Rosie had expected to encounter a number of things at Lydia Andrews’ rather over-decorated home, and her expectations were not disappointed. Lydia herself (pretending not to be jealous that Rosie had secured a divorce when John would never grant her one), Mrs Prudence Stanley (condescending to give the support of her social resources to a divorcée), and Mrs Stanley's niece, Phryne Fisher (who Mrs Stanley said was terribly adventurous in a voice other women might have used for a drinking problem). And everything went fairly much as expected until John Andrews died in the upstairs bathroom.
Lydia had hysterics, Mrs Stanley swung into action, and Rosie stepped out into the hall to instruct the maid - a sweet but rather dozy girl, who wisely avoided John Andrews like the plague - and ring for an ambulance. She had just put the phone down when the doorbell rang.
“- Dot,” Rosie said, breaking off her discussion with the first responders, who were having trouble getting their heads around Rosie's very clear statement that nobody in John Andrews’ present condition could possibly still be alive. Dot got the door.
Thus it was that Rosie’s first sight of Phryne Fisher was of a thoroughly made-up fashion plate in a backless blush-pink dress expertly cozening her way past a maid, and her first thought was hussy! Which fortunately she did not repeat down the phone line to the first responders, who had only just agreed to send the police as well as the ambulance. Rosie told them she expected to see them imminently, and put down the phone.
The fashion plate's wide blue eyes examined the rather Gothic hall with minute attention, as if looking for something, and then she stepped forward and offered Rosie her hand with a charming smile. “Phryne Fisher. I'm looking for my aun -“
“Phryne,” bellowed Mrs Stanley, who had ears like a bat’s when you least wanted her to. “Come here at once!”
“A summons,” Rosie said, finding her own more awkward smile as she shook hands. “Rosie Sanderson. Pleased to meet you.”
It felt strange to say - as strange as the absence of her wedding ring on the fourth finger of her left hand.
“Phryne, poor dear Lydia's husband is dead!” exclaimed Mrs Stanley, as they came within sight of the drawing room, and Lydia sunk on the sofa, occasionally breathing in smelling salts and gasping between distracted sobs.
“Good heavens,” said Phryne Fisher, clearly struggling to know what the niceties were in this situation, and then under her breath as she eyed Lydia: “I really didn't think she liked him that much.”
“Honestly,” Rosie said under her breath, “me neither.”
Rosie left very quickly after that, just in case City South put Jack on the case, and therefore missed everything to do with Phryne's invasion of the crime scene, the arrest of the maid Dot, and Sasha DeLisse. Although it was fairly clear Phryne had at least met Sasha DeLisse before Lydia’s party, considering her scandalous tango. Rosie could have kissed her: at least some people would be far too enthralled by the nine days’ wonder that was the worldly Miss Fisher to talk about dowdy Rosie Sanderson, who’d thrown away a perfectly good husband for no reason at all. The whispers made Rosie want to scream, but for once, nobody at all was whispering about her.
Rosie left smiling, and willingly accepted Miss Fisher’s invitation to tea the following day, where she was very surprised that the door to a sinfully luxurious suite was opened by Lydia Andrews’ maid.
“Ah - good afternoon,” Rosie said. “Dot?”
Dot bobbed a curtsey. “Please come in, Miss Sanderson, Miss Phryne is just in the sitting room.”
Phryne Fisher's sitting room had a sea view and everything of the most elegant. Rosie spared a moment to boggle at the fact that she had, after two days on Australian soil, pinched her friend’s maid instead of just getting one from an agency, as she clearly had the money and connections to do. Hell, she could have brought a Parisian dresser with her on the ship if she'd wanted.
“I see you've met Dot!” Phryne said, breezing over. “Lydia fired her, but I assure you she did not murder John. And I needed someone to keep me organised, so I scooped her up. Dot will tell you I need a lot of organising!”
You have known her less than twenty-four hours, Rosie wanted to say, as the maid pinkened and dimpled and a perfect tea appeared as if by magic - except that apparently you didn’t need twenty-four hours to get on terms with Phryne Fisher, because Rosie found herself chatting freely to her about all kinds of things that surely weren’t any of her business.
“- no, she’s a wonderful businesswoman,” Rosie said. “She tells me, any time the subject comes up, that she doesn’t know anything about business affairs. But there’s no way that’s true. I’ve seen her work with the hospital fundraising. She knows what she’s doing, right enough.”
“That’s what Aunt Prudence said,” Phryne agreed. “Still, I’m not sure what shape John Andrews’ business affairs are really in. There’s that association with Madame Breda’s salon. Now a Turkish bath in itself isn’t necessarily insalubrious... but I’ve heard things.”
Rosie had also heard things. “Jack had his eye on that place. I wouldn’t be too keen to patronise it myself.”
“Jack?” Phryne enquired, raising her head.
Rosie looked down at her teacup and closed her mouth, then set the teacup and saucer down on the table delicately. “My ex-husband.” Across the room, Dot dropped something, but Phryne's gaze didn’t flicker.
“Jack... Robinson?” Phryne said, gently. “A detective inspector of that name was most taken aback when I needed to use the facilities at Lydia’s. And bypassed his constable.”
“I don’t think there’s more than one Jack Robinson in the Victoria police force,” Rosie said dryly, leaving aside the constable. Probably Collins. Jack liked Collins. She could see how he might struggle with Phryne.
“A distinguishing feature,” Phryne smiled. “So have you lived in Melbourne long?”
“Many years,” Rosie said. “You grew up in Europe, I take it? Though you do have the tiniest trace of an Australian accent.”
Phryne’s smile broadened mischievously. “I was born and brought up here, as a matter of fact. I went to Europe as a nurse in the war, and then my father came into some property, so I stayed in the northern hemisphere for a while.”
“How lucky,” Rosie said, and watched Phryne’s smile waver a little.
“Not very for the six claimants who passed away before my father attained the barony,” she said wryly, and ate another biscuit. Rosie blinked. “So you would be the perfect person to help with my latest dilemma, then. I’m looking for a house to rent a little more long-term - I can’t bear living in hotels.” (Rosie, who had never had the opportunity to try, held her tongue.) “Aunt Prudence would have me live in some terrible society mansion, or worse, with her. But I don’t know anything about the neighbourhoods in Melbourne these days, the housing market... some informed advice from a feminine point of view would be very valuable.”
“Oh,” Rosie said, and blinked again. She straightened a little. “Well, of course.”
By the time they went to see some nice houses of appropriate dimensions in a suitably quiet (but central) neighbourhood, as Phryne said she wanted a second eye on any potential purchase, Phryne had:
Identified Lydia Andrews as her husband’s murderer;
Exploded a cocaine ring;
Acquired a pair of rough diamond red-raggers as minions;
Started a detective agency;
Blown up Madame Breda’s Turkish bath;
And, finally, delivered a backstreet abortionist onto the doorstep of City South police station, tied up in brown paper and string.
Frankly, Rosie shuddered to think what Phryne would do between now and the time she managed to acquire the car she’d been talking about.
It turned out that what Phryne did was get the night train to Ballarat, and - between Melbourne and Ballarat - encounter a murder, a jewellery theft, and a traumatised orphan. Rosie wondered what it must be like to live such a dramatic life. Dot seemed to have adjusted well, the red-raggers weren’t remotely disturbed, and Phryne’s new butler seemed impervious to her busy programme of alarums and excursions, but sooner or later, surely, something had to give.
Rosie arrived at Phryne’s for dinner to discover that Phryne had totally forgotten their previous appointment, and that a red-headed lady doctor in trousers and a well-scrubbed orphan of about ten years old were in residence. Phryne was on the phone to a lawyer, talking about tracing lost children’s families. The lady doctor was talking easily to the child, abrupt but straightforward in her manner, and the girl’s eyes were bright with intelligence; Rosie was introduced, and sat down to join in a nursery tea with Dr Elizabeth Macmillan (“I’ve been a friend of Phryne’s for years,”) and Miss Jane Ross (who was “staying with Miss Fisher for a little bit”). Apparently the daughter of a murder victim was asleep upstairs, and she would also be staying with Miss Fisher for a little bit.
Rosie felt uncomfortably surplus to requirements. But then Dot took Miss Ross upstairs to bed, and Dr Macmillan leaned so far back in her chair that it nearly tipped over to open a window, so she could smoke, and said: “So how do you know Phryne?”
“I walked into her first murder investigation,” Rosie said, “And was sort of... swept up.”
Dr Macmillan nodded shortly, affectionately. “Phryne does that. Swears blind she doesn’t, but it’s a lie. Cigarette?”
“No thank you. She seems to have collected this young lady as thoroughly as she’s collected Dot.”
Dr Macmillan snorted. “Dot’s just as soft-hearted. She’s taking in some clothes for young Jane now. The girl was wearing rags, Miss Sanderson -“
“Rosie, please -“
“- call me Elizabeth - and they were full of lice, too. She’s obviously tried hard to keep herself clean, she’s a responsible girl, but she’s not had any chances.”
“What do you think Phryne means to do with her?” Rosie shifted uncomfortably, wondering if the itching she could feel was psychosomatic, or lice transferred when she’d shaken hands with the girl.
“Solve the case,” Elizabeth said promptly. “And then I expect Mrs Stanley will know a nice, childless family dying for a handsome, bright-eyed young girl to call a daughter. Or Phryne will or you will or I will.”
Rosie murmured something, her stomach twisting and turning over. A few years ago she and Jack would have been one of those nice, childless families. It was hard not to think of it like that, to think of how, not so very long ago at all, Rosie would have been thrilled to learn that a girl like Jane Ross needed a home, would have dreamed of seeing Jack teach her to ride a bike, of plaiting that soft brown hair like Rosie’s mother used to do her own -
Maybe it was for the best that they had never succeeded in adopting. Maybe those orphanage matrons had seen something in their marriage that Rosie herself had taken many long years to see.
“Disappointed hopes of your own?” said Elizabeth, bluntly but not unkindly.
“Oh, a long time ago,” Rosie said, resurrecting a smile. “How did you know?”
“I work at the Women’s Hospital, Rosie,” Elizabeth said. “There are some fine doctors who can think of their patients as anatomy problems, but I am not one of them.”
“Oh good,” Rosie said, finding some of her tartness, and was surprised when Elizabeth grinned.
“Phryne won’t leave her to the Welfare, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“I was actually beginning to worry she might adopt Jane herself.”
Elizabeth paused, then exhaled smoke and shrugged. “Could do,” she said. “It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. I’ve always thought she would be a very devoted aunt.”
“Children need stability,” Rosie said, really perturbed by a vision of Phryne swanning up to Warleigh Grammar School wearing, say, her tango gown, and scooping Jane up for a trip to... Heaven only knew where. Ceylon? Hawai’i? No doubt it would be very exciting, but who would remember to buy the poor child a new toothbrush?
The thought came unbidden: Dot.
“They need love,” Elizabeth said, apparently not in the least disturbed by any such vision. “Phryne would take good care of a ward. She was always so careful with the younger girls at school, especially after what happened to her sister. God forbid anyone from the boys’ school even look at them funny. Phryne’s reign of terror was legendary, I promise you.”
“What -“ Rosie began, but then there was the sound of the phone going down at last - did Phryne ever think about anything so bourgeois as bills? - and Phryne’s quick tread hurrying through.
Murdered, Elizabeth mouthed, leaning forward slightly and stubbing out her cigarette in a crystal ash-tray.
Rosie’s jaw dropped involuntarily.
“Mac!” Phryne breezed. “I can’t have you shocking my respectable friends!”
“I’m not shocked,” Rosie lied. “Just surprised! Did you really abduct two witnesses to a murder? Surely just one would have done?”
Elizabeth’s eyes twinkled. Nice save, she mouthed, behind Phryne’s back.
“Ah, no.” Phryne collapsed into a chair. “They witnessed two totally different aspects of the murder, you see. I’m afraid Detective Inspector Robinson will not be very pleased with me.”
“Serves you right,” Elizabeth said indifferently.
Phryne wrinkled her nose at Elizabeth. “I’m so sorry about dinner, Rosie. Between the house move and the car and the awful hold-up in the middle of the bush while we looked for the corpse and then Jane, of course, I completely forgot to telephone to put you off. But Mr Butler has made a rather delicious-looking supper if you’d like something more substantial than tea - and Mac, do stay, I didn’t drag you out here to look over Jane only to throw you out when you were done.”
Dinner was delicious. Rosie wasn’t remotely surprised when she heard on the grapevine, a few weeks later, that Mrs Stanley’s eccentric niece had adopted an orphan girl. She rang up and conveyed her own invitation to tea via Mr Butler. Rosie had some investments of her own which gave a small income, and had taken a job editing for a small ladies’ magazine called Women’s Choice where she could work from home and wasn’t required to keep specific hours provided the printers’ deadlines were met. This enabled her to move out of her sister’s house at the first opportunity, and now she had a flat she really liked, it seemed only fair to return Phryne’s hospitality.
In any case, Cilly had been horrible enough about Jack, and horrible enough about Rosie’s refusal to stand by her man, that Rosie felt she would only have invited Phryne into Cilly’s house had she actively wished to give Cilly an apoplexy. Tempting, but murder.
“You know, if you were looking for additional references for the adoption,” Rosie said, when Jane was otherwise occupied with the fiendishly difficult crossword Rosie had drawn her attention to. “My word, of course, isn’t worth very much, considering my circumstances. But I’m sure I could prevail on my father to write a letter on your behalf. Police Commissioner Sanderson.”
Phryne widened her eyes and double-blinked. Just slightly. You wouldn’t have seen it had you not been looking for it, but Rosie had been. Phryne had tells, and this was one of them - it meant she was joining up the dots.
“That would be so kind,” she said. “But as a matter of fact, I’m not adopting Jane yet; I’m her guardian. We believe, you see, that Jane’s mother is still alive. Any transfer of parental rights must depend on her decision and Jane’s.”
That wasn’t completely true, Rosie knew. Phryne could have forced the issue. But she wouldn’t - it wasn’t her style. Most of the world would wonder at her decision not to ensure the adoption was legal and irrevocable, but it made instinctive, intuitive sense. Phryne loved material things, but she wasn’t possessive of people. Quite the reverse.
She expected others not to be either, going by the rumours Rosie had heard (the medical student, and Sasha DeLisse, and just about every interesting man in Melbourne). Which might be a trickier proposition, but was undoubtedly Phryne’s own business.
“You’re a good woman, Phryne Fisher,” Rosie said.
Phryne’s ready laughter sprang to her blue-topaz eyes. “But not a nice one.”
“Nice,” Rosie said scornfully. “Really. Who cares about nice?”
A few months later Phryne took Rosie and Elizabeth dancing at a jazz club called the Green Mill, where Elizabeth tried to teach Rosie how to lindy hop, Phryne slinked around the dancefloor with the bandleader, and a nervous boy by the name of Charlie Freeman tried to sell Phryne a plane. The said Charlie Freeman and an even more nervous-looking boy called Phil then got into an altercation with a stout, unpleasant-looking man who was then struck by a single stab wound to the chest and died in the middle of a crowded dancefloor, surrounded by some exceedingly surprised people. Even Elizabeth couldn’t revive him; by the time she’d declared him dead Phryne had already searched his pockets, examined the wound, and started speculating on where the knife had gone. Predictably, the dead man’s dance partner had hysterics.
Rosie collared the barman and instructed him to telephone the police.
She was just wondering if all jazz clubs were like this, and if a respectable woman ought to leave, when her ex-husband walked in. The dumbfounded look on his face was so delicious she immediately abandoned any thought of departure.
“What are you doing here?” he said, possibly to Rosie, possibly to Phryne, possibly to Elizabeth.
“Ascertaining that there’s nothing more I can do for this man,” Elizabeth said, straightening up and dusting off her hands. “I’ll need to write a death certificate, I suppose.”
“I was listening to some rather good live jazz,” Rosie said, folding her arms.
“But the murder rather spoiled things,” Phryne said, producing a roll of banknotes like a rabbit from a hat. “He was killed in the middle of the dancefloor, just as you see him now. Stabbed. And I have to say he was carrying a suspicious lot of money.”
“Tampering with evidence!” Jack exclaimed, seizing the roll and depositing it with Constable Collins.
“Securing the scene, Jack!” Phryne countered. “I think the weapon was some kind of very narrow, thin blade.”
“Collins, search the guests,” Jack ordered, turning to instruct Collins. Rosie caught his eye and raised a meaningful eyebrow: she knew there were no lady constables in the group that had entered the Green Mill, she refused to be searched by that clumsy constable, and the odds of Jack himself laying hands on her were slim to nil.
“Perhaps Miss Fisher might be able to assist,” Rosie suggested sweetly. “With those of us who are ladies.”
Elizabeth snorted into the glass of whisky the barman had brought her, possibly in an attempt to prevent her declaring anybody else on the premises dead. Phryne grinned broadly. Constable Collins looked as if he would rather be toasting merrily in the fires of hell.
“What a good idea,” said Jack, as if the words had been ripped from him with pliers.
“- but why on Earth Charlie Freeman wanted money so badly,” Phryne said vexedly, later, over a cup of hot cocoa made by Dot and consumed in the kitchen to avoid waking Jane upstairs, “I can’t imagine. To pay off that tough? The Freemans are pretty well-off, and I can’t imagine Mrs Freeman wouldn’t be able to deal with it, she’s hard as nails. Unless -“ she waved her mug - “it was blackmail. Something he didn’t want Mrs Freeman to know about. Which given that Charlie was always rather insipid and Mrs Freeman knows everything about her son’s life is confusing.”
Rosie thought of the Freemans, and the young women of Rosie’s own station who had tried for the temptingly single handsome only son of a wealthy family. All of them had failed. Most of them ascribed it to the prospective mother-in-law, but what if... It would certainly be a blackmail-worthy offence. Rosie was surprised that she wasn’t more shocked at the very thought, but really, in a world where fashionable society matrons controlled the cocaine trade and young men murdered their fiancées’ mothers with chloroform, what was there to get excited about in the idea of two men going about their private business?
Divorce had no doubt had a destructive effect on Rosie’s sense of propriety.
“A lot of girls have set their caps at Charlie Freeman,” she said. “He never notices a thing. What if...”
Phryne looked at Elizabeth, who shrugged. “I don’t cross paths with the men very often,” Elizabeth said - and that was interesting information, but also strangely not a great surprise. Elizabeth was a far better leader than most men Rosie had ever danced with, and never stood on one’s toes. “Could be.”
“That boy named Phil,” Rosie said, wondering if she was drunk or merely morally lax.
“The one with Charlie Freeman. I saw him. He seemed to know what the argument was about.”
Phryne sat up and rummaged in the kitchen drawers for a bit of paper and a pencil. “Could you give me a description?”
After that things got a bit out of control, but planes were definitely involved at some point, the older Freeman son who was supposed to have been killed in the War came back from the dead, and Charlie Freeman didn’t appear in court on charges of sodomy. So presumably that had all worked out for the best.
Rosie went strolling through the Botanical Gardens and asked Phryne.
“There were photos,” Phryne said delicately. “Lost in evidential custody, perhaps.”
“Oh,” Rosie said. “Well, Jack is ultimately very kind, and if nobody were hurt... I suppose Mr Butler burned the plates?”
Phryne’s eyes twinkled. “My lips are sealed.”
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
Rosie’s understanding of Phryne had now proceeded so far that when she went to deposit an alimony cheque in the bank - generous, too generous, but that was Jack all over - and found the street blocked off due to a bank robbery, she immediately turned round and went to Phryne’s house. Jane had been suspended from school (a fact which surprised Rosie less once Jane disclosed that it had been for punching a pair of thieving little cows who had taken another girl’s glasses and shoes) but only she and Mr Butler were in, and Jane was frantic about Dot being kidnapped. Rosie, somewhat taken aback, requested a pot of tea from Mr Butler and sat down to distract Jane by drilling her relentlessly on Latin declensions. Phryne said that Jane was very quick, but had a lot to catch up with, and at least this way she would damn well catch up.
Jane sank into the work so willingly Rosie was almost alarmed. There was something feverish about her attempt to force a distraction on herself. Phryne had said, too, that Jane would learn anything, and that she sometimes caught Jane reading late at night to keep bad dreams away.
By the time they had arrived at the ablative, Elizabeth and Phryne were coming up the path, supporting a rather pale Dot. Jane immediately flung herself at her guardian and Dot.
“Seriously hurt?” Rosie enquired.
Elizabeth shook her head. “I checked. Mostly just shocked, but she’s a brave girl.”
“My question now,” Rosie said, “is whether Phryne infiltrated the gang to rescue Dot in the course of the bank raid, or whether she just showed up with a gun and had a go.”
Phryne snorted, halfway between laughter and shock, and stroked Jane’s hair. Jane had let go of Dot only after persuasion and a burst of weeping, and had then latched onto Phryne and now seemed stuck there, like a limpet. Dot muttered about tea, confusedly removed her hat, and dove through the open front door.
“Where did you hear that Phryne held up a bank?” Elizabeth asked.
“I didn’t,” Rosie said. “I saw the street was closed, heard why, and jumped to the obvious conclusion.”
Elizabeth grinned, and ushered her back into the hall. Phryne was still standing on the garden path holding on to Jane, who seemed disinclined ever to let her go. Out of sheer good manners, Rosie took Elizabeth’s hat and laid it on the hall table, and Elizabeth struggled out of her coat and hung it up.
“You ought to drop by more often, you know,” Elizabeth said. “You exercise a restraining influence on her. God knows I have tried and failed.”
“Nonsense,” Rosie said sharply, but she blushed too.
Whatever the elderly theatre impresario wanted from Phryne, it got Dot, Rosie and (whenever she returned from her consultation) Phryne a lovely box seat with complimentary bottle of champagne and platter of canapés at the première of Ruddigore. Rosie wasn’t an enormous fan of Gilbert and Sullivan, but her mother had loved it, and Rosie got to the theatre so little these days - tickets weren’t cheap, and Jack liked it so much that Rosie avoided it guiltily. But when Phryne rang, saying Hugh Collins had called from a public telephone to say he wouldn’t be able to make Dot’s birthday treat because he’d had to arrest half of the football game he’d been attending, Rosie hadn’t stopped to think. Stopping to think was usually such a bad idea around Phryne, after all. One just polished the good shoes one hadn’t worn for months and put on one’s nicest dress and hoped there wouldn’t be journalists or corpses.
This hope was disappointed towards the end of the first act. Rosie watched the curtain fall hurriedly on a collapsed actor and turned disbelieving eyes on Phryne.
“How funny,” Phryne murmured, slipping out of the back of the box. “What sort of self-respecting ghost...?”
“I beg your pardon?” said Rosie, following her.
“Can anyone else smell hyacinths?” said Dot, bringing up the rear.
After Ruddigore and its attendant mysteries - Rosie particularly enjoyed reading all about the Miraculous Discovery of Long-Lost Daughter in the gossip papers, complete with handsome portraits of the reunited family - Phryne fell headfirst into a case about diggers Rosie couldn’t follow at all. Admittedly, Rosie hadn’t really tried; she recoiled from extensive discussion of the War. It reminded her too much of her silent home and empty bed, Jack taking all the night shifts he could get and sleeping away the days so she wouldn’t know about the nightmares she couldn’t help knowing about, the hideously blank spaces in their marriage. The extra work she took on copyediting a novel for a would-be society novelist writing a roman-à-clef wasn’t a total coincidence. But something about the case had Phryne behaving oddly, whether it was the indigent Madame Sarcelle or the War or the connection to a painting that Phryne had shown Rosie once, when they were both tipsy on champagne and laughing and Phryne was insisting that it was only hard to be an artist’s model if you couldn’t sit still. She was tense and concentrated with a strange sharpness in her eyes that wasn’t the normal lazy isn’t-this-fun sparkle. Rosie hadn’t known she had it in her.
After somebody broke into Phryne’s house and took the painting, the red-raggers brought Jane Ross and a small case of her things and a letter to Rosie. For lack of anything else to do, Rosie invited them in and gave them tea and parkin while she read the letter.
I’m so sorry to impose, but if Jane could stay with you for a night or two it would be the greatest kindness imaginable. Cec and Bert will have told you about the break-in. What they don’t know is that this is personal. I will explain one day, but René will go after any weakness he can and it is more than likely that he knows about Jane.
I would send Jane to Mac, but Mac has night shifts all this week. If you can’t help, Cec and Bert will take Jane to Aunt P, but René knows about Aunt P, and probably where to find her too. She’s in the phone book, for God’s sake. Still, Jane will be safer there than at my house.
Rosie folded the note into quarters and stuffed it into her pocket, thinking about Phryne’s fears, certain features of the roman-à-clef, and a number of gossip magazine pieces and snippets of society items she’d edited for Women’s Choice over the course of the last few months. She went and sat down at the table.
“Phryne has suggested you might be able to help me solve a case,” Rosie said. “It’s encoded in a novel I’ve been editing. I don’t suppose you could see your way to helping me for a couple of days?”
“Sounds like a good idea,” Cec said robustly, casting a nervous glance at Bert, who had bandaged hands and looked about ready to fight someone anyway. Getting those two off the streets would probably count as a public service.
“I hope you gentlemen enjoy reading the gossip section of the papers,” Rosie said. “If I’m right, we have a jewel thief on our hands. Finish your parkin and get your coat on, Jane, we’re going to the library.”
Cec and Bert peeled off eventually, once Jane and Rosie were thoroughly absorbed in reading the relevant back issues of various Melbourne periodicals and taking notes. The following day she had Hugh Collins put a call through to Mr Butler from City South police station, since she was there anyway with their findings. On receiving suitably glad tidings, Rosie took Jane straight home, where Phryne swore an eternal debt of gratitude to Rosie and lavished Jane in apologies and age-appropriate explanations.
“I’m so sorry for your trouble,” Phryne said.
“Trouble? Rubbish,” Rosie said, consigning to hell all the Women’s Choice copyediting she’d put off and would probably have to work through the night to finish. “I’ll have you know that Jane and I just caught two blackmailers and a society jewel thief. I was really only expecting the jewel thief.”
Phryne laughed, bright and unexpected. But there were deep shadows beneath her eyes.
“René murdered for this painting, you know,” Phryne said later, when they were sitting on the floor in Phryne’s room splitting a bottle of champagne and admiring the nude portrait. (What had happened to prim Rosie Sanderson? Nothing too dreadful.) “He killed poor Pierre for it, and he killed the diggers who saw him do it, all except Bert. And I really think he would have killed me, too.”
“Sounds like he almost did,” said Rosie, who had seen this before. Girls with sweethearts who wanted to be their only sunshine. Women who wore long sleeves in December.
Phryne looked down at her varnished toes. The shoes had been abandoned a while ago. “I was very young, and very reckless, and very lucky to get out alive.”
“And then he came back,” Rosie said.
“Like a bad dream,” Phryne said, her voice soft and distant, worryingly like it was coming from somewhere else entirely.
Rosie spilled champagne on her to make her jump and refocus. “And now you’ve woken up,” she said briskly.
Phryne smiled. “Yes,” she said, and cast a careful eye at her damp skirt. Dot would get it out easily. “I daresay you know how it is. I’ve wondered about Inspector Robinson - you never know what a man is like at home.”
“Jack never hurt me,” Rosie said, quick and fierce as bushfire. How was it she could never hold her tongue and not defend him?
“There are other ways,” Phryne said delicately.
“No, Phryne, it wasn’t...” Rosie sighed and put down her champagne glass. Phryne promptly refilled it. “He wasn’t cruel, or mean, or even really inconsiderate. But he went to war and he came back different.”
Phryne was silent for a while, and then she crossed her legs and observed: “Few women would be courageous enough to seek divorce, under such circumstances.”
“The remarkable thing about you is that you really mean that,” Rosie said, gulping at her glass and (frankly) missing a bit. “Thank God I went to horrible Lydia Andrews’ horrible at-home.”
Phryne shrieked with laughter.
“Shut up! You’ll wake Jane!” Rosie rubbed her temples. “Oh, I can’t believe I said that. Rest in peace John Andrews, you had awful breath and you slobbered over every woman in sight but you probably did not deserve to be poisoned to death by your wife... You have got me so drunk, Phryne, I am going to have such a headache tomorrow.”
Phryne prised herself off the floor, still crying with laughter. “Hair of the dog that bit you,” she prescribed cheerfully, and took a swig out of the bottle.
Turning up to the Women’s Choice headquarters to discover that there’d been a suspicious death was almost unsurprising. Phryne’s presence verged on the inevitable. Rosie was even very nearly used to Jack’s appearance, looking shamefaced and irritable and slightly less taken aback to see Rosie every time.
Small talk was a bit of a chore, though, especially as the late Miss Lavender’s body was carried out on a stretcher before them. Rosie’s money was on some kind of heart attack.
“I understand you’re doing very well with the editing,” Jack said valiantly. They hadn’t quite managed to cover Mrs Lavender’s toes. “The lads were very struck by your work on those blackmailers the other month.”
“Honestly far more interesting than the novel,” Rosie agreed. “It was so bad I knew there had to be another reason she was trying to publish. Jack, is it at all likely that I’ll be able to attend this editorial meeting?”
There might not be an editorial meeting, given that one of the owners had just died in her office, but Rosie felt she ought to behave responsibly towards Miss Charlesworth’s journalists, and if the magazine were to be broken up or the next issue pushed back she’d prefer to know as soon as possible.
“Afraid not,” Jack said, with the frankness Rosie used to love in him.
“Fine,” Rosie said. “In that case I’d better go home. I have private editing commissions to attend to.”
Jack blinked, and Rosie left, but not before Phryne came in - and not before Rosie saw the slightly appalled, slightly enthralled way he looked at her, and Phryne’s gleeful returning smile.
Oh, Rosie thought, and turned this over and over in her hands, surprised to find out it hardly even stung.
When she went round for their regular tea a week later - the one that frequently turned into dinner and sometimes breakfast when Phryne had prevailed on Rosie to expand her education by listening to a piece of music or drinking something alcoholic and sophisticated or borrowing a novel that was definitely in breach of obscenity laws, Phryne - Rosie discovered that Dot had got a new job.
“Will you be leaving Phryne?” Rosie asked, trying to get her head around this. Dot was utterly devoted to Phryne, despite regularly having to bend her Catholic upbringing like a pretzel to accommodate Phryne’s lifestyle.
“Oh, no - I couldn’t, miss. But Miss Phryne says if I can keep up with my duties and write the advice she has no objection at all.”
Phryne was a very easygoing employer and Dot was a very conscientious employee. Rosie foresaw absolutely no difficulties. “Well, I’m sure I look forward to working with you, Dot - and just between the two of us I think you will enormously improve the column.”
Phryne was in a reflective mood - partly, it seemed, because the magazine was run by someone who had been instrumental in getting scrappy, fierce, poverty-stricken child-Phryne a good education, and Phryne had been really worried about her innocence. Rosie pointed out that Mrs Stanley had become a noted supporter of the girls’ school in question after Phryne’s studies, so Phryne didn’t have to feel all that indebted. The school had profited in its own way.
Phryne pulled a face and changed the subject. Apparently Lin Chung - hitherto a great favourite of hers - was really getting married after all. To a Communist who could kick a man’s teeth through the back of his skull. Rosie said that would certainly open up a space in Phryne’s social schedule and suggested some healthy outdoor hobby like gardening. Phryne laughed: she was meant to.
“Alternatively,” Rosie continued, heart pounding, “I think you have rather a chance with your detective inspector. I saw his face the other day.”
“My detective inspector is also the former husband of a dear friend,” Phryne said, after briefly developing and then shaking off a rather stunned fixed stare. “It seems... unfriendly... to poach.”
“Phryne, I did divorce him,” Rosie said, feeling that this essential point had not been appreciated. “I wouldn’t resent you.”
Wouldn’t she? No, strangely not. She’d had time to think about this: plenty of time. She and Jack could no longer make each other happy. Why not be happy separately? Phryne could give Jack that, Rosie thought - if it was something Phryne herself wanted.
Of course, if it turned out that they didn’t make each other happy, Rosie would have a new and interesting set of problems, but sufficient unto the day was the evil thereof.
“Still,” Phryne replied. “Jack has a straightforward nature, and I think he’d want to play for keeps, forever, and that’s not really what I want. And when I value him so much as a friend...” She shrugged, and smiled at Rosie. “Why ruin the friendships I enjoy so much?”
“Fair play,” said Rosie, who couldn’t think of anything else to say. “In that case I can’t improve on my suggestion of gardening.”
Phryne nearly choked on her beef Wellington. Rosie burst out laughing.
“Do you miss it?” Phryne asked, when Rosie was furthering her acquaintance with single malt and mentally cancelling her plans to get the bus home. “Being married?”
“Oh, I used to,” Rosie said, rolling the glass between her palms. “When I lived with Cilly and had nothing to do with my time, and everyone was confused or angry or curious or all of the above, and I had no friends at all who knew me instead of me and Jack, I missed it very much. But once I had my own job and a life, with friends, and a place to call my own... I remembered that we’d only been making each other unhappy. For so many years, Phryne. Someone had to say that time was up.” She shrugged. “Jack doesn’t have it in him to be ruthless.”
“Men so often don’t,” Phryne said ironically. “The dears.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Rosie said, and they clinked glasses.
“You are training four disadvantaged young girls in etiquette and polite society?”
“It was Aunt Prudence’s idea and now I can’t get out of it,” Phryne sighed. “I’ve been too careful of my reputation here in Melbourne, apparently.”
“What did you say these poor girls are being called?”
“Flower maidens,” Phryne said with disgust.
Rosie choked on a petit-four and had to cough for some minutes to recover herself.
“Well thank God I’m divorced,” she croaked. “Nobody in Australia would drag me into that.”
Because Rosie was knee-deep in Charlie Freeman’s volume of poetry - great feeling, no grammar, this was the third revision - she knew nothing about the murder at the factory, or Elizabeth being framed, until Phryne brought Elizabeth to her door.
“You were closest,” Phryne said, “Mac has had a really awful shock, I’ll explain later -“ and whisked out.
Rosie put Elizabeth on the sofa with a strong, sugary cup of tea and sat back down to her work until such time as Elizabeth felt able to talk.
“Daisy died,” Elizabeth said, about an hour later, staring blankly at a wonky rag rug that Rosie had made half a lifetime ago at school. “My - Daisy, she died, they killed her and said it was an accident.”
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” Rosie said, and made a second cup of tea. Elizabeth drank it.
“And then her boss died, the old bastard, and they said I did it,” Elizabeth vouchsafed, when Rosie handed her a third cup of tea. “They said - I - killed him, gave him bleach instead of digitalin -“
“Bastards!” Rosie exclaimed, caught so much off guard she almost dropped her own cup of tea. “How dare they?”
Elizabeth started to laugh hysterically, and then cried like a storm for half an hour, until she needed an aspirin and a lie-down to get rid of the headache.
“You know,” Elizabeth said, as Rosie supplied these necessities, “my really good friends call me Mac.”
“I’d be honoured,” Rosie said gently, and draped a blanket over her.
Rosie took her godson to the circus. The fact that his mother’s relatives didn’t kick up a dreadful fuss was emblematic of the world forgetting that Rosie had ever caused a scandal by divorcing a perfectly lovely man. The fact that his mother spent half the show pumping Rosie for information about the remarkable Miss Fisher was emblematic of the fact that the world had just made Rosie an addendum to another greater personality instead. This was briefly very annoying, and then Rosie realised that the knife-thrower’s assistant in scandalous pink and a feathery skirt was in fact Phryne, which distracted her.
Moonlighting as a circus girl. Well, all right. It wasn’t the most scandalous thing Rosie had seen her do lately.
Rosie called to demand an explanation - it was probably only a bet, but it might be an interesting case - and found that Miss Fisher was indisposed, repeatedly. Eventually Rosie went to the back door and questioned Dot, who folded like a pack of cards because she was so worried about Phryne. Phryne was acting oddly, apparently.
How could you tell, Rosie enquired.
Miss Phryne slept badly, Dot replied, which was unanswerable.
Phryne wasn’t available for another few days, but when she was, Rosie came round at once.
“That shade of pink is not quite your colour but the feathers were gorgeous,” Rosie said.
“Good God,” Phryne said. “You were there?”
“Oh, yes,” Rosie said. “What I want to know is what you were doing there.”
Rosie was expecting a funny story. She did not get one. She got, instead, the story of Janey Fisher, who had never turned eleven, and who had never left anything behind but a little blue hair ribbon and a big sister in whom the flame of justice refused to die.
“So when you met Jane,” Rosie said, some time later, “you thought of Janey - and the whole reason you came back to Melbourne was for Janey’s sake - to, to make sure Foyle... never got out.”
Rosie reacquainted herself with single malt.
“This is a different Melbourne,” she said at last. “A different police force. My father wasn’t on the Melbourne force then - he would never have let Foyle get away without facing justice for your poor sister. And Murdoch Foyle is dead, Phryne. Jack would never, ever tell you so if he didn’t know it was true.”
“It’s true,” Phryne said, rough and low, “but Rosie - it’s so hard to believe.”
Except that it seemed it might not be true after all. Rosie was a sensible woman, and she didn’t jump at shadows: certainly she was steadier than Phryne in her present state of mind. But there was something about Jane, dressed as Little Red Riding Hood for Guy Stanley’s party, and the man who had even made his way into Phryne’s house, that brought ice to the blood...
Rosie marched down to City South police station to confront Jack the following day, and dashed away his attempts at politenesses with a furious wave of her hand. “Never mind, Jack! We have bigger fish to fry.”
“We certainly do,” Jack said, coming to the point with commendable swiftness.
“Murdoch Foyle. Is it true? Is he alive after all?”
“He must be.” Jack grasped Rosie’s hand. “He wants Phryne. God knows what angle he’ll play but there’s an angle. The society papers keep picturing you two together. Stay with your father. Take Dot, take Jane, make whatever excuse.”
“I’ll have Cec and Bert pick up Mac from the hospital. They can take her to Mrs Stanley, secure her house. Mrs Stanley has a soft spot for Bert and he can fight -“
“Oh my word, he can. Dot?”
Rosie gripped Jack’s fingers. “Dot will come with me to Father’s. And Jane. I’ll say Dot’s Jane’s maid. Tell him - no, I’ll tell him the truth, he’ll be proud to be trusted. And you, you take -“
“- Phryne. Yes. She’s on the trail, won’t be stopped. Mr Butler will watch the house. But Phryne will move. Foyle will come to her, Collins and I will stick to her like glue, we’ll get him.”
Jack and Rosie stared into each other’s eyes.
“We always made a good team,” Rosie said at last, “even if we made a bad marriage.”
“That wasn’t our fault,” Jack said. “It was the War.”
Outside Jack’s office, the telephone rang.
The first day of Murdoch Foyle’s trial dawned bright and clear. Miss Phryne Fisher, her companion Miss Dorothy Williams, and her friends Miss Rose Sanderson and Dr Elizabeth Macmillan (of the Victoria Women’s Hospital, Melbourne) sat in the public gallery to hear the charges laid against the accused.