Suddenly his eye caught the corner of a piece of paper slid under the glass of Manton's desk. He pulled it out; then handed it to me.
MEMORANDUM FOR MR. MANTON
Have learned Enid Faye is out of Pentangle and can be engaged for about twelve hundred if you act quickly. Why not cancel Lamar contract after "Black Terror," if she continues up-stage?
"I caught the name Lamar," Kennedy explained. Then an expression of gratification crept into his face. "Miss Lamar was 'up- stage'?" he mused. "That's a theatrical word for cussedness, isn't it?"
I paid little attention. The name of Enid Faye had attracted my own interest. This was the little dare-devil who had breezed into the Pacific Coast film colony and had swept everything before her. Not only had she displayed amazing nerve for her sex and size, but she had been pretty and beautifully formed, had been as much at home in a ballroom as in an Annette Kellermann bathing suit. In less than six months she had learned to act and had been brought to the Eastern studios of Pentangle. Now it was possible that she would be captured by Manton, would be blazoned all over the country by that gentleman, would become another star of his making.
"Let's go, Walter!" Kennedy, impatient, rose. I noticed that he folded the little note, slipping it into his pocket.
Out in the hall voices came to us from Werner's office. After some little hesitation Kennedy opened the door unceremoniously. At the table, littered with blue prints and drawings and colored plates of famous home interiors, was the director. With him was Manton. Seated facing them, in rare good humor, was a fascinating little lady.
The promoter rose. "Professor Kennedy, I want you to meet Miss Enid Faye, one of our real comers. And Mr. Jameson, Enid, of the New York Star."
She acknowledged the introduction to Kennedy gracefully. Then she turned, rising, and rushed to me most effusively, leading me to a leather-covered couch and pulling me to a seat beside her.
"Mr. Jameson," she purred. "I just love newspaper men; I think they're perfectly wonderful always. Tell me, do you like little Enid?"
I nodded, confused and unhappy, and as red as a schoolboy.
"That's fine," she went on, in the best modulated and most wonderful voice I thought I had ever heard. "I like you and I know we're going to be the best of friends. Tell me, what's your first name?"
"Now, Enid," reproved Manton, in fatherly tones, "you'll have plenty of time to vamp your publicity later. For the present, please listen to me. We're talking business."
"Shoot every hair of this old gray head!" she directed, pertly.
She did not move away, however, I could feel the warmth of her, could catch the delicacy of the perfume she used. I noted the play of her slender fingers, the trimness of her ankle, the piquancy of a nose revealed to me in profile—and nothing else.
"This is your chance, Enid," Manton continued, earnestly and rather eagerly. "You know the film will be the most talked about one this year. We've got the Merritt papers lined up and that's the best advertising in the world. Everyone will know you took Stella's place, and—well, you'll step right in."
She studied the tips of her boots, stretching boyish limbs straight in front of her, then smoothing the soft folds of her skirt.
"Talk money to me, Mr. Man!" she exclaimed. "Talk the shekels, the golden shekels."
"We're broke," he protested. "A thousand—"
She shook her head.
Werner broke in, suddenly anxious. "Don't pass up the chance, Enid," he pleaded. "What can Pentangle do for you? And I've always wanted to direct you again—"
"I'll make it twelve hundred," Manton interrupted, "if you'll make the contract personally with me. Then if Manton Pictures—"
"All right!" She jumped to her feet, extending a hand straight forward to each, the right to Manton, the left to Werner. "You're on!"
I thought that I was forgotten. A wave of jealousy swept over me. After all, she simply wanted me to write her up. In a daze I heard Manton.
"You're a wise little girl, Enid," he told her. "Play the game right with me and you'll climb high. The sky's the limit, now. I'll make you—make you big!"
With a full, warm smile she swung around to me and I knew I was not being slighted, after all.
"That's what Longfellow said, isn't it, Mr. Jameson?"
"What?" My heart began to beat like a trip hammer.
"Excelsior! Excelsior! It packs them in!"
She laughed so infectiously that we all joined in. Then Manton turned to Kennedy.
"I've located Millard for you. He's to meet us at my apartment at seven. It's six-thirty now. And you, Enid"—facing her—"if you'll come, too, there's another man I want you to meet, and Larry, of course, will be there—"
Enid studied Kennedy. He was hesitating as though not sure whether to accompany Manton or not. I never did learn what other course of action had occurred to him.
But I did notice that the little star, with her pert, upturned face, seemed more anxious to have Kennedy go along than she was to meet the mysterious individual mentioned without name by Manton. For an instant she was on the point of addressing him, flippantly, no doubt. Then, I think she was rather awed at Craig's reputation.
All at once she shrugged her shoulders and turned to me, plucking my sleeve, her expression brightening irresistibly. "You'll come, too"—dimpling—"Jamie!"
It struck me on the trip to Manton's apartment that the film people were wholly unfeeling, were even uninterested in the death of Stella Lamar except where it interfered with their business arrangements. Werner excused himself and did not accompany us, on the score of the complete realignment of production necessary to place Enid in Stella's part. It seemed to me that he felt a certain relish in the problem, that he was almost glad of the circumstances which brought Enid to him. His last words to Manton were, to be sure to have Millard recast the action of the scenes wherever possible, so as to give Enid the better chance to display her own personality.
I marveled as I realized that the remains of Stella Lamar were scarcely cold before these people were figuring on the star to take her place.
As Manton talked, the thought crossed my mind that such a man needed no publicity manager. I dismissed the idea that he might be capable even of murder for publicity. But at least it was an insight into some methods of the game.
As our car mounted to the Concourse and turned Manhattanward I was distinctly unhappy. Manton monopolized Enid completely, insisting upon talking over everything under the sun, from the wardrobe she would need in Stella's part and the best sort of personal advertising campaign for her, to the first available evening when she could go to dinner with him.
She sat in the rear seat, between Kennedy and the promoter, which did not add to my sense of comfort. The only consoling feature from my viewpoint was that I was admirably placed to study her, and that Manton held her so engrossed that I had every opportunity to do so unnoticed. Because she had overwhelmed me so completely I did nothing of the kind. I knew we were riding with the most beautiful woman in New York, but I did not know the color of her hair or eyes, or even the sort of hat or dress she wore. In short I was movie-struck.
We stopped at last at a huge, ornate apartment house on Riverside Drive and Manton led the way through the wide Renaissance entrance and the luxurious marble hall to the elevator. His quarters, on the top floor, facing the river, were almost exotic in the lavishness and barbaric splendor of their furnishings. My first impression as we entered the place was that Manton had purposely planned the dim lights of rich amber and the clinging Oriental fragrance hovering about everything so as to produce an alluring and enticing atmosphere. The chairs and wide upholstered window seats, the soft, yielding divans in at least two corners, with their miniature mountains of tiny pillows, all were comfortable with the comfort one associates with lotus eating and that homeward journey soon to be forgotten. There was the smoke of incense, unmistakably. On a taboret were cigarettes and cigars and through heavy curtains I caught a glimpse of a sideboard and decanters, filled and set out very frankly.
A Japanese butler, whom Manton called Huroki, took our hats and retreated with a certain emanating effluvium of subtlety such as I had known only once before, when the Oriental attendant left me on the occasion of my only visit to an opium den in Chinatown.
A moment later Millard, who had been waiting, rose to greet us.
I would have guessed him to be an author, I believe, had I met him at random anywhere in the city. He affected all the professional marks and mannerisms, and yet he did so gracefully. I noticed, in the little hall where Huroki placed our headgear, a single-jointed Malacca stick, a dark-colored and soft-brimmed felt hat, and a battered brief-case. That was Millard, unquestionably. The man himself was tall and loose-limbed, heavy with an appearance of slenderness. His face was handsome, rather intellectual in spite of rather than because of large horn-rimmed glasses. His mouth and chin showed strength and determination, which was a surprise to me. In fact, in no way did he seem to reveal the artist. Lawrence Millard was a commercial writer, a dreamer never.
First he greeted Enid, taking both of her hands in his. In this one brief moment all my own little romance went glimmering, for I could not blind myself to the softening of his expression, the welcoming light in hers, the long interval in which their fingers remained interlaced.
And then another thought came to me, hastened, fed and fattened upon my jealousy. The sealed testimony in the case of Millard vs. Millard! Could Enid, by any chance, be concerned in that?
The next moment I dismissed the thought, or at least I thought I did so. I tried to picture Enid's work on the Coast, to remember the short time she had been in the East. It was possible Millard had known her before she went to Los Angeles, but unlikely.
Millard next turned to Kennedy.
"I just learned of the tragedy a short while ago, Professor," he exclaimed. "It is terrible, and so amazingly sudden, too! It—it has upset me completely. Tell me, have you found anything? Have you discovered any possible clue? Is there anything at all I can do to help?"
"I would like to ask a few questions," Kennedy explained.
"By all means!"
He extended a hand to me and I found it damp and flabby, as though he were more concerned than his manner betrayed. He faced Kennedy again, however, immediately.
"Stella and I didn't make a go of our married life at all," he went on, frankly enough. "I was very sorry, too, because I was genuinely fond of her."
"How recently have you seen her?"
"Stella? Not for over a month—perhaps longer than that."
Manton took Enid by the arm. It was evidently her first visit to the apartment and he was anxious to show her his various treasures.
Millard, Kennedy, and I found a corner affording a view out over the Hudson. After Kennedy had described, briefly, the circumstances of Stella's death, at Millard's insistence, he produced the note he had found in her handbag. The author recognized it at once, without reading it.
"Yes, I wrote that!" Then just a trace of emotion crept into his voice. "I was too late," he murmured.
"What was it you wanted to say?" Kennedy inquired.
Millard's glance traveled to Manton and Enid, a troubled something in his expression. I could see that the promoter was making the most of his tete-a-tete with the girl, but she seemed perfectly at ease and quite capable of handling the man, and I, certainly, was more disturbed at the interest of Millard.
"I thought there was something about the business I ought to tell Stella," he answered, finally. "Manton Pictures is pretty shaky."
"Oh! Then Manton wasn't talking for effect when he told Miss Faye that the company was broke?"
"No, indeed! In fact, didn't Enid make her agreement with Manton personally? That's what I advised her to do."
Kennedy nodded. "But is Manton himself financially sound?"
Millard laughed. "Lloyd Manton always has a dozen things up his sleeve. He may have a million or he may owe a million." In the author's voice was no respect for his employer. A touch of malice crept into his tone. "Manton will make money for anyone who can make money for him," he added, "that is, provided he has to do it."
Kennedy and I exchanged glances. This was close to an assertion of downright dishonesty. At that moment Huroki stole in on padded feet, as noiseless as a wraith.
"Yes, Huroki?" His master turned, inquiringly.
"Mr. Leigh," was the butler's announcement.
"Show him in," said Manton; then he hurried over to us. "Courtlandt Leigh, the banker, you know."
I imagine I showed my surprise, for Kennedy smiled as he caught my face. Leigh was a bigger man than Phelps, of the highest standing in downtown financial circles. If Manton had interested Courtlandt Leigh in moving pictures he was a wizard indeed.
It seemed to me that the banker was hardly in the apartment before he saw Enid, and from that moment the girl engrossed him to the exclusion of everything else. For Enid, I will say that she was a wonder. She seemed to grasp the man's instant infatuation and immediately she set about to complete the conquest, all without permitting him so much as to touch her.
"You'll excuse us?" remarked Manton, easily, as he drew Phelps and Enid away.
"See!" exclaimed Millard, in a low voice, frowning now as he watched the girl. "Manton's clever! I've never known him unable to raise money, and that's why I wanted Enid to have her contract with him personally. If Manton Pictures blows up he'd put her in some other company."
"He has more than one?" This seemed to puzzle Kennedy.
"He's been interested in any number on the side," Millard explained. "Now he's formed another, but it's a secret so far. You've heard of Fortune Features, perhaps?"
Kennedy looked at me, but I shook my head.
"What is 'Fortune Features'?" Kennedy asked the question of Millard.
"Just another company in which Manton has an interest," he replied, casually. "That was why I said I advised that Enid make her contract personally with Manton. If Manton Pictures goes up, then he will have to swing her into Fortune Features—the other Manton enterprise, don't you see?" He paused, then added: "By the way, don't say anything outside about that. It isn't generally known—and as soon as anyone does hear it, everybody in the film game will hear it. You don't know how gossip travels in this business."
Kennedy asked a few personal questions about Stella, but Millard's answers indicated that he had not contemplated or even hoped for a reconciliation, that his interest in his former wife had become thoroughly platonic. Just now, however, he seemed unable to keep Manton out of his mind.
"Oh, Manton's clever!" he said, confidentially to Kennedy, as he watched the promoter deftly maneuvering Leigh and Enid into a position side by side.
And indeed, as Millard talked, I began to get some inkling of how really clever was the game which Manton played.
"Why," continued Millard, warming up to his story—for, to him, above all, a good story was something that had to be told, whatever might result from it—"I have known him to pay a visit some afternoon to Wall Street—go down there to beard the old lions in their den. He always used to show up about the closing time of the market.
"I've known him to get into the office of some one like Leigh or Phelps. Then he'll begin to talk about his brilliant prospects in the company he happens to be promoting at the time. If you listen to Manton you're lost. I know it—I've listened," he added, whimsically.
"Well," he continued, "the banker will begin to get restless after a bit—not at Manton, but at not getting away. 'My car is outside,' Manton will say. 'Let me drive you uptown.' Of course, there's nothing else for the banker to do but to accept, and when he gets into Manton's car he's glad he did. I don't know anyone who picks out such luxurious things as he does. Why, that man could walk right out along Automobile Row, broke, and some one would GIVE him a car."
"How does he do it?" I put the question to him.
"How does a fish swim?" said Millard, smiling. "He's clever, I tell you. Once he has the banker in the car, perhaps they stop for a few moments at a club. At any rate, Manton usually contrives it so that, as they approach his apartment, he has his talk all worked up to the point where the banker is genuinely interested. You know there's almost nothing people will talk to you longer about than moving pictures.
"Well, on one pretext or another, Manton usually persuades the banker to step up here for a moment. Poor simp! It's all over with him then. I'll never forget how impressed Phelps was with this place the first time. There, now, watch this fellow, Leigh. He thinks this looks like a million dollars. We're all here, playing Manton's game. We're his menagerie—he's Barnum. I tell you, Leigh's lost, lost!"
I did not know quite what to make of Millard's cynicism. Was he trying to be witty at Manton's expense? I noticed that he did not smile himself. Although he was talking to us, his attention was not really on us. He was still watching Enid.
"Then, along would happen Stella, as if by chance."
Millard paused bitterly, as though he did not quite relish the telling it, but felt that Kennedy would pry it out of him or some one else finally, and he might as well have it over with frankly.
"Yes," he said, thoughtfully, "but it all wasn't really Manton's fault, after all. Stella liked the Bohemian sort of life too much—and Manton does the Bohemian up here wonderfully. It was too much for Stella. Then, when Phelps came along and was roped in, she fell for him. It was good-by, poor Millard! I wasn't rapid enough for that crowd."
I almost began to sympathize with Millard in the association into which, for his living's sake, his art had forced him. I realized, too, that really the banker, the wise one from Wall Street, was the sucker.
Indeed, as Millard told it, I could easily account for the temptation of Stella. To a degree, I suppose, it was really her fault, for she ought to have known the game, shown more sense than to be taken in by the thing. I wondered at the continued relations of Millard with Manton, under the circumstances. However, I reflected, if Stella had chosen to play the little fool, why should Millard have allowed that to ruin his own chances?
What interested me now was that Millard did not seem to relish the attentions which the banker was paying to Enid. Was Manton framing up the same sort of game again on Leigh?
However, when Enid shot a quick glance at Millard in an aside of the conversation, accompanied by a merry wink, I saw that Millard, though still doubtful, was much more at ease.
Evidently there was a tacit understanding between the two.
Kennedy glanced over at me. Bit by bit the checkered history of Stella Lamar's life was coming to light.
I began to see more clearly. Deserting Millard and fascinated by Manton and his game, she had been used to interest Phelps in the company. In turn she had been dazzled by the glitter of the Phelps gold. She had not proved loyal even to the producer and promoter.
Perhaps, I reflected, that was why Millard was so apparently complacent. One could not, under the circumstances, have expected him to display wild emotion. His attitude had been that of one who thought, "She almost broke me; let her break some one else."
That, however, was not his attitude toward Enid now. Indeed, he seemed genuinely concerned that she should not follow in the same steps.
Later, I learned that was not all of the history of Stella. Fifteen hundred dollars a week of her own money, besides lavish presents, had been too much for her. Even Phelps's money had had no over-burdening attraction for her. The world—at least that part of it which spends money on Broadway, had been open to her. Jack Daring had charmed her for a while—hence the engagement. Of Shirley, I did not even know. Perhaps the masterful crime roles he played might have promised some new thrill, with the possibility that they expressed something latent in his life. At any rate, she had dilettanted about him, to the amazement and dismay of Marilyn. That we knew.
The dinner hour was approaching, and, in spite of the urgent invitation of Manton, Leigh was forced to excuse himself to keep a previous appointment. I felt, though, that he would have broken it if only Enid had added her urging. But she did not, much to the relief of Millard. Manton took it in good part. Perhaps he was wise enough to reflect that many other afternoons were in the lap of the future.
"What is Manton up to?" Kennedy spoke to Millard. "Is it off with the old and on with the new? Is Phelps to be cast aside like a squeezed-out lemon, and Leigh taken on for a new citrus fruit?"
Millard smiled. He said nothing, but the knowing glance was confirmation enough that in his opinion Kennedy had expressed the state of affairs correctly.
Millard hastened to the side of Enid at once and we learned then that they had a theater engagement together and that Millard had the tickets in his pocket. Once more I realized it was no new or recent acquaintanceship between these two. Again I wondered what woman had been named in Stella Lamar's divorce suit, and again dismissed the thought that it could be Enid.
Kennedy took his hat and handed me mine. "We must eat, Walter, as well as the rest of them," he remarked, when Manton led the way to the door.
I was loath to leave and I suppose I showed it. The truth was that little Enid Faye had captivated me. It was hard to tear myself away.
In the entrance I hesitated, wondering whether I should say good- by to her. She seemed engrossed with Millard.
A second time she took me clean off my feet. While I stood there, foolishly, she left Millard and rushed up, extending her little hand and allowing it to rest for a moment clasped in mine.
"We didn't have a single opportunity to get acquainted, Mr. Jameson," she complained, real regret in the soft cadences of her voice. "Won't you phone me sometime? My name's in the book, or I'll be at the studio—"
I was tongue-tied. My glance, shifting from hers because I was suddenly afraid of myself, encountered the gaze of Millard from behind. Now I detected the unmistakable fire of jealousy in the eyes of the author. I presume I was never built to be a heavy lover. Up and down my spine went a shiver of fear. I dropped Enid's hand and turned away abruptly.
"What do you think of it?" I asked Kennedy, when we were half through our meal at a tiny restaurant on upper Broadway.
"We're still fumbling in the dark," he replied.
"There's the towel—"
"Yes, and almost any one on Mackay's list of nine suspects could have placed it in that washroom."
"Well—" I was determined to draw him out. My own impressions, I must confess, were gloriously muddled. "Manton heads the list," I suggested. "Everyone says she was mixed up with him."
"Manton may have philandered with her; undoubtedly he takes a personal interest in all his stars." Kennedy, I saw, remembered the promoter's close attentions to Enid Faye. "Nevertheless, Walter, he is first and foremost and all the time the man of business. His heart is in his dollars and Millard even suggests that he is none too scrupulous."
"If he had an affair with Stella," I rejoined, "and she became up-stage—the note you found suggested trouble, you know—then Manton in a burst of passion—"
"No!" Kennedy stopped me. "Don't forget that this was a cold- blooded, calculated crime. I'm not eliminating Manton yet, but until we find some tangible evidence of trouble between Stella and himself we can hardly assume he would kill the girl who's made him perhaps a million dollars. Every motive in Manton's case is a motive against the crime."
"That eliminates Phelps, then, too. He nearly owned the company."
"Yes, unless something happened to outweigh financial considerations in his mind also."
"But, good heavens! Kennedy," I protested. "If you go on that way you'll not eliminate anyone."
"I can't yet," he explained, patiently. "It's just as I said. We're fishing in the dark, absolutely. So far we haven't a single basic fact on which to build any structure of hypothesis. We must go on fishing. I expect you to dig up all the facts about these people; every odd bit of gossip or rumor or anything else. I'll bring my science to play, but there's nothing I can do except analyze Stella's stomach contents and the spots on the towel; that is, until we've got a much more tangible lead than any which have developed so far."
"Is there anything I can do to-night?"
"Yes!" He looked at his watch. "There are two men who were very close to Miss Lamar. Jack Gordon was engaged to her, Merle Shirley seemed to have been mixed up with her seriously. All the picture people have night haunts. See what you can find about these two men."
"But I don't know where to find them offhand, and—"
"Both belong to the Goats Club, probably. Try that as a start."
I nodded and began to hurry my dessert. But I could not resist questioning him.
"You think they are the most likely suspects?"
"No, but they were intimately associated with Miss Lamar in her daily life and they are the two we have learned the least about."
"Oh!" I was disappointed. Then I rallied to the attack for a final time. "Who is the most likely one. Just satisfy my curiosity, Craig."
He took a folded note from his pocket, opening it. It was the memorandum from Manton's desk which I had mentioned. In a flash I understood.
"Werner!" I exclaimed. "They said he was mixed up with her, too. He was the first back and out of the car and he had time to clean a needle on the towel, had a better opportunity than anyone else. More"—I began to get excited—"he was lying on the floor close to her in the scene and could have jabbed her with a needle very easily, and—and he was extremely nervous when you questioned him, the most nervous of all, and—and, finally, he had a motive, he wanted to get Enid Faye with Manton Pictures, as this note shows."
"Very good, Walter." Kennedy's eyes were dancing in amusement. "It is true that Werner had the best motive, so far as we know now, but it's a fantastic one. Men don't commit cold-blooded murder just to create a vacancy for a movie star. If Werner was going to kill Miss Lamar he never would have written this note about Miss Faye."
"Unless to divert suspicion," I suggested.
He shook his head. "The whole thing's too bizarre."
"Werner was close to her in the dark. All the other things point to him, don't they?"
"It's too bad everyone wasn't searched, at that," Kennedy admitted. "Nevertheless, at the time I realized that Werner had had the best opportunity for the actual performance of the crime and I watched him very closely and made him go through every movement just so I could study him. I believe he's innocent—at least as far as I've gone in the case."
I determined to stick to my opinion. "I believe it's Werner," I insisted.
"By the time you've dug up all the gossip about Gordon and Shirley you won't be so sure, Walter."
I was, however. Kennedy was not as familiar with the picture world as I. I had heard of too many actual happenings more strange and bizarre and wildly fantastic than anything conceivable in other walks of life. People in the film game, as they call it, live highly seasoned lives in which everything is exaggerated. The mere desire to make a place for Enid might not have actuated Werner, granting he was the guilty man. Nevertheless it could easily have contributed. And it struck me suddenly, an additional argument, that Werner, of all of them, was the most familiar with the script. He had been able to cast himself for the part of old Remsen. There was not a detail which he could not have arranged very skillfully.
At the Goats Club I was lucky to discover a member whom I knew well enough to take into my confidence by stating my errand. He was one of the Star's former special writers and an older classman of the college which had graduated Kennedy and myself.
"Merle Shirley is not a member here," he said. "As a matter of fact, I've only just heard the name. But Jack Gordon's a Goat, worse luck. That fellow's a bad actor—in real life—and a disgrace to us."
"Tell me all you know about him?" I asked.
"Well, to give you an example, he was in here just about a week ago. I was sitting in the grill, eating an after-theater supper, when I heard the most terrible racket. He and Emery Phelps, the banker, you know, were having an honest-to-goodness fight right out in the lobby. It took three of the men to separate them."
"What was it all about."
"Well, Gordon owes money right and left, not a few hundred or some little personal debts like that, but thousands and thousands of dollars. I got it from some of the other men here that he has been speculating on the curb downtown, losing consistently. More than that, he's engaged to Stella Lamar—you knew that?—and he's been blowing money on her. Then they tell me his professional work is suffering, that his recent screen appearances are terrible; the result of late hours and worry, I suppose."
"The fight with Phelps was over money?"
"Of course! I figure that he kept drawing against his salary at the studio until the film company shut down on him. Then probably he began to borrow from Phelps, who's Manton's backer now, until the banker shut down on him also. At any rate, Phelps had begun to dun him and it led to the fight."
"That's all you know about Gordon?"
"Lord! Isn't it enough?"
I walked out of the club and toward Broadway, reflecting upon this information. Could Gordon's debts have any bearing upon the case? All at once one possibility struck me. He had been borrowing from Phelps. Perhaps he had borrowed from Stella also. Perhaps that was the cause of their quarrel. Perhaps she had threatened to make trouble—it was a slender motive, but worth bringing to the attention of Kennedy.
My immediate problem, however, was to obtain some information about Merle Shirley. At first I thought I would make the rounds of some of the better-known cafes, but that seemed a hopeless task. Suddenly I remembered Belle Balcom, formerly with the Star. I recollected a previous case of Kennedy's where she and I had been great rivals in the quest of news. I recalled a trip we had made to Greenwich Village together. Belle knew more people about town than any other newspaper woman. Now, for some months, she had been connected with Screenings, a leading cinema "fan" magazine, and would unquestionably be posted upon the photoplayers.
Luckily, I caught her at home.
"Bless your soul," she told me over the phone, in delight, "I've just been aching for some one to take me out to-night. We'll go to the Midnight Fads and if Shirley isn't there the head waiter will tell you all I don't remember. It was a glorious fight."
She wouldn't say any more over the phone, but I was hugely curious. Had there been another encounter with fists? And who had been involved?
When she met me finally, at the Subway station, and when we obtained an out-of-the-way table at the Fads, she explained. It seemed that Shirley had met Stella there a number of times and that Gordon, at last, had got wind of it. Gordon first had come up himself, quietly, pleading with Stella. She had been in a high humor and had refused even to listen to him. Then he had become insulting. At that Shirley knocked him down.
The head waiter, a witness of the affair, ordered Gordon put out, but did not request Shirley or Stella to leave, because the other man had been the aggressor without any question. After more than an hour Gordon returned, quietly and unobtrusively, with another girl. From Belle's description I knew it was Marilyn Loring. Taking another table, Marilyn had stared at Shirley reproachfully while Gordon had glared at Stella.
Shirley put up with this for just about so long. As Belle described it, his face gradually became more and more red and he controlled himself with increasing difficulty. Stella, seeing the coming of the storm, tried to get him to go. He refused. She threatened to leave him. He paid no attention. All at once he boiled over and with great strides walked over to Gordon and mauled him all over the place. The leading man had no chance whatever in the hands of the irate Westerner. Several waiters, attempting to intervene, were flung aside. Only when Shirley began to cool off were they able to eject the two men. Both Stella and Marilyn had left, separately, before that. Neither of the men or women had been at the Fads since, or at least the head waiter, called over by Belle, so informed us.
Unable to obtain any other facts of interest, I returned finally to the apartment shared by Kennedy and myself. First he listened to my account, plainly interested. Then, when I had concluded, he rose and faced me rather gravely.
"It's getting more and more complicated, Walter," he exclaimed. "After you left I remembered that there was one point of investigation I had failed to cover—Miss Lamar's home here in the city. I got our old friend, First-Deputy O'Connor, on the wire and learned that at the request of Mackay, from Tarrytown, they had sent a man up to the place and that just an hour or less before I called they had located and were holding her colored maid. I hurried down to headquarters and questioned the girl."
"Yes?" To me it sounded promising.
"The negress didn't know a thing so far as the crime is concerned," Kennedy went on, "but I gained quite an insight into the private life of the star."
"I mean I know the men who went to Miss Lamar's apartment, although beyond the fact of her receiving them I can tell nothing, for she sent the maid home at night; there were no maid's quarters."
"Their visits may have been perfectly innocent?"
"Of course! We can only draw conclusions."
"Who were the various callers?"
"Shirley admitted it when you questioned him."
"Everyone knows that!"
"Werner—" A side glance at me.
I said nothing. My expression spoke for me.
"And Emery Phelps!"
At that I did show surprise. Although Mackay had hinted at something of the kind, I, for one, had not considered the banker seriously.
"Good heavens! Kennedy," I exploded. "She was mixed up with just about every man connected with the company."
"Exactly!" As usual, he seemed calm and unconcerned.
I could regard the case only with increasing amazement—the bitter, conflicting emotions of Manton and Phelps, of Daring, Shirley, and Millard. With them all Stella had been the pretty trouble maker.
"How do you suppose they could all remain in the same company?" I showed my surprise at the situation.
Kennedy pondered a moment, then replied:
"A moment's reflection ought to give you one answer. I think, Walter, they were either under contract or they had their money in the company. They couldn't break."
"I suppose so. What I wonder is, was Marilyn as jealous of Stella as her screen character would make her in a story? She's the only one we don't hear much about."
Kennedy did not seem, at least at present, to give this phase of it anything like the weight he credited to the frenzied financial relations the case was uncovering.
It was true, as I learned later, that Manton was at that very moment doing perhaps as much as anyone else ever did to discredit the picture game in Wall Street.
The following morning I found Kennedy up ahead of me, and I felt certain that he had gone to the laboratory. Sure enough, I found him at work in the midst of the innumerable scientific devices which he had gathered during years of crime detection of every sort.
As usual, he was surrounded by a perfect litter of test tubes, beakers, reagents, microscopes, slides, and culture tubes. He had cut out the curious spots from the towel I had discovered and was studying them to determine their nature. From the mass of paraphernalia I knew he was neglecting no possibility which might lead to the hidden truth or produce a clue to the crime.
"Have you learned anything yet?" I asked.
"Those brownish spots were blood, of course," was his reply as he stopped a moment in his work. "In the blood I discovered some other substance, though I can't seem to identify it yet. It will take time. I thought it might be a drug or poison, but it doesn't seem to be—at least nothing one might ordinarily expect."
"How about the other spots, not the Chinese yellow?"
"Another problem I haven't solved. I dissolved enough of them so that I have plenty of material to study if I don't waste it. But so far I haven't been able to identify the substance with anything I know. There's a lot more work of elimination, Walter, before we're on the road to the solution of this case. Whatever stained the towel was very unusual. As near as I can make out the spots are of some protein composition. But it's not exactly a poison, although many proteins may be extremely poisonous and extremely difficult to identify because they are of organic nature."
I was disappointed. It seemed to me that he had made comparatively little progress so far.
"There's one thing," he added. "Samples of the body fluids of the victim have been sent down by the coroner at Tarrytown and I have analyzed them. While I haven't decided what it was that killed Stella Lamar, I am at least convinced that it has something to do with these towel spots. They are not exactly the same—in fact, I should say they were complementary, or, perhaps better, antithetical."
"The mark wasn't made by the needle which scratched her, then?"
"That's what I thought at first, that the point used had been wiped off on the towel. Then I decided that the spots had nothing to do with the case at all. Now I believe there is some connection, after all."
"I—I don't understand it," I protested.
"It's very baffling," he agreed, absent-mindedly.
"If the towel wasn't used to clean the fatal needle," I went on, "then it may have been used before they went out instead of afterward."
"Exactly. As a matter of fact, if I had not been so confused yesterday by all the details of the case, by the many people involved, I would have noticed at a glance that the blood spots on the towel could not come from some one using it to wipe the needle. And any hypothesis that it had been used out in Tarrytown was ridiculous, because Miss Lamar was only scratched faintly and lost no blood. If I had been a little more clever I might have been altogether too clever. I might possibly have thrown the towel away, because there certainly was no logical reason for connecting it with the crime."
"Just when do you suppose Stella was pricked?" I asked.
"That's a vital consideration. Just now I do not know the poison and so cannot tell how quickly it acted." He began to put aside his various paraphernalia. "Suppose we go at this thing by a process of deduction rather than from the end of scientific analysis." He sat on a corner of the bench. "What do we find?" he began.
"While I've been working here with the test tubes and the microscope I've been trying to reconstruct what must have happened, trying to trace out every action of Stella Lamar as nearly as it is possible for us to do so. I don't think we need to go back of their arrival at the house, for the present. They seem to have been there a long while before the taking of the particular scene, since there were twelve other scenes preceding and since it requires time to put up the electric lights and make the connections, as well as to set the cameras, take tests, rearrange the furniture, and all the rest of it.
"They arrived at the house in two automobiles; with the exception of Phelps, who was there already, and Manton, who came in his own limousine. That means that Miss Lamar had company on the trip out, the principals probably riding with each other in one car. At the house they were all more or less together. There were people about constantly and it would seem as if there was small opportunity for anyone to inflict the scratch which caused her death. I don't mean that it would have been impossible to prick her. I mean that she would have felt the jab of the point. In all likelihood she would have cried out and glanced around. Take a needle yourself, sometime, Walter, and try to duplicate the scratch on your own arm in such a way that you would not be aware of it.
"So you see I'm counting upon some sort of exclamation from Miss Lamar. If she were inoculated with the poison with other folks about, it is sure some one would have remembered a cry, a questioning glance, a quick grasp of the forearm—for the nerves are very sensitive in the skin there—"
"No one did recall anything of the kind," I interrupted.
"It is from that fact that I hope to deduce something. Now let's follow her, figuratively, to her little dressing room. This was a part of the living room where the rest waited. It is not a certainty, but yet rather a sure guess, that if she had received a scratch behind those thin silk curtains her cry would have been heard. What is even more plausible is that she would have hurried out, or at least put her head out, to see who had pricked her.
"I made a very careful examination of that little alcove with the idea that some artifice might have been used. It occurred to me that a poisoned point could have been inserted in her belongings in some way so that she would have brought about her own death, directly. To have caught herself on a needle point in her bag, for instance, would not have impressed her to the point of making a disturbance. She might have checked her exclamation, in that case, because she would be blaming herself.
"But I found nothing in her things, nor did I discover anything in the library. It seems to me, therefore, that we must look for a direct human agency."
A thought struck me and I hastened to suggest it. "Could some device have been arranged in her clothes, Craig; something like the poison rings of the Middle Ages, a tiny metal thing to spring open and expose its point when pressed against her in the action of the scenes?"
"That occurred to me at the time. That's why I asked Mackay to send all her clothes down here, every stitch and rag of them. I've gone over everything already this morning. Not only have I examined the various materials for stains, but I've tested each hook and eye and button and pin. I've been very careful to cover that possibility."
"You think, then, she was scratched deliberately by some one during the taking of the scenes?"
"If you've followed my line of reasoning you will see that we are driven to that assumption. Perhaps later I will make tests on a given number of girls of Stella's general age and type and temperament to show that they will cry out at the unexpected prick of a fine needle. It's illogical to expect that a cry from Miss Lamar, even an exclamation, would have passed unnoticed except during the excitement of actual picture taking."
Another inspiration came to me, but I was almost afraid to voice it. It seemed a daring theory. "Could death have resulted from poison administered in some other fashion, by something she had eaten, for instance?" I ventured. "Couldn't the scratch be coincidental?"
Kennedy shook his head. "There's the value of our chemical analysis and scientific tests. Her stomach contents showed nothing except as they might have been affected by her weakened condition. From Doctor Blake's report—and he found no ordinary symptoms, remember—and from my own observation, too, I can easily prove in court that she was killed by the mark which was so small that it escaped the physician altogether."
I turned away. Once more Kennedy's reasoning seemed to be leading into a maze of considerations beyond me. How could the deductive method produce results in a case as mysterious as this?
"Having determined that Miss Lamar received the inoculation during the making of one of the scenes, as nearly as we can do so," Kennedy went on, "suppose we take the scenes in order, one at a time, from the last photographed to the first, analyzing each in turn. Remember that we seek a situation where there is not only an opportunity to jab her with a needle, but one in which an outcry would be muffled or inaudible."
I now saw that Kennedy had brought in the bound script of the story, "The Black Terror," and I wondered again, as I had often before, at his marvelous capacity for attention to detail.
"'The spotlight on the floor reveals the girl sobbing over the body of the millionaire,'" he read, aloud, musingly. "H'mm! 'She screams and cries out.' Then the others rush in."
For several moments Kennedy paced the floor of the laboratory, the manuscript open in his hands.
"We rehearsed that, with Werner; and we questioned everyone, too. And remember! Miss Lamar, instead of crying out as she was supposed to do, just crumpled up silently. So"—thumbing over a page—"we work back to scene twelve. She—she was not in that at all. Scene eleven—"
Slowly, carefully, Kennedy went through each scene to the beginning. "Certainly a dramatic opening for a mystery picture," he remarked, suddenly, as though his mind had wandered from his problem to other things. "We must admit that Millard can handle a moving-picture scenario most beautifully."
Whether it was professional jealousy or the thought of Enid, rather than the memory of my own poor attempts at screen writing, I certainly was in no mood to agree with Kennedy, for all that I knew he was correct.
"Here!" He thrust the binder in my hands. "Read that first scene," he directed. "Meanwhile I am going to phone Mackay to make sure he has had the house guarded and to make double sure no one goes near the library. We're going out to Tarrytown again, Walter, and in the biggest kind of hurry."
"What's the idea, Craig?" Kennedy's occasional bursts of mysteriousness, characteristic of him and often necessary when his theories were only half formed and too chaotic for explanations, always piqued me.
He did not seem to hear. Already he was at the telephone, manipulating the receiver hook impatiently. "What a dummy I am!" he exclaimed, with genuine feeling. "What—what an awful dummy!"
Knowing I would get nothing out of him just yet, I turned to the scene, reading as he told me. At first I could not see where the detail concerned Stella Lamar in any way. Then I came to the description of her introductory entrance, the initial view of her in the film. The lines of typewriting suddenly stood out before me in all their suggestive clearness.
The spotlight in the hands of a shadowy figure roves across the wall and to the portieres. As it pauses there the portieres move and the fingers of a girl are seen on the edge of the silk. A bare and beautiful arm is thrust through almost to the shoulder and it begins to move the portieres aside, reaching upward to pull the curtains apart at the rings.
"You think there's something about the portieres—" I began.
Then I saw that Kennedy had his connection, that something disturbed him, that some intelligence from the other end had caught him by surprise.
"You say you were just trying to get me, Mackay? You've something to tell me and you want me to come right out—you have summoned Phelps and he's on his way from the city also—?"
"What happened?" I asked, as Kennedy hung up.
"I don't know, Walter. Mackay said he didn't want to talk over the phone and that we had just time to catch the express."
"Hurry!" He glanced about as if wondering whether any of his scientific instruments would help him.
On the train Kennedy left me, to look through the other cars, having the idea that Phelps might be aboard also. But there were no signs of the banker. We would reach Tarrytown first unless he had chosen to motor out.
Mackay was waiting at the station to meet us and to take us to the house. The little district attorney was obviously excited.
"Was the place guarded well last night?" asked Kennedy, almost before we had shaken hands.
"Yes—that is, I thought it was. That's what I want to tell you. After you left with Manton and Werner the rest of the company packed up and pulled out in the two studio cars. I was a little in doubt what to do about Phelps, but he settled it himself by announcing that he was going to town. The coroner came and issued the permit to remove the body and that was taken away. I think the house and the presence of the dead girl and all the rest of it got on Phelps's nerves, because he was irritable and impatient, unwilling to wait for his own car, until finally I drove him to the station myself."
"Was anyone, any of those on our list of possible suspects at least, alone in the room—or in the house?"
"Not while I was there," Mackay replied. "I took good care of that. Then, when everyone was gone and while Phelps was waiting for me, I detailed two of my deputies to stay on guard—one inside and one outside—for the night. I thought it sufficient precaution, since you had made your preliminary examination."
"And—" Kennedy nodded, seeking to hurry the explanation.
"And yet," added Mackay, "some one entered the house last night in spite of us."
Kennedy fairly swore under his breath. He seemed to blame himself for some omission in his investigation the previous afternoon.
"How did it happen?" I asked, rather excitedly.
"It was about three o'clock, the guards tell me. The man inside was dozing in a chair before the living-room fireplace. He was placed so he could command a view of the doorway to the library as well as the stairs and reception hall. All at once he was awakened by a shot and a cry from outside. He jumped up and ran toward the library. As he did so the portieres bellied in toward him, as if in stiff sudden draught, or as if some one had darted into their folds quickly, then out. With no hesitation he drew his own weapon, rushing the curtains. There was no one secreted about them. Then, with the revolver in one hand, he switched on the lights. The room was empty. But one pair of French windows at the farther end were wide open and it was that which had caused the current of air. He ran over and found the lock had been forced. It was not even an artistic job of jimmying."
"What about the deputy posted outside?" prompted Kennedy.
"That's the strange part of it. He was alert enough, but it's a big house to watch. He swears that the first thing he knew of any trouble was the sharp metallic click which he realized later was the sound made by the intruder in forcing the catch of the French window. It was pretty loud out in the quiet of a Tarrytown night.
"He started around from the rear and then the next thing he caught was the outline of a shadowy slinking figure as a man dropped out of the library. He called. The intruder broke into a run, darting across the open space of lawn and crashing through the shrubbery without any further effort at concealment. My man called again and began to chase the stranger, finally firing and missing. In the shrubbery a sharp branch whipped him under the chin just as he obtained a clear view of the outlined figure of his quarry and as he raised his weapon to shoot again. The revolver was knocked from his hand and he was thrown back, falling to the ground and momentarily stunned. Whoever broke into the library got away, of course."
"What did the intruder look like?" There was an eagerness in Kennedy's manner. I grasped that the case was beginning to clarify itself in his mind.
Mackay shook his head. "There was no moon, you know, and everything happened swiftly.
"But was he tall or short or slender or stout—the deputy must have got some vague idea of him at least."
"It was one of my amateur deputies," Mackay admitted, reluctantly. "He thought the man was hatless, but couldn't even be sure of that."
"Were there footprints, or fingerprints—"
"No, Mr. Kennedy, we're out of luck again. When he jumped out he fell to his hands and knees in a garden bed. The foot marks were ruined because his feet slid and simply made two irregular gashes. The marks of his hands indicated to me, anyhow, that he wore heavy gloves, rubber probably."
"Any disturbance in the library?"
"Not that I could notice. That's why I phoned you at once. I'm hoping you'll discover something."
"Well—" Kennedy sighed. "It was a wonderful opportunity to get to the bottom of this."
"I haven't told you all yet, Mr. Kennedy," Mackay went on. "There was a second man, and—"
"A second man?" Kennedy straightened, distinctly surprised. "I would swear this whole thing was a one-man job."
"They weren't together," the district attorney explained. "That's why I didn't mention them both at once. But my deputy says that when he was thrown by the lash of the branch he was unable to move for a few seconds, on account of the nerve shock I suppose, and that while he was motionless, squatted in a sort of sitting position with hands braced behind him, just as he fell, he was aware of a second stranger concealed in the shrubbery.
"The second fellow was watching the first, without the question of a doubt. While the deputy slowly rose to his feet this other chap started to follow the man who had broken into the house. But at that moment there was the sudden sound of a self-starter in a car, then the purr of a motor and the clatter of gears. Number one spun off in the darkness of the road as pretty as you please. Number two grunted, in plain disgust.
"By this time my deputy had his wind. His revolver was gone, but he jumped the second stranger with little enough hesitation and they battled royally for several minutes in the dark. Unfortunately, it was an unequal match. The intruder apparently was a stocky man, built with the strength of a battleship. He got away also, without leaving anything behind him to serve for identification."
"You have no more description than of the first man?"
"Unfortunately not. Medium height, a little inclined to be stocky, strong as a longshoreman—that's all."
"Are you sure your deputy isn't romancing?"
"Positively! He's the son of one of our best families here, a sportsman and an athlete. I knew he loved a lark, or a chance for adventure, and so I impressed him and a companion as deputies when I met them on the street on my way up to Phelps's house just after the tragedy."
Kennedy lapsed into thought. Who could the self-constituted watcher have been? Who was interested in this case other than the proper authorities? Apparently some one knew more than Mackay, more than Kennedy. Whoever it was had made no effort to communicate with any of us. This was a new angle to the mystery, a mystery which became deeper as we progressed.
At the house Kennedy first made a careful tour of the exterior, but found nothing. Mackay had doubled his guards and had sent Phelps's servants away so that there could be no interference.
Once inside, I noticed that Kennedy seemed indisposed to make another minute search of the library. He went over the frame of the French window with his lens carefully, for fingerprints. Finding nothing, he went back directly to the portieres.
For several moments he stood regarding them in thought. Then he began a most painstaking inspection of the cloth with the pocket glass, beginning at the library side.
I remembered that first scene in the manuscript which Kennedy had insisted I read. I recalled the suspicion which had flashed to me before the message from Mackay had disturbed both Kennedy's thoughts and mine. Stella Lamar had thrust her bare arm through this curtain. A needle, cleverly concealed in the folds, might easily have inflicted the fatal scratch. It was for a trace of the poison point that Kennedy searched. Of that I was sure, knowing his methods.
I glanced up and down the heavy hanging silk, looking for the glint of fine sharp steel as Kennedy had done before starting his inspection with the glass. The color of the silk, a beautiful heavy velour, was a strange dark tint very close to the grained black-brown of the woodwork. Both the thickness of the material and its dull shade made the portieres serve ideally for the purpose assumed now both by Kennedy and myself. A tiny needle might remain secreted within their folds for days. Nothing, certainly, caught my naked eye.
At last a little exclamation from Kennedy showed us that he had discovered something. I moved closer, as did Mackay.
"It's lucky none of us toyed with these curtains yesterday," he remarked, with a slight smile of gratification. "There might have been more than one lying where Stella Lamar lies at the present moment."
With wholesome respect neither Mackay nor myself touched the silk as Kennedy pointed. There were two small holes, almost microscopic, in the close-woven material. About the one there was the slightest discoloration. Not a fraction of an inch away I saw two infinitesimal spots of a dark brownish-red tinge.
"What does it mean?" I asked, although I could guess.
"The dark spots are blood, the discoloration the poison from the needle."
"And the needle?"
He shrugged his shoulders. "That's where our very scientific culprit has forestalled me, Walter! The needle was in these curtains all day yesterday. Unfortunately, I did not study the manuscript, did not attach any importance to Miss Lamar's scene at the portieres."
"The man who broke in last night—"
"Removed the needle, but"—almost amused—"not the traces of it. You see, Walter, after all, the scientific detective cannot be forestalled even by the most scientific criminal. There is nothing in the world which does not leave its unmistakable mark behind, provided you can read it. The hole in the cloth serves me quite as well as the needle itself."
Very suddenly a voice from behind us interrupted.
I turned, startled, to see Emery Phelps. There was a distinct eagerness in the banker's expression.
"Yes!" Kennedy faced him, undisturbed, apparently not surprised. His scrutiny of Phelps's face was frank and searching. "Yes," he repeated, "bit by bit the guilty man is revealing himself to us."
"There—there is something the matter with the curtains?" Phelps suggested.
Kennedy pointed to the two holes and the spots. "Miss Lamar met her death from poison introduced into her system through a tiny scratch from a prepared needle."
"Yes?" Phelps was calm now, and cool. I wondered if it were pretense on his part. "What have these little marks to do with that?"
"Don't you see?" rejoined Kennedy. "If some one had come here before the scene in the picture was played; had thrust a small needle, perhaps a hollow needle from a hypodermic syringe, through the heavy thickness of this silk—thrust it in here, the point sticking out here—well, there would be two holes left where the threads were forced apart, like this!" Kennedy took his stickpin, demonstrating.
"How could that cause Stella's death?" Phelps, at first quite upset apparently by Kennedy's discovery, now was lapsing again into his hostile mood. His question was cynical.
"Try to recall Miss Lamar's actions," Kennedy went on, patiently. "What was she supposed to do in the very first scene? 'The portieres move and the fingers of a girl are seen on the edge of the silk. A bare and beautiful arm is thrust through almost to the shoulder and it begins to move the portieres aside, reaching upward to pull the curtains apart at the rings.'"
"Do you mean to tell me—" Phelps's eyes were very wide as he paused, grasping the scheme and yet disbelieving—unless it all were a bit of fine acting—"do you mean to tell me it is possible to calculate a thing like that? How would anyone know where her arm would be?"
"It is simpler than it sounds, Mr. Phelps." Kennedy was suddenly harsh. "There is only one natural movement of an arm in that case. The culprit was undoubtedly familiar with Miss Lamar's height and with her manner of working. It is a bit of action which has to be repeated in both the long shot and close-up scenes. Jameson here can tell you how many times a scene is rehearsed. There probably were a dozen sure chances of the needle striking the girl's bare flesh. You will see from the position of the holes that it was arranged point downward and slightly turned in, and on a particular fold of the curtain, too; showing that some one placed it there only after a nice bit of calculation. Furthermore, it was high enough so that there was little chance of anyone being pricked except the star, whose death was intended."
Phelps either seemed convinced, or else he felt it inadvisable to irritate Kennedy by a further pretense of skepticism.
A point occurred to me, however. "Listen, Craig!" I spoke in a low voice. "Remember all the emphasis you placed upon the fact that she would cry out. She was not supposed to cry out in that first scene."
"No, Walter, but if you'll read the second, the close-up, you'll see that the script actually calls for a cry. Now suppose she makes an exclamation in the first instead. Nobody would think anything of it. They would assume that she had played her action a little in advance, perhaps.
"And then consider this, too! Miss Lamar, receiving the scratch, would cry out unquestionably. But she has been before the camera for years and she is trained in the idea that film must not be wasted uselessly. She would not interrupt her action for a little scratch because in these circumstances any little startled movement would fit in with the action. By the time the scene was over she would have forgotten the incident. It would mean very little to her in the preoccupation of bringing the mythical Stella Remsen into flesh-and-blood existence. The poison, however, would be putting in its deadly work."
"Wouldn't it act before the thirteenth scene—" I began.
"Not necessarily. As a matter of fact, an actress, in the excitement of her work, might resist the effects for a much longer period than some one who realizes he is sick. Some day I'm going to write a book on that. I'm going to collect hundreds of examples of people who keep plugging along because they refuse to admit anything's the matter with them. It's like Napoleon's courier who didn't drop until he'd delivered his message and made his last precise military salute."
One other thought struck me. "The blood spots on the curtain cannot be Miss Lamar's if, as you say, the scratch brought no blood."
"How about the nocturnal visitor who removed the needle in the dark? Can't you imagine him pricking himself beautifully in his hurry."
"Good heavens!" I felt the chills travel up and down my spine. "There may be another fatality, then!" I exclaimed.
Kennedy was noncommittal. "It would be too bad for justice to be cheated in that fashion," he remarked.
Phelps meanwhile had been listening to us impatiently. Finally he turned to Mackay.
"Was that all you called me out here for? Did you just want to show me the pinholes in those portieres?"
"Not exactly," Mackay replied, eyeing him sharply. "Some one forced his way into this library last night. My guard saw him, and also saw a second man who remained out in the shrubbery and seemed to be watching the first. One shot was fired, but both men got away. An automobile was waiting, perhaps two of them."
"How does this concern me?" Phelps's voice rose in anger. He strode into the library and over to the French windows, inspecting the damage to the fine woodwork with steadily rising color. Then he hurried back to the side of Mackay.
"It's up to you, District-Attorney Mackay," he said, with a great show of his ill feeling. "You practically forced me out of my own house. You sent my servants away. You put your own guards in charge, young, inexperienced deputies who don't know enough to come in when it's wet. Now you have me make this trip out here in business hours just to show me where a needle has been stuck in a curtain and where a pair of imported window sashes have been ruined."
Mackay was unruffled. "It is necessary, Mr. Phelps, that you look over this room and see that nothing else has been disturbed; that there is no further damage. Moreover, I thought you might be interested, might wish to help us determine the identity of the intruder."
"If there's any way I can really help you to do that"— sarcastically—"I'll be delighted."
"Were you here the night before the murder?" Mackay asked.
"You know I seldom spend the night in Tarrytown. I have quarters in New York, at the club, and recently I have been spending all my time in New York, on account of the situation in the picture business."
"You were not here the night before the murder, then?"
"But you were out here yesterday before the actors arrived, before Manton or any of his technical staff and crew came?"
"I was out very early, to make sure the servants had the house ready." Phelps was red now. "Are you insinuating anything, Mackay?"
The little district attorney was demonstrating a certain quality of dogged perseverance. "Some one put the needle in the curtain before the company arrived. You probably were in the house at the time; or at the least your servants were. Whoever did was the one who murdered Stella Lamar."
"And also," rejoined Phelps, tartly, "was the intruder who broke in here last night and ruined my window sash. If you had had better guards you might have caught him, too!"
"Are you sure of your servants? Are they reliable—"
"I never anticipated a murder and so I didn't question them as to their poisoning proclivities when I engaged them. But you know where they are and you can examine them. If I were you, Mackay—"
"Gentlemen!" Kennedy hastened to stop the colloquy before it became an out-and-out quarrel. Then he faced the banker.
"Mr. Phelps," Kennedy's voice was soft, coaxing, "I don't think Mr. Mackay quite understands. It would be a great service to me if you would give the house a quick general inspection. You are familiar with the things here, enough to state whether they have been disturbed to any appreciable degree. You see, we do not know the interior arrangements as they were before this unfortunate happening."
With rather ill grace Phelps stalked up the steps, acceding to Kennedy's request, but disdaining to answer.
Kennedy turned to Mackay as the banker disappeared out of earshot. "That's just to cool him off a bit. I have everything I came to get right here." Producing a pair of pocket scissors, he cut the pierced and spotted bit of silk from the portieres, ruthlessly. It was necessary vandalism.
"What was the poison, Mr. Kennedy?" Mackay asked, in a low voice.
"I think that it was closely allied to the cyanide groups in its rapacious activity."
"But you haven't identified it yet?"
"No. So far I haven't the slightest idea of its true nature. It seems to have a powerful affinity for important nerve centers of respiration and muscular co-ordination, as well as possessing a tendency to disorganize the blood. I should say that it produces death by respiratory paralysis and convulsions. To my mind it is an exact, though perhaps less active, counterpart of hydrocyanic acid. But that is not what it is or I would have been able to prove it before this."
Mackay nodded, listening in silence.
"You'll say nothing of this?" Kennedy added.
"I'll be silent, of course."
Heavy footsteps from the rear marked the return of Phelps, who had covered the upper floors, descending by the back stairs so as to have a look at the kitchen.
"Everything seems to be all right," he remarked, half graciously.
Kennedy led the way to the front porch. There he seemed more interested in the weather than in the case, for he studied the sky intently. Glancing up, I saw that the morning was still gray and cloudy, with no promise that the sun would be able to struggle through the overhanging moisture.
"I don't think we'll go back to the city—that is, all the way in," he remarked, speaking for both of us. "I want to go to the Manton studio first. This is no day for exteriors and so they'll probably be working there." He smiled at Phelps. "I want to see if any of our possible suspects look as though they had been engaging in nocturnal journeys."
Phelps had been rubbing his eyes. He dropped his hand so quickly that I wanted to smile; then to cover his confusion he promptly offered to drive us in. Mackay at the same time volunteered his car.
Kennedy accepted the latter offer. As he thanked the banker I wondered if any suspicion of that individual lurked in the back of his mind. Phelps certainly had made a very bad impression upon me with his antagonistic attitude, with his readiness to transform every question into a personal affront.
"Just one other thing, Mr. Phelps," exclaimed Kennedy, as we were about to descend to Mackay's car. "Why did you wish the scenes in 'The Black Terror' actually taken in your library?"
Kennedy had asked the question before. Had he forgotten? I glanced at the banker and read the same thought in his expression.
"I—I'm proud of my library and I wanted to see it in pictures," he replied, after some hesitation and with a little rancor.
"Not to save money?"
"It would be no appreciable saving."
"I see." Kennedy was tantalizingly deliberate. "How long have you held the controlling interest in Manton Pictures, Mr. Phelps?"
"Uh"—in surprise—"nearly a year."
"You could have had your library photographed at any time, then, simply by stating your request as you did in this case. In that year there have been pictures which would have served the purpose as well as this; better, in fact, because in this picture the library seems to be dark almost altogether. In other stories there probably were infinitely better chances for the exhibition of the room. Why did you wait for 'The Black Terror'?"
As a clear understanding of Kennedy's question and all it entailed filtered into the mind of Phelps he became so red and flushed with anger that I felt sure he was going to explode on the spot.
"Because I didn't think of it before," he sputtered.
"You said the situation in the picture business made it necessary for you to stay in town. Is there any trouble between Manton and yourself?"
"Not a bit!"
"Was Stella Lamar making any trouble, of a business nature, such as threatening to quit Manton Pictures?"
"No!" Phelps' eyes now were narrowed to slits.
"Are you sure?"
With a great effort Phelps achieved a degree of self-control. He forced a smile. His remark, presumed to be a pleasantry, I knew masked the true state of his feelings.
"As sure, Mr. Kennedy," he rejoined, awed by Kennedy's reputation even in the full flood of his anger, "as sure as I am that I'd like to throw you down these steps!"
The magic of Manton's name admitted us to the studio courtyard, and at once I was struck by the change since the day before. Now the tank was a dry, empty, shallow depression of concrete. The scenery, all the paraphernalia assembled for the taking of water stuff, was gone. Except for the parked automobiles in one corner and a few loitering figures here and there the big quadrangle seemed absolutely deserted.
In the general reception room Kennedy asked for Millard, but was told he had not been out since the previous day. That was to be expected. But Manton, it developed, was away also. He had telephoned in that he would be detained until late afternoon on important business. I know that I, for one, wondered if it were connected with Fortune Features.
"It's just as well," Kennedy remarked, after convincing the boy at the desk it was Manton's wish that we have the run of the place. "My real object in coming was to watch the cast at work."
We found our way to the small studio, called so in comparison with the larger one where the huge ballroom and banquet sets were being built. In reality it possessed a tremendous floor space. Now all the other companies had been forced to make room for "The Black Terror" on account of the emergency created by the death of Stella Lamar, and there were any number of sets put up hastily for the retakes of the scenes in which Stella had appeared. The effect of the whole upon a strange beholder was weird. It was as though a cyclone had swept through a town and had gathered up and deposited slices and corners and sections of rooms and hallways and upper chambers, each complete with furniture and ornaments, curtains, rugs, and hangings. Except for the artistic harmony of things within the narrow lines of the camera's view, nothing in this great armory-like place had any apparent relation to anything else. Some of the sets were lighted, with actors and technical crews at work. Others were dark, standing ready for use. Still others were in varying states of construction or demolition. Rising above every other impression was the noise. It was pandemonium.
We saw Werner at work in a distant corner and strolled over. The director was bustling about feverishly. I do not doubt that the grim necessity of preparing the picture for a release date which was already announced had resulted in this haste, without even a day of idleness in respect for the memory of the dead star, yet it seemed cold-blooded and mercenary to me. I thought that success was not deserved by an enterprise so callous of human life, so unappreciative of human effort.
Most of the cast were standing about, waiting. The scenes were being taken in a small room, fitted as an office or private den, but furnished luxuriously. Later I learned it was in the home of the millionaire, Remsen, close off the library for which the actual room in Phelps's home was photographed.
Shirley and Gordon, I noticed, kept as far apart as possible. It was quite intentional and I again caught belligerent glances between them. On the other hand, both Enid and Marilyn Loring were calm and self-possessed. Yet between these two I caught a coolness, a sort of armed truce, in which each felt it would be a sign of weakness to admit consciously even the near presence of the other.
Werner was irascible, swearing roundly at the slightest provocation, raging up and down at every little error.
"Come now," he shouted, as we approached, "let's get this scene now—number one twenty-six. Loring—Gordon! Shake a leg—here, I'll read it again. 'Daring enters. He is scarcely seated at the desk, examining papers, when Zelda enters in a filmy negligee. Daring looks up amazed and Zelda pretends great agitation. Daring is not unkind to her. He tells her he has not discovered the will as yet. Spoken title: "I am sure that I can find a will and that you are provided for." Continuing scene, Daring speaks the above. Zelda thanks him and undulates toward the door with the well- known swaying walk of the vampire. Daring turns to his papers and does not watch her further. She looks over her shoulder, then exits, registering that she will get him yet.'" Werner dropped his copy of the script. "Understand?" he barked. "Make it fast now. We shouldn't do this over, but you were lousy before, both of you!" Gordon extinguished a cigarette and entered the set with a scowl. Marilyn rose and slipped out of a dressing gown spotted with make-up and dark from its long service in the studios. Underneath the wrapper the finest of silken draperies clung to her, infinitely more intimate here in actuality and in the bright studio lights than it would be upon the screen. I noticed the slim trimness of her figure—could not help myself, in fact. And I saw also that she shrank back just the least little bit before stepping to her place at the door. It was modesty, a genuine girlish diffidence. In a moment I revised my conception of her. Before, I had not been able to decide whether Marilyn Loring was a woman with a gift for looking young, or a flapper with the baffling sophistication affected these days by so many of them. Now I knew somehow that she was just all girl, probably in her early twenties. The brief instant of shyness had betrayed her.
In the scene she changed. Marilyn Loring was an actress. The moment she caught the click of the camera's turn there was a hardness about her mouth, a faint dishonest touch to the play of her eye, a shameless boldness to her movements concealed without concealment. In the flash of a second she was Marilyn no longer, but Zelda, the ward of old Remsen, an unscrupulous and willing ally of the "Black Terror."
Werner damned the amount of footage used in the scene, then turned to the next, with Enid and Gordon, in the same set, one of the necessary retakes for which the room had been put up again.
Enid had not noticed me and I somehow failed to shake off the feeling of fear that the glance of Millard had given me. Faint heart I was, and the answer was that I had yet to win the fair lady. To excuse myself I pretended she was different under the lights. It was really true that, as Zelda Remsen, Enid was not the fascinating creature I had met in Werner's office. There was too much Mascaro on her lashes, too great an amount of red and blue and even bright yellow in her make-up. In striking contrast was the little coloring used by Stella Lamar, or even Marilyn Loring.
Enid's scene was a close-up in which the beginning of the love interest in the story was shown. I noticed that as the cameras turned upon the action the girl inch by inch shifted her position, almost imperceptibly, until she was practically facing the lens. The consequence was that Gordon, playing the lover, was forced to move also in order to follow her face, and so was brought with his back toward the camera. It was the pleasant little film trick known as "taking the picture away" from a fellow actor. Enid was a "lens hog."
The moment the scene was over Gordon rushed to Werner to protest. The director, irritated and in a hurry, gave him small satisfaction. Both players were called back under the lights for the next "take." As Werner's back was turned Enid favored Gordon with a mischievous, malicious glance. The leading man possessed very few friends, from what I had heard. The new star evidently did not propose to become one of them.
"Let's pay our respects, socially," suggested Kennedy, at my elbow.
I followed his glance and saw that Marilyn was seated alone, away from the others, apparently forlorn. As we approached she drew her dressing robe about her, smiling. With the smile her face lighted. It was in the rare moments, just as her smile broke and spread, that she was pretty, strikingly so.
"Professor Kennedy," she exclaimed. "And Mr. Jameson, too! Sit down and watch our new star."
"What do you think of her?" Kennedy asked.
"Enid?" Marilyn's expression became quizzical. "I think she's a clever girl."
"You mean something by that, don't you?" prompted Kennedy.
She sobered. "No! Honestly!" For an instant she studied him with a directness of gaze which I would have found disconcerting. "Don't tell me"—she teased, again allowing the flash of a smile to illuminate her features—"don't tell me the renowned and celebrated Professor Kennedy suspects Enid Faye of murdering poor Stella to get her position."
Kennedy laughed, turning to me. "There's the woman," he remarked. "We may deduce and analyze and catalogue all the facts of science, but"—he spread his palms wide, expressly—"it is as nothing against a woman's intuition." Facing Marilyn again, he became frank. "You caught my thought exactly, although it was not as bad as all that. I simply wondered if Miss Faye might not have had something to do with the case."
"Why?" I realized now that this Miss Loring, in addition to considerable skill as an actress, in addition to rare beauty on the screen, possessed a brain and the power to use it. She followed Kennedy with greater ease than I, who knew him.
"Why?" she repeated.
"Perhaps it's the intuition of the male," he began, hesitatingly.
She shook her head. "A man's intuition is not dependable. You see, a woman gets her intuition first and fits her facts to it, while a man takes a fact and then has an intuitive burst of inspiration as a result. The woman puts her facts last and so is not thrown out when they're wrong, as they usually are. But the man—I think, Professor Kennedy, that you have some facts about Enid stored away and that that's why you put a double meaning in my remark. Am I right?"
He smiled. "I surrender, Miss Loring. You are right."
"What is the little fact? Perhaps I can help you."
"Miss Faye and Lawrence Millard seem to be old friends."
"Oh! Maybe you wonder at the contents of the sealed testimony in the case of Millard VS. Millard?"
"Do you want to know what I think?" she asked.
"Well, I've worked with Stella nearly a year. It's my opinion she divorced Millard because he asked her to do so."
"No, no!" I balked at that, interrupting. "He could have obtained the divorce himself if he had wanted it. Stella Lamar and Manton—"
"That's talk!" she rejoined, with a show of feeling. "That's the thing I hate about pictures. It's always talk, talk, talk! I'm not saying Stella and old Papa Lloyd, as we used to call him, never were mixed up with each other, but it's one thing to repeat a bit of gossip and quite another thing to prove it. I'm not one to help give currency to any rumor of immoral relationship until I'm pretty dog-gone sure it's true."
"You think Miss Lamar wasn't as bad as painted?" asked Kennedy.
"I'm sure of it, Mr. Kennedy. I've known Stella and I've known others of her type. Fundamentally they're the kindest, truest, biggest-hearted people on earth. When Stella and I shared a dressing room I often caught her giving away this or that— frequently things she needed herself. I've known her to draw against her salary to lend money to some actor or actress whom she well knew would never repay her. Stella's biggest fault was an overbalancing quality of sympathy. If she ever did get mixed up with anyone you may bet it was because that person played upon her feelings."
"Have you any theory as to who killed her?" It was a direct question.
"No!" The answer was quick, but then an amazing thing happened. Marilyn suddenly colored, a flush which gathered up around her eyes above the make-up and made me think of a country girl. She started to say something else and then bit her tongue. Her confusion was surprising, due, probably, to the unexpectedness of Kennedy's query.
Kennedy seemed to wish to spare her. Undoubtedly her prompt negative had been the truth. Some afterthought had robbed her of her self-control. "Tell me why you said Miss Faye was a clever girl," he directed.
"Just because she puts her ambition above everything else and works hard and honestly and sincerely, and will get there. That's what people call being clever."
Werner's voice, roaring through a megaphone, announced an interval for lunch. Marilyn rose, laughing now, but still in a high color, conscious perhaps that she had revealed some strong undercurrent of feeling.
"If you'll escort me to my dressing room," she said, coaxingly, "and wait until I slip into a skirt and waist, I'll initiate both of you to McCann's across the street. We all eat there, players, stage hands, chauffeurs—all but the stars, who have machines to take them elsewhere."
Kennedy glanced at me. "Delighted!" said I.
"We haven't much time," she went on, leading the way. "Werner's on a rampage to-day."
"He isn't usually that way?"
"It's Stella's death, I guess." She opened one of the steel fire doors. "He's always that way, though, when he's been out the night before."
I flashed a look at Kennedy. Could Werner have been at Tarrytown?
In the long hallway of dressing rooms Marilyn stopped, grasping the knob of her door. "It'll only take me—" she began.
Then her face went white as the concrete of the floor, and that was immaculate. An expression which might have been fear, or horror, or hate—or all three, spread over her features, transforming her.
Following the direction of her stare, I saw Shirley down the hall, just as he stopped at his own door. He caught her glance suddenly, and his own face went red. I thought that his hands trembled.
Marilyn wheeled about, lips pressed tightly together. Throwing open the door, she dashed into her room, slamming it with a bang which echoed and re-echoed up and down the little hall. She had forgotten our presence altogether.
Kennedy looked at me quizzically. "I guess we'd better not wait for Miss Loring to initiate us to McCann's," he remarked.
We found our way to the courtyard, and were headed for the gate when a young man in chauffeur's cap and uniform intercepted us. I had noticed him start forward from one of the cars parked in the inclosure, but did not recognize him.
"May I speak to you a moment, Professor Kennedy—alone?"
"Mr. Jameson here is associated with me, is assisting me in this case, if it is something concerning the death of Miss Lamar."
"It is, sir. I saw you out at Tarrytown yesterday. McGroarty is my name and I drove one of the cars the company went in. They were pointing you out to me, and I'd read about you, and just now I says to myself there's something I ought to tell you."
"That's right." Kennedy lighted a cigar, offering one to the chauffeur. "I'm not supernatural and often I'm able to solve a mystery only with the help of all those who, like myself, want justice done."
"Yes, sir! That's my way of looking at it. Well"—McGroarty blew a cloud of smoke, appreciatively—"I do a good bit of driving for these people, and this morning it was cloudy and dull, no good for exteriors, but yet sort of so it might clear at any moment, and so I was ordered. I brought my car and left it standing here in the yard while I went over to McCann's—the lunch room, you know—for a cup of coffee. When I came back"—again the cigar— "there still was nothing doing, and so I thought—you know how it is—I thought I'd clean up the back of the old boat, to kill time, not saying it wasn't needed. So I took out the cocoa mat to beat it and what do I find on the floor—between the mat and the rear seat it was, I guess—but this."
He handed Kennedy some small object which glinted in the light. Looking closely, I saw that it was a peculiarly shaped little glass tube.
"An ampulla," Kennedy explained. "It's the technical name the doctors have for such a container."
"It must have been between the mat and the rear seat," the chauffeur repeated. Then he discovered that his cigar was out. He struck a match.
Kennedy turned the bit of glass over and over in his hand, examining it carefully. I felt rather fearful, wondering if it might not contain some trace of the deadly poison which had so quickly killed Stella Lamar. I even half expected to see Kennedy find some infinitesimal jagged edge or point which could have inflicted the fatal scratch. Then I realized that McGroarty had handled the thing with impunity, perhaps had carried it about half a day.
Kennedy took his scarf pin. On the outside of the little tube there was no trace of a label or marking of any sort. All about, on the inside, however, the glass was spotted with dried light- yellow incrustations, resembling crystals and at first apt to escape even the sharpest scrutiny. With the pin Kennedy scaled off one of these and put it under his pocket lens. But he came to no conclusion. Rather puzzled and nettled, he dropped the tiny bit of substance back into the tube, then replaced his pin in his scarf, and stowed this latest bit of possible evidence in his pocket carefully.
"How do you suppose it got in the car?" he asked.
"Some one must have dropped it and it must have rolled in that space by the edge of the mat," replied the chauffeur. "There was just room for it, too! I never would have noticed it without taking up the mat."
"It couldn't be broken, by being trampled on?"
"Nope! Not a chance!"
"How long could it have been there?"
"Two or three or four days—since I cleaned up last."
I remembered the cleverness shown by the guilty person in placing the needle in the curtain. It seemed unlikely that this could be an accident. "Isn't it possible," I suggested, "that this is a plant; that the tube was put there deliberately, to throw us off the track?"
"It's quite likely," he admitted. "On the other hand, Walter, the very smartest criminal will do some foolish little thing, enough to ruin the most careful plans and preparations." He turned to McGroarty. "Who rode in your car yesterday?"
"Mine's the principals' car," boasted McGroarty. "Going out I had Miss Lamar, Miss Loring, Mr. Gordon, Mr. Shirley, and Mr. Werner. Coming back Mr. Werner was with you, and Miss Lamar—well, there was only Miss Loring and Mr. Gordon and Mr. Shirley."
"Did you notice how they acted?"
"They never says a word to each other on all the trip back, but I didn't think it strange after what happened, although usually they're always joking and laughing."
"You brought the three to the studio here?"
"Yes. They had to get out of make-up."
"Did you leave the car then?"
"No, I hit it right for the garage."
"Were you away from the car at Tarrytown?"
"Sure! That was a long wait. Peters, Manton's chauffeur, and I found a couple of horseshoes and we were throwing them most of the time."
"How long was the machine alone here in the yard this morning?"
"A couple of hours, maybe. I knew the old boiler was safe enough, and that if they wanted me they'd look over in McCann's."
"Well," Kennedy extended his hand, "I thank you, and I won't forget you, McGroarty."
As soon as the chauffeur was out of earshot I faced Kennedy rather eagerly, to forestall him if he had arrived at the same conclusion as myself.
"See! It's just as I thought yesterday!"
"How's that, Walter?"
"Werner! He rode out in that machine, but not back. In Manton's car he was worried all the time. He probably knew he had dropped the tube. Then he hurried up ahead of us and wiped the needle—" I stopped, lamely.