When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man. His
knees pressed down on the interloper's back, his hands were clasped
around his forehead. He heard the phone ring, distantly, in the
house, as he jerked his forearms back; heard the neck snap; heard
the phone's second ring, cut off, as Claire answered, somewhere in
No time to do anything with the body now. Parker stood and was
entering the kitchen from the garage when Claire came in the other
way, carrying the cordless. "He says his name is Elkins," she told
He knew the name. This would have nothing to do with the
interloper. Taking the cordless, he said, "I'll have to go out for
a while." Then, moving into the dining room, where the windows
looked away from the lake, out toward the woods where the stranger
had come from, he said, "Frank?"
It was the familiar voice: "Ralph and I maybe have
Parker didn't see anybody else out there, among the trees, where
the first one had come crouching, a long-barreled pistol held
against his right leg; long because it was equipped with a
silencer. Parker had first seen him from this room, tracked his
moves, met him when he came in the side window of the garage. Into
the phone, still watching the empty woods, he said, "You want to
call me, or do I call you?"
Parker gave him the number, backward, of the pay phone at the gas
station a few miles from here, then said, "Give me a little while,
I've got something to finish up here." The woods stayed empty. Now,
early October, the trees were still fully leafed out, though
starting to turn, and too dense for him to see as far as the
Elkins said, "Eleven?" "Good."
Parker hung up, went back to the garage, and searched the body.
There were a wallet, a Ford automobile key, a motel room key, a
five-inch spring knife, a pair of sunglasses, and a Zippo lighter
but no cigarettes. A green and yellow football helmet was embossed
on the lighter. The wallet contained a little over four hundred
dollars in cash, three credit cards made out to Viktor Charov, and
an Illinois driver's license to the same name, with an address in
Chicago. The picture on the license was the dead man: fiftyish,
rail-thin, almost bald with a little pepper-and-salt hair around
the edges, eyes that didn't show much.
Parker kept the wallet and the key to the Ford, put the rest back,
and stuffed the body into the trunk of the Lexus. Then he crossed
to the button next to the kitchen entry that operated the overhead
garage door, but first slid open the concealed wood panel above it
and took out the S&W Chiefs Special .38 he kept stashed there.
Finally, then, he pushed the button, and kept the bulk of the Lexus
between himself and the steadily lifting view outside.
Hand and revolver at his side, like the other one, he stepped out
to the chill sunshine and walked at a normal pace out the driveway
to the road, watching the woods on both sides. There were other
houses around the lake, none of them visible from here, most of
them already closed for the winter. Parker and Claire were among
the few year-rounders, and they always moved somewhere else in the
summer, when the city people came out to their "cottages" and the
powerboats snarled on the lake.
The road was empty. Down to the right, fifty paces, stood a red
Ford Taurus. Parker walked toward it and saw the rental company
sticker on the bumper. The dead man's Ford key fit the Taurus.
Parker started it, swung it around, and drove back to the house,
turning in at the driveway where the mailbox read WILLIS.
The garage door stood open, as he'd left it, the dark green Lexus
bulking in there. Parker swung the Ford around, backed it to the
open doorway, and switched off the engine. Getting out, he put the
S&W away, then took a pair of rubber gloves from the Lexus
glove compartment and slipped them on. Then he opened both trunks
and moved the body into the Ford.
The dead man's gun was a .357 Colt Trooper with a ribbed silencer
clamped behind the front sight. Snapping off the silencer, he put
both pieces in a drawer of the worktable under the window where the
stranger had come in, his balance between table and floor thrown
off just long enough.
On the way into the house, he shut the garage door, its wood
sections sliding down between the Lexus and the Ford. He went
through the kitchen and found Claire in the living room, reading a
magazine. She looked up when he came in, and he said, "I'd like you
to pick me up, at the Mobil station, five after eleven."
"Fine. Can we go somewhere for lunch?" "You pick it."
"I will. See you then." She didn't ask, and wouldn't ask, not
because he didn't want to tell her but because she didn't want to
know. Whatever happened out of her sight didn't happen.
Three miles beyond the Mobil station a dirt road led off to an old
gravel quarry, used up half a century ago by the road building
after World War II. The chain-link fences surrounding the property
were old and staggering, a joke, and the Warning and No Trespassing
and Posted signs had been so painted over by hunters and lovers
down the years that they looked like Pollocks.
Parker drove through a broken-down part of the fence and stopped,
in neutral, engine on, all the windows open, at the lip, where the
stony trash-laden ground ran steeply down to the water that had
filled the excavation as soon as work had stopped. Getting out,
shutting the door, he moved around behind the Ford and leaned on
it. As soon as it started to move, he stepped back, peeling off the
gloves, putting them in his pocket, and watched the car bounce down
through the rocks and trash till it shoved into the water, making a
modest ripple in front of itself that opened out and out and didn't
stop till it pinged against the stone at the far side of the
quarry. As the car angled down, the black water all around it
became suddenly crystal clear as it splashed in through the open
windows. The roof sank, a few bubbles appeared, and then only the
ripple, going out, slowly fading.
He walked back along the state road to the Mobil station, getting
there five minutes early, and leaned against the pay phone, at the
outer corner of the station property. A couple of customers came in
for gas, paying no attention to him. It was self-serve, so the
attendant stayed inside his convenience store.
At two minutes after eleven, the phone rang. Parker stepped around
into the booth, which was just a three-sided metal box on a stick,
picked up the receiver, and said, "Yes."
It was Elkins' voice: "So I guess you're not too busy right
"Not busy," Parker agreed.
"I got something," Elkins told him. "Me and Ralph." Meaning the
partner he almost always paired with, Ralph Wiss. "But it won't be
They were never easy. Parker said, "Where?"
"Soon. Sooner the better. We got a deadline." That was different.
Usually, the jobs didn't come with deadlines. Parker said, "You
want me to listen?" "Not now," Elki