May 3 2012 12:00pm
An excerpt of Lady, Go Die!, the lost Mike Hammer novel, a private detective thriller by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (available May 8, 2012).
Mickey Spillane’s lost 1940s Mike Hammer novel, written between I, the Jury and My Gun Is Quick and never before published! Completed by Spillane’s friend and literary executor Max Allan Collins, Lady, Go Die! is finally making its way into print almost 70 years after its inception!
When Hammer and Velda go on vacation to a Long Island beach town, Hammer becomes embroiled in the mystery of a missing well-known New York party girl who lives nearby. When the woman turns up naked—and dead—astride the statue of a horse in the town square, Hammer feels compelled to investigate.
Pulling the trigger had been easy. Living with it had been hard. Crazy rage got replaced with a joyless emptiness. No emotion, no feeling. I felt as dead as the one I’d shot.
I had evened the score for a friend but the cost had been high—a woman I loved was dead, and the bullet that sent the killer to hell had along the way punched a gaping hole in my soul. I tried to fill it with booze, or at least cauterize the damn thing, spending most of my evenings at Joe Mast’s joint, trying not to fall off a bar stool and usually failing. But it hadn’t worked. Nothing worked.
My best friend in the world, Pat Chambers, was a cop. We had been on the NYPD together, till my hot head got me assigned to a desk where I soon traded in my badge for a private license and a shingle that said, “Hammer Investigating Agency.”
I couldn’t stay a cop. All those rules and regulations drove me bugs. I had a more direct method for dealing with the bastards that preyed upon society—I just killed their damn asses. Killed them in a way that was nice and legal. Self-defense, it’s called, and it catches in the craw of your typical self-righteous judge, but none of them and nobody else could do a damn thing about it. They couldn’t even take my license away. Because I knew just how to play it.
Just the same, Pat and I stayed friends, maybe because his scientific approach meshed well with my instinctive style—he was fingerprints and test tubes where I was motives and people. I could do things he couldn’t, and he had resources I didn’t. Usually private eyes and police are like oil and water, but what began as a convenient way for two different kinds of cops to feed each other information turned into a real and lasting friendship.
So when he showed up on the stool next to me, training his gray-blue eyes on me like benign gun barrels, I said, “What’s a nice guy like you doing in a joint like this?”
“Velda is getting worried.”
Velda was my secretary, and my right arm. She had been with me since I set up shop and I hadn’t made a pass at her yet. But there was something special between us that wasn’t just boss and employee.
“Tell her to lay off the mother-hen routine,” I said. I poured some whiskey in a glass and then down my throat.
“You need to let it go, Mike. It’s ancient history.”
“Not even a year, Pat.”
“Would you change it? Would you go back and not pull that trigger?”
“Then it’s time to move on.”
I knew he was right. But I’d fallen into a goddamn self-pitying rut. Work five days a week, drink five nights a week. And on weekends, drink the whole damn time. Being numb was good. You didn’t think so much. But if I kept this up, I’d have a liver that even the medics couldn’t recognize as a human organ.
Still, I said, “Blow, Pat. I’m a big boy. I can take care of myself.”
“No,” Velda said, “you can’t.”
I hadn’t even seen the big, beautiful dark-haired doll settle her lovely fanny onto the other stool beside me. I must have been far gone.
“And we’re not about to let you crawl in that bottle,” she said, “and drown yourself.”
I gave them a ragged laugh. Hell’s bells—they had me surrounded. I pushed the glass and the whiskey away.
“Okay,” I said. “Officially on the wagon. Now. What do you suggest?”
“First,” Pat said, “you go home and sleep till you’re sober.”
“Second,” Velda said, “we go off somewhere and rest. Someplace where there are no women and no bad guys.”
“That sounds dull as hell.”
Pat said, “It’ll be good for you. You and Velda take the weekend for some R and R. Someplace out on Long Island, maybe.”
Velda said, “What was that little town you and your folks used to go out to? Before the war?”
“Sidon,” I said. I’d been there a couple times after the war, too. But not for a year or two. “It’ll be dead out there. The season doesn’t start for a couple of weeks.”
“Right,” Velda said. “The weather’s beautiful just now, nice and sunny and warm but not hot. The beach, the ocean, it’ll be like a dream.”
“Instead of this nightmare,” Pat said, slapping at my glass, “that you been wrapping yourself up in.”
I turned to Velda. “You’re going along?”
“Sure,” she said easily. “Why not? I got a new two-piece bathing suit I want to try out.”
“One of those bikini deals?” I said, getting interested.
“Hey, I’m game, baby, but I’ll be recuperating, you know? From drink and debauchery and a general state of depression? You’ll need to stay right at my bedside.”
“Separate rooms, Mike,” she said crisply, but she was smiling. “I’ll play nursemaid and babysitter, only I require my own separate quarters.”
“Might as well take you along instead,” I said to Pat, “for all the fun I’ll have.”
He raised an eyebrow and shrugged.
Velda frowned. “No offense, Pat, but you’re staying home. I’m not equipped to handle all the trouble you two could get into.”
She looked equipped enough to handle anything from where I sat.
“Now,” she was saying, climbing off her stool, “can you stand up, or do we have to escort you?”
I made it onto my own two feet. I may have leaned on them a little. A little more on Velda. She was softer and smelled a lot better.
The little guy could walk, but just barely. Velda had found some old sandals near the mouth of the alley that were apparently Poochie’s, lost in the struggle. Anyway, they fit him. He wasn’t saying anything, but he could stumble along with me on one side and Velda on the other, each holding onto an arm.
We trooped him through the lobby of the Sidon Arms, the only one of the little town’s four lodging options open year-round. The building was wooden and old but clean. The lobby was large enough to accommodate a summer crowd but nothing fancy, strictly pre-war, though I wasn’t sure what war. I guessed this hotel stayed open all year largely because of the bar off the lobby, where a high-perched TV was showing wrestling and half a dozen locals were nursing beers, watching whoever was battling Gorgeous George this week pretend to lose.
The cadaverous bald desk clerk in mortician’s black reacted with popping eyes and a, “Merciful heavens!” Could hardly blame him—Poochie was a tattered, blood-spattered, black-and-blue wreck.
We had not checked in yet but had a reservation. When I announced our names, the clerk pretended Poochie wasn’t between us hanging on like a very loose tooth to precarious gums. Everything was handled efficiently. We signed the book, and were told our rooms were adjacent but without an adjoining door. Everything aboveboard for a single man and woman traveling together.
Finally the clerk said, “What about your, uh, friend?”
“Recognize him?” I asked.
“Yes. That is, uh, Poochie. He’s Sidon’s resident beachcomber. He has a shack on the water, just outside town.”
Poochie showed no signs of any of this registering. He wasn’t unconscious, though, and had a goofy, puffy smile going. It widened whenever he looked up at Velda.
“He got hurt,” I said, which was all the explanation I was in the mood to give out.
“Oh, dear. Did he?”
Cripes, didn’t this jerk have eyes?
“Is Doc Moody still in town?” I asked. Moody had been a drinking buddy of my old man’s, on our visits to Sidon. And I’d tossed a few back with the doc on my last solo sojourn.
“Why, yes he is. Should I call him?”
“There’s an idea.” I dug out a five and tossed it to him, the way you would a fish to a seal. “Give the doc my name—he’ll remember it—and when he gets here, send him up to my room.”
Right now I was praying the good doc would be sober enough to see straight.
“Yes, Mr. Hammer,” the clerk said, and reached out a skinny, bony hand for the telephone.
The Sidon Arms had three floors and no elevator. We walked Poochie slowly up the wide lobby stairs and for the first time since we’d made the trek from the alley, the little guy moaned.
Velda said, “It’ll be all right, Poochie. It’ll be fine.”
My room was 2-A and Velda’s was 2-B. The rooms were identical—dresser, wardrobe, a couple chairs, double bed, nightstand, no closet, no bath. That was at the end of the hall. Velda went down there to fill a pitcher with warm water and I set Poochie in the more comfortable of the chairs. It was upholstered and had some padding. While she cleaned him up, I went back down to the lobby. The clerk told me Doc Moody was on his way, and I made my way out to the parking lot behind the hotel and got our luggage and brought it up.
Poochie seemed to be coming into focus as I hauled our bags in.
“I think I better give Poochie my bed,” I said, standing next to her as she bent dabbing a washcloth gently onto our guest’s battered face. She was in a white blouse and a blue pleated skirt and was the kind of nurse you dreamed to get.
“You can sleep with me in my room, if you like.” She flashed me the sweetest smile.
“No kidding. You know me, Mike—I don’t stand on ceremony. And speaking of ceremonies, there’s a justice of the peace in this burg, isn’t there? Wonder if he makes house calls like your doctor friend?”
“You’re no fun at all,” I told her. I leaned in and got our charge’s attention. “What was that about, Poochie?”
He smiled. It was like Dopey smiling at Snow White.
“What did Dekkert want with you, Poochie? Why did those creeps give you the Third Degree and then some?”
He shook his head just a little. “Yellow-haired lady.”
“What yellow-haired lady?”
“They say she’s gone. I live down the beach.”
“Down the beach from the yellow-haired lady?”
A little nod, then a wince at the pain it caused.
I asked, “Who is she?”
“Not nice. Not very nice.”
“They think you saw something, because you live near where she lives?”
Another little nod. Another wince.
Velda said, “Better lay off with the twenty questions, Mike.”
I stood, put my hands on my hips.
“Some gal with yellow hair is missing, and Dekkert wants to know where she went. Judging by the beating he gave Poochie here, Dekkert wants to know bad.”
Velda frowned. “Apart from any official police interest, you think?”
“Not necessarily. Typical of these towns to perform their rubber-hose symphonies well away from the station house and out of uniform. That alley makes perfect sense. This town rolls up its sidewalks at sundown, this time of year, with no tourists around.”
“Almost no tourists,” Velda said.
There was a knock.
“There’s the doc now,” Velda said.
“Is it?” I asked softly.
I went to the bed where I had tossed my suitcase. I opened it, and slipped the .45 Colt automatic out of its sling where it slept like a baby on my clean underwear. But babies can wake up screaming...
I thumbed off the safety and kicked the slide back and went to the door.
“Yeah?” I said, pointing the snout right where my visitor would be standing.
“It’s Moody!” a gruff, age-colored voice called. “This better be important, Mike. I was watching wrestling.”
Maybe he’d been down in the bar and I’d missed him.
I raised the snout of the .45, undid the night latch on the door, and opened it. Moody stepped in wearing a wrinkled suit and no tie with his Gladstone bag in hand. He was heavy-set but not fat, white-haired, with a friendly face whose drink-reddened nose held up a pair of wire-rim bifocal glasses.
“So it’s our resident beachcomber, is it?” he said idly, giving me a nod to acknowledge my presence. Not much of a greeting, considering after our last evening together I had paid for his night of drinking and hauled his booze-sodden carcass home.
He did more than just nod at Velda. He gave her the kind of smiling, appreciative once-over old men can get away with, taking in a good-looking young gal. He shook his head, sighed, remembering times long past, and gave me a frown that said, You lucky bastard.
I clicked the safety on the .45 and shoved it in my waistband.
The doc looked Poochie over for a good ten minutes. He didn’t ask him anything that couldn’t be answered with a nod or a shake of the head. He approved of Velda’s first-aid routine, but had Poochie stand for us to get him out of his ragged clothes and down to his skivvies. The doc went over the cuts and abrasions with alcohol-soaked cotton balls while the little guy squirmed.
Then he gave Poochie a shot and had us walk him over to the bed, where we got him under the covers. Within seconds, the little guy was snoring.
“I don’t mind saving his tail,” I said to the doc, “but I am not sleeping with that character. Should I get another room?”
“I’ll have Percy on the desk send up a rollaway for you, Mike. Somebody needs to be in the room with him tonight.”
“How bad is it?”
Moody shrugged. “Surprisingly, not near as bad I would expect. No teeth missing. No indication of internal bleeding. No broken ribs, at least apparently. We’ll see if we can get Poochie to come in for some X-rays, tomorrow or the next day. But I will say, it’s probably a good thing you came along.”
I grunted a laugh. “Dekkert is an old pro at delivering police beatings. He knows just how to mete out punishment and stop short of creating evidence of police brutality.”
“A bad apple, all right. He’s the deputy chief, but really, he runs things. Chief Beales is local and that helps him get elected. But Beales is soft, a figurehead.”
“Oh, certainly. You haven’t been around in a while, Mike. Things have changed in Sidon.”
“Care to fill me in?”
“Maybe later. Over a drink, perhaps.”
“Sure, Doc. Listen, is Poochie here slow? You know, simple?”
“You mean retarded? No. But he is on the slow side. I suspect he suffered a trauma, perhaps physical, perhaps mental, when he was young. He’s something of an idiot savant.”
“Well, is he an idiot or not, Doc?”
He chuckled. “I mean to say, he has an artistic gift that may surprise you. Ask to see his shell collection, while you’re around.”
That sounded like a blast.
I asked, “You know of any yellow-haired women in town?”
“Why, certainly. We even have a redhead and a brunette or two. And at the moment, we have a particularly lovely black-haired beauty.”
He nodded to Velda, gathered his Gladstone bag, and took his leave.
“Nice old boy,” Velda said.
“I like him fine. I just wouldn’t want to live in a town where his sobriety stood between me and a scalpel.”
“That’s mean, Mike. Of course, there’s nothing worse than a reformed drunk.”
“Is that what I am? A reformed drunk?”
“Mike,” Velda smiled, her voice low so as not to disturb our slumbering guest, “you’re not a reformed anything.”
She gathered her overnight bag, and Poochie’s dirty, bloody clothes, saying, “I’ll wash these.” Then she blew me a kiss and was gone.
Almost immediately a knock at the door had me figuring she might have changed her mind. But I took my .45 along, anyway.
It was the rollaway.
The clerk himself brought it—they were clearly short on help before the season started. He seemed to want a tip, but I reminded him about the fin I’d already slipped him.
I had the rollaway unfolded and ready when the phone on the nightstand rang and I got to it before it could disturb Poochie. Not that the sedative the doc gave him would be easily pierced.
“Hammer,” I said.
“Mr. Hammer,” a mid-range, unctuous voice intoned, “this is Chief of Police Bernard Beales.”
Well, whoop de do.
“Chief Beales,” I said. “A pleasure.”
“Is it, Mr. Hammer?”
“Yeah, and I’m glad you called. Are you aware your deputy chief and two of his pals were beating up a poor little local guy they call Poochie? Right out in public? I had to put a stop to it. Of course, I didn’t know they were cops. They were acting more like a goon squad.”
“I see. Is that how you’re going to play it?”
“It’s the truth.”
“Do I have to come over to the hotel and have you brought in, Mr. Hammer?”
“No. In fact, I wouldn’t advise that. But I’ll be glad to come by some time in the morning and straighten this matter out myself.”
“You would give yourself up?”
“Why, is there a charge leveled against me?”
“No. Not at this time.”
“Fine. Then let’s talk about it in the morning. I had kind of a busy evening.”
“First thing in the morning, then.”
“No, Chiefie. Some time in the morning. I’m on vacation. I want to have a nice breakfast and who knows? I might want to take a constitutional along your lovely beach. Surely you want to let me know, as a tourist and the backbone of local economy, that I can come to Sidon and be confident of having a nice getaway.”
“Some time tomorrow morning then,” he huffed, and hung up.
But I said, “Nighty night, Chiefie,” just the same.
Time to beat the sheets. I’d had enough vacation fun for one evening.
Poochie’s shack was a dilapidated affair, rudely constructed from boards drifted in off the tide, that probably never survived a winter without being blown down at least twice. Coming down from a dune, you could see its weathered tin roof displaying faded ads for hot dogs and soft drinks. Trailing after the little guy, Velda and I were pooped by the time we reached his place—we parked the car a good mile away and had to walk the remainder of the distance in ankle-deep sand.
We’d been up around an hour and a half. Back in my hotel room, Poochie had woken with a start and a cry that shook me from a deep sleep and a dream that was a hell of a lot better than sharing a room with a battered beachcomber. But he had settled down quick. He seemed to know that I’d rescued him, and accepted me as his new friend Mike, unquestioningly. I called Velda and she brought around his washed and still a little damp clothes. He grinned at her goofily and just as unquestioningly accepted her as his new friend Velda.
Poochie wolfed down scrambled eggs and bacon and hash browns at a cafe across the street next to the Sidon Palace, the movie house. Velda and I had the same fare and were damn near as hungry as our guest. I was amazed by his recuperative powers—his face was splotched yellow and purple and his eyes and lips remained puffy, but his manner was happy-go-lucky.
There had been no conversation at breakfast about last night. For Poochie, right now was all there was. He was sitting in a booth with his new pals Mike and Velda, gobbling down good grub, and what had been or would be was irrelevant. Not the worst outlook in the world.
I said we wanted to take him back to his shack, and he said swell, but he needed to pick up some hamburger at the grocery store. We did that, Velda spotting him a buck when Poochie’s pockets turned out to be empty. No surprise.
We drove a mile or so till he motioned us to pull over, like a kid who needed a john, and soon we were hiking it in the sand.
In a simple pleated navy skirt and light blue blouse with a sweater slung round her shoulders, my dark-haired secretary looked sexier than any bikini babe this beach had ever seen. Me, I looked like a city slicker in my rumpled suit, even without a tie and with my hat off. But after last night, I needed to go out heeled, and I needed the suitcoat to conceal the .45 in its shoulder sling.
The morning was bright and cool, the ocean breeze refreshing on your face, sun reflecting off shimmering sand, gulls swooping and squawking, the tide lapping, blue ocean glittering, the air salty and fresh, the beach scattered with driftwood and shells, clam, oyster, periwinkle. Good pickings for a beachcomber like Poochie.
Just outside the shack, Velda and I sat down on two old crates while Poochie ducked inside. In an eye blink the little guy came back out carrying a couple of cats. Scraggly, wild things, they were, but they swarmed all over him in the friendliest way, licking his face and rubbing themselves against his neck. He spread out the pound of hamburger on its butcher paper for them and they dug in together.
When I looked up at Poochie, he was facing the ocean, breathing the salt air, a battered little guy who owned the world. “Ain’t it good here, Mike?”
And it was, as far as it went. But what he called home was a barrel to hold fish heads, three crude fishing poles set against the side of the shack, an ancient wheelbarrow to gather shells, two cats for company, and a broken-down shanty to keep the rain off his head.
“Come on inside,” he said brightly. “I got lots of things I want to show you.”
We followed him in, ducking our heads as we went. He put a match to an oil lamp and the pale orange light threw flickering shadows on the wall. A homemade table sat in the middle, around which were four more crates for chairs. Why he bothered with four, I don’t know. I doubt if he ever had company. A single bunk was built against the far wall, covered with somebody’s cast-off quilt. Behind the table a stove of iron pipes was overlaid on some bricks with a firewood bin next to it. For utensils there were two pots, some reclaimed and polished cans, several old knives and forks, and a wooden salad spoon.
What interested me most was the half-carved shell on the makeshift table. Beside it was a well-worn shoemaker’s leather knife. I picked up the shell and ran my hands over the picture carved there. It was beautiful—a manger scene with an angel in the background. The dog-eared Christmas card it was copied from lay under the knife.
He was grinning. Where his teeth weren’t yellow, they were black. “Like it, Mike?”
“You said it,” I grinned at him. “Where did you learn to do this?”
“In school.” He said it proudly.
“No kidding?” I couldn’t believe he’d stayed in school long enough to develop this kind of skill. The detail work was fantastic.
“Yup. That’s where I went when I was little. I remember it real good. I can hardly remember anything else about being a kid except the school. They were good to me there and a priest showed me how to carve wood. I did bad in all my studies, Mike, but not carving. That priest said I had a real talent. Then he got me a shell one day and I carved that. I got plenty of ’em. Look!”
He pointed to the walls and I whistled under my breath. They were arrayed on a two-by-four running around three walls, beautiful examples of what a simple mind could do if it concentrated.
He pointed to some beat-up cabinets below the crude shelving; they probably had been scavenged from the galley of some old boat. “I got lots more. Down here is my private collection.”
Velda whispered to me: “Idiot savant.”
Why did everybody keep saying that! I knew this guy was an idiot.
But like Doc Moody said, an idiot with a touch of genius. Each shell was a masterpiece of craftsmanship. Some were carved into animals, others were seascapes, all worked into the rounded exterior of a shell. The pale light of the lantern hardly brought out the exquisite pink and cream tones. I knew people in the city who would pay top dollar for these.
I asked, “Ever sell any, Poochie?”
“Sure, I sell ’em. The stuff I keep on that one shelf, those are for sale.” He pointed. “That’s how I get all my money.”
His little shack wasn’t exactly a showroom. “How much do you get, Poochie? And who buys them?”
“Oh, a nice man from the city comes by and gives me a whole dollar a piece for ’em. That’s pretty darn good, ain’t it, Mike?
“That’s good, all right, but don’t you sell any more until I see the guy that buys them.”
“Why... sure, Mike. He’ll be here in a few days.”
“Great. Let me act as your agent. All great artists need agents.”
“You think I’m a great artist, Mike?”
“I sure do. How often does he come around, this guy?”
“Always around this time every month he comes.”
I would kick the crap out of the bastard for taking advantage of Poochie like that. A buck a piece and he was probably raking in a hundred per, anyway.
“I’ll negotiate a new price.”
Velda was walking around the little room, looking at the individual shells on the shelf, breathless at the sheer beauty of them.
I got up and put a hand on her shoulder. “I want to take a walk up the beach. Care to come?”
She shook her head, the dark tresses bouncing. “No. You go ahead. I’ve had my fill of walking on sand for a while. I’ll just stick around here and enjoy the view.”
Soon we were back on the beach where she had kicked off her sandals and was lifting her skirt to wade in the tide, her gaze on the expanse of blue that a world away joined the other expanse of blue above. The wind was making lovely dark streaming tendrils of her long raven hair, as if she were underwater. Who needed mermaids?
I started off with Poochie at my heels.
When we were out of earshot of Velda, I said, “Show me where that lady lives—the one with the yellow hair.”
As we rounded a dune, he pointed between a number of trees that stood in a row, like a tall fence designed to keep one half of the beach away from the other.
“Right up there, Mike. That’s where she lives. You’re not gonna go up there, are you?” He seemed fearful.
“No, Poochie, not now.”
I took in the place from a better angle. It was a magnificent home, built like an old colonial mansion right down to the twenty-foot pillars surrounding the entire structure. Set back a few hundred yards from the ocean, it commanded a superb view from the top of a slight rise. Earth must have been shipped in to make a terrace on either side, as its color was the bright green of lawn grass and not the duller shade of the sand variety.
From the rear of the house that faced the water, a flagstone path curved down to the trees and ended abruptly at a gazebo whose latticework was covered with ivy.
A little warning sign was tacked to the tree nearest the sandy beach. Poochie stayed behind, nervous, as I walked up for a better look. It read:
I grinned. Now I knew who the lady with the yellow hair was.
You probably read about her yourself—the infamous, two-timing ex-chorus tomato that stood charges for murdering her millionaire husband and got off scot-free when an all-male jury paid more attention to her legs than the testimony.
I remembered that case well, though I knew it strictly from the spectator seats. Because of Sharron, two husbands had died. Even before she married Wesley, she had spent a term in the big house for manslaughter of hubby number one: a glorified pimp of a manager that she claimed beat her. Well, he hadn’t been beating her when she smothered him in his sleep. But the tabloids had loved that yellow hair and those long chorus-girl gams that she wasn’t shy about showing off only to jurors—reporters got in on the fun, as well.
Still, what the hell her second husband ever saw in her was more than I could see. There are plenty of good-looking fluffs around Manhattan that don’t smother their hubbies in bed. Of course, Wesley had died due to his bad heart, right? That digitalis overdose was just an accident on curvy Sharron’s part.
And ever since, she had been using his dough to support a revolving door of gigolos and a gambling habit and a general party-girl good time. I knew her a little, and she had tried to make me more than once, but I’d sooner sleep with a snake. Last time I saw her, at the Zero Zero Club, she was crocked to the gills.
According to Pat, the D.A. had plenty to hang her with, but the shyster she had pleading her case did a fine job of screwing up the facts. The scandal sheets went crazy over the angle shots of her legs and the jury was drooling half the time. The judge who sat on the case almost blew his top at the verdict, telling that jury he’d never seen a greater miscarriage of justice in his courtroom, shooing them out in disgust.
If these fancy beach-side digs were any indication, Mrs. Wesley must have inherited her husband’s money intact and decided on this modest playpen instead of her penthouse on Central Park to establish a residence.
Only now she was gone.
A missing person.
And last night Dekkert had damn near crippled a nice simple-minded joe just to squeeze out any morsel of information about her whereabouts. No doubt Dekkert figured that the Wesley dame would have been seen, if she had taken off through town. Her car would be well known in this vicinity. Otherwise, beachcomber Poochie was in a fine spot to see anything and everything that went on at the mansion, even if he didn’t pay particular attention to it.
But why was Dekkert interested?
Sharron had a perfect right to go where she pleased. So what if she took off by boat, or with some out-of-towner in a strange car that wouldn’t raise any notice rolling through sleepy Sidon? She’d been gone a week. And a week wasn’t so long as to warrant an investigation when there were no suspicious circumstances.
Or were there?
The only thing I was sure of was that something foul was in the ocean breeze and I was going to find out what. I had tangled with Dekkert before and was not about to let him get away with making a punching bag out of an innocent schnook like Poochie.
Velda had fallen asleep on the sand when I got back. She had spread out that light sweater and was nestled down on it, her sweet, sultry face turned to one side. I gave her gentle prods with my toe until she looked up at me sleepily.
“Time to get up already?” she purred, stretching her arms.
“Rise and shine,” I said. “We have to go.”
“Town. I have a date.”
“With the police chief.”
She got to her feet in an instant. Her eyes narrowed, and the pretty mouth got as ugly as it could, which wasn’t very ugly.
“I get it, you louse. You’re going to work. I can see myself already, chasing all over Sidon doing your legwork. Well, if you think—”
“Aw, kitten, take it easy. I only—”
“You ‘only’ nothing. When you get that look on your face, it means trouble. We came up here for a vacation. You’re here for a rest, not to make an arrest.”
“You’re imagining things.”
“If we are not here for rest and relaxation, big boy, I am going home.”
She turned and started to walk away, but I put out my hand and stopped her, turned her to me. She had tears in her eyes.
“Mike, don’t ruin this...”
“Hey, kid, I’m not drinkin’, am I? I’m just curious about what’s going on out here in the sticks.”
“Leave the curiosity to those scraggly cats, why don’t you?”
Poochie edged up near us and said, “Golly, Mike, why do you make the nice lady cry when you like her so much? I can tell you do.”
When he realized what he had said, he turned his head and blushed. It was so silly and cute that both Velda and I wound up grinning at each other.
Then her expression turned serious and her dark eyes took on a sensual cast. “Do you, Mike?”
“Like me... so much?”
I looked at her. She was as pretty as anything I had ever seen. Tall, jet black hair, always in that sweeping pageboy that I so admired. Big and beautiful with more curves than a mountain road...
She was warm under my hands. I tilted her chin and bent my head. Her mouth found mine and she trembled under me as our mouths surrendered to each other.
When I held her away from me, she was gasping. “That was the first time you ever did that, Mike.”
“I’ve wanted to for a long time,” I told her roughly.
“Why?” Her eyes were soft and inviting. I ran my fingers through her hair.
“You know why. A dame works for a guy, and it gets out of hand, and all of a sudden—”
“Shut-up and kiss me again.”
I did, but then Poochie was right there watching us with a big smile plastered on his baby-face mug. The kiss turned into a mutual laugh, and then I tugged at her arm.
“Let’s go, Velda.”
She just nodded.
We were already walking when I called back, “So long, Poochie!”
“So long! You’ll come see me again, won’t you?”
“Sure will!” we said together.
As we glanced back, we saw him dash into the shanty and come out with a shell. He rushed to us and handed it to Velda.
“A pretty present for the pretty lady,” he said with a shy grin.
Velda took it, looking pleased. It was his latest, the Nativity scene.
“Why, thank you, Poochie,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”
When we were walking back to the car, she squeezed my arm and lay her head against my shoulder. “I like Poochie, too, Mike. Maybe we shouldn’t leave Sidon until we know he’s safe.”
“Yeah.” I lit up a Lucky. “I have to make sure that Dekkert character isn’t a threat to him.”
“You’re a softie, underneath it all, aren’t you?”
“Yeah. All squishy.”
“If it weren’t for Poochie back there, I’d still be thinking you were just an old so-and-so.”
I blew a cloud of cigarette smoke and broke out my lopsided smile.
“Kitten,” I said, pretending to be shocked. “Watch your language.”
Copyright © 2012, Mickey Spillane Publications, LLC
Mickey Spillane is the legendary crime writer credited with igniting the explosion of paperback publishing after World War II as a result of the unprecedented success of his Mike Hammer novels. Spillane’s novels sold tens of millions of copies—I, The Jury went through more than 60 paperback printings in 1947 alone. In 1995, he was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. Before his death at the age of 88 in 2006, Spillane chose long-time friend Max Allan Collins to complete his unfinished work and act as his literary executor.
Max Allan Collins is the bestselling, award-winning author of Road to Perdition, the graphic novel that inspired the Oscar-winning movie starring Paul Newman and Tom Hanks, and of the acclaimed Nathan Heller series of historical hardboiled mysteries. Also a filmmaker, Collins’s films include the documentary Mike Hammer’s Mickey Spillane.