Ah, the 'other thing'.
Okay, call me curious, I've been called worse. I salved my conscience with the knowledge that he wouldn't remember.
"Kiss me goodbye."
Chris looked surprised, but not shocked. I'd bet the thought wasn't that far from his mind either.
"I don't think -"
"I agree, best not to."
I like to imagine he looked slightly disappointed.
"No, think. Best not to think."
Oh, go on. You know you want to. You're just as curious as I am, to see if the old magic still works now that we're married to other people.
There was a silence that seemed to me to lay heavy upon us both. The moment of humour vanished, and I felt sad to really know that I would never see this wonderful man again. I wanted to tell him about Jonathan, but I knew in my heart of hearts that I would never mention the matter again. Mike was Jonathan's father, end of.
I grinned up at Chris, and made light of my request.
"Well done, you passed the test. Happily married men do not kiss other women. Now, hug me goodbye, and think fondly of me occasionally."
Chris smiled, and he was 'Foyle' to me again.
"I always have and so does Sam."
"No matter what happens now, I'll never be able to come back, so look after yourselves, won't you? And good luck with the new baby. All things being equal and avoiding all runaway cars, you'll be at all of their weddings."
His smile was subtle and a little poignant. He knew that this was really goodbye forever. He opened his arms and I went into them and we held each other for a long moment. He started to release me but I turned my head quickly and kissed him on the mouth. He barely hesitated before he pulled away and frowned.
"Lily, that was..."
I place a palm on his cheek; a caress, a salutation, a request for forgiveness.
"Necessary, my darling, and I'm so sorry. Don't worry, you'll only be out for a few minutes, but I have to go the rest of the way alone. Look on the bright side, we got our answer."
Foyle's hand tightened painfully on my arm and his eyes widened in dismay.
His knees started to buckle as the sedative in my lip gloss took effect. He struggled against the effects, but I stayed with him until I knew he was really out of it and then looked at his watch.
Mmm, bit early but it was the best I could do. I hope he remains asleep for long enough.
I wiped the lip gloss off both of us – if I was going to be Retrieved, the last thing I wanted to do before I went to jail was knock Mike out for my few remaining minutes of freedom and Sam wouldn't thank her husband if she were out for the count for several minutes either, although I would have loved to have heard that conversation when she awoke.
I stayed with Chris for a few more minutes, I straightened his lapels and retrieved his fallen hat, reluctant to leave him here alone, but then I had to get going. I walked out from under the trees as if I had every right to be there – only furtive people tend to get noticed – and went to sit down on one of the benches arranged along the pathway. I couldn't get my arm comfortable, and was dreading the trip back almost as much as the idea of not being Retrieved at all. With Foyle well away from the nimbus, he should forget everything that we had discussed as well as why there would be a bench on fire in the park at exactly six o'clock. Hopefully. That area is a bit grey; some people have been known to lose half a day's worth of memory within fifty yards of the displacement bubble, but I couldn't take the chance that Foyle would remember again.
As I waited for the last few minutes to tick by I kept thinking of all the better ways I could have sorted this whole thing, including posting Mike a letter at home, but what was done was done. I thought of my darling Mike, my beautiful son Jonathan, Grammas, my parents and the rest of my family and wondered if I'd done the right thing even though I was sort of convinced that I had.
It only took an instant for Mike to take in the Chief lying unconscious in his chair.
"What the hell is going on?"
The two people standing beside his oblivious boss looked at each other and the smaller shrugged minutely.
"Just how did you think we were going to get Lily back? You know full well the absolute minimum number of people should be affected by our visit."
Mike glared in the direction of the slightly smaller figure on the right. It was difficult to look at either of the intruders; his eyes just kept sliding off them, as if his gaze was being diverted by some sort of stealth tech. It was irritating beyond belief.
"When you approached me and told me that I had to help you to save my family, one, incidentally, that I didn't have at the time, I took it on trust that you and The Powers That Be knew what you were doing and that no-one would get hurt."
The other darkly dressed figure shrugged. At a guess Mike would say he was male, but his voice was distorted.
"He's not hurt, he's just giving himself an alibi."
Mike glared again.
The figure on the right changed the subject and although also disguised, the tone was one of someone familiar and comfortable with command.
"You've found her?"
"Yes, I have. But I have to ask; why did you need me to help you? All this information is and will be in our archives. You could have found her yourselves."
"We can't tell you, but we couldn't have got her back without your help."
Mike folded his arms, his suspicion growing.
In the uneasy silence that followed, he realised what had bothered him about the comment 'we couldn't have got her back' – past tense, already happened.
"I'm not doing another thing until you tell me what's really going on. And don't give me that 'security need to know BS' either."
The silence stretched out.
Mike folded his arms, prepared to wait it out.
The one on the left caved in first.
"Only you can op-"
'Left' was swiftly silenced by 'Right', who was obviously the one in charge.
But it was too late. Mike knew now that they needed him because only he could operate the Retrieval. They didn't know how to use our tech.
If it hadn't have been so serious, he would have laughed at the irony of it.
How arrogant of us to assume that we were the only ones travelling in time.
But privately Mike was overjoyed – Lily would be coming home!
"I think we've established that you need me, so I'm assuming that I'm safe - for the moment. What happens to Lily when I get her back?"
"Nothing. We have safeguards in place to cover our activity. Her transgression will be...forgotten. All will be as it was before."
Mike was warily pleased. At least that sounded like he would live to see another day, and it would be a definite bonus if Lily were not in prison for the rest of her life.
But on the other hand, 'safeguards in place' had the distinctly sinister overtone of the 'we have ways of making you forget' variety.
'Right' moved forward.
"Enough! Come on, we have to get to work. Move!"
Mike pointed over his shoulder.
"Do I have time to go to the bathroom?"
It was with some considerable surprise that Christopher Foyle suddenly became aware that he was lying on damp ground under a translucent canopy of leaves. Even more oddly, he was tidily dressed, complete with his hat, and still – he checked his inner pocket - in possession of his wallet.
He wondered where he was as he climbed to his feet. Dusting himself down, he was aware that he felt bruised, predominantly down his right side.
Right. The accident. Rose – thank God she was safe. Was that today? Am I concussed?
Replacing his hat, he followed a trail of disturbed leaves back to a small path of pressed earth, which led him to the edge of the trees, whereupon he recognised Alexandra Park.
And the smell of wood smoke.
Foyle spied the source of the smell; someone, vandals he presumed, had set light to one of the park benches. Fortunately the damp wood had not encouraged the flames and the Fire Service were already in control of the situation. Unwilling in his present circumstances to be interviewed by the constable presently talking to one of the firemen, Foyle retreated back into the woods and worked his way back to the entrance of the park without being seen, then slipped quietly away.
He couldn't very well explain what he didn't understand himself. The last thing he remembered was talking to Sam about the accident.
The accident! His daughter's excitement about the flying lady. The flying...redhead. Redhead. Lily?
Noting the damage to his neighbour's steps over the road, Foyle entered his house with some relief and removed his hat, then his damp coat. He frowned. Why could he not remember?
Sam emerged from the kitchen, wiping her hands on the tea towel.
"Did you find her?"
Sam's question tied up so well with the thought in his head that he had to think for a long moment about what he had been asked.
Sam's expression of concern warmed Foyle even as it worried him. He absently hung up his hat when Sam took his coat from him.
"You left here earlier this afternoon, saying you had an idea about the woman who saved you and Rose from injury in the accident. You were going to look for her. Did you find her?"
Had he? He wasn't sure.
"Umm, nunno, no. No. I didn't."
Sam's face fell.
"Oh, that's a shame. You seemed really quite excited about your idea, whatever it was."
Foyle wished he knew too. His mind felt clouded and muddy, but he had the nagging feeling that there was something important that he was missing; something that tickled the edge of his consciousness. The more he chased the thought, the further it slipped from his mind.
The touch of Sam's hand on his arm brought him back to the present and he could see she was worried but trying to hide it. He covered her hand with his own reassuringly.
"Not to worry; if it's important, it will come back to me. Now, if I'm not mistaken, it smells as if someone has been baking..?"
It was still a source of amusement to him that Sam tended to resort to baking to calm her nerves. Whatever disaster was looming could always be better dealt with armed with butterfly cakes, a fruit slice or some scones.
Sam allowed him to divert her attention for now, but she knew that whatever was disturbing her husband would return when he was ready. It always did.
"Just taken the first lot out, mind though, they're hot. Fresh tea in the pot, too. Just let me sort out your coat..."
Foyle headed for the kitchen and Sam brushed the damp from the coat with her hand, thinking to just knock the excess water off, but her hand came away dirty and she lifted the coat to see back of it. A couple of small leaves and a few smears of earth adhered to the dark material.
"What the Dickens..?"
Sam entered the kitchen to find her husband pouring tea into two cups.
"Darling, there's mud all over your coat. What happened while you were out?"
Foyle eyed the coat. 'All over' was an exaggeration, but Sam had a point. How to explain what he didn't understand himself?
"Mmm. Don't know. Will it come out?"
"I'm sure it will. Let it dry and I'll brush it out. Do you need anything in the pockets before I hang it up?"
Foyle shook his head.
"I don't think so."
Sam had been going through the pockets anyway and pulled out a folded piece of paper. She handed it to him as she passed by to lower the ceiling airer. She draped the coat over the wooden rails, hoisted the coat heavenwards and secured the pulley rope. With the warmth from the oven it would be dry in no time.
In the meantime, Foyle unfolded the paper and stared blankly at his own handwriting.
The silver filigree box must stay in the family. Vitally important.
'Vitally' was underlined. But the hastily scrawled lines below drew his eyes almost before the first words had registered.
Lily's gift of Rose spared me. Home, safe, happy.
Why, in God's name, did he have no memory of writing the note? He recognised his own hand without a doubt, but the words..?
Foyle looked up as Sam's hand rested on his shoulder. He folded the note again and shook his head.
"I have no idea."