While patience has never typically been Phryne's strong suit, when it comes to Jack, it has to be her watchword. She reminds herself of this as she pours him a nightcap, and then an admittedly larger one for herself.
Despite the unusually late hour, he looks as staid as ever in his suit and tie as he accepts the drink. She takes her own to her seat and sets it on the coffee table, watching him.
"As much as I'd like to think you're here for the excellent company and even better brandy, I get the impression that there's something on your mind," she says, sitting forward to get a bit closer to him.
"Astute as ever, Miss Fisher," he says, and sips the brandy. That's a good sign, she thinks - it is quite good brandy, and whatever the problem is, it hasn't upset him so much that he can't enjoy it. "As I'm sure you can imagine, there have been a few changes in the Victoria Police recently."
"You mean because its Commissioner was blackmailed into retirement and the Deputy Commissioner did the blackmailing, along with taking bribes and looking the other way on child slavery?" asks Phryne, one delicate eyebrows raised.
Jack's mouth settles into an unhappy line, and he takes another, somewhat larger sip of his brandy. "Yes, that would be why."
"Ah," says Phryne.
"George Sanderson wasn't the only crooked one, as it turns out, and flushing them out has left more than a few positions open." Jack gives his brandy a long look, and adds, "And since I was the one to arrest George, it seems that many of the people who make these kinds of decisions think that promoting me would send a strong message."
Phryne sits up straighter. "As well it would! A promotion - congratulations, Jack."
"It would be a desk job," Jack tells his brandy. "Administrative. Important, obviously, but…"
Phryne's enthusiasm withers as the point sinks in. "No more solving crimes."
"It's important work," Jack repeats.
"Of course," says Phryne faintly.
Jack looks up at her finally, and there's something in his eyes that seems almost beseeching. "It's a wonderful opportunity," he says.
Phryne takes a breath. "Of course it is," she repeats, her voice stronger. "And they couldn't find a finer detective for the job."
Jack blinks at her. "You think that I should take it?"
Phryne blinks back. "Do you think you shouldn't?"
He tilts his head, almost in a concession. "It would - well, it would mean that we would no longer be able to solve murders together. I admit, I did expect some mention of that, at least."
She watches his movements - small but noticeable as he draws back slightly, and it occurs to her that he may have come here so she would tell him not to take it. Her mouth settles into an understanding half-smile. "Jack. If you came here for advice, you can ask for it. But I would never ask you to stall your own career just for the sake of our partnership. Not if it was what you wanted." His expression changed not a bit as she spoke, and that in and of itself was somewhat suspicious. "Do you want it?"
Jack sighs. "I think I'm rather more use to everyone if I'm not trapped behind a desk. And to be honest, I'd rather be promoted because I deserve it, not because I happened to be the one to arrest a corrupt Commissioner."
"Well," says Phryne, pleased and not bothering to hide it, "while I think you're selling yourself short, I can hardly argue with the results. You have your answer right there."
Jack looks at her, the smallest smile curving his lips. "When you put it like that, it seems admirably simple," he says, and drains the brandy with one last quick sip. "I apologize for barging in at this hour."
"Nonsense," says Phryne, taking her cue from him and standing up. "You should know by now that you're always welcome here, no matter what the hour, the reason, or what propriety has to say." She smiles sunnily. "I've never much been one for propriety."
"I would call that an understatement," says Jack, and lets Phryne lead him to the door.
"I have bad news and more bad news," says Phryne, coming into Jack's office and perching herself on the edge of Jack's desk. "Which would you like first?"
Jack looks up at her from beneath raised brows. "When you put it like that, I suppose I'll take the bad news."
"Emelina Miller didn't kill her husband."
Jack sits back in his chair. "I presume you have proof?"
"That's the other bad news, I'm afraid," says Phryne, and rolls one of her sleeves up to show a clean white bandage wrapped around her forearm.
Jack immediately sits forward. "What happened? Are you all right?"
"Emelina stabbed me, or tried to, anyway," says Phryne, "and I'm perfectly fine. Didn't even need stitches, and I had Mac take a look at it to be certain."
"You were stabbed and you haven't even been to hospital?" Jack asks, incredulous.
"I did work in an ambulance during the war. I think I can tell whether a scratch needs stitches or not."
Jack sighs and scrubs his face with one hand. "And somehow, the fact that Emeline Miller assaulted you with a knife makes you think that she didn't stab her husband to death?"
"Yes," says Phryne grimly, "because she got me with her left hand and the coroner said that whoever killed Jonathan Miller was right-handed."
Jack closes his eyes briefly in resignation. "Which means that our only viable suspect can't have done it."
"Well, we know that someone had to," says Phryne. "Unless Mr. Miller had the fortitude to stab himself almost twenty times."
"Unlikely for a sixty-seven-year-old," Jack agrees.
"Perhaps we'd better take another look at Miller's uncle," says Phryne. "They were business partners, after all. Money may have been a motive." She looks at Jack invitingly. "In the mood for a spot of interrogation?"
Jack frowns at her bandaged arm. "Aren't you worried about your clothes, gallivanting about like this?"
"What?" Phryne follows Jack's pointed gaze at her arm. "Of course not. That's what the bandage is for."
"Still," says Jack, still eyeing the bandage, "surely it must be painful."
Phryne rolls her eyes. "Honestly, Jack, it's just a scratch. I've had much worse."
Jack raises his eyebrows. "Is that meant to make me feel any better?"
Phryne gives him a perilously pleasant smile and holds the arm out in front of his face. "If it would make you feel better, you can kiss it better."
Jack's eyes go from Phryne's face to her arm and back again. Then he brings his own hand up, threading his fingers between her thumb and hand, so that their palms are together, and gently pulls Phryne's hand down to rest on the desk. "Much as I appreciate the offer, I'm afraid I'll have to pass," he says, his hand still entwined with Phryne's.
Phryne's smile relaxes at the edges, softening into something more comfortable as she glanced down at their hands. "'Palm to palm is holy palmer's kiss,'" she quotes, raising an eyebrow at Jack.
Jack pulls his hand away hurriedly, clearing his throat. "I always thought Romeo and Juliet was terribly overrated," he says.
"Oh?" says Phryne. "More for the histories, were you?"
"The comedies, actually," says Jack.
Phryne gives a small hmm of understanding. "Born to speak all mirth and no matter, were you?"
Jack cracks a rare smile of his own, and quotes, looking Phryne square in the eye, "'I will live in thy heart, die in thy eyes, and be buried in thy heart...and moreover I will go with thee to his uncle's.'"
Phryne tries to hold back a smile, and informs him, "I think you might be a bit off on the quote."
"Needs must, Miss Fisher."
Jack seems distracted as Phryne lays out precisely how Mr. Kendall staged his wife's murder to hide the fact that she had in fact left him for a French artist he had hired to paint their portrait, barely even glancing at the incriminating and lascivious nudes she provides to bolster her case.
"I have to say, Jack, you're usually a better audience than this," Phryne finishes, letting the sketches fall onto his desk.
Jack rubs the side of his face. "My apologies, Miss Fisher," he says. "I had hoped to at least finish the case before...well." He sighs, and the look that he gives Phryne is at once sympathetic and understanding. "Murdoch Foyle's hanging has been scheduled."
It's strange, how the mere mention of Murdoch Foyle can make Phryne feel so hot with rage and so cold at the same time. "Oh?" she says.
"As the...as Janey's sister, you can attend," Jack adds, rather unnecessarily, in Phryne's opinion.
Phryne leans away to sit up a bit straighter in Jack's uncomfortable office chair and laces her fingers together in her lap. "In this case, I think my being there will give him more satisfaction than it would give me," she says. "And you? As the arresting officer, surely you must be...'invited' is a terrible term."
"Although I don't usually make a habit of attending hangings," says Jack, with a conceding tilt of his head, "the murderers I arrest don't usually make a habit of staging their own deaths, either. Under the circumstances, I intend to stay with the body from gallows to crematorium, just to be certain."
Phryne manages a small smile for that. "Thank you, Jack."
"There's no need to thank me," says Jack, and adds with a straight face, "He escaped from prison once, and it would be terribly embarrassing if he did it again on my watch." He looks down at the sketches on his desk, paying attention for the first time. Phryne watches as his eyebrows shoot towards his hairline, and he looks away quickly. "Clearly I should have been paying much more attention when you explained Mr. Kendall's plan the first time," he says to the ceiling. "Are these relevant to the case, or do you simply enjoy making me blush?"
"As much as I certainly do love that," says Phryne, and launches one more into Mr. Kendall's not-actual-murder.
There isn't too much blood, at least, although that could be because the wound itself is relatively small - the bullet glanced off his skull, barely grazing him. Phryne kneels next to him, ignoring the droplets soaking into her stockings.
Jack blinks a few more times, looking up at Phryne with one eye half-closed in a pained squint. "Delacort?" he asks, his voice hazy around the edges.
Phryne glances over to where Dot and Hugh are taking care of Harold Delacort, whose gun has been confiscated (Hugh) and whose leg has been most thoroughly shot (Phryne). "Hugh is arresting him now," she says to Jack, pulling a handkerchief from her purse. She wads it into a ball and places it over the wound, pressing. Jack gives an abbreviated inhale of pain, and Phryne grasps his hand to replace her own on the handkerchief. "Put pressure on that," she tells him, and lets go when he does. "Follow my finger." His eyes track her finger as she moves it across his field of vision. "Can you tell me your name?"
Jack briefly closes his eyes. "Miss Fisher - "
"No, that's my name, I asked for yours."
Jack opens his eyes again enough to give Phryne a look. "Detective Inspector Jack Robinson, Victoria Police, City South Police Station, badge number three-two-four-nine. Would you like me to repeat it so you can commit it to memory? In case you need it for any tomfoolery going forward." Jack frowns. "Miss Fisher, your hands are shaking."
Phryne lets out a barked laugh. "I thought I'd seen you shot to death in front of me. It's a miracle I haven't shaken to pieces. How are you feeling?"
"I do have a bit of a headache," Jack says, dry as ever, and Phryne feels something in her relax slightly.
"Let's get you sitting up." Phryne braces one of his shoulders and the elbow of the arm still holding the handkerchief to his head, and helps him sit up. His face goes from pale to downright gray, and he sways forward alarmingly - Phryne moves closer, but Jack gives a tight shake of his head.
"I'm all right," he says, and the tension in his voice makes it impossible for Phryne to believe him.
"The bullet only grazed you - you shouldn't be this disoriented," she says, using one hand to sweep back the hair over the handkerchief and feel for fractures in his skull.
"Cracked my head when I fell," Jack mutters, his eyes half-closed. "Luckily, I have a hard skull."
"Given how many blows to the head you've received just since I met you, I'm grateful for it," says Phryne. "Any dizziness? Nausea?"
"Well, I was just shot in the head," Jack says. "I believe I'm entitled."
"Let's get you on your feet," says Phryne, hooking one arm beneath his and around his shoulders. "If you get a chance, warn me if your breakfast is going to make a reappearance. I'm not overly fond of these shoes anyway."
"Standing might be a tough order at the moment," Jack admits.
"That's why I'm here," Phryne says. "To be leaned on. Up we get."
As much as Phryne enjoys a big party - and she does - there's something about having just the people dearest to her (and Aunt Prudence), several bottles of champagne, and music in her parlour to celebrate her birthday. It's rather delightful, as Midsummers go: Cec and Burt are conversing surprisingly easily with Aunt Prudence, Hugh and Dot are off in their own little world, and Mac is telling Jane gratifyingly gruesome tales of her medical students' mishaps. Mr. Butler, somewhat surprisingly, has paused in circulating the champagne and is deep in conversation with Jack. This requires further investigation.
"So, gentlemen," she says, snagging another flute of champagne off Mr. Butler's tray, "what's the conversation like over here?"
"The Inspector was kind enough to offer some advice for growing gardenias, Miss," says Mr. Butler, as prim as ever.
"Oh?" says Phryne, surveying Jack with raised eyebrows. Apparently gardenias, along with nude paintings of Phryne herself, will make Jack blush. "I had no idea you were such an avid gardener."
"Every man has his hobbies," says Jack.
Before Phryne can interrogate him further on the subject, the telephone rings. Mr. Butler moves to put his tray of champagne down, and Phryne stops him with a shake of her head.
"Nonsense, Mr. Butler, don't let me interrupt your conversation."
Phryne answers the phone herself with a quick, "Miss Fisher's residence, Phryne Fisher speaking."
"Hello, yes - I was told that Detective Inspector Jack Robinson could be found at this number tonight? I'm afraid he's needed urgently for an investigation."
"Oh, dear," Phryne says, mostly to herself. She holds the receiver to her chest and calls, "Jack, I'm afraid it's for you."
Jack comes into the hall with a grimace of resignation. "The station?" he asks, and Phryne nods as she holds out the receiver. He takes it, and she returns to the doorway to the parlour, trying not to eavesdrop too obviously. Jack's responses, however, provide very little information, and by the time he hangs up the receiver and joins her, she's no closer to identifying the case than she was before.
"Duty calls, I'm afraid," he tells her.
"Murder?" she asks, and he nods.
"Hugh, at least, can have the evening to stay with his fiancé," Jack says. "His part can wait until tomorrow."
"And you can't have the evening to stay with me?" Phryne asks, batting her eyelashes at him invitingly. Their faces are, she notes, delightfully close.
Jack looks at her for a moment, lost for words, before looking down. "Not tonight, I'm afraid. But - " After a moment's hesitation, he lays a kiss on her cheek, chaste but lingering, and with his face only inches from hers whispers, "Happy birthday, Miss Fisher."
The heat lingers on Phryne's cheek, but she smiles and says, "I trust you'll let me know if the murder's an interesting one?"
"Of course," Jack promises. "What else would I get you for your birthday but a particularly thorny murder?"