The Colorado Kid

by Stephen King

Opening in medias res as the news staff of The Weekly Islander pays for lunch at a restaurant, editor Dave Bowie and founder Vince Teague test young intern Stephanie McCann's powers of deduction regarding their unorthodox tipping procedure. She impresses them by discerning that the restaurant management pools all the tips and splits them equally among the staff, while Dave and Vince want to leave an especially large tip earmarked for their waitress who has fallen on hard times. They discuss some local unsolved crimes and oddities, which have gained circulation in mainland newspapers as far away as Boston during the traditional Halloween season interest in such tales. The friendly assessment becomes more intense as the elderly island natives and Stephanie return to the office, and she asks if the veteran reporters have "ever come across a real unexplained mystery". Dave and Vince take turns recounting a strange incident and investigation.

On April 24, 1980, two teenagers stumbled across a man's body, early in the morning. Slumped against a trash can, and carrying no identification, the body bore no clear indicators of foul play. Cause of death was determined to be asphyxiation, as a large chunk of flesh was extracted from the victim's throat. Every potential clue leads to small revelations, but bigger mysteries. Though the investigation is lightly bungled, everything seems inexplicable, from how the fish-dinner stomach contents could line up with his ferry boat crossing, to the single Russian coin in his pocket, and the pack of cigarettes missing one cigarette when the autopsy indicated he was not a smoker.

More than a year later, thanks to a sharp-eyed rookie spotting an out-of-state cigarette tax stamp among the man's personal effects, the John Doe becomes known as The Colorado Kid. Eventually the man's identity is traced: James Cogan of Nederland, Colorado. He was a commercial artist living a normal middle-class life with his wife, last seen at a seemingly average workday before inexplicably disappearing. There was no hint of money troubles, adultery, drug addiction or mental illness -- the factors normally associated with someone leaving home so suddenly. Everyone involved with the case is at a loss as to how or why the man could have traveled over 2000 miles (3000 km) in the five hours between when he was last sighted in Colorado and first sighted in Maine, when there was at the time no direct airline flight to account for his arrival. In the Weekly Islander offices, the three friends, old and new, ferret out all the answers they can from the facts of the 25-year-old investigation, then speculate on what might have happened, and meditate on the nature of true mysteries. Despite the lack of clear evidence, Dave and Vince hypothesize the Colorado Kid was murdered. He probably flew to Maine on a chartered jet under an uncertain but pressing emergency and carried the Colorado cigarettes as a clue to his origins should he come to harm. Though Dave and Vince shared other unsolved crimes and oddities with outsiders, they have kept the Colorado Kid a secret due to their belief that a big-town newspaper or glossy travel magazine would tell the story inaccurately by wanting to provide resolution to the account that stubbornly defied a clean culmination. They inform Stephanie that while they were "the last people alive who know the whole thing", having heard the tale of The Colorado Kid, "Now there's you, Steffi." The warm proclamation seems to signal the young woman's final approval by the old guard of the Islander.