Authors: Bill WENHAM


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Chapter One


The man sat
, wet, scared and alone in the diner, nursing an almost cold cup of coffee. Alongside the coffee mug was a plate with the remaining crumbs of a toasted bacon and tomato sandwich on it.

He look
ed out of the window beside him at the diner’s snow drifted parking lot. At the moment, apart from the waitress, he was the only other person in there. And he’d
in, not driven. A dead give away that was, he thought. Dead. Poor choice of words too.

he blizzard was still raging outside and it looked as though it wouldn’t be letting up any time soon. He stuck his right boot out into the aisle and looked down at it. He couldn’t see any traces of the blood on it any more. None that was immediately obvious, anyway. But if his boots were to be examined by Forensics, whatever blood traces left on them would just show up like a beacon.

He didn’t bother to look at the other one. It was probably the same by now anyway. And then h
e looked out at the snow storm again. He was hoping for plenty of snow to cover up his tracks.

“More coffee, hon,” the
diner’s waitress said as she came up from behind him and picked up his mug. “You’ve let this one go stone cold. I’ll just get you a fresh mug. No charge for seconds, on the coffee that is. Would you like something else to eat?”

He shook his head as she moved back behind the counter to get the
coffee carafe. His heart was beating in his chest like a jack hammer and he could feel the sweat running down the back of his neck. She’d taken him completely by surprise.

“There you go. Drink that one up before it gets cold
too. Speaking of cold, you look soaking wet and absolutely perished,” the waitress said in a friendly voice. “Where’s your car?” she said, looking out at the parking lot. “Have you got yourself stuck somewhere? You can use the phone, if you want to call for a tow. Jack Tyler’s place is only five minutes away down the highway and he’ll pull you out in a jiffy. The number’s beside the phone. He’s a nice guy and he won’t gyp you either.”

“Thanks,” he muttered, “But I don’t have a car. I wasn’t driving. I was hitchhiking and I got dropped off in your parking lot.”

“Hitchhiking! At night and in this weather! You’re kidding me. You must be out of your mind,” she said, laughing. “You sure aren’t dressed for going out winter walking either, are you? And that’s some blizzard we’ve gotten ourselves out there.”

The man looked up at her. She was very pretty, but she was also
very nosey and way too damned observant. She’d probably noticed, with no other customers in the diner, that no other vehicle had stopped in the parking lot to let him out either.

“I wasn’t planning on being left out here on the highway, but my ride and I had a little disagreement and he invited me to walk the rest of the way.
I guess it doesn’t pay to argue politics with strangers, especially when they’re giving you a free ride,” he said.

“Then he wa
s just as crazy as you are, making you get out and walk in this kind of weather. It looks like we’re in for a big storm too, doesn’t it,”

I sure as hell hope so, he thought.

“Sorry, hon, did you say something?” she asked, looking him up and down, “You’re not from around here either, are you?”

“No, I’m not,” he said shortly, “and shouldn’t you be helping the cook or something?”

the cook, hon. Just me here this evening,” she said, smiling at him. He’s rather cute, she thought. Look at those big blue eyes!

“Do you live here at the diner then?” he asked her, “Because I didn’t see your car here

“Hell no, hon,” she laughed, “The car’s round back. I just live down the highway a piece. What’s your name? Mine is......”

“Don’t tell me what your name is, please. I don’t want to know. Thanks for the coffee but would you just leave me alone now.”

She reacted as though he’
d slapped her, picked up his plate and flounced angrily back behind the counter. “Just trying to be friendly, pal. You don’t have to snap my damned head off. I can take a hint,” she snapped over her shoulder. Cute or not, he had no call to talk to her like that, did he?

The man breathed heavily. He had to get away from here and quickly, before someone else came in off the highway. He glanced out of the window again and smiled
grimly to himself as he saw the snow was falling even more heavily now.

The waitress had her back to him, pointedly ignoring him. His m
ind was in turmoil. This woman could identify him very easily and he should be thinking of a way to deal with her, he supposed. She had a car too, didn’t she? And it was a pretty sure bet her keys were either in her hand bag or in a coat pocket somewhere.

He really didn’t want to hurt her since she had gone out of her way to be frien
dly, but it wasn’t friends he needed right now. It was a car,
car, and soon too, before the snow made it impossible to drive. Once he was well away from here it could snow as hard as it liked and the longer, the better. The waitress didn’t turn around either as he approached the counter, although she could see him quite plainly in the mirrored pie and sandwich display case in front of her.

“I’m sorry if I offended
you,” he said quietly, “I really didn’t mean to but I was annoyed at being dumped here. It had nothing to do with you. But I do really need to use a washroom, please, before I move on.”

“Back there,” she said, tight lipped and not accepting his apology
for a second. She pointed towards the other end of the counter.

The man shrugg
ed and went back to where she’d pointed. On the way, he saw her parka hanging on a hook beside the washroom door. He looked back and seeing that she still had her back to him, he quickly patted down the parka. As he’d guessed, the car’s keys, along with the diner’s most probably, were in the pocket.

The man slipped them into his jeans pocket and went
on into the washroom. Once he’d seen to the woman, he’d have to make sure he hadn’t left any fingerprints on the mugs, plates, door handles and cutlery.

was nothing in the washroom he could hit her with and he suddenly realized he didn’t want to hurt her anyway. Whatever it was that had happened out on the highway still wasn’t clear to him. And until he was certain or someone proved him to be responsible, he didn’t want to have to hurt anyone else unnecessarily. Maybe just a judo chop on the back of the neck would put her out without doing any real damage. Out long enough to steal her car and to get the hell out of this place, well off the highway at least.

He wrapped some toilet paper around the washroom door handle to prevent fingerprints and started to turn it. As the handle turned, he heard a loud female voice from the front of the diner saying, “Lisa, for Christ’s sake, turn up the heat a bit, will you? And put some music on, as well. It’s like a bloody morgue in here.
It was hard enough getting here in this weather without freezing my butt off when I do, okay?”

The man paused for a moment before opening the washroom door fully. He heard a blast of rock music from a radio as he went back to his seat. The waitress still ignored him
. She was now chatting to a heavy set woman dressed in jeans and a red plaid hunter’s jacket who was sitting at the counter, brushing snow off herself and on to the floor. The waitress glanced over at him briefly, tossed her head and then went back to her conversation. He had no doubt at all he was the topic they were both discussing.

He’d discovered
his wallet was missing before he’d even reached the diner, but if he’d dropped it, he knew he didn’t have a hope in hell of finding it. Not out there in this weather. He hadn’t kept much in his wallet anyway these days. Mainly business cards and stuff like that. Ever since he’d had a wallet stolen years ago and the hassle he’d gone through to get his important documents back, he’d always worn a money belt as well now. Reaching into it, he dropped a ten dollar bill on the table. The waitress glanced over just to confirm he’d paid for his meal and then went back to her chatting. The man reached the door and pushed it open. As he opened the outer door a blast of wind and snow hit him full in the face. He looked down at the door handle and shrugged. No point worrying about prints now. He could easily be identified by both women, even if the other one had only got a quick glance at him.

He ducked his head into the wind driven snow and hurried to the corner of the diner, not looking back. As he turned
the corner he could just make out a lean to type of cover attached to the back of the diner. He looked inside and saw a brown Honda ‘Civic’, an old one with a lot of rust on it. It had been backed into the shelter, presumably to make it easier to be boosted, if it needed it. A thick coating of snow already covered the windshield, but the wipers would probably clear it, but only if they worked, of course.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

The Honda’s door was unlocked.
He opened it and slid himself into the driver’s seat. He saw it had a manual transmission, something he hadn’t driven in years. But it wasn’t a skill a person easily forgot.

The only thing
completely forgotten right now was how come he’d found himself lying in the snow, in the dark, with blood covered boots, beside a dead girl’s battered body out on the highway.


The old Honda started with a noisy clatter but quickly settled down to a fairly smooth purr. At least the muffler wasn’t shot. The man drove the car as rapidly as he could out of the lean to, around the side of the diner and out on to the highway. The Honda’s gas gauge read three quarter’s full but he wasn’t sure how reliable that would be in an old car in this kind of condition.

As he pulled out on to the highway he glanced into the rear view mirror. The waitress hadn’t come rushing out after him
thankfully. The music on the radio had evidently covered the sound of the Honda starting up, noisy as it had been. He did wonder where in the world she thought he’d be going, soaking wet and on foot, but he’d obviously upset her enough that she didn’t care what he did anyway.

He would have to watch his speed though, since he wouldn’t want to
be pulled over by the police and in a stolen car at that. With the weather the way it was, it seemed highly unlikely the cops would be out looking for speeders, even if they were out at all.

Nobody but a fool would speed in this stuff.
He had to decide just how much of a fool
was! Better switch on the Honda’s headlights, though, he thought and then corrected himself. Head
as only the driver’s side light came on. Something else he could be pulled over for.

he was away from the diner, he was pleased he hadn’t had to hurt the girl in any way. He was stupid though. He should have at least asked her where he was, while she was still speaking to him. He didn’t even know what
he was in, for God’s sake!

The driving snow was
quickly clogging up the Honda’s wipers. During one wiper sweep, his intent gaze barely registered a snow covered sign informing him he was now entering ‘Cooper’s Corners’. That must be where the guy with the tow truck lived, and he’d be sure to recognize the Honda if he saw it. He would certainly notice if someone else was driving it.

The ma
n put his foot down a bit more as he drove through the little community. Several miles of horrendous driving further on, he saw a large feed mill and country store looming up out of the blizzard. As he slowed he could also make out a pay phone booth outside. He pulled into the parking area in front of the mill, stopped the Honda and got out, leaving it idling. He put a quarter into the phone and dialed 911 before he could change his mind.

“Sheriff’s office
,” a female voice said. “What’s the nature of your emergency, please?”

The man took a deep breat
h and then blurted out, “There’s a dead girl lying beside the highway, few miles from a place called Cooper’s Corners, just past the diner.”

And which highway is that, sir?”

“I don’t know. You’ll just have to look it up on a map. And I didn’t
have anything to do with it, okay?”

“Just wait right there, sir. What is your na.......?” the dispatcher asked, but the caller had
already hung up.


Back inside the Honda, the man started to relax a little. He was probably stupid to have done what he just did, but at least he hadn’t hurt anyone else, had he? And he
notified the police, hadn’t he? He’d surprised himself by telling the dispatcher he had nothing to do with it. Actually he had no way of knowing if he had or not but perhaps his subconscious was trying to tell him something.

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