It was almost half an hour after Marion first realised there was a problem before the police arrived at the Café Des Arts to take statements and begin the investigation into a missing child. That was long enough to establish that it was not a mistake. She hadn’t simply wandered off into a side street with some of the other children or any other innocent possibility.

Marion was alternatively blaming herself for looking away for a brief moment and fretting over what might have happened in such a short space of time. Aineytta also blamed herself for being distracted.

“It couldn’t have been more than a minute,” she said. “How could anyone have taken her away in such a short space of time?”

“It was much more than a minute,” Chrístõ de Lún said to her, though without censure. “You are not to blame, my dear. Our son and I were distracted, too, trying to stop that foolish young man from doing a terrible thing. Who would have thought that we were opening ourselves up to another more terrible occurrence?”

“Why can’t any of you contact her telepathically?” Marion asked. “You should be able to do that, surely?”

Kristoph shook his head.

“This is the 1960s. Most car paints contain lead, the one simple element that blocks telepathy. So, too, the domestic paints, on the wooden doors and those pretty window shutter. We are surrounded on every side by natural barriers to such communication once we are beyond simple line of sight.”

Everyone who had been present at the moment when Marion cried out was still there, including the customers at the café, the two waiters and André. The juggler was sitting at a table, his balls in a wooden box with a handle. The children who had been watching him were sitting on the floor drinking orange squash that Jean-Michelle had brought to them. Two policemen were asking questions systematically, trying to piece together what happened. Kristoph was watching them both carefully and listening telepathically to what the witnesses had to say. He fully intended to launch his own investigation shortly. The policemen were doing a perfectly efficient job, but they were merely Human. They had only the resources of a small town police force in 1960s France. His skills and resources were far greater.

The two policemen turned their attention first to André and Antoine, and then to the juggler. In both cases they wanted to know one thing – were their activities deliberately intended to distract attention while a child was abducted?

“Oh, no!” Marion exclaimed as she considered the possibility. “Oh, it can’t be so. Tell me it isn’t!”

Kristoph looked carefully at the two love rivals. The anger that had seethed in each of them made their minds easy to open. Neither of them had any such dreadful ulterior motive for their quarrel. Indeed, when the policeman put the question to them they were both horrified at the thought. André had brought a knife to attack Antoine, but the very idea of kidnapping a little girl outraged him.

Both men kept the matter of the knife out of their statements about the argument that had distracted everyone. Kristoph was aware that the weapon was still in his own pocket. It could stay there. It was no longer important, and if Antoine saw no reason to make further trouble for André over it, then nobody else needed to.

He turned his attention to the juggler. He, too, was horrified by the idea that he might be an accomplice in such a despicable crime.

“Oh, I hope he is telling the truth,” Marion said. “It really would be horrible if somebody like that… a clown, who was making the children laugh, turned out to be involved in….”

She shook her head. She knew enough about the nature of her species to realise it was all too likely that an apparently innocent entertainment was being used to entice children away from their parents and into danger.

“The juggler is innocent,” Kristoph assured her. “I can feel his thoughts even from here. He is appalled that a child was taken while he was performing for them. He is wracking his brains to try to remember when Rodan left the group and if anyone was with her.”

“You would think he would notice,” Aineytta said sharply.

“No,” Marion contradicted. “I can understand that. He was concentrating on his juggling. The children were just faces watching him. Of course he wasn’t really taking any special notice of them. Even if an adult had taken hold of a child’s hand, it isn’t something he would notice. I wish he had, but I don’t blame him for not seeing anything.”

It was so easy not to see details in a wider picture. That was the problem. The children had been watching the juggler. The adults had been watching Kristoph and his father diffuse the fight between the two young men. Everything else was outside their scope.

“As far as their conscious minds recall,” Kristoph said. “Unconsciously, even the most unobservant Human sees everything.” As the sous-brigadier finished talking to the juggler and moved on to the other witnesses Kristoph came to sit at his table instead.

“I think that is a good idea,” Aineytta commented. She, too, left her seat and went to talk to the children. Of course, being children, their imaginations had already begun to work upon the mystery. Invisible fairies who take away children to a magical castle were gaining favour as an explanation.

“Think carefully,” Aineytta told them. “What do you remember?”

They thought carefully and snippets of eye-witness evidence came out. Most of it was unimportant. That didn’t matter. Aineytta wasn’t really listening to their words. She was looking at their thoughts behind the words as they concentrated on the crucial events.

“What sort of car was it?” Aineytta asked one boy. He was startled. He hadn’t mentioned a car out loud. He wasn’t even consciously aware of seeing a car. But in his mind a clear image of a grey-blue car formed. Aineytta didn’t know anything about Human makes of cars, but the words “Renault R8” formed in the boys’ mind. She also saw where it had been parked behind the boulangerie van and the fact that it had driven away while Kristoph was forcing André to drop the knife he had brought with him.

More importantly, the boy had actually seen Rodan walking to the car with a woman. They had both climbed into the back seat and a man had driven the car away.

Aineytta was puzzled. The boy’s memory was of Rodan walking to the car willingly. Why did she do that?

“Thank you for your help,” Aineytta said to the children. She looked in her pocket and found a handful of centimes that she shared around them then went back to the table where her husband was consoling Marion. She told what she knew. Kristoph added what he had learnt from the juggler.

“He, too, saw more than he knew. In his mind, he recognised the woman’s face – the one who took Rodan. But the car was unfamiliar to him, and he was too far away to see the registration plate.”

“Should we tell the policemen?” Marion asked.

“No. They would hardly believe it,” Kristoph answered. “I am going to take you and mama back to the house, then father and I will take the TARDIS and look for this woman.”

Marion and Aineytta both protested. They wanted to be involved in the search. But Kristoph insisted that they were both too upset to be any help.

“You’re upset, too,” Marion reminded him.

“Yes, I am. My hearts are heavy with dread. But I am a Time Lord. We are noted for our stoicism and our ability to control our emotions. I will do so until our child is returned to us. You and mama will take care of each other, drink tea and do your best to stay hopeful for as long as it takes.”

He informed the sous-brigadier that his wife and mother were tired and needed to rest. The officer at once made a police car available to take them all back to their holiday home in Rue Faubourg St. Jacques. Kristoph was grateful for that courtesy. They had walked to the Café des Arts in the sunshine, but walking back now was a weary prospect.

As soon as the police had gone and a pot of tea had been made to soothe the nerves of the women left behind, Kristoph and his father stepped into the ‘pantry’ door on the right hand side of the kitchen. There was a brief sound and the door disappeared. Marion and Aineytta watched it go then drank tea quietly. They had no words to say that would make the situation better.

The juggler had recognised the woman who took Rodan as Madame Corinne Pelletier who lived on the very outskirts of the town in a cottage on Rue de Boisseau. It was a small but neat home with the exterior walls covered in a new coat of whitewash and the shutters on the windows freshly painted. Somebody took pride in that house.

There was a grey-blue Renault R8 parked outside the cottage.

But there was nobody home. It didn’t take long to realise that Monsieur and Madam Pelletier had left town. The solid fuel range in the kitchen was cold. It hadn’t been lit for days, and it had been scrupulously cleaned. There was no food in the pantry. There were signs in the bedroom that clothes had been packed. There were gaps on the walls and on the mantle-piece in the prettily furnished salle de séjour, where favourite ornaments or pictures had been added to the suitcases.

Among the pictures that had been left behind was a photograph of a man and woman in their late thirties standing proudly beside a boat moored on the River Thouet.

“Those trees in the background of the picture,” Chrístõ de Lún said. “Look out of the window.”

Kristoph looked. The salle de séjour looked out onto the back of the house, where a flawless lawn went down to the riverbank. The trees his father had indicated were on the other side of the Thouet.

“They have gone by boat,” Kristoph concluded. “That’s clever thinking. The police would be watching the roads and the railway station. But a boat is no match for the TARDIS.”

He put the TARDIS in cloaked hover mode, following the river downstream. He knew the way well enough. He had first done it in 1942 on a boat escaping from the Nazis. More recently, he and Marion had travelled as far as Saumur on the TARDIS disguised as a boat, leisurely enjoying the scenery and stopping off to eat at picturesque towns along the way.

This was not a leisurely trip. A motor launch such as they saw in the picture could do perhaps twenty-five miles an hour and Monsieur and Madam Pelletier had a two hour start by the time their plan was discovered. They could have reached as far as Saint-Martin-de-Sanzay by now. In another half hour they would be in Saumur, and there would be any number of coal barges and freight carriers that they could board or they could stay in a hotel or a private house if they had planned ahead thoroughly enough.

The TARDIS hovered much faster than a motor launch could travel on a slow, meandering river like the Thouet, with treacherous shallows to avoid as well as low-arched bridges with barely enough clearance for a small boat. They were approaching Saint-Martin-de-Sanzay when Chrístõ De Lún spotted their quarry on the viewscreen.

“I see it, too,” Kristoph said. “Stand by.”

The TARDIS hovered low in front of the boat. They could see the horrified expression on the face of Monsieur Pelletier and wondered just what the TARDIS had chosen to disguise itself as. Whatever it was, it convinced the man to stop his engines and halt the boat. Kristoph moved the TARDIS lower and nearer and opened the door. He dropped down onto the small deck. He looked back and saw the TARDIS as a police nationale helicopter hovering steadily. He watched his father climb out a little less agilely than himself.

“Step away from the controls and stand quietly,” Kristoph ordered the would-be abductor. “Where is your wife and the child?”

“In the cabin,” Monsieur Pelletier confessed. Kristoph stepped towards the door. It was locked from the inside, but his sonic screwdriver made short work of that. He stepped into the semi-dark cabin. The curtains over the small windows were closed. The cabin was warm and there was a smell of cheese on toast of all things. Rodan was sitting on a bench with a narrow table in front of her, drinking milk. She was as surprised to see Kristoph as Madam Pelletier was frightened by his presence.

“Papa,” she said. “Madame Pelletier est m'emmener à un cirque, pour voir plus de jongleurs.”

“No, she is not,” Kristoph answered her. “I’m sorry, my dear, but that cannot happen. We will go to a circus tomorrow. Your mama and grandmother are both worried about you.”

Of all the things the child had learnt from him, from her own grandfather, from Li, none of them had taught her about not going away with strangers. They were all at fault in that. But at least it meant that she wasn’t frightened.

“Grandfather Mooney is on deck. Go and wait with him until I am ready to take you home.”

Rodan did as he asked dutifully, despite her disappointment about the cancellation of her circus outing. Kristoph waited until she was out of earshot before asking Madame Pelletier to explain herself.

“You can’t imagine what it is like, trying to have a child, and being disappointed every time. We were desperate. Your child… she is beautiful, perfect. You and your wife could easily have another. But we were desperate. I know it was wrong, but… please, monsieur….”

She was crying and Kristoph knew the tears were genuine. There was real remorse as well as fear for the consequences of her actions.

“Don’t you realise the penalty for such a crime?” Kristoph asked.

“We were desperate,” she repeated, then broke down into tears once more.

Kristoph looked at her carefully. He thought about what she had said. Yes, he DID know what it was like to want a child desperately. Caring for Rodan, hearing her call him ‘papa’ as she had just done, eased the aching grief he had for the babies he and Marion had lost, but the ache was there if he let himself dwell on it.

“I DO understand,” he said in a gentle voice. “But did you really believe you would get away with this? It was an insane thing to do.”

Madam Pelletier nodded. She could hardly speak.

“I pity you,” Kristoph said, then turned away. He went up to the deck. Rodan was sitting with her foster grandfather. Monsieur Pelletier was standing where Kristoph had told him to stand.

“I understand your reasons for doing what you did,” he said to him. “And I sympathise. That is why I am not going to hand you over to the authorities. But do not think of such a desperate act again or I will ensure you and your wife go to prison for the rest of you lives. Do you understand me?”

“I understand, monsieur. Thank you, monsieur… for your mercy.”

“Take the boat back to Parthenay,” Kristoph added. “By the time you get there, this matter will be over. I will tell the police that Rodan found her way home, tired and hungry, after wandering off and getting lost in the old part of the town. There will be no hue and cry. You will have nothing to fear, except my wrath if the mercy I have shown is abused in future.”

With that he lifted Rodan into the TARDIS. He and his father followed her. He programmed the fastest return to the house in Rue Faubourg St. Jacques possible. He didn’t want Marion and his mother to fret a moment longer than necessary. Then he looked up the closest location of a travelling circus. Tomorrow Rodan could see all the jongleurs her little hearts desired.