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‘Do you have a mobile phone number for him?’

More key taps. The guard swallowed. ‘No.’

Winter and I exchanged glances. ‘Then,’ he said, ‘you’re going to have to let us into his flat. We need to search it without further delay.’

‘I can’t…’ The guard tugged at his collar. ‘I don’t think I can do that. You need a warrant.’

Winter folded his arms across his broad chest. ‘You’re right. It’s important to stick to the letter of the law. The trouble is that lives are in danger and we don’t have time to get the warrant we need.’ He paused. ‘Why don’t you just tell us which flat belongs to Mr Prescott? We’ll take things from there. Any measures we take will occur without your permission or your knowledge.’

I was impressed. Winter didn’t treat the guard like an idiot and didn’t deny what we were here to do. He did, however, speak with a smooth command that was difficult to ignore and his words had the clear ring of sincerity. ‘If we do nothing, people will die,’ he said softly. ‘I guarantee it. You have the chance to help us stop that from happening.’

The guard swallowed. ‘Okay. Yes. I can tell you which flat is his. But I can’t know about you going in there, alright? I need this job.’

‘All you’re doing is telling us which number he lives in. That’s all. No one will ever know.’ Winter’s voice dropped. ‘Most real heroes are unsung.’

The guard gave an almost imperceptible nod of his head. ‘Twenty-three,’ he whispered. ‘Mr Prescott lives at number twenty-three.’

‘You’re a brave man,’ Winter said. ‘Thank you.’ He whirled round and headed for the stairs.

‘There’s a lift waiting,’ I said. ‘It’ll be faster.’

I expected Winter to disagree but he didn’t. He simply nodded and joined me, stepping inside the lift and hitting the button for the second floor. The doors closed smoothly and he turned to me. ‘I lied to that guard,’ he said quietly. ‘It’s not something I make a habit of. I’m sorry, Ivy. I don’t usually pretend to be someone I’m not.’

I blinked. For a moment, I wasn’t even sure what he was referring to. Then I realised he’d pretended that he was still with the Order. ‘It was for the greater good, Rafe. You were right. If we can’t find and stop Blackbeard, people will die. The end justifies the means. And you don’t ever have to apologise to me, not for something like this.’

‘I won’t compromise who I am,’ Winter said. ‘The end does not always justify the means. Lose your morals, regardless of the reasons why, and you lose yourself.’

‘You’ve not lost your morals. It was a tiny lie, Rafe. You were Adeptus Exemptus, after all.’

‘It was still wrong.’

I wasn’t so sure. ‘We have to find Blackbeard,’ I said helplessly.

The lift doors opened. ‘Yes,’ he said quietly. ‘We do.’

He strode out of the lift with his long-legged gait, moving even faster than he did normally. It was a struggle for me to keep up but fortunately we found number twenty-three quickly. Rather than have Winter agonise further over breaking and entering as well as lying, I jumped in and cast a rune to open Blackbeard’s door. The adrenaline coursing through my veins was a little too strong, however, and the magic slammed the door open with such force that the damn thing almost fell off its hinges.

‘Are you okay, Ivy?’ Winter asked.

I nodded. ‘Yep.’

‘If you’re not…’

I stepped across Blackbeard’s threshold. ‘I’m absolutely fine.’ Then I marched in, ready to do battle.

If I were interior designer for a psychopathic murderer, I decided, I would probably aim to produce somewhere that looked exactly like this. The floors were dark tiles lined with dark grout. Slit someone’s throat here and you wouldn’t have to worry about staining anything. One quick mop and you’d never know that blood had been spilt. I thought of Winter’s desire to scrub away at my bathroom grouting. Next time I got the chance, I would get a black Sharpie and colour it all in to look like this. Job done.

The walls, from the corridor to the living room and the bedroom beyond, were all painted in a stark white. I supposed that some people would have described the style as minimalist. To my untrained eye, it looked depressing. Coupled with the unsheathed samurai sword hanging on a wall, together with the gleaming twin knife blades hanging opposite, there was more than a pinch of the sinister.

‘It’s very … clean,’ I said finally, gazing round the pristine, empty surfaces. How could anyone live like this?

Winter grunted. From the expression on his face, even he seemed to think this place was a step too far.

The kitchen was all stainless steel and more shiny black marble stuff. There wasn’t so much as a kettle on display. Winter began to open drawers and cupboards but nothing seemed to take his interest. I left him to it and ambled over to a wall of smoky mirrors. There wasn’t a single smear anywhere. I shook my head in amazement. If I lived here, it would take less than an hour for them to become permanently streaked with a combination of grease, dust and goodness knows what else.

It rankled that we’d been able to stroll in here so easily. Blackbeard thought very highly of himself. He obviously expected someone to look for the murdered coven members sooner or later, hence the booby traps he’d left on their doors but there had been nothing preventing our entry here. He didn’t think that anyone would be smart enough to catch up to him – or maybe he didn’t care. It wasn’t as if there was much lying around to give us clues about what he was planning next.

Irritated by both the cleanliness and Blackbeard’s apparent arrogance, I exhaled onto the mirror, steaming up as large a section as I could. While Winter’s huffing from the kitchen grew louder, I used the tip of my index finger to draw a smiley face. Whatever happened, I liked the idea of Blackbeard sitting on his perfect white-leather sofa and suddenly realising that someone had been in here and marred his Zen bachelor pad with a cheeky smile.

For effect, I reached over to add two bushy eyebrows. As I did so and pressed down on the mirror, I realised that it felt loose. The mirror moved when I touched it. I knocked on the smooth surface; it definitely sounded hollow.

‘Rafe!’ I called. ‘Something is here!’

He was by my side in an instant. ‘What?’

‘This mirror,’ I told him. ‘It’s concealing something. There’s definitely something behind here. It’s a cabinet or a false wall.’

He stretched out his fingertips, splaying them across the glass. There was a faint clunking sound when he pressed down and he sucked in a breath. ‘There must be a way to open it properly.’

I nodded. It is one thing to use magic to open a door when you can see the mechanism and understand how it works, but you can’t just throw a spell at something you don’t understand and expect it to do what you want. Life doesn’t work like that and neither does magic.

I took a step back and looked around. ‘There has to be a remote control or a button. The glass is too clean. There’s no way Blackbeard uses his grubby mitts to open his bat cave. It would ruin his perfect aesthetic.’

Winter pursed his lips in agreement and we started searching. There wasn’t much lying around; in theory, it shouldn’t have taken long to find the secret key.

‘We know his name now,’ Winter said, as he delved in between the sofa seat cushions. ‘You don’t need to keep calling him Blackbeard.’

‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘But Hal sounds like a friendly guy. The sort you’d invite round to a barbecue and let play with your kids. Blackbeard is an evil bastard.’

‘I don’t think we’re likely to forget that anytime soon.’

Indeed. ‘He’s as calculating and clever as he is cold.’ I didn’t think I’d ever come across anyone who was genuinely evil before. Since meeting Winter, I’d met a whole range of plonkers, from selfish and nasty to stupid and self-centred. There had been thieves and murderers and general evil-doers. But while each of them had committed evil acts, there had been a certain method to their madness. They all had motives for doing what they did; I couldn’t condone their actions but I could understand them a little. Blackbeard was different – there was a wellspring of darkness inside him. Yes, he purportedly killed Clare’s coven because he hated witches but I was sure that was an excuse. The man needed to justify his actions to himself but I’d lay money on the theory that he just enjoyed killing.

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