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39

Sorry to bother you with another message, Mrs. Bryce. Roberta Woods poured tea into a thick mug. But you did say that you wanted to be kept informed of anything of interest having to do with Mr. Hastings and his visits to Phoenix House.

Thats right, Roberta, please dont apologize. I was delighted to get your message. Louisa took the notepad and pencil out of her muff and put them down on the table. What have you learned?

They were sitting in the tiny upstairs parlor of the little house on Swanton Lane. It was midafternoon, and things were relatively quiet at the moment. The women of the streets seldom showed up until after dark. The muffled clang of pots and pans echoed from the kitchen, where the cook and her assistant were busy with preparations for the evening meal.

Roberta was a strong, vital woman who seemed animated from head to toe with the zealous energy and determination of a dedicated social reformer. She set the mugs on the table and sat down across from Louisa.

A woman who claimed her name was Daisy showed up here just before dawn this morning, she said. The poor thing looked quite dreadful. She works at Phoenix House. A few days ago one of the customers beat her within an inch of her life.

Good heavens. Did she need a doctor?

She refused to see one. Said she couldnt afford it. I told her that this establishment would pay the doctors fee, but she still refused. I could tell that she was badly frightened.

Of the man who beat her?

No, that is the interesting part. Robertas eyes narrowed. She was afraid of the proprietor of the brothel.

Madam Phoenix?

Yes.

Did she say why?

It seems that Daisy was more or less sold to the proprietor by one of her dead husbands creditors.

Louisas fingers tightened around the pencil. Not the first time weve heard that sad story from a woman who works at Phoenix House, is it?

No, Roberta agreed in steely tones. It isnt. In any event, Daisy was sure the proprietor would be furious if she discovered that one of her girls had run off before she had earned back her purchase price, so to speak.

Go on.

Roberta drank some tea and put down the mug. Daisy fled Phoenix House for good this morning. She had a little suitcase with her. She came here to ask for help. She said shed heard rumors that someone at this establishment was willing to pay for information on one of the clients at Phoenix House. Elwin Hastings.

Did you give her some money?

Yes. Then I sent her to The Agency. She will be safe there, at least for now. They will conceal her identity.

What did Daisy tell you about Hastings?

Not a great deal, but you might find it interesting. Because of the beating, Daisy has been unable to earn her keep for the past few days. She was assigned to work as a maid until she healed, and she was told to keep out of sight of the customers. One of her tasks has been to scrub Madam Phoenixs private bath every day.

Yes?

Well, yesterday, while she was going about her duties she overheard a conversation between Madam Phoenix and her lover.

Louisa looked up. The proprietor of the brothel has a lover?

Evidently. Daisy was in the bath, cleaning, at the time. She didnt hear everything, but she did catch Elwin Hastingss name.

What was said about him?

Daisy only caught snatches of the conversation, but she said that it was obvious that Madam Phoenix and her lover were arguing about Hastings. Madam Phoenix wanted to wait a little longer to do something. Her lover told her she should do it immediately.

Do what?

Roberta moved one hand in a frustrated gesture. Thats just it, Daisy didnt know. All she could tell me was that Madam Phoenix and her lover disagreed about when something should be done about Hastings. She said the quarrel was quite intense.

Louisa made another note and then sat back, pondering the possibilities. Did she say who won the argument?

Roberta made a face. Madam Phoenix, of course. Daisy says shes very strong willed. No one goes against her, not even her lover. According to Daisy he does whatever Madam Phoenix tells him to do.

Louisa picked up the mug and drank some tea. Did Daisy know the name of the lover?

She said no one knows his name. He comes and goes through the kitchen door, not the main entrance, and he always uses the servants stairs. The staff is instructed to allow him into the house whenever he shows up.

How often does he visit?

That was one of the interesting things Daisy told me, Roberta said quietly. It seems that the lover often meets Madam Phoenix in her private rooms at the same time that Hastings is getting his treatment.

Louisa tapped the tip of the pencil against the table. How did she describe him?

Said he was handsome enough, if you liked the hard-eyed type. Daisy does not like that sort, by the way. Dark-haired. Always wears an overcoat when he comes to visit.

That could describe a thousand men. Anything else?

One more thing, Roberta said. Daisy said he wore a very fine ring. Onyx and gold.

Louisa caught her breath. Then she wrote the name very carefully in her notebook.

Quinby.


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