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If I Could Be With You (One Hour Tonight)

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They were outside shouting, as they had been every morning for the past fortnight; a small band of women, huddled together in smart suits and firmly gripping handmade signs. Whoever made the signs, Jack noted, had excellent penmanship.

“Lips that Touch Alcohol will Never Touch Mine!”

“Temperance for our children!”

“The police need to act!” one woman cried out, grabbing Jack’s arm. She was sweet-faced, young and sort of desperate-looking, with hair like a gold coin. “Think of the crime rate! The children! Our future!”

Jack removed her hand firmly. “I’ll take it under advisement. Ladies,” he said, nodding to them.

When he made his way inside, Hugh was standing at the window, peeking through the blinds. His hat was off and there was a full mug of tea cooling next to it. The morning’s filing, Jack noted, wasn’t finished.

“Constable Collins?” he said, keeping his tone mild. “Enjoying the parade of teetotalers this fine morning?”

Hugh startled, straightening his uniform as he turned around. “Sorry, sir. It’s just that, well, they’re quite loud, aren’t they?”

“They are at that,” Jack said, turning to hang his hat on the hook outside his office. It was worn smooth by several generations of civil servants and their mid-grade haberdashery. Jack always felt an odd kinship to those former policemen and their hats whenever he used it.

“It’s just, sir,” Jack could hear the exact tone of voice that meant that Constable Collins was Having an Idea, which also meant that Jack had better sit down and get comfortable.

“Do you think they have a point, sir?” Hugh jerked his head toward the window. “The temperance people?”

“They’ve been shouting their point up and down the street for weeks, Collins, I can hardly miss it.” Jack tapped his pen on his desk, sliding it through his fingers, then spinning it and tapping it again.

“No, I mean, we do have a lot of folks who get drunk and get in fights, or who get into debt because of their drinking, or that fellow we saw last week.” The fellow in question had taken a tumble off a balcony after sinking himself well into a bottle of Scotch. “Making alcohol illegal would have prevented all that.” He looked at Jack, hopeful and questioning, in a way that made Jack want to put his fist through the nearest wall.

But the paperwork, was the first thought that came to mind. The paperwork, the endless arrests, the creation of a whole new class of criminals and no new police officers to track them down. They’d be even more overworked than they were now, and they’d likely be off arresting some bloke with a bathtub of gin while another bloke was across town robbing a bank. There simply weren’t enough hours in the day. You’re getting bloody old, Jack Robinson, his poor, tired brain reminded him.

“Think about how many times we’d have to arrest Miss Fisher alone,” Jack suggested, a faint smile curving his lips as he watched Hugh blanch. “She’d keep us hopping and offer us a drink.”

“Too right, sir,” Hugh said fervently. “And what about the Catholics? They’d be missing wine at church.” He smiled and fidgeted with his coat, as if to appear casual. Hugh had the makings of a fine police officer; not fearful of action, always willing to do the right thing, ace at following orders, but subtle he was not.

“We wouldn’t want to disappoint the Catholics, now, would we?” Jack said, letting a brief smile touch his lips. “Now, let’s turn our attentions to the Barnaby case. Those bank records should take you most of the morning.”
Barnaby was a local dry goods merchant, found stabbed several times in his own storeroom. He’d been one of the wealthier men in town, and he’d made several secretive shipping deals in the days leading up to his death. A financial motivation was the clear first step, and Jack had Hugh going through the man’s labyrinth of financial records to look for inconsistencies, large money transfers, and so forth. Hugh had a head for figures and Jack was happy to shamelessly exploit that talent.

That left Jack to visit the man’s grieving widow and three children, aged 8 to 13. By all accounts they were a happy family. Jack was immediately suspicious of that fact. Who was really that happy? He’d seen too many “happy families” with nasty secrets, cruelty and shame bubbling under the surface. Show him a witness who said they’d hated the bastard, but not enough to kill him -- those were the ones he believed. He sighed, gathering the files together to review the statements the family had given.

He smelled her before he heard her. Or maybe smelled wasn’t the right word; a light hint of her jasmine perfume did always precede her into the room, but that was only part of it. The scent of jasmine, a brightening of the room, even on an already-bright hot summer morning, a loosening of the knot in his chest. He never realized that it was there until it was gone. He didn’t look up until a shimmering, painted fan dropped on top of the files. “Such a long face, Jack. The criminal class particularly busy this morning?”

“You tell me, Miss Fisher.” He looked up, letting her beauty and brightness settle over him. She was wearing a pale blue dress with beading on it. Jack didn’t know much about fashion, but it showed a good bit more of her collarbone than most ladies’ dresses. He fought the urge, sharp and hot, to reach out and trace the hollows under her neck. “You’re well-acquainted with most of the criminals in town, are you not?”

“You wound me,” she said, splaying her hand across the expanse of pale skin he’d just been staring at. He forced his eyes up to hers. “I’m here about Mr. Barnaby.”

“Of course you are,” he said, leaning back in his chair. “And how did you know the victim? Or,” he said, picking up the fan and handing it back to her, “did you just wake up this morning and sense that Father Christmas had left you a nice, juicy murder?”

She rolled her eyes at him, grabbing her fan back. Most people wouldn’t ever think that the gorgeous, glittering, wealthy Phryne Fisher had ever been raised in the dodgy parts of Collingwood. But it was there, if you looked. And Jack was always looking.

“Aunt Prudence,” she said, shrugging. “She knew his wife. Lovely woman, but,” she leaned forward, her eyes sparkling, “she’s new money,” she whispered, a puff of breath tickling Jack’s ear.

They left together, walking past the protesters on the street. “Miss! Miss!” one of the women shoved a pamphlet at Miss Fisher. “Alcohol makes men beat their wives and neglect their children,” she proclaimed. “Don’t you agree?”

Miss Fisher smiled, with a slight tightness around her eyes at first, but then deliberately brightened. “Keep the drink and ditch the man, I say.” She handed the pamphlet back to the woman with a wink.

***

Celia Barnaby was a tall woman, broad-shouldered and handsome. She had dark hair and blue eyes and carried her grief graciously, tears threatening to spill as she sat, stiff-backed in a winged armchair. She cleared her throat. “Tea, Detective Inspector? Miss Fisher?”

“No, thank you,” Jack waved the maid away. He reached into his pocket for his pencil, steadying his notepad against his knee. The maid was pouring Miss Fisher some tea, of course. Miss Fisher never ignored the social niceties.

“How can I help you?” Mrs. Barnaby spread her hands and let them settle on her lap, rubbing her palms against the silk of her dress.

“Mrs. Barnaby, if you could take us through the events of December fifteenth,” Jack prompted.

“Of course.” She nodded, dabbing the corner of her eye with a handkerchief. “Frank went to work at his usual time, around eight in the morning. I remember he wasn’t hungry -- that was unusual. He always had such a good appetite.” Her voice broke and she took a moment to compose herself.

Mrs. Barnaby kept her voice steady through the rest of her recitation. She had visited with her children before she sent them off to school. She wrote letters in the morning, which her staff could attest to, met with her sister for lunch, then attended the local Temperance Society meeting. It wasn’t until she arrived home and found the police at her doorstep that she found out what happened.

“He is -- was-- such a hard worker. He’d leave in the morning and I often wouldn’t hear from him or see him until quite late.”

“Did he receive any visitors? Letters, telephone calls, anything that seemed to alarm him?” Jack asked, making a note in his book: worked late -- rarely home.

Mrs. Barnaby shook her head. “As I said, he was at work for most of the days. He took care of most correspondence there.”

“You have a lovely home,” Miss Fisher said, lifting her teacup and tilting it toward the light. “This china is stunning. Quite rare, I should say.” She clinked the cup down and smiled. “Surely someone who was doing as well as your husband must have had some enemies? Wealthy men so often do.”

Mrs. Barnaby looked taken aback that Miss Fisher would bring up money in such a way, but Phryne was both rich and aristocratic, so she could get away with just about anything. “I’m sure,” she said hesitantly. “Business deals and so forth, but he never discussed such things with me in detail.” Tears welled in her eyes again. “Now if you’ll excuse me…?”

Jack stood and Miss Fisher followed. “Of course,” he said. “But I may call on you if I need further information.” He did not phrase it as a request.

“And please, Mrs. Barnaby, if there’s anything I can do…” Miss Fisher let the sentence hang as she embraced the woman and kissed her cheek. Miss Fisher took both of her hands and smiled warmly. “My aunt is everso fond of you.”

They settled themselves in the motorcar, pressed together on the small seat. “Something’s not quite right,” Miss Fisher said, tapping her chin. “Did you notice the maid?”

“The maid?” Jack asked, feeling slightly foolish that he hadn’t. Sloppy work on his part. He mentally reviewed the interview. “Petite, brunette, early 20s.” He shrugged, knowing it would annoy Miss Fisher. “Didn’t spill the tea. Didn’t look nervous.”

“That’s the thing, Jack!” Miss Fisher took out a compact, opened the mirror, and began applying a fresh coat of red lipstick. How she could do that in a moving motorcar, Jack would never know. That woman was a miracle. She finished, popping her lips, and turned to him. “Most staff would be either devastated to lose a caring employer or, more often, anxious about what their employer’s death means for their position, or, at the very least, positively vibrating with excitement and curiosity about the drama of the thing.” She tilted her head thoughtfully. “The maid seemed stiff. Wooden. Blank, almost.”

“Guilty?” Jack asked, trying to sift through his own memories of the girl.

Miss Fisher shook her head. “I don’t know. Either she did something or she knows someone who did.”

“She’s on the list,” Jack said, making a mental note. To his dismay, Miss Fisher wasn’t paying attention to him. She was looking out the window, appearing to admire the scenery. Jack feared a calm, contemplative Phryne nearly as much as he feared a wild, gun-waving Phryne. A shiver of excitement went up his spine, unbidden.

The car pulled up to the station. Jack exited first, holding the door open with one hand and helping Miss Fisher out with the other. She pressed her warm hand against his quickly, adjusting her skirts as she stepped out onto the street. “I don’t know why you won’t let me drive you around, Jack.” She slipped her sunglasses on, tossing the driver a brief, devastating smile. “My car is much nicer.”

“I value my life and all my limbs, Miss Fisher.” Jack took her elbow and guided her through the Temperance Society protesters.

“Isn’t Mrs. Barnaby a member of the Temperance Society?” Miss Fisher did a quick about-face and took a brochure from the nearest woman. No, Jack realized, not the nearest -- a woman who had the irrepressible look of a gossip. A friendly face, a little bored, eyes darting everywhere, more interested in her fellow protesters than her sign, which read GIN IS SIN in large, looping letters.

Miss Fisher jerked her head toward the door, indicating that he should go inside. Jack felt a moment of indignation, that he should be ordered around in front of his own station, but he hadn’t worked with Phryne this long to not trust her. He tipped his hat to the protestors and went inside as Phryne engaged the woman in conversation.

A quick visit with Collins confirmed what he had feared: someone was skimming money from Barnaby’s business. It had started subtly, a little here and a little there, and it continued in that way for well over a year. Then, in the past few weeks, the theft had become more blatant, large sums of money unaccounted for, shoddy bookkeeping, missing inventory lists. “Barnaby’s clerk,” Hugh said.

Jack shook his head. “We tried to call him in for questioning, but he’d left to care for his sister, who had taken ill. He’s been at her house in Whitehorse for the past month.”

“So the clerk leaves to take care of his sister, and nobody is watching the books so closely…” Hugh said, smoothing out the ledgers in front of him and tapping on the page.

“Christmas comes early,” Jack finished. “But what I don’t understand is why this man, who by all accounts lived for his work, is being such a shoddy manager? That doesn’t add up with what we know about him.”

“Because he was too worried about his wife’s affair,” Miss Fisher announced. “Hello, Hugh. I swear, you get taller every time I see you.”

Hugh stood even taller and cleared his throat. “Miss Fisher.”

“Cleolinda Frost, of the Melbourne Temperance Society,” she said, winking at Jack, “has a keen eye for the human condition.”

“A gossip,” Jack put in, leaning back against his desk.

“The very best kind,” Phryne agreed. “She said that she’d noticed all kinds of odd behavior from Mrs. Barnaby in the past few months. Smiling, secret notes passed to her maid, missing Society meetings…” she trailed off, raising her eyebrows at Jack.

“Sounds like we need to talk to the maid,” Jack said.

***

The maid’s name was Dierdre. She tried to run when they caught up to her at the greengrocer’s, which Jack expected, and burst into tears once Miss Fisher caught her with one arm around her shoulders and one pressed gently but firmly into the small of her back.

“I don’t want to lose my position, sir,” she sobbed.

“You don’t need to worry about a thing, my dear,” Miss Fisher said, rubbing her back. “I can guarantee you a position no matter what.”

“It’s Bobby,” Dierdre said, then broke down again. “Oh, Bobby, what have you done?” Bobby, as it turned out, was Dierdre’s brother, Robert Harrigan. Robert worked for Mr. Barnaby in one of his warehouses. He’d gotten himself in some kind of trouble with Gerald, Mr. Barnaby’s foreman. It might not be related to the master’s death, but Dierdre feared the worst.

“Was Mrs. Barnaby faithful?” Miss Fisher asked. “Did she have a man on the side?” Dierdre shook her head. “I don’t--I don’t think so, Miss.” She wiped her tears away with her gloved hand. “She had business interests, though, that Mr. Barnaby didn’t know about. I only know that it involved something happening tonight, something to do with a shipment?”

“I think we need to see that warehouse,” Jack said. “And Miss Harrigan is going to tell us everything we need to know along the way.”

***

It would have all gone very neatly, Jack later reflected, if Miss Harrigan hadn’t been in on it the whole time. The Temperance Society was a cover, of course. Multiple women were involved in smuggling liquor to America. They’d used Barnaby as a dupe, then killed him. Celia Barnaby had thought the whole thing up, then used the Harrigans as her eyes and ears while her husband was at work. Cold bit of work, that woman.

Jack and Phryne had been shot at, nearly escaped, slapped around, then tied up. They’d be dead now if it wasn’t for their executioner’s resistance about killing a copper and a woman. They’d been on their knees under the pier, away from the eyes of the men at the warehouse, and Jack -- Jack was so afraid, his guts sloshing like the ocean behind him, desperate to save her life. Then, at the last moment, the man cursed, pulled out a crucifix from under his shirt, kissed it, and said, “I’ll let God sort you out. Not my job.” He’d just cuffed them hard and thrown them into a boat, tied up, with a storm brewing. Might as well have pulled the trigger. It would have been faster than this, Jack thought, before a wave rose up and overtook them.

***

Darkness.

His lungs were burning. Salt water filled his mouth as he hacked and coughed. Jack blinked his eyes, twisting his head to spit out the last of the water. “Christ,” he croaked, blinking his eyes. The darkness resolved itself into a crumbling structure, shored up by stones on the sides and beams at the top. The room was filled with the roar of the ocean and the back of his head was wet and sandy. He couldn’t think where he could possibly be, but he was alive for now and Phryne--

Phryne was alive too, leaning over him, tears brimming in her eyes. Her wet hair was plastered to her face. “Jack,” she whispered. “Oh God, Jack, you’re alive. I thought--” the tears threatened to spill and, without thinking, Jack reached up to dash them away. His cold hand touched her face, which was somehow still warm, despite the chill of the night. He felt like he might have stopped breathing again, but he didn’t take his hand away, simply moved it to cup the side of her face. “Where are we?” he asked, his voice rough.

Phryne took a deep, shaky breath and briefly closed her eyes. “Some kind of hideaway. It’s cut into a cove. I think pirates may have used it, once upon a time.” She opened her eyes and said, even quieter, “I think we’re on an island.”

Jack began gently pulling strands of hair out of her face, smoothing it back. He didn’t know what was getting into him, except for the fact that he had almost died and here they were, on some tiny island, barely clothed and-- “No boat?” he asked.

She shook her head. “Crashed, thankfully near the shore. I got my hands free on some debris and pulled you in. There’s some hope of flagging a ship down in the daylight, if any come this way.” Grabbing his hand, she whispered, “Jack. Jack, I thought you--” Her distress was palpable and he felt the instantaneous urge to soothe her, to make her smile again.

A joke was on his lips, ready to diffuse the situation; she’d laugh, he’d smile, and they’d go about the business of getting rescued. But he couldn’t get it out of his head: Jack. Jack, I thought you--. He could have. He could have died, just now. Or last week, when he’d nearly been shot, or the times he’d actually been shot, or in the war, just about every day in the war. He was forty-three years old and he was playing with fate every time he stepped out the door. Jack wasn’t a man given to dwelling on his regrets, but this...if they died tomorrow, he would regret not acting. It was all suddenly so clear to him in that moment.

She was still holding his hand, her face barely visible in the darkness. It was the easiest thing in the world to reverse their positions, with him grabbing her hand and bringing it to his face. “Jack…?” she asked, and her slight breathlessness was all the answer he needed.

Drawing in a deep breath and swallowing a spike of panic, he turned his head and pressed a kiss to her wrist. Her pulse thrummed underneath, utterly alive, and her skin tasted of salt and sand. “Jack,” she said again, somewhere above the pounding in his ears, but it didn’t sound like a no, so he closed his eyes and kissed her wrist, her arm, her elbow, her shoulder. He didn’t dare look at her, but he felt her trembling. “Phryne,” he whispered into the junction of her neck and shoulder, utterly overcome. She still smelled like jasmine, somehow. His hands shook as he stroked her back. I’m not brave enough, he wanted to say. Or, This is the most frightening thing I’ve done since 1917, but he couldn’t speak.

“Dear Jack,” she said, sounding so self-assured that he looked up at her quickly to be sure she wasn’t pushing him away. She looked at him warmly, flushed and a little breathless. “Normally your timing is impeccable,” she said, raking her fingers through his wet hair. “You’re off your game, Jack Robinson,” and then she kissed him.

It was like drowning all over again, or maybe he had drowned and this was heaven, the press of her mouth, the slight waxiness of her lipstick, the warmth of her hand curled against the open collar of his shirt.

Jack never wanted to stop; he could sit here in this cool, sandy cave forever kissing Phryne, except he wanted more, more than just her lips. More than just kissing. He tore his mouth away to kiss her cheek, her nose, cradling her head in his hands, he kissed her eyelids, gently, then, tilting her head back, he mouthed along her jaw, down her neck. He was wild with it, his pulse pounding in his ears, desire flooding him with heat.

She began pulling at his shirt. “I need you,” she said, pressing their foreheads together while she unbuttoned his shirt. “I need you undressed right now, do you understand?” Her hands were shaking. Jack wasn’t stupid enough to think it was nerves or fear. He’d seen that glazed look of desire directed at others when she thought he wasn’t watching. It was quite humbling to have it directed at him.

“Yours,” he managed to get out, flinching at his own dull-wittedness. “You too,” he tried, which wasn’t much better. She smiled at him, those beautiful eyes crinkling with laughter. “Dammit, Phryne,” he said, hauling himself up on his knees and raking the hem of her skirt to her thighs. “Take your bloody clothes off.”

“Is that how you talk to a lady, Jack? Tsk, tsk.” She turned away from him, looking at him over her shoulder. “I’ll need help with the buttons.”

That sounded like a good idea, but Jack’s fingers were slow and numbed from the cold, and the tiny cloth buttons were swollen from the seawater. He fumbled with them for several minutes, pressing himself into her back, stopping to bite at her neck and shoulder. He felt like a boy, panting hot against her, miles from the jaded, tired policeman he’d been yesterday.

“Forget the bloody buttons,” Jack swore, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her even closer, flush against his chest. She dropped her head back against him, showing the elegant lines of her neck. Jack looked down to the swell of her breasts, pushing against the tattered silk and beads that remained of her dress. He could touch her now, touch her everywhere. The thought rocked him, setting him on fire.

Phryne turned around and pushed him down gently, until his head rested on the soft, wet sand. She rucked her skirts up, exposing her long, white legs with pale blue lacy garters wrapped around each thigh. Jack forgot to breathe for a moment; then she climbed over him, straddling his hips. He let his breath out in a whoosh, his cock suddenly aching and hard.

“Oh Jack, darling,” she said, rubbing against him and making him groan out loud, “you’re wearing too many clothes. We must remedy that immediately.” She was flushed, a pink stain spreading down her neck and across her chest, and her hips moved as restlessly as his.

Jack reached down to unbutton his trousers, but as he did so, his hand brushed against the wet heat of Phryne and she moaned, rubbing against the back of his knuckles. He stopped and did it again, curling the first two fingers of his hand and pushing them into the damp silk of her drawers. She gasped and rode his hand, her fingers squeezing into his shoulders, wild and so beautiful that Jack thought he might come from this, his cock hard and pulsing along with her thrusts.

He ran his hand up her thigh, yanking on her garter. The thought came to him that he wanted it in his teeth, so he urged her up, closer to his face, licking and biting the soft skin around the delicate lace and then pulling the lace away with his teeth. “Jack!” she shouted, pushing against him more insistently, looking for purchase. He wrapped his hands around her hips and pulled her up even more, pressing his face into the silk of her pantalettes, which were open on the bottom, rather than buttoned up.

He slid both hands up her thighs, under her pantalettes, pressing his thumbs into that beautiful, wet heat. She moaned above him and he was so far gone, cock unbearably hard and throbbing in his pants. He pressed his mouth forward, mouthing the shape of her under the silk as his hands worked her from underneath. He felt her thighs tremble and tighten around his neck, which was so overwhelmingly erotic that he groaned out loud, right into her, and that was it: she gasped and writhed into his hand and his tongue until her thighs locked and she cried out, pulsing against him.

As her aftershocks faded away, was kissing her thighs again. His hips were rising helplessly, looking for a way to end this torment, give him some relief. Jack couldn’t remember ever being this aroused without coming; it had sunk into the very bones of him, fluttering deep in his belly. Phryne moved off him and he moaned a little at the loss of her. “Sshhh, darling,” she said, as she wrapped her hand around him and he bucked into her palm. If he could have found words, he would have begged. “I’ve got you,” she said, and she did, slipping those clever hands into his trousers and unbuttoning his union suit. One touch of her cool, firm palm and a slight scrape of her nails and he was gone, spilling all over her hand, the cave going full black again, with stars behind his eyes. “Phryne,” he whispered.

She lay next to him, the two of them just breathing together in the darkness. Jack rolled over and rested his head on his arm. He could feel the heat leaving his body slowly, ebbing away like the tide outside their little hidey-hole. Now that it was gone, he could feel the angry rasp of his lungs and the soreness of his muscles, particularly his right shoulder, which was likely black and blue.

He felt movement next to him, then an absence of warmth as Phryne rose to put herself to rights, using a torn-off piece of her dress to clean herself up. Her makeup was slightly smeared, and she was in the ragged remnants of that pretty beaded dress, but she still looked stunning. And, Jack noted, slightly afraid. Vulnerable. She’d been hesitant to change things between them, he knew. She had plenty of lovers. Why did she need another? Why lose what they had?

She caught him staring, and one eyebrow went up. “Don’t you look satisfied,” she said, winking at him. He caught and held her gaze. “Never,” he said, seriously.

“Do you know,” she said conversationally, sitting next to him with her knees curled up like a girl, stroking his hair. “You’re one of the best friends I’ve ever had.”

Jack felt hot again, like his heart was exploding, too big to contain in his body. “Do you know,” he repeated. “That’s the nicest thing a girl’s ever said to me.”

“Is it now?” Phryne put her hand to her chest in mock horror. “You must know some very dull girls.”

“Stunned silent by my presence, I suppose.” Jack set about putting himself back together, stripping off his dirty shirt and buttoning up his trousers. He looked down at his wiry arms and thin torso. “Specimen of modern Australian manhood.”

She laughed. “Well, I think--” She stopped quickly, her body going suddenly alert. “Do you hear that?”

Jack ran to the mouth of the cave. The skies had just shifted from pitch black to deep blue, the stars starting to wink out on the horizon. And there, yes, a boat! A boat with a sweeping searchlight, which meant it was a police boat. “It must be Collins,” he said, waving his hands wildly. “He was following the money trail.”

The both jumped and waved and yelled, though Jack wasn’t too sure what good that would do, this far out. As the boat pulled closer, he could see that it was indeed Hugh, with several other officers and -- Miss Williams?

“Dot!” Phryne shouted, waving even harder. “Hallloooooo!”

As the boat reached the shore, Collins and Officer Peterson jumped out to pull it in. “Sir!” Collins called joyfully. “You’re alive!”

“Indeed, Collins.” Jack said, shaking his hand. “And you’ve got good timing. How did you find us?”

“Well, you can thank Dottie,” he said, beaming at her as she walked up next to him, clutching a large basket. “She’s the one who figured it all out.”

“Hardly, Hugh,” she said, smiling at him. “Hugh figured out that the money led right to Syvertson Shipping and then I remembered that Miss Fisher and you, sir,” she said, nodding to Jack, had gone to check out warehouses along the docks, though you didn’t say which ones. When you didn’t return, I asked, well I wondered--”

“She asked if there were boats missing, and there were,” Hugh cut in. “The boys and I knew about this old smuggling spot and we figured we’d check here first.”

“Smart work, Collins. Quick thinking.” Collins beamed. “And why is Miss Williams out on a dangerous search and rescue manoeuvre, Collins?” He didn’t know why he even bothered to ask, but he felt somehow that it was his role as a commanding officer.

Hugh opened his mouth, but Miss Williams jumped in. “I brought blankets,” she said, pulling them from the hamper. “And Mr. Butler packed some sandwiches and his restorative tonic.” She handed Miss Fisher a small flask. Miss Fisher tossed back a gulp and shivered, a slow smile spreading across her face. Jack was brought back to moments ago, when she was shivering and writhing above him. He shifted and cleared his throat, aware that he was only in his trousers, in front of several of his men.

“I’ll take some of that tonic, Miss Fisher,” he said gruffly, holding out his hand for the flask. It turned out that Mr. Butler’s “tonic” contained enough brandy to slow down a French infantry unit, but it was exactly what the doctor ordered. He felt warmer and more relaxed immediately.

“I need a hot bath and bed immediately,” Miss Fisher sighed, snuggling further into her blanket. She shot him a look. “Jack, didn’t you say that your plumbing was on the fritz?”

Jack opened his mouth to say that it was nothing of the sort, but then he thought about hot baths, and Miss Fisher. “It’s not ideal,” he said, uncomfortable with lying outright in front of his men.

“Well then, that’s settled.” She lowered her lashes and smiled at him, a smile that promised a lot of terrible and wonderful things. “You’ll have to come home with me, then. Can’t have you catching cold.”

“A hot bath,” Jack said, imagining. “A bed.”

“Indeed,” Phryne said, linking her arm in his. “Shall we?”

And, as always, she led him forward, into the dawn just starting to break over the horizon.