Review: The Hunter (AKA Point Blank, AKA Payback, etc, etc)

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The office men drove by, clutching their steering wheels, and hardly noticed him.  Just a bum walking on the bridge.   Didn’t even own a car.  A few of them saw him and remembered themselves before they’d made it, when they didn’t have a car.   They thought they were empathizing with him.   They thought it was the same thing.

 Parker put the gun down and picked up the phone.  “All right,” he said.  “He’s dead.  I’ve got your name and phone number.  In five minutes, I’ll have your address.  In twenty-four hours, I’ll have you in my hands.  Yes or no.”

“In twenty-four hours you’ll be dead!  No lone man can buck the organization.”

“I’ll be seeing you,” Parker said.

Bucklin Moon, editor at Pocket Books, was having a bad day.   Maybe more like a bad year.   Hell, make it a bad decade.  Once a promising young novelist and anthologist; a white man who wrote from the perspective of working class blacks, championed equality and world peace, as well as an editor of the first rank who had helped introduce some of the most legendary names in African American literature to the world, he’d been fired from Colliers Magazine in 1953 over accusations from a superior that he was a ‘fellow traveler’ (well hey, aren’t we all?), and had been called before the House Un-American Activities Committee on charges that–among other things–he’d been centrally involved in a peace conference run by the Communist Party.  He denied all the charges vehemently,  and there was no real evidence against him except that of association.  Moon was basically an FDR Liberal, perhaps guilty of naivete on certain subjects, roughly as subversive as Pope Francis,  but when he refused to ‘name names’, that, as they say, was that.  For years afterwards, publishers treated him like he was poison.

By the time McCarthy was done and the heat was off (and Mr. Moon had attempted suicide during a bout of depression), he was yesterday’s news, and he couldn’t get his writing career going again.   He’d put together a fairly prestigious (now forgotten) anthology for Doubleday that came out in 1962, but it was just excerpts of other people’s work, most of it easily available elsewhere (and, I note in passing, absolutely nothing in it that could remotely be called crime fiction).   It didn’t make up for what he’d lost, and now here he was, slaving away in the slush piles of a publisher of tiny cheap paperbacks that catered at times to rather lowbrow tastes–I don’t know for a fact that this bothered him, but think about it–wouldn’t it bother you?

But a thoroughgoing professional he always had been, and this he remained, so he resolutely worked his way through one lamentable manuscript after another, making helpful suggestions as to how each might  be improved–and then one day he got something–different.   From a young writer name of Westlake, only he was submitting this under the name Richard Stark.  Crime fiction, in the raucous no-holds-barred contemporary style, and nothing like anything Moon’s name had previously been linked to.  Bucklin Moon had never been a genre guy, even though he was a key figure in the rise of Chester Himes–see, when Moon was editing Himes,  the future master of Harlem Noir was still doing respectable novels of social realism and the plight of the black man–he didn’t start writing his irreverent tales of Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones until about ten years later, after he moved to Paris.   I’m not even sure Moon approved of Himes making the switch to crime fiction.  It’s not like I can ask him what he thought about that.   I guarantee you Himes never did.

Moon once wrote an essay about his experiences with book editing, saying that he usually only needed to get through the first few pages to know if a book was any good or not, though even if he knew it was rotten he still had to force himself to read every last painful page, fighting ennui all the way.

In the first few pages of this crime novel he was tasked with reading, written rather sparely in the third person and entitled The Hunter, a guy walks across the George Washington Bridge into Manhattan, commits a series of petty crimes and frauds to get a bankroll and a false ID, looks up the wife who shot him (but still loves him), knocks her down, goads her to suicide, mutilates her corpse so she won’t be identified right away, waits until a messenger who happens to be gay (that isn’t the word the novel uses) shows up with money for her, then beats the location of the money’s source out of him.  So I think we can safely conclude Mr. Moon was not bored.

As the story continues, this guy relentlessly and methodically goes from one link in the chain to the next, and his goals are very simple–he wants some money he thinks of as his, even though he stole it.   And he wants the former associate who stole it from him to die gasping between his two huge vein-covered hands.   In that order of priority.   And anybody, no matter how powerful or ruthless or well-connected, who tries to impede him in achieving these goals is going to end up regretting it.  Though probably not for very long.

At no time does this bruiser show the slightest remorse over his violent behavior–nor does he take any sadistic pleasure from it.   It’s just what he does.   It’s just who he is.   He’s a thief, a professional ‘heavy’ (meaning armed) heister.   If someone threatens him, or gets in his way,  or excessively complicates his plans, then and only then does he become a killer as well.   He thinks in terms of patterns–his old pattern, we’re told, has been disrupted by a double-cross, and now he has to find a new pattern, to try and get back to the old pattern–to do a big robbery, then live for a year or more off the proceeds, whiling away his time at some warm-weather resort, usually in Florida.

His pattern has one other odd twist to it–he is keenly interested in the opposite sex (who invariably find him dangerously attractive), but only right after he’s finished a job.   For a month or two afterwards, he’s insatiable, then his sex drive gradually drops off, and completely disappears once he’s back to planning a new job.  He doesn’t think there’s anything strange about this, and he never worries about it.   He is perfectly aware that he’s not like anyone else, but he never wonders why.   He never questions his nature.  He’s content to be as he is.   He can’t imagine being any other way.   He wouldn’t understand anyone who did.   He has rarely experienced the emotion of hatred (perhaps only towards the wife who betrayed him, who he basically stops thinking of after her death), and never once has he felt a pang of envy.   Towards anybody.   He is, in short, a minority of one.

The last half of the book is about his struggle with a crime syndicate that calls itself The Outfit, to which his former associate Mal Resnick paid the money our ‘hero’ thinks of as his to settle a debt, and buy a comfortable living as a lower-level boss, though he intends to keep working his way up.   Mal is a weakling and a coward, whose only real asset is a sort of low cunning, and who has no higher aspiration than to be a cog in that criminal machine.  Our man dispatches him easily, but now he has to get his money from The Outfit itself.

The Outfit doesn’t want to pay, and none of its high-ranking members can bring themselves to comprehend that this unaffiliated nobody is telling them “My money or your lives.”   But that is exactly what he’s telling them, and he is deadly serious.   Against all odds, he keeps beating them, outmaneuvering them with startling ease, because he’s a free man, and they’re just cogs in a machine.   They’ve forgotten how to think, how to stand on their own feet, how to fight their own battles.  They’ve gotten so used to nobody standing up to them, they don’t know how to react when somebody does, and he exploits that confusion to the hilt.    He gets what he wants out of them, killing a few in the process, and prepares to leave New York with his money, to resume his old pattern, begin a new life, with a new face, courtesy of a plastic surgeon.

Then the cops pick him up on (mistaken) suspicions of narcotics smuggling, and he makes a break for it and they gun him down.   The End.

At this point, as I fondly imagine, Bucklin Moon must have blinked.   He reads the last chapter over again, and he says to himself no–it will not do.   He contacts the author, whose book has already been rejected by Gold Medal (the #1 outfit in paperback crime publishing at the time), and says Pocket would like to buy The Hunter–but only on condition that the protagonist gets away at the end, and that Westlake can give them three novels a year about him.   Westlake, still making much of his living by writing quickie erotic novels for desultory houses like “Nightstand Books” accepts with overjoyed alacrity–turns out he never liked the ending either, but it was just what you’re supposed to do with a protagonist that bad, right?   I mean, he accidentally causes the death of a completely innocent woman in the course of the book, somebody who never harmed him in any way, and his only reaction is one of bemused irritation that she had asthma and didn’t tell him before he knocked her out, tied, and gagged her, so he could use her place of business as a vantage point for surveillance.   Best as we can tell, he never thinks about it afterwards.  Spilled milk, right?

Not a nice guy.   Not in any way shape or form.  He doesn’t pet dogs in the street.   He doesn’t toss coins to barefoot orphans.   The closest thing he can muster to a compliment when talking to an old friend who happens to be a delectable little redhead with a major crush on him is “You look good”, and he’s only saying that because he needs a favor.  He totally ruins her life in the space of three short chapters, and he doesn’t even say he’s sorry.  He doesn’t have a kind word to say about anyone, even the few people who actually like him, though say this–if you’re 100% straight with him, he’ll be 100% straight with you, right down the line.   In all other regards, he’s a bastard (perhaps literally as well as figuratively), and the book calls him exactly that in its sixth paragraph, though only in the context of telling us that passing women can’t look at him without thinking about sex, which kind of takes out the sting, if you know what I mean.

And this fictive monster’s life, for all intents and purposes, was saved  and perpetuated over the course of what turned out to be well over four decades, by a lifelong pacifist and idealist, and quite certainly a gentleman towards the fair sex (he married several of them), who devoted himself wholeheartedly to helping the less privileged, and wouldn’t name names of people he barely knew to save himself from professional ruin.   Weird.

Westlake returned the manuscript to Moon basically unchanged, except for a revised ending–best as I can tell, Moon did not make any further suggestions or emendations, though he said in that essay about editing that it was virtually unknown for a new author to get that treatment.   The only real difference in the rewrite is that the main character escapes the cops–without his money, because that would make it too easy–and then has to plan a whole new robbery, where he sticks it to The Outfit yet again, and then heads off for his plastic surgery, figuring afterwards he’ll go back to Florida–maybe somewhere in the Keys.

And reading this in its final published form, probably the last book of any real note he could claim any significant credit for, though I doubt he or even Donald Westlake recognized it as such at the time, I just know that lifelong pacifist, gentleman, defender of the downtrodden, and all-around nice guy Bucklin Moon was smiling, like a kid on Christmas Day.

Paradoxical?   Nope.  That’s Parker.

If you’re getting the impression I am advancing the theory that Bucklin Moon gave Donald Westlake a contract to write three books a year about this dastardly dastard because he himself, Bucklin Moon, wanted to go on reading about him, well give yourself a gold star, Sherlock.   As I see it, any book editor worth his or her onions, regardless of the tawdry commercial realities of the publishing industry, hungers and thirsts not to produce the latest bestselling piece of crap,  but to try to the utmost of his or her ability to get books in print that he or she would want to read.   That’s the difference between a professional and a hack, as I know Donald Westlake would agree.   Parker certainly did turn out to be a paying proposition for Pocket, but the Gold Medal editor who rejected the very same manuscript would have presumably been better-versed in the demands of the crime genre market, and I’m not sure Moon even gave a damn about that genre.   I honestly don’t know.

What I do know, or so I flatter myself, is human nature.  And it is human nature to identify with those who do what you can’t do, go where you fear to go, fight those you were unable to fight, win the game of life on their own terms, and make you believe they can do all this.    As Bucklin Moon had aspired to do, in a very different way, before some two-bit assholes (to put it politely) from a somewhat different kind of Outfit put him on ice.    To live in this world is to get mad at the way it works.   To get mad is to dream, however fleetingly and futilely, of somehow someway someday getting even.   Of bucking the organization and getting away clean.    Of being absolutely unequivocally free.

By the way, did I happen to mention Bucklin Moon eventually retired to Florida?   He died in 1984, somewhere in the Keys.   I am not making that up.

Okay, this is getting long, and have I even reviewed the book yet?   Not really.    Parenthetically, I don’t even think this is the best book Westlake published the year it came out.   But it’s arguably the most important and influential novel he ever wrote, the keystone of his long productive career, and I think I’m going to put this to bed, feed my dog, get some dinner, do some laundry, and come back with Part 2 sometime in the coming week.

I’ll be seeing you.

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11 responses to “Review: The Hunter (AKA Point Blank, AKA Payback, etc, etc)

  1. What can I say? You opened my eyes on Bucklin Moon. I only saw his name a couple of times and knew he was a legend. But that was it. I didn’t know any details. Now I need to dig into Moon.
    And the tagline on the Pocket first edition is sort of perfect. I even consider it the best tagline ever.
    I will probably agree with you that The Hunter is not Westlake best book (but what is his best? I’m afraid to even guess), but I still think it’s best Stark book. And any screen adaptations of this novel are not worth watching. They all look pale in comparison to The Hunter novel.
    (I’m wondering what was the name of the Gold Medal editor who turned down the manuscript? What a fool, but he played his role in history.)

    • Well, ‘best’ can be a nebulous word–what do we mean by best book? The Parker novels will always be my favorite things Westlake ever wrote, and if you want to consider the Parker Saga as a whole as one long work, it’s his supreme achievement, I would say. But as individual novels, they’re maybe a bit too rough and jagged–though that is, in fact, part of their appeal. I don’t want to say what I think his best individual novel is, because by the time I get through this, I might have changed my mind. I don’t want to part with any facet of him, to choose between Westlake, Stark, or Coe, and I don’t have to, so why worry about it?

      Looking deeper into the genesis of Parker, I realized that The Hunter is basically a book that an editor plucked from obscurity, and turned into a series, which it was never intended to be, but the editor in question liked the book so much as written–and I am of course only guessing at any personal reasons he may have had for liking it and for wanting its protagonist to survive and have further adventures–that he only passed his hand very lightly over it. If you read Moon’s unpublished essay about book editing (just click on his name at the beginning of the review and go down to the bottom of the page), you’ll see that he says he didn’t insist writers change their books–he would make suggestions, and in most cases the writers would be only too eager to get his advice. Westlake I am sure would have listened to him. But if I’m right, Moon didn’t want to edit the books–he wanted to read them. He just wanted Westlake to send him the manuscripts, so he could get his Parker fix, then he’d pass them basically unaltered to the people in charge of getting them printed and distributed. I could be wrong.

      But in any event, The Hunter does seem to be a book that was lifted out of obscurity and improved by a crucial change in its ending, but not really shaped in any other way by its editor. It’s a work by a novelist who is still developing his craft, and maturing in his worldview, and he probably wouldn’t have minded one bit if Moon had made further suggestions, but Moon obviously didn’t want to. He didn’t want to alter a line of what came before the ending. At Random House, Westlake was getting a lot of help from Lee Wright, who he described as the best editor he ever worked with–meaning, I suspect, that he never really worked WITH Bucklin Moon, who was probably just as good as Wright, but who felt that the Stark novels were best left alone.

      As a result, I’d say that his work for Random House during this period, with major input from Wright, and a much more generous schedule (he was contracted to give Random House one novel a year), is more impressive in a lot of ways. Those books just feel more–complete–self-contained–polished. Which is how they’re supposed to feel. Is polished better? Or do you like the quick and dirty approach of Stark, who basically gets published unedited, and is cranking out three novels a year for Pocket? It’s a personal thing.

      I think what his Random House books lack is a character people want to come back to, over and over. But that’s not what Random House is asking for. So that’s not a failing. And the Parker books are part of a series, and are supposed to leave you hungry for the next book, so their rougher, more abrupt, less finished character isn’t a failing either. Just writing to different demands, different markets, different expectations.

      Styles date. Great characters never do. Was Arthur Conan Doyle a great and timeless writer? I don’t think so. Will Sherlock Holmes outlive the characters of many a far superior wordsmith? Of course he will. Though looking at the forms he’s been taking on lately in the popular media (now that he’s public property), I’m not always convinced that’s a good thing. May Parker be spared such a fate. May he always remain himself. The occasional horrible movie notwithstanding.

  2. Random House novels are certainly more polished. I prefer roughness of the Parker books. And at the same time I like Random House works because of their stand-alone-isness.
    When the topic of the alternative ending of The Hunter pops up, I always ask a question: what would Westlake write if he killed Parker at the end of The Hunter? What novels would we have seen? What brilliant books we hadn’t seen because of Parker? Or would Westlake switched to softcore novels because he’d need money?

    • Looking at it from another perspective–what if Westlake had written something like The Godfather–a massive bestseller, that spawned several huge hit movies? Did Mario Puzo ever need to work again after that? Nope. He did anyway, because it was what he wanted to do, but everything else was overshadowed by that one big success. I think you could argue it made him a wealthy man and ruined him as a writer. And today, hardly anybody reads him. The Coppola movies took over from the books, which I used to see copies of at every yard sale–but not anymore. I’m not saying Puzo didn’t have an impressive career, but with the passage of time, you have to say his work hasn’t held up as well as Westlake’s. He didn’t have a second act. Stephen King would be an example of a writer who has had many bestsellers, has stretched himself to write in different genres, and whose books continue to be read–will that go on being the case long after he’s gone? I don’t know. I do know it’s been a long time since I felt moved to read any of his new books, or reread the old ones.

      Westlake always had to make his fortune one score at a time. I don’t think any of his books ever made the top ten. He sold a lot of them to Hollywood, but most never made it to the big screen, and none of the movies that got there were hits. So as I see it, it was the lack of that one great success that defined his career, by virtue of NOT defining it–leaving him free to improvise. I would imagine he felt ambiguous about it–what writer wouldn’t want a success like that? What person doesn’t want the security of wealth? But what happens to you afterward? If your work defines your identity, what happens to you when you don’t need to work? I see that question asked in a lot of his books. That I won’t be getting to for a while. But I’d argue he kept going back to Parker, not just because the books were popular (though again, never huge sellers), but rather because Parker was his touchstone. The man who lives job to job, fights his way from one day to the next, and never worries about the future, because who says there’s going to be one? Nobody runs forever. But now I’m REALLY jumping ahead.

  3. It’s great you raised a topic of Mafia-oriented books. I have read last week that Hoover refused to acknowledge the existence of Mafia til the 1957. And yet it’s early 60s, and Westlake writes about Mafia, though his Mafia is not really Mafia, and his novels not about Mafia, but about one man vs the organization. Do we even know how Westlake created his Outfit? Or his Organization is straight from Rabe’s novels? Being from New York area, Westlake probably knew something about La Cosa Nostra, but his mafia hoods bear American names, not Italian.

    • I’ve wondered about that as well. The influence of Rabe on Westlake is hard to overstate, particularly in this early period, but Rabe certainly didn’t shy away from portraying organized crime as predominantly Italian, though his protagonists usually weren’t.

      The Mercenaries and 361 have Italian and Italian American mobsters in them–but the Parker novels didn’t show us any until Slayground, I believe (editing–on reflection, we saw a few in Deadly Edge, but they weren’t the main antagonists).

      Understand that for a very long time, accusations of Italians being involved in organized crime were a sore point among the Italian American community here. Even if they knew it was true, they didn’t like hearing about it, and it’s hard to blame them–many WASPs would assume you had some kind of ‘family’ connection just because your name ended in a vowel other than silent ‘e’. That’s probably the main reason Mario Cuomo never ran for President. Our first President with a vowel sound at the end of his name is still President. And some people still haven’t gotten over it. Okay, it’s probably not just the vowel sound that bothers them.

      Westlake would have grown up around Italian Americans upstate, counted some of them as friends (remember Killing Time)–the Irish and the Italians here had a longstanding competition for power and jobs, some sense of animosity, mingled with a mutual attraction (more and more intermarriage), and of course they’re going to the same church, particularly in areas where Catholics are a minority overall, as they would have been in upstate NY. The sense that both communities are still not quite ‘respectable’ gives them an increasing sense of solidarity, even if some of the old prejudices linger on. I can vaguely remember this period–a cousin of mine married an Italian American–first wedding I ever attended, and boy was that a shindig. The marriage did not work out, and you could hear maybe just a shade of anti-Italian prejudice in the way my family talked about him, but he was still one of us. White ethnic Catholic. Nothing scandalous about it. But a generation earlier, when my mom brought my dad home for dinner the first time, they were asking him about his parents (both of whom were Irish immigrants) because my dad is what they sometimes call a Black Irishman–tans easily, very dark hair (well it used to be). If he’d been Italian, that would have been a wee bit of a scandal. A generation earlier than that, it would have been a big one. A generation before that–well, let’s not go there.

      So as a white Catholic ethnic of the lower middle class, albeit one leading a decidedly unconventional life, Westlake might have just felt like he didn’t want to hurt the feelings of people he grew up with–or confirm the prejudices of the WASP overclass. He’d say organized crime was Italians AND Irish AND Jews–which was true, btw, but there was never any doubt who was in charge–and then he just decided to make it all WASPs, because the Parker novels were not, unlike his early work for Random House, meant to depict social realities–there certainly were some WASPs involved, and in the movies he grew up with, organized crime figures were often depicted by WASPy actors, precisely because Hollywood didn’t want to alienate Italian American moviegoers.

      He might also have been thinking of a writer I know he admired–Ed McBain, aka Evan Hunter, whose birth name was Salvatore Lombino, and do I really have to explain why he never published under that name?

      But anyway, by the 1970’s, the era of The Godfather, there was no point trying to pretend anymore that organized crime wasn’t mainly an Italian affair (though that was rapidly changing, as new immigrant communities went through the same assimilation process), and some Italians were actually a little proud of how tough and sexy they were being portrayed as being–today, after The Sopranos, an Italian American might actually brag about mob connections in his family, as long as they weren’t too recent or too close. You know, the way Australians today are delighted when they find out they’re descended from some of the original convict exiles. Time takes the sting out of everything–once we’ve made it, we’d rather have a colorful background than a respectable one. We’re all ‘respectable’ now, us white ethnic Catholics. And many of us are happy to play the same role towards more recent immigrants that the now-shrinking WASP overclass used to play towards us. Times change, people never do.

  4. Pingback: Review: The Man With the Getaway Face | The Westlake Review

  5. Chris Ward

    You’ve referred to Jack Palance as a possible model for Parker, but I always had another actor in mind when I read the novels. He was an actor/stuntman who appeared in a number of things, but who was best used by Walter Hill in Hard Times (1975) and The Driver (1978). His name was Nick Dimitri– he’s the fighter Charles Bronson faces at the end of Hard Times. He’s blank and implacable and lupine in a way that made him the perfect Parker for me. I’d been reading the novels for years when I saw him and immediately thought, “That’s Parker.” Google him and see if you agree.

    • Well first of all, sorry I didn’t see this before–your post must have gotten lost in the shuffle.

      Secondly, I didn’t know Nick Dimitri by name, but I checked him out on YouTube. He looks about the same height as Charles Bronson in that fight scene, which only goes to show how easily they can make you look taller or shorter in films. At 6’2 (according to IMDb), he was tall enough. He’d do. Though I’d probably prefer Bronson (if they could make him look as tall as Nick Dimitri).

      But I’m not sure Dimitri had the screen presence to pull it off. It’s hard to say for sure–actors can surprise you–personally, if we’re talking about stunt guys who mainly played supporting roles, I’d go with William Smith–you know, the guy Clint Eastwood faces at the end of Any Which Way You Can. Bigger and meaner-looking (though reportedly the same height as Dimitri). It’s all kind of academic now, of course.

      I mentioned Jack Palance because Westlake specifically said he saw Parker as looking a bit like Palance when he was writing The Hunter–obviously after he had plastic surgery, he’d look like somebody else. I don’t think Palance’s somewhat hyper always-about-to-explode acting style would have necessarily been a great fit, if he’d ever played Parker–he’d have needed a director who could keep him in line. But that’s how Westlake originally envisioned him–meaning he’s a really big guy. Palance was as tall as John Wayne.

  6. if you’re 100% straight with him, he’ll be 100% straight with you, right down the line.

    With one exception (that we know of): Parker was going to double-cross Mal when, as far as he knew, Mal was being straight with him. Agreed that this was completely out of character for Parker: Mal had a difficult time convincing Ray that Parker was going to betray them, because he’d never done anything like it before. I honestly don’t know what to make of it.

    • Except Mal was never straight with Parker. From the very start, he was planning a cross. And on an instinctive level, Parker could smell that on him. Parker’s ‘code’ doesn’t function on a conscious level, though he may rationalize it at times–he doesn’t have to wait for you to turn on him. He doesn’t necessarily have to let you shoot first. When he can tell you’re a problem, he’ll just kill you.

      Mal is a problem. So he has to be dealt with. Parker never considered him a real professional–he’s not. He’s a mob guy, an organization man, a hireling–not an independent, and that means he doesn’t get as much of the benefit of the doubt as one of the men Parker perceives (only half-correctly) as fellow wolves. Still, if he wasn’t setting off alarm bells in Parker’s head, Parker wouldn’t have been planning to off him.

      Now, bear two things in mind–all but the very end of this book was written as a one-shot, where the protagonist dies at the end. Westlake didn’t know he was creating a series character. So you’d expect some variations from the pattern established in the later books–to my way of thinking, they’re pretty minor variations. But the character, as I said elsewhere in this two-part review, is in embryonic form here.

      The other thing is that if Parker trusted Mal completely–never sensed any problem–he’d look like a punk. Parker is not allowed to look like a punk. Ever. From the start, we’re being told this is not some straight-arrow who plays by the rules–even his own rules. He’ll be straight with you if you’re straight with him, but that doesn’t mean he won’t kill you if he thinks he has to.

      He would have killed Claire in The Rare Coin Score if he thought she was a threat to his life or his freedom–this is before he’s fully bonded with her, after which he couldn’t kill her for any reason. He likes Claire a whole lot more than Mal. But before that final bond is created, she’s got to show him she’s in control of herself.

      Mal is never really in control of himself. As we see in the chapter from his POV, Mal is an utterly out-of-balance personality. Even if he wasn’t planning a cross, he’d be a threat. Because he doesn’t know who he is. And in Parker’s world, that is the one unforgivable sin. For which there can be only one penalty.

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