Cecily looked at the two tattered books on the table and then at Martin. He had sat, as instructed, on the other lab-stool. It was flat-topped with no back, and high enough that he had to rest his feet on the footrest of the stool – a simple, slightly flattened metal strut between the legs – rather than on the floor. He felt like he constantly had to sit upright or risk falling off.
“The books aren’t really a prize,” she said. Her voice sounded slightly regretful. “The girl would have been much better.”
The silence lingered, as Martin was unwilling to say anything about the mission. In his eyes it was a clear failure. Cecily picked up one of the books and opened it, flipping pages back and forth.
“How long have you known Edward?” she asked. Martin’s mouth fell open, the sudden change of conversation catching him by surprise.
“Well,” he said, thinking. “I’d not met him until this mission, but his name has signed off various research documents that I’ve used in the past. Cecily stayed silent. “And… I’ve heard about him, of course.”
Cecily nodded. She wasn’t smiling. “What do you think of his actions during this task?” she asked.
Martin paused before answering, thinking about the scene, the young girl, and then waking up in the shower. “A bit odd,” he admitted finally. “The girl was clearly more important than me, so I don’t understand why he dragged me into the bathroom to wake me up. He should have got her out to the car and then come back for me if necessary.”
“You were a team,” said Cecily. “Surely he shouldn’t leave him partner behind like that?”
“No.” Martin shook his head. “We had every reason to believe that the flat wasn’t a threat and that we had time. He should have taken the girl and worried about me later.”
“Is that what you would have done?”
Martin paused to think again. Edward hadn’t done much to be likeable on the mission, but would he really have left him on the carpet, fainted, while he got the girl back to the car? “Yes,” he said at last. “But….”
“But I’d have done all the background reading first,” said Martin. “Edward said that he didn’t know that I was sensitised to Odnose-B and he didn’t know why I’d fainted. I’d have done the reading and I’d have known that. So I’d have known that taking the girl would have removed the language, and that he’d have probably woken up and come down to the car after me.”
Cecily closed the book gently, and turned it round so that Martin could read the title; gold embossing on a green paste-board cover. It said: The House at Pooh Corner. He read it, and then looked at Cecily, his eyes asking the question.
“The books are useless, in fact,” she said. “Edward disappeared shortly after you both returned here. The books that he was supposed to take are definitely missing from the flat, but we don’t know if he left them there, if they were taken with the girl, or if he took them himself. And he certainly did know that you had been exposed to Odnose-B. Have you checked the time since you got back?”
Martin looked at his wrist reflexively; his watch was half-hidden under his cuff and he had to slide it back to look at it.
“Two-thirty,” he said. It was an analogue watch with gold hands and numerals, a little flashy, intended to convey the impression of a salesman or a middle manager trying too hard. Cecily pointed to the clock on the wall. It gave the time digitally as 14:50.
“You were out for about twenty minutes,” she said. “Which is actually quite a short time considering it was Odnose-B you were listening to, but you said you were out for three, and your watch is set to show that too. We think Edward was doing things in those twenty minutes, but we don’t know what. We think it’s unlikely that the girl really had her hands torn off, especially now we’ve found a woman two flats below who is dead, and did have her hands torn off.” Martin blanched slightly, but held Cecily’s gaze. She continued, “So right now, you’re on special duties.” She held up a hand as Martin tried to speak. “You’re hunting for Edward. We want to know what he’s done, and how long he’s been doing it for.”