The Sour Lemon Score (Parker Series #12)by Richard Stark, Dennis Lehane (Foreword by)
Bank robberies should run like clockwork, right? If your name’s Parker, you expect nothing less. Until, that is, one of your partners gets too greedy for his own good. The four-way split following a job leaves too small a take for George Uhl, who begins to pick off his fellow hoisters, one by one. The first mistake? That he doesn’t begin things by
Bank robberies should run like clockwork, right? If your name’s Parker, you expect nothing less. Until, that is, one of your partners gets too greedy for his own good. The four-way split following a job leaves too small a take for George Uhl, who begins to pick off his fellow hoisters, one by one. The first mistake? That he doesn’t begin things by putting a bullet in Parker. That means he won’t get the chance to make a second. One of the darkest novels in the series, this caper proves the adage that no one crosses Parker and lives
“Whatever Stark writes, I read. He’s a stylist, a pro, and I thoroughly enjoy his attitude.”—Elmore Leonard
“The non-hero: the ruthless, unrepentant, single-minded operator in a humorless and amoral world. . . . No one depicts this scene with greater clarity than Richard Stark.”—The New York Times
Read an Excerpt
The Sour Lemon Score
A Parker Novel
By Richard Stark
The University of Chicago PressCopyright © 1969 Donald Westlake
All rights reserved.
Parker put the revolver away and looked out the windshield. The bank was half a block away along the sunny street. Andrews hadn't come out yet.
Next to Parker the driver, a man named George Uhl, rubbed his palms on the steering wheel and said, "What's taking him so long? Where is he?" It was a cool day, the temperature around seventy, but there was sweat on his forehead.
From the back seat Benny Weiss leaned forward and put a hand on Uhl's shoulder, saying, "Take it easy, George. Phil knows what he's doing; he's a good man. He's got to be sure nobody sees him do it, that's all."
Uhl nodded rapidly. "I'm just worried about the armored car," he said. "It'll be here and gone—"
"No, it won't, George. We've got a good five minutes. Relax, boy. Phil's a good man."
Parker listened to them, gauging them from the conversation. If Uhl was going to fall apart the whole operation was out the window. When Andrews came out of the bank they'd just turn around and drive away.
George Uhl was the only one Parker had never worked with before. A fairly young man of about thirty, tall and very thin and with receding black hair, he was Weiss's man, brought in and guaranteed by Benny, and that was why he worked so hard now to soothe Uhl and keep him calm.
Benny Weiss himself was always calm. A short man, stocky, his clothing generally as rumpled as if he'd just taken a cross-country bus trip, he'd been in this line of work thirty years now and was as excitable as a tailor facing a ripped seam. Parker had worked with him a few times over the years, and Weiss had always been solid, dependable and sure.
Still, Uhl was going to have to support his own weight. He was the driver and he had to be reliable. It had happened more than once in the world that a driver had gotten spooked and taken off in the middle of a job, leaving the rest of the string to dangle on a sidewalk someplace, loot in their hands and nowhere to go. So Parker listened to the other two talk, and considered scratching this entry right now.
Benny Weiss said, "Here he comes, George." He patted Uhl's shoulder. "See? Everything's okay."
"I see him," Uhl said. He sounded sullen, as though mad at himself for having gotten edgy. "I'm okay, Benny," he said.
"Sure you are," Weiss said.
Parker looked out through the windshield at Phil Andrews walking down the sidewalk toward the car. With the red wig and the sunglasses on, he was hard to recognize even when you knew it was him. Parker had watched him make himself up at the farm before they left, and it had been a good job, a subtle changing of the planes and textures of his face, using theatrical makeup in addition to the wig. When he'd finished he'd turned to Parker, grinning slightly, and said, "Meet my friend the bank robber." Because it was the face he put on before every job.
Phil Andrews was younger than Benny Weiss but had been a pro fifteen years at least, and the strange thing about him was that he'd never taken a fall. He'd never even been picked up on suspicion. The pro who never fell at all was the rarest of rare birds, and the reactions of other pros to Phil's streak took two extremes. There were those who wanted him in on every job they did, considering him good luck and a guarantee of safety for everybody else involved, which he wasn't; and there were those who refused to work with him on the grounds that he was overdue for a fall, the law of averages was going to have to catch up with him someday. As for himself, Parker didn't believe in luck, good or bad. He believed in nothing but men who knew their job and did it, and Phil Andrews was one of those.
He got into the car now, sliding into the back seat beside Benny Weiss, saying, "All set." He was the only one in any kind of disguise. The others all had prints and pictures on file and warrants out against them under one name or another. Being connected to one job more or less wouldn't make that much difference if they ever did get picked up.
Parker turned sideways in the seat, facing Uhl, so he could see everybody. "The question is," he said, "is George going to spook?"
Uhl looked at him in astonishment. "Me? Why?"
Weiss said,"Parker, of course not. George is okay."
Andrews said "What's wrong?"
Parker told him, "George was being nervous."
Uhl said, "You aren't nervous?"
"My face is dry," Parker said.
Uhl's hand went to his wet forehead. "I sweat a lot," he said. "It don't mean anything."
Weiss said, "Parker, a case of the jitters ahead of time, that's only natural. I get butterflies myself."
"I don't want to come out of that bank," Parker said, "and find no car."
Uhl said angrily, "What are you talking about? You think I'm an amateur, for the love of God? I've driven half a dozen times. I drove for Matt Rosenstein—you think he'd take a chance on somebody? You come out of that bank, I'll be right out front. Right in front of the armoured car, where we said."
Parker turned and looked at Andrews. Phil was studying Uhl's face. He met Parker's eye and shrugged. "It's just stage fright," he said. "I think he's probably okay."
Uhl gave him a belligerent grin. "I wouldn't want to bust your string," he said.
Andrews looked at him without humour. "That's right," he said. "You wouldn't."
Parker said, "Here it comes."
They looked out of the window and saw the dark blue armored car roll by. It pulled into the "No Parking" space in front of the bank, and two men got out of the cab.
Andrews said, "If we're going to do it, I've got to move."
Parker nodded. "Go ahead," he said.CHAPTER 2
Parker was the last one into the bank. Andrews had gone first, getting out of the car again and walking down to the bank, going in just as two men in suits and with clipboards came out of the bank to meet the men from the armored car. They'd conferred out in the sunlight a minute, studying their clipboards, and then all four went inside again.
That was when Weiss moved. Getting out of the car, he clutched Parker's shoulder and muttered in his ear, "George is okay." Parker just nodded, and Weiss got out, shut the door, and went away to the bank, getting there just as the two uniformed armored-car guards came back out of the bank. There was a little mix-up at the door, and then Weiss was in and the guards were out. They went over and knocked on the rear door of the armored car.
Parker and the others had cased this one for three weeks and they knew the system cold by now. The coins went in first, in gray canvas sacks. The olive-green strongbox went last, carrying paper.
He watched the guard inside the armored car hand out the sacks of coins to the two outside. One of the men with the clipboards had hurried out after them and stood beside them now, pencil poised, checking things off.
The grenade was on the seat between Parker and Uhl. Parker patted it and said, "You remember how this works?"
"I'm all right now," Uhl said irritably. "I had a touch of the jitters. It never happened to you?"
"Never," Parker said. He opened the door and got out of the car and walked down to the bank. The guards had carried the coins in now, escorted by the man with the clipboard, and the guard inside the armored car had locked his door again.
Parker went into the bank. Weiss was standing at one of the counters on the left wall, making out a deposit slip. Andrews was talking to the lone bank officer at the desks on the right, asking him about traveler's checks. There was nobody at the state lottery window in the far corner.
The guards came out of the vault area empty-handed, followed by the man with the clipboard. They walked past Parker and went outside again.
Three tellers' windows were open, two regular and the lottery window, all with female tellers. Two more female employees were at the calculating machines in back. Beside the clipboard men—one in the vault, the other outside with the armored car—and the bank officer to whom Andrews was talking, the only other male employee was the bank guard, an elderly man with a puffed-up pigeon chest and a dark blue uniform full of fold creases. His wife had ironed the shirt and folded it and put it away in a drawer, so when he took it out and put it on it had a checkerboard of creases all over it.
Parker stood looking around the room. It was a new bank with a low ceiling, which was good. There were only three straight customers in the bank, which was also good.
The two guards came back in, carrying the strongbox between them, one hand each. The clipboard man followed them, looking prissy and bored. Weiss crumpled up his deposit slip, put it in his pocket, and walked to the door. Parker went over to the bank guard and said, "Do you have a notary public here?"
His talking to the guard was the signal for Andrews to reach into his pocket and push the button on the little radio machine in there. Weiss was standing by the door, behind the armored car men and the clipboard man. If all was going right, Uhl was driving slowly down the block toward the bank right now, one hand holding that grenade.
The guard said, "Are you a deposi—" and the wastebasket by the lottery window blew up.
It was a huge noise, loud enough to give everybody in the bank a brief headache, and with it came a flash of yellow and white, and then flames were licking up the front of the counter toward the lottery window. On the heels of the explosion, one of the women employees screamed.
Parker had been standing so the guard's back was to the lottery window. At the explosion the old man spun around, startled, and Parker took out his revolver and clipped him with it behind the ear.
While the old man was still falling Parker spun around and held down on the two armored-car men. He shouted, "No heroes!" He knew Andrews had a gun on the bank officer and would quickly herd him into a corner away from telephones. He knew Weiss was behind the armored car men to let them know they were in a crossfire. And Uhl, at the sound of the explosion, was to drop the grenade out of the passenger-side window so it would roll under the armored car and was then to pull directly in front of the armored car and wait. In ten seconds, the grenade would start spewing black smoke. There wasn't much breeze today; the smoke would quickly billow out and surround the armored car and puff all around the bank entrance.
While Parker was shouting, Weiss was shouting also. Andrews was on his feet, waving an automatic and shouting at the employees, "It's a stickup! Don't move! Don't move!"
The armored-car men were professional enough to know when to fold a hand. Neither of them reached for a gun.
Parker said, "Put the box down. Now move over that way. Hands on top of your heads." He motioned the gun at the clipboard man. "You too."
Weiss kicked the clipboard man in the butt. "Hurry up, shorty," he said. The clipboard man was about four inches taller than Weiss.
Parker and Andrews hurried over to the strongbox and each grabbed a handle. Weiss kept everybody covered. Parker went first, the heavy strongbox dragging him back, bumping into the back of his legs. He could see the smoke through the glass door, so Uhl was doing his job.
The smoke was everywhere, greasy and black, smelling of creosote. You couldn't see a thing, but Parker didn't have to see anything. He angled to the right, Andrews in his wake with the other end of the box, and they plunged through the smoke, Parker's hand out in front of him, till the heel of his hand hit the side of the car.
It took him a few seconds to figure out what part of the car he had, but then he moved quickly foward to the rear door, opened it, and clambered in with the strongbox banging against his heels. Andrews came piling in after it, and then Weiss rushed up out of the smoke, blundered the front door open, and jumped in.
Uhl burned rubber, taking off before either door was shut. For the first second or two he couldn't have been able to see a thing, but he tore out of the smoke as though God had told him personally there wasn't going to be anything in front of him, and there wasn't.
Everybody was done working now but Uhl, and Uhl had rehearsed his part so often he could almost do it asleep. Right at the corner, left at the alley halfway down the block, right at the next street, and then four blocks straight. They wouldn't hit a traffic light till then, and Uhl would be able to judge it from four blocks away and not have to stop for it. It was twenty minutes past ten in the morning, a dead time for traffic, so they'd be able to make any speed they wanted.
At that traffic light they'd make a left turn, and from there it was less than half a mile to the outskirts of town, where they'd stashed the other car. And after that a ten-minute drive to the farm, where they could hole up and wait for the fever to cool in the outside world.
Parker and Andrews straightened themselves out in the back seat, the strongbox lumping huge between them, leaning half on the seat and half on the floor. Andrews patted it, smiling, and said, "How much do you think?"
"Maybe forty," Parker said. "Maybe sixty. Maybe a little more."
"Not bad for a morning's work," Andrews said, forgetting the three weeks preparation.
Uhl, relaxed at the wheel now, glanced in the rear view mirror and said, "Shoot the lock off. Let's see how much it is."
"When we get to the farm," Parker said.
"Why not now?"
Weiss, up front with Uhl now said, "George, you want a bullet ricocheting around in the car? Where's your sense?"
"Oh, yeah," Uhl said, and made the right turn out of the alley. Four blocks away the light was red. Uhl drove at about thirty.
Parker turned his head and looked out the rear window. A couple of cars way back, moseying along. No pursuit. It would take them a while to get organized in all that smoke.
A siren. Everybody tensed, and then a police car shot across their path two blocks ahead, going from left to right, not slowing or anything. Everybody relaxed again.
Weiss said, "Going to the bank."
"Too late," Uhl said. "All the money's gone." The light turned green up ahead, and he accelerated.CHAPTER 3
Parker kept one hand pressed flat on the strongbox. The last half mile to the farmhouse was over rutted dirt road, and the box tended to jounce. Parker said, "You can take it easy now."
"I'm anxious to know how much we got," Uhl said, but he slowed down some.
Everything had gone fine. The stolen car with its stolen plates had been abandoned behind the burned-out diner on the highway where they'd left the other car, this two-year-old Chevy, pale blue. They'd switched cars, carrying the strongbox over to this one, and then Uhl had driven sedately the rest of the way, never more than a couple of miles over the speed limit. One other police car had gone by, siren screaming, racing into the town they'd just left, but that was all the law they'd seen.
The farmhouse was gray, small, old, leaning, and weather beaten. The porch roof was half fallen in, and only two window panes were still unbroken. It stood on top of a bare hill, the dirt road passing at the foot of the hill and continuing on who knew where. Vague old grooves in the grass led upward to the right from the road, showing where another dirt road had once existed between here and the house. If you looked closely you could see where the grass had been recently mashed down by tires going up there, but the dirt road was seldom traveled and too bumpy to allow the people in a passing car to watch anything very closely. And at the top, around behind the sagging house, stood a sagging barn, big enough and empty enough inside for both this Chevy of Uhl's and Andrew's Mercury.
Uhl drove up the hill now, in low gear so the tires wouldn't leave skid gouges in the grass, and at the top he steered around the house and came to a stop in front of the barn. Weiss hopped out and dragged open the barn doors, and Uhl drove into the clammy, cool darkness inside the barn. He turned the key in the ignition and smiled over his shoulder at Parker and Andrews saying, "Home free."
"Maybe," Andrews said.
Uhl looked at him. "What's the matter? We're here, we're home free."
"We're home free," Andrews said, "when the last cop has quit looking and gone on to some other case."
"Oh, well," Uhl said, "if you're going to pin it down like that...."
Excerpted from The Sour Lemon Score by Richard Stark. Copyright © 1969 Donald Westlake. 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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Continues the Parker legacy, if you like Parker you will like this book. Not often does things go wrong for Parker as it does in this book.