Hiding in plain sight had always worked rather well. Until now.
Alice Edwards felt as though the entire contents of her quirky little witchcraft museum (well, technically not 'hers', but the Oakton Coven's – she was just the curator) were implicating her. She might as well have had 'I'm a witch' written on her forehead, and for the hard look DI James Ward was giving her, Alice wondered if that was precisely the case.
She gave the skin above her eyebrows a surreptitious rub. It might have been her imagination, but Alice thought she saw Ward's lips twitch with amusement. A trick of the atmospheric light, probably. She doubted he was capable of smiling. Come to think of it, he reminded her of those Easter Island statues: stern and stony.
"So, sacrifice is a witchy thing, eh?" said Ward's partner, DS Ewan Chapman, as he perused a nearby display case of ritualistic animal bones with child-like enthusiasm.
Alice frowned, offended despite herself. "Ancient pagan mentality. I daresay witches these days have a rather more Greenpeace view of things."
"Witches these days?"
Alice turned back to Ward. His steel-hued eyes were narrowed with suspicion.
"You know the sort," answered Alice, somehow managing to keep the tremor of nervousness from her voice. "Wiccan and others. The types who flock to Stonehenge on every Summer Solstice."
Ward hummed, a response that was neither here nor there. "Could we go somewhere more private?"
Alice had watched enough crime dramas to know Ward's game. He'd shepherd her away for an interrogation while Chapman had a good rummage around the museum. Realising there was little point in resisting (Ward didn't seem the type to take 'no' for an answer when it came to his work), Alice shot Chapman a warning look.
"Do not touch anything."
She saw him raise his hands in mock surrender before she led Ward to her office. Or more of a broom cupboard, really. Most of the floor space was taken up by a desk and filing cabinet, the rest by precarious towers of books.
Her face burning with embarrassment (everything about Ward was immaculate – from his neatly cropped dark hair, graying at the temples, to his shiny black brogues – which surely meant his tolerance for mess was practically non-existent), Alice hastily removed several volumes on the Druids from a chair. "Please sit, Detective."
"I'd rather stand, if it's all the same to you."
Alice tried not to wince. "Right." She set the books in her arms on top of one of the smaller piles. It wobbled for a moment, but thankfully didn't topple. "What can I help you with?"
"As you know, we're investigating the murder of Rosalind Turnpenny. I'd just like to ask you a few questions."
Feeling her heartbeat quicken and her legs go a bit wobbly, Alice eyed the newly-emptied chair. But no. She'd brave the inquiry while standing. Goodness knew Ward already had the upper hand in terms of height and intimidation, being a good head taller than her, and she wasn't about to play the cowering wreck.
Taking a fortifying breath, Alice nodded. "Ask away."
Ward produced a small notebook and pencil from the inner pocket of his stereotypical trench coat. "You knew Mrs Turnpenny?"
She nodded again, swallowing around the burning lump in her throat. "Oakton's a small town. We attended a lot of the same groups. Women's Institute, Crafts Club, that kind of thing." And then some, thought Alice, a memory of Rosalind's last Coven meeting popping to the forefront of her mind. Had it really only been two days ago?
"Do you know of anyone who might have wanted to hurt her?"
Alice shook her head 'no', even as she pictured Rosalind's killer. Nina Jones – an Oakton witch who had the macabre gift of being able to envision the last thing a person saw on touching their corpse – had described the murderous demon in detail. White-pale scarred skin, fully black eyes, armed with a wicked wavy-bladed dagger. What the creature had used to-
Alice started, gaze focusing on Ward. He seemed a bit concerned.
"Sorry," she said weakly. "It's still a shock, you know? Her poor family…" Tears stung Alice's eyes as she thought of Ben and the kids. She'd seen them only the previous day, when she'd gone over to set a protective charm on their house.
"I know it's difficult…" Ward's voice was soft. It was enough to make Alice revise her earlier opinion of him. Perhaps he wasn't so stern and stony after all. "But any information you have would be helpful."
"I'm sorry." And she was. Because suddenly, all Alice really wanted was to help him. But the case was entirely out of Ward's hands, though he had no way of knowing it. Alice briefly wondered what the Coven elders would decide to do with him. Alter his and Chapman's memories and send them on their way, most probably.
She shook the notion away and continued speaking. "I can't think of a single person who'd want to hurt her, let alone do something so…" Words failed her, because there were none to describe the sheer horror of what had been done to Rosalind Turnpenny.
Ward nodded in understanding while jotting something down in his notebook.
"When was the last time you saw her?"
"Monday evening," responded Alice, meeting and somehow maintaining Ward's gaze as he looked up from the little pad. "At one of our group meetings, held at the Town Hall. It finished about 8pm. She walked home, as usual."
Not as usual, thought Alice, feeling the threat of tears once more. Usually, she'd have been home in five minutes and tucked her little ones into bed…
Again, Ward nodded and wrote some notes. The sound of pencil on paper seemed impossibly loud in the otherwise silent room. When his eyes met hers again, they seemed sharper than before. Alice instinctively knew his next question would be particularly probing. She braced herself.
"And her husband, Benjamin Turnpenny. How well do you know him?"
Alice's jaw tightened with indignation on Ben's behalf. When she answered, her voice was brittle as an old bone. "I know that he was utterly devoted to his wife. They still had Date Nights. Rosalind's mother would have the children one evening a week."
"That doesn't necessarily equate to a happy marriage."
Alice didn't know whether Ward was speaking from experience, or if he was just plain cynical. His face revealed nothing. Whatever the case, she was not amused, and crossed her arms to show it.
"Trust me, Detective. Mr Turnpenny didn't murder his wife."
"But you know who did."
The comment, paired with Ward's accusatory look, caught Alice off-guard. She gaped at him for a moment before summoning her best glare. Meanwhile, her heart was racing. Yes, I do. "Of course I don't."
Ward ducked his head in acknowledgement, but appeared unconvinced. He stowed away his notepad and pencil with finality. "Thank you for your time, Miss Edwards."
Yet as Ward let himself out, taking Chapman with him, Alice knew that her dealings with the Detective Inspector were far from over…