Bradamant snorted. ‘My actions were a valid response to the situation.’
‘Do you still have the books?’
Bradamant hesitated a moment. Possibly she could guess what Irene was about to suggest. ‘I do. Some of them are rarities, you know. They would be appreciated by other Librarians.’
‘I have no doubt,’ Irene said wryly. ‘You have always had excellent taste. But it may be necessary to return those stolen books to their owners in order to secure cooperation.’
Bradamant put down her toast very deliberately, and stared at Irene. ‘You have no authority to order me to do such a thing. Or are you planning to turn me over to your new friends instead?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ Irene said, and tried to ignore the mental voice that pointed out that yes, it would certainly convince Vale and Singh that she was on their side. And Bradamant could easily escape from any prison cell anyway. ‘I am assuming that you were sent by one of our superiors. Why?’
‘To find the Grimm book,’ Bradamant answered. ‘And yes, let me reassure you: I do have orders from one of our superiors to that effect.’
Irene tried not to show her relief. Bradamant was still loyal to the Library. A number of unpleasant possibilities had just been ruled out. Even if there was some sort of internal dispute going on inside the Library about who was supposed to be fetching the damned book, at least she didn’t have to worry about Bradamant being in league with Alberich. ‘It’s possible that our target is one of those books that’s linked to the whole alternate,’ she said. ‘The fact that Alberich’s after it shows just how important it is. And you could only know of my mission from someone highly placed. Surely these factors make it an absolute priority for us to work together to find the book and bring it to the Library? Or do you have some other goal?’
Bradamant brushed crumbs off her fingers. The toast lay on her plate, slowly cooling. ‘Certainly my highest priority is to bring the book back,’ she replied. ‘But I cannot see why Alberich should want to kill you. It isn’t as if you have the book.’
‘And you do?’ Kai put in, his tone highly formal. But it wasn’t the formality of junior-to-senior: it was the formality of someone with authority in his own right, to a peer in another discipline.
From the look on his face, he realized that a second too late.
Bradamant didn’t seem to mind. She graced him with a delicate smile, and Irene wondered if anyone who didn’t know her would have recognized the calculation in her eyes. ‘If I did,’ she said, ‘I wouldn’t be here now.’
‘I think we would profit from a council of war,’ Irene said. ‘Or we will all assuredly hang separately.’
Bradamant thought about it, dusting her fingers again and again until not even the smallest crumb could have remained on them. Finally she said, ‘I will agree to that much. For the moment.’
Irene nodded. She turned towards the door. ‘You can come in now, gentlemen,’ she called. She’d have been listening if it had been the other way round, after all.
Vale opened the door, and held it for Singh to enter. Both men looked a little irritated, Singh more than Vale – but then, Irene reminded herself, who knew what Bradamant had been telling him last night? There were few things worse than thinking you knew everything about secret goings-on, and then finding out you’d been fed a nice plausible mess of lies.
Vale occupied his armchair again. Singh looked at Kai in a way which suggested that he usually got the comfortable chair Kai was sitting in, then pulled over the high-backed chair from by the desk. He cleared off a stack of newspapers, and settled down with a snort, flipping out notebook and pen.
‘I have been discussing the situation with Inspector Singh here,’ Vale said. He steepled his fingers. ‘It has become quite clear that we are all in pursuit of the same thing. Several members of the Iron Brotherhood were questioned last night – with Madame Bradamant’s cooperation – ’ he nodded to Bradamant – ‘which has established some interesting facts.’
‘May I ask what you’ve found?’ Irene said, glancing at Kai, who looked impatient for news.
Inspector Singh regarded her with the same wary distrust that he was displaying towards Bradamant. What fun. ‘You may recall the explosion a couple of nights ago, under the Opera House?’
‘I’m afraid I only know the very basic details about that,’ Irene said. ‘Was it related to the Iron Brotherhood?’
Inspector Singh nodded. ‘It was indeed, madam. They happened to meet there, and unfortunately the blast took out a number of their more senior members.’
‘Unfortunately?’ Kai said. ‘Surely, if these people are criminals . . .’
Inspector Singh shook his head. ‘Your reaction is understandable, sir, but you must understand that we have infiltrated some of these societies to a degree. We know who runs them, Mr Strongrock, and we know who’s in charge. We have some idea of which way they’re going to jump in a crisis, even if we can’t bring any charges against them. For the moment,’ he added ominously. ‘The unfortunate result of this little affair was that a woman of whom we know little is now leading the society. The Grand Hammer, I believe they call her. And this woman is, shall we say, an unknown quantity. I don’t like unknown quantities, Mr Strongrock. They don’t fill my notebook and they don’t go to prison as they should.’