'Why on earth don't you go to the police?' asked Phryne.
'If we do that,' said the chef, 'they might kill us.'
'This is Australia,' said Phryne. 'We don't do things like that here.'
The chef shrugged. Jean-Paul slammed a pointed cup of coffee down in front of the patron and removed the bottle. This time his flounce would have registered about six on the Richter scale.
'Well, I suppose if you hire a few heavies and make sure that your café is always occupied, you might be all right,' said Phryne. 'But what has this got to do with me? Standover men are resistant to the feminine touch, patron.'
'Oh, no, mam'selle, no, that is not the problem I am asking you to give your consideration to,' said M'sieur Anatole, shocked. 'No. It is a matter of a lady.'
'A lady,' said Phryne.
'After my wife died, I did not wish to marry again. She was a saint, my Marie. But as the years go on, a man becomes lonely. I have a friend here, the first Australian friend I made. A man of taste and wealth, though no culture. His daughter seemed perfect. I discussed it with my family. They had objections. I overcame them. Then I discussed it with him. He was agreeable. Then '
'Did you think of discussing it with the lady? She must have reached the age of discretion,' said Phryne.
'But no, I did not have a chance. The family agreed. The father agreed. I agreed. But the young lady '
'The young lady?'
'Has disappeared,' said M'sieur Anatole, and burst into tears.
Phryne walked back to her own house in possession of all available information about Elizabeth Chambers and her father, company director and racing identity Hector Chambers, a slight headache incurred from drinking two glasses of wine and a glass of cognac at lunch, and considerable bemusement.
She could not forget the picture of poor M'sieur Anatole weeping into his moustache under the scornful gaze of Jean-Paul, who had taken him back into the kitchen to mop him up. It was all very sad. She wondered how Elizabeth Chambers, aged eighteen, had felt about being married off to an elderly Frenchman who dyed his hair. If the girl had fled to Cairns, it was explicable. And which collection of standover men was targeting Café Anatole? Detective Inspector Jack Robinson, her old friend, would know, but she did not feel she could approach him yet. Perhaps Anatole's family could defend their own café without police help.
Phryne walked briskly up her own path and was admitted by her own housekeeper, Mrs. Butler. She seemed agitated.
'Oh, Miss Phryne, I'm so glad you're back. Mr. Bert and Mr. Cec have brought a friend of theirs to see you.'
'Just what I need,' muttered Phryne ungraciously. She shucked the coat and hat and went into the parlour.
There she saw a bright fire, the short dark Bert and the tall blond Cec, wharfies and taxi drivers for hire, and a sad man holding his hat in his hands. He seemed intent on tearing off the brim.
'We got a problem,' said Bert.
'Too right,' echoed Cec.
'Then let's sit down. Mrs. Butler will bring us some tea, and you can tell me all about it,' said Phryne, as politely as she could manage. She could not take off her boots without her maid Dot and a shoehorn, and her feet were hurting.
Bert put the sad man into a chair. He had still not raised his eyes from his hat.
'This is our old mate Johnnie Bedlow. Been with us through Gallipoli and then bloody Pozières,' said Bert, not even apologising for swearing in a lady's parlour. He was clearly upset. So, probably, was Cec, but it was always hard to tell with Cec, who preserved the imperturbability of a granite statue in his ordinary dealings with life. Johnnie Bedlow was still mauling his unfortunate hat.
'Hello,' said Phryne. 'I'm Phryne Fisher.'
Excerpted from Murder in Montparnasse by Kerry Greenwood, pages 1-12. Copyright© 2002 by Kerry Greenwood. Excerpted by permission of the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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