XXIX. Microscopic Evidence
 

Kennedy made some efforts to preserve the forged order which he had restored with the collodion, but I could see that he placed no great importance upon its possession. Gradually the yard of the studio had cleared of the employees, who had returned to their various tasks. Under the direction of one stout individual who seemed to possess authority the fire apparatus had been replaced in a portable steel garage arranged for the purpose in a farther corner, and now several men were engaged in cleaning up the dirt and litter caused in the excitement.

Except in the basement there were few signs of the blaze. Manton accompanied the fire chief to his car, then hurried up into the building without further notice of us. Mackay went to McGroarty's machine to claim the traveling bag containing our evidence. Kennedy and I started for the dressing rooms.

"I want to get blood smears of Shirley and Marilyn," he confided in a low voice. "I shall have to think of some pretext."

Neither of the two we sought were in their quarters and so we continued on into the studio. Here we found Kauf at work; at least he was engaged in a desperate attempt to get something out of his people.

"Ye gods, Gordon!" we heard him exclaim, as we made our way through the debris of the banquet set to the ballroom now dazzlingly bright under the lights. "What if you do have to wear a bandage around your head? It's a masked ball, isn't it? You've got a monk's cowl over everything but your features, haven't you?"

It struck me that the faces had never been more ghastly, although my reason convinced me it was simply the usual effect of the Cooper-Hewitt tubes. But there was no question but that the explosion had given everyone a bad fright, that not an actress or actor but would have preferred to have been nearly anywhere else but under the heat of the glass roof, now a constant reminder of the accident because of the gaping hole directly above them.

Marilyn was in the center of the revelers in the set, already in costume. Shirley I saw close to the camera men, standing uneasily on shaky legs, shielding his eyes with one hand while he clung to a massive sideboard for support with the other. He had not yet donned his carnival clothes, nor essayed to put on a make-up.

Enid Faye, the only one in sight whose spirits seemed to have rallied at all, was offering him comfort of a sort.

"You'll get by, all right, Merle, if you can keep on your pins, and I'll say you deserve credit for trying it. There's"--she stepped back a bit to study him--"there's just one thing. Your eyes show the result of all that smoke and vapor--no color or luster at all. I--I wonder if belladonna wouldn't brighten them up a bit and--well, get you by, for to-day?"

"I'll go out and get some at lunch." He smiled weakly. "I'll try anything once."

"That's the spirit!" She patted him on the shoulder, then danced on into the center of the set, stopping to direct some barbed remark at Marilyn.

Kauf took his megaphone to call his people around him. There seemed to be a certain essential competence about the little man, now that Manton and Phelps and Millard were not about to bother him. While we watched he succeeded in photographing one of the full shots of the general action or atmosphere of the dance. Then he hurried to the side of Shirley, to see if the heavy man felt equal to the task of resuming his make-up once more.

I found the time dragging heavy on my hands and I wished that Kennedy would return to the laboratory or decide upon some definite action. Though I racked my brain, I failed to think of a device whereby Kennedy could get blood smears of Shirley or Marilyn without their knowledge. Once more my reflections veered around to the matter of the stolen towel and I wondered if that had been wasted effort on Kennedy's part; if the fire had thrown out his carefully arranged plans to trap whoever took it.

Suddenly I realized that Kennedy was following a very definite procedure, that his seeming indifference, his apparent idle curiosity concerning the scene taking, masked a settled purpose. When Phelps entered he approached him casually and turned to him with skilled nonchalance, holding up a finger.

"Will you lend me a pocket knife for a moment?" he asked, "to get a hang-nail?"

Phelps produced one, rather grudgingly. Kennedy promptly went over to the window, as though seeking better light. Thereafter he avoided Phelps. Soon the banker had forgotten the incident.

Some time later Manton rushed in from the office. Kennedy maneuvered his way to the promoter's side and waited his chance to borrow that man's pocket knife under conditions when Manton would be the least apt to remember it. Then he made his way around to Mackay and I saw that both the acquisitions went into little envelopes of the sort used to take the blood smears after the explosion and falling glass.

Kennedy now seemed rather elated. Millard entered and he borrowed the scenario writer's knife in exactly the same fashion as the others. No one of the three men noticed his loss. I thought it lucky that all three carried the article, and tried to guess how far Kennedy intended to carry this little scheme.

Kauf's announcement of lunch gave me my answer. It seemed that there would be just half an hour and that the entire cast was expected to make shift at McCann's rather than attempt to go to any better place at a greater distance. Immediately Kennedy turned to me.

"Hurry, Walter! Twenty minutes' quick work and then it's the laboratory and the solution of this mystery."

With Mackay and the bag we stole to the dressing rooms, waiting until sure that everyone was downstairs. In Enid's chamber Kennedy glanced about carefully but swiftly. When nothing caught his attention he picked up her finger-nail file, gingerly, from the blunt end, slipping it into one of the little envelopes which Mackay held open. Thereupon the district attorney put his identifying mark upon the outside and we went to the next room.

It proved to be Gordon's. The general search was barren of result, but the dressing table yielded another finger-nail file, handled in the same manner as before. Then we entered Marilyn's room and left with the file from her dressing stand. In Shirley's quarters, the last we visited, we were in greater luck, however. While Kennedy and Mackay abstracted the usual file, I discovered some bits of tissue paper used in shaving. There was caked soap left to dry just as it had been wiped from the razor. More, there was a blood stain of fair "Here's your smear, Kennedy," I exclaimed.

"Good! Fine!" He faced Mackay. "Now I lack just one thing, a sample of the blood of Miss Loring."

"Is that all?" The district attorney brightened. "Let me try to get it! I--I'll manage it in some way!"

"All right!" Kennedy took the bag. "Explain your marks so I'll know--" He stopped suddenly. "No, don't tell me anything. I'll make my chemical analyses and microscopic examinations without knowing the identity in the case either of the blood samples or the finger-nail files. If I obtain results by both methods, and they agree, I'll return armed with double-barreled evidence. Meanwhile, Mackay, you get a smear from Miss Loring and follow us to the laboratory. I'll coax McGroarty to drive us down, so you'll have your car and you can bring us back."

The district attorney nodded. "Me for McCann's," he muttered. "That's where she went to eat." He rushed off eagerly.

Kennedy had no difficulty persuading McGroarty to put his particular studio car at our disposal without an order from Manton or from the director who had called him. In a very brief space of time we were at the laboratory.

"You expect to find the blood of one of those people showing traces of the antivenin?" I grasped Kennedy's method of procedure, but wanted to make sure I understood it correctly. Already I was blocking out the detailed article for the Star, the big scoop which that paper should have as a result of my close association with Kennedy on the case. "One of those samples should correspond, I suppose, to the trace of blood on the portieres?"

"Exactly!" He answered me rather absently, being concerned in setting out the apparatus he would need for a hasty series of tests.

"Will the antivenin show in the blood after four, perhaps five days?"

"I should say so, Walter. If it does not, by any chance, I will be able to identify the blood, but that is much more involved and tedious--a great deal more actual work."

"I've got it straight, then. Now--" I paced up and down several times. "The finger-nail files should show a trace of the itching salve? Is that correct, Craig?"

For a moment he didn't answer, as his mind was upon his paraphernalia. Then he straightened. "Hardly, Walter! The salve is soluble in water. What I shall find, if anything, is some of the fibers of the towel. You see, a person's finger nails are great little collectors of bits of foreign matter, and anyone handling that rag is sure to show some infinitesimal trace for a long while afterward. If the person stealing the towel filed or cleaned his nails there will be evidence of the fibers on his pocket knife or finger-nail file. I impregnated the towel with that chemical so that I would be able to identify the fibers positively."

"The use of the itching salve was unnecessary?"

A quizzical smile crept across Kennedy's face. "Did you think I expected some one to go walking around the studio scratching his hands? Did you imagine I thought the guilty party would betray his or her identity in such childish fashion, after all the cleverness displayed in the crimes themselves?"

"But you were insistent that I rub in the--"

"To force them to wash their hands after touching the towel, Walter."

"Oh!" I felt rather chagrined. "Wouldn't some pigment, some color, have served the purpose better?"

"No, because anyone would have understood that and would have taken the proper measures to remove all traces. But the itching salve served two purposes. It was misleading, because obviously a trap upon reflection, and so it would distract attention from the impregnated fibers, my real scheme. Then it was the best device of all I could think of, for it set up a local irritation of the sort most calculated to make a person clean his finger nails. The average man and woman is not very neat, Walter. I was not sure but a scientific prodding was necessary to transfer my evidence to some object I could borrow and examine under a microscope."

Meanwhile Kennedy's long fingers were busy at the preliminary operations in his tests. He turned away and I asked no more questions, not wishing to delay him.

I noticed that first he examined the blood samples under the microscope. Afterward he employed a spectroscope. But none of the operations took any great amount of time, since he seemed to anticipate his results.

Mackay burst in upon us, very elated, and produced a handkerchief with a bit of blood upon it.

"I scratched her deliberately with the sharp point of my ring," he chuckled. "I found her in the restaurant and the seat beside her was empty. I--I talked about everything under the sun and I guess she thinks I'm a clumsy boob! Anyhow she cried out when I did it, and got red in the face for a moment; but she suspects nothing."

Kennedy cut the spot from the handkerchief, put it in an envelope, and turned back to his table. I drew Mackay into the corner.

As the minutes sped by and Craig worked in absorbed concentration, Mackay grew more and more impatient to get back to the studio.

"Did you find anything?" repeated Mackay, for the tenth time.

With a gesture of annoyance, Kennedy reached out for the nail files.

"This is a grave matter," he frowned. "I must check it up--and double check it--then I'm going back to the studio to triple check it. Let me see what the nail files reveal. It will be a bare ten minutes more."

Insisting that we remain back in the corner, he spread out the four nail files and the open blades of the three pocket knives, setting each upon the envelope which identified it.

The next quarter of an hour seemed interminable. Finally Kennedy started replacing the files and the pocket knives in their envelopes, his face still wearing the inscrutable frown. Next he packed the blood samples and other evidence in the traveling bag once more.

Mackay was bursting with impatience, but Craig still refused to betray his suspicions.

"I must get back there--quick," he hastened. "I want everybody in the projection room. In court, a jury might not grasp the infallibility of the methods I've used. There would be a great deal of medical and expert testimony required--and you know, Mackay, what that means."

"Is it a man--or a woman you suspect?" persisted the district attorney. "Three of the men had pocket knives and--"

Kennedy led the way to the door without answering, and Mackay cut short his hopeless quizzing as Craig nodded to me to carry the bag.