‘Your shoes are too sensible. They probably have expensive non-slip soles. Now if you took them off and tried in your socks…’
He tilted his head. ‘Don’t push your luck, Ivy.’
I winked at him. ‘You gave me the opening, Raphael.’
For a long moment he was silent. When he spoke, I barely heard him. ‘Rafe.’
Winter cleared his throat. ‘It’s Rafe. Nor Raphael. I’m not an angel.’
‘You just look like one,’ I said, the words out of my mouth before I could stop them. ‘I mean…’ Ah, darn it. I shrugged. ‘You’re a remarkably good-looking guy.’
He met my eyes. I thought he looked rather pleased. ‘You’re not so bad yourself.’
‘I’ll take that,’ I said cheerfully. ‘It beats being told I need to go on a diet.’
Winter had the grace to redden slightly. Before he could apologise – and end up embarrassing us both even more – I pulled back my shoulders and stopped monkeying around. ‘We should get going.’
He nodded. ‘Yes.’ Then, ‘You’re becoming a bad influence on me.’
I patted him on the shoulder. ‘Then there’s hope for you yet.’
We walked, rather than slid, towards the reception desk. A smartly dressed man without a hair out of place greeted us. ‘I’ve always wanted to do that,’ he confided in a delighted tone.
Winter, embarrassed at having been caught doing something that didn’t involve marching like a sergeant major, frowned. ‘I’m Adeptus Exemptus Winter,’ he said. ‘And this is my associate, Ivy Wilde.’
Much as I liked being described as Winter’s associate, I needed to come up with a title for myself so that I sounded as grand as Winter. Supinus Wondrous, perhaps. Both Winter and the receptionist looked at me strangely and I realised I must have said it out loud. Oops. I grinned and stuck out my hand. ‘Nice to meet you.’
The perfectly coiffed man smiled back, although a touch more nervously now that he knew who he was dealing with. Winter seemed to have that effect on a lot of people. ‘We’ve been expecting you,’ he said. ‘I’m to take you to one of our meeting rooms.’
He stepped out from behind the desk and led the way. I was tempted to start sliding again but the moment had passed. Instead I decided to fill the silence with something more helpful. ‘What’s your name?’
He didn’t turn around. ‘Michael Weathers.’
‘And did you know Adeptus Exemptus Diall well?’ I enquired.
‘He didn’t speak to me very often,’ Weathers answered. ‘But I’m only a Neophyte and I don’t have much aptitude for magic. I mean,’ he said hastily, with a backward glance at Winter, ‘I can do the basics but I’m not that talented.’
‘Maybe you just need to find your niche,’ I suggested.
‘I thought I was doing well,’ he said in a low voice. ‘But Adeptus Diall set me straight. I have a lot to learn. I’m not sure I’ll ever progress.’
I nudged Winter meaningfully. Maybe Diall hadn’t just worked on elevating those whose talent was inferior; he might also have tried to keep down those with genuine abilities. So much for Order honour.
Winter nodded, acknowledging my meaning. ‘What have your duties been?’ he asked Weathers.
‘Manning the desk. That’s what I do.’
‘You’ve not been sent out on any recent errands?’
Weathers let out a humourless laugh. ‘No. I don’t go anywhere.’
No doubt Winter would insist on double-checking this but I was certain that the receptionist was telling the truth; we weren’t going to find anything more useful from him.
‘You know,’ I said, feeling sorry for the young man, ‘we would make a great team. The three of us, I mean. We’d be Wilde Wintry Weather. We should start our own agency immediately.’
Winter raised his eyes to the heavens. I shrugged. I thought it was a great idea. Judging by the way Weathers’ shoulders were shaking, he did too.
Weathers deposited the pair of us in a pentagonal meeting room; another acknowledgment of the abilities of Geomancy no doubt. Seemingly from out of nowhere, Winter pulled out a sheet of paper with a list of names on it. I peered over his shoulder. There had to be at least twenty people. I heaved a silent sigh of despair. We were going to be here forever.
‘You should take the lead in the interviews,’ Winter said, surprising me.
I blinked. ‘Why?’
‘Because people seem to like you. You have a way of getting them to open up. Look at that man there. Weathers. I thought he was going to tell you his whole life story.’
I pursed my lips. ‘I’ve been a taxi driver for quite a few years,’ I said. ‘And people like to chat. Maybe it’s rubbed off.’ I grinned. ‘That, or I’m supremely talented.’
Winter smirked as if the idea were ridiculous and I punched him in the arm. He yelped, startling the first interviewee who almost backed out of the room again.
‘Come in, come in!’ I called out cheerfully. ‘I’m just beating up my associate.’
The woman shuffled into the room, throwing me a wary glance. She sat down on the chair in front of us, perching on the edge in case she had to make a run for it. So much for my winning ways.
I knitted my fingers underneath my chin and relaxed. ‘Hi.’ I checked the sheet. ‘Bethany.’
‘Hi,’ she responded.
I thought about how to start. Given how many names there were on the list, and that I wanted to get home again before the next millennium was up, I decided there was no point in beating around the bush. ‘Have you ever stolen anything for Adeptus Diall?’
Shock rippled across her face. ‘What? I … what? No!’
‘What was the last thing he asked you to do?’
‘Make him a cup of coffee.’
I leant forward. ‘How did he take his coffee?’
‘Three sugars.’ She stared wildly at Winter as if praying he would rescue her. He didn’t.
‘You may go now,’ I said, dismissing her.
‘Go! Shoo!’ I waved her off. ‘Send in the next one.’
As soon as she left the room, Winter leant across to me. ‘Ivy,’ he said patiently. ‘The reason I said you could take the lead is because you’re nice to people. It encourages them to tell the truth. I don’t think the approach you just used is going to do that.’
‘We’re on a clock though, aren’t we? We need to find the missing Cypher Manuscript before whoever’s taken it grasps all of its magic.’
He looked at me suspiciously. ‘Is that the only reason?’
‘Of course!’ I smiled innocently.
‘Why did you ask her how Diall takes his coffee?’
‘To see whether she was lying or not. The devil is in the detail. She didn’t hesitate. She’s nothing more than a coffee flunky.’ I amended this slightly. ‘At least as far as Diall was concerned.’ I paused. Hang on a second.
The next witch was edging into the room. I held up my hand and he halted in mid-step. ‘Bring Bethany back.’ He didn’t say a word but turned on his heel and did as I asked.
‘Actually,’ I murmured in an aside to Winter, ‘this power thing is kind of fun. If we get Volume 9 back maybe I should keep it for a while. It’s not as if you lot can look after it safely.’
Winter tutted as Bethany, looking more nervous than before, came back in. ‘Sit down, please,’ I told her.
She did as I asked. ‘What is it?’
I leant forward. Bethany leant back. ‘I’m going to assume that you make coffee for a lot of people in this office.’
Her eyes darted to Winter. He was watching me intently. ‘I suppose.’
‘That must be a bit shit. You’re just as much of a witch as them, right?’
Her nose twitched like a rabbit’s. I was right. ‘Yeah,’ Bethany admitted cautiously. ‘It’s a pain but I don’t mind that much.’
I pointed towards the door. ‘That guy.’ I glanced at Winter’s sheet of paper. ‘Bill January. How does he take his coffee?’
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