‘They didn’t give us breakfast,’ she said. ‘And they made me put these stupid clothes on. We’re going to be spending the next four weeks out here in the wild and I have to do it in a skirt I can barely walk in.’
I eyed her sympathetically. The contestants had been here for ten days already and, apart from the replacement, they’d have met Benjamin Alberts albeit briefly. The more I could ingratiate myself with them, the more chance I had of finding out information that Winter might find useful.
‘Stop a second,’ I told her.
She shot a nervous look at the other contestants who kept moving but she did as I asked. ‘I don’t want to be left behind,’ she said.
‘This will only take a moment.’ I concentrated on her legs. It helped that she’d been shoved into a pair of woolly tights. Between those and the skirt, I could do something. Using both hands, I drew out a transmogrification rune. The woman gasped and stared down as the fabric around her lower half altered itself. I stepped back and cast a critical eye. The seams were a bit wonky but I reckoned it was an improvement, at least for tramping around the Scottish Highlands.
She smoothed down her new tweed patterned leggings. ‘These are brilliant! Thank you so much!’ She looked at me in awe. ‘You’re a witch. A real witch.’
I smiled at her. ‘You’re a contestant on Enchantment. You’re a real witch too,’ I lied.
She shook her head. ‘I’m not. I’m only here because I want to break into TV presenting. My agent told me that the sort of exposure I can get on a show like this is priceless.’ Her face fell. ‘But I can’t do any spells at all.’
I revised my opinion; maybe she wouldn’t win after all. The contestants had to have at least a smidgen of magical ability to get to the later stages. All the same, I patted her arm. ‘You should get a move on,’ I advised. ‘It’s about to start.’
Impulsively she reached across and hugged. ‘Thank you,’ she said again. ‘Thank you so much.’ She jogged to catch up to the rest of them, able to move more quickly now. I high-fived myself. Awesome work, if I said so myself.
Peeling away from the group of contestants, I weaved through various boxes of equipment and busy looking crew members until I reached the clearing in front of the main stage. Belinda Battenapple was already there and I goggled up at her. Although her make-up was caked on, no doubt for the benefit of the cameras, she looked as glamorous in person as she did on screen – although slightly shorter than I’d expected. To emphasise our location, she was wearing a short tartan kilt. Somehow I didn’t think the original Highlanders had ever paired their kilts with knee-high stiletto boots.
I managed – just – to resist letting out an almighty squeal and rushing up to demand her autograph. But it was a close run thing.
I stiffened and turned to see Moonbeam standing beside me. ‘I hope you’re not referring to me.’
‘Hardly.’ He jerked his chin over at Belinda. ‘Her.’
I raised an eyebrow. It was the first time his voice had sounded anything other than chirpy and enthusiastic and I was taken aback by the vitriol he injected into his words.
‘Why? What has she done?’
He looked at me as if I were stupid. ‘Made me take this stupid job for one thing. I shouldn’t have to start out at the bottom,’ he complained. ‘What’s the point of being television royalty when you’re forced to work as a runner?’
A whole lot of things suddenly slid into place. I switched my gaze between both him and her, belatedly registering the resemblance. ‘She’s your mother.’
No wonder he had such a daft name – he was a celebrity’s kid. The fact that he’d been managing to get away with doing so little work also made sense; he probably knew half the crew. Not to mention that everyone would be walking on eggshells around Belinda Battenapple’s only son. Except for Morris Armstrong. I wondered whether he’d been deliberately left out of the loop about Moonbeam’s heritage because someone was hoping Armstrong would mess up and piss off La Battenapple herself. He might be the director but she was legendary.
Moonbeam’s mouth turned down. ‘Yeah, she’s my mother. She said she’d cut me off if I didn’t get a real job.’ He sketched out air quotes and snorted. ‘As if what she does is real.’
Poor put-upon baby. I should have told him to grow a pair; instead, I put a soothing hand on his arm. ‘How awful for you.’
He sniffed. ‘Thanks. But I won’t be doing this crappy job for long. Don’t worry about me too much.’
Yeah, okay, I wouldn’t. Moonbeam didn’t seem to realise that I was doing the same crappy job. ‘You’re going to quit?’ I enquired. Maybe I’d join him.
‘A contestant has been murdered,’ he said. ‘And the word from the minders is that more than a few of this lot are running scared. They’ve already used up their standbys. I just need to have a word in the shell-like ear of one or two of them and then there will be a new position that needs to be filled at the last minute.’ His eyes gleamed.
I wrinkled my nose. This time I couldn’t even attempt to hide my disgust. ‘You’re going to scare someone into quitting?’
‘If they choose to leave the show, that’ll be their decision. I’m not forcing anyone to do anything.’ He spoke with the petulant air of a spoiled brat.
My distaste for him was growing. ‘There’s no guarantee that if someone drops out you’ll be given their spot.’
‘Of course there is.’ He leaned down to my ear. ‘That’s how nepotism works.’
Well at least he wasn’t pretending he’d become a contestant through merit. I wondered idly whether I was just jealous. If my family were rich and powerful and I could get away with doing very little for a lot of reward, then I probably would. I reminded myself once again that I was here to get on with people and find out anything I could which was related to Alberts’ murder. I didn’t want to antagonise anyone who I might need in the future.
‘Good luck,’ I murmured.
A loud inarticulate shriek rented the air, causing me to leap half a foot upwards. I whipped my head round, certain that something terrible must have just happened.
‘What is she wearing?’ It was one of the women from wardrobe. She was pointing at Harriet with one hand while flailing the other around in the air. Oops.
Everyone stared as she stalked up to Harriet and began pulling at her new tweed trousers. ‘I did not give you these! Why are you wearing them? Where did you get them from?’
I shuffled behind Moonbeam, trying to hide. Harriet, looking flustered, searched round before pointing in my direction. ‘She did it.’
Arse. So much for trying to conceal myself. Or for trying to help the poor woman out. This was why laziness was not a bad thing. If I’d left her appalling skirt alone, I wouldn’t now have the wardrobe lady’s mean stare fixed on me.
With her hands on her hips, she marched over in my direction. ‘You! What did you do? And who are you anyway?’
Moonbeam unhelpfully stepped to the side, doing everything he could to make it clear that he barely knew me.
‘I was just trying to be of assistance,’ I began.
‘Assistance?’ Wardrobe Lady shrieked. ‘Do you have any idea how long it took to get that ensemble together? Do you?’
I reckoned she’d plucked it out from a nearby charity shop without even looking at it, but she probably didn’t want to hear that. ‘Um,’ I said, shuffling backwards, ‘I can change it back if you like.’
She didn’t hear me. She was already on a tremendous tirade that didn’t involve listening to anything I had to say. ‘You idiot! There’s no time to change it now!’ She glared at my badge that proclaimed to the entire world that I was a mere runner, the lowest of the low. ‘Where is Armstrong? You’re going to get your marching orders! Nobody interferes with my work. Nobody! First they want the wands changing and now this. It won’t wash, I tell you. You’ll regret the day you crossed me, little girl.’