To Clementine

Chapter I

THE TALL MAN Switched on the light. 'I won't be a minute,' he said.

The shorter man looked aromid the room, which was a laboratory. He ambled over to gaze, without understand-mg, at some apparatus.

'It's here somewhere,' said Paul Townsend, lifting and shifting papers on the desk, opening the left top drawer. 'Letter I meant to mail. Simply forgot. Now where . . . ?' He was an extremely good-looking man, six feet high, in prime state at thirty-seven. His handsome face wore a little fussy frown.

'Take your time,' said Mr. Gibson, who was older, in no hurry whatever, and who liked to browse. 'What's all this?'

'Ah . . .' Paul Townsend found the letter. 'Got it That? That's poison.'

'What have you done? Made a collection?' Mr. Gibson peered at a double rank of little square-bottomed bottles aligned to the fraction of an inch, neatly labeled, behind the glass doors of a cupboard.

'Lot of the stuff we use seems to be poisonous,' Paul Townsend told him. 'So best it's locked up.' He came, dangling his letter between two fingers, and peered, too. 'Sure is quite a collection,' he said innocently.

'Looks like some gourmet's spice cupboard,' said Mr. Gibson admiringly. 'What are these good for?'

'Different things.'

'I never heard of ninety per cent of them.'

'Well ...' said Paul Townsend in a forgiving way.

'Death and destruction,' murmured Mr. Gibson, 'in small packages.' He put his forefinger on the glass door. (He fleetingly remembered having once been a little boy pushing his finger, just so, against the glass of a candy counter.) 'Which would you advise?'

'What?' said Townsend, batting his long eyelashes.

Mr. Gibson smiled; delicate lines spread from his eye-comers like tiny peacocks' tails. 'I'm taking a poetical view,' he said whimsically, 'of two dozen bottles of death. I don't think the way you do. Can't help it. Teach poetry, you know.' He mocked himself good-humoredly and declaimed, 'To cease upon the midnight with no pain . . .'

'Oh,' said Townsend a little stupidly. 'Well, if you mean what will knock you out quick and easy, take that one.'

'That one?' Mr. Gibson made no sense of the polysyllabic word on the label to which his host now pointed. He couldn't think how it could possibly be pronounced by a human tongue. The number on the label was 333, which was simple and stuck in the brain. 'What will it do?'

'Just kill you,' said Paul Townsend. 'No taste. No smell.'

'No color,' murmured the other.

'No pain.'

'How do you know that?' Mr. Gibson had fine gray eyes and they were lit with intelligent curiosity.

Townsend blinked again. 'Know what?'

'That there is no pain? Or no taste, for that matter? Fella's knocked out, as you say. You can't ask him, can you?'

'Well, I . . . understand there's just no time for pain,' said Townsend a little uncomfortably. 'Ready?'

'Quite a place,' said Mr. Gibson, giving a last look around,

Townsend had his finger on the light switch. 'Wait a minute . . .' He frowned. He was like a housewife with unexpected company. He saw deficiencies in his housekeeping. 'I see something should have been put away Maybe it wouldn't kill you, but . . . Now who left that out, I wonder? Would you mind turning away for a second?'

'Turning? Oh. Not at all.' Mr. Gibson obligingly

turned his back and stared at a cupboard full of breakers and tubes on the opposite wall. It's glass door made quite an efficient mirror, if you selected with your mind only the reflections, out of all you were seeing with your eyes. So Mr. Gibson idly watched Paul Townsend take a small tin of something from a table top, produce a key from a hiding place, put the tin inside the poison cupboard, re-lock the door, rehide the key. 'O.K.,' said Townsend. 'Sorry, but I like to be absolutely careful.'

Mr. Gibson said, 'Of course,' softly. It didn't occur to him to confess to his acquaintance that he now had a very good idea where the key was kept. This Townsend was a friendly chap who had happened to be eating a meal in the same off-campus restaurant and who had offered Mr. Gibson a ride home on this chilly January evening. No need to explain to the man. Mr. Gibson hated to embarrass him. And surely it did not matter.

He began to muse, instead, on poison. Why were there substances created of which men must not eat? Fire, water, air ... all good for man . . . could yet, in quantity, in excess, or out of place, destroy him. Was it possible that poisons, too, had all their measures? Were they, in proper quantity, or place, or time, good, too? In minute quantity

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