It had drizzled rain for two days now. I heard the roll of thunder, and our prospects for a new job were the color of the clouds I saw in the distance. Miles had just come in from a stakeout. He was leaning back, legs stretched out, rolling a cigarette.
He had just opened his mouth to speak, looked like he had an idea about something, which would be a change, when Effie opened the door.
"Sam, you've got a client in the office," Effie announced. "Said she needs action fast."
"Uh, huh. What d'ya think?"
"Oh you'll like her," then she eyed Miles, whose ears had perked up by now.
"Her threads have some mileage, but they cost a bundle."
"And she has lots of these and a lot of those."
"Well, send her in, sweetheart, time is money."
She went out and came back in with our prospective client and Effie wasn't kidding.
"This is Miss Claire Adelaide. Miss Adelaide, Mr. Same Spade and his partner, Miles Archer."
Jesse Owens couldn't have grabbed a chair for her as fast as Miles. She was just his type, when his wife wasn't looking. Young, slim and sophisticated. Effie eased out. The only sound was the patter of rain and Miles's heart.
"What can we do for your Miss Adelaide?"
"Oh, call me Claire, please. I do hate to bother you gentleman so late in the day, but I'm so terribly worried."
Miles was lapping this up like Effie's terrier.
"Go right ahead....Miss Adelaide. It's our job."
"Well, it's my sister, I'm afraid she's in over her head. You see, she's supposed to play in the Diplomacy tournament at Daddy's club tomorrow night, and, well, you don't know Helen. She's so trusting and innocent. Daddy's always said her mind was like a feather pillow, that bore the impression of the last person to sat upon it. I can't bear to think what would happen to her in a game with ruthless grognards."
"Old veterans, Miles. Now, Miss Adelaide....Clair...just what is it you want us to do?"
"Oh, please, could one you arrange to enter the first round game with her. I'm afraid to think what would happen if she went into the game without a friend--flying dutchmans, miswritten orders ignored, lies and backstabs. I just couldn't let that happen to my sister."
Miles glanced at me and grinned.
"Sure," I said, "if it'll make you rest any easier, one of us will sit an and play, just to keep thinks on the up and up."
"About the money....."
"We charge $100 a day, plus expenses," I said. She hesitated at that. Then pulled out two crisp C notes.
"Here you are...and I thought, perhaps, you could out something about the other players in the game. They are a despicable lot, and it might help if I...uh, if Helen knew how they played....opening moves, their strengths...."
"Sure, sure, we'll find out. Just who is in the game?"
"Well, the best player, I believe, is a Mr. Gutman, a quite large and abusive fellow. Wears white suits. I don't like him. I understand he particularly wants to win this tournament...because of the trophy."
"Yes, a double eagle coin struck in obsidian--quite rare and priceless--donated by a Diplomacy-playing numismatist."
"Yeah, sort of a black bird, huh?"
"There is also a little man...Joel Cairo. He has an accent, eastern Europe I think. One look at him, Mr. Spade, and you just know you can't trust him. There is also a weasel-looking character named Wilma. It is well known that he makes his moves just as Mr. Gutman says. He scarcely has a mind of his own--I believe the word for him is 'toady'. There are two others, an Englishman, Blakely Crawford, whose favorite country is Russia, and a Texan, Victor G. Clarke, known for his unpredictable and bizarre openings, and for his foul press in postal games."
I reached for her dough, but Miles beat me to it, and blurted out that he would be so very honored to be at the game himself.
We rose and escorted Claire to the door.
"Thank you ever so much, gentlemen, I feel so relieved."
Then giving Miles the eye, she added, in a voice that purred--"I don't know how I will ever be able to repay you."
When she had left, Miles held the bills up the light and whistled.
"Crisp as a starched collar. And did you see their brothers in her purse? This one gig I'm gonna enjoy."
The ringing wouldn't stop. I shook my head, but it kept on ringing. Eyes open now, I sat up in bed and fumbled for the phone. I was two o'clock in the morning.
"Hello. Yeah, this is Spade. What is it? You don't say? Uh, huh. Yeah, I can't say...it's confidential. Yeah, all right. I'll be up their in thirty minutes."
I pulled up in front of the building where the Diplomacy tournament was being held. Inspector William Owens, the pick of the bad lot, met me at the door and scurrying along beside him was Sgt. Paddock. Paddock and I had tangled once before. It stuck in his craw--I could see he hadn't forgotten.
"Hello Sam. Tough break about Miles."
"Yeah, Bill, tough. Show me where it happened."
"Ain't you even going to ask how he got it, Spade? Or don't you already know?"
A short right cross would have put Paddock on his back, but Owens grabbed me first.
"Come on, Sam, let it go."
"All right, but get him away from me, you hear, get him away if he knows what's good for him."
We went up a fight of stairs, through heavy oak doors and into a well-lit room. Old look...19th century...large leather-covered easy chairs, but only one caught my eye. The photographer was still at work, others were dusting for prints around the table--the Diplomacy game still set up where it was interrupted.
I walked over to the chair, but I knew what I was going to see. There was Miles, head slumped slightly forward. Just as I figured it. He had been stabbed....a crimson strain on him white suite encircled the ivory-handled stiletto in his back.
They took the body out and we got down to business. There wasn't much to on...except one thing. No one had come in or out of that room while the Diplomacy game was in progress--no one had seen the murder committed. The narrowed the suspects down to the six surviving players, unless Miles had committed suicide by stabbing himself in the back. He would have thought it was a great gag.
"Well, Sam, what d'ya think? Miles have any enemies in this game? Revenge, maybe?"
"You got me, Bill."
"All right, Sam, let me have it. I know Miles was on a case. Who's the client.?"
"All right. For what it's worth, a dame named Claire Adelaide--her sister, Helen, was one of the players."
"Who are you trying to fool? Claire Adelaide was one of the players. And she doesn't have any sister. We started the questioning with her. The others are all in an adjoining room now. They all claim the same thing. No one saw anything. They all say someone must have sneaked in and stabbed him while everyone else was over at the board. But one of the tournament directors was out in the hallway the whole time. He said no one came in or out. That's not all. The Double Eagle coin that was to be the first place prize is missing. It was in a case over the fireplace and we've searched them already--it can't be found, and we don't have a clue."
I asked Bill to let me question the suspects and he agreed. Paddock didn't like it--said the force didn't need the likes of any gumshoe in their investigation--but Bill had the suspects all brought in anyway. I've been around a few Diplomacy players in my time, long before Miles ever thought about playing, but this was as seedy and untrustworthy bunch as I've ever seen.
Bill introduced everyone, then we all sat around the table with the game board still set up just as the game was interrupted after the Winter of 1904. Most of them kept darting their eyes over to the chair off to the side where Miles got it. They all looked guilty to me. Before I could day anything, the fat guy, Gutman, started in.
"I'll have you know, sir, that I am unaccustomed to being treated in such a manner. I demand that I be charged immediately or released."
Then they all started in. Everyone shouting at once. All demanding their rights. Paddock got them quieted down. Then I looked at the board, and an idea came to me.
"Mr. Clark, could you tell me who was playing each country?"
That was a mistake. You would have thought the redhead had a spotlight on him as he pontificated. I finally shut him up after coming up with the players; Gutman--England; Wilma--France; Blakely Crawford--Turkey; Joel Cairo- -Italy; V.G. Clarke--Austria; Claire Adelaide--Germany; and Miles played Russia.
I had seen the recording of the moves in the game. I believed I had it now. I knew who killed Miles, how it was done, and the location of the missing Double Eagle. But I never could resist to wind up a case with a flourish.
"Mr. Gutman. I notice that you began the game with the Churchill Opening: F Edi-Nwg, F Lon-Nth, A Lvp-Edi. Why that opening rather than the Channel attack?"
"Hrumph, there was no profit in the Channel, sir, no profit at all."
"You no doubt knew that France would not dare open there. Yes, we know that France kowtows to you so don't deny it. But I know you would give your right arm for that Double Eagle--so Wilma here was your target--but something lured you to Scandinavia."
Wilma was standing now, glaring at Gutman and looking like he could jump over the table and grab his flabby throat.
"Yes, sir, I don't deny it. I had good information that Russia would not only move A Mos southward, but he would not receive a build for Sweden."
"Not good enough Gutman. You know that St. Pete is a dead for England. You're a better player than that. You know you had a firm alliance with France, so no worries there. It was Germany and Russia you had to deal with. Germany passed along information that F Kie-Den would allow Russia to be stood off in Sweden. Germany promised you something more, didn't she? A classic Anglo-German alliance that would take out the threat of Russian fleets building StP(nc) and later your good ally France would be your next victim."
"Sit down, Wilma," growled the inspector.
"Yeah, you knew that England always is better positioned in such an alliance to stab Germany after France falls."
Puffing himself up, and looking at the rest of us with contempt, Gutman went on. "I tell you, sir, I did not want to trust that woman. She has a certain reputation on the Diplomacy circuit. But confound it, the Russian would not look me in the eye. I never trust a man who will not look me in the eye. He kept leering at her all night. Yes, sir, I took her up on the offer."
I eased up out of my chair and sidled over by the Italian player, Cairo. A sweet scent from his oiled ringlets, combined with the perfume from his pocket handkerchief, made me a little nauseous.
"What's your story, Cairo? No, let me guess. Germany persuaded you that she was opening Mun-Bur, so you decided to head westward, knowing that the only time a western attack by Italy is not hopeless is when Germany expects to make it to Burgundy. What did she promise you? Marseilles, Spain, Portugal?"
Cairo whimpered and bolted for the door. I grabbed him and slammed him against the wall.
"Let me go! I know nothing. She sounded convincing; I thought I could trust Austria and Russia to be busy against Turkey. I will not answer anymore questions! I will not, do you hear!"
I took a fist full of shirt and slapped him a few times.
"You'll answer questions and like it, Cairo.
"She probably said she had a firm Anschluss in place, didn't she?"
Cairo whimpered and nodded.
"Just as I thought. The grand German-Austrian alliance was in place, with Italy sufficiently warned not to enter Tyrolia--and encouraged to head westward. You folded like a cheap paper bag, Cairo. You make me sick."
Cairo sunk down on the floor. He looked like a frightened rabbit.
The redhead, Clark, was next. I took a deep breath. His kind always get on my nerves. Before I ever said a word he was on his feet. He thrust his pipe toward me and began a monologue.
"I tell you, the Anschluss was only for convenience and defense. And besides, I convinced her of its potential. True, she mentioned it first, but i was going to ride to victory anyway. After all, Russia was doing everything I asked. Russia, your late partner, seemed distracted about something. He opened A Mos-Sev, F Sev-Rum, and A War-Ukr. So that tells you something right there about his lack of ability. He actually thought that was an anti- Turkish opening. With Germany backing me, I opened F Tri-Alb, A Vie-Bud and A Bud-Ser. Of course, I am aware that opening is inferior to the Southern Hedgehog, but after all, my neighbors Italy and Russia could be trusted to toe the line."
He would have rambled all night like that at if I had let him.
"All right," I said, "let's take a look at the Supply Center Chart."
01 02 03 04 England 5 6 7 8 France 5 5 5 6 Germany 5 5 5 5 Italy 4 4 3 1 Austria 5 5 6 7 Russia 5 4 2 0 Turkey 4 5 6 7
I told them the solution to the case was right before their eyes. Paddock snorted, but everyone leaned over the board and shifted their eyes from the chart to the board and back again. At least one of them knew what it meant.
"Oh, Mr. Spade," cooed Claire Adelaide, "could I please have a word with you...in private?"
She took me by the arm and eased to a far corner of the room, while the players, the Inspector, and Paddock, all shook their heads and muttered as they studied the board.
"Mr. Spade...Sam...I have something to say. I don't know why I didn't mention this before. I suppose I was afraid of him. Of Wilma, I mean. I know I saw a knife blade in his coat pocket. He saw me watching him. Oh, Sam, you've never seen such a vicious look as he kept giving me."
I couldn't help but grin.
"You're good, Angel...Claire...real good, but I don't doubt if you've ever told the truth in your life. No, Angel, it won't work. You killed Miles and you're going over for it."
"Sam, don't joke about things like that. You almost sound as if you mean it."
"I do. You made it easy. Look at the last turn. Russia, Miles, was out of the game. He probably didn't mind at all; he could get a better look at you as a spectator. And you were the only player that winter turn who didn't have a build or removal to make--just the way you planned it. Who would have a better story? After all, you hired the poor chump, so it would be one of the other players who would take the rap. And, besides, it gave you the perfect chance to get take the Double Eagle and dispose of it. No, while everyone else was a the game board, you were beside Miles--it was your knife, your murder, and now you're going to pay for it."
"Sam, please, you don't have to say anything. Wilma can take the fall. Gutman and Cairo will be glad to hand him over. It'll take everyone off the hook. Besides, you didn't care for your partner. We'll go away together, Sam, please!"
"Miles wasn't worth much in a lot of ways, but he was my partner. And when a guy's partner is iced someone has to pay. If not, it's bad for business...bad all around. Oh, I doubt if they'll stretch you're pretty neck, Angel, but they'll put you away for a long time. With good behavior you'll be out in twenty years or so, and I'll think about abut you a lot. Goodbye, kid."
I laid it out for the Inspector. They had enough to get her on circumstantial evidence, but her confession was icing on the cake.
"It seems easy, to way you explained it, Sam," Bill said as he rubbed his chin and slowly shook his head, "but something else still has me stumped. The Double Eagle. Where is it? We've made a thorough search of everyone and everything in the room. No one got our to this room, so where is it?"
"You're wrong, Bill someone did make it out...Miles. I'll bet if you check his clothes at the Coroner's office, you'll find the Double Eagle somewhere on him. Right where she put it, just after she stabbed him, but before she eased back to the game before being missed. You'd better hurry, though. She must have a partner on the inside--at the Coroner's office. Better get there quick."
Bill left in a hurry. As the rest of us headed out the building I could still hear snatches of conversation about the game from the players. They had already forgotten the murder...only the game was important now. Sgt. Paddock, more subdued than he was earlier, shook his head as they walked by, all five of them planning to resume the tournament--making their alliances and opening move proposals.
"Can you beat that? It's just kid stuff, pushing wooden blocks around. What kind of game is that anyway?"
"Game, Paddock? It's not a game. It's the stuff dreams are made of."