In the Arizona desert, the sun’s high, the heat’s relentless, and there’s murder in the air. Across this long stretch of sunbaked hell, one town stands out as the worst of all. Someone is killing the cowboys of Corkscrew, and Continental Op has been hired to stop the slaughter. From the moment he rides into town, he tastes dust on his teeth and blood in the wind. The locals have no respect for this hardboiled San Francisco detective, so it’s up to the Op to show them he deserves his badge. But before peace can come to Corkscrew, more men will die.
A portrait of a tough man in a rough town, “Corkscrew” offers a taste of Dashiell Hammett’s first novel, the legendary epic of hardboiled violence Red Harvest. Along with the other stories in this volume—“Dead Yellow Women” and “The Gutting of Couffignal”—it shows Hammett and his infamous Continental Op at the top of their forms.
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
Read an Excerpt
Corkscrew and Other Stories
Collected Case Files of the Continental Op The Middle Years, Vol. 3
By Dashiell Hammett, Richard Layman, Julie M. Rivett
MysteriousPress.com/Open Road Integrated MediaCopyright © 1984 Pro-Distributors
All rights reserved.
Black Mask, September 1925
Boiling like a coffee pot before we were five miles out of Filmer, the automobile stage carried me south into the shimmering heat, blinding sunlight, and bitter white dust of the Arizona desert.
I was the only passenger. The driver felt as little like talking as I. All morning we rode through cactus-spiked, sage-studded oven-country, without conversation, except when the driver cursed the necessity of stopping to feed his clattering machine more water. The car crept through soft sifting sand; wound between steep-walled red mesas; dipped into dry arroyas where clumps of dusty mesquite were like white lace in the glare; and skirted sharp-edged barrancos.
All these things were hot. All of them tried to get rid of their heat by throwing it on the car. My fat melted in the heat. The heat dried my perspiration before I could feel its moisture. The dazzling light scorched my eyeballs; puckered my lids; cooked my mouth. Alkali stung my nose; was gritty between my teeth.
It was a nice ride! I understood why the natives were a hard lot. A morning like this would put any man in a mood to kill his brother, and would fry his brother into not caring whether he was killed.
The sun climbed up in the brazen sky. The higher it got, the larger and hotter it got. I wondered how much hotter it would have to get to explode the cartridges in the gun under my arm. Not that it mattered — if it got any hotter, we would all blow up anyway. Car, desert, chauffeur and I would all bang out of existence in one explosive flash. I didn't care if we did!
That was my frame of mind as we pushed up a long slope, topped a sharp ridge, and slid down into Corkscrew.
Corkscrew wouldn't have been impressive at any time. It especially wasn't this white-hot Sunday afternoon. One sandy street following the crooked edge of the Tirabuzon Cañon, from which, by translation, the town took its name. A town, it was called, but village would have been flattery: fifteen or eighteen shabby buildings slumped along the irregular street, with tumble-down shacks leaning against them, squatting close to them, and trying to sneak away from them.
That was Corkscrew. One look at it, and I believed all I had heard about it!
In the street, four dusty automobiles cooked. Between two buildings I could see a corral where half a dozen horses bunched their dejection under a shed. No person was in sight. Even the stage driver, carrying a limp and apparently empty mail sack, had vanished into a building labelled "Adderly's Emporium."
Gathering up my two grey-powdered bags, I climbed out and crossed the road to where a weather-washed sign, on which Cañon House was barely visible, hung over the door of a two-story, iron-roofed, adobe house.
I crossed the wide, unpainted and unpeopled porch, and pushed a door open with my foot, going into a dining-room, where a dozen men and a woman sat eating at oilcloth-covered tables. In one corner of the room, was a cashier's desk; and, on the wall behind it, a key-rack. Between rack and desk, a pudgy man whose few remaining hairs were the exact shade of his sallow skin, sat on a stool, and pretended he didn't see me.
"A room and a lot of water," I said, dropping my bags, and reaching for the glass that sat on top of a cooler in the corner.
"You can have your room," the sallow man growled, "but water won't do you no good. You won't no sooner drink and wash, than you'll be thirsty and dirty all over again. Where in hell is that register?"
He couldn't find it, so he pushed an old envelope across the desk at me.
"Register on the back of that. Be with us a spell?"
A chair upset behind me.
I turned around as a lanky man with enormous red ears reared himself upright with the help of his hands on the table — one of them flat in the plate of ham and eggs he had been eating.
"Ladiesh an' gentsh," he solemnly declaimed, "th' time hash came for yuh t' give up y'r evil waysh an' git out y'r knittin'. Th' law hash came to Orilla County!"
The drunk bowed to me, upset his ham and eggs, and sat down again. The other diners applauded with thump of knives and forks on tables and dishes.
I looked them over while they looked me over. A miscellaneous assortment: weather-beaten horsemen, clumsily muscled laborers, men with the pasty complexions of night workers. The one woman in the room didn't belong to Arizona. She was a thin girl of maybe twenty-five, with too-bright dark eyes, dark, short hair, and a sharp prettiness that was the mark of a larger settlement than this. You've seen her, or her sisters, in the larger cities, in the places that get going after the theatres let out.
The man with her was range country — a slim lad in the early twenties, not very tall, with pale blue eyes that were startling in so dark-tanned a face. His features were a bit too perfect in their clean-cut regularity.
"So you're the new deputy sheriff?" the sallow man questioned the back of my head.
Somebody had kept my secret right out in the open! There was no use trying to cover up.
"Yes." I hid my annoyance under a grin that took in him and the diners. "But I'll trade my star right now for that room and water we were talking about."
He took me through the dining-room and upstairs to a board-walled room in the rear second floor, said, "This is it," and left me.
I did what I could with the water in a pitcher on the washstand to free myself from the white grime I had accumulated. Then I dug a grey shirt and a suit of whipcords out of my bags, and holstered my gun under my left shoulder, where it wouldn't be a secret.
In each side pocket of my coat I stowed a new .32 automatic — small, snub-nosed affairs that weren't much better than toys. Their smallness let me carry them where they'd be close to my hands without advertising the fact that the gun under my shoulder wasn't all my arsenal.
The dining-room was empty when I went downstairs again. The sallow pessimist who ran the place stuck his head out of a door.
"Any chance of getting something to eat?" I asked.
"Hardly any," jerking his head toward a sign that said:
"Meals 6 to 8 A. M., 12 to 2 and 5 to 7 P. M."
"You can grub up at the Jew's — if you ain't particular," he added sourly.
I went out, across the porch that was too hot for idlers, and into the street that was empty for the same reason. Huddled against the wall of a large one-story adobe building, which had Border Palace painted all across its front, I found the Jew's.
It was a small shack — three wooden walls stuck against the adobe wall of the Border Palace — jammed with a lunch counter, eight stools, a stove, a handful of cooking implements, half the flies in the world, an iron cot behind a half-drawn burlap curtain, and the proprietor. The interior had once been painted white. It was a smoky grease-color now, except where home-made signs said:
"Meals At All Hours. No Credit" and gave the prices of various foods. These signs were a fly-specked yellow-grey.
The proprietor wasn't a Jew — an Armenian or something of the sort, I thought. He was a small man, old, scrawny, dark-skinned, wrinkled and cheerful.
"You the new sheriff?" he asked, and when he grinned I saw he had no teeth.
"Deputy," I admitted, "and hungry. I'll eat anything you've got that won't bite back, and that won't take long to get ready."
"Sure!" He turned to his stove and began banging pans around. "We need sheriffs," he said over his shoulder. "Sure, we need them!"
"Somebody been picking on you?"
He showed his empty gums in another grin.
"Nobody pick on me — I tell you that!" He flourished a stringy hand at a sugar barrel under the shelves behind his counter. "I fix them decidedly!"
A shotgun butt stuck out of the barrel. I pulled it out: a double-barrel shotgun with the barrels sawed off short: a mean weapon close up.
I slid it back into its resting place as the old man began thumping dishes down in front of me.
The food inside me and a cigarette burning, I went out into the crooked street again. From the Border Palace came the clicking of pool balls. I followed the sound through the door.
In a large room, four men were leaning over a couple of pool tables, while five or six more watched them from chairs along the wall. On one side of the room was an oak bar, with nobody behind it. Through an open door in the rear came the sound of shuffling cards.
A big man whose paunch was dressed in a white vest, over a shirt in the bosom of which a diamond sparkled, came toward me; his triple-chinned red face expanding into the professionally jovial smile of a confidence man.
"I'm Bardell," he greeted me, stretching out a fat and shiny-nailed hand on which more diamonds glittered. "This is my joint. I'm glad to know you, sheriff! By God, we need you, and I hope you can spend a lot of your time here. These waddies" — and he chuckled, nodding at the pool players — "cut up rough on me sometimes, and I'm glad there's going to be somebody around who can handle them."
I let him pump my hand up and down.
"Let me make you known to the boys," he went on, turning with one arm across my shoulders. "These are Circle H. A. R. riders" — waving some of his rings at the pool players — "except this Milk River hombre, who, being a peeler, kind of looks down on ordinary hands."
The Milk River hombre was the slender youth who had sat beside the girl in the Cañon House dining-room. His companions were young — though not quite so young as he — sun-marked, wind-marked, pigeontoed in high-heeled boots. Buck Small was sandy and pop-eyed; Smith was sandy and short; Dunne was a rangy Irishman.
The men watching the game were mostly laborers from the Orilla Colony, or hands from some of the smaller ranches in the neighborhood. There were two exceptions: Chick Orr, short, thick-bodied, heavy-armed, with the shapeless nose, battered ears, gold front teeth and gnarled hands of a pugilist; and Gyp Rainey, a slack-chinned, ratty individual whose whole front spelled cocaine.
Conducted by Bardell, I went into the back room to meet the poker players. There were only four of them. The other six card tables, the keno outfit, and the dice table were idle.
One of the players was the big-eared drunk who had made the welcoming speech at the hotel. Slim Vogel was the name. He was a Circle H. A. R. hand, as was Red Wheelan, who sat beside him. Both of them were full of hooch. The third player was a quiet, middle-aged man named Keefe. Number four was Mark Nisbet, a pale, slim man. Gambler was written all over him, from his heavy-lidded brown eyes to the slender sureness of his white fingers.
Nisbet and Vogel didn't seem to be getting along so good.
It was Nisbet's deal, and the pot had already been opened. Vogel, who had twice as many chips as anybody else, threw away two cards.
"I want both of 'em off'n th' top — this time!" and he didn't say it nicely.
Nisbet dealt the cards, with nothing in his appearance to show he had heard the crack. Red Wheelan took three cards. Keefe was out. Nisbet drew one. Wheelan bet. Nisbet stayed. Vogel raised. Wheelan stayed. Nisbet raised. Vogel bumped it again. Wheelan dropped out. Nisbet raised once more.
"I'm bettin' you took your draw off'n th' top, too," Vogel snarled across the table at Nisbet, and tilted the pot again.
Nisbet called. He had aces over kings. The cowpuncher had three nines.
Vogel laughed noisily as he raked in the chips.
"'F I could keep a sheriff behind you t' watch you all th' time, I'd do somethin' for myself!"
Nisbet pretended to be busy straightening his chips. I sympathized with him. He had played his hand rotten — but how else can you play against a drunk?
"How d'you like our little town?" Red Wheelan asked me.
"I haven't seen much of it yet," I stalled. "The hotel, the lunch-counter — they're all I've seen outside of here."
"So you met the Jew? That's Slim's friend!"
Everybody except Nisbet laughed, including Slim Vogel.
"Slim tried to beat the Jew out of two bits' worth of Java and sinkers once. He says he forgot to pay for 'em, but it's more likely he sneaked out. Anyways, the next day, here comes the Jew, stirring dust into the ranch, a shotgun under his arm. He'd lugged that instrument of destruction fifteen miles across the desert, on foot, to collect his two bits. He collected, too! He took his little two bits away from Slim right there between the corral and the bunkhouse — at the cannon's mouth, as you might say!"
Slim Vogel grinned ruefully and scratched one of his big ears.
"The old son-of-a-gun done came after me just like I was a damned thief! 'F he'd of been a man I'd of seen him in hell 'fore I'd of gave it to him. But what can y' do with an old buzzard that ain't even got no teeth to bite you with?"
His bleary eyes went back to the table, and the laughter went out of them. The laugh on his loose lips changed to a sneer.
"Let's play," he growled, glaring at Nisbet. "It's a honest man's deal this time!"
Bardell and I went back to the front of the building, where the cowboys were still knocking the balls around. I sat in one of the chairs against the wall, and let them talk around me. The conversation wasn't exactly fluent. Anybody could tell there was a stranger present.
My first job was to get over that.
"Got any idea," I asked nobody in particular, "where I could pick up a horse? One that can run pretty good, but that isn't too tricky for a bum rider to sit."
The Milk River hombre was playing the seven ball in a side pocket. He made the shot, and his pale eyes looked at the pocket into which the ball had gone for a couple of seconds before he straightened up. Lanky Dunne was looking fixedly at nothing, his mouth puckered a bit. Buck Small's pop-eyes were intent on the tip of his cue.
"You might get one at Echlin's stable," Milk River said slowly, meeting my gaze with guileless blue eyes; "though it ain't likely he's got anything that'll live long if you hurry it. I tell you what — Peery, out to the ranch, has got a buckskin that'd just fit you. He won't want to let him go, but if you took some real money along and flapped it in his face, maybe you could deal. He does need money."
"You're not steering me into a horse I can't handle, are you?" I asked.
The pale eyes went blank.
"I ain't steering you into nothing whatsomever, Mister," he said. "You asked for information. I give it to you. But I don't mind telling you that anybody that can stay in a rocking chair can sit that buckskin."
"That's fine. I'll go out tomorrow."
Milk River put his cue down, frowning.
"Come to think of it, Peery's going down to the lower camp tomorrow. I tell you — if you got nothing else to do, we'll mosey out there right now. It's Sunday, and we'll be sure of catching him."
"Good," I said, and stood up.
"You boys going home?" Milk River asked his companions.
"Yeah," Smith spoke casually. "We gotta roll out early in the mornin', so I s'pose we'd ought to be shakin' along out there. I'll see if Slim an' Red are ready."
They weren't. Vogel's disagreeable voice came through the open door.
"I'm camped right here! I got this reptile on th' run, an' it's only a matter o' time 'fore he'll have t' take a chance on pullin' 'em off'n th' bottom t' save his hide. An' that's exac'ly what I'm awaitin' for! Th' first time he gets fancy, I'm goin' t' open him up from his Adam's apple plumb down to his ankles!"
Smith returned to us.
"Slim an' Red are gonna play 'em a while. They'll git a lift out when they git enough."
Milk River, Smith, Dunne, Small and I went out of the Border Palace.
Three steps from the door, a stooped, white-mustached man in a collarless stiff-bosomed shirt swooped down on me, as if he had been lying in wait.
"My name's Adderly," he introduced himself, holding out one hand toward me while flicking the other at Adderly's Emporium. "Got a minute or two to spare? I'd like to make you acquainted with some of the folks."
The Circle H. A. R. men were walking slowly toward one of the machines in the street.
"Can you wait a couple of minutes?" I called after them.
Milk River looked back over his shoulder.
"Yes. We got to gas and water the flivver. Take yor time."
Adderly led me toward his store, talking as he walked.
"Some of the better element is at my house — danged near all the better element. The folks who'll back you up if you'll put the fear of God in Corkscrew. We're tired and sick of this perpetual hell-raising."
We went through his store, across a yard, and into his house. There were a dozen or more people in his living-room.
The Reverend Dierks — a gangling, emaciated man with a tight mouth in a long, thin face — made a speech at me. He called me brother, he told me what a wicked place Corkscrew was, and he told me he and his friends were prepared to swear out warrants for the arrest of various men who had committed sixty-some crimes during the past two years.
Excerpted from Corkscrew 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,
"Dead Yellow Women",
"The Gutting of Couffignal",
About the Author,