McWhitney sighed and slipped the automatic out of sight under his jacket. “I’ll tell you what happened,” he said. “I fell for an old one.”
“This guy Keenan, he comes to me, he says you told him he should ask me where to find Harbin.”
Dalesia laughed. “Why would I do that?”
“That was my question. What were you up to. But it wasn’t you up to something, it was Keenan. That’s the old dodge, he tells me you told him this thing or that thing, then I’m supposed to figure it’s okay to tell him more.”
“He had no idea what was going on.”
“None,” McWhitney agreed.
“So that was a big mistake he made.”
“Yeah, it was.”
Dalesia grinned. “I bet he learned a lesson from it.”
“Yeah.” McWhitney nodded. “He learned the harp.”
Bit of a mystery about this week’s covers. The British edition, from Robert Hale Limited, is well done as always (Hale did some of the finest cover art I’ve seen for this series, and that’s going some). Nobody will ever convince me Parker looks like that, but you make allowances for regional preference. Other than physiognomy, I’d rank it over the Mysterious Press cover art, which I do like quite a bit, but this is more specific.
The Italian edition, from a different publisher, seems to be a blurry close-up of that cover. What’s up with that? If they had the rights to the Hale art, why wouldn’t they just use it? If they didn’t have the rights, or didn’t want an identical cover, why not just commission something along similar lines? Hale is gone, as of 2015, its imprints now owned by The Crowood Press, and sorry I am to hear it. Another independent gone the way of all things. Shall we assume they never had the deep pockets to do anything about it if somebody glommed their art?
Also, could one of my German readers explain the alternate editions for the Parker novels I find on Amazon.de? Two imprints of the same publisher? The shared theme for this one was snakes. I could think of more fitting novels in the series for that motif, but effective, all the same. Unless Parker is supposed to be the snake, and I think everyone knows my zoological take by now.
And my penchant for prologue, but I’ve run on long enough here. Notice how the foreign publishers just translated the original title? (Not the French, as we’ll see next time, but they always go their own way.) Something about this particular title struck a deep chord. Let’s cut back to the chase, shall we? While we’ve still time.
In all of the Stark novels but the last three Grofields, the book will have four parts, identified by number only. One of them will be the round robin section, where you explore a variety of perspectives and Parker is not heard from much, or at all. Part Two is the round robin this time, as happens now and then in the series–it’s usually Part Three.
But when there were a lot of people in the mix, many of them not really connected to Parker’s world, he sometimes opted for Part Two, so he could establish those perspectives, introduce key players Parker doesn’t know about yet, set things up for the big finish. So that’s a bit out of the ordinary, but wait until we get to Part Four.
Part Two kicks off with a chapter from the POV of Gwen Reversa, a tall good-looking blonde Massachusetts State Police detective, with their CID unit, and I’m not sure they call it that in reality, nor do I think there are a lot of people with that last name, going by the fact that the online White Pages only came up with one match. I’d guess it’s reverse-engineered (nothing implicit about that pun) from one of several similar French surnames, and Mr. Westlake is playing his name games again, but he draws attention from her last by telling us about her first.
Gwen Reversa had decided to change her first name from Wendy even before she knew she was going to be a cop. The name Wendy just didn’t lend itself to the kind of respect she felt she deserved. Wendys were thought of as blondes, i.e., airheads.
Or good little witches who date friendly ghosts, but never mind that now. She found out Wendy is short for Gwendolyn, and there was an end to that (and isn’t the most famous Gwen in fiction a not over-bright blonde who got killed by the Green Goblin so Spider-man could date a much smarter redhead? Never mind that either.)
She’s at the local hospital to talk to Jake Beckham about his being shot in the fleshy part of his thigh as he was leaving the motel he works at. He suspects Parker of having done it, but he can’t very well tell her that. So he talks a lot, she listens to what he doesn’t say, and knows he’s hiding something. She knows he’s lying about not suspecting anyone, and about not being involved with Elaine Langen anymore. She believes him when he says the husband didn’t do it. But she figures she’ll go talk to his recently divorced sister, who is going to be taking care of him during his convalescence. And is named Wendy. She’s looking forward to it.
Chapter 2 is about Myron Madchen, Jake’s personal physician, there to see him, which he shouldn’t be doing (he’s not a surgeon), but he’s doing it anyway. He’s very worried to learn there’s a cop there talking to Jake. He’s worried about everything in his life. In a bad marriage, to the unpleasant woman who put him through med school, who will never give him a divorce. In a tense passionate affair with a lovely young married woman whose drunken husband is beating her, and all he can do is patch her up prior to illicit coitus.
They want to run away together to California. But his practice isn’t that lucrative, and he doesn’t have the cash. Hence Jake Beckham. Hence Dr. Madchen taking a very real risk of going to prison for aiding and abetting a felony. He may end up wishing it had been that easy.
Chapter 3 is Elaine Langen, tooling along in her white Infiniti, which isn’t really hers, and neither is anything else. That’s why she’s doing this. God bless the child who’s got her own back with interest. Just like Madchen, her woes stem from a very bad marital choice she made, that her father told her not to, and when will fathers ever learn?
The fact was, when Harvey believed he knew hat was best for his daughter, he was almost always right. Her angry feuds with him were not because he was wrong, but because he left her no space to come to the right answers on her own. Since he preempted the right, she had no cohice, the way she saw it, but to defiantly claim the wrong as her own.
Thus, Jack Langen.
Well, it wouldn’t be for too much longer, and in the meantie Jack wasn’t particularly hard to get along with, all wrapped up as he was in the coming merger. A self-involved man, once he’d captured Elaine and the bank she sat on, he was content to let life just roll along.
Especially now, with this takeover that he’d insisted on, over her own objections and the posthumous objections of Harvey, relayed through Elaine. This was not a merger! It was a swallowing up, and Elaine knew it, and so did everybody else.
Well, Jack would be happy in the new headquarters of Rutherford Combined Savings, where he could play at being an old-money banker the rest of his life. And Elaine would be happy in the South of France, with all the money she’d need until the found the right well-off replacement for Jack. And Jake Beckham would be happy wherever he decided to go with his piece of the pie, so at the end of the day everybody’s happy, so what’s the problem?
Well, for one thing, there isn’t likely to be enough money in that armored car to make all these people happy for very long (Elaine is forgetting Dr. Madchen & the mistress, not to mention inflation and the rate of exchange with the Euro), even if nothing at all goes wrong with the heist.
Something’s gone wrong already. That’s why Parker is waiting for her when she gets home. Always the best detective in these novels, because he overlooks all the distracting static and focuses on the essentials. And right now, what’s essential is that Elaine give him her gun. The one she told him she knew never to pull out unless she was ready to use it.
Since the chairs all faced the television set, he half-turned one toward her before sitting down. Then he said, “A pro would throw the gun away right after, but you’re not a pro and you are greedy, so you held on to it.”
“If you’re saying I shot Jake–”
“We’re past that,” he said. “You did it, and sooner or later a cop is gonna show up here, and you’ve got a license for that gun. They’ll want to see it. If you say you lost it, they’ll get a warrant and search the house and find it and match it to the bullet they’re gonna take out of Beckham.”
Being called greedy had overshadowed everything else he’d said. She said icily, “I really don’t see–”
“What happens to you, I don’t care,” he said. “But if they nail you as the shooter, the whole bank job comes undone. I don’t want it undone.”
She hit exactly what she aimed at–the fleshy part of the thigh. She was worried Jake wouldn’t have an alibi for the heist, so she arranged one. The same old personality flaw that sabotaged her before–the need to take control of situations she doesn’t understand well enough. Parker is subbing for her dad now, and is giving her no room at all. But that’s hardly his fault. And then the maid tells Elaine that Gwen Reversa is at the door right now.
Terrified, she gives Parker the gun, and he goes out the back. Elaine has a little conversation with Detective Reversa, which goes no better for her than it did for Jake, but they don’t find the gun. Which looks bad, but not as bad as if they’d found it.
Jack Langen shows up in his Lincoln Navigator (of course), right as they’re searching the house. Elaine’s wrong about a lot of things, but she’s 100% right to think he married her for her daddy’s bank. What she doesn’t know is more important. 1)She could still block the merger if she really tried–2)Once it goes through, he’s going to divorce her and get to work on that trophy wife, and–3)She’s getting alimony, of course. Maybe not South of France alimony, but he figures maybe Alaska, or some island. Nice guy.
She doesn’t need the heist to win her freedom from him. On some level, she probably knows this, doesn’t care. She wants revenge on the man who helped her ruin her life, even if it means ruining it all over again. Parker already knows this. She doesn’t. All Jack knows is that he better watch her close, because she’s lying about having lost the gun.
Chapter 5 is Roy Keenan, bounty hunter, tracking down the elusive Michael Maurice Harbin for the big government reward, and I guess he’s under the impression Joe Gores is writing this book. He bribed a state cop in Cincinnati–a mere hundred dollars gave him some names, of guys at that card game that opens this book. The card game where Parker killed Harbin with his necktie, but the cop didn’t know that, so neither does Keenan. Not that he’d care, he collects for a dead body just as well, except it doesn’t occur to him that the people responsible for Harbin’s death might like him to stay lost. Habeas corpus and all.
This Willis gent he braced in Jersey was unhelpful, and maybe a bit intimidating, even for him. He hasn’t been able to find Nick Dalesia, but Nelson McWhitney owns a bar on Long Island. He figures he’ll drop Dalesia’s name and see what results he gets. He gets his results in the back room. Direct from Louisville.
He staggered rightward, against the wall, throwing his arms up to protect himself, yelling, “Wait! No! You got this wro–“and the bat came around again, this time smashing into his upraised left arm, midway between elbow and armpit, snapping the bone there, so that the arm dropped, useless, and amazing pain shot through him.
McWhitney stood in a tree axer’s stance, not a baseball stance. “So Nick Dalesia’s got a big mouth, does he? Thinks he’s a comical fellow, does he?”
“No, no, not like that! Let me–”
“I’ll see to Dalesia.”
This time the bat smashed his jaw and flung him again into the side wall. “Naa!” he screamed. “Naa!”
But the jaw wouldn’t work. He’d always used words; he was a talker; words got him into places and out of trouble, got him answers, got him everything he wanted; words had always saved him, but now all the words were gone, the jaw couldn’t work, and all he could bleat was, “Naa! Naa!” Even he didn’t understand himself.
“Say hello to Mike Harbin,” McWhitney said, so at least he got the answer to that question, and the bat was the fastest thing in the world.
Chapter 6 is where the former Wendy meets the present one, as Reversa, still making the rounds, goes to see Jake’s sister at the trailer park. Wendy Beckham (back to her maiden name, now that the divorce is final) is a nice person, the kind who takes care of family, and she knows her brother hasn’t always behaved himself, but he’s still family, and she needs a project.
Reversa shares a bit of what she knows, and Wendy realizes this project is going to be harder than she thought. He wasn’t just dipping into the bank’s money, he was dipping into the bank manager’s wife. And now this pretty young detective thinks the wife put a bullet in his leg–not to kill him, but to render him inactive a while. Why? That’s something any sister would like to know, so she goes to the hospital for a little heart to heart.
Chapter 7 is just Grace, Dalesia’s former wife, talking to her pal Monica about how she still occasionally does things for her ex-hubby the heistman. She’s basically serving as his mailbox. She just got a fax with the number 4 written on it and nothing else. The day of the big money move, but she doesn’t need to know that.
Chapter 8, Gwendy (she can’t shoot me, she’s a police officer) comes back at Jake a little harder this time, and he’s genuinely rattled when she lets him know who really shot him, but he improvises a story about why she might do that (hell hath no fury), and why he’d never consider pressing charges, even if they can prove it. After all, she was just making a point. Reversa shoots him a “Who do you think you’re kidding” look, and leaves.
The last two chapters are McWhitney and Dalesia ironing out this little misunderstanding on McWhitney’s part, and you can see how that worked out up top. Dalesia’s less of a talker than the late Mr. Keenan, but he’s a lot less cocksure, and he speaks fluent heister. A language most skip tracers don’t speak well, if at all. Honorable mention to Dan Kearny.
Before that rapprochement takes place, we see Dalesia, driving along the route he knows the convoy will take, looking for the best possible spot for an ambush. An intersection, say.
And he believed he’d found it. It was not part of any town, but it had a little commercial buildup around it; a cafe open only for breakfast and lunch, a gas station that shut at dark, a used-car lot with cards behind a chain-link fence and with a small shed out front with a handwritten sign on the door: PHONE FOR APPT.
The area was occupied, but not at night. The roads heading north and east met other turnoff roads almost immediately, making an escaper’s route very hard to guess. At the intersection itself, the two roads coming up from the south and east met at dogleg angles, no straight lines. And the diner, the used-car shack, and the layout of the gas station made for a somewhat constricted area around the intersection. The armored cars would have to come through very slowly.
For breakfast and lunch, the diner’s parking lot at the front and left side was full of pickup trucks. This was where the labor force in this part of the world ate everything but dinner. They were all regulars, talking to one another about their jobs and their bosses and their favorite sports teams. They paid no attention to Dalesia when he sat among them and spent some time over coffee at a window table at the front, looking out at the intersection, pleased with his choice.
The point was to be here before the armored cars arrived to set themselves in useful positions. They had a rough idea how to pull it off, and how to lead the target car away, but where should they place themselves to begin with? The armored cars would come up along that road over there, to cross the intersection northbound. Parker and Dalesia would want their special one to go out the road on that side, they would want the other three armored cars to block the intersection there and there, and the more Dalesia looked at the place, the more it seemed to him they needed two guys on the ground and one to bird-dog the target.
Three. They needed one more man.
The end result is that McWhitney becomes the third man on the job, since Dalesia figures they’ll need one. So now this little podunk bank has to have enough money for Dalesia, McWhitney, Elaine, Jake, Dr. Madchen, and the hopeful future Mrs. Dr. Madchen. And Parker. Or really, Claire. And that’s all he wrote for Part Two.
And maybe the most interesting POV character in this book who isn’t an armed robber hasn’t even been heard from yet. We’ll see a bit of her in Part Three, but we don’t get into her head until Part Four, which ranges around almost as much as Part 2. Weird. This one breaks a fair few Starkian rules. And the last two parts kind of dovetail together. So I might as well bend one of mine, and cut this short (for me). Make up for it next time, I’m sure.
Oh, there is one other key player we’ll be meeting next time. Not really a POV character, but he makes his presence felt. Swedish. And a king.
(Part of Friday’s Forgotten Books)