I walked slowly into town. Edward Sennet had been tracked on CCTV cameras the day he disappeared. I hadn’t managed to get access to the films, but I did have a copy of the typed report. There wasn’t what you might call blanket coverage. There were cameras positioned at each end of the high street, looking South and North respectively. The only other camera was owned by a collective of shop-owners in one of the arcades. They’d probably only invested in the system after a spate of robberies, the usual closing of the stable door after the horse has gone.
On the day he had disappeared Edward Sennet had spent some time in the centre. He’d walked up and down the high street, looking at window displays. At ten fifteen am he’d gone into a stationery outlet. The assistant there recalled he’d purchased a small notebook and a pen. She’d remembered him as he wasn’t a local, because he’d spent a while looking at the various notebooks and had also asked if she could give him directions to any antiques shops nearby. Edward was a salesman but his passion was antiques. He would arrange his schedule specifically to fit in auctions, house-clearances and markets.
There was a small antique shop in the arcade and the films showed Edward Sennet going in at ten forty am and coming out again half an hour later. The owner had been interviewed, very briefly, but hadn’t had anything interesting to say. Only that Edward had put down a deposit on a vase, which seeing he’d then disappeared and turned up dead, he’d naturally never collected.
The last sighting of Edward was on the CCTV camera in the arcade. He’d come out of the antiques shop, turned right and walked around the corner and out of sight. He was wearing a brown suit with a gray fleck, a heavy black coat and a green scarf which was wrapped around his neck against the cold. He was also wearing a pair of gloves that matched the scarf and carrying, in one gloved hand, a small bag containing the notebook and pen. No one saw him alive again.
That was where the police investigation ended. As he’d died of natural causes they hadn’t time to spare on unraveling the mystery of where he’d been for three days. The trail petered out anyhow. No one claimed to have seen him after that. They’d made an appeal for information, but there was nothing more.
I retraced his steps. Some optimists from the town council had strung Christmas lights up and down the street and from storefronts came cheerful, seasonal tunes, but the shoppers were a dour and unfriendly lot, all hunched against the cold in their winter coats. I went into the stationers and spent a bit of time looking at the notebooks. For the look of the thing I bought one, paying at a counter where the cashier, a student with a nose-stud, seemed to be having trouble just staying awake. She stifled a yawn behind one hand, reaching across with the other to give me my change. I said thanks but she was already gazing off over my shoulder, lost in a dream.
The antiques shop was depressing. A dusty, ugly assortment of junk filled the window. A bell above the door jangled tunelessly as I entered, and I almost bruised my shins against a huge wooden chest that blocked the way. As far as I could see I was the only customer, although crowds could have hidden easily behind the bookshelves and wardrobes that reared up ominously in the gloom, as if the owner were attempting to recreate Stonehenge in wood and glass. Every surface was cluttered with vases, statuettes, clocks, lamps and other random household objects.
It was only when I’d managed to negotiate a path through to the back of the store that I realized I wasn’t alone. A man was sitting at a small desk, writing in an old-fashioned ledger. I could only just see the top of his head and a corner of his book as the desk was as cluttered with junk as everywhere else. A cityscape of ancient, leather-bound books teetered all around him, propped up by an Art Deco statuette of a nymph on one side and on the other a lamp with an ornate glass shade.
He stood suddenly, knocking over a pile of books which he had to dive to rescue, shuffling them back into position with practised ease. He patted the topmost one like a fond parent, and kept his hand there as he looked up. He had an exceptionally long, thin face and it was hard to know where to look as he had the strangest eyes. The one on the left was blue while the right eye was mottled brown and green.
“Hello,” he said. “Can I help?”