Sing a Song of Sixpence
Gladys Powell had only been in her job with Morgan and Whittaker for a handful of months, but she had quickly learned that one did not bother Rex Morgan before at least ten o'clock. As a result, she always made sure to arrive early enough that she could have his coffee tray in position on his desk.
This morning was no exception. Though she was later than she liked, she had still managed to place the tray of cup, saucer, milk jug and coffee pot brimming with hot, fresh coffee on his desk just where he liked it before Mr Morgan entered the building. She passed him on her way back to her desk, a fact which earned her a sullen glare from her employer – and if he looked a little more flushed than usual, Gladys didn't allow herself to be unduly disturbed. It was a rare morning that he didn't resemble a florid, ill-humoured bear.
As she reached her desk, however, there was the sound of breaking china and a fleshy thump as something heavy hit the ground. Gladys turned, expecting at any moment, Mr Morgan to come steaming out of his office again in a towering rage for the loss of the contents of the tray – for surely that was the cause of the sound. But there was no eruption of anger. No threats; no curses; no accusations of stupidity.
And then she saw the reason why.
Rex Morgan was lying, unmoving, in the doorway of his own office, the remains of the coffee tray strewn around him, hot coffee pooling.
Dressed in a white silk suit that was just the far side of fashionable and with an emerald green scarf wrapped loosely about her throat, Phryne Fisher cut an elegant figure as she sashayed into the grand surroundings of the Morgan and Whittaker Accountancy Practice. Though, on reflection, it wasn't looking quite as grand as the neoclassical architecture suggested. She counted six uniformed police officers, speaking to various members of the firm's staff, while the seventh police officer – a man dressed in an impeccably pressed suit rather than the dark blues of a uniform, was crouching beside the body of the late Rex Morgan.
It was to this last person that she headed. To their credit, none of the uniformed officers made any attempt to stop her – not that she'd have permitted them to succeed, but it was always easier when they allowed her through without argument. That made up for the peculiar feeling of walking into a crime scene without Dot at her side. Unfortunately, Dot was still away, on her honeymoon, and would be so for another week and even when she returned, it wouldn't be the same partnership they'd shared.
It would be different and they would have to find a new way of working. But that would be in the future. Here and now, she was about to begin a brand new investigation.
Smiling to herself, Phryne came to a halt just before the open office door. "So what do we have here?"
The suit-wearing man glanced up and offered her just the faintest smile. "Miss Fisher, just when we were growing accustomed to getting by without your help."
"Admit it, Jack, you've missed me."
That faint smile turned decidedly smirk-like for a moment, then died as he turned his gaze to the body. "Rex Morgan. Walked into his office and collapsed. No obvious cause of death, as you can see."
"Fearsome looking bruise on his forehead," Phryne pointed out. It looked livid purple from where she was standing, although how much of that was bruise and how much of it was scald from coffee that was still, even now, steaming slightly, she didn't like to guess.
"According to his secretary, that must have happened when he collapsed."
"Do we even know it's murder, then?" Phryne asked.
"It's certainly suspicious," Jack replied. "Unless Mac tells me otherwise." He pushed to his feet. "You managed to safely see your father back to England, then?"
"To Singapore, at least."
Jack's eyebrows raised. "I felt sure you wouldn't leave him anywhere other than in London."
"I wasn't going to, but we had to stop to refuel and we bumped into an old friend—" she paused to enjoy the brief flash of annoyance in Jack's eyes "—of my father's. Major Spencer was travelling back to London from Shanghai and he'll keep father well in hand."
Jack gestured towards a young woman dressed in pale pink, who was being minded by one of the unformed officers. "Well, shall we?"
Phryne nodded and followed his lead. The young woman proved to be Rex Morgan's secretary. For a woman who had just witnessed her employer's death, Gladys Powell appeared remarkably calm. It initially struck Phryne as wrong, but as Jack's questions unfolded, the answer became apparent.
"I was an auxiliary at Amiens," she admitted. "It was how I knew he was already gone."
"You didn't check for a pulse before calling the police?" Jack asked.
"I didn't want to disturb anything."
"You assumed it was foul play?" Phryne asked.
Gladys offered a shrug. "He'd just been given a clean bill of health by his doctor – and healthy men don't just drop dead."
That was an unanswerable point, so far as Phryne was concerned.
"Besides," Gladys continued, "it's not as if there's a shortage of people who'd want to do him harm."
Phryne saw Jack's eyebrows rise at that frank statement. "Not a popular man?"
"I've been here five months," said Gladys. "I was hired after he ran off his previous three secretaries. One of them lasted less than a day. He was a difficult and demanding boss." Absently, she gnawed on the edge of her finger, then nodded. "Office rumour says that as bad as he was here, he was worse at home. And there's a fair number of clients who didn't like him very much either."
Jack asked a few more questions, clarifying the timeline here and there, and then made a gesture to an attentive constable who immediately, and efficiently, began clearing people out so that the scene could be secured.
Jack left them to it and headed out into the spring sunshine. Phryne followed.
"They haven't assigned you a stand-in for Hugh?"she asked.
"Not for the want of trying," said Jack in a tone that suggested whatever she'd missed was even worse than the last time Hugh had been away.
Phryne smiled at that. "As bad as all that? I'm sorry I wasn't here to see it."
Jack snorted. "I'm not." He put his hand on the door of the police car and frowned. "And just how did you know about this scene?"
"Herbert Whittaker is Aunt Prudence's accountant. He called her and she called me – and informed me, in no uncertain terms, that he wasn't involved."
Jack snorted and shook his head. "If by 'wasn't involved' she means he wasn't here at the time of death, your aunt is correct. As for the rest of it..." He shrugged. "If Morgan was as unpopular as Miss Powell implied, I'm sure his partner will have something to say."
"Which is what I told Aunt Prudence," said Phryne. "So what now?"
"Now, we go and see the widow – at least," he added, opening the car door, "I'm assuming you'll want to come along?"
Phryne grinned. "You have to ask?"
"There's always a first time." But if Jack's tone sounded vaguely hopeful, his expression suggested he was pleased. "Shall we?"
As befitted one of the most successful accountants in Melbourne, the Morgan house was a large, sprawling place with an enormous, winding drive. It reminded Jack of his ex-father-in-law's home – not a comparison that made him feel all that favourably towards the deceased. He glanced in the direction of his companion, but what she was making of the Morgan house he couldn't tell.
She'd been right, when she'd arrived at the crime scene and insisted he'd missed her. She'd only been away for three weeks, but it had felt far longer. She was a presence that filled any venue she entered and her absence correspondingly left those places more empty than they should have been.
Jack shook his head. Sooner or later they would have to have the conversation he'd tried to begin a few months earlier and that had been so spectacularly sabotaged by Henry Fisher's nerve tonic. But it wouldn't be here and it wouldn't be now.
"I wonder if Gladys was right about Rex Morgan being a difficult family man," said Phryne as Jack reached out to knock.
"We'll soon find out," Jack answered.
The door swung open to reveal a po-faced butler in a heavily starched white shirt. "Yes?"
"Inspector Jack Robinson, and this is Miss Phryne Fisher – here to see Mrs Morgan."
The butler eyed them with some disdain. Jack supposed he and Phryne must have made a decidedly curious couple – and given that the news of Rex Morgan's demise presumably hadn't made it as far as the Morgan household, he could forgive the butler his sneer.
The butler stepped back and allowed them to enter. The interior of the house was dim and cluttered with items that Jack could really only define as 'expensive stuff'. Clearly Rex Morgan had considered the more items he possessed the better. Jack hoped they wouldn't have to search the place.
A few moments later and they were led into a much lighter sitting room and here Jack got the impression that it hadn't actually been them the butler had been sneering at. Elizabeth Morgan was sprawled bonelessly on a purple velvet covered daybed. Dressed in a silk robe, with what appeared to be silken pyjamas beneath it, she gave the appearance of having only just rolled out of bed.
It was a look that Jack thought Phryne could have carried off with aplomb.
Mrs Morgan merely looked rather sad and faded.
Then there was the smell.
"Smells like cheap scotch," Phryne commented, sotto voce.
Jack didn't need to look in her direction to know that she'd grimaced as she'd spoken.
"Inspector Robinson for you, ma'am," the butler announced.
"Inspector? Of what?"
"Melbourne Police," said Jack, even as the butler made his escape.
Elizabeth lazily gave him the once over. "Come to tell me Rex is dead?"
"Herbert Whittaker called me." She picked up a half-full glass from the table at the head end of the daybed and sloppily waved it as if in toast. "I'm celebrating."
"I hated the bastard," she elaborated. "So he's dead and I'm glad." She knocked back the contents of the glass in one swallow. "Suppose that makes me a suspect?"
Jack cleared his throat, wishing this would be one of the times when Phryne would so helpfully jump into the conversation. A glance in her direction, however, suggested she was either as thrown by Elizabeth Morgan's behaviour as he was – or she was simply enjoying watching him squirm. He cleared his throat again. "We don't, as yet, know cause of death. He might simply have had a heart attack."
Elizabeth snorted and set her glass back on the table with more force than was strictly necessary. "The bastard won't have done anything so convenient as died of natural causes. You'll see. And for the record," her eyes slid shut, "I didn't kill him – just wish I had."
"If he was as bad as all that," said Phryne, "why didn't you leave him?"
"Leave him?" Elizabeth snorted. "No-one leaves Rex Morgan."
And that appeared to be her last word as a moment later – before anyone could ask any further questions or gain clarification – a distinct snore issued forth.
Jack glanced at Phryne and with silent accord, they chose to show themselves out. Only once they were safely outside and out of earshot of anyone in the house, did either of them speak.
"I think we can assume Gladys was telling the truth," said Phryne.
"I think we can." Jack shook his head. He'd dealt with a great many widows in a great many states of mind, but this had been a new, and unwelcome, experience. "Something tells me Mrs Morgan isn't going to be terribly cooperative, if this turns into a full investigation."
"The outsize in headaches she'll have may have considerable bearing on that."
"That, too." Jack shook his head again. "Do you believe her?"
Phryne leaned elegantly against her car and crossed her legs at the ankles. "Assuming that this is a murder, she would be a suspect, but not a very good one. Clearly, she has a motive, if Rex Morgan is as bad as all that, but she's already found her way of dealing with him."
"You mean the alcohol?"
"I don't imagine this morning is at all unusual."
Jack pursed his lips. That thought had crossed his mind as well.
"So, the wife has been notified – what now?" Phryne asked. "Try Mac?"
"She might have a cause of death," Jack agreed.
Dr Elizabeth MacMillan – Mac to her friends – looked up at the sound of the door opening. "I might have known," she said as her eyes fell on the familiar form of Phryne Fisher.
"Might have known what?" Phryne asked.
"We went three weeks without anything more exotic than a couple of wharfies stabbing each other over a girl," Mac rolled her eyes as she spoke. "The minute you get back, we get this." And she waved her hand in the direction of Rex Morgan's body.
"I was harmlessly drinking tea at his time of death," Phryne shot back, grinning puckishly. "It's not my fault."
"Do I take it," said Jack, who'd followed Phryne in like a brooding shadow, "that you haven't pinpointed cause of death?"
"Not specifically," Mac replied. "But I can give you a general idea. He was poisoned." She watched as Phryne and Jack shared a glance. "What?"
"His wife and his secretary both implied it wouldn't be natural causes," said Phryne. "Looks like they're both right."
"You're sure?" asked Jack.
"Positive." Mac crossed the lab and gestured for them to both look closer. "See the foam around his mouth? The blue lips? They're clear signs of respiratory distress. There's nothing that I can find on his body – or in it – to indicate a natural cause and we can already rule out smothering or strangulation. So, poisoning."
"Do you know what kind?" asked Phryne.
Mac stepped back towards her desk to glance at her notes. "Not sure, yet. I'm fairly sure that whatever it is was ingested rather than injected – I can find no puncture wounds – but it could have been something he's been ingesting over a long period of time, or it could be something he had for breakfast – or even the coffee he was found lying in."
"You can rule out the coffee," said Jack. "He never had a chance to drink any."
Mac jotted that information down. "Well that rules out some of the possibilities." She straightened and turned back to them. "I'll let you know as soon as I know." Jack and Phryne turned for the door. "Oh," Mac added, "and it's good you're back, Phryne – things were getting boring around here!"
"Your only case was two wharfies fighting over a girl?" Phryne was amused.
She and Jack were now seated in Jack's office – well, Jack was seated; Phryne had taken up her usual perch on the corner of his desk.
"There were a few other cases," Jack responded, "but Mac's right. It was all very dull and run of the mill."
"Clearly, I'll have to promise never to leave again."
Phryne watched as Jack stiffened at the implication.
"Then again," she continued, "if I were to leave for good, clearly the death rate in Melbourne would drop like a stone."
"It's a strong possibility."
Phryne smirked and decided to let go of the flirting for now. "So, it's definitely a murder. We already have one suspect – albeit a poor one. Who else benefits from Rex Morgan's death?"
"Gladys Powell benefits by losing a 'difficult' boss," said Jack. "But as she's now also out of a job, I don't see her as a suspect at all."
"No. Weak motive and no real opportunity," Phryne agreed.
"Herbert Whittaker would benefit by gaining full control of the firm – but he loses an accountant who, by all the talk I've heard, is easily the best in Melbourne even for all his faults."
"Again, no real opportunity and barely a motive."
"So that leaves Morgan's family. Besides his wife, there's an adult son and daughter, and his household staff."
Phryne tapped a finger to her lip thoughtfully. "Or there's the disgruntled clients that Rex dealt with and his other colleagues. It's a bigger suspect pool than I thought it would be."
"And, until Mac can give us a time-frame for when the poisoning occurred, it's going to be difficult to rule anyone out."
"Maybe. Or maybe not," said Phryne. "I think it's time we had a chat with Herbert Whittaker."
Jack gave her a considering look. "Why start with him and not the children?"
"Because I think he can give us something no-one – other than Elizabeth Morgan, at least – can give us. Background."
"He is still a suspect."
Phryne flipped her fingers in a dismissive wave. "As you pointed out, so is everyone at this moment. We have to start somewhere."
Jack smirked. "And you want to try and rule him out anyway, so you can keep Aunt Prudence happy."
"Aunt Prudence is still delirious with joy that my father is now safely on his way back to London. I think I could probably dance the tango naked on her dining table and she wouldn't be too put out. But," she added, allowing that he did have a point, "keeping her in that happy state for a little while longer would be no bad thing."
"Just until you can properly scandalise her yourself, of course," said Jack with a straight face, although the twinkling in his eyes gave away his amusement.
"Well, while you keep yourself in your aunt's good books, I'm going to see some of Morgan's former clients. See if any of them were more than just disgruntled."
Jack pushed to his feet. Phryne held her position on the corner of his desk for just long enough that her proximity brought a dull blush to his cheeks and then she slid easily to her feet.
"All right," she agreed. "Meet back here to compare notes?"
Herbert Whittaker was not quite what Phryne had been expecting. She knew he had to be at least as wealthy as Rex Morgan had been, but where Rex had been show and ostentation, Herbert was far more understated. His house was a modest villa and he himself answered the door, dressed in clothing that Bert would probably have scorned for being too old and shabby.
"You must be Prudence's niece," he said, offering her a smile. "I've been expecting you. Excuse the mess – taking advantage of the unexpected day off to work on the garden." He grimaced at his own wording and then paused, as if expecting to see someone else. "Where's your inspector friend?"
Phryne chuckled. "I see Aunt Prudence has briefed you thoroughly."
"It never does well to be under informed," said Herbert sagely, a slight smile on his face. "Come in – I trust you'll have some tea?"
Phryne allowed herself to be shown into the house and through into the kitchen. Clearly Herbert wasn't a man to stand on ceremony, either. Waiting there on the table was a steaming pot of tea and a solitary cup, though he hurried to produce a second. As she took up a seat, he poured out the tea and then seated himself across the table from her.
"So, my dear, what would you like to know?"
Phryne took a moment to sip the tea. "We've heard that Rex was a difficult man to deal with."
"That he was," he agreed. "But wasn't always like that, you know?"
"Oh?" Phryne lifted her eyebrows.
"I knew him for nearly forty years and when I first knew him, at eighteen and just signed on as an apprentice, he was the same as anyone else. Bit of a temper to him, of course, but no more trouble than most."
"When did he start to change?"
"A little of it was the war, of course. He was at Gallipoli. He came back more quiet. More prone to fits of temper. Some of it was his son, who's turned out something of a waster. Some of it's his wife."
"Latterly. In her younger days she had quite the reputation, though Rex only learned of it when he returned from Europe." Herbert pursed his lips and shook his head. "But the real change was after that business up in Queensland."
Phryne's eyebrows raised again. "What happened?"
"He was looking at investing in a mining operation up there, I think it was. Right after he got back. He was talking about selling up his share of the business and moving. He went up there for a visit. Came back two weeks later, all plans changed and refusing to talk about it."
"Interesting." Phryne made a mental note to ask Jack if they could get anything more on that subject from the Queensland authorities – it sounded as if there was a curious story at least. "Do you know where?"
"Cairns, I think. Or near there."
Phryne nodded. "And was there anyone in particular you can think of who would have wanted to harm Rex?"
Herbert sucked in a long breath. "It's a shorter list to say who didn't, than who did."
Phryne smiled wryly. "We had drawn that conclusion. What about you?"
"I freely admit there were times when I wanted to throttle him, but I'd never have done it. For one thing, he was bigger than me."
Phryne eyed Herbert for a moment. Rex Morgan had been taller, true, and bulkier, but if Phryne was any judge, Herbert Whittaker was no nine stone weakling – and given that Rex had been murdered with poison, size was certainly no indicator.
"But," he continued, "if I were a betting man, I'd be putting money on Teddy Morgan or Gerald Dickinson."
The first name Phryne knew to belong to Rex's son – a man Herbert had already characterised as a waster. The second name was unfamiliar and she said so.
"He's young Ruby Morgan's would-be husband. Rex took a great delight in belittling him and refusing him. With Rex gone, Gerald's way is clear." He paused. "Come to that, young Ruby just might have done it – or arranged for it to be done, at least."
Phryne nodded slowly. "And Teddy? You said he was a waster. Care to elaborate?"
Herbert leaned back in his seat. "Rex never gave me the details, but he cut off Teddy's allowance a year ago. I assume the boy was wasting his money on wine, women and song, or something of the sort. Then, six months ago, Rex asked me to witness his new will which further cut Teddy off – Rex was intending to leave him a few minor baubles, but no money. He kept a copy and lodged one with his solicitor."
"Seems like it would be an interesting document to read," said Phryne.
"It would indeed," Herbert agreed.
Phryne drained her cup of tea, considering everything Herbert had said. Her own intuition was telling her that Herbert hadn't done it. Aside from basic annoyance, the older man had little real motive. Ruby Morgan, on the other hand clearly had a very strong motive – and they did say poison was a woman's weapon of choice. Her would-be husband also had a good motive. Then there was Ruby's brother, Teddy. Cut off from the family money, that was another good motive. Then there was the mysterious business in Cairns – was there someone involved in that with reasons to want Rex dead?
"Well, thank you for your time," she said, setting her cup back down on the table. "And your tea."
Herbert smiled. "My pleasure. I hope my ramblings have helped."
"Oh, I think they've certainly done that," Phryne agreed. "Most helpful indeed."
At the knock on his office door, Jack looked up, half expecting to see Phryne. His meetings with Morgan's clients had been abortive. While several of them had been surly on the subject, none of them had been within fifty yards of Rex Morgan in months. He supposed he ought to be grateful that at least he'd managed to rule out some of the suspects, but it was time spent that had not, ultimately, been that productive.
He called, "Come in," feeling surprised that Phryne had bothered to observe normal social convention. The source of surprise changed a moment later as the door opened to admit Mac instead. That explained the knock, but not why the doctor was visiting and definitely not why Mac was looking grimmer than he'd ever seen her.
"Bad news on the poison front?" Jack asked.
"Good and bad. The good is that we've identified it – it's taxine."
Jack frowned as the name tugged at his memory. "Is that from yew berries?"
"The whole tree, actually," said Mac, dropping into the seat before Jack's desk. "It's highly toxic and not something you can use medicinally, so it's something someone had to deliberately make. But," she continued, "you can also get taxine poisoning from just inhaling yew saw dust. I did a bit of checking and there's a churchyard that Rex Morgan would have walked past where they're cutting down a dying yew tree."
"I thought you said the poison had been ingested," said Jack. "Are you saying it was accidental?"
"I'm saying I can't prove it one way or the other at the moment. All I can be sure of is that it's not a long-term poison. You ingest it, you die soon after, unless you get lucky."
"Not lucky enough – not for Rex Morgan."
Jack sat back in his seat with a grimace. "So we're back to square one again."
Mac shrugged. "Sorry, Jack – not the news I wanted to give you. There's one last test being run, on the contents of his stomach. If the amount of taxine found in there is low then Rex Morgan was done in by his walk to work and nothing more sinister than that. Higher amounts, and it was administered to him as part of his breakfast."
"At least we have a timeline, now."
"I'll keep you updated," said Mac, gaining her feet. "The church, by the way, is St Martin's."
"I'll look into it, thank you."
Mac nodded and took her leave, leaving Jack sitting at his desk with the feeling that the more he learned, the less he actually knew about the case.
Phryne wasn't quite humming as she entered the police station, but it was a close run thing. It felt as if she'd made real progress with the case.
Jack's expression when she entered his office, however, killed her mood. "What is it?"
He sighed and related the new information about the poisoning.
Phryne's heart dropped. "Yew trees?" She'd noted two specimens in Herbert Whittaker's garden as she'd approached the house. "If it is deliberate, then we have a new top suspect."
"If you mean Herbert Whittaker, unless he was having breakfast with Rex Morgan this morning, you can rule him out again," said Jack. "In fact, you can rule everyone out who wasn't at that breakfast. But—"
The phone began to ring, cutting him off mid-sentence. He shot her a mildly exasperated look and answered the phone as if it had done him a personal disservice. His tone changed after the caller's first comments, his expression drawing down into a heavy frown.
"We'll be right there – don't touch anything."
And now Phryne suspected she knew what the call was about. A moment later, as Jack hung up, she said, "Another body?"
He nodded grimly. "Elizabeth Morgan this time. The butler found her unresponsive and cold to the touch."
Phryne winced. "I wonder what the odds are on two members of the same family dying in suspicious circumstances on the same day."
"Longer than I'm prepared to play," said Jack, standing up. "Let's go."
In almost no time at all, they were back at the Morgan house. This time, unlike their visit from that morning, the butler was waiting for them on the porch and even seemed vaguely pleased to see them. If the circumstances hadn't been so tragic, Phryne would have found it thoroughly amusing.
"It's this way," he said, leading them into the house and up the stairs. "Mrs Morgan was complaining of a headache, so she went to lie down upstairs."
Phryne glanced at Jack. Just as she'd suspected, considering the state Elizabeth had been in earlier in the day. Jack's answering look clearly suggested she keep her mouth shut on that subject. For once, Phryne chose to heed the implied warning.
"When did you realise there was something wrong?" he asked the butler as they reached the top of the stairs.
"Even when she was 'indisposed'," said the butler delicately, "Mrs Morgan always took tea at four o'clock. When she didn't ring for tea, I came up to check on her and, well." He pushed open a bedroom door, and Phryne got her first look at Elizabeth Morgan's body.
That the room reeked of cheap booze wasn't a great surprise. Beyond that, the first thing Phryne noticed was the way the lady was sprawled across the bed with her head perilously close to hanging off the side of the bed. It wasn't a pose that looked remotely comfortable – or likely to have been self-inflicted. The second thing she noticed was the pill bottle. It was lying on the bed beside her, conspicuously empty of its contents. It was meant to imply this death was a suicide, but the details all looked wrong to Phryne's experienced eyes.
"Looks like someone's staged this," she muttered to Jack, who nodded.
"No sign of a struggle, and apart from that pill bottle, no obvious signs of foul play," he replied in similar undertones. Then he grimaced. "But I can see blue lips and faint signs of foam around her mouth. Looks like she might have died the same way her husband did, but Mac will have to confirm that." He turned to the butler and continued in a more normal tone of voice, "May I use your telephone?"
The butler nodded. "Of course – it's this way."
As Jack went to make appropriate arrangements, Phryne investigated the bedroom further. The clothing in the closets implied this wasn't the marital bedroom – which was interesting but unsurprising, given what she knew about the relationship between the Morgans. Beyond that, however, it was an anaemic sort of room. There were no personal touches. No signs that Elizabeth had made the place a sanctuary. The room felt wrong, somehow.
Then Phryne placed what was wrong: there was no jewellery to be seen. Armour that said there was nothing wrong within her marriage and that showed just how much her husband valued her. Even if Rex Morgan didn't, necessarily. And there was no sign of any of that in this room.
"Miss—oh, Miss Fisher."
Looking round at the voice, Phryne found a fresh faced constable newly arrived in the bedroom doorway. Presumably the first of Jack's reinforcements. "Is there a problem?"
"Oh, no – no, Miss Fisher. I didn't realise you were here. I'll, uh," and he gestured in somewhat helpless fashion.
Phryne smiled and took pity on him. "It's all right, I was just leaving." And that was true. She needed to check the other bedrooms and speak, quite urgently, to the butler.
Having made his phone calls and seen the first of his additional officers arrive, Jack turned his attentions to the business of interviewing the sole witness – the butler, who had unbent sufficiently to reveal his name as Peter Thornton. Leading the older man away, into the parlour where he'd met Elizabeth Morgan only that morning, Jack began, "Who else was in the house when Mrs Morgan went to lie down?"
"Just me," said Thornton, slumping down onto a convenient seat. "There's a maid and my wife is the family's cook – but my wife's at home with a head cold and it's the maid's afternoon off. I believe she's gone to the pictures with her new beau."
"Only Master Teddy." Thornton's lip curled in distaste. "He left as Mrs Morgan went upstairs."
"That's Teddy Morgan, the Morgan's son, yes?" Jack was fairly certain that was the case, but it was always as well to check.
"Yes, that's right."
"What time did he leave?"
"Would have been about two o'clock. It was just after Thora left."
"Thora Watson, the maid."
"And have there been any other suspicious incidents here recently?"
Thornton frowned for a few moments. "There was one thing, a couple of days ago. A scruffy sort came looking for Mr Morgan."
"Scruffy sort?" Jack echoed.
"Youth of about twenty, I should say. Queensland accent. Worn clothing. Faint smell of manure."
Jack blinked at the comprehensive description. Clearly this 'scruffy sort' had made an impression. "Did he give a name?"
Thornton simply shook his head.
Jack grimaced. Of course there was no name given; that would have made this simple and there was nothing about this case that was proving to be simple. "What about at breakfast?" he continued.
Thornton looked puzzled. "Breakfast?"
"Did Mr Morgan eat alone?"
Still looking confused, Thornton nodded. "Mrs Morgan never gets up before nine, and now that both Miss Ruby and Master Teddy have their own homes, breakfast is just Mr Morgan. Thora sees to it that he has his toast and tea and a copy of the morning paper."
"And this morning was just as always?" Jack pressed.
"Oh yes," said Thornton. "Tea, toast, newspaper – oh, and a brand new jar of marmalade. That was a trifle unusual. The old jar was barely touched – though Thora insisted it had mould or some such."
Jack frowned. "Could I possibly take that jar away with me?"
Thornton started to look confused and then that look turned to horror. "You don't think Mr Morgan was poisoned with it, do you?"
"At this point, I'm not sure, but I think it's better to be safe rather than sorry."
"Oh. Oh, yes. Of course." Thornton looked shaken. "I, I'll go and fetch it."
"And, if you could, I'll need the addresses for Ruby and Teddy Morgan – we'll need to speak to them in due course. And Thora Watson, too – if she doesn't live in."
"No, she doesn't live in – none of us do." Thornton departed to fetch the marmalade and the addresses. While he was out of the sitting room, Jack made notes on everything he'd heard so far. The marmalade could, of course, be perfectly innocent if Mac's theory about yew saw dust was correct. Still, if that was Rex Morgan's murder weapon, that painted the maid in a very poor light.
The parlour door opened to admit Phryne. From her expression, she'd found something, but whatever it was, she didn't immediately announce it. Instead, she said, "Where's Thornton?"
"Just gone to find me this morning's marmalade." Jack deliberately didn't elaborate, provoking a flash of irritation in Phryne's eyes. "You've found something upstairs, I take it?"
"Maybe. I need to check something first."
At that moment, Thornton returned, gingerly clutching at a jar of marmalade with one hand and holding out an address book with the other. He handed them both to Jack. "The address book is mine. Got all the useful addresses and whatnot."
Jack nodded. "Thank you." He tucked the address book into his jacket pocket and kept a tight hold on the sticky jar of preserve.
"May I?" Phryne asked.
Jack gestured with the jar, indicating she should go ahead.
She offered him just the faintest smile, then turned to Thornton. "Did Mrs Morgan have any jewellery?"
Thornton was back to looking confused. "Yes – of course. On her dresser."
Phryne's eyes flashed, as if Thornton's simple words had confirmed a theory. Whatever it was, however, she was clearly not intending to share in front of a witness.
Jack gave a nod. "That will be all for the moment; my officers will be staying to complete the search and they'll post a guard once they've finished, so you're welcome to go home to your wife." He hesitated a moment, then added, "I'm sorry for your loss." And, with that, he and Phryne headed out of the house into the late afternoon sun. "Well?"
"Two things. One, there should be a copy of Rex Morgan's will somewhere here. From the description of it I was given by Herbert Whittaker, it's well worth a read, if we can locate it."
"I'll tell my constables to look out for it," said Jack. "And the other thing?"
"They've been robbed."
Jack's eyes widened. "You're sure?"
"Positive. There's no sign of any of Elizabeth Morgan's jewellery upstairs – I've checked. And I can't find any of Rex Morgan's either. Not a tie-pin nor cufflink between the house and starvation."
"And a man like Rex Morgan would have plenty of those, probably all in gold or silver."
"I think that gives us our motive, at least."
Phryne eyed him. "All this trouble over some trinkets – seems like overkill to me."
"Perhaps." Jack related what Thornton had said about the scruffy visitor from a few days earlier and was surprised to see Phryne's eyebrows raise. "What?"
"He was sure, it was a Queensland accent?"
"I don't think he'd have mentioned it if he wasn't certain."
Jack folded his arms across his chest and glared at Phryne. "Interesting how?"
"It's just, about ten years ago, Rex Morgan had some business in Cairns. Herbert Whittaker didn't know what it was, precisely. He thought it was something to do with a mine and that Rex was planning on moving up there. I wonder if this scruffy visitor was something to do with that."
"Could be." Jack rubbed his jaw thoughtfully. "I'll get on to Cairns – see if they have any records of what happened. I'll drop the marmalade off with Mac on the way for her to check."
"You think that's how he was poisoned?"
"If he was poisoned, yes."
Before anything more could be said, a newly arrived constable approached and offered a quick nod of the head to them both. "Inspector – you asked me to speak to the tree cutters at St Martin's church?"
"St Martin's?" Phryne looked confused – not a common or particularly natural expression for her, though she still contrived to look elegant about it, which Jack considered to be particularly impressive.
"I was about to tell you, before we were called here," said Jack apologetically. "Mac offered up an alternative explanation for Rex Morgan's poisoning. Constable?"
The constable nodded. "They were just packing up when I got there. They said they started work just before nine – but they didn't actually started cutting the tree down until nearer ten."
"Rex Morgan was already dead by then," said Phryne.
"Yes, he was – his time of death was five minutes past nine. So he'd have seen the workmen but would have had no opportunity to inhale any sawdust." Jack sighed. "Definitely murder, then."
"Making that jar of marmalade a potential murder weapon."
"Right and our maid the likely poisoner – she's the one who served Rex Morgan breakfast."
"Seems like we need to talk to her, fairly urgently."
"We do." Jack leafed through the address book and located the requisite address, then held it out to the waiting police officer. "Constable – I need you to go to this post a watch on this address and, as and when Thora Watson comes home, bring her to the station."
"Yes, sir." The constable nodded and departed again at a brisk trot.
"That's not all you're doing?" Phryne asked.
"I'll have the rest of the city's police force on alert for her," said Jack, "But if she's the mastermind of this, she's not going to be easy to find." Phryne nodded. "So, I think it's time we had a chat with Teddy Morgan."
"Any particular reason?"
"Because Teddy was the only other person to see Mrs Morgan this afternoon."
Phryne smiled faintly. "And you don't think the butler did it?"
Jack smirked in reply. "In this case, no. I haven't ruled him out, but the maid looks a more likely suspect."
"At the moment, at least."
"At the moment," Jack agreed.
Phryne peered up at the building that, according to the information Jack had given her, was the home of Teddy Morgan. It looked for all the world like a badly dilapidated warehouse on the very edges of the docks. She glanced back at Jack.
"Are you sure this is the right place?"
Jack offered a shrug as he joined her. "This is the address I was given for Teddy."
"It's a warehouse."
"I can see that," said Jack, rolling his eyes.
"More appropriately," said a new voice, "it's soon to be the best jazz club in Melbourne."
Looking beyond Jack, Phryne spotted the interloper. He had the same bullish, powerful build that Rex Morgan had held, but paired with a shock of blond hair. His smile, which came readily enough, held an edge of insincerity to it and didn't come close to reaching his pale blue eyes.
"You must be Teddy Morgan," she said.
"Guilty as charged." He chuckled as if it was the best joke of the year.
Jack cleared his throat. "Inspector Jack Robinson."
"Here to talk to you about your parents."
Teddy's smile faded into badly feigned confusion. "I—heard about father. Can't say I'm all that sorry, of course. Heart attack, wasn't it?"
"Murder," said Phryne, and was rewarded with a flash of something more genuine and closer to shock.
"That's correct," said Jack. "Where were you this morning?"
"Me? You don't think I— I mean, he was a complete bastard to mother and Ruby, but..." He trailed off. "Excuse the language, Mrs..."
"Miss," said Phryne icily. "Miss Phryne Fisher."
"Ah." Teddy had clearly heard of her, to judge by the wary look he was now giving her.
"So, where were you this morning?" Jack asked, inexorably.
"Well, here, of course."
"Can anyone confirm your whereabouts?"
"You really do think I did it!"
"You'd hardly be the first son to murder his father," Phryne pointed out.
"No, there's no-one who can confirm I was here," said Teddy sullenly.
"What about this afternoon?" Jack continued.
"I saw mother for lunch, then went to the pictures – but I don't see what that has to do with father."
Jack paused for a moment, then nodded. "I'm afraid I have more bad news for you."
Phryne watched as several emotions chased across Teddy's face. There was realisation and shock, followed by something that looked like annoyance before finally settling on a smirk. "So mother's finally managed to pickle herself, has she?"
"Not exactly," said Jack.
"Who on earth would want to murder her?" Teddy shook his head. "It wasn't me, if that's what you're asking. She was alive when I left her – complaining of a headache, of course, but what day doesn't she."
There was a callousness to his words that set Phryne's teeth on edge and that seemed put on for their benefit. It made her wonder what other emotion he was covering up.
"And you were at the cinema after that?"
"Yes – caught the matinee."
Teddy looked a little exasperated. "Then I came back here, obviously. I've a busy evening ahead of me, Inspector, so if you don't mind..."
And then, regardless of Jack's actual feelings on the matter, Teddy pushed past them and let himself into the warehouse.
Phryne waited a beat then said, "Charming specimen, isn't he?"
"Not the word I'd choose." Jack shook his head.
"Do you believe him? That he doesn't care that either of his parents were murdered?"
"Not for one minute." Jack led the way back towards the cars. "But we can't exactly charge him with hating his parents – it's not a crime."
"Thankfully," muttered Phryne, drawing a snort from Jack.
They reached the main street and Phryne noted the lengthening shadows. "So where to next?" she asked.
Jack put his hand on his car door. "I need to see what, if anything, the house search has turned up."
"What about Ruby Morgan?"
Jack smiled. "She's a probationer at the hospital. I can't imagine Rex Morgan was all that happy about her career choice, so I suspect she'll find it easier to talk to you than to me."
"All right; I'll go and speak to her – break the news and see what that reveals." Phryne turned towards her own car. "Then a nightcap, perhaps?" she called.
"We'll save that for when the case is solved," said Jack. "But I appreciate the offer."
Phryne smiled faintly – it was the answer she'd expected; Jack was nothing if not dedicated to his work. Well, she'd see what Ruby had to say and then, at least, she'd have earned her supper.
Phryne waited by the entrance to the hospital. From her enquiries, she knew Ruby's shift to be almost over, so she'd opted to wait here rather than go searching the building and risk missing her. As it turned out, no more than ten minutes after her arrival, Phryne was rewarded. Ruby came out, her nurse's cloak already fastened at her throat.
Though the daylight had almost gone, the girl was instantly recognisable – she had her father's dark hair and her mother's features and build. She also looked exhausted from what had, presumably, been a long shift. For a moment, Phryne considered leaving this until the morning and decided against it.
Ruby paused. "Who wants to know?"
Ruby turned to fully face Phryne. "I've heard of you. You're a friend of Dr MacMillan's."
Phryne smirked at the description. "Amongst other things, yes."
"What can I do for you?"
"I wondered if I could talk to you about your parents?"
Ruby gestured to a nearby wooden bench. "What about them?"
Phryne waited until they were both sitting. "I'm afraid, I have bad news for you."
In the semi-darkness, Phryne saw Ruby swallow. "Which one's dead?"
"Both, I'm afraid."
"Wish I was surprised." Ruby sounded weary. "We used to be a family, you know? A real family. Then the war came, father went to Europe and everything changed – and then it got worse when he came back. Mum's been drinking herself to death ever since and dad, father, well." She stopped, her voice perilously close to a sob, despite what was obviously a considerable amount of disdain for both her parents.
Phryne winced. "Neither death was...natural."
"They were both murdered? Who'd want to murder mum? I mean, she wasn't much of a mother, but she was harmless."
"You're not surprised about your father?"
Ruby shook her head. "He had enemies. He was cruel. He refused to allow me to marry just because Gerald was 'only a butcher's son'. Sooner or later he was going to upset the wrong person. So no, I'm not surprised."
"I have to ask," Phryne began.
"I've been here since eight o'clock this morning. Been working in the maternity unit all day."
Phryne nodded. That would need to be checked, of course, but that had the ring of a fairly rock solid alibi. "Thank you. Do you— Are you going to be all right?"
There was another choked off sob. "I don't know."
"Can I take you back to your hostel?"
There was a pause, then Ruby nodded. "Please."
"All right – my car's this way." Phryne helped Ruby back to her feet and realised that the poor child was sobbing with great silent tears rolling down her face. In that moment, her heart went out to Ruby. "I am so sorry for your loss, Ruby – I really am."
Ruby made no reply and Phryne didn't push for any further conversation. Instead, she gently led her charge to the car and carefully saw her into the arms of the matron in charge of the probationers' hostel. That redoubtable lady needed few explanations and simply said, "I can see you've had a poor day, Ruby – let's see you into bed."
As a last touch, Phryne left her card. "In case you should ever want to talk," she murmured.
And with that, she quietly withdrew.
At the start of a new day, Jack hoped for a little more luck than the day before as he headed up the steps towards Mac's office. The house search had turned up little of note. As Phryne had already commented, there was no sign of jewellery in the house, although other valuables – silverware, art work and the like – was still present and correct, which was odd. More troublesome, however, was the complete dearth of personal papers. And even more troublesome was the continued absence of Thora Watson.
There'd been no sign of her returning to her home the night before and no sign of her elsewhere either – much as Jack had suspected would be the case. However, given the mysterious nature of the man she'd been seeing, he was now starting to wonder if she was more pawn than mastermind and, if that was the case, her continued absence was perhaps not entirely voluntary.
He reached Mac's office door and dismissed his concerns about Thora for now – she was a problem for later – and knocked.
"Come in," Mac called.
Jack pushed the door open and stepped through.
Mac was seated at her desk, but she stood almost as soon as the door opened. "Morning Jack – no Phryne?"
"She's meeting another suspect," Jack answered. "So what do we have?"
"Well, you'll be pleased to know you were right," she said. "Elizabeth Morgan also died of taxine poisoning. She ingested hers with her lunch which, from the smell, appears to have been a very inferior scotch. It would have effectively masked the taste, though."
Jack nodded. "What about her husband?"
"Marmalade," said Mac. "Just as you suspected. That jar you gave me yesterday is so toxic it's almost glowing." The offending object was sitting on her desk still. "Need to work out how best to dispose of it so we don't end up with a rash of accidental poisonings on our hands. Which reminds me, you'll need to confiscate Mrs Morgan's stash of alcohol for testing – just in case our poisoner was as thorough with that as they were with the marmalade."
"I'll have someone round up the bottles from the Morgan household."
It was Mac's turn to nod. "Lastly, time of death. You already know Rex Morgan's, by virtue of his dropping dead in front of a witness." She turned to her notes. "Elizabeth Morgan wasn't nearly as considerate in that regard, but she has to have died not long after drinking the poisoned scotch. I'd say between one and two yesterday afternoon."
"As early as that?"
"Oh yes." Mac nodded. "Rigor mortis was still setting in and that takes two hours. She was found at around four o'clock, so two o'clock or a little before that."
That added an interesting wrinkle to the timeline, Jack decided. "And there were definitely no pills in her stomach?"
"Would she have been able to stage the scene before she died?"
"If you're asking could she have administered the poison and then set the room up to look like a suicide, it's possible – but unlikely."
"And she didn't steal her own jewellery," Jack muttered.
"She might have sold it earlier," said Mac, a faint but distinctly mischievous grin on her face.
Jack just gave her a long look. "But she wouldn't have also sold Rex Morgan's cufflinks and tie pins – he'd have noticed their absence so, by that logic, the things only went missing yesterday afternoon."
Mac inclined her head in a nod. "True."
"Two murders, in the same day with the same means and both with small windows of opportunity."
"Should help narrow the suspect pool."
"It does. Thanks, Mac."
Dressed in black linen slacks and wearing a scarlet blouse, Phryne felt ready to face a new day of enquiries after the fraught end to her day the night before. She had been all prepared to head for Jack's office to compare notes, but he'd phoned before she'd even finished her second cup of tea and asked if she'd speak to Gerald Dickinson herself. So, half an hour later, here she was. Standing outside Dickinson's Butchers, watching the young man concerned slice up a side of beef with considerable skill through their shop window.
He wasn't particularly handsome – his jaw wasn't chiselled while his nose looked as if it had been badly broken at some point – but he looked pleasant and honest and his brown eyes sparkled with good humour. In short, Gerald appeared to be the antithesis of Teddy Morgan and just from that, Phryne could see why Ruby would be attracted.
Stepping into the shop, her impression of Gerald improved another notch as he immediately stopped his slicing and looked up. "I'll be with you in a moment, miss."
"I can wait," said Phryne.
He went back to his slicing and soon had it finished. Then, wiping his hands on a cleaning rag, he looked back up. "What can I do you for?"
"I'm here to talk to you about Rex and Elizabeth Morgan," Phryne began.
A flash of anger crossed Gerald's face. "Ruby told me what happened. You'll be Phryne Fisher?"
"Can't say I'm sorry about either of them, you realise?"
"I rather thought as much."
"But I had nothing to do with it. I wouldn't do that to Ruby."
Phryne could sense the sincerity in Gerald's words. "I believe you," she said, "but—"
"But you still need to know where I was," he finished, bitterly "I was at the meat market at five, then I was here. I finished at two. There's any number of customers who saw me through the morning, plus my dad's out back and he'd have had my guts for garters if I'd so much as gone for a cup of tea without his say so."
Phryne offered him a smile. "Thank you for your time and, if I may, I'll take two of those steaks you've just cut."
Gerald gave her a look. "You don't have to buy them just because you're asking questions."
"I know – but even lady detectives eat, occasionally." She smiled puckishly. "Besides – wouldn't want you to get in trouble with your father for slacking off."
At that, Gerald managed a weak smile of his own and started to wrap two of the steaks.
Moments later and Phryne was back on the street, parcel of steaks securely in her grasp, and headed back to her car. Time to compare notes with Jack – albeit with a detour home to deliver the steaks to Mr Butler!
Jack looked up from the pages of balance sheets and transactions, only to realise that Phryne was standing in the doorway of his office, apparently studying him intently.
"How long have you been standing there?" he asked.
"Long enough to know that whatever you're looking at is fascinating." She stepped into the office and, for once, took up the seat in front of the desk rather than perching on the desk itself. "So what is it?"
"It's Rex Morgan's bank records," Jack answered. "There's a payment been made every month for the last ten years."
"Going in or going out?"
"Out. It's a steady amount – a hundred pounds, every first Monday in the month."
Phryne pursed her lips in a silent whistle. "That's a big payment. Do you have any idea where it was going to?"
Jack shook his head. "No indications."
"I'm assuming a large amount like that isn't being withdrawn as cash."
"No – it looks like a banker's draft."
Phryne wrinkled her nose. "Which could then be sent anywhere from Geelong to London."
"So it's interesting, but hardly helpful." Jack pushed the ledger away from himself across the desk. "What did Ruby have to say last night?"
"Much as I think we both thought. No opportunity or desire for either murder. Gerald was a slightly different matter – I think he's quite pleased by what's happened, but he couldn't have committed either murder directly, and I don't think he has the low cunning to have persuaded Thora to do his dirty work."
Jack acknowledged her words with a nod but before he could bring Phryne up to date on Mac's findings, there was a knock on the open office door and the current desk sergeant poked his head into the office.
"Sir, there's a call for you from Cairns."
"Put it through," said Jack.
The sergeant disappeared and a moment later, the desk telephone rang. As he answered it, Phryne sat back and considered the conundrum of how to trace who or what Rex Morgan had been paying. The thought occurred to her that, as an accountant, Rex Morgan was likely to have kept his own detailed financial records. She'd already heard about the search's short comings in that regard, so where would an accountant hide his papers if he didn't trust his family? Another conversation with Gladys Powell was in order – if anyone would know about Rex's personal business, it was probably her.
"Thank you very much."
Jack's words dragged Phryne's attention back to the here and now in time to see him hang up.
"Well that was short," she said.
"They're sending down the files," Jack replied. "Of course, they won't be here until the day after tomorrow, so they've given me a précis."
From his expression, Phryne could tell this news was of definite interest. "And?"
"And, it appears, Rex Morgan actually owns a farm just outside of Cairns. He bought it ten years ago, after its owner – a Robert Crozier – was killed."
"Drowned in one of their torrential rain storms – the sergeant I talked to referred to it as a 'real frog strangler'."
Phryne chuckled. "I've seen the rain in northern Queensland. I can believe that description."
"Anyway, there were some suspicious circumstances – seems that Morgan was out with Crozier when he died – but there was nothing proven. The same storm nearly did for Morgan at the same time, and Morgan always insisted that it had been a terrible accident. When he bought the farm, everyone took that as a sign of guilt, of course."
"Of course," said Phryne. "I wonder – would that be our mystery payment, do you suppose?"
"It could be. Seems that the farm's never really turned a profit, but the remaining Crozier family – at the time, that was a wife and two children, a son and a daughter, though the wife died about eighteen months later – managed to cling onto the place." Jack pulled the ledger back towards himself. "At least, that was until two months ago. Something happened." He ran his finger down the column of numbers, then jabbed down. "The hundred pounds went out, just as normal." He frowned.
"Someone intercepted the draft," Phryne suggested.
"Yes, likely." Jack nodded. "And now we strongly suspect that Cairns is where the drafts were being wired to, we have somewhere we can check. The sergeant in Cairns is going to do the rounds and see if he can track down which bank the Croziers use."
Phryne nodded. "That makes sense. But, you said son and daughter. Could the daughter possibly be our missing maid?"
Jack shook his head. "She's an invalid – IP, the sergeant said. He did give me one other very interesting piece of information, though."
"Donald Crozier – the son – hasn't been seen in town for the last three weeks. That's unusual enough that Cairns Police Force were already looking into it. Seems, at least according to Juliet, his sister, he's just gone walk about."
"What are the odds he's gone walk about with one specific destination in mind?"
"Considering the Morgan's scruffy visitor with a Queensland accent from a few days ago, I'd say it's no bet at all," said Jack, pushing to his feet. "Come on – I think—"
Not for the first time, the ringing of his telephone made Jack stop mid-sentence.
Phryne attempted to hide her amusement as he answered it with a growl. However, his next words, robbed her of any desire to laugh. "This was when?"
"No – don't wait for me, get her out now. I'll be there as soon as I can."
Jack hung up and cursed.
"What was that all about?" Phryne asked.
"There's a body floating in the Yarra – could be our missing maid."
Phryne nodded, grimly unsurprised by this turn of events. "Seems like our criminal mastermind is tying up his loose ends."
"Seems like," Jack agreed.
"Well, you'd better see to that." Phryne stood. "Meanwhile, I'm going to see if Gladys Powell can show me where Rex kept his accounts records."
Phryne started to head out of the office only to pause as a new thought hit her. "Didn't you say Thora was out with her new beau yesterday afternoon?" Jack nodded. "It strikes me that she'd make an excellent accomplice – or patsy, at least – given her access to both the Morgans and their food and drink. If that's the case: what price Thora's beau being Donald Crozier?"
Phryne waited outside the still-closed offices of Whittaker and Morgan. The clouds were building, suggesting a storm was on the way – which, given the story from Cairns, seemed appropriate. She couldn't help but wonder what had happened to Robert Crozier – if his death really had been an accident as Rex Morgan had insisted. Was Donald Crozier really behind everything in some kind of belated revenge kick?
It seemed fanciful, and yet Phryne had seen enough over her lifetime to know that just because it seemed far fetched, it didn't mean it wasn't also true.
The sharp tap-tap of approaching heels made her look up to see Gladys approaching. She offered the younger woman a smile.
"Thank you for meeting me," she said.
Gladys smiled faintly in return. "I was surprised to get your call – you need my help?"
"We're looking for Rex Morgan's personal accounts and papers," Phryne replied. "Including a copy of his will – Herbert Whittaker says there is one, he witnessed it and hinted at what it contained, but it isn't at the Morgan house."
"Anything to help,"said Gladys. "And I think I know the papers you want. Follow me."
Jack arrived at the site of the nearly-completed Spencer Street Bridge to find three uniformed officers and a detective from the local police station all gathered around a tarpaulin. The detective looked up as Jack slammed his car door shut.
"Jack – this your girl?" he called.
Jack joined them and looked down at the body. It was sodden and pale but recognisable still.
"It's her," he said. "And it looks like she's been strangled." There was a macabre relief at such an obvious sign of foul play. "She looks like she's still dressed up for her trip to the pictures." The river water had washed away most signs of the make-up she'd probably carefully applied, but the sodden dress and coat looked like they'd once been Thora's best clothes.
Clothes picked out to impress her new beau.
Was he the one who'd done this, or was it all a tragic coincidence.
Jack snorted softly. He didn't believe in coincidences this big.
"Do you know who did this?" his colleague asked.
Jack shook his head. "I have a couple of suspects, but no proof one way or the other."
His colleague nodded. "We'll let you know if we turn up any more of her belongings – seems like she ought to have a handbag or at least a purse. And we'll get her body to Dr MacMillan for you."
Jack headed away from the river and the sad sight of a young woman dead long before her time. Thora's home needed searching for clues to the identity of her beau and for information on her next of kin.
"This is it," said Gladys, leading Phryne directly into Rex Morgan's office and towards a particular shelf in his office. "I made the mistake once of thinking it was filing that needed to be taken to the filing room."
Phryne smiled wryly. "I take it Rex let you know in no uncertain terms of your mistake."
Gladys chuckled. "Oh yes. Took me right back to Amiens." She pulled a ledger off the shelf and held it out to Phryne. "This is the current one, I think – it's the one I saw move, at least. The rest, I assume, are older. As for the will, that's probably in his desk drawer. I don't have a key to that, though."
Phryne set Rex's ledger down on the desk and then abstracted her lock-picks from her pocket and exhibited them. "I have all the keys we need."
"I...suppose we do," Gladys replied, startled. "You can pick locks?"
"Oh yes." Phryne made quick work of the drawer's lock and found several packets of paperwork. "Jackpot." She lifted out the packets and started to rifle through them. "Here it is." From the middle of the pile, she pulled out the will and unfolded it. It was dated, as Herbert had said, six months earlier. "Everything now makes sense. Listen to this," she continued. "The will outlines that the majority of Rex's money passes to Elizabeth on his death. If she's also dead, it goes to Ruby. None of the money goes to Teddy – just some odds and ends that he wouldn't be able to pawn. The remaining money is left in trust for the Croziers."
Gladys stared. "That sounds cruel even by Rex's standards."
"Well," said Phryne, "Rex clearly thought Teddy would simply waste the money and wanted to try and force him to grow up. Not something that ever works, but I can't say I blame Rex for thinking it might." She folded the will up again and tucked it into her blouse, then handed the rest of the papers to Gladys. "See if you can find anything in that lot referring to Queensland or a farm near Cairns."
Gladys nodded and bent to the task. Meanwhile Phryne opened up the ledger. Sure enough, the most recent transactions recorded had taken place only a week earlier, though Rex's crab-like handwriting was tough to decipher. Allied with the initials and acronyms he'd used, it was almost illegible.
"Nothing about a farm," said Gladys presently, "but there is this."
Phryne looked up to see Gladys holding out a bill from a hospital. "Invoice for the care of a Juliet Crozier. Good find – that's exactly what we were looking for. Does it give any detail?"
"No – only the amount."
"What's the date on it?"
"Eleventh of last month. Why?"
Phryne looked at the ledger again and scanned it until she found an entry for that date. It read simply JC-H-P, followed by a sum that matched the value of the invoice. She nodded. "JC – that's Juliet Crozier. H – that must mean hospital. P?"
"Paid, surely," suggested Gladys.
Phryne nodded. "That would make sense." With that much of the code broken, several of the entries suddenly became painfully clear. "Poor kid – in and out of hospital, to judge by this."
"But who is she?" Gladys wondered. "It's not his daughter – though she is a nurse."
"She's my sister," said a new voice harshly. "Where's Rex?"
Looking round, Phryne saw a young, blond-haired man standing in the doorway of Rex Morgan's office. His sudden appearance would have been alarming under most circumstances, but the fact that he was holding a revolver trained on both her and Gladys made that certain.
"You must be Donald Crozier, then," said Phryne, keeping her tone light.
"Where's Rex?" The gun wavered, even as Donald tried to keep his expression impassive.
"I'm rather afraid someone beat you to it," said Phryne calmly. "That is, if your intention was to kill him."
"Bastard killed my father; might as well have killed my mother too." The gun was wavering badly now and any pretence at impassivity was gone, making Donald look even younger than she knew he had to be. "Wanted to kill him."
"But he's been looking after you and Juliet for so long."
"Until he got bored."
"I don't think he got bored, Donald. I think, if you'd come here two days ago, he'd have been as upset that the money he was sending had stopped arriving as you are." Phryne risked taking a step closer to Donald. "I think that, whether or not what happened to your father was an accident, Rex Morgan took his responsibilities to you and Juliet very seriously."
"Then why did the money stop?" Donald demanded.
"I don't know," said Phryne, taking another step forward. "But I'm going to find out." And with that, she reached out and wrested the gun from his nervous fingers.
Behind her, Phryne heard Gladys let out a sigh of relief.
"Now, perhaps some coffee, and you can tell me the whole story," said Phryne. "Or at least, your part in it."
Jack put his hands on his hips and turned a careful circle in the tiny room that had once been Thora Watson's sitting room. If he put his arms out straight he thought he might just have been able to reach both walls and it contained little in the way of furnishings. An armchair, a table and, oddly, a large stack of books. The bedroom and kitchen had already been searched and had turned up nothing. They had been similarly empty of possessions.
It was almost as if Thora had simply turned up one day, fully formed.
If he hadn't known that the Crozier daughter was an invalid, this tiny flat would have made Jack seriously reconsider Thora's role in events.
He started with the chair, checking to see if anything had slipped between the cushions, but found nothing but a penny and a few crumbs. He moved on and checked the table. There was a small stack of letters piled up in one corner, which he flicked through, but they proved to all be bills awaiting payment. Crouching down, he checked the underside of the table – it was a long shot that there would be anything taped there, but he had to check. Unfortunately, that proved to be another blank.
That left the books. They all appeared to be biology and anatomy textbooks – worn and creased. Jack guessed Thora was trying to study so she could attend university or something of the sort and had either bought or borrowed the books from someone else. He opened the first one and found Ruby Morgan's name inscribed – he wondered if Ruby had known Thora and had loaned the girl the textbooks, or if Thora had simply borrowed them from Ruby's childhood bedroom.
It was a question that he'd likely never have an answer for.
One by one, he flicked through the pages, looking for something – anything – stuck between the pages. There had to be something here that wasn't just utilitarian. Something that hinted at Thora's personality.
It was the fifth book that yielded his first find. Out dropped a blurry photo of a young man. It was too blurred to make out his features – all Jack could tell was he had blond hair – but on the back was scrawled all my love. Not really a detail to narrow the field, but clearly a photo of the elusive beau.
The sixth book, however, proved to be the treasure trove. First was a letter postmarked from Perth and addressed to a Thora Andrews, living in Ballerat. The contents of the letter – threats and curses and complaints – suggested to Jack just why Thora had changed her name when she reached Melbourne. She'd managed to escape this lout, only to fall in with another, worse one.
Jack shook his head and picked up the second item to have dropped out of the book. It was another note, but this one was clearly a love letter and, crucially, he could make out the signature. D Crozier.
It hadn't taken Gladys long to brew coffee. It had taken far longer to convince Donald to take the cup he was being offered. Only once he'd taken a few sips did Phryne begin her inquisition.
"So, you've come all the way from Queensland to see Rex Morgan. Why?"
"It's like I said," Donald began. "He killed my father. It was the rainy season and he insisted on riding out with dad, even though we knew there was a storm in the offing. If he hadn't done that, dad wouldn't be dead and maybe Juliet wouldn't have got sick, mum might still be alive."
Phryne nodded slowly. "So you've come for revenge?" She didn't think so and was gratified when Donald looked sheepish.
"Not exactly. Mean," he added, "I've some times thought about it, but he promised to look out for us and as long as he kept his part of the bargain, I wasn't going to do anything. I mean, he pays for all of Juliet's treatments and I couldn't do that." His head drooped. "Not with what the farm earns."
"So what happened."
"'Bout eight or nine weeks ago the money stopped. Then we got this letter." From his pocket, Donald pulled a much creased and abused folded paper and he handed it to Phryne.
Gingerly, she unfolded it and scanned it. It was an unpleasant missive that called the Croziers dead-weight and spongers and told them, in no uncertain terms, that they could forget about any charity from the date of the letter onwards. Given Rex Morgan's reputation, Phryne could believe it, and yet... "May I show Miss Powell this?"
Donald shrugged. "Why?"
"She was Rex Morgan's secretary. I just want to check that this letter really did come from him."
Phryne glanced in Gladys' direction. Like the excellent secretary she clearly was, Gladys was already walking over to study the page. It took her only a moment to confirm what Phryne suspected. "That's not Rex's handwriting. He didn't send that."
Donald's cup slipped from his grasp and for the second time in two days there was a pool of hot coffee on the floor of Rex Morgan's office. "He didn't? You're sure?"
"Positive. Rex's handwriting was like a spider had fallen into an inkwell and then staggered across the page. This is practically copperplate by comparison!"
A wan smile crossed Donald's face at that. "Oh."
"So the question is, who did send it."
Before Phryne could consider the question further, she heard the office's outer door swing open and shut. "Miss Fisher?"
"In here, Jack," she called. To the now frowning Donald she said, "This is someone who's going to be very interested in your story."
Jack entered the office, then stopped dead at the sighed of Donald. "Who is this?"
"This is Donald Crozier."
Jack did a double-take and then things took a turn for the decidedly strange as he turned to Donald and said, "Donald Crozier, I'm arresting you on suspicion of the murders of Rex Morgan, Elizabeth Morgan and Thora Watson."
"I've got a love letter to Thora signed with his name, Phryne, he has motive and Thora gave him the opportunity."
"Thora? Who?" Donald looked confused and not a little terrified.
"Come along." Jack was clearly at his most inflexible and started to tug the younger man towards the door.
Phryne groaned. Clearly this wasn't going to be easily resolved.
"I didn't do this!" Donald's wail was plaintive and he shot Phryne a betrayed look as he was finally dragged out.
To Gladys, she said, "Can you lock up? I need to fix this before anyone ends up in the gallows."
"Of course." Gladys nodded. "I thought Inspector Robinson seemed like a reasonable chap yesterday."
"He is. Usually." And with Donald's forged letter tucked into her pocket, Phryne hurried out.
By the time she reached the police station, Jack had already locked Donald into one of the cells and had started the appropriate paperwork.
"Jack Robinson, what has got into you?" Phryne demanded.
"Thora Watson was strangled, after having already escaped one violent bastard," Jack retorted. "So don't tell me to use kid-gloves."
"I wouldn't dream of it – if you'd got the right man, but you haven't."
"Haven't I? I found a photograph of the man Thora's been seeing. He's a blond, just like Donald Crozier. Then there's the love note, signed by D Crozier."
At that, Phryne rolled her eyes. "Teddy Morgan is also blond, and as for the signature, that's likely to be a forgery."
"On what basis?"
"On the same basis as this letter is a forgery – Gladys Powell confirmed it just before you came in all guns blazing." And Phryne held out the letter Donald had given her. "Someone wanted to cut ties with the Croziers and I'd put my house on it having everything to do with Rex Morgan's will."
That brought Jack up short. "You found the will?"
Phryne pulled the document out from her blouse and handed it over. "Most interesting reading. It confirms that Teddy had been cut off financially, but that information is buried deep on the third page. The top two lines on page one however, state that in the event of Rex's death, a portion of his fortune goes directly to the Croziers with the rest passing to Elizabeth."
"And you think Teddy saw that page and took action?"
"It would explain Elizabeth's death, which hasn't made any sense to this point, and would explain how Teddy learned of the Croziers to send the letter and to start intercepting the bankers drafts."
"It's plausible. But surely Thora would have recognised Teddy."
"Depends on when she joined the household staff – but we can check that quite easily. And just as easily, Donald can prove he didn't write that love note of yours."
"Have him give a writing sample."
Jack stared at her for a moment. Then shook his head. "There are times when I don't know whether to kiss you or shake you until your teeth rattle."
Phryne smirked. "Speaking personally, I'd greatly prefer the former, naturally."
While Jack administered the handwriting test and conducted a formal interview with Donald, Phryne went to visit Thornton, the former Morgan family butler. Normally, she liked to sit in on Jack's interviews, but in this case, having already heard the greater part of Donald's story, that seemed like a waste of time. So she headed to the modest cottage where the former butler lived.
"Miss Fisher." Thornton looked somewhat startled to see her when he opened the door.
"I was wondering if I could ask you a few more questions."
"Of course – anything to help. Though I'm not sure how much more information I know. And, have you found Thora?"
Phryne signed. "Yes, unfortunately."
"Oh. Oh, dear. She was a nice girl."
Nice girls, Phryne considered, didn't serve their employers poisoned marmalade, but she didn't say the words aloud. Instead, she said, "Tell me, did Thora join the household before or after Teddy moved out?"
"Oh, after," said Thornton with decision. "She's only been with us six months and Master Teddy was, ah, asked by his father to make alternative living arrangements over a year ago."
Phryne nodded. "Did she ever talk about where she'd been before coming to Melbourne?"
Thornton shook his head. "We checked her references, of course, but she never said much about herself until the last few weeks, when she met her new chap. I always thought that she'd perhaps come from a less than happy situation."
Phryne thought of Jack's reference to a previously violent relationship that Thora had escaped and thought Thornton was probably correct. "Did she ever meet Teddy – that you're aware of?"
"Not that I'm aware. Master Teddy didn't visit that often, just in case his father caught him. In fact," he added, unprompted, "his visit yesterday might just have been his first visit since moving out." Then he frowned as the implications sunk in. "You don't think that he—"
"It's just one line of enquiry," Phryne hedged. She very much did think 'that', but she saw no reason to scandalise Thornton any further than was strictly necessary.
Having got the information she came here for, she took her leave and headed back to the police station where she found a thoroughly sheepish looking Jack sitting in his office, a freed and relieved-looking Donald Crozier in the seat before the desk.
"No charges, I assume?" she asked lightly.
"What did Thornton say?" Jack asked, ignoring her question.
Phryne related the conversation. "So it's entirely possible she had no idea who he was. Or," she added thoughtfully, "it's possible Teddy found some way of blackmailing her."
"That's a bit of a leap, even for you."
"Well – consider this: you mentioned she'd escaped from a poor relationship. I'd assume she changed her name in the process." Jack nodded slowly. "Yet Thornton said her references, which he'd checked, were excellent."
"You think she lied about her references, Teddy found out and used that information to persuade her to spike the marmalade." Jack looked dubious.
"Either way, I think we need another talk with Master Morgan, don't you?"
"And," Phryne continued, "I think it might be advisable for Donald to either stay here or, better still, go back to my house. If we're right about Teddy, I don't imagine he'd be favourably inclined towards him, all things considered."
In his seat, Donald paled. "Why would he want to kill me?"
"Because, alive, you prove that you aren't the killer. Dead and it's a different story," said Jack, his mouth thinning into a grimace. "Phryne has a good point. I assume," he added, "Mr Butler is home, if you were to send Donald there with Cec and Bert?"
"Then do that," said Jack. "And let's—"
And again, the office phone began to ring.
"One day," said Phryne with a grin, "you'll be able to finish one of those portentous statements of yours."
Jack frowned at her frivolous commentary and answered the call. While he was engaged in that, Phryne headed out to the desk sergeant, intending to ask him to phone Cec and Bert to come and collect her new charge. However she'd not got more than five paces towards that goal when she heard Jack put the phone receiver down.
"That was Constable Rossi at the Morgan house. Teddy Morgan has just shown up there. We need to go now," he said. "You can drop Donald off on the way."
"Then let's go," said Phryne. "I'll meet you there."
Jack had barely finished parking his car, at the bottom of the drive, when Phryne pulled up.
He eyed her with suspicion. "Do I want to know how you've got here so fast?"
"Probably not," she admitted, climbing out of her car. "Where's Teddy? And your Constable?"
"Rossi is standing watch further up the drive," said Jack. "And Teddy would appear to be in the house at the moment, though he's left the door wide open and his car is parked close. My guess is he's finishing what he started yesterday."
At that moment, Teddy appeared on the porch, a large box of items in his hands.
"I'd say that was a definite," said Phryne. "Come on."
Jack followed her up the drive, even as Teddy loaded his box into his car and turned back, presumably for another load.
"Hello again, Teddy," Phryne called, stepping into Teddy's path.
"Miss Fisher." Gone was any pretence at pleasantness. "What are you doing here?"
"Looking for you," Phryne answered. "Those wouldn't happen to be some of your father's things, would they?"
"What of it?"
"Well I don't imagine it's going to do you any good, where you're going."
"And where am I going?"
While they'd been talking, Jack had used Teddy's distraction to move around behind the younger man. He chose this moment to make his presence known. "City South Police Station, court and prison – that's if you don't hang for what you've done. Teddy Morgan, you're under arrest for the murders of Rex Morgan, Elizabeth Morgan and Thora Watson."
For a moment, Jack expected Teddy to try and run, but in the end, his shoulder's slumped in defeat and he allowed himself to be handcuffed.
"What gave me away?" he demanded.
"The marmalade, the maid," said Phryne, "and the real Donald Crozier."
It was several hours later, once Teddy was safely incarcerated and Jack's paperwork resolved, that Phryne was finally able to make good on her offer of a nightcap from the day before. As Jack took up a seat on her couch, she poured him a large measure of Brandy.
"So that's that," she said, handing him the glass. "Good old fashioned greed, jealousy and parricide."
"I'm not sure good is the word I'd use for it."
"You know what I mean." Phryne sipped her own drink and sighed. "At least Ruby and Gerald can look forward to some happiness, to say nothing of a vast improvement to their financial status."
"And, the Croziers will be all right too."
Jack gave her a sharp look. "What have you done?"
Coquettishly, Phryne glanced down at her glass. "Me?"
"You," said Jack inflexibly. "It will be a year or more before Rex Morgan's estate is sorted out and they see what they're owed."
"Then it's a good job they've a fairy godmother – so to speak."
"Relax, Jack. Nothing you won't approve of. All I've done is offered them a place to stay here in Melbourne while the legalities are sorted out. Juliet will be much better placed for care here – which Donald knows – and with their mother gone, too, there's no reason for them to struggle on with that farm. He, if given the choice, would have gone to art school – now he can."
Jack shook his head, rueful amusement creasing his face into a smile. "You are incredible. Only you could get involved in a murder case and end up taking in one of the suspects as a ward."
Phryne made a rude noise in the back of his throat. "Donald Crozier was never really a suspect and you know it."
"And how long will it be before you start teaching Juliet your skills?"
Phryne just smiled. "For that, Jack Robinson, you will have to wait and see."