Chris Carbin was told to look for the Book of Truth by his employers. The two women hadn't given him much of a clue as to what this item was, but that was OK. He preferred not knowing what made the Book of Truth so special. It made his job a lot easier if he wasn't distracted by the moral implications.
It turned out the last person to purchase any book online with that title was Paul Newfield, a teacher from Wemlay Green.
After a bit more research, Chris found that Paul had been reported missing a few days ago. All the police found in his flat was a clunky old computer with a memory stick hanging out and the homepage of a role-play gaming site burning into the screen. It was as if he'd vanished into thin air. The search was still going on, but a lot of Paul's stuff had been left with his mother.
Chris Carbin was off to visit her right now.
What he needed to do was go through Paul's possessions and see if there were any clues there. It was probably one of two things either the Book of Truth had been stolen by somebody else or passed on to a close friend.
Wemlay Green had a very pretty marina, and when Chris drove past it he could see plenty of children playing with the ducks near the water. The line of moored boats rocked in the wind. It must have been a very peaceful place to live.
Chris swung round the corner of Crofton Lane past the frame store and drew up outside Mrs Newfield's house. It was hiding behind a shrub sporting yellow flowers.
The trick here was to be sympathetic and above all, cautious. She had just lost a son, after all; whether Paul was dead, abducted or off herding yaks in Tibet, it was a delicate matter for as long as he was gone.
Chris scrunched up the gravel driveway, cleaned a smudge off his glasses and rang the bell. Almost immediately, Mrs Newfield pulled the front door open. She had curlers in her hair and wasn't fully dressed yet. Well, Chris thought, it was early.
"Who are you?" she said.
Straight to the point. "Good morning, Mrs Newfield. I'm sorry to bother you, but I'm a friend of Paul's."
"Oh," Mrs Newfield sighed. "I see."
"My name is Chris," said Chris.
Mrs Newfield lowered her eyebrows slightly and folded her arms. "I don't think he ever mentioned a friend called Chris."
"Didn't he? That's odd."
This elicited a raised eyebrow from Mrs Newfield this time, and Chris realised he was on the wrong track to gaining her confidence. He painted on a sympathetic face. "Listen, Mrs Newfield... I heard about him going missing. I was questioned and everything, but of course I wasn't Paul's closest friend and... well, I have no idea where he is."
Mrs Newfield nodded. "Yes, well, we're confused too."
"But the search hasn't been going on that long, has it, so there's every chance he'll turn up again."
She nodded. "I hope so. But he isn't the type of person that would leave without notice. His older brother, maybe, and Rebecca snuck out... once, that I know of... but Paul?"
Oh no. There was a tear in her eye. Should Chris try to comfort her or ask for what he wanted? He decided on the latter, before Mrs Newfield could start crying.
"Mrs Newfield, I was wondering if I could have a look through some of his things. I thought that maybe there'd be a clue in there about where he'd gone."
"But the police have already looked," she said.
"I know, I know, it's just..." Chris gesticulated vaguely, hoping that would get his point across. Mrs Newfield looked back blankly. Then she gave a resigned nod and uncrossed her arms.
"You'd better come in," she said.
She walked back through the hallway. Chris followed. They went upstairs, passing a girl on the landing, and entered the spare room. On the walls, Chris could see a few paintings and pictures. One of them was a photograph of Paul beaming from behind a huge pair of glasses. He was standing on a grassy hill with his mother, trees swaying and bending in the background.
Chris stepped round a pile of cardboard boxes to join Mrs Newfield, who was opening a box with 'PAUL'S STUFF' written in blue marker along the side.
"I don't think Paul would have got himself into any trouble," Chris said helpfully, "wherever he is."
Mrs Newfield dug in the box, as though she were trying to familiarise herself with the contents. "Wherever he is," she echoed miserably.
Chris hovered. The box, he thought, that's all I want.
"I don't think Paul's been abducted," Mrs Newfield said, seemingly to herself. "And he... he's not the type to... Paul wasn't unhappy. On Thursday, he phoned me to say he'd had a quiet end to the half-term with the year tens, so he wasn't unhappy with his life. And I don't think he's been attacked either, because he never leaves the house except for work... and he has no enemies. I can't begin to think what he's gone and done.' Mrs Newfield sniffed. 'I'm sorry for telling you all that."
"It's fine," Chris said reassuringly, nodding towards the box.
"What was your name again?"
"Chris... all right. Well, you have my address, obviously, if you need anything else. If you find anything in here, please let me know straight away. I'll just be here... waiting."
"Thank you. I will. I'll, er, see myself out." He took the box from Mrs Newfield and tucked it hurriedly under one arm. At the door, he noticed the daughter, eavesdropping probably. She quickly ducked out of sight.
"It was good meeting you," Mrs Newfield said.
"Yes, thank you. You too."
Chris found his own way down the stairs, and left. He didn't dare look in the box until he was safely locked in his own car. There were folders, books, notepads, a few memory sticks and some other items. Perhaps one of them would tell him what Paul had done with the Book of Truth.