"The Appointment:" by Maynard Allington. Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. June 2011.
Since Afghanistan, I think a lot about death, as if I were being billed for a broken appointment.
If I wrote that nugget of a sentence I would have probably started the story with it. Allington puts it at the end of a long opening paragraph. But it sets the tone, doesn't it?
Danny Malone got back from the war with brain damage that effects his memory and temper. Now he is wandering through Death Valley because someone has been sending him photographs of the park and he thinks, vaguely, that he is supposed to meet someone there.
And meet someone he does. The man wears a hooded parka - in the desert heat - and appears to have suffered severe burn damage.
"Don't you remember me? We met once in Afghanistan. I got to know some of the men in your platoon. I knew your best friend, Robinson. He spoke highly of you."
"So I heard..."
So who is the mysterious hooded figure? What does he have in mind for Danny? And, more importantly, is the explanation of what happens criminal, psychological, or even supernatural?
The answers come at the end of this elegant, finely detailed story. Allington is a former military man and he writes well about the troubled veteran.