A few minutes before the winter sun peeked over the horizon Chief Commissioner Matlock made his way to his car. His breath made little white, misty puffs in the chilled air and he pulled his coat a bit tighter around him as he walked.
He'd decided to head to Russell Street, to get an extra early start on his day. There was no shortage of tasks to accomplish ahead of him and for a moment he felt the full weight of his new position resting upon him.
At the station he parked his car and headed towards the door, hurrying a bit when a wet rain started; he hoped it wouldn't freeze, but this was Melbourne in July, anything was possible. Inside he was surprised to see his very young and very eager constable, who was also his assistant already in the office.
"Sir? Commissioner Matlock, Sir. You're early," Constable Kevin Conrad stated, the startled look on his face quickly composed as he rushed to help the commissioner out of his heavy and damp overcoat and hat.
"You're here quite early, Conrad?" Matlock said, more of a question than a fact.
"Um, yes sir. I have been organizing some of the files in your office, sir. Things that, um, Commissioner Sanderson was working on. I've put them in the file next to the desk so that you can review them."
Matlock didn't know whether to be alarmed that his assistant had been in the files or pleased that he was such an organized young man. He sighed and nodded, wondering what cases Sanderson had been involved with and if any of them would prove as troublesome as the Fletcher case.
In his office all evidence that George had been an occupant of this office, however briefly, had been removed, something else his assistant must have accomplished. He looked around at the bare walls, a depressing grayish green and held back a shudder. It was depressing and he decided that a new coat of paint, something a bit less foreboding was clearly called for. On the other hand, the huge mahogany desk was truly a piece of art; he ran his fingertips over the polished wood with a sigh of contentment.
Kevin Conrad watched as his new supervisor accessed the office and hoped he didn't find it lacking. Kevin had done his best to straighten it and make it habitable, plain as it was. "Sir, would you like some coffee or tea to start your morning?"
"Yes, I would indeed. Tea, please and if you can find some biscuits to go with it I shall be very grateful."
"Certainly, sir. I'm sure I can find some," he answered already heading out the door, closing it crisply behind him. In the outer chambers he called Constable Rittner over and said, "Rush to the bakery around the corner and get some biscuits for the Chief Commissioner's breakfast, quickly!" His voice held a tone that Rittner knew meant sooner rather than later, so he took off at a run to find the biscuits.
By the time that Kevin had made the tea and was debating what to include on the tray to accompany it, Rittner returned with a small wrapped parcel of biscuits. "You didn't say what kind, so I got several," Rittner offered.
Kevin gave him a terse nod, opening the packet and placing the assortment of cookies on a plate along with milk, sugar and lemon. He picked up the tray and carried it to the closed door of the office and balanced it carefully as he first knocked and then opened the door at the summons from within.
"Here you are, sir." He sat the tray down and waited for instructions from Matlock or a dismissal. Not sure if he'd done something wrong as the man remained silent he started to back away from the desk, fearing the worst.
"Thank you, Constable." Matlock observed the carefully arranged tray and a small smile crept over his face as he looked up at the young man.
If Kevin was surprised by the gentle and polite thanks he evidently managed to hide it well. "Certainly, sir," was all he said before leaving the room.
Apparently, things were going to be different here with Matlock in charge. Or so it seemed. Maybe this position wouldn't be as bad as he'd thought it might be.
As he ate his breakfast, he made a mental note to inform Constable Conrad that he took his tea black with no sugar. The artistic presentation of the condiments on the tray were rather pleasing, but a complete waste of space. He ate another biscuit absentmindedly as he finished looking over the files on his desk, deciding that this one was his favorite. It was some type of ginger biscuit and quite delicious. It complimented the tea superbly.
After trying to reach Jack at first his residence and then City South, Matlock played a hunch and had the operator ring Miss Phryne Fisher's residence. It was picked up quickly by someone identifying himself as Mr. Butler.
"This is Chief Commissioner Matlock. I would like to speak with Inspector Jack Robinson; is he in? It's an urgent matter." He saw from his watch that it wasn't quite 7 yet, but he felt it was important to speak to Jack about George Sanderson immediately.
Mr. Butler wasn't surprised in the slightest that the Inspector was there; he'd already spotted the Inspectors car parked in front of the house when he'd went to collect the morning news and milk. It had been a long time in coming, but it would be a blessing Tobias Butler decided.
"Certainly, sir. I will get him now if you'd care to wait," he responded before setting the receiver down on the table. He knocked on the bedroom door softly, hesitant to wake his mistress, but was prepared to try again if needed.
He finally heard the Inspector answer, "Yes? What is it?"
"I'm sorry to disturb you, Inspector, but there is a Commissioner Matlock on the telephone for you; he says it is urgent."
Jack ran a tired hand down his face and said, "Yes, I'll be right there, Mr. Butler. Thank you."
He heard Mr. Butler move away from the door and head down the stairs. Jack reached for his trousers and pulled them on, fastening them hastily. He decided to forego his shirt as it seemed unlikely that Miss Williams would be up this early, especially after the previous nights late bedtime.
"Jack?" Phryne asked, watching him walk towards the door. "What's wrong?"
He faced her for a moment and had to stifle a quick smile because she looked a combination of sleepy and seductive. Her hair was a tousle of curls and her dark, sooty lashes partially hid blue eyes that obviously didn't want to be open.
"Just a phone call from the Commissioner, Phryne. Go back to sleep."
"He's calling you here?" she asked, sitting up in bed feeling extremely curious.
Jack shrugged his shoulders; he was a bit puzzled as well, but supposed he'd find out soon enough. "I'll be back in a few minutes, Phryne." As he turned he saw her sitting on the side of the bed, the edges of her robe spread apart showing a good expanse of creamy, white thigh. His eyes swept down to bare feet and back again and he had a sudden, very appreciative thought about the pleasure of spending the night with her. He cleared his throat and murmured, "I, um, I'll be back," and left the room immediately.
Phryne crossed her legs and let the top one swing back and forth as she thought about the site that Jack made in the morning. His hair, free of the pomade he used to keep his waves in check had been drooping over his forehead in the most enticing manner. She had longed to comb her fingers through those curls before kissing him, a thought she filed away for further exploration. In the meantime, she re-wrapped her robe around her and tied it securely and padded down the stairs to see what the Commissioner could possibly want at this time in the morning.
Or how he had known to look here for Jack. Curious.
Downstairs Jack was just finishing his call. Mr. Butler appeared and asked if he would like coffee or tea and some breakfast. Obviously he had overheard some of Jack's conversation and assumed that Jack was leaving, a thought that made her frown.
"Coffee would be very welcome, Mr. Butler. Thank you."
"Jack?" she asked as Mr. Butler disappeared back into the kitchen.
He turned to her and swept her from head to toe with eyes that still looked tired and no wonder; he'd only had 3 hours of sleep. She was gifted with a smile before he pulled her to him, pressing her body against his and thrilling at the feel of the soft silk over her tempting curves. He held her for a minute longer, just because he could; she was his Phryne now.
"The Commissioner has asked me to come in as soon as I can; George Sanderson was taken ill overnight and is in hospital. Commissioner Matlock has a lot to accomplish today and this will free up a bit of time for him."
"What happened to Sanderson?"
"He said the doctor said it was apoplexy; he's unconscious now."
"My goodness, this is a lot for Rosie and her sister to deal with, on top of everything else." Phryne couldn't help but wonder if Jack would try to console Rosie again. She hated that the thought made her feel vulnerable. She took in a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to soothe her fears.
Jack took her hand, entwining his fingers with hers and mounted the stairs, heading to the bedroom so he could finish getting dressed. She perched on the seat at her vanity table and watched with bright eyes as he pulled on sock and shoes, shirt, tie, waistcoat, suit jacket and finally overcoat. My goodness he wore so many layers, how on earth did he manage in the summer? She fanned herself with her hand for a moment, just thinking about it.
Jack walked over to her and pulled her up against him one more time before leaving. "You're coming back?" she asked.
"Yes, I'm coming back," he said, smiling at her and placing a kiss on her forehead before following it up with one for the tip of her nose, just because.
She held him fiercely around the waist, not wanting to let him hurry off. "Must you go?"
"Yes, I need to go home and shower and change before my meeting. I promise you Miss Fisher, I will return." He gave her a slight wink that made her shiver for some unexpected reason.
"You know, Jack, you could actually keep clothing here, so this problem isn't an issue," she mentioned, trying to look innocent, all the while looking anything but.
He chuckled, deep in his throat and she could feel the very pleasant vibrations of it against her chest. She sighed in contentment for a moment, almost purring her pleasure at having him this close.
"I suppose I could, yes," he told her, thinking about that idea. "Why don't we both think about it and we'll talk later, after I return?"
She pursed her lips together in a pout, unwilling to give up on the idea. "If you promise me that we will discuss it, Jack. I'm quite serious about the idea."
"So I gather," he said with another chuckle. "I must go; I've just got a moment now for that cup of coffee and as you know, Mr. Butler's coffee is not to be missed!"
One final kiss later he moved to the bedroom door and cast a quick look back at her, only to see that she dropped her robe and had crawled back into the bed, naked. He hastily shut his eyes and pulled the door closed behind him. That image would haunt him all morning, he knew.
At his house, his housekeeper Mrs. Mayton was not yet there. She usually worked later in the morning or afternoon. Since it was only him in the house there was little to do. Jack knew that it was wasted that he lived in this large house alone, but it was his grandmothers and he couldn't bear to sell it; not that the family would agree to that anyway, even though it was solely his. His older brother James inherited the house in Sydney, which was appropriate as that was where his job as a barrister was. His younger sister Amanda was granted the summer home, in Geelong and his sister Maude inherited his grandparent's property in Brisbane, near the sugar plantation. It all worked out quite well actually, with each grandchild getting the place that meant the most to them. Maude and her husband, Wesley ran the sugar plantation now and it was still a thriving business.
Most of the house in Parkville was closed off; simpler for Mrs. Mayton and him. She was getting up there in years, having been the faithful housekeeper for his grandparents since he was a child. There were advantages to that, for both of them but also detractors as well. She still insisted on calling him 'Master Jack', a term that made him smile but would prove a bit embarrassing when Phryne was introduced to her, he was sure. Mrs. Mayton was very opinionated at times as well; one couldn't always be sure as to how she would react or what she might say in any given situation. The elder woman was somewhat like a favored aunt, and like that aunt she told him what she thought, no matter what. That thought reminded him of Prudence Stanley and how much he dreaded his next encounter with her.
As he stepped into the very up-to-date shower he appreciated his grandparents forethought in keeping the house modernized. Built just before the turn of the century it was a charming Victorian but contained all the latest innovations as they had become available. With 5 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, current plumbing and electrical the house was more than comfortable. The rooms were spacious, as was the trend when the house was built; that was also one of the things that made Jack feel a bit sad because it all was wasted on him.
Fifteen minutes later he was shaved, dry and dressed and wishing that he'd taken the time to eat the breakfast that Mr. Butler had offered. He peeked into the kitchen as saw that Mrs. Mayton had stored some scones in the pantry and took one to eat with a hastily brewed cup of tea. He must remember to find out what type of coffee Mr. Butler stocked because it was delicious and he found that it was a wonderful addition to his morning.
There was a good chance that many of his mornings could be spent at Miss Fisher's now; the thought both thrilled and frightened him. He wasn't sure he wanted to play house with Phryne, to live in sin as some people, probably most people would consider it. Breaking social mores was not something he was keen to do, especially as an officer of the law but he had told her he didn't want to change her and he'd meant that. He loved the woman that Phryne was; the wild side, the deeply caring side, all of her. But it might come at the expense of his own ideals and that was something that he needed to be sure he was ready for.
He'd never really thought of himself as a conventional man; he'd had girlfriends and sex before he married Rosie. At university he'd been an adventurous man, a man who enjoyed the fairer sex. Not that he was any kind of Lothario, but he certainly hadn't gone to his marriage bed with no experience. Phryne had any number of lovers in her past and that didn't bother him as much as he might have expected it to; they both were adults and it was to be expected.
But if that was true then why did the thought that this might be a casual affair on her part bother him so much? She had told him that she could be faithful to him and he believed her to be sincere. He believed that she loved him and he knew that he loved her.
Enough to marry her.
Enough to marry her. There was the crux of the matter. Love her, respect her, but just live with her, no legal ties involved? It was hard for him to accept. But not impossible he acknowledged and the truth was, he wanted to be with her, no matter what.
City gaol wasn't the place the Sidney Fletcher wanted to claim as home, however temporary it might be but it was a place where gossip ran freer than water. Come to think of it, that wasn't really a good analogy because a man could die from being parched in here if it wasn't on the schedule for water to be provided. Still, gossip was rampant this morning concerning George Sanderson and that made Sidney extremely curious.
All the participants in the raid were being held in different cells; the police didn't want them to have any opportunity to collaborate on their stories. But word passes quickly from cell to cell and the news of the former police chief commissioner had spread like brush fire. Most of the jailed population was hoping for death because they held a grudge against the old man. True enough, he'd probably had a hand in many of their arrests and incarcerations.
Sidney was George's godson; he'd known him all his life and the best part was that George had always had a soft-spot for him and had run interference for him with his parents and schools more than once. That didn't mean that the old man couldn't see through him; quite the contrary, he'd been able to see right through Sidney's schemes more often than was good for all concerned. This last one was no different but it was amazing what a little evidence can accomplish when getting someone on your side and making them capitulate to your needs. He'd had the old man right where he wanted him.
As much as George doted on him, the old man had been less than happy when he started stepping out with Rosie. George really was a straight arrow most of the time and had appreciated Jack Robinson as a son in law completely. Jack was always on the right side of the law, and could always be counted on to do the right thing. Poor Rosie had languished in that marriage, denied not only the material things she deserved, but eventually the emotional connection as well.
It ate at him; he'd loved Rosie from the time they were children. She was his partner in crime, always up for whatever adventure they could find. When she had fallen in love with that insipid constable he'd tried to woo her to him, but ultimately George had his way and Rosie and Jack were united in marriage, basking in the old man's jubilation in what he saw as a perfect union.
Jack Robinson hadn't deserved her, and ultimately couldn't keep her. It was easy for Sidney to step in this time; her marriage had left her lonely and vulnerable and she came to him willingly, joyfully. It thrilled Sidney; he'd finally gotten what he wanted and it also gave him a hold over the old man and made things much easier for him in Melbourne.
George had a secret, a big one, hidden far in the past but that didn't keep Sidney from discovering it. George could do nothing less than follow Sidney's direction. Not without rewards of his own though; Sidney had blackmailed the current Chief Commissioner to resign so that George could take his place. The former Chief Commissioner had a nasty little penchant for ladies at the Imperial Club and luckily, Madame Lyon had a habit of having her girls nip bits of information about customers that could be used if needed. Once Sidney had bribed a doorman to provide this box of information about the clientele it was smooth sailing. Wall was out, Sanderson was in. Making George an accomplice in the slave market for young, pure and fair-skinned young girls had been ridiculously easy and then he'd had no option but to help in the matter, an unwilling accomplice but an accomplice anyway.
Then Jack and that Fisher woman got involved. God, he should have shot her on the Pandarus when he had the chance. He could have but the thought of imprisoning her so that after they were out to sea she could be dumped overboard had been a fantasy; the only thing better would have been if he could have taken his time and his revenge on her. Little good they did, those thoughts; Jack had arrived, against Chief Commissioner Sanderson's direct orders, searching the ship and ultimately finding both Miss Fisher and the girls that he'd already paid for. That burnt more than anything!
The smuggling would continue; there was more than one ship involved and Sidney wouldn't be in here much longer. He had accomplices that would take care of that, sooner rather than later he knew. And as soon as he got out of here he had two outstanding tasks to take care of - killing both Miss Fisher and Jack Robinson.
In the meantime, it might not be a bad thing if the old man died. Perhaps someone should make sure that was going to happen if it hadn’t already.
To be continued…