Readers just can't get enough of being Jack Hammered. "Give me more!" they say. "Gimme more of the stuff or I'll murder myself, I swear!" Or, "Tell me how it ends, and don't pull any punches. Start talkin', before I start breakin' things." Even dames like it: "Give me more of that sweet, sweaty detective stuff," they say. "Slap me in the face with it until the slaps feel like wet, tender kisses."
So, without further delay, the thrill-pounding conclusion to "My Gun is Warm."
I decided it was time to pay a visit to Mike's widow. She'd probably be grieving right now. I got in the car-I do that sometimes, and drove over to Long Island. The car made some noises along the way, some pings and rattles, and I thought I caught a stray gurgle in there. But basically she was in sound shape, and still is. The drive took me through fields of green, through apple orchards bursting with red, and orange groves bursting with some other color. It was nice, I guess. A drive like that is okay once in a while. It clears your head, in a different sort of way than vodka does. I guess it's what they call soothing. I also saw a whole fleet of cop cars coming from her street. No doubt they'd been out to question Florentine. That was her name, the widow. A fancy name for a fancy lady. The whole front lawn was swarming with peacocks. It wasn't a small lawn either.
She was standing in the yard. She wore a white dress that really showed off her curves and everything else. I mean they didn't just accentuate her lady parts, they practically thrust them in your face and knocked both your eyes out. But in a tasteful way. There was a servant standing beside her, eyeing me watchfully. I think he was Samoan.
"Afternoon," I said, with a tip of my hat. "It's a nice day to be in mourning, isn't it?"
The Samoan turned to her hastily. "You want me to take care of him and throw him in the swamp like I did the others?"
"No, Sam, it'll be quite all right. Run along now and trim the peonies."
I took it all in. "This really is some place. I never thought the tough brawler I knew in the service would have ever bought a swanky place like this."
"It really is."
"He was some guy. I mean, back in the barracks we all knew he was sharp. But who ever dreamed he'd come to this? From the toughest guy in Company L to the Poodle King of Great Neck. It just shows ya the endless possibilities of the human mind."
"It's true. He had his fingers in every pet shop and grooming facility from here to Avenue M. The business brings in outrageous sums of money every day. I've had several buyout offers, and they're all obscene, I tell you. I suppose I'll take one of them. The swimming pool's gigantic, but, frankly, I'd prefer a home in Bermuda."
"Me, I have simple tastes. You yearn for a shack in Bermuda, all I wish for is a halfway decent T-Bone steak, raw as I can get it. I'd like eggs on the side, but I won't get pushy about it, even if they're runny. I suppose you think I'm a sucker for that, huh? From your gilded cage, I probably look like a real yo-yo."
"Not at all. I think it's quite charming to have simple tastes. In a condescending sort of way, but nonetheless."
"You know, I remember when I met Mike. He dumped a pot of noodles on my head and I knocked out three of his teeth. After that, he was okay. How did you get to know him?'
"We met in the service. I was a WAC and he was whacked. Or so people used to say. Oh, how we used to laugh at that. It's funny how things change. One minute it's all flowers and poetry translated from Persian, in the candlelight. The next minute you're looking in the mirror, thinking, where did it all go? My charming smile that used to turn every head, my South Carolina accent that could melt frozen butter. Where did it go, my precious South Carolina maidenhood?"
"Yeah, I know the feeling."
"I know other feelings too. Like the feeling of bending a broad over backwards and taking her in every possible fashion, from a hundred different positions, for up to eight yours at a time."
"Oh, Jack, do you have to bring that up?"
"Did he ever find out about it? Mike? Did he know about us and all those wild evenings?"
"Of course not! I'd never tell him about something like that. Some things are better off knowing, especially when they can't be changed."
"Shew, thank God for that." I took off my hat and rubbed a little sweat off my forehead. "I couldn't rest easy if I thought a pal of mine went to his grave knowing about something like that. It'd be sort of a tough break for him."
"It doesn't matter now. He's all gone and so are you as far as I care."
"But doesn't it ever get to you? The guilt?"
"I assure you I rarely think about it."
"Don't tell me it doesn't get to you. I can see it in those innocent blue eyes of yours, the ones that so led me astray once. It has to! I mean, the things we did were bad enough, but in a cemetery! Jeez, what were we thinkin'?"
"I think you've said quite enough, Mr. Hammer. If it's all right with you, I have to feed my seals now."
I looked at her for a long time. "Did you happen to kill Mike?"
"And what if I did?"
"I knew it had to be you. It could only be a woman-a certain kind of woman. The kind who knows what it's like to start out with nothing and want everything. A woman who climbs up the social ladder so high she can't see the way down anymore. A woman who drinks to forget what she used to be like. First she starts out with one of those fizzy ladies' drinks. It probably comes with a little umbrella in it. It's probably some unnatural color. Blue maybe, or mango yellow. A drink so fruity it takes all your cares away. The kind that hardly has any alcohol in it at all. You'd probably half to drink ten of them to get the same amount of alcohol that's in a single shot of tequila."
"Oh, Jack, you're being so cruel!"
"But it doesn't stop there, does it? No. You move on to other drinks. Maybe a beer here and there, maybe two. Then you try gin but you realize it sucks so you move on to rum. It's not much better so you go back to vodka. You drink a martini but the only memorable part is the olive. You drink some whisky and it's not bad. Then you try tequila, and you find out it's your kind of thing. Oh, do you ever. It's tequila before breakfast, tequila for lunch, tequila in the shower, if you can open your mouth you can pour some tequila down your throat. I'll bet you even brush your teeth with the stuff."
"I'm just getting started, babe. Pretty soon you're selling yourself for money because it's the only thing that makes you feel alive. First it's the expensive dates. A businessman takes you out to an expensive restaurant and starts throwing twenty dollar bills at you. Then the dates start to dry up and you'll sell it to anyone, even accountants. Then you start giving it away, just because you don't care anymore. You pick up a sailor in a bar, and the next day you can't even remember what happened. The next night you pick up two sailors, then three. Before you know you've had more men on you than the oldest horse at Churchill Downs. It goes on and on until there's no feeling left, until you just want to experience the feeling of being young and inexperienced again. Until the only degradation left is murder."
"You don't understand! I had to kill him. I had to, that's all. I can't explain it any better than that."
"Sure, doll. You can explain it to the judge. Only in this case there won't be any judge at all. Why tie up the courts when we've got instant justice right here?" I reached in my pocket for a revolver. But all I found was a stick of chewing gum and a pencil eraser. I fumbled for a minute as I realized my mistake. "Pardon me," I said. "Wrong pocket." "It's all right," she said.
"Ah, here." I pulled out the revolver and flourished it as dramatically as I could. "Now Jack," she said. "I'm sure we can work this out."
I put a bullet in her head. She looked at me in utter shock. Then a smile of realization began to slowly form across her face. "You're a bastard," she said. "The most fantastic bastard of them all."
She slumped over dead. I had killed a beautiful woman. I felt bad about it-for a minute.