It was the eighth time she had called that day. I didn’t even have to ask who it was; I’d been expecting the call. I juggled the transmitter and said, “Hello… hello, Mrs. French,” doing my best to put on a there-there-everything-will-be-all-right note in my voice. It wasn’t easy. The morning extra was spread across my desk in front of me.
“She said, “Jackie isn’t home yet, Phil.”
[…] I tried, “I wouldn’t worry about it too much, Mrs French. Eight hours is quite a while to be away from home, but you know how kids are at that age…”
Phil is the secretary to Mr. French, a prosecution attorney with plenty of enemies. They’ve received the news of a woman and child cut down by machine-gun fire not too far away. The child is unidentified, but the woman is a friend of Jackie, the French’s son. The two often played together.
The implication is clear. But Mr. French remains in his office with the door closed, refusing to go to the morgue to identify the body. And while Phil is placating Mrs. French with excuses for now, the situation can’t last indefinitely.
This story is short and lean and manages to conjure up a suspenseful atmosphere from the first line onwards. I like the quietness of Mr. French’s anguish; with Phil on the other side of the office door, the suggestion is more potent than an explicit look into the father’s mind.
Jackie Won’t Be Home by Dane Gregory
Availability: print only
Word count: 2,400
First published: Detective Tales, June 1941
Where to find it: 100 Crooked Little Crime Stories, edited by Robert Weinberg, Stefan R. Dziemianowicz & Martin H. Greenberg, 2004, Sterling Pub. Co. Inc.