Slayground (Parker Series #14)by Richard Stark, Charles Ardai (Foreword by)
The hunter becomes prey, as a heist goes sour and Parker finds himself trapped in a shuttered amusement park, besieged by a bevy of local mobsters. There are no exits from Fun Island. Outnumbered and outgunned, Parker can't afford a single miscalculation. He’s low on bullets—but, as anyone who’s crossed his path knows, that definitely
The hunter becomes prey, as a heist goes sour and Parker finds himself trapped in a shuttered amusement park, besieged by a bevy of local mobsters. There are no exits from Fun Island. Outnumbered and outgunned, Parker can't afford a single miscalculation. He’s low on bullets—but, as anyone who’s crossed his path knows, that definitely doesn’t mean he’s defenseless.
“Nobody tops Stark in his objective portrayals of a world of total amorality.” —New York Times
“Energy and imagination light up virtually every page, as does some of the best hard-boiled prose ever to grace the noir genre.” —Publishers Weekly
Read an Excerpt
A Parker Novel
By Richard Stark
The University of Chicago PressCopyright © 1971 Richard Stark
All rights reserved.
Parker jumped out of the Ford with a gun in one hand and the packet of explosive in the other. Grofield was out and running too, and Laufman stayed hunched over the wheel, his foot tapping the accelerator.
The armored car lay on its side in a snowbank, its wheels turning like a dog chasing rabbits in its sleep. The mine had hit it just right, flipping it over without blowing it apart. There was a sharp metallic smell all around, and the echo of the explosion seemed to twang in the cold air, ricocheting from the telephone wires up above. Cold winter afternoon sunlight made all the shadows sharp and black.
Parker ran to the rear door of the armored car, slapped the packet of explosive against the metal near the lock so that the suction cups grabbed, then pulled the cord and stepped back out of sight. The armored car's right rear tire turned slowly beside his head.
This explosion was short and flat and unimpressive, with a little puff of gray smoke that lifted into the air. Parker stepped out again where he could see, and the door was hanging open. There was nothing but blackness inside.
Grofield had been up at the cab and now he hurried back to say, "He's on his phone in there and I can't get at him."
There were no sirens yet. They were in the middle of a large city, but it was the most isolated spot on this armored car's route, a straight and little-traveled road across mostly undeveloped flats from one built-up section to another. At this point the road was flanked by high wooden fences set back on both sides, the gray fence on the left being around the ball park and the green one on the right being around an amusement park. Both of them were closed at this time of year, and there were no private homes or open businesses within sight.
Parker rapped his gun against the metal of the armored car. "Come out easy," he called. "We don't want anybody dead, all we want is money." When there was no response, he called, "Make us do it the hard way, we'll drop a grenade in there with you."
A voice called from inside, "My partner's unconscious."
"Drag him out here."
There was a shuffling sound from inside, as though they'd uncovered a mouse nest. Parker waited impatiently, knowing either or both explosions might have been heard, knowing there'd be traffic along this road eventually, knowing the driver was up there on his radio-phone.
The blue-coated guard backed out, finally, bent over, pulling his partner by the armpits. The partner had a bloody nose.
As soon as they were out, Parker took the satchel from Grofield and went in. He knew which part of the load he wanted, and he moved fast and sure in the semi-darkness inside. Outside he could hear Grofield say, "Put some snow on the back of his neck. You want to make sure he doesn't strangle on his blood." His words were muffled by the mask he wore.
A siren, far away. Parker had the satchel full. Green bills littered the sideways interior of the armored car like confetti after a St. Patrick's Day parade, but Parker had most of the big bills. He zipped the satchel shut and climbed out into the sunlight again. The conscious guard was kneeling over his buddy in the snow like a battleground scene. Grofield was watching them, and looking up and down the road. The siren was still far away, it didn't seem to get any closer, but that didn't mean anything.
Parker nodded, and he and Grofield ran back to the Ford. They climbed in, Grofield in front next to Laufman, Parker in back with the satchel, and Laufman stood on the accelerator. Wheels spun on ice and the Ford slued its rear end leftward.
"Easy!" Parker shouted. "Take it easy, Laufman!" He knew Laufman was a second-rate driver, but he was the best they could find for this job and he did know this city.
Laufman finally eased off on the accelerator enough so the wheels could grab, and then they started moving, the Ford lunging down the road. It was like hurrying down the middle of a snowy football field with a high gray fence on the left sideline and a high green fence on the right and the goal posts way the hell around the curve of the earth somewhere.
Far away ahead of them they saw the dot of flashing red light. Laufman yelled, "I'll have to take the other route!"
"Do it, then!" Parker told him. "Don't talk about it."
They'd worked out three ways to leave here, depending on circumstances. The one behind them they'd ignored, the one ahead was no good any more. For the third one, they should take the right at the end of the green fence, go almost all the way around the amusement park, and wind up in a neighborhood of tenements and vacant lots where they had three potential places laid out to ditch the Ford.
They had plenty of time. The end of the fence was just ahead, and the flashing red light was still a mile or more away. But Laufman was still standing on the accelerator.
Grofield shouted, "Laufman, slow down! You won't make the turn!"
"I know how to drive!" Laufman screamed, and spun the wheel without any deceleration at all. The side road shot by on an angle, the car bucked, it dug its left shoulder into the pavement and rolled over four times and wound up on its right side against a chain-link fence by a snow-covered empty parking lot.
Parker was thrown around the back seat, but wasn't knocked out. When the Ford finally rocked to a stop he got himself turned around and looked past the top of the front seat, and Laufman and Grofield were all balled up together down against the right-hand door. Grofield's head had hit the windshield, he had a red sunburst on his temple now. Laufman had no visible mark on him. Both were breathing, but both were completely out.
Parker stood up and pushed up over his head to shove the door open. It kept wanting to slam again, but he finally got it all the way open to where it would catch. Then he shoved the satchel out and climbed out after it.
It was a mess. The siren was close now, and screaming closer. There was no other traffic, no car to commandeer. Parker stood in the snow beside the Ford, its wheels now turning the way the armored car's had done, and looked around, and the only thing he saw was the main entrance to the amusement park, on an angle across the way. High metal gates were shut across there, and ticket booths and drawings on walls could be vaguely seen beyond them. Above the gates tall free-standing letters said FUN ISLAND.
What about this side? The amusement park's parking lot, that was all, with the Ford now sprawled against its fence. Down a little ways, just about opposite the Fun Island entrance, was the parking-lot entrance, flanked by a one-story small clapboard building that probably didn't contain much more than the parking lot office and a couple of restrooms.
And the other side of the main road? Nothing but that blank gray fence, no way into the ball park along this road at all.
The only possibility was Fun Island. Parker grabbed up the satchel and ran through the ankle-deep snow and across the road and up to the gates. There were faint tire tracks in the snow, probably meaning a watchman who made occasional rounds, but there was no car here now, neither inside nor outside the gates. Parker looked back and saw he was leaving tracks of his own, but that couldn't be helped. The first thing to do was go to ground, get out of sight. Then he could see what possibilities were left.
The gates were eight feet high. He tossed the satchel over and climbed over after it, dropping on all fours on the cement inside. This area was roofed, and free of snow.
The siren screamed by, down at the corner. Going to the armored car first, and not to the wrecked Ford. That was good, it gave him another couple of minutes. He straightened, reached for the satchel, and happened to glance across the way.
There were two cars there, parked next to each other beside the small building at the parking-lot entrance. They were on the opposite side from where he'd been, and must have been there all along. One of the cars was a black Lincoln, as deeply polished and gleaming as a new shoe. The other one was a police prowl car.
Standing in front of the two cars were four men, two uniformed policemen and two bulky men in hats and dark overcoats. They were just standing there, looking over in this direction at Parker. One of the policemen had a long white envelope in his hand, as though he'd just gotten it and had forgotten he was holding it.
Parker was the first to break the tableau. He grabbed the satchel, turned, jumped over the turnstiles, and ran off into Fun Island.CHAPTER 2
Two weeks ago Parker had come out to look at the operation and see if it was feasible. The man who was selling it to him was named Dent, and a long time ago he'd been in this kind of work himself. But he was an old man now, with blue-white parchment skin, and long since inactive. Partly inactive; he and his wife traveled around the country in a blue Ford pulling a trailer, what was now called a mobile home, and they stopped here and there at trailer camps around the country, and Dent kept his eyes open. His body had aged but his mind was as good as ever, and from time to time he saw jobs that were there to be done, things he would have done himself in the old days. And now he called this man or that man, younger than himself, and told them the job, and if they liked it they paid him for it. A kind of finder's fee.
Dent had met Parker at the airport, with his blue Ford but without his wife or his trailer. "Good to see you," he said, in his uncertain old man's voice, and they shook hands, and Parker sat beside him in the Ford while Dent drove. Dent drove carefully, maybe a little too slowly, but mostly well.
And he felt like reminiscing. "What do you hear from Handy McKay?" he said.
"Still retired," Parker said. He wasn't good at small talk, but he'd learned over the years that most people needed it, to give them a feeling of assurance about who and where they were. Like a dog circling three times before lying down, people had to talk for a while before saying anything.
"You and Handy sure pulled a lot of jobs together," Dent said, and grinned out the windshield and shook his head.
"Yeah, I guess we did," Parker said.
"He's got a diner now someplace in Maine, don't he?"
"Maybe I'll get up there next summer, drop in. Think he'd like that?"
"Sure," Parker said.
"It's a pity about Joe Sheer," Dent said next, talking about somebody else who'd retired and was now dead.
"Yeah, it is," Parker said. Dent didn't know the half of it. Sheer had been the only man who could connect Parker with the name he was using in those days for his legal front, and the manner of Sheer's death, five years ago, had made it impossible for Parker to use that name any more or collect any of the money he had stashed here and there under that name in resort hotel safes. This was Parker's eighth job in the five years since that had happened, which was more often than he liked to work, but he was still trying to catch up with himself, still trying to rebuild his reserve funds.
Dent was still talking, still going on with his own thoughts. "It's a pity about a lot of people," he was saying, and his grin turned sour as he glanced at Parker. "Be a pity about me pretty soon."
"Why? You feel sick?"
"No, I feel okay. But I got me a haircut at the barber shop last week, and I looked in the mirror, and I saw the back of my head in the other mirror behind me, and the elevens are up. You know what that means, Parker."
"It means you're thin," Parker said.
"It means you're finished," Dent said. He sounded grim, but not as though he was complaining.
Parker said nothing, but glanced at the back of Dent's neck, and the two tendons were standing out there, just as Dent had said. The elevens are up. When the number eleven shows in the tendons on the back of a man's neck, he's finished, everybody knew that. Parker didn't waste time trying to lie to the old man.
Dent got quiet after that, and didn't have anything else to say until they turned down the road that ran between the ball park and the amusement park, and then he said, "How do you like this for isolated, Parker? Broad daylight, and nobody here."
"What's this road used for?"
"In the summertime—I've been here in the summertime, and in the summertime you can't move on this road. Not with the ball park, not with Fun Island. But why come out here in the winter? No reason. Except at rush hour. Four o'clock till maybe six, it's a steady stream of them headin the same way we are now. In the morning comin the other way, naturally. But all day long, nothin at all. No reason for it."
"Here comes something," Parker said.
"It's what I wanted you to see," Dent said, and grinned at him.
It came closer, black-looking against the piles of snow mounded on both sides of the road, and Parker saw it was an armored car. It went by, and Parker twisted around in the seat to look out the back window and watch it drive on. He said, still looking back, "Where's it going?"
"Back to the main branch of the bank," Dent said. "It goes out to the suburbs, all the different little branches, and picks up money at every branch. And the last one is out this way, so it finishes by comin down this road."
"That's the job?"
"You'll never find a better."
"Show me some more," Parker said.
So Dent drove Parker around town, and they talked over different escape routes, and different ways to open the armored car, not because Parker felt he needed any help but because this was the way Dent helped himself stay alive, by keeping an interest in things. Then they had lunch together in a place downtown, and Parker said, "You still be around here in a couple weeks?"
"Oh, about a month, I figure. We usually get where it's warm, this time of year, but this year we don't either of us feel like doin all that drivin. About a month, though."
"That's enough time," Parker said.
"If you don't want it," Dent told him, "drop me a note at Winding Trail Court here in the city."
After lunch Dent drove Parker back out to the airport, and Parker took a flight to Newark, and drove out to Claire's house. The lake was frozen, and people were going by out there on yellow ski-mobiles. Claire was watering plants on the window sills that faced south. She turned and said, "Did it turn out to be any good?"
"I think so."
"Tell me about it."
This was a big change for her. When they'd met, three and a half years ago, the circumstances had gotten bloody and dangerous, and for three years she hadn't wanted to know anything about anything. But lately a thaw had taken place, and it was interesting in a different way to have somebody to talk things over with. Somebody not a part of the job. He'd been married once—she'd died nine years ago—but Lynn had always been active in the jobs, she'd worked with him. That sort of thing wasn't for Claire, and Parker preferred it that way. He liked knowing this house was here, in an isolated corner of New Jersey, with Claire in it waiting for him. A completely different life, with no threads attaching it to the life he lived on the outside. It was a different kind of thing having that, and he enjoyed it.
In traveling around the city with Dent it had seemed to him to be a simple job Dent had come up with, and talking it over later with Claire he got it more completely into focus, and he saw that it could be done, quickly and neatly, with three men.
He had no trouble getting the second man; Alan Grofield, an actor who supplemented his stage income this way, and who Parker had worked with four times in the past. The third man, though, was a problem, and he knew he was settling for second best when he took on Laufman, but it was either Laufman or let the job go. There'd been times in his life when he would have let the job go, but that was before the trouble that had stripped him of the name Charles Willis and all the money stashed around the country in the Charles Willis name.
It took two weeks to get organized, to get the equipment they needed, to have the right moment of the right kind of day. They arrived in town separately the day before, stayed in separate hotels, and Parker went out to Winding Trail Court that evening to see Dent and his wife, a short thin woman who had aged into a clean white doll caricature of her younger self. Parker gave Dent an envelope with a thousand dollars in it, and Dent said, "Good luck to you."
Excerpted from Slayground by Richard Stark. Copyright © 1971 Richard Stark. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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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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Trapped in an amusement park closed for the winter, Parker manages to outwit two sets of enemies. This is a tour de force because it's a rare case of Parker working, not with a team, but entirely on his own. This may not be the best Parker novel to start with, but if you like Richard stark, you'll love this.