After Jack left Russell Street he decided to stop at the hospital, to check on George. His feelings about the man were complicated, to say the least. Jack would never forgive him for being willing to sacrifice not only Phryne but those girls as well, all for the betterment of his career. But there was also a part of Jack, a begrudging part to be sure but still there that owed a great deal to George; his career in fact. After the strike of '23 he might not have kept his position if not for George Sanderson.
It was snowing lightly in the gray early morning light, small, dry flakes that wouldn't stick around for long he knew from experience. Still, Jack paid close attention to the streets and the other, less experienced drivers he met on the road. At the hospital, he knew that it was too early for visitors, but his badge would get him in quickly enough he bargained, a thought that was rapidly proven true. As he entered the door to George's door, Constable Myers nodded to him and stepped aside with a polite nod.
Annabelle Barrington was sitting quietly by her father, holding his hand in hers and didn't hear him enter the room. Obviously lost in thought, she wiped a few tears from her eyes and Jack heard her choke back a sob. Jack stayed still, near the doorway and determined that he should go, rather than interrupt her solitary vigil when Annabelle looked over her shoulder and stood abruptly when she saw him.
"Jack," she managed to get out, clearing her throat in an effort to speak clearly.
"Annabelle, I'm so sorry to intrude; I just wanted to check on him, on George."
"Yes, yes of course. Come in, Jack." She nodded to a second chair in the room and Jack took it, hesitantly, looking down for a moment before meeting her eyes.
"Any change?" he asked, already sure of the answer.
"No, none at all. I'm not quite sure if that is good or not. He'd hate this, you know."
Jack nodded, agreeing with her. He cast a quick glance at George, noting the extreme pallor and stillness of his body in repose. This wasn't really sleep, but Jack wasn't quite sure how to determine what it was. "I saw Matlock this morning; he told me that they aren't really sure what will happen with your father."
"Yes, that is true. "He…he may never wake up."
Jack saw her lower lip quiver just the tiniest bit as she tried to control herself. What a hell of a mess that George had gotten himself pulled into. Frankly, Jack would never have believed that George would be a party to such deeds but power, or the desire for it had corrupted many an individual and apparently George had been susceptible. Or else Sidney Fletcher had something to hold over George's head for blackmail but Jack couldn't see that as a possibility. What could there be? George Sanderson was as straight and narrow as they came.
"How is Rosie? Matlock said she was practically hysterical this morning; considering everything that has happened it would be understandable." The words were rushed, a tiny effort to excuse Rosie's behavior if she had known what Fletcher was up to and a genuine conciliation if she didn't.
Annabelle stared at him for a moment, reading that message in his eyes. They'd known one another for 16 years and she had come to see a lot of what Jack kept from the world. Rosie never looked; had she done that their marriage might have survived but like a child, all she had wanted was the instantaneous satisfaction or appeasement of her most current desire. Taking the time to understand what her husband had been through was beyond her apparently.
Annabelle had learned the lessons when John had came home from the war. Like Jack, he was a different man but Annabelle had stood by his side quietly and let him find his way, until he'd been ready to share his emotions about it all. Rosie hadn't understood the necessity of that; she wanted Jack to focus on moving ahead at work so that she could attain what she considered a better circle of friends, of social contacts. John and Annabelle had watched as Jack withdrew even more over the years, becoming a recluse for the most part, a move that had left Rosie out in the cold.
"When I left her she was sleeping; I gave her a large dose of laudanum so she should rest for awhile."
"You need rest as well, Annabelle."
She nodded, "Yes, I know but John will be here soon and I'll go home then. I…I just couldn't bear to leave him alone yet, Jack." Her pain-filled brown eyes seemed to ask for understanding and Jack smiled slightly, trying to grant her wish.
They sat quietly for a minute as Jack thought about John and Annabelle for a moment. He was happy that they seemed to have weathered the storm of war so well; in fact he was envious. He and John Barrington had been boyhood friends and had remained close over the years. Jack thought that the very sensible and unpretentious Annabelle was well suited to his old friend who had a quick smile and a kind heart.
"Jack?" Annabelle began, obviously shaking Jack out of a quiet thought. "About Rosie? She's very angry and I'm sure you'd do well to be advised of that. She needs to compose herself a bit and that might not be easy for her. If you can give her some time to do that?" Both of them knew that Jack wouldn't seek his former wife out and hopefully Rosie too would keep her distance.
"Yes, of course." He stood up and added, "I must take my leave now, Annabelle. You'll keep me informed of..of his progress?" Jack felt that wasn't the correct word but was at a loss for the right one. "And if there should be anything I can do?"
"Of course, Jack." She smiled at him, a slightly strained smile that tried to tell him she'd be okay. He stood there awkwardly for a moment longer before nodding again and leaving the room. He didn't stop walking until he reached his car in the parking lot.
A little more snow had fallen and Jack dusted the flakes off of the windows, thankful that it was light and not sticking. It didn't help that the bitterly cold wind blew the flakes around though and almost as soon as he'd brushed them off they were back. Sighing in frustration he started the car, hoping that it wouldn't snow any harder.
It wasn't a long drive to Phryne's home, but it was tedious going because of the snow. He took his time which gave him time to think about everything that had happened in the past 24 hours.
He felt sad for Rosie; she'd lost almost everything in that small amount of time. More importantly, had she lost the innocence of deniability? Did she know what Fletcher was doing? It would be a bitter pill to swallow if she did he realized. Was Annabelle right and she knew what he'd been involved in? Jack's compassion for the woman who once been his wife felt a bit wobbly right now; he needed answers.
Most of all he needed Phryne Fisher; he needed her love, her strength. He needed to look into her beautiful eyes and lose himself for a little bit, after a few more hours of sleep that is. He imagined waking in her bed, pulling her tightly to him and breathing in the scent that was uniquely Phryne. For a moment he let his imagination take hold and until he almost crashed into a parked car. He shook himself free of the fantasy that involved Phryne naked in his arms.
How many nights had he lain awake in his bed and imagined what it would be like to love her, unrestrained? No longing, unrequited looks from under his lowered eyes of the brim of his hat. How he longed for her, even just her presence, being near her. Their after case drinks had at first just been a ritual of shared triumph but gradually, they became more personal, almost intimate at times. Their conversations began to become more about who they were as individuals and he realized that the more he knew, the better he loved her.
Still, they'd both kept quiet about much of their pasts. Both of them carried hidden parts of themselves; from war, from love. His talk with Matlock made him recognize the fact that he'd never shared much of anything about his family and he was close to them. He'd told them all about her; at first it had been nothing but frustrated sputtering about her interference in his cases. They'd laughed at the picture of her that he'd nipped when Collins had taken some when he'd actually considered arresting her. His mother had actually cried when he'd told her about Murdoch Foyle and how close Phryne had come to dying. Since his divorce they'd repeatedly urged him to court her, a notion he felt sure she'd laugh at. Phryne Fisher didn't court or step out with men; she smiled beguilingly, flirted dangerously and beckoned them. How did he fit in with that?
And yet somehow, he did. He'd won her love and it still made him feel a bit dizzy and amazed. Phryne Fisher was in love with him.
The thought brought an incredible smile to his face and a bit of a twinkle to his eye. He was a lucky man.
Sidney Fletcher waited expectantly in the cell; any time now he decided. His contacts wouldn't allow him to languish for long, not if they cherished their lives that is. Within an hour one of the gaol keeps called his name.
"Fletcher, yer gotcha visitor," the man called out. He was a middle-aged man, as gruff looking as most of the people sitting in the cells but his vivid blue eyes were reminiscent of ice, hard and cruel.
Fletcher stood and tried to brush the wrinkles out of his suit. A primitive gaol cell was no place for an expensive suit. He grimaced as he noted a small tear on one of pants legs and several loose threads as well.
This pair's for the rubbish he decided.
He followed the dirty and pungent man down several hallways and up a flight of stairs. He may have a disgusting job but surely the man could bathe, Sidney thought as he tried to cover his nose with a handkerchief. On and on they went, down one twisting hall after another until they stopped at a heavily bolted door. The man pulled a set of keys out of a large pocket and searched for one; upon finding it he used it to unlock the door.
Pale light trickled into the doorway and Sidney saw a light layer of snow covering the cobblestones in the alley. Sidney shook the hand of Earl, his conspirator who had worked to get him out of gaol. "What was the deal?"
"A thousand pounds," the gaol keeper interjected, his hand out to receive his reward.
Sidney met Earl's eyes, who motioned the man and Sidney outside. "Deal is a deal. Got it out in the automobile," he told them, walking towards the black Ford.
The gaol keep, whose nickname was Butch looked hesitant for a moment. "I don want nobody seein' me," he whined
"It's all clear, we made sure of that," Earl said, a smile plastered on his face. It was meant to be reassuring and Sidney held back a laugh and the attempt at sincerity.
Butch followed first checking right then left to make sure it was clear. Seeing no one, he waited by the Ford as Earl opened a door and reached for something inside. Before he had a chance to protest he'd been hit over the head with a hammer. Earl lifted his body and threw it in the backseat and then took the time to tie him securely and cover him with a blanket.
Sidney jumped into the passenger seat and pulled a hat down over his head. His nose wrinkled in distaste as Butch's rank odor filled the car. "Lord, does the man never bathe?"
"Sure, he's going to take a nice bath in the Yarra; that'll get the stench off of him," Earl laughed. "Where to, boss?"
"To the safe house so I can bathe and change. Then I've got an appointment; I'm going to help Miss Fisher and Jack Robinson meet their destiny.
Both of the men laughed. Sidney decided that this was going to be a good day after all.
Mr. Butler answered the door quickly when Jack knocked. As he stepped in he noticed that the doors to the parlor were closed which caused him to raise an eyebrow. Miss Williams was on the phone as he looked at Mr. Butler enquiringly, nodding towards the closed doors.
"Miss Fisher's aunt is visiting, Inspector," was the answer he got while shrugging out of his overcoat. Mr. Butler hung both coat and hat up as Jack stood by the doors, hesitating before entering. Perhaps it was family business and he shouldn't enter and finally decided that he'd see if he could find something to eat when he heard his name.
"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.
Never a time like the present Jack decided and opened the door. "You have questions about my family, Mrs. Stanley? What would you like to know?"
He entered the room after closing the doors again and walked to Phryne who had stood at his entrance. He kissed her on the cheek, a move that was calculated to scandalize Mrs. Stanley he thought with an inward grin. Catching the twinkle in Phryne's eye he decided that she enjoyed his ploy.
"Jack, have a seat," Phryne said, patting the loveseat next to her. Jack took the offered place and sat back, crossing his legs. "Would you like some coffee and croissants?" At his affirmative nod she went to the doors and called for Mr. Butler, asking for more coffee and croissants. A moment later she was back, sitting next to him as if it was the perfect place for her. She decided that it wasn't quite a pleasing as his lap but given the company it would have to do.
"Inspector, I wasn't aware that you were joining us," Prudence all but stammered, displeased to be caught out in her conversation with her niece. To further complicate matters, he looked perfectly at home here as well; the thought was not an agreeable one. Had she already waited too long for this conversation?
"And yet here I am," he said his voice and demeanor at his most charming.
Phryne relaxed a bit more; this was a side of Jack seldom seen. It didn't seem unlikely at all that he could handle her aunt. He wasn't rude in the slightest but she had the feeling that he wasn't going to let Prudence Stanley intimidate him. She smiled herself, waiting to see what would happen next.
"You had questions about my family, I believe," Jack stated. "Where would you like me start? My parents perhaps?"
Aunt P took a sip of her café au lait, even though it was now cold. It gave her something to do for a moment while she pondered this new situation. How could she react favorably to what surely must be humble beginnings? Finally she said, "Yes, Inspector, please tell me about your family."
Truly, Prudence expected the worst but Phryne on the other hand sat in great anticipation of the answers. She really had no knowledge at all of Jack's family, other than that he had one. She knew he went to his parents for dinner at times, but other than that the slate was blank.
"My father is James Robinson; my mother's name is Elise Calder Robinson." He sat quietly as the information settled over Prudence. Phryne almost choked on a bite of her croissant. "Phryne, are you alright my dear?" he asked, his tone concerned.
She managed to heroically swallow the bite down and then dabbed at her lips with a napkin, in part to hide her smile. "Yes, I'm positively fine, Jack. Do go on." She couldn't hide the perky tone from her voice and certainly didn't want to. This was delicious information she decided.
"Your father is Justice James Robinson, of the Victoria Supreme Court?" Prudence asked, suddenly feeling very small indeed. If that were so then his wife, Jack's mother was from the Calder Sugar dynasty. Very rich and very prominent; how could the Robinsons, whom she knew socially allow their son to be a police officer? It simply left her speechless, flabbergasted in fact. And how dare they not inform her of the connection, when Prudence spoke of her niece and her involvement with the Inspector? It was simply rude!
"He is," Jack stated politely. "My elder brother, Jaime is a barrister, in Sydney. My sister Maude and her husband run the sugar company now that my grandparents have passed and my younger sister Amanda is widowed and lives here in Melbourne. Aunts? Uncles?"
"No, that is fine, Inspector." Prudence wasn't sure she could handle any more information at the moment.
Jack and Phryne watched as Prudence digested the news of Jack's family. Finally she wiped her mouth with the napkin and sat the cold cup of coffee on the table. "I really must be going," she said hastily
"Nothing else to say, Aunt P?" Phryne inquired softly.
"No, I really must be going. I need to check on Mary and the little man. Goodbye," she said, departing hastily.
Jack and Phryne watched her leave and soon heard the front door close. They looked at one another; Jack a bit nervously and Phryne with a wide grin.
"Well, that certainly quieted her. Good job that, Jack!" As an afterthought she added, "It is true then?" At his nod of assent she grinned from ear to ear. "I'm sure that set her on fire a bit actually. She never would have suspected such notable family. Nor did I! Really, Jack, why have you kept them hidden away? Are they hideous?"
He chuckled at her questions. He grinned and winked at her, prepared to tease her before getting to the point. "Absolutely! Positively deranged, all of them!"
"Jack," she laughed, "I'm positive they're not. They have at least one perfectly wonderful son after all." She moved onto his lap and kissed him thoroughly before looking closely at the dark circles under his eyes and the almost tired droop to those eyes. "Inspector, I believe you need sleep before explaining your motivations for hiding your family from me."
It was delivered with a smile but Jack knew that she meant business; that he did in fact need to sleep and that she would have answers - later. He sighed and agreed, "You are right, Miss Fisher."
"No argument? No excuses? Is this my Jack speaking?"
"Yes, your Jack, Phryne. Only yours," he told her as he moved his lips to hers, claiming them in a deeply passionate kiss. He drank from her, thrilling to the feel of her curves that fit against him perfectly.
Phryne shifted on his lap and felt something hard against her thigh. What on earth? Her hand crept down and felt the object of her discomfort.
Too late Jack realized what she was doing and tried to shift her focus with another kiss but Phryne was now on a mission to discover what was in his pocket. "Jack, what in the world?" she queried as her hand slid to his pocket and tried to work inside of it.
"Phryne, no! It's nothing," he said, but he knew that there was no dissuading her; her nimble fingers closed around the box and pulled it out.
She viewed a small, velvet box, a deep sapphire color; it was obviously old, with a few worn places on it leaving the underlying fabric bare. She flipped it open and stared at him, her mouth open in surprise.
"Jack?" Her breath caught in her throat. Surely it couldn't be.
To be continued…