July 23, 2013
First, there was a memory. His sister reading to him the story of Babel Tower, and the Tower crashing, and new clean rivers flowing…
When he went out all the way, the memory collapsed, and he swept through reefs of reflecting data in an ocean of surveillance.
He tangled in nets and escaped, only to plunge into other layers where avid machinery was spinning, as if searching for crimes where no crimes were possible.
He felt velvet hands and suctioned fingers slide along him, and he grew cold in the submarine depths. He began to panic.
What did the Design want with him?
And why did it seem to be watching itself?
Then the Arctic chill passed, and he knew he was free of the structure, and was genuinely dying, and dying was a pleasure he had never known.
“Better,” he said, luxuriating in a dark baronial calm, uterine perfection, summer childhood bedroom closet.
He was suddenly in the cabin of a private jet. He’d been told there would be hallucinations. He saw a team of glass archangels; a China cup worn yellow from a thousand fingers drooping slender cigarettes; a framed photo of Al Capone sitting on the toilet in his Palm Springs suite.
And then identity shattered into a thousand pieces. The lights of an enormous city loomed up under him, pulling the fragments down into liquor stores, newspaper racks, dark alleys, hotel rooms.
A news screen stood out in the black sky. A local anchor, her eyes bright with contempt, relayed the story of a Dr. Ralph Bannion, who had just died falling from an escarpment above the Chicago Loop while attempting to set up a sniper’s nest and kill shoppers in the indoor-outdoor Gangland Mall.
She spoke of a Mr. R. Smith-Jones, a fifth-generation android. He was propped up on a wheelchair-couch in his Manhattan apartment, growling and snarling at his doughy male nurse turned out in a jeans tuxedo and a sombrero made of balloons and artificial peacock feathers, dotted with packing popcorn.
Smith-Jones’ infamous three-year case, tried in the Superior Court of Newfoundland New York, had, it appeared, ground to a halt, when the judge determined Smith-Jones earned the right to multiple classifications of Disabled, and therefore could validly apply for federal benefits in the sum of the 30,000 dollars a month for the rest of his life.
Now Smith-Jones was foaming at the mouth and spitting. He doubled over and a siren went off. A security guard appeared from off-camera with a riot baton and sent a blue fork of electricity into his genitals, quieting him.
The news screen disappeared.
Identity was now a quiet snowstorm in a deserted wood, falling, falling, falling on the hard earth. Relief.
How many times can I disperse, he thought.
He was back in the cabin of the jet. Burnished lights set high in the cabin walls, yellow-brown, old-master, slightly wrinkled. For a moment he missed having wings and being able to fly up to a light and nibble toward its core.
He thought: “I used to own a suit that cost five grand.”
A flight attendant entered his cabin with a vodka rocks.
She was six feet tall and blonde. That made her a target.
Wealthy and powerful men would seek her out.
Her body was sleek. He examined her left leg from wizardly articulated ankle to narrow thigh, through the slit of her sheath skirt. She strode in heels, one foot placed precisely in front of the other.
She set down the drink on the arm of his chair and looked at her watch.
“We can’t have sex now,” she said. “We’re east of the Rockies.”
“I didn’t realize they had a law,” he said.
“Four hours from now,” she said, “we can negotiate a price.”
“I’m an attorney,” he said.
She pulled a half-sheet out of her jacket pocket and handed it to him.
“Standard,” she said. “Read and sign.”
It stated: “…I am not attempting to elicit information pursuant to an investigation, case, or sentencing option…”
“Just out of curiosity,” he said, “how many layers of protection do you have?”
“Well,” she said, “the LA Mayor has a local contract. He supplies police and private soldiers whenever I’m in the city.”
“Have they ever had to go on attack?”
“A Belivar prince once tried to have his men kidnap me en route from the airport to my hotel. Blackbirton mercs burned them to the ground on Century Boulevard.”
“You’re John Q,” she said. “I know. I’m Carol.”
She held out her hand. He looked at her long fingers. Her nails were short. No polish. He shook her hand. It was cool. It immediately became warm, as if she could make it happen.
She sat down next to him.
“We’ve intercepted you en route,” she said. “We need you to read something for us. On background. It’s local.”
“I was a lawyer,” he said automatically.
“You once appeared before the Illinois Supreme Court. We want you to look down into Chicago and find documents pertaining to the pending trial of Jesus Hernandez.”
“Defendant in a federal trafficking case. He claims his cartel, Zuma, struck an immunity deal with the CIA. No prosecutions, clean truck routes from Mexico up through LA, all the way to a central distribution hub in Chicago.”
“In return for what?”
“Good intell on other Mexican cartels.”
“What do you want from me?”
“Any documents pertaining to immunity. So far, the judge in the case has refused to allow the evidence in trial.”
“Documents? You think they put that kind of thing in writing?”
She nodded. “But the defense team claims they have docs.”
He closed his eyes.
Now, Bobby Thoms came to him. The Swan, a bar in the Loop.
The place was jammed with lawyers eating breakfast and waiting for the shape-up in the parking lot. Minor cases were assigned by Ray Banner, a clerk at the Farofax processing facility.
Q grabbed a stool at the end of the counter and ordered coffee. The bartender poured him a cup and set it down in front of him.
Bobby Thoms walked in. He came over.
Dark soiled clothes, as if he’d stripped them from a corpse in an alley. Pinched face, sunken cheeks. A lawyer’s barnacle. Runner, go-between. Supplier of information.
“John Q,” Bobby said. “Where’s your vodka?”
“I don’t start until eleven.”
Bobby moved in close.
“I can get you in to see Judge Hirsch today. His appointment secretary bumped the city treasurer for you.”
Q reached into his pocket and pulled out a tight roll of hundreds. Bobby fielded it and slipped it into his pocket.
“A few changes,” Q said.
Bobby nodded. “Here’s the rumor,” he said. I know what you’re after. There are national security implications in this case, John Q. If the shit hits the fan, the president’s administration in Mexico could go down. To say nothing of that other president in Washington.”
John Q snapped back into the jet cabin. Carol was sitting there calmly.
He realized she was trying to protect the government from exposure in the case. They had some way to snap him up in transit. They’d intervened. They wanted to use him because he was unencumbered. He could look into secret places. Free from his ordinary sensorium. They had netted him.
He heard a grinding roar from a long way off.
“Sorry,” he said. “I can’t help you.”
She frowned. “Why not?”
The roar accelerated. He watched as the cabin spiraled down to the size of a dot of blood on a handkerchief.
The wild sound subsided.
He was in a boat, a wooden boat, at night, and a man was standing next to him. They were on a lake, moving slowly.
The man reminded him of a doctor his mother had taken him to when he was 12 years old. He’d fallen off his bike racing down a steep hill, and the doctor told his mother to stop crying, everything would be all right, it was just a mild concussion.
He looked ahead, and in the distance he saw the lights of the shoreline. He ached for it. He had no idea why. It seemed foolish.
The man said, “Do you want to go there?”
“Well,” the man said, “that’s my shore. I made it.”
“I dreamed it up. I’m afraid you can’t go. Not now.”
Then Q was alone in the boat, floating in the dark.
It was a warm summer night, like many he had known. He was building it.
“Get me to Mosca’s office,” he said.
Sal Mosca conducted his business in a warehouse in Evanston, a few blocks away from the Registrar-DHS complex.
In the center of the lobby, there was a single desk. Video cameras on the walls caught the action from a dozen angles. Familiar scents of dead rotting rats in the walls.
I waited in line, and when my turn came, I handed the security guard a copy of my cert card, mentioned my contact in the DA’s office, and said I had an appointment with Mr. Mosca.
He looked down at his pad, nodded, and handed me a red slip. I stuck it to my jacket, walked over to the elevator bank, and waited.
A door opened. A tall slam in a dark suit stood against the back wall. He was holding a short 40 down at his side. He nodded. I got in. He took my red slip.
We rode up to the 7th floor. The door opened, and two more guards in dark suits stood there. I stepped out.
One of them frisked me. The other one backed away and watched.
They sandwiched me and we walked together down a seashell curving carpeted hallway to a mesh gate. It slid open and we passed through into a small room. Mosca’s secretary, Jenny, sat behind a table.
“Hello, John Q,” she said.
I knew her from the county courts, the early days. Cases adjudicated in small offices, fines pieced off among the sharers. During the heavy shortages, we took dinners as bribes. The joke was, a kid out of the U of Chicago defended his mother for an eight-pack of toilet paper.
Jenny made a fist and rapped her knuckles once on the table. I took an envelope out of my inside jacket pocket and placed it in front of her. She picked it up, looked inside, counted the bills, and nodded.
The two security men grabbed my arms and guided me across the room to another door. One of them opened it and moved ahead, into Mosca’s office.
I followed. The other guard was behind me. He shut the door and stood in front of it.
The office was large with no windows. The walls were dull dented metal. The only pieces of furniture were a long white couch and two scarred wooden folding chairs. Bull’s-head Mosca, dressed in his tan suit, sat on the couch. I stayed standing.
Big chest, big belly, cheap shoes. Tired face, but tight skin. He’d been swaddled in the bullrushes of Lake Michigan. Dirty feet running on the stones, foster homes, small-time collector, protection money, law school at night, hired shooters, muscled his way into city government as a private conduit for defense lawyers on major felonies.
Orchid cologne, shaved every night sitting in the bath tub remembering the motor brain damage of his dead sister destroyed by a drug. Blew away the prescribing shrink himself late at night on Cole Boulevard.
Mosca frowned. “This case has tricks.”
“Immunity documents,” I said.
“Good, John Q. Good.”
“Because,” I said, “if it turns out Zuma has a deal with the feds to ship big weight up through Los Angeles into Chicago, and it’s exposed, that torpedoes everybody.”
Mosca nodded. “National security issue. Nothing moves until we get a ruling on it.”
“But do the documents exist?”
“One does. Signed by the deputy director of the CIA and Hernandez.”
I shook my head. “Hard to believe.”
“What happened to you?” Mosca said.
I looked at the guards and slowly put my hand into my left pants pocket. I took out a slip of paper, stepped forward and held it out to Mosca. He took it without touching my hand.
“That figure,” I said, “went into your Panama account an hour ago.”
He looked at the slip.
“How do you know my account number?” he said.
“Ricky Rose gave it to me.”
“He just got six years.”
“That was my victory. They could have given him twenty.”
Mosca took a cell phone out of his pocket. We waited while he accessed his Panama account.
He looked up at me.
“Deposit of fifty thousand dollars, just entered,” he said.
“My way of saying thanks for the referral.”
“What referral?” he said. “What are you talking about?”
“A metaphysical clarification. Let’s talk about immunity at a higher level, Sal. Who is immune? How do they arrive at that status?”
He leaned back and grinned.
“Oh, you mean you want the real stuff. Well, Q, understand I’m only a low man on the totem pole. I don’t have many details.”
Then Mosca was standing next to me. He took my arm and walked me to the right, into a kitchen that hadn’t been there before. We exited from a side door and climbed a short flight of steps. He opened another door on to the roof.
“The shed,” he said.
In the middle of the roof was a wooden structure.
The padlock was open and hanging from a chain. We stepped inside and Mosca turned on a light. I shut the door. Tools were arranged on shelves. An open cabinet was stacked with brooms and shovels and an old shotgun. We sat down on two rickety chairs.
“What I’m telling you is from me,” he said. “This is information I have.”
“I know,” I said. “That’s what I paid you for.”
“John Q,” he said, “immunity is what you want to know about? It travels higher than the towers of faith. Because faith’s been misappropriated. It’s been, shall we say, directed. Are you following me?
“Look at the ancient religions, all you see are wars. You know why? Because the people were still young enough to realize how their loyalty was being betrayed by the priests. So they rose up and slaughtered them. But there’s a new priest born every minute. They have a special facility for hijacking faith, depersonalizing it.
“Sometimes it looks like that’s all this planet is. Depersonalized faith. That’s the Atlas holding up the world. And now he’s watching and spying, to make sure it stays intact.”
A canyon opened up under me. Another Earth, like this one. I caught a glimpse and it shut down, closed its mouth.
“Q,” Mosca said, “I assign cases to lawyers. I’m a bit player. I’m an ant on blacktop. I move a few crumbs here, a few crumbs there. Immunity is created by fiat, just like money. It’s deal-making…”
“Morris Gold’s office,” I said.
I stepped out of a car. Bobby, who was driving, also got out. He handed the keys to a parking robot and strolled off toward the American Airlines sports book. I crossed the sidewalk and stopped in front of a cast-iron door. I rang the bell. I was standing under a video camera.
A voice said, “Name, please.”
I held up my cert card.
“Carrying any weapons?” the voice said.
“Just a minute.”
They were running a body scan. I waited.
“What case does this pertain to?” the voice said.
“Here for a consult.”
The door buzzed. I opened it and walked in.
I was in a pitch-black space.
As my eyes adjusted, the lights slowly rose to dim. I was inside a wire cage.
The same disembodied voice said, “Where did you attend law school?”
“University of Michigan.”
“Your thesis adviser’s name?”
“Professor Morris Gold.”
“And the title of the thesis?”
“Currents in Pre-Trial Hearings.”
The grid in front of me clicked and moved from left to right. I stepped through.
I was standing in a foyer. The carpet under my shoes was thick.
A tall heavy-set man appeared from my right. “Follow me,” he said. He opened a door and we were facing an open elevator. He motioned and I stepped in ahead of him. He followed and the door closed. We ascended silently for a few seconds. The elevator came to a smooth stop. The door opened. A short man in a very expensive suit stood there. His head was clean shaven and he wore a pair of sunglasses high on his forehead.
“They’re for the light,” Morris said. “I have a condition.” He stuck out a meaty paw and I shook it. He smiled.
I walked with him down a hallway into a corner office.
Floor-to-ceiling windows. His two-ton oak desk sat in the center of the room. There were hunting prints and paintings of horses and cottages on cornflower-blue walls.
He didn’t offer me a seat. I stood. He stood.
“John Q,” he said, “Are you trying to file suit because you’re in transit?”
“No,” I said.
“Because you were scooped up?”
He smiled. “Good. Nothing worse than a sore loser. So what can I do for you after all this time?”
His eyes were cold.
I framed my question. “Is a deity in on the fix?” I said. “Any deity?”
“That’s a powerful issue,” he said. “You want to know the theoretical upper limit on immunity? Well, let’s start here. Here’s your lesson for the day. The God you’re probably referring to is the one whose existence is an open question for each soul.
“A question. A dream. A thought. A derivation. A decision. The other, shall we say, constructed God-name and function are corporatized. I’ve worked cases where the issue was raised. The courts have always blurred distinctions, because that’s their job.”
“And on appeal?”
“The judges rubber stamp the lower courts.”
“But because you have wide experience in these cases?” I said.
Gold walked back behind his desk and sat down.
“You tell people,” he said, “they’re heroes or they’re committing heresy, they buy it either way. Depending who’s doing PR and organization for you.”
“But what is it actually?” I said.
“Listen,” Gold said. “You were a smart boy in law school. Too smart. Now you’re dead and you’re lingering. Loitering. Get on with it. You should have stayed with the man in the boat.”
“I don’t think there are any more shoulds, Morris.”
He nodded. “Fair enough. But this is all college dormitory jerking. Why did you come to see me?”
“It’s probably just a fetish on my part. A little tour of old friends and bastards.”
He laughed. “Sentimental journey, right? Did you know the configuration of the Surveillance State is an Atlas holding up the world? When you really see the whole architecture? And the document you’re looking for is hidden, along with at least a million other docs, inside a bead of sweat on Atlas’ forehead?”
“Then I guess I want to kill Atlas,” I said.
“Yes,” he said. “You would.”
“What are my options? I can’t take him to court.”
“You have to look, John Q. Look hard.”
A sheet of slow lightning swam up my legs and infiltrated my spine. It narrowed. It nuzzled and burned, on the way up, each bone, sheath, nerve fiber.
At the top of the channel, I reached out and removed the top of Morris’ skull. It came away clean and out rolled a small creek of dusty tears.
I was standing in a courtroom open to the sky. I was behind the prosecution table.
And there was a giant standing before me.
I was facing Atlas in the dock. His head was barely visible, an imprint behind a cloudbank. The whole set up was absurd, but I persisted. It was moviemaking on a shoestring.
I was searching for my opening.
I was searching for words.
I was building words.
In an unknown language.
It seemed the only way to do it.
I was translating incomprehensible text into silent sounds, rehearsing them.
Sounds that would vibrate tectonic plates, if necessary, that would split the seams of the fabricated sewn-up sky.
When I was ready, when I was confident, as I’d been a thousand times before judges and juries, I began talking, suddenly knowing that every syllable would break open a wound in the cartilage and penetrate to capillaries, arteries, and organs.
Every case had been a symptom, and every verdict a palliative. This one was the kernel of the original dream.
I spoke and I heard a sound of upper crashing, at long, long distance.
The slow fall.
It might take centuries, but it was irreversible.
There was a crowd in the courtroom. An Ensor painting of masked faces. They lined up around me.
In the front circle, I could see Bobby Thoms, Carol, Sal Mosca, and Morris Gold. They were grinning and laughing.
They were letting me know my whole objective was paper-thin. I would never win. It was a farce.
It was…a question of faith.
If my dying, when I boiled it down, consisted of staring at the legs of an Atlas and searching for telltale tremors of a terminal illness…
If I woke in my office on Michigan Avenue and realized I was still handling cases in superior court, that I was alive on Earth, that I was late for an arraignment, that I was still John Q, dancing on the end of a long string, defending a Zuma trafficker out of Mexico City…
I waited. I stood and waited.
I waited to see.
I waited a long time…
The crowd slowly disintegrated.
I looked at the walls of the courtroom. They, too, were fading.
But there was a silent depersonalized giant standing before me.
He was watching the world, making sure all non-human factors were in place and spinning, functioning. He was the machine and the architecture of spying. Surveillance. He was the exemplar of no-dream. He was the stand-in for life and death. He was the soldier. The robot other planetary civilizations would see when they looked at Earth from space. The mechanical dinosaur in a roadside rest stop. No awareness of me. No awareness of anything.
Nobody. Nobody at all. Just a clock on the wall wound up to eat the universe.
I heard the long faraway crashing sound again.
I’d heard that sound in a dream when I was boy, after my sister read me the story of the Tower of Babel, which I imagined was a great fort holding soldiers.
The Tower went down, and in the endless number of languages liberated, I found my own river.
And those words were streaming out of me now.
I was cut loose, floating in the afternoon of new sounds.
As if…if we began to speak in ways that were alive, finally, if this were our invention, there would be nothing to spy on, there would be no machine that could interpret our meaning.
The author of two explosive collections, THE MATRIX REVEALED and EXIT FROM THE MATRIX, Jon was a candidate for a US Congressional seat in the 29th District of California. Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, he has worked as an investigative reporter for 30 years, writing articles on politics, medicine, and health for CBS Healthwatch, LA Weekly, Spin Magazine, Stern, and other newspapers and magazines in the US and Europe. Jon has delivered lectures and seminars on global politics, health, logic, and creative power to audiences around the world. You can sign up for his free emails atwww.nomorefakenews.com
This article was posted: Tuesday, July 23, 2013 at 4:03 am