Wincing slightly, I smoothed down the skirt. ‘Let’s not talk about humans as food while there are zombies around, shall we?’
‘I told you,’ he began, ‘it’s not zomb—’
‘What gives?’ Moonbeam marched over, interrupting Winter and glaring at me. ‘I’m supposed to be the replacement! All that work I put in and they chose you instead?’ His voice dripped with disdain. ‘You!’
I shrugged. ‘Unless there’s something you’re not telling us, you’re not quite what they’re looking for.’
He rose up, even more piqued than before. ‘I’m exactly what they’re looking for! I can fill any role!’
‘They want a woman, Moonbeam.’
‘I…’ He deflated. ‘Damn it.’
‘Sorry.’ I wasn’t but he looked so dejected that I figured I could say it.
Moonbeam ran a hand through his hair. ‘All that work.’ He sighed and glanced at Winter. ‘You’re the Order witch.’
Winter was staring at Moonbeam in fascination. ‘Yes, I am.’
From behind, I saw Barry desperately try to catch my eye and point to his watch. I played dumb and looked confused.
‘I’m a big fan!’ With an impressive mood change, Belinda’s son switched from looking pathetic to complete enthusiasm. ‘I love the Order! How difficult is it to get in? I can do magic, you know.’
Both Winter and I gazed at him with sudden interest. ‘Can you?’ Winter asked. ‘Have you ever performed any spells?’
‘Like raising the dead and creating an army of zombies?’ I butted in.
Winter jabbed me sharply in the ribs. ‘Ignore Ivy,’ he said with an irritated glance in my direction. ‘We used to work together and she seems to have delusions of grandeur where her magic ability is concerned.’
It was my turn to frown. ‘But you said…’ Winter’s glare intensified and I paused. ‘Yeah, okay. I’m crap at spells,’ I lied.
Moonbeam wasn’t interested. His attention was wholly on Winter. ‘You know I have friends in the Order? They’re very highly placed.’
I could tell from Winter’s expression that he was about to snap. It might have been because of Moonbeam’s overly earnest nature or the fact that he’d interrupted us. Either way, it seemed appropriate to get Moonbeam to a safe distance. The last thing any of us needed was the Order making an enemy of Belinda Battenapple’s son.
‘Time to go!’ I chirped. ‘Come on, Moonbeam! I need your help.’
He dragged his eyes away from Winter. ‘What with?’
‘Tactics,’ I said, trying to think of something that would entice the poor boy away. ‘I want to talk strategy with someone who has your intellect and capacity for dissembling.’
Moonbeam looked pleased. Thank goodness. ‘Is that Barry?’
‘First of all, you don’t want him as your producer,’ he said, as I linked arms with him and drew him away from a still-glowering Winter. ‘You need someone with some real bite if you want to go far.’
Again with the damned eating analogies. The only difference this time was that I couldn’t tell Moonbeam off. Winter obviously didn’t want word of last night’s zombie getting out. And it definitely had been a bloody zombie, regardless of how much he protested. ‘Tell me more,’ I murmured.
Unfortunately, Moonbeam was only too happy to oblige.
With his diabolical plan to usurp one of the contestants almost certainly sunk, Moonbeam seemed to have moved on to trying to take Barry’s place. Every time the producer opened his mouth, Moonbeam jumped in. He stuck to our sides like a limpet. I’d have done something to get rid of him but he actually had some useful information to impart. Besides, I was curious to know if he was aware of what his mother had hanging around her neck.
‘See,’ he said, clutching at my arm in order to emphasise his point, ‘you need to ensure you have as much camera time as possible. That means you need to be out there. Do you get me, Ivy?’
‘I have to be out there,’ I repeated. Whatever that meant.
‘Exactly. So if someone starts an argument, you step in and smooth it over.’
‘Should I start arguments?’ I enquired.
He was horrified. ‘Definitely not. That’s a sure-fire way to be voted out. You want people on your side. Both the contestants and the viewing public. It’s the only way.’
I pursed my lips. ‘What about my outfit? I think it’s a bit risqué.’
Moonbeam cast a critical eye at the dress. ‘It does show rather too much flesh,’ he agreed. ‘I wouldn’t have thought you’d be the one to be set up as the seductive honey pot but,’ he shrugged, ‘I guess it takes all sorts.’
Plonker. I wasn’t going to rise to his backhanded criticism, though, not when I’d finally managed to find a way to ask him about his mother. I touched my neck and assumed a wistful air. ‘I just wish they’d let me keep my necklace on. I miss its weight against my skin.’
Moonbeam drew breath, as if to jump back in with some other inane observation. I hurriedly continued before he could. ‘I saw your mum was wearing a necklace yesterday. It looked pretty.’
He wrinkled his nose. ‘What? Yeah, she has a lot of jewellery.’ He rushed into his next sentence. ‘So if Barry and the other producers want you to play the part of—’
‘Where did she get it from?’ I asked, unwilling to let him change the subject. ‘I’d love to get one to match.’
‘It’s one of a kind,’ he said, tugging uncomfortably at his sleeve. ‘Besides, it’s pretty ugly. Anyway, you should—’
Moonbeam was determined to talk about something else. I was equally determined to stay on topic. ‘What’s inside it?’
‘It looks like a liquid,’ I said patiently. ‘Mercury or something.’
He tugged at his sleeve again. ‘Yeah,’ he said unconvincingly, ‘that’s what it is. Mercury.’ He checked his watch. ‘Bugger. I’d better go. I promised the boom operators I’d help them out before the opening.’ He turned and skedaddled.
I frowned, watching his departure. Moonbeam definitely didn’t want to talk about his mother’s necklace. I was sure he was lying and knew more than he was letting on. The question was why.
I didn’t have the chance to go after him and find out more. Barry leapt into the void Moonbeam had left and dragged me away. ‘The other contestants are arriving,’ he informed me. ‘You need to join them. They’ve had a couple of weeks to get to know each other, remember, so you have a lot of catching up to do.’
I lifted an eyebrow. ‘Why do you do that? Why do you let them … us … meet each other before the show?’
He spoke without thinking. ‘People are on their best behaviour when they meet someone else for the first time. Generally it takes a few days for strangers to settle down in each other’s company. Add the unfamiliar cameras into the mix, and we’d have the talent tiptoeing around each other for a full week. That doesn’t make for good television. It’s far better to make sure that everyone already knows who they like and dislike beforehand. It cuts out a lot of the boring stuff.’ He glanced at me. ‘Of course, you’ll be at an advantage. You’re the unknown quantity.’
We joined the other contestants, re-dressed in their finery. Harriet shot me an evil look, even though I was certain that she was the one who’d screwed things up by pointing the finger in my direction for her wardrobe change.
‘Oh,’ I murmured to Barry, ‘I wouldn’t worry about that. I think I’ve already made an enemy.’
When Bellows appeared, wearing his ridiculous Halloween costume again, and sniffed imperiously upon spotting me, I knew it wasn’t just Harriet I’d have to worry about. The other contestants looked at me curiously. I briefly considered telling them not to worry. I wasn’t here to win in order to carve out a career in morning television; I wanted to find the zombie master. Somehow I didn’t think that would go far in the reassurement stakes.