Sunday, February 27, 2005

Road Hazard by David Dean

“Road Hazard” by David Dean, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, March/April 2005

In this story we have a police dispatcher with a problem: an intimidating neighbor. Rueben is a police dispatcher, and a good one, even if he does say so himself. His neighbor, Danny, has been a thorn in his side, and in the sides of everyone in the neighborhood, since he was a teenager. The boy was sullen and threatening, playing destructive and cruel pranks on everyone in the neighborhood. If complaints were made to the police, retribution was sure to follow. Danny’s parents were as intimidated as everyone else, if not more so.

When Danny’s parents died, the neighborhood heaved a sigh of relief. Surely the boy, now a young man, would have to leave. He had no visible means of support, so he wouldn’t be able to make payments on the mortgage. Unfortunately Danny’s father had paid off the house before his death. Now it seemed Danny would never leave. And Rueben seems to feel himself more put-upon than anyone else, particularly since Danny killed his cat and painted “FAG” on his front door. He can’t talk to his friends on the force about what’s going on because he’s afraid of what they will think of him.

One night driving home from work, Rueben hits a deer with his car. He calls a patrol cop he knows to make the police report for his insurance. Then he has an idea. Danny rides his bicycle home from a bar every night about the time Rueben gets off from work. He’s already got damage to his car. It’s like a free pass. He can run over Danny and get the car fixed without worry. So the next night he waits for Danny and commits vehicular homicide.

But can he really get away with it? There is a nice twist at the end.

Mr. Dean does an excellent job in building up the resentment that Rueben feels to the point where we believe that he can kill Danny. And don’t forget the fact that he has established Rueben as something of an egotist, thus making believable Rueben’s belief that he can get away with murder.

In short, a little more noir than you usually see in EQMM and well done besides.