New York Times bestsellers Ed McBain, Walter Mosely, and Donald Westlake each provided a brand-new, never-before-published tale for this unique collection of stories edited by bestselling author and mystery legend Ed McBain.""Merely Hate"" by Ed McBain: When a string of Muslim cabdrivers are killed, and the evidence points to another ethnic group, the detectives of the 87th Precinct must hunt down a killer before the city explodes in violence.""Archibald Lawless, Anarchist at Large: Walking the Line"" by Walter Mosley: Felix Orlean is a New York City journalism student who needs a job to cover his rent. An ad in the paper leads him to Archibald Lawless, and a descent into a shadow world where no one and nothing is as it first seems.""Walking Around Money"" by Donald E. Westlake: The master of the comic mystery is back with an all-new novella featuring hapless crook John Dortmunder, who gets involved in a crime that supposedly no one will ever know happened. Naturally, when something it too good to be true, it usually is, and Dortmunder is going to get to the bottom of this caper before he's left holding the bag. At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
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October 01, 2006
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Excerpt from Transgressions Vol. 3 by Ed McBain
DONALD E. WESTLAKE
It's an accepted fact that Donald E. Westlake has excelled at every single subgenre the mystery field has to offer. Humorous books such as Sacred Monster and the John Dortmunder series; terrifying books like The Ax, about a man who wants vengeance on the company that downsized him out of a job, and probably Westlake's most accomplished novel; and hard-boiled books that include the Parker series, a benchmark in the noir world of professional thieves and to which he recently returned to great acclaim; and insider books like The Hook, a twisty thriller about the peril and pitfalls of being a writer. One learns from his novels and short stories that he is possessed of a remarkable intelligence, and that he can translate that intelligence into plot, character, and realistic prose with what appears to be astonishing ease. He is the sort of writer other writers study endlessly; every Westlake novel has something to teach authors, no matter how long they've been at the word processor. And he seems to have been discovered--at last and long overdue--by a mass audience. His recent books include Ask the Parrot and What's So Funny?, the latest featuring Dortmunder.
WALKING AROUND MONEY
Donald E. Westlake
"Ever since I reformed," the man called Querk said, "I been havin' trouble to sleep at night."
This was a symptom Dortmunder had never heard of before; on the other hand, he didn't know that many people who'd reformed. "Huh," he said. He really didn't know this man called Querk, so he didn't have a lot to say so far.
But Querk did. "It's my nerves," he explained, and he looked as though it was his nerves. A skinny little guy, maybe fifty, with a long face, heavy black eyebrows over banana nose over thin-lipped mouth over long bony chin, he fidgeted constantly on that wire-mesh chair in Paley Park, a vest-pocket park on East 53rd Street in Manhattan, between Fifth and Madison Avenues.
It's a very nice park, Paley Park, right in the middle of midtown, just forty-two feet wide and not quite a block deep, up several steps from the level of 53rd Street. The building walls on both sides are covered in ivy, and tall honey locust trees form a kind of leafy roof in the summer, which is what at this moment it was.
But the best thing about Paley Park is the wall of water at the back, a constant flow down the rear wall, splashing into a trough to be recycled, making a very nice kind of shooshing sound that almost completely covers the roar of the traffic, which makes for a peaceful retreat right there in the middle of everything and also makes it possible for two or three people--John Dortmunder, say, and his friend Andy Kelp, and the man called Querk, for instance--to sit near the wall of water and have a nice conversation that nobody, no matter what kind of microphone they've got, is going to record. It's amazing, really, that every criminal enterprise in the city of New York isn't plotted in Paley Park; or maybe they are.
"You see how it is," the man called Querk said, and lifted both hands out of his lap to hold them in front of himself, where they trembled like a paint-mixing machine. "It's a good thing," he said, "I wasn't a pickpocket before I reformed."
"Huh," Dortmunder commented.
"Or a safecracker," Kelp said.
"Well, I was," Querk told him. "But I was one of your liquid nitro persuasion, you know. Drill your hole next to the combination, pour in your jelly, stuff the detonator in there, stand back. No nerves involved at all."
"Huh," Dortmunder said.
Querk frowned at him. "You got asthma?" "No," Dortmunder said. "I was just agreeing with you."
"If you say so." Querk frowned at the curtain of water, which just kept shooshing down that wall in front of them, splashing in the trough, never stopping for a second. You wouldn't want to stay in Paley Park too long.
"The point is," Querk said, "before I reformed, I'd always get a good night's sleep, because I knew I was careful and everything was in its place, so I could relax. But then, the last time I went up, I decided I was too old for jail. You know, there comes a point, you say, jail is a job for the young." He gave a sidelong look at Dortmunder. "You gonna do that huh thing again?"
"Only if you want me to."
"We'll skip it, then," Querk said, and said, "This last time in, I learned another trade, you know how you always learn these trades on the inside. Air-conditioner repair, dry cleaning. This last time, I learned to be a printer."
"Huh," Dortmunder said. "I mean, that's good, you're a printer."
"Except," Querk said, "I'm not. I get out, I go to this printing plant upstate, up near where my cousin lives, I figure I'll stay with him, he's always been your straight arrow, I can get a look at an honest person up close, see how it's done, but when I go to the printer to say look at this skill the State of New York gave me, they said, we don't do it like that any more, we use computers now." Querk shook his head. "Is that the criminal justice system for you, right there?" he wanted to know. "They spend all this time and money, they teach me an obsolete trade."
Kelp said, "What you wanted to learn was computers."
"Well, what I got," Querk said, "I got a job at the printing plant, only not a printer. I'm a loader, when the different papers come in, I drive around in this forklift, put the papers where they go, different papers for different jobs. But because I'm reformed," Querk went on, "and this isn't the trade I learned, this is just going back and forth on a forklift truck, I don't ever feel like I done anything. No planning, no preparation, nothing to be careful about. I get uneasy, I got no structure in my life, and the result is, I sleep lousy. Then, no sleep, I'm on the forklift, half the time I almost drive it into a wall."
Dortmunder could see how that might happen. People are creatures of habit, and if you lose a habit that's important to you--being on the run, for instance--it could throw off your whatayacallit. Biorhythm. Can't sleep. Could happen.
Dortmunder and Andy Kelp and the man called Querk sat in silence (shoosh) a while, contemplating the position Querk found himself in, sitting here together on these nice wire-mesh chairs in the middle of New York in August, which of course meant it wasn't New York at all, not the real New York, but the other New York, the August New York.
In August, the shrinks are all out of town, so the rest of the city population looks calmer, less stressed. Also, a lot of those are out of town, as well, replaced by American tourists in pastel polyester and foreign tourists in vinyl and corduroy. August among the tourists is like all at once living in a big herd of cows; slow, fat, dumb, and no idea where they're going.
What Dortmunder had no idea was where Querk was going. All he knew was, Kelp had phoned him this morning to say there was a guy they might talk to who might have something to say and the name the guy was using as a password was Harry Matlock. Well, Harry Matlock was a guy Dortmunder had worked with in the past, with Matlock's partner Ralph Demrovsky, but it seemed to him the last time he'd seen Ralph, during a little exercise in Las Vegas, Harry wasn't there. So how good a passport was that, after all this time? That's why Dortmunder's part of the conversation so far, and on into the unforeseeable future, consisted primarily of huh.
"So finally," the man called Querk said, breaking a long shoosh, "I couldn't take it anymore. I'm imitating my cousin, walkin' the straight and narrow, and that's what it feels like, I'm imitating my cousin. Once a month I drive up to this town called Hudson, see my lady parole officer, I got nothin' to hide. How can you talk to a parole officer in a circumstance like that? She keeps giving me these suspicious looks, and I know why. I got nothin' to tell her but the truth."
"Jeez, that's tough," Kelp said.
"You know it." Querk shook his head. "And all along," he said, "I've got a caper right there, right at the printing plant, staring me in the face, I don't want to see it, I don't want to know about it, I gotta act like I'm deaf and dumb and blind."
Dortmunder couldn't help himself; he said, "At the printing plant?"
"Oh, sure, I know," Querk said. "Your inside job, I'm first in line to get my old cell back. But that isn't the way it works." Querk seemed very earnest about this. "The only way this scheme works," he said, "is if the plant never knows it happened. If they find out, we don't make a thing."
Dortmunder said, "It's a heist."
"A quiet heist," Querk told him. "No hostages, no explosions, no standoffs. In, out, nobody ever knows it happened. Believe me, the only way this scores for us is if nobody ever knows anything went missing."
"Huh," Dortmunder said.
"You oughta try cough drops," Querk suggested. "But the point here is, this is a beautiful job, and I'm sick of getting no sleep, so maybe I'll leave reform alone for a while. But."
"Sure," Kelp said, because there was always a "but."
"I can't do it alone," Querk told them. "This is not a one-man job. So I was on the inside for six and a half years, and I'm both reformed and upstate for almost eighteen months, so I'm well and truly out of the picture. I try calling around, everybody's inside or dead or disappeared, and finally I reach Harry Matlock, that I knew years ago, when he first partnered up with Ralph Demrovsky, and now Harry's retired."
"I thought he maybe was," Dortmunder said.
Querk nodded. "He told me," he said, "he's not reformed, he's retired. It's a different thing. 'I didn't reform,' he told me, 'I just lost my nerve. So I retired.'"
"Pretty much the same thing," Kelp suggested.
"But with more dignity," Querk told him. "So he gave me your name, Andy Kelp, and now here we are, and we look each other over."
"Right," Kelp said. "So what next?"
"Well," Querk said, "I check you guys out, and if you seem--"
Dortmunder said, "What? You check us out?" He'd thought the interview was supposed to go in the other direction.
"Naturally," Querk said. "I don't want us goin' along and goin' along, everything's fine, and all of a sudden you yell surprise and pull out a badge."
"That would surprise the hell out of me," Dortmunder told him.
"We're strangers to each other," Querk pointed out. "I gave Kelp a few names, he could check on me, and he gave me a few names, I could check on him and you both--"
"Huh," Dortmunder said.
"So after we all meet here now," Querk said, "and we check each other out, and we think it's gonna be okay, I'll call Andy here, same as this time, and if you two are satisfied, we can make another meet."
Dortmunder said, "You didn't tell us what the heist is."
"That's right," Querk said. Looking around, he said, "Okay with you guys if I go first? You'll wanna talk about me behind my back anyway."
"Sure," Kelp agreed. "Nice to meet you, Kirby," because, Querk had said, that was his first name.
"You, too," Querk said, and nodded at Dortmunder. "I like the way you keep your own counsel."
"Uh huh," Dortmunder said.
If you walk far enough into the west side, even in August, you can find a bar without tourists, ferns, or menus, and where the lights won't offend your eyes. In such a place, a little later that afternoon, Dortmunder and Kelp hunched over beers in a black Formica booth and muttered together, while the bartender behind his bar some distance away leaned his elbows on the Daily News, and the three other customers, here and there around the place, muttered to themselves in lieu of company.
"I'm not sure what I think about this guy," Dortmunder muttered.
"He seems okay." Kelp shrugged. "I mean, I could buy his story. Reforming and all."
"But he's pretty cagy," Dortmunder muttered.
"Well, sure. He don't know us."
"He doesn't tell us the caper."
"That's sensible, John."
"He's living upstate." Dortmunder spread his hands. "Where upstate? Where's this printing plant? All he says is he goes to some place called Hudson to see his parole officer."
Kelp nodded, being open-minded. "Look at it from his point of view," he muttered. "If things don't work out between him and us, and he's gonna go ahead with some other guys, why does he wanna have to worry we're somewhere in the background, lookin' to cut in?"
"I mean, what kind of heist is this?" Dortmunder complained. "You steal something from this plant, and the plant isn't supposed to notice? 'Hey, didn't we use to have a whatchacallit over here?' You take something, especially you take something with some value on it, people notice."
"Well, that's an intriguing part of it," Kelp muttered.
"Also," Kelp muttered, leaning closer, "August is a good time to get out of town. Go upstate, up into the mountains, a little cool air, how bad could it be?"
"I've been upstate," Dortmunder reminded him. "I know how bad it could be."
"Not that bad, John. And you were up there in the winter."
"And the fall," Dortmunder muttered. "Two different times."
"They both worked out okay."
"Okay? Every time I leave the five boroughs," Dortmunder insisted, "I regret it."
"Still," Kelp muttered, "we shouldn't just say no to this, without giving it a chance."
Dortmunder made an irritable shrug. He'd had his say.
"I don't know about your finances, John," Kelp went on (although he did), "but mine are pretty shaky. A nice little upstate heist might be just the ticket."
Dortmunder frowned at his beer.
"I tell you what we should do," Kelp said. "We should find old Harry Matlock, get the skinny on this guy Querk, then make up our minds. Whadaya say?"
"Mutter," Dortmunder muttered.
Where do you find a retired guy, sometime in August? Try a golf course; a municipal golf course.
"There he is, over there," Kelp said, pointing. "Tossing the ball out of that sand trap."
Dortmunder said, "Is that in the rules?"
"Well, remember," Kelp said. "He's retired, not reformed."
This particular municipal golf course was in Brooklyn, not far enough from the Atlantic to keep you from smelling what the ocean offers for sea air these days. Duffers speckled the greensward as Dortmunder, and Kelp strolled over the fairway toward where Harry Matlock, who was fatter than he used to be and who'd always been thought of by everybody who knew him as fat, was struggling out of the sand trap, looking as though he needed an assistant to toss him up onto the grass. He was also probably as bald as ever, but you couldn't tell because he was wearing a big pillowy maroon tam-o'-shanter with a woolly black ball on top and a little paisley spitcurl coming out the back. The rest of his garb was a pale blue polo shirt under an open white cashmere cardigan, red plaid pants very wide in the seat and leg, and bright toad-green golf shoes with little cleats like chipmunk teeth. This was a man in retirement.
"Hey, Harry!" Kelp shouted, and a guy off to his left sliced his shot then glared at Kelp, who didn't notice.
Harry looked over, recognized them, and waved with a big smile, but didn't shout. When they got closer, he said, "Hi, Andy, hi, John, you're here about Kirby Querk."
"Sure," Kelp said.
Harry waved his golf club in a direction, saying, "Walk with me, my foursome's up there somewhere, we can talk." Then, pausing to kick his golf ball toward the fardistant flag, he picked up his big bulky leather golf bag by its strap, and started to stroll, dragging the pretty full golf bag behind him, leaving a crease in the fairway.
As they walked, Dortmunder said, "These your own rules?"
"When only God can see you, John," Harry told him, "there are no rules. And when it comes to Querk, I wouldn't say I know what the rules are."
Sounding alarmed, Kelp said, "You mean, you wouldn't recommend him? But you sent him to me."
"No, that's not exactly what I--Hold on." Harry kicked the ball again, then said, "Andy, would you do me a favor? Drag this bag around for a while? This arm's gettin' longer than that arm."
Kelp said, "I think you're supposed to carry it on your shoulder."
"I tried that," Harry said, "and it winds up, one shoulder lower than the other." He extended the strap toward Kelp, with a little pleading gesture. "Just till we get to the green," he said.
Kelp had not known his visit to the golf course today would end with his being a caddy, but he shrugged and said, "Okay. Till the green."
Kelp hefted the bag up onto his shoulder, and he looked like a caddy. All he needed was the big-billed cloth cap and the tee stuck behind his ear. He did have the right put-upon expression.
Harry ambled on, in the direction he'd kicked the ball, and said, "About Querk, I don't know anything bad about the guy, it's only I don't know that much good about him either."
Dortmunder said, "You worked with him?"
"A few times. Me and Ralph--He didn't retire when I did." Harry Matlock and Ralph Demrovsky had been a burglary team so quick and so greedy they used to travel in a van, just in case they came across anything large.
Kelp said, "Ralph's still working?"
"No, he's in Sing Sing," Harry said. "He should of retired when I did. Hold on." He stopped, just behind his ball, and squinted toward the green, where three guys dressed from the same grab bag stood around waiting, all of them looking this way.
"I think I gotta hit it now," Harry said. "Stand back a ways, I'm still kinda wild at this."
They stood well back, and Harry addressed the ball. Then he addressed the ball some more. When he'd addressed the ball long enough for an entire post office, he took a whack at it and it went somewhere. Not toward the flag down there, exactly, but at least not behind them.
"Well, the point of it is the walk," Harry said. As he sauntered off in the direction the ball had gone, trailed by Dortmunder and Kelp, he said, "Ralph and me used to team up with Querk, maybe four, five times over the years. He's never the first choice, you know."
"No. He's competent," Harry allowed, "he'll get you in where you want to get in, but there are guys that are better. Wally Whistler. Herman Jones."
"They're good," Kelp agreed.
"They are," Harry said. "But if some time the guy we wanted was sick or on the lam or put away, there was nothing wrong with Querk."
Kelp said, "Harry, you sent him to me, but you don't sound enthusiastic."
"I'm not not enthusiastic," Harry said. He stopped to look at his ball, sitting there in the middle of an ocean of fairway, with the green like an island some way off, ahead and to the right. Two of the guys waiting over there were now sitting down, on the ground. "I don't know about this thing," Harry said. "Let me see those other clubs."
Kelp unshouldered the bag and put it on the ground, so Harry could make his selection. While Harry frowned over his holdings in clubs, Kelp said, "What is it keeps you from being one hundred percent enthusiastic?"
Harry nodded, still looking at the clubs in the bag. Then he looked at Kelp. "I'll tell you," he said. "This is his heist. I never been around him when it's his own thing. Ralph and me, we'd bring him in, point to a door, a gate, a safe, whatever, say, 'Open that, Kirby,' and he'd do it. Competent. Not an artist, but competent. How is he when it's his own piece of work? I can't give you a recommendation."
"Okay," Kelp said.
Harry pointed at one of the clubs in the bag, one of the big-headed ones. "That one, you think?"
Kelp, the judicious caddy, considered the possibilities, then pointed at a different one, with an even bigger head. "That one, I think."
It didn't help.
New York City made Kirby Querk nervous. Well, in fact, everything made him nervous, especially the need to never let it show, never let anybody guess, that he was scared.
He'd been away too long, is what it was, away from New York and also away from the entire world. That last six and a half years inside had broken him, had made him lose the habit of running his own life to his own plans. Jail was so seductive that way, so comfortable once you gave up and stopped fighting the system. Live by the clock, their clock, their rules, their rhythms, just go along and go along. Six and a half years, and then all at once they give you a smile and a pep talk and a handshake and an open door, and there you are, you're on your own.
On his own? His two previous periods of incarceration had both been shorter, and he'd been younger, and the rhythms and routines of stir hadn't engraved themselves so deeply into his brain. This time, when he was suddenly free, loose, on his own, he'd lost his own, didn't have any own to be anymore.
Which was the main reason, as soon as those prison doors had clanged shut behind him, that he'd headed for Darbyville and Cousin Claude, even though he and Cousin Claude had never been close and didn't really have that much use for one another, Claude having been a straight arrow his entire life while Querk had from the beginning been rather seriously bent.
But it was to Darbyville that Querk had gone, on a beeline, with a warning phone call ahead of time to ask Claude where he would recommend Querk find housing. The excuse was that Querk had learned the printing trade while inside (or so he'd thought), and he'd known the Sycamore Creek Printery was in the town of Sycamore, not far from Darbyville, one hundred miles north of New York City. Claude was a decent guy, married, with four kids, two out of the nest and two still in, so he'd invited Querk to move into the bedroom now vacated by the oldest, until he found a more permanent place for himself, and now, a year and a half later, Querk was still there.
He hadn't known it then, and he still didn't know it now, but the reason he'd gone to Cousin Claude in the first place was that he'd felt the need for a warden; someone to tell him when it's exercise time, when it's lights out. It hadn't worked that way exactly, since Claude and his wife Eugenia were both too gentle and amiable to play warden, and the printing trade skills that were supposed to have given him a grounding had turned out to be just one more bubble blown into the air, but that was all right. He had the job at the printery, riding the forklift truck, which put some structure into his life, and he'd found somebody else to play warden.
And it was time to phone her.