‘Ivy Wilde.’ Armstrong rolled my name round his mouth. I rather thought I’d preferred Number Four; at least then I’d been anonymous. ‘You’re a witch.’
The plain, unvarnished truth. So much for my undercover work. Still, there was no point in lying about it now. ‘I am,’ I said cautiously.
‘Why are you here?’
‘I’m a big fan of the show.’ I paused. ‘I’ve been watching it from the beginning.’
Armstrong’s lip curled. He clearly didn’t believe me for a second. ‘Who’s been your favourite contestant?’
That was easy. ‘Ally,’ I answered.
He snorted. ‘She’s everyone’s favourite.’
I couldn’t win. ‘Ask me something else.’
‘What do you think has been the greatest magic trick ever seen on the show?’
The fact that he called them tricks told me far more about him than he probably wanted me to know. ‘Most people would say the second series,’ I said in earnest, ‘when three contestants banded together and used their powers to make it snow in Knightsbridge in May.’
‘The weather was already cool for that time of year and the snow shower was localised. Any Order Neophyte could do that. The actual best spell was series four when Jonathon was the first contestant to get voted off. He used magic to heal a cut on Becky’s finger.’
‘He slept for three days afterwards.’
‘True,’ I agreed. ‘But there are very few witches of even Second or Third Level who have mastered healing. The human body is too complex and there’s too much potential for disaster. We’re talking about knitting together skin and ensuring that blood flow isn’t hampered. In fact,’ I said, warming to my subject, ‘closing a tiny cut is harder than fixing a broken bone because of the delicate touch it requires.’
Armstrong scratched his chin. ‘Do you know what happened to Jonathon?’
Yeah, I did. ‘He entered the Order on a fast track to Second Level and he’s currently working in the depths of South America helping out the tribes there.’
Armstrong’s eyes half closed but I was aware that he was still watching me with all the attention of a hawk eyeing up a mouse. ‘Are you with the Order?’
I didn’t hesitate. ‘No.’
‘They want to come here but they don’t understand what it is that we do.’
I didn’t imagine that they did. ‘Would their desire to come here be as a result of the Benjamin Alberts’ murder?’
Armstrong opened his eyes fully again. ‘What happened to him is a terrible shame. But nothing to do with Enchantment.’
‘How do you know that?’ I pressed, half expecting to get my head bitten off and spat out for asking. ‘He was only here because of Enchantment.’
For the briefest moment Armstrong seemed to shrink into himself. ‘Because if Alberts died as a result of our show, I’m sunk before I get started.’ He ran a hand through his hair. ‘And the police have found no evidence to suggest his passing had anything to do with us.’
I reiterated my point. ‘Apart from the fact that he was a contestant, you mean.’
He gazed at me. ‘You seem to know a lot about what happened.’
I gestured uneasily to where the others had been standing. ‘There’s been a lot of gossip.’
Armstrong’s mouth tightened. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I suppose there has.’ Then he apparently remembered who he was and why I was here. ‘There was an Order witch on the train yesterday.’ His voice grew hard. ‘You were on the train yesterday.’
I swallowed. At least he’d not made any reference to my allegedly smelly contagion. ‘I was.’ I made a quick decision. It was highly possible that he’d clocked me talking to Winter. ‘Adeptus Exemptus Raphael Winter. I’m sorry. He’s following me. We were temporarily forced to be partners last month and now he seems to think I’m up to no good.’ I dropped my eyes. ‘I understand if that makes my position here untenable.’
‘You think he’s here for you?’ Armstrong spoke sharply.
I looked up, mentally crossing my fingers. ‘I do think that, actually. Unless you believe he’s here because of the death.’
He folded his arms. ‘The Hallowed Order of Magical Enlightenment doesn’t like programmes like ours. They’d prefer to keep the magic to themselves.’
I refrained from pointing out that what Enchantment did involved such weak magic spells that the Order wouldn’t give a toss what they did, as long as their name was kept out of it. But it was time to keep my mouth shut and see what Armstrong was going to do.
‘Can I trust you, Ivy Wilde?’ he asked.
It was make or break time. I pulled back my shoulders and met his gaze. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘You can. Check my background. I’m no Order flunky.’ I had no doubt that he already knew my history but it was worth mentioning to labour my point.
Armstrong rolled his tongue across his teeth and stood up. ‘You will make contact with this Winter. You will watch him and find out what he’s doing and report back to me. I won’t stand for Order interference, regardless of the circumstances.’ He glared. ‘Got that?’
I blinked rapidly. ‘Er, okay. But…’
‘Just do it. If you want to get anywhere in television, you will move every mountain to find out what he’s up to and keep me appraised.’
Winter wanted to me spy on Enchantment and report back to him and Enchantment wanted me to spy on Winter and report back to them. How very messy. I hoped that didn’t mean I’d have to work harder. There were already far too many threads to keep track of.
‘Okay. I’ll do that.’ I hesitated. ‘I might need some extra time away from my runner duties to…’
‘You’ll do it in your time off,’ Armstrong barked. ‘We don’t need the rest of the crew alerted to the fact that there’s a damned Order witch watching our every move. They’re on edge enough as it is.’
It had been worth a try, I supposed. ‘Sure. Whatever you say.’ I added a smile to show him that I was on his side but he was no longer watching. Instead, his attention was caught by something out of the window.
‘Brilliant,’ he said under his breath. ‘Just bloody brilliant.’
Before I could crane my neck to see what he was talking about, the door to Armstrong’s trailer opened and a man strolled in wearing the most extraordinary set of clothes.
Trevor Bellows. Even if I hadn’t recognised his face, his outfit would have given him away. He had on a long purple robe that didn’t look a million miles away from the outfits the Order geeks wore, except their robes didn’t generally include embroidered stars. Perched on top of his head was a conical witch’s hat with an artfully crooked tip. Frankly, I was surprised that he wasn’t carrying a broomstick. When I saw what he was holding in his arms, however, my mouth dropped open.
‘Greetings and salutations,’ Bellows said with an oddly squeaky voice that didn’t match either his attire or his demeanour.
Armstrong’s eyebrows flew up. ‘Is that a cat?’
Bellows pushed his spectacles up his nose and flashed the director a smile. ‘There’s no pulling the wool over your eyes! Why, yes.’ He held Brutus up in the air. If I tried to do that to him, I’d lose an eyeball. ‘This is indeed a cat. I need a familiar to help me with my spells and this is the perfect creature.’
I stared in astonishment as my cat delicately licked Bellows’ hand as if to show his admiration for all the world to see.
‘Where did you get it from?’ Armstrong enquired.
Good question. Bloody good question.
‘It was fate,’ Bellows said smugly. ‘When I woke up this morning, he was right there on my doorstep. Cats can sense powerful magic, you know. He was obviously drawn to me.’
I reached out one hand towards Brutus. I was going to throttle him. His head whipped towards me and he hissed.
Bellows turned to me, a glint in his eyes as he looked me up and down. Something about his expression made me feel rather grubby. ‘He doesn’t like you,’ he proclaimed. ‘Don’t feel bad. It’s not your fault you don’t have magic like I do.’