The drink came in a moment and Phryne sat sipping and considering Café Anatole. It was as though some gourmet whirlwind had picked up a Parisian bistro and, tired by the journey to the Antipodes, dropped it carelessly in St. Kilda, just before it ran out of land. There was the zinc counter with a saucy girl leaning on it. There was the row of stools for the passing trade. There was the mirror and in front of it an array of bottles, from Chartreuse to Armagnac. There were the little tables, each covered with a white cloth and over it white butcher's paper. There were the wrought iron chairs. There was the group of artists drawing on the paper and arguing about Modernism. There was a group of respectable bourgeois, a little affronted by the brouhaha, settling back to their lunch; a meal, it is well known, which must be eaten with a knife and fork. Everyone in the café was speaking French. She might be back in Montparnasse at Au Chien Qui Fume, talking to the trousered girls from the Latin Quarter, drinking pastis and smoking Gauloises.
She sniffed. Someone was smoking Gauloises. And someone else was shortly about to provide her with soupe à l'oignon, or something else concocted by a master chef. Bliss. Phryne settled down to enjoy herself.
She wasn't even beginning to be bored when the waiter brought her quenelles of pheasant in a delicate broth and poured her a glass of fragrant white wine.
'Is the chef not dining with me?' she asked in surprise.
'Desolated, mam'selle,' said the waiter. 'An emergency in the kitchen. He will join you for coffee.'
Phryne shrugged. The quenelles, little spoon shaped rissoles poached in broth, were superb. Presently, the waiter brought her poulet royale with French beans and poured her a glass of white wine. She ate slowly. Each mouthful burst upon the taste-buds with fresh savourtarragon, perhaps, or was it parsley?
She heard a shout of despair from the kitchen, and a cry of 'Plus de crème!' Sauce must have curdled, she thought. The remedy for anything short of an outbreak of cholera in a French kitchen was 'Add more cream!'
Finally the waiter brought Phryne a tiny vanilla soufflé, a glass of cognac, a cup of coffee and M'sieur Anatole.
He was of the thin, stringy and miserable class of chef, weighing in at perhaps ten stone in a wet army greatcoat. His hair, far too glossy and black to be natural, was slicked back from a forehead wrinkled with years of concocting sauces béchamel, royale, crème and suprême. His eyes, of a pale grey, had been blasted by the heat from too many ovens and his hands had constructed far too many roux, garnitures and hors d'oeuvres.
Phryne rather preferred the fat, red-cheeked and jolly form of chef, but her excellent lunch had given her an attack of goodwill to all men, even one who resembled a shabby vulture who had just missed out on the last beakful of dead wildebeest. She held out her hand and M'sieur Anatole kissed it.
'Thank you for my delightful lunch,' she said. 'The quenelles were superb. The poulet royale could have been served to royalty, and your soufflé melted in the mouth.'
Phryne believed in the specific compliment. The vulture face softened.
'It is my pleasure,' he said, 'to please such a beautiful lady. Jean-Paul,' he ordered, 'another cognac.'
The waiter, who had clearly graduated magna cum laude from Cheeky French Waiter School, made a face which suggested that a chef who had dinners to cook ought not to be glugging down cognac at lunch, but he slapped down another glass and the bottle of cognac. He then flounced away, turning an ostentatious back.
'He is my sister's son,' said M'sieur Anatole. Phryne nodded. French cafés were usually family affairs. She wondered what had brought such an obvious Parisian so far from the centre of all civilisation and cultureParisand decided not to ask. Besides, she had still to ascertain why she had been invited to lunch.
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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