Camera Obscura

Episode #18
Date: 13 October 1947

CHAPPELL: Quiet, please.

(SEVEN SECONDS' SILENCE)

CHAPPELL: Quiet, please.

(MUSIC ... THEME ... FADE FOR)

ANNOUNCER: The Mutual Broadcasting System presents "Quiet, Please!" which is 
written and directed by Wyllis Cooper and features Ernest Chappell. 

"Quiet, Please!" for tonight is called "Camera Obscura."

(MUSIC ... THEME ... FADE)

SI: (NARRATES) I don't suppose you ever killed anybody, did you? 

I didn't think you had. 

Funny though, you can't tell, you know. Murderers very seldom look like 
murderers and there's lots more of 'em around than you have any idea.

I know a fella -- little squinched-up, wizened gizmo -- he's a carpenter, 
lives on Veranda Street down in L.A. Murdered his wife's brother in 1928 and 
nobody ever had the faintest idea -- except the wife's brother.

And the guy's doin' fine, thinks he got away with it.

Yeah, he'll find out.

Like that woman in Alameida that killed her husband with that stuff you can 
buy at any drug store and never have a clerk raise an eyebrow at ya.

No, there's no such thing as gettin' away with murder, friend. Believe me.

And, for my money, walkin' up the thirteen steps and standin' on a trap door 
with nine turns of a hangman's knot rubbin' against your left ear - 

Or sittin' in a chair smelling burnt almonds with a lot of scared faces 
starin' at ya through a little window - or - 

Or even the Hot Spot itself - 

Believe me, any of those legit ways of payin' off for murder is pie compared 
to what you're gonna get if you let it ride.

You're - sure you never killed anybody, huh?

Well, you better be.

I know. 

Believe me, I know.

(MUSIC ... A TWINGE OF AN ACCENT, THEN IN BG)

SI: (NARRATES) I killed Philip D. Vandervoort on September 29, 1928. I was 
never arrested, I was never suspected. But--

No, I'm not gonna tell you HOW I killed him. I'm not running a school for 
murderers. And, anyway, if you're planning on murdering somebody, you've got 
your own ideas on how you wanna do it.

The only thing is, I'll bet you a quarter when you get done listening to me, 
you'll change your mind.

You see.

The man said he was gonna call my story "Camera Obscura."

I suppose maybe that puzzles you a little bit.

Not everybody knows what a camera obscura is.

But practically everybody here in Santa Monica knows.

Biggest camera obscura in the world's right here down at the foot of Santa 
Monica Boulevard in the little park that runs along the top of Palisades.

It's a little green building, probably twenty feet high, practically circular. 
Maybe twenty feet in diameter.

Up in the top, in a little kind of cupola, is a lens. Like a camera lens, only 
bigger. There's some kind of mirror arrangement in there with it and there's a 
big round table that almost fills the building -- white top on it -- and the 
image the lens picks up is reflected down on to the table so it's, uh, like a 
Technicolor movie of whatever's goin' on outside.

There's a wheel, like a ship's steering wheel, that you turn to, uh, turn the 
lens with it, turn it around, so you can point it out towards the bay or up 
the street or anywhere.

Yeah, it's a cute little gizmo. Tourists have been gettin' a kick out of it 
for I don't know how many years. Ask anybody that's ever been in Santa Monica. 
Everybody's seen it. And an awful lot of people have been in it.

That's the camera obscura, a harmless little green building in the park in the 
sunshine. And black as a - murderer's heart inside.

(MUSIC ... A QUIRKY ACCENT)

SI: (NARRATES) And a miniature world lyin' flat on a table in there.

Go see it sometime. You'll get a bang out of it, too.

Even if you don't - see what I saw.

(MUSIC ... AN ACCENT)

SI: (NARRATES) There was this girl that worked in Llewellyn's restaurant next 
door to Harry Cowen's bargain store where I worked. 

No, I've forgotten her name -- Kate or Mary or Joanne or something. 

Just to show ya.

That morning, I went next door for a cup of what Llewellyn claims is coffee. 
Nobody in there but this girl, this waitress, Mary or Kate or whatever her 
name was. She'd been cryin'. I said, "What's the matter with ya, kid?"

GIRL: Nothin'.

SI: Gimme a cup of coffee. (PAUSE) What's the matter, kid?

GIRL: Oh, nothin'.

SOUND: (POURS COFFEE)

GIRL: Si, you seen Phil Vandervoort the last couple of days?

SI: (NARRATES) I looked up at her and the tears started out of her eyes again 
and I said -- and I was tellin' the truth -- I said, "Not since night before 
last. Why?" I said.

GIRL: Where'd you see him?

SI: Why, down at the P.E. station, down the street. 'S the matter, d'e run 
out on you?

GIRL: (BREAKING DOWN) Si, how did you know? (WEEPS)

SI: What do you mean? Did he?

GIRL: He's gone.

SI: You sure?

GIRL: I knew it when I gave him the money. I knew it. I knew it.

SI: What did you do? Did you give him money?

GIRL: Oh, Si, don't tell anybody, will ya? Please, don't.

SI: Well, I won't but--

GIRL: He said he needed two hundred dollars to pay a man for something and the 
- the banks were closed and he couldn't get any money and he needed it so bad.

SI: You mean you gave him two hundred bucks?

GIRL: I borrowed it from Llewellyn. I told him I'd give it back to him in the 
morning. I had two hundred and forty dollars I'd saved up and-- Si, what am I 
going to do?

SI: (NARRATES) Wait a minute. Wait a minute. I said. So THIS was where the 
money came from. "Well, wait a minute," I said, "You mean you borrowed two 
hundred bucks from Llewellyn to give to Phil and now he's gone and you've got 
to dig it yourself?"

GIRL: Saved and saved and saved, Si, I know it.

SI: Well, ain't that fine? Ain't that fine? -- How come you did it? Couldn't 
you have borrowed it from somebody else, for gosh sakes?

GIRL: He - He - We was gonna get married, Si.

SI: Well, you sap. Two hundred bucks, you sap.

GIRL: I know it, I know it. What am I gonna do?

SI: Mm, I guess pay up. You - said anything to the police?

GIRL: Oh, no.

SI: Going to?

GIRL: I don't know. Should I? No, I can't.

SI: Why not?

GIRL: Oh. I don't know if he REALLY ran out on me but--

SI: You were gonna marry him, huh?

GIRL: He asked me to.

SI: Yeah. Well...

GIRL: Oh, Si, don't say anything about it to anybody, will ya?

SI: No, I won't say anything. 

GIRL: Please.

SI: I won't say anything.

GIRL: If - if he's really gone--

SI: Mm, he's gone all right.

GIRL: What should I do?

SI: Well. You can go to the cops if you want to but - but, if I was you-- 
Well, you'll get an awful lot of publicity, you know. That worth two hundred 
bucks to you?

GIRL: I know it. I don't know what to do.

SI: Well, I gotta beat it. Harry'll be screamin' for me. Here, ya got change 
for a ten dollar bill?

GIRL: Yeah, I guess so.

SOUND: (CASH REGISTER)

GIRL: Out of ten. Fifty. Two, three, four, five and five is ten.

(MUSIC ... IN BG)

SI: (NARRATES) See what I mean? 

She didn't have the faintest idea that that was one of the ten dollar bills 
she gave to Phil Vandervoort a couple of nights ago. 

Isn't it amazing? 

I should have thought she'd noticed how wrinkled and damp the bill was from 
the salt water.

Well, you see, I didn't think about goin' through his pockets till after I 
took him out there under Santa Monica Pier and fastened him to one of the 
pilings down deep.

It was a good place, I thought. Nobody ever goes out there.

Nobody but the barracuda.

And the flat, ugly stingrays with those rows of teeth like white needles.

(MUSIC ... AN ACCENT TO FILL A PAUSE, THEN IN BG)

SI: (NARRATES) Kinda left the camera obscura sittin' out there on the 
Palisades all by itself, didn't we?

Yeah, we'll get back there.

I'll say we will.

It was funny about Phil Vandervoort -- he was one of those fellas you see 
around town, you never get to know him. But you see him and he's like a bus 
stop sign or one of the kids that sells the Outlook and the Express on the 
corner across the street from the California Bank. You know, he's there and 
you never notice him.

Never notice him when he disappears, either.

It's like that with California, quite a lot.

So Philip D. Vandervoort sort of -- faded out.

And practically the only people in Santa Monica that thought about him was me 
and the babe in Llewellyn's restaurant. And she didn't know I thought about 
him at all.

(MUSIC ... AN ACCENT TO FILL A PAUSE, THEN IN BG)

SI: (NARRATES) Funny how a fella is. She never brought up the subject of Phil. 
I was the one that talked about him. And she-- Well, I guess she HAD been in 
love with him.

There's somethin' about bein' in a set-up like this, uh, a game, kind of. 
Playin' it right up to the edge. Sayin' things that'd give ya away if she'd 
had the slightest inkling. A great cake.

Yeah. A great cake.

I remember one afternoon -- I had Wednesday afternoons off and that day I 
stopped in the restaurant and she was puttin' on her hat. Llewellyn had told 
her business was slack that day and she could have the half-day. So instead of 
eating a piece of pie, I said, "Come on. Let's take a walk."

Thought maybe we'd go down to the beach and take one of the trams over to 
Winchell Park and play tango, eat a couple of hot dogs.

So, we started down Broadway and I said, "Hey, you ever been in that camera 
obscura over there?"

GIRL: No. Have you?

SI: No. Let's go see what it is.

GIRL: Okay.

SI: (NARRATES) It was one of those afternoons when the sun was still shining 
bright. There was a big bank of fog sittin' offshore a few miles, sort of 
sneakin' in to take over. Those afternoon clouds in Santa Monica are a thing. 
They slide in and all of a sudden there's like a great big damp gray seagull 
sittin' down on top of ya.

So, I figured the fog'd be in in another hour. The beach front is pretty 
dreary when that happens so maybe we'd kill a little time in this gizmo then 
walk on over to the Criterion and see "The Rough Riders." That was what was 
playin' then, "The Rough Riders."

There isn't anybody around the camera obscura when we climb up the steps. No 
tourists, nobody, just the girl and me. Whatever her name was.

The wooden door bangs behind us.

SOUND: (WOODEN DOOR BANGS SHUT)

(MUSIC ... OUT)

SI: (NARRATES) I didn't know a place could be so dark.

Well, we stood there and looked at the white-top table and the moving picture 
of Santa Monica on it. I have to admit it's quite a kick the first time you 
see it.

But I hadn't seen anything yet.

I twisted the wheel around. 

SOUND: (WHEEL TURNS)

SI: (NARRATES) The picture slid across the tabletop and there were the 
breakers rolling in. There was La Monica Ballroom and the merry-go-round on 
the pier. People fishin' and people walkin' around and--

I thought about what was under that pier. If it was still there. And then a 
man walked by real close and he almost filled the whole picture.

(MUSIC ... BUILDING IN BG)

SI: (NARRATES) He turned and he seemed to look right at us - up off that 
tabletop.

GIRL: Look! That's Phil!

(MUSIC ... AN ACCENT ... THEN, IN BG)

SI: (NARRATES) And there he was. 

Staring right at me and kind of smilin' and right behind him in the picture 
was the pier I'd lashed him under.

And he stood there. She fumbled at the door and threw it open -

SOUND: (WOODEN DOOR BANGS)

SI: (NARRATES) - and the light flooded over the picture and he was gone.

Yes, and when I went outside, he was gone from there, too.

GIRL: But we SAW him, Si! We both SAW him!

SI: (WHISPERED DISBELIEF) I don't know. (NARRATES) I couldn't tell her it was 
impossible for Phil Vandervoort to stand outside the camera obscura that 
afternoon, could I?

I had to go along with her. I had to say, 

"Sure, you'll see him again. Sure, you'll get your two hundred dollars back. 
Sure, he'll show up again."

Every time I said it, I got that - chilly, cold, seaweed feeling between my 
shoulder blades.

Ah, should have had sense then and gone up to Clarence Webb's office and turn 
myself in and said, "Clarence, I murdered Phil Vandervoort and you'll find him 
tied to a piling under the pier out there, just the other side of the dance 
hall."

I shoulda done that. All he'd've done to me was send me up to Folsom, put a 
black cap on me.

No, I had to do it the hard way. I had to get away with murder.

Had the hunch and I didn't play it.

I wish I had, that's all.

GIRL: Let's go over to the camera obscura again, Si.

SI: (NARRATES) I didn't want to go to the camera obscura again.

I didn't want to go in there in the dark.

I didn't want to see that picture. I didn't want to see Phil Vandervoort.

This afternoon, the fog was already coming in. You couldn't see the end of the 
pier and, as you looked out toward the bay, that white wall kept easin' in, 
closer and closer. And I had the feeling that when it got to me, I'd 
disappear, too. Right in broad daylight you get that feeling.

It was warm in there in the camera obscura from sunshine that had been beating 
down on it all that one morning.

GIRL: Look at the fog, Si. Look, Si.

SI: (NARRATES) And the fog in the picture - swirled aside a little. There was 
somebody coming toward us. I had the illusion that he was actually coming 
toward us -- right out of the picture. And then the fog blew away a little 
more from his face -

GIRL: It's Phil! Look, Si! It's Phil! I knew we'd see him again! Phil! Phil!

SI: (NARRATES) And she ran out of the place and the door slammed shut. 

SOUND: (WOODEN DOOR BANGS SHUT)

SI: (NARRATES) I was all alone in there. She ran down the steps and I could 
see her in the picture and Phil came walking steadily toward me and - then I 
could see her in the picture as she ran toward him outside there and - I could 
hear her calling outside -

GIRL: (DISTANT) Phil! Phil!

SI: (NARRATES) - Then she ran toward him in the picture and I could see them 
both just as plain as I see you. And she ran straight through him as if he 
were part of the fog himself and he kept on coming closer - toward me. Closer 
and closer!

(MUSIC ... AN ACCENT ... THEN, IN BG)

SI: (NARRATES) I don't know how I got out of there. I honestly don't know. 

I remember I couldn't find the door in the dark and - when I finally did get 
out, my hands were all full of splinters from pounding on the walls and there 
was a gash over my eye where I fell down the stairs and - I never been so 
scared in my life.

I mean to say, I - HAD never been so scared in my life.

You see, something shook me as I opened the door - something caught my ankle 
and threw me.

No, it wasn't Phil Vandervoort's hand, as you're probably thinking.

It was a long strand of - wet seaweed. 

The kind that gets all tangled around the pilings under the pier.

(MUSIC ... AN ACCENT ... THEN OUT)

GIRL: Let's go over to the camera obscura.

SI: (NARRATES) I said, "I'll never go to that place again, I will NEVER go to 
that place again."

GIRL: I'm goin' anyway. If you don't wanna go, I'm goin'.

SI: (NARRATES) I said, "Don't go. Don't go. It's foolish to go to that place."

GIRL: There's some reason why Phil's hangin' around that place and I wanna go 
there.

SI: (NARRATES) I thought, "I know why. I know why he's hangin' around there."

GIRL: No, I won't go to the movies with you. I'm goin' over to the camera 
obscura whether you wanna go or not.

SI: (NARRATES) And I knew I had to go.

I said to myself, "If you let that girl go over there by herself, she'll see 
him again and what'll she find out?"

I said to myself, "You gotta go with her so you - you can keep her from 
finding out whatever she might find out." And I said:

"Well, all right. I'll go just this one time."

(MUSIC ... A FOREBODING ACCENT ... THEN, IN BG)

SI: (NARRATES) There wasn't any fog this time. It was a beautiful, bright day. 

It was just the two of us.

Or, I should say, the three of us.

Yeah, we saw him again.

This time was the payoff as far as she was concerned.

Oh, I'll tell you about it.

There wasn't anything wrong with the picture as long as we had the lens aimed 
toward town. She turned the wheel slowly, the picture flowed past on the 
table. 

Up northward toward the Miramar Hotel, down Ocean Boulevard with the palm 
trees in front of the little real estate offices.

And then we were lookin' up Broadway and I could see Harry Cowen walkin' out 
of the store into Llewellyn's.

And the gas station came into view.

We looked down Ocean Boulevard the other way - and then the rustic fence at 
the edge of the Palisades and - the spires of the dance hall on the pier swam 
across the board.

And there was Phil, leaning against a palm tree, not twenty feet away, it 
seemed.

GIRL: There he is.

(MUSIC ... A TWINGE OF AN ACCENT ... THEN, IN BG)

SI: (NARRATES) And, just as if he'd heard her, he looked up at us and - and 
grinned.

He lifted his hand and beckoned.

Again I had that curious feeling that he was real, he was three-dimensional 
there in the picture.

And she opened the door and went out.

SOUND: (WOODEN DOOR BANGS)

SI: (NARRATES) But she came right back in.

SOUND: (WOODEN DOOR BANGS)

GIRL: Si, there's nobody there.

SI: (NARRATES) I could have told her I knew it.

GIRL: There's nobody out there.

SI: (NARRATES) There he was on the table, grinning at us.

And he said something.

I could see his lips move.

GIRL: What'd he say?

SI: I didn't hear anything.

GIRL: I'm gonna look again.

SI: (NARRATES) She opened the door. 

SOUND: (WOODEN DOOR BANGS SHUT)

SI: (NARRATES) And Phil's lips moved again.

And I could read his lips. Anybody could read that word. Try it sometime.

He said -- 

"Murderer!"

SOUND: (WOODEN DOOR BANGS SHUT)

GIRL: Si, I'm scared. There isn't anybody there.

SI: (NARRATES) And the little figure in the picture smiled again.

And he raised his hand and pointed straight at me and I could see his lips 
move again.

GIRL: (SQUEALS IN SHOCK)

SI: (NARRATES) And I knew SHE had read his lips, too. 

He said it again:

"Murderer!"

GIRL: (SHRIEKS IN TERROR)

SI: Stop that!

GIRL: I saw what he said! I saw it! Now I know! Now I know why we can't see 
him out there. He's haunting you! You killed him! You - killed - (GROANS 
INCOMPREHENSIBLY AS SHE IS STRANGLED TO DEATH)

(MUSIC ... TO COMMIT A QUIET MURDER BY ... THEN, IN BG)

SI: (NARRATES) Well ... what else could I do?

She knew.

She'd tell.

And I'd hang.

So - 

(REALIZES) And I - can't even remember her name.

(MUSIC ... A DARK ACCENT ... THEN, OUT)

SI: (NARRATES) There's quite a bit of space under the table in there.

And it's dark in there, I said. 

After a little while, I opened the door and looked out -

SOUND: (WOODEN DOOR OPENS)

SI: (NARRATES) - very casually. Everything seemed to be normal. I saw Bobby 
Clark, the motor cop, go by on his bike.

Harry Cowen was walkin' back into the store.

Nobody was lookin' at me.

I was about to start down the stairs when a sudden thought struck me.

(MUSIC ... BUILDS IN BG)

SI: (NARRATES) I hadn't looked at the tabletop at the picture.

I closed the door and turned around.

SOUND: (WOODEN DOOR BANGS SHUT)

SI: (NARRATES) Phil was still there in the picture.

Still looking at me.

And there -- beside him under the palm tree -- was the girl.

(MUSIC ... A BIG ACCENT ... THEN OUT)

SI: (NARRATES) Not much left to the story, though.

Oh, I should have gone then and confessed. It would have been easier. 

But-- Well, I knew nobody'd ever find Phil.

And I didn't want anybody to find her.

(MUSIC ... TO STEAL A CORPSE BY ... IN BG)

SI: (NARRATES) They lock the place up at night but the door came open easy.

I didn't bring any light.

It was three o'clock in the morning and the fog was hangin' from the sky like 
a wet, velvet curtain. You couldn't see a streetlight a block away.

I went in.

I fumbled around under the table where I'd left her.

She wasn't there.

I found paper matches finally.

She wasn't there.

You - think you know what terror is?

Well, don't let me tell ya.

I stood up at last and the night was so still I could hear the fog horn from 
way up toward Point Doom.

SOUND: (FOG HORN)

SI: (NARRATES) The fog, as I told you, was thick as-- Well...

I glanced at the table.

There they were, the two of 'em.

And there wasn't any fog in the picture, I couldn't mistake 'em.

Phil and the girl.

And, together, they raised their hands and they beckoned to me.

I knew I couldn't move.

But I opened the door - 

SOUND: (WOODEN DOOR BANGS)

SI: (NARRATES) I went down the steps, into the fog.

There was just one tiny spark of hope in the back of my mind, just one tiny 
spark.

I knew they wouldn't be there.

But they were.

And they turned and - started away.

And I followed them through the fog.

Down past the Suburban station.

Down the hill to the pier, then across the boardwalk.

Down across that clinging, sticky wet sand and the fog running its fingers 
through my hair.

And under the pier -- with the wet, spongy piling making Hell's own high 
forest around me -- the smell of dead things cast up from the sea, and the - 
the waves reaching for me -- 

They went on.

And I followed.

And the waves - beat at my knees.

And the undertow - clutched at my waist.

And I followed.

And then I felt my breath being snatched from me.

There was a long horror of seaweed across my face!

And darkness!

And the taste of salt!

(MUSIC ... TO A CLIMAX ... THEN OUT)

(MUSIC ... THEME ... FADE FOR)
ANNOUNCER: You have listened to "Quiet, Please!" which is written and directed 
by Wyllis Cooper. The man who spoke to you was Ernest Chappell.

CHAPPELL: And the girl was played by Charita Bauer. As usual, the music for 
"Quiet Please!" is composed and played by Gene Perrazzo.

And, now, for a word about next week's "Quiet, Please," here is our writer-
director, Wyllis Cooper.

COOPER: The music of Claude Debussy was the inspiration for next week's story 
which, borrowing the composer's title, I have called "La fille aux cheveux de 
lin" -- "The Girl with the Flaxen Hair" ... If you like charming ghosts, 
you'll probably like her.

CHAPPELL: And so, until our next week at this same time, I am quietly yours, 
Ernest Chappell.

ANNOUNCER: "Quiet, Please!" comes to you from New York. This is the Mutual 
Broadcasting System.

(MUSIC ... THEME ... OUT) 

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