Kennedy frowned. "I believe you're right, Walter. Or it is possible that the guilty person believed that the scenes taken out at Tarrytown, or those taken when Werner died, revealed something and so would have to be stolen or destroyed, and that they were kept in the vault. It is even possible"—a gleam came into Kennedy's eyes—"it is even possible that the mind smart enough to reason out the damaging nature of the chemical analyses I was making, and clever enough to utilize an explosive bullet in an effort to destroy the fruits of my work, would also have the foresight to anticipate me and to realize that I might guess the existence of a film showing snakes and suggesting the use of venom."
"It's damning to Gordon, all right," I said.
"On the contrary, Walter." Kennedy lowered his voice as we entered the building across the quadrangle and descended stairs leading directly into the basement. "We have mentioned over and over again the cleverness of our unknown criminal. That man, or woman, never would drop a cigarette case with his or her initials and leave without it, nor smoke a cigarette in a place he, or she, was not supposed to be."
"It's a plant; a deliberate plant to throw suspicion upon Gordon."
"Why upon Gordon?"
"I don't know that, unless because Gordon is supposed to have the best possible motive for killing Miss Lamar—his money troubles— and so becomes the logical man to throw the guilt upon."
"As a matter of fact, Craig, why should the finding of that cigarette case be a cause for suspicion at all? That's what I didn't understand before."
"Ordinarily it wouldn't be. But those open inner doors, the absence of the man in charge—isn't it possible that we interrupted an attempt not only to search for the particular damaging pieces of film, but perhaps to destroy the whole? If some one acted between the time I asked Manton. about the snake film and the moment we arrived in the basement to get it, that some one had to move very fast."
"In which case it might have been Gordon, after all. The cigarette stub may have been thrown in lighted to start a fire. He may not have had time to pick up the case, not knowing just where he dropped it."
Kennedy shrugged his shoulders. "It all shows the futility of trying to arrive at a conclusion without definite facts. That is where science is superior to deduction."
"It's all a maze to me just now," I agreed.
We made our way to the vaults in silence, and, to our surprise, found that they were closed and that even the boy was gone now. The cellar, as a whole, probably for the purpose of fire protection on a larger scale, was divided into sections corresponding to the units of the buildings above, and this time I noticed that the door through which we had arrived before was closed also. Had Manton taken fright in earnest at the possibility of fire, or had he given his employees a genuine scare?
We retraced our steps to the yard, and there the alert eye of Kennedy detected a slinking figure just as a man darted into the protection of a doorway. It was Shirley. Had he been watching us? Was he connected in some way with the vague mystery Kennedy seemed to sense in connection with the basement and the film vaults?
Kennedy led the way to the entrance where Shirley had disappeared. Here there was no sign of him; only steps leading up and down and the open door to a huge developing room. Returning to the yard, we caught a gesture from the chauffeur of a car standing near by and recognized McGroarty, the driver who had found the ampulla a few days previously.
"Excuse me, Mr. Kennedy," he apologized, as we approached. "I should have come to you instead of making you two walk over to me, but it's less suspicious this way."
"What do you mean?"
"You recognize me, McGroarty, the chauffeur as found the little bottle?"
"Well, I says to myself I ought to tell you, but I don't like to because it might be nothing, you know!"
"It might prove very valuable, McGroarty." Kennedy wanted to encourage him.
"Well, I've been sitting here for an hour, I guess. One of the other directors is going out to-day and his people are late and so here I am. Well, I don't like the way the heavy man Mr. Werner had—"
"Shirley? Merle Shirley?" I spoke up.
"That's him! Well, he's been, hanging and snooping around that building over there, where you just saw him, for twenty minutes or more. I guess he's gone in and out of that basement a dozen times. I says to myself, maybe he's up to something. You know how it is?"
Kennedy glanced at me significantly. Then he extended his hand to the chauffeur. "Again I thank you, McGroarty. As I said before, I won't forget you."
"Now what?" I asked, as we drew away.
"Shirley's dressing room, and the studio floor and Mackay."
As we rather expected, the heavy man's quarters were deserted. I thought that Kennedy would stop now to make a careful search, but he seemed anxious to compare notes with the district attorney.
"Nothing here," reported Mackay.
"Hasn't been a sign of him."
I looked about the moment we arrived under the big glass roof. "Marilyn Loring?" I inquired.
"She's been missing, too!" All at once Mackay grinned broadly. "You know, either there's no efficiency in making moving pictures at all, or these people have all gone more or less out of their heads as the result of the two tragedies. Look!" He pointed. "When you left me Phelps and Manton were stepping on each other's toes, trying to help that new director and about half driving him crazy; and now Millard seems to have figured out some new way of handling the action and he's over in the thick of it. It's worse than Bedlam, and better than a Chaplin comedy."
I was compelled to smile, although I knew that this was not uncommon in picture studios. Manton, Phelps, Millard, and Kauf were in the center of the group, all talking at once. Clustered about I saw Enid and Gordon, both camera men, and a miniature mob of extra people. But as I looked little Kauf seemed to come to the end of his patience. In an instant or two he demonstrated real generalship. Shutting up Manton and the banker and Millard with a grin, but with sharp words and a quick gesture which showed that he meant it, he called to the others gathered about, clearing the set of all but Enid and Gordon. He sent the camera men to their places; then confronted Phelps and Manton and the scenario writer once more. We could not hear his words, but could see that he was asserting himself, was forcing a decision so that he could proceed with his work.
This seemed uninteresting to me. I remembered my success in my visit to Werner's apartment, when I had essayed the role of detective.
"Listen, Kennedy!" I suggested. "Suppose I go out by myself and see if I can locate Shirley or Marilyn. Everyone else is right here where you can—"
At that instant a deafening explosion shook the studio and every building about the quadrangle, the sound echoing and re-echoing with the sharpness of a terrific thunderclap.
Mixed with the reverberations, which were intensified by the high arch of the studio roof, were the screams of women and the frightened calls of men. Following immediately upon the first roar were the muffled sounds of additional explosions, persisting for a matter of ten to fifteen seconds.
With every detonation the floor beneath our feet trembled and rocked. Several flats of scenery stacked against a wall at our rear toppled forward and struck the floor with a resounding whack, not unlike some gigantic slap-stick. One entire side of the banquet set, luckily unoccupied, fell inward and I caught the sound as the dainty gold chairs and fragile tables snapped and were crushed as so much kindling wood.
Then—a fitting climax of destruction, withheld until this moment—there followed the terrifying snap of steel from above. An entire section of roof literally was popped from place, the result of false stresses in the beams created by the explosion. Upon the heads of the unlucky group in the center of the ballroom set came a perfect hailstorm of broken and shattered bits of heavy ground glass.
For an instant, an exceedingly brief instant, there was the illusion of silence. The next moment the factory siren rose to a shrill shriek, with a full head of steam behind it—the fire call!
Kennedy dashed over to the scene where those beneath the shower of glass lay, dazed and uncertain of the extent of their own injuries.
"Where are the first-aid kits?" he shouted. "Bring cotton and bandages, and—and telephone for a doctor, an ambulance!"
It seemed to me that Kennedy had never been so excited. Mackay and I, at his heels, and some of the others, unhurt, hurriedly helped the various victims to their feet.
Then we realized that by some miracle, some freak of fate, no one had been hurt seriously. Already a property boy was at Kennedy's side with a huge box marked prominently with the red cross. Inside was everything necessary and Kennedy started to bind up the wounds with all the skill of a professional physician.
"Mackay," he whispered, "hurry and get me some envelopes, or some sheets of paper, anything—quick!" And to me, before I could grasp the reason for that puzzling request: "Don't let anyone slip away, Walter. No matter what happens, I must bind up these wounds myself."
A few moments later I understood what Kennedy was up to. As he finished with each victim he took some bit of cotton or gauze with which he had wiped their cuts, enough blood to serve him in chemical analysis, and handed it to Mackay. The district attorney, very unobtrusively, slipped each sample into a separate envelope, sealing it, and marking it with a hieroglyph which he would be able to identify later. In this fashion Kennedy secured blood smears of Manton and Phelps, Millard and Kauf and Enid, Gordon, the two camera men, and a scene shifter. I smiled to myself.
Meanwhile a bitter, acrid odor penetrated through the windows and to every part of the structure, the odor of burning film, an odor one never forgets to fear. All those uninjured in the explosions had rushed out to see the fire, or else to escape from any further danger, the moment they recovered their wits. Manton, only cut at the wrist, and impatient as Kennedy cleaned, dusted, and bound the wound, was the first to receive attention.
"The vaults!" he called, to the men who seemed disposed to linger about. "For God's sake get busy!" The next instant he was gone himself.
Enid was cut on the head. Tears streamed from her eyes as she clung to Kennedy's coat, trembling. "Will it make a scar?" she sobbed. "Will I be unable to act before the camera any more?"
He reassured her. In the case of Millard, who had several bad scalp wounds, he advised a trip to a doctor, but the scenario writer laughed. Phelps was yellow. It seemed to me that he whimpered a bit. Gordon was disposed to swear cheerfully, although a point of glass had penetrated deep in his shoulder and another piece had gashed him across the forehead.
Finally Kennedy was through. He packed the little envelopes in the bag, still in the possession of Mackay, and added the two rolls of film from his pocket. Then, for the first time, he locked it.
As he straightened, his eyes narrowed.
"Now for Shirley," he muttered.
"And Marilyn," I added.
THE PHOSPHORUS BOMB
We rushed out into the courtyard, Kennedy in the lead, Mackay trailing with the bag. Here there were dense clouds of fine white suffocating smoke mixed with steam, and signs of the utmost confusion on every hand. Because Manton, fortunately, had trained the studio staff through frequent fire drills, there was a semblance of order among the men actually engaged in fighting the spread of the blaze. Any attempt to extinguish the conflagration in the vault itself was hopeless, however, and so the workers contented themselves with pouring water into the basement on either side, to keep the building and perhaps the other vaults cool, and with maintaining a constant stream of chemical mixture from a special apparatus down the ventilating system into and upon the smoldering film.
The studio fire equipment seemed to be very complete. There was water at high pressure from a tank elevated some twenty to thirty feet above the uppermost roof of the quadrangle. In addition Manton had invested in the chemical engine and also in sand carts, because water aids rather than retards the combustion of film itself. I noticed that the promoter was in direct charge of the fire-fighters, and that he moved about with a zeal and a recklessness which ended for once and all in my mind the suspicion that Phelps might be correct and that Manton sought to wreck this company for the sake of Fortune Features.
In an amazingly quick space of time the thing was over. When the city apparatus arrived, after a run of nearly three miles, there was nothing for them to do. The chief sought out Manton, to accompany him upon an inspection of the damage and to make sure that the fire was out. The promoter first beckoned to Kennedy.
"This is unquestionably of incendiary origin," he explained to the chief. "I want Mr. Kennedy to see everything before it is disturbed, so that no clue may be lost or destroyed."
The fire officer brightened. "Craig Kennedy?" he inquired. "Gee! there must be some connection between the blaze and the murder of Stella Lamar and her director. I've been reading about it every day in the papers."
"Mr. Jameson of the Star," Kennedy said, presenting me.
We found we could not enter the basement immediately adjoining the vaults—that is, directly from the courtyard—because it seemed advisable to keep a stream of water playing down the steps, and a resulting cloud of steam blocked us. Manton explained that we could get through from the next cellar if it was not too hot, and so we hurried toward another entrance.
Mackay, who had remained behind to protect the bag from the heat, joined us there.
"I've put the bag in charge of that chauffeur, McGroarty, and armed him with my automatic," he explained. He paused to wipe his eyes. The fumes from the film had distressed all of us. "Shirley and Marilyn Loring are both missing still," he added. "I've been asking everyone about them. No one has seen them."
The fire chief looked up. "Everyone is out? You are sure everybody is safe?"
"I had Wagnalls at my elbow with a hose," Manton replied. "I saw the boy around, also. No one else had any business down there and the vaults were closed and the cellar shut off."
The door leading from the adjoining basement was hot yet, but not so that we were unable to handle it. However, the catch had stuck and it took considerable effort to force it in. As we did so a cloud of acrid vapor and steam drove us back.
Then Kennedy seemed to detect something in the slowly clearing atmosphere. He rushed ahead without hesitation. The fire chief followed. In another instant I was able to see also.
The form of a woman, dimly outlined in the vapor, struggled to lift the prone figure of a man. After one effort she collapsed upon him. I dashed forward, as did Mackay and Manton. Two of them carried the girl out to the air; the other three of us brought her unconscious companion. It was Marilyn and Shirley.
The little actress was revived easily, but Shirley required the combined efforts of Kennedy and the chief, and it was evident that he had escaped death from suffocation only by the narrowest of margins. How either had survived seemed a mystery. Their clothes were wet, their faces and hands blackened, eyebrows and lashes scorched by the heat. But for the water poured into the basement neither would have been alive. They had been prisoners during the entire conflagration, the burning vault holding them at one end of the basement, the door in the partition resisting their efforts to open it.
"Thank heaven he's alive!" were Marilyn's first words.
"How did you get in the cellar?" Kennedy spoke sternly.
"I thought he might be there." Now that the reaction was setting in, the girl was faint and she controlled herself with difficulty. "I was looking for him and as soon as I heard the first explosion I ran down the steps into the film-vault entrance—I was right near there—and I found him, stunned. I started to lift him, but there were other explosions almost before I got to his side. The flames shot out through the cracks in the vault door and I—I couldn't drag him to the steps; I had to pull him back where you found us." She began to tremble. "It— it was terrible!"
"Was there anyone else about, anyone but Mr. Shirley?"
"No. I—I remember I wondered about the vault man."
"What was Mr. Shirley down there for, Miss Loring?"
"He"—she hesitated—"he said he had seen some one hanging around and—and he didn't want to report anything until he was sure. He— he thought he could accomplish more by himself, although I told him he was—was wrong."
"Whom did he see hanging around?"
"He wouldn't tell me."
Shirley was too weak to question and the girl too unstrung to stand further interrogation. In response to Manton's call several people came up and willingly helped the two toward the comfort of their dressing rooms.
At the fire chief's suggestion the stream of water into the basement was cut off. Manton led the way, choking, eyes watering, to the front of the vaults. Feverishly he felt the steel doors and the walls. There was no mistaking the conclusion. The negative vault was hot, the others cold.
"The devil!" Manton exclaimed. A deep poignancy in his voice made the expression childishly inadequate. "Why couldn't it have been the prints!" Suddenly he began to sob. "That's the finish. Not one of our subjects can ever be worked again. It's a loss of half a million dollars."
"If you have positives," Kennedy asked, "can't you make new negatives?"
"Dupes?" Manton looked up in scorn. "Did you ever see a print from a dupe negative? It's terrible. Looks like some one left it out in the wet overnight."
"How about the 'Black Terror'?" I inquired.
"All of that's in the safe in the printing room; that and the two current five reelers of the other companies. We won't lose our releases, but"—again there was a catch in his voice—"we could have cleared thousands and thousands of dollars on reissues. All— all of Stella's negative is gone, too!" To my amazement he began to cry, without attempt at concealment. It was something new to me in the way of moving-picture temperament. "First they kill her and now—now they destroy the photographic record which would have let her live for those who loved her. The"—his voice trailed away to the merest whisper as he seemed to collapse against the hot smoked wall—"the devil!"
The fire chief took charge of the job of breaking into the vault. First Wagnalls attempted to open the combination of the farther door, but the heat had put the tumblers out of commission. Returning to the entrance of the negative vault itself, the thin steel, manufactured for fire rather than burglar protection, was punctured and the bolts driven back. A cloud of noxious fumes greeted the workers and delayed them, but they persisted. Finally the door fell out with a crash and men were set to fanning fresh air into the interior while a piece of chemical apparatus was held in readiness for any further outbreak of the conflagration.
Manton regained control of himself in time to be one of the first to enter. Mackay held back, but the fire chief, the promoter, Kennedy, and myself fashioned impromptu gasmasks of wet handkerchiefs and braved the hot atmosphere inside the room.
The damage was irremediable. The steel frames of the racks, the cheaper metal of the boxes, the residue of the burning film, all constituted a hideous, shapeless mass clinging against the sides and in the corners and about the floor. Only one section of the room retained the slightest suggestion of its original condition. The little table and the boxes of negative records, the edges of the racks which had stood at either side, showed something of their former shape and purpose. This was directly beneath the ventilating opening. Here the chemical mixture pumped in to extinguish the fire had preserved them to that extent.
All at once Kennedy nudged the fire chief. "Put out your torch!" he directed, sharply.
In the darkness there slowly appeared here and there on the walls a ghostly bluish glow persisting in spite of the coating of soot on everything.
Kennedy's keen eye had caught the hint of it while the electric torch had been flashed into some corner and away for a moment.
"Radium!" I exclaimed, entirely without thought.
Kennedy laughed. "Hardly! But it is phosphorus, without question."
"What do you make of that?" The fire chief was curious.
"Let's get out!" was Kennedy's reply.
Indeed, it was almost impossible for us to keep our eyes open, because of the smarting, and, more, the odor was nauseating. A guard was posted and in the courtyard, disregarding the curious crowd about, Kennedy asked for Wagnalls and began to question him.
"When did you close the vaults?"
"About two hours before the fire. Mr. Manton sent for me."
"Was there anything suspicious at that time?"
"No, sir! I went through each room myself and fixed the doors. That's why the fire was confined to the negatives."
"Have you any idea why the doors were open when we went through?"
"No, sir! I left them shut and the boy I put there while I went over to McCann's said no one was near. He"—Wagnalls hesitated. "Once he went to sleep when I left him there. Perhaps he dozed off again."
"Why did you leave? Why go over to McCann's in business hours?"
"We'd worked until after midnight the night before. I had to open up early and so I figured I'd have my breakfast in the usual morning slack time—when nothing's doing."
"I see!" Kennedy studied the ground for several moments. "Do you suppose anyone could have left a package in there—a bomb, in other words?"
Wagnalls's eyes widened, but he shook his head. "I'd notice it, sir! If I do say it, I'm neat. I generally notice if a can has been touched. They don't often fool me."
"Well, has any regular stuff been brought to you to put away; anything which might have hidden an explosive?"
Again Wagnalls shook his head. "I put nothing away or give nothing out except on written order from Mr. Manton. Anything coming in is negative and it's in rolls, and I rehandle them because they're put away in the flat boxes. I'd know in a minute if a roll was phony."
"You're sure nothing special—"
"Holy Jehoshaphat!" interrupted Wagnalls. "I'd forgotten!" He faced Manton. "Remember that can of undeveloped stuff, a two- hundred roll?" He turned to Kennedy, explaining. "When negative's undeveloped we keep it in taped cans. Take off the tape and you spoil it—the light, you know. Mr. Manton sent down this can with a regular order, marking on it that some one had to come to watch it being developed—in about a week. Of course I didn't open the can or look in it. I put it up on top of a rack."
"When was this?"
"About four days ago—the day Miss Lamar was killed."
The expression on Manton's face was ghastly. "I didn't send down any can to you, Wagnalls," he insisted.
"It was your writing, sir!"
Kennedy rose. "What did you do with orders like that, such as the one you claim came with the can of undeveloped negative?"
"Put them on the spindle on that table in the vault."
"Wet your handkerchief and come show me."
When they returned Kennedy had the spindle in his hand, the charred papers still in place. This was one of the items preserved in part by the chemical spray through the ventilating opening above.
"Can you point out which one it is?" Kennedy asked.
"Let's see!" Wagnalls scratched his head. "Next to the top," he replied, in a moment. "Miss Lamar's death upset everything. Only one order came down after that."
With extreme care Kennedy took his knife and lifted the ashy flakes of the top order. "Get me some collodion, somebody!" he exclaimed.
Wagnalls jumped up and hurried off.
The fire chief leaned forward. "Do you think, Mr. Kennedy, that the little can he told you about started the fire?"
"I'm sure of it, although I'll never be able to prove it."
"How did it work?"
"Well, I imagine a small roll of very dry film was put in to occupy a part of the space. Film is exceedingly inflammable, especially when old and brittle. In composition it is practically guncotton and so a high explosive. In this recent war, I remember, the Germans drained the neutral countries of film subjects until we woke up to what they were doing, while in this country scrap film commanded an amazing price and went directly into the manufacture of explosives. Then I figure that a quantity of wet phosphorus was added, to fill the can, and that then the can was taped. The tape, of course, is not moisture proof entirely. With the dampness from within it would soften, might possibly fall off. In a relatively short time the phosphorus would dry and burn. Immediately the film in the can would ignite. As happened, it blew up, a minor explosion, but enough to scatter phosphorus everywhere. That, in the fume-laden air of the vault— there are always fumes in spite of the best ventilation system made—caused the first big blast and started all the damage."
Mackay had rejoined us in time to hear the explanation. "Ingenious," he murmured. "As ingenious as the methods used to murder the girl and her director."
Breathless, Wagnalls returned with the collodion. We watched curiously as Kennedy poured it over the charred remains of the second order on the spindle. It seemed almost inconceivable that the remnants of the charred paper would even support the weight of the liquid, yet Kennedy used it with care, and slowly the collodion hardened before us, creating a tough transparent coating which held the tiny fibers of the slip together. At the same time the action of the collodion made the letters on the order faintly visible and readable.
"A little-known bank trick!" Kennedy told us.
Then he held the slip up to the light and the words were plain. Wagnalls had been correct. The order from Manton was unmistakable. The can was to be kept in the negative vault for a week without being opened, until a certain party unnamed was to come to watch the development of the film.
The promoter wet his lips, uneasily. "I—I never wrote that! It— it's my writing, all right, and my signature, but it's a forgery!"
Kennedy made some efforts to preserve the forged order which he had restored with the collodion, but I could see that he placed no great importance upon its possession. Gradually the yard of the studio had cleared of the employees, who had returned to their various tasks. Under the direction of one stout individual who seemed to possess authority the fire apparatus had been replaced in a portable steel garage arranged for the purpose in a farther corner, and now several men were engaged in cleaning up the dirt and litter caused in the excitement.
Except in the basement there were few signs of the blaze. Manton accompanied the fire chief to his car, then hurried up into the building without further notice of us. Mackay went to McGroarty's machine to claim the traveling bag containing our evidence. Kennedy and I started for the dressing rooms.
"I want to get blood smears of Shirley and Marilyn," he confided in a low voice. "I shall have to think of some pretext."
Neither of the two we sought were in their quarters and so we continued on into the studio. Here we found Kauf at work; at least he was engaged in a desperate attempt to get something out of his people.
"Ye gods, Gordon!" we heard him exclaim, as we made our way through the debris of the banquet set to the ballroom now dazzlingly bright under the lights. "What if you do have to wear a bandage around your head? It's a masked ball, isn't it? You've got a monk's cowl over everything but your features, haven't you?"
It struck me that the faces had never been more ghastly, although my reason convinced me it was simply the usual effect of the Cooper-Hewitt tubes. But there was no question but that the explosion had given everyone a bad fright, that not an actress or actor but would have preferred to have been nearly anywhere else but under the heat of the glass roof, now a constant reminder of the accident because of the gaping hole directly above them.
Marilyn was in the center of the revelers in the set, already in costume. Shirley I saw close to the camera men, standing uneasily on shaky legs, shielding his eyes with one hand while he clung to a massive sideboard for support with the other. He had not yet donned his carnival clothes, nor essayed to put on a make-up.
Enid Faye, the only one in sight whose spirits seemed to have rallied at all, was offering him comfort of a sort.
"You'll get by, all right, Merle, if you can keep on your pins, and I'll say you deserve credit for trying it. There's"—she stepped back a bit to study him—"there's just one thing. Your eyes show the result of all that smoke and vapor—no color or luster at all. I—I wonder if belladonna wouldn't brighten them up a bit and—well, get you by, for to-day?"
"I'll go out and get some at lunch." He smiled weakly. "I'll try anything once."
"That's the spirit!" She patted him on the shoulder, then danced on into the center of the set, stopping to direct some barbed remark at Marilyn.
Kauf took his megaphone to call his people around him. There seemed to be a certain essential competence about the little man, now that Manton and Phelps and Millard were not about to bother him. While we watched he succeeded in photographing one of the full shots of the general action or atmosphere of the dance. Then he hurried to the side of Shirley, to see if the heavy man felt equal to the task of resuming his make-up once more.
I found the time dragging heavy on my hands and I wished that Kennedy would return to the laboratory or decide upon some definite action. Though I racked my brain, I failed to think of a device whereby Kennedy could get blood smears of Shirley or Marilyn without their knowledge. Once more my reflections veered around to the matter of the stolen towel and I wondered if that had been wasted effort on Kennedy's part; if the fire had thrown out his carefully arranged plans to trap whoever took it.
Suddenly I realized that Kennedy was following a very definite procedure, that his seeming indifference, his apparent idle curiosity concerning the scene taking, masked a settled purpose. When Phelps entered he approached him casually and turned to him with skilled nonchalance, holding up a finger.
"Will you lend me a pocket knife for a moment?" he asked, "to get a hang-nail?"
Phelps produced one, rather grudgingly. Kennedy promptly went over to the window, as though seeking better light. Thereafter he avoided Phelps. Soon the banker had forgotten the incident.
Some time later Manton rushed in from the office. Kennedy maneuvered his way to the promoter's side and waited his chance to borrow that man's pocket knife under conditions when Manton would be the least apt to remember it. Then he made his way around to Mackay and I saw that both the acquisitions went into little envelopes of the sort used to take the blood smears after the explosion and falling glass.
Kennedy now seemed rather elated. Millard entered and he borrowed the scenario writer's knife in exactly the same fashion as the others. No one of the three men noticed his loss. I thought it lucky that all three carried the article, and tried to guess how far Kennedy intended to carry this little scheme.
Kauf's announcement of lunch gave me my answer. It seemed that there would be just half an hour and that the entire cast was expected to make shift at McCann's rather than attempt to go to any better place at a greater distance. Immediately Kennedy turned to me.
"Hurry, Walter! Twenty minutes' quick work and then it's the laboratory and the solution of this mystery."
With Mackay and the bag we stole to the dressing rooms, waiting until sure that everyone was downstairs. In Enid's chamber Kennedy glanced about carefully but swiftly. When nothing caught his attention he picked up her finger-nail file, gingerly, from the blunt end, slipping it into one of the little envelopes which Mackay held open. Thereupon the district attorney put his identifying mark upon the outside and we went to the next room.
It proved to be Gordon's. The general search was barren of result, but the dressing table yielded another finger-nail file, handled in the same manner as before. Then we entered Marilyn's room and left with the file from her dressing stand. In Shirley's quarters, the last we visited, we were in greater luck, however. While Kennedy and Mackay abstracted the usual file, I discovered some bits of tissue paper used in shaving. There was caked soap left to dry just as it had been wiped from the razor. More, there was a blood stain of fair [Transcriber's note: word(s) missing.]
"Here's your smear, Kennedy," I exclaimed.
"Good! Fine!" He faced Mackay. "Now I lack just one thing, a sample of the blood of Miss Loring."
"Is that all?" The district attorney brightened. "Let me try to get it! I—I'll manage it in some way!"
"All right!" Kennedy took the bag. "Explain your marks so I'll know—" He stopped suddenly. "No, don't tell me anything. I'll make my chemical analyses and microscopic examinations without knowing the identity in the case either of the blood samples or the finger-nail files. If I obtain results by both methods, and they agree, I'll return armed with double-barreled evidence. Meanwhile, Mackay, you get a smear from Miss Loring and follow us to the laboratory. I'll coax McGroarty to drive us down, so you'll have your car and you can bring us back."
The district attorney nodded. "Me for McCann's," he muttered. "That's where she went to eat." He rushed off eagerly.
Kennedy had no difficulty persuading McGroarty to put his particular studio car at our disposal without an order from Manton or from the director who had called him. In a very brief space of time we were at the laboratory.
"You expect to find the blood of one of those people showing traces of the antivenin?" I grasped Kennedy's method of procedure, but wanted to make sure I understood it correctly. Already I was blocking out the detailed article for the Star, the big scoop which that paper should have as a result of my close association with Kennedy on the case. "One of those samples should correspond, I suppose, to the trace of blood on the portieres?"
"Exactly!" He answered me rather absently, being concerned in setting out the apparatus he would need for a hasty series of tests.
"Will the antivenin show in the blood after four, perhaps five days?"
"I should say so, Walter. If it does not, by any chance, I will be able to identify the blood, but that is much more involved and tedious—a great deal more actual work."
"I've got it straight, then. Now—" I paced up and down several times. "The finger-nail files should show a trace of the itching salve? Is that correct, Craig?"
For a moment he didn't answer, as his mind was upon his paraphernalia. Then he straightened. "Hardly, Walter! The salve is soluble in water. What I shall find, if anything, is some of the fibers of the towel. You see, a person's finger nails are great little collectors of bits of foreign matter, and anyone handling that rag is sure to show some infinitesimal trace for a long while afterward. If the person stealing the towel filed or cleaned his nails there will be evidence of the fibers on his pocket knife or finger-nail file. I impregnated the towel with that chemical so that I would be able to identify the fibers positively."
"The use of the itching salve was unnecessary?"
A quizzical smile crept across Kennedy's face. "Did you think I expected some one to go walking around the studio scratching his hands? Did you imagine I thought the guilty party would betray his or her identity in such childish fashion, after all the cleverness displayed in the crimes themselves?"
"But you were insistent that I rub in the—"
"To force them to wash their hands after touching the towel, Walter."
"Oh!" I felt rather chagrined. "Wouldn't some pigment, some color, have served the purpose better?"
"No, because anyone would have understood that and would have taken the proper measures to remove all traces. But the itching salve served two purposes. It was misleading, because obviously a trap upon reflection, and so it would distract attention from the impregnated fibers, my real scheme. Then it was the best device of all I could think of, for it set up a local irritation of the sort most calculated to make a person clean his finger nails. The average man and woman is not very neat, Walter. I was not sure but a scientific prodding was necessary to transfer my evidence to some object I could borrow and examine under a microscope."
Meanwhile Kennedy's long fingers were busy at the preliminary operations in his tests. He turned away and I asked no more questions, not wishing to delay him.
I noticed that first he examined the blood samples under the microscope. Afterward he employed a spectroscope. But none of the operations took any great amount of time, since he seemed to anticipate his results.
Mackay burst in upon us, very elated, and produced a handkerchief with a bit of blood upon it.
"I scratched her deliberately with the sharp point of my ring," he chuckled. "I found her in the restaurant and the seat beside her was empty. I—I talked about everything under the sun and I guess she thinks I'm a clumsy boob! Anyhow she cried out when I did it, and got red in the face for a moment; but she suspects nothing."
Kennedy cut the spot from the handkerchief, put it in an envelope, and turned back to his table. I drew Mackay into the corner.
As the minutes sped by and Craig worked in absorbed concentration, Mackay grew more and more impatient to get back to the studio.
"Did you find anything?" repeated Mackay, for the tenth time.
With a gesture of annoyance, Kennedy reached out for the nail files.
"This is a grave matter," he frowned. "I must check it up—and double check it—then I'm going back to the studio to triple check it. Let me see what the nail files reveal. It will be a bare ten minutes more."
Insisting that we remain back in the corner, he spread out the four nail files and the open blades of the three pocket knives, setting each upon the envelope which identified it.
The next quarter of an hour seemed interminable. Finally Kennedy started replacing the files and the pocket knives in their envelopes, his face still wearing the inscrutable frown. Next he packed the blood samples and other evidence in the traveling bag once more.
Mackay was bursting with impatience, but Craig still refused to betray his suspicions.
"I must get back there—quick," he hastened. "I want everybody in the projection room. In court, a jury might not grasp the infallibility of the methods I've used. There would be a great deal of medical and expert testimony required—and you know, Mackay, what that means."
"Is it a man—or a woman you suspect?" persisted the district attorney. "Three of the men had pocket knives and—"
Kennedy led the way to the door without answering, and Mackay cut short his hopeless quizzing as Craig nodded to me to carry the bag.
THE BALLROOM SCENE
Sounds of music caught our ears as we entered the studio courtyard of Manton Pictures. Carrying the bag with its indisputable proof of some person's guilt, we made our way through the familiar corridor by the dressing rooms, out under the roof of the so-called large studio. There a scene of gayety confronted us, in sharp contrast with the gloomy atmosphere of the rest of the establishment.
Kauf, however, had thoroughly demonstrated his genius as a director. To counteract the depression caused by all the recent melodramatic and tragic happenings, he had brought in an eight- piece orchestra, establishing the men in the set itself so as to get full photographic value from their jazz antics. Where Werner and Manton had dispensed with music, in a desperate effort at economy, Kauf had realized that money saved in that way was lost through time wasted with dispirited people. It was a lesson learned long before by other companies. In other studios I had seen music employed in the making of soberly dramatic scenes, solely as an aid to the actors, enabling them to get into the atmosphere of their work more quickly and naturally.
Under the lights the entire set sparkled with a tawdry garishness apt to fool those uninitiated into the secrets of photography. On the screen, colors which now seemed dull and flat would take on a soft richness and a delicacy characteristic of the society in which Kauf's characters were supposed to move. Obviously fragile scenery would seem as heavy and substantial as the walls and beams of the finest old mansion. Even the inferior materials in the gowns of most of the girls would photograph as well as the most expensive silk; in fact, by long experience, many of the extra girls had learned to counterfeit the latest fashions at a cost ridiculous by comparison.
Kennedy approached Kauf, then returned to us.
"He asks us to wait until he gets this one big scene. It's the climax of the picture, really, the unmasking of the 'Black Terror.' If we interrupt now he loses the result of half a day of preparation."
"He may lose more than that!" muttered Mackay; and I wondered just whom the district attorney suspected.
"Is everyone here?" I asked. "All seven?"
Gordon and Shirley, of the men, and Marilyn and Enid, of course, were out on the floor of the supposed ballroom. Gordon I recognized because I remembered that he was to wear the garb of a monk. Marilyn was easily picked out, although the vivacity she assumed seemed unnatural now that we knew her as well as we did. Her costume was a glorious Yama Yama creation, of a faint yellow which would photograph dazzling white, revealing trim stockinged ankles and slender bare arms, framing face and eyes dancing with merriment and maliciousness. Unquestionably she was the prettiest girl beneath the arcs, never to be suspected as the woman who had braved the terrors of a film fire to rescue the man she loved. Enid was stately and serene in the gown of Marie Antoinette. In the bright glare her features took on a round innocence and she was as successful in portraying sweetness as Marilyn was in the simulation of the mocking evil of the vampire.
Shirley interested me the most, however. I wondered if Kennedy still eliminated him in guessing at the identity of the criminal. I called to mind the heavy man's presence in the basement at the time of the explosion and McGroarty's information that he had been hanging about that part of the studio for some time previously. Some one had planted a cigarette case and stub to implicate Gordon, according to Kennedy's theory. Shirley certainly had had opportunity to steal the towel from the locker as well as to point suspicion toward the leading man.
In the midst of my reverie Shirley approached and passed us. He was in the garb of Mephisto. Like the others, he had not yet masked his face. A peculiar brightness in his eyes struck me and I nudged Kennedy.
"Belladonna," Kennedy explained when he was beyond earshot.
"Oh!" I remembered. "Enid told him to use it."
I repeated the conversation as near as I could reconstruct it.
"H-m! That's a new cure for smoke-burned eyes; no cure at all."
I was unable to get any more out of Kennedy, however.
Manton I detected in the background with Phelps. The two men were arguing, as always, and it was evident that the banker was accomplishing nothing by this constant hanging about the studio. Where previously my sympathy had been with Phelps entirely, now I realized that the promoter had won me. Indeed, Manton's interest in all the affairs of picture making at this plant had been far too sincere and earnest to permit the belief that he was seeking to wreck the company or to double-cross his backer.
Millard entered the studio as I glanced about for him. He handed some sheets to Kauf, then turned to leave. I attracted Kennedy's attention.
"You don't want Millard to get away," I whispered.
Kennedy sent Mackay to stop him. The author accompanied the district attorney willingly.
"Yes, Mr. Kennedy?"
"As soon as this scene is over we're going down to the projection room; everyone concerned in the death of Miss Lamar and of Mr. Werner."
The scenario writer looked up quickly. "Do you—do you know who it is?" he asked, soberly.
"Not exactly, but I will identify the guilty person just as soon as we are assembled down in front of the screen."
Shirley had left the studio floor, apparently to go to his dressing room. Now I noticed that he returned and passed close just in time to hear Millard's question and Kennedy's answer. His eyes dilated. As he turned away his face fell. He went on into the set, but his legs seemed to wabble beneath him. I was sure it was more than the weakness resulting from his experience in the fire.
Kauf's voice, through the megaphone, echoed suddenly from wall to wall, reverberating beneath the roof.
"All ready! Everyone in the set! Masks on! Take your places!"
At a signal the orchestra struck up and the couples started to dance. It was a wonderfully colorful scene and I saw that Kauf proposed to rehearse it thoroughly, doing it over and over without the cameras until every detail reached a practiced perfection. In this I was certain he achieved results superior to Werner's slap, dash, and bang.
Then came the call for action.
"Camera!" Kauf began to bob up and down. "Into it, everybody!"
For fascination and charm this far exceeded the banquet scene which we had witnessed in the taking previously. The music was surprisingly good, so that it was impossible for the people not to get into the swing, and the result was a riotous swirling of gracefully dancing pairs; the girls, selected for their beauty, flashing half-revealed faces toward the camera, displaying eyes which twinkled through their masks in mockery at a wholly ineffectual attempt at concealment.
Enid maintained her stately carriage, but made full use of the dazzling whiteness of her teeth. Early she permitted the attentions of the cowled monk whom she knew to be her lover. Marilyn was everywhere, making mischief the best she could. Shirley stalked about in his satanic red, which would photograph black and appear even more somber on the screen.
Of course the whole was not photographed in a continuous strip from one camera position. I saw that Kauf made several long shots to catch the general atmosphere. Then he made close-up scenes of all the principals and of some of the best appearing extras. At one time he ordered a panorama effect, in which the cameras "pammed," swept from one side to the other, giving a succession of faces at close range.
Finally everything was ready for the climax. Shirley had been playing a sort of Jekyll and Hyde role in which he was at once the young lawyer friend of Enid and the Black Terror. Unmasked and cornered at this function of a society terrified by the dread unknown menace, he was to make the transformation directly before the eyes of everyone, using the mythical drug which changed him from a young man of good appearance and family to the being who was a very incarnation of evil.
For once Kauf did not rehearse the scene. Shirley was obviously weakened from his experience and the director wished to spare him. All the details were shouted out through the megaphone, however, and I grasped that the action of this part of the dance was familiar to everyone; it was the big scene of the story toward which all other events had built.
Then came the familiar order. "Camera!"
At the start of this episode the orchestra was playing and the dancers were in motion. Suddenly Gordon, as the hero, strode up to Shirley and unmasked him with a few bitter words which later would be flashed upon the screen in a spoken title. Instantly a crowd gathered about, but in such a way as not to obstruct the camera view.
Cornered, seeing that flight was impossible unless he became the Black Terror and possessed the strength and fearlessness of that strange other self, Shirley drew a little vial from his breast pocket and drank the contents. Evidently he knew his Mansfield well. Slowly he began to act out the change in his appearance which corresponded with the assumption of control by the evil within. His body writhed, went through contortions which were horrible yet fascinating. It was almost as though a new fearful being was created within sight of the onlookers. Not only was the face altered, but the man's stature seemed to shrink, to lose actual inches. I thought it a wonderful exhibition.
The very next instant there came a groan from Shirley, something which at once indicated pain and realization and fear. He lost all control of himself and in a moment pitched forward upon the floor, sputtering and clutching at the empty air. Another cry broke from between his lips, a ghastly contracted shriek as treble as though from the throat of a woman.
This was no part of the story, no skillful bit of acting! It was real! Even before I had grasped the full significance of the happening Kennedy had dashed forward. The cameras still were grinding and they caught him as he kneeled at the side of the stricken man. Hardly a second afterward Mackay and I followed and were at Kennedy's side. Kauf and the others, their faces weirdly ashen, clustered about in fright.
A third time the invisible hand had struck at a member of the company. "The Black Terror," with all the horror written into that story, contained nothing as fearful as the menace to the people engaged in its production.
Shirley's skin was cold and clammy, his face almost rigid. While conscious, he was helpless. Kennedy found the little vial and examined it.
"Atropin!" he ejaculated. "Walter!" He turned to me. "Get some physostigmin, quick! Have Mackay drive you! It's—it's life or death! Here—I'll write it down! Physostigmin!"
As I raced madly out and down the stairs, Mackay at my heels, I heard a woman's scream. Marilyn! Did she think him dead?
Once in the car, headed for the nearest drug store, grasping wildly at the side or at the back of the seat every few moments as the district attorney skidded around curves and literally hurdled obstacles, I remembered a forgotten fact.
Atropin! That was belladonna, simply another name for the drug. Shirley had procured the stuff for use in his eyes. Nevertheless, he had been aware, undoubtedly, of its deadly nature. Passing by Kennedy and the rest of us, he had overheard Kennedy state that the murderer would be identified as soon as all could be assembled in the projection room. The heavy man had not cared to face justice in so prosaic a manner. With the same sense of the melodramatic which had led him to slay Stella Lamar in the taking of a scene, Werner in the photographing of another, he had preferred suicide and had selected the most spectacular moment possible for his last upon earth.
Yes, Shirley was guilty. Rather than wait the slow processes of legal justice he had attempted suicide. Now we raced to save his life, to preserve it for a more fitting end in the electric chair.
The first drug store we found was unable to supply us. At a second we had better luck. All in all, we were back at the Manton Pictures plant in a relatively few minutes, a remarkable bit of driving on the part of the district attorney.
Shirley was still in the set. Kennedy at once administered the physostigmin, I thought with an air of great relief.
"This is one of the rare cases in which two drugs, both highly poisonous, are definitely antagonistic," he explained. "Each, therefore, is an antidote for the other when properly administered."
Marilyn was chafing Shirley's cold hands, tears resting shamelessly upon her lids, a look of deep inexpressible fear in her expression.
"Will—will you be able to save him, Professor?" she asked, not once, but a dozen different times.
None of the rest of us spoke. We waited anxiously for the first signs of hope, the first indication that the heavy man's life might be preserved. It was wholly a question whether the physostigmin had been given to him quickly enough.
Kennedy straightened finally, and we knew that the crisis was over. Marilyn broke down completely and had to be supported to a chair. Strong, willing arms lifted Shirley to take him to his dressing room.
At that moment Kennedy stood up, raising his voice so as to demand the attention of everyone, taking charge of matters through sheer force of personality.
"I have come here this afternoon," he began, "to apprehend the man or woman responsible for the death of Miss Lamar and Mr. Werner, for the fire in the negative vault, and now for this attempt upon the life of Mr. Shirley."
Not a sound was evident as he paused, no movement save a vague, uneasy shifting of position on the part of some of those who had been on the point of leaving.
"I have indisputable evidence of the guilty person's identity, but, nevertheless, for reasons which I will explain to you I have not yet completed my identification. To do so it is necessary that certain photographed scenes be projected on the screen and that certain other matters be made perfectly clear. I am very anxious, you see, to eliminate the slightest possibility of error.
"Mr. Mackay here"—Kennedy smiled, very slightly—"is the district attorney with jurisdiction at Tarrytown. At my request, since yesterday—or, to be exact, since the death of Mr. Werner warned us that no time could be lost—he has carried a 'John Doe' warrant. Immediately following my identification of the guilty person he—or she—will be placed under arrest. The charge will be the murder of Stella Lamar by the use of poison in a manner which I will explain to you. The trial will take place at White Plains, the county seat of Westchester County, where the murder occurred. Mr. Mackay informs me that the courts there are not crowded; in fact, he personally has been able to devote most of his time to this case. Therefore the trial will be speedy and I am sure that the cold-blooded methods used by this criminal will guarantee a quick sentence and an early trip to the electric chair at Ossining. Now"—suddenly grim—"if everyone will go down to the projection room, the larger one, we will bring matters to their proper conclusion."
I imagined that Kennedy's speech was calculated to spread a little wholesome fear among the people we had considered suspects. In any case that was the result, for an outsider, from the expressions upon the various faces, might have concluded that several of them were guilty. Each seemed to start off across the studio floor reluctantly, as though afraid to obey Kennedy, yet unable to resist the fascination of witnessing the identification of the criminal, as though feeling that he or she individually might be accused, and yet unwilling to seek safety at the expense of missing Kennedy's revelation of his methods and explanation of their result.
I drew him aside as quickly as I could.
"Craig," I started, eagerly, "isn't this all unnecessary? Can't you see that Shirley is the guilty man? If you will hurry into his room with paper and pencil and get his confession before he recovers from his fright and regains his assurance—"
"What on earth, Walter!" Kennedy interrupted me with a look of surprise which I did not miss even in my excitement. "What are you driving at, anyway?"
"Why, Shirley is the criminal. He—"
"Nonsense! Wasn't an attempt made to kill him just now? Wasn't it evident that he was considered as dangerous to the unknown as Werner, the director? Hasn't he been eliminated from our calculations as surely as the man slain yesterday?" "No!" I flushed. "Not at all, Craig! This was not an attempt at murder. There were none of the criminal's earmarks noticeable at Tarrytown or in the banquet scene."
"How do you mean, Walter?" For once Kennedy regarded me seriously.
"Why, you pointed out yourself that this unknown was exceptionally clever. The attempt on Shirley, if it were an attempt, was not clever at all."
"Why?" I was a little sarcastic, because I was sure of myself. "Because the poison was atropin—belladonna. That is common. I've read of any number of crimes where that was used. Do you think for a moment that the mind which figured out how to use snake venom, and botulin toxin, would descend to anything as ordinary as all this?"
"Well, if it was not an attempt at murder, what was it?"
"Suicide! It's as plain as the nose on your face. Shirley was passing us as we were standing with Millard and as you told Millard we all were to go to the projection room to identify the criminal. Therefore Shirley knew he was at the end of his rope. With the theatrical temperament, he took the poison just as he finished playing his last great scene. It—it was a sort of swan song."
"Quite a theory, Walter!" Now I knew Kennedy was unimpressed. "But, where did he get the belladonna?"
"For his eyes. After the smoke smart."
"The drug is of no use against such inflammation."
"No, but it served to brighten his eyes. Enid suggested it to him and he went out and got it. It helped him play his scenes. It gave him the glittering expression he needed in his characterization."
Again Kennedy seemed to grasp my view. He hesitated for several moments. Finally he looked up.
"If Shirley is the criminal, and if he is above using as common a drug as atropin for killing another man, then—then why isn't he above using it upon himself?"
That struck me as easy to answer. "Because if he is killing himself it is not necessary for him to cover his tracks, or to do it cleverly, and besides"—it was my big point—"he probably didn't decide to try to do it until he overheard us and realized the menace. At that time he had the belladonna in his pocket. He did not have an opportunity to procure anything else."
Kennedy grinned. "You're all wrong, Walter, and I'll show you where your reasoning is faulty. In the first place if this criminal was the type to commit suicide at the moment he thought he was about to be caught he would be the type who would reflect upon that idea beforehand. As his crimes show a great deal of previous preparation, so we may assume that he would prepare for suicide, or rather for the possibility that he might wish to attempt it. Therefore he would have something better for that purpose than atropin."
I shook my head, but Kennedy continued.
"As a matter of fact, the use of that drug is not less clever than the use of the venom or the toxin; it is more so. Stop and think a minute! The snake venom was employed in the case of Miss Lamar's death because it offered about the least possible chance of leaving telltale clues behind. The snake poison could be inflicted with a tiny scratch, and in such a way that an outcry from the girl would never be noticed. Nothing but my pocket lens caught the scratch; only the great care I used in my examination put us on the trail at all.
"Now remember how Werner met his death. The toxin gave every symptom of food poisoning. Except that we discovered the broken stem of the wineglass we would never have been able to prove the tragedy anything but accident. Very possibly we have Shirley to thank for the fact that our one clue there was not removed or destroyed.
"In both cases the selection of the poison was suited to the conditions. Therefore, if an attempt was made to kill Shirley— and of the fact I am sure—we might expect that the agent likewise would be one least apt to create suspicion. There are no portieres, no opportunity for the use of another venom; and besides, that has lost its novelty, and so its value. Similarly there is no use of food or wine in the scene, precluding something else along the toxin order.
"Our unknown realizes that the safest place to commit murder is where there is a crowd. He has followed that principle consistently. In the case of the heavy man, who has a bit of business before the camera where he drinks the contents of a little bottle, the very cleverest thing is to use belladonna, because Shirley has employed it for his eyes, and because"— maliciously, almost—"it leads immediately to the hypothesis of suicide."
"Ye gods, Craig!" A sudden thought struck me and rather terrified me. "Do you suppose Enid Faye suggested the use of the drug to Shirley as part of the scheme to kill him? Is she—"
"I prefer," Kennedy interrupted—"I prefer to suppose that the guilty person overheard her, or perhaps saw him buy it or learned in some other way that he was going to use it."
Completely taken up with this new line of thought, I failed to question Kennedy further, and it was just as well because most of the people were on their way down to the projection room, not only those we wished present, but practically everyone of sufficient importance about the studio to feel that he could intrude.
Kennedy turned to Mackay, who had taken no part in our discussion, although an interested listener. "You have the bag and all the evidence?"
"Yes!" Mackay picked it up. "Watkins, the camera man, watched it for me while Jameson and I went after that drug."
Kennedy stooped down quickly, but it was locked and had not been tampered with.
In the corridor by the dressing rooms we met Kauf, and Kennedy stopped him.
"How long would it take to make a print from the scene where Shirley took the poison?"
"We could have it ready in half an hour, in a case of grim necessity."
"Half an hour?" I exclaimed at that, in disbelief. "You couldn't begin to dry the negative in that time, Kauf."
He glanced at me tolerantly. "We make what is called a wet print; that is, we print from the negative while it is still wet and so we only have the positive to dry. Then we put it on drums in a forced draught of hot air. The result is not very good, but it's a fine thing sometimes to get a picture of a parade or some accident in a theater right after it happens."
"Will you do it for me, Kauf?" Kennedy broke in, impatiently. "This is a case of grim necessity," he added.
Kauf hurried off and we made our way across the yard to the stairs leading down into the basement and to the projection room specified by Kennedy. Here Manton was waiting, uneasy, flushed, his face gathered in a frown and his hands clenching and unclenching in his nervousness.
"Do you—do you know who it is?" he demanded.
"Not yet," Kennedy replied. "First I must marshal all my evidence."
"Who—who do you want present in the projection room?"
"Mr. Phelps, Mr. Millard, and—yourself, Mr. Manton. Miss Loring and Miss Faye. Mr. Gordon. Anyone else who wishes, if there is room."
"Phelps, Millard, Gordon, and the two girls are inside already."
"Good! We will start at once."
Manton turned, to lead the way in. At that moment there was a call from the yard. We stopped, looking up. It was Shirley.
"Wait just a minute," he cried. He was so weak that the two extra men who were helping him virtually supported his weight. On his face was a look of desperate determination. "I—I must see this too!" he gasped.
Coming in from the bright light of open day, the projection room seemed a gloomy, forbidding place, certainly well calculated to break down the reserve of perhaps the cleverest criminal ever pitting his skill against the science of Craig Kennedy.
It was a small room, long and not so wide, with a comparatively low ceiling. In order to obviate eye strain the walls were painted somberly and there were no light colors in evidence except for a nearly square patch of white at the farther end, the screen upon which the pictures were projected. The illumination was very dim. This was so that there would be no great contrast between the light reflected from the images cast upon the screen during pictures and the illumination in the room itself between reels; again designed to prevent strain upon the eyes of the employees whose work was the constant examination of film in various stages of its assembly.
The chairs were fastened to the floor, arranged in tiny crescents and placed so as not to interfere with the throw of the pictures from behind. The projection machines themselves, two in number in order to provide continuous projection by alternating the reels and so threading one machine while running the other, were in a fireproof booth or separate room, connected with the tiny auditorium only by slits in the wall and a sort of porthole through which the operator could talk or take his instructions.
Directly beneath the openings to the booth were a table equipped with a shaded lamp, a stand for manuscripts, and a signal button. Here the film cutters and editors sat, watching the subject upon which they worked and making notes for changes, for bits of superfluous action to be cut out, or for titles or spoken inserts to be moved. At a signal the operator could be instructed to stop at any point, or to start, or to wind back and run some given piece over again. The lights in the room were controlled from within the booth and also by a switch just at the side of the door. A telephone on the table offered a connection with any part of the studio or with the city exchanges, so that an official of the company could be reached while viewing a picture.
As we entered I tried to study the different faces, but found it a hopeless task on account of the poor light. Kennedy took his place at the little table, switching on the little shaded lamp and motioning for Mackay to set the traveling bag so he could open it and view the contents. Then Mackay took post at the door, a hand in his pocket, and I realized that the district attorney clasped a weapon beneath the cover of his clothing, and was prepared for trouble. I moved over to be ready to help Kennedy if necessary. As Kennedy took his key, unlocking the bag, it would have been possible to have heard the slightest movement of a hand or foot, the faintest gasp of breath, so tense was the silence.
First Kennedy took out the various rolls of film. Looking up, he caught the face of the operator at the opening in the wall and handed them to him one by one.
"Here are two sections of the opening of the story, scenes one to thirteen of 'The Black Terror' put together in order, but without subtitles. One is printed from the negative of the head camera man, Watkins. The other is exactly the same action as taken by the other photographer. We will run both, but wait for my signal between each piece. Understand?"
"Now I am giving you two rolls which contain prints of the negative from both cameras of the action at the moment of Werner's death. Those are to be projected in the same way when I give you the signal. Following that there will be two very short pieces which show the attempt upon the life of Mr. Shirley. They are being rushed through the laboratory at this moment and will be brought to you by the time we are ready for them. Finally"— Kennedy paused and as he took the rolls of negative of the snake film I could see that he hesitated to allow them out of his hands even for a few moments—"here is some negative which will be my little climax. It—it is very valuable indeed, so please be careful."
"You—you want to project the NEGATIVE?" queried the operator.
"Yes. They tell me it can be done, even with negative as old and brittle as this, if you are careful."
"I'll be careful, sir! You punch the button there once to stop and two to go. I'll be ready in a moment." As he spoke he disappeared and soon we heard the unmistakable hiss of the arcs in his machines.
Kennedy stooped and from the bag produced the little envelopes with the pocket knives and nail files, the set of envelopes with the samples of blood, the piece of silk he had cut from the portiere at Tarrytown, the tiny bits he had cut from the towel found by me in the washroom of this studio, and a microscope—the last, I guessed, for effect.
Around in the semidarkness I could see the faces as necks were craned to watch us. Kennedy's deliberateness, his air of certainty, must have struck terror home to some one person in the little audience. Often Kennedy depended upon hidden scientific instruments to catch the faint outward signs of the emotions of his people in a seance of this sort, to allow the comparison of their reactions in the course of his review of the evidence, to give him what amounted to a very sure proof of the one person's guilt. The very absence of some such preparation indicated to me the extent of his confidence.
At length he began his little lecture, for all the world as though this were one of his classes at the University, as though there were at stake some matter of chemical reaction.
"I need not tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that this is a highly scientific age in which we live." His tones were leisurely, businesslike, cool. "Your own profession, the moving picture, with all its detail of photography and electricity, its blending of art and drama and mechanics, is indicative of that, but"—a pause for emphasis—"it is of my own profession I wish to talk just now, the detection and prevention of crime.
"Criminals as a whole were probably the very first class of society to realize the full benefit of modern science. Banks and business institutions, the various detective and police forces, all grades and walks of life have been put to it to keep abreast of the development of scientific crime. So true has this been that it is a matter of common belief with many people that the hand of the law may be defied with impunity, that justice may be cheated with absolute certainty, just so long as a guilty man or woman is sufficiently clever and sufficiently careful.
"Fortunately, the real truth is quite the reverse. Science has extended itself in many dimensions of space. With the use of a microscope, for instance, a whole new world is opened up to the trained detective.
"Everyone knows now that the examination of hands and fingers is an infallible aid in the identification of criminals and in the proof of the presence of a suspect at the scene of a crime—I refer to fingerprints, of course. But fingerprints are only one small detail in this department of investigation. Our criminals know that gloves must be worn, or any smooth surface wiped so as to remove the prints. In that way they believe they cheat the microscope or the pocket lens.
"As a matter of fact few people have thought of another way of gaining evidence from the finger tips, but it is a method possible to the scientist, and is not only practicable but exceedingly effective. In time it will be recognized by all specialists in crime. Now I refer to the deposits under the finger nail.
"Indeed, it is surprising how many things find their way under the nail and into the corners of the cuticle." Kennedy indicated the files and pocket knives visible in the shaded square of light before him. "The value of examining finger-nail deposits becomes evident when we realize that everyone carries away in that fashion a sample of every bit of material he handles. To touch a piece of cloth, even lightly, will result in the catching of a few of its fibers. Similarly, the finger nails will deposit either a small or large portion of their accumulation upon such things as the knife blades or files used to clean them; and there identification still is possible. Nothing in the world is too infinitesimal for use as evidence beneath the microscope.
"In classifying these accumulations"—Kennedy paused and the silence in the little room was death-like—"we may say that there are some which are legitimate and some which are not. It is the latter which concern us now. The first day we were here at the studio, just four days ago now, and immediately following the murder of Miss Lamar, Mr. Jameson discovered a towel in the washroom on the second floor of the office building. On that towel there were spots of Chinese yellow, make-up, as though it had been used to wipe a face or hands by some actor or actress. Those spots were unimportant. There were others, however, of an entirely different nature, together with the mark of blood and a stain which showed that a hypodermic needle had been cleaned upon the towel before it was thrown in the basket."
Kennedy leaned forward. His eyes traveled from face to face. "That towel was a dangerous clue." Now there was a new grim element in his voice. "That towel alone has given me the evidence on which I shall obtain a conviction in this case. To-day I let it be known that it was in my possession and the guilty man or woman understood at once the value it would be to me. In order to gain additional clues I purposely gave the impression that I had yet to analyze either the spots or the trace of blood. I wanted the towel stolen, and for that purpose I placed the bag containing it in a locker and left the locker unguarded. I coated the towel with a substance which would cause discomfort and alarm—itching salve—not with the idea that anyone would be foolish enough to go about scratching before my eyes, but with the idea of making that person believe that such was my purpose and with the idea of driving him—or her—to washing his hands at once and, more, with the idea of forcing him or scaring him into cleaning his fingernails.
"I succeeded. On one of these files or knife blades I have found and identified the fibers of that towel. I do not yet know the person, but I know the mark placed by Mackay on the outside of the little envelope, and when I tell Mackay the mark he will name the guilty person."
"Mr. Kennedy!" Manton spoke up, impulsively, "every towel in the studio is the same. I bought them all at the same time. The fibers would all be alike. You have named seven people to me, including myself, as possibly guilty of these—these murders. Your conclusions may be very unjust—and may lead to a serious miscarriage of justice."
Kennedy was unperturbed. "This particular towel, in addition to the itching salve, was thoroughly impregnated with a colorless chemical which changed the composition of the fibers in a way easily distinguishing them from the others under the microscope. Do you see, Mr. Manton?"
The promoter had no more to say.
"Now what connection has the towel with the case? Simply this!" Kennedy picked up one of the tiny pieces he had cut out of it. "The poison used to kill Miss Lamar was snake venom." He paused while a little murmur went through his audience, the first sound I had detected. "These spots on the towel are antivenin. The venom itself is exceedingly dangerous to handle. The guilty man— or woman—took no chances, but inoculated himself with antivenin, protection against any chance action of the poison. The marks on the towel are the marks made by the needle used by that person in taking the inoculation.
"If you will follow me closely you will understand the significance of this. Miss Lamar was killed by the scratch of a needle secreted in the portieres through which she came, playing the scene in Mr. Phelps's library. That I will prove to you when I show you the film. The night following her death some one broke into the room there at Tarrytown and removed the needle. In removing the needle that person scratched himself, or herself. On the portieres I found some tiny spots of blood." Kennedy paused to hold up the bit of heavy silk. "I analyzed them and found that the blood serum had changed in character very subtly. I demonstrated that the blood of the person who took the needle contained antivenin, and if necessary I can prove the blood to come from the same individual who wiped the needle on the towel in the studio."
Kennedy pressed the button before him, twice. "Now I want you to see, actually see Miss Lamar meet her death."
The lights went out, then the picture flashed on the screen before us, revealing the gloom and mystery of the opening scene of "The Black Terror." We saw the play of the flashlight, finally the fingers and next the arm of Stella as she parted the curtains. In the close-up we witnessed the repetition of her appearance, since the film was simply spliced together, not "matched" or trimmed. Following came all the action down to the point where she collapsed over the figure of Werner on the floor. Before the camera man stopped, Manton rushed in and was photographed bending over her.
Kennedy's voice was dramatically tense, for not one of us but had been profoundly affected by the reproduction of the tragedy.
"Did you notice the terror in her face when she cried out? Was that terror, really? If you were watching, you would have detected a slight flinch as she brushed her arm up against the silk. For just a moment she was not acting. It was pain, not pretended terror, which made her scream. The devilish feature to this whole plot was the care taken to cover just that thing-her inevitable exclamation. Now watch closely as I signal the operator to run the same action from the other camera. Notice the gradual effect of the poison, how she forces herself to keep going without realization of the fact that death is at hand, how she collapses finally through sheer inability to maintain her control of herself a moment longer."
During the running of the second piece the tense silence in the room was ghastly. Who was the guilty person? Who possessed such amazing callousness that an exhibition of this sort brought no outcry?
"Now"—Kennedy glanced around in the dim light, switched on between the running of the different strips—"I'm going to project the banquet scenes and show you the manner of Werner's death."
Scene after scene of the banquet flashed before us. Here the cutter had not been sure just what Kennedy wanted and had spliced up everything. We saw the marvelous direction of Werner, who little realized that it was to be his last few moments on earth, and we grasped the beauty and illusion of the set caused by the mirrors and the man's skill in placing his people. Yet there was not a sound, because we knew that this was a tragedy, a grim episode in which there was no human justification whatever.
Werner rose at his place. He proposed his toast. He drank the contents of his glass. Then, his expression changed to wonderment and from that to fear and realization, and he dropped to the floor.
Kennedy's voice, interrupting, seemed to me to come from a great distance, so powerfully was I affected by the bit of film.
"The poison used to kill Mr. Werner was botulin toxin, selected because its effects could not be diagnosed as anything other than ordinary food poisoning. When we look at the print from the second camera's negative you will notice how quickly it acted. It was the pure toxin, placed in his glass before the wine was poured."
Once more the unfortunate director's death was reproduced before us.
"Struck down," exclaimed Craig, "as though by some invisible lightning bolt, without mercy, without a chance, without the slightest bit of compunction! Why? I'll tell you. Because he suspected, in fact knew, who the guilty person was. Because he followed that person out to Tarrytown the night the needle was removed from the portieres. Because he was a menace to that person's life!"
Kennedy turned to the operator. "Have those other scenes come down?"
"All right!" Kennedy faced the rest of us again. "There was, or rather is, another person who suspects the identity of the criminal. To-day an attempt was made upon the life of Shirley. Shirley will not tell whom he suspects because he has no definite proof, yet for the mere fact that he suspects he narrowly escaped the fate of Stella Lamar and Werner." Kennedy pressed the button. "Witness the effort to kill the man playing the part of the Black Terror."
The print was terribly bad, in appearance almost a "dupe," due to the speed with which it had been made. Nevertheless the two very brief scenes rushed through for this showing were more absorbingly thrilling, more graphic than anything ever to be seen even in a news reel at a movie theater.
"Notice!" Kennedy exclaimed. "He puts his hand in one pocket, he fumbles, hesitates, then finds the bottle in the other. Whoever put the poison in the vial replaced it in the wrong pocket. The film shows that very clearly. The camera proves that it was not an attempt at suicide. Yet the poison used was belladonna, selected because this victim had purchased some and because it would seem sure, therefore, that he had committed suicide."
We sat in silence, listening, horrified.
"There is still another matter," Kennedy went on, after a moment. "The fire in the negative vault this morning was incendiary. I have proved to the satisfaction of several of us that a bomb was constructed of wet phosphorus and old film and placed in the vault by trickery four days ago, the same day Stella Lamar was killed. Through a miscalculation the phosphorus was slow in drying and the fire did not occur until to-day. Thanks to that fact I have in my possession a bit of negative which the murderer very likely wished to have destroyed; in fact, I believe its destruction to be the motive in planning the fire in the vault." He faced the operator. "Ready to run the negative?"
Kennedy pressed the button and when the projection machine threw its picture upon the screen I saw something such as I had never imagined before. Everything was black which should have been white and everything white which should have been black. The two extremes shaded into each other in weird fashion. In fact it was uncanny to watch a negative projected and I followed, fascinated.
"This is a film made with the co-operation of Doctor Nagoya of the Castleton Institute and I am told by Mr. Manton that it is one of the finest snake pictures ever made." Kennedy spoke fast, so that we would get the full benefit of his explanation and so that it would not be necessary to subject the negative to the wear and tear of the sprocket wheels in the projection machine again. "I am running this for you to show you the action of the rattlesnake, whose venom was used to kill Miss Lamar, and to give you an idea of the source of the murderer's knowledge of snake poison."
At this moment Doctor Nagoya, whom I could barely recognize in the inverted photography, seized one of the rattlers. It was a close-up and we could see the reptile dart out its forked tongue, seeking to get at the hands of the Japanese, locked firmly about its neck. Then another man walked into the picture, holding a jar. At once the snake struck at the glass. As it did so it was possible to see drops of the venom projected into the jar.
Other details followed and there were views of other sorts and breeds of snakes, from the poisonous to the most harmless. The principal scene, however, had been the one showing the venom.
The operator threw the switch again, stopping the film and at the same time lighting the projection room. Kennedy stepped forward and turned to face us.
"There was this negative in the vaults." He spoke rapidly. "It bore a certain name on the film, as editor. Some one knew that proof of the possession of this knowledge of snakes might prove a powerful link in the chain against him. If that had been a positive instead of a negative, you would have recognized Doctor Nagoya's 'assistant.' There was a double motive in blowing that vault—to destroy the company and to protect himself. In fact, all the rest of the negative was destroyed. Only by chance I saved this piece—the very one that he wanted to destroy."
Everyone waited breathlessly for Kennedy's next move. Suddenly Kennedy flushed. I could see that he became genuinely angry.
"In this room," he exclaimed, "there sits the most unscrupulous, cold-blooded, inhuman being I have ever known. Yet he maintains silence, believing still that he can defy the scientific evidence of his crimes. I have not yet mentioned, however, the real proof of his guilt."
Kennedy picked up one of the little envelopes, one which contained a blood smear. "During the explosion this morning a number of you were cut by falling glass. You will remember that I bound up your cuts, carefully cleansing each one and wiping away the blood. That gave me a sample of the blood of everyone but Miss Loring and Mr. Shirley. Subsequently, without their knowledge, I obtained a sample from each of them. Thus I have a specimen from everyone concerned, or possibly concerned in the murders."
He glanced about, but even now there was no telltale revelation.
"I have analyzed these and one shows that the person from whom I obtained the sample has been inoculated with antivenin. The mark on the envelope is the same as the mark on the envelope containing the towel fibers, a double proof. Furthermore, I am prepared to show that it is the same blood as the blood upon the portiere." He faced me. All at once his voice carried the sharpness of a whip. "Walter, relieve Mackay at the door and take his weapon. Let no one out. Mackay, come here!"
An instant later the district attorney leaned over. He glanced at the mark indicated by Kennedy, then whispered a name. The next instant Kennedy rose. "I thought so," he muttered.
Raising his voice, he addressed all of us.
"Here is a man who thought crime so long that he believed he could get away with—murder! Not only did he commit a second murder and plan a third to cover the first, but he planted evidence against nearly all of you. He dropped the ampulla in McGroarty's car to implicate any one of four people. He coolly stole a cigarette case to put it where it would be found after the film fire and clinch suspicion.
"For all this, what justification has he had? Jealousy, jealousy of the narrowest, most primitive, sort actuated him. Not only was he willing to kill Stella Lamar, but he sought to destroy every foot of negative in which she had appeared. He was jealous of her success, greater than his, jealous of her interest in other men, greater than her interest in him. Her divorce was maneuvered directly by him simply because he thought it would hurt and humiliate her, and for no other reason.
"When nothing seemed to stop her, on her upward climb, when he realized that she was as ambitious as he was and that her position in the picture world alone interested her, he sought by devious means, by subtle schemes, by spreading dissatisfaction and encouraging dissension, to wreck the company which had made her. At the end—he killed her—waiting craftily until she was at the very climax of her finest piece of work, the opening scenes of 'The Black Terror.'"
There was bitterness in Kennedy's tones. "Before, I would not believe that a man—"
Suddenly the projection room was plunged into darkness. Some one had pushed the wall switch close by me. I backed into the doorway, raising my weapon to resist any attempt to escape.
Almost at the same instant there were the sounds of a struggle. Kennedy had dashed forward in the darkness, sure of the position of his man, unafraid.
A scream I recognized from the throat of Enid. I groped for the switch, but the operator in the booth anticipated me. In the first burst of illumination I saw that Kennedy had forced his antagonist back over the front row of chairs. Almost I heard the crack of the man's spine.
I caught a glimpse of the man's face and gasped at the murderous rage as he struggled and strove to break Kennedy's iron grip.
Enid was the first at Kennedy's side. With an expression I failed to analyze until long afterward she sought to claw at the murderer's unprotected features, twitching now in impotent fury.
"You wrote that note for her to meet you at the tearoom," Kennedy muttered, eyes narrowing grimly, "knowing she would be dead before that time. You protected yourself against the poisoned needle in the portieres—but—your own blood convicts you— Millard!"