Read the first Mrs Hardew adventure here. If you would like to support my writing, check out my Patreon account.
Oceans are the earth's way of reminding you who signs the payslips. This ocean was one of the larger ones. A yellow dinghy bobbed up and down in it. It looked lonely.
Mrs Hardew was never lonely. Not only did she keep her own good company but she attracted travelling companions. She shared the blow up boat with an oil baron. It was a hot day. She bit her lip and fiddled with her cardigan.
They had been playing I Spy and even made a sub-game out of finding synonyms for “lots and lots of sea” but the joke had worn thin.
A cloud considered passing over them, shrugged and did a U-turn.
“... I declare a thumb war,” said the oil baron.
Mrs Hardew smiled brightly. They were in theory clutching fingers but a man loses definition around the more detailed body parts when he is half baron, half oil. Dark wavelets lapped at Mrs Hardew's knuckles and after a few minutes they had to admit it wasn't to be.
The baron huffed and threw his arms in the air, in the process splattering everything with oil. Mrs Hardew took off her glasses and gave them a good wipe. She was trying to remember the correct form of address for a baron.
“Don't let it bother you … father,” she said. She took a little blue box out of her handbag on which was written Thirty-one Boredom-Busting Games. “Do you know how to play Ludo?”
They tried Ludo. They tried Draughts, and Backgammon, neither of them liked Chess but both were enthusiastic about Snakes and Ladders. And yet with each game, the baron could only grip the counters or dice long enough to pick them up, then they would pass through his fingers and land with sploshy clunks on the board.
A rescue helicopter appeared on the horizon. It circled them once, about a mile out, and then gave up.
Mrs Hardew had a go at moving the oil baron's counters for him. He sobbed. Streams of tears skidded over his face.
“Oh … Brown Owl!” she took off her cardigan and handed it to him. “Have a good blow.” The sun warmed her shoulders and she reflected that perhaps sunshine was the one true cardigan. He dabbed at his face. The material turned black.
“Baron,” said Mrs Hardew, “it's not dropped through your fingers.” It hadn't.
“Perhaps the fabric is soaking up enough oil for me to keep a grip,” said the oil baron. A baby seagull landed on his knee, and died immediately.
Mrs Hardew took the cardigan from him and gave it a rinse. She took some scissors and thread from her bag, cut the garment in half, then sewed the halves into new shapes.
“Here you go,” she said with a grin.
The oil baron took his new mittens, rolled the dice, and laughed in delight as they dropped smoothly onto the playing board.
“Did you know,” he asked Mrs Hardew, “that in California they call it Chutes and Ladders?”
Mrs Hardew shook her head. “Every time you think you know something, they come along and tell you otherwise,” she said.
The oil baron rolled a six and they both cheered.
The sun rose higher.