In The Maltese Falcon, the Flitcraft story is told by Sam to his client and lover Brigid O’Shaughnessy in his Post Street room, the very apartment Dashiell Hammett inhabited while writing the book. The story he tells her is in fact about as much as we learn of Sam’s earlier life, apart from an unwise past affair with his partner’s wife. Hired by Mrs. Flitcraft to find her vanished husband, Spade locates him in Spokane in 1927, when Flitcraft is eager to explain what happened five years before:

“Going to lunch he passed an office building that was being put up—just the skeleton. A beam or something fell eight or ten stories down and smacked the sidewalk alongside him. It brushed pretty close to him, but didn’t touch him, though a piece of the sidewalk was chipped off and flew up and hit his cheek….He was scared stiff of course, he said, but he was more shocked than really frightened. He felt like somebody had taken the lid off life and let him look at the works.”

The life he had known before going to lunch was “a clean orderly sane responsible affair” in which good people were rewarded with beautiful families and gulf club memberships. Now a falling beam had shown him that even good men lived “only while blind chance spared them.” A change came over him, Spade tells Brigid, “like a fist when you open your hand.”

The close call spurs Flitcraft to quickly reorder his life to the new reality. He leaves his family and job in one city and ends up in another, where Spade tracks him down and finds he has outwardly recreated his old existence, with a new job, name, and family. But that is not how it feels to Flitcraft, who is unrepentant about the adjustments he felt compelled to make. He only worries that Spade won’t understand him. “I got it all right,” Spade says to Brigid O’Shaughnessy, “but Mrs. Flitcraft never did. She thought it was silly. Maybe it was.”

It was.