About the Author:
Dashiell Samuel Hammett was born in St. Mary’s County. He grew up in Philadelphia and Baltimore. Hammett left school at the age of fourteen and held several kinds of jobs thereafter—messenger boy, newsboy, clerk, operator, and stevedore, finally becoming an operative for Pinkerton’s Detective Agency. Sleuthing suited young Hammett, but World War I intervened, interrupting his work and injuring his health. When Sergeant Hammett was discharged from the last of several hospitals, he resumed detective work. He soon turned to writing, and in the late 1920s Hammett became the unquestioned master of detective-story fiction in America. In The Maltese Falcon (1930) he first introduced his famous private eye, Sam Spade. The Thin Man (1932) offered another immortal sleuth, Nick Charles. Red Harvest (1929), The Dain Curse (1929), and The Glass Key (1931) are among his most successful novels. During World War II, Hammett again served as sergeant in the Army, this time for more than two years, most of which he spent in the Aleutians. Hammett’s later life was marked in part by ill health, alcoholism, a period of imprisonment related to his alleged membership in the Communist Party, and by his long-time companion, the author Lillian Hellman, with whom he had a very volatile relationship. His attempt at autobiographical fiction survives in the story “Tulip,” which is contained in the posthumous collection The Big Knockover (1966, edited by Lillian Hellman). Another volume of his stories, The Continental Op (1974, edited by Stephen Marcus), introduced the final Hammett character: the “Op,” a nameless detective (or “operative”) who displays little of his personality, making him a classic tough guy in the hard-boiled mold—a bit like Hammett himself.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
THE TENTH CLEW "Mr. Leopold Gantvoort is not at home," the servant who opened the door said, "but his son, Mr. Charles, is--if you wish to see him." "No, I had an appointment with Mr. Leopold Gantvoort for nine or a little after. It's just nine now. No doubt he'll be back soon. I'll wait." "Very well, sir." He stepped aside for me to enter the house, took my overcoat and hat, guided me to a room on the second floor--Gantvoort's library--and left me. I picked up a magazine from the stack on the table, pulled an ash tray over beside me, and made myself comfortable. An hour passed. I stopped reading and began to grow impatient. Another hour passed--and I was fidgeting. A clock somewhere below had begun to strike eleven when a young man of twenty-five or -six, tall and slender, with remarkably white skin and very dark hair and eyes, came into the room. "My father hasn't returned yet," he said. "it's too bad that you should have been kept waiting all this time. Isn't there anything I could do for you? I am Charles Gantvoort." "No, thank you." I got up from my chair, accepting the courteous dismissal. "I'll get in touch with him tomorrow." "I'm sorry," he murmured, and we moved toward the door together. As we reached the hall an extension telephone in one corner of the room we were leaving buzzed softly, and I halted in the doorway while Charles Gantvoort went over to answer it. His back was toward me as he spoke into the instrument. "Yes. Yes, Yes!"--sharply--"What? Yes"--very weakly--"Yes." He turned slowly around and faced me with a face that was gray and tortured, with wide shocked eyes and gaping mouth--the telephone still in his hand. "Father," he gasped, "is dead--killed!" "Where? How?" "I don't know. That was the police. They want me to come down at once." He straightened his shoulders with an effort, pulling himself together, put down the telephone, and his face fell into less strained lines. "You will pardon my--" "Mr. Gantvoort," I interrupted his apology. "I am connected with the Continental Detective Agency. Your father called up this afternoon and asked that a detective be sent to see him tonight. He said his life had been threatened. He hadn't definitely engaged us, however, so unless you--" "Certainly! You are employed! If the police haven't already caught the murderer I want you to do everything possible to catch him." "All right! Let's get down to headquarters." Neither of us spoke during the ride to the Hall of Justice. Gantvoort bent over the wheel of his car, sending it through the streets at a terrific speed. There were several questions that needed answers, but all his attention was required for his driving if he was to maintain the pace at which he was driving without piling us into something. So I didn't disturb him, but hung on and kept quiet. Half a dozen police detectives were waiting for us when we reached the detective bureau. O'Gar--a bullet-headed detective sergeant who dresses like the village constable in a movie, wide-brimmed black hat and all, but who isn't to be put out of the reckoning on that account--was in charge of the investigation. He and I had worked on two or three jobs together before, and hit it off excellently. He led us into one of the small offices below the assembly room. Spread out on the flat top of a desk there were a dozen or more objects. "I want you to look these things over carefully," the detective-sergeant told Gantvoort, "and pick out the ones that belonged to your father." "But where is he?" "Do this first," O'Gar insisted, "and then you can see him." I looked at the things on the table while Charles Gantvoort made his selections. An empty jewel case; a memorandum book; three letters in slit envelopes that were addressed to the dead man; some other papers; a bunch of keys; a fountain pen; two white linen handkerchiefs; two pistol cartridges; a gold watch, with a gold knife and a gold pencil attached to it by a gold-and-platinum chain; two black leather wallets, one of them very new and the other worn; some money, both paper and silver; and a small portable typewriter, bent and twisted, and matted with hair and blood. Some of the other things were smeared with blood and some were clean. Gantvoort picked out the watch and its attachments, the keys, the fountain pen, the memoranda book, the handkerchiefs, the letters and other papers, and the older wallet. "There were Father's," he told us. "I've never seen any of the others before. I don't know, of course, how much money he had with him tonight, so I can't say how much of this is his." "You're sure none of the rest of this stuff was his?" O'Gar asked. "I don't think so, but I'm not sure. Whipple could tell you." He turned to me. "He's the man who let you in tonight. He looked after Father, and he'd know positively whether any of these other things belonged to him or not." One of the police detectives went to the telephone to tell Whipple to come down immediately. I resumed the questioning. "Is anything that your father usually carried with him missing? Anything of value?" "Not that I know of. All the things that he might have been expected to have with him seem to be here." "At what time tonight did he leave the house?" "Before seven-thirty. Possibly as early as seven." "Know where he was going?" "He didn't tell me, but I supposed he was going to call on Miss Dexter." The faces of the police detectives brightened, and their eyes grew sharp. I suppose mine did, too. There are many, many murders with never a woman in them anywhere; but seldom a very conspicuous killing. "Who's this Miss Dexter?" O'Gar took up the inquiry. "She's, well--" Charles Gantvoort hesitated. "Well, Father was on very friendly terms with her and her brother. He usually called on them--on her several evenings a week. In fact, I suspected that he intended marrying her." "Who and what is she?" "Father became acquainted with them six or seven months ago. I've met them several times, but don't know them very well. Miss Dexter--Creda is her given name--is about twenty-three years old, I should judge, and her brother Madden is four or five years older. He is in New York now, or on his way there, to transact some business for Father." "Did your father tell you he was going to marry her?" O'Gar hammered away at the woman angle. "No; but it was pretty obvious that he was very much--ah--infatuated. We had some words over it a few days ago--last week. Not a quarrel, you understand, but words. From the way he talked I feared that he meant to marry her." "What do you mean 'feared'?" O'Gar snapped at that word. Charles Gantvoort's pale face flushed a little, and he cleared his throat embarrassedly. "I don't want to put the Dexters in a bad light to you. I don't think--I'm sure they had nothing to do with Father's--with this. But I didn't care especially for them--didn't like them. I thought they were--well--fortune hunters, perhaps. Father wasn't fabulously wealthy, but he had considerable means. And, while he wasn't feeble, still he was past fifty-seven, old enough for me to feel that Creda Dexter was more interested in his money than in him." "How about your father's will?" "The last one of which I have any knowledge--drawn up two or three years ago--left everything to my wife and me, jointly. Father's attorney, Mr. Murray Abernathy, could tell you if there was a later will, but I hardly think there was." "Your father had retired from business, hadn't he?" "Yes; he turned his import and export business over to me about a year ago. He had quite a few investments scattered around, but he wasn't actively engaged in the management of any concern." O'Gar tilted his village constable hat back and scratched his bullet head reflectively for a moment. Then he looked at me. "Anything else you want to ask?" "Yes. Mr. Gantvoort, do you know or did you ever hear your father or anyone else speak of an Emil Bonfils?" "No." "Did your father ever tell you that he had received a threatening letter? Or that he had been shot at on the street?" "No." "Was your father in Paris in 1902?" "Very likely. He used to go abroad every year up until the time of his retirement from business. O'Gar and I took Gantvoort around to the morgue to see his father, then. The dead man wasn't pleasant to look at, even to O'Gar and me, who hadn't known him except by sight. I remembered him as a small wiry man, always smartly tailored, and with a brisk springiness that was far younger than his years. He lay now with the top of his head beaten into a red and pulpy mess. We left Gantvoort at the morgue and set out afoot for the Hall of Justice. "What's this deep stuff you're pulling about Emil Bonfils and Paris in 1902?" the detective-sergeant asked as soon as we were out in the street. "This: the dead man phoned the Agency this afternoon and said he had received a threatening letter from an Emil Bonfils with whom he had had trouble in Paris in 1902. He also said that Bonfils had shot at him the previous evening, in the street. He wanted somebody to come around and see him about it tonight. And he said that under no circumstances were the police to be let in on it--that he'd rather have Bonfils get him than have the trouble made public. That's all he would say over the phone; and that's how I happened to be on hand when Charles Gantvoort was notified of his father's death." O'Gar stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and whistled softly. "That's something!" he exclaimed. "Wait till we get back to headquarters--I'll show you something." Whipple was waiting in the assembly room when we arrived at headquarters. His face at first glance was as smooth and mask-like as when he had admitted me to the house on Russian Hill earlier in the evening. But beneath his perfect servant's manner he was twitching and trembling. We took him into the little office where we had questioned Charles Gantvoort. Whipple verified all that the dead man's son had told us. He was positive that neither the typewriter, the jewel case, the two cartridges, or the newer wallet had belonged to Gantvoort. We couldn't get him to put his opinion of the Dexters in words, but that he disapproved of them was easily seen. Miss Dexter, he said, had called up on the telephone three times this night at about eight o'clock, at nine, and at nine-thirty. She had asked for Mr. Leopold Gantvoort each time, but she had left no message. Whipple was of the opinion that she was expecting Gantvoort, and he had not arrived. He knew nothing, he said, of Emil Bonfils or of any threatening letters. Gantvoort had been out the previous night from eight until midnight. Whipple had not seen him closely enough when he came home to say whether he seemed excited or not. Gantvoort usually carried about a hundred dollars in his pockets. "Is there anything that you know of that Gantvoort had on his person tonight which isn't among these things on the desk?" O'Gar asked. "No sir. Everything seems to be here--watch and chain, money, memorandum book, wallet, keys, handkerchiefs, fountain pen--everything that I know of." "Did Charles Gantvoort go out tonight?" "No, sir. He and Mrs. Gantvoort were at home all evening." "Positive?" Whipple thought a moment. "Yes, sir, I'm fairly certain. But I know Mrs. Gantvoort wasn't out. To tell the truth, I didn't see Mr. Charles from about eight o'clock until he came downstairs with this gentleman"--pointing to me "at eleven. But I'm fairly certain he was home all evening. I think Mrs. Gantvoort said he was." Then O'Gar put another question--one that puzzled me at the time. "What kind of collar buttons did Mr. Gantvoort wear?" "You mean Mr. Leopold?" "Yes." "Plain gold ones, made all in one piece. They had a London jeweler's mark on them." "Would you know them if you saw them?" "Yes, sir." We let Whipple go home then. "Don't you think," I suggested when O'Gar and I were alone with this desk-load of evidence that didn't mean anything at all to me yet, "it's time you were loosening up and telling me what's what?" "I guess so--listen! A man named Lagerquist, a grocer, was driving through Golden Gate park tonight, and passed a machine standing on a dark road, with its lights out. He thought there was something funny about the way the man in it was sitting at the wheel, so he told the first patrolman he met about it. "The patrolman investigated and found Gantvoort sitting at the wheel--dead--with his head smashed in and this dingus"--putting one hand on the bloody typewriter--"on the seat beside him. That was at a quarter of ten. The doc says Gantvoort was killed--his skull crushed--with this typewriter. "The dead man's pockets, we found, had all been turned inside out; and all this stuff on the desk, except this new wallet, was scattered about in the car--some of it on the floor and some on the seats. This money was there too--nearly a hundred dollars of it. Among the papers was this." He handed me a sheet of white paper upon which the following had been typewritten: L. F. G.-- I want what is mine. 6,000 miles and 21 years are not enough to hide you from the victim of your treachery. I mean to have what you stole. E. B."L. F. G. could be Leopold F. Gantvoort," I said. "And E. B. could be Emil Bonfils. Twenty-one years is the time from 1902 to 1923, and 6,000 miles is, roughly, the distance between Paris and San Francisco." I laid the letter down and picked up the jewel case. It was a black imitation leather one, lined with white satin, and unmarked in any way. Then I examined the cartridges. There were two of them, S. W. .45-caliber, and deep crosses had been cut in their soft noses--an old trick that makes the bullet spread out like a saucer when it hits.
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