We found the old car in the field at the back of the house. It was a land rover, battered and rusted, its dark green paint almost entirely stripped away. Both number plate and lights had been taken and one of the wing mirrors was snapped off. The doors were unlocked and inside the leather of the seats was scuffed and cobwebs were building up in the corner. It was a wreck, but my siblings didn't care. To them, it was a treasure.
Colin thought we could play pirates and pretend it was our ship, but it didn't really look like a ship and it wouldn't even if we got a stick and tied a sheet to it and pretended it was a sail, like he wanted to.
Amy wanted to bring things from the house and make it into a den and have tea parties, but the boys agreed that tea parties were for girls and cars were for boys, so Amy should stay well away. She cried, but they ignored her.
Owen said cars were for driving and we should use this to drive to the beach, because our parents said they were too busy to take us and he wanted to build a sand castle. Of course he was only seven and he couldn't drive, but he assured us he'd watched it done hundreds of times and it was easy.
"All you have to do," he told us confidently, "is turn the wheel and pull the brake when you want to stop, it isn't hard." This suggestion proved popular until someone pointed out we didn't have any petrol.
I didn't really care what they did with it, so long as they got it out of my field. It was blocking my favourite reading tree. The only thing that interested me about the car was the boot. It was locked. If the doors were open and the car was abandoned, why would they lock the boot?
"How about a fort?" Colin asked. "It would be a good fort. We could build battlements on the roof." Owen considered, but eventually shook his head.
"No, it just can't be a fort. I think it's a car and it has to stay a car. You can make anything into a fort, a tree or a bench can be a fort. A car is different. I don't think it's any old car either. I think it's special."
"Like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang!" Amy exclaimed. "Maybe it can fly." Investigations were made. Buttons were pressed, the bonnet was hammered at. Encouragement was shouted.
"Come on Chitty, come on!"
"Where are your wings, they must be somewhere!"
"Maybe it's not a magic car."
"It is it is. I just know it!"
"Come on Chitty, come on, fly!" It was all to no avail. The old land rover remained stubbornly earthbound.
"Maybe we have to paint it." Amy mused. "That's what professor Potts did." Hot debate as to the source of the paint followed. Colin had paints in his paint box and Amy had some precious face paints at the back of the cupboard, while Owen knew that dad had proper grown up paint in the shed, but that simply wouldn't do, because it was white and everyone knew that Chitty was red.
I still didn't say anything. I was eight, I was older, I was wiser, I knew magic wasn't real. This car was not and would never be Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, because Chitty was fictional and made up by the same man who wrote about the spy who stopped an evil man called Goldfinger, though he shouldn't be called that because his fingers were normal coloured, I'd watched very carefully when mum and dad had let me see the film.
If the spy man, I couldn't remember his name, James something and then some numbers, was here now, he wouldn't want to make a fort. He would look at the locked boot and say it was "very suspicious." Or something. He could probably open the lock without keys too, but I couldn't do that. I'd asked my dad to teach me once, but he said only bad people picked locks, because nice people only opened locks when they had the keys, so I asked "What about locksmiths?" He said that was different, but I didn't see how.
I wondered if I could get a locksmith to open the boot, as they were allowed. I just kept looking at it and wondering how to get it open.
"It'll have to be a fort." Sighed Owen eventually, bowing to defeat as still his treasure failed to sprout the long searched for wings. "It's a shame."
"What d'you think's in the boot?" I asked timidly, but my questions fell on deaf ears. A fort was under construction. Who cared about the boot? No one, except me. I watched the others run off into the distance, Colin tousle haired and grass stained kneed skipping haphazardly ahead with Amy running desperately behind, trying to keep up, blonde curls flying in the wind. Colin tried to walk slower, with the composure of a grown up, because seven year olds should know better than six and five year olds, but in the end he was still building a fort, just like them. I would have to be a spy alone, just like James... Bond. That was his name.
I'd heard people talking about breaking locks before. I wondered how you could break this one. I poked it, first with my finger and then with a twig, but nothing happened. Hitting it with the hand, the twig and then with a fallen tree branch I found in the grass also failed to have an effect. Normally, when I really wanted to break thinks, like the horrible china doll with the scary smile that gave me nightmares, which Aunt Agatha had bought last Christmas, I just threw the offending item on the floor, but I couldn't do that this time. To ruin books you poured water on them, like Owen did when he was being mean. I didn't think that would work with a lock either. In the end I just hit it with the branch again.
Suddenly there were wild, hooligan like shouts behind me.
"The enemy!" Owen yelled. "She's attacking the fort with a dangerous weapon, quick, seize her!" Before I could protest I was doing nothing of the kind, I was dragged, none too gently, hands behind my back onto the worn old back seat with the dirt and the spiderwebs. My cries were muffled by Colin's grubby, sticky hand shoved over my mouth. It tasted horrible and being held down hurt and I couldn't get to the lock of the boot like this, I couldn't.
"We will take it in turns to guard the prisoner!" Owen said, a king commanding his subjects. Amy, you are the youngest and you're only a girl, so you have to go first. Colin and I will find wood for the battlements!"
To be fair to Amy, she did her best. She sat still, holding me down with all her strength, eyes unwavering, for the whole of about half a minute. Then the eyes flicked away, followed by the start of the wriggling. From wriggling it became writhing, the legs were crossed, the face was screwed up.
She ventured after a while. "Yes?"
"I have to go to the loo."
"Go then." She bit her lip in consternation.
"You'll have to not move, or Owen will be cross and he won't let me in the fort."
"I won't move."
"Promise." I had my fingers crossed, but she couldn't see. She backed away carefully, a frown still creasing her forehead."
"Fingers crossed!" I yelled triumphantly. Amy whipped round and I lunged away, towards the first escape route I could find, over the back seat, as I had done many times before. Over the back seat and into the... Into the boot. I stopped dead, caught up by a sudden realisation. I had been very stupid. There were two ways into every boot. You could unlock it, or you could climb in the back way.
Cautiously, I peered over the seat. Then I wished I hadn't. A strangled moan escaped my lips as my sister jumped up beside me. "Got you!" She shouted, then "what are you looking at?" I couldn't say anything. I just pointed.
She was quiet for a time, then, slowly, she reached for my hand.
"Isabel?" She whispered.
"Why is there a lady asleep in our fort?"
It's hard to remember after that. I know I couldn't answer Amy's question. I know she called the boys and asked them and Owen told her with feigned relish that she wasn't asleep, she was dead. I remember tears. Amy's tears, Colin's tears, the tears Owen tried to suppress, but could not. I remember running and running, blindly, just wanting to get back to the house. I remember mum and dad running out, then running back in, my siblings in their arms. I remember them calling the police. I remember cars arriving with screaming sirens and lights that flashed bright and blue and hurt my eyes. I remember they broke the lock on the boot, even though they weren't locksmiths.
I don't really remember the questions they asked, but I remember there were questions, so many questions, which I tried to answer, but could not, because I was crying too and how did I know why anyone would drive the fort car to our field and put a dead person in it? They used lots of nasty words. Words like body and dead and suspicious circumstances. It was just like the James Bond film. Except I didn't want to be James Bond anymore. People kept telling me I was brave. I didn't think I was brave. I just thought of the dead woman, with the pale skin and the blue lips, the strange marks circling around her neck and her eyes, unseeing, just staring up at the roof of the car.
I just wanted them to go away. I wanted them all to leave in their loud, flashing police cars and take the dead woman and the car which was going to be a fort (which would never be a fort now) away. I wanted my field to be empty again. I wanted to sit in my reading tree. I would never, ever try and be a spy. I would leave the opening of locks to locksmiths.