A Question of Death - Overheard on the Balcony

Phryne and Dot head to the Queenscliff Hotel for a Christmas in June dinner hosted by Tom Adams.
Phryne and Dot sign in and then sit by the fire in the parlour. They are greated by a pale girl called Emmy Harbottle and her husband Genral Alex Harbottle and a buxom readhead named Lilith Johnson a writer of erotic novels. Also at the party was Zechariah Silk the cubist poet who was beating the genral at chess.

Emmy gets up to go for a lie down but her husband getting angry forces her to stay by pinching her a producing a letter from his pocket. Phryne intercepts and takes Emmy for a lie down. Dot says she will stay with Emmy and agrees to meet Phryne to dress her at seven thirty. Phryne spend the afternoon wandering the pier and riding the ferry.

Phryne goes down for dinner and is greeted by Tom who seems ill at ease. Phryne asks what possessed him to invite the general and Tom says he owed him a favour and that his wife was Toms cousin. They sit to dine and the general is his bolshy self. His wife tries to calm him but he threatens her with the letter and she balks. The General starts a fight with the poet by calling him a conchie and Tom Adams tries to calm him but the general says he knows Toms secret and calls Lilith a slut. This kills the conversation and the plum pudding is served. The General eats his and falls to the floor dead.

Whilst they await the doctor Phyrne and Dot sit with Emmy who is calm and seems more relieved than distressed. Phryne thinks about Tom being blackmailed and wonders what Liliths secret could be. The constable arrives as Phryne is about to take a walk and she asks him what killed the General . The policeman tells her it was an overdose of his heart pills.

After the police have finished with the guests they retire for bed. Phryne wonders when the Genral could have been poisoned as it could not be at dinner as the courses were shared. Phryne can't sleep so she goes for a walk and finds Tom Adam's as he can't sleep either. She asks Tom if he poisoned the General but Tom says no. Phryne asks what the General had on Tom and Tom tells her he was married in London but had been courting recently. Tom said he believes his wife is dead and has someone trying to find out for him. He says the General blackmailed him for invitations to society events. Phryne ask what the General had on Lilith and Tom tells her that Lilith has a blameless home life and her femme fatale personality is an act but if her readers found out she was a housewife her books would not sell. Phryne goes to get a cocktail.

The next morning the guests are told not to leave the hotel. The police say the General was poisoned with Digitalin and search the guests property but no one had any drugs. As they eat lunch Phryne struggles to recall something about the waiter that served plum pudding. She recalls something odd about the colour of his hands. She grabs Zecheriah who is behind her and pulls him onto the balcony where she tells him she knows he is a fraud. He asks how she knew and she says that his glasses did not magnify when he put them on the menu and his hair looked dead like a wig.

Then she asks why he murdered the general. Phryne says it was Silk that dressed as the waiter than served the pudding. Phryne asks why he did it and he says that he was a soldier and Alex was his General. Then he tells Phryne that Alex sent his battalion to their death except for him as he was imprisoned by Turks and kept for two years. Silk tells Phryne that he took on this persona to get his poems published and that he had been engaged to Emmy before the war. He said the letter the General has threatened her with was his letter to her.

Phryne asks how he poisoned the General and he says he had a knife smeared with the poisons so when he left the room he changed into the waiter outfit and brought the pudding back and cut it up. He asks how Phryne knew it was him and she said because of his poem about foxgloves whose poison is digitalin. Phryne asks what he will do now and he says he will got to Africa to treat people as he used to be a medical student. Phryne promises not to reveal him unless someone else gets blamed.

At that moment Emmy rushes out onto the balcony saying she heard the whole conversation. She kisses Silk and says she’s sorry and she only got married because she thought he was dead and she had no money. Silk says they can't be together now as this horrible secret would drive them apart. She asks why he didnt come back for her and Silk says because she was rich and well looked after and he had nothing to offer but they really can't be together after a murder.

Lilith then joins them on the balcony and gives them a note from the General saying he killed himself. Phryne asked Lilith how she got the note and she says that the General was pursuing her as he thought she was a fallen woman and pushed the note under her door.

Silk and Emmy retire to her room happy that Silk had not killed the General and Phryne asks Lilith for the rest of the story Lilith tells Phryne that the General was threatening to reveal an affair she had in a moment of weakness to her husband and said she would have to have a lifelong affair with him if she didn’t want him to reveal her secret. Lilith says she invited the general to her room and gave him a glass of wine with his heart pills dissolved in and then stole one of the suicidal notes he was prone to writing to make it look like suicide. Phryne promises not to reveal the truth.   

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