a Short Story by Kellis
The crashes on the front door were thunderous. Chuck shot erect in his chair. “What the hell?” Heaving to his feet, he yelled loudly, “I’m coming. Don’t knock it down!”
The crashing continued. He dashed from his office to the foyer and jerked the door open. “What kind of —” he began testily, meaning to inquire about the type of hammer in use, but now the answer was obvious.
A uniformed policeman stood on the stoop, automatic pistol in hand raised for another blow.
“Gah!” Chuck finished.
Two men in civilian clothing stood behind the pistol bearer, who glanced at a paper in his other hand and demanded, “Is this the residence of Charles H. Davis?”
“Are you Charles H. Davis?”
He thrust the paper into Chuck’s hand. “We’re executing a search warrant on the property. Stand aside.”
The three shouldered past Chuck, who turned in wide-eyed astonishment.
At the door to his office, one of the two in mufti declared, “Here it is.” All three invaders disappeared into that room.
Chuck studied the paper, indeed a signed and sealed search warrant, authorizing a search for “unlawful images, whether physical or electronic, of human children engaged in acts of sex,” as prohibited by Public Law such-and-such. Momentarily he wondered what might constitute lawful images of that type! But with a shake he lurched after them into his office, declaring with absolute confidence, “You won’t find any child porn in this house!”
They were gathered close to his computer. He could only stare between them at the monitor. Windows Explorer was running, listing the files in his picture folder. The man holding the mouse consulted a printout in his other hand before double-clicking.
Suddenly a photograph filled the screen. In graphic color a young girl of eight or nine grinned at the observer from a perch atop a huge and very adult penis half buried in her rectum. The wide-spread legs left no doubt of her unfledged femininity and colorless nipples on a flat chest of her unsuitable age. Her body, raised on hands extended behind her, obscured that of the male, aside from buttocks and hairy testicles.
The uniformed cop sniffed, grinning around at Chuck. “No child porn, you say?”
“Gah!” Chuck repeated.
“How about the other one?” asked the second man in civvies.
The explorer window reappeared briefly. Another click produced a new picture, now a small naked boy bending forward to mouth the penis of a hairy man whose upper torso vanished beyond the top edge of the photograph. The child’s penis was not erect.
The mouse-wielder cleared the screen and held down the power button on the computer case. “I’ll get the cart and the boxes,” said his companion, turning away.
The uniformed policeman caught Chuck by the upper arm and spun him around. He felt and heard new bracelets click on his wrists. “Charles H. Davis, you are under felony arrest for possessing electronic images of human children engaged in sex acts. You have the right to remain silent …”
* * *
“You may cross-examine.”
The prosecutor got to his feet and sneered at Chuck. “So, Mr. Davis, you say you have absolutely no idea how those two pictures of undeniable children arrived on your hard drive?”
“That’s right, I don’t,” Chuck declared firmly. He took a breath and stole a glance at the jury whose faces were skeptical.
“How about the 247 other pornographic pictures in that folder? I didn’t hear you deny knowing about them!”
“They weren’t children!” Chuck asserted.
“Are you sure of that, Mr. Davis? Quite a few of them exhibited hairless genitals.”
“They were shaved.”
“Shaved!” The prosecutor grinned contemptuously. “Do you really expect the jury to believe that?”
“If they look closely.”
“Oh, they’ll look closely, Mr. Davis. You can depend on that!”
Chuck’s lawyer shouted, “Objection! Argumentative!”
The judge grimaced. “Ask a question, Mr. Prosecutor.”
The man chuckled confidently. “I don’t think another question is necessary, your honor. The jury knows one bad apple corrupts a barrel and here the whole barrel was already rotten.”
The judge shook his head. “Save it for your summation. Mr. Farrell, does the defense have other witnesses?”
Farrell stood and pushed back a straggling lock of hair. “Yes, your honor. I’d like to recall Officer Thorn.”
“Does the prosecutor have any objection?”
“Not if defense thinks it can elicit something new.”
“I think we can,” Farrell asserted.
“Police officer Thorn, take the stand. You have already been sworn.”
When the witness was seated, Farrell stood before him. “You said you obtained a search warrant for Mr. Davis’s property on an anonymous tip received by email. What did you mean by anonymous? I thought such messages always contained a from-address.”
“Didn’t this one?”
The witness grinned. “Yes, it did, but the person having that address denied sending the message.”
“And you believed him. Why?”
“It was a her. We believed her because she’d never had contact with the defendant and because of viruses. Probably half the emails sent in the world today are generated by virus or worm programs that attach phony from-addresses.”
“So this message describing Mr. Davis’s child pornography so precisely could have been sent by a virus?”
“It could have.”
“In fact you believe it was!”
“Now, then.” Farrell glanced down at his notes before looking up. “Are you familiar with the Trumper virus, Officer Thorn?”
The man shrugged. “There are so many of them — two or three new ones every week — it’s hard to keep pace with them.”
“You didn’t answer.”
“No, I have not heard of one called Trumper.”
“I’m not surprised. It’s very new. That’s all for now, Officer Thorn.”
Farrell sat down. The judge said, “Prosecution may cross.”
“Call your next witness, Mr. Farrell.”
“The defense calls Mr. James Tuck.”
When the new witness was sworn and seated, Farrell asked, “Mr. Tuck, what do you do for a living?”
“I’m a systems analyst for Netcleansing, Incorporated.”
“How long have you been employed there?”
“Three years, but it’s a new company. I’ve generally been in this business for nine years.”
“The jury may not be familiar with Netcleansing. Can you describe its function briefly?”
“It produces software that identifies and removes viruses, worms and Trojan horses from network-connected computers. Most of its customers are serious corporations trying to limit time-loss and legal exposure due to such malicious programs.”
“Thank you. Are you familiar with the Trumper virus?”
“Yes. Very familiar.”
“Describe it, please.”
“Well …” He settled back into the witness chair. “This is a virus of a new type — new in the sense that its objective is to damage the user of the computer instead of simply misusing the computing equipment.”
“That’s right. Most malicious programs seek to misuse a computer for their own purposes, but this one goes well beyond that to attack the computer owner.”
“Really! How can it do that, Mr. Tuck?”
“By planting false evidence of crime.”
“Indeed! ‘False evidence of crime.’” Farrell looked significantly at the jury as he asked, “Can you give us an example — a real one with which you may be familiar?”
“Yes, I can. I first learned of the Trumper virus exactly 15 days ago, when I was called to a corporate account and shown the CFO’s office machine. In one folder it contained four JPEG picture files, two showing real-estate views of the building and two images of child pornography. The CFO himself was horrified by them, especially on his own machine, but unlike most people he had the presence of mind to call Netcleansing instead of deleting the images out of hand.
“Because of recent legal problems, his corporation has taken the unusual step of separately recording every email message that passes through its firewall. Because of that I was able to trace how those two illegal files arrived at this machine. They were included in an executable attached to an email message that was itself a copy of a legitimate message previously transmitted by a supplier of this corporation. The CFO had opened the executable because it was from a trusted source. He saw only a self-extracting copy of the same letter again and assumed some typical mistake on the sender’s part. What he didn’t see was the Trumper virus, which installed itself on his machine, searched out the only folder with other JPEG files in it, stored its two horrible examples in that same folder and sent email as an ‘anonymous tip’ to the police, naming exactly where the alien files were to be found on the CFO’s machine. It did other things, such as duplicating all the messages in the CFO’s sent-folder and sending copies of itself and the two images to each recipient.”
For the next few minutes Farrell had Tuck repeat the salient points in that recital, glancing often at the jury to be sure that all questions were covered. Finally he asked, “And, Mr. Tuck, was that your only experience with Trumper?”
“What do you mean?”
“I have personally run down six others in the past two weeks. And the national clearing house has issued several bulletins.”
“Is this one of them?” Farrell forwarded a printout.
“Yes, it is.”
“Describing the functionality to which you have just testified?”
“Do you certify that this is in fact a national clearing house bulletin about the Trumper virus?”
“I do. You can get any number of identical copies at that URL.”
“Your honor, I’d like to submit this as Defendant’s Exhibit One.”
The judge asked, “Any objection, Mr. Prosecutor?”
“Um. No, your honor.”
“It will be accepted as evidence. Proceed, Mr. Farrell.”
The defense lawyer deposited the sheet on the evidence table in exchange for two colorful printouts that he brought forward. “Here are Prosecution Exhibits 13 and 14. Have you ever seen them before, Mr. Tuck?”
The witness gave each a quick glance. “Perhaps not these identical sheets, but I have seen these two images several times. They are the contents of the JPEG files installed by the Trumper virus.”
* * *
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” began the prosecutor, rising in summation, “defense has explained how the incriminating images arrived on Mr. Davis’ hard drive. Its explanation is convincing even to me. But let me make two points. Consider where on the hard drive these images were found — in a folder with 247 other admittedly pornographic images. Defense successfully excluded those 247 pictures from evidence on prejudicial grounds, because their possession was not actually illegal, but you know they were there and you know the defense never denied their nature. Now the defense wants you to believe that Mr. Davis knew of everything except the two illegal ones!
“Ask yourselves how likely that is.
“I submit Mr. Davis knew all of it. Instead of blotting them out in immediate horror, as even the defense expert said most upstanding people would do, he kept them deliberately to satisfy his lust for immature sex objects.
“Which brings me to my second point. The law does not specify nor care how the pictures came to be in Mr. Davis’ possession. He had them, ladies and gentlemen; that is not in doubt and that is enough. I expect — and the good people of this state demand — that you punish him because he left them there.”
* * *
The reporter looked up from his notebook. “Okay, I won’t quote your name if you don’t want me to. But you people found Davis guilty despite the Trumper virus. Good god, don’t you realize that any of us — you included — could be punished because of that damned thing?”
“No, we couldn’t.” The gray-haired woman sniffed before turning away. “Not so long as those two pictures were the only porn shots on our hard drives.”