The Talkie Murder
by Albert Edward Ullman
Sudden Darkness—the Grim Hand of Death Strikes—And the Unknown
Murderer There on the Movie Lot!
ON THE sound stage of the Ajax Picture Studios the members of the
cast had resumed the exact positions they had occupied before lunch.
Chalk lines, resembling the outlines of so many pairs of feet, enabled
them do this to the satisfaction of the exacting Tad Boone.
It was the climax of “Processional,” from the play of the Russian
master, and the famous director, after six weeks of tireless effort,
was confident that he had achieved the great picture of his career.
Momentarily the tense look left his face, and his smile embraced the
eleven characters. Then he frowned once more. “Lights!” he barked. “All
set!” A dazzling shower of light fell on the stage, and from the sides
a battery of Kliegs projected their blinding shafts.
“Miss Storme,” he said, in more gentle tones, as he looked at the
still-faced leading woman, “your cue is 'you lie!'—and then you
denounce Leonid . . . You work yourself into a fury gradually—your
motions become more violent— in the end you are like a creature
demented . . . And then you break—the storm of your words ends in mad
gibberings—you fall at the feet of the man who has betrayed you!”
HELENE STORME gazed at him somberly, but as he finished, a gleam of
fire came into her dark eyes. In her lovely husky voice, she started to
recite the words of her role. Slowly, then, as she faced the camera,
her burning eyes uplifted, her lips parted as if about to speak the
solemn words of the heroine.
But the words were never spoken. For at that instant the lights
flashed out, leaving the stage and studio in pitch darkness.
For a moment there was dead silence, then out of the Stygian
blackness came a piercing, shattering scream of agony, a frenzied cry
that froze the blood. Then a thud, as of a falling body.
Again dead silence, timed only by wildly- beating hearts. Then
another scream, smothered, this time in a different key. As it echoed,
the lights flashed on, their pitiless rays revealing the frozen faces
of those present.
Tad Boone was the first to partly recover his wits. With a dazed
look, he lurched onto the stage to stare at the crumpled figure of his
leading woman stretched on the floor! His eyes dilated with horror as a
crimson splotch showed on the bodice of the snowy evening gown and
slowly spread. He dropped on one knee and gropingly felt for the pulse
as the life blood continued to well from the heart.
“Dead!” he choked, looking wildly about at the ring of
terror-stricken faces. His eyes settled on an assistant director.
“Call—call the police!” he croaked. “This—this is murder!”
He jerked to his feet and faced the company. “None of you are to move
from your places!” he cried. “Some one has killed Helene Storme!”
So frozen with horror were the east that none of them had moved. Then
from out of their ranks, despite the orders of the director, one of
them tottered—Miriam Foye, a blonde slip of a woman who still managed
to play youthful roles.
“The—the murderer brushed by me, Tad!” she quavered. “That's why I
cried out. Crawling across the stage—” Her voice died out and she
clutched at his arm for support.
“Some one crawled past you?” barked Boone. “When?”
“Right after that terrible scream ... I felt a body against my legs
in the dark ... I was—”
“In what direction was it going?”
“Towards the left side of the set, I think,” she said shakily.
“Jock!—Danny!” the director shouted to an assistant and a property
man, standing woodenly behind his chair. “One of you circle the set,
the other see that the gates are closed and no one allowed out!”
THE sound of running feet caused him to jerk about. Several studio
executives were hurrying towards the scene, in their rear a throng of
“Stay where you are!” yelled Boone. “No one can come on this set
until the police give the word! Some one has killed Miss Storme!”
And none of that terror-stricken crowd did move for what seemed to
them, in their chattering excitement, an eternity, until there came the
heavy tread of feet, and two towering bluecoats forced their way
through the huddle of players and came striding towards Stage A.
“Stand back, all of yuh!” vociferated one of the policemen, as he
caught sight of the body. He lumbered towards the stage as if to brush
aside the players with his club.
“One moment, Officer!” called Tad Boone, bolting after him. “These
people were standing where they are when this happened. Some one close
at hand must have attacked Miss Storme, so I thought—”
“And quite right, too,” remarked a quiet voice at his elbow; then:
“Officer, you and your team-mate can rope off the space about here, and
keep everybody out until further orders.”
INSPECTOR COROT, head of the Homicide Squad, shot a swift glance at
the dead woman on the stage. Then his gray eyes swept the members of
the company and returned to the pallid face of the director.
“As you were saying, Mr.—er—”
“Boone is my name. I am the director.” He caught sight of a younger
man behind Inspector Corot. “Oh, hello, Dawson,” he said weakly. “Have
the newspapers already—”
“Just happened to be calling at the precinct station with the
inspector when the flash came,” the Blade reporter interjected.
“Am I to understand, Mr. Boone,” remarked the inspector, “that no one
has left the scene since this happened?”
“Absolutely no one—except two of my men I sent on errands.” He told
of the precautions he had taken, gave a hasty outline of the tragic
“In the dark—and a knife,” observed Corot quietly. “I take it you
have not found the weapon?”
“I have made no search,” said the director jerkily. “I rather thought
I might bungle things up.”
“Ah!” breathed the officer. “If there were more like you, a copper's
lot might be easier.”
He walked across the stage and bent his slight form over the body of
the dead actress. Then he straightened up, his keen eyes darting in
every direction. One moment they appeared to be measuring the distance
between some players and the body, the next following different angles
from the cameras and batteries of standing light. The arrival of the
Medical Examiner interrupted these proceedings. He walked back to where
Tad Boone stood, waiting.
“I imagine your actors are about ready to drop,” he commented to the
director. “Suppose we assemble them somewhere where I can question them
later . . . We may have to make a search, you know.” He called two
uniformed men to him. “Escort the members of the company to the room
Mr. Boone shows you,” he ordered “and don't let them out of your
sight.” To Detective Sergeant Moody, one of his aides from
Headquarters, he added: “Those fellows—cameramen, electricians—so
on—get them together somewhere; Detective Carroll will take charge.”
THE Medical Examiner glanced up. “Death instantaneous, Inspector!” he
exclaimed. “A savage wound, a thrust through the heart! Why, man, the
slayer had to work the blade up and down before he could withdraw it!”
“The man?” “Only a man—with the strength of a brute— could inflict
such a wound,” vigorously asserted the examiner. “It's demoniacal!”
“Then that lets the women out,” said Corot, with a short laugh.
“Except as accessories. Can you figure out anything about the size of
the knife, Doctor?”
An unusual one,” was the startling answer. “If I were back in the
Philippines, on my old job, I'd swear it was made by a bolo.”
“A bolo!” repeated the head of the Homicide Squad.
“A. terrible weapon,” explained the physician. “Really a cane-knife,
but used by the Igorottes in war—and head-hunting!”
“Then it was not a knife that one ordinarily would carry?”
“Lord, no! The blade was more than a foot long—that I'd swear!”
Inspector Corot appeared to be mentally mulling over the words of the
Medical Examiner. Then he turned abruptly and made for the room where
the members of the cast awaited him.
“Circulate about the studio,” he said to the reporter who strode
after him, “and see what you can learn about the Storme woman's past.”
LITTLE had ever been known about the strange young leading woman who
called herself Helene Storme. Tad Boone had spotted her in the
cashier's cage of a side-street cafeteria in New York. She was the very
type he was seeking for his new picture. So it was that the young
woman, without previous experience, had found herself under contract,
and in the Ajax Studios in Astoria.
Stony-faced, some had called her at her first appearance upon the
lot. But under the magic touch of the director, some spark of life had
kindled, to make of her a creature of flame and passion. However, when
not acting, she was passive, unresponsive, like a woman buried within
herself. But she had vindicated the judgment of her discoverer.
However, they were salty details of the girl's life that Inspector
Corot looked for—marriages, men, morals! So the Blade man
headed for the publicity department. But even Don Clark, its head, knew
nothing more of Helene Storme.
“She's a mystery woman, I tell you, Dawson,” he wailed. “No one, not
even Tad, knows anything about her past—Lord, feller, I tried the
old-home-town and mother-dear blab on her to get a story of her life,
but I drew a blank, a blankety-blank. Poor sister, she's dead now, and
can't help it, but she's making the first page.”
Pandemonium reigned in the executive offices, as on the lot. Only one
stage—Stage B— the one next to Tad Boone's—was in service, where a
“western” was being made. But from the distraught attitude of the
performers, it was plain that little would be accomplished that day.
The men of the company were being questioned as the Blade man
rejoined Inspector Corot in the small room to which the witnesses were
being admitted one at a time. However, the police learned little in the
beginning. The stories of the players were as alike as two peas, only
differing in their emotional points of view. That is, so far as the
male performers were concerned.
The examination of the women was saved to the last. Before they were
led in, Inspector Corot turned to the reporter.
“You might run out now,” he suggested, with a meaningful look, “and
see what Moody is about.”
THE detective-sergeant was on his hands and knees behind the set of
“No one crawled out through the left—or the back—as that Foye dame
thinks,” he grunted, as he scrambled to his feet. “There's no tracks
below those dummy windows. The getaway was through that door on the
right or the open stage front.”
“It must have been the door, then,” said Dawson quickly. “For the
director and his assistants are certain no one could have passed
between them and the players.”
WELL, I don't know about that,” Moody rumbled. “There was two actors
in front of that door, and they're just as certain that nobody passed
them in the dark. If everybody's right, then the murderer didn't
lam. He's still with us!”
“How about the knife?” “Yeah!” said the detective-sergeant weakly.
“Of course we've still got to find that. But once we dig it up—”
“Well, Tom,” intruded the quiet voice of the inspector, unexpectedly.
“The search was a frost,” admitted the assistant. “Not so much as a
penknife on any of those babies, though there were plenty of
“Well, well,” came from Corot impatiently. “What else?”
Moody hurriedly repeated his conclusions in regard to the escape of
the murderer from the stage: “It looks as if he's sticking around,” he
said, then burst out: “Say, to hear that Miriam Foye talk, half the men
around the studio were nuts about this dead woman. It's pretty sure
some of 'em hated her because she wouldn't give 'em a tumble.”
“Yes, I've heard about all she had to say on that score,” remarked
the inspector wearily, and added the gist of what Miriam Foye had told
him. “But of course you realize that a lady scorned is not to be
trusted too implicitly. However, I am sure that her tongue is her only
weapon, and—” He wheeled as Tad Boone hurried up.
“It's okay, Inspector,” panted the director. “All arrangements are
made to re-enact th—er— that scene for you this evening. Of course
the timing of the lights will be mere guesswork, but—”
“We may work that out—through a consensus of opinion,” nodded the
inspector. “By the way,” he added, casually, “I've been listening to a
little scandal. About this Clifford Holmes, for example—”
The director reddened, then paled. “There is Holmes, himself,” he
said. “Why not—”
“Let me talk to him!” blurted Moody, shoving out his jaw. “I'll tell
It was known that Corot used his sergeant for the rough stuff, but
even the reporter was astonished at the latitude allowed the big
detective-sergeant by the head of the Homicide Squad as Moody accosted
the leading man of the Ajax Company.
“Look here, Holmes!” he bellowed, as he burst into the man's dressing
room. “You threatened to kill Miss Storme, didn't you? We got the goods
on you! What've you got to say?”
The slender, light-hearted actor appeared about to collapse.
“God!” he moaned, his face twisting. “To think I should be accused of
that! Why—why— Helene meant—”
His voice died away and he slumped down onto a chair.
COROT touched his sergeant lightly on the arm, then drew a chair up
in front of the agitated actor.
“Now, Mr. Holmes,” he said softly, “no one is accusing you. The
police have to tar that way at times to obtain information. But you can
help me by answering a few questions . . . You were fond of Miss
Storme, I believe, but quarreled with her recently.”
“Good Lord, yes,” Holmes half gasped. “I was in love with her, but
she wouldn't take me seriously. I—I—maybe I did say some things—I
never meant . . . Damn that little she-devil, Miriam Foye!” he burst
out. “She said she would get me—when she heard—Listen Inspector, I—”
THE inspector arose and turned away with a shrug. “We may have some
more to say later,” he remarked coldly, “about—that lover's quarrel.”
Tad Boone gave the inspector a startled look as the men went out the
door. “Surely,” he protested, “you don't think Holmes—”
“We might be said to suspect anybody—and everybody—at this stage,”
said Corot mildly. “But that doesn't necessarily mean anything. Usually
a matter of elimination, you know. Holmes will be watched of course,
though—like the rest.” He chewed at a match for a moment. “What did
Miss Storme tell you of her past?” he asked.
“Not a thing,” answered Boone bitterly, “or I might be able to help
you. All I could figure out was that she had gone through hell, and
wanted no reminder of it. I sensed that the first time I looked at her.
It was that,” he said hesitantly, “rather than her strange beauty, that
attracted me. It was the tragic look, coming and going in her eyes, the
twisted smile that tried so hard to be real, and the voice with its
harsh, almost defensive note.”
“You were very much in love with her,” suggested the inspector in a
The director looked the police official squarely in the eyes.
“I was,” he admitted. “I considered myself engaged to her—for a
“The engagement was broken?” “It was,” said Tad Boone shakily. “By
“And the reason?”
“She gave none,” said the director, almost too quickly.
“Of course you asked her if there was— another man?” queried the
“She—she said,” breathed Boone, after an inward struggle, “that
there was. I had no wish to know who he was. All I wanted was to see
her happy. I asked her, in the event she remained in pictures, to stay
under my direction. For I have been all over the world, and never
expected to see her like again.”
“You have been in our Eastern possession, then?” queried Corot.
“Oh, yes; Hawaii, the Philippines, all that.”
“You know what a bolo is?” came the casual tone.
“Of course; I have one in my rooms. I made a silent picture—The
Black Virgin—and—” He stopped, with a terrible thought. “I see,” he
faltered, “just what your questions are leading up to. Just—just what
do you want of me?”
“You say you have the knife in your rooms?” remarked the inspector
noncommittally. “Suppose I send Detective Carroll along to fetch it to
Headquarters.” The director nodded dumbly as the inspector turned to
the newspaper man who still tagged him. “Think I'll take a little
stroll about the lot. Anything being shot today, Dawson?”
“Not much,” said the reporter. “I saw 'em at work on one
picture—just a Western.”
But as he strolled about the lot, Inspector Corot seemed to have
little interest in picture- making. He was bored with the taking of the
“Western,” seemed hardly to hear young Dawson talking. He never even
gave a second glance to the Ajax's new cowboy star, Ned Lane,
resplendent in snow-white sombrero and jeweled belt. He did give a
moment's time, though, to admiration of the cowboy's beautiful Great
Dane. Corot liked dogs.
“Fine dog,” he commented, and passed on, after a pat on the Great
Dane's head, towards the studio gates.
“Tom,” he said to the detective-sergeant who stood near the entrance,
“you and Carroll had better check up on all the players present, as
well as any stray visitors, first chance you get. Might as well play
safe. You can tell them in the office to let the bars down now, but see
that a careful tab is kept on all those leaving the studio. I'll be
running down to Headquarters now, after a bite.”
“Okay, Inspector,” said the sergeant succinctly and lumbered away.
Dawson of the Blade was still with Corot when the police car
came to a grinding halt in front of New York's sombre Police
Headquarters. But all his questioning of the inspector on the way
downtown had got him—exactly nothing. Not until Corot was in his
swivel chair in his private office and had lighted his pipe was he
ready to talk to the reporter.
“YOU say you've got to know what I think of this case?” he asked.
“Well,” he went on frankly, “at this minute that murder is as much of a
mystery to me as it is to you, Dawson. In fact, the element of
time—the lights could not have been out but a few minutes—and the
whereabouts of that peculiar knife, one not easily concealed, are the
things we're butting our heads on.”
The head of the Homicide Squad puffed thoughtfully at his pipe.
“Of course there must be a motive for murder,” he continued. “But
there are motives— and motives! For admission, we have the
admission of the director, Boone, that he was in love with his leading
lady, had thought her favorably inclined to his proposal of marriage,
until she suddenly turned him down. And she did tell him there was
another man! Moreover, there's the bolo. We'll learn about that
“On the other hand we have Holmes—also in love with the leading
lady—though he admits his case was hopeless from the beginning. He
quarreled with her—threatened her that if he couldn't have her nobody
else should. Likewise, he stood near the victim.”
“IT'S one of them!” put in Dawson. “It looks like it would have
“There's still another,” interjected the inspector softly, “if we're
to believe Boone, the other man! Who was he? When did he come on
“But he's out!” exploded Dawson. “If she gave the others the gate for
him, everything would be jake. Why should he want to bump her off?
Think the guy was nutty?”
Corot only smiled and shook his head.
“You've only Boone's word for it that there was another man,”
objected the reporter eagerly. “And who wouldn't lie to save himself
from the hot seat?”
The buzzing of the phone interrupted them. Corot picked up the
instrument near his hand. He listened for some minutes, snapped
“Good-bye,” and looked at the reporter. “Carroll just reported,” he
said. “Boone can't find his bolo—said he must have loaned it to some
one or forgotten.”
“Why don't you arrest him, then, and—”
“And depend on getting a confession to clinch the case, eh?” drily
remarked the astute man-hunter. “No, Dawson,” he went on between puffs
on his pipe, “those methods won't do in this case. We are not dealing
with an ordinary murder—or an ordinary murderer!”
WALTER DAWSON had just reported to his office the next day when
Inspector Corot called him on the phone.
“Promised to keep you posted on the talkie murder, Dawson,” he
laughed. “Always try to keep my word. Can you meet me uptown?”
A mad dash for the subway, and twenty minutes later the reporter was
facing the police official over a table in a modest chop house in the
“The murder scene at the studio last night,” smiled Corot grimly,
“was not what is termed a smash hit so far as the police were
concerned. A lot of nerves were shot to blazes, a couple fainted, but
our eagle eyes failed to discover a guilty face. However,” he went on,
dropping this sardonic humor, “we did learn one thing, which was the
main purpose, and that was the time element. The consensus of opinion,
as we clocked the time, was that the lights were not out more than
three minutes, though one or two estimated as much as five.
“So, to all appearances, the lights could not have been switched off
and on, with the murder sandwiched in between, by one and the same
person. I say to all appearances, but this is a mystery within a
mystery. Were we to solve the modus operandi of the murder, we would
still be confronted with the problem of the slayer.
“All that I have really got is one thing from the dead woman's maid.
About a week ago, Helene Storme received a phone call that left her
faint and sick. Her words, according to the maid were: 'No money can
repay me for my sufferings. I will make you pay in my own way.'“
“By Jove!” exclaimed Dawson. “That looks like she was out to get
somebody—and somebody got her!”
COROT nodded slowly and studied the ash on his cigar. “I'll tell you,
Dawson,” he said presently, “I am not at all satisfied with myself in
this case. I feel I am overlooking something that may be right under my
nose. I—” He stopped suddenly, his eyes burning. “By the Lord!” he
shot out sharply. “I've got it! I believe this is a trick murder!
And I'm going to find out!”
He was out of his chair, rushing into the street and leaping into his
car as Dawson catapulted himself into the rear seat. But not another
word was spoken by Corot on the way to the Ajax Studios, and Dawson was
reporter enough to know when to remain silent.
Inside the gate they encountered Detective Carroll.
“Inspector,” he said in a husky whisper, “we're checking up on
everybody who was in the studio, but we couldn't find a trace of that
knife, though three of us searched all night.”
“You would not, if my conjectures are right,” was his superior's
mysterious comment. “How about visitors?”
“That's our one break—it just happened that none were about the
studio at the time of the crime.”
“So at least, we have our murderer within four walls,” the
inspector's nod said, as if to himself. “Perhaps, after all, we may not
make such a muddle.”
He hurried on towards the main building, but suddenly saw the Great
Dane again, and stopped to admire it.
“A fine animal,” he remarked to a near-by property man.
“Yeah!” was the rejoinder. “Only if I had my way it would be kept off
the set when it wasn't needed.”
“How is that?” “It's always in the way for somebody to fall over.
Why, if Ned Lane so much as goes off for a drink of water, that big
mutt runs around like a rodeo.”
“Upsetting people, eh?” “You said it. The lummox spilled me on my
bean only yesterday. Say, I thought I was being murdered myself!”
“Didn't you tell me you knew the press agent here?” Corot asked
Dawson as they hurried on towards the executive offices.
“YES—Don Clark. An old friend. Can he be of any assistance?”
“He might help with some information I greatly need. First, I would
like to know the pictures every actor in the studio has appeared in
for, say, the past few years. Second, how soon can those pictures be
assembled for me to view them?”
“You want to see all the pictures in which all these
players have appeared?” Dawson's voice held astonishment.
“Exactly,” Corot answered, grinning at the young man's expression. “I
shouldn't think there would be so many, would you?”
“Gosh knows!” Dawson slowly breathed. “But if you're serious, of
course I'll ask Clark, or anyone else, for that matter.”
“I was never more serious in my life,” soberly assured Corot.
“But, look here, Inspector,” the reporter demanded eagerly, “what is
all this about a deluge of old pictures? Do you think a picture has
something to do with this murder?”
“Not directly,” he said slowly, “It's just a notion of mine. You
know,” he went on confidentially, “you and I know actors. They seldom
live outside their calling—continually talk shop and all that—and the
sense of the dramatic is always with them. Yes; the drama of make-believe is life itself to most of them, especially those in motion
pictures, and that's where my notion comes in. I stick to it! This is a
trick murder, and a premeditated one, and I rather suspect it was
suggested by something remembered, probably some incident from a play
in the past. So there, my boy, you have what makes my head tick.”
“But the entire cast of the company was on the stage,” protested
Dawson, “and yet someone crawled across the stage—bumped into Miriam
Foye. Wouldn't that suggest—”
“Ah! That body!” breathed Corot. “Your subconscious mind is telling
you something, my boy, and you're turning a deaf ear.”
DAWSON was still worrying about what it was his subconscious mind was
trying to tell him when he hurried back from his office that evening
and took a seat beside the inspector in the projection room. But he was
loath to ask for further enlightenment.
By ten o'clock, as reel after reel was run off, the reporter's eyes
were watering and he was willing to call it a day, but not so Corot. He
stuck it out till midnight, and only quit when the film ran out.
On and off, it was the same next day, and because Dawson was no hog
for punishment, he threw up his hands and started to consort with
Detective-Sergeant Moody. Under the latter's direction, the network of
New York's vast police system was in motion to link up the dead Helene
Storme with her buried past.
However, neither this far-reaching enquiry, nor the panorama of past
pictures flashing before Inspector Corot, were productive of anything
startling that day or the next.
It was on the evening of the third day that the slight figure of the
head of the Homicide Squad shot out of the projection room and flashed
by so fast that the newspaperman's frantic dash to the lower street
level enabled him only to see the retreating tail-light of the police
car. On the silent screen in the dark room something had pointed a
finger of guilt at the murderer!
He was incommunicado at Headquarters, and it was not until the
next morning that the insistent Dawson was finally admitted to his
private office. Moody and Carroll entered shortly after him. From a bag
he carried, the former carefully removed an object and placed it on the
desk of his superior. It was a dagger-like knife, something like the
short-sword of the early Roman. Beside the sinister weapon he laid a
“The glass from the hotel room and the big bowie both have the same
fingerprints,” he said laconically.
THOUGH the man-hunter's eyes danced with a strange light, the only
evidence of emotion was his rapid puffing on his pipe.
“Find the other knives?” he asked abruptly. “Sure,” answered the
detective-sergeant, with a casualness that did not deceive. “Twenty of
'em, with a lot of junk from an old circus act. The circus people
raised hell about us breaking open the trunk. Got 'em downstairs, if
you want 'em.”
“Yes; bring one out to the car,” his chief told him, “and see that it
is properly wrapped. Carroll, file those exhibits, and don't mess the
Then he looked at the newspaperman and smiled slowly, “Got our man!”
he said, like one who relieved suffering. “All but the collar.”
“Who—what—how—?” Dawson spluttered. “You—you—”
But already Corot was on his feet and donning topcoat and hat. In the
police car, Moody and Carroll were waiting. “Studio!” clipped Corot.
As they drew up in front of the Ajax Studios a long extension ladder
was being carried to a fire department truck at the corner.
“Fire?” inquired Dawson of Carroll, at his side.
“Naw! That was my night's exercise,” the detective husked in a tired
voice. “That bloody knife was sticking in a rafter—you had to be an
eagle to find the damned thing!”
A plainclothesman spoke to Corot. “All surrounded, Inspector.”
Quickly they passed through the long hallway of the administration
building into the darkened interior of the studio.
“You and Carroll know your stuff,” the head of detectives said, as
they neared the door to the big lot. “So be on your toes.” He passed
through the door, and paused to watch the activities of the Western
pictures company on outside location.
ADIRECTOR on a platform was megaphoning directions to a group of
bandit- like figures on horseback. Cameras and a sound- truck were
being moved in the foreground. Far to one side stood Ned Lane, beside
the beautiful white steed that was as much a part of his pictures as
Corot appeared aimless in his movements, but presently Dawson became
aware that he had an objective. This became more evident as he saw that
Moody and Carroll, too, were approaching in a similar manner from
different directions. They were closing in on someone. Walter Dawson
caught his breath in quick discovery. For the only person within the
triangle formed by the man- hunters was Ned Lane!
So intent was the new screen-hero on the action in the foreground
that he was unaware of the approach of the detectives. A minute later,
the two-gun actor wheeled around and faced an accosting officer.
“Lane,” Corot asked peremptorily, without any preamble, “where were
you when that murder occurred on Stage A?”
Though the player's face whitened, his voice was steady enough as he
answered: “Snatching a bite beside the set.”
“Oh, no, you weren't,” said the inspector softly. “Your dog never
leaves your side—he was rushing around in the dark trying to smell you
“I deny that,” said Lane, and his smile was cool.
Corot's voice became as hard as his eyes. “Perhaps you'll deny that
the slain woman was your abandoned wife?” he rasped.
A startling change came over the actor. His eyes dilated with fear,
the hand that rested on the neck of the horse trembled and caused the
animal to move unsteadily.
“You married Helen Schneider all right,” the inspector relentlessly
continued, “and you murdered her—with this!”
Like one paralyzed, the motion picture actor stared at the curious
knife that was thrust under his eyes. He slumped back against the
horse, his hand frantically clutching at its mane. As though his fear
had communicated itself to the animal, it suddenly leaped forward,
dragging its master at its side. But the next moment, Lane's other hand
had obtained a hold and he vaulted into the saddle as the frantic
animal headed up the runway to the imitation cliff some fifty feet
above the heads of those breathlessly watching.
A few more wild leaps and the horse gained the top and faced the open
space that separated it from the cliff opposite. Then, as the
detectives' guns barked, the horse was hurtling himself across the
chasm that had been lightly dubbed “the leap of death.”
IN mid-air, horse and rider, unhit, appeared suspended for a long
moment, silhouetted against the sky. Then the actor put spurs to his
mount and deliberately pulled at the reins. The gallant steed quivered
and jerked its head back. Strong men closed their eyes as it stopped in
that graceful parabola, to drop like a plummet to the earth beneath.
They knew it truly had been a leap of death!
* * * * *
Back in the small chop house, Walter Dawson was hurriedly scribbling
as Inspector Corot talked.
“You know,” observed the veteran detective, “I can't forgive that
fellow Lane for sacrificing such a noble animal. It was so needless; he
could have jumped off himself.” He paused to light a cigar. “I wonder
what will become of the dog?”
“Funny I didn't get that crack about my subconscious mind,” chuckled
Dawson. “It was the propertyman's talk that set you on the track.”
“Only in a way,” confessed Corot. “The trick of the murder was
responsible for its own solution. Guess I'd better give it to you in
sequence, though, for your sensational yarn. Well, Ned Lane's name was
really Nate Lavie, and under it he married Helen Schneider, a country
girl, in Wisconsin. At the time he was working with a fly-by-night
circus as a ballyhoo for the side-show, and a knife-thrower. The circus
collapsed in Pennsylvania, where Lane abandoned his girl-wife, who was
about to give birth to a child. Eventually he drifted to California and
hung about the movie lots. It was his ability as a knife thrower when
he was an extra playing a Mexican bandit that brought him to the
attention of the director. That, and the acquisition of a performing
horse from his old circus boss, and the fact that he had been a cowboy
of sorts, put him over. That act that I saw in that two-year-old film
was the clue that broke the mystery! It sent me to the old circus owner
and along the long trail to the murder on Stage A.
THE young woman, who was known to us as Helene Storme, was left
adrift and penniless. Her infant was born under the most pitiful
circumstances, and after a long illness, she made her way to New York.
There Tad Boone found her, working as a cashier.
“Then the Ajax Company brought Ned Lane on from Hollywood. Helene
recognized him and resolved to expose him. From what her colored maid
said, he must have offered her money, which she refused. She could ruin
him with that pitiful story—and he knew it. So he contrived a trick
murder, based on his old knife-throwing act. From the mezzanine gallery
he watched his chance when no one was near, to switch out the lights,
threw the knife with deadly accuracy, pulled it back by means of a
strong Jap fishing line, and with another throw buried the murderous
blade in the rafters above him. Almost simultaneously with that last
act, he switched the lights on, the entire episode taking less time
than it takes to tell it. Of course it was an easy matter for him to
drop to the main floor—he was used to such stunts—in the midst of the
Dawson looked up at Corot as he finished
jotting down his notes. “It's a whale of a story, Inspector,” he
said. “While I never thought of Lane, my judgment told me Tad Boone
could never have committed the crime, and Holmes was too putty-legged.”
The police officer treated the reporter to one of his quizzical
“You never can tell,” he observed drily. “The instinct to murder
finds itself into brains of all types—sometime or other.”