“Labor Day,” by R.T. Lawton, in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, October 2011.
Okay, ponder this for one minute: how many subgenres of mystery short stories can you think of?
Off the top of my head I came up with private eye, police procedural, amateur detective, historical, psychological, biter bit, driven-mad-by-guilt, caper, comic caper, etc. I’m sure some Ph.D. student is busily creating a taxonomy of detective stories and will soon be able to report that the story we are discussing today is an example of Motif VI.B.6.c.(ii), with thematic shifts and an interesting color scheme. We will leave him to it.
I am very fond of a variation of the comic caper known as the dumb criminal story. I’ve even written one or two myself. By their very nature dumb criminal stories tend to be one-offs, since the protagonist often gets caught, but my favorite series of d.c. stories are the Holiday Burglar stories written by my buddy, R.T. Lawton.
Yarnell is the mastermind of the crime ring (and that is, as they say, a slow track). He is a worrier, and God knows he has his reasons. His partner, Beaumont, is more phlegmatic (and his cell phone ring tone is the theme from Cops). Their apprentice, the Thin Guy (who they picked up on an earlier caper, sort of like a pet who won’t stop following them), is downright cheerful.
It is the nature of dumb criminal stories for things to go dreadfully wrong, but this time the robbery goes off with hardly a glitch. The boys have broken into an apartment whose owner is away for the holiday weekend.
But the crime isn’t over until you “un-ass the vicinity” as the military cops in Martin Limon’s novels like to say, and getaway, like payback, can be a bitch. Since the apartment is on the thirty-sixth floor that means a long, slow elevator trip, and Yarnell suffers from what he calls “closet-phobia.”
Count the things that can go wrong in an elevator and if you leave out sudden drops and zombie invasions, our heroes experience most of them.. Trust me, you’ll enjoy it more than they do.