Short Story #30: Pieces of Silver by Brett Halliday

Title: Pieces of Silver

Author: Brett Halliday

Short Story #30 out of 365

Rating: 4 (out of 5 stars)

Date Read: 1/22/2014
SourceAlfred Hitchcock Presents Stories for Late at Night edited by Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Arthur.
Book cover:  Alfred Hitchcock Presents Stories for Late at Night edited by Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Arthur


The narrator is speaking to an insurance man explaining to him about the disappearance of Thurston, an American who had visit him the Isthmus of Tejhauntepec.  He explains to the agent that he, the narrator, was part of his crew and knows as much as there is to know about Thurston's disappearance.  He then relates the story of how Thurston appeared and was arrogant and condescending to the narrator and other Mexicans.  He met another "gringo" in the area, Mr. Simpson, who had lived there for 20 years and was well accepted by the locals.  Thurston pressures Simpson and a crew to take him up river during siesta rather than waiting because he's looking for reported oil seepage in hopes of discovering an oil.  He works the crew brutally hard, insulting them the whole time to the point at which they are ready to mutiny.  Thurston carries a gun which outranks their weapons.  When they arrive near Simpson's home, he takes a clear interest in Simpson's 16 year old daughter, Lolita.  This troubles all of the Mexicans and Simpson who tells him to go on his way.  Simpson sets up camp a little bit away from Simpson's home, hoping to seduce the daughter.  At night, Simpson throws a party wherein he invites Lolita's fiance and his tribe.  They have a long party that Thurston shows up at, uninvited.  He watches as Lolita dances the fluencita, a dance of love and seduction for her fiance.  At the height of the dance, American silver dollars are thrown onto the ground in front of her.  Everyone is in shock as this is a sign of disrespect.  They look to see Thurston leaving.  The next morning Thurston takes off with the crew (Simpson was only going as far as his house).  Along the way, they meet some Mexicans who ask if Thurston was looking for the oil.  He leaves with them and the crew come back.  Here, the narrator explains to the insurance agent that they were men from the tribe of Lolita's fiance and they in all likelihood killed him by staking him to the ground, pouring honey on him and letting ants devour him.  The kicker comes in the last sentence when we learn that it was Simpson who threw the coins on the ground at the right time, setting up Thurston.  


I liked this story.  The ending surprised me.  It was obvious that Thurston was going to die but that Simpson threw in the coins-a well-played surprise.  However, it was the style that really captured me.  The entire story is presented as a one-way dialogue between the narrator and the insurance agent but we never hear the insurance agent, only the narrator's response to his questions.  This quality of "dialogue" in the writing makes the story feel more natural in terms of how the story is told and gives it a certain rhythm.  It was the type of story that you could definitely "hear" more than read.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.

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