H. J. Kirchoff
The Mourner (Parker Series #4)by Richard Stark, John Banville (Foreword by)
You probably haven’t ever noticed them. But they’ve noticed you. They notice everything. That’s their job. Sitting quietly in a nondescript car outside a bank making note of the tellers’ work habits, the positions of the security guards. Lagging a few car lengths behind the Brinks truck on its daily rounds. Surreptitiously jiggling/i>
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You probably haven’t ever noticed them. But they’ve noticed you. They notice everything. That’s their job. Sitting quietly in a nondescript car outside a bank making note of the tellers’ work habits, the positions of the security guards. Lagging a few car lengths behind the Brinks truck on its daily rounds. Surreptitiously jiggling the handle of an unmarked service door at the racetrack.
They’re thieves. Heisters, to be precise. They’re pros, and Parker is far and away the best of them. If you’re planning a job, you want him in. Tough, smart, hardworking, and relentlessly focused on his trade, he is the heister’s heister, the robber’s robber, the heavy’s heavy. You don’t want to cross him, and you don’t want to get in his way, because he’ll stop at nothing to get what he’s after.
Parker, the ruthless antihero of Richard Stark’s eponymous mystery novels, is one of the most unforgettable characters in hardboiled noir. Lauded by critics for his taut realism, unapologetic amorality, and razor-sharp prose-style—and adored by fans who turn each intoxicating page with increasing urgency—Stark is a master of crime writing; his books as influential as any in the genre. The University of Chicago Press has embarked on a project to return the early volumes of this series to print for a new generation of readers to discover—and become addicted to. This season’s offerings include volumes 4–6 in the series: The Mourner, The Score, and The Jugger.
The Mourner is a story of convergence—of cultures and of guys with guns. Hot on the trail of a statue stolen from a fifteenth-century French tomb, Parker enters a world of eccentric art collectors, greedy foreign officials, and shady KGB agents. Next, Parker works with a group of professional con men in The Score on his biggest job yet—robbing an entire town in North Dakota. In The Jugger, Parker travels to Nebraska to help out a geriatric safecracker who knows too many of his criminal secrets. By the time he arrives, the safecracker is dead and Parker’s skeletons are on the verge of escaping from their closet—unless Parker resorts to lethal measures.
“Whatever Stark writes, I read. He’s a stylist, a pro, and I thoroughly enjoy his attitude.”—Elmore Leonard
“Westlake knows precisely how to grab a reader, draw him or her into the story, and then slowly tighten his grip until escape is impossible.”—Washington Post Book World
“Donald Westlake’s Parker novels are among the small number of books I read over and over. Forget all that crap you’ve been telling yourself about War and Peace and Proust—these are the books you’ll want on that desert island.”—Lawrence Block
Read an Excerpt
A Parker Novel
By Richard Stark
The University of Chicago PressCopyright © 1963 Richard Stark
All rights reserved.
When the guy with asthma finally came in from the fire escape, Parker rabbit-punched him and took his gun away. The asthmatic hit the carpet, but there'd been another one out there, and he landed on Parker's back like a duffel bag with arms. Parker fell turning, so that the duffel bag would be on the bottom, but it didn't quite work out that way. They landed sideways, joltingly, and the gun skittered away into the darkness.
There was no light in the room at all. The window was a paler rectangle sliced out of blackness. Parker and the duffel bag wrestled around on the floor a few minutes, neither getting an advantage because the duffel bag wouldn't give up his first hold but just clung to Parker's back. Then the asthmatic got his wind and balance back and joined in, trying to kick Parker's head loose. Parker knew the room even in the dark, since he'd lived there the last week, so he rolled over to where he knew there wasn't any furniture. The asthmatic, coming after him, fell over a chair.
Parker rolled to where the wall should be, bumped into it, and climbed up it till he was on his feet, the duffel bag still clinging to his back. The duffel bag's legs were around Parker's hips, and his left arm was around Parker's chest. His right hand kept hitting the side of Parker's head.
Parker moved out to the middle of the room, and then ran backward at the wall. The second time he did it, the duffel bag fell off. Across the room, the asthmatic was still bouncing back and forth amid the furniture. Parker went over that way, got the asthmatic silhouetted against the pale rectangle of the window, and clipped him. The asthmatic went down, hitting furniture on the way.
Parker waited a few seconds, holding his breath, but he couldn't hear anybody moving, so he went over and shut and locked the window, pulled the venetian blinds, and switched on the table lamp beside the bed.
The room was a mess. One bed had been turned at a forty-five-degree angle to the wall, and the mattress was half-pulled off the other one. The dresser was shoved out of position so it was blocking the closet door, and the wastebasket lay on its side in the middle of the floor with a big dent in it. All four chairs were knocked over. One of them had both wooden arms broken.
Parker walked through the mess to see what he'd landed.
Fifteen minutes ago it had started, with Parker lying clothed on the bed in the darkness, thinking about one thing and another, and waiting for Handy to come back. That was after eleven o'clock, so Handy was late already. The lights were off because Parker liked it that way, and the window was open because November nights in Washington, D.C., are cool but pleasant. Then through the window had come the faint clatter of somebody mounting the fire escape, four flights below at street level. Parker had got off the bed and listened at the window. The somebody came up the fire escape about as quiet as the Second World War but trying to be quieter, and stopped at Parker's floor. Somebody with asthma. It was all so amateurish, Parker couldn't take it seriously, which is why the second one surprised him. He'd waited, and the guy with asthma had waited outside—probably to make sure there wasn't anybody home in Parker's room—and then finally he came in and it all had started.
The nice thing about a hotel. Nobody questions any noise that lasts less than ten minutes.
They were both out, the duffel bag on his face and the asthmatic on his back. Parker looked them over one at a time, and then frisked them.
The asthmatic was short, scrubby, wrinkled as a prune, and fifty or more, with the withered look of a wino. He was wearing baggy gray pants, a flannel shirt that had once been plaid but had now faded down to a gray like the pants, and a dark-blue double-breasted suit coat with all but one button missing and the shoulder padding sagging down into the arms. He had white wool socks on and brown oxfords with holes in the soles.
Parker went through his pockets. In the right-hand coat pocket he found a boy-scout knife with all the attachments—a screwdriver, nail file, corkscrew, everything but a useful blade—and in the left-hand pocket a hotel key. The board attached to the key was marked: HOTEL REGAL 27. In the shirt pocket was a crumpled pack of Camels and in the left-hand pants pocket forty-seven cents in change. From the hip pocket he took a bedraggled old child's wallet of imitation alligator skin, with a two-color picture of a cowboy on a bucking bronco on one side and a horseshoe on the other. Inside the wallet was a hundred dollars in new tens and four dollars in old singles, plus half a dozen movie-theater ticket stubs, a long, narrow photo of a burlesque dancer named Fury Feline, clipped from a newspaper, and a Social Security card and membership card in Local 802, International Alliance of Chefs and Kitchen Helpers. The Social Security card and the union card were made to James F. Wilcoxen.
That was all. Parker left Wilcoxen and went over to the duffel bag, who had started to move. He had long, straight, limp hair, dry blond in color, and Parker grabbed a handful of it and slapped his head against the floor. He stopped moving. Parker rolled him over.
This one was just as short, and maybe even thinner, but about twenty years younger, with the face of a ferret. He was dressed all in black. Black shoes and socks, black pegged trousers, black wool-knit sweater. He had long, thin fingers and narrow feet.
Parker searched him. Under the black sweater was a blue cotton shirt, and in the pocket was a pair of sunglasses. The right-hand pants pocket contained fifty-six cents in change and a key to room 29 in Hotel Regal; the left, a roll of bills—one hundred dollars in new tens. Left hip pocket, a Beretta Jaguar .22, with the three-and-a-half-inch barrel. Right hip pocket, a wallet containing seven dollars, plus a bunch of dog-eared clippings about the various arrests of Donald Scorbi on suspicion of this and that, mostly assault or drunk and disorderly, with one narcotics possession. The wallet also disgorged a laminated reduced photostat of a Navy discharge—general discharge, for medical reasons—with the same name on it, Donald Scorbi.
Parker kept the two stacks of new tens and the Beretta, but put everything else back in Scorbi's and Wilcoxen's pockets. Then he used their shoelaces to tie their hands behind them, and their belts to secure their ankles together. Scorbi started to come out of it again and he had to be put back to sleep, but Wilcoxen was still out, wheezing through his open mouth.
Parker looked them over, and decided to keep Wilcoxen. He used a washcloth and face towel to gag Scorbi, then dragged him into the bathroom and dumped him in the tub. He closed the door and searched around the room for the other gun, the one he'd taken from Wilcoxen early in the scuffle.
It was under the dresser, a Smith & Wesson Terrier, five-shot .32. Parker took it and the Beretta and stowed them away in his suitcase. His watch said eleven-thirty-five, which made Handy over half an hour late, so something had gone wrong.
Parker straightened the room and Wilcoxen still hadn't come out of it. Parker dragged him over to the wall, propped him up in a sitting position, and pinched him awake. Wilcoxen came out of it complaining, groaning and thrashing his head around and keeping his eyes tight shut. There was a sour smell of wine on his breath. His face was all wrinkled gray leather except for two bright red circles on his cheeks, like a clown's makeup.
Parker said, "Open your eyes, Jimmy."
Wilcoxen stopped complaining and opened his eyes. They were a wet, washed-out blue, like an overexposed color photo. He took a while getting them to focus on Parker's face, and then the red blotches on his cheeks got suddenly redder, or the rest of the face paler.
Parker said, "Good," then straightened up and went away across the room to the nearest chair. He brought it over and sat down and kicked Wilcoxen conversationally in the ribs. "We'll talk."
Wilcoxen's lips were wet. He shook his head and blinked a lot.
Parker said, "I got a partner. You had a partner. Scorbi."
Wilcoxen looked around and didn't see Scorbi.
"Your partner wouldn't tell me about my partner. I threw him back out the window."
Wilcoxen's eyes got bigger. He stared at Parker and waited, but Parker didn't have anything else to say. The silence got thicker, and Wilcoxen squirmed a lot. His feet jiggled, and he licked his lips and kept blinking. Parker sat looking at him, waiting, but Wilcoxen's eyes kept darting all over the place.
Finally, he asked, "What you want from me?"
Parker shook his head and kicked him again. "Wrong answer."
"I don't know no partner. Honest to Christ."
"What do you know?"
"I got a hundred bucks. Donny and me both. Go to the Wynant Hotel, first fire escape in the alley, fifth floor. If there's nobody home, take everything there. Suitcases and like that."
"And if there's somebody home?"
"Don't do nothing. Come back and report."
Wilcoxen's blinking was getting worse. His eyes were closed more than they were open. "Listen," he said. "It's just a job, you know? A hundred bucks. Nobody hurt, just pick up some suitcases. Anybody woulda took it."
Parker shook his head. He didn't care about that. "Back where?" he asked.
"Howison Tavern. On E Street, down by Fourth Precinct."
"Who do you see?"
Wilcoxen frowned, and the blinking settled down a little. "I don't know," he said. "He just told us go in there and sit down. If we got the stuff, somebody would come by, pick it up. If not, somebody would come by, get the report."
"What time you supposed to be there?"
"By one o'clock."
"Which E Street?"
"Huh? Oh, Southeast."
"Who gave you the job?"
"The job? Listen, I got pins and needles in my hands."
Parker looked at his watch. Quarter to twelve. He had an hour and fifteen minutes. "I'm in a hurry, Jimmy," he said.
"How come you know my name?"
Parker kicked him in the ribs again, not hard, just as a reminder.
"I'm giving you the straight story. I ain't going to lie for a hundred bucks. You didn't have to throw Donny out no window."
"Who gave you the job?"
"Oh, uh—a guy named Angel. He's a heavy, he hangs out around North Capitol Street, up behind the station. Donny and me, we was in a movie on D Street, and when we come out Angel grabs onto us and gives us the offer."
"Is Angel going to be at the Howison Tavern?"
"He says no. He says somebody will come by, don't worry, he'll recognize us. We should sit in a booth and drink beer. Schlitz."
"Where do I find this Angel?"
"I don't know. Honest to Christ. Hangin' around someplace, up around behind the station. In around there, you know."
It was no good. Parker thought it over, chewing his lip. The meeting couldn't be faked, so there was no way to start a trail from there. And it would take more than an hour and a quarter to find somebody named Angel hanging around the Union Station area somewhere. If Handy was still alive, he'd be alive till one o'clock. Then, when Scorbi and Wilcoxen didn't show up, whoever had Handy would know there was trouble. The easiest thing would be dump Handy.
So it had to be done from the other direction, through the girl.
Parker nodded to himself. "All right, Jimmy," he said. "You can go. Roll over so I can untie you."
"You mean it? Honest to Christ?"
Wilcoxen scrambled away from the wall and flopped over on his stomach.
"You're all right, honest to Christ you are. You know it wasn't nothing personal. There wasn't even supposed to be nobody here, just suitcases and like that. We ain't torpedoes or nothing."
"I know," Parker said. He untied Wilcoxen's hands and stepped back. "Undo your ankles yourself."
Wilcoxen had trouble making his hands work. While he was loosening the belt from around his ankles and putting his shoelaces back in his shoes, Parker got the Terrier out of the suitcase, and held it casually where Wilcoxen could see it. He left the Beretta where it was; he didn't like .22's much.
When Wilcoxen got to his feet, Parker said, "Scorbi's in the bathroom. Go untie him." Wilcoxen suddenly smiled, beaming from ear to ear. "I knew you didn't throw Donny out no window," he said. He hurried over and opened the bathroom door. "Donny! He's lettin' us go, Donny!"
After a while Scorbi came out, walking lame like Wilcoxen. He looked sullen, not joining in Wilcoxen's happiness. Parker said, "Out the way you came in."
"What about our dough?" Scorbi asked.
"Hurry," Parker said.
"Come on, Donny," said Wilcoxen. He tugged at Scorbi's sleeve. "Come on, let's go."
"Our rods and our dough."
Parker said, "Go on, Jimmy. Either he follows you or he don't."
Wilcoxen hurried over and climbed out the window onto the fire escape. Scorbi hung back a second, but then he shrugged and went out the window. The two of them started down the fire escape, making even more noise than they had coming up.
Parker stowed the Terrier away inside his coat and picked up the phone. When the operator came on, he made his voice high-pitched and nervous. "There's somebody on the fire escape! Get the police! Hurry! They're going down the fire escape!"
He hung up while the operator was still asking questions, switched off the light, and left the room. He took the elevator down and crossed the lobby and went outside. A prowl car was parked down to the left, with the red light flashing. Hotels get fast service.
Parker stood on the sidewalk, and a couple of minutes later two cops came out of the alley alongside the hotel, pushing Scorbi and Wilcoxen in front of them. So that was that. Because the Scorbis and Wilcoxens never talk to the law, it couldn't get back to Parker. So, no matter how good a story they thought up, they'd miss that one-o'clock meeting, and whoever had Handy wouldn't be warned. It was better even than keeping them tied up in the bathroom.
Parker turned and walked the other way. A block later he hailed a cab.CHAPTER 2
It was just over the Maryland line, in Silver Spring, a squat, faded apartment building called Sligo Towers. Built of dark brick aged even darker, the bricks widely separated by the plaster, it looked like an old Thirties standing set left over on the Universal back lot. Thirties-like imitations of Gay Nineties gaslights, containing twenty-five-watt bulbs, flanked the arched entrance to the courtyard.
The courtyard was just concrete, but pink coloring had been added before it set. It was bounded on three sides by the building, rising eight stories and sprouting air conditioners here and there like acne. On the fourth side was a double arch with a concrete pillar, separating courtyard from sidewalk. Beyond, dark cars slept at the curb, hoods mutely reflecting the street light from down the block. A car purred by, without pausing.
Parker turned the far corner and came striding toward the Sligo Towers. He wore a gray suit and a figured shirt, the suit coat open despite the night chill. He looked like a businessman, in a tough business. He could have been a liquor salesman in a dry state, or the automobile-company vice-president who takes away the dealerships, or maybe the business manager of one of the unions with the big buildings downtown around the Capitol. He could have been a hard, lean businessman coming home from a late night at the office.
He turned at the double arch and went into the courtyard, his shoes with the rubber soles and heels making no sound on the pink concrete. There were walls on three sides of him, all around the courtyard, with a door in each wall. Each was marked with a letter so rococo it looked like a drawing of an ivy-covered window.
He didn't know which door. Slowing down would spoil the effect, stopping would tip any watcher that he was a stranger here. He kept on toward "B," the door straight ahead. Three brick-lined pink concrete steps led up, and then the door was metal, painted to look like wood. It was a double door, and inside there was a metal bar like those found on the doors of schools and theaters. A half flight of metal stairs painted red led up to a hallway running at right angles. There was no interior door, which was a surprise. With no trouble at all, he was already in the building.
Excerpted from The Mourner by Richard Stark. Copyright © 1963 Richard Stark. 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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Meet the Author
Richard Stark was one of the many pseudonyms of Donald E. Westlake (1933-2008), a prolific author of noir crime fiction. In 1993 the Mystery Writers of America bestowed the society’s highest honor on Westlake, naming him a Grand Master.
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My favorite Parker story.
did not even finish it I like the nook though. What would you recommend for a fan of the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Series. I have read them all. Liked it. Alos Sleepers, I have seen his other works. Read one. Apaches looked at the Sequel. Hi Mary Jo