A Parker Novel
By Richard Stark
The University of Chicago Press Copyright © 1964 Richard Stark
All rights reserved.
When the bellboy left, Parker went over to the house phone and made his call. He gave the operator downstairs the number he wanted, and waited while the phone clicked and ticked and snicked in his ear. He was feeling impatient, and he was about to go downstairs and put in the call from a pay phone when all the clicking finally quit and a ringing sound started instead.
Parker counted the rings, just as Paulus was doing at the other end, and while he waited and counted he looked around at the room. It was just a hotel room, the same as any. Because it was in Jersey City, it might be a little grimier than most, that's all.
On the eighth ring, the nosy operator came on, saying, "Your party doesn't seem to be answering, sir."
"He moves slow," Parker told her. "Let it ring."
He tensed and relaxed his shoulder muscles, hunching and relaxing, hunching and relaxing. He'd flown up, and being in a plane always made his shoulders stiff. Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. Sixteen. Where the hell was he?
The ringing stopped, just before seventeen, and a voice said, "Hello?" The voice sounded wary. Paulus had always been a damn fool.
"Hello," said Parker. "I'm here."
"Oh. You made good time."
There was nothing to say to that. Parker waited.
Paulus cleared his throat, and said, "Come on over."
"Sure. We're all here. You got the address?"
If he said no, Paulus would sure as hell give it to him over the phone. Wary one second, big-mouthed the next. He said, "I've got it."
"I'll want to change first. I just got in."
Parker hung up, shook his head, and lit a cigarette. Paulus would die in jail; it had to happen. He was a good organizer, a good tactician, but he moved through the world like a movie spy, screaming for some cop to look at him twice.
Parker unpacked his suitcase, stripped, took a shower, put on fresh clothes, and left the hotel. Downstairs, he bought a city map at the tobacco counter and sat in one of the leatherette chairs to find his route. Cabdrivers keep a log, so he didn't want to take a cab.
He found Fourth Street, found the block the address should be on, and traced it out from where he was. It was maybe twelve blocks at the most, so he could walk it. If it had been farther away, he would have walked a couple of blocks and then taken a cab to within a few blocks of the address. This way was even better.
He tucked the map in his inside jacket pocket, left the lobby, and started walking. He walked four blocks. Halfway down the fifth block he realized he'd made a wrong turn. He turned around and started back. A guy who'd just come around the corner looked startled, hesitated, made his face blank, and came on. They passed each other, the guy looking straight ahead. Parker had seen that face before, in the hotel lobby.
Fine. Well, it was nice to know before getting into the operation too deep. Paulus had been overdue for years, and this was the time.
Except the guy hadn't looked like law. He was undersized. Most police departments have a height requirement, to boost their self-confidence. And he'd been dressed like a bum, in work pants and brown leather jacket, and wore on his face the gray, pinched look of the loser. He didn't look like law at all.
Parker hesitated at the corner, not looking back. The simplest thing would be to go to the hotel, pack, check out, go to Newark Airport, call Paulus from a pay phone there to warn him, and take the next plane to Miami. If the guy had looked even a little bit like law, that's what Parker would have done. But this way, it was a problem. Before he could know what to do, he'd have to find out what the guy was.
He turned right and started walking again. He'd heard the sound of a train whistle a while ago, one of those diesel blasts, from over in this direction.
The neighborhood went from rundown to nonexistent. Warehouses of brick, boarded-up storefronts, empty lots with paths angled across them. A diner, closed for the night though it was only a little after ten.
Turning corners, Parker had a chance to glance back without being obvious about it. The guy was keeping not quite a block away, walking with his hands in his pockets, trying to look like somebody strolling along with no place in particular to go.
Ahead, a car was coming this way, slowly, the first one in five minutes. It slowed when it reached Parker, and Parker frowned at it, trying to figure. None of this made any sense. He took a quick look back. The guy was still maintaining his block distance, so he and the car had no connection.
Then Parker saw the occupants of the car and relaxed. A guy in his twenties driving, girl of the same age beside him, two little girls standing up on the backseat, looking out the rear window. The car stopped, and the driver stuck his head out the window to say, "Excuse me. Can you tell me how to get to the Holland Tunnel?"
Parker shook his head. "Sorry. I'm a stranger here myself."
"Well, can you tell me how to get the hell out of here?" He waved his arms to include the whole neighborhood and looked a little desperate.
Parker thought of the city map in his pocket, but he'd need that later, and he didn't want to waste a lot of time with these people. He pointed the way he'd come, saying, "I think if you go that way you'll come to someplace where there's people."
"Thanks. Thanks a lot."
The car pulled away, and Parker started walking again, first checking the guy, who had slowed down but was still less than half a block back by now. Parker walked at the same speed as before, and the guy gradually fell back to his normal distance.
There wouldn't be a better neighborhood. One car in five minutes, and that guy here only because he was lost. A diner that's closed by ten o'clock at night. No residences of any kind, no twenty-four-hour plants.
In the next block, there were two long warehouses with a loading space between them in near-darkness. Parker passed it without looking in, went down to the corner, turned right, waited a second, and came right back around again.
This time the guy covered it better. He slowed a bit, but that was all.
Parker walked faster than before, timing it. It would work out fine. They'd pass each other right opposite the loading area.
As they passed, Parker on the outside, Parker turned on his left foot and drove a right hand across the side of the guy's jaw. It turned him, threw him off balance, and sent him flailing forward into the loading area to wind up in the shadows there on his hands and knees.
Parker went in after him, to ask him questions and be sure he was getting the right answers. It shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes.
But it wouldn't work that way. There was a clicking sound, and the guy came up with a knife. He didn't waste any time, just lunged.
Parker had no weapons on him but his hands. They were big hands, to go with the rest of him. He moved to the left to limit the guy's knife-arc, pretended a left-hand grab for the knife, and stepped in fast, bringing the edge of his hand in under the guy's jaw.
There wouldn't be any more air going through that throat. The knife fell, and then the guy fell.
Parker had moved as a result of training. Counterattack should be at least as strong as attack. If someone wants to hit you, you hit him. If someone wants to rough you up, you rough him up. If someone wants to kill you, you kill him.
But now, belatedly, he wished he'd pulled that swipe a little. He couldn't get any answers now. The clown shouldn't have reached for a knife.
Parker went through his pockets. Cigarettes, matches, comb, small package of Kleenex, inhaler, unopened box of contraceptives, key chain with three keys on it including one to a General Motors car, nail clipper, wallet. The wallet contained seven dollars in bills, two photos of girls, an unemployment insurance check, and a driver's license. The check and license were both made out to Edward Owen, and the driver's license gave Owen an address in Jersey City.
He hadn't been law, but Parker already knew that. What he'd been, he still didn't know. He put the wallet in his own pocket; maybe Paulus would know. Then he left and walked down to the next intersection and looked at the street signs. There was a streetlight there; under it Parker opened his city map and found out where he was and how to get where he was going.
It was six blocks before he saw anybody at all.
Paulus opened the door, looking wary, and then smiled a greeting when he saw it was Parker. "Come on in," he said, holding the door wide. "We been waiting for you." He was short, slender, balding, forty. He was wearing a thin brown suit and a thin brown tie, and he looked like a timid accountant.
Parker stepped into the apartment, took the door away from Paulus and shut it. "The deal's off," he said.
They were standing in a little empty foyer with a spaceship light fixture up above and an Oriental rug below. Paulus blinked rapidly and said, "What? What? What do you mean?"
"Somebody was following me."
Paulus switched to relief again, the way he'd done when he'd seen it was Parker at the door. "Oh," he said, throwing it away. "That doesn't mean anything."
"It doesn't mean anything?"
"I know all about it, Parker." Paulus patted at his arm, trying to get him moving. "Come on in, we're all here, Edgars will explain it to you."
Parker didn't move. "You explain, Paulus," he said.
Paulus looked troubled, unhappy. "I think it would be better if Edgars told you the situ—"
"I think it would be better if you did," Parker told him. "He's dead."
Paulus now was just blank. "What? Who?"
"Edward Owen. The guy who was tailing me."
"You killed him? For Christ's sake, why?" Paulus' tone was intense, but his volume had dropped, as though he didn't want any chance of somebody else in the apartment hearing him.
Parker answered him at normal volume. "He was tailing me. I stopped him to find out why, and he pulled a knife."
Paulus shook his head. "I don't know, Parker," he said. "That's a hell of a thing. I don't know what to tell you."
"Tell me how come you knew I was going to be tailed. Tell me why I was being tailed. And tell me whose idea it was to tail me."
"It was Edgars'," Paulus said, still very soft-voiced. "Owen was his man."
Parker glanced at the entranceway that led deeper into the apartment. "Who the hell is Edgars anyway? I don't remember the name."
"You don't know him, he's never worked an operation like this before."
"Then what's he doing here?"
"He set this one up."
"Oh Christ." Parker shook his head. "The deal's no good," he said. "I can see that already. See you around, Paulus." He reached for the doorknob.
"Wait a second, wait a second." Paulus was getting agitated, but his voice wasn't rising. "Let me explain, will you?"
"You don't have to. This moron Edgars is an amateur, but he's the one setting this job up. He doesn't know me, so he doesn't trust me, so he puts a tail on me to see if I come straight here or do I go see somebody else first because maybe I'm planning a cross."
"You can't blame him, Parker, he—"
"I don't blame him. I don't work with him, either."
A heavy type in a brown suit with a beer can in his hand came through the entranceway, scowling. "What's the holdup here?" He looked at Paulus, and then at Parker. He had heavy black brows, and they were down in a V now to show he was irritated.
Paulus was now really fidgeting. "Edgars," he said, "this is Parker. There's been a—something's come up—there was a misunderstanding."
"What kind of a misunderstanding?" He was trying to act dangerous, but instead he was acting like a ward politician.
Parker waited to see how Paulus would handle it, but Paulus couldn't handle it at all. All he could do was fidget and look around and clear his throat. So Parker said, "You put a man to tail me."
Edgars shrugged. "So what? I want to know who I do business with, that's all."
"He pulled a knife when I called him."
Edgars scowled. "He did? That was stupid; I don't condone that. I'll have a talk with him."
"Not right away you won't."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Tell him, Paulus."
Edgars turned his head and scowled at Paulus, waiting. Paulus fidgeted and cleared his throat, and finally he said, "He's dead, that's what he means."
"Dead! You killed him?"
Parker shrugged, and it was Paulus who answered: "He didn't have any choice, Edgars. Your man pulled a knife on him. He didn't know the situation."
"I don't like that," said Edgars. "I don't like that at all."
Parker took the dead man's wallet out and held it out to Edgars. "I took this off him."
Edgars took the wallet and frowned at it. "I don't understand this," he said.
Parker nodded. "I know. See you, Paulus." He reached for the doorknob again.
Edgars said, "Hold on there. Where the hell are you going?"
"I'm out," Parker told him. He pulled the door open.
"Wait." Edgars waved his hands a little. "Will you wait a goddam minute?"
Edgars grimaced, looked again at the wallet he was holding and then at Paulus. Paulus just looked uncomfortable. Edgars said, "Paulus, tell the others we'll be in in a minute."
"Sure thing." Paulus went, happy to be off the hook.
Parker was still standing in the doorway, half in and half out. Edgars said to him, "Wait one minute while we talk, all right?"
Parker shrugged. He'd come this far, he could stick around a little longer. He came back in and shut the door.
Edgars looked around the empty foyer and said, "I wish there was some place we could sit down."
"It doesn't matter."
"All right, I guess not." Edgars looked at the wallet again with distaste and stuck it into a side pocket of his suit coat. Then he gnawed his lower lip and glanced at the entranceway leading into the apartment. Looking off that way, he said, "Maybe Paulus told you, this is the first time I've been involved in something like this."
"He told me. He didn't have to, but he did."
Edgars managed a sour grin and looked out at Parker from under his eyebrows. "Sticks out all over, huh?"
"You and Paulus and the others," Edgars said, "you all know each other, know what to expect from each other. I don't know any of you at all. When I'm around you, my back itches."
Parker nodded. "Sure."
"You boys aren't exactly saints."
"So why get involved?"
"A quarter of a million dollars, for one thing. And personal reasons."
"Paulus is in with you," Parker told him. "And the others. You don't need me."
"They tell me you're the best. They tell me you can keep an operation together better than anybody, and you can get the best men to work with you."
"So why should I work with you?"
Edgars nodded. "That's a fair question," he said. He reached inside his coat and took out a cigar in an aluminum tube. While he opened it, he said, "I've made mistakes already, I can see that. Putting Owen on you. Maybe getting Paulus. I don't know what else." He motioned with his head, saying, "There's three men in there knew I was putting Owen on you, knew I'd put Owen on each of them when they showed up. They didn't act happy about it, but they didn't stop me. I need somebody to stop me making mistakes."
Parker shook his head. "That's not my kind of work."
"Wait a minute, now, don't get me wrong. I don't want to run this deal, for Christ's sake."
"You give a good imitation."
"I've been setting it up, that's all. I've been trying to get a group of professionals together to work with me on this, without getting a fast shuffle for me out of it."
"Sure," said Parker. "You had a problem, I see that."
"So what else could I do?"
"Stay all the way out, or come all the way in. Half and half doesn't do it."
"How can I come all the way in until I know what I'm getting myself into?"
"Then stay out."
Edgars shook his head stubbornly. "There's too much at stake."
"Not my problem."
Edgars gnawed his lip. He had the cigar unwrapped now but hadn't lit it. He rolled it back and forth between his fingers. After a minute, he shrugged heavy shoulders and said, "All right. All the way in. I'll give you the setup and then I'll do whatever you say."
Parker considered. "Paulus is in there," he said, "and Wycza. Who's the third?" (Continues...)
Excerpted from The Score by Richard Stark. Copyright © 1964 Richard Stark. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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