(SFX: walking man with hard-soled shoes; continues for several seconds)
Narrator: He’s a walker; he’s an old fashioned guy, carries a clock. He must cover fifty miles a shift, he sometimes goes sixteen hours straight without a break! He’s the watchman . . . he’s
Lou Stairwell: Building Security in this week’s radio mystery . . .
“It’s Walter Under the Bridge”
(Music out, SFX Walking fades – SFX Spring morning bird song. Humming man walking; humming underscores following narration, punctuates it with appropriate emotional responses.)
Narrator: When Mr. Unsoveiter walks to work, he crosses the river at about ten minutes to six. One predawn early morning on a brightening spring day, he paused in the middle of the bridge and leaned his forearms on the railing. He stood there for a minute and looked down at the mist layering the river. There was sound rising from below, the gurgling splashing channels through broken concrete and other debris. He leaned over the rail and peered down into the dark moving water. As the sun began to break over the bushy green hill, he was very surprised to see a face smiling up at him.
” Hmm? What a relaxed, cheerful looking guy!” thought Mr. Unsoveiter. “What’s he doing down there?”
As he peered more closely, the mist closed in again around the pillars of the bridge and the face faded. Time to go, so he began to shift his weight back to a standing position, when a tear in the mist came floating by and the cheerful guy was there again, just for half a second. Just long enough to say “Hi!” and he certainly looked as if he would have, if he hadn’t been under two feet of water.
Mr. Unsoveiter froze. His heart began to pound in his chest.
Voice of Unsoveiter: “There’s a dead man under the bridge!”
Narrator: . . . He said it aloud, then he looked around quickly to see if anybody had overheard. Nobody had, of course because there was nobody else there, nobody except . . . The smiling man was stretched out in an aluminum chaise lounge lawn chair, clearly quite a happy-go-lucky kind of a guy. Mr. Unsoveiter stood shivering in the early morning chill, squinting and blinking until he was able to make out clearly the long stemmed martini glass in the corpse’s right hand.
It was Walter under the bridge, but Mr. Unsoveiter didn’t know that. Walter had been smiling up at his upraised glass at the moment of his death. He had just then been reading a magazine and had reached the photograph of a woman, a model apparently, striding along and frozen by the camera in mid-stride, when he suddenly gasped and said out loud. . .
Voice of Walter: “So that’s how they did it!”
Narrator: The sweet realization that finally broke out like morning light in his mind, of the truth about how he had been framed all those years ago, poured through him like an electric current, relaxing him, easing his tense frame. He savored the moment for a good, long while and then he began to let go. He let go of his hunched up shoulders. He let go of his scowling forehead. And a great smile began to spread over his face. He leaned back in the chaise lounge and looked out over the river. Then he reached for his martini, gripping the glass tightly by the stem with the thumb and first two fingers of his right hand. He raised it high above his head and stretched his whole body in a toast-like gesture that seemd to shrug off the decades, kind of a triumphant yawn, like the leap at the end of a great, decisive touchdown run. He knew how it had been done and a moment later, the stroke took him.
Four hours later his lounge chair slid into the water, during a sudden downpour of rain.
(SFX Thunderstorm. Soon fades)
The same year Walter began serving his prison sentence, Lou Stairwell was a young man with a choice to make. Should he go back to junior college and keep his regular job as night watchman, or should he quit school altogether to take on even more responsibility in the security business? He thought about this in the week before Christmas while spending eight extra hours per day in a little concrete building at the far distant end of an immense parking lot at an automobile assembly plant in the southern tip of Chicago.
(SFX Door opening onto blizzard)
He opened the door and watched the driving snow fill the vast, empty concrete plain that stretched between the main buildings and his tiny sentry pillbox. He listened very carefully because it seemed to him that he could hear seagulls in the distance. Of course, it was snowing much too fiercely for seagulls to be wheeling around making that kind of a racket. And, for a snowy evening the cold was unusually severe. Yet he could hear them. Apparently they were there, floating invisible in the blizzard. A good moment to savor. He had found a puzzle to distract him from concentrating on his big choice and he stood very still, enjoying it.
The wind was terrific and the pelting grains of icy stinging snow roared in on him as he stood in the doorway. The calling of the seagulls was repeated in the distance. His immediate reaction was to start talking to himself, mentally, rapidly, but he stopped. No, he would just listen for a little while, that’s what he would do. So for the next thirty minutes, by the clock in the concrete hut, he listened to seagulls which were clearly impossible. The seagulls couldn’t be there but they sounded so cheerful when their shrill shrieks pierced the furious wind. It was only after a half hour or so had passed that he realized, almost gradually, that he was listening to laughter in the distance from a children’s Christmas party going on in the union’s main offices across the road and slightly south of his pillbox. Sometimes, today, while he is walking a round, Lou will call up the memory of those children’s voices that he had mistaken for the shrieks of wheeling gulls, twenty-two years before, back in that distant snowfall.
Every night, week in and week out, Lou Stairwell walks his rounds, the rhythmic tread of his passage goes on and on over the wooden floors of warehouses. The reason why he chose this life was simple. It was because of the time. The big attraction . . .the big draw, was time. All the time in the world, laying out there in front of him back then. Lou decided to walk into it. He’s been walking through it for thirty-two years. He’s walked into it, and around it and, walking, has altered it and made it, in many instances, disappear altogether, like the Dreamtime of the Australian aboriginal people, where there is no time at all. None of it and all of it, sez Lou.
Lou remains unimpressed by all the miles he’s walked. All those miles for all those years . . . How many times has he turned left into that assembly building with its fifty foot glass wall made up of hundreds of little panes, with about every seventeenth one knocked out?
When he hits that glass wall at three-oh-five, a freight train always joins him there at the north east corner. . .
(SFX Freight Train)
. . . and it roars and rattles all the windows at once, swaying and rocking as it rushes by outside, twelve feet away from the building. The huge boxcars pass by at forty or fifty miles an hour, close to the wall of glass, and Lou, on the other side, slows his pace a little so that he can enjoy the deafening company for as long as possible. When the noise is at its loudest and most terrible and the flickering mercury vapor lamp on the far side of the tracks, visible only for fractions of a second at a time, in the gaps between the speeding boxcars, begins to pulse out a steady flashing rhythm like a strobe, Lou, with twelve miles already behind him, slips into the Dreamtime, and the huge vibrating wall of glass and the roaring train melts into background and disappears.
Over the years it turns out that whenever many of the law enforcement officials who Lou counts among his friends have a particularly difficult problem, they’re tempted to bring it to him, just to talk it out. Lou is often very helpful. From a description of a case he says he goes back to visit the crime itself; anyway, he often comes up with new angles.
Lou threads his way through the most complicated labyrinths of storage stock: canyons of enormous crates, steel files, metal sheets in stacks, springs, boxes, huge and tiny, physical and mental, memories, schemes, dreams and desires. He might be the most ambulating person on earth, with the possible exception of some Indian fakirs who remain in continual motion as a form of devotion. You know, it’s not possible to sleep and walk at the same time. “Sometimes it’s necessary,” says Lou.
One of his early successes at untangling a puzzler was the one they called the case of . . . the Knocker.
A typical victim would be in his apartment, just settling in for the evening, perhaps sitting down in his easy chair. Suddenly, there’d be five loud knocks on his front door.
(SFX Five loud knocks and appropriate door and walking SFX in following section)
The fellow’d go to the front door and open it and there’d be nobody there, just the empty hallway. So he’d go back to his chair and is just lowering himself into it when, again, he hears five knocks. Again he gets up, a little bit faster this time. He opens the door onto an empty hallway that stretches in both directions for several more doors. Pretty mysterious! He goes back toward his chair and immediately there are five more knocks, so the guy spins around, grabs the doorknob, yanks open the door, leans into the hall . . . nobody’s there.
Now, at this point the victim is usually somewhere between astonished and enraged; he may hesitate a second but he will step out into the hallway. As soon as he does, he hears the door slam behind him and the unmistakable sounds of the lock being turned and the security chain being slipped into place.
Even if the victim has enough presence of mind to run like hell down the stairwell and around the back of the building . . . Even if he does this right away he is never in time to prevent the burglary that is taking place inside his apartment. The poor guy bounds up the back stairs and quickly opens the door. He invariably discovers that his valuables are gone. Nothing big, usually, but valuable. So, one night, these facts were laid before Lou Stairwell as he walked his rounds. After a while he asked what the hallways smelled like. Was there any similarity in the way they smelled?
A day or two later the same policeman was back walking with Lou. In a few instances an unusual smell was noticed shortly after the incidents. On Lou’s advice, hallways all over the city were sprayed with something; not a lot, just a tiny little spritz down each corridor.
Two days later, Ferdinand “Ferdy” Jederman was just sitting down in his favorite chair to listen to Sydney Bachet doing “Minnie the Moocher”, when five loud knocks sounded through the apartment.
(Music and appropriate SFX)
Ferdy got up, crossed the room and opened the door. A small brown furry animal came flying through the open door and attached itself to his head.
(Screaming, shrieking and carrying-on, with music in background)
Sydney’s saxophone slid and mooched along, Ferdy ran around the apartment hollering and the thing on his head emitted a continual high-pitched shrieking sound.
On the third try, Ferdy grabbed his portable phone and dialed 911 as he ran through the apartment. The police had been staking out targeted apartment buildings; unfortunately, this was not one of them. Still a unit was able to reach Ferdy’s door within ten minutes, by which time Ferdy had nearly passed out from exhaustion and the thing on his head had shrieked itself hoarse.
It was a little monkey, and after the officers had taken the creature and it’s human partner into custody, they explained to Ferdy that his hallway had been sprayed with a tiny amount of cheap synthetic monkey pheromone in order to distract the tiny would-be burglar with frenzied lust.
“Thanks a hell of a lot!” said Ferdy.
So when Lt. Meich was having his fourth cup of coffee one morning about twenty to three, sitting back at his desk, staring once again at the photo of Walter in his chaise lounge, lying there with that big sappy grin, toasting with a glass full of river water Lt.
Meich’s upcoming success at figuring out what the hell had happened, the lieutenant raised his own cup and thought of Lou walking through the factory complex on the other side of the city. Lt. Meich pushed back his chair and five minutes later, he was driving out to meet Lou, and to give him the circumstances of the case.
Walter, it turns out had just been released from prison after serving twenty-two years of a forty-four year sentence that a sixty-six year old judge had given him when he was fifty-five. “What?! You’re going to lock me up until I’m ninety-nine?!” yelled Walter at the time. In actual fact, he was seventy-seven when they let him out, and they tried to impress on him the generous nature of their decision to do so in order to inspire gratitude. Walter, however, wasn’t impressed by anything they did or said, whoever the hell they were. See, he had been convicted of being the inside man on a major bond heist. He had set an alarm five minutes later than he had ever done before in sixteen years of faithful service to his company. During the interval, thirteen million dollars worth of negotiable securities had disappeared. Walter claimed ignorance of the whole thing; according to him he had not deviated in any way from his normal routine of setting the alarm at the appropriate time. He was, after all a conscientious security man with an exemplary record, so he was given the benefit of the doubt, given every consideration.
But, given the responsibility of choosing between the two alternate stories of Walter’s involvement, the jury found him guilty. Whereupon Walter really let them have it. He included the judge, the jury, the gallery, the press, and pretty much everybody else in the world in his catalogue of infamy. He put together kind of a verbal World War II, which was where he had learned to curse. The newspapers had a good time with it for one issue, but that was twenty-two years ago and nobody remembers Walter’s outburst today. As for Walter, himself, he sat in prison and fumed and every once and a while he’d shout, “What the hell kind of deal is this anyway?”
Lt. Meich tells Lou that the most obvious explanation to Walter’s great big grin is that he was in the middle of relishing the thought of getting his cut of the stolen bonds, that they were on the way perhaps and that anticipation and delight were both clearly present on the dead face.
Why was Walter so sure that he had set the alarm at the proper time? Because of the beautiful pedestrian, says Lt. Meich. Walter was adamant that he had set the alarm at 8:15, at the time he always set it. His claim was that he was a thorough guy and wasn’t satisfied unless he had two independent indicators of the time He relied on his own watch, of course, and in the case of this particular alarm, the second clock became, over a period several months, the arrival at the train station across the street from the bank on the corner of a strikingly beautiful young woman with a springy sort of gait, who in two months had always arrived at eight-fourteen, one minute, exactly, before the alarm was to be set. After the robbery when his watch was examined, it was found to have been set five minutes slow, and he seemed to think that this fact was evidence in his favor.
“This use of an independent means of marking the time is one of the marks of an unusually conscientious security man,” mused Lou.
“Yes, Walter pointed out at his trial, you can always reset, somehow, a mechanical or electrical time piece; you can always doctor a man’s watch, so if you can get an independent indicator of the time, one that has proven to be unfailingly dependable over a very long period of time . . . Well, so Walter’s story goes, but the very next day I was there myself with the police waiting for the Beautiful Pedestrian. At eight-fourteen there were twenty-four people on the corner; none fit the description that Walter had given.
His supervisor confirmed that on one occasion at least, he, too, had seen a beautiful woman, but that had been a couple of months before the robbery. They had been standing in front of the alarm control panel when he had pointed her out to Walter.”
“Ah!” says Lou Stairwell. “Did you search further downstream for anything that he might perhaps have been reading, something he may have been holding in his hand when he died? “
“Yes, in fact a search was undertaken to find any message that might have been sent to him by his cronies. “
“But you never found any such messages?”
“No, we did not,” confesses Lt. Meich.
“Did you find anything at all that he might have been reading?”
“Just a soggy copy of Modern Security magazine. I think it wasl ast year’s holiday issue. It was in the crook of his arm. “
“Read the magazine,” says Lou, “Read the whole thing.”
So as the sun is coming up over the city, Lt. Meich is poring over a dry copy of last year’s holiday issue of Modern Security. And eventually he gets to an article on the Winter Fashion For Charity show that had been organized that year by the wives of some of the bigwigs in the world of security. A picture and a name leap out at him. It is Walter’s old supervisor’s wife of twenty-two years in a sable cape and boots, a former model “showing that she hasn’t lost her touch.” Walter’s old supervisor had left the old firm for greener pastures a couple of years after Walter’s conviction, He had his own big operation now, known all over the world. And here was his still-beautiful wife, “bouncing up the runway with a youthful, springy step.”
Lt. Meich’s eyes open wide and he reaches for the telephone.
(SFX touchtone phone tones; music up)
© Ken Raabe