Way to go, Ivy, I grinned to myself, although the smell I’d created was becoming quite overpowering and I could see a family down the other end of the carriage looking very disturbed. I hastily cancelled out the rune, sure that the nasty odour would disappear quickly. That’s when a familiar head popped up from one of the seats and fixed me with an icy blue glare.
‘Manspreading,’ I called out by way of explanation. ‘It’s a recognised phenomenon but there’s very little you can do to combat it. The easiest way is to get rid of the offender as quickly as possible. The less confrontation the better.’
Winter’s glare only grew. I guessed he was pissed off that I was talking to him directly instead of wholeheartedly throwing myself into our concocted story that we didn’t know each other.
I shrugged. If he really thought that this production company was so thorough that they’d bother tailing a nonentity like me, then he thought too highly of them. No one would go that kind of trouble. All the same, he really didn’t look very happy.
Deciding that this would be the perfect time to put my head down and take a nap, I leaned back into my seat and avoided looking at Winter again. But it was nice to know that he wasn’t far away.
Winter might have said that Tomintoul looked pretty but when we finally arrived, it was difficult to make out much of anything at all. It was dark, it was cold, and there weren’t any helpful chauffeurs with limousines to pick me up and take me to where I needed to go. I wasn’t even sure where I was supposed to go, if I were being honest.
The crowd of other passengers who’d disembarked appeared to disappear almost immediately whilst Winter strode off without so much as a glance in my direction. It occurred to me that he’d probably used his almost perfect memory to map out every street of the small town in his head. He’d have a nice little B&B set up and waiting for him. I had a heavy suitcase, Brutus and his cat carrier, and absolutely no clue.
With no one around to ask for help, I set off at a shuffle down what looked like a main street. At that time of night, there appeared to be nothing open. I passed a few tearooms, an art gallery and a pub that seemed to be dark and dead. Brutus growled in irritation.
‘I know, I know, but I can’t remember the name of the damn hotel,’ I muttered to him. My excitement at being part of the Enchantment team had long since dissipated.
I was just about to turn on my heel and head back to the station to demand to be returned to civilisation when a young guy in his twenties ambled out from a side street, pausing to light a cigarette as he went. Feeling hopeful, despite his somewhat unkempt appearance, I trotted up to him. ‘Hello!’
He lifted his head and looked at me, glancing up and down with an assessing eye. ‘Tourist or TV?’ he asked in a heavy Scottish brogue.
Excellent. ‘TV!’ I beamed. ‘I’m here for the Enchantment filming but I’m not sure where the rest of the crew are staying.’ I stuck out my hand. ‘Ivy.’
He shook it briefly but there was very little enthusiasm behind the effort. In fact I had the distinct impression that he wished I’d go away and leave him in peace. ‘Gareth.’ He raised a bushy eyebrow. ‘You important? Some TV bigwig or something?’
‘Of course! I’m vital to the entire production. Without me, they’d all be lost.’
He considered this. ‘But aren’t you the one who’s lost right now?’ he finally enquired.
Ha! Gareth was smarter than he looked. ‘You’ve got me. Between you and me, my driver didn’t show up to pick me up from the station.’ I leaned in closer and added with a dark edge, ‘Heads are going to roll.’
He watched me for a moment. ‘Interesting choice of words,’ he murmured.
I frowned. ‘Why?’
‘Because heads have already rolled. Literally.’
Hang on a minute. ‘Are you referring to…?’
‘The contestants. Or, more specifically, that bloke who managed to get himself killed here just last week. There’s not been a suspicious death here in decades then, within days of your company showing up, there are body parts strewn across the Highlands.’ He reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew a small flask before taking a swig and shuddering.
‘How do you know about it?’ I asked, treading carefully. Contrary to expectations, I had actually read the files and I knew that the circumstances of Benjamin Albert’s death were being kept quiet by both Enchantment and the police. This might be a small town where gossip spread like wildfire but Gareth still knew that the victim had been decapitated and dismembered – and I was certain that little titbit had been withheld from all but those closest to the investigation. I’d avoided thinking about it too much; it was simply far too gruesome.
Gareth let out a tiny snarl. I inadvertently took a step back. ‘They didn’t tell you about me? I found him, didn’t I? Out looking for a lost sheep and…’ His voice drifted off and his pupils dilated as he remembered what were no doubt the horrors of unexpectedly come across a brutalised body.
Suddenly his night-time wandering and hip-flask gulping were starting to make sense. I winced. ‘I’m sorry.’
He dropped the cigarette and ground it under his heel. ‘I gave up three years ago. I don’t even like nicotine.’ He bared his teeth and looked at me, his shoulders sagging slightly when he seemed to realise my sympathy for him was both heartfelt and honest. ‘Seeing something like that can make you question everything you think you know,’ he muttered.
I could well imagine. I pulled my shoulders back. Winter would probably be ecstatic that I’d already managed to make contact with a vital witness like Gareth. I had to tread very delicately, however. Judging by his state of mind, if I went in too hard or was too pushy I’d simply scare him off.
‘I know a little about what you’ve experienced,’ I said quietly, thinking of Adeptus Diall’s corpse which Winter and I had both seen. It still gave me the odd nightmare. ‘But nothing nearly as bad. If you ever want to talk about it, come and find me. Sometimes it can help to talk to a stranger and I don’t imagine there are many trauma counsellors up here.’
He blinked, as if surprised that I could care that much. I quashed my wave of sudden guilt. I was here to do a job, after all. I didn’t have to like it but if Winter and I were going to get to the bottom of the murders – and prevent any more from happening – I’d simply have to toughen up.
‘Thank you,’ Gareth said in a low voice. He pointed up the street. ‘All your colleagues are staying at the Hook and Eye. It’s about a mile down that way, just on the edge of town.’
A mile? Good grief. I choked back my response and murmured my thanks. ‘Come on, Brutus,’ I said with a sigh. ‘Let’s get a move on.’
Brutus didn’t answer, probably because he was fast asleep. It was alright for some, I huffed to myself. I waved to Gareth and shambled off. I really needed a bath and a bed. I might have only been sitting around on a train all day long but I still felt bone weary. At least I wasn’t like poor Gareth though, I mused, strengthening my resolve to do everything I could to find out just what in hell was going on here. Someone bloody did.
I was woken up by someone vigorously shaking my arm. For a strange, sleep-sodden moment, I thought it was Winter and I squeaked in dismay, attempting to shield myself from what could only be the icy onslaught of water about to be flung at my face. It took a moment or two for me to realise that my human alarm clock was speaking with a female voice. Somewhat belatedly I realised it had to be my room-mate, who’d already been crashed out by the time I’d arrived.
I peeked upwards cautiously, gazing up at the anxious face of a brunette. I swept my bleary gaze over her. Although she was wearing fairly casual clothes – jeans and a blouse – she looked remarkably smart. Her hair was carefully pulled back into a neat bun and the glasses that were perched on her nose were so shiny I could see my reflection in them.
‘Urrrgh,’ I said. It was supposed to be good morning but I knew that wasn’t what it sounded like, even to my own ears.
‘You need to get up,’ the woman urged, with wide, owl-like eyes. ‘The bus is leaving in ten minutes.’