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- The Film Mystery - 5/51 -


house, you know, and he is the financial backer of Manton Pictures, yet there seems to be an undercurrent of friction between Manton and himself. I--I wanted him to show me some detail of the arrangement of things in the library, but he wouldn't come into the room. He said he didn't want to look at Miss Lamar. There--there was something--and, I don't know. If he is concerned in any way--that would make nine."

"You think Miss Lamar and Phelps--"

Mackay shook his head. "I don't know."

Kennedy turned to me, expression really serious. "Is this the way they carry on in the picture world, Walter?" he asked. "Is this the usual thing or--or an exception?"

I flushed. "It's very much an exception," I insisted. "The film people are just like other people, some good and some bad. Probably three-quarters of all this is gossip."

"I hope so." He straightened. "The only thing to do is to go after them one at a time and disentangle all the conflicting threads. It looks as though there will be any number of possible false leads and so we must be careful and deliberate. I think I'll question each in turn--here."

He walked over to the fireplace, stopping for just a moment to glance at the body of Stella. Then he pulled the blinds down halfway, so that the room seemed somber and gruesome. He drew a chair so that the different individuals as he examined them, would be unable to lose sight of the dead woman. His arrangements completed, he faced the district attorney.

"Manton first," he directed.

In an instant I caught the psychology of it--the now darkened library, the beautiful body still lying on the davenport, the quiet and quick arrival of ourselves. If anything could be extracted from these people, surely it would be betrayed under these surroundings.

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


The Film Mystery - 5/51

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