I beamed. ‘Great.’ Without giving her time to close the door on me, I barged past her. Everything inside looked okay. I cast around surreptitiously for Harold but he was nowhere to be seen.
‘Wait here,’ Fake Eve muttered, obviously annoyed that I’d gained entry.
Before she could turn away, a male voice called out from the living room. ‘Who was it?’
‘It’s just a delivery, darling.’ Her voice was strained.
Her partner-in-crime appeared at the open living-room doorway. He was dressed in a similarly casual fashion but he looked like someone who took life far too seriously. Although he was probably only a few years older than me, his face was lined; there was a deep cleft running from his forehead to the top of his nose that suggested he spent his days wandering around and glowering at everyone he met. When he saw me standing there, he definitely wasn’t any happier.
Fake Eve pointed at the box I was still holding. ‘I need a pen to sign for the delivery.’
He grunted and turned away. ‘I think there’s one in here. Wait a minute.’
There was a blur of movement and Harold’s furry shape leapt out of the room, claws scratching Eve’s wooden floor in his haste to escape.
‘Your cat,’ I began.
‘It’s fine,’ Fake Eve said. ‘She always does that. She’ll come back when she’s hungry.’
I cocked my head. ‘She? It looked like a male to me.’
Something flickered in her expression. ‘Force of habit. My last cat was a girl.’
Her companion re-emerged, holding a pen. I was now fairly certain that the two of them were alone. Things could have been worse. ‘Here. What do you need me to sign?’
‘Your arrest warrant,’ I said pleasantly.
It took a moment for my words to sink in. Fake Eve reacted first, leaping towards me, but I was already thrusting the box in her direction and she staggered backwards.
The man lunged for me, his panic causing him to throw a punch in my direction rather than attempt a spell. I saw it coming a mile off and sidestepped neatly, just as Fake Eve dropped the box and began to draw out a rune. Recognising it as one designed to break my bones, I launched myself towards the man, knocking him sideways so he crashed into Fake Eve and interrupted her spell. I got lucky: she stumbled, tripped against the low coffee table and fell to the floor with a heavy thump. Her partner just avoided being brought down with her and threw himself at me again.
It occurred to me belatedly that confronting these two had been a mistake. Harold was safe now and I wasn’t exactly a kung fu expert. Two against one hardly seemed fair. Fake Eve was already getting up, albeit rather slowly, and I didn’t rate my chances. Pretending not to understand Brutus would have been the sensible move but it was far too late now.
The man grabbed hold of me. I writhed, spinning round so that my back was against his. His grip was painfully strong and I didn’t have the strength to break free so I raised my foot and smashed it down onto his. He yelped and released me.
I darted away, breathing hard. Think, Ivy, I told myself. Just think.
I reached out blindly, my fingers curling round a glass paperweight holding down a neat stack of Eve’s bills. I raised it and threw it hard at the man who was advancing on me yet again. It smacked into the side of his head with a sickening crack. For a brief moment he looked stunned and then he keeled over, falling face down on the floor. Arse. I hoped I’d not killed him.
‘You little…’ Fake Eve hissed. ‘Who the hell are you?’
I’d have answered her if I’d still had the energy to speak. Unfortunately, I was so focused on her face and her words that I hadn’t noticed her hand by her side, already finishing another rune. This time I was too late to do anything about it. The only saving grace was that this time she’d opted for a less violent rune. Rather than being left limbless, I was thrown backwards, ending up pinned against the far wall, my feet dangling about a foot above the floor. I could barely blink, let alone do anything to defend myself.
‘I’ll say it again,’ Fake Eve said, with a furious toss of her head. ‘Who are you?’
My lips moved but no sound came out. She laughed at me. ‘Can’t talk, can you?’ There was a definite sneer to her voice. That really bugged me.
She might have been a talented witch but she didn’t know everything. As she patted me down, looking for some kind of identification in my pockets, she didn’t realise that I was still able – just – to move my thumbs. What most witches don’t know is that having opposable thumbs isn’t only handy for fashioning tools. It can also be very helpful for magic. It is generally believed that performing runes requires at least four fingers and a thumb. I smiled smugly to myself. The Order don’t know everything. I’d been literally twiddling my thumbs one afternoon when I discovered entirely the opposite.
Using swift surreptitious movements to avoid alerting her, I twirled one thumb and sketched out a brief figure of eight with the other. It was hardly elegant and wouldn’t win me any prizes in a magic competition but it served my needs very well. Drawing in the magic that Fake Eve had used against me, I pulled the energy together and flung it back at her. As I fell to the floor, finally released from the invisible force that was holding me up, she was slammed back into the window and glued there spread-eagled like a squashed fly. Ha! Take that, witchy woman!
I limped over to the man and bent down to check him. He was still breathing. That was something, at least. I ran my hands over his body, unable to see any broken bones. Pursing my lips, I went into the kitchen to find something to tie them up with. Eventually I came across a long extension cord in one of Eve’s drawers. Struggling against the man’s weight, I heaved him into a sitting position and wrapped the cord round his wrists. Fake Eve glared at me the entire time but I ignored her. Her turn would come. I fashioned a gag for the man out of a dishcloth and added a few magical flourishes in case he happened to be Houdini and could wriggle his way free. Then I pulled off Eve’s curtain ties and stood in front of the woman. Her eyes spat fire.
‘Three,’ I said, watching her carefully. ‘Two. One.’ Nothing happened. I’d mistimed it. A second later, the spell wore off and she slumped to the floor. I reached down swiftly before she could react and looped the ties round her wrists and her feet, ensuring that the magic encircling her was even stronger than it was for her partner. Then I dragged her over to him so they were back to back.
By the time I’d found a suitable gag to keep Fake Eve quiet, the man was coming around. He blinked his eyes, patently confused for a few seconds. Then he turned his head and caught sight of me grinning at him. He seemed even more astonished than I was that I’d bested the pair of them.
I eyed the hapless duo. Burglars taking advantage of a temporarily empty property were one thing – but these witches were something else entirely. I hunkered down until I was eye to eye with the man. ‘Who are you?’ I asked softly.
He struggled against his bonds. ‘Mmmph.’
I dismissed his attempt at an answer. ‘Don’t worry,’ I told him airily. ‘I’ll find out.’ I reached inside his jacket and pulled out his wallet. There, for all the world to see, was his Order ID card. ‘Matthew Bell End.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry. Matthew Bellham.’ I grinned. ‘Easy mistake to make.’ I placed my fingers under his chin and forced him to look at me. ‘Now why is the Order breaking into the flat of one of their own?’
He pressed his lips together and looked away.
‘Ve haf vays of making you talk,’ I said, with what I hoped was a menacing air.
Unfortunately, he called my bluff. ‘Go on, then.’
I leant back and examined him. The frown line in his forehead was growing more pronounced by the second. He wasn’t scared but he was concerned. I rubbed my chin, stood up and went over to his partner. I patted her down, looking for identification. Clearly, she was a bit smarter than frowny Matt as she didn’t carry anything with her name on it. She did, however, have five carefully separated ziplock bags of dried herbs: rosemary, bakuli pods, tansy, sweetpea and something unidentifiable. I opened the bag and took a careful sniff before recoiling. Yeuch. That was pungent.
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