“You said it was Jersey plates,” Barry pointed out, and poured them both some more chardonnay. “Maybe he went home.”
“Or maybe he’s lying low,” she said. “If he isn’t a landscape designer, and I know damn well he isn’t, then what’s he doing here, what’s he doing with Elaine Langen, and why are they both lying about it?”
“No,” she said, sure of that. “She would, with anything in pants, but not him. He’s a cold guy. With me, when I stopped him, he wore this affability like a coat, it wasn’t him.”
“The cloak of invisibility,” Barry suggested.
“Exactly. Who knows who he is, down in there?”
It starts with technology, but it still ends with tracker dogs.
One more cover gallery, and a bit repetitive, I know, but how fortunate that University of Chicago Press finally published The Triptych. Meaning that from now on, all twenty-eight of the books Westlake published as Stark are evailable, which means they’ll stay in ‘print’ no matter what. Well, for the foreseeable future, which Parker wouldn’t think was saying anything much.
Not much to say about the cover itself, either–not sure what Parker is leaning against there. Bank vault door? Safe tumbler? I’ve no idea. The one next to it is tiresomely over-literal, and I’m not even sure who put out that edition.
Rivages, in its Thriller and Noir imprints both, chose to focus on Parker’s target–an armored car. And was perhaps alone in choosing not to use the original title. Google tells me that it would translate to Personne Ne Court Toujours, though presumably other phrasings would be possible. Perhaps none had the right ring, so they went with the above, which means ‘running on empty.’ Sound familiar?
C’est vrai. (And Parker has seen his share of both fire and rain.)
Marilyn Stasio, in her NY Times review column devoted to crime fiction (descended from the Criminals At Large column once written by Anthony Boucher, that originally championed these books), doesn’t so much review as describe. Never having been taken seriously in the past, but now possessing the authority of longevity, Stark and his chief protagonist are treated as found art, changeless relics of another time, which isn’t altogether wrong, but you miss a lot that way–it’s all been changing over time, we’ve seen that in some detail here. (And if Parker doesn’t have a sense of humor, please explain the ending of The Seventh to me, Ms. Stasio. )
The world around Parker is shifting, and he has no choice but to shift with it. The question is, how far can he adapt to the encroaching exigencies of this digital age and still remain himself? If he can’t go far enough, how much longer can he last? Is he running on empty? He wouldn’t be alone.
This book is hard to figure, and that’s because it’s not a book. It’s one third of a book. Three novels that form one trifurcated epic. Not a trilogy, but a Triptych, as I said, as Westlake belatedly realized.
Like Butcher’s Moon, the blood-drenched epic that concluded the First Sixteen (which isn’t divided into sections at all, just fifty-five chapters of ever-switching perspectives), this longer, bleaker, more contemplative and far less sanguinary conclusion to the Final Eight just doesn’t fit the profile. But unlike Butcher’s Moon, it pretends to.
We did the multi-POV round-robin thing in Part Two, each chapter from a different character’s perspective. Part Three sticks with Parker and his colleagues. But then there’s Part Four, which flouts the established protocol altogether.
In the fairly long first chapter of Part Four, where the heist finally goes down, Stark is just floating around in the ether, like a hovering hawk with x-ray vision, showing us everything happening at once, checking in on everybody who still matters in the story. He can do what the frustrated heist planner in Westlake’s Castle In The Air can only fantasize about.
What Eustace wanted, what Eustace needed, was for the entire city of Paris to suddenly be reduced to the size and aspect of a model train layout, with himself on a high stool overlooking the whole thing.
Much easier to do for a lightly peopled corner of New England, late at night, but still a tricky balancing act for any writer. Westlake had done something like it in a few chapters of Dancing Aztecs, though in a more lyrical form. (If you want to see that form done to perfection in a recent novel, I shall again plug Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent).
This really should have been released as one volume, and I hope it will be someday–you can’t properly appreciate any one panel in The Triptych without the others to refer to. To split them apart almost amounts to art crime. That I hold these three final installments of the Parker Saga in higher estimation than some probably stems from the fact that I read all three in quick succession. As individual books, they must always be somewhat unsatisfying, for all their undoubted merits. Their cumulative impact is exponentially greater.
As a unified whole, they are still far from perfect: the author was starting to falter, his race nearly run–but you understand them much better that way, how each complements the other. I don’t know how close together Westlake wrote them, but he certainly came to understand along the way what he was doing here, quite different from anything he’d done before.
A pity that publishing schedules demanded they come out so far apart. I broke my usual rule of reviewing books in order of publication for this very reason. Let’s see how many more rules I can break before we’re done here.
Another way in which this book goes against the grain is that Parker is less involved in planning. Dalesia seems to have a knack for that as well, so while he’s been out scouting for the spot where they hijack the armored car, and the hideout where they can chill with the cash afterwards, Parker has been rustling up some ‘materiel,’ a phrase I don’t think has been used in a Stark novel before.
Remember Briggs? He showed up briefly at the start of Butcher’s Moon, the jewelry store heist that went wrong–he was the guy Parker told to throw a bomb to cover their escape. He had to throw it in the direction of Michaelson, their fallen comrade, who might still have been alive, but not after the bomb went off. Ruined his nerve, and he retired. Well. As much as a Stark heister ever can retire. He and his wife have a nice little house on a lake, just like Parker and Claire. But this one’s in Florida.
Watching the movement on the lake, Parker said, “You like things calm. No commotion.”
“We get commotion sometimes, Briggs said. He’d put on a few pounds but was still basically a thin unathletic man who looked as though he belonged behind a desk. Nodding at the lake, he said, “A few years ago, a tornado came across from the Gulf, bounced down onto the lake, looked as though it was coming straight here, lifted up just before it hit the shore, we watched the tail twist as it went right over the house, watched it out that picture window there. That was enough commotion for a while.”
Parker said, “You watched it out a picture window?”
Briggs either shrugged or shivered; it was hard to tell which. “Afterwards, we said to each other, that was really stupid.”
Anyway, he’s still got connections, which is why Parker is here. They need something along the lines of a bazooka, or an RPG–powerful enough to knock out a heavily armored vehicle–and they’ll need several of them, no time for reloading. They also need assault rifles for the aftermath. (No, I don’t know why they can’t just go to a gun show, or rob a Walmart, stupid modern reality screwing up my crime fiction. The Second Amendment doesn’t apply to calm professional crooks, only psycho-zealots with death wishes, how’s about that?)
Briggs mentions something about how the Feds are paying a lot more attention to weapons dealers now, because terrorism. Now that could have been true in the 90’s (the first World Trade Center job), and nobody mentions 9/11, but it’s pretty strongly implied that we’re living in a brave new world that includes a Department of Homeland Security. Anyway, he knows some people with just the can opener Parker needs. The Carl-Gustaf. (The hyphen seems to be a mistake, and who cares?)
“Sounds like a king,” Parker says. Because it’s named after one. Just another Saab story.
(This is an old design, with many variations, no need for us to know which one Parker’s getting. You can see Westlake trying to avoid too many specifics–still going to get irate letters from anal weaponry buffs, but keep it to a minimum. “No, it’s a grenade firing system!” Now they’ve got the internet to kvetch on. I bet none of them have slept for a week.)
With an assurance from Briggs that he’ll get them the materiel in time, Parker heads back to Massachusetts, and hears about Dalesia recruiting McWhitney (and of the untimely demise of Mr. Keenan). He’s fine with both developments, though he’s a little worried about McWhitney’s tendency to fly off the handle–the guy seems okay in a crisis, going by what happened at the card game, and they don’t have time to find anyone better.
Parker likes the spot Dalesia picked for the trap to be sprung, and he also likes the hideout–an abandoned church on a little-used two-lane road. There’s a place they can hide the armored car, and it’ll be invisible from the air.
What follows is a lot of professional-grade threatening, because too many people know about this job–unavoidable, but no less annoying for that. Parker has to threaten Elaine Langen, who is spooked by all the attention she’s getting from Detective Gwen Reversa, which she brought on herself by shooting Jake Beckham in the leg when nobody told her to do that. She’s not sure she can hold up under questioning. Parker reminds of how she accused him and Dalesia of playing good cop/bad cop with her. She says so far Reversa is being the good cop, and there’s no bad cop.
“Yes, there is,” Parker said. “Me.”
The look she gave him turned bleak.
Parker said, “Everything she says to you, every hour she spends on you, just keep reminding yourself. This is the good cop. The bad cop is out there, and he’s not very far away, and he doesn’t go for second chances.”
“I’m sure you don’t.” Her voice was now a whisper, as though all strength had been drained from her.
“The bad cop is nearby.”
She closed her eyes and nodded.
“Talk to the good cop all you want,” Parker said. “But always think about the bad cop.”
“I will.” “Whispered again, this time almost like a prayer.
Then he refers to the make of her car. Infiniti. Means forever. Worth going for, right? And people say he has no sense of humor. Nobody puns forever.
Next he talks to Jake’s sister Wendy, asks her to give her brother a message for him. She’s not happy about even peripheral involvement in some illegal act, straight as a die this gal, but her main concern is Jake, because like I said last time, she needs a project. And while she’s no genius, she’s got good instincts for people–she’s noticed this Dr. Myron Madchen, hanging around her brother at the hospital all the time, when there’s no reason for it. It’s making her nervous. Parker thanks her–says that makes him nervous too. Someone else to threaten.
As he drives away from the trailer park, he realizes there’s an old beat-up Plymouth Fury tailing him, and if you’ve read Dancing Aztecs, you know who is likely as not to be driving one of those. State cops. It’s Reversa. He tries to shake her, but she’s too good. Finally pulls him over. She wants to talk.
He’s got good phony ID, identifying himself as Claire’s brother, John B. Allen (possibly a reference to a 19th century western politician who has a street named after him in Tombstone AZ, I wouldn’t know).
Says he borrowed the car because his was in the shop. He’s a landscape architect. Well, after a fashion, I suppose that’s true. The car is clean, his ID doesn’t set off any alarms, she’s got nothing to hold him on, so she lets him go, and he resolves to ditch the Lexus, find something else to drive. He knows she suspects him, and he can see this is a smart cop. And here’s a little plot hole.
See, we’ve already been told that Keenan and his partner tracked Parker down by running the plates on the Lexus–using databases maintained by the law, which they can access as what you might call a professional courtesy. So once it becomes obvious that ‘John B. Allen’ was involved in a bank robbery, how hard is it going to be for the law to zero in on the house in New Jersey?
Okay, maybe there’s a workaround (he’s going to tell Claire to report the car stolen), but seems like a bad idea for Parker to have gone there on a job, in a car registered to Claire, unless the registration was for a false address, which would be equally problematic. Oh well, let’s see how that plays out further down the road. It’s not going to matter for the immediate future.
Parker and Dalesia go to Madchen’s house, and terrify the hell out of him. He’s going to stop hanging around Jake. So he’s nervous, fine. He needs his cut out of Jake’s share to get away from this life he hates, no problem. But he’s only putting them in a situation where they’ll have to kill him just to neaten things up. We learned in Part Two that he’s been on the verge of suicide for a while now–and wants to live, more than anything. Parker is convinced he’s too scared to go to the cops, so they let him off with a warning. This time.
Now it’s time for them to be threatened, by someone as professional as they are, albeit in a somewhat more legal profession. Sandra Loscalzo, the late Mr. Keenan’s partner. Not of the Hammett school, she doesn’t feel like when a woman’s partner is killed she should do something about it. She just wants the same thing Keenan did–the reward money on Harbin. She was always the brains of that outfit anyway.
She holds McWhitney at gunpoint, at the motel all three at staying at–has him call the other two in for a confab. The other side of the coin from Gwen Reversa–also tall, slender, blonde, very attractive (this leads to some confusion, when McWhitney tells the others about this woman following him). She’s right on the edge between legal and illegal.
Oh, and she’s gay. She lets slip (for no reason I can see) that she lives in Cape Cod, has a mortgage on a house there, where she lives with a friend who has a little girl going to private school. To which Parker says “To find a dyke on Cape Cod with a daughter in private school and a canary-yellow-haired roommate would not be impossible.” It would if she shot them all dead with her .357, but it’s a small motel room. She knows better. So do they. They work out a deal.
McWhitney will get her Harbin’s mortal remains (Keenan’s she could care less about). She’ll get all the reward money herself, no partner to split it with. She knows they’re planning a job, but she doesn’t care about that, none of her business, she’s just an implausibly hot skip tracer (heavy heisters don’t skip bail, because they don’t make bail). Seems like there’s really nothing she cares about but scoring big and heading back to the woman she’s shacked up with. Hmmm.
Part Three ends with Parker seeing Wendy Beckham sitting in her little Honda, parked by the motel. She knows about the bank job, and now that she knows they’re staying at the very same motel Jake works at, she figures there’s no way in hell her little brother isn’t going to jail again if they pull the job. (Of course, if he’d done what Parker told him to do in the first place, break parole and turn himself in, but Parker isn’t going to bring that up now.)
She’s got a point, but Parker’s got a better one. He tells her that if she’d talked to this other guy in the string, who tends not to think things through (I’m going to assume this is McWhitney), he’d just shoot her right then and there. But that’s not the threat. He knows she’s brave enough, and devoted enough, and dumb enough to risk all that.
Here’s his final and most sophisticated threat. Threats, you see, have to be tailored to the person being threatened. What is this woman most afraid of?
Parker said, “The reason it’s better to tell me than this other guy is, I take a minute to think about it. I take a minute and I think, “what is she gonna tell the cops? Does she know when or where or how we’re gonna do it? No. Does she know who we are when we’re at home? No. The only thing she can do is blow the whistle on her brother, so instead of maybe he’s in trouble definitely he’s in trouble and you did it.”
He waited, watching her eyes, as she went from defiant to frightened to something like desperate. Then he said, “You want to talk to the cops, go ahead. Don’t worry about us. I gotta pack now. Goodbye.”
Part Four, Chapter One, is the most exciting part of the book, and the most free-ranging. Divided into thirty-seven segments, no more than two or three pages apiece, some no more than a paragraph, each divided from the others by short horizontal bars centered on the page. I guess I could follow suit, just to be different.
The pack, on the hunt now, departs the fittingly named Trails End Motor Inne (sounds like someplace Burke Devore might have stayed on one of his hunts, in The Ax), while Jake and Wendy contemplate a dwindling set of options at the hospital. Jake says he’s sorry he told her about it. So is she.
Parker meets Dalesia and McWhitney at their staging area, an old abandoned mill. They’re waiting for Briggs and the materiel. If Briggs doesn’t show, it’s all off.
As they wait, four International Navistar Armored Cars, model 2700, are getting started for Deer Hill Bank, coming from Chelsea, just outside Boston. Four big boxy vehicles like this one.
Dalesia heads off to meet Briggs at the motel, and lead him to the staging area.
The armored cars, on their way upstate, head onto the Mystic-Tobin Bridge. (Why am I hearing Van Morrison in my head?) Most people just call it the Tobin Bridge. It’s not just a metatextual reference to Mitch Tobin, though of course it is that as well. It exists in physical reality. Here, I’ll prove it.
Dalesia comes back to the mill with Briggs, who arrived on time, with the goods. McWhitney’s the only one who doesn’t know him from past jobs. They shake hands, neither convinced the other is okay. Both were generally dissatisfied people, in different ways, and couldn’t be expected to take to each other right away. Awkward, introducing people you know from different places in your life. We can all relate.
Elaine Langen heads for the banquet that celebrates the destruction of her father’s legacy. She hopes to be celebrating something else soon. But she’s nervous. Holding herself together with Valium and liquor.
Briggs introduces the team (and us) to the ordinance he’s acquired, sounding like a sales rep, which is what he is. The three Carl-Gustafs (geez, they could knock over a small country) have three methods of sighting; the useful one here will be infrared. He was going to get them Valmets (remember them from Good Behavior?), but he could only find the ones without trigger guards (for Finnish soldiers wearing mittens), and he figured that would not be a good idea. So the assault rifles are Colt Commandos–basically short-barreled M-16s. I don’t feel like posting an image. Too soon, you know? Or do I mean too late?
Elaine stands there while her shit of a husband openly gloats about what he’s done to daddy’s bank. She needs another drink. Open bar. Uh-oh.
At the Green Man Motel, Dr. Myron Madchen and his girlfriend Isabelle Moran, make love to celebrate their impending delivery from unsuitable spouses. They have to make love carefully because of the broken rib her shit of a husband recently gave her. Westlake recycling the love scene from that novel he recycled from a rejected Bond script; a book he figures nobody will ever read. Fooled you, didn’t we, Mr. Westlake?
Briggs heads back to the motel, where he’s supposed to rest up in Dalesia’s room (no need to register that way) before going home to Florida. McWhitney says it would be nice if the rent-a-cops just gave up when they saw the Commandos. Dalesia opines that they have to put up some kind of token resistance, just to feel okay with themselves afterwards. Parker says the only stupid thing the uniforms could do would be to shoot at them, since that would get them all killed. Dalesia points out that Parker’s going to be in a borrowed police car, so nobody will be shooting at him. “It’s still stupid,” he says.
Also at the Green Man Motel, Sandra Loscalzo comes back to her room and switches on her police scanners. She doesn’t want to stop the heist, doesn’t even know what exactly is being heisted, but if there’s a way to include herself in, she’s going to find it.
Sandra had once heard a definition of a lawyer that she liked a lot. It said: “A lawyer is somebody who find out where money is going to change hands, and goes there.” It was a description with speed and solidity and movement, and Sandra identified with it. She wasn’t a lawyer, but she didn’t see why she couldn’t make it work for her.
Elaine is really drunk now. If you were forced to watch a lot of bankers give speeches, so would you be.
Wendy calls Jake at the hospital. She wants to give him a pep talk, about how he mustn’t give up, just deny everything, she’ll get him a good lawyer, etc. And when she means if they catch him out, he can always tell the law everything he knows about these guys who like nothing better than exterminating rats, to get a shorter jail sentence. (This is her way of encouraging a man who couldn’t even face two weeks in a county lock-up to establish an alibi). So buck up, baby brother! By the time she’s done, she’s annihilated whatever nerve he had left.
Briggs is at the motel, but he can’t sleep. He’s pacing around like a caged animal. The MassPike is right outside, and he wants to be on it, even though he’s exhausted from the long drive. Retired from active service though he be, part of him wants to join in.
It was the job those three were on; that’s what had agitated him. He’d been away from that business a long time, and he’d forgotten the rush it involved, the sense that, for just a little while, you were living life in italics. You weren’t really aware of it when it was happening to you, but Briggs had seen it in Parker and Dalesia and the other one, and he’d found himsel envying, not the danger or the risk or even the profit, but that feeling of heightened experience. A drug without drugs.
Like any addict, he’s got to get away from the opportunity to relapse. So he hits the road. Having reminded us all why we’re reading these books.
On his way south, Briggs passes a nice restaurant, and who should be there but Detective Second Grade Gwen Reversa and her criminal defense lawyer boyfriend, Barry Ridgely, about who Gwen knows everything there is to be known, because she checked him out like a potential perp after the first date. They talk shop, of course, and she tells him about her encounter with ‘John B. Allen.’ That quote’s up top, ending with a very good question. And for all the words I’ve typed here, I don’t really know the answer for sure. Did Stark?
Elaine’s had enough. In several senses of the term. She excuses herself, and walks to her Infiniti parked outside, trying to look sober, and not succeeding.
The armored cars are still on their way. Parker and the other two have dinner. At a diner. Not the one at the intersection where they’re going to lie in wait shortly. That one doesn’t serve dinner.
The armored cars pull into the Green Man Motel, where Myron and Isabelle are just kissing each other good night. The security men are going to take a quick nap, then head for the bank at around 1:00AM.
Having eaten, the crew needs two cars for the job, not being dumb enough to use their own. They steal an old rustbucket from a used car lot for McWhitney and Dalesia to drive, and then Dalesia takes Parker to some miniscule Hamlet that can’t even afford a regular police department, but gets enough ski traffic in the winter as to need to hire two retired cops for a few months each year–and the rest of the year, their only squad car is in a garage behind the town hall. Won’t be missed for a while.
At Deer Hill Bank, it’s time to start packing everything up to be loaded into the armored cars. Elaine’s supposed to be there, to see which car has the cash. She’s home, sleeping it off. Elaine, you had one job……
Jake was so agitated from his sister’s pep talk, they gave him a pill. But he just refuses to chill.
Parker is in the squad car. Not the first time he’s driven one of those. Not as good a string as the one in Copper Canyon. Then again, the finger on this job isn’t out to destroy a whole town. Just herself, mainly.
Sandra is glued to her scanners, and she’s starting to pick up chatter relating to the armored cars. Cops clearing the route. She can tell something’s up, but she’s not sure what. Yet.
Dalesia gets the truck to transport the cash in once they dump the armored car. Rented with McWhitney’s credit card, the one related to the bar he owns. Back to the factory, where McWhitney is waiting with the stolen Chevy Celebrity. The name of a real car make. This isn’t a Dortmunder novel.
Sandra sees the armored cars leaving the motel, figures there’s a connection, but can’t get to her own car in time to follow them, so she goes back to the scanners.
Elaine doesn’t show at the meeting spot where she was supposed to give Dalesia the number of the money truck. Surprise. He races to the ambush spot, and tells Parker. Parker gets into the pick up, and directs him to the Langen home. Elaine’s got some ‘splainin to do.
Frightened as she is to see Parker standing by her bed, she’s even more horrified to realize how much she screwed up. She’s got to drive back to the bank, where the party is long over, and get the truck number. She repeats it all the way back to where Parker is waiting. “One-oh-two-six-eight.”
Jake’s starting to wake.
Sandra has gotten a rough idea of the route the armored cars are taking, and you remember her favorite quote about lawyers. She’s going to try and be there when the money changes hands.
Everybody’s getting in place now. Soon.
Sandra sees two police cars, one parked by a diner at an intersection, apparently empty. The other has real cops in it. The first one isn’t empty.
Filled with panic and pain-killers, Jake decides he’s got to get out of the hospital, run away, can’t go back to prison, not ever. He’s not fit to walk yet, but he somehow manages to get his clothes on, and inch his way down the staircase on the seat of his pants. It takes a long time. But he’s outside. No hospital can hold Jake Beckham!
Jack watches in satisfaction as his life’s work of destroying his father in law’s life’s work is completed. He’s mainly just worried about the bonds and securities–there’s a lot less cash than before, because they’ve been letting people take it out without putting more back in. Somebody says he thought he saw Elaine’s car. Jack says she’s asleep in bed. He’s happy to think of the misery she’ll feel tomorrow. You know what misery really loves, Jack?
Dalesia and McWhitney are where they’re supposed to be.
Sandra is where she’s not supposed to be, which we gather is where she always wants to be.
Jack Langen drives with a few other bank officials, to the new improved home of the Deer Hill bank’s assets. Shorter route than the armored cars are taking, they’ll be waiting when the money arrives. He’s playing Sinatra. Thinking about that future trophy wife. Forgetting the current wife.
Sandra is right on the spot when the Carl-Gustafs lay down their royal edicts. Chaos ensues. A squad car appears out of nowhere–looks familiar–three of the Navistars are totaled, the mystery squad car cuts the fourth one out of the herd, using the loudspeaker to direct it away from the carnage, to safety, right? No, that can’t be right. That car’s a ringer! It’s the crooks! She’s an officer of the law. You know, kind of. Okay, not really. More of a relic of America’s frontier history. Cue the identity crisis.
She had to tell them; she had to let them know. The story isn’t here, with these blocked roads and burning trucks and dazed people. The story just went away with the only armored car that wasn’t hit. Get after that phony cop. She actually had her hand on the door handle, shifting her weight to get out of the car, when she thought again. Wait a second. Whose side am I on here? If those are my three guys–and who else could they be?–I don’t want them arrested, I don’t want them in jail. That way I’d never get the proof I need on Mike Harbin.
Keep going, fellas, she thought, as she put the car in reverse and U-turned backward away from there. Keep going and I’ll see you in a couple days.
Quickly the fires shrank and then disappeared from her mirror.
Reminds me of this time I saw a Red-tailed Hawk and a Cooper’s Hawk in the same place, and there’s bad blood there, family feud, you know? But then this murder of crows showed up, started chasing the Red-tail, because they like to chase all hawks, and the Red-tail was bigger and slower, they could attend to the small fry later. They don’t want these hardened predators robbing nests they’re supposed to be robbing. Crows are simultaneously the crooks and cops of the bird world.
The Coop, about the same size as a crow, joined in with the mob for a moment, caught up in the excitement of the moment. But then you could almost see a thought balloon appear over his head–“What am I doing?” and he darted off the other way before the crows noticed him. It’s a bit like that. Except the Red-tail wasn’t going to meet up with him later so they could do business. I never said it was a one-to-one analogy.
So that’s Chapter 1 of Part Four. Six chapters left in the book. We’re over 5,000 words. Why don’t we cut it short here, and synopsize Chapter 2 next time, as this eight part review of a 295 page novel continues. Happy Columbus Day.
(I had you there a moment, admit it.)
In spite of all the little personnel snafus with Jake and Elaine and Myron, the heist went off like a dream, everything happened the way it was supposed to, and they got away clean with the cash. Zero fatalities. The disoriented men in the truck put up no fight at all–what little nerve they had left, McWhitney scared out of them with his psycho act that isn’t 100% an act.
This would normally be the part of the book where one of the partners turns on the others, or some interloper tries to get the loot away from them, because nothing can ever be easy for Parker. There has to be a hitch. This time it’s the law. That’s a switch.
They make it to the factory in fifteen minutes, switch the cash to the rented truck in under ten. And as they head for the church to hole up, they hear choppers overhead. They split up, to avoid attention. On the way there, Parker sees Dalesia with the rented truck, waiting for a break in the chopper surveillance, since a truck’s what they’ll be looking for. When Parker arrives at the church, McWhitney is already there, looking even more irate than usual. “I don’t like how fast they’re being,” he says.
They planned for every contingency–except the new communications tech. Except massive terror attacks ramping up readiness. A machine built to stop Al Quaeda is being used to swat flies. And thing is, because of the hardware they used, the law can’t be sure they’re not Al Quaeda, or something like that.
Law enforcement in recent years had come to expect an attack from somewhere outside the United States, that could hit anywhere at any time and strike any kind of target, and they’d geared up for it. Because of that, the few hours Parker and the other two had been counting on weren’t there.
The church is a solid hideout, but it’s not set up for them to stay there a long time, because they’d never planned it that way. The plan was to get out of the area before the net closed. Could they get away? Sure. With the cash? Not a hope.
Parker improvises in the clutch, perhaps his most valuable talent. The choir loft is full of boxes full of hymnals, similar to the ones the money is packed in. Put the boxes up there. Put a layer of books over the cash. Leave. Come back later. They pack up and go, in three different directions. Parker hits a roadblock after a few miles–his ID holds up. This time. He’s got four thousand in cash from the bank in his pocket. He finds a diner and sits down to eat.
There’s a TV showing the news there. Parker sees Myron Madchen at a podium, making a statement to the press, with his lawyer standing next to him. They got Jake. Of course. He talked. Of course. What he said was not very coherent, but still pretty incriminating. Madchen is there to talk about his patient–but he himself is a person of interest, as they say.
His lawyer says it’s very wrong to cast any suspicion on the good doctor in his hour of bereavement–his wife just died. Of a heart attack. He’s in shock–never saw it coming. Parker doesn’t have to be much of a detective to solve that mystery.
Gwen Reversa is on next. She’s going to make first grade in no time. Taking a modest little bow for having sensed something funny about Elaine Langen, who is now in custody. Not quite the way Elaine wanted to get revenge on Jack, but something tells me that providing your wife with information used in an armored car heist is not the fast track to success in the banking world.
Then they show a police sketch of ‘John B. Allen’–presumably drawn from Reversa’s very distinct memories of that brief encounter with Parker.
They think that’s me, Parker thought, and studied it, as the interviewer’s voice, over the picture, said, “This is almost certainly one of the robbers.”
An 800 number appeared, superimposed over the drawing. “If you see this man, phone this number. Rutherford Combined Savings has posted a one-hundred-thousand dollar reward for the capture and conviction of this man and any other member of the gang, and the recovery of the nearly two million, two-hundred thousand dollars stolen in the robbery.”
Parker looked up and down the counter. Half a dozen other people were gazing at the television set. None of them looked to be ready to go off and make a phone call. It seemed to him, if you told one of those people “This picture is that guy. See the cheekbones? See the shape of the forehead?” they’d say, “Oh, yeah!” But if it wasn’t pointed out, they’d just go on eating.
Parker has never been much impressed by the drafting skills of police sketch artists. Reversa didn’t have a dash cam when she stopped him in her plainclothes Plymouth Fury, or it might be much worse. Parker pays the check and walks out. It’s much worse. There’s a squad car parked by his Dodge.
John B. Allen. One computer talks to another, and it doesn’t take long. He’d been moving through the roadblocks just ahead of the news. John B. Allen is wanted for robbery over here. John B. Allen rented a car over there. Let’s find the car, and wait for Allen to come back to it.
He strolls towards the trees by the parking lot.
Final chapter. Well, it really could be this time. Chapter 7. Don’t tell me Stark doesn’t have a sense of humor either.
Parker is climbing the increasingly steep wooded slope by the diner, stopping here and there to look down, check out the situation. He’s thinking as he goes that the bank people are lying about what they got, they always make it more. The haul was just a bit over a millon, he’s sure.
Less than expected. Nowhere near enough to bankroll the escape fantasies of the comedy team of Elaine, Jake, and Dr. Myron, not that it matters now. Still, Parker’s biggest score ever, if you don’t factor for inflation, which of course you do.
His idea is he’ll wait for them to decide he’s not coming back, then go back down, maybe steal another car, catch a bus, something. Not gonna happen. Oh, there’s a bus, all right. Well, a van. Full of dogs. Parker’s bane. He’s always feared them, more than the humans and their machines. So much more focused. So much harder to fool. One or two he can handle. Not a pack. With armed handlers backing them.
He doesn’t wait for them to come out of the van. He’s seen this movie before. You will detect a note of angry sarcasm in his thoughts as he clambers upwards, as relayed to us by Stark.
Soon he heard them, though. There was an eager note in their baying, as thought they thought what they did was music.
Parker kept climbing. There was no way to know how high the hill was. He climbed to the north, and eventually the slope would start down the other side. He’d keep ahead of the dogs, and somewhere along the line he’d find a place to hole up. He could keep away from the pursuit until dark, and then he’d decide what to do next.
He kept climbing.
“As though they thought what they did was music.” I guess everybody really is a critic.
When this book came out, people were heard to wonder out loud–mother of mercy–is this the end of Parker? It could have been. Westlake was maybe four years from his own end when it came out. If he’d put off writing the next book much longer, this would be the finale, and we’d be debating that very question in the comments section.
But just as in Breakout, when he got Lyme Disease in the middle of writing it, kept typing feverishly until he’d gotten Parker out of jail, Westlake couldn’t leave Parker there on that hillside, the dogs closing in for the kill.
Not literally, of course–they must be bloodhounds, German Shepherds don’t bay. Bloodhounds won’t do much more than lick you when they catch up, but you know what I mean. Whether he goes down in a hail of police bullets, or gets taken off to prison forever–he’s over. The second fate would be the worst. There’s a reason he didn’t kill Jake Beckham for not following his alibi instructions. The inability to suffer confinement is something he can understand. He said so at the time.
Now he’s going to have to understand somebody else. Somebody much more like–well–us. Parker is crossing much more than the border between Massachusetts and upstate New York as he climbs that hill. He’s crossing the line between his world and a place we’ve never really seen him in before, for any great length of time. What he would call The Straight World.
Not so straight as he might think. If he gets lost, he can always ask directions from the parrot.