You will remember the last few scenes in "The Maltese Falcon." Joel Cairo and the Fatman had just bolted out the door of the Alexandria Hotel to renew their quest for that most fabulous of all birds, The Maltese Falcon, after discovering that the statue that Sam Spade had brought to them was a fake. A lead fake with no gold and no jewels encased underneath its black exterior as The Fatman found out when he chipped away the enamel with his pen-knife. Spade then called the police and told them to pick up Cairo and The Fatman. "You can't miss The Fatman," Spade said over the phone, "he must weigh at least 300 pounds."
In the last scene we see the elevator doors, an open elevator with symbolic doors, closing on the unfortunate Brigid, who will eventually be on her way to prison. Brigid was Spade's love interest and a deadly player in this game of golden pursuit. Spade had turned her over to the police to sweep his own deck clean, and the last we see of Sam Spade, he is holding the black bird in his hands as he descends the hotel stairs. The black bird, representing the dreams that fools are made of, would seem to be passing into history in Spade's hands who rated the bird as low priority in the world of criminality. The "dingus" he called it and so, it would seem, the hunt for The Maltese Falcon would come to an end. After all, this was the world of 1941, and civilization was starting to yield to the vortex of dictators and terror. The black bird could wait. Which was exactly what it did.
The day after the Alexandria Hotel incident. The Fatman is speaking.
"I had to give the police poor Mr. Cairo, of course. After all, it was he and dear Wilmer who did the unfortunate dirty work so often associated in undertakings of this type. They both were like sons to me, but they did not share my devotion to obtaining The Falcon. A pity, everyone should share a life-long dream of obtaining something beyond their reach. It is the path that any intelligent man would take. It is not only the prize, it is the hunt. That is the way of vision, if I do say so. Now Mr. Spade would have been an excellent companion but even he did not realize the potential of The Falcon. Either that or he did not care for the world he would have had to look for it in. I strongly suspect the latter. Gad, he was a character, indeed he was. Most men are afraid to verbalize what they want to say even if they have the intelligence to say it. But Mr. Spade had a commitment to the truth as he interpreted it. I like that in a man, yes I do. Gad, he was a chara
cter. I shall miss Mr. Spade. He gave the world around him a flavor and a resonance.
"But now, I must continue my quest. The Falcon, I must have it. I have sought it for so long that I feel that it should be mine because it is one of the great treasures of the world and I am no doubt the only one emotionally ready to receive it. What is it worth? A difficult question to answer just using dollars or pound sterling. It contains gold and jewels to be sure and therefore it has an appreciative value that transcends the centuries and brings with it a magnitude that is indeed difficult to specify to any particular worth. Yes, I could say one million or two million and I could readily be in error. History must be, and will be, its final assessor."
The Fatman had a problem, that of world history. He had planned to go back to Istanbul to renew his association with a General Kemidov who may very well still have the real Falcon and had sent the fake bird on its journey through the Orient using intermediaries along the way to its final destination in San Francisco and into the expectant hands of Cairo and The Fatman, or as Sam Spade had called them, "a swell lot of thieves."
Yes, The Fatman would indeed like to see General Kemidov again in Istanbul, but this was 194l and the Mediterranean was a Nazi lake. No matter what route he would take, the passage to Istanbul was far too risky to try in these tormented times. He would have to wait out World War II.
"The affairs of dictators and democrats," he said, "prescribe little intrinsic essence to the value of priceless goods."
The Fatman survived the war years by becoming an Associate Professor at the University of California at Berkeley. His field was archaeology. He did not possess a degree from any college in any field, but it was the measure of the man that he could produce whatever documentation would be required at any time that he would need it. Forgery was one of his great talents. A degree in archaeology from a major European university posed no problem for him and these being the war years, it was not traceable. His resume, of course, was outstanding and the university was only too happy to get him.
Besides, he was immensely popular with the students. With his command of the English language, it was like taking two courses in one. The Fatman enjoyed the fact that he could pontificate with this younger generation. "A student with an inquiring mind is a gift for antiquity and therefore a priceless vision for the future," he once told a faculty meeting. They were impressed. Archaeology he faked by reading up on the subject in the university at night. He kept his tests simple and just about everyone could ace them. The Fatman was popular indeed.
Some of his evenings were spent wandering the streets of San Francisco in the neighborhood of the Alexandria Hotel looking for the new office of Sam Spade as his old one had closed down in 1942. There was no telephone number for Spade. Finally, as he sipped a Turkish coffee one night in the Alexandria Hotel restaurant, he learned that Sam Spade had joined the Army in 1942 and was killed at the Kasserine Pass in North Africa. "Mr. Spade was a cynic and cynicism is the step-father of great idealism in all philosophy. Gad, I shall miss him, he was truly a character," he had said.
Joel Cairo had been sentenced to 99 years in prison, and he died of lung cancer in Sing-Sing in 1945.
But The Fatman felt that he had been in one place far too long. He was not the type of man to do that. He wanted to renew his quest for The Falcon of course and he contemplated whether he could pick up the trail of General Kemidov in Istanbul again. It was time to move. He could not yield to the vainglorious munitions of a settled life.
Such was his preliminary examination one night in the hotel dining room when he sensed someone standing behind him at his table and he turned to see a young man, leaning on a cane, looking thoughtfully at him.
"Excuse me, is it Mr. Gutman, I believe?"
The Fatman tried to pick up his European accent. He settled for Swiss, possibly Alsace.
"I am, young man, now please relieve me of my disadvantage."
The young man produced his card, and The Fatman was impressed. A man that young producing a card. The card read, "Bertr
and Temple Prieure de Sion"
Something or someone came to mind in the name, "Prieure de Sion."
"Please then, Mr. Temple, sit down with me. I must ask you about the organization stated on your card." The card was between them as Bertrand Temple seated himself placing his cane underneath the table.
"The Prieure de Sion is a society, Mr. Gutman, dedicated to, shall we say, preservation." His words came out slowly and with great enunciation.
Here was a man that The Fatman could talk to. "A secret society, perhaps, Mr. Temple?"
"We have that reputation, yes."
"What is it, Mr. Temple, that you preserve?"
"The past, Mr. Gutman, just...history."
"Ah, yes, history. With all of its vulgarities...and all of its mysteries."
Bertrand Temple slipped past that statement. "I understand, Mr. Gutman, that you are a historian yourself. Do you not teach archaeology at a nearby university?"
"Yes, Mr. Temple, I do indeed. But it is a means to an end, that is all. One might say that I too am interested in, as you put it, preservation."
"Yes, I know that you are, Mr. Gutman."
The Fatman looked at the young man and wondered how long he had been on his trail. And an even more illuminating question, why? "Mr. Temple, the hour is becoming late. Could we not dispense with this linquistic shamanism? Why have you sought me out and what is your business with me?"
Bertrand Temple studied The Fatman and drew a breath. "Mr. Gutman, have you ever heard of Rennes-le-Chateau?"
The Fatman prided himself on world geography but, no, he had not heard of it.
"Mr. Gutman, what I will tell you is to be held in strict confidence and I believe that you will hold that confidence as sacrosanct because it happens that we are both on the same quest. Can I rely on you, sir, as a man of the true world?" The Fatman wiped his brow and nodded in the affirmative and he leaned as close to Bertrand Temple as his bulk would permit.
"Well then. Rennes-le-Chateau is a small hamlet in sourthern France. It is a place where secrets were kept. Great secrets. Some people would even consider them treasures beyond the value of any appraisal."
"You said, 'were,' Mr. Temple. Are they not kept here now?" The Fatman wiped his brow again.
"No, they are not. We had to move them, these treasures, when the war broke out. I shall tell you the story, Mr. Gutman." When France fell to the Germans in 1940, Rennes-le-Chateau was well within the limits of Vichy or unoccupied France. But the Germans, as well as the Vichy government, were after something and that something was being kept in Rennes-le-Chateau. It fell to Bertrand Temple and a small band of trusted villagers to move the contents out of the hamlet and disperse them throughout southern France, northern Italy, and Corsica.
This being done, and it was done with great speed, each item was locked in a box as they were dispersed. All locks used the same key and that key was given to Bertrand Temple who was made responsible for its safekeeping. Then the Gestapo showed up.
Bertrand Temple was tortured by the Gestapo, turned over to Vichy, who tortured him again, to the extent of breaking his leg, but he never told them that this most valuable key was hidden inside a black Maltese Falcon. He survived the war years in a Ger
man concentration camp for criminals. His leg never healed properly.
The Fatman was breathing heavily. "The Falcon, Mr. Temple, which Falcon was used? The real one or a fake?"
"Mr. Gutman, they are one in the same."
The Fatman looked at Bertrand Temple as if he were mad. "No, this cannot be. I have researched The Maltese Falcon all of my life. It is no fake. It is gold and jewels, it....."
"If it had been just gold and jewels, Mr. Gutman, it might have been much simpler. We could have let the Germans have that type of falcon and, in fact, we would have sent it to Hermann Goering's stolen art collection with our compliments and perhaps Herr Hermann would have called off his dogs. A calculated risk at best. But we could not because the golden falcon no longer existed, least of all in 1940. The Germans were smarter than that, at least a few of them were, and those few suspected its real secrets, and a gold falcon would not have thrown them off the trail. If the gold falcon had actually existed, and Goering was in receipt of it, perhaps he might have petitioned on our behalf. He was a man one could do business with on occasion. But it would have been extremely doubtful to do that type of business with Hermann Goering. Now, please let me finish the story."
The Fatman nodded. He was perspiring heavily.
"The Falcon with the key was sent on an eastern route, a route that would not be suspected by the Germans, to one of our agents in Istanbul..."
"General Kemidov, I suppose," The Fatman said.
"Exactly. His instructions were to get it to the United States by tramp steamer to be secured by our agent in San Francisco but unfortunately he was murdered....by a woman I believe."
The events of 1941 were rolling past The Fatman as if it were in a slide presentation. He knew of course who the woman was and who she had killed. "Then...I had the real falcon, that is to say, your falcon....I had it right in my hands...."
"I chipped at it with a pen-knife...I found it to be made of lead..."
"Mr. Temple, please tell me what I....had. Tell me of its true value. Please, tell me of its secrets."
"I can tell you only so much. But there is this. You have heard of The Knights Templar, have you not?"
He had. They were the best and the brightest of the Middle Ages, superior in discipline, fighting skill, and organization, the valiant Knights of the Crusades, and later power brokers of international influence from the Western world to the Holy Land.
"Yes." Bertrand Temple picked it up again. "In fact, their order was so advanced that kings began to fear their strength. Philippe IV of France was especially vindictive. He began to break up their order through the foulest methods possible. The Knights Templar began to scatter over Europe and they eventually intersected with The Knights Hospitaler of Malta who befriended them and gave them a safe haven. And it is to be remembered, Mr. Gutman, that The Knights Hospitaler had accepted the island of Malta in perpetual fief for the annual rent of a falcon sent to Pope Clement VIII."
"The falcon they sent to Pope Clement VIII," Bertrand Temple continued, "was probably on the order of your desired Maltese Falcon, Mr. Gutman. It was a common practice and not one much thought about in those days. After all, it was only a tribute and a simple enough tibute at that even it it was in gold
"Now let me finish your tale, Mr. Temple," The Fatman said. "The Knights Hospitaler also made a simple lead falcon that was hollow inside, hollow enough to contain a key, and they gave that falcon to The Knights Templar. A simple enough casting, a hollow lead falcon that was to contain a key. But, the key to what, Mr. Temple, the key to what secrets that you evidently regard as so sacred, so profound, that you cannot bring yourself to speak of it yet?"
"You have answered your own question, Mr. Gutman. Use your imagination and your knowledge of history and you will learn the secrets that we possess and then may you appreciate its worth to both secular and spiritual humanity."
The Fatman was not satisfied with that answer but he pressed on. "Why use the key at all, Mr. Temple? Why not just break open the boxes that are locked?"
"It cannot be done this way, Mr. Gutman. We dare not break open the boxes. It would be defilement. It would also be catastrophic. It must be done with the key."
And there it was. The Falcon and the key inside it to unlock the sacred secrets of antiquity.
"We believe, Mr. Gutman, that The Falcon is still in the San Francisco area and that is why I am talking to you tonight. You are the last person still alive to have seen the Falcon and one of the few people on earth to have researched it so throughly. We need you to help us, Mr. Gutman. You will be rewarded for your time and effort."
The Fatman ran some thoughts through his mind. Bertrand Temple always used the word,'we.' 'We dare not break open the boxes.' 'Defilement.' 'Catastrophic.' Here was a man seated before him whose perservance and dedication match his own. He again examined the word,'we,' and his conclusion was immediate.
"Of course I will help you, Mr. Temple. After all, it turns out that there really is only one Maltese Falcon, such as I have always said." The Fatman permitted himself a series of chuckles. "Well, sir, shall we start the search?"
"Now, Mr. Gutman?"
"Yes, Mr. Temple, now."
The search was to be short-lived. The Fatman died of a heart attack in late 1946 and the trail remained twisted and shrouded in mystery. The Falcon had again eluded its captors. Bertrand Temple marked The Fatman's grave with an ample headstone so inscribed: "Here lies a gentleman of the world and here lies his dream."
Bertrand Temple would continue his solitary search for an antiquity that so many people had feared, yet coveted, now stored inside a small lead statue. The secrets The Falcon contained was a power as no other on earth and therefore it would always be the definition and basis for the existence of his life.
As was his habit, the old man watched television in the evening to help relax him and because it might offer access to some scant piece of information. Television, he had found, was a powerful instrument. The television set was a new model and was in sharp contrast to the surroundings of the old hotel room in which he was staying.
"....we are doing the Roadshow live tonight from the San Francisco Civic Center and I know that we will find many antiques and stories that will entertain you and perhaps even amaze you. Now, let's get down on the floor to see what is going on...."
The old man found this program to especially entertaining and he rarely missed it. Paintings, old toys, and furniture occasionally would turn up from his homeland and that was indeed a treat for him. H
e loved the old things. He hurried with his shaving in the bathroom.
"....well, I see you have brought us a statue tonight...could you tell us something about it...? "...well, I don't know too much about it, it was given to me by an uncle, an antiques dealer in Sacramento who is now deceased, and I don't know where he got it, but we have had it in the family for a number of years now and I came to the show in hopes you could tell me something about it..."
The old man smiled in the bathroom as he shaved. They always say that, he thought. They don't know what they have or where it came from or how much it is worth.
"....well, it is a replica of a famous falcon of legend and even movie fame..."
The old man came into the living room with the aid of his cane.
"...but I must tell you that his is not the mystical Maltese Falcon....it is, as I say, a replica....let me show you...you can see where this statue has been chipped away with a knife of some sort...perhaps even a pen-knife...and then it was painted over with black enamel again...."
The old man picked up his cell-phone. "This is Temple. Get over to the Civic Center at once. Stand outside the main entrance and look for a small man with balding, light gray hair, big black frame glasses, wearing a windbreaker with an 'SF' emblem and carrying a small carboard box. Detain him by any means possible until I get there."
The old man took out a big suitcase from the closet. He opened it and took out 10,000 dollars in U.S. currency and put it in his briefcase. He also took out three automatic pistols. He checked the clip on his favorite, a German Luger, and put them all into the briefcase.
"...you may be able to get 50 dollars from a dealer that specializes in these types of small statues, someone who may collect objects seen in old movies...."
The old man closed the briefcase, put on his hat and a big tan topcoat, and walked out the door without turning off the television set.
"...and remember, folks, you take care of your antiques and they will take care of you..."