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In-Between Days

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As a married woman, Dorothy still rose at the same time she always had before. Though she only had to dress herself, all the duties normally split between Mister Butler and herself were now hers alone. So, up by seven--Hugh certainly wasn’t going to decide to have a lie-in til ten or later, as Miss Fisher was often prone to--brushing and pinning out her hair and the whole process of dressing.

By the time she made her way to the kitchen, Hugh was up and about. Most mornings breakfast was porridge with sultanas. Dot had to remind herself to be grateful for what she had, and not long for the exotic fare that often graced Miss Fisher’s table. Hugh was a good provider, and they would never be hungry. Longing for anything different or more was just selfish.

When it was the two of them together, holding hands across the table from one another, exchanging shy smiles and shyer kisses, Dorothy thought she’d never been happier in her life. It was only when he left her at the front door and the silence of their small apartment settled in around them that her the loneliness set in.

At Miss Fisher’s house, life was never boring. When there wasn’t a case keeping them busy, Dottie had Mister Butler’s small talk over tea as they each made their way through their daily chores, Cec and Burt dropping by at all hours to help themselves to the icebox and playing cards at the kitchen table. Even when she was elsewhere in the house, the voices carried. Whether it was tea with Aunt Prudence or drinks with Mac, dancing lessons with the flavour of the week, the house bustled with life and energy.

Alone in their humble home, Dot sometimes felt as though the walls were closing in on her.

Then, she’d shake her head of such foolish notions, turn on the radio, and set to work. They couldn’t afford to have their laundry sent out like Miss Fisher, which took up a good portion of Dot’s time, along with the mending, cleaning, sewing, and cooking. If she focussed on the work, and kept in mind that Philippians taught she should do all things without grumbling or question.

That had been a much easier task before Phryne Fisher had come into her life.

Ten weeks since she’d left to return her father to Europe, and perhaps it was a function of the season, but the days had been dull and grey in her absence. Spring was in full bloom now, yellow-green clouds of wattle and the scent of jasmine on the air.

Dot opened the window in the kitchen as she prepared breakfast and the sound of songbirds drifted in from the garden. Hugh grabbed the paper from the front step on his way in, and from the grim set of his mouth, Dot knew something was the matter.

“It’s that same one again, isn’t it?” she guessed.
Along with the longer days and warmer air, the spring had brought with it a rash of murders. All young ladies in their twenties, all found in rural areas along the roadside, all dressed in silken pyjamas.

Her suspicion was confirmed when Hugh passed the paper to her. The headline proclaimed Sandman Killer Strikes Again: Fourth Body Found in Yarra Valley. Beneath was a picture of the victim, Nicole Rossini, age twenty-six. She smiled widely from the page, hair shorn and worn in a tight finger wave, face painted with powder and rouge. She’d been beautiful, and full of life, and only two years older than Dot.

“Oh Hugh.” Dot was transfixed by the picture, unable to look away though it hurt her heart.

“Don’t you fret, Dottie,” Hugh said, with an arm around her shoulder pulling her into the firm wall of his chest. Breath warm in her hair as he pressed a kiss there. “We’ll get him.”

Hugh had come such a long way towards reconciling the woman Dorothy had been when they first met with the woman she’d become through the course of her employment with Miss Fisher. He might not have understood all the ways in which Dot’s world had been expanded, but he was trying, at least, to accept them. He never protested when she stopped by the station, or when she followed up a lead of her own based on what she was able to glean from the papers.

So, in kind, Dorothy made an effort not to point out that, had Phryne been working the case, it probably would have been solved by now.

“If there’s anything I can do--”

“I promise, you’ll be the first to know,” Hugh soothed. When she looked into his eyes, wide and earnest, it was impossible to mistrust him. “I’ve got to get down to the station. The Inspector won’t be pleased with this.”

Dorothy reached after him. She wanted to grasp at his sleeve and hold him near, but she left her palm open to smooth down the lines of his uniform instead. “Be safe, Hugh.”

Hugh paused on the threshold and smiled, and for a second everything was alright in the world. “Always, Dottie,” he promised.

But then he was gone, and silence descended. There were dishes to be cleaned and a bed to be made and socks to be mended. Dorothy was stuck to the spot for a long moment of indecision. Then she picked the paper up from the counter, spread it open, and began to scour the article for every single detail.

*

Tedium and police work were inextricably intertwined. It was something that Jack Robinson had come to terms with many years ago as a young man just starting his career. Certainly as he climbed the ranks, the work had become more interesting and rewarding, and as Detective Inspector, his days were filled with intrigue, but there remained the long hours of paperwork, telephone calls to the higher ups, chasing down false leads and recalcitrant witnesses.

Somehow, with Phryne around, even all those mundane tasks hadn’t seemed all that bad. Another form completed was another step closer to the end of the day and a nightcap by the fireplace. Interviewing even the dullest suspect always held the possibility of insight into Phryne’s colourful past, and talking down the Chief Inspector over Phryne’s latest public escapade was at least as amusing as it was infuriating.

Especially when she’d seat herself on the edge of the desk with a slip of ivory thigh and lean close to listen in, splintering his focus in a million directions. The silk of her hair wisping against his cheek, scented of vanilla and bergamot, and the faintest hint of rose. Her breath, enticingly warm over the mouth of the phone. The quirk of her smile, unapologetic and irrepressible.

“Inspector?”

Jack blinked out of his reverie to see Collins standing before his desk, expectant expression on his face. “I’m sorry Constable.” He straightened, and pushed aside the folder on his desk from Mac. Same as the others. Bruising around the neck and a single gunshot wound to the back of the head. No sign of sexual assault, no physical evidence to point them to a suspect. “What was it you were saying?”

“Nicole Rossini’s husband, Sir. Came in himself. Has an alibi for last night, I was going to follow up?”

Jack waved him off. “Carry on. I’m off to see what her coworkers have to say.”

Collins hesitated, fidgeting with pencil and pad. “Sir, Dottie was wondering if there was anything she could do to help. And of course I told her we’ve got it all under control…”

“Ah.” Jack leaned back in his seat, hands laced over his stomach. “But you’re thinking we might use a woman’s touch.”

“Well, Sir,” Collins stood up a little straighter, shoulders back, eyes at the ceiling like he was working through a difficult, diplomatic response. “It’s just that so far we’ve got no connection between them, except they were all last seen out dancing. And Dottie’s the same age, same hair colour, same eyes…”

“Constable Collins, is it possible you’ve finally come to terms with the fact that you’ve married a modern woman?” Jack teased.

A flush settled over Collins’ cheeks, but he met Jack’s gaze head on. “I don’t want to see her in any danger, but the thing is, Dot’ll put herself there whether I like it or not. This way we could be there to keep her safe.”

Jack pondered it, chin in hand. It wasn’t the first time the thought had crossed his mind, since the second body had shown up and with no leads in sight. How Phryne’s complete disregard for her own well-being, along with her particular skill at attracting trouble would come in handy on this case. Why, he wouldn’t have even had to ask before she was putting herself out there, tearing it up at every jazz club in the city in a wig and short skirt.

But Dot was different. There was no question that she had the mind of a detective, and courage to match, but she, like any sound-minded citizen, also had a healthy dose of self-preservation. Jack couldn’t countenance putting her in danger if they had any other option at all.

“I’ll keep it in mind, Constable,” he said, and Collins deflated like a balloon in relief, duty toward his wife honoured. Jack had to respect the lengths to which Hugh went to make their marriage work. Far more than he’d done in his own marriage. “How are things with the newlyweds?”

Collins blushed right down to his collar this time, gaze skittering away, and Jack grinned. He was expecting any day for the announcement of a baby Collins on the way. “Everything’s perfect, Sir, it’s just…”

Jack waited a long moment, and when it was clear Collins was still struggling, prompted, “Yes?”

“I think she just really misses Miss Fisher.”

“Don’t we all?” Jack wondered.

*

None of the pyjamas had labels on them, which made things more difficult, but not impossible. Dot called Bert, who was only too happy for the diversion. He drove her to up and down Little Bourke Street, where she roamed the bustling market place, hopping from vendor to vendor.

The silk of the pyjamas was a pink oriental brocade with red dragons--expensive and unusual, especially for young women of the working class. By mid-morning, she’d found a clothing shop where, through mostly hand gestures and facial expressions, plus a few phrases she’d picked up from Miss Fisher, Dorothy learned the proprietor had sold two bolts of that very same fabric at the beginning of August. He couldn’t remember much about the gentleman, other than he’d worn a hat and been in a hurry, and dressed like he was quite wealthy.

“What now, Dot?” Bert asked, looking over her neat notes. “It’s not a lot to go on then, is it?”

Dot chewed on her lower lip. If Miss Fisher were here, she’d know just what to do. Dot could already see her dressing up in one of her flashy gowns, skipping out the front door with the moonlight glittering on the beads. Dot released her lip from between her teeth and threw back her shoulders. Well, if Miss Fisher wasn’t here to do it, then Dot would have to do it herself.

“Take me to the station, Bert.”

*

It went about as well as could be expected. Hugh dancing around concernedly while Inspector Robinson spoke in gentle tones, ensuring Dot knew what she was getting into. And after, once she’d convinced them both of her resolve in the matter, the dressing up. It was no good letting them see her own nerves over all the bared skin, when Hugh was already green around the edges, breathlessly expressing his misgivings over the exposure of her knees.

“Think of those girls, Hugh Collins,” Dot told him sternly, as he hovered behind her, hand over mouth. “Think of them lying in the dirt in nothing but their pyjamas for anyone passing by to see.”

That shored him up for a time. But once she’d carefully applied her make-up, just as she’d seen Phryne do a thousand times, and styled her hair, and stepped down from the cab, it had been a complete disaster.

It was clear to anyone with eyes that Dottie wasn’t comfortable in this setting. Inspector Robinson was keeping an eye on things from the outside, but Hugh had insisted on going in to watch the proceedings. Every time someone asked her to dance, Hugh was suddenly at her shoulder, and even the boldest suitors soon gave up under the force of his glare.
Not that it mattered, because Dot couldn’t pull this off anyway. She was practically shaking from fear, tugging at the hem of her skirt as if it would magically grow a few extra inches of modesty, and even if she made it onto the dancefloor, she couldn’t keep up with the way they moved.

They ended up back at the station in the early hours of the morning, Dot with Hugh’s jacket pulled around her shoulders, huddled around Inspector Robinson’s desk.

“It’s unlikely he’d strike again this soon anyway,” the Inspector was saying, infinitely kind and patient and Dottie just felt like more of a failure.

“If we could just figure out who it was that bought all that fabric,” Hugh muttered, expression far away. If Phryne were here, she’d have been able to understand the vendor. She could have questioned him better, maybe got some detail that Dorothy missed.

“We’ll head back there tomorrow,” Inspector Robinson said. “I’ll scrounge up a translator. Maybe someone else saw something.” He reached out to lay his hand over Dot’s, the pads of his fingers rough when they stroked across her skin. “That was some fine detective work today, Mrs. Collins.”
Dot’s smile was weak, but it was honest.

“Honestly,” said a voice from the door, and they turned as one to stare. “Don’t you all have any place better to be? I’ve been calling on empty homes all evening.”

“Miss Fisher!” Dot didn’t remember rising from the chair or throwing off Hugh’s jacket and crossing the room. Only one minute she was seated, and the next they were hugging. Dot sank into that familiar, comforting scent, arms snaked around Phryne’s waist to pull her closer.

“Oh Dot,” Phryne said, cheek to Dorothy’s hair. “I’ve missed your company terribly.”

Dorothy couldn’t answer around the sudden lump in her throat and the tears stinging her eyes, but she thought Miss Fisher understood that she returned the sentiment entirely. She made herself let go and stand back, Phryne’s hands coming up to hold her arms length and look her up and down.

There was a knowing glint in those bright brown eyes, as though looking at Dot, Phryne knew everything that had come to pass in her absence. Dot longed for some time alone, to let spill all her new secrets. All the things she’d done now that was Hugh’s wife, and all the things she was still learning. The process of coming to love all the parts of Hugh that had remained a mystery to her until they were living together--the quirks and habits and yes, all the things that made her still blush to even think of--all the questions and no one to answer them until now.

“You look well,” Phryne said, a world of meaning in those simple words, and Dot nodded, proud when the tears didn’t spill down her cheeks.

“Miss Fisher.” Hugh smiled gamely, though Dorothy knew he would worry all the more with Phryne’s return.

“Hugh.” And Phryne hugged him, too, warm and affectionate, with Hugh having no clue what to do with his arms, and Phryne holding on until he gave in and rested his hands awkwardly on her back.

“And Jack.”

Inspector Robinson stood from his seat to meet her and Phryne came around his desk. “Miss Fisher.”

Dot averted her gaze, cheeks burning from the heat visible between the two of them. She shared a knowing grin with Hugh, who looked similarly affected.
“You were supposed to follow me, Jack,” Phryne teased.

Even from the corner of her eye, Dorothy could see the effort with which the inspector was restraining himself. She tugged at Hugh’s sleeve, pulling him towards the door, and closing it firmly behind them.

There was much still to do. Leads to be followed and the vendor to be questioned, but it was late, and Dot was tired.

Phryne was home. The case would be solved before the week was out, of that Dorothy had no doubt.