The photograph was the best clue I had. The only problem was I had no idea what it meant. Joshua had been missing at least three weeks. It was certainly possible that these people had something to do with his disappearance. Who were they? And how would I find them?
What if it was just a dead end? Was I wasting my time?
I examined the photograph closely hoping something would stand out. The tall, handsome one with his arm around Joshua looked like some sort of guru, the others surrounding him like he was the second coming of Christ. I put the photograph back exactly where it was. If someone had Joshua's place staked out, I didn't want anyone to know I'd been here.
I examined the rest of the apartment waiting for a connection to flicker through my mind. That's when it hit me. There might be something written on the other side of the photo. I retrieved it and sure enough scrawled in Joshua's chicken-scratch was the message: If you're reading this, brother, something must have gone terribly wrong. Please find me, frend
Curious, I thought to myself. Why did Joshua spell the word friend wrong? Was it a clue? Maybe the handsome man in the photograph called himself Frend? I paced the room trying to solve the riddle.
The door swung open. Instinctively, I lunged into the closet.
"Hey, Josh, it's me!" a female voice shouted.
Footsteps. My heart pounded frantically as I could hear her approaching.
"Josh!?" she shouted again, this time less sure.
The closet door opened and this time it was my turn to shout, "Who are you and what are you doing here!!?"
And then I stared into bluest eyes I'd ever stared into, the eyes of a blonde bombshell. A wary blonde bombshell. "I could ask you the same question," she said, reaching inside her purse and pulling out pepper spray.
"I asked you first."
"My name is Becky. I'm looking for my friend Joshua, the guy who rents out the closet you're cowering in like Anne freaking Frank. Your turn."
"Maybe I wouldn't be cowering back here," I said, a smile spreading across my face, "if you didn't look quite so menacing with that pepper spray."
"Answer the question."
"I'm his brother, Nathaniel. Wanna see my credentials?" I asked sarcastically.
"He's mentioned you before," Becky said, her crystal oceans of blue swimming back and forth between me and my badge. "Can I ask you a few questions?"
"Where is Joshua and why are you in his closet?"
"When I heard the door open, instinct took over and I jumped inside the closet."
"You're not very brave for a policeman," she frowned, skeptically. "And if you dodge my question one more time, you're going to be temporarily incapacitated and partially blind for the next few minutes."
"The thing is," I confided. "I'm here because Joshua has been missing for three weeks. I'm worried."
"Oh, my God," Becky said, placing the pepper spray into her purse and our roles switched. "Oh, my God."
"Have you seen him lately?"
"No, but we're like that, you know? Sometimes we go weeks without speaking and then, boom, we pick up right where we left off."
"When was the last time you saw him?"
"The beginning of the semester, probably three or four weeks ago. Why, am I a suspect?"
"How exactly did you get into his apartment?"
"You left the door open, Einstein."
“Point taken. One last question: does the word or name Frend have any significance to you? F-R-E-N-D?”
“Like W. H. C. Frend, the guy who wrote his favorite book? His nose is in that book all the time. It's kind of an obsession.”
I sprinted to the bookshelf and scanned the books until I finally found a book called The Early Church written by W. H. C. Frend, which had clearly been re-bound. The new contents: how to infiltrate the New Life cult."