"I'll not be one of your waifs and strays," he had said, standing at her window looking out.
"Oh, really, Jack," she said, close enough for him to feel her, her warmth and her beating heart. "And when was the last time you ate three meals in one day? For that matter" – this with knife-sharpness – "when was the last time you asked for what you wanted?"
"Phryne," he said, "please" – because he'd learnt, here and in other places, that sometimes the easiest way was to come cap in hand, ready to surrender.
"All right," she said, with eyes bright and wicked in the last light, "as you ask so nicely, and on your knees" – which was why he was leaving the house now on the edge of daylight, carrying his shoes and something like dignity; Mr Butler was moving around in the kitchen, but Jack stepped behind a door, and then out from it at the right moment, and walked along the path with his hands in his pockets, whistling.
Constable Collins was taking Dot to the pictures most Fridays, now, and at some point soon, he was going to ask her to come and meet his mother.
"A big step, Constable," Jack remarked with some irony, reading over a file that wouldn't be on his desk if the key events hadn't transpired on the street directly outside City South: a young woman knocked flying and a motorcar that came from nowhere. There was a note on the top of the file from Elizabeth Macmillan: the girl had bruises and a broken foot, but was recovering well. Against a darker background – two deaths this week, and violence at the dockside – Jack was grateful.
"Is it really, sir?" Collins asked, all earnestness, and abruptly Jack remembered the lad went home to his mother every night, and took her every week to the cemetery, to lay flowers.
"If you want it to be, Hugh," he said, with more gentleness, this time. "But I've no doubt your mother will approve of Miss Williams."
Collins smiled and Jack thought of what his own mother would say, seated opposite Phryne Fisher in her parlour, perhaps with a half-glass of champagne between her fingers, and a half-smile on her lips. And then, on his way back to his desk, he thought about the girl on the street outside: dazzled by low sunshine, hit from nowhere.
There had been a witness in one of the warehouse smuggling matters, a young man with black curls and bright, beautiful eyes. "Especially delicious," Phryne said, meeting Jack's gaze across a space of a pillow, as if to dare him to object.
"Especially delicious," Jack murmured, lifting slightly off the sheets with the movement of her hand, then dropping down. "Well, then. That sounds serious."
"I'm always serious." She grinned at him, propped up one elbow, and from his vantage point just beneath, he could pick out every electric glint in her hair.
"You haven't been serious about anything since 1918." Jack considered the matter from that vantage point, also. Of course Phryne's young men were delicious – if you liked that sort of thing – and young, and perhaps a policeman should have a better eye for detail but for Jack they blurred together, nineteen or twenty-nine or anything in between, a faceless mass of those who hadn't gone away, those who had come after. Even Hugh, a child in 1914. "Post bellum," he said, not knowing he was going to say it aloud.
She merely grinned, and said, "Mais très belle, don't you think?" – so Jack smiled at the quickness of her mind, familiar but somehow always surprising, always a pleasure.
"Enjoy him," he said, with a moment's wonderment at the substance of what he was actually saying, in this house where his own deputy carefully courted his one perfect girl.
"Thank you for your blessing, " Phryne said, wickedly, lying back on her pillows and insinuating a hand between the back of his neck and the smooth Egyptian cotton. Either she wore perfume to bed, Jack thought, or he was carrying that scent with him, within his own skin, and it was how he lived, now.
Gang warfare again, down by the water's edge. Portsiders amassed together, drawing sulky-faced ranks, and in the meantime a body stretched out strange and unnatural across the cobbles and damp with saltwater. Jack knelt beside it and closed the kid's eyes, feeling stricken and absurd. Once the preliminaries were done, and he and Miss Fisher had both noticed the kid's dry boots, and both reached a hypothesis about drowning, the body was removed. "Ducked like Achilles," Phryne said, and Jack nodded, seeing it clearly, and then looked out across the wharf at the shadows they cast, and the setting sun reddening the water.
Later, he was on the edge of sleep when she said, "People used to drown like that. On dry land."
Jack thought of the rattling of air in wet lungs, of bitterness and mustard-gas, and said, "I know."
Somewhere beneath them, somewhere in this old, warm, comfortable house, he could hear a woman laughing – Dot – and the sound of the back door opening and closing. Hugh, Jack remembered, off the late shift. In the soft darkness he listened as they moved, their footsteps rhythmic, as though they were dancing around the kitchen. "I know," Jack said, again, without sympathy and only understanding, so he felt Phryne release the breath she had been holding, and buried his own head into her shoulder.
In the morning, Phryne said, "You should come for dinner" – and Jack only nodded, noting the ease in her movements as he crossed the garden, ruffled and running late.
"Phryne," Jack said, soft and thoughtful, "what about the days that aren't like this?"
She didn't ask what he meant, or how hard he'd knocked his head. Instead, Phryne breathed out, audibly - and visibly, in the chill of the warehouse - and said, "What made you say that, now?"
Jack shrugged, horizontal but expressive, and pulled at the rope around their joined hands. "We're not going anywhere."
"I've been thinking about that." Phryne shifted and pulled back, so Jack's palms opened up slightly. It hurt, but wasn't unpleasant. "We're not tied to anything. Nothing here to tie us to, I suppose," she added, and Jack looked around at the empty, cavernous space.
"If I were an organised criminal," he said, with some irritation, "I'd have had something installed."
"I've no doubt you would, darling." Phryne pulled and this time Jack's entire body shifted. "Now, if we can stand - and build up a little speed - and that window overlooks the canal..."
Jack shook his head violently. "Phryne - we're safe here for the moment. Underwater, we'd" – he pulled on the ropes yet again; and again, they both rocked with it - "like a stone."
"Hugh's out there," Phryne pointed out. "He'd notice us fall. It's a calculated risk."
Jack calculated it, then nodded. "On three. One…"
Somehow, without overbalancing, they got to standing, Phryne's hands raised slightly because of their uneven height, and eyeing the window, Jack murmured, "On three, again?"
Phryne nodded. "Perhaps tomorrow," she said, "it won't be like this" - and Jack was understanding the promises inherent in that, of many things but above all tomorrow, even as they crashed through the glass and hit the water, black and gleaming, bound together all the way down.
"Jack," Phryne was saying, "wake up. Wake up. Hugh… " – and that was Hugh, his polished boots ringing on the hard ground, shouting, help, help, although what for, Jack didn't understand, peering at the cobbles, close enough to smell the iron-dark slick. Phryne's dress was white against the alley like something night-blooming, and he couldn't recall ever seeing her so angry.
Later, he was blurry with sleep and blood loss, woken from some dream or some half-lost memory, of sunlight through barbed wire; when he said her name she pressed a glass of water to his lips and said, in the tones of one offering apology: "Casus belli."
"You." Phryne leaned against the headboard, her voice tired. "It wouldn't be… prudent. Nor politic, I suppose, to murder a police officer in cold blood. So they didn't. They left you for me to find."
"I'm fine," Jack murmured, reaching out to her with his hands still awkward from gauze binding; the thing had been done sharply and cleanly, wrists opened in a ritual unpeeling. It would heal. "I'm fine, Phryne."
"Like hell." She clambered in the bed beside him, throwing her shoes over the side. "I grew up in places like that, where life was cheap. I was my own first stray. Jack…"
"You're not leaving this morning." Her eyes were bright in the low light, determination writ vivid.
"No," he said, "no, I wouldn't, I won't" – spoken wonderingly again, as though he weren't always staring at her in wonder. As though, he thought, he'd deluded himself sufficiently not to recognise that look on her face: that something between the utmost tenderness, and the willingness to kill.
And then a day with a case but without a murder; a strongbox robbery, a modus operandi Phryne had called charming; and then a morning.
"Miss Phryne. Inspector Robinson."
Jack met Dot's eyes, then looked down, at Phryne and at the case papers spread all over the floor and at his own feet, elevated to the chaise longue. The house was quiet but not silent, filled with the small noises of the day's beginning, and more immediately, Phryne's breathing close enough to feel rather than hear. "Miss Williams…"
"It's just gone seven," Dot said, a suspicious pink burning high in her cheeks. "Normally Miss Phryne asks to be woken, but…"
Phryne hadn't yet stirred from sleep, perhaps as a result of several long nights on this case and the tumbler of whiskey they had been sharing; it was still on the sideboard, Jack noted, the lipstick on the rim smudged by his mouth. Without waking up, she murmured, "Jack?" – and her hand came up and traced the line of his collarbones, under his loosened shirt collar, and he tipped back his head, and let her in.
Very quietly, with a police officer's detachment, Jack decided that Dot could have caught them in Phryne's bed, or pressed against a wall, in flagrante delicto, and it would have made no odds, not now; it couldn't have been more damning.
"I'll come back," Dot said, very high-pitched, and scuttled out of the room. Jack leaned down and put the spread pages back into his case folder, hunting for his tie and shoes. He moved the glass away from where Phryne's hands might swing out and knock it over, but when he turned back she was awake, watching him move. "I'll see you tonight," she murmured, neither hello nor goodbye, but the rhythm of a life too close to hear.
On the way through the kitchen, he thought about ducking behind a door, out of the way. But Mr Butler regarded him with neither surprise nor curiosity, saying merely, "Good morning, Inspector Robinson. You'll take breakfast?" - so when Jack walked down the garden path he had an apple turnover in his hands, wrapped in greaseproof paper and warm from the oven, the first of the batch.