Neither of these stories has been previously published (except for a partial in a small magazine 25 years ago). The Return of the Thin Man is a hugely entertaining read that brings back two classic characters from one of the greatest of mystery writers who ever lived. This book is destined to become essential reading for Hammett's millions of fans and a new generation of mystery readers the world over.
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AFTER THE THIN MAN
September 17, 1935
A train whistle sounds as the Chief arrives slowly in the Santa Fe Station in San Francisco. A stateroom on the train is stacked high with hatboxes, and suitcases, books, flowers, magazines, half-empty baskets of fruit. Although it is afternoon the stateroom is not yet made up. The top berth is down, piled high with bed-covers and sheets. On the lower berth is an array of White Rock bottles, glasses, bowls of ice, and a glass cocktail shaker propped against a pillow, almost full. There is also a half-packed bag open. Nick Charles standing before a mirror in the lavatory trying to shave. He is dressed except for his collar and coat. He has an old-fashioned open razor in his hand. He is swaying with the motion of the car, trying to balance himself on his widespread feet. Suddenly the car lurches, and he is thrown forward against the mirror, just missing by a fraction cutting off an ear. He looks reproachfully at the mirror, and then decides to go out into the stateroom to shave. Precariously he makes his way to the mirror behind the outer door, leading to the corridor. As he has the razor poised at his throat, the door is thrown open from the outside, pushing him back behind it, out of sight. Nora Charles, his wife, bursts in. She is in a negligee and slippers, fresh from her shower, with her toilet things in her hand. She is excited. She looks for Nick in the stateroom as she comes in.
Nora: "Nickie! Nickie! Where are you?"
She shuts the door after her and sees Nick behind the door, jammed up against the wall, his razor still at his throat, his eyes fixed in a glassy stare.
Nick, with the sickly sweet grin of a man who has just escaped death: "Hello, darling."
Nora, amazed at his position: "What are you trying to do?" Nick: "Just having a little fun, darling."
Nora goes quickly to the lower berth, putting her toilet things in an open bag.
Nora: "You'd better hurry. We're getting into San Francisco in five minutes."
She takes a dress down from a hook. There is another hanging underneath it. Then she opens up a big hatbox, starting to pull a hat from it. She looks down, amazed and indignant.
He is comfortably curled up in the hatbox on a large hat. He looks up and wiggles with delight.
Nora: "My best Sunday-go-to-meeting hat."
Asta jumps quickly out of the hatbox. Nora pulls out the hat and puts it on her head, making a very ridiculous appearance with her negligee, talking to Nick as she does so. Nick is leaning under the berth, pouring a drink from the cocktail shaker.
Nora: "I thought you were going to pack."
Nick: "I am. I've been putting away this likker."
As he throws his head back to drink the cocktail his skull cracks against the upper berth.
Nora: "You know, if you break that, they can sue you."
She goes quickly into the lavatory.
Nick: "I'm going to miss this little room of ours. It's left some lasting impressions on me."
He feels his head ruefully, then pours himself another drink.
Nora: "Pack these, will you, Nickie?"
Her filmy nightgown and negligee come flying at him from the bathroom. He extricates himself from them.
He rolls them casually into a ball and stuffs them into the open bag. He picks up the cocktail shaker, still three-quarters full, and looks at it lovingly.
Nick: "I hate to leave this."
Nora, anxiously, from the lavatory: "Oh, don't leave anything."
Nick puts the top of the cocktail shaker on, and looks around for something to wrap it in. He catches sight of Nora's dress hanging on the wall. He puts his hand out toward it.
Nick: "Going to wear this dress?"
Nora's voice: "No. You can put that in."
He takes down the dress, wraps the cocktail shaker lovingly in it, and stuffs it into the bag, enthusiastically viewing the result.
The photographers and reporters are standing on the station platform looking into the distance, watching for the train. One of the men, looking off-scene, calls:
"Here she comes!"
In a body they all start to run toward the train.
Porters are hurrying out. Baggage men stand waiting. The train pulls in. The reporters and photographers who ran to meet it are now running back beside the train, trying to catch up with the Pullmans. The train comes to a stop, and a porter jumps off. The reporters rush up to him.
One of the reporters: "Nick Charles on this car?"
Porter: "Two cars back." The reporters and cameramen start to run back.
The porter puts down his little stepping block as Nick and Nora appear at the top of the steps. The reporters and photographers come running up. Asta is straining on the leash in Nick's hand.
1st Photographer: "Hold it there, Mr. Charles."
He snaps his picture and prepares to take another. Meanwhile the reporters are all talking at once, and the other photographers are taking pictures.
Reporters: "Hello, Nick." "How does it feel to be home?"
"How are you, Mrs. Charles? I'm from the Chronicle."
"Going to stay with us for a while?"
"Got a story for the Examiner, Nick?"
Nick, as Asta pulls him in a frenzy of excitement: "Gangway, boys! Gangway!"
Asta pulls Nick down the stairs. Nora follows, clinging to her purse and a little jewel case.
1st Reporter: "Going to keep on with the detective work, Nick?"
Nick: "No. I've retired. Just going to take care of my wife's money so I'll have something in my old age."
2nd Reporter: "You took that Wynant case in New York."
Nick: "I just did that for my wife. She wanted some excitement."
1st Reporter, turning to Nora: "I guess you had some excitement all right."
Nora: "It was wonderful. Two men tried to kill him."
Nick gives Nora a look. A big ex-prizefighter pushes his way through the crowd. He is Harold, the Charleses' chauffeur. He is very correctly dressed in uniform, and chewing gum as fast as his jaws will let him.
Nora: "Oh, Harold!"
Harold, grinning: "How are you, Mrs. Charles?"
Then with a change to a tone of utter familiarity: "Hi'yer, Nick."
He grasps Nick's hand and almost crushes it. Nick pulls it away, shaking it to get the circulation going.
Nick: "A little out of condition."
Harold starts to collect the bags belonging to Nick and Nora. The reporters are still hanging around, hoping for a story.
1st Reporter: "Come on, Nick. Give us a break. What are your plans?"
Nick: "My immediate plans?"
1st Reporter, eagerly: "Yes."
Nick: "Just a hot bath."
He looks at Asta, and speaks reproachfully: "Asta!"
The reporter looks down, and shakes his trouser leg.
Nick: "You'll have to forgive us. We've been cooped up for four days."
As Harold is picking up the bag that we saw Nick pack, Nora is horrified to see a stream of liquid pouring out.
Nora: "Oh, Nick, look! Something's leaked."
Nick sniffs at it, apprehensive, and then turns with relief.
Nick: "Thank Heaven. I thought it was the cocktails!"
Nora: "Cocktails! Oh, Nick!"
1st Photographer: "Just one more picture, Mr. Charles. Would you mind getting up on the steps again?"
Nick, pleasantly: "Certainly not."
He takes Nora's arm as they go up on the steps again.
2nd Photographer: "I'd like that, too."
All of the photographers look down into their cameras, ready to snap Nick and Nora. Then look up puzzled.
Nick and Nora are just disappearing out of sight, down the steps on the other side of the train. As they come through the crowd at the station, followed by porters and Harold, a little inconspicuous man bumps against Nora, who is trying to manage Asta on his leash. Nora stops, and pleasantly acknowledges the man's mumbled words of apology. The man is about to go on, when Nick sees him and recognizes him.
Nick, cordially: "Hello, Fingers."
Fingers turns, startled at the sound of Nick's voice. Then he sees who it is. He doesn't realize that Nick is with Nora.
Fingers: "Well, Nick! How are you?"
Nick: "How's business?"
Fingers: "Oh, I quit that racket."
Suddenly Nora, standing at one side, looks down and sees that her purse is gone ... she is grasping only the strap of it in her hand. She turns excitedly to Nick.
Nora: "Nick ... my purse. It's gone!"
But Nick takes it very easily.
Nick: "Oh, that's a shame."
He turns to Fingers: "Nora, I want you to meet Fingers."
Then, to Fingers: "This is the wife."
Fingers looks abashed and embarrassed. Nora, her mind on her lost purse, acknowledges the introduction a little distractedly.
Fingers: "Your wife. Well, gee! I'm sorry about your purse, Mrs. Charles."
Nora: "What'll I do, Nick? I know I had it with me."
Nick: "It'll turn up ... won't it, Fingers?"
Fingers: "I certainly hope so."
He shakes hands with Nick, patting him affectionately with the other hand. Fingers: "Well, so long, Nick. Glad I bumped into you. Goodbye, Mrs. Charles. Happy New Year to you."
He goes off. Nick starts to walk Nora toward their car.
Nick, to Nora: "Come on."
But she is pulling back, wanting to go look for her purse.
Nora: "I can't just go off and ..."
Nick, soothingly: "Come on. Come on. You don't want to embarrass him.
Nora: "What do you mean?"
Nick: "He's a purse snatcher. Think of his feelings."
He begins to feel in his pocket, on the side where Fingers gave him an affectionate pat.
Nora: "A purse snatcher! He must have taken it!"
She tries to turn back, but Nick holds her firmly. Nick's fingers have found something in his pocket. He turns and waves a genial goodbye and "all's well" to Fingers.
Nick: "So long, Fingers."
He pulls the purse out of his pocket and hands it to Nora: "He said it would turn up."
Nora: "You do know the nicest people!"
The car comes to a stop in front of the Charleses' house. Nick gets out of the car, pulled by Asta. The dog is straining at his leash, frantically excited at being home again. Nick bends down, trying to undo the leash.
Nick: "Just a minute, Asta. There you are."
He lets Asta loose and the dog starts to tear in and out around the trees, rushing back and forth ... rolling on the ground, delighted to be home again. Suddenly he stops and looks off toward the backyard, then goes scurrying around the corner of the house.
There is a dog run and a little kennel in it, in the foreground. Asta comes tearing around the corner of the house, and pulls up short in front of the dog run.
A wirehaired female, just like Asta, is lying surrounded by about five puppies, all like her. She is looking up at Asta, and gently wagging her tail.
He barks delightedly at his wife. His tail seems to be wagging his whole body.
As Asta's excited bark continues, a little black Scottie puppy, of the same age as the others, comes waddling out of the kennel and makes his way to Mrs. Asta. Asta's bark suddenly stops.
As he looks at this black intruder, his high spirits suddenly evaporate. Asta turns toward the sound of a short bark.
The black Scottie is halfway through a hole he has dug under the fence separating the next-door yard from the Charleses'. He is very evidently the father of the little black puppy with Mrs. Asta. He is looking belligerently over at Asta. Asta bounds into the yard. The Scottie immediately drops his belligerent attitude, and backs hurriedly through the hole into his own backyard, and flees ignominiously. Asta bristles for a second, then turns his back and starts to dig furiously, filling up the tunnel underneath the fence.
Nick and Nora are standing at the front door of their house. Nick has his hand on the doorbell.
Nora: "All I want is a hot bath."
Nick: "I'll take a hot bath and a cold drink."
The door is flung open, letting out a blare of sound.
A man in the doorway is slightly drunk and very good-naturedly hospitable. He evidently has not the slightest idea of who Nick and Nora are. He is acting the part of the genial host. From behind him comes a din ... a piano playing, voices shrieking with laughter, a girl's voice singing, a trap drum being played with more enthusiasm than skill.
The Man: "Come in! Come in! Make yourself at home!"
He steps back into the house, holding the door open.
Nick and Nora are looking amazed at the man. Nick steps back and looks at the number of the house.
Nick: "It's our house all right!"
Nora: "Let's go in. He says it's all right."
They start into the house.
The din is worse inside. Nick and Nora come slowly in. They look around them. Through different doorways we see crowds of people at the bar ... and in the living room, surrounding the piano. A crap game is going on in another room.
The Man: "There's the bar right in there. Help yourself."
The Man: "Okay."
Nora: "What's the celebration?"
The Man: "We're giving a surprise party to Nick and Nora."
Nick: "Nick and Nora?"
The Man: "Don't you know Nick and Nora?"
The Man: "Neither do I. But that's not going to spoil my fun.
It's New Year's ... so what's the odds? Go on in. Fake it. It's a cinch."
Nick: "Thanks for the tip."
The Man: "Get in there ... and get some of that Napoleon brandy before it's all gone. See you later."
Nick, turning formally to Nora: "May I have this dance?"
Nora goes into his arms, smiling, and starts dancing toward the living room. A nice group of young people are crowded around the piano, most of them Nora's age, friends of hers when she was a debutante, men with whom she played around, before she married Nick. Some of them are in evening clothes, ready to go on to other parties; the rest are in street clothes. A man is sitting playing the piano, and beside him, a girl is trying to play a trap drum. Several couples are dancing. Nick and Nora dance in from the hallway. The guests are so absorbed that they don't pay any attention to them. There is a hum of conversation. The inevitable girl who knows all the words of the songs wants to sing, and couples call to the girl at the trap drum to keep better time. One couple is doing very complicated steps, and the rest are watching them, cheering them on.
About six men and girls are clustered around one man in a corner. He is talking earnestly, if a little drunkenly, to them.
The Man: "Listen, boys and girls. This is supposed to be a surprise party. So when they come in the door, we want to hide. Don't let them know there's a soul here."
One Girl: "That's a great idea!"
Another Girl: "You'd better tell the rest of them, Jerry."
Jerry: "You're right."
He steps out of the huddled group.
Nick and Nora are looking around, amused at their not being recognized.
Jerry: "Listen, everybody. This is supposed to be a surprise party. Let's get together on this."
A Girl: "Well, I'm acting surprised."
Nick gently steers Nora into the dining room.
A couple is dancing in the dining room.
The man is the one who greeted Nick and Nora at the door. He is dancing with a very lovely girl. Nick and Nora come in, still dancing. For a minute, the man and girl sway in position, as the man speaks to Nick. The girl's back is toward Nick and Nora.
The Man, indicating the girl with him: "Not bad, eh?" Nick: "Not a-tall bad."
The Man: "How are you doing? Anyone wise to you yet?" Nora, amused: "No."
The Man: "What'd I tell you?"
He dances away with his girl. Nick and Nora laugh, and make a sudden dash for the pantry door.
There is bedlam in the kitchen behind the scenes. The fat cook, Rose, is trying to make sandwiches and hors d'oeuvres for the unexpected guests. She is, at any other time, a good-natured individual ... a heritage from Nora's mother. She is being helped by a pretty young maid, Ethel. The butler is getting in the way, trying to get some ice cubes out of a tray. They are all absorbed in their various occupations. Nick and Nora come in through the pantry, but the three servants are too busy to notice them.
Nick, softly, so that he will not be heard by the party inside: "Hey, there!"
Rose, thinking it is some hungry guest: "Coming! Coming!"
She turns with a plate of hors d'oeuvres in her hand, and suddenly sees that it is Nick and Nora. Her attitude changes immediately. She is delighted to see them: "Miss Nora! And Mr. Charles!"
The other two servants turn and eagerly smile at them.
Ethel: "Happy New Year, ma'am."
Nick, in a whisper: "Shush! Don't spoil their fun. They haven't surprised us yet."
Nora, in a whisper: "How are you, Rose?"
Then to the maid and butler: "Hello, Ethel ... Peters."
The maid and the butler smile at them and whisper.
Ethel: "Nice to see you, ma'am."
Rose, also in a whisper: "We missed you something fierce."
From this time on they all speak in whispers.
Nora: "We missed you something fierce."
Nora sees the sandwiches and picks up one of them. She is about to eat it, when Nick takes it from her.
Nick: "You can't have that. It's for the guests."
He puts the whole sandwich into his mouth. Nora gives him a look, and then goes snooping over toward the stove. The butler starts into the dining room with a bucket of ice cubes.
Nora: "What're we going to have for dinner, Rose? I'm hungry."
Rose: "Your aunt telephoned, Miss Nora. She expects you there."
Nora looks at Nick, appalled. This is evidently the last place she wants to go.
Nora: "My aunt!"
But she gets no help from Nick. He leans over and kisses her.
Nick: "Goodbye, darling. See you next year."
Rose: "She expects you, too, Mr. Charles."
Nick looks around at Rose, unable to believe his ears.
Rose: "Yes, sir."
Nick, turning back to Nora: "What have your family got against me?"
Nora: "It's that annual family dinner."
Nick, picking up another sandwich: "Remind me not to go."
There is the sound of a doorbell. Nora: "What excuse'll I make?"
Nick: "Tell her I left a collar button in New York, and we have to go back for it."
Three pistol reports from the front door are followed by the sound of a door crashing back against a wall, and a man's hoarse exclamation.
Nick, followed by Nora, goes to the front door. The man who admitted them to the house — sober now — is standing at the door staring down with horrified face at a dead man huddled on the vestibule floor at his feet. The man at the door turns his frightened face to Nick and gasps: "I opened the door — bang, bang — he said, 'Mees Selma Young,' and fell down like that."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Return of the Thin Man"
Copyright © 2012 Turner Entertainment Co..
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Headnote, After the Thin Man,
AFTER THE THIN MAN,
Afterword, After the Thin Man,
Headnote, Another Thin Man,
ANOTHER THIN MAN,
Afterword, Another Thin Man,
Headnote, "Sequel to the Thin Man",
"SEQUEL TO THE THIN MAN",