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- The Film Mystery - 1/51 -


THE FILM MYSTERY

BY

ARTHUR B. REEVE

AUTHOR OF

"The Soul Scar" "The Adventuress" and Other Craig Kennedy Scientific Detective Stories

CONTENTS

CHAPTER

I. A CAMERA CRIME II. THE TINY SCRATCH III. TANGLED MOTIVES IV. THE FATAL SCRIPT V. AN EMOTIONAL MAZE VI. THE FIRST CLUB VII. ENID FAYE VIII. LAWRENCE MILLARD IX. WHITE-LIGHT SHADOWS X. CHEMICAL RESEARCH XI. FORESTALLED XII. EMERY PHELPS XIII. MARILYN LORING XIV. ANOTHER CLUE XV. I BECOME A DETECTIVE XVI. ENID ASSISTS XVII. AN APPEAL XVIII. THE ANTIVENIN XIX. AROUND THE CIRCLE XX. THE BANQUET SCENE XXI. MERLE SHIRLEY OVERACTS XXII. THE STEM XXIII. BOTULIN TOXIN XXIV. THE INVISIBLE MENACE XXV. ITCHING SALVE XXVI. A CIGARETTE CASE XXVII. THE FILM FIRE XXVIII. THE PHOSPHORUS BOMB XXIX. MICROSCOPIC EVIDENCE XXX. THE BALLROOM SCENE XXXI. PHYSOSTIGMIN XXXII. CAMERA EVIDENCE

THE FILM MYSTERY

I

A CAMERA CRIME

"Camera!"

Kennedy and I had been hastily summoned from his laboratory in the city by District-Attorney Mackay, and now stood in the luxurious, ornate library in the country home of Emery Phelps, the banker, at Tarrytown.

"Camera!--you know the call when the director is ready to shoot a scene of a picture?--well--at the moment it was given and the first and second camera men began to grind--she crumpled--sank to the floor--unconscious!"

Hot and excited, Mackay endeavored to reenact his case for us with all the histrionic ability of a popular prosecutor before a jury.

"There's where she dropped--they carried her over here to this davenport--sent for Doctor Blake--but he couldn't do a thing for her. She died--just as you see her. Blake thought the matter so serious, so alarming, that he advised an immediate investigation. That's why I called you so urgently."

Before us lay the body of the girl, remarkably beautiful even as she lay motionless in death. Her masses of golden hair, disheveled, added to the soft contours of her features. Her wonderfully large blue-gray eyes with their rare gift for delicate shades of expression were closed, but long curling lashes swept her cheeks still and it was hard to believe that this was anything more than sleep.

It was inconceivable that Stella Lamar, idol of the screen, beloved of millions, could have been taken from the world which worshiped her.

I felt keenly for the district attorney. He was a portly little man of the sort prone to emphasize his own importance and so, true to type, he had been upset completely by a case of genuine magnitude. It was as though visiting royalty had dropped dead within his jurisdiction.

I doubt whether the assassination of a McKinley or a Lincoln could have unsettled him as much, because in such an event he would have had the whole weight of the Federal government behind him. There was no question but that Stella Lamar enjoyed a country-wide popularity known by few of our Presidents. Her sudden death was a national tragedy.

Apparently Mackay had appealed to Kennedy the moment he learned the identity of Stella, the moment he realized there was any question about the circumstances surrounding the affair. Over the telephone the little man had been almost incoherent. He had heard of Kennedy's work and was feverishly anxious to enlist his aid, at any price.

All we knew as we took the train on the New York Central was that Stella was playing a part in a picture to be called "The Black Terror," that the producer was Manton Pictures, Incorporated, and that she had dropped dead suddenly and without warning in the middle of a scene being photographed in the library at the home of Emery Phelps.

I was singularly elated at the thought of accompanying Kennedy on this particular case. It was not that the tragic end of a film star whose work I had learned to love was not horrible to me, but rather because, for once, I thought Kennedy actually confronted a situation where his knowledge of a given angle of life was hardly sufficient for his usual analysis of the facts involved.

"Walter," he had exclaimed, as I burst into the laboratory in response to a hurried message, "here's where I need your help. You know all about moving pictures, so--if you'll phone your city editor and ask him to let you cover a case for the Star we'll just about catch a train at One Hundred and Twenty-fifth Street."

Because the film world had fascinated me always I had made a point of being posted on its people and their activities. I remembered the very first appearance of Stella Lamar back in the days of General Film, when pictures were either Licensed or Independent, when only two companies manufactured worth-while screen dramas, when any subject longer than a reel had to be of rare excellence, such as the art films imported from France for the Licensed program. In those days, Stella rose rapidly to prominence. Her large wistful eyes had set the hearts of many of us to beating at staccato rate.

Then came Lloyd Manton, her present manager, and the first of a new type of business man to enter the picture field. Manton was essentially a promoter. His predecessors had been men carried to success by the growth of the new art. Old Pop Belman, for instance, had been a fifth-rate oculist who rented and sold stereopticons as a side line. With blind luck he had grasped the possibilities of Edison's new invention. Just before the break-up of General Film he had become many times a millionaire and it was then that he had sent a wave of laughter over the entire country by an actual cable to William Shakespeare, address London, asking for all screen rights to the plays written by that gentleman.

Manton represented a secondary phase in film finance. Continent Films, his first corporation, was a stockjobbing concern. Grasping the immense popularity of Stella Lamar, he had coaxed her away from the old studio out in Flatbush where all her early successes had been photographed. With the magic of her name he sold thousands of shares of stock to a public already fed up on the stories of the fortunes to be made in moving pictures. When much of the money so raised had been dissipated, when Continent's quotation on the curb sank to an infinitesimal fraction, then it developed that Stella's contract was with Manton personally. Manton Pictures, Incorporated, was formed to exploit her. The stock of this company was not offered to outside investors.

Stella's popularity had in no way suffered from the business methods of her manager. Manton, at the least, had displayed rare foresight in his estimation of public taste. Except for a few attempts with established stage favorites, photographed generally in screen versions of theatrical classics and backed by affiliations with the producers of the legitimate stage, Continent Films was the first concern to make the five-reel feature. Stella, as a Continent player, was the very first feature star. Under the banner of Manton Pictures, she had never surrendered her position of pre-eminence.

Also, scandal somehow had failed to touch her. Those initiated to the inner gossip of the film world, like myself, were under no illusions. The relations between Stella and Manton were an open secret. Yet the picture fans, in their blind worship, believed her to be as they saw her upon the screen. To them the wide and wistful innocence of her remarkably large eyes could not be anything but genuine. The artlessness of the soft curves of her mouth was proof to them of the reality of an ingenuous and very girlish personality.

Even her divorce had helped rather than harmed her. It seemed irony to me that she should have obtained the decree instead of


The Film Mystery - 1/51

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