The Maltese Falcon

by Dashiell Hammett

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Student Question

What's the strongest evidence that Brigid O'Shaughnessy killed Miles Archer?

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Sam Spade does not have much concrete evidence that Brigid O'Shaughnessy killed Spade's partner Miles Archer. He puts her under extreme emotional and time pressure, while the police are on their way to his apartment, to break down and confess to him by explaining his reasons for suspecting her. He makes her believe that if she tells him the true facts he will continue to protect her from the authorities. She is extremely young and inexperienced. In her initial interview with Spade, she tells him she is five years older than her mythical seventeen-year-old missing sister. She relied on Floyd Thursby for protection before, and now she is relying on Sam Spade, another tough, worldly man. If she doesn't break down and confess to him, he will turn her over to the police when they arrive. They haven't made a thorough investigation of the crime scene at Burritt Street because they assumed Miles Archer was killed by Floyd Thursby, who was killed a short time later on Geary Street in front of his hotel. If the police learn that Thursby was actually killed by Wilmer Cook, they will go back to Burritt Street and ask questions all over the densely populated neighborhood of apartment buildings and hotels. They are sure to find people who saw a young woman resembling Brigid O'Shaughnessy coming out of the blind alley onto Bush Street right after a shot had been fired.

Brigid doesn't know anyone in San Francisco except Spade. She has no money to hire a lawyer. Joel Cairo, Wilmer Cook, Caspar Gutman's daughter Rhea, Caspar Gutman (whom Brigid believes is still alive), and Sam Spade could all testify that Brigid has a bad character and that she had been Floyd Thursby's mistress. The Maltese falcon could serve as evidence against her because it would represent her motive for hiring Spade and Archer to tail Thursby and either frighten him into leaving San Francisco or else into trying to kill whichever partner was tailing him. She would be under heavy pressure from the police and the D.A. to confess her guilt and would probably be offered a plea bargain and get off with twenty years in prison rather than hanging. 

Sam Spade surveyed the crime scene at Burritt Street right after being told over the phone that his partner had been shot there. He tells Brigid why he knows she is guilty of murdering Archer.

Miles hadn't many brains, but, Christ! he had too many years' experience as a detective to be caught like that by the man he was shadowing. Up a blind alley with his gun tucked away on his hip and his overcoat buttoned? Not a chance. . . But he'd have gone up there with you, angel, if he was sure nobody else was up there. You were his client, so he would have had no reason for not dropping the shadow on your say-so, and if you caught up with him and asked him to go up there he'd've gone. He was just dumb enough for that. He'd've looked you up and down and licked his lips and gone grinning from ear to ear—and then you could've stood as close to him as you liked in the dark and put a hole through him with the gun you had got from Thursby that evening.

The best, most convincing concrete evidence to indicate that Brigid O'Shaughnessy killed Miles Archer is that she employed him to tail her paramour Floyd Thursby; that she has a bad character; that she stole the Maltese falcon from General Kemidov and then stole it from Caspar Gutman, who had employed her to steal it for him; that she is the only one who could have had access to Floyd Thursby's Webley-Fosbery automatic revolver; and, finally, that she confessed to Sam Spade because he made her think they were both in danger of hanging and she thought she could trust him.

"Will you stop it?" he demanded in a low, impatient voice. "This isn't the spot for the schoolgirl-act. Listen to me. The pair of us are sitting under the gallows." He took hold of her wrists and made her stand up straight in front of him. "Talk!"

"I—I—How did you know he—licked his lips and looked—?"

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