“I heard a rumor,” Sangstrom said, “to the effect that you-” he turned his head and looked about him to make absolutely sure that he and the druggist were alone in the tiny presecription pharmacy. The druggist was a gnarled gnomelike little man who could have been any age from fifty to one hundred. They were alone but Sangstrom dropped his voice just the same “to the effect that you have a completely undetectable poison.”
The druggist nodded. He came around the counter and locked the front door to the shop, then walked toward a doorwaybehind the counter. “I was about to take a coffee break,” he said. “come with me and have a cup.”
Sangstrom followed him around the counter and through the doorway to a back room ringed by shelves of bottles from floor to ceiling. The druggist plugged in an electric percolator, found two cups and put them on a table that had a chair on either side of it. He motioned Sangstrom to one of the chairs and took the other himself. “Now,” he said “Tell me. Whom do you want to kill , and why?”
“Does it matter?” Sangstrom asked. “
“THe druggist interrupted him with an upraised hand. “Yes, it matters. I must be convinced that you deserved what I can give you. Otherwise-” He shrugged.
“All right,” Sangstrom said.”The whom is my wife, the why -” he started a long story. Before he had quite finished, the percolator had finished its task and the druggist briefly interrupted to get coffee for them. Sangstrom finished his story.
The little druggist nodded. “Yes I occasionally dispense an undetectable poison. I do so freely; I do not charge for it, i.f I think a case is deserving. I have helped many murderers.
“Fine,” said Sangstrom, “Give it to me then”
The druggist smiled at him. “I already have. by the time the coffee was ready I decided that you deserved it. . It was, as I said, free. But there is a price for the antidote.”
Sangstrom turned pale. But he had anticipated-not this, but the possibility of a double-cross or some form of blackmail. He pulled a pistol from his pocket.
The little druggist chuckled. “You daren’t use that. Can you find the antidote” -he waved at the shelves-”among those thousands of bottles? Or would you find a faster, more virulent poison? Or if you think I’m bluffing, that you are not really poisoned, go ahead and shoot. You’ll know the answer within three hours when the poison starts to work.”
“How much for the antidote?” Sangstrom growled.
“Quite reasonable. A thousands dollars. After all, a man must live. Even if his hobby is preventing murders, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t make money at it, is there?”
Sangstrom growled and put the pistol down, but within reach, and took out his wallet. Maybe after he had the antidote, he’d still use that pistol. He counted out a thousand dollars in hundred-dollar bills and put it on the table.
The druggist made no immediate move to pick it up. he said “And one other thing-for your wife’s safety and mine. You will write a confession of your intention-your former intention, I trust- to murder your wife. THen you will wait till I go out and mail it to a friend of mine on the homicide detail. He’ll keep it as evidence in case you do decide to kill your wife. Or me, for that matter”
“When it is in the mail it will be safe for me to return here and give you the antidote. I’ll give you paper and pen. . .
“Oh, and one other thing-although I do not absolutely insist on it. Please help spread the word about my undetectable poison, will you? One never knows, Mr. Sangstrom. The life you save, if you have any enemies, just might be your own.”
Fredric Brown, 1961
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