‘Tell me, Adeptus Price,’ Winter murmured, in a tone that suggested hidden steel and would have sent many a lesser witch scurrying for the hills, ‘why were you visiting Adeptus Diall earlier this week? Apparently you were rather anxious to speak to him.’
Price jumped but he recovered quickly. ‘Adeptus Diall helped me out from time to time.’ He sighed, although it seemed calculated for sympathy rather than a genuine sound of despair. ‘I’ve been having some difficulties with my staff and I was looking for guidance on how to deal with them. Some people don’t have the respect for their elders that they used to.’
‘Perhaps because respect needs to be earned,’ Winter said.
Price stared at him. ‘Quite.’
Winter switched tack. ‘Do you keep all the personnel files here? I wouldn’t have thought you have the space.’
Price chuckled. ‘Well we are Human Resources. It makes sense that all the personnel files are kept here. They used to be all over the place but I have centralized the system. Between you and me, there was a terrible incident over in Amulets where they misplaced twelve files. It caused some consternation, I can tell you.’ His smile dropped. ‘Although not as much consternation as recent events. It’s simply terrible what happened to Adeptus Diall. And the Cypher Man—’
‘Thank you, Adeptus Price,’ Winter said loudly.
The witch seemed to realise his error in broadcasting what was supposed to be a secret, classified matter. He coughed to cover his mistake. ‘Can we get you any refreshments while you wait?’
‘Tea, please,’ I chirped. I could do with a cuppa.
Winter frowned. ‘Just the file.’ The man had no true understanding of what it meant to be British.
‘Fair enough. No rest for the wicked in Arcane Branch!’ Price grinned and looked at me. ‘So, Ms Wilde,’ he enquired. ‘How are you settling into your new role?’
Ha! So he did remember me after all. ‘Oh, it’s fabulous,’ I enthused. ‘But there aren’t enough tea breaks.’
Price laughed, although it was obviously forced. ‘Indeed. Indeed.’ He licked his lips. ‘I am sorry about the mix-up, you know. It was simple human error that can happen to us all.’ He glanced anxiously at Winter. ‘No one’s perfect. And I do have some incredibly difficult people in my Department who…’
Tarquin cleared his throat. ‘Adeptus Price? Could you come over here, please, sir?’
Fleeting annoyance flashed across Price’s face. ‘Excuse me,’ he muttered, turning away to help Tarquin with the difficult task of opening a filing cabinet.
‘I feel a bit sorry for him,’ I whispered to Winter. ‘He’s clearly out of his depth here. And he did apologise.’
Winter glowered. ‘Then in the same breath he blamed his Department for the cock-up. He’s the one in charge. He should take full responsibility.’
I kept my voice low to avoid being overheard. ‘By his own admission, he doesn’t get a lot of respect from his team. Is he another person who benefited from Diall’s work? It would make sense, given he was looking for him for help.’
‘You mean was Price promoted despite being ill-equipped to manage the job?’ Winter watched the witch put his hands on his hips and glare ferociously at Tarquin. ‘It’s certainly possible. He’s only Adeptus Major. But not many witches are keen to run HR. It’s not exactly a glamorous position.’
I’d say. ‘We should ask him for his own personnel file too,’ I suggested.
Winter quirked up an eyebrow. ‘We should request the personnel file of the Head of HR from the Head of HR?’
I shrugged. ‘Yeah.’ My mouth twitched. ‘You are Arcane Branch, right?’ I teased.
‘We,’ he said. ‘We are Arcane Branch, Ivy.’
‘So you’re saying I should ask for it?’
Price began walking back to us. ‘You will keep your mouth shut,’ Winter told me. Contradictory plonker.
Price stopped in front of Winter, looking worried. ‘There is a slight problem,’ he said.
‘Oscar Marsh’s file isn’t here.’
‘Then,’ Winter said, his voice dropping dangerously, ‘where is it?’
‘Geomancy must have checked it out.’ He looked over his shoulder to Tarquin who was still standing, looking bored. ‘Have you got the logbook there?’
Tarquin held up a battered-looking notebook. ‘Yes.’ He scurried over, handing it not to Price but to Winter. Price glared and tried to snatch it out of Winter’s hands; when that didn’t work, he pushed me out of the way so he could peer over Winter’s shoulder. If that bothered Winter, he didn’t let it show. He flipped through the pages, using his finger to track down the columns.
‘Ha! There!’ Price crowed. ‘Marsh’s file was logged out last week.’ He paused. ‘I can’t read that signature. Honestly, some people have appalling handwriting.’
Winter snapped the book shut and handed it back to Price. ‘Thank you for your time.’ He turned away then paused, as if a thought had suddenly occurred to him. ‘Where were you yesterday morning, Adeptus Price?’
He blinked rapidly. ‘Er…’ He looked to Tarquin for help.
‘You were at that meeting. With Practicus Lee. It was on your calendar.’
Price nodded. ‘Ah, yes. Of course.’ He smiled. ‘Despite being a witch, Practicus Lee knows a fair bit about computers. We’ve been looking into ways of putting our records online. Not here, you understand,’ he added hastily. ‘Offsite where they won’t affect anyone’s magic.’
Winter grunted then glanced at me. ‘I know who took the file. Let’s go.’ He half smiled, half grimaced at Price. ‘Thank you again.’
‘Adeptus Exemptus Winter!’ Tarquin called. ‘I can come with you if you wish. I know exactly what the personnel files look like, so I’m sure I can help.’
Winter’s blue eyes were cold. ‘I think Ms Wilde and I can manage,’ he said. ‘She’s incredibly talented.’ He took my elbow and gently propelled me away.
‘I love you,’ I whispered.
Once we were back outside, I nudged Winter. ‘Could you really read that handwriting? Do you know who has Marsh’s file or were you just trying to escape?’
‘I recognised the writing,’ he said grimly. ‘Tobias Worth-Jones. He works over at Runic Magic.’
I whistled. Only the best of the best finagle their way into that department. ‘Friend of yours?’ I asked.
‘Do you have any friends?’
‘Ivy,’ Winter sighed.
I shrugged. ‘Just asking. But I don’t think we need to find your double-barrelled acquaintance.’
‘I have a feeling I’m going to regret asking this. Why not?’
‘Price did it.’
Winter turned to me. ‘How did you come to that conclusion?’
‘He was shifty and nervous. There’s no way he got that job without Diall’s help. And,’ I added, ‘he was wearing slip-on shoes. Never trust a man wearing slip-on shoes.’
Winter started walking again. ‘And here was me thinking you were going to offer something insightful.’
Winter harrumphed, actually harrumphed. I didn’t know people did that any more. ‘Let me know if you find any real evidence.’
I remained earnest. ‘People always think it’s the big muscly guys you need to be afraid of. It’s not. It’s the weedy ones who have a point to prove.’
‘Go on then,’ Winter said, folding his arms. ‘Why did he murder Diall?’
I thought about it. ‘They were secret lovers. Diall stole the Manuscript in order to become more powerful and Price got worried that he’d be left behind.’
‘So he killed the love of his life?’
‘Okay, I’ll admit my theory needs work.’ I jabbed Winter in the arm. ‘But that guy is definitely shifty.’
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