Arthur Benjamin Reeve (1880-1936), was a graduate of Princeton and attended New York Law School. He is best known for creating the series character Professor Craig Kennedy, sometimes called "The American Sherlock Holmes," and for writing 18 mystery/detective novels. His works include: The Black Hand (1911), The Deadly Tube (1911), The Poisoned Pen (1912), The Silent Bullet (1912), The Dream Doctor (1914), Guy Garrick (1914), The Exploits of Elaine (1915), Gold of the Gods (1915), The War Terror (1915), The Ear in the Wall (1916), Constance Dunlap (1916), The Romance of Elaine (1916), The Treasure-Train (1917), Master Mystery (1919), The Film Mystery (1921), The Fourteen Points (1925), The Radio Detective (1926), The Golden Age of Crime (1931) and The Stars Scream Murder (1936).
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Copyright © 2017 by Arthur Reeve
Published by Jovian Press
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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.
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