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285 CHARING BLV

SYDNEY AUSTRALIA HEI-142

JANE FISHER

 

JANE - - 

HOPE ALL IS WELL HOW ARE YOUR EXAMS GOING QUERY PLEASE RETURN TO MELBOURNE ON TONIGHT’S TRAIN 8:30 PM MISS FISHER ARRESTED FOR MURDER AGAIN HUGH SENDS LOVE AS DOES MR B

- - DOT

 

From the train, Jane could see Dot waiting for her on the platform along with Cec and Bert, who was smoking with the same furious annoyance that he did everything. It wasn’t the right time to smile at them and tell them how much she missed them - even though she’d seen them less than two months ago - but she disembarked and ran toward them anyway, keeping hold of her suitcase in one hand and her hat in the other.

“Thank goodness,” Dot said as she caught sight of her - relieved enough to make Jane worry even more. “I thought you might’ve missed the train, and I wasn’t sure if we had enough in the kitty to get you another ticket—“

“Who do they think she killed?” Jane said, kissing Dot’s distracted cheek as Cec tried to take her suitcase from her. “It’s heavy,” she warned him.

“Cheers, Miss Jane,” Cec laughed, but when he lifted it his eyebrows shot up. “You decide to bring some of the harbor rocks with you, or something?”

“I needed my textbooks.” Jane turned back to Dot. “You didn’t answer.”

“Mrs. Stanley,” said Dot.

Bert, who had been busy grinning at Cec’s misfortunes, frowned. “What?

Mrs. Stanley had been at Jane’s going-away party last month; she’d spent the entire time lecturing Jane on the correct way to behave in “larger society,” ignoring Jane’s protests that she’d lived on her own in Sydney for the past three years, and on the Continent before that. But she’d ended up patting her on the cheek with that strange, reluctant approval she had such a gift for. “You’re a good girl,” she’d announced at the doorway, and Jane remembered thinking how funny it was that Mrs. Stanley’s way of saying “gell” was so close to how normal people said it, how much Australia had worked itself into her English bones. “You’ll do the Fishers proud, I’d say. Enough sense not to follow Phryne’s example, but the strength of character to make your own way.”

Now, Jane felt the hollow ache of pain that she’d never have to sit through any of Mrs. Stanley’s dull lectures and awful tea ever again. “But — what happened? When did she die?”

“I don’t know,” Dot said, looping her arm through Jane’s and herding them off the platform and into the parking lot. “Nobody will tell me anything.”

“Not even Hugh?”

“Inspector Robinson,” Dot said venemously, “Has been suspended without pay and won’t speak to me. Hugh has been forced to take over the station and can’t get any information from anyone, and I can only assume Mr. Butler is going to be arrested next. Or me.”

“Or us,” Bert muttered, holding the door open for them.

*

Miss Phryne wasn’t being held at the station - at least, not at Inspector Robinson’s station. “Some other officer arrested them,” Dot said, saying the word “officer” the way Bert said “capitalism.” (Or “officer,” come to think of it.) “His name is Inspector Nevis.”

“Sounds like a real bastard,” Bert commented from beside Jane. She nudged him with her shoulder and he smiled at her, which struck her as unfair tactics.

They pulled up to an ugly brick building, cars parked haphazardly in front; some were still running, with officers lounging inside reading papers or having a smoke. None of them seemed keen to go inside, Jane noticed.

“Don’t they know there’s a war on?” Cec said as he hopped out and held the door for Jane.

“They haven’t declared war yet,” Dot reminded him. She straightened her hat in that determined way Jane had seen a thousand times, resettling a hatpin or two to indicate that she meant business and was going to see it through.

“I’ve tried speaking to anyone in charge for the past day and a half,” she told Jane as they went up the stairs, “But Nevins just brushes me off as ‘the help’ and won’t speak to anyone who isn’t family.”

Jane had already been hatching an idea; she’d worn her best frock this morning, and Mrs. Stanley’s imperious voice was still echoing in her mind. It was a stupid idea, and Jane had always been careful to leave those to Miss Phryne. But Miss Phryne needed her to be stupid right now. “Very well,” she announced; the rolling r felt alien in her mouth, but it was worth it to see the looks on their faces. “Then step aside, Mrs. Collins, for I intend to get to the bottom of this.”

She brushed past them and made her way up the stairs, but stopped at the door and turned sharply toward Bert. It must’ve been the shock that did it for him, but he leapt to get the door and she swept through, keeping her head high and her gaze steely. Strangely enough, she didn’t feel remotely afraid — at least, not the thudding heartsickness she felt whenever Dr. Reynolds was cross-examining her during a disscetion. This felt more like the playacting she did at l’ecole, dressed up in stageclothes and remembering to turn toward the audience when delivering lines.

“Who is in charge here?” she demanded, before the door had even swung open all the way. Four officers, all seated at desks in a large room, looked up from whatever they were scribbling. 

A long, tall man leaning over one of them straightened; he sized her up the way Jane had been sized up all her life, but being Miss Fisher’s daughter had taught her how much she should worry about that. “You,” she said, glaring at him. “Find me this Inspector Nevis person, as well as whoever is above him this instant.”

“He’s Inspector Nevis,” Dot hissed from behind her.

“I’m Inspector Nevis,” the man replied, plastering such an insincerely broad smile on his face that Jane was immediately on alert. “As for my boss, I’d be happy to ring him up, Miss…?”

“Jane Fisher,” she announced, tugging her gloves off and marching past the desks. “You have arrested my mother. I demand to see her immediately.”

That at least got his attention, if not quite his respect; Miss Fisher probably already had him pegged as the sort who wouldn’t listen to a woman even if she was titled, and Nevis certainly knew who she was by now: a nameless guttersnipe who’d gotten her feet under the right table. But he’d know enough to be worried, too.

“Ah yes,” Nevis said. He glanced over her shoulder, and Jane hoped none of them were making faces behind her back. “Thank you for coming.”

“I rather doubt,” she replied, “That you will be thanking me in the near future. And I am unused to repeating myself.”

And now she had his anger, which Miss Fisher always said was better than respect, anyhow. He ground his teeth, but said, “Of course, Miss Fisher. Just this way.” And he gestured down a hallway at the back of the room.

“Stay here,” Jane commanded Bert and Cec, waving her hand at them. She’d pay for that later, judging by the expression on Bert’s face, but it was worth it. “Dot, I trust you brought your notebook.”

“Yes, Miss Jane,” Dot said in the most docile voice Jane had ever heard. It was almost startling enough to make Jane ask what was wrong, but it was too important not to break character.

Besides, Nevis was clearly buying it. “I see you can keep your mother’s secretary under control,” he commented as he lead them through the byzantine corridors toward the back of the station. “She was here just last night, causing a scene. She’s lucky I didn’t arrest her for making a disturbance.”

Out of Nevis’s sight, Jane reached behind and fumbled for Dot’s hand, squeezing it briefly before sighing. “She’s always had ideas above her station.”

“As have you, it seems,” Nevis said - the first attempt at getting his own back, but Jane was too pleased that she’d gotten him angry to worry about that.

“My good man, whatever you may think of my origins, I am the sole heiress of a fortune that spans three continents and two noble houses of England. I’d advise you to bear in mind that the Stanleys and Fishers are not known for either their patience or their understanding when it comes to the incompetence of the working class.” She was very, very glad that Bert and Cec weren’t here to hear that.

It worked, though; Nevis stopped dead in his tracks and bunched his hands into fists, regaining control of what looked to be a flair of impressive temper. Quick to take offense, she noted, too eager to strike back. Resentful of the upper class but afraid of it, too; Jack would never have let her see Miss Fisher right away if he’d arrested her (and for that matter, hadn’t let her see Miss Fisher right away on those occasions where he had arrested her). Petty — and sloppy; he hadn’t asked for her identification. Useful weaknesses, all of them.

“I should tell you,” he said as they went through one last door, a guard nodding them through, “That she’s refused to see all visitors. Only reason I’m letting you through is because you’re family; maybe you can talk some sense into her.”

“I’ll choose to ignore that remark,” Jane said, “Which you should consider a favor, Inspector.”

This time she actually solicited a sigh. “Thank you, Miss Fisher.”

The jail here was different from Inspector Robinson’s station; instead of cells with iron bars it had rooms, each with a door and a tiny window, just high enough that Jane couldn’t see inside. Miss Phryne was apparently in the first one; the quietest, closest to the guard and not requiring that she walk along the hallway past other cells. So her rank did scare him. Good.

He unlocked the door and stepped aside. “You can speak with her for five minutes,” he said.

“I will speak to her for however long I choose,” she replied, and walked in to see—

To see Aunt Prudence sitting on the bed looking quite comfortable, reading War and Peace.

*

They were out of the station and back on the road ten minutes later, headed south oh Hoddle Street. Dot was dabbing at her eyes and insisting that she was perfectly fine, nobody ought to worry about her in the slightest. Jane was—

Jane wasn’t sure. Miss Phryne was such a strange person to have at the center of your life, as topsy-turvy and upredictable as she was. She had flown her father back to England with hardly any notice, arriving a few days later at Jane’s school in Marseilles, windswept and triumphant. Jane had been so angry at her recklessne; propeller planes fell out of the sky all the time, and to travel half-way across the world in one was near suicide. She had made Miss Phryne promise to return home by boat; a promise she had broken when it turned out Jack hadn’t followed her to Europe after all. Jane had received an apologetic letter from Johannesburg — where her plane had at last crashed, breaking three ribs and an arm.

It was easy to believe that Miss Phryne didn’t really care about her, or about anything, but Jane wasn’t so stupid as that. Miss Phryne loved her dearly — but the way you loved someone fragile or sickly, as though one wrong step might put them in mortal peril. Jane had fought for years to be part of the detective agency, but Miss Phryne, who would allow her anything, never allowed her that. After one particularly bad fight, Dot had come to find her crying in her room. 

“She needs to know you’re safe,” she’d told Jane, smoothing out her hair. “She couldn’t bear it if you were ever hurt.”

“But she puts herself in danger every day!” Jane had protested. “She doesn’t care, so why should I?”

Dot had hummed to herself, finding a tangle in Jane’s hair and and absently working it out. “I think,” she’d said slowly, “It’s because that’s just who she is.”

“Doesn’t she want me to be like her?” Jane had asked. And perhaps that had always been the question, in some way.

“Miss Fisher wants you to be like yourself,” Dot had answered, “Whatever way that is. But she wants you to at least live long enough to find out what you’re really like.”

And so Jane had kept herself smart and careful and safe, hoping that she could find out what she was really like. She had gravitated toward medical school, taken the exams and passed them with flying colors and Dr. Mac’s gruff pride. She had loved it there, despite the stupid boys who tried to push her away, loved the potential of it all. But she still felt as though she was waiting.

They skidded around a corner onto Johnston, slamming Jane into Bert’s shoulder. “Oi, your side,” he protested.

Jane shifted back across the leather and gripped the strap; Cec was still accelerating. “What time is it?” she shouted at Dot.

Dot rummaged in her purse and drew out her watch. “Ten minutes past eleven,” she said. “We’ll never make it.”

“Oh yes we will,” Cec said grimly.

They turned into the docks with a spray of gravel and the protest of any number of pedestrians; Jane ignored them all and jumped out before the car had stopped in front of the Lysistrata, which had smoke bellowing out its giant stacks. But the gangway was still down and people were making their leisurely way up, chatting aimiably amongst themselves. “What time does the boat leave?” Dot asked the ticketer as they ran up to him.

“Not for another hour and a half, Miss,” he said. He peered at her. “Shouldn’t you know that, if you’re a passenger?”

“Of course,” Dot said, smiling.

Jane tried to recall her imperiousness at the police station. “I need to speak to someone on board,” she said, but she knew right away that it was all wrong. The ticketer just snorted and reached around her to take someone else’s tickets.

“You’ll have to get a ticket, then. That’ll be fifty pounds, go speak to the office down the dock,” he ordered.

“Fifty pounds?” Dot exclaimed.

“That’s a first class ticket, Miss, and it doesn’t seem like your ladyship would be happy in steerage,” he said, bowing to Jane, who didn’t buy it for a minute.

“What about this, do you think it’ll get me onboard?” came a voice behind her. Jack Robinson, looking more imperious than a phalanx of Mrs. Stanley’s, was flashing his badge; behind him was Dr. Mac with her doctor’s coat and a dour expression. 

“Of course, sir,” the ticketer said, looking as resentfully cowed as Nevis had.

“Good,” said Jack. “And I’ll need these people with me. We’re conducting an investigation of some sensitivity.”

That caused a blanch from the ticketer. “What, all of them?” he said.

Jack looked around, looking even more dour. “Yes,” he said at last, squinting at Cec and Bert, “All of them.”

*

“I thought you were suspended,” Jane whispered as they made their way through the ship.

“I was.”

“But you’ve got a badge.”

Jack looked uncomfortable. “Nicked it off Inspector Collins.” Behind them, Dot gasped. “I’ll give it back to him as soon as this… farce is over,” he promised.

There was a long silence before Dot said, “Very well.”

“Do you even know where we’re going?” Jane asked, half-jogging to keep up with Jack’s long legs. “Mrs. Stanley didn’t know what berth she had or anything.”

That stopped Jack dead in his tracks. “Mrs. Stanley? — Of course. Someone’s got to be in that jail cell. How on earth did she rope her poor aunt into this?”

Jane thought back to the conversation she’d just had with Mrs. Stanley. She’d been remarkably placid about the whole thing. “As soon as Inspector Nevis out there gathers his wits enough to realize I am not, oddly enough, my neice, nor am I a murdered corpse,” she’d said airily, “He’ll have to release me. Alternatively, if he proves too feeble-minded, I shall simply summon my lawyer.”

“You haven’t asked for counsel, Mrs. Stanley?” Dot had asked; her pen had hovered helplessly over her pad, but she seemed unable to write down a word.

“Of course not, Mrs. Collins,” Mrs. Stanley said, reproving. “It would ruin the entire scheme.”

Jane had twigged just a few seconds before Dot. “Where is she?”

Mrs. Stanley had blinked at her. “You know, my dear, you sound quite peremptory when you speak like that.”

She asked Jack the same question now. “And how did you find out?” she added.

“I am, contrary to popular belief and own current situation, a halfway competent detective,” Jack replied. “As for where she is — somewhere on board. Further than that, I’m as in the dark as you.”

Jane looked around, as though Miss Phryne would somehow appear from amongst the crowd. But she shouldn’t have thought twice about who might have the answer.

“Excuse me,” Dot said, buttonholing a passing crewman. “Which way to the executive suite?”

“Up two floors, right at the front,” he said, touching his cap. “Room 301.”

“Thank you,” Dot replied and set off, grabbing Jane’s hand and tugging her along.

“While I’ll agree that Miss Fisher’s unlikely to take anything but the best,” Jack said as he caught up with them, “Have you got any other evidence that she’ll be there?”

“Yes,” Dot said, but didn’t explain further.

They went up the two flights and along the corridor until they got to 301.

“If this isn’t Miss Fisher,” Bert pointed out as they all lifted their hands to knock, “We’re gonna look like a bunch of dills.”

Fortunately, it was.

*

“Of course I was going to tell you,” Miss Phryne exclaimed, flapping the telegram cards in her hand. “I had them all written out, you see?”

“You had a woman falsely imprisoned for her own murder in order to make your escape more plausible,” Jack thundered, looking as though he’d very much like to strangle Miss Phryne or possibly just chuck her overboard.

“Only for a few days,” she scoffed, “And do you really think prison would frighten Aunt Prudence?”

“Irresponsible, reckless, hairbrained—“

“Who are you going to spy on?” Jane asked.

That stopped both of them cold. Miss Phryne looked shocked, but only for a moment. “What on earth makes you think I’m spying on anyone?”

It was Dot’s turn to scoff. “Miss, please. We’re not idiots.”

“There’s going to be a war between China and Japan any minute,” Jane said. “But this ship’s going to Germany, isn’t it? You’re going to spy on the Germans.”

“But why like this?” Cec asked, spreading his hands. “You could’ve just said you were going on holiday or something.”

“Because she needed the scandal,” Jack replied, looking equal parts impressed and exasperated. (Jane knew that expression like the back of her own hand.) “The story’s going to get out, but international relations and press being what it is, the Continental papers will think she escaped a murder charge or worse. She’ll be vulnerable. Or so they’ll think.”

“It’s no fun if you guess everything right the first try,” Miss Phryne grumbled.

“Are you really going to Germany to spy on the Nazis, Miss?” Dot said, fretful. “Why?”

Miss Phryne looked as though she would very much like to deny everything, but she sighed instead and gestured for everyone to sit down. It was an excutive suite, all right, and bigger than the parlor at home; Bert took the seat next to Jane, Dot and Cec sat in two of the armchairs, and Dr. Mac sprawled on the divan alongside Miss Phryne. Jack, still looking exasperated, stayed standing.

“I received a message from an old friend in England,” she said, “One I’d known in the War. She said she needed someone she could trust, someone who could mingle amongst the upper classes and not be suspected.”

“And you trust this woman?” Jack said. “Who is she?”

“With my life,” Miss Phryne said firmly. “And with the country. But I can’t tell you her name. Suffice to say she works in Intelligence now, and is preparing for another war with Germans. She thinks it’s coming in another few years, with the way the Furher is ranting.”

“And she wants someone in place before the borders start closing,” Cec said. “Clever.”

“Thank you, Cec,” Miss Phryne said brightly. Dr. Mac snorted.

“But that means you’d be gone for years,” Jane protested, feeling that lump in her throat. “You’d be in danger all the time.”

“Yes,” Miss Phryne replied, “Which is why I couldn’t tell you. If I had, I might never have left. And I must. Can’t you see that? The whole of the world might fall if Hitler marches. He’s got to be stopped now, before he can declare war and throw us all into another horror. We’ve lived through one world war already. I would do anything I could to prevent another.”

There was silence for a moment after that, though Jane wasn’t sure she could’ve heard anything over the thumping of her heart. She was more afraid now than she had been at the police station, then she had ever been before. She couldn’t speak.

Then Dr. Mac let out a sigh. “I should’ve known you were trying to save the world, Phryne,” she said. “It’s one of your worst qualities.”

“You could always come with me,” Miss Phryne said, knocking her hip into Dr. Mac. “Keep me out of trouble.”

She snorted. “Just what the world needs, a lesbian spy traipsing around Berlin,” she said. “But I’ll miss you.”

“You’ll just have to aim better,” Miss Phryne said.

“Shouldn’t I come with you, then, Miss?” Dot said. “I mean — you’re going to need help, won’t you?”

“Dot, no,” Miss Phryne said. She got up to take Dot’s and Jane’s hands in hers, holding them tightly, kneeling down on the carpet. “I don’t want you anywhere near that sort of danger.”

Oi,” Dr. Mac protested.

“But—“ Dot had her handkerchief out again, but she was waving it around this time instead of crying. “Don’t you need me, Miss?”

Miss Phryne flinched, as though Dot had shouted at her or slapped her. “Oh, Dot — I’ll always need you. I wanted to tell you — all of you — so badly. But I couldn’t risk you — any of you.”

“That’s rather for us to decide, isn’t it, Miss?” Dot said, lifting her chin.

Miss Phryne bit her lip, then nodded. “Very well. What is your decision?”

Jane watched this hit Dot full on the nose; she hadn’t expected Miss Phryne to actually give in. But she straightened up in her chair. “I think,” she said slowly, “That with everything being the way it is — and somebody’s got to keep the detective agency going — and get Mrs. Stanley out of prison — not to mention keep an eye on the house and instruct Mr. Butler — I think it’d be best if I remain here.”

Miss Phryne’s grip on Jane’s hand tightened, but she smiled at Dot as she said, “That’s a genius idea, Dot. I knew I could rely on you to take care of everything while I’m gone.”

“It should be easy to prove she’s not you, at least,” Dot said, looking halfway between crushed and relieved. “And I think with the training I’ve recieved, I can do the detective agency proud in… in your absence.”

“Of course you will,” Miss Phryne said, and pulled Dot into a fierce hug, releasing Jane in order to wrap both arms around her shoulders. She whispered something into Dot’s ear; Jane didn’t hear what it was, but it made Dot laugh, at least.

“What d’you think, Miss Jane?” Bert murmured. “You reckon she’ll last out there on her own?”

Jane looked up at him. She’d always been a little in love with Bert, his prickly kindness and his quick, rare smiles, the resentful affection he bestowed on those he loved. She loved that she knew exactly what he was asking, what he was proposing, in that moment. “We’re none of us stronger alone,” she answered. “No matter what Miss Phryne says.”

Bert chuckled. “When did you get so smart?”

“Well, I’m almost a doctor.”

“That you are,” he said softly, but Jane was saved by Jack clearing his throat and glaring at Bert.

Dot let go of Miss Phryne and climbed back on her chair, using her handkerchief this time to wipe at her eyes. “And if I hear you’ve gotten arrested again, don’t think I won’t stage my very own invasion to get you out,” she said. She must have wanted it to sound stern, but Miss Phryne only grinned.

“I would expect nothing less, Dot. I’ll have Prime Minister Baldwin place you in charge of troop movements, and the war will be done before it’s begun.” She looked over at Cec.

“Afraid I’ll have to decline the invitation myself,” he demurred, twisting his hat in his hands. “Can’t leave Alice and the kids — if Hitler didn’t kill me, she would.”

“I quite understand,” Miss Phryne said. “And Dot, should you need an adjutant, I believe Alice would make an excellent choice.”

“Well,” said Bert, “If neither of them will keep you in one piece, I suppose I’ll have to come along.”

“And me,” Jack added. Jane gaped at him, until she realized that everyone else was gaping, too. He blinked back at their expressions, then shrugged. “I’ll likely be sacked, thanks to you,” he pointed out, looking cross but with his mouth twitching, “And if this is your idea of a low-profile escape, you’re going to need me. To show you what actual low-profile looks like.”

“Lessons in subterfuge from Jack Robinson?” Miss Phryne said, tilting her head. “I rather like that idea.”

“And you’ll need someone with a bit more sense than the two of you’ve got,” Bert said. “Not to mention someone who can speak Gerry and Russian.”

“Bert!” Miss Phryne exclaimed. “I never knew you were a polyglot.”

Bert flushed. “That was just the one time.”

Jane laughed and looked to Miss Phryne to share the joke, but she was watching her closely. “What about you, Jane?” she asked. “I can’t give you any less of a choice, can I?”

“No, you can’t,” said Dot, putting her hand on Jane’s shoulder.

Jane felt the weight of that hand, the comfort of it rather than the confinement. She had been a good girl for most of her life, first with a mother who couldn’t take care of anyone and then with a mother who could take care of everything. She had seen what to be grateful for and what to forget, what to strive for and what to avoid, and through it all she had never shaken the fear, irrational and unkind, that to be anything less than good would mean the loss of all she had been given. She had gone to medical school to pay back the debt of Miss Phryne’s love; if only she were good enough, she might earn all the good fortune so unfairly loaded onto her at such a young age.

But in this little cabin on the gentle bay, Jane looked at Miss Phryne and threw out the scales. There had never been any debt; nothing was owed or expected. Miss Phryne was as much Jane’s as she was hers.

“I’m coming,” she said, “Whether you need me or not.”