Thursday, January 12, 2017

pounding pavement in the dark

Reading a CNN headline this week which suggested that Donald Trump is "gaslighting" the American public reminded me of the classic American film Gaslight (1944) which was blogged here last summer.

("Are you suggesting that this is a knife I hold in my hand?  Have you gone mad, my husband?  Or is it I who am mad?  Yes, of course.  That's it.  I am mad! 

I'm always losing things and hiding things!  I can never find them.  I don't know where I put them....")

I thought of Gaslight again, then, while reading a detective story by Dashiell Hammett,

called "The Gatewood Caper" (1923).  Because in this story, there's a scene with a dark alley in a city at night, and it was similar to the part in Gaslight where Ingrid Bergman's manipulative, plotting husband Gregory goes out at night in London,

sidesteps into an alley, disappears, reappears someplace else, and ultimately turns out to have been "breaking into" his own house, through the back and over some rooftops.

It's like -- this idea that the backs of urban rowhouses might hold a myriad of options for exits, entrances, escapes, vanishings -- like an alternative world, an underworld....

------------------------- [excerpt, "The Gatewood Caper"] ------------------ For perhaps half a minute he stood like a statue.  Then his left hand came out of his pocket, and the bundle of money fell to the sidewalk in front of him, where it made a bright blur in the darkness.  Gatewood turned abruptly, and began to retrace his steps homeward.

...Now she ran to the bundle, picked it up, and scuttled to the black mouth of an alley a few feet distant -- a rather tall woman, bent, and in dark clothes from head to feet.

In the black mouth of the alley she vanished.

I had been compelled to slow up while Gatewood and the woman stood facing each other, and I was more than a block away now.  As soon as the woman disappeared, I took a chance and started pounding my rubber soles against the pavement.

The alley was empty when I reached it.

It ran all the way through to the next street, but I knew that the woman couldn't have reached the other end before I got to this one.  I carry a lot of weight these days, but I can still step a block or two in good time. 

Along both sides of the alley were the rears of apartment buildings, each with its back door looking blankly, secretively, at me.

The plainclothesman who had been trailing behind me came up, then O'Gar and Thode in their cars, and soon, Lusk.  O'Gar and Thode rode off immediately to wind through the neighboring streets, hunting for the woman. 

Lusk, and the plainclothesman each planted himself on a corner from which two of the streets enclosing the block could be watched.

I went through the alley, hunting vainly for an unlocked door, an open window, a fire escape that would show recent use -- any of the signs that a hurried departure from the alley might leave.