The Honest Truth

It's not often that the average person witnesses a crime. It's not often that person happens to be a compulsive liar, who ends up covering for the culprit. And it's even less often that said culprit seeks said person out to give them their thanks. That is to say, Mel figured her chances of all of the above compounding on a Friday night were comfortingly slim. But, well, Mel had failed statistics.


3. Two

    I considered telling the truth. 

    That’s a lie. It didn’t even cross my mind. 

    “Tell me exactly what you saw,” a balding police officer holding a little leather notepad instructed me. He told me his name a minute ago, but, well, I was kind of distracted with other things. Like mysterious figures in surprisingly attractive black cloaks jumping from rooftop to rooftop. Does that deserve a pass? 

    “I didn’t see anything,” I said without thinking.

    Officer Baldie narrowed his eyes a fraction. “Are you sure? Your friend said that you rushed over here pretty fast; you ran through traffic for what? An illusion, then?” his voice was laced with skepticism and a hint of derision that triggered my defensive walls like a mousetrap. 

    “No,” I snapped. “Okay, yeah, I saw something, but, like, nothing helpful. I thought I saw something, so I ran over, and there were like three or four teenage guys running down the alley. They were gone in, like, two seconds. That’s all.”

    “Can you give me a physical description?”

    “Of which one?” I asked, crossing my arms and hearing the squeak of leather on leather. 

    The officer gave a half-shrug. “Any of them. Anything we can identify them by.”

    “One of them had bright green hair,” I told him, just as Oliver finished speaking to the other policeman and came walking over. “Another one was really ripped, like body builder style. They were all wearing dark clothes.” 

    Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Oliver give me a look. He knew I was lying; I don’t know how, but he always did. I, for one, thought I was being pretty convincing, and Officer Baldie must have agreed with me. “Alright. Is there anything else you remember?”

    “No.” Oliver was still looking at me. I kept on ignoring him. 

    The man pulled a business card from his shirt pocket. “If you think of anything, don’t hesitate to call.”

    “What do I need a card for?” I mumbled, scowling down at it. “I can memorize three digits: 9-1-1,” I demonstrated. 

    The officer, whose card identified him as Officer San-Charles, was not amused. “It’s my direct line. After all, something tells me the 9-1-1 operators would write you off as a prank.”

    “Probably true,” I agreed with a shrug. I felt a chill at the back of my neck, but it seemed like more than the light breeze creeping over the edge of my collar. I glanced behind me, but saw nothing but the flashing lights of the emergency vehicles and the people taping off the scene. The only thing that caught my eye was the man laying on the ambulance gurney, one arm of his jacket ripped clean off. He didn’t seem conscious, but the people milling around didn’t seem too concerned. I wondered if he was dead. “Are we free to go?” I asked, turning back to face the officer. 

    “Yes,” San-Charles replied. “Would you like a ride home?”

    Voluntarily get in the back of one of those things? I thought, glimpsing the bars on the windows of the police cars. “Um, nah, we’re good. Right, Ollie?”

    Oliver scowled at the nickname, but agreed. “We’ll be fine. We’re not far from campus.” He nodded to the policeman. “Thank you, Officer, have a nice night.”

    We hadn’t even made it down the block before Oliver turned to look at me, a solitary curl of dark hair drooping over his eye and ruining whatever stern or judgmental look he was going for. “Why’d you lie, Mel?”

    “Who says I lied?”

    “This isn’t something to mess with,” Oliver said, his voice as dark as the scowl on his face. “This is real crime. These are people’s lives. This is justice.”

    I shrugged. “Did you tell the truth?”

    “Of course.” I should’ve guessed as much. Oliver had a thing about lying. Ironic, all things considered. 

    “Then that’s a fifty-fifty split. The cops have got a fighting chance.”

    Oliver was not convinced. In fact, I rarely saw him this angry, or annoyed, or whatever he was. “You know full well that I didn’t see anything useful.”

    My voice came off as smug when I rebutted, “Then how do you know I lied?”

    “Because I know you,” Oliver grumbled. Under his breath, he added, “Though sometimes I wish I didn’t.”

    “I heard that,” I snapped, though I knew he hadn’t said it with any real malice. “Look, they weren’t gonna catch the guy anyway, no matter what I told them. It doesn’t even matter.” 

    “Oh, so it was a guy?” Oliver questioned, looking up. “Did you get a look at his face?”

    “No,” I said. “But he had a mark or tattoo or something on his collarbone.” For some reason, talking to Oliver made me inadvertently tell the truth more often than not. Now and then, I regretted it. This was one of those times. 

    “You should tell the police,” Oliver said as we rounded the corner and headed down the path to campus. “Could you draw it? The tattoo?”

    “No,” I repeated. “And I’m not telling the police.”


    “I’m not telling them,” I insisted. “And if you try to, I’ll deny it. I’ll lie. They already know you can’t have seen it yourself.”

    Oliver adopted that mask of quiet anger that came when he lost an argument to me. Which I liked to think was pretty often. We walked in silence for a long while. Eventually, he broke it. “I don’t understand why you’re being so difficult. What did you see that’s making you protect this… criminal?”

    “Nothing,” I said. At his skeptical look, I repeated, “Seriously, nothing. I just saw a guy in a cloak crouch over the dude on the ground, then run away.” I shook my head, feeling the feathers at the ends of my earrings tickle my neck. “I can’t explain it, it’s just… I feel like there’s more to it. It doesn’t seem so cut-and-dry good guy, bad guy. I don’t know.”

    “Mel, these feelings are yours are getting out of hand,” Oliver said, his voice quiet. I knew he didn’t believe me. He never did. “Especially when they’re affecting real, important things.”

    “I’m telling the truth.”

    “You’re telling me what you think is the truth. There’s a difference.” 

    I felt a flash of anger as we came to the end of the brick path that wound its way to the dorm buildings. “Yeah, well, I don’t know what you want from me. You asked why I didn’t tell the police, and that’s my answer. Take it or leave it.”

    Oliver was quiet again, and I knew that the conversation was over. I liked to think that I had the final word, but something told me that wasn’t true. Somehow, Oliver’s silence said more than a thousand words, and that thought terrified me. 

    “Goodnight,” I said taking a fork in the path that led to my building. 

    Oliver kept straight, heading to his own dorm. “Goodnight,” he muttered, but we both knew that it was more of a formality than anything. It was clear that we were both preoccupied with earlier. 

    My roommate was asleep when I got in, and I flipped the light switch back off before it could wake her. Shedding my jacket, I tossed it on my bed, then flopped down after it. In the dim moonlight, I could see the clothes and books littering my floor, and some tired part of me noted that I should probably clean it up. 

    As if that was the most important thing on my mind right now. 

    Leaning back against the wall, I ran a hand through my hair, feeling my fingers destroy the hard gel that held it in a carefully disheveled look. I was going for a more genuine disheveled look now. Closing my eyes, I replayed the events of earlier. It didn’t make any more sense then than it had before. I could’ve chalked it up as an everyday mugging or robbery, but that didn’t seem right. I felt like I had tuned into the middle of a movie, and I was halfway through the plot. I figured it was up to me to speculate on what I’d missed. 

    Too tense to sleep, but too brooding to socialize, I grabbed my towel and basket and headed for the showers. It was early yet; at least I could get a hot shower before everyone else headed to bed. The hope that the heat and steam would wash away the tension and sweep my spinning thoughts down the drain were dashed the moment I stepped out of the shower and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My eyes caught on my collarbone, that blank expense of cappuccino-brown skin, free of ink. I touched it, trying to remember what the mark on the figure looked like, trying to imagine how it would feel under my fingertips. 

    I don’t know how long I stood there, but by the time someone walked into the bathroom and shattered my thoughts, my wet hair had turned cold and goosebumps raised on my arms. I shivered, then slipped into a stall to change. 

    When I got back to my room, I readied for bed in a robotic haze, going through the motions because they were routine and nothing more. It wasn’t until I had slipped into bed, still cold despite the covers, that I thought to close the window and trap the heat in the room. My roommate always had the windows open, and it was as annoying as her early bedtime, especially on a cool night like this. Half dragging myself to the head of my bed, I reached for the window only to find that it was already closed. I frowned, but was too tired and pre-occupied to think anything of it. That was, until I saw the piece of paper trapped at the bottom corner, the exposed half fluttering in the outside breeze. 

    Sitting up, I flicked on my reading lamp. It hadn’t been my imagination; there was a folded piece of paper pinned in the windowsill. Careful to keep it from blowing away as I lifted the weight of the frame off of it, I freed the paper from the window, then slid it shut. Under the warm yellow light of my little lamp, I unfolded the paper. 


    Thank you. 


    Thank you. What had I done that deserved someone’s thanks? And why the strange ass note instead of saying the two simple words to my face? I looked out into the night and saw nothing. Pressing my face close to the glass, I looked as straight down as I could; my room was on the first floor, but there didn’t seem to be anyone crouching under the window. I turned back to the note. Thank you

    The paper itself was white, plain, unextraordinary. I felt a surging sense of disappointment. I don’t know what I expected. Something in pretty calligraphy on parchment? A watermark that indicated the sender? A ripped off piece of notebook paper? I don’t know, just something… more. It’s a cryptic note; the least they could have done was cut out the letters from a magazine and glued them on serial-killer style. But whatever. 

    I was also disappointed by the handwriting, which, too, was unextraordinary. It was just normal printing. Nothing fancy or scripty or even sloppy. It didn’t leave for much of a mystery. I wanted something to speculate

    Of course, I did have plenty to speculate already - namely who the person thanking me was. I couldn’t help but think it was tied to the events of earlier that night, for two strange occurrences in one night couldn’t be a coincidence. But no matter how many theories I could come up with, there was only one way to truly find out, once and for all. At this point, I figured I didn’t have much to lose. I had already seen enough of a crime to give me more information than most criminals would be comfortable with, and I had already lied to police. What was the worst that could happen? 

    I feel like that’s something a lot of people say before something very, very bad happens. 

    Not that that stopped me from scribbling a note in return. 


    You’re welcome? Not sure for what. Who is this? 


    I folded and wedged the note in the other side of the window, afraid that, should the mystery person return, they might think I hadn’t noticed it. I need them to see it moved. When I turned off the light, the room felt too dark and too light all at once. With the window right at the head of my bed, the moonlight bathed me in what meager light it had. Normally, that wouldn’t matter in the slightest, but just then it felt ominous. I could imagine the figure in the night looking into my window and that goddamn moon betraying me, making me easier to see. And the dark - that was its own problem. Every shadow reminded me of those in the alley, and every hidden corner was another spot where the figure could materialize. 

    I didn’t get any sleep that night. 

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