"As if someone had taken the lid off life and let you see how it really worked?" Spade pinched his lower lip, frowned, drew his brows together. "No logic, no fairness, only chance." His frown disappeared. "Sure. By getting in step with what you thought was life you got out of step with real life."
"You do get it! I decided that if my life was merely a collection of random incidents, I would live it randomly. That afternoon I went to Seattle, caught a boat to San Francisco. For the next few years I wandered around and finally ended up back in the Northwest. I got a chance to buy into an auto dealership here in Spokane, met my wife, got married, had a son..." He grinned almost sheepishly. "I like the climate."
"Three things not in my report," said Spade.
Ralph Dudley, resident supervisor of Continental's Seattle office, was in his seventies, fifty years on the job, white of mustache, pink of face. His kindly eyes behind rimless spectacles were misleading; they never changed expression, not even when he sent his ops out to face danger, sometimes death.
"First item," said Spade. "Nobody's said so, but before Flitcraft disappeared Mrs. Cahill made a play for him. An affair wouldn't have fit in with his view of what the good citizen-husband-father did so he turned her down. She didn't like that. So when she spotted him in Spokane she couldn't wait to try and make as much trouble for him as she could."
Dudley said in mild-voiced skepticism, "I see."
"Second item. Flitcraft was afraid his first wife wouldn't get what he did. She didn't. She just figures he played a dirty trick on her so she's going to get a quiet divorce." Merriment lit his face. "Flitcraft doesn't get it either. He adjusted to falling beams. When no more beams fell he adjusted back again."
"You mentioned three things, Spade."
"Flitcraft is my last case."
Dudley turned his swivel chair to stare out the window. Half a dozen mosquito-fleet ferries were churning their various ways across Elliott Bay between the Seattle waterfront and the distant irregular green rectangle of Blake Island.
Dudley told the window, "In nineteen seventeen you couldn't wait for us to get into the war. Disregarding my direct order, you went over the border to enlist in the First Canadian Division." He turned to look at Spade. "While training in England you took up competitive pistol shooting. You made some records."
"The pistol made the records. All I did was point it and make it go bang," said Spade. "Eight-shot thirty-eight Webley-Fosbery automatic revolver. Only three hundred of them ever got made because they jammed in combat, but they were so accurate on the firing range they got banned from competition shooting."
Dudley went on coldly as if Spade hadn't spoken.
"You were assigned to the Seventh Battalion of the Second Infantry Brigade and saw action in the trenches of the Lens-?Arras sector of France. You were wounded. You got a medal. Upon your return, against my better judgment, I took you back." His voice took on a nasty edge. "A competitive pistol shot, a war hero, and suddenly you don't like guns. Suddenly you're quitting the detective trade. Do you mind telling me why? Or have you just lost your stomach for real man's work?"
Spade stood. He did not offer his hand.
"I think if you need to use a gun you're doing a lousy job as a detective. As for resigning, I don't like the work here much since the war. Too much head knocking, not enough door knocking. And who says I'm quitting the detective trade?"
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...