‘Your cover remains in place. We need to provide for every eventuality and you can sneak around less noticeably than me if you’re just another crew member.’
As if to add credence to that irritating sentence, someone shouted to me from the other side of the path. ‘You! You’re wanted in the tent!’
‘I have a name!’ I yelled back.
‘Ivy,’ Winter warned.
‘Yeah, yeah. I don’t see why you get to be the expert swanning around while I have to be the dogsbody.’
He lowered his head to my ear as the ghost of a smile crossed his face. ‘Join the Order and become my partner for real then maybe things will change.’
Not in the way I wanted them to. I lifted my head and breathed in Winter’s musky scent, filling my lungs with it. Good grief, he smelled divine.
‘Get a move on!’ bellowed the same plonker from before.
I cursed. ‘I’d better go.’ A few drops of rain began to fall from the sky. I supposed at least I’d be inside for a while. Small mercies.
Winter’s hand still lingered on my arm. ‘Be careful, Ivy. If you see or suspect anything, you come and find me first. Don’t put yourself in any unnecessary danger.’
There was something about the look in his eyes that made me think he was very earnest. I nodded and tried to smile.
‘I mean it,’ he growled. ‘No matter what it is, if there’s any hint of danger then we investigate it together. Promise me.’
‘I promise,’ I whispered. Very, very reluctantly, I plodded off to the entrance of the producer’s tent. I was pretty certain that Winter watched me the entire way and I couldn’t help injecting a tiny bit of extra sashay into my stride. Unfortunately, it seemed to be about the only part of all this I had control over for now.
First of all, I had to sweep the floor. Then re-arrange the schedule board to show the updated version. Then make copies of the new schedule and deliver them to all the crew. When I got back to the tent just about ready to collapse, I was ushered into the main space and told to make coffee for all the producers who were sitting around a large table and too deep in discussion to manage a please or thank you.
I plonked myself down in the far corner and sat cross-legged on the floor. It was all becoming too much. I tried to will my legs to work but it wasn’t happening; instead I pushed my head back so I could see the top of the refreshments table. Then I used a quick series of runes to set out the cups and saucers.
There must have been quite a rattle of china because several of the producers’ heads turned in my direction. One blonde woman nudged the man next to her and the pair of them watched as I lazily lifted my hand. At least there was a decent-sized urn with enough hot water in it to do the trick. I ignored their stares and continued. Some of us had real work to do. The group eventually gave up on the Ivy Wilde Show and continued their discussion. I was too tired even to listen, despite their tones of worry and displeasure.
I’d just finished magically dispensing teaspoons to each saucer from my vantage point on the ground when Belinda entered with a young man who I took to be her assistant. He was holding an umbrella over her head and, rather than fold it up, he left it open. I squeaked in dismay. This might only be a tent but we were still indoors. I’d already had all the bad luck I needed for this year.
Abandoning the coffee cups, I lunged for the still-dripping brolly. The man gave me an astonished look.
‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’ I yelled at him. ‘Don’t you know anything?’ I snapped the umbrella shut and flung it back at him. His reactions weren’t fast enough to catch it and it fell uselessly to the floor.
Belinda raised a perfectly manicured eyebrow in my direction. ‘Is there a problem?’
‘I should think,’ I said through gritted teeth, no longer caring that I was talking to one of my idols, ‘that a magical show would know better than to tempt fate.’
A flicker of amusement crossed her face and she exchanged glances with the seated producers, as if to tell them that they’d employed a crazy person. Honestly. I was surrounded by idiots. Famous well-paid idiots, but idiots nonetheless.
She sat down. ‘I’m afraid it’s bad news,’ she began.
I snorted to myself. If she went around indoors with open umbrellas that was hardly surprising. I stopped paying her attention and collapsed in the corner again. My small spurt of energy meant I’d need to sit down for at least another half an hour.
Using some carefully designed runes, I transported each cup to the urn and filled it up before sending it through the air to each seated person. One by one, they all fell silent as my bippity-boppity-boo ensured they were appropriately watered.
‘What?’ I snapped. ‘You said you wanted coffee.’
Morris Armstrong, whom I’d barely noticed near the end of the table, inclined his head. ‘And we thank you for it.’ He reached down and took a sip. ‘It tastes even better for the magic.’
‘Is she with the Order too?’ asked a dapper bloke with slicked-back hair.
‘Let’s just get on with this. You say there’s bad news, Belinda?’
I continued depositing my floating cups. Belinda stared then shook herself. ‘Billy is right. The Bitch is dropping out.’
There was a loud chorus of disapproval. ‘We need her!’
‘I’ve tried. She’s adamant. Apparently she got on well with Benjamin Alberts and his untimely death has hit her hard. With what happened to Trevor’s trailer, she’s decided enough is enough and can’t be swayed. She’s already on her way home.’
Another producer hissed through his teeth. ‘She had the most magic out of this lot. Not that that’s saying much.’
‘At least she’s dropped out before filming began,’ Armstrong interjected. ‘We can use another standby.’
‘Except several of the standbys have already left too. And none of them have the temperament we’re looking for. If we don’t get the fireworks we need, this series will fall flat. We needed the Bitch to cause arguments. We needed some magic. She was a sure bet for the final and now she’s out the door and on the train.’
The woman nearest me caught my eye and pointed to the sugar. I bobbed my head and started a new dance, sending a line of sachets tipping through the air. Casting unnecessary runes like this could be exhausting but I was willing to forego some of my remaining energy for the sake of staying off my feet a little while longer.
‘Your son is champing at the bit to get in,’ Armstrong said.
‘Pah!’ Belinda flicked back her hair with such force that she almost got hit by several sugar sachets. I only just diverted them in time. ‘I won’t have him as a reality show contestant. He’s far better than that.’
‘He’s very keen…’
‘No.’ Her voice was flat and brooked no argument. ‘Besides, we need a female or there will be a gender imbalance. And we need someone who the others are going to hate.’
A tentative hand went up at the far end. It wasn’t seeking Belinda’s attention, though. ‘Could I get some milk?’
I gave a dramatic sigh of irritation and sent a little jug flying over, inadvertently spraying half of its contents across several of the others. A few of the producers leapt out of the chairs in alarm. Belinda, however, turned towards me with a brilliant smile and pointed one long, bejewelled finger. ‘She’s perfect.’
She tutted. ‘I’m serious. This … runner has got magic.’ She glanced at Armstrong. ‘She’s definitely not with the Order?’
‘No. I had her checked out. She has been with them in the past but she’s not now.’
Belinda nodded happily. ‘Excellent. So there’s no chance that our new resident Adeptus Exemptus can get pissed off. She’s obviously not afraid to say what she thinks. Not to mention that the other contestants will despise her for coming in at the last minute. Wasn’t there some wardrobe kerfuffle because of her as well?’
A few smiles spread across the others’ faces. ‘Yes. The Mouse hates her.’