Read an Excerpt
The Black Ice Score
A Parker Novel
By Richard Stark
The University of Chicago PressCopyright © 1965 Donald Westlake
All rights reserved.
Parker walked into his hotel room, and there was a guy in there going through his suitcase laid out on his bed. He looked over when Parker came in and calmly said, "That'll be all right." He had some kind of accent.
And he hadn't been talking to Parker. Parker looked behind himself, and number two was shutting the door. Number three was to the left, over by the window; he was the only one with hardware showing, an automatic held negligently in his right hand pointed nowhere in particular.
The faces were all strangers. They were all about forty, tall, in good physical condition, well dressed, deeply tanned. They might be law, but they didn't smell like it. They smelled like something new, something Parker didn't know anything about.
He said, "Where's the woman?" because Claire was supposed to be in here; she was here when he'd gone out, and he didn't like the idea of her being around guns.
The one at the suitcase nodded his head toward the closed bathroom door. "In there," he said. "On a promise of good behavior."
Number two, standing directly behind Parker, said, "Hold your arms out from your sides, please." He had the same sort of accent as the first one, and the "please" was a surprise. Like some levels of law, maybe federal. But not with the accents. And not with the feel of them, the general manner.
Parker put his hands out to his sides, and number two patted him up and down. It was a thorough frisk but not a professional one. He took too long to cover the territory, as though he wasn't sure of his ability to get it right.
When the patting was done, number two said, "Right." Parker put his arms down again.
"If you don't mind," number one said, "I'll just finish up here."
Parker looked at number three's gun. He didn't say anything.
Number one didn't wait for an answer. He kept on poking through Parker's suitcase, not being unnecessarily sloppy but not trying to be too careful either. Most of the drawers in the room were partly open, so the suitcase was the last thing to be searched.
What were they looking for? Parker had no idea, so he stood in the middle of the room and waited to find out who they were and what they wanted and what his best move was. Number one poked at his gear in the suitcase, number two stood with his back against the hall door, and number three leaned against the wall near the window, the automatic in his hand filling the room with a silent buzz. Outside the window and seven stories down, the New York City traffic inched along making muffled noises. The sky out there was gray, mid-March gray. Wherever these three had picked up their tans, it wasn't in New York.
Parker looked at the closed bathroom door. What shape was Claire in? Violence shook her up, even the hint of violence; it reminded her of a time she didn't want to think about. If they'd leaned on her she was probably having silent hysterics in there now. She could do anything, react in a million different ways. She might come screaming out with a pair of nail scissors in her fist; it was impossible to say.
Parker said, "Let me talk to my woman while you're doing that."
"Just finishing up." He turned away from the suitcase, leaving it open on the bed, and gave Parker a wintry smile. "She hasn't been hurt, I assure you," he said. "Not so far, at any rate."
Parker felt his shoulder muscles tensing. He wanted to move out of this, switch the odds on this trio, find out what they thought they were doing. The only sensible thing to do was wait, but that was the thing he was bad at.
Number one said, "You can sit down, if you like, while we talk."
"Suit yourself." He sat on the foot of Claire's bed. He produced a pack of cigarettes.
He shrugged and lit a cigarette for himself, then took it. from his mouth and looked at it. "Overrated, American cigarettes," he said. "Though I suppose it's what one grows used to."
"Do you have something you want to get to?" Parker asked him.
He raised an eyebrow. He seemed to be trying for the studied British effect, but it didn't quite work. There was farmer in him somewhere, farmer or cattleman, something like that. He said, "I think you can guess, Mr Parker, what we're here for."
Parker didn't like that. He was here under his other name, Matthew Walker, the name he used when he wasn't working. He didn't like it that these people knew so much about him and he knew nothing about them. He said, "I don't make guesses. You're here, you're going through my goods, you're making muscles. I don't know why. Right now you're having fun, taking your time. Later on you'll tell me."
Number three, over by the window, said, "A very hard case, this one." He seemed amused.
Number one shook his head. He said to Parker, "Very well, you're a cautious man. So I'll make things plain for you.
We're here to talk to you about your current project."
"I have no current project," Parker told him. It was the truth, but he didn't expect these three to believe it.
They didn't. Number one smiled and shook his head. "There's no point in any of this," he said. "We know everything about you. Your name is Parker, you travel with a woman named Claire—the young lady now in the bathroom—and you are a professional thief. Your specialty is planning the details of large-scale robberies."
That was all true. Parker said nothing.
Number one waited, looking at Parker, asking for a response. Finally he said, "You don't deny it? Don't admit it? Nothing?"
"Get to the point," Parker said.
"That is the point," he said. "You have been approached on a certain project. There's no need to go into details, for God's sake." He was suddenly nettled, as though Parker were delaying him in some important series of events.
"Go into details," Parker said.
"No. How do I know how much or how little they've told you?"
"This is very foolish."
Number three said, "The point is, are you going in with them?"
Parker turned his head and looked at him. "Going in with who?"
Number three smiled sardonically at number one. "I think he is," he said. "That's why he's carrying on like this; he's already committed himself to the other side."
"Perhaps," said number one. "Or perhaps he's merely undecided." He looked at Parker. "I'm going to assume that's the case," he said. "And I'm going to suggest to you that you not get involved."
Parker said, "In what?"
"Don't waste my time!"
Number two, at the door behind Parker, said, "Two or three lost teeth would be the best convincer."
Number one shook his head. "Only if it's absolutely necessary," he said. To Parker he said, "Ostensibly, you and your lady friend are here from Miami on a shopping trip.
Content yourself with that. Make it a shopping trip. And bring it soon to a conclusion, and return to Miami. Do not get involved. If you don't already know the caliber of the people who've approached you, allow me to tell you they are useless. Worse than useless. Liabilities. You know the kind they are, you seem to be a sensible man. You aren't simply bucking the Colonel's stooges, you're bucking us. I don't think you'll want to do that."
Parker said, "If I ever find out what you're talking about, I'll bear what you said in mind."
"Cautious to the end, eh?" He smiled and got to his feet, flicking cigarette ash on the rug. "Very well, then," he said.
"We'll leave it at that. For the moment."
They trooped to the door. Parker turned and looked at them, the three of them standing together, looking like cousins, threads of similarity among them, that touch of the farmer in all three of them.
Number one paused, his hand on the knob. "I hope," he said, "for your sake, we never have to meet again."
Parker said nothing.
Number one waited, expecting a response, then shrugged and opened the door and went out. The other two followed.CHAPTER 2
Claire was sitting on the closed toilet lid, knees together, arms hugging herself. She was a good-looking woman, a stylish woman, but fear had made her angular and jagged and old.
Parker stayed in the doorway, his hand on the knob. "They're gone," he said.
She thawed slowly, straightening, her arms losing their tension, her face relaxing back toward something he recognized. She said, "Who-" and stopped because her voice was rusty. She coughed and cleared her throat, ducking her head in a gesture he knew, and looked up at him to say, "Who were they? What did they want?"
"They didn't say."
"You can tell me," she said. "This time, you can tell me."
He knew she meant the agreement they had that he wouldn't ever talk to her about the life he had when he was being Parker. He shook his head. "They didn't say. They were full of something I don't know about, and they wouldn't believe I wasn't in on it."
She stood up, moving slowly as though she were stiff, holding on to the sink for support. "What did they want?"
"To tell me not to get involved."
"They didn't say."
She frowned at him, frustrated, then suddenly grinned as though something unexpected had struck her funny. "Really?" she said.
He nodded. "Really."
"They came in and acted tough and told you not to get involved and they wouldn't say in what?" She was grinning broadly now.
"Don't get hysterical," he said.
"I'm not going to get hysterical. I was afraid of them, really afraid of them, and they're just ... silly. Just silly men."
"Maybe," Parker said.
"I think I'll come out of the bathroom now," she said, and her smile was more natural, as though maybe she wouldn't have hysterics.
"Fine," he said. He put his hand out toward her and she took it, holding tight.
She came out to the main room and looked around. "They searched," she said.
"I don't suppose you know for what."
She looked at him, and though she was still smiling her eyes were a little shadowed. "Shall we drink in the room," she said, "or go out?"
"Good. I'll call."
She let his hand go and walked between the beds to the stand with the phone, but just as she got to it it rang. She stopped, hand partway out toward the phone, and looked back at Parker to say, "Am I stupid? I want you to answer it."
"That's not stupid," Parker said. The phone rang again as he went by her. He picked up the receiver, said, "Yes?"
"Mr Walker?" The voice insinuated; it was made of oil.
"Yes," Parker said.
"Have they left?"
Parker stiffened. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Claire watching him, saw her react to his reaction. He said, "Yes."
"I hope they were not ... too much trouble."
"No," Parker said. Claire was watching him as though to read the other half of the conversation on his forehead.
"Did you make a decision?" the voice asked.
"Not yet," he said.
"Then there might be some profit in our having a talk?"
"I don't know. Who are you?"
"Oh, you don't know me, Mr Walker. But let's say I was in your shoes once, that I might be able to offer you the benefit of my experience. Would you be interested?"
"Yes," Parker said.
"Then may I sug—" Click.
The line was dead.
Parker said, "Hello?"
Claire said, "What is it?"
Parker shook his head. He put the receiver back on its cradle and said, "I don't like this." "What was it?"
"Another one. He wanted to know if they'd left, wanted to know if I'd like to have a talk with him. Then the connection got broken."
"What are we going to do?"
He looked at her. "Nothing," he said. "If somebody else shows up, I'll try to find out what's going on. If not, we forget it."
"Can you? That easily?"
She spread her hands. "I don't know. Curiosity, something. Sometimes you don't seem-" She shrugged and turned away. "I don't think I want that drink after all," she said.
"What do you want instead?"
"Do you think we should go back? Back to Miami?"
She looked at him. "Why not?"
He didn't tell her the reason. The reason was they were only at this hotel in New York for a few days, so if trouble happened here it couldn't louse up much. But in Miami they were known, they had a pattern developed; if there was trouble down there it could spoil a lot of things. But to talk to her about trouble would only make her nervous, so he said, "Because we're here to shop. Some people got their wires crossed, but they'll find out it was a mistake and that's the end of it. They didn't tell me enough to make me dangerous to them, and after a while they'll find out I'm not in on their thing,"whatever it is, so they won't be back."
She looked dubious. "Are you sure?"
"I'm not packing," he said.
She looked at the open suitcase on the bed. "You think it's safe to stay here?"
"Yes. And I think you ought to go out. Go to some stores, buy some things. That's what you're here for. It'll get those three out of your head."
"You won't come with me?"
"I'll cramp your style," he told her. "Go on and buy things."
"I don't like this!" she said, suddenly bursting it out.
Parker went over and put his hands on her arms. "They didn't hurt you," he said. "They leaned a little and said don't get involved. So we're not getting involved, so it's all over. I know this kind of thing; you can take my word for it."
She looked at him, and he could see her wanting to believe him. "Can I really?"
She began to shiver. He pulled her in and held her, and the shivering settled down, and after a while she nodded against his jaw and said, "I'm all right."
He let her go. "You want a drink now?"
"No I will go shopping. That's what I was going to do this afternoon, so why not?"
"That's right," he said.
It took her five minutes to get ready. He sat on the bed and watched her, pleased by her existence but in a hurry for her to be gone, and when she'd kissed him and left he picked up the phone and called a number in uptown Manhattan and asked to speak to Fred.
"This is Colt," Parker said. "I need a traveling iron. Can I get one delivered to the hotel?"
"Are you a referral, Mr Colt?"
"A friend of mine named Parker recommended you."
"Oh, yes. Mr Parker, I remember him. Did you have any special kind of iron in mind, Mr Colt?"
"What do you have available?"
"Oh, most kinds. The thirty-two-dollar circular model, or the larger one at thirty-eight dollars. Or the forty-five-dollar automatic steam model. Then there are some nice German irons."
"The thirty-two-dollar model's good enough," Parker said.
"Excellent. And you want that delivered?"
"Yes. Normanton Hotel, West Forty-sixth Street, room seven twenty-three."
"And that will be cash on delivery."
"Naturally," said Parker. "How soon can it get here?"
"Is this a rush order?"
"Hmmmm." There was a silence, and then: "Within the hour."
"Fine," Parker said, and hung up.
Fifty minutes later there was a knock at the door. Parker opened and let in a messenger with a package. "Fifty bucks," the messenger said.
Parker paid him, in cash, and he left. Parker opened the package and took out a Smith and Wesson Terrier .32-caliber revolver, a stubby five-shot pistol with a two-inch barrel. There was also a box of cartridges in the package. Parker loaded the revolver and tucked it away under the pillow of his bed.CHAPTER 3
Claire said, "You have no more money."
Parker, sitting on the bed, his back against the pillow, looked at her and saw she was over it. She'd believed his assurances, and the shopping had taken her mind off it more, and the raw, windy day outside had given her good color. She looked fine, happy and healthy, dropping packages on the other bed. She'd come in with a double armload of boxes and bags.
Parker said, "Let's see."
"One at a time," she said. "I'll give you a fashion show."
She rummaged among the packages, selected two and went into the bathroom, leaving the door open. Calling out to him, she said, "The crowds were incredible. I'd forgotten."
He listened to her, but didn't have the attention to find anything to answer. He was thinking about the three this morning, and the other one on the phone, and when they'd come back, and what their attitude would be this time.
From the bathroom Claire called, "And do you think you can find anything in the color you want? Not a bit of it."
Excerpted from The Black Ice Score by Richard Stark. Copyright © 1965 Donald Westlake. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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