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- The Film Mystery - 51/51 -


one of the finest snake pictures ever made." Kennedy spoke fast, so that we would get the full benefit of his explanation and so that it would not be necessary to subject the negative to the wear and tear of the sprocket wheels in the projection machine again. "I am running this for you to show you the action of the rattlesnake, whose venom was used to kill Miss Lamar, and to give you an idea of the source of the murderer's knowledge of snake poison."

At this moment Doctor Nagoya, whom I could barely recognize in the inverted photography, seized one of the rattlers. It was a close-up and we could see the reptile dart out its forked tongue, seeking to get at the hands of the Japanese, locked firmly about its neck. Then another man walked into the picture, holding a jar. At once the snake struck at the glass. As it did so it was possible to see drops of the venom projected into the jar.

Other details followed and there were views of other sorts and breeds of snakes, from the poisonous to the most harmless. The principal scene, however, had been the one showing the venom.

"Lights up!"

The operator threw the switch again, stopping the film and at the same time lighting the projection room. Kennedy stepped forward and turned to face us.

"There was this negative in the vaults." He spoke rapidly. "It bore a certain name on the film, as editor. Some one knew that proof of the possession of this knowledge of snakes might prove a powerful link in the chain against him. If that had been a positive instead of a negative, you would have recognized Doctor Nagoya's 'assistant.' There was a double motive in blowing that vault--to destroy the company and to protect himself. In fact, all the rest of the negative was destroyed. Only by chance I saved this piece--the very one that he wanted to destroy."

Everyone waited breathlessly for Kennedy's next move. Suddenly Kennedy flushed. I could see that he became genuinely angry.

"In this room," he exclaimed, "there sits the most unscrupulous, cold-blooded, inhuman being I have ever known. Yet he maintains silence, believing still that he can defy the scientific evidence of his crimes. I have not yet mentioned, however, the real proof of his guilt."

Kennedy picked up one of the little envelopes, one which contained a blood smear. "During the explosion this morning a number of you were cut by falling glass. You will remember that I bound up your cuts, carefully cleansing each one and wiping away the blood. That gave me a sample of the blood of everyone but Miss Loring and Mr. Shirley. Subsequently, without their knowledge, I obtained a sample from each of them. Thus I have a specimen from everyone concerned, or possibly concerned in the murders."

He glanced about, but even now there was no telltale revelation.

"I have analyzed these and one shows that the person from whom I obtained the sample has been inoculated with antivenin. The mark on the envelope is the same as the mark on the envelope containing the towel fibers, a double proof. Furthermore, I am prepared to show that it is the same blood as the blood upon the portiere." He faced me. All at once his voice carried the sharpness of a whip. "Walter, relieve Mackay at the door and take his weapon. Let no one out. Mackay, come here!"

An instant later the district attorney leaned over. He glanced at the mark indicated by Kennedy, then whispered a name. The next instant Kennedy rose. "I thought so," he muttered.

Raising his voice, he addressed all of us.

"Here is a man who thought crime so long that he believed he could get away with--murder! "Not only did he commit a second murder and plan a third to cover the first, but he planted evidence against nearly all of you. He dropped the ampulla in McGroarty's car to implicate any one of four people. He coolly stole a cigarette case to put it where it would be found after the film fire and clinch suspicion.

"For all this, what justification has he had? Jealousy, jealousy of the narrowest, most primitive, sort actuated him. Not only was he willing to kill Stella Lamar, but he sought to destroy every foot of negative in which she had appeared. He was jealous of her success, greater than his, jealous of her interest in other men, greater than her interest in him. Her divorce was maneuvered directly by him simply because he thought it would hurt and humiliate her, and for no other reason.

"When nothing seemed to stop her, on her upward climb, when he realized that she was as ambitious as he was and that her position in the picture world alone interested her, he sought by devious means, by subtle schemes, by spreading dissatisfaction and encouraging dissension, to wreck the company which had made her. At the end--he killed her--waiting craftily until she was at the very climax of her finest piece of work, the opening scenes of 'The Black Terror.'"

There was bitterness in Kennedy's tones. "Before, I would not believe that a man--"

Suddenly the projection room was plunged into darkness. Some one had pushed the wall switch close by me. I backed into the doorway, raising my weapon to resist any attempt to escape.

Almost at the same instant there were the sounds of a struggle. Kennedy had dashed forward in the darkness, sure of the position of his man, unafraid.

A scream I recognized from the throat of Enid. I groped for the switch, but the operator in the booth anticipated me. In the first burst of illumination I saw that Kennedy had forced his antagonist back over the front row of chairs. Almost I heard the crack of the man's spine.

I caught a glimpse of the man's face and gasped at the murderous rage as he struggled and strove to break Kennedy's iron grip.

Enid was the first at Kennedy's side. With an expression I failed to analyze until long afterward she sought to claw at the murderer's unprotected features, twitching now in impotent fury.

"You wrote that note for her to meet you at the tearoom," Kennedy muttered, eyes narrowing grimly, "knowing she would be dead before that time. You protected yourself against the poisoned needle in the portieres--but--your own blood convicts you-- Millard!"

THE END


The Film Mystery - 51/51

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