“Hearing the click behind him, Parker threw his glass straight back over his right shoulder, and dove off his chair to the left.” When a job looks like amateur hour, Parker walks away. But even a squad of seasoned professionals can't guarantee against human error in a high-risk scam. Can an art dealer with issues unload a truck of paintings with Parker’s aid? Or will the heist end up too much of a human interest story, as luck runs out before Parker can get in on the score?
“Parker is refreshingly amoral, a thief who always gets away with the swag.”—Stephen King, Entertainment Weekly
“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
About the Author
Richard Stark was one of the many pseudonyms of Donald E. Westlake (1933–2008), a prolific author of crime fiction. In 1993, the Mystery Writers of America bestowed the society’s highest honor on Westlake, naming him a Grand Master.
Read an Excerpt
A Parker Novel
By Richard Stark
The University of Chicago PressCopyright © 1972 Richard Stark
All rights reserved.
Hearing the click behind him, Parker threw his glass straight back over his right shoulder, and dove off his chair to the left. The bullet furrowed a line through the plans on the table, the sound of the shot echoed loud and long in the closed room, and Parker rolled amid suddenly scrambling feet, his arms folded in tight over his chest. He didn't have a gun on him, and the first thing to do was get away from the guy who did.
There was no second shot. An armchair was in the corner of the room to Parker's left, with a drum table beside it, and it was in that direction that he rolled. He banged his shoulder blades into the edge of the chair, spun around behind it, came up to his knees, grabbed the heavy glass ashtray from the table, and flung it at the doorway without pausing to look.
But there was some kind of struggle going on in the doorway, two men in the indistinct darkness of the hall. Parker got to his feet, swept the lamp off the drum table, picked up the table, and ran forward. The other three men who'd been sitting at the table with him were all still on the floor.
The struggle was over before he reached the doorway. The guy sitting on the floor, his eyes dazed, blood on his forehead and more running down from a cut over his left ear, was Ducasse, the one who'd left the room a minute ago and gone to the front of the house to answer the ringing of the doorbell. He had no gun in his hand, he had no grievance against Parker, and the other one was running away through the house toward the front door.
Parker turned that way, but it was stupid to go after a gun with empty hands. He spun back into the room, throwing the table away, shouting, "Give me a gun! Somebody give me a gun!"
Kirwan was their host, and most likely to be armed, but from the expression on his face as he sat there on the floor he was too rattled to make any fast moves. Before he'd figured out any kind of response at all, Parker had crossed to him, patted his torso, found the .38 Special Colt Cobra tucked away in its shoulder holster on his left side, and was moving away toward the door again. Then Kirwan called something, in an urgent voice, but Parker didn't pause to listen to it.
The front door had already slammed. Parker ran down the hall, past the entranceway to the living room, and out onto the sagging front porch. Somebody was just getting into a car across the street, his torso silhouetted for a moment by the car's interior light; Parker braced his body against a porch column and fired two shots before the car door slammed and the light went out. But a Cobra is a defense gun, meant for close-in work; its two-inch barrel makes it as accurate as a tennis ball thrown cross-wind in a hurricane. Both bullets were probably somewhere in the car, but neither of them was in the driver.
Parker leaped down to the lawn and raced for the street. Across the way, the driver was grinding his starter, trying to get the damn car to come to life. It did, and jolted forward, but then it stalled again, and he ground it some more.
Parker was at the curb, and still running. This was a working-class residential street, not quite a slum, with a few of its rattier houses rented on a monthly or even weekly basis. It was now two o'clock on a weekday morning and there were neither moving cars nor pedestrians anywhere in sight. Nor was this a neighborhood where people would jump to call the police at the first unusual sound in the night.
The car started again, with Parker coming out from the curb. As it moved forward, he dropped to one knee, braced his elbow, and fired through the driver's side window twice more. As the car kept moving, he took his fifth shot at the front left tire, but that one also went wide, and then the gun was empty.
Parker straightened and watched the car travel away, steadily accelerating. The rear license plate was brightly lighted, but there was no point memorizing it; the car would be either rented or stolen. Parker stood there, his arms at his sides, the empty gun hanging from his right hand, and the car tore away in a straight line down the street. The last hope was that it was a poor driver, or one in too much of a panic to handle the speed he was trying for, so that he'd rack it up before getting too far away. But five or six blocks along, his brake lights went on, and the car slewed around a corner and out of sight, the corner having been taken at just about the maximum usable speed.
Parker turned and walked back into the house, closing the front door behind him. Kirwan was coming down the hall, looking frightened and angry, and they met by the living-room entranceway, where light spill from the lamps in there made it possible for them to read one another's faces.
Kirwan was very upset. "What the hell is going on? Parker? What's going on?" "You tell me," Parker said. "This is your party."
"You go around shooting up every—That's my gun, for Christ's sake! What if you killed somebody?"
"Don't be stupid," Parker said. "I was shot at first."
"But for Christ's sake! Right out there in the middle of the street!"
Ducasse, the one who'd let the guy in and then struggled with him and then been hit on the head by him, came shakily down the hallway, saying, "Did you get the son of a bitch?" "No, he took off. Who was he?"
Kirwan said, "You don't even know? He tried to kill you, and you don't even know who it is?"
"I didn't see his face."
"Uhl," Ducasse said. "His name is Uhl."
Parker frowned. "George Uhl?"
"That's right," Kirwan said. "You do know him, huh?"
"Yeah, I know him."
Ducasse said, "What the hell's he got against you?"
"I left him alive once," Parker said.
Ducasse said, "Never leave a guy alive who'd like to see you dead."
"I know," Parker said. It had been a mistake, and he'd known it at the time, but had done it anyway. Now he'd have to correct it. He said, "Who brought Uhl into this?"
Kirwan said, "Ashby."
"Let's go talk to him," Parker said, and the three of them walked back down the hallway toward the room where they'd been discussing the robbery.
The idea of the robbery was a particular department store just before Mother's Day. The lady of the house is the one with the charge account, so Mother's Day gifts tend to be mostly cash sales, which meant that the Saturday before Mother's Day would be almost the best day in the year to find the store full of cash.
Kirwan, their host, had organized the robbery and decided how many men it would take to do the job. The number he'd come up with was six. Unfortunately, two of the six were Parker and Uhl, Parker having been recruited by Kirwan himself, Uhl by a man named Ashby, after Ashby had been brought in by Kirwan.
Kirwan was the one who had arranged for the rental house, and had put together this organizational meeting to describe the setup to the others and find out if all five wanted to be in on it. Parker had been the next to last to arrive, which was why he'd been seated with his back to the door; the only two empty chairs when he'd gotten here had both been on the side of the table nearest the hall.
In a way, though, the seating had worked out to his advantage. Having his back to the door, he'd automatically been more alert, he'd paid more attention to small sounds from behind him—like the click before the firing of a double-action revolver.
Had Uhl come here planning this? It seemed unlikely. As the three of them walked down the hall, Parker said to Ducasse, "Did Uhl ask who was here?"
"Yeah, he did."
"You told him my name?"
"Sure. Naturally." Ducasse was a little defensive.
Parker nodded. "All right," he said.
They walked back into the room, and Stokes, the fifth man, was back in his chair at the table, lighting a cigar. Between puffs, and through little clouds of smoke, he said, "Ashby's hit."
Ashby had been sitting directly opposite Parker. The bullet had skimmed a groove through the papers on the table and the tabletop, and had punched into Ashby's torso about two inches above the belt. Ashby was now lying face up on the floor beyond the table, his eyes closed, his breath labored and heavy as though he were snoring.
"God damn it!" Kirwan said.
Parker went around the table and dropped to one knee beside Ashby. He said the unconscious man's name twice and slapped his face lightly on both sides. Then he pinched his cheeks, hard, twisting the loose flesh back and forth, saying, "Ashby. Ashby, wake up."
Kirwan was still being upset. Coming around the table, he said, "For Christ's sake, what are you doing?"
Ashby wasn't going to wake up. Parker abandoned the try and got to his feet again. Ignoring Kirwan, he said, "Anybody else know how he got in touch with Uhl?"
None of them did. As they were shaking their heads, Kirwan said, "The main thing is, what do we do with him?"
Stokes, a heavy and phlegmatic man, a professional driver, said, "You got a doctor around here? A safe one?"
"No," Kirwan said. "I picked a place where I was a stranger. Who expected anything like this?"
Ducasse had come over to stand by Ashby's head and look down at him, his expression thoughtful. Now he said, "If we leave him there, he looks like he won't make it."
"We've got to get him out of here," Kirwan said. "Dead or alive, he's got to go. We've all left prints all over the house, there wasn't supposed to be anything happening here."
Parker said to Kirwan, "Go get a blanket. A big one."
"Right," Kirwan said, and hurried away.
Stokes took the cigar out of his mouth and said to Parker, "You mind if I ask what that was all about?"
Parker told him a sentence or two about his background with Uhl, and Ducasse repeated his remark about not leaving enemies alive. Then Kirwan came back with a green blanket from a double bed. Parker took it from him and told him, "Go start your car."
"Why my car?"
"Because it's a station wagon."
Kirwan went out, still upset, and Parker and Ducasse spread the blanket on the floor beside Ashby. They rolled Ashby over slowly onto the blanket, and then folded the blanket over him. Stokes put his cigar back in the corner of his mouth, got to his feet, and helped the other two pick up the blanket and carry it out of the room and down the hall and out of the house.
The house had no garage, but it did have a driveway on the right side. Kirwan had backed his wagon out even with the lawn, and was now around opening the tailgate. The four of them slid the blanket into the rear of the wagon with a couple of toolboxes and a pair of coveralls and a bunch of oily rags, and then Kirwan shut the tailgate and all four got into the car, Parker in front with Kirwan.
"Try to take it easy," Ducasse said. "He's still alive."
Kirwan said, "Where do I go?"
"A different neighborhood," Parker said.
Kirwan backed out to the street, and they drove for about five minutes, twice crossing major streets still with some late-night traffic. Then Parker said, "Stop. We'll leave him there."
It was a small modern church building: an A-frame, with a stylized cross on the top. A well-kept lawn fronted the church, neatly dotted with shrubbery. The four of them pulled the blanket out of the car and carried it up over the curb and across the sidewalk and set it down on the lawn. They rolled Ashby gently off the blanket, and then Parker and Stokes folded the blanket while Ducasse checked Ashby's pulse.
Kirwan said, complainingly, "There's blood on the blanket."
"Burn it," Parker said.
"Or wash it," Stokes said. "Who knows, maybe you had a virgin."
"He's still alive," Ducasse said, straightening.
"Or your girl had her period," Stokes said.
"Let's go," Parker said.
As they walked back to the car, Stokes said, "Women make a wonderful alibi for bloodstains."
Kirwan threw the blanket in back, and they all got in the car. As they started away from the curb, Ducasse said, "Find a pay phone."
Kirwan frowned at him in the rear-view mirror. "How come?"
"Anonymous call to the cops."
"The longer he lies out there," Ducasse said, "the worse his chances get."
"Christ," Kirwan said. But two blocks later he stopped by a phone booth at a closed gas station. They waited in the car while Ducasse made the call, and then drove back to the house.
Everything was as they'd left it. Kirwan went away for a minute to dispose of the blanket, and Parker and Ducasse and Stokes went back to the room where they'd been talking about the robbery. The papers were still on the table there, with a foot-long narrow line cut through the blueprint of the department store's sixth floor, where the safe was. There were no bloodstains on the floor.
Stokes patted the papers on the table. Around the cigar, he said, "Too bad. It looked like a good one."
"Maybe we can pick it up again later," Ducasse said.
"Mother's Day comes once a year," Stokes said.
"Next year, then."
"The year I need money is this year," Stokes said.
Ducasse gave a sour grin. "Don't we all," he said.
Kirwan came in, looking more upset than ever. "It's screwed up, isn't it?" he said. He glared at the papers on the table as though they'd just told him a message he didn't want to hear.
"At least until next year," Ducasse said. "But it's still a good idea."
"Damn good," Stokes said.
Parker said, "Anybody got another potential?"
"Don't I wish I had," Stokes said.
Ducasse said, "We'll keep each other in mind."
"This was my baby," Kirwan said, his expression now gloomy as he stared at the papers. "I put this together with loving care, it was gonna carry me for a year."
Parker said, "I'd also appreciate news about George Uhl."
Sounding interested, Ducasse said, "You going looking for him?"
Parker shook his head. "What I'm looking for is work. But if I find out where he is I'll take care of things."
"By Christ," Kirwan said, "I'll come along and help. That son of a bitch screwed me up good." He gave the papers a wistful look and said, "I don't suppose there's any way we could ..." His voice trailed off.
"No," Parker said. "First, there isn't time. Second, they've got Ashby."
"He wouldn't talk," Kirwan said. "He might even be dead."
"He doesn't have to talk. He just has to be there, a known heistman with a bullet in him in their city."
Stokes said, "The first minute there's trouble, walk away. That's my golden rule, and that's why I never yet took a fall in my entire life." He rapped his knuckles against the tabletop.
"We'll be in touch," Parker said.
They shook hands all around. When they left, Kirwan was crumpling the papers together to take them out and burn them.CHAPTER 2
Parker walked through the house and saw Claire out by the lake, sunning herself. She was wearing a two-piece white bathing suit, and she was lying on a dark blue towel. It was still only June, but she already had a good tan, accented by the white suit.
He slid open the glass door between the dining room and the back porch, crossed the porch, went down the stoop, and walked over the just-trimmed lawn toward where she was lying. She had turned her head at the sound of the door sliding, and now smiled in his direction as he approached. She was wearing sunglasses, large blue ovals with white frames. Through the blue glass, her eyes were level and bright. She said, "You're back sooner than I thought."
"It fell through." He squatted beside her and placed one palm on her stomach, just above the white trunks. Her flesh was warm, almost hot, and covered with a butter-like suntan lotion.
"I'm all oily," she said. But she smiled, and reached up to touch his other arm.
"You're hot," he said. "You don't want to overdo." He shifted his hand to her near thigh, cupping his fingers down along the side of her leg, so that his knuckles brushed softly against the skin of her other thigh. The flesh under his palm was hot, but down between her legs it was cooler.
"I'm used to it now," she said. Then she sat up and said, "I'll shower. Don't kiss me, I'll just make you all slippery."
He straightened and gave her a hand to help her up. They walked back into the house together and he said, "I have a phone call to make."
Excerpted from Plunder Squad by Richard Stark. Copyright © 1972 Richard Stark. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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