“Don’t do anything stupid,” my girlfriend warned me.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
“That reassures me ever so much.”
“Sorry, Melissa. It’s just, injustice really pisses me off.”
“I didn’t say not to do anything, Nick, just not to do anything stupid. That does require you to have the ability to be smart, or at least to have some small measure of self preservation.”
I roll my eyes. “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m still alive.”
“No thanks to your common sense.”
“I have common sense; I just don’t let it get in the way of—”
“Anything,” she interrupted.
I sighed. “Maybe. But this is easy, really, not dangerous at all. When I was a kid I used to do it as a game—I’d go watch trials and right when the witness was supposed to identify the accused I would look the witness right in the eye and take the defendant’s shape. Nothing ever happened.”
“Except for traumatizing witnesses and letting guilty people go free, I bet. You have a weird sense of humor.”
“It wasn’t that bad; I only did it twice, one was a prostitution case and the other one was shoplifting. I wouldn’t have done it in murder cases or anything; even as a kid I wasn’t that bad. And this is different. We both know Corey is innocent.”
“Yeah, but why can’t you just trust that the jury will agree? Why must everyone I know tamper with trials?”
“Who else do you know that tampers with trials?” I asked. I really was curious, because as far as I knew, I was the most outlaw person Melissa knew.
“Meh, she didn’t really, it’s complicated, and you’re changing the subject!”
“I don’t trust the justice system, and it’s easier to tamper with a trial than to break someone out of prison. Corey and I’ve been friends since we were kids, and I’m not going to leave him to rot for something he didn’t have a choice in. But if you ask me to wait for the verdict, I will. But if he’s found guilty, I won’t just let it go.”
“I am asking you. It was obviously self defense, and the jury will see it. I don’t want you to get in trouble trying to help him needlessly. The trial already started, you’ll only have to wait a few days to know.”
“Fine.” So I waited. I watched the trial, in my true identity, to give Corey my moral support. I watched the prosecutor try to paint him as a cold-blooded murderer, and was tempted to break my promise to Melissa. I watched his lawyer explain that he’d had no choice, when the so-called victim was lunging at him with a knife; if Corey hadn’t shot him, he’d be dead, and I had a faint hope that maybe Melissa’s optimism was not unfounded. But when the jury finally came back with the verdict, I knew she was wrong. “We find the defendant, Corey Rausch, guilty,” the foreman read, and I began to make my plans.
I’d gotten someone out of jail before, by taking their form, confessing to the crime, and once imprisoned, shifting to the form of a small child so I’d have to be released. But that wouldn’t work this time. Nobody was claiming it was a case of mistaken identity.
I could’ve broken Cory out pretty easily, just took the form of a guard and walked him right out. But then he’d be a fugitive, and I wanted to get him out free and clear.
The prosecutor had shown a picture of the victim during the trial. William Jones. Big guy, pretty average looking beside for his size. I went over to the police station, the one where Corey had been arrested in the first place, and right outside, shifted into Jones’s shape. Then I went up to the front desk and demanded, “Can I get my knife back now?”
“I’m sorry?” the desk sergeant asked.
“My knife! They took it for the trial, but now that the guy’s been convicted, I want it back!”
“What’s your name, sir?”
“And what trial is it you’re talking about?”
“People v. Rausch. He got convicted, and I want my knife back.”
He gave me a funny look, and said, “I’ll get it right away. Just wait here for a moment, sir.”
Of course he didn’t. Rather, two officers came out and asked—though it wasn’t really optional—to have a word with me. They escorted me to an interrogation room. I repeated that I wanted my knife. They asked if I really was William Jones. I said I was. They asked how I wasn’t dead.
“Why would I be?”
“Well, a man was just convicted of your murder.”
I refused to say anything else without a lawyer. They weren’t quite sure what to do with me. Had I committed a crime? Had Corey? They kept me there for a while, but eventually let me go with a stern warning.
I left, returned to my own shape, and went home and told Melissa all about it. “I guess it would’ve been better if you’ tampered with the trial, she said ruefully. “Do you think they'll let him go now?”
“I think so. If not, I’ll do something else.”
But the next day I got a call from Corey, telling me he was home and his conviction had been overturned, and thanking me. “It was you, right? He’s not really alive?”
“Nope, it was me.”