LOREN D. ESTLEMAN “The Used.” First published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, June 1982. Reprinted in The Black Lizard Anthology of Crime Fiction, edited by Edward Gorman (1987) . Collected in Desperate Detroit: And Stories of Other Dire Places (Gallery Books, softcover, April 2016).

   Ed Gorman’s Black Lizard anthology cited above is an unabashed homage to Black Mask magazine, and although this story was written as a standalone without a series character in sight, I think it would have fit right in. The protagonist is an accountant who is the star witness against a gangster he used to work for, and who has been promised protection and a new identity by the Feds.

   Not an uncommon situation, especially in mystery stories like this one. But, what if something goes wrong and the defendant gets off? The Feds are no longer interested in him, and he’s on his own, up sh*t creek without the proverbial paddle, that’s where he is.

   The prose is as smooth as silk, told seemingly effortlessly and building in tension as it goes. This may be the best story I’ve ever read by Estleman, terse, taut and stretched to the breaking point. That’s a statement that’s saying something, since Estleman is also the author of 31 top of the line adventures of Detroit-based PI Amos Walker, starting with Motor City Blues in 1980, and still counting.

Rating [on my H/B = Hardboiled Scale]: 8.5