The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Daeth Y Nos Yn Gylfym
RHAN PUMP (PART 5)
1pm, 6th April 1999
"Look," Donovan begins, "if this is about that small Lisa-Marie Presley thing I can explain..."
The T shirt men - there are five of them, Dexter notes quickly - glance at each other, shrug, and keep coming. Heather falls back nervously and Nathan steps close to Guy murmuring, "You're the one with the Special Services training. I guess you should handle this for us." He and Guy step in front of the two women just as the T shirt brigade come to a halt and Dexter smiles broadly.
"Hi," he beams. "Are you tourists too?"
The five men stare at him blankly. Judith clears her throat and squeaks a 'hello' before darting back behind the relative safety of Guy's back.
"They probably want your autograph, Dexter," Nathan says. "They must have heard you're performing at the Eisteddfod, why don't you sign a flyer for them? Isn't that right, boys?"
Again, the quick exchange of glances, then one of the men steps forward. His dark hair is cropped short enough to see his scalp through it and his eyes, equally dark, are angry beneath heavy brows. He faces Dexter directly.
"What are you doing here?"
Dexter's smile barely wavers. Only Guy notices his right hand clench tight around something in his pocket. "We're just out here on a bit of an occult sight-seeing trip, but the bloody stone we traipsed all the way out here to see seems to have disappeared. You guys got any idea where it might have got to?"
The stranger shakes his head and glares at him, despite the fact that he is less than half Dexter's size. "What do you want with Huw Lloyd's rock?" he asks. He turns his head back to the others and barks out a few words of Welsh. "It seems that you people just won't take no for an answer," he says. "Lets try it again. We don't like you. Coming here, snooping round our farms and our homes, upsetting folk, like. So, this is what you're going to do - go back to your hotel, pack your bags, and get the hell out of here."
"And if we don't?" Guy asks quietly.
"Then we teach you a lesson." His smile turns ugly. "Best not go out alone. Specially not the ladies - they've got a habit of disappearing around here, or haven't you noticed?" He nods curtly to Dexter, swings around and walks off. The rest of the men follow him.
Judith lets out a long breath. Heather, who has looking round for the best escape route, stops her search and lights a cigarette. Her hands a trembling just a fraction and she turns her back on the others to hide it. Dexter is frowning, both hands clenched in his pockets. "I reckon we'll be seeing them again," he says. He flashes a grin in Donovan's direction. "I don't suppose any of them were aliens come to get us, were they?"
Heather blows a series of smoke rings into the air. "Lets try being serious. What do we do now? We can't just leave."
"What we do now is we go back to the hotel and get a late lunch." Nate turns on her. "Put that damn thing out, will you? And Donovan, come away from that tree - it is not an alien."
On the single platform of Bala's railway station, a man is flicking through a newspaper, his grey-green eyes scanning the headlines of each page. The woman in the small kiosk watches him suspiciously, her eyes never leaving the cigarette in his hand, as if she expects him to set light to her entire stock with it any minute. Eventually, he shrugs, tears a page out of the middle of the paper and crumples the rest roughly back into shape.
"Thanks, love," he says, bending down to pick up a large, black sports bag. His accent is American - more or less. He swears softly to himself as he swings the bag over his shoulders and strides on out into the sunlight.
"Hey!" the woman yells after him, shaking the remains of the newspaper. "How about paying for this?"
He turns his head and treats her to a broad grin. Then he is gone.
Back at the Llyn y Ddraig, Donovan is enthusing about mobile phones and has just talked the others into requesting a spare one from Situ when Guy comes out of his room looking worried.
"I've had a call from my secretary," he explains. "There's been a break-in at the office."
Lady Judith lets out a cry of dismay. "How awful! Has anyone been hurt?"
"No, thank God. But it sounds quite serious." He runs a hand across his eyes and sighs. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to go back there right away. There's a train leaving in half a hour. Nate, can a bother you for a lift to the station?"
"Sure. Come on." He turns away at once.
"He could at least pretend he's sorry," Heather mutters.
The remaining four members of the party stand and stare at each other as the two men leave. At length, Judith breaks the silence with a loud sigh. "Well, that's that, then," she says to no one in particular.
The library that afternoon is quiet, deserted save for the assistant and a man Judith and Heather don't recognise sitting at the table by the window. Heather has to step over his black sports bag to get the occult books and as she does, the sudden warmth of a hand on her thigh makes her jump. She spins round and glares at the man who grins back at her and raises a finger to his lips.
"Shhh," he whispers. "This is a library, you know."
Donovan puts down the phone and turns to Nathan with a triumphant grin. "I've found the people who hired Barnard his car. We can go and see them this afternoon. Can we get a paper on the way?"
"Sure. And check for aliens and robots. And Elvis Presley too, if you want. With everything else that's going on I wouldn't be surprised if he turned up at some point as well."
They start out to the car. As they pass the reception desk at the front door of the hotel, Rhiannon calls to them. "A message came for you," she says. She holds out a sealed envelope. Nathan takes it. It is addressed to 'the group of tourists including the Elvis guy.' Nathan examines it carefully before opening it.
"When did it arrive?" he asks.
"I don't know. I found it on the mat about ten minutes ago. Not more trouble at home, I hope?"
Nate shakes his head. "No. Thanks, Rhiannon. We'll see you later."
"What does it say," Donovan wants to know as soon as they are out of the hotel. Nathan passes a single sheet of paper to him in silence.
The message is scrawled in red ink. One down, five to go, it says.
With all the others fully occupied, Dexter decides to do a quick trip around the rest of the occult sites in the area. He is half expecting trouble, to the extent that he sharpens his pocket knife before leaving the hotel, but although he does see several people, men and women, in white T shirts, none of them pay him more than the usual attention. Obviously, not everyone in a white T shirt is an enemy, he reflects, grinning to himself ruefully.
There are only a few sites left and most of them look fairly ordinary. A standing stone, a circle of dark grass, the remains of an old building or two, in general it takes longer to go from one to the other than it does to look around any one of them.
On the way back, though, he deliberately goes out of his way, following a path around to Seren and Dafydd's farm. When he reaches the top of a hill overlooking the fields he sits down and stays there some time, his gaze turning back and forth constantly over the pattern of hedges and fences.
"We should compare notes," Judith says.
The team is gathered in Dexter's room. Donovan is clutching a couple of newspapers, Heather has a notebook open on her knees and Judith's hand rests protectively on a pile of paperbacks. "I've bought all the books I can find about Huw Lloyd," she offers.
Nate smiles. "Me too. Did you know that he was supposed to be the reincarnation of Gwydion?"
"Of who?" Dexter has kicked his shoes off and is stretched out on the floor, his feet threatening to knock over books and papers every time he uncrosses them.
"Gwydion. He was the magician in the Mabinogi who made Blodeuwydd out of flowers. We found a translation of Gwyneth's eisteddfod poem and, guess what, that was about Blodeuwydd too. Heather, you made a copy of it, didn't you?"
She grimaces. "I had to fight some American creep for it, but yes." She flips back a page in her notebook and begins to read.
"And who gave you the right to make me yours
Steal flowers from the hill and give them name?
Fast prisoned in stone walls and iron doors
Think you that I would love what I became?
Made me you did, yet yours I will not be.
Close fast my petals, turn from him in scorn
And open to a stranger. Make him see
That even now the rose has kept her thorn."
Her voice trails off. "It's probably better in Welsh," she shrugs. "But the gist of it is that she feels very sorry for Blodeuwydd, which is strange because from what I've read she's usually the villain of the piece. And another strange thing is they don't have a second place for this competition. You're either the bard or you're no one, it seems. I couldn't even find any other poems that had been entered. I did find a list of previous winners, though, and guess who was on it? Hywel Owen, with some piece about Huw Lloyd the warlock." She falls silent, chewing a strand of her hair.
"Huw Lloyd's stone was apparently one of the places he stood to perform various rituals," Nate says, taking over. "There's some story that he used to carry it around with him in case he needed to do some magic. But there's another story that says it's always been in the same place. Take your pick. More importantly, Donovan and I traced Barnard's car."
Donovan nods, lowering his eyes in a not-entirely-successful show of modesty. "They said they haven't had any news of it since he disappeared. I convinced them I knew him and they checked through their records and found he was here for six weeks in July and August last year. According to what their books he couldn't have gone much out of this area. His mileage was stupidly low - especially for an American."
"Unless he had a reason for staying around here," Judith adds quietly. "Such as if he was having a love affair with a local woman who couldn't be away from her home too long or people would suspect something."
Donovan contrives to look shocked. "You think so? There was nothing in the paper about that. I found a report about the boat-house break in." He shoots Dexter a hard look. "According to the papers, the police are still looking for who did it. And they've stopped searching the lake for missing people and they're looking outside the area just in case. There was an article that said Barnard's family are threatening to sue over it."
There is a short silence.
"Well," says Judith, standing up. "I'm going to the Women's Institute meeting tonight, which gives me an hour to get ready."
Over a quick drink or two in the bar Mike Gaskin tells the group that in all his photos of Teggie, she is a fair way out into the lake. "Not surprising. She's probably too shy to come any closer." The green mist, too appears to be concentrated in the areas furthest from the shore.
"Magic, now," he says, scratching his head. "I don't know. There's got to be something in it, I reckon. Certainly used to be, you just read all them old folk tales. Whether it's true that Teggie can cause magic stuff to happen, or whether she's magical herself, like a dragon, I can't say. Personally, I reckon she's more like a dinosaur than a dragon, some old sea creature left behind from a time when the whole country was sea. I guess part of her magic is that we'll never know."
"Changing the subject," Judith interrupts him. "Have you found out anything about who might have drawn on Dexter's poster yet? Who might have had access to it?"
He shakes his head. "I'm sorry, I've drawn a complete blank. The hotel doors are locked every night and only the guests and myself have keys. I can vouch for the staff myself. The only ones likely to do it are the Cymdeithas people and I haven't seen them here in a month." He smiles an apology. "If I do find anything out, I'll let you know. Another mystery."
Nate is searching through his jacket pockets. "Has anyone seen my phone?" he enquires loudly. "I seem to have mislaid it."
The only answer is a snort of amusement from Donovan's direction.
"Hello, it's Mrs Owen, isn't it?" Judith introduces herself.
The woman jumps and turns, almost spilling the cup of tea she is holding. "Yes, I..." she recognises Judith then. "You're from that missing person charity." She flicks a quick glance at Heather. "Did you come together?"
Heather nods and steps back a pace, watching the room while the two women talk. There are probably forty women in the hall, ages ranging from around thirty right up to eighty, all dressed, like Judith, in skirts and heeled shoes. Heather scuffs her boots along the floor, shoves her hands deep into the pockets of her combat trousers and wishes she didn't look quite so out of place.
"It's your son-in-law who runs the post office, isn't it," Judith asks. "How is he coping with the situation? I was in there the other day and he didn't seem happy, poor man."
"He isn't." Mair's gaze wanders around the room and comes back to rest on Judith. "You really shouldn't be worrying yourself about us, you know. It's very kind, but..."
But what, Judith thinks. But you can get beaten up by men in white T shirts? She keeps her smile sympathetic and tries again. "You must all be very worried. Especially after she won the big prize at the eisteddfod. Will they cancel if she doesn't come home by then?"
Mair's cup clatters in its saucer. "I don't know," she says. "I don't know what will happen. Excuse me." She walks away before Judith can stop her.
Judith meets Heather's gaze and smiles brightly. "Well, that went better than expected."
"Apart from all the people watching," Heather mutters. When Judith raises her eyebrows she takes her by the arm. "I think we ought to leave. All the time you were talking," she adds in a whisper, "there were people watching. Far too many to be normal curiosity.
Dexter is taking up most of the sofa in the Owen's front room. He smiles at Hywel sitting opposite him and stretches out a little further.
"l'm just really here to let you know how proud I am that you've allowed me to sing at your festival, Elvis was a big admirer of Tom Jones, you know."
Hywel raises an eyebrow politely. "Really?"
"Scout's honour. I just hope I'm up to it, it seems that there's a lot of very talented young people hereabouts."
"You're right there. But I wouldn't worry: it's a small event, nothing like the national ones. A performer of your - ah - calibre - will have no trouble."
Dexter can't quite decide whether he's making fun or not. He decides to take the comment seriously. "I'll do my best, anyway," he says. "Which is another reason why I'm here. The more I know about the set-up, the better I'll be able to tailor my act to fit."
Hywel frowns a moment. "Well, the event goes on a full week, I suppose you know that. There are competitions and things, mainly for the children, there'll be an exhibition of art and craft in the library and open-air performances by the lake. The last day is the fifteenth. The children will be performing then, and the bard will be crowned." He stops suddenly and coughs. "Or that's the normal course of events. I don't know what I shall do if we haven't found my daughter by then."
"I heard about that," Dexter says. "I'm sorry."
"So are we all, lad. So are we all."
The farm is dark, only the almost-silent sweep of owls' wings disturbing the air. That, and three sets of stealthy footsteps.
"This is it," Dexter whispers.
Nate and Donovan stop either side of him and the three of them stare across the open field to the blackened remains of an old barn. Standing alone on rough ground, well away from any other buildings, if the farmer could have chosen which building to lose, he'd probably have gone for this one, Nate reckons.
The team creep closer, pausing every couple of steps to listen. Nathan gradually takes the lead and the other two let him go on ahead. By the time they reach the barn all of them are sweating. They flatten themselves gratefully into the shadows, watching each other in the moonlight.
"Must have been a big fire," Nate mutters.
He's right: the whole area is blackened for a good twenty feet around the barn in all directions, and the ground underfoot feels soft and ashy. Dexter crouches down and digs through it cautiously. "Can't feel anything."
They search for close on half an hour and then Donovan lets out a muffled shout of triumph that brings the other two leaping to their feet.
"Keep it down," Nate hisses.
"All right, but look." He points to the spot where he's been digging.
Half buried in the mix of mud and ash are several pieces of metal. Burnt black and twisted completely out of shape they look strangely grotesque in the black of midnight.
"I was at the scene of a car crash once," Nate says softly. "Two vehicles up in flames, and the remains looked exactly like that."
Everyone is up early the next morning. Dexter because Nate's phone had mysteriously found its way into his room and rang every two minutes until he found it jammed behind the wardrobe. Nate, because Donovan invited him to join his morning jog and Judith and Heather because, apparently, they want to watch Nate try to squeeze twenty excess pounds of fat into Donovan's spare set of lycra. After splitting one pair of shorts down the middle Nate stamps off in leggings and a violent lime-green vest that is already riding up over his midriff.
They return an hour later, Donovan's skin covered in a sheen of sweat so he almost seems to be glowing, and Nathan bright purple from the ankles up and swearing every other step. Even Dexter's suggestion that "you and Judy would like to spend a day admiring the scenery by the farm and have a romantic hill-side picnic?" doesn't cheer him up much.
After the scuba lesson that morning, Heather talks Paul into taking her and Donovan further into the lake again. Leaving them to it, Judith and Nathan take up the suggestion of a picnic and Dexter wanders off in the direction of the Goronwy hotel...
"Found any more dirt for us?" Dexter asks.
The reporter grimaces sulkily. "Barnard's family are going to sue. The mist is still there, on and off. Some of the villagers are joining in the police hunt for the missing people, and Cymdeithas are causing so much trouble that loads of the holidaymakers are complaining."
Dexter sits forward. "What sort of trouble?"
"Bothering people at the lake, vandalising boats, painting slogans on hotels. Everyone knows it's them but no one will do anything about it."
"No more buckets of blood? When exactly did that happen, anyway? Was it when Barnard was staying at the hotel?"
Richardson blinks at him. "Of course it was. I thought you knew that. You want to know whether it was a warning to him, is that it?"
"It could have been," Dexter points out.
"It probably was." Richardson sits silent for a moment. "I've got the feeling I'm onto something big here," he says at last. "Really big. All I need is a bit more time to check it out."
Dexter heaves himself upright. "Don't leave it too long, then. And keep an eye on the eisteddfod," he advises. "Something big will be happening there all right."
The lake seems to get colder the deeper the divers go. Paul motions them on and they follow, Donovan waving his new underwater camera around hopefully. Heather moves more slowly, constantly turning in the water to gaze back through her own stream of bubbles. For a moment a swish of something blacker even than the water catches her eye but when she swings round to see it it is gone. She stares after it thoughtfully, he torch illuminating the water in a green haze.
The day passes slowly. Dexter alternates between reading up on witchcraft and annoying the locals with sneak previews of his concert.
"Someone's been asking after you," Mike tells him. "An American. A friend of yours, he said. Didn't tell me his name. He wanted to know how you'd spent your holiday so far. Quite upset Rhiannon too when she wouldn't tell him."
"What did he look like?" Dexter asks.
Mike frowns. "American, greenish eyes. He had a black bag with him."
The local school, Donovan finds to his relief, is all too pleased to have a professional athlete offer to talk to the children. He's even more relieved when he gets there and finds all the people are real humans - not a robot or alien among them.
"What do you think of your headmaster?" he asks one girl. "Is he all right?"
"Oh yes, he's great." The reply comes automatically, the same as it has come from fifty children already. They must really mean it, Donovan thinks. They sound so enthusiastic about him that they might have been rehearsing it all year.
He jogs over to join Heather by the gate. "No luck here. This lot are Hywel Owner's biggest fan club."
She's not listening. She is watching two boys and a girl going through what looks like a rehearsal of their big play. The girl is wearing a dress covered in paper flowers. As they watch, the boys begin to argue. One of them shakes his fist and the other takes a stick and throws it. The girl screams half-heartedly just as the first boy falls clumsily down and stands up again almost immediately.
"It could be a flower," Judith says uncertainly, staring down at the pattern of blood stains outside the hotel Llewelyn. After a whole day of watching sheep she is glad to be doing some proper investigating again. She looks up at the building. A modern pub, probably no more than ten years old, she'd guess. She searches the ground for any sign of a secret tunnel or hidden entrance but apart from the usual trap door into the cellar she finds nothing.
Nathan snaps a quick picture of the stain then offers Judith his arm. "Shall we go in?"
The barmaid recognises them straight away, asks Nathan about his book and even asks him to sign a serviette for her. "Ready for when you're famous." After Nate buys her a drink it is easy enough to get her talking, although she does keep a close watch on the bar, hopping nervously away from the table whenever anyone else comes in.
"Only personal things, clothes and such," she says when Judith asks her what belongings the police had taken from Barnard's room. "He hired everything else as he needed it."
"What kind of things," Nate persists.
She purses her lips. "Diving gear. A bow and arrows one day. Walking and camping equipment, not that he ever used it. He was back here every night eight o'clock on the dot until he vanished."
"I don't suppose you have his home address on file?" Judith asks.
She stiffens. "Why do you want it?"
"To see if he's the Anthony Barnard we've heard of," Nate cuts in, thinking quickly. "There's someone by that name in California who's an American Warlock, apparently."
"Really?" The girl whistles. "No, I don't think it was California. I'm sorry, I really can't look it up for you. I'd get in the most frightful trouble if anyone found out."
When the rest of the group break up their dinner an hour later there is nothing more to report. Judith sits quietly, watching Nate every so often while Dexter begins to drink himself into a stupor and Heather plays with an unlit cigarette.
... A bunch of bloody amateurs, thinks the American, watching them from the other side of the bar. His group messes up once, which was nothing to do with him, and he gets stuck in this dump of a place to play nursemaid to a group of rookies who haven't got the faintest idea...
He sighs and stands up, stretching. All because the last group messed up. He shuts his eyes against the brief flash of memory of blood spattering the height of a wall and wishes that SITU had at least seen fit to fill him in properly on what was going on.
"Don't look now," Heather mutters, "but there's that creep from the library, and he's coming this way." She looks up as he approaches, her brown eyes full of hostility behind her glasses.
Only Dexter smiles, and then only out of habit. "Strange," he says, shifting himself so he's between the newcomer and the two women, "Mike said you were a friend of ours, but I don't remember seeing you before in my life."
"My name's Sean," the American introduces himself harshly. "Shift your arse, love." He pushes in beside Judith, his hand accidentally brushing her knee as it passes. "Now, the score is this: SITU sent me to take charge of this group. I'm not happy about it, you're not happy about it, but that's the way it is. You do as I say and we'll wrap this investigation up and be home before we know it." He picks up Dexter's and drains the glass in one go. "Now, will one of you tell me what the hell is going on?"