XXXI. Physostigmin
 

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?"

"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 ease 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, Miliard, 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.