When the Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher, Lady Detective, breezes into the late Mr Robert Fitzwilliam's library only five minutes after the police were called to the scene, Senior Detective Inspector Jack Robinson (City South Police Station), has the following thoughts in this order:
- that the damned woman is drawn to trouble like a moth to a flame, as though she has some internal magnet for chaos and corpses;
- that judging by the way in which her very fashionable bob is ever-so-slightly mussed, she drove herself here in that death trap of a car and almost definitely violated the speed limit again;
- that her white crepe blouse, which dips appealingly at the décolletage to show off to great advantage a (no-doubt extravagantly expensive) tasselled ruby pendant, flatters Miss Fisher's figure quite nicely; and
- that he absolutely, definitely did not just think that last thought.
"Jack!" Miss Fisher says brightly, red-painted lips curling into a welcoming grin, as though this was her crime scene, not his, and he the interloper. She has a way, Jack has noticed, of lingering over his name with an entirely inappropriate familiarity, somehow stretching the single syllable to two, as though she is savouring the taste of it on her tongue. Nobody, even his wife, has ever said his name in that way before, like something innocent and utterly obscene all at once.
Jack hopes that none of these thoughts show on his face, which he schools to resignation. "What a surprise to see you at yet another of my crime scenes, Miss Fisher," he says by way of greeting. He tries to make his voice as dry and unwelcoming as possible, but he can feel the beginnings of a traitorous smile twitching at the corners of his lips. "I eagerly await what I am sure is an excellent excuse for your presence."
Miss Fisher's eyes widen innocently in response, but Jack is not fooled. (A woman alone, indeed.) "Why, Inspector," she says, a roguishly irreverent inflection given to the title, "I'm here at the request of my aunt, of course! You were aware, weren't you, that the late Mister Fitzwilliam's wife serves on the Board of Trustees of the Royal Melbourne Hospital with my Aunt Prudence? I'm afraid Aunt P asked me to attend the scene as a personal favour to her. I couldn't have refused her, could I?"
Jack, who has not yet known Miss Fisher to say yes or no to anything against her will (including, unfortunately, the express directives of the Victorian Police Force), raises a sceptical eyebrow, but Miss Fisher, who has already smoothed her wind-blown hair perfectly back into place, is now carefully drawing on a pair of gloves. And, well, he hadn't known about the connection to the hospital board or to Mrs Stanley (though, he tells himself firmly, he would have eventually found out without her help), nor has he had a chance to talk to the recently-bereaved Mrs Fitzwilliam, who is currently visiting relatives in Sydney. And besides, if he asks her to leave, she'll just show up within a day, probably having bribed poor Constable Collins with access to Miss Williams, and will probably have solved the damn thing, to boot.
Besides which, he reasons, he would be foolish not to use someone who can give him personal access to the victim's friends and family. He knows these society types - they'd much sooner confide in the Honourable Miss Fisher, Lady Detective, than (and this he thinks with a distinct mental grumble) in a duly trained, appointed and sworn-in member of the constabulary. He's not letting her do as she pleases, he tells himself. It's an arrangement of mutual benefit.
Besides which, Miss Fisher is already bent over the corpse of the late Mr Fitzwilliam, her lips slightly parted as she examines him closely, the flimsy crepe of her blouse clinging to her skin in the stifling air of the library, her lapels swinging open slightly, and it's not that he's staring, exactly, but that tasselled pendant really is very eye-catching, and -
Jack clears his throat. Miss Fisher pauses in her examination of the corpse to glance up at him from under dark, impossibly heavy lashes. There is a wicked gleam in her eyes that tells Jack that she somehow knows exactly where he's been looking.
"Sore throat, Inspector?" she asks. Her eyelashes flutter slightly, as though with genuine concern, and she rolls her lower lip between her teeth, seemingly absent-mindedly, or as though she is deep in thought. The sight of her, almost on her knees, staring at him wide-eyed, teeth leaving the tiniest mark in the perfect, slick red of her lipstick, is an...arresting one.
Corpse, Jack thinks. Corpse, murdered, decomposing before our very eyes. He can feel a trickle of sweat running down the back of his neck, soaking into the starched collar of his shirt, and has the sudden urge to undo his top button and loosen his tie. Instead, he forces himself to take his eyes off Miss Fisher's lips and returns to his own examination of the victim. It is decidedly not an arresting sight. Robert Fitzwilliam was found on the floor of his personal library earlier this morning by a maid, lying in a pool of blood already starting to congeal in the fibres of the plush carpet. One wound site visible without moving the body: a stab wound, almost more like a puncture, right in the big artery of the man's neck, deep enough that he would have bled out pretty quickly, and very few signs of a struggle. A spray of blood on a nearby armchair, which appears to have been jostled slightly from its original position. Jack doesn't know what Miss Fisher will find that he hasn't.
She is murmuring to herself, running her hands gently over the victim's body, rifling through jacket pockets and under lapels. "Very clinical," she murmurs, seemingly to herself, tracing one gloved hand delicately over the wound on the victim's neck. "Someone with medical training, to go straight for the artery - but why so relatively little resistance, unless he was in no position to resist? Drugged, perhaps? Or drunk? But I can't smell it on him, and I don't recall ever hearing that he was fond of drinking to excess." She looks up suddenly, meeting Jack's eyes with her own, and there is a sort of hungry gleam there that Jack recognises, because he's occasionally caught sight of it in his own reflection. "Well, what do you think, Jack?" she asks, as though she is the senior detective here and he her constable being tested.
But Jack Robinson is not the Watson to anyone's Holmes, especially not to a self-taught socialite-cum-detective who has no regard for police procedure. "Why ask for my opinion when you never listen to what I say, Miss Fisher?" he replies resignedly, spreading his hands in a gesture of defeat, though he is sure once again that he is starting to smile against his will.
(He notices with the smallest spark of satisfaction that Miss Fisher's eyes follow the path of his gesturing hands before returning to his face. Her tongue flicks out briefly to lick her lips - once, twice - soft pink against the red.
Miss Fisher rolls her eyes good-humouredly, and the moment, whatever it was, passes. "Of course I listen to you, Jack," she replies easily. "Why, if anything, I'm the one who has no influence over you! If I had, you wouldn't always be so - " she gestures vaguely -
" - professional?" Jack supplies.
She makes a face. "Buttoned-up," she retorts. "Dour. Withdrawn. Serious - "
"Murder is serious, Miss Fisher," Jack says. He thinks of a folder of would-be mug shot photos in his desk drawer and very resolutely does not smile. "Mister Fitzwilliam's, to start."
Miss Fisher abruptly gets to her feet. "Well, serious it may be," she tells him, "but complicated, this one is not. The precision of the wound, the likelihood that the victim was drugged, the lack of forced entry at either the front door or at the door to the library...the late Robert Fitzwilliam, apart from being heavy-handed with his servants and a crushing bore at parties, was rumoured to have recently taken a much younger mistress." Her nose wrinkles in distaste. "His wife is on the hospital board, and very heavily involved, I understand - I'll bet you the young lady in question is a nurse."
"But why kill him?" Jack asks. "Wouldn't the wife be a better suspect, especially if the mistress was common knowledge?"
"How do you propose she did it all the way from Sydney?" Miss Fisher scoffs in reply, which Jack must admit is a valid point. "Besides which - " and here she grins at him in a way that is positively devilish, bright-red and bold and full of all kinds of unspoken promises - "sometimes a woman just has to trust her intuition about these things." She sweeps past him, and her fingers brush against Jack's in a way that might be accidental but almost certainly isn't. "I'm off to report back to Aunt P!" she calls over her shoulder as she breezes back out as easily as she breezed in, a one-woman whirlwind. "Let me know once you've got the coroner's report and found the mistress!"
And then she is gone, and Senior Detective Inspector Jack Robinson most definitely does not spend a minute standing stock-still, staring into space and absent-mindedly flexing his fingers, as though the ghost of her touch remains on them somehow.
(The coroner finds traces of barbiturates in the bloodstream. The mistress is a nurse at the Royal Melbourne. She confesses through furious tears to murdering a lover who made her one too many promises that he would leave his wealthy wife for her. Miss Fisher doesn't even have to say she told him so. She just smiles that damned smile and waltzes through City South as though she owns the place, like always, and invites him for a nightcap that evening - to thank him for enabling her to assist her aunt, of course.
He feels as though he shouldn't, but he accepts.)