Enter Joel Cairo, Hammett could draw a word picture.
The Maltese Falcon
by Dashiell Hammett
Chapter 4 – The Black Bird
Spade returned to his office at ten minutes past five that evening. Effie Perine was sitting at his desk reading Time. Spade sat on the desk and asked: “Anything stirring?”
“Not here. You look like you’d swallowed the canary.”
He grinned contentedly. “I think we’ve got a future. I always had an idea that if Miles would go off and die somewhere we’d stand a better chance of thriving. Will you take care of sending flowers for me?”
“You’re an invaluable angel. How’s your woman’s intuition today?”
“What do you think of Wonderly?”
“I’m for her,” the girl replied without hesitation.
“She’s got too many names,” Spade mused, “Wonderly, Leblanc, and she says the right one’s O’Shaughnessy.”
“I don’t care if she’s got all the names in the phone-book. That girl is all right, and you know it.”
“I wonder.” Spade blinked sleepily at Effie Perine. He chuckled. “Anyway she’s given up seven hundred smacks in two days, and that’s all right.”
Effie Perine sat up straight and said: “Sam, if that girl’s in trouble and you let her down, or take advantage of it to bleed her, I’ll never forgive you, never have any respect for you, as long as I live.”
Spade smiled unnaturally. Then he frowned. The frown was unnatural. He opened his mouth to speak, but the sound of someone’s entrance through the corridor-door stopped him.
Effie Perine rose and went into the outer office. Spade took off his hat and sat in his chair. The girl returned with an engraved card–Mr. Joel Cairo.
“This guy is queer,” she said.
“In with him, then, darling,” said Spade.
Mr. Joel Cairo was a small-boned dark man of medium height. His hair was black and smooth and very glossy. His features were Levantine. A square-cut ruby, its sides paralleled by four baguette diamonds, gleamed against the deep green of his cravat. His black coat, cut tight to narrow shoulders, flared a little over slightly plump hips. His trousers fitted his round legs more snugly than was the current fashion. The uppers of his patent-leather shoes were hidden by fawn spats. He held a black derby hat in a chamois-gloved hand and came towards Spade with short, mincing, bobbing steps. The fragrance of chypre came with him.
Spade inclined his head at his visitor and then at a chair, saying: “Sit down, Mr. Cairo.”
Cairo bowed elaborately over his hat, said, “I thank you,” in a high-pitched thin voice and sat down. He sat down primly, crossing his ankles, placing his hat on his knees, and began to draw off his yellow gloves.
Spade rocked back in his chair and asked: “Now what can I do for you, Mr. Cairo?” The amiable negligence of his tone, his motion in the chair, were precisely as they had been when he had addressed the same question to Brigid O’Shaughnessy on the previous day.
Cairo turned his hat over, dropping his gloves into it, and placed it bottom-up on the corner of the desk nearest him. Diamonds twinkled on the second and fourth fingers of his left hand, a ruby that matched the one in his tie even to the surrounding diamonds on the third finger of his right hand. His hands were soft and well cared for. Though they were not large their flaccid bluntness made them seem clumsy. He rubbed his palms together and said over the whispering sound they made: “May a stranger offer condolences for your partner’s unfortunate death?”
“May I ask, Mr. Spade, if there was, as the newspapers inferred, a certain–ah–relationship between that unfortunate happening and the death a little later of the man Thursby?”
Spade said nothing in a blank-faced definite way.
Cairo rose and bowed. “I beg your pardon.” He sat down and placed his hands side by side, palms down, on the corner of the desk. “More than idle curiosity made me ask that, Mr. Spade. I am trying to recover an–ah–ornament that has been–shall we say?–mislaid. I thought, and hoped, you could assist me.”
Spade nodded with eyebrows lifted to indicate attentiveness.
“The ornament is a statuette,” Cairo went on, selecting and mouthing his words carefully, “the black figure of a bird.”
Spade nodded again, with courteous interest.
“I am prepared to pay, on behalf of the figure’s rightful owner, the sum of five thousand dollars for its recovery.” Cairo raised one hand from the desk-corner and touched a spot in the air with the broad-nailed tip of an ugly forefinger. “I am prepared to promise that–what is the phrase?–no questions will be asked.” He put his hand on the desk again beside the other and smiled blandly over them at the private detective.
“Five thousand is a lot of money,” Spade commented, looking thoughtfully at Cairo. “It–”
Fingers drummed lightly on the door.
When Spade had called, “Come in,” the door opened far enough to admit Effie Perine’s head and shoulders. She had put on a small dark felt hat and a dark coat with a grey fur collar.
“Is there anything else?” she asked.
“No. Good night. Lock the door when you go, will you?”
Spade turned in his chair to face Cairo again, saying: “It’s an interesting figure.”
The sound of the corridor-door’s closing behind Effie Perine came to them.
Cairo smiled and took a short compact flat black pistol out of an inner pocket. “You will please,” he said, “clasp your hands together at the back of your neck.”