‘He doesn’t,’ she answered. ‘He prefers tea. Weak and milky.’ Her expression told me exactly what she thought of his preference.
‘How much of your time do you spend by the kettle?’
She looked wary, as if I were trying to accuse her of something. ‘Quite a bit.’
I pressed ahead. ‘I bet that when you give them their drinks, they barely even notice you.’
‘Sometimes they say thank you,’ she muttered.
‘And sometimes they don’t.’ I smiled. ‘Sometimes they’re in mid-conversation and they barely pay you any attention at all.’
Her bottom lip jutted out. ‘Yeah.’
My smile grew. ‘As a result, you probably know more about what’s going on under this roof than anyone else. You hear things. Lots of things.’ She didn’t say anything. ‘Bethany?’
‘Was that a question?’
I liked her. ‘Am I right?’ I asked softly.
She shrugged. ‘I guess.’
‘Are there any illicit romances going on?’
Winter sucked in his breath but didn’t stop me. That was good. I knew what I was doing. Sort of.
Bethany’s eyes shifted. ‘Deborah from marketing is having an affair with Tony.’ She hesitated then dropped her voice. ‘He’s married. They think I’ve not noticed but they share looks all the time. Brush against each other when they think no one is paying attention. That kind of thing.’
She clearly disapproved. To encourage her, I pursed my lips and shook my head. ‘Awful.’ I crossed my legs. ‘You have an eye for detail.’
The compliment pleased her. ‘I do.’
I kept my voice soft and went in for the kill. ‘Have you noticed anything unusual lately about anyone here? Anything at all? You could really help us out. Winter will put in a good word for you. He’s terribly important but he doesn’t let it go to his head. In fact, he’s made coffee for me and I’m a nobody.’
Bethany thought about it. ‘The HR Head. What’s his name? Adeptus Price? He was round here looking for Adeptus Diall. He seemed quite desperate to talk to him.’
‘Did he say why?’
‘No. He was pretty frantic though.’
I exchanged glances with Winter. ‘Anything else?’
Bethany shrugged. ‘Some people are missing. We’ve not seen them for days. No one’s saying anything because they think that they’re on some kind of secret mission for Diall. But I know they weren’t expecting to be away for so long because I’ve had to field calls about their missed appointments.’
‘Who? Who’s not here?’
‘Matthew Bellham and Alice Fairclough. They work together as partners. They left three days ago without telling anyone where they were going or what they were up to and we don’t know where they are now.’ Oh, yeah, them. I grimaced slightly but Bethany wasn’t done. ‘And another witch has been gone for ages. A First Level witch called Oscar Marsh.’
A triumphant trumpet sounded in my head. ‘Tell me about him.’
‘He’s a drunk,’ she said dismissively. ‘Adeptus Diall seemed to like him but he’s useless. And he’s a bastard.’
‘What makes you say he’s a bastard?’
‘He was born out of wedlock, of course.’
I blinked. ‘Er…’
Bethany ignored my startled reaction. ‘He doesn’t hold with the old ways. He brings a laptop into work.’ Her eyes grew saucer-wide. ‘A laptop,’ she repeated, obviously shocked at such a heinous infraction of the rules.
She nodded fervently in agreement.
‘When was the last time you saw him?’
‘He left an hour or two after Bellham and Fairclough. He’s not been back since.’
‘Bethany,’ Winter said, ‘could you get us his personnel file?’
She seemed surprised. ‘Oh, I don’t have it. All those sorts of things are kept over at HR.’
I frowned at Winter. ‘Is that typical?’
‘I suppose so.’
I couldn’t help wondering whether Tarquin was involved with this too. He was in HR and I certainly wouldn’t put it past him. ‘Thank you so much, Bethany. You’ve been extraordinarily helpful. You may go.’
‘Sure.’ She stood up and pushed her chair back before bobbing her head and leaving. Once she’d gone, I got to my feet as well. ‘Now that,’ I said with a dramatic flourish, ‘is how to conduct twenty interviews in five minutes. Let’s get out of here.’
Winter didn’t move. ‘There are still nineteen people to go.’
‘Yeah, but we’ve got what we needed. Bethany has her finger on the pulse.’ I grinned. ‘Never underestimate the tea lady.’
‘It’s important to talk to everyone.’
‘It’ll take hours, days probably. We don’t have that kind of time and we already have a new lead. Stop being such a stickler for the rules, Rafe. We can come back if we need to.’
‘This is not the way things are normally done.’
‘You should be happy.’
‘I am.’ He didn’t look it. He seemed rather disturbed.
‘You’re not smiling,’ I pointed out. He didn’t smile all that often and he really should because his eyes crinkled up and he looked approachable and warm rather than – wintry. ‘Don’t worry about Bethany. There are people like her in every office up and down the land. I’m sure she’ll be thrilled that you could talk to someone about giving her more responsibility but she probably loves knowing all the gossip too. She’d be great at the reception desk,’ I mused. ‘Then Michael Weathers could go off and improve his magic.’
Winter still didn’t smile. ‘And what if someone whose parents dared to have sex before marriage shows up?’
I shrugged. ‘She’s old-fashioned. And yes, a bit odd. But we can’t lock everyone for that. If we did, I reckon the two of us would be top of the list. Besides, this is the Order. Weird goes with the territory. Along with power hungry, overly ambitious and downright irritating.’
Winter sighed and pushed back his hair. ‘Let’s find the file for this Marsh fellow and pay him a visit. We should probably talk to Adeptus Price too and find out why he was so desperate to speak to Diall. But we need to make a detour first.’
I wrinkled my nose. ‘A long detour?’
‘We can take fifteen minutes out.’ His jaw hardened. ‘It’ll be worth it.’
‘Will it involve stairs?’
I didn’t get an answer.
In the end, I was rather thankful for Winter’s side mission. It was grey and blustery outside, with a chill that penetrated my bones. It was the sort of day when, by rights, I should have been curled up on my sofa with my duvet and a vast mug of steaming hot chocolate. I moaned at the thought; that garnered me a strange look from Winter.
We ended up in a large unsignposted building. I must have passed it on numerous occasions when I was a Neophyte but I’d never wondered what it was. ‘What is this place?’ I enquired, trotting to keep up with Winter’s long-legged march. ‘And can you slow down?’
‘I promised you fifteen minutes. I would hate to go back on my word.’ He still didn’t tell me where we were.
We swerved round the corner and came out into a vast atrium. I gasped. It was really quite something. Even with the grey skies outside, the light filtering in through the glass was extraordinary. There were plants everywhere, some of which I recognised, some I didn’t. Every shade of green was represented and the earthy smell that filled the space was incredibly alluring. It almost made me want to start my own allotment. Almost.
‘Let me guess. This is for herb lovers like you?’
There was a strange chattering sound. I spotted a squirrel with an impressively bushy tail disappearing into the undergrowth. ‘Hey!’ I exclaimed. ‘That squirrel was red!’ I turned to Winter and realised he was watching me carefully.
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘It’s part of a programme we’re undertaking to help the red squirrels return in full force to the countryside now that we’re over-run by greys.’ He pointed to a patch of tall plants. ‘Look at these.’
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