Oh wow, I really liked this one. Found in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, Greg Herren’s collection of short mysteries and thrillers, this one stands out by virtue of its setting: the Hoover-era, where the FBI are corrupt and everyone is looking for spies, and those of us of a queer nature are in serious danger. We meet a man who works a paper-pushing DC job, a lacklustre if solid career in politics, as he meets with an FBI agent who is blackmailing him over compromising photographs of him and another man. He confirms the photos are all there, that the negatives are, too, and then… shoots the FBI agent dead.
What follows is a pattern I love in Herren’s short fiction, where you find yourself rooting for the killer (I mean, in this case, it’s even easier to do so, given the blackmail and the reason behind the blackmail), and flinch with every imagined hand grabbing their shoulder from behind. We learn about the man’s lover—a Russian ballet dancer who defected—and his family life—an unfulfilling closeted existence with a wife and children—and we learn about everything he’s risking in an attempt to bid for his freedom. He’s walking his way to his lover, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, trying to dispose of the weapon, trying, trying, trying. And the reader is right there with him, wondering if he’ll succeed.
But, again, Herren drops a twist near the end, and oh, this one had me wincing and hissing on behalf of the fellow. There are no winners in this one, but at the same time, the way he handles what he can handle? It’s fulfilling and definitely darkly satisfying at the same time. It’s not a happy ending by any means, but by the time we’ve seen the fallout of this man’s choices? I don’t blame him a bit.