I plod on with my interviews of timeless literary characters and find myself alone on the south side of Chicago...

It’s 2 am, windy, and a late summer rain is falling. Across the puddled street, buildings flash in time with the lightening and seem to tremble with the long roll of distant thunder as I enter Fred’s Coffee Shop and fold my umbrella. I glance at Fred who stands behind the cash register. He starts to wipe down the counter then points with his chin to the only patron in the place - a guy seated in the last booth, his back toward me. He’s enveloped in a white cloud of cigarette smoke. I know he hears my footsteps as I walk closer but he doesn’t turn. His rumpled hat, stained from the rain, rests on the table beside a half-filled ash tray and a half empty cup of black coffee. He doesn’t look up as I sit.

His drawn, shadowy face is entirely devoid of color.

Me:      You Spade?

A cigarette dangles from his mouth.

S:         Who wants to know?

Me:      Tom Ulicny. I wrote the Lost Revolution.

He smirks.

S:         Oh yeah, THAT Tom Ulicny. Freddy said you’d be stopping by.

Me:      You know that smoking in here is illegal, right?

He takes a long drag and blows it out as he talks.

S:         So’s asking stupid questions.

Me:      It’s a nasty night and it’s a little late to be out just passing the time don’t you think?

S:         It’s the middle of the day for me, friend. I’ve been here three hours now, working a case. (He stabs out his cigarette then turns to the window) See that room up there across the street - the one that’s lit?

I spot the window where a table lamp glows, its light diffused by wrinkled curtains.

Me:      Corner room third floor?

S:         She’s still up there. Still awake.

Me:      Who is she?

He shrugs and turns back to me just as another roll of thunder rattles the shop.

S:         Some broad, 28, a looker. She’s in trouble with the cops on a trumped up charge.

Me:      She’s innocent?

 He smiles and lights another cigarette.

S:         She’s guilty as sin - killed her husband, tried to run off with her boyfriend. When the boyfriend found out about the killing he got scared - refused to go with her - smart kid.

Me:      I thought you said the charges were trumped up?

S:         They are. The boys downtown don’t know about the murder. They want her for a little altercation she had with one of their beat-cops. Her name’s Lola, and she’s got one hell of a temper - especially when she’s got a few drinks in her. (He shakes his head) I ain’t ever seen her sober.

Me:      How did the boyfriend find out about the murder?

S:         How do you think he found out? - I told him.

Me:      Why would you do that?

The third floor light across the street goes out and Sam grabs his hat.

S:         That’s two stupid questions - that’s all you get my friend. Thanks for the company.

He gets up, reaches into his pocket and flips a quarter down on the table. When he reaches the door, he puts his hat on, adjusts the angle and shoots a glance at Fred.

S:         I don’t think you’ll be seeing me tomorrow Freddy boy.

Fred gives him a single wave with his work sponge.

Still in the booth, I watch as Sam Spade crosses the street and meets a woman with a suitcase standing under an awning by the building entrance. He takes the suitcase from her and the two of them walk off into the night at a casual pace as if it weren’t raining at all.

Sam was right, it was a stupid question.

Sam Spade is the wonderful character creation of Dashiell Hammett who, along with a strong contribution from Humphrey Bogart, immortalized him in a story about a Maltese Falcon. For more about Dashiell Hammett, go to: http://www.mysterynet.com/hammett/