Sunday, January 21, 2007
Random Readings Vol. 2
This installment of Random Readings is from Donald Westlake's 1974 novel BUTCHER'S MOON, the 16th of Westlake's novels written under the pseudonym of Richard Stark and featuring the ruthless professional thief known as Parker. MOON was the last Stark/Parker novel until 1997's COMEBACK (Parker's lived on in six books since, including the latest, ASK THE PARROT), and it's one of the best, although sadly out of print. It also contains one of the hardest-boiled passages in crime fiction, a scene (slightly edited here) that's a perfect mixture of character, action and dialogue. And, of course, in the Stark way, it seems absolutely effortless.
A little set-up: Grofield, a confederate of Parker's, has been kidnapped by mobsters who want to lure Parker into a trap and get rid of him for good. To prove they're serious, they cut off one of Grofield's fingers and have a low-level gangster named Ed Shevelly take it to Parker. Shevelly and Parker are sitting in the front seat of a stolen Mercedes, Parker at the wheel, gun in hand, when Shevelly opens the small white box he's carrying ....
Parker looked at the finger. The first knuckle was bent slightly so that the finger seemed to be calm, at ease, resting. But at the other end were small clots of dark blood and lighter smears of blood on the cotton gauze.
Shevelly said, "Your friend is alive. This is the proof."
Shevelly seemed uncomfortable now, but to be pushing himself through the scene out of some inner conviction or determination. Almost as though he had a personal grudge against Parker...
Parker glanced at the finger. "That's no proof of anything," he said.
"If you don't get to Buenadella's by noon tomorrow," Shevelly said, "they'll send you another finger. And another finger every day after that, and then toes. To prove he's still alive, and not a decomposing body." ...
Parker, studying him, saw there was no point arguing with him, and no longer possible to either trust him or make use of him. He gestured with the pistol toward Shevelly, saying "Get out of the car."
"Just get out. Leave the door open, back away to the sidewalk, keep facing me"
Shevelly frowned. "What for?"
"I take precautions. Do it."
Puzzled, Shevelly opened the door and climbed out onto the thin grass next to the curb. He took a step to the sidewalk and turned around to face the car again.
Parker leaned far to the right, aiming the pistol out at arm's length in front of him, the line of the barrel sighted on Shevelly's head. Shevelly read his intention and suddenly thrust his hands out protectively in front of himself, shouting, "I'm only the messenger!"
"Now you're the message," Parker told him, and shot him.
- From "Butcher's Moon," copyright 1974 by Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake)