Disclaimer: The Maltese Falcon and all related elements, characters and indicia © Dashiell Hammett 1958. All Rights Reserved. All characters and situations—save those created by the authors for use solely on this website—are copyright Dashiell Hammett.
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Author's Note: Written for for the Yuletide 2011 Challenge.
Iphigenia Perinos had introduced herself to Samuel Spade as "Effie Perine" and he never called her anything but "Effie".
They met when she was seventeen years old, and had told the other girls who had showed up in answer to the advertisement in the Call for a part-time secretary that the position had been filled.
She'd been hired on the spot.
Effie Perine's eyes were brown, with thick lashes, and set a touch apart in a face most men called "boyish" because she didn't have a showgirl's curves or a socialite's bank draft. The truth was, she was closer to thirty than twenty, but didn't look it.
Her hair was the shade of dark blonde that gets called brown until you saw her out in the sun, and the streaks of gold made her look like she was born and raised in California. She hadn't been, but she did her best to fit in.
She had freckles across her shoulders and the bridge of her nose from too many Sunday afternoons at the beach. Her mother kept telling her she could get rid of them with a little lemon juice but Effie Perine liked them. She though they gave her character. Maybe not always the kind of character she'd have liked, but it was better than nothing.
She used to lived with her mother in a two-storey brick building in Ninth Avenue, where all her neighbours still called her "Miss Perinos". She'd moved to a rooming house on Geary Street, but still had Sunday dinner with her mother. Sometimes, Sam did too. Most times, Effie would get a call and go rushing out back to the office, to do whatever needed doing. Mrs Perine didn't mind. She liked Sam. Mrs Perine almost liked Sam more than Effie did, sometimes.
Effie Perine liked her job. The money was good-fifty-five dollars a week, even if she hadn't had a pay rise in two years. She could walk from her place to the office in twenty minutes if the weather held, or take the streetcar if it didn't. Things had got a little crazy when Spade had taken Miles Archer on as a partner, but the name on the door was "Samuel Spade" once again and had been ever since Archer's death.
Effie Perine was more comfortable when it was just the two of them. She'd liked Miles OK, but she hadn't liked his wife, Iva. Not even a little bit. She had been glad when Iva Archer left San Francisco for her mother's place in Spokane, still in widow's weeds like a noisy crow. There was still a mark on the wall in Spade's office, where Iva'd thrown her shoe at him.
Effie thought of Iva Archer like a recalcitrant toddler, screaming the building down when she didn't get a sweet. She knew Spade thought of her differently, but in the end, he'd kicked her to the kerb. Part of it had been spite-after all, Iva had put the finger on him for Archer's murder with Dundy. But most of it had been common sense. Miles had been dumb and greedy. Sam was shrewd and underneath it all, a decent sort, Effie was sure. Iva would be no good to Sam. Not as a wife, and not as a lover.
Spade and Effie Perine sat at a booth at John's Grill at Ellis Street. Spade had ordered chops and potatoes with sliced tomatoes on the side, while Effie Perine was having a ham steak dinner.
Spade was telling her all about how his last case had shook out, even though she already knew what was in the Call and parts that weren't. She let him talk. She liked the way Sam Spade would talk to her, like she was as much of a partner as Archer had been. More, even.
When he waved over the waiter in his white coat and black pants, he pulled out a pouch of Bull Durham tobacco and rolling papers. While he took care of the cheque, she rolled him a cigarette. He'd have it smoked between the table and the door.
"Want to catch a movie or have you got something else to do?" Spade asked as he gave the coat check girl their ticket and she handed back his overcoat and Effie's wool coat with its fur collar.
"Sorry, Sam. You know the rule."
Spade's eyebrows drew together in a V. "You had supper with me."
"Supper's supper. A girl's got to eat."
He held out her grey coat, and she slipped her arms through the sleeves. Without asking, he pulled her dark hair out of the collar. He tugged the brim of her dark green felt hat low over her forehead, and she clucked at him.
Effie pressed a kiss to his cheek, and walked to the corner to catch the streetcar. When she looked back, Spade was rolling a cigarette, hat drawn down over his eyes.
Samuel Spade was a hard and shifty fellow, able to take care of himself in any situation, able to get the best of anybody he comes in contact with, whether criminal, innocent by-stander or client.
If Effie Perine had a nickel for every time she came into the office to find Sam rumpled, bruised, and the ashtray on his blotter overflowing with cigarettes, she'd be rich enough to hire him.
Tsking, she cleaned off the blotter, fished the bottle of rye out of his bottom drawer, and gave him the hair of the dog while she went to work on the nasty cut at his hairline with a handkerchief soaked in iodine.
When he hissed and tried to escape, she grasped his chin more firmly.
"Why are you so good to me?" Spade asked as she covered the cut with a plaster, and perched on the corner of his desk to roll him a cigarette.
"You're the detective. You tell me."
"You getting smart with me, sweetheart?"
"I never get anywhere, being dumb with you." She placed the cigarette between his lips, and bent backwards to grab the table lighter. When she straightened back up, Spade's eyes flicked back to her face, yellow-ish and demonic for a second until he blinked.
Spade's eyes narrowed as he blew blue smoke out the corner of his mouth, and he placed a hand on her knee. "You leaving me for a mob numbers man, to have babies and get fat?"
"What a thing to say. I've never even met a numbers man."
"Sure you have. I saw you with him, at the Hotel Belvedere."
Effie frowned. "When?"
"Sam Spade, don't have nothing better to do than tail me when I'm out on a date?"
He shrugged, his thumb moving rhythmically back and forth over her silk stocking-clad kneecap.
Effie jumped down off the desk, and went out to her desk, shaking her head.
"Charlie's an accountant for a bank-not a numbers man!" she called back over her shoulder.
Spade slammed his office door.
Charlie Rice skipped town a month later, and Tom Polhaus questioned Effie on his whereabouts while Dundy and Spade had it out behind the closed door of his office.
After they leave, Effie almost poured an entire pot of scalding coffee over her boss's head at the look he gave her.
"You think you're so smart, don't you, Sam?" Effie said mulishly as she dumped a bunch of wilting roses into the trash.
"Don't be sore at me, sister. You sure can pick 'em."
"You're a louse," she said sourly.
His reply was lost in the clatter of her fingers on the typewriter keys.
Effie Perine shouldn't have been surprised when there was a knock on her door at 2 A.M., and she opened it to find Sam Spade. He should have called first, but he hadn't. She was wearing a pink quilted housecoat over her striped pyjamas and let him in even though her landlady has a strict "No Male Visitors" policy.
"I told Mrs Portillo I'm your brother," he said, reading her mind. She hated it when he did that. She hated being so easy to read.
Spade wasn't bleeding. That was something. He smelled like rum and stale cigarette smoke. He took off his hat when he came inside, and loosened his tie with a finger against the knot.
Effie sighed as she closed the door, pressing the heels of her hands to her eyes.
"What's up, Boss?"
"I was thinking," he said. Then he reached for her. She thought he was going to push her nose like a button and chuck her under the chin. Instead, moved to kiss her and she put two hands on his chest and pushed.
"Sam," she said, her voice full of disappointment.
Spade sighed, and let her go. "When did you make that rule again?"
"When you slept with Iva the second time," she said blithely. There were no secrets between them when it came to Iva Archer. There were no secrets between them at all-except for the one.
Spade sank down onto her Chesterfield, and looked up at her with the expression of a whipped puppy. It didn't sit on his face right, and he knew it. "You going to hang me for all my sins?"
"Somebody's got to." Effie sat down next to him, their bodies touching at the forearm and elbow until she laid her head on his shoulder. "I know how you think it'll go. You'd kiss me, and I'd melt. Wouldn't that be a pretty picture?"
"We could try it, and see." Spade's breath ruffled her dark hair. She pulled back again so she could see his expression.
"What's got you all sentimental all of a sudden?"
Spade shrugged. "A beam didn't fall on my head."
Effie shook her head, a rueful smile twitching at the corner of her mouth. "You don't always make a lot of sense, Sam."
She leaned back against him again, and his arm came up to wrap around her shoulders.
"You've already got me on the hook, Sam. But you gonna have a hell of a time reeling me in."
"You gonna fight me?"
"With every breath." When he chuckled, her chest felt tight. "I used to think you hung the moon, you know."
There was a long moment where neither of them spoke.
"I know," Spade said, and Effie closed her eyes.
"You're no good, Sam."
This time he didn't laugh. "When'd you get so wise?"
"When you weren't looking," she said, curling her fingers around his. "Ask me again sometime, Sam. Maybe my answer'll change."