Authors: Kerry Greenwood
Death Before Wicket
is the author of thirteen novels and the editor of two collections. Previous novels in the Phryne Fisher series are
Cocaine Blues, Flying too High, Murder on the Ballarat Train, Death at Victoria Dock, The Green Mill Murder, Blood and Circuses, Ruddy Gore, Urn Burial
Raisins and Almonds
. She is also the author of several books for young adults and the Delphic Women series.
When she is not writing she is an advocate in Magistrates’ Courts for the Legal Aid Commission. She is not married, has no children and lives with a registered Wizard.
Death Before Wicket
Allen & Unwin
Copyright © Kerry Greenwood 1999
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.
First published in 1999 by
Allen & Unwin
9 Atchison Street,
St Leonards NSW 1590 Australia
Phone: (61 2) 8425 0100
Fax: (61 2) 9906 2218
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National Library of Australia
Death before wicket.
ISBN 1 86508 100 0.
Set in 12.75/13 pt Perpetua by Bookhouse Digital, Sydney Printed by Australian Print Group, Maryborough, Victoria
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
This book is dedicated to the remarkable and excellent Helen Gordon-Clark. Never a Xword between us.
1 Thank you, Woody dear.
With thanks to Jean Greenwood, Paul and Cassandra Franklin, Iriellen (Paddy) Duane, Ian Johnson and his father A.E. Johnson, Dr William Cochrane, David Greagg, Jenny Pausacker, Sue Tonkin, Dennis Pryor and Richard Revill, as always.
I might be swimming in a crystal pool
I might be wooing some delicious dame
I might be drinking something long and cool
I can’t imagine why I play this game
Stinking Yarra: a contemptuous phrase addressed to Melbournites by Sydney folk in return for Melbourne’s sardonic comment on ‘Our Bridge’ and ‘Our Harbour’
Sidney J. Baker,
A Dictionary of Australian Slang
ydney struck Phryne Fisher, quite literally, in the face. Up to then, the journey had been uneventful. She had alighted from the train at Central Station, collected her maid, her baggage, her two attendant young men, Jocelyn Hart and Clarence Ottery, and her shady hat. She had surrendered her ticket and was standing in the street while one of the young men found a taxi. The heat was oppressive. The air was heavy with dust, smoke and incipient storm. Phryne was scratchy from lack of sleep and the difficulties consequent with washing and dressing in a confined space. The city seemed crowded, noisy and more than a little grimy and she was not disposed to like it.
Then a beggar woman, hefting a whimpering baby, whined for a penny. Phryne obliged, and the woman, laughing, thrust a handful of flowers into her face. They settled on her bodice, yellow and white.
The sudden sweetness was a shock. They were frangipani, seen only in florists in Melbourne. They were scented like lemon chiffon pudding and, ever after, when Phryne thought of Sydney, she smelt frangipani.
The day began to improve. The square black cab drew up and Phryne and her party were whisked away, tracking round a rather pleasant green park and up a narrow street.
‘This is Pitt Street,’ volunteered the first young man, Joss. ‘We thought that you might like to go to your hotel first, Miss Fisher, and then we could take you for a bit of a tour after lunch.’
‘Very kind,’ murmured Phryne, who wanted a bath. Sydney appeared to be composed of begrimed yellowish stone. The side streets were steep and crooked. She was passing theatres—the Ascot, the Lyceum—clearly built by people who really appreciated decoration and couldn’t have enough of it. The taxi came to a sudden halt in a precipitous street lined with blocky banks.
‘What’s happening?’ asked Clarence of the short, sweating man at the wheel.
‘Arr, they ain’t got the sense God gave to geese,’ snarled the driver, mashing his cigarette butt between his teeth. ‘Moving a thing like that at nine in the morning!’
Crossing Pitt Street was a truck carrying what Phryne was sure was the biggest bronze bell she had ever seen. It proceeded with casual grace, unconcerned at the increased level of tension in the city, which could almost be smelt like ozone after lightning. Taxis revved engines and swore. Omnibuses seethed. Passing small boys gaped.
‘It’s a church bell,’ she commented.
‘I can see that, lady, and they didn’t ought to be moving it at this hour!’ returned the driver. ‘A man’s got a living to make!’
Interesting, Phryne thought. A Melbourne taxi-driver would never have spoken to her so freely. The bell trundled on to its destination and the cab resumed the road with a jerk. Sydney went past in a cloud of oily dust and Phryne decided she could see it later.
In all, it was something of a relief to be deposited alive at the solemn doors of the Hotel Australia. A young man paid the driver and Phryne ascended the steps to receive the bow of the bemedalled individual who minded the door.
He saw a slight, small woman in a natural cotton dress with a dropped waist, pale stockings and shoes, a natural straw hat with a harlequin scarf in pink, black and green and the set expression and black fingernails of those who had recently detrained from the Limited Express. He estimated her ensemble at more than a year’s pay and deepened his bow. Phryne nodded and went past, trailing an unmistakeable maid carrying a soft leather vanity case and three hotel porters bearing her luggage. Monogrammed, of course, thought the doorman.
The expression did not noticeably relax until Phryne was lying full length in a bath scented with Rose de Gueldy, scrubbing her neck. She twiddled a gold-mounted tap with one foot.
‘I don’t know how one gets so filthy travelling on a train, but one does,’ she remarked to Dorothy Williams, her personal attendant. ‘How are you, Dot dear?’
‘Hot,’ replied the young woman. ‘But this tea’s a treat. Nothing like a nice cuppa. And this is a real nice apartment, Miss.’
‘It is rather spiffy. You can rely on the Hotel Australia—or so they say.’ Phryne gazed complacently at her splendid bathroom, built in the days when having a bath was a major and possibly life-threatening event. The bath was raised on a platform of polished marble. The walls were tiled with marble in a soothing dark grey and the cool floor was as smooth as ice. A bank of mirrors reflected Miss Fisher’s admirable form, getting cleaner by the minute. A marble Roman boy stood on a plinth, taking a thorn out of his foot. Ferns sprouted from a brass jardinière. In addition the water was hot and the feeling of ground-in grit was leaving Phryne. A multitude of the fluffiest towels awaited her emergence. Bliss.
‘Miss, I can’t find the present for the Vice Chancellor,’ called Dot. Phryne rose, shedding foam. The Roman boy would have recognised Venus Anadyomene. ‘Now, what did I bring?’ Phryne asked herself, reaching for a towel. ‘I was tossing up between the Roederer Crystal—the ‘22, of course, and the Laphroig single malt. The whisky, Dot, it’s packed in its own box. Try the trunk. I decided that the champagne might get bruised by travelling. I’m a little bruised myself.’
‘Me, too, Miss. I know I’ve stopped moving but my feet think they’re still on the train.’ Dot laid aside a shoe-bag and found an oblong wooden box. ‘Here’s the whisky, Miss. That’s a relief.’
‘Even more of a relief that someone hasn’t pinched it. Well, here we are, Dot. Sydney.’
‘Yes, Miss.’ Dot was dubious about the merits of the journey and of the city. It had seemed too big, too loud, too noisy and too thickly inhabited to be really respectable or safe. In any case, out of her own area, Dot felt acutely uncomfortable.
‘Cheer up, Dot dear! This ought to be fun. What could be more pleasant than a few days at the Test cricket, dinner with the Vice Chancellor, a little sightseeing, a trip on a ferry, and the Artist’s Ball with that up-and-coming young modernist Chas Nuttall? A pattern young woman could not occupy herself so politely.’
‘And no murders, Miss,’ said Dot cautiously.
‘No murders at all,’ Phryne assured her. ‘Now, a nap, a little light lunch in due course and Joss and Clarence are coming to take me for a walk around the city this afternoon. It will be all right, Dot, you’ll see. A nice, peaceful holiday.’
Phryne flung herself down onto linen sheets on a well-sprung double bed, cast a bolster onto the carpeted floor, and was asleep in seconds. Dot looked at her.
‘I do hope so, Miss,’ she replied. She went to close the shutters against the roar of traffic in Castlereagh Street preparatory to taking her bath.
An hour later Dot was still leaning on the windowsill, staring at the harbour. It was fascinating. She had consulted the
Guide To Sydney
, which the Hotel Australia supplied to all its first class patrons, and was beginning to have a rough idea of both history and geography.
From her view above the warehouses of Circular Quay she could see constant traffic moving on the water under the half-built claw shape of the bridge. Devastated areas attended each end of the structure, which was crawling with life. Dot supposed that they must have demolished a lot of houses both on her end and at Milson’s Point. She was not deceived by the statement in the
which told her that this was ‘a much-overdue slum clearance’. Dot herself came from a slum. Where did the people go when they tore down all of those little houses, she wondered. Were they living in the street, like the beggar woman with the baby? Sleeping on the beach? Banished to the bush? Who cared about them, now that everyone was hungry? Who cared about them, now that Sydney was building a bridge?