The Bad Work

June 27, 2010

     This spring I participated in that screenwriting contest again. This was my entry that got me to round two:


Behind a lavish executive desk sits HAROLD GRANTLY. He wears a neat, black sack coat and nervously primps a thick, black mustache with a tortoiseshell comb. Beside him, wooden window blinds admit the only light into the room; It slants in swathes across his troubled but handsome face.

Neatly arranged on the leather blotter are articles that suggest refinement: an ornate fountain pen, a monogrammed gold pocket watch. But what occupies his interest lays heavy in his palm, a tarnished brass badge that reads, PINKERTON NATIONAL DETECTIVE AGENCY.

There is a knock at his door and he sweeps the badge into an open drawer.         


ABIGAIL, an attractive woman in her 20’s, enters the office. She wears a modest corset dress with her long, dusky hair tied up with a ribbon.

         A Detective Worth to see you?

He forces a smile.

         Thank you, Abigail.


Detective MATHESON WORTH waits patiently at the main desk playfully drumming his fingers on the ledger. He is also handsome, but ruggedly so. His mustache and suit are less kempt, but a sly smile adds to his charm.

Grantly appears from an open door behind the desk and Worth’s posture straightens.

         Ahh. Good morning.

Grantly directs a cool look towards Abigail who seems to understand. She silently excuses herself.

         Whatever can I do for you Mr. Worth?



         Detective Worth. I’d show you my badge,
         but that seems to be part of the problem.

He leans in closer and flashes a smile. Grantly remains aloof.

                  WORTH (CONT’D)
         You see, someone at this hotel broke into my room
         last night. Lifted it and my service pistol right from
         under my nose!

         That’s quite an accusation.

         Now, before you start suggesting that I may have been
         careless, I’d like to mention again that I am a detective.
         I tend to notice these kinds of things.

A lone man seated by the front window looks over his newspaper at the two of them. Grantly notices and leans in a little closer.

         Maybe we should discuss this privately.

         Ordinarily, that might seem like enough, but before
         I could come back down here to lodge the complaint,
         I also noticed that my door would no longer open and
         my room was filling up with poison gas!

He smiles at the man with the paper.

                  WORTH (CONT’D)
         Good morning sir! How was your room?

Grantly tries to draw him back in, to tone it down.

         Detective, I-

Worth leans in even closer than before and whispers. His smile now has an edge to it.

         If I didn’t know any better, I’d suspect this
         hotel was a front to make transients disappear
         so you can perform deranged medical experiments
         on them!

Now Grantly smiles at the man with the paper. The context is plain; what a nut this guy is. The man resumes reading.

                  WORTH (CONT’D)
         You don’t seem all that surprised.

         Certainly I am-

         Your man seemed quite surprised this morning-
         to open my room and find me still breathing.
         Tell me, does your staff commonly wear masks
         like that when they come in to change the linen?
         Surely your guests don’t smell all that terrible.

         I think there may be some gross misunderstanding.
         Will you allow me a chance to explain matters in private?

         Delightful. Shall we adjourn to your office?

He gestures to the open door behind Grantly.

         I have somewhere better in mind.


Grantly and Worth walk down a long, windowless hallway. The doorways to the rooms are all open and dark. Only a few flickering electric sconces light the way.

Worth glances into a room and notices heaps of crumbling plaster in a pool of standing water.

         Where are we going, exactly?

         I have an office down here. No one will bother us.

         That’s not quite what I’m worried about.

At the end of the hall is one last door leading into a much larger room. Inside is an ominous surgical slab fitted with leather restraints.

Worth stops at the entrance and turns around.

Grantly pulls a revolver from his pocket and points it at Worth.

                  WORTH (CONT’D)
         Oh, you found it!

         After you, please.


Grantly follows Worth inside as he closes and locks a formidable steel door.

Without prompting, Worth hops up and sits on the slab.

         Shall I take my shirt-sleves off?

Grantly approaches and aims the revolver squarely at Worth’s forehead and fires.

Worth pitches backward over the slab and to the floor.

Grantly holds the revolver level, a curl of smoke issues from the barrel.

He steps around and sees Worth twisted on the floor, his face turned away from him.

Grantly crouches down and turns Worth’s head to face him. Worth is unharmed. There is only a black smudge where the bullet struck. His eyes focus on Grantly.

         You’re not with Pinkerton, are you?


Both men are now seated in chairs facing each other, both smoking cigars. The revolver now lies on the slab several feet away.

Worth exhales the smoke, regarding it fondly as it rises and lingers in the air.

         You lead a charmed life, don’t you doctor?

         How do you figure?

         Someone’s looking out for you.

         You, I suppose. My guardian angel.

Worth smiles.

         I’m a private investigator. I couldn’t help you if I wanted to.
         Someone believes in your work though, someone with influence.

Grantly looks around him, at the squalor, the rust and dried blood.

         I’m a has-been. What good could possibly come out of my work?

         What good, indeed.

This seems to resonate with Dr. Grantly. He leans back in his chair and crosses his legs. A look of epiphany dawns on him as he enjoys his cigar.

Detective Worth notices the change. He stands, dropping his cigar on the floor. He crushes it out with his wingtip. He takes his gun from the slab and pockets it.

                  WORTH (CONT’D)
         There’s an old saying where I come from,
         God laughs while men make plans.

He walks to the door and opens it easily.

                  WORTH (CONT’D)
         It’ll be interesting to see if that’s true.

He leaves Grantly who does not watch him leave.