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Influenza and Tulips

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Detective Inspector Jack Robinson was frowning. He supposed it might look like the body laying on the docks was the reason. It was mangled and crushed, an unnatural way for a man so young to meet his end, and in truth the Detective did feel that horrid ache of sympathy for the man in his chest. He muttered notes to an overly attentive Collins, examining first the corpse and then the crate of steel nails which had crushed him.

The Constable and Dorothy had fought again, and it made the junior officer stick to Jack’s side like a wounded puppy. He tried not to wince at the scratch of Hugh’s pencil in his pocketbook as he reeled off his final instructions.

“I think the coroner will identify this mark on his chest as a gunshot wound, Collins. Poorly hidden by the crate falling on him. I want a list of crane operators on duty last night and this morning. The body needs to be taken to the morgue; I want an autopsy done by lunchtime. Get statements from all those present.”

His mind was elsewhere, drifting, ears straining. Waiting for the click of heels on concrete.

“Do you think he was alive when the crate fell, sir?”

Collins’ question forced Jack to focus back in on

“Um, I’m not sure. I think if this is a bullet wound, he would’ve been dead soon enough either way. Not much blood on the ground, though. Looks like the body was staged. Have a poke around, there’s likely a primary crime scene.”

Shit. How had he missed that? No big puddle of blood. Rigor mortis could have set in before the crate fell, based on the injuries. Collins didn’t seem to doubt his commanding officer, faithfully nodding and scribbling down Jack’s every word, but the Inspector was surprised at himself. He should have noticed without the question being asked.

Jack looked behind him as an impulse before standing. It took him a second to realise he had been making sure Phryne wasn’t leaning over his shoulder.

With a huff of frustration at himself and a last glance at the body, Jack rose to his feet, coat billowing behind him. It was the beginning of spring, the day’s heat creeping earlier and earlier into the morning. He left his coat buttons undone, hat tilted low on his head.

The clatter of Collin’s shoes followed him, and Jack kept walking for a few seconds, waiting for the inevitable –

“Sir!”

He spun on his heels, continuing a few steps backwards as Collins caught up, puffing a little. His pocketbook was clutched in hand, that embarrassed look on the young man’s face which betrayed his next question.

“I was wondering, Sir, if I could ask you… maybe… for a little advice?”

Jack raised an eyebrow.

“It’s about Dot, sir.

As Hugh’s words fell to a whisper, Jack restrained a grimace.

“Can it wait until we’re back at the station, Collins? We do have a potential murder on our hands.”

Few heads had turned as Jack and Hugh moved away from the scene, but now wharfies were gathering around the crime scene. Collins needed to control it.

“Yes, sir. Sorry. It can wait… of course.”

He looked so dejected, flustered, that Jack immediately regretted his shortness. His patience was worrying short today.

“Good man, Collins. How’s about you pick my brains over lunch?”

The flash of Hugh’s white teeth as a smile captured his face undoubtedly damned him in every Poker game he ever played, but Jack couldn’t help being buoyed by the man’s excitement. Hugh would no doubt get them both something from the pie cart, so excited to spend time with the older man.

Sometimes Jack forgot just how young he was. How optimistic.

He smiled thinly, before nodding over Hugh’s shoulder at the growing crowd around the crime scene. The few beat cops standing around were in over their heads – one looked a little green.

Collin’s head whipped around, gasping as he finally noticed the crowd.

“Sorry! Sir, I should go –”

“Of course,” Jack gave permission for the constable to take off in a run, returning to his scene.

He bit back a chuckle, dark as the scene was. For the frustration he caused, Hugh truly was charming. If a little frantic. Jack gave the scene one last look as he got into his police car, mind awash with details and theories, and a startling dash of unease.

It was strange to work a crime scene without her.

As Collins fumblingly instructed the rowdy wharfies into a single-file line, Jack suspected Miss Fisher would have laughed too.

*

It had felt like an impossibly long day. Boredom at the morgue, waiting for the autopsy results. Paperwork in tidy piles on his desk. Signatures and witness statements and a distinct lack of flourish as he interrogated suspects and got nowhere.

Jack wondered if he was an idiot for dropping by St Kilda on his way home. It wasn’t remotely the right direction, costing him an extra tram fare. He doubted Phryne would even bother opening the bottle of whiskey he had brought, far too cheap for her tastes. And yet her stood in the front garden of Wardlow cradling the gift and wondering why the household was so quiet.

Had she gone on holiday? Surely, she would tell him. Perhaps he hadn’t previously – but they were friends now. He was sure of it.

Her bedroom light was on.

He wondered if it was strange he knew which room every single one of Wardlow’s windows corresponded to.

The evening was fair enough that he could stand on the front path indefinitely, without breaking a sweat or shivering in his work clothes.

He heard Jane’s voice, Mr Butler’s soft answering tones. The flutter of the curtain in the dining room, a face peering at Jack. He closed his eyes and pretended to be unaware.

They left him alone, fortunately. He had held his breath, wondering if they might fling the front door open. Perhaps Mr Butler had guided Jane away. Jack supposed that after years of working for Phryne, the butler recognised the behaviour of a lost man when he saw it.

He cleared his throat. Resettled his hat on his head. Thought about hiding the whiskey in a bush, rather than disgracing the Fisher household with something less fine than a rare Scottish single malt.

As he raised his hand to knock, Jack tried to blink away the haze settling in his mind. What was happening to him?

Why was he here?

It hadn’t been like this with Rosie. It had all made sense with Rosie. He knew the right things to do and say, intentions clear across the table. He had schmoozed her father and charmed her mother and taken her for chaste dates to the theatre, splashing what little cash he could save up on a junior policeman’s salary.

There was a roadmap. The ring, the house, the kids which never came to be… he knew what to do. He hadn’t shaken as he stood outside her house, terrified to break a friendship, worried about their professional partnership. Worried that Phryne couldn’t give him what he wanted, while also knowing he would be a shell without her.

Rosie hadn’t threatened his job security, hadn’t flirted and argued with him in the same breath. She wanted nothing to do with his grisliest murder scenes – those thoughts hidden away alongside horrors from the Great War.

He heard a commotion behind the grand front door of Wardlow, more of Jane’s muffled voice. She was always excited to see him. He knocked.

The warm welcome of Jane and Mr Butler was never quite something he got used to. Something that made his little house feel all the more empty. Dot greeted him as she took some laundry through the entryway, cheery and pleasant as always. Jane was practically bouncing on her toes, freshly back from some great trip and excited to tell him all about it. Mr Butler was pleasant as always, a twinkle in the man’s eye as he offered to take Jack’s coat and hat. The Detective hung both garments up himself, but thanked the man all the same.

He didn’t mention the whiskey, and Jack was glad for it.

“Have you ever been to Italy, Detective?”

He offered the girl a polite negative, smiling at the dressing gown covering her pajamas. She had obviously been on her way to bed when she spotted Jack. In truth, he had hoped the whole household might have retired for the night.

“It’s wonderful! Mr Butler said he would teach me to make pasta, although I don’t know if we can make it as beautifully as they do on the continent.”

“I look forward to trying it,” Jack offered diplomatically.

He usually had a lot of time for the girl, but it was late. He was tired. Phryne hadn’t sauntered to the door, dressed in something outrageous.

“Miss Phryne said she would help me practice my Italian, but she’s been too ill. I don’t want to forget it all!”

“Jane!”

Dot’s stern call from the kitchen wounded Jane’s enthusiasm, as she realised she had mis-stepped. No doubt Phryne had sworn the household to secret about her illness. Mr Butler guided the girl away from the Inspector, giving him a little space. Jack stood awkwardly, unsure of himself. Jane looked upset with herself, head hung.

“Do you speak Italian, Inspector?” Mr Butler asked.

Saving the day, as always. Jack hid a grimace. Sore subject.

“Only well enough to read a menu,” he joked, and the butler gave him a knowing laugh.

“I’m afraid I’m the same,” Mr Butler replied, “maybe we’ll get you a tutor, Jane.”

She smiled weakly, offering the Inspector a quick duck of her head before politely joining Dot in the kitchen. For a quick moment, the glance the Inspector shared with Mr Butler was one between friends, parental figures. A knowing smile.

He was uncanny in his professionalism, but Jack enjoyed that the butler broke character to make him more comfortable. A good man, he had decided long ago.

“Is Phryne… seriously unwell?” he asked quietly, glancing upwards at the ceiling.

Mr Butler’s grimace confirmed the worry in the pit of his stomach. It would take a freight train to stop that woman.

“She’s… Doctor McMillan was here this morning.”

Right.

“Can I… go up and see her?”

He was pushing his luck. Mr Butler seemed unphased.

“I can certainly ask, Inspector.”

Mr Butler was quickly gone on silent footsteps, reaching the steps before Jack could stop him.

“Don’t wake her! If she’s sleeping.” He asked, suddenly feeling sick himself.

The quietness of the household was wrong. Unsettling.

Mr Butler nodded understandingly, before continuing upstairs.

Now alone in the entryway Jack glanced at the coats hanging by the door, the tidy parlour. There were none of Phryne’s freshly-worn coats – no discarded scarves or bracelets thrown onto side tables as they began to bother her. No half-read books or half-drunk cocktails.

Jack turned his attention away. The lump in his throat felt hot, tears threatening. He went bright pink when he cried. Phryne would notice. He schooled his face.

“She said you can come up,” Mr Butler appeared behind him silently, and Jack tried not to jump. “Although Miss Fisher did express concern for you getting ill.”

“I’ll be fine. Thank you, Mr B.”

“Shout if you need anything, Inspector.”

He nodded graciously, ascending the stairs. Although he had been desperate to see her, each step now felt impossibly heavy. He paused outside her door for a moment. The whiskey tucked under his arm felt even more ridiculous now. He should have brought flowers. Or something sweet. Anything else.

He knocked lightly on her door, frowning as he heard no reply.

“Phryne?” he called, listening intently for her reply.

When none came he opened the door carefully, surprised to see the room lit only by one side-lamp, hidden from the bed by a screen. His eyes took a moment to adjust, just in time to hear a croaked:

“Close the door.”

Jack had expected her to sit up in bed, perk up and grin at him. For the room to be bright and fresh and filled with a steady supply of cocktails.

The door clicked closed behind him as Jack took in the scene. Phryne was curled in her bed, covering her face from the light, her skin sickly pale and hair mussed. Her breathing was laboured – he could hear it – and his chest clutched as she barely reacted to his presence.

“Oh, Phryne…”

 Jack often forgot that she was short, even as she stared up at him, the was often so commanding she seemed like the strongest person in the room. Now her thin frame looked startlingly small, weak and swamped by sheets. She coughed, heaving for air.

The stupid bottle of whiskey found a place on the floor, laid beside her bedside table. Jack supposed he might sneak it out with him, sink it himself to try and erase the horrible feeling clutching at his chest, making him feel sick to his stomach as he waited for her coughing fit to end.  

“Don’t come too close, Jack. You’ll get sick.”

Each word was rasped, languid where she usually spoke too fast for him to keep up.

“Phryne, my god. You look awful.”

She croaked some quip in reply, but Jack couldn’t make it out. Didn’t care to. He was horrified.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

He crouched beside the bed, unsure what else to do. Her eyes were closed, but she winced to open them as he reached her eye level, taking in his face with a lazy smile. He realised she was shivering.

“Are you a doctor too now?”

Without her usual bite, the words fell limp. Made Jack feel useless.

He sat down fully, side pressed against her mattress, hands knotted in front of him. He wasn’t sure what to do with them. Her breath was rattling, and each cough which wracked her chest sounded agonising. He glanced at her face in the quiet moments, but the gauntness of it made him sick with worry.

When had he last seen her? A week ago? She had seemed fine. How ill could a person become in so little time?

It seemed impossible for Phryne to be anything less than a firecracker. Even in sorrow, she was so strong.

It took her a few tries to speak, clearing her throat and mumbling as her face remained pressed into the mattress.

“Have you got a case for me?” she murmured.

“Certainly not! You need to save your energy.”

If she had the energy, Jack imagined she might have scoffed. Instead, he heard her fidgeting against the mattress, straining to move. He was struggling to find any humour in this.

“I’m bored, indulge me.”

“Phryne… this sounds really bad. Do you need to be in a hospital? What did Doctor Mac say?”

“That there is an outbreak of scarlet fever at the hospitals. She didn’t want me to risk it.”

Jack rolled his head against the sheet, aligning his face with hers. So she could see his look of disapproval when she opened her eyes.

“So you really ought to be in hospital, but you aren’t.”

“Didn’t fancy scarlet fever on top of influenza.”

“Understandable,” he conceded.

Phryne coughed again, and Jack wondered if it would be improper to hug her.

“So Mac believes it to be the flu?”

She nodded once. Mumbled an ‘mhm’.

“You must feel dreadful.”

Before he knew what he was doing, Jack had reached up to stroke her hair down. Phryne hummed her enjoyment, feline as she nuzzled into the sheet.

He’d had the flu last year, not as badly as this, but a few miserable days in bed was enough for Jack to understand the misery of it.

“Jane was terribly upset I don’t speak Italian. It sounds like her trip was a success,” he mused, continuing with his gentle touches.

“She’s getting well-travelled,” Phryne mumbled into the sheet, a shadow of a smile on her lips, “she’ll surpass me if I’m not careful.”

Jack never wanted her to go anywhere again. But he swallowed heavily, pushing the thought away. He rested his hand over Phryne’s overheated forehead, hoping to soothe her headache a little.

“You’ve done a good job with her,” he noted.

The girl had turned out well. Clever and adventurous, respectful and yet not too well-behaved. Kind, beneath it all. Like her adoptive mother.

“I was so terrified I’d mess her up. I’m glad you think she’s turning out okay.”

“She’s got a good role model,” Jack muttered, smiling as Phryne’s eyes opened in surprise.

“I must be dying,” she rasped, “if you’re admitting that.”

“Don’t say that.”

She didn’t laugh at him. She closed her eyes again. Brought an alarmingly warm hand up to pull Jack’s hand from her face, and entangled their fingers.

“I’ll do my best.”

Long minutes passed in relative silence, only Phryne’s breathing and coughing interrupting. Jack stared at the painting on her bedroom wall – dressed in only darkness and decorated with a story he wasn’t sure he would ever fully understand. The brushstrokes captured a different woman, and yet the same body.

“If you want a case to solve, I have one,” he proposed, quietly disappointed that Phryne didn’t suddenly sit up in bed, captured by the mystery.

She hummed her interest, fingers stroking across his knuckle.

“Do you know what’s happening with Dot and Hugh?”

“No?” she replied, curiosity piqued.

“Hugh asked for my advice, at lunch. Even bought me a pie for my troubles. I snuck the money back into his wallet.”

He knew Phryne would care about that kind of thing. It was one of the things about her which charmed him so much.

“Good man,” she murmured. “What was the advice?”

“He mentioned that he had upset her. Said something stupid, and she didn’t want to go to the pictures with him.”

“Oh?”

“Any guesses?” he coaxed.

He liked when she spoke, even through difficult breaths. It reminded him she was there. Fine. Breathing and recovering.

“He… didn’t like her dress? Again?”

Jack huffed, rolling his eyes at the constable. Mistakes of youth, he conceded. He had certainly been no Casanova himself. And Dot was more thoroughly modern than she might admit to herself.

“Not this time.”

“Something about the Catholics?” Phyrne mumbled.

Jack smiled to himself.

“Surprisingly not.”

“I give in.”

“Sure?”

Phryne was too exhausted to wrack her brain, and Jack accepted his role as her entertainer for a moment. He had no desire to drain her energy any further.

“Hugh told his mother that Dorothy makes a far better roast dinner. And told Dorothy, assuming she would be pleased. And now the two of them both angry at Hugh, and Hugh presumes at one another.”

“Oh, what a disaster,” Phryne laughed drily, joining in Jack’s sardonic smile.

She could imagine the two of them, Jack’s uncracking expression and Hugh’s panic as he asked the older man how to resolve things. Or possibly, tried to figure out what he had done wrong.

“It’s a great drama, he assures me,” Jack told her.

“How did you advise your young constable?”

Her eyes were lazily open again, and Jack enjoyed the time he could spend staring at her.

“Told him to change his name, and buy the first ticket to Perth.”

“The only solution,” Phryne agreed.

Even her murmurs were growing weaker, eyes drifting closed again. Jack had no desire to interrupt her sleep.

“Get better, Phryne.”

It was an instruction. An insistence.

He had no idea how to do this, to follow the signposts with Phryne. He would have to forge a new path, miles from anything he knew. But watching her fall asleep with her hand in his felt like the most obvious thing in the world.

She didn’t reply, coughing a little as sleep finally claimed her.

With a final murmur of her name, a careful extrication of his hand, and a kiss to her forehead Jack let himself out of the room.

*

Jack had crept down the stairs, reclaiming his hat and trying not to wake the household. Trying to ward of the unexpected tears which were threatening to fall. Quiet footsteps approached him, a gentle voice making him jump.  

“Excuse me, Inspector?”

It was Dot, wringing her hands, hair in plaits and feet in slippers. Concern was evident on her face, wrinkling into her youthful features – just like it did for Collins. They were a sweet pair, he had to admit.

“Dorothy?”

“How is she, Inspector?”

“She seems very ill, it’s a miserable thing, flu. But I’m sure she’ll improve. Is Doctor Mac returning in the morning?”

“Twice every day,” Dot confirmed, hanging onto his every word.

Jack frowned. Mac must be worried. Dorothy kept speaking, the tea towel in her hands bearing the brunt of her anxiousness.

“She won’t let any of us in, only Mr Butler, because he had the influenza earlier this year – and they say you can’t catch it twice.”

“You’ll want to avoid it, Dot. It’s a horrid thing to catch it. And you getting ill won’t help Miss Fisher.”

“I know Inspector, I just… she’ll be okay?”

“I’m sure she will, Dot. And I’m sure she’ll appreciate your concern.”

Out of the corner of his eye he caught the white of Jane’s nightdress, watching them from the top of the stairs.

“I’m sure she’ll be fine,” he repeated, for the girl’s benefit.

Dot looked on the verge of tears herself. Jack placed a hand on her upper arm, in lieu of a hug, hoping Dorothy might be a little comforted by it. She nodded, hiding the redness of her eyes.

“I’ll let you all get some sleep. Goodnight.”

Jack pulled his coat on, leaving the unnaturally quiet household, anticipating a sleepless night.

*

He couldn’t rid the image from his mind, of her frail and lonely in her huge bed, wracked with pain and shivers and those coughs which made your head ache and your throat burn.

Jack hoped she knew he was thinking of her. Considered praying, although he was not a religious man. Usually case details rushed through his mind before sleep, looking for breaks and inconsistencies. The sobering image of Phryne’s cheekbones and pale lips haunted him instead, warding sleep away.

What if there was a phone call? What if he slept through it?

Jack was sure he would never forgive himself. She was too much of a firecracker to be taken out by such a common thing, surely?

He knew far too many men who had shaken him with their sudden loss to lesser illnesses.

*

Jack was groggy at work. Most of the station staff left him alone. Paper-wrapped flowers had taken his fancy on the walk in, and he stared at them as the words swam on the page in front of him. He had bought them quite by impulse, but now they were a constant reminder of her, innocently perched on top of his filing cabinet. That in a bedroom across Melbourne Phryne felt downright miserable.

He thought about it all day, pondered on overstepping and the nature of their relationship, the significance of tulips. He couldn’t quite recall – but it was fine. They were pretty. That was all he needed.

Work took him late into the evening, partly as a result of his distraction and partly due to the sheer number of suspects involved in the case. When he disembarked the tram and walked to Wardlow, the lights upstairs were all off. The paper for the tulips was, despite his best efforts, crumpled from his grip. He wondered if the bottle of whiskey had been found yet, forgotten as he attempted to let Phryne sleep.

At the door it transpired that she was asleep once again. Mr Butler agreed it was a good sign of healing. Jack declined having her woken. Mr Butler noted the prettiness of the flowers, and promised they would be placed in Phryne’s room.

There was a chill in the spring air as Jack journeyed home, trying not to feel spurned.

*

He bumped into Doctor McMillan as he visited the medical examiner the next day, uncharacteristically halting her in her tracks.

“How is she?”

“Recovering. Nice flowers.”

“Did she like them?”

Doctor Mac nodded. Smiled grimly.

“Bold statement, tulips.”

Jack chose to ignore that.

Doctor Mac ignored his follow up questions, bidding him goodbye as she rushed to theatre.

*

Jack pondered on if he should ask Mr Butler what tulips meant on the tram home from work. Pondered on Phryne’s state, and if he was right to give her some space that evening. He had been to Wardlow for the past two evenings – it would be strange to show up for a third. Wouldn’t it?

He spent the evening alone, the interior doors of his modest home open so he would hear the phone if it rang. As he took a break from his book, staring out at the pale last dregs of sun leaving the night sky, he wondered if he should call. Soon it would be too late for her to ring.

But Mr Butler would probably answer. Or Dot. Or worse, Jane. He liked the household, but he already suspected they understood the depth of his feelings for Phryne – perhaps even more than the Detective herself understood. He kept a keen ear out for the phone, occasionally ensuring it was connected and on the hook, but it did not ring.

*

He slept marginally better than the night before but was still occupied by worries. Visions of flowers and Phryne’s fragile features, draped with pale skin, those coughs which made him nervous for her. He left early for work. Too early. He remained on the tram as it passed his stop, ending up near Wardlow as the sun began to rise.

Jack entered through the back of the house, Mr Butler already awake and baking. There was no sign of either Dot nor Jane, and the butler acknowledged Jack with a polite nod as he entered the kitchen.

“Good morning, Inspector,” he greeted, his sotto voice telling Jack the household was still at rest.

“Good morning,” he whispered back, hat in his hands as he stood in the kitchen.

He wasn’t sure why he was here. If it was proper. With Mr Butler stood kneading dough between him and the entryway to the main house, it felt ridiculous now. Improper. He wondered if the man’s dedication to gold-standard service would extend to kicking Jack out.

“I wonder if you could do me a favour, sir,” Mr Butler asked, nodding to the stove as his hands were occupied, “Miss Fisher’s toast should be done. Could I trouble you to take it upstairs?”

Jack blinked in surprise. Stared at the toast. Looked back at Mr B.

“Only if you don’t mind, of course sir. Since Dorothy is banned from the room –”

“I, uh, of course, Mr B! It would be no trouble at all.”

The twinkle in the older man’s eye was enough to make Jack flush. And make his fondness for the man grow even stronger.

“She might like honey and lemon, as well, if you couldn’t mind. Helps with the throat.”

“Good idea! Of course.”

The kettle was freshly boiled, and Jack made the drink quickly under Mr Butler’s softly-spoken instructions. As the bread was set aside to rise, Jack found himself armed with a tray of tea, toast, and extras for himself, silently added by the kindly Mr Butler.

“Is she awake?” Jack asked, slightly surprised at his sudden role in the household duties, “I wouldn’t want to intrude.”

“If you don’t mind me saying, Inspector, I’m sure Miss Fisher won’t mind. Doctor McMillan will be here soon anyway,” at Jack’s eyebrow raise, he added, “and she has been rather starved for company with this damned illness.”

With that Mr Butler was off, leaving Jack to make the slightly-shaky ascent up the stairs and to Phryne’s room.

He set the tray down to knock and open the door, before entering the darkened room. Phryne mumbled, voice raspy from illness and sleep as she roused and turned on a light. She looked better. Didn’t flinch at the light. Jack exhaled shakily, suddenly realising how afraid he was to see her ill again.

After a second glance at him and an uncharacteristically modest movement to cover herself with the sheets, Phryne’s weary face lit up.

“Jack! You’re not Mr Butler.”

“Unfortunately not,” he affirmed, “but I do have toast made by Mr B., so I hope you’ll forgive me.”

“Of course,” she tutted, moving aside in the bed to create space for both tray and Inspector.

It didn’t escape Jack’s notice that she struggled with the movement, frowning at the effort to shift herself. He tried not to stare, instead focusing on the fact she was sitting up in bed.

She looked so much more like herself. Her intelligent gaze was returning, her energy still sapped but definitely present.  

“You seem a lot better than last time I saw you,” Jack offered, setting the tray beside her on the sheets.

He wasn’t sure if it was proper to sit.

“Thank goodness!” She exclaimed, “I felt wretched. Looked wretched enough to worry even Mac.”

“That is a worry,” Jack conceded, stealing one of the piece of additional toast Mr B. had piled onto the plate for him.

Phryne took her own piece in a faux-huff, as Jack hoped she might. She gestured for him to sit as she chewed, and Jack obliged.

“I appreciate you bringing me breakfast,” Phryne noted, “but won’t you be late for work?”

Jack shrugged, more nonchalant than he felt sat beside a be-pajamaed Phryne Fisher, making her laugh through a mouthful of toast.

“Who’s going to tell me off, Collins?”

“I wouldn’t like to get on his bad side.”

“You know, maybe I should leave–”

Jack stood, pretending to leave, delighting at Phryne’s laugh and the hand which grabbed his coat and pulled him back to the mattress. His weight shook the breakfast tray, risking the hot honey and lemon, but Phryne didn’t seem to care.

“If he gives you any trouble, send him my way,” Phryne chuckled, “I’ll tell him you were very busy cheering up my morning.”

“Essential police business,” Jack concurred.

They ate and chattered until Mac arrived, and Jack took his cue to leave. When he finally reached the station half an hour late he was pleasantly surprised to see the building still standing, wiping crumbs from his face, but unable to shift the slight smile which seemed to have frozen itself onto his features.

*

In the late afternoon Collins poked his head around Jack’s open office door, knocking after he had already intruded. As usual.

Jack looked up wearily.  

“Dot said to tell you that Miss Fisher is feeling better, sir.”

The Detective Inspector blinked, before realising that was supposed to be news to him. Bless Mr Butler and his discretion – he really ought to buy that man a beer.

“Glad to hear it, Collins,” he paused for a moment, before realising: “are things all-right between you now?”

Hugh flustered, and Jack averted his eyes to his desk, trying to give the man some privacy.

“Yes, sir. I, um, explained that I didn’t understand the full meaning of the situation, sir. We’re going to the pictures tonight. I thought it might be nice to… get away from the households for a bit.”

“Wise man, Collins,” Jack approved, and the younger office beamed.

“Thank you, sir! I couldn’t have done it without your help, sir.”

“Don’t mention it.”

“Very well, sir,” Collins continued, “if there’s nothing else I need to do, I think I’ll head home to change before tonight.”

Jack drummed his fingers on the table, contemplating something he’d been considering all afternoon. He cleared his throat, shuffling the papers in front of him. What the hell.

“If you don’t mind taking an important package over to the Fisher residence on your way, Collins –”

“Of course sir!”

Always eager to help. Jack grimaced at the younger officer’s energy.

“Great. Give me 5 minutes, and you can collect it before you leave.”

With a final few sirs and a firm nod, Collins left Jack’s office, leaving the older detective to his plan. Perhaps the most challenging case of the week – how to keep Phryne from exhausting herself due to boredom.

When Collins returned to collect them, the documents were bundled with twine, a formality Jack rarely bothered with – especially not when sending documents to Miss Fisher. But the thought of anyone else reading the note he had enclosed made him flush pink.

He hoped Collins would have the good sense not to peek.

*

Dot stuck her head around the door, smiling at the sight of Miss Fisher reading, propped up against pillows. She had seen the look of worry on every face which left Miss Fisher’s room during the worst of her illness, her prayers full of Phryne as she asked for her boss’ recovery. To see her looking rosier with each hour warmed Dot’s heart – it seemed nothing short of a miracle.

The documents in Dot’s hands were heavy, and from Hugh’s summary she was sure the Lady Detective would be excited to receive them.

“Miss?”

Miss Fisher’s attention snapped to Dot, smiling at the younger woman. Dot kept some distance, but would now shuffle past the threshold of the room, still wary of Phryne’s warnings of infectiousness.

“Yes, Dot?”

“Hugh has a package from the Inspector for you! I think it’s case notes, by the sound of it. Some terrible death at the docks.”

Dorothy thought of her siblings’ faces on Christmas morning, when she saw smile lines forming around Miss Fisher’s eyes and the upturn of her unpainted lips

“How delightful! Toss it here, Dot dearest!”

It was far too heavy to throw, and Dot felt it improper, so she edged close enough to drop the file on Miss Phryne’s bed before once again retreating.

“Do you need anything else, Miss?”

Miss Fisher was already untying the string wrapping the package, keen to break into a new mystery.

“I think that will be everything, Dot. Thank you.”

“Hugh and I are going to the pictures tonight, Miss – unless there’s anything you need me for?”

“Not at all, Dot. I can hardly escape my bedroom, let alone do anything daring! You go and have fun.”

Dot could hear the frustration in her voice, lighthearted though it was, and hoped Miss Fisher wouldn’t do anything too strenuous to endanger her recovery. Patience was not always one of the virtues which Miss Fisher was blessed with – though she made up for it in other ways.

“Thank you, Miss.”

*

With a last smile at her companion Phryne turned her attention back to the documents, white leaf paper covered in Jack’s handwriting spilling out. She wondered if Jack had copied the original police documents out for her. Dot closed the door as she departed, leaving Phryne in solitude as she noticed a yellow piece of cardstock atop the documents.

 More of Jack’s writing, this time addressed directly to her.

Phryne,

I’m glad to hear you are feeling better. If you still want a challenge, these are the notes for my latest case. I confess, I have some theories but I would be interested to hear your opinion.

Phryne smiled to herself. That meant he needed her help. Perfect.

Have a read through, I will visit tonight to hear what you make of it all. I give you these documents on one condition: you continue to rest until you are truly better.

I suspect that will be a greater challenge than solving the murder.

Yours,

Jack

 

Phryne glanced at the tulips on her dresser. The crime scene photos sprawled across her bed. Jack’s distinctive penmanship. With a smile to herself, she got to work. She had a Detective Inspector to impress.