Samuel Spade sat at his desk, rolled a cigarette, and stared at his coffee cup. He told himself it was five o’clock somewhere, and sweetened his daily grind with a slug of cheap bourbon from his desk drawer. The burn of the bourbon, and harsh smoke from his hand-rolled, matched his mood perfectly as he read the Falcon file for the tenth time.
Spade knew the District Attorney’s Office would have more questions about the case. What was so special about the Falcon, that Gutman, Cairo, the boy, and that damn dame, would leave a trail of bodies and ultimately turn on each other? Spade had been deliberately vague in his initial statement, but he knew he’d have to tell more than he had, before all was said and done.
Spade heard the outer door open and close, and muffled voices in the outer office. Effie Perine knocked once and entered. She wrinkled her nose at the bourbon smell, and refilled his cup from the pot in her hand.
“Sam, a Professor Phillips is here. He says he wants to talk to you about a statue.”
“And so it begins. Give me a second, Precious, and then show him in.” Spade crushed out the cigarette butt, and rolled another.
Effie led a pale, restless man into Spade’s office. Spade could smell sickness on him as they shook hands. He was carrying the same edition of the San Francisco Chronicle which was resting in Spade’s file.
“Mr. Spade, I am Howard Phillips.” Spade caught the East Coast flavor to his speech. Phillips waved the folded newspaper with a shaking hand. “I read of your recent involvement with the matter of a statuette. Nasty business, all those killings.”
“Miss Perine said that you’re some kind of professor.”
“Yes, sir. I teach Ancient History at Miskatonic University. I am in San Francisco in search of a rare antiquity, for our collection.” Spade remained silent. “The figurine is in San Francisco, but I cannot obtain it without assistance from someone of your, shall we say, resources.”
Spade blew out a slow cloud of smoke, and watched Phillips’s face closely. “I see. There is some danger involved, I suppose. Otherwise you would have gone to Fulton Street and asked the professors there to cut in.” Before Phillips could reply, Spade pressed on. “Tell me about the dingus. What makes it so special that you traveled all the way from Massachusetts on this secret mission?”
Phillips looked out the window at the Bay, and his gaze stopped at Alcatraz Island. He took a deep breath. “The figurine was discovered by an expedition to Antarctica in 1930. A member of the expedition stole it before it could be delivered to the University. Poor soul, he was driven mad and threw himself off the Miskatonic River bridge.” Spade tried, but failed, to find any sympathy in the man’s voice. “I have been looking for it ever since. For the University, of course.”
“Of course. What am I searching for?”
Phillips held his hands about a foot apart. “A sculpture of green metal, in the shape of a winged cephalopod with glowing eyes.” The look on Spade’s face spurred the Professor to clarify, “A squid, Mr. Spade, but like no squid you have ever seen. Hunched back, wings, and claws.”
“Sounds charming. Do you have any idea where I may find this flying squid of yours?”
“This is no joke, Mr. Spade. A civilization older than any previously known worshiped this creature, and believed it to possess unimaginable power. I believe it has been carried into your Chinatown, but I know not where.”
“That’s pretty slim, Professor. It will take a bit of work to track it down, and I don’t work cheap.”
“My University is prepared to pay a reasonable amount to recover the figurine. Would one thousand dollars be sufficient?”
“Two would be more like it, with two hundred on retainer.”
Phillips appeared to calculate the fee in his head, and nodded. “You should also know that there is another man in the city searching for the figurine. An unscrupulous man, a treasure hunter.”
“Well, where there is treasure, there will be treasure hunters. Leave him to me.” Spade accepted the proffered retainer, shook Phillips’s hand again, and walked him to the outer office. “Miss Perine will take down your information. I’ll contact you when I have a lead.”
After Phillips left, Effie brought the coffee pot back to Spade’s office, rolled a cigarette for him, and stared hard at his face. “What is it, Sam? That fellow gave me chills.”
“He’s a weird duck, but his money is good enough.” Spade grinned as he handed the bills to Effie. “Ring Jimmy Chow for me, and put the call through. And for now, Precious, no more missing statues.”