A sympathetic stranger
Lights a candle in the middle of the night
Her voice cracks
She jumps back
But she moves on
She moves on – Paul Simon*
Melbourne, Feb. 1924
It was the usual for a Thursday night. A drunken man and a tired wife, trying to get him home with as little fuss as possible. Sergeant Jack Robinson had seen plenty of that in the last three months. Ever since the end of the police strike he had been on the graveyard shift, following an extended suspension, and he had no illusions that would change in the foreseeable future. It was his punishment and he took it with stubborn stoicism. He still had a job after all, which was more than a lot of other good men could say. Sometimes, in the dark hours of the night, when even the drunkards and johns were fast asleep, he felt guilty about it. He hadn’t deserved to keep his job any more than most of the others, but because George didn’t want his daughter to be married to a disgraced copper, he had extended what influence he had to keep Jack in the force. For which Jack was grateful, even if he didn’t regret partaking in the strike for a second. He was still convinced of the cause, even if his father-in-law thought him reckless and an idiot. Jack had to admit he wasn’t happy with some of the events that had taken place, but he couldn’t help being proud that they had stood up for what they believed in, and they had achieved something after all. But George had been seething and Christmas had been a rather tense affaire.
Rosie of course was on her father’s side. Jack couldn’t blame her, or rather he didn’t want to. Rosie was another thing to feel guilty about. He knew she was trying, but she couldn’t understand and he could not and would not make her. So he was sometimes almost glad for working the nightshift, which meant that he was spared the embarrassment of waking her with his nightmares, which still even after almost five years haunted him more nights than not. And since he now slept mostly during the day he was also saved from attempts at conversations that were superficial at best, awkward at worst. So he was glad and felt equally guilty about it. As a result he accepted his punishment without complaint, but without any sign of being contrite either, and spent the nights subduing the drunks, whores and mobsters of Melbourne, instead of attempting to give his wife the child she was probably hoping for.
The customer currently disrupting his circles was a regular. One of those men who never had any money and as soon as they got their hands on some they drank it to distract themselves from their poverty. This particular one, however, was also a low level con, which meant he had a bit of change more often than was good for him. Jack felt bad for his wife more than anything. She came in every time he got arrested, paying his fine when she had the money. When she didn’t, she came anyways. Tonight she had the cash.
“Are you sure Mrs Fisher?” Jack asked her as he handed her the necessary paperwork to fill out. She could probably do it in her sleep by now. “He’ll be released in the morning in any case. There is nothing other than drunk and disorderly charges tonight.” he told her. And you can probably use the money ten better ways, he added mentally.
“I’m with him.” a voice from the door agreed. A young woman entered the police station with some determination and headed for the woman filling out the form. For a moment Jack wondered, if this was what Margaret Fisher had looked like when she had been a girl. The younger woman had the same pitch black hair, tied in a loose knot in the back of her head, the same long elegant neck and pronounced cheekbones. Her daughter, no doubt. But other than her mother, she had bright porcelain blue eyes, which were currently glittering angrily, and she was a good deal taller. She was rather pretty, Jack found himself thinking. He averted his eyes.
“Sergeant Robinson, my daughter Phryne. She only returned to Australia recently.” Margaret introduced them, as if they were at a tea party rather than a police station, completely ignoring the comment. Phryne, what an unusual name, tilted her head in recognition, but wasn’t deterred from arguing with her mother.
“It’s a ruddy waste of money. Which we can’t spare.” she pointed out.
“Phryne!” her mother admonished her “You can’t seriously leave your father to languish in a cell.”
“I can hardly think of a more suiting place for him to be.” she replied snarkily.
Jack decided that this was the right moment to leave the two women alone and retrieve Henry Fisher from the cells, since Mrs Fisher had finished filling out the form.
Getting the older man up the stairs took a lot longer than the trip usually would, because Henry was still heavily inebriated and not very steady on his feet. He had at least sobered up enough to stop whining, but not enough to walk without help. Jack had to half drag, half carry him up to the reception area. The two women had apparently finished their argument, even if Miss Fisher’s defiantly crossed arms and the grim expression on her face indicated that the last word had not been spoken in the matter.
Henry’s face lit up at the sight of her though. “Phryne, my dear.” he slurred, taking a wobbly step towards her, still being steadied by the policeman. “Come to free your old man from the clutches of the constabulary?”
Her look could have frozen a volcano.
“I came here for mother.” she stated icily. “And if she had any sense she’d leave you here to rot.”
Henry’s face darkened. “Is that so?” he asked and his voice took on a dangerous tone. “And who do you think you are, girl, to judge me?”
Jack was impressed with how little she reacted. A tiny flinch in the corner of her eyes, hardly noticeable if you didn’t know what to look for.
“I’m the one who holds the money to bail you out.” she informed him curtly. “And I’m still entertaining the option of not doing that.”
“Entertaining are you?” Henry snarled. “Ever since you’ve come back from the continent you think you’re so much better than the rest of us, don’t you?”
“Just better than you” came her cutting reply. “And that don’t take much.”
Jack was sure Henry had meant to take a swing at his daughter in that moment. Unfortunately for him his right arm, the one he had intended to throw the punch with, had, up until that point, been holding on to Jack’s shoulder. When he let go, he also let go of the steadying influence of the other man. The harsh movement of swinging said arm instantly caused him to loose his balance and he landed rather inelegantly on the floor. At least that was what Jack was determined to testify, should anyone ask.
Jack stepped around the man and helped him back on his feet “So sorry Henry. Must have lost my grip.” he said, not sounding sorry at all. Phryne had taken a step back when her father had charged at her. Jack noticed that she had gone a shade paler than before, but her head was still defiantly raised.
“You know mother” she said and stepped over to Margaret “I don’t think I have the money after all.”
Mrs Fisher gave her a pleading look. “Phryne, please.”
Jack dropped his load, reduced back to a blubbering mess again, on the waiting bench and turned to the women.
“I agree with your daughter, Mrs Fisher.” he said as gently as he could. “Why don’t you just leave him with me, give him a couple hours to sleep it off and you pick him up in the morning. I promise you he’ll be right as rain. I’ll make sure of it. As it is, he’s barely able to walk anyway.”
It took a few more minutes and the joint effort of the two younger people to finally convince Margaret, but in the end the two women left and Jack was faced with the task of getting Henry back down the stairs. He resisted the temptation to loosen his grip on the drunkard and let him slip a couple of steps. He had a fierce disgust for men who beat women, drunk or not, but he kept telling himself he had promised the wife he would make sure she could retrieve her husband in the morning in one piece.
Phryne didn’t join her mother in picking up Henry in the morning. She had an appointment to keep and she had the distinct hope it might be turned into a job interview. If last nights events had shown her anything, it was that she needed work. She didn’t believe for a second that this was anything but a regular occurrence, no matter what her mother said. That copper had been way too familiar with her parents for anything else. She frowned at the thought. What had he said ‘there are no other charges tonight’? Which meant on other occasions there had been. Other charges than drunk and disorderly meant other fine regulations, meant probably more money to be paid to get him out. She cursed under her breath. Phryne Fisher had no illusions about the fact that her father was a crock. The only thing she was a little fuzzy about was why her mother put up with him.
It hadn’t always been like that, she remembered. When she had been a child her parents had had regular rows of the kind of epic proportions that could entertain the entire neighbourhood for hours. She had vague memories of shattered pottery, banging doors and suitcases thrown out on the pavement. Margaret had thrown her husband out more than once in those days, only for him to come back contrite a day or two later, begging her to take him back. Which she always did.
It had all changed when Janey had disappeared though. The first few years it had been like all life had been drained from Margaret Fisher. Phryne had not seen too much of it, having been dragged off to Aunt Prudence’s house regularly then. Where she and Janey had freely roamed the streets of Collingwood before, she had then been hauled inside to spend time with her cousins and their friends. Safely off the streets, she thought bitterly. But when she had been home even the grief and guilt ridden girl she had been then had noticed that her mother had become a mere shell of herself. She had recovered her spirits somewhat in the meantime, but she now clung to Henry like a lifeline and he had reacted by running riot even worse than before.
It wasn’t as if things had only gotten this way after Janey, they had only gotten worse since. Even before, Henry Fisher had been a scoundrel, a drunk and a cheat. But he had gotten near self destructive after and became much more volatile. Phryne had made her escape as soon as she could, running off to France the minute she’d been old enough to volunteer for the ambulance corps, possibly a little earlier, and after the war she had delayed her inevitable return home successfully for almost five years.
In the meantime Henry and Margaret had been stuck with each other, leaned on each other and ruined each other in equal measures. Henry kept gambling, cheating and drinking, wasting what little money they had. Yet Margaret put up with him, defended him and bailed him out. God alone knew how her parents had not starved in the last seven years she had been safely away. Although Phryne had a strong suspicion the sole reason for their survival started with Aunt and ended with Prudence.
Yes, she definitely needed work. If her mother insisted on fixing her husbands mistakes her French war pension would only get them so far and she couldn’t count on handsome coppers to get her to see reason every time.
Apart from that she had no intention of staying in her parent’s house for a minute longer than she had to. She was back not even a week and she was already fighting the urge to burn the place to the ground. She needed work, needed to take her life back in hand, before she started to believe the nagging voice in the back of her head that told her all those years of blood, hardship, fighting for her freedom and self-fulfilment had in the end only led her exactly to where she had started. The moment she had stepped inside that house, where nothing ever changed, she had felt like she was fourteen again and the woman she had made herself into seemed to evaporate like she never existed. No, she needed to get out of there as quickly as possible and the only way to do that was with money.
Phryne entered a building and asked the first person to come her way for directions to the office she was looking for. The man gave her a irritated look, but reacted well to her brightest, friendliest smile and gave her the directions she needed. Her goal was on the third floor.
She had written to Miss Charlesworth as soon as her mother had told her that her old school teacher had given up on teaching during the war and turned to journalism instead. She was now working for The Argus even, and Phryne hoped she could help her find her feet in her old hometown. The only alternative she could think of, was to pester Mac to help her become a trainee nurse at the hospital, but Phryne had seen enough injuries during the war to last her a lifetime and therefore that option wasn’t very appealing. Still better than marrying well, as her aunt had suggested in countless of her letters, but still not to be regarded as anything other than plan B or maybe C.
Miss Charlesworth greeted her kindly as ever. It was a little daunting meeting her old teacher again, but Phryne knew she had always been one of her favourites and after a few moments any nervousness fell off of her. She confessed her ulterior motive for the visit straight away. Miss Charlesworth wasn’t put out in the slightest.
“Of course you do, and you know what, I think you might be lucky.” she said with a warm smile. “Ah, just the man I’m looking for. Hector” she called out to a man who passed through the office, his head buried in a bunch of papers. “Hector Pierce, this is Miss Phryne Fisher, a former pupil of mine. Hector is one of our editors.” she introduced them.
Hector lifted his head for a split second from his reading. “Charmed.” he muttered.
“Miss Fisher is looking for work.” Miss Charlesworth prompted.
If his subsequent frown was caused by her words or by his reading was impossible to determine.
“Ads, page six.” he said absent-mindedly.
“I thought she could take over from Connie.” Miss Charlesworth suggested.
That got his attention now. For the first time since he had come in he properly looked at Phryne. His frown deepened. “Another bright young thing that gets married first chance she gets and leaves us hanging.” he said rather accusatory.
“I can assure you Mr Pierce, I have no intention of getting married at all, if I can help it.” Phryne said with a smile.
He looked at her sceptically. “Yeah, that’s what you say now and in two years we need to break in a new research assistant again.” He sized her up some more. “Can you type?”
He harrumphed dissatisfied.
“Good with people?”
Phryne grinned “Very.”
Hector threw Miss Charlesworth, whose grin was equally wide, a spiteful look.
“Women” he muttered under his breath, but still clearly audible “you hire one, suddenly you have ten. Just like the Mob.”
Loudly he declared “Fine. Connie can show you the ropes starting Monday, but I can only pay you full when she’s out the week after. Two weeks probation, if you slack, you’re out.”
Phryne smiled radiantly. “Thank you Mr Pierce. I won’t disappoint you.”
It became clear very quickly that research assistant in Mr Pierce’s department was a euphemistic description for girl Friday. Or boy Friday in the case of Richard and Joe. There were a total of five of them in Hector Pierce department splitting the work, although Phryne soon picked up that each of them usually assisted specific journalists.
Her new duties reached from making tea, tipping and proof-reading whatever anyone put on her desk, and doing general secretarial work, to actual research in archives and libraries, and confirming facts, both in writing and with sources. It was a rather versatile job and Phryne loved it. However, the part where she had to go out, talk to people and dig up facts was easily her favourite part. And as it turned out she was damned good at it. Miss Charlesworth was full of praise and even Hector had on occasion indicated that she might not be entirely useless.
After Connie, a lovely and clever girl with a charming smile and legs to kill for, had left the paper to get married to her young man, she finally got full pay as well.
Phryne had shaken her head about the girl. Seeing her parents interact had only reinforced her own reservations against the constitution of marriage. But even if the idea of being forever tied to and all but possessed by a man had not horrified her, she thought the idea that women had to immediately stop working when they got married ridiculous. In nine out of then cases it was impractical as well as degrading, because most young men didn’t earn enough to support a family, especially not if they married before they turned twenty-five.
In this particular case it was good for her personally, because she could take over the freed position, but it was a shame for the world at large to loose a smart woman like Connie Henderson to the hearth. Phryne tried not to ponder on it. She had other problems to deal with, like how she could support her mother without letting her father get his hands on the money.
He had demanded she hand over her pay check the first day she had come back from work. Luckily she had convinced him she didn’t get paid on her first day already, which was true, but she failed to mention when her payday would be. When the day came, she hid a third of the money in her bra and another third in her knickers, where she hoped even her father wouldn’t think to look. The few shillings that were left she put in her purse hoping against hope Henry would either be reasonable enough not to take it, or already drunk enough not to realise it was not nearly enough for a decent wage.
After her return to Melbourne she had been forced to move back in with her parents. Despite all odds they still lived in the tiny ramshackle of a house in Collingwood they had already inhabited before the war. She had felt utterly defeated by the sight of it. Everything was exactly where she had left it all those years ago, as if she had never even been gone. As if nothing had changed.
And nothing had changed, apart from her. She had considered moving in with Mac, but her friend lived in a tiny apartment that consisted of two rooms and a kitchen and the room that wasn’t Mac’s bedroom was used as a make shift laboratory. So her first plan, after getting work, was to get her own place, and she would be damned if she let her father ruin that plan like he ruined everything else. She hid away her money to safe up.
It went well the first week and it went well the second week. The second time she was even able to safe more by pretending the first week’s instalment had been her full wage. Henry bristled about how these damned journalists were taking advantage of her and how he had never trusted that Charlesworth woman, but apparently he found it more believable that his daughter was being ripped off, than that she would be able to hide anything from him.
Before the third week Phryne took the money she had hidden in the house out. It was too great a risk. Her father hadn’t gone through her stuff yet, of that she was sure, but so far she had always locked her room. Now the lock on her door had developed a mysterious condition that didn’t allow the key to turn.
Of course her father had only shrugged when she had mentioned it. "It’s an old house, my dear. Things are bound to get broken." he had said lightly. She couldn’t be sure it was his doing, but the result was the same. So she grabbed her money from its hiding place under the loose floorboard one morning, while she could still hear him snore in the other room, and headed to a bank before work.
Her war pension was already being wired to an account, one her father didn’t have access to, she had made sure of that. Now she added her other savings hoping it would soon amount to a sum that would allow her to at least rent a place of her own. Hopefully soon enough, before she would have to stand trial for murdering her father. If she did it right he would never know about the money until she was gone. And even if he found out, she thought with a rebellious joy, there wasn’t a thing he could do about it. Now all she needed to do was find a way to give money to her mother in a way he couldn’t touch either. That was the much more difficult task.
* Simon, Paul. 1990. "She moves on“. The Rhythm of the Saints. Prod. Paul Simon. Warner Bros.
The 1923 Victoria Police Strike took place between October 31st and November 2nd of 1923. About half the Victorian police force (mostly constables, no senior officers) went on strike over the operation of a supervisory system using labour spies. Rioting and looting took place resulting in 3 deaths and a lot of property damage. Consequently 636 officers ( ⅓ of the already understaffed police force) were discharged or dismissed. Pay and conditions for police were improved before the end of '23, but the Victoria Police remained among the worst remunerated police forces in Australia for a long time as indirect consequence of the strike, because the top brass decided not to be bullied by their officers. The Victoria Police is the only police force in Australia to ever go on strike.
I'm winging it a little about the Australian legal system and its procedures: I have no idea how an drunk and disorderly would have been processed, if there would have been a fine or not. But I'm guessing even in the 20s there would have been paperwok involved in getting someone released from arrest.
Phryne's French War Pension is something I took from the books. She would have gotten something of the sort as an ambulance driver, though it was probably not much given the French government was fairly bankrupt after the war. So I doubt it would have been enough to live off, let alone feed three people.
The ponies run, the girls are young
The odds are there to beat
You win a while and then it’s done
Your little winning streak
And summoned now to deal
With your invincible defeat
You live your life as if it’s real
A thousand kisses deep – Leonard Cohen*
Jack quietly closed the kitchen door and opened the window. Ever since the he had started on nightshifts Rosie had complained how the smell of his dinner in the morning made her stomach turn. At first he had wondered if she might be expecting, but all evidence over the last couple of months pointed towards a negative. He wasn’t entirely sure if he was sad or relieved about it. He knew it was probably the one thing that could make George forgive him instantly and from all any parent in his acquaintance told him it might have been the one thing to give his life a new direction, a purpose he felt he was lacking most of the time. But at the same time it felt intrinsically wrong to put a child into a world where people were slaughtered by the thousands over a reason he wasn’t even entirely sure anymore. If he was perfectly honest with himself, he wasn’t sure if he and Rosie would make for the best parents at this moment in time either. Parents needed to talk to each other, didn’t they?
He tried not to linger on what-ifs while he chewed on his dinner. Rosie wasn’t pregnant and with the present state of things that was unlikely to change. With his current shift roaster they hardly spend any time together being awake at the same time, and when they did one of them was usually tired, like he was now.
It was late by the time he finally got to bed, well past eight. Constable Evans had been late to relieve him and he hadn’t gotten out of the station before seven. Rosie was still asleep, but stirred, when she felt the bed move as he got in. For a moment Jack was almost overcome by the urge to wrap his arms around her, burry his face in her hair and reduce his world to the sight, the sound, smell and feel of his wife. But he knew from bitter experience that Rosie did not take kindly to being woken early and took at least half an hour from the moment she opened her eye until she was fully awake, so he kept to his side of the bed. He was almost asleep when he felt her getting up not half an hour later.
At least there was a window. That’s what she kept telling herself every morning when she woke up in the small cubbyhole that was her room. It used to be hers and Janey’s and had been cramped with two adolescent girls. Now, for a grown woman who had spend the last years spreading her wings it felt almost suffocating. There was no bed. Of course there was no bed. Phryne couldn’t remember the last time there had been a proper bed in this house. None-essential furniture like that was among the first things her father would sell whenever he got himself in a tight spot and at some point, probably after Janey’s disappearance her mother had stopped bothering to try and replace them. She had some sort of mattress at least, which was too short for her and probably breeding ground for more than ten different subspecies of bed bugs. But at least there was a window and it wasn’t even broken.
She kept telling herself she had slept under worse condition during the war and many times after, often in rooms crammed with people, on floors, sofas and sometimes outdoors. She had rarely minded then, but the sight of that tiny room every morning and night was making her itch to leave it. She found getting up early easy these days, just so she could escape this room and by extension the house.
As she snuck out of the room she listened to the noises coming from her parent’s bedroom. She could clearly hear her father‘s snoring, indicating that he had been drinking last night, but apparently not enough to get arrested. Small mercies, she thought, hoping he hadn’t caused any trouble she would have to deal with.
She stepped outside into the backyard where the toilet and the pump were they shared with the surrounding houses. She hoped it was early enough so she would be alone, but the loo was already occupied when she reached it. She went to the pump instead and pulled the leaver a few times. She didn’t have the patience to take the water inside to heat it up, so she washed directly under the tap ignoring how cold the water was.
She arrived at the office early, but not early enough to be the first in, she took great care in that. No one liked a swot, but people did like the lady that made them tea, so that’s what she did. The fact that she hadn’t had any herself yet played only a secondary role, of course.
She found she liked the job and she was surprisingly good at it. The typing was rather tedious, but she enjoyed the actual research part. It would have been nicer, if they had had more telephones in the office, but everyone kept saying that would change once the newspaper would move into the new building the board was planning to build. Unfortunately it would probably still take a year or two for that to happen. Until then there was a lot of legwork to be done.
Phryne was already good friends with various bookshop owners in the city and Mr Elrod, the assistant librarian at the State Library. But those were generally the more boring assignments. Today was a particularly good day though. She had an official appointment with Mac as a medical expert. Miss Charlesworth was writing a piece on the recent experiment in Nevada where an execution using gas had been performed. Phryne’s now was the cheerful task to asses the effects of hydrogen cyanide versus asphyxiation through hanging on the human body. But it allowed her to visit her oldest friend during working hours, so she wasn’t going to complain. Not about her assignment at least.
She was due to meet Mac for lunch and then interview her after. Until then she had the article on women’s charity work to type out, so it would be ready for tomorrow’s edition. Thankfully Connie had still done that research, otherwise Phryne suspected it would have been her job to spend an afternoon with Aunt Prudence.
In the afternoon she would head to the court magistrate to see if there were any divorces or other interesting civil cases coming up. It was a rather odious part of newspaper journalism in her opinion, but Hector had informed her that it was exactly the type of story people were dying to read about. Local gossip would always trump international politics he was sure.
“So is this what you do now?” Mac leaned back in her seat. The two women had shared a decent lunch and a pint in a hotel near the university. They had attracted a few disturbed glances from other patrons, as they had chatted gleefully about cyanide and strangulation and been utterly unconcerned with it.
Phryne shrugged. “I like it.” she told her friend. “There’s worse jobs I could be doing.“
The Doctor had to acquiesce that.
“Maybe I’ll make a proper journalist one day.” Phryne mused.
“And how is it being back home?” Mac asked carefully.
Her friend rolled her eyes.
“As if I never left.” she replied sarcastically. “I’m trying to spend as little time there as possible.” she admitted. “It makes me feel like a little girl again, being there. The whole house is full of memories, sometimes it’s hard to breathe.”
For a moment neither of them said a word. They both knew it wasn’t just memories of an unhappy childhood filling the Fisher house. “I’ll get out there as soon as I have enough money.” Phryne vowed. “No going out, no dancing, no drinking, no nothing for me until I have saved up for a place of my own.”
Mac raised an eyebrow. “Sure you can manage that?” she asked teasingly.
Phryne rolled her eyes. “Maybe not completely.” she conceded. “But I’ll do my best.” A wicked grin spread over her face “And once I have my own place I’ll throw the biggest party this town has ever seen.”
When Jack woke up, just before five, he was alone in the house. Rosie had left a note on the kitchen table, telling him she was doing visits, but no indication as to when she would be back. He didn’t mind. It was a nice day so he took his bike out for a spin before deciding on anything further. An hour and a half later he returned sweating, but energized and full of the kind of contentment only physical exhaustion could bring.
He took his time with breakfast and settled in the living room with his newest book after showering and getting dressed for the night. He still had more than three hours before he needed to be back at work.
If he had given himself the opportunity to reflect upon it, he might have come up with the conclusion that this was the main reason he preferred the early shifts over late and nights. When your day started at six you got up and went to work, and when you got home you had the rest of the day for yourself. Starting at two in the afternoon or at ten at night always had him sit around half the day waiting for the moment he needed to get to work, and it left him with the constant sense that there really wasn’t any point in starting to do anything, because he had to leave in a few hours anyway. Rationally he knew it was ridiculous, that five hours were five hours, but he couldn’t ever enjoy them the same when he had that nagging reminder in the back of his mind that he still needed to go to work soon.
So he read more, since books could always easily be abandoned and picked up later again. He had a sneaking suspicion his loyal patronage of the bookshop three blocks from his house was the only thing keeping the place in business, but the shop was directly on his way to the tram stop and he hardly ever managed to walk past it without taking a peak inside and for some reason the shop seemed to be open no matter what time he came by, merely confirming his suspicion.
Today‘s book had been bought yesterday afternoon, after his bike ride and he already knew Rosie wouldn’t be impressed. She thought he bought too many books, that they neither had the money nor the space to support this hobby of his, and when he felt like being honest with himself he had to admit that she had a bit of a point. But in this case he just hadn’t been able to resist. The book was a work of beauty and Mr Allen, the bookseller had told him, that if he wanted to expand his repertoire to none-fiction ‘The Lives of the most excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects’ was a good way to start, since it was biographies, but written very entertainingly and to be taken with rather more than a grain of salt. Even so, it was quite a voluminous tome that had cost probably more than he should tell Rosie about.
It turned out that Mr Allen had been right and the book was both highly interesting and entertaining. When Rosie put her head through the door half an hour later, he was well and truly lost in the art world of Renaissance Italy. She rolled her eyes and retreated to the kitchen to start preparing her dinner.
Like every day when that task lay ahead of her, she vowed to herself to convince Jack to hire a housekeeper soon.
Rosie had been aware when she married Jack that she would have to make some concessions from the comforts she had been used from her father’s house. Love struck girl she had been, she had been rather excited about it. She had liked the idea of sacrificing her sheltered life for the love of her handsome fiancé. It had seemed like a romantic notion. She had shadowed Mrs Blunt, her parent’s housekeeper, for several weeks before her wedding, to not enter this adventure unprepared. In hindsight it had been a wise decision, but despite the lessons she hadn’t been fully prepared for the life that awaited her. But she hadn’t complained. To her own surprise she hadn’t minded the cleaning and washing and she positively delighted in dusting and tidying. Cooking, however, she could never warm to.
She wasn’t terrible, she didn’t burn the food and she usually managed the seasoning decently, but she found the whole procedure thoroughly distasteful. A lady should never have to know what food looked like before it landed on her plate, she thought. And even more she shouldn’t have to touch it, she mentally added, as she unwrapped the fish fillets she had bought for tonight.
It was cheap pieces of flake and she was slightly unsure what to do with it, since she didn’t want to make fish and chips. She and Jack wouldn’t eat together, as was usual, when he was on the nightshift and only breakfasted in the late afternoon, but she usually packed him his portion to have for his break. She wasn’t entirely sure if he’d have the possibility to reheat it, but even Rosie had to admit that there were few things as disgusting as cold chips. She settled for baking the fish with herbs and lemon. For a moment she contemplated adding garlic, but the thought of having the smell cling to her fingers for the rest of the evening made her decide against it. Potato salad would go nicely with it.
She took another look in the living room to see whether Jack was still enthralled in his book. He was. He probably hadn’t even noticed she was back. She tried not to care.
In the early days of their marriage, whenever he had been home early enough he had kept her company while cooking, helping with the tasks she abhorred most, or just entertaining her by telling her stories, singing to her, when he was in a particular good mood, or distracting her by trying to steal kisses when he was being cheeky. Those evenings were long in the past. In fact Rosie couldn’t remember having heard him sing once in the last four years. He had stopped talking about work as well. Whether it was because he failed to see the humour in it anymore, or because he didn’t want to talk to her, she didn’t know.
Of course he had never told her about the war either. She was surprisingly glad about that. When he had come back she had thought she wanted to know everything, but after the first few weeks, seeing what it had done to him she realised that no matter what he could tell her, she would never fully be able to understand and it was probably the greatest blessing of her life.
But there wasn’t much left for them to talk about otherwise. He had no interest in her friends and her daily goings on, unless they concerned him directly, and she had little interest in his books. So they simply didn’t do much talking anymore, and lately they didn’t do much else either, simply because their days happened at different times. At least it spared them awkward silences.
When she got home Phryne was glad to find her father was out. She headed straight to the kitchen an unloaded her bags. Her mother had heard her come in and joined her. “What is all this?” she asked surprised at the bags and boxes her daughter spread out on the table.
“Shopping.” Phryne replied lightly. “I realised it’s so much simpler if I do the groceries on my way home. I’m coming past the shops anyway and I already have the money. It’s really just overly complicated, me giving the money to father, him giving it to you. Even father will have to agree.” her tone was light, but it left no doubt that her father wouldn’t be given a choice other than to agree. She continued to clear up her purchases. “I’ve bought tee and milk and bread and a few things for dinner for today and tomorrow, and a couple of apples for in between.” she pointed at the different items before packing them away.
Margaret sighed deeply. Of course Phryne had a point, and she didn’t mind the girl taking over one of the household chores, but she also knew that Henry wouldn’t so readily relinquish his control over the household finances.
“Are you sure this is worth the fight, Phryne?” she asked.
Her daughter shot her a fiery look.
“I have no idea what you mean, mother.” she said coolly. “You have to agree that it’s the most practical solution.”
“Your father might consider other aspects, not just practicality.” Margaret hinted gently.
Phryne snorted. That was of course one way to call it, she thought.
“What aspects of what, my love?” Henry chose just this moment to enter the house and sauntered into the kitchen with a genial smile on his face, when he heard he was being talked about.
“Oh, and here I thought Christmas had been two months ago.” he observed with a look at the food still lying on the table. “Do we have something to celebrate?”
“Phryne has offered to take over the household shopping, Henry.” Margaret explained cheerfully.
Henry’s smile didn’t waver. “Oh really? Is it payday already, my dear?” Phryne took a deep breath to swallow down any snide remark before she turned to face her father. Trying, at least a little, to hide her triumph she reached for her purse and handed him 3 shillings. Henry investigated the money with interest.
“Where is the rest?” he asked, apparently innocently, but not without a hint of a threat in his voice.
“I bought food with the rest.” she replied attempting to sound unimpressed.
“You wasted nearly a pound on food?” he asked tersely. Not nearly as much as you have wasted this week alone on booze, she thought, but even at her most rebellious she wasn’t stupid enough to say that out loud. Or point out that she had merely spent 6 shillings and a few pence.
“It’s hardly wasting it, we need to eat.” she stated instead, as neutrally as she could.
“You should have consulted with me.” he complained. She chose not to reply to that, but a sharp remark was on the tip of her tongue and she couldn’t hold it back when he added rather sharply himself, “I could have used that money.”
“And exactly what could you have used the money for that was more important than food?” she asked snippily.
“Mind that tone, young lady.” he snapped. “And if you have to know, I was going to safe up to have that window repaired.” he added defiantly.
She didn’t believe a word he said. The kitchen window had been broken since she arrived and she hadn’t seen any indication that her father was in the least bothered by it. But she could feel her mothers hand on hers, trying desperately to keep the argument from escalating, so she put a fake smile on.
“I’ll keep that in mind.” she promised, fully aware of the full implications of that sentence.
* Cohen, Leonard. 2001. "A Thousand Kisses Deep". Ten New Songs. Prod. Sharon Robinson. Columbia.
Alright, a lot of historic notes on this chapter:
The Argus building on LaTrobe Street opened in 1926. I couldn't work out where they had been before, but I liked the idea that the previous builing was bursting at the seams and not up to modern standarts so that move was necessary.
The first execution using gas took place 8. feb 1924 Carson City, Nevada. Executions used Hydrogen cyanide aka Prussic acid. I don't know if the Argus ever wrote an article on that, other than they probably reported that it had happened. Somehow I doubt it. The other article Phryne works on, however, is real:
„Women to Women – funds for charities. Methods in Prahan.” written by Vesta, who I appropriated to be Miss Charlesworth's nome de plume, appeared in The Argus Wed. March 5th 1924 pg 6.
The shift schedule Jack thinks about is vaguely based on modern day shift duty as described by friends of mine who work have to work shifts like that: early shift 6am- 2pm, day shift 2pm-10pm, night 10pm-6am. Add half an hour to 45 min for breaks, you get enough overlap to make sure you're always covered.
In my imagination this applies primarily to Constables, whereas senior officers would probably be on a normal 9-5 roster. Hugh would be on Jack’s shift because he is assistent to DI though he probably has to do extras. Again, I have no idea, if this is anywhere near what reality would have been like.
Jack's book 'The Lives of the most excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects' was written by Giorgio Vasari and first published in English in 1908. It's a collection of artists biographies, first published 1550 in Italian. Nowadays it tends to be pubished in parts, most famously 'The Life of Leonardo”.
Flake is shark. It was particularly popular in 1920s Melbourne because it was caught just outside Port Phillip Bay and was therefore very cheap. It is still popular in Australia, but no longer especially cheap.
Rene and Georgette Magrite with their dog after the war
Were dinning with the power elite
As they looked in their bedroom drawer
And what do you think they have hidden away
In the cabinet cold of their hearts?
Rene and Georgette Magrite with their dog after the war – Paul Simon *
Prudence Stanley had insisted her sister and her niece came to dinner. Her brother-in-law was purposefully not invited. Phryne knew her aunt was mostly looking out for her sister, trying to keep her out of Henry‘s way, today of all days. They all knew he would be deep in his cups before lunch and in even deeper trouble before the day was over. And the ten year anniversary of Janey’s disappearance would be hard enough on Margaret as it was, without Henry making it worse.
She was grateful her mother would not be alone today, but she could have done without the invitation for herself. She didn’t feel like being in company today. Unfortunately, she couldn’t really decline since it was Sunday and the office was closed after lunch.
Besides she hadn’t really seen her relatives since her return and it was starting to look like she was avoiding them. Which of course she wasn’t, not even a little bit. She had only wanted to get back on her feet a little before meeting Aunt Prudence, to have something to convince her she was fine on her own. She had managed that alright, she thought, donning her best dress and re-doing her make-up in preparation for the encounter, like a soldier readying himself for battle.
She couldn’t help noticing her mother looked nervous when she asked her to borrow her lipstick. When was the last time Margaret Fisher had even possessed anything so frivolous?
To her great relieve they were greeted by her uncle when they arrived at the mansion. Phryne liked Edward Stanley. He was a good man, probably the best she knew and it was his burden to redeem the rest of the lot in her eyes, which was no easy task when one lived with Henry Fisher. He greeted her with a wide smile and kissed her on both cheeks.
“Welcome home, my dear.” he said warmly. “And look at you. A proper lady you have turned into.” Phryne returned her uncle’s embrace with equal warmth. The last time she had seen him she had indeed been hardly more than a girl of sixteen, when she had left for France, she certainly had changed. He on the other hand looked exactly like she remembered him, tall, broad shouldered, holding himself straight and proper, wearing a kind smile.
“It’s good to see you, too, Uncle Edward.”
She looked around the parlour. Everything looked almost exactly as she remembered it. Maybe a new coat of paint and new upholstery, but other than that it was as if the last seven years hadn’t touched the Stanley residence. Other than at her parents home, here the sight didn’t depress her, but gave her a surprisingly warm feeling of comfort. Maybe because most of her memories of this place involved hot meals rather than beatings and stale bread, she thought wryly.
“Prudence is still getting ready; she’ll be right with us. She was so excited to see Phryne again.” Uncle Edward told them. Phryne raised an eyebrow.
“I hope we’re not early.” she said.
“Not at all, my dear. In fact” there was an amused twinkle in her uncle’s eyes “I asked you here a bit early. If you’d lend me your daughter for just a moment Margaret, I’m sure Prudence will be right with you.” he excused himself to his sister-in-law and led Phryne into one of the tea rooms.
“A parcel has come for you from Guy.” he explained once they were out of earshot. “And knowing my son, I thought it might not be the best idea to have you open it in front of your mother and your aunt.” Phryne chuckled. She really did like Uncle Edward.
“Probably a wise assumption.” she agreed.
Her uncle brought out a large flat parcel, carefully wrapped and a little dented from the journey.
“There was a note, too.” he said. “If I had to guess, his heartfelt apologies that he forgot your birthday.” He handed her an envelope.
“Well, how is Guy supposed to remember a birthday, if there is no invitation to a party to remind him?” Phryne quipped good-naturedly. She got along well with Guy, too. He had been very generous to her in London, taking her under his wing, even though she was only his mother’s poor relative. He was entertaining company, but useless as a hole in the head when it came to anything serious. Fortunately for him serious didn’t usually occur within his vicinity, undoubtedly a decisive part of his charm. She unfolded the note.
It would appear I forgot to wish you many happy returns, again. Please forgive your neglectful cousin. I intend to make it up to you with this little thing I found at an auction. Since you’re keen on art, the French and just a little bit of frivolousness, I thought you might like it. Just make sure your old man doesn’t get his paws on it, this one is way too good to be hocked for booze. I’m sure mother and father can store it for you if you ask nicely.
I’ll be on time next time (I’ll try anyways) until then
All the best
Your cousin Guy
P.S. It’s called Woman with Peignoir by one Pierre Sarcelle, the auctioneer tells me. Apparently he’s all the rage in Paris, but you’d know more about that than me.
Phryne’s breath hitched when she read the post scriptum. That couldn’t be, could it? She tore open the package and nearly cried out when her eyes spied the familiar lines and colours. Her eyes were burning dangerously and she had to press her hand over her mouth to keep a sob from escaping.
Her uncle inspected the painting over her shoulder. Her reaction didn’t escape him.
“I was certainly right about your aunt.” he said lightly.
A chuckle made its way past the lump in Phryne’s throat. Yes, Aunt Prudence would doubtlessly be scandalised by the painting and other than her son, she would not fail to identify the woman in it.
“Well, that at least explains why you never wrote much about your time in Paris.” Uncle Edward commented dryly. “Good thing I don’t know anything about art, neither.” he muttered.
Phryne laughed again. It helped her get the tightening in her chest to loosen. How perfectly Uncle Edward to say just the right things and how typically Guy to, completely unwittingly, buy her the perfect present.
“Please, could I…” she hesitated. “I don’t have anywhere to put it.” she tired to make her uncle understand without having to spell it out for him. He did.
“Of course, my dear. Collingwood isn’t exactly the place to store precious artwork. I’m sure we can find a corner to keep it until you have a good wall to hang it to. We should maybe keep it wrapped though, don’t you think?” he smiled conspiratorially.
Phryne nodded gratefully. She really, really did like Uncle Edward.
“That wall of your own won’t take long anyways if I know you” he added. “I hear you have already found work?” And with that he had turned the conversation into less dangerous waters and led her into the dinning room where her mother was waiting. They were chatting amiably just when Arthur entered the room.
“Cousin Phryne!” he exclaimed joyously. Phryne hugged her cousin tightly.
Arthur had changed since the last time she had seen him. He was only a few years older than her, at least physically, and he had still grown since being eighteen. He had also turned from a lanky teenager into a stout man, even if he still held himself at the same odd angles. She knew that Arthur had always liked her a lot, likely more than his brother who was prone to play tricks on him. But in the already slightly fragile state she was in, his exuberant joy at seeing her almost overwhelmed her.
And then he said the one thing that could really get to her: “Did Cousin Janey come back, too?”
Phryne had to turn away, to hide the tears gathering in her eyes.
“No Arthur” she said, trying not to let him hear her distress. “Just me.”
She shook her head at her uncle, who was reaching out to her, clearly seeing the state she was in. No, she couldn’t fall apart every time someone mentioned Janey, not even today. Not after all this time, after everything she had seen and been through.
She could sense her mother fighting for her composure, too, next to her and it gave her the strength to wipe the tears from her eyes and put on her brightest smile before turning back to Arthur. She couldn’t fall apart today, not with her mother here, not today.
“But I got you something.” she said cheerfully, digging in her purse for the candied fruit she had brought for her cousin.
Aunt P hadn’t changed much either. Her hair had whitened somewhat, similar to her sister’s, but she was till as tiny, round and strict as Phryne remembered her. She was objected to a long measuring look, before her aunt allowed her to bend down and kiss her cheeks. "Phryne, dear." Aunt Prudence said, sounding a lot warmer, than her niece had expected.
"I hardly recognise the child in you."
"Well, it’s been seven years aunt P." Phryne couldn’t help pointing out.
"It has." her aunt agreed sharply. "I hope you have done enough gallivanting around the world now to keep you here for a while. Your mother needs you."
"I’ve noticed." Phryne replied as neutrally as she could manage.
“I am perfectly alright.” Margaret stated, giving her sister a hug. “But I am happy you are back, my dear.” she said with a still a little watery smile towards her daughter. Phryne noticed her aunt and uncle exchanging a look.
"How is Henry?" Uncle Edward asked courteously.
"Probably on his way to a monumental hangover." Phryne muttered under her breath, but she could tell from her aunt’s face that they had heard her.
"Still a regular patron of the Richmond Police Station then?" Prudence voice could have cut through glass.
"Afraid so." her niece confirmed. "You should have told me mother keeps wasting money on fines." she complained. "I would have sent less."
“That’s a very cruel thing to say, Phryne.” Margaret reprimanded her.
Well, that’s the truth for you, Phryne thought, but she bit her tongue. Today wasn’t the day to have that argument again and especially not in front of the Stanley’s as well-meaning as they certainly where.
“I’m sure we can find more pleasant topics to talk about over dinner.” Uncle Edward cut in taking his seat.
“You are absolutely right, dear Edward.” his wife agreed. “Talk of money is so dreadfully unbecoming.”
This time Phryne almost drew blood when her teeth hit her tongue.
"How was the game?"
Shocked silence descended over the table as all faces turned to the lady of the house. Patricia Sanderson had long ago banned the topic of football from her dinner table. Normally this was a wise call, considering the three men present each supported a different team, so any amicable conversation on that topic was never maintained for long. But now she apparently considered even that preferable to the tension that was currently ruling the meal.
Jack lowered his head over his plate in shame. He felt like he should apologise, but he wasn’t quite sure for what. He was aware his silence was of the more aggressive kind, but at the end of the day it had been George who was having a go at him, criticising his position towards, or rather against starched collars. Both of them, and probably everyone else at the table, were fully aware it was a highly metaphorical point of criticism and neither of them truly cared a wit about it. George just needed something to pick on.
Jack had taken his father-in-laws attacks with his usual stoicism and had refused to rise to the bait. No one would thank him if he got in a fight with George over Sunday dinner, and he didn’t see a point either way. So he had just sat there, shoving food into his mouth and ignoring Sanderson’s cutting remarks, sewed in in his conversation with Rosie about her wifely duties.
"Never thought I’d hear you get so passionate about shirt collars, George." Jack’s mother said in a tone so saccharine it almost made him gag. George gave her one of the withering looks he seemed to have perfected since he had become Assistant Commissioner.
"I’m glad I can still surprise you, Abigail." he said curtly. Abigail Robinson, to everyone and the world, except George Sanderson, simply Abby, smiled, still way too sweetly. She and George had never seen eye to eye in anything and their interactions were dominated by a cool politeness at best. At worst she called him a ambitious sod and Jack was fairly sure he didn’t want to know what George called her behind his back.
Jack knew she was merely defending him, and probably secretly relishing the fact that she had found a good reason to have a go at George, but still he wished she wouldn’t get involved.
The sad thing was that he and George normally got on very well. Jack had looked up to him since the early days of his career, when Sanderson had been his Superintendent in Hawthorne. He admired his father-in-laws easy authority and clear head in most situations, and three months ago he had been fairly sure that George had had a decent opinion of him as well. Both Rosie and Patty had joked before that they might get jealous about how well the two got along sometimes. But Jack could be incredibly stubborn when he was convinced he was in the right, and George had a tendency to take things personal and could get deeply personal in turn. And that now was something Abby was having none of, when it was directed against her son.
"We played a really good game against Collingwood." Billy chimed in, sensing another source of tension rising.
"A really good game only means you lost with a only handful of points." George immediately homed in on his other son-in-law.
Jack liked Billy, despite his unfortunate favouring of Fitzroy on the football field, but between the two of them George had at times probably questioned his daughters’ tastes in men.
"They’ve done quite well the week before." he couldn’t help saying, knowing full well last week Fitzroy had played against West Melbourne, George’s team, and had beaten them soundly. It was probably a bad idea to antagonise George right now, but he just couldn’t help himself. Footy was probably the only topic that could get that kind of reaction out of him and it wasn’t as if he had chosen it.
"I’ve actually been thinking about finding my own place." Phryne told her aunt.
She didn’t miss her mother’s light flinch. Surely this couldn’t come as a surprise for her though. She was a grown woman after all.
Prudence raised an eyebrow. "I can certainly understand the urge," she admitted critically "but do you think it’s proper? A single woman living alone." she sounded almost concerned. “Or are you going to find yourself a husband, too? It’s about time, you know.”
"Did you have an area in mind?" Uncle Edwards asked, before Phryne could make a snappy reply to her aunt. "I suppose you don‘t want to stay in Collingwood."
"Oh no, most definitely not." she agreed, ignoring Prudence’s misgivings, for both of their sakes.
"I’ve been thinking, maybe Brunswick, or Carlton. It’s going to be a question of price of course."
"Of course." Uncle Edward agreed. "Have you considered Richmond? You’d be a lot closer that way." Margaret suggested.
"Exactly, mother." Phryne tried not to sound sharp. Her mother nodded a little dully.
"I see." she said flatly.
Phryne took a deep breath to calm herself. She had promised herself to spare her mother today, but it didn’t seem possible, no matter what she did or said.
She knew Margaret was hurt by the friction between her and Henry, but that was something she could neither change nor had she any intention to. On the contrary, it kept pushing her off kilter how much her mother still clung to him, no matter how horrible he acted.
“I don’t rightly care if it’s proper, as long as it get’s me out of that house.” she turned to address her aunt’s concern after all. “I’m pretty sure patricide isn’t proper, but that is what will happen if things continue as they are.”
“Phryne!” Prudence exclaimed scandalised. She might have shared the feelings her niece had about her father, but it was highly inappropriate to make those kinds of jokes.
“I’m sure it won’t come to that. Maybe we could assist you.” Edward suggested, trying to bring the conversation back to less murderous topics. “If your mother approves.” he added with a wry smile.
“That’s very kind of you Edward.” Margaret replied with a strained smile
“It is.” Phryne agreed. “But I have to do this myself. I can’t always rely on wealthy relatives to sort my problems.”
“Poppycock.” her Uncle declared.”„What else are wealthy relatives for? Don’t pretend it’s the nice company.” he gave her a wink. “And I have no intention of buying you a house. But I could ask around. Some friends from my club own real estate in different parts of town. Just to see what the market looks like, maybe get you a good offer.” he added, with regards to the look on her face.
Phryne smiled, honestly this time. “Thank you. That’d be wonderful.”
Jack and Rosie walked home. The Sanderson’s Hawthorne house wasn’t far from where they lived in Richmond and Rosie knew that Jack enjoyed a nice walk after a good meal. She had started wearing sensible shoes to her parent’s years ago.
They walked in silence for a while. The fight at the dinner table hadn’t surprised Rosie, she knew her father could hold a grudge and she wished he would let it go, but Jack’s reaction to her father’s attempts to rile him, or rather the lack of it, galled her for reasons she couldn’t quite put her finger on. She wished he would stand up for himself. She didn’t understand why he had joined the strike, but she knew Jack well enough to know he only would have done it, if he believed it was the right thing to do. At least she thought she knew him, she wasn’t always too sure about it these days. But if he believed in the cause, shouldn’t he defend his decision rather than just take her father’s insults.
Another part of her just wished to see Jack care about anything other than his books and bike, stand up for anything other than to politely offer her his chair.
"You shouldn’t antagonise father." she said finally, just to see how he would react. He signed almost inaudibly.
"Mother really can’t abide fights at her dinner table." she added.
Rosie was surprised by the sudden urge to scream at him. You didn’t start the fight, you did nothing wrong, be both know I’m being unfair, defend yourself, she wanted to yell. She wanted to slap him out of his stupid, stubborn shell, make him do... something. But she didn’t. Instead she kept walking by his side, avoided looking at him.
She only opened her mouth again when they reached the gate to their house. "I hate starching collars." she said. Jack pulled his keys out of his pockets without looking at her.
* Simon, Paul. 1983. „Rene and Georgette Magrite with their dog after the war“. Hearts and Bones. Prod. Roy Halee, Paul Simon, Russ Titelman, Lenny Warnonker. Warner Bros.
Okay, I know the part with the painting is realy corny, but I just couldn't let that thing not be with Phryne. In my defense, I think the scenario is not entirely improbable.
All footy scores and games I made up. I don't know who played whom, how or when in 1923/24. Fitzroy is (or was) a real team though.
Jack's and George's ranks gave me no end of headache to be honest (mostly because I'm a stupid foreigner and I don't really know what they actually mean or do). It seems Sanderson would not have started out as a regular police officer, since the top brass usually consisted of members of the upper echelons of society, whereas the officers were generally working class. The portrayal of Sanderson in the show seems to support that (the man owns a persian rug).
In Jack's case the problem is more the timing, since historically no senior officer paricipated in the strike. While I'm not entirely sure at what rank senior officer starts the fact remains that he needed to have been promoted a couple of times to end up as Senior DI in '28, less than 4 years after the strike, while he can't have been promoted more than two or three times in the 5 years between the war and the strike. Sergeant seemed like a safe choice.
It started out quite simply, as complex things can do;
A set of sad transparencies ‘til no one could see through,
But least of all the one inside, behind the iron glass;
A prisoner of all your dreams that never come to pass.
Alone you stand corrupted by the vision that you sought,
And blinded by your hunger all your appetites are bought
The Pride Parade – Don McLean *
Ever since Jack had started working the night shift he had learned to properly hate Saturdays. Saturdays were the worst. Respectable people stayed at home during the working week, but even most r factory and dockworkers seemed to need one night in the week to let lose and smash something. Those were Saturdays.
When he was called to one of the more notorious illegal late night pubs in Fitzroy just after midnight, he therefore fully expected a rowdy crowd and a couple of drunk and disorderly cases, probably a brawl. As reasonable precaution he had brought two Constables as back up with him. Thankfully they were double manned on Saturday nights. He was taken by surprise when he entered an almost deserted bar. The only one waiting for him was a grim innkeeper and two bartenders who stood sheepishly in a corner. Then he saw the body on the floor.
Jack hadn’t been on a homicide case since he had been a Constable. That calibre of crime was usually investigated by higher ranking officers, with the junior ranks doing the legwork. The middle ranks, like his, were more regularly employed for less severe crimes, theft, fraud, vice and the like. Jack hadn’t minded it. After he’d returned from the war, he had felt he had seen enough violent deaths to last him a lifetime, so he had been content with less jarring cases.
Violent was definitely the key word here. The man on the floor had been beaten heavily, his clothes were torn and a small puddle of blood was forming around his head. Next to him Jack could hear Constable Hart gag.
“Hart, secure the premise. Outside.” He ordered calmly. “When you’re done find a telephone and call the station. Tell Morgan we have a homicide and need more men and the coroner. Got it?”
“Yes, Sir.” The Constable pressed out, before he all but sprinted towards the door. The poor boy had probably never seen a dead body before, less one in such a state. Jack turned to the innkeeper, pulling out his notebook. “What happened?” The other man frowned.
“Saturday night happened.” he ground out. “Payday, much as it is, and tomorrow the day of the Lord. Couple o’ gents spend their packets a little quickly and got in a bit of a stoush. I was just about to clear ‘em out when Tomo collapsed.” he pointed at the corpse.
“You know the deceased?” Jack inquired.
“Tomo Gallagher.” the host stated. “He’s a regular.”
Jack threw a second glance at the man on the floor. Now that he had a name he recognised him. Tomo Gallagher was a regular at Richmond Station, too.
“Soon as it was clear he was dead everybody else legged it, of course. “ The innkeeper continued grimly. Jack nodded. Of course. No one wanted to be around when the cops came to pick up a dead body.
“Do you remember anyone who was here, before they cleared of?” he asked anyways.
The innkeeper frowned.
“The usual lot, workers from the factory mainly.” he said vaguely.
Jack nodded again. He hadn’t really expected to get any names out of this. Fortunately it wasn’t his problem. He only had to do the preliminary investigation and come the morning he would hand it over to Inspector Jenkins.
“Who was fighting with Tomo?” he continued his inquiry undeterred.
“I couldn’t rightly tell.” The inkeeper replied flatly. “How long do you think this’ll take? I got a business to run.” he asked.
Jack shrugged noncommittally.
“I’m afraid the pub will have to remain closed for the moment Mr…?”
“Hendriks. Bob Hendriks. How long?”
“The Bar is a crime scene Mr Hendriks. The Inspector will come by in the morning, he’ll decide. Until then no one’s to disturb it.” Jack said in a tone that didn’t allow for any protest. “Constable Fields, please interview the other two witnesses while I examine the body.” he ordered.
The coroner arrived about ten minutes later. Apparently Constable Hart had been able to hold on to his stomach content after all, after he had left the crime scene and had immediately fulfilled the orders Jack had given him. The preliminary didn’t yield anything apart from the obvious, but at least they could get the body out.
Along with the medical examiner two more Constables arrived, yawning heavily, who relieved Hart from his guard duty at the door. One of them informed Jack that Inspector Jenkins had been called and would wait for his report at the beginning of his shift. Jack took a look at his wristwatch and shook his head incredulously. It was just after two. The Inspector’s shift wouldn’t start until nine. It seemed like a ridiculous waste of time and resources to leave the crime scene to its own devices for that long. But then he shrugged. If that was how the Inspector intended to conduct his investigation, who was he to tell him differently. It would after all give him plenty of time to get his paperwork done and in order, so he could present the case coherently to his superior. It also meant he would be working overtime. He made a mental note to call Rosie if things should drag on.
In the meantime he returned to his witnesses
“One of the barkeepers stated Gallagher was fighting with someone he calls ‘the Baron’, the other won’t say anything, claims things happened to fast and chaotic.” Constable Fields reported.
Jack perked up. He took the few steps to where the witnesses were still waiting.
“Your name please, Sir.” he addressed the man Fields indicated.
“Roy Larsen.” the man replied “I work here.”
“Are you sure you saw him fight with Henry Fisher?” Jack demanded to know and relished the look of shocked surprise on Roy's face. He clearly had hoped to come across as helpful without giving anything away by telling them nothing but a nickname. Unfortunately for him Jack, too, had had the questionable pleasure of a drunken Henry Fisher’s company. Like everyone in that not-so-select group he had heard the man’s bragging that all it took was one more dead toff in England for him to become a rich as Croesus, with a title to boot. A story Fisher told with such regularly that both his friends and foes had taken to teasingly calling him Baron.
“I, er, I don’t rightly know his name.” the man stuttered, squinting under Jack‘s scrutiny and his colleagues irate look.
“But you could identify him.” Jack made very certain this was not a question and let the man know it. “Thank you. That’ll be all for now.” With that he walked out, and would have worn a self satisfied smirk if he hadn’t been on duty.
* McLean, Don. 1972. „The Pride Parade“. Don McLean. Prod. Ed Freeman. United Artists.
Well I never cared much for the money
And money never cared for me
I was more like a land-locked sailor
Searching for the emerald sea
That’s me – Paul Simon*
Detective Inspector Jenkins scanned over Jack’s report. He seemed generally satisfied. He had come in an hour early after all, but Jack had still been ready and waiting for hours.
“You’ve examined the crime scene and you have a suspect?” he asked. Jack nodded quietly.
“You know the suspect?”
“He’s a regular, Sir.”
Jenkins nodded and closed the file.
“Sounds like an open-shut case to me. Get that Fisher bloke, get your statements, a confession if you can and close the case, Robinson.” he ordered.
“You’re letting me lead the investigation, Sir?” Now that was the last thing Jack had expected. Jenkins just gave him a look.
“You’re a seasoned Sergeant, not some Constable fresh off the academy, Robinson. And I have three cases pending and the paperwork to do for another five. I don’t have the time or energy to waste on a punter got himself killed in a pub brawl. You may have noticed Robinson we’re a little short staffed at the moment. So you’re off the nightshift while you’re on this case. Shouldn’t take more than a day or two anyway. Just make sure you get the coroner’s report in your file before you hand it in. Sanderson will also ask about closing down the watering whole, any chance we can do that?”
“Uhm, unlikely.” Jack reported, still slightly shocked. “The innkeeper insists he didn’t serve alcohol after hours. If anyone still had a drink they must have saved it up or brought it in, he claims.”
Jenkins nodded. “Of course. And I guess he collected all the glasses before you arrived?”
“All the ones that were still in one piece.” Jack confirmed.
A knock in the door interrupted them. Constable Fields put his head in. “There’s someone here about Henry Fisher.” he reported. Inspector Jenkins raised an eyebrow and gave his Sergeant a prompting look
“Your case, Robinson. Go close it.”
He hadn’t been sure who he had expected, but it hadn’t been the young woman waiting at the counter. Fisher’s daughter, he remembered. She looked different, in the light of day. Somehow much more vibrant than she had at one in the morning. She was wearing what was probably a fashionable hat this time, a light, brightly coloured summer dress and deeply red lipstick.
“Miss Fisher. How can I help you?”
Her eyes flew up to him and her head tilted in recognition.
“Sergeant Robinson. I came to pick up my father.”
She sounded different, too he noticed. Her accent was less pronounced, as if it only came out properly when she was tired or upset. Unfortunately what she was saying didn’t make sense to him. He frowned in confusion.
“Pick him up?”
“Yes, he didn’t get home last night, so we reckoned he’d gotten himself in trouble again.”
“I’m afraid your father hasn’t been with us tonight.” Jack told her.
Her lips tightened.
“Damn. I don’t have time for this, I need to get to work.” she cursed.
Then a smile spread over her face.
“I’m working for the Argus now, you know.” she said and tilted her head daring him to say anything about women in the workforce.
“Congratulations.” he said genuinely.
The pride and joy in her voice were unmistakable. To his own surprise he found he wasn’t surprised that she turned out to be a journalist. He had seen that she was brave, when she faced her father and for a Collingwood girl she was good with words. She was the kind of woman his mother would have described as a world of trouble, he was sure of that, even after only one short meeting. Someone who didn’t take a road just because they were told to, or because that was what you did. It was about the highest compliment his mother could utter.
“I expect the press offices of this city will learn to fear you.” he added with a smile.
It felt a little strange. He could barely remember the last time he had smiled and meant it he realised with a bit of a start. She grinned wickedly.
“That is my full intention Sergeant.”
With that she turned around and was just about to flounce out of the station, when Jack remembered her father was still his main suspect.
“Actually, Miss Fisher.” he called after her. “We’re looking for your father.”
She stopped dead in her tracks and turned around.
“Why? Miss him?” her face had instantly turned suspicious. “I got the impression he’s at your station more than enough.”
“This isn’t about that Miss Fisher. I need to talk to him in regard to a potential homicide investigation. It seems like he did get himself in trouble after all.”
Her eyes widened like saucers.
“Murder? Who did he kill?”
Jack realised just a tad too late that the spark in her eyes was excitement rather than shock.
“I’m investigating the death of Mr Tomo Gallagher.”
Her browns knitted for a moment, before her face lit up in recognition
“Stocky fellow? Hair like brushwood, bad skin, shrapnel scar on his cheek?” she asked.
“Did you know him?” he asked in return.
She shrugged. “He’s been around a few times since I returned.” she said feigning disinterest.
“Was he a mate of your father’s?” he inquired.
Again a light, disinterested shrug and an aloof answer in a notably higher voice than her regular pitch.
“I wouldn’t know.”
Jack had to suppress the second smirk this morning. Who’d have thought she’d be a terrible liar. So Henry had definitely known Tomo. No surprise there, and, if he was being honest with himself, neither was her refusal to divulge information. This was Collingwood after all, no one talked to the police here, even if they flirted with them.
Damn, she had flirted with him, hadn’t she? And had he flirted back?
“Since when do Sergeants get to lead murder investigations anyways?” she asked sharply,
apparently not noticing that he was on the verge of blushing deep crimson. “Isn’t that a detective’s job?”
Jack tried to make a none-committal face.
“The police force is understaffed.” he replied shortly.
“No surprise when they fire half their men.”
“A third.” he corrected her almost automatically. “636 men. As a journalist you should get your facts right.” he added hastily.
The number had dropped from his lips before he could stop himself. It had burned itself too deep into his subconscious to be held back. She tilted her head and her eyes seemed to drill right inside of his skull, as if she was trying to read his thoughts.
“Doesn’t change the overall situation though.” she pointed out. “Or the unfairness of it. Those men were right and all remaining officers owe them a debt of gratitude in my book.”
Jack tried his damndest to maintain his neutral expression. He could not be caught discussing police internal politics with a journalist. Or anybody, for that matter. No matter how much he wanted to agree with her.
“I’m still looking for your father.” he said instead.
She made a face that would have been hilarious, if it hadn’t been for the scene at the station the other night. If he didn’t know just how often her mother came to gather up her husband.
“He’ll pop up.” she said with no small amount of resignation. “Eventually he’ll show up for money. If he does I might just feel inclined to tie him up and call you Sergeant. That’s if he doesn’t get himself arrested before that anyways.”
Phryne swept into the office only about twenty minutes late. Which meant Robin, one of the other research assistants, gave her a nasty look from where he was making the tea. She was still early though, she knew the regular morning huff would only start in about an hour. Thankfully there was no mail on Sundays so she didn’t have to deal with that and only had to do the transcripts that Miss Charlesworth had positioned on her desk yesterday for typing.
She only paid half a mind to it though. The news of earlier this morning were still tumbling about in her head. Her father was wanted for murder. The Sergeant hadn’t said it, but it was pretty clear. What else could ‘wanted in relation to a homicide’ mean, other than suspect. She had of course known Tomo Gallagher and she knew her father had known him. He had come around the house a few times in the last weeks.
His timing had been remarkably bad. Somehow her father had managed not to be home on most of those visits. She had at the time assumed he owned the man money. Thinking about it, that theory would probably still hold. But would her father really murder a man over a bit of money. The thought didn’t sit well with her. She had accused her father of many things over the years, but not murder. She huffed in frustration when her finger hit the wrong key for the third time in the last five minutes. This wouldn’t do at all.
She jumped to her feet and walked over to Hector Pierce’s desk. The office only had the one telephone. They had research assistants to run around town to check up on information, after all, who needed a telephone.
In this case, however, she couldn’t just show up in person. No one was in the office yet, aside from Robin who had retreated to his own desk, hacking noisily away at his typewriter. She threw a glance at the great clock on the wall but didn’t pick up the phone yet. The nightshift had already been packing up, when she had been in and should be out by now, but she waited another fifteen minutes, which she filled with pouring out the tea Robin had perpetrated and making a new pot. It wouldn’t do to get caught by the Sergeant. He was nice enough and seemed remarkably sensible for a copper, but he was a copper none the less and they could never be trusted entirely.
She only had to wait for one ring before someone picked up. “Richmond Police Station, Constable Evans speaking?”
The man on the other end of the line sounded like he was suppressing a yawn. Phryne grinned like a cat that got the cream. This would be easy.
“Hello there. My name is Connie Henderson, from the Argus. I’m calling to confirm a few details on a man who died last night. A Mr Gallagher?”
The constable sounded mildly confused, didn’t object to her question though.
“The bloke killed in the pub brawl last night?” he asked slightly befuddled.
In a pub brawl, aha. So it could have been an accident. Assuming that was the right case.
“Well how many Gallagher’s did die last night.” she asked haughtily.
He didn’t seem to take offense.
“Alright, alright, just gimme a sec, Miss.” she heard the rustling of paper. “Tomo Gallagher, killed last night in a brawl in an illegal bar in Fitzroy, that the one Miss?”
“Absolutely.” she said trying to make her smile be audible through the line.
“Seems nothing out of the ordinary.” Constable Evan’s muttered.
“I know and I wouldn’t bother with it, but according to my information the case is treated as a homicide, rather than an accident.” she explained.
“That’d be right Miss. It’d only be an accident if he’d fallen and hit his head or something, but he was knocked off.” he confirmed.
“Indeed? And have you arrested someone?”
“Still working on that part, Miss. Don’t you worry though, from what I can see it won’t take long.” At this she could faintly hear another voice on the other end, someone said something to the Constable. It got an instant reaction.
„I’m sorry Miss, will this be all?”
“Yes, of course, thank you Constable, you were very kind.” She hung up.
As she returned to her desk she was mulling over what she had learned. It didn’t sound good. Fatally hitting someone during a fight sounded much more likely for her father than cold blooded murder. If he had been in that pub and anyone told the coppers he had had trouble with Tomo, she couldn’t blame them for suspecting him. If he had knocked him off during the brawl, it would be manslaughter rather than murder though. At least he wouldn’t hang. She shuddered at how naturally that thought had come to her, as if she had been expecting it for years.
"Following a lead on the Gallagher case, Constable?" Jack asked the man who had just hurriedly hung up the telephone.
"No, Sir. Just answering an inquiry. A lady from the press asked about the case."
Jack frowned. "You didn’t divulge any sensitive information, Constable, did you?"
The press sniffing around his first murder investigation, as straight forward as the case may be, was really not something he needed. He could do without that kind of pressure. The Constable blushed a little, denied it though. Jack was just about to leave it be when a thought hit him.
"A lady you said?" he asked. "Did she give a name?"
"Henderson, I think, Sir. From the Argus." Constable Evans replied.
"Hm." Jack nodded. A part of him wanted to dismiss it as a coincidence, but a much bigger part of him, the part that had been a cop for a while told him there was no such thing as coincident. Why would a journalist from the Argus care about a dead drunk? Well, he couldn’t fault her for being curious; he’d probably be the same if it had been his father. He made a mental note to discuss treatment of the press with Jenkins or George at the next opportunity and picked up where he had been headed when Evans telephone conversation had derailed him. He had a widow to inform.
* Simon, Paul. 2006. „That’s me“. Surprise. Prod. Paul Simon. Warner Bros.
Well I‘m sick of this town, this blind man‘s forage
They take your dreams down and stick them in storage
You can have them back son when you‘ve paid off your mortgage and loans
Life’s for the living – Passenger*
Tomo Gallagher had lived in Collingwood, just a short walk from where he had been killed. His house was one of those windy wooden boxes that covered the whole area. Cheap housing for people who could barely afford to put food on the table, but still had a bit of pride left.
Jack suppressed a tired yawn and knocked on the front door. The porch was neatly swiped, he noted and the door had recently been painted. It seemed Mr and Mrs Gallagher had more than a fair share of pride left.
After a few moments the door opened and a lean, thin lipped woman looked him over. She was neatly dressed and Jack was startled by how young she was. Tomo Gallagher was a man in his forties, pushing fifty, but his wife was certainly not thirty yet. She eyed him suspiciously and a little wary.
“Whadaya want?” she asked, neither particularly polite, nor particularly rude. He face was a little pensive at sight of a police officer
“Mrs Gallagher?” Jack made certain. “Sergeant Jack Robinson, it’s about your husband.”
It wasn’t the first time Jack had to inform someome about the death of a next of kin. It was an unpopular job, and senior officers tended to push the task on to their subordinates, as soon as they had a couple of years experience under their belt. But normally Jack had dealt with suicides, accidents or muggings gone wrong. Cases where the relatives were no part of the investigation.
This time, however, he had to interview the widow as well. Inspector Jenkins might say that it was an open and shut case, but the fact that Jack was only all too aware of was that he had no other evidence against Henry Fisher than an eye witness who was just as likely to change his story as the wind could change.
They had gathered some of the broken bottles from the pub floor, but at least three of them had blood on them, and even if one of them also had Fisher’s prints on them, a decent defence counsel would take it apart in seconds without a motive. That was what he hoped to gain from Mrs Gallagher, but for that he had to, for the first time in his career, find a segue from informing her of the death of her husband, to asking her about his relationship with Fisher.
“May I come in?” he inquired, trying a first step.
She looked rather uncomfortable at the idea, but eventually stepped aside and led him into the kitchen. Apparently policemen weren’t worthy being taken to the parlour. Jack wryly thought that one of the poorest areas in town had at least that in common with the high end. Only then he realised she might not have a parlour to invite him into in that little house.
Mrs Gallagher offered him a seat at the kitchen table and took the other chair. She looked at him expectantly. He could see from the way she clutched her hands together that she was prepared for the worst. A part of him wished she wasn’t right.
“Mrs Gallagher,” he began as gently as he could. “Your husband was involved in a brawl last night, where he was fatally injured. I’m sorry to have to tell you he died.”
She listened attentively and nodded, but the expression on her face hardly changed. Jack knew that reaction: She had received the information, but it hadn’t hit home yet. This could be his chance.
“Mrs Gallagher, did your husband know a man named Henry Fisher? Did he ever mention him?” he asked tentatively.
She gave him a long and somewhat confused look as she processed the question.
“I think so.” she said finally. “I think I’ve heard the name before.”
“Could there have been any discord between them?” Jack continued his inquiry.
She shrugged. “Maybe. I wouldn’t know.“
Her eyes returned to his face and he could see that they slowly filled with tears.
“He’s dead?” she asked.
Jack nodded. “I’m sorry.”
He left the woman to her grief a few minutes later, after assuring himself she had a friend she could call to look out for her. He would have to come back, he presumed. Hopefully she would remember a bit more, once the shock had worn off.
So far he had precious little in terms of evidence or motive on Fisher, but he knew the man lived nearby. He shouldn’t really go there without backup, he mused, just in case the man was home, but after his conversation with the daughter in the morning and what he had seen at the crime scene, he put the chances that Fisher was home down as slim. And maybe Mrs Fisher knew something about her husband’s dealings with Gallagher. He knew she appreciated him when she came to the station for her husband, maybe she wouldn’t be quite as clammed up as her daughter.
“There’s man, wants to see you at the backstairs Phryne.” Vicky called across the office.
Semi-secret meetings with informants weren’t unusual. Normally they insisted on talking to the journalists, not the researchers, but it wasn’t unheard of either, so Phryne got of her desk immediately.
“Did he say what about?” she asked, going through two or three sources she had talked to in the last week in her mind.
The other woman shook her head. “Not a peep.”
“Oh well.” Phryne shrugged and headed towards the stairs putting on he best professional smile.
The smile fell like a rock, when she saw the man standing at the bottom, his cap pulled deeply over his face.
“Oh, here you are.” she said dismissively. “You know the police are looking for you?”
Henry threw a quick glance over his shoulder
“I know. That’s why I’m here.”
Phryne gave him a dry look. “What, do you want me to hold your hand as you turn yourself in?”
“Why would I do that?” he sounded seriously surprised, as much as incensed. “I need your help to get out of this.”
“And what makes you thing I’d do that? You killed a man.” she pointed out angrily.
Of course he would try to drag her into his mess, had she ever expected something else?
“You don’t really believe that?”
“What’s there to believe? There was a brawl, you punched him and he died.”
Henry was slowly turning purple at her words. “That wasn’t my first brawl, Phryne. I know how hard I can hit a man and not kill him.”
“You were drunk!” she was all but yelling now.
“Not that drunk!”
He took a deep breath to calm himself and returned to his sober, charming self he could display when he felt like it.
“The police won’t investigate this properly, you know how they are.” he said pleadingly. “I just need your help to get them to look at other options.”
Phryne could only roll her eyes. Her father truly was impossible.
“And how exactly do you imagine I do that?” she asked despite herself.
Henry shrugged nonchalantly.
“Robinson’s investigating the case. He likes you, I could tell that night when you refused to pay my bail.” he put a bit of emphasis on the last part before his voice became more sly and almost seductive. “I’m sure you could make him do whatever you want.”
Phryne’s jaw dropped. Fury hot like molten iron raced through her body.
“You expect me to prostitute myself, so you don’t have to go to gaol?” her voice was deceptively low and calm, but didn’t hide the extent of her outrage and disgust.
Henry waved his hand dismissively.
“Of course not, my dear.” he said oblivious to her ire. “I thought you could flirt with him, you know, turn his head. If you want to seduce him, that’s up to you. I suppose he is rather handsome for a rozzer, and I don’t expect you’re still a virgin after you spend, how many years, in France, surrounded by soldiers no less.” he grinned salaciously.
It took all she had for Phryne not to grab the next thing she could get her hands on and smash it over his head.
“You should leave.” she said icily.
Henry gave his daughter a pleading look. “Phryne.” he said almost whining.
“If you don’t leave immediately I will need all my female wiles to get my own neck out of a noose.” she threatened.
Her fathers face fell before it took on a nasty expression. “I am your father.” he said now with the same coldness.
“Well, there isn’t much I can do about that, is there?” she spit.
He took a threatening step closer. “You ungrateful little…” he ground out, but Phryne was too furious to be afraid at that point.
“And exactly what am I supposed to be grateful for, father? For the beatings? For the times I went to bed hungry because you had squandered the household money? For the times my lullaby’s were the sound of your drunken rages, or mother crying herself to sleep? For nightly walks to the police station, for being locked up in a cupboard, for hocking any gift I ever got from grandmother or Aunt P? What for father?”
She took a deep breath, having finally unburdened her heart a little and stepped back before Henry could regain his bearings from her onslaught.
“I should have never come back.” she muttered.
Without looking back she marched back to her office.
The Fisher house was disturbingly similar to the one Jack had just come from. A tiny box of a house, that looked like it would collapse at the slightest breeze, if not for the other houses tucked by its sides. But the Gallagher one had been cared for, this one looked run down, even for this neighbourhood. The paint was coming off the walls, and he noted that one of the front windows was nailed shut rather haphazardly with a few crooked planks. He couldn’t help wonder how long the glass had been broken.
Margret Fisher opened the door a crack after the second knock. When she saw him her face tensed. It was the same look he had just seen in Mrs Gallagher’s face. Clearly she expected the same message. When the police showed up at your door in Collingwood someone you knew had either been arrested or found dead. He could see her tense in preparation for the hit.
“Sergeant Robinson? What brings you here?”
Despite her obvious fear she managed to sound light and friendly.
“Good Morning, Mrs Fisher.”
Jack tried to sound equally friendly and as little threatening as he could manage.
“I would like to speak to your husband. Has he returned home?” he asked despite knowing the answer already.
A confused frown appeared on her face. “No, he hasn’t. I thought… didn’t Phryne…?”
“Your daughter came by early this morning, yes, but we didn’t have Henry in custody last night.” Jack explained.
The change in her expression was heart wrenching. From worry to confusion to defeat. If he wasn’t in police custody, he must have been somewhere else, and Jack didn’t really want to know where she thought he had been. He chose his next words carefully: “I need your husband’s statement regarding events at the Lion last night.”
He could see her walls go up. No surprise there. This was not the kind of neighbourhood where people talked to the cops, not even the ones they knew.
“I haven’t seen Henry since yesterday afternoon.” Mrs Fisher stated. “I don’t know where he is or where he’s been.”
Jack nodded. “Do you know Tomo Gallagher?” he asked.
For a split second he thought he could see her eyes twitch, but he couldn’t be sure.
“Tomo? He comes around from time to time. What’s he done?”
Jack struggled with himself. If he told her the truth she would clamp up even more he was sure, and knowing her the way he did, she would probably move heaven and earth to protect Henry. But then again she would find out soon enough, after all her daughter knew already and it wouldn’t take long for the news to spread around the neighbourhood.
“Mr Gallagher was killed last night in a brawl.” he said.
Her eyes widened, but other than that her face remained a perfect, almost aristocratic mask.
“And what does Henry have to do with that?” she asked.
“A witness has identified your husband involved in the brawl.” he replied a little evasive.
He tried carefully to keep any hint accusation out of his statement. She wasn’t fooled for a second.
“I don’t know where he is.” she repeated, with some emphasise this time.
Jack sighed. It was obviously no use trying to spare her, he wouldn’t get any more with the kid gloves on, so he could as well ask the questions he wanted to.
“What was your husband’s relation to Mr Gallagher?”
She shrugged non-committal. “They are men.”
An obvious statement, but he knew what it meant. Men in this area knew each other. They would meet at the pub, hang around in the streets, gamble, occasionally work in the same factory. There didn’t need to be any relationship as such, just living in the same street meant you knew each other.
“You said Mr Gallagher had been over sometimes?”
“Yes. As I’m sure Henry has been over at his place.”
“Any disagreements between them lately?”
This time her shrug was almost sarcastic. “They are men.”
You know Henry, was the subtext to this statement and he could understand her dismissive answer. Henry was not a benign drunk and a sly and selfish man when sober. Jack could imagine there were few men in the neighbourhood he hadn’t had fights with at some point. He nodded.
“Thank you Mrs Fisher. If you could tell your husband we’re looking for him. ”
She nodded somewhat none-committal. They both knew she would tell Henry, tell him, to warn him. Jack wouldn’t hear from her, he didn’t expect to. He wished her a good day and returned to the station.
On his way he stopped by the pie cart, vaguely aware that he would be missing Sunday dinner with the family. George would probably tell them where he was and what was going on. Most likely putting his own spin on the whole story. He wasn’t very sorry to miss it.
* Rosenberg, Mike. 2012. „Life’s for the living“. All the little lights. Prod. Mike Rosenberg, Chris Vallejo. Nettwerk; Black Crow.
Well if you can‘t get what you love
You learn to love the things you‘ve got
If you can‘t be what you want
You learn to be the things you‘re not
If you can‘t get what you need
You learn to need the things that stop you dreaming
Things that stop you dreaming –Passenger *
When Margret closed the door she let out a deep breath. He was alive. He was wanted by the police, but he was alive. Wanted by the police they had done before, that she could deal with. He was alive that was all that mattered.
She wondered briefly if she had said too much to the Sergeant. Margret didn’t have the natural distrust of the authorities Henry and Phryne had grown up into. She had only learned the hard way that, while everyone might be the same under the law, the same could not be said for law enforcement. The first time she had assumed so. The officer in charge had laughed in her face when she had demanded justice for her husband.
“You might sound like a toff, but that don’t make you one.”
She could still remember his face and the exact sound of his voice even nearly thirty years later.
She had never expected anything form the police ever since. Instead she had leaned more on Henry, to let him guide her in this strange new world she was living in now. His word had become her gospel, because he knew how to survive and how to enjoy it while you did. They had made due and they had been reasonably happy. Until Janey.
And yet again the police had failed to live up to the standards her parents had taught her to expect. A child from the wrong end of town goes missing, who cares. She knew for sure that, had it not been for Arthur, the officer in charge would have treated it as a runaway case, and even her nephew’s statement did little to convince him otherwise. They had been lucky that Foyle had already been implicated in another abduction of a little girl. Had he been a man of spotless reputation, the word of an imbecile would not have been enough, even if he was Edward Stanley’s son.
Margret forced her thoughts back to the present and to the cop who had just left her doorstep. She wasn‘t sure about Sergeant Robinson. So far he seemed the decent kind, not that you could ever rely on that. But she had seen quite a lot of him over the last couple of months. He was always polite and correct, never snide, never spiteful or derisive. When she had the money he would let Henry go without objection, and always offer her a cup of tea when she didn’t, even as he regretfully told her he couldn’t help her.
She sighed. He would be back. A look around told her she needed to clean up before that happened. She sighed again. Cleaning was the kind of work she hated with a passion she otherwise could hardly muster anymore these days. But the futility of it infuriated her beyond words. Why bother, it got dirty again anyway. Never had she realised before her marriage, how true it must be what her parents had always told her, that being a servant was a vocation rather than a job. It had to be, otherwise how could you stomach cleaning up someone else’s rubbish day after day, without loosing your mind.
Margaret had not been raised to be a poor man’s wife. Especially in the first years of her marriage that had shown. Before she married Henry she had never held a broom, not to mention a frying pan. Having no one to teach her, she had learned by trial and error, often to Henry’s unending amusement, sometimes to his annoyance. But she had learned. She even enjoyed cooking sometimes, but cleaning was a chore only beaten in its unpleasantness by doing the laundry.
Money, of course had been the worse issue. When she had gotten married, she had had no idea of the value of money. If you wanted something, you bought it. The result of course had been that they had lived horrendously above their means. Henry had reassured her in the beginning. Told her not to worry, he would take care of the money. He always had plans and schemes then, not that it had helped. They had gone without a proper roof over their heads for weeks on end sometimes, and she had stopped asking where he got food or what little money he brought came from. But she hadn’t minded the first year or so. It had been exciting, exhilarating and it had brought them closer together than she thought possible.
The problem was only that it never ended. There was never any money. Henry’s plots fell through and he became irritable and angry when she kept asking for it, or had yet again spend what money they had unwisely. She had learned too slowly to make due, and even slower to make sure any money he did make made its way to her, rather then the next hotel or gambling den.
The house had been a blessing. A gift, of course, from Edward and Prudence for the birth of her first baby girl. And a well thought out gift as it had turned out, too. Edward had anticipated that Henry might want to liquidate the funds the house represented and had found a way to prevent that. „My nieces and nephews shall have a home to grow up in.“ he had told her when he had presented her the key and he had meant it. They had never told Phryne that the house was hers. She had been too young to understand, and then she had been gone. Now Margaret worried what her daughter might do with that kind of information, considering her relationship with her father was tense at the best of times.
Phryne was still seething by the time the office closed at lunch hour. She was by no means ready to go home, even though she was fairly certain her father wouldn’t be there. Too obvious, if the police were actually actively looking for him. But her mother would be there, probably fretting, and she couldn’t deal with that either at the moment. God, she really needed to get her own place.
So she merely kept pacing in front of the newspaper building, trying to come up with something to do. She could take the tram down south as far as it would go and then have a nice walk to the beach. The idea of literally cooling her heals in the waves was tempting. But her father’s words kept going through her head, and she had no intention to let him ruin the sea side for her.
Anger still brewed in the pit of her stomach like molten rocks. How could he ever suggest such a thing? Her own father. But some of the other things he had said screamed for her attention. She couldn’t help but agreeing with him, as much as it made the bile rise to her throat, it was unlikely that he had so misjudged his own strength. He had been drunk, but apparently not too drunk to not get away as soon as the cops were called. And he had managed to hide the entire night.
She had been witness and victim to Henry’s drunken rages all her life, she knew the stages he went through pretty well. Even when violent, he was always very much in control. He had never hit her or her mother in the face, never broken a bone, not even in his worst rows. The moment he got too drunk to maintain control, was the moment he became docile and repentant. He could go from raging menace that couldn’t be stopped by a locked door, to a blubbering mess who couldn’t sit down on a chair without help within a single drink. Add a few more, he turned into a happily chatting lamb that could be led by a hand while bumping into every available obstacle he could find. No, he was right, he wouldn’t have killed a man with a bottle. Not by accident. Now murder was a whole different matter.
Phryne had no illusions about her father’s capability of killing. In her experience everyone was capable of taking another life, if pushed in the wrong way. The question was how much pushing her father would need. There could be no doubt he had owed Gallagher money, but was it enough of a motive? Phryne shook her head. She could not remember a time her father hadn’t been either in debt or skint, but at no point in time had he seemed overly bothered with it. He liked having money and he loved spending money, but he never took not having any serious. For him it only meant that he couldn’t squander it gambling, or had to stop after fewer drinks than he would have liked. No, despite everything he was and did, Phryne could not imagine he would kill a man over money. Which let inevitably to one question: How had Tomo Gallagher died at his hands?
Unfortunately her father was also right about another thing: They couldn’t trust the police to deal with this. They wouldn’t bother to find out the truth. Sergeant Robinson was nice enough, but he was convinced he had his man, and if he was anything like literally every cop Phryne had ever met, that and the ability to close the case quickly would be all he needed, unless he could be otherwise convinced.
Which didn’t mean she would have to seduce him, heavens father. But maybe she could produce compelling evidence to make him investigate in a different direction, rather than only see the obvious.
Not for the first time in her life Rosie asked herself exactly what she had ever done to her mother-in-law. As she sat down next to the older woman, she could feel her disapproval radiating off her.
Rosie was well aware that the elder Mrs Robison had never been keen on the idea of her and Jack’s marriage, but she had never truly worked out why. A part of her suspected that she didn’t like sharing the title, or for that matter, her son, with another woman, but at the same time she knew this to be wrong. Abigail Robinson was many things, but petty wasn’t one of them.
She had thought they had gotten over their differences during the war. Waiting and worrying for the man they both loved should have been a bonding experience, she would have thought, and at the time it had seemed so. When Jack had finally come back though, or rather when that shell of a man that had once been Jack had come home, Abby had retreated from her again, naturally taking Jack’s side on every turn. Sometimes Rosie wondered, if she blamed her for not having grandchildren yet. She knew her parents were expecting them, waiting for them.
It was another failure on the, she was sure, very long list of failures as a wife Abby had gathered on her over the years. But this one was one Rosie couldn’t feel guilty about. When she had been a young woman, of course she had wanted a child, just not yet. So in the early days of her marriage she had used whatever trick she could, to not conceive. She had talked about it with Jack, and they had agreed that they weren’t ready and couldn’t afford raising a family just yet. They had also been young and in love, and hadn’t much cared for the intrusion a child into their togetherness. Then Jack had gone off to war, and after that everything had changed. By now Rosie might have been ready to have a child, but her husband was no longer a man she would have wanted as its father. Therefore, even after almost ten years of marriage, Abby still wasn’t a grandmother, and as things stood Rosie couldn’t see that change in the near future.
Of course she could only speculate about her mother-in-laws feelings on the matter. Abby never talked to her about anything serious, so she couldn‘t know. At least there could be no doubt that Jack was still his mother’s son, no matter how much he had changed. That empty politeness she exuded when she conversed with her daughter-in-law, he had it down to a t.
Sunday dinners at the Sanderson’s without Jack were always difficult for Abby, Rosie knew, always had been. The Robinsons were from a very different background than the Sandersons, would have been even if Jack’s father hadn’t died when his son had still been a boy, leaving his wife to raise the child alone with very little financial means. For that Rosie could only admire Abby, that and the extraordinary job she had done with it. But it didn’t take away from the feeling that Abby was out of place at her mother’s dinner table, whenever Jack couldn’t join them. The fact that she and Rosie’s father all but despised each other didn’t help either.
When she was feeling optimistic, Rosie thought that maybe it wasn’t her Abby had a problem with, but merely her father. But on more sober days, she couldn’t lie to herself and had to acknowledge that the older woman looked at her with a wary eye, as if she was waiting for her to make another mistake.
Rosie had just told everyone that Jack wouldn’t be coming tonight, since he had to work. She didn’t share the fact that she had only found out about it because she had gone half mad with worry when he hadn’t come home in the morning. At midday she had rung the station where a very polite Constable had informed her that Sergeant Robinson had been transferred to the dayshift, due to the fact that he was investigating a case. She had nearly cried with embarrassment. When she had asked her father about it, he had seemed less than pleased.
“We’re shorthanded.” he had told her curtly. “We need to shuffle people around a bit.”
To her enquiry if this was to be a lasting change he had merely shrugged.
It wasn’t that he hadn’t come home. She had been a policeman’s wife long enough to know that the hours could be unpredictable and sometimes there wasn’t a thing he could do about it.
But she also knew that the job was dangerous, which was why, in the first month of their marriage, she had made him promise her to let her know if he was being detained for more than a few hours. Just so she wouldn’t have to needlessly worry. So far he had always done that. But today he hadn’t called.
The constable on the telephone and later her father had assured her that Jack was alright, merely busy running around interviewing witnesses, searching for an elusive suspect. And yet he hadn’t called. It hurt and made her angrier than she could have put in words, mostly, because she knew, she just knew, when he came home, he would apologise, and be very polite and courteous about it, and he wouldn’t mean a word of it. And in the meantime she had to sit next to Abby and endure her equally courteous contempt for something, she knew not what.
Rosie took a deep breath. She pushed her anger down, locked it in a box inside her heart to be released and unleashed with vengeance at the appropriate time and person. With a polite and utterly false smile she turned to her mother-in-law, ready to face the evening. If meaningless politeness was what she wanted, that Rosie could do. She had learned from the best after all.
* Rosenberg, Mike. 2012. „Things that stop you dreaming“. All the little lights. Prod. Mike Rosenberg, Chris Vallejo. Nettwerk; Black Crow.
I knew a woman, became a wife
These are the very words she uses to describe her life
She said a good day ain’t got no rain
She said a bad day’s when I lie in bed
and think of things that might have been
Slip slidin’ away – Paul Simon *
Rosie was waiting in the kitchen when Jack came home. Damn, he’d forgotten to call this morning. Her look told him everything that was to come and he wished with all his heart to be able to just skip the inevitable fight and go to bed. He hadn’t slept in nearly 24 hours and he’d have to be back early in the morning. He really didn’t have the energy for dealing with Rosie right now. But he knew it wasn’t to be. He had screwed up and he owed it to her to at least apologise. So he entered the kitchen.
“You didn’t come home this morning.” she said, the accusation clear in her voice.
He nodded tiredly.
“There was a case. Jenkins gave me the lead over the investigation and I was transferred to dayshift while I’m working on it. Sorry, I forgot to call.”
The storm in her eyes didn’t ebb.
“I was worried, Jack. I thought something had happened to you. I had to call at the station to make sure you weren’t injured or worse.”
“I’m sorry.” he repeated and hung his head.
There wasn’t much more that he could do or say at the moment. He knew she needed to yell at him, let out her fear and rage to feel better. All he could do, what he had to do, was to take it and look suitably contrite. He was sorry. He didn’t want her to worry. She had already worried enough for him when he had been in the war. He could never understand what that must have been like, the same way she could never understand what it had been like to be there. He had resigned himself to that.
For a while after he’d come back he had hoped that they could get past that. Yes, they had lived in different worlds for nearly four years, different universes almost, but he had come back and they inhabited the same world again, didn’t they? That was what he had thought. But it had turned out an illusion. He had found it impossible to re-enter the world she lived in, that world that consisted of a specific cycle of people, a set of rules, things one did and didn’t do, things that were talked about and things that were never mentioned. A world where laughter was cheap and conversation easy, if not particularly meaningful, and where rank and position mattered for the privileges they brought, not their responsibilities. He had come back, but he had found it impossible to fully return, to leave those four years behind like she wanted him to, like she expected him to. They had separated into different worlds when he had stepped on that boat to Europe, and now they were stuck in them and never the twain shall meet.
He noticed that she had stopped talking, and taken his hand instead. He looked up to meet her eyes. She was a kind woman. Proud and determined, and sometimes small minded and snappy. But she could be kind and warm and caring. The man who had left had loved her, he thought. The man, who looked at her now, pitied her.
“I’m glad you’re alright.” she said looking up to him. “But you really should have called.”
He nodded, letting her hand move up his arm to cup his cheek. He returned her kiss and allowed that she wrapped her arms around him, but took a step back as soon as their lips parted.
“Rosie, I can barely stand.”
She too, stepped back. “Of course. You had a long day.” she instantly agreed, sounding a little sheepish.
He could tell she was disappointed and trying not to let it show. On another day he might have felt guilty about it, like he did about so many things in relation to his wife, but right now he really was just too tired even for that.
When Jack was lying next to her, fast asleep, Rosie let out a long breath. He had been gone the moment his head had hit the pillow. He really had been exhausted.
She tried not to be relieved. She had been brought up to be a dutiful and supportive wife, and she took her role serious, but these days some aspects of that took more effort than others. Worrying about him was easy; she didn’t see him when she did. But sharing a bed with him, letting him touch her, made her skin crawl and her limbs stiffen. She endured it, even initiated it, when she thought he might like it, but it was a struggle not to recoil.
Once, it seemed like a lifetime ago, she couldn’t get enough of Jack’s touch, of his kisses, his caresses, the feeling of his body on hers, inside of her. Like she couldn’t get enough of the way he laughed, made her laugh in the most inappropriate moments. Back then he had loved to take her dancing, on bike rides all across town and beyond, and they had spend entire afternoons making up stories about people they observed in the park. She had married a sweet, charming young constable, her father had, not exactly approved of, but held hopes for.
"If you’re sure, I think we can make something of your Jack." he had told her a week after her engagement.
She had loved Jack then, she was convinced of that.
And then just a few months after her wedding, when she had thought she would never be unhappy again, the war had started. He had enlisted, of course he had. She would have died of shame if he hadn’t. That had been at the beginning, almost ten years ago now, when it had all still seemed like a big adventure that would soon be over.
"We’ll arrive just in time for the victory celebration." she remembered some of the soldiers at the pier joke.
That had been before the casualty lists had started coming in. Lists, longer and more frequently than anyone could have ever imagined.
It had been the beginning of days, weeks, months and finally years of worry. Getting one’s hands on the latest list, scanning it for familiar names, hoping, praying he wouldn’t be on it.
Rosie had known many names in those lists over the years. Her uncle, cousins, friends or husbands of friends. Her sister’s first husband, the neighbour’s boy and more of the young men she had met from the police force than she could ever count. And the war had dragged on and on.
But Jack’s name had never been on any list. He’d been injured once, been put on leave for a few weeks in a field hospital, but he had lived. Throughout all of it he had lived. Not even on her wedding day had she been as happy as she had been on the day he had finally come home, whole and healthy. Or so she thought.
She told herself, she could have lived with the nightmares, the flashbacks, the moments when he jumped at shadows for the first years. She was convinced she could have even coped if he had been crippled. His scars didn’t repulse or frighten her. It was the man that made her feel like she was suffocating, that man who looked like her husband, but for all things other than his face, he could have been a stranger. The carefree, warm, sweet young man who had left for Europe might have died on the battlefield for all she knew.
This man, who was now living in her house, was polite. That was the best she could say about him. He was always polite and obliging, sometimes, in rare moments almost kind. But never more than that. He had started reading in every free minute, gathering books around him like bricks from which he build an impenetrable fortres. He danced with her when she asked, but without much conviction and when he rode his bike, he rode alone. This man, this Jack, was guarded and careful. He listened more than he talked, and thought before he spoke or acted, if he did it at all.
When he had decided to join the police strike, she had wanted to argue. He was risking his career and her father’s reputation, and she felt this decision was one she should have been consulted about, one he would have consulted with her about before. But when he declared his intentions, it was clear that his mind was already made up and that he hadn’t made the decision lightly. Any argument she tried to throw at him he had already considered and discarded. She would have punished him with disregard, if she had thought he would be bothered by it, but the truth was he might not even have noticed.
Sometimes she wondered if he even cared about her anymore, or if he merely regarded her as an albatross around his neck. It seemed he avoided thinking about her whenever he could. Today’s incident proved it again. He had simply gone to do what he had to do and forgotten about her, and she was sure when she had berated him for it, he had let it wash over him, not taking in a single word. He had nodded and made a guilty face at all the appropriate moments, but he hadn’t listened and she was convinced it would happen again and anything she said would have just as little effect on him then. She had already known that when she had sat down to dinner, and then it had made her furious. The anger was gone now and had left only emptiness. She had vented her frustration at her husband, he had been a willing punching bag, her hits hurting him about as much, she was sure, and afterwards he had gone to bed, where he slept now like a rock. All that was left was her, an exhausted woman with no more rage or hope or even care left. A woman who only wanted to cry for the man she had loved and lost, but had no more tears left and no more energy to shed them.
Another woman lay awake in her marital bed that night. Other than Rosie she was alone.
Henry hadn’t come home this night either. Margret tried not to worry. If he had been arrested she would have been informed, she assumed. That meant that he was still out there, hiding. Henry could look after himself; he would have found some hole to crawl in. Knowing him, he had two or three other rascals with him, fleecing them at a hand of cards.
Margret Fisher had a long time resolved to not allow herself to think of could-have-beens. After Janey’s disappearance she had driven herself almost mad with what-ifs. What if I had taken better care, what if I had been stronger for them, what if I hadn’t allowed Henry to be such a terrible father. She knew Phryne believed that she blamed her, but the truth was that Margret only blamed herself. She was her mother, it had been her duty to keep her little girl safe and she had failed, and as a result she had failed her other daughter, too. She knew she had become a worse mother for Phryne after. She could never repay her sister for taking the girl in when she had those first months, when she had been almost out of her mind with fear and grief. But she had lost her firstborn daughter, too, in those months.
She had then resolved to never again think of what things could have been. Life was what it was and there was no point in wondering how things could have been different, if there was nothing one could do to change it.
But tonight she couldn’t stop her mind from going down that road, a road Prudence always seemed to want to push her down. What if she hadn’t married Henry? Prudence was convinced her life would have been infinitely better. She would have married a rich man her parents would have approved of, lived in a nice house, spend her life in polite society, never wanting for anything. She would have never known hunger, or poverty, she would have never had to learn to cook or sow or clean. It was likely she would have spent fewer nights at police stations, fewer days worrying and would have shed fewer tears. But would she have been happy? Just as well one could say she would have likely spend fewer nights writhing in ecstasy, fewer days hoping and would have laughed less. Was it realistic to think she would have never been unhappy?
Henry was abrasive, sometimes violent, loud, wasteful and cruel in his thoughtlessness, but he was also warm, charming, fun, full of life and an endless optimist and opportunist. Who could ever guess what kind of a man a different husband would have been. She was not naive enough anymore to believe class or wealth made a gentleman. Prudence had been lucky to find Edward Stanley, but who was to say she would have been so lucky herself. And she loved Henry. In the end it was that simple. She loved him, had always loved him and would probably always love him.
She tried to imagine her children with another man and found she couldn’t. What would be left of Phryne when you took Henry out of her? Her hair and her features, yes, but so much of her personality was Henry. Her stubbornness, her cunning, her joy de vivre, her drive, her unpredictability and her independence, all that she fully owed to her father. And Janey ... Margret couldn’t even imagine her face that had always been so similar to Henry’s.
There was nothing to it. She had married Henry and now she was lying alone in her bed yet again, wondering where he was, worrying about him and without a miracle she would spend many more nights alone wondering about him. Hopefully not because he was arrested for manslaughter or worse.
Her mind drifted back to Phryne. Sleeping next door again after all those years, as if no time had passed. If ever there was a miracle it was her. Margret had no illusions about the amount of time that had passed and the amount of growing up her daughter had done while she had been away. She had hardy recognised her on her return. She was no child anymore, and something told Margret that she had seen and lived through things she would have never wanted for her daughter. But she had recognised her stubbornness and her temper. She had so much of Henry it was almost comical, considering how he riled her up like no one else could. But she had turned into a marvel of a woman, even if it wasn’t the woman Margret had imagined her to be.
She would leave again soon. She had told Prudence she was saving up for her own place, away from Henry. Margret couldn’t fault her daughter for that. Phryne had always longed for freedom and returning to her parents lap after she had spend years on her own had to feel suffocating. So she would move, sooner rather than later, if Prudence and Edwards had their way. No, Margret couldn’t fault her for it, but that didn’t mean that it didn’t break her heart.
* Simon Paul. 1975. „Slip Slidin’ away“. Still crazy after all these years. Prod. Paul Simon, Phil Ramone. Columbia.
'Never the twain shall meet' is a quote from The Ballad of East and West by Rudyard Kipling written in 1889.
The pattern is broken, the pieces don’t fit.
Pull them apart and move them a bit.
See what you’ve made and see who you are.
The plans that you’ve laid can go just so far.
The Pattern is broken – Don McLean *
It was a strange feeling to come into the station in the morning again. Jack had almost forgotten what that was like. Around that time last nights riff raff was being released, grumpy and rumpled, but largely sober. The drunkards of this town didn’t take a break just because one of them had been killed in a pub.
As Jack entered the station a dockworker was just getting his discharge papers signed by Constable Morgan. The poor sod was still stuck on nightshift and was yawning heartedly. The worker, who apparently was being picked up by a mate waiting for him, eyed Jack suspiciously as he went around the desk.
“Still commiserating the death of the great reformer, Mr Johnson?” he greeted the man genially.
Johnson threw him a indignant look.
“So you’ve moved on then.” he noted, sounding not entirely sober just yet. “Too good to be dealing with the likes of us now, are we? Working the day now, suppresser of widows and orphans instead of hardworking men now, are we?” the man kept poking.
“I’m sure I’ll see you at the usual time next week, Mr Johnson, after you have spent your hard works earnings.” Jack replied dryly.
“You’d like that, wouldn’t copper.” the digger sneered.
“I’d like it much better if you’d manage to stay out of trouble for a week or two, but I‘m not counting on it.” Jack returned with faux cheer.
The second man grabbed his friends arm before he could make a snarky reply and pulled him to the door.
“Come on, Bert, we’re gonna be late.” he muttered.
With a look back at the policemen he tipped his cap. “G’Day Sarg.” and out they were.
Constable Morgan yawned again like he wanted to swallow the whole station.
“Time to go home Constable.” Jack told him amiably.
The man just nodded. “Bloody long shift this night. Like the lot of them decided now more than ever.” he groaned. “Fisher wasn’t among them though.”
Jack nodded understandingly. He hadn’t expected Henry Fisher to come out of hiding so quickly.
“Anything else happened last night?” he asked.
Morgan shrugged. “Just the usual muck.”
Jack nodded and headed to the next typewriter. He had started with the paperwork yesterday, but he had gotten so tired half way through he had nearly fallen asleep, so he hadn’t managed to finish up.
He was still not entirely through, when the telephone rang just after ten and the coroner requested his presence at the morgue.
“Ah, Sergeant.” Dr Johnson looked up from the body of Tomo Gallagher.
“Doctor. What is it?”
The medical examiner gave him a look that was reserved for people asking stupid questions.
“In my experience officers like to have a look at the victim when the cause of death is not the obvious.” he stated coolly.
Jack’s eyebrows shot up. “You mean, he didn’t die from the blow to the head?”
Johnson shook his. “No. The injury is superficial, most likely caused by a bottle, judging from the shards in the wound, but not lethal. Neither was the broken rib, though that didn’t help and probably confused the examiner on sight, or any of the other lacerations he probably gained in that fight.”
Jack tilted his head in confusion.
“What did he die of then?” he asked.
“Poison. Morphine to be precise.”
“Morphine?” Jack was speechless.
The Doctor merely shrugged. “Could have been a mistake, if he forgotten he already taken it, or a reaction with the alcohol, possibly an accidental overdose, or someone killed him deliberately.” he said.
“What do you mean, already taken it?” Jack asked.
He felt like he was loosing more and more ground with every second.
“You’re victim was getting regular injections, most likely morphine or some other numbing opiate. The gentleman was a severe case of gonorrhea, if ever I’ve seen one.”
Jack was still trying to make heads and tails of this
“Is that the usual treatment?” he asked.
The coroner gave him a pitying look.
“Of course not. It numbs the pain, nothing more. But it’s probably easier to get on the black market than the proper medication.”
Jack nodded numbly. “How likely is it this was an accident?”
“People who use opiates regularly like that, tend to build up a tolerance, which makes an accidental overdose more likely. Judging from the state of his disease he was infected at least four months ago. That gives him some time, but normally he should still be far from the dosage that was in his blood. I wouldn’t completely rule it out, especially considering the amount of alcohol in his system, but it seems more likely it was deliberately administered.” the doctor said after a moments thought.
“Someone killed him with morphine, which he was already taking medicinally.” Jack summed up.
“Congratulations Sergeant, you have successfully understood my report.” Johnson commented dryly.
Jack didn‘t waste any time glowering at the man, instead he tried to wrap his head around what that meant for his investigation. If it even was still his investigation.
“How long would the morphine have taken to kill him?” he asked.
The Doctor wiggled his head a little.
“Not long. Half an hour maybe. He must have already had trouble breathing, when he got into that fight. Then he was knocked out, which led to him losing any control he had left over his respiration.”
Jack frowned. “So if hadn’t been hit...?” he was grasping at straws and he knew it, but he had to be sure.
“He would have died half an hour later Sergeant.” the coroner declared matter-of-factly.
Jack sighed. “Thank you Doctor.”
So much for an open and shut case. He left the morgue and hastened back to the station. This was a murder investigation now, a proper one, not just death at a pub brawl, but deliberate, premeditated murder. Jenkins would have to take the case now; no way would he leave it to an inexperienced Sergeant like him.
“You weren’t hired as a journalist, Miss Fisher, you’re a research assistant.” Mr Pierce told her with a minimum of patience required. “You have no training in writing, and even if you had, you’d be required here to do the work that we hired you for.” he explained sternly.
“I’ll work with Miss Charlesworth on the writing.” Phryne insisted. “I’m sure she won’t mind polishing it a bit, but there is no journalist you have that would get anywhere with a research in Collingwood. People there don’t talk to outsiders.”
“Maybe that’s the reason there aren’t many pieces written about Collingwood.” he suggested loftily. “That and the fact that people who buy the paper aren’t very interested in Collingwood.”
“People are always interested in tragedy and danger.” Phryne insisted.
“This is not a penny dreadful, Miss Fisher, this is the Argus.” Hector almost seemed to grow a few indignant inches. “We’re a serious news paper. We report the news, not tragedy and danger.”
Phryne rolled her eyes exasperatedly at the man’s obstinacy, not to speak of his hypocrisy.
“Will you let me investigate it, and take a look at my story, if I promise to keep up with all my other tasks?” she negotiated. Damned, if she didn’t need that job...
“What you do in your free time Miss Fisher, is hardly my concern.” he decaled.
“But what if I needed to be out of the office for my research?”
He frowned at her, just about to give her a sharp reply when they were interrupted by Miss Charlesworth.
“Let her go Hector. I’m a journalist, I’m sending her out to do that research for me.”
Pierce looked helplessly between the two women, Miss Charlesworth wearing an expression of amused exasperation and Miss Fisher grinning wide over her whole face. With an indignant huff he threw his arms up in outraged defeat and stomped off. Miss Charlesworth couldn’t entirely suppress a chuckle.
“Now that that’s settled what exactly is it that you’re researching for me?” she asked.
“Illegal pubs at the wrong end of town.” she declared like a student presenting her book report proudly to a teacher. “How expensive are they, how dangerous, how well monitored by the police, what quality is the liquor, what kind of clientele all of that.” she expanded.
Miss Charlesworth narrowed her eyes suspiciously.
“That wouldn’t have anything to do with the poor fellow that died the night before last?” she inquired.
“Not at all.” Phryne’s voice was only about a fourth above her usual pitch.
“Be careful, girl.” her former teacher warned her. “Don’t get involved in something you know not what. I don’t have to tell you what kind of people frequent those places.”
Jack instantly reported to Jenkins when he got back from the morgue, fully expecting to have the case taken from him this time. The Inspector chuckled slightly when Jack voiced this expectation.
“I’m sure Sanderson would love that.” he said “He was fuming when he found out you’re working a case. Leading it none the less. It almost sounded personal.” he grinned.
Jack didn’t dignify his superiors teasing with a reaction. Most officer’s at the station knew that George Sanderson, the Assistant Commissioner, was his father-in-law, and most of them suspected that there was still a lot of broken glass between the two men about Jack’s participation in the strike.
He also knew that his colleagues were fairly evenly split in respect for him, for joining the strike, in spite of his connection to the AC, and resentment for him keeping his job because of said connection. He didn’t really care either way. His decision to join had had nothing to do with George, even if Sanderson seemed to take it very personal, and he had never asked for George to save his neck.
“Anyways, he had to accept that we don’t have enough men and it would be bad politics to keep a capable officer from doing his job.” Jenkins continued. “The situation hasn’t changed Robinson. The case may have gotten a little more complex, but it’s still yours, even though it might require you to spend a bit longer in the daylight now. But it’s a low profile case, so if you muck it up, no one will care overly. Perfect for your first solo investigation. It’ll add to your experience, and, if you do well, make a good impression towards a promotion. Or at least it might get you out of the dog house with Sanderson
This time Jack left the Inspectors office even more stunned than the last time. It was one thing to give an inexperienced officer a case that was mostly paperwork, but to give him the lead in a proper murder investigation was a different animal entirely. Especially against the expressed wishes of the Assistant Commissioner. It was well know in the station that Jenkins saw George as his main obstacle to a better position and was using any means to topple him, but Jack hadn’t thought he’d ever become a pawn in their games. So far he had tried to stay out of it as best he could, but so far Jenkins had never been so bold either. The strike had rattled things, and not just among the lower ranks, it seemed.
A part of Jack was panicking. Was he ready to lead a murder case? The Inspector‘s words about no one caring if he dropped the ball didn’t comfort him, not after he had met the widow. Someone would always care, even if it wasn’t the guys in Russell Street. There were two women out there, one who had lost her husband and one who could lose hers, and he felt he owed it to that poor woman to make sure she only did, if he truly had killed Gallagher. And he wasn’t sure if he was up to that task.
Sooner or later Jenkins and George would demand results in whatever shape or form, and neither of them would have now scruples arresting a potentially innocent man (or relatively innocent), if it helped them make the numbers look right. George was a good AC and Jack admired him a great deal professionally, but he had no illusions as to his father-in-laws priorities and ambitions.
Another part of him was glad he had gotten the case. He would have loathed to see it go to a different officer, and he knew the officers in his station well enough not to trust their diligence in cases like that either. Now that he was in lead of this investigation, he could remain in control of it and make sure the right man would be locked up for the murder.
But there was something else as well, if he was being honest with himself. Investigating this case, even the little steps he had taken so far, but especially the unexpected reveal of the autopsy, had awoken something in him, he hadn’t truly felt since the trenches: curiosity. He wanted to know the full story. He wanted to work out what had happened to that poor bastard, how Henry Fisher and his daughter fit into it, and how on earth someone could have killed Gallagher with morphine during a bar fight.
The first step, he resolved, either way, would be to have another conversation with the widow, who would hopefully be in a better state by now and ready to give him some answers.
* McLean, Don. 1977. „The Pattern is Broken“. Prime Time. Prod. John Peters. Arista.
A little cameo, I hope you enjoyed it. Unfortunately it lead to the appearance of two different Johnsons this chapter. Hopefully not a cause for confusion.
The great reformer Jack refers to is of course Lenin whose death was announced in January 1924.
Gonorrhea, colloquially known as the clap, is an sexaully transmitted infection, a very common one even to this day. It's apparently quite painful but not generally lethal, although it can develop some rather nasty complications. Treatment with morphine has little to no effect.
She moved so easily
All I could think of was sunlight
I said „Who am I to blow against the wind“
I know what I know – Paul Simon *
The Gallagher house didn’t look any more inviting the second time round. But Jack could hear voices as he waited for someone to answer the door. Maybe the woman, a suspect now, he reminded himself, had sent for relatives to support her through the first rough days.
When the door did finally open he was taken completely by surprise:
"Sergeant Robinson!" she exclaimed with a bright smile.
"What are you doing here?" he couldn’t help asking.
He noticed she wore a dark, almost demure dress, probably one reserved for funerals and similarly somber affairs. Like comforting a widow.
She instantly confirmed this belated thought emphatically:
"I came over to help poor Edie. She’s taken it rather badly I’m afraid, and mother was most insistant that we should express our condolences and try to lift her spirits somewhat." she said giving him an innocent look from under her lashes. Somehow he greatly doubted her sincerity.
"Are you sure your presense here has nothing to do with your father and possibly a telephone call to the station the other day?" he asked.
Her eyes widened to a picture of innocence.
"I’m sure I have no idea what you mean, Sergeant." she replied, her voice rising, just like it had yesterday morning when she had lied about knowing Tomo Gallagher.
He just raised an eyebrow.
"You wouldn’t happen to know a Miss Henderson, working for the Argus, would you Miss Fisher?"
"I don’t think anyone of that name works there, Sergeant." she relied.
Technically that wasn’t a lie, Connie had left last month. And even if the cop should figure that out, she was Mrs Stevens now, so he would probably not find her. No Connie was in no trouble.
Their conversation was interrupten by Mrs Gallager who called from inside the house.
"Phryne, who is it?"
Edie had left the kitchen, where she and Phryne had been drinking tea and chatted when the Sergeant knocked, and came to the door to see what kept her.
"I’m afraid it’s the police, Edie." Phryne said gently.
"Good day, Mrs Gallager." Jack greeted her politely. "I’m sorry to have to disturb you, but there have been developments in the case of her husband that I would like to discuss with you. In private, if possible." he added with look at Miss Fisher.
To his surprise the woman instantly complied.
"Of course. I’ve taken up to much of your time already Edie." she said, reaching for her hat.
The older woman’s hand on her arm stopped her.
"Actually, could Miss Fisher stay?" she asked the Sergeant. "It’s all been ‘orrible and she’s been such a great support. I don’t know ‘ow I‘d ‘ave dealt without‘er." she looked at the younger woman. "If you wouldn’t mind, dear."
"Of course not, Edie." Phryne instantly assured her "Whatever you need. It’s the least I can do."
Before Jack rightly knew what was happening, he was sitting in Mrs Gallagher’s kitchen and Miss Fisher was pouring him a cup of tea. The lady of the house had looked distinctly uncomfotable at letting a police man, especially one in uniform, into her house again, but it seemed she was equally helpless against the force of nature her guest wielded as the policeman in question. For a while they just eyed each other with a mix of suspicion and confusion over the rim of their teacups, while Miss Fisher chatted amicably. The first impression of the house was confirmed yet again, Jack noticed. Everything was well kept and meticulously clean. A faint smell of amonia and vinegar permeated the entire house.
"Did your husband have a prescribtion for morphene?"
Jack finally pulled himself together and started his interview. Edie Gallagher gave him a look like he’d told her men were walking on the moon.
"Where would ‘e ‘ave gotten that?" she asked "There ain’t no doctors round ’ere." she informed him primly, like the profession was somehow obscene.
"Could he have gone to see one somewhere else?" Jack asked.
"Didn’t ‘ave the money for some doctor now, did ‘e." she pointed out.
"Mrs Gallagher, your husband was a regular user of morphene and he suffered from a painful desease." Jack informed her.
She nodded dully.
"Got the clap, ‘e did." she confirmed.
"You knew?" he asked surprised.
"Course I did. Kicked ’im out of me bed plenty 'cause of it." she declared with defiance. "Served ’im right. ’im and ’is shaggin ‘round." she muttered.
Jack quickly processed the information he had just recieved.
"Did you also know he took morphene?" he asked.
Mrs Gallagher nodded.
"Why didn’t you say so when I asked first?" he asked slightly annoyed.
"Technically you did ask if he had a prescription, which he most certainly didn’t Sergeant." Miss Fisher intervened gently.
Before he could rebuff her comment she turned to her neighbor
"Where did he get the morphene, Edie?"
The other woman shrugged.
"‘e never talked shop with me, said it was none of me business, long as ‘e payed the bills."
"And did he? That’d made him a good catch ’round here." Miss Fisher commented.
"'e was doin‘ alright." Mrs Gallagher admited pejoratively. "Old miser ’e was though. Would only give me just enough to get by."
"Where did he work?" Jack inquired.
She shot him another suspicious look.
"’ere and there." She shrugged. "I said ’e didn’t tell me."
"Did he have a partner?" Miss Fisher suggested.
"Jerry maybe." she relplied a little unwillingly.
Miss Fisher nodded knowingly.
"So who is this Jerry character?" Jack asked as soon as the door had closed behind them. "You seemed to know about him."
"Does this mean my father is no longer a suspect, Sergeant?" she asked in return.
Jack gave her a surprised look.
"Oh, come on." she exclaimed exasperately. "All those questions about morphene, you wouldn’t have asked Edie all that, if he had just been offed with a beer bottle. There’s more to it, isn’t there." she gave him a flirtatious smile and fluttered her lashes at him.
"My investigation is confidential." he informed her sternly "And you have already been sneaking around it much more of it than you should, Miss Fisher."
"And lucky for you I did. You wouldn’t have gotten half as much out of dear Edie, if not for me." she pointed out.
"While you were there picking up what you could. Was that your only motive for visiting Mrs Gallagher this afternoon?"he returned, not missing a beat.
"Seargent, of course not." she made to sound indignant, but couldn’t entirely keep an amused smirk from her face.
"I was also hoping she and mother could be of comfort each to other once you’ve arrested father. They’d have needed someone." she added sounding surprisingly serious for a moment.
"I couldn’t very well know you would show up here today, could I?" her tone returned to the light flirty banter he already started to become familiar with, like it had never been different.
"I still have to talk to your father." he insisted.
Her face darkened almost imperceptably, but staring right at her he noticed.
"He’ll come back." she said. "Just like a bad penny."
He nodded. "I can wait."
They were both silent for a moment before he came back to his original point.
"Jerry Landis, lives down the road." she shrugged. "He’s known around here. He’s the kind of person you don’t want to see you talking to a copper."
"And yet you’re talking with me. In broad daylight." he noted.
She gave him a wicked grin.
"I could have ulterior designs, Sergeant." she took a step closer, so there was hardly a hands width betweeen them.
"You do." he pointed out, trying not to be affected by her closeness, the smell of tea and something else he couldn’t quite name, emenating from her. Damn, he should have stayed awake for Rosie last night.
To his surprise she stepped back and laughed. It was full and joyfull. He cleared his throat and took a step back himself.
"Good luck with Jerry." she said and finally fully stepped away from him.
Starting to head down the street she flashed him another bright smile over her shoulder. Against his better judgement the corners his mouth lifted, too. Someone walking by would have hardly seen it, but he could feel it as keenly as if it were a full mouthed grin. That woman really was impossible.
It turned out ‚down the road‘ was a rather vague substitute for an adress, so it took Jack four tries to find the right house. It would of course have been easier, if anyone in the other houses had pointed him in the right direction, but the best he got was a polite appology, the worst (house number three) someone who quite audibly told him to do things to himself he hadn’t gotten to do to his wife in a while and wasn’t quite sure she would welcome it should he try. He didn’t let it bother him and ploughed on. On the fourth door a surprisingly well kept man eyed him suspiciously.
„Why would I talk to a cop?“ he asked bluntly after Jack had introduced himself and asked for Jerry Landis.
„I’m investigationg the death of Tomo Gallagher.“ Jack told him.
„I heard he got killed in a pub brawl. Happens.“ Jerry said innocently.
„Seems there was more to it.“ Jack feighned indifference.
To his surprise Jerry started laughing wholeheartedly.
„How did Henry manage to buy you runt?“ he guaffed. „Runs around all day like a chicken with no head and now you come round asking questions about Tomo’s death. Well, I know he don’t have no money, so what’d he do huh? Let you fuck his daughter? Or the wife? There’s not much else he’s got to offer.“ he barked another laughter. „Not that I’d blame you. I’d like a go at the girl sometime.“ he grinned salaciously. „Maybe I’ll make that condition if her old man don’t get me me money back.“
Jack very studiously ignored the man’s insinuations and focused on the last bit of information instead.
„So Henry Fisher owes you money?“
Jerry shrugged. „What’s it to you copper?“
A motive for instance, Jack thought, but didn’t respond. Instead he voiced a different suspicion:
„So now Tomo’s dead, you’re the one collecting the debt?“
Landis took a step foreward.
„Tomo and I were business partners.“ he hissed. „You owe Tomo money, you owe me, understood?“
„What about his wife?“
The other man sneered. „Wife, always suspicious, init?“ he taunted. „'specially the cheatin‘ kind, am I right?“ He patted Jack genially on the back. „You might be onto somethin‘ there, Sherlock.“
Jack carefully stepped out of the other’s reach.
„You’re saying Mrs Gallagher was unfaithfull to her husband?“ he varified.
Jerry shrugged. „He’d only been complaining she wouldn’t let him touch her for months. So either she was fridgid as the south pole or she was gettin‘ it somewhere else, wouldn’t you think?“
Jack filed that under potentially interesting, but decided to backpaddle a little.
„Why did Henry Fisher owe Tomo money?“
„Cuz he borrowed it, didn’t he.“ Jerry replied lazyly.
„What did he need it for?“
Another shrugg answered. „Food? Drink? Cards? The Baron always needs money. He‘s bad at holding on to it.“
Jack nodded, he had figured as much.
„And where were you when your partner was killed?“
Not a question he expected Jerry to answer, but he had to ask none the less. A businesspartner was always a potential suspect. As expected Jerry only sneered at him.
„And why would I tell you that copper?“
„Oi mate, I‘m just doing my job to make my super happy.“ Jack said in his best impersonation of a lazy copper. „I have to ask. If you tell me, good for me, if you don’t, well...“ Jack pretended not to care either way.
He knew the type. People like Jerry would tell you almost anything, if they thought you didn’t think them importaint enough to care. His tactics worked like a charm. Landis visibly puffed up.
„Even if I did tell you, there ain’t a thing you can do, copper.“ he scoffed. „Just because I was at that pub, don’t mean I killed him and you can’t prove I did.“
„You were at the pub?“ Jack kept his tone slightly disinterested, while he mentally added that to the pile of potentially useful information.
„Saw the whole damn thing.“ Landis bragged. „I saw Fisher clock Tomo with that bottle and I saw him go down.“
The man gave Jack another one of his leery smiles.
„Can the Baron pay you enough to get his head out of the noose, if I put that on record?“ he laughed bawdily. „Can the girl be that good?“
Jack decided he had heard enough for the moment. If he stuck around any longer he would likely not be able to contain his urge to arrest Landis simply for being a repugnant human being. But unfortunately Jerry was right, for now he didn’t have enough for an arrest. At least he had gotten the man to admit he had been at the pub. That gave him the oportunity, assuming Gallagher had been poisoned while he was there, which seemed likely. All that was missing now was a motive.
* Simon, Paul. 1986. „I know what I know“. Graceland. Prod. Paul Simon. Warner Bros.
Amonium hydroxide, more commonly known as ammonia water/liquor or simply ammonia was a common cleaning agent (according to my grandmother's collection of household tips) and is still a component of many in household detergents. It was usually used for surfaces like glass or marble, and apparently it can remove perfume stains from fabric. Vinegar, much like lemon juice, had about a hundreed uses around the house, I imagine Edie used it to clean her window frames among other things.
Chapter 11: A chip in time
A bit of warning: This chapter depicts domestic violence (aka yay Henry's back). It's not a lot and does not claim to be in any way realistic, but if you don't want to read that you can skip to the second major paragraph, which starts with 'It wasn't the first time...'
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
There is a moment, a chip in time
When leaving home is the lesser crime
When your eyes are blind with tears
But your heart can see
Another life, another galaxy
Another Galaxy – Paul Simon *
When Phryne returned home Henry was waiting for her. He looked like hadn’t slept all night, which he probably hadn’t. His clothes were in shambles and she could see splatters that looked like dried blood on his sleeves. No wonder he had hidden, if the police had found him in that state she couldn’t even have blamed them for arresting him on the spot.
Despite his ragged state he didn’t look tired. Instead his forehead showed all the familiar signs of a brewing storm. Suddenly Phryne was glad she had convinced her mother to visit Aunt Prudence today. She closed the door behind her audibly and braced herself for the battle to come. Her father looked up when she entered the room.
"What’s that?" he threw a small object on the table.
Phryne instanly recognised the black clamshell she kept hidded at the bottom of her suitcase. She didn’t bother getting angry at him for going through her things. She had been waiting for it almost from day one and was double glad she had taken her money to the bank weeks ago.
"None of your damn business." she replied calmly.
The slap wasn’t hard, not in comparison to other beatings she had recieved in her life. It wouldn’t leave a mark once the heat had left her cheek.
"Is this a way to talk to your father?" he growled menacingly.
She didn’t dignify that with a reply. He held the small container under her nose.
"I know what this is." he said. "This’ll get you in trouble."
Phryne let out an involunatry huff.
"Actually the point is to keep me out of trouble." she said pertly.
That got her another slap on the other cheek.
"Why do you need this?" he demanded.
"If you know what it is, you know why."
Phryne refused to be intimidated by her father anymore. She knew this wasn’t about anything he had found in her room, as much as it was payback for defying him the other day and she’d had it. She was sick of it, sick of him, sick of being treated like a little girl, like she owed him anything. She grabbed the shell, but Henry held it tight.
"Who?" he demanded to know.
"None of your damn business." she repeated icily.
"It’s my damn business if my daughter goes around whoring!"
"You were the one who asked me to seduce a copper not two days ago, so you wouldn’t have to go to gaol." she hissed.
"That was different." he spat.
"Yes, because that was for your benefit. It’s alright, if it serves you. What I want, or feel, or need, you don’t give a damn about. It’s just a miracle you haven’t yet sold me off to any of your gambling mates to pay off some debt!" she made no effort to hide her fury now.
For a moment Henry seemed almost stunned by the venom in her words. He was even too furious to strike her again. But then he came alive again and he was fuming.
"You ungratefull, little tart!"
He made to grab her, but Phryne deftly avoided his hand.
"Well, you can blame your first class parenting skill’s for that then." she shot back.
This time he hit her in earnest. The force of the blow made her stumble backwards a few stepps, but she stayed on her feet. She didn’t give him time to do it again. She turned on her heel and ran to her room, where she threw the door shut and moved the matrace in front of it and sat down her back against it, bracing her feet against the opposite wall, to substitute for the broken lock. It didn’t take more than half a minute until she heard him bang against the door.
"Phryne, open the damned door." he demanded loudly.
She ignored him. She pulled her carpetbag from the corner it had been sitting since she had returned all those weeks ago. The worn material felt soothingly familiar. She tore the bag open and started to stuff her belongings inside. Thanks to the size of the room everything was within the reach of her arm, so she didn‘t have to move from the door. Henry was still banging against it, but didn’t try too hard to get it open. If he did get in her plan was to wrap the matrace around her like a cocoon, hoping it would take the brunt of his assault, but he didn't seem to make a serious effort.
She hardly had more things than she had had on her arrival. Everything she possessed fitted neatly into that bag. She had lived like that for the last few years, packing it came almost naturally to her. She was done before her father had finnished ranting. She looked around the room to see if she had left anything, when she realised she was too big now to escape through the window as she had as a girl.
"Damn." she muttered.
That only left one option, she had to wait him out. Her legs were already feeling stiff and her back ached from the door bumping into it, but she doubted that he would break through. His anger was still as it had been, burning hot, bright and self consuming. Once she had left the room it had already started to falter. His current railing was mostly for show, otherwise she had no doubt he would have overpowered her right away. Knowing him, it wouldn’t take long before he would retreat to the next pub to sulk. So she brached her back against the matrace and began to wait.
It turned out she was right. He hollered and knocked for another ten minutes, then it turned quiet. Another ten minutes later she heared the front door bang. She decided to wait another half hour, just to be sure.
It wasn’t the first time she ran away from home. The first time she had been six, after her father had attempted to beat Janey for the first time. She had taken the beating instead, drawing his fire as best she could, and then she had grabbed her sister and dragged her out of the house. They had gotten as far as the stables three streets over, where they had spend the night in the hay. In the morning Margret had come and picked them up. Apaprently a boy from one of the gangs had sold out their hiding place for a breadroll.
The last time had been seven years ago, when she had finally, finally been old enough to volunteer in the war effort. She hadn’t told anyone until the morning of her departure for fear her father would do something to stop her, forbid it, whatever he could think of. The only person she would have wanted to tell was Mac and she had already left two years earlier for France. She had packed everything she owned into a bundle, and at the very last minute had declared to her parents that she was leaving for Europe. Her father had unsurprisingly railed at her and her mother had cried, but she hadn’t budged, only kissed her mother and yelled at her father. Then she had marched out of the house and never looked back.
She didn’t look back now either. Just like the last time she stomed out, angry tears pricking behind her eyes, and she swore to herself she would never go back. Only this time she had no idea where to go. It was reminicent of another time she had run away. A time she wouldn’t let herself think about, but then, too, the away from had been vastly outweighing any concern for the where to. She hadn’t planned it, she had just needed to get away. Just like now. Just away, don’t look back and don’t stop walking. Never stop walking.
Jack was tired. Not as dead on his feet, as he had been yesterday, but tired like he had been on his feet all day, talking to uncoorperative people. He approached the tram stop, hoping he wouldn’t have to wait too long. He turned his head both ways, looking out for the tram car.
That was when he saw her. She marched up to the station carring a apparently rather heavy travel bag. Without taking note of anything around her she dropped the bag and fell down on the shabby bench. She seemed smaler than she had this afternoon. Her shoulders sagged, she almost seemed to have retreated into herself. She seemed younger, too. It was hard to reconcile the flirtatious woman, fluttering her lashes at him, making him smile despite himself, with this girl who was staring blindly into the evening, wrapping her arms around herself as if she had to physically hold herself together.
She flopped down at the tram stop and dropped her bag. Just for a moment. She shivered and rubbed her arms. It was cooler than she had expected. By now she had pretty much made up her mind to go to Mac, at least for the night. She would survive a night on a chair in her laboratory, and in the morning she would go and see how much money she had. She could rent, couldn’t she. Maybe a boarding house. There were worse options. Much worse.
"Miss Fisher?" a tentative voice shook her out of her brooding.
She looked up and plastered a bright smile on her face.
"Sergeant Robinson, what a surprise. On your way home?"
He nodded in that almost imperceptably way she started to recognise. She had definetly run into him too often in the last days.
"My shift ended an hour ago." he sounded a little self depricating, as if he was embarassed to have put in extra work.
She smiled, really this time. "Your wife must miss you."
He gave a noncommital shrug. "I called. This time."
The amendum was quiet, almost like he was talking to himself, but it didn’t escape her.
"That’s very dilligent of you." she commended him.
He chose not to reply to that. Yesterdays disaster was still nagging him too much.
"What about you? Still on journalistic duty?" he asked her instead, just to cover up the fact that he didn’t want to talk to her about Rosie. Her smile fell somewhat.
"No. I’m visiting a friend." she said, raising her chin as if daring him to defy her.
"Longer visit?" he asked with a nod towards her carpet bag.
Miss Fisher shruggen non-chalantly.
"We’ll see what happens." she said airily.
For a long moment they sat next to each other in silence, both brooding over the things they didn’t want to talk about. Surprisingly it didn’t feel akward.
"Anything new in the case?" she asked after a while.
He rolled his eyes, but she could tell he was only pretending to be annoyed.
"No statement for the morning edition?" she fluttered her eyelashes coyly at him, but he was sure she was just doing it out of habit without any real intent.
"No. Your father is still a suspect."
"He’s back, you know." she told him.
Her voice was serious and maybe a little strained again. He looked at her directly.
She gave a tiny nodd.
"I guess he heard it’s safe to come out of hiding. If you go there tomorrow, he’ll proabably talk to you."
He’ll probably try to charm, wiggle information out of you and use it for his advatage was what she didn’t say. She wasn‘t going to spill her guts to a stranger and a cop no less. But she liked him. He seemed to be one of the good ones, as far as she could tell and the last couple of years had taught her a lot about people, so she trusted her gut.
"Don’t let him butter you up." she said, almost despite herself. "He’ll try."
He nodded quietly. He seemed to understand.
"Thank you." he said genuinly.
He knew she didn’t have to tell him that, many in her place probably wouldn’t have. He imagined her realtionship with her father was likely complicated, judging from what he had seen at least. Clearly something had shaken her up since their last meeting and equally clearly she wasn’t going to tell him about it. He wasn’t entirely sure if he was disappointed or glad about that or why he cared.
A tram stopped in front of them.
"You’re headed towards Richmond?" he asked.
She shook her head "Kensington."
He tilted his head slightly. "That’s the other direction."
She looked up at the car and back to him.
"Damn. Thank you."
Without another word she grabbed her back and sprinted to the other side of the road, with very little regard for the traffic she encountered. Against all odds she made it to the other side in one piece and Jack felt able to enter his own tram.
* Simon, Paul. 2006. „Another Galaxy“. Surprise. Prod. Paul Simon. Warner Bros.
I know, her hiding in a room she can't lock and still getting away isn't particularly realistic, but I couldn't bear for her to suffer a heavy beating. That is simply not the kind of thing I want to write. Phryne is just to dear to me.
On the less harrowing topic of birth controll: I've red several other writers here who assume that diaphragms (or birth controll in general) were illegal. Unfortunately I can't remember anyone saying if they did any research on this. It's definitely true for the US, but I'm not convinced about Australia.
I'm tempted to think that the laws there were the same as in the UK, first because in the early twenties Australia was still a Dominion of the British Empire and only in '26 declared autonomous (though I'm not sure what that means for legislation), second because I generally assume that the Australian legislation was fundamentally in line with the British one, at least in this early stage of nationhood (in other words I do a bit of research, if I can't find anything on Australia I go with what I find about the UK).
To get back to the original point: In Britain birth controll was not illegal from what I can tell. M. Stopes founded a BC clinic as early as 1921, and 1930 saw a birth controll conference and the subsequent legalisation of BC advice in welfare centers. The British National Birth Controll Association was founded a year later. None of this is to say that it wasn't considered morally questionable (to put it mildly) but it wasn't illegal.
Chapter 12: Some of them will stay
We've already reached the halfway point in this and I would like to say thank you to everyone who is still reading.
I've gotten so many lovely, insightful and encouraging comments on this, admittedly not very Phrack heavy, fic, I'm still a bit stunned. You guys are amazing. Thank you.
Todays chapter is a little short, but on the up side: It's a Mac chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Oh life is just a game
No one ever tells you how to play
Say different people
Go different ways
Some of them will leave you but
Some of them will stay
Survivors – Passenger *
When Phryne finally knocked on Mac’s door, almost half an hour later, her friend didn’t seem surprised.
“Took you long enough.” she merely said, when Phryne explained the situation in a few words. “Another two weeks and I would have owed Raymond two pounds.”
Her friend gave her an unamused look.
“You bet on how long I would last at my parents' house?” she asked, not really surprised.
Mac just shrugged. “It’s always easier to laugh about other people’s problems than face your own.”
„What’s that supposed to mean?“ Phryne asked while she dropped her bag on the couch Mac was quickly clearing of books and other things Phryne decided not to investigate any closer.
„Oh, you know, the usual. Ray had to mortgage his picture house to buy the second one so now he’s not just flat broke, but in debt which is making him even more jumpy than normal.“
Phryne grinned. „He’ll be alright. The numbers are good, it’ll only take him a while to get the money back in.“ she said with convition.
After all she had helped him get the loan in the first place. Ray was a dreamer of some callibre, but he had no great head for business. She smiled. Mac was right, talking about other peoples worries helped her forget her own a little and bantering with her friend filled her with a nice warmth and contentment she hadn’t truly felt since she had returned to Melbourne.
“What about your problems?” she asked.
Mac huffed. “Nothing as dramatic. I am stuck in a lab with Professor Bradbury, you remember me telling you about him?”
“The one you were so excited to work with, who had inspired you to go into medicine?”
“The same one.” The Doctor replied sardonically. “And there can be no doubt that he is brilliant. Unfortunately he’s also a chauvinist ass, who thinks women can’t possibly be remotely as intelligent as men.”
Mac shrugged dismissively. “So everyone has their cross to bear.” she observed her friend critically.
Despite making light of Phryne’s problems she didn’t take them lightly for a moment. She knew Henry Fisher and she knew Phryne, and from that knowledge she deduced that something must have happened to prompt this final step, as expected as it might have been. However, Mac decided against prying about it right now.
“What will you do now?” she asked instead.
Phryne groaned. “Sleep on your couch tonight.” she answered “And trying not to get poisoned by whatever experiment you’re cooking up there.” she nodded towards the table where it seemed Mac had reconstructed her laboratory.
The Doctor was not deterred though. “And tomorrow? Don’t get me wrong Phryne, I’d love to have you here, but my landlord is only looking for an excuse to get rid of me, not to mention the general lack of space.”
Phryne rolled her eyes. “I know I can’t stay here Mac. I’ll start looking for my own place tomorrow first thing. I promise.”
Mac nodded. “As long as you have a plan.” she said.
“I do.” Phryne assured her. “Well, at least part of one. Don’t look at me like that. Uncle Edward said he’d put his ear to the ground, maybe see if he could get me a good price on something.” she sighed deeply. “I might even be willing to borrow some money from him.” she admitted.
Mac’s eyebrows rose in surprise. Phryne Fisher, accepting someone’s help, someone’s money no less. That was certainly new. Now she was really starting to worry about what had happened with Henry.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
Phryne nodded dismissively. The sudden change in topic didn’t surprise her in the least. The two had been friends for years and Mac knew every little thing about her, including every sordid detail about her relationship with her father.
“I need a new diaphragm, that’s all.” she said.
Mac’s eyes remained on her. “I can get you one.” What else? her tone asked.
Phryne sighed. “He’s a murder suspect now.” she coughed up.
That surprised even Mac. Phryne rolled her eyes.
“Not a main suspect.” she clarified. “Anymore at least. He hit a bloke in a bar fight. A bloke he owed money to, and the bloke died. He was the main suspect for a while, but now there is something more. I think the guy died from a morphine overdose.”
Mac raised an eyebrow. “And why would you think that?”
“I happened to visit the dead man’s wife to express my condolences, when the Sergeant who investigates the case came by to interview her.” Phryne told her innocently.
“What?” she asked indignantly at Mac’s knowing look “I couldn’t know he would come back. Anyway, poor Edie asked for my moral support during her interview.”
“Which I’m sure you had nothing to do with.” Mac commented dryly.
Phryne grinned and continued her story unperturbed.
“He asked her where her husband would have gotten morphine. Apparently the man had the clap, so he was using it regularly.”
Mac rolled her eyes at that medical detail, but remained quiet.
“The cop asked a lot of questions about the morphine. It just didn‘t make sense he would do that, if the victim had just died from a bottle over the head.” Phryne concluded.
“Maybe he had to change tactics, because he didn’t want to question her about your father in front of you.” Mac suggested.
Phryne shrugged. “Maybe. Then he’d be a better actor than I gave him credit for. What about the disease? Morphine wouldn’t be a normal treatment for it, would it?”
Mac shook her head. “No. Normally you’d treat it with silver proteinate. There are other things that people have tried, like mercury or sulphur sometimes even belladonna, strychnine or aconite.”
Phryne raised an eyebrow “If it doesn’t kill you...”she muttered.
“Pretty much.” the Doctor agreed. “None of it really helps but the Protargol at least has some bacterial properties. Morphine doesn’t do anything other than numb the pain, and not particularly well at that. It is however highly addictive.” she concluded her lecture.
“How likely is it he infected his wife?” she asked.
Mac gave her a look. “We’re talking about one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the world.” she pointed out.
“She said she kicked him out of her bed when she realised he had it.” her friend told her.
Mac did not sound convinced, but had to admit “It only takes about four or five days before you show symptoms, men usually less. Could be a small enough window for her to have gotten away. But it’s much more likely she didn’t realise she has it. With women symptoms take usually longer to develop.”
* Rosenberg, Mike. 2018. „Survivors“. Runaway. Prod. XX. Black Crow.
Silver proteinate aka Protargol ( the brandname for this stuff) has been used from 1897 on as a treatment for gonorrhea and was replaced by antibiotics in the 1940s. All "remedies“ Mac mentions have been known to be used until at least the 1850s most likely longer.
The (symptom free) incubation period for gonorrhea is oddly difficult to determine apparently. Numbers I found reach from 3 days to ten, decidedly shorter with men than with women.
Two disappointed believers
Two people playing the game
Negotiations and love songs
Are often mistaken for one and the same
Train in the distance – Paul Simon *
There was something off; Margret could tell the moment she opened the door. It was late, much later than she had anticipated to be back home. It had taken her longer to get back than normal. She had of course refused her sister's offer to be driven. It was a well meaning offer, but Prudence didn’t understand what would happen, if she arrived with a chauffeured car in Collingwood.
So she had taken the tram, which took a huge detour via Flinders Street. It had often occurred to her that the Yarra acted like a natural border between the poor and the rich halves of the city and tonight it had proven almost insurmountable. A car had hit one of the tramcars and removing it had taken so long three that more trams had backed up behind it. After waiting for nearly half an hour, she had elected to walk the rest of the way. Now it was nearly nine pm and no one was home.
That Henry was still nowhere to be seen was no surprise, but Phryne wasn’t in either. She should have been back from work by now. Confused, Margaret turned on the light in the kitchen. Maybe she was out with friends. Wasn’t that what young people did these days? She checked the table for a note or any other sign, but it didn’t even look as if anyone had eaten here recently. Frowning, Margaret checked on the rest of the house.
At the door to her daughter’s room, she hesitated. It didn’t feel right to look in. Phryne was her daughter, but it still felt like an intrusion to peek into her room. But maybe she had left a note in there, or any other sign as to where she could have gone. A quick look wouldn’t do any harm, surely.
Margret closed the door as quickly as she had opened it. Her knees suddenly felt weak and she had to lean against the door. Tears were stinging in her eyes and threatened to spill over her cheeks. That, too, was no surprise. Prudence had only this afternoon talked with her about Phryne’s wish to move out. That girl had always striven for freedom. It had only been a question of time she tried to tell herself. But she had not expected it to be so soon or so sudden. Not without warning or even a note left behind. Yet again her girl, her last little girl, was out there and she had no idea where she was, or how to reach her.
At least he had called this time. Rosie tried to cling to that thought. At least he had called. Yet it didn't really make up for the fact that it was dark by the time she finally heard Jack’s key in the door. It didn't change the fact, that she was faint with hunger for having to wait for him, or the fact that dinner was mostly cold by now. But he had called and told her he’d be late, whether because he cared or because he felt guilty about yesterday she couldn’t know, and didn’t really want to. She merely got up from her chair in the parlour and met him in the hallway.
He looked tired, although less so than the day before. Just tired, not like he was about to collapse. She assumed he was still adjusting to the new rhythm. He looked up from hanging up his coat and his mouth straightened out a little on seeing her.
When was the last time she had actually seen him smile, she wondered. Last weekend, family dinner, when he had thanked her mother for the food, her mind supplied the answer immediately. But it had been a society smile, the kind that made his face look like a rubber mask and that never reached his eyes. No, she couldn’t remember the last time she had seen him smile genuinely and openly like he meant it. It must have been before the war, she mused. Everything good had been before the war.
“Are you hungry?” she asked avoiding a greeting.
“Ravenous.” he replied.
She nodded. “Good. Me too. I’ll just heat up dinner.”
“You didn’t have to wait, you know.” he said after they had eaten almost half the meal in silence.
Rosie didn’t reply. What could she say to that? Of course she didn’t have to wait, she had chosen to. Because it was the right thing to do. They were husband and wife, they should have dinner together. Of course she didn't have to, but she wouldn’t let him make her feel like she had to justify herself for doing it.
“Are you making progress in your case?” she asked instead.
He made a noise that was neither identifiable as confirmation nor denial.
“I think father is quite proud that you’re taking on that responsibility.” she added. “He’d never say it of course.”
Jack only nodded numbly. What could he say to that? That he had a funny way of showing it?
He hadn’t talked to George personally since he had been assigned to this case. Jenkins had hinted that the AC was anything but thrilled, but Jack could believe Rosie, too. Wanted to belive her. George had been his mentor and teacher. Even if they didn't always see eye to eye and were still locked in an argument neither of them would back down from, he knew George cared for him and was invested in his career. After all, that was the main reason he had gotten so angry when Jack had joined the strike. He had put it all at risk.
“I’ll talk to him tomorrow.” he told her.
She was quiet that evening. Jack could tell she was upset, but couldn’t bring himself to try and figure out why. He felt bad about it. Considering he wasn’t actually as tired as the night before, he knew that he should care and make the effort. But even if it wasn’t as bad as yesterday, he still was tired and he had spent all day trying to solve a riddle, without really making any progress in it. So he felt he really just couldn’t be expected to keep doing the same in his home after his shift had ended hours ago. He had called. What more did she want from him?
He opted to help her with the dishes instead, hoping it would make up at least a little for his general lack of whatever it was she felt he was lacking this time. Standing next to him Rosie wrinkled her nose.
“You smell of...”
“Ammonia?” he guessed.
“I was going to say detergents, but yes, I suppose.”
“I had to interview the widow earlier. She has a bit of a thing for cleanliness, I guess. The whole house smelled like it.”
Rosie just raised an eyebrow.
“You must have stayed there a while.” she observed.
“She invited me for tea.”
Somehow that had not been the right thing to say. He could tell from the way her mouth twitched. Again, a part of him told him he should figure out why, but the majority of him couldn’t be bothered. He had done nothing wrong. At least nothing that Rosie could reproach him for. George was a different matter, but Rosie couldn’t blame him for interviewing witnesses and having to accept a cup of tea. And he couldn’t imagine it was about the smell.
So he had had tea. No wonder he didn’t mind showing up late for dinner. Rosie knew she was being utterly unfair. It was perfectly reasonable that a woman he had to visit at her home would offer him tea. Being equally polite and perpetually hungry, of course he had accepted. He had probably missed lunch, too and had needed it. And he had called. But right now, she didn’t want to be fair. She had waited with dinner for him, staying hungry and he had had tea with some other woman that smelled like cat’s urine, and all he had to say was ‘You didn’t have to wait’. No apology for being late, no 'Thank you for waiting', just telling her she shouldn’t have.
She knew he had noticed that she was upset, but he had refrained from asking about it. She couldn’t help compare him with the man she had fallen in love with all those years ago, yet again. That kind, considerate man who she had married. He would have asked. He would have cared. He would have been sweet and attentive, and he wouldn’t have rested until he had her smiling again. And now she was feeling ridiculous, thinking about that man like someone she had known a long time ago, when that very same man was currently standing next to her. It made her even more angry, partly because he made her feel unreasonable and childish, partly because he wasn’t that man anymore. In moments like this, she just wanted him back, with furious intensity. She missed him more than she could express, and it was only made harder by the fact that he was right here but not here at all, and for a brief moment she hated that man next to her, simply for having taken the place of her husband.
“I might have an early night.” she informed him. “I’m rather tired.”
He nodded almost imperceptibly and for the fraction of a moment she thought she saw relief flash in his eyes.
“I can finish up here.” he offered.
“She left.” Margaret told him.
Henry nodded darkly. “I figured.” was all he said.
“Did you speak to her?” she couldn’t help asking.
“We had a slight disagreement.” he admitted.
“She only just got back. She was gone seven years, Henry.” she impressed on him.
He sat down next to her, putting his arm around her shoulder.
“Do you think I don’t know that, my love? Do you think I didn’t miss her every moment of every day?”
“And yet she’s back a few weeks and all you can do is argue with her until she runs away again.” his wife complained.
“I don’t know when she got so touchy about things.” he defended himself half-heartedly. “I merely wanted to make sure she was being looked after. As is my duty as her father.”
“She’s been looking after herself for quite some time now.” Margaret pointed out.
She nestled into the crook of his shoulder.
“I don’t want to loose her, too, Henry.” she whispered. “I couldn’t bear it.”
His arm tightened around her and embraced her fully.
“You won’t, my dear. I promise, you won’t.”
For a moment Margret allowed herself to believe him. She just let herself be held by him, breathing in his familiar scent and let herself believe that he was right. The rational part of her knew he couldn’t promise her that, and that believing Henry led to heartache more often than not, but right now she couldn’t bear to listen to that part of her. She just wanted to stay here in this little bubble of his arms forever, where she was safe and warm and loved. As soon as she left the protection of his embrace, the world would come crashing back and demand more sacrifice, more endurance from her. So she snuggled in a bit tighter and let the world wait a moment longer.
To her own astonishment she had no doubt that Henry was speaking the truth. She was sure he did love Phryne in his own way and she knew that he had missed her. It had shown in small ways, but it had shown none the less. The way he made sure her room remained untouched. The number of times the phrase 'if Phryne was here' slipped into his speech. The fact that he had spent nearly the entire first week of her absence in a drunken stupor and had told everyone who was willing to listen about his brave daughter joining in in the war effort.
She knew he was proud of her and of who she had become. He just didn’t know how to deal with it. She remembered her own father had been similarly powerlessly furious when she had decided to marry Henry. At some point, parents had to accept that they weren’t an authority in their children’s lives anymore and Henry had a bit of a hard time adjusting to that. But he did love her, that she knew. She just hoped it would be enough.
That night, the nightmares were back. They had been haunting him ever since the war, but lately he had been doing better. Ironically, the night shifts had been doing him good in that regard. Somehow his nightmares seemed indeed bound to the night and when he slept during the day, he had been fine.
He could never remember them, for which he was grateful. But he knew that they were filled with blood and mud, death and injury, shelling, mustard gas and gunfire, anguished cries and the death rattles of corroded lungs. And even when he woke up, they left him with a lingering sense of dread and terror that took sometimes hours to shake off.
Tonight, it felt like they needed to make up for the last months he had slept in peace. He was shaking violently when he woke up, his heart beating out of his chest. He noticed Rosie sitting next to him, upright, hurdled into the farthest corner of the bed. She was wide awake and was regarding him the way one would a wounded animal, wary of its bites.
She had tried to wake him once, just after he had come back and he had nearly strangled her in his sleep, startled out of his mind by her sudden touch. She had worn a scarf for the next week and they had never talked about it, but she had never touched him in his sleep ever again. Come to think of it, she had barely touched him again at all. Jack had been mortified and more than a little terrified of himself. He had offered to sleep in the guest room for a while, but she wouldn’t hear of it. So they had continued sleeping next to each other, carefully avoiding skin contact, both beginning to erect more and more walls around themselves.
When she realised he had woken she carefully started to speak.
He could only imagine the wild look he must have given her, still panting and wide eyed, for she visibly flinched.
“You’re home.” she said slowly and clearly. “You’re safe. I'm here. It’s over.”
Rosie wondered if those phrases sounded as hollow to him as they sounded to her. They had become a mantra, something she would recite again and again, whenever he woke up screaming and shaking, but like anything endlessly repeated, the words had become meaningless and strange in her mouth. A part of her mulled over the connotations of those words: home, safe, here, over. Did they still mean what they indicated they meant? Were they still true? Was home the place you laid your head at night? Was her physical presence really enough to justify the statement 'I’m here'?
Jack seemed to have calmed down at least enough to understand her. He nodded almost imperceptibly.
“I know.” he whispered, the terror still audible in his voice. “Sorry I woke you.”
He fell back into the pillows with a soft thud, rubbing his face. His eyes remained wide open.
It was a strange feeling to see Jack scared. Not just frightened, but terrified out of his wits. Rosie had always admired his confidence and she knew that in his waking hours he was a brave man. If he ever was scared, he hid it well and kept going despite of it. It was only at night that he was so often now reduced to this state of a fear that was more all-encompassing than she could even comprehend. It repulsed and fascinated her in equal measures. She couldn’t help pity him, but a strong part of her wanted nothing more than for it to go away.
Very carefully she reached out for him, making sure he saw her move from the corner of his eyes. Startling him in this state was dangerous and she was no longer under the illusion that Jack would never hurt her. He watched her warily as she very slowly slipped her hand into his.
* Simon, Paul. 1983. "Train in the distance“. Hearts and Bones. Prod. Roy Halee, Paul Simon, Russ Titelman, Lenny Warnonker. Warner Bros.
Faith is an island in the setting sun
But proof, yes
Proof is the bottom line for everyone
Proof – Paul Simon *
Briefing George the next morning was just about as stifled as Jack had feared. His superior/ father-in-law seemed less than convinced he could or should handle the case, and Jack didn’t have much to show for to convince him otherwise.
“That’s not much, Jack,” Sanderson pointed out unnecessarily.
“It’s a few people who had a motive, other than just Henry Fisher.” Jack noted.
His father-in-law raised a sceptical eyebrow.
“The question is, if any of them had the opportunity, Jack.”
“As far as I can tell, all of them, or none. The problem is, people won’t talk to me.” Jack admitted.
“That’ll happen in Collingwood.” his superior commented dryly.
“Find a way to make them talk. And make them talk about something concrete, all you’ve given me so far is hearsay.” George ordered.
How exactly Jack should accomplish that, he didn’t say of course.
“We’re spread thin, Jack; we can’t afford to waste any resources.” George impressed on him.
“You’ve already spent two days on this investigation. I can give you two more. If you don’t find anything, arrest Fisher, or whoever is most suspicious, and we’ll try our luck with the prosecutor.”
For a long moment neither man said anything. Jack didn’t know what to say to that. He had known the case of a dead bar patron had no priority, but he hadn’t expected George to be so blunt about it.
Then his superior cleared his throat.
“It‘s not that I don’t have faith in your abilities, Jack,” he said. “in fact, I think you’re more than capable of having this case wrapped up quickly. Inspector Jenkins thinks you're wasted in the night shift, and I’d have to agree.”
Jack remained silent, waiting for the inevitable ‘but’ he could hear in that sentence.
“The question is, Jack, if you can put your personal opinions aside enough to be a good, efficient officer.”
Ah, there it was. Opinionated; that was what he was going for.
“I didn’t know finding a murderer was a matter of opinion.” he said a little coarsely.
George shook his head.
“Of course not, Jack, but sometimes you have to make concessions to the circumstances.”
He raised his hands to silence Jack before he could even open his mouth.
“I don’t want to have that discussion again. I doubt we will come to any other result than we have over the last months; You had your reasons, I understand that, and I can’t share them. I know you understand that, too. But we can argue about how to wrap up this case when we have to. For now, just know you’re on a clock. Do your best, that’s all I’m asking. You’re a smart guy, Jack, and a good cop. I have faith you won’t disappoint me.”
Back outside, Jack felt the undeniable urge to curse. He bit the inside of his cheek and returned to work. He had already gathered the records of his suspects, as well as the victim's. To no one's surprise they all had one. Even Edie Gallagher had been picked up for public nuisance once.
Henry Fisher and Jerry Landis both had a veritable litany of petty offences levelled against them. Beside the expected drunk-and-disorderly and brawling, there were gambling, fraud and petty theft charges in Fisher’s case. Landis on the other hand had collected several assault charges; some of them against police officers; as well as a record for possession of an unregistered firearm and there had been an investigation about racketeering last year, which had never gone anywhere.
Gallagher’s file was surprisingly thin in comparison. From what Jack could tell, however, it wasn’t the file of an innocent man as much as of one who had rarely been caught. Apparently, Tomo had been cleverer than his partner. Armed with that information, Jack headed out again to continue his search for any useful witness.
There really was no way around it. Phryne was mulling through her daily chores at the office itchy with the certainty of it: she had to go back.
Not back as in 'back home', but back to Collingwood. She needed to explain to her mother, or, since Phryne wasn’t sure her mother would ever understand anything she explained to her, she’d settle for informing her.
And while she was there, she might get her things back. She had noted yesterday already that her Dutch cap wasn’t the only thing her father had pilfered from her things; just the only one he had deemed worth mentioning. The other thing she was missing, however, was far more important if she was going to continue sniffing around that murder case.
Which was the second reason to go back and the much more difficult one to rationalise. Why did she keep putting her nose into it, now that her father was, while not entirely out of the crossfire, at least not in any eminent danger anymore?
Before, she had told herself she didn’t want to see her father hang, no matter what he had done to her and her mother. He was still her father after all. And you couldn’t trust the coppers to do a decent job, everyone knew that. So she had kept an eye on things, to make sure. She had even flirted with the Sergeant like her father had asked her to, Not because he had told her to, but because it usually worked quite nicely. Henry wasn't entirely stupid, so their tactics did on occasion aline. The only thing that galled her more than that, was that it hadn't worked in this case. The Sergeant had clearly been not affected in the slightest. He would be talking with her father right now, she mused. And unless he did arrest him after all, her argument for being involved wasn’t as potent anymore.
She didn’t think he would. From what she had seen and from what her mother had told her, Sergeant Robinson was one of the few decent cops in town and he had so far seemed diligent in his investigation. If she was being fair, which she wasn’t always inclined to be when it came to men in general and police officers in particular, his turning down, or rather ignoring her advances spoke for him. He seemed determined to find the true culprit unaffected by outside manipulation and that she could only laud. He also appeared to be a good man. She knew well enough that she was quite pretty and many men would have taken up her implicit offer, no matter that they had a wife waiting for them at home.
Another spanner in the works of her argument why she should be perusing this case: It seemed in good hands. So why did she feel the need to keep investigating? She had told Hector Pierce that she was researching it for a story about illegal pubs at the wrong end of town. She would still do that, but she was honest enough with herself to acknowledge it wasn’t her prime motivation.
The reason was much more plain and simple: she wanted to know what had happened, what was going on in that neighbourhood she had called her home for so long and she knew she could work it out. If she could get all the information, of course. And knowing her neighbours at least in that regard, she had a clear advantage over the Sergeant.
“Let’s see who get’s there first then, Sergeant Robinson.” she muttered to herself with a grin.
A well rested, sober and charming Henry Fisher was not something Jack had encountered before. Usually whenever he was released from his cell, Fisher was grumpy and extremely rude. Now however, he was oozing geniality.
"Sergeant," he said with a bright smile, "how can I be of assistance?"
Don’t let him butter you up. Her words from last night echoed through Jack’s head. Now he started to understand them. He maintained a professional demeanour, determined not to forget the other Henry Fisher he knew existed.
“I’d like to have a word with you about Tomo Gallagher.” he stated coolly, “May I come in?”
Fisher’s smile widened a fraction.
“Of course, Sergeant, of course. Please.” he opened the door invitingly
“I’m afraid I can’t offer you anything. You see, my wife has gone out and I barely know the top of a teapot from the bottom.” he chatted jovially while he led Jack into the kitchen, “Please, have a seat.”
The kitchen was rather dark, thanks to the broken and barely patched up window. But it was superficially clean, even if the floor could have done with a sweep. There were only two chairs around the kitchen table, one of which looked like it might collapse if you looked at it too sharply. Jack cautiously decided to sit on the other one. Henry didn’t seem to have any such scruple and heavily sat down on it. Surprisingly, the chair seemed to hold his weight.
“Now how can I help you Sergeant?” he asked again.
“As you may have heard, I’m investigating the death of Tomo Gallagher.” Jack said.
The older man nodded.
“Yes of course, terrible tragedy that. I heard he was somehow ill.”
“What was your relationship with Mr Gallagher?” Jack inquired, ignoring the remark.
“He was a mate, I’d say. We’d meet in the pub and the like.” he said neutrally, still maintaining a pleasant tone.
“Any disagreements between you and him?”
Another non-committal shrug.
“None of significance.”
“Then why do I have witnesses who saw you trying to beat him up three nights ago?”
Henry sighed. “I suppose you’re referring to the incident at the Lion.”
Jack tilted his head in confirmation. Fisher leaned forward with a degree of familiarity, but without getting so close to the officer that it felt intrusive. Jack had to give him credit. He was good.
“We may have had a few words.” Henry admitted, “I don’t have to hide from you that I do occasionally have a drink more than may strictly be wise and you know I can get a little excitable in that state.”
He smiled in a manner that could be construed as apologetically.
Jack kept his face motionless.
“I’m not sure how the brawl started, but you know how it is: someone says the wrong word in the wrong moment and suddenly the chairs are flying. I was merely defending myself.”
“You hit Gallagher over the head with a beer bottle.” Jack stated dryly.
Fisher opened his arms in a gesture of hapless innocence.
“I may have. It’s hard to keep track of things in these situations.”
Jack sighed inwardly. If the damned beer bottle had been the cause of death, this would have been all he needed by means of a confession. Unfortunately he had a feeling if Fisher had killed Gallagher that way, he would have had one hell of a time trying to get him to admit to even having been to the pub that night.
“Can you remember anyone else who was there in the pub? Maybe before the fight started?” Jack probed further, although he didn’t have much hope of getting a straight answer here either.
Fisher frowned at him in a way he probably thought was endearing.
“I really can’t remember anyone specific Sergeant.” he said apologetically, “I’m not particularly good with faces, I’m affraid.”
Jack just nodded. He hadn’t expected anything else. But it didn’t mean he liked the answer. For a long moment he was sourly tempted to simply arrest Fisher anyways and be done with this case. He was fairly certain he could easily get away with it. George wanted him to wrap up the case anyways; the force was understaffed and overworked and the prosecutors weren’t off much better. It would be easy, he might not even get hanged, just locked up where he wouldn’t bother his wife and daughter anymore.
Unfortunately, Jack knew he couldn’t do it, simply because he knew he wouldn’t be able to look himself into the face in the mirror, if he did. He knew it with the same certainty that he knew that the sun rose in the east. So he swallowed the bile gathering in his throat and ploughed on.
“Did you know Gallagher took morphine?” he continued.
Henry’s face opened up in surprise.
“Did he? I had no idea. He never seemed to me like an addict.” he said innocently.
Jack didn’t believe a word.
“Did you ever do business with Mr Gallagher?” he pressed on.
Fisher shrugged yet again.
“There may have been one or the other venture we’ve attempted together.” he admitted.
“Some of them. You can’t always win now, can you, Sergeant?”
“Do you also do business with Jerry Landis?”
Another charming smile. “On occasion. The two of them were partners, as you surely know by now, but I preferred dealing with Gallagher. He was a tight-arse and a bully, but he was honest.”
“And Landis is not?” Jack concluded.
Henry raised his hands in feigned innocence.
“I would never say that, Sergeant. Just that the two had a mighty row last week, rather publicly and Tomo made a few rather ugly accusations. Not that he told anyone anything they didn’t already know. But you haven’t heard that from me.”
She didn’t straight go back to her parent’s house; she still needed to gather her nerves for that. She also calculated that the chances of her father being out were better later in the afternoon or early evening. Maybe Sergeant Robinson would have him arrested anyways. Hope springs eternal after all, she thought bitterly.
Instead, she headed to a different source of information; one she was sure would provide her with more than she ever wanted to know about Tomo Galalgher and everyone he was associated with. One the police would never think to access. Well, they have their resources, I have mine, she decided as she knocked on the door to Mrs Reed‘s flat.
Emily Reed was a small middle aged woman who wore a pretty embroidered bonnet even in her house, the kind that had been fashionable during the early victorian era. She beamed over her entire round face when she opened the door for Phryne after the first knock.
“Phryne Fisher!” she exclaimed, “What a lovely surprise.”
“Good afternoon Mrs Reed,” Phryne greeted her politely, “how are you doing? I hope I’m not intruding.”
“Not at all dear, not at all, you’re just right in time for tea.”
Mrs Reed ushered her in. Phryne followed her into a small, light room with several windows that overlooked the street corner, just as she had suspected from below. The room was sparsely furnished, but clean and Mrs Reed immediately offered her a seat at the small table under one of the windows, while she bustled around producing teacups and serving the tea that had already been brewing.
“What brings you to me, child?” she asked friendly, once they were both sat with their cups in their hands.
“Well, as you know, I recently returned from England and I haven’t gotten around to saying hello to everyone yet.” Phryne explained.
“Haven’t you been back for over two months?” Mrs Reed asked innocently.
“Indeed I have,” Phryne confirmed cheerfully, “and what a couple of months that has been. I needed to find work first you see, and see my family. I had to neglect my dear old friends shamefully.” she explained.
“A dear old friend?” the older woman gave her a wry smile, “I doubt you even remember me, Phryne Fisher. You’ve been gone for so long.”
“Of course I remember!” Phryne cried indignantly, “How could I possibly forget you and your bathtub?”
“That old thing?” Mrs Reed smiled softly at the memories, “You girls loved to play in it, didn‘t you? Pirates and adventures and such.”
For a moment, Phryne allowed herself to wallow in the memories, too. But only for a second, before she took another sip from her teacup and forced herself back to the present.
“And how are you doing now, Mrs Reed?” she asked.
The other woman shrugged.
“I’m not much for complainin', my girl. I still got the flat and people to talk to and a nice cuppa tea in the afternoon. Sure, me Arthur never came back from the war and the pension’s barely keepin' the wolf from the door, but that’s just what it is. Mustn’t grumble, init?” she declared blithely.
“And there’s plenty o’ people havin' it worse. Millie Gadd with her seven kiddies, the youngest got the measles and her Steve’s not been working this year. Or Jeanny Tee, when her Lyle ran off with that Molly Steward girl, what with her being in the family way and all.”
Phryne listened to her prattle on, spreading out all the neighbourhood gossip, occasionally throwing in a comment or merely making the appropriate sound. She waited patiently until Mrs Reed came around to the people she really wanted to hear about. Finally, Phryne was already on her third cup of tea and was all but expecting to get a caffeine shock soon, she started talking about poor Edie Gallagher.
“She’ll be glad to be rid of him though.” so Mrs Reeds obliterating verdict, “Always gettin' in trouble, he was, and paradin' his floozy around town like she was the queen a’ egypt.” she wrinkled her nose disapprovingly.
“He had a lover?” Phryne asked surprised.
From what Edie had told the Sergeant, it had sounded as if Tomo had merely preferred the company of prostitutes over that of his wife.
“If that’s what you wanna call it. He was gallivanting about the Harper girl all the time. Carrie, she calls herself now, workin' the night and all.”
Phryne’s eyebrows rose in understanding. So she hadn’t been off entirely.
* Simon, Paul. 1990. "Proof“. The Rhythm of the Saints. Prod. Paul Simon. Warrner Bros
Magic tricks and pirate ships
They just don’t work no more
I’ve given up on treasure chests
That wash up on the shore
Fools gold – Passenger*
In remembrance of the previous day, Jack decided to take his lunch break properly this time. He was a bit late for it, having tried to find any more witnesses to the brawl, and unsurprisingly failing utterly. To make up for it, he decided to head over to Richmond for his break. A part of this decision might have been rebellion against George and his newly introduced deadline, just to show himself he wouldn’t be rushed. So he would take his time for his lunch today.
He critically surveyed the garden as he knocked on the front door. He didn’t find anything to criticise, at least in the short time it took his mother to open up.
She never sounded surprised to see him, and today was no exception.
“Come in. Have you eaten?”
Abby never questioned when her son showed up at her door unannounced. He did that from time to time, when he needed something, she wasn’t always quite sure what. Usually food for starters, but there was something else he sought, that drew him back home like a pigeon. Even before the war, he had sometimes come over surprisingly. Back then he had usually had Rosie in tow, but since his return it had happened more and more often that he came alone. So she let him in, fed him and waited to see what he would do.
This time it turned out he went to find a book.
With the unerring certainty brought on by familiarity Jack’s fingers picked out a worn and dog-eared volume off the living room shelf. His mother had fewer books than he now and he didn’t have to search for it. Almost reverently he opened it and let his fingers glide over the pages, softened with age and use. The words were familiar and yet they had never lost the strangeness coming with a foreign language.
“You only ever pick this up, when something’s bothering you.”
Abigail Robinson leaned in the doorframe. Her son looked up from the book in his hands.
“I guess it makes me feel connected to him.” he admitted.
“It was his favourite.” she agreed, “He loved reading it to you.”
Jack nodded. “I remember. I could barely understand a word. So he would try to translate. I don’t know how he did it, but it was always hilarious. Every time I read it now, I’m surprised how dull it actually sounds.”
“Translating was never one of your father’s strengths.” she said wistfully.
“Do you ever wonder,” Jack hesitated, “what it would be like, if he wasn’t gone?”
His mother tilted her head. “Sometimes,” she admitted, “and then I hear his mother in my head: 'Wenn das Wörtchen wenn nicht wär’.”
Jack couldn’t help smiling. It was very much something his grandmother would have said.
“Your grandmother was a smart women.” Abigail chided, but couldn’t hide her own smile.
“There’s no point in bothering with what-ifs. Things are as they are. We can only do what we can with that.”
"What if that’s not enough?" he looked at her in a way that reminded her too much of when he had been a boy, after his father’s death. That look that begged her to have the answers to his unanswerable questions and to make everything alright again.
"Then at least you can’t blame yourself for not trying." was the best she could tell him.
“I had to report to George this morning,” he said apropos of nothing.
Abby patiently waited for him to continue.
“He suggested we’d agree to disagree. A peace offering, I guess. He praised my abilities as a police officer.”
“He’s less of an idiot than I took him for.” she couldn’t keep herself from muttering.
“He’s not helping me with this case though.” Jack pointed out.
“You’re not trying to make me defend George Sanderson now, are you Jack?” Abby asked with a twinkle in her eyes.
Her son sighed.
“The only other person I could ask to do that is Rosie,” he admitted, “and I believe you more.”
“How are things with Rosie?” she asked gently.
“I’m no longer on nightshift.”
It was meant to sound optimistic, but he couldn’t help a desperate note creeping in that he knew his mother wouldn’t miss. Abby took a step closer and took Jack’s hand in hers.
“You’ll survive.” she promised, “I know you admire that family. I know you looked up to George and you adored Rosie, and now, with everything that’s happened, you start to question that. You’re seeing sides of them you never knew before. Sides you maybe didn‘t want to see. That’s the danger of getting to know someone.”
She gently took his face between her palm and turned him to face her.
“But whatever comes of this, you’ll be alright. It might just blow over, but even if it doesn’t, you’ll survive.”
“That’s not exactly the most rousing speech.” he noted dryly.
“As long as you survive you can always start over.” she told him with a smile.
When she finally managed to disentangle herself from Mrs Reed's teacup Phryne was fairly certain that her father wouldn’t be home. Her mother probably, but she would have to talk to her sooner or later in any case.
“I’m only here to get the rest of my things.” she declared as she entered the kitchen, before Margaret even had a chance to get up.
“I didn't think you left any behind.” her mother stated suspiciously calm.
“Except for the stuff father took.” Phryne pointed out.
Margaret could have pretended that claim surprised her, but there really was no point to it.
“He didn’t mean it, you know,” she said calmly, “what he said to you last night. He loves you Phryne. He just doesn’t know how to deal with you anymore.”
“Well, I’m saving him the trouble now, aren’t I?” her daughter replied snippily.
Her mother’s ability to keep defending her father was something that never ceased to astound and aggravate Phryne. When Henry was, well, being Henry, when he beat her, berated her or simply neglected her, all she had ever wanted from her mother was for her to be on her side, just once. But she never was. Margaret’s loyalty to Henry was as unwavering as the course of the sun, no matter what he did or failed to do. It would have been endlessly fascinating, if it hadn’t been so unbelievably frustrating and, even though she rarely ever admitted it, even to herself, hurtful.
“Don’t be like that, Phryne.” Margaret chided.
Phryne spun around to face her.
“Like what mother?” she snapped, “Like a woman with self respect? Well, I’m so sorry I can’t be more like you.”
She could see she had hit a mark by the look on her mothers face. The angry, disappointed part of her cheered. That part wanted to see her hurt, just like she kept hurting her. Another, currently more quiet part of her, was ashamed.
“You don’t mean that.” Margaret said quietly.
She was still sitting on the kitchen chair and only her hand pressed flat onto the table top, so hard it was shaking, gave away her inner turmoil.
“Other than my father apparently, I don’t say things unless I mean them.” Phryne stated caustically, “I prefer to avoid misunderstandings.”
Margaret shook her head in resignation.
“Why do you always quarrel with your father?” she asked.
“Why do you always defend him?” Phryne yelled, “He’s a drunk, a wastrel, he cares for no one but himself, and if anyone dares disagree with him he turns violent. What has he ever done to deserve your loyalty? Over your own child! Over yourself, over everything. You always chose him and he doesn’t even realise it.”
When she had finished the two women just looked at each other. Phryne wanted to grab her mother and shake her, wake her up from her self-imposed numbness. There was a way out. She knew it. She had done it. She had found the strength to leave a toxic, abusive relationship and now all she wanted to do was show her mother the way. If only she could reach her, make her see that this was not the life she deserved.
Margaret wanted to cry over all the pain she could hear in her daughter’s words. She recognised it wasn’t for her, but for Phryne herself. She knew she had suffered under Henry’s outbursts and she suspected that her daughter had felt left utterly alone in her home ever since Janey was gone. She had never had the strength to be there for her as much as she should have been, and it pained her deeply how much she had hurt the girl in the process. For some reason Phryne had decided to project all that hurt and anger onto her father, the easier target probably. It wasn’t Henry’s fault, but she wasn’t quite sure how she could make her see that.
“Have you ever been in love, Phryne?”
For a moment, just the fraction of a second, Margaret thought she saw her daughter hesitate. But the moment passed as quickly as it had come and her answer was hard and firm: “No.”
Margaret sighed. A part of her had hoped love might have been among the experiences Phryne had made in her years abroad.
“Then I suppose you can’t understand.” she admitted.
“I understand that loves brings people pain more than anything else.” Phryne declared coolly.
“That may be,” her mother acquiesced, “but it also brings great joy. And after knowing that, how could I settle for less?” A sad smile played around her lips.
“I think you could hardly have settled for less, mother.” Phryne commented bitingly with a meaningful look around the house.
Her mother ignored her.
“When I knew what it was like to be giddy with anticipation the moment before he entered the room, to feel my heart skip when he looked at me, my knees go weak at his kiss, I knew, I could never want anything less than that. And if I had to endure the pain to buy the pleasure, it was something I was willing to do. I wanted the desolation at the thought of not seeing him for a whole day, the stab throught the heart when he was flirting with someone else, and the waking nights worrying if he felt the same, because it meant that I could have my stomach turn to butterflies at the touch of his hand, and that I could walk on air for hours after being with him. How could I ever settle for the polite indifference of a society marriage, the faint hope that maybe an affection would grow over the years, based on time spent together and nothing more, when I knew what it was to love and to want someone more than your own peace of mind?”
Her eyes urged Phryne to understand, to at least try to imagine, but her daughter merely rolled her own eyes.
“And was it worth it, mother?” she asked sarcastically, “Was it worth the heartache, the waking nights worrying, the hunger and the desperation? Beatings, police stations, the bloody broken window, that’ll never be repaired, as long as there is bootleg to be bought and cards to be gambled on? Was it worth all those years of misery?” she was almost yelling again in the end, waving her arms desperate to make her mother understand her situation the way she saw it, the only way she could see it.
The word was spoken softly, but with a conviction that left Phryne speechless. Margret gently took her daughter’s hand.
“I know you don’t understand. How could you? But believe me, my dear, I would never have chosen differently.”
Phryne tore her hands out of her mothers grasp with a groan.
“I’m just here to get my things.” she repeated and headed into her parents bedroom.
Margaret let out a deep sigh and followed her.
“What is it you’re looking for?” she asked, watching from the door as Phryne riffled through boxes and swept under the pillows and matrices.
She let out a triumphant ‘Ha!’ when she found the black clamshell hidden in a carton of rubbish. A quick check inside confirmed tthat he diaphragm was still in place. She put the container in her coat pocket and kept searching. Her mother continued to try and talk to her.
“Are you staying with Mac?” she asked.
Phryne made an affirmative sound.
“Won‘t be long though. Uncle Edward’s promised to help me find a cheap place of my own.”
Her mother nodded understandingly and kept watching as her daughter turned the room upside down. Her roaming hands froze when her fingers came in contact with something cool and hard at the bottom of Henry’s box of underwear and socks. She turned the box over and let out a low curse that had her mother frown disapprovingly. Phryne ignored her and pulled the small box of ammunition from the pile. Eight bullets were missing.
“Damn.” she muttered.
“Phryne, what is it?” Margaret sounded worried now.
“He’s got my gun, Mother.” her daughter informed her grimly.
“You brought a gun here?” Margaret exclaimed.
Phryne rolled her eyes at her mother. Not the key bit of information in her opinion.
“Yes, Mother. It was a gift. An officer gave it to me after the war. For safety.”
Her mother’s eyes where wide as saucers.
“Why would he do that? You don’t even know how to shoot.”
The idea of her daughter brandishing a firearm seemed to be too much, even for her to bear.
Phryne sighed exasperatedly.
“I learned to shoot years ago from Uncle Edward.” she reminded her mother.
“Game shooting, not revolvers.” Margaret insisted.
Phryne could only shake her head at her mother's naïveté.
“I’ve been to war, mother.” she said, slowly emphasising every word.
She couldn’t entirely disagree with her though. Bringing a gun into the same house as Henry Fisher had been risky, probably a little reckless. At least she shouldn’t have brought ammunition, too.
“The point is,” she returned to the actual matter at hand, seeing how her last sentence had upset her mother, “now father has my Webley, unless he’s already hocked it. And neither is state of affairs I’m very comfortable with. And on top of that it’s loaded.”
They spent the next hour turning the house upside down, hoping to find the gun in some, any, secret hiding spot, but they eventually had to admit to themselves that it wasn’t there. By that time, the tension between mother and daughter was running high, but neither was willing to let the situation escalate at this moment in time. They had more important problems and were still a little susceptible to feelings of guilt over Phryne’s decision to leave. She knew it hurt her mother and she loathed the thought of it, but couldn’t let that sway her, and Margaret knew she was partly to blame for her daughters urge to flee, and was terrified of pushing her away any further.
It was the only thing that kept her from giving in to the desire to shower the girl in reproaches for bringing a bloody gun into her house. The only thing she was more afraid now than loosing Phryne emotionally, was loosing Henry physically. But she held her tongue and clenched her hands when it became clear that the gun wasn’t in the house anymore. Phryne bagged the remaining bullets, which seemed like a terribly futile thing to do, but there wasn’t anything more she could do. She hated it and she hated her father for it.
* Rosenberg, Mike. 2016. "Fools Gold“. Young as the Morning, Old as the Sea. Prod. Mike Rosenberg, Chris Vallejo. Nettwerk; Black Crow; Cooking Vinyl.
„Wenn das Wörtchen wenn nicht wär“ German 'If not for the little word if'
Steer your way through the pain that is far more real than you
That’s smashed the Cosmic Model, that blinded every view
And please don’t make me go there, though there be a God or not
Year by year, month by month, day by day
Thought by thought
Steer your way – Leonard Cohen*
Phryne’s nerves were still a little frayed after the afternoon with her mother and the discovery that her father had taken her pistol. Apart from that she was starting to grow hungry. She had skipped breakfast and hadn’t gotten around to lunch, so all she had had for sustenance all day had been Mrs Reed's sweet tea. Both circumstances didn’t exactly improve her mood and the task she had set herself for the evening didn’t help either.
She had called Uncle Edward in the morning to arrange to meet him. It had been galling even then, but now that the appointed time was almost there, every instinct in her body made her want to turn around and run as she walked up the driveway to her relative‘s house. She hated asking for help, she hated it with a visceral intensity, especially when it came to her family. Logically, she knew that her aunt and uncle would not hesitate to help her out and would never mention it. They always had, without hesitation. But that was exactly it, her mother had always turned to her sister when she didn’t know where else to turn, and Phryne despised the thought that she was now doing the same.
She had spent the last seven years doing everything in her power to become a self-reliant, independent person. She had travelled the world on her own and she had earned money for herself. She had provided and fought for herself, and she had never done anything she didn’t want to do since Paris. As soon as she was back in Australia, back home, she thought cynically, she was back living with her parents, crawling to her rich relatives for help. She tried to keep her father out of prison and her mother out of the poorhouse and now she was headed to her aunt and uncle to beg for their help. Neither could be described as something she had ever wanted to do.
Somehow it was less galling to show up at Mac’s door unannounced with her bag, but she had never worried about asking her oldest friend for anything, because she knew, if the situation were reversed and Mac needed anything, she wouldn’t hesitate to ask her either. But Uncle Edward and Aunt Prudence would never ask for her help. What could she do or give to help them after all? They had everything, money, influence and because that wasn’t unfair enough, they loved each other and somehow there didn’t seem to be any pain attached to that either.
Phryne took a deep breath and reminded herself not to be ridiculous. She needed a place to live, it was that simple. She didn’t have the money herself, not yet, and staying at Mac’s, or her parents' was not an option. Uncle Edward had offered his help and she knew that he had meant it. So here she was. It wasn’t a big deal. People borrowed money from their relatives and used their connections all the time. And there really was nothing to it; she needed a place to sleep.
“Get over yourself, you stupid girl.” she chided herself. “Your father wouldn’t hesitate a second.” She raised her head. At least she wasn’t like Henry, too.
This time she was met by her aunt first.
“How are you, dear girl?” she greeted her niece heartily.
“I must admit I didn’t expect to see you again quite so soon, my dear.” she added.
There was a hint of reproach in her words, but whether she implied Phryne was generally not visiting often enough, or if she was trying their hospitality she couldn’t really be bothered to work out at this moment.
“Well, I need Uncle Edward’s help in a business matter that came on earlier than expected.” she explained trying to sound as cheerful as she could.
Aunt Prudence wrinkled her nose critically.
“A business matter?” she asked. “Over dinner? Really Phryne.”
“The dinner was my idea, love.”
Uncle Edward entered the room and gave his niece a light peck on the cheek.
“Any excuse to properly feed you once in a while, my dear. Although I did think it would be a social visit.” he noted with a wink.
Phryne couldn’t help return his smile.
“Afraid not. As it happens I need your help. I left my parents' house yesterday.”
Both her relatives' eyebrows rose in unison, before the spouses exchanged a glance.
“Have you already found a new place?” Edward asked after a moment.
Phryne shook her head.
“No. I’m staying with a friend at the moment. That’s why I’m here, actually. You mentioned someone you know...?” The last sentence came out a lot more hesitantly than she would have liked, but to her great relief her uncle nodded instantly.
“Of course. Why don’t you go in and say hello to Arthur. I’ll make a few telephone calls and we'll see what we have when dinner is served.” he suggested.
Phryne could only nod gratefully.
For the first time since he had started working this case, Jack came home on time. He had eventually given up on the day. It had been singularly unproductive. After his chat with Henry Fisher and the visit to his mother he had tried to get a hold of Jerry Landis again, but the man had eluded him obstinately for several hours as he had crisscrossed Collingwood. If he never had to see that place again, it wouldn’t bee soon enough.
There had been two attempts to mug him; one by a skinny little urchin, who could barely hold the knife half his own size he was threatening Jack with. He had confiscated the knife and let the boy run, but had to carry the bloody machete around with him after that. It had helped a little with the second one, a digger who had lost an arm, and who dropped the shard of glass he had used to hold Jack up, when the Sergeant turned and revealed the long blade. Apart from that, there had been so many efforts to try and pick his pockets that he had lost count.
Of course nobody would talk to him either; no one had seen Landis, possibly ever, but certainly not today. He was aware they were afraid and didn’t trust him, and being honest with himself he couldn’t blame them for it. Landis was a nasty piece of work. He had no doubt about that and he didn’t have enough fingers and toes to count the corrupt police officers he had known in his time at this station and even before. His own mother didn’t trust the police and damn him if she wasn’t right most of the time.
So after a couple of hours of fruitless strides in the late summer heat, he had returned to the station, had written his reports, then re-written them and then he had poured over them, trying to fit the facts he had together with everything else he had heard into a coherent story, hoping at the end, he would find a murderer. That had unsurprisingly not happened. Fisher was still a suspect, so was Jerry. He couldn’t rule out the wife entirely either, and who knew how many other people might have held a grudge against Gallagher that he would never hear about. He had given up and left the station the second his shift had ended.
If he hadn’t been dealing with a murder in the midst of a bar fight, he might have felt tempted to step into a pub for a pint before going home. An alternative would have been to skip the two tram stops and walk instead. Anything really to delay the moment when he had to arrive at home. But after the day spent on his feet, he felt unable to take a single unnecessary step. At least he was exhausted, so maybe he would be lucky and keep the nightmares at bay.
And maybe Rosie would believe that he was yet again too tired to do anything but fall straight into bed. Again. And again the guilt gnawed at him. He really was a terrible husband. And didn‘t he know it? Not for the first time, he wished desperately he could return to being the man he had been, just so he could actually look forward to coming home to his faithful, loving wife, and love her the way she deserved.
He could remember a time when the thought of spending the night with his wife hadn’t been filled with trepidation. It wasn’t like there was no physical desire, it had been months after all, but it didn’t feel right, hadn’t in a while, if he allowed himself to think about it. Opening himself up like that to her scared him more than it pleased him these days. He was frightened of what she might see in those moments, when he couldn’t keep his mask in place, and he knew he couldn’t make love to her and keep hiding as he had for so long now. And there were only so many positions she would allow that kept her from looking at his face. Another point of disappointment for her.
Dinner was heavenly. Phryne had known she had been hungry, but just how much only became clear when she found herself in front of a bowl of steaming tomato soup, quickly replaced by a plate of grilled salmon with chanterelles and green beans. Arthur clearly enjoyed his meal not a wit less than his cousin and happily clapped his hands when they reached dessert. Phryne knew well that her aunt didn’t usually allow her son sweets, because she thought they got him too excited, which, of course, only made the poor boy crave them all the more. It was her sneaking suspicion that Hansel and Gretel was only Arthur’s favourite fairytale because it featured a gingerbread house and a boy being fed as many lollies as he could eat and then some. No wonder Arthur always wanted to be Hansel.
“I called a friend from the club.” Uncle Edward reported after their plates had been removed and Prudence had taken Arthur upstairs to get him ready for bed, "He’s currently very interested in selling some of his properties in town, especially one in Carlton.”
He observed his niece carefully to gauge her reaction.
“The truth is, he needs a bit of cash as quickly as possible. By the end of the week ideally.”
Phryne let out a low laugh.
“I’ve saved up a little, but I doubt I can scrape enough together for a house by the end of the week.” she admitted, “I was hoping for something more along the line of a cheap lease.”
Her uncle tutted critically
“You don’t want to rent, if you can help it.” he declared confidently, “It’s a good offer. You won’t get anything cheaper within the near future.” he explained, “I’ve been considering different options for you.”
She listened carefully, even as her stomach wound itself into tighter and tighter knots:
“I could buy it and rent it out to you. That’s probably closest to what you had in mind, but I still don’t think it’s a good idea. I think it might be better, if I loan you the money and you pay me back in instalments. It’d be like you’re paying rent, only at some point, you’ll own the house. It’s always a good investment to own property.”
He saw Phryne’s face scrunch up at the thought of owing such a sum. Or any money at all.
“I’d offer to buy it and gift it to you, but I know you won’t hear of it.” he guessed.
She frowned deeply.
“I couldn’t.” she agreed.
“Then those are your options,” he declared, “unless you’d consider moving into one of the guest rooms.”
“I’m not sure I’m ready to share again just yet.” she playfully sidestepped his semi-serious offer.
“You’re right, I’d love to own a place of my own,” she conceded, “but I’d hate to owe you that much. I don’t even like the idea of you advancing me the money like that.”
He nodded. “I’m glad to see you take this matter seriously.” he praised her genuinely, “If you own the place, you could take in a lodger. If you get over your aversion to sharing, that is.” he added, with a glint in his eyes that told her he saw through her excuses and didn't begrudge her her feelings for a moment..
She was grateful for it.
“Is that how you try to make sure you’ll get your money back?” she quipped.
Edward smiled but shook his head.
“No, I’ll have to take the house as collateral.” he explained.
“So if I don’t pay up, you’ll kick me out?”
“I could take the other house, if you’d prefer, although it’s probably not worth as much.” he offered.
Phryne looked at him in confusion. “What other house?”
“The...” he broke off, when a flash of realisation flickered over his face.
“They haven’t told you, have they?” he asked, “Of course not. Henry would never risk it.” he realised.
“Haven’t told me what?” Phryne frowned.
The reveal of a secret her father had kept from her did not bode well in her experience.
“The house your parents live in, the one you just left, it belongs to you.” Uncle Edward told her.
Phryne’s eyes widened.
“I bought it when you were born in your name, under my custody until your 21st birthday, to make sure your parents couldn’t sell it.” her uncle explained calmly.
Phryne fell back in her seat like she'd been struck by lightning. All the implications of what her uncle had just told her rushing over her.
“They never told me.” she whispered.
Edward waited in silence until she had found her feet again.
“Why wouldn’t they tell me that?” she asked disbelieving.
She didn’t expect an answer and she didn’t get one. It was too simple to see through: Henry would never willingly give her that much power over him. If she confronted him about it, he would probably lie to her face before he’d admit that he was a tenant in her house. And her mother would do what she could to protect him as she always did.
“It was meant for you and Janey, so you’d have a home to grow up in.” her uncle finally broke the silence, “Your parents had been on the streets a few times before you were born, but Prudence would have never forgiven me, if I had let her nieces grow up without a proper roof over their heads.” he told her.
Phryne nodded numbly. She wasn’t really surprised. Not by her parents' choice to hide the truth from her, and not by her aunt and uncle’s gift to her and Janey. It was just the thing they would have done, would still do. Truth be told she should have suspected something like that a long time ago. It was utterly unlike Henry to not even try and sell the house, or lose it in a bet. And if she properly thought about it, how would her parents ever have afforded to buy the house in the first place? Most weeks they had had barely enough to eat or buy clothes and other bare necessities, for as long as Phryne could remember. Of course, they hadn’t had the means to buy a house, even one in Collingwood. And of course, Uncle Edward and Aunt Prudence would, because they were family. And because Uncle Edward was a savvy businessman he had made sure they would keep it. Although now, that she thought about it, it was so painfully obvious, she had never known. She sat there still dumbfounded at her own blindness.
Uncle Edward had gotten up to write something down. He handed her the note and made sure she took a look at it.
“This is the address of the house in Carlton and the sum my acquaintance wants for it.” he explained, “Go have a look at it tomorrow, the neighbour will give you the key, and let me know by the end of the week what you decide.”
His words drew her out of her shocked paralysis and back into action.
“How much more is the house in Carlton compared to that house?” she asked.
Edward observed her for a moment.
“I’m not sure,” he admitted, “I’d need to have someone appraise it, but given situation and condition, I’d say two thirds if you find a benevolent buyer.” he estimated, “Half more likely.”
Her shoulders sagged, but she didn’t give up.
“Would you buy it?”
Edward Stanley sighed deeply.
“Are you sure that’s what you want?” he asked.
“I don’t want it.” she declared. “I’m incredibly grateful to you, Uncle Edward,” she was quick to assert, “it was a wonderful gift, and I don’t know what we would have done without it.”
Her throat constricted at the thought of just how much she owed her uncle for that gift. She could hardly bring herself to add to that already humungous debt.
"But I don’t want to have it. When Father finds out that I know...” She couldn’t even bring herself to formulate the images crowding her mind at that thought. He’d be furious.
“I can’t be the one who owns it,” she said. “and I need the money to buy something that isn’t tied to them. This is the only asset I have.”
She took a deep breath. “But I could never sell it to someone who would turn them out at the first chance. I know, I’m asking a lot, but would you please buy it?”
Her uncle sighed deeply.
“Let’s get the numbers straight. How much do you have?”
“146 pounds.” she replied instantly.
“So if I do buy the house, you have about 640, but you might want to keep something back to buy furniture and the like, so let’s say 600. Franklin is ready to sell at 1000, so that leaves you with four.”
They proceeded to calculate and recalculate, until the numbers somehow didn’t seem as frightening anymore. In the end, after some serious haggling, they arrived at an agreement that Phryne thought she could live with. It wasn’t nice, she would still be owing more money than she had ever had at any point in her life and she was completely reliant on her uncle for the whole deal to work out, but it did seem suddenly possible and at the rate they had agreed on, she was certain that she could pay the money back in less time than she had initially feared.
The irony was killing him: He had done everything right today, and the result was that everything felt wrong. He had come home on time, Rosie had waited with dinner, fresh and not kept warm this time, and now he wasn't hungry because he had had a late lunch, anticipating that he would be late. When had he ever not been hungry? But he wasn’t and kept pushing his food around his plate, and Rosie would have been blind, deaf and dumb not to notice.
Apart from that, he couldn’t help thinking about the case and the fact that he just couldn’t get people to talk to him, which lead to the people who had talked to him. It made him feel even worse that he was sitting here next to his wife, spurning the rather decent dinner, she had no doubt put some work in and all he could do was think about another woman, because God help him if not every single suspect he had talked to hadn’t been somehow connected to her. He huffed in annoyance.
“Is something wrong with the food?” Rosie asked a little more curtly than he felt he deserved. But of course, she couldn’t know he wasn’t thinking about her or the food at the moment.
“No, it’s good.” he assured her.
“But you’re not hungry?” she said sarcastically.
He had really never been not hungry before, had he? The thought almost disturbed him more than everything else. What was this case doing to him?
“Lunch was late.” he replied tersely, “I didn’t think I’d get out so early.” he added, trying to soften his previous words a little.
“A breakthrough then?” she guessed.
He shook his head and sighed as the frustration threatened to overtake him again.
“More like a brick wall.” he confessed.
She nodded, in understanding or in confirmation of what she had thought, he couldn’t tell.
“Maybe father was right.” she said, “Maybe you’re not ready to take on a case like this on your own.”
When had he said that, Jack wondered. Yesterday she had told him he was proud of him.
“Actually he told me he had full faith in me, this morning.” he couldn't help rubbing her nose in.
He suddenly wanted her to feel as wrong-footed as she had made him feel ever since he had left the station. It wasn’t fair and a part of him acknowledged that, but most of him was sick of always feeling like whatever he did was wrong, and he was sick worrying what she thought, since it was never anything good anyways.
“Oh.” was all she said though, “That’s good, I suppose.”
After dinner they sat in the parlour for a while. He tried playing the piano for a bit, but couldn't seem to find the right keys, his fingers feeling like they had knots in them. So he gave up, picked up a book and went to bed, while she still sat by the lamp bent over her needlework. When she followed him to the bedroom, he pretended to be asleep. In another case of irony, he remained awake for several hours, unable to sleep.
* Cohen, Leonard. 2016. "Steer your way“. You want it darker. Prod. Adam Cohen, Patrick Leonard. Columbia.
I dream of the winter in my heart turning to spring
While the ice gives way under my feet
And so I drown with the sun
Under the rose – HIM *
The next morning Jack came to an uncomfortable decision. The people in Collingwood didn’t talk to him. No one seemed to be willing to share anything with him, or care that he was trying to catch a murderer. No one except one.
He didn't really believe she actually knew much, but she was curious and she might have heard things, knew people; in other words, have access to information he couldn’t get to. And what was more, she seemed willing to at least talk to him, which made her preferable to everyone else he had so far encountered on this case. Maybe he could wiggle something out of her. He would have to play his cards right, and maybe give a little more than was strictly appropriate, but it could be worth his while, if he kept his wits about him.
Those where his considerations, when he arrived at the editorial office of the Argus around eleven. It turned out larger than he had expected and much more busy. Already in the lobby, he was surrounded by people hectically running to and fro, often without much regard for anyone in their way. The building echoed from the clacking of typewriters, ringing telephones and a constant humming of voices. Jack searched in vain for a kind of reception, so he didn’t know what else to do than randomly stop people rushing by and ask for directions.
“I’m looking for Miss Fisher.” he inquired.
Most of the addressed gave him a look of slight annoyance or distrust and a shrug. Only after five or six attempts he found someone whose face showed a sign of recognition:
“That’s one of Hector’s girls, innit?” the man replied. “Second floor.”
The second floor was a little less hectic than the ground, but the noise was almost the same. Unfortunately, his information didn't extend to the exact 'where' on the second floor, but this time it only took one inquiry at the first room he knocked at. to be seni in the right direction.
When he arrived at the door the woman he’d been looking for almost barrelled into him.
“Sergeant,” she sounded surprisingly delighted to see him, “here to see me, I hope.”
“Indeed, Miss Fisher,” he confirmed with a polite smile, “I was hoping I could have a word.”
“You can even have two, Sergeant,” she beamed, “but you’ll have to come with me. I need to get to Carlton and my lunch break is only until one. Give me a lift?”
Before he could answer, she had linked her arm around his and dragged him towards the back stairs.
“So where exactly are we going?” he finally asked, after she had all but manhandled him down the stairs and manoeuvred him into his car.
“Carlton, didn’t I say?” she replied cheerfully.
A little warily he drove off and she occasionally gave him directions while she explained:
“I’ve been offered a house there, but I have to decide within the week and I want to have a look at the place before I make my decision.”
He crooked his head slightly.
“You’re leaving your parent’s house?”
“I might have put the cart before the horse in that case,” she admitted with a shrug, “but I was never one for doing things the ‘right’ way. My way is usually much more fun.”
“So you’ve moved out already?” he concluded. Apparently her idea of fun was more aline with his idea of trouble. Somehow he was not surprised.
“Don’t worry, I’m staying with a friend at the moment, but her landlord doesn’t allow for subtenants, apart from the fact that it’s only a two room flat. I need my own place soon, so here we are.” she said lightly and indeed they were.
She led him around a few more corners and ordered him to park in front of a neat little bungalow. She got out of the car and stood directly in front of it, hands on her hips, to take it in, before she headed to procure a key from the neighbour. Apparently, there had been a previous arrangement and she came back within a few minutes.
“What do you think?” she asked, inspecting the bungalow critically.
“Nice.” he had to admit. “I didn’t think journalism paid that well.”
She sighed. “It doesn’t, I’m afraid. It belongs to a friend of my uncle’s, who has an urgent need to liquidate some of his funds and my uncle has offered to loan me the money for now.”
She groaned. “I’ll be paying him back for the next ten years or so. But the alternative is to resume living with my parents and that’s even less acceptable. This seems like a decent option though. And I doubt I’ll get it much cheaper.” she opened the door and led them inside.
It was indeed a nice little house; Jack stuck with his first assessment. It might even be a little large for a single woman, but then again, she always seemed to fill every room she was in, so maybe she needed the space. She seemed to think similarly judging from the contented grin on her face.
“Oh yes, this will do nicely,” she confirmed his suspicion, “as soon as I work out where to get some decent furniture.”
“There’s a place in Leigh Place, a block away from the Hospital that sells used furniture.” Jack told her.
He remembered all too well the time he had first bought the house for Rosie and himself. He had been shocked at the amounts of money one had to spend on properly furnishing a home.
They kept strolling through the house while they were talking, finally ending up in the kitchen. It was a good kitchen, Jack decided. Empty as it was, filled with the signs of habitation, it would be a comfortable place.
Miss Fisher seemed to think along the same lines, dropping unceremoniously down to the floor. She pulled a tin box out of her handbag that seemed way too large to ever have fitted in it, but appeared to have defied the laws of physics none the less. She put it on the ground in front of her and uncovered the content, brownish mass that didn’t look particularly edible at first glance. The smell, however, identified it quickly as a kind of meatloaf and made Jack’s mouth water. Miss Fisher seemed to notice the hungry look on his face and grinned deviously.
“Have a seat, Sergeant, and we can finally have that word you wanted when you came to my workplace.” she suggested.
With a shrug and an eye roll Jack sat down opposite her on the kitchen floor.
“I would offer to share my lunch, but I’m afraid my cooking isn’t quite what it ought to be.” she said lightly, “Inherited deficiency, I’m afraid.”
He raised an inquiring eyebrow.
“My mother never learned to cook when she was a girl; she only learned to do it when she married Father. 'Learned' being a relative term here. So there wasn’t much she could teach me. Especially since she possesses the rare talent to cook even the simplest dishes in a way that erases any and all flavour, no matter how much seasoning she puts in.”
“And you inherited that talent, as well?” he asked ,almost grinning.
“Thankfully not. At least I hope not. But my abilities are limited to a few dishes and an infinite variety of things in egg.” she grinned back, “Aside from that, I make excellent breakfast.”
He blushed to the roots of his hair at the cheeky smile she threw him.
"I’m sure you do, Miss Fisher," he replied with as much poise as he could muster, “but I’m not here to sample your food.” he reminded both her and himself. It was lunchtime again, and again, he was working instead of eating. And he’d better not think about any other things he hadn’t had in a while. Both definitely came back to haunt him now with vengeance, which was not being helped by the fact that he was alone in an empty house with an attractive young woman who insisted on shamelessly flirting with him. She grinned cheekily at him, as if she had been reading his mind.
“No, you’re here about the case.”
There was an excitement in her voice he couldn’t quite place. She leaned forward a little, looking up at him with wide eyes.
“How about a trade: You tell me what you found out, and I tell you what I found out? I may even share my lunch with you, too. As long as you promise not to arrest me for trying to poison you.” she suggested as the smile on her face almost became a leer.
Jack cleared his throat in an attempt to clear his head.
“And how exactly have you supposedly found things out?” he asked, mostly to gain some time.
It was a game, he recognised that. She was baiting him, but she was also playing, and from what he could see, she did it just for the fun of it. He just needed to decide if he would play along. If he did, he would need a strategy that much was clear: otherwise, she would steamroll him before he even knew what hit him.
“I talked to some people.” she replied almost coyly.
Jack made a choice. He leaned forward a little, too.
“How do I know you know anything worth my time?” he challenged.
The look on her face was pure delight as she volleyed the challenge right back at him.
“You’ll just have to risk it, won’t you, Sergeant.”
Her eyes were sparkling with joy, “Do we have a deal?”
Jack held her gaze for a moment assessing his options, trying not to let himself get too infected with whatever this was she was doing.
“Fine,” he gave in, “you were right, Gallagher was deliberately killed with morphine, not accidentally with a bottle.”
Just because he had agreed to play her game didn't mean he had any intention of making it easy for her. She pulled back, pouting a little.
“That’s hardly oversharing, Sergeant. I already knew that.”
“You suspected it. I’m confirming it.” he corrected her, “And it’s the only thing I know for a fact right now. Your turn. Who have you talked to? Other than Mrs Gallagher and your father?” he specified before she could turn around and turn his own trick against him.
She huffed, but pushed the box in his direction. Jack tried to ignore it, but his stomach betrayed him by growling angrily. She raised an eyebrow and gave the food another nudge, staring at him until he took up a piece of the offering. It was better than she had made him believe, even though he realised quickly that for meatloaf there was surprisingly little actual meat in it, if any at all.
“I haven’t talked to my father. Not really.” she admitted.
He tilted his head in that way she was starting to recognise as typical for him and waited for her to elaborate.
“There’s no use. I don’t think I ever had a serious conversation with my father in all my life. We only start railing at each other. I haven’t talked to him since I moved out. That night you saw me at the tram stop.” she explained.
To her relief he just nodded. Most people she knew would have made a case for the unique relationship between a father and a daughter, and told her that she needed to be more patient, or more lenient, or whatever else an obedient daughter was supposed to be. Sergeant Robinson only nodded, accepting the fact that her relationship with her father was none of his business.
“He didn’t tell me much either.” he admitted.
Phryne huffed. “Didn't think he would.”
He gave her an admonishing look.
“He did however admit to having business dealings with Gallagher. The business partner, Jerry, indicated your father might have owed him money.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me either.” Phryne said, “In fact, that's what I suspected. I just don’t believe he would kill a man over it. I don’t think he ever cared much for money. He was always more interested in the things you could spend it on.”
Again, he nodded. She wondered if he was just humouring her, or if he had truly understood. Not everyone would, it was a subtle difference. Henry didn’t see the value in money, other than in what he was able to buy with it; as a means to an end, not an end in itself. He had never understood the properties larger amounts of money could develop, that it could bring power or freedom simply to possess a lot of money. That was why he was incapable of holding on to it.
“So who have you talked to?” Robinson asked again.
“I talked to Emily Reed at first.” she told him.
“And who is Emily Reed?”
“She’s a widow who lives at the top of the street, above the pawnbroker’s, opposite Ryan’s pub and Coles Variety Store. She is a lovely lady and she’s famous for knowing everything that’s worth knowing in the neighbourhood.” Phryne explained.
The edges of Robinson’s mouth straightened out almost imperceptibly. It was almost as if he was trying to hide a smile.
“You asked the town gossip.” he concluded.
She raised her shoulders innocently.
“You have your sources, I have mine.” she said with a sly grin.
“And what did Mrs Reed tell you?”
“She pointed me towards Miss Caroline Harper, professionally known as Carrie, if you’re in polite society at least. Apparently she was Tomo’s favourite prostitute. So much so, it seems that he had promised her to leave his wife for her.”
“And make her an honest woman?” the Sergeant asked sarcastically.
Phryne couldn’t berate him for it; it did sound too ridiculous for an experienced woman like Carrie Harper to believe, but then again.
“She wouldn’t be the first to be a fool for love.” she pointed out.
The Sergeant harrumphed, but seemed to concede the point.
“Besides,” Miss Fisher added.,“it seems a lot more likely if you believe the rumour that Edie Gallagher was also having an affair. Unfortunately, Mrs Reed didn’t know who with.”
At that, something in Robinson had straightened up.
“Jerry Landis hinted at something similar.” he told her, “He said Tomo was being cheated on by his wife, but it only sounded like a vague suspicion.”
Miss Fisher shrugged “If Emily Reed says it, it’s probably true.” she stated. “It's hard to blame her if he cheated on her with a prostitute that gave him a disease . He probably transferred it to her before she thought to kick him out of her bed.” she commented without a bit of pity.
“I guess one angel in another’s hell:Yet this shall I ne’er know, but live in doubt, Till my bad angel fire my good one out.” Jack muttered under his breath.
Miss Fisher heard him anyway and raised a questioning eyebrow.
“Shakespeare. Sonnet 144.”he explained, “He says that the only way for him to know if his best friend has an affair with his lover is, if he catches a disease from her.” he explained.
Her eyebrow rose a little higher.
“Are you a Shakespeare man, Sergeant?”
“I started reading during the war.” he said, hoping that would be the end of it.
He wasn’t really in the mood to try and explain how those words of beauty, the fun, the joy, the despair and pain in those lines had cut through the bleakness and soullessness of the trenches. One of his mates had had a book of the Sonnets with him. Jack, like most of the other diggers, had poked fun at him in the beginning for putting his nose in a book of love poetry, but he had liked him well enough. Rupert had become a friend who had saved his life more than once and vice versa. Rupert had started to read the poems to him, and when he had got injured and died, Jack had kept the book. In all the death and despair it had offered beauty and feeling, both of which were withering all around and inside of him. The poems became his lifeline, his connection to humanity and sanity, and later, when the hell of war was behind him, a gateway to more. He had tried to explain it to Rosie once, when she had remarked on his new hobby and the growing collection of books in their house. She had listened and smiled politely, but it was an empty smile that hid worry rather than expressed understanding. She couldn’t believe that the need to escape the real world could help maintain one’s sanity rather than undermine it. But if he couldn’t make his wife understand, how could he explain it to a perfect stranger?
So he was completely taken by surprise when she nodded.
"I discovered art." she said, "When they dumped us all in Paris, after it was over, I befriended an artist who took me to a vernissage and it was like I had walked through hell, to come out at the other side and saw the sky for the first time."
She smiled as she relived that moment. He could only too well imagine it. He himself appreciated beauty differently now than he had before.
"You were in France?" he asked tentatively.
She had brought it up, but he knew all too well how devastating it could be to talk about it. She nodded again and returned to the present.
"Ambulance driver, two years." was all she said.
It was all she needed to say.
"I wish I had the money to buy some art and hang it here." she sighed, "You have it easier, books are cheaper."
"That depends on the amounts of books you’re buying." he pointed out, glad she had pulled the conversation away from the deep murky swamps of dark memories. "My wife has reminded me on occasion that we can’t eat paper."
Miss Fisher laughed heartedly.
"Clearly she’s never eaten my mother’s cooking. Paper could not make it any less bland."
"Shouldn’t a journalist be more protective of the printed word?" he teased.
"I didn’t say you should eat your books, only that you could." she defended herself.
"So what you were thinking is that we could find out her lover by trying to find out who she gave the clap to? Sounds a little hard to put in practice." she returned to the case, leaving the shadows of the past and the present behind.
He had to agree.
"Probably. Especially since God knows how many people in Melbourne have that disease. It was just a thought. Sometimes quotes just seem to fit so perfectly."
Her smile was almost embarrassingly indulgent. Then suddenly it dropped and her eyes widened.
“If he has given her the clap, how do you think she would have treated it?” she asked, beaming with excitement now.
Jack caught on immediately. “Probably using morphine.”
He couldn’t hide the excitement rushing through his veins at the realisation either.
* Valo, Ville. 2005. "Under the Rose“. Dark Light. Prod. Tim Palmer. Sire.
The hospital Jack refers to is real: Epworth Hospital, today Epworth HealthCare opened in 1920 in Richmond as a 25-bed community hospital. Within 5 months they needed to expand, due to the high demand.
Today EHC is Victoria’s largest private non-profit hospital group. The Richmond division (one of four by now) has over 700 beds and the emergency department treats over 28000 patients a year.
Coles Variety Store opened in 1914 on Smith Street, Collingwood. Today Coles Supermarkets is one of the largest supermarket chains in Australia.
It’s a mystery to me
The game commences
You get to meet all sorts
In this line of work
Treachery and treason,
There’s always an excuse for it
And when I find the reason
I still can’t get used to it
Private Investigations – Dire Straits *
“Of course I’m coming with you. How do you expect to even get close to Carrie without me?” Miss Fisher insisted.
She was keeping just half a step behind Jack as he strode out, aiming to leave her behind.
“I can always arrest her.” he pointed out.
“Which is exactly what she'll be afraid of, so she won’t let even you see her if she can help it. No one in Collingwood will tell you a thing while you’re wearing that uniform,” she countered, “as fetching as it does look on you.”
He just gave her a withering look and continued trying to shake her off, even though he knew deep in his heart that it wasn’t going to happen.
“And what are you going to do? Lend me your hat?” he scoffed.
He knew she was right, but he had no intention of ever admitting that to her face.
“That hat cost me a whole pound, Sergeant!” she exclaimed, pretending to be shocked, but Jack could see the telltale signs in her eyes that she was enjoying this conversation way too much.
“I thought I could approach her and bring her to you. Since I don’t suppose you’d let me interview her alone.” She fluttered her eyelashes coyly at him.
“You’re right,” he agreed, “I won’t.”
She rolled her eyes at him.
“How are you planning to lure her in?” he asked ignoring her reaction.
“I can talk to her.” she replied vaguely.
He tilted his head, his face clearly proclaiming his scepticism.
“She might do couples.” she admitted.
Phryne thoroughly enjoyed the expression on the Sergeant's face after that suggestion. His jaw did go slack, but only for a moment, before he closed his eyes in exasperation. He clenched his teeth, but his mouth twitched with what she thought could be suppressed amusement. She had to admit not the reaction she had expected from someone who seemed so overly proper. But then again, he had come to look at houses with her without hesitation, which she suspected her aunt wouldn’t consider proper either. To her own surprise, she found she genuinely started to enjoy spending time with this man.
“No,” he said emphatically, cutting through her musings, “absolutely not.”
This woman was going to be the death of him. Jack had no illusions that she was way too clever for her own good, but this! Was that what all girls from Collingwood were like? To just suggest approaching a prostitute with an indecent proposal to lure her into talking to you as if it wasn't the most outrageous thing? He knew he should have been shocked, or at the very least be appalled, but he was seriously fighting the urge to chuckle. She had to know his reaction to her proposal. She had to know that he couldn’t condone her propositioning a prostitute. He’d have to arrest himself for soliciting. And yet she hadn’t hesitated to be so brazen towards him.
“What happened to having to be back at the Argus at one anyway?” he tried to save himself.
“I can’t be off on my personal business, but this is practically research. I’m still working on a story.” she said lightly.
He only raised a sceptical eyebrow at her. She made a particularly innocent face which he didn’t believe for a second.
“That would be the other option I see. I could talk to her as a journalist.” she offered.
“Or you could simply distract her so I can get close enough and she can’t run away.” he suggested.
“She still won’t talk to you.” she pointed out.
“Which takes us back to 'I can arrest her'.” he persisted.
“You don’t really expect me to help you arrest a poor girl for trying to make a living?” she said with a look on her face that told him she was very serious about this.
“I don’t rat on people.” she clarified just in case.
“So I don’t arrest her,” he acquiesced, “but I need her to talk to me. You can help with that. Without soliciting her.” he added.
She sighed overly dramatically.
“You’re no fun.” she told him in a voice that hinted that she might be persuaded of the opposite.
In the end, she agreed. She knew where to find the girl, not yet at work as it turned out, which made the not arresting part a lot easier.
Caroline Harper looked very similar to what Jack had always imagined Doll Tearsheet to look like, without ever having seen a production of Henry IV. She was skinny, blond and blue-eyed, and might have been pretty, once a long lifetime ago. As it was, her hair was felted, her skin pasty and she was missing a few too many teeth. She was probably not thirty yet, but Jack would have been willing to bet she wouldn’t live another decade, without knowing exactly what prompted that assessment. She wasn’t wearing any make-up yet, nor proper clothes and was standing at the back door of yet another Collingwood hatbox that paraded as a house, wrapped in a flimsy dressing gown, smoking, when Miss Fisher approached her. He couldn’t hear what she said to the woman, but apparently it was enough to distract her, so he could all but sneak up on her. He assumed that the only place she would flee towards in that state would be the house. So he placed himself so that she had to pass him if she were headed that direction, before he made his presence known to her.
“Sergeant Robinson. I would like to talk to you about Tomo Gallagher, if you don’t mind, Miss Harper.” he introduced himself, trying to sound the least threatening he could.
If Miss Fisher was right, this woman could be an important witness and it was essential that she talked to him. But a woman like her was likely to have had bad experiences with police. He was right as it turned out immediately.
“I ain't tellin' you nothin', rozzer. You’ll 'ave to arrest me first.” she sneered defiantly, before he could even take another breath.
Underneath her bravado, however, Jack could sense uncertainty. Her eyes darted frantically between him and Miss Fisher. The comparison to a trapped animal suggested itself.
“I’m not going to arrest you, Miss Harper.” he tried to assure her.
Almost involuntary his eye flickered to Miss Fisher. He had said he wouldn’t arrest the other woman, so he wouldn’t, while he had a choice. He was a man of his word after all. The way she looked at him was strange though. Her eyes were wide open and boring into him with an intensity that surprised him. It was almost as if she was trying to communicate something to him, as if she was willing him to understand something. Unfortunately he had no idea what.
“After all you haven’t done anything, have you?” he added lightly, shaking off her strange look and focusing on his witness again.
That way he missed Phryne’s exaggerated eye roll.
“'e’s right, luv,” she said in her broadest Collingwood accent, “even the coppers can’t arrest you for takin' a puff. Not unless you attack 'im.”
“I only want to figure out what happened to Tomo.” Jack tried again.
He wasn’t quite sure what happened or why, but the next thing he knew Carrie was pushing and hammering at his chest, screaming into his face.
“I ain't tellin' you anything, you dirty, rotten coppa!”
Jack stumbled backwards suddenly feeling a pull on his shoulders that nearly made him fall on his backside. Someone, Miss Fisher, as it turned out, had grabbed his shoulders and judging by the weight of it, she had jumped on his back.
Before Jack could even comprehend what was going on, as he was still struggling to stay upright, she whispered in his ear:
“Play along and arrest us. We need to get her out of here.” and finally, the penny dropped.
Jack came roaring to life, pushed her hands off his shoulder, forcing her to get off his back. As soon as Miss Fisher’s weight wasn’t threatening to fell him anymore, it took him about five seconds to subdue the woman in front of him, who was still banging rather inefficiently on his chest. He grabbed her hands and pulled them behind her back, where he secured them with his handcuffs.
“That’s it.” he ground out audibly, just in case someone was listening, “You’re coming with me.”
With his now free hand, he anticipated Miss Fisher’s next attack and grabbed her wrist, strong enough to stop her from struggling, but careful not to hurt her as he pulled her off balance.
“You, too.” he declared, glaring at her.
“What was that?” he hissed, as soon as he had both women safely in his police car. He put in the gear and pulled off maybe a little more briskly than was strictly necessary.
“Well, you weren’t picking up any hints, so we needed to improvise.” Miss Fisher explained innocently.
“And you had to become a literal monkey on my back?” he growled.
Objectively speaking, she might have been right. She had seen an opportunity and made the best of the situation but his neck and shoulders were hurting now, which didn’t incline him to be fair at the moment. Their sudden change in tactic had taken him by surprise, and he could have ended up seriously hurt, or worse could have hurt one of them.
“Oh, come on,” Miss Fisher exclaimed, “I’ve been helping. I’ve only ever been helping.”
“Meddling in police business, tampering with witnesses, withholding information and assaulting an officer.” he listed angrily. “I’ll be feeling your help for the next three days.”
“Oh, you poor old man.” she sneered. “D’ya need me to kiss it bedda?”
Her voice was dripping with sarcasm, and in her anger her accent came back to the forefront.
“I need you to not attack me. Especially not after recruiting someone to help you.”
He brought the car to a halt and pulled Carrie, who had sat quietly in the backseat during the ride, out and led her into the police station. Miss Fisher followed hot on his heels.
“You coulda paid attention then.” she accused him.
“I’m not yet a mind reader, Miss Fisher.” he declared icily, shoving the prostitute towards the interview room.
“Well, what were we supposed to do?” she demanded.
Stopping dead in his tracks, Jack pivoted around to face her.
“Miss Harper could have pretended to proposition me, for example,” he suggested, “that would have given her the opportunity to get close enough to whisper in my ear, and me a reason to arrest her.”
The two women exchanged a look.
“I s’pose that coulda worked, too.” Carrie admitted a little sheepishly.
“Right. Well. I didn’t think of that.” Miss Fisher sputtered so indignantly that it was almost comical.
Despite himself, Jack felt his anger dissipate in the urge to laugh. He let out an exasperated sigh.
“I won’t tell you to remember it next time, because there won’t be a next time.” he stated, sternly but no longer angry.
He turned back to Miss Harper and continued guiding her to the interview room. When he reached the corridor, he had to turn back again.
“Where do you think you’re going, Miss Fisher?”
She looked up at him with that innocent look that he had at this point seen more often than he cared to remember.
“Supporting Miss Harper in her interview.” she said, her voice pitching just a tad too high.
“No, you’re not.” he informed her politely, but leaving no room for negotiations.
“Sergeant! You wouldn’t even have her to interview without me.” she protested.
He couldn’t completely deny that. He was sure he would have managed to get to Carrie Harper on his own somehow, but he had no idea how. And that was given he would have found out about her existence. But he really needed to get back in control of this, his investigation.
“Be that as it may, Miss Fisher, this is still a police investigation, not a public entertainment, and you’re a civilian.” he explained, still politely yet firmly.
He turned to Constable Evans, who had been watching from behind the counter, trying not to snicker.
"Constable, please keep Miss Fisher company while I interview Miss Harper." he ordered.
The woman in question shot him an angry look.
"Fine." she declared haughtily.
She grabbed a piece of paper from the desk next to her and scribbled something on it. Then she put the note in Carrie Harper’s hand.
“If you ever need anything, come there and find me.” she told her. “A friend of mine is a doctor. She can sort you out, too.”
She levelled a last glare at Jack.
"No point in me sticking around then. I’ll see you at Edie’s, Sergeant." she said breezily and spun around on her heels.
"Unless of course I’ve got the case solved by the time you show up." she added and marched out the door.
Jack rolled his eyes but let out a deep breath. He had no doubt that he would encounter her again when he went to interview Mrs Gallagher but for now he was glad for the respite.
He wasn’t quite sure why she riled him up like that. Yes, he had been slightly overrun by her ruse and jumping him had definitely been a step too far. But sometimes desperate times demanded desperate measures. She wouldn’t be the first who couldn’t think about the most obvious in the heat of the moment. And more than anything, it had worked and no one had seriously gotten hurt or had ever been in danger. If Evans had come up with that idea, he’d recommend him for his quick thinking. If he was perfectly honest with himself, he had even enjoyed himself this afternoon. She continued to impress and surprise him. Even in the midst of a fight with a policeman, she had thought about extending a kind gesture to Miss Harper. Her confession that she had been in France, over her lunch, which she had shared with him, had nearly knocked the wind out of him. A part of him secretly hoped that he would see her again later.
And there was the rub. She was at best a witness, at worst a suspect and a damned distraction in any case. He was on a clock with this case and yet he had spent the better part of this day, for lack of a better word, gallivanting around with this woman, the daughter of a man whom he might still have to arrest for murder. And her father was a clever man. There was a distinct possibility that she was going through all this trouble just to make sure Henry Fisher didn’t end up in gaol. He couldn’t trust her and yet a large part of him wanted to. Wanted it way too much.
He shook his musings off and returned to the task at hand. He had finally taken Miss Harper to the interview room and offered her a seat.
“Thank you for coming in, Miss Harper.” he said taking the other chair.
“D'you really wanna find the bastard that killed Tomo?” she asked a little suspiciously.
“Then I’ll help you.” she declared.
She startled him a little with that bold declaration. Was he really already so used to people refusing to cooperate? No, it was more the fact that this woman had apparently decided to trust him despite the fact that he was a police officer. And then Jack realised that she trusted him because Miss Fisher had trusted him. Had trusted him to not be like all the other corrupt officers both those women had known all their lives. Trusted that he was someone actually looking for the truth, trusting him not to arrest them just because he could, trusting him to be better. At some point, she had decided he was worthy of that trust and he couldn’t help wondering if he had lost it now.
It angered him that it was necessary for him to have gained that trust, a trust that he would do his job properly. It wasn’t anger directed at her but at his fellow officers, who had gotten their uniform into such disrepute that policemen inspired fear rather than reassurance.
He wondered at himself. He hadn’t been bothered by that in years. He had never liked it, but he had accepted it as the way things were, as something that had to be expected. But right now, looking at the woman in front of him, a woman who wanted to know who had killed the man she had apparently loved, he was suddenly furious.
“I’d appreciate that.” he said. “And I promise, I’ll do what I can to find them.”
“Who would have had a reason to kill Tomo?” Jack started.
She gave him a look.
“Tomo wasn’t no saint.” she confirmed the obvious.
“So there were a few?” Jack noted. “People who owed him money, for example?” he suggested.
“Makes no sense killing ’im over it though. Not when you’re leaving Jerry alive to collect.”
“Jerry was Tomo’s business partner.”
It was a statement rather than a question assuring Carrie that Jack knew that for a fact, rather than asking for her confirmation.
“If that’s whacha wanna call it.” she agreed.
“Was there any tension between them?” he asked.
“They hated each other’s guts.” Carrie asserted. “Tomo was good with numbers. Jerry can’t ’ardly put two an’ two together, but ’e’s good wi’ people. ‘specialy when they decided not paying might be a nice idea. They worked good together, but Jerry was jealous of Tomo, and Tomo was scared of Jerry.”
Jack nodded to signal that he understood.
“They were having a row recently. Do you know what about?”
“Them was always quarrelin' over somethin', bu' last week Tomo told me 'e’d send Jerry packing for good. ’e didn‘ say why, only called ’im a cheatin' bastard with a monkey’s brain.”
Another point of interest on a growing list of things that Jack suspected he wouldn’t get answers to.
“Did you know Tomo regularly took morphine?”
Carrie nodded. “Yeah, I told 'im to, for the pain. ’e’s been whingin’ for weeks.”
Jack decided not to dive into the medical history of his victim. Clearly they both knew what the source of ‘the pain’ had been.
“Any idea where he got it from?”
She shrugged. “In’t hard. There’s a couple o' folks that can get it for you.”
An evasive answer. Clearly she was still mindful she was talking to a policeman and worried her own source might dry up if she told him too much.
“What about his wife?”
Originally Jack had intended to add more to that question, but the snide expression that fluttered over her face the moment he mentioned Mrs Gallagher made him leave it open. Carrie rolled her eyes.
“Frigid cow with 'er scrubbing all the time. The whole house stinks of 'er tinctures. All ’is clothes did, too. ’e wanted to leave ’er, you know. Be wi’ me. She’s only givin' ’im grief ’bout everythin'. Cheatin' on ’im she was, too. ’e knew though an' ’e’s gonna divorce ’er abou' it.”
She sounded as smug about it as if it was her personal achievement. All things considered, Jack thought it might have been.
“You wouldn’t know who she was having andaffair with?” he asked.
Carrie deflated slightly. “Nah. She’s careful. Mrs Reed might know,” she offered, “maybe the neighbours.”
All in all, Jack was quite pleased with this interview. He still hadn’t gotten closer to the murderer, as far as he could tell, but it felt unspeakably good to have finally found someone, who was willing to talk to him and answer, at least the majority of his questions. That Carrie still refused to give them the name of her dealer was unfortunate, but he hadn’t really expected it. He let the girl go, even offered to drive her back to Collingwood, which she refused as too risky. So Jack merely accompanied her to the station door and thanked her once more for her co-operation. Inside of course.
As soon as the prostitute had left, he turned to Constable Evans, who was still manning the front desk. He hesitated a moment. Neither George nor Jenkins had explicitly forbidden him from involving other officers in his investigation, but the term 'understaffed’ had hovered over every meeting. But then again he couldn’t really be expected to do all the legwork while he was on a clock and Evans stood here, twiddling his thumbs.
“Constable, I need your help.” he decided. “I need you to find out if there are any reports in the local hospitals about missing supplies, especially morphine. If there aren’t I need you to call them and have them check. I also need you to find out everything you can about a Gerald Landis, commonly known as Jerry. I already have his file, but I need anything and everything you might find in regards to business partners, victims, anything really.” he ordered. About halfway through ,Evans had pulled out a notebook and took notes of his orders.
“Not a problem, Sir.” he confirmed.
Internally Jack sighed with relief. He knew one or two constables who might have put up a fuss, but Evans, young and inexperienced as he was, was a nice bloke who’d do anything for anyone.
“Thank you.” he said genuinely. “I have to go interview the widow again, I should be back in a few hours.”
Evans nodded and started on the tasks he had been set upon immediately.
* Knopfler, Mark. 1982. "Private Investigations“. Love Over Gold. Prod. Mark Knopfler. Vertigo.
Doll Tearsheet is a prostitute from Henry IV part 2
Two people were married
the act was outrageous
the bride was contagious
she burned like a bride
these events may have had some effect
on the man with the girl by his side
the arc of a love affair
Hearts and bones – Paul Simon *
Phryne was seething. Damned copper; couldn’t trust that lot further than you could throw them. Not that she ever had. Of course not. She wasn’t stupid, was she? You never trusted a rozzer. She had been wooing him for information, flirted a little, steamrolled him a little more. So what if it had been fun, that’s what it was supposed to be. Maybe she had liked him, a little, maybe she had enjoyed his company. There was nothing wrong with enjoying a man’s attention. He had been polite and kind, and they had worked together nicely, there really was no reason for him to snap at her like that. She had secured him a witness after all.
He was a civilised one, that’s how he had wiggled his way behind her defences, that was it. He hadn’t looked down on her for being a woman, or a girl from Collingwood. Not even for her father. She didn’t know many men and even fewer cops who didn’t . And he wasn’t puffed up about being an official. So many of them got off on the idea of being in a position of authority, having power over other people. Not a trait limited to coppers, either. The mere thought made her want to scratch someone’s eyes out. But he hadn’t seemed like that. He seemed to have been aware that his position was more of a hindrance than an advantage in this investigation. He had never made a show of being a policeman.
Not until they were back at the bloody station. Damned men, behaving one way when you had them alone but turning around and donning a different mask in public when they had to prove something to their mates. She cursed to herself. Stupid, stupid, stupid her for falling for that shtick again. Never, never assume a man’s public face is the same as he is in private, no matter which one is the nice one, there’s always an ugly one, too, she reminded herself.
Well, no matter now. She’d get her chance with Carrie, and would probably get more out of her than him, too. Even if she wanted her lover’s murderer caught, a woman like Carrie would never fully trust a policeman, no matter how civilised. He would get what he would get, and then she’d have her chance. Hopefully the girl would take her up on her offer to help her. It was likely that she was the source of Tomo’s infection, which meant she needed treatment. Phryne sighed. She should have sent her to Mac straight away. There was nothing she could do about it now; only hope that Carrie was clever enough to take the chance. And in the meantime, she had a plan for getting the upper hand on Edie.
It was bugging her that, while everyone seemed to know that Edie was having an affair, no one seemed to know who with. How likely was that? The only way to know someone was seeing someone was by observing the signs in their house or clothing, which seemed unlikely given Edie’s obsession with cleaning. The other way was by seeing them together, which was more likely anyways. Therefore logic dictated that someone must have seen the mystery man, and Phryne was determined to find that person.
The process of elimination led her to the house across the street, inhabited by Mr and Mrs Vincent. Mr Vincent worked at the cobbler’s three blocks down, so they could afford for Mrs Vincent to stay at home. A housewife with a window facing the street and no children to distract her. And she was a good friend of Emily Reeds. Without hesitation, Phryne knocked on her door.
Jack had a strange sense of déjà vu upon entering Mrs Gallagher’s kitchen. Just like the last time, it was him, the widow and, as expected, Miss Fisher. And just like last time. there was tea, the overwhelming smell of ammonia and the strange sense that no one, other than Miss Fisher perhaps, was entirely sure who was on whose side.
Mrs Gallagher seemed a little more composed than the last time, and a little more guarded. Miss Fisher appeared just as sociable and chatty as the last time, but Jack didn’t miss that this time, her smile didn’t reach her eyes . He tried not to get distracted by it.
“I’m afraid there are a few more things I need to ask you that have come up during the investigation, Mrs Gallagher.” he began.
She nodded mutely.
“I’ve talked to Mr Landis and Miss Harper; both indicate that you and your husband were having marital difficulties.” He tried to phrase it as delicately as he could.
Edie Gallagher snorted.
“Gossip from the thug an' the whore.” she said dismissively. “I already told ya, I wasn’t ’avin' ’im near me what with the clap she gave ’im. ’e's all ’ers.”
“Miss Harper indicated that Tomo considered leaving you for her.” Jack stated carefully.
Another snort answered him.
“In ’er dreams. Tomo was a bastard, but ’e weren’t stupid.”
“He might have been in love.” Phryne hinted.
Edie gave her an almost pitying look.
“You’ve grown up around ’ere,” she reminded her, “you know what ’appens to love.”
For a moment, Jack thought he’d seen her flinch. Just a tiny tightening around the eyes, a twitch of the mouth. But it was gone before he could be sure he’d seen it.
“Don’t mean people don’t try.” she said.
“'e never said anythin' to me abou' it.” she said defiantly.
“What about you, Mrs Gallagher?” Jack asked, “Did you ever consider leaving him? For another man maybe?”
“I would never.” she spat.
Jack didn’t move.
“But there was another man?” Miss Fisher surmised gently.
Edie straightened her back and glared at her.
“I don’t know what kinda woman ya think I am,” she started indignantly, “and I don’t care what that cheatin' bastard Jerry says about me, but ’e might wanna start sweepin' in front of ’is own bloody door.”
Jack let her tirade wash over him and noted the two important bits of information: she confirmed that Jerry had been trying to cheat Tomo despite having told them she knew nothing of her husband’s business dealings. And she was deflecting.
He waited until the woman had done and had caught her breath, before he opened his mouth to ask the next question. He never got that far.
“What about Roy?” Miss Fisher threw in.
Jack’s head jerked up. That name rang a faint bell, but he couldn’t place it for the moment. Mrs Gallagher however didn’t seem to have any such troubles. Her face twitched in a very telling way.
“He’s come over quite a few times, hasn’t he?” Phryne continued innocently.
“'e's a neighbour.” Edie said, sounding anything but convincing. She seemed to notice it, too. She took a deep breath and leaned forward a little.
“Y'know, I think 'e migha been involved in some business with me 'usband.” she said conspiratorially.
Miss Fisher nodded understandingly.
“Strange though that he almost only came over when Tomo was out.” she observed, still in that innocent tone that, as Jack by now recognised, signified the exact opposite of what it indicated.
Mrs Gallagher shifted a little in her seat.
“So maybe ’e’s got bad timin'. Don’t mean anythin'.” she insisted stubbornly.
“You know, I wouldn’t blame you,” Miss Fisher said conversationally, “Tomo's been unfaithful to you, with a prostitute no less, catches the clap... It was very smart of you not to let him touch you.” she praised.
“And since he’s been cheating on you, why should you keep the faith? What’s sauce for the gander... Why should men get all the fun?” she declared.
Mrs Gallagher gave her a look, like she wasn’t sure if she wanted to hug her or throw her out of the house.
“It ain’t like that.” she finally said. “Roy’s good to me. ’e cares ’bout me. Tomo hasn’t, not since the war.”
Jack tried very hard not to suck in his breath. He just listened, doing his best to keep a neutral face and an equally neutral state of mind. This wasn’t about him and Rosie, he reminded himself. He had never cheated on her and to his knowledge she hadn’t either. But the resemblance was eerie. Tomo had come back a changed man, a man who suddenly cared only about his business, making money was all he had in mind. The distance between the spouses had grown and when he had started seeing other women, the last connection they had had, had been severed. Enter a charming young man, who came to the house every now and then to see the husband, until one day he came to see the wife.
Mrs Gallagher told the story coolly, without much emotion or any romantic embellishment. But she refused to give her lover up to the police. At least, Jack thought it was rather unlikely that his first name was truly all she knew about him. But then again she seemed to truly believe what she had said about love earlier and apparently she had had no intention of planning a life with this Roy.
“I wouldna killed Tomo” she stated. “It wouldna changed anything. Roy’s a good lad, but I’d be a right idiot to marry ’im. And I made an oath when I married Tomo. I’m not the best wife a man could ’ave, but I’ve given me word and that means somethin' to me. ’e’s a right old bastard, but ’e was my old bastard.” she said, sounding surprisingly contrite.
On the other side of the river, Rosie was taking tea at a friend’s house. She knew Jack would be late tonight again, so she tucked in generously. For the moment, she didn’t care, if it looked like she wasn’t getting enough to eat at home. Tea at Lorraine Worthington’s was just the distraction she needed at the moment.
Lorraine was an old friend of Rosie’s, their families closely connected. Lorraine’s brother Sydney was her father’s godson, and the two girls had been friends since their early school days. It was one of the last connections Rosie still held to her old life before she had married Jack and most of her acquaintances had become the wives of other policemen. Lorraine had never looked down on her for her marriage, even though she herself had made a match befitting her station, her husband being heir to one of the most influential families in Melbourne. For that, Rosie was profoundly grateful. They didn’t see each other quite as often as she would have liked, so she enjoyed the outings all the more when they came around.
Today, of course, all conversation surrounded Kathy Clyde. Kathy was a friend of Lorraine’s, a war widow, slightly younger than Rosie, and member of at least three highly important boards. She was also very much in love with a highly inappropriate gentleman who taught evening classes. For secretaries, no less.
“Well, there are worse ways to make an honest living.” Lorraine commented dryly.
“But darling, you’re so not in the same sphere.” Mrs Higgins exclaimed. “He’ll pull you down to his level and you’ll be bored to death in no time. Nothing good ever comes from unsuitable matches.” she declared with conviction.
“Rosie never regretted it, did you?” Kathy turned to her in hopes for support.
To her own embarrassment, Rosie didn't know what to say. It suddenly occurred to her that that was a question she had never considered asking herself. Regret had never been a word she’d associated with her marriage, no matter how desperate it felt sometimes. Did she regret marrying Jack?
She realised that she had been silent for too long; so she hastily put on a fake smile and said something non-committal. But the thought wouldn’t leave her alone for the rest of the afternoon. Did she regret it? She had often considered what her life might have turned out like if it hadn’t been for that dreadful war but a life in which she hadn’t married Jack had not ever occurred to her so far. She had met Jack so young, had fallen in love with him so fast that there had never been another option offered. She had been married before her parents could even suggest anyone they considered more suitable.
They hadn’t been too thrilled at the idea at first, of course, but her father had always liked Jack and had seen great potential in him, so he had given in rather quickly and her mother had followed suit. Rosie suspected that the idea of forming his son-in-law after his own image had appealed to her father. The old story of a man who didn’t have a son of his own. And being in the police force himself, he couldn’t much argue against the profession. So Rosie had never really thought about marrying anyone other than Jack.
But now she considered the option. Would her parents have found her a suitable match, one of Lorraine’s brothers perhaps, or maybe even Charlie Worthington himself? She let herself imagine the life she would have lived as Mrs Worthington. This would have been her tea party to host, her guests to coddle. There wouldn’t be any police wives' gatherings, no station functions or Christmas celebrations at Valma Jenkins' house. There would be charity soirees, dinner parties and the Fletcher’s annual Christmas extravaganza. But I wouldn’t have loved him, a little rebellious voice in her mind cried out. Not like I loved Jack.
And there it was, suddenly as if she had never seen it before. I loved Jack. And she had. She had loved the man she had married but she hadn’t seen that man in over eight years. Try as she might, she couldn’t bring herself to feel anything akin to love for the man who she was currently sharing a house with. A house, not even a marriage bed, she noticed, thinking back at the last nights and the three months before that. And all she could feel about that was relief. No, she didn’t regret having married Jack then, but she regretted being married to him now.
The realisation shocked her. The thought had grazed her mind at times but she had never allowed herself to truly think that she was married to a stranger, and to one she didn't want to get to know. In theory, she shared her life with a man, but in reality, she hadn’t actually talked to him in months. She didn’t know why he had joined the strike, she didn’t know which of the hundreds of books that clogged their home now was his favourite and why, and the worst thing was that she couldn’t truly bring herself to care. She was his wife; when he didn’t come home on time she worried but it was more out of habit than anything else. She cooked his meals, kept his house and lay in his bed, but when he touched her, she recoiled as she would with a stranger. When they ate they talked about the weather, if at all, and when he had worked the nightshift, she had been glad that it had limited their interactions to notes on the kitchen table in the morning and short meetings in the evening.
For the first time, Rosie realised that her marriage was nothing more than a shell and she didn't know what to do with that realisation. Her marriage to Jack had been a defining factor in her life even before they had actually been married. On the list of attributes she connected with herself, with who she was, Jack Robinson’s wife was high up, even before George and Patty Sanderson’s daughter, albeit close. She had been Mrs Robinson only a few years shorter than she had been Miss Sanderson, more than a third of her life. She wasn’t quite sure what would be left of her if that part was gone and yet in all but name it already was.
She returned home early, excusing herself from her friend with a bad headache. It wasn’t even a lie, her head was throbbing with the implications of that epiphany and with the tears she had refused to shed in public that pressed more and more insistently against the back of her eyes.
“So, are you going to brag about how you found out about Roy?” the Sergeant asked, when they were back on the street.
He didn’t look at Phryne but skimmed through his notebook, clearly looking for something.
“I spoke to the neighbours, naturally.” she replied haughtily.
His jaw clenched for a second before he nodded curtly.
“Tried that?” she asked innocently, noting with satisfaction that she could make him do it again.
“I do know how to do my job, Miss Fisher.” he pointed out through gritted teeth.
“Too bad being a copper won’t do you any good here.” she gloated.
He didn’t dignify the remark with a reply. Instead, he seemed to find what he had been looking for. His eyes found something in the hieroglyphs on the paper and widened in satisfaction. He snapped the book shut and tucked it away again.
“And yet again I have to thank you for your help, Miss Fisher.” he said stiffly and tipped his hat to her.
“Where are you going?” she asked, surprised when he determinedly walked away.
“I have another witness to interview, Miss Fisher.” he replied without turning back.
Her eyes widened.
“You know who Roy is.” she deduced as she hastened after him. “How?”
He stopped when she skidded to his side.
“Contrary to what you may think, Miss Fisher, I am not entirely dependent on your help.” he stated.
“You’ve already talked to him before.” she guessed.
He tilted his head in acquiescence.
“Who is he?”
His face gave away nothing, not even the slightest hint of the smugness she knew he felt.
“I’m sure you can work it out. Good day, Miss Fisher.”
With that he started walking away again.
She did not give him the satisfaction to groan in annoyance. Even though her entire body demanded that she should. Instead, she plastered a bright smile on her face and warbled a cheerful “G’day Sergeant.” after him.
Of course she could work it out. She had been two steps ahead of him the entire investigation; she wasn’t going to lose her ground now that things started to get interesting.
She waited until he had a decent head start before she stealthily decided on a parallel course so he wouldn’t notice her following him. This was her home turf after all, how hard could it be to discreetly keep a trail on a policeman around here?
* Simon, Paul. 1983. “Hearts and Bones“. Hearts and Bones. Prod. Roy Halee, Paul Simon, Russ Titelman, Lenny Warnonker. Warner Bros.
For those who wondered if Rosie had any friends ;-) Lorraine is Sydney Fletcher's sister. Based on Aunt P's statement that Sydney is „their eldest“ I assumed he has siblings.
I don’t belong to you and you don‘t belong to me
But I don’t think we need to cause it’s just so easy.
I got lucky when you said sorry
And I couldn’t stop now
If I knew how
Lover/Soldier – Washington *
She had let him go without much protest. He had not expected her to give in so easily and a part of Jack was inherently suspicious of that fact. He kept looking over his shoulder, expecting to see her follow him and listening out for the sound of her heels on the cobble stones. But he couldn’t detect her anywhere near, so he tried to tell himself that maybe she had given up. She probably had other sources she could tap into to figure out who Roy was. If he was perfectly honest, he didn’t really have a lead, it was after all not the most unique of names. But his experience had taught him that there was no such thing as coincidence and his gut told him that he was right. For the first time in this investigation, he had the feeling he was getting somewhere, and it was lightening his step and making him hurry through the streets towards Fitzroy.
He hadn’t taken the car this time, he only had done so in the morning because he had gone to see Miss Fisher in Melbourne proper. On his return to Collingwood, he had opted to take the tram. He hadn’t wanted to risk anything happening to the car while he was inside the house. People around here might be wary of the police, but they had very little respect for police property.
The result was that he was yet again crossing Collingwood on foot, and even while he was turning the facts of the case and Miss Fisher's constant meddling over in his mind, his war-trained senses remained vigilantly on the lookout for pickpockets and muggers.
As he walked, he let what he knew run through his head. He had gotten the medical details from Dr Johnson in the autopsy report. The morphine would have taken ten, maybe twenty minutes to take effect. So it was to be assumed that someone had injected him with it while he had been in the pub. That almost certainly excluded the wife. Jack had no illusions to the point that an illegal bar would give much on the rule of keeping women from the main service area, but he supposed that it would still have raised some eyebrows if Edie Gallagher had showed up there. She didn’t seem like the type to frequent public houses, legal or not. And while people didn’t talk to him, he had a feeling that if she had been there, someone might have mentioned it, Jerry not the least of them since there was clearly no love lost between those two.
But if Jack was right about his suspicion about Roy, it might not have been necessary for Edie to be in the pub herself. Jerry himself on the other hand was definitely still in the race. He had admitted to being there and now he had a motive, too. The only thing that kept Jack from arresting the thug straight away was the sense that Jerry probably wasn’t the poisoning type. If Tomo had been shot or stabbed, there wouldn't have been a doubt in Jack’s mind, but Jerry didn’t seem subtle enough for a sneaky injection.
He knew he was in trouble the moment he turned the corner. The street was small and empty, a back lane, dirty even for Collingwood standards. He hadn’t thought much about where he was going, trusting that his feet remembered the area from his time patrolling around here just after the war. Looking about him, he realised he was only two streets from the Lion that had been his aim. There wasn’t anything intrinsically wrong but all of his instincts rang alarm bells.
The sound of a gun being unlocked behind him confirmed his suspicion. So he had been followed after all. Inwardly he cursed himself for not paying more attention to his surroundings. This was Collingwood; wearing a police uniform around here was as good as having a target painted on your back. And that didn’t even take into consideration that he was chasing a murderer and had probably asked way too many questions about way too many people’s businesses. Slowly he raised his hands.
“I thought you were a smart bloke.” Jerry Landis carefully walked around him, the gun steadily aimed at the Sergeant.
“Though not smart enough to know when to back off.” he added.
A part of Jack idly wondered how he had gotten his hands on that gun. He would have recognised that calibre Webley anywhere. Knowing that those guns had only been issued for officers in the trenches, a rank Landis had most certainly not held, the gun had probably been pilfered and had somehow made its way to a back alley thug like Landis. The thought unaccountably disgusted Jack. He pushed it aside and focused instead on the fact that a known criminal was pointing a gun, no matter the calibre, at him.
“Do you really think you’ll get away with killing a police officer?” he asked, “If you do that it won’t just be a lowly Sergeant investigating the case. You’ll have half the Melbourne police force at your tails.”
He tried to sound more sure than he was. He was fairly certain that George would move heaven and earth to find his murderer but he couldn’t be sure about the rest of the city. Loyalties within the force were still strained after the strike. But the more important issue, to him at least, was that in order for anyone to investigate his murder, he’d have to be dead and that wasn’t a state of affairs he was particularly keen on. Jerry only grinned.
“That’s if they ever find out.” he boasted, “I have a mate with a boat, if he drops you somewhere in the bay, you’ll be gone for good. They’ll just think you’ve gone walkabout. Maybe have a think about your relationship with your Assistant Commissioner.” His grin widened a fraction. “They might even find a letter.”
It was all Jack could do to hang on to his composure. This wasn’t the first time he’d stared down the barrel of a gun, he reminded himself.
“Is it worth the risk?” he asked, “Just to cover up the murder of your partner?”
He hadn’t thought that Jerry had killed Tomo but he was only too willing to accept that he had been wrong under the circumstances. Landis' face contorted in anger but there was also something like confusion.
“You really are a stubborn one, aren't you? That girl really must be something.” he leered, “I told you it was Fisher.”
Now it was Jack’s turn to be confused. If Jerry hadn’t killed Tomo, didn’t even know that his partner had been poisoned, then why was he holding a gun to his head? His thoughts got somewhat derailed when something behind Landis moved.
Jack almost did a double-take when he saw a figure glide out of the shadows behind Landis, but carefully schooled his features not to give her away. When she put her finger to her red lips, he fixed his eyes stubbornly on the man in front of him. From the corner of his eyes, he kept watching her as she soundlessly snuck up on the thug from behind.
“Fisher didn’t kill Tomo with that bottle.” he said, trying to keep Jerry engaged and talking, to give her time to do whatever she intended to do.
When she was just a few feet or so away, she stopped. Jack couldn’t help wondering what her plan was. She was unarmed for all he could see, not even a wooden plank to hit over the man’s head. Then she started lifting her skirt. He nearly broke his stoic look at Landis in shock. Luckily Jerry was busy bellowing at him.
“I told you, I saw him hit him.”
What the hell was she up to? Excruciatingly slowly, to keep the fabric from rustling and alerting her opponent, she pulled the skirt up inch by inch.
“Tomo wasn’t killed with a bottle, he was poisoned.” Jack informed the man in front of him.
He kept his eyes stubbornly glued to Landis' face, trying not to watch her; hoping, praying she was truly planning on helping him. The thought that she might just tease him when he couldn't do a thing about it crossed his mind. Was it possible that she was in on the whole thing, that she was working with Landis, or that she was still protecting her father and had just seen the best opportunity to get rid of the pesky copper? This was a dangerous neighbourhood after all, trust was not something that was rewarded around here.
But as she kept inching her skirt further up, he couldn’t help hoping, not just for his life, but also that he hadn’t completely misjudged her. What he had seen wasn’t a conniving criminal, he had seen a woman with a great deal of compassion and a sense of justice; a woman who was smart and strong, who lied and manipulated when it served her, yes, but not someone who aimed to harm. As he tried to convince himself that he wasn't just waiting for his end, he barely paid attention to Landis' disbelieving sputtering. The man didn’t relinquish the gun, it was still pointed at him and still her skirt was gliding up and up her thigh. Only when it was far up above her knee could Jack see what she was aiming for. What kind of woman keeps a dagger in her garter? He thought before the answer was eminently clear: The kind that was Phryne Fisher. She pulled the knife out noiselessly and a second later, she was holding it to Jerry’s throat.
“That’s my gun.” she hissed into his ear. “Drop it.”
Landis let out a positively filthy curse.
“Are you sure the copper is worth it, sweetness?” he growled.
“Drop it.” she repeated unimpressed by the implied threat, instead pressing the knife closer to his throat.
He hissed and Jack realised she must have broken his skin. Another curse and the gun clattered noisily on the floor.
“I knew you were shaggin' him.” he sneered. “I just thought you were the one doing the convincing.”
“If you’d do the honours, Sergeant.” Miss Fisher said conversationally, ignoring Jerry’s remarks entirely.
She seemed utterly unperturbed by the fact that she was still holding a, now not so armed anymore, man at knifepoint, who kept calling her less than flattering names. Jack was speechless. But he did pick up the gun and pulled his handcuffs out. He might not have his weapon but those he always carried on his person. Two minutes later, Landis had his wrists cuffed and was dragged through the streets to the nearest telephone from which Jack called the station for a car.
They waited in silence for the pickup, Jack still too stunned to say anything. Miss Fisher seemed to mull over something or other herself, and while Jerry had been cussing for a while, he seemed to have decided to give the copper the silent treatment. Jack was rather grateful for it.
It took about fifteen minutes before the police car arrived, driven a little insecurely by a cadet, apparently the only person Evans had gotten his hands on at such short notice. Jack hurled Landis into the back seat and ordered the lad to guard him. Then he quietly opened the passenger door for Miss Fisher. She threw him a surprisingly amused look, but slid on the passenger seat without comment. Jack drove them to the station, still trying to calm his thoughts. Landis wasn’t making it easier, squinting about the back seat. attempting to overpower the boy beside him more than once to make a run for it. After the third attempt, Jack was seriously considering tying him to the roof. His musings were, yet again interrupted, this time by Miss Fisher.
“If you allow Sergeant.” she said calmly as she extracted the confiscated pistol from his waistband pointing it at Landis., “I recommend you sit still for the rest of the drive and stop being a damned nuisance.” she told him.
Jerry was ready to breathe fire and brimstone but turned quiet when she expertly released the safety of the gun. Jack was slightly torn between admiration and exasperation, a state he by now recognised as common around Miss Fisher. Theoretically, he knew he shouldn’t allow a civilian to appropriate evidence, even less so to threaten a suspect, but practically, he couldn’t hand the weapon to the boy, who would probably lose it to Landis within a matter of minutes. And the man finally sat still which was a blessing in itself.
He took the gun back when they reached the station, she handed it over without protest. He almost raised a surprised eyebrow at that.
“Did I hear you say that this was your gun?” he asked. “Is it registered?”
She rolled her eyes
“Of course not. I got it during the war.”
“A gift. From a very nice British officer.”
For some reason, he got the feeling that that was really all the information he wanted about this matter.
“Any idea how it ended up in the hands of Mr Landis?”
“My father must have used it to pay back his debts. I’ve been trying to find it for hours yesterday. Any chance I could get it back, since it wasn’t ever really his?”
She gave him that look again, the one she used to look harmless and tried to subvert his defences. Trying to look harmless while asking for a gun, he almost had to grin at the cheek of her.
“It’s currently evidence.” he pointed out.
“I’m aware. I’d still like to get it back. I’m a woman alone, in a dangerous town.” she coyly, fluttered her eyelashes at him.
The corners of his mouth twitched, but he suppressed the urge to smile at her.
“I think we’ve made this town a lot less dangerous today.” he pointed out.
Her face lit up with a wide beam at his use of pronoun.
“I’m still going to need your statement.” he intercepted any comment on her part.
She lowered her eyes demurely, but seemed unable to wipe the grin off her face.
“Of course, Sergeant. I’ll wait here?” she indicated her head at the waiting area.
In the meantime, Constable Evans had relieved the poor cadet of guarding Jerry and had dragged him into the station's interview room. Fortunately Evans was a big guy, a zealous footy player with shoulders twice as wide as Landis', so he had no need for a gun to subdue the suspect. For a moment Jack considered if it would be necessary to let another officer interview him, but the station was deserted apart from the three men, and technically Landis was still a suspect in the Gallagher murder. So he decided to interrogate the thug himself but ordered Evans to take Miss Fisher’s and after that his own statement about the incident of holding a police officer at gunpoint. He also told him to ask Miss Fisher to wait for him after giving her statement. He still felt like he needed to talk to her about what had happened.
The interview with Landis was about as unpleasant as he had expected it. The man sneered and cursed, but refused to divulge anything useful. He insisted he hadn’t known about Gallagher’s morphine habit and claimed to be completely surprised to hear that his partner had been poisoned. Unfortunately, Jack was inclined to believe him. He had seen the look on the man’s face when he had told him and it rang true to him that Jerry had up until that point been convinced that Henry Fisher had killed Tomo with that bottle. But one thing was still nagging on Jack.
“If you didn’t kill Tomo, why attack me?” he asked.
Landis glared at him.
“You’ve been stickin' yer nose where it don’t belong. That’s bound to lead to trouble, copper. Can’t have just anyone nosing around me business now, can I?”
“So he’s saying just, because we’ve been poking around a bit in his ‘business’ he threatens to kill you Sarge?” Constable Evans raised an incredulous eyebrow, “Seems a bit extreme.”
“I get a feeling Mr Landis was trying to set himself up as one of the top dogs of the underworld of Collingwood,” Jack shrugged, “or maybe he just needed to reassert himself after the death of his partner. Taking it out on the cop who dared investigating him was probably the easy way.” He frowned lightly.
“The question is, how did he know I was investigating him? I talked to him once and only inquired after him once more.”
Evans blushed slightly.
“You told me to get you any information I could find on him, so I requested a search throughout all city stations.” he told his superior, “I didn’t consider he might have an informant.”
Jack groaned. Neither had he, especially considering it had to be an informant in another station by all accounts. He had no doubt that any station in the city had a number of officers that were on the payroll of some criminal or other but considering that Richmond was the station covering most of Landis' territory, he had suspected he’d have his laykeys here. Apparently, he had underestimated the range of Jerry’s influence.
“Put it in your report and send it to Sanderson.” he recommended, glad to see Evans nod enthusiastically. Anything was better than having to deal with that kind of thing themselves.
When Jack finally emerged from giving the Constable his statement, Miss Fisher was still sitting in the waiting area. A part of Jack was honestly surprised at that. He hadn’t entirely expected her to do what he had asked. He half suspected she was just waiting because she knew he had a vital clue about who their murderer could be and intended to get it out of him before she was ready to leave. He admonished himself for his cynicism and approached her with a friendly face. There was still something he needed to say to her.
Phryne wasn’t entirely sure why she was still at the police station. Just because she didn’t want the copper to be killed, with a gun that could probably somehow be traced back to her no less, didn’t mean that she was ready to forgive him. She rationalised that there still was a murder to solve and he clearly had a good idea who this Roy fellow was, so if she wanted to find out, she needed to stay near him. That was how she had gotten into the position of saving his life in the first place. And she had saved his life, damnit. He probably wanted to shout at her for that, too. Maybe arrest her for carrying a concealed weapon or some such. She bristled at the thought of it. But it would fit, wouldn’t it, since he was such a stickler for the rules.
Still, she couldn’t help appreciating that he had been assigned to this case. He really did want to find out the truth and he had actually tried to stay true to his word not to arrest Carrie. In that case, that had turned out to be more of a hindrance, but his intentions had been honourable. A rare quality for a police man in Phryne’s experience. And his face, when she had gotten the better of Jerry, had been priceless. Speaking of which, the man finally emerged from the depths of the station again and the face in question didn’t seem angry. In fact, if Phryne were to hazard a guess, his expression almost appeared to be on the friendly side of neutral.
“Sergeant Robinson” she got to her feet and smiled.
He returned her smile with a polite one of his own.
“Miss Fisher. You’re still here.” he almost sounded surprised.
“I was led to believe you still wanted to talk to me Sergeant.” she implied.
“Indeed I do.” he confirmed, his smile not wavering for a second.
“I owe you a 'thank you'.” he admitted.
She tilted her head a little.
“Thank you for helping me procure the statement of a witness and assuring said witness' safety. I may not have reacted appropriately to that earlier.” he said seriously
A small smile tugged on her lips. It wasn’t an apology, but she did like a man who could admit to his mistakes.
“Not for saving your life then?” she teased genially.
“For subduing a man who threatened my life.” he conceded, something that could almost be a smile playing around his eyes. “Thank you for that, too.”
“You’re very welcome, Sergeant.” she replied coyly.
“After everything, you might as well call me Jack.” he offered and couldn’t help an almost bashful grin. “Everyone else does.”
Her return smile was blinding.
“Very well, Jack. Then you may call me Phryne.” her eyes glinted adventurously.
“So what do you think, Jack, shall we catch a murderer?”
* Washington, Megan. 2010. “Lover/Soldier”. I Believe you Liar. Mercury; Universal.
The whispering pains that say you’re living
The slow burn of not forgiving
The quiet room, the unlikely pair
The full potential of a love affair
Everything waits to be noticed – Art Garfunkel et al.*
This time, Jack didn’t waste any time arguing with her. Apparently, if he did, he ended up on the wrong end of a gun and it still didn’t keep her away. And lucky for him it didn’t. So he offered to take her home in the police car and took a mischievous pleasure in her pout.
“You know I don’t live there anymore, Jack.” she pointed out rather snappishly, clearly mounting the barricades for another fight.
“Too bad” he replied, trying not to let her see his amusement. “And I thought that on the way, I could repay you for that lunch the other day. Maybe at the Lion?”
She frowned and he could see the cogs turning in her head. The moment the light went on in her mind was beautiful to watch.
“Are you inviting me, Sergeant?” she asked gleefully, making it sound like a positively indecent proposal.
He refused to be embarrassed by her. He was aware he had been the one to start it this time, so there was no backing down now.
“Well, given I know now, first hand, just how dangerous this part of town is, it would really be remiss of me to let you walk the streets alone.” he stated.
“So you’re just being a gentleman?” she teased.
He shook his head in exasperation and held the car door open for her.
“Don’t push it, Miss Fisher.”
“But where would be the fun in that, Jack?” she replied and shot him a impish grin.
She did get in the car though.
“So do you always carry a knife in your garter?” Jack asked casually while he was driving them to the pub.
“Since I was fourteen.” she confirmed. “As you said, it’s a dangerous neighbourhood. Especially for women.”
He couldn’t really reply any other way than by nodding. Sometimes, it seemed almost unbelievable to him that he only lived a few minutes walk from where she had. Richmond was a perfectly decent middle class neighbourhood, the kind where people went to work in the morning and came back at night. There was hardly any gang activity, simply because people who lived there were neither rich enough to be worthy of harassment, nor poor enough to feel the need to band together against the rest of the world.
But it only took a few turns and you were in an area where women carried hidden weapons to protect themselves and people laughed at the idea of spending money on a doctor when they got ill. He had lived almost his entire life in Richmond and hadn’t been mugged once; one day in Collingwood had been enough to almost get him killed.
“Must be difficult to grow up here.” he noted.
Miss Fisher shrugged.
“I suppose.” she said vaguely. “We didn’t really mind when we were children. As long as we had food and father wasn’t home, that is. As a child I don’t think you realise that life could be different. I have cousins who grew up in South Yarra, but I never felt like they had it better. They were never allowed to go anywhere on their own and just because they had more money didn’t mean they got to do more fun things either. My aunt was always a very strict woman. And I don’t think I ever really realised just how dangerous it was until...until I was fourteen.” she said after a moment of hesitation.
Jack got the distinct impression that there was something big she was avoiding, something he assumed was the reason she had realised the dangers of life, possibly not only in Collingwood. But he also assumed it was something she didn’t want to talk about with someone who was more or less a complete stranger, so he didn’t ask and only nodded.
She pulled herself back from whatever abyss she had been staring into.
“Where did you grow up? Not around here I’d wager.”
“Not too far off though. Richmond.”
She laughed. “That’s a different world, Jack.”
He couldn’t help but agree. When he had been a boy roaming the streets on his bicycle, his mother had more than once impressed on him to steer clear of the neighbouring suburb.
“I don’t seem to have gotten very far either way.” he muttered.
“You got to France and back.” she disagreed. “That’s more than many can say.”
For a moment, an awkward silence descended in the car as neither of them wanted to dwell on the reason for that particular trip but had to fight back the memories. Even after years, on a day like this, he couldn’t escape the bloody war, Jack thought.
“You’ve been travelling?” he asked to get them away from the dreaded topic, “Your mother mentioned you’ve only recently been back.”
She nodded. “I wasn’t quite ready to return after the war,” she said, “so I gallivanted around for a bit, as my aunt calls it. Took work where I could find it, slept were I could and ate what I could afford or what was given to me.” she shrugged, “It worked probably better than it had any right to.”
Jack had no doubt it had. He was starting to believe there were few things the woman next to him couldn’t do when she put her mind to it.
“Sounds very... liberating.” he commented carefully.
She laughed brightly. “It was. I can recommend it.”
“Why come back now?” he asked genuinely curious.
He wasn’t one to pry into a stranger’s life, but it was fairly obvious she wasn’t particularly close to her parents. Another shrug, he saw from the corner of his eye.
“I’ve been gone nearly seven years. It seemed time.”
It wasn’t a lie as such. But it was only the first sentence of the truth, she knew. It had seemed time to come back when Arthur had had one of his turns, just when the tenth anniversary of Janey’s disappearance had been around the corner. It had seemed time when Mac had written that she was worried about Margaret if she were to be alone that day with Henry. It had seemed time when she had realised that if she ever wanted answers, the only place she could find them would be Melbourne. But none of that was anything she could say to a man who was, maybe not a perfect stranger anymore, but hardly less than a helpful copper still. So she didn’t.
He seemed to notice there was more that she wasn’t saying, but she was spared a more extensive answer as they arrived at the pub. Jack helped her out of the car, which took her more by surprise than she would ever admit. Men had done that for her while she had been travelling, in France and while she had been with Guy in London, but she couldn’t remember anyone in Australia. Not that she needed help to get out of a stupid car, she wasn’t some society damsel after all. But Sergeant Robinson did it clearly without even thinking about it. Now that she thought about it, he had opened the door for her as well, like it was the most natural thing to do for a Collingwood girl like her.
The pub looked different in daylight than it had the morning after the brawl. Jack almost berated himself for that thought. Of course it did, they had probably started to clean up as soon as the crime scene had been cleared. The floor was still sticky, but there were no more signs that only a few days ago the body of a dead man had marred the taproom. Tables and chairs had been fixed or disposed off and stood around the room in an orderly fashion now. With the evening light coming through the windows, the place looked almost inviting.
It wasn’t busy yet either and their arrival was immediately noticed by one of the barkeepers, who darted into the backroom to get his boss. Mr Hendriks was obviously any thing but pleased to see them but put on a friendly face.
“Sergeant. Can I help you?” he cast a glance at his wristwatch, “It’s still early, nothin' to report us for. And the ladies lounge is over there.” he added with a look at Miss Fisher.
Jack shook his head.
“I’m not here about your business. I’m still investigating Tomo Gallagher's death.”
“Still? I’d have thought you’d have that one well wrapped up by now.”
Jack decided not to comment.
“I need to speak to one of your barkeepers. Roy?” he demanded instead.
The publican shrugged exasperated before he turned and yelled across the pub:
“Roy, there’s a copper wants to talk to you about Tomo.”
It took Jack about two seconds to see Roy and realise that the man was headed for the back door at a speed way too fast to be innocent. By the time he got his feet to react, Miss Fisher was already halfway around the bar. Another second and his brain provided him with an outlay of the area. He pivoted around and left the hotel through the front entrance only to skid immediately to the side.
Phryne didn’t slow down when she rushed through the pub’s backdoor, their fugitive's heavy footfalls assuring her that he was still running and not waiting to ambush her from behind the door. She noticed that the Sergeant didn’t seem to be following her but she couldn’t deal with that at the moment. Roy was running down a laneway, similar to the one she had been cornering Jerry only hours ago. She was hot at his heels, intent not to lose him. At least, she thought to herself, it seemed obvious they had the right Roy. She only wished she had worn better shoes.
The man in question turned a corner, heading for the main road. If he made it, Phryne was certain he could disappear into any number of side lanes, shops, or simply vanish in the crowd of workers heading home from their shifts. She doubled her efforts to catch up with him before he reached the end of the lane.
She nearly crashed into him when the suspect abruptly stopped. A tall, lean figure had appeared at the entrance of the street. With the sun low in his back only his silhouette was visible to the two people coming out of the lane. His entrance was slightly reminiscent of that of the hero in an American Western novel and Phryne had to bite back a laugh.
“Roy Larsen, I’m arresting you for the murder of Thomas Gallagher, otherwise known as Tomo.” Sergeant Robinson stated evenly while he handcuffed the man who suddenly seemed to have lost all will to fight. Phryne grinned proudly.
“That was excellent timing, Jack.” she lauded.
He tilted his head in acknowledgement and she thought she saw a twinkle in his eyes that hinted at more than mere acknowledgement.
For the second time today the two of them brought a suspect into the police station. Constable Evans almost did a double-take at the sight of Jack pushing in a man in handcuffs while being followed by Miss Fisher. For a moment, he was tempted to wonder if his life was stuck in a loop. Fortunately, Constable Evans wasn’t the philosophical type, so he contented himself with the knowledge that Sergeant Robinson had had a particularly successful day in arresting scum. He took Roy to the interview room and decided for himself not to wonder too much about the repeated involvement of the young woman. His instincts told him that the Sergeant might not appreciate questions in that regard.
Jack was debating with himself how to proceed. Not in regards to Roy, that part was perfectly clear. But in regards to Miss Fisher things were anything but. He knew she wanted to see this case through to the end and he couldn’t blame her. At this point, he would have been the same. She was already so far involved in the investigation, and if he was perfectly honest, her contribution had been vital, so it seemed unfair to cut her out now. But he was a very firm believer in the fact that rules were there for a reason and to include her in interviewing the suspect would be highly irregular.
He looked at the clock on the wall. It was well past six at this point. He turned to Evans.
“Jenkins leave on time?” he asked casually.
The Constable obviously fought the urge to make a face.
“On the dot, as usual.” he replied stoically.
“So, who’s in now?” Jack inquired further.
“Just you and me Sarge, at the moment. Pierce and Warren are out, there was a traffic incident on Lennox. Tramcar hit a delivery truck, or the other way round. And Harrison is on his break.” Evans reported.
Jack nodded. Technically that made him the highest ranking officer still clocked on, but he would still prefer not to drag any of the men in if he was going to breach protocol.
“You’ve taken your break Constable?” he asked.
Evans shook his head.
“Haven’t gotten round to it, with everyone out and about, Sarge.” he confessed.
“Then go take it. I’ll hold down the fort,” Jack all but ordered, “it’s not as if I’m going anywhere before I’m done with the suspect. That’ll take longer than your break.” he added at the uncertain look on the Constable’s face.
To his relief the man nodded gratefully.
“Thanks, Sarge, I’ll be back in a jiff.”
“No worries, Constable, take your time.” Jack assured him.
When Evans had finally cleared off, Jack turned to Miss Fisher, who had been investigating the note board opposite the counter with keen interest.
“After you, Miss Fisher” he offered and held the swinging door that separated the public and the not public part of the station, open for her. Her eyebrows rose.
“You’re letting me in on the interview?” she asked, surprised.
She had been readying herself for another argument to fight for that right.
“You’ve earned it.” he admitted.
“But,” his hand came up, just as she made to slip past him, “On one condition: You utter not one word and you never tell anyone this ever happened.”
“That’s two conditions.” she pointed out cheekily.
He just gave her a warning look.
“Fine. My lips are sealed.” she gave in to both his requests, not without rolling her eyes at him. Only then did he accompany her to the interview room.
Roy looked decidedly less cheeky than he had the last time Jack had spoken to him. He was slumped down in the chair, staring at the desk. He only lifted his head for a second to take in the two people entering the room. If he was surprised to see Miss Fisher, he didn’t show it. He probably thought she worked for the police at this stage, Jack mused. Of course, there were no women police officers in Victoria. Not officially, his mind added, fully aware that a group of female police agents were steadily lobbying to be sworn in as proper officers. Maybe Miss Fisher would be interested in that.
He had to admit that he was slightly surprised that she’d given in to his demands so readily and even seemed to be willing to abide by them. Without a word, she settled against the wall in the far corner of the room, not taking her eyes off their suspect for a moment. Wait, when had it become their suspect?
Jack forced his mind back to the, yes, that was better, the suspect and the case.
“Mr Larson,” he started, trying to sound calm and collected and utterly in control of the situation, “you were having an affair with Edie Gallagher.”
Roy looked up at him but only for a second.
“That a question?” he asked surly.
Jack shook his head.
“No, Mrs Gallagher already told us that.”
Another look up from the table.
“It weren’t no affair. I love Edie.” he said.
“She was married.” Jack pointed out.
“Tomo was a c....” Roy spat out before interrupting himself.
His eye flickered to Miss Fisher in the corner.
“He was a bastard,” he said a little calmer, “treated her like crap ever since the war. He wasn’t worthy of her, floundering all around town with that whore of his, wasting all his money on that tart and leaving Edie with just enough so she could cook his dinners.”
“But she wouldn’t have left him.” Jack prodded further.
“No.” Roy shook his head.
To Phryne’s surprise there seemed to be a subtle smile playing around his lips.
“She’s a good woman. She wouldn’t have broken her vows to him.”
Except for the ‘forsake all others' part, Phryne’s mind supplied unbidden. A look at the Sergeants face told her nothing as to what he thought about that. He had fashioned his face to a perfectly dispassionate mask the moment they had entered the interview room. It was rather impressive, considering he had clearly been nervous about letting her come with him. But he hadn’t even flinched at the very rude word that had nearly tripped off Roy’s tongue a moment ago.
She couldn’t help wonder what his stance on that particular part of the marriage vows was. That he was married she knew, he had admitted that upon the first hint of fishing from her part, but she had also sensed that the topic of his marriage wasn’t one that would come up in small talk with him. Normally, she would avoid getting mixed up in other people's relationship problems. Married men where always a tricky issue, case in point the individual in front of them. But the last few days had been both exhilarating and straining and she knew herself well enough to know that she wouldn’t say no, if a handsome, intelligent and surprisingly generous man were to make an offer. And she did have her diaphragm back after all. But from what she had seen, she suspected there would be no offer. He was an honest cop, so he was probably a faithful husband, too. And at what point did she start to consider bedding coppers anyway? She nearly shook her head at the thought. Clearly, she had had an odd day and the fact that she hadn’t really had any opportunity since getting back to Australia was making her needy. Yes, that was it.
Her attention returned to the interview when Sergeant Robinson formulated his next question, yet again disguised as a statement. That seemed to be his particular style she thought a little amused.
“So the only option was to kill Tomo.”
Roy didn’t answer, he merely diverted his eyes again.
“Where did you get the morphine?” Robinson asked.
Again a long silence followed the question while Roy stared at the table. Phryne squinted a little in her corner. After a few moments, she decided to hell with it. She might have had agreed to remain silent, but it was just too obvious. Besides the small part of her that was undeniably her father’s daughter insisted that a promise given to a copper didn’t really count anyway.
“You were his supplier, weren’t you?” she asked.
Both men turned to stare at her. The look on Sergeant Robinson’s face was almost comical. His previous stoicism abandoned ,several emotions fought for dominance on his face; anger and exasperation mostly, but there was also admiration, she thought, and maybe even a hint of amusement in the corner of his mouth.
Of course, she didn’t keep quiet. Had he really expected anything else? That woman hadn’t done what she had been told once since the first time he had met her. Jack could only hope that she would at least keep mum about her attendance here afterwards, but with his bloody luck she would probably write about it in her damned newspaper. A part of him was furious, mostly with himself. And damn him if she wasn’t right with her question. Larsen’s face said it all.
He resigned himself to the fact that this might easily be the last case of his carrier. But if it was, he was going to solve it, if it was the last thing he did. Having determined that, he schooled his face back to its previous expression of detachment and faced the suspect again.
“Were you?” he pressed the man to say it out loud.
Roy’s shoulders sagged. “Ironic, innit?” he gave a small mirthless grin. “That he came to me for dope after his tart gave him the clap. I used to cut his stuff, too. Served him right to suffer for what he did to Edie.”
“So, how did you kill him?” Jack asked coolly, “Another injection as you passed him in the pub? Doped up as he was, he wouldn’t have known a thing.”
Roy shook his head and his grin turned into a proper leer.
“He did it himself.” he said with a grim satisfaction. “I knew he was out and he’d be coming to me that night to have his fix on the gents. He knew I could have lost my job over that shit, I told him over and over not to do it in the pub. You can bet your helmet he did it just because of that.”
Jack got the distinct impression Miss Fisher’s presence was the only thing keeping the man from spitting at the ground.
“I knew he'd come,” he repeated, “so I prepared a special blend for him.”
“He thought it was the usual low dosage and injected himself with an overdose.” Jack finished, as the last pieces fell into place.
Evans wasn’t back from his break yet when they emerged from the interview room.
“What happens now?” Phryne asked, although she knew the answer.
“I guess I’ll take him down to get settled in the cells for now.” Sergeant Robinson replied dryly.
“He will be tried and probably hang.” he supplied more seriously.
Phryne nodded. She took a deep breath, shaking the dull feelings of a murder confession off.
“Well, Jack,” she turned to him with a bright smile, “I’d say this was a rather full day. Though not all in all unsuccessful.”
He could only agree with that.
“And will I be reading about the exploits of this day in tomorrow's paper?” he asked somewhat warily.
Her smile turned mischievous.
“I’m writing about the nightlife of this part of town. Pubs and such. I seriously doubt the readers of the high and mighty Argus care one jot about how some lowlife crim got himself killed in Collingwood, do you? And anyway, I doubt it will be done before the end of the week.” Her grin absolutely threatened to split her face.
Fortunately, Jack was too relieved to properly berate her. And she was right, yet again: He had arrested a murderer and a career criminal all in one day, which probably made this the most successful day of his career. And he was honest enough to admit, at least to himself, that that wouldn’t have happened without her help, so he felt justified in letting her distortion of the truth slide this time.
He only said “Is that so?” quirking an eyebrow at her.
“In that case I look forward to reading it.”
She beamed at him.
“And should you ever need help with one of your cases again...” she offered with a flutter of her lashes.
He nearly laughed out loud at her audacity.
“I’ll remember to stay well away from Carlton, Miss Fisher.” he replied dryly.
She rolled her eyes but shot him another bright smile before she marched out of the station as if the world out there truly belonged to her. Jack could only shake his head at that unbelievable woman as he turned to get Roy settled in the cells and start on the paperwork he would have to present to George in the morning.
When he finally made his way home, for the first time in a long time, he was actually looking forward to getting there. He had the undeniable urge to tell Rosie about his day, something he hadn’t done in ten years. He had brought a cold-blooded murderer to justice today. He felt more content than he had in a long time and longed to share that feeling with his wife. He knew she wasn’t very keen on hearing about the dangers of his work and probably wouldn’t understand how a day on which he had been jumped by a woman, held at gunpoint and chased a suspect through seedy alleyways could count as one of the best day he had had in ages, but maybe, if he edited himself a little. she might enjoy some of it.
And if George was happy with his result, maybe he would be working more cases, maybe not like this one, but maybe he could at least get off the night shift and the repetitive agony of handling the drunk and rowdy. For the first time since, he couldn’t remember when, Jack Robinson allowed himself to look optimistically into the future.
* Garfunkel, Art, Buddy Mondlock and Maia Sharp. 2002. “Everything waits to be noticed“. Everything Waits to be noticed. Prod. Billy Mann. Blue Note.
Considering book-Phryne grew up in Richmond rather than Collingwood (and I trust Kerry Greenwood's research much more than mine), it might not have been quite as nice a neighborhood as described in this chapter. But then again it's a fairly large suburb, one end might not be the same as the other.
The first woman police officer in Victoria (possibly all of Australia but there is conflicting information about officers in South Australia) was Madge Connor. She was sworn in in Dec. 1924 after being a 'police agent‘, a special form of special constable, since 1917. In 1929 she was forced to retire and was refused a pension because she hadn’t been an officer for 15 years as was mandatory.
She comes back to tell me she‘s gone
As if I didn‘t know that
As if I didn‘t know my own bed
As if I never noticed
The way she brushed her hair from her forehead
And she said losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you‘re blown apart
Graceland – Paul Simon *
Jack could tell something was off, as soon as he came back home. Rosie wasn’t home for one thing, but that wasn’t it. It was unusual, but not unheard of. What was odd was the absence of a note. He considered the possibility that it was payback for him having forgotten to call yet again. But he kept looking all the same. That led to him noticing the absence of other things. The picture of her parents on the mantle was gone, so was the one of her sister. Jack strode through the house. Looking about him, he noticed a variety of small things missing.
The bathroom was a giveaway. Tooth and hair brushes, various cosmetics, perfumes and most of her make up was gone. A look into the bedroom and the wardrobe confirmed it. Rosie had packed up her things and left. He wasn’t quite sure how to feel about that. He was shocked, for sure and more than a little hurt. Never would he have thought she’d do such a thing. At least not without talking to him about it. Had he not at least deserved that? A closer inspection of the last years, the last weeks alone told him that he probably didn’t. He hadn’t talked to her about going to the strike, not until he had already made his decision. He remembered that she had been furious about that. So maybe he deserved exactly what he was getting. And in all fairness, when had been the last time they had talked about anything really?
A part of him, one that was shamefully big, was relieved. If she was gone, there was no need to talk anymore. No need to pretend to talk either. Or to pretend anything really. No need to worry anymore about coming home late, about her expectations towards him, about how to avoid her, about her noticing him avoiding her.
But the overwhelming, overall feeling was one of defeat. He had failed. Her and in his marriage. His insides clenched at the knowledge of that. He had not tried hard enough, hadn’t been enough. He certainly hadn't been what Rosie deserved.
He knew he hadn’t been the same since he had come home from the war, and he knew she had done her best to cope with that, but he wasn’t sure, if he had, too. Maybe he had given in to the change too easily, had convinced himself that there was nothing he could do too eagerly. How many times had he just not bothered to try, had decided that it was easier, safer to not talk to her? If she was drawing the conclusion that living together wasn’t working anymore, it was on him. It was the certainty of that, more than the shock about her decision to leave, that felt like a punch in the guts.
His heart nearly gave out when he suddenly heard the front door.
Rosie just closed the door behind her when he appeared in the hallway. She looked a little caught out.
“You’re home.” she stated superfluously.
He nodded. “Case is solved.”
“Congratulations. Father will be so proud.” She sounded a little absentminded.
Jack noticed that she didn’t have her bags with her. She must have just come back from dropping them off to wherever she was going. They looked at each other in silencefor a while, neither moving towards or away from each other. Jack assumed, she had come back to tell him she was leaving, so he was preparing himself for that blow. But she didn’t say anything for what seemed an eternity. He could tell she was nervous, fiddling with her gloves. She hadn’t even taken off her hat yet.
“Why did we marry, Jack?” she finally blurted out.
He met her eyes unflinchingly.
“We were in love.” he replied.
“Were we?” she asked.
He knew she wasn’t questioning the statement but his use of tense.
His shoulders sagged a little. The least he could give her was his honesty, she deserved that much.
“I don’t know, Rosie.” he admitted.
She didn’t seem surprised by his answer, more like it confirmed what she had long suspected. Her back straightened and all nervousness seemed to fall from her.
“Well, I know.” she said coolly. “It’s been ten years, Jack.”
His face must have shown his confusion, because she continued.
“I’ve been waiting ten years for my husband to come back from the war. How long do you expect me to keep waiting?”
She gave him no time to come up with an answer, to tell her he didn’t know, that it wasn’t that easy, before she continued:
“How long, until we both accept the fact that he won’t?”
Before, her voice had been cool and defiant. Now there was defeat in it. The same defeat that he felt since he had seen her empty clothes racks. The sound of resignation and failure.
“I’ll be staying with Sarah and Billy for a bit.” she informed him. I’m leaving you, was what he heard.
For a moment, he wondered, if this was a test. If she was trying to get a reaction out of him. Then he was hit by a wave of shame when he realised that he was thinking of the wrong woman. Rosie didn't play games. Rosie didn't prod and push and challenge. Rosie was leaving him and he wished the ground would open up and swallow him whole. This way, he could only hang his head and nod mutely.
“I need some time to think.” she told him.
If Jack had been paying attention, he might have noticed that she sounded a little uncertain now. “About what I want, what life I want. Maybe you should do that, too.” she suggested.
After her realisation at Lorraine’s tea party, Rosie had spent the afternoon pacing her home. She had mulled everything over and over in her head, and finally, she had done the only thing she knew to do; she had called her sister. Sarah had listened to her for a long time, let her explain everything and while she was talking, trying to make someone else understand, things started to fall into place for Rosie herself. Yet she didn’t know what to do. To her utter shock, Sarah had been anything but surprised.
“It doesn’t take a mind reader to see things aren’t as they used to be between you two.” she had said.
And then she had suggested that Rosie come and stay with her and her husband for a bit.
“To sort yourself out. Figure out what you want from your life. If you can fix it; if you even want to.”
Her first reaction had been violent rejection of the very idea. But Sarah had kept talking to her and had finally convinced her that something needed to change in her life, and a drastic step might just be what was needed to shake her and Jack up enough to shock them into action.
Now that she was standing opposite her husband, she found that she was not surprised at the fact that he didn’t react much. She could see that he was stunned and hurt, probably a little ashamed, but he didn’t stop her. Even now as she told him that she was leaving his house, he barely even spoke to her and while Rosie was not surprised, she realised that deep in her heart, she didn’t want him to say anything. She looked at him and there was no disappointment, just relief that he didn't try to stop her. He took it the same way he had taken her father’s insults, with detached politeness and maybe withdrew a little further into that shell of his. And when she left the house of her marriage, Rosie didn't regret it.
The conversation with George Sanderson the next morning went a lot better than Jack had feared. George seemed almost unduly pleased with Jack’s work.
“Very well done.” he said several times during the debrief.
Jack had decided early on to keep Miss Fisher’s involvement, or rather the extent of her involvement to himself. It felt a little wrong to claim credit for results he didn’t necessary feel he deserved, but he also knew there was no way he could justify or even explain to George why he had let a civilian meddle with his investigation so much. If he was perfectly honest, he couldn't explain it to himself, other than that she hadn’t really left him any choice on the matter.
And he could only imagine what his father-in-law would think, should he find out that said civilian was a highly attractive young woman. Rosie’s decision to move out had nothing to do with it, she didn’t even know of Miss Fisher’s existence and nothing had happened, but the timing was admittedly suspicious. So he had opted for the more neutral phrasing of having gotten tips from ‘locals’, ‘citizens’ or in one particular case, ‘a local source’ in his paperwork, even if it made him feel a little guilty.
He had only mentioned her named with regard to her official questionings connected to her father and the arrest of Jerry Landis. He did give her full credit for saving him from Landis, without shame; he only implied that she had been there by a lucky accident rather than design. George did comment on the extraordinary amount of support by the local population and the fact that Jack had had his backside saved by a woman, but didn’t seem to see anything suspicious in it, only good police work and maybe a little lack of attentiveness in getting caught unawares by a career criminal.
“Jenkins is right,” George said with a frown at having to admit such a thing, “you clearly are wasted in the graveyard shift.”
“I don’t mind it.” he replied.
George gave him an ironic look.
“Which was not at all the point of putting you there.” he pointed out dryly, “But no matter what you do or don’t mind, I’d be a terrible senior officer if I’d let the talents of a good cop go to waste because of a personal grudge. And yes, I did hold a personal grudge, Jack. I’m only human. But your work speaks for itself, so as of now, you’re back on regular duty and I want you to take on a bit more responsibility. You’ll be leading more cases from now on. And if things go well and you keep this up, in a couple of months, we can consider the next step in your career, Jack.”
George’s eyes twinkled as they did whenever he hatched a plan. Clearly he hadn’t yet given up on the idea of ‘making something’ of his son-in-law. Jack had never been sure how to feel about this. Even now that he knew all too well that the only thing enabling a steady career in the police force were good connections to the higher ranks, he couldn’t say he felt comfortable with it.
Especially now that he was uncertain about the future of his marriage, it felt terribly wrong to be owing George anything. And they hadn’t talked about that yet. Jack assumed George knew what had happened. The Sanderson sisters were very close to their parents, it seemed unlikely neither of them would have told them the news yet.
Yet George didn’t seem to hold anything against Jack, judging from their conversation so far. Jack considered what that meant.
“I might not be coming over for dinner the next couple of weekends.” he said tentatively.
George nodded thoughtfully.
“I suppose that would be better.” he agreed.
For a moment, just a moment, Jack saw something flicker across his father-in-law’s face he had never thought he’d ever get to witness: uncertainty. George hesitated.
“It's not because of me, is it? The nightshifts?” he asked.
“Of course not.” Jack was quick to assure him, “It’s because of me.”
“In that case, Jack,” a tiny, encouraging smile played around the other man’s mouth, “you better go and fix it.”
Jack finished on time that day, and just like the last time, he dawdled around, unwilling to go home just yet. The thought of coming home to an empty house was more daunting than he had expected. George had given him the next day off, whether as a reward for good work or a punishment so he could soak up Rosie’s absence fully, he wasn’t quite sure.
He could not remember any time in his life when he had lived alone. It didn’t feel like something that was supposed to happen. He knew that the very fact of Rosie's absence would constantly keep reminding him of her and how he hadn’t done right by her.
She hadn’t indicated how long this separation was intended to last, maybe she didn’t know. Which was another factor of uncertainty. If she’d be back in a few days, nothing needed to change, but the fact that she had taken pretty much everything she owned suggested that it might be intended as a longer arrangement. In that case, he would need a housekeeper, someone to clean and do the laundry, maybe cook. Not because he didn’t even know where to start doing most of those chores, but mostly because he simply didn’t have the time. Thus dictated the practical part of his mind and he felt like it was mocking him, making him think of such banalities as his life was flling to pieces.
The other half wondered how long he should wait. The last thing he wanted was for Rosie to come back next week and find that he had hired someone for the housework.
A very cynical voice in his head asked if he wanted her to come back at all. It could be easier this way. They could both live their lives pretty much the same way they had for the last years, but without having to worry about the other. He knew that couples whose marriages didn’t work anymore often lived separately.
He silenced that voice angrily. He was not ready to give up yet, was he? He might not be the man who went to war, but he was still Rosie’s husband and he had taken an oath to that effect.
“To love and to cherish” he muttered to himself as he walked past the tram stop. Today, walking was definitely what he needed. He wondered if he had already broken that oath; to love and to cherish. It didn’t feel like he had done either much lately.
He wasn’t really surprised when he found himself in front of his mother’s house. He kept coming back here whenever he didn’t know what to do. It was like a reflex, even after all these years of living in his own house, his feet automatically fell into the patterns that took him to the door of his childhood home when his mind was too occupied to pay attention. And no matter what time he dropped by, the door would always be open.
His mother didn’t ask questions. She never did, even if this was the second time this week he’d shown up out of the blue. She just opened the door and let him in. A familiar smell hit his nostrils as he entered the kitchen.
“Aphids?” he asked, peering into the pot stewing onion skins on the stove.
“All over the sunflowers. Wanna help?”
After everything this week had brought, Jack was almost surprised it would end with something so mundane as garden work with his mother. On the other hand, he was beyond being surprised by anything at this point and it was a welcome change in pace to have to work with his hands without much need for his brain to engage.
Abigail watched her son spreading the brew onto the flower stems and soaking in the last rays of sunshine. She could see him relax by the second, but he still looked like he was carrying the weight of the world, while at the same time he seemed less... she wasn’t quite sure what the word was. As if he had woken up from a long deep sleep somehow. She didn’t like to pry, especially not since the war. She understood that some things couldn’t be talked about, but she had a feeling that that wasn’t what this was.
“Something’s been bothering you all week.” she said after a while.
It was a statement, not a question, daring him to deny it. Jack considered denying everything. But he knew his mother too well, and what was more, he knew she knew him too well. So he caved. Partly.
“I met this woman.”
Abigail Robinson very carefully schooled her features not to betray her surprise. She was very good at it.
“What kind of woman?” she asked evenly.
Her son shrugged.
“Clever.” he said, “Bloody brilliant, to be honest. Irritating. Brave. Reckless. Fun. Exasperating. Kind. Stubborn. Beautiful.” he took a deep breath. “And alive. Unbelievably, contagiously alive.”
Abby considered his words carefully.
“Sounds like trouble.” she said after a moment.
“A whole world of it.”
Abby had no doubt about her son’s integrity, his honour or his valour. He didn’t need her to tell him to not do anything stupid, he wouldn’t even consider it anyways. That was why she felt for him. It was no secret to anyone with eyes that his marriage with Rosie wasn’t what either of them had imagined that it would be. Abby was not surprised by that. She had always thought the two had married too young and too quickly.
She knew, Jack thought he had changed in the war. He had of course, but Abby didn’t believe anyone could change into something they didn’t always have in them somewhere. Jack’s father had been a serious man, so to her, it seemed natural that Jack would have turned out to be one. He was a lot like her late husband. Sometimes so much, it hurt. The war had brought that out, the stillness, the determination, the razor sharp focus and that need to clad himself in armour and not let anyone in, but the potential for all of that had been there before. Jack had always been stubborn and smart, and he had never been the type to lay his heart bare easily. He had always been careful in that regard, but now he was no longer pretending he wasn’t.
He was right, he wasn’t the same man that had gone to war, but in her mind he hadn’t been a man when he went to war at all. A boy had gone to war. A boy full of dreams and ideals, a cocky boy who was prone to mischief and who loved to make others laugh with his antics. That boy had never come back. A man had returned in his stead. A man who had seen unspeakable horrors, who had spent every minute of every day for years fearing for his life, and who had survived against all odds. And that man, Abby was certain of it, would get his heart broken one way or another, no matter how many walls he build around it.
As if to prove her thoughts, he started talking again:
"Rosie left." he said.
Anyone who didn’t know Jack Robinson very well would have heard nothing but the report of facts in those two words. But Abby wasn’t just anyone and she knew him better than everyone else.
* Simon, Paul. 1986. "Graceland“. Graceland. Prod. Paul Simon. Warner Bros.
Brew of onion skins against aphids is another of my Grandmother's household tips. No idea if it does any good, but she always did it and she was a trained gardener (trained in the 40s but still).
I wanna be free as the winds that blow past me
Clear as the air that I breathe
To be young as the morning and old as the sea
Young as the morning and old as the sea – Passenger *
If she had been asked a week before, no one would have been more surprised than Phryne to hear that the first visitor she welcomed in her new house would be her mother. She had hardly even moved in properly. Or at all, to be fair. Only in the morning she had informed Uncle Edward that she wanted to buy it and had signed the contract with her uncle and his acquaintance, a small, shrivelling, old man by the name of Weston, in her lunch break. It had been a fast and informal affair before she had rushed back to the office, where she had to scramble to get back on top of all the work that had piled up while she had been hunting a murderer. Luckily, she had actually thought about asking the Sergeant about the crime statistics involving illegal pubs. Jack, she reminded herself, how strange it was to be on first name basis with a policeman. Her father would be appalled to hear that, she thought with no small amount of glee.
When she finally got off, she had to pick up her bag from Mac, a task that involved a lot of banter between the old friends, heartfelt gratitude, followed by the immediate admonishment to not get sappy, and a mutual invitation to visit whenever either of them felt liked it. It was nearly eight when she finally got to set foot in her new home for the first time.
There was still no furniture and she had already resolved to spend the first night sleeping on the floor and a cushion she had borrowed from Mac. It wouldn’t be the first time, and it was only for one night after all. She had, however, not considered that her mother would be waiting for her on the doorstep, laden with parcels.
“I was beginning to wonder if I had the right address.” she admitted.
Phryne eyed her suspiciously.
“What do you want, Mother?”
“Send you off properly this time?” she suggested.
She gestured vaguely to the parcels she had put down next to the porch.
“I visited Prudence this afternoon and Edward suggested I should see how you were settling in and bring you some gifts to celebrate your moving in. He brought me and he promised to pick me up again when he gets home from his club at half nine. So I won’t bother you too long.”
She was rambling a little, Phryne could tell. She wouldn’t have thought her mother would be nervous to visit her either. But she recognised the peace offering as one and smiled in return.
“I’m afraid I haven’t settled in much, yet.” she confessed, “I don’t have any furniture yet, so I can’t even offer you a seat, mother.”
It occurred to her that she didn’t actually have anything, not even pots and pans, cups and plates. Margaret merely shrugged.
“I think I can deal with a small lack of luxury just this once.” she said with a wink, “I don’t suppose you have any dishes either, do you?”
Phryne shook her head.
Her mother got to her feet.
“Good thing your aunt and I suspected as much.” she noted, “Help me carry this stuff inside.” she ordered with a nod towards the parcels still sitting on the ground.
Phryne inspected the, as she noticed now, rather numerous boxes.
“Mother, what is all this?” she demanded.
Margaret merely smiled mysteriously.
“Get them inside and you can unpack.” she suggested.
“Start with this one.” she pointed at a rather large and, as it had turned out quite heavy, box, when they had managed to carry everything into the kitchen. In the end, there had been four packages, one of which Phryne was fairly certain, contained her painting, judging from the shape of it. Carefully, she started to unwrap the indicated parcel.
“Mother, I can’t possibly accept that.” she exclaimed, unveiling a full set of crockery, complete with a sturdy, yet beautiful tea pot, several pots and pans and even a brass gravy boat.
“How did you get this anyways?”
“It’s a gift from your aunt and she promised me it wasn’t too expensive, although knowing Prudence, I doubt she’d buy anything second rate. I think she intended to give this to you on your wedding day but given the current situation, I guess she thought it wouldn’t hurt if you got it a little early.”
She noticed Phryne looking a little uneasy, but she had suspected nothing less from her daughter at the sight of being gifted half a dowry. She didn’t give her the chance to object any further and grabbed the teapot.
“How about you unpack the rest and I make us some tea in the meantime. Do you have any?”
Phryne frowned but started digging in her carpet bag.
“A bit,” she confirmed, “but neither milk nor sugar.”
Her mother threw her a look.
“You know who you’re talking to, right?”
While Margaret got water and put the kettle on the stove, Phryne unwrapped the second parcel, exposing a colourful quilt.
“I know that one, you kept it in one of the boxes in your bedroom.” she exclaimed.
Her mother nodded.
“It was a commission from last year. I’ve taken to needlework to help make ends meet and I got a few orders from Prudence’s friends. I had this one nearly finished, when the lady who had ordered it changed her mind about liking the pattern and made me start over again, but she said I could keep this one.” she smiled weakly.
“I wish I could give you more.” she admitted.
Phryne got up from the floor and hugged her mother tightly.
“It’s wonderful. Thank you.” she whispered.
Margaret cleared her throat audibly to keep the tears that were suddenly pricking in her eyes at bay.
“The small one is from Arthur.” she said pointing at the two remaining packages. “When he found out that we were preparing gifts for you, he absolutely had to give you something, too. And the large one Edward said was yours anyways, that they had only been storing it for you?”
“It was a gift from Guy for my birthday. Late as always. I didn’t have any place to put it before.” she finished diplomatically, but she could tell from the look in her mothers face that she understood.
After the incident with the gun, she could hardly blame her daughter for suspecting Henry of pilfering her things.
“Will you show it to me?”
Phryne tilted her head and observed her mother critically.
“You’ll be shocked.” she stated.
Margaret raised an eyebrow.
“By something Guy sent you? Distinctly possible.” she agreed dryly.
“Not about Guy.” her daughter admitted.
Her mother raised the other eyebrow as well, but after a moment she smiled.
“Phryne, you’ve been shocking me ever since you were born,” she pointed out, “and now you’ve really made me curious. Please.”
A little hesitant Phryne started to unwrap the painting.
“I don’t think Guy has any idea.” she explained, mostly to fill the silence. “He just saw it and thought I’d like it.”
Despite the warning, Margaret couldn’t stifle a gasp when the painting was revealed to her.
“It was made when I was in Paris, after the war.” Phryne told her, “You remember, I wrote I was working as an artist's model.”
“You did.” her mother confirmed quickly, her eyes still glued to the canvas. “Prudence hasn’t see this, has she?” was ridiculously the first thing that came out of her mouth.
Phryne frowned a little. “No, just Uncle Edward.”
A tiny smile spread over her mothers face.
“Maybe you’ll want to keep it that way,” she suggested, “I’m not sure my sister could properly appreciate it.”
Phryne was so surprised by her mother’s reaction that she burst out laughing and Margaret joined in.
By the time they had calmed down, the tea was ready. For a moment, they sat in silence on the floor, sipping on their cups. Margaret kept inspecting the painting. After the initial shock had worn off, she could appreciate the artistry and quality of the painting. Of course, she would have wished that her daughter had a less audacious memento of her wild youth, but she guessed it could have been worse. It was a good painting at least. From the corner of her eyes, she noticed Phryne watching her, fiddling with her cup.
“You can use it to test potential marriage candidates,” she suggested half-jokingly, “if he’s fine with it, he’s a keeper.”
“I won’t marry, Mother.” Phryne stated.
Margaret swallowed her sip with the dignity of a woman who has been raised not to be startled by anything while she was holding a cup of tea.
“I don’t intend to marry. Ever.” Phryne repeated.
Her mother put her cup down and looked at her daughter fully.
“Would you care to explain that?” she asked, careful to maintain a neutral tone. For the second time in less than twenty minutes, her daughter had managed to shock her.
“I just don’t want to be anyone’s property. I want to be my own person, make my own decisions, and live my own life without anyone making a claim on me, or telling me what I can or can’t do.” Phryne explained as calmly as she could.
She knew that if she let herself be as passionate about this as she truly felt, it would turn into a fight and she didn’t want to ruin this evening with her mother. But she needed to make her understand that, or at least make her hear it.
“You’re not anyone’s property, if you’re someone’s wife.” Margaret pointed out a little more sharply than politeness allowed, confirming Phryne’s worries.
“Legally, a husband has full control over his wife's possessions, her body, her offspring and has the last word in whether she’s allowed to work. In the limited number of jobs she is even still legally allowed to work. He can do with her what he wants, give or take what he likes and decide what she’s allowed to do. What does that make her if not his property to do with as he pleases?” she asked as calmly as she could.
“A wife is supposed to be her husband’s; body, mind and soul. I never want to be owned like that.“ Again, her mind added unbidden.
“You’ll change your mind.” Margaret stated optimistically, “One day you’ll meet a wonderful man and you’ll fall in love and then you’ll want to be his wife.”
Phryne shook her head decisively.
“You don’t know that, dear. Love changes everything.” her mother insisted.
“No offence, but my experience with love matches doesn't exactly make them something to aspire to.” Phryne replied dryly.
“Not all marriages are like mine and your father’s.” her mother waved away her argument.
“I understand that you wouldn’t see us as the perfect role model, but you’re not me, Phryne. You’re so much smarter than me, you would never fall for a man who’d make you unhappy in the long run.”
Her daughter’s face was a stony mask, but Margaret had noticed her flinch a little at her last words. She couldn’t help but wonder; if there was something she didn’t know about. Then suddenly, Phryne’s face melted as the words hit home and her expression became soft and sympathetic.
“Is that what he does?” she asked quietly, the words barely more than a whisper.
“Sometimes.” she admitted calmly.
She realised that this was a monumentous reveal to her daughter; but for herself, she had long ago accepted that her life wasn’t a happy one and her marriage was certainly a big part of that. It didn’t change anything as far as she was concerned.
“And sometimes, he makes me very happy,” she said. “and I don’t know that any other man would have done any different.”
And there you make my point for me, Phryne thought. But she kept quiet. Her mother wouldn’t understand, she knew. For Maragret, love was worth all the heartache, but she couldn’t allow herself that. She had sworn to herself that she would never again be blinded by either love or lust enough to trust a man with her heart and her life. And she would never sacrifice what little freedom she had fought so hard for to any man. There was no man in the world worth that.
“Congratulations, my dear Phryne.”
Miss Charlesworth raised her whiskey filled tea cup for a toast.
“To you, your new house, your wonderful article and to the fact that you made Hector Pierce blush.” she declared.
The toast was received with cheers, loud laughter and general agreement. Phryne laughed loud before she climbed on the newly purchased kitchen table, to raise her own drinking vessel.
“Romans, countrymen and lovers,” she recited, “thank you all for coming here tonight to help me celebrate my new home and the beginning of a new chapter of my life. I’m glad to have you all here.” she raised her cup.
“But no more speeches tonight. There needs to be more dancing.”
With that, she hopped off the table and led everyone into the still completely unfurnished room she intended to turn into a parlour once she had enough money to buy chairs or maybe a sofa.
For now, she had only acquired the table for the kitchen, together with three nice, if rather eclectic chairs, and had treated herself to a bed with a decent mattress which was more luxury than she had had in years. She had spent less than she had thought on the pieces. It turned out the place the copper had told her about was truly a godsend. Even if it had been one hell of a journey transporting the table and the mattress halfway across town.
But she had furniture now. Together with Aunt P’s crockery, the painting she had hung opposite the bed and the box the plates had come in, which she used to store her clothes, made up her entire household. Far from anything really ready to show off, but she had still felt she needed to celebrate the recovery of her freedom, at least the freedom from her parents.
Her article, which she had finally finished after another very long day of work, and two more of rewrites and corrections, had not only been printed, but had also managed to gain her some begrudging praise from Pierce. A bonus on top and potentially an opening to do more of her own writing. Right now, life seemed like she could make something out of it. And there was plenty of space for dancing.
“You know that buying a house means you’ll have to stay for a bit.” Mac said as she stepped next to her friend.
Phryne shrugged nonchalantly.
“I can always sell the house and pay my debts off with the revenue,” she quipped, “but I think I will be staying for a while. As long as I can keep my family at bay, I might not develop an immediate escape reflex. And I still have work to do here.”
Mac observed her oldest friend for a moment in silence.
“Darling, you know you can’t bring Janey back.” she said infinitely gently.
The two friends locked eyes for a moment before Phryne pushed her chin out defiantly.
“No. But I can finally find out the truth.” she stated determinedly.
* Rosenberg, Mike. 2016. “Young as the morning and old as the sea“. Young as the Morning, Old as the Sea. Prod. Mike Rosenberg, Chris Vallejo. Nettwerk; Black Crow; Cooking Vinyl.
“Romans, countrymen and lovers” is the opening of Brutus' speech from Julius Caesar Act 3, Scene 2, line 13 in the 1988 Cambridge version edited by Marvin Spevack
It had been three months since Jack had successfully closed his first murder case. Life was surprisingly bearable. Since the Gallagher case, Jack had continued to investigate a more varied set of cases; some murders, some thefts, several cases of fraud and one rather nerve-wracking case of a missing person. He liked it and it went quite well with his newfound penchant for working overtime. And last week, George had called him to his office with a big grin on his face and had congratulated him to his promotion to Senior Sergeant. Now he even had his own desk. It was nice and brought a substantial pay raise, but he still felt a little odd going to work in a suit rather than the uniform he had worn for nearly ten years.
Of course, it was also three months since Rosie had moved out, and it didn’t seem like she was about to change anything in that arrangement. Sarah had been over to talk to him, so had Billy and even Patty. All three of them insisted they had talked to Rosie as well, but neither of them had any practical idea regarding what to do about the situation either.
Jack was a bit in two minds about it, himself. It was a relief not having to worry about what she would think, not having to remind himself to call when he got off work late, not having to consider his words over dinner and as a result have stifling and stilted conversations that neither of them enjoyed.
But he couldn’t deny that he missed her and that he was overwhelmed by shame and a sense of failure every time he came home to the ominous sound of the empty house, the kitchen and the bed cold and empty. He missed her presents and the small things she did that he had come to be used to over the years. He missed the way she would fuss over his books, complaining that they were taking over the house and making everything dusty, how she would hum to herself when she was sewing, and the look on her face when she was asleep. He missed having someone to come home to, to wake up to and someone to share his dinners with, even if in awkward silence. Most evenings when he sat down with a book, he had a moment when he expected her to come through the door or found himself surprised that she wasn’t sitting in the armchair next to him. The disappointment that pierced him in those moments was palpable and lingering.
He knew he had no right to ask her to come back. If he was perfectly honest with himself, he didn’t know if he wanted her to. He missed her, but he was under no illusion that things would change between them should she return. He was sorry for her sake and regretful for the dream they had shared that seemed to wither further and further, but he didn’t know how to improve anything between them. They both were what life had made them, they couldn’t change that.
So he returned to the empty house night after night, often later than was strictly necessary and went to Sunday dinners at his mother's, which made him feel like he was sixteen again. For the rest of the week he had bought a cookbook that he slowly worked through. He had employed one of his neighbours for housekeeping, fully aware of the irony that Rosie had always wanted him to hire a housekeeper, that he had got now, only because she was gone.
He limited his contact with George to the unavoidable professional interactions and put in more hours at work and on his push-bike. It seemed to work. He was surprisingly content whenever he didn’t think about his personal life, and he was getting rather good at ignoring that he had one.
He hadn’t met Miss Fisher since the day he had arrested Roy and Jerry. He had noticed her name, or rather the nome de plume he was sure was hers, appeared more and more frequently in the Argus' by-lines, her article about illegal pubs in Collingwood and Fitzroy had been a roaring success apparently, but that was all. He occasionally exchanged a polite good morning with her father, if they passed ways when Henry was once again released from custody after a long night out and Jack came in for work early. He tried not to think about her too much.
When the call came in for a murder in Collingwood, Jenkins didn’t waste a second delegating the case to Jack.
“You got along with the lot down there last time, didn’t you?” he taunted. “See that you can do that again.”
The victim's name rang a bell somewhere, but Jack couldn’t place it. Someone’s wife? A previous suspect maybe? She had been found dead in her flat, a small apartment above a pawnbroker’s shop. It had a corner window from which one could overlook the crossing. It had a perfect view over the neighbouring shops and the comings and goings down on the street. He had no doubt that if the window was open, you could hear every word spoken on the street below.
The victim, a middle aged woman, sat in the window chair, as if she had been looking outside.
“Emily Reed, 56, widowed. She was living alone.” Constable Fields reported, “She doesn’t seem to have any injuries and seems to be dead at least a couple of hours, possibly since last night.”
A cup lay in shards next to her on the floor, in a puddle of dark liquid.
“Test the tea, both from the floor and the pot.” Jack ordered, “Who found her?”
“A friend, coming for a visit. Apparently, they were set to meet before lunch. She’s waiting in the kitchen.” Fields nodded towards the door.
Jack nodded and took another look around the crime scene. Then he headed to meet his witness.
“Senior Sergeant Jack Robinson.” he introduced himself, before he had fully entered the kitchen. Anything else he might have intended to say stuck in his throat when he found himself opposite a pair of sparkling blue eyes and a raven black head of hair. She tilted her head and smiled flirtatiously.
I figured once upon a time I was an ocean,
But now I’m a mountain range.
Something unstoppable set into motion
Nothing is different
But everything’s changed.
Once upon a time there was an ocean – Paul Simon
Simon, Paul & Brian Eno. 2006. “Once upon a time there was an ocean.“ Surprise. Prod. Paul Simon Warner Bros.
A big massive THANK YOU to Phrack_fangirl, who halfway through volunteered to beta this story. Ever since she has very patiently put up with my punctuation and spelling issues, as well as me completely ignoring her advise (any mistakes still left are definitely not her fault). You are the best.
Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed in spite (because?) of all the emotional stuff I made those characters go through.
And thank you for all the lovely comments, especially the small group of regulars. You guys have made my days. :-)