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Dashiell Hammett

The Maltese Falcon

I.Spade & Archer

Samuel Spade's jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting v under the more flexible v of his mouth. His nostrils curved back to make another, smaller, v. His yellow-grey eyes were horizontal. The V motif was picked up again by thickish brows rising outward from twin creases above a hooked nose, and his pale brown hair grew down—from high flat temples—in a point on his forehead. He looked rather pleasantly like a blond Satan. He said to Effie Perine: 'Yes, sweetheart?'

She was a lanky sunburned girl whose tan dress of thin woolen stuff clung to her with an effect of dampness. Her eyes were brown and playful in a shiny boyish face. She finished shutting the door behind her, leaned against it, and said: 'There's a girl wants to see you. Her name's Wonderly.'

'A customer?'

'I guess so. You'll want to see her anyway: she's a knockout.'

'Shoo her in, darling,' said Spade. 'Shoo her in.'

Effie Perine opened the door again, following it back into the outer office, standing with a hand on the knob while saying: 'Will you come in, Miss Wonderly?'

A voice said, 'Thank you,' so softly that only the purest articulation made the words intelligible, and a young woman came through the doorway. She advanced slowly, with tentative steps, looking at Spade with cobalt- blue eyes that were both shy and probing. She was tall and pliantly slender, without angularity anywhere. Her body was erect and high-breasted, her legs long, her hands and feet narrow. She wore two shades of blue that had been selected because of her eyes. The hair curling from under her blue hat was darkly red, her full lips more brightly red. White teeth glistened in the crescent her timid smile made.

Spade rose bowing and indicating with a thick-fingered hand the oaken armchair beside his desk. He was quite six feet tall. The steep rounded slope of his shoulders made his body seem almost comical—no broader than it was thick—and kept his freshly pressed grey coat from fitting very well.

Miss Wonderly murmured, 'Thank you,' softly as before and sat down on the edge of the chair's wooden seat.

Spade sank into his swivel-chair, made a quarter-turn to face her, smiled politely. He smiled without separating his lips. All the v's in his face grew longer. The tappity-tap-tap and the thin bell and muffled whir of Effie Perine's typewriting came through the closed door. Somewhere in a neighboring office a power-driven machine vibrated dully. On Spade's desk a limp cigarette smoldered in a brass tray filled with the remains of limp cigarettes. Ragged grey flakes of cigarette-ash dotted the yellow top of the desk and the green blotter and the papers that were there. A buff-curtained window, eight or ten inches open, let in from the court a current of air faintly scented with ammonia. The ashes on the desk twitched and crawled in the current.

Miss Wonderly watched the grey flakes twitch and crawl. Her eyes were uneasy. She sat on the very edge of the chair. Her feet were flat on the floor, as if she were about to rise. Her hands in dark gloves clasped a flat dark handbag in her lap. Spade rocked back in his chair and asked: 'Now what can I do for you, Miss Wonderly?'

She caught her breath and looked at him. She swallowed and said hurriedly: 'Could you—? I thought—I— that is—' Then she tortured her lower lip with glistening teeth and said nothing. Only her dark eyes spoke now, pleading.

Spade smiled and nodded as if he understood her, but pleasantly, as if nothing serious were involved. He said: 'Suppose you tell me about it, from the beginning, and then we'll know what needs doing. Better begin as far back as you can.'

'That was in New York.'

'Yes.'

'I don't know where she met him. I mean I don't know where in New York. She's five years younger than I—only seventeen—and we didn't have the same friends. I don't suppose we've ever been as close as sisters should be. Mama and Papa are in Europe. It would kill them. I've got to get her back before they come home.'

'Yes,' he said.

'They're coming home the first of the month.'

Spade's eyes brightened. 'Then we've two weeks,' he said.

'I didn't know what she had done until her letter came. I was frantic.' Her lips trembled. Her hands mashed the dark handbag in her lap. 'I was too afraid she had done something like this to go to the police, and the fear that something had happened to her kept urging me to go. There wasn't anyone I could go to for advice. I didn't know what to do. What could I do?'

'Nothing, of course,' Spade said, 'but then her letter came?'

'Yes, and I sent her a telegram asking her to come home. I sent it to General Delivery here. That was the only address she gave me. I waited a whole week, but no answer came, not another word from her. And Mama and Papa's return was drawing nearer and nearer. So I came to San Francisco to get her. I wrote her I was coming. I shouldn't have done that, should I?'

'Maybe not. It's not always easy to know what to do. You haven't found her?'

'No, I haven't. I wrote her that I would go to the St. Mark, and I begged her to come and let me talk to her even if she didn't intend to go home with me. But she didn't come. I waited three days, and she didn't come, didn't even send me a message of any sort.' Spade nodded his blond satan's head, frowned sympathetically, and tightened his lips together.

'It was horrible,' Miss Wonderly said, trying to smile. 'I couldn't sit there like that—waiting—not knowing what had happened to her, what might be happening to her.' She stopped trying to smile. She shuddered. 'The only address I had was General Delivery. I wrote her another letter, and yesterday afternoon I went to the Post Office. I stayed there until after dark, but I didn't see her. I went there again this morning, and still didn't see Corinne, but I saw Floyd Thursby.'

Spade nodded again. His frown went away. In its place came a look of sharp attentiveness. 'He wouldn't tell me where Corinne was,' she went on, hopelessly. 'He wouldn't tell me anything, except that she was well and happy. But how can I believe that? That is what he would tell me anyhow, isn't it?'

'Sure,' Spade agreed. 'But it might be true.'

'I hope it is. I do hope it is,' she exclaimed. 'But I can't go back home like this, without having seen her, without even having talked to her on the phone. He wouldn't take me to her. He said she didn't want to see me. I can't believe that. He promised to tell her he had seen me, and to bring her to see me—if she would come—this evening at the hotel. He said he knew she wouldn't. He promised to come himself if she wouldn't. He—'

She broke off with a startled hand to her mouth as the door opened.

The man who had opened the door came in a step, said, 'Oh, excuse me!' hastily took his brown hat from his head, and backed out.

'It's all right, Miles,' Spade told him. 'Come in. Miss Wonderly, this is Mr. Archer, my partner.'

Miles Archer came into the office again, shutting the door behind him, ducking his head and smiling at Miss Wonderly, making a vaguely polite gesture with the hat in his hand. He was of medium height, solidly built, wide in the shoulders, thick in the neck, with a jovial heavy-jawed red face and some grey in his close-trimmed hair. He was apparently as many years past forty as Spade was past thirty.

Spade said: 'Miss Wonderly's sister ran away from New York with a fellow named Floyd Thursby. They're here. Miss Wonderly has seen Thursby and has a date with him tonight. Maybe he'll bring the sister with him. The chances are he won't. Miss Wonderly wants us to find the sister and get her away from him and back home.' He looked at Miss Wonderly. 'Right?'

'Yes,' she said indistinctly. The embarrassment that had gradually been driven away by Spade's ingratiating smiles and nods and assurances was pinkening her face again. She looked at the bag in her lap and picked nervously at it with a gloved finger.

Spade winked at his partner. Miles Archer came forward to stand at a corner of the desk. While the girl

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