Hammett: “It”

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!”
he protested.

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
Damned if I can dope it out!

52        16        top                 “Here’s
something else for you to dope out,”

52        14        bottom           notepaper
note paper

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
dick sleuth

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:
In court

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.

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