Copper Canyon, North Dakota.
A whole mining town.
But Parker brought twelve men swooping in at midnight, immobilizing police, fire, radio and phones.
They moved like a rebel army, but they were only in it for the money.
Most of Copper Canyon was asleep. Three policemen, six firemen, three telephone company employees, three plant employees, and a boy named Eddie Wheeler were all awake. Most of these were tied and gagged; none of them was sure he'd live till morning. Aside from these sixteen, there were about twenty other citizens awake in Copper Canyon; insomniacs reading, couples making love, two young mothers warming baby bottles.
The Merchants' Bank and City Trust had both been blown open. Wycza was carrying trays of money from Merchants' to the truck, Elkins was carrying trays of money from City to the truck. Paulus was working on the Nationwide Finance & Loan Corporation safe, and Wiss was working on the Raymond Jewelers safe. At the plant, Kerwin hadn't yet opened the safe containing the payroll; he worked slowly, because he enjoyed his work.
Parker was in the prowl car, driving aimlessly this way and that, the walkie-talkie on the seat beside him. At the fire-house, Chambers had commandeered the playing cards and was dealing out hand after hand of solitaire, waiting for George to make a run for the door. At the telephone company, Grofield was playing charades with George's niece Mary; she was laughing. At police headquarters, in the Command Room, Edgars sat inside his hood and brooded on his own plans.
Pop Phillips was half asleep, sitting on a tilted-back chair in the guard shack by the east gate. In the main plant building, Littlefield sat in a coil of tension, waiting for the phone to ring and wondering what he would do if it did. At the other end of town, Salsa sat with stolid patience in a brand-new Oldsmobile, watching the empty street. There was a car a little ways ahead, parked at the curb, and a streetlight shone on its license plate, a dull tan with the number in dark brown. Below the number was the legend PEACE GARDEN STATE; Salsa wondered idly what that meant.
Eddie Wheeler was asleep, his face against cold asphalt. In the morning he would have the beginnings of a bad head cold, but he'd be alive. Officer Mason, three firemen, and Mrs. Sawyer at the phone company were all also asleep, leaving ten of the prisoners still awake.
Kerwin had finished the plant safe, finally, and loaded the payroll into the station wagon. He had driven down Raymond Avenue to the truck, transferred the payroll—in white canvas bank bags—to the truck, and carried his bag of tools to Credit Jewelers, where he was now once again opening a safe. Paulus was walking through Komray's Department Store with a flashlight, looking for the office. Wiss had just left the five-and-dime and was entering the shoe store next door. Wycza and Elkins were loading the truck.
Pop Phillips was asleep. Littlefield was chain-smoking. Salsa was standing beside the Oldsmobile, stretching his legs. Chambers was cheating at solitaire. Parker was driving around in the patrol car. Edgars was moodily studying the submachine gun, waiting for the time to be right. Grofield knew Mary Deegan wanted him to kiss her, but he couldn't figure out how to do it without removing the hood.
Five prisoners remained awake: Officer Nieman, George Deegan and his niece, one other fireman, and the guard from the west gate. All other citizens were asleep, except one insomniac who had chapters to go in the mystery he was reading.
Wiss and Paulus and Kerwin were opening safes; Wycza and Elkins were emptying them. Salsa was back in the Oldsmobile, thinking of women. Edgars was growing impatient. Grofield's hood was off; so were Mary Deegan's panties.
Three forty-five A.M.
Wycza opened a cab door of the truck, stepped up, sat down to rest a minute, and switched on his walkie-talkie. "This is W," he said. "You there, P?" He felt stupid, using initials; you might know Paulus would dream up something like that.
Parker answered: "What's up?"
"Everything's open. We'll be done quicker than we thought. All five of us are loading now."
"How much longer?"
"Half an hour, maybe less."
"S, you hear that?"
Salsa picked up the walkie-talkie. "I hear it. That's very good." He put the walkie-talkie down on the seat again and lit a new cigarette.
Parker said, "G, you there?"
Grofield had been trying to explain to Mary Deegan why he couldn't take her along, and she'd begun to get mad, had just pointed out that she could identify him now. He was grateful for the interruption. He went over and picked up the walkie-talkie and said, "Right here."
"Spread the word. We'll be ready to clear out in half an hour."
Grofield went over to the desk and picked up the phone. Mary followed him, saying, "I don't see why you can't take me."
"In a minute, all right? Just one minute." He dialed police headquarters, went through Officer Nieman, got Edgars, told him, "Well be moving out in half an hour…."
All of Parker's instincts tell him to skip the job a man named Edgars is shopping. But Parker decides there might not be another payday coming soon, so he decides to ignore the warning bells he keeps hearing.
The plan Edgars proposes is simple: rob every bank store safe and company payroll office in Copper Canyon, North Dakota.
Which gives you an idea of the novel's ambitious appetite.
Being a Parker novel, there is a rotten apple in the barrell.
That supreme plot point aside, this is a novel about a small nucleus of working men figuring out their strategy and carrying it out. For all the Stark/Westlake shorthand staccato action and violence, it is mostly a novel about doing one's job as a professional.
There are a few notes of humor brought on by one of Parker's crew: Grofield. Grofield is an acquired taste at best, but this little scene comes as a relief after the Big Briefing:
….Grofield grinned at him. "You want me to go get some more? And you pay it back double, so that way you pay your living expenses twice."
"That's the way my income tax will read," Littlefield told him.
"Income tax?" Grofield stared at him. "You pay income tax?"
"On every penny."
"I bet your return shakes them up."
"I account for every penny of income," Littlefield told him, "but I am forced, of course, to invent my sources."
Littlefield leaned closer to him. "You're a young man, you can still learn. Pay attention to this. You can steal in this country, you can rape and murder, you can bribe public officials, you can pollute the morals of the young, you can burn your place of business down for the insurance money, you can do almost anything you want, and if you act with just a little caution and common sense you'll never even be indicted. But if you don't pay your income tax, Grofield, you will go to jail."
"Oh sure," said Grofield. "Sure thing."
"Parker knows I'm right. You pay tax, don't you, Parker?"
Parker nodded. Under the Charles Willis name he owned pieces of a few losing businesses here and there, and they gave him the background to cover his income on his tax return.
Grofield shook his head. "I don't get it. You're putting me on."
"Income taxes is federal," Parker told him.
"So's a bank, for Christ's sake."
"I don't mean federal offense, I mean federal, whose money it is. A bank is stockholders, but income tax is government money."
Pop Phillips said, "Those are words of wisdom, Grofield. I only fell twice, and once it was income tax. I got three years, and I'm still paying the back taxes. Why do you think I'm not retired?"
10 April 2018