Charley had been talking to the two men for over three hours. He was tired, hungry and extremely uncomfortable. He wished they would let him stand up. But he just sat there, trying to work something out.
‘Adam Quinn is too powerful for me to defeat by myself,’ he said for the seventeenth time. ‘I’d need back-up, lots of backup. If I’m going to do this you have to let me build allies.’
‘I’m not sure about Wizards contacting each other,’ O’Hanlon said. ‘One of them gets angry and I nearly lose an eye. With two hundred of them in one place, who know what they can accomplish?’
‘For God’s sake, O’Hanlon! You didn’t nearly lose an eye!’
‘Yes,’ Williams agreed. ‘I think you are being a little melodramatic, O’Hanlon. All he’s saying, Aether, is that so many Wizards could be a danger to society. All that power… it could corrupt so easily.’
‘How else do you expect me to take down Quinn? We need all the magic we can get. You have to let me contact other Wizards!’
O’Hanlon paced the room. He took a pack of wine gums out of his pocket and ate one. He sneered at Charley.
‘Hands out if you want one.’
‘This is ridiculous.’
‘Oh, now I get it,’ O’Hanlon said, rolling a sweet between his fingers until it became sticky. ‘You’re still mad about this Wizard Watch List, aren’t you?’
Charley banged his feet on the floor.
‘Goddammit! Listen to me! This isn’t just about the stupid Watch List any more! If you seriously want me to do this I need help! It isn’t fair if you know who all the Wizards in the country are, and I don’t. Understand, pea-brain?’
O’Hanlon looked at him angrily. He flicked a few wine gums at him.
‘You need to learn to respect your superiors.’
Again the massive man stepped forward, and this time, after a nod from O’Hanlon, he punched Charley right in the face.
There was a snap, and Charley screamed in pain. Blood spurted from his nose.
‘You broke it!’ he yelled at the man. ‘Having one of your minions beat up a man tied to a chair? Play fair, O’Hanlon!’
O’Hanlon put his face right up to Charley’s.
‘How about if we cancel this whole Wizard Watch List thing? Then will you go up against Quinn by yourself?’
Charley spat blood in his face, and received another punch from the big man. He screamed again, banging both feet on the floor.
‘You have to talk sense to us,’ Williams said. ‘I’m sure, if everyone behaves, we can come to some arrangement.’
And then the door burst open, and five people spilled into the room. O’Hanlon recognised two of them – one, a friend of Charley’s, one a student – but the other three were strangers.
Two of them – a tall man and a man in glasses – grabbed the Government officials. There was a struggle, but soon both men were up against the wall, their hands locked behind their backs.
O’Hanlon twisted his head painfully around; he saw Eddie hurrying to untie Charley, saw Valorie trying to help.
‘Hello,’ she said briskly.
‘Afternoon,’ Charley said briskly back.
The ropes came loose. Charley stood up and stretched his back, relieved.
Williams didn’t struggle so much as O’Hanlon, who twisted madly, trying to free himself. He managed to punch Hermes’ shoulder hard. He hissed in pain, and O’Hanlon broke free.
‘Eddie!’ Valorie shouted.
Ruby stepped forward, kicking O’Hanlon in the shin. He yelped, but kept running, running towards Charley.
In her panic, Valorie threw herself over Charley and Eddie, clenching herself up –
The three of them disappeared, whizzing out of sight, and O’Hanlon shouted his rage.
Valorie, Eddie and Charley landed with a thud outside.
’Sorry guys,’ Valorie said, climbing off them.
‘No problem,’ Charley said. ‘Just glad to be out of there in one piece.’
‘Your nose is broken,’ Eddie said, peering at it. ‘Should we get you to a hospital, or…?’
‘No, no, I can fix it.’ Charley placed both hands on his nose and pushed hard. There was a nasty snapping noise – Valorie recoiled – and a fresh dribble of blood, but Charley’s nose was straight again.
‘Anybody got a tissue?’ he asked.
Eddie began to check her pockets, but Valorie stopped her.
‘Eddie,’ she asked. ‘Where are we?’
Everyone looked around. They looked at the signs.
‘We’ve teleported two miles,’ Eddie said.
Charley nodded. ‘People often perform better under duress. Well done. So,’ he said, rubbing his hands together. ‘Who’s for a brisk walk back to the car?’
Eddie dug her mobile phone out of her pocket.
‘Hermes,’ she said. ‘Did you get out of there OK?’
‘Yeah,’ Hermes voice came through on speakerphone. ‘Everyone’s out, and I think we’ve lost O’Hanlon and the other guy. Where did you go?’
Valorie glanced at the sign.
‘We’re on Polka Avenue,’ she said to Hermes. ‘Can you get the car back, give us a lift?’
‘We don’t have the keys.’
‘Get Ruby to break in,’ Eddie said. ‘We’ll see you in a bit.’
She hung up.
‘Oh, how I really, really hate that man,’ Charley muttered, looking up at the clouds.
Valorie glanced at him, surprised. ‘Who, Hermes?’
‘No,’ he responded. ‘O’Hanlon, of course. Tying me to a chair, having some gargantuan ape pummel my face. And all in the name of peaceful negotiation.’
‘They didn’t hurt you, did they?’
‘You bet they did. Well, that ape in a suit did all the punching, but still… and that Williams wasn’t much better either.’
‘I know,’ Valorie nodded. ‘He deleted my group from Thoughts.com. But my Dad managed to rebuild it and put that Mortal thingy on it.’
‘Yeah. It nearly killed him though. He was still asleep when I left this morning.’
Charley managed a grin. ‘That’s good news at least. Anything else I should know about?’
Just then, the three of them jumped as Simon beeped a horn at them. The yellow car pulled up to the side of the pavement.
‘I’ll tell you in the car.’