The news broke at four, and by four thirty, the streets were empty.
Don was reading a message on his Personal when it pinged and a headline consumed the screen:
A DANGEROUS FELON HAS ESCAPED.
STAY IN YOUR HOMES.
DO NOT PANIC.
The ping was bad news, which everyone understood as good television. They had rushed home to watch the night’s entertainment, and Don slowed to savor their absence.
At home, he turned on his television and muted it. He hated the play-by-play. He trusted his eyes.
Onscreen, the Liberty Unit of the police department interrogated the city’s homeless. Ragged men kicked up dust clouds and ducked their heads as the Unit questioned them with steel batons. The Unit swarmed one man, and he vanished among the uniforms and the truncheons.
Then, the man’s battered face, almost shapeless, filled the screen. Blood poured from a broken, hooked nose. He stared at the camera with his remaining blue eye.
The lower third told Don that this was the man.
Don turned off the television. He spun his detective badge around on the end table. He picked up his Personal and studied the picture from the precinct. The picture came to him two days before the headline devoured the city, and he’d spent those days searching the city’s homeless clusters as the networks planned the hunt. It was an easy search. He always found them with the homeless.
Don walked to the spare bedroom, knocked. The man the Unit should have captured peered from inside. He was seventy-three. He had a small, up-turned nose. He was bald. He had complete heterochromia, one brown iris and one green.
Don led him to the front door. Life had begun to hum back into the city, and the man cowered under the oversized coat. He stepped as if every move might give him away.
“Don’t worry,” said Don. “They never even knew who you were.”
He gave the man a small bag.
“A bus ticket, cash, a change of clothes.”
The man cradled the bag.
Don returned to the living room and stared at the blank television. He spun his detective badge. The young man’s battered face came to him. It morphed into someone else, a face he’d last seen as a child. It had wished him a good day at school, and that night, was named a murderer.
Don closed his eyes. He freed an innocent man today, but now someone else was wearing the man’s chains. He had to find other ways, or it would never end. But at least this show was over, and it would be a while until the next.
The hum of the city receded. Tonight, Don hoped, he would have some peace.
Prompt: An escaped prisoner hides from police within a group of homeless men.