Friday, 18 March 2011

Radio | Dialogue | Hammett Bends the Spoon

A few years ago, I wrote a radio play that retold Lillian Hellman's partial anecdotes of Dashiell Hammett. This is one of the scenes.


(Dash and Lily are in bed.)

LILY: Were you ever in real danger?

DASH: A few times. I’ve got a dent in my head.

LILY: How’s that?

DASH: Hit with a brick in a dark alley back in ’21.

LILY: (laughing) Ever shoot it out with gangsters?

DASH: Almost once a week.

LILY: I don’t think I believe you much.

DASH: I wasn’t a G-man. angel. Most Pinkerton work was sitting in cars, watching and waiting.

LILY: So how did you get the scars on your legs?

DASH: That was one time when a group of us were sent along to nab a gang that had been stealing dynamite. We broke into the house where they'd shacked up, but they were waiting for us. Someone must have given them the word. Anyhow, one of them sat on me while his friend started whittling away at my leg with a clasp knife.

(FX: Lily lights a cigarette.)

LILY: Got any other good Pinkerton stories?

DASH: All my stories are Pinkerton stories, sweetheart. That’s my problem.

LILY: So why did you quit?

DASH: Lots of reasons. I wanted to concentrate on my writing. And TB. The scars on my lungs were giving me hell. I wanted to concentrate on my breathing too.

(FX: The bedsprings creak as Lily gets out of bed.)

LILY: Time’s getting on. We ought to-

DASH: But I haven’t told you the best Pinkerton story of all yet.

LILY: Tell me when-

DASH: Sit down. You’ll want to hear this one.

LILY: (resignedly) Alright, OK.

DASH: When the regular police force took away a lot of the Pinkerton work, we used to get employed as union busters, strike breakers. In 1917, I got sent out to Butte, Montana. The Anaconda Copper Company was having trouble with a fellow called Frank Little. He was a labour union organizer – part Indian with only one eye but he knew how to work a crowd. He wouldn’t be bluffed or scared off. So an officer for Anaconda Copper offered me five thousand dollars if I would murder Frank Little.

(FX: He stops. Lily dare not speak.)

DASH: I went out on the next train but I heard afterwards that Little was lynched at a railroad crossing a few days later. Anaconda Copper didn’t have any trouble after that. Pretty, isn’t it?

LILY: They couldn’t have made you that offer if you hadn’t been a strikebreaker.

DASH: Yes ma’am. So why do you think I told you about it?

(A long pause.)

LILY: Get dressed. We don’t want to keep my husband waiting.

Nicolas Pillai
Film Editor

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