Rather than heading for my own flat, I led him towards Eve’s. Winter raised his eyebrows but said nothing. I took out her keys and placed them in the lock. Before I turned them, I faced him. ‘This happened after that first day,’ I informed him. ‘Maybe I should have told you earlier but they’re from the Order and I wasn’t sure if I could trust you. One of them was carrying the same combination of herbs that you used in the library to evoke the past.’
Winter didn’t move a muscle. ‘Ivy,’ he said, his voice sounding strained, ‘have you killed someone?’
‘It’s not quite as bad as that,’ I replied with a nervous laugh. I unlocked the door and let Winter enter in front of me.
Harold, apparently surprised to have yet another unfamiliar intruder in his home, let out a soft growl and darted for the underbelly of the sofa. Winter paid the cat no attention; his focus was on Bell End and Fairclough. They’d obviously been trying hard to free themselves, judging by the mess they’d created as they’d shifted around in a bid to break their bonds. All the same, they remained as trussed up as before.
‘Adeptus Minor Fairclough,’ Winter said. He looked at me. ‘This is why you were asking whether I knew her or not.’
I nodded. For her part, she angled her head away as if the curtain of her hair would be enough to hide her. Bell End took a different approach. He struggled violently against his bonds, an urgent expression in his eyes. I walked over and loosened his gag.
‘Help us!’ Bell End burst out to Winter. ‘This crazy woman attacked us and is holding us hostage!’
Winter walked round, stood beside me and stared down at him. ‘Matthew Bellham.’
Bell End nodded vigorously. ‘Yes, yes! That’s me. Have I been reported missing? We’ve been held here for days against our will.’ He held up his wrists. ‘Untie me!’
‘You’re a Practicus,’ Winter murmured. ‘Although you’re clinging on by the skin of your teeth after several complaints against you. It’s been alleged that you were responsible for the attack on several young Neophytes last year.’
I watched Winter. ‘I thought you didn’t know him.’
He raised a shoulder. ‘I looked him up after your enquiries.’
I was impressed. There must be benefits to being a workhorse who jumped on every little detail.
‘So?’ Bell End yelled. ‘Those were trumped-up charges!’ He jerked his chin in my direction. ‘She has kidnapped me.’
Winter knelt down and I wondered if he was going to free him. Instead, he returned the gag to its original position. ‘He’s quite annoying,’ Winter murmured.
I could only agree. Winter straightened up. ‘So,’ I said, ‘they broke in. I went to confront them and,’ I shrugged, ‘they ended up like this.’
He nodded as if I’d just told him that it was raining outside. I let out a silent sigh of relief. I hadn’t realised how important it was that he believed my version of events until right at this moment. ‘It’s smart that you didn’t tell the police. We need to keep this within the Order.’ He looked around. ‘Where are the herbs they were carrying?’
I pointed to the side table. Winter picked up each bag and examined it carefully. A muscle throbbed in his cheek. I hoped that it wasn’t me he was angry with. Returning the herbs, he moved to Alice. She was still shying away. Winter gently unfastened her gag and tilted her head towards him. ‘You were here to bespell Eve Harrington.’ It wasn’t a question. ‘Tell me why.’
Alice wouldn’t meet his eyes; she was genuinely afraid of him. I glanced at Winter with renewed interest. Apparently his reputation was greater than that of a talented investigator who worked too hard.
‘Come on, Alice,’ he coaxed.
It looked as if she would remain as stubbornly silent with him as she had with me but then her chin wobbled slightly and her shoulders dropped. It all came pouring out. ‘It was Diall,’ she said, referring to Eve’s mentor. ‘He told us to come here and sprinkle around enough herbs to attach themselves to Eve so that she could be tracked wherever she went. We knew there was only a short window of time when we could do it.’ She flicked her eyes towards me. ‘We thought she was still out at work. Our intention was not to hurt anyone.’
Considering how much of a fight the pair of them had put up when I’d confronted them, I found that difficult to believe.
‘What reason did Diall give for this?’ Winter asked. There was a dangerous edge to his voice that made me step backwards. No wonder he was a skilled investigator; all he had to do was ask a question and his air of menace encouraged immediate and full disclosure. Handy trick.
‘He wanted to know what you were doing,’ she admitted. ‘By tracking Eve we could track you. He’d found out about the binding spell that was going to be put on you and he knew its terms. There was no chance that you’d work separately.’ She sighed. ‘I don’t know where Eve Harrington is. If you’re worried about her, I suggest you start questioning that one.’ It was obvious she meant me. I snorted. I wasn’t the evil witch around here.
‘Why, Alice?’ Winter probed. ‘Why did he want to know what I was up to?’
She looked away. ‘Diall said you were getting too big for your boots. That you had your eye on the Ipsissimus’s job and that you had to be watched. He thought maybe you were passing Order secrets to the military and that you were plotting to bring down the Order once for and all.’
This time my snort was much louder. You only had to meet Winter for a minute or two to know that was about as likely as a snowman enjoying a sauna. Alice Fairclough’s reluctant tone suggested that she knew it was bullshit as well.
Winter leant back on his heels and rubbed his forehead. He was probably as dog-tired as I was. We’d both been to hell and back only a few hours ago and now I was bringing him conspiracy theorists and kidnap. Yep. He was definitely ruing the day he met me – and that had only been Thursday.
‘When is Ms Harrington due back?’ he asked me.
He absorbed this and stood up.
‘Can I ask a question?’ Alice said. We both looked at her. ‘Why do you smell like a toilet?’
I rolled my eyes but Winter didn’t react. He replaced her gag and nodded in the direction of the kitchen. I did as he requested and walked in with him. Harold emerged from underneath the sofa and joined us then Winter shut the door.
‘The legal thing to do is to inform the Order and the police immediately. You could get into a lot of trouble for holding these two here, Ivy. You’ve also made me a co-conspirator by default.’
I folded my arms. ‘They’re dangerous,’ I protested. ‘As soon as I let them go, whether it’s to the police or the Order or the damn Knights of the Round Table, Eve will be at risk. So will I. And so will you. She says it was Diall who put them up to this and maybe it was but we don’t know if he was working alone. There might be others who want to silence us. The entire Order might be compromised. Not to mention that it’s highly suspicious that all this stuff with the sceptre and the attempt on our lives just happened too. They might not be related, there’s no proof, but it’s a hell of a coincidence. In fact…’
Winter put a hand on my arm. ‘I was going to let you keep going until you ran out of steam,’ he said drily. ‘But I was worried that you’d not taken a breath and you’d end up passing out.’ He sighed. ‘What I said was that telling the Order and the police would be the legal thing to do. It wouldn’t be the right thing to do.’
I blinked. ‘Are you also saying that I’m right?’
‘Don’t let it get to your head.’
I held up a hand towards Harold. ‘High five!’ Harold started washing his ears.
Winter gazed at me expressionlessly. ‘We need to keep these two here until we know what’s going on. I’ll set up a perimeter spell. If anyone comes looking for them then we’ll know who it is and we can use it as evidence against all of them.’
Huh. That was actually a good idea. ‘Brill.’ I pressed my lips together.
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