A stepfather-stepdaughter relationship can be challenging, especially when the stepdaughter is coming into her own. The Cookout by Jacqueline Turner Banks, a short story published in Shades of Black: Crime & Mystery Stories by African-American Writers, makes a convincing case for that kind of relationship.
The story opens with Stacey Barron’s mother, Frances, leaving on a trip for a few days to take care of relatives. Stacey does not want her mother to leave her with him. Frances tries to reassure her daughter everything will be fine and to get along with Phillip. Stacey reluctantly agrees to her mother’s wishes but warns her about episode he had with a gun recently. Frances overlooks that episode and shares a story she thought would ease her daughter’s mind about her stepfather.
After a brief and tense conversation, Stacey asks Phillip if he would barbeque for their dinner. Phillip agrees and sees it as an opportunity to connect with his stepdaughter. However, the two argue because she forgot to unthaw the meat and marinate it. The argument escalates and Phillip ends up dead from a gunshot wound.
Does Stacey kill her stepfather? Or did the police kill him because he had a gun in his possession? Banks leaves that part of open-ended and when her mother returns from the trip she believes in her heart who is responsible for her husband’s death.
The Cookout packs quite a punch for a short story under ten pages. Banks’ direct and sharp prose creates the perfect tension for this whodunit tale. I had not heard of this author before and reading a short story from this type of collection has brought a new author to my attention. Fans for crime stories should definitely read the story and others from this groundbreaking anthology.