September 12, 1929
London was exactly as she remembered, and that, Phryne though, was the problem. Fred Elizalde and the Quinquaginta Band still played hot at the Savoy, and dance partners willing to become bed partners were thick on the ground. These thrills were a pleasant enough way to pass some time but paled when held against her nights of frequent intrigue and danger with Jack by her side. Still, they were a vast improvement over the days.
Immediately upon landing Phryne found herself mediating a tense reunion and exhausting confessional between her mother and father and taking steps to set the ship to rights. While the truth gave as much relief to Margaret Fisher's nerves as it did injury to Henry's pride, it hadn't simplified the matters of future financial oversight. Margaret's trust still weak, Henry reluctantly agreed to cede the control of the Fisher accounts. Phryne found herself subjected to nearly a full week of droning solicitors and the weak objections of her father. Discussions of recovered assets and the details and responsibilities of Phryne's new trustee status drew out in seeming endless drudgery but, at last, were near to an end.
In a dark-paneled bank office on Fleet Street, an overworked electric fan rattled on top of a credenza, doing nothing but moving overly warm air from one side of the room to the other. Phryne and a much subdued Henry sat across a wide table from Mr. Jasper Simcoe. Both watched with full attention as Simcoe pored through the sheaf of papers Phryne had presented upon their entry moments earlier. From where she sat, the thick lower lenses of his bifocals magnified his eyes and gave him the look of a dismayed owl.
"You'll see the Baron has agreed to divert the deed and all financial control," Phryne said. "A substantial allowance has been set, and I've assigned a solicitor my power of attorney and signatory for any requests that exceed that."
"Hm," Mr. Simcoe nodded slowly. He sopped the sweat from his forehead with a dull grey handkerchief and stuffed the now damp cloth into the breast pocket of his jacket. He made a note on in the margin of the final page of the contracts. "All seems to be order."
With a few more signatures, halting though they may have been on Henry's part, the entire mess was tidied: the estate re-secured with plans to return with full staff in the spring, a townhouse leased for the winter, housekeeper engaged, and creditors repaid.
There was nothing left to distract Phryne from the wanderlust stirring in her mind and heart. Every train whistle was the Orient Express calling her to see canals of Venice, the vast dome and towering minarets of the Hagia Sophia in Instanbul, and every ship's bell made her long for the anticipation of seeing land break across an endless horizon. London had never given Phryne what she wanted, and it had nothing to hold her. Except the promise of Jack's arrival. Phryne was surprised to realize that was enough.
So for the time, she decided she would wait and find what amusement she could. She would dine and dance, visit the fine fashion houses, and continue learning the personality of her new plane, a shining, DH 88 Comet whose sleek red body held more than double the speed and power of her beloved Moth.
September 13, 1929
Jack had always found Port Melbourne's passenger docks to be an attack on the senses, and this day was no different. He was queued fifty yards shy of third-class gangplank of the Orient Line steamer Orvieto. Under the cool morning light, the steamer's twin smoke stacks thew long shadows over the bustling crowds as they ebbed and flowed around each other. The wooden planks of the docks vibrated with the constant clattering of footsteps and heavy carts. The calls of the wharfies rose above the bustle as they moved their heavy cargoes, and the air stank of foul sweat and dead fish.
Behind Jack a mother murmured soothing nonsense to her red-faced, bawling infant, and Jack shifted his valise from left hand to right. He patted at his topcoat pocket for what felt like the hundredth time that morning. Reassured of the presence of his ticket, he turned his mind toward what he hoped waited for him in London. It was a very pleasant diversion.
Lost in those thoughts, he nearly toppled to his face under the forcible impact of a body against his. When Jack re-steadied himself, he found himself eye-to-eye with a thirty-something man with dark hair and a sheepish grin; he was familiar in a way that Jack found himself unable to place. His arm was twined around the waist of a tall but slim woman of similar age. Her face was fair with symmetrical patterns of freckles, and her blonde hair was bobbed short. Both wore clothes that were clean and well maintained but had obviously seen considerable use.
"Beg yer pardon," the woman said, fingers fiddling with the chain of her necklace. "We didn't harm ya none, did we?"
"Not at all," Jack replied easily.
"Yer sure?" the man pressed. "We're for the Orvieto too. Hate to think we've started wrong-footed with a possible pal."
"Entirely alright," Jack assured him.
"Good thing," the man said and held his hand out. "Name's Frank Dalton, and this is my brand new bride Molly."
"Jack Robinson," Jack answered back, accepting the offered handshake.
"Pleasure to meetcha, Mr. Robinson. England bound?" Frank asked, pumping Jack's hand up and down excitedly before finally releasing it. He rushed on without waiting for a response. "Us too. Taking Molly home to meet my mam. ‘Fraid she's cross with me for eloping, but can you blame me?"
"Oi, leave the man be," Molly said, ineffectually tugging at the crook of Frank's. "Poor fellow didn't sign on to listen to your yap."
"Sorry, mate. Suppose I best get used to listening to what the lady says." Frank winked, and allowed himself to be pulled away toward the rear of the queue.
"Ah, love," the mother of the now quieted babe said, her voice turning toward a tone of bitter that told Jack she knew as well as him how the shine of it could tarnish.
September 18, 1929
The orchestra was playing a tango and the club half full of diners and dancers as Phryne descended the left side of the sweeping staircase of the Café de Paris. The silver fringe of her dress swayed and bounced with every step. The moment she stepped onto the floor she found herself caught up in a sudden embrace. Only when the arms around her released and Phryne was able to take a step back did she recognize Emily Lindsay, a plump and bubbly chum of her boarding school days.
"Phryne Fisher, darling!" Emily exclaimed. She grasped both of Phryne's hands in hers, drawing their arms wide open. "Let me look at you! Gorgeous as ever. I heard you were back, but I couldn't believe it. ‘Not our Phryne,' I said, ‘she's surely off doing much more exciting things than old town haunts.'"
"Emily, how are you?" Phryne said with a smile as soon as Emily paused for breath. She leaned in and kissed the air just beside Emily's cheek.
"Oh, I'm wonderful! Divorced and free as a bird," Emily said, laughing lightly, "but that's nowhere near as interesting to talk about as you, I'm sure! You simply must join our table and tell us everything. Trevor Fitzhugh says you've been solving mysteries. I've read simply all of those Agatha Christie novels, are your stories as exciting as hers?"
"Well, I've had my fair share of intrigue," Phryne grinned, Emily's enthusiasm as infectious as ever.
"I can't wait to hear," Emily said, turning and gesturing for Phryne to follow. Emily's party was a raucous table of fifteen, a mix of new and familiar faces. They quickly supplied Phryne with a full champagne flute and a plate heavy with bread and cheese. After she sated their curiosity about the life of a lady detective, the conversation turned to ensuring that Phryne was fully informed of the latest gossip.
"Ever since Kate Meyrick got herself arrested again — bribery of an officer, would you believe — the 43 Club is on the decline," said Max, a swarthy man with a thin mustache and a heavy gold ring on his right hand. His wavy hair was heavily oiled and parted on one side, and when Phryne leaned in close to hear him more clearly, he smelled of expensive cologne. "Murray's is all right though. We're all going there to see the Frolic at midnight. Do come with us?"
"Oh yes! Please do!" several of the others within overhearing range echoed, and Phryne agreed easily.
September 19, 1929
The Orient Line's third-class quarters, while clean and comfortable enough to be pleasant in the single or double berths, came with certain shortfalls. Chief among them was the near constant noise. Colicky babies, boisterous inebriates, playing children, all were expected and went unremarked upon. But in the early morning hours as the Orvieto approached its scheduled arrival in the port at Fremantle, a commotion arose that great enough to send up an alarm that shortly reached the ship's crew.
"Was a woman screaming like the devil himself were on her," an elderly man with a thick brogue told a passing junior steward. He swallowed and shuddered. "Then it all just went silent."
The steward fetched the master-at-arms, Keneth Pomeroy, and together they traversed the corridor knocking on doors to try to find the source of the disturbance. Near the end of the hall, they came to a door slightly ajar. The steward knocked and, when no response came, pushed the door open.
"My god," Pomeroy gasped, and the two men stood frozen in horror. The bare bulb fixture hanging from the center of the ceiling was lit. It swung gently, casting ghastly shadows. Near every surface was awash in blood. The mattress soaked, the walls smeared, and wide puddles pooling on the floor. There was no sign of an occupant, but for a few belongings.
A man's grey topcoat was crumpled and half wedged beneath the berth alongside a pair of well-worn wingtip shoes. A single woman's silk stocking hung over the side of the sink basin. In the congealing pool of blood in the center of the room lay half a tin locket with a broken chain. In the near corner, a battered leather valise was upturned. Pomeroy pushed the steward aside and hunched his hulking body body to duck into the room. Careful to avoid setting foot in the bloody patches, he nudged the valise with the toe of his boot, and it tipped enough to show its contents were gone.
"Sir," the steward said in a tremulous voice. When he saw no response, he cleared his throat and tried again a bit more firmly. "Sir, what do we do?"
"Alert the captain," Pomeroy said, pulling himself to composure, "immediately. Tell him to have the Fremantle police waiting when we come into port. Gather the stewards. Find out who was quartered here."
"Yes, sir," the steward said. He turned on heel and sprinted away toward the ladder to the upper decks.
Pomeroy could hear him telling all in the corridor to return to their rooms, to stay there and await the crew's all-clear. He drew closed the door and moved to investigate the final room on the corridor. Again, no answer came to repeated knocks on the door, even when he loudly identified himself and announced the need to ascertain the passenger's well-being..
He tested the door and found it unlocked.
This room was dark and, unlike the previous, occupied. A man in a brown twill suit was sprawled on his back on the lower of the double berths, and the light from the corridor glinted off the blade of large knife resting by his lax hand. Pomeroy reached for his sidearm. With his pistol held at the ready, he approached the man.
The man didn't stir as Pomeroy crossed the room in one stride, nor as he carefully slid the knife away from and wrapped it in a clean white handkerchief. From this distance, the stench of whiskey was unmistakable. With the slumbering man effectively disarmed, Pomeroy turned on the light. Still the man didn't so much as twitch a finger. But at this distance Pomeroy could confirm that he was breathing and, despite the considerable amount of blood on his clothes, unharmed except for a bruise beginning to form over his left eye. He could also take a more thorough assessment of the room.
Several smaller pieces of luggage were strewn atop the upper berth, and a shabby trunk stood in the corner. A woman's wooden hairbrush and mirror sat atop the trunk, and hangers holding a pair of men's wool trousers, a cotton shirt, and two dresses of middling quality were on the hook on the back of the door.
A picture began to form in Pomeroy's mind.
"Wake up, man," Pomeroy said, giving the man in the bunk a good hard shake. "Where is your wife?"
The man groaned but still did not rouse. Pomeroy secured him by his left hand to the crossbrace of the bunk as a precaution anyway.
While the man slumbered, Pomeroy, the stewards and, once the ship docked, the local police force began a top to bottom and bottom to top sweep of the ship as well as a brief but exhaustive inventory of the two rooms of concern.
"The single berth was a Mr. Jack Robinson who boarded in Melbourne," the same junior steward said as Pomeroy sifted through the contents of the trunk. "And the double was a Mr. and Mrs. Frank Dalton, also aboard in Melbourne."
Pomeroy hummed. He opened a plain brown envelope, and skimmed the contents. A marriage license signed a week before by Frank Dalton and Molly Dwyer and a grainy photograph taken from behind of a dark haired man and blonde woman, their faces in partial profile. He looked between the man on the bed and the photograph and felt his earlier hypothesis gaining traction.
"I need to speak to one of the local force," Pomeroy said. "You stay here and make sure our friend doesn't rouse."
"B- but if he does?" the junior steward stammered.
"He's solidly restrained, my boy." Pomeroy said. "Just shout for me or for one of the Fremantle men. And try to remember anything he says before we get here."
When Jack came to, he was lying on his back on a surface as uncomfortable as a third-class bunk, but the grey ceiling he stared up at was much too high and large to be that of his quarters aboard the Orvieto. He had just long enough to recognize that it felt as though a mortar had gone off in his skull before he turned onto his side, vomited, and passed out again.
The second time he awoke, he managed to pull his wits together long enough to recognize that he was in a cell very much like the ones in his own station. The third an inspector was pulling him up off his back by his shirt and propping him against the wall. The man was shorter than Jack, wiry framed with greying hair.
"Ja Rob'son," Jack said, his lips too heavy to shape the words fully.
"That's right," the inspector said. "I asked what you did to Jack Robinson and your wife."
"Wuh hap'to m'wife?" Jack slurred, everything felt thick and slow, like the world was wrapped in taffy, except for his head, which was made of something a great deal more painful than taffy. "Where's Rosie?"
"Not Rosie," the inspector said. He held a broken locket close in front of Jack's face,. "Molly. Did you catch her them together, Frank? Molly and Inspector Robinson? Too much whiskey and a jealous rage?"
Jack groaned and felt his eyes begin to close again.
"All right, Frank," the inspector said. "Sleep it off, and I'll be waiting when you wake up again."
He kept his vow. When Jack finally woke clear-headed, the first thing he heard was, "Where's your wife, Frank? Where're Molly Dalton and Jack Robinson."
"My name," Jack began, gratified to hear his voice come strong and true, "is Detective Inspector Jack Robinson of Melbourne City South Station. I booked passage in a third-class single berth on the Orient Line Orvieto from Melbourne to London."
The Fremantle inspector's eyes darted to the side for the space of a blink, long enough to show Jack his flicker of doubt before it shuttered away again.
"Let's say that I believe you, Detective Inspector Jack Robinson," the inspector said, "that just leaves us with a new question. What happened to Frank and Molly Dalton in your room"
"I have the faintest," Jack said. He scrubbed a hand over his face, cringing at the tenderness around his eye.
"You were found this morning in the Dalton's room, pickled with whiskey and with a bloody knife in your hands," the inspector explained. "There was a butcher shop worth of blood in Jack Robinson's room."
Jack opened his mouth to reiterate that he was Jack Robinson but the inspector held up a silencing hand. Jack thought better of arguing, focusing instead on trying to take in all the details, sort them… make some sort of sense out of his current predicament.
"Now you're here, whoever you are," the inspector continued, "and Molly and either Jack Robinson or Frank Dalton are missing. Truth is, I'm not inclined to care which man you are. Because way I see it, you're either Frank Dalton who killed his wife and her lover in a jealous rage, or your Jack Robinson, who says he's a detective but looks like a murderer from where I sit. Now if you can illuminate the situation so it reads different..."
Jack swallowed as the man trailed off. He was struck by the sinking realization that he couldn't 'illuminate' anything that happened after dinner the evening before, nor prove that he was who he said he was without help.
"I'm not a murderer," Jack said. An all too familiar look crossed the inspector's face. "There may well be a murderer aboard the Orvieto. But it's not me."
"You know how many men have said the same to me as you?" the inspector asked.
"Yes," Jack said. "Because they've said it to me too. But even if I can't prove my innocence. At least let me prove my identity. Wire Melbourne City South station and tell them what you need as confirmation."
The inspector hummed, and Jack knew that at least this small victory was his.
As Hugh sat down to lunch at Inspector Robinson's desk, the station's teletype machine fired to life with the rapid-fire rat-tat-tat-tat of an incoming message. Hugh reluctantly set aside the sandwich of leftover roast chicken that Dottie had sent him off with that morning, and turned his attention to whatever matter required his attention.
He thought, not for the first time, how much duller the city seemed without Miss Fisher.
The knock on the door came as a most unpleasant disturbance to an entirely lovely dream.
It was much too early. Phryne had opened both the bedroom curtains and windows when she came in just a few hours before, tipsy and yearning for a view of southern stars. Now, as she rose to consciousness, Phryne noticed that the corners of the bedroom were drenched in shadows, and the air refreshingly cool, the heat having finally broken.
The knock came again, and Phryne mumbled something insulting into the bulk of her pillow. It must have been taken in another fashion because the door eased open and revealed the broad silhouette of her mother's new housekeeper, Catherine.
"Beg pardon, Miss," Catherine said, "but there's a telegram boy at the door. Won't go until he gives his message direct to you."
Phryne took a deep breath between clenched teeth and heaved herself onto her back. Now that she was awake, she could recognize how the champagne from the night before was still fizzing at the edges of her head. Unfortunately, it was accompanied by a bit of an unpleasant throb in the background. She took a moment to compose her gut and thoughts.
"Tell him I'll be down shortly," she said, "and give him tea and toast while he waits."
Catherine nodded and let the door close between them.
Phryne dressed in a hurry, pulling on a simple green and white, drop-waisted frock, and smoothed her hair into a semblance of order. She trotted barefoot down the stairs and turned the sharp corner into the parlor. A scrawny, spotty-faced young man of about nineteen sat uneasily on the edge of her mother's velvet settee, tugging at the collar of his uniform. Phryne noticed his hair was damp with sweat.
"Are you the Honorable Miss Phryne Fisher?" the boy said, standing as Phryne entered the room and brushing toast crumbs from where they'd fallen and stuck to his pants.
"In person," Phryne said with an easy grin she wasn't quite sincerely feeling yet, holding out her hand.
"Apologies for the early call, Miss," the boy said as he dug through his satchel and pulled the imposing red envelope of an urgent message. "This came in the wee hours when weren't nobody in to deliver it."
"No harm. Well, let's see what we have shall we?" Phryne took hold of the envelope, expecting it to be little more than Bert's most recent detailed missive on Aunt P's well-being (having taken this job much more seriously since the events of late). She nodded for the boy to sit again. "I'll need you to take reply, so if you'll wait just a moment."
"Of course, Miss," the boy nodded and resumed his careful perch, turning his attention to the remaining slice of toast.
Phryne turned the envelope in her hands, the thick black ink of its 'URGENT' stamp still fresh enough to smudge her fingertips. She slit the envelope open and withdrew the crisp typed telegram sheet. For just an instant she found herself utterly unable to make sense of either the sender -- Dorothy Collins -- or the message itself:
5 DEPARTING FOR FREMANTLE 6PM TODAY ABOARD THEMISTOCLES
BELIEVE INSPECTOR IN GRAVE TROUBLE
Phryne folded the telegram carefully and moved to sit at her mother's secretary. She hoped that she looked steady enough to her onlookers, but with each step she expected to hear her knees knock together.
Dot, Phryne knew, had lost so much of her fear, grown able to handle so much on her own and even more with Hugh ever steadier by her side. This telegram was not the overwrought worry of a lost waif terrified of telephone bells and her own shadow. This was of real concern.
"Oh, Jack, what have you fallen into," Phryne said as she picked up a gold-nibbed fountain pen and steadied her hand. She printed her return message in careful block letters, directing it to be transmitted to the wireless operator on board the Themistocles:
WILL MAKE HASTE AND APPRISE DAILY OF MY PROGRESS
The telegram boy left with this reply tucked neatly in his satchel and a substantial tip jangling in his pocket. Nearly before the door had closed behind him, Phryne turned her mind toward what arrangements must be made.
Until that very moment, she didn't realize just how strongly she'd pinned her hopes on a returning to Australia after a tour of new places, a well-appointed suites and staterooms, and Jack's very intimate company. Instead, all she had to look forward to were several cold, exhausting, and deafening days of flying leading her to undefined trouble.
There was no good of panicking right then, Phryne thought, steeling herself. She would take things as they came for now. At least, she reasoned, it was certain she could drum up a more skilled and pleasant flight partner than her father.
"Catherine, I need you to retrieve my carpet bag and my clothes." Phryne said, drawing a fresh piece of her mother's stationery from a drawer and beginning a list.
"Yes, Miss," Catherine said.
"I'll only be able to take a few absolute necessities with me on the Comet, so I also need you send my recent purchases to Melbourne," Phryne said.
"Yes, Miss," Catherine said.
"That's less pressing, I suppose. You'll have to turn around my trunk when the Ceramic comes to port next week anyway, and I'm also expecting delivery of an evening gown from Reville and Rossiter." Phryne punctuated an item on the list a bit too firmly, leaving a blotch of ink, and huffed.
"Yes, Miss." Catherine said. "And your pistol, Miss? Is that necessities or to be shipped?"
"Why, necessities of course!" Phryne exclaimed.
"Of course, Miss," Catherine said, and Phryne was immediately struck with a great sadness at the great unlikeliness of ever making introductions between Catherine and Mr. B. "Your mother will be sad to see you go. And your father."
"My father will be glad to be rid of my immediate interference in his affairs." Phryne rose with a shake of her head. She needed to tell her mother to change their dinner reservations and dress for what promised to be a very busy day.
"No. I simply can't allow it, Phryne." Captain Valentine Baker of the London Aeroplane Club shook his head in an emphatic denial of the request he'd just heard. Phryne had stormed his makeshift office on the grounds of the Great West Aerodome no more than five minutes before, scaring off two pilots loitering about and interrupting his meeting with a financial benefactor of the flight school who was perversely fascinated with aviation despite his profound fear of heights.
"When have you ever known me to ask permission, Bake," Phryne responded. "It's my plane. All I'm asking for is the name of a qualified co-pilot. If you don't give it to me, I'll go find someone at Bristol and Wessex or Liverpool or… I'll go alone!"
"Now breathe a moment," Bake said. Twigging to just how serious Phryne was didn't change his concerns one bit. "I take your meaning, Phryne, but you need to take mine too. It was a damn stupid thing you did in the first place. A flight like that with nearly no preparation, no plan! With an utter novice as your only backup. You're lucky you're not sunk at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, and you know it. And now you're telling me you're going to turn around and do it all again tomorrow in reverse and threatening to do it entirely alone."
"I'm perfectly capable—" Phryne interjected.
"You are," Bake agreed, a haunting sadness coming across his clear blue eyes. "But I know plenty of perfectly capable aviators, Phryne, and too many of them are dead. I don't want to see you join that list."
"I'm in no hurry to die, Bake," Phryne said. She stepped closer to him, resting a gloved hand on his shoulder. "I enjoy life far too much. But I am very much in a hurry to get back to Australia. I'm afraid there may be lives other than mine hanging in the balance."
Bake didn't answer for a long moment. Finally he sighed and gave Phryne a name.
"Amy Johnson," he said. "Solid as it gets. Earned her 'C' last month and has better instincts than any ten other pilots I could name."
Phryne threw her arms around Bake and nearly wept with gratitude.
"She hasn't agreed yet," Bake said. "She's in the air right now, go on and wait for her to come down before you start celebrating."
Phryne nodded and went outside, eyes trained on the sky. A single plane swept a wide curve in the endless blue above her, then it made a smooth roll with a degree of control that Phryne genuinely envied. Soon enough the plane landed, and Phryne approached as the pilot climbed out and jumped to the ground.
Amy Johnson it turned out was a woman of twenty-six. She had a prominent nose, heavy lidded eyes, and a naturally solemn expression that transformed into a grin as she listened to Phryne's proposition.
"In less than six days?" Amy said. "Is it even possible?"
"The Comet can do it," Phryne said. "The question is can we?"
"No way to find out without trying, is there?" Amy said.
A day later, Phryne would fall asleep in a Turkish hotel having learned that the Haiga Sophia was as dizzying an experience from the air as it was from its floor. She also knew Amy Johnson's skills as a pilot exceeded even what Bake had promised. She focused on these thoughts, and not the latest news from Dot. Though her communications were circumspect in phrasing, Phryne had a growing suspicion that Jack's whereabouts were currently unknown to all.
September 22, 1929
Dot arrived late to lunch, having spent the later part of the morning haunting the corridor near the radio room, waiting for word of Miss Fisher and Miss Johnson's departure from the Basra airfield.
"What's the news?" Bert tapped the tines of his fork against the edge of his plate.
"They left about an hour ago," Dot said, settling into the empty seat between Hugh and Dr. MacMillan and reaching for the plate of soft rolls at the center of the table. "Miss Johnson brought them well through some high winds over the desert last night. Miss Fisher hopes they'll make Allahabad without difficulties."
"Sounds like she might beat us there at this rate," Cec said, marking out the latest updates on "Feel like we should give her a fuller lay of the land."
Dot bristled and glared at Cec, her jaw set firm. The conversation was familiar by now, having been held twice a day since the first telegram from Inspector Graves of Fremantle. She'd made her feelings on the matter clear then and every time since.
"I'm not telling Miss Fisher that the inspector may be dead by telegram," Dot said.
Hugh's hand settled warm and careful in the center of Dot's back as he said, "There's no point borrowing trouble before we know anything for certain ourselves."
"But--" Cec started.
"No," Dr. MacMillan said. "We'll meet as planned and find out what we're dealing with together."
A small crowd of RAF pilots and mechanics awaited them when Phryne brought the Comet down just after sunset onto the hardpacked runway of the base in Allahabad. By the time Phryne cut the engines, an airman was positioning a ladder against the body of the plane.
"Welcome, Miss Fisher. Miss Johnson." he said. "Captain Baker sends his regards."
"Thank you," Phryne said. Her voice felt muted in her own head with her ears ringing in an echo of roaring engines. As soon as she was at the bottom of the ladder, she heard Amy's now familiar whistle and turned to catch her carpet bag before it hit the dirt. The muscles in her back protest at the movement, and Phryne groaned.
"We've got bunks for you ladies with our nurse corps," the airman said, "and showers and a hot meal as well. And rest assured, your machine is in good hands and will be ready for your departure tomorrow."
After a long shower and a meal of lamb stew and rice, Phryne met with the base radio operators to get the latest weather reports and send off the evening's missives to Dot and Bake, confirming safe arrival and tomorrow's planned route to Singapore. By the time she returned to the small building that housed the nurses' quarters, Amy had found a deck of cards and drawn three of the nurses into what appeared to be a very serious game of Bridge.
"She cheats," Phryne warned Amy's opponents, heading toward the empty cots at the far side of the room.
September 23, 1929
The passengers aboard the Orvieto grew restless with every passing day they remained in port. Rumors swirled on the upper decks. It was a quarantine because the Influenza's come again, said one woman in the second-class dining room, but a man at the next table insisted he heard the ship's doctor mention measles. Still, they weren't confined to quarters, and no one seemed to have heard of anyone who had fallen ill.
"I heard there was a murder in third-class, and they found a room full of blood," said a boy playing among the chairs spread out in the sun on the first-class bridge deck. His mother was quick to turn a sharp look on him for his glee at getting to share a gruesome rumor with strangers.
"Nonsense," came the response from a stylish blonde woman standing near the rail. Despite her easy dismissal of the gruesome claim, her mouth drew tight with concern.
"I'm sure it's nothing so horrid as that," her male companion said, reaching over to pat at her shoulder in reassurance. "Whatever it is, we'll likely be underway soon enough without any further incident. Mother and father will just have to accept that we've been delayed and will miss their anniversary gala."
"You know they'll tell us again that we shouldn't have extended our visit with the Sydney cousins," the woman says, "but I suppose there's nothing to be done about it now, is there Edward?"
"Nothing but wait for matters to be resolved and hope all runs smooth from here on, Elizabeth." Edward said.
September 24, 1929
The closer the end of their journey had come, the less Phryne had been able to hide her rising anxiety. Every night's request for information from Dot was answered in the morning with the reiteration that they too were without clarity of the situation. It was in the dead of night after they arrived in Singapore that Phryne could no longer hold all her fears inside.
Amy sat listened patiently as Phryne explained that someone very dear had been drawn into unknown circumstances and possibly great harm.
"I'm afraid I'm never going to see him again," Phryne said at last, and Amy poured them both another cup of tea and held Phryne's hand until she fell into a fifull sleep.
In the morning Phryne was unable to stop pacing the length of the hanger while the Comet was prepared.
"We can press on," Amy said. "You fly today, we refuel as planned in Kupang, and leave directly once we've ensured the plane is fit. I'll fly overnight. You'll be able to meet them in port tomorrow morning."
"Six hundred miles in the dark over open water," Phyne said, shaking her head. "I can't ask that of you."
"You haven't asked," Amy said.
It wasn't a sound plan, but Phryne didn't feel of sound mind anymore.
September 25, 1929
Phryne awoke to the dizzying sensation of the Comet banking into a slow descending curve. Its left wing dipped sharply. The sun was low in the eastern sky, and below them ships slid through brilliant blue water in and away from the Fremantle docks. They followed the curving path of the Swan River toward Perth on their approach to the Maylands Aerodome.
Amy held a thumbs up, and Phryne braced. The Comet's wheels touched briefly, lifted once, then came down again as Amy pulled them to an easy stop.
"You're brilliant!" Phryne cried after they disembarked. She drew Amy to her into a warm embrace, and felt the weight of the poor woman slump against her. "My god, my dear. You're about to fall over. Let's get you to a bed!"
WIth the Comet left in the capable hands of the Maylands mechanics, Phryne piled Amy and herself into a cab and directed the driver to the Esplanade Hotel on Fremantle's Marine Terrace.
Phryne secured several top-rate rooms and one suite on the hotel's upper floor along the Terrace balcony. She pressed a key into Amy's hand and insisted she go rest as long as she wanted.
"I think I shall," Amy agreed. "But if you need further assistance."
"You've done more than a yeoman's share," Phryne assured her. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to freshen myself and get to the port to meet the Themistocles."
Amy waved her on, and Phryne left her to her well-deserved nap.
In her own room, Phryne bathed until she finally felt free of sand and sweat for the first time since leaving London. She set her filthy flight clothes aside for the hotel laundry and dressed in a conservative day dress of blue wool crepe.
She stopped briefly in the hotel dining room for a pastry and tea before a brisk walk took her to the passenger docks and to the Aberdeen ticketing office where the Agent informed her that the Themistocles was due in port in an hour and directed her toward its berth.
The boat pushed into port exactly on time, and shortly Phryne spotted her compatriots moving down the gangplank and felt an immediate rising optimism.
"Dot!" Phryne shouted, "Mac! Over here!"
Dot waved, and Phryne began pushing her way through the crowd.
"Oh, Miss Fisher!" Dot cried when they reached each other. Soon all the group were speaking at once, questions and exclamations running over each other with no sense being made of any of it..
"Oi!" Bert shouted, "We ain't doing no good here. Time to get a move on and let Miss Fisher in on what's what."
"Yes," Phryne said with her voice rough in desperation barely held at bay. "Our hotel is only a short distance. You can all get cleaned up and someone can at last explain exactly what kind of trouble Jack is in."
"There was an incident on the inspector's ship," Hugh said, once all were fresh and reconvened in the lounge of Phryne's suite. "We received a telegram direct from an Inspector Graves. They found the inspector's room bloody, and a man claiming to be the inspector in the next room with a weapon."
"What do you mean claiming to be the inspector?" Phyne asked. "It's either Jack or it's not."
"That was the trouble to start, miss." Bert interjects. "Man they found didn't have nothing or nobody to say who he was but his own word. Graves says everybody on the ship says that they saw the inspector and a woman and another man at dinner every day but can't none of 'em remember which man was which."
"Well, obviously any of us will be able to pick Jack out," Phryne said. "But how do we prove it if Graves won't take our word either?"
"Proving whether it's him or not's the easy part" Cec said.
"Cec is right," Hugh said. "I gathered the inspector's personnel records. So if it's him, I expect that his fingerprint card will clear up that part of the mess to the satisfaction of the Fremantle detectives."
"If it's him," Phryne echoed.
"I'm sure it's him," Dot said, reaching to pour more tea into Phryne's cup.
"But there's still the matter of two missing people," Mac said from the corner where she'd settled into a deep arm chair. "He'll still need someone to clear his name, which it doesn't seem the local force is too keen to do."
"And that's why we figured we couldn't wait until we knew for certain if it was him before we let you know, miss," Dot said.
"Well. What are we waiting for!" Phryne exclaimed. "Bert, Cec, stay her for now. I'll telephone you when we have news. Dot, Hugh, Mac… come along."
"Give me just a moment," Phryne said, pulling up short as they approached the complex of buildings that held the police station. "Oh God, what if it's not him?"
"Have faith, miss," Dot said, stepping close and squeezing her hand.
"Dottie's right, miss," Hugh said. "We've got to believe the best."
"Yes, of course you're right." Phryne nodded, resolved that if Dot and Hugh could be brave, then so could she.
They met Inspector Graves as soon as they walked in.
"What's this?" he said, eyebrows lifting.
"Senior Constable Hugh Collins of Melbourne City South," Hugh said, holding out a thick file in a dark brown cardboard jacket. Atop the file was Graves' telegram. "Here to offer possible identification of the prisoner claiming to be Inspector Jack Robinson."
Graves took the file and began combing through it slowly, humming under his breath every few seconds. Phryne peered around the main lobby, struck with the similarities to Jack's beloved City South.
"May we see the prisoner," she asked.
"Hmm, and who are you?" Graves said, looking up from his desk. "Rosie, the wife?"
"Ex-wife," Phryne said automatically. She drew one of her cards and handed over. "Phryne Fisher, Lady Detective. I've worked extensively with Inspector Robinson and Constable Collins on number of matters of import."
"Have you?" Graves said, going back to the file, picking a large magnifying glass off his desk and leaning in closer.
"Yes," Phryne said. "Your telegram came as a serious shock, and I'm sure you can understand that we're both rather desperate to ascertain whether the man you have is our colleague."
"Just a moment," Graves said, then louder, "Constable Milton, where's the fingerprint card of the Orvieto prisoner?"
A portly constable emerged moments later, handed a smooth page of cardstock to Graves and disappeared back into the rear of the station. Graves peered through his magnifier for a moment more before his eyes widened a fraction.
"Inspector Graves?" Phryne said.
"All right, come with me, only one at a time," Graves said, rising from the desk.
"You first, Miss Fisher," Hugh said, and Phryne near kissed him in gratitude.
"But your colleague isn't in the clear, Miss Fisher. Best to remember that." Inspector Graves led her past the administration desk, past the offices, until they reached a large, dim holding cell. There, on a bare plank bunk, with his eyes closed was Jack. His face was covered in nearly a week's worth of patchy beard growth and a mottled yellow and green bruise surrounded his left eye, but he was very much and entirely him.
"My God, you look a fright!" Phryne exclaimed as soon as Graves left them along, then burst into tearful laughter.
"Hello to you too, Miss Fisher," Jack said. He pushed himself up to sitting and swung around to look at Phryne, unable to disguise his shock at seeing her in the flesh before him. "I don't recall asking Inspector Graves to wire London."
"Oh, you know me, Jack," Phryne said with a shrug, wiping at her eyes. "Always showing up when you least expect it."
"You know, I don't think I've ever told you how much I appreciate that particular habit of yours," Jack said. He approached the barred border of the cell. "So, I don't suppose you've got a plan to get me out of here as a free man?"
"Well, Hugh's managed to prove that you're you, so that's a start." Phryne paused, unwilling to admit aloud that she was still too in the dark to think about a solution just yet. "Would you possibly be interested in a daring jail break?"
"I need you," Jack said, his voice turning serious. "I can't see my way out of this, if I'm being honest. They may know I'm me now, but Graves has been entirely clear that he doesn't care who I am, only what he thinks I did. And I haven't got any idea what happened that night. But I have the absolute utmost faith in the skills of Phryne Fisher and her colleagues"
"We're going to figure it out, Jack. As quickly as we possibly can." Phryne reached through the bars and touched his cheek, the edge of her finger brushing against faintest yellow of the bruise. The hair of his beard was coarse against her palm. "Think of all the trouble you've gotten me out of. Isn't it about time it's my turn? But first. I need to you tell me everything that happened before that night."
"Well, it all started when I decided to follow the woman I love to London," Jack said, reaching through the bars and cupping his hand to her cheek brushing the pad of his thumb against the seam of her lips. Phryne's breath caught short, and her belly grew warm with the same anticipation that had kept her waiting for him in London. She turned her head away and forced herself to put some space between them. All the other moments when the time wasn't right, when something or someone stood between them suddenly paled in comparison. There had never been a worse time to be reminded of just how much she wanted and needed him. How much she loved him.
"Jack, be serious now!" she said.
"I've never been more serious in my life, Phryne" he replied, his gaze holding on her for the space of several breaths. Finally he glanced away, eyes downturned. "But this trouble began in the queue to board the Orvieto. That's when I met Frank and Molly Dalton..."
He told her everything. The encounter on the dock, their adjacent rooms, meals together and Frank's habit of overly-friendly conversation. Every detail he could remember about who they said they were, what they looked like. And then… waking up in this very same cell and every question Graves had asked him since.
"How much of this have you told Graves, Jack?" Phryne asked.
"He has to this point been uninterested in hearing anything except a full confession," Jack said.
Phryne noded, reached through the bars and touched his cheek again before she left. In the lobby she drew Dot and Hugh and Mac close and told them, "I need each of you to speak to him about what happened. Make him to tell you every detail. No matter how tired he is of repeating it, no matter how inconsequential he may think it is. Ask him every question you can think of, and note what stands out to you."
Phryne cajoled Constable Milton into allowing her to use the station's telephone. She put a call through to the Esplanade and requested the name of a nearby restaurant that would be able to accommodate a party requiring some privacy and then asked to be connected to Bert and Cec's room.
"We'll be dining at The Madrid Restaurant," she told Cec when he answered the phone, providing the address and explaining that she hoped to come to some insight by comparing what Jack had told each of his visitors.
Bert and Cec stood in front of the restaurant waiting when Phryne directed the cabbie to stop.
"He was drugged," Mac said as soon as their food was served and the waiter retreated. "Not something that had to be administered by force. Chloral hydrate in his drink at dinner would be my guess."
"Chloral hydrate?" Phryne said.
"It's a remarkably effective sedative for surgery patients," Mac said, "but in combination with alcohol it's also popular among a certain population to facilitate robbery."
"Doc's talking about a Mickey Finn, miss" Bert piped up. "Cec and me have had some swells who've' been dosed stumble into the cab. They'd sleep through a riot, I'd say."
"Bert's not far off from the truth," Mac said. "It doesn't take full effect instantly like ether or chloroform, which means Jack could have returned to his room under his own power while already in a hypnotic state."
"That explains why he can't remember leaving dinner, but Graves hasn't mentioned him appearing incapacitated in the dining room." Phryne said.
"But regardless," Mac continued, "properly administered or as a Mickey Finn, a dose Chloral Hydrate shouldn't last more than eight hours."
"The inspector told me he didn't come to until after noon," Dot says, sitting up straighter and tipping her head to the side in contemplation. "If he was drugged near the end of dinner and the Orvieto runs on the same schedule as the Themistocles, that's nearly eighteen hours."
"Yes," Mac nodded. "I'd say there's a good chance he wasn't meant to survive."
The words cast a pall over the room that lasted until Hugh Cleared his throat and said, "I don't know what to make of what the inspector told me," he said.
"What's that?" Phryne said.
"His room," Hugh said, taking his notebook from his jacket pocket. "From what Inspector Graves' has asked him and what Inspector Robinson has overheard them talking about, it doesn't fit. Other than the blood, It just doesn't seem like a murder happened."
"Well, there is a distinct lack of bodies," Phryne said.
"No," Hugh said. "It's not just the missing bodies. It's that there was nothing else in the room at all. There wasn't a smallest hint of skin or even a bone fragment, nor footprints or spaces where bodies had been disturbing the blood on the floor."
"He said the same to me," Phryne said, "But I wasn't sure if I was making too much of it."
"I don't think you are, miss," Hugh said.
"There's the meals too," Dot said. "The inspector told me that he only ever saw Frank and Molly at lunch and dinner. And even though their rooms were right next to each other he never heard or say anything from them between dinner and breakfast. Not even talk through the walls. But we all just spent 6 days in second class, and we could here every peep, Miss Fisher. It's almost like these two didn't exist from night til morning."
"Excellent discovery, Dot!" Phryne said, lighting up. "Jack failed to mention that to me entirely. What else did you learn from our client?"
"I assume mostly the same things you did, miss, with some exceptions" Dot said with a sly smile. "The inspector didn't encourage it, but Frank and Molly Dalton were set on being sociable with him. I don't think it was an accident the way the bumped into him on the dock, not really."
"No, Dot, I don't think they did either," Phryne said. "But I still don't understand why."
"Like Jimmy Natoli, ya reckon?" Cec said to to Bert, who nodded.
"Could be," Bert said.
"Who's Jimmy Natoli?" Phryne asked.
"There was this bloke showed up started selling insurance to wharfies a few years ago," Bert said. "Smyth. Was real particular about who he got chummy with, but struck up pretty good with Jimmy Natoli after a few weeks."
"Jimmy was a shoe shine who worked the first-class passengers coming into Melbourne" Cec broke in, "No wife, no kids. Kept to himself mostly. Only thing most of us knew about him was his weak heart"
"Only, one day they find Jimmy dead at the end of the docks," Bert said. "Had a gun in his hand, pockets full of more money than a shoe shine'd earn in a year, and a pool of not his blood around him. Coppers asked around and decided Jimmy killed the insurance man then dropped dead of a heart attack after he rolled him into the harbor."
"Problem is," Cec said, "turned out Smyth's line was a swindle. When Bill Crimmins went to get paid after he lost his leg, the company'd never heard of him or Smyth. Poor Jimmy was just a prop to get Smyth out of town easy."
"Cec, you're a genius!" Phryne exclaimed. She leaped from her seat and crossed to him, grasping his face between her hands and kissing him soundly on the mouth.
"Oi, miss!" Cec laughed. "My wife might not like that."
"Bert, Cec. I don't think the similarities between the fate of your Jimmy Natoli and Jack's current circumstances are a coincidence." Phryne said.
"Smyth is Frank Dalton!" Dot exclaimed.
"I believe so, Dot." Phryne said. "And this time, he meant to leave 'his' body behind to keep anyone from looking any further. I'd be very willing to wager that he and this Molly are still on board the Orvieto, already under new identities."
The rest of the meal passed in a flurry of trying to compile their separate notes and ideas into a report that Hugh could deliver in his official capacity to Inspector Graves. This was followed by a brief detour back to the Esplanade to allow Hugh to change clothes into his freshly pressed uniform and another longer detour to the Fremantle telegraph office.
"Constable Collins, Miss Fisher," Inspector Graves said as they entered the station. "I didn't expect to see you again so soon. Your colleague will be glad of the visit."
"I'll just be on my way then," Phryne said.
"Inspector Graves," Hugh said, as Phryne retreated to the holding cell. "I'm here on an official matter on behalf of the Melbourne police department."
"Hello again, Jack," Phryne said.
"Phryne." Jack's smile was sincere but weary. "Don't tell me you've solved my case already."
"Not quite yet," Phryne admitted.
"Shouldn't you be out digging yourself into trouble then?" Jack said
"I wouldn't dare while you're not there to charge in after me." Phryne said. "But I do have news, and you need to listen carefully, Jack."
"You have my utterly undivided attention, Miss Fisher," Jack said and, not for the first time, Phryne recognized that he held a note of 'darling' in his voice when he addressed her such. .
Phryne looked over her shoulder to ensure there were no possible eavesdroppers in sight, and lowered her voice, leaning close enough that her breath ruffled his hair as she spoke.
"Hugh is giving Inspector Graves information on what we believe happened," Phryne said, "including information on an open investigation of your department. Graves is going to come in here to talk you, and you're going to need to tell him exactly this: You encountered Frank Dalton on the Melbourne dock, but it wasn't a day after leaving Adelaide that you began to suspect that he was a known criminal."
"I've no doubt he's a criminal now, Miss Fisher," Jack said, "But what did I suspect him of before he drugged me and set me up as a murder suspect?"
"You believed him to be wanted in Melbourne for fraud, larceny and murder committed while he operated under the name Harold Smyth--"
"Harold Smyth!" Jack hissed. "What? How!?"
"You've Bert and Cec to thank for recognizing the modus operandi," Phryne said.
"I'll be sure to buy them a drink when I taste sweet freedom again," Jack said. "So what did I do next?"
"You undertook closer surveillance to confirm his identity, of course," Phryne said.
"Of course." Jack scratched at his stubble.
"You intended to telegram Melbourne and Fremantle police before coming into port." Phryne said, "but Smyth cottoned on and that's when he drugged you and staged the murder that allowed him to assume a new identity."
"Phryne, this is absurd!" Jack said. "If he were in my jail and I were in his place, I'd want to know why this story was only just coming up now."
"Because you couldn't prove any of it, and it would just give him more reason to believe you might be Dalton… or Smyth really" Phryne said. "But you can now. We can. We have every reason to believe that your Dalton is Smyth, and Hugh telegrammed the commissioner requesting the details around the facts of the insurance scheme and Jimmy Natoli's death. The circumstances are nearly identical, except the stroke of luck that your heart is stronger than Natoli's. Now that Graves has all the facts, you're about to become indispensable to him, Jack."
"Because I can identify Smyth." Jack nodded in settling understanding.
"And you can give Graves the satisfaction of apprehending a man who outsmarted the Melbourne police twice." Phryne withdrew her hand, feeling the loss of Jack's touch keenly. "Now quick, tell me what happened before Graves comes."
"In the process of boarding the Orvieto at Melbourne on September sixteenth, I encountered a man who called himself Frank Dalton…"
Graves listened to the whole story without interruption, then he asked Jack several further question which Jack answered easily. And when Graves finally unlocked the cell, Phryne barely waited until Jack had one foot out before wrapping her arms around him and pressing her mouth to his. His held her there, his hand on her neck, fingers drawing shivers as they brush through the short hair at the nape of her neck.
"My god, that beard is a monstrosity, and you smell like a sewer in summer" she said when she drew back, gratified to feel the rumble of Jack's rich full laugh.
While Phryne's greeting was the first and most passionate, the rest lacked nothing in their sincerity. His reunion with Hugh followed almost immediately, full of professional respect. And upon returning to the Esplanade Jack was set upon by the whole party in the lobby. He received an assortment of handshakes, back-slaps, and hugs, while a roused Amy introduced herself and expressed great annoyance at being allowed to sleep well into the afternoon and through the entire proceedings.
"We'll all have plenty of time to celebrate the inspector's freedom when the case is well and truly resolved," Phryne said, taking Jack by the arm. "But I have a feeling that he may appreciate the opportunity to bathe and rest now."
"Oh of course!" Dot exclaimed hugging him again. "We're all so glad you're safe, Inspector."
They were both quiet on the walk from the lobby, quiet in the elevator, and in the hallway as they approached the rooms. Giddy with excitement and exhaustion, Phryne couldn’t stop herself from casting constant unsubtle glances at Jack. Each time she looked, he was looking back.
"My suite," Phryne said when they reached her door. “We optimistically obtained a room for you as well if--"
"Open the door," Jack said, body hovering inches from her, and Phryne felt as though she might explode if he didn't close the gap soon.
Phryne opened the door, and they both stepped into the suite. Jack closed the door behind him, and stepped forward. He pressed against her, drawing her back by firm hands on her hips.
“Jack,” Phryne said, as he kissed the curve of her neck, stubble rough and scratchy.
“Yes,” Jack mumbled against her skin.
“You really do smell like a sewer,” Phryne said and Jack stopped kissing her, rested his forehead against her shoulder and laughed.
“Thank you, Miss Fisher,” he said. “Perhaps I could avail myself of your bathroom?”
Phryne nodded and took his hand, leading him through the suite to the large bathroom. Jack immediately moved to brush his teeth while Phryne adjusted the taps on the shower and tested the water against her hand.
When she turned, Jack was staring at himself like a stranger in the mirror. Under the glow of the overhead fixture, the faded bruise and dark exhausted circles staining Jack’s face were all too evident. He tipped his head back, then to the side.
“You were right about the beard,” he said.
Phryne reached out and slid his jacket down off his shoulders, letting it fall to the black tiled floor.
“I’m not sure you can be trusted to bathe alone,” she explained, pursing her lips for a moment as she tugged his shirt tails free of his pants. “You seem rather drawn to trouble this week. I’d hate to explain it to Constable Collins if we went through all this trouble to rescue you only to have you smash your skull on my bathroom floor.”
He nodded his understanding and assent, and Phryne continued to undress him. When he was naked, she undressed herself and watched him watch her. His eyes roamed her body, not seeming to know where he wanted to look most. She took him by the hand and together they stepped into the spray.
The water poured over them just on the edge of too hot and pinked their skin. Phryne turned Jack away from her. While he scrubbed at chest and stomach and let the soap run down his body, Phryne drew a soapy cloth across his shoulders and down the center of his back. She lathered his hair and worked her fingers against his scalp until he was shivering from it.
She turned him around, spread shaving soap over his face. Picking up the safety razor, Phryne stepped close enough that her breasts brushed against Jack’s chest, and he notched his thigh between hers, pressing up.
“Jack,” Phryne said, eyes closing as she gave in to the need to rock against the wonderful pressure. “You’re risking your neck.”
“I trust you with it,” Jack said.
She steadied herself, tipped Jack’s head to the side and dragged the blade of the razor slowly down the angle of his jaw. Jack’s breath puffed warm and soft against her cheek, his fingers clenched against the swell of her hip, and his cock began to plump where it pressed against her belly. With this as encouragement Phryne quickly finished dispatching the beard to its fate and cleaned the lingering soap from Jack’s face.
“I want to have you in a bed, Phryne,” Jack said when she was done, but her name trailed into a jaw-cracking yawn that he had the decency to look chagrined about.
"I’m not accustomed to people falling asleep while I ravish them, Jack,” Phryne said, shutting off the water and stepping onto the bathroom floor, water pooling around her feet. “I’d rather it not start now.”
“My apologies,” Jack said, the corner of his mouth quirking up. He stepped out of the tub after her, taking a towel up and unfolding it, rubbing it briskly against her goosepimpling skin. “I should mention I’ve had a tiring week.”
“We have time,” Phryne said, and she was shocked at the flood of relief she felt at it being true. Jack was here with her now, and she wasn’t going to let him out of her sight again easily.
Together, they dried off and walked naked to the bed. The sheets were crisp and cool when they slid between them, and Jack’s body was warm and solid when he pulled Phryne to him. She waited until she felt his grip on her soften, his breath evening out into the steady rhythm of sleep before she allowed herself to be absorbed by her own exhaustion.
She jolted out of sleep biting back a scream, the nightmare of Jack's dead body sinking alone to the bottom of the ocean already fading. It was still light, but there was the quality of sunset to the room. She was gratified to be reminded that she wasn't alone in the bed. The long line of Jack's body curved against her back, his flesh bare and warm against her everwhere they touched. His arm was heavy and oddly angled across her hip. Phryne gave a gentle tug against his wrist, drawing his arm up until is curved against her ribs, his hand just beneath her breast. She pressed back into him and slept again.
He woke her the second time, the hot press of smooth skin and an open kiss against her the join of shoulder and neck. The room was dark.
"Jack," Phryne said, pressing back eagerly and feeling the hard heat of him.
"What do you want?" Jack asked. "Tell me."
Phryne twisted away and reached for the light on the sidetable. The lamp light glowed a sickly yellow, but Phryne didn't care.
"I want," she started than paused, the words there but almost too heavy in her throat. "I want to be able to see the face of the man I love."
Jack went still beside her. "Phryne."
"Oh dont," Phryne said. "Don't pretend you didn't know. I asked you to follow me, Jack. I've never asked that of anyone. I've never wanted anyone else to."
Jack pulled her back to the center of the bed, and she went willing. He ran his hands slow and steady over her, kissing her all the while, thighs to hips, hips to waist, up her belly to cup her breasts and brush teasing fingers over nipples. And when she begged, he kissed her there too. Wet biting kisses that made her want more and never felt like there would be enough. He slid down her body in what felt like and endless torment. Finally he urged her to open for him, and she showed him how she liked to be touched, tangling his hair between her fingers as he drew out her cries with hand and mouth.
Phryne stroked him, felt the weight of his cock in her hand and tasted him. She pushed him back against the bed as he had her and returned every bite and touch, every careful exploration. And when Jack begged as she had, she straddled his hips and took what they both wanted, sinking down and feeling him press deep inside. She kissed him when she came, and he followed.
"I'm going with you tomorrow," Phryne said,
"Of course you are," Jack said.
September 26, 1929
Phryne stood back a distance and watched as Jack and Graves knocked on the door of the sixth first-class suite on the Orvieto’s shelter deck.
The door swung open on a fair-faced blonde woman in a fine red silk dress. Even from her vantage point, Phryne could see it when the woman's complexion when from fair to ghostly.
"Hello, Molly," Jack said calmly, just as a voice from further in the suite called out,
"Who is it, Elizabeth?"
A man emerged briefly into view before stumbling back into the suite with Jack following alone as Graves restrained a struggling Molly-Elizabeth, who was now screaming bloody murder and cursing the names Harold Smyth, Frank Dalton, Edward Kent and several others in a nasal American accent.
Phryne approached the door to the suite, her revolver held firmly. Inside the suite, Jack had the many-named man backed into a corner. Jack, she knew, was unarmed, only meant to help Graves identify the right couple.
"Come quietly," Jack said, and the many-named man snarled back his refusal before lowering into a crouch and charging forward. The crack of a shot rang out and the many-named-man jerked and shouted in pain, a bloom of read spreading quickly from his right shoulder, bright against the clean white canvas of his shirt.
Phryne gasped, the acrid scent of freshly burned gunpowder filling her lungs and her hand shaking even as it was clenched tight on the revolver.
"Harold- Frank- Whatever your name is, I'm arresting you for the attempted murder of me among many, many other things," Jack said, clapping the many-named-man into handcuffs despite his pained howling. Jack shoved him at two approaching constables and strode up to Phryne.
"My hero," he said, his voice deep and sincere, his hand steady against hers as loosened her grip and took the gun, carefully slid it into the side pocket of his jacket. "You saved my life, Miss Fisher. That's twice in two days."
"Jack," Phryne said, and then she took him by the lapels of his jacket and dragged him to her, pressing the full length of her body against his and kissing him deep and hard. His arms came around her back and he moaned, mouth opening against hers. The kiss lasted long moments, until they were both breathless with it, and had to draw back.
"Where is your next adventure going to take you, Miss Fisher?" Jack asked, and there was that 'darling' again, it rang like a bell inside her and Phryne tipped her head and kissed him again.
"Home," she said. "Our next adventure can come find us. It always does, and I'd rather it find us together."