THE FILM MYSTERY
ARTHUR B. REEVE
"The Soul Scar" "The Adventuress" and Other Craig Kennedy Scientific Detective Stories
I. A CAMERA CRIME II. THE TINY SCRATCH III. TANGLED MOTIVES IV. THE FATAL SCRIPT V. AN EMOTIONAL MAZE VI. THE FIRST CLUB VII. ENID FAYE VIII. LAWRENCE MILLARD IX. WHITE-LIGHT SHADOWS X. CHEMICAL RESEARCH XI. FORESTALLED XII. EMERY PHELPS XIII. MARILYN LORING XIV. ANOTHER CLUE XV. I BECOME A DETECTIVE XVI. ENID ASSISTS XVII. AN APPEAL XVIII. THE ANTIVENIN XIX. AROUND THE CIRCLE XX. THE BANQUET SCENE XXI. MERLE SHIRLEY OVERACTS XXII. THE STEM XXIII. BOTULIN TOXIN XXIV. THE INVISIBLE MENACE XXV. ITCHING SALVE XXVI. A CIGARETTE CASE XXVII. THE FILM FIRE XXVIII. THE PHOSPHORUS BOMB XXIX. MICROSCOPIC EVIDENCE XXX. THE BALLROOM SCENE XXXI. PHYSOSTIGMIN XXXII. CAMERA EVIDENCE
THE FILM MYSTERY
A CAMERA CRIME
Kennedy and I had been hastily summoned from his laboratory in the city by District-Attorney Mackay, and now stood in the luxurious, ornate library in the country home of Emery Phelps, the banker, at Tarrytown.
"Camera!—you know the call when the director is ready to shoot a scene of a picture?—well—at the moment it was given and the first and second camera men began to grind—she crumpled—sank to the floor—unconscious!"
Hot and excited, Mackay endeavored to reenact his case for us with all the histrionic ability of a popular prosecutor before a jury.
"There's where she dropped—they carried her over here to this davenport—sent for Doctor Blake—but he couldn't do a thing for her. She died—just as you see her. Blake thought the matter so serious, so alarming, that he advised an immediate investigation. That's why I called you so urgently."
Before us lay the body of the girl, remarkably beautiful even as she lay motionless in death. Her masses of golden hair, disheveled, added to the soft contours of her features. Her wonderfully large blue-gray eyes with their rare gift for delicate shades of expression were closed, but long curling lashes swept her cheeks still and it was hard to believe that this was anything more than sleep.
It was inconceivable that Stella Lamar, idol of the screen, beloved of millions, could have been taken from the world which worshiped her.
I felt keenly for the district attorney. He was a portly little man of the sort prone to emphasize his own importance and so, true to type, he had been upset completely by a case of genuine magnitude. It was as though visiting royalty had dropped dead within his jurisdiction.
I doubt whether the assassination of a McKinley or a Lincoln could have unsettled him as much, because in such an event he would have had the whole weight of the Federal government behind him. There was no question but that Stella Lamar enjoyed a country-wide popularity known by few of our Presidents. Her sudden death was a national tragedy.
Apparently Mackay had appealed to Kennedy the moment he learned the identity of Stella, the moment he realized there was any question about the circumstances surrounding the affair. Over the telephone the little man had been almost incoherent. He had heard of Kennedy's work and was feverishly anxious to enlist his aid, at any price.
All we knew as we took the train on the New York Central was that Stella was playing a part in a picture to be called "The Black Terror," that the producer was Manton Pictures, Incorporated, and that she had dropped dead suddenly and without warning in the middle of a scene being photographed in the library at the home of Emery Phelps.
I was singularly elated at the thought of accompanying Kennedy on this particular case. It was not that the tragic end of a film star whose work I had learned to love was not horrible to me, but rather because, for once, I thought Kennedy actually confronted a situation where his knowledge of a given angle of life was hardly sufficient for his usual analysis of the facts involved.
"Walter," he had exclaimed, as I burst into the laboratory in response to a hurried message, "here's where I need your help. You know all about moving pictures, so—if you'll phone your city editor and ask him to let you cover a case for the Star we'll just about catch a train at One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street."
Because the film world had fascinated me always I had made a point of being posted on its people and their activities. I remembered the very first appearance of Stella Lamar back in the days of General Film, when pictures were either Licensed or Independent, when only two companies manufactured worth-while screen dramas, when any subject longer than a reel had to be of rare excellence, such as the art films imported from France for the Licensed program. In those days, Stella rose rapidly to prominence. Her large wistful eyes had set the hearts of many of us to beating at staccato rate.
Then came Lloyd Manton, her present manager, and the first of a new type of business man to enter the picture field. Manton was essentially a promoter. His predecessors had been men carried to success by the growth of the new art. Old Pop Belman, for instance, had been a fifth-rate oculist who rented and sold stereopticons as a side line. With blind luck he had grasped the possibilities of Edison's new invention. Just before the break-up of General Film he had become many times a millionaire and it was then that he had sent a wave of laughter over the entire country by an actual cable to William Shakespeare, address London, asking for all screen rights to the plays written by that gentleman.
Manton represented a secondary phase in film finance. Continent Films, his first corporation, was a stockjobbing concern. Grasping the immense popularity of Stella Lamar, he had coaxed her away from the old studio out in Flatbush where all her early successes had been photographed. With the magic of her name he sold thousands of shares of stock to a public already fed up on the stories of the fortunes to be made in moving pictures. When much of the money so raised had been dissipated, when Continent's quotation on the curb sank to an infinitesimal fraction, then it developed that Stella's contract was with Manton personally. Manton Pictures, Incorporated, was formed to exploit her. The stock of this company was not offered to outside investors.
Stella's popularity had in no way suffered from the business methods of her manager. Manton, at the least, had displayed rare foresight in his estimation of public taste. Except for a few attempts with established stage favorites, photographed generally in screen versions of theatrical classics and backed by affiliations with the producers of the legitimate stage, Continent Films was the first concern to make the five-reel feature. Stella, as a Continent player, was the very first feature star. Under the banner of Manton Pictures, she had never surrendered her position of pre-eminence.
Also, scandal somehow had failed to touch her. Those initiated to the inner gossip of the film world, like myself, were under no illusions. The relations between Stella and Manton were an open secret. Yet the picture fans, in their blind worship, believed her to be as they saw her upon the screen. To them the wide and wistful innocence of her remarkably large eyes could not be anything but genuine. The artlessness of the soft curves of her mouth was proof to them of the reality of an ingenuous and very girlish personality.
Even her divorce had helped rather than harmed her. It seemed irony to me that she should have obtained the decree instead of her husband, and in New York, too, where the only grounds are unfaithfulness. The testimony in the case had been sealed so that no one knew whom she had named as corespondent. At the time, I wondered what pressure had been exerted upon Millard to prevent the filing of a cross suit. Surely he should have been able to substantiate the rumors of her association with Lloyd Manton.
Lawrence Millard, author and playwright and finally scenario writer, had been as much responsible for the success of his wife as Manton, and in a much less spectacular way. It was Millard who had written her first great Continent success, who had developed the peculiar type of story best suited for her, back in the early days of the one reel and General Film.
It is commonly known in picture circles that an actress who screens well, even if she is only a moderately good artist, can be made a star with one or two or three good stories and that, conversely, a star may be ruined by a succession of badly written or badly produced vehicles. Those of us not blinded by an idolatrous worship for the girl condemned her severely for throwing her husband aside at the height of her success. The public displayed their sympathy for her by a burst of renewed interest. The receipts at the box office whenever her films were shown probably delighted both Manton and Stella herself.
I had wondered, as Kennedy and I occupied a seat in the train, and as he left me to my thoughts, whether there could be any connection between the tragedy and the divorce. The decree, I knew, was not yet final. Could it be possible that Millard was unwilling, after all, to surrender her? Could he prefer deliberate murder to granting her her freedom? I was compelled to drop that line of thought, since it offered no explanation of his previous failure to contest her suit or to start counter action.
Then my reflections had strayed away from Kennedy's sphere, the solving of the mystery, to my own, the news value of her death and the events following. The Star, as always, had been only too glad to assign me to any case where Craig Kennedy was concerned; my phone message to the city editor, the first intimation to any New York paper of Stella's death, already had resulted without doubt in scare heads and an extra edition.
The thought of the prominence given the personal affairs of picture players and theatrical folk had disgusted me.
There are stars against whom there is not the slightest breath of gossip, even among the studio scandal-mongers. Any number of girls and men go about their work sanely and seriously, concerned in nothing but their success and the pursuit of normal pleasures. As a matter of fact it had struck me on the train that this was about the first time Craig Kennedy had ever been called in upon a case even remotely connected with the picture field. I knew he would be confronted with a tangled skein of idle talk, from everybody, about everybody, and mostly without justification. I hoped he would not fall into the popular error of assuming all film players bad, all studios schools of immorality. I was glad I was able to accompany him on that account.
The arrival at Tarrytown had ended my reflections, and Kennedy's —whatever they may have been. Mackay himself had met us at the station and with a few words, to cover his nervousness, had whisked us out to the house.
As we approached, Kennedy had taken quick note of the surroundings, the location of the home itself, the arrangement of the grounds. There was a spreading lawn on all four sides, unbroken by plant or bush or tree—sheer prodigality of space, the better to display a rambling but most artistic pile of gray granite. Masking the road and the adjoining grounds was thick, impenetrable shrubbery, a ring of miniature forest land about the estate. There was a garage, set back, and tennis courts, and a practice golf green. In the center of a garden in a far corner a summerhouse was placed so as to reflect itself in the surface of a glistening swimming pool.
As we pulled up under the porte-cochere Emery Phelps, the banker, greeted us. Perhaps it was my imagination, but it seemed to me that there was a repressed animosity in his manner, as though he resented the intrusion of Kennedy and myself, yet felt powerless to prevent it. In contrast to his manner was the cordiality of Lloyd Manton, just inside the door. Manton was childishly eager in his welcome, so much so that I was able to detect a shade of suspicion in Kennedy's face.
The others of the company were clustered in the living room, through which we passed to reach the library. I found small opportunity to study them in the rather dim light. Mackay beckoned to a man standing in a window, presenting him to Kennedy as Doctor Blake. Then we entered the long paneled chamber which had been the scene of the tragedy.
Now I stood, rather awed, with the motionless figure of Stella Lamar before me in her last pitiable close-up. For I have never lost the sense of solemnity on entering the room of a tragedy, in spite of the long association I have had with Kennedy in the scientific detection of crime. Particularly did I have the feeling in this case. The death of a man is tragic, but I know nothing more affecting than the sudden and violent death of a beautiful woman—unless it be that of a child.
I recalled a glimpse of Stella as I had seen her in her most recent release, as the diaphragm opened on her receiving a box of chocolates, sent by her lover, and playfully feeding one of them to her beautiful collie, "Laddie," as he romped about upon a divan and almost smothered her with affection. The vivacity and charm of the scene were in sad contrast with what lay before me.
As I looked more carefully I saw now that her full, well-rounded face was contorted with either pain or fear—perhaps both. Even through the make-up one could see that her face was blotched and swollen. Also, the muscles were contorted; the eyes looked as if they might be bulging under the lids; and there was a bluish tinge to her skin. Evidently death had come quickly, but it had not been painless.
"Even the coroner has not disturbed the body," Mackay hastened to explain to Kennedy. "The players, the camera men, all were sent out of the room the moment Doctor Blake was certain something more than a natural cause lay behind her death. Mr. Phelps telephoned to me, and upon my arrival I ordered the doors and windows closed, posted my deputies to prevent any interference with anything in the room, left my instructions that everyone was to be detained, then got in touch with you as quickly as I could."
Kennedy turned to him. Something in the tone of his voice showed that he meant his compliment. "I'm glad, Mackay, to be called in by some one who knows enough not to destroy evidence; who realizes that perhaps the slightest disarrangement of a rug, for instance, may be the only clue to a murder. It's—it's rare!"
The little district attorney beamed. If he had found it necessary to walk across the floor just then he would have strutted. I smiled because I wanted Kennedy to show again his marvelous skill in tracing a crime to its perpetrator. I was anxious that nothing should be done to hamper him.
THE TINY SCRATCH
Kennedy, before his own examination of the body, turned to Doctor Blake. "Tell me just what you found when you arrived," he directed.
The physician, whose practice embraced most of the wealthy families in and around Tarrytown, was an unusually tall, iron- gray-haired man of evident competency. It was very plain that he resented his unavoidable connection with the case.
"She was still alive," he responded, thoughtfully, "although breathing with difficulty. Nearly everyone had clustered about her, so that she was getting little air, and the room was stuffy from the lights they had been using in taking the scene. They told me she dropped unconscious and that they couldn't revive her, but at first it did not occur to me that it might be serious. I thought perhaps the heat—"
"You saw nothing suspicious," interrupted Kennedy, "nothing in the actions or manner of anyone in the room?"
"No, when I first entered I didn't suspect anything out of the way. I had them send everyone into the next room, except Manton and Phelps, and had the doors and windows thrown open to give her air. Then when I examined her I detected what seemed to me to be both a muscular and nervous paralysis, which by that time had proceeded pretty far. As I touched her she opened her eyes, but she was unable to speak. She was breathing with difficulty; her heart action was weakening so rapidly that I had little opportunity to apply restorative measures."
"What do you think caused the death?"
"So far, I can make no satisfactory explanation." The doctor shrugged his shoulders very slightly. "That is why I advised an immediate investigation. I did not care to write a death certificate."
"You have no hypothesis?"
"If she died from any natural organic disorder, the signs were lacking by which I could trace it. Everything indicates the opposite, however. It would be hard for me to say whether the paralysis of respiration or of the heart actually caused her death. If it was due to poison—Well, to me the whole affair is shrouded in mystery. The symptoms indicated nothing I could recognize with any degree of certainty."
Kennedy stooped over, making a superficial examination of the girl. I saw that some faint odor caught his nostrils, for he remained poised a moment, inhaling reflectively, his eyes clouded in thought. Then he went to the windows, raising the shades an additional few inches each, but that did not seem to give him the light he wished.
In the room were the portable arcs used in the making of scenes in an actual interior setting. The connections ran to heavy insulated junction boxes at the ends of two lines of stiff black stage cable. Near the door the circuits were joined and a single lead of the big duplex cord ran out along the polished hardwood floor, carried presumably to the house circuit at a fuse box where sufficient amperage was available. Kennedy's eyes followed out the wires quickly. Then, motioning to me to help, he wheeled one of the heavy stands around and adjusted the hood so that the full strength of the light would be cast upon Stella. The arc in place, he threw the switch, and in the sputtering flood of illumination dropped to his knees, taking a powerful pocket lens from his waistcoat and beginning an inch by inch examination of her skin.
I gained a fresh realization of the beauty of the star as she lay under the dazzling electric glow, and in particular I noticed the small amount of make-up she had used and the natural firmness of her flesh. She was dressed in a modish, informal dinner dress, of embroidered satin, cut fairly low at front and back and with sleeves of some gauzelike material reaching not halfway to her elbow, hardly sleeves at all, in fact.
Kennedy with his glass went over her features with extreme care. I saw that he drew her hair back, and that then he parted it, to examine her scalp, and I wondered what infinitesimal clue might be the object of his search. I had learned, however, never to question him while he was at work.
With his eye glued to his lens he made his way about and around her neck, and down and over her throat and chest so far as it remained unprotected by the silk of her gown. With the aid of Mackay he turned her over to examine her back. Next he returned the body to its former position and began to inspect the arms. Very suddenly something caught his eye on the inside of her right forearm. He grunted with satisfaction, straightened, pulled the switch of the arc, wiped his eyes, which were watering.
"Find anything, Mr. Kennedy?" Doctor Blake seemed to understand, to some extent, the purpose of the examination.
Kennedy did not answer, probably preoccupied with theories which I could see were forming in his mind.
The library was a huge room of greater length than breadth. At one end were wide French windows looking out upon the garden and summer house. The door to the hallway and living room was very broad, with heavy sliding panels and rich portieres of a velours almost the tint of the wood-work. Between the door, situated in the side wall near the opposite end, and the windows, was a magnificent stone fireplace with charred logs testifying to its frequent use. The couch where Stella lay had been drawn back from its normal position before the fire, together with a huge table of carved walnut. The other two walls were an unbroken succession of shelves, reaching to the ceiling and literally packed with books.
Facing the windows and the door, so as to include the fireplace and the wide sweep of the room within range, were two cameras still set up, the legs of their tripods nested, probably left exactly as they were at the moment of Stella's collapse. I touched the handle of one, a Bell & Howell, and saw that it was threaded, that the film had not been disturbed. The lights, staggered and falling away from the camera lines, were arranged to focus their illumination on the action of the scenes. There were four arcs and two small portable banks of Cooper-Hewitts, the latter used to cut the sharp shadows and give a greater evenness to the photography. Also there were diffusers constructed of sheets of white cloth stretched taut on frames. These reflected light upward upon the faces of the actors, softening the lower features, and so valuable in adding to the attractiveness of the women in particular.
All this I had learned from visits to a studio with the Star's photoplay editor. I was anxious to impress my knowledge upon Kennedy. He gave me no opportunity, however, but wheeled upon Mackay suddenly.
"Send in the electrician," he ordered. "Keep everyone else out until I'm ready to examine them."
While the district attorney hurried to the sliding doors, guarded on their farther side by one of the amateur deputies he had impressed into service, Kennedy swung the stand of the arc he had used back into the place unaided. I noticed that Doctor Blake was nervously interested in spite of his professional poise. I certainly was bursting with curiosity to know what Kennedy had found.
The electrician, a wizened veteran of the studios, with a bald head which glistened rather ridiculously, entered as though he expected to be held for the death of the star on the spot.
"I don't know nothin'," he began, before anyone could start to question him. "I was outside when they yelled, honest! I was seeing whether m'lead was getting hot, and I heard 'em call to douse the glim, an'—"
"Put on all your lights"—Kennedy was unusually sharp, although it was plain he held no suspicion of this man, as he added—"just as you had them."
As the electrician went from stand to stand sulkily, there was a sputter from the arcs, almost deafening in the confines of the room, and quite a bit of fine white smoke. But in a moment the corner of the library constituting the set was brilliantly, dazzlingly lighted. To me it was quite like being transported into one of the big studios in the city.
"Is this the largest portion of the room they used?" Kennedy asked. "Did you have your stands any farther back?"
"This was the biggest lay-out, sir!" replied the man.
"Were all the scenes in which Miss Lamar appeared before her death in this corner of the room?"
"And this was the way you had the scene lighted when she dropped unconscious?"
"Yes, sir! I pulled m'lights an'—an' they lifted her up and put her right there where she is, sir!"
Kennedy paid no attention to the last; in fact, I doubt whether he heard it. Dropping to hands and knees immediately, he began a search of the floor and carpet as minutely painstaking as the inspection he had given Stella's own person. Instinctively I drew back, to be out of his way, as did Doctor Blake and Mackay. The electrician, I noticed, seemed to grasp now the reason for the summons which undoubtedly had frightened him badly. He gave his attention to his lights, stroking a refractory Cooper-Hewitt tube for all the world as if some minor scene in the story were being photographed. It was hard to realize that it was not another picture scene, but that Craig Kennedy, in my opinion the founder of the scientific school of modern detectives, was searching out in this strange environment the clue to a real murder so mysterious that the very cause of death was as yet undetermined.
I was hoping for a display of the remarkable brilliance Craig had shown in so many of the cases brought to his attention. I half expected to see him rise from the floor with some tiny something in his hand, some object overlooked by everyone else, some tangible evidence which would lead to the immediate apprehension of the perpetrator of the crime. That Stella Lamar had met her death by foul means I did not doubt for an instant, and so I waited feverishly for the conclusion of Kennedy's search.
As it happened, this was not destined to be one of his cases cleared up in a brief few hours of intensive effort. He covered every inch of the floor within the illuminated area; then he turned his attention to the walls and furniture and the rest of the room in somewhat more perfunctory, but no less skillful manner. Fully fifteen minutes elapsed, but I knew from his expression that he had discovered nothing. In a wringing perspiration from the heat of the arcs, but nevertheless glad to have had the intense light at his disposal, he motioned to the electrician to turn them off and to leave the room.
"Find anything, Mr. Kennedy?" queried the physician once more.
Kennedy beckoned all of us to the side of the ill-fated actress. Lifting the right arm, finding the spot which had caused his exclamation before, he handed his pocket lens to Doctor Blake. After a moment a low whistle escaped the lips of the physician.
Next it was my turn. As I stooped over I caught, above the faint scent of imported perfume which she affected, a peculiar putrescent odor. This it was which had caught Kennedy's nostrils. Then through the glass I could detect upon her forearm the tiniest possible scratch ending in an almost invisible puncture, such as might have been made by a very sharp needle or the point of an incredibly fine hypodermic syringe. Drawing back, I glanced again at her face, which I had already noted was blotched and somewhat swollen beneath the make-up. Again I thought that the muscles were contorted, that the eyes were bulging slightly, that there was a bluish tinge to her skin such as in cyanosis or asphyxiation. It may have been imagination, but I was now sure that her expression revealed pain or fear or both.
When I looked at her first I had been unable to forget my impression of years. Before me there had been the once living form of Stella Lamar, whom I had dreamed of meeting and whom I had never viewed in actual life. I had lacked the penetration to see beneath the glamour. But to Kennedy there had been signs of the poisoning at once. Doctor Blake had searched merely for the evidences of the commoner drugs, or the usual diseases such as cause sudden death. I recalled the cyanides. I thought of curare, or woorali, the South American arrow poison with which Kennedy once had dealt. Had Stella received an injection of some new and curious substance?
Mackay glanced up from his inspection of the mark on the arm.
"It's an awfully tiny scratch!" he exclaimed.
Kennedy smiled. "Yet, Mackay, it probably was the cause of her death."
"That—that is the problem before us. When we learn just exactly how she scratched herself, or was scratched—" Kennedy paced up and down in front of the fireplace. Then he confronted each of us in turn, suddenly serious. "Not a word of what I have discovered," he warned.
"Do you wish to examine the people now?" Mackay asked.
Kennedy hesitated. "First I want to make sure of the evidence concerning her actual death. Can you arrange to have the clothes she has on, and those she brought with her, all of them bundled up and sent in to my laboratory, together with samples of her body fluids as soon as the coroner can supply you?"
Mackay nodded. This pleased him. This seemed to be tangible action, promising tangible results.
Again Kennedy glanced about in thought. I knew that the scratch was worrying him. "Did she change her clothes out here?" he inquired.
The district attorney brightened. "She dressed in a small den just off the living room. I have a man posted and the door closed. Nothing has been disturbed."
He started to lead the way without further word from Kennedy, proud to have been able once more to demonstrate his foresight.
As we left the library, entering the living room, there was an appreciable hush. Here were grouped the others of the party brought out by the picture company, a constrained gathering of folk who had little in common beyond the highly specialized needs of the new art of the screen, an assembly of souls who had been forced to wait during all the time required for the trip of Kennedy and myself out from New York, who were compelled to wait now until he should be ready to examine them.
I picked out the electrician in the semi-gloom and with him his fellow members of the technical staff needed in the taking of the scenes in the library. The camera men I guessed, and a property boy, and an assistant director. The last, at any event, of all those in the huge room, had summoned up sufficient nonchalance to bend his mind to details of his work. I saw that he was thumbing a copy of the scenario, or detailed working manuscript of the story, making notations in some kind of little book, and it was that which enabled me to establish his identity at a glance.
In a different corner were the principals, two men and a girl still in make-up, and with them the director, and Manton and Phelps. Apart from everyone else, in a sort of social ostracism common to the studios, the two five-dollar-a-day extras waited, a butler and a maid, also in make-up. Oddly enough the total number of these material witnesses to the tragedy was just thirteen, and I wondered if they had noticed the fact.
Doctor Blake turned to Kennedy the moment we left the library.
"Do you feel it is necessary for me to remain any longer?" he asked. He was apologetic, yet distinctly impatient. "I have neglected several very important calls as it is."
Kennedy and Mackay both hastened to assure the physician that they appreciated his co-operation and that they would spare him as much notoriety and inconvenience as possible. Then the three of us hurried across and to the little den which had been converted into a dressing room for Stella's use.
Here were all the evidences of femininity, the little touches which a woman can impart to the smallest corner in a few brief moments of occupancy. It was a tiny alcove shut off from the rest of the living room by heavy silk hangings, drawn now and pinned together so as to assure her the privacy she wished. The one window was high and fitted with leaded glass, but it was raised and afforded the maximum of light. Stella's traveling bag sprawled wide open, with many of her effects strewn about in attractive disarray. Her suit, in which she had made the trip to Tarrytown, was thrown carelessly over the back of a chair. Her mirror was fastened up ruthlessly, upon a handsome woven Oriental hanging, with a long hatpin. Powder was spilled upon the couch cover, another Oriental fabric, and her little box of rouge lay face downward on the floor.
As we pulled the curtains aside I caught the perfume which still clung to her clothes in the library beyond. As Mackay sniffed also, Kennedy smiled.
"Coty's Jacqueminot rose," he remarked.
With his usual swift and practiced certainty Kennedy then inspected the extemporized dressing room. He seemed to satisfy himself that no subtle attack had been made upon the girl here, although I doubt that he had held any such supposition seriously in the first place. In my association of several years with Kennedy, following our first intimacy of college days, I had learned that his success as a scientific detective was the result wholly of his thoroughness of method. To watch him had become a never-ending delight, even in the dull preliminary work of a case as baffling as this one. Mackay also seemed content just to enact the role of spectator.
Kennedy thumbed through the delicate intimacies of her traveling bag with the keen, impersonal manner which always distinguished him; then he found her beaded handbag and proceeded to rummage through that. Suddenly he paused as he unfolded a piece of note paper, and we gathered around to read:
MY DEAR STELLA: Have something very important to tell you. Will you lunch Tuesday at the P. G. tearoom? LARRY.
"Tuesday—" murmured Kennedy. "And this is Monday. Who—who is Larry, I wonder?"
I hastened to answer the question for him. It was my first opportunity to display my knowledge of the picture players. "Larry—that's Lawrence, Lawrence Millard!" I exclaimed. Then I went on to tell him of the divorce and the circumstances surrounding Stella's life as I knew it. "It—it looks," I concluded, "as if they might have been on the point of composing their differences, after all."
Kennedy nodded. I could see, however, that he made a mental note of his intention to question the girl's former husband.
All at once another thought struck me and I became eager. It was a possible explanation of the mystery.
"Listen, Craig," I began. "Suppose Millard wanted to make up and she didn't. Suppose that she refused to see him or to meet him. Suppose that in a jealous fit he—"
"No, Walter!" Kennedy headed me off with a smile. "This wasn't an ordinary murder of passion. This was well thought out and well executed. Not one medical examiner in a thousand would have found that tiny scratch. It may be very difficult yet to determine the exact cause of death. This, my dear Jameson"—it was playful irony—"is a scientific crime."
"Of course! Anyone may be the culprit. Yet you tell me Millard did not contest her divorce and that it would have been very easy for him to file a counter-suit because everyone knew of her relationship with Manton. That, offhand, shows no ill-will on his part. And now we find this note from him, which at least is friendly in tone—"
I shrugged my shoulders. It was the same blind alley in which my thoughts had strayed upon the train on our way out.
"It's too early to begin to try to fasten the guilt upon anyone," Kennedy added, as we returned to the library through the living room. Then he turned to Mackay. "Have you succeeded in gleaning any facts about the life of Miss Lamar?" he asked. "Anything which might point to a motive, so that I can approach the case from both directions?"
"If you ask me," the little district attorney rejoined, "it's a matter of tangled motives throughout. I—I had no sword to cut the Gordian knot and so"—graciously—"I sent for you."
"What do you mean by tangled motives?" Kennedy ignored the other's compliment.
"Well!" Mackay indicated me. "Mr. Jameson explained about her divorce. No one heard whom she named as corespondent. That's an unknown woman in the case, although it may not mean anything at all. Then there's Lloyd Manton and all the talk about his affair with Miss Lamar. Some one told one of my men that Manton's wife has left him on that account."
"Did you question Manton?"
"No, I thought I ought to leave all that to you. I was afraid I might put them on their guard."
"Good!" Kennedy was pleased. "Did you learn anything else?"
"This deputy of mine obtained all these things by gossiping with the girl who plays the maid, and so they may not be reliable. But among the players it is reported that Werner, the director, was having an affair with Stella also, and that Merle Shirley, the 'heavy' man, was seen with her a great deal recently, and that Jack Gordon, the leading man, who was engaged to marry her as soon as her decree was final, was jealous as a consequence, and that Miss Loring, playing the vampire In the story and engaged to Shirley, was even more bitter against the deceased than Gordon, Miss Lamar's fiance.
"That made eight people with possible motives for the crime. When I got that far I gave it up. In fact"—Mackay lowered his voice, suddenly—"I don't like the attitude of Emery Phelps. This is his house, you know, and he is the financial backer of Manton Pictures, yet there seems to be an undercurrent of friction between Manton and himself. I—I wanted him to show me some detail of the arrangement of things in the library, but he wouldn't come into the room. He said he didn't want to look at Miss Lamar. There—there was something—and, I don't know. If he is concerned in any way—that would make nine."
"You think Miss Lamar and Phelps—"
Mackay shook his head. "I don't know."
Kennedy turned to me, expression really serious. "Is this the way they carry on in the picture world, Walter?" he asked. "Is this the usual thing or—or an exception?"
I flushed. "It's very much an exception," I insisted. "The film people are just like other people, some good and some bad. Probably three-quarters of all this is gossip."
"I hope so." He straightened. "The only thing to do is to go after them one at a time and disentangle all the conflicting threads. It looks as though there will be any number of possible false leads and so we must be careful and deliberate. I think I'll question each in turn—here."
He walked over to the fireplace, stopping for just a moment to glance at the body of Stella. Then he pulled the blinds down halfway, so that the room seemed somber and gruesome. He drew a chair so that the different individuals as he examined them, would be unable to lose sight of the dead woman. His arrangements completed, he faced the district attorney.
"Manton first," he directed.
In an instant I caught the psychology of it—the now darkened library, the beautiful body still lying on the davenport, the quiet and quick arrival of ourselves. If anything could be extracted from these people, surely it would be betrayed under these surroundings.
THE FATAL SCRIPT
I had no real opportunity to study Manton when he greeted us upon our arrival, and at that time neither Kennedy nor I possessed even a passing realization of the problem before us. Now I felt that I was ready to grasp at any possible motive for the crime. I was prepared to suspect any or all of the nine people enumerated by Mackay, so far as I could speak for myself, and at the very least I was certain that this was one of the most baffling cases ever brought to Craig's attention.
Yet I was sure he would solve it. I waited most impatiently for the outcome of his examination of Lloyd Manton.
The producer-promoter was a well-set-up man just approaching middle age. About him was a certain impression of great physical strength, of bulk without flabbiness, and in particular I noticed the formation of his head, the square broad development which indicated his intellectual power, and I found, too, a fascinating quality about his eyes, deeply placed and of a warm dark gray- brown, which seemed to hold a fundamental sincerity which, I imagined, made the man almost irresistible in a business deal.
His weakness, so far as I could ascertain it, was revealed by his mouth and chin, and by a certain nervousness of his hands, hands where a square, practical palm was belied by the slight tapering of his fingers, the mark of the dreamer. His mouth was unquestionably sensuous, with the lips full and now and then revealing out of the studied practiced calm of his face an almost imperceptible twitching, as though to betray a flash of emotion, or fear. His chin was feminine, softening his expression and showing that his feelings would overbalance the cool calculation denoted by his eyes and the rather heavy level brows above.
As he entered the room, taking the chair indicated by Kennedy, he seemed perfectly cool and his glance, as it strayed to the lifeless form of Stella, revealed his iron self-control. The little signs which I have mentioned, which betrayed the real man beneath, were only disclosed to me little by little as Kennedy's questioning progressed.
"Tell me just what happened?" Kennedy began.
"Well—" Manton responded quickly enough, but then he stopped and proceeded as though he chose each word with care, as if he framed each sentence so that there would be no misunderstanding, no chance of wrong impression; all of which pleased Kennedy.
"In the scene we were taking," he went on, "Stella was crouched down on the floor, bending over her father, who had just been murdered. She was sobbing. All at once the lights were to spring up. The young hero was to dash through the set and she was to see him and scream out in terror. The first part went all right. But when the lights flashed on, instead of looking up and screaming, Stella sort of crumpled and collapsed on top of Werner, who was playing the father. I yelled to stop the cameras and rushed in. We picked her up and put her on the couch. Some one sent for the doctor, but she died without saying a word. I—I haven't the slightest idea what happened. At first I thought it was heart trouble."
"Did she have heart trouble?"
"No, that is—not that I ever heard."
Kennedy hesitated. "Why were you taking these scenes out here?"
It was on the tip of my tongue to answer for Manton. I knew that at one time many fine interiors were actually taken in houses, to save expense. I was sorry that Kennedy should draw any conclusion from a fact which I thought was too well known to require explanation. Manton's answer, however, proved a distinct surprise to me.
"Mr. Phelps asked us to use his library in this picture."
"Wouldn't it have been easier and cheaper in the long run to reproduce it in the studio?"
Manton glanced up at Kennedy, echoing my thought. Had Kennedy, after all, some knowledge of motion pictures stored away with his vast fund of general and unusual information?
"Yes," replied the producer. "It would save the trip out here, the loss of time, the inconvenience—why, in an actual dollars and cents comparison, with overhead and everything taken into account, the building of a set like this is nothing nowadays."
"Do you know Mr. Phelps's reason?"
Manton shrugged his shoulders. "Just a whim, and we had to humor it."
"Mr. Phelps is interested in the company?"
"Yes. He recently bought up all the stock except my own. He is in absolute control, financially."
"What is the story you are making? I mean, I want to understand just exactly what happened in the scenes you were photographing today. It is essential that I learn how everyone was supposed to act and how they did act. I must find out every trivial little detail. Do you follow me?"
Manton's mouth set suddenly, showing that it possessed a latent quality of firmness. He glanced about the room, then rose, went to the farther end of the long table, and returned with a thick sheaf of manuscript bound at the side in stiff board covers. "This is the scenario, the script of the detailed action," he explained.
As Kennedy took the binder, Manton opened it and turned past several sheets of tabulation and lists, the index to the sets and exterior locations, the characters and extras, the changes of clothes, and other technical detail. "The scenes we are taking here," he went on, "are the opening scenes of the story. We left them until now because it meant the long trip out to Tarrytown and because it would take us away from the studio while they were putting up the largest two sets, a banquet and a ballroom which need the entire floor space of the studio." He turned over two or three pages, pointing. "We had taken up to scene thirteen; from scenes one to thirteen just as you have them in order there. It— it was in the unlucky thirteenth that she"—was it my imagination or did he tremble, for just an instant, violently?—"that she died."
Kennedy started to read the script. I hurried to his side, glancing over his shoulder.
THE BLACK TERROR
FEATURING STELLA LAMAH
LOCATION.—Remsen library. This is a modern, luxurious library set with a long table in the center of the room, books around the walls, French windows leading from the rear, and an entrance through a hallway to the right through a pair of portieres. Note: E. P. wishes us to use his library at Tarrytown.
ACTION.—Open diaphragm slowly on darkened set as a spot of light is being played on the walls and French windows in the rear. As the diaphragm opens slowly the light vanishes, leaving the scene dark at times and then brightened until, as the diaphragm opens full, we discover that the light is that of a burglar's flash light, traveling over the walls of the library. When the diaphragm is fully opened we discover also a faint line of light streaming through the almost closed portieres leading to the hallway outside. This ray of light, striking along the floor, pauses by the library table, just disclosing the edge of it but not revealing anything else in the room. The spotlight in the hands of a shadowy figure roves across the wall and to the portieres. As it pauses there the portieres move and the fingers of a girl are seen on the edge of the silk. A bare and beautiful arm is thrust through the portieres almost to the shoulder, and it begins to move the portieres aside, reaching upward to pull the curtains apart at the rings.
LOCATION.—Remsen library. Close foreground of portieres.
ACTION.—Our heroine parts the portieres and stands revealed in the spotlight's glare. She is in dinner gown and about her throat is a peculiar locket of flashing jewels. She cries out and backs away, closing the portieres. The spotlight retreats from the curtains, leaving them dark.
LOCATION.—Hallway, Remsen house. Close foreground of portieres leading to library. This hallway is lighted.
ACTION.—The girl holding the portieres shut screams for help.
LOCATION.—Foot of stairway, Remsen house.
ACTION.—The butler and maid are discovered talking. They hear the girl's scream and start running.
LOCATION.—Hallway, Remsen house. Close foreground of portieres.
ACTION.—The girl hears help coming and glances off to indicate that she sees the butler and the maid. She continues to cling to the closed curtains.
LOCATION.—Remsen library. Full shot.
ACTION.—The unknown drops the spotlight to the floor and we first see his legs crossing the rays of light on the floor. Then the spotlight rolls, revealing the body of an elderly man of the American millionaire type, lying crumpled against the table. Finally it rolls a little farther and stops, directing its rays into the fireplace.
LOCATION.—Remsen hallway, outside library.
ACTION.—The girl indicates determined resolve. She throws apart the portieres with a quick motion of her arms and dashes inside. The portieres close after her. The butler and maid come on running and looking about.
LOCATION.—Remsen library. Full shot.
ACTION.—The spotlight is showing into the fireplace when the girl crosses quickly into its rays. She stoops into the light, revealing her face and picking up the spotlight. She flashes it about the room, pausing as it strikes the French windows and reveals the murderer making his escape out on a balcony which is revealed in the background. When the rays of light reach the murderer he deliberately turns.
LOCATION.—Remsen library. Close foreground of French windows.
ACTION.—The intruder, now in the close foreground, pauses as he is about to shut the window and blinks deliberately into the rays of light, then laughs and closes the French windows.
LOCATION.—Hallway, Remsen home. Close foreground of portieres to library.
ACTION.—The butler and maid look around hopelessly. A young man, the exact counterpart of the man who in the previous scene looked into the spotlight at the French windows, comes up to the butler and demands to know what has happened. The butler explains hurriedly that he heard his mistress cry out for help. The young man steps to the portieres and pauses.
LOCATION.—Remsen library. Full shot.
ACTION.—The girl, using the spotlight, flashes it about the room and down on the floor, seeing for the first time the body of the American millionaire.
LOCATION.—Exterior Remsen house. Night tint.
ACTION.—The murderer scrambles down a column from the upper porch and leaps to the ground, darting across the lawn out of the picture.
LOCATION.—Remsen library. Full shot.
ACTION.—The spotlight on the floor reveals the girl sobbing over the body of the millionaire and trying to revive him. She screams and cries out. The portieres are parted and from the lighted hallway we see the young man, the butler, and the maid, who enter. The young man switches on the lights and the room is revealed. The three cry out in horror. The young man, glancing about, leaps toward the partly opened French windows, drawing a revolver. As the girl sees him she screams again and denotes terror.
Finishing the thirteenth scene, Kennedy closed the covers and handed the script to me. Then he confronted Manton once more.
"What became of the locket about the girl's neck? In the manuscript Miss Lamar is supposed to have a peculiar pendant at her throat. There was none."
"Oh yes!" The promoter remained a moment in thought. "The doctor took it off and gave it to Bernie, the prop. boy, who's helping the electrician."
"Is he outside?"
"Now try to remember, Mr. Manton." Kennedy leaned over very seriously. "Just who approached closely to Miss Lamar in the making of that thirteenth scene? Who was near enough to have inflicted a wound, or to have subjected her, suppose we say, to the fumes of some subtle poison?"
"You think that—" Manton started to question Kennedy, but was given no encouragement. "Gordon, the leading man, passed through the scene," he replied, after a pause, "but did not go very near her. Werner was playing the dead millionaire at her feet."
"Who is Werner?"
"He's my director. Because it was such a small part, he played it himself. He's only in the two or three scenes in the beginning and I was here to be at the camera."
While Kennedy was questioning Manton I had been glancing through the script of the picture. My own connection with the movies had consisted largely of three attempts to sell stories of my own to the producers. Needless to remark I had not succeeded, in that regard falling in the class with some hundreds of thousands of my fellow citizens. For everybody thinks he has at least one motion picture in him. And so, though I had managed to visit studios and meet a few of the players, this was my very first shot at a manuscript actually in production. I took advantage of Kennedy's momentary preoccupation to turn to Manton.
"Who wrote this script, Mr. Manton?" I asked.
"Millard! Lawrence Millard."
"Millard?" Kennedy and I exclaimed, simultaneously.
"Why, yes! Millard is still under contract and he's the only man who ever could write scripts for Stella. We—we tried others and they all flivved."
"Is Millard here?"
Manton burst into laughter, somehow out of place in the room where we still were in the company of death. "An author on the lot at the filming of his picture, to bother the director and to change everything? Out! When the scenario's done he's through. He's lucky to get his name on the screen. It's not the story but the direction which counts, except that you've got to have a good idea to start with, and a halfway decent script to make your lay- outs from. Anyhow—" He sobered a bit, perhaps realizing that he was going counter to the tendency to have the author on the lot. "Millard and Stella weren't on speaking terms. She divorced him, you know."
"Do you know much about the personal affairs of Miss Lamar?"
"Well"—Manton's eyes sought the floor for a moment—"Like everyone else in pictures, Stella was the victim of a great deal of gossip. That's the experience of any girl who rises to a position of prominence and—"
"How were the relations between Miss Lamar and yourself?" interrupted Kennedy.
"What do you mean by that?" Manton flushed quickly.
"You have had no trouble, no disagreements recently?"
"No, indeed. Everything has been very friendly between us—in a strictly business way, of course—and I don't believe I've had an unpleasant word with her since I first formed Manton Pictures to make her a star."
"You know nothing of her difficulties with her husband?"
"Naturally not. I seldom saw her except at the studio, unless it was some necessary affair such as a screen ball here, or perhaps in Boston or Philadelphia or some near-by city where I would take her for effect—"
Kennedy turned to Mackay. "Will you arrange to keep the people I have yet to question separate from the ones I have examined already?"
As the district attorney nodded, Kennedy dismissed Manton rather shortly; then turned again to Mackay as the promoter drew out of earshot.
"Bring in Bernie, the property-boy, before anyone can tell him to hide or destroy that locket."
AN EMOTIONAL MAZE
Bernie proved to be as stupid a youth as any I had ever seen. He possessed frightened semi-liquid eyes and overshot ears and hair which might have been red beneath its accumulation of dust. Without doubt the boy had been coached by the electrician, because he began to affirm his innocence in similar fashion the moment he entered the door.
"I don't know nothin', honest I don't," he pleaded. "I was out in the hall, I was, and I didn't come in at all until the doc. came."
"I suppose you were anxious to see if the cable was becoming hot," Kennedy suggested, gravely.
"That's it, sir! We was lookin' at it because it was on the varnish and the butler he says—"
"Where's the locket?" interrupted Kennedy. "The one Miss Lamar wore in the scenes."
"Oh!" in disdain, "that thing!" With some effort Bernie fished it from the capacious depths of a pocket, disentangling the sharp corners from the torn and ragged lining of his coat.
I glanced at it as Kennedy turned it over and over in his hands, and saw that it was a palpable stage prop, with glass jewels of the cheapest sort. Concealing his disappointment, Kennedy dropped it into his own pocket, confronting the frightened Bernie once more.
"Do you know anything about Miss Lamar's death?"
"No! I don't know nothing, honest!"
"All right!" Kennedy turned to Mackay. "Werner, the director."
Of Stanley Werner I had heard a great deal, through interviews, character studies, and other press stuff in the photoplay journals and the Sunday newspaper film sections. Now I found him to be a high-strung individual, so extremely nervous that it seemed impossible for him to remain in one position in his chair or for him to keep his hands motionless for a single instant. Although he was of moderate build, with a fair suggestion of flesh, there were yet the marks of the artist and of the creative temperament in the fine sloping contours of his head and in his remarkably long fingers, which tapered to nails manicured immaculately. Kennedy seemed to pay particular attention to his eyes, which were dark, soft, and amazingly restless.
"Who was in the cast, Mr. Werner? What were they playing and just exactly what was each doing at the time of Miss Lamar's collapse?"
"Well"—Werner's eyes shifted to mine, then to Mackay's, and there was a subtle lack of ease in his manner which I was hardly prepared to classify as yet—"Stella Lamar was playing the part of Stella Remsen, the heroine, and—uh, I see your associate has the script—"
He paused, glancing at me again. When Kennedy said nothing, Werner went on, growing more and more nervous. "Jack Gordon plays Jack Daring, the hero—the handsome young chap who runs down the steps and encounters the butler and the maid in the hall just outside the library—"
"Wasn't it his face in the French windows of the library at the same time?" Kennedy asked. "Wasn't he the murderer of the father, also?"
"No!" Werner smiled slightly, and there was an instant's flash of the man's personality, winning and, it seemed to me, calculated to inspire confidence. "That is the mystery; it is a mystery plot. While the parts are played by Jack in both cases now, we explain in a subtitle a little later that the criminal himself, the 'Black Terror,' is a master of scientific impersonation, and that he changes the faces of his emissaries by means of plastic surgery and such scientific things, so that they look like the characters against whom he wishes to throw suspicion. So while Jack plays the part it is really an accomplice of the 'Black Terror' who kills old Remsen."
Kennedy turned to me. "A new idea in the application of science to crime!" he remarked, dryly. "Just suppose it were practicable!"
"The 'Black Terror'" Werner continued, "is played by Merle Shirley. You've heard of him, the greatest villain ever known to the films? Then there's Marilyn Loring, the vampire, another good trouper, too. She plays Zelda, old Remsen's ward, and it's a question whether Zelda or Stella will be the Remsen heir. Marilyn herself is an awfully nice girl, but, oh, how the fans hate her!" The director chuckled. "No Millard story is ever complete without a vamp and Marilyn's been eating them up. She's been with Manton Pictures for nearly a year."
"You played the millionaire yourself?"
"Yes, I did old Remsen."
I realized suddenly, for the first time, that Werner was still in the evening clothes he had donned for the part. On his face were streaks in the little make-up that remained after his frequent mopping of his features with his handkerchief. Too, his collar was melted. I could imagine his discomfort.
"Did you have any business with Stella?" Kennedy asked, using the stage term for the minor bits of action in the playing of a scene. "Did you move at all while she was going through her part?"
"No, Mr. Kennedy, I was 'dead man' in all the scenes."
"Show me how you lay, if you will."
Obligingly, Werner stretched out on the carpet, duplicating his positions even to the exact manner in which he had placed his hands and arms. Rather to my own distaste, Kennedy impressed me to represent, I am sure in clumsy fashion, the various positions of Stella Lamar. Most painstakingly Kennedy worked back from the thirteenth scene to the first, referring to the script and coaxing details of memory from the mind of Werner.
I grasped Kennedy's purpose almost at once. He was endeavoring to reproduce the action which had been photographed, so as to determine just how the poison had been administered. Of course he made no reference to the tiny scratch and Mackay and I were careful to give no hint of it to Werner. The director, however, seemed most willing to assist us. I certainly felt no suspicion of him now. As for Kennedy, his face was unrevealing.
"When the film in the camera is developed—" I suggested to Kennedy, suddenly.
He silenced me with a gesture. "I haven't overlooked that, but the scenes will be from one angle only and in a darkened set. I can determine more this way."
Somewhat crestfallen, I continued my impersonation of the slain star not altogether willingly. Soon Kennedy had completed his reconstruction of the action.
"Who else entered the scene besides Gordon?" he asked.
"The butler and the maid, after the lights were flashed on."
"I'll question the camera men," he announced. "Who are they?"
"Harry Watkins is the head photographer," Werner explained. "He's a crackerjack, too! One of the best lighting experts in the country. Al Penny's grinding the other box."
"Let's have Watkins first." Kennedy nodded to Mackay to escort the director from the room.
Neither Watkins nor Penny were able to add anything to the facts which Kennedy had gleaned from Manton and Werner. When he had finished his patient examination of the junior camera man he recalled Watkins and had both, under his eyes, close and seal the film cartridges which contained the photographic record of the thirteen scenes. Dismissing the men, he handed the two black boxes to Mackay.
"Can you arrange to have these developed and printed, quickly, but in some way so neither negative nor positive will be out of your sight at any time?"
Mackay nodded. "I know the owner of a laboratory in Yonkers."
"Good! Now let's have the leading man."
Jack Gordon immediately impressed me very unfavorably. There was something about him for which I could find no word but "sleek." Learning much from my long association with Kennedy I observed at once that he had removed the make-up from his face and that he had on a clean white collar. Since the linen worn before the camera is dyed a faint tint to prevent the halation caused by pure white, it was a sure sign to me that he had spruced up a bit. I knew that he was engaged to Stella. Here in this room she lay dead, under the most mysterious circumstances. There was little question, in fact, that she had been murdered. How could he, really loving her, think of such things as the make-up left on his face, or his clothes?
I had to admit that he was a handsome individual. Perhaps slightly less than average in height, and very slender, he had the close-knit build of an athlete. The contour of his head and the perfect regularity of rather large features made him an ideal type for the screen at any angle; in close-ups and foregrounds as well as full shots. In actual life there were little things covered by make-up in his work, such as the cold gray tint of his eyes and the lines of dissipation about his mouth.
Kennedy questioned him first about his movements in the different scenes, then asked him if he had seen or noticed anything suspicious during the taking of any of them or in the intervals between.
"I had several changes, Mr. Kennedy," he replied. "Part of the time I was Jack Daring, my regular role, but I was also the emissary who looked like Daring. I went out each time because I make up the emissary to look hard. Werner wanted to fool the people a little bit, but he didn't want them to be positive the emissary was Daring, as would happen if both make-ups were the same."
"Did you have any opportunity to talk to Miss Lamar?"
"None at all. Werner was pushing us to the limit."
"Did she seem her usual self at the start of the scene?"
"No, she seemed a little out of sorts. But"—Gordon hesitated— "something had been troubling her all day. She hardly would talk to me in the car on the way out at all. It didn't strike me that she acted any different when she went in to take the scene."
"You were engaged to her?"
"Yes." Gordon's eyes caught the body on the davenport before him. He glanced away hastily, taking his lower lip between his teeth.
"Had you been having any trouble?"
"No—that is, nothing to amount to anything."
"But you had a quarrel or a misunderstanding."
His face flushed slowly. "She was to obtain her final decree early next week. I wanted her to marry me then at once. She refused. When I reproached her for not considering my wishes she pretended to be cool and began an elaborate flirtation with Merle Shirley." "You say she only pretended to be cool?"
For a few moments Gordon hesitated. Then apparently his vanity loosened his tongue. He wished it to be understood that he had held the love of Stella to the last.
"Last night," he volunteered, "we made everything up and she was as affectionate as she ever had been. This morning she was cool, but I could tell it was pretense and so I let her alone."
"There has been no real trouble between you?"
The leading man met Kennedy's gaze squarely. "Not a bit!"
Kennedy turned to Mackay. "Mr. Shirley," he ordered.
By a miscalculation on the part of the little district attorney the heavy man entered the room a moment before Gordon left. They came face to face just within the portieres. There was no mistaking the hostility, the open hate, between the two men. Both Kennedy and I caught the glances.
Then Merle Shirley approached the fireplace, taking the chair indicated by Kennedy.
"I wasn't in any of the opening scenes," he explained. "I remained out in the car until I got wind of the excitement. By that time Stella was dead."
"Do you know anything of a quarrel between Miss Lamar and Gordon?"
Shirley rose, clenching his fists. For several moments he stood gazing down at the star with an expression on his face which I could not analyze. The pause gave me an opportunity to study him, however, and I noticed that while he had heavier features than Gordon, and was a larger man in every way, ideally endowed for heavy parts, there was yet a certain boyish freshness clinging to him in subtle fashion. He wore his clothes in a loose sort of way which suggested the West and the open, in contrast to Gordon's metropolitan sophistication and immaculate tailoring. He was every inch the man, and a splendid actor—I knew. Yet there was the touch of youth about him. He seemed incapable of a crime such as this, unless it was in anger, or as the result of some deep- running hidden passion.
Now, whether he was angry or in the clutch of a broad disgust, I could not tell. Perhaps it was both. Very suddenly he wheeled upon Kennedy. His voice became low and vibrant with feeling. Here was none of the steeled self-control of Manton, the deceptive outer mask which Werner used to cover his thoughts, the nonchalant, cold frankness of Gordon.
"Mr. Kennedy," the actor exclaimed, "I've been a fool, a fool!"
"How do you mean?"
"I mean that I allowed Stella to flatter my vanity and lead me into a flirtation which meant nothing at all to her. God!"
"You are responsible for the trouble between Miss Lamar and Gordon, then?"
"Never!" Shirley indicated the body of the star with a quick, passionate sweep of his hand. Now I could not tell whether he was acting or in earnest. "She's responsible!" he exclaimed. "She's responsible for everything!"
"No!" Shirley sobered suddenly, as if he had forgotten the mystery altogether. "I don't know anything at all about that, nor have I any idea unless—" But he checked himself rather than voice an empty suspicion.
"Just what do you mean, then?" Kennedy was sharp, impatient.
"She made a fool of me, and—and I was engaged to Marilyn Loring—"
"Were engaged? The engagement—"
"Marilyn broke it off last night and wouldn't listen to me, even though I came to my senses and saw what a fool I had been."
"Was"—Kennedy framed his question carefully—"was your infatuation for Miss Lamar of long duration?"
"Just a few weeks. I—I took her out to dinner and to the theater and—and that was all."
"I see!" Kennedy walked away, nodding to Mackay.
"Will you have Miss Loring next?" asked the district attorney.
Marilyn Loring was a surprise to me. Stella Lamar both on the screen and in real life was a beauty. In the films Marilyn was a beauty also, apparently of a cold, unfeeling type, but in the flesh she was disclosed as a person utterly different from all my preconceived notions. In the first place, she was not particularly attractive except when she smiled. Her coloring, hair frankly and naturally red, skin slightly mottled and pale, produced in photography the black hair and marble, white skin which distinguished her. But as I studied her, as she was now, before she had put on any make-up and while she was still dressed in a simple summer gown of organdie, she looked as though she might have stepped into the room from the main street of some mid-Western town. In repose she was shy, diffident in appearance. When she smiled, naturally, without holding the hard lines of her vampire roles, there was the slight suggestion of a dimple, and she was essentially girlish. When a trace of emotion or feeling came into her face the woman was evident. She might have been seventeen or thirty-seven.
To my surprise, Kennedy made no effort to elicit further information concerning the personal animosities of these people. Perhaps he felt it too much of an emotional maze to be straightened out in this preliminary investigation. When he found Marilyn had watched the taking of the scenes he compared her account with those which he had already obtained. Then he dismissed her.
In rapid succession, for he was impatient now to follow up other methods of investigation, he called in and examined the remaining possible witnesses of the tragedy. These were the two extra players—the butler and the maid, the assistant director, Phelps's house servants, and Emery Phelps himself. For some unknown reason he left the owner of the house to the very last.
"Why did you wish these scenes photographed out here?" he asked.
"Because I wanted to see my library in pictures."
"Were you watching the taking of the scenes?"
"Will you describe just what happened?"
Phelps flushed. He was irritated and in no mood to humor us any more than necessary. A man of perhaps forty, with the portly flabbiness which often accompanies success in the financial markets, he was accustomed to obtaining rather than yielding obedience. A bachelor, he had built this house as a show place merely, according to the gossip among newspaper men, seldom living in it.
"Haven't about a dozen people described it for you already?" he asked, distinctly petulant.
Kennedy smiled. "Did you notice anything particularly out of the way, anything which might be a clue to the manner in which Miss Lamar met her death?"
Phelps's attitude became frankly malicious. "If I had, or if any of us had, we wouldn't have found it necessary to send for Prof. Craig Kennedy, or"—turning to me—"the representative of the New York Star."
Kennedy, undisturbed, walked to the side of Mackay. "I'll leave Mr. Phelps and his house in your care," he remarked, in a low voice.
Mackay grinned. I saw that the district attorney had little love for the owner of this particular estate in Tarrytown.
Kennedy led the way into the living room. Immediately the various people he had questioned clustered up with varying degrees of anxiety. Had the mystery been solved?
He gave them no satisfaction, but singled out Manton, who seemed eager to get away.
"Where is Millard? I would like to talk to him."
"I'll try to get him for you. Suppose—" Manton looked at his watch. "I should be in at the studio," he explained. "Everything is at a standstill, probably, and—and so, suppose you and Mr. Jameson ride in with me in my car. Millard might be there."
Kennedy brightened. "Good!" Then he looked back to catch the eye of Mackay. "Let everyone go now," he directed. "Don't forget to send me the samples of the body fluids and"—as an afterthought— "you'd better keep a watch on the house."
THE FIRST CLUE
Manton's car was a high-powered, expensive limousine, fitted inside with every luxury of which the mind of even a prima donna could conceive, painted a vivid yellow that must have made it an object of attention even on its familiar routes. It was quite characteristic of its owner, for Manton, as we learned, missed no chance to advertise himself.
In the back with us was Werner, while the rest of the company were left to return to the city in the two studio cars which had brought them out in the morning. The director, however, seemed buried with his reflections. He took no part in the conversation; paid no attention to us upon the entire trip.
Manton's mind seemed to dwell rather upon the problems brought up by the death of Stella than upon the tragedy itself. The Star's photoplay editor once had remarked to me that the promoter was 90 per cent "bull," and 10 per cent efficiency. I found that it was an unfair estimation. With all his self-advertisement and almost obnoxious personality, Manton was a more than capable executive in a business where efficiency and method are rare.
"This has been a hoodoo picture from the start," he exclaimed, suddenly. "We have been jinxed with a vengeance. Some one has held the Indian sign on us for sure."
Kennedy, I noticed, listened, studying the man cautiously from the corners of his eyes, but making no effort to draw him out.
"First there were changes to be made in the script, and for those Millard took his own sweet time. Then we were handed a lot of negative which had been fogged in the perforator, a thing that doesn't happen once in a thousand years. But it caught us just as we sent the company down to Delaware Water Gap. A whole ten days' work went into the developer at once. Neither of the camera men caught the fog in their tests because it came in the middle of the rolls. Everything had to be done over again.
"And accidents! We carefully registered the principal accomplice of the 'Black Terror,' a little hunchback with a face to send chills down your back. After we had him in about half the scenes of a sequence of action he was taken sick and died of influenza. First we waited a few days; then we had to take all that stuff over again.
"Our payroll on this picture is staggering. Stella's three thousand a week is cheap for her, the old contract, but it's a lot of money to throw away. Two weeks when she was under the weather cost us six thousand dollars salary and there was half a week we couldn't do any work without her. Gordon and Shirley and Marilyn Loring draw down seventeen hundred a week between them. The director's salary is only two hundred short of that. All told 'The Black Terror' is costing us a hundred thousand dollars over our original estimate.
"And now"—it seemed to me that Manton literally groaned—"with Stella Lamar dead—excuse me looking at it this way, but, after all, it is business and I'm the executive at the head of the company—now we must find a new star, Lord knows where, and we must retake every scene in which Stella appeared. It—it's enough to bankrupt Manton Pictures for once and all."
"Can't you change the story about some way, so you won't lose the value of her work?" asked Kennedy.
"Impossible! We've announced the release and we've got to go ahead. Fortunately, some of the biggest sets are not taken yet."
The car pulled up with a flourish before the Manton studio, which was an immense affair of reinforced concrete in the upper Bronx. Then, in response to our horn, a great wide double door swung open admitting us through the building to a large courtyard around which the various departments were built.
Here, there was little indication that the principal star of the company had just met her death under mysterious and suspicious circumstances. Perhaps, had I been familiar with the ordinary bustle of the establishment, I might have detected a difference. Indeed, it did strike me that there were little knots of people here and there discussing the tragedy, but everything was overshadowed by the aquatic scene being filmed in the courtyard for some other Manton picture. The cramped space about the concrete tank was alive with people, a mob of extras and stage hands and various employees, a sight which held Kennedy and me for some little time. I was glad when Manton led the way through a long hall to the comparative quiet of the office building. In the reception room there was a decided hush.
"Is Millard here?" he asked of the boy seated at the information desk.
"No, sir," was the respectful reply. "He was here this morning and for a while yesterday."
"You see!" Manton confronted Kennedy grimly. "This is only one of the things with which we have to contend in this business. I give Millard an office but he's a law unto himself. It's the artistic temperament. If I interfere, then he says he cannot write and he doesn't produce any manuscript. Ordinarily he cannot be bothered to work at the studio. But"—philosophically—"I know where to get him as a general thing. He does most of his writing in his rooms downtown; says there's more inspiration in the confusion of Broadway than in the wilds of the Bronx. I'll phone him."
We followed the promoter up the stairs to the second and top floor. Here a corridor gave access to the various executive offices. Its windows at frequent intervals looked down upon the courtyard and the present confusion.
Werner, who had preceded us into the building, now came up. As Manton bustled into his own office to use the telephone the director turned to Kennedy, indicating the next doorway.
"This is my place," he explained. "It connects with Manton, on one side, through his reception room. You see, in addition to directing Stella Lamar I have been in general charge of production and most of the casting is up to me."
Kennedy entered after Werner, interested, and I followed. The door through to the reception room stood open and beyond was the one to Manton's quarters. I could see the promoter at his desk, receiver at his ear, an impatient expression upon his face. In the reception room a rather pretty girl, young and of a shallow- pated type I thought, was busy at a clattering typewriter. She rose and closed the door upon Manton, so as not to disturb him.
"The next office on this side is Millard's," volunteered Werner. "He's the only scenario writer dignified with quarters in this building."
"Manton has other writers, hasn't he?" Kennedy asked.
"Yes, the scenario department is on the third floor across the court, above the laboratory and cutting rooms."
"Who else is in the building here?"
"There are six rooms on this floor," Werner replied. "Manton, the waiting room, myself, Millard, and the two other directors. Below is the general reception room, the cashier, the bookkeepers and stenographers."
As Manton probably was having trouble obtaining his connection, and as Kennedy continued to question Werner concerning the general arrangement of the different floors in the different buildings about the quadrangle, all uninteresting to me, I determined to look about a bit on my own hook. I was still anxious to be of genuine assistance to Kennedy, for once, through my greater knowledge of the film world.
Strolling out into the corridor, I went to the door of Millard's room. To my disappointment, it was locked. Continuing down the hall, I stole a glance into each of the two directors' quarters but saw nothing to awaken my suspicion or justify my intrusion. Beyond, I discovered a washroom, and, aware suddenly of the immense amount of dust I had acquired in the ride in from Tarrytown, I entered to freshen my hands and face at the least. It was a stroke of luck, a fortunate impulse.
The amount of money to be made in the movies had resulted, in the case of Manton, in luxurious equipment for all the various departments of his establishment. I had noticed the offices, furnished with a richness worthy of a bank or some great downtown institution. Now, in the lavatory, immaculate with its white tile and modern appointments, I saw a shelf literally stacked, in this day of paper, with linen towels of the finest quality.
As I drew the water, hot instantly, my eye caught, half in and half out of the wire basket beneath the stand, one of the towels covered with peculiar yellow spots. Immediately my suspicions were awakened. I picked it up gingerly. At close range I saw that the spots were only chrome yellow make-up, but there were also spots of a different nature. I did not stop to think of the unlikeliness of the discovery of a real clue under these circumstances, analyzed afterward by Kennedy. I folded the towel hastily and hurried to rejoin him, to show it to him.
I found him with Werner, waiting for the results of Manton's efforts to locate Millard. Almost at the moment I rejoined the two a boy came to summon Werner to one of the sets out on the stage itself. Kennedy and I were alone. I showed him the towel.
At first he laughed, "You'll never make a detective, Walter," he remarked. "This is only simple coloring matter-Chinese yellow, to be exact. And will you tell me, too"—he became ironical—"how do you expect to find clues of this sort here for a murder committed in Tarrytown when all the people present were held out there and examined, when we are the first to arrive back here?
"Yellow, you know, photographs white. Chinese yellow is used largely in studios in place of white in make-up because it does not cause halation, which, to the picture people, is the bane of their existence. White is too glaring, reflects rays that blur the photography sometimes.
"If you will notice, the next time you see them shooting a scene, you will find the actors' faces tinged with yellow. Even tablecloths and napkins and 'white' dresses are frequently colored a pale yellow, although pale blue has the actinic qualities of white for this purpose, and is now perhaps more frequently used than yellow."
I was properly chastened. In fact, though I did not say much, I almost determined to let him conduct his case himself.
Kennedy saw my crestfallen expression and understood. He was about to say something encouraging, as he handed back the towel, when his eye fell on the other end of it, which, indeed, I myself had noticed.
He sobered instantly and studied the other spots. Indeed, I had not examined them closely myself. They were the very faint stains of some other yellow substance, a liquid which had dried and did not rub off as the make-up, and there were also some small round drops of dark red, almost hidden in the fancy red scrollwork of the lettering on the towel, "Manton Pictures, Inc." The latter had escaped me altogether.
"Blood!" Kennedy exclaimed. Then, "Look here!" The marks of the pale yellow liquid trailed into a slender trace of blood. "It looks as if some one had cleaned a needle on it," he muttered, "and in a hurry."
I remembered his previous remark. The murder had been in Tarrytown. We had just arrived here.
"Would anyone have time to do it?" I asked.
"Whoever used the towel did so in a hurry," he reiterated, seriously. "It may have been some one afraid to leave any sort of clue out there at Phelps's house. There were too many watchers about. It might have seemed better to have run the risk of a search. With no sign of a wound on Miss Lamar's person, it was pretty certain that neither Mackay nor I would attempt to frisk everyone. It was not as though we were looking for a revolver, if she were shot, or a knife, if she had been stabbed. And"—he could not resist another dig at me—"and that we should look in a washroom here for a towel was, well, an idea that wouldn't occur to anyone but the most amateur and blundering sort of sleuth. It's beginner's luck, Walter, beginner's luck."
I ignored the uncomplimentary part of his remarks. "Who could have been in the washroom just before me?" I asked.
Suddenly he hurried through the waiting room to the door to Manton's office, opening it without ceremony. Manton was gone. We exchanged glances. I remembered that Werner had preceded us upstairs. "It means Werner or Manton himself," I whispered, so the girl just behind us would not hear.
Kennedy strode out to the hall, and to a window overlooking the court. After a moment he pointed. I recognized both the cars used to transport the company to the home of Emery Phelps. There was no sign that either had just arrived, for even the chauffeurs were out of sight, perhaps melted into the crowd about the tank in the corner.
"They must have arrived immediately behind us," Kennedy remarked. "We wasted several valuable minutes looking at that water stuff ourselves."
At that moment Werner's voice rose from the reception room below. It was probable that he would be up to rejoin us again. I remembered that he had not been at all at ease while Kennedy questioned him in Tarrytown; that here at the studio he had been palpably anxious to remain close at our heels. I felt a surge of suspicion within me.
"Listen, Craig," I muttered, in low tones. "Manton had no opportunity to steal down the hall after the girl closed the door, and—"
"Why not!" he interrupted, contradicting me. "We had our backs to the door while we were talking with Werner."
"Well, anyhow, it narrows down to Manton and Werner because that is the washroom for these offices—"
"'Sh!" Kennedy stopped me as Werner mounted the stairs. He turned to the director with assumed nonchalance. "How long have the other cars been here?" he asked. "I thought we came pretty fast."
Werner smiled. "I guess those boys had enough of Tarrytown. They rolled into the yard, both of them, while you and Mr. Jameson and Manton were stopping to watch the people in the water."
"I see!" Kennedy gave me a side glance. "Where are the dressing rooms?" he inquired. It was a random shot.
Werner pointed to the end of the hall, toward the washroom. "In the next building, on this floor—that is, the principals'. It's a rotten arrangement," he added. "They come through sometimes and use our lavatory, because it's a little more fancy and because it saves a trip down a flight of stairs. Believe me, it gets old Manton on his ear."
Behind Werner was the assistant director, to whom I had given little attention at the time of the examination of the various people in the Phelps library. Even now he impressed me as one of those rare, unobtrusive types of individuals who seem, in spite of the possession of genuine ability and often a great deal of efficiency, to lack, nevertheless, any outstanding personal characteristics. As a class they are human machines, to be neither liked nor disliked, never intruding and yet always on hand when needed.
"This is Carey Drexel, my assistant," Werner stated, forgetting that Kennedy had questioned him at Tarrytown, and so knew him. "There are a few people I simply must see and I'm tied up, therefore, for perhaps half an hour; and Manton's downstairs still trying to locate Millard for you. But Carey's at your disposal, Mr. Kennedy, to show you the arrangement of the studio and to cooperate with you in any way if you think there's any possible chance of finding anything to bear upon Stella's death here."
If Werner was the man who had used the towel, I could see that he was an actor and a cool villain. Of course no one could know, yet, that we had discovered it, but the very nonchalance with which it had been thrown into the basket was a mark of the nerve of the guilty man. It was more than carelessness. Nothing about the crime had been haphazard.
Kennedy thanked Werner and asked to be shown the studio floor used in the making of "The Black Terror." Carey led the way, explaining that there were actually two studios, one at each end of the quadrangle, connected on both sides by the other buildings; offices and dressing rooms and the costume and property departments at the side facing the street; technical laboratories and all the detail of film manufacture in a four- story structure to the rear. Most of Werner's own picture was being made in the so-called big studio, reached through the dressing rooms from the end of the corridor where we stood.
I had been in film plants before, but when we entered the huge glass-roofed inclosure beyond the long hallway of dressing rooms I was impressed by the fact that here was a place of genuine magnitude, with more life and bustle than anything I had ever imagined. The glass had, however, been painted over, because of late years dark stages, with the even quality of artificial light, had come into vogue in the Manton studios in place of stages lighted by the uneven and undependable sunlight.
The two big sets mentioned by Manton, a banquet hall and a ballroom, were being erected simultaneously. Carpenters were at work sawing and hammering. Werner's technical director was shouting at a group of stage hands putting a massive mirror in position at the end of the banquet hall, a clever device to give the room the appearance of at least double its actual length. In one corner several electricians and a camera man were experimenting with a strange-looking bank of lights. In the ballroom set, where the flats or walls were all in place, an unexcited paperhanger was busy with the paraphernalia of his craft, somehow looking out of his element in this reign of pandemonium.
It seemed hard indeed to believe that any sort of order or system lay behind this heterogeneous activity, and the incident which took Carey Drexel away from us only added to the wonder in my mind, a wonder that anything tangible and definite could be accomplished.
"Oh, Carey!" Another assistant director, or perhaps he was only a property boy, rushed up frantically the moment he saw Drexel. "Miss Miller's on a rampage because the grand piano you promised to get for her isn't at her apartment yet, and Bessie Terry's in tears because she left her parrot here overnight, as you suggested, and some one taught the bird to swear." The intruder, a youth of perhaps eighteen, was in deadly earnest. "For the love of Mike, Carey," he went on, "tell me how to unteach that screeching thing of Bessie's, or we won't get a scene today."
Carey Drexel looked at Kennedy helplessly.
With all these troubles, how could he pilot us about? Later we learned that this was nothing new, once one gets on the inside of picture making. Props., or properties, particularly the living ones, cause almost as much disturbance as the temperamental notions of the actors and actresses. Sometimes it is a question which may become the most ridiculous.
Kennedy seemed to be satisfied with his preliminary visit to this studio floor.
"We can get back to Manton's office alone," he told Drexel. "We will just keep on circling the quadrangle."
Relieved, the assistant director pointed to the door of the manufacturing building, as the four-story structure in the rear was called. Then he bustled off with the other youth, quite unruffled himself.
When we passed through the heavy steel fire door we found ourselves in another long hallway of fire-brick and reinforced- concrete construction. Unquestionably there was no danger of a serious conflagration in any part of Manton's plant, despite the high inflammability of the film itself, of the flimsy stage sets, of practically everything used in picture manufacture.
Immediately we entered this building I detected a peculiar odor, at which I sniffed eagerly. I was reminded of the burnt-almond odor of the cyanides. Was this another clue?
I turned to Kennedy but he smiled, anticipating me.
"Banana oil, Walter," he explained, with rather a superior manner. "I imagine it's used a great deal in this industry. Anyway"—a chuckle—"don't expect chance to deliver clues to you in wholesale quantities. You have done very well for today."
A sudden whirring noise, from an open door down the hall, attracted us, and we paused. This, I guessed, was a cutting room. There were a number of steel tables, with high steel chairs. At the walls were cabinets of the same material. Each table had two winding arrangements, a handle at the operator's right hand and one at his left, so that he could wind or unwind film from one reel to another, passing it forward or backward in front of his eyes.
There were girls at the tables except nearest the hall. Here a man stopped now and then to glance at the ribbon of film, or to cut out a section, dropping the discarded piece into a fireproof can and splicing the two ends of the main strip together again with liquid film cement from a small bottle. He looked up as he sensed our presence.
"Isn't it hell?" he remarked, in friendly fashion. "I've got to cut all of Stella Lamar out of 'The Black Terror,' so they can duplicate her scenes with another star, and meanwhile we had half the negative matched and marked for colors and spliced in rolls, all ready for the printer."
Without waiting for an answer from us, or expecting one, he gave one of his reels a vicious spin, producing the whirring noise; then grasping both reels between his fingers and bringing them to an abrupt stop, so that I wondered he did not burn himself from the friction, he located the next piece to be eliminated.
We followed the hall into the smaller studio and there found a comedy company at work. Without stopping to watch the players, ghastly under the light from the Cooper-Hewitts and Kliegel arcs, we found a precarious way back of the set around and under stage braces, to the covered bridge leading once more to the corridor outside Manton's office.
Now the girl was absent from her place in the little waiting room. Manton's door stood open. Without ceremony Kennedy led the way in and dropped down at the side of the promoter's huge mahogany desk.
"I'm tired, Walter," he said. "Furthermore, I think this picture world of yours is a bedlam. We face a hard task."
"How do you propose to go about things?" I asked.
"I'm afraid this is a case which will have to be approached entirely through psychological reactions. You and I will have to become familiar with the studio and home life of all the long list of possible suspects. I shall analyze the body fluids of the deceased and learn the cause of death, and I will find out what it is on the towel, but"—sighing—"there are so many different ramifications, so many—"