At Spade’s home, he and Brigid call the front desk at Cairo’s hotel, but the manager informs them that Cairo hasn’t yet returned to the hotel. As they wait for Cairo, Spade tells Brigid a story about a past case of his. A man in San Francisco named Flitcraft had disappeared, leaving behind his job, family, and home. He was worth a substantial amount of money, but took none of it before disappearing. Interrupting the story, Cairo telephones with the information that he’ll be at the apartment soon.
Spade’s decision to tell Brigid a story from his past seems out of place in this novel. Up to this point, Spade’s past has been a mystery so his telling of this story is as abrupt and surprising for us as it is for Brigid. Since it’s so out of the norm, the novel seems to place extra weight on the meaning of the story and Spade’s motive for telling it to Brigid.
Spade continues the story. Two years after Flitcraft’s disappearance, Mrs. Flitcraft employed Spade to follow up on a tip about a man who looked like her husband living in Spokane, Washington. Spade tracked down the man, who turned out to be Flitcraft living under an assumed name with a successful automobile-business, a wife, and a newborn baby. Spade explains that Flitcraft ended up living this other life after nearly being killed by a falling steel beam while he was walking past a construction site. Realizing death could strike at any moment, Flitcraft left his family, wandered the United States, and then eventually settled down with a new wife. Spade says that once Flitcraft learned to ignore his realization about mortality, he started for himself a life that resembled almost exactly the one he left.
This story illustrates how death is out of people’s control and can strike at any moment, and that in the face of such knowledge that the rest of life is essentially meaningless. No matter what you do, you will die. Yet the story also implies that while people can get a glimpse of this truth, it’s not something they can hold on to, that people have certain inclinations that cannot be escaped. No matter what, Flitcraft will always be the same and want the same things, therefore he replicates his old life.
Perhaps feeling that Spade is confiding in her, Brigid responds to the story by claiming she has complete trust in how he will handle her case. At that moment, Cairo knocks at the door and Spade lets him in. As Brigid and Cairo talk, Spade quietly observes their interaction. Brigid offers Cairo the statue of the black bird for the $5,000. She tells him she can get the statue in a week when she’s finally able to retrieve it from Thursby’s hiding spot. When Cairo asks about what happened to Thursby, Brigid traces the outline of a G in the air.
Spade may have told this story in order to illustrate that people do not change. As such, he’s trying to tell Brigid that he knows that she is unable to stop lying. When talking to Cairo, Brigid speaks with confidence and self-assurance. This scene reveals how Brigid is deceitful in the way she interacts with people, changing the way she behaves depending on whom she is trying to get the best of.
Cairo then offends Brigid by making reference to a relationship between her and a young man in Constantinople. In response, she slaps him and he slaps her back. Spade intervenes, choking Cairo and slapping him three times across the face.
Slapping a woman, Cairo appears weak and dishonorable. Spade, in response, emasculates Cairo not by punching him but by slapping him.
A knock at the door surprises the group. Spade tells them to stay quiet before opening the door to find Dundy and Polhaus at his threshold. They ask to come inside but Spade refuses, making Dundy even more suspicious. Dundy provokes Spade by telling him about a rumor concerning Spade having an affair with Iva. Spade ridicules Dundy for insinuating that he was involved in Archer’s murder. As the cops prepare to leave, Cairo calls out in distress for the police. The chapter ends with Spade casually letting them into the apartment.
The police appear incompetent since they hurl thinly veiled accusations at Spade without any substantial evidence. Spade, however, is willing to call them out for their bad police work, not worrying that his disrespectfulness will get him into more trouble.