Mrs. Elbert Smythe Stevenson is the only character in Lucille Fletcher’s 1943 drama, which was originally produced for the Suspense radio program. An invalid whose unspecified health condition keeps her confined to her bed in an upstairs room, Mrs. Stevenson (whose first name is not provided) is usually attended by a maid. On the night the drama takes place, she has given the maid the night off. As her husband, Elbert, is still at work, she is alone.
The play opens with Mrs. Stevenson speaking to the telephone operator. She reports that her attempt to call a particular number was unsuccessful. Surmising that some wires had gotten crossed, she reports that she was patched into the wrong number. The conversation between two men that she listened to revealed “the most dreadful thing,” a murder plot. She directs the operator to trace the call. (The audience cannot hear the operator’s lines of dialogue.)
Mrs. Stevenson admits to the operator that it was not her business, but she defends her actions because the men she heard are “cold-blooded fiends” who are going to commit murder. The intended victim is a “poor, innocent woman,” alone in her house, which is near a bridge. She pleads with the operator to help her stop the would-be killers. Mrs. Stevenson speaks sharply to the apparently unsympathetic operator, blaming them for misdialing her original call. She suggests that the operator repeat their original, careless mistake.
The operator apparently does not comply, as Mrs. Stevenson gets the busy signal of the number she had originally dialed. Mrs. Stevenson redials the operator again and becomes more insistent, saying that tracing the call is her “civic duty.” She now agrees to be connected to the chief operator, to whom she repeats her story. Mrs. Stevenson insists that it is
absolutely necessary . . . [to stop the] terrible, cold-blooded murder of an innocent woman.
She provides her own name and phone number to the chief operator, repeating her demand that the other call be traced. She again provides the reason that her intent is to prevent the dangerous men from killing someone, which will occur at 11:15 that night. As the operator apparently tells her to contact the police directly, she first dismisses the “idiotic” suggestion as tying her up in “red tape,” then hangs up and calls the police.
Stating that she is reporting a murder, she revises the claim to indicate that it is a forthcoming murder. The men she heard are planning to murder a woman who lives “in a house near a bridge.” Other details of their conversation include references to the client who hired the men to kill her with a knife and steal her jewelry. As she provides her name, phone number, and address, she reveals that her home is near the Queensborough Bridge and Second Avenue. She also states that she is an invalid, her husband is working late, and it is the maid’s night off. She asks that they send a radio car.
As she muses that the neighborhood described sounds like her own, she also admits that she is nervous being alone. She describes her maid, Eloise, as big and strong but lazy, and tells them how much her husband adores her. She has been ill for twelve years. As the police officer apparently declines to help, she insists that her situation is high priority, calls him an idiot, and slams down the phone.
Next she calls the operator again and has them call her husband’s number, which is still busy. Then the phone rings. When she answers, there is no one there. This happens once more; then she redials the operator. Admittedly very nervous, she berates the young female operator for the inefficient service and her...
(The entire section is 960 words.)