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Authors: Bill Pronzini

The Stalker

Books by Bill Pronzini
 

Snowbound
With an Extreme Burning
Panic
Games
The Jade Figurine
Dead Run
Night Screams
Masques
The Hangings
Firewind
The Last Days of Horse-Shy Halloran
Quincannon

The Stalker
 
Bill Pronzini

SPEAKING VOLUMES, LLC

NAPLES, FLORIDA

2011

THE STALKER

Copyright © 1971 by Bill Pronzini

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission of the author.

9781612321042

Table of Contents
 

The sins ye do by two and two ye must pay for one by one.

Rudyard Kipling
Tomlinson

 
Prologue
 
March, 1959

The khaki-colored Smithfield armored car entered the enclosed grounds of Mannerling Chemical, a few miles south of Granite City, Illinois, at ten minutes past nine of a cold, crisp Wednesday morning—precisely on schedule for its quarterly pick-up of the company’s substantial cash receipts. It pulled to a stop in front of the Accounting Office, which was located in a wing of Building Four just inside the eastern gate, and driver Felix Marik stepped out into the frosty air to unlock the rear doors. Guards Walter Macklin and Lloyd Fosbury emerged with several empty canvas money sacks, and entered the Accounting Office.

Just as driver Marik stepped around to the side of the car, two young men dressed in dark business suits and dark overcoats, carrying small brown briefcases, approached him at a leisurely pace. They had left Parking Lot 2, directly across the asphalt roadway from Building Four, immediately after the armored car’s arrival. The more muscular of the two men wore a thin black mustache attached with spirit gum, and had cotton balls inside his mouth to make his cheeks seem round and puffy; pinned to the left breast pocket of his coat was a counterfeit of the blue and white triangular identity badge which Mannerling required for admittance to its grounds. Black lettering on it read: ROBERTS, M. R.—ACCT. 4. His name was Steve Kilduff. The lean, spare man with him—wearing a set of false, bucked front teeth and whitish actor’s make-up to make his normally weathered complexion seem pallid—had an identity badge which said he was Garfield, D. L., also Acct. 4. His real name was Jim Conradin.

Kilduff smiled cheerfully as they approached the Smithfield driver. He stopped and said, “Good morning.”

“Morning,” Marik answered.

“Little nippy out, eh?”

“You can say that again.”

“Hell, what it
really
is, is ass-freezing weather.”

Marik grinned. “Amen, brother.”

Conradin had moved to stand next to the left front fender of the armored car. While Kilduff joked pleasantly with Marik about the weather, Jim took his slightly trembling and gloved left hand from his overcoat pocket and placed a small blob of putty-like material on the upper treads of the tire. He stepped away and nodded almost imperceptibly as Kilduff glanced at him.

Kilduff rubbed his hands together briskly. “What say we get some coffee before we go to work, Dave?”

“Good idea,” Conradin said. He was trying to control a nervous tic which had gotten up along the left side of his jaw.

Marik said to them, “Well, take it slow.”

“Sure,” Kilduff told him. “You, too.”

They moved away, passing the door to the Accounting Office. Just as they did, the door opened and Macklin and Fosbury came out with their guns drawn, each carrying several of the now-full money sacks. Kilduff and Conradin did not look at them as they re-entered the rear of the armored car. Marik locked the doors and returned to the cab and swung the car into a U-turn, heading toward the eastern gate.

Kilduff and Conradin cut diagonally across the asphalt roadway and walked slowly toward the far end of Parking Lot 2—where a six-year-old DeSoto sedan waited for them.

Kilduff said, “Clockwork, Jim.”

“Yeah.”

“Listen, are you all right?”

“Sure. I’m fine.”

They were nearing the DeSoto now, and Conradin began to walk a little faster, his eyes fixed on the dew-streaked black hood. He was two steps in front of Kilduff, fifty feet from the sedan, when an oliveuniformed Mannerling ground-security guard, Leo Helgerman, stepped out from between two other parked cars almost directly in front of them.

Conradin stopped abruptly, and he and Helgerman stood looking at one another for a brief second—Helgerman with eyes that were faintly quizzical; Conradin’s eyes round and moist with fear. Kilduff stepped around on Conradin’s left, smiling disarmingly, building amiable words of greeting in his throat.

But Conradin was already moving by then, moving forward, and he brought his right hand up and slashing down across the back of Helgerman’s neck. The guard’s eyes rolled up in his head and he fell soundlessly to the cold, wet asphalt.

Kilduff jumped forward and caught Conradin’s arm and spun him around. “You stupid son of a bitch!” he said between clenched teeth. “What did you do that for?”

Conradin stood trembling. There was a thin, silvery sheen of sweat on his face. “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know.”

Kilduff looked at Helgerman and saw that he was still breathing. He pulled Conradin toward the DeSoto, opened the passenger door, and shoved him inside. He went around and slid in under the wheel. The starter made a labored whirring sound, took hold, and Kilduff let out the clutch; he turned onto the company road which led to the western gate.

Conradin sat with his hands clenching his knees, and the sweat streamed down into the collar of his white shirt, smearing some of the make-up on his face and neck. He was still trembling.

“Snap out of it, will you?” Kilduff told him grimly. “Do you want to blow the whole thing?”

“Jesus,” Conradin said. He was staring straight ahead. “Oh Jesus, Jesus.”

But they had no trouble at the gate ...

The stolen yellow tow truck, with the words “Dave’s Garage” in blue letters on the body, was parked in a clump of willow and buckeye trees—just off the three-hundred-yard paved access road which wound through grassy fields to connect the eastern gate of Mannerling Chemical with State Highway 64.

Three men sat waiting in the cab, each of them dressed in gray work coveralls. The driver, whose name was Gene Beauchamp, said, “What if the goddamn tire doesn’t blow when it’s supposed to?”

“It’ll blow, don’t worry,” the man in the middle said. He was Larry Drexel. “We tested the corrosive a dozen times, didn’t we?”

“At least that.”

“Okay,” Drexel said. He looked at his wristwatch. “They should be coming out of the gate right about now. Let’s get set.”

They took grotesquely designed Hallowe’en masks from the pockets of their coveralls, slipped them over their heads, and put on peakedbill caps pulled low. Drexel and the third man, Paul Wykopf, took blued-steel revolvers from under the seat and held them in their laps.

Drexel said, “All right. Kick it over, Gene.”

Beauchamp switched on the ignition, and there was a quiet rumbling from beneath the hood. He moistened his lips. “Do you figure everything went okay?” he asked Drexel.

“Sure it did.”

“I just hope there wasn’t any trouble.”

“Christ, will you shut up?” Wykopf said. “Kilduff knows his end of it, and so does Conradin.”

“Look, I’m nervous, that’s all.”

“We’re all nervous,” Drexel said. “Cool it, now.”

Wykopf hunched forward, peering through the leafy branches of one of the willow trees. “Here it comes.”

The armored car was almost halfway along the access road, less than fifty yards from where they were. Drexel’s hand worked spasmodically around the revolver’s grip. “Blow, baby,” he said softly. “Come on, baby, blow.”

And the car’s left front tire blew.

The heavy vehicle lurched to the side of the road, swaying as the driver fought for control, and finally shuddered to a stop. The door opened, and Felix Marik stepped out and went to inspect the damage, shouting something to the guards inside.

Drexel said, “Go!”

Beauchamp brought the tow truck out from its concealment and to a skidding halt, nose in to the armored car. Wykopf and Drexel were out and crouched ready, their guns held low and in close to their bodies, before the tow truck had ceased rocking. Marik whirled, his hand dropping toward the service pistol holstered at his side, but Drexel took two steps forward and put the muzzle of the revolver in his stomach. Marik’s hand froze in midair, and Drexel took the pistol and put it into the pocket of his coveralls.

He said in a cold, sharp voice, “If you want to live to see your family again, you get the guards out of there without their guns. Now, baby!”

Beauchamp swung down from the tow truck as Drexel and Wykopf pushed Marik toward the rear of the armored car. He had several small white flour sacks strung over his left arm.

From inside the car Lloyd Fosbury said, “Felix? What in hell’s going on out there?”

“Holdup,” Marik said tightly. “They want you to come out unarmed.”

“What!”

“You heard the man,” Drexel said. “Now if you want your friend Felix here to keep on living, you do exactly what we tell you. You got that, baby?”

There was silence from inside, and then Fosbury said, “Yeah. We’ve got it.”

“Unlock the doors,” Drexel said to Marik.

Marik obeyed the order, using a key from his belt ring. Drexel took the ring, and then motioned Marik to one side. He called out, “The outside locks are open now. You spring the inside locks and push one of the doors open just enough to throw out your guns. All of them. I don’t want to see anything come out of there but the guns.”

There was the sound of movement from inside the car, and then the left door opened just a little. Drexel and Wykopf, standing off to the side, held their breaths. Two service pistols like the one Marik had worn came flashing out and fell into the grass at the rear of the truck. The door closed again.

Drexel said, “Is that all?”

“That’s all,” Macklin, the other guard, said.

“Now come out, one at a time, with your hands on your heads. Nice and slow.”

The guards came out that way, and Drexel looked at Wykopf and nodded. “Watch them.”

“They’re all mine.”

Drexel motioned to Beauchamp, and the two of them went inside the armored car. They began to fill the white flour sacks from the canvas money sacks. When they had all the money—something more than $750,000, although they didn’t know that until later—they jumped out again, carried the flour sacks to the tow truck, and put them behind the seat. Then Drexel went back to where Wykopf was holding the three Smithfield employees.

“Into the car,” he said to them, and he and Wykopf herded them inside. Drexel threw the door closed and locked it with Marik’s key. He tossed the ring into the front seat of the armored car as he and Wykopf went by.

They climbed quickly into the tow truck, and Beauchamp backed the machine and got it turned around. They headed toward the entrance to State Highway 64 ...

A half mile to the south, in a sparsely traveled area just off the Maypark Road overpass, Fred Cavalacci sat nervously waiting in a wood-paneled 1954 Chevrolet station wagon. He looked at his watch for perhaps the twentieth time in the past ten minutes, and then up at the positioned rear-view mirror.

The tow truck appeared on the overpass.

Cavalacci took the ignition key, breathing through his mouth, and got out and opened the rear door. The tow truck pulled up parallel to the wagon, and Drexel and Wykopf and Beauchamp swung out of the cab. Drexel said, “Clockwork, Fred.”

Cavalacci nodded, exhaled, and drew back the heavy tarpaulin that lay on the floor of the wagon, revealing a wide rectangular space which had been hollowed out to form a pit. The four men then transferred the white flour sacks from the tow truck to the wagon. Three cars passed during the time it took them to make the switch, but none of the occupants took more than passing notice of what they assumed was a stalled motorist and the tow truck he had summoned.

When all the flour sacks were in the floor pit, Cavalacci rearranged the tarpaulin. They made sure no one was approaching in either direction, and then the four of them got inside the wagon. Cavalacci drove east, heading toward Collinsville, where they would meet Kilduff and Conradin.

They had gone almost a mile in silence when Cavalacci glanced at Drexel beside him. “We did it,” he said, and there was a touch of awe in his voice. “We pulled it off.”

“We did it, all right,” Drexel said. He pivoted on the seat, looking at Wykopf and Beauchamp in the back. And then he began to laugh, a soft, amused, tension-releasing sound that elicited smiles, laughter from the others.

“Oh, we did it,” he said, “we did it, we—did—it! And we’re going to get away with it, babies! The police are never going to catch us, you mark my words!”

Larry Drexel was right.

The police never caught them ...

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