Poisoning Richter

Captura de pantalla 2017-06-28 a la(s) 13.16.26By Mark Haber

“There are several ways of poisoning a man,” I assured Eldridge, pouring him another finger of scotch.
“I agree, but Richter is another matter. He is no ordinary man. He’s a touch…madder, a depth deeper, a maniac to be sure.”
“I don’t doubt you,” I offered, “but Richter’s mind has no bearing on my assignment. For I’ll kill a madman no different than a sane one.”
Richter had been elected to office the previous winter against the better wishes of powerful men and their incumbent. Since then not a week had gone by without an attempt on his life. He was shot twice. Set afire once. Carriage-jacked thrice. Pussywhipped five times. Bullywinked eight. Yet it seemed, for all their efforts at murder, the stronger Richter grew. Physically astute, with a brow of great dignity, women swooned at Richter’s good looks and easy charm.
“But that’s just it.” Eldridge argued “It does have bearing. Listen to my account and you’ll see. Richter was accosted last May in the fields of the Midwest, befriended by hired culprits and given a jockey full of morning glory seeds, enough to kill a family of Protestants.”
I waited. “And what happened?”
“Fool! I’m here aren’t I? He’s still alive! The man was unaffected! In fact – claim the very men who attempted his assassination – he seemed stronger on the morn that followed, particularly so, like he’d just lain a week in a whore’s bed! He made himself a pot of coffee over the fire and drank it down like water. Then pissed like the healthiest horse the whole next day.”
“Well,” I pondered aloud, “often the systematics of a seed like that are in flux. My brother-in-law Walter is an ethnobotanist and he’d agree.”
“With what?”
“With the notion that what’s bad for one may be good for another. For example, I could drink an ounce of strychnine and my muscles could convulse and I could die. But perhaps you, or your Richter fella could drink this same ounce and not even retch. I’ll hatchet the man. Trust me. And I’ll make sure it looks natural.”
“That’s all I’m asking. People tell me you’re the best.”
“Well,” I laughed modestly, “I don’t know about that. But I do get the job done.”
We retired to my sitting room where I intended on showing Eldridge my collection of Zebra stamps and nature photography. I had a certain stamp from my ‘Congo Collection’ that I was especially excited at showing off, as it had tripled in value in the past week because of a mistake made by the Postmaster General, a known drunkard and opium-head who only acquired the post because of his friendship to President Taft. Before I could reach for my albums however, Eldridge laid into me with more questions. He wanted to know how I would assassinate Richter.
“You mean the fashion?”
“Yes. What are your intentions on his murder?”
“Haven’t given it much thought to be honest. Really, it’s neither here nor there. I could stab him repeatedly.”
“God no!” He waved his arms. “It has to look natural.”
“And it would.” I said. “Ever heard of someone falling on top of a knife and when they remove themselves off the blade the very shock at their own injury impales them once more upon the weapon? And this goes on ad nauseam until they die?”
Eldridge sized me up like I’d said something outrageous. “Don’t use a knife.”
“Very well. Now I have a collection of stamps that have no peer in the city…”
“If not a stabbing then what? Arsenic?”
“You’re really consumed with this, aren’t you?”
“It’s why I’m here.”
“And yet I feel quite strongly that we’ve discussed the matter. My price. The making-it-look-natural aspect. And now, being a courteous guest at my home, I’m inclined to show off a certain hobby of mine, although some who know me better might call it a compulsion or obsession. It’s the civilized thing to do. Know anything about stamps?”
“Please, my handlers would rest easier if we knew the details of the execution.”
“Jesus. Well, seeing as you’ve just hired me this evening I can’t tell you what I don’t yet know. But I see you need some sort of guarantee. Fine. There are sundry ways of killing a man and making it look natural, as you say. Remember Judge Lionel last year?”
“I do. He was hit by a train.”
I nodded. “That was my work.”
“But that’s not natural at all! It’s suspicious as hell in fact! Jesus, it’s still under investigation.”
“Let ‘em investigate. They won’t find anything. I chased him through a field, up a small hill and saw him smashed by the 418 from Charleston.”
“That’s not the point. The point is to avoid an investigation in the first place. At all costs.”
“At all costs you say? That mean I’m getting a raise?”
“That’s not what ‘at all costs’ means!”
“Let’s not be touchy Eldridge. We’ll figure this puzzle out. I could always slander him to death. Takes longer but it works.”
“Slander him to death?” 
“For sure. I’ve done it. I started rumors about a man, vicious, false rumors of course, and I was dogged. I spread rumors with enough vigor to make his wife leave him and take with her their three sons. Two months later he was leaving a haberdashery and was struck by a trolley.”
“It wasn’t the slander that killed him you mongrel! It was the trolley!”
“Oh no.” I huffed. “Ever heard of cause and effect? Had I not slandered him ruthlessly, had his wife and three sons not moved to Pittsburgh, had none of what I’d begun been put into place, no different really than the tipping of that first domino in a elaborate pattern, then this man would not have met his death by trolley.”
“Absurd! Following this logic, if I delayed a man leaving a diner by asking the time and then he was struck by lightning outside you would consider me his killer.”
“As you would be.”
“Then in your mind almost all of us are murderers.”
“At one time or another, yes. The only difference is that I am paid.”
Seized suddenly with a sort of pain in his guts, Eldridge doubled over, his face contorted in terror.
“I blame the smarting in your intestines, “I said, “on the gastronomical gamble I took. You speak of Eldridge, ‘make it look natural! It has to look natural’ Yes. It seems to be an obsession of yours. Well there will be no discussion about how you died. No, my friend. I added some bug powder to your starch before dinner and this is what has happened. Cause and effect, right? Undisputedly, unconditionally natural.”
My front door opened and Richter strode inside, cutting a marvelous figure. Removing his top hat, he stared at Eldridge’s still-warm body with satisfaction. I couldn’t stop looking at Richter. He had paid me by courier and besides his face in the newspapers, I had yet to see him in person. The women were correct: he was a curiously, almost abnormally handsome man.
“Tell me Richter; before you leave do you have time to indulge me? It’s a hobby of mine, fairly new. They call it stamp collecting.”


Mark Haber wrote Melville’s Beard, a short story collection published earlier this year by Editorial Argonáutica.