At lunch time, some hours after Aunt Prudence’s early visit, Phryne had decided her best way of proceeding was to incarnate that infamous freight train and barge on, just to get it all over with. Wearing red and white and all the momentum she could muster, Phryne arrived at City South in a flurry.
At the front desk stood a young constable she had only seen in passing before, and whose name she had trouble recalling. She didn’t believe him when he claimed the Inspector wasn’t in – not until he let her through so she could see for herself that the minimal office was empty. It turned out that capturing a ring of slave traders, shooting one of them, and arresting a senior policeman wasn’t something you could do and then just go back to normal. Both Jack and Hugh had been taken off their normal schedules to spend their time at Russell Street.
She contemplated seeking him out in his home, and smiled at the thought of surprising him. But the memory of that acutely embarrassed smile, and Jack not even looking at her… it made her reconsider the idea. To suddenly break through into his private sphere, where she had never ever been invited – it didn’t seem like the best way to handle the precarious balancing act she had found herself in. For some reason the same went for the head-quarters, where he would be bound to be scrutinized by his superiors and peers. She couldn’t see him being happy with her bursting in on him in that unfamiliar setting, to talk about private matters.
It seemed that when Jack wasn’t at City South, she didn’t really have any means to contact him.
Isn’t that odd, she thought to herself. I have thought of us as friends, but if he isn’t working we don’t have any places in common.
Except Wardlow, of course. But that was dependent on him choosing to come to her.
He didn’t, not that night or the next. She couldn’t help but feel that was ominous.
”Maybe I was just carried away in the moment.”
”Maybe you were.”
”Or maybe I really want this more than anything else?”
”Maybe you do.”
”Maybe he regrets it all?”
”Maybe he does.”
”Or maybe he just doesn’t dare to show up again?”
Mac, reclining in one of Phryne’s chairs in the parlour, regarded her over a generously filled tumbler.
”You know, Phryne, you are very good at finding different possibilities.”
Phryne made a very small huff into her own drink.
”You know, Mac, you’re not really much help right now.”
Mac sipped her drink and gave a half smile.
”You never struck me as a fretter, Phryne.”
”I am not. My philosophy is to always go ahead and do something. It’s just, in this case, there seems to be nothing I can do.”
”Unless you make Aunt P go to Russell Street to take him by the ear and fetch him for you.”
Phryne snorted so hard she got whisky up her nose.
”Ouch, that hurt!” she laughed, then turned a stern face at her friend. ”I know you think I’m childish right now, there’s no need to rub it in.”
”But rubbing it in is so delightful, how could I not?” Mac teased. ”It’s very rare to see you so dumbfounded by something that isn’t really important.”
The look on Phryne’s face was anything but enigmatic.
”Oh, but it is important, isn’t it?” Mac retracted. ”It’s important, you just don’t really know how, and why.”
”I can’t believe I’m considering Aunt P’s ideas. It has never happened before. You remember when we were kids…”
”Of course I do. Her look when she discovered we kept those frogs in her finest soup bowl. Still one of the best days of my life...” She smiled. ”I can see you listening to advice even when it comes from a surprising source. But aren’t you underestimating Jack Robinson? Do you think of him as... so much for propriety. So much like your aunt?”
Phryne looked blankly at her friend.
”I don’t usually think of him as an old lady that has a specific fondness for charity committees and flummery, no.”
”You know what I mean. All about propriety and holding up a facade. All about being the opposite to what you are, and following other people’s rules? I don’t think that’s fair to him. He's much more open-minded than he seems at a first impression. He even endures you and me together when we’re imbibing alcohol.”
Phryne thought about Aunt Prudence’s declaration of Jack as an ordinary man. She thought about him always wearing those three-piece suits and his meticulous ties, but also ready to understand people and not judge them. And he didn’t judge her, he never had. She trusted his instincts, his kindness, and he had come to her, in the middle of the night, and kissed her like she was the most precious thing on Earth. He was not ordinary in any sense that mattered. Of course she wouldn’t equate him with her aunt. It would be entirely unfair.
“You are right. I have no idea how he endures it,” she retorted with a smile.
“Patience personified,” Mac said. “That’s the only possibility. And I guess that might be what you’d need, isn’t it?”
That earned Mac a slight grimace. She finished her drink and decided against a refill. “Early morning tomorrow,” she declared and bid Phryne a good night.
Phryne sat in her parlour for another half hour, finishing her own drink and thinking. He was not ordinary in her book, nor were his kisses, and she wasn’t going to try to decide for him whether he could endure her or not. That must be his decision. If she could only get hold of him to actually find out.
When Dot came up with the breakfast tray the next morning, Phryne was already awake. She felt almost like an alligator, laying in ambush among the reeds for the poor girl.
”Good morning Dot. How is Hugh? I haven’t heard about him for days.”
Dot gave her a quick glance of surprise. Hugh Collins was usually not the first person on Miss Phryne’s mind in the mornings.
”He’s been terribly busy, I’ve hardly had the chance to speak to him. At first he was anxious about me, after the kidnapping and the thermos fight.” Dot gave a small, rather proud, smile. ”But the past few days, he’s been so busy at the head-quarters. It’s a miracle I even heard from him this morning.”
Phryne prickled her ears like an attentive dog. “And how was he today?”
”Not very happy, Miss. It seems they have a full day again. But he telephoned to summon us as witnesses. They want us there at three o’clock.”
Of course. How had she not thought about that! Of course they would be summoned to make statements, considering they had been kidnapped and almost shipped away by that horrible captain – not to mention her almost being shot by Sidney Fletcher. Phryne decided this would also be her break-through in the communication with Jack.
At a quarter to three, Dot and Phryne arrived at Russell Street, perfectly contrasted in peach and blue. Phryne was both thrilled and apprehensive about being on the other side of the table from Jack, being there as a witness and not as an investigator. Especially as she hadn’t even seen him since he had most sincerely caressed her backside.
The anticipation was short-lived. Soon she realised she wouldn’t even see the elusive man. The case was too delicate to allow the acting inspector to handle the witness statements himself, and the questions Phryne was asked went in two directions, on the one hand to determine the crimes, on the other to determine the actions of the policemen. It wasn’t bad – she thoroughly enjoyed being an observant witness – it was only somewhat disappointing.
When her hour was up she exchanged places with Dot, and sat down in the lobby to wait for her companion. She watched the “Wanted”-signs intently for something to occupy her mind, reading the texts backwards and forwards as was her habit when she was bored. When she had read about the wanted Douglas Morton, suspected of murder, a fifth time, she decided she would go mad if she didn’t move around a little.
Just as she rose to walk out, three men came through the door. They were all dressed in grey and brown, and they simultaneously took off their fedoras as they entered the building. It was the most common male look imaginable, but Phryne’s heart immediately responded to one of the men’s way of lowering his hat. There was no mistaking this man for just any man, and she felt that flood of electricity again bolt through her and seek out his presence.
”Jack!” she exclaimed.
”Miss Fisher.” He looked struck, going completely still. The men dropped silent. Jack’s tone revealed nothing, but his eyes were bursting with eloquence.
After a couple of heartbeats, he seemed to remember his manners.
”This is the Honourable Miss Fisher,” he said to the men she had so easily relegated to the background. “May I introduce Detective Inspector Silverton and Senior Constable O’Hara.”
Their eyes lit up, and when they told her it was a pleasure to meet her, it was clear they were sincere.
Phryne had only a little energy for their pleasantry, though, smiling and nodding benignly. Her focus was consumed by the man before her, trying to determine if he was uncomfortable or happy to see her. It was obviously not only one emotion filling him at the moment.
“What are you… oh, you’re giving your statement, aren’t you?” he said.
“Yes, or I already did. They were quite interested in your decision to shoot one of the men,” Phryne responded.
“Robinson is not the one to carelessly pull the trigger,” DI Silverton said. “In all his time in the force, he has only shot someone a few times on duty, no one deadly. That is quite the record. It must have turned rather heated in this case.”
“It did,” Phryne answered, without taking her eyes off Jack. “Rather heated.”
There was something tense in her voice as she said it, and the colleagues were surprised to see Jack Robinson go a little bit red under the woman’s gaze, without looking away from her even for a moment.
“I guess it did,” he answered quietly.
“I was thinking we might need to see that through at some point, Inspector,” she continued. “Determine what actually happened, and how to appropriately measure the heat of the case.”
With increasing curiosity, the men saw Jack Robinson swallow hard and slow, and after a moment’s hesitation give the tiniest of nods.
“If you deem it potentially fruitful, Miss Fisher,” he said, his voice rougher than usual.
“I do,” the blue-clad woman answered, not looking away from the Inspector and expertly arching one eyebrow. “I do think there might be a hidden potential lying in this direction. If you don’t find it too… much to endure?”
Again it took some time before he managed to respond, this time with a lop-sided smile and a shake of the head, both small enough to go unnoticed by anyone but the very attentive. They were standing completely still, which was an odd contrast to the everyday surroundings, and to the electricity in their eyes.
The slightly buzzing silence was interrupted by a door opening, as a policeman saw a young woman out of the interrogation room.
“Dot!” Phryne exclaimed in greeting as she turned to the door. ”Are you all set?”
“Yes Miss,” Dot nodded, looking relieved at seeing Phryne there. Phryne’s eyes returned to Jack. “I’m sending Dot away Friday evening. That could be a beneficial time for starting the inquiry. Eight o’clock?”
Jack Robinson nodded as if in trance.
With a final “Come along, Dot”, the Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher took her companion’s arm and swept out of the station, nodding to the two men and sending one last challenging glance the inspector’s way. There was a magic show coming to town. She was quite certain she would be able to get tickets for the first evening show.