Officer Thomas Carpenter maneuvered his car over snow-packed roads. He passed early morning commuters cautiously driving the highway that donned a fresh layer of snow from the previous night. The Colorado State Patrolman buckled down for a busy day of mediating fender benders. To his surprise, no accidents would be reported in his assigned area.
Traffic remained light. Strange for a Thursday morning in a busy city. Blame the snow. That and the fact it was only two days after Christmas. People must have the day off. Tom smiled. “Christmas.” Scheduled to work that day, he almost missed his favorite holiday–almost missed his three children, two sons and a daughter, giddily opening Barbie’s, G.I. Joe’s, and his youngest sons favorite, Lone Ranger action figures and apparel. But at the last-minute another trooper agreed to trade days. December 27th was the tradeoff.
After opening presents, Tom and his family drove from Denver to Grand Junction for the holiday. During their short stay, he had a strange premonition to pray for his family. He ducked into his father-in-law’s church and slumped into a pew. He bowed his head.
“Please, God, protect my family. They’re all I have.” But peace did not come. Tom continued to fervently pray. He rested his forehead on the back of the pew in front of him. By the time his wife, Phyllis, emerged to collect him for supper, a deep line creased his brow. He shared his concerns with her.
She kissed his cheek. “Everything will be fine.”
Tom smiled for her sake. Inside, a whirlwind of fear and worry made him nauseated. Hand in hand they walked the short distance from the church to Phyllis’ childhood home.
A patch of black ice pulled Tom back to reality–back to the road. Overpasses could be deadly from winter conditions. He proceeded with caution. To his right, a white sedan with two male passengers sat off the shoulder of the Boulder Turnpike. Trooper Carpenter pulled in behind the car. With no sense of impending danger he didn’t radio dispatch.
Tom stepped out of patrol car 181 and walked up to the vehicle. The engine clicked as the driver attempted to start the vehicle, to no avail. Gasoline fumes penetrated Tom’s nose. Officer Carpenter knocked on the window. The driver rolled it down.
“Sounds like your batteries dead,” Officer Carpenter said. “Happens a lot during winter months.” The driver nervously smiled. The passenger fidgeted in his seat and wouldn’t make eye contact. The strange behavior alerted Tom, but some people were just nervous around police officers.
“Is there someone I can call to pick you up?” Trooper Carpenter asked.
The driver stepped out of the vehicle. “Could you give us a ride to the gas station on Perkins Street?” the man said. “We can use the pay phone there.”
From the corner of his eye, Tom watched the passenger walk around the back of the vehicle. Was the trooper being paranoid, or were these men trying to corner him?
Wearing only jeans and a sweatshirt, the men shivered in the freezing temperatures. In only a matter of minutes, frost crept over their car windows. The stranded men were cold and needed a ride. Against his better judgment, Tom agreed.
“I’ll take you to Lincoln Street,” Trooper Carpenter said, “to the 7-11. Perkins is out of my area.”
A truck came upon the officer and two men. The clunker slowed and an old man made eye contact with Officer Carpenter. Tom tipped his hat to the driver. The rubber-necker sped up and drove away. Trooper Carpenter hoped that wasn’t a mistake. A few minutes later, he realized it was a deadly mistake…