I leaned back further in my chair and lifted my legs, propping my feet on the table. Both Ipsissimus Collings and Winter frowned but they were too intrigued by what Grenville might be saying to admonish me. I made a show of inspecting my fingernails; out of the corner of my eye, I could see that steam was almost coming out of Grenville’s ears.
‘Ivy,’ Winter said, ‘does Ipsissimus Grenville have any insights to offer about Blackbeard? Could he perhaps send some ghosts to search for him? They could prove to be our salvation.’
Grenville didn’t react to Winter’s suggestion. His attention remained wholly on me. ‘Don’t you want to know what you’ve done?’ he demanded.
I started to pick at a hangnail as Grenville started to stamp his feet. Perhaps we all regressed into childhood after we died. Spending the afterlife throwing temper tantrums didn’t seem like the best use of a phantom’s time, but maybe with eternity to contemplate there wasn’t much else to do. What did I know?
‘Maybe he could speak to Clare Rees and the other coven ghosts again,’ Ipsissimus Collings suggested. ‘Ask them if they noticed anything to do with animals, or if they had any pets that died recently. If they used a pet crematorium to dispose of their pet’s remains, that might be how Blackbeard targeted them in the first place.’
I looked up. ‘That’s a really good idea.’
‘I can’t talk to anyone else!’ Grenville yelled in my face. ‘They won’t talk to me any more! And it’s all your fault! Because you’ve screwed everything up, the others all want a new representative! We’ve spent a long time working out a schedule. There is a hierarchy and some people have been waiting here for generations. The queue has been established for over a century and you leapfrog it willy-nilly! That last spirit whose curse you smashed had only been here for a decade or two. He was number 22,633 and you put him at the front of the line! And that idiot who couldn’t keep his penis in his clothes wasn’t much higher. This is what happens when women are given a bit of freedom. They mess everything up!’ He held up his palms towards me. ‘I can’t even bear to look at you. You have no understanding of anything.’ He shook his head and vanished.
Winter raised his eyebrows. ‘Well?’
I bit my lip. ‘I don’t think Ipsissimus Grenville is in a good mood. We might be on our own for a while.’
The door banged open and Maidmont reappeared, clutching a piece of paper. His face was shining. ‘I think I have the place,’ he said. ‘I think this might be where Blackbeard is burning his victims.’
There was a brief mutter from underneath the table. ‘Thank fuck,’ Brutus said. ‘We need to depart this hellhole tout suite.’
I started and looked down at him. Had I really just heard that? He blinked innocently and started to lick his paws.
‘We should call the police and get them to visit the place,’ Ipsissimus Collings said.
Winter pursed his lips. ‘They don’t know what they should be looking for. It’ll be like sending in a barber to do the work of a plumber. It’s not about using magic, it’s about having the knowledge to follow the right clues and find the right person.’
‘There are Arcane Branch witches nearby, some very talented ones. We could send them in.’
‘But they haven’t seen Blackbeard in person. Ivy has. She’ll recognise him faster than anyone else. Besides, if one of the Arcane Branch witches gets twitchy and uses magic by accident, they could ruin everything.’
The Ipsissimus grimaced. ‘But if Blackbeard is there because he works there, he’ll recognise you both and the game will be up.’
Winter drew back his shoulders. ‘If Blackbeard happens to be there, he won’t be walking out of that building unless he’s in our custody or a body bag.’
Even I sucked in a breath at that one. Winter had a way of saying things that could send serious shivers of fear down your spine. It was probably the military blood in him, and the way he managed to be so sincere and yet completely matter-of-fact whilst discussing killing another human being.
The Ipsissimus was prepared to continue arguing. ‘You are both civilians. You have no place…’
‘When you put Ivy on Dead Man’s Hill with an incantation to draw a necromancer’s magic and martyr herself, she was a civilian.’ Winter stared at his old boss, his eyes like chips of blue ice. The moment of silence that followed was one of the most uncomfortable of my life.
‘Fine,’ the Ipsissimus finally said. ‘But don’t screw this up.’
Winter was very still. ‘You forget who you’re talking to.’ With that, he turned on his heel and stalked out, Brutus and I close behind him.
It was fascinating to see Winter transform into icy action. It was if he shut down part of himself so he could focus on only one thing. As a testament to his witchy commando mode (and if only he really would go commando under those well-tailored trousers) I even gave him the keys so he could drive. Then the three of us piled into my trusty taxi.
‘Put your seatbelt on, Ivy,’ he instructed.
‘This pet crematorium is only a guess, Rafe. Blackbeard might have nothing to do with the place.’
‘He has to be burning the coven witches somewhere.’
‘And he doesn’t appear to be involved with, or have visited, any other crematoria.’
‘And this place, Dignity Valley, is in the ideal location with transport links to both Dorset and Dartmoor.’ He paused. ‘Not to mention Oxford.’
‘True.’ I scratched my head. ‘Far be it from me to be the voice of reason and to suggest that our evidence isn’t concrete, but there’s still no definitive proof that this is the place. It’s all circumstantial.’
Winter’s eyes met mine. ‘I know,’ he said quietly. ‘But you feel it, don’t you? As if we’re on the right track.’ He shook his head slowly. ‘I’ve never put much faith in instinct before, it’s always been about cold, hard facts. You’re affecting me in more ways than either of us realise.’
My mouth suddenly felt dry. ‘I hope that’s a good thing.’
‘It couldn’t be better.’ His gaze held me. ‘You don’t have to be afraid of me, Ivy. I would never hurt you or put in you in harm’s way.’
‘I’m not afraid of you, Rafe,’ I answered honestly. ‘Sometimes the things you say can come across as a little scary but I’ll never be scared of you as a person.’ I gave a crooked smile. ‘Besides, I can look after myself.’
‘If you could look after yourself, you would eat healthily, go to the gym and sort out your own damned grout,’ he said.
I smirked. ‘Love you too, baby.’ I leaned across and planted a kiss on his lips. From the back seat, Brutus sighed loudly. Yeah, alright. ‘Time to go and catch a killer.’ Or so I hoped.
It was early evening by the time we pulled up outside Dignity Valley. Considering its business was effectively death – and I had yet to meet a ghost who wasn’t a ball of tension – it looked remarkably peaceful and serene. It wasn’t just the lush green surroundings or the clean modern lines of the buildings, which somehow fitted the country landscape. There was an overall atmosphere that felt wholly relaxing. Perhaps animals were simply more accepting of their fate than humans, though I hadn’t met any ghostly dogs or cats yet so I couldn’t say for sure. In any case, Dignity Valley, despite the nature of its everyday events, did not seem a likely venue for a serial killer. Or mass murderer. Whatever.
Brutus opened a lazy eye then closed it again, immediately going back to sleep. Winter and I climbed out of the taxi and walked up to the main entrance.
‘Maybe I should be wearing a disguise,’ I suggested. ‘You know, in case we bump into Blackbeard.’
‘Good disguises take a lot of time and effort.’
I considered this. ‘It wouldn’t have to be a good disguise. I could dress up as a clown and pretend to be looking for a children’s party. That wouldn’t be hard to do.’
P/S: Copyright -->www_Novel12_Com