Part One

The Wrong Man


‘Morning, sheriff. Morning, Bobby,’ the plump, brunette waitress with a small heart tattoo on her left wrist called from behind the counter. She didn’t have to check the clock hanging from the wall to her right. She knew it would be just past 6:00 a.m.

Every Wednesday, without fail, Sheriff Walton and his deputy, Bobby Dale, came into Nora’s truck-stop diner, just outside Wheatland in southeastern Wyoming, to get their sweet pie fix. Rumor had it that Nora’s Diner baked the best pies in the whole of Wyoming. A, different recipe every day of the week. Wednesday was apple-and-cinnamon pie day, Sheriff Walton’s favorite. He was well aware that the first batch of pies always came out of the oven at 6:00 a.m. sharp, and you just couldn’t beat the taste of a freshly baked pie.

‘Morning, Beth,’ Bobby replied, dusting rainwater off his coat and trousers. ‘I’ll tell you, the floodgates from hell have opened out there,’ he added, shaking his leg as if he’d peed himself.

Summer downpours in southeastern Wyoming were a common occurrence, but this morning’s storm was the heaviest they’d seen all season.

‘Morning, Beth,’ Sheriff Walton followed, taking off his hat, drying his face and forehead with a handkerchief, and quickly looking around the diner. At that time in the morning, and with such torrential rain outside, the place was a lot less busy than usual. Only three out of its fifteen tables were taken.

A man and a woman in their mid-twenties were sitting at the table nearest to the door, having a pancake breakfast. The sheriff figured that the beat-up, silver WV Golf parked outside belonged to them.

The next table along was occupied by a large, sweaty, shaved-headed man, who must’ve weighed at least 350 pounds. The amount of food sitting on the table in front of him would’ve easily been enough to feed two very hungry people, maybe three.

The last table by the window was taken by a tall, gray-haired man, with a bushy horseshoe mustache and a crooked nose. His forearms were covered in faded tattoos. He’d already finished his breakfast and was now sitting back on his chair, toying with a packet of cigarettes and looking pensive, as if he had a very difficult decision to make.

There was no doubt in Sheriff Walton’s mind that the two large trucks outside belonged to those two.

Sitting at the end of the counter, drinking a cup of black coffee and eating a chocolate-coated donut, was a pleasantly dressed man who looked to be in his forties. His hair was short and well kept, and his beard stylish and neatly trimmed. He was flipping through a copy of the morning’s newspaper. His had to be the dark-blue Ford Taurus parked by the side of the diner, Sheriff Walton concluded.

‘Just in time,’ Beth said, winking at the sheriff. ‘They’re just out of the oven.’ She gave him a tiny shrug. ‘As if you didn’t know.’

The sweet smell of freshly baked apple pie with a hint of cinnamon had already engulfed the entire place.

Sheriff Walton smiled. ‘We’ll have our usual, Beth,’ he said, taking a seat at the counter.

‘Coming right up,’ Beth replied before disappearing into the kitchen. Seconds later she returned with two steamy, extra-large slices of pie, drizzled with honey cream. They looked like perfection on a plate.

‘Umm . . .’ the man sitting at the far end of the counter said, tentatively raising a finger like a kid asking his teacher’s permission to speak. ‘Is there any more of that pie left?’

‘There sure is,’ Beth replied, smiling back at him.

‘In that case, can I also have a slice, please?’

‘Yeah, me too,’ the large truck driver called out from his table, lifting his hand. He was already licking his lips.

‘And me,’ the horseshoe-mustache man said, returning the cigarette pack to his jacket pocket. ‘That pie smells darn good.’

‘Tastes good too,’ Beth added.

‘Good doesn’t even come close,’ Sheriff Walton said, turning to face the tables. ‘Y’all just about to be taken to pie heaven.’ Suddenly his eyes widened in surprise. ‘Holy shit,’ he breathed out, jumping off his seat.

The sheriff’s reaction made Bobby Dale swing his body around fast and follow the sheriff’s stare. Through the large window just behind where the mid-twenties couple was sitting, he saw the headlights of a pick-up truck coming straight at them. The car seemed completely out of control.

‘What the hell?’ Bobby said, getting to his feet.

Everyone in the diner turned to face the window, and the shocked look on everyone’s face was uniform. The vehicle was coming toward them like a guided missile, and it was showing no signs of diverting or slowing down. They had two, maybe three seconds before impact.

‘EVERYBODY TAKE COVER!’ Sheriff Walton yelled, but he didn’t have to. Reflexively, everybody in the restaurant was already scrambling on their feet to get out of the way. At that speed, the pick-up truck would crash through the front of the diner and probably not stop until it reached the kitchen at the back, destroying everything in its path, and killing everyone in its way.

A chaotic mess of desperate screams and movement took over the restaurant floor. They all knew they just didn’t have enough time to get out of the way.


The deafening crashing noise sounded like an explosion, making the ground shake under everyone’s feet.

Sheriff Walton was the first to look up. It took him a few seconds to realize that somehow the car hadn’t crashed through the front of the building.

Frowning was followed by confusion.

‘Is everyone all right?’ the sheriff finally called out, frantically looking around.

Mumbled confirmation was returned from all corners of the room.

The sheriff and his deputy immediately got to their feet and rushed outside. Everyone else followed just a heartbeat later. The rain had gotten heavier in the past few minutes, now coming down in thick sheets, severely reducing visibility.

Out of sheer luck, the pick-up truck had hit a deep pothole on the ground just a few yards from the front of the diner, and had drastically veered left, missing the restaurant by just a couple of feet. As it detoured, it had clipped the back of the dark-blue Ford Taurus parked outside, before smashing head-first into a side building that housed two bathrooms and a storage room, completely destroying it. Thankfully, there was no one inside either of the bathrooms, or the storage room.

‘Holy shit!’ Sheriff Walton breathed out, feeling his heart race inside his chest. The collision had turned the pick-up truck into a totally mangled wreck, and the outside building into a demolition site.

Skipping over the debris, the sheriff was the first to get to the truck. The driver was its only occupant – a gray-haired man who looked to be somewhere in his late fifties, but it was hard to be sure. Sheriff Walton wasn’t able to recognize him, but he was certain he’d never seen that pick-up truck around Wheatland before. It was an old and rusty, early 1990s Chevy 1500, no airbags, and though the driver had been wearing his seatbelt, the impact had been way too violent. The front of the truck, together with its engine, had caved backward and into the driver’s cabin. The dashboard and steering wheel had crushed the driver’s chest against his seat. His face was covered in blood, torn apart by shards of glass from the windscreen. One had sliced through the man’s throat.

‘Goddammit!’ Sheriff Walton said through clenched teeth, standing by the driver’s door. He didn’t have to feel for a pulse to know that the man hadn’t survived.

‘Oh my God!’ he heard Beth exclaim in a trembling voice from just a few feet behind him. He immediately turned to face her, lifting his hands in a “stop” motion.

‘Beth, do not come here,’ he commanded in a firm voice. ‘Go back inside and stay there.’ His stare moved to the rest of the diner patrons who were moving toward the truck fast. ‘All of you go back into the diner. That’s an order. This whole area is now out of bounds, y’all hear?’

Everybody stopped moving, but no one turned back.

The sheriff’s eyes searched for his deputy, and found Bobby standing all the way at the back, by the Ford Taurus. The look on his face was a mixture of shock and fear.

‘Bobby,’ Sheriff Walton called. ‘Call for an ambulance and the fire brigade now.’

Bobby didn’t move.

‘Bobby, snap out of it, goddammit. Did you hear what I said? I need you to get on the radio and call for an ambulance and the fire brigade right now.’

Bobby stood still. He looked like he was about to be sick. Only then did the sheriff realize that Bobby wasn’t even looking at him or at the mangled pick-up truck. His eyes were locked onto the Ford Taurus. Before crashing into the bathroom building, the truck had clipped the left side of the Taurus’ rear-end hard enough to release its trunk door.

All of a sudden Bobby broke out of his trance and reached for his gun.

‘No one move,’ he yelled out. His shaky aim kept jumping from person to person. ‘Sheriff,’ he called in an unsteady voice. ‘You better come have a look at this.’

© Chris Carter 2014