Twas a sick young man with a face ungay
And an eye that was all alone;
And he shook his head in a hopeless way
As he sat on a roadside stone.
‘O, ailing youth, what untoward fate
Has made the sun to set
On your mirth and eye?’ ‘I’m constrained to state
I’m an ex-West Point cadet.
”Twas at cannon-practice I got my hurt
And my present frame of mind;
For the gun went off with a double spurt-
Before it, and also behind!’
‘How sad, how sad, that a fine young chap,
When studying how to kill,
Should meet with so terrible a mishap
Precluding eventual skill.
‘Ah, woful to think that a weapon made
For mowing down the foe
Should commit so dreadful an escapade
As to turn about to mow!’
No more he heeded while I condoled:
He was wandering in his mind;
His lonely eye unconsidered rolled,
And his views he thus defined:
”Twas O for a breach of the peace-’twas O
For an international brawl!
But a piece of the breech–ah no, ah no,
I didn’t want that at all.’
Polyphemus, by Ambrose Bierce
They stopped at a run-down traditional diner for lunch on the way back. They chose a table beside the large window with its view out to very little Sunday traffic on this secondary road, and after they’d given the waitress their orders, Parker said, “Tell me about the Dennisons.”
“The who? Oh, Cory and Cal? What do you want to know about them for?”
“They came to see me last night. Right after you left.”
“They came–They were at my place?”
“They think I might be one of the missing robbers.”
“Jesus!” Lindahl looked as thought he just might jump straight up and out of the diner and run a hundred miles down the road. “What are they gonna do?”
“If I am one of the robbers,” Parker said, “they think I must have a bunch of money on me.”
“But you don’t.”
“But if I was, and if I did, I could give Cal money to get plastic surgery and an artificial eye.”
“Oh for–” No longer in a panic, Lindahl now looked as though he’d never heard anything so dumb. “They said that to you? You’re the robber and give us some of the money?”
“The robber part wasn’t said.”
“But that’s what it was all about. And if you give them the money, they won’t report you? Is that the idea?”
“I suppose so.”
“That’s a Cal idea, all right,” Lindahl said. “He’s jumped off barn roofs since he was a little kid.”
Cal, suddenly bristling, said, “My brother tells me when to shut up. You don’t tell me to shut up.”
As Lindahl killed the sound on the television set, Parker took a step forward and slapped Cal hard, open-handed, across the cheek, under the patch. Cal jolted back, astonished and outraged. Parker stood watching him, hands at his sides, and Cal, fidgeting wide eyed, tried to figure out something to do.
I have many times had cause to give fervent thanks for my comments section regulars (and irregulars), who have provided me not only with their opinions, but with information I had not previously possessed. Rarely has this information presented itself in such a timely fashion, however.
Responding to Part 1 of this review yesterday, PhilPo, whose own blog may be seen here, provided this tidbit–used to be on the Official Westlake Blog. I’d heard about it from Greg Tulonen, but he didn’t have the exact wording. Thankfully, Phil had the text archived in his email, and his sharp eye (two, I hope) perceived its relevance to our current investigations. Westlake posted this in June of 2006:
It began in January of last year, when my wife and I joined three other couples on a long-planned three-week trip in Southeast Asia. The night before we left, I started to get flashers and floaters in my left eye, but decided to ignore them, since otherwise I’d have to cancel the trip at the last second. After a twelve-hour flight from New York to Seoul, change planes, four hour flight to Hong Kong, I couldn’t see out of that eye.
The next day, I went into a hospital for an operation for a retinal separation. Terrific hospital, terrific doctors, but it was just the beginning. With more retinal tears, plus cataracts, between January 26th and December 15th, I had ten eye operations, all but the first in New York, seven on the left eye and three on the right. As I was warned partway through the experience, the left eye is now permanently damaged, but usable.
For eight months last year, I was essentially one-eyed. I couldn’t drive. It was hard to read. It was hell to go downstairs, particularly at Angkor Wat (yes, we did the Asian trip anyway). That’s over now; the damaged eye is doing what it can.
But it cost me a year. I did very little work in that time, which was why there was a halt in my publishing anything new.
So January of 2005 is when this started. Westlake was engaging in that bit of radio wordplay with Erin McKean that I referenced last week in November of Aught Four, and going by the fact that his applications of her three endangered words all appear early in this book, we may assume he had not handed in a finished manuscript by the time of the planned vacation.
Meaning, as you have no doubt already intuited, it’s not likely a coincidence that one of his characters in this book has lost the use of an eye (has lost the eye, starker image, no medical jargon). He’s pissed about it. As his creator was. As anyone would be.
The facial scarring the semi-literate Cal has in addition to the eyepatch is there, I’d think, to substitute for the angst Westlake experienced from neither reading nor writing books for long months. Motivation. Being Polyphemus is fun for nobody, with the possible exception of pirate cosplayers. (Cal is quite taken with Tom’s parrot, says he ought to have one.)
(I don’t know if Westlake would approve of my using that morbidly irreverent poem up top–morbid and irreverent even for Bierce–but he is known to have approved of Bierce and I figured what the hell.)
Cal Dennison, and I think his brother Cory as well, represent two more of those characters you notice here and there in Westlake novels, who represent a road not taken–a life Westlake feels he might have lived, had he been less fortunate. Suppose he’d lost his eye as a young man, living in upstate New York? Suppose he hadn’t had insurance worth a damn? Suppose he never got to read all the books that made him who he was, expanded his horizons, filled him with ambitions above his station in life?
Or suppose he’d been twins? And one half of the amniotic duo was holding the other back?
Possible some version of the Dennisons (I’m going to guess that’s a pun) was already cued up in his head, before the eye troubles began–a necessary plot complication, of a type familiar in these books–the Cal/Cory subplot and its bloody climax bears a certain familial resemblance to the Negli/Feccio story from The Seventh–but what happened to Westlake during the time he was writing this book would still have shaped them, and Cal in particular. So it’s good that we know about it now. And can put it in its proper context. (Unless he had already conceived a one-eyed character before his own ocular occurrence. Which would be kind of scary.)
This all tracks with other intel we have, such as the fact that the New York Times review of this book was published–and it’s a thoughtful full-length review in the Sunday section, not a squib in their little crime fiction ghetto column–written by none other than James Wolcott, very nice indeed–was published in December of Aught Six. Over two years after Westlake said on NPR that he expected this book would be in stores no later than November of Aught Five. (He didn’t say Aught Five, I’m being archaic. Parker tends to put me in that mood.)
I like Wolcott’s review, and vigorously disagree with most of it. In retrospect, it’s quite obvious this is a much better book than Nobody Runs Forever, and a bit silly to talk about how a few extra blondes Parker won’t even think about going to bed with add sexual tension, assuming you even think every novel in the mystery genre needs some of that (somebody better tell Agatha Christie).
But I can still see his point–this isn’t what we expect from a Richard Stark heist story, and as a sequel to the previous book, it’s downright baffling. It’s The Jugger all over again–a book that departed from all the established tropes of the series, and was greeted with a good deal of head-scratching by the readership when it first appeared–and then grew on us, like a fungus. And yet, I’d argue, this book lives up to the basic formula of the Parker novels much better than the other two panels in this Triptych.
Here, the multi-POV part of the book is Part Three. In Nobody Runs Forever and Dirty Money, it’s in Part Two (Nobody Runs Forever also switches POV’s in Part Four). But more than that, this book revisits one of the most fascinating and consistent elements in Parker’s behavior–how he’ll take some aspiring felon under his wing, show him the ropes. (Who had better learn those ropes fast, or Parker may garrote him with one.)
Tom Lindahl is the last in this line of journeyman heisters, that includes Alan Grofield, Stan Devers, Larry Lloyd, and a few less apt pupils who don’t make it to the end of their respective books. Tom is perhaps the most ordinary of the bunch, in that he doesn’t really want to be a thief, isn’t looking to pull more than one job, but doesn’t try to kid himself about the fact that once is all it takes. He’s going to change, and he wants to change.
Stealing from his former employer is the only way Tom can regain his self-respect, not a motive Parker can relate to much. Tom and Parker have a wall between them. But over that wall, they can converse, learn things from each other, serve each other’s needs. And nowhere is that more evident than in Part Two of this novel. Which is all Part 2 of this review is going to cover. Meaning I have to cover the rest in Part 3. Well, it kind of worked last time……
Lindahl has already driven down to the track once tonight. Parker wasn’t going to risk being stopped by the law with no ID. The track has a machine that can make him a new driver’s license, that will pass muster as long as the cops don’t call headquarters to have it run through their system–and they’re too bored with this roadblock gig to do that.
Using a picture he took of Parker’s faux license, bearing the name John B. Allen (that Parker can never use again), Tom cooked up a very real-looking card on a machine he himself purchased and trained on years before. Presto chango, Parker is William G. Dodd, of Troy NY. The name of a retired former colleague of Tom’s. Now the name of his new colleague, for whom ‘retired’ is a synonym for ‘deceased.’
To say Parker is grateful for this vital service Tom has done him would be imputing to him an emotion he may not be capable of. He’s appreciative. Put it that way. He respects good work of any kind. And this is good work. Which he’s going to test by driving himself and Tom right back to this track he’s heard so much about. Time to case the joint.
A billboard ahead on the right read
That’s the main gate,” Lindahl said. “We don’t want that. You keep going, about another quarter mile, there’s a dirt road on this side.”
The dashboard clock read 12:42. In the last hour, William G. Dodd’gs new driver’s license had been inspected by two state troopers at roadblocks and found acceptable; which of course, was more likely at night than by day.
On the drive down, Lindahl had alternated between a kind of buzzing vibrancy, keyed up, giving Parker little spatter-shots of his autobiography, and a deep stillness, as he studied his newly changed interior landscape, as mute as his parrot.
There’s just two guards, working for an outside company, and they rarely patrol–they do watch TV monitors showing various parts of the complex, and the building is alarmed. It’s not much security for a place that holds hundreds of thousands in cash. If Parker had known about this track before now, he’d probably have hit it years ago. Getting so hard to find soft targets like this in the new cashless economy. He’s been dealing with that ever since we met him, and it’s only gotten worse.
But the fact is, people still use cash. And for gambling–well, would you want the wife to know how much you blew at the track? She will if it’s on your credit card statement. Many businesses still prefer cash, insist on cash, because of the added expense that comes with credit, that little slice of the pie the banks take, the equipment you have to buy.
Gro-More got with the times, they take credit cards, but a lot of people still pay cash. And no track casino yet (though you can bet it’s in the works–maybe that’s one of the reasons the owners were greasing palms in Albany).
(Sidebar: Little story before we go on–I work at a college campus. A significant amount of petty cash–enough that you might question calling it petty–was kept in an office here. When that office was closed, somebody broke in and took the money. Thousands. Everybody assumed it was an inside job, and it likely was, but the perps were never caught.
No publicity–because you wouldn’t want to encourage others to try the same thing. It wasn’t the crime of the century or anything. Nobody got hurt. Most people here never even knew about it. But when I go into that office now, and there’s just one person there, sometimes that person gives a little start, you know? Calls out “Who’s there?” Looks around to make sure I’m not wearing a mask, holding a pistol.
There’s stashes like this all over the place, waiting for some aspiring crook to find them, and they do, much more often than you think. Because people still use cash. In Colorado, that’s all the newly minted Pot Lords can use, because banks won’t touch their profits. Nothing petty about that cash, and they buy big heavy safes for it, hire tough guys to watch it.
This particular score I’m talking about was minor league–they probably blew it all on a night on the town [or the kids’ braces, how would I know?] But you think they’ll ever stop grinning to each other about it when they meet? Easy money. As long as you know how to avoid the pitfalls. As long as you don’t get caught.
I won’t even mention the woman who got caught embezzling here–a lot more money than those office heisters got. Nice lady, used to talk to her all the time. That got covered in the campus paper [kids must have been so excited over the scoop.] A different kind of crime, requiring a different kind of criminal, and a different kind of crime writer. So many specialties.
She didn’t go to jail, by the way. Which you can bet the office heisters would have done, if they’d been caught. Nobody said life was fair. Or that the phrase “I won’t even mention” should be taken literally.
Okay, back to the book. Which feels a lot more real than Parker robbing an island casino run by a German aristocrat who used to be a Nazi. Or fighting off a small army of mobsters in an amusement park. But you know, I love those too. Ain’t genre grand?)
There’s a wooden wall surrounding the entire facility, but Tom can turn off the alarm, unlock the gate. Nobody has ever tried to rob this place–a few times, weirdos came here wanting to hurt the horses, that’s the only thing they really worry about. Parker could care less about the horses. All he’s interested in is the lay-out, and Tom is giving it all to him as they go.
They’re in the main building now, where the offices are. Tom takes Parker through one office, so as to avoid some security cameras. Somebody left a partly eaten omelet on a desk. Tom knocks it over. Here’s the final secret word from the game Westlake played with McKean–only 99 pages in–
He had bumped into the wrong desk, causing the breakfast to flip over and hit the floor facedown. Lindahl stooped to pick up the plate, but the omelet stuck to the black linoleum, which was now a black icean, and that omelet the sandy desert island, with the solitary strip of bacon sticking up from it, slightly slumped but brave, the perfect representation of the stranded sailor, alone and waiting for his cartoon caption. On the floor, it looked like what the Greeks call archeiropoietoi, a pictorial image not made by a human hand.
“I ought to clean that up,” Lindahl said, frowning down doubtfully at the new island.
“A mouse did it,” Parker told him. “Drop the plate on it and let’s go.”
Maybe the last time in these books that Stark interjects his personal perspective and knowledge into the narrative–because you know damn well Parker doesn’t know from archeiropoietoi. He doesn’t see the egg island and bacon sailor. Tom may perceive the image, but he doesn’t know the word. Neither did Westlake, before McKean gave it to him.
But language maven that he was, he was always picking up odd bits of obscure neglected verbiage (like pootle), putting them back to work. It sticks out a bit–but it reminds you somebody is telling this story, and he is seeing things Parker misses. And perhaps wishing he could stop seeing them, but he sees them anyway. Stark cares about art. Even accidental art. So contrived as this is, sticking a word into a book simply to answer a challenge from a fellow word nerd, it also feels organic to the series. Strange.
With some care, they make their way to the room where the cash is stored, in long metal boxes–which Tom proudly says he’s stolen a few of, for when he does the job he was never really going to do until somebody came along to prod him into action. (He’s crestfallen when Parker says later they have to dump those boxes, pack the loot into easily toted anonymous canvas duffels–where’s the romance in that? Stark may be a romantic; Parker is anything but.)
Looking at the cash there now–the cash they aren’t going to take yet–Parker asks the crucial question.
“How much is in there, usually, on a Saturday night?”
“Probably more than a hundred thousand, less than one-fifty.”
Parker nodded. Enough to keep him moving.
Lindahl, proud and anxious, said, “So what do you think?”
“It looks good.”
With a huge relieved smile, Lindahl said, “I knew you’d see it. You ready to go?”
On their way out, up the stairs from the basement, Lindahl said, “You know, I know why you wanted me to open that box. You didn’t want your fingerprints on it.”
“That’s right,” Parker said.
So they drive back to Pooley, and Parker, beginning to see Lindahl as a fellow professional (one who needs a lot of retraining), starts to lay out the rules. Lindahl has to follow his lead, do what he says. He’s the expert–that’s why he’s here, and Lindahl is willing to settle for half. They’re going to take no bills smaller than a ten. They’re going to obtain cheap canvas duffels, not use the heavy identifiable metal cash boxes, as Tom, looking for symbolic retribution as much as profit, wanted to do.
Lindahl has some rules of his own–
“But I can say no, I guess,” Lindahl said. “I can say no, I don’t want to do that, and then we don’t do it. Like if you say, ‘Now we go kill the two guys in security,’ I can say no, and we don’t do it.”
I’m not out to kill anybody,” Parker said. “It only makes the heat worse.”
“Well, whatever it might be,” Lindahl said. “If I don’t like it, I can say no, and we don’t do it.”
“You’re right,” Parker told him. “You can always say no.”
“Good. We understand each other.” Lindahl nodded at the window. “Lights out there.”
Another roadblock. Another ID check. Another narrow escape. And then Parker hits Tom with the rule he didn’t see coming. Because he still hasn’t grasped the full implications of what he’s doing.
Parker tells him they’re going to take the money tomorrow night. Tom had the notion that they’d wait for the weekend. The armored car comes on Friday to pick up the cash, doesn’t come back until Monday. So do it Saturday night–by the time they find out the money is gone, he’s got a thirty-six hour lead for his getaway. And they’ll know it was him. They’ll know he beat them.
Parker says that’s all bunk. A few more hours won’t make any difference, one way or another. Tom’s going to leave a trail. He’s not experienced at getaways. He should just stay put, cache his share in that boarded up house next to his converted garage, look the cops and prosecutors right in the eye and say he didn’t do it. Let them prove he did. In a year, he tells people he’s going on a trip, and he doesn’t come back. Sets himself up in a new place. Tells people back home he decided to retire someplace warm.
This is decent advice in the abstract, I think–though it might require more nerve and conviction than Tom has shown us so far. It has the advantage that Tom wouldn’t need to build up a new identity from scratch, and he could still collect Social Security in a decade or so. It’s not like they’re heisting millions here. Tom’s share would amount to no more than a small nest egg in the early 21st. The whole take wouldn’t be enough to set him up for life.
So Parker’s suggestion would have much to recommend it–if so many people hadn’t already seen Tom with ‘Ed Smith.’ At this point, only Cory and Cal know who that really is–though Fred suspects. Tom has also shown his ID at multiple roadblocks, going to and from the track. The second time with a man matching Parker’s description, using an ID Tom made himself, with the name of a former co-worker of his on it. Too many weak spots. It wouldn’t work. Tom would get taken by the law–or tortured by greedy low-lifes like the Dennisons, for his share of the take. Either way, he’d never make it to retirement. You have to believe Parker knows that.
Does Parker care that he’s giving Tom bad advice? Nope. Tom’s no more than half a professional to him at this point, if that. Parker wants to do the job ASAP because he needs to get out of there. Thanks to Tom, he’s got new ID–he’ll have the money soon enough–now he needs a few other things. What happens to Tom is up to Tom. If he can’t see the cracks in the scenario Parker is laying out for him, he’s never going to make it on the run anyway. It’s no different from what Parker said to Fred and Tom, to get them not to talk about Fred shooting the old derelict in the back. Telling them an edited version of the truth, to get the reaction he wants.
(It’s not all that different from the song and dance he gave that scared teenager in The Jugger, about how he’d help the kid get away from the consequences of killing someone by mistake. The kid takes Parker at his word. He’s making a grave mistake. Spoiler pun alert.)
Difference here is, he still needs Tom to pull the heist–and for all his lack of seasoning, Tom is starting to impress Parker with his sagacity. There’s a wall between them, and Lindahl is straddling it, talking about what he will and won’t do. To get the real advice, the full benefit of Parker’s expertise, he needs to get both feet planted on the other side of that wall. Until that happens, he’s just another civilian–and, if he gets in Parker’s way, a casualty of war. (Remind me again why some people think Parker got soft in the later books?)
They make it back. It’s five-thirty in the morning. Parker tells Tom to set the alarm for ten. “You’ll sleep when we’re finished,” Parker tells him. One way or another……
So next morning, Parker shows Tom the way he fixed up that boarded house so that you can get in or out without leaving any trace. Then they drive to a mall that’s on its last legs. Tom has to get those duffels, and the plastic gloves.
Parker has more serious shopping to do. He brought the pistol he stole last night. Uses it to rob one of those hip clothing stores where they look at you funny if you’re over thirty. One of those places where people think it’s cute if you wear clothing with the name of a penitentiary on it. ‘The Rad’ (now what could that be aimed at?) He scares the kid at the cash register out of five year’s growth. Gets cash he can actually spend on the road–in case the job tonight doesn’t work out.
Tom comes out of the Walmart or Target or whatever with the equipment. They drive back. Meet squad cars going the other way, lights flashing. Tom wonders what’s up. “Nothing to do with us,” Parker said. Us. Get it? Mental reservation. I knew he was raised Catholic. Just like Dortmunder. Funny what takes and what doesn’t.
They stop to eat, and Parker tells him about Cory and Cal–doling out information in small amounts. Have to be careful not to scare this finger away before they get into the pie.
Fred Thiemann’s wife is waiting for them when they get back. She’s come for Fred’s hunting rifle. He’s told her what happened at Wolf Peak.
Looking at her through the windshield, Parker saw a woman who was weighed down by something. Not angry, not frightened, but distracted enough not to care what kind of appearance she made. She was simply out in the world, braced for whatever the bad news would turn out to be.
Parker and Lindahl got out of the SUV, and Lindahl said “Jane. How’s Fred?”
“Coming apart at the seams.” She turned bleak eyes toward Parker. “You’re Ed Smith, I guess.”
“Fred’s afraid of you,” she said. “I’m not sure why.”
Parker shrugged. “Neither am I.”
She tells them that Fred blames ‘Ed’ for what happened–not the shooting–he knows that’s on him–but for his deciding not to tell the police what happened.
That was a violation of his nature–maybe worse than the shooting itself, which was just an impulse act, regrettably commonplace, wherever firearms are sold. He can’t live with it, and he can’t go back and fix it.
Parker doesn’t care what Fred can live with. He just wants him to hold whatever’s bugging him in for another day, two at most. He tells Jane to say that George, their son serving his time in Attica, will want Fred to be there when he gets out. A not so subtle message about truth and consequences. That Fred will somehow manage to garble, but we’ll get to that.
Cory and Cal show up as Jane is leaving. All of a sudden, it’s like Grand Central Station at the hermitage. Tom probably didn’t have as many visitors in the past year as he’s had in the past twenty-four hours.
Cal shows Tom a copy of the police artist sketch of Parker, done to Detective Gwen Reversa’s specifications. It’s not a really good likeness. But it’s a likeness.
“He could be a thousand guys,” Parker said.
“Not a thousand.”
Lindahl said, “Cal, if this picture looks so much like Ed here, and everybody up at the meeting at St. Stanislas had a copy of the picture, and Ed was standing right there with us, how come nobody else saw it? How come everybody in the goddam parking lot didn’t turn around and make a citizen’s arrest?”
“It was that story in school,” Cal said, and frowned deeply as he turned to hand the sketch to Cory. “That writer we had to read, all that spooky stuff. Poe. The something letter. All about how everybody’s looking for this letter, and nobody can find it, and that’s because it’s right out there in plain sight, the one place you wouldn’t think it would be. So here’s a fella, and a whole bunch of guys get together to find him, and where’s the best place he oughta hide? Right with the bunch looking for him, the one place nobody in the county’s gonna think to look.”
Voice arched with sarcasm, Lindahl said, “And you, Cal, you’re the only one there figured it out.”
“Could happen,” Cal said, comfortable with himself. “Could happen.”
“Not this time,” Parker said, and Cory said, “Look at that.”
Tom needs to turn that TV off sometime. The one with the parrot over it. It’s showing news footage about the daring robbery at the local mall. Police say it was one of the bank robbers. Oh, and the clerk’s name is Edwin Kislamski (he’s still shaking, but he’s also enjoying his moment of celebrity). So we’ve got a Fred, an ‘Ed’ and now an Edwin.
Lindahl says nothing, but he’s trembling with anger and fear. Parker waits to see if he’s going to have to shoot all three of them. Tom somehow holds it all in, Cal oversteps his bounds, and Parker slaps him (this is where we came in). Cory reins Cal in, and the brothers depart. Parker is not reassured–he can see Cory isn’t like his brother. He’s got a plan.
(You wouldn’t expect a guy like Cal to reference Poe, would you? Something about that story got to him, but he never followed up, never became a reader, never decided to see how many other interesting things you might learn from books, how far they might take you. Cory worked harder in school, learned self-control, how to plan, but he lacked imagination, vision, humor. Two halves who don’t quite make a whole, but who remain somehow essential to each other. Ah, Anarchaos! Almost missed that one, Mr. Westlake.
But you’re not talking about brothers now, anymore than you were back then. You’re talking about different parts of the self–your own younger self. About who and what you might have been, if things had been a little different. If you hadn’t gotten the two halves better aligned. And what was it about losing an eye for a while that brought that out in you? That got you thinking about contingency again. There but for the grace of…..)
Tom’s angry at Parker. Not just for robbing a store while he was nearby, but for not telling him about it, even afterwards. Not telling him about the gun, either. Aren’t they partners? Well no, not really. He understands that now.
But he’s getting over the anger, even while he’s expressing it. Because after all, what did he expect when he went out looking for a crook to help him rob a racetrack? It’s not quite the Scorpion and the Frog (Parker would at least wait until they were on the other side)–but–he’s on the edge of a realization. An insight. An understanding very few have ever arrived at, about his guest.
After the Dennisons left, Parker said, “I’ll drive down to the corner, put some gas in the car.”
Sounding bitter, Lindahl said, “Using some of the money you stole from that boy?”
Parker looked at him. “You got that wrong, Tom,” he said. “I didn’t take anything from that boy. I took some cash from a company that has nine hundred stores. I needed the cash. You know that.”
“You had that gun all along?”
“I’ll be right back,” Parker said, and turned to the door.
Parker looked back, and could see that Lindahl was trying to adjust his thinking. He waited, and Lindahl nodded and said, “All right. I know who you are, I already knew who you were. I shouldn’t act as though it’s any of my business.”
“That’s right,” Parker said.
“It’s hard,” Lindahl said. “It’s hard to be around…”
The sentence trailed off, but Parker understood. It’s hard to be around a carnivore. “It won’t be for long,” he said.
I could almost believe that’s sympathy. Well–empathy. Tom understood him, just for a moment. That’s rare. He’s willing to return the favor. It’s hard for a carnivore too, in a world of sheep. Lonely.
Tom tells Parker don’t go to the gas station just up the main drag in Pooley–it’s run by a semi-retired grease monkey, who doesn’t really like selling gas, so he charges more, hawks lottery tickets on the side. Almost as anti-social as Tom.
Name’s Brian Hopwood. He’s a good mechanic, honest about that. Always working on some car or other. No, Tom says, go to the Getty station, not much further, way cheaper. Like it really matters when they’re about to commit grand larceny. Tom’s still in the straight world, worried about bargains. Well, Parker needs a bargain deal on a getaway car. Free would be good. You won’t get that at Getty. But that’s where he tells Lindahl he’s going.
He drives to the corner, and it’s one of those places you pay inside before you pump it yourself (it’s all self-service in New York, once you’re out of the big cities–New Jersey is more civilized, you can stay in your car, watch somebody wipe your windshield for you). He walks in, gives Hopwood two twenties, says he’ll probably be needing change. What he needs is a better look at this place and its proprietor.
He tells Hopwood he’s the guy staying with Tom Lindahl, knowing that Hopwood would have already recognized the car he’s serviced in the past. He’s servicing a few others right now. Just waiting there in the parking lot–the keys on the rack inside. Thinks to himself he’ll come back later, pick out a ride.
Not so fast, sonny. All of a sudden, Hopwood’s pointing a Seecamp LWS32 at him. You know, there really are an awful lot of tiny little guns in these books. I guess because with Parker, a gun really is just a gun.
But a .32 bullet really hurts, no matter what size the gun is. Hopwood does the old don’t move a muscle routine. He has the wanted poster, with the damn drawing. Says he’ll wing Parker if he doesn’t get his hands over his head. Figuring he’ll wait his chance, Parker starts to comply–and a woman comes in. That same woman who talked to him last night. Wanted to know if she could help. She just did. Parker throws her at Hopwood, and takes out his own tiny pistol. “I don’t wing,” he says.
And to finish out Part Two, this woman looks at the Smith & Wesson Parker is now pointing at her and Hopwood, and says “You! You’re the one who stole Jack’s gun!” Detectives. You can’t get away from them. No matter how small the town is.
That’s a bit over 6,000 words. For a section of the book that runs eleven chapters, fifty-seven pages. Didn’t leave much meat on the bone for you this time, did I Greg? Well, you know what they say about carnivores. They always come back for thirds. See you at Post #200.