van Aldenhoven asked for Wilson to be sworn in: "As the witness has a clear personal interest in the defendant being acquitted, it strikes me as the right course of action."
"I'm an atheist, so I can't honestly swear." The plaintiff shuddered at the word 'atheist'.
"Alright" the judge stated. "So would you please affirm?"
"Of course. I do solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that the evidence I am about to give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."
"Thank you! Mr Gimignano stated that Dr House was acting under severe provocation when he committed the assault on Reverend Wright. Can you please tell us what happened in the run up to the deed?"
"Where do you want me to start? With the three year harassment campaign, or just that particular weekend?"
"Please stick to that weekend for the moment!"
"It started on Friday afternoon, when Dr House had gone to pick up our granddaughter..."
"Is that the witness Gina Elizabeth Blythe Cuddy?"
"Yes... He had taken the car to pick her up from school, and I was cleaning around the window facing the street when I noticed a commotion outside the entrance to our building. The Reverend was there preaching through a megaphone, and about twenty people holding placards clearly designed to insult Dr House and myself, and to attract attention to the fact that we live there and, in their opinion, shouldn't."
The DA cut in: "How can you be so sure the placards were targeted at you?"
"I'm the only Jewish person living there who can feasibly be considered gay, so who else would a placard saying Jew Fag be targeted at? Also, in the context of the harassment campaign preceding the picket, it made sense."
"Ok, please go on" the judge said. "What happened then?"
"I decided to ignore the picket for the time being and sat down on the balcony with a bottle of wine and some Broadway classics, which I happen to like."
"Did the people forming the picket react?"
"I don't think so, but then I didn't really look. I was trying to ignore them after all."
Adrian smiled: Wilson was doing a good job making his deliberate provocation of the crowd outside seem coincidental.
"About ten minutes later, Dr House and Gina came back. They both looked slightly shaken, and Dr House seemed even more unsure on his feet than usual. You might have noticed his mobility impairment."
"Indeed it hasn't escaped my notice."
"I asked what had happened and they told me that the people forming the picket had crowded around Dr House when they were trying to walk to the entrance instead of making space to let them through, nearly causing him to fall."
"Could that have been coincidence?"
"I suppose it could have been, but on the other hand I think we can all agree that it's at the very least good manners to make space for a person who clearly has difficulty walking and is using a mobility aid."
"Good manners aside, could it or couldn't it have been coincidence?"
"I don't think it was."
"Right, so what happened next"
"We made a communal decision to ignore the picket for the time being, as they were obviously trying to attract attention, so not giving it to them seemed like the best course of action. That worked until we had gone to bed."
"Dr House mentioned a nightmare?"
"Yes. It was about midnight. We were in bed, but still awake, when Gina came in looking very distressed. When we asked her what was wrong, she started to cry and only calmed down when she had snuggled up between us in bed."
"Maybe she was just trying to attract attention? It's not unheard of in children that age after all."
"I've known her since she was ten minutes old, and she's not that kind of person. Anyway, given that the picket had obviously caused her emotional distress we decided to call the police in the morning after breakfast, but an officer turned up before we had, because our downstairs neighbours, the Garrisons, had called them already."
"When was that?"
"In the morning while we were preparing breakfast. Officer McCarthy told us he had been called to deal with the commotion outside, but had been told by the Reverend that we were the real problem, so he'd had to come up to investigate."
"What did you tell him?"
"The same thing I'm now telling you."
"No, but our neighbour, Ella Kaminski, had just dropped in and told Officer McCarthy more about the Reverend's campaign against us over the years, some of which we hadn't even been aware of."
"We shall go into more detail about that when she testifies, for the moment please go on with what happened."
"Later that day we went to the zoo, and I witnessed myself how difficult the Reverend and his congregation were making it for us to get through their crowd to our car. Dr House was using a wheelchair at the time, so it wasn't as dangerous for him as before, but even I felt insecure on my feet."
"When we came back from the zoo, followed by our friends, the Foremans, in their car..."
"Is the witness for the defence Dr Eric Foreman one of them?"
"Yes... The Reverend and his people had changed their strategy from forming an ordinary picket to staging a sit in in our parking space."
"A sit in?"
"And that parking space could not have been construed as anything but for what it was?"
"No. It's a handicap space clearly marked with the usual blue and white wheelchair symbol and granted to us by the municipality of Princeton Township. As Dr House is furthermore the only person living in the building whose disability clearly entitles him to such a space it must have been perfectly clear to the Reverend what he was doing."
"What did you do?"
"Ask them to leave."
"Dr House was annoyed, so he wasn't overly polite. We were, however, not aggressive and eventually decided to park 50 yards up the road rather than to really confront them. When we got back down, Dr Foreman, who is a practising Christian himself, was talking to the Reverend and trying to convince him to abandon the picket, but to no avail. We then went back inside and spent the evening together at our apartment. Then, during the night, Dr House was woken by a severe pain attack."
"How is that relevant to the case?" The DA was taking his job seriously at any rate.
"Dr Wyatt will probably explain most of the that, so for the time being I guess it's enough to say that he suffers from severe chronic pain in his right leg and that it gets worse under stress."
"So you're saying experiencing the picket caused a flare-up?"
"Yes! And it was bad, I hadn't seen him in so much pain for years."
"How can you judge that?"
"For starters, Dr House has been in chronic pain since he was 40, and I've been with him pretty much every step of the way, so I know from experience how he looks and acts when it's bad, and then I'm an oncologist, so judging and managing severe pain is part of my job."
"Are you still practising? Otherwise your judgment could have suffered from inexperience since you've retired."
"I still practise as a volunteer and see terminal patients, so treating cancer pain is still a fairly regular occurrence in my life."
"Ok, so what next?"
"We eventually managed to fall asleep again, but it took Dr House three days to recover from the attack and get back to his normal pain level. On Sunday we took Gina to McDonald's, and had to fight our way through the crowd outside the door again. Dr House was walking this time, and again they didn't make space. To me it looked like they were passive-aggressively trying to knock him over."
House nodded: That was sure as hell what it had felt like.
"At the same time, the Reverend was preaching Leviticus 18 through his megaphone, and I guess that was the straw that broke the camel's back for Dr House. He pushed his way through the crowd as best as he could, dragged him into his arms and French kissed him. Then he told him to sue now he actually had something tangible to complain about. Everyone was stunned by that for a minute or two, so we were able to make our way to the car unimpeded."
"How exactly can a man with Dr House's degree of disability push through a crowd?"
"Pure anger..." House muttered.
Wilson agreed: "He was driven by anger, and that can achieve a lot in terms of short term physical exertion."
"Ok, and then?"
"We went to McDonald's. When we got back, Officer McCarthy was there again. This time the Reverend had called him because of the kiss, and he verbally reprimanded Dr House. He also asked further questions on what had been going on. and questioned us about allegations the Reverend had made regarding Gina staying with us."
"What were these allegations?"
Wilson had to swallow a couple of times and take a deep breath before he got it out: "Apparently he alleged that we sexually abuse her."
"And is there any truth in that?"
Wilson was now beginning to look as angry as House was feeling, and Adrian cut in.
"Objection! This question is irrelevant to the case, counterproductive and libellous in the context!"
"Objection sustained! Mr van Aldenhoven, please retreat the question!"
"I retreat the question."
"Thank you! Dr Wilson, back to you!"
"There's not much more to say. I went back out to take Gina to school on Monday morning, and when I got back home the picket was gone."
"Thank you. You may take a seat."
Wilson sat down next to House and took his hand.
The next witness was called: "Gina Elizabeth Blythe Cuddy, born September 14th, 2034 in Princeton, New Jersey, resident at 5, Duffield Place, Princeton, New Jersey?" Gina seemed a bit overwhelmed by the actual reality of the court room and, for the moment, stayed silent.
The judge gave her a smile: "Take a deep breath and count to ten in your mind, then you won't be so nervous anymore."
Gina counted under her breath: "1... 2... 3... 4..." Then she swallowed and took a deep breath: "Yes, I am Gina Elizabeth Blythe Cuddy, because Mom liked the name, and for Grandma and for Uncle Greg's mom. I live at 5, Duffield Place in Princeton."
"Well done, and do you know why you're here?"
"Yes, because Uncle Greg did something stupid and I have to explain why he did it, so he won't go to jail."
"So you think what he did was stupid then, huh?" The DA went straight for the jugular.
"Of course it was! But he did it because the Reverend was mean to him and to Grampa and to me, so I still think he shouldn't go to jail for it, and that's why I promised him I'd come and be his witness."
"Did he ask you to do that?"
"No, Officer McCarthy said that it was a way of helping Uncle Greg and so I said I was gonna do it."
"Do you like helping your Uncle Greg?" Adrian started building up his picture of the unconventional but happy family.
"Yes; he's cool."
"Why do you think he's cool?"
"Cos when I'm staying with him and Grampa we always do fun things together, and they bought me my piano, and when Grandma was younger they helped her bring up mom and... Uncle Greg and Grampa are cool!"
Judge de Santos was concerned with waterproofing the testimony of a juvenile witness in the mean time: "Just to clarify things, can you tell us your Grampa's name?"
"Dr James Wilson."
"Ok, and is he here with us?"
"Yes, he's sitting right over there with Uncle Greg. That's a silly question. And Uncle Greg's full name is Dr Gregory House."
"I just need to make sure you know what you're talking about, because some children your age don't yet, you see. And it's really important that we can rely on what you're saying so we can figure out who was right or wrong there, your Uncle Greg or the Reverend. Does that make sense?"
Gina thought for a moment, then nodded: "Yes!"
"Ok, then we need you to tell us what happened on that weekend. Not who you think is right or wrong, or if someone is mean or not, just what you saw, do you think you can do that?"
Gina swallowed again and took another deep breath: "Yes!"
The judge smiled at her: "Fire away then!"
"Uncle Greg picked me up from school on Friday and when we got back to their building there were lots of people outside, with placards."
"Are any of these people here right now?"
"Yes, the Reverend is sitting over there, and he was talking to them through a megaphone. And when we met up outside I saw some people who were there with him, too."
"What did it say on the placards?"
"I don't remember all of them, but some said that gay people are evil, and that God wants them to go to hell. And one was there that said Jew Fag, and I asked Uncle Greg what that meant."
"And what did he say that it meant?"
"He said it was a really bad word for someone like Grampa and that I shouldn't use it, and when I said that he sometimes uses bad words about Grampa, too, he said that this one was different and he just didn't want me to use it, cos it was horrible. He seemed really shocked, too."
"And does he use bad words himself?"
"Yes, especially about Grampa, but he said they were a different kind of bad words."
"And do you think that, too?"
"Yes, cos I'd never seen him shocked like that before. And when we got upstairs I asked Grampa what Jew Fag meant and he said it meant these people really hated him and wanted him dead. Uncle Greg sometimes tells him that he's a wimp, or a sissy, or a pain in the… behind, but I don't think that means he wants him dead. Besides if he hated Grampa they wouldn't share a bed, would they?"
"That's for them to decide, so what happened next?"
"You mean before we got upstairs?"
"We got out of the car, and tried to get through the crowd to the door. Only it was really hard, cos they wouldn't get out of the way for Uncle Greg, and he nearly fell. They just shoved around; it was like they wanted him to fall. I was really scared for him."
"Cos he can't walk properly, and so it's safer for him when people get out of the way, and usually when we're out and there's a crowd they do."
"You said the Reverend was talking to the other people. What did he say?"
"That Uncle Greg was a pathetic cripple, and that God had twisted his limbs, yet he would not repent, and that he was dragging an innocent child down to hell with him. I didn't really know what any of that meant, so I asked Uncle Greg and he said it meant that God was punishing him for being a bad person."
"And what did you think about that?"
"That they were silly, cos Uncle Greg isn't a bad person."
"We got upstairs to the apartment and Grampa and Uncle Greg said we'd best just ignore those people, only then during the night I had a really bad dream about them and was sad, and I ended up sleeping in bed with Grampa and Uncle Greg, cos I was so scared."
"And what did you dream?"
"That they had taken me away to one of these places where they show people what hell is like, and I was all alone there with them and they were saying mean things about Mom and Grandma and Grampa and Uncle Greg, and how I was gonna go to hell because of them." She looked upset again for a moment.
"Are you ok? You can sit down and have a cuddle with your Grampa and your Uncle if you want, and then go on."
"You're a very brave girl. So do you think you'll go to hell now, or that they will?"
"No, cos there's no such place. And I'm not bad, and neither are they. I just dreamt of those people, not of hell."
"Ok, and next?"
"Next officer McCarthy came before breakfast because the people living downstairs had called him, and then Mrs Kaminski from across the landing came, too. Officer McCarthy said the Reverend had said that Grampa and Uncle Greg had provoked him into... Uncle Greg, what do you always call that?"
"Staging the picket."
"Yes, staging the picket, and so he asked us all questions, and Grampa and Uncle Greg both said that he'd been mean to them ever since he moved in, and Mrs Kaminiski said that, too."
"And do you know if they ever retaliated?"
"If they ever were mean back to him, or said anything to him, things like that."
"No, I don't think they did. Mrs Kaminski said that, too."
"We'll talk to her later; right now we only need to know what you said and did."
"Ok. Officer McCarthy left, and in the afternoon we went to the zoo to meet up with Grampa and Uncle Greg's friend Foreman. He's a witness, too. It was pretty ok getting through the crowd then, I think because Uncle Greg was in the wheelchair, so they couldn't shove him over."
"No personal impressions, please, unless someone's asking for them. So the crowd let you through?"
"I... I... don't really know, sorry." Gina looked sad and angry with herself.
The judge smiled: "You're ok; no one can know everything, and you're still doing really well. What happened when you got back?"
"Am I doing well? Really?"
Gina looked proud again now and continued: "When we got back the Reverend and all these other people were sitting in the handicap space that only Grampa and Uncle Greg are supposed to use, and they didn't get up when they saw us coming."
"Did you do anything to make them leave, like talk to them?"
"Uncle Greg stuck his head out the window and told them to go away, but they didn't listen, so Grampa drove on and parked further up the road."
"We came back down and Foreman was talking to the Reverend. He's a Christian, too, like the Reverend."
The Reverend looked scandalised, and House couldn't help grinning slightly at the idea of Foreman hearing himself mentioned in the same breath.
"What did he say to the Reverend?"
"He said to him that the Lord preached tolerance and respect, and that he should leave two old men alone. And the Reverend said that he would if they weren't a bad influence on other people. And then Foreman said that Jesus was friends with cripples and sinners and that he was in good company with Grampa and Uncle Greg. Then the Reverend said that Foreman hadn't heard the message of Jesus and Foreman said he had before the Reverend was born and it spoke of love. And then we went inside."
"And that was all for the day?"
"So what happened on Sunday?"
"Uncle Greg looked really bad and tired, like he was in a lot of pain, and I said we didn't have to go to McDonald's for lunch like we usually do if he wasn't well, and he said we'd go anyway, because if we didn't the Reverend and his friends would win. And when we went he was using the walker again and they didn't let him through, and the Reverend was saying it's bad for a man to lie with another man, and Uncle Greg suddenly looked really angry and pushed through the crowd and kissed him."
"He called him a bad word and said that now he could sue him."
"What did the Reverend say?"
"Nothing, I think he was too surprised."
"We went to the car."
"Did anyone else but you and your Grampa see that?"
"Yes, Jack from downstairs. He's here, too."
"Did anything happen when you got back?"
"Yes, officer McCarthy was back and he told Uncle Greg that the Reverend was gonna sue, and asked lots of questions about what had made him kiss him, and then he asked me if Grampa and Uncle Greg touched me in ways I didn't like, and then he said I could help Uncle Greg in court if I was a witness, and then he left."
"And was there anything else?"
"Ok, thank you, Gina, and well done! You can sit down with your Grampa and Uncle now."
"Thank you!" Gina curtseyed and sat down next to Wilson, who at this stage had his arm protectively around House.
It was Ella Kaminski's turn next, filling in the court on the events leading up to the picket.
"Ella Grace Rubin Kaminski, born July 12th, 1964 in Springfield, Oregon, resident at 294, Nassau Street, Princeton, New Jersey?"
"Yes, and I've been the closest neighbour to Dr House and Dr Wilson for five years" she explained her relationship to House. "I moved into the building shortly after the loss of my husband to downsize, and they quickly proved to be good, supportive friends."
"What was your first impression of Dr House then?"
"I couldn't really tell you, because I had already known both of them casually when they were regular customers at the deli I owned with my husband. By and large I guess I thought of him as a harmless eccentric. Among our staff he was known as 'No Pickles Guy'." House couldn't help but gawk slightly, he'd never thought of himself as the kind of person who inspired nicknames in retail staff, except 'arrogant bastard' maybe. "He sometimes came across as a bit harsh, but never really like a bad person, more like someone who had too much on his plate to bother with social niceties."
"Did that impression change when you got to know him better?"
"No; it was reinforced actually. Dr House takes some getting to know, and he's pretty prickly, but he's ultimately worth the effort."
"Do you think other people in your building might feel the same way about him?"
"Well, Mr O'Sullivan from downstairs has volunteered as a witness for the defence. Also Mr Garrison, who lives downstairs and performs janitorial duties in the building has highlighted the Reverend's behaviour with the rental agency, and everyone living there has signed a good luck card, so I guess he's generally well liked."
"Would you make any exception there?"
"The Reverend, obviously, or we'd all be on the beach right now. He moved in about three years ago, and he seemed to realise pretty soon that Dr House and Dr Wilson were more than just friends. Dr Wilson is a social kind of person, so when he meets someone in the lobby he'll always have a smile and a friendly word for them, and people usually react the same way, but the Reverend will just throw him a nasty glance and move on, and he completely ignores Dr House."
"And is he any more social with the other residents?"
"Slightly. He'll say hello to everyone else at any rate, and react to being greeted. And I don't think he posts nasty signs on other people doors."
"So he posts signs on Dr House's and Dr Wilson's door?"
"Yes, he has done that almost since the moment he moved in. Stuff like 'Sodomite's Den' with the apostrophe in the wrong place, 'Jew Fags', 'Fudge Packers' and so on. I kept peeling them off because I figured he was harassing them enough with the pamphlets he kept sliding under the door."
"So there were both signs and pamphlets?"
"Yes; basically he's harassed Dr House and Dr Wilson for the entire three years leading up to this."
"Would you have any of the signs or pamphlets?"
"No, I always threw the signs away immediately; I don't want such things around."
The DA chirped in: "As the witness has no material proof of those signs' existence I request for her to be sworn in."
"Request granted! Mrs Kaminski, are you ready to swear that those signs were there?"
Ella was sworn in, and the testimony went on.
"I have some of the pamphlets." Adrian spoke up. "If you'd like to have a look…"
Adrian passed the pamphlets on to the judge, who seemed to find it hard to preserve her neutral expression at the sight of them.
"Did Dr House and Dr Wilson ever do anything about that?"
"Not that I'm aware of. They just ignored it as well as they could, talking about it to their friends, but, to my knowledge, never actually confronting the Reverend."
"And things stayed that way all the time until the picket?"
Adrian chimed in: "So would you say Dr House was provoked?"
That wasn't enough for Mr van Aldenhoven: "Provoked enough to assault the plaintiff?"
"Provoked enough to make me feel that the Reverend should consider himself very lucky that the roles of plaintiff and defendant aren't reversed today. Dr House would have any reason to sue him for harassment and he'd certainly have me as a witness for the prosecution."
"After three years of signs and leaflets, what do you think made the situation escalate to the picket?"
"Gina's presence. On the first day of the picket I tried to reason with the Reverend and he said that he couldn't help but go public because she was in danger."
"In danger of what exactly?"
"Hell, as far as he was concerned. And he dropped hints that he thought she was being sexually abused, too."
"Would you think there is any evidence of the latter?"
"Absolutely not! Look at Gina, does she seem like an abused child to you? Not to mention that the idea of two gay men sexually abusing a girl is absurd in the first place!"
House and Wilson silently decided between themselves that this was not the time to correct the court about their sexual identities.
"So all in all you consider the Reverend's behaviour towards Dr House and Dr Wilson inappropriate and think they should have confronted him earlier instead of allowing the situation to escalate to this point?"
"I guess so. I certainly think that Dr House had every reason to be angry when the kiss happened."
"Ok, thanks, you may sit down now."
Ella sat down next to Gina and the next witness was called.
"Dr Eric Du Bois Foreman, born July 20th, 1973 in Richmond, Virginia, living at 91, Southfield Road, West Windsor, New Jersey?"
Foreman nodded: "That's correct."
"How would you describe your relationship with the defendant?"
"I started off as his employee at the Department of Diagnostic Medicine at Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital over 40 years ago. He was the department head and also very much a mentor to me. Later we became friends, and have been for… 20 years, 30 years? House, you decide that!"
"Definitely closer to 30 years than to 20" House added. He hated admitting that, but by now he and Foreman had been friends for a very long time.
"Ok, we've been friends for nearly 30 years."
"Right, so what happened on the weekend in question?"
"We'd met up at the zoo in Bordenstown to bring our grandkids there, and Dr House was very helpful in keeping my grandson in check. He's almost at the toddler stage now and quite a handful."
"That's his grandson, not me…"
"Sure? But then I guess Nat is better on his feet than you are. Anyway, Dr House and Dr Wilson had both dropped hints that not all was well between them and the Reverend, and when we got back to Princeton we saw him and his congregation staging a sit in in their parking space. It's a designated handicap space, which is clearly visible, so they really had no business being there. Dr House asked them to leave from the car window, but they refused, so he and Dr Wilson decided to park 50 yards up the road. In the mean time me and my wife had parked our car, too, and gone to see the Reverend to talk sense into him. I've been a churchgoing Christian for as long as I can remember and was hoping to get through to him more easily on that basis."
"What did you say?"
"I suggested that he must have been reading different parts of the Bible from me to come up with the conclusion that staging that picket was a good idea, and asked him to leave them alone simply on the basis that they're decent people and deserve to live in peace."
"Did you succeed?"
"No – he replied that they were a bad influence on everyone in the house, and particularly Gina, and so he didn't have a choice but to do what he was doing."
"Bad influence in which way?"
"The things you'd expect – spreading secularism, atheism, tolerance of sin and so on. So I told him that Jesus was a Jew who spent his time with cripples and sinners, and that therefore I felt in good company with my friends, and he questioned my faith, to which I replied that I had heard the message of Jesus long ago and it spoke of love. I also suggested they go away before the police got serious with them and he told me about peaceful resistance."
"As in civil disobedience?"
"I guess. My family's civil rights activism goes all the way back to the Underground Railroad, and I'm pretty sure they'd all have disagreed with the Reverend, so that sounded slightly bizarre to my ears."
"What happened then?"
"We went in, which was quite difficult because the crowd would not part to let us through. Then upstairs in their apartment I found a note from their downstairs neighbour who's also the janitor stating he'd contacted the rental agency about the Reverend's behaviour because he considered it unacceptable. We spent the evening together then and me and my wife and grandson went home shortly before midnight. The picket was still there, but didn't react much to our presence. Whether that was because I'm straight and Christian or because they were tired I couldn't say."
"And that was it?"
"Thank you, Dr Foreman, you may sit down with the defence."
Foreman sat down and the last defence witness was called. "John Padhraic O'Sullivan, born March 17th, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland, resident at 294, Nassau Street, Princeton, New Jersey?"
"Except that it's pronounced Paw-rack, as in St Patrick, that's correct, yes."
"Some good old Irish patriots in your family, huh?"
"My dad. He's from Baltimore, County Cork. I'm convinced he timed conceiving me so I'd be born on St Patrick's Day."
"He obviously did a great job calculating then. Anyway, what's your relationship to Dr House?"
"Me and my roomie Matty Cho – he's up there in the gallery, the little Korean guy – are his downstairs neighbours and both study medicine, so when we realised who was living on the third floor it was like hitting the jackpot. A bit like you'd have felt in law school if you'd lived in the same apartment building as two retired supreme court judges. In the medical community these two guys are absolute legends. Anyway, we got talking to Dr Wilson in the lobby one day shortly after we'd moved in and he invited us up for coffee. We got chatting and the whole thing turned into an informal tutorial. We've both come up for tutorials pretty regularly ever since, and we sometimes help them out around the household when they need stuff done they're too old for. The Reverend thinks we're paying them for the tutorials in sexual favours, though."
"Did he actually say that to you?"
"And what did you tell him?"
"The truth: that we help around the household and that Dr House and Dr Wilson mostly tutor us for the enjoyment of it. No doctor ever stops being one just because they're retiring."
"So what would you say Dr House is in relation to you?"
"A mentor, and probably a friend, too."
"Why only probably a friend?"
"Because he's a very private kind of person and it would be presumptuous to call him a friend after only knowing him for a little over a year."
"Do you think he considers you a friend?"
"Dr House, would you consider Mr O'Sullivan a friend?"
House shrugged: "He's a good kid and he'll probably grow up to be a decent doctor. As for considering him a friend, we'll think about that once he's old enough to start shaving." Usually he would have said 'once his balls drop', but that didn't quite seem to cut it in court.
The judge smiled slightly: "Would I be right to think that this is was much of a declaration of friendship as anyone is ever likely to get out of you?"
Wilson and Foreman ho-hummed their agreement.
Judge de Santos went back to business. "Mr O'Sullivan, what did you see of the incident and the time leading up to it?"
"I knew the Reverend wasn't on good terms with Dr House and Dr Wilson, everyone in the house knew that and they'd shown me some of the pamphlets he'd shoved over their door. Of the weekend of the picket I only saw the kiss and the immediate few moments leading up to it."
"Ok, so please tell us about these moments!"
"That was on Sunday, I was walking back from the convenience store on the corner because I'd got coke and popcorn to watch a movie with Matty. I saw the crowd outside the entrance…"
Adrian cut in: "Sorry to interrupt, Mr O'Sullivan, but how did the crowd act when you were leaving the house?"
"They parted for me to get through."
"Thank you, please continue!"
"… And I saw Dr House and Dr Wilson trying to get through, obviously with difficulty. I started running in case they needed help, and next thing the Reverend is preaching Leviticus 18 from his megaphone again and Dr House is pushing through the crowd and frenching him. Then he roared to sue him now he had something to complain about, and they left."
"Did the crowd let them through then?"
"I think they were all too stunned by what had just happened to react, so they just stood there. Didn't make space or anything, but didn't move in on them either."
"Ok, and that was all you saw?"
"Yes, that's all."
"Ok, please sit down with the other witnesses. We'll now hear Dr Wyatt's psychological assessment of Dr House and then we'll have a 15 minute coffee break, which I think we can all use."
"One more thing, please, your honour", Adrian said. "It's not that directly relating to the events of that weekend, but I think it shows clearly what kind of people we're dealing with on the side of the prosecution here."
Mr van Aldenhoven disagreed: "Objection, if it didn't happen on that weekend, it's not relevant to the case!"
"Objection overruled, as so much of this case is based on the plaintiff's obvious dislike of everything the defendant represents, all shows of attitude are relevant."
"Thank you!" Adrian went on to describe the interaction between House, the boy on the prosecution side and his mother. "Dr House gave the boy a little smile, because he seemed curious, and the mother immediately accused him of trying to groom her son for abuse. Her tone of voice was quite scared, too, as if she considered it a real possibility."
"Thanks, Mr Gimignano, I'm sure the jury will consider this valuable evidence. Can we now get to Dr Wyatt's assessment?" The judge looked around for a moment, then gave the psychiatrist a nod. "At your convenience, Dr Wyatt."
Dr Wyatt cleared his throat. "The first thing we have to realise about Dr House is that, while an intellectual genius, is emotionally arrested owing to childhood abuse from his father."
House was beginning to feel queasy, this was all getting way to personal for his liking. Wilson tightened his arm around him, knowing full well what he was going through.
"And when I say his father I mean the man who brought him up; Dr House only learned the full truth about his paternity at that man's funeral when he was in his late forties, though he had worked out he couldn't possibly have been this biological father at the age of twelve. When young Gregory confronted him about that, he found himself incarcerated and without human contact in his room for the entire summer. As House Sr. was an officer in the United States Marine Corps, the family also moved regularly, making him unable to put down roots anywhere or to form lasting friendships, and of course he stood out at any school he visited for his intellectual ability, which was looked on with suspicion by his peers. As a result of all that, you're now looking at a person with extremely low self esteem, serious trust issues, difficulties with forming social relationships and a conversion disorder that means any emotional stress he experiences will, unless taken care of immediately and rationally, which is hard for him to do because of the problems we just talked about, result in an increase of the chronic pain he experiences in his injured leg. Which, of course, brings us to the physical and emotional trauma he experienced as an adult. When he suffered a blood clot in his right thigh, his repeated reports of excruciating pain were dismissed as drug-seeking behaviour and he ended up diagnosing himself three days later, when muscle death had already occurred owing to the lack of circulation. Next, his then girlfriend ordered for the necrotic tissue to be removed while he was in a medically induced coma at his own request without having consulted him beforehand."
"Why had he asked to be put into that coma?"
"I was active in a lot of sports and had asked for surgery to restore the circulation without mutilating the leg. Afterwards I was in a lot of pain and wanted to sleep through that. Next thing, I woke up a cripple and… well, I'd have walked up the walls in pain if my leg had let me."
"Thanks, Dr House. Do you think there was any reason for the ER doctors to suspect drug-seeking behaviour?"
"Not really, it's just what ER doctors do when there's no obvious cause for excruciating pain."
"You still sound as if you haven't… quite made your peace with it."
"That's because I haven't. I've made my peace with the people who inflicted this on me, but with the fact itself? No, and I never will. It hurts too much for that. As in I've been in unbearable physical pain for 42 years."
"And that neatly brings us back to the reason why I'm sitting here" Dr Wyatt continued. "Dr House had experienced yet another enormous breach of trust, been deprived of the ability to do some of his favourite leisure activities and has been in serious pain at varying levels ever since. This led to an addiction to the narcotic painkiller Vicodin, which in turn led to chronic liver damage. Between his difficult childhood, the physical pain, the addiction and various traumatic experiences he suffered as an adult, Dr House developed chronic moderate to severe depression suffered a psychotic break that led to his voluntary hospitalisation at Mayfield Psychiatric Hospital shortly before he turned fifty. There is also an underlying mood disorder that makes him exhibit bipolar behaviour at times, but can't be diagnosed properly. The long and the short of it is that we're dealing with a person here who, while definitely sane, cannot be expected to act rationally in stress situations. And I think we can all agree that this picket and the fear of being shoved over must have been stressful for him in the extreme. In actual fact I'm impressed that he managed to ignore the Reverend's behaviour towards him and Dr Wilson for three years; that shows a lot more strength than you'd usually expect people with his psychological make-up to have."
The DA didn't seem to agree with that assessment: "Yet this poor, pain-ridden, hypersensitive man you've just described there seems quite aloof and happy to give sarcastic quips. Also, the demeanour of the defence witnesses tells me they're used to that kind of behaviour from him, so where does all that fit into the picture you've just built up for his benefit here?"
"All his so-called stupid and inappropriate behaviour in the past, as well as in this court room right now, can be explained by his psychological immaturity, and his need to build and keep up his emotional defences. Or do you honestly think a truly mature adult would poke his tongue out at the plaintiff he's up against in a court case?"
House felt as if he was about to puke and his leg was spasming again. His skin felt clammy under his shirt. Wilson noticed his discomfort and held him even tighter.
"I guess we'll see about that when I get my turn" the DA countered.
"Ok, so for now we're having coffee" the judge said and dismissed the court for the next 15 minutes.
Foreman got up first and stretched. "Shall I bring the coffee in for you guys so you don't have to get up, House?"
"No, it's spasming again, so I need to walk on it. Help me up and we'll go outside and get some air. Then you can get me coffee."
Foreman and Wilson helped House up and they slowly made their way outside, House putting almost all of his weight on the walker. He and Wilson found a bench to sit on, while Foreman took Jack to help carry the coffees and Ella Kaminsiki and Gina stood around. Adrian and Dr Wyatt followed them out.
"How do you think it's going?" Wilson asked them, carefully massaging House's thigh in the hope of kneading out the spasm.
Adrian smiled: "I think it's going well. Did you see the jury's faces? Gina had them eating out of her hand. And the Reverend has been acting so bigoted that they're disgusted with him. Basically he'll have to turn water into wine or something to get a conviction out of this."
House just let all that wash over him; he was in too much pain to contribute to the conversation.
"Is it getting better at all?" Wilson asked, concern in his voice.
Foreman and Jack reappeared with the coffees and House drank his down in huge, messy slugs, only for it to immediately want up again as soon as it hit his stomach.
Wilson gently stroked his back: "Are you sure it's only the stress and the pain?"
"Are you sure 'only' is the operative term here?"
"Sorry, no. It's just, are you sure there's nothing acute going on top of it to make you feel as bad as this?"
"Absolutely…" House sighed. "If the judge hadn't called the coffee break when she did I'd have puked all over myself."
"She called that with you in mind" Adrian said. "Usually Judge de Santos just rushes every trial through without bathroom breaks or regard for other people's physical well-being. Really things are looking up for us. Right now what the jury sees is a devoted old couple up against a bigoted religious hater. And the sexual assault charge was a non starter in the first place, because the worst this kiss can be construed as is lewd behaviour. Only at this stage it should be perfectly clear to them that you had no sexual interest in the Reverend, hence what we're left with is either minor assault under severe provocation, which is a non-event of a charge, or acquittal."
"What does acquittal mean?" Gina asked.
"It means your Uncle Greg can go home and put all this behind him without every having to worry about it again."
"That's good; I want that to happen. What did you mean when you said I had the jury eating out of my hand?"
"It means you did really well and the jury all thought you were wonderful and said great things."
"So if Uncle Greg gets… ac-"
"Acquitted it's because I've said great things?"
"Well, that would be one of the reasons anyway."
"Coooooool…." She turned to Wilson. "If he gets acquitted we're making that cassata tonight! We never did it over the weekend!"
Wilson laughed: "Or else?"
"Or else you're mean and horrible!"
"Ok, just so I know what I'm dealing with. Promise, if he gets acquitted we're doing that. House, are you ok with that?"
"Whatever you're saying…" The spasm was finally beginning to get better, but it had left him completely exhausted.
"Time to go back in" Adrian announced. He gave House a sympathetic look. "You'll be out of here and on your way home in an hour and a half max."