Follow crime fiction’s toughest hero from San Francisco to the Mexican frontier in the third installment of the Collected Case Files of the Continental Op
The Continental Op is short, fat, and aging—but don’t let his appearance deceive you. Handy with a gun, and always willing to take a roundhouse to the chin, the Op is the toughest sleuth San Francisco has ever seen. And when a rich Englishwoman hires him to find her estranged husband, the Op thinks he’s in for an easy job. But the husband is an addict last seen in Tijuana, and finding him will take the hardboiled detective past the border and into a hellhole called the Golden Horseshoe.
Before Nick Charles or Sam Spade, Dashiell Hammett made his mark with the adventures of the Continental Op, whose particular brand of justice defined the legendary Black Mask style. In “The Golden Horseshoe,” “The House in Turk Street,” and “The Girl with the Silver Eyes,” the Op follows his cases from civility to temptation and back again.
About the Author
Date of Birth:May 27, 1894
Date of Death:January 10, 1961
Place of Birth:St. Mary, Maryland
Place of Death:New York
Education:Baltimore Polytechnic Institute
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The Golden Horseshoe and Other Stories
Collected Case Files of the Continental Op The Middle Years, Vol. 1
By Dashiell Hammett, Richard Layman, Julie M. Rivett
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1984 Pro-Distributors
All rights reserved.
THE HOUSE IN TURK STREET
Black Mask, 15 April 1924
We wouldn't consider an issue complete without one of Mr. Hammett's stories in it, and after you've read this tale, you'll understand why.
I had been told that the man for whom I was hunting lived in a certain Turk Street block, but my informant hadn't been able to give me his house number. Thus it came about that late one rainy afternoon I was canvassing this certain block, ringing each bell, and reciting a myth that went like this:
"I'm from the law office of Wellington and Berkeley. One of our clients — an elderly lady — was thrown from the rear platform of a street car last week and severely injured. Among those who witnessed the accident, was a young man whose name we don't know. But we have been told that he lives in this neighborhood." Then I would describe the man I wanted, and wind up: "Do you know of anyone who looks like that?"
All down one side of the block the answers were:
"No," "No," "No."
I crossed the street and started to work the other side. The first house: "No."
The second: "No."
The third. The fourth.
The fifth —
No one came to the door in answer to my first ring. After a while, I rang again. I had just decided that no one was at home, when the knob turned slowly and a little old woman opened the door. She was a very fragile little old woman, with a piece of grey knitting in one hand, and faded eyes that twinkled pleasantly behind gold-rimmed spectacles. She wore a stiffly starched apron over a black dress and there was white lace at her throat.
"Good evening," she said in a thin friendly voice. "I hope you didn't mind waiting. I always have to peep out to see who's here before I open the door — an old woman's timidity."
She laughed with a little gurgling sound in her throat.
"Sorry to disturb you," I apologized. "But —"
"Won't you come in, please?"
"No; I just want a little information. I won't take much of your time."
"I wish you would come in," she said, and then added with mock severity, "I'm sure my tea is getting cold."
She took my damp hat and coat, and I followed her down a narrow hall to a dim room, where a man got up as we entered. He was old too, and stout, with a thin white beard that fell upon a white vest that was as stiffly starched as the woman's apron.
"Thomas," the little fragile woman told him; "this is Mr. — "
"Tracy," I said, because that was the name I had given the other residents of the block; but I came as near blushing when I said it, as I have in fifteen years. These folks weren't made to be lied to.
Their name, I learned, was Quarre; and they were an affectionate old couple. She called him "Thomas" every time she spoke to him, rolling the name around in her mouth as if she liked the taste of it. He called her "my dear" just as frequently, and twice he got up to adjust a cushion more comfortably to her frail back.
I had to drink a cup of tea with them and eat some little spiced cookies before I could get them to listen to a question. Then Mrs. Quarre made little sympathetic clicking sounds with her tongue and teeth, while I told about the elderly lady who had fallen off a street car. The old man rumbled in his beard that it was "a damn shame," and gave me a fat and oily cigar. I had to assure them that the fictitious elderly lady was being taken care of and was coming along nicely — I was afraid they were going to insist upon being taken to see her.
Finally I got away from the accident itself, and described the man I wanted. "Thomas," Mrs. Quarre said; "isn't that the young man who lives in the house with the railing — the one who always looks so worried?"
The old man stroked his snowy beard and pondered.
"But, my dear," he rumbled at last; "hasn't he got dark hair?"
She beamed upon her husband and then upon me.
"Thomas is so observant," she said with pride. "I had forgotten; but the young man I spoke of does have dark hair, so he couldn't be the one who saw the accident at all."
The old man then suggested that one who lived in the block below might be my man. They discussed this one at some length before they decided that he was too tall and too old. Mrs. Quarre suggested another. They discussed that one, and voted against him. Thomas offered a candidate; he was weighed and discarded. They chattered on:
"But don't you think, Thomas ... Yes, my dear, but ... Of course you're right, Thomas, but...."
Two old folks enjoying a chance contact with the world that they had dropped out of.
Darkness settled. The old man turned on a light in a tall lamp that threw a soft yellow circle upon us, and left the rest of the room dim. The room was a large one, and heavy with the thick hangings and bulky horse-hair furniture of a generation ago. I burned the cigar the old man had given me, and slumped comfortably down in my chair, letting them run on, putting in a word or two whenever they turned to me. I didn't expect to get any information here; but I was comfortable, and the cigar was a good one. Time enough to go out into the drizzle when I had finished my smoke.
Something cold touched the nape of my neck.
I didn't stand up: I couldn't. I was paralyzed. I sat and blinked at the Quarres.
And looking at them, I knew that something cold couldn't be against the back of my neck; a harsh voice couldn't have ordered me to stand up. It wasn't possible!
Mrs. Quarre still sat primly upright against the cushions her husband had adjusted to her back; her eyes still twinkled with friendliness behind her glasses; her hands were still motionless in her lap, crossed at the wrists over the piece of knitting. The old man still stroked his white beard, and let cigar smoke drift unhurriedly from his nostrils.
They would go on talking about the young men in the neighborhood who might be the man I wanted. Nothing had happened. I had dozed.
The cold thing against my neck jabbed deep into the flesh.
I stood up.
"Frisk him," the harsh voice came from behind.
The old man carefully laid his cigar down, came to me, and ran his hands over my body. Satisfied that I was unarmed, he emptied my pockets, dropping the contents upon the chair that I had just left.
Mrs. Quarre was pouring herself some more tea.
"Thomas," she said; "you've overlooked that little watch pocket in the trousers."
He found nothing there.
"That's all," he told the man behind me, and returned to his chair and cigar.
"Turn around, you!" the harsh voice ordered.
I turned and faced a tall, gaunt, raw-boned man of about my own age, which is thirty-five. He had an ugly face — hollow-cheeked, bony, and spattered with big pale freckles. His eyes were of a watery blue, and his nose and chin stuck out abruptly.
"Know me?" he asked.
"You're a liar!"
I didn't argue the point: he was holding a level gun in one big freckled hand.
"You're going to know me pretty well before you're through with me," this big ugly man threatened. "You're going to — "
"Hook!" a voice came from a portièred doorway — the doorway through which the ugly man had no doubt crept up behind me. "Hook, come here!"
The voice was feminine — young, clear, and musical.
"What do you want?" the ugly man called over his shoulder.
"All right!" He turned to Thomas Quarre. "Keep this joker safe."
From somewhere among his whiskers, his coat, and his stiff white vest, the old man brought out a big black revolver, which he handled with no signs of either weakness or unfamiliarity.
The ugly man swept up the things that had been taken from my pockets, and carried them through the portières with him.
Mrs. Quarre smiled brightly up at me.
"Do sit down, Mr. Tracy," she said.
Through the portières a new voice came from the next room; a drawling baritone voice whose accent was unmistakably British; cultured British.
"What's up, Hook?" this voice was asking.
The harsh voice of the ugly man:
"Plenty's up, I'm telling you! They're onto us! I started out a while ago; and as soon as I got to the street, I seen a man I knowed on the other side. He was pointed out to me in Philly five-six years ago. I don't know his name, but I remembered his mug — he's a Continental Detective Agency man. I came back in right away, and me and Elvira watched him out of the window. He went to every house on the other side of the street, asking questions or something. Then he came over and started to give this side a whirl, and after a while he rings the bell. I tell the old woman and her husband to get him in, stall him along, and see what he says for himself. He's got a song and dance about looking for a guy what seen an old woman bumped by a street car — but that's the bunk! He's gunning for us. There ain't nothing else to it. I went in and stuck him up just now. I meant to wait till you come, but I was scared he'd get nervous and beat it. Here's his stuff if you want to give it the once over."
The British voice:
"You shouldn't have shown yourself to him. The others could have taken care of him."
"What's the diff? Chances is he knows us all anyway. But supposing he didn't, what diff does it make?"
The drawling British voice:
"It may make a deal of difference. It was stupid."
"Stupid, huh? You're always bellyaching about other people being stupid. To hell with you, I say! If you don't like my style, to hell with you! Who does all the work? Who's the guy that swings all the jobs? Huh? Where — "
The young feminine voice:
"Now, Hook, for God's sake don't make that speech again. I've listened to it until I know it by heart!"
A rustle of papers, and the British voice:
"I say, Hook, you're correct about his being a detective. Here is an identification card among his things."
The Quarres were listening to the conversation in the next room with as much interest as I, but Thomas Quarre's eyes never left me, and his fat fingers never relaxed about the gun in his lap. His wife sipped tea, with her head cocked on one side in the listening attitude of a bird.
Except for the weapon in the old man's lap, there was not a thing to persuade the eye that melodrama was in the room; the Quarres were in every other detail still the pleasant old couple who had given me tea and expressed sympathy for the elderly lady who had been injured.
The feminine voice from the next room:
"Well, what's to be done? What's our play?"
"That's easy to answer. We're going to knock this sleuth off, first thing!"
The feminine voice:
"And put our necks in the noose?"
"As if they ain't there if we don't! You don't think this guy ain't after us for the L. A. job, do you?"
The British voice:
"You're an ass, Hook, and a quite hopeless one. Suppose this chap is interested in the Los Angeles affair, as is probable; what then? He is a Continental operative. Is it likely that his organization doesn't know where he is? Don't you think they know he was coming up here? And don't they know as much about us — chances are — as he does? There's no use killing him. That would only make matters worse. The thing to do is to tie him up and leave him here. His associates will hardly come looking for him until tomorrow — and that will give us all night to manage our disappearance."
My gratitude went out to the British voice! Somebody was in my favor, at least to the extent of letting me live. I hadn't been feeling very cheerful these last few minutes. Somehow, the fact that I couldn't see these people who were deciding whether I was to live or die, made my plight seem all the more desperate. I felt better now, though far from gay; I had confidence in the drawling British voice; it was the voice of a man who habitually carries his point.
"Let me tell you something, brother: that guy's going to be knocked off! That's flat! I'm taking no chances. You can jaw all you want to about it, but I'm looking out for my own neck and it'll be a lot safer with that guy where he can't talk. That's flat. He's going to be knocked off!"
The feminine voice, disgustedly:
"Aw, Hook, be reasonable!"
The British voice, still drawling, but dead cold:
"There's no use reasoning with you, Hook, you've the instincts and the intellect of a troglodyte. There is only one sort of language that you understand; and I'm going to talk that language to you, my son. If you are tempted to do anything silly between now and the time of our departure, just say this to yourself two or three times: 'If he dies, I die. If he dies, I die.' Say it as if it were out of the Bible — because it's that true."
There followed a long space of silence, with a tenseness that made my not particularly sensitive scalp tingle. Beyond the portière, I knew, two men were matching glances in a battle of wills, which might any instant become a physical struggle, and my chances of living were tied up in that battle.
When, at last, a voice cut the silence, I jumped as if a gun had been fired; though the voice was low and smooth enough.
It was the British voice, confidently victorious, and I breathed again.
"We'll get the old people away first," the voice was saying. "You take charge of our guest, Hook. Tie him up neatly. But remember — no foolishness. Don't waste time questioning him — he'll lie. Tie him up while I get the bonds, and we'll be gone in less than half an hour."
The portières parted and Hook came into the room — a scowling Hook whose freckles had a greenish tinge against the sallowness of his face. He pointed a revolver at me, and spoke to the Quarres:
"He wants you."
They got up and went into the next room, and for a while an indistinguishable buzzing of whispers came from that room.
Hook, meanwhile, had stepped back to the doorway, still menacing me with his revolver; and pulled loose the plush ropes that were around the heavy curtains. Then he came around behind me, and tied me securely to the high-backed chair; my arms to the chair's arms, my legs to the chair's legs, my body to the chair's back and seat; and he wound up by gagging me with the corner of a cushion that was too well- stuffed for my comfort. The ugly man was unnecessarily rough throughout; but I was a lamb. He wanted an excuse for drilling me, and I wanted above all else that he should have no excuse.
As he finished lashing me into place, and stepped back to scowl at me, I heard the street door close softly, and then light footsteps ran back and forth overhead.
Hook looked in the direction of those footsteps, and his little watery blue eyes grew cunning.
"Elvira!" he called softly.
The portières bulged as if someone had touched them, and the musical feminine voice came through.
"I'd better not. He wouldn't —"
"Damn him!" Hook flared up. "Come here!"
She came into the room and into the circle of light from the tall lamp; a girl in her early twenties, slender and lithe, and dressed for the street, except that she carried her hat in one hand. A white face beneath a bobbed mass of flame-colored hair. Smoke-grey eyes that were set too far apart for trustworthiness — though not for beauty — laughed at me; and her red mouth laughed at me, exposing the edges of little sharp animal-teeth. She was beautiful; as beautiful as the devil, and twice as dangerous.
She laughed at me — a fat man all trussed up with red plush rope, and with the corner of a green cushion in my mouth — and she turned to the ugly man.
"What do you want?"
He spoke in an undertone, with a furtive glance at the ceiling, above which soft steps still padded back and forth.
"What say we shake him?"
Her smoke-grey eyes lost their merriment and became hard and calculating.
"There's a hundred thousand he's holding — a third of it's mine. You don't think I'm going to take a Mickey Finn on that, do you?"
"Course not! Supposing we get the hundred-grand?"
"Leave it to me, kid; leave it to me! If I swing it, will you go with me? You know I'll be good to you."
She smiled contemptuously, I thought — but he seemed to like it.
"You're whooping right you'll be good to me," she said. "But listen, Hook: we couldn't get away with it — not unless you get him. I know him! I'm not running away with anything that belongs to him unless he is fixed so that he can't come after it."
Hook moistened his lips and looked around the room at nothing. Apparently he didn't like the thought of tangling with the owner of the British drawl. But his desire for the girl was too strong for his fear of the other man.
"I'll do it!" he blurted. "I'll get him! Do you mean it, kid? If I get him, you'll go with me?"
She held out her hand.
"It's a bet," she said, and he believed her.
His ugly face grew warm and red and utterly happy, and he took a deep breath and straightened his shoulders. In his place, I might have believed her myself — all of us have fallen for that sort of thing at one time or another — but sitting tied up on the side-lines, I knew that he'd have been better off playing with a gallon of nitro than with this baby. She was dangerous! There was a rough time ahead for this Hook!
"This is the lay —" Hook began, and stopped, tongue-tied.
A step had sounded in the next room.
Excerpted from The Golden Horseshoe and Other Stories by Dashiell Hammett, Richard Layman, Julie M. Rivett. Copyright © 1984 Pro-Distributors. Excerpted by permission of MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated Media.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsForeword: "Through Mud and Blood and Death and Deceit",
Introduction: The Middle Years, 1924–1925,
"The House in Turk Street",
"The Girl with Silver Eyes",
"The Golden Horseshoe",
About the Author,