Thursday, June 29, 2023

How to Write an Action Scene

 The woman stood near the door, where she had gone to talk to the landlady. She was staring at the Frenchman and the Kid. I wasted precious minutes that seemed to run into hours trying to catch her eye. I finally got it.

I looked at the light-switch, only a foot from her. I looked at her. I looked at the switch again. At her. At the switch.

She got me. Her hand crept sideways along the wall.

I looked at the two principal players in this button-button game.

The Kid’s eyes were dead – and deadly – circles. Maurois’ one open eye was watery. He wouldn’t make the grade. He put a hand in his pocket and brought out the silk bag.

The woman’s brown fingers topped the light button. God knows she was nothing to gamble on, but I had no choice. I had to be in motion when the lights went. Big Chin would pump metal. I had to trust Ines not to balk. If she did, my name was Denis.*

Her nail whitened.

I went for Maurois.

Darkness – streaked with orange and blue – filled with noise.

My arms had Maurois. We crashed down on the dead Billie. I twisted around, kicking the Frenchman’s face. Loosened one arm. Caught one of his. His other hand gouged at my face. That told me the bag was in the one I held. Clawing fingers tore my mouth. I put my teeth in them and kept them there. One of my knees was on his face. I put my weight on it. My teeth still held his hand. Both of my hands were free to get the bag.

Not nice, this work, but effective.

The room was the inside of a black drum on which a giant was beating the long roll. Four guns worked together in a prolonged throbbing roar.

Maurois’ fingernails dug into my tongue. I had to open my mouth – let his hand escape. One of my hands found the bag. He wouldn’t let go. I screwed his thumb. He cried out. I had the bag.

I tried to leave him then. He grabbed my legs. I kicked at him – missed. He shuddered twice – and stopped moving. A flying bullet had hit him, I took it. Rolling over on the floor, snuggling close to him, I ran a hand over him. A hard bulge came under my hand. I put my hand in his pocket and took back my gun.

On hands and knees – one fist around my gun, the other clutching the silk sack of jewels – I turned to where the door to the next room should have been. A foot wrong, I corrected my course. As I went through the door, the racket in the room behind me stopped.


From “The Whosis Kid” by Dashiell Hammett

Black Mask Magazine

March 1925


(* - A nautical term for a pig; an insulting name.)

No comments: