IV. The Fatal Script
 

I had no real opportunity to study Manton when he greeted us upon our arrival, and at that time neither Kennedy nor I possessed even a passing realization of the problem before us. Now I felt that I was ready to grasp at any possible motive for the crime. I was prepared to suspect any or all of the nine people enumerated by Mackay, so far as I could speak for myself, and at the very least I was certain that this was one of the most baffling cases ever brought to Craig's attention.

Yet I was sure he would solve it. I waited most impatiently for the outcome of his examination of Lloyd Manton.

The producer-promoter was a well-set-up man just approaching middle age. About him was a certain impression of great physical strength, of bulk without flabbiness, and in particular I noticed the formation of his head, the square broad development which indicated his intellectual power, and I found, too, a fascinating quality about his eyes, deeply placed and of a warm dark gray- brown, which seemed to hold a fundamental sincerity which, I imagined, made the man almost irresistible in a business deal.

His weakness, so far as I could ascertain it, was revealed by his mouth and chin, and by a certain nervousness of his hands, hands where a square, practical palm was belied by the slight tapering of his fingers, the mark of the dreamer. His mouth was unquestionably sensuous, with the lips full and now and then revealing out of the studied practiced calm of his face an almost imperceptible twitching, as though to betray a flash of emotion, or fear. His chin was feminine, softening his expression and showing that his feelings would overbalance the cool calculation denoted by his eyes and the rather heavy level brows above.

As he entered the room, taking the chair indicated by Kennedy, he seemed perfectly cool and his glance, as it strayed to the lifeless form of Stella, revealed his iron self-control. The little signs which I have mentioned, which betrayed the real man beneath, were only disclosed to me little by little as Kennedy's questioning progressed.

"Tell me just what happened?" Kennedy began.

"Well--" Manton responded quickly enough, but then he stopped and proceeded as though he chose each word with care, as if he framed each sentence so that there would be no misunderstanding, no chance of wrong impression; all of which pleased Kennedy.

"In the scene we were taking," he went on, "Stella was crouched down on the floor, bending over her father, who had just been murdered. She was sobbing. All at once the lights were to spring up. The young hero was to dash through the set and she was to see him and scream out in terror. The first part went all right. But when the lights flashed on, instead of looking up and screaming, Stella sort of crumpled and collapsed on top of Werner, who was playing the father. I yelled to stop the cameras and rushed in. We picked her up and put her on the couch. Some one sent for the doctor, but she died without saying a word. I--I haven't the slightest idea what happened. At first I thought it was heart trouble."

"Did she have heart trouble?"

"No, that is--not that I ever heard."

Kennedy hesitated. "Why were you taking these scenes out here?"

It was on the tip of my tongue to answer for Manton. I knew that at one time many fine interiors were actually taken in houses, to save expense. I was sorry that Kennedy should draw any conclusion from a fact which I thought was too well known to require explanation. Manton's answer, however, proved a distinct surprise to me.

"Mr. Phelps asked us to use his library in this picture."

"Wouldn't it have been easier and cheaper in the long run to reproduce it in the studio?"

Manton glanced up at Kennedy, echoing my thought. Had Kennedy, after all, some knowledge of motion pictures stored away with his vast fund of general and unusual information?

"Yes," replied the producer. "It would save the trip out here, the loss of time, the inconvenience--why, in an actual dollars and cents comparison, with overhead and everything taken into account, the building of a set like this is nothing nowadays."

"Do you know Mr. Phelps's reason?"

Manton shrugged his shoulders. "Just a whim, and we had to humor it."

"Mr. Phelps is interested in the company?"

"Yes. He recently bought up all the stock except my own. He is in absolute control, financially."

"What is the story you are making? I mean, I want to understand just exactly what happened in the scenes you were photographing today. It is essential that I learn how everyone was supposed to act and how they did act. I must find out every trivial little detail. Do you follow me?"

Manton's mouth set suddenly, showing that it possessed a latent quality of firmness. He glanced about the room, then rose, went to the farther end of the long table, and returned with a thick sheaf of manuscript bound at the side in stiff board covers. "This is the scenario, the script of the detailed action," he explained.

As Kennedy took the binder, Manton opened it and turned past several sheets of tabulation and lists, the index to the sets and exterior locations, the characters and extras, the changes of clothes, and other technical detail. "The scenes we are taking here," he went on, "are the opening scenes of the story. We left them until now because it meant the long trip out to Tarrytown and because it would take us away from the studio while they were putting up the largest two sets, a banquet and a ballroom which need the entire floor space of the studio." He turned over two or three pages, pointing. "We had taken up to scene thirteen; from scenes one to thirteen just as you have them in order there. It-- it was in the unlucky thirteenth that she"--was it my imagination or did he tremble, for just an instant, violently?--"that she died."

Kennedy started to read the script. I hurried to his side, glancing over his shoulder.

THE BLACK TERROR

FEATURING STELLA LAMAH

SCENE 1

LOCATION.--Remsen library. This is a modern, luxurious library set with a long table in the center of the room, books around the walls, French windows leading from the rear, and an entrance through a hallway to the right through a pair of portieres. Note: E. P. wishes us to use his library at Tarrytown.

ACTION.--Open diaphragm slowly on darkened set as a spot of light is being played on the walls and French windows in the rear. As the diaphragm opens slowly the light vanishes, leaving the scene dark at times and then brightened until, as the diaphragm opens full, we discover that the light is that of a burglar's flash light, traveling over the walls of the library. When the diaphragm is fully opened we discover also a faint line of light streaming through the almost closed portieres leading to the hallway outside. This ray of light, striking along the floor, pauses by the library table, just disclosing the edge of it but not revealing anything else in the room. The spotlight in the hands of a shadowy figure roves across the wall and to the portieres. As it pauses there the portieres move and the fingers of a girl are seen on the edge of the silk. A bare and beautiful arm is thrust through the portieres almost to the shoulder, and it begins to move the portieres aside, reaching upward to pull the curtains apart at the rings.

SCENE 2

LOCATION.--Remsen library. Close foreground of portieres.

ACTION.--Our heroine parts the portieres and stands revealed in the spotlight's glare. She is in dinner gown and about her throat is a peculiar locket of flashing jewels. She cries out and backs away, closing the portieres. The spotlight retreats from the curtains, leaving them dark.

SCENE 3

LOCATION.--Hallway, Remsen house. Close foreground of portieres leading to library. This hallway is lighted.

ACTION.--The girl holding the portieres shut screams for help.

SCENE 4

LOCATION.--Foot of stairway, Remsen house.

ACTION.--The butler and maid are discovered talking. They hear the girl's scream and start running.

SCENE 5

LOCATION.--Hallway, Remsen house. Close foreground of portieres.

ACTION.--The girl hears help coming and glances off to indicate that she sees the butler and the maid. She continues to cling to the closed curtains.

SCENE 6

LOCATION.--Remsen library. Full shot.

ACTION.--The unknown drops the spotlight to the floor and we first see his legs crossing the rays of light on the floor. Then the spotlight rolls, revealing the body of an elderly man of the American millionaire type, lying crumpled against the table. Finally it rolls a little farther and stops, directing its rays into the fireplace.

SCENE 7

LOCATION.--Remsen hallway, outside library.

ACTION.--The girl indicates determined resolve. She throws apart the portieres with a quick motion of her arms and dashes inside. The portieres close after her. The butler and maid come on running and looking about.

SCENE 8

LOCATION.--Remsen library. Full shot.

ACTION.--The spotlight is showing into the fireplace when the girl crosses quickly into its rays. She stoops into the light, revealing her face and picking up the spotlight. She flashes it about the room, pausing as it strikes the French windows and reveals the murderer making his escape out on a balcony which is revealed in the background. When the rays of light reach the murderer he deliberately turns.

SCENE 9

LOCATION.--Remsen library. Close foreground of French windows.

ACTION.--The intruder, now in the close foreground, pauses as he is about to shut the window and blinks deliberately into the rays of light, then laughs and closes the French windows.

SCENE 10

LOCATION.--Hallway, Remsen home. Close foreground of portieres to library.

ACTION.--The butler and maid look around hopelessly. A young man, the exact counterpart of the man who in the previous scene looked into the spotlight at the French windows, comes up to the butler and demands to know what has happened. The butler explains hurriedly that he heard his mistress cry out for help. The young man steps to the portieres and pauses.

SCENE 11

LOCATION.--Remsen library. Full shot.

ACTION.--The girl, using the spotlight, flashes it about the room and down on the floor, seeing for the first time the body of the American millionaire.

SCENE 12

LOCATION.--Exterior Remsen house. Night tint.

ACTION.--The murderer scrambles down a column from the upper porch and leaps to the ground, darting across the lawn out of the picture.

SCENE 13

LOCATION.--Remsen library. Full shot.

ACTION.--The spotlight on the floor reveals the girl sobbing over the body of the millionaire and trying to revive him. She screams and cries out. The portieres are parted and from the lighted hallway we see the young man, the butler, and the maid, who enter. The young man switches on the lights and the room is revealed. The three cry out in horror. The young man, glancing about, leaps toward the partly opened French windows, drawing a revolver. As the girl sees him she screams again and denotes terror.

Finishing the thirteenth scene, Kennedy closed the covers and handed the script to me. Then he confronted Manton once more.

"What became of the locket about the girl's neck? In the manuscript Miss Lamar is supposed to have a peculiar pendant at her throat. There was none."

"Oh yes!" The promoter remained a moment in thought. "The doctor took it off and gave it to Bernie, the prop. boy, who's helping the electrician."

"Is he outside?"

"Yes."

"Now try to remember, Mr. Manton." Kennedy leaned over very seriously. "Just who approached closely to Miss Lamar in the making of that thirteenth scene? Who was near enough to have inflicted a wound, or to have subjected her, suppose we say, to the fumes of some subtle poison?"

"You think that--" Manton started to question Kennedy, but was given no encouragement. "Gordon, the leading man, passed through the scene," he replied, after a pause, "but did not go very near her. Werner was playing the dead millionaire at her feet."

"Who is Werner?"

"He's my director. Because it was such a small part, he played it himself. He's only in the two or three scenes in the beginning and I was here to be at the camera."

While Kennedy was questioning Manton I had been glancing through the script of the picture. My own connection with the movies had consisted largely of three attempts to sell stories of my own to the producers. Needless to remark I had not succeeded, in that regard falling in the class with some hundreds of thousands of my fellow citizens. For everybody thinks he has at least one motion picture in him. And so, though I had managed to visit studios and meet a few of the players, this was my very first shot at a manuscript actually in production. I took advantage of Kennedy's momentary preoccupation to turn to Manton.

"Who wrote this script, Mr. Manton?" I asked.

"Millard! Lawrence Millard."

"Millard?" Kennedy and I exclaimed, simultaneously.

"Why, yes! Millard is still under contract and he's the only man who ever could write scripts for Stella. We--we tried others and they all flivved."

"Is Millard here?"

Manton burst into laughter, somehow out of place in the room where we still were in the company of death. "An author on the lot at the filming of his picture, to bother the director and to change everything? Out! When the scenario's done he's through. He's lucky to get his name on the screen. It's not the story but the direction which counts, except that you've got to have a good idea to start with, and a halfway decent script to make your lay- outs from. Anyhow--" He sobered a bit, perhaps realizing that he was going counter to the tendency to have the author on the lot. "Millard and Stella weren't on speaking terms. She divorced him, you know."

"Do you know much about the personal affairs of Miss Lamar?"

"Well"--Manton's eyes sought the floor for a moment--"Like everyone else in pictures, Stella was the victim of a great deal of gossip. That's the experience of any girl who rises to a position of prominence and--"

"How were the relations between Miss Lamar and yourself?" interrupted Kennedy.

"What do you mean by that?" Manton flushed quickly.

"You have had no trouble, no disagreements recently?"

"No, indeed. Everything has been very friendly between us--in a strictly business way, of course--and I don't believe I've had an unpleasant word with her since I first formed Manton Pictures to make her a star."

"You know nothing of her difficulties with her husband?"

"Naturally not. I seldom saw her except at the studio, unless it was some necessary affair such as a screen ball here, or perhaps in Boston or Philadelphia or some near-by city where I would take her for effect--"

Kennedy turned to Mackay. "Will you arrange to keep the people I have yet to question separate from the ones I have examined already?"

As the district attorney nodded, Kennedy dismissed Manton rather shortly; then turned again to Mackay as the promoter drew out of earshot.

"Bring in Bernie, the property-boy, before anyone can tell him to hide or destroy that locket."