I felt really bad about the security guard but sleep would probably be the best thing for him. It would give him a chance to recoup his strength. I’d keep telling myself that. ‘Can you wiggle free?’
Winter snorted. At least three of the police officers who were standing around waiting for orders swung their heads towards him, their eyes narrowing. ‘Piece of cake.’
Two of the policemen peeled off and moved towards us. ‘Then hurry.’
Winter laughed softly and I felt the bonds loosen instantly. Damn, that was good. ‘On a count of three.’
The nearest policeman glared at us. ‘What are you two up to?’
Together we chanted, ‘Three.’
Magical power billowed up inside me, expanding outwards and suffusing the room. I felt Winter’s magic mingle with mine until you could barely tell the difference between the two strands. The spell coalesced and the magic danced – and the mingled policemen dropped like flies.
‘Wow,’ I whispered.
Winter stood up and turned, pulling me to my feet and gazing into my eyes. ‘You felt that too?’
‘Yeah.’ I licked my lips and we smiled at each other gleefully, as if we were Bonnie and Clyde. There was definitely a thrill in breaking the law, even if it was done with the best of intentions. I drew in a shaky breath. Then we got moving.
Taking a moment out, I checked on the hapless security guard and pulled off the policeman who was now snoring on top of him. I turned the guard carefully onto his back, adjusting his head so that he’d be comfortable and wouldn’t choke on his own tongue. My eyes drifted down to his badge. Alan Hopkins. So that was his name. Sorry, mate.
‘Ivy,’ Winter said, ‘if you’re wishing that you were fast asleep like this lot, can you do it from outside when we’re in place and ready for Blackbeard?’
For once the thought of sleep hadn’t even occurred to me, even though my head was still pounding. I guess Winter was affecting me much as I was affecting him. I flashed him a quick smile and we darted out.
My trusty taxi was sitting exactly where I’d left it, although now it was concealed by the police cars parked haphazardly outside the crematorium. Brutus had apparently slept through the entire ruckus. I’d have thought that our spell had affected him as well, except that he let out a tiny miaow when we got inside, followed by a half-hearted demand for food. I reached back and gave him a quick scratch behind his ears and he immediately fell asleep again. Oh, to be a cat.
We didn’t have to wait long. Dusk had now fallen and the headlights of the approaching vehicle could be seen for miles. Winter and I hunkered down and waited. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted this to be Blackbeard – Hal Prescott – or not. It would be good to get this over and done with but I wasn’t feeling my best. I had my doubts about Winter, as well. His right eye was puffing up and the skin around it was turning a vivid purple colour. He was probably in as much pain as I was. But if this really were Blackbeard, we couldn’t afford to hide in the corner and lick our wounds. We would be forced to act.
‘We’re heroes,’ I said aloud.
Winter shot me a look. ‘With massive egos.’
I shrugged. ‘False modesty is a waste of time. Besides, look at us. I’m covered in sick and you’re covered in blood. We’re both covered in bruises and could do with some serious medical attention. But we’re still here and we’re still going to take on Blackbeard. If we can find him.’
Winter’s response was quiet. ‘What other choice is there?’
The car pulled into the car park and came to a halt. ‘Hush,’ Winter cautioned.
I nodded and slid further down in my seat. ‘Stay down, Brutus,’ I said unnecessarily.
The car’s engine was switched off. Although it was difficult to tell what make it was given the poor light, the car was certainly large and expensive. That engine hadn’t growled, it had purred. Dead pets paid well.
Winter and I held our breath but we needn’t have bothered. Only one figure got out of the car and it definitely wasn’t Blackbeard. Whoever this was, they were clean shaven, with a full head of hair and a far slighter build. Daddy, then. But where was his bearded bastard of a witch-killing son?
We waited until Prescott senior vanished into the main building then I turned on the taxi engine and drove us out of there, turning left at the crossroads.
‘Maybe we should have stayed,’ Winter said. ‘Blackbeard is bound to show up sooner or later.’
‘So are more police,’ I pointed out. ‘Prescott isn’t going to hang around and wait for that lot to wake up, is he? He’s going to call in the cavalry. We need to skedaddle.’
Winter shook his head as if what we’d just done was only just starting to sink in. He passed a hand over his forehead. ‘What a mess.’
I reached across and patted his arm. ‘Look on the bright side. You can’t get fired.’
He didn’t seem entirely appeased.
I flicked on the indicator to turn right. A heartbeat later, I changed my mind. ‘Do you see that?’ I said.
‘See what?’ Winter grunted. His former life was probably still passing in front of his eyes.
‘That building in front of us. It’s pretty swanky, right?’
He glanced over. ‘I suppose.’
‘And it looks new?’
Winter peered more closely out of the window. ‘Yes.’
I grinned. ‘Raphael Winter, you are a very lucky man. If I weren’t such a conscientious witch, we’d still be up the creek without a paddle. I’ve just found us a boat engine. If Mahomet won’t come to the mountain…’
He was still confused. ‘What on earth are you going on about?’
My grin widened. ‘While you were snoozing, Alan the security guard mentioned that Blackbeard, aka Hal Prescott, lives in a swanky new apartment building. That, my friend, is a very swanky, very new apartment building. And it just happens to be a few miles from the family crematorium. Handy, huh?’ I threw him a sidelong look. ‘What’s that gut instinct telling you now?’
Winter sat up straight and flexed his fingers. ‘Ivy Wilde,’ he breathed. ‘I’m head over heels in love with you.’
We were on a clock; it wouldn’t be long before the police were dispatched to this address. Somehow I didn’t think you could send half a squadron to sleep and not expect every stone not to be turned by the police officers who were still awake. If they had any common sense, they’d come here eventually. In any case, even if time weren’t of the essence, I’d lost patience with working surreptitiously. Winter obviously felt the same. We didn’t even discuss the matter; we simply strolled through the front doors, ignoring the well-placed CCTV cameras and walked up to the sleepy-looking security guard at the front desk.
‘Hal Prescott,’ I said. ‘Where is he?’
The guard blinked and stifled a yawn. Then he took in our vomity, bloody, bruisy appearances and sat up straight. ‘Er, who are you?’
It was Winter who answered. ‘Adeptus Exemptus Raphael Winter from the Hallowed Order of Magical Enlightenment. We need to find Hal Prescott immediately.’ He leaned forward. ‘It’s a matter of life and death.’
Our less than salubrious appearances must have added credence to Winter’s words. The guard was more than eager to help us out. ‘Of course, sir,’ he said. His cheeks turned bright red. ‘I mean Adeptus Exceptus. Exemptus. Shit. Sorry.’ He coughed. ‘Shit.’
‘Don’t worry about it,’ I said. ‘Civilians often struggle when confronted by us for the first time.’
He nodded vigorously, obviously relieved that I’d given him reason to act like a stumbling numpty, and turned to his computer. Unfortunately, his relief didn’t last long. After a few frantic key taps, his brows knitted together anxiously. ‘I’m afraid, Mr Prescott isn’t here. He’s informed us that he’ll be away for the next week at least.’
A whole week? My stomach dropped. Whatever Blackbeard was planning, we could be certain that it would be catastrophic. His supposed interview as part of Clare’s coven was on Tuesday; that left at least five more days for him to cause even more havoc and kill even more people.