Elizabeth Darcy lay back on the couch and groaned, despairing of finding a comfortable position. Oh, great heavens! What had she ever done to deserve this? When would this torment cease?
There was a knock on the door.
“Come in!” she cried, forcing herself to sit upright once more. The door opened and a visitor was shown in.
“Ah, Mr Wickham!” she said. “I trust you are well and that you have brought me good news?”
Wickham paused, and in that instant, Elizabeth knew that here would be no resolution to her condition today, at least. “Well, ma’am” he said, “Yes and no.”
“Pray elucidate,” said Elizabeth.
“The good news is that we have located Charlotte.”
“Ah! That is indeed good news. Where is she?”
“She is in the employ of a certain Mr Grey. I believe he is an acquaintance of Lord Byron.”
“Ah. That sounds less good. But at least she is safe and well. Were you able to speak with her?”
“Sadly no. Mr Grey said she was tied up at the moment.”
“Well, then. ’Tis good that he is keeping her busy, is it not?”
“I believe so.”
“Now. Of the other matter…”
Wickham frowned. “I fear we have made no progress whatsoever in our search for Mr Pinnock. We have observed his Twitterations but he gives few clues as to his whereabouts. We have even arranged for him to be – ahem – tagged in a blogging meme entitled ‘The Next Big Thing’ – ”
“Wickham, you speak in riddles. Pray what is a blogging meme?”
“I know little of such things myself. However, I understand that he has already been tagged three times, by Mistresses Philip, Mayhew and Parkin. And yet he still fails to respond! All we know is that he is still writing – ”
“Please do not torment me, Wickham. I have read his wretched book of short stories.”
“Some of them are quite good, ma’am – ”
“But none of them is a sequel! I need a sequel! Without a sequel, there will be no end to my pregnancy, which – I may remind you – is now over two years in duration! And with no end to my pregnancy, I still do not know whether I am carrying Mr Darcy’s long-awaited heir or the many-tentacled spawn of an evil race of shape-shifting aliens!” She sagged back onto the couch. “And it’s almost Christmas.”
“I know, ma’am. ’Tis most vexatious. Which is why I am proposing a new strategy. We should engage a professional bounty hunter.”
“Well, we had hoped to secure the services of a Miss Lund. She is well favoured at the court of King Frederick VI.”
“A Dane? How exotic.”
“Yet she proved to be too expensive. I trust you will understand my reluctance?”
“I would certainly hate to feel that someone was making a killing out of my misfortune.”
“Indeed. So instead, I have signed an agreement with a Mr Feta.”
“Feta? Is he Greek? Mr Wickham, your connections grow more exotic with every passing minute!”
“I am uncertain. He says he was raised in a place called Planet Kamino.”
“Is that in Greece?”
“I know not.”
At this point, a curious armoured man was shown in. “Ah, Bob!” said Wickham. “May I introduce you? Mrs Elizabeth Darcy – Bob Feta.”
The mysterious bounty hunter made no attempt to join in the conversation.
“He doesn’t say much,” remarked Elizabeth.
“Bounty hunters are a taciturn lot. ’Tis a consequence of their profession.”
“Well, then! Do whatever you need to do, Mr Bob, and bring my author back to me!”
“As you wish,” said Feta, turning to leave.
“So he does speak?” said Elizabeth to Wickham.
When Wickham and Feta returned, several weeks later, it was clear that all was not well, despite the fact that they did indeed seem to have located Elizabeth’s missing author.
“Well?” said Elizabeth.
“There is a small problem,” said Wickham.
“I can see that,” said Elizabeth. “My author is undoubtedly present, but he appears to be encased in some peculiar substance that renders him incapable of movement. Can you explain what it is?”
Bob Feta made no attempt at a response.
“Oh dear,” said Elizabeth. “Couldn’t you at least try to speak for once?”
The bounty hunter pondered this for a moment and then raised a single finger.
“Ah,” said Elizabeth. “One word … three syllables…”
Half an hour later, she and Wickham were arguing over the result.
“But Carbonite isn’t a proper word,” moaned Elizabeth.
“Yes, I know,” hissed Wickham. “But that isn’t the real problem. The real problem is that Feta has reneged on our deal and is taking Mr Pinnock to someone else instead. That’s what I was trying to tell you earlier.”
“Wickham, you’re jabbering. Please try to make yourself clear.”
“What I’m saying is that Mr Feta here is about to disappear with our man in tow, and we’re unlikely to see him again for quite some time.”
“But that’s awful.”
“There’s nothing we can do about it, I’m afraid.”
“But how can we be sure that Mr Feta will look after him?”
“He’s no good to me dead,” said Feta.
“Great heavens!” said Elizabeth, “He speaks again! Mr Feta, can you at least tell me where you are taking Mr Pinnock?”
But that was the last they heard from the bounty hunter. Once more, all was lost. Mrs Darcy’s story was mired in indecision yet again. With no author to guide her, she was still stuck in that dreadful limbo ’twixt a promising debut and the foundations of a lucrative franchise with options for multimedia spin-offs and precision 1:15 scale die-cast figurines. Not only that, but it was still almost Christmas.
And yet, amidst all the gloom, Elizabeth perceived an unexpected shaft of sunlight. If her author was being taken away by Mr Feta to some ghastly unknown fate, who was writing this Christmas Special? Perhaps there was, after all, another she could call upon to write her out of this mess, if only she could find him? For the first time, she began to feel at ease. There was someone out there that could help to guide her through her travails. At last! A new hope!