Winter grimaced. ‘It’s a strange world when you’re the one suggesting we do things by the book. Unfortunately I came by these during an illegal search. The police will have their hands tied. Unless Belinda herself makes a complaint, they can’t act.’
I cast my mind back, thinking of all the times I’d seen Belinda and Bellows together. ‘I’ve not noticed anything that suggests she despises him or that she’s scared of him. Truthfully, most of the time he seems completely beneath her attention. She’s the star and he’s just the hired help.’
‘This is assault, Ivy.’
I bit my lip. ‘Yeah,’ I said quietly. ‘I know.’
I heaved in a breath and told him about my failed efforts to steal Belinda’s vial from right under her nose – literally – followed by what I thought I’d seen in the woods. At my mention of another zombie-like creature, Winter stiffened. ‘You’re sure?’
I shrugged helplessly. ‘Given my recent hallucinatory episode, how can I be? I wasn’t alone and nobody else noticed anything. There’s still security all over the place. Even though this area is larger than the main set so they’re spread thinner, you’d think one of them would have seen something if there had been something to see.’ I pushed back my hair. But then Gareth had managed to sidle through without being spotted and without any great difficulty.
Winter rubbed his chin and dug out his phone. ‘This is Winter,’ he barked, as someone answered. ‘You need to check out the graveyard. Find out whether any other graves have been disturbed. Everyone not at the graveyard needs to get to the current location where Enchantment is filming. There has been another possible sighting. If there is another exanimate body out there, we need to find it.’ There was a pause. ‘I don’t care. This is a priority.’ He hung up.
‘You have a less than charming phone manner,’ I said.
Winter rolled his eyes. ‘Do you want to call them back and ask them about the weather? Find out if they’re comfortable and getting enough sleep?’
I grinned. ‘No, I’m good. It wasn’t a criticism. More like an observation.’
‘Well those witches tasked with investigating the town could do with some criticism,’ he huffed. ‘They seem to spending more time in the pub than doing any work. Apparently the most they’ve uncovered is that a couple of hundred years ago a family with very strong magical powers moved into the area. We already knew that. Until they can uncover something that’s not ancient history, their presence is nothing more than a waste of time.’
I patted his arm. ‘There, there. To be fair, we’ve not uncovered a whole lot either and we’ve been here for days. We’ve got access to everything on set and we’re still floundering.’
Winter grimaced. ‘Okay,’ he said. ‘Let’s stop floundering and start swimming. Rather than confronting Bellows, let’s go and talk to Belinda. We’ll find out what on earth that thing is around her neck and ask her what Bellows is up to at the same time.’
‘You think she’s more likely to be honest if we’re trying to help her as well as accuse her?’
Winter raised a shoulder in a half-hearted response. ‘If there is another zombie then we don’t have much choice. If it reaches a populated area there will be carnage.’
‘Maybe you were right and we should have confronted her earlier.’
‘No. The more evidence we have the better. If she denied everything, she’d know we suspected her and we wouldn’t have any reason to detain her. This way we have an another angle.’ He sighed. ‘Even if it doesn’t feel right using it.’
I knew exactly what he meant. Belinda was a victim of Bellows, no matter how you looked at it. But if the necromancer was performing magic again, we had to act. It had got to the point where we had to rule Belinda Battenapple out or in for good before more people were killed.
I glanced down at the photos. In every one, she was wearing the vial. She might not have had on a stitch of clothing but she clearly wasn’t about to abandon her death-drawing necklace, even for this.
We started walking back again. Before we reached the edge of the trees, I turned to Winter. ‘There is one good thing to come out of all this,’ I said.
He frowned. ‘What’s that?’
I didn’t smile. ‘Now you’re calling them zombies as well.’
Winter didn’t argue.
In an ideal world, we could have marched straight over to Belinda and pulled her away for questioning. Instead, there was the small matter of the vote. At least both Belinda and I would be in the same space so she couldn’t hide herself away and avoid us. As soon as this last part of filming was over, Winter and I would both ensure that we got her alone and in a quiet spot.
I eyed her while Armstrong barked out orders involving technical stuff I didn’t have a hope of understanding. She didn’t look like an evil necromancer – but she didn’t look harried or upset like the victim of blackmailing either. This was a woman who spent her entire life in front of the cameras. I might have told Barry that most people weren’t good liars but I reckoned that someone like Belinda had it down pat. And perhaps calling what she did lying was a bit unfair. She presented an image to her adoring public – that was part of her job.
I joined the other contestants. Lou looked at me questioningly. ‘Where have you been?’
‘Just clearing my head,’ I said airily.
She frowned at me. Yeah, I wasn’t a great liar either.
Armstrong came up and gave us a critical once-over. He pointed to Rachelle at the back and someone darted over and adjusted her hair. Then he frowned at Mike, who hastily undid two of his shirt buttons to reveal his chest hair. Only when he was completely happy with everyone’s appearance did Armstrong speak.
‘This is a vital moment! This is your first chance to say what you really think about your fellow contestants. It’s not the time to be shy or retiring. It’s not the time to bite your tongue. We expect you to let rip with exactly what you think. Have you got that?’ There was an indistinct murmur of agreement. ‘I said,’ he bellowed, ‘have you got that?’
‘Yes.’ We dutifully bobbed our heads.
Armstrong didn’t appear appeased. ‘This is the greatest show on television,’ he said, his dour expression entirely at odds with his words. ‘You are incredibly lucky to be here. Do not waste it! Regret only what you do, not what you don’t do!’
I was starting to see why he’d been chosen as Enchantment’s new director. For all his cheesy lines and erratic mood swings, he possessed a great deal of charisma. If it weren’t for a certain blue-eyed witch standing not a million miles away from here, I might even have been tempted.
The murkier the investigation got, the clearer my feelings towards my erstwhile partner became. I shot Winter a sidelong glance to where he was standing by Mazza and Moonbeam. He was watching me with a shuttered expression but when I gave him a tiny wave he returned it with a tiny smile. Butterflies flipped in the pit of my belly. Even the prospect of being part of an Enchantment vote couldn’t beat what Raphael Winter did to my emotions.
We were counted down then directed out. One by one, we trooped into the clearing where a semicircle of cauldrons had been placed. Our names were written on the near side. I took up position behind mine and peered into the contents. It was a gloopy neon sludge, designed to show up on camera. I beamed. This was always my favourite part of the show.
Belinda strolled down the pathway, lanterns blazing into life as she passed them. Again, it wasn’t magic providing their power but basic technology. I’d always suspected as much; having my suspicions confirmed now I wasn’t viewing everything through a television screen was rather disappointing.
‘Welcome,’ Belinda said. ‘This is the very first vote-off for this series and we know it’s going to be an exciting one. All twelve contestants have had the chance to get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Some relationships will snap under the strain of tonight’s events while others will grow and blossom into friendships for life. Enchantment isn’t just about the magic that surrounds us. It’s about the magic within us.’