‘Then why are you still here?’
He appeared momentarily nonplussed. ‘I don’t know.’ Fear crossed his face but was quickly replaced by fury. He jabbed the barman, who was looking perplexed by my one-sided conversation, in the chest. ‘You didn’t mean what you said! You’re the reason I’m still here!’
‘You can shout at him until you’re blue in the face,’ I said calmly. ‘He can’t hear you. Why don’t you go back to the beginning and tell me why you were really cursed?’
‘I did tell you!’ Willie shrieked.
‘Are you absolutely sure?’
He glared at me. ‘Fine,’ he mumbled. ‘His great-grandfather,’ he said, without looking at the barman, ‘said that if I showed my … parts to anyone else, I’d be damned for all eternity. It’s the only other curse I can think of.’
‘And you ignored him and exposed yourself?’ I probed.
‘Only a few more times.’
I didn’t say anything.
Willie sighed. ‘Maybe it was a lot more times.’
I folded my arms. ‘I’m not sure you should be allowed to pass on. I imagine you caused considerable distress to those poor people who had to see…’ I gestured down at his crotch ‘…that.’
His head drooped. ‘I am very sorry.’
There wasn’t much else I could do. The offense was generations old and Willie had probably served his time. I shrugged at the barman. ‘He has reconsidered,’ I said. ‘He was actually cursed because he continued to flash himself.’
‘By flash, you mean…’
I nodded. ‘Yes.’
The barman swallowed. ‘Okay. So I forgive him for that and this is over? You crazy people will all leave me alone?’
‘After you let us see that room,’ I reminded him.
He grimaced. ‘Oh yeah.’ He sighed. ‘Fine. I forgive William Barcell, my ancestor, for exposing himself so he can now stop haunting me and move on to … heaven? Hell? I really don’t care.’
Willie’s mouth dropped open. ‘Hell? It’s not like I murdered anyone, you little shit. I…’
There was a sudden flash of light that was so bright I had to cover my eyes. Both Winter and the barman jumped. When I looked round, Willie had gone. ‘I think it worked,’ I said slowly, hoping I wasn’t tempting fate by speaking too soon.
‘I felt it,’ Winter breathed.
The barman nodded, his face white. ‘Like a shadow crossing.’ He raised his eyes to mine. ‘Wow. Just … wow.’
I smiled, as if helping cantankerous ghosts pass to the other side was something I did on a regular basis. ‘No problem. Now if I could get some more stew and the key to that room, in that order, it’d be very much appreciated.’
Blackbeard wasn’t our serial killer’s real name, of course. He’d checked into the pub as Nicholas Remy. That wasn’t necessarily his real name either, as I pointed out to Winter when he unlocked the room. ‘Until we know for sure, we should just stick to Blackbeard,’ I advised.
‘Is that because it’s catchier?’
I shrugged. ‘And I came up with it. I’ve not achieved much else lately, so I’ve got to take all the brownie points I can.’
Rather than turn the doorknob and enter, Winter looked at me. ‘Ivy,’ he said, with a funny look on his face. ‘You can communicate with the dead. I’ve never heard of anyone being able to do anything like that before. You just helped a ghost cross over. Without you, he’d still be stuck here. You did that – Ivy Wilde. Magic or no magic, you can do things no one else can. Face it, we might have temporarily lost him but the only reason we know Remy exists is because of you.’
‘Blackbeard,’ I said.
A trace of a smile crossed his mouth. ‘Fine. Blackbeard it is.’
I bit my lip and looked away. ‘He knows your name,’ I said quietly. ‘He knows who you are.’
He reached out and tilted my face back towards his. ‘Well, it’s lucky I’ve got you to protect me then.’
I didn’t smile back. ‘He’s staying in room number four, Rafe.’
‘Four is only unlucky in Eastern superstition.’
‘Eastern superstition tends to be more accurate than ours,’ I argued. ‘And four represents death. That can’t be a coincidence.’
‘It’s just a number,’ he soothed.
I sighed and shook my head. ‘I have a theory,’ I told him. ‘You’re not going to like it.’
Winter stilled. ‘Go on.’
‘I don’t know very much about the ins and outs of the spirit world so I might be wrong. And I might be committing the cardinal sin of getting the evidence to fit the theory. I know how much you hate that.’
‘Ivy, it’s okay. You can tell me.’
I sighed. ‘William Barcell, the guy haunting this place, vanished on Tuesday. He didn’t reappear until this evening.’ I tapped lightly on the door. ‘Blackbeard arrived on Tuesday.’
‘Where did Barcell go?’
‘He had no idea. He thought I had something to do with it but he had no memory of where he’d been. It was as if he’d simply been blotted out of existence.’
Winter nodded slowly. ‘The coven. They experienced the same thing.’
‘Yep. From the moment they died until the moment they were left in Wistman’s Wood, they have a blank. And they’ve all been dumped there at different times. They were all killed at the same time, so their lack of awareness is not because it takes a while for phantomly consciousness to seep back in.’ I drew in a breath. ‘Then there’s the spell you threw at Blackbeard. It’s like you weren’t even trying.’
Winter’s expression closed off.
‘Sorry, that came out badly. What I mean is that there’s no way you could have missed. I saw the rune you used. That was powerful stuff, Rafe. The magic wasn’t aimed anywhere other than at our very own serial-killing bastard.’ I paused. ‘So why didn’t it hit him? It didn’t even slow him down. You didn’t think you’d missed him. I didn’t think you’d missed him. So what the hell actually happened?’
He rubbed his chin with the base of his thumb and looked thoughtful. ‘I see where you’re going with this. You think that magic doesn’t work around him. The ghosts cease to exist when he’s in the vicinity and spells don’t work.’
I bobbed my head. ‘It’s only a theory.’
He met my eyes. ‘It does fit.’
‘Maybe it’s some kind of amulet. You know, like the one that Tarquin gave Belinda Battenapple to stop her from ageing. Or maybe he is a witch and he hates magic so much that he’s cast a spell on himself to avoid it entirely.’ I shrugged. ‘I don’t know. But if we can’t use magic against him…’
‘Then this is going to be even harder than we thought,’ Winter finished for me. ‘Let’s hold that thought for now. I don’t think it’s a crazy theory.’ He sighed. ‘Unfortunately.’
Winter cautiously opened the door to Blackbeard’s room and I held my breath. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting – some kind of booby trap or explosive device maybe – but nothing happened. A musky scent floated out towards us, as if the room hadn’t been aired for days. Other than that, the room was almost identical to the one that Winter and I were sharing.
Winter stepped inside and looked around. I followed. We knew that Blackbeard had left in a hurry but there was little evidence that he’d left behind anything that he would miss. The bed was made, with the sheets neatly smoothed over and the pillow plumped up. There was a duffel bag on the chest of drawers by the window. Winter walked over to it while I headed for the bathroom.
‘Oh, I’m sorry!’ I said, apologising to the young woman sitting on the toilet. I quickly pulled back and closed the door. Winter turned towards me with a question in his eyes. I frowned. Hang on a minute.
Re-opening the door, I peered inside again. She was still sitting in the same position. She raised her head slowly and gazed at me, her dark hair hanging limply around her face. ‘I’m dead, aren’t I?’
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