Thad Michols had just switched the ignition for his truck, when a tap-tap on the passenger window startled him. The window tapper was a clean-cut man, in a dark fitted shirt and trousers.
Thad reached across to roll down the window.
“My car broke down, and I need a lift to my sister’s farm. I think it’s down that road a few kilometers.”
The stranger pointed left towards the road at the next intersection.
Thad appraised him. Clearly he was not a farmer, which meant he probably came down from the city. Thad figured he was out this way for a specific reason. If his sister was as handsome, the trip would be worth a few extra miles.
He unlocked the door, so the man could climb in.
“Thank you, friend.”
“Certainly. My farm is down the same road.”
Thad pulled out of the diner parking lot onto the main road. As they approached the light at the next intersection, his curiosity got the better of him.
“What did you say your sister’s name was?”
Thad shrugged as he turned left. Large apricot orchards overtook both sides of the narrow farm road.
“Not a creepy stalker or anything sinister like that. There’s a few farms down this road, just need to know which one?”
Thad flashed a grin at the man who nodded back. He produced a piece of paper from his shirt pocket with pencil markings scribbled on it.
“She wrote down the address for me.”
A name would’ve worked all the same, Thad thought to himself. Must be his first time out of the city.
When Thad reached for the paper, the man grabbed him by the arm and pulled him into a headlock. His other hand held a cloth to Thad’s mouth and nose.
The truck swerved off of the road and into an orchard, as Thad struggled with the stranger.
Thad remembered turning the wheel to avoid a tree right before everything went black.
“Well, he ordered the prime rib special and a root beer... As if the special wasn’t weird enough. What kind of grown man drinks a root beer?”
“I’m sorry m’am, what’s weird about the special?”
Before the older woman could answer, an oversized man barked from the kitchen.
“Stop spreading those rumors, Eunice. I don’t serve horse meat!”
Eunice leaned in toward the detective and whispered.
“It’s horse meat. Never order the Prime Rib on the weekends, our local paper caught Lou. One of those in-ves-tigative pieces.”
Then she raised her voice so Lou could hear.
“... everyone knows he prepares it right during the week. When he has to serve the feddies.”
“STOP SPREADING THOSE LIES, EUNICE! I should ban you and your blue-haired friends.”
The detective rubbed his temples.
“M’am, I’m not here to investigate the kitchen. I need you to tell me everything you remember about this traveler.”
“Well, as I was saying. He had a dark shirt. Real fitted, and tight—like he was one of those spies on TV. Dark trousers. And real light blonde hair. Almost looked white like my cousin Henry’s little boy, what’s his—”
“Thank you m’am. And you said he ordered, but left before his food came?”
“Yeeesss, very odd. I tried talking him out of the Prime Rib, so maybe he caught wise and skipped before it showed up.”
“Possibly. Did you notice if he left before or after Mr. Michols left the diner?”
“Y’know I think it was right after Thad left that this man started acting so strange. Here I was trying to warn him about his dinner, and chit-chatting with him—like being a friendly neighborly type. It was clear he stuck out like a sore thumb and I was just about to ask him where he was from, when he suddenly stood-up and walked out. Completely rude. Young people—“
“Thank. You. Missus—“
“Oh you can call me Eunice, detective. We’re not pretentious around here. You city cops are always so formal.”
“Well thank you, Eunice. Did you notice anything else strange about him?”
“Did I mention the root beer?”
The detective flipped his notebook closed, then pulled a business card from his jacket.
“I’m Detective Singh, and the woman interviewing Lou over there is Sergeant Christopher. If you think of anything else, you can reach me at those numbers.”
“The owner—Lou—didn’t get a look at the man. What did Eunice have to say?”
Sgt. Christopher raised her eyebrows and sent a half-smile towards her partner. The gravel beneath their shoes crunched as they approached their squad car.
“Nose down, Sergeant. This is probably the most exciting thing to happen in this town for a while.”
Detective Singh switched the remote to unlock the doors, waiting until they were both inside before he continued.
“Eunice told me enough to get a reasonable description of our suspect. And he appeared to time his exit to Mr. Michols’ departure. He definitely wasn’t a local, probably a city dweller from the description. Which means we should be able to match any prints we lift from the truck.”
“We might find Michols’ grandfather’s prints for all we know—that truck is ancient. Hasn’t even been modified for flight. Honestly, how do people get around out here?”
Singh pulled out into the road, heading back to the scene of the crash.
“Personally, I enjoy all of this road driving. Reminds me of when I was boy. You young kids are spoiled.”
When they got back to the scene, the investigators already had scanned for prints.
“Only one set. Likely Michols, considering we found similar prints on the trunk and on the latch for the hood.”
“Our suspect was smart enough to wipe his prints?”
The lead agent directed Singh to the space around the truck.
“And cover his tracks—although I can’t figure out how. Yesterday’s rain left a healthy amount of mud. You can see it turned up where the tracks skidded before the truck hit the tree.”
Singh looked at his partner, who was also confused.
“There aren’t any footprints leaving the vehicle?”
“None. It’s like they vanished after the crash.”