The charter plane that Isabella was talking about turned out to be a twin-engined little beauty that would probably have flown about 160 and had been refitted to fly eight. There was a poker table at the back, a bar nearby, and leather upholstered swivelling chairs. The kitchen provided a variety of gadgets and had a real stove with real gas burners. I found myself torn between wanting to travel like this all the time and worrying that if we hit turbulence during a flambé we'd all be toast.
Isabella's sister greeted us aboard the plane, wearing a smart uniform that reminded me of the Asian stewardess uniforms from the nineteen-thirties. She looked a little tired around her eyes, and though her make-up was impeccable I spotted that her nails were chewed on one hand. I thought I'd been discreet, but after she'd seated us and went to brink us drinks her nails were all neatly trimmed and filed, and less than hour later they'd had a change of nail polish as well, to a glossy burgundy.
"Where are we going?" I said, relaxing into my seat with a Negroni in one hand and a thin point of caviar-laden toast in the other.
"I've already told you as much as I intend to," said Isabella. She too was relaxing, and had selected a Coffeetini, some kind of coffee-flavoured martini. It came in a cocktail glass with dark chocolate flecked around the edges and a cube of vodka jelly speared on a cocktail stick. "We're going to Europe, and it is likely to be dangerous if you're planning on stealing the book. Our flight time will be a little longer than is necessary as we will be taking an indirect route in case you were planning on trying to use that information to figure out the location."
I shrugged; I had a small GPS device hidden in the heel of my shoe and would get location co-ordinates when we were on the ground.
"We'll be landing at a private air-field–"
"So private that most people don't know it's used as an airfield. There may be cattle or sheep around shortly after we land. You may be certain that our arrival will not be attracting very much attention."
I nodded, thinking hard. Air-traffic control is well-managed and monitored internationally because no-one wants to be responsible for planes crashing or colliding, so for us to land like this suggested that somewhere there was at least one air-traffic controller who was being paid to fail to see this plane disappear from the radar.
"We will disembark there and make our way to a cabin I maintain for my visits. When we're there I shall explain how we find the Book of Miracles and that will be your last opportunity to pull out. Once we start on the route to the Book there is no turning back, no changing your mind, and no getting scared and running home to mummy." Her voice had a faint mocking quality to it on the last sentence, but her look was still and calm assisted, I was sure, by that wretched stroke that had paralysed half her face.
"I have no intention of turning back," I said. "I'm not a coward."
"And your chauffeur?" Her riposte was lightning-quick.
"Is also not a coward," I said. "But if he runs off then–"
"Then he will die," Isabella interrupted with a flat, matter-of-fact tone. "This has nothing to do with me, and is completely out of my hands. Once we begin the route to the Book of Miracles things become extremely... difficult. The most probably outcome for getting things wrong is death."
"Only the most probable? Not certain then?" I was being stupid and I knew it, but this talk of death and not turning back was ridiculous.
"There are also things worse than death," she said quietly.
"How about your sister?" I said after a moment's thought, but I knew I'd just lost an argument somehow.
"She will remain with the plane, for our return journey," said Isabella. "She is sensible enough not to care about books of miracles."
"If it's so sensible not to care about them, how come you know all about them?" I said, annoyed now.
"No-one warned me about them before I started." And there is was, that half-smile that stopped half-way across her lips where the muscles no longer worked, that left you wondering if you were being sympathised with or mocked.
"Oh, sympathised with, indeed," she said softly, and I concentrated on emptying my glass and asking for another.