The extremely active existence we lead does not leave us leisure to devote the necessary care to the upkeep of our bodies.
- Auguste Escoffier, Ma Cuisine
The sun glared off the shop windows, the wind blew fine sand which stung the eyes. It was both chilly and sunny, a thoroughly uncomfortable combination only found in the less successful ski slopes and in Fitzroy Street, St. Kilda on this particular day in 1928.
The Hon. Phryne Fisher blinked, wiped her eyes, wished she had brought sun goggles and wrapped her sables more closely about her thin frame. With her fur coat, fur hat and Russian leather boots she looked like one of the smaller members of the Tsar's guard who was about to lose his temper with a serf and resort to knouts.
She was cold, cross, half-blinded by the wind and just about to decide that she had chosen the wrong day or possibly planet for trying to understand St. Kilda's street numbering system when she simultaneously found Café Anatole and a well-dressed male body left it, mainly through the window.
Phryne stood back courteously to allow the man to complete his swallow dive. He hit the pavement with a thud and lay still. Phryne was mentally balancing (1) the duty of every human to go to another's aid when they have been thrown through windows and (2) the danger of getting blood on her sinfully lavish and exceptionally expensive sables when the prostrate one rolled over, groaned a fair bit, then scrambled to his feet and stumbled away. This solved her problem.
And Café Anatole might easily prove more interesting than she had been led to believe. Bits of lettered glass crunched under her stacked leather heels as she opened the door and went in.
The letter had arrived the day before. Written in flawless, formal French, it had invited her to a special lunch at Café Anatole. It had been sent by Anatole Bertrand himself. Phryne had heard that his cuisine was remarkable and since the distance was not great, she had walked from her own house on the Esplanade.
A moment before she had been regretting the journey. Now, as a heavenly aroma stole over her senses, she would have walked twice as far, over a lot more than broken glass.
The scent took her straight back to Paris in 1918. Onion soup. Real French onion soup, made with cognac, with real gruyère cheese melted onto real baguette. As the slim, good-looking person in an apron tripped forward to greet her, she gave him a blissful smile which knocked him back on his heels.
'Miss Fisher,' she said.
'Mam'selle does us great honour,' said the waiter, taking her hat and coat. He saw a small woman with black hair cut in a cap, pale skin, bright green eyes and the most beautiful smile. He sagged slightly under the weight of the coat, hung it carefully behind the bar, and conducted Phryne to a table set for one at the back of the café.
'The chef will be very sorry that such a scene greeted such a charming lady,' he said. Phryne waved a hand.
'Bring me a pastis,' she said, 'and we will say no more about it. Are other guests expected?'
'No, mam'selle, just yourself,' the waiter told her, beckoning to the girl behind the bar. Two men were already outside, fixing a tarpaulin over the broken window. In the kitchen, someone was roaring. Phryne recognised the voice of the bull chef in rut and nodded to the waiter that he could go. He grinned at her and fled.
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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