‘Let’s not rush to any conclusions.’ He reached into his pocket and drew out a long set of tweezers. I shifted away to give him the room he needed and watched agog as he carefully prised the file away from the tape. He pulled it out with the delicate touch of a surgeon, stood up and placed it flat on the desk. I joined him.
It was Oscar Marsh’s file. His name was scrawled across the front in a sweeping cursive script and, just in case there was any confusion, the tab at the side proclaimed the same name. I held my breath as Winter used the tweezers to flip it open.
All of Marsh’s details were there: his address, his age, his position, his medical files. There were notes attached detailing his problems; apparently the Order hadn’t abandoned him to his alcoholism as I’d suspected. In fact, he’d been instructed to attend several counselling sessions but hadn’t turned up to a single one. I felt a wave of unexpected sympathy for him.
‘Smoking gun,’ I grinned.
‘Not quite,’ Winter answered. ‘But we’re getting close.’
I waved the Cypher file at him. ‘There’s this too.’ I opened it up. There was nothing there other than the long catalogue list of available spells but it was another nail in Price’s coffin, even if only a small, slightly crooked one.
‘It’s not enough,’ Winter said. ‘Given the nature of this investigation and who we are accusing, we need things to be watertight.’
I folded my arms. ‘Price had Volume 9 in his possession for days,’ I argued. ‘We can’t just leave him out there on the streets. He could already be putting his nefarious plans in place. We were looking for Marsh’s file. We’ve found it. Bring Price in and get him to confess.’
Winter shook his head. ‘He still has plausible deniability.’
‘We can’t leave him out there to do damage! The easiest way…’
‘This isn’t about the easy way, Ivy. This is about the right way.’
I glared at him. Good grief, he could be infuriating sometimes. ‘So what’s the right way?’
He met my eyes. ‘We find Price and follow him,’ he said grimly. ‘Then we can discover exactly what he’s up to.’
Less than an hour later, I pulled up my taxi as close to The Herboire as I could. It had only taken Winter a couple of phone calls to discover that most evenings Price hung out at this pretentious wine bar. I didn’t even know that wine bars still existed.
Winter was already waiting outside, gazing up at the place as if he’d just discovered a new species. ‘Welcome to the nineties!’ I said, joining him.
He threw me a confused look. ‘I’m not sure what you mean,’ he said. ‘And I still don’t understand why we couldn’t take my car.’
‘I meant,’ I said, ‘that no self-respecting millennial would be found hanging around in a time warp like this. And I took my taxi so I don’t have to traipse back to the Order headquarters.’ I gave him a pointed glance. ‘You could have come with me and left your car.’
Winter snorted. ‘My car has all the equipment we need to make an arrest.’
My eyes widened. ‘Handcuffs?’
He nodded. ‘Amongst other things.’
‘Whips? Chains?’ I pushed myself onto my toes and examined his features. ‘Do you spend your free time hanging out in S&M clubs?’ Winter tsked. I smirked. This was fun. ‘So what’s the plan?’
‘We wait until Price comes out then we follow him at a safe distance.’
I considered this. ‘And what if he just goes home?’
‘Then we stake out his house until he makes another move.’
‘But that could be days.’
‘If that’s what it takes to bring this bastard down, Ivy, that’s what we’ll do.’
Winter might be happy to sit around waiting for Price to do something but I couldn’t be arsed. Deciding I had a much better idea – and that it probably wouldn’t appeal to my grumpy partner – I nodded my head. ‘Well, I think I’ll go grab a nap. I want to be fresh and alert for when he puts his newfound magic into action.’ I pointed towards the wine bar. ‘Unless he’s already persuaded the poor owner of this dump to jump to his every whim and we’re too late.’
Winter peered in through the windows. ‘He’s just having a drink. There’s hardly anyone else in there. I think we’re safe for now.’ He said all this with a completely straight face, as if it were possible that Price was going to take over England by subjugating one wine bar at a time. He looked back at me. ‘Do you seriously need to nap?’
‘Oh yes.’ I bobbed my head vigorously. ‘We can take turns. You can rest later.’ Before he could point out that this was a silly idea, I jogged back to my taxi and slid into the driver’s seat. I slumped down as if getting comfortable, aware that Winter was still watching me. It was touch and go whether I’d get away with this but, when he marched across the road to take up position in an alleyway, I reckoned I’d succeeded. It was for the best. I didn’t want to have to trail after Price for days. Or even hours. Winter would thank me later.
I didn’t have long to wait. I was just getting comfortable, with my eyes drifting closed, when Price’s weedy figure emerged from the bar. I sat bolt upright, hastily clipped on my seatbelt and flipped on my taxi-for-hire light. Price glanced one way up the street then the other, caught sight of me and raised his arm. I mentally high-fived myself.
‘Ivy,’ I whispered, ‘Winter was right. You are a sodding genius.’
I put the taxi into gear and indicated, driving the short distance to where Price was waiting. With the dark night and my bright headlights, he wouldn’t get the chance to see who I was until it was too late.
Price clambered in the back. ‘Willowbrook Lane,’ he grunted. ‘And I know the route like the back of my hand so don’t try the long way round.’
I waited a beat for him to recognise me. When all he did was settle into his seat and look out the window, my grin widened. ‘Absolutely, sir,’ I murmured. I caught sight of Winter’s pale face as he stepped out from the shadows and stared as I drove off. I gave him a tiny nod. Work smarter, not harder. He’d learn.
It didn’t appear that Price’s little sojourn and tipple had done anything to relax him. The bruises under his eyes were even more pronounced and he kept twisting his fingers in his lap. He was acting like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders – or a very guilty conscience.
I was debating my next move when Price’s phone rang. His expression contorted in a grimace but he still answered it. ‘Yeah?’
I kept my eyes on the road but my focus was on Price. Was he speaking to an accomplice? Maybe I’d get all the evidence I needed without having to do more than drive around for a bit. I might even get lucky and he’d give me a tip.
‘I can’t do that, Mother,’ Price hissed. ‘I don’t have time.’
He paused as whoever was speaking to him replied. Whatever they were saying, it didn’t please him in the slightest. ‘I’ve got people breathing down my neck in all directions. And no, not just the Ipsissimus. I’ve got a bunch of idiots working for me, all of whom make it very clear that they despise me. That Villeneuve fellow completely fucked up and sent some First Level to the back of beyond, causing no end of trouble that I got the blame for. It was hardly my fault that he messed up. No one understands the stress I’m under.’
His caller said something but, despite straining my ears, all I could hear was an indistinct murmur.
‘Don’t you think I’ve tried that?’ Price half yelled, half whined. ‘They won’t listen to anything I say! I’m at my wits’ end. Even the bloody receptionist throws daggers when she thinks I can’t see. She’s been letting almost anyone in through the door as if she doesn’t care, and she laughed in my face when I tried to talk to her about it this morning. They’re a bunch of lazy incompetents. I’ve had enough. I don’t want this any more. I’m thinking of quitting.’ There was a pause. ‘I don’t care if other witches don’t quit! I’ve had enough!’ He jabbed viciously at a button on the phone and tossed it down beside him.
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