I grew up reading Mickey Spillane novels and, years later, was lucky enough to get to know the man behind Mike Hammer. Mickey and I did a number of projects together -- co-editing anthologies, creating the comic book Mike Danger, plus my documentary, "Mike Hammer's Mickey Spillane" (1999 -- available on the Criterion DVD/Blu-ray of the great film noir, Kiss Me Deadly).
About a week before his passing, Mickey called to ask a favor. He was very ill and knew it. He was working on what would be the last Mike Hammer novel, chronologically -- The Goliath Bone, Mike taking on terrorists in post-9/11 Manhattan.
Mickey had been working hard on Goliath Bone but was afraid he wouldn't have time to finish it. If need be, would I step in? Then a few days later, he asked his wife Jane to turn over any unfinished material from his several offices to me, saying, "Max will know what to do."
All told there were half a dozen substantial Hammer manuscripts among a wealth of unpublished, unfinished material. I began with Goliath Bone, and followed with a mid-'60s novel, The Big Bang, and a '70s one, Kiss Her Goodbye.
But the most exciting discovery was the earliest of the manuscripts, brittle, yellowed pages that I had initially set aside, thinking it was a draft of the published novel, The Twisted Thing (1966).
Reading the manuscript it became clear that -- apart from having some character names and the setting in common with Twisted Thing - this was a wholly different story. This was the second Mike Hammer novel, the sequel to the famous I, the Jury. The manuscript of Lady, Go Die! dated to about 1945, in fact two years before I, the Jury was published itself.
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Book description: 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.
Mickey Spillane's lost 1940s Mike Hammer novel was written between I, the Jury and My Gun Is Quick and is 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.
Lady, Go Die! -- Excerpt
They were kicking the hell out of the little guy.
Halfway down the alley between two wooden storefront buildings, shadows in the moonlight did an evil dance, three goons circling around a whimpering pile of bones down on the gravel. The big guys seemed to be trying for field goals, their squirming prey pulled in on himself like a barefoot fetus in a ragged t-shirt and frayed dungarees. Blood soaked through the white cotton like irregular polka dots, and moans accelerated into ragged screams whenever a hard-toed shoe put one between the goal posts.
"Mike," Velda whispered, grasping my arm.
Two of the baggy-suit bastards had hats jammed on their skulls, the other one, the biggest, was bare-headed with a butch cut so close to the scalp he might have been bald.
I said a nasty word, took a last drag on the cig and sent it spinning into the deserted street. I slipped out of my sportcoat and handed it to my raven-haired companion, who was frowning at me, though those big beautiful brown eyes stayed wide. I held up a hand to her like a crossing guard, and she just nodded.
"Where is the dame?" the bare-headed brute demanded. "We played games long enough, Poochie! You must've seen something!"
Like the man said, it was none of my business. I was on a weekend getaway with my lovely secretary, trying to ease the pressure of big city life. Just before ten p.m. we'd arrived in Sidon, eighty miles out on Long Island, a little recreational hamlet in Suffolk County. We left my heap in the hotel lot and were having a nice cool evening stroll along the boardwalk, checking out the two-block business section of a little burg that had already gone to bed.
"You wanna die tonight, Poochie?" the big guy was saying. He had three inches on my six feet, and forty pounds on my one-ninety, and there was fat on him, but muscle, too.
And the hell of it was, I knew the son of a bitch.
"You can die right here, Poochie! We'll drop your sorry butt in a hole in the woods somewhere, no one the wiser."
I let the moonlight frame me in the mouth of the alley as I said, "You haven't changed much, Dekkert. Little fatter."
His bully boy associates froze; one in mid-kick almost lost his balance. That was worth a grin.
"Who is that?" Dekkert asked, turning toward me with that stubbly bullet head like a badly superimposed photo over his bulky body. He'd been handsome once, a real lady killer, before his nose became a nebulous thing that had been broken past resemblance to any standard breathing apparatus.
Once by me.
"I heard you were back in the cop business," I said. "I just didn't know Sidon was the lucky winner. You won the sweepstakes yourself when Pat Chambers didn't get your fat ass tossed in the pokey, for all the graft you took."
I was within a few feet of them now -- him and his two cronies, a skinny one whose kicks couldn't have hurt much and a broad-shouldered one with the stupid features of a high school star athlete too dumb too land a college scholarship.
Dekkert moved away from his victim, who was curled up crying. He faced me, close enough that I could smell the onions. "What are you doing in Sidon, Hammer?"
"Just a little getaway."
"Come back in a couple of weeks, after the season starts. Show you a good time."
"Like you're showing that poor little bastard?"
He thumped my chest with a thick finger.
"This is police business, Hammer. Official interrogation in a missing persons case. Why don't you roll on down the road? Wilcox is a more year-round kind of place than Sidon."
He gave me a gentle shove.
"So long, Hammer."
I laughed. "Police business, huh? Usually interrogations take place at police headquarters. Or is this alley the new Sidon HQ?"
This shove wasn't so gentle.
"So long, Hammer."
The right I sent into his pan would have broken that nose if there had been enough cartilage left to matter. But the blow still managed to send ribbons of scarlet streaming from his nostrils and down his surprised expression. My left doubled him over, and then my right and left clasped in prayer to smash him on the back of his fat neck, sending him onto the alley floor in a sprawling belly flop.
I was on his back, rubbing his face in the gravel, when his two clowns tried to haul me up and off. An elbow in the athlete's balls took the fight right out of him, and a sideways kick into the skinny one sent him careening to hit the alley wall like I tossed a load of kindling there. Skinny boy slid down and sat and thought about his lot in life.
I chuckled to myself, wiping my hands off on the back of Dekkert's suitcoat. The little beaten-up figure down the alley was silent, like a child in its crib sleeping sound. The alley dead-ended in a wooden fence, so he wasn't going anywhere.
Still on his belly, Dekkert was the one doing the whimpering and moaning now, and so were his boys. I took the guns off all three of them, since my rod was in my suitcase, and rained slugs onto the gravel out of three Police Special revolvers before I tossed each of them with one-two-three clunks on the gravel, their cylinders hanging out, near their fallen owners.
The skinny one found his voice. "We're... we're cops..."
"Nah. You jokers aren't cops. You're hick rake-off artists."
The guy I'd kicked in the nuts was sitting up, hunkered, hands in his lap like he was taking inventory. He spoke with the quaver of a spanked kid.
"You...you better leave town right now, Mister."
"Go to hell. I know my legal rights. Three shifty-looking characters were beating up some helpless joe, and I put a stop to it."
Dekkert had rolled over, but otherwise was not making a move. Bits of gravel were imbedded in his face and his forehead was scratched like a cat got at it. His nose had stopped bleeding but the lower half of his puss was a smear of red mingled with the yellow of puke on his lips.
Just like the last time he screwed with me.
"If you want me," I said, tossing them a friendly wave, "I'll be at the Sidon Arms."
I went over to the small, battered prone figure they had called Poochie. I helped him to his feet, gently, and he whimpered some more, but his round-ish face -- a child's not quite formed face -- looked up at me, eyes bright with both tears and relief, and made a smile out of puffy, blood-caked lips.
"Thanks, mister. Who... who are you?"
"Why, I'm the Lone Ranger, kid. And wait till you get a load of Tonto."
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 himself, Collins' films include the documentary "Mike Hammer's Mickey Spillane."