The sixteenth Parker novel, Butcher’s Moon is more than twice as long most of the master heister’s adventures, and absolutely jammed with the action, violence, and nerve-jangling tension readers have come to expect. Back in the corrupt town where he lost his money, and nearly his life, in Slayground, Parker assembles a stunning cast of characters from throughout his career for one gigantic, blowout job: starting—and finishing—a gang war. It feels like the Parker novel to end all Parker novels, and for nearly twenty-five years that’s what it was. After its publication in 1974, Donald Westlake said, “Richard Stark proved to me that he had a life of his own by simply disappearing. He was gone.”
Featuring a new introduction by Westlake’s close friend and writing partner, Lawrence Block, this classic Parker adventures deserve a place of honor on any crime fan’s bookshelf. More than thirty-five years later, Butcher's Moon still packs a punch: keep your calendar clear when you pick it up, because once you open it you won't want to do anything but read until the last shot is fired.
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A Parker Novel
By Richard Stark
The University of Chicago PressCopyright © 1974 Richard Stark
All rights reserved.
Running toward the light, Parker fired twice over his left shoulder, not caring whether he hit anything or not. It was just to slow them down, keep the cops in the front of the store while he and the others got out.
It was a tall rectangle of dim light, a doorway to the basement stairs. Opening this door here when they'd come in must have triggered a silent alarm somewhere, probably with a private alarm systems company. An internal level of protection not mentioned in the plan they'd bought.
Hurley got through the doorway first. There was firing from the front of the store now, and voices yelling "Stop or I'll shoot!" at the same time they were already shooting.
Parker went through the doorway, leaping out into space over the stairs, hearing Michaelson grunt behind him, and a thudding sound as though a sack of flour had been thrown at a wall. Parker's feet hit the fourth step, the ninth step, and the dirt floor. Hurley was already halfway across to the tunnel entrance in the stone wall at the rear, running crouched under the low ceiling crisscrossed by black pipes. Two dim bulbs made black shadows and yellow light, and Briggs stood near the tunnel entrance blinking behind his glasses, clutching his tool kit in his hands. Briggs was a technician, he wasn't used to excitement.
Hurley dove headfirst into the tunnel, disappearing to the knees, and went wriggling away, his shoes twisting and yanking with exertion. Parker stopped beside Briggs, grabbed his arm to get his attention, and pointed back at the stairs. "Knock it out."
Staring, Briggs said, "Michaelson," and bobbed his head toward the stairs.
Parker looked. Michaelson was sprawled across the sill up there, his head and arms hanging down the first few steps. He wasn't moving. "He's finished," Parker said. "We're not. Close it up."
"Oh, damn," Briggs said. He was petulant and pouting, ridiculous mannerisms, but he went down on one knee, opened his tool kit on the floor, took out a metal tube wrapped in black electric tape, twisted the top, stood, and tossed it in a gentle underhand at the stairs. Before it landed, Briggs was on one knee again, shutting the tool kit.
The tube sailed over Michaelson and hit the top step next to his rib cage. The doorway disappeared in a flash of light and sound and smoke and debris. Parker was shoved backward a step, and Briggs, halfway to his feet again, was knocked back to his knees.
Smoke rolled backward at them swiftly across the room. The explosion reverberated back and forth, enclosed in the stone walls. Parker yelled at Briggs, "Come on!" and couldn't hear himself for the ringing in his ears.
But Briggs was moving anyway. Shaking his head in annoyance, he was on his feet again and hurrying to the tunnel. Fussily he pushed the tool kit ahead of himself, and followed it through.
Parker looked over where the stairs and doorway had been, but the smoke obscured everything. And he couldn't hear anything outside his own body, no sounds other than the thud of his own heart and the rush of blood through his veins. Turning in the roaring silence, as the smoke puffed around him, he pushed through the tunnel, twice the length of his body, twelve feet through rock and damp hard earth, and came out in the other basement, where Briggs was fussing over his tool kit and Hurley was across the way at the foot of the stairs.
"Coveralls," Parker said to Briggs, and started to unzip his own.
Hurley called, "Come on, come on, we got no time."
"Get the coveralls off," Parker told him. "We've got time to look like straight citizens."
Hurley frowned in urgency up at the door at the top of the stairs, but he unzipped the coveralls in one fast downward motion and shrugged out of the shoulders.
Parker, stepping out of the coveralls, flung them into a corner with a gesture of irritation. Briggs, sounding surprised, said, "Don't we take them?"
"Why? We won't come back here, and they don't trace to us."
"I suppose." Doubtful, shaking his head, Briggs dropped the coveralls he'd been neatly folding and followed Parker across the basement to the stairs.
This was a newer basement in a newer building, with concrete floor and plaster walls and the big green power plant humming to itself away on the right. They'd been coming in here every night for a week, after the old man on guard duty upstairs fell asleep in his chair, the way he always did, and they'd dug the tunnel through to the jewelry store basement in the next block. A wooden crate had hidden the hole by day, and a stack of six cardboard cartons had taken the extra dirt.
Hurley was the first one up the stairs, with Parker behind him and Briggs trailing. At the top, Hurley waited till Parker and Briggs stopped clattering on the metal stairs, then pushed the chrome door open enough to look out at the lobby. "Crap," he said.
"The old man's up."
Parker moved up to the top step, to look past Hurley's shoulder. Behind him, Briggs whispered, "The explosion must have woke him."
The guard in his gray uniform was down by the glass doors, peering through them, looking this way and that. Parker looked at him, and saw he was wide awake, and said, "Just cover your faces. Come on."
They pushed through the doorway, Parker in the lead now, and kept one hand up, obscuring their faces. Parker took the two-inch Smith & Wesson revolver from his pocket and held it at his side.
They were almost to the old man before he heard them, and turned around, his eyes startled and blinking. "Who— Who—"
"Stay very tight," Parker said. He showed the gun. "You don't have any part in this," he said. "No reason to get dead."
"Holy Jesus," the old man said. "Holy sweet Jesus."
Hurley had the key. He went down on one knee, because the glass doors had their locks down at the base, and quickly unlocked the nearest door. He pushed it open and rose in the same movement, heading outside and across the sidewalk to Dalesia waiting in the Chrysler.
Briggs followed, holding his tool kit tight to his chest, and Parker said to the guard, "Walk over to your chair. Take your time and don't look back."
"Oh, I won't," the guard said. He carried a gun, but he knew he hadn't been hired to do anything with it. "Now?" he said.
"Now. I'll be watching through the glass."
The guard walked off, staring at the building directory on the rear lobby wall. Parker shoved the pistol back in his pocket, moved quickly across the sidewalk, slid into the back seat beside Briggs. Hurley was up front, next to Dalesia. The engine was running.
"Go," Parker said.
They rolled, and Dalesia said, "Michaelson?"
Hurley said, "He won't be coming."
"He got shot," Briggs said.
Dalesia nodded. He'd been coasting a bit, waiting for the light at the corner to change to green, and now he gunned across the intersection. Moving briskly down the next block—but not fast enough to attract attention—he said, "Wounded? Will he be able to talk?"
Parker said, "He's gone."
"What I want to know," Hurley said, "what went wrong? How come we suddenly got all those cops?"
"There had to be another alarm," Parker said. "An internal alarm on that cellar door."
"We were supposed to buy a clean plan," Hurley said. He was angry, but it was mostly relief. "Morse guaranteed us a clean plan."
"These things happen," Parker said. "That could be a new system, since he knew the place."
"They don't happen to me," Hurley said. "We paid Morse good money for a good plan, and we got our heads on a plate."
Parker shrugged. They were away, it was over, mistakes happen. They had bought a plan, and a map, and an outline of the alarm protection, and a key to that building in the next block. As to guarantees, nobody could guarantee a thing like this, that was just Hurley spouting off his nervousness through anger.
The fact was, Parker wouldn't have come into this at all if he hadn't been strapped for cash. It was a small score, which somebody unknown to him had set up, and he wasn't in charge of it. This was Hurley's baby. Hurley and his friend Morse.
They rode a couple of blocks in silence, and then Hurley said, "I'm gonna go see Morse. You want to come? Dee?"
Dalesia said, "Sure. I got nothing else to do." He spoke casually, not angry, not caring one way or the other.
Hurley twisted around in the seat to look at the two in back. "What about you? Parker?"
"No, I don't think so," Parker said.
"I guess not," Briggs said. "I guess I'll go back to Florida."
"Well, I'm gonna see Morse." Hurley faced front again, and sat nodding his head, apparently thinking about his anger.
Briggs said quietly to Parker, "Do you have any idea what you'll do?"
"I'm not sure."
"I'm running a streak," Briggs said. "A very bad streak. I believe I'll just retire for a while, and wait for it to go away." "This is my fourth in a row," Parker said. "I've got a streak of my own running."
"Anything else on tap?"
"No." Parker frowned and looked out the side window at the dark storefronts going by.
"One thing," he said.
"Couple years ago I left some money behind after a job. I think I'll go back and get it."
"You want company?"
"I did the job with a guy," Parker said. "I guess I'll get in touch with him again."CHAPTER 2
Grofield said, "Shouldn't I have income before I pay income tax?"
The man from Internal Revenue rested his forearm on the briefcase he'd put on Grofield's desk. Talking slowly, as though explaining something complex to a child, he said, "You have to have income, Mr. Grofield. You can't operate a theater at a loss five years in a row, it isn't possible."
Grofield said, "Have you ever seen a show here?"
"The vast majority of your fellow-men could say the same."
They were having their conversation in Grofield's office in the theater. At one time the office had been part of a lobby kind of thing at the rear of the theater near the box office, but by running the Coke machine and the candy machine out from the rear wall, and adding a door with its own independent stand-up frame, a more or less private area had been divided off, in which Grofield kept a desk and a filing cabinet and two folding chairs. Occasionally the door or the desk was needed in a set onstage, but most of the time Grofield could think of himself as an actual theatrical producer with an actual office. The candy machine made a hell of a noise next to his ear whenever anybody made a purchase from it, but that was a small price to pay for his own private office.
The Internal Revenue man frowned across the desk at Grofield, apparently trying to work out some sort of problem he was having. Finally he said, "If you lose so much money every year, how do you live?"
"God knows," Grofield said.
"How do you go on opening the theater every summer?"
"Stupidity," Grofield said.
The Internal Revenue man made an impatient gesture. "That isn't an answer," he said.
"Of course it is," Grofield said. "Almost always."
"You must have a source of income," the Internal Revenue man said.
"I couldn't agree more," Grofield said. "In fact, I'd say it's imperative."
The office had its door at the moment; Grofield's wife, Mary, opened it and said, "Phone, Alan."
Grofield glanced at the phone on his desk. It was an illegal extension from the box-office phone, which he'd put in himself to avoid the monthly charges. "Right," he said.
"At the house," she said.
Since the house phone was also an illegal extension from the box office, meaning that even if Mary had answered at the house he could still pick up this one and have his conversation here, her phrase suggested the caller was somebody he'd want to talk to in private. He stood up, therefore, giving the Internal Revenue man a bright smile and saying, "You will excuse me, won't you?"
"We'll want to see your books again," the Internal Revenue man said, showing bad temper.
"God knows I don't," Grofield said, and left the office. Mary walked with him, and as he passed the head of the aisle he looked down toward the stage to where two actors in bathing suits were attacking a set with hammers. Frowning, he stopped and said, "What are they taking it down for?"
"They're putting it up," Mary said.
The two of them walked outside, and Grofield stood for a moment on the wooden platform at the top of the stairs, looking out over the wooded hills of Mead Grove, Indiana. The only sign of human habitation in this direction was the gravel parking lot. The formerly gravel parking lot, lately turning to mud. "We need more gravel," Grofield said.
"We need more everything," Mary said. "That was Parker on the phone."
"Ho ho," Grofield said. "Maybe he has more gravel."
"That would be a blessing," Mary said. She'd played three consecutive landladies in three consecutive rustic comedies recently and hadn't yet gotten rid of the speech habits.
Grofield trotted down the steps and went around the side of the barn toward the farmhouse. The words MEAD GROVE THEATER were stretched in giant white letters along the side of the barn facing the county road. There was no traffic at the moment to see it.
Sometime in the late forties some unremembered genius had first decided to convert this old barn to a summer theater, tucked away here in this remote corner of Indiana. He'd put in a stage at one end, and had arranged seating for an audience on a series of platforms, with the first four rows of seats on the original barn floor, the next four on a platform two steps up, the next four two more steps up, and so on, until he had twenty-four rows of ten seats each, with a center aisle. Two hundred forty seats, and rarely had anybody seen them all full at once.
The problem was, this was not the best place in America for a summer theater. Mead Grove was no big city; in fact, there is no big city in Indiana, with the doubtful exception of Indianapolis, and Mead Grove was in any event too far away from Indianapolis to take advantage of it. There was no college in or near Mead Grove, no well-known tourist attraction nearby, no reason at all for outsiders to come into the area and discover the existence of its local summer theater.
Which left, as potential customers, the citizens of Mead Grove and the other half-dozen towns in the general vicinity, plus the people on the farms in between. Most of them were a little baffled by the need for a live theater anyway, in a world with TV, and doubted it could show them anything they wanted to see. If it weren't for schoolteachers and the wives of doctors, there wouldn't have been any audience at all.
The original converter of the barn to a theater had only lasted a season or two before going broke and leaving the area and his debts behind. For the next twenty years the barn/theater had had a checkered and not very successful career; had been a barn again for a little while, had been a movie house for even less of a while, had been a warehouse full of bicycle parts, and had several times been a financially disastrous summer theater.
It had been nothing at all five years ago, when Alan Grofield had come upon the place. He'd been flush at the moment, from a casino robbery he'd done with Parker, and he'd bought the place outright, full cash, for the barn and twelve acres and two small farmhouses on the other side of the road. His theater was now in its fifth season, was beginning to get a small reputation in the theater world, and had never made a dime.
Well, that was all right. Summer theaters always lose money, particularly when an actor starts them and performs as producer, but Grofield had never expected the Mead Grove Theater to support him. He supported it, and had known from the beginning that he would.
The point was, acting wasn't his living, it was his life. His living was elsewhere, with people like Parker. And it had been a long time since he'd done anything about making a living, not since a supermarket robbery last year outside St. Louis, so he moved across the empty county road at a half-trot, hoping this phone call meant a big easy score that would take the minimum time for the maximum return. Fred Allworth could take over his own parts while he was gone, and Jack ... His mind full of casting changes, Grofield trotted up the stoop and into the house, full as usual of the racket of resident actors. He went into what had at one time been the dining room but was now his and Mary's bedroom, and sat down on the bed to take the call.
Excerpted from Butcher's Moon by Richard Stark. Copyright © 1974 Richard Stark. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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