"Ooh, I've got one," Martin said suddenly, triumphant. There had been silence on the flight deck for the previous two minutes while he presumably went through every book title he could think of.
"Oh yes?" Douglas asked mildly.
"Yes. Great Expectation." He looked ecstatically at his first officer.
"Martin. What have we discussed about titles with an 'S' taken off?"
"I know, you don't think they're more interesting than the original. But it's a really good one!"
"No, it's not," Douglas said, with infinite patience (or at least a reasonable facsimile). "A 'good one' would be something like The Return of the Kin."
Martin shifted in his captain's seat. "You make it sound like a horror novel."
"You haven't met my kin," Douglas said darkly, and Martin allowed himself a brief but terrifying moment of uncertainty.
"Twenty more minutes!" Arthur announced, bursting into the flight deck, and Martin started. Arthur was even more maniacally cheerful than... most days. He hadn't been able to convince his mother to wear white ("Arthur, it's my third marriage. White is for new brides. What, exactly, is it about me that says 'purity'? Tell me so that I can crush it immediately.") and had therefore opted to wear it himself. The result was blinding and the whites didn't quite match. Also, after an exhaustive search, he had been unable to find any white trousers and had settled on a pair with white on them which had presumably been made for golfing. They were plaid, mainly white with fuscia and a touch of spring green. And he had a white flower, now sadly wilted, pinned to his breast.
"Hello, Arthur," Douglas replied.
"Hello!" He would be bounding were there actually room to do so. "Playing that book game? Brilliant, I've got one!"
Douglas had opened his mouth to say something cutting, and just... stopped. "You. Have one," he repeated.
"Yeah!" Arthur said. If he was ever less than extremely enthusiastic, everyone knew there was something very, very wrong. But it was a rare thing. "The only book I've ever read! Can you guess?"
"I've a terrible feeling you're about to enlighten us."
"White. Fan." He beamed at them. "See, I've read White Fang, lots of times, so it's perfect."
"That's good," Douglas said encouragingly. "You know you needn't actually have read the book, right?"
"Oh, but I have! And where's the fun in naming books you haven't read?"
"You've read one," Douglas reminded him. "That means you could get only one point. Hypothetically."
"I've got a point!" Arthur yelled.
"What is going on in here?" Carolyn had to peer threateningly over Arthur's shoulder, as he was blocking the flight deck door.
"I have a point!" Arthur said, still at an unpleasant volume.
"At what, and please don't say philosophy; we all remember how long it took you to get off of the concept of the logical fallacy."
"No, at books." From the sound of it this was, if possible, even better.
"Don't tell me you're doing that thing with the last letter again," she said, narrowing her eyes at the pilots.
"Okay, we won't," Douglas replied.
"It's a short flight! It's a hop across the Channel from France! You can't possibly be bored already."
Douglas turned his head, slowly and with great significance, and looked toward Martin. The captain was looking starched and desperately proper in his uniform next to Douglas's somewhat casual suit with the neck buttons undone. After a pause, he turned back to Carolyn.
"You'd be surprised."
She looked exasperated, then momentarily conflicted. "The Sound and the Fur," she said, with dignity.
"Aw, Mum, now we're tied," whinged Arthur.
"No one's keeping score, don't worry," Carolyn said, only to receive another of Douglas's looks. "No one's keeping our score," she corrected.
"Soooo," said Martin. Douglas raised an eyebrow. "The reception. Is your sister Ruth going to be there?"
"Ah, by that I think you mean is her grandson Kieran going to be there. Yes, Herc insisted that I invite her, though heaven knows why, and I am very much hoping to not encounter her," Carolyn said, voice dripping with loathing, "but I assume that her plus one is her husband, not her grandson. Honestly, we were lucky to get an RSVP at all."
"Carolyn, you didn't let him bully you into it, did you?" Douglas scolded. "He can be a terrible bully. All smooth talk and fancy words, and suddenly you're agreeing to something ridiculous before you can say 'Herc's a manipulative bastard.'"
"I doubt it, she's got loads of practice resisting that approach," Martin muttered, earning a glare from Douglas.
"Why on earth would I do that? The man is a ridiculous softie. And he's afraid of sheep."
"What." said Douglas, utterly flat, at once giving up all pretense of paying attention to the controls.
"Terrified of them. Won't even walk past them. Thinks they're going to turn on him and attack in a herd of woolly death. Oh dear, was that a secret?" she said, entirely unconcerned.
"Carolyn. Here I thought you were supposed to receive gifts on your wedding day," he purred.
"The Canturbury Tale," Martin exclaimed suddenly. Douglas rolled his eyes.
"The Jungle Boo," he countered.
Three of them had squeezed into a car at the airfield, Arthur behind the wheel, to follow behind Carolyn's unbearably posh sedan carrying the newlyweds.
"I don't suppose you would like the front seat, Douglas?" Martin asked, trying to pull up a knee without jamming it against the glove box.
"No, I couldn't possibly. As you so rightly pointed out on a recent journey, Captain, the passenger seat is where someone of your status belongs." Douglas leaned against the door slightly and stretched his legs, expanding (though there was not strictly speaking a need to do so) into the slightly less roomy driver's side.
"Sorry, Skip. The seat motor's broken, and the manual lever broke off when I tried to fix it."
"I noticed that, Arthur, thank you. I'm still noticing it. I can't help but notice it when my face is nearly pressed against the windscreen," Martin said, his voice rising in frustration.
"Sorry, Skip," Arthur said again as they pulled away from the airfield. "Great view of Mum's car, though. We'll never get lost with two of us watching where it goes!"
There was a pause. Douglas found his voice first.
"Arthur, you do know how to get to your own house from the airfield, don't you? You still share with Carolyn? You must have driven this journey a hundred times."
"Y- yeah," said Arthur, turning on the hazards in an an attempt to find the heating, then the turn signal. Then the gear shift.
"They're getting away!" moaned Martin in despair.
"One, this is a trip to a wedding reception, not a televised police chase," came Douglas's calm voice from the back seat. "Two, this is your vehicle, is it not, Arthur? You've driven it before?"
"Well, not strictly speaking mine. I've driven it loads of times, though. This is your car, Douglas. The one you won off me in that bet."
"...Good Lord," Douglas said quietly. "I begin to see why you put it up against my socks."
"Oh!" Martin yelled suddenly, eyes lighting up.
"...What?" Douglas asked with some trepidation. Martin was starting to vibrate with suppressed glee, and that was never a good sign.
"I've got a good one. A really good one."
"A really good what?"
"Book. The Hobby." He grinned wildly.
"The Hobby," Douglas repeated. "Martin, you're not thinking of using The Hobbit, are you?"
"Fantastic, isn't it? Surprising, yet obvious!"
"Cheating, yet oblivious," Douglas corrected in a mutter.
"It is not."
"Martin, you can't just change a letter."
"I'm not changing it. I'm taking a letter off. Pronunciation demands that it be changed."
"Yellow car," Arthur announced. It forestalled the inevitable argument quite handily.
The reception - party, really, with a vague theme and an open bar - was crowded, but not so crowded that it was difficult to move around. That didn't stop Martin from camping at a table and watching Douglas flirt shamelessly with a woman in a cerise dress who was probably ten years his senior. She drifted away, and he let her go with surprising grace and perched on the edge of Martin's table.
"Married, then?" Martin asked, pointedly. Douglas waved a vague hand.
"No. Was, though. Her husband died a few years ago."
"Oh," Martin said, clearly not sure how to respond. Douglas was, as usual, utterly nonchalant and gave nothing away. "Can I ask... what was it that got him?"
"Lethal injection, I believe."
Now he really didn't know what to say. "She seems a bit older than your usual," he tried, going for casual, as though they'd merely been chatting about the recent rainfall. That only earned him a withering look.
"Give me credit for some self-control, Martin. 'Breathing' is only one of many criteria I look for in a potential partner." He looked pointedly at the brown-haired girl Martin had been talking to after his third gin and tonic (for courage).
"Though I'm not sure I can say the same about you," he continued.
"Hey!" Martin said warningly, which was apparently his only form of defense. "She's very smart and quite funny, I'll have you know. She writes a blog and works at a hospital."
"She smells like a mortuary."
"That's because she was doing an autopsy earlier," he said, smug.
"Ah. That explains much."
Martin glared at him. "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fir," he said coldly.
"Ooh," Douglas replied, wounded. "Seasonal. That would be a killing blow, certainly. Well done." Martin's triumphant glare faded to confusion.
"Would be?" he repeated.
"Yes. Would." Douglas assumed his patented superior pose. "The Tale of Peter Rabbi." Martin made an exasperated noise.
"Enjoy that, Martin, it'll be your last one," Carolyn announced, appearing at his elbow and nodding at his drink.
"I'm the one flying you out for the start of your trip tonight, remember," Douglas said quickly.
"Oh yes, yes, I'm not worried about that. No, it's only that we're out of liquor; apparently the hired bar misjudged what lushes our friends are and didn't bring enough."
"As I recall," Douglas began, "you were rather fond of the Talisker when you tried it that day before Mr. Birling arrived--
"Absolutely not. You are not taking my aeroplane on a frivolous jaunt to Scotland to buy booze."
"What's wrong with the corner shop--"
"Really. I'm staying right here. The bride's every wish must be granted on this day of days." Carolyn eyed him beadily.
"Hmm," she said, and with a measured look, stalked off.
"...Really?" Martin asked once she was out of earshot, clearly skeptical. "Your present to Carolyn is actually obeying her orders for once?"
"No, my present is the truck that should be here in two minutes."
"Your present is a truck. Wow, and I thought flying them around for free was a good present."
"Martin, you don't get paid."
"I know, that's what makes it so good!" Douglas just stared at him.
"...All right. Anyway, she doesn't get to keep the truck, just what's in the truck. Some of it. A pallet or two."
"It will come to roughly two hundred and fifty bottles of Talisker," he pronounced grandly.
Martin gaped. "How did - no. I don't even care. I'm not interested."
"Rerouting, that's all," Douglas replied, grinning. "The truck got lost, no doubt. And I will be glad to point out the correct way to the understandably confused and disoriented driver. And the sheet he carries that has the count of the number of bottles in his truck comes up mysteriously short. And--"
"NO. Nope. Don't care," Martin yelled desperately. He clearly cared very much, and was looking ruefully at his watery gin and tonic.
"All right. You can finish that while I speak to the driver and run a little errand."
"Oh God," Martin whinged. "What errand?"
"Oh, nothing much. I just need to pop round the corner to that toy shop I saw on the way in. I've got a few dozen stuffed lambs to buy."
"And what are you getting those for?" Martin asked. He had a suspicion already, but asking did appear to be the expected thing. Douglas grinned, a truly terrifying display of teeth.