The Creeping Siamese – Dashiell Hammett (1926)

Please be a cat, please be a cat . . .

Another* first-person story, so here we go . . .

I was filling out an expense report at the Continental Detective agency.  Between “Tuesday . . . Whiskey” and “Wednesday . . . Whiskey”, a man entered the office.  He was tall, raw-boned, hard-faced . . . his skin showed the color of new brown shoes . . . he had bony hands . . . his face was ugly and grim . . . he had the expression of man who is remembering something disagreeable.  But he had a lovely smile . . . no wait, he had clenched yellow teeth.

The brute had bigger problems — a knife wound in his chest.  He dropped to the office floor like a sack of ugly.  Hoping to catch his killer in the hall, I was able to bolt through the office, and hurdle the banister like Jesse Owens; although I was able to do it through the front entrance.  All I found was Agnes from the steno pool who said the man had come in — understandably — alone.

Upon closer examination, he had been stabbed in the left breast [1] and tried to stop the bleeding with a strip of red cloth torn from a sarong.  He had $900 on him which would have bought a couple of Model T’s and a Model A.  He also had a key from the Hotel Montgomery; maybe he had parked the T & A there.  The house dick told me the key was for a room rented by a man named HR Rounds.  Detective O’Gar joined us, but we didn’t find anything but a bag of new clothes.  At 11:00, O’Gar and I separated in the direction of our respective beds.  We didn’t stay apart long . . . . . . . there’s got to be a better way to say that.

O’Gar phoned me at 12:55 am, and summoned me to 1856 Broadway.  There had been an invasion at the 3-story house of Austin Richter.  The four intruders had come from the land of sarongs, so I was notified.  This is an exciting new investigative technique called “profiling” that I’m confident no one will ever have a problem with.

The homeowner’s wife, which is what we called the homeowner in those days, urged her husband to tell his story.  Their friend Sam Molloy came by yesterday and said he was stabbed by a Siamese.  He was on the way to the hospital, but first wanted to drop off a package for safe-keeping, then maybe shoot a game of pool.  That night, four Siamese men broke in.  In the scuffle, Mr. Richter was shot in the leg, and the men took the package.

After we searched the house, I was able to shoot a hole in Richter’s story to match the one in his leg.  I must proudly say it all hinged on the fact that Richter could not have seen the Siamese men after dark; not even if they were smiling.  [I must emphasize that is directly from the text; OK, not the smiling part]  And “Mrs. Richter” was actually the dead man’s wife.  O’Gar said that wasn’t enough to arrest him, but whaddya expect from an Irishman?

After some argument, the woman spilled her guts, although not as literally as Rounds aka Molloy.  Richter was actually Holley, and Rounds / Molloy was actually Lange.  Her tale spanned the world from China to Burma, although that isn’t really far when you think about it.  And of course there were natives and jewels.  The story just gets more complex after they arrive in the US.

This was enough for O’Gar, or maybe he had just sobered up a little.  He had them arrested, and they got 20 years each.

Although this collection certainly has a better pedigree than The Pulp Fiction Megapack, I’m not sure I’m enjoying it as much.  1,117 pages to go.

Post-Post:

  • First published in The Black Mask in March 1926.
  • [1] The oddly specific popular location for many penetrations in Spicy Adventure Stories.  Well, second most popular.  Hey-ooooo.

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