Sunday, 9 October 2011

Book of Miracles VI

Isabella Bonfontaine was waiting for me on the corner opposite Haney's bookshop.  She was wearing black jeans, hiking boots, a crimson blouse and a blue jacket.  I had James pull up next to her, and leaned across the back seat to open the door for her.  She got in, closed the door, and looked at me.
"You took your time," she said.
"What?"  I checked my watch; it was actually a minute before eight, when she'd asked me to pick her up.
"You parked the car up at the top of the road," she said, annoyingly accurately, "and spent a good five minutes watching me.  What were you hoping I was going to do?  Turn into a bat and start looking for you?"
"Well, no," I said, hedging.  In fact, it had taken me that long to get James to see her and to confirm that this was the woman he'd watched buying a broadsword from a one-room antique weapons shop in one of those little mazes of streets that cities and towns boast of as historic and quaint.  Only when I'd essentially described everything that she was wearing did he finally understand that I was talking about the only person standing on the street.  If she were only as oblivious to other people as James was I'd have had no qualms at all about using him as a chauffeur, but I suspected she was a lot more alert.  So I'd taken the chance, figuring that if she appeared to recognise him I could tell him to stand down, and if she didn't then I had at least got him to the airport with us and didn't have to worry about logistics for him as well.
"Well, no," I said again.  "I was actually trying to see if was you or if someone else was waiting on the corner.  You suggested that this book might be valuable–"
"It's a book of miracles," she interrupted, her voice slurring very slightly on miracles.  "Even your driver here would think that it was valuable.  Look, it doesn't really matter, the point I'm making is that I saw you."
I held my breath without thinking about it; was she about to reveal that she'd spotted James traipsing after her while she was on her weaponly shopping trip?
"And that you've picked me up without bothering to ask me where my luggage is."
James hit the brakes sharply and I was thrown forward, catching myself with a hand before my face hit the seat in front.  The screech behind us suggested that the rest of the traffic was now stopping just as abruptly.
"Luckily I had it all taken to the airport separately," she said, "so we can carry on.  I trust you have more luggage with you than I can see?"
James started driving again, and I shrugged.  "You didn't really tell me what I might need," I said.  "I've got a case in the boot, there's some changes of clothes, money in Euros; basically enough for an emergency."
"To create one, or get out of one?"
"Hah.  Funny."
"Clothes will be fine, the money might be useful, but I'm not sure.  I hope you know how to defend yourself if you've decided you're stealing the book.  Turn left here."
As James bore left on what looked to me like an access road, I tried not to look smug.
"I train with an MMA artist, actually," I said.  "I'm considered to be adequate."
"It's a start," she said.  "I suppose we'll find out how good that training is if it comes to that.  Turn right when the signs turn green."
I stared out of the window, and sure enough, after another eight hundred metres or so the information signs changed from having a blue background to a green one.
"Where are we going?"
"An airfield; we need a plane.  It's a small charter, the pilot's flown me to a lot of places before now."
"What's the food like?"
As we bumped along a rough track that the car's suspension was struggling with, I laughed a little.  "You mean the catering company hide the packaging before serving it?"
"No, I mean that my sister will be our stewardess and she'll be cooking our food from scratch."
I suddenly realised that not only did I not know where I'd be going, but this arrangement meant that James would have no way of following us either.
"Your sister?"  A thought occurred to me.  "I'm not so happy about that."
"Why?  She's a trained cook, she's worked as a private chef to some rather fussy people before now."
"Because she's your sister and I thought there was just you and me on this.  I want my chauffeur along too."
James stopped the car outside a hut where a man with an unkempt beard and eyebrows that looked like they had hay growing in them was sitting in a deckchair reading the paper.
"Fine," said Isabella after a pause.  "You pay for him, and when he does something stupid, you fix things."
"Done," I said, offering her my hand and wondering if I'd just been tricked into revealing that James was my bodyguard or not.  "I'll get him a change of clothes at Duty Free."
Isabella's laugh was melodic and charming, and underlined that we were on an airfield in the middle of nowhere, heading to a so-far secret destination, and Duty Free was just an idea, not a place.

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