A man was run over by a truck while rescuing a cat from a tree.
Another man was charged with manslaughter. People saw the driver leaving the cabin wearing a headphone. He confirmed the testimony to the police when they asked, and added how he had not slept for thirty two hours at the time and he needed the music.
The music was the only thing keeping him awake.
But he fell asleep anyways, the police concluded, and thus he stayed in prison for several years. When he came out, his life was in ruins. His wife sold the house and moved elsewhere. She did not tell the neighbors where she would move to.
In the next two months, he was rejected over a hundred times. He couldn’t find a job with a criminal record and the allowance he earned in prison was running low. He managed to rent a shabby apartment but was coerced into buying an expensive insurance package for the renter.
“An insurance package?”
“Your-tenant-is-a-murderer insurance package. Ever heard of it?”
“Why didn’t you walk away?”
He stirred a glass of ice coffee slightly and took a sip, then, he answered with a strange calmness in his voice:
“I can’t afford skipping town, inspector. I’m making less money out here than in there. Truly–”
He intended to make a joke out of his own misery but he couldn’t. He had not been able to laugh or smile for years. At the realization, as though showered by a bucket of cold water, his expression turned sour and his voice dampened as he uttered…
“–pathetic I am.”
His eyes gazed at the ring of water on the table where his coffee had been. No witty remark or a courteous “I see” from the inspector; only a pitying silence he didn’t need.
“You know what they said in there? They said prison and heroin are two demons of a kind. You try them once and you will never be free from them. And sometimes, you try one and you get both…”
A hand reached out and interrupted his vision. The inspector placed a glass of coffee on top of the water ring on the table that the man thought was his.
~~ * ~~
One week before, the inspector was visited by a journalist in his office. The journalist, none other than the talented editor-in-chief of a renowned newspaper publisher, offered information for a recent suicide case whose report had remained untouched on the inspector’s desk for days.
A businessman had jumped from the roof of a twenty-one stories office building. The man was identified as the owner of a logistic company that had finally gone bankrupted after years of struggles. The police found anti-depressant and a duplicate key to the rooftop in his pocket. Security camera footage in the stairwell implied a suicide and a report was filed merely out of protocols.
At the time of the meeting, the inspector was unsure what there was to investigate. But, after a glance at the victim’s profile, he found a reason why the editor-in-chief went out of her way to discuss the case with him.
“So, what is this about? Feeling guilty for causing a suicide?”
The journalist cracked a reluctant smile and quietly nodded.
“There’s a church down the street–”
“I’m here to turn myself in, inspector. I am a criminal.”
The inspector put away the document and said after a long sigh.
“Okay, look. As far as I can tell, the guy was running a slave camp and you busted his ass, which caused his slave camp to go down the drain, which led to…this. I wouldn’t call myself a criminal if I were you. I would call myself a whistle blower.”
“It’s not that simple…”
“While guilt is common among whistle blowers, no one has ever been charged for being a whistle blower. Since you’re not losing your job or getting death threat–he chuckled–considering the guy has bitten the literal dirt, your worries are nothing more than paranoia. Well, I can recommend a psychiatrist, if you wish to, but I can’t arrest you just because you feel guilty for a crime you didn’t commit.”
“It’s really not that simple, inspector. You see, the truth is…”
~~ * ~~
Her husband used to be a driver for the same logistic company. He had a sleep disorder that caused his sleep hours to vary unpredictably. He could only sleep for six hours a day and, as a result, his bed time was pushed back by two hours every day. It was not as extreme as narcolepsy but it remained problematic.
When she heard her husband had caused an accident, she was a relatively new associate columnist at a small news agency. She wrote an article about the accident under an alias, pinning the blame on her husband’s company policies and not her own husband. Despite her best efforts, the judge took the argument as only a minor reduction to his jail time.
It did not matter; her husband was at fault to begin with and her defeat only meant justice had been rightly served. But, what came next was unlike anything she had imagined.
The article she wrote received national acclaims. She received job offers and promotions she could not refuse. Per a suggestion of the editor-in-chief at the time, she cut off all ties with her husband and moved to the town where her current agency was situated. She had achieved so much from an outrageous lie she made years ago.
“Am I a criminal now, inspector? Now that you know the truth,” she asked.
~~ * ~~
“Did you arrest her, inspector?”
The inspector shrugged.
“The victim’s family decided not to press charge and agreed on a settlement. So no, I did not arrest her.”
“But I didn’t come here for small talks. You see, your wife hired me to look for you and oh boy, oh boy, you didn’t make my job easy. Long story short, she promises to settle your debts and take you in. Good for you.”
“Is this alright? There must be a reason she cut ties with me, right? I mean, I can understand if she doesn’t want me…”
“If I were you, I wouldn’t ask too many questions. But, to tell the truth, she’s a big shot now. She can do whatever she wants, including looking at police reports before they even get on my desk. Oh and, about this side job, don’t tell anyone. I want to keep my badge for…bragging rights at year’s end party.”
Finally, the man laughed for the first time in years.
“I’ll give you a lift but we’ll have to do something about your appearance.”
“Life is surely stranger than fiction sometimes. May I ask you one last question, inspector?”
“What is it?”
“Before, you said in front of the judge that the investigation was not over until you found the culprit who pushed the poor fellow into traffic. Did you find him? The culprit, I mean?”
The inspector tipped his hat, hiding his eyes in shame, as he answered.
“No, I’m sorry. I haven’t been working on your case for a long time.”
“No, no, it’s alright. Thank you for having faith in me even though I myself cannot tell if it was real or illusion. Perhaps, I was really dreaming after all.”
“You are a good man. Just…find a flextime job and I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
In reality, the inspector knew exactly what transpired that fateful night. He feared had the judge learned of the truth, he would face criminal negligence or even second degree murder charges for his undeniable involvement in the incident.
~~ * ~~
On the tree was the inspector’s mischievous cat.
The victim was the owner of a nearby veggie stand. Because he was taller than anyone else, the kind man volunteered to rescue the cat. But, even standing on a chair, he still lacked a bit of reach. And so, in order to compensate, he stacked a large green pumpkin on the chair and stood on top of it. It was the inspector’s idea.
Unfortunately, the cat jumped causing the man to fumble. His fumbling led to the pumpkin’s collapse. The pumpkin’s collapse threw him into traffic. Seeing the man falling into traffic, the inspector tried to catch him and failed. Wearing a headphone, the truck driver couldn’t hear the fanatic shouting and ran over the man. Not believing in her husband’s innocence, the journalist tried to pin the blame on another man and she obscured the truth. Because the truth was obscured, the businessman went out of business and committed suicide.
Now that the truth is known. Who was the real criminal in the end?