Fugitive Bystander E2

Sunset traffic jam
Publish Novellas 10 September 2023


With no apparent place to run, Mason Douglas surrenders to police and attempts to explain the mistaken identity.

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Mason immediately requests a lawyer. With a heavy workload, Dominic Gutierrez visits Mason in jail within two days for an introduction. He stands before his client wearing a crooked tie and bargain suit reading of cigarettes.

“I’ve looked over the officer notes. Why don’t you tell me what happened, as an unbiased listener?”

“I was fueling up and buying snacks before a vacation road trip. While selecting beverages, I heard a commotion. A gunman resembling me was robbing the store. While I remained quiet, shots were fired before the criminal fled.

“I dropped my snacks and checked on the cashier. In the process, my bloody nose contaminated the crime scene. Then I looked up into the camera. I was spooked, so I bolted.”

“According to the police, you were struck in the face during the altercation.”

“No. My high blood pressure medication is running low. Look! My nose is bleeding now. If I was struck, where’s the bruise?”

The doubtful Gutierrez asks, “Can you explain what you mean by the gunman resembles you?”

“He was about my size and complexion. Basically, a police sketch of me would be the person you’re after. Haven’t you ever seen anyone that favors yourself?”

“I may have seen someone similar with a different complexion, or perhaps with the same smile as someone I know. But exact matches are rare. Having them randomly show up at the same place and time is even more improbable.

“It’s like finding a needle in a haystack within another haystack. But let’s say it happened in your case. Were your clothes different?”

“I was wearing a black hoodie and blue jeans. He was wearing a navy hoodie with dark pants.”

“Are you listening to yourself? I’m not saying that you’re lying. But there are so many improbabilities with your story. How do I begin to defend you?”

“For starters, look at the complete video. It must show the gunman leaving before me. And consider, if I was going to rob a store, why would I be pumping gas with my own ATM card there?”

“With a stronger defense, that detail would be icing, not the cake itself. You also left a trail of vehicles before turning yourself in. That’s not something an innocent person usually does. Is there any other clue—perhaps a twin you haven’t told me about?”

“I have no siblings…. Hold on! A few months ago I uploaded my photo to a website that finds twin strangers. It was just a curiosity to see if someone like me has a more interesting life. Anyway, I found a local match, but we never met up.”

“If you never met, how would he know you are going on vacation or pumping gas at that location on a specific day? It adds more improbabilities. But I will review the entire video and get back to you.”

“How long will I have to wait in here?”

“You have a right to a speedy trial, but unless you want to plead guilty, let me find something that may persuade the judge to release you while awaiting trial.”

Until now, the police have been releasing reproductions of specific frames or short excerpts of video footage. Watching indoor and outdoor videos in their entirety raises some questions in Gutierrez’s mind.

Confronting Detective

After the robber grabs the cash, he appears to move towards the door but goes out of frame until an outside camera catches him fleeing on foot. Moments later, he is still in the store, before making another exit, this time to his vehicle.

As a public defender, Gutierrez has little budget for private investigators. So he must convince other public servants to investigate for him.

Probing the lead detective, Gutierrez asks, “How can the gunman leave twice?”

“Evidently he returned,” is the terse reply.

“But why, if that’s the case? The video doesn’t show him gathering any incriminating evidence, extra cash, or anything worth the risk of apprehension by returning to the scene.”

“You don’t have to be a genius to be a criminal. This guy used his ATM card to purchase gasoline for his own car before shooting the cashier,” reasons the detective.

Gutierrez counters, “It’s not adding up for me. Your supposition is that the gunman either planned to be caught or had no plan at all, leading you right to himself.”

“People do stupid things every day. It’s why we need police.”

“What about the stolen cash? Did you find it on my client?”

“He had a few hundred dollars—“

“Yes. Why withdraw three hundred dollars from an ATM if he just robbed a store? And where’s the rest of the cash?”

“What do you want from me? It’s not my job to educate dumb criminals.”

“You’re right. But, as a detective, you should be smarter than such criminals. Answer, what’s the motive? Where’s the cash? Where’s the gun? Why did he surrender peacefully?

“You’re like a thirsty person satisfied with a canteen full of holes. Have you even run federal facial recognition for other matches?”

“The fingerprints match your client.”

“As a witness, he doesn’t deny being on the premises.”

“All right, I will expand the facial recognition.”

“Thank you, and if you find another match, cross reference it with other fingerprints on the cash register.”

“That won’t do much good if he was wearing gloves.”

“Listen to what you’re saying. If the gunman wore gloves, how did you get my client’s prints?”

Real Manhunt

Facial recognition identifies Randy Meyers, a career criminal with similar physical features as Mason. Police execute a search warrant on his address. They gather evidence, but Meyers is on the run.

Criminal suspect profile

Detective Megan Anthony spearheads the manhunt. “We’ve lost some time. Is there any indication of how long it’s been since Meyers was here—a warm coffee pot or anything like that? He may have dropped his guard because of news reports.”

“Look here Detective! Breakfast dishes are in the sink.”

“The food is hardened. That could be from yesterday. Is there anything in the mailbox?”

“No Detective.”

“That’s good. Look in the trash for junk mail and compare it with what the neighbors received today.”

They confirm that he was here sometime during the day. “Listen up. I want 500-mile perimeter checkpoints. Flag his face and identification at major transportation hubs. Put a bolo out for his vehicle and scrub traffic camera footage. Contact his parole officer.”

Detective Anthony gets word that Meyers’ vehicle is on interstate 5. “I want a helicopter in the sky with black-and-whites on the ground. Let’s bring him home, guys! But approach with caution. Consider him armed and dangerous.”

Police barricade the interstate highway. Motorcycle cops weave through cars at a standstill. They surround Meyers’ vehicle but he's no longer inside. Air support spots him fleeing on foot with a backpack. He carjacks a vehicle at an intersection.

A car chase ensues with helicopter surveillance guiding the way. It comes to an end when the car runs over spikes that puncture its tires and officers arrest Randy Meyers. They confiscate nearly four thousand dollars and a firearm.

Police subsequently charge Meyers with robbery, carjacking, and murder. They drop all charges against Mason who goes on a much deserved vacation. Selling his story to a movie studio raises him a little above poverty. Mason furthers his education and becomes an advocate for mistaken-identity crimes.

  1. Real ID Act. tsa.gov/real-id
  2. Eyewitness Identification Reform. innocenceproject.org/eyewitness-identification-reform
  3. Mistaken identity. apa.org/monitor/2016/02/mistaken-identity
  4. Mistaken identity. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mistaken_identity
  5. How likely are you to meet your exact doppelgänger? csmonitor.com/Science/2016/0717/How-likely-are-you-to-meet-your-exact-doppelgaenger
  6. You have a doppelganger and probably share DNA with them, new study suggests. cnn.com/2022/08/25/health/doppelganger-dna-study-wellness/index.html
  7. Twin Strangers. twinstrangers.net
The End

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