(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The Continental Op, a private detective who works for the Continental Detective Agency, has learned that a man whom he is hunting is living in a certain block of Turk Street in San Francisco. After canvassing all the houses on one side of the block and four on the other, he knocks on the door of the fifth house. At first no one answers. As the Op is about to leave, the door is opened by a friendly, fragile-looking old woman who insists that he enter. The Op, after a mild protest, enters the house and is taken into a sitting room, where an equally friendly old man, the woman’s husband, is seated comfortably, smoking a cigar. With a twinge of conscience, the Op gives a phony name and tells a phony story in order to obtain information about the man whom he is seeking. As the old couple, Mr. and Mrs. Quarre by name, do their best to provide something helpful, the Op is served a cup of tea and given a cigar. He sits back, entranced by the relaxed atmosphere, and lets his mind wander from the sordid world of private investigation. He longs for the fast-approaching evening so that he can be finished with his work for the day and go home.

Suddenly the Op feels an object against the back of his neck and hears a gruff voice behind him demanding that he stand up. At first he thinks that he must be dreaming, but he feels the object and hears the voice again. He is frisked by the old man, then made to turn around. He faces an unpleasant-looking man holding a gun. Before he can interrogate the Op thoroughly, “Hook” is called into another room by a young woman, named Elvira. The old man covers the Op with a gun, and the old woman cordially invites the Op to be seated again. The Op hears Hook, the young woman, and a third gang member discussing his fate. Hook is in favor of killing the Op, but he is overruled by the calm, British voice of the third gang member, Tai Choon Tau. The Op is thankful.

The Op is tied up and gagged by the old couple, who then leave the house for a prearranged rendezvous. Elvira comes into the sitting room with Hook, goading and seducing him into getting rid of Tai. Carrying a traveling...

(The entire section is 870 words.)