THE CASE OF THE CYANIDE SAPS


This will be easy, Lawson thought. They'd interview them apart. He gave the guy to Brad Bradshaw, the new detective. Bradshaw made no bones about gunning for Lawson’s top-dog rep. Well, let him have fun with Mr. Stupe, then. Blondie would be more fun.

“Smoke?” She shook her head. “No? Okay. This fellow you found on your floor. Who was he?”

“I’ve told you -

“Tell me again.”

“He’s my husband’s brother. Tom. Thomas Marston. He’s been depressed lately - I don’t know why, and I don’t know if he even needed a reason. He was always one for the big mope. Real hard-luck joe.”

“Mm hmm. And where did he live?”

“Here. Cosmopolis. Around Brown’s Corner, I think. He had a job there. Cook or something. Why don’t you ask my husband?”

“Well, for starters he’s not really your husband, is he.”

“Common-law,” she said. She stared at Lawson and held his eyes. “Been together longer that most people who got the paper and a judge’s say-so. Look, I don’t know what you want. I don’t know why you think we did him in. For what?

“Money?” Lance said. He took a candy bar out of his pocket. Almond Delight. He hated almonds. “Usually money figures in it somewhere.”

“Not here, pal.” She snorted. “Tim had about ten cents to his name. He drank his pay and scrounged off my husband until the next check. No, if I was going to do him in, it would be because’a our money, not his.”

Lance broke off a piece of the candy bar and offered it to Joan.

“Thanks,” she said. “I should have had some at the theater. I’m starving.”

“Not everyone likes almonds,” Lance said. “Some people don’t like the smell.”

“I don’t follow you.”

“What movie were you at?”

“‘Black Angel.’ At the Grand.”

“Like it?”

Joan shrugged. “It was okay if you like that hardboiled stuff. I can take it or leave it. I like some songs. More songs than this one had,” she added.

Lance nodded. ""How many songs did it have?"

"I didn't keep score. Does the guy in the row behind me whistling count?"

“No. No, it doesn't. Another piece?”

“Sure. Thanks. Are we almost -”

“How did you know he’d taken cyanide?”

“What else would he take? Isn’t that how you do it if you want to do it? Can’t do it by drinking a bottle of hair tonic.”

“That’s true, that’s true. Did the room . . . did it have a smell?”

“Yeah, it smelled like shit. He dumped in his pants when he died. In our living room. Son of a bitch.”

Lance nodded. He said:

“Three wrong answers. One, ‘Black Angel’ didn’t play tonight. I figured that would be your alibi when you said you went to the movies, so I called the theater down the street from your house - the Grand - to see what they had playing. The paper says they’re playing ‘Black Angel,’ but that’s a misprint. Last night was the last night. Now, that one alone is going to get you hung. Then you called this character Tom, then Tim, which suggests to me that he’s neither, and you’re not the common-law wife of anyone except perhaps the lip of a gin bottle. Third: cyanide smells like almonds. And here you are chomping down an Almond Delight. Going to look bad for the jury. Cold-blooded and all that.”

She stared at Lawson. “You can’t be serious,” she finally said.

“Of course I am. So: you want to tell me who the dead guy is, and why that guy in the next room who’s blaming you for everything is a liar?”

And then she began again. Lance listened, balling the wrapper of the Almond Delight in his hand. It was made of that peculiar paper they used for candy bars. It was different than the foil. You couldn’t crush it. No matter how much you tried to crumple it up, it grew, and grew until it opened back into a crinkled version of itself, a bent and wrecked approximation of its old perfect self. He put it on the table. It looked like the skin of a broken snake.

SOLUTION: If they'd never seen the bottle before, how did they know it was cyanide?