“Question for you,” remarked the Australian magician to the American detective as they roared down a narrow lane between towering blackberry hedges, “did you know they drive on the left in this country?”
Emily-Jane Plank reefed the wheel, missing a recalcitrant sheep by inches. “Really? You sure?”
“The bloke at the rental agency made a special point of it.” Cornelius Gallows tightened his grip on the door handle. The plastic creaked.
“That’s crazy! Brits, huh?”
Gallows refrained from mentioning his homeland followed a similar convention. “Speed limits are also a thing.”
“We’re on the clock, partner.” The lane ahead filled with the smoky silhouette of a farm tractor wide enough to scrape the bushes on either wall. Plank sounded the horn in one continuous, affronted blare. “Out of the way, idiot!”
Sensing the imminence of both an argument and a fatal collision, Gallows waved his fingers, tapping out a rhythm between his pinkie and thumb.
The next instant, he was behind the driver’s wheel, Plank was holding a half-folded road map in the passenger seat and the tractor was receding in the rear-view mirror.
“I’ll drive, you navigate,” he said, easing back below a breakneck speed. “Where are we going, anyway?”
Plank’s habit was to mask her annoyance at “being spelled at” whenever Gallows used his magic on her by pretending it was all her idea. “I knew you couldn’t be trusted to read the map or listen to directions. We’ll turn in a mile or so. It’s a village called Little Stiffbody.”
“It’s pronounced ‘Stibdy’.”
Gallows’ habit was to double down on finding ways to annoy his partner, until she yelled, laughed or threatened to shoot out one of his kneecaps. She claimed some expertise in the latter technique, which apparently came in handy in bail recovery work.
Today she was positively unflappable, a sure sign they were up to something a little out of the ordinary. “So aside from a duck pond and one café that shuts at two, what awaits us in Little Stibdy?”
“You didn’t listen to a thing I said on the plane, did you?”
“High altitudes and geomancy don’t mix well,” replied Gallows indignantly. “That’s why I always put myself in a trance the minute I’m clicked into my seat. Airplane mode, eh? Otherwise I might blink and the instruments’d think we were a thousand miles off course.”
Plank snorted. “Get better at timing your alarm. Next time I’m not pushing you through a terminal in a wheelchair.”
“Yeah, yeah. What’s the case?”
“It’s a recovery job.”
Gallows groaned. “I thought you said we were getting out of the bounty hunting game.”
“This is different. It’s a kidnapping.” She held up her phone. Gallows squinted at the fluffy mass on its screen. “Or rather, a catnapping.”
Gallows swore so loudly and emphatically he missed the intersection. As he backed up and pointed the car at a side road almost invisible beneath drifting willow leaves, he added, “We came all the way from New York City for a cat?!”
“Not just any cat,” replied Plank, inspecting her notebook app. “Tiddles here – or rather, Reuben Horatio Gernsback the Third – is a purebred August Rio Parana from Paraguay.”
“Practically unique. He’s insured for eight million. Of which we are eligible for three per cent upon his safe return to Mrs Dolly Bertram-Shandy of the Hemlock Lake Bertram-Shandys.”
Even Cornelius Gallows, whose avarice typically extended no further than the source of his next free drink, whistled at that.
“And what makes you think we’ll find a Paraguayan moggy in the middle of the Cotswolds?”
Plank shrugged. “The housekeeper bought two tickets from Newark to Heathrow the day before she and the cat disappeared. I figure she and an accomplice will run the ransom from her home.”
“Criminal masterminds, eh?” Gallows slowed the car as the overgrowth parted to reveal rows of thatched cottages haphazardly bordering a wide green lawn and a slow-moving stream. Some ducks, a goose and one old dog seemed to be the village’s sole occupants. “Can’t be more than two dozen houses here. This’ll be the easiest money ever. You have something for me to home in on?”
“Right here,” smirked Plank, holding up a zipped plastic bag containing a dark mass.
Gallows gagged. “Is that -?”
Plank nodded. “Laid in a solid silver litter tray the day before yesterday. Fresh as it gets. Do your thing, Gandalf.”
“I am not even going to ask how you got that through Customs,” grumbled Gallows as he unzipped the bag. His stomach convulsed like he’d been slugged with a cattle prod. He retched with gusto.
When his vision cleared, the talisman had done its work. In Gallows’ eyes, a glittering web of green and orange threads had settled over the serene village. He pointed. “Last house on the – ack – on the right.”
Plank rapped smartly on the indicated door. A young woman wearing just a baggy sweatshirt opened it with a forlorn expression. “Oh,” she said. “That was quick. You’d better come in.”
Inside, the cottage was a dim clutter of old timber furniture, stacked books and a scorched iron stove. Halfway up a staircase, a shirtless man with dark curling locks inspected his fingernails. Plank gave him a watchful look, which he ignored.
“Yasmin Gould, I presume. You know why we’re here?”
The girl nodded miserably. “She can’t have him back. That old bat treated him terribly.”
“But she pays well, so cough him up.” Gallows coughed, though not for emphasis.
“She kept him like a slave. I had to set him free!”
“You could’ve just left the door open.”
Yasmin frowned skeptically, “Oh, really? Is that what you’d have done?”
“I wouldn’t have half-baked a ransom plan.”
“Who said anything about ransom?” Yasmin clutched at the shirtless man’s leg. He leaned down and rubbed her head with his face. “Reuben and I just want to be together!”
Gallows groaned. Plank stared at the diamond-studded choker around the man’s throat.
“Meow,” said Reuben.
I’m back from my holiday. Right now I am more than a little bit jet lagged. That might explain this story, or it might not.
While I was travelling I had the brilliant idea that I would write a flash fiction story inspired by the various places I visited. I planned the first two, but the third one seems to have turned into the outline for a novel. Not quite sure what happened there, since it’s nothing whatsoever to do with the novel I intended to outline while I was away.
Oh well. It was a lovely trip, even if it set my writing plans back a bit.