Bullets Across the Bay


Mark Coggins read the following excerpt from Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon (1930).

The Maltese Falcon
THE MAHOGANY DOOR OF SUITE 12-C at the Alexandria Hotel was opened by the boy Spade had talked to in the Belvedere lobby. Spade said, “Hello,” good-naturedly. The boy did not say anything. He stood holding the door open.

   Spade went in. A fat man came to meet him.

   The fat man was flabbily fat with bulbous pink cheeks and lips and chins and neck, with a great soft egg of a belly that was all his torso, and pendant cones for arms and legs. As he advanced to meet Spade all his bulbs rose and shook and fell separately with each step, in the manner of clustered soap-bubbles not yet released from the pipe through which they had been blown. His eyes, made small by fat puffs around them, were dark and sleek. Dark ringlets thinly covered his broad scalp. He wore a black cutaway coat, black vest, black satin Ascot tie holding a pinkish pearl, striped grey worsted trousers, and patent-leather shoes.

   His voice was a throaty purr. “Ah, Mr. Spade,” he said with enthusiasm and held out a hand like a fat pink star.

   Spade took the hand and smiled and said: “How do you do, Mr. Gutman?”

   Holding Spade’s hand, the fat man turned beside him, put his other hand to Spade’s elbow, and guided him across a green rug to a green plush chair beside a table that held a siphon, some glasses, and a bottle of Johnnie Walker whiskey on a tray, a box of cigars—Coronas del Ritz—two newspapers, and a small and plain yellow soapstone box.

   Spade sat in the green chair. The fat man began to fill two glasses from bottle and siphon. The boy had disappeared. Doors set in three of the room’s walls were shut. The fourth wall, behind Spade, was pierced by two windows looking out over Geary Street.

   “We begin well, sir,” the fat man purred, turning with a proffered glass in his hand. “I distrust a man that says when. If he’s got to be careful not to drink too much it’s because he’s not to be trusted when he does.”

   Spade took the glass and, smiling, made the beginning of a bow over it.

   The fat man raised his glass and held it against a window’s light. He nodded approvingly at the bubbles running up in it. He said: “Well, sir, here’s to plain speaking and clear understanding.”

   They drank and lowered their glasses.

   The fat man looked shrewdly at Spade and asked: “You’re a closed-mouthed man?”

   Spade shook his head. “I like to talk.”

   “Better and better!” the fat man exclaimed. “I distrust a closed-mouthed man. He generally picks the wrong time to talk and says the wrong things. Talking’s something you can’t do judiciously unless you keep in practice.” He beamed over his glass on the table and held out the box of Coronas del Ritz out to Spade. “A cigar, sir?”

   Spade took the cigar, trimmed the end of it, and lighted it. Meanwhile the fat man pulled another green plush chair around to face Spade’s within convenient distance and placed a smoking-stand within reach of both chairs. Then he took his glass from the table, took a cigar from the box, and lowered himself into his chair. His bulbs stopped jouncing and settled into flabby rest. He sighed comfortably and said: “Now, sir, we’ll talk if you like. And I’ll tell you right out that I’m a man who likes talking to a man that likes to talk.”

   “Swell. Will we talk about the black bird?”

~The Maltese Falcon (1930) by Dashiell Hammett, p. 125-127


Early Mysteries
Dashiell Hammett
Anthony Boucher
Mystery Writers of America
Muller & Pronzini
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