WHEN THE ALARM WENT OFF, Parker and Armiston were far to the rear of the warehouse, Armiston with the clipboard, checking off the boxes they’d want, The white cartons were stacked six feet high to make aisles that stretched to the unpainted concrete block side walls of the building. A wider central aisle ran straight to the loading dock where they’d come in, dismantling the alarms and raising the overhead door.
Then what was this alarm, five minutes after they’d broken in? “That idiot Bruhl,” Armiston said, throwing the clipboard away in exasperation. “He went into the office.”
Parker was already loping toward the central aisle. Behind him, Armiston cried, “God damn it! Fingerprints!” and ran back to pick up the clipboard.
Parker turned into the main aisle, running, and saw far away the big door still open, the empty truck backed against it. George Walheim, the lockman who’d guy them in here, stood by the open doorway, making jerky movements, not quite running away.
These were all generic pharmaceuticals in here, and Armiston had the customer, at an airfield half an hour north. The plan was, by tomorrow these medicines would be offshore, more valuable than in the States, and the four who’d done the job would earn a nice percentage.
But that wasn’t going to happen. Bruhl, brought in by Armiston, was supposed to have gotten a forklift truck, so he could run it down the main aisle to pick up the cartons Parker and Armiston had marked. Instead he’d gone to see what he could lift from the office. But Walheim hadn’t cleared the alarm system in the office.
As Parker ran down the long aisle, Armiston a dozen paces behind, Bruhl appeared, coming fast out of the first aisle down there. Walheim tried to clutch at him, but Bruhl hit him with a backhand that knocked the thinner man down.
Parker yelled, “Bruhl! Stop!” but Bruhl kept going. He jumped to the ground outside the loading dock, next to the truck, then ran toward the front of it. He was going to take it, leave the rest of them here on foot.
There was no way to stop him, no way to get there in time. Walheim was still on hands and knees, looking for his glasses, when the truck jolted away from the loading dock. Outside was the darkness of four A.M., spotted with thin lights high on the corners of other buildings in this industrial park.
The truck, big rear doors flapping, heeled hard on the right turn at the end of the blacktop lot, Bruhl still accelerating. The empty truck was top heavy, it wasn’t going to make it.
Walheim was on his feet, patting his glasses into place, when Parker ran by, “What do we–?” But Parker was gone, jumping off the loading dock to run away leftward as behind him the truck crashed over onto its side and scraped along the pavement until it ran into a utility pole, knocking it over. The few lights around here went dark.
There was nothing in this area but the industrial park, empty at night. No houses, no bars, no churches, no schools. There were no pedestrians out here at four in the morning, no cars driving by.
Parker had run less than a block when he heard the sirens, far behind him but coming fast. There was nowhere to go to cover, no point trying to break into another of these buildings. Fleets of trucks here and there stood in lines behind high fences.
Parker kept running. Armiston and Walheim were wherever they wanted to be, and Parker tried to keep the sound of sirens behind him. But the sirens spread, left and right, and then everywhere, slicing and dicing the night.
Parker ran down the middle of an empty street and ahead of him headlights came around a corner, a bright searchlight beam fastened on him. He stopped. He put his hands on top of his head.
DO YOU WANT to tell me about it? The CID man offered.
“No,” Parker said.
The CID man nodded, looking at him, He was small but bulky, a middle weight, carrot topped, said his name was Turley. He had a dossier on the desk in front of him, Parker in the wooden chair opposite him, all of it watched by the two uniforms in the corners of this plain functional government-issue office. Turley opened the dossier and glanced at it with the air of a man who already knows what’s inside, the grim satisfaction of somebody whose negative prediction has come true. “Ronald Kasper,” he said, and frowned at Parker, “That isn’t your name, is it?”
Parker watched him.
Turley looked down at the dossier again, rapped the middle knuckle of the middle finger of his right hand against the information in there. “That’s the name on some fingerprints, belonging to a fella escaped from a prison camp in California some years ago. Killed a guard on the way out.” He raised an eyebrow at Parker, “You’ve got his fingerprints.”
“The system makes mistakes,” Parker said.
Turley’s grin turned down, not finding anything funny here. “So do individuals, my friend,” He said. Looking into his dossier again, he said, “There is no Ronald Kasper, not before, not since. In the prison camp, out, left behind these prints, one guard dead. Do you want to know his name?”
Parker shook his head. “Wouldn’t mean anything to me.”
“No, I suppose it wouldn’t. We have some other names for you.”
Parker waited. Turley raised an eyebrow at him, also waiting, but then he saw Parker had nothing to say and went back to the dossier. “Let me know which of these names you’d rather be. Edward Johnson. Charles Willis. Edward Lynch. No? I have here a Parker, no first name. Still not?”
“Stick with Kasper,” Parker said.
“Because we’ve got that one tied to your fingers anyway,” Turley said, and leaned back. “We’ve got you all, you know. I imagine you’ll be tried together.” Turley didn’t need his dossier now. “Armiston and Walheim are in cells here,” he said. “You probably won’t see them until trial, but they’re here. This is a big place.”
It was. It was called Stoneveldt Detention Center, and it was where everybody charged with a state felony in this state spent their time before and during trial, unless they made bail, which Parker and Armiston and Walheim would not. No judge would look at their histories and expect them to come back for their bail money.
Like the industrial park where things had gone wrong last night, Stoneveldt was on the outskirts of the only large city in this big empty midwestern state. Parker’s few looks out windows since being brought here last night had shown him nothing out there but flat prairie, straight roads, a few more buildings of an industrial or governmental style and a city rising far to the east. If he were still here for the trial, it would be a forty-minute bus ride in to court every morning and back out every night, looking at that prairie through the iron mesh.
“Steven Bruhl,” Turley went on, following his own train of thought, “is a little different. A local boy, to begin with.”
Armiston had brought Bruhl in, needing somebody good with machinery like forklifts, not knowing he was an idiot. Well, they all knew it now. And Turley had said they three were all here in Stoneveldt, so where doe that put Bruhl? Dead? Hospital?
“If Bruhl lives,” Turley said, answering the question, “he’ll be tried later on, after you three. So, unlike you, he’ll already know what the futures gonna bring. And also unlike you, he won’t have a chance to flip. Nobody left to rat on.”
They sat there and watched that thought move around the room. The two uniforms shifted their feet, rubbed their backs against the wall, and watched Parker without expectation; he would not make them earn their pay or prove their training.
“Now, you,” Turley said, “are in a better position. Out in front. You know game theory, Ronald?”
“Mr. Kaspar,” Parker said.
Turley snorted. “What difference does it make? That isn’t your name anyway.”
“You’re right,” Parker said, and spread his hands: Call me whatever you want.
“Game theory,” Turley said, “suggests that whoever flips first wins, because there’s nothing left for anybody else to sell.
“I’ve heard that,” Parker agreed.
“Now, we’ve got you, and we’ve got the others,” Turley said, “and you know as well as I do, we’ve got you cold. So what more do we want? What more could we possibly need, that we might want to bargain with you?”
”Not to walk,” Parker said.
Turley seemed surprised. “Walk? Away from this? No, you know what we’re talking about. Reduction in sentence, better choice of prison. Some of our prisons are better than others, you know.”
“If you say so.”
“Which means,” Turley said, “though nobody will admit this, that some of our prisons must be worse. Maybe a lot worse.” Turley leaned forward over the desk and the dossier, to impart a confidence. “We’ve got one hellhole,” he said, his voice dropping, “and I wish we didn’t, but there it is, where in that prison population you’ve only got three choices.” He checked them off on his fingers, “White power, or black power, or dead.”
“State should do something about that,” Parker said.
“It’s budget cuts,” Turley told him. “The politicians, you know, they want everybody locked up, but they don’t want to pay for it. So the prison administrators, they do what’s called assignment of resources, meaning at least some of the facilities retain some hope of civilization.” Turley leaned back. “One of you boys,” he said, “is gonna wind up in a country club. The other two, it’s a crapshoot.”
Turley looked at him, getting irritated at this lack of feedback. He said, “You probably wonder, if the state’s already got me, what more can they want? What’s my bargaining chip?”
Parker already knew. He already knew this entire conversation, but it was one of the steps he had to go through before he would be left alone to work things out for himself. He watched Turney, and waited.
Turley nodded, swiveling slightly in his chair. “Those drugs you boys were after,” he said, “or medicines, I guess I should say, not to confuse the issue, where they’d really be worth your time and effort is overseas. But one of the reasons that distribution center was built in this area is because were in the middle of America, you can get anywhere in the country in no time at all from here. But not overseas. We’re six hundred miles from an ocean or a border. You boys were not gonna drive that truck six hundred miles. You had some other idea, and that other idea means there were more people involved. That’s what you can trade us. Where were you taking the truck, who was going to be there, and what was the route after that?”
Turley waited, and so did Parker. Turley leaned forward again, forearm on the open dossier on the desk. “No?”
“I’ll think about it,” Parker said.
“Meaning you won’t, not so far,” Turley told him. “But what about Armiston? What about Walheim? What about Bruhl, when he comes to?”
“If,” Parker said, because he wanted to know how bad Bruhl was.
Bad, because Turley nodded and shrugged and said, “All right, if. But he still could come through, he’s a young strong guy. The point is, you. You know these friends of yours, Armiston and Walheim. Is one of them gonna make the jump before you?”
“We’ll see,” Parker said.
Turley stood, ending the session, the uniforms stood straighter, away from the walls. Parker looked around, then also stood.
“Think about it,” Turley said. “If you want to talk to me, any time at all, tell the guard.”
“Right,” Parker said.
Copyright © 2001 by Donald Westlake