Jack sighed quietly as he took a sip from his drink and checked his watch. If Phryne Fisher didn’t show herself soon, they would be late. And miss observing Kurt Flannigan and his interaction with the ushers. That was the only reason he was doing this. He told himself. To get intel on the suspected high end drug lord. He cleared his throat and looked to Mr Butler.
“Do you think you could hurry her along a bit Mr Butler? Only the performance starts at 7 and it will take us a good half hour to travel into Melbourne.”
Mr Butler raised his eyebrows slightly, and smiled. “I’ll try Inspector, But this is Miss Fisher we’re talking about.” He inclined his head bemusedly and turned away.
Jack tugged at his shirt collar. He was beginning to regret this whole thing. He should know better by now than to go along with one of Miss Fisher’s hair-brained schemes. But somehow, she had gotten to him, like she always seemed to do, and now, if she didn’t arrive very soon, the whole reason for the evening would be wasted. He drummed his fingers on his knee and waited.
Mr Butler knocked at the door. “Miss, The inspector would like me to remind you that the show starts at 7.”
Phryne looked at her reflection in the mirror. “Thank you Mr Butler, I’ll be down shortly.”
“Er Miss, forgive the impertinent question, but is tonight business or pleasure?”
Phryne stood and walked to the door. Opening it she glanced at him.
“I merely ask as to ascertain your wishes for the end of the night. If it is business, I shall stay up and serve drinks. If it is pleasure, I shall retire early and make myself scarce.”
Phryne grinned. Mr Butler really was worth his weight in gold. When she had first arrived, she had had her doubts about the seemingly upright man. But over the years he had proved himself time and time again, surprising her with his knowledge and discretion. Nothing ever ruffled Mr Butler.
“Well tonight, I am hoping for a bit of both.” Phryne sashayed back across the room and picked up her clutch bag. “What do you think Mr B?” She twirled slightly and the dress shimmered. “Do I look good enough to be on a policeman's arm for a night at the theatre?”
“Miss you look exquisite. And if I might be so bold to add, the inspector is a fool if he doesn’t mix business with pleasure tonight.”
Phryne grinned. “Thank you Mr B. You can tell the inspector I’m almost done.”
“Very good Miss.” Mr Butler nodded and with a small smile began to make his way back down the stairs to the parlour.
Phryne took one last glance in the mirror, and grabbing her long white fur as an afterthought, threw it over her shoulders.
Jack looked over to where Mr Butler stood in the doorway.
“She’ll be right down. Perhaps you should wait in the foyer?” Mr Butler knew the stunning sight of Phryne descending the stairs would be lost on Jack if he stayed here, and he was feeling slightly mischievous. Perhaps they needed a gentle nudge toward each other.
Jack tipped back the last of his drink and stood. Placing the empty glass on the side table, he nervously did up the button on his suit jacket. He’d dressed for the theatre, but he knew whatever he wore would pale in comparison to whatever stunning creation Miss Fisher would be wearing. He smoothed his hand over the back of his head and headed toward Mr Butler.
Mr Butler took Jack’s black top hat and white scarf from the hook at the door, and handing Jack the hat, wrapped the scarf around his neck. Fussing over his collar, Mr Butler snuck a look at Jack. Would this finally be the night they stopped dancing around each other? Perhaps he would make sure the empty drawer in Miss Fisher’s boudoir had a spare pain of mens pyjamas in it. Just in case. Suddenly he realized Jack was staring slack jawed at the top of the stairs, and hiding his smile Mr Butler turned.
Jack’s mouth had gone dry. Phryne always looked like she’d stepped out of a fashion magazine and tonight’s outfit was no exception. The mint green satin swished around her ankles as she stepped gently down the stairs, and the silver diamantes glistened as they caught the light.
“Ah Miss.” Mr Butlers voice pulled him out of his trance and Jack cleared his throat. “Miss Fisher.”
“Jack. If we’re to look like a couple on a romantic night out you’ll have to call me Phryne,” she smiled. “I can’t wait to see this show. Mother said it was quite a sensation back home.”
Jack’s face flushed. “Have you forgotten Phryne we are there to observe Kurt Flannigan?”
Phryne grinned as she noted his use of her first name. “Of course not Jack, But there’s no reason we can’t also enjoy the show.”
“As long as it’s nothing like an operetta,” Jack muttered. “Come on we’d best get going.”
Phryne linked her arm around his elbow, “Bye Mr B!” she called, “Don’t wait up.” She turned and winked at him with a wide cheeky grin.
The drive was pleasant enough, Jack was glad Phryne didn’t insist on driving. He felt uncomfortable being driven around in her big flashy car. Besides it looked like rain, and he definitely didn’t want Phryne to be driving through a storm on the way home. She was enough of a hurricane herself.
At the theatre Jack was mesmerized by the glamour and extravagance of it all. The tiled floors, the chandelier, the gilded archways. Here among the smartly dressed men and women he felt out of his depth, and was once again reminded of his modest income. There was no way he could have ever afforded these tickets on his salary. He looked at Phryne who looked completely at home amongst all the feathers and the furs, and shifted uncomfortably as he thought about the two completely different worlds they inhabited. He felt her arm in his once more and heard her voice as his ear.
“Flannigan. To your right,” she whispered.
Jack carefully travelled his eyes across the crowd until he spotted the ginger hair he’d been searching for. Flannigan had thrown his head back and was laughing loudly at whatever the disgusted looking usher had just said to him. Turning her back on him, Jack saw him pat her backside as she walked away. He grit his teeth. “He’s certainly not being inconspicuous, is he?”
Just then a bell rang and Jack looked around alarmed.
Phryne hid a smile at his confusion. “It’s just to let us know they’re opening the house. Come along Jack, Let’s get a program and a drink and find our seats.”
Jack looked at his tickets to hide his pink cheeks. He was embarrassed at his inexperience and marveled at how Phryne seemed to take it all in her stride. A local production of Ruddigore was far removed from a professional show in the theatre district of Melbourne, and that hadn’t exactly been a joyous experience. He swallowed nervously as he followed Phryne to the bar.
As they settled into their seats Phryne leant over to him. “You haven’t been to much theatre before have you?”
Heat rushed to Jack’s ears. “No. Not exactly,” he stammered, “I took Rosie, to a few smaller amateur local shows, but nothing as uhh… fancy as this. I don’t really belong in this world Phryne.”
“Well you do tonight Jack. No one knows us here, so we can be whoever we want to be. You’re Jack, I’m Phryne, and we’re just two lovers on a date.”
He glanced at her sharply and saw her innocent grin. He rolled his eyes and looked down to the stalls. Spotting Flannigan he leaned over to Phryne. “Fourth row from the front twelve seats from the left.”
Phryne looked to where he indicated. “Perfect. We can keep an eye on him from here.”
“Yes, just how did you get such good seats at such late notice?”
Phryne shrugged. “Aunt P,” she said by way of an explanation.
As Jack turned to her to demand more of an answer, the theatre lights dimmed and the sound of an orchestra tuning could be heard. “I thought you said this wasn’t an operetta!”
Phryne looked at him with wide innocent eyes. “I said nothing of the sort.” She sipped her champagne as silence fell in the theatre and the orchestra began the overture.
Jack shifted uncomfortably in his seat as the curtain opened to the jaunty music. “You could have warned me at least,” he grumbled sullenly.
“Shh!” Phryne hissed at him, not taking her eyes off the characters greeting each other and setting the scene behind a dimly lit scrim. “Would you have come if I’d told you?”
“And anyway I have it on good authority that this show is nothing like the Gilbert and Sullivan’s you seem to detest so much. In fact the story is adapted from a George Bernard Shaw play called Pygmalion.”
Jack stared at Phryne, who still had not taken her eyes off the stage.
“Now are you going to stop sulking and enjoy the performance?” Phryne finally turned to him and he saw her sparkling teasing eyes.
He hid his own smile, checked Flannigan was still seated in the stalls and finally settled back into his chair as the overture finished to a smattering of applause and the scrim was lifted. Despite his initial feelings toward the show he found himself being pulled into the story of the flower seller and her ruined violets.
He remained entranced, smiling at Eliza’s antics and was surprised to find himself tapping his foot in time with Alfred Doolitle’s tune about ‘a little bit of luck’. Though the song poked fun at love and was a cheeky song about shirking responsibilities, he couldn’t help but think of the luck that had come to him in the form of Miss Fisher. There was no doubting that she frustrated him at times, but he had long since given up on trying to dissuade her from interfering at crime scenes, and while he knew he could do his job without her, it would take longer, and, he admitted to himself, it would be less fun. No, this woman had brought fun back into his life. Fun he hadn’t had since before the war. He glanced sideways at her and watched her face for a moment. She was completely enraptured by the show and as it went on Jack realized she probably saw a lot of herself in Eliza. Was Prudence Stanley her Professor Higgins? he wondered.
Jack spent more and more time watching Phryne who was thoroughly enjoying herself. She laughed along with Eliza during her tirade of ‘Just you wait, Henry Higgins’, and the joy on her face when Eliza finally spoke the words, ‘The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plane’, Jack couldn’t help but smile at her.
As the maids helped Eliza into her nightdress and she sang about how she ‘could have danced all night’, Phryne felt her cynical heart lift. She snuck a look at Jack who was watching the stage with a small smile playing on his lips. She knew that if Jack asked her to dance tonight, she would feel the same way as that girl on stage. No matter how much she told herself she was an independent modern woman who didn’t need a man hanging around, she knew she enjoyed Jack’s company, more than she had anyone else's these past few years. More to the point she enjoyed him for his conversations, his dry wit, his strength, his patience, not for what he could do in her bed. Did she want to cross that line with him? Would it ruin the friendship that they had? She felt pulled to him as if by a strong magnet, whenever they were together, and she had reached for him more times than she could remember, purely out of habit. She was comfortable around him. Comfortable enough to just sit and talk, or play a game of cards, or have a drink. It had been a long time since Phryne had invited a man back to Wardlow, without the express intention of bedding him. But with Jack, it happened regularly.
A change of music drew her eyes back to the stage and suddenly it was filled with the most exquisite costumes. All in variations of black and white, and the hats! Oh, she had to lean back in her chair slightly to take it all in.
The scene at the racecourse progressed and Phryne had to laugh at Eliza’s failed attempt at small talk, but she clapped her hands to her mouth in a mixture of surprise and glee as the common flower seller on stage forgot herself and cried, “COME ON DOVER! MOVE YA BLOOMIN’ ARSE!”
It seemed she wasn’t the only one taken aback. The theatre was full of nervous chuckles and disapproving muttering and as the scene ended Phryne flicked her eyes over to see how Jack had taken it. He wasn’t watching the stage, his eyes were scanning the rows below them with increasing alarm. His eyes met hers.
“We’ve lost him!”
Phryne looked down and sure enough saw an empty seat where Flannigan had been sitting. “Perhaps he’s just visiting the lavatory.”
Jack fidgeted in his seat for a few minutes, but the man didn’t return and he leant over to Phryne. “I’m going to check the bathrooms.”
“I’m coming with you.”
“Phryne no. You stay here, it will be too obvious if we both begin to wander around, I’ll be right back.” Jack made his way down the stairs looking about him warily. Spotting Flannigan standing at the ticket office, Jack crossed to the bathrooms, keeping an eye on him. He rounded the corner and turned to spy on the man. As he watched, Flannigan pulled a parcel out of his pocket and lay it on the ticketing counter. The penguin suited man on the other side looked around worriedly and Jack pulled his head back out of sight. Was he spotted? Was Flannigan making a deal, right now? With the box office manager? Jack washed his hands as he thought about his next move. He was out of his jurisdiction, had no team with him, and didn’t even bring his gun. Maybe he’d have to let it go this time. But at least he could make an official report when he got back to the station, and when they finally caught Flannigan, Jack's eyewitness account would help towards putting him away. Taking a deep breath he wandered out of the bathroom in what he hoped was a nonchalant manner. Flannigan was still leaning against the ticket counter, the box office manager hurriedly shoving something into his inside jacket pocket. “Gentlemen,” Jack nodded at them. “Not enjoying the show?”
“What’s it to you?’ Flannigan snarled.
“Nothing, nothing at all, just making polite conversation.”
The two men shared a look, Jack saw the box office manager nod almost imperceptibly.
“And just what were you doing down here anyway?”
“Just using the facilities.”
Suddenly Flannigan pulled out a gun. “Well I don’t like you. Whatever you saw, whatever you think you saw, You didn’t see nothing. Got it?”
Jack sighed. He couldn’t let it go, now he knew he held a gun. Maybe he could bluff his way through it. “You’re making a big mistake Flannigan.”
“Just how do you know my name?”
“I’m Detective Inspector Robinson, City South Police. And you’re under arrest.”
Flannigan looked around smugly, “Am I really? Cos it seems to me, copper, that it’s just you here, and you’re outa your depth.” He levelled the gun in Jack’s face, and smiled as no hidden policemen came rushing out to save him. “Did you really come with no backup Detective Inspector?” he hissed gleefully, “What a pity.”
“He has me.” A voice rang out from the top of the stairs.
Jack’s heart sank as he recognized the voice, and looking up he saw Phryne holding her revolver trained on Flannigan, who immediately wrapped his arm around Jack’s neck in a choke hold and aimed his gun at her.
“Should I be scared? Of a woman? Oh I’m trembling.”
“Damnit Phryne, just go back and watch the performance!” Jack pulled at the arm around his neck.
Phryne ignored him as she continued down the stairs, her eyes and the gun still focused on Flannigan. “Many men have trembled before me, not for the same reasons you will, I can assure you.”
Flannigan sneered, “That’s all you women are good for.”
“Really? The Inspector there will tell you I’m a pretty good shot.” She had reached the bottom of the stairs.
“Ahh but are you good enough to hit me, and not your lover?”
Phryne saw the slightest head tilt from Jack and saw his eyes shift slowly to one side. Phryne followed his eyes, and saw the same mousy brown-haired usher Flannigan had molested in the foyer before the show, hiding behind a pillar. Flannigan hadn’t seen her and Phryne flicked her eyes back to him. If she could distract the man long enough, maybe she could call for some help.
“So, I have a policeman and his whore. I think she will be the first to go, just in case she gets trigger happy with that revolver. And you can watch,” he snarled in Jack’s ear. “I’ll make it look like a lovers quarrel.”
Jack was starting to see stars as he gasped for breath.
An almighty crash loosened Flannigans hold on Jack, and the man sunk to the ground as the gun fell from his hand. Jack coughed and sucked in a deep breath. Straightening up the world came back into focus again as Phryne flew to him. “Jack, Are you alright?”
Phryne stepped away revealing the scared looking girl holding a silver serving tray. She was trembling from head to toe and couldn’t tear her eyes away from the inert body on the ground.
“Did… Did I kill him?” she stammered.
“I doubt it.” Jack bent over and checked the mans pulse, “No, he’s still alive. But you certainly saved my life. Miss..?”
“Williams. Dorothy Williams. I’ve never done anything like that before, but he made a very inappropriate suggestion to me earlier, and then I saw he had you, and he said he was going to kill you both.” The girl looked from Phryne to Jack, then as the reality and the shock of what she had done began to sink in, she started crying, great heaving sobs.
Jack went to the girl and put his arm around her. “He’s a drug dealing scum, that’s what he is.” Jack spied movement out of the corner of his eye, the box office manager was trying to make a run for it. “Don’t move!” he ordered. “Phryne, you didn’t happen to bring your…” his sentence was cut off as Phryne thrust a pair of handcuffs at him. Jack blinked. “I don’t even want to know where you got them from.”
Phryne smirked as Jack moved to handcuff the ticket seller, and then wrapped her arm around Dorothy who began to weep into her shoulder. “Perhaps a phone call to the police, while you’re there Jack?”
Jack nodded to her and Phryne guided the crying girl to a seat. “Miss Williams is there anyone we can call to come and sit with you? I’m sure the police will want to talk to you.”
The girl balked at this and looked at Phryne with fear in her eyes. “The… the police?” she trembled.
“You’re not in any trouble Dorothy. They will most likely just want to interview you, and perhaps get you checked out by a doctor, you’re in shock.”
“No, no. I’m fine… I’m… fine… really… I am… I..I board at the workhouse in exchange for doing some of their mending.”
The girl shook her head sadly and sniffed loudly “My parents are in Wangaratta. I don’t make many friends, Miss. People think I’m a bit strange, and I work odd hours.”
“Well Dorothy, we’ll make sure you’re looked after, Won’t we Jack?” She directed the last remark at Jack who had just returned.
“Uh, yes.” Jack blinked, unsure what he was agreeing to. “The police are on their way.”
“Well Dorothy, that was incredibly brave, what you did just now.” Phryne sat down next to the girl.
“Please Miss, I was terrified!”
Jack cleared his throat, “That’s what being brave means. Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the thought that something else is more important.”
Phryne looked up at him and wordlessly slid her hand into his.
Jack looked down surprised, but seeing her face, gave her hand a squeeze and just smiled at her.
After a few minutes the girl had stopped sobbing and Phryne had somehow produced a glass of water for her to drink. She sipped it gingerly as the occasional tear slid down her cheek interspersed with hiccups.
“Please Inspector, Will I have to be locked in a cell, with criminals?”
Jack chuckled slightly, “Of course not Miss Williams. I’m sure the police will just want to interview you.” He checked his watch. “In fact I might suggest someone take you straight home and you go in tomorrow after a good nights sleep.”
Phryne wiped a tear from the girls cheek. “You see Dorothy, Like I said, It will all be fine. You’ve taken out one of the most notorious drug dealers in Melbourne.”
The girls shaking hands flew to her mouth. “Ooh, I’m glad I didn’t know that’s who he was, I never would have been brave enough if I’d known that!”
“Oh Dorothy, I’m sure you would have done exactly the same thing. You’ve got pluck, whether or not you believe it.”
“Please Miss, could you call me Dot, or Dottie. Only ‘Dorothy’ makes me feel like I’m in real trouble,” the girl sniffed again and despite her tears Phryne saw the hint of a smile.
“Of course I can Dot! And you shall call me Phryne.”
“Oh I couldn’t do that Miss.”
“We’ll work on it.”
Just then Flannigan stirred and Dot shrieked and pointed at him.
Jack ran to retrieve the gun the dealer had dropped earlier, silently berating himself for not collecting it sooner. But he was beaten to it.
Snarling Flannigan picked up the gun and waved it wildly around, swaying slightly. “Do you think a knock to the head is enough to bring me down? Especially one from a weak woman?”
Jack looked back to where Phryne and Dot sat. This Flannigan was much more dangerous. He was obviously nursing a concussion and couldn’t stand straight. There was no telling what he might do. By pure accident. Slowly he began to inch his way across the floor. If he could insert himself in between Flannigan and Phryne and Miss Williams perhaps he could save them from the crazed gunman.
Suddenly a shot rang out through the echoing foyer.
Dot screamed and fainted in Phryne’s arms, as Flannigan dropped the gun and clutched at his shoulder, roaring with pain.
A young policeman came running towards them. “Kurt Flannigan. You’re under arrest!” the boy managed as he tried to wrestle the struggling criminal, who was now shouting obscenities at them, into handcuffs.
Jack immediately leapt to the officers aid and together they pinned Flannigan down and managed to handcuff him.
“Take him to the hospital, They should fix his shoulder before we interview him,” the young policeman said as two other officers pulled the shouting man to his feet.
“I’ll get you for this, don’t you think I won’t.” Flannigan screamed over his shoulder as he was dragged away. "I won't forget this, Robinson!"
The policeman looked back to Jack. “Are you Detective Jack Robinson? City South Police?”
“You called it in?”
“I did. I was here with a friend.” He indicated Phryne, who gave him a small smile and a wave. “And you are?”
“Oh Sorry, sir. Constable Hugh Collins. Very pleased to meet you sir.”
Jack looked at him. A constable? What was a constable doing leading a team? Despite the situation Jack couldn’t help but feel impressed by this wide eyed young officer. “Well Constable Collins, You’re a very good shot. We’re very glad you turned up when you did.”
Hugh nodded at him
“Oh, and uh the box office manager is handcuffed in the ticketing booth. I think you’ll find he is also involved somehow. There’s a package in his inside jacket pocket.”
Hugh indicated to his men to retrieve the man and they surged off, glad to have something to do.
Phryne cleared her throat, “Uh, Jack?” she indicated the inert form slumped against her. “A little help?”
Constable Collins flew to her side and knelt down to look at Dot’s face. “Uh, Miss?” he tried. When there was no response, he looked wildly to Phryne. “What happened, was she injured? Did I get here too late?”
Phryne saw the mans distraught face. “No, Miss Williams just fainted, that’s all.”
Dot groaned and her eyes fluttered open. Rubbing her eyes she sat up and looked around her woozily. “Did we get him?”
Phryne pressed a kiss to her forehead. “We got him Dot. Constable Collins and his men arrived in the nick of time.” She looked to the young policeman who was staring wide eyed and slack jawed at the weary girl as if she was the most precious thing he’d ever seen. Surely not. She glanced between them and hid a smile. “We got him,” she repeated.
Constable Collins looked at her. “Are you alright Miss…?”
“Miss Phryne Fisher. And I’m fine, Though this dress may have seen better days.”
Dot looked at her in alarm. “Oh I’m sorry Miss. I can fix it, I promise. That was all my fault!”
“You’ll do nothing of the sort darling. Tomorrow, I shall take you out for coffee and cake and we will laugh about this whole shemozzle.”
“I don’t think I could ever laugh about this, Miss.” Tears sprang into the girls eyes once more and Phryne grabbed her hand.
“We will laugh about this Dot. One day. I promise you.”
“Constable Collins, a word?” Jack indicated his head.
“Of course sir.”
Once they were out of earshot Jack explained the whole situation and Miss Williams part in the evenings events. “So you see Hugh, It might be best to let Miss Williams go home tonight and come to the station tomorrow to give a statement. We will do that too if you don’t mind. I wouldn’t mind seeing the rest of this show.”
Hugh’s eyes wandered back to where Miss Williams was talking earnestly with Miss Fisher. “Of course sir. And I can assure you, I will personally escort the girl home and send a car for her to be picked up tomorrow.”
“You’re a good man Constable. And a good shot” Jack clapped him on the shoulder.
“Can I tell you the truth sir? I was aiming for his heart."
“Dot, I mean it, If you ever want to be a lady detectives assistant…”
Dot’s face was a mixture of horror and disbelief. “Ooh no miss, I could never! It wouldn’t be right.” She smiled at Phryne and looked at her hands. Secretly she found this woman to be glamorous and exciting, but to work for her? Her priest would definitely have something to say about that. She snuck a quick glance at the gold, pearl handled revolver that sat innocuously in Miss Fishers lap. No. She already was on thin ice working at the theatre, That is, if she still had a job after tonight. She would either be let go, or given a raise, depending on how much trouble they thought Dot was responsible for.
“Well take my card anyway.” Phryne held out her card to Dot, who took it and held it in her hands, “I’m assuming we’ll also have to come back tomorrow to make a statement at the station, And then, I’m taking you out to tea after we’re done.”
“But Miss!” Dot looked at her with wide eyes.
Phryne pressed a finger to Dot's lips. “No arguments Dottie. I’ve become rather fond of you.”
Jack looked over and saw Phryne gently wiping the girls wet cheeks. He knew Phryne’s habit of taking in lost hearts and he wouldn’t be surprised if this Miss Williams became a regular at Wardlow.
After seeing Dot safely into the police car and promising to attend the station the next day, Jack followed Phryne back up the stairs to their box in silence. He couldn’t believe the rest of the theatre patrons had no idea what had just occurred. Phryne slipped her hand into Jack’s and they entered the box without a word.
Onstage a ball scene was in full swing, but Jack was struggling to get back into the performance. His mind kept wandering back to Flannigan, and the way he had been pointing the gun at Phryne.
Phryne barely registered the beautiful gown Eliza was wearing, her thoughts preoccupied by Dot’s frightened face.
Act One finished with a final flourish of music, the curtain came down and the house lights came up. People began to get up out of their seats and the murmuring voices slowly turned into loud talking.
Jack looked at Phryne. “I think we’ll just stay here for now, don’t you?” He glared at her.
Phryne nodded and swallowed. “Jack.”
“I thought I told you to stay in the box.”
“You were gone for too long Jack. I just knew something had happened.”
“I mean, I know you never listen to me anyway, but Phryne, you could have gotten yourself killed.”
“And you’re Mr Invincible? Jack, Flannigan could have just as easily shot you. And if you remember correctly, he was getting awfully close to doing just that when I appeared. I at least had a gun.”
A knock on the door interrupted their argument and Jack grunted, “Yes?”
An usher entered with small silver tray holding a bottle and two glasses. “Complimentary refreshments, courtesy of the theatre manager.” He placed the tray down on the small table and opening the bottle, poured two glasses, handed them to Phryne and Jack and then passed a small folded piece of paper to Jack. Bowing slightly he picked up the tray and left.
Jack opened the folded card and Phryne read it over his shoulder.
To Detective Inspector Jack Robinson and The Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher
Please accept this bottle of Champagne along with my thanks and gratitude.
This box will always be made available to you, should you find yourself in Melbourne, wishing to attend a show.
I have enclosed complimentary tickets for 'My Fair Lady' for another night of your choice,
so you may appreciate the whole performance.
Please enjoy the rest of the show
Robert Cracknell (Theatre Manager)
Phryne sipped her champagne. “That’s nice of him.”
Jack cleared his throat. “Yes.”
They sat in silence for a while as they both drank their drinks.
Then they both began to talk at the same time.
Jack indicated she should speak first.
Phryne looked at him. “All I was going to say is that, you don’t need to worry about me Jack. I can handle myself. Haven’t I proven that many times?”
“Phryne that’s just the thing. I do worry about you. Too much. And I know you say you can handle yourself and I know you’re brilliant and ingenious and a cracker of a shot with that gun, But Phryne there will come a day where maybe just maybe,” he drained the last of his glass, “You will be just that step behind, that little bit too late, and I perish the thought.” He swallowed thickly and his voice grew low and soft as he stared at the red velvet curtains behind her head. “You walk into the lions den armed with nothing but a smile and one day… one day I fear you won’t be so lucky”
Phryne fell silent. This was a lot of words from the usually reserved Inspector. “I have my gun,” she joked, trying to lighten the mood.
But Jack was having none of it. “Phryne…” he warned.
“Jack, I am who I am,” she said quietly, “Nobody can change that.”
Jack sighed as he played with the champagne flute in his hands. He couldn’t meet her eyes. “I know that,” he said, and there was a long pause as he thought through his next words, “I know… I just don’t know how to deal with the fact that someone I care about so dearly, keeps putting herself in situations where she could get seriously injured, or killed.” He finally looked her in the eyes and was taken aback to see her looking at him so intensely. He shifted slightly in his seat as heat rushed to his cheeks. Had he said too much? He had felt their relationship changing, ever so slowly since his divorce, but he hadn’t been ready to say anything, to act on anything.
Phryne stared into his eyes. “But Jack, Do you think I don’t have the same thoughts? You’re a policeman for god’s sakes,” she said crossly. “Every time I hear of you chasing after a criminal, every time you interview a suspect...” her voice faltered and when she spoke again she sounded sad and quiet. “Jack. I lost Janey, I couldn’t bear it if I lost you too. What we are, what we have. I can’t lose that Jack. I just can’t.” A tear appeared in her eye and she swatted it away angrily. She’d never cried over a man, not since René and she would not start now, however much Jack Robinson frustrated her. She was cross, and she was frustrated, and now she was desperately trying not to cry.
Jack saw her hardened exterior crack slightly and his mouth went dry. Whatever words he had lined up on his tongue to say rolled away, and he was left staring at her in amazement. This woman, this infuriating, beautiful woman cared for him, in a way no one had in years. If Jack was honest with himself, Rosie hadn’t cared for him this deeply since before he went to war.
“Phryne, I…” he began but was interrupted by the loud bell once again, obviously symbolizing the end of interval and that people should return to their seats. “I just want to say, before you came along my life was calm, well ordered, but it was boring, and from the moment you inserted yourself if to my first crime scene, my life has had meaning again. I’m no longer just ‘going through the motions’. Phryne, chaos seems to follow you wherever you go. And I've begun to expect it, enjoy it even. And I’ve gotten used to whatever this is” he motioned between them, “And I don’t want to lose it either.”
Phryne flicked her eyes down to his lips and for a moment, she thought about kissing him then and there. Phryne was never shy in being forward but she knew Jack. She knew he’d been hurt by his divorce to Rosie, and she cared too much for him to rush him. All the same she wished he would be impulsive for just once, and quit talking around their relationship. She knew what she felt for him was more than just lust, but at the same time she wanted him to take her in his arms and kiss her passionately. Romance had never been high on Phryne’s list, but she wanted it with him. “Good” she managed, in a soft voice as she reluctantly dragged her eyes back up to meet his. “Good.”
Jack looked back at her for what seemed like an eternity, and feeling the weight of the moment, quickly looked away. He’d already said more than he should, and this was not the time, nor the place for the kind of conversation he needed to have with her. Searching for a distraction or a change of topic, he reached back and grabbed the bottle of champagne. “Fancy a top up before we get started on Act Two?”
Act Two began with elated celebrations from Pickering and Higgins and Jack could see Phryne getting more and more annoyed as they congratulated each other on their success, completely ignoring Eliza, who stood silent and sad. Jack heard Phryne snort slightly as Eliza threw Higgins’ slippers at him, but her lips pursed together as the scene progressed and he continued to treat her with such disrespect.
Not until the scene was over did Phryne sit back in her chair. Jack saw the movement out of the corner of his eye and longed to reach out and hold her hand. Reluctantly he kept his hands to himself and forced his eyes back to the action on the stage.
“Words Words Words
I'm so sick of words
I get words all day through
First from him, now from you
Is that all you blighters can do
Don't talk of stars
If you're in love
Tell me no dreams
Filled with desire
If you're on fire
He we are together
In the middle of the night
Don't talk of spring
Just hold me tight
Anyone who's ever been
In love'll tell you that
This is no time
For a chat
Haven't your lips
Longed for my touch
Don't say how much
Show me, show me
Don't talk of love
Lasting through time
Make me no undying vow
Show me now"
Phryne gave a small smile and looked sideways at Jack. How did this song echo so completely what she had just been thinking? Though she was not angry as Eliza was, she felt her frustration.
The show continued and Jack thoroughly enjoyed the rousing number where Alfred begged his friends to ‘Get him to the church on time’. He was just beginning to get a little bored when Higgins bellowed out in a rage.
“Damn! Damn! Damn! Damn!
I've grown accustomed to her face
She almost makes the day begin
I've grown accustomed to the tune that
She whistles night and noon
Her smiles, her frowns
Her ups, her downs
Are second nature to me now
Like breathing out and breathing in
I was serenely independent and content before we met
Surely I could always be that way again
I've grown accustomed to her look
Accustomed to her voice
Accustomed to her face”
Jack looked to Phryne, realisation dawning. He had become accustomed to her. She had become a part of his life without him even realising he’d let her in. Phryne was always just. There. He’d gotten used to her involving herself at every crime scene and grown to appreciate, and even rely on her (often correct) insights. He missed her if he didn’t see her every day, and thoroughly enjoyed a game of chess, cards or a drink or two in her parlour at the end of a tough day.
“But I'm so used to hear her say
Good morning everyday
Her joys, her woes
Her highs, her lows
Are second nature to me now
Like breathing out and breathing in
I'm very grateful she's a woman
And so easy to forget
Rather like a habit
One can always break
I've grown accustomed to the trace
Of something in the air
Accustomed to her face”
Jack stared unseeing at the stage. He didn’t want to lose Phryne, like Higgins had lost Eliza. And although he was quite sure he’d never been as unreasonable as Higgins, maybe he should say something. Tell Phryne how much she meant to him. Could he do it? Was he ready?
A gasp of ‘No!’ escaped Phryne’s lips when Eliza returned to the Higgins house.
“I washed my face and hands before I come, I did”
“Eliza? Where the devil are my slippers?”
The music swelled and the curtain dropped. Phryne looked to Jack, confusion etched on her face. “This isn’t a three act show is it?”
Jack checked the program and shook his head, as the curtain rose again and music began for the bows.
“Surely the show doesn’t end like that?”
“It uh looks like it does.”
“But, but that’s rubbish!” she sputtered.
“That’s showbiz.” Jack chuckled. “Phryne did you never read the end of Pygmalion?”
“I’ve never read it period. Never really been a huge fan of these ‘cinderella, rags to riches’ stories. Bit too similar to my own.”
Jack didn’t know the full story of what had occurred between Phryne and René, but he’d put pieces together, and that, combined with what she’d told him about her father, (which wasn’t much,) Jack knew this would be a sore spot, so he just nodded and began to applaud the performers taking their bows.
Outside it had indeed begun to rain and was now coming down rather heavily. After a mad dash to the car, they climbed in, laughing madly. The champagne had made them giggly, and they were both wet through. Just as they shut the doors a flash of lightening lit up the sky. The smile fell from Phryne’s face and was replaced with wide eyes as a low rumble of thunder was heard.
Jack saw the sudden change. “Phryne? Are you alright?”
Phryne forced a smile “Thunderstorms. They always make me uneasy.” She chewed on her lip and inched slightly closer to Jack.
A grin slowly spread over Jack's face. “Oho! Have I finally found your Achilles Heel Miss Fisher?”
Phryne looked out the window. “It’s silly, I know, but it always reminds me of home. And Janey.”
Jack’s smile dropped and he reached for her hand.
“There was one particular night where there was an enormous storm, and father didn’t come home. Mother had gone out to look for him. And Janey was afraid.” She sighed and blinked at the sudden zig zag of lightning in the dark sky. “I love the rain, and I love watching the lightening light up the sky, but the anticipation of seeing the lightening and not knowing when, or how loud the thunder will be… I’ve never gotten used to it.”
Her voice was soft and Jack had to strain to hear it over the roar of the rain on the windows. He wasn’t sure what to say. “Phryne…”
“Just drive home Jack. The quicker we get home. The quicker we can get inside, warm up by the fire and play some music and forget this is happening.” She shuddered slightly, from the cold or from long forgotten memories, Jack wasn’t sure.
Jack drove as quickly as he could while being safe. Rain lashed at the windscreen and with every crash of thunder Phryne moved closer and closer to him until he could feel her at his shoulder. Without a thought he raised his arm up and she pressed herself into his side, as he rested his arm across her shoulders. Jack doubted Aunt Prudence would approve, but she wasn’t here, and Phryne clearly needed comfort. He was all too aware that they were both cold and wet. He tried to wrap Phryne’s long fur around her further with little success and cursed himself for not putting a blanket in the car before he left.
Finally they made it back to Wardlow and Jack turned to Phryne. “Wait there.” He jumped out of the car and whipping off his jacket held it over his head. He dashed to the other side and opened Phryne’s door and she joined him under the jacket. Together they ran across the road to the cover of the verandah. Not that it helped much. The rain was coming from every direction, and the puddles they ran through splashed up their legs and sloshed into their shoes.
On the other side of the door, the house was warm and dry. Mr Butler had had the foresight to light the fire in the parlour and they gratefully shuffled, dripping wet, into the warm room.
“I should give that man a raise,” Phryne murmured as she threw her wet fur to the ground and kicked off her sodden shoes. She went straight to the gramophone and selecting a record set it to play. The sound of slow lazy jazz filled the room and she wandered over to the fire and held her hands to it.
Jack lay his soaked jacket over a chair and moved to join her at the fire but made a face as his feet squelched in wet socks. He looked down at his feet.
Phryne saw him look to his feet. “Take them off Jack, they’ll dry faster. Your waistcoat too.”
Jack looked to Phryne to see if she was being mischievous, but she’d turned her face back to the fire. The flames cast an ethereal glow onto her face, and her normally immaculate hair was messy and damp. He swallowed heavily. Sure, she was beautiful in her exquisite clothes and perfectly made up face, but there was something even more beautiful about seeing her like this. It was almost intimate, as if she’d taken a layer of clothing off and was standing there in her underwear. Jack’s cheeks coloured slightly as he processed that thought, then finally, he toed off his shoes, and pulled his socks off.
“Just lay them on the couch, they’ll dry in no time,” Phryne said as she watched Jack’s fingers fiddle with his waistcoat buttons. Jack’s shirt was just as wet as the rest of him and it clung to every muscle, Phryne could clearly see the outline of his undershirt.
Jack moved to the drinks trolley and picking up a bottle poured two generous drinks. Finally he joined Phryne at the fire and felt himself begin to defrost. He offered Phryne a glass and she took it gratefully.
“When we go to the station tomorrow, I’d like to check up on that girl, Dottie. Make sure she’s alright and she hasn’t lost her job over this whole debacle. I promised I’d take her out for tea.” She sipped her drink and her eyes darted to the window as lightning lit up the room through the curtains.
“Well while you’re doing that, I’d like to have a chat with that young Constable Collins. Wonder if he’s interested in a transfer. He’s just the kind of person I want on my team.” Jack saw her eyes flick to the window. “Would you… would you like to go and watch the storm Phryne? I’ll be right there alongside you. You did say you loved to watch the lightning.” Jack paused and wondered if he was about to cross the line they had been dancing alongside all night. “You can hold my hand if you’d like to.”
Phryne opened her mouth in amazement. Whenever any of her previous lovers had discovered her aversion to storms, they had just dismissed it as a childish fear of thunderstorms. Jack knew there was more to it than that, He had listened to her ramblings, enough to understand the complexities of her love/hate relationships with storms. “Thank you, Jack.” She smiled at him. “I’d like that.”
He put his glass down and held out his hand and enveloping hers in his, together they moved toward the window.
Phryne stood looking out the window, Jack stood at her back, his hand resting gently at her hip, with a calming reassurance that he was just behind her. The moonlight shone on her face which he watched intently. Every time lightning slashed through the sky, Phryne blinked violently with surprise, then held tension in her neck and shoulders until the thunderclap followed. During the loud, long ones, she shrunk back pressing herself into Jack’s chest, the slower rumbles made her flinch and on multiple occasions she grabbed for Jack’s hand.
Time passed, was it three minutes? Was it ten? Jack hadn’t a clue. His heart was hammering in his chest. He knew something was changing between them tonight. Did he dare voice his feelings for her? Was he ready for them to become something more?
“I think that’s enough of that.” Phryne jolted Jack out of his thoughts and grabbed his hand and led him back towards the fire. “I’m still wet and cold.” Despite the warmth of the room her teeth were still chattering.
Jack silently berated himself for taking her away from the fire and was very glad they’d made their way back to it. As lovely as watching Phryne watch the storm was, the warmth from the fire was definitely what they were both needing.
Phryne sipped her drink. “What I don’t understand is, Why on earth did Eliza go back to that monster?”
Jack smiled at the sudden topic change. Then with a flash he realised that Phryne obviously saw similarities between Henry and Eliza, and herself and René, and he knew he must tread carefully. “Oh I liked the ending. It was ambiguous. We don’t know what happened when the curtain went down. Whether she fetched his slippers, or whether she threw them in his face and walked out. But I don’t believe for a second that they got married.”
Phryne turned to face him. “What you think she should marry that awful fop Freddie?”
Jack let out a chuckle, “No. I’m saying she had a choice at the end of the show, I like to think Eliza ended up with her flower shop, and a middle class working man. Not Higgins, or Freddie. I think she doesn’t choose either of them. Faced with the choice, she picks herself and her future. She and Higgins remain friends, well not friends as such, sparring partners if you like. She challenges him, his backward thinking and isolation.”
Phryne looked back at the fire. “So you don’t think two people that different can make it work?” her voice was quiet and sad.
“Of course they can Phryne, just not if one of them is as arrogant as Henry Higgins.” He sipped the last of his drink.
“What about you and I?” Phryne stared into the flames.
Jack’s heart leapt into his throat. “Phryne…” he croaked.
“Are we too different Jack?” She turned to him and her blue eyes stared into his.
Jack inhaled sharply and met her gaze. “I don’t believe we are.” he replied softly. “Do you?”
Phryne shrugged slightly. “Maybe. I’m a wild woman. You can’t tame me, I’ll never be a stay at home policemans wife,” she couldn’t tear her eyes away from him, was this actually happening?
Jack leant forwards and pressed his forehead against hers, “None of that matters Phryne.”
“No?” Phryne’s heart was beating fast, she was barely breathing. She felt that any little thing would ruin the moment and send Jack scurrying home like a scared dog.
“No. And do you know why?” Jack took a deep breath. “Because I love you. And I have for a long time. I just needed some time to work it out. After Rosie, I…” he faltered and looked at his feet.
Phryne lifted his chin gently, “Show me?” she echoed the words Eliza had sung earlier in the evening.
Jack looked into her eyes and losing himself in them was unable to resist the magnetic pull he’d been fighting all evening. Slowly he leant forward and pressed his lips to hers. Her eager mouth opened at his soft touch, ready to accept him. His hands found the bare skin at her back where the dress dipped so scandalously low. His warm fingertips left trails through the icy skin. “Phryne you’re freezing!” he enveloped her into his arms.
Phryne chuckled “This isn’t helping Jack, you’re still quite wet too”
“Jack suddenly felt very foolish. Here we was trying to declare his love for her, when they were both cold and wet. ‘Hardly romantic, Robinson!’ he thought to himself. His face flushed red and he dropped his hands from her arms. “I’m sorry. I should go.” He moved to gather his wet clothes but was stopped by an arm on his shoulder.
“No. Stay with me tonight Jack,” Phryne’s hand trailed down his arm and clutched his hand. “Please?”
A crack of thunder shook the house as lightening lit up the sky and she instinctively took a step towards him, pressing herself against his chest.
Jack felt her trembling, from the cold, from the storm, from the tension of the situation, he wasn’t sure and he couldn’t help but wrap his free arm around her waist.
“It’s far too dangerous for you to be driving home in this.” She insisted.
Jack’s mouth twitched. “Too dangerous to drive? Never thought I’d hear Miss Phryne Fisher say that.” He smirked as he went to move away.
Phryne pulled him back towards her. “People always say crazy things when they’re in love,” she murmured softly.
He looked at her. Did she mean it? Did she really love him back? Jack’s heart soared as his arm snuck back around her waist. “I’ll stay, tonight, and for as long as you need.”
“Promise?” She looked up at him through her long lashes.