‘Tulip’ by Dashiell Hammett

Unlike his older disciple, Dashiell Hammett hit his stride just as he began writing novels; four of the five are masterpieces. Definitive works are risky business, though: The Glass Key and The Thin Man left dead ends on both sides of the street. He never finished another story, but five years after his death Lillian Hellman printed a sizable chunk of manuscript she titled ‘Tulip’. It’s mostly dialogue, mostly between Hammett and an old war ‘buddy’, I guess would be the word, shooting the shit and yanking each others’ chains not long after Hammett finished a penitentiary stretch for contempt of a commie-hunting court.

Not much good gets said about ‘Tulip’, but then most of it was said by readers who wanted Sam Spade. Me, I like the fragment at least as much as more recent exercises in nothing-happening. I like its cautious rhythms, its attempt at honest reportage of everyday avoidances and games of play-risk and real-risk. Because I’m a sentimental sap I even like that it has two endings. Here’s the first of them:

If you are tired you ought to rest, I think, and not try to fool yourself and your customers with colored bubbles.

A short goodbye but a hell of a lot more dignified than Chandler’s Playback.

Probably drafted around 1952. Published in The Big Knockover, edited by Lilian Hellman, 1966

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