“So this was where you last saw him?”
“Yes. We had lunch at the Strawberry Fields café over there. Although I have to say he didn’t eat very much.”
Detective Jenna McCabe made a mental note to check the close circuit cameras in the area in the hope that she could pick up some clues.
“Do you know if he had any other plans for the day? Was he due to meet anyone or go anywhere?” she asked, studying the other woman’s worried expression.
“No. His disappearance is totally out of character. Aside from me he only sees his mother. She lives just outside Ashbourne at the Broad Beams Residential Home.”
The young woman chewed at the inside of her lip and stared blankly at those passing by. Jenna could see that she was trying to remember the minutiae of their last interaction. She had to ask the obvious.
“Can I ask what your relationship is to Lewis? Are you two an item?”
She laughed nervously and looked down at her knees.
“No, no. Nothing like that. Although I dare say Lewis would like us to be. We went to school together and have always been close friends. I care for him a lot. Just not in that way.”
This was no surprise to Jenna. The mobile phone that had been found in the shopping centre toilets held nothing more than platonic conversations between Lewis and Eva. There was a little bit of mild banter and the odd flirtatious comment from Lewis. But all of it fitted perfectly with Eva’s account of things between them.
So where had he gone then? And more to the point, where had the others gone? Jenna decided to try another line of questioning.
“Were you aware that Lewis is affiliated with an online group of amateur astronomers?”
“Yes. I teased him about it actually. It’s almost as if he goes out of his way to be geeky sometimes.”
Jenna smiled, but it did not reach her eyes. This young woman is in love with him and she doesn’t even know it, she thought. Yet…
“It would appear that his geekiness has got him into some sort of trouble,” she told Eva. “He met up with seven members of the group last week and none of them have been seen since Wednesday.”
“Seriously?” said Eva, screwing her face. “But these are astronomers, not Hell’s Angel’s. What could possibly have happened to all seven of them?”
“I don’t know. But we’re doing our best to find out,” she said standing up to leave. “Thank you for answering my questions. We’ll let you know if there’s any news.”
“No problem,” nodded Eva.
Jenna left her to her thoughts and walked briskly through the busy shopping mall, until she ended up out on the main street. There the smell of freshly cooked oatcakes wafted out of the bakery, teasing her nostrils with their homely aroma. It was not a smell that was easily resisted.
After a quick glance at her watch she went inside and joined the queue, her mouth-watering at the prospect. While she waited, hoping that the others in the queue couldn’t hear her stomach growling, her phone began to ring loudly in her pocket.
“Hi, Jenna. It’s Tom here. Just wanted to let you know we managed to access Lewis’s email accounts. There’s some weird shit here. This guy was into all sorts.”
“Really? Like what?” she said, her eyes lighting up.
“Nothing illegal if that’s what you’re thinking. I mean like, conspiracy theorist groups, online gaming where people pretend they are aliens on some distant planet…apparently he also bought a Na’vi inflatable sex doll.”
“What the heck is a Na’vi?”
“You know…the blue aliens in the Avatar movie.”
“Oh right. But that’s not why you’re calling me is it? You must have found something else.”
“Well…as you already know, Lewis and the other astronomers met up last week in the hope of discovering the meteorite that supposedly fell on the moors. Originally we had just thought it a random act of curiosity. But it would seem there is more to it than that. According to the emails he exchanged with the others they were planning to sell it if they found it. And get this…meteorite fragments can be worth anywhere up to two hundred pounds a gram! They’re more valuable than gold.”
“Hm…” muttered Jenna. “Any sign of whether or not they found it?”
Finally she reached the front of the queue where she ordered her oatcake and cappuccino.
“No. Nothing. Since they met I can see no further contact – although that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been any. It may have been deleted. I’ll run a retrieval program through the laptop and see what’s there,” said Tom.
“Ok. And while you’re at it, get me the footage from the shopping centre. You never know, it could give us a lead,” said Jenna. She paid for her lunch and took it over to the table continuing the conversation via her earpiece.
“Will do. I’ll let you know if anything comes up.”
When the call was over Jenna sighed and looked at her oatcake, loaded with bacon and cheese. A Na’vi sex doll? This case just gets weirder and weirder!
After she’d eaten she made arrangements with the landlord to enter Lewis Clarke’s apartment. The address was Matlock View.
Must be one of those new builds, she mused as she followed the SATNAV’s directions.
The landlord was there already, waiting in his grey BMW.
“I must say I’m very surprised at all this. I’ve never had any trouble with the young lad before,” he commented as he turned the key in the door. Jenna walked in, a little unsure of what to expect.
“Don’t worry. He hasn’t done anything wrong that we’re aware of Mr Jones. So far it’s only a missing person inquiry.”
Mr Jones let out a loud snort.
“Is that so? Well he’s not supposed to have a bloody cat in here for starters!” he said pointing at a tabby over by the window. “No pets the agreement specifically says.”
“Perhaps it’s not his?” suggested Jenna. She stood in the middle of the room looking for anything that seemed out of place. For a man of twenty three he certainly kept the place impeccably tidy.
“What exactly are you looking for, Miss?”
“I don’t know. Some sort of clue as to what might have happened I guess,” she said.
Just then there was a loud purring at her feet. Jenna looked down to find the cat rubbing itself amiably against her legs. Unable to ignore the friendly creature, she bent down to pet it but was shocked rigid when it suddenly disappeared into thin air.
“Bloody hell!” cried Mr Jones backing away. “Did you see that?”
Jenna swallowed hard and tried to ignore the prickling feeling that was creeping along her spine.
“Yes, yes I did.”
There has to be a sensible explanation for this, she told herself.
Naively she looked around the apartment just in case it might be hiding somewhere. It wasn’t. All she found was a parcel lying beneath a console table with one corner ripped open. Claw marks were clearly in evidence.
Her suspicions were aroused now. So she took out her Swiss army knife and carefully sliced open the lid. Upon discovering a reddish brown pitted stone, the size and shape of a car wash sponge inside, she promptly called Tom back at the forensic laboratories.
“I think I’ve found the meteor,” she told him.
“Whatever you do, do not touch it,” he said urgently. “You didn’t, did you?”
She folded the knife and put it back in her pocket.
“I’m not sure yet, but it seems to have affected the plant life in the area where it landed. I’ve just recovered the deleted files on Lewis’s laptop. On Saturday, a day after they found it, he went back to the moor as the buyer wanted pictures of the crater. When he got there all plant life within a two foot radius had vanished. I’m guessing it must have put the wind up him a bit, because he searched Google for over an hour when he got home for things like; dangerous meteor, poisonous meteor, harmful meteor. He also told the buyer that he would need to sign some sort of waiver in case any harm came to him as a result of the purchase.”
“I’m not liking the sound of this,” said Jenna.
“But there’s more. You know that close circuit camera footage you asked me to check?”
“Well diligent as I am, I did as you asked. And guess what? At two fifteen Lewis can clearly be seen entering the toilet block. Problem is he never comes out. There’s only one way in and out and no windows. The man completely disappeared.”
“I see,” replied Jenna.
“You’re not sounding very surprised at any of this,” Tom complained.
“No? Well that’s probably because I just witnessed Lewis’s cat vanishing into thin air as well.”
“Did it touch the meteor?” Tom asked immediately.
Jenna glanced at the tattered box again.
“Yes, I think so.”
She heard him suck in a whistling breath.
“We’re going to have to notify the MOD Jenna. That thing needs to be examined by experts.”
“Ok. You give them a call and I’ll seal off the area.”
Mr Jones didn’t like being ordered out of his own house but in light of the information that Detective Jenna McCabe and Tom Evans had given them the MOD were not about to take any chances.
“We’ll give you a call as soon as we’ve made the area safe,” said one of the MOD officers. Mr Jones grunted over his shoulder and sped away in his gleaming BMW.
“Don’t think I’ll be winning any popularity votes there,” chuckled the officer.
Jenna smiled. “Do you really think it’s that dangerous?”
“I have absolutely no idea. My name’s Gregory Simmons by the way.” He held out his hand and shook hers warmly.
“I’m Jenna McCabe, the Detective in charge of the Clarke case.”
“Excellent. Perhaps you wouldn’t mind showing me this meteorite then?”
“Of course. This way,” she nodded.
After a cursory glance round, he set down his case and peered inside the package like a child who’d just opened his lunch box.
“Close those curtains and blinds for me could you?” he asked pleasantly.
Jenna shut them and instantly the room darkened.
“Woah! Look at this!”
Jenna rushed over to see what had caught his attention and discovered that the meteorite appeared to have a faint orange glow.
There was a rapid fire series of clicks as Gregory waved a handheld device to and fro above it.
“This thing’s giving off radiation,” he said.
“No wonder the plants died where it landed then. Lewis was right. It IS poisonous.”
The young man by her side was thinking furiously. He put away the radiation detector and took out a thermo graphic camera, focusing it on the meteorite. A blaze of colours revealed its whereabouts on the otherwise black view screen.
“Can you move back a bit please?” he said, stepping away to take pictures from a different angle.
“But I’m nowhere near you,” she replied.
Gregory looked away from the view screen and did a double take on finding her standing behind him.
“But I just saw your foot or something, right there in front of the box. It showed up orange and purple. I saw it move.”
“I promise you I never moved from here the whole time,” said Jenna folding her arms. That was her no nonsense pose.
He shrugged and once again aimed the camera downwards.
“Christ!” he yelled, stumbling backwards.
Instinctively she took him by the elbows.
“What is it? What did you see?”
Gregory shook his head to get over the shock.
“Here. See for yourself.”
He handed the camera over to her, with instructions to scan the floor area.
“What am I looking for exactly? Oh my!” she exclaimed suddenly. “It’s Lewis’s cat!”
“I think I know what’s going on here,” announced Gregory.
“I hope so. Because I sure as hell don’t!” cried Jenna.
“The meteor is emitting Isotron radiation which up until now has only ever been encountered in space. Because it’s never been studied before no one knows what it is capable of. But I’m willing to bet it transforms the quantum nature of electrons in living matter. Once the electrons have been altered, the creature, plant or person changes state into one that cannot be seen with the human eye. Like water turning into ice, steam and so on.”
“This is unbelievable! What are we going to do?” exclaimed Jenna.
“That’s the real puzzle here isn’t it?” said Gregory with a grin. “But I’m sure we’ll figure it out.”
Suddenly there was another call from Tom back at the station.
“Yes?” said Jenna tapping her earpiece.
“One down, six to go,” he said dryly.“Lewis Clarke just walked in here not five minutes ago and told us everything. Says he’s been stuck in the toilets at the shopping mall since the day before yesterday. He claims no one could see him. Reckons it was all down to his contact with the meteor. Pretty crazy story – but at least he’s back.”
“The effects must only be temporary,” mouthed Gregory silently.
“Not as crazy a story as you might think Tom. I’ve seen the science of it right here.”
“Oh? Well, are you going to tell me about it?”
“Not now,” she said. “I’m going to have to hang around for a bit and hope these six other guys re-appear.”
“And don’t forget the cat,” added Gregory.