Four Way Stop

Other submissions by howardteece:
If you want to read their other submissions, please click the links.
The Museum of Myth (Fantasy, Writing Mentorship Award 2023)
Retirement Plans (Suspense & Thriller, Writing Mentorship Award 2023)
The Last Autograph (Crime, Writing Mentorship Award 2023)
Manuscript Type
Logline or Premise
Who would kill a town?
Four Way Stop is a small town on a dirt track in California. It appears to be stuck in the 50s. And that's true because it's stealing people from its future to investigate who killed it and why.
For Dwight and then Amber, there are other reasons to be interested in the town.
First 10 Pages

Part 1


Four Way Stop

Chapter 1

The fastest way from Los Angeles to Las Vegas is normally on the I-15. It’s also the most boring, with nothing but blacktop disappearing into the horizon. But Dwight’s got time to kill, and he thinks he’ll turn off and head west for a while, against all that’s natural when driving north-east to the city of lights.

It’s late fall and the lower - for the desert - temperatures mean Dwight can flex the engine sitting behind him in his classic Porsche. Stick shift and surprisingly more power than the old tires the vehicle came with. He signals and turns off the interstate and onto a road with no name and no number. He presses on the gas pedal and feels the car spring to life. The speedo climbs to 40, 50, 60, 70 and beyond, before Dwight backs off. He doesn’t know what the limit is here, nor does he know how the local police feel about city boys and their toys on their back-woods roads. This is the first time he’s ventured out in the Porsche. Up until now, it had been days trips around the LA hills. Getting used to the shift, the clutch and gas pedal in a car he’d probably overpaid for. But damn, it’s a fine-looking car. Sold off when the owner died with no-one to inherit.

The sat-nav on his phone tells him he’s stuck in the desert, that this road does not exist, but Dwight feels like exploring. And what can possibly go wrong?

As he drives, Dwight looks out of the window at the side of the road. Occasional buildings that might have been farms or gas stations or motels pass by. All deserted in the desert when the temperature got too high, and no-one wanted to stop.

There’s a garage and diner on the left that could be out of a film set, except for the realtor’s board in the parking lot, all shot through, and the letters C L O S and D pasted in the windows out front.

A slice of a pie and a bottomless coffee would go down real sweet right about now, Dwight thinks, completing the hackneyed references.

His mind switches back to the task in hand in time for him to notice a sign on the right: Four-Way Stop Ahead. What the …? It beats lights, he reasons. And it’ll be another excuse to hear that engine.

But ahead is closer than Dwight realizes and he’s not the first to the junction and late, too late, he stomps on the middle pedal to hear the car’s cheap tires emit a wail as they let go of the asphalt.

Dwight fights with the wheel to avoid a collision and the car skews. But tires not rotating are tires not steering and even though he’s going real slow when it happens, he still rear-ends the waiting car.

His car. His car. His beloved new car.

He kills the engine and undoes his seatbelt before stepping out to swap details with the driver of the car he’s hit. There’s no point blustering, Dwight’s clearly at fault here and he puts a smile on his face he hopes says how sorry he is.

The driver of the other car is a woman, maybe early thirties, and dressed for a summer’s day from the 1950s. And her car’s a classic too. Same designer, same layout, but an original Beetle cabriolet. She must be nimble too, because she’s already out of her car and surveying the damage.

“Hey”, Dwight says.

“Hey, there,” says the woman. Way too cheerful for the victim of a crash.

“Nice car,” Dwight says, delaying the inevitable.

“Thanks. I just got it back from the shop.”

And that makes Dwight feel more guilty than before.

“Hey, no harm done,” she says, looking at where the bumpers have tangled.

“Except…” Dwight gesticulates. “When we separate, there’s going to be a mess.”

“You think? Let’s see.”

She gets back in her car and starts the engine. He hears her select a gear and apply gentle acceleration. The Beetle moves forward and there’s the sound of metal hitting the road.

Dwight knows this is going to be expensive and his fault.

The woman kills the engine and comes back to see how the land lays.

It lays great. For her.

“Not even a scratch,” she says. Dwight’s looking at the bumper from his car lying on the road.

He mumbles something.

“Look,” she says, “as far as I’m concerned: No harm, no foul. I haven’t got time to swap details with you and my car doesn’t need any work.”

This is more than Dwight could have expected, and he says so.

“My car’s not the one with the bent fender,” she replies.

Dwight checks the front of his car again. Sure, the bumper’s pulled off, but he also sees the damage to the passenger side fender. The metal’s buckled in the impact and the edge is fouling on the tire.

This car is going nowhere.

“You’re in luck, though,” she says, almost smiling.


“Billy’s garage is, like, a half-mile on the other side. He can fix you up. Get yourself a coffee while you wait.”

Confusion hits Dwight. Sure, he passed something on the way here. “You mean a half-mile that way?” He points in the direction the cars are facing.

“No. You just came past.”

Dwight turns to face back up the road. Maybe only the diner is closed.

“Listen,” she says, “good luck and here…” She throws him a bottle of water. “I have a couple spare I picked up in the motel.”

He catches the water; it’s still cold. Not cold because it has been in the air, but cold because it’s fresh from a refrigerator.

Dwight’s been too busy looking at the water to notice she’s gotten back in her car and started the engine. “Thanks,” he shouts uncertainly towards the Beetle, but doubts she hears him as she sticks an arm out and waves goodbye. The Beetle sets off in a cloud of dust and sand.

Holding the bottle of water, and unsure what to do, Dwight alternates between watching the Beetle disappear and looking back up the road toward the diner. The closed, shot-up, diner. Maybe there’s a phone he can use, because out here in nowheresville, his cell doesn’t have a signal. Not even for emergencies.

With the Beetle no longer in sight, he takes his bag from the trunk, locks the car, and starts toward the diner.

A half-mile in desert heat, even though it is October, almost kills him and he’s glad for the water. When he reaches the diner, the realtor’s board has gone, as has the CLOS-D sign. There are cars in the lot. One looks to be a 1955 Studebaker.

Next to the diner is a garage, last seen in a TV Movie playing out on a channel only nursing homes watch. Sat on a chair at the door is a mid-fifties man in blue overalls. Dwight knows it’s Thursday, so figures it’s tomorrow the guy has a shave for the weekend, and the following week.

“Help you?” the guy asks, as Dwight approaches.

Dwight’s still not sure. This place was closed up, right?

“My Porsche needs looking at,” he says, not accepting what he’s really done.

“OK. You want me to go fetch it?”

“Yes, please.” Dwight guesses the guy can tell it needs fetching, because he just walked in. Dwight’s still having problems here: surely the guy needs to see registration, or insurance, or something.

“Down by the four-way stop?” The guy asks.

Dwight nods. Maybe he saw me go past, he thinks.

“Yeah.” The guy says. “Cars aren’t used to stopping and starting in the heat and the dust.”

“I hit someone. A Beetle.”

“Ah, not little Roxy?”

“I didn’t get her name.”

“Blond. Yey high? Dimples when she smiles.”

“I guess.”

“Aw man, I’d only just fixed that thing.”

“Oh, she’s fine. Me…” Dwight shrugs.

“OK. Wanna give me the keys?”

“Want me to come with you?” Dwight asks.

“Know how to drive a tow-truck?”

Dwight shakes his head.

“Know how to operate a tow-truck?”

Another shake.

“You ain’t no use to me. Go get yourself some coffee and a slice of pie and I’ll go get your car.”

Dwight hands his keys over and says, “Err…”

“You worried a stranger is taking the keys –” he looks at them “– to your Porsche? Think I’m going to tow it to a breaker’s or sell it?”

Dwight laughs, but yeah, that kind of thing.

“Look. I’m Billy. This is Billy’s garage and diner, although my wife may have words on that, and I am the person least likely to steal your car.”

Dwight smiles. “Coffee, you say?”

“Sure. They serve it both ways.”


“Come back in an hour and I’ll tell you what needs to happen.”

Dwight offers a hand to shake, but Billy holds his up and it’s stained with days (weeks?) of engine oil.

They part. Billy to start the tow-truck to go fetch the stricken Porsche, and Dwight to go get a coffee. And maybe a slice of pie because damn, he’s suddenly feeling low on sugar.

Chapter 2

The diner is not what Dwight expected and exactly what Dwight expected.

Tables line the side by the windows, and there’s a bar on the other looking over the kitchens in back. A server greets him at the door and says, “Hi. Welcome to Billy’s. I’m your waitress, Holly. Let me take you to your table. Just one?”

Dumbly, Dwight nods.

“Just driving through?” Holly asks as she leads him through the diner. They pass a table where a guy in a white shirt is enjoying a coffee and a cigarette and Dwight’s pretty sure that’s illegal in California and doesn’t think Nevada is any different.

“I had… err.”

“Billy helping you out?”

Dwight says yes.

They reach an empty table and Dwight settles down while Holly waits. Except for salt, pepper, and a bottle of something Dwight doesn’t recognize, the only thing on the table is a sugar dispenser.

“Coffee?” Holly asks.

“Without milk, please,” Dwight says. He doubts he’d get an almond milk cappuccino.

“The pie today is last-of-the-peaches, and it’s fresh-made this morning.”

“Thank you,” Dwight says on autopilot.

“I’ll be back with your coffee.”

Dwight watches Holly walk away. Her uniform is perfect for the place. A navy skirt, a cream blouse with a dark sleeveless sweater on top. Comfortable shoes with ankle socks on the ends of bare legs. Legs that have spent their years standing and have developed a certain, not unattractive, strength to the calves. Thirty-five years, Dwight guesses, and the blond hair has not come from a bottle. Or if it has, it’s an expensive bottle.

The rest of the diner is as much of a throwback as the table. The menu is printed and attached to the wall above the bar. It’s of limited choice but does include a blue-plate special.

The client who told Dwight about the turn had said this place was a film set for a town from an America a long time ago, if it had even existed then. Someone had gone to a lot of effort.

Holly places a mug and a jar of cream on the table. There is no point correcting her. Dwight smiles as she expertly fills the mug from a pristine Bunn flask.

“Decided?” she asks.

“I’ll take the peach pie.”

“Sure. Cream or Ice Cream?”

“Do you have any lactose-free ice cream?” Dwight’s pretty sure he’s lactose intolerant. Everyone is, right?

Holly shakes her head and says No in such a manner that not only does Dwight know that don’t have any, but they’ve never heard of it. Shoot, he thinks, it’s a little ball of factory ice cream that might have seen a cow.

“I’ll have the ice cream,” he says.

“I make it myself,” Holly says with pride in her voice. “With local milk.”

Dwight peers out of the window. There’s desert as far as the eye can see. Cows? But who knows what the dairy industry does these days?

He says great, and she disappears with his order. He takes a sip of coffee. It’s not too hot or too cold. It’s not bitter, nor is it tasteless. It is a goldilocks cup of coffee, and he can’t remember the last time he’d been served such a coffee with such nonchalance.

He comes back to the world as Holly places his pie, with the largest ball of ice cream he’s ever seen, in front of him. She fetches a fork from her apron and puts that next to the plate. “Enjoy,” she says. But not as a corporate-demanded command. As a heartfelt wish.

He says he will and is about to ask her to not fill his mug with coffee from the pot when she does, anyway. And in this short amount of time, he has grown to trust her so much, he knows she won’t have ruined his coffee.

The pie is still warm and fresh from the oven. The peaches are juicy, ripe, and firm. Holly’s ice cream is a tribute to her skill, and she is surely wasted in such a place. For twenty minutes, nothing matters at all; until Dwight sees his car being towed behind Billy’s truck.

At her next visit with the bottomless, and endlessly perfect, coffee, Dwight asks Holly for the check. And as he does so, he listens to his voice. So often, in town, his demeanor has been curt at the best of times. Now, he’s almost sad to ask for it and to be leaving.

She tells him they’ll put it on the bill for the car and he thanks her.

At the desk, he asks if he can get a go-cup. Some coffee for his onward journey. Holly says they don’t do such a thing, but the coffee’s endless, so if he has a Thermos. Maybe?

He doesn’t, and he leaves.

At the garage, Billy has uncoupled the car from the tow truck and is now bent over with his head under the hood, examining the fender. Dwight waits for the assessment.

Billy stands from his inspection and sees Dwight as if for the first time.

“Hey. Good pie?”


“The best.”

And indeed, it was.

“How we doing?” Dwight asks.

Billy smiles. “Now the bumper, I can fix tonight. Just needs some welding and some bolts.”

So that’s some good news.

“But your fender?” Billy says, shaking his head, and Dwight’s heart is sinking. “And these are pretty rare.” Dwight’s heart has reached its nadir.


“Well, it needs replacing. I can’t patch this up. It’s too bent to straighten out.”

Dwight thinks to himself. A new fender for a 70-year-old Porsche; where’re we going to get one of those? Even in LA, that would be difficult. But here?

“It might take me two or three days to do that.”

Dwight can’t believe what he’s hearing. “Excuse me?”

“I mean. I got one up there on the shelves. But I gotta prime it and paint it to match the rest of the body work. And the California sunshine does something even to the best of paint.”


“I’m sorry, these things take time. I need to leave six hours between coats to let it cure.”

“I’m not complaining,” Dwight says. Hell, even in the best Porsche garages in LA, a new fender would take at least a week. The part coming from Germany.

“It’ll be late. By the time I’ve got it fitted.”

Dwight shakes his head. “No problem, no problem.”

“Let’s say, Saturday afternoon, Sunday morning, to be sure?” Billy asks.

“Sure,” Dwight says back. He’s not due in Vegas until Monday. And then, “How much?”

“How much? How much?” Billy asks to the garage in general. “Well, the part’s gonna be fifty bucks.”

“Fifty bucks?” Dwight asks, but not like that.

“It is a Porsche.”


“And the bumper. And we’ll need some paint. And there’s my time.”

“OK. And that is?”

“So, 150? Will that be OK?”

“An hour?” Man, this guy could charge like LA, that’s for sure.

“What? No! All in. 150 for the bumper, the fender, and the paint.”

“And your time.”

“Sure. And my time.”

“150 is fine.” 150 is worth driving all the way out here for a service.

“And your tires are pretty shot. Need some new ones?”

Tires? For a Porsche? There’s a reason Dwight hasn’t replaced them.

“How much?” Dwight asks, ready to say no.


Dwight thinks, that does sound like a good price. “So, 1150, all in?” Two-fifty a tire, four tires; the bumper, the fender, and the paint job.

“250 all in. 150 for the work, and 100 for the tires.”


“What kinda garage do you think I run here?”

“I’m sorry, only –” Dwight stops, he doesn’t want this deal to go away. “250. All in.”

Billy nods. “Definitely Sunday morning. I’ll have to balance the wheels.”

“Sure.” As if Dwight would turn this down.

And then he realizes. “Is there anywhere I can stay?”

“Well, ask back at the diner. There are some rooms in back, they may have one free.”

At the diner, they do have rooms vacant, no-one is staying currently.

“I’ll take one. Three nights,” Dwight says.

“Room 1, 3 or 4?” Holly asks.

“Didn’t you say no-one was staying? What happened to room 2?”

“We don’t offer room 2 on account of Mr. Tallerham.”

“I’ll take room 4,” Dwight says, not caring about Mr. Tallerham, and jokingly he adds, “Does it have cable?”

It does not.