Monday, October 07, 2013

Starktober 6: The Jugger

Nothing is ever easy for Parker; every time he manages to get one step ahead of the law or start to build his nest egg back up, something else happens to jeopardize it all again. In The Mourner, Parker was forced into a job to get back a gun that could tie his between-jobs identity -- Charles Willis, the man who lounges in resort hotels most of the year and owns a string of small businesses for tax purposes -- to the fingerprints on file from a California prison guard he killed back before the beginning of The Hunter.

But now he has that gun back, and there's only one link between the playboy Willis and the professional robber Parker: Joe Sheer, a dependable ex-safecracker (or "jugger") living quietly in the small town of Sagamore, Nebraska, under the name of Joe Shardin, with a decent income from his small investments and Social Security. Sheer acts as a contact point for Parker, and for a few other men in the same line of work -- a way to get in touch with men who don't want their current whereabouts getting out too widely. So Parker's life can go back to normal, as long as Sheer stays dependable.

But he doesn't: Sheer sends Parker a couple of increasingly desperate letters, asking for help with an unspecified problem, and that brings Parker to tiny Sagamore on what turns out to be the day of Sheer's funeral. And he's not the only one, either: there's another criminal, a tenacious little guy named Tiftus, in town with his current girl and on the trail of what he thinks was a fortune Sheer had hidden.

Even worse, another man thinks Sheer had a fortune: Captain Younger, the new head of the Sagamore police, fresh out of a long thirty years in the Army and just a bit too stupid for how corrupt and controlling he wants to be. Younger was squeezing Sheer, and now he wants to squeeze Parker -- but Parker isn't someone you can just squeeze.

The Jugger is almost a whodunit; Parker is trying to figure out how Sheer died -- if he was killed, or killed himself, or died naturally -- and to get through the tangle of Younger and Tiftus and Tiftus's girl Rhonda and the local doctor and undertaker suborned by Younger and the state police, who are smarter and steadier and vastly more professional than Younger, and only handicapped by the fact that this is very much not their case. Most importantly, Parker is trying to extricate himself from Sagamore without burning the Charles Willis name forever -- because he's using that name in town.

As usual, events chase Parker, so he's scrambling to react rather than planning carefully and thoroughly, the way he'd prefer. By the time he gets to town, both Younger and Tiftus assume he knows the secret of Sheer's fortune -- what's supposedly left of the nearly two million Sheer made in his three decades cracking safes -- but Parker knows that men in his line of work don't save for rainy days; they spend their money as quickly as it comes in, and then go to work again. In the end, he does get out of Sagamore, and tries to settle back into the life of Charles Willis for a few months -- but the days of Willis are over, forever, by the end of The Jugger. So the next book will see Parker even worse than The Man With the Getaway Face: on the run, without Willis to fall back on, and in need of the next big score immediately.

Starktober Introduction and Index

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