Mac’s letter had been every kind of odd. Her handwriting barely looked like her own, which alone was a worrying fact as Doctor Elizabeth MacMillan was known everywhere for her steady hand, both in surgery and the written word, and her expressions… It was not in her nature to accompany simple yet formal dinner party invitations with lengthy tales of everything and nothing alike, as usually her words beside the necessary were sparse. A message. There had to be a message. A message, hidden deep within the seemingly light-hearted talk of hospital statistics and the latest examination methods, a message meant only for the right person, only for her to read.
Phryne had telephoned her in the instant she had lowered the paper but not been able to reach her, even hours later, when she asked Dot to dial the number once more. Dinner party… In all honesty, she had no memory of Mac hosting a dinner party ever since they had known each other, remembered her at times rather dismissive talk of being invited to too many formal events for her to both be willing and able to attend. Certainly it was Christmas, so perhaps an exception, but still… Still, it was strange.
The hospital was not much use to solving whatever mystery seemed to enfold there right before her very eyes; a young nurse, timid not unlike sweet Dot, claimed to not have seen Doctor MacMillan for three days at the very least, a statement only confirmed by however many people she had asked to speak to on the telephone.
Phryne could not deny being concerned about this rather important piece of information (and why shouldn’t she be? Mac was her best and oldest friend, after all, and such behaviour was highly unlikely for her), was scarcely capable of distracting herself from that odd letter, and the fact that Mac seemed to have disappeared. Certainly she had not travelled without notifying her – and the letter, as she could see by the address, had been sent from her own home, therefore… Gone. Mac was gone, missing, perhaps, and Phryne did not at all approve of such a thought.
It was already close to midnight when after once more failing to reach her Phryne jumped up from her seat, determined to find her no matter the cost, startling poor Dot who had fallen asleep over her knitting.
“I am going to pay Mac’s home a visit, Dot,” she said cheerfully, as for a moment she would banish the concern from her mind, and focus solely on her mission. Wasn’t she the Honourable Phryne Fisher, after all? She would find her, and save her from whatever peril she found her in, even if it meant to consult Jack at some point.
But it was not yet time for her to think of Jack; certainly he had other things to do, as it was quite a task to keep the city safe from crime, particularly during the holidays. No, for now she was alone, and perhaps it was for the best, as it would guarantee her full liberty in her actions.
“Care to join me?”
She laughed as the girl winced in fright, only barely suppressing a panicked squeal. Dot had grown to be so brave over the months, yet sometimes… But it was all right – perhaps she would find Bert and Cec somewhere on the street, otherwise she was certain that in this case she did not urgently require assistance.
“It’s all right, you go to sleep. Don’t wait for me, I might be out for a while; if you don’t hear from me by tomorrow morning, call Jack! And don’t forget to ask him to bring Hugh…”
Once more Phryne could not help but laugh at the expression upon Dot’s face as she slipped into her coat (it was an astonishingly cold night for December), fastening her golden gun beneath her stocking, and even quickly grabbing the small dagger upon the drawer on her way out. Dot would worry, she knew, but perhaps she would be capable of sleeping for a couple hours after all.
The drive to Mac’s property took no longer than ten minutes, a path she knew better than anything else, yet it felt like an eternity to her, an eternity that would fully deliver her to her own imagination.
Perhaps there was no need to worry after all? Perhaps Mac was perfectly all right and had merely lost herself in words, more than she usually would? Perhaps she had taken a holiday from the hospital, to make Christmas preparations? Perhaps…
Nonsense. Phryne gave a quiet sigh and could not help but shake her head at her own folly – never before had Mac allowed herself to stay away from the hospital for longer than perhaps a day, two at most if she herself was stricken by illness, not even for Christmas, not even for… Never had she lost focus when writing a letter, never had she… Soon again confusion and concern returned to her, causing her to sigh once more.
She would have rung the doorbell as she reached Mac’s home at last, but this was not the time for propriety; certainly she would be forgiven her intrusion, and if necessary she would replace the lock with another that would not be quite as easy to pick.
“Mac?” she found herself asking as soon as she stepped through the door and into the dark corridor, soon cursing herself for her recklessness – why should she be at home and not answer her telephone for an entire day? She had now notified whoever might hide within the house of her presence, a move that quite lacked her usual intelligence and care. But it was too late – and perhaps she was alone after all, having done no damage to her mission.
Moving nearly silently, she made her way to the drawing room to begin her investigation, only to nearly squeal in surprise as so suddenly the darkness was dispelled by a bright light, flooding the entire parlour and revealing a beautiful large Christmas tree, fully decorated in a way that could only be…
“You certainly took your time,” a more-than-familiar voice spoke from the corner of the room, causing her to quickly turn around. “I almost thought my message was too subtle even for the Honourable Phryne Fisher to discover… One more call and I would have answered the telephone after all.”
There stood Mac in her brown suit, her red hair tied up in its usual knot, a glass of brandy in one hand, bottle in the other, smiling at her as though nothing had ever happened, as though she had… Of course she had. Phryne began to laugh as she realised that from the beginning on it had been Mac’s intention to fool her, to decoy her into her home, and to… Oh, Mac…
Mac had seemed to read her mind as she, too, began to laugh, gesturing Phryne to take a seat on the chaise longue. “I wanted to prevent you from getting bored over the holidays,” she said tenderly as she, too, reached her a glass. “And I do know that you love your mysteries boiling hot. Merry Christmas, Phryne.”
Phryne smiled, reaching out to briefly touch her hand in equal relief and amusement. Only Mac would know that such excitement, albeit mixed with concern, was an ideal Christmas present, even if it only served as a means to an end to lure her into her home for the true celebrations. Only she would know…
“Merry Christmas, Mac,” she whispered, words followed by silence, a silence in which she seemed incapable of keeping her eyes off her. Never before had she noticed the beauty that lay within her eyes, and most of all within her smile… And only in this moment, this moment of such silent beauty, of silent bliss, she began to realise. She began to realise at last that no matter what lay ahead of them all in the following days, no matter which presents she was about to give or receive over the holidays, whether she were to be presented with rivers of gold or mountains of silver, it could not be any more beautiful. This moment, this night, spent together with Mac... Nothing could be any more beautiful. Mac was the most beautiful, the most precious present of all.