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- The Film Mystery - 50/51 -
towel there were spots of Chinese yellow, make-up, as though it had been used to wipe a face or hands by some actor or actress. Those spots were unimportant. There were others, however, of an entirely different nature, together with the mark of blood and a stain which showed that a hypodermic needle had been cleaned upon the towel before it was thrown in the basket."
Kennedy leaned forward. His eyes traveled from face to face. "That towel was a dangerous clue." Now there was a new grim element in his voice. "That towel alone has given me the evidence on which I shall obtain a conviction in this case. To-day I let it be known that it was in my possession and the guilty man or woman understood at once the value it would be to me. In order to gain additional clues I purposely gave the impression that I had yet to analyze either the spots or the trace of blood. I wanted the towel stolen, and for that purpose I placed the bag containing it in a locker and left the locker unguarded. I coated the towel with a substance which would cause discomfort and alarm--itching salve--not with the idea that anyone would be foolish enough to go about scratching before my eyes, but with the idea of making that person believe that such was my purpose and with the idea of driving him--or her--to washing his hands at once and, more, with the idea of forcing him or scaring him into cleaning his fingernails.
"I succeeded. On one of these files or knife blades I have found and identified the fibers of that towel. I do not yet know the person, but I know the mark placed by Mackay on the outside of the little envelope, and when I tell Mackay the mark he will name the guilty person."
"Mr. Kennedy!" Manton spoke up, impulsively, "every towel in the studio is the same. I bought them all at the same time. The fibers would all be alike. You have named seven people to me, including myself, as possibly guilty of these--these murders. Your conclusions may be very unjust--and may lead to a serious miscarriage of justice."
Kennedy was unperturbed. "This particular towel, in addition to the itching salve, was thoroughly impregnated with a colorless chemical which changed the composition of the fibers in a way easily distinguishing them from the others under the microscope. Do you see, Mr. Manton?"
The promoter had no more to say.
"Now what connection has the towel with the case? Simply this!" Kennedy picked up one of the tiny pieces he had cut out of it. "The poison used to kill Miss Lamar was snake venom." He paused while a little murmur went through his audience, the first sound I had detected. "These spots on the towel are antivenin. The venom itself is exceedingly dangerous to handle. The guilty man-- or woman--took no chances, but inoculated himself with antivenin, protection against any chance action of the poison. The marks on the towel are the marks made by the needle used by that person in taking the inoculation.
"If you will follow me closely you will understand the significance of this. Miss Lamar was killed by the scratch of a needle secreted in the portieres through which she came, playing the scene in Mr. Phelps's library. That I will prove to you when I show you the film. The night following her death some one broke into the room there at Tarrytown and removed the needle. In removing the needle that person scratched himself, or herself. On the portieres I found some tiny spots of blood." Kennedy paused to hold up the bit of heavy silk. "I analyzed them and found that the blood serum had changed in character very subtly. I demonstrated that the blood of the person who took the needle contained antivenin, and if necessary I can prove the blood to come from the same individual who wiped the needle on the towel in the studio."
Kennedy pressed the button before him, twice. "Now I want you to see, actually see Miss Lamar meet her death."
The lights went out, then the picture flashed on the screen before us, revealing the gloom and mystery of the opening scene of "The Black Terror." We saw the play of the flashlight, finally the fingers and next the arm of Stella as she parted the curtains. In the close-up we witnessed the repetition of her appearance, since the film was simply spliced together, not "matched" or trimmed. Following came all the action down to the point where she collapsed over the figure of Werner on the floor. Before the camera man stopped, Manton rushed in and was photographed bending over her.
Kennedy's voice was dramatically tense, for not one of us but had been profoundly affected by the reproduction of the tragedy.
"Did you notice the terror in her face when she cried out? Was that terror, really? If you were watching, you would have detected a slight flinch as she brushed her arm up against the silk. For just a moment she was not acting. It was pain, not pretended terror, which made her scream. The devilish feature to this whole plot was the care taken to cover just that thing-her inevitable exclamation. Now watch closely as I signal the operator to run the same action from the other camera. Notice the gradual effect of the poison, how she forces herself to keep going without realization of the fact that death is at hand, how she collapses finally through sheer inability to maintain her control of herself a moment longer."
During the running of the second piece the tense silence in the room was ghastly. Who was the guilty person? Who possessed such amazing callousness that an exhibition of this sort brought no outcry?
"Now"--Kennedy glanced around in the dim light, switched on between the running of the different strips--"I'm going to project the banquet scenes and show you the manner of Werner's death."
Scene after scene of the banquet flashed before us. Here the cutter had not been sure just what Kennedy wanted and had spliced up everything. We saw the marvelous direction of Werner, who little realized that it was to be his last few moments on earth, and we grasped the beauty and illusion of the set caused by the mirrors and the man's skill in placing his people. Yet there was not a sound, because we knew that this was a tragedy, a grim episode in which there was no human justification whatever.
Werner rose at his place. He proposed his toast. He drank the contents of his glass. Then, his expression changed to wonderment and from that to fear and realization, and he dropped to the floor.
Kennedy's voice, interrupting, seemed to me to come from a great distance, so powerfully was I affected by the bit of film.
"The poison used to kill Mr. Werner was botulin toxin, selected because its effects could not be diagnosed as anything other than ordinary food poisoning. When we look at the print from the second camera's negative you will notice how quickly it acted. It was the pure toxin, placed in his glass before the wine was poured."
Once more the unfortunate director's death was reproduced before us.
"Struck down," exclaimed Craig, "as though by some invisible lightning bolt, without mercy, without a chance, without the slightest bit of compunction! Why? I'll tell you. Because he suspected, in fact knew, who the guilty person was. Because he followed that person out to Tarrytown the night the needle was removed from the portieres. Because he was a menace to that person's life!"
Kennedy turned to the operator. "Have those other scenes come down?"
"All right!" Kennedy faced the rest of us again. "There was, or rather is, another person who suspects the identity of the criminal. To-day an attempt was made upon the life of Shirley. Shirley will not tell whom he suspects because he has no definite proof, yet for the mere fact that he suspects he narrowly escaped the fate of Stella Lamar and Werner." Kennedy pressed the button. "Witness the effort to kill the man playing the part of the Black Terror."
The print was terribly bad, in appearance almost a "dupe," due to the speed with which it had been made. Nevertheless the two very brief scenes rushed through for this showing were more absorbingly thrilling, more graphic than anything ever to be seen even in a news reel at a movie theater.
"Notice!" Kennedy exclaimed. "He puts his hand in one pocket, he fumbles, hesitates, then finds the bottle in the other. Whoever put the poison in the vial replaced it in the wrong pocket. The film shows that very clearly. The camera proves that it was not an attempt at suicide. Yet the poison used was belladonna, selected because this victim had purchased some and because it would seem sure, therefore, that he had committed suicide."
We sat in silence, listening, horrified.
"There is still another matter," Kennedy went on, after a moment. "The fire in the negative vault this morning was incendiary. I have proved to the satisfaction of several of us that a bomb was constructed of wet phosphorus and old film and placed in the vault by trickery four days ago, the same day Stella Lamar was killed. Through a miscalculation the phosphorus was slow in drying and the fire did not occur until to-day. Thanks to that fact I have in my possession a bit of negative which the murderer very likely wished to have destroyed; in fact, I believe its destruction to be the motive in planning the fire in the vault." He faced the operator. "Ready to run the negative?"
Kennedy pressed the button and when the projection machine threw its picture upon the screen I saw something such as I had never imagined before. Everything was black which should have been white and everything white which should have been black. The two extremes shaded into each other in weird fashion. In fact it was uncanny to watch a negative projected and I followed, fascinated.
"This is a film made with the co-operation of Doctor Nagoya of the Castleton Institute and I am told by Mr. Manton that it is
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