To Die by Bread
Proving again in that a man who plans murder can't foresee everything
THERE IS a wide choice of ways and means for depriving a fellow creature of the breath of life, and Mr. James Garside considered a good many before coming to a final decision. Having once done so with characteristic care, he completely banished all alternatives from his mind and concentrated on perfecting the one he had selected. He examined it from all angles with a cold, inhuman deliberation, never putting on one side any point which merited attention or neglecting a possibility however remote, for the last thing Mr. Garside intended to do was to stand in the dock on a charge of murder.
It was necessary to put an end to Mander for two reasons. The first and more urgent was that Mander had suddenly developed an inquisitiveness which threatened discovery of the ingenious system of defalcations Garside had carried on for several years, and the law is unsympathetic toward solicitors who embezzle their clients’ money. The second was that he loved Mander’s wife with all the intensity of his passionate and totally unscrupulous nature.
She had come to see him in his office three days ago. He found it almost impossible to analyze his real feelings for this strange woman, with her marvellous white face, blatantly enlarged scarlet lips, and great, dark, smoldering eyes that looked at him steadily, maddeningly. Behind his devouring physical desire for her there was always a sensation of fear, sometimes almost of hatred. He dreaded her, and longed for her . . .
SHE SAT in the armchair by his table, talking casually about things that had not the slightest importance. It was the first time she had come alone to his office. He wondered what her object could possibly be. Then she had leaned forward and said without the least change of voice or manner:
“My husband is coming to see you this week. Thursday, isn’t it?”
Garside started. He turned his head quickly, but she was not looking at him. He made a pretense of referring to his diary.
“Yes. Thursday. At half-past two.”
“He wrote to you, didn’t he?”
“And told you why he was coming?”
Garside stiffened slightly. His hands tightened over the arms of his chair.
“Yes,” he said again.
Then he was suddenly aware that she was looking at him fixedly, and that she had guessed the truth of the years of fraud which Mander’s visit would inevitably bring to light; though he was certain that Mander himself did not suspect, and was only anxious to know the actual extent of his own resources. Her gaze held him. He felt unable to speak or to move. He was conscious that the blood had drained from his face. He sat still, waiting for her to speak again; but she said nothing more.
Without a word, she stood up to go. She did not say good-by, or offer her hand. Mechanically he had risen also, and was crossing the room with her to the door. Then they had both stopped suddenly. There was one tense, almost painful moment of hesitation, then she was in his arms, their lips pressed together—and he understood that she knew he was going to kill Mander, that she was urging him to do it with all the dreadful force that was in her.
Then she turned and went out of the room without another word or look.
He took a key from his pocket, and unlocked a drawer in
his writing table. From the back of it he brought out a small cardboard box. He opened it carefully and placed a curious little object on the table. It was a tiny metal syringe, painted flesh color.
He sat looking at it for some time without moving. An ingenious little instrument . . . This was the thing that was to bring the existence of Richard Mander to an abrupt end, an end that could not possibly be traced to him; the thing that was to save him from discovery and punishment, and give him the woman he desired. He took it up. It fitted perfectly into the palm of his hand, and, held in a certain way, no one could see it.
Charged under pressure, a slight, imperceptible contraction of the thumb could direct an invisible spray of liquid at any object within, say, a couple of feet. After very little practice one could use it with unerring precision—and he had practised more than a little. He had in fact practised with a colored liquid at an object similar to that at which it was actually to be used—a small piece of bread at a distance of about six inches. The colored liquid had shown him that his aim had been perfect. When it was replaced by a certain poison . . .
He put it back into the box, and locked it up again in the drawer.
MANDER had met and married his wife abroad, and they did not return to England until two years afterward. Things had not gone well with them from the matrimonial point of view. He had been infatuated by her, and when the glamor had faded there were unmistakable signs that affection had played a very small part in the affair so far as she was concerned. She had married him for his money, and after a time took little pains to disguise the fact.
Then they had come back, and she had been introduced to Garside.
At their first meeting she had summed him up correctly. She possessed that peculiar gift of feminine intuition, judgment of character, to an uncanny extent. In a very short time she was convinced in her own mind that Garside was robbing her husband, had in fact been robbing him for a long time. She was equally certain as to the lengths to which Garside would go to prevent discovery and the punishment it would inevitably bring . . . Murder, rather than exposure and penal servitude.
She was a woman with a very acute brain. She had calculated every step of the way, carefully and deliberately. She wanted her husband’s money, but she wanted it without her husband. Mander meant nothing to her. She had come to dislike, even to hate him. And the scheme that had taken birth in her mind promised a sure way.
She had no love, or even liking, for Garside, though for her own purpose she led him on into thinking that she had. She fanned the first spark of his desire for her into a maddening flame. And she knew that all she had to do on the top of that desire was to induce Mander unconsciously to threaten discovery of the defalcations which she was perfectly certain existed. In doing that, Mander would be signing his own death warrant.
Garside was right in believing that Mander had no suspicions of his honesty. The idea that he had been systematically robbed ever since he had come into the family property had not entered his head. To all appearances Garside managed his affairs excellently. There had never been any trouble, and there was always plenty of money available. Mander was lax in business matters and hated being bothered with figures, but he was quite capable
of understanding them if he took the trouble to do so. He had been surprised when the first suggestion that he should take the trouble to do so had come from his wife.
The suggestion had been cleverly made. There had been no hint whatever against Garside. She professed the greatest confidence in him, but it was only right that a man with a large hereditary estate and control of family property should understand his own position fully and know exactly how he stood. It was not difficult to insinuate the idea of personal responsibility into his mind, the feeling that he had neglected a definite duty. And so one morning the bombshell had exploded at Garside’s feet—a communication from Mander stating that he wished to go into the whole of the figures and administration of the estate and property from the time of his accession to them, and suggesting a day in the following week for doing so.
That letter was one of the greatest shocks Garside had ever received. He could not possibly refuse, or put any difficulties in the way, without arousing immediate suspicion. He had no time to cover up his frauds, or to replace the money temporarily. Discovery was certain, and he knew Mander well enough to be sure that he would be shown no mercy.
In addition there was his passionate, unbearable desire for the woman.
Two perfectly sufficient reasons for killing Richard Mander.
MANDER almost invariably lunched at a certain westend restaurant, in which a table was always reserved for him in a secluded comer. He was rather surprised as he walked down the long room to see Garside looking across at him from the opposite side. They nodded to each other, and Mander went on to his table. Garside finished his coffee quickly and called for his bill. He told the head waiter he had to hurry away to an appointment.
Mander had ordered his lunch, and was glancing over a mid-day paper when he saw Garside coming toward him on his way out. Garside stopped at the table. They shook hands.
“You’re looking very fit,” Garside said.
Mander put his paper down.
“Not too bad. Glad to be back. Best climate in the world.” He pointed to the chair opposite. “Sit down, if you’re not in a hurry.”
“I must get on,” Garside replied. “Someone coming to see me at my office. By the way, I rang you up on Monday to confirm that appointment, but you were out. They gave you my message?”
“Yes, thanks. Thursday, at half-past two.”
“That’s right,” said Garside.
His hand rested lightly on the table by the small plate on Mander’s left, on which there was a slice of French bread. No one could have noticed the slight inward pressure of the thumb.
“I was glad to get your letter,” he said. “It’s quite time you began to take a practical interest in your property. Everyone ought to do that. Many times I should have liked to consult you, but it was no use bothering you when you were away and I w'as never quite sure where you were. I hope now you’re going to look after things a bit.”
He took his hand away from the table, and put it into his pocket.
“I’ll have everything ready for you on Thursday,” he said. “Good-by.”
“So long,” said Mander.
GARSIDE walked briskly out of the restaurant, and handed his cloak-room ticket to the attendant with a perfectly steady hand. He put on his overcoat, and went out by the revolving doors into the street.
He was pleased at his own coolness. He had killed Mander. In two hours Mander would be dead. By that time he would have left the restaurant, and probably gone to his club. The poison was a slow but sure one. It was a reliz of his travels ten years ago in South America, before he carne back to take up his father’s practice as a solicitor; a poison distilled from a secret root by natives hundreds of miles up the Amazon. He had brought a small quantity hone with him as a curiosity, never dreaming of the use he was to find for it. After filling the syringe he had carefully thrown away all the rest.
Following his carefully laid out plan, Garside walked quickly down to the Embankment. On the way he unscrewed the deadly little syringe into its three component parts. He leaned over the parapet. The river was high. Unseen by anyone, he dropped the tiny nozzle into the water. Then, with studied delibeiation, he lit a cigarette and turned away.
He went to the nearest Underground station and took a ticket to the Mansion House. He let the first and second trains pass by, but found what he wanted in the third—an empty car. When the train was running in the tunnel he opened one of the windows a couple of inches and dropped the small plunger out. After passing two more stations he die the same with the little flesh-colored cylinder. At the
Mansion House he got out and, boarding a bus. returned to his office in Lincoln’s Inn Fields.
Garside sat at his table and tried to work, but found it impossible. A nervous reaction was setting in. He felt terribly strained. Was there anything he had overlooked? Any clue? Fie went over the whole thing again and again. There was nothing.
He could hardly take his eyes off the clock on the mantelpiece. When the next hour struck it would be about time for the first effects of the poison to show. He made a desperate attempt to concentrate on one of the documents in front of him. but the writing seemed blurred and he could not keep the paper still. He held out his hands and found they were shaking. Flis head had commenced to ache. Rising unsteadily, he went to the window and looked out into the gardens of the Inn. After standing there for some minutes he returned to his chair and, leaning back in it, stared out straight before him. It was fortunate he had no important business to deal with that afternoon.
The time passed. One hour, two hours ... It would be all over now'. He wondered if there would be anything about it in the evening papers. Of course she would know by this time . . .
The clock struck five. In half an hour he would be leaving the office. There was a tap at the door, and a clerk entered.
Garside roused himself.
“What is it, Millar?”
“Inspector Fay, from Scotland Yard, would like to see you, sir.”
GARSIDE started. A cold shiver shot through him. For a moment he stared blankly; then, with a great effort, he controlled his voice to speak naturally.
“I’ll see him in a few minutes.”
The clerk withdrew. Garside sat still, gripping the arms of his chair so tightly that the veins of his hands stood out like cords. The police . . In those few feverish moments he tried to figure out what it could mean. Then he pulled himself together with a muttered curse at his own weakness. Of course it was only that they had ascertained—probably from Mander's wife—that he had been Mander’s solicitor. It could not be anything more than that. He was absolutely safe. Nothing could possibly be traced to him.
Fie opened a box on the table and took a cigarette. Lighting it,he pressed a button.
The clerk reappeared, ushering in a tall, good-looking man. Garside rose with a pleasant smile.
“Good afternoon, inspector.”
Inspector Fay shook the hand offered to him.
“Good afternoon, sir.”
Garside pointed to the armchair.
“Sit down. A cigarette?”
“Thank you.” The inspector helped himself from the box and sat down. Garside resumed his own seat.
“What can I do for you?”
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The inspector lit his cigarette and put the match carefully into an ashtray.
“I understand, sir. you act as solicitor to Mr. Richard Mander?”
“Yes. I have done so for some years.” “May I ask when you saw him last?” Garside’s surprise was excellently assumed.
“I saw him at lunch time today.”
“At the Ionia Restaurant?”
“Yes. I stopped to speak to him for a moment on my way out.”
He spoke with perfect frankness. The inspector leaned back in his chair.
“At what time was that, sir?”
“Just after half-past one. I lunched early.”
“Had Mr. Mander begun his lunch when you spoke to him?”
“No. He had just finished ordering it.” He swung his chair round to face the inspector.
“But what is all this? Is anything the matter?”
For the first time the inspector looked at him closely.
“It concerns him. yes.”
“What is it?” Garside asked.
The inspector hesitated.
“Iam afraid I have some news that will shock you.”
“What on earth has happened?” Garside demanded.
Inspector Fay sat upright.
“Poison,” he said shortly.
ARSIDE stared at him.
“Poison? What do you mean?” He half rose from his chair. “You’re not telling me that Mander has . . . Look here, what the devil has happened?”
The inspector looked at him without answering. Garside’s astonishment was splendidly feigned.
“You don’t mean that Mander has committed suicide? It’s incredible.”
“I don’t mean that,” the inspector agreed. “There was no suicide about what happened. It was murder.” “Murder?” Garside gasped.
“That’s what I said, sir.”
“But that’s more unbelievable still. Of course I don't know anything about Mander’s life abroad, but I can’t believe that anyone could have wanted to murder him.”
“Someone committed murder,” returned Inspector Fay stolidly. “And it was very cleverly and very neatly done. Poison was put into Mander’s bread while it was on his plate at the Ionia Restaurant.”
“Into his bread?” Garside repeated.
“It was, sir.”
“But how could such a thing have been done without his knowing?”
“That,” replied the inspector, “is one of the things I haven’t discovered yetbut I hope to, soon.”
Garside controlled himself with difficulty. A terrible fear was beginning to clutch him. There was danger somewhere, deadly danger. Whatever it was he must keep his head. Keep his head, that was the great thing. He took another cigarette from the box.
“How do you know it was the bread? Was any of it left?”
The inspector shook his head.
“No. It was all eaten.”
“Then how can you tell?”
“In a rather curious way, sir.”
There was a pause.
“Well?” said Garside.
The inspector’s eyes were fixed on him. He didn’t like the look in them.
“It could only have been the bread,” said the inspector quietlv.
“Because there was no other eatable on the table when you were standing there.”
"£70R A MOMENT the whole room seemed to reel. Garside had turned deathly white.
“When I was standing there?”
The inspector did not take his eyes from the other’s face.
With a supreme effort Garside mastered himself. He turned angrily on the inspector.
“Do you understand what you are saying?”
“Be good enough to explain what you mean.”
“Certainly.” The inspector crushed the end of his cigarette into the ashtray. “When you stopped at Mander’s table. Mr. Garside. you managed in some way to poison the bread on his plate sufficiently to cause death.”
Garside sprang up from his chair.
“You’re mad!” he cried. “You are talking insanely. How dare you make such an unfounded accusation?”
The inspector had risen also. The two men faced each other.
“You haven’t a scrap of proof,” Garside shouted. “It's a piece of cursed impertinence, and I'll see that you get into trouble for it.”
The inspector was quite undisturbed. “You see, Mr. Garside, a rather strange thing happened just after you left the restaurant—one of those small unexpected things that can upset the most perfectly worked out plans. Mrs. Mander happened to want some extra money for something she was going to buy this afternoon and, knowing that her husband would be at the Ionia, she went to him there to get a cheque. Naturally he asked her to stay and lunch with him. Before they began, she complained of a draught behind her. ! So they changed places at the table.” Inspector Fay saw a white, staring face in front of him. an expression of unutterable horror growing on it.
“So Mrs. Mander ate the poisoned bread intended for her husband. And died, Mr. Garside.”
He heard a dreadful, half-suppressed cry, like the moan of a creature in terrible pain.
“Before she died she told her husband enough to make the whole thing pretty plain—”
The white stricken face was no longer in front of him. He stood looking down at a huddled, senseless figure on the floor.
IN THE Criminal Lunatic Asylum at Broadmoor there is a prisoner who suffers from a curious antipathy. He is obliged to take his meals alone because the mere sight of a piece of bread transforms him into a raving maniac. I íe is one of the “incurables” of the institution.