Hammett: The Real “Business”

I just hosted my first Guest Blogger, Brian Leno — how about another one?

Up this time is Terry Zobeck, whose name may ring a bell because he turned up the source for the quote where Hammett had called the British writer M. P. Shiel “A Magician.” Terry is a serious collector of Hammett in the original magazine appearances (you can thank Terry for the cover image of Mystery Stories above), and provides the best text to date as he covers restoring the Continental Op tale “This King Business.” Take it, Terry:

I like my Dashiell Hammett straight up, neat, with no editing. For years we have had to deal with the digest volumes edited by Frederic Dannay if we wanted to read many of the more obscure stories.  Sure, it was great to be able to read them, but Dannay, without any input from Hammett, often changed titles and edited the stories. I have never checked, but I suspect that Lillian Hellman with The Big Knockover and Steven Marcus with The Continental Op used the Dannay versions for their texts. In recent years, however, Marcus with the Library of America’s Crime Stories & Other Writings and Vince Emery with Lost Stories sought out the original magazine appearances — with one exception.

In the “Note on the Texts” in Crime Stories, Marcus states that “No copy is known to be extant of the issue of the pulp magazine Mystery Stories in which ‘This King Business’ initially appeared, in January 1928.” For this one story, the text of the Dannay edited volume — The Creeping Siamesewas used. It is especially unfortunate that the Dannay text had to be used since this is a terrific story featuring the Op.

A few years after Crime Stories was published I purchased a copy of the January 1928 issue of Mystery Stories. Recently I decided to check to just what extent Dannay edited this story.  Well, not only did he make several inexplicable edits — presumably for the sake of saving space — that detract from the story, but the damage was compounded by the copy editor at the Library of America. In transcribing the story from The Creeping Siamese page 116 was deleted!

Now this isn’t just any ordinary page of superfluous descriptive prose, this is the climatic scene between the Op and Colonel Einarson in which the Op pressures the colonel into accepting the deal to crown the Op’s client, Grantham, king of Muravia. If the Op cannot get Einarson to go along with his play, he could end up before a firing squad.

In the Crime Stories version the Op asks the colonel to step away from the others and talk with him.  He asks the Colonel, “Why not give Grantham his crown now?” The next sentence is “He thought it over.” We’re left to assume the Colonel, without any persuasion from the Op, thinks it over. The deleted scene is a terrific example of tough talk and pressure from the Op to convince the Colonel to follow his play.

For those interested, I have compiled the following list to indicate what edits were made by Dannay to the story and included the content from the deleted page (taken from the text of the story as it appears in Mystery Stories).  The list indicates the page number from Crime Stories where the edit occurs, the line number, whether it is from the top or the bottom of the page, and the affected text — the deleted text is underlined.

Page no.    Line #   Top/bottom    Text

659            1             top

Chapter I “Yes”—And “No”

660          4              top

three and a half or more

662            15           bottom

Before: “I found the Minister, should be: Chapter II Romaine

663            1             bottom

to the Minister of Police for help.

664            14           top

to speak to His Excellency first. He’ll wake presently.

664            17           top

A nice boy, delightfully naïve naif

665            4             top

floor didn’t creak nor the room tremble.

665            20           top

Should be a separate paragraph: The girl turned to me, smiling.

665            10           bottom

Before: ‘Back at the hotel’, should be: Chapter III Shadowing

667            9             bottom

I hunched huddled into that cavity

669            18           bottom

Before ‘White light poured over us’, should be: Chapter IV Introductions

669            10           bottom

Should be a separate paragraph: “British?” he asked.

672            6 & 7      top

Should be a separate paragraph: “This pig!”

672            10           top

Before “Leaning his left elbow’, should be: Chapter V A Flogging

675            9             top

I let the matter stand there,

675            10           top

Before ‘We returned to the city’ should be: Chapter VI Cards on the Table

675            16           bottom

Each was weighing the other in before

675            17           bottom

Should be a separate paragraph: I decided to put mine over first.

676            11           bottom

before you leave for the United States.

676            8             bottom

got into bed, and, not having anything to think about, went to sleep.

676            7             bottom

Before ‘I slept till late’, should be: Chapter VII Lionel’s Plans

677            16           bottom

You said you’d-ah-do-ah-help me

679            18           bottom

In between “if it wants” and “Muravia has stayed” should be: Even Albania, now that it is a protégé of Italy’s.

679            16           bottom

After “seaport” should be: “But with the balance shifting—with Greece, Italy, and Albania allied against Jugoslavia for control of the Balkans—it’s only a matter of  time before something will happen here, as it now stands.”

680          7           bottom

“Albania, shortly after the first World War [strike out “first World War” and replace with “war”]

681            7             top

“There’s a meeting tonight to-night

681            16           top

Before ‘At nine-thirty that night’, should be: Chapter VIII An Enlightening Interview

683            7             bottom

and everything went well enough.

684            11           top

as little about statesmanship today to-day

685            12           top

invest in this little farce?”

685            15           top

Before “How did the Minister of Police, should be: Chapter IX Conjectures

686            1             bottom

and fluffed her curls while saying almost absently:

687            20           top

Before ‘I got back to the hotel’, should be: Chapter X Einarson in Control

690            16           bottom

Should be a separate paragraph: I had a little excitement on the way.

690            3             bottom

Before ‘The servant Marya’, should be Chapter XI A Romantic Interlude

691            18           bottom

Should be a separate paragraph: “Tell me about the meeting,” she commanded.

691            11           bottom

she said, pushing my face away with a hand flat against my nose.

691            2             bottom

by your beauty and charm and one thing or another that I can’t refuse you anything

693            12           bottom

Before ‘I saw Einarson and Grantham’, should be: Chapter XII The Night Before

694            2             top

hardboiled hard-boiled

695            2             top

“a dozen languages. She made puns and jokes and goofy rhymes.”

695            14           bottom

Should be a new paragraph: He got into an overcoat, and we went downstairs.

695            12           bottom

Before ‘Rain drove into our faces’, should be: Chapter XIII Progress Goes “Betune”

696            6             top

into English for us:

697            8             top

occupying the Administration Building and the Executive Residence.

697            19           top

Before “The city is ours.” Should be: Chapter XIV Coronation

697            6             bottom

“I didn’t understand any of it.  I attended to my eating.”

698            10           top

hurriedly.  They looked at us with uneasy eyes.

699            2             top

following line 2:  walked to one of the rear corners of the platform should be this text:

Einarson followed me, frowning suspiciously.

“Why not give Grantham his crown now?” I asked when we were standing in the corner, my right shoulder touching his left, half facing each other, half facing the corner, our backs to the officers who sat on the platform, the nearest less than ten feet away. “Push it through. You can do it. There’ll be a howl, of course. Tomorrow, as a concession to that howl, you’ll make him abdicate. You’ll get credit for that. You’ll be fifty percent stronger with the people. Then you will be in a position to make it look as if the revolution was his party and that you were the patriot who kept this newcomer from grabbing the throne. Meanwhile you’ll be dictator, and whatever else you want to be when the time comes. See what I mean? Let him bear the brunt. You catch yours on the rebound.”

He liked the idea, but he didn’t like it to come from me. His little dark eyes pried into mine.

“Why should you suggest this?” he asked.

“What do you care? I promise you he’ll abdicate within twenty-four hours.”

He smiled under his mustache and raised his head. I knew a major in the A.E.F. who always raised his head like that when he was going to issue an unpleasant order. I spoke quickly:

“My raincoat — do you see it’s folded over my left arm?”

He said nothing, but his eyelids crept together.

“You can’t see my left hand,” I went on.

His eyes were slits, but he said nothing.

“There’s an automatic in it,” I wound up.

“Well?” he asked contemptuously.

“Nothing — only — get funny, and I’ll let your guts out.”

“Ach!” — he didn’t take me seriously —“and after that?”

“I don’t know. Think it over carefully, Einarson. I’ve deliberately put myself in a position where I’ve got to go ahead if you don’t give in. I can kill you before you do anything. I’m going to do it if you don’t give Grantham his crown now. Understand? I’ve got to. Maybe — most likely — your boys would get me afterward, but you’d be dead. If I back down now, you’ll certainly have me shot. So I can’t back down. If neither of us backs down, we’ll both take the leap. I’ve gone too far to weaken now. You’ll have to give in. Think it over. I can’t possibly be bluffing.”

699            8             top

hour of victory.  A little earlier, a little later, I might have had to gun him.  Now I had him.

699            20           bottom

Should be a separate paragraph: Einarson put a question and got a unanimous answer.

699            2             bottom

without meeting anyone any one who knew us [Dannay was correct]

699            16           bottom

I commanded. “Any kind of ceremony, so it’s short.”

700            2             top

herded him down the corridor to my room

700            7             top

Before ‘I prodded Einarson into the room’, should be: Chapter XV Bargain Hunters

700            15           top

Should be a separate paragraph: “Get over in the corner and sit down.”

700            20           bottom

to a chair in one corner of the room.

700            19           bottom

Should be a separate paragraph: “You’re a rowdy”

700            6             bottom

“or I’ll come over there and knock you double-jointed.”

701            5             top

finishing his morning nap, I suppose.”

701            19           bottom

“You and your king are a couple of brigands.

702            6             top

rid of him. I scowled at him and wondered what I should do next.

702            14           bottom

“Leave it to him. We’ll go upstairs.”

702            9             bottom

shoulders and turned her around.

702            1             bottom

my hands on her shoulders.

703            14           top

Before ‘I found my king in a wine’, should be: Chapter XVI Lionel Rex

704            4             top

I shall — ” He broke off and looked away from me.

704            13           top

Djudakovich will make a good dictator, and a good king later, if he wants to it.

704            20           top

Grantham looked at me and said: “No. You go.”

704            8             bottom

dinky lousy, country’s throne — that’s — —

705            4             top

He put his back to me and walked out of the room.

705            12           top

Before ‘Colonel Einarson sat very erect’, should be: Chapter XVII Mob Law

705            21           top

where he could be handled? Djudakovich looked sleepily at my scowl.

705            17           bottom

and came to where I stood, just inside the door.

705            1             bottom

grinning confidently under his flowing dark mustache.

706            2             top

come along and you’ll see,” she said. Her breath came and went quickly, and the gray of her eyes was almost as dark as the black.

706            15           top

Should be a separate paragraph: “Wait and see.”

706            17           top

except worry while I waited.

706            10           bottom

and stepped back, giving the blond giant the center of the stage.

707            5             top

heels. Angry voices raised cries.

707            13           bottom

stepped to one side, clicked his heels together,

708            6             top

on his monstrous arms than the other!

708            4             bottom

darkening streets. She sat as far from me as the width of the rear seat would let her.

708            3             bottom

Should be a separate paragraph: “And now you despise me?”

709            14           top

Before “Vasilije was right” should be: She shook her head and said:

Print it off, clip it and stick it in your copy of Crime Stories & Other Writings and you’ll have a restored copy of “This King Business.” It’ll be the next best thing until someone finally gets it right and publishes Dashiell Hammett: The Complete Stories based upon the original magazine appearances.

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