Terry Zobeck springs back into action with a new posting, detailing the changes made to yet another Op adventure. Take it, Terry:
This time around we look into the edits made to the obscure Continental Op story “It.” Obscure because it is one of only two Op stories that have never been reprinted since Frederic Dannay collected them in paperback — the other, you will recall, is “Death and Company.” If you’ve yet to read “It,” beware of spoilers.
Dannay used “It” in the 1951 collection Woman in the Dark, where the story’s title was changed to “The Black Hat That Wasn’t There” — “It” originally appeared in the November 1, 1923 issue of Black Mask — the fourth Op story and Hammett’s sixth appearance in Black Mask.
“It” is not among the best of the Op stories, which perhaps accounts for — but does not excuse — its unavailability today. One of its most distinguishing characteristics is that it may be the first use of that hoariest of private eye plot devices: the killer hiring the sleuth to throw off suspicion. It may have been a fresh turn in 1923, but after many imitators, it is rather obvious. Most of the story is somewhat pedestrian, with the Op telling us what he did in his investigation rather than showing us. But the fight between the Op and Zumwalt is exciting and suspenseful:
. . . 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 no bullet could miss.
As we’ll see in a moment, several edits were made to this scene that
diminishes its impact.
As usual, the following list provides the page number, the line number
and whether it is from the top or bottom of the page, and the affected
text — Hammett’s original wording is underlined. The page numbers refer to the
story as it appears in Woman in the Dark.
Page Line Top/Bottom Text
44 2 top If
I’m going to work on this case for you I’ve got to have the whole
44 17 bottom over
to par during his absence,
45 3 top You
weren’t on the best of terms at the time,
45 4 top days
before that over a shady deal
46 3 bottom he
probably has as many as any man in San Francisco. He was a wonderful mixer.
47 4 top who
lives in the 1100 block of Bush Street. There
were probably others too, but I know of only those two.
47 17 bottom The
girl—Mildred Narbett was her name—said that Rathbone [the em-dashes should be
replaced with commas
48 3 top that
he was out of town and wouldn’t be back for a week or two.”
49 10 top with
a haughty air and a nervous trick of chewing her lower lip.
50 6 top husband
had arrived in New Orleans and, apparently not knowing that there was
another man in the deal, had persuaded her to return home.
50 9 top so
she hadn’t tried to get in touch with him, or to learn what had kept him
from joining her.
50 17 bottom and
what I thought of it.
50 3 bottom “But
that means jail for Dan, with no chance to quietly straighten the matter up!”
50 2 bottom “It
does,! [replace the comma with an exclamation point] bBut it
can’t be helped.
51 5 top 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.
51 15 top clues
clews [gotta love them “clews”]
52 15 top Blast
it Damned if I can dope it out!
52 16 top “Here’s
something else for you to dope out,”
52 14 bottom notepaper
53 15 bottom bowed
myself out of the office, but not out of the job.
53 12 bottom After:
the letter was a plant, should be this separate paragraph:
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.
53 7 bottom fit
that theory well enough.
53 4 bottom private
54 10 bottom hour
traveling each day. . . . Thanks!” [delete the ellipsis]
56 18 bottom head
56 16 bottom for
the a black hat that wasn’t there,”
56 13 bottom moving
out from his the hiding place wherein he had awaited my
56 9 bottom somewhere
above my feet. I wasn’t the only one feeling the strain.
56 7 bottom Then
I could hear his breathing [this should be a separate paragraph]
56 5 bottom Then
aA soft, sliding, dragging across the dirt floor . . .!
[delete the ellipsis]
57 13 top 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.
57 7 bottom him
and clenched my fist, he gave in.
57 1 bottom of
lying in the wet ground. . . [replace the ellipsis with a period]
58 1 top Note:
58 9 top Zumwalt
Aat that time Zumwalt
This exhausts my holdings of Hammett’s original stories edited by Dannay for which I can identify the pure texts — for the moment anyway. I have hopes of acquiring more of the missing eight stories.
If and when I do, I’ll be sharing what I learn with you all. In the meantime I have a few more ideas for guest blogging on other aspects of Hammett’s work.