XIV. Another Clue
 

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.

Kennedy smiled. "See, you're jumping at conclusions too fast. You remember now that we decided that the towel has nothing directly to do with the poison. In a way you cannot assume that this ampulla has, either, although I myself feel sure on that point. But in any case no one is eliminated. It is true Werner did not return in the same automobile. It is also true that he had little opportunity to drop it while others were in the car with him. When McGroarty was away from the car anyone could have lost it, or--as you suggested a moment ago--planted it there deliberately to divert suspicion."

I felt the beginnings of a headache from all these confused threads of the mystery. "Can't--Isn't there anyone we can say is innocent, at least, even if we cannot begin to fasten the guilt upon somebody?" I pleaded.

Kennedy shook his head. "At this stage the one is as hard as the other. I consider myself lucky to have collected as much material as I have for the analysis of the poison." He tapped his pocket significantly.

"Yoo-hoo!" A frankly shrill call in a feminine voice interrupted. We both turned, to see Marilyn Loring hastening toward us.

"Did you think I was going to forget you?" she asked, almost reproachfully and much out of breath. "Let's hurry," she added. "This is roast beef day."

We started toward the gate once more, Marilyn between us, vivacious and rather charming. I noticed that she made no reference to the incident in the hallway, the precipitate manner in which she left us and the very evident confusion of Merle Shirley. Kennedy, too, seemed disposed to drop the matter, although it was obviously significant. For some reason his mind was elsewhere, so that the girl was thrown upon my hands.

It struck me that, after all, she was attractive. At this moment I found her distinctly good-looking.

"Why do you 'vamp'?" I asked, innocently. "You don't seem to me, if you'll pardon the personal remark, at all that type."

She laughed. "It's all the fault of the public. They insist that I vamp. I want to play girly-girly parts, but the public won't stand for it; they won't come to see the picture. They tell the exhibitor, and he tells the producer, and back I am at the vamping again. Isn't it funny?" She paused a moment. "Take Gordon. Doesn't it make you laugh, what the public think he is-- clean-cut, hero, and all that sort of thing? Little do they know!"

All at once Kennedy stopped abruptly. We were close to the entrance, just where a smart little speedster of light blue lined with white was parked at the edge of the narrow sidewalk. The sun, after a morning of uncertainty, had just struck through the haze, and it illuminated Marilyn's face and hair most delightfully as we both turned, somewhat in surprise.

"I know you'll never forgive me, Miss Loring," Kennedy began, "but the fact is that just before you came out we stumbled into a new bit of evidence in the case and I believe that Jameson and I will have to hurry in to the laboratory. Much as I would like to lunch with you, and perhaps chat some more during scene-taking this afternoon--"

It seemed to me that her eyes widened a bit. Certainly there was a perceptible change in her face. It was interest, but it was also certainly more than that. I felt that she would have liked to penetrate the mask of Kennedy's expression, perhaps learn just what facts and theories rested in his mind.

"Is it--" Suddenly she smiled, realizing that Kennedy would reveal only the little which suited his purpose. "Is it something you can tell me?" she finished.

He shook his head. His answer was tantalizing, his glance searching and without concealment. "Only another detail concerning the chemical analysis of the poison."

"I see!" If she knew of the ampulla the answer would have been intelligible to her. As it was, her face betrayed nothing. "I guess I'll hurry on over alone, then," she added. She extended a hand to each of us. Her grasp was warm and friendly and frank. "So long, and--and good luck, for Stella's sake!"

"Hello, folks!"

The dancing bantering voice from behind us, with silvery cadence to its laughter, could belong to no one but Enid Faye. I grasped that it was her car which Kennedy leaned upon. I gasped a bit as I saw her directly at my side, her dainty chamois motoring coat brushing my sleeve, the sun which grew in strength every moment casting mottled shadows upon her face through the transparent brim of her bobbing hat, in mocking answer to the mirth in her eyes.

For an instant she gazed after the retreating Marilyn.

"Good-by, Marilyn! Dear," she called, mega-phoning her hands.

The other girl made no response. Laughing, Enid slipped a hand under my arm, the firm pressure of her fingers thrilling me. She addressed Kennedy, however.

"Do you want a ride in to the city, both of you?"

Kennedy brightened. "That would be fine! How far are you going?"

"The Burrage. I have a luncheon engagement. That's Forty-fourth."

"Can you drop us off at the university?"

"Surely! Climb in. It's a tight fit, three in the seat, but fun. And"--facing me--"I want Jamie between us, next to me!"

As we rolled out of the studio inclosure she leaned forward on the wheel to question Kennedy.

"What did Marilyn Loring want? You seemed in deep confab!"

"She volunteered to initiate us to McCann's, across the street."

"Oh!" She skidded about a corner skillfully. "And--"

"Well, we bumped into an additional piece of evidence and I thought Jameson and I ought to hurry in to my laboratory instead."

"I bet"--Enid giggled, readjusting her hat in the breeze--"I bet she wanted to know what you'd found, right away. Didn't she?"

"Yes!" Kennedy's face was noncommittal, "Why do you say that?"

"Because she came into my room, just as we were getting ready for work this morning. Perhaps I'm wrong, but from the way she kept asking me questions about everyone from Manton down I got the idea she was quizzing me, to see how much I knew. Of course this is only my first day, but it seems to me that Marilyn is talking a great deal, without saying very much. I've come to the conclusion she knows a good deal more than she is telling anyone, and that she'd like to find out just how much everyone else knows."

Kennedy nodded almost absent-mindedly, without responding further.

"Well"--Enid speeded up a bit--"not to change connections on the switchboard, I think I'm going to like it with Manton Pictures."

"Will they do justice to your work," Kennedy inquired, "putting you in a partially finished picture in this way?"

"That's where I'm in luck, real bang-up luck. Werner has directed me before and knows just exactly how to handle me."

"What about the story? That was built for Stella, wasn't it?"

"Yes, but they're changing it here and there to fit me. Larry knows my work, too! That's luck again for little Enid."

"How long have you known Millard?" In a flash I realized Kennedy's cleverness. This was the fact he had wished to unearth. The question was as natural as could be. He had led up to it deliberately. I was sure of that.

"Four, nearly five years," she replied, unsuspiciously. Then suddenly she bit her lip, although her expression was well masked. "That is," she added, somewhat lamely--"that is, in a casual way, like nearly everyone knows nearly everyone else in the film game."

"Oh!" murmured Kennedy, lapsing into silence.