“You are the spitting image of him,” Mr. Warwick declared, stepping back to get a good look at Lilly and Mr. Hill side by side.
“Of course,” Lilly said. That was the fifth obvious statement Mr. Warwick had made since they met. She had been counting. Lilly dove in to hug him. “Thanks so much.”
“Awww, a hug this time instead of an icy handshake,” Mr. Warwick sighed. “I was beginning to think you were a secret spy or something.”
Mr. Hill chuckled again. “That’s my girl,” he said proudly before slapping Mr. Warwick on the back. “Thank you, buddy. It was really good to see you again even in this unfortunate situation.”
“Oh, it was nothing,” Mr. Warwick told him, performing his signature shrug. “I just spewed some legal jargon at the first officer I saw. It frightened him enough to release you, though they still demanded that I pay at least 100 wen.”
“What!” Mr. Hill exclaimed. “Rest assured, I’ll compensate you accordingly.”
“Oh, please. It was my pleasure to bail you out and I don’t need the money. But feel free to pay me back by telling me what you’ve gotten yourself into this time.”
Before Mr. Hill could reply, Lilly said, “Before we do that, we should leave, please, or all three of us might find ourselves locked up together.” She eyed the officer coming out of the station behind them.
“Good idea,” Mr. Warwick said. “Follow me. I’ll take you guys to a restaurant where you can tell me all about it.” He circled his Mazda once checking for any scratches before hopping into the driver’s seat.
Mr. Hill and Lilly okayed his suggestion and proceeded to trail him through the crazy jammed road in their rental car. “Were you really in chains, Dad?” Lilly asked as she strapped on her seat belt. “What happened in there?”
Again Mr. Hill chuckled. “I must admit that I’ve always been more than a little colorful and hyperbolic in my text messages,” he said. “Right?”
“Well, exactly what I thought was going to happen happened,” Mr. Hill continued. “After I told the officers what we found out and asked for an update, they rather bluntly accused me of participating in Manchu’s abduction, then trying to plant some false cover story in their minds. Of course, I said their claims were absurd and unfounded, but this only infuriated them more. All my attempts at reasoning with them were to no avail. Several officers circled me, blocking my exit and ‘escorted’ me to a holding cell. That was chains enough for me, darling. On top of that, one officer stripped me of all my monetary possessions, including my beloved watch. He took it away as if it was a threat to his very existence, so much so, I had to refrain from laughing.” Here, Mr. Hill paused in his narrative and turned to Lilly. His eyes twinkled.
Lilly smiled. She admired how her father remained upbeat under duress. “Go on,” she urged.
“Thank God, I took heed to the hostility early on,” Mr. Hill said. “Once things ratcheted up, I knew the officers were gunning to take away my phone so I wouldn’t have any access to anyone who could become witness to my situation. They did take my phone too, but not before I texted you—secretly—behind my back.”
Lilly sighed. “I’ve always wondered how you can pull that off—texting behind your back. I bet Mom thinks you’re some sort of magician. Because, one time, you texted her ‘I love you’ right when you guys were talking. I was sitting right behind you and caught what you were doing.”
“Yeah. At first she kept asking me how I could schedule texted messages.” Mr. Hill grinned. “But now that you’ve mentioned it, the magician idea is alright. Let’s let her keep thinking that. We don’t want to ruin someone’s belief in magic by revealing a mere mortal’s doing.”
“No problem-o, sir,” Lilly agreed.
“The only trick to it is memorizing the letters’ positions. Once you do that, the skill is yours to acquire. Although it is possible to just hang around me a while longer and learn that way.”
“That is the best practice method,” Lilly joked. She grew serious again. “Dad, I actually have proof some government officials orchestrated Manchu’s kidnapping. They know where he is and are taking him to a labor camp.”
“Oh?” Mr. Hill arched his eyebrows. “Did you have a little fun while I was in trouble?”
“Ha. Ha,” Lilly said dryly. “You could call it that. In short, I would’ve gotten help to you faster if I hadn’t been in trouble myself.”
“Oh?” Mr. Hill said again. “Tell me everything.”