Read an Excerpt
A Parker Novel
By Richard Stark
The University of Chicago Press Copyright © 1966 Richard Stark
All rights reserved.
When he didn't get any answer the second time he knocked, Parker kicked the door in. Only the cheap bolt lock was fastened; the chain lock and the police lock were both open. Parker raised his foot and kicked the flat of his shoe against the door above the knob just one time, and the door popped open like it was surprised. It went with a dry cracking sound as pieces of doorframe ripped away from around the bolt. It was dry old wood in a rotten old building and it split easy.
The door swung all the way open, the inner knob bumping finally against the side wall, but Parker didn't go in right away. He stood in the hall, under the twenty-five-watt bulb stuck in the ceiling, and waited and listened.
The door stood open on a long narrow hall. All the rooms of the apartment opened off that hall, to the right. The kitchen was first, with light spilling out the doorway. Next was the bathroom, in darkness, that part of the hall dark also. Next the bedroom, soft light spreading out to the hallway from there. Last was the living-room, into which the hallway emptied. From out here on the other side of the apartment doorway Parker could look down the hall like looking down a long rectangular funnel and see an edge of the living-room at the far end, a dark brown mohair overstuffed armchair and a rickety dark wood table with a black telephone on it and the beginning of an imitation Persian rug. Also a floor lamp, standing beyond the armchair, lit now and making a soft glow out around its cream shade. There was another light source too, deeper in the living room, out of sight.
Everything the way he'd left it. Light on in the kitchen, off in the bathroom, on in the bedroom and living-room. Bolt lock fastened on the front door, chain lock and police lock both unfastened. Everything the way he'd left it.
Except he'd knocked twice just now and Ellie hadn't come to open the door.
He'd gone downstairs ten minutes ago, to buy beer and cigarettes. The place on the corner was closed and he'd walked a block farther to the next place, and now he was back.
Ordinarily he'd have sent Ellie, but he hadn't been out of the apartment in three days and he felt like having some fresh air. So he dressed, while she sat on the rumpled bed nude, cross-legged tailor fashion, smoking a filter cigarette and scratching herself. She kept yawning, but the yawns that come after sleep, not before. "I'll make us some eggs," she offered, and he said: "Fine," and then he left.
And now, in ten minutes, something had managed to go wrong.
She wouldn't have gone out. And she wouldn't have gone back to sleep. She should have heard him knock, and even if she hadn't she sure as hell should have heard him kick the door in.
There was nothing in the apartment but silence.
Parker felt naked standing out here under this twenty-five watt bulb, wearing nothing but clothes. He had no weapon—nothing but a bag with beer bottles and cigarette packages in it.
He put the paper bag down on the floor and reached just inside the doorway and around the other side of the split doorframe to where he'd leaned the bar of the police lock when he'd gone out. His fingers closed on it, and it was cold. He picked it up and stood hefting it. It was good iron, solid, three feet long. When it was in operation, one end was stuck at a slant into the metal plate in the floor behind the door, the other end in the locking mechanism on the door itself. With this bar wedged between door and floor, nobody would kick the door in; police lock was a good name for it.
It would make a good weapon. Better than bare hands.
Parker stepped across the threshold and shut the door behind him. It wouldn't shut all the way anymore. The hall was bright near to him, where light spilled out from the kitchen, and then dim farther on and softly glowing down at the living-room end.
Parker moved noiselessly forward and looked into the kitchen. It was three inches bigger than a closet and filled with appliances. A white circular fluorescent light fixture meant for a room of normal size glared in the middle of the ceiling, reflecting balefully from all the porcelain and white enamel crowded into the little room. Dirty glasses, dirty pots, dirty dishes, were scattered all over every flat surface. Grocery bags full of rubbish were crammed together on the floor.
No eggs had been started. Ellie wasn't in this room now, and it didn't look as though she'd been here at all.
Parker moved on and switched on the bathroom light, and this room, too, was empty. He left the light on and went past there and when he got even with the bedroom doorway he looked in and she was sitting there on the bed.
At first he didn't see the hilt, and he thought she'd just fallen asleep again.
She was sitting there just the same as when he'd left, legs crossed tailor fashion, back against the headboard of the bed, arms at her sides. A faint wisp of smoke was coming up from the area of her left hand, so she was still smoking the cigarette. Or had started a new one by now.
The only difference he saw at first was she wasn't looking up. Her head was slumped forward as though she'd fallen asleep again. Except the position looked awkward; it looked as though if she were asleep she'd fall over frontward. He looked at her from the hallway, frowning, the picture looking wrong, not understanding why yet, and then he saw the hilt jutting out from between her breasts.
Somebody had taken one of the crossed swords from the wall and jammed it through her chest and through the padded headboard of the bed and into the plasterboard of the wall. She was stuck there like a scarecrow put away for the winter.
The guy who did it had a hell of an arm. Either that, or he'd brought a sledge along to hammer it the rest of the way after the first thrust.
Parker moved deeper into the room, looking around, but there was nobody here now. The guy had been and gone.
There was practically no blood visible at all. It must have mostly gone out the back and soaked into the headboard padding.
So what now? He was supposed to stay here two more days. If he left, the others wouldn't know where to get in touch with him, and he didn't know where to get in touch with them, not easily. But he couldn't stick around with that thing on the bed.
Ten minutes. That was awfully damn fast. The guy must have been watching the place, waiting for Parker to get out of the way. As soon as Parker left, in he came, and right back out again.
Parker wondered what Ellie had done to somebody to make him that irritated with her. He'd only known her two weeks himself, and neither of them had spent much time on autobiography. This was her apartment, and he'd guessed that she'd inherited it from a man, that she'd originally lived here with somebody. The crossed swords on the wall, the beer mugs on the mantel in the living room, the round table in a corner of the living room that must have been used at one time for poker sessions, all told of a male presence here. Probably either a college boy or somebody who wished he still was a college boy.
Maybe it was the college boy who'd done it. A football hero, maybe, offensive lineman, with the meaty shoulders and blunt strength needed to wield that damn sword that way.
But it didn't matter. Parker didn't give a damn who'd killed her, or why. It aggravated him because his plans were loused up now. He had no choice; he had to get out of here.
He turned and saw Mutt and Jeff standing in the doorway, wearing rumpled police uniforms. Mutt looked surprised, as though somebody had played a dirty trick on him, and Jeff looked frightened. They were both reaching for their pistols with a clumsy haste that would have made their old instructor at the Police Academy break down and cry.
The public cries for a bigger police force and after a while any damn fool can join up if he's only tall enough.
Parker said, "That was fast. I just called a minute ago."
Mutt stopped where he was, but Jeff kept on tugging and actually got his revolver out in his hand. He pointed it about two feet to Parker's left and said, "Don't move."
Mutt told him, "Hold on a minute." To Parker he said, "You're the one phoned in?"
"Sure." Parker put an agreeable smile on his face, but he didn't feel agreeable. So the guy had come in here, killed her, waited till Parker had gone back in, and then called the cops, figuring Parker was his patsy.
He could figure again. Parker said, "I'm the one called."
"How come you wouldn't give your name?" Mutt was frowning all around his nose.
Parker shrugged. "Why waste the time? I was going to stick around here anyway."
Jeff spoke again. "It don't smell right," he told his partner.
Mutt said, "We'll see." He dragged a flat black note-book out of his pocket and flipped it open like he planned to give Parker a ticket. The notebook came with its own pencil, stuck in a little loop at the side. Mutt slid the pencil out, poised it, looked at his watch, wrote down the time, and said to Parker, "Tell me about it."
"I went out to get beer and cigarettes. I left it out in the hall there; you probably saw the bag."
Mutt nodded, but Jeff made an obvious effort to show a poker face. He wasn't giving anything away, Jeff wasn't.
Parker said, "When I came back I knocked on the door, and when I didn't get any answer I knew something was wrong."
Jeff, the sharpie, said, "How?"
Parker looked at him. "Because she was in here and all right when I left, and I was gone ten minutes, and there wasn't any reason for her not to be in here and all right when I got back. If she didn't hear me knock on the door, that meant there was something wrong."
Jeff waggled the gun in a gesture that was supposed to be airy. "Go on," he said.
Parker said, "I knocked twice, and then I kicked the door in. I came in here and saw her like that and phoned for you guys. Then I waited."
Mutt looked at his partner. "It sounds okay," he said.
Jeff wasn't so sure anymore. He said to Parker, "You search the place?" "Not the living room. I only got as far as here."
"Watch him," Jeff told his partner, and took his gun away to go search the living room.
While Jeff was gone, Mutt apologized for him, saying to Parker, "Don't mind him. He's new on the force."
Parker was distracted, trying to figure a graceful way out of here. He could only sweet-talk these cops for so long, and then it didn't matter if they were stupid or not. Anybody in the vicinity of a crime, innocent or guilty, is going to be asked questions, routine questions about name and residence and occupation and what are you doing here now, and there wasn't a question those cops could ask that Parker would be able to answer.
He had to ditch them. He had to get his goods and clear out of here.
Jeff came back and shook his head at his partner. He actually thought he was Humphrey Bogart.
Mutt said, "We better phone in."
Jeff said, "What about the closet?"
"I looked in there," Parker told him. "It's empty."
"You never can tell," Jeff said. "Sometimes a man can hide in among the clothing; you won't even see him there."
Parker shook his head. "There's nobody in there."
"I'll take a look."
Parker watched him, cursing him. He'd open the door to the closet, and he'd see the guns and the suitcases full of money, and that would be the end of it. Parker backed up to the dresser.
Jeff opened the door and looked in and said, "What the hell is this? Machine guns!"
Parker picked the wooden jewelry box off the dresser and threw it at the back of Jeffs head. Before it landed, Parker had taken a quick step and drop-kicked Mutt into the wall. Mutt bounced back, holding his stomach, and Parker clubbed him across the jaw with a hard right and turned to see how Jeff was doing.
Jeff was being comical, without trying. The jewelry box had hit him in the back of the head and driven him into the closet, where his head and arms had got mixed up with the clothing hanging there and his feet had got tangled up with shoes and guns. He was backing out of it all now, shouting something that was muffled by the clothing all around his head. He'd dropped his own gun when he'd been hit, and it was down on the floor now with the others.
Parker went over there fast, pulled him the rest of the way out of the closet, turned him around, and hit him twice. Jeff fell back into the closet and crumpled.
Everything was a mess. Parker grabbed Jeff's feet and dragged him out of the closet so he could get at his goods. The two machine guns and four pistols were all rattling around together on the closet floor.
Parker cleared everything out of the way, and looked around inside the closet, and the suitcases full of money weren't there any more.
All right. So it wasn't somebody after Ellie, it was somebody after the money, and killing Ellie was just incidental. It was a double-cross from somebody else in on the heist, it had to be; nobody else could have known about the money. One of the others wanted the whole pie for himself, and figured to put Parker in a sling at the same time.
Not hardly. Parker filled his pockets with pistols, and left the apartment.CHAPTER 2
Parker walked across the blacktop past the gas pumps on their little concrete island. The pumps were bathed in light, spilling on Parker as he went by with his arms swinging from his shoulders like lethal weights. He was big and shaggy in the white light, with flat square shoulders and long muscle-roped arms. His hands looked like they'd been molded of brown clay by a sculptor who thought big and liked veins. He wore no hat; his dry brown hair fluttered on his skull, blown about by a cold November wind. He wore a dark gray suit and a black topcoat. His hands held pistols in the topcoat pockets.
The gas-station office was lit up just as much as the pumps. Inside, a chubby guy in a blue jumper was asleep at a metal desk. Parker walked on by the office and down into the darker area, down to the long shedlike building that took up the rest of the block. The entrance was a small door inset in a large corrugated sliding garage door; Parker pushed it open and stepped over the strip across the bottom.
It was past midnight by now, so the interior was more than half full of cabs gleaming yellow and red under the bare bulbs spaced along the ceilings. In the daytime this place would be as empty as an airplane hangar.
Over to the right a wooden shed with glass windows all around had been built into a corner. A guy in a mackinaw lay stretched out asleep on a bench outside this shed, and inside, through the windows, Parker could see two guys working at desks. They wore white shirts, but they'd loosened their ties and unbuttoned their shirt collars.
Parker walked across the concrete floor and pushed the shed door open and went in. One of the white-collar workers looked up and said, "Not here, buddy. You want to go outside and around to the front. The gas-station office is over there."
Parker kept his hands out of his topcoat pockets. He said, "I don't want the gas-station office."
The worker shook his head. "You don't want us either, pal. You got a problem, talk to the day workers."
"I'm looking for one of your drivers."
The other worker looked up, interested. The first one said, "Which one?"
The worker frowned, and looked at his partner. "Kifka? You know any Kifka?"
The other one nodded. "Yeah. He works part-time, night-shift. He ain't been around for a month or more."
Parker said, "He's supposed to be working tonight."
The second worker shrugged and said, "I'll check it for you, but I'm pretty sure he ain't around." He got to his feet and went over to a table with small filing cabinets on it.
Parker waited, frowning. Kifka should be working tonight. And he should have been working last night and the night before. That was the cover, that kept him clean so he could stay out in the open.
If he wasn't working tonight, maybe it was because he was busy someplace else. Busy with swords, maybe.
The worker shut the file drawer and shook his head. "No, he ain't on tonight. It's been a month since he's been around here. Over a month."
"That's bad news," Parker said. He turned and went out.
There were no cabs running in this part of town—no reason for them. All the cabs here were parked inside garages. Parker started walking toward downtown.
Excerpted from The Seventh by Richard Stark. Copyright © 1966 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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