The Maltese Falcon
An excerpt from the classic
by Dashiell Hammett
......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:
......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."
......"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,
......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 conical--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 re-mains 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
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 pleas-antly,
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."
"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,"
"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
"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, hope-lessly. "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.
She broke off with a startled hand to her mouth as the door
The man who had opened the door came in a step, said, "Oh,
excuse me!" hastily took his brown hat from his head, and
"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
Spade winked at his partner.
Miles Archer came forward to stand at a corner of the desk.
While the girl looked at her bag he looked at her. His little
brown eyes ran their bold appraising gaze from her lowered face
to her feet and up to her face again. Then he looked at Spade
and made a silent whistling mouth of appreciation.
Spade lifted two fingers from the arm of his chair in a brief
warning gesture and said:
"We shouldn't have any trouble with it. It's simply a
matter of having a man at the hotel this evening to shadow him
away when he leaves, and shadow him until he leads us to your
sister. If she comes with him, and you persuade her to return
with you, so much the better. Otherwise--if she doesn't want
to leave him after we've found her--well, we'll find a way of
Archer said: "Yeh." His voice was heavy, coarse.
Miss Wonderly looked up at Spade, quickly, puckering her forehead
between her eyebrows.
"Oh, but you must be careful!" Her voice shook a
little, and her lips shaped the words with nervous jerkiness.
"I'm deathly afraid of him, of what he might do. She's so
young and his bringing her here from New York is such a serious--
Mightn't he--mightn't he do--something to her?"
Spade smiled and patted the arms of his chair.
"Just leave that to us," he said. "We'll know
how to handle him.
"But mightn't he?" she insisted.
"There's always a chance." Spade nodded judicially.
"But you can trust us to take care of that."
"I do trust you," she said earnestly, "but
I want you to know that he's a dangerous man. I honestly don't
think he'd stop at any-thing. I don't believe he'd hesitate to--to
kill Corinne if he thought it would save him. Mightn't he do
"You didn't threaten him, did you?"
"I told him that all I wanted was to get her home before
Mama and Papa came so they'd never know what she had done. I
promised him I'd never say a word to them about it if he helped
me, but if he didn't Papa would certainly see that he was punished.
I--I don't suppose he believed me, altogether."
"Can he cover up by marrying her?" Archer asked.
The girl blushed and replied in a confused voice: "He
has a wife and three children in England. Corinne wrote me that,
to explain why she had gone off with him."
"They usually do," Spade said, "though not
always in En-gland." He leaned forward to reach for pencil
and pad of paper. "What does he look like?"
"Oh, he's thirty-five years old, perhaps, and as tall
as you, and either naturally dark or quite sunburned. His hair
is dark too, and he has thick eyebrows. He talks in a rather
loud, blustery way and has a nervous, irritable manner. He gives
the impression of being--of violence."
Spade, scribbling on the pad, asked without looking up: "What
"They're blue-grey and watery, though not in a weak way.
And--oh, yes--he has a marked cleft in his chin."
"Thin, medium, or heavy build?"
"Quite athletic. He's broad-shouldered and carries himself
erect, has what could be called a decidedly military carriage.
He was wearing a light grey suit and a grey hat when I saw him
"What does he do for a living?" Spade asked as he
laid down his pencil.
"I don't know," she said. "I haven't the slightest
"What time is he coming to see you?"
"After eight o'clock."
"All right, Miss Wonderly, we'll have a man there. It'll
"Mr. Spade, could either you or Mr. Archer?" She
made an appealing gesture with both hands. "Could either
of you look after it personally? I don't mean that the man you'd
send wouldn't be capable, but--oh!--I'm so afraid of what might
happen to Corinne. I'm afraid of him. Could you? I'd be--I'd
expect to be charged more, of course." She opened her handbag
with nervous fingers and put two hundred-dollar bills on Spade's
desk. "Would that be enough?"
"Yeh," Archer said, "and I'll look after it
Miss Wonderly stood up, impulsively holding a hand out to
"Thank you! Thank you!" she exclaimed, and then
gave Spade her hand, repeating: "Thank you!"
"Not at all," Spade said over it. "Glad to.
It'll help some if you either meet Thursby downstairs or let
yourself be seen in the lobby with him at some time."
"I will," she promised, and thanked the partners
"And don't look for me," Archer cautioned her. "I'll
see you all right."
Spade went to the corridor-door with Miss Wonderly. When he
returned to his desk Archer nodded at the hundred-dollar bills
there, growled complacently, "They're right enough,"
picked one up, folded it, and tucked it into a vest-pocket. "And
they had brothers in her bag."
Spade pocketed the other bill before he sat down. Then he
said: "Well, don't dynamite her too much. What do you think
"Sweet! And you telling me not to dynamite her."
Archer guffawed suddenly without merriment. "Maybe you saw
her first, Sam, but I spoke first." He put his hands in
his trousers-pockets and teetered on his heels.
"You'll play hell with her, you will." Spade grinned
wolfishly, showing the edges of teeth far back in his jaw. "You've
got brains, yes you have." He began to make a cigarette.
Excerpted from The Maltese Falcon
by Dashiell Hammett . Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division
of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt
may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing
from the publisher.
What more can we say about Dashiell
Hammett, the ex-Pinkerton op who gave the world Sam
Spade and The Continental Op, not to mention The
Glass Key, Nick and Nora Charles, Brad Runyon
and even Secret Agent X-9, that has't already been said?
Arguably the greatest private eye writer of all (that pesky
Chandler refuses to lie down), we present this excerpt from The
Maltese Falcon, which introduced Sam
Spade, to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the book's
publication on February 14, 1930 (the book was originally serialized
in Black Mask the previous year).
Like what you've read? Head here
for more Thrilling Detective Fiction!
Please direct further comments and inquiries about submissions to the fiction editor, or check out this page.
...... ."And I'll tell you right out that I'm a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk."