My fingers curled into tight fists while Brutus looked away from me and head-butted the so-called witch’s chest in apparent adoration.
‘Who are you anyway?’ Bellows enquired. ‘I thought all the contestants were being kept away from here until filming starts.’
‘This is Ivy Wilde,’ Armstrong said. I didn’t think I was imagining his sudden hint of glee.
All suggestion of friendliness vanished from Bellows’ features. His eyes narrowed as his gaze continued to sweep me up and down. ‘You’re blonde,’ he said.
My mouth twitched. ‘Why, yes, I am.’ How … astute of him to notice.
He sniffed. ‘And messy.’
I crossed my arms. If I looked like I stuck my pinkie in an electrical socket then that was my business. ‘I had a late night,’ I said stiffly, biting back the urge to turn his elbows inside out. It would do the magical investigation no good if I offended the show’s only magical consultant.
‘Now, now children,’ Armstrong said. He was clearly enjoying every minute of this. ‘I have phone calls to make. The two of you should run along.’
Bellows pouted. Actually pouted. ‘But I want to talk to you about the plans for next week when we…’
‘Later. We’ll discuss it later.’ Armstrong grabbed both our elbows and propelled us towards the door. He glanced at me meaningfully. ‘Report to me with your first findings before filming tomorrow morning,’ he said. And that, apparently, was that.
Back outside, Bellows wasted no time. He drew in close to me, with Brutus still in his arms. ‘Listen up, girly,’ he hissed quietly to avoid being overheard. ‘No one is taking my job away from me. I’m the magical expert around here and if you so much as think about commenting or showing off or doing anything that even ventures towards a spell, you’ll be out on your ear before you can so much as say abadarabacadra.’
I blinked at him. ‘Don’t you mean abracadabra?’
‘I meant what I said. Watch your step.’ And with that, he picked up his robe and flounced off. Brutus popped his head up from over Bellows’ shoulder. I could have sworn the damn cat was smirking.
Despite half the world seeming to want to me to become some kind of bizarre double-agent, I spent the next few hours doing nothing more than menial work. Winter had been wrong. There was considerable running expected of a runner and I was growing mightily tired of it.
First of all, the sound technicians wanted coffee. They reeled off their orders at machine-gun speed and then got irritated when I asked them to slow down and repeat what they’d said. I was trying to do what they’d asked and to move quickly, but I still managed to arrive back with a latte instead of a cappuccino and the wrong sort of herbal tea for the hipster with the silly man-bun.
I was on my way back across muddy ground with the correct drinks when a prop guy hailed me and demanded that I send a message directly to wardrobe and tell them that the magical wands they wanted were useless and he didn’t care if they clashed with the contestants’ bandanas. When I relayed this information to two women surrounded by clothing racks, they looked at each other and burst out laughing, saying with a mocking sneer that he would use whichever colour of wand they decided. They shooed me off to tell him that but, when I tried to find the prop guy again, I was assailed by a member of security who growled darkly about the sheep that was breaching the far perimeter. He wanted to know whether he had permission to shoot it or not. I was sent dashing from one end of the set to the other and there didn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to my movements.
‘This is madness,’ I muttered to Amy when I passed her with an armful of last-minute herb displays to decorate the staging area.
She grinned. ‘Is this your first gig?’
‘Yes.’ And it was most definitely going to be my last.
‘Don’t worry,’ she said. ‘It’s just the last minute pre-filming panic. Once the cameras start rolling, things will settle down and you’ll be assigned somewhere permanently.’ She paused. ‘See if you can avoid being assigned to Bellows though. He does better with the male of the species.’ She shook herself. ‘This is my third time as a runner. I’ve been told that if I stick around and do a good job, I’ll be promoted to junior researcher.’ She beamed. ‘I need to go. Belinda’s shoes have some mud on them and she wants me to scrub them until they gleam.’ She checked her watch. ‘Less than thirty minutes to go till showtime!’
Yay. I can barely wait, I thought sarkily as she darted away. I’d not seen any of the contestants yet but I already had the feeling that if I ever saw anything about Enchantment again I’d be tempted to hurl my television set out of the window.
It didn’t help matters that I frequently caught sight of Moonbeam schmoozing instead of moving. I tried on several occasions to get close enough to hear how he managed to avoid doing so little work but, every time I did, someone called for me and I was sent off on yet another errand.
Even Mazza seemed to be in his element, a happy, eager-to-please expression written all over his face whenever I passed him. I noted that he reserved a sweet smile for Amy. If he were the murderer, I’d agree to clean the Order Headquarters from top to bottom with my toothbrush. As for everyone else, I was keeping my options open. I didn’t have any choice; there was no spare time to catch my breath, let alone have a quiet ‘chat’.
By the time everything was in place and ready for the show to start, I was footsore and very irritated. At least with the contestants arriving, things should slow down somewhat. I avoided the eye of one of the boom operators who was summoning me and slunk round the corner of a van to watch as each witchy wannabe was offloaded. Twelve lambs to the slaughter, I thought sardonically, as they trooped off their minibus and gazed round with the same awe that had been plastered all over my face a few hours earlier. They were dressed in all manner of outfits designed to proclaim their inner personalities. The geek. The temptress. The macho guy. So predictable. I loved it.
One of the producers led the merry band round. From where I was, I could hear every word that was said to them. I leaned back and listened.
‘Remember, this is your chance to make a good first impression. The only person who can screw this up is you. We might not be airing for another couple of weeks but you still need to keep the audience in mind at all times. Get them on your side and the rest will be plain sailing.’
‘I’m freezing,’ a female voice complained. ‘Can’t I get a cardigan or something?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous. You’re the totty. That’s your role. We need more cleavage not less!’
‘Suits me,’ a man said. ‘I’m rather enjoying the view.’ Ick.
‘Is there security here?’ another one asked. ‘Because I’m still worried about…’
‘Nothing is going to happen to you. You’ll be absolutely fine.’ There was a pause. ‘It’s time. We need to head to the stage.’
There was the sound of several pairs of feet shuffling. I pushed myself off the side of the van and edged round. I could do this, I decided. Besides, if I were focusing on one of my secret missions, I’d have good reason to avoid making anyone else a cup of coffee.
I fell in near the back of the small group. The last contestant turned round with a start, smiling nervously when she saw me. ‘Hello!’ I beamed at her. ‘I’m Ivy. I work here.’
‘Hi.’ Her hands plucked at her tight tweed skirt as she struggled to keep up with the rest of them. I guessed she was supposed to be the shy, retiring, librarian type. I pegged her for the win. People love an underdog. ‘Harriet.’ Then, ‘I’m one of the contestants.’ She didn’t seem very happy about it.
‘How are you doing? Are you feeling nervous?’
‘No. Not so much.’ The slight tremble to her fingers belied her words. ‘Are we going to get lunch soon, do you think?’
A woman after my own heart. ‘I’m not sure,’ I admitted. ‘You should tell Morris Armstrong that you’re hungry. He’s a lovely guy and he won’t mind making sure we stop to eat if it’s going to help you out.’ I wasn’t trying to drop her in it, not really, but my stomach was rumbling too.