I clapped my hand over my mouth and looked guilty. ‘I wasn’t supposed to say anything. Pretend you didn’t hear me.’ I started walking away.
I grinned to myself and turned slowly. ‘Yes?’
‘What do you do for Enchantment? Do you know Belinda? Did you see the dead body? Was there a lot of blood?’
The questions came so thick and fast I didn’t know which one to answer first. ‘Er … I shouldn’t say anything. It’s a closed set and we’re not supposed to talk to the public about what’s going on.’
‘We won’t tell anyone,’ Al said slyly.
‘Yeah,’ added his mate. ‘Tell us about Belinda. She’s hot.’
She was also old enough to be their grandmother. ‘Between you and me,’ I said, ‘she’s a bit worked up about the murder and what happened this afternoon. She likes to get a handle on things, you know? The police won’t talk to her about the death and she feels she can’t settle until she knows all the details.’
The boys exchanged looks. ‘We know who found the body,’ the one called Al said.
His friend nudged him knowingly. ‘Yeah. Al knows him real well.’
Al snorted. ‘Not through choice. He’s loony tunes. She’d do better to stay away from him.’
‘Who is he?’
‘Gareth.’ The other boy smirked slyly at his friend. ‘McAllan. He lives at Glen Bart Farm.’
‘She won’t find him there though,’ Al added. ‘He’s not been back home since it happened.’ He gave a derisive snort. ‘Baby.’
It was easy to judge when you were a kid and you hadn’t seen what Gareth had seen. ‘So where is he then?’
A calculating expression crossed Al’s eyes. ‘Buy us a pack of fags and we’ll tell you.’
‘Smoking’s bad for you.’
‘Not as bad as working for a television company where everyone keeps dying.’ The spotty one had a point.
I shrugged. ‘Okay.’
‘Fags first. Then we’ll tell you.’
Arse. These two were smarter than they made out. I nodded in agreement and they directed me towards the nearest corner shop, although they kept out of sight. I had the feeling that the shopkeeper was probably wise to their tricks.
Buying the first packet I saw, I handed over a crumpled ten-pound note and marvelled at the cost. Then I palmed the packet and went back outside again, finding the boys scuffing a nearby wall. I held up the packet. ‘Here you go. You have to tell me where I can find Gareth before I hand it over though. Belinda will be really keen to meet him.’
‘Back there.’ Al jerked his head at the leisure centre. ‘He’s in the gym. Thinks if he bulks up he’ll be in with the ladies. As if.’
Gareth hadn’t struck me as the kind of person who enjoyed a good workout. I shuddered slightly. Even the mention of the word brought me out in hives. It was also somewhat galling that he was so close; I could probably have found him without the dubious help of these two.
‘Thanks,’ I beamed. Then, before either of them could reach for the cigarettes, I drew a rune and set the whole packet ablaze. ‘Up in smoke,’ I said sadly.
‘You…’ Al stared at me like I’d just killed his puppy.
I shrugged. ‘It really is bad for you. You should get a new hobby.’
He lunged for me but his friend grabbed him and held him back. ‘Leave it be. She’s obviously some kind of witch.’
Something flashed in his eyes. ‘No wonder she’s so ugly. Do you ride a broomstick? Will you turn us into frogs?’
I smiled. ‘No. But I will tell your parents if you don’t piss off.’
I received identical glares of vicious hatred. I raised my hand as if to draw out another rune, however, and they got the message quickly enough, taking their bikes and sloping off with only a few scowls over their shoulders in my direction. They’d get over it. One day they might even thank me. I watched them go then turned round. Gareth was waiting.
My unhappy confidants hadn’t been lying. Gareth was indeed in the gym, heaving a barbell even though the pallor of his skin suggested he might do better to lie down for a week or two. He certainly didn’t look like he was having fun.
He jerked in shock and almost lost his grip on the weight.
‘Sorry,’ I said. ‘I didn’t mean to startle you.’
‘You’re looking for me? How did you know I was here?’
‘Some kids outside.’ Gareth flinched. I pretended not to notice. Teenage boys like Al and his buddy could be intimidating but neither of us needed to admit it out loud. ‘How are you doing?’
He put the barbell down and looked at me woefully. ‘Great. Just great. I can’t sleep no matter how much alcohol I throw down my throat. All I can think about every time I close my eyes is,’ he glanced around in case anyone was listening, ‘well, you know. I can’t eat because every time I smell food I want to throw up. And all I get are people wanting to hear the grisly details. Vultures.’
Ah. It was unfortunate that I would be classed in that category. For the right reasons though, I comforted myself. I sat down on a bench next to him. ‘I’m really sorry to hear that. Maybe it would help to talk about it. If you got it off your chest, it might make you feel better.’
He flicked a dribble of sweat from his forehead. ‘Why are you here? Don’t tell me it’s to work out.’
I sighed. Sometimes the truth is the only way out. ‘There’s been another incident on set,’ I told him. ‘I don’t think anyone has died but there’s a lot of blood. The police are doing their best but I can’t help thinking that magic has to be involved somehow.’ I met his eyes. ‘I’m here because I’m a witch. I’m not with the Order or anything like that but I think I can help with the investigation. Whoever did that to Benjamin Albert will probably try again with someone else. You don’t just dismember someone then walk away and forget about it. The police won’t let any witches into the investigation but the fact it involved a contestant on a magic show…’
My voice trailed away. There wasn’t any real evidence that magic was involved, regardless of what the Ipsissimus had told me about secondary sources. But it still seemed very plausible. This was no ordinary killing.
‘I want to stop it from happening again, Gareth, and if you tell me what you saw then I might be able to do just that. I can look at it from a fresh perspective. And,’ I added, ‘I really do think that talking about it will help.’
Gareth watched me for a long moment. ‘I believe you,’ he said finally.
‘That’s because I’m telling the truth. Look, I wasn’t lying before when I said I know a little about what you’re going through. My experience was wholly different to yours and far less brutal, but it still took me a long while before I could get it out of my head. Even if you won’t talk to me, you should talk to someone. You need professional help.’
His head dropped. ‘The police gave me a number for Victim Support but they also interrogated me as if they thought I’d done it. Ripped someone apart.’ He squeezed his eyes shut. ‘No one with a soul could do that to another human being.’
I waited. The music piped into the gym changed to an upbeat number, no doubt to fool people into believing that working out was fun. It didn’t seem to be doing much for Gareth. For a long moment he didn’t say anything. He didn’t even move. Then he grabbed a small towel, wiped his face and looked up at me.
‘What do you want to know?’ he asked quietly.
I didn’t smile because this wasn’t a cause for celebration. Regardless of the reason I was here, my heart still went out to him. I touched his arm gently to show that I appreciated what he was doing and kept my voice quiet. ‘How did you find the body?’
‘I work at Glen Bart farm. One of the sheep had escaped from a field so I went to try and find it.’
A sheep. I couldn’t help wondering if it was the same one that had bled out in Bellows’ trailer. I kept my mouth shut though, and gave him a small encouraging nod.