The Film Mystery by Arthur B. Reeve
II. 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.