III. Tangled Motives

"Do you wish to examine the people now?" Mackay asked.

Kennedy hesitated. "First I want to make sure of the evidence concerning her actual death. Can you arrange to have the clothes she has on, and those she brought with her, all of them bundled up and sent in to my laboratory, together with samples of her body fluids as soon as the coroner can supply you?"

Mackay nodded. This pleased him. This seemed to be tangible action, promising tangible results.

Again Kennedy glanced about in thought. I knew that the scratch was worrying him. "Did she change her clothes out here?" he inquired.

The district attorney brightened. "She dressed in a small den just off the living room. I have a man posted and the door closed. Nothing has been disturbed."

He started to lead the way without further word from Kennedy, proud to have been able once more to demonstrate his foresight

As we left the library, entering the living room, there was an appreciable hush. Here were grouped the others of the party brought out by the picture company, a constrained gathering of folk who had little in common beyond the highly specialized needs of the new art of the screen, an assembly of souls who had been forced to wait during all the time required for the trip of Kennedy and myself out from New York, who were compelled to wait now until he should be ready to examine them.

I picked out the electrician in the semi-gloom and with him his fellow members of the technical staff needed in the taking of the scenes in the library. The camera men I guessed, and a property boy, and an assistant director. The last, at any event, of all those in the huge room, had summoned up sufficient nonchalance to bend his mind to details of his work. I saw that he was thumbing a copy of the scenario, or detailed working manuscript of the story, making notations in some kind of little book, and it was that which enabled me to establish his identity at a glance.

In a different corner were the principals, two men and a girl still in make-up, and with them the director, and Manton and Phelps. Apart from everyone else, in a sort of social ostracism common to the studios, the two five-dollar-a-day extras waited, a butler and a maid, also in make-up. Oddly enough the total number of these material witnesses to the tragedy was just thirteen, and I wondered if they had noticed the fact.

Doctor Blake turned to Kennedy the moment we left the library.

"Do you feel it is necessary for me to remain any longer?" he asked. He was apologetic, yet distinctly impatient. "I have neglected several very important calls as it is."

Kennedy and Mackay both hastened to assure the physician that they appreciated his co-operation and that they would spare him as much notoriety and inconvenience as possible. Then the three of us hurried across and to the little den which had been converted into a dressing room for Stella's use.

Here were all the evidences of femininity, the little touches which a woman can impart to the smallest corner in a few brief moments of occupancy. It was a tiny alcove shut off from the rest of the living room by heavy silk hangings, drawn now and pinned together so as to assure her the privacy she wished. The one window was high and fitted with leaded glass, but it was raised and afforded the maximum of light. Stella's traveling bag sprawled wide open, with many of her effects strewn about in attractive disarray. Her suit, in which she had made the trip to Tarrytown, was thrown carelessly over the back of a chair. Her mirror was fastened up ruthlessly, upon a handsome woven Oriental hanging, with a long hatpin. Powder was spilled upon the couch cover, another Oriental fabric, and her little box of rouge lay face downward on the floor.

As we pulled the curtains aside I caught the perfume which still clung to her clothes in the library beyond. As Mackay sniffed also, Kennedy smiled.

"Coty's Jacqueminot rose," he remarked.

With his usual swift and practiced certainty Kennedy then inspected the extemporized dressing room. He seemed to satisfy himself that no subtle attack had been made upon the girl here, although I doubt that he had held any such supposition seriously in the first place. In my association of several years with Kennedy, following our first intimacy of college days, I had learned that his success as a scientific detective was the result wholly of his thoroughness of method. To watch him had become a never-ending delight, even in the dull preliminary work of a case as baffling as this one. Mackay also seemed content just to enact the role of spectator.

Kennedy thumbed through the delicate intimacies of her traveling bag with the keen, impersonal manner which always distinguished him; then he found her beaded handbag and proceeded to rummage through that. Suddenly he paused as he unfolded a piece of note paper, and we gathered around to read:

MY DEAR STELLA: Have something very important to tell you. Will you lunch Tuesday at the P. G. tearoom? LARRY.

"Tuesday--" murmured Kennedy. "And this is Monday. Who--who is Larry, I wonder?"

I hastened to answer the question for him. It was my first opportunity to display my knowledge of the picture players. "Larry--that's Lawrence, Lawrence Millard!" I exclaimed. Then I went on to tell him of the divorce and the circumstances surrounding Stella's life as I knew it. "It--it looks," I concluded, "as if they might have been on the point of composing their differences, after all."

Kennedy nodded. I could see, however, that he made a mental note of his intention to question the girl's former husband.

All at once another thought struck me and I became eager. It was a possible explanation of the mystery.

"Listen, Craig," I began. "Suppose Millard wanted to make up and she didn't. Suppose that she refused to see him or to meet him. Suppose that in a jealous fit he--"

"No, Walter!" Kennedy headed me off with a smile. "This wasn't an ordinary murder of passion. This was well thought out and well executed. Not one medical examiner in a thousand would have found that tiny scratch. It may be very difficult yet to determine the exact cause of death. This, my dear Jameson"--it was playful irony--"is a scientific crime."

"But Millard--"

"Of course! Anyone may be the culprit. Yet you tell me Millard did not contest her divorce and that it would have been very easy for him to file a counter-suit because everyone knew of her relationship with Manton. That, offhand, shows no ill-will on his part. And now we find this note from him, which at least is friendly in tone--"

I shrugged my shoulders. It was the same blind alley in which my thoughts had strayed upon the train on our way out.

"It's too early to begin to try to fasten the guilt upon anyone," Kennedy added, as we returned to the library through the living room. Then he turned to Mackay. "Have you succeeded in gleaning any facts about the life of Miss Lamar?" he asked. "Anything which might point to a motive, so that I can approach the case from both directions?"

"If you ask me," the little district attorney rejoined, "it's a matter of tangled motives throughout. I--I had no sword to cut the Gordian knot and so"--graciously--"I sent for you."

"What do you mean by tangled motives?" Kennedy ignored the other's compliment.

"Well!" Mackay indicated me. "Mr. Jameson explained about her divorce. No one heard whom she named as corespondent. That's an unknown woman in the case, although it may not mean anything at all. Then there's Lloyd Manton and all the talk about his affair with Miss Lamar. Some one told one of my men that Manton's wife has left him on that account."

"Did you question Manton?"

"No, I thought I ought to leave all that to you. I was afraid I might put them on their guard."

"Good!" Kennedy was pleased. "Did you learn anything else?"

"This deputy of mine obtained all these things by gossiping with the girl who plays the maid, and so they may not be reliable. But among the players it is reported that Werner, the director, was having an affair with Stella also, and that Merle Shirley, the 'heavy' man, was seen with her a great deal recently, and that Jack Gordon, the leading man, who was engaged to marry her as soon as her decree was final, was jealous as a consequence, and that Miss Loring, playing the vampire In the story and engaged to Shirley, was even more bitter against the deceased than Gordon, Miss Lamar's fiance.

"That made eight people with possible motives for the crime. When I got that far I gave it up. In fact"--Mackay lowered his voice, suddenly--"I don't like the attitude of Emery Phelps. This is his house, you know, and he is the financial backer of Manton Pictures, yet there seems to be an undercurrent of friction between Manton and himself. I--I wanted him to show me some detail of the arrangement of things in the library, but he wouldn't come into the room. He said he didn't want to look at Miss Lamar. There--there was something--and, I don't know. If he is concerned in any way--that would make nine."

"You think Miss Lamar and Phelps--"

Mackay shook his head. "I don't know."

Kennedy turned to me, expression really serious. "Is this the way they carry on in the picture world, Walter?" he asked. "Is this the usual thing or--or an exception?"

I flushed. "It's very much an exception," I insisted. "The film people are just like other people, some good and some bad. Probably three-quarters of all this is gossip."

"I hope so." He straightened. "The only thing to do is to go after them one at a time and disentangle all the conflicting threads. It looks as though there will be any number of possible false leads and so we must be careful and deliberate. I think I'll question each in turn--here."

He walked over to the fireplace, stopping for just a moment to glance at the body of Stella. Then he pulled the blinds down halfway, so that the room seemed somber and gruesome. He drew a chair so that the different individuals as he examined them, would be unable to lose sight of the dead woman. His arrangements completed, he faced the district attorney.

"Manton first," he directed.

In an instant I caught the psychology of it--the now darkened library, the beautiful body still lying on the davenport, the quiet and quick arrival of ourselves. If anything could be extracted from these people, surely it would be betrayed under these surroundings.