RED HARVEST by Dashiell Hammett

RED HARVEST by Dashiell Hammett

RED HARVEST by Dashiell Hammett

I. A Woman in Green and a Man in Gray

I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. He also called his shirt a shoit. I didn’t think anything of what he had done to the city’s name. Later I heard men who could manage their r’s give it the same pronunciation. I still didn’t see anything in it but the meaningless sort of humor that used to make richardsnary the thieves’ word for dictionary. A few years later I went to Personville and learned better.

Using one of the phones in the station, I called the Herald, asked for Donald Willsson, and told him I had arrived.

“Will you come out to my house at ten this evening?” He had a pleasantly crisp voice. “It’s 2101 Mountain Boulevard. Take a Broadway car, get off at Laurel Avenue, and walk two blocks west.”

I promised to do that. Then I rode up to the Great Western Hotel, dumped my bags, and went out to look at the city.

The city wasn’t pretty. Most of its builders had gone in for gaudiness. Maybe they had been successful at first. Since then the smelters whose brick stacks stuck up tall against a gloomy mountain to the south had yellow-smoked everything into uniform dinginess. The result was an ugly city of forty thousand people, set in an ugly notch between two ugly mountains that had been all dirtied up by mining. Spread over this was a grimy sky that looked as if it had come out of the smelters’ stacks.

The first policeman I saw needed a shave. The second had a couple of buttons off his shabby uniform. The third stood in the center of the city’s main intersection–Broadway and Union Street–directing traffic, with a cigar in one corner of his mouth. After that I stopped checking them up.

At nine-thirty I caught a Broadway car and followed the directions Donald Willsson had given me. They brought me to a house set in a hedged grassplot on a corner.

The maid who opened the door told me Mr. Willsson was not home. While I was explaining that I had an appointment with him a slender blonde woman of something less than thirty in green crepe came to the door. When she smiled her blue eyes didn’t lose their stoniness. I repeated my explanation to her.

“My husband isn’t in now.” A barely noticeable accent slurred her s’s. “But if he’s expecting you he’ll probably be home shortly.”

She took me upstairs to a room on the Laurel Avenue side of the house, a brown and red room with a lot of books in it. We sat in leather chairs, half facing each other, half facing a burning coal grate, and she set about learning my business with her husband.

“Do you live in Personville?” she asked first.

“No. San Francisco.”

“But this isn’t your first visit?”


“Really? How do you like our city?”

“I haven’t seen enough of it to know.” That was a lie. I had. “I got in only this afternoon.”

Her shiny eyes stopped prying while she said:

“You’ll find it a dreary place.” She returned to her digging with: “I suppose all mining towns are like this. Are you engaged in mining?”

“Not just now.”

She looked at the clock on the mantel and said:

“It’s inconsiderate of Donald to bring you out here and then keep you waiting, at this time of night, long after business hours.”

I said that was all right.

“Though perhaps it isn’t a business matter,” she suggested.

I didn’t say anything.

She laughed–a short laugh with something sharp in it.

“I’m really not ordinarily so much of a busybody as you probably think,” she said gaily. “But you’re so excessively secretive that I can’t help being curious. You aren’t a bootlegger, are you? Donald changes them so often.”

I let her get whatever she could out of a grin.

A telephone bell rang downstairs. Mrs. Willsson stretched her green-slippered feet out toward the burning coal and pretended she hadn’t heard the bell. I didn’t know why she thought that necessary.

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Categories: Hammett, Dashiel