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While Price was being processed and the police were informed, Winter drew me into a small room down a narrow corridor. I looked round. ‘Is this your office?’ I enquired. ‘It’s kind of pokey. You should try out for Human Resources. I hear there’s an opening.’

He ignored my words. ‘What did you think you were doing back there?’ he enquired icily.

‘Your job,’ I said, hopping up onto his desk and swinging my legs. ‘I’m kinda hungry now though. You got anything to eat?’

Winter gritted his teeth. ‘You could have been hurt, Ivy. If Price had turned on you…’

‘He tried and he failed. He was never going to get the better of me. And I never would have managed it if you’d not used culver root to try and get rid of me.’

‘A cornered animal…’

‘Yeah, yeah. My methods might have been unorthodox but I got results. Quit complaining.’ I punched him lightly on the arm. ‘All’s well that ends well.’

‘Is it?’

I looked at him. ‘You believe that Price was telling the truth about the Cypher Manuscript,’ I said. ‘That it was deliberately left in his office by someone else and he just panicked when he found it.’

Winter didn’t say anything.

‘It’s possible,’ I admitted. ‘He doesn’t appear to have the intellectual power to put a plan like stealing Volume 9 into place and the way it was nicked was pretty damn intricate. It didn’t take much to get him to confess, either. It was as if he wanted to tell me what he’d done. But if Diall took the Manuscript, he might have planted it in Price’s desk because he wanted to get rid of him. His little protégé wasn’t working out as well as he’d hoped and he wanted to get rid of the dead wood. Instead, he just ended up dead himself.’

Winter rubbed his chin. ‘No. In that scenario Price would have given Diall up in a heartbeat. Don’t forget that Price said that Diall didn’t want to be incriminated if the HR files were looked at too closely. There must be details in there that prove that Diall used his position to get incompetents promoted beyond their station. The only way to avoid scrutiny of the files would have been for Price to give himself up. It wasn’t the plan at the start, though. Price also said that Diall had promised to help him when he went to him the first time.’

I snapped my fingers. ‘Because Diall thought he had the inside track on you. You wanted to investigate Diall, you told me that yourself. He must have known you were onto him and was already taking measures against you. He was afraid you were going after him. When Price went to him the first time, he’d already sent Bell End and Alice on their mission against Eve. They weren’t there because of Volume 9, they were there because Diall was worried about you and what you were up to. But when Bell End and Alice didn’t come back…’

Winter jumped in, warming to my theory. ‘He must have known something was wrong. He didn’t know about you but that didn’t matter. He thought the gig was up. His only saving grace was that there was no sign of either Bellham or Fairclough so he couldn’t know for sure what had happened to them. Maybe he thought he could blame Price for everything. If Price was charged with stealing Volume 9, anything could be laid at his door and the world would probably believe it. In any case, Diall would have wanted as much deniability as possible so he was prepared to walk away from Price and whatever deal they’d made. With his only ally abandoning him, Price would have been desperate. We know that he used the HR files to find Oscar Marsh. He was being set up and, unable to see any other way out, he set up someone else in the process.’

‘But,’ I pointed out, ‘Price was being set up for stealing the Cypher Manuscript. If Diall didn’t take Volume 9 and Price didn’t take Volume 9, then who did?’

‘Someone with a grudge against Price.’ He paused. ‘I spoke to Maidmont. He doesn’t think that the Manuscript has been touched apart from the single page that was burnt. Maybe we’ve been going about this wrong way. We focused first on the idea that it had to be a higher-level witch who was the culprit and then that it was someone related to Diall who was tired of being used by him. But what if it’s the opposite? What if it’s someone lower down the scale who wanted to see a witch like Price get his comeuppance for being given a position they didn’t deserve?’

I thought about it. ‘Does it matter?’ I asked. ‘Whoever took it didn’t kill anyone. They wouldn’t have had time to read any of the spells before they planted it in Price’s desk. No wonder his desk was the only thing that Price bothered to ward. He must have put the spell in place after he found the Manuscript there.’

‘They might not have kept it for themselves but look at what happened as a result of their actions. Not to mention that whoever took the Manuscript tried to drown us, Ivy.’

Winter had a good point there. Yeah, it mattered. Even if I’d have to work that little bit harder to find them.

He continued. ‘Of course, all this is mere speculation. There’s no evidence.’

‘Of course,’ I responded drily. I looked at him. ‘When was the first time Price’s name came up?’

‘When we went to see him about Oscar Marsh.’

‘But we didn’t just go to ask him about Marsh, did we? Bethany the tea lady had told us about Marsh but she also told us that Price had been round at Geomancy looking for Diall. In fact, she’d made a point of saying that he’d seemed frantic.’

Winter raised his eyebrows. ‘What are you suggesting?’

I didn’t answer him. Instead, I jumped off the desk and made a beeline for the main desk. Price was sitting slumped in a chair with several red-robed witches staring hard at him in case he dared to try anything. I pushed my way through. ‘Price,’ I said, ‘listen to me.’

He didn’t even lift his head. ‘What?’

‘When you went to see Diall the first time after you found the Manuscript, did you go to Geomancy?’

He looked up blearily. ‘What? No, don’t be stupid. I went to his house. Diall never liked it if I acknowledged him when other Order members were around. If I’d gone to Geomancy, he’d have bitten my head off.’

I whipped round to run back to Winter but he was already there. ‘Bethany lied,’ he said.

‘She planted the first seed against Price. It was subtle, so as not to raise suspicion, but enough to make us wonder about him.’

Winter shook his head. ‘What is she? Neophyte? Zelator? She wouldn’t have the skills to pull off the theft.’

‘Not on her own,’ I said. ‘But maybe she had help.’ Winter gave me a questioning glance. ‘I saw her,’ I told him. ‘Yesterday when I was on my way to HR.’ I paused. ‘You know, when you dumped me.’

He rolled his eyes. ‘I didn’t dump you.’

‘Whatever. Anyway, she wasn’t alone. She was with Weathers, the receptionist from Geomancy, and Rebecca, the receptionist from HR.’

‘The one who never smiles?’

‘Right. Except she was. Smiling, I mean.’

Winter was silent for a moment. ‘We can’t interrogate someone for smiling.’

‘Nope.’ I waited.

‘But she would have good reason to be irritated with Price if she felt she was being held back in favour of others who were less skilled. And the other two would have the same reason to act against Diall.’ He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. ‘What if the note about the sceptre we found in Diall’s home wasn’t written by him? What if it was written for him? Maybe the trap in the sewers wasn’t for us at all. Maybe it was for Diall.’

‘And it was just our bad luck that we got there first,’ I mused. I glanced at him wryly. ‘All this from the man who doesn’t believe in superstitions or fitting evidence to theories.’

Winter shrugged. ‘At the very least we should find out where they all live and pay them a visit.’

I grinned. ‘Now? It’s the middle of the night. And we don’t have any proof of anything apart from a little lie.’

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