There was a light mist hanging over the field we'd landed on, but otherwise it seemed quite empty. James and I stamped our feet trying to keep warm as we all stood around; Isabella seemed not to care about the chill in the air at all, and Irene had produced some woollen leggings that seemed to be keeping her quite warm, if perhaps not quite so generally attractive as when she was just in her cabin crew uniform. I noticed that James kept sneaking glances at her, so I guessed that he liked the woollen leggings.
"I'm a little concerned," said Isabella finally, producing a mobile phone from somewhere about her person. "The car should have been waiting for us, and even if there's been a break-down there should have been a replacement out by now.""
"Two break-downs?" suggested James, rubbing his gloved hands together.
"Sounds like incompetence," said Isabella. "I really hope that something far worse has happened to explain this disappointment." The way she said disappointment made me fairly certain that I wouldn't like disappointing her. She closed the phone up, her lips setting in a thin line that, thanks to the immobility of one half of her face, actually matched up for once. She looked rather grim, and slightly scary.
"No answer," she said. "Which is generally bad, but probably good for them in the greater scheme of things. Right, we go this way then. Beyond the field is a track that eventually leads down to a small road that will have occasional traffic. We may have to hitchhike a little."
"We'll split into pairs then," said Irene immediately. Isabella started walking, leading the way. "One boy, one girl in each so that we're equally easy to give a lift to. James, would you like to be my cousin while we hitchhike?"
Even Isabella was oddly quiet while we waited for an answer, and I think we all knew what the real answer was. Finally James nodded and mumbled something I didn't quite catch, but Irene smiled over.
"So what are we going to be?" I said to Isabella's back. We were approaching a low wooden fence at the edge of the field, beyond which I could see a pot-holed muddy track that was probably only used by tractors.
"Customer and Bank Manager?" she suggested, stepping on to a stile I'd completely missed seeing. James vaulted the fence, and I tried to decide if I should to, or if I should pretend solidarity with Irene and Isabella and use the stile.
"Ouch," I said. "What have I done to you to force us to hitchhike instead of hiring a car?"
"Ok, that's a point," she said. "You can be my personal chef instead, who has lost the keys to my car in a poker game." I chose to vault the fence, now feeling no solidarity with Isabella at all, and I splashed into a wide shallow puddle.
"Fine," I said. "Though I should warn you that the only recipe I actually know off by heart is for Welsh Rarebit."
"I didn't hire you for your cooking ability," she said, and that strange half-smile danced on the mobile side of her face again.
We walked in mostly silence along the track, which slowly firmed up into something a little more roadworthy and finally, and abruptly, came out onto Isabella's occasionally travelled road – a six lane carriageway with cars zooming past at least every ten seconds.
"Irene, would you like to– oh." Isabella stared; James waving thumb had already flagged a car down, which pulled tidily over onto the hard shoulder. The driver appeared to be alone, though on the back-seat of the car was a duvet and a King Charles Spaniel. The dog was fast asleep.
"In that case, would you and James like to– oh." Isabella stopped again as James, who had got the driver to step out of the car to look at something on the passenger side, punched the driver on the back of the neck. The poor man slumped in James's arms, and he looked over at me.
"Open the boot," he said. "You'll probably need the keys from the ignition. He can ride back there, and we'll all get where we going together."
"Is this kidnapping?" I said, fetching the keys and unlocking the boot.
"Borrowing," said James. "If we pay for his petrol, I'm not sure he's got any complaints; a man who falls asleep this quickly would kill himself if he tried driving any distance."
We put the driver in the boot, and there was a brief argument between James and Irene over who was going to drive, finally resolved by Isabella pointing out that Irene knew where we were going. James sat in the front passenger seat, looking like he was ready to leap over and seize the wheel at any time, and Isabella and I woke the dog up on the back-seat, who sniffed us both for thirty-seconds and then turned in circles a few times. Finally he sat back down with a sigh, resting his head on Isabella's lap, and we were off.