June 14, 7:31 am
In the morning drizzle, a police car that had been sitting in a quiet residential cul-de-sac in the suburb of Poplar Grove started its engine.
The squad car had been sitting there quietly for some hours as the neighborhood came to life on that early Sunday morning. Several cars full of families on their way to church had already passed by, looking into the police car with grateful curiosity. The way only middle-class white people ever look at cops. The heavy-set man in the white shirt-sleeves behind the wheel just waved at them and grinned, wiggling his fingers in a wave that seemed strange, childish, and out of character for a man of the law. The children in the passing cars waved back, trustingly, and the adults gave the man a warm smile—but everyone felt a flash of uneasiness, and looked back over their shoulders after they had passed.
The number on the roof and right back bumper of the car was 4057. Later, when one of those young mothers saw the squad car on the news, smashed and covered with blood, she would remember that number as being the car that had been parked on their street. And she would shiver.
In the gray light of the cold and rainy dawn, car 4057 started its engine, and eased slowly down the suburban street. It made a slow and legal right at the stop sign, using its turn signal properly, and then stopped at the end of the block. The car and its driver waited patiently, humming a tune from an old nursery rhyme, as a man in a gray suit and walking a cocker spaniel ambled slowly through the crosswalk.
When the light changed, the car headed directly west, crossing underneath the I-15 freeway on University Boulevard. A careful observer might have noticed that the car was weaving slightly to the right and left as it passed down the quiet street. It wasn’t out of control, but it was almost as if the car was not mechanical at all—more like a lazy shark, cruising the depths in search of prey.
At Main Street, car 4057 took a left and began slowly working its way north, toward Temple Square. The street here had been converted into the main route for the light rail system, known as TRAX, in 1999. And it was busy this morning.
You might expect the downtown streets to be quiet on a Sunday morning. But Salt Lake no longer rolled up the sidewalks on the day of the Lord. It was a modern American city now, and even this early on a Sunday morning the coffee shops were full and the lines waiting for the trains stretched out along the sides of the stations. The car worked its way past the knots of people; the driver smiling and waving as he went. It looked like any other squad car on the streets of Salt Lake, except that the driver was in white shirtsleeves, with no jacket. That, and the slight weave in the car’s tail—the unmistakable sense that it was sizing up the pedestrians, like a wolf sizes up a herd of sheep.
At exactly 7:38, as the official police report later stated, everything on Main Street changed.
Car 4057 suddenly accelerated down Main Street. If its sirens had been blaring, it would have looked like an officer on the way to a crime scene. But in actuality, the car itself was the weapon, preparing to be wielded.
With a squealing of tires, the squad car veered off the side of the wet road and into a group of a dozen men, women, and children, who were waiting for the next TRAX car. It happened so fast and with such little warning that nobody in that crowd even had time to leap clear. Instead, the metal rack bumper of the squad car, which was designed for pushing vehicles off the road, hit them like a bowling ball hitting the pins, or a snowplow crashing through a high bank. The lucky ones just careened over the hood of the squad car. But the head of an unlucky delivery driver by the name of Winters shattered the windshield of the squad car. Later, it was suggested that the impaired visibility caused by Mr. Winters’ death might actually have saved many lives.
Six of the victims went under the wheels of the car, possibly because they had been lower to the ground. They included a baby in a stroller, and a mother and her three-year-old who went under when, rather than leaping clear, she bent down to try and pick up her little boy.
Thumping back onto Main street, with a spray of bloody and broken bodies left in its wake like scattered leaves, the squad car roared north. The hood of the car was already streaked with blood, but it would become much worse.
A block later, three more people died when the car sideswiped them, smearing them like bugs into the concrete wall of the Wells Fargo Building. Another pair went under the car’s wheels as they tried to leap behind a concrete planter.
After that, for two blocks, the car’s hunting grew thin. Something about the commotion or the drizzle or the wild driving of the squad car alerted people to get off the street, and they were now running for any available doorway.
Unfortunately, several patrons had ignored the rain and taken their coffee under the umbrellas at an outdoor café at 2nd South, and they didn’t react quickly enough. They didn’t see the car as it took a left on two wheels, and then smashed through their two dozen tables. The impact scattered eight patrons, their furniture, and their morning coffee, in all directions. Bodies, coffee cups and briefcases poured over the hood of the car like waves crashing over a rocky shore. Two bodies caught their limbs under the car’s bank of lights on the roof and clung there until they were wrenched violently free. One man who tried to leap over the car as it bore down on him and his girlfriend ended up being thrown through the plate-glass window of the café, and the falling glass rained down upon the screaming bodies inside like a thousand knives.
Less than forty-five seconds had passed since the first casualties at the bus stop, but as the car roared away from the street café, another cop car was already in pursuit.
Officer Newton Wilson had been heading west on 2nd South when he saw car 4057 smash through the café, and he wheeled his car into a U turn that bounced him over the median so hard that Wilson’s head cracked into the car’s ceiling. But with some skillful driving, he was only yards behind the killer vehicle as it swerved back into the street and continued east.
The squad cars took a hard right on West Temple, and in the next two blocks, the pursuit was clocked at a top speed of sixty-five miles per hour. That car 4057 could take the right onto South Temple without rolling over seemed like a miracle to Wilson, who lost a half block as he tried to keep control of his own vehicle. He roared east just in time to see the murderous car take a sudden right, smashing through a set of woefully inadequate barricades that were intended to block vehicular entrance to a pedestrian walkway.
The sign car 4057 destroyed as it sped into the pedestrian mall said City Creek Center.
“Oh, shit!” Wilson said. But he wrenched his wheel to the right and followed.
Even though it was still early on a Sunday, there were a lot of shoppers already in the complex, and the last thing they expected was to see a police car roaring down the broad walkways, bouncing over the water features and careening off the concrete benches like a mad billiard ball. Many of them simply didn’t move fast enough. Another half dozen went down under the wheels or over the hood in the next fifteen seconds, as the squad car made it to the fountain at the center of the complex, and found that it could go no further.
Before Officer Wilson realized what was happening, car 4057 was coming back at him, as if intent on a head on collision. He wheeled his car sideways, blocking the way out of the shopping center, crossed his arms over his face and turned away from the window, bracing for impact.
Instead, car 4057 squealed to a stop, just a dozen yards away. And with no fanfare at all, the bloody vehicle’s engine shut down. Wilson tumbled out of his car, his gun drawn, and only then did he realize that two other squad cars had fallen in behind him, skillfully blocking any possible exit from the mall. In seconds, three other officers were also out of their vehicles, guns drawn, and pulling a bead on the now silent and smoking car.
The effect was eerie, as the mall fell into silence. Only the sound of glass raining down from the broken storefronts, and one injured man, moaning in agony, broke the silence.
At that moment, Wilson saw the hood of car 4057. It was a mass of blood and coffee and bits of clothing caught in the bumper, and even in the spiderweb patterns of the broken windshield. What looked like a ragged piece of flesh, or possibly a hand, was lodged under the shattered lights on the top of the car.
The man who got out car 4057 seemed so nondescript, that for a moment Wilson wondered if he was the right man, or if maybe he was a hostage to some other maniac in the car. He knew from the reports on the radio that the man was named Delgado, and that he had helped Howard Gunderson escape from his cell overnight. But as far as he could see, there was no one else in the vehicle, and the man in the white shirt was laughing, as if he had just gotten off a roller coaster, rather than being on a murderous rampage. When Wilson saw the man’s empty utility belt, where his taser, cuffs and nightstick would have hung, he knew he was looking at Delgado.
Standing at his open door and leaning over the roof of his car, Wilson pointed his service revolver at the man. “Officer Delgado! Get on the ground! Get on the ground now!”
But the man didn’t respond. He reached into the car, and took out something dark, and leveled it at the two officers who pointed their guns at him.
Later they would realize that what he brought to bear on them was not a revolver, but an over-ripe banana that Delgado had taken from the lunchbox of the man whose car he had stolen. But in the heat of the moment, all four officers thought they saw a gun.
“Bang!” the man yelled. “Bang, bang! You’re dead!”
In the instant before all four cops fired, the smile disappeared from Delgado’s face. The laughter stopped, and instead, there was a look of panic in his eyes, as if he was a man waking up from a dream. He looked at the banana in his hand, and he only had time to say, “No, wait!” before the first slug hit him, under the right kneecap. Before he could collapse, two more slammed into him, shattering his chest and shoulder. Wilson’s shot caught Delgado just under his right cheekbone.
The impact of so many slugs hitting simultaneously threw the man against the side of the car, and as he fell, he left a bloody arc down the rear driver’s side door. Delgado lay on the ground, trying to form words, but the blood was already pouring out of his mouth. His eyes looked up into the glass atrium with confusion. The windows above them were sprinkled with rainwater, which caught the light from the shops below. In his delirium, the dying man may have thought that they looked like stars, suspended in the roof of heaven.
“The suspect is down!” a voice called out at the end of the walkway. “Repeat, the suspect is down.” And then, as if from nowhere, a more than a half dozen police officers were swarming over the scene.
Wilson was the first to reach the fallen guard, and as the man’s life blood flowed onto the paving stones of the courtyard, he knelt by his side. Officer Delgado looked confused and was trying to form words. The other officers were converging on the car, throwing open doors, and pointing their guns at the empty interior.
“No sign of the other suspect,” he heard one of them say into his shoulder microphone. “Repeat, Gunderson is not in the vehicle!”
“Gunderson?” Delgado sputtered through the blood in his mouth. Wilson leaned forward. And he was the only one to hear the dying man’s last words.
“He’s the one in holding cell six… Nice kid… I thought… But… Such a nasty little fuck…”
And then he was dead.
None of the cops could see, but a little girl, and a blood-soaked soldier, who had been in the back seat during the entire journey, were walking away from the scene. The little girl was laughing, and she skipped along the sidewalk, avoiding the rushing officers.
The soldier in the bloody Air Force uniform followed along behind her, his face slack. His eyes empty. And a shining bowie knife with a silver tree filigree on the handle, still gripped in his trembling fist.
The Last Handful of Clover is a supernatural thriller by Wess Mongo Jolley. Thanks for reading! If you are enjoying this story, please consider supporting the author on Patreon.
For more information (including maps of the story’s world and a contact form) visit the author’s website.
To read previous chapters of this book, go to the Table of Contents page.
If you’re interested in listening to the book, rather than reading it, the audiobook is available at the Patreon link above, and also as a podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Anchor, and all other podcast platforms. Visit the podcast page for more details.
Copyright 2021, Wess Mongo Jolley. All rights reserved.