Shadows of Identity - Part 1 of 2
A Two-Part Story by Amy Bexley
A motorcycle screeched as it zoomed through the city weaving in and out of traffic on the onramp and onto the highway. With police cars in hot pursuit, sirens blaring, Mark Donovan accelerated the motorcycle as the two-lane highway opened to three lanes. The helicopter overhead captured it all on video for the people at home glued to their televisions and cell phones, watching the high-speed chase.
The E-JSD is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
But let’s back up a bit. Let’s go back to Friday: the day it all began – at least, the day it began for John Parker.
The gentle clinging of chimes floated into John Parker’s ears, gradually getting louder. He’d chosen the melodic, pleasant sound as his wake-up alarm for its calming effect, but with the daily unpleasantry of being woken from a peaceful sleep, a negative association to that sound had developed in his subconscious, making sound strident and awful to his ears.
He fumbled around the nightstand till he found his mobile device and, through squinting eyes, attempted to unlock it by pressing the pad of his right pointer finger to the biometric scanner. It didn’t recognize his fingerprint and prompted him to try again. He lifted his finger and pressed, with the same result. He sighed loudly and propped himself up halfway, leaning on one elbow. It must be that my hands are cold from sleeping. He breathed hot air onto his right finger before trying to unlock the device again to no avail.
“AAAARGH!” he muttered, exasperated at the problem he seemed to have every morning.
He got out of bed, standing up so his arms were now below his heart, causing the blood to rush to his extremities. Again, he pressed his fingerprint to the scanner, which finally recognized the match and unlocked.
“Bloody technology,” he mumbled to himself in a Cockney accent. John wasn’t British – not even a little bit – but he’d picked up the word after binge watching a British sitcom series recently and had found himself incorporating some of their words and phrases into his vernacular.
John was born and raised in Indianapolis, an only child, to adoptive parents that had cared for him the best anyone could hope for. His childhood had been normal, and he grew up to be a normal guy with a normal job and a normal life. His last girlfriend had dumped him for being “too boring,” saying she wanted “more adventure” and something about spontaneity. That was 6 months ago, but her words still came to his mind. Maybe speaking in an accent made him feel a little more excited, even for a sliver of time.
John had moved to get a fresh start, away from his ex, and he’d just landed a new job. After an interview and background check, he received a conditional offer for a position at the Parks and Recreation Department. Today they were taking his fingerprints, a drug test, and some other formalities, but they’d told him barring any negative findings, he would be starting next week.
Walking into his bathroom, John started running the hot water tap and looked in the mirror. His thirty-year-old face was still youngish-looking – handsome, even. At the right angle, he thought, turning his head. But his receding hair line and hint of a bald spot were starting to reveal his age. I better hurry up and get a girl before I lose all my hair, he decided.
After driving to the address that had been given to him by the same hiring manager that interviewed him, John checked in with the short, rotund woman at the front desk. She called him back and led him to the fingerprint station, waddling in front of him with his file under her arm.
“Right thumb first,” she demanded, opening an ink pad on the table and not making eye contact with John. “Press it firmly into the ink and roll back and forth twice.”
John complied, and then the short woman grabbed an empty form from the folder she was carrying, sliding it in front of him. Without announcing any instructions, she gruffly grabbed his wrist with one hand and his right thumb with the other and pressed it into the section of the form labeled “R Thumb,” rolling it a little harder than she needed to from left to right.
She nearly threw his hand back to him then said, “Right index finger.”
They repeated the process for his left hand on both fingers, then she handed him a wet wipe to clean his fingers and turned to the monitor at the station to begin scanning his prints into the system, which worked directly with the FBI fingerprint channeler service since John would be a government employee – even if it was just the Parks and Rec department. After only a couple minutes, the woman turned her gaze from the monitor to John, tilting her chin down to stare over her bifocals, then back to the monitor, then back at John.
“Have you ever gone by the alias Mark Donavan?” she said flatly.
John looked up from wiping the ink off his fingers and stammered, “What? Me? No, uh, no aliases. I’m just John Parker. Only name I’ve ever gone by.”
“Hm,” the woman grunted, as she examined her monitor again. “Wait right here.”
She turned from the station and waddled over to a phone on the wall. John saw her press some buttons, then say something into the receiver before hanging the phone back on the wall. Moments later, two burly security guards barged through the swinging door from the lobby and headed directly for John, one of them reaching for handcuffs.
“Excuse me, sir, are you Mark Donavan?” the one who looked in charge asked John.
“No, I’m John Parker. I think there’s been some mistake,” John stammered.
“That’s him! You got the right one,” yelled the stout woman, just returning from her labored walk back to the fingerprinting station.
“Sir, we need to come with us,” said the security guard in-charge, placing a hand on John’s arm. The other security guard walked up to John and said, “Put your hands in front of you,” with open handcuffs ready to go.
“I really think there’s been a mix up. Can someone just explain to me what’s going on? I just came to get prints for a new job. I’m not a criminal!” John protested.
John was handcuffed as the head guard said, “There’s a warrant out for your arrest, Mr. Donavan. A full official report will be emailed to you at the address on your application, since you have a right to know the crimes you are accused of. We are detaining you until officers can arrive to arrest you and take you down to the police station. They will cover the crimes you’re being charged with. Until then, I suggest you cooperate to avoid more trouble than you’re already in.”
They walked him into a back room that contained only a metal table and three metal chairs with a dim fluorescent light overhead. The walls were a dingy yellow under the light, and there were no windows. After telling him to have a seat, they left the room that locked from the outside and stood outside.
John racked his brain about what could be going on, and who the hell Mark Donavan could be. He had never heard that name before in his life. And how could they have confused him for whoever this Donavan character was? This all started with the fingerprints, but this was even more baffling to John. Are fingerprints completely unique? John could have sworn the stout little old woman had been looking at a photo on her monitor right before she called security. How could she possibly have confused his face with a criminal’s photo in their database? John was a law-abiding citizen and never so much as jay walked. Maybe he could tell them to call his ex-girlfriend so she could tell them how boring he was. He decided he would just explain this to the police when they arrived, and they would get this whole mistake ironed out. They had to be reasonable people, right?
About thirty minutes later, two police officers walked into the room. John was startled at first and jumped at the sound of the door opening. One officer was a woman with black hair tied back in a neat bun and a nameplate that said “Ramirez,” and her partner, O’Malley, was a tall man with a ruddy Irish complexion and reddish-brown hair and beard.
“Mr. Donavan?” said Ramirez.
John looked up and started, “No, that’s what I keep trying to tell everyone. I’m not Mark Donavan. I’m John Parker. I can show you my identification or anything you need.”
O’Malley spoke next, “Mark Donavan, you are under arrest for felony aggravated motor vehicle theft, reckless endangerment, conspiracy to defraud, and arson. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand?”
John stuttered, “B-But I – I don’t understand. I have no idea what you’re talking about. Who is Mark Donavan? I am innocent. Please! Let me explain.”
“That’s what they all say,” Ramirez said to O’Malley laughing. “Donavan, we’ve been looking for you for months. I don’t know how you thought you’d just waltz in for fingerprints and not have us on you like white on rice. We got your prints off the car you stole and later abandoned, and we have phone records of your little racketeering scheme.”
“I’m not the guy you’re looking for!” yelled John. “I’m telling you; you have the wrong guy! I’m innocent. I swear!”
O’Malley spoke now, “As much as we’d love to drill into you, the FBI just took over your case, since the conspiracy to defraud charges crossed multiple state lines and technically is out of our jurisdiction.”
Ramirez scoffed, crossing her arms. “Typical.”
O’Malley continued, “So you’re slotted for transfer to FBI custody. We got lucky and were able to catch a prisoner transport van coming through the area with room for one more, so you’ll be riding with them to a federal facility, where FBI agents will assume custody and where you’ll remain until your trial.”
After thoroughly searching John’s body and having him fill out a statement and some other paperwork, O’Malley and Ramirez stepped outside to guard the door, leaving John a moment of peace alone in the room. He sighed and rested his head down on his arms. How did I get in this mess? he thought. You always hear about people getting wrongfully accused and locked, but I never thought it would happen to me.
A short while later, O’Malley opened the door and Ramirez told John it was time to go. The three of them walked through the building exactly how John had entered this morning, through the fingerprinting station and back out the lobby entrance. In the parking lot, they walked towards a relatively normal looking white minivan. It looked like it had some miles on it, and there were no cages or wire partitions between the drivers and passengers like John had expected to see in a prison transport vehicle. The apparent drivers were leaning on the other side of the van smoking a cigarette. Ramirez opened the sliding door on the passenger side of the van and directed John to get in.
“Watch your head,” she added.
But John was not worried about bumping his head as he peered inside at the other passengers already in the van. They were two men, heavily tatted, and in white tee shirts and loose jeans, with hands cuffed in front of them, resting in their laps. The seats in the back of the van had been replaced with bench style seats, modified to face the inside of the van, so that John either had to sit opposite both and be on the receiving end of their death glare or squeeze in next to them on the same side. His eyes became wide as saucers as the situation sunk in. This was not an official police transport vehicle. It looked like some fly-by-night civilian company that was probably the lowest bidder for the per mile rate of transporting hardened criminals. The two guys out front taking a smoke break looked scrawny and unkempt, like they hadn’t slept much lately. Probably they were being paid minimum wage and wouldn’t do jack to protect John if these two guys decided to kill him in the back on the ride to wherever they were going.
Ramirez smiled and slid the door closed behind John. “We’ll be seeing ya, Donavan,” she yelled in, the door latching before she’d gotten the words out of her mouth. She and O’Malley walked up to the drivers and shared some words and signed some papers before walking back to their police vehicle. John was still half crouched inside the now-closed van and decided to take a set on the bench opposite the other two men, distancing himself as far as he could on the diagonal.
“Donavan,” the criminal in the rearmost side of the bench said to John, grinning. “Is that your name?”
John’s mouth gaped open, and he stammered for a couple of seconds before being able to form real words. “Uh, er, no, I mean they got the wrong guy. They think I’m this guy Donavan, but I have no idea…”
“Hey –,” the same man interrupted. “Save it for the judge. We’re all guilty until proven innocent around here.”
“Well, Donavan, you look like a first timer,” the other man spoke up. “I’m Dirty Vee. That’s not my real name either,” he said, holding out a fist which required lifting both wrists and jangled the handcuffs.
John looked wide eyed, and then realized the man called Dirty Vee was waiting for a fist bump, so he hurriedly lifted his cuffed hands to reciprocate the gesture. He recoiled when his nerves made him strike fists too hard. He rubbed his right knuckles with his left hand as he stared at the letters F-A-T-E tattooed on Dirty Vee’s fingers. Looking at his other hand, he saw the letters L-U-C-K.
“And this here is Trickshot.” Dirty Vee nodded to the other inmate. He continued quietly and calmly, “So here’s the deal, Donavan. We plan on busting out of this joint as soon as these two dick weeds give us an opportunity.” He nodded slightly over his other shoulder to indicate the drivers who were finishing up their cigarettes outside the door behind him.
“Looks like you’re in on it too now. Just play along, and don’t say nothin’, and we won’t have any problems. Got it?”
John, bewildered still, was silently staring at him, still trying to take it all in.
Trickshot started laughing. “This white boy is in over his head.” Then he looked sharply out the front window as he saw one of the drivers walking around to the passenger side and slapping Dirty Vee on the side of the leg to signal to stop talking.
Just then the two men opened their doors on either side of the front of the van and got in, finishing up their conversation and seemingly oblivious to the one going on among the criminals in their charge.
Dirty Vee and Trickshot exchanged looks then glared at John. The nonverbal message to keep your mouth shut was clear enough for him to pick up. As the driver started the ignition, John hunted around the bench for a seatbelt, jangling his handcuffs.
The man in the passenger seat, who couldn’t have been older than 21, turned back and said, “Uh, yeah, there’s no seatbelts in back. We’re in the process of making some safety upgrades. Just sit tight, and you’ll be fine.” The driver was probably ten years older than the gangly guy sitting shotgun, but he looked weathered and aged from a pack a day habit and not enough sleep.
“Uh, oh – ok… I mean, ye- yes sir!” John blurted out.
The next hour of the trip was uneventful. They got on the highway going south and were driving in silence except for the radio. The country music started cutting in and out as they neared the state border.
“We’re almost at a quarter tank, and this next stretch is desolate. No gas stations,” John overheard the driver remarking to the other man up front. “I’m gonna pull off at this exit to fill her up.”
Dirty Vee, who had been resting with his head on the back of the bench, slumped down with his legs splayed out and arms crossed on top of his belly, half opened his eyes when he heard this. John noticed Trickshot shift in his seat too, glancing at Dirty Vee to make eye contact. He had a feeling something was about to go down, and this made him squirm in his seat too.
They pulled off the interstate to a convenience store gas station. There weren’t many other vehicles there, and it was an older setup without credit card prepay, so the driver had to walk in to pay the attendant cash.
“Watch them like a hawk,” he directed the lanky young man through the open window as he walked towards the attendant station.
“Yep, I got it,” he replied from his seat. “Hey, get me some SKOAL while you’re in there! And a Diet Coke."
Dirty Vee waited until the driver was almost to the door then sat up from his slumped position and said, “Hey, boss man, we need to go to the bathroom. You haven’t let us out in hours.”
The shotgun turned around and looked displeased. “We’ll stop in the desert once we get on the road so you can take a leak. Not here.”
Trickshot chimed in, “Well I gotta take a dump, not a leak. It ain’t gonna be pretty for anyone.”
“Wait till Brian gets back, and we’ll see what he says. I can’t leave two of you in the van and take one of you in.”
Trickshot got up from his seat and started unbuttoning his jeans. “Uh oh, I’m feeling it start to come out! I guess it’s gonna be in the back of this van, and all yous are gonna have to smell it for the rest of the drive! Heh, heh, heh.” He was putting on a show now.
“Now just wait a second and put your fuckin pants back on!” the man up front yelled at Trickshot.
“Oh! It’s turtling. I’m past the point of no return!” laughed Trickshot, lowering his pants, revealing his boxers, as he squats down with his elbows on either side’s benches.
“Animals! The lot of you,” the man yelled as he whipped open his door and then slid open the side door of the van. “Get out now!” He grabbed the squatting inmate’s arm closest to him and yanked him towards the exit. Trickshot stumbled since he was off balance from squatting, but Dirty Vee seized the opportunity and leaped over his fellow inmate and out of the van. In a split second, before John could even process what had happened, Dirty Vee had the gangly young man’s neck locked in an arm hold and directing Trickshot to grab the handcuff keys and gun off his belt. Trickshot jumped into action and was frisking the man’s waist looking for the keys. He found both quickly, disarming their guard and then enlisting John to help him unlock the cuffs.
“Donavan! A little help here? Cuffs! Now!”
John was frozen in his seat watching this unfold, but now he realized this was his opportunity to escape. The law was never going to give him a fair shot. This was his lucky break, and he had to take it. He jumped out of the van and took the keys Trickshot was holding out to him, then unlocked his cuffs.
“Unlock mine, now. Let’s go!” barked Dirty Vee, struggling to contain the squirming young man.
Trickshot aimed the gun at the man and ordered John to unlock Dirty Vee’s cuffs.
John struggled to get the key in Dirty Vee’s moving wrists, and right as his hands were freed, the man escaped from his arm hold. He’d only gotten a start of one stride before Trickshot shot him in the back of the leg, downing him immediately. John was still standing there holding the cuff keys in his still restrained hands, and Dirty Vee and Trickshot had turned to see the driver coming out of the station and seeing the ordeal.
“Hey, get back in the van!” the driver yelled, running now, and reaching for his pistol.
Trickshot aimed and fired two shots, both hitting their mark but not killing the driver.
John crouched behind the van and fumbled to unlock his own cuffs, which was much more difficult with his wrists tight together. He heard the driver return fire and hit one of the two inmates. He wrestled the cuffs off when he finally unlocked them, and then peaked around the van. They both got more shots off until it was clear neither had any more bullets in the chamber. With all the commotion and all four men in the fire fight on the ground, no one was paying attention to John. He looked around the other corner of the van and saw a motorcycle parked on the side of the food mart. The bike owner was rushing to mount it and turn the key. John leaped into action and dashed across the lot, pushed the man off the bike, and jumped on the already running motorcycle. He grabbed the helmet off the man as much to protect his identity as anything, and jammed it on his head, then zoomed out of the parking lot almost peeling out when he turned too fast. He went right into town instead of onto the highway. Maybe he could hide in town somewhere.
John’s mind was racing. Did he just knock a guy off a motorcycle and steal it GTA style? The irony was that this was one of the very crimes he’d been wrongfully accused of. Maybe he had more in common with this Donavan than he’d thought. Rushing down the parkway, there were no cops on him yet. He slowed down to five over the speed limit, looking for anywhere to hide. He came to a stop at a red light, then he saw a police vehicle opposite him at the intersection. The two officers apparently communicated something over the CB and turned on their lights and sirens. John saw them looking directly at him, so he stepped on the gas and weaved around the other stopped cars just as the light turned green. He made a right, since the cop car was still blocked in, and wove through crowded streets packed with rush hour traffic. Noticing a corner drugstore, John made a quick plan and careened into the parking lot looking as non-panicked as he could muster. He parked the bike behind a shrub on a curb to conceal it, and sped walk into the Walgreens. Once inside, he ignored the clerk’s greeting and ducked his head from the prominent security camera at the entrance, making a bee line for the aisle with hair dye. After grabbing some jet black bald-spot-touchup spray for men, he headed over to the seasonal aisle and grabbed a pair of brightly colored polarized sunglasses and Hawaiian shirt, putting the sunglasses on and sliding the shirt on over his t-shirt as he walked to the register. He ripped the tags off and handed them to the cashier along with hair dye spray.
Better make it look like a more normal purchase, he thought, and threw a pack of gum on the counter at the last second.
“All our seasonal clothing is buying one get one half off. Would you like to get another item?” the young man behind the counter said, kind of slow like he maybe had a slight impediment.
“No!” barked John, then softening, “uh, no thanks. Just this stuff. I’m in a little bit of a hurry if you don’t mind.”
“Would you like a bag? Bags are five cents extra now if you don’t bring your own.”
“NO!” John said a little too loud. “Just – I don’t need a bag.” He threw a twenty-dollar bill down on the counter and ran out, yelling over his shoulder, “Keep the change.”
“Would you like your receipt, sir?” the oblivious clerk yelled after him.
Outside John ran behind the building and sprayed the dye all over his dirty blonde hair, turning it several shades darker. He still had his cell phone, and the first person he could think of calling was his ex-girlfriend. Two rings later, he heard her voice for the first time since they broke up.
“John? Why are you calling me?”
“Stacey, listen, don’t hang up! This is an emergency. I promise I wouldn’t have called you if this wasn’t life or death. The cops are after me, and they’re accusing me of all these crimes I didn’t do, and I just escaped on a motorcycle I stole when these inmates overtook the transport van and shot our drivers, and I just need you to come pick me up so I can hide out for a little bit until the heat dies down, and,” John rattled off, not stopping to take a breath.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa! What?! What happened? Where are you?”
“I’ll text you the address. I’m at Walgreens in Castle Rock. It’s like an hour from your work.”
“I never said I was agreeing to come get you. You know, if you wanted to talk about why we broke up, you could’ve just called. You don’t have to be so dramatic.”
“STACEY! I’m not being dramatic! PLEASE! For the love of God, I will do anything you want and if you just come get me right now. I’m gonna be dead on the six-o-clock news if you don’t.”
“Well, alright! I still have no idea what you’re rambling about. You won’t even pee in the shower. I don’t know what you possibly could have been arrested for.”
“Just come now!”
“Ok, I just got your text with the address. I’ll leave now and get there as fast as I can, ok?”
John sighed in relief. “Thank you, thank you, thank you! I love you. I mean, no – I just mean, I owe you big time. Please hurry!”
Almost an hour later, John saw Stacey’s familiar lemon of a car drive slowly through the Walgreen’s parking lot. He had hidden himself behind a tree and the dumpster, and when he saw her, he jumped out. Stacey didn’t recognize him incognito, so he walked up and knocked on the window. She jumped and then unlocked the doors. John jumped in and immediately started rambling again.
“So, while you were getting here, I was researching on my phone some stuff about the charges from my warrant report and the alias of the man they think I am, Mark Donavan.”
“Nice to see you too!” Stacey retorted with a huff. “I didn’t even recognize you with the black hair. It’s all over your neck and your forehead! Did you do that in the dark?”
“Oh…yeah. Nice to see you, and uh, thanks for all this. I really didn’t know who else to call that would believe me.”
“So, Mr. Boring decided to break some laws and get arrested?” Stacey grinned at John, driving back onto the main road.
“That’s the thing though! I didn’t break any laws! Well, I mean until they accused me wrongly, and then I did to get away…”
Stacey raised her eyebrows and turned her eyes from the road to John. “Whaaat? What did you do?”
“Well, I stole a motorcycle, but only to get away from the shootout. I was going to be collateral damage, and – anyway, back to what I was saying. I found some stuff online about this guy, Mark Donavan, they think I am. I found some actual pictures of the guy, and I do look exactly like him. I mean, different hair styles, but we could be twins! And it turns out, when I did some more digging into my adoption records, I did have a twin. But the agency never told my adoptive parents, because apparently the orphanage I was at was taking money on the side for this secret government study on developmental differences in twins that they could only do on kids without biological parents, so they could separate them without anyone knowing. Completely unethical. Anyway, this guy, Mark Donavan, must be my twin! And that means my real name isn’t John Parker. I’m…someone else. But what I don’t understand is how the hell did my fingerprints match his? I mean twins might be 99% similar, but fingerprints are completely unique! The only thing I can think is that because the FBI’s fingerprinting service is using an electronic scan and matching segments of the whorls and patterns or some shit, maybe it alerts for anything over a 98% match, and then with the photos of Donavan looking so much like my face, they decided it was me.”
Stacey gasped with every new detail; jaw dropped in disbelief. When John stopped to throw his head in his hands, exasperated, she said coyly, “You know, I have to admit I kind of like this new exciting you, fugitive of the law, wearing disguises and running from the cops.” She looked at him out of the side of her eyes as the rhythmic bumps and road noise of the highway filled the silence. “When we get to my place, maybe we can…”
TO BE CONTINUED…
The E-JSD is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support our work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.