The next few days were kind of a blur. All they consisted of were phone calls, writing, typing, printing, interviews, and piles and piles of crumpled up papers filling up the trash can and spilling on to the floor. After reaching dead end after dead end, we found a little something about the case that we had never heard about before. Joshua was not the main suspect, he was just the one that they happened to apprehend, and we had to find the other suspects ourselves for the sake of curiosity. We went through all of the witness accounts (of which there were very few) and read each description so we could come up with our own face to the crime. The funny thing is, the description did match Joshua, but it couldn’t have been him. If I was being honest with myself the accounts were all extremely vague.
“Katie, what if it was Joshua?” Justin abruptly questioned one day.
“But what if it wasn’t?”
“I’m just saying, all I’m seeing is evidence that points to him. I’m sorry Katie.”
“Oh, don’t tell me you’re giving up too! Look, Joshua is the scapegoat in all of this, I just know it. There is evidence that points to him I can’t deny that, but we have to piece everything back together in order to place him at the exact scene at the exact time, if we can’t do that then it proves that they’ve got the wrong guy.”
“They must really believe they have the right guy though if they’ve kept him in there for three freaking years! And that’s just so far, they’ll probably keep him in there for the entirety of his sentence.”
“I’m sorry. I’m not trying to give up, I want to believe he’s innocent as much as you do, it’s just…it’s just difficult when all the evidence seems to point to one person and that one person is your own flesh and blood ya know?”
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Okay let’s nab the actual asshole that committed this crime and got my big bro thrown in prison.”
“Now we’re talking!”
We high-fived and dove right back into our work.
A week later it would seem that we had gathered every last bit of information we’d be able to discover. We even re-interviewed witnesses, but they seemed to stick to their original accounts and when we showed each of them a picture of Joshua, they confirmed that that was the man they had seen that night. It was dark then, so I thought it was quite possible they didn’t get as good of a look as they believed they did or Joshua was the only person they were able to see at the gas station that night. All the witnesses were probably just placing him at the gas station on that night solely because he was there.
The more time that passed, the colder the case got. Justin was in college now so he had less and less time to spend on catching this crook, once again I was on my own. I was used to it. No one cared quite as much as I did about the case, about Joshua, about injustices in general, so I had no problem going at it by myself. I couldn’t just let my best friend rot in there, in a grimy cell with actual criminals. Four years of absolute bull was approaching and I couldn’t bear to let his sentence go on any longer. I was starting to get somewhere with his story the next time I would visit him.
“Katie!” He greeted me cheerfully.
“Josh! How’ve you been?”
“Ya know, as well as someone can be when they’re behind bars.”
“Right. I’m sorry, probably not the best question to lead with.”
“Eh, that’s all right. How have you been? Justin calls me sometimes; heard he has been helping out with your vigilante business.”
I laughed. “Yeah. He’s been a great help! I feel that I got a lot done working with him so I guess you can say I’ve been doing pretty well. I think I’m on the verge of something good here.”
“Yeah! I’m about to bust this case wide open. I just need you to finish telling me your side, as much as you can remember.”
“Great! Again, I’ve brought both a tape recorder and a pad and pencil. You know the deal, one is for the actual court case and the other is for my book. Ready to get going?”
I questioned him for the remainder of visiting hours and somehow we managed to finish this time. I walked out of there feeling optimistic, like this was just what I needed to prove his innocence. We would win that appeal; I could just feel it.
That night I went home and didn’t touch a single piece of evidence. It was the first night I hadn’t worked on the book or the case, instead I decided to unwind and go out with some friends. It was a nice little break, but the night proved to end strangely. As I was dancing with my friends, a man approached me as if he already knew exactly who I was. I didn’t recognize him whatsoever. I thought about running, but ultimately, I just stayed put.
“Katie.” He said to me with a wide smile.
“I’m sorry, I don’t believe I know you.” I graciously replied.
“No, you don’t. But I know you.” He paused. “You are friends with that convicted murderer if I’m not mistaken?”
“He was convicted of manslaughter actually.” I responded in a slightly more annoyed tone.
“Murder. Manslaughter. What’s the difference? He still killed a guy did he not?”
“It’s really none of your concern, sir.”
“Oh, but it is.” He grinned. “It truly is.”
“And why’s that?”
“I can’t say, but I do think that one day you may uncover the truth for yourself.”
“What was the whole point of coming up to me then?” I questioned him feeling more perplexed than ever before.
“Just offering my sincere condolences to a murderer’s only companion. I hope someday you find out for yourself what really happened.”
“He’s not a murderer!” I shouted a little too loudly at the man.
A few heads turned and I caught a handful of side glances as well. They were starting to recognize me. I had been all over the news lately as Joshua’s “longtime friend” or as the one trying to “fight the system.”
He chuckled and tipped his cap to me, “Good luck Katie, you’re going to need it.”
And with that last eerie statement he turned to leave and I walked over to the bar to order drink after drink in hopes to erase any memory of that encounter. It was a terrible idea considering it was the rest of the night that I’d soon forget, but I’d continue to remember that man in the brown hat.
I woke up the next day a total wreck. My bank account was sparse. I couldn’t remember the last time I had drank that much, but my dreams that night seemed to just replay the night I had just had. What was the man in the brown hat’s deal? What were his intentions when he approached me? Those thoughts would continue to haunt me. I tried to shake it off, bury myself once again in Joshua’s case and focus on getting him out of that hell hole, but my mind was clearly other places. I didn’t know what I was doing anymore. I felt around for my phone and dialed Justin for a little encouragement. He answered on the fourth ring.
“Katie! Hey, how are you?”
“Hungover. How about you?”
“Same. College is fucking wild!”
“Hey now, watch your mouth and maybe cut out the underage drinking while you’re at it.”
“Yeah, okay momma Katie.”
“You know I just care about your wellbeing Justin.”
“I know, I know. So, how’s my bro’s case going? I heard you finished with the interrogations.” He laughed.
“Why in fact I did! It was the weirdest thing last night though, while I was out at the bar some man came up to me asking about Joshua and whatnot.”
“Yeah, he approached me like he knew something that I didn’t and said he was just offering his ‘condolences.’ I have this overwhelming suspicion about him.”
“Okay consider this, he’s the one who framed Josh and now he’s trying to taunt you.”
I pondered that comment for a minute.
“I’m here, sorry. I just, I didn’t think of that. He could have something to do with this whole thing. But I doubt he’s the one who killed the victim. I just think he knows something that we are all overlooking. Or maybe he heard something about the case that most people haven’t.”
“Katie, you have to find him!”
“How? I don’t know his name or if he’s even from around here. Plus, I can only vaguely remember what he looked like.”
“But Justin, we have nothing to go off of.”
“I’ll see you in about an hour okay?”
“No don’t come out here, Justin you stay at your dorm do you hear me? This isn’t worth you coming all the way back out here for.”
“I’ll be there in an hour.”
“See ya soon, love ya bye!”
The boy was as stubborn as a mule, but I was secretly happy that he was coming over to help me out with the case again. He meant well, he was my sidekick after all.
An hour later Justin was at my door as promised.
“Katie!” He exclaimed with joy when I opened the door. He wrapped his arms around me.
“Good to see you too Justin.” I giggled.
“I missed you so much.” He kissed me on the cheek, “It’s so hard being so far away from the people I love the most.”
“Oh don’t I know it!”
“I wish I didn’t have to be so far away, but I guess that’s the price you pay for higher education. Well that and thousands of dollars.
I laughed. “Yeah, that’s life. Now then, let’s just dive right back into the case yeah?”
“Yes! Okay you describe him to me and I’ll sketch his face, ya know like the cops do.”
I began describing to him everything I remembered about the man in the brown hat. His soft yet mysterious brown eyes, the scar on his left cheek, and the way his mouth seemed to go crooked whenever he smiled. Come to think of it, he kind of resembled a character that Johnny Depp would play in a Tim Burton film. The finished product that Justin came up with was actually pretty spot on and the good feeling I originally had about the case returned.
“Justin, that’s perfect! That is definitely the man I saw the other night.”
“Yeah? It looks accurate enough, are you sure?”
“Yes!” I hugged him. “Thank you so much, this helps a whole bunch.”
“But now what? Do we ask the actual cops if they know who this guy is or do we just do this old-school and post wanted signs all around town?”
“Not gonna lie, I’m tempted to go the wanted sign route.”
“That was a joke.” He chuckled.
“I know, but it’s actually a good idea. But okay, hmm. How about we just go around town and keep an eye out, maybe go back to the bar where I first saw him.”
“Guess I’ll wait outside.”
“Right. I forgot that you’re only twenty kiddo. Okay, I’ll do the bar part later tonight by myself when you should be safe and sound back at your dorm right?”
He rolled his eyes. “Katie, I’m here for as long as this takes.”
“You can’t just skip school Justin, that’s where I draw the line.”
“Stop that! You know I’m simply looking out for you. I can’t let you skip out on school and risk getting kicked out.”
“I know, but I don’t need you to look out for me. I can take care of myself! I know I have to go to school and that I should still be back at my dorm right now but helping you is more important to me. Finding this man could be crucial to this case and I want to help find this guy. Remember Josh is my brother, my own flesh and blood, freeing him is just as important to me as it is to you. Hell, it’s more important to me actually because he’s all that I have! It’s always been just me and him. It literally kills me to not have him around, Katie so if I have to skip a few days of school to help get him out of that cell then so be it. The accomplishments aren’t even worth it without him here to share them with anyway.”
I hugged him tight as he began to shed a few tears. I held him in silence for a few minutes while he released the built-up emotions he hid so well. He’d been without his brother for three years now, it had to be hard on him, but he never let it get to him, not until now. I sat him down and wiped his tears, that was enough case talk for the day. I couldn’t ask him to do any more investigating with me so I sat and talked with him all night about how he was feeling and reminisced with him until he was able to fall asleep. Once he was out for the night I took the sketch of the man and snuck out to the bar. I strolled right up to the bartender and held up the sketch like I was a cop holding up my badge to show that I was here on official business.
“You seen this man?”
He glanced up only for a second. “Yeah, he comes in here almost every night.” He responded still focused on the drinks he was pouring.
“Has he come in tonight?”
“No, not yet. Why do you ask?”
“No reason really we just talked one night when I was here and I didn’t catch his name. I just can’t stop thinking about him ya know? I drew this sketch of him because I just can’t seem to get him off my mind.” I lied, but I preferred the lie over the actual reason I was so obsessed with this man.
He looked me over suspiciously, he didn’t believe one word that came out of my mouth just then, I could tell. “Uh-huh.” He responded. “Well, you’re welcomed to hang around and wait to see if he comes in tonight, but there’s no guarantee he will.”
“I’ve got nothing but time.” I smiled and with that I walked away from the bar as to not be spotted by the man before I spotted him. I lightly mingled, tried to relax, and kept an eye out for the man but he never showed. After an hour or maybe it was two, I decided to blow the joint and head back to my apartment. I couldn’t be gone too long since I didn’t know how long Justin would be asleep for. As I exited the bar I waved goodbye to the bartender and as clumsy as I am, I managed to collide with a man who was entering. It was the man in the brown hat.
“Katie!” He grinned that sinister grin as I ricocheted off his body. “We meet again. How are you?”
“Just the man I was looking for!”
“Who me? Why would you ever be looking for me?”
“Cut the shit, who are you?”
“If you want to get acquainted I think maybe we should step inside and get to know one another over a couple of beers.” He laughed.
“Look here old man, are you going to keep playing these dumb games or are you going to answer my questions?”
“Why would I ever answer your questions Katie? It’s not like you’re answering any of mine. I think it’s best you just run along to wherever you were rushing off to and just forget about all of this nonsense. You’re never going to know the truth. And all I have to do is refuse to tell you.”
I didn’t think it through at all. He was right, he didn’t have to talk and there was no way I would ever get anyone to. As much as I hated to admit it, the case was hopeless. They had Joshua, no one else would ever come forward and the man in the brown hat was just taunting me.
“So, it was you? Is that what you’re trying to say? That’s why you won’t talk huh? Because you know that you’re the one who framed Joshua. You got him locked up and now here you are in my face to gloat! You’re a sick and sorry man.”
“That was a little harsh don’t you think? If I were you I’d try a nicer approach, then possibly you could’ve already gotten what you wanted out of me. Look, I’m gonna level with you, as far as the authorities are concerned, it was Joshua and their opinion is the only one that matters, right? But I will let you in on a little secret I’ve been keeping though Katie since I like your spunk. I saw Joshua the night of the incident, he was really drunk, but he didn’t hurt whatever the victim’s name is, he didn’t kill him. I know this, you know this, I’m sure even the police know this, but at this point it’s a ‘who cares’ type of detail. Joshua was there, he was at that gas station, but not at the time the manslaughter business went down. He left literally two minutes prior, maybe less and that’s why witnesses are placing him at the scene, they think he left, parked somewhere, and then came back all covered up to hurt the victim which in my opinion is completely ludicrous. Between you and me, I know it wasn’t him. I can’t say I know who did it, because I certainly don’t know that but I do know it wasn’t your little friend. Good luck my dear.” Again, he tipped his cap to me and disappeared into the night.
“Wait!” I tried to call out but he was gone so fast I swore he was an apparition. It enraged me so much that there was another witness who refused to come forward. This man could crack the case open, but he never stuck around long enough for me to even get his name. He knew what happened and he blatantly wrote off the whole thing and for what? I couldn’t build a case without him, it was over. There was nothing left to fight for. It was all over.