The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness

Daeth Y Nos Yn Gylfym

Midday, 5th April 1999

"We can't all go to the Owens' house, can we?" Dexter says. "And someone needs to wait for Guy. Judy, how about you take Heather and go and the rest of us can check out the Llewelyn?"

Heather looks reluctant, but before she can say anything Nathan makes a show of looking at his watch. "I've got a call to make. How about we all meet up at the Llewelyn for lunch? We can split up this afternoon." He looks to Judith for agreement and waits for her to nod before he walks away. The group watches him go in silence.

Judith smiles around at everyone. "Well, it seems we've got a bit of spare time. I want to pop back to the library. Won't be long." She, too, hurries off.

"So then there were three," Dexter comments. "Cigarette, Heather?" He pulls out a battered packet.

Bryn Morgan and Guy continue to stare at each other, faces only inches apart. Guy rests his hands flat on the counter. "Now, I don't want any trouble..."

"Then get out!"

"Not until you tell me what's going on," Guy says calmly. He turns his attention away from Bryn for a moment and studies the notices pinned up behind him. There is a black and white photograph of a woman Guy presumes to be Gwyneth Morgan, with the caption. 'Have you seen her?' The photo itself is blurred and patchy. Almost as if Bryn doesn't want her to be recognised, he thinks. He draws in a breath, ready to start arguing again.

The door opens behind him. A woman comes in, pulling a black and red shopping trolley behind her. She smiles uncertainly through her glasses at the two men then says a quick sentence in Welsh. Guys catches the words 'stamp' and 'lottery'.

Bryn grunts and turns away from him. The tension in the little shop suddenyl broken, Guy stares once more at the photograph of Gwyneth on the wall then walks out.

Lady Judith hurries back to the building, her chestnut hair bouncing stiffly as she walks. A quick smile in the librarian's direction and she begins scanning the shelves, tipping her head on one side to read the titles. Failing to find a book entitled 'Chief bards and wizards of Bala' she contents herself with checking Hywel Owen's address in the phone book and looking through a few old newspapers.

'Mr Hywel Owen, 50 year old headmaster of Bala Junior School and father to Gwyneth Morgan, is convinced that his daughter is still alive,' one paper says. '"I have every faith in the police to find her," he said. So far no body has been recovered.'

Judith puts the papers back and looks for books on self-defence and assertiveness before she leaves. Although, by the time she has persuaded the librarian to let her borrow the books, she feels she has put into practice every assertiveness technique there is.

"I haven't got a lot to tell you," James Wilson of the Metropolitan Police tells Nathan apologetically. "Every year there's at least one person drowned in the lake. There's no pattern to it that I can see. Sometimes the bodies are found, sometimes not. Most of them happen in the summer, which is understandable - that's when most people will be out swimming. As for Barnard and Gwyneth, the police in the area aren't giving me any details. They don't have to, you know, it's a local matter. All I could get out of them was what they've already told the papers. They've trawled the lake and found nothing but they're not ruling out the possibility that the pair of them were drowned."

Nathan hides his disappointment with an effort. "All right, thanks. Look, there are a few other things I want you to check up. Hywel Owen..." he reads off the address. "See if you've got anything on him."

There is a brief pause punctuated by the clicking of a keyboard.

"No," James comes back. "Nothing on the main file here. Why do you want to know all this, anyway?"

"Just something I'm looking into. There's more, if you don't mind. Arson attacks in the area, missing persons, the green mist phenomenon and anything else that's been in the news for this area. Oh, and I've come across the name of Huw Lloyd, a Welsh witch by all accounts. I want you to check his family tree for me and find out the names, addresses and phone numbers of his descendants."

James whistles softly. "Nate, we're bordering on the illegal here. When did this Huw Lloyd die?"

"I'm not sure. Civil War period, I believe."

"Then what do you expect me to do about it?" James laughs. "You'd need to check up local records for that, and even then it's doubtful they'd have anything. I'm sorry, but I can't just take myself off to Bala. You'll have to do your own checking on that one."

"All right. Thanks anyway." Nathan glances around once and talks for a little longer.

"Now that I can help you with," James says. "I'll call you back."

A further quick call to SITU, leaving a message asking them the same questions and Nathan stows his phone in the inside pocket of his leather jacket and strides off in the direction of the Hotel Llewelyn.

The hotel is easy enough to find. A neat, modern-looking red brick building overlooking the lake on one side and open fields on the other. The car park beside it is full. The group file in through the double doors and find themselves a free table.

Donovan and Dexter go to the bar. A few minutes and a lot of laughter later they return carrying a tray of glasses and half a dozen menus.

"The place is friendly for a change," Donovan comments cheerfully. He sets the glasses down, slopping various liquids into each other. "Hey, Heather, I've had an idea. Do you think you can persuade your boyfriend to show us around the lake?"

Heather flushes. "He's not my boyfriend."

"Yes he is."

"No he -" she stops herself before the conversation can turn into an argument. "I'll ask him," she agrees. "He probably won't mind."

"Good." Judith sips at her Pernod. "And while you're there you can ask him about the American. See if you can get a description of him. Oh, and find out whether there's a salt water flow into the lake and if he's heard any strange sounds underwater."

Heather sighs, wondering if she'll actually get any time to go diving between all the questions. "What about the Owens? Who's going to visit them?"

Judith half raises her hand. "I'll do if I no one else will," she offers. "I've got a theory. All the rude people are frightened and all the nice ones, like those farmers, are in it up to their necks. I wouldn't be surprised if it was the farmers who drew on Dexter's poster. Anyway, Hywel Owen is our chief suspect so he should be really charming."

Guy looks unconvinced, but he agrees that somebody should go and talk to the Owens; two people, he suggests, in case there's trouble.

By the time the food arrives - baskets of breaded chicken and chips and packs of crisps and peanuts - a plan is underway. Donovan and Judith volunteer to visit the Owens, while Dexter and Guy go back to sit on the reporter Mark Richardson and Nathan and Heather see about booking diving gear and some private lessons and then do a quick tour of the sites Heather marked on the map yesterday. Heather doesn't look best pleased to be landed with Nate. "Still, he's a safer bet than the Owens," she mutters, lighting a cigarette while Nate scowls at her darkly.

The waitress bustles over to clear the table, forestalling a row. Dexter beams up at her. "Thanks, Miss. Busy day today?"

"Not really." She smiles and shrugs. "Same as usual, really."

Nathan glances at the others and leans forward casually. "Does anything exciting ever happen here, then? We heard you had the police up here the other day. Nothing serious, I hope?"

The girl hesitates a moment, casting a quick glance back to the bar, then she sets the tray down and leans forward. "I'm not supposed to say this, right, but someone left a bucket outside. Filled with blood, it was. And when the police examined it, guess what they found? Only a human finger floating at the bottom." She sees Judith's shocked expression and laughs. "Nah, just kidding. There weren't no body parts. It was pretty gruesome, though. The police said it was proper blood, animal's, you know, but they didn't know where it came from. I'm not supposed to talk about it - the boss says it ruins business."

"Not at all," Nathan says encouragingly. "I'm very interested in that sort of thing myself. I'm researching a book on the Occult at the moment, in fact. I've already sold the idea to a publisher and I'm willing to pay for facts if you know anything."

The girl's eyes are round. "You're a writer? Golly! Are you famous?"

"Not yet. Though I could be with this book. And anyone who helps me with research," he adds pointedly.

"Well, there's some books in the library, I think," she says, biting her lip. "And the tourist office sell one about the Middle Ages. But you won't find any witches alive now - not here. This is a tourist place, nothing ever happens."

"Except for the bucket of blood," Judith puts in.

"Yes, except for that." She picks up the tray again and stops. "Look, I'll ask around for you if you like. Where are you staying? If I do find anything out - and I'm not making promises, mind you - I'll give you a call."

It is getting on for half past two when they leave.

Donovan nudges Guy on the way out. "See those men over there? They've been watching us for the past hour."

Guy glances over. Two men in identical white T shirts stare back indifferently. He quickens his pace to catch up with the others but none of them are paying attention. They are all staring down at the ground to the left of the main doors. Three small patches of dark scarlet are easily visible, staining the ground like drops of blood.

The home of Hywel and Mair Owen is twice the size of the neighbouring houses. Set right on the lakeside, there is a stream running through the front garden and a small motor boat is moored outside.

"I wonder if they've got any younger daughters?" Donovan muses, almost jogging up to the front door in his eagerness to find out. Judith follows more slowly, frowning at the athlete's bare shoulders. She has to admit that Donovan is one of the last people she wanted to face the Owens with - he barely seems on the same planet as everyone else. She just hopes he doesn't do anything to offend Mr Owen while they're there.

Quickly patting her hair into place and raising her chin in what the book she borrowed said was a confident manner, she catches up with Donovan just as he knocks on the door. A thin, middle-aged woman in a hand-knitted blue cardigan answers and looks at them both with a smile that grows increasingly uneasy.

"Yes? Can I help?"

"Mrs Owen?" Judith asks, taking the lead. "We'd like to speak to your husband if that's possible." She rummages through her handbag for one of the 'Empty Chair' leaflets and holds it out.

Mair's smile remains fixed. She reads the leaflet then folds it in four and nods distractedly. Judith clears her throat, convinced the woman is about to shut the door on them.

Then a voice from inside. "Mair, who is it, love?"

Mair turns, relief flooding her pale cheeks with colour. "Some people. They say they're from a charity about missing relatives."

"Then tell them... No, tell them to come in. No point turning folk away, is there?"

Paul listens patiently while Nathan explains about wanting private scuba lessons and the complications of his claustrophobia.

"No problem," he says cheerfully when Nathan has finished. "The lake's a big place, no need for claustrophobia to worry you. I can give you an extra hour's tuition after your regular lesson tomorrow if you like. I'll have to charge you the standard rate for it, I'm afraid."

"No problem," Nathan agrees. "Thanks."

Paul turns his attention back to Heather. "You're doing really well. A couple of extra lessons would help you no end, you know."

She takes the hint. Paul doesn't mention anything about charging her for a full underwater tour of the lake, Nate notices. He even offers to get her a discount on hiring a wind-surfer if she wants to try that too. Nathan sniffs disgustedly. No doubt the girl will sort out her own method of payment.

He glances at her sideways as they leave. "All you need to do now is find a way of smoking underwater and you'll be sorted."

Her eyes flash angrily. "I told you I'm trying to give up."

"So, try harder." He stops where he is. "The stink of smoke is starting to get to me. I'm going to check out the lake - on my own."

Heather shakes her head. Sighing in irritation she turns in the opposite direction, taking a map out of her rucksack as she walks.

Hywel Owen is sitting smoking in the back room of the house, turning his head from time to time to blow smoke out through the patio doors. His wife shows Judith and Donovan in and flees.

"Well," Hywel says. "What can I do for you?"

Judith perches herself on the edge of an old sofa and begins her charity speech again. Donovan lounges next to her. The haze of smoke in the room makes it hard to breathe and he wonders whether Owen is trying to poison them.

Eventually, the older man shakes his head. The sunlight slants across his face so his mouth is in shadow while his eyes sparkle blue as the lake outside. "I appreciate you coming to see me," he says, "but I'm not sure I need your services. My daughter will turn up, that is certain."

Donovan shifts in his seat. "How do you know that?"

"I do. Trust me." He smiles briefly, pausing to stub his cigarette out. "If she doesn't come home by herself the police will find her." He stands up, holding out his hand to Judith. "Thank you again for your concern, and enjoy your stay here."

There is no excuse to stay any longer. Judith casts a quick glance around the room as she stands up. Everything looks completely ordinary. Two sofas, a TV in one corner, a tall cupboard in another. No books, and the only pictures on the wall are prints of animals and an elaborate cross-stitch of a bouquet of daffodils.

"One of my wife's many hobbies," Hywel says, catching the direction of Judith's gaze. "I'll see you to the door."

"Look here, Richardson," Dexter says angrily. "It's obvious you've been embroidering the facts. Now, we want to know what the hell is going on. The real facts, please, not the stories you make up to justify your holiday to your bosses."

The reporter licks his lips nervously. He starts out of his chair then, seemingly realising that with Dexter and Guy blocking the door the only way out is the window, he sits back down and looks at them both seriously. "All right, I'll level with you," he says. "The bit about goat's blood I did make up, but there really was a bucket of blood, and the disappearances are real enough as well. I just don't want anyone stealing my story, that's all."

"We don't care about your bloody story," Guy tells him, standing up. "What we do want is information on what's going on around here. Now you have a choice: you can tell us exactly what you know or we can beat the crap out of you until you do."

There is a short silence, broken when Mark draws in a ragged breath. "Listen, I don't want any trouble. I'm just trying to do my job." Guy steps towards him and he holds up both hands. "I've got some pictures of the monster, I can show you those..."

"Meet you after work?" The girl in the newsagents giggles. "Sorry, but no. My boyfriend would go up the wall. What did you want to talk about anyway?" On Judith's suggestion Donovan has taken a bunch of flowers along. She accepts them with another nervous giggle.

"You were saying you knew something about my friend, Anthony Barnard," Donovan persists.

She shrugs, her face half buried in the flowers. "I think he was staying at the Llewelyn, that's all I was going to say." She glances over her shoulder. An open door behind her leads to a store-room. "Sorry, but I really will get into trouble if the boss finds me chatting when I should be working. Thanks for the flowers, though."

"I need some more wool," Judith says boldly, walking into the shop. "The last lot a bought was lovely but I need a ball or two of red for an edging." She leans past a grey-haired woman who is reading a pattern and peers over the counter. "I suppose you dye the local wool yourselves. How many shades of red do you have?"

"Three," the assistant answers curtly. But the grey-haired woman smiles.

"Are you a keen knitter then, love," she asks. Her Welsh accent all but turns the question into a song.

Judith nods, hesitates then shakes her head. "Well no, I'm more interested in different types of wool and the old dyes and things, you know. I was half-hoping I could find someone to knit my sweater up for me when I'd picked the wool." She turns back to look at the neatly stacks balls across the counter. "What would they have used originally to dye those, do you think?" she asks, pointing at the red and blue wool.

"Plant extracts, mainly, dear. There's some root or other they used for the red, wasn't there?" She looks at the assistant for confirmation.

"I suppose so. They're two twenty-five a ball."

Judith draws herself up to her full height. "Then I'll have three balls," she says assertively. She hands over a ten pound note. "Oh, by the way," she adds to the woman at her side. "I keep seeing notices about the eisteddfod. Who's in charge of it? I'd like to get tickets."

Her new friend smiles. "Oh tickets are no problem, you just pick them up on the day. Most of it's free, anyway. But the organiser is a man called Hywel Owen. Maybe you've read about him in the paper. His daughter vanished, poor thing, but he's still intent on organising everything."

Lady Judith stares at her. "He's the organiser?" she blurts out, and managed to recover herself enough to add. "Is he a bard, or something, then?"

"A bard. Oh no, dear. That was his daughter - or would have been if she hadn't disappeared like that." Seeing Judith's blank look she smiles again. "The crowning of the bard," she explains. "It's the highlight of the eisteddfod. Gwyneth Morgan won the prize this year. She would have been crowned on the last day of the eisteddfod if she'd been here, so it's ever so brave of Mr Owen to carry on like this."

Murmuring agreement, Judith makes her getaway.

Evening, at the Llyn-y Ddraig. The group meet up in Heather and Judith's room to discuss plans safely out of the way of any curious ears.

"The pictures were a bit of a disappointment," Dexter finishes. "We brought one away with us - it's more or less typical. Mike's got better ones on his walls here." He passes the photograph on to Heather. Against the flat surface of the lake there is a dark shadow. It's just as likely to be a boat as the head of a monster.

Nathan takes it and passes it on after a quick look. "I had a good walk round the lake after Heather and I - uh - decided to part. I didn't see anything. The Owen's house is on the waterfront, we all know that. There are a few others like that but Mike said most of them are holiday homes. I checked them all over and couldn't see anything out of the ordinary, anyway."

"Maybe you weren't looking properly," Heather suggests quietly. But when she outlines her search of the 'witch-craft' sites within walking distance of the village, she has to admit that she didn't see anything unusual either.

Judith sighs. "So we've found out that Mr Owen is a nice man, which proves my theory. And that Mr Richardson or the girl at the Llewelyn might be able to find out some more for us. Dexter, would it be a good idea to go back to the farm at night? That fire could have been to get rid of Mr Barnard's car, and the bodies." She shudders quietly at the thought and Guy edges closer to her and pats her hand comfortingly.

"We'll be studying the lake tomorrow, that should help. Why don't we take the rest of the evening off?"

To his surprise, Nathan agrees enthusiastically, clapping Guy on the shoulder. "We're supposed to be tourists, after all," he says. "Lets go down to the bar and take some photographs. I'll go and get my camera and join you down there."

Mike Gaskin is all smiles when the group files downstairs. "You've got yourself a concert," he announces. "I've had a word with a few people and they've agreed to give you a slot in the eisteddfod, ten o'clock at night on the ninth. Only half an hour, but all the equipment's there. All you'll have to do is turn up and sing." When the everyone has finished congratulating one another, he leans closer, his face becoming serious. "From one non-Welshie to another, I think people have only agreed to it so they can have a good laugh at you. No offence, understand, but some of them are like that. Anyway, it's up to you to show them - do your best and wipe the smiles off their faces."

Subj: Re: Questions

Date: 5/4/99

From <Classified>

Sender: cmharris@<classified>

To: Nathan_Garston@compuserve.com


Number of questions suggests investigation is going well. Good. Sorry, can't give further advice or information at present. If we had the manpower to check all this, we wouldn't need to send you into the area. Sure you understand this. Please contact us again if you find you need back-up. Will support you if appropriate and possible.

Nathan turns the computer off and stares at the blank screen for a while. Then, swearing under his breath, he picks up his camera and goes to join the others back in the bar.

"Have a crisp, Guy," he offers, coming into the room with an open packet. Guy takes one and he drops the pack into his lap. "Finish them off, they taste a bit funny to me. How about a photo of you with Rhiannon?"

"What's he been drinking?" Heather wonders aloud. She relaxes visibly when he goes to join Dexter and Donovan at the bar.

It takes all of three seconds to work out that Donovan's cult episode only happened in his own mind, though both Dexter and Nate play along with it to the point of following the Canadian out of the room when he says he's got a meeting with her in the village. They return half an hour late with Donovan looking embarrassed and muttering something about losing the address.

The rest of the evening is spent swapping information in the Llyn-y-Ddraig bar. Nathan tells Dexter about the death of his parents and Dexter, from his position on the floor, nods sympathetically and talks about his own family, parents both dead and only brother working on a cruise ship. "Still, it's a good life," he concludes. "Far more fun than my old lecturing job. What about the rest of you? What made you join SITU?"

"I want to get the aliens before they get me," Donovan says. "They made me lose at the Olympics and now they're trying to kill me." He is frustrated that no one seems to believe him.

Despite Nathan's reassurances, Donovan sleeps badly that night. Every time he is dropping off to sleep he hears noises. They start off from Dexter's room next door, he thinks, strange squeaks and groans and whistles as if a whole convention of aliens are having a conversation just within earshot. He is relieved when morning comes and Judith taps on the door, ready for a karate lesson.

An early morning call wakes Guy. Slipping into the bathroom he listens to Linda's report. "The mist could be chlorine based," she says, "or something to do with algae. Goat's blood is used in various occult practices, quite often in summoning the devil or setting a curse. As for your monster, it's a local curiosity as far as I can tell. Not as famous as its cousin in Loch Ness. You'll probably find that the locals can tell you more about it than I can find out here."

Going downstairs, Guy finds that a packet waiting for him. A magazine in a brown cover, the paper torn just enough to reveal the words 'Gay Times.'

Rhiannon giggles nervously as she hands it over. "The shop in town said you wanted it charged to your room."

"But I didn't..." There is no point arguing, Guy realises. Frowning, he tears the magazine in half and drops it in the bin on his way out.

The mist is rising from the lake again. Not as thick as last time, but it is still there.

Judith and Donovan come over to meet the others. Judith is dressed impeccably as always. Donovan, wearing his usual lurid mix of lycra rubs his arm from time to time and complains of bruises.

"Horse-riding," Judith explains. "It builds up the muscles."

"What, in your fists?" He starts a series of exercises while Dexter leads the way to the boat they have hired. Once he and Nate have installed themselves at the oars there's only just enough room for Judith to squeeze in between them. The others stand and watch the boat moving uncertainly in and out of patches of mist.

"I phoned my mates in Aberdeen yesterday," Dexter says, gasping as he pulls on the right-hand oar. "They said the Loch Ness monster usually appears early morning, and that people have occasionally noted a funny coloured mist over the loch as well. There may be a connection between monsters and mist."

Judith nods and dips a jam jar into the water, scooping it up half full. She screws the lid on tightly. "There, we can get that analysed. Can you go over there, where the mist is thicker? I want to get a sample of that too."

It seems that the mist exists in patches, drifting slowly and smelling slightly of salt and something else that no one can quite identify. Dexter comes closest when he says it reminds him of rotten leaves. "And it tastes like someone's peed in it," he adds, spitting out half a mouthful. All three of them listen for any sound besides the steady dip and splash of their own oars in the water, but they hear nothing. The morning is quiet, theirs the only boat out. Eventually, they turn back to shore, Judith clutching her two precious jars in a fold of her jacket.

The mid-morning sun is warm but beneath the lake the world is one of cool silence. Paul, who seems to have got over his disappointment at Heather bringing Donovan along, leads the way, the powerful torch he carries cutting a path through the dark water. Heather follows more cautiously while Donovan flashes his torch around constantly, looking for monsters and underwater aliens.

A cold current of water brushes Heather's arm and she turns in that direction. There is nothing there to see - not even any fish. She dives down lower, brushing her hands through the mud and weed at the bottom of the lake until Paul taps her shoulder and signals to surface.

"Told you," he says, grinning as he removes his mask, "no monster."

Donovan tries not to look disappointed. "We haven't looked everywhere yet," he points out.

"But then it's probably not safe to look everywhere, is it Paul?" Heather adds. "Which bits should we stay away from?"

He waves with one arm, indicating a row of yellow buoys forming a chain just past the middle of the lake. "It's marked out, look. It suddenly gets deeper there and the cold can take you by surprise, especially if you're not used to it." He sees the question in Donovan's eyes and shakes his head. "And no, there's no monster there. I've been out there myself and I'm sure I'd have seen it if it was there."

When Heather asks him about the 'American who might have drowned here,' he shakes his head again. "I saw him once or twice. He was always by himself, didn't talk to anyone. Beats me why he wanted a holiday at all, he didn't seem to be enjoying it. Shall we carry on?" He pulls his mask back into place and lets himself sink into the water.

They swim on. After a while Heather's eyes narrow suspiciously. Is it just her imagination, seeing something because she knows there is something wrong, or is the water taking on a greenish tinge as it gets deeper?

Judith and Nathan walking into the church side by side, both of them slowing the silence folds around them. The vicar comes out of a back room to greet them. His black leather shoes make little metallic clicks as he crosses the wooden floor boards.

Judith stands back and lets Nathan do the talking this time, listening as he talks about the book on the occult he is supposed to be researching. The vicar's expression grows more solemn and finally he shakes his head, cutting Nathan off in full flow.

"If you're investigating this for a novel, then I'm sorry for you and for the people who will read it. The good Lord did not put the devil into this world for our entertainment. I suppose you know of the dangers of messing with these sorts of powers? In any case, you won't find anything at all here. The church has been strong here for centuries now. Best take your research some place else, eh?"

Nathan takes a deep breath. "I'm sorry, but I don't believe you." The light through the stained-glass turns the dust into a green cloud between them. "I know about Huw Lloyd and his followers in the old days. Is there anything like that happening now? I can tell you're worried about it and there's no need to be. We might even be able to help. The organisation we're working for is very interested in the strange happenings that have made it into the paper recently. I can't tell you who we're working for but I can assure you that the well-being of the local residents is our highest priority. Anything you can tell us would help us resolve the situation with the least amount of disruption."

"Least amount of disruption," the vicar repeats softly. He looks Nathan in the eyes. "First you tell me you're writing a book, now you say you're working for some secret organisation - which I presume is not the charity this lady said she represented."

Judith shrugs uncomfortably. She is beginning to feel cold again. "It's complicated," she begins.

"I'd say it is." The vicar stares at his feet a moment while the silence flows back like water. "I'm telling you the truth that I don't know of any occult happenings hereabouts. Only that incident at the Llewelyn that was in the papers. But Huw Lloyd was supposedly born in 1649. This year is his 350th birthday. Whether it means anything, I don't know." He pauses again. "If you really want to help, you'd forget about witchery and see if you can find Gwyneth and Anthony - or their remains." He nods to them both and turns to go.

"Wait," Judith calls after him. "What do you know about Gwyneth and Anthony? Were they having an affair?"

Her only answer is a shrug of shoulders as the vicar walks away.

Donovan spends a good twenty minutes in the post-office, weighing up the little Welsh doll he has bought for Demi Moore, buying boxes of fudge for everyone and generally chatting to Bryn Morgan in his best American accent. The Welshman thaws enough to smile when answering questions and offer a roll of sellotape when Donovan realises he's got nothing to seal his parcel with.

"By the way," he says casually as he hands the package across to be weighed for the third time, "a friend of mine was in the area recently and said he might leave a forwarding address here. Barnard, his name was."

Morgan's eyes immediately narrow into a frown. "This Barnard has got too many friends for his own good. Anyway, haven't you read the papers? He's vanished."

"Really?" Donovan does a passable imitation of surprise. "Vanished? Where to?"

"If we knew that he wouldn't be vanished now, would he?" He smiles tightly at his own joke. "If I hear from him I'll let you know, all right?"

"All right." He pays for the parcel.

He gets a dozen paces away from the post office when he remembers something and stops. "Damn," he mutters, "I should have asked if there were any letters for him." He goes back to the door but he doesn't go in.

The top half of the door is made of glass, dirty but not so much that he can't see Bryn Morgan through it. The Welshman is on the phone, one arm waving angrily as he talks.

Heather meets Dexter as she's walking away from the lake and greets him cheerfully. They fall into step together, following the path around the shore back to the hotel. About halfway round, Heather stops.

"Dexter," she says, flushing slightly, "looks, there's nothing romantic in this, but could you sing for me? Some sort of ballad. I think we should test if this singing to Teggie thing actually works." Her cheeks burn redder. "Don't take this the wrong way, but you're not my sort. I just want to hear you sing something soft."

Dexter agrees at once, first humming a few bars then breaking into full song. "Please release me, let me go. For..."

Heather turns her head away as he continues so he can't see her smile. Thank goodness he's got a good voice, she thinks. That was the only thing that had been worrying her.

Everyone meets up at the Llyn-y-Ddraig for elevenses and when Dexter suggests they should spend a few hours looking over the rest of the sites marked on the map no one objects.

The first two prove a disappointment and tempers are frayed by the time they reach the third. "A waste of time," Nate grumbles.

"Not exactly." Heather studies her guidebook closely. "It says here that Huw Lloyd stayed here once. You're supposed to be able to see his footprints in a rock."


She shakes her head impatiently and walks in the direction of a pair of trees.

"I can't see anything," Nate says.

"No, but..." she points, uncertain now. Where the footprint rock should be, there is only a flat, brown patch of earth. Then, as the six of them stare down, they hear footsteps behind them. Turning round, they see a group of men, all wearing identical jeans and white T shirts, coming towards them.

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