Fugitive Bystander

Short Story


A quick run into a convenience store for snacks transforms a man’s simple life to front-page news when he encounters a very familiar robber.

In this short story, a victim of circumstance makes a series of mistakes in an effort to absolve himself.

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The global pandemic spawned the need for Americans to renew Driver’s Licenses with something called the Real ID for airline travel. This new card with hologram security features requires proof of citizenship, residency, a thumbprint, and photo to obtain. Previously, government agency fingerprint databases were limited to criminals. Now, anyone by virtue of a camera image or latent fingerprint, can become a suspect.

Mason Douglas has a Real ID California Driver’s License. He’s an unassuming guy that hovers under the radar for employment opportunities and relationships. Between stocking shelves in a local supermarket and running food deliveries to residences, he earns enough for rent and a digital movie streaming service. That’s pretty much the extent of his exciting entertainment.

Genetics and unhealthy diet contribute to high blood pressure. But it’s manageable with medication. His prescription requires a refill within the week. Stretching out remaining pills leads to nosebleeds and perspiration.

On his first day off of work in several months, Mason decides to splurge on a full tank of gasoline to take a ride up the coast. What road trip is complete without snacks to munch on while singing off key to radio music? Unfortunately, Mason picked a day that turns his road trip upside down.

While the gas nozzle is filling his tank, Mason runs inside a convenience store for corn chips, donuts, and sodas. The slight employee discount at the supermarket for which he works isn’t worth driving across town. While vacillating over flavors through glass refrigerator doors in the back of the store, the entrance alert rings.

What Mason sees through the corner mirror startles him motionless. A man with an uncanny resemblance to himself is pointing a gun at the cashier. After some shouting, shots fire, followed by hurried footsteps and the door alert.

Dropping his snacks, Mason cautiously steps to the front of the store and sees the worker doubled over the counter with the register open. Looking up, he notices a camera facing toward himself. At that moment, blood drips from his nose onto the counter and floor.

High blood pressure and anxiety over the precarious situation this places him in causes a nosebleed. Mason grasps his nostrils to limit his drips onto the crime scene. He then spins around to bolt through the doors. In the process, he nearly knocks over another customer entering. Mason holsters the gas nozzle and his fender scrapes another vehicle as the acrid smell of burnt rubber accompanies the tires screeching onto the highway.

The police who arrive moments later, pronounce the victim dead on the scene, cordon off the area, and begin interviewing witnesses. A detective, determined to get justice, looks in the back room at security footage. Officers pull fingerprints from the exit door. With this and the testimony of witnesses, a manhunt begins for Mason Douglas.


While trying to get as much distance between himself and the crime scene, Mason has flashbacks of every incriminating mistake he just made. “Why did I look into the camera? How could I leave my blood on the counter? Pressing the exit door with my hand instead of my shoulder left a full set of bloody prints. Why did I leave my receipt in the gas pump?”

He lowers the radio volume as if it will allow him to hear answers, but his heartbeats are just as rhythmic as the music. Sirens are audible as he approaches the next intersection. Assuming his escape was short-lived, he slows to the side of the road. But it’s an ambulance. Perhaps one for the gunshot victim he left behind.

The car he bumped into has traces of his vehicle paint and external cameras may have recorded his license plate. So he needs to switch transportation. Mason pulls into a large shopping center parking lot before requesting a Lyft driver.

Far from a criminal able to hot wire vehicles, he heads to a car rental company. Mason hands over the same ATM card used for his prior gasoline purchase. The rental assistant also scans his driver’s license.

Realizing potential digital tracks, he heads to a local ATM to withdraw as much cash as he can. The withdrawal limit of $300 won’t take him far. Rather than going home, he intends to head onto his coastal route already mapped out.


On a radio news station, he tenaciously listens to reporters covering the crime. They mention his name as a “person of interest” who should contact police immediately in order to deescalate the manhunt. Mason pulls over to the side of the road and takes his medication as he tries to assess the situation.

A news web page on his phone has video coverage depicting his face at the convenience store. “What triggered Mason Douglas to turn a simple gas station stop into a bloody rampage? Was it desperation for a few thousand dollars, or a callous disregard for life? Police are no doubt tracking his whereabouts with cellphone and automobile GPS….”

With this information, it is apparent that Mason’s run has hardly just begun. Momentarily, police will block the road. To prevent capture, he must go off the grid. This requires ditching the rental car and his phone. But where is his destination? How will he keep tabs on the news?

While wandering down the road in a state of anxiety and confusion, Mason hops onto an unlocked beach cruiser. He begins pedaling in the opposite direction than the car was heading. Instead of Malibu Beach he plans to blend in with the large homeless population of Venice Beach.

By now police cars are everywhere. Officers impound his personal and rental cars while others execute a search warrant on his apartment. They can’t find weapons or motive, but the strong circumstantial evidence remains incriminating.


The face and name of Mason Douglas is everywhere. The grip of fear stifles him from buying a sandwich that could escalate into a police shootout. Unequipped for life on the run, Mason walks into a local coffee shop, identifies himself and tells the barista to phone the police. When they arrive, he surrenders without incident.

At the police station, he gives his account of events. The detective presses for a confession. “We have you on video shooting the victim! Do you want to see it?”

“That’s not me! It isn’t me on the video!” he shouts repeatedly.

“It’s your right to keep denying the evidence. But it will result in a longer prison term.”

“How many times must I say it? You should be searching for someone else, who looks like me!”

“We offered you a chance to lighten your sentence. We are now placing you under arrest.” The detective reads Mason his Miranda rights. The future looks bleak for him as the stress impairs his breathing. He can only think of one person who might have the ability to set him free.


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