Analyzing Haze


Aaron always arrived at Hammer and Taft early, although occasionally Hammer—and always Taft—arrived somewhat earlier. Aaron immediately unwrapped a ham salad sandwich and ate half. Aaron always waived a midday break and instead ate sandwiches and drank herbal tea at a regular pace all day. Around late afternoon, Hammer and Taft always bragged about massive appetites and disappeared. At a nearby restaurant, Hammer and Taft ate abundant salad, meat, and pasta (and drank many large cocktails). Aaron ceased answering calls and searched databases. Later, Hammer and Taft came back.

But before dark, Aaron caught a subway and rattled back towards Brooklyn. Platforms made Aaron anxious: simultaneously alone and packed against strangers. Conversations threatened. Fear (caused basically by claustrophobia, Aaron rationalized) bloomed. Blindfolded, gagged, Aaron watched masturbators, gang bangers, and glazed, apprehensive humanity, all crammed beneath Manhattan. Hanging beneath a strap, briefcase clamped beneath a sweaty hand, Aaron gazed across a rapidly panning, graffiti-slashed subterrain and panicked casually. Anyone that stared back was insane.

Clinging, clanging, changing trains, traversing asphyxiating roaring caverns, Aaron at last ascended an escalator, finally escaping. Passing a newspaper machine, Aaron crouched and scanned headlines. An angry columnist that had labeled Hammer and Taft as racists days earlier had apparently been fired. Headlines announced that NATO had invaded Bosnia as a peacekeeper. Police. Bosnian factions warred as gangs, and badged Americans had neatly been dispatched as authority. An angry man behind Aaron rattled change and Aaron walked away, embarrassed.

Downstairs below Uncle Leopoldo’s Butcher & Delicatessen was Aaron’s apartment. Windows displayed hanging sausage. Occasionally Aaron remembered boyhood and a woman named Samantha DeTour. Samantha said that Aaron’s circumcision (“robbed by patriarchy”) had made Aaron permanently anaesthetized. Aaron’s phallus was another blunt object: sensationless, incapable and numb. Samantha—a decade older—loved and changed Aaron and immediately afterwards married a man named Mala. Aaron was distraught, learned about pain, aged at an accelerated pace, and wondered what Samantha cost.

Eventually, twenty years later, Aaron learned that Mala had died and Samantha had disappeared. The facts about Mala’s case were startling, as Aaron discovered accidentally after being employed by Hammer and Taft as technician and secretary. Mala had organized a demonstration outside the police department. Lieutenant Ted Freely, apprehending Mala at an apartment building a day later, strangled the activist: routine questioning gone somewhat awry. Mala allegedly brandished a handgun. Arson swept the city, curiously unreported. Aaron learned all about the case at Hammer and Taft: the lawyers defending Freely.

Finally Aaron arrived home: safe at last. Inside the refrigerator was a carton of half-rancid juice. He poured the last glass and booted one of five computers. While the machine whirred and awakened, he manipulated knobs on radios, extracting news stations out of frequency babble. A Russian camera crew taken hostage near Chechnya. Locally, police ended another protest. Terrorists almost assassinated an important city official. City at war with citizens. Citizens militating against intolerant city administration. A rapid fire information barrage. Whenever he felt exhausted, Aaron drew warm baths.

Gently Aaron sank beneath scalding, calming bathwater. Hammer and Taft’s current case was also about a death allegedly by brutal strangulation, a man named Ice Juarez. The person accused was a man named David Starbuckle, Hammer and Taft’s current client. Ice Juarez had a massive record: arrested many times as an arsonist and once as an alleged accomplice at an assassination. An anonymously recorded (and widely broadcast) videotape displayed a man—presumably Starbuckle—strangling another man against flickering smoke. Political outcry confused the case. Aaron descended deeper beneath the suds.

His phone rang many times. The machine answered. He had drowsily considered masturbating, remembering Samantha, and suddenly he heard her voice leaving a message. He hadn’t heard her voice in many years. Behind the voice, the dialtone got louder and louder . She spoke unhurriedly, and mentioned she was dead and living with her friends. She then mentioned that Aaron was soon next. She explained: one can’t stamp out boots when an insect. Eyes open, Aaron’s startled coughing head erupted from steaming water, as dialtone became siren and a squadcar screamed past outside.

In Aaron’s dream, Samantha sounded relaxed yet active, like she was far from retired.

Jolted, Aaron instantly made an association he hadn’t considered before. Dripping, steaming, he emerged awkwardly from foaming, soporific bathwater into icy air, wrapped himself with the towel, unplugged the bath, and went to sit at the computer while the water drained. He knew how to get at Hammer and Taft’s files over the phone, and hoped neither were working late at the office where they might notice his actions. He dialed the office computer, began searching their police reports of arsonist attacks, enlarging numerous photographs and making printouts of documents. Then Aaron turned to the internet.

Knowledge was sprawling and digital. People online invisibly witnessed one another and a simulated world. When Aaron located the internet site named Witnesses, he was entranced and unaware he had dried and stopped shivering. There were documents and links with sound, even video footage. Aaron found information on tuning in various tiny pirate radio stations throughout the country. Aaron was incredulous as understanding lit his monitor. Here, beneath the screen, networks of contributors compiled proof of police brutality. Witnesses fought truncheons with flashbulbs and recorders.

Linked with the Witnesses was a photograph of someone Aaron was startled to recognize: an unfocused photo—Mala—dark Indian complexion, sprawled and grimacing beside somebody’s boots, baton hanging above the boots. Adjacent was a clear police photo: exact same corpse, outlined in white, pistol beside the deceased’s outstretched hand. Evidence against Hammer and Taft and Taft’s former client Ted Freely. Aaron stiffened. Samantha DeTour was credited. She had apparently videotaped Mala’s death. The first image was hers. Her name and statement were below. What had preceded the death?

Mala and Samantha had formed some sort of protest group, getting into trouble. They raised a daughter. Aaron had heard scattered reports as he entered law school with solid training in digital computer science. Prematurely middle aged, empty, drained, Aaron sought to understand a legal value system that, although voluminous and convoluted, had at least been written down. No other knowledge excited him. He wrote essays about computerizing legal tomes. Why was this on-line evidence submerged beneath the court room? Whenever Witnesses were killed, other Witnesses observed the whole thing.

Now Aaron was desperately curious about Samantha and Mala. Their marriage seemed more intricate than the lewd lust-fueled coupling his jealousy imagined. He remembered curious things about Samantha: the gasoline smell, the electronics, things she said about authority, dining with Samantha when his parents were away, wine (she insisted) (that made him unconscious for fourteen hours) (drugged?). When he awoke, she laughed and said that Aaron looked like his father, the commissioner of police. He gazed at the screen saver, introspective, trying to retrieve his lost private files.

Only then, when the sun slowly rose, Aaron began dressing. Today, Monday, was Aaron’s only weekend, although he suspected Hammer and Taft still went to work. Aaron began wondering again about the possibility that they had stayed overnight and had watched the computer being accessed over the phone. Aaron began wondering if his path through cyberspace got recorded somewhere, such that another person could study it. Could someone tell that Aaron had visited the Witness site? Were Hammer and Taft aware that the site existed? He wondered what they might suspect. It interested him.

Perhaps the police operated a program as an antithesis to the Witnesses. Perhaps the police methodically killed known Witnesses, while other Witnesses fired secret cameras and watched. Perhaps Samantha had planted a camera, anticipating the struggle with Freely. If Witnesses’ aims included provoking brutality—to record and disseminate it—then they must try to get brutalized. Aaron dressed. When, clothed, he returned to the computer, Samantha’s photographs had disappeared. Aaron scanned the information and discovered the photos had reappeared elsewhere, posted very recently. This was an active site.

Quickly Mala’s image was deleted again, and reappeared again. Only powerful forces could delete the postings, and only numerous forces could restore them. Some cancelpig, some spider inside the web. Perhaps the posting and deleting were done automatically through competing computer programs and anonymous remailers. Aaron knew how it might work. Not convenient, but possible. Erasing and replacing knowledge, centralized power attempting to defeat diverse resistances in this obscure, free, weird medium. Centuries full of secrets coughed them out of obscurity into the public domain.

Rusty, but with skill, Aaron figured out what an automatic anonymous post entailed, and went to work downloading files from Hammer and Taft’s database, while setting an adjacent machine as an automatic reposter. The parallel port cable connected the two. They clicked and hummed. The modem winked. Information left the station and rattled across tracks underground. Information rattled past other information. Beneath the surface: the overcast skies, blinding white daily editions, the white data typed against blackness, images, text, tumbled down into the monitors of thousands.

Softly, with whirring, purring, and clicking, information changed trains and went onto international tracks. Ever since Aaron began finding information behind the cases, he felt like some innocuous bomb. Nondescript, too softspoken for official legal practice, not someone lawyers need conceal passwords from, impassive, silently incredulous, he accepted the privilege he never deserved. The evidence remained Aaron’s department, however the lawyers later submerged, manipulated, or chose to manifest it. The Juarez case had similarities to the Mala case so Aaron’s interest, rooted, dug deep one afternoon.

The facts about the Juarez case: Ice’s charred corpse was discovered twisted in cinders after a warehouse burned down. A Witness saw Ice choked and abandoned to the flames and sent videotape to major stations anonymously. David Starbuckle’s case was that Ice burned. Reports from coroners were inconclusive. In their database, Hammer and Taft had a transcript of police radio dialogue the night the warehouse burned, proving Starbuckle’s guilt in killing Juarez and even in starting the blaze. An activist headquarters was squatting inside the warehouse.

Underneath the delicatessen, in Aaron’s apartment, the ceiling began squeaking as owners arrived and began opening the shop. Aaron went into the kitchen to eat. He heard almost everything that was said above. He often suspected the delicatessen was a respectable front for neighborhood drug distribution rings. Something arrived inside daily meat and was discussed loudly and happily while they prepared the lunch specialties. Aaron was unsure about what he heard—the numbers they discussed made little sense. Neither threatened nor intrigued, Aaron strung together everything he heard and saw.

Venetian blinds allowed banded sunlight to track across Aaron’s kitchen where he toasted bread and prepared a ham omelet, herbal tea, and an orange. He ate them sequentially, with sipped water inbetween. He hated the city. Too concentrated. Walls were transparent. Streets were like crowded rooms. Isolated people were canned together. Wealthy and disenfranchised alike denied their denial. The serrated steps at Trump Towers divided the classes as sharply as cops. Police were genocidal, a vast prison network submerged any racial deviants that outlived their arrests. Censorship in an information flood.

Willingly, Aaron had allowed everything to rattle past. The dream about Samantha suggested that she was dead, although the website insinuated she was alive. He chased his memories down abandoned tunnels, tracks broken, sealed remembrances hidden where they were never deleted, after something he knew the whole time without once suspecting. He finished eating and went to the Witness site one more time, searching for one more name: Rachel. Samantha’s was listed so perhaps Rachel’s case was also detailed here. Effortlessly, he discovered exactly what he needed: Samantha’s family album.

Xenophobia perhaps, or jealousy, kept Aaron from their lives. He knew Samantha had a daughter named Rachel. She was supposedly Mala’s daughter, but the photograph he discovered suggested otherwise: she was white. Mala wasn’t. The photograph showed Rachel hanging. Rachel witnessed one police brutality case. The victim, Rachel’s boyfriend, was supposedly killed in self-defense. Rachel supposedly committed suicide, hanging herself. Samantha found evidence suggesting that another person was present when the hanging happened. The police pronounced the evidence inconclusive.

Yes, certainly Hammer and particularly Taft had made many very wretched connections. Like: Ku Klux Klan. NYPD. Scientology. Some business involving genetic research. Certainly they had tight political ties to numerous extremists. Aaron had observed their business casually. A law was transgressed only when proven transgressed, and Hammer and Taft, with their sophisticated hardware and Aaron’s assistance, were the best defense for counties around. Press coverage glorified them. They always won expensive cases, anticipating and dismissing evidence with meticulous forethought.

Zealously Aaron packed, pleased that he had nowhere to go. Not to work tomorrow certainly. Hammer and Taft might not suspect until then, they might not suspect ever, they might suspect already. Aaron cast away secretarial status. It takes many termites to cut ground out from underneath boots. Although the leaked information might not get to the courtroom, knowledge would rumble beneath the proceedings. One computer, left behind, might repost the transcripts enough times that another person could find, read, and download all. Aaron would adopt an alternative name and disappear. He had always liked “Zeke.”





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© 1996-2006
Dominique Fitzpatrick-O'Dinn
Spineless Books