38 MIKE HAMMER
Kiss Me Deadly, 1955, USA, Director Robert Aldrich
Do I mind you smoking? You’re kidding me. Of course I’ll have a cigarette with you. Believe me, in my time I’ve had a lot more to worry about than Mike Hammer. Me, I would describe the man as direct. Mike didn’t make concessions to no one. First, he wanted to know what was in it for him, and, second, he was rude to anyone that tried to mess him around. There are plenty of people who just don’t get the idea or have their own messages. When that happened Mike could be handy with his fists, and I’d be lying if I said throwing his weight about didn’t appeal to him. Mike and me were different but we liked one another. He was a good man to have on your side even if we clashed about what was the right thing to do.
Mike Hammer had this idea he could take the law into his own hands. I told him the police department couldn’t and didn’t tolerate that kind of thing and we wouldn’t, even if he could scrape the dollars for a Batman cape. Mike hadn’t even heard of Batman. He was offended by me mentioning comic books. More than once Velda claimed his taste was more sophisticated than his manner although I never saw Mike Hammer read a book. He liked good music, though. I remember that. He had this reel to reel tape recorder on the wall but that wasn’t for music. He used it for telephone messages, the first time I’d ever seen anything like that.
‘Pat,’ he used to say, ‘how the hell did you get to Lieutenant?’ I said the same thing to him every time. ‘I do my job and listen to what I’m told.’ It made no difference. Mike always wondered if I might be sucking up to the guys that ran the department. Most of the time, though, Mike Hammer gave me the benefit of the doubt. And when he took the law into his own hands I bawled him out but I always covered for the brute or I did as much as I could. He took more knocks than he should have but that was because of the way he operated. Mike was no Sherlock Holmes. He liked to push people around and get his information that way. And he did it because he could which meant he often pushed around people that already had enough problems. Sometimes, though, he looked out for them. He had a soft spot for this Greek mechanic that fixed the cars, not that it did the Greek guy any good. Mike liked to drive fast convertibles but he had no idea what was under the hood. My boss said something about how Mike Hammer was too interested in machines that had power he did not understand. If only Mike had stayed away from fast cars and that cursed box that blew up all of Malibu beach.
Mike Hammer may have been small-time but he won most of his battles. Of course like everyone else in his line he had to do his share of divorce work. The guys in the Crime Commission gave Mike a hard time over how he earned his living but a guy has to eat. And the same went for Velda. She led the husbands on because Mike asked her to and because the two timers were there to be led. Did she sleep with the guys to get the grounds the wives needed for divorce? I don’t think Mike would have let Velda do that. He had a thing about the lady even if most of the time he kept her at a distance. Mike Hammer didn’t like to mix business with pleasure although after he had been put into hospital for three days he did weaken and let Velda get close. Looking back, in view of what happened, I’m glad he did. Mike and Velda were entitled to a little comfort before they died. I wonder if Velda would have led the husbands so far if Mike had paid her more attention.
Of all the guys to get cancer I thought Mike would have been the last in the queue. Losing out to cancer was not in the script for two fisted Mike Hammer. Do I think it had something to do with the explosion on Malibu beach? You’re kidding me. First, both Mike and Velda died of high grade leukaemia, second, the whole of Malibu beach and a lot more besides was turned to cinder. How the fire department even got Mike and Velda out of the ocean is beyond me. It must have been all hands to the pump or in this case pumps.
I know the rumours, how Mike Hammer and Velda are supposed to be up there in New York doing their best to clean up the city and avenge the victims they find. Let’s try to talk sensibly. First, I like the stories as much as anyone. Second, Mike is as old as me and I’ve been retired for a decade. Even if he was alive he wouldn’t be walking the streets and fighting criminals, more likely making coffee for Velda. Third, Mike and Velda went to New York for hospital treatment. That was the only reason. The doctors back East said the same as out here, high grade leukaemia. Fourth, not only has no one been allowed on Malibu beach since it happened, the highway past Malibu is still blocked off. What was in that box may not have quite blown up the world but we are talking about serious radiation. There is more chance of JFK being alive than Mike Hammer.
Mike and me would have the odd beer together. I was a cop that went by the rules. Mike had his own code. A beer helped us forget our arguments. There was this jazz joint in Bunker Hill he liked, and, you know something, the folk in that place liked him. The club had this lady singer. She sang this tune that Mike liked, something about rather having the blues than what you’ve got. There was plenty of work in Los Angeles in the fifties and plenty of clubs and bars. People had money to spend but they had plenty to worry about as well. There were unwashed beatniks, and kids were going to hell. We had all this stuff with the Russians and nuclear bombs. On the TV we had to watch programmes about how to build bunkers for the nuclear fallout. And for those who didn’t want to think about such things one of our neighbourhoods was called Bunker Hill except all the mansions up there were being used as flop houses.
California has plenty of beaches and plenty of sunshine but we had enough sad cases renting rooms out in Bunker Hill for cops like me to wonder about our supposed good times. I’ve worked in the LAPD all my life, and that’s the difference between Mike and me but what we had in common was what we saw. And that was the crooks for whom good times would never be enough and the losers living lives as lonely as the dollars in their pockets. See that everyday and you wonder if the old blues might just be better than what you’ve got.
I wonder if all that had something to do with why Mike couldn’t let go of the business with Christina Bailey. In the beginning Mike thought there was money in it for him but when I told him that the government was involved he still continued poking his nose around which surprised me. The whole business was weird. Mike takes a phone call from a science fiction journalist that has disappeared, and I’m told to bring Mike into line because there is a missing box that is a serious leftover from the Manhattan Project. But women make a difference to everything. Picking up a woman wearing nothing but a trench coat is something you don’t forget, especially when it happens in the middle of the highway late at night. Mike couldn’t abide anyone that killed a woman, especially if the man got away with it. Hearing Christina Bailey tortured the way he did would have affected Mike. And he was frantic when Velda disappeared.
It’s true. He did hand over to me the key to the locker where he found the box. Mike was like me. First, we are Americans, and second, we don’t like commies. The Russians have a nuclear bomb, so there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have ten is the way I see it. Let’s keep the world safe. Mike wouldn’t have crossed the government and his country. The bad news for Mike was that the bad guys got to the box before we could. Who were the bad guys and how did they get hold of the box in the first place? Plenty of important people have been curious. We’ll never know. The head guy was rumoured to have been a doctor. A guy in a bar said something odd to me the other day. Imagine, he said, one of these days we’ll blow up the planet in a nuclear war. No one will be left, and no one will know who is to blame because everyone will be dead. I’ve thought a lot about what he said. We couldn’t point a finger at who caused what happened at Malibu, so a whole apocalypse would leave no trace. It doesn’t seem right that afterwards no one will be able to say who caused the end of the world. I just hope that I’m not around.
Howard Jackson has had ten books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism. His latest book Go Break Bad is now available here.