Johnnie Bedlow raised his eyes for a moment, murmured something, and looked away again.
'There was five of 'em,' said Bert. 'Old mates. Old diggers. Seven with me and Cec. We get together every year about this time to have a yarn and a few drinks.'
'Yes,' said Phryne. What was making Bert so furious?
'Two of 'em are dead,' said Bert.
'Yes,' said Phryne, encouragingly.
'And there's something wrong with the way they died. Come on, Johnnie. You tell the lady.'
'First there was Maccie. He'd gone out to one of them soldier settler schemes. Growing oranges up on the Murray. Found drowned in an irrigation ditch. Coroner said he was drunk. But what about them black bruises on his shoulder blades? What about them, eh? And Maccie never drank much.'
'Too right,' said Cec.
Johnnie Bedlow, once launched on his topic, was shaking with fury, red-faced. The hat tore under his fingers and his voice was loud and ragged.
'Then there was Conger. Supposed to have been fixing his van and it fell on him. But there was nothing wrong with the jack. No one tested it for fingerprints. No one wondered why he ought to be fixing his van in the dark. Inquest said "accident". Accident? Hah!'
'You think that someone's been killing your old mates?' said Phryne. 'Why would they do that?'
'I'd think it might be a coincidence,' said Bert, 'but for the car which knocked old Johnnie right off the pavement and into your front fence. We got a murderer, all rightand you're going to find out who it is. And then,' he added through gritted teeth, 'I'm gonna talk to him about it.'
'Too right,' said Cec.
'Oh,' said Phryne.
I remember hearing a french nurse once say and the only thing she did say of the front was, c'est un paysage passionant, an absorbing landscape. And that was what it was when we saw it. It was strange.
- Gertrude Stein,The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas
'Mrs. Butler!' called Phryne. 'Forget the tea. This calls for beer. Sit down, Bert, do. Now, tell me all.'
She took from her bureau a new, sea-green notebook, found a fountain pen, and sat down, prepared to listen. Ordinarily, nothing discomposed Bert and Cec. They had been through wars, shipwrecks, gang fights and riots without turning a hair. Now they were concerned, even angry. This was serious.
Phryne's parlour furniture was too fragile for outbreaks of insensate rage. This needed to be handled carefully. Beer was distributed and the first schooner went down without touching the sides. Glasses were refilled.
'Names,' suggested Phryne.
'You know Cec and me,' said Bert. 'This is our old mate Johnnie Bedlow. Got a garage in Fitzroy, he's a mechanic. Tom MacKenzie is dead. So is Alan Eeleswe called him Conger. The others are Billo, William Gavin, and Thommo, Thomas Guilfoyle. Billo's a fisherman, lives down the coast, Queenscliff way, and Thommo's got a building business in Footscray.'
'And you always meet once a year, around this time?'
'Yair,' said Bert. 'It's the anniversary of of a good time we had. When the war finished.'
Phryne raised an eyebrow.
'In Paris,' Bert explained.
Phryne nodded. She understood what sort of a good time seven young men could have had in Paris after the liberation. She had, in fact, been in Paris herself after her ambulance unit had disbanded. The scent of acorn coffee and the sound of the bal musette drifted back into her mind.
'Billo and Thommo will be on their way,' said Bert. 'They'll arrive later today. We'll meet the country train.'
'Good. I'll ask my friend Detective Inspector Robinson to get me the coroner's reports on those two deaths. We need, I think, to all sit down together and go through everythingalmost everythingthat you seven have done together.'
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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