Getting through the evening had been hell for Phryne, whose usually enthusiastic appreciation of anything wild and dangerous was wearing sorely on her spirits this night. In Jack's office George Sanderson had lied, denied and tried to bully his way out of the charges, but Jack held firm on bringing those allegations against his former father in law.
Outside Jack's office Rosie confronted her father, hammering the final nail in the proverbial coffin. Immediately as Collins lead the Commissioner to his cell Rosie fell into Jacks arms, sobbing hysterically. Phryne watched for a minute, as Jack moved to hold her, trying to calm her down. At first Phryne was pleased that Jack could be so caring with her and then something else started to intrude into her very exhausted head: A little feeling like pain or anger in the pit of her stomach. Certainly, it was not something she was used to. Why was she angry? Why did she suddenly feel so very alone?
Hugh returned from the cells and saw Miss Fisher watching Jack and his former wife, and noticed that she was very pale, except for two very red spots staining her cheeks. She also looked very tired, which was to be expected after all she'd been through. Bert and Cec had already taken Dottie home after giving their statements and he had finished his as well, placing it with the others in the file. He wasn't sure about Miss Fisher, but his compassion for her made him feel terribly guilty as he watched her, casting sideways glances at her, hoping that she didn't notice until he saw her turn abruptly and stride out the door as if she were being chased by something unseen.
Hugh followed her and asked, "Um, Miss Fisher? May, um, I give you a ride home?" Hugh knew that Detective Inspector Robinson had planned on doing that but it didn't look like it was going to happen any time soon. He also knew that if he didn't try to take care of her Dottie would be very upset with him, a fate he would rather avoid at all costs.
Phryne looked at the young man, seeing the concern written all over his face. Hugh was a wonderful young man, perfect for Dot but innocence had not yet deserted him, in habit or the ability to hide his emotions. She cast another quick glance at the closed door to the precinct, and as much as she didn't want to admit it, she knew that Jack was going to be occupied for a while. She refused to think it might be all night.
Husbands and wives, even former spouses shared a bond. Jack had, beneath the gruff and often times stern exterior a sterling heart that was, as she had said, 'as deep as the Pacific ocean'. He would want to help Rosie and she couldn't really hold that against him.
If not then why did she feel so miserable?
"Thank you, Hugh. I should be very grateful for you to escort me home. Are you sure that it won't upset the Inspector?" she asked, not realizing that her voice was edged with frustration.
"I'm off duty now, Miss. I planned to stop and check on Dottie anyway."
"Very well then. Shall we go?" she inquired, as she slipped her arm through his.
Hugh led her to his car and opened the door for her, watching as she settled into the seat with a sigh. His car was old and certainly not of the quality of her Hispano Suiza but it got him around when he needed it to. It started with a loud grind that made his teeth grate, but at least it started.
Phryne was quiet most of the way to her home which wasn't far from the station. When the car came to a stop in front of her house she didn't wait for Hugh to come around and open her door, instead she chose to make a quick exit and headed straight for the front door.
Dot had heard Hugh's car pull up and rushed to the door, somewhat surprised to see her Miss ahead of Hugh. She stepped aside as Miss Fisher entered and cast a curious look at Hugh, her eyes asking a silent question. All she got from him was a slight shake of the head, telling her firmly 'not now'.
He bent down and gave Dottie a quick kiss on the cheek and then almost jumped when they heard the cry of a baby. Dot smiled and walked towards the parlor, Miss Fisher following behind.
"Dot, what on earth?" Phryne exclaimed, a puzzled frown upon her face.
"It's Mary, Miss. She had the babe tonight. Mrs. Stanley helped, Mr. Butler said."
"Aunt Prudence?" she almost laughed. "I'm sure it was more like her giving directions with all the zealousness of a general!"
"No, Miss. She actually delivered the babe, all on her own. The doctor came by later and checked them both, Mary and the little babe. He's adorable, Miss. Come and see."
Hugh stood back, watching as Dottie and Miss Fisher looked at the babe, along with Mrs. Stanley. A new life, but right now all he could think of was the treachery of the events of this night. He felt heartsick, for the first time in many months.
Phryne peered at the babe, swaddled securely in a beautifully crocheted blanket, no doubt Dot's handiwork. At least he was quiet she noted and then said, "Are they always so red?"
Dot smiled as Mrs. Stanley assured her that they were and Dot couldn't help but wonder how her Miss could not be enthralled by the sweet little baby. She watched as Phryne left the room, heading towards the stairs.
Dot followed and asked, "Miss, are you hungry? Mr. Butler prepared and sliced a roast of beef for sandwiches and I could bring you a tray. That is if you're hungry, I mean."
"Yes, Dot, that would be lovely. But wait while I bathe before you bring it up, please?"
"Of course, Miss. Would you like me to run your bath for you?"
"No, thank you. Go and see your constable, I know he has been very concerned about you this evening."
Dot nodded and headed back into the parlor, smiling at the soft cooing sounds Hugh was making at the baby. That bodes well she decided. Yes, very well indeed.
As Phryne got half way up the stairs Prudence Stanley's voice halted her and she managed to hide her grimace before turning around to face her aunt.
"Phryne!" Aunt P called again, before Phryne could say a word.
"Hello, Aunt P. Busy evening I gather?" Phryne ventured, hiding most of the mocking tone from her aunt.
"I, well yes, it has been. Isn't he quite delightful, the little man?"
"Yes, positively delicious," Phryne stated, trying her best to exude enthusiasm. "Aunt P, I've had a horrible evening. I really need to get into a soothing bath. Please excuse me?" she asked, exasperation and weariness tingeing her voice. She hoped her aunt would be obliging and let her go peacefully.
"Yes, yes, I heard all about it from Miss Williams. Really, Phryne, the mishaps and danger you manage to get yourself into. And this time Miss Williams, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Yates were all in dire peril as well."
If Aunt P noticed that Phryne's foot was beginning to tap furiously on the stair tread she ignored it. Phryne took a deep breath and said, "Aunt P, did you need something before I go to have a bath?"
Prudence realized that she wasn't going to be able to engage her niece in a civilized conversation at this time and stated, "Why yes, I did want to tell you that Mr. Martin will be here in an hour to pick up myself, Mary and the babe. They are at this time preparing a room for Mary and the child."
Phryne raised a curious eyebrow at this news, relieved that Mr. Martin, her aunt's chauffeur, would be here soon to take them all away. "Thank you for letting me know. I'm very tired and will be going to bed as soon as I've bathed and eaten so I likely won't see you before you leave. I'm sure you're very tired as well, Aunt P. Goodnight."
Phryne headed up the stairs feeling as if she'd trudged through a mired field, as she'd had to do many times in the war. At this point it was better to think about how worn-out she was than to let her thoughts stray to Jack and his former wife. Somehow Phryne felt afraid that the former wife would once again be calling Jack husband. The thought both angered and depressed her at the same time.
Hugh and Dot walked hand-in-hand to the kitchen after they had admired the baby. Both were lost in thoughts of the babes they would have, each of them thinking the other would be the ideal parent.
"Are you hungry?" Dot asked not even waiting for her constable to answer. He was always hungry, much like the Inspector. She and Miss Fisher had often chuckled about both of them, ready, willing and able to eat anything they could.
She pulled out the bread knife and started to slice bread for the sandwiches. "Now, Hugh Collins, tell me what is wrong with my Miss?"
Her voice had that ring of steel to it that demanded an answer and Hugh had already learned that when she asked something with that tone that he'd be well advised to answer. The problem was, he wasn't totally sure of the answer.
"Honestly, Dottie, I'm not exactly sure." He explained what had happened at the station and added, "I just don't get it."
"Hugh! She's obviously upset about the Inspector and his ex wife. She loves him, you know that."
He nodded. "He loves her too, I'd wager, but getting the two of them to admit it might never happen," he told her, shaking his head in frustration.
When the Inspector and Miss Fisher worked together they were happy. And when the inspector was happy, that made the station a much happier place and all the officers knew it. When they caught a case that Miss Fisher wasn't involved with the Inspector often was short of patience and full of grim looks he freely cast upon his constables. Yes, together was better, but easier said than done. The constables below Jack secretly had a bet going as to when the two would finally open up about the relationship they both claimed to be non-existent and thought to be invisible to others.
"You might have something there in the idea of locking them into a gaol cell, Hugh," she teased him with a small smile. They'd often laughed about the idea of that very thing, forcing the Inspector and Miss Fisher to talk.
Hugh shuddered, knowing the outcome of such an action as that. "I don't know, Dottie, I just can't understand why they don't just admit their feelings."
Dottie shrugged, setting a plate of sandwiches down in front of her constable. "Seeing him with his ex wife must have hurt her. How could it not?"
"But Miss Sanderson is his ex wife, Dottie. How could that matter?" Hugh asked as he savored the delicious sandwich.
"Oh, Hugh," Dot said, rolling her eyes. "How can men be so stupid?"
Hugh just looked at her blankly. How indeed he thought, admitting to himself that he had no idea at all of what she meant.
Phryne sank down into the lavender-scented bath and inhaled deeply in an attempt to calm her nerves a bit. She had an aching in the pit of her stomach, something quite different than she'd experienced before. She felt…unsettled by Jack's actions toward Rosie, sad and somehow abandoned. And that was utterly ridiculous she told herself. He was a grown man; she had no claims upon him, no right to be upset with his affections towards another woman, especially his former wife.
He was just helping Rosie, as anyone would do given the state of things for the other woman. Yes, that was it. He was just being courteous, that was all. Jack always did the correct thing and this was no different.
So why did she feel so distressed? So alone? She hadn't lost anything after all.
Except she had, she realized. Her heart.
When had the tide turned for her? When had she discovered that she loved Jack Robinson? Loved him totally, with all her heart? There was no one moment she realized. It happened gradually, like a silken mist slipping over her heart until she felt it soar as she basked in his affection. He did love her, surely he did?
A shared look here and there, a brief touch that would melt her, it was all very subtle for her until she saw the pain in his eyes when he thought her dead in the auto crash. He wouldn't, didn't overtly admit his feelings but his actions spoke volumes. How had she not realized it before?
She'd always thought of them as a team, the best of teams actually. She'd meant what she had told him, what they did best together was solve crimes. She had finally admitted to herself that there was more to it than that. Together they made two halves a whole. She was a better person because of Jack; she'd like to believe he was a better person because of her as well. They balanced one another. The yin and yang, as Lin would have said
For two years they'd played this mad game together; he generally annoyed with her interference and she taking great pleasure in that annoyance. After awhile it became less of a game; their work together became earnest and their bond grew.
When he had first told her about his marriage, she had accepted that he was off limits, in a sexual way that is. She respected him for what she felt was a caution to her and some of her antics and she did try harder to be a bit more circumspect with him. After she knew he had divorced things began to subtly change between them. The shared looks probed a bit deeper, the smiles came more readily to them, along with conversations that had nothing at all to do with cases.
Still, she had tried to keep some small spot of distance between them. For her own protection, she had been compelled to.
How did you forget the past, block it out? Rene had forever changed her; independence was her shield, her safety measure to make sure that her heart and soul never got trampled upon again.
Over the years she had realized that she never really loved Rene. She had idolized him, been madly infatuated with him at the time, but love? No, not that. She perhaps hadn't really known what that was until Jack Robinson came into her life, gently peeling back her layers, one at a time until he saw the real Phryne. And he didn't turn away when he did.
That was love, her ability to still look him in the eyes, without shame for what she believed was an unbearable weakness, to need someone, to love someone. To trust that they wouldn't hurt, or judge or scorn you for whom you were. Jack accepted her as she was, even though she knew that it hurt him at times.
Warwick Hamilton had been one of those times and Phryne had found it hard to meet his gaze as he realized the truth of the situation between her and Warwick. She didn't really like herself very much as she saw the shock in Jacks eyes, the hurt. Yet he hadn't judged her for it, only carried on, as he always did.
Was it too late now? She drew her knees up in the quickly cooling water and rested her forehead there, sure that it was. Was it tears or dripping water that cascaded down her cheeks? Even she wasn't sure.
To be continued…
Lin Chung, Rene Dubois and Warwick Hamilton were all men from Phryne's past.