‘Shut up.’ Despite his harsh command, Green’s voice still quavered. It didn’t help that Brutus was throwing himself against the bars of the cage and shrieking feline misery at a level of decibels that would normally require ear protection.
‘Brutus,’ I said, hoping for once he’d listen to me. ‘Just be quiet for now. Please?’
He paused for a moment, his yellow eyes gazing at me from behind the metal bars. ‘Bitches.’
When he realised who had spoken, the burly police officer nearest me let out a high-pitched shriek that was even louder than Brutus had managed. Impressive. Brutus shut up and stared. Before things got completely out of hand, I tried to speak up. ‘Look, guys, we’re all on the same side here. Let’s—’
‘Don’t say another word.’
‘I mean it,’ the policeman threatened. ‘Say just one word and you’ll regret it.’
‘I told you!’ he screamed in my face.
Alrighty: perhaps he was being serious about the no-talking thing. Winter nudged me with his elbow, which was pretty unnecessary. I had the message, loud and very clear.
There was no waterboarding or strip searches. No mention of a lawyer or even a single question. Winter, Brutus and I were simply dumped unceremoniously in a cell together and left to cool our heels.
Unfortunately, we were not alone. I’d been enjoying the spiritual peace and quiet, so it was alarming to see how many ghosts were hanging around. I guess word had got out that they had a captive audience.
‘I heard,’ a plump woman shouted, ‘that you don’t care about Grenville’s list. That you’re helping less worthy spirits to pass.’ She put her hands on her hips. ‘Well, I died before my time. Anaphylactic shock. I’m not even supposed to be dead, let alone cursed. My son was barely seven when he said he wished I’d never find any peace in death and that was only because I asked him to clean his room.’
‘That was your own fault, Martha!’ bellowed another woman, who had a knife sticking out of her back. My eyes were drawn unwillingly towards it. ‘You deserved it.’
‘Don’t listen to either of them,’ advised an elderly man. ‘I’ve been stuck here for over three hundred years. Grenville’s list makes perfect sense. I’m near the top. Just help me and…’
‘You bastard!’ The two female ghosts rounded on him. ‘You only died last month! He’s lying.’
I put my fingers in my ears, closed my eyes and sang, ‘Lalalalalalalala.’ Then I opened one eye. Damn it – they were still there although they’d stopped arguing in favour of staring at me as if I were mad. Brutus and Winter had the same expressions as the ghosts pasted on their faces. ‘Look,’ I said. ‘I will help you out when I can. But can’t you see that I can’t do anything right now? I have bigger problems to worry about.’
‘Bigger problems?’ the plump ghost shrieked. ‘Bigger than death?’
‘You’re already dead,’ I said through gritted teeth. ‘I’m sorry, but there it is. I can’t change that. There are others who are still alive who might soon be dead like you if we don’t stop a killer in his tracks. I will help you pass over but not today. Come back at a later date.’
‘You have to promise. You have to promise to help us.’
I sighed. ‘I promise.’
She pouted. ‘But…’
‘Let’s go, Martha,’ said the other woman. ‘Another time.’
‘You won’t help us today.’
‘But you will another time.’
There were several grumbles but they all vanished. I breathed out and turned to Winter. ‘This sucks,’ I told him flatly.
He ran a hand through his hair. ‘Yeah.’
‘We could magic our way out of here,’ I suggested.
‘There are witches here. They’d stop us in heartbeat.’
Actually, they wouldn’t. Both Winter and I were stronger than any of them, even in our weakened states. I picked at the drying vomit on my top and flicked it off, vaguely disgusted with myself. He was no doubt blaming our incarceration on his flagrant rule-breaking. That showed what he knew.
‘If I hadn’t broken that mirror, we wouldn’t be here now,’ I said.
‘Bitch,’ Brutus muttered. Just this once, I was tempted to agree with him.
‘The mirror had nothing to do with it,’ Winter said.
‘Seven years, Rafe. Seven more years of this.’ I lay down on the narrow bed and closed my eyes. ‘I’m going to sleep. Wake me up in 2024.’
Winter put an arm round me. When I didn’t twitch, he sat on the edge of the bed. I scooted over to give him room and he lay down. It was a tight fit but he was snuggly and warm. I grinned to myself. By comforting me, he’d stop worrying that all this was his fault. It was a win-win situation. I relaxed and took advantage of the peace and quiet.
‘Food,’ Brutus demanded.
‘It might have escaped your notice, Brutus,’ I murmured, ‘but I’m not in a position to get you any food right now. You’ll have to be patient.’ My nostrils tickled as the smell of tuna drifted over.
‘Aw,’ said the irritatingly familiar tones of Tarquin, ‘you two look so sweet together.’
‘Food,’ Brutus repeated.
Winter and I sighed simultaneously. I opened one eye. Tarquin didn’t just have tuna with him. That looked like pizza. Damn him for being thoughtful.
‘Food,’ Brutus said, clearly hoping this was third time lucky.
I shrugged. My stomach was already growling. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. ‘Food,’ I said.
Winter sat up. ‘Foooooood,’ he groaned.
Tarquin looked from Brutus to me to Winter. ‘You know you three are really strange sometimes.’ He offered a disarming smile. ‘But I aim to please.’ He passed through the bowl of tuna and the pizza then, as we started wolfing down the food, he jangled a set of keys. ‘I’m not just here bringing you a late-night snack. I’m here to free you.’ His smile grew. ‘You can thank me later.’
I crammed more cheesy goodness into my mouth. Anything to avoid having to speak. Being rescued by Tarquin Villeneuve was almost more than I could bear.
‘The good news is we know where Hal Prescott is. He’ll be picked up before you can say “thank you very much, Tarquin darling”.’
I swallowed. ‘What? Where is he?’
Tarquin shook his head. ‘No, you say “thank you very much, Tarquin darling” first. I am your saviour after all.’
I wiped my greasy fingers on my jeans and stood up, ambled over to him and gazed at him through the bars. ‘Tarquin, if you don’t tell us exactly where Blackbeard is, or what is going on, I will reach through here and throttle you.’ I smiled pleasantly just to show I meant it.
He rolled his eyes. ‘You’re the one behind bars, Ivy. You’re the one who…’
Winter stood and walked up beside me. Tarquin’s voice faltered. ‘Fine,’ he snapped. ‘The investigation team did really well. They found a book in Blackbeard’s flat with a bookmark indicating that he is interested in Uffington. There’s an ancient drawing of a white horse cut into a hillside there which…’
I passed a hand over my eyes. For goodness’ sake. ‘Yeah, yeah. We know that. How do you know where Blackbeard himself is, though?’
‘Because the car registered in his name has been located at a small hotel on the outskirts of Uffington and he’s already checked in as a guest.’ Tarquin’s voice was smug. ‘We have the place surrounded. Blackbeard is ours.’ He rubbed his chin. ‘But I’ve suggested we rename him The Bearded Butcher. I think it will stick. It has a better ring to it than Blackbeard.’
‘Tarquin, wait. You know you can’t use magic against him, right?’
He scoffed. ‘Of course! We all know that. Armed police are going to do the heavy lifting. It’ll be the same team that brought you two in. They’re highly talented and more than ready to save the day. With our input, of course.’
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