I cast a doubtful look at the slumbering witch. There was no chance this was our man. Winter seemed to read my thoughts. ‘Appearances can be deceptive, Ivy. Perhaps he’s sleeping off a hangover because his guilt turned him to drink.’
‘There’s no evidence—’ I began.
‘I said perhaps. And you’ve accused everyone else we’ve met so far. Why not him?’
I shrugged; it just didn’t seem very likely. In any case, Oscar Marsh clearly wasn’t going to wake up without further help. I glanced round the room. Unless I was going to chuck the dregs of flat beer into his face, there wasn’t much that would help. Frankly, the man already smelled badly enough.
‘I’ll find the kitchen and get some water,’ I said gruffly. I turned on my heel.
There was a small galley kitchen towards the front door. It was surprisingly clean but Oscar Marsh probably didn’t do much cooking if he lived on a liquid diet. I was beginning to feel irritated. The Order obviously knew he had problems; there were plenty of things they could have done to help him.
I opened cupboards until I found a cup, took it to the sink and turned on the tap. Winter was shouting at Marsh in the other room. I paused and listened. It still didn’t seem like the man had woken up.
Glancing down, I reached over to turn off the tap. That was when I spotted the small, charred fragment of paper caught in the plughole. I set the cup to one side and carefully pulled it out. It was little more than a few inches wide and had obviously been burnt but there were still a few words visible.
I squinted at them and my veins ran ice cold. I guess I’d been wrong about Marsh. Leaving the water where it was, I went back to Winter. He was crouched down by Marsh’s head, poking him. ‘Winter,’ I whispered. He didn’t react. I tried again. ‘Rafe!’
The urgency in my voice reached him. He turned round and glanced at me. Grimly, I held out the tiny piece of paper. ‘I probably should have worn gloves,’ I said apologetically, realising that I had probably contaminated the evidence.
Winter stood up and took the paper. It took less than a second for its meaning to sink in. His face shuttered and something indefinable flashed in his eyes. Without another word he spun round, marched back to Marsh and hauled him upwards by the scruff of his neck.
Even Winter’s violent tug didn’t immediately wake up the witch. He emitted a groan. When Winter shook him, he finally opened his eyes, bleary confusion in their murky brown depths.
‘Wh – what?’ Marsh gabbled.
‘Philosophus Oscar Marsh, you are under arrest by proclamation of the Hallowed Order of Magical Enlightenment,’ Winter spat, using official Order language. ‘Any attempt to use magic to provoke, conceal or avoid taking responsibility for your actions will be held against you, regardless of your guilt or innocence. You are entitled to legal representation and to apply to the non-magical courts for consideration.’
Marsh still didn’t seem to understand what was going on. I didn’t blame him: one minute he was comatose in a puddle of his own spit and the next he had a furious Adeptus yelling at him. Then my gaze drifted downwards and I noticed that among the other stains on his grubby T-shirt there was definitely blood. My sympathy vanished in an instant.
‘What have I done?’ He blinked rapidly as if trying to remember.
‘You stole the Ipsissimus’s sceptre and Volume 9 of the Cypher Manuscript. Finally,’ Winter hissed, ‘you murdered Adeptus Exemptus Diall.’
Marsh just gaped at him. ‘I don’t think…’ He moaned. ‘I have a really sore head. Could we do this some other time?’
Winter laughed coldly in his face. ‘Not likely. Your time is up.’
By the time we finally left with the hapless Marsh in tow, his house was swarming with witches. I had to resist the temptation to point out gleefully to Winter that I’d been right about the smell; the poor Arcane Branch pair who’d been tasked with sorting through Marsh’s rubbish had already found the remnants of a kebab and some half-eaten chips smothered in now-rancid curry sauce.
I was sitting with our charge in the back of the Order van as he was driven back to headquarters. There was a peculiar odour in the air; I’d have said it was Marsh but the only things he smelled of were stale chilli sauce, alcohol and sour sweat. Nobody said a word during the journey. It wasn’t until we ended up in a small room in the Arcane Branch building that it seemed appropriate to speak.
We took our seats opposite a pale and sweating Marsh who was now dressed in a paper jumpsuit. ‘Do you know,’ I said to Winter, ‘this is the first time I’ve been here? I’ve been working for you for weeks and I’ve never stepped into this building.’
Winter look at me strangely. ‘It’s only been a few days. It’s hardly been weeks.’
‘It feels like weeks.’
He rolled his eyes.
Oscar Marsh paid us very little attention. I cleared my throat and leant forward. ‘Oscar,’ I said. ‘Have you been here before?’
The question didn’t seem to register initially. ‘Wh – what?’
‘Have you been to Arcane Branch before?’
‘Uh,’ he scratched his head as if trying to remember. ‘Yeah, a few times.’
‘Why don’t you tell us about them?’ I prodded. If Marsh had priors, I wanted to know about them. Given the luck we’d had so far in procuring any files, I didn’t rate our chances of finding out the information from the Order itself.
‘Uh,’ he said again. It appeared to be a favourite word of his. ‘There was that time I fell into the lake.’
I shot Winter a confused look. He nodded. ‘Do you mean the duck pond round the back of Geomancy?’ he asked.
‘Yeah, yeah,’ Marsh said. ‘No ducks, though. Just lots of green stuff.’
I sat back in my chair. ‘That seems a bit unfair, getting questioned by Arcane Branch simply for a little stumble.’
Marsh’s nose twitched. ‘I turned the water into vodka. I was trying to drink it when I fell in.’
I raised my eyebrows. No wonder there weren’t any ducks around. I didn’t think paddling around in a lake of alcohol would be the favourite pastime of a bird – although it didn’t sound all that bad to me. ‘You don’t like wine?’ I asked.
‘Never mind.’ I kept my eyes on him. ‘When else?’
He twitched again. ‘When else what?’
Either the man had the memory of a goldfish or he was good at avoiding answering questions. ‘When else did you visit Arcane Branch?’
‘There was the time I lost the building specs for Windsor Castle,’ he said. ‘I don’t know what all the fuss was about. They turned up.’
Intrigued, I drummed my fingers against the table top. ‘Where were they?’
He shrugged. ‘In a drawer. I’d forgotten I’d put them there.’
‘A drawer where?’ Winter asked.
Winter sat up even straighter than normal. ‘You took important documents home with you and lost them?’
‘It was only the one time,’ Marsh grumbled. He rubbed at his face. ‘Is this going to take long? I really don’t feel very well at all. I think I might be sick.’
Winter picked up a small bin. ‘Here you go,’ he said without a trace of a smile. ‘Be sick into this.’
Marsh took the bin and hugged it to his chest. I really hoped he held onto the contents of his stomach; I rarely did well with other people’s vomit.
‘So,’ Winter said, all but rubbing his palms together. ‘You have experience of taking documents which don’t belong to you. Why don’t you tell us what you did with Volume 9?’
‘Volume 9?’ Marsh whispered. ‘You mean of the Cypher Manuscripts? You mentioned that before.’
‘Yes.’ Winter folded his arms. ‘I did. Where is it? We know you’ve burnt at least one page. Where is the rest?’
Marsh swallowed. ‘I don’t know anything about it. I’ve never been near the Cypher Manuscripts. I’ve never even looked at them in the library.’
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