Another day, another corpse, although at least this time Phryne has - for once - received the proper clearance for Mac to examine the body in question.
"It's an odd angle, though, for him to have fallen onto his own ice pick," Phryne says, pacing past Isaac Henderson's toes as Mac carefully measures the depth of the puncture wound. "Imagine it: walking around with an ice pick and holding it at just the right angle so that when you trip, it goes straight into you? It strikes me as altogether unlikely."
"It's not straight in, per se," Mac says, noting the tilt of the forceps that she's commandeered in lieu of a more suitable instrument for such a narrow wound. "It came in from above. See? Too steep. If he'd fallen forward, the force of the impact would've torn it out again, or at least torn it a little bit."
Phryne turns on her heel and faces Mac straight on. "So the force would have had to come…"
Mac balls her hand into a fist, as though grabbing an invisible icepick, and drives it down in a stabbing motion. "From above, yes. Although I'd bet you already suspected that. You don't usually have me come in to check the coroner's work when you think the poor sod genuinely tripped and gutted himself accidentally. What tipped you off?"
Phryne smiles, her brilliantly red lips splitting apart to show her teeth. "His hands. He was found with the ice pick in his right hand, as though he'd pulled it out, but both the handle and his palm were completely covered in blood. If he'd been gripping the ice pick the whole time, how did his hand get bloody? Unless - "
"Unless someone put it in his hand after the fact," Mac finishes.
Phryne cocks her head, her smile growing even wider. "Precisely," she says. "And I think I know just who. I don't suppose you'd like to come with me for a spot of informal interrogation?"
Mac removes the forceps from Mr. Henderson's corpse. "That sounds like a lovely way to spend an afternoon. Let me get my coat."
Some days Mac can hardly recognize the Honorable Phryne Fisher, Lady Detective, as the same Phryne Fisher, ambulance driver, that she met during the War. Mac's first glimpse of Phryne had been of glistening arms, red up to the elbow, and a jaw clenched with determination as Phryne applied pressure to a wound doing its best to gush. They hadn't managed to save that one, not with their limited supplies and the direness of the gunshot, but when the poor boy had breathed his last (a choking gasp that was almost a sob), Mac had simply thrown down the bandages she'd had pressed to the wound and said, "Well, damn," almost conversationally. It was another death in a series of deaths, a rupture of skin and blood vessels and muscle and organs that bordered on becoming normal, or would have if it weren't all so completely terrible.
And Phryne - Phryne had let out a breath like someone had punched her square in the solar plexus, and then she'd wiped her bangs out of her face, smearing blood across her forehead, and stood up a bit straighter. Then she'd said, "Back out there, then."
The next one she'd brought in, they'd saved. It was something, at least, and once the lad was stabilized Mac had passed Phryne the small flask of whiskey she'd obtained and introduced herself.
In the long run, she supposed it had turned out all right.
Mr. Henderson's murderer turns out to be handy with more than just ice picks, and Phryne refuses to stay in the hospital for what she insists is "a scratch."
"Scratches don't need stitches," Mac says, not taking her eyes off the point where her needle pierces Phryne's skin. The laceration along the outside of her forearm is long but shallow, not penetrating to the muscle below, and it is certainly taking stitches in the emphatic plural to keep it closed. Still, better that the blade hit there than where Mr. Henderson's butler had been aiming, and thank God Phryne had thought fast enough to block the blow.
But Phryne gets her way in the end, as she always does, with the heels-dug-in obstinacy that Mac has come to expect, so Mac packs away a store of clean bandages, good soap, and painkillers and escorts Phryne home.
There are plenty of reasons to shrug off this latest injury, not least of which is Phryne herself. There's only the barest tension in her smile, the slightest pallor beneath her lipstick to indicate that she might be in pain. And, of course, Mac's expertise and experience make it impossible to ignore that, compared to gunshots and gutshots and haemorrhage and thousands of other wounds that Mac's dealt with, a few inches of split skin really isn't that bad.
But when it comes down to it, there's a fundamental paradox to caring about Phryne Fisher: watching her succeed is a beautiful thing, as she races into drawing-rooms with declarations of guilt like an avenging angel, but there's no denying that it is, at least on occasion, dangerous.
Dot, at least, takes Phryne's injury with a seriousness that puts Mac a bit at ease; anxiety shared feels like anxiety halved.
"Honestly, I'm fine," Phryne insists, despite the fact that her entire forearm is bandaged and relegated to a sling so that she doesn't open it up even further. (That was at Mac's insistence. Phryne never met a clue she didn't want to poke, and Mac has no intention of redoing any of those stitches because Phryne couldn't keep her hands to herself.)
"Let's get you to bed, Miss," Dot insists, and shoos Phryne upstairs.
"Is she that badly hurt, Doctor?" Mr. Butler asks Mac at the bottom of the stairs.
"Mmm, probably not," Mac says, and crosses her arms. "But I have to say, it's nice to watch Phryne be the one swept up in someone else's wave for once. It'll do her some good."
"Quite," Mr. Butler says, and sees to remember himself over his concern. "May I offer you a cup of tea? Or perhaps something stronger?"
"That," Mac says, smiling at him, "would be lovely."
Dot returns downstairs a quarter-hour later. Mac, having sufficiently fortified herself thanks to Mr. Butler, has laid out the items for Phryne's care on the kitchen table as Dot enters the kitchen, Phryne's bloodied and torn outfit held in her hands.
"Is she really - " Dot begins as soon as she sees Mac, and Mac nods.
"She'll be fine, as long as she takes care of herself. And for that…" She gestures to the materials on the table. "Bandages should be changed regularly, and make sure you wash the wound, carefully, with soap. These," and here Mac lifts the bottle of pills and shakes it, "should be applied as necessary. Phryne won't like them - they'll make her a bit muddled - but if she seems to be in pain, or if you get the sense that she's about to do something that'll rip a stitch, tell her I said 'doctor's orders.'"
Dot nods, taking it in, and takes Phryne's clothes to the nearest washbin. "I never thought I'd spend this much time as a lady's maid cleaning blood out of couture clothes," she confesses over her shoulder.
"That's Phryne for you, I suppose," Mac says, and tries to remember what Phryne had been wearing when she got stabbed. Something flowy in the sleeves, and - silk? "I suppose you can't just dunk it in bleach like we do at the hospital."
"I'm sure I'll figure something out," Dot says, her head tipping forward. Then she turns back around and says, "You must see worse than that every day. How do you…do it? Without it driving you mad, I mean."
Mac sighs, settling herself back in her chair at the kitchen table. "The same way you do anything, I suppose. You do it enough and it stops touching you. For the most part, anyway. I can't say I liked the sight of Phryne bleeding that much."
Dot winces. "Did…did she bleed a lot?"
"Phryne doesn't do anything by halves," Mac says, and that gets a ghost of a smile out of Dot. "But she'll be fine, if she can keep from doing anything to open those stitches again." She leans forward and pours Dot a cup of tea from the pot Mr. Butler left out. "And if you think this is bad, then you should hear some of what Phryne got up to in the war."
"Oh, please don't tell me," Dot says immediately, with a whole-body shiver. "I don't know if I'd be able to stop worrying."
"You're selling yourself short, Dot," Mac tells her, and motions to the cup. Dot steps forward and takes it, inhaling the vapor coming off of it gratefully. "Think about it - you used to be afraid of the telephone, and now you're practically a sleuth yourself."
Dot takes a measured sip of her tea. "I know," she says. "But…I'm still not as strong as Miss Fisher, and if she can get hurt, then…"
"Phryne also runs towards gunshots and tries to stop knives with her arms," Mac says. "Some would say that's not strength, but recklessness. You certainly don't have to be Phryne to be strong - and for that matter, if you did, God save us from strength. Can you imagine a world full of Phrynes? It's a terrifying thought, really."
"But let's keep the one we have," Mac says, and holds out her teacup. Dot's smile widens and she clinks her own cup against it in a toast.
The next time Mac sees Dot is over yet another corpse, as Phryne strides through into the morgue while saying, "Foul play, Mac?"
And Dot follows her in, notebook clutched in one hand and pen in the other. Mac meets her eyes just for a second, and the corners of Dot's lips tuck up ever-so-slightly into an expression that's halfway between a smile and bracing herself for an impact.
Mac smiles back, and they're off.