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
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
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
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
Linked with the Witnesses was a photograph of someone Aaron
was startled to recognize: an unfocused photo—Mala—dark
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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.”