The Dearly Departing Radio Broadcast

By Christine LaChance

From CHM #45 March 2024

Private Investigator, Lester Roger, only half-listened to the start of the national anthem, the final song the station would play before ending the broadcast day. Static, nothingness was to follow. The bottle of whiskey left a fog over his head that Saturday night, a bribe, and a thanks from the nearby speak-easy for keeping his mouth shut and to keep the cops from sniffing around. Roger would never let the cat out of the bag about that place, and happily accepted the weekly bribe. That little juice joint was one of the few comforts he had those days. It took all his strength and control to move from his desk, where the radio sang, over to his resting place. Roger let himself fall onto the squeaky cot, his head swimming with whiskey. “Went a little heavy on the giggle juice,” he groaned to himself, laying down and letting the alcohol swirl. He’d be feeling this in the morning. He had been sleeping in his office fairly often, and he still hadn’t gotten used to the awkwardness of the circumstances. Long nights here typically kept him at his desk into the early hours. There were always cases to solve, always cheating spouses, always coppers wanting him to track down some rum-runners and gin mills. Police Chief Radcliffe, a real hard-boiled bull, kept him busy with this sort of things. Most nights, he gave up on the idea of going home. It was easier just to stay. The whiskey, as risky as it was to have, especially here in the office of an investigator, became essential for even the possibility of sleep. There was one consolation; the window offered a view of the city from his office that was always astounding, no matter the time of day.

“Blast it!” Roger cursed when he realized he had left the radio on. “Oh, well. It’ll wake me up tomorrow morning with the news.” Roger thought the new and fancy Philco radios were aptly named. With that cathedral style, the tombstone shape and design, it was like something from long gone days, and it spoke to us by using the newest technology. Roger was given this radio after a rather wealthy client lost her spouse. Suicide. He was the only one who didn’t suspect the grieving widow of foul play, and was determined to make sure the coppers saw his reasoning. Things didn’t add up quite right for it to be a murder. He had been right, and saved that dame from a long stay in the hoosegow. She had been so grateful, she gave him her late-husband’s state-of-the-art radio. “He always loved his programs. I’ve not the heart to keep it here.” Roger couldn’t turn down the offer, and soon found he enjoyed the entertainment while he worked away on his case files and typewriter.

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave. This concludes our broadcast day.” Roger was already half-asleep when the static began to drone on through the dark hours.

The nocturnal swing dance of whiskey and Roger’s empty stomach made its grand finale in the small washroom attached to his office. The gaslights in the streets below were his only source of light. After the dance of his stomach settled, Roger made a short detour to hisdesk, littered with files, forms, and every newspaper the city produced that week. The tombstone-shaped radio was a solid shadow amongst the mess. Fumbling for the knobs, to silence the static, Roger mistakenly knocked the tuner. The steady static suddenly changed. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he could hear melodious sounds, like the idea of a song, something dark, yet ethereal, haunting, yet captivating. This was a type of music which dared you to dance, but somehow, you knew it would be wrong, inappropriate to do so. “That’s funny,” he thought in his fog, “there aren’t usually broadcasts this time of night.”

Roger listened to the curious music, so strange, but there was something familiar about it. The music soon faded and was replaced by a cheerful voice. “Good evening to my darling listeners. The witching hour is upon us this late Saturday night, and you know what that means.”

An applause resounded in the background. “Wait. There’s a studio audience?” Roger inquired to the radio, as if it would answer.

The announcer continued after the affirmation from the crowd. “That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. It’s time to announce next week’s Dearly Departing.

“What?” Roger took a seat at his desk, intrigued by the strange program he accidentally stumbled upon.

We’ve got a doozy coming this week, folks. The boxing champion, Lawrence Lockjaw Johnson, will be joining us this Wednesday after getting bumped off. A devastating right hook from his opponent, Grand Graham McNeil, in the sixth round of their match. Talk about a knockout, am I right?” The audience laughed along with the announcer. “Boy, oh boy, if only I could bet on that one.

Roger flicked on the desk lamp, feeling the pain in his eyes from the light. Ignoring the hangover, he rustled for that morning’s newspaper. Tearing through the pages, he found it: “Lockjaw vs. Grand Graham This Wednesday” in large print on the front page. “Is this a joke? Is the announcer making a guess about who is going to win the bout?” What was this about ‘joining us?’

As always, that’s not all, folks. We’ve got more on the way from this grand city of ours, and I’m happy to spill these beans.” The announcer began to list off names. Sometimes he would also add additional details like, being struck by a car, falling down stairs, spoiled food, all which sounded like causes of death, immediately followed by applause from the audience.

Roger continued to listen, fascinated and uncertain of what he was hearing.

Once the announcer completed the list, the audience applauded, amused by the promises. From behind the cheers, the eerie music started up again. “Ladies and gentlemen, it has been my pleasure to entertain and inform you. Keep your eyes out for our newly, dearly departed. As always, may the festivities ever go on. See you next week. This concludes our broadcast.” The music crescendoed, and static, once again, filled the office. Roger continued to stare at the radio, too shocked to move.

The following morning, hungover and sleep-deprived, Roger walked the thirteen blocks to the radio station. No way any cabs would be available early. The sun wasn’t even up yet, but Roger was determined to catch anyone from the radio station who might be going in for the early news reports. Someone there had to have answers. He paced along the empty sidewalk, waiting and watching the city wake up.

* * *

“But the dial was set to this very station. You must know something about this.” Roger tried to bargain with the station manager, trying to find some sort of clue about the mysterious broadcast from the previous night.

“Mr. Roger, I’m not sure what you heard that night, but I can assure you, there is no such radio program being broadcast within this city, certainly not at so late an hour.” Roger stared at him for a moment, trying to probe any possible giveaways about what the man had just told him. Nothing. “Listen, Sir, I have some shows about to start, so unless you want to join a studio audience, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

Roger knew when he had been defeated. Rather than press and give this man reason to believe he was insane, he chose to relent. “Take care, then,” he said, tapping his hat in a salute. “Thank you for your time.” Spifflicated as he was, he knew there had to be an answer. There had to be.

Even with the new mystery under his hat, Roger had more work to do. Even on a Sunday, crime didn’t rest. After his short, fruitless detour, he made his way to the police station. Chief Radcliffe was expecting him. Roger quietly cursed himself for forgetting to clean himself up that morning. He must have looked terrible. Then again, this wasn’t the first time the chief had seen him after a sleepless night.

Early in the morning, the station was buzzing. There had been talk of bootleggers finding alternate routes into the city, and the coppers were trying to figure out the routes they were now taking. Weaving his way through the cops and cups of steaming coffee, Roger approached two officers with whom he frequently spoke. The two men were in a light-hearted conversation.

“Lockjaw’s got this in the bag, Rocco.”

“Yeah, and that bag’s in the river, Charlie. Graham is the new contender.”

“Lockjaw’s gonna wipe the floor with this Graham kid. Deal with it.”

“What’s it like living in Dreamland, Charlie?”

“I’m betting this’ll be the end of Lockjaw’s career,” Roger chimed in his two cents, repeating what the radio announcer had said. “Down in the sixth.”

Rocco smirked at Charlie, his opinion backed up by an outsider. “Thank you, Lester. This ninny can’t see reason when it slaps him in the kisser.”

Charlie turned his attention to Roger. “All right, smart guy. You wanna put your money where your mouth is?”

“I take chances in life, not money, Charlie.”

“Fine,” Charlie relented. “Get in there and see the Chief, Roger. We’ve got some work for ya.”

The oak door at the end of the line of desks was slightly ajar. The glass window of the door clearly displayed to whom the domain belonged, Chief Henry Radcliffe. Roger didn’t bother knocking, and simply strolled in. The broad, muscular shoulders of Radcliffe were hunched over some photographs, fresh from the onsight darkroom. Roger tensed when he saw they were from the nearby business of Dimer’s Diner, the business hiding the speakeasy he protected with his silence. Roger immediately knew what Chief Radcliffe wanted from him. Clearing his throat, Roger put on his confident veneer. “G’morning, Chief.”

Radcliffe straightened and stood up in greeting. “Lester, come in.” Roger closed the door behind him, dreading what was to come. “Looks like you’ve had a rough night.”

There was no hiding the stubble, the tired eyes, and possibly the lingering stench of a sick stomach. “Most nights are rough these days,” Roger assured. “Strange times.”

“Ain’t it the truth.” Radcliffe looked Roger up and down before returning his attention to the task at hand. “Let’s get down to business. We’ve been seeing some suspicious activity around these businesses.” Radcliffe spread out the photographs for Roger to get a better look. “I need you to go in and see if you can find any juice bars. My men can’t search without suspicion. Rocco and Charlie out there have been trying to get a better idea where it is.”

Roger felt his stomach churn, even without the weekly whiskey bonus. He’d have to warn them if that whiskey was going to keep coming. “I know the area. I’ll report anything suspicious, Chief.”

* * *

The crowd was uproarious. This had been the fight of the century up to this point. The announcer could barely be heard over the sounds of the crowd. Roger smoked away the entire fight. Now, the sixth round was about to begin.

Here we go folks, another round of Lockjaw and the Grand Graham going head-to-head and, oh, what a hook from Grand Graham. Lockjaw is down for the count. What an impressive hit. Here comes the end of the count. Eight. Nine. Ten. That’s it! We have a new champion, Grand Graham McNeil has dethroned Lockjaw!

The crowd screamed as Lawrence Lockjaw Johnson left the ring for good.

Lester Roger felt his stomach fall to the floor.

* * *

Roger tapped the nearly empty glass of whiskey nervously. He was pacing around his office to the sound of static from the Philco radio. The dark wood appeared black against the night sky through the large window, a shadow looming over his office. The announcer had said, “same time, same place.” He’d be ready this time. Roger had a pen and paper ready to note everything, every detail this radio announcer reported. Then, he’d compare the obituaries for the following week. He needed to culminate evidence if anyone was to believe what he was hearing. Roger knew no one would ever believe there was a radio program devoted to announcing the following week’s deaths. He didn’t like the idea of spending the rest of his life locked away in a padded room.

The weekly gift from the speakeasy was nearly drained. Roger couldn’t help himself. He was anxious. He almost didn’t want to be right about what he had heard, quietly pleading it had all been a drunken delusion, but that boxing match said otherwise. Roger shivered and gulped down what remained in his glass, feeling the cheap hooch burn all the way down his throat. The eerie song had begun.

Good evening, my darling listeners.” The audience applauded the anonymous announcer. “Saturday has come again, and it’s our favorite time. Say, what time is it, folks?

The audience announced together, “The witching hour!

The announcer chuckled loudly, “That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, which means it’s now time to list off next week’s dearly departing.”

Roger rushed to his chair, ready to take names and causes of death, if the announcer gave them. Quickly, he scribbled out the names: Mary Sheen, Robert Black (electric shock), Angela Merkle (choking on food), Herman Jones, and a few others.

After some time, the announcer gave two more names. “This one’s a real doozy. Hang on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen, because it looks like Police Chief Henry Radcliffe will be going down in a blaze of glory.” Roger froze in horror at the sound of the chief’s name while the audience oh’d and ah’d. “That’s right. Chief Radcliffe has had his hands full with these bootleggers. Well, he thinks he’s going to get the leg up on these boots.” The audience laughed in the background. “Looks like a double barrel will cause some double trouble, folks. Radcliffe will take a shot straight in the noggin will behind the wheel, trying to intercept these rum-runners. Talk about hooch worth dying for.” This time the announcer laughed at his own joke. “The then headless chief will bring fellow officer Rocco Lemmings to a fiery death when their car goes flying off a railbridge of all things. Huh, I thought we weren’t supposed to drive on those.”

Roger felt his throat tighten and his heart pound. The announcer just called for Chief Radcliffe and Rocco’s deaths. His pen fell to the desk after he lost all feeling in his limbs.

Well, folks, we’ve got quite the week ahead of us. Tune in again, same time, same place for more Dearly Departing. May the festivities ever go on. This concludes our broadcast.” The music played out, followed by static once again.

* * *

Roger let himself into the police station early the following morning. Moving and darting between coppers with their morning coffee, he made a beeline for Radcliffe’s office. The door was closed, which meant he was occupied with something important, but he didn’t care. Lives were on the line. In a burst of determination, manners be damned, he pushed in the door. “Chief.”

Radcliffe, Rocco, and Charlie all jumped at the sudden intrusion. “Lester,” Radcliffe shouted, “What the hell do you mean bursting through here like a hurricane?”

Roger paused for a beat, trying to calm himself. Two dead men were watching him. “Pardon the interruption, fellas,” he began to explain. “Chief, I’ve got some information for you.” Rocco and Charles looked over to Radcliffe, unimpressed thus far. “Of vital importance.”

Radcliffe crossed his bulging arms over his barrel chest, “More vital than taking down these bootleggers, Lester? Somehow, I doubt it. Have you got any information about that gin mill I sent you hunting for?”

Roger straightened up, remembering his indulgence from the previous night. “Nothing about the gin mill, I’m afraid. I have to warn you about something.”

“Warn me?”

“Yes,” Roger looked down to one of the two seated men. “You too, Rocco.”

“Go on, then.”

Roger took a deep breath and tried to explain the situation as calmly and clearly as possible. “Don’t ask me how I know this, but there’s a good chance you and Rocco are going to get killed this week.”

Radcliffe shot Roger a threatening look. “Come again?”

“It’s the bootleggers, Chief. They’ll get you on the rail bridge.”

The three men listening all gasped. Their faces stretched into enormous smiles, like kids at Christmas. “The rail bridge!” Charles shouted.

Radcliffe guffawed at the lead Roger had unintentionally provided. “We’ve got them now, fellas. Well done, Lester. There’s a reason why you’re such a great investigator.”

“No,” Roger protested. “No, listen. You go out there this week, you will be slaughtered. This isn’t something to take lightly.”

“Lester, Lester,” Radcliffe assured, “I appreciate your concern. We aren’t worried about a few rum-runners. They’re more afraid of us than we are of them.” Radcliffe moved over to Roger and slapped him on the back. “This is police business, Lester. You worry about finding us that juice bar. We’ll handle the runners.” With a gentle push, Radcliffe had removed Roger from his office, closing the door behind him.

“Chief!” he shouted and began pounding on the door. “I’m begging you, please don’t do this!” The entire office went quiet. Roger could feel the eyes of the confused officers around him, taking in the scene. “He’s going to get himself and Rocco killed. Mark my words, he’s a dead man.” He didn’t wait for a reply. He stormed out of the police station to purchase the morning papers. He had research to do.

* * *

Roger sat at his now cleared desk. The only things he kept on it now were the newspapers, the list of people the announcer called the deaths for, and the radio, which kept him company. He checked and rechecked the obituaries each day of the week. Now, he went through that day’s paper, disbelieving what he was seeing. Everything had lined up exactly as the announcer said. Dutifully, he clipped out the announcements, along with the date they were announced in the papers. These clippings would be filed and cataloged with that week’s list of deaths announced over the radio program. He’d make a case if he had to. Something was going on at that station, and he was going to gather enough proof to warrant an investigation. “I’ve got to get someone else to listen to the broadcast too. Then I’ll have a witness who can back me up.”

The music on the radio stopped, and a melancholy voice began speaking. “We interrupt this program to bring you a newsflash. Police Chief Henry Radcliffe and Officer Rocco Lemmings have had a run-in with a few rum-runners about an hour ago on the North line rail bridge, coming into the city. Chief Radcliffe had been driving a vehicle at the time, while in pursuit. Officer Rocco had been with him when his double barrel shotgun fired on a sharp turn, taking Chief Radcliffe’s life. The vehicle was out of control and careened off of the rail bridge. Officer Lemmings was trapped inside, and the car caught fire after impact.”

Roger felt his body go numb, and leaned back in his chair, shocked and defeated. “Those dumb bastards.”

* * *

The speakeasy had become his sanctuary the next two days. Saturday had reared its ugly head once again. Roger didn’t know if he had it in him to keep up this personal investigation. What was the point? He had warned them both, and both of them had gone and got themselves killed anyway. Still, if he had the power to end the madness, even to find out who the announcer was, where he was getting this information, it would be worth it in the end.

Roger gulped down the final shot of the evening and collected his weekly bribe. Stashing the bottle under his coat, he walked out into the cool darkness. The gaslights had been lit, so he had a safe path back to the office, home away from home. He patted the hidden bottle, thankful for the medication. He’d need it tonight.

Back at the office, Roger drained the bottle of whiskey like he had been wandering the never-ending desert, and finally came across an oasis. Depleted and drained, Roger dropped the bottle to the floor, and dragged himself over to his desk, ready to continue his grim work. A quick look at the clock told Roger he was right on time. “Serendipity,” he sighed, raising the volume on the radio, surrounding himself with static. Waiting for the unfortunately familiar theme to begin playing, Roger turned on his desk lamp, and readied a paper and pen.

He didn’t have to wait long. There was the melodious, eerie tune. Roger focused. He had work to do.

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the witching hour. You know what that means.” The audience cheered, distant from the microphone. “You’ve got it. It’s time for this week’s Dearly Departing.” Roger wasn’t even phased by the peculiar announcements anymore. He had all the evidence he needed to know this was actually happening. This broadcast was the real thing, all he needed was proof.

Now,” the announcer continued. “I’m going to have to rush the listing this week, because I’ve got a little surprise for you, my darling audience.” The audience predictably clapped, pleased they were going to be amused and awarded. “Let’s begin, shall we?” Roger wrote quickly, taking down all the names and causes of death the announcer was willing to divulge. An oddly short list this week, Roger noted. Maybe that was a good thing, a little blessing for once.

Ladies and gentlemen,” the announcer finished. “The time has come for your surprise, and let me tell you, it’s a real zinger.”

Despite his exhaustion, and numbness from what had transpired this week, Roger found himself intrigued by what the announcer had planned.

We’ve got one about to happen any moment. Everything is all set up, and the players are all in place. Now, picture it; an investigator drowning in his vice, desperate to find answers to something he could never understand. Would those two men still be alive if he hadn’t intervened? Was he ultimately to blame for their deaths? He’s been asking himself these questions, whether he’ll admit it or not.” Roger stood up from his desk, the quiet numbness he had been living in broke. “Well, ladies and gentlemen, he’s about to be a victim to that very vice that has destroyed those two men. Let’s listen in, folks.”

The radio went quiet. The broadcast didn’t end, and there was no static. It was silent.

From the hallway, Roger could hear someone coming in fast. This time of night, Roger expected the worst. Rushing to a file cabinet, Roger sought to find his pistol to defend himself. In his drunken cloud, he stumbled and swayed, but it was too late. The door to the office thundered open, and Charlie stomped in, holding a pistol out to Roger, sneering at the man, illuminated by the city lights and a small electric lamp. “What the blazes are you doing here, Charlie?”

“Put your hands up, Lester.” There was no humor in Charlie’s voice.

Roger obeyed. “You here to pinch me, Charlie? For what? Tell me why you’re here.”

Still holding out the pistol, freezing Roger in his place behind the desk, Charlie snarled. “You knew they would die. You knew exactly where it would happen. Did you have a hand in it? Answer me.”

Shaking his head slightly, confused about the late-night intrusion, Roger had to ask his own question, “Horse feathers. What makes you think I would want them dead, Charlie? Think for a minute, will ya? What could I possibly stand to gain?”

“Don’t try to give me the run-around, Lester. You think I don’t know when a guy’s been hitting the juice? You’re in on it, aren’t ya? You knew about those bootleggers. You’ve been a regular at that gin mill this week, the very one we’ve been huntin’ for. You’re drunk on the hooch now. Look at yourself.”

Roger felt himself shrinking. He never felt so exposed, so vulnerable in his whole life. All of his secrets were coming to the surface. “How did you know about the speakeasy?”

Charlie scoffed. “Because I followed you, ya mook. You come into the police station hungover and reeking to high heaven. Did you really think I didn’t notice? We only kept you around because we knew you’d lead us there eventually.”

“Charlie, listen. You can’t take me in. I’ve got work to do here,” Roger pleaded.

“Oh, yeah? And what work is that?”

Roger decided to lay all his cards on the table. What was the point in stalling? “There’s a radio program I found,” he confessed. “Every Saturday night at this hour, an announcer lists off the names of all the people in this city who are going to die the following week. I’m trying to figure out who’s behind it, and how they know.”

Charlie contorted his face, disgusted and confused. “You’re out of your ever-loving mind, Lester. I might bring you straight to the loony bin.”

“Please,” Roger begged. “I know it sounds crazy, but I’m gathering evidence. The program is on now. Listen.”

Charlie looked over to the silent radio on the desk, quiet as a funeral. “I don’t hear a radio program, Lester. What I hear are the crazed ramblings of a drunk.”

“No. You’re wrong.”

“Now, you’re coming with me to the station.”

“No!” Roger rushed to grab his gun to level the battlefield. Charlie would listen. He had to understand.

As Roger stepped towards the file cabinet to grab his pistol, his foot caught the side of the empty whiskey bottle he’d dropped. The bottle rolled, and Roger drunkenly stumbled back. Flinging his arms desperately to find steadiness, he only managed to find the radio. Unable to hold up Roger’s weight, it gave up and came falling back with him. Charlie moved in to save him from his drunken clumsiness, but he couldn’t reach him in time. Back he fell, through the thin glass of his office window with nothing to catch him but the night air.

Charlie rushed down the stairs to call for aid. No aid was needed anymore. Roger lay still and shattered under the gaslights. The radio was still clasped in his arm. Only he heard the mysteriously captivating music swell. Roger faded quickly, but not before catching one more goodbye from the announcer.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes our broadcast.

End.

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Christine LaChance has contributed to several publications including, Every Writer, The Alien Buddha, Swim, The Gorko Gazette, and Chicken Soup for the Soul.  She is also the author of the LOZERS trilogy.  She lives in Rhode Island with her two black cats, Gaia and Luna.  Feel free to summon her on X @TheCLaChance

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