Saturday, June 29, 2013

Forgotten Stories: "On the Way" by Dashiell Hammett (Read it here!)

Editor's Note: There are only two located Hammett stories that have never been reprinted (a third is known to exist, but no copy has yet been found). Last week we presented the first of those stories, "The Diamond Wager" (HERE). This week we take a look at the other one. "On the Way" made its one and only appearance in the March 1932 issue of Harper's Bazaar. As with "The Diamond Wager," no renewal of copyright was recorded. It would appear both stories slipped through the cracks.

The prose here is much more Hammettlike, and the story is interesting as a sort of counterpoint to The Thin Man. Nick and Nora Charles were idealized, fun-loving versions of Hammett and his on-and-off-again ladyfriend Lillian Hellman. "On the Way" is also based on their relationship, but focuses on one of the more troubled periods.

He lowered his newspaper and turned his browned lean face toward her. His smile showed white, even teeth between hard lips. “Click?” His voice was metallic, but not unpleasant.
“Clicked,” she said triumphantly and took her hat off with a flourish and threw it at the green sofa. Her eyes were enlarged, glowing. “Two fifty a week for the first six months, with options.”
“That’s swell.” He opened his arms to her, the newspaper dangling by a corner from one of his hands. “Up the ladder for you now, huh?”
She sat on his knees, wriggled back against his body, thrust her face up at his. Her face was happy. Her voice, after they had kissed, was grave, saying: “For both of us. You’re as much a part of it as I am. You gave me something that—”
His eyes did not avoid hers, though they seemed about to. He patted her shoulder with his empty hand and said awkwardly, “Nonsense. You always had things—just a little trouble knowing what to do with them.”
She squirmed in his lap, leaning back a little to peer more directly into his eyes. The slight puzzled drawing together of her brows did not lessen the happiness in her face. “Are you trying to back out?” she demanded with mock severity.
He grinned, said, “No, not that, but—” and cleared his throat.
She stood up slowly and stepped back from his arms curving out to inclose her. Playfulness went out of her face, leaving it solemn around dark questioning eyes. She stood in front of the man and looked down at him and uneasiness flickered behind his grin.
“Kipper,” she said softly, then touched her lower lip with the end of her tongue and was silent while her gaze ran down from his eyes to his naked ankles—he was a long, raw-boned man in brown silk pajamas under a brown-striped silk robe—and up again.
He, somewhat embarrassed, chuckled and recrossed his legs. The movement of the newspaper in his hand caught her attention and she saw the Shipping News folded outside.
She looked levelly at him and asked levelly, “Getting restless?”
He replied slowly, “Well, you can get along all right now you’ve got a foot on the ladder and—”
She interrupted him sharply, “How much money have you got left?”
He smiled up at her, shook his head from side to side in answer to the question behind her question, and said, “I’ve got a grubstake.”
She was speaking again before he had finished. Her words tumbled out rapidly, her tone was indignant. “If it’s money, you’re insulting me. You know that, don’t you? You carried me long enough. We can get along on two hundred and fifty a week till you get something. You know yourself both F-G-B and Peerless have sea pictures coming up and you’re a cinch for a technical job on—”
He smiled again and shook his head again. “Cross my heart it’s not money, Gladys.” He crossed his heart with a long forefinger.
She stared thoughtfully at him for several seconds before asking in a small flat voice, “Tired of me, Kipper?”
He said, “No,” harshly and held out a hand. He scowled at the hem of her blue skirt. He looked up at her a bit shamefacedly, moved his shoulders, muttered, “You know what I am.”
Presently she took his hand. “I know what you are,” she said and let him draw her into his lap again. She leaned her head back against his shoulder and looked sleepily at the radio. She spoke as if to herself: “This has been coming up for a couple of weeks, hasn’t it?”
He changed his position a little to make her more comfortable, but did not reply to her question. For a while the only sounds in the room came up ten stories from the automobile park below. Then he said: “Morrie’s throwing a party tonight. Want to go?”
“If you do.”
“We don’t have to stay if we don’t like it.” He yawned silently over her head. “Let’s go down to the Grove for dinner and dance a little first. I haven’t been out of this joint all day.”
“All right.”
He stood up, lifting her in his arms.

In the Cocoanut Grove they stopped following a waiter down the edge of the dance-floor when a thick-chested, florid man in dinner clothes rose from his seat at a table and called, “Hey, people!”
They turned their faces in unison toward the thick-chested man, but Gladys’s eyes jerked sidewise to focus on Kipper’s profile before she smiled. Kipper was nodding and saying, “Hello, Tom.”
Tom came between two tables to them. There was a prophecy of unsteadiness in his gait. “Well, well, here’s the angel herself,” he said, smiling hugely at Gladys, hugging her hand in both of his. The change in his eyes was barely perceptible as he turned his smile on the tall man. “How are you, Kipper? You people alone? Come on eat with us. I got Paula.”
Gladys looked questioningly at Kipper, who said, “Sure. But it’s our celebration. Gladys got a contract from Fischer today.”
“Grand!” Tom exclaimed, squeezing the girl’s hand again. “He putting you in Laughing Masks?” When she had nodded he repeated, “Grand!” and began to drag her toward his table. Kipper followed them.
Paula was a pale girl who extended beautiful slim arms toward Gladys and Kipper and asked, “How are you, darlings?” while they were saying together, “Hello, darling.”
Chairs were brought to the table, places were rearranged, and they sat down. Tom had finished pouring whisky from a black and gold flask when the orchestra began. He rose and addressed Gladys, “We dance.”
Kipper bowed them away from the table, sat down again, poured mineral water into his whisky, and asked, “Working hard?”
Paula was staring somberly at Gladys and Tom, not yet hidden by intervening dancers. “You’re going to lose your girl to that bird if you don’t watch him,” she said unemotionally.
Kipper smiled. “Everybody likes Gladys,” he explained. He stirred his drink very gently with a long spoon.
Paula looked gloomily at him. “You mean I do?”
“Why not?” He tasted his drink, set it down on the table, and, after a reflective pause, added, “I don’t think she wants Tom.”
A pair of dancers freed hands to wave at them from the floor. Paula waved back at the dancers. Kipper nodded and smiled.
Paula said wearily, “She’s like the rest of us; she’s trying to get somewhere in pictures.”
He moved his shoulders a little. “Tom’s not all Hollywood,” he said indifferently; then, “She got a term contract out of Fischer today.”
Paula said, “I’m glad,” and with more emphasis, “I really am glad, Kipper. She earned it.” She put an apologetic hand on his forearm and her voice lost spirit. “Don’t pay too much attention to me tonight. I’m out on my feet. We worked till midnight and were back at it at nine this morning on retakes.”
He patted her hand and they sat silently until Gladys and Tom returned from the floor and dinners had to be ordered.

At half-past eleven Gladys asked Kipper what time it was. He told her and suggested, “Shall we drift?”
I think we’d better,” she said.
“Where are you going?” Tom asked, putting his face—now moist and more florid—close to hers.
“Down to Morrie’s,” she replied slowly while Kipper was holding a beckoning finger up at a waiter.
“We’ll all go down to Morrie’s,” Tom decided loudly and put an arm around Gladys. “I don’t like him and never did, but we’ll go down there.”
Paula said, “I’m dead tired, Tom. I—”
Tom released Gladys and leaned toward Paula to put his other arm around her. “Aw, come on, baby. The ride’ll do you good. We won’t stay long. You can—” He saw the waiter putting the check in front of Kipper, leaned across the table, pushed Kipper’s hand aside, and snatched the check. “What makes you think I’d let you pay it?” he asked argumentatively.
Kipper said nothing. He put his billfold back in his pocket.
They rode to Santa Monica in Tom’s car, a cream phaeton that he drove expertly. Kipper sat with Gladys in the rear. They sat close together and did not talk much. Once she asked, “When are you going?”
“I’m in no hurry, honey,” he said. “Next week, the week after, any time.” He drew her closer—one of his arms was around her. “Get me right on this. I’m not—”
“I know,” she told him gently. “I know you, Kipper—at least I think I do.” A little later she said, “You’ve been sweet tonight—I mean about him.”
He clucked depreciatively. “He’s not so bad.”

They left the phaeton on the roadside by a white board fence, passed through a small wooden gate, and went in darkness down a narrow boardwalk between another fence and some buildings to a screened doorway through which light and noise came.
Tom opened the screen-door. There was a bright room with twenty or thirty people in it. A gangling dark-haired man wearing black-rimmed spectacles stopped scratching a dachshund’s head and came over to them with welcoming words and gestures. They called him Morrie and went in.
Kipper moved around the room, speaking—at least nodding—to every one. The only one to whom he needed an introduction was a small blonde girl named Vale. She told him she had just arrived from England. He talked to her for a few minutes and then went downstairs to the bar.
The bar occupied one side of a small room in which there was a table, some stools and chairs, and a piano. Half a dozen people were there. Kipper shook all their hands, then leaned against the bar beside a pudgy gray-faced man he called Hank, and asked for a whisky-sour.
Hank said thickly, “It’s a hell of a drink.”
Kipper asked, “How’s the picture coming?”
Hank said thickly, “It’s a hell of a picture.”
Kipper grinned, asked, “Where’s Fischer tonight?”
Hank said thickly, “Fischer’s a hell of a guy to work for.” He asked the man behind the bar for some Scotch.
Kipper and Hank stood at the bar and drank steadily without haste for nearly an hour. People came in and went out. Paula came in with a big-shouldered blond youth who carried their drinks to the far end of the table and sat beside her talking incessantly in a low secretive voice. She sat with elbow on table, chin in hand, and stared gloomily at the table.

Gladys came in with Tom at her shoulder. There was a suggestion of timidity in her eyes, but it vanished as soon as Kipper grinned at her. She went over to him, ran an arm around his waist, and asked: “Is this professional drinking or can anybody get in it?”
Hank said, “’Lo, darling, I hear you made the riffle.”
She gave him her free hand. “Yes, and thanks a lot, Hank.”
He grimaced. “I didn’t have much to do with it.” He set his drink down on the bar and his bloodshot eyes brightened. “Listen,” he said, “I got a new one.”
Gladys squeezed Kipper’s waist, smiled up at him, took her arm away from him, and followed Hank to the piano.
Kipper, turning to face the bar again, found himself shoulder to shoulder with Tom. He said, “This rye of Morrie’s isn’t any too good tonight.”
Tom said low in his throat, “You’re a heel, Kipper.”
The corners of Kipper’s mouth twitched. “You’re a director, Tom,” he said. He turned his head then to glance carelessly at the florid face beside him.
Tom was looking fixedly at the whisky glass he held on the bar with both hands. He spoke from the side of his mouth, “I’m damned near the director.”
Kipper laughed, said, “That’s one for Variety.” He picked up his glass and turned away from the bar, going toward the outer door.
Morrie, coming in, stopped him and asked as if he actually wanted to know, “What’s the matter with that guy?” He nodded at Tom’s back.
Kipper shrugged. “Maybe he’s not much worse than the rest of us.”
Morrie looked sharply at him, growled, “Yes he ain’t,” and walked over to the piano.
Hank was playing the piano. Gladys was sitting on the bench beside him. Others were gathering around them. Paula and the blond youth had disappeared.

Kipper changed his course and started toward the group around the piano. Tom came up to him and said, exactly as before, “You’re a heel, Kipper.”
Kipper said, “I remember you. You’re the fellow that said that a couple of minutes ago.” The bantering light went out of his eyes, though he did not raise his voice. “What do you want, Tom?”
Tom said through his teeth, “I don’t like you.”
Kipper said, “I guessed that, but don’t let me worry you too much, little man; I’m leaving town in a few days.”
A forked vein began to come out in Tom’s forehead. “Do you think I give a damn whether you go or stay?” he demanded. “Do you think you could get in my way?”
“Anyway, I thought you might like to know I’m going,” Kipper said indifferently.
Tom drew his lips back and said, “A swell chance of you going away, now that your girl’s working regular.”
Every one else in the room, except the negro behind the bar, was grouped around the piano at the other end. The negro was washing glasses. Kipper glanced at the group hiding the piano, at the negro, and then down again at the angry face in front of him. His mouth twisted into a wry smile. His voice was wearily contemptuous. “Is this going to be one of those things where the guy that talks the loudest wins?”
Tom replied so rapidly he sputtered, “I can give you one of those thing where the guy that hits hardest wins.”
Kipper pursed his lips, nodded slowly, said, “Nice beach.”
They went out together, up half a dozen steps to a paved walk, along it to a low gate and through the gateway and down six concrete steps to the clinging soft footing of the beach. There were stars, but no moon. The Pacific rustled sluggishly.
Kipper, walking beside Tom, turned suddenly to him and as he turned swung a fist from his hip to Tom’s face. The blow flung Tom a couple of yards to the sand, where he lay outstretched and still. Kipper bent over him for a moment, looking, listening, then straightened up, turned, and went unhurriedly back to Morrie’s house.
Hank had finished playing the piano and was at the bar again with Gladys. Kipper had a drink with them, then asked Gladys, “Want to go?”
She glanced curiously at him, nodding, saying, “Whenever you’re ready.”
“Going to stay awhile, Hank?”
“Until this guy locks up his bar. Or do you know a better place to go?”
“Borrow your car to get home? We’ll send it right back.”
Hank waved a hand. “Help yourself.”
Kipper said, “Thanks. Be seeing you.”
Upstairs he found Morrie, drew him aside, and told him, “I left Tom out on the beach. Give him a little while.”
Perplexity gave way to comprehension and to delight on the gangling man’s bespectacled face. He seized Kipper’s hand and pumped it up and down with violence. “Say, that’s marvelous!” he cried. “It’s—it’s—” He failed to find words and fell to pumping the hand again.
Kipper released the hand, said, “Good night—swell party,” and joined Gladys at the door.
In Hank’s car neither of them spoke until they were halfway up the grade to the boulevard. Then she said, “I’m going to miss you, Kipper.” She was sitting erect, looking straight ahead, her profile blurred in the dark.
“I’m going to miss you,” he said. “It’s been swell.” He cleared his throat. “I hope it’s been as swell for you as for me.”
“It’s been as swell.” She put a hand over on his without looking at him.
He said, “I had to slap Tom down.”
“I thought there was something.” Her voice was matter-of-fact as his.
Presently he spoke again. “It wasn’t all his fault. I mean losing wasn’t. I smacked him from behind.”
She turned her face toward him and asked patiently: “Don’t you ever fight fair?”
He said evenly, “I’m not a kid fighting for the fun of it any more. If I’ve got to fight I want to win and I want to get it over quick.”
She sighed.
He said, “It was about you, I guess. He wants you.”
She did not say anything.
They had ridden perhaps a mile when he said, as if thinking aloud: “Whatever else he is, it’s a cinch he’ll be one of the top-money directors this year.”
She leaned against him, sliding down in the seat, resting her head on his shoulder, moving one of her shoulders to let him put an arm around her. She did not speak until they were entering Hollywood and then her voice was barely audible. “Will you do something before you go, Kipper, something for me?”
She stirred a little and said, “No. I don’t want you to promise now. You’ve been drinking and I don’t want it that way. Tomorrow when you’re cold sober.”
“All right. What is it?”
“I wish— Could you—could you marry me before you go?”
He blew breath out.
Abruptly she sat up straight, twisting herself around, taking the lapels of his coat in her hands. “Don’t answer now,” she begged, her face close to his. “Don’t say anything till tomorrow. And listen, Kipper, I’m not trying to hold you. I know that wouldn’t hold you, wouldn’t bring you back. It’d—it’d be more likely to drive you away, but—but—” She took her hands away from his coat and rubbed the back of one across her mouth.
“But what?” he asked harshly.
She giggled and said, “And I’m not expecting a little one.” Merriment went out of her face and voice. She put both hands on his leg, her face close to his again. “I don’t know what it is, Kipper. I just would like it. Maybe I’m bats, but I would like it. I never asked you. I wouldn’t ask you if you were staying—honest—but you’re going and maybe you wouldn’t mind. Maybe you would. I just thought I’d ask you. Whatever you say. I won’t ask you again and I know it’s silly, so I won’t blame you the least little bit if you say, ‘No.’ But I would like it.” She swallowed, patted his leg, said, “Anyhow, you’re not supposed to answer me till tomorrow and if you just want to forget it then I’ll let you—won’t say a thing about it,” and sat back on her portion of the seat.
Kipper’s lean face was stony.
Five blocks passed. He said, “It’s a go.”
“No, no,” she began, “you mustn’t—”
He put his arm around her and pulled her over against his chest. “It’ll be the same tomorrow.” He cleared his throat harshly. “I’ll do anything you say.” He took in a deep breath. “I’ll stay if you say so.”
She began to tremble and tears came out. She whispered desperately, “I want you to do what you want to do.”
His lower lip twitched. He pinched it between his teeth and stared through the window at street-lights they passed. He said slowly, “I want to go.”
       She put a hand up on his cheek and held it there. She said, “I know, darling, I know.”


mybillcrider said...

Cool. Thanks.

Norman Walz said...

Thanks again. Just made my week!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for these Hammetts. I have all the old digest collections and paperbacks, but lack the resources to hunt these down. They are small treasures.

-Herb Kauderer

Charles Gramlich said...

Very, Very nice!

Shay said...

Nice taut prose, but it's certainly not what I was expecting from Hammett. Was this a change of pace for him?

Evan Lewis said...

Yeah, I think this was the first story published after he quit the pulps. There were only nine more, and most, if not all, were either mysteries or had some crime content.

Anonymous said...

the tazman thanks you again.