"Well, this is certainly a very interesting turn of affairs. Not in the least the way I'd imagined our first night together. Although—" Phryne says.
"Miss Fisher!" Jack feels compelled to remonstrate, though it merely has the expected result of a decidedly wicked grin forming on Phryne's lips.
Her lipstick is a little smudged, the red faded somewhat, and her normally pristine bob is ruffled, but otherwise there's little to indicate that she's spent the night unconscious and handcuffed to him. Her silver dress is certainly as floaty and fine as it was when they set off for the racecourse yesterday afternoon.
"Are you feeling quite well?" Jack asks. He's been awake for several minutes now, dragged out of his drugged state by a sliver of early morning sunlight finding its way through a crack in the shutters. He'd been contemplating attempting to wake Phryne when she'd opened her eyes, blinked twice, and then, in one quick glance, taken in their shabby surroundings. A small room, featureless apart from a small window high up the wall, and, bolted to the brown linoleum, a single bed upon which Phryne is now sitting up, careful to avoid tugging on the handcuffs joining them.
It's a relief to see her appear as alert as ever. But then he has come to learn that it is very difficult indeed to faze Miss Fisher. Facing anything less than monsters like Murdoch Foyle and René Dubois, Phryne retains an unflappable calm. Even, it now seems, in the face of kidnapping, drugging, and imprisonment.
"I wouldn't mind an dose of APC, but I've had worse mornings." She says that with the sort of sly grin that tells him she considers those mornings worth every accompanying pain for the sake of the preceding evening. "Handcuffs, though, now those are new. I've never woken up in handcuffs before."
"That is a relief to hear," Jack says dryly.
"I hadn't even considered them before," she carries on, as though he hadn't spoken. "But now—now I begin to see the possibilities." She lifts their joined hands and contemplates them.
Jack bites down a second remonstration. "I'm glad to see that the night hasn't subdued you in any way."
"Nonsense, my dear Jack. You would be very glad to see me at least a little subdued."
That might have been true in the early days of their acquaintance, when he spent all his time battling against her appalling habit of sneaking into investigations and murders and wheedling information and more out of Hugh. But, he has to confess to himself that, now, he wouldn't exchange the woman in front of him for a more demure version of herself for all the tea in China. And perhaps he should be honest with her too. "Not at all," he says. "I'm very glad not to be attached to a lady more likely to faint at the sight of handcuffs than to see—possibilities."
He believes he has surprised her, just a little. She muffles her laughter with her free hand. "No point in alerting our captors to the fact that we've woken up," she says, keeping her voice low. "At least we've learned one thing already this morning. Besides the tempting possibilities of handcuffs."
"Which is?" He has formed a couple of conclusions himself in the few minutes he's had to think, but it's entirely possible that Phryne, with her keen skills of observation, has noted something else.
"That we were right. It is the Flinders Street Gang," she says. "The fact that they've gone to the trouble of abducting us is clear confirmation that we were on the right path."
Jack nods. That's the same conclusion he'd come to. Also that, given the amount of money he estimates their gambling ring is worth, they won't be too inclined to free anyone who's stumbled across their tricks, let alone a police officer and a lady detective. Not that he feels the need to say that. If Phryne has come to the same conclusion, all very well, but no need to paint their situation black until it's unavoidable.
He's come to a third conclusion. "And also that I was right — I should never have taken you to the racecourse. It's my fault you're in this situation. I'm truly sorry."
"You know that is utter tosh," she says, waving away his apology as though it were of no significance at all. "I would have gone anyway. I do so enjoy a day at the races, and if there's a hint of illegal gambling to investigate and I can act as cover, well, that just adds to the fun. At least this way I have you to protect me."
Something is coming back to Jack. A vague memory of the night before. "Not just gambling," he says, closing his eyes and trying to remember what he'd heard last night, shortly after they'd been locked up in this little room. He'd been reeling at that point, the drugs well on their way to taking effect, concentrating as hard as he could in settling Phryne gently on the grubby blanket before he blacked out. But there had been shouting. Accusations. "Tippy is into blackmail, too."
"Oh, really? What sort of blackmail?"
"The sort where Tippy's molls lure punters from the racetrack for a good time, only to have her 'husband' burst in at a very inopportune time."
"Ah, so the punter pays up to soothe the 'husband's' hurt feelings," Phryne concludes. Jack has long given up being shocked at her easy understanding of the Melbourne underworld.
"Exactly. I heard one side of such an altercation last night. I imagine they pick punters who have won handsomely, and deprive them of all their winnings."
"A neat trick. Quite profitable, I'd imagine."
"I hope that isn't a tone of admiration I detect."
"Not at all. I'm quite sure that the poor moll, who after all has to do the majority of the work, gets barely a pittance for her efforts. And is tossed aside like so much garbage when she's no longer sufficiently young and pretty to catch the eye of the newly rich."
The underdog is always the heart of the matter for Phryne. Jack has to admire that about her. But right now there is a more immediate matter to deal with. While being handcuffed to Phryne is not in itself unpleasant, they need to get out of here, and that will be a much easier task if they can extricate themselves.
It seems Phryne has the same thought. "I don't suppose you have a key, do you?"
"Not my handcuffs."
Phryne tilts her head to one side and looks at him with interest. "You do routinely carry handcuffs, though."
"Yes. Though they, along with my gun, and anything else useful, would appear to be missing." His pockets are empty, and Phryne's handbag has also been taken.
"Hmm," is her only response, but from the look in her very expressive eyes, Jack gets the distinct feeling that she's considering uses for handcuffs.
"Not the time, Miss Fisher," he says.
"You're quite right," she replies, accepting the reproof with a typically bouncy grin. "Though hopefully there will be a more appropriate time."
Jack no longer reacts visibly to her more shocking pronouncements, a fact of which he is quite proud. He looks at her hair instead. The normally sleek bob, sadly lacking in hair pins. Her hat and hat pin got lost in the struggle behind the racecourse when they got caught spying. And her dress, delightfully frothy as it is, doesn't appear to allow for much in the way of concealed weapons that might have escaped their captors' search or implements that might help them get out of their current predicament. Her dress, in fact, conceals very little.
"Do you have anything sharp on you?" he asks, though he doesn't have much hope.
"This is one of those occasions when I almost wish I wore whalebone corsets. I wonder though—" she says, and slides her free hand up her legs. Jack turns away. "Ah, bless her. Dot to the rescue," she exclaims. "It's alright, you can look again. I am quite decent."
He turns to face her again, to find her holding out a large safety pin. "Dot pinned it to my garter, in case of emergencies. She is incredibly resourceful."
And very in tune with her mistress' peculiar requirements. "I will be sure to thank her."
"Perhaps best not. She might blush at the thought of you knowing what I have pinned to my garter belt."
Jack rather thinks Phryne likes to make Dot blush on occasion, but she is very protective of her maid when it comes to anyone else making her feel the least uncomfortable. Yet another trait he admires. "Shall I?" he asks, holding out his free hand for the pin.
"Perhaps best. I'm not so good with my left hand. Though I suspect I have more experience picking locks."
The safety pin isn't ideal as a lock pick, but Jack has picked more locks that Phryne might suspect. It's a useful skill. It might be easier if he weren't so close to Phryne's delicate wrist, but he tries to ignore their circumstances and concentrate purely on the lock.
He's almost there when—
"There's someone coming," Phryne says, plucking the safety pin out of his hands and quickly pinning it into a fold of her dress. He can hear the footsteps now, getting closer. Boots, sturdy ones, and two pairs of them.
"Let me deal with them," he warns. "I don't want you trying any heroics and getting yourself hurt."
"Me?" Phryne says, and doesn't have the decency to look even a little bit afraid. Jack wishes her fearlessness wasn't so alluring.
The footsteps stop a short distance away along the corridor he'd been dragged along and Phryne carried last night. Jack nods towards the door and Phryne stands up with him. They tiptoe towards it and Jack puts his ear to the crack between the door and the frame. "I say we get rid of the ghosts," he hears, though he has to strain to catch the words.
"They called us ghosts," Jack whispers. At least one of their captors is Chinese, so either the Flinders Street Gang has Chinese members, or there is a dangerous new collaboration between normally rival gangs. One look at Phryne's face tells him that she's come to the same conclusion. Their need to get out of this room has become even more urgent. The Chinese gangs are notoriously casual about disposing of witnesses.
There's a second voice, a rough local accent this time, with a tone of authority. Louder than the first man. Phryne will be able to hear him. "Not the silver-tail. She should be good for a ransom. Wearing all them fancy bijous, she's got to be worth a bob or two. But the jack, he's got to go."
"Do I get rid of 'im now?"
"No, wait until the old man gets here. He might want to do a spot of questionin'. Bit of a treat for 'im, getting to question a jack." Their laughter is unpleasant. "You stand out 'ere, I'll take a look in on them."
Jack takes Phryne's hand and they quickly cover the few paces back to the bed. Phryne lies down on it, eyes closed, and Jack slumps down on the floor, head against the side of the bed, their joined arms hanging between them. They're only just in time. There is the sound of first one, then a second heavy bolt being drawn, and the door opens. It's a sturdy door for a little room like this.
Jack doesn't react to the kick he gets to the ribs. "Pair o' lightweights, these two. Still out of it," the bruiser says with a distinct sneer in his tone. "And they thought they could queer our pitch. Idjits." He kicks Jack once again for good measure, but seems satisfied with the lack of response.
More footsteps, retreating this time, and the bolts are being drawn again. Both sets of footsteps head back downstairs, which is a relief. If they're going to escape through the window — which is the only option Jack can see — it isn't going to be quiet.
"Nice fellow," Phryne says, sitting up and handing the safety pin back.
"A real charmer," Jack says, wincing slightly as he sits down on the bed next to her. He has the measure of the pin now, he thinks. He should be able to uncuff them quickly.
The cuffs open with a satisfying click.
"Impressive," Phryne says, stretching her arm. She jumps up and examines the window. "Now for step two in our escape plan. Do you remember how many flights of stairs we came up? I have only the haziest recollection of being carried upstairs, but no memory of how long it took."
"I think just the one flight. Let's hope that is the case."
The window is small and head-height, and the shutters are on the outside. They'll have to break the window to get to the shutters. Jack picks up the pillow and thin blanket from the bed. They can't use any part of the bed itself — it's a tubular metal frame, firmly screwed down; he imagines this isn't the first time the room has been used to hold prisoners against their will. "The pillow should muffle the sound of breaking glass, and perhaps we can fold the mattress up enough to throw that out for a soft landing."
"Anyone would think you made a habit of escaping imprisonment," Phryne says.
"This is my first time. But then that does seem to be the pattern of my life since I met you."
"As long as you don't come to rue meeting me," she says, her coy smile confident of the impossibility of such an eventuality.
"I probably should. If I were sensible," he says, handing the pillow to Phryne. She holds it up against the window.
"But being sensible is so over-rated."
"It has its place. But for now, let's be perfectly unsensible, and smash a window." He wraps the blanket around his arm and hits the pillow as hard as he can with his forearm. It doesn't give completely, so he hits it again, and again. At least the pillow is serving its purpose and keeping the noise down. He doubts anyone could hear it outside of this room, unless possibly they were standing right outside.
Phryne interrupts him. "Let's take a look, check the damage," she suggests, and at his nod she pulls the pillow down.
The glass is thoroughly smashed, but the frame is only partly broken. The window is simply too high for him to swing at with full strength, and there's still the shutter to overcome. "Better keep going," he mutters, as much to himself as to Phryne.
"Is your arm hurt?" Phryne asks. The rummy thing is, his arm does hurt, but he hadn't noticed until she asked.
"It's fine," he says, and although he can tell he's not as convincing as he would like, she duly raises the pillow back to the window for him to start pummelling it again. "This would be much easier if I could get my foot to it," he says, though it's impossible. It's hard enough to reach with his arm.
He knows the moment Phryne has a terrible idea. A look of sheer delight comes over her face, and a gleam appears in her eyes, and even before she opens her mouth he says—
"No. Absolutely not."
"But I didn't even suggest anything," she exclaims.
"You were going to."
"Well, yes, I was. And it was a brilliant idea. So I'm still going to say it."
"I don't suppose there's any way I can stop you, is there?"
"No." She motions him to stop his beating of the pillow, and puts it down. "If I get up on your shoulders, I can kick the window in."
"With those dainty shoes?"
"Hmm. You have a point. Aha," she says, raising a finger in triumph of ingenuity. "I can borrow your shoes. Just temporarily. In a good cause," she adds, as her final line of persuasion.
Jack sighs, but for all that he's racking his brain, he can't think of a better idea. With the poor angle he has on the window, breaking the shutter will take forever, and he'll probably end up with a broken arm before the shutter gives. This truly is their best option. "As long as I don't have to wear your shoes," he says, unlacing his own.
"I'm quite sure they'd be a terrible fit," Phryne says, slipping off her dainty heels and pulling on his shoes. They're far too big on her, of course, but they should protect her feet.
The plan works perfectly. For their first attempt, they're a little too far from the window, though at least the last wooden muntin bar breaks off, but at the second attempt, the shutters fly open.
"Hurrah!" Phryne whispers, though Jack fears that the noise they've made breaking open the shutters is much more likely to attract unwanted attention than their voices. He throws the blanket over the window ledge, and hoists himself up to peer out. Not an ideal landing, but he doubts they have time to use the mattress, so they'll have to make do.
"I'd suggest the escape might be a little tricky for you, but I know better," he says, holding his hand out to give her a leg up. "It is just the one storey, thankfully. And you are going to love the landing."
"I suddenly know exactly what you mean when you say you don't like my tone," Phryne says, but gamely climbs up and wriggles through the window. There's a muffled grunt when she lands and discovers what exactly has broken her fall. Jack takes a little longer to squeeze through the window, but his progress is encouraged when he hears the return of footsteps heading their way. Fast, determined footsteps. They don't have long. He pulls his arms in as tight as he possibly can, ignoring the pain in his bruised ribs, hears the sound of ripping (his jacket on a stray shard of glass), and jumps, trusting Phryne to have moved out of the way.
Jack does his best to keep a straight face when he sees Phryne, but he has never seen her quite this dishevelled, and there are what appear to be potato peelings in her hair. Yet she still looks magnificent, even standing barefoot in torn stockings next to a dust box full of kitchen garbage.
"At least it was a soft landing," he says, biting down his smile. His humour is short-lived though. There's a rude exclamation above them and a scuffling sound that sounds like two men jostling for space. Their escape has been discovered. "Run," he says, grabbing her hand.
The first shot clips the cobbles in front of them, and they shy left, fleeing faster. They just need to get out of range of the window. There'll be men chasing them down on the street soon enough, but the bruiser in the window is their immediate concern.
Bang. Another shot, just to their left.
Bang. Jack gasps, the sting of the bullet taking his breath away for a second. "Jack," Phryne exclaims. He barely falters though, and doesn't let go of Phryne's hand. They're almost out of range.
There are two more shots in quick succession, but they're both wide, and then they're turning the corner, into another alley, but a wider one this time, cleaner. There are children playing hoops, three thin-faced little girls. They stare at them, open mouthed, their hoops clattering to the ground.
"A penny in it for you later if you say you didn't see us," Phryne calls out to them.
The girls look sceptical, but then the tallest one shrugs. "I reckon she's posh. She's good for it. We ain't seen nothing, Miss," she promises as Jack and Phryne race past.
There's a narrow pathway ahead, between tall tenements, and they turn into that. The stench is foul, and Jack regrets the lack of the seconds it would have taken them to have picked up their shoes.
"Stop," Phryne says, in the sort of tone that doesn't brook argument.
He leans against the dirty brick bordering the path. There's blood on his arm, but it isn't running fast — he's just been clipped. He'll be fine for a while. Phryne has other thoughts, though.
She looks down at her dress. It suffered damage in their escape. "It's not as though even Dot would be able to rescue this," she says with a shrug, and tears a wide strip off the bottom. She makes a good makeshift tourniquet, quick and efficient. He can picture her in the Great War, working with the ambulance brigade. He imagines she made the dying minutes of a lot of soldiers more bearable.
He, however, is not in his last minutes. At least, not if they keep moving. "They'll have men out hunting for us by now," he reminds her, and they start running again.
A few more turns, and the alleys turn into streets. The houses are smarter, windows visible instead of caked in grime, a single bell at the side of each door. They're attracting attention from men heading out to work, and women scrubbing their front door steps. They can't bribe them all to silence with pennies they don't even have.
"The next road," Phryne puffs, breathless. "We should be able to get a cab there."
She's right. There's a cab idling on the corner, no doubt hoping for a businessman impatient for an early morning appointment.
Jack taps the side. "Police business," he says.
The cabbie looks him up and down. "Right," he says. "And I'm the Queen of bloody Sheba."
"Damn it," Jack cusses. He'd apologise for his language, but he's sure Phryne has heard worse. "No badge."
The cabbie looks at him as though he's heard every excuse under the sun. He probably has.
Phryne taps Jack on the shoulder. "Let me try," she says, and turns back to the cabbie. "I know we're not, well, looking our most prepossessing, but I can promise you a generous tip if you'll be so good as to take us to The Esplanade, St Kilda."
For a moment, Jack thinks Phryne has been equally unpersuasive. And then a look of recognition comes over the cabbie's face. "You're that bird wot bought Bert and Cec a new cab! Hop in, and I won't even charge your mate extra for bleeding on me upholstery."
"You're a good man," Phryne says sincerely.
"We need to go to the station first," Jack says, or maybe he just mumbles it. He's beginning to feel more than a little dizzy.
"Absolutely not. It's twice the distance, you need a doctor, and you can phone the station perfectly easily from my house."
Jack means to argue, but slumped back as he is in the cab, he can't bring himself to do so. Much as he'd like to lead the raid on the premises where they were imprisoned, he's shoeless, bleeding, and his bruised ribs are aching. He simply nods, and lets the journey wash over him.
He comes to with a start when the cab jolts to a stop. "I'll send Mr. Butler out with the fare," Phryne promises the cabbie, and ushers Jack up to the front door.
The next few minutes are a whir of activity. Mr. Butler, being his usual imperturbable self, sorts out the cab, phones for a doctor friend of Phryne's before handing the phone over to Jack, and brings tea and scones to the drawing room. Phryne vanishes with Dot for a few minutes, and returns in a black and gold silk robe, her hair glossy, and her lips a perfect red. In the meantime Jack sits in the hallway on the telephone, explaining in precise details what he needs Hugh to do.
The raid sorted, Jack makes his way to the drawing room.
"Doctor's orders," Phryne tells him, holding out a delicate china cup. Her feet are kicked up on the sofa, wrapped in slippers that look like wisps of fur.
Jack takes the cup and sits down gratefully. He takes a mouthful of tea and splutters. That definitely isn't Mr. Butler's usual perfect tea. "Brandy, at this time in the morning?"
"As I said, doctor's orders," Phryne says mildly. "An excellent remedy for shock."
"I'm not in shock," Jack remonstrates.
"If your doctor says you're in shock, you're in shock. Besides, it's not polite to argue with a lady," Phryne finishes, clearly considering that the final say on the matter.
Jack would argue nonetheless, if the brandy weren't actually rather welcome. And when Phryne's doctor friend arrives — "Dr Mac, isn't it?" "Call me Mac." — and starts prodding his arm and ribs, he's glad of the brandy.
Eventually everyone else leaves: Mac for patients in greater need of her ministrations, Dot no doubt to see if anything can be salvaged from Phryne's shed attire, and Mr. Butler to the kitchen. The quiet is welcome — Jack's head is throbbing, an unpleasant reminder of their recent drugging.
Phryne yawns delicately, sinking even lower into the sofa. "I feel ridiculously tired for someone who spent the night in a very sound sleep."
"Of course, I should go," Jack says, putting his cup and saucer on the side table. He looks around for his hat for a moment, before he remembers that it was lost somewhere between the racecourse and their temporary prison.
"I didn't say that," Phryne says, the meaning behind the words perfectly clear. She stretches, catlike, before plumping up a gaudy little pillow and resting her head on it.
He would love to stay. Leaving Phryne is always a wrench; for all that she can be incredibly infuriating and meddlesome, she is also the most magnetic, captivating, sensual woman he's ever met, and the idea of taking the few steps across the room to kneel down beside her sofa is almost too appealing to resist.
But now—now is not the time. Not when she is recovering from a night of being drugged and kidnapped. So— "I have reports to write," he says.
Phryne nods regretfully. "I understand," she says, and he is quite sure she does. Then that familiar grin blossoms, lighting up her face. "You have important work to do. For one thing, you need to requisition a new pair of handcuffs."
"Well, yes, I—I suppose I do."
"Do make sure to call around soon," she says. "For dinner."
"Can you promise no murder, mayhem or— mischief?" he asks.
"Absolutely not," she says. "In fact, I will guarantee at least one of the three. Tomorrow, at eight?"
"I'll be there," Jack promises.
APC = aspirin, phenacetin and codeine, a headache cure
Bob = a shilling (dime)
Dust box = garbage bin
Ghosts = Chinese slang for white people
Jack = policeman
Queer our pitch = spoil our plans
Silver-tail = a rich person