XVII. An Appeal
 

We strolled up Broadway, resisting the attraction of a garish new motion-picture palace at which Manton's previous release with Stella Lamar was now showing to capacity--much to the delight of the exhibitor who greatly complimented himself on his good fortune in being able to take advantage of the newspaper sensation over the affair.

On we walked, Kennedy mostly in silent deduction, I knew, until we came to the upper regions of the great thoroughfare, turned off, and headed toward our apartment on the Heights, not far from the university.

We had scarcely settled ourselves for a quiet hour in our quarters when the telephone rang. I answered. To my amazement I found that it was Marilyn Loring.

"Is Professor Kennedy in?" she asked.

"Yes, Miss Loring. Just a--"

"Never mind calling him to the phone, Mr. Jameson. I've been trying to find him all evening. He was not at the laboratory, although I waited over an hour. Just tell him that there's something I am very anxious to consult him about. Ask him if it will be all right for me to run up to see him just a few minutes."

I explained to Kennedy.

"Let her come along," he said, as surprised as I was. Then he added, humorously, "I seem to be father confessor to-night."

After sinking back in my seat in comfort once more I observed a quiet elation in Kennedy's manner. All at once it struck me what he was doing. The multitude of considerations in this case, the many cross leads to be followed, had confused me. But now I realized that, after all, this was only the approved Kennedy method, the mode of procedure which had never failed to produce results for him. Without allowing himself to be disturbed by the great number of people concerned, he had calmly started to pit them one against the other, encouraging each to talk about the rest, making a show of his apparent inaction and lack of haste so that they, in turn, would shake off the excitement immediately following the death of the girl and thereby reveal their normal selves to his keen observation.

Not five minutes passed before Marilyn was announced. Evidently she had been seeking us eagerly, for she had probably telephoned from a near-by pay station.

"Mr. Kennedy," she began, "I am going to find this very hard to say."

"Really," he assured her, "there is no reason why you should not repose your confidence in me. My only interest is to solve the mystery and to see that justice is satisfied. Beyond that nothing would give me greater happiness than to be of service to you."

"It's--it's about Merle Shirley--" she started, bravely. Then all at once she broke down. The strain of two days had been too much for her.

Kennedy lighted a fresh cigar, realizing that he could best aid her to recover her composure by making no effort to do so. For several moments she sobbed silently, a handkerchief at her eyes. Then she straightened, with a half smile, dabbing at the drops of moisture remaining. With her wet eyes and flushed cheeks she was revealed to me again as a very genuine girl, wholly unspoiled by her outward mask of sophistication. Furthermore, at this instant she was gloriously pretty.

"Again--why do you play vampire roles, Miss Loring?" I asked, as quickly as the thought flashed to me. "I think you'd be an ideal ingenue!"

"About a thousand people have told me that," she rejoined. As she replied her smile took full possession of her features. My idiotic repetition, entirely out of place, had served to restore her self-control to her. "No, the public won't stand for it. They've been trained to know me as a vamp, and a vamp I remain."

Facing Kennedy, she sobered. "Merle Shirley and I were engaged," she went on. "That you know. Then poor Stella made a fool of him. She didn't mean any harm, any real harm, but I don't think she knew how deep he feels or just what a fiery temper he has. Finally he found out that she was only playing with him. He was perfectly terrible. At first I thought he had killed her in a burst of passion. I really thought that."

"Yes?" Kennedy was interested. He needed no pretense.

"When I asked him point blank he said he didn't." A very wonderful light came into Marilyn Loring's eyes at this instant. "Whatever else he would do, Professor Kennedy, he wouldn't lie to me; that I know. He would tell me the truth because he knows I would shield him, no matter what the cost."

"You simply want to assure me of his innocence?" suggested Kennedy.

"No!" There was a touch of scorn to the little negative. "You don't believe him guilty; you didn't even when I did."

"Then--"

"But he knows something--something about the murder of Stella-- and he won't tell me what it is. I--I'm afraid for him. He isn't sleeping at night, and I believe he's watching somebody at the studio, and I know--it's the woman's intuition, Professor"--she emphasized the word, and paused--"he's in danger. He's in some great threatening danger!"

"What do you wish me to do, Miss Loring?"

"I want you to protect him and"--slowly she colored, up and around and about her eyes as she always did, until she wasn't unlike an Indian maid--"and no one must know I've been up to see you."

Gravely Kennedy bowed her to the door, assuring her he would do all that lay in his power. When he returned I was ready for him.

"Now!" I exclaimed. "Now say it isn't Werner! Here is Merle Shirley watching some one at the studio. Isn't that likely to be the director? And if Shirley is watching Werner you have the explanation for the second intruder at Tarrytown last night. Shirley is big enough and strong enough to have given the deputy a nice swift tussle."

"A little tall, I'm afraid," Kennedy remarked.

"You can't go by the deputy's impressions. He didn't really remember much of anything. Certainly he was unobserving."

"Perhaps you're right, Walter." Kennedy smiled. "But how about Gordon?" he added. "There's genuine motive--money!"

"Or Shirley himself!" I attempted to be sarcastic. "There's genuine motive. Stella made a fool out of him."

"It wasn't a murder of passion," Kennedy reminded me. "No one in a white heat of rage would study up on snake venoms."

"If it were a slow-smoldering--"

"Shirley's anger wasn't that kind."

"But good heavens!" As usual I arrived nowhere in an argument with Kennedy. "Circumstantial evidence points to Werner almost altogether--"

"You've forgotten one point in your chain, Walter."

"What's that?"

"Whoever took the needle from the curtain last night scratched himself on it and left blood spots on the portieres, tiny ones, but real blood spots, nevertheless. That means the intruder inoculated himself with venom. I doubt that the poison was so dry as to be ineffectual. If it was Werner, how do you account for the fact that he is still alive?"

"Do you"--I guess my eyes went wide--"do you expect to dig up a dead man somewhere? Is there some one we suspect and haven't seen since yesterday?"

He didn't answer, preferring to tantalize me.

"How do you account for it yourself?" I demanded, somewhat hotly.

"Let's call it a day, Walter," he rejoined. "Let's go to bed!"