The older of the pair of armed M.P.s flanking me opened the door and stood there, waiting. Did they think I was going to try some- thing, here in the heart of the Pentagon? Or was that the bowels?
I grinned at them, as if to say, Not a chance, fellas. Not without my .45, anyway.
Behind me, the general and his aide muttered something back and forth and then I felt the palm of a hand against my back — the general's hand, which made it an order, not a shove.
He said in that peculiar imperial growl exclusive to the top brass, "Okay, Hammer, let's go."
The older M.P. — a Negro with a scarred face and a triple row of ribbons — grinned back at me with his eyes speaking a silent language I'd rarely heard since the war. Not this Cold War, either, but that hot one I'd fought in, in the Pacific.
The other M.P. wore a professional scowl of indignant disapproval that represented a lapse in military discipline. But he was pretty young and had never seen combat and what he'd picked up about this situation might have thrown him off his game.
I shrugged away the hand at my back and stepped inside.
Originally, this smooth-walled, unadorned chamber had been designed for conferences, but from the expressions on the faces lining the huge oak table, this meeting was going to be an inquisition. And I was the guest of honor. The only thing missing was the rack, and maybe a red hot poker or two.
Tony Wale, Head of Special Sections, stood up, and with a barely perceptible nod indicated the chair at the far end of the table, the Prodigal Son's slot. Wale — tall, pale, dark-haired, looking like a top business exec in his Brooks Brothers number — didn't like what he had to do at all. Twice we had worked together and I had gotten his tail out of a hot spot, so he probably didn't relish returning a favor this way.
Eighteen pairs of hostile eyes watched me take the long walk down the aisle. I was a remarkably well-preserved specimen of a creature that should have been extinct a long time ago, but by some queer twist of nature had been instilled with instincts too potent to be erased, managing to survive into their pretty little world of appeasement and concession.
Somehow I knew that the older M.P., guarding the door behind me, was either still grinning or working hard not to, so I didn't feel too damn bad. Somebody was on my side.
I passed the four United States senators, the State Department contingent, and the high-level military advisors who didn't need uniforms or insignia to display their rank. They watched me with the cold, unblinking stares of nervous predators facing an unknown if natural enemy they knew inhabited their domain but which they had never encountered before.
One other pair of eyes watched, not hostile but betraying nothing, belonging to a small, quiet, plain-looking individual in a gray suit and rimless bifocals.
I took the seat Tony Wale had indicated and sat down carefully, still sore from the previous twelve hours wedged in behind the crates loaded on the C-121. In one unintentionally comic motion, my audience all swung around in their seats to face me, ready to hang on every word, minds already dancing with accusations at the same time they were formulating their own finely worded excuses.
It was too bad my buddy Ralph Marley wasn't here to watch the show.
But Marley was dead.
And that left only me to play Scrooge ...
Then the general pulled his seat out and, before he sat down, said, "Gentlemen, shall I summarize?"
It wasn't really necessary, but they all nodded anyway. Another group action. You could find the same shared expression of blank willingness at a Nazi rally or in a lynch mob or any gathering of frightened people who had lost something human somewhere and didn't know how to get it back.
All but that one little man in gray, however. Him you couldn't read.
And yet I could.
As he usually did, Senator Willy Asnet — big and beefy and draped in self-importance — took the initiative, a comma of white hair hanging on his forehead, part of that phony folksy persona of his.
"If you please, General," he said in his practiced Southern drawl. "We would indeed appreciate a briefing."
The general, who when outranked could take an order as well as any enlisted man, sat down, took a pen from his inside pocket and began to doodle on the pad in front of him. For some reason, the aimless motion of his hand seemed to mesmerize those nearest him and they watched his intricate patterns form while his words made their own patterns in precise phrases, couched in his commanding officer's growl.
"For those of you who are unfamiliar with Mr. Hammer's background," he stated, "I would like to supply the pertinent details."
His doodling stopped momentarily and he turned to a new page and lined the edge of the paper with numbers from one to ten.
Hell, I figured I was made up of more details than that.
"Name, Michael Hammer. Profession, private investigator licensed to operate in New York State, date of issuance of certificate, November, 1945. Military record exemplary, six citations, Bronze Star recipient, discharged honorably with five years voluntary active reserve duty. No prior criminal record, although numerous arrests for assault, manslaughter, and homicide. No convictions, however, due in every case to assertions, and sometimes pleas, of self-defense. Despite a reputation for vigilante 'justice,' his cooperation with civilian and military police and intelligence agencies is noted in his file."
What the general did not mention, because of its extreme classification, was that I remained attached to one of those intelligence agencies. An agency that served to deal with those matters that the F.B.I. could not handle because of its limitations as a domestic entity and that the C.I.A. could not take on because of its strict international mandate.
An agency that did not officially exist.
Excerpted from COMPLEX 90, by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins, published by Titan Books. Copyright 2013 Mickey Spillane Publishing LLC.