Part of Alice's new job as pathologist included working with the Ballarat police, examining suspicious deaths. Her main colleague in this endeavor was Dr. Lucien Blake. A pompous lout who could not keep his hands to himself, Alice disliked him immediately. He lectured her like a professor, came to the morgue unannounced at all hours, and drank on the job. He always seemed to be touching her hand or shoulder. Alice started to wonder if she had lept from the frying pan into the fire. Most maddening of all, Blake was convinced that at all times he was the smartest man in the room. Alice knew that was not true, especially in her morgue.
Blake seemed to rarely work alone. One or more of a circle of colleagues were never far away, usually taking up space in her morgue while she was trying to work. He was close with several police constables who seemed to look up to him, but she doubted any of them were smart enough to be of much help on cases. A lodger of his, a local nurse, was polite and intelligent. He had a housekeeper that followed him around town like a lost puppy. Alice felt both sympathy and contempt for the woman. He was clearly sticking it to her and she was either too stupid or too desperate to hide it. The Chief Superintendent, Matthew Lawson, worked closely with Blake and was often in tow, trying to sort out the consequences of Blake's irresponsible actions. Gruff and unrefined like most of his ilk, he had a surprisingly gentle personality when not barking orders at his men. He seemed to be the only man on the police force who was not afraid of her or snickering behind her back. If he could only reign in Blake he might actually be tolerable. Any time any of these people mentioned Blake's name all they did was complain about him. According to them he was erratic, difficult, and thoughtless, yet they all hung around. Alice wondered what was wrong with all of them.
Despite a mutual dislike of each other, Alice found that settling into a working partnership with Blake was easier than expected. He seemed to genuinely respect her intellect and her opinions. His cases would bring her into the morgue at odd hours, but that was not different from a regular hospital shift. He did not come on to her as she feared he would. In fact he did something far stranger. Facing a health crisis, he turned to Alice for help. He wanted Alice to run some blood tests and advise him. Alice was stunned. It was one thing to trust her professional judgement with the dead, it was another to entrust his living body to her. Alice couldn't help but soften towards him after that. In their months working together he had never done anything to harm her, and it seemed like he trusted her. Maybe she could risk trusting him too.
Less than a year later, her life was in turmoil. Lawson had been sent to Melbourne to face corruption charges. In his place was William Munro, a controlling and officious man with a cruel streak. When Lawson or Doug Ashby had come down to the morgue it was always to learn about her work and discuss cases. With Munro it was to apply needless pressure and watch for mistakes. He put everyone around him on edge, including Dr. Blake. Blake acted like he was immune to Munro's barbs but Alice knew him well enough by now to see that Blake was scared too.
When the body of a surgeon was found murdered in the hospital, Munro set his sights on Alice. Alice was never seriously a suspect, but she had done some questionable things. The surgeon that died was the same one who had laid hands on her, the same one who had turned the whole hospital against her. And now his colleagues were lionizing him while the nurses tearfully mourned him. Except Alice. Alice called his wife and told him what a horrible person he was. She said he was an adulterer who liked to hurt women. Being separated from her husband, Alice thought she would appreciate her honesty. Instead she too complained, and Alice and Blake both got caught in the blast zone. It was the only time Blake had ever been truly angry with her. Alice knew she had been wrong, but she defended her actions to the end. She argued her reasons, but even as she spoke them they rang hollow in her own ears. She knew she did it because she wanted revenge on the surgeon and anyone who loved him. She wanted revenge on her father and brother. She was tired of being overlooked. Alice wanted the pigs of the world to stand up and take notice. Instead her actions had the opposite effect. Alice was humiliated, painted as both the other woman and the woman scorned at the same time. Munro asked the hospital to suspend her pending a full investigation. He interrogated her like a common criminal.
Blake took the heat just as badly as she did even though he had done nothing wrong. By all rights he should have abandoned Alice to her fate. Instead, Blake stood by her. He refused to leave her in the police station alone. He had stalked in during her interrogation and had a row with Munro over her treatment. That alone should have gotten him fired. Afterwards, he sat outside and listened as twenty five years of pain, fear, and bitterness came to the surface. Alice knew she should feel ashamed of acting so weak around Blake, but she didn't. Something in his manner, in the way he moved to protect her without asking, made her know she'd be safe. He reminded Alice of that teacher who had intervened all those years ago. She started to understand why his friends were so loyal to him.
Alice did not know the full extent of his protection until several days later. The expected suspension did not happen, so she kept working. She found out, after the fact, that Blake had resigned from the police force in order to save Alice's job. She would not have stood for it, but by the time she found out it was done. It's likely that Blake would never have told her. She found out instead from Matthew Lawson. Unable to make corruption charges stick, Lawson had been demoted and sent back to Ballarat. His appearance caused an uproar at the police station that even Alice could not fail to notice. She did not expect to find him standing in her morgue the next day.
"Superintendent, you're back."
"Not Superintendent, Detective Inspector."
"I see. Blake's not here."
With nothing else to say, Alice turned back to prepping the microscope slide she was working on.
"I expect not. I suppose we'll be looking for a new police surgeon now."
Alice reeled around. "Excuse me?"
"Oh. He didn't tell you? Figures." Lawson pulled out a stool on the opposite side of the room and sat down. He told Alice about Blake's resignation and the deal he made with Munro. Alice sighed.
"I see," she turned back around and resumed her work. "I wish he hadn't done that."
It was a few minutes later that Alice noticed Lawson was still sitting on the stool.
"Why are you still here? Are we expecting a body?"
Lawson looked around the room as if he were enjoying a pleasant day outdoors. "I like it here. It's quiet."
"It's a morgue."
"Like I said, quiet."
"I should hope so. I'd be worried if it wasn't."
Lawson laughed a little. Alice couldn't help but smile as she moved the sample slide to the freezer. "You know usually only pathologists get pathology jokes."
"Too many years around corpses I guess."
Lawson sighed heavily. Alice realized that he probably expected her to keep talking to him. She hoped these visits were not going to become a regular occasion. She had work to do.
"How was Melbourne?"
Lawson shrugged. "It was there."
Alice turned back to her microscope. Lawson cleared his throat. "I should be going."
Alice did not look up. "Alright."