Ah. Okay. I could concede that point. ‘Fine. But there must be a way.’
‘Well, I suppose we could—’
‘Who the fuck are you?’
Winter and I sprang backwards in shock. Then, without thinking, I let out a war cry and ran headfirst towards Blackbeard. My head smacked into his not-inconsiderable belly and he let out a loud oomph of surprise. He reached down, grabbed a hank of my hair and dragged me upwards. It felt like my scalp was being ripped out. I shrieked in pain and writhed, trying to kick my way to freedom. My feet connected with solid flesh several times but Blackbeard wasn’t letting go of my hair for anything.
While I swung ineffectually round like a doll being held by a giant, Winter leapt towards the pair of us with his fists raised. Blackbeard let out a guttural, inarticulate yell of rage, confusion and fear. The sound reverberated round my skull while I stared dumbly at his face. Arse. Double arse. Triple arse. Arsing hell with an arsing cherry on top for effort. This was very bad.
Unfortunately, before I got the chance to say or do anything, he flung me to the side so he was free to face Winter’s onslaught. I both felt and heard my head crack against the concrete wall. Pain shot through my body, rippling through me in waves that made it difficult to think coherently. I was dimly aware of Winter letting out a howl of rage of his own. I opened my mouth to speak but all that came out was a strange grunt. Blinking several times, I tried to focus but it was no good. My vision was blurred and two Winters and two bearded men were hovering and wobbling in front of me.
Winter threw the first punch, slamming into Blackbeard’s face. His jowls juddered and blood spurted out from his nose, splattering onto the floor in front of me.
‘Wait,’ I tried to croak. ‘Stop.’
Neither of them heard me – and even if they had, I doubt they would have paid any attention. I tried to stagger to my feet but I didn’t even make it to a crouching position before I collapsed again. ‘Rafe,’ I said.
Both versions of him ducked away from two swinging fists. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to clear my vision. It was making me incredibly nauseous but that was nothing compared to how I’d feel if either of these two got seriously hurt.
‘It’s not him.’
Blackbeard’s doppelganger reached down to his belt to unclip whatever weapon he was carrying. Winter was determined not to give him the chance, however, and shoulder-slammed him, knocking him to the ground. Unfortunately Winter fell with him and both men rolled around on the floor, grabbing, kicking and trying to hit each other. From this angle, it looked like they were making love rather than war but the grunts and yelps of pain told a different story.
My head felt like it was going to explode. It wasn’t a throbbing ache, it was an all-out, searing pain that made it difficult to think. And I was definitely going to throw up at any moment. I sucked in a breath and concentrated. I had to do something before these two killed each other and I should probably do it now before I passed out.
My rune was sloppy; truth be told, it would barely pass muster in the weakest non-Order coven. As long as it did what I needed it to do, though, that didn’t matter. I intended to douse them in icy water. A good drenching, as Winter well knew because he’d done the same to me in the past, was more than enough to jolt anyone back to reality.
Unfortunately, the blow to my head meant I was thrown off my game. From out of nowhere, a shower of ice cubes rained down not just on Winter and the security guard but across the whole room. Within seconds there were four inches of ice cubes carpeting the floor and I was shivering violently.
Winter managed to extricate himself from the fight and rushed over to me. ‘What are you doing? What’s wrong?’
Thank goodness. I raised my eyes to his, an action that took a lot of effort and energy, particularly as I still didn’t know which was the real Winter. ‘It’s not him,’ I croaked. ‘That’s not Blackbeard.’
He frowned. ‘What?’
I opened my mouth again but it was too late. The security guard raised his hand and thumped Winter on the back of the neck. Winter collapsed, his body sprawled heavily against mine.
‘I’ll try again,’ the guard said, blood streaming from his nose and into his beard. ‘Who the hell are you?’
I’d have answered him if I could. I really wanted to answer him but consciousness was too difficult to sustain and the lights dancing in front of my eyes were taking over. Another surge of nausea rippled through me then I passed out too.
I returned slowly to the world of the living. For the first few seconds nothing hurt and I wondered if I were still alive or if I’d joined the ranks of all those angry spirits. It didn’t take long, though, for the pain to make a comeback – and when it did, it was like being hit with a ten-ton truck.
I could have played dead and used the opportunity to learn more about the situation I was now in; that’s what a Hollywood heroine would have done. Instead I moaned loudly, then I threw up. Thanks to the fact that I was now trussed up like a chicken, the vomit ended up all down my front instead of anywhere moppable. I groaned again.
The security’s guard face loomed in front of me. At least there was now only one of him and I was no longer seeing double – but I still blinked rapidly. His resemblance to Blackbeard was quite uncanny but, now I was close to him, it was obvious that this was a different man. He didn’t have an earring for one thing, and his ear didn’t have the tell-tale hole where an earring might once have been. His face was older, with laughter lines around his eyes and mouth, and his dark beard was speckled with grey. The real giveaway was the expression in his eyes; it was brimming with suspicion, worry and more than a little fear. It certainly was nothing like the dead emotion in Blackbeard’s gaze.
‘Ivy,’ I muttered to myself, ‘you’ve really screwed up this time.’
‘Ivy? That’s your name?’
I nodded, then wished I hadn’t because moving my head made me feel sick again.
‘Figures,’ he grunted. ‘I had a girlfriend called Ivy once and she was the craziest bitch you’ve ever met.’ He sucked on his teeth and regarded me through narrowed eyes. ‘Apart from you, of course. You’ve already outdone her. Well done.’
‘You’re a witch?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ I managed.
‘And your boyfriend?’
I could feel Winter’s familiar weight at my back. He was definitely breathing regularly but, given his lack of response, he was probably still unconscious. I weighed up the benefits of lying and decided there was no point; untruths would not aid our cause now. I needed the guard to realise we’d made an honest mistake. ‘He’s a witch as well.’
The guard’s pupils narrowed to pinpricks. ‘What does the Order want with a pet crematorium? And why would you attack me? We don’t do funerals for witch familiars here, you know. We’re not evil, either.’
My brain was sluggish and it took some time to get my tongue to form the right words. ‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. We thought you were someone else. Someone really dangerous. It was a genuine mistake.’
‘I’ve done nothing to you!’ he spat. ‘And look at me! I bruise easily and I’m going to be black and blue for weeks! My wife will kill me.’
‘I really am sorry.’ I licked my lips. ‘We’re looking for a murderer. A man with a bald head and a bushy black beard just like yours, who we thought might work here. He’s killed seven people already. We believe he’s planning to kill more. Believe me, no one is more upset than me that you’re not him.’
The security guard stared at me. Something about his expression made me sit up straight. ‘You know who I’m talking about,’ I breathed.
‘What if I do? How do I know you are who you say you are? Maybe you just have a thing against beards.’
‘You know that’s ridiculous, right?’ I hesitated. ‘Although I’ve always wondered whether you end up with lots of food in your beard when you eat. Do you find yourself picking out crumbs later on and having them as a snack?’
He looked me as if I were mad. Yeah, alright, but at least it was making him realise that I wasn’t a dangerous witch who’d turn him into a frog and that I was just nutty. Nutty enough to mistake him for someone else.
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