"The Night Man" by Lucille Fletcher (1944)
Music. A dissonant chord. Then a strain of weird notes, each trying out in a different key. Thy rise and clash. The music fades.
We are in a penitentiary. At first there is only the sound of the great bell, echoing down the corridors, low and toneless, repeating itself with tireless persistence. As the echo vanishes, we hear in the distance the click of high heels on the stone floor. They are coming closer, growing louder, They are Stella's footsteps. She is a woman in her thirties, thin and high-strung.
The footsteps halt.
STELLA: Warden Graves?
GRAVES Yes, Miss Rhodes. Sit down, won't you?
STELLA: Thank you. I hate to disturb you like this. But I've come all the way up here to see you. They wouldn't give me the information over the phone.
GRAVES: I know.
STELLA: You know what my visit is about, Warden Graves?
GRAVES: To some extent. Yuo think one of our prisoners -- Tom Nixon -- has escaped.
Some ten years ago, Stella's mother was murdered. She rn a boarding house and Tom Nixon, her chief border, was arrested for the crime. Stella had been the main witness against him. When he was found guilty, he swore that he would kill Stella. For the last decade Stella has lived in fear, even though Nixon was locked up for life. Now she has seen him in her own apartment house where she has a small apartment on the eighteenth floor -- he has a job there, working the elevator at night...and he has a pass key to all the apartments. Stella is convinced the Nixon had somehow escaped from prison.
But that's not possible, Graves told her. Nixon was dead and burried on the prison grounds. The warden showed Stella the grave, as well as some of Nixon's personal effects, which Stella recognized. The warden also showed her a photograph of Nixon taken shortly before his death of a long and wasting disease. Stella is relieved. Her imagination must have been at work. Unless she had seen a ghost. But there is far much more to the story...
"The Night Man" first aired on Suspense on October 26, 1944. The author, Lucille Fletcher (1912-2000), was a popular screenwriter, working in film, television, and radio, and is best remembered today for writing the classic play Sorry, Wrong Number, which she first wrote for radio, then expanded the script for the 1948 film. From 1938 to 1949 she was married to composer Bernard Herrmann, divorcing after Herrmann had an affair with Fletcher's cousin. The following year she married writer Douglass Wallop. who would go on to write The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant, which Wallop and George Abbott would adopt for the hit musical Damn Yankees. Fletcher and Wallop remained married until his death in 1985.
In 1951, with Alan Ullman, Fletcher expanded "The Night Man" into her second novel.
Suspense was a CBS radio show that ran from 1940 through 1962 -- approximately 945 shows. In the original 1944 airing of "The Night Man," Virginia Bruce played the role of Miss Rhodes. Suspense aired "The Night Man" two more times during its run -- first on July 25, 1959, starring Marsha Hunt, and then on October 23, 1960 with Ginger Jones.
I'm breaking with tradition here since 1) this is a radio play and not an actual short story, and 2) the script is not available to read on the internet, although the play is.
"The Night Man" was reprinted in The Saint's Choice of Radio Thrillers (1946). the seventh in a series of digest-sized paperbacks under the heading "The Saint's Choice," each (at least ostensibly) edited by Leslie Charteris and issued by Saint Enterprises Inc. This is a nifty collection of eight old-time radio scripts from 1935 to 1945. For the curious, here are the contents:
- Arch Oboler, "The Ugliest Man in the World" (from Lights Out, March 14, 1941)
- Norman Corwin, "The Moat Farm Murder" (from CBS, July 18, 1944)
- Ellery /Queen, "The Adventure of the Murdered Ship" (from Ellery Queen, air date unknown)
- Denis Green, :The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax" (from Sherlock Holmes, February 26, 1945)
- Lucille Fletcher, "The Night Man" (from Suspense, October 26, 1944)
- Max Marcin, "The Stolen Rembrandt" (from Crime Doctor, June 3, 1945)
- William H. Robson, "The San Quentin Prison Break" (from Calling All Cars, January 22, 1935)
- Leslie Charteris. "The Miracle Tea Party" (from The Saint, July 25, 1945)