The One Where Chandler is Wrongly Accused
--Monica greeted her husband, Chandler as he walked through the door at the end of his workday, unaware that this was not a typical workday. Unaware that everything in their lives was about to change dramatically.
"Hi hunny." Monica's attention remained on dinner preparations as Chandler entered their apartment.
"Hi." His reply was distant, causing Monica to give him her full attention; it was then that she realized, there were five men following him, two of them uniformed officers.
"What's going on?" she asked, concerned.
"I was fired today," Chandler answered, his usual cheerful expression replaced by a dull, frustrated one. "These guys are from Federal Customs Department." He immediately walked into the bedroom and retrieved his laptop computer, handing it to a plain clothed officer of the federal government.
"Is this the only computer you own?" the agent asked.
"Yes," came Chandler's reply, after he planted a brief kiss on his wife's wrinkled forehead.
"What is all this?" Monica asked again, his first reply creating more questions than it answered. She was more confused by the minute as the five strangers in her house started busying themselves with her husband's computer, using her dining table as a workspace.
"They think I downloaded 'kiddie-porn'," Chandler answered his wife's question, running his hand through his hair, his day obviously hell by the way he looked. "Doug fired me as soon as these gentlemen started questioning me," he went on to explain. "Guilty till proven innocent I guess more their adage than the standard 'innocent till proven guilty'."
"How can they do that? How can they think this?"
"Some investigation led back to my name somehow. My computer user name." He loosened his tie and pulled it off. "When they couldn't find anything on my work computer, they decided the 'kiddie-porn' must be on my home computer."
"This is ridiculous!" she snapped, directed at the men invading her home. "My husband is not the kind of man to do this!"
"This is procedure, ma'am," one agent explained. "We have to investigate. With your cooperation, we can finish and be out of your lives much sooner."
"It's better to just let them look and see that there's nothing on there, Mon. I have nothing to hide."
"Hey, Mon, whatever you're cooking, it sure smells good-" Joey's compliment stopped mid-sentence when he saw all the commotion. "What's going on?"
"These guys are here to check my computer for 'kiddie-porn', Joe. They think I'm a pedophile or something."
"What?" Joey's voice expressed his utter shock. "Why do they think that?!"
"My name showed up in an investigation somehow. Oh, and, I lost my job."
Joey gasped, "What?!"
"Yep. Doug just up and fired me on the spot, as soon as the words 'child pornography' hit the air."
"How can he do that?!"
Chandler shrugged. "I'll have to find out later if they're legally allowed to, but right now, I'm trying to prove my innocence to these people." He gestured to the group busy dissecting his computer by means of fancy forensics-type equipment.
"This is unreal!" Joey exclaimed.
"Say that another billion times and you'll be about where I'm at now," Chandler muttered.
"Ma'am," an agent approached Monica, "We need to ask you some questions."
She looked to Chandler before replying. "Alright."
The agent gestured towards the hall, and Monica followed as he led.
--"You are Monica Geller-Bing, yes?"
She nodded, hugging herself as the questions began.
"Do you ever use your husband's computer?"
"Have you ever seen 'questionable' images while on his computer?"
"You mean pictures of naked children? No. Absolutely not."
"Have you ever seen any pornography?"
She winced. "Well, yeah."
"I'm going to show you some images, and I want you to tell me if any of them look familiar, alright?"
The pictures he went on to show her were very graphic, and so horrible, she couldn't bare to look at them.
"I don't want to look at these," she announced, finally turning away. "My husband is not guilty of looking at these pictures!"
"Does your husband use this user name?" The agent showed her the documents that listed the specifics of the crime, her husband's user name on the paper.
"Yes. That is his user name. But, isn't it possible that someone else used the user name somehow? Hacked in or whatever computer people do?"
"No," was his unyielding, definite reply.
--More questions were asked, but Monica felt like she was almost detached from the situation, the whole scene seeming like something out of 'Law & Order'.
--When she rejoined Chandler and Joey inside, the four remaining agents were packing up.
"Are they done?" Monica asked.
"For now," Chandler sighed. "They're taking the computer with them."
"Too many pictures to look through here," he answered with a roll of his eyes, beyond annoyed by everything taking place.
"Mr. Bing," the main agent addressed him. "Does anyone else have access to your computer besides you and your wife?"
Chandler briefly glanced at Joey, almost out of his peripheral vision, then shook his head firmly. "No. No one."
He knew Joey had used his computer before, many times before in fact, but he wasn't going to drag his best friend into this nightmare. Joey wasn't guilty of doing this anymore than he was.
"How long will you need the computer for?" Monica asked the agent in charge.
"We will try to have it back to you by Friday. Or by Monday at the latest," the man replied, handing over a receipt of sorts, for Chandler and Monica's records.
And the nightmare began.
--Chandler lay in bed, his mind reeling. In just a few hour's time, his entire life had changed.
"We'll be ok… financially," Monica muttered as she looked through bank books and clicked on a calculator. "For a little while, anyway."
"You know I didn't do this, right?" he asked; the question had plagued his mind ever since he saw the horrified look on her face, following the explanation of what had happened, and the nature of the investigation was announced.
"Of course I know that! I know you didn't do anything wrong! And they will too. They will look at everything on the computer and they'll see that there are none of those pictures, or any pictures like that." She snuggled up to him supportively. "It'll be ok, ok?"
He nodded weakly. "Yeah…"
She frowned as she saw how tense and upset he was, and she kissed his jaw-line as she rubbed his arm, trying to get him to relax a little.
"Mon." He whispered her name. "I'm not feeling very much in the mood right now." He looked at her sadly, "Is that ok?"
She nodded. "Yeah. That's ok."
He held her tight, she his lifeline to sanity as he forced his eyes closed, desperate for sleep to take the pain of the day away.
--Chandler entered Monica's restaurant kitchen, unshaven, his clothes wrinkled, looking unkempt.
"Did you call the agents?" Monica asked as she continued sautéing whatever dish she was in the middle of creating.
He nodded. "They said they weren't done looking at it."
She scoffed. "They've had it a week longer than they said they were going to! What's the hold up?"
Shrugging, he mumbled, "They just said they still needed to look at it."
"This is getting ridiculous! They keep lying to us! Telling us they'll be done on such-and-such day, then pushing it back! Not returning our calls! I think it's time we called an attorney."
"I did," he told her. "He said that until I'm actually charged, there's little that can be done."
"Hogwash! There's gotta be something that can be done! They lied to us, like, a dozen times!"
"Guess they're allowed to, what with them being federal agents and all." He leaned against the kitchen island counter. "Besides, the lawyer said that they have, like, 45 days to keep potential evidence and file charges."
"So, they can just lie to us, take our property from us, and that means nothing?!"
"Man! I want to turn the tables on them! Sue them or something!"
He shook his head. "You can't fight City Hall."
This usually bright, funny, sarcastic man had been dulled by the events of late, and it was starting to show, concerning everyone who knew him.
"They can't get away with this!" Monica announced insistently.
His gaze dropped to his shoes. "Yes. They can."
"We'll fight this if they charge you," she assured him; he just nodded numbly.
--"That was the agent in charge," Monica informed Chandler after hanging up the phone. "He said we need to come down to their office."
"Why?" Chandler asked, his eyes squinting skeptically.
"He said everything was ok," she prefaced, "They just needed to talk to us about a few things." She smiled, "Maybe they're ready to give us back the computer!"
"You think?" he asked, smiling for the first time in a long time.
"I asked them if anything was wrong, they said 'no'. I bet they're all done with all this now."
"Ok, so, when do we go?"
"Tomorrow," she told him as she hugged him tight; finally, a light at the end of the tunnel. Finally, she could see a glimpse of the man she married, returning by the potential of good news.
Good news… how wrong they were.
--They needed to talk to Chandler first, they'd said, and asked Monica to stay in the small room. The only way out keyed doors she didn't know the key combination for. Worry crept into her mind, but she tried to force it away, hugging herself as she glanced around the room and at the small table that contained 3 magazines, all sports related.
Hours went by. Hours. Two. Three. Four. She was starting to grow more and more anxious as the clock ticked on. What was happening? Where was Chandler? Was he under arrest? Was she? Why was she locked in this room? If she knocked on a door, would someone answer? Was she free to leave if she asked to? Was Chandler?
Questions and possible scenarios swam in her brain, causing her to become near frantic for answers. Finally, the door opened, two agents and Chandler standing there.
"What's going on?" she asked urgently.
"I'll tell you later," Chandler replied as the two agents walked away momentarily.
"I don't want to wait till later!" she snipped quietly. "What happened? What took so long?"
"Later," he said again, through gritted teeth.
He'd never done that before, and she was torn between being afraid by his snarl and mad at him for it.
"I need to know what's going on Chandler! I've been worried!"
"I said later. Later!" he snapped.
When the agents returned, she asked them, "What's going on? Are we getting our computer back?"
"Not yet," the agent replied. "There is still an investigation going on."
"So, you're saying you found something on the computer?"
"We're not at liberty to discuss that."
"You had him in there for four hours discussing nothing? The weather? Sports teams?"
"Mon," Chandler whispered, taking her hand in his.
"If charges are filed-"
"If?!" Monica asked, interrupting the agent. "He did nothing wrong!"
"Questionable images were found on his computer," the agent informed. "If no federal charges are filed, then the state can still file charges."
"This is a nightmare!" Monica snapped. "You have to justify your time, so you're just gonna accuse an innocent man and destroy lives! Right?!"
"Ok, c'mon." Chandler put his arm around his wife and entered the elevator that had arrived seconds earlier, being held open by the second, silent agent.
"I hope you sleep well!" she barked at the two men as the doors slid closed, obscuring them from view.
"What the hell went on in there?!" she asked as the elevator arrived at the lobby floor.
"Wait till we get home, ok? Please?" he begged, his voice sounding strained like she had never heard it before.
Concerned for him, she relented. "Alright."
--They entered their apartment, Monica having kept her questions bottled up, for her husband's sake, until that moment.
"Talk. What happened?"
He sighed. "They found pictures, but not the pictures they were originally looking for."
"What pictures did they find?"
"Mostly what they showed me were banner ads. You know, from pop-up advertisements? Some weren't even complete! I tried to point that out to them, but they said that because the images were 'broken' and because they couldn't find the original images they were searching for, that I must have 'evidence destroying software'!"
"That's right! So, because they can't find the pictures, I must have a way of destroying evidence! No way I can be innocent! Oh, no!"
"This is insane! Did you tell them that this is insane?!"
"Not in so many words. I told them to search for such a program, that they would find none."
"I can't believe this!" Monica huffed as she hung up her jacket.
"Oh, wait. It gets better," he snipped sarcastically. "They made me sign this piece of paper that stated that everything they find on the computer I take full responsibility for! And if I didn't sign it, they said they were gonna drag you in for questioning!"
"So what! Let 'em! I'd've given them a piece of my mind!"
"No way! I'm not having them do to you what they did to me."
"What did they do to you?"
"It was like an interrogation out of a 'B-rated' spy movie or something! The only thing missing was the light in my eyes!"
"Did they read you your Miranda rights?"
"Eventually. But not at first. Then they made me sign something that said that they did read me my rights. Which they hadn't until way later!"
"What kind of questions did they ask you? Besides the whole 'evidence destroying' stuff?"
"They showed me picture after picture after picture after picture. Does she look under 18? Does she? Does she? Does she look like she might be? Do you think anyone might think she is under 18? Over and over."
"What did you say?"
"I told them no!"
"Did they look under 18?"
"I don't know," he said with a tired groan. "Not really. They looked like early 20's maybe." He plopped down on the couch. "Seeing naked women under those circumstances, it was enough to make me wanna go gay."
"Don't even joke!" She dropped down beside him. "Now what do we do?"
"Now we wait and see if they charge me with something."
She let out an irritated sigh. "Ok. Let's look at this logically," she began. "Most of the pictures were banner ads, right?"
"And of those, a lot were blurry or incomplete. Like when they started to pop up, you clicked the 'x'."
"And, of the pictures that were not banner ads, some were blurry and/or incomplete?"
"So, we're talking about a handful of pictures that may or may not contain individuals under the age of 18."
"Right. They didn't even know! They actually told me that the women in the pictures, they'd never seen them before in any investigations and they couldn't even be sure if they were minors or not!"
"So, we have a handful of pictures where no one really knows the ages of the women in them."
He just shrugged.
"I don't see how they can charge you for anything. I mean, c'mon! A few dozen pictures of naked women who, if they're not 18, they sure look it! Right?"
"Right! None of them looked like children. None of them!"
"I- I just don't see how they can charge you with anything then."
"I hope you're right."
"What happens next?"
"Yeah, but can they-? I mean, are they just gonna show up and drag you off in handcuffs? Should they decide to arrest you?"
"I have no idea."
--Chandler walked in the door after having gotten the mail, handing everything to Monica but one letter, which he opened immediately.
"What's that?" she asked as she thumbed through the junk mail.
"It's from the District Attorney's Office," he replied, reading over the letter he'd plucked from the envelope.
"What does it say?" she asked softly, trying not to let her anxiety show through in her tone.
"They're charging me with a crime."
"What?!" She ripped the letter from his hand and started to speed-read through it.
"A misdemeanor-" she mumbled as she read aloud. "Possessing material that depicts sexual acts- material known to have contained under age persons."
"This is insane!" she exclaimed.
"It's beyond that," he stated in defeat. "It passed insane a long time ago."
She grabbed the phone book out from under the counter. "I'm calling a lawyer."
--"Ok," Monica started as she hung up the phone. "The lawyer was actually pretty helpful!"
"Ok," Chandler muttered.
"He said that it's actually a good thing that it's only a misdemeanor. Usually, if the Federal Government is doing the initial investigation, the charges that follow are felony charges. But because it's been knocked down to a state misdemeanor charge, that means the evidence didn't support a felony charge."
"The evidence doesn't support any charges."
"I know," she assured him. "He said that the court date mentioned in the letter is an arraignment. That's where you tell the judge you're not guilty. He said it was possible that at that time, they could take you into custody to await trial."
Abruptly, he looked up at her, his expression showing horror.
"But!" she went on quickly, "He said that because it's a misdemeanor, and because you have no prior record, they probably would not put you in jail."
"How comforting," he snipped sarcastically. "We thought they would probably not file charges, yet, here we are."
"Chandler, hunny, I know you're frustrated, but, we have to stay on top of this, ok?"
He nodded as he sighed.
"The first thing we focus on, is the arraignment. After that… Well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
TO BE CONTINUED…
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