The police van skipped easily down the windy back roads with WPC Evans at the wheel. Apart from setting the dogs on drunken troublemakers, this was the part of her job that Kippie normally enjoyed the most. Today, however, her heart was not really in it. Seeing her friend so shaken up had rattled her. She made a mental note to dig up the notes on the St Mildred’s robbery as soon as she got back to the station.
So deep in thought was she that she almost did not see Foxy Loxy and Weasel until she was upon them. Foxy was trotting along the verge but Weasel was ambling along in the road itself. He probably wanted to get run over.
If he did then she was not going to oblige him. Kippie applied the brakes firmly and, pulling up alongside them, wound down the window.
“You guys wanna ride?” she shouted over the Cheryl Crow blaring out of the stereo.
“I wouldn’t say no!” smiled Foxy.
“I would,” moaned Weasel. “We’ll probably end up having a horrible head on collision with a tractor or something.”
“Ignore him!” Foxy told her.
“I always do!” she smiled in return, clicking open the back of the van. “Come on. Jump in.”
Foxy nudged the back of the van open with his nose and jumped nimbly on board. He turned to Weasel. “Coming?”
“I suppose so. Probably just end up as road kill if I don’t.”
Foxy Loxy held out a paw for his cheerless chum. After Weasel was safely on board, Foxy pulled the door shut with a specially fitted strap, and turned to Kippie in the front.
“Who are you calling a Ho?” Kippie smiled but needed no second bidding and with a brief wheel-spin the van sped off once more.
“It smells like dog in here,” muttered Weasel.
“So,” Kippie asked as she turned the stereo down, ignoring the moaning Mustelid. “Did you learn anything from O’Bee’s place?”
“Not really,” Foxy answered. “There were goat tracks near the bomb site but I’m not convinced they were from one of Toby’s goats. Even if they were, I am convinced that his goats were not involved in this ghastly business. Not directly, anyway. How about you? Get anything useful from the unlikely martyrs?”
“Not really,” Kippie told him, slightly distantly. “Didn’t get much on Patrick Edwards at all.”
Kippie turned in her seat. “But what?”
“Eyes on the road, m’dear. But… you seem a bit preoccupied by something.”
Kippie clicked the stereo off completely. “Yeah, it’s my friend Mary. Well, she used to be my friend – at school. She was involved in the robbery there a few days ago. Did you hear about that?”
Foxy looked at Weasel, who shook his head. “Nope. Can’t say that I did.”
“Well, it was an odd one all right. Someone tied up Mary. I mean, a nun. And a school teacher at that. What kind of person ties up a nun?” She paused. “The same kind of sicko that would steal some animals, I s’pose.”
At this Foxy perked up and even Weasel stopped pretending that he was not interested.
“They stole animals?” Foxy asked. “What kind of animals?”
“Newts…” began Kippie.
“Newts?!” cried Weasel with an air of disgust. In his book (the ladybird pop-up book of carnivorous monsters), anything with gills did not count as a proper animal.
“Not just newts! Newts, a gerbil and…” Kippie trailed off for a moment as an old thought resurfaced. It was only as they rolled to a stop at the next junction that she caught sight of the two expectant faces through the grill partition behind her.
“And?” prompted Foxy.
“Newts,” repeated Kippie, softly, “a gerbil and…”
This time the pause was dramatic.
“…and two tortoises. And there was a tortoise shell at the bomb site.”
“I know,” Foxy told her. “We found it!”
“Really?” Kippie raised one eyebrow and met Foxy’s gaze, then smiled. “I suspected as much. Cassidy obviously forgot to mention it.”
“What a surprise.” Weasel’s voice was so heavy with sarcasm that he had trouble lifting his head. “For your information, though, that shell was not exactly found at the bomb site.”
The eyebrow dropped. Now she was genuinely confused. “What do you mean?”
“He’s quite right, m’dear,” Foxy confirmed. “We found it in a nearby wood, don’t you know. Must have been blown for miles.”
“Tortoises don’t live in the woods on the whole, then?” Kippie asked him, who didn’t know.
Foxy replied with a toothy grin. “Not in these parts, m’dear.”
“And this one wasn’t whole,” added Weasel. “And it certainly wasn’t living.”
“Plus,” added Foxy, “eyewitness accounts describe it falling from the sky.”
Evans released the handbrake and got the van moving once more. “Blimey. To get blown that far it must have been right in the centre of the blast.”
“Yes,” muttered Foxy. “The poor little bugger.”