The guy they’re holding for manslaughter is named John Madden. They’ve got five witnesses who saw him start a ballroom brawl, slug a guy and knock him down. The guy hit his head on the corner of the bar rail when he fell and he died later of a fractured skull.
Madden’s going to be sent up.
He hasn’t got any defence. He was drinking and he started the brawl, but they know he isn’t the real killer. The real killer is a girl who never saw the dead man in her life and who was ten miles away from the fight when it started.
She’s a little brunette named Mary Brown, and she forgot to make a telephone call.
Madden — the guy they’re holding — was a salesman, but he’s been out of work for six months and now his wife is going to have a kid. The Maddens have been living on money borrowed from Madden’s life insurance.
When he worked, he had the same boss as Mary Brown had, but he got to drinking too much on the job and he was fired. Since then, he’d been trying to get into something steady, without much luck.
Yesterday he went back to see his exboss. He told him about the kid on the way and he begged for another chance.
The boss knows that Madden is a good worker when he’s sober, and good salesmen don’t come a dime a dozen. So he told Madden he’d think it over, and he said he’d call Madden if he decided to put him back on the job.
Madden went home hopeful last night. He was sure he’d get another chance, and he was pretty happy about it. He and his wife were excited, talking about how they’d get things going right again, and how they’d manage better this time on the money he’d be earning. They were both real happy.
This morning, Madden’s old boss remembered his promise, and he told Mary Brown to call Madden’s home and tell him to report for work.
Mary Brown made a note of the phone number on the cover of her notebook. She intended making the call before she started to transcribe her dictation. Before that, though, her boy friend called her. After she had made a date with him she started right in typing letters, without ever thinking of Madden again.
All this time, remember. Madden was sitting at home. He and his wife were waiting for the phone to ring with the message that would mean a fresh start for both of them.
At first they were talking and joking a lot, but as the morning wore along without a phone call, the talk died down.
They ate some lunch and Madden said he wouldn’t leave the house because if he did he might miss the phone call. Mrs. Madden said she hoped it would come soon. It was terrible, she said, to live the way they were living.
Madden blew his top then. He said he was trying every way he knew how to find work, and even if it was all his fault, for God’s sake, he wasn’t the first guy in the world to make a mistake. He wanted to know if she was ever going to quit nagging him about it, and he said he didn’t enjoy the way they were living any more than she did but he wasn’t going to cry about it for the rest of his life. There were some things about his wife, he said, that didn’t suit him too well, but he wasn’t going to cry about them, either.
One word led to another and they ended up by shouting at each other.
Then Mrs. Madden went into the bathroom to cry and Madden put on his hat. He said to hell with waiting for the phone to ring, and he left the apartment.
He hadn’t had a drink for about three months, but he got to thinking that neither his wife nor his boss believed in him, and so what good was it to try and make a comeback? He stopped at a bar and got a double whisky. After he had sat around for a while he had another. ‘Hut made him feel better, and he told himself he didn’t give a damn what his wife or his boss thought about him.
He didn’t go home for dinner. Mrs. Madden waited for him and when he didn’t show up she began to worry about him, fearing that he had started — as he had — to drink again.
About eight o’clock that evening, Madden was pretty drunk, and he had no money left to spend. He hated to go home and face his wife, though, because he was beginning to realize what a fool he had made of himself. What started to work on him and make him irritable, looking for a fight — not at all like his usual self.
Somebody at the bar was talking about Senator McCarthy and what a good job he was doing on the Reds. Madden, still sore at the world, said to hell with that stuff, and that started the argument. The guy who liked McCarthy called Madden a dirty subversive and a Commie, and said he ought to be run out of the country.
Madden said: “Well, you might try to make McCarthy run me out of the country, but first I’m going to run you out of this ginmill.”
Then he slugged the guy.
But Madden didn’t really kill the guy. Mary Brown killed him.
If Madden had gotten that call, the guy he slugged could have gone on talking about McCarthy all night and neither Madden nor anybody else would have cared. There wouldn’t have been any cops in the barroom to grab Madden for manslaughter if he’d gotten his call.
But there’s a guy dead and somebody has to be charged. There’s got to be a patsy and that patsy is John Madden.
It’s a rotten jam and it’s going to wreck three lives.
But there’s a lawyer arranging bail now. Once you’re out on bail you’re free, until the case comes up. And you might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.
So when I get out on bail I’m going to find Mary Brown and I’m going to kill her. Me. John Madden.