Friday, September 4, 2009

Dropping the Hammer on Jack Reacher . . .

Hi, God, it's me, Shane. Another long day writing about serial killers, and I'm pooped. I just wanna go to bed. But it's Friday, and the Seven demands its due. This week we're writing about favorite good-guy cage matchups. I have a goody in mind: modern crime master Lee Child's Jack Reacher vs. 1950s crime master Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer. But I want to sleep. Just five minutes, right here in the chair. Then I'm good to go, Kel, I promise, I'll write you a doozy. But first let me check my e-mail. Nothing but DorothyL updates. Check Facebook. Someone sent me a potted plant. Add it to the others. All right, enough distraction. Must shovel coal into the Seven, so the Readers are pleased. But I'm so sleepy. I can't help but drift into the land of Nod ... falling asleep ... th lunatics that populate my mind are dancing off to never-never land ... look, the Times list, and I'm on it, No. 1, edging out Patterson! Oh sweet mystery of life at last I've found you ... Scorcese wants to lunch, loves my new manuscript ... zzzzzzz, to sleep ... perchance to sleep ...

I cock the hammer of the .45. The satisfying click drills me like a steel rod. Precious killed more than a few Nazi-boys and Communists in her day, and still has enough spunk to save my sorry backside. A couple of hard case rum-runners put their grubby mitts on my Velma, and now they're going to pay. I might look crossways at my Velma time to time, especially when she says I'm wrong about something, not that I am, but she thinks so, that's what dames do, squawk too much, right? But no other pal Joey gets the privilege of pushing her around, and a couple of rounds of hot lead will get that point across toot sweet. All right, enough palaver, where are these mugs? I was on the blower an hour ago, calling Mafia HQ, and told the head rat bastard Scarface to get them here to the beanery or I'll come get them. Expected them before this. If they don't show I'll bring down a firestorm on the whole damn Mafia kingdom that'll make Dresden look like a weenie roast. So where are they already? Stinking dirty Mafioso, they've even worse than the Russian Commies, turning yellow soon as a real American tells them what for. Did they turn into pansies and sissies? Guess I'll have to find them and mop the floor with their red Commie faces ... hey, OK, all right, bell's tinkling, door's opening. That's sure to be them, the lousy crumb-bums. C'mon, Precious, you're gonna dance the big thunder one more time. Velma's in traction and these rotten no-goods put her there. Smoke a row across their crewcuts soon as they show their ugly mugs our way, then drill a sewer pipe in their spines ... wait. That's not them. Who is this guy? He's a big damn jamoke, that's for sure ...

I walk through the door. Look around. Typical New York restaurant. Small. Intimate. Pricey. Orange tables to the left. Yellow tables to the right. Green napkins. Silver forks. I shrug. Feel a presence. Feel its eyes on me, boring holes. I turn. Man with a pistol. Big one. Familiar. Forty-five, Colt, government issue, carbon steel, five-inch slide, checkered grips, brown, walnut. Seven .45 cartridges in the magazine. One in the chamber. I raise my right hand. Slow. Easy. Put my finger in my collar. Tug it out, releasing the warm air undernneath. "Hey," I say, checking out the man. Little over six feet. Stocky. Muscled. Hard muscle. Not from a gym. From life. Chalky face, couple can-opener scars. Broken nose. Old-fashioned suit. Black wool. White shirt. Knotted tie, with dimple. Good dimple. Hard to do. Tie shoes, heavy soles. The man has good taste; I wear those kind of shoes . They're good for heavy work. Black porkpie hat on a flat-top. The hair's stiffened by wax. I'm close enough to smell the wax. Heavy. Fragrant. Flowery. Like in an old barbershop. Red chairs. Style charts on the mirrors. Card game in the back. His fingers are gnarled. Fighter hands. He's been around. The face is hard. Not cruel, but almost. The gun was harder.

"Who the hell are you?" I say, keeping Precious square on the jamoke's breadbasket, which was covered with the cheapest looking work clothes I've ever seen. The janitor at my private eye office dresses better than that, and he's a one-eyed drunk with a mother complex and two screeching parrots at lives in a one-room hovel next to the elevated tracks that he calls home. "Did Scarface send you?"

"Name's Reacher," I say, releasing my collar. "Jack Reacher. Don't know any Scarface. I'm looking for a blind blues singer who lives around here." I give the name. "You familiar?"

"Can't help you, pally buck," I say, keeping the heater true. More than one innocent-looking Nazi scum had almost fooled me back in the day. But not Precious. Precious was never charmed by killers and sadists. Nothing could keep my steely gal from barking doom at a guy who needs it. "No blind singers around here, blues or otherwise. You a Communist, Reacher?"

"A Communist?" I say. "No. You've confused me with someone else. Now if you don't mind, point that pistol away."

"Nothing doing, sweetheart. You look like the kind of turd who could have whacked up my Velma," I say, not fooled for a minute by his reasonable explanation. Commies are experts at tricking Americans into letting down their guard, and then we're under their heavy Moscow thumb. "You're big enough, and you look like you could be mean enough."

"Didn't do it," I say. I look for weapons. Fork. Jam it in eye. Knife. Stick it in his backbone. Water glass. Break it, cut his carotid. All are more than two stepa away. Might as well be a mile. Punt. "What's your name, by the way?"

"Hammer. Mike Hammer."

I consider my choices. Not many. Guy's focused. Determined. Nuts, maybe. Especially with that name. Who's named Hammer? Either way, that pistol needed to go. I feint left. Whirl right. The gun goes off. Deafening bang. Big smoke. The bullet flies past my hip. I feel the heat through my cheap unlaundered pants. One round gone. Seven to go. I kick. My shoe plants deep into Hammer's belly. He makes this wuff sound. Keels over. Doesn't break. Tough. He fires again. Twice. Bullets slide over my chest, barely missing my heart. Twin jets of heat sear me like sushi-grade tuna. Getting monotonous. I whirl left. Feint right. Do a jumping jack, to throw him off. He goes for it. I rear back my head, let it fly. There's a bone ridge on my forehead. Every man has one, in varying thicknesses. Mine is huge. Heavy. Steel bumper from a Fifties Buick. Every time it hits a nose, the nose shatters. Hammer's did.

"Son of a--" I spit. This Reacher is good. But not good enough. I duck under his elbow strike, reverse Precious in my grip. I swing up and back, slapping
Reacher with enough iron to build a battleship.

I'm dizzy. That one was telling. Next one might cripple. Can't let that happen. I feint left, flush right, do a handstand, get on one knee and sing Mammy. Makes him flinch. I somersault straight into his kidneys. He spits blood now. Good. Not taking him out. Not good. Mike Hammer's a pretty good fighter. Gotta end this now.

I swing the heater to push Reacher back, then run to the blower, to call in reinforcements. Hey, I'm not proud--sign up for a job you get it done, no matter how much help you gotta call in. Philip Marlowe's on a bender. Joe Pike's at home, sleeping it off from our smoker last night. Maybe he'll run over and help me lasso this six-seven gorilla. I drop a dime, get the operator. But this Reacher cuts me off, does that weird thing with his forehead. Ouch! Must be a Commie trick he learned at the hand of Uncle Joe. Joe Stalin, that is. He's the real danger, not that paper-hanger Hitler who also got what he deserved at the hand of the U S of A. Patton was right--we should have invaded Russia and kicked their Commie butts into the Ural Sea long as we were over there anyway. Fools we were, letting them alone. Everyone knows that every crumb-bum Commie mommy teaches her pink-whimpering whelp how to fool GI Joe. Bastards want to conquer our country and drink our wholesome milk and rape our babies and steal our precious bodily fluids. Well, Hammer don't play that game. Hammer don't let that happen. Come to think of it, I don't need Precious to beat up a rat bastard Commie pinko Mafia yellow-loving red son of a Soviet sailor with an un-American name like Reacher, rhymes with Creature, ha-ha, good one, send it to Reader's Digest, Hammer. No, these good old American knuckles, each of which pasted more than one a Commie back in the day, will do the trick. I toss the heater somewhere where he can't reach it. Gotta keep it out of his grasp. Pinko stinkos like Reacher don't fight fair. He'd grab the gun and ventilate me.

I watch Hammer throw the gun. It goes under a radiator. Good. Gonna settle this man to man. Wonder if I need help, though--he's pretty good. Wonder if Spenser's in town? No; off saving Susan Silverman. What a pain in the ass broad she--well, never mind. Man loves a woman, man loves a woman. Hawk? He's on vacation. Emily Thompson's in a whipped cream wrestling match with Marty Benedetti. Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos are over in the sandbox. So's Luke Skywalker. It's just me. It'll have to be enough.

"Ready, Comrade Reacher?" I hiss, folding my dukes into gunboats.

"Come and get it, Hammer," I reply. Even. Low. Steady. Turning sideways to draw him in close.

Hammer rushes in swinging. Reacher rears his head back, raises his size 14 foot.

Suddenly, a shot rings out. Hammer and Reacher turn.

It's the Aflac Duck, and he's pissed ...


--Jack Reacher is, of course, the iconic protagonist of modern thriller master Lee Child. Reacher is a tough, rock-solid former Army MP who travels around the country by himself and fixes trouble where he finds it, no matter what the personal cost. Mickey Spillane, who died recently, was a prolific crime writer of the 1940s and 1950s, whose equally iconic hero, private eye Mike Hammer, fought Commies, Nazis, Mafia gangsters, and other ills of post-World War II America, with the help of his sultry secretary, Velma, whom he loved. His most famous work is I, THE JURY, and he's played on the silver screen by Stacy Keach, among others. Spillane's work practically defines pulp writing; Child's is a master's course in wringing maximum impact from each and every word you write. Each gets the very most from their tough guys.

--One of the true joys of authordom is meeting readers. I had the pleasure earlier this week, when I had lunch with a group of high school kids who read my debut, BLOWN AWAY, as part of the summer reading program at the Yorkville (IL) Public Library, a half-hour from my home in the Chicago suburb of Naperville. The librarian e-mailed me a few months ago, said the kids had read the book, and would like to meet me to talk about it. Naturally, I said yes--who wouldn't? Long story short, it was great. More about this when the librarian sends me the group photo.

--The promised vacation photo from our trip to the Wisconsin Dells will have to wait, as this post is running MUCH too long already. But I'll Shane-O-Gram it soon, I promise.

--Finally, thanks to those fine folks who nominated the Seven for several blogging awards. It's an honor to be recognized by readers and authors, and I thank you profusely.


♥Jen♥ said...

Holy Cow what a treat this post is, Shane. It's a free short story. This was the best way to start my holiday if I just didn't have to work today...;)

R.J. Mangahas said...

I have to agree with you here, Shane. Neither Reacher or Hammer is a match for a pissed off Aflac Duck.

Both Reacher and Hammer turn toward me, each with a look of fire in his eye. I know this doesn't look good. I've seen these men at each other and neither is willing to go down I easy. But it's now or never.


Kaye Barley said...

What a fun post!!! And as Jen says - a real treat! Thanks, Shane. The pissed off AFLAC duck made me spit.

Happy Holiday Weekend!

Shane Gericke said...

RJ, great postscript to the story. I was trying to figure out how to add an "Aflac!!" sound file, but couldn't.

Shane Gericke said...

Thanks, Kaye! Great to see you here today. It's funny ... the duck didn't enter my mind till the very last moment, just as I was finishing the story. Then it quacked me up :-)Happy Labor Day. Hope you and Donald and Harley have something fun planned!

Shane Gericke said...

Ah, Jen, you're a delight to say so. I was going to list my favorite cage matches, then figured the rest of the Seven did so well with that. So I thought I'd write a short thriller in their respective styles. Because each writer is so distinctive in his approach, it made my work easy. That, and too much coffee :-)

Happy holiday to one and all.

CJ Lyons said...

Hey Shane! Good one!!! Especially love the duck!