Sometimes, especially during the month of August, I become a passive psychic channel for the erudition of others. The rest of the country heat-implodes; media denizens go on vacation; I begin and abort blog entries wherein I replace the names of the late medieval nuns from Craig Monson’s Divas in the Convent with characters from the 1980’s sitcom Murphy Brown. In the meantime, certain anonymous (not really: Hi, Ben!) Press purveyors of flash fiction rise to the challenge posed more than two years ago by certain other anonymous literary types (I C U JEFF WAXMAN): who can write the best bookstore heist story starring Parker, antihero extraordinaire, in less than 350 words? At the time, the winner took home a collection of 12 Parker novels penned by Richard Stark, all of which had recently been reprinted by the University of Chicago Press. Because of my failure to assemble an animated GIF of Donald Westlake, our new champion Ben Balskus will win a prize no less credible—the below image of the U.S. paperback first edition of Richard Stark’s The Seventh, in which cover model Parker eerily resembles Gerard Depardieu. Congrats, Ben! Can’t wait to read your next piece on Green Card!
For Ben’s excellent take on all things criminal-biblio, see his short “BOOKSTORM” below. For more information on Richard Stark’s Parker novels, visit their University of Chicago Press homepage here.
By Ben Balskus
Parker busted the glass in the door with his left elbow, then reached inside and let himself in. The store was quiet; no alarm, just as he’d expected. Bookstores didn’t need alarms. There was no money in books. Grofield was always telling him that. Of course it hadn’t stopped him from using his take from the Reno heist to open an independent press and publish poetry.
This job had been a piece of cake. They’d gotten the money and were turning onto Stony Island when a black SUV smashed into the driver’s side door. Kessler and Peterson, both out on impact. Parker had seen the car out of the corner of his eye and braced himself, but somehow in the crash he’d lost his gun. It was sloppy, the way it all went down. He was getting old.
It was Waxman, had to be. He’d come up with the plan, and was the only one of them who lived in town. But had he planned the double-cross himself? Parker didn’t think so. Waxman was easy-going, the kind of guy who carries a tab in every bar in the neighborhood. He must’ve owed money to the wrong kind of people, and they’d leaned on him hard.
But Parker pushed all that to the back of his mind. He was in a bookstore, with no gun, a money-sack with fifty grand, and two Outfit boys hard on his heels.
He dropped the money next to the register and began to stalk the aisles like a panther. The Great Gatsby? Paperback, too thin. A River Runs Through It? Too sentimental. He paused by the kiddie display and picked up a hardcover edition of Harry and the Half-Blood Prince. It had the right weight, and sharp corners, but he put it back down. He couldn’t crack a man’s skull with a children’s book.
He found it in Reference. Clothbound, gold headbands, the Magnum of books. Perfect heft, and the glossy jacket wouldn’t hold prints.
Parker crept back to the counter and ducked down. The store was on the basement level, and through the window above his head two pairs of black wingtips skittered by like roaches. The shadows stopped at the broken glass—one of them nodded, and eased the door open.
When he was finished, Parker left the Chicago Manual of Style on the counter, the pastel blue jacket greasy with blood.