Phryne has always believed in leading from the front. This has gotten her into a little trouble now and again. And into a lot of pleasure as well. Today, it's gotten her into a pair of old trousers and a man's white shirt—not any man's in particular, it should be noted—and armed with a duster on a very long pole, a cunning design dreamed up by Dot and manufactured by Mr. Butler.
It's not a device Phryne uses herself very often, but the downside of inviting most of the Melbourne art scene to your house is the realization that they will actually take the time to look at the art on your walls. And notice the cobwebs. Usually, her party guests usually have the decency to be too busy to notice anything beyond the level in their glasses.
The rest of the troops are hard at it as well. Cec and Bert have arranged for the appearance of the very best French champagne. Mr. Butler has produced a stunning array of food that would be the envy of any Paris hotel, and Mac has cleverly held off turning up, thereby avoiding any closer acquaintance with household dust.
A peek in the kitchen reveals Dot as the only bit of serenity in the house. She's got her eyes down, watching her knitting needles dragging wool out of its ball and transforming it into the sock curled on her lap. Her lips twitch when someone makes a joke. She frowns when Cec says something a bit blue. The sock gets a little longer.
She won't say who the socks are for, but it is reasonable to assume that it's no one in the room right at the moment. Dot's not that provocative, to sit and knit someone's Christmas gift under their very nose. Not that she couldn’t pull it off if Phryne put her up to it, but she'd need a good reason.
Mr. Butler catches Phryne lurking and renews his campaign for an emergency back-up ration of pastry from the really very charming little place he's discovered in town. Phryne is intimately familiar with the appetites of artists, but she thinks Mr. Butler might be just a bit nervy and worried over nothing.
Dot's knitting is slower and her lips are a little pinched.
"You may be right," Phryne says to Mr. Butler, testing the waters. Dot relaxes, the pace of her knitting picks up. "Place an order, I'm sure we'll find someone to eat it."
Mr. Butler nods in approval and heads for the telephone.
The kitchen is full of the scent of lavender—something divine Dot has baking in the oven—and Bert and Cec are ferrying in the fabulous amount of flowers Phryne had ordered, adding to the perfume.
She catches them trying to bull in the door with two massive iron planters full of jasmine and roses. "Not in here, boys. Outside," she tells them.
"Outside," Cec says.
"Outside," she agrees. "I want them under the windows, where the night breeze will carry in the scent. Which reminds me, I'm going to go open all the windows now, let in this glorious summer breeze."
"You're leaving the windows open all evening?" Dot asks. "Won't the neighbours complain if the party gets a little, um..."
"I hope it gets more than a little, um, Dot. Besides, if one's neighbours complain about the sound of jazz playing and champagne corks popping this close to Christmas, one clearly has the wrong neighbours."
"Pull up right behind that truck," Mac tells the cabbie.
In a delightful bit of good timing, the truck turns out to be the liquor delivery, judging by the crates being marched up to the kitchen door. Mac could ask why the truck says it's from Mickelthwait's Greengrocers, who haven't been in business since 1927, but it's easier just to saunter in behind a fellow carrying a crate of a promising vintage.
"All we need now is a bucket and some ice, and the party can get started," Mac says.
"Don't we need guests too?" Mr. Butler asks.
"I've always thought guests ruin a good party," Mac says while she ducks out of the way of the deliveryman and out of the kitchen before anyone finds her a job that needs doing.
She lingers in the front hall, reluctant to interrupt the argument going on in the parlour.
"You can't put red roses and these purple things in the same bucket," Cec says scornfully.
"It's not a bucket, you pillock," Bert answers, "it's a vase."
"I might not know what to call it, but that doesn't make me wrong about the flowers."
"Right then, master florist, you do it."
Mac pokes her head around the corner long enough to see that they are actually arranging flowers in a champagne bucket.
"Skulking with intent?" Phryne says from the top of the stairs.
Mac turns to watch her descend the stairs. She's wearing a stunning set of black trousers, tight in all the right places, with a white silk blouse that manages to be fluidly concealing and nearly transparent at the same time.
Phryne strikes an absurd pose and says, "Will I do?"
"Most things, in my experience."
"Mac," Phryne says in mock outrage, "such a thing to say."
The front door chimes and Phryne rushes past Mac to answer it. "Guests already. Do go and get the music playing, Mac."
Mac shoos Cec and Bert out of the parlour, rescues the champagne bucket from indignity and sets the gramophone needle down on Blue Skies.
Mac can see Phryne greeting two women in the hall. One is about sixty, not severe, but there's no fluff or frill to her either. Her hair is grey, not cut short, but worn in a simple bun. Her dress was stylish a decade ago, but it suits her in its somber simplicity.
The second woman is younger, dark and serious looking. Her clothes are a bohemian mix of colours and patterns that shouts out Paris and artist, and if Mac tried to wear them, she'd look like the proverbial dog's dinner.
This then is Lena Torville, the reason for this night's revels. Phryne had explained, with an admirable lack of exasperation at Mac's ignorance, that Miss Torville is an artist back for the first time since the war from her ex-pat life in Paris with her companion, Rosie Fellowes. They had run off together years ago in what was the romance of the century, or the scandal, depending who you asked.
Mac takes ruthless advantage of Phryne's attention on her guests. She and the purloined bucket slip behind Phryne, unmarked by anything more that the younger woman's barely raised eyebrow. She takes possession of the alcove behind the stairs. She's close enough to the kitchen to get some ice and glasses and the bucket can be put to proper use again.
Is she hiding? Phryne would twit her for it, tell her to enjoy life more, but a house full of artists isn't Mac's idea of a good time. They like to drink and dance and eat—if someone else is footing the bill—and who doesn't, but they live in a world Mac can't see and isn't entirely convinced isn't their own invention. Mac generally doesn't try to follow Phryne in there with them.
Mac sits back and toasts the potted ferns in the corner and emphatically doesn't wish for any girl to run away with. Besides, Mac had found Paris draughty and in need of better drains.
Phryne knew inviting all these students would be a fabulous idea. They keep the music playing, they giggle over the bubbles in champagne and there will be no food left in the house by morning. It's perfect.
Or it would be perfect if Lloyd Fellowes hadn't made himself the cuckoo in the nest and
trailed in behind a gaggle of the little darlings. Cuckoos plural. He'd only brought a cortège of cronies with him. He's rattling off all their names to her, looking pleased at her discomfort at receiving them.
She's not expecting to meet a second Mrs. Fellowes. She's a stunning platinum blonde woman, lithe and languid in a very modern, ivory silk dress glittering with crystal. She looks no younger than Rosie, and doesn't look as though she minds much either, beyond the obviously dyed hair. A man didn't always marry a younger woman after his first wife leaves him, it would appear. On some other occasion, Phryne might find Marguerite Fellowes intriguing.
Phryne has crashed the occasional party in her day. And the more than occasional crime scene. Which would make her a hypocrite if she kicked Lloyd Fellowes out of her house. The temptation requires some quite illegal wrestling holds to subdue, however.
She should have seen this coming, of course; she'd heard the grumblings about Lloyd Fellowes and his tight rein on the Barton Institute of Fine Arts. She should have realized he wouldn't let his students out of his sight even if it did mean seeing his first wife again.
She steers him and his entourage into the dining room, confident the hors d'oeuvres will keep them occupied long enough for her to warn Rosie.
She mingles circuitously towards Lena and Rosie, hoping she won't come to regret not giving Lloyd the bum's rush.
A pair of Barton students has got in ahead of her. The man is a pleasant enough looking fellow in a nice suit, and the young woman has found a very fashionable dress. She fits a French cigarette into a silver holder just as Phryne approaches.
"Phryne," Lena says, "you must know Victor Crown and Anabelle Castle."
"I don't actually, but the pleasure is mine," Phryne nods to her guests. "I'm in the rather unusual position of not knowing half my own guests, Lena. I asked some of the artists I know to invite some students more or less en masse. I wanted some of the younger set to balance us, well, the rest of us. I'm afraid I got rather more than I bargained for."
"Ah," Rosie says, and smiles ruefully, "I know what you're going to say and it's fine, really." Lena looks less convinced. "Victor and Anabelle have already filled me in, and we can be adults about this. We certainly don't need a scene ruining your lovely party on such a beautiful night."
"As long as you're sure, my dear," Phryne says, "but you're free to change your mind if you're not comfortable."
"Really, Phryne, there's nothing to worry about," Rosie says.
"We're not students either, I'm afraid," Victor says.
"Well, not anymore," Anabelle chimes in. "We used to be students of, well," Anabelle glances at Rosie, "at Barton."
"We're going out on our own now, though," Victor says a little smugly. "We'll be opening our own gallery after Christmas. Crown and Castle Fine Arts."
"Oh," Phryne says, and is surprised when everyone laughs like this is an old joke.
"They know it sounds like a pub," Lena says, "but no one can convince them to change the name."
"You've met before," Phryne says, "in Paris."
"Indeed," Lena says. "We sailed together on the same ship as well."
"Paris was wonderful, but we could only afford to stay for a few months," Anabelle says.
"Do you miss it?" Lena asks Phryne.
Phryne doesn't know how to answer that. It really was the best of times and the worst of times. So much love. So much regret. "I'm happy here, now," she says.
"Fair enough, my dear, but we'll have you back anytime," Rosie says.
Phryne moves on through the crowd watching the younger set, all of whom she'd bet would get on the next ship for the Continent if they could. She's not sorry she made the trip the other way round, but she remembers how much she longed to go when she was their age.
She is happy to be home, and she has wonderful guests who deserve her attention. Mac is hiding somewhere, the students have taken over the gramophone, and Dot's lavender madeleines don't seem to have made it out of the kitchen. She's got work to do.
"Is this hiding place taken, or can anyone duck in?"
Mac sits up with a start. She'd slid into a comfortable sprawl and let the zing and pop of the party become the background to her private musings.
Her visitor is younger than Mac, brown hair in a curly bob set off by a green linen dress. "Pauline Malone," she says, extending her hand.
"Doctor Macmillan," Mac says, "but call me Mac. And I'm not hiding."
"Right," Pauline says with a grin that reveals the laugh lines around her eyes. "You're just sitting where no one can see you."
"Exactly, can I interest you in some champagne?" Mac stands and pours a glass—she'd laid in a few extras in case of visitors—and hands it over.
Pauline takes a sip and smiles. "Now that's what I like about parties like this, good class of provisions."
"You're just in the art world for the catering?" Mac says and sits back down, leaving enough room for her guest should she decide to join her.
"I'm not in the art world at all," Pauline says, "not really. I'm in the film business."
Mac didn't know there was a film business locally. "I saw one about a goat race once," she says and Pauline covers her face.
"Everyone has. Our films are a bit different from that. The Lovers was our film last year, it did quite well."
"Sorry," Mac says, "I don't get to the pictures much."
"Don't apologize, not everyone's mad for the cinema like I am."
"You keep saying, 'our films'..."
Pauline smiles brightly and sits down next to Mac. "My sisters and I. There's the three of us and we split up the jobs. I usually do all the writing and directing with Joan, and Lucille is the leading lady."
"But it's expensive, isn't it, film making?" This all sounds like society brats playing dress-up in the ballroom.
"Oh, it is, and sometimes it seems like we spend all our time trying to find the money to start, and then just when you want to be about the making of the film, not just talk about it, you have to spend all your time begging for more money." Pauline looks pensive for a moment and brightens again. "But I don't have to worry about that tonight, not at this party, artists never have a shilling, so no point in asking, and their patrons already have someone to write cheques to."
"So you know this crowd?" Mac asks.
"I do, or rather, I did. My parents were big in the scene back before the war. They had parties all the time, mostly to put the artists they liked in the same room with someone else with a bank balance. Now, I'm a bit too pressed to keep up. Lucille knows some of this set, but she's got something on tonight and sent me in her stead. Not your usual crowd either?"
Mac says, "I'm a complete fish out of water, just here for the provisions." She raises her glass in a toast that Pauline returns with a grin. "And because Phryne is a good friend." Mac sighs, wishing she hadn't reminded herself of that. "And because she is such a good friend, I should stop hiding, and mingle a bit."
Pauline stands up and leans around to scout the terrain. "Looks like the establishment has the dining room occupied while the guest of honour and the hordes of young admirers are in the parlour."
Mac offers her arm, "Shall be go infiltrate the establishment? If nothing else, there will be excellent food."
"Absolutely," Pauline says and links arms with Mac. They bravely head into the dining room.
"Mac!" Phryne says, "There you are."
Mac gives her a pointed look which Phryne meets with a knowing smile. Mac might prefer a night with fewer people and more scotch but she's managed to find some company, so Phryne feels no shame for guilting her into coming.
"I've never left," Mac says and introduces a charming woman named Pauline who turns out to be a film director. Phryne wants to carry them off somewhere quieter and find out who they know in common in the film business, and possibly what her intentions are with Mac, but she has another mission occupying her mind right now.
Lloyd Fellowes is holding court and gifting everyone with his view on all things art, and Phryne wants to keep him penned up with his scrum of cronies if she can.
"...and that is of course why we see so many of the fairer sex not just dabbling at fine art, but actually exhibiting to some acclaim. So many truly talented young men gone before their time." Fellowes pauses to drink deeply of his champagne and give his chorus time to sing back his wisdom.
Mac's new friend escapes with some cryptic comment about meeting back at base that has Mac laughing. There's a story there, and Phryne will wrinkle it out when she gets a moment.
"I mean, one can only look at so many pictures of women sewing or whatnot, before one longs for something with a little more depth," the man says, and his fellows nod sagely.
Phryne has never done violence to a guest in her house, at least not often and without their permission. And never with so many witnesses. Clearly, the man is safer with her elsewhere, so she flees back to the safety of the parlour.
Pauline stands quietly near the window. The scent of roses is heavy in the night air, and the party is swinging. She watches the ebb and flow of people, reading the secrets their movements reveal.
She writes a dozen scenarios in her head for films about artists and students and returning heroes. She uses the party guests to act them out for her.
There's a man and a woman, young, but no longer students she thinks—their clothes aren't the approved by mother student fare. They mingle and dance and keep each others' glasses filled and cigarettes lit. But they always return to the space claimed by Lena Torville and Rosie Fellowes.
Pauline casts Lena Torville as a scientist, and the couple become spies after the secret formula. Rosie will be the one the audience isn't sure of. Is she really loyal? Or is she working for the other side?
The groups of younger guests form and separate and reform, it's like watching fish in an aquarium, mesmerizing.
Two of the young men manage to meet on the margins time and again. They spend a few minutes in intense conversation before they scatter apart only to find each other again. Poor loves, they could throw some more caution to the wind, she's likely the only one who's noticed. Their tale is easy to write. They're friends who fight over the love of the ingenue, giving more of themselves to the competition than to any desire for her as a prize.
Pauline recognizes Marguerite Fellowes moving in and circulating, passing a word here and there with some of the younger set. Marguerite had been the centre of artistic attraction in the old days. Pauline remembers her vividly.
You didn't have a party without Marguerite, and everyone had been enthralled by her. Pauline certainly had. For all the attention, she'd modelled for only one man, though Pauline can't recall his name. It had seemed romantic then, such singular devotion either to art or artist. Pauline hadn't understood the difference then and isn't sure now which it was.
Marguerite still moves the same way, pausing now and again to draw the eye of the crowd. It's not striking a pose, but it's studied all the same. She's pulled 'the spies' attention away from Lena Torville. They cluster together a little way off. They seem familiar, the younger woman touches Marguerite's arm while speaking, and the man stands as close to Marguerite as to his companion.
Marguerite is the double agent, selling information that might not be reliable but is too tantalizing to resist, as tantalizing as she is herself.
"You watch people like an artist, but I don't think I know you."
Pauline turns to the young woman who'd spoken. Her fellow shadow-dweller, dark and mysterious, she's been watching the crowd as long as Pauline has.
Pauline had used her as a scorned young wife stalking a philandering husband in one of her fanciful tales. But she's too young. The part of the younger sister left on the sidelines while the favoured son got all the attention seemed to suit her better.
Pauline puts aside her fantasies and introduces herself to the young lady she learns is called Hazel. "I'm not an artist, I'm in the film business." Pauline says to forestall the usual art talk.
"Oh, how interesting," Hazel says. "I'll bet that's exciting."
"Sometimes. But, I think I prefer it when things get a little dreary."
Hazel looks puzzled. She'll learn to enjoy a quieter life when she gets older. "Exciting usually means you're running out of money," Pauline explains.
"Oh, money," Hazel says, "the gallery makes money, not the artist. They say it's different in Paris though, you can sell your own work and actually make enough to live on."
"Is that so?" Pauline thinks this sounds a lot like tales of Hollywood's greener grass, but you can't tell the young not to yearn for the better world, or they might stop trying to make it.
"In Paris you don't have to spend your life churning out staid and stuffy decorations for the rich man's parlour."
Pauline glances at the paintings in Miss Fisher's parlour. Not very stuffy.
"You have to give the audience what they want," Pauline says, "or so they tell me. I think you can take that advice too much to heart. Too much of the same old thing, even if it's your favourite thing, wears a little."
"A gallery hung with beautiful things the audience doesn't want won't buy supper."
"No." Pauline has had this argument a thousand times, with her sisters, her parents, everyone who's ever written them a cheque. You can make formula pictures easy as knowing how to whip up a cake you've made so many times you don't need a recipe. But the really great films don't have a recipe at all. The really dreadful ones as well.
Hazel gasps and Pauline follows her gaze to the doorway. The party had been getting louder, but everyone else is watching the doorway now and the music has stopped.
Lloyd Fellowes is striding in, chin out in an arrogant jut. Lena Torville takes a step toward him, but Rosie touches one finger to her arm and steps up to the approaching Lloyd.
The conversation is short and punctuated with Miss Torville shaking her head 'no' more than once. Rosie lead Fellowes out to the hallway and Pauline can see them both disappear up the stairs.
Lena Torville looks like she'd like to follow, but she turns her back to the door and starts up a conversation with the nearest person. A dance tune starts playing, louder than before, and the youngsters eagerly fill the room with dancing and conversation, banishing the unpleasant drama.
Hazel has vanished back into the crowd, and Pauline is happy to see her go. Arguing over the twin beasts of art and money isn't her idea of fun anymore.
Mrs. Fellowes returns soon enough, and she laughs off Miss Torville's obvious concern. Mrs. Fellowes leans in and says something for Miss Torville's ear only and she relaxes as they turn to watch the youngsters dance. They stay close together, Miss Torville claiming Mrs. Fellowes' hand in a proprietary grip.
She could do a film about a younger woman who marries an older man for money, but ends up falling in love with him. It would be a nice twist if the young, dashing charmer that tries to woo her away simply fails to impress. She'd use a scene just like this, show the physical connection with nothing but a clutch of hands.
"Get Dr. Mac," Phryne says, striving for a calm voice.
"I sent Dot to find her as discreetly as possible," Mr. Butler replies just as Mac comes in.
She takes in the scene and firmly closes the door. "This is no way to liven up a party."
Phryne ignores the levity and gestures to the body at their feet.
Mac bends to one knee, touching the body, Lloyd Fellowes, only long enough to determine he's as dead as he looks, she shakes her head at Phryne.
Phryne says, "Mr. Butler–"
"I'll telephone the inspector," he says and turns to go.
"And see if you can keep the guests in the dark," Phryne tells him, "and from leaving, if you can."
Phryne begins a search of the room.
"One of your guests is a murderer," Mac says.
"And still armed." Phryne finishes checking the empty dresser.
"Cause of death is a single stab wound to the neck. Might have been a lucky hit, or your murderer might know their way around human anatomy. It's not a big knife, from what I can see of the wound. And not as sharp as all that, easy to hide. I think they got him from behind, and if that's right, they might not have got much blood on themselves."
"I knew I should have invited Jack."
"Collins, I want you to set the men to securing the premises once we're inside. I know there's only two of them, so do the best you can," Jack says.
"Yes, sir." Collins says, checking his hat and his tunic for the second time since they got out of the car. The proximity of Miss Williams behind the nerviness, no doubt.
Jack pushes through Phryne's kitchen door without bothering to knock. Collins and the two other constables he could round up on short notice follow along.
"Inspector," Mr. Butler says, "you'll find Miss Fisher in the first guest room to the left, top of the stairs, with the late Mr. Lloyd Fellowes. Miss Williams has Mrs. Marguerite Fellowes in the sitting room next door, she's only been told her husband is dead, nothing more. The rest of the guests have not yet been informed."
"Thank you, Mr. Butler, if only all my men could give reports that succinct."
Jack moves through to the hall. "Collins, once you have the men set to work, start some preliminary questioning, find out who's who, that sort of thing. Don't give out any information yet."
Jack takes the stairs two at a time and finds Phryne in the upper hallway leaning against the wall beside a closed door.
"Jack," she says.
"Miss Fisher," he answers. "Never a dull moment."
"I was hoping tonight's excitement would be provided by some improper dancing or too much champagne." She opens the door for him, and he steps in to see a middle-aged man in a large pool of blood.
"Lloyd Fellowes," he says. "How well did you know him?"
"Hardly at all." At his look of surprise, she continues, "The party is for Lena Torville, she's arrived from Paris to tour the country. I invited anyone who wanted to come from Barton—the art school that Fellowes runs—and Fellowes himself turned up." She sounds very put out by this.
"Shouldn't he have?" Jack asks.
"Miss Torville's companion, lifetime companion, Jack, is the first Mrs. Fellowes. I would have thought he'd have had the courtesy to send his regrets."
"So the Mrs. Fellowes in the sitting room is?"
"The second Mrs. Fellowes, the grieving widow."
"Is she?" Jack asks.
"Not ostentatiously. She could be in shock."
"I'll see her first." Jack says.
"Collins," Jack says. He's caught up to the constable at the bottom of the stairs.
"Sir," Collins says, failing to conceal his harried state.
"I know there's not enough men for this job, Collins, do the best you can."
"Yes, sir. I've got Sellway on the front door, and you saw Meach upstairs. That covers one exit and the crime scene."
"And if I set up in the kitchen for interviews and lock the other doors, I'm covering the other exits." Collins looks proud of him for having figured that bit out on his own.
"I've got Mr. Fellowes' students in the dining room, sir, and the rest of the guests across the hall. The students all say they saw Mr. Fellowes and Mrs. Fellowes go upstairs together shortly before he was killed. Mrs. Fellowes came back by herself."
"Is that the first or the second Mrs. Fellowes?"
Collins frowns and consults his notes. "A Mrs. Gladys Fellowes, sir."
"Good Lord, don't tell me there's three of them."
"Three of them, sir?"
"Never mind, Constable, give me a list of anyone you think I should talk to."
"Right here sir." Collins tears off a page of his notebook and Jack looks it over.
"Let's start at the top, shall we, Collins. Send Mrs. Gladys Fellowes and Miss Lena Torville to the interview room."
"The kitchen, Collins."
"Ah! Yes, sir."
Jack is not terribly surprised to find Miss Torville and Mrs. Fellowes accompanied by Phryne. He says nothing to dissuade her, not that he's ever succeeded at dissuasion where she's concerned.
He wants to know her impressions of these people. There's a murderer in this house along with a lot of people of whom he's rather fond. He wants the man caught.
Jack quickly discovers that Gladys Fellowes is Rosie Fellowes, the latter being a pet name. So, one mystery solved and one fewer wife to be dealing with. On to the next one. "Mrs. Fellowes, did you expect to see your husband here tonight?"
Gladys Fellowes frowns at Jack. Miss Torville bristles as well. "Ex-husband, Inspector, please, and no, I did not."
Now it's Phryne who's frowning, vexed at Fellowes, Mister for ruining her party, most likely.
"And yet you went off upstairs with him shortly before he died?"
Mrs. Fellowes looks Jack right in the eye and says, "I did. He wanted to discuss some paintings, and I didn't want to cause a scene. I found an empty guest room, we talked, accomplished nothing, and I left."
"And he was alive when you left?"
"And no one else was there?"
"And what paintings were you discussing?" Jack asks.
"Oh, it was foolish," Gladys says, "years ago, when Lloyd and I were still married, I bought several pictures from Sterling Reid. Lloyd claimed they were his, which was tosh, and I told him so."
"Sterling Reid, I know that name."
"He was big before the war," Miss Torville tells him. "Never revolutionary, but a good, solid painter. Fell out of fashion."
Jack finds it hard to imagine Phryne hanging anything by a 'good, solid painter'. He's heard the name somewhere else, then. He'll get Collins to check on that in the morning.
"That was why I bought the pictures," Gladys offers. "Sterling had a young family and he wasn't selling anymore. I knew he'd asked Lloyd for a loan, which would have never borne fruit, so I did him a favour. I told Lloyd the paintings were in the house in Paris and there they would stay."
"Are they valuable?"
"I shouldn't think so." Torville answers. "Sterling died a few years after the war, and if an artist is ever to have a renaissance, that's the time, so I doubt the public will be clamouring for an original Reid ever again."
"He said it wasn't about money," Gladys says. "He claimed that it was Marguerite who wanted them. Claimed they were rightly hers."
"Rubbish," Torville says.
Jack isn't seeing much heat from either of these two towards Lloyd Fellowes, more a tepid scorn, but they might just be good liars. Maybe talking about Marguerite will heat things up. "Why would the second Mrs. Fellowes be interested in these pictures?" Jack asks.
"She's in them, you see," Gladys Fellowes says. "She was Sterling's model."
Phryne leans in and says, "I expect they're nudes."
"Oh, yes," Gladys says, "of course they are."
"And you told Lloyd he couldn't have them. How did he take that?" Jack asks.
"Well, I didn't really care, you see. I just left. Flounced out in a bit of a huff, actually, at the waste of my time."
Jack is not saying anything. He let Rosie and Lena go, as far as the parlour, but he's not giving away what he's thinking.
Phryne has ways of making him talk. The surest way to dig out his thoughts on a case is to start an argument. "I don't see how Rosie could be responsible," she says.
Not much of a reaction. She tries again with, "I don't think she cares about Lloyd at all. It's been years since they even lived in the same country, and Lloyd must seem like a little fish in a provincial small pond to her now."
"On the contrary, I think it's very likely that conversation with her ex-husband was not as cordial as she paints it."
"You're wrong, Jack."
"You want me to be wrong, you mean."
Phryne tosses her head. "Well, yes, but that doesn't make you right."
"True. Besides, it seems I don't just have two Mrs. Fellowes, I have two motives for murdering Mr. Fellowes, as well."
"Are we going to be kept penned up here all night?"
Hugh turns to the woman who's asked a question he's already grown weary of hearing. She looks like all the other students, young, earnest and well groomed. She is also smoking a very unpleasant smelling cigarette.
"The inspector will determine when you can leave, miss," he says firmly.
"Is this inspector planning on interrogating us all?"
"Is there something you wish to say to him, miss?"
"I don't know anything, Sergeant, I told you that an hour ago."
Hugh watches the woman turn and stalk across the room to a man Hugh's spoken to already. He's the pleasant fellow who was the third person who asked if they were to be 'penned up all night'.
Hugh turns back to his guard position with his back to the room. It discourages conversation and makes eavesdropping easier.
"They aren't telling you the truth, you know."
Hugh turns again to see a different young lady staring intently at him. "Your name, miss?" Hugh pops open his notebook and stands poised with the pencil ready to record her every word." It puts people off, generally, but it also does a god job of keeping the pointless questions at bay.
"Hazel, sir," she says meekly.
"And, Miss Hazel, why do you believe that,"—he rifles through his notes—"Miss Castle and Mr. Crown are not being honest?"
"They know all about all these people. They just came back from Paris with Miss Torville and Mrs. Fellowes, which they don't stop telling anyone who'll listen. And they're in business with Mr. Fellowes."
"Business? I thought they were students."
"They used to be, but they're Mr. Fellowes' new stars, he makes heaps of money off their work at his gallery."
"I thought Mr. Fellowes ran the Barton School of Fine Art." He's starting to doubt anything his notebook tells him.
"Yes, that's right," the young lady tells him, "but you can't make commissions off of student fees, can you. Fellowes has—had a gallery that makes him rich off of the sweat of his artists."
"And do you sell through Mr. Fellowes, miss?" Hugh asks.
She fusses with her skirt front for a moment and then says, "Student work isn't sold at the gallery. There's a fund-raising auction once a year and the money goes to the school. But that's not the important thing. It's Victor and Anabelle who Lloyd Fellowes represents. Ask them if they're getting everything owed to them."
"Miss Castle and Mr. Crown," Jack reads off the list Collins had given him.
Victor Crown leans back in the chair in a casual sprawl. Anabelle Castle taps the table with her cigarette holder. She looks tense and irritated.
Phryne observes them quietly from a seat by the stove.
"You sailed with Miss Torville and Mrs. Fellowes?"
"That's right," Victor says pleasantly.
"And you work for Mr. Fellowes?"
Anabelle Castle frowns, "I wouldn't say, 'work for'. We both have sold the occasional painting through his gallery."
"And he pays you?"
"Well, of course he pays us," she says, "but it's not wages. He takes a commission, it's not like working in a shop."
"And you've no complaints about your relationship with Fellowes?"
"No, we've been on good terms for years."
"And tonight, you saw Mrs. Fellowes go upstairs with Mr. Fellowes?"
Victor sits up and smiles, eager to please. "Right, and then she came back down. Looked a bit peeved, nothing serious, and then someone put on a good dance number and we all forgot about it."
If he were working any harder to be affable, Jack would suspect him of selling second-hand motor cars.
Mac appears at the doorway behind his unhelpful subjects, waving for Phryne to come outside. This is shortly and not unexpectedly followed by Phryne repeating the gesture in his direction.
Jack excuses himself. Mr. Crown is eyeing up the kitchen door before Jack's back is turned.
Once in the hallway, he's introduced to a Miss Malone who Mac claims has some interesting information.
"I'm not sure it's so very interesting," the lady cautions. "I told Mac that I saw two young people talking intently with Marguerite Fellowes. They seemed to know her, and they spoke quite seriously and Marguerite seemed equally serious, even angry, and then she left the parlour alone and went upstairs."
"This was before the first Mrs. Fellowes went up with Mr. Fellowes?"
"Yes, oh, a few minutes, I was talking with someone, it might have been a quarter of an hour before."
"And these two young people?"
"I don't know them, but the woman was dark, very fashionable bob, and wearing a rose coloured dress. Oh, and smoking constantly. The man was pretty ordinary."
"Thank you, Miss Malone." Jack says, and watches her and Mac vanish into the alcove behind the staircase.
"Jack," Phryne says insistently, "that pair in there are not telling the truth."
"You mean the dark-haired Miss Castle and the ordinary looking Mr. Crown?"
"Yes, but not just about talking to Marguerite. They told me they were setting up their own gallery."
Jack steps back into the kitchen to find his pair of witnesses up and about.
"May we go now, Inspector," Victor says, waving at the kitchen door.
"You'll find that door locked," he tells them, to see them unsurprised by the news. "Tell me, Mr. Crown, how well do you know Marguerite Fellowes?"
"We've met her once or twice," he says.
"And this evening, you spoke to her."
"We may have."
"You did, you were seen. And she was displeased by what you had to say."
Anabelle steps in to answer, "I wouldn't say displeased. We were just talking business."
"Yes, we were merely discussing some recent sales, while we were away."
"Not the fact that you two are opening your own gallery?"
Anabelle shoots a look at Phryne. "No, not that."
Jack looks at Collins' list again. It instructs him to ask about commissions. Now seems a good time. "You have a long standing business relationship with Lloyd Fellowes?"
"Yes," Victor says, "he's featured our work in his gallery for years."
"And he pays on time? There's no problem with money?"
"Well, no one in the art business is exactly prompt to write a cheque, but he's never cheated us," Anabelle says.
"A stirring epitaph. So if I ask around, I'm not going to find out that he owes you money?"
"Well he likely does a little," Victor says. The affable young man of before is fraying at the edges. Victor keeps looking around like he wants an escape route.
"Money you could be using to open your gallery?"
"It would come in handy."
"And did you discuss that with him? Tonight?"
"Now look here," Victor says, "I had nothing to do with any murder. I spoke to Marguerite, not Lloyd. And it was in plain view."
"Perhaps you would care to tell me what you discussed with Mrs. Fellowes. Precisely." Jack says.
Victor glances over at Anabelle and Jack catches her nod. Permission? Agreement?
Victor tries to sound his charming former self as he says, "Look here, Inspector, I'll let you in on it, but it's a bit confidential."
"I'll bear that in mind."
"When we were in Paris, we saw some paintings of Marguerite. We just wanted to let her know they were knocking about, is all."
Anabelle chimes in, "She told us that Lloyd knew all about it, and they'd come here to talk to Rosie, Mrs. Fellowes, to get them back. Marguerite wasn't upset. Not at all."
"And we were in the parlour the whole night," Victor says, "now really, Inspector, if that's all?"
Jack sends them back to Hugh's care for the moment, and decides it's time to have another, more serious conversation with Marguerite Fellowes.
"Inspector, I wonder if I couldn't be allowed to go home?"
Marguerite Fellowes rises from her chair in Phryne's cozy upstairs sitting room. She looks tired, bored even, but not unduly upset. Miss Williams is sitting beside her, a tea tray on the table between them.
"All the guests will be released in due course, Mrs. Fellowes. I wonder if I can impose on you to answer a few more questions. Miss Fisher will sit in, if you don't mind."
"Of course," Marguerite says and sits down again, reclining slightly in the chair, putting her face in shadow.
Dot quietly moves to stand by the door, and Phryne takes the chair beside Mrs. Fellowes.
Jack decides to stay standing between Mrs. Fellowes and the door, a subtle bit of intimidation. "You said earlier tonight that you didn't know how your husband came to be upstairs in Miss Fisher's guest room."
"That's true," Mrs. Fellowes says.
"Can you tell me why you came to the party tonight?"
"I didn't want to, as it happens. I thought it was crass, but Lloyd wanted a chance to see Rosie where she couldn't put him off."
"Rosie?" Jack says.
"Yes, yes, I knew Gladys back in the old days. Before the war, before everything changed."
"And why did your husband want to see his former wife?"
"He was all in a froth over these pictures Sterling had done, pictures of me, and he thought Rosie should hand them over. I tried to tell him she wouldn't, but he wasn't in the mood to listen to sense."
"He was in a froth," Phryne says. "But not you? You weren't worried about pictures of you, life studies, floating around?"
"Life studies." Marguerite waves this away and nearly smiles, but stops and frowns over at the door. "Call them nudes, it's what they are."
"So you weren't anxious to have them back?" Jack says.
"Of course not," she says, and Phryne leans back satisfied, as if that was the answer she'd expected to hear.
"I sat for Sterling all the time, we were close, Inspector, and there's more where those few Rosie bought came from. I have a couple somewhere."
"So what did Victor Castle and Anabelle Crown tell you that made you angry? If it wasn't about the paintings."
"It's the other way around," she says. "The Crown and the Castle. But what V and A had to tell me was about something personal. Nothing to do with Rosie."
"But to do with your husband?" Jack asks
"I think so, but I'll never know for sure now."
"Inspector, this is personal business."
"Murder is often personal business." Jack says.
"Oh, it doesn't matter anyway. Not now. V and A saw some other paintings in Paris. Paintings that were for sale in a gallery for a very nice price. They recognized me as the model."
"And this news upset you? I thought the existence of these paintings didn't bother you."
"It upset me because these were recent works. I sat for them, well, for sentimental reasons. They should not have been for sale at all because they were student works, done by a student at Barton."
"Are Barton students not allowed to sell their work?" Phryne asks.
"They aren't supposed to, no. Lloyd liked to move the best students right out of Barton into exclusive deals with his gallery, back catalogue all in place."
"That had to cause some resentment," Jack says, mentally rearranging his suspect list.
"The clever ones knew how to get around his rules, and the others, well, Lloyd always said that not everyone was a risk taker, and he was there to offer a steady income to the sort that liked a simple life."
"While ensuring he had a nice steady income of his own," Phryne says.
Marguerite shrugs. "It's not how I would run things. But Lloyd never cared what I thought about business."
"You'll be running things now, though," Jack says.
"If you're suggesting I murdered my husband for a handful of amateurish Turneresque landscapes, Inspector–"
"I'm not accusing anyone, Mrs. Fellowes, but anyone who wasn't happy with how Lloyd Fellowes ran his business has a motive for murder."
"Inspector, the truth is I didn't love my husband very much, but I didn't want him dead either. That's not much of an epitaph for a man as proud of himself as Lloyd was, but it's all there is. Now if you won't let me leave, at least leave me in peace."
"There's too many suspects, Jack."
Mac starts upright at the sound of Phryne's voice above her head. She'd been reclining on the settee in the hallway, waiting for the moment when the guests would be released and the coroner's waggon moves in.
"I agree with you on that score," Jack says. "Did you notice Miss Crown and Mr. Castle–"
"Other way round."
"Are you sure?"
"No, now that you ask. We could just call them V and A," Phryne says.
"Exactly," Jack says as if what Phryne'd said had made any sense at all.
Mac considers knocking on the staircase to warn them they're not alone, but she doesn't want to give herself away.
Jack continues, "They talked about selling through Lloyd Fellowes for years, and yet they're barely out of school."
"And what about his risk averse students, keeping his business ticking over," Phryne says. "And the one who painted these new pictures of Marguerite."
"Sentimental reasons," Jack says.
"Exactly," Phryne says. "I don't think this case has anything to do with Rosie or Lena."
"You're hardly being objective."
"Objectivity is overrated, sometimes you just have to go with how you feel, Jack."
"Police work isn't about feelings, it's about facts."
Phryne makes a rude noise, and Mac nearly laughs out loud.
"I'm going to check in with Collins, see if he can narrow our suspect list down by filling in who had the opportunity to kill Fellowes." Jack says.
"I'm going to go look after my guests." Phryne says, and they both clatter off down the stairs.
Mac relaxes back onto the settee and tries to make sense of the conversation she just heard while she waits.
Pauline steps around the corner and Mac sits up again, her boredom forgotten.
"This seat still free?"
"Absolutely," Mac says, "the management even offers complementary champagne."
"You have the best bolt-holes."
"How's the crowd out there?" Mac says, not because she cares, but because she likes listening to Pauline talk.
"There's nothing worse than a party that goes on past its time. People have already stopped merely politely ignoring the body in the library, and started saying rude things about him."
"You going to drag me off to be interviewed again if I answer that?" Pauline asks.
"If I think you heard anything meaningful," Mac says firmly.
Pauline smiles, like Mac got the answer right. "The students are telling tells of the notoriously tight Lloyd Fellowes. It seems like he owed money to everyone, kept them all tied to his school and his gallery by paying them slowly and taking a big cut. He cut anyone off who tried greener pastures and refused to pay up. It sounds like the way the big film studios operate, but they've at least got something to offer in return for their iron-clad contracts. One of the students called it indentured servitude."
"Seems a bit extreme," Mac says.
"She is a bit wearyingly intense, but that's artists for you."
"You think one of them killed him?" Mac asks
"It seems hard to imagine that he'd be able to rile up kids that age enough to kill him. It does make me wonder who else he's been slow to pay."
"Too many suspects," Mac says.
"Would you, if confronted with a difficult choice, take the safe route?" Pauline asks.
"Not bloody likely. Medical school wasn't the safe choice."
"This girl, the intense one, she seems so boxed in, like her life's more predictable than a film heroine."
"Paints and canvas instead of babies and families?" Mac says. "An artist's life isn't supposed to be a trap?"
"I think maybe Lloyd Fellowes managed to make it one."
Mac hasn't let anyone box her in ever. Neither has Pauline as near as she can see. "But your film heroines aren't like that. They're not women boxed in?"
Pauline laughs and leans back on the settee. The smile fades from her face as she looks at Mac. There's warmth in her eyes that Mac tries to match. Heat replaces warmth. If they weren't trapped in this house—so much for no boxes.
Mac extends her legs outward. She fancies her long legs, always liked the way they look in good trousers. Pauline looks her over and it would seem she agrees.
"I try to make them real people." Pauline says, and Mac has to pause to remember she'd asked about Pauline's leading ladies. "So many heroines are just quivering pools of thwarted love with limpid eyes and languid limbs, and I want to go deeper than that. But there's only so far you can stray from the stories people expect. Well, if you want anyone to front you any money."
"It has to be a romance."
"One way or another, yes. Or a comedy or a bushwhacker film. Half the time they're romances too. So I make my characters as interesting as I can, but I really want to do things where the characters don't have to dance the same old steps."
Pauline kicks off her shoes and stretches to tangle her legs with Mac. Does Pauline like to dance? Or perhaps a visit to the club and a game of billiards would please her. Mac could ask her now, but perhaps later when they aren't locked in by the police would be better.
"I thought I had it bad with hospital benefactors thinking writing a cheque means they get to tell us how to do medicine." Mac says. "Or rather, what not to do."
"So you've done the begging for your supper act?"
"My dear, I am an old hand at that," Mac says. "Although I'm inclined to put my foot in it more than I should. I wonder if we compared notes we'd know all the same owners of cheque books? And how many of them would Lloyd Fellowes know too?"
"Makes you wonder how many uncomfortable drawing rooms we've sat in staring at paintings he's sold."
"Collins, tell me you've narrowed the field down. I have enough contenders to fill the Melbourne Cup racecard."
Jack slumps into his seat at Phryne's kitchen table and hopes his Constable can come through for him.
Collins is shuffling his notebook pages and pauses to read one occasionally, flashing his habitual look of surprise at what he finds in his own notes.
"Well, sir, I've got crisscrossing alibis for almost all the younger guests. Unless they're all lying, none of them could have done it. The small crowd of people that arrived with Mr. Fellowes—a Mr. and Mrs. McCaskill, a Colonel Summers and his two sisters, along with Sir Desmond Jenkins and his wife—never left the dining room until we moved them."
"Did any of them see anything?" Jack asks.
"A lot of people saw Mr. Fellowes and Mrs. Fellowes go upstairs and then Mrs. Fellowes return alone. No one seems to think she was very upset, and she seemed to be enjoying herself after.
"Several people saw various other people coming and going, but no one can remember anyone else going upstairs.
"Two of the young men claim to have been outside discussing something called 'proost', but Miss Fisher, ah, explained what that actually meant, sir, I can explain if you like..."
Jack almost said yes, just to see how red his Constable's face could go, but he decided to be the better man. What sort of literature a man liked discussing and with whom had stopped surprising Jack long ago. "That isn't necessary, Collins, carry on."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. A lot of people didn't like Mr. Fellowes very much, including some of his friends and most of his students."
"And do they have anything to say about the second Mrs. Fellowes, Marguerite?"
"All the students like her, all of Mr. Fellowes friends don't. Several people said they saw her talking to Mr. Castle and Miss Crown on several occasions during the party, but no one remembers seeing her after Mr. Fellowes went upstairs."
"I think it's Mr. Crown and Miss Castle."
"Really?" Collins starts to ruffle the notebook again.
"Never mind, Constable." Jack says. "Ignoring motive for the moment, we have the two Mrs. Fellowes with opportunity, and who else exactly?"
"Mr. Crown and Miss Castle only alibi each other for the entire time, Miss Torville left the parlour briefly, but witnesses say she came back quickly, a Miss Reid was alone in the conveniences, and Doctor Macmillan was also by herself, sir."
"I think we can safely rule out Dr. Macmillan."
"And Dot, er, Miss Williams and Mr. Butler were in the kitchen."
"Thank you, Collins, you'd best get back to your post, and if anyone asks, we'll be sending everyone home in due course."
"Yes, sir, I think the in due course line is wearing thin. There's been talk of telephoning the Commissioner."
"Right," Jack says. "Cut the students loose then, all but Castle and Crown and this Miss Reid, I'll interview them again first. You can disperse Mr. Fellowes' crowd of hangers on as well."
"Sir." Collins looks relieved and sets off briskly to do as he's bid.
"Film is more like a sketch than a painting."
Mac watches Pauline lean in and gesture with her hands while she talks. Lena Torville listens intently, her brow furrowed, like she's getting ready to disagree.
"The audience has to fill in the details, what's on film just gives them the broad strokes, the outlines. A painting is too complete, too detailed."
"Representational art, perhaps," Lena Torville answers.
"Talkies will change that, surely," Rosie says.
Pauline sighs. "They will. Are. They take the audience out of the story, it's like a wall going up as soon as you spell out the story with dialogue. The audience become passive. I think sound is an excellent tool for documentaries, but drama needs to allow the audience to use their imaginations. You have to let them be active participants, or why will they care about your story?"
Constable Collins had suggested he would be happy if Mac and Pauline would join Miss Torville and Mrs. Fellowes in the parlour after he'd cleared out most of the rest of the guests. Mac thinks he just wanted them all collected neatly together—the policeman's love of order—but it is possible he wants the guests of honour watched as well. The drastically reduced crowd is more to Mac's liking and she's enjoying listening to all the high art talk as long as Pauline is involved.
Mac sets her champagne glass down on the mantel. She's had enough, more than, really. Some food would be a good idea. Lena, Rosie and Pauline are getting along fine, they don't Mac to mind them.
She crosses to the dining room and nods to the three other people still waiting for the all-clear to leave. She doesn't know them, two women and a man, but they look like students.
There's not much food left, a few scattered bit and bobs, but Mac collects them all up, planning to take the spoils back to Pauline to share.
"Look, we all know he was a bastard," one of the women says.
"Anabelle," the man says in warning.
"What?" she demands, "It's true. You know the things he did, always paying late, pocketing a little more commission than he was due."
"Selling things that weren't his to sell," the other woman says bitterly. She is dark and dour looking.
"Fellowes is dead," the man says.
"Will you miss him?"
"No one will," the dark woman says. Mac looks up at the vehemence in her tone and recognizes her as someone she'd seen talking to Pauline. This must be Pauline's intense young artist. The one who wanted to run away to Paris.
"He lied about everything, you know. He told me over and over that avant garde art won't sell in Australia, but there are several right here in this house. There's one upstairs that I swear is a Matisse."
"Well now you can paint whatever you like, Hazel," the other woman says. "Marguerite won't stop you." The woman sounds more annoyed than sympathetic. Hazel is wearing thin on another audience.
She turns her attention to Mac, looking for fresh ears to hear her tales of woe, Mac figures. She doesn't intend to stay around and listen.
"Did you know our dearly departed guest?" Hazel says.
"Never had the pleasure before tonight. I'm not in the art scene, I'm just a friend of Miss Fisher's," Mac says. She steps toward the door, wanting to get out of this conversation as fast as possible. "I heard him expressing a lot of opinions though. Lots of men like to tell you what they think, they know you're just dying to hear what they have to say. You don't have to listen."
The other couple take advantage of Hazel's attention on Mac to slip out of the room.
"I had no choice but to listen to Lloyd Fellowes," Hazel says angrily. She's moving towards Mac, cutting off her easy escape. "He had his hand around my throat since I was a child. He lined his pockets off the work of my father then cast him aside when he was too sick to work anymore."
Mac takes a step back. The girl's not very imposing, short, dressed in an unfashionable dark woollen skirt and jacket, but she radiates anger enough to make Mac want to put space between them.
"He made me paint one boring bit of landscape after another. Sold them, though, even though he's not supposed to with students. Claimed he couldn't pay me what I was due because of that too."
Paintings. The girl had said she'd seen Phryne's Matisse. Mac has looked at it dozens of times. It's a small portrait of a bearded man, and the last time she'd seen it, he was looking down on the body of Lloyd Fellowes.
Hazel steps even closer. Mac would have to run around the table to get to the door, Hazel could easily cut off her escape.
"You know, don't you? I can see it in your face. You heard what I said about the painting upstairs and you've seen it before. I knew as soon as I mentioned it, I shouldn't have."
The girl is moving closer, and all Mac has at hand is a plate of pastry.
"I had to do it, you see. I'm not sorry. He would never have let me go. He sent my paintings to Paris, sold them, paid me a pittance, but I would be stuck here forever unless I got rid of him."
"Okay," Mac says quietly, she's been saying it through the girl's impassioned speech, but the girl isn't listening. Mac doesn't want to startle her. She keeps her hands up, still holding on to the damn plate. She needs to manoeuvre Hazel around so she can dash past her to the door.
Hazel pulls a knife out of the pocket of her skirt. It's got a bent metal handle with a round wooden grip, a short blade about and inch and a half long in a narrow triangular shape coming to a rounded point. It matches the wounds on Fellowes. Mac bets the blood on the blade matches too.
Mac tries to back up another step, but she's up against the wall, nowhere to go.
"I thought you could use a brandy."
Marguerite Fellowes looks up at Phryne, reaches for the glass she's offering and takes a long sip. "You should have brought the bottle," she says.
"I thought so too," Phryne says and brings out the full decanter from behind her back. Dot looks disapproving of this tactic, but she offers up her seat beside Marguerite without comment.
"This a bribe?" Marguerite asks.
"Why would I want to bribe you?"
"You think I can tell you who killed Lloyd."
"You might," Phryne says. "You knew him best."
"So I knew who hated him the most?"
Phryne nods and watches Marguerite pour another brandy. Her hands are steady.
"Ask what you want to ask. And then, police or no police, I'm going home. I have a funeral to arrange."
"And a new life," Phryne says, and Marguerite raises her glass in acknowledgement.
"These paintings that showed up in Paris, which student painted them?"
Marguerite looks stubborn for a moment, like she is going to refuse to answer. "Hazel Reid," she says.
"Reid," Phryne says, "of course. And how did Miss Reid get them all the way to Paris to sell them?"
"Hazel won't know anything about it. It'll be one of Lloyd's schemes."
"I'll bet she knows now," Phryne says. "Do you think your V and A would hesitate to tell her?"
"No, they'd likely relish the drama."
"I think I'll go find Miss Reid and have a chat," Phryne says. "I think it would be wise if you stayed right here with the door locked for a while. Dot, I wouldn't object to some company for this conversation."
"Sir, I've got the three people you wanted to talk to in the dining room. Miss Torville, Mrs. Fellowes, Miss Malone and Dr. Macmillan are across the hall."
Jack looks up from his notes. Collins looks tired. They all are. It might be time to call it a night and re-interview everyone in the morning.
"I'll speak to them briefly, Collins, but I think it's past time we let everyone go and let the coroner in."
"Mr. Crown, Miss Castle and Miss Reid," Jack says, and then stops. 'Sentimental reasons,' Marguerite Fellowes had said. "She was Sterling Reid's model," Jack says.
"Sterling Reid, sir?"
"I was paying attention to the wrong paintings."
"Wrong paintings? Which paintings, sir?"
"Come on, Constable, it's time Miss Hazel Reid explained herself."
The blood on Hazel's knife has dried to brown-red and is flaking off.
Mac doesn't take her eyes off it. She wants to call out, but she's afraid it'll be Pauline or Lena Torville who'll come running. She doesn't want that knife aimed anywhere else. She really doesn't want it aimed at her.
Hazel lunges at her, backing her right into the corner of the dining room. Mac gets ready for the next one, the next rushing lunge. You can't win a knife fight from arm's length, someone had told her that. A patient. Someone. Likely some Digger who'd died of his wounds and didn't have a clue what he was on about.
"You don't understand," Hazel says, and she's right, Mac doesn't understand. She can't figure out why the damn girl didn't just go to Paris, tell Lloyd Fellowes to boil his head and go. She doesn't understand why she's waving that knife around rather than making a run for it now.
She's tensing up, getting ready to stab with it, Mac is sure of it, so she flexes her knees, gets ready to meet force with opposing action.
There's a flash of light, a reflection, the sound of a bell tolling and the horrible, unmistakable crunch of a skull against something hard.
Hazel Reid lies on the dining room floor a litter of red roses over her still form, rose-red blood spreading out onto the floor around her head like a halo. Phryne stands over her, the metal vase still in her hands.
"Phryne! Mac!" Jack says as he barrels into the room.
Phryne is talking, but Mac doesn't hear what she says. There's a roaring in her ears like the toll of the metal vase reverberating against bone sounding over and over.
"I need bandages," Mac says. She might be shouting.
Someone thrusts a pile of cloth at her, crisp white linen napkins, stitched by hand. She presses one against the wound.
"It's a scalp wound, looks superficial, but she's unconscious. The damage to the skull is what matters."
"Mr. Butler is calling for an ambulance," Dot says, and Mac looks up to see her with another stack of table linens on standby. Phryne and Jack stand back, blocking the doorway.
"To hell with that," Mac says. "Let's commandeer the coroner's waggon, it'll be faster."
"She tried to kill you," Phryne says.
"And you stopped her," Mac answers. "Now I try to keep her alive. That's how it works."
"I saw your light on," Mac says.
Phryne had left the kitchen door unlocked. She expected Mac to come here before she went home. She gets up to get another teacup while Mac sits down at the table.
"She's alive," Mac says.
"I'm not sure if I'm relieved or not."
"You think she'll hang?" Mac says.
Phryne fills their teacups, not bothering with the pretence of any tea. "It's not very common anymore, is it."
"No, not in this brave, new modern world."
"You're tired, you always get more cynical when you're tired."
"She said she was trapped. 'He had his hand on my throat my whole life.'"
Phryne sips her whisky. "Marguerite told me a bit more of what he was like. She says she's going to keep his gallery, but change the way things are done. She says she wants to be a patron of young and exciting artists."
"I might invest in it."
Mac gives her a sceptical look.
"Let's change the subject," Phryne says.
"I'll drink to that," Mac says and does so.
"You choose. The charms of the amazing Pauline Malone, complete with details of when you're seeing her again, or the Case of Dot's Christmas Knitting."
Mac glares at her balefully and then reaches back to pluck a half-knit sock from the chair behind her.
"It's too small to be for her Constable," Mac says.
"Too boringly black for one of her sisters," Phryne says cheerfully.
"Too nice a wool to be for charity," Mac says.
"You never know with Dot, though, it'd be just like her to use the good stuff for the church rummage sale and make do for herself."
"True," Mac says.
She'll get the all the details about Pauline out of Mac. There's plenty of whisky in the bottle yet.