Double Dilemma: A Short Story (Part I)
The alarm went off.
Austin Powell roused himself from bed.
His hand threw back his covers, reached toward the night stand and hit the shut button on the clock. He then lay back and ran his fingers through his hair. He lay there for a moment to let his brain adjust to the reality that it was actually morning.
Then he gave a sigh of relief. He was still on annual leave.
Austin had taken two weeks off work to ensure he devoted some attention to completing three projects before the art exhibition began later that month. He knew that he would have enough time for recreation, but he had resolved to finish his pieces before the big event. Besides, his passion for art made it a form of relaxation. Art was his passion since he was young and he had the ambition to go into it full time as soon as he had earned enough money to sustain himself.
Which is also why he was here.
Two days prior he had left his downtown apartment and driven three hours to his late stepfather’s log-cabin, nested in the quiet environment and sleepy neighborhood of the north, a place he cherished for the closeness to nature and the serenity it offered. This was the perfect setting for the inspiration he needed to maximize the use of his gift and bring his creativity to the next level.
He had predetermined he would not have any distractions, at least until he was able to complete three of the four paintings which he hoped to present during the coming exhibition. It was his opportunity and he had been looking forward to it for months. So he had made sure no one knew concerning his whereabouts except his sister Clare and best friend Max, whose parents also owned a cottage in the same area.
He preferred preparing himself early in order to make the most of the daylight for his artwork. Outside, the cold night air had given way to a warm, crisp atmosphere and the birds were chirping at the onset of a new day when he drew back the curtains and let the light stream through from a cloudless sky. It seemed to be a promising day.
Not long afterwards, he had taken a shower and headed off to the kitchen where he fixed himself a quick breakfast of toast, bacon, pancakes, fruit juice and some milk. He had grabbed the previous day’s evening paper on his way back from shopping, but did not get a chance to read it. So now as he settled down to enjoy his breakfast, he spread it out on the dining table before him and began going through it, a page at a time.
There was nothing remarkable or particularly outstanding about the news he was reading today, though he did come across some rather interesting articles before getting to the final pages of the newspaper. He turned over a few more, while reaching out with his fork to carve himself a piece of pancake.
Suddenly his mouth ceased to chew. His hand halted midair. Then, in slow motion, he replaced the fork and the pancake back on the plate untouched. His eyes were glued to the contents before him.
He straightened up, seized both edges of the paper, brought it closer to his face and began to peruse carefully. Near the bottom left of the page, there was a photo of a face staring back at him. Above was the title:
Dangerous Fugitive: Wanted on Multiple Felonies.
He read through the paragraphs of the article. It recounted the story of a criminal mastermind who had managed to elude authorities for years. He was wanted in connection to a number of serious offences that had taken place a decade and a half ago, based on new evidence that had come up in an ongoing police investigation. He was described as being unstable, armed and dangerous. There was a reward of $25,000 being offered for any information that could lead to his arrest and conviction.
However, none of these facts was reason for the shock and incredulity that Austin felt begin to well up within him as he read through that article again. Local crimes got reported regularly by this particular evening paper and there was nothing unusual about outlaws being featured in their articles. Nothing unusual at all.
Except the face on the page that was staring back at him was none other than his own.
Just then, cell phone rang.
But such was the state of his bewilderment, it took a while for his mind to come back to the present and register the fact that he actually needed to pick it up.
It was Max. Austin recognized his voice immediately though he too shaken to even give a proper verbal response to his friend’s greeting. When he finally managed to make an attempt at pulling himself together, he was taken aback by how much hoarse his own voice sounded.
“Hey Max. Listen bro, I really need to talk to you. Something has---”
“Are you near the living room?” Max cut him short.
“Living room, are you near there now?”
“No… I mean yes. Why?”
“Channel eleven, Austin. Now.”
Something about his friend’s tone had peaked his attention. With his hand still holding the cell phone against his ear, Austin stood up and reached for his remote control on top of a wall unit shelf. As he fingered with the controls, his flatscreen powered up within seconds and was soon displaying the telecast on Channel Eleven, where a confident, middle-aged newscaster was in the middle of an announcement:
…this ongoing investigation and local law enforcement are still trying to locate the whereabouts of the man they claim is linked to a series of illegal and dangerous activities. The inspector I spoke to stated, and I quote, that the man is “now wanted in connection to a string of felonies and a warrant has been issued for his arrest”. Members of the public are warned that this outlaw is a threat to the peace. Again, if you have any information regarding the case or have had contact with this individual, do not hesitate to call police headquarters through the following hotline 01-513-7250. This is Stan Hayes reporting for the Channel Eleven news…
While the newscaster spoke, images of the alleged criminal were being flashed on the screen and Austin could see they were identical to the photo in the newspaper. He was so taken aback, it did not even register that the phone had dropped from his hand and disconnected.
He made no effort to retrieve it. He simply stood there in the middle of the living room in stunned unbelief.
Austin switched off the TV and stood at the center of his living room for a few minutes. He could not find a way of wrapping his head around what was happening. What kind of nightmare was this? Had he truly woken up that morning or was he still asleep?
Wanted in connection to a string of felonies? What was that all about? His brain reached back into his past in an attempt to scour for anything he had been involved in that would warrant this level of attention from media and law enforcement. Save for two parking tickets he was slapped with in the city years ago, there was nothing he could find in his background or involvement with others that could be classified as being even remotely unlawful.
The more he thought about it, the more he became convinced of one of two possibilities. Either he was being framed for some reason, or someone in the legal space had made a very serious lapse of judgment.
His brow corrugated and his hand went through his hair. None of this seemed real. He looked down at his phone on the floor. He thought of calling back his friend. When he picked it up, he discovered it no longer had any charge left.
He wanted to get out of the cabin at once and head back home to start contacting his sister and close acquaintances. Then it dawned on him. If he was all over the news, there must be…
He hurried back to his room and grabbed his laptop. His first inclination was to check his emails, social media accounts, but he decided not to. As soon as it came on, he began to connect to a folder through the network.
Months before, he had set up some surveillance cameras around his apartment due to the frequency of burglaries in the neighborhood, in order to track down would-be intruders in the area. The authorities had not been able to apprehend the culprits involved in the break-ins or recover the stolen property.
Back then, he had felt installing the cameras gave him leverage which he could potentially use if his own apartment was ever broken into. He had made sure the cameras were camouflaged such that no one could detect them easily except by close scrutiny.
It had been a wise move on his part. However, little did he know when he set them up a day like this would come, when he would be more inclined toward surveilling law-enforcers rather than law-breakers.
The cameras were configured with motion sensors such that they only began to record if there was movement within a predetermined radius and this eliminated the need for filling up a lot of memory space. He could connect remotely to the cameras through apps in this phone and laptop, which also archived each day’s footage in a particular folder.
He now quickly got to that folder and sorted the list by archived date. He then clicked on them one after the other, starting from the most recent. At first, nothing significant showed, except the movements of the next-door neighbor’s dog on one, a stray cat on another and some playful children whose ball had come too close to the main entrance on the third.
But eventually, he began to see other images. He connected to a fourth file and when it loaded, he saw a car pull up in the driveway and three men emerge. One of them had a leather jacket on while the other two were dressed in double-breasted suits. The one in the jacket moved forward, rang the bell and stood there for some time. He then ventured closer to the front window, cupped his hands against his face and peered through the glass as if checking for any signs of life.
Presently the man drew back from the window and turned to his colleagues. As he did so, Austin saw something that made him reach for the mouse and back up a couple of frames. Sure enough, when he paused the footage and enlarged the screen, he got the confirmation he was looking for.
Bold letters were printed on the back of the man’s jacket.
FBI. The authorities were closing in on him.
© 2018 Michael Duncan