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Interlude I

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When Mac arrived at Wardow, she was greeted by a smiling Phryne and Mr. Butler dressed in coat and hat, ready to leave for his weekly card game. Mac held up her bottle of whisky and Phryne smiled even wider.

“Mr. Butler’s left some cocktails, but whisky is definitely the drink of the day!” she exclaimed, motioning Mac through to the parlour.

Once inside, Mac cast her eye around. It was much the same as it had been when Phryne had flown away in 1929—Mac had stopped by from time to time to visit the Collins family and knew there hadn’t been major developments—but some of the artwork had changed. There was a blank space on one wall, which Phryne saw her looking at.

“I bought the most divine Tamara de Lempicka. It’s coming with Mother by ship.”

“Ah,” Mac nodded as if she knew the first thing about artists, and took a seat. “Do you know when she’ll arrive?”

“Next Friday. In theory. I’m having a dinner party to welcome her. You’ll come, of course?” Phryne asked, and Mac caught the undercurrent of doubt in her voice.

“Of course,” Mac assured her. She was not fond of Margaret Fisher’s childish impulsiveness, but damn if she was going to leave Phryne to weather it alone. “Who else is invited?”

“You. Aunt Prudence, of course. Dot and Hugh, though they aren’t sure they can arrange for someone to mind Winifred in time. A few of Mother’s friends that I’m still in touch with. Jane will come back from Warleigh for the weekend,” Phryne ticked each guest off on her fingers. “And Jack, barring a murder.”

Mac tried—with limited success—not to smirk at the lovestruck expression on her friend’s face.

“And how is the good inspector?”

Phryne handed Mac a tumbler and dropped into her chair.

“You’ve seen him more recently than I have!” she said, smiling into her drink.

Mac and Jack had had their weekly drink the evening before—Phryne had a standing invitation to join them, and had managed it once, but the few weeks since her return had been so busy that she generally declined.

“That’s not quite what I meant,” Mac said, fixing Phryne with a deliberate look.

Phryne Fisher blushed. Mac nearly dropped her drink in surprise.

“It’s… good,” said Phryne softly. “We’re being cautious, but it’s good.”

If there had been any doubt in Mac’s mind about Phryne’s feelings—and there hadn’t been—the protective tone would have put it to rest. Phryne Fisher, she of too many details about her assignations, was keeping things close to her chest.

Mac had to admit, she almost wanted to ask. Almost. Remembering some of the details she’d never been able to scrub from her mind after Phryne’s commentary, almost was close enough.

“I’m happy, for both of you,” Mac said.

Phryne smiled again. “And he has the most marvelous—”

“No. Jack and I are colleagues; the less I know about his anatomy, the happier I am.”

Phryne sipped her whisky smugly, and Mac realised that it was deliberate. Well, turnabout was fair play.

“Did I tell you about the case last year?” Mac asked. “Jack—for reasons he refuses to explain to this day—shows up at our crime scene in this linen suit, complete with a bow tie, and a boating hat. Between Hugh and I we are assuming he lost a wager. But he’s looking over our body, sombre as ever, when he sees someone across the field. He takes off after the bloke and ends up in the lake, soaking wet. Makes his arrest, hair in his face and straw hat floating around his knees. I thought the female witnesses were going to swoon.”

“I don’t believe you!” Phryne cackled.

“Absolutely true,” swore Mac. “If you doubt me, ask him yourself.”

A brief flash of regret crossed Phryne’s features—Mac suspected that the reality of being away for over two years instead of the few months she had expected still weighed on her friend—but then she sipped her whisky and smiled.

“I don’t suppose there are pictures?”

“You know, I think it might have made the newspaper…”

Phryne cackled again, her drink nearly sloshing out of the tumbler, and Mac smiled. She’d missed this evenings.

“Oh! I meant to ask, Mac, how is your houseguest? What was her name again?”

“Frankie,” Mac said.

‘Frankie’ was a medical research scientist based out of the university in Perth Mac had met at a conference the year before. As the only two women at said conference, they had been assigned a shared room; thankfully Frankie had proven to be a delightful roommate for the week—sarcastic, abrasive, and utterly uninterested in the patriarchal bullshit directed at them both. They had exchanged addresses when the week was over, and kept in touch ever since.

She was also, to Mac’s continual frustration, absolutely fucking gorgeous.

“That’s right!” Phryne said. “She’s another Elizabeth, isn’t she?”

“Elizabeth Franklin, yes,” said Mac dryly. “And it is remarkable how far a masculine nickname seems to appease the delicate sensibilities of our male peers.”

“Yes, well, we can’t all be lucky on that front I suppose.”

Mac was fairly certain she could see the hearts dancing around Phryne’s head at the statement, and hid her smirk behind her drink. The nauseating soppiness would pass eventually, and until then her friend—friends, really; she was quite fond of Jack—deserved every happiness.

“Funnily, I don’t feel Phryne carries quite so many expectations of femininity.”

“Yes, if you ignore all that ‘bare your breasts in court’ nonsense.”

“Be honest, you would snatch the opportunity with both hands.”

Phryne twirled the liquid in her glass and grinned.

“Of course. Sounds like fun, really. I shan’t be deterred though—how is the guest? She’s just taken a post at the university, right?”

“Yes. She’s quite brilliant; the dean was practically beside himself when she accepted the offer,” Mac said. When the possibility had arisen, Mac had offered her spare bedroom; it was close to the university, cheap (after Frankie insisted on paying something), and would give Frankie time to find suitable accommodation instead of leaving it to chance. “And I’ve barely seen her since she’s arrived. She’s been at work, and trying to find societies to meet people—”

“She’ll come to the dinner party, of course,” Phryne interjected.

“I’m not sure your mother and aunt are the sort of society she’s seeking.”

“Nonsense. I’ll be there, and you, and Jack,” Phryne said dismissively, then smirked. “It will get her used to us before my big birthday party in a few weeks.”

Mac rolled her eyes, but nodded. Friendship with Phryne meant knowing when an argument was over before it had happened.

“I’ll ask her, but no promises,” Mac said.

She just had to hope her friend was too wrapped up in her own love life to start speculating about Mac’s.