A short story about a drifter who picks the wrong diner to stick up.
Gun City, USA
by T.Z. Barry
The Drifter left the run-of-the-mill Midwestern diner with a fresh meal in his stomach and a wad of cash in his wallet. He got in his Mustang and sped west along the highway, off into the sunset.
The Drifter drove until his gas tank and stomach were both on empty, and when he passed a highway sign reading, “Welcome to Gun City, USA, Population: 762,” he pulled into the mundane Midwestern town. The Drifter parked his Mustang in the lot of another dime-a-dozen diner and entered the joint with a six-shooter in his pocket, looking to pull off another easy score.
The Drifter took a seat at the counter and ordered his usual meal: a deluxe cheeseburger with cheese fries— both cheeses always yellow American— and two drinks: a Budweiser and a Coca-Cola Classic. He drank the beer while he waited and saved the soda to wash down his food, not wanting the bitterness of the beer to contaminate his juicy burger and salty fries.
The Drifter looked around the 1950s retro-styled diner, casing the scene. He knew all the customers, though he had never met any of them before. Like a Shakespeare play, diner to diner, across the country, the names and faces changed, but the characters stayed the same. Walking the floor from table to table was the divorced middle-aged waitress. Behind the counter in the kitchen was the owner who doubled as the cook and knew each customer by name. In a booth by the jukebox was the high school quarterback on a date with the head cheerleader. Sitting at the counter was the town drunk with his best friend Jack Daniels and a shot glass. At a table for five sat the model family enjoying their one night a week when the wife didn’t have to cook dinner for her husband and three children, ages twelve, ten, and eight. The only cliche missing from the scene was the policeman on break, drinking coffee with a slice of apple pie, though his absence was just fine by the Drifter.
“What’s your name, honey?” asked the waitress.
“Where you from, stranger?” asked the drunk.
The Drifter ignored their attempts at chit-chat and finished his meal in silence. He always kept a low profile, not wanting any of the townspeople to remember him. For dessert, he drank another Bud as the waitress tore his bill from her pad and placed it on the counter before him.
The Drifter reached into his pocket, but instead of his wallet, he pulled out his Colt revolver.
“Empty the register.” The Drifter cocked his pistol and aimed its silver barrel at the waitress’ apron.
“You picked the wrong town, boy.” The drunk cackled with laughter.
The waitress opened the cash register, but instead of grabbing the money, she grabbed a 9mm Smith and Wesson pistol of her own and pointed it at the Drifter’s head.
“We got a stick-up!” she shouted.
The simultaneous sound of triggers cocking ringed throughout the restaurant like an orchestra of violence. The Drifter looked around at the diner crowd he thought he knew.
The cook aimed a Remington shotgun through the order window from the kitchen.
The quarterback held a Winchester; his girlfriend a Browning rifle.
The mother and father wielded matching pairs of his and hers Glocks. Their two young boys aimed their AK-47’s at the Drifter’s back, while their younger sister hid with her pink PPK under the table.
The drunk sat on his stool, shaking his head as he poured himself another shot. Everyone else in the diner was armed on their feet in a classic standoff with no one willing to give in.
The Drifter pulled the hammer back on his Colt revolver, despite the fact that the six-shooter was not even loaded. He never imagined he would actually have to use the gun after robbing dozens of diners across the country without so much as a hint of resistance.
“What is this place?” The Drifter grew with anxiety. He backed away from the counter swinging his firearm around the diner, unsure of whom to point it at. He bumped into a chair from the nuclear family’s table, looked down, and saw the daughter crouching on the floor. The Drifter grabbed the girl by the arm, and the PPK slipped from her hand. The Drifter used the girl as a human shield, holding the cold metal barrel of his empty Colt revolver to her head.
“Give me the money, or I’ll pull the trigger!” shouted the Drifter.
“Just pay your bill and get on out of here,” said the cook while keeping a steady aim with his shotgun.
“Are you people crazy?” The Colt revolver trembled in the Drifter’s hand. “I’ll—”
“Don’t you know where you are, boy?” The drunk downed his shot of whiskey then drew a .44 Magnum from his back waist. He twirled the gun around his finger as he spun around in his stool then faced the Drifter and cocked his Magnum with a grin. “This is Gun City.”
On his way into town, the Drifter had ignored the roadside sign reading, “Welcome to Gun City, USA, Population: 762.” Even if he had noticed the sign, it didn’t indicate the number of registered firearm owners in Gun City: also 762. Nor did it display the number of police officers: zero. There was no jailhouse in the town either— no need, since there hadn’t been a crime committed in Gun City since its founding. The citizens policed themselves, and no one dared betray another, knowing they all bore arms.
“Don’t squinch an inch, boy,” said the drunk.
“Just let the girl go, and pay your bill,” repeated the cook.
The diner crowd circled around the Drifter like vultures. He felt the weight of the nine gun barrels aimed at his head, and he realized the mistake he had made. The Drifter realized he had no choice but to make things right by squaring his bill, so he reached for the wallet in his back pocket—
The diner exploded with gunfire.
The drunk discharged his Magnum, but he was no better shooting while intoxicated than he was driving.
Shotgun shells showered from the cook’s Remington, its shrapnel impaling the waitress en route to the Drifter.
9mm bullets from the waitress’ Smith and Wesson flew across the diner at the Drifter then continued toward the high school couple caught in the crossfire.
The quarterback’s Winchester clipped the Drifter’s left wing and settled into the housewife’s heart. The cheerleader fired her Browning between the Drifter’s legs, straight into the housewife’s husband.
The married couple emptied the chambers of their Glocks, half of the shots hitting the drifter, half hitting the drunk and the cook.
The couple’s sons held their fingers pressed to the triggers of their AK-47’s, but the recoil of the powerful assault rifles sent the brothers spinning in circles like ballerinas, their cartridges cascading into each other.
The brothers’ younger sister laid on the floor under the table by the door where she’d ducked since the shooting started. After the gunfire ceased, the girl crept up and walked to her family’s table. She picked up her pink PPK from the floor and looked around the diner clouded in gun smoke and puddled with blood. She was the only person still standing as the cook, the waitress, the quarterback, the cheerleader, her parents, her brothers, the drunk, and the Drifter all laid lifeless, full of each other’s bullets.
The eight-year-old orphan ran out of the decrepit diner onto the highway. She continued running west until she reached the town border where a roadside sign read, “Thank you for visiting Gun City, USA, Population: 762.”
The girl dropped her pink PPK to the ground then crossed the border and walked west into the sunset, away from Gun City, USA, Population: 752.