Jack arrived at Russell Street a few minutes before 8 and headed directly up to the second floor where the administrative offices were. Constable Conrad stood up as Jack entered the Chief Commissioner's waiting area and welcomed the Inspector.
"I'll just let him know you're here, Inspector Robinson. Won't be a minute."
Jack watched as the young man fairly flew to the door that didn't have a name on it. Hall's name had been scraped off but there hadn't been time to have Sanderson's painted on it. Jack took his hat off, turning it loosely in his hands as he waited for Constable Conrad to return. He didn't have long to wait.
"He'll see you now, Inspector," Conrad said, stepping aside so that Jack could enter the office.
Jack nodded and stepped through the doorway. Matlock smiled and said "Have a seat, Jack," at the same time that Conrad pulled the door closed. The solid 'click' sounded loud in the large office that was bare of any personal artifacts, due to the shifting of inhabitants Jack was sure.
Hiram Matlock watched as the younger man appraised the bareness of the office and declared, "Quite ghastly, isn't it? Needs a coat of paint, something a little less institutional I believe."
Jack held back a smile and nodded, not quite hiding his thoughts. "That might help," he offered dryly. One corner of his mouth crept up just the tiniest bit and Matlock burst into booming
"Jack, good to see you. Sorry about the early morning call, but I felt sure you'd want to know about George."
"Yes, I'm glad you called, Sir. Is there any news?"
"Not yet. The doctors are supposed to let me know if anything changes. Apoplexy, bleeding into his brain, a very serious condition."
"It is," Jack agreed. "How…how are the girls taking it?" He knew that Matlock understood he meant Rosie and Annabelle.
"Annabelle is a trooper, as always; Rosie less so." Matlock tempered his comment about the younger Sanderson girl; Jack was already too involved with all the mess she had been a part of.
"I can imagine," Jack concurred. Rosie adored her father so between this and the problems Sidney Fletcher had been involved with he was sure she was feeling overwhelmed. And he was going to have to add another issue to the pot, something he wasn't really happy about. He quickly told Matlock about his conversation last night at Annabelle Barrington's home. Matlock listened quietly, his hands steepled in front of him as his elbows rested on the desk.
"Do you believe she knew? Annabelle is very critical of Sidney Fletcher," Matlock observed, as he mulled it over.
"I do believe she knew something, Sir. That the girls were on board, but not necessarily what was happening with them. She could have believed it all legitimate."
"But you're not quite sure of that either, are you, Jack?"
"No, not entirely," he said, an ache in his heart because he didn't want to believe that Rosie would be involved in such a thing. Also, her reaction to Sanderson at City South seemed to be very real, very desperate. "But Fletcher is a very good con man, Sir. I've no doubt he could make her believe whatever he chose to."
"I would agree with that. Since he's been a lad he's always been involved in some scheme or another. Did you know that I've known the Fletchers for many years?"
"Um, no, no I didn't know that."
"Prudence Stanley as well."
Jack's eyebrows lifted a bit, surprised at this information. He wanted to ask what the relationship was, but kept his question to himself. He didn't have long to wait to receive an answer.
"My wife Sylvia has known both families all her life and the ladies all serve on several councils and committee's together. She also knew Miss Fisher's mother," Matlock said and watched as Jack tried to hide his surprise.
Jack knew little about Phryne's family, other than her Aunt Prudence. Of course, she knew next to nothing about his either, something that they were going to have to work on. He cleared his throat and asked, "Am I to presume that your wife knows Miss Fisher as well?" He wasn't sure if this might be a good thing or not.
"Why yes, she does. Of for goodness sake, Jack, don't look so alarmed. Sylvia adores Phryne, always has, since she was a child. She loves and approves of Phryne's approach to being a modern woman; says it's about time that society accepted the fact that women are more than housewives and breeding machines. We also knew the family during the whole mess with Murdoch Foyle and the loss of that poor child; I was a constable on the case in fact. Such a terrible thing for a family to go through," he finished sadly, his eyes reflecting the compassion he felt for the family.
Jack nodded, the movement a trifle jerky as he contemplated the upcoming hanging of Foyle. Phryne was determined to attend and he knew there would be no stopping her but he was very much afraid it would bring the tragedy back into focus for her.
"Yes, well," Matlock said, determined to change the subject, not that the next one would be any easier. "Jack, the reason I wanted to speak to you is because I need you to be aware that there are some within the department who will be scrutinizing all that you do, for awhile at least. You were too closely connected to Sanderson and so for some, doubts may run high as to your loyalties or motives."
Jack opened his mouth to protest and Matlock raised a hand to silence him. "I know you are loyal, Jack. My god, you turned him in, disobeyed a direct order to stand down because you knew what was happening was wrong. That is proof irrefutable as far as I am concerned; a few others don't necessarily see it that way. Also, there is the question of Miss Fisher's involvement in police issues; that may cause more problems than the former issue."
Jack licked his lips and then pursed them together tightly as he considered what the Chief Commissioner had told him. The truth was, as much as it maddened him, how could he blame them, on either account? He'd have a long road ahead of him to prove himself because of his connection with George. The issue with Phryne however would be much harder.
His record for solving crimes had improved greatly due to her involvement. Yes, she was untrained but she also looked at things from a different perspective than a trained officer would and she had sources that often made Jack shudder in irritation or fear. There was little or nothing that she wouldn't do to get information, such as doing a feather fan dance in a gentlemen's club or leading a raid into a ship looking for abducted girls. She was irrepressible when it came to her determination in solving a crime and that had benefited Jack many a time. It had also caused numerous gray hairs and a heart that had all but stopped a few times in fear for her life.
He looked up suddenly when he realized that Matlock was watching him, apparently waiting for a response. "Thank you for informing me, Sir. I'll do my very best to not cause any issues regarding my loyalty to the force. And um, about Miss Fisher, I'll also try to keep her involvement to a minimum and it will certainly include maintaining confidentiality of official police information." He hoped this would appease the Chief Commissioner. Appeasing Phryne on this would be a much harder sell.
"Yes, I know you will and I'm sure that given a bit of time favor will return to you. Jack, I've known you since the days before the strike in '23 and I know what an excellent officer you are; nothing has been handed to you because of nepotism. You've earned your rank and better; I'm sure you know that. I also know of your desire to keep working cases, rather than move up the ranks. I understand that but you will not be able to avoid that forever, I hope you understand that?"
Of everything that Matlock had told him this was the most ominous threat of all; he had no desire to become an administrative officer, trapped behind a desk. He wanted to launch himself to his feet and pace the room, try to escape the feeling of panic that threatened to overwhelm him.
Matlock read the alarm on Jack's face and leaned back in his chair for a moment. If this was a test Jack had passed with flying colors; there was absolutely nothing to suggest that he had any intention of using all this to promote.
"Relax, Jack. That might not happen for a very long time. You are too valuable in your current position. On a somewhat lighter note, I wish you luck with your Miss Fisher because Prudence informs us that she practically considers herself a member of the Victorian Constabulary, but hates the uniforms." A teasing smile lifted the corners of his mouth for a moment and Jack let out a deep breath, knowing how true those words were.
"You have no idea just how true that is, Sir. Miss Fisher is enthusiastic about solving crimes, to say the least. But I'll do my best with her." There was a slightly joking tone in his words but he knew Phryne would not take this well at all.
"Good, good. Just do your best. Oh, and Sylvia wants you both to come to dinner next week; she says she'll call Miss Fisher to set it all up."
The words stunned Jack; it wasn't appropriate at all. His face betrayed his thoughts and Matlock added, "Jack, I know that's an unexpected invitation, but Sylvia is insistent. As I said, she adores Miss Fisher. It is not considered improper to socially see my subordinates, given if they are of the proper social classes And we both know Jack, despite your determination to eschew the social amenities that you are a part of those circles as is your Miss Fisher especially, who is a friend. Are you planning to marry the woman?" Matlock watched as Jack blushed brightly and lowered his eyes. Perhaps that comment was too forward but the best way to stem the constant stream of gossip about them would be if they married or at the very least, engaged. He explained those thoughts to Jack and waited for a response.
"I'm not sure…we've never discussed this…not together. She does have definite feelings about marriage though." His face told the rest of the story; that those feelings were not favorable.
"Yes, well. Enjoy your time off, Jack. The more distance you keep from this case the better for everyone concerned."
"Yes, Sir. Goodbye," Jack said as he left the office, feeling as if he'd been hammered to the ground. There was a great deal to speak to Phryne about; not any of it good.
Phryne had slept for another hour when she was awoken with an absolutely brilliant thought! They needed a family dinner tonight. She hurriedly dressed, performing only the most basic of ablutions and headed downstairs to find Dot so they could make plans.
"Miss?" Dot questioned, surprised to see her miss up at this relatively early hour. It was not yet quite 9 and Dot knew that she could count the times on one hand that Miss Fisher got out of bed this early without a particular reason. "Are you feeling alright, Miss?"
"Yes, Dot, I feel marvelous! And I have the most wonderful idea! I want to have a family dinner tonight, for all of us. You too, Mr. Butler," she added, knowing that he wouldn't consider himself to be a part of the family, a notion that Phryne sought to change. He was a crucial part of the family and she would be bereft without him.
"Of course, Miss," he stated, his thoughts already thinking of what was in the pantry for such a dinner.
As if reading his mind Phryne added, "We're dining out, Mr. B. Dot, I want Bert, Cec, Alice and the good doctor all invited. At first I thought about the Windsor Hotel for dinner but that can be a bit formal and stuffy and I want everyone to feel comfortable. Do you have any suggestions? Somewhere with a private dining area would be lovely."
Dot's face wore a frown as she mulled over options. Of the restaurants she knew, while they might be comfortable for her and the others, Miss Phryne would undoubtedly feel out of place in. Her fingers tapped on the table top as she continued to consider possibilities.
"Miss, I do believe I know of a place that would fit the circumstance and patrons perfectly," Mr. Butler stated.
"Do tell, Mr. B!"
"Haversham's I believe will be the perfect venue. They have an excellent menu and private dining rooms."
"Superb! Dot, I'll let you to make the reservations; for 9 shall we say?"
Dot nodded, mentally going over the nine people involved. "Miss, you said family? Is this to include Mrs. Stanley?"
Phryne sighed, it should she knew but they would be saved by the matron's disapproval of dining with 'riff-raff' since on Tuesday nights she hosted the Women's Gardening Society meeting. Tough luck, that, Phryne laughed to herself.
"I'm afraid Tuesday evenings finds her occupied with other matters. No, the guest list is you, Hugh, Mac, Mr. Butler, Bert, Cec, Alice, Jack and me. That should do it I believe."
A knock on the front door interrupted the planning. Phryne's eyebrows rose as she inquired, "Is it common to have visitors this early?"
"No, Miss," Dot said, curious as well.
A moment later Mr. Butler returned and said, "Miss, Mrs. Stanley is here. I've seated her in the parlor; would you like tea to be served?"
"Why don't you make it café au lait, also, some of those croissants I smell?" Phryne said, feeling hungry. "Dot, would you contact everyone and make the reservations please?"
"Certainly, Miss. I suspect that Bert and Cec will be here at any time; that's usual for them in the mornings."
"They come for breakfast, do they?" Phryne said with a laugh as she headed to the parlor. She already knew that they were usually here in the mornings but was glad to know that they'd surely be here soon.
If Aunt Prudence was here so early it could only mean that she came to see if Jack was still here. Phryne wasn't sure she was ready for the coming conversation but she took a deep breath and squared her shoulders, knowing it was inevitable.
"Aunt P, how lovely to see you so early in the morning," she declared. She smiled brightly and kissed her aunt on the check, breathing in the odor of the face powder that her aunt claimed she didn't use.
Prudence eyed her niece cautiously; Phryne was entirely too congenial for such an early morning call. Prudence had hoped to find the Inspector still there so that she could make them both listen to reason about their keeping time together. It just wouldn't do; the Inspector was a fine man, an excellent one to have near when an unsavory situation arose, but he wasn't the proper type of man for her niece to be associated with. Phryne's father was a Baron; even though he may have come from less than idyllic circumstances, his rise to the rank of Baron changed all that. Phryne's mother, Penelope, Prudence's own dear sister came from the best of stock so it was essential that Phryne associate with the right kinds of people. The Inspector, however helpful and polite, was not the right type of people.
Granted, Jack Robinson certainly had his supporters; Sylvia Matlock often sang the young man's praises and insisted he had a very bright future with the Victorian Constabulary. Prudence had often thought that her niece seemed much less likely to involve herself with unsavory elements and attend less than savory events since the Inspector had come into her life. For that Prudence was grateful, but a romantic attachment between the two was simply unthinkable. Phryne and the Inspector must be made to see that!
Prudence had been somewhat surprised to see that the Inspectors automobile was not here this morning; a circumstance that provided her with a bit of hope that things perhaps hadn't gone too far between he and Phryne. Prudence considered it her sacred duty to stand in for her dear sister and make sure that her niece had the proper guidance that only someone of her own social standing could provide and so she had every intention to direct Phryne in her choices.
"What brings you by so early this morning, Aunt P?" Phryne took a seat across from her aunt on the loveseat and settled in, crossing her legs as she waited for her aunt to speak. Prudence couldn't help but notice that Phryne's foot wiggled in irritation and a wiser person might have changed their mind about a lecture but Prudence wasn't adept at reading her nieces cues so she plunged ahead.
"Phryne, I wanted to speak with you about your, um, the Inspector. Surely you see that this would be an impossible situation?"
"Which situation are you referring to, Aunt P?"
"The situation that involves late night calls or overnight visits! Phryne, there can be no future in an alliance between you and the Inspector, you must see that?"
Mr. Butler entered the room at that moment with a tray, casting a look at Phryne as he did so. At her nod of approval he set the tray on the small table in front of Phryne and left the room. Phryne rose and pulled the doors shut behind him, leaving the two of them alone to speak in private, a situation that suddenly made Prudence nervous.
"Café Au Lait, Aunt P? And you simply must try one of Mr. Butler's croissants. They are perfection," Phryne said, not bothering to wait for an answer as she poured two cups of the creamy, delicious brew. She sat one cup on the table in front of her aunt and placed a croissant on a small plate and sat it next to the coffee before sitting back in her seat and watching her aunt, waiting for her to speak.
It was an extremely uncomfortable silence. Prudence sipped her coffee, glad to have something to occupy her hands while she thought of how best to broach this difficult subject.
"You were saying, Aunt Prudence?" Phryne prompted. Her eyes were like blue fire and Prudence felt suddenly taken aback. It hadn't occurred to her that Phryne might possibly have real feelings about for Inspector.
"Well, yes, Phryne. It's an unsuitable match, if that is the way in which you are leaning."
"Why would it be unsuitable? Supposing of course that I were so inclined."
"Well, his family of course? Do you know who these people are? For heaven's sake, Phryne, your father is a Baron!"
"Who was nothing but riff-raff, according to you, until his cousins died and left him the title."
"But he did have good familial connections; he just chose to live a different life until called to service for his title."
"What do you know about Jack's family connections? Has someone told you something?" Phryne was curious about this suddenly, only because they had never spoke of their families, in any detail. She didn't know who his parents were, but if they were dirt poor, living in Collingwood, she wouldn't care one tiny bit.
"Well, I…I don't know but surely you must suspect a lack of connections, given his reluctance to speak of his family?"
The parlor doors opened suddenly and the man in question stood in the doorway, a look that could be classified as amusement on his handsome face. Phryne noted that he also looked extremely tired; there were dark circles under his eyes but she could also tell that he'd heard at least part of what her aunt had said and was entertained by it.
"You have questions about my family, Mrs. Stanley? What would you like to know?"
To be continued…