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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...
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.
TheRare Coin Score features the first appearance of Claire, who will steal Parker’s heister’s heart—while together they steal two million dollars of rare coins.
“Parker . . . lumbers through the pages of Richard Stark’s noir novels scattering dead bodies like peanut shells. . . . In a complex world [he] makes things simple.”—William Grimes, New York Times
“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
Parker spent two weeks on the white sand beach at Biloxi, and on a white sandy bitch named Belle, but he was restless, and one day without thinking about it he checked out and sent a forwarding address to Handy McKay and moved on to New Orleans. He took a room in a downtown motel and connected with a girl folk singer the first night, but all she did was complain how her manager was lousing up her career, so three days later he ditched her and took up with a Bourbon Street stripper instead.
But he kept being restless. After a week, he split with the stripper and went down to the waterfront one night and kept walking around till two guys jumped him for his shoes. When he noticed he was prolonging the fight for the pleasure of it, he got disgusted and finished them off and went back to the hotel and packed. He sent the new address to Handy McKay and took an early-morning plane to Las Vegas.
Vegas was a bad idea, because he wasn't a gambler. He was restless all the time and couldn't seem to stop going after women. One afternoon and evening he had three of them, and called the third one by the first one's name. She stuck around anyway, but it told him he was getting too distracted, so the next day he took a plane to San Diego and put down a week's rent on a beach cottage south of the city, to be alone for a while. He sent out the new address, as usual, and lay down on the beach in the sun.
He couldn't stop thinking about women, but he knew what that meant; it was just his nerves wanting him to go to work again. But it was stupid to think about work now, and Parker didn't like to be stupid. He still had more than enough left from the last job, and a lot salted away in different places around the country, so there was no need yet to take on something new. When work got to be its own reason for happening, that was trouble.
Still, he lay alone and restless on the beach, his eyes closed against the sun while his mind ran around and around about women, and his nerves didn't ever want to quiet down. He told himself he'd stay out his week's rent, no matter what, and not go after any women while he was here. He spent a lot of time in the cold ocean water, and in the evenings sat and looked at the fuzzy television set that had come with the cottage, and all the time the nerves kept jumping just below the surface of his skin.
The fifth day, he walked down the beach and picked up a thirty-year-old divorcée from somewhere in Texas, who'd come out to the Coast because she'd been hearing this was where the action was and she wanted to find out what the action was before it was too late to do anything about it. He took her back to the cottage and broke the seal on a pint of Scotch and gave her an hour of talk so she wouldn't feel like a pickup. The hour was just about up when the phone rang.
It was Handy McKay's voice, spinning along the wire all the way from Presque Isle, Maine, saying, "Hello. You busy?"
"Hold on," Parker said, and turned toward the divorcée with a smile different from any smile she'd seen on him before this, and he told her, "Go home."CHAPTER 2
Parker lay in the dark on his hotel-room bed and waited to be contacted. Lying there, he looked like a machine not yet turned on. He was thinking about nothing; his nerves were still.
When the knock sounded at the door, he got up and walked over and switched on the light, because he knew most people thought it strange when somebody lay waiting in the dark. Then he opened the door and there was a woman standing there, which he hadn't expected. She was tall and slender and self-possessed, with the face and figure of a fashion model, very remote and cool. She said, "Mr. Lynch?"
That was the name he was using here, but he said, "You sure this is the room you want?"
"May I come in?"
"Maybe you want some other Lynch," he said.
Her mouth showed impatience. "I really am from Billy Lebatard, Mr. Lynch," she said. "And it would be better if we didn't talk in the hall."
He shook his head. "Try another name."
"You mean Lempke?"
"That's the one," he said, and stepped back from the doorway, motioning her into the room.
She came in, still unruffled and self-possessed, saying, "Is all that caution really needed at this point?"
He shut the door. "I didn't expect a woman," he said.
"Oh? Why not?"
She smiled slightly, with one side of her mouth. "It doesn't sound like a very rewarding profession."
Parker had no patience with pointless games. He shrugged and said, "What happens now?"
"I drive you to the meeting."
She allowed herself to be surprised. "The meeting you're here for. Did you think you'd just do it without any plan at all?"
Parker hadn't yet decided whether or not he would do this one, but there was no point saying so; she was just a chauffeur. Besides, if she was any indication of how things would be handled here, he'd be out of it anyway.
But he would go to this first meeting, just to see the lay of the land. At the worst it was a chance to renew a couple of old touches. It was tough in this line of work to keep current with old friends, but the only way to build the right string for any job was to know who was available.
So he slipped into his suit jacket, pocketed his room key, and said, "All right, we'll go have a meeting."
They left the hotel and she led him around onto Washington Street and over to a green Buick station wagon, where she said, "Do you want to drive?"
"You know this town?"
She shrugged and made a face and said, "Fairly well." As though what she meant was, more than I like.
"Then you drive," he said, and walked around to the passenger side and got in.
She looked after him in surprise, then opened the driver's door herself and slid in behind the wheel. She put the key in the ignition, but instead of starting the engine she sat back and began to study him, frowning to herself.
Parker waited, but she just kept sitting there and looking at him as though she was trying to read something written on the inside of his head, so after a while he said, "Okay, get it over with."
"I'd just like to know," she said.
"Are you just naturally rude, or are you trying to antagonize me for some reason?" Parker shook his head. "All you do is drive the car."
"In other words, I don't matter."
She nodded. "Fine by me," she said. "It just took me by surprise, that's all."
There was nothing to say to that, so Parker faced front and got out his cigarettes. He lit one for himself while she was starting the engine, and then sat back and watched Indianapolis slide by. It was a little after midnight of a Wednesday night and the streets were deserted. They were also very wide and very brightly lit, so it was like driving through a recently abandoned city, except that here and there neon lights flashed in the windows of closed drugstores and supermarkets. Parker watched all that emptiness outside the windshield, and it seemed to him this should be a good town for a late-night haul.
It was good to be thinking right again. His mind had snapped into shape two days ago, the instant he'd heard Handy McKay's voice on the telephone, and he'd been cold and solid and sound ever since.
The conversation had been brief, once the astonished and disgruntled divorcée had been gotten rid of. Handy said, "Ran into a pal of yours the other day. Lempke."
That was a good name. Parker hadn't worked with Lempke in years, but he remembered him as reliable. He said, "How is he these days?"
"Keeping busy. He wanted to look you up sometime."
"I'd like to see him."
"You could try a friend of his at the Barkley Hotel in Chicago."
Parker, understanding that the friend was Lempke himself under an alias, said, "Maybe I will. What's the name?"
"Moore. John Moore."
"Got it. You still retired?"
"Still and forever. Drop in sometime."
"I will," Parker said, knowing he wouldn't, and hung up.
The conversation with Lempke was even briefer. Not identifying himself, Parker said, "I was talking to Handy the other day. He said we might get together."
"Not me," said Lempke. "But a fella named Lynch might register at the Clayborn Hotel in Indianapolis on Wednesday. That might be something for you, if you're interested."
"Thanks for the tip," said Parker, and on Wednesday he'd arrived at the Clayborn Hotel in Indianapolis, registered under the name of Lynch, and waited.
Now the waiting was done. He was surprised to be met by a woman, but with Lempke in it the job could still be good. The name she'd dropped—Billy Lebatard—meant nothing to him, and was unlikely to be another name of Lempke's, since Lempke knew enough not to use his own initials on new names.
The woman drove at a fast and steady pace south-westward away from the center of town. The avenue narrowed, grew less brightly lit, more residential. There were no hills anywhere, nothing but flatness. Parker noticed the woman glance at him out of the corner of her eye as the cops went by.
What did she expect him to do? Flinch, put his hands over his face, jump from the car and start running, pull out a pistol and bang away?
He threw his cigarette out of the window, shut his eyes, and waited for the ride to stop.CHAPTER 3
On a side street in Mars Hill, southwest of the city proper, the woman made a right turn into a gravel driveway beside a small frame one-story house. There were few streetlights out here, and many trees, but Parker could see enough to know it was a rundown seedy neighborhood and that this house blended perfectly with the rest. There was no garage, and the front yard was bare brown earth except for a few weeds. There were lights in the windows of the house, but the shades were all drawn full down.
The woman said, unnecessarily, "Here we are," and switched off the engine.
Parker got out of the Buick and shut the door, then waited for the woman to let him know whether they were supposed to go to the front or the back. She took longer getting out, but finally was ready, and said, "This way."
The front. There was a narrow bare porch. The woman knocked on the glass of the door, which probably meant the bell didn't work.
The door opened and a pudgy kid was standing there. Or maybe not a kid. But short, and soft, and covered with baby fat. He wore a wrinkled white shirt open at the collar and bunched at the waist, and dark trousers with unmatching jacket, and black shoes, and large eyeglasses with black rims. He had thinning black hair, and a round white face, and soft hands with stubby fingers. He said, "Claire! And this must be Mr. Parker." His voice was high-pitched and weak, making Parker think of eunuchs.
The woman—Claire—stepped into the house, saying, "Hello, Billy. His name is supposed to be Lynch." There was a resigned quality in her voice now that hadn't been present before, as though all her objections had long ago worn themselves out on the unlined brow of Billy.
"We're all friends here," Billy said, and laughed, and extended a soft hand toward Parker, saying, "I'm Billy Lebatard, this is my show. Lempke's told me a lot about you."
Parker stepped inside, ignored the outstretched hand, and pulled the door away from Billy's other hand, shutting it, saying, "Did he tell you I don't like to be framed in a lit doorway?"
Billy's smiling face went blank, but without losing the smile, which hung on like a leftover crescent moon. He looked over at Claire, who was half-turned away from him, looking through the archway into the living room, and he said, "Claire? Did I do something wrong?"
"Probably," she said wearily, not turning her head, and walked away into the living room.
Parker said, "Is Lempke here?"
"Well, certainly," said Billy, suddenly happy again. "We're all here, just waiting for you."
"Is that right?"
"Lempke tells me you're an idea man, an organizer. He tells me you're just the man we need for this job."
"Maybe. Where is he?"
"In the living room," Billy said eagerly. "We're all here in the living room." He moved off, urging Parker to move with him, not quite touching Parker's arm.
The living room was small and cramped and full of furniture. Two lamps and a ceiling light were all burning, making the room bright and garish and semi-hysterical. A shabby dining room, also brightly lit, was through an archway on the left. The ceiling was low, making the room seem even more crowded than it was.
Lempke was sitting on the overstuffed mohair sofa straight ahead, a can of beer in his hand. He looked much older than Parker remembered. A small, neat, spare man in his mid-fifties, he gave the impression of being scrubbed, like a child leaving home for the first day of school. When he smiled—as he did now, seeing Parker—he showed the smallest, neatest, whitest, falsest set of false teeth Parker had ever seen, and from the look of them Parker guessed that Lempke had been on the inside for a while since they'd last worked together. Those choppers looked like the kind of thing you might expect from a prison dentist.
Lempke got to his feet, extending his hand, saying, "Parker. Long time no see."
"Good to see you again, Lempke," Parker said, though it maybe wasn't true. If Lempke was fresh out of the house his judgment might not be trustworthy. He might be too hungry for a score, might be tempted to sign on somewhere even if the setup wasn't one hundred per cent right.
Lempke said, "I don't think you know Jack French," motioning at the man who'd been sitting next to him on the sofa.
"No, I don't."
French stood up as he was introduced, and Parker shook hands with him. He thought French looked all right; lean and rawboned and self-contained, maybe thirty-five, with level eyes and an expressionless face. French said, "Good to know you," and sat down again.
"Now we're all here," Billy was saying, beaming and rubbing his soft hands together.
Parker said to Lempke, "What's the pitch?"
But Lempke said, "Lebatard ought to tell you, it's his baby."
"Sit down, Mr. Parker," Billy said, happy and eager. "Take the comfortable chair there, I'll tell you all about it."
Flanking the television set opposite the sofa was a pair of mismatched armchairs, both with frayed backs and arms. Claire was sitting in one of these now, legs crossed, absorbed in a study of her stocking. Parker went to the other and sat down, liking this situation less and less. Billy Lebatard seemed to be running this operation, and Billy Lebatard was an obvious amateur and fool. Sweet jobs were occasionally fingered by amateurs and fools, but the odds weren't good. Feeling more and more that he'd been dealt a hand he should fold, Parker sat down and waited for the fool to tell him what it was all about.
Billy stood in the middle of the room, turning this way and that, trying to smile at everybody at once. "For the benefit of the two new men," he said, in his child's voice, "I'll start at the beginning. My name is Billy Lebatard, and by profession I'm a numismatist. A coin dealer. And stamps, some stamps, but mostly coins."
Jack French abruptly said, "How come you're heeled?"
That was nicely done. Parker set himself to back French's play, if called upon.
But Billy just looked flustered for a few seconds, and then looked down at himself, at the bulge under his jacket on the left side, and laughed sheepishly and said, "That's just habit. I didn't even think about that." He looked at French, grinning like a kid who's finally got to play with the big boys, and he said, "I carry valuable coins with me a lot. Sometimes sixty or seventy thousand dollars in the back of the station wagon."
French said, "You got coins on you now?"
"I'll put it away if you want me to," Billy said. "But aren't you all—?" He gestured vaguely, and looked around at Parker, and then at Lempke.
It was Lempke who answered him. "None of us is carrying, Billy," he said. He spoke patiently, like a sad father explaining something obvious to the son who hasn't worked out. "When you're meeting friends," he said, "there's no need to be armed."
"I didn't real—I'll put it away right away. I'm sorry, I'm really sorry." He laughed again, nervous and sheepish, saying, "You know how it is, you get into the habit, you don't even know you're—" He trailed on out of the room, babbling, smiling at everybody, his white forehead gleaming in the light.
Excerpted from The Rare Coin Score by Richard Stark. Copyright © 1967 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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Posted October 11, 2013
Posted December 28, 2009
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