XXII. The Stem
 

Though my hands trembled so that I could hardly control them, I managed to close the door softly and to back away down the hall without being discovered. My head was spinning and I was dizzy. With my own ears I had heard Marilyn Loring virtually betray the guilt of the man she loved and whom therefore she had tried to shield. "If you have the blood of another man on your hands--" What more could Kennedy want?

I started to run toward the studio. Then recollection of my errand stopped me. Kennedy wished the blood smears and stomach contents and was anxious to get them before the arrival of the police. At first I thought that all such evidence would be unnecessary now, after the dialogue I had overheard, but it struck me as an afterthought that it might be necessary still to prove Shirley's guilt to the satisfaction of a court and jury, and so I rushed to the next dressing room and to another, until I located the doctor and the body of the dead man.

With the little package for Kennedy safely in my pocket I hurried out again into the sweltering heat beneath the glass of the big studio, and to the side of Kennedy and Mackay in the banquet-hall set.

"You have a sample of each article of food now?" he was asking the district attorney. "You are sure you have missed nothing?"

"As far as possible I took my samples from the table where Werner sat," Mackay explained. "When the prop. boy gets here with an empty bottle and cork I'll have a sample of the wine. I think it's the wine," he added.

Kennedy turned to me. "You've got--"

"In my pocket!" I interrupted. Then, rather breathlessly, I repeated the conversation I had overheard.

"Good Lord!" Mackay flushed. "There it is! Shirley's the man, and I'll take him now, quick, without waiting for a warrant."

"See!" I ejaculated, to Kennedy. "He killed Stella because she made a fool of him and then, when Werner discovered that and followed him to Tarrytown the other night, it probably put him in a panic of fear, and so, to keep Werner from talking--"

"Easy, Walter! Not so fast! What you overheard is insufficient ground for Shirley's conviction, unless you could make him confess, and I doubt you could make him do that."

"Why?" This was Mackay.

"Because I don't think he's guilty. At least"--Kennedy, as always, was cautious in his statements, "not so far as anything we now know would indicate."

"But his anger at Stella," I protested, "and Marilyn's remark--"'

"Miss Lamar's death was the result of a cool, unfeeling plan, not pique or anger. The same cruel, careful brain executed this second crime."

Mackay, I saw, was three-quarters convinced by Kennedy. "How do you account for the dialogue Jameson overheard?" he asked.

"Miss Loring told us that Shirley suspected some one and was watching, and would not tell her or anyone else who it was. It seems most likely to me that it is the truth, Mackay. In that case her remark means that she believes his silence in a way is responsible for Werner's death."

"Oh! If Shirley had taken you into his confidence, for instance--?"

"I might possibly have succeeded in gaining sufficient evidence for an arrest, thus averting this tragedy. But it is only a theory of mine."

I scowled. It seemed to me that Kennedy was minimizing things in a way unusual for him. I wondered if he really thought the heavy man innocent.

"It's still my belief that Shirley is guilty," I asserted.

A sound of confusion from the courtyard beneath the heavy studio windows caught Kennedy's ear and ended the colloquy. From some of those near enough to look out we received the explanation. The police had arrived, fully three-quarters of an hour after Werner's death.

"I'll get the little bottle of wine, sure," Mackay murmured, picking up the food samples he had wrapped and crowding the bulky package into a pocket.

"I don't see why that would have been any easier to poison than the food," was my objection. "Everyone was looking."

"Very simple. The food was brought in quite late. Besides, it was dished out by the caterer before the eyes of forty or fifty people or more and there was no telling which plate would go to Werner's place. The drinks were poured last of all. I remember seeing the bubbles rise and wondering whether they would register at the distance."

Kennedy did not look at me. "Did it ever occur to you," he went on, casually, "that the glasses were all set out empty at the various places long before, and that there might easily have been a few drops of something, if it were colorless, placed in the bottom of Werner's glass, with scarcely a chance of its being discovered, especially by a man who had so much on his mind at the time as Werner had? He must have indicated where he would sit when he arranged the camera stands and the location of the tables."

I had not thought of that.

Kennedy frowned. "If only I could have located more of that broken glass!" As he faced me I could read his disappointment. "Walter, I've made a most careful search of his chair and the table and everything about the space where he dropped. The poison must have been in the wine, but there's not a tiny sliver of that glass left, nothing but a thousand bits ground into the canvas, too small to hold even a drop of the liquid. Just think, a dried stain of the wine, no matter how tiny, might have served me in a chemical analysis."

Very suddenly there was a low exclamation from Mackay. "Look! Quick! Some one must have kicked it way over here!"

Fully twenty feet from Werner's place in the glare of the lights was the hollow stem of a champagne glass, its base intact save for a narrow segment. In the stem still were a couple of drops of the wine, as if in a bulb or tube.

"Can it be the director's glass?" Mackay asked, handing it to Kennedy.

Kennedy slipped it into his pocket, fussing with his handkerchief so that the precious contents would not drip out. "I think so. I doubt whether any other glass was broken. Verify it quickly."

The police were entering now with Manton. Following them was the physician. Mackay and I ascertained readily that no other glass had been shattered, while Kennedy searched the floor for possible signs that the stem was part of a glass broken where we had found it. Unquestionably we had a sample of the actual wine quaffed by the unfortunate Werner. Elated we strolled to a corner so as to give the police full charge.

"They 'll waste time questioning everyone," Kennedy remarked. "I have the real evidence." He tapped his pocket.

The few moments that he had had to himself had been ample for him to obtain such evidence as was destroyed in so many cases by the time he was called upon the scene.

A point occurred to me. "You don't think the poison was planted later during the excitement?"

"Hardly! Our criminal is too clever to take a long chance. In such a case we would know it was some one near Werner and also there would be too many people watching. Foolhardiness is not boldness."

I took to observing the methods of the police, which were highly efficient, but only in the minuteness of the examination of witnesses and in the care with which they recorded names and facts and made sure that no one had slipped away to avoid the notoriety.

The actors and actresses who had stood rather in awe of Kennedy, both here and in Kennedy's investigation at Tarrytown, developed nimble tongues in their answers to the city detectives. The result was a perfect maze of conflicting versions of Werner's cry and fall. In fact, one scene shifter insisted that Shirley, as the Black Terror, had reached Werner's side and had struck him before the cry, while an extra girl with a faint lisp described with sobering accuracy the flight of a mysterious missile through the air. I realized then why Kennedy had made no effort to question them. Under the excitement of the scene, the glamour of the lights, the sense of illusion, and the stifling heat, it would have been strange for any of the people to have retained correct impressions of the event.

The police sergeant knew Kennedy by reputation and approached him after a visit to the dead man's body with the doctor. His glance, including Mackay and myself, was frankly triumphant.

"Well," he exclaimed, "I don't suppose it occurred to any of you scientific guys to search the fellow, now did it?"

Kennedy smiled, in good humor. "Searching a man isn't always the scientific method. You won't find the word 'frisk' in any scientific dictionary."

"No?" The police officer's eyes twinkled. There was enough of the Irish in him to enjoy an encounter of this kind. "Maybe not, but you might find things in a chap's pocket which is better." With a flourish he produced a hypodermic syringe, the duplicate of the one I had appropriated, and a tiny bottle. "The man's a dope," he added.

"I knew that," replied Kennedy. "I examined his arm, where he usually took his shots, and found no fresh mark of the needle."

"That doesn't prove anything. Wait until the medical examiner gets here. He'll find the fellow's heart all shot full of hop, or something. I guess it isn't so complicated, after all. He was a hop fiend, all right."

"Still, there's nothing to indicate that he was a suicide."

"Not suicide; accident-overdose," was the sergeant's reply.

"How could lie have died from an overdose of the drug, when he hasn't taken any recently?"

"Well"--unabashed--"then he croaked because he hadn't had a shot-- the same thing. Heart failure, either way. Excited, and all, you know, making the scene. Maybe he forgot to use the needle at that."

"Perhaps you're right." Kennedy shrugged calmly. What was the use of disputing the matter?

I started to protest against the detective's hypothesis. The idea of any drug addict ever forgetting to take his stimulant was too preposterous. But Kennedy checked me. All were now keenly listening to the argument. Better, perhaps, to let some one think that nothing was suspected than to disclose the cards in Craig's hand. I saw that he wished to get away and had not spoken seriously. He turned to Mackay.

"Walter and I will have to hurry to the laboratory. Would you like to come along?"

"You bet I would!" The district attorney showed his delight. "I was just going to ask if I might do so. There's nothing for me in Tarrytown to-day and this is out of my jurisdiction."

As we turned away the police sergeant saw us and called across the floor, not quite concealing a touch of professional jealousy.

"The three of you were here at the time, weren't you?"

"No," Kennedy answered. "Mr. Jameson and myself."

"Well, you two, then! You're witnesses and I'll ask you to hold yourself in readiness to appear at the hearing."

I thought that the policeman was particularly delighted at his position to issue orders to Kennedy, and I was angered. Again Craig held me in check!

"We'll be glad to tell anything we know," he replied, then added a little fling, a bit of sarcasm which almost went over the other's head. "That is," he amended, "as eye-witnesses!"