I took ‘The Mouse’ to mean Harriet, who I’d attempted to help. Yeah. She probably did hate me – but not as much as I hated this stupid job. And there was no way I was going to be one of their contestants. I might love watching the show but I had zero desire to be part of it.
‘Thanks,’ I said, ‘but no thanks. Find someone else.’
Belinda rose gracefully to her feet and directed her gaze at Armstrong. ‘Make it happen,’ she declared. Then she swept out, her assistant throwing me a nervous look and scooping up the offending umbrella before dashing out after her.
With an effort, I stood up and glared. ‘I am not going to be a contestant.’
Morris Armstrong smiled at me. ‘I think the lovely Ms Battenapple is right,’ he murmured. ‘You’re perfect.’
‘No. Nuh-huh. Absolutely no way.’ I hardened my eyes, hoping he’d remember that I had a secret mission to complete for him. Just because Winter was now on the team didn’t mean I couldn’t still be a useful spy. ‘You need me for other things.’
‘Not any longer.’
I pointed at the cups. ‘Someone has to make you coffee.’
‘I’m sure one of the other runners can do that.’
Armstrong held up his hand. ‘Would you rather be fêted as one of the contestants on the greatest show on earth or run around in the rain on errands?’
I’d rather lie on my sofa and eat chocolate. ‘I thought you had fond memories of your time as a runner.’
‘I lied. It’s horrific. We all know that. We’ve all been there.’ There were several murmurs of agreement from around the table. ‘This is a fast track to the top, Ivy. You’ll be amazing. You’re just what we need. You could clean and get blisters and bow and scrape. Or,’ he deepened his voice to show just what a fabulous opportunity I was supposedly getting, ‘you could be a contestant on Enchantment. Do you know how many applicants we get?’
‘So choose one of them.’
‘We don’t have time. You’ll have a far easier time on the show than behind the scenes.’
He had a point. But it would be hard to do any proper investigating if I were being filmed at every moment. Winter probably wouldn’t like it either.
‘Nope. Still not doing it.’
Armstrong stood up. ‘Do you want to be here?’
Not really. Not with zombies running around the place. ‘Yes.’
‘Then become a contestant.’ He shrugged. ‘Or get out.’
Arse. His eyes didn’t waver. He wasn’t bluffing. ‘But Adeptus Exemptus Winter…’ I began.
‘I’ll worry about him from now on. It’s not as if you’ve told me anything about him yet anyway. He probably found out about the pentagram in Trevor Bellows’ trailer from you.’
I was prevented from giving an answer by Mazza, who burst in with a newspaper in his hands. ‘I was told to show you this!’ he gasped breathless.
I glanced at the headline. Battenapple’s Horror. I peered closer. It appeared to be a story about how disturbed she was by the death of Benjamin Alberts. My heart sank when I spotted the photo underneath the headline of two familiar teenage boys who were quoting a ‘special on-set source’. Bloody hell.
Armstrong transformed in an instant. His cheeks puffed out and a vein started bulging in his forehead. ‘Where did this come from?’ he yelled. ‘This is supposed to be a closed set! When I find out who has talked, I will rip them a new one!’
‘Okay,’ I said. ‘I’ll be your new contestant.’ I forced a grin. ‘It’ll be better than being a runner, right?’
Half of the seated producers exchanged knowing looks. I had a feeling I’d just swapped one horrific job role for something far, far worse but I couldn’t allow myself to be thrown off set – Winter needed me. And now that the issue of necromancy meant I had more of an inkling about how bad things could get, I couldn’t abandon my favourite TV show to flesh-eating monsters. I’d have nothing to watch for months.
Armstrong pointed to the well-dressed fellow who’d first asked about the Order. ‘Barry, you’re her new producer. Get her ready for this afternoon.’ He stomped over to Mazza and snatched the newspaper from his hands. ‘This is ridiculous!’
Barry, it appeared, didn’t want to stick around any more than I did. He loped over to me and grabbed me by the elbow. ‘Come on, darling. Let’s go.’
I let him lead me out of the tent. Even though I was escaping the wrath of Armstrong, there was a horrible sinking sensation in my stomach. Just what exactly was I letting myself in for now?
If I thought that I could take things easy now that my position as runner had been swept away at the whim of Armstrong and Belinda Battenapple, I was sorely mistaken. Barry the producer whisked me over to a dilapidated trailer where the legal team were located. They immediately abandoned their paperwork about the company’s lack of responsibility should any death and dismemberment occur for any and all crew members, and threw various wads of legalese at me to sign.
‘This is a waiver for any injury caused by your own actions. This is a waiver for any injury caused by the actions of other contestants. This is a waiver for any injury caused by marauding zombies.’
Okay, I was kidding about the last one but, given what other contingencies they’d prepared for, I was surprised that monsters weren’t included on the list. I wondered whether that meant my family would get compensation if a member of the walking dead ate me. Given how many bits of paper I had to sign, it seemed unlikely.
I’d have read through everything if the first paragraph of the first sheet hadn’t given me a headache. I had the feeling that it was designed to be as complex and incomprehensible as possible. In the end I gave up trying to be responsible and scribbled my name on everything they put in front of me.
Barry appeared positively giddy. He seemed to think that my magical powers meant I’d have a sure-fire ticket to the finale. If I did well he did well, or so he kept telling me. As if I cared.
He skipped me along from one person to the next. When he led me in the direction of Wardrobe, however, I began to protest. ‘I think what I’m wearing is fine,’ I told him.
He didn’t pay me any attention. ‘Don’t be silly! We want to make you a star, darling.’
We did not want that at all. With considerable reluctance, I allowed him to drag me into the tent. Apparently the women there had been forewarned because Barry’s delight was nothing compared to their glee. The woman who’d shrieked hellfire at me for daring to alter Harriet’s clothes had a particularly nasty gleam in her eye.
‘Well, well, well,’ she purred. ‘Look who’s now a contestant!’ She drew me in close and whispered in my ear, ‘I hope you get voted out first, you little harlot.’
Harlot? I wasn’t sure what that had to do with anything. That was until she reached out for my costume.
‘We’ve thought long and hard about what would suit you best in the ten minutes since we were informed of your new status. And we know exactly what will work for you.’ She held up what could only be described as a scrap of fabric. ‘Mr Bellows was kind enough to bespell it for us so that you can’t alter it with your magic.’ She sneered the last word, somehow forgetting that this was supposed to be a magic show.
I doubted whether Bellows’ magic would withstand what I could produce if I really wanted to, but I had the feeling that if I tried to change my designated outfit I’d be given something far worse. Not that there could be much that was worse than this, I thought miserably.
Wardrobe Lady all but threw it at me. ‘Go on, then. Go and get changed. Time is ticking away!’ She let out a peal of laughter. At least the others looked slightly guilty at what they were forcing me into.
Was it too late to back out now? I frowned down at the poor excuse for clothing and shrugged. ‘It’s stunning,’ I lied. ‘I’m so lucky!’
Her smile faltered. ‘Glad you like it.’ Her voice hardened. ‘Put it on.’