Res Judicata

John Reynolds stood in the lobby of his office block staring up at the sheets of rain that had just unfolded themselves all over his unremarkable town. He’d just finished an unremarkable day of giving advice to customers of his employer. After a moment, he exchanged nods with the security guard, zipped up his unremarkable coat and stepped out into the downpour.

Stooping along the slick pavement, his head into the wind, he would barely have registered that there was a man in the long dark coat and pulled down hat in his way but for the two words said to him as he moved to go past.

“Mr Reynolds”

Nobody had said those two words to him for more than six years. He stopped short, standing straight, the rain forgotten.

The first thing his brain reached for was the simple lie; “That’s not my name”, but as he became aware again of the rain dripping from his nose and running in rivulets down his coat he realised the futility of denying with his mouth what he had already confirmed with his actions. He felt once more the vague sense of danger he had managed to forget as the years had passed.

“Are you with the police?” he asked.

The man paused, then nodded. “Let’s talk somewhere drier”, he said, and gestured towards a nearby car.

John started to back away. If they knew where he worked, they probably knew where he lived. What was left for him now? “I’m afraid I’m going to have to see some identification” he said.

It was at that point that he stumbled backwards into another man who’d stepped out from behind the car.
“Careful sir”, he said, hand resting firmly on Johns shoulder. With quick efficiency John was guided into the back seat of the car, where he made a dejected puddle in the upholstery.

~~~

An hour later the car pulled up outside a miserable concrete construction. The rain had slowed to a drizzle and John had collected himself enough to realise that he was falling apart. Not just emotionally. Over the years, he had come to believe in the new identity he’d forged; now he was losing that, he wasn’t really sure who he was. What did he have left? He knew he was angry though. And scared too.

The two men in the front of the car hadn’t said much to him the whole journey. He’d been trying to guess who they might be working for, but since the building they’d pulled up to was obviously government owned, he was assuming it was something to do with the witness protection program. That didn’t explain their tactics though.

They bundled him through the door quickly, but he was quick enough to read the lettering in black stencilled onto the reinforced glass. “Department of Decided Matters”.

“You’ll be wanting to talk to your lawyer I suppose”, said the man who’d first approached him.

“Do I need to?”.

“Well, you’re under arrest, and will be deported tonight”

“Deported?”

“You have a court appointed lawyer, upstairs, first door on the right.”

The stairs were narrow, steep and the plastic underfoot felt cheap. John pushed his way into the cluttered office, and sat down in what was obviously the designated clients seat. His court appointed lawyer was nowhere to be seen. He drummed on the desk to pass the time.

It was then he noticed the newspaper. It was sitting on the top of a stack of papers on the desk as if someone had been reading it before he came in. The date was from six years ago, shortly after he’d been put in the witness protection program. He’d blundered innocently into working for an organised crime syndicate, and had gone to the police as soon as he realised. There were still those who wanted him dead.

The newspaper was one he’d read at the time. Shortly into his new life and new identity, he’d read about the horrific murder of Senator Jackson and the trial of John Reynolds, his killer. Was it just coincidence that the man had had the same name as him? He’d looked very familiar in the photos, grainy though they were. He’d assumed that it had been a clever trick by the witness protection agency to make it look as if he was out of the picture while he got on with his life. He hadn’t followed the case that closely, prefering to concentrate on what was new in his life.

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