Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Walkie-Talkie by Michael Mallory

“Walkie-Talkie” by Michael Mallory, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, May 2005

This story had my blood boiling.

Jeff McKee, his wife, Dinah Purdue, and their five-year-old son, Gage are going on a trip. Jeff and Dinah are actors. Jeff is the more famous of the two having played Jack Ryan, the hero of several Tom Clancy novels, in a movie. Dinah’s fame has faded in the last few years since she took time off for being a mother. The disparity in recognition has begun to rankle, not obviously, but Jeff had noticed and increasing number of little things that tell him his wife is not happy. He tries to compensate by disparaging his own achievements, a strategy that doesn’t work as well as it used to.

Dinah has insisted they bring along a couple of Power Ranger walkie-talkies in case they get separated in the airport. She has one and Jeff has the other.

While waiting to board their plane Jeff takes Gage to the bathroom. Gage insists that he doesn’t need to go, but Jeff does. Jeff goes into a stall and tells Gage to stay just outside giving him the walkie-talkie to play with. They talk back and forth for a bit, but then it gets quiet. Jeff becomes concerned and comes out to discover that Gage is nowhere to be found.

Jeff goes to find Dinah hoping that Gage got impatient and returned to his mother. Dinah hasn’t seen him. They try to call him on the walkie-talkie, but at first get no response. Then a few minutes later they hear an adult voice on the radio saying that he has Gage and he wants to see “if the great Jack Ryan can solve the mystery.”

As the story progresses Mr. Mallory shows us that Jeff has a violent temper, one that plays a big part in the ending. He also shows us the progression of events that cause Jeff’s fear for his son’s safety, his guilt and his rage to build to the breaking point. Everything is logical in within character. Mr. Mallory had me identifying so strongly with Jeff that with the penultimate twist I was getting angry myself. I’m a very even-tempered, laid-back sort of fellow. Any writer that can make me angry in sympathy with his character is doing one hell of a job.

In short, one of the best stories Ellery Queen has published in the last year.