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Behind Werner was the assistant director, to whom I had given little attention at the time of the examination of the various people in the Phelps library. Even now he impressed me as one of those rare, unobtrusive types of individuals who seem, in spite of the possession of genuine ability and often a great deal of efficiency, to lack, nevertheless, any outstanding personal characteristics. As a class they are human machines, to be neither liked nor disliked, never intruding and yet always on hand when needed.
"This is Carey Drexel, my assistant," Werner stated, forgetting that Kennedy had questioned him at Tarrytown, and so knew him. "There are a few people I simply must see and I'm tied up, therefore, for perhaps half an hour; and Manton's downstairs still trying to locate Millard for you. But Carey's at your disposal, Mr. Kennedy, to show you the arrangement of the studio and to cooperate with you in any way if you think there's any possible chance of finding anything to bear upon Stella's death here."
If Werner was the man who had used the towel, I could see that he was an actor and a cool villain. Of course no one could know, yet, that we had discovered it, but the very nonchalance with which it had been thrown into the basket was a mark of the nerve of the guilty man. It was more than carelessness. Nothing about the crime had been haphazard.
Kennedy thanked Werner and asked to be shown the studio floor used in the making of "The Black Terror." Carey led the way, explaining that there were actually two studios, one at each end of the quadrangle, connected on both sides by the other buildings; offices and dressing rooms and the costume and property departments at the side facing the street; technical laboratories and all the detail of film manufacture in a four- story structure to the rear. Most of Werner's own picture was being made in the so-called big studio, reached through the dressing rooms from the end of the corridor where we stood.
I had been in film plants before, but when we entered the huge glass-roofed inclosure beyond the long hallway of dressing rooms I was impressed by the fact that here was a place of genuine magnitude, with more life and bustle than anything I had ever imagined. The glass had, however, been painted over, because of late years dark stages, with the even quality of artificial light, had come into vogue in the Manton studios in place of stages lighted by the uneven and undependable sunlight.
The two big sets mentioned by Manton, a banquet hall and a ballroom, were being erected simultaneously. Carpenters were at work sawing and hammering. Werner's technical director was shouting at a group of stage hands putting a massive mirror in position at the end of the banquet hall, a clever device to give the room the appearance of at least double its actual length. In one corner several electricians and a camera man were experimenting with a strange-looking bank of lights. In the ballroom set, where the flats or walls were all in place, an unexcited paperhanger was busy with the paraphernalia of his craft, somehow looking out of his element in this reign of pandemonium.
It seemed hard indeed to believe that any sort of order or system lay behind this heterogeneous activity, and the incident which took Carey Drexel away from us only added to the wonder in my mind, a wonder that anything tangible and definite could be accomplished.
"Oh, Carey!" Another assistant director, or perhaps he was only a property boy, rushed up frantically the moment he saw Drexel. "Miss Miller's on a rampage because the grand piano you promised to get for her isn't at her apartment yet, and Bessie Terry's in tears because she left her parrot here overnight, as you suggested, and some one taught the bird to swear." The intruder, a youth of perhaps eighteen, was in deadly earnest. "For the love of Mike, Carey," he went on, "tell me how to unteach that screeching thing of Bessie's, or we won't get a scene today."
Carey Drexel looked at Kennedy helplessly.
With all these troubles, how could he pilot us about? Later we learned that this was nothing new, once one gets on the inside of picture making. Props., or properties, particularly the living ones, cause almost as much disturbance as the temperamental notions of the actors and actresses. Sometimes it is a question which may become the most ridiculous.
Kennedy seemed to be satisfied with his preliminary visit to this studio floor.
"We can get back to Manton's office alone," he told Drexel. "We will just keep on circling the quadrangle."
Relieved, the assistant director pointed to the door of the manufacturing building, as the four-story structure in the rear was called. Then he bustled off with the other youth, quite unruffled himself.
When we passed through the heavy steel fire door we found ourselves in another long hallway of fire-brick and reinforced- concrete construction. Unquestionably there was no danger of a serious conflagration in any part of Manton's plant, despite the high inflammability of the film itself, of the flimsy stage sets, of practically everything used in picture manufacture.
Immediately we entered this building I detected a peculiar odor, at which I sniffed eagerly. I was reminded of the burnt-almond odor of the cyanides. Was this another clue?
I turned to Kennedy but he smiled, anticipating me.
"Banana oil, Walter," he explained, with rather a superior manner. "I imagine it's used a great deal in this industry. Anyway"--a chuckle--"don't expect chance to deliver clues to you in wholesale quantities. You have done very well for today."
A sudden whirring noise, from an open door down the hall, attracted us, and we paused. This, I guessed, was a cutting room. There were a number of steel tables, with high steel chairs. At the walls were cabinets of the same material. Each table had two winding arrangements, a handle at the operator's right hand and one at his left, so that he could wind or unwind film from one reel to another, passing it forward or backward in front of his eyes.
There were girls at the tables except nearest the hall. Here a man stopped now and then to glance at the ribbon of film, or to cut out a section, dropping the discarded piece into a fireproof can and splicing the two ends of the main strip together again with liquid film cement from a small bottle. He looked up as he sensed our presence.
"Isn't it hell?" he remarked, in friendly fashion. "I've got to cut all of Stella Lamar out of 'The Black Terror,' so they can duplicate her scenes with another star, and meanwhile we had half the negative matched and marked for colors and spliced in rolls, all ready for the printer."
Without waiting for an answer from us, or expecting one, he gave one of his reels a vicious spin, producing the whirring noise; then grasping both reels between his fingers and bringing them to an abrupt stop, so that I wondered he did not burn himself from the friction, he located the next piece to be eliminated.
We followed the hall into the smaller studio and there found a comedy company at work. Without stopping to watch the players, ghastly under the light from the Cooper-Hewitts and Kliegel arcs, we found a precarious way back of the set around and under stage braces, to the covered bridge leading once more to the corridor outside Manton's office.
Now the girl was absent from her place in the little waiting room. Manton's door stood open. Without ceremony Kennedy led the way in and dropped down at the side of the promoter's huge mahogany desk.
"I'm tired, Walter," he said. "Furthermore, I think this picture world of yours is a bedlam. We face a hard task."
"How do you propose to go about things?" I asked.
"I'm afraid this is a case which will have to be approached entirely through psychological reactions. You and I will have to become familiar with the studio and home life of all the long list of possible suspects. I shall analyze the body fluids of the deceased and learn the cause of death, and I will find out what it is on the towel, but"--sighing--"there are so many different ramifications, so many--"
Suddenly his eye caught the corner of a piece of paper slid under the glass of Manton's desk. He pulled it out; then handed it to me.
MEMORANDUM FOR MR. MANTON
Have learned Enid Faye is out of Pentangle and can be engaged for about twelve hundred if you act quickly. Why not cancel Lamar contract after "Black Terror," if she continues up-stage?
"I caught the name Lamar," Kennedy explained. Then an expression of gratification crept into his face. "Miss Lamar was 'up- stage'?" he mused. "That's a theatrical word for cussedness, isn't it?"
I paid little attention. The name of Enid Faye had attracted my own interest. This was the little dare-devil who had breezed into the Pacific Coast film colony and had swept everything before her. Not only had she displayed amazing nerve for her sex and size, but she had been pretty and beautifully formed, had been as much at home in a ballroom as in an Annette Kellermann bathing suit. In less than six months she had learned to act and had been brought to the Eastern studios of Pentangle. Now it was possible that she would be captured by Manton, would be blazoned all over the country by that gentleman, would become another star of his making.
"Let's go, Walter!" Kennedy, impatient, rose. I noticed that he folded the little note, slipping it into his pocket.
Out in the hall voices came to us from Werner's office. After some little hesitation Kennedy opened the door unceremoniously. At the table, littered with blue prints and drawings and colored plates of famous home interiors, was the director. With him was Manton. Seated facing them, in rare good humor, was a fascinating little lady.
The promoter rose. "Professor Kennedy, I want you to meet Miss Enid Faye, one of our real comers. And Mr. Jameson, Enid, of the New York Star."
She acknowledged the introduction to Kennedy gracefully. Then she turned, rising, and rushed to me most effusively, leading me to a leather-covered couch and pulling me to a seat beside her.
"Mr. Jameson," she purred. "I just love newspaper men; I think they're perfectly wonderful always. Tell me, do you like little Enid?"
I nodded, confused and unhappy, and as red as a schoolboy.
"That's fine," she went on, in the best modulated and most wonderful voice I thought I had ever heard. "I like you and I know we're going to be the best of friends. Tell me, what's your first name?"
"Now, Enid," reproved Manton, in fatherly tones, "you'll have plenty of time to vamp your publicity later. For the present, please listen to me. We're talking business."
"Shoot every hair of this old gray head!" she directed, pertly.
She did not move away, however, I could feel the warmth of her, could catch the delicacy of the perfume she used. I noted the play of her slender fingers, the trimness of her ankle, the piquancy of a nose revealed to me in profile--and nothing else.
"This is your chance, Enid," Manton continued, earnestly and rather eagerly. "You know the film will be the most talked about one this year. We've got the Merritt papers lined up and that's the best advertising in the world. Everyone will know you took Stella's place, and--well, you'll step right in."
She studied the tips of her boots, stretching boyish limbs straight in front of her, then smoothing the soft folds of her skirt.
"Talk money to me, Mr. Man!" she exclaimed. "Talk the shekels, the golden shekels."
"We're broke," he protested. "A thousand--"
She shook her head.
Werner broke in, suddenly anxious. "Don't pass up the chance, Enid," he pleaded. "What can Pentangle do for you? And I've always wanted to direct you again--"
"I'll make it twelve hundred," Manton interrupted, "if you'll make the contract personally with me. Then if Manton Pictures--"
"All right!" She jumped to her feet, extending a hand straight forward to each, the right to Manton, the left to Werner. "You're on!"
I thought that I was forgotten. A wave of jealousy swept over me. After all, she simply wanted me to write her up. In a daze I heard Manton.
"You're a wise little girl, Enid," he told her. "Play the game right with me and you'll climb high. The sky's the limit, now. I'll make you--make you big!"
With a full, warm smile she swung around to me and I knew I was not being slighted, after all.
"That's what Longfellow said, isn't it, Mr. Jameson?"
"What?" My heart began to beat like a trip hammer.
"Excelsior! Excelsior! It packs them in!"
She laughed so infectiously that we all joined in. Then Manton turned to Kennedy.
"I've located Millard for you. He's to meet us at my apartment at seven. It's six-thirty now. And you, Enid"--facing her--"if you'll come, too, there's another man I want you to meet, and Larry, of course, will be there--"
Enid studied Kennedy. He was hesitating as though not sure whether to accompany Manton or not. I never did learn what other course of action had occurred to him.
But I did notice that the little star, with her pert, upturned face, seemed more anxious to have Kennedy go along than she was to meet the mysterious individual mentioned without name by Manton. For an instant she was on the point of addressing him, flippantly, no doubt. Then, I think she was rather awed at Craig's reputation.
All at once she shrugged her shoulders and turned to me, plucking my sleeve, her expression brightening irresistibly. "You'll come, too"--dimpling--"Jamie!"
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