Fiction

THE LONG NIGHT

VERA JOHNSON April 15 1953
Fiction

THE LONG NIGHT

VERA JOHNSON April 15 1953

THE LONG NIGHT

Fiction

The tension mounted unbearably all through

as the killer used Jessie’s baby for a shield

in the dash from Toronto to the border

VERA JOHNSON

THIS IS the way it began: a man easing the butt of a cigarette from an amber holder and laying it in an ash tray, flicking a crumb of tobacco from his white shirt, placing the evening paper across his lap and drawing neat geometrical figures in the white margin as he listened to the eight-o’clock news.

His name was Arthur Connolly and he was the kind of man who is born to a dull and routine existence. He carried out his duties as an accountant with minute attention to detail, kept up his insurance, made regular bank deposits, subscribed to the Book-ofthe-Month Club and spoke with a carefully cultivated English accent.

“Did you hear that?” he asked over the professional dramatics of the newscaster. “A man shoots down a hank manager and teller in cold blood and simply disappears and three months later they still haven’t located him.”

“Yes, dear,” Jessie Connolly said. She had learned in eighteen months of marriage that it was seldom necessary to comment further.

“We pay taxes to support a bunch of incompetents who couldn’t find a lost dog if it came up and bit them.”

“Yes, dear,” Jessie said.

“One by one,” the announcer intoned, “the other four have been picked up. But the man who planned the holdup and ruthlessly murdered two bank employees is still at large. Where is this man? Where is William Farrell?”

There was a picture of Farrell on the front page of the paper. With his pencil Arthur Connolly added glasses to it.

“Has he changed his appearance and settled down in some Canadian community?” the announcer asked breathlessly. “Is he waiting his chance to strike again?”

Arthur penciled in a mustache and complemented it with a

beard. The picture was complete now. His fingers froze on the pencil. It was no longer a picture of William Farrell. If was a likeness of Eric Simmons who lived in Room 8 on the second floor; and in a minute or two Eric Simmons would walk through the door and pull up a hassock to the colTee table where the cribbage board and cards were laid out for their regular Friday night game.

Like an echo to the pounding strokes of his heart, Aathur heard a knock at the door.

With a single motion he folded the paper and shoved it down the side of the easy chair. William Farrell walked in. He pulled the hassock over to the coffee table, sat down facing Arthur and asked cheerfully, “Going to skunk me tonight?”

His eyes were a pale, almost milky blue behind the horn-rimmed glasses and his lips, when he spoke, moved like thin pink worms against the dark-brown beard and mustache. Arthur swallowed. He heard his own voice saying weakly, “Well, I’ll try.”

Jessie closed the lid of her work basket. “Finished,” she said. “Now I can relax. Where’s the paper, dear?”

“I don’t know.” Arthur watched in fascination as strong brown fingers riffled the deck of cards and thumped them down on the coffee table. “Maybe I left it in the kitchen.”

“There it is, right beside you.” Farrell reached over and pulled the paper free. It fell open in his hands. “I think,” he said after a long moment (and he was putting the paper down on the coffee table and slowly standing up and sticking his hand in his pocket), “I think we all need some fresh air.”

Jessie stared at the two men and then walked over to look at the paper. The freckles on her thin pale face seemed to darken suddenly. “All right,” she said quietly, “let’s go.”

“Now, Arthur, you just run upstairs and get my coat out of the closet”— Arthur moved to the door like a sleepwalker—“and Jessie, you can get the baby ready.”

“Not the baby.” Her voice was a thin whisper.

Farrell smiled. “Oh yes,” he said. “I insist we take the baby.”

In the hall Jessie suddenly turned to Farrell and said, “Just a minute. I’ll be right back.” Before he had time to object she had reached the bathroom door at the end of the hallway and opened it.

Mrs. Lorimer, the landlady, was standing in the kitchen talking to Paul, the medical student, and the two girls from Nova Scotia. She waved to the men and said, “Going out for a while, eh? That will be a nice change.”

“Yes, we thought we’d like a drive,” Farrell said easily. “Arthur is feeling a bit peckish.”

“Oh, what a shame. You don’t look too well at that, Mr. Connolly. I had an uncle that color once and ...” Her clinical history of her uncle was broken off as Jessie came out of the bathroom. “Good-by now. Have a nice time.”

“We will,” Farrell said. The door closed behind them.

AT eight - forty-five Hilda Walters ^asked, “Where’s Hans? His tea is getting cold.”

“Here he is,” said Mrs. Lorimer. The young German immigrant came out of the bathroom, blushing as everybody looked at him.

“Please,” Hans said diffidently, “I don’t read English so good. Somebody is writing on the mirror, I think with soap. It is a joke?”

Mrs. Lorimer shed her affability. “Soap? On my mirror?” The others followed her as she stormed into the bathroom.

Hilda gripped her arm. “Look what it says.”

The words stumbled across the mirror. “Help—police—Eric is Farrell— see paper in room—our car JR-372.” “It was Jessie,” Beth said. “She was the last one in here.”

Mrs. Lorimer frowned at the mirror. “It’s not like Jessie to play jokes.” Paul burst in from the hall. “Here’s the paper—it was on the coffee table.” They stared at the picture. “It’s him all right. And to think that only yesterday I . . .” Mrs. Lorimer had lost her audience. She trailed after them into the hall, where Paul was at the phone.

They didn’t believe him at first, but they sent two uniformed policemen to check. “You are quite sure this is a picture of Eric Simmons?”

“Sure?” Mrs. Lorimer was enjoying her new importance. She patted a wave of her bleached hair into place. “Why, I know that face as well as my own. And to think that all the time . . .” The plainclothesmen came then, and the questions began.

NOT SO fast.” Farrell was lounging on the back seat, the gun beside him. “There’s lots of time. We don’t want to get picked up for speeding.” Careful not to disturb the baby sleeping on her lap, Jessie turned her head to look at Farrell. “You know my mother baby-sits for us on Saturday mornings while we go shopping. She’ll get there at eight tomorrow and a few minutes later the police will be looking for this car. They’ll never let us across.” She seemed to consider for a moment and then said, “Look, if you’ll promise to drop us off in Detroit I’ll phone my mother tonight and tell her to let Mrs. Lorimer know we’ve gone to Windsor for the week end.” Farrell looked at her steadily. “All right,” he said at last, “but tell her Montreal. Arthur, take the cut-off into Hamilton and look for a pay phone.” He smiled as he added, “I’ll be right outside the booth and we’ll leave the door open.”

HE WAS a very quiet tenant ... no trouble at all. We often teased him about his beard, but he told us he was a writer and showed us articles he’d had published under different names, so it seemed quite natural.” The phone rang and Mrs. Lorimer interrupted her monologue. “Hello? Yes . . . Oh—just a minute.” She covered the mouthpiece with her hand and looked around wildly. “It’s Mrs. Connolly’s mother. She’s just had a phone call from her.”

The man in grey jumped up from the chair. “Ask her all about the phone call and repeat it slowly.”

“Hello, Mrs. Archer. What did Jessie say? . . . They’re going to Montreal for the week end. Anything else?

. . . She said she’d be sure to look up Auntie Flo there . . . Well, that’s strange. Just a moment.” She covered the mouthpiece again. “She’s worried because Jessie said she’d look up Auntie Flo in Montreal and Flo actually lives in Windsor. What shall I say to her?” “Tell her that you’re sure everything’s all right. It must be a misunderstanding of some kind.”

That was at nine-thirty p.m. At nine forty-five the man in grey, whose name was Creighton, was back at headquarters studying a map and briefing the special squad which had been assigned to the Farrell case three months before. “If they’re following No. 2 highway they should be about

here by now.” He marked a red cross on the map.“We’ll take the plane to this spot”—he made another cross— and then go back along the highway by car to intercept them about here.” He turned his back on the map. “You know the problem. Farrell is a criminal psychopath who kills without compunction and, if he once suspects that we have been tipped off, you know what he will do. Somewhere between here and Windsor we’ve got to pick him up, but without endangering the lives of the Connollys.” He studied the grave faces of the four men and then, suddenly, grinned at them and tossed the red pencil on the table. “Okay. Lecture’s over. We’ll go out to the airport and wait. They’ll call us the moment the car is spotted.”

WHAT’S the matter, Arthur? Cat got your tongue?”

( Arthur cleared his throat noisily. No, no. Just—don’t feel like talking.” Farrell and Jessie had been at it ever since they left Hamilton — casual, friendly talk about places they’d been and books and shows and people. It didn’t seem real to Arthur. He could see the patch of light rushing over the road to the inevitable ending somewhere in Michigan—a twisted corpse lying in a ditch. His own corpse—he could see it clearly. And yet the vision filled him with numbness rather than horror. There was nothing he could do about it, nothing except wait and hope that soon he would wake up. The nightmarish conversation went on. “Baby still asleep?”

“Yes, but he’ll want his bottle soon. Do you think we could stop somewhere?”

“Oh, sure. There’s lots of time. We’ll see if we can find a café open in Brantford.”

CREIGHTON chewed on a match and looked balefully at the moon. He bit a small piece off the matchstick and spat it out. Directly across the road loomed the huge bulk that was MacDonald, leaning on a fence post with his face turned to the sky. As Creighton glanced over at him he shifted his position and called, “If we’d come out here to neck it would be a nice sight.”

“Yeah.” Creighton was not amused. He looked down the hill, noting with relief that Kelly and Muller were formless shadows as they squatted at their posts fifty yards away, one on each side of the road. Somewhere beyond them Pete Slemco would be crouching in the ditch, a large packet of flat-headed nails in his hand.

The road swept down to the bottom of the hill and then climbed sharply again. Creighton followed it with his eyes to a point just below the second peak. There Jenkins—the local man who had met their plane ten miles away and driven them to this spot—would be waiting. As soon as the car passed him he was to signal with one brief flash. Creighton hoped he was reliable. He bit another small piece from the matchstick and chewed on it morosely.

Headlights broke over the crest of the second hill. Creighton fixed his gaze below and to the left of the oncoming lights and held it there long after they had flashed past the point he was watching. There was no signal. Cursing, he stretched out full-length behind the fence. He was scarcely conscious of the car as it roared up the hill toward him and past. Head thrust out from behind a fence post, face shielded by his hat, he was watching the other hill with tense concentration.

There were three more false alarms before the signal lamp blinked its warning. A brief flash —and Creighton was on his feet yelling, “Here it comes. Get ready!” He heard Kelly repeating the cry and then, faintly, Slpmco’s answering “Okay.”

He flattened himself on the ground again. The headlights were halfway down the hill. Just before they reached the bottom of the hollow Slemco would sprinkle the nails on the road. Creighton hoped it would work.

“Hell!” Another car had swept over the crest and was rushing down the hill. As Creighton watched, it began to gain on the other. The first headlights were climbing the hill toward him now. He released the safety catch on his gun and waited. Suddenly he heard the blaring of a horn and the second car swept into view on the wrong side of the road. “Get back, damn it!” Creighton hollered. Unheeding, the car cut in front of the other and rushed up the hill. There was a loud bang, the car slewed crazily and ground to a stop with its right wheels on the rim of

the ditch. As the other car veered around it Creighton glimpsed a bearded face at the rear window. Then it sped over the top of the hill.

Creighton got to his feet, brushed the dirt and dried stalks of grass from his coat and climbed over the fence. MacDonald joined him on the road and the others walked up the hill to meet them. “Nice work,” Creighton told Slemco, “but we got the wrong car. As soon as Jenkins picks us up we’ll follow them and grab Farrell the first chance we get.”

THE BABY began to cry fretfully.

Jessie dandled him on her knee until the crying turned to a toneless mumble.

1 his is Brantford.” Farrell dropped his cigarette on the floor and crushed it with his foot. “Watch for a café, Arthur. We’ve got to feed this infant of yours.”

“Bye baby bunting,” Jessie sang. They must know about it by now. And yet Mrs. Lorimer might have washed off the mirror without reading it. And her mother was perennially confused, the type of woman who never gets messages straight. She would have to try again, that was all. Her stomach tightened at the thought. “Wrap the bj^by bunting in,” she sang.

The car stopped. Farrell put the gun in his pocket and held out his arms. “I’ll take Arthur Junior,” he said.

Jessie forced herself to smile as she handed the baby into the back seat. “Watch out he doesn’t wet on you.” They crossed the street to the café and Jessie led the way to the last booth.

“Just a minute. Let me in first.” Farrell slipped into the seat next the wall and Jessie moved in beside him. Arthur sat opposite, his face a muddy grey. As Jessie rummaged in the plastic bag for the baby’s bottle, the waitress sauntered over and pulled a pad from her pocket.

BE CAREFUL not to attract attention,” Creighton said. “Remember that you’re just a couple of businessmen passing through Brantford on your way to Detroit. You’ve got some time to kill so you can dawdle over your coffee and maybe play a tune on the juke-box.” Muller and MacDonald nodded.

“What do we do if he’s still holding the baby?” MacDonald asked.

“Nothing,” Creighton said. “Don’t take any chances with any of the Connollys. But if he leaves himself open for five seconds, I want you to take him.”

“Okay,” Muller said. “Let’s get started.”

THE BABY' was draining the bottle in great gulps. Jessie tipped him over her shoulder and held him there until he belched. He returned to the bottle with renewed vigor. Farrell watched him curiously, commenting, “Greedy little beggar.”

The door opened and Jessie’s heart leaped, then stilled again as two men mounted stools at the counter. She smiled at Farrell. “It’s long past his feeding time. You’d be hungry too if you missed your dinner.”

The baby was sucking noisily on air. Jessie laid him on the bench, changed his diapers and again wrapped him in the cocoon of blankets.

“I’ll hold him,” Farrell said.

“Okay. I’m going in there.” She gestured to the door marked LADIES which was directly behind the booth.

With the door bolted behind her she took a notebook and pencil from her purse. She flicked over the pages until she came to an empty one, printed HELP in big letters across the top and scribbled a message below. Then she ripped the page from the book and stuffed it in her coat pocket. Her hand was on the bolt when she remembered to reach over and flush the toilet. “Ready?” Farrell asked.

“Just about.” She sat down long enough to drain the last quarter-cup of coffee and unobtrusively dropped a glove on the floor. One of the men who had come in after them was standing by the Wurlitzer, fingering a nickel and looking at the selections. They brushed past him as they walked to the door.

Arthur paid the bill with the motions of an automaton. He was opening the door when Jessie cried out, “Wait— I’ve lost a glove.” She moved quickly to the booth and bent to look beneath the table. “Here it is,” she called. She squatted down and reached for the glove with her left hand, while with her right she slid the note onto the table.

MULLER finally shoved his nickel in the Wurlitzer and paused at the booth to palm the note. He walked back and sat down beside MacDonald. “No chance,” he said quietly. “He was holding the kid all the time. She left a note.”

MacDonald bit into a doughnut. “Keep it in your hand. The car’s still there.”

“I’ll pay the check.” Muller tossed a dollar onto the cashier’s counter and thoughtfully picked his teeth as he waited for the change. From the corner of his eye he watched the car pulling out. He nodded at MacDonald. They ambled across the street and then ran along the sidewalk to Jenkins’ car.

Creighton read the message by the light of the dashboard. “Nothing new,” he said, “except that she’s going to try to get him to stop again at London and Chatham. We’ll see what we can do at London.”

Six miles out of Brantford Jenkins swerved to avoid a huge transport truck, the wheels skidded on a soft shoulder and the car lurched, toppled over and landed on its side in the ditch. Kelly sprinted to the nearest farmhouse, but it was an hour before Jenkins was taken away in the ambulance with a broken wrist and three cracked ribs and the others took up the pursuit again in a provincial police car. “Forget about the other places,” Creighton said. “Get to Windsor as fast as you can.”

LONDON was ten miles behind them iwhen Jessie noticed that Farrell was growing sleepy. He had said nothing for the past quarter hour and when she looked at him he was leaning back against the seat and yawning, with his eyes screwed shut. She quickly turned her head. “I’ll wait ten minutes,” she told herself, pulling back her coat sleeve to look at her watch.

She forced herself to keep her eyes

fixed on the road that leaped up at them out of the shadows. Periodically she felt a sudden tension and realized that she v/as unconsciously holding her breath. The ten minutes dragged past.

She turned her head to look at Farrell. The bushy beard was resting on his chest and his head rolled with the motion of the car.

Arthur, numbed by the grip of his private nightmare, stared at the road as she carefully laid the baby on the seat and knelt beside him. Keeping her eyes on Farrell’s face she slowly stretched her arms toward the gun which was lying on the back seat. It was six inches beyond her grasp. She leaned over farther.

Suddenly the car hit a bump. Jessie barely saved herself from pitching headlong into the back. She twisted around and bounced back on the seat. Farrell came to with a jolt. “What was that?”

“I think we hit a rock,” Jessie said.

Farrell yawned and rubbed his eyes. “Must have dozed off for a minute.”

He shook his head to clear it. “Come on, Jessie. Talk to me and keep me awake.”

CREIGHTON pinned a map to the wall with a thumbtack and used a folded piece of paper as a pointer. He was wearing the uniform of a Canadian customs inspector and his face was white and strained.

“Smith, Zakrzewski, and Laverty” —he indicated three men who looked like traveling salesmen“will be parked here. Remember to keep your motors running. As soon as the Connolly car passes, you are to fall in behind—and make sure nobody gets in between you.” He turned back to the map. “The other two cars, driven by Will and Skinner, will be waiting here, also with the motors running. • MacDonald will be on the other side of the street and several yards behind. As soon as he honks his horn, you start rolling. That should put you directly in front of the Connolly car.” He turned to a man wearing a baggy grey uniform with JIFFY CLEANERS printed across the back. “Jeffreys, when the car pulls up you bring your pail around and start working on the windows at the front of the building. Take your time, but don’t make it too obvious.” He crushed the piece of paper in his hand and tossed it in a wastebasket. “They’ve been alerted at Detroit, but I hope it won’t go that far.” He took a match from his pocket and began to worry it with his teeth. “All right,” he said finally, “let’s go.”

WHEN they came out of the café in Windsor Jessie saw that the frost which rimed the telephone wires was already melting in the sunlight. She got into the car and held out her arms for the baby, but Farrell shut the door in her face, saying, “That’s okay. I’ll hold him till we get out of Detroit.” Jessie stared at the road, at the cars and people and morning shadows. It was no good hoping for anything here. At Detroit, maybe—if the man who asked for identification didn’t give himself away when he read the , message she had scribbled on her unemployment insurance card. She glanced briefly at Arthur—at the dull eyes fixed vacantly on the road ahead. There was no hope there.

The line of cars heading for Detroit was moving slowly. “What’s the holdup?” Farrell asked. “I’ve never seen it like this before.”

“I don’t know.” Jessie rolled down the window and poked her head out. There were five cars ahead of them in the line-up. The passengers from the first car were standing on the pavement and arguing with a customs inspector. The driver of the car directly ahead of them got out and walked up to the group. He talked to them for a moment and then started back again, stopping briefly at each of the other three cars. He bypassed his own car and walked up to Jessie.

“Fine howdyado, I must say.” He leaned on the window ledge, a freshfaced man with red hair and no hat. “Been crossing every Saturday for ten years but I never saw this happen before.”

“What’s the matter?” Farrell asked shortly.

“Bunch of nonsense if you ask me. Somebody tipped them off a big shipment of dope was being smuggled through, so they’re searching all the cars. Not the people—just the cars. Why, I could be carrying half a million dollars worth of the stuff in my pocket, and they wouldn’t know.” The line began to move and the red-haired man called “So long!” and walked back to his car.

Farrell, his momentary nervousness over, lounged easily on the back seat, rocking the baby. He grinned at Jessie. “Nothing to worry about. We’ll be through in a minute.”

The line inched forward. Now the customs inspector was saying apologetically “I’m sorry. I’ll have to ask you to get out while we search your car.”

They got out. Jessie looked at Farrell standing in the sunlight smiling at her, with the baby tucked in the crook of his left arm. Behind him a window cleaner had paused in his work and was turned toward them, wringing out a piece of chamois.

Suddenly Farrell looked at Jessie with a strange expression and held the baby away from him. “Here, take him.” Jessie smiled at the disgust in his voice. She cradled the baby in her arms, pressing her face against his cheek.

The window cleaner, with a swift motion, pulled a black object from his pocket and chopped down on Farrell’s head. Farrell grunted and his eyes rolled up until only the whites showed. He stood swaying for a moment, then slowly crumpled. Almost before he hit the pavement the red-haired motorist was crouching beside him and pulling the gun from his pocket. The customs inspector bent over. When he straightened, handcuffs gleamed on Farrell’s wrist and ankles. Four men carried him to one of the cars and threw him in the back. They drove away.

It was all over—just like that.

The customs inspector stood in front of Jessie and held out his hand. “Mrs. Connolly, congratulations. You’re a very brave and intelligent woman.”

“I think I’m going to be sick,” Arthur said. He dashed away.

ARTHUR touched the knot in his ..conservative blue tie and stroked his neat mustache. “Yes,” he said with a clipped Oxford accent, “it was a bit too close for comfort.”

“Oh, I’d just have died,” Mrs. Lorimersaid. “Wouldn’t you?” The others —Hans and the rest of the tenants— nodded agreement. “It must have been horrible.”

“It was—tricky.” Arthur wore a

superior smile. “Of course, the unpleasantness would have been modified considerably if our police officers had displayed a little more intelligence and initiative. We gave them every opportunity, but instead of moving in at Hamilton, as they should have, they let the thing drag on until we reached Windsor. Well, it’s what you’d expect of a policeman. Isn’t that right, Jessie?”

Jessie was feeding the baby. She said, “Yes, dear.”