A bum? Nick edged closer, and was astonished to see it was Parker.
What was Parker doing there? He had come for the money, no other reason.
So where was his car? Nick had been on both sides of the road and he hadn’t see any car. Was it hidden somewhere? Where?
He hunkered against the wall, across the room from Parker, trying to decide what to do, whether he should go look for the car, or wake Parker up to ask him where it was, or just kill him and keep moving, when Parker came awake. Nick saw that Parker from the first instant was not surprised, not worried, not even to wake up and find somebody in the room with a gun in his hand.
The covers for the various editions of the final Parker novel are all quite decent, including the first edition from Grand Central. Rivages turned up a fitting bit of criminal Trompe L’oeil, and we’ll see the usual two alternate takes from Germany next time.
But of the covers I was able to find, I must award top marks to Italy. Maybe that abandoned chapel is too Gothic-looking for the white clapboard structure in the book (though it is named after a saint), but that somber tableau perfectly captures the underlying mood, even if we can’t be sure the figure standing there in the dark is Parker or Dalesia. I’m going with Nick. Guy deserves that much.
Like all Parker novels save one, Dirty Money is divided into four parts, one of which changes POV at least once every chapter, showing us the perspectives of people other than Parker who are in some way relevant to the plot. Usually, this was Part Three, but in a few instances, it was Part Two, and this is one of those.
Because this book is taking place immediately after the events of the previous two books, there’s a lot of carry-over. Four of the ten chapters are from the vantage point of a character introduced in Nobody Runs Forever, one from Ask The Parrot. Only two new POV characters are introduced in Part Two, one cop and one crook, and neither amounts to much in the grand scheme of things. In Parts Three and Four, a whole new group of players come in, as the story shifts from getting at the stashed loot to unloading and defending it.
I find all this less than satisfyingly organic and well-balanced, compared to most past novels in this series. More than diverting, all the same.
And I’ve long found it remarkable that Westlake spent the last four or five years of his life working on what turned into three inter-connected books, the collective timeline of which probably runs no more than two or three weeks–not unlike the first four novels in the series, but even more chronologically compressed (and remember, he published the first eight Parker novels in about the same time it took him to come out with the last three.)
If Westlake had lived long enough for a 25th entry, would it have picked up where this left off, turning the Triptych into a Quadriptych? (Which is what Stark turned the original Triptych into when he wrote The Mourner.) Don’t you love rhetorical questions? Almost as much as rambling drawn-out plot synopses, or you wouldn’t be here. Not wanting to disappoint….
Remember Dr. Myron Madchen? Who was going to provide Jake Beckham with an alibi for the armored car job? He needed a share of the loot in order to leave his wife. When that didn’t work out, he killed his wife, made it look like natural causes, and everybody was so intent on the robbery that he ended up having nothing to do with (because Jake was such a screw-up), a quiet little murder didn’t get much attention. At no point, mind you, does he ever admit this to anyone, even himself. But that’s what happened.
He’s preparing to start his new life, with his pretty young girlfriend, who will be leaving her abusive husband for him. He doesn’t have to leave town now. He can keep his old practice, his wife’s money, and the big comfortable house her money paid for. Who says crime doesn’t pay? He’s made out better from the heist than anybody. Just one little catch. His name’s Dalesia.
Nick’s sitting there in his home office, when Madchen turns the light on. Nick tells him to turn it off. They have some things to discuss. Nick needs a place to hide out. He figures this house will do just fine. Conveniently, Madchen just gave his maid the week off. That should be long enough.
If the good doctor won’t play ball with him, and Nick gets grabbed by the law, he’s going to play ball with them–which is going to include letting them know about how Madchen conspired to aid and abet armed robbery. And maybe they should run an autopsy on the wife, just to be thorough. But that won’t be necessary, will it?
Nick’s too nice for this gig, you know. He belongs in a safe cozy Dortmunder novel. He won’t threaten the doctor’s life in any convincing way (though the doctor thinks for a moment about giving Nick the same injection he gave the wife). He even agrees not to steal Madchen’s car. He stays in the room the doctor gives him, makes no trouble, leaves before Estrella the maid comes back–at which point all he asks for is a ride to the church the money is stowed at. You think Parker would be that cooperative?
Circumstances are less cooperative. A week wasn’t long enough. The heat is still on. Because Nick killed a Federal Marshal. So now he doesn’t belong in a Dortmunder novel either. Nowhere left to go.
(When Dr. Madchen drops Nick off, a few chapters further on, we never hear from him again. There’s no reason to think he won’t live happily ever after with his lovely Isabelle, who is so grateful to him for giving her an escape hatch from her own miserable marriage, she won’t ask any inconvenient questions. Maybe her hurtful hubby will have a few, but we never meet him.
And I don’t think Stark gives a damn about who killed whom, but this doesn’t quite seem like Starkian morality to me. The doctor got in way over his head, he put up a moral front while dealing with crooks, and he murdered his wife. He’s not owning any of this. He’s the same weak-willed wuss he always was. And he’s just going to slide home safe? Was this really the end of his arc? Or was he going to show up again later, for some form of comeuppance? In a book that never got written.)
Chapter 2, we meet up once more with Captain Robert Modale, of the New York State Police, the ranking trooper responsible for (among other things) the tiny town of Pooley, where Parker recently had a short profitable stay. He’s been asked to come down and compare notes, and he thinks it’s a huge waste of time. He’s staying at Bosky Rounds, where a room has suddenly opened up (safe trip home, Claire). He sees Sandra, thinks maybe he recognizes her. Sandra wasn’t in Ask The Parrot, so not sure what that’s about.
He and Reversa hit it off right away. Both professionals, both observant, both quietly exasperated with the general run of human stupidity. And best of all, when she first came into the room, looking much too young and pretty to be a detective, somebody introduced her by title, so he didn’t embarrass himself in front of her.
They agree the existing police sketch being used is inadequate. Modale never questioned Parker as Reversa did, but he saw him in the course of the manhunt for the bank robber, that the bank robber ended up joining. They join forces to come up with a more lifelike portrait.
The artist was a small irritable woman who worked in charcoal, smearing much of it on herself. “I think,” Gwen Reversa told her, “the main thing wrong with the picture now is that it makes him look threatening.”
“That’s right,” Captain Modale said.
The artist, who wasn’t the one who’d done the original drawing, frowned at it. “Yes, it is threatening,” she agreed. “What should it be instead?”
“Watchful,” Gwen Reversa said.
“This man,” the captain said, gesturing at the picture, “is aggressive, he’s about to make some sort of move. The real man doesn’t move first. He watches you, he waits to see what you’re going to do.”
“But then,” Gwen Reversa said, “I suspect he’s very fast.”
The artist pursed her lips. “I’m not going to get all that into the picture. Even a photograph wouldn’t get all that in. Are the eyes all right?”
“Maybe,” Gwen Reversa said, “not so defined.”
“He’s not staring,” the captain said. “He’s just looking.”
The artist signed. “Very well,” she said, and opened her large sketch pad on the bank officer’s desk in this small side office next to the main HQ room. “Let’s begin.”
Terry Mulcany shows up, talks about how he saw this man with this very good-looking woman, and the man kind of resembled the face on the wanted posters. He can’t remember the name of the place he saw them at. They show him the new sketch. Bingo.
Time to check on Nelson McWhitney, still back on Long Island, who has obtained and customized a small truck, as Sandra suggested in Part One. Soon he’ll be heading over to New England, but having a bit of time to kill, decides to set up a failsafe–in case he’s the only one who comes back from this trip, with all the cash. He talks to a guy he knows, connected, named Oscar Sidd. Tells him about the money. Suggests that Oscar’s connections could arrange for the cash to be laundered.
This is dumb, of course. Nels is not one of Life’s Deep Thinkers. Naturally suspicious of everyone, which would be fine, but then why is he confiding in Oscar Sidd? He insists he’s not planning a cross–but he’s talking as if somehow the whole pile might fall into his hands. Maybe Parker and Sandra will try to cross him, and he’ll be forced to kill them. Yeah, and then he’ll turn out to be heir to the throne of Narnia. C’mon.
Next chapter is from Terry Mulcany’s POV, and he’s so excited. He’s going to have a really fantastic book to write about this true crime he helped solve. (Working title: The Land Pirates.) This chapter is only of interest because we learn the fate of Tom Lindahl, or rather, what fate he didn’t have. Parker wondered, at the end of the last book, how far Tom would get. Pretty far, as it turned out.
Detective Reversa asked “Tom Lindahl? Who’s he?”
“A loner,” Modale said, “just about a hermit, living by himself in a little town over there. For years he was a manager in charge of upkeep, buildings, all that, at a racetrack near there. He got fired for some reason, had some kind of grudge. When this fellow Ed Smith came long, I guess it was Tom’s opportunity at last to get revenge. They robbed the track together.”
Detective Reversa said, “But they’re not still together. You don’t think Lindahl came over here.”
“To tell you the truth,” Modale said, “I thought we’d pick up Lindahl within just two or three days. He has no criminal record, no history of this sort of thing, you’d expect him to make nothing but mistakes.”
“Maybe,” Detective Reversa said, “our robber gave him a few good tips for hiding out. Unless, of course, he killed Lindahl once the robbery was done.”
“It doesn’t look that way,” Modale said. “They went in late last Sunday night, overpowered the guards, and made off with nearly two hundred thousand dollars in cash. None of it traceable, I’m sorry to say.”
He ditched his car in Lexington Kentucky, near the bus station there. Modale says he could be anywhere in the country by now, working on a new identity for himself. Not living in anything like luxury, of course. ~100k is not retirement money, and would he be able to get Social Security checks under a false name? (Joe Sheer did.)
Point is, he got free. Stark wants us to know that. It wasn’t about the money for Lindahl, or even revenge; it was about leaving a failed life behind, starting fresh. 100k’s enough for that. Well-earned, after the system failed him so badly. All Terry can see is the sheer romance of it–but not, to his disappointment, the ‘triumph of the law at the end of the day’, so essential to any True Crime story. Well no, and that didn’t happen with the corrupt track owners who screwed Tom and the entire legal system over, either. But that’s a bit out of his journalistic niche, isn’t it.
Chapter 5 tells us Oscar Sidd is tailing McWhitney in his nondescript little sedan. Nels may not be planning a cross, but he is.
Nothing much happens in Chapter 6, except Modale and Reversa part on terms of mutual respect and a shared desire that this Allen/Smith/Whoever gets locked up soon. Terry tells Gwen he remembered the place he saw the guy had something to do with pears. It’s on a date with her lawyer friend that she figures that out. Bartlett. Bosky Rounds. (For all we know, Terry was thinking of Bosc pears, but never mind.)
Chapter 7 introduces us to Trooper Louise Rawburton, and her partner, Danny Oleski. They’re being told by a superior that the roadblocks aren’t enough, and now they’re going to actively search for both the robbers and the presumably stashed loot from the robbery. Louise and Danny have been assigned, among other things, to check out St. Dympna. Sounds a bit sacrilegious, but I’ll bite–who her?
“She was supposed to be Irish. Most churches with saints’ names are Roman Catholic, but we weren’t. We were United Reformed. Louise laughed and said, “The funny thing is, when they founded the church, they just wanted some unusual name to attract attention, so they picked St. Dympna, and then, too late, they found out she’s actually the patron saint of insanity.”
Danny looked at her. “You’re putting me on.”
“I am not. Turned out, there’s a mental hospital named for her in Belgium. When I was a kid, that was the coolest thing, our church was named for the patron saint of crazy people.”
(There’s supposed to be an ‘h’ in her name somewhere, but you know Protestants–always editing things out.)
Chapter 8, Reversa shows up at Bosky Rounds, with the new improved wanted posters, and after she’s left, Mrs. Bartlett is forced to acknowledge that one of the robbers was a guest of hers in the near past. Henry Willis. And that lovely Claire Willis. Mrs. Bartlett thought Henry was a sourpuss, but she adored Claire.
She wrestles with her conscience a while, and decides not to drop a dime on them. It would be embarrassing to admit a bank robber was under her roof, for one thing. But for another, she just can’t bring herself to get that sweet girl in trouble. And this is why you should always be extra nice to people who work in the hospitality trade, folks. Parker used to know that. I guess having Claire means he doesn’t have to put up a pleasant affable front in hotels and such anymore. That must be excruciating for him.
Chapter 9 is all Loscalzo/McWhitney, and I must say, it’s a delight. They rub each other in just the right wrong way (she’s so simpatico with Parker, there’s no friction there at all). She knows he got an Econoline van, dark green, good enough, and had the name of the ersatz church choir painted on it. He does not know she’s decided to tail him all the way there in her car.
Good thing she did. She spots the other tail–Oscar Sidd. She knows all about nondescript vehicles as camouflage, and she knows a tail when she sees it. She and Nels, being more techno-friendly than Parker, both have cellphones. They exchanged numbers, and man this is getting modern! Next thing you know they’ll be texting each other. Not sure about FaceTime.
We get a little background on her as they drive–she did go to college, got her P.I. license shortly after she left (doesn’t say graduated–Westlake didn’t get the sheepskin either). She worked the respectable side of her business a while, and found it deadly dull. Roy Keenan was happy to show her the ropes of bounty hunting, then take credit for her brains. She thought it was a good partnership, and she’s not the least bit sad that it’s over, because what would be the point? Parker with a bit of polish (and not just on her nails).
Anyway, she’s got to deal with this shoofly. Better call Nels.
“You’ve got a tin can on your tail, you know about that?
“What? Where are you?”
“Listen to me, Nelson. He’s in a nothing little car, two behind you.”
“Tall bony guy in black, looks like he’s never had a good meal in his life.”
“That son of a bitch.”
“You know him, I take it. Pal of yours?”
“Not any more.”
He offers to swat the fly, but she tells him keep the truck clean, she’ll handle the mess. She gets out ahead of them both, and lies in wait, with her Taurus Tracker .17HMR–like Parker, she knows the value of the right tool for the job at hand. A .45 for intimidation factor. For a job like this, you want precision, which means a long barrel. Might as well post an image.
Puts one right in Sidd’s tire as he goes by. He loses control, knocks himself out on the windshield. She and Nelson drive on to the church, and as they get there, they hear a shot. This is where we came in. Stark Rewind time. With a twist.
Chapter 10 is from Dalesia’s perspective, and it’s not a happy one. He’s on the run from the cops and his former partners. He’s looking into Parker’s eyes, there in the church, and all he can see is death. Parker threw the water bottle, then he threw the mat he was using as a blanket, then he threw himself. The bullet misses.
Parker knocks the gun out of Dalesia’s hand, and now his hands are reaching for Nick’s throat. Those huge veiny hands. Every guy who works with Parker has probably thought about what those hands would feel like, wrapped around his throat. Nick would rather not find out. He jumps through a closed window to the ground below. And that’s Part Two.
McWhitney and Loscalzo come up, one after the other, to hear the sad story. Parker had Nick, but he was too stiff after sleeping on that floor, let him go. He’s cut from the glass, no gun, no car, no money, cops everywhere. If they don’t find him, the law will, and any faint hope he wouldn’t spill his guts about McWhitney and Parker is gone now. So they have to spill his guts for him, or start prepping for some serious lifestyle changes.
While Sandra gets the van ready to receive its cargo, Parker and Nels do a quick search, come up empty. No more time, have to get the money out. Boxes of bills, covered with a layer of hymnals. Also a few boxes that are just hymnals, in case they get stopped. Have to leave some cash behind. C’est la guerre.
Parker says he needs to go back into the church. He doesn’t say why. He saw mud on the floor that wasn’t there before. Dalesia’s hiding in the basement. Parker has the gun now, but Nick has one last card to play–the cops are outside. No silencer on that gun. Stalemate, right?
Wrong. He forgot about the hands. This time they find the neck. Bye, Nick.
This is a significant moment in the series, that isn’t treated as such. Parker has killed a lot of his colleagues in the past twenty-three books. He’s never been forced to kill one who didn’t cross him on a job, cheat him of his share, or try to kill him. Nick did just shoot at him, but that’s as clear-cut a case of self-defense as ever there was. And, you know, he could have said they’d smuggle him out in the van–but the cops have his photograph. He’s got a target on his chest the rest of his life. Which isn’t saying much anymore.
Nick Dalesia was a solid pro, a likable guy. Not a nice guy. Not in that profession. But is he–pardon, was he–any worse than Handy McKay, Alan Grofield, Dan Wycza, Salsa, Mike Carlow, Stan Devers, or Ed Mackey? Nope. A bit more mellow, I’d say. And would Parker have hesitated to kill any of those old amigos, if they were standing where Nick was just now? Nope. Is Parker getting soft in these final books? Hell nope. He is maybe crossing a line here. Nick crossed it first, when he killed that marshal. Romanticism only gets you so far in the 21st century. Sorry, Nick.
Parker hides the body, goes back outside. Sandra is playing the friendly choir director (there are going to be some things she does better than Parker, having lived in the straight world so long, and this is one of them). Parker’s name is now Desmond. “I’m in recovery,” he lies. For a guy who has never lived in the straight world, he’s not bad, you know?
The cops are, of course, Louise and Danny, and Louise is so happy and nostalgic about the place. She totally believes Sandra belongs to some church choir that rehabilitates people who had a tough break. She’s so pleased when Sandra gives her a hymn book as a keepsake. And Parker is so pleased to learn the roadblocks have been lifted.
The ride back to Long Island is not as uneventful as hoped. McWhitney gets stopped once along the way, so good thing they didn’t do what he wanted, and dump the hymnals to make room for the last few boxes of cash. Parker learns what happened with Oscar Sidd from Sandra, and he knows Nelson was at least half-thinking about a cross. Not enough to push that button in Parker’s head, but the button is still there, waiting.
Sandra drops him at a motel, where he and McWhitney will watch the cash, before getting the rest of the way back. Parker tells her it’s safe for her girlfriend to come home. They’re getting pretty cozy, those two. For wolves who just met on a frozen lake.
Parker and Nels have a drink at the motel bar, and talk strategy. They’ve got the money, and don’t feel like waiting a decade or so to spend it, so they need somebody with overseas connections, who can make it disappear, and give them a decent percentage. Oscar Sidd has proven himself less than trustworthy. Parker knows somebody else–not trustworthy. More solid, better connected. And there’s a relationship there. Not what you’d call a friendly one, but as Parker told Sandra in the car, he doesn’t have friends.
Let’s skip over the preliminaries in Chapter 7 (okay, just this much–“Who shall I say is calling?” “Parker.” “Is that all?” “He’ll know.”), and cut ahead to the meet. Northern NJ, state park, picnic area, right in front of a park police headquarters. Neutral turf. Frank Meany. Cosmopolitan Beverages. You know, the people who sent their Russian hitman to kill Parker, at Paul Brock’s behest, only things did not work out as planned. At one point Parker had a gun to Meany’s head, and that definitely wasn’t part of Meany’s plan. Now Meany’s wondering what plans this guy has. He’s wondering even more at the size of the balls on this guy. But he’s no slouch himself.
Meany said a word to the driver, then came on, as the driver got back behind the wheel and put the Daimler just beyond the red pickup. A tall and bulky man with a round head of close-cropped hair, Meany was a thug with a good tailor, dressed today in pearl-gray topcoat over charcoal-gray slacks, dark blue jacket, pale blue shirt and pale blue tie. Still, the real man shone through the wardrobe, with his thick-jawed small-eyed face, and the two heavy rings on each hand, meant not for show for for attack.
Meany approached Parker with a steady heavy treat, stopped on the other side of the picnic table, but did not sit down. “So here we are,” he said.
“Sit,” Parker suggested.
Meany did so, saying, “You’re not gonna object to the driver?”
“He gets out of the car,” Parker said, “I’ll do something.”
“Deal. Same thing for your friend in the pickup.”
“Same thing. You didn’t bring a sandwich.”
“I ate lunch.”
Parker shook his head, irritated. As he took his sandwich out of the bag and ripped the bag in half to make two paper plates, he said, “People who ride around in cars like that one there forget how to take care of themselves. If I’m looking at you out of one of those windows over there, and you’re not here for lunch, what are you here for?”
“An innocent conversation,” Meany said, and shrugged.
“In New Jersey?” Parker pushed a half sandwich on a half bag to Meany, then took a bite of the remaining half.
(It’s official. Everybody makes jokes about Jersey.)
So while they each chew on half a Reuben, Parker lays out his business proposition. He’s not saying he did that armored car robbery, but if he was, he’d want ten cents on the dollar. 200k. Meaning they’ve got two million. (I’m not sure that matches up with what we were told in Nobody Runs Forever, or with the fact that they had to leave some cash behind at the church, and there’s some more dubious accounting ahead, but it’s the last book, the author’s dead, what are you gonna do, demand an audit?)
They reach a tentative agreement (you might go so far as to call it tenuous, tense, tendentious, or even tenebrous.) Meany will go talk to his boss. Parker has no boss, and he doesn’t talk to himself.
Meanwhile, back in Massachusetts, which is the name of the last chapter in Part Three, Louise and Danny are passing St. Dympna’s again, and she just has to go in and check it out this time. Oh no, the church group left some of the hymnals behind! Maybe they can give them to charity. That would be some lucky charity. They’re still absorbing the full terrifying implications of their fuck-up, when Danny smells something funny. Or someone.
Reversa has been working on a different case, relating to a wealthy Chinese couple keeping undocumented Chinese immigrants as defacto slaves. They bring her in to hear the sad news. All that good professional work she put in. Undone by some unprofessional work done further down the chain of command. The troopers never even took down the name of that guy who showed them his license–Mac-something?
She sighs to herself. She really thought they’d get him, and now she’s got to tell Modale that their quarry has slipped through the net yet again. It’s been nine days. John B. Allen? Might as well call him Long John. Because he’s long gone.
She’s a good hunter, but she didn’t quite understand what she was chasing. She refers to him as a cat at one point. Right track. Wrong family.
That’s all we see of Gwen Reversa, or Massachusetts. The loose ends from Nobody Runs Forever have all been tied up neatly. Parker has come to an arrangement that should deal with the one remaining loose end, that of the serial numbers on the stolen bills. The book could end right here, at page 192. But the thing about loose ends is, they proliferate. In literature, and life.
Not at 5,000 words yet. I could wrap things up now, without going on longer than I have in past. But what follows, in Part Four, is a story all to itself, and merits special treatment. With regard to what’s come before, it’s more of a coda than a conclusion–long enough for a novella, which I’m half-inclined to refer to it as. And it seems to me that Stark was laying the groundwork for more Parker stories. That we’ll never read.
Because he’s long gone.