Dashiell Hammett — It (The Black Hat That Wasn’t There) (1923)

Журнал «The Black Mask», 1 ноября 1923 года

Calling a detective to solve a crime that turns out to be something quite different from the first diagnosis makes a very unusual story of this. You’ll be surprised!

“Now listen, Mr. Zumwalt, you’re holding out on me; and it won’t do! If I’m going to work on this for you I’ve got to have the whole story.”

He looked thoughtfully at me for a moment through screwed-up blue eyes. Then he got up and went to the door of the outer office, opening it. Past him I could see the bookkeeper and the stenographer sitting at their desks. Zumwalt closed the door and returned to his desk, leaning across it to speak in a husky undertone.

“You are right, I suppose. But what I am going to tell you must be held in the strictest confidence.”

I nodded, and he went on:

“About two months ago one of our clients, Stanley Gorham, turned $100,000 worth of Liberty bonds over to us. He had to go to the Orient on business, and he had an idea that the bonds might go to par during his absence; so he left them with us to be sold if they did. Yesterday I had occasion to go to the safe deposit box where the bonds had been put—in the Golden Gate Trust Company’s vault—and they were gone!”

“Anybody except you and your partner have access to the box?”


“When did you see the bonds last?”

“They were in the box the Saturday before Dan left. And one of the men on duty in the vault told me that Dan was there the following Monday.”

“All right! Now let me see if I’ve got it all straight. Your partner, Daniel Rathbone, was supposed to leave for New York on the twenty-seventh of last month, Monday, to meet an R. W. DePuy. But Rathbone came into the office that

day with his baggage and said that important personal affairs made it necessary for him to postpone his departure, that he had to be in San Francisco the following morning. But he didn’t tell you what that personal business was.

“You and he had some words over the delay, as you thought it important that he keep the New York engagement on time. You weren’t on the best of terms at the time, having quarreled a couple of days before that over a shady deal Rathbone had put over. And so you—”

“Don’t misunderstand me,” Zumwalt interrupted. “Dan had done nothing dishonest. It was simply that he had engineered several transactions that—well, I thought he had sacrificed ethics to profits.”

“I see. Anyhow, starting with your argument over his not leaving for New York that day, you and he wound up by dragging in all of your differences, and practically decided to dissolve partnership as soon as it could be done. The argument was concluded in your house out on Fourteenth Avenue; and, as it was rather late by then and he had checked out of his hotel before he had changed his mind about going to New York, he stayed there with you that night.”

“That’s right,” Zumwalt explained. “I have been living at a hotel since Mrs. Zumwalt has been away, but Dan and I went out to the house because it gave us the utmost privacy for our talk; and when we finished it was so late that we remained there.”

“Then the next morning you and Rathbone came down to the office and—”

“No,” he corrected me. “That is, we didn’t come down here together. I came here while Dan went to transact whatever it was that had held him in town. He came into the office a little after noon, and said he was going East on the evening train. He sent Quimby, the bookkeeper, down to get his reservations and to check his baggage, which he had left in the office here overnight. Then Dan and I went to lunch together, came back to the office for a few minutes— he had some mail to sign—and then he left.”

“I see. After that, you didn’t hear from or of him until about ten days later, when DePuy wired to find out why Rathbone hadn’t been to see him?”

“That’s right! As soon as I got DePuy’s wire I sent one to Dan’s brother in Chicago, thinking perhaps Dan had stopped over with him, but Tom wired back that he hadn’t seen his brother. Since then I’ve had two more wires from DePuy. I was sore with Dan for keeping DePuy waiting, but still I didn’t worry a lot.

“Dan isn’t a very reliable person, and if he suddenly took a notion to stop off somewhere between here and New York for a few days he’d do it. But yesterday, when I found that the bonds were gone from the safe deposit box and learned that Dan had been to the box the day before he left, I decided that I’d have to do something. But I don’t want the police brought into it if it can be avoided.

“I feel sure that if I can find Dan and talk to him we can straighten the mess out somehow without scandal. We had our differences, but Dan’s too decent a man, and I like him too well, for all his occasional wildness, to want to see him in jail. So I want him found with as much speed and as little noise as possible.”

“Has he got a car?”

“Not now. He had one but he sold it five or six months ago.”

“Where’d he bank? I mean his personal account?”

“At the Golden Gate Trust Company.”

“Got any photos of him?”


He brought out two from a desk drawer—one full-face, and the other a threequarter view. They showed a man in the middle of his life, with shrewd eyes set close together in a hatchet face, under dark, thin hair. But the face was rather pleasant for all its craftiness.

“How about his relatives, friends, and so on—particularly his feminine friends?”

“His only relative is the brother in Chicago. As to his friends: he probably has as many as any man in San Francisco. He was a wonderful mixer.

“Recentiy he has been on very good terms with a Mrs. Earnshaw, the wife of a real estate agent. She lives on Pacific Street, I think. I don’t know just how intimate they were, but he used to call her up on the phone frequendy, and she called him here nearly every day. Then there is a girl named Eva Duthie, a cabaret entertainer, who lives in the 1100 block of Bush Street. There were probably others, too, but I know of only those two.”

“Have you looked through his stuff, here?”

“Yes, but perhaps you’d like to look for yourself.”

He led me into Rathbone’s private office: a small box of a room, just large enough for a desk, a filing cabinet, and two chairs, with doors leading into the corridor, the outer office, and Zumwalt’s.

“While I’m looking around you might get me a list of the serial numbers of

the missing bonds,” I said. “They probably won’t help us right away, but we can get the Treasury Department to let us know when the coupons come in, and from where.”

I didn’t expect to find anything in Rathbone’s office and I didn’t.

Before I left I questioned the stenographer and the bookkeeper. They already knew that Rathbone was missing, but they didn’t know that the bonds were gone too.

The girl, Mildred Narbett was her name, said that Rathbone had dictated a couple of letters to her on the twenty-eighth—the day he left for New York— both of which had to do with the partner’s business—and told her to send Quimby to check his baggage and make his reservations. When she returned from lunch she had typed the two letters and taken them in for him to sign, catching him just as he was about to leave.

John Quimby, the bookkeeper, described the baggage he had checked: two large pigskin bags and a cordovan Gladstone bag. Having a bookkeeper’s mind, he had remembered the number of the berth he had secured for Rathbone on the evening train—lower 4, car 8. Quimby had returned with the checks and tickets while the partners were out at luncheon, and had put them on Rathbone’s desk.

At Rathbone’s hotel I was told that he had left on the morning of the twentyseventh, giving up his room, but leaving his two trunks there, as he intended living there after his return from New York, in three or four weeks. The hotel people could tell me lithe worth listening to, except that he had left in a taxicab.

At the taxi stand outside I found the chauffeur who had carried Rathbone.

“Rathbone? Sure, I know him!” he told me around a limp cigarette. “Yeah, I guess it was about that date that I took him down to the Golden Gate Trust Company. He had a coupla big yellow bags and a lithe brown one. He busted into the bank, carrying the lithe one, and right out again, looking like somebody had kicked him on his corns. Had me take him to the Phelps Building”—the offices of Rathbone & Zumwalt were in that building—“and didn’t give me a jit over my fare!”

At the Golden Gate Trust Company I had to plead and talk a lot, but they finally gave me what I wanted—Rathbone had drawn out his account, a lithe less than $5,000, on the twenty-fifth of the month, the Saturday before he left town.

From the trust company I went down to the Ferry Building baggage-rooms

and cigared myself into a look at the records for the twenty-eighth. Only one lot of three bags had been checked to New York that day.

I telegraphed the numbers and Rathbone’s description to the Agency’s New York office, instructing them to find the bags and, through them, find him.

Up in the Pullman Company’s offices I was told that car “8” was a through car, and that they could let me know within a couple hours whether Rathbone had occupied his berth all the way to New York.

On my way up to the 1100 block of Bush Street I left one of Rathbone’s photographs with a photographer, with a rush order for a dozen copies.

I found Eva Duthie’s apartment after about five minutes of searching vestibule directories, and got her out of bed. She was an undersized blonde girl of somewhere between nineteen and twenty-nine, depending upon whether you judged by her eyes or by the rest of her face.

“I haven’t seen or heard from Mr. Rathbone for nearly a month,” she said. “I called him up at his hotel the other night—had a party I wanted to ring him in on—but they told me that he was out of town and wouldn’t be back for a week or two.”

Then, in answer to another question:

“Yes, we were pretty good friends, but not especially thick. You know what I mean: we had a lot of fun together but neither of us meant anything to the other outside of that. Dan is a good sport—and so am I.”

Mrs. Earnshaw wasn’t so frank. But she had a husband, and that makes a difference. She was a tall, slender woman, as dark as a gypsy, with a haughty air and a nervous trick of chewing her lower lip.

We sat in a stiffly furnished room and she stalled me for about fifteen minutes, until I came out flat-footed with her.

“It’s like this, Mrs. Earnshaw,” I told her. “Mr. Rathbone has disappeared, and we are going to find him. You’re not helping me and you’re not helping yourself. I came here to get what you know about him.

“I could have gone around asking a lot of questions among your friends; and if you don’t tell me what I want to know that’s what I’ll have to do. And, while I’ll be as careful as possible, still there’s bound to be some curiosity aroused, some wild guesses, and some talk. I’m giving you a chance to avoid all that. It’s up to you.”

“You are assuming,” she said coldly, “that I have something to hide.”

“I’m not assuming anything. I’m hunting for information about Daniel


She bit her lip on that for a while, and then the story came out bit by bit, with a lot in it that wasn’t any too true, but straight enough in the long run. Stripped of the stuff that wouldn’t hold water, it went like this:

She and Rathbone had planned to run away together. She had left San Francisco on the twenty-sixth, going directiy to New Orleans. He was to leave the next day, apparendy for New York, but he was to change trains somewhere in the Middle West and meet her in New Orleans. From there they were to go by boat to Central America.

She pretended ignorance of his designs upon the bonds. Maybe she hadn’t known. Anyhow, she had carried out her part of the plan, but Rathbone had failed to show up in New Orleans. She hadn’t shown much care in covering her trail and private detectives employed by her husband had soon found her. Her husband had arrived in New Orleans and, apparently not knowing that there was another man in the deal, had persuaded her to return home.

She wasn’t a woman to take kindly to the jilting Rathbone had handed her, so she hadn’t tried to get in touch with him, or to learn what had kept him from joining her.

Her story rang true enough, but just to play safe, I put out a few feelers in the neighborhood, and what I learned seemed to verify what she had told me. I gathered that a few of the neighbors had made guesses that weren’t a million miles away from the facts.

I got the Pullman Company on the telephone and was told that lower 4, car 8, leaving for New York on the twenty-eighth, hadn’t been occupied at all.

Zumwalt was dressing for dinner when I went up to his room at the hotel where he was staying.

I told him all that I had learned that day, and what I thought of it.

“Everything makes sense up until Rathbone left the Golden Gate Trust Company vault on the twenty-seventh, and after that nothing does! He had planned to grab the bonds and elope with this Mrs. Earnshaw, and he had already drawn out of the bank all his own money. That’s all orderly. But why should he have gone back to the office? Why should he have stayed in town that night? What was the important business that held him? Why should he have ditched Mrs. Earnshaw? Why didn’t he use his reservations at least part of the way across the country, as he had planned? False trail, maybe, but a rotten one! There’s nothing to do, Mr. Zumwalt, but to call in the police and the newspapers, and see what publicity and a nation-wide search will do for us.”

“But that means jail for Dan, with no chance to quiedy straighten the matter up!” he protested.

“It does! But it can’t be helped. And remember, you’ve got to protect yourself. You’re his partner, and, while not criminally responsible, you are financially responsible for his actions. You’ve got to put yourself in the clear!”

He nodded reluctant agreement and I grabbed the telephone.

For two hours I was busy giving all the dope we had to the police, and as much as we wanted published to the newspapers, who luckily had photographs of Rathbone, taken a year before when he had been named as co-respondent in a divorce suit.

I sent off three telegrams. One to New York, asking that Rathbone’s baggage be opened as soon as the necessary authority could be secured. (If he hadn’t gone to New York the baggage should be waiting at the station.) One to Chicago, asking that Rathbone’s brother be interviewed and then shadowed for a few days. And one to New Orleans, to have the city searched for him. Then I headed for home and bed.

News was scarce, and the papers the next day had Rathbone spread out all over the front pages, with photographs and descriptions and wild guesses and wilder clews that had materialized somehow within the short space between the time the newspapers got the story and the time they went to press.

I spent the morning preparing circulars and plans for having the country covered; and arranging to have steamship records searched.

Just before noon a telegram came from New York, itemizing the things found in Rathbone’s baggage. The contents of the two large bags didn’t mean anything. They might have been packed for use or for a stall. But the things in the Gladstone bag, which had been found unlocked, were puzzling.

Here’s the list:

Two suits silk pajamas, 4 silk shirts, 8 linen collars, 4 suits underwear, 6 neckties, 6 pairs sox, 18 handkerchiefs, 1 pair military brushes, 1 comb, 1 safety razor, 1 tube shaving cream, 1 shaving brush, 1 tooth brush, 1 tube tooth paste, 1 can talcum powder, 1 botde hair tonic, 1 cigar case holding 12 cigars, 1 .32 Colt’s revolver, 1 map of Honduras, 1 Spanish English dictionary, 2 books postage stamps, 1 pint Scotch whiskey, and 1 manicure set.

Zumwalt, his bookkeeper, and his stenographer were watching two men from headquarters search Rathbone’s office when I arrived there. After I showed them the telegram the detectives went back to their examination.

“What’s the significance of that list?” Zumwalt asked.

“It shows that there’s no sense to this thing the way it now stands,” I said. “That Gladstone bag was packed to be carried. Checking it was all wrong—it wasn’t even locked. And nobody ever checks Gladstone bags filled with toilet articles—so checking it for a stall would have been the bunk! Maybe he checked it as an afterthought—to get rid of it when he found he wasn’t going to need it. But what could have made it unnecessary to him? Don’t forget that it’s apparendy the same bag that he carried into the Golden Gate Trust Company vault when he went for the bonds. Damned if I can dope it!”

“Here’s something else for you to dope,” one of the city detectives said, getting up from his examination of the desk and holding out a sheet of paper. “I found it behind one of the drawers, where it had slipped down.”

It was a letter, written with blue ink in a firm, angular and unmistakably feminine hand on heavy white note paper.

Dear Dannyboy:

If it isn’t too late I’ve changed my mind about going. If you can wait another day, until Tuesday, I’ll go. Call me up as soon as you get this, and if you still want me I’ll pick you up in the roadster at the Shattuck Avenue station Tuesday afternoon.

More than ever yours, “Boots.”

It was dated the twenty-sixth—the Sunday before Rathbone had disappeared.

“That’s the thing that made him lay over another day, and made him change his plans,” one of the police detectives said. “I guess we better run over to Berkeley and see what we can find at the Shattuck Avenue station.”

“Mr. Zumwalt,” I said, when he and I were alone in his office, “how about this stenog of yours?”

He bounced up from his chair and his face turned red.

“What about her?”

“Is she— How friendly was she with Rathbone?”

“Miss Narbett,” he said heavily, deliberately, as if to be sure that I caught

every syllable, “is to be married to me as soon as my wife gets her divorce. That is why I canceled the order to sell my house. Now would you mind telling me just why you asked?”

“Just a random guess!” I lied, trying to soothe him. “I don’t want to overlook any bets. But now that’s out of the way.”

“It is,” he was still talking deliberately, “and it seems to me that most of your guesses have been random ones. If you will have your office send me a bill for your services to date, I think I can dispense with your help.”

“Just as you say. But you’ll have to pay for a full day today; so, if you don’t mind, I’ll keep on working at it until night.”

“Very well! But I am busy, and you needn’t bother about coming in with any reports.”

“All right,” I said, and bowed myself out of the office, but not out of the job.

That letter from “Boots” had not been in the desk when I searched it. I had taken every drawer out and even tilted the desk to look under it. The letter was a plant!

And then again: maybe Zumwalt had given me the air because he was dissatisfied with the work I had done and peeved at my question about the girl —and maybe not.

Suppose (I thought, walking up Market Street, bumping shoulders and stepping on people’s feet) the two partners were in this thing together. One of them would have to be the goat, and that part had fallen to Rathbone. Zumwalt’s manner and actions since his partner’s disappearance fit that theory well enough.

Employing a private detective before calling in the police was a good play. In the first place it gave him the appearance of innocence. Then the private sleuth would tell him everything he learned, every step he took, giving Zumwalt an opportunity to correct any mistakes or oversights in the partners’ plans before the police came into it; and if the private detective got on dangerous ground he could be called off.

And suppose Rathbone was found in some city where he was unknown—and that would be where he’d go. Zumwalt would volunteer to go forward to identify him. He would look at him and say, “No, that’s not him,” Rathbone would be turned loose, and that would be the end of that trail.

This theory left the sudden change in Rathbone’s plans unaccounted for; but it made his return to the office on the afternoon of the twenty-seventh more

plausible. He had come back to confer with his partner over that unknown necessity for the change, and they had decided to leave Mrs. Earnshaw out of it. Then they had gone out to Zumwalt’s house. For what? And why had Zumwalt decided not to sell the house? And why had he taken the trouble to give me an explanation? Could they have cached the bonds there?

A look at the house wouldn’t be a bad idea!

I telephoned Bennett, at the Oakland Police Department.

“Do me a favor, Frank? Call Zumwalt on the phone. Tell him you’ve picked up a man who answers Rathbone’s description to a T; and ask him to come over and take a look at him. When he gets there stall him as long as you can— pretending that the man is being fingerprinted and measured, or something like that—and then tell him that you’ve found that the man isn’t Rathbone, and that you are sorry to have brought him over there, and so on. If you only hold him for half or three-quarters of an hour it’ll be enough—it’ll take him more than half an hour traveling each way. Thanks!”

I stopped in at the office, stuck a flashlight in my pocket, and headed for Fourteenth Avenue.

Zumwalt’s house was a two-story, semi-detached one; and the lock on the front door held me up about four minutes. A burglar would have gone through it without checking his stride. This breaking into the house wasn’t exactiy according to the rules, but on the other hand, I was legally Zumwalt’s agent until I discontinued work that night—so this crashing in couldn’t be considered illegal.

I started at the top floor and worked down. Bureaus, dressers, tables, desks, chairs, walls, woodwork, pictures, carpets, plumbing—I looked at everything that was thick enough to hold paper. I didn’t take things apart, but it’s surprising how speedily and how thoroughly you can go through a house when you’re in training.

I found nothing in the house itself, so I went down into the cellar.

It was a large cellar and divided in two. The front part was paved with cement, and held a full coal-bin, some furniture, some canned goods, and a lot of odds and ends of housekeeping accessories. The rear division, behind a plaster partition where the steps ran down from the kitchen, was without windows, and illuminated only by one swinging electric light, which I turned on.

A pile of lumber filled half the space; on the other side barrels and boxes

were piled up to the ceiling; two sacks of cement lay beside them, and in another corner was a tangle of broken furniture. The floor was of hard dirt.

I turned to the lumber pile first. I wasn’t in love with the job ahead of me— moving the pile away and then back again. But I needn’t have worried.

Aboard rattied behind me, and I wheeled to see Zumwalt rising from behind a barrel and scowling at me over a black automatic pistol.

“Put your hands up,” he said.

I put them up. I didn’t have a pistol with me, not being in the habit of carrying one except when I thought I was going to need it; but it would have been all the same if I had had a pocket full of them. I don’t mind taking chances, but there’s no chance when you’re looking into the muzzle of a gun that a determined man is holding on you.

So I put my hands up. And one of them brushed against the swinging light globe. I drove my knuckles into it. As the cellar went black I threw myself backward and to one side. Zumwalt’s gun streaked fire.

Nothing happened for a while. I found that I had fallen across the doorway that gave to the stairs and the front cellar. I figured that I couldn’t move without making a noise that would draw lead, so I lay still.

Then began a game that made up in tenseness what it lacked in action.

The part of the cellar where we were was about twenty by twenty feet and blacker than a new shoe. There were two doors. One, on the opposite side, opened into the yard and was, I supposed, locked. I was lying on my back across the other, waiting for a pair of legs to grab. Zumwalt, with a gun out of which only one bullet had been spent, was somewhere in the blackness, and aware, from his silence, that I was still alive.

I figured I had the edge on him. I was closest to the only practicable exit; he didn’t know that I was unarmed; he didn’t know whether I had help close by or not; time was valuable to him, but not necessarily so to me. So I waited.

Time passed. How much I don’t know. Maybe half an hour.

The floor was damp and hard and thoroughly uncomfortable. The electric light had cut my hand when I broke it, and I couldn’t determine how badly I was bleeding. I thought of Tad’s “blind man in a dark room hunting for a black hat that wasn’t there,” and knew how he felt.

A box or barrel fell over with a crash—knocked over by Zumwalt, no doubt, moving out from the hiding-place wherein he had awaited my arrival.

Silence for a while. And then I could hear him moving cautiously off to one side.

Without warning two streaks from his pistol sent bullets into the partition somewhere above my feet. I wasn’t the only one who was feeling the strain.

Silence again, and I found that I was wet and dripping with perspiration.

Then I could hear his breathing, but couldn’t determine whether he was nearer or was breathing more heavily.

A soft, sliding, dragging across the dirt floor! I pictured him crawling awkwardly on his knees and one hand, the other hand holding the pistol out ahead of him—the pistol that would spit fire as soon as its muzzle touched something soft. And I became uneasily aware of my bulk. I am thick through the waist; and there in the dark it seemed to me that my paunch must extend almost to the ceiling—a target that no bullet could miss.

I stretched my hands out toward him and held them there. If they touched him first I’d have a chance.

He was panting harshly now; and I was breathing through a mouth that was stretched as wide as it would go, so that there would be no rasping of the large quantities of air I was taking in and letting out.

Abrupdy he came.

Hair brushed the fingers of my left hand. I closed them about it, pulling the head I couldn’t see viciously toward me, driving my right fist beneath it. You may know that I put everything I had in that smack when I tell you that not until later, when I found that one of my cheeks was scorched, did I know that his gun had gone off.

He wiggled, and I hit him again.

Then I was sitting astride him, my flashlight hunting for his pistol. I found it, and yanked him to his feet.

As soon as his head cleared I herded him into the front cellar and got a globe to replace the one I had smashed.

“Now dig it up,” I ordered.

That was a safe way of putting it. I wasn’t sure what I wanted or where it would be, except that his selecting this part of the cellar to wait for me in made it look as if this was the right place.

“You’ll do your own digging!” he growled.

“Maybe,” I said, “but I’m going to do it now, and I haven’t time to tie you up. So if I’ve got to do the digging, I’m going to crown you first, so you’ll sleep peacefully until it’s all over.”

All smeared with blood and dirt and sweat, I must have looked capable of anything, for when I took a step toward him he gave in.

From behind the lumber pile he brought a spade, moved some of the barrels to one side, and started turning up the dirt.

When a hand—a man’s hand—dead-yellow where the damp dirt didn’t stick to it—came into sight I stopped him.

I had found “it,” and I had no stomach for looking at “it” after three weeks of lying in the wet ground.

NOTE: In court, Lester Zumwalt’s plea was that he had killed his partner in self-defense. Zumwalt testified that he had taken the Gorham bonds in a futile attempt to recover losses in the stock market; and that when Rathbone—who had intended taking them and going to Central America with Mrs. Earnshaw— had visited the safe deposit box and found them gone, he had returned to the office and charged Zumwalt with the theft.

Zumwalt at that time had not suspected his partner’s own dishonest plans, and had promised to restore the bonds. They had gone to Zumwalt’s house to discuss the matter; and, Rathbone, dissatisfied with his partner’s plan of restitution, had attacked Zumwalt, and had been killed in the ensuing struggle.

Then Zumwalt had told Mildred Narbett, his stenographer, the whole story and had persuaded her to help him. Between them they had made it appear that Rathbone had been in the office for a while the next day—the twenty-eighth— and had left for New York.

However, the jury seemed to think that Zumwalt had lured his partner out to the Fourteenth Avenue house for the purpose of killing him; so Zumwalt was found guilty of murder in the first degree.

The first jury before which Mildred Narbett was tried disagreed. The second jury acquitted her, holding that there was nothing to show that she had taken part in either the theft of the bonds or the murder, or that she had any knowledge of either crime until afterward; and that her later complicity was, in view of her love for Zumwalt, not altogether blameworthy.

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Dashiell Hammett — It (The Black Hat That Wasn’t There) (1923)

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