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Author's Chapter Notes:


“Steady on, it’s only me,” said Sphinx, retreating hastily as Millie let loose a second yell.

“For heaven’s sake!” she said, turning on him, her heart thundering painfully. “What on earth do you mean by grabbing me like that in the middle of a lonely wood when it’s getting dark? I thought for a moment you were one of the kidnappers.”

Sphinx opened his mouth to point out that she had been screaming before he came anywhere near her, but shut it again, feeling that this would be distinctly tactless.

“Nope,” he said meekly. “It’s just me. Any luck?”

Milly, her sudden panic subsiding, shrugged and spread her hands.

“Honestly, I’ve no idea,” she said. “This does seem the most likely place, but the only clues I’ve found are an old fag-end and a broken branch. Fresh, I think.”

“Well, that’s better than the rest of us,” said Sphinx. “These must be the most deserted woods on the Platz. Phoebe’s found a kid’s sock and John turned up a pair of trousers that have been there at least a year, I should think.” Turning away from Millie, he put his hands to his mouth and loosed a shout that, while not quite so reverberantly impressive as his father’s, still caused Millie to clap her hands to her ears.

“Do all you Emersons have lungs like bellows?” she demanded as the dust settled.

“You should have heard my great-grandfather when he wanted to make himself heard,” said Sphinx. “Even when he was ninety or so he could still make the echoes ring.”

A moment later John and Phoebe came crashing down the path.

“Did you find something?” called John, who was obviously far too excited for his own good.

“Only a fag-end,” said Millie.

“And,” said Sphinx, stepping sideways off the path towards a place where the trees thinned. They followed him, like a flock of ducklings, towards the gap. “Car tracks.”

“Oh, good work, Millie,” said Phoebe, bending forward to examine the tracks. Millie opened her mouth to explain that she hadn’t noticed any such thing, but closed it again when she found that Sphinx was winking at her.

“You’ve heard of the politician’s first rule, then,” she said. “Always take the credit for anything that makes you look good.”

“While, of course, strenuously denying everything else. Certainly. I live by no other motto.”

They laughed together.

“All the same,” said Phoebe, standing up and eyeing them sternly. “This doesn’t really get us any further on. We can be pretty sure they’ve taken her off in a car, but we’ve no idea what they’d have done with her after that.”

“Maybe they’ve killed her,” suggested John, his face brightening at the thought.

“Don’t be so disgusting,” said Millie, turning on him, furious. “She’s the Prime Minister, remember? Can you imagine what that’d do to Dad?”

“Take it easy. I was only joking,” said John. Millie turned on her heel and strode away towards the road. Phoebe gave her brother a poke as John stared after his sister in disbelief. “Honestly, women,” he observed.

“Aren’t you going to go after her?” said Phoebe as Sphinx looked at her.

“What? Why me?”

“Do you really want me to answer that?” Phoebe’s elegantly plucked brows rose slightly. Sphinx scowled, thrust his hands into his pockets and went off in pursuit of Millie.

“I don’t think he meant it,” he offered as he came level with her. Millie ignored this. “We all know how serious it is, Millie, and we’re doing our best.”

Millie glanced at him, pushing her hand through her hair, which was beginning to escape its moorings.

“I know.” She shook her head. “It’s just – Dad’s so worried about her. And it’s not just that she’s the Prime Minister; she’s our friend as well. And I can’t help thinking – what if we never get her back?”

“Oh, we’ll get her back all right. The only real question is whether we can do it without precipitating an international incident.” He looked at her small, expressive face, and realised that she needed more than this. “Look, has anyone ever told you about our family? We have quite a history of solving mysteries and bringing criminals to book. Believe me, if we have to scour the entire mountainside that’s what we’ll do.”

“That’s all very well, but what if she isn’t on the mountainside?”

“The further they take her the more likely it is that someone’ll recognise her and the more planning and resources they’ll need. ‘Course, if it’s a political kidnapping they won’t have any trouble in that area.”

“But? There obviously is a but.” Sphinx shrugged.

“I’m just not sure that it is political.”

“I was wondering that myself,” said Millie. “There hasn’t been a ransom asked, or any kind of demands, and as far as we can tell they haven’t contacted anyone about it. You’d think they would, really.”

“They still could,” said Sphinx. “It hasn’t been that long. But I agree that it’s getting more unlikely. Not only that, but it’s only a few days since –”

“She was knocked on the head. Thank goodness it isn’t only me that thought of that!”

“It would be quite a coincidence, and I expect the police are working on those lines too. But that makes me think it isn’t political, because the first attack was so inept. I mean, all they did was knock her out for a while. It looks to me as though someone panicked.”

“And the second one was so well-planned. They came after her deliberately that time.”

“Exactly.” Sphinx gave her an approving nod, failing to notice Millie’s slightly exasperated expression. “For some reason they needed to take her, and this time they planned it properly. Covered their tracks very effectively. Why, even now we can’t be certain that those tyre tracks are anything to do with Hilda – though I think they are.”

“Well, assuming they are,” said Millie, striving to keep the sarcasm out of her voice. “What do we do now – Sherlock?”

Sphinx, caught by surprise, stared at her for a moment, then broke into one of his rare peals of laughter.

“Sorry, was I pontificating?”

“A little bit.” Millie laughed too, and tucked her hand companionably through his arm. “If only we knew why they’d taken her,” she went on thoughtfully, “we might be able to guess better where they’d taken her.”

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