Authors: Richard Stark
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2004 by Richard Stark
All rights reserved.
Hachette Book Group USA
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First eBook Edition:: November 2004
By Richard Stark
The Man with the Getaway Face
The Rare Coin Score
The Green Eagle Score
The Black Ice Score
The Sour Lemon Score
Lemons Never Lie
hen he saw that the one called Harbin was wearing a wire, Parker said, “Deal me out a hand,” and got to his feet. They’d all come to this late-night meeting in suits and ties, traveling businessmen taking a break with a little seven-card stud. Harbin, a nervous man unused to the dress shirt, kept twitching and moving around, bending forward to squint at his cards, and finally Parker, a quarter around the table to Harbin’s left, saw in the gap between shirt buttons that flash of clear tape holding the wire down.
As he walked around the table, Parker stripped off his own tie—dark blue with thin gold stripes—slid it into a double thickness, and arched it over Harbin’s head. He drew the two ends through the loop and yanked back hard with his right hand as his body pressed both Harbin and the chair he was in against the table, and his left hand reached over to rip open Harbin’s shirt. The other five at the table, about to speak or move or react to what Parker was doing, stopped when they saw the wire taped to Harbin’s pale chest, the edge of the black metal box taped to his side.
Parker bore down, holding Harbin against the table, pulling back now with both hands on the tie, twisting the tie. Harbin’s hands, imprisoned in his lap, beat a drumroll on the bottom of the table. The other players held the table in place, palms down, and looked at McWhitney, red-bearded and red-faced, who’d brought Harbin here. McWhitney, expression solemn, looked around at each face and shook his head; he hadn’t known.
“My deal, I think,” Dalesia said, as calm as before, and shuffled the cards a while, as the others watched Harbin and Parker. Dalesia dealt out hands in front of himself, all the cards facedown, and said, “Bet the king.”
“Fold,” said Mott.
It was Stratton who’d taken this hotel room in Cincinnati. He pointed at McWhitney, pointed at Harbin, made a thumb gesture like an umpire calling the runner out. McWhitney nodded and quietly got to his feet, being sure the chair wouldn’t scrape on the floor.
Mott and Fletcher were seated flanking Harbin; now they held him upright while Parker peeled his necktie out of the new, deep crease in Harbin’s neck.
“These cards are dead,” Mott said, and Fletcher peeled the tape off Harbin’s chest, freeing the antenna wire and the transmitter box.
McWhitney, standing there, made a broad shrugging gesture to the table, a combination of apology and innocence, then came around to pick Harbin up in a fireman’s carry, bent forward with Harbin’s forearms looped around his own throat.
“Bet two,” Parker said, coming back to his place at the table.
Fletcher held the transmitter and antenna while Mott crossed to the sofa at the side of the room and came back with a cushion, which he put where Harbin had been seated. Fletcher put the transmitter on the cushion, and they all sat, making comments about the game they weren’t playing, except Stratton, who went into the other room, where his gear was.
McWhitney carried Harbin to the hall door, looked out, and left, carrying the body. At twenty after one on a weekday morning, there wasn’t likely to be much traffic out there.
They continued not to play, to discuss how cold the cards were, and to suggest they might all make an early night of it. They hadn’t been together in the room long before Parker had made his discovery, and so hadn’t yet started to talk about anything that the wire shouldn’t know. They were mostly new to one another, and would have had to get acquainted a while before they started to talk for real.
Stratton was back from the other room in five minutes, with one suitcase. He took his former chair and said, “Deal me out.”
The others all made comments about breaking up early, the cards not interesting, try again some other time. Fletcher, who, it turned out, could sound something like Harbin, with that same rasp in his voice, said, “You guys go ahead, I’ll clean up in here.”
“Thanks, Harbin,” Stratton said, and as they left, they all said, “See you, Harbin,” to the transmitter on the cushion.
arker and Dalesia and Fletcher and Mott and Stratton rode the elevator down together. Mott said, “Which of us is in their sights, do you think?”
“I hope not me,” Stratton said. “I took that room. Not as me, but still . . .”
Parker said, “Most likely McWhitney, he brought him.”
“Or maybe,” Fletcher said, “just any target of opportunity. Decorate him like a Christmas tree, send him out to get them somebody else, because they’ve already got him.”
“That sounds right,” Stratton said. “They love to turn people. Tag, you’re it, now you’re on my side, go turn some of your friends.”
“They’re like vampires,” Fletcher said, “making more vampires.”
The lobby door opened and they went out to a big space empty of people except for one green-blazered girl clerk behind the check-in desk. Fletcher and Mott had come together, and went off together. The other three had all arrived alone. “See you,” Stratton said, and left.
Parker was also going to leave, but Nick Dalesia said, “You got a minute?”
Dalesia, a thin man with tense shoulders, was the one who’d invited Parker here, and the only one present he’d known before, and that not very well. “Yes,” Parker said.
“Let’s find a bar.”
At a booth in an underpopulated bar, the few other customers either male-female couples or male singletons, Dalesia said, “This means I’m still out of work.”
“Yes,” Parker said.
“And you, too.”
Dalesia said, “I came here because the only other thing I had for a possible is maybe a little iffy and farther down the line. But now I’m thinking maybe I’ll look into it, and maybe you’d like to check it out, too. It’s good to have somebody with you where there’s a little history.”
“Not much history,” Parker said.
Nick Dalesia was a driver brought into a job Parker was on some years ago, brought in there by a guy named Tom Hurley, who Parker had known better. But Hurley got himself shot in the arm that time, and hadn’t ever gotten over it completely, and had gone away to life in retirement somewhere offshore, maybe the Caribbean. Dalesia had been competent that one time, but Parker hadn’t met up with him again until Dalesia had made the phone call that had brought them both here.
“A little history is enough,” Dalesia said, “if you feel you can trust the guy. This gold thing is dead, I think.” Meaning Stratton’s target, which they hadn’t gotten around to talking about: a shipment of dental gold.
“It’s dead as far as I’m concerned,” Parker said. “What’s this other thing?”
“It’s a bank,” Dalesia said, “in western Massachusetts.”
Parker shook his head. “A small-town bank? There’s not much there.”
“No, what this is,” Dalesia told him, “it’s a transfer of assets. These two local banks merged, or one of them bought the other one, so they’re shutting one of the main offices down, so they’re emptying a vault.”
“Heavy security,” Parker said.
Parker frowned toward the bar. “The reason it’s iffy,” he said, “is it comes with somebody inside.”
“You know,” Parker said, “the amateur on the inside is what usually makes a good thing go bad.”
“What they’re doing,” Dalesia said, “they’re doing an all-night move, four armored vans, state police, private security. Moving everything, the bank’s records, the commercial paper, the cash. What Mrs. Inside gives us is not only what night do they do it, but which van has the cash.”
“The wife of the bank that’s being merged,” Dalesia said. “Don’t ask me what her problem is. The point is, nobody can take down four armored cars in a convoy, and what are the odds of getting the right one? But if you
the right one, chances are, you can cherry-pick it.”
“And if that happens,” Parker said, “not only do they know there was somebody on the inside, pretty soon they know who.”
“But she won’t lead them to us,” Dalesia said, “because she doesn’t know us. Who she knows is a guy used to work security for the bank, like head of all the guards or something—he skimmed a little too often, did time. That bent him over to our side, he’s been in a few things, I got to know him, Jake Beckham. Mean anything?”
“Never heard of him.”
“Good, so you’re even further away. The wife went to Beckham, offered him the job for a piece, he came to me, and I made the exact same face you’re making right now. But Stratton’s gold mine isn’t gonna happen, so I’m thinking I’ll call Beckham, see if it’s all still the same. Will you want to hear what he says?”
“I can listen,” Parker said.
arker drove the MassPike east out of New York State and pulled off at the service area just west of Huntington, getting there a little before three in the afternoon. It was mid-September, the air crisp, the sunlight sharp, like a clean blade. He put his Lexus in among the tourists’ cars and got out to stretch. He was a few minutes early, but after driving up from New Jersey, he was ready to stand.
Over there to his right, the MassPike roared, heavy traffic in both directions. That was the easternmost leg of Interstate 90, beginning on the Atlantic coast at Boston and ending three thousand miles to the west in Seattle. This part of the road was always busy, the big rigs and the tourists and the commuters streaming along together, everybody at eighty, holding inside their own bubble of space in the flow or there’d be hell to pay.
He was there five minutes when a green Audi eased down the lane between the rows of parked cars and came to a stop. Parker nodded at Dalesia at the wheel and walked around the car to get in on the passenger side. Dalesia put the Audi in gear and said, “Well, even if it turns out to be nothing, we’ve got good weather for it.”
There was nothing to say to that, so Parker watched as Dalesia put them back up on the Pike, eastbound, then said, “Where we headed?”
“Exit’s about fifteen miles farther on, near Westfield. Then we turn north. Was that your car back there, or just something you picked up?”
“Then we’ll come back for it.”
Once they got off the MassPike, Dalesia took them on increasingly narrow winding roads as they headed northwest. “All the real roads around here,” he explained as they stopped at and then crossed another larger road, “want to take you east, over to the towns along the Connecticut River. What we want is north, up near Vermont.”
They rode a few minutes in silence, and then Dalesia said, “I heard a little more about what happened after we left.”
Parker said, “Stratton and his dental gold?”
“Stratton was the one brought you in, wasn’t he?”
“Oh, yeah, it was his party. I called him a few days later.”
“On this thing we’re going to?” Parker wouldn’t like that.
Dalesia shook his head. “No,” he said, leaning on it. “If you make a meet, and one guy shows up wired, anybody could be the hot one, starting with the host.”
“And including you or me.”
“Well, not so much,” Dalesia said. “You didn’t know anybody there but me, and I didn’t know anybody but you and Stratton. So what I wanted to know was, were they looking at me now, just in case Stratton had been their first target. According to him, the very next day after we decided not to play poker after all, some state cops scooped up McWhitney.”
“He’s the one brought Harbin.”
“That’s right. Apparently, these cops were a little pissed. Their boy Harbin wasn’t anywhere to be found, and McWhitney must have been their target, since he’s who they went after right away. But they didn’t have anything. If he’d wanted to negotiate, McWhitney had a name or two on us, mostly wrong, but mostly all he had to do was tell them he didn’t know anything about anything. They had no probable cause, no specific crime, not even a discussion. Just a wire left behind in an empty room. So he’s out.”
“With a leash on him,” Parker said.
“Oh, sure.” Dalesia shrugged and said, “I figure Stratton’s got a leash, too, these days, since he’s the one called McWhitney for the meet.”
“If they think there’s something to be found,” Parker said, “they’ll look behind Stratton. They’ll want to know who else was in that room.”
“Here’s the funny thing,” Dalesia said. “They can’t get to you except through me, because Stratton didn’t know you from a bag of Bugler, and they can’t get to me except through Stratton, because the rest of them were new to me. But that doesn’t help them either, because I don’t know Stratton’s first name, and he doesn’t know my last.” Grinning, he said, “I mean, he
doesn’t know it. You remember, in the room, he introduced me as Nick.”
Dalesia negotiated a steep climbing curve, moving up into the Hoosac hills, trending northwest toward the Berkshires. Then he said, “You’d be surprised how many people there are named Nick.”