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‘Not everyone can be Ipsissimus. What drives society forward is having a strong backbone of people willing to do the jobs that their leaders don’t want to dirty their hands with.’

‘Like driving taxis?’ he asked drily.

‘Okay, maybe not that. I was thinking more like cleaners and binmen and herb collectors. Those sorts of jobs, although people do need to be able to get around when they need to. But you have to see what I mean.’

‘I do,’ he answered. ‘But you have to see what I mean too.’ He opened the main door and held it for me while I ducked inside.

I wrinkled my nose. ‘Yeah, okay, I suppose I do.’ I glanced at him and smiled. ‘Look at us,’ I marvelled. ‘Next we’ll be skipping along hand in hand.’ I turned left for the lift while Winter went immediately for the stairs. Oh well, you couldn’t have everything.

We re-grouped upstairs then walked into Eve’s flat. Although Bell End and Alice barely stirred, Princess Parma Periwinkle and Harold sprang apart. It looked to me as if they’d only been grooming each other but I couldn’t be sure. I reckoned Brutus would be pretty annoyed if he knew. That was until he emerged yawning and looking pretty darned self-satisfied from behind a nearby cushion. Alrighty.

Winter looked from the cats to me and back again. We shared a moment of amusement and then got to work. I went for Bell End while Winter focused on Alice.

‘How’s it hanging?’ I enquired. Bell End glared at me. I smiled, entirely without humour. ‘Let me guess. You want to be freed immediately. This has all been a terrible misunderstanding.’

Winter loosened Alice’s gag. ‘Would you like something to drink?’

She licked her lips. ‘Just let us go.’

‘We’ve been to see your boss,’ I told Bell End. His eyes flew up to mine. My smile grew. ‘I thought that would get your attention.’

‘Did you tell him about us?’ Alice demanded. ‘Does he know we’re here?’

‘Unfortunately not,’ Winter replied. ‘On account of the fact that he’s dead.’

While Winter studied Alice’s reaction, I did the same to Bell End. He appeared momentarily alarmed then he relaxed, as if he’d decided that we were lying.

‘It’s true,’ I told him softly. ‘Look into my eyes. You’ll be able to tell.’

‘Was it you?’ Alice asked. ‘Did you kill him?’ To her credit, there wasn’t so much as a quiver in her voice.

‘No. We did not.’ Winter continued to watch her. ‘But it looks like whoever did already knew him. He was found in his kitchen with one of his own knives sticking out of his gullet.’

Bell End moaned. He believed us now.

‘I’ll ask again. Why did he send you here?’

As his gag was still in place, Alice answered for him. ‘You know why. We were to cast herbs so we could track Harrington and Adeptus Exemptus Winter.’

‘And Diall asked you personally to do this.’

‘Yes,’ she said tiredly. ‘We’ve been through all this.’ She seemed genuinely upset about Diall and I almost felt sorry for her. Her shoulders drooped. ‘Take us into the Order. We’ll admit to it all.’ She sighed. ‘Just don’t keep us here any longer.’

I met Winter’s eyes. He nodded. Removing Bell End’s gag, I moved closer to him. ‘Did Diall ever mention the Cypher Manuscripts?’

He screwed up his face in response. ‘What? Why would he?’

‘Did he ever ask you to go and look at them for him?’

‘No.’

‘Did he spend any time studying them?’

‘For fuck’s sake!’ Bell End blasted. ‘You stupid bitch! How many times do I have to say the same thing?’

Winter abandoned Alice and came to my side. He knelt down and regarded Bell End soberly. ‘If you ever call her that again,’ he murmured, ‘you will live to regret it.’

It wasn’t Winter’s words, it was the way he said them. A shiver ran down my spine and I wasn’t even the one he was threatening. Feeling the sudden urge to create some space between Winter and me, I took his place next to Alice.

‘How about you?’ I asked. ‘Was there ever a time you heard your boss talk about the Cyphers?’

Her eyes spat fire. She didn’t like me very much. Shocker. ‘He might have mentioned them in conversation once or twice,’ she said through gritted teeth. ‘I really don’t remember.’

‘Well,’ I told her, ‘you really should try harder.’

‘He said once that they should be more accessible. He wanted to be able to take them out of the library and study them in more detail.’

Finally we were getting somewhere. ‘And did he mention which volumes in particular he was interested in?’

‘No,’ Alice replied flatly. ‘He did not.’

‘Can’t you ever keep your mouth shut?’ Bell End grunted from the other side. ‘It was Volume 9, okay? He wanted Volume 9.’

Over their heads, Winter and I exchanged looks. Well, well, well.

***

‘It doesn’t prove anything,’ Winter argued, once we were back in the privacy of my flat.

‘Of course it does! You said how desperate Diall was to get more power. He stole the Manuscript. Someone else came along, saw he had it and took it from him, killing him in the process.’ I dusted off my palms. ‘I think our work is done here.’

Winter folded his arms across his chest. I pretended not to notice the way his muscles bulged. ‘Except we don’t know who killed him and we don’t know where the missing Manuscript is.’

I held up my index finger. ‘If I recall, our task was to find out who stole the sceptre and recover it. We’ve already achieved far more than that. I think it’s time we passed this to someone else. It’s a murder investigation now, not stolen property.’

‘We have a long way to go yet, Ivy. Don’t you want to know who tried to kill us?’

‘Diall, of course. And now he’s dead. I’d call that a win.’

‘It might not have been him. Diall is just one piece of the puzzle.’

I opened my mouth to argue but the expression on Winter’s face stopped me. I supposed it had been worth a try. ‘If we recover the Manuscript,’ I asked hopefully, ‘do you think we’ll get a holiday as a bonus?’

‘You’ve only been working for three days. Why on earth would you need a holiday?’

Given what we’d been through, that was an inane question. ‘If you have to ask then you’ll never understand.’

Winter arched an eyebrow in my direction. ‘You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?’

‘Hell, yes. Getting half-drowned and seeing dead bodies is the most fun I’ve had in years.’

Amusement flickered in his eyes. ‘I mean pretending to be lazy and needing a break.’ He leant forward. ‘Secretly, you love this. You just don’t want to admit it.’

‘I don’t love it,’ I declared, a tad too loudly. ‘I love sleeping and watching TV and reading books and occasionally getting up to make a cup of tea.’

‘Yeah, yeah.’ His eyes gleamed. ‘Methinks the lady doth protest too much.’

I tutted. He was being utterly ridiculous. I did shift my gaze away from his knowing blue eyes, however.

With a mutter, I left Winter where he was and went into the bathroom. Only then did I pull out the jar containing Diall’s ossombe root. For one brief moment, I examined it carefully. Then I gave a shrug. I didn’t have to use it now. There wasn’t a sell-by date. I opened the bathroom cabinet and carefully placed it behind an old bottle of shampoo. As far as anyone knew now, it didn’t even exist.

Chapter Seventeen

Despite Winter’s admonitions, it was obvious he was of the same mind as I was: Diall had to be involved in this somehow, even if he wasn’t the sole culprit. There was no chance that he was simply an innocent party or that his death was unrelated. Solve Diall’s murder and we’d find the missing Manuscript. It sounded easy when I thought of it that way.

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