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He wiped some of the blood onto his sleeve. ‘The police are coming. You can explain yourself to them.’

‘And I will! But, please, you have to tell me who I’m really looking for and where I can find him. More people will die if you don’t.’

He searched my face, as if seeking the truth of my words. ‘You could be anyone,’ he said finally. ‘You could be making all this up.’

‘You know I’m a witch. I cast a spell to make those ice cubes appear.’

He pursed his lips. ‘Yeah, why did you do that? It was a bit weird.’

Uh… ‘To cool you both off and get you to stop fighting, of course. That’s not the point. The point is I could easily cast another spell now and get myself out of this situation. I could hurt you if I wanted to but I haven’t done. Because I’m not a bad person. I’m on the tail of a very bad person and so is my boyfriend. We’ll wait for the police if it makes you feel safe but please,’ I pleaded, ‘tell me what you know.’

For a moment, I thought he was going to refuse but something about my desperate begging persuaded him. Whatever it was, when he started talking I sagged against Winter’s prone body in relief. Some good had to come out of this disaster.

‘He doesn’t work here. His family owns the place but he doesn’t have much to do with it. I’ve only met him a couple of times. It’s been a bit of a running joke among the lads that we look alike but Hal never seems to find it funny. I’ve only been working here for a month or so, but I’ve always had the impression he despises me. I assumed it was because we look similar.’

‘Hal,’ I pressed. ‘That’s his name?’

‘Yeah. Hal Prescott. He lives in that swanky new building a few miles down the road. We might look alike but we live very different lives.’

‘If you’ve only been working here for a month, who was in your job before you? Do you know?’

The guard shook his head. ‘No one. I mean, you wouldn’t think a crematorium would need security, would you?’ He gave me a pointed look and I cringed. ‘They hired me because there’d been some trouble with the furnaces. The Prescotts thought kids were maybe coming in and burning stuff. Or that maybe it was Travellers or someone, you know? They were definitely being used.’ He raised his massive shoulders in a shrug. ‘But until you and Blue Eyes here showed up, I’d seen nothing. No one comes here at night.’

I had a hunch that the reason Blackbeard despised him was because he was in the way, not because they resembled each other. Perhaps this was the real reason why he’d drawn out disposing of the coven’s remains. He couldn’t kill anyone else because now he couldn’t burn their bodies without being noticed, so he had to get his kicks where he could. He would have found it easy to sneak in on his own at night before the guard was hired. Now, whether his family owned the place or not, it would be next to impossible.

Another thought occurred to me. ‘You said that this place doesn’t provide cremation services for familiars. Why not?’

He bared his teeth in a grin, ‘Apparently they really don’t like witches. In fact, I heard they think the lot of you are scum.’ The guard seemed almost delighted to tell me this.

Fascinated, I had to ask the question. ‘Why?’

‘Dunno. No one knows.’

Hmm. Maybe they’d had a bad encounter in the past. Maybe there was a black sheep in the family who was a witch. Maybe they wanted to be witches and weren’t. I chewed the inside of my cheek. Maybe it was even something to do with the fact that little Hal was a null. In the end, the motive didn’t matter; finding and stopping Blackbeard did.

Behind me, Winter began stir. He groaned even louder than I had. The security guard shuffled, obviously nervous, so I leaned back my head. ‘Just relax, Rafe. It’s fine. We’re all fine. Don’t do anything silly.’

‘Are you okay?’

Concussed, bleary-eyed and covered in vomit, I replied, ‘I’m fine. Everything is fine. We’re all calm and we’re all happy. In fact—’

The door burst open and several men ran in, shouting and yelling. ‘Police! Nobody move!’ The nearest one jabbed a finger at me as if I were about to get up and do the cancan.

‘We’re tied up,’ I said helpfully. ‘We can’t move.’

The security guard raised a hand to his head. A moment later, a police officer was on top of him, yanking his arm behind his back in a manner that looked both incredibly painful and incredibly unnatural. The guard really wasn’t having a very good night.

‘He’s the one who called you guys,’ I said, in a bid to encourage the police to let him go. Watching his takedown was making me flinch and there was every possibility I would throw up again. ‘He’s the good guy.’ I realised what I’d just said. ‘I mean, we’re the good guys too. We’re all good guys. There are no bad guys. This has all been a terrible misunderstanding.’

‘Call the Ipsissimus,’ Winter said in a loud voice which commanded attention. He certainly came across a lot more coherently than I had. ‘We are here with the full knowledge of the Hallowed Order of Magical Enlightenment. We are also working with a large group of police officers on a serious matter which takes precedence over your jurisdiction.’

One of the policemen, who I took to be the one in charge because his shoes were the shiniest, gave Winter an assessing glance. Apparently deciding that he sounded credible, the officer muttered something into his walkie-talkie. This would all be sorted out in a jiffy. No harm done.

Yet another police officer entered the room. ‘The owner is on his way,’ he declared to no one in particular.

I immediately stiffened. Okay, that was bad. Very bad. ‘Rafe,’ I whispered, ‘we have a problem.’

The security guard started to yell and shout, trying to free himself. All the policemen focused their attention on him. They should have known better.

Winter replied to me over the tumult. ‘We’re tied up on the floor of a crematorium and surrounded by angry police officers, Ivy. Not to mention that I apparently beat up an innocent man. Yes, I’d say we have a problem. Several problems.’

Actually, I thought it was the innocent man who’d beaten up Winter rather than the other way around but I decided not to mention that. ‘I mean another problem. Blackbeard, the real Blackbeard, is a man called Hal Prescott. He’s the crematorium owner’s son and the whole family hate witches. If Blackbeard comes with his dad to see what the problem is and we’re tied up like this…’

Winter sucked in a breath. ‘Right.’ He paused. ‘Maybe he won’t come. Maybe it’ll just be the father.’

There was a crackle on the walkie-talkie, barely audible over the guard’s continued protests. ‘No confirmation yet. Hold the suspects.’

I grimaced. ‘Even if it is just the owner, he’ll see us and tell his family that two witches were caught breaking in. He won’t even need to describe us for Blackbeard to get suspicious. If we can persuade this lot that Blackbeard is the criminal we’ll be fine but I don’t think there’s time. I don’t think they’ll believe us. We need to buy ourselves an hour or two. We need the upper hand if we’re going to bring Blackbeard down.’

‘The Order never goes against the police, Ivy. We always do what they say, even when we don’t agree with it. It’s the only way the two organisations can work together.’ Winter sniffed. ‘But I’m not with the Order any longer. If we can free ourselves and combine our magic, we can create a sleeping spell strong enough to knock out everyone here and that’ll give us time to get away. Even if Blackbeard and the owner arrive, it’ll be a couple of hours before this lot come round and can answer any questions. We should have enough time to regroup and decide upon a plan of action.’

I’d created a monster. ‘Or wait outside for Blackbeard to show up and go with our original plan of taking him down right here.’

‘Yes,’ he said drily, ‘because that’s working out so well this far.’ Sarcastic bugger. ‘Okay, let’s do that.’

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