The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Daeth Y Nos Yn Gylfym
RHAN TRI (PART 3)
3pm, 4th April 1999
Donovan & Nathan - Bala general garage
Heather - the central library
Dexter - Dafydd and Seren Jones' farm, south of Bala
Judith and Guy - Bala central post office and general stores
The farmhouse kitchen is warm, the old-fashioned cooking range giving off a constant shimmer of heat. A huge, aluminum pan sits on top, giving off coils of steam. Dexter breathes in deeply, smelling the combined scent of potatoes and meat.
"You know," he says, stretching back in his chair with a broad smile, "since we arrived here yesterday you're probably about the most friendly person I've run into."
Dafydd Jones laughs softly. "Well, you've only been here a day, haven't you? Give us a chance." He stands up, wiping his hands on his trouser legs. "Well, can I offer you a drink while you're waiting for your lift?"
Dexter agrees readily, glad that when he phoned the hotel Nate wasn't there. It will give him extra time to get to know the farmer. He accepts a cup of milky tea in a chipped mug and whiles away a few minutes telling Dafydd what happened at the Goronwy hotel the previous night. Halfway through, Dafydd's wife comes in and helps herself to tea while she listens.
"This is Seren," Dafydd introduces here. "Seren, Dexter is staying in the town. He managed to get himself lost." He says it without malice. "No offence, Dexter, but I'm not surprised you got yourselves chucked out of the Goronwy. People round here don't take kindly to freemasons and that sort of thing. Far too English for them. More tea?"
"Thanks." Dexter notices a photograph on the window sill. A boy, in his late teens by the look of him, wearing a 'Keep Welsh Alive' T shirt. His resemblance to Dafydd is obvious.
"Our son," Seren says, following his gaze. "Studying in Bangor now, he is."
"Oh." Dexter is silent a moment. He sits forward, meeting Dafydd's gaze. "Excuse me for asking," he says, trying to keep his voice casual, "but I've read some strange things in the papers hereabouts. Green mist, something in the lake, and farms being burned. There's not really anything in it, is there?" He reaches for the sugar, keeping his eyes on the farmer's face. "What gets me is why would anyone want to attack a farm?"
Dafydd frowns. "They wouldn't. We're a community around here, we help each other out. We lost a barn not long ago, but it was an accident. Some reporter just decided it would look more exciting if it was arson, that's all."
"So you didn't report it to the police, then?"
Dafydd doesn't flinch. "There was no need. Like I said, it was an accident. Seren, love, why don't you offer our visitor something to eat?"
"The American?" Nate is saying. "I suppose they must be even less popular than the English around here." His voice takes on a noticeable Scottish accent and the mechanic smiles.
"That's right. English and American - the worst of the foreigners. Did you know you needed a new exhaust?"
Nathan knows for a fact that the exhaust is three months old and in perfect condition but he shrugs and tells the mechanic to go ahead. After all, SITU will be footing the bill, and being fleeced by a mechanic is as good a way of getting information as any other. "What was wrong with the American's car, then?" he asks conversationally. "Still here, is it?"
He looks around as if he expects to see it under a dust sheet in the corner. The mechanic shakes his head. "Nah, straight in and out, he was. It was a white Volvo, I can tell you that much, rented, of course. He was running it into the ground. Came in here cause he'd bust a tyre. He seemed a nice enough bloke - for a foreigner."
"What's wrong with foreigners," Donovan asks petulantly.
"Nothing. Nothing at all." He surfaces from beneath the car and gives the athlete a friendly grin - Donovan's eyes narrow suspiciously. In that moment he knows he is not a mechanic at all, but an android. Probably sent by the Klingon empire to assassinate him. Nathan, though, seems completely blind to the terrible danger they are both in and continues to chat.
"Has it always been like this, then? This thing about foreigners?"
The evil android mechanic scratches his head with a spanner - tightening a bolt, Donovan decides. "Well folk are always a bit funny, like. It got worse since this bloody Welsh Assembly came in. They're supposed to be representing us, but half the time it seems it's England and Cardiff against the rest of us. Daft bleeders should have known it'd cause trouble."
"No one's vanished before, then?" Nate fakes a nervous laugh. "I wouldn't want to wake up one morning and find myself gone."
"No, nothing like this has ever happened before that I've heard of. Your worst problem in Bala is dying of boredom, usually." He turns his attention back to Donovan. "You an athlete?"
Donovan nods nervously, trying to hide around the other side of the car. Nathan claps him on the shoulder. "I'm trying to persuade him to go jet-skiing? Any idea where we can hire the gear."
"Down by the lake, I'd guess. Certainly not here." The mechanic stares curiously at Donovan and the Canadian stares back, trying to will himself invisible.
"I don't want to go jet-skiing," he begins. His tongue feels too big for his mouth and he stumbles over the words.
Nathan laughs. "A strapping lad like you? Surely you can't be afraid?" He takes his cheque book out and presses it open on the car bonnet. "What do I owe you?"
As they're getting back into the car he turns back. "Oh, by the way," he adds, "maybe you can help me. I'm doing a bit of a study into the occult, see, and I need some contacts. Do you know anyone?"
"'Fraid not. I'm a mechanic not a priest. Try talking to the vicar. I don't like that sort of thing myself."
Donovan sinks into the car seat with a sigh of relief, but he watches the garage until they are well out of sight. "Let's go to the train station next," he suggests. "To look for dodgy Americans."
In the library, Heather continues reading.
One fine morning, a farm wife was busy dunking wool in a vat of blue dye when she looked up to see an old woman watching her. The old woman begged her for some of the wool and when the wife refused she went off muttering.
The farm wife shook her head and went back to her dyeing. She churned the wool around in the dye for a while and then drew it out. It came out red.
The most famous witch, Heather reads, was in fact a man: Huw Lloyd, who lived at the time of the civil war. His home was in Snowdonia and he was famed as a druid and a magician. Then there are stories of fairies - the tylwyth teg, who swap human babies for their own and turn milk sour and sometimes whisk people off to fairyland so they are never seen again.
After a while Heather piles the books back onto the shelves and wanders across to look at the noticeboard by the door. A complete list of church services is posted - three meetings on Sunday, one on Wednesday mornings. There's a women's institute meeting at the library the night after next and a flower display planned for next month. Most of the board, however, is given over to the upcoming eisteddfod. 'School children will be performing the story of Blodeuwydd from the Mabinogi,' a notice says. '10th - 15th April.'
She turns away from the board. "What's the Mabinogi?" She asks the librarian.
The girl gives her a quick look of disgust. "Only the most famous set of Welsh folklore there is." But then she softens slightly. "Are you visiting?"
"That's right." Heather flicks a strand of dark blue hair out of her eyes. "The Eisteddfod sounds interesting. I might go. Have you got a copy of the Mabinogi here?"
"Only in Welsh." Heather looks disappointed and she smiles. "I can tell you what happens to Blodeuwydd, if that's any help."
The story, the librarian tells her, is centred around three people. The Welsh prince Llew Llaw Gyffes, his wife, Blodeuwydd who was made for him out of flowers and her lover, Gronw Bebyr. Cursed by his mother that he shall not marry a woman of woman born, Llew's uncle, the magician Gwydion, creates a woman out of wild flowers for him. But she falls in love with a hunter, Gronw and the two plot to kill Llew - a long and complicated process as he is protected by many magical charms. They almost succeed but Llew becomes an eagle and is found and restored by his uncle.
"And then Llew kills Gronw," the librarian finishes, "and Gwydion turns Blodeuwydd into an owl. Personally I feel sorry for her. All she did was fall in love with the wrong man."
Heather listens, fascinated, taking notes from time to time. "Are there any more legends?" she asks. "Things connected with the area?"
"Oh hundreds," comes the careless reply. "Most of them are quite dull, though. Fairies and stuff. Have you seen the books?"
Lady Judith stops outside the post office and draws in a shaky breath. "Well," she says with a quick laugh, "I've never been thrown out of a shop before. Do you think a drink or a cigarette calms the nerves best?"
Guy offers her his arm. "How about one of each?"
They end up in the corner of a quiet pub just down the road. Guy sets down a beer for himself, a dry sherry for Judith and waits for her to nod her assent before he lights a cigarette.
"What do you think we should do?" Judith wonders. "It's probably best to leave Mr Morgan alone for the time being, isn't it? Could we find out about the eisteddfod instead?"
Guy agrees readily enough, but a certain hardness in his eyes at the mention of Bryn Morgan's name suggests he's not completely prepared to let the matter drop.
The two sit in comfortable silence for a while, each of the speaking occasionally to say something about themselves. Judith talks about her late husband and her connections with the charity that has led her to join SITU. Guy speaks of his time in Rhodesia and a couple of the more amusing investigating jobs he has undertaken. An hour has passed before either of them are aware of it.
"We'd better get back to the hotel," Guy says. He stands up first and pulls Judith's chair back for her. "We'll drop into the library to ask about the eisteddfod on the way." And tomorrow, he adds silently, you and I are going to have dinner together - in private.
During a late lunch, Nathan and Donovan have been getting on like a barn on fire. So much so that they've decided to ask the others to switch rooms so they can share. Even their lack of success at finding strange Americans doesn't worry them, and, though Donovan still glances around the room nervously from time to time, Nate pretends not to notice.
It doesn't take them long to get onto the subject of women. Donovan agrees readily to go back to the newsagents and talk to the girl again. "I reckon she liked me," he adds grinning.
"Quite probably." Nathan is thinking of another woman. "What do you think of Judith then? She looks good, doesn't she - nice legs. But a bit nervous."
Donovan grins. "And you're planning to look after her, right?"
"Maybe. Who knows?"
The two of them get back to the hotel to find Dexter's message waiting for them. Nate groans. "Oh well, do you fancy a ride out to a Welsh farm? Might as well get it done."
Dexter is talking about goats when they knock on the door, and a puzzled Dafydd Jones is explaining that he's never known anyone to steal one, but that a few farmers keep them for the milk. Dexter greets the two of them with a broad grin. "Thanks a lot, mate, much appreciated. Can we go back via the camera shop, by the way? I'll need your advice if you don't mind. I want something decent but not too expensive."
Nathan looks pleased. "Sure, no problem."
Half an hour later he's picked out a Nikon contact with a zoom lens. He waits by the door while Dexter attempts to haggle with the assistant and finally comes away with a free roll of film. "Next stop the boat hire place," he says cheerfully. "Then we can go home."
There is a lot to talk about over dinner that evening.
"We've arranged to have a boat left at the lakeside for us," Dexter tells everyone. "We can pick it up as early as we like any morning. I booked it for the week - didn't think SITU would mind."
"The owner wasn't much use when we asked about boats going missing, though," Nate adds. "He clammed up the moment we mentioned it. He said they'd never had a problem with boats going missing."
Guy frowns at him across the table, and Nate looks back innocently. "What's up with you? Don't you like sharing a room with Dexter?"
"We're getting on fine," Dexter assures him with a wave of his hand. "Guy's a bit careless when it comes to cutting his toe nails but there's not lasting harm done."
Guy doesn't answer. He continues looking at Nathan, his frown slowly turning suspicious. But Nathan is remembering the look of panic on Donovan's face when he came in and found the Canadian searching his mattress for bugs, and he doesn't care what Guy is thinking.
"I've got a theory," Judith announces brightly, breaking the silence. "Chlorine gas is green, right, and it's produced by electrolysis of salt water. What if Lake Bala contains a salt water flow and there's some huge electrical plant hidden underwater. The ancients threw bread and salt on the ground, too remember, maybe the salt had some chemical significance."
"If there's an electrical plant someone would surely have noticed," Heather protests. We could take a look though." She turns to regard Dexter thoughtfully. "I wonder if your singing could draw Teggie out of the lake."
Dexter laughs, but Judith is immediately enthusiastic. "We could have an Elvis concert," she declare. "You could sing 'Are you Lonesome Tonight'. The poor monster has been alone for centuries, after all."
The others agree that the idea could be worth trying and Dexter soon gives in, his smile belying his reluctance. If it's to be a full-scale concert it will take a few days to organise, he reckons and he makes a note to speak to Mike about it later and work out the best way of going about it.
Straight after dinner Donovan leaves, mumbling something about a date. Dexter follows after a few minutes. The others go into the bar, Nathan drawing Heather aside as they do so. When they come in neither of them say anything.
Dexter arrives back an hour later. "Just went to the Goronwy to apologise," he explains. "They weren't best pleased, but I think I've smoothed things over a bit. Lets get down to business, shall we?"
'Business' appears to be plying Mike Gaskin with drinks, something which seems to be wholly unnecessary in Judith's opinion as he is willing enough to talk anyway. She excuses herself and retires to a table with Heather and Guy to study a map of the area. Occasional comments drift across.
"Of course Teggie's real... The Green Mist? Haven't got a clue what it is. We've had it on and off for as long as I can remember."
Heather points to the map. "Here's a place, look. Some odd rock formation."
Guy circles it, then adds extra circles round several local castles and a church.
"... Gwynedd Morgan? Yes, nice girl. Pretty. Shame about her, really. Still, the police'll find her eventually. Never knew Barnard. 'Spect he was all right, though."
Heather turns a page in her note book and compares place names against the map, marking out a few other places that were mentioned in some of the folk tales. The conversation at the bar continues and Judith shifts uneasily as the evening goes on. When the door bursts open and Donovan rushes in, she jumps visibly. The black athlete skids to a halt, staring around uncertainly then saunters over to join Nate and Dexter. After a while his voice is added to the conversation.
"You'll never guess where I've been. My new girlfriend's only a cult member. She's invited me to their meeting tomorrow night. It's top secret mind. She said if I told a soul I'd be cursed forever. I..." He stops suddenly, stammering to a halt.
"What's he been drinking?" Heather wonders quietly.
A burst of laughter comes from the bar as Nathan asks for photos of Rhiannon. Guy scowls and stands up. "It's about time someone spoke to that whinging pain-in-the-arse," he murmurs. Taking Nathan by the arm he steers him firmly out of the bar.
Raised voices are heard outside, followed by a shout of pain from Nathan. Lady Judith winces visibly.
Almost before it is light the next morning, Guy slips out of the room, leaving Dexter snoring heavily. When he gets to the bottom of the stairs he stops. Dexter's Elvis poster is still on the noticeboard, but there is a word scrawled across it in red. 'Marw'. Guy looks at it a moment, frowning, then, as no one is about, he shrugs and continues on his way, breaking into a jog as he leaves the hotel.
"Wake up! Rise and shine!"
Donovan gasps and grabs for the table lamp. His trembling lips form the name of his worst enemy. Bruce Willis. He flattens himself behind the door. It opens and he leaps out.
Lady Judith screams and flings up her hands to defend herself, making Donovan stumble back into a chair. He sits down hard.
"Sorry," Judith says. "Are you coming down for breakfast?" She looks past him to Nate. The big man is out to the world, only his dark brown hair showing above the edge of the quilt.
Normally despising people who use mobile phones, Guy has to admit they can be useful. Like now, for instance. He breaks his run and punches out a quick number. "Linda," he says, speaking to his office answering machine. "I want you to do some checking for me. Occult or Black Magic rites, but Druid stuff in particular. Check out references to goat's blood, also anything that might cause a green mist over a lake. And anything about the monster of Lake Bala. Use my credit card if you have to, just get it done."
By the time everyone is assembled for breakfast, the whole hotel has seen Dexter's poster. Mike tries to laugh it off as a bad joke. "Marw means dead," he says. "Someone's got a sick sense of humour." His promises to look into it don't completely reassure Dexter. "You're not the only one to have suffered last night," he adds. "There was some trouble at the boat house by the lake. Some people tried to break in but were chased off, from what I heard. No doubt it'll be in the paper later on." He promises to try and find out who was responsible, and to ask about the possibility of Dexter putting on a concert. With that the group have to be content.
The scuba course starts that morning and Heather turns up at the school building a good half hour before everyone else. After collecting every book and leaflet she can get her hands on she seeks out the instructor, Paul. He greets her with a friendly smile.
"All set?" he asks.
"You bet. I'm looking forward to it." She sits and watches him sort through equipment, interrupting him every few seconds to ask what everything is. In the end he comes and sits by her. He's not much older than her, she realises, and although it is only April his legs and arms are deeply tanned.
Heather clears her throat, pulling her mind back to business. "Why do these Cymdeithas people want to scare everyone away?" she asks.
Paul shrugs. "Beats me. Something to do with politics, I think. I don't bother much with it - only when they harm business. I think they want to convince people the lake is dangerous so no one will come here, which might be all right for them but it isn't for the rest of us."
Heather chews her bottom lip uneasily. "Who are they, do you know?"
"No." He smiles at her, covering her hand with his own. "Don't worry about them - you'll be safe enough with me." He looks as if he is going to say something else but Guy's voice hailing them from behind breaks the moment. Paul sighs and stands up, hesitating a moment before offering his hand to Heather.
Depending on individual viewpoint, the scuba lesson either goes extremely well or terribly. Heather takes to it quickly, earning praise from Paul several times during the hour. Judith is nervous and Nate, Dexter and Guy all fight over the privilege of reassuring her - an argument Guy seems to be winning as Nate himself panicked the first time he went underwater.
"This thing's suffocating me," he complains, tugging at the neck of the rubber suit. He refuses to go out of his depth after that and soon he gives up altogether and wanders off to take photographs instead. Donovan, of course, takes to the lake like he was born underwater and is soon bored with Paul's slow instruction of the others.
When the hour is up Dexter sheds his suit with a sigh of relief. Judith peels herself out of hers more carefully, shrugging off offers of help.
Heather comes away smiling. "Paul's offered me an extra lesson tomorrow," she confides. "I think I'll go - it might turn up some more information." Judith purses her lips doubtfully. From the look on her face it is obvious what she thinks of Heather's motives.
Eleven o'clock. Dexter and Guy sit down in opposite corners of the small hotel room and look expectantly at Mark Richardson.
"So," Mark begins, "what's your decision?"
Dexter frowns. "We're not doing any of your legwork for you, if that's what you mean. It would spell trouble for all of us if people thought we were working for you. But we don't mind swapping information." Briefly, he tells the reporter what they've found out so far.
Mark shakes his head and smiles. "I understand. You don't want to take the risk, do you?" He sits back in his chair. "Let me tell you something: no one gets anywhere without taking the odd risk along the way."
"So what do you know?" Guy prompts him.
"That Hywel Owen - Gwynedd's father - is one of the big names around here. You'd think he was God, the way some of these people talk about him. Even his wife is half scared of him. And the girl's husband was almost as bad. If you ask me, she was having an affair with the American and he found out and killed them both. The bodies are probably hidden in one of the houses somewhere."
"You don't know that for sure, though," Dexter says, easing his bulk from the chair to the floor and stretching out. "This is all conjecture."
"So far," Mark says darkly. "But I'll get proof of it. I'm working on it. I -"
Guy interrupts him. "What about the goat's blood. How do you know it was goat's blood - and where did it appear, anyway?"
"Outside a hotel called The Llywelyn. It's on the lake side. The police confiscated the bucket as soon as they found out so I didn't get a good look at it." His gaze shifts to one side, slightly awkward. "If you must know, I made up the bit about it being goat's blood - but don't quote me on that. It was definitely blood, and it could as well be goat's as any other animal's."
"I see." Guy tries to hide his irritation. "What about the green mist then - you didn't make that up. My guess is phosphorus. What's yours."
The reporter spreads his hands. "I haven't got a clue," he admits. "I'm not a scientist. The explanation that sells papers is that it's caused by the monster farting." He laughs, and stops when the other two don't join in. "Well," he says, getting to his feet. "It's been good talking to you again. If you find you've got anything concrete to add feel free to come back. I'll be here for a while yet."
"What now?" Dexter asks as the two leave the hotel and head to the town to meet the others.
Guy kicks a stone out of his path. "You find the others and fill them in. I'll catch up with you; there's something I want to do first. Tell Judith I'll meet her outside the library at twelve thirty if I don't see you all before that."
Dexter looks at him curiously but doesn't ask what Guy's planning. Stifling a yawn, he remembers that Guy isn't the only one keeping secrets from the group.
Judith runs her fingers over a dozen balls of mohair, frowning slightly before turning to study the neatly piled balls of double knit behind her. She picks out ten balls at random. "I'll have these, please," she says. "Is it proper Welsh wool?"
"As Welsh as it comes." The assistant's voice is sharp. She glances once at Judith's gold Mastercard and shakes her head. "Sorry love, cash only."
"Of course." Judith digs in her bag for her purse. "Do you get a lot of custom around here?"
"Oh." She pauses, wondering how to get the conversation around to Gwyneth Morgan.
"That'll be twenty-two fifty, love."
Judith hands over two twenty pound notes. She takes a deep breath and tries again. "It was a bad business with the girl who went missing, wasn't it?"
The assistant's eyes narrow. "What do you mean?"
Judith finds herself flushing. She smiles uncertainly. "Well, it was. What do you think has happened to her?"
"How should I know?" The woman dismisses her after another quick, hard stare, turning to the next customer. "Yes? Can I help?" Before Judith is out of the door the two of them have started chatting in Welsh.
Dexter catches up with everyone by the tourist information office.
"We've been checking election results," Donovan says. "Judith's idea. Plaid Cymru won the last election here. They've won every election since the seventies. And Heather's been asking about Hywel and Mair Owen. I went back to the newsagents but there was a different girl on duty." He grins briefly. "Reckon she liked me too. The other one is one again tomorrow, I'll go back then."
"I've found the Owens' address." Heather interrupts, pulling a scrap of paper out of her pocket. "We looked it up on the map and it's not far from here. Should we go and see them?"
Dexter reads the address, stumbling over the unfamiliar Welsh. "I suppose we should wait for Guy first. I wonder what he's doing..."
Guy is slapping an ID card on the post office counter and whisking it away before Bryn Morgan has a chance to read it.
"I've had enough of this," he snaps, his voice rising. "As the husband of the missing woman you must know something about the disappearances and if you don't tell me what you know - now - you could find yourself in serious trouble for obstructing official police duty."
"Police duty?" Bryn sneers. "Yesterday you were a charity do-gooder, today you're a policeman. I don't think so."
"Now, listen -" Guy begins. Bryn cuts him off angrily.
"No, you listen. I don't know who you are, and frankly I don't care. Either you get out of here now, and leave me and my family alone in future or you're going to regret it for a long, long time." Face scarlet with anger, he pulls himself up to his full height, his fists balled as if he intends to punch Guy there and then.