Spade's Last Case
It was thirteen minutes short of midnight. Drizzle glinted through the wind-danced lights on the edge of the Tacoma Municipal Dock. A man a few years shy of thirty stood in a narrow aisle between two tall stacks of crated cargo, almost invisible in a black hooded rain slicker. He had a long bony jaw, a flexible mouth, a jutting chin. His nose was hooked. He was six feet tall, with broad, steeply sloping shoulders.
He stayed in the shadows while the scant dozen passengers disembarked from the wooden-hulled steam-powered passenger ferry Virginia V, just in from Seattle via the Colvos Passage. His cigarette was cupped in one palm as if to shield it from the rain, or perhaps to conceal its glowing ember from watching eyes.
The watcher stiffened when the last person off the Virginia V was a solid, broad-shouldered man in his late thirties, dressed in a brown woolen suit. His red heavy-jawed face was made for joviality, but his small brown eyes were wary, constantly moving.
The passenger went quickly along the dock toward a narrow passageway that led to the city street beyond. The watcher, well behind, ambled after him. The first man had started through the passageway when he was jumped by two bulky, shadowy figures. There were grunts of effort, curses, the sound of blows, the scrape of leather soles on wet cobbles as the men struggled.
The watcher announced his arrival by jamming his lighted cigarette into the eye of one attacker. The man screamed, stumbled unevenly away holding a hand over his eye. The second attacker broke free and fled.
Miles Archer, holding a handkerchief to his bloodied nose, said thickly through the bunched-up cloth, "Uh... thanks, Sam."
"Wobblies?" asked Sam Spade.
"Wobblies. Who else?"
They went down the passageway toward the street. Archer was limping. He had the thick neck and slightly soft middle of an athletic man going to seed.
"They finally made you as undercover for Burns?"
"Took 'em long enough," Archer bragged. He looked over at Spade. "Back with Continental, huh? Uh...?how'd you find me?"
"Wasn't looking. Was staked out for a redheaded paper hanger out of Victoria."
"I saw him miss the ferry in Seattle."
Spade nodded, put a smile on his face that did not touch his eyes. "Belated congratulations on your marriage, Miles."
"Yeah, uh, thanks, Sam." Something sly and delighted seemed suddenly to dance in Archer's heavy, coarse voice. "We're living over in Spokane so's she can keep working at Graham's Bookstore, even though I'm down here most of the time. Tough on the little lady, but what can she do?"
Spade was at a table set for afternoon tea when the fortyish matron entered from Spokane's Sprague Avenue. The Davenport Hotel's vast Spanish-patio-style lobby was elegant, with a mezzanine above and, on the ground floor, an always-burning wood fireplace. When the woman paused in the doorway he stood. His powerful, conical, almost bearlike body kept his gray woolen suit coat from fitting well.
She crossed to him. She had wide-set judging eyes and a small, disapproving mouth.
"I am Mrs. Hazel Cahill. And you are..."
He gave a slight, almost elegant bow. "Samuel Spade."
Mrs. Cahill set her Spanish-leather handbag on one of the chairs, stripped off her kidskin gloves, and slid them through the bag's carrying straps. Her movements were measured. She turned slightly so Spade's thick-fingered hands could remove her coat.
She sat. She did not thank him. She said, "Three o'clock last Monday afternoon he and two other men came from this hotel, laughing about their golf scores. My husband, Theodore, and I just moved here from Tacoma a month ago, and it's been five years, but I know what I saw."
"I didn't say you didn't."
Excerpted from Spade & Archer by Joe Gores Copyright © 2009 by Joe Gores. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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