On a suddenly warm summer evening such as this one in San Francisco, my spirit likes to hang out in a little alley, "a close," the Scots would call it, between two buildings near the corner of Leavenworth and Geary. I smoke a cheap handmade cigarette, peer into the dimly lit area beyond the close, listening to music emanating from back of The Ambassador Club, above which an important figure in my life once lived. I think of a night, decades ago, when I left my wife, Irma, at our apartment on the first floor of the building, under whose bay windows I lounge against the brick, and walked north toward Stockton Street.
Spade always called her "Iva" because she changed her name after a prostitution rap in Kansas City, back in 1921, but she was Irma to me, and that was the name on our marriage license.
"Will you be back late?" she asked me, as I put on my overcoat, and checked the shells in my Webley-Fosberry.
"Probably," I muttered; the damn woman was always prying into the Partnership's business. "Sam wants me to vet a client, and tail a guy named Thursby, who happens to live around the corner from us here. I won't be too long."
"Why are you wearing a coat?" she asked. "It's warm out."
"I might be stung by a hornet, Irma."
She didn't get it. Irma was not too bright . . . but then, in retrospect, my brains weren't cast in gold either.
"I'll be going uphill, dear," I said, picking up my best homburg hat. "The fog'll be rollin' in by the time I get there."
The fact was that the client, Ruth Wonderly, and I were going to have a drink together up on Bush Street, at The Tunnel Top, with one "Major Floyd Thursby," the phony I was supposed to be tailing, and then, I planned to escort Miss Wonderly home myself. She was some looker.
Major Thursby, supposedly one of those cashiered limey officers from the War, was not out of New York at all, as Miss Wonderly said, but in the employ of a gang, the Capones, maybe, from Chicago. "Private Investigations" -- Ha! They wanted Corinne, her sister, back all right -- for reasons not too hard for me to guess. I had already ascertained that without Sam's help. And so, after we got rid of the tall amateur, my intention was to become real cosy with Ruthie-girl, and find out what she was actually up to.
"Call me if you come back after three," Irma said, kissing me on the cheek. "I may go up to The Ha-Ra Club for a drink. I'll nap on the couch. Be nice and fresh for you."
Well, I guess you know by now how it all turned out. Hammett, that old Pinkerton man, prettied up the story of my double cross, and made a career out of it.
You can still climb the wrought iron circular stairway onto the escarpment above the Stockton Tunnel, smelling "the perfume" all the way, and look down on where the beat cop later found my body, in the early morning hours. Shot once, coldly, "right through the ticker," as Hammett would have it.
Floyd Thursby, funnily enough, was gunned down, not half an hour later, in front of his leased apartment, almost at the corner of Geary and Leavenworth. The killer -- some say it was a prissy little gunsel named Wilmer --must have stood in the doorway of what is now a club called Rye.
Me? My mortal, mouldering remains, are buried down in Colma, a town where they say, "It's great to be alive!"
If you want to take the chill off your own bones, and get that perfume out of your nose, you might want to stop at The Tunnel Top, all fancied up now, and later take a look at Burritt Alley -- "Burritt Street," in my time -- where that sweet piece of sugar, Ruthie -- aka, Bridgid O'Shaughnessy -- did me in. There's a bronze plaque up on the wall in my honor. Sam only got a touristy room at John's Grill out of The Maltese Falcon, whatever that turned out to be.
What really galls my kibe is that down below, on the spot where my body was found, they built . . . a massage parlor.
A Class Act like me!
That's why Miles Archer -- yours truly -- is my favorite detective.
I gotta go. Got a date with a Hell's Angel, or an angel from hell. Depends on how you look at it.
Causes Alex Fraser Supports