Hammer: Look, in a little while I’m going to hold an auction sale at Cocoanut Manor, the suburb terrible or beautiful. You must come over. There’s going to be entertainment, sandwiches, and the auction. If you don’t like auctions, we can play contract. Here it is – Cocoanut Manor – 42 hours from Times Square by railroad. 1,600 miles as the crow flies and 1,800 as the horse flies. There you are – Cocoanut Manor, glorifying the American sewer and the Florida sucker. It’s the most exclusive residential district in Florida. Nobody lives there. And the climate – ask me about the climate. I dare you.
Mrs. Potter: Very well – how is the…
Hammer: I’m glad you brought it up. Our motto is Cocoanut Beach, no snow, no ice, and no business.
Scene from The Cocoanuts (1929), and Mike must think I’m nuts for even bothering to mention that. But why a duck? Answer me that, Mr. Schilling. I thought I was the one doing the shilling around here. A fine thing.
“Most people, I believe,” Alice said, “will just go for the baubles, because they won’t want to spend an awful lot of money this late in the season. Just so they take home some little thing. But I will bid on this necklace, and I’ll bid low, and because it’s so valuable it won’t come on the block until very late, when everybody else will already have their little something, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I get it for my opening bid.
“How clever you are, Alice,” Jack said, and patted her shoulder before he went back to his seat and his Wall Street Journal.
She continued to smile at the necklace in the photo. “What a coup,” she said. “To get that necklace cheap, and to wear it on every occasion.” Like all very wealthy women, Alice had strange cold pockets of miserliness. Her eyes shone as she looked across the table at Jack. “It will be an absolute steal,” she said.
“But you don’t care if I live or die,” she said, “do you?”
“I’d rather you were dead,” he said.
She thought about that. “Are you going to kill me?”
“Because of the bargaining chip.”
“You’re a little more truthful than I’m ready for,” she said.
Let me state for the record that I don’t hate this book at all. I have read it four times, and enjoyed it each time, in spite of all my nitpicking. Hell, if you can’t enjoy a good bit of nitpicking sometimes, you should stop perusing fiction altogether, and were probably born into the wrong reality altogether. This is not a world of Platonic Ideals. I’m far from convinced any such world exists, but this ain’t it, that I know.
But having typed that, I am forced to ponder the unavoidable truth that Parker is, in certain respects, Westlake’s ideal–or rather, Stark’s. Westlake likes things messy, imperfect, the daily scrum of human existence, with all its inherent absurdity–and the potential for love and laughter and self-realization that lies within all that. Stark also aspires to self-realization, but he does so by striking a cold clinical contrast between Parker and the rest of us; never fully knowing ourselves, always caught between what we wish we were, and what we really are.
Why is Parker so quietly and implacably enraged when he’s shortchanged by his colleagues at the start of this book? They’ve promised to pay him back with interest, once the big heist they’re planning is done (having failed to inform him this might happen upfront). Why go to such extraordinary pains to acquire a small fortune through small thefts, simply in order to create a false identity, so he can go to a place he normally would avoid, risk death and (even worse) imprisonment for the chance to erase the insult by killing these men who mean him no harm, taking their ill-gotten gains for himself as restitution? Why not let it go, for God’s sake? It’s just 21k–at the dawn of the 21st century. Claire probably spends more than that per annum on clothes.
Why react this way? Because in Parker’s mind, this is not how it’s done. You pull a heist with some people, you share the proceeds in the manner agreed to upfront, you go your separate ways. No exceptions. He would have had more respect for them if they’d just tried to kill him to get his share, though the response would be no different. Parker doesn’t know from Platonic Ideals, because that’s an intellectual concept, and he’s about instinct. He is, in reality, what someone like Plato can only dream about. Maybe more along the lines of Aristotelian Natural Philosophy than Platonic Ideals, but it’s all Greek to him.
So obviously to me this novel does not properly reflect the Stark Ideal established in my mind by the previous books. It lacks the proper balance of elements. It asks questions of Parker that should never be asked; presents answers to those questions that he would never think to himself, let alone utter aloud. This is why I have such a bad reaction to it. But my response to that is simply to have a good time nitpicking all the inconsistencies and false notes in the book, while acknowledging the many genuinely fine moments within it. I don’t have to go find Richard Stark and kill him. I mean, even if I could find him, he’d probably end up killing me.
When last we saw Parker, he was lying face down in a swamp in the Florida Everglades, having been shot in the back with a .30-06 rifle, by one of a pair of killers sent to find and eliminate him, so that he can’t divulge the identity of a man whose identity remains a mystery to him. One of those guys who makes murder the answer to everything. One of those pairs of chuckling assassins that used to frequent many a Westlake Nephew book. And in just a few seconds, they’re going to wish they’d stuck with the Nephews.
But this being Part 3 in a Parker novel, we’re not going to find out what happened right away. Chapter 1 is from the perspective of Parker’s three former cohorts, Melander, Carlson, and Ross. They had told Parker to go home and wait for their call, so they’d know he wasn’t after them. Four days later they call. Nobody’s home.
What follows is an irritable debate on the admittedly complex ethical strictures of organized armed robbery. Melander, the mercurial fidgety idea man of the group, feels like they did nothing wrong. Carlson, the pragmatic veteran, says if they’d done the same thing to him as they did to Parker, he’d say they robbed him–they should have considered the consequences of bringing in a fourth man who might have to be shortchanged, before they went ahead and did it. Ross, the peacemaker, says maybe they better just go to Parker’s house in New Jersey and check up on him. And if he’s not there, maybe they can grab his woman and use her as leverage.
Everybody agrees this is a good idea. Until they get to the house and find it deserted. They spend days there, waiting for Parker, Claire, somebody, to show up. All they ever find is places Parker had cached guns to use on anybody who came after him at home. There’s even one behind a sliding panel by the garage door. Each is increasingly aware they are dealing with an ice cold methodical planner, and that there’s a target stitched on each of their backs.
They decide to head back to Florida. It’s really cold in Northwestern New Jersey in winter, even if you’re not right off a lake. They put everything back the way it’s supposed to be at Claire’s house so nobody will know they were there. They get back to their Palm Beach house, and everything is the way it’s supposed to be, so they figure Parker wasn’t there. Not so good at making connections, these guys.
(More fun with nitpicks: Parker is told at the start of the book that the trio needed a fourth man on the Palm Beach job, and if it’s not going to be him, it’ll be somebody else. Guess what? There’s nobody else, they just do the job–a really big complicated risky job–with three men. No explanation of how they were able to rejigger the plan to make that work. Just one mistake among many. Westlake is rarely this sloppy, and never when he’s working as Stark. What was going on when he wrote this book?)
Chapter 2 is Leslie Mackenzie musing on her life, the sequence of events that led her to throw in her lot with Parker. She grew up poor in a place where you’re surrounded by wealth. She got into a bad marriage with a guy who talked big, but talk was all it was. Her mother and sister are an embarrassment and a burden to her, and she’d dearly love to get her hands on a lot of cash, so she can leave them behind, start over.
Sex has never been much fun for her, but she is (of course), starting to become attracted to Parker, wondering what he’d be like in bed. Truthfully, her situation isn’t that desperate. She’s very good at her job, and her job is selling luxury housing to people who can afford it. She just isn’t happy with where and who she is. She’d like to be somebody else, somewhere else. For that she needs a score. And for a score, she needs somebody like Parker. And for this subplot to work out satisfactorily, for Leslie and us, Parker needs to be sexually available to her, at least on a temporary basis, but he’s not. Frustrating.
He is, however, still alive. You won’t believe how that happens. Seriously, you won’t. Chapter 3 is from the perspective of a 23 year old paramilitary grunt named Elvis Clagg. You know that right-wing militia movement that started getting a lot of attention in the 90’s? Seems like some people got started much earlier than that. Warning, racial epithets ahead. Like you couldn’t hear worse at a meeting of the President’s closest advisors these days.
Captain Bob Hardawl himself had founded the CRDF not long after he’d come back to Florida from Nam and had seen that the niggers and kikes were about to take over everywhere from the forces of God, and that the forces of God could use some help from a fella equipped with infantryman training.
Armageddon hadn’t struck yet, thank God, but you just knew that sooner or later it would. You could read all about it on the Internet, you could hear it in the songs of Aryan rock, you could see it in the news all around you, you could read it in all the books and magazines that Captain Bob insisted every member of the CRDF subscribe to and read.
That was an odd thing, too. Reading had always been tough for Elvis Clagg. It had been one of the reasons he’d dropped out of school at the very first opportunity and got that job at the sugar mill that paid shit and immediately gave him a bad cough like an old car. But now that he had stuff he wanted to read, stuff he liked to read, why, turned out, he was a natural at it.
They oughta figure that out in the schools. Quit giving the kids all that Moby-Dick shit and give them The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and you’re gonna have you some heavy-duty readers.
I’m sure that option is being discussed as we speak, but leaving that aside, Elvis was out on maneuvers in the Everglades, with the rest of the CRDF, and would you believe they just happened to witness Parker being shot? Why, sure you would.
And while there’s no particular reason for them to get involved, the fact is that you get bored marching around in formation with shiny well-oiled automatic weapons all day, and never having anyone to use them on. One excuse is pretty much as good as another. Captain Bob yells something at the thugs. The thug with the .30-06 rifle panics and shoots two of the uniformed thugs armed with Uzis. Problem is, there’s twenty-six of them left, and the guy with the rifle didn’t shoot Captain Bob, who starts barking orders, and the end result is that Parker’s abductors end up getting shot 13 times apiece. Dead and unlucky.
Chapter 4 introduces the 67 year old Alice Prester Young, and her 26 year old husband, Jack. Alice is rich, and Jack is not. That didn’t really need explaining. And I’m not sure this story really needed telling. Westlake wants to satirize Palm Beach society, and that’s a worthy ambition in itself, but how well does it mesh with the story being told? Not very. I strongly suspect this is left-over story material from something Westlake started writing that wasn’t originally going to be by Richard Stark.
Alice is reading in the paper at breakfast about how a Daniel Parmitt is in the hospital, in critical condition, after being abducted and shot in the Everglades, and she’s asking Jack if they know any such person. Jack doesn’t know, doesn’t care. She goes on from that subject to discussing the upcoming auction of Miriam Hope Clendon’s jewelry, as you can see up top–a certain necklace she’s had her eye on since time immemorial. Jack’s only interest in that stems from his figuring he’ll inherit it someday. We shall be hearing from both of them again, so on to Chapter 5.
Chapter 5 introduces pretty nearly the only non-asshole POV character in the book who isn’t Parker or Leslie; Trooper Sergeant Jake Farley of the Snake River County Sheriff’s department, who is working on the strange case of Daniel Parmitt. He’s irritated on several counts–first of all, those dangerous idiots of the CRDF finally killed somebody, like he always knew they would, but he can’t arrest them, because it was self-defense.
Secondly, he just can’t figure out the angle on this Parmitt. They have the ID papers Parker bought from the late Mr. Norte, which are holding up to scrutiny so far–unlike the more resourceful Leslie, they haven’t thought to run a credit check, because obviously rich oil men from Texas have great credit. Point is, why does somebody like this get waylaid by two men who were self-evidently professional killers? Something’s rotten in the state of Florida (pretty much the default setting there, and not just in crime fiction).
Parmitt was badly shot, and drowned to boot, before the CRDF guys practiced their CPR on him (breaking a few ribs in the process). And yet, miraculously, it looks like he’s going to recover. When Farley questions Parmitt, something about the way the man’s eyes focus on him from his hospital bed makes Farley feel like he’s the one in danger. Unnerving. But no question, the man is still very weak.
Leslie has shown up, wanting to see her friend and client, whom she suggestively suggests may be more than just a friend and client. Leslie quickly figures out Farley, who has a thing for amply proportioned blondes, and is currently married to one, is going to be knocked off balance if she brings sex into the equation, and it works like a charm. He gives her a few minutes alone with Parker, in Chapter 6.
As soon as she tells Parker that the attack on Parmitt made the papers, he knows the man who sent the first two killers will send more, right to the hospital, and there’s no police guard on his room (nor can he request one without making explanations he’s in no position to make). And at any time the cops might take his fingerprints–which will lead back to a dead prison camp guard in the 1960’s, among other things. He tells Leslie she needs to get him out of there, without anyone seeing them leave. She’s taken aback, but tells him she’ll figure something out.
Chapter 7 is set at the site of the auction, the house of Mrs. Helena Stockworth Fritz, who is deeply involved in getting the place ready for the social event that will officially make her the new queen of Palm Beach. Then all of a sudden these two common workmen we recognize as Melander and Ross show up with some amplifiers they say they were tasked with deliverying there. Irritating, but just so they’ll go away, she has them let in, and as promised they stick the equipment where it won’t get in anyone’s way. Until it does.
Chapter 8 is Leslie pressuring her mother and sister into aiding her in springing Parker from the hospital. Her sister Loretta, as mentioned, is mentally disabled, and her mother’s no bright light either. They’re both very nervous about participating in this escape plan. But they buckle when she threatens to move out–her income is all that’s holding them up. And we know she’s planning to move out as soon as she gets her money.
Chapter 9 is the evening of the heist, and switches around a bit, starting with Alice Prester-Young getting her jewels out of the bank, where the Palm Beach elite keep most of their valuables most of the time. They have dressing rooms, mirrors with grey tinting to disguise the marks of time on the faces and bodies of those who look in them. Alice feels she’s earned all of this, even though the entire point of being in Palm Beach society is that you didn’t earn any of it.
Farley is talking about Parmitt with an FBI agent named Mobley, and they agree his story about not remembering anything about how or why he was attacked doesn’t add up, he’s holding something back. Mobley suggests Farley get Parmitt’s fingerprints to him, and he’ll check them for priors. Farley agrees.
Leslie is driving to the hospital with her sister, in a Plymouth Voyager (nice little nod to The Ax there). They pass a fire engine. Guess who’s riding on it?
Then we get a bit more social satire with Mrs. Fritz, learning that even within the 1% there’s a class system, and she sees herself as being at the very top now–too good to even go to the bank to get her jewels and furs with the rest of the hoi polloi, as she thinks of them. She uses the panic room her late husband installed for that. And she doesn’t need any gray-backed mirror. She likes the person looking back at her just fine the way she is. She knows herself better than the others. But she still doesn’t see those amplifiers the grimy workmen delivered, that somehow never got hooked up to the sound system.
Chapter 10 is Leslie and Loretta springing Parker from the hospital by putting him in the wheelchair Loretta was pretending to need. Loretta’s actually having a fun time with the caper now. Leslie is still worried about getting her money, and starting to feel protective towards ‘Daniel’, in spite of herself. But when she asks him what he plans to do tomorrow night, his answer is “Kill some people.”
Chapter 11, surprisingly enough, isn’t about Donald Trump’s financial affairs. It’s another multi-POV chapter, and the only thing of real consequence that happens in it is that the hitman sent to kill Parker in his hospital bed gets there only to find out the bed is empty, and he’s about to be arrested by Deputy Sheriff Farley (showing great presence of mind when he finds the man in Parker’s room, pretending to be a doctor). Farley is delighted to finally have somebody he can question without a lot of doctors making a fuss. Less delighted that Daniel Parmitt has disappeared, but he’ll worry about that later.
Chapter 12 is all Leslie and Parker. He’s recovering from his injuries with astonishing rapidity–not Hugh Jackman with adamantium claws fast, but fast. He’s staying at a condo she’s already sold, that the new occupants won’t be occupying for weeks yet. She’s reached the point where she’s actually trying to talk him out of heisting the heist, but of course nobody can ever talk Parker out of anything. She can’t understand why he’s so much more intent on killing these three guys who never tried to hurt him than he is on dealing with the man who has sent hired killers after him. Yeah, what’s up with that, Parker?
“The other guy’s gonna self-destruct,” he told her, “He has to, he’s too stupid to last. He’s somebody used to power, not brains. But these three are mechanics, we had an understanding, they broke it. They don’t do that.” He shrugged. “It makes sense or it doesn’t.”
Only time I’ve ever felt like arguing with Parker’s logic (not the part about somebody used to power instead of brains; that’s borne out by the headlines we read every morning now).
Actually, only time offhand I can think of Parker arguing for his own logic. The mere fact that he’s doing so means that he knows it doesn’t make sense, which we know from several past books is something that always irritates him. But in The Seventh, the most noteworthy of those books where he’s knocked off-kilter, he was doing something that didn’t make sense because, in part, a girl he was starting to like had been skewered with a sword by The Amateur.
There was no time to stop and think in that story, everything happened over a very short time frame, which is why that book works so well. And The Amateur had tried to kill Parker, had tried to frame him with the law, had taken all of his money, and was certainly not promising to pay him back later. Given all that, it made perfect sense that Parker’s behavior didn’t make sense, least of all to him.
But in this story he’s had weeks to think about what he’s doing now, and now he’s clearly in no shape to take on three armed men, or three unarmed men for that matter. He’s going to do it anyway, because he can’t help himself. Frankly, this seems less like a wolf in human form acting on instinct than a really hardcore case of OCD. The Sheldon Cooper of Crime.
Chapter 13 is the heist. And a good one, I might add. The gaudy trio use their favored strategy of pyrotechnic distraction–they should probably quit the heisting game, and try putting together a magic act in Vegas. The amplifiers contained incendiary rockets. As anticipated, the rich people forget their innate dignity and stampede like cattle. The trio appear disguised as firemen, in the stolen fire engine–then depart as frogmen, wetsuits under their slickers, over the sea wall into the sea, with the jewels. Next stop, the safe house. Which isn’t going to be as safe as advertised.
Meanwhile, back at the Fritz, the whole soap opera subplot of Alice and Jack concludes with her desperately seeking Jack in the smoke and confusion, afraid he’s been killed–then seeing him carrying the luscious young trophy wife of another elderly rich fool out of harm’s way, and realizing in an instant that he’s just been patiently waiting for Alice to die, and entertaining himself with a woman his own age while he waits. Which Alice probably could have forgiven easily enough, if it wasn’t so blatantly obvious that his first thought when all hell broke loose was to save his lover, not his wife.
He looks back at Alice, the corpus delectable in his arms, and can’t think of a single thing to say. He’s fond of her and all, he enjoys her company, he didn’t mind servicing her sexagenarian sexual needs, wasn’t bothered by the snickering gossip that inevitably surrounds any such marriage, but in a crisis, his true feelings betrayed him–and her. And their whole tidy mutually beneficial arrangement is exposed for the tawdry sham it always was (same goes for his lover, whose husband is now processing the same ugly truth as Alice–money can buy you everything but youth, and youth is worth all the rest of it combined, wasted on the young though it may be).
And that’s a perfectly good short story, for Playboy, maybe, but what the hell’s it doing in a Parker novel? We won’t see any of these people again, and we won’t miss them either. At times, this book feels like a jumble sale of ideas Westlake wanted to do something with, but never found the proper outlet for. On to Part 4, eight chapters, just a bit over fifty pages, and blissfully free of any such distractions. But sadly, not free of some pretty serious problems, and one outright blunder on the part of the author.
Parker has painfully made his way back into Melander & Co’s hideout–last time he was in there, he fixed things so he could get in there without triggering any alarms, or leaving any trace. But last time he didn’t have a bullet wound and several broken ribs, and wasn’t weak as the proverbial kitten. Still, this kitten has claws, and a gun stashed under a Parson’s table. And he’ll have the element of surprise. Or maybe not.
The trio get back from their heist, laughing over how well it went–one of them even saw a dolphin as they swam back to their private beach. They’re improvising too much–it only occurred to Ross at the last possible moment that they needed to sweep the sand behind them, to cover up their footprints. The heat from this heist will be intense, like nothing they ever faced beore. They never did fully process how intense. Rich people don’t like getting robbed (They’re supposed to be the robber barons here! Well, their forebears were, anyway.) In a closed-off place that is entirely controlled by the rich, the cops will be relentless and methodical in tracking down the thieves–or lose their jobs.
But right away they get distracted–by Leslie. Parker curses to himself when he hears it happening. She couldn’t just sit back and wait, she had to come in and look, and they found her. They assume she’s Claire, looking for Parker. Well, they’re half-right. They start interrogating her, slapping her around a little, and then when they lock her in the same room Parker is hiding in, she inadvertently tips them off to his presence. Parker thinks to himself sourly that she’d been better than most amateurs, until it mattered.
Melander isn’t sure whether he wants Parker dead or not. Obviously Parker’s not in great shape, and it’s three against one (he’s not counting ‘Claire’). Parker tells one of his usual lies when he’s faced with guys he wants to kill who are currently in a position to kill him–he was just making sure he’d get his money. They don’t really believe him, but they can sleep on it. And while they sleep, Parker keeps getting a bit stronger, every hour.
The plan, not that it matters now, was that he’d kill them in their sleep. Won’t work now, and far from clear it ever would have worked. But that plan is dead. Parker waits to see what new plan can be salvaged from this mess. And Leslie looks for some way to prove herself to him again.
Next morning, all plans turn to crap. The cops come calling. Melander puts on his faux Texas accent, tries to assure them he’s what he pretends to be, but the fact is, in the harsh light of a major manhunt, his act just doesn’t play anymore. The house is largely unfurnished, in bad shape, there’s a dumpster outside, no contractors at work, and they haven’t even applied for a phone yet.
This isn’t how real rich people live, camped out like squatters in a derelict property–certainly not in Palm Beach. Parker was right all along about this plan being a disaster waiting to happen. The cops, who work in Palm Beach every day, can easily sense Melander doesn’t belong here, that something’s very wrong with this picture. They insist on coming in to look around.
(The absolute worst mistake in this book is something I never noticed before now–see, back in Chapter 1, Part 3, we’re told that when the trio decided to try contacting Parker in New Jersey, they called from the ‘freshly installed phone’ at the mansion in Palm Beach–that very phone the cops now say they never even applied for. That’s not their mistake, it’s Stark’s. Stark doesn’t make mistakes like this. An honest-to-god plothole in a Parker novel. What the hell was going on with the writing of this book? What kind of pressure was Westlake under when he produced it?)
Melander can’t very well tell the law to come back with a search warrant–he does that, they’ll have a cordon around the house in five minutes, the warrant in ten, and SWAT teams in place. He realizes he’s got no choice but to shoot it out–just two of them. He and his buddies can figure out Plan B once the cops are dead.
But Parker’s advance planning comes into play now. He disabled all their guns days ago. Melander pulls the trigger and nothing happens. Except he gets shot to pieces by edgy lawmen, naturally.
Parker and Leslie had been brought downstairs for breakfast. Leslie is sitting at that very table Parker duct-taped his trusty little Sentinel revolver beneath. Parker quietly let Leslie know about the gun, hoping she’d get it to him, but Carlson sees her with the gun in her hand, aims his shotgun at her, and of course that doesn’t work either, but Leslie doesn’t know that (Parker understandably didn’t want to trust her with any further information).
In the ensuing shitstorm, Parker hits Ross with a chair, knocking him into view of the cops, who gun him down with alacrity. Leslie, terrified out of her wits, empties the Sentinel into a confused Carlson. The trio is gaudy in a different way now.
Parker grabs the bags with the jewelry, and goes out the back, signaling Leslie with his eyes that she should say nothing about his ever having been there. He’s still in tremendous pain, and can’t go very far, but he manages to get over the fence surrounding the property, and into a decent enough hiding place, assuming there’s no major search of the area. And then he passes out.
By the time he wakes up, the house is abandoned again. He goes back inside, helps himself to the food and beer his deceased captors stocked the fridge with. Cops come in a few times to poke around, but they aren’t looking for anyone, so he just avoids them in the big rambling house. After a few days of this routine, he’s feeling a lot better–now he just needs to make contact with Leslie one last time.
And here she is–something of a local heroine now. Reminiscent of Claire at the end of The Rare Coin Score, she told the law a good story, used her feminine wiles on her male interrogators, and not only is she not in any trouble, she’s now got the exclusive right to show the house to potential new buyers. So her presence there isn’t going to arouse any suspicion. Parker is pleased with her–she’d never make it long in his business, but in the end, she proved her worth to him. She can live. And she is, of course, due a share of the spoils.
She tells him all the accounts he set up as Parmitt have been frozen. He expected that, isn’t bothered by it. He tells her he’s going soon, will leave the gems in her keeping. She’s amazed he’ll trust her that much, but he reminds her, there is no way she could possibly sell them herself without getting caught. He’ll send a fence to see her, and he figures her end will come to around 400k, give or take. We were told at the start of the book that it would take three fences to unload all this swag, but even I’m getting bored with the nitpicking now.
In the Pre-Claire era, this would be the part of the book where Parker and Leslie hook up. But those days are gone, and Parker feels like he somehow has to explain this to Leslie, why he’s not going to take out his post-heist horniness on her, which she would be more than willing to let him do. For the record, I’m totally fine with the emotions he’s expressing here; not so fine with the fact that he is expressing them. Hey, if this heist thing ever falls through, he could always take a job with Hallmark.
He said, “You don’t want to know about Claire, Leslie.”
“Of course I do,” she said.
He looked at her, and decided to finish that part once and for all. “Claire is the only house I ever want to be in,” he said. “All her doors and windows are open, but only for me.”
A blush climbed Leslie’s cheeks, and she stepped back, looking confused. “You’re probably anxious to see her again,” she said, mumbling, going through the motions. “I’ll see you at eight.”
The plan is she comes to pick him up, drive him to Miami, where Claire is waiting. But plans are always subject to change. Farley shows up at the house, still trying to figure out what the hell happened. He never bought Leslie’s story. He knows Parmitt is tied up in this some way. Parker avoids Farley easily, but waits for him in his car. He’s still got some business left to attend to, and Farley could be useful there.
So Farley comes back to the car, sees Parker, and is taken aback by the man’s sheer gall. They have a little talk, in which Parker admits to no crime, but fills Farley in on why those two hoods tried to kill him in the Everglades. Tells him about this guy, probably from Latin America, probably a general or a drug lord looking for a cushy safe retirement home in the states, tried to cover his tracks by the most stupid brutal means imaginable, because that’s the only way he ever knew to deal with problems–and in so doing, made himself more vulnerable. In so doing, he made Parker his enemy.
The deal is, Parker gives Farley enough information so that he can go to his FBI friend, knowing how to prove the papers Norte gave this man are fake, and in a short time, they can take him down for keeps–a big arrest, very nice for everyone’s careers. If they somehow screw it up, fail to get him, Parker will take the guy out himself. But he doesn’t think that will be necessary. He also teases Farley about his obvious attraction to Leslie. Well, I guess there’s a little matchmaker in everyone.
Farley drops Parker off in Miami. Even gives him a quarter to call Claire with. He would still like to arrest this Parmitt guy, even though he doesn’t exactly have any concrete charges–he could find something if he wanted. The bloodhound in him can smell the wolf in Parker, is feeling the pull to do something about it. Parker reminds him they’re alone. “I’m armed,” Farley says. “So am I,” Parker responds. And flexes his huge hands, which are in easy reach of Farley’s throat. Farley says he’ll always wonder if he could have taken Parker. Parker ends the book by saying “Look on the bright side–this way you have an always.”
Not a bad ending. Not a bad book. Unless you compare it to all the others. Maybe someday we’ll know what happened here, the explanation for all the mistakes and false notes, but I doubt anything will ever explain why Hollywood producers would pick this book to kick off what was supposed to be a long-running franchise, starring a short bald Englishman as Parker (actually named Parker, something Westlake would never have countenanced had he still been around), and a skinny blonde Australian whose name I can never remember as Claire. And Nick Nolte as her dad, who is Parker’s mentor. Seriously. This happened.
But Jennifer Lopez wasn’t a bad pick for Leslie. Even though I know she was only picked because the producers wanted her to do that striptease from Part 1. She looked right for Florida, and she certainly had the curves to play Leslie. But they screwed up that subplot as well. Trying to ‘fix’ the story, they made it ten times worse.
The producers of “Parker” (quotes intentional) were, whether they knew it or not, playing the role of the gaudy trio in this book; so confident of their abilities, so sure they had a perfect score planned, so sure Palm Beach (which they insisted on shooting in, driving up the budget) would be a goldmine for them. And in the end, it didn’t work out any better for them than it did for the movie stars. But it worked out fine for the Westlake estate. So that tracks. Can’t wait for the sequel. I really can’t. Because seriously, I’m not going to live that long, and neither is anyone else.
But pretty sure I’ll live long enough to review the next book in our queue, also a Parker, and vastly more satisfactory than this one, in every possible way. Parker is back in his proper habitat–both of them. City and wilderness. And still learning about this brave new world he’s been stuck back into. Adds another string to his bow, you might say.
Anyway, I’ll try to get Part 1 out next week. Anyone needs me before then, I’ll be in the garage, killing a man. Just kidding. I don’t have a garage.
(Part of Friday’s Forgotten Books)