The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Daeth Y Nos Yn Gylfym
RHAN SAITH (PART 7)
6:00pm 8th April. The Jones's farm.
Sean shifts uncomfortably and glances around behind him then turns his gaze onto the farmers and surprises everyone by smiling. "Well, I think you could do with a cup of tea. It's obvious that you have been through a very distressing experience. This isn't the place to talk about it." Before anyone can argue he has offered Seren his arm and is leading her in the direction of the farm house.
Dexter frowns after him before moving to speak to Dafydd. "Listen, I'm sorry it had to come to this, especially after all the kindness you showed me that day, but it really would be a good idea to tell us all that you can..." He nods in Sean's direction. "Our friend Sean has never been right since a tragic childhood accident, so you're not to take any offence at what he says... Hell, he even thinks he's from America just now!"
"He sounds American," Dafydd begins doubtfully.
Dexter shakes his head. "All an act, I'm afraid. But don't worry, you can trust him, just like you can trust all of us." He gestures towards the farmhouse. "Shall we catch up?"
Three cups of tea later Seren sighs and looks up. "We only wanted to help," she repeats. She gazes at her husband helplessly. "That's what we were supposed to be doing, wasn't it? Helping?"
"Suppose you start at the beginning," Judith interjects gently. "When did this all start?"
Seren takes another, jerky sip of tea and sets the mug down. "Last year." She wipes a hand over her eyes. "Well, no, long before that. We've always liked Gwyneth, Daf and I, ever since she came to play here as a child, you see, and she always knew she could come here if she needed anything. We were the only ones who knew she wasn't completely happy with her marriage. Pushed into it, she was." A spark of anger lights her eyes. "Everyone knows what a temper Bryn Morgan has got, and everyone knows he's always been Hywel Owen's favourite around here. When Gwyneth married him we knew it wouldn't last. She was just waiting for someone like Anthony Barnard to come along."
"So last year he did," Sean puts in. "And they started an affair."
"Yes." The word comes out as a gulp. "We didn't know anything at the time, I swear. Not until she came to us begging us to help. We knew we shouldn't have - adultery's wrong, isn't it - but she looked so happy and so frightened all at the same time we had to do something." Tears come to her eyes again. She wipes them away quickly.
Dexter frowns as Sean opens his mouth to ask another question. "Maybe you should show us where you buried the remains of the car," he suggests before the American can speak. "Nate, can you and Donovan take a look? Seren, we keep coming up with stories of witch-craft in these parts. Did Anthony and Gwyneth have anything to do with that?"
Only Sean notes the quick glance she shoots at her husband, as if looking for reassurance. She shakes her head. "There's always stories and such," she says firmly. "It wouldn't be right of me to point the finger at anyone."
Except, maybe, Hywel Owen, Sean thinks. The old, uneasy prickling starts up across the back of his neck.
Nate and Donovan are waiting by the door. Dafydd stands up. "I'll show you where the car is," he agrees reluctantly. "Seren, love, you'll be all right here?"
She squeezes his hand and waits till he has gone before continuing. "Gwyneth thought Anthony would forget her when he went back to America, but he didn't. He wanted to stay in touch, but he couldn't contact her at home. With Bryn running the post office he'd soon get wind of it. So we said he could write to her here and we'd pass the letters on. We didn't think it would have to be for long. America's a long way, we thought, she'd soon get over him, only then she told us he was coming back for her and she wanted to leave with him."
"But why all this cloak and dagger stuff?" Heather wonders. "There are perfectly good divorce courts in this country. If Gwyneth wanted to leave why couldn't she just go?"
"Because she was afraid of what her husband would do," Judith guesses.
Seren nods slowly. "Him and her father. The two of them together would never let her go."
Heather shrugs her shoulders. "I don't see what they could have done to stop her, short of killing her."
Seren pales, her hands tightening on the thick, china mug with enough force to break it. Sean flushes angrily. "Stay out of this, Tankgirlie," he orders. "Help her Ladyship make some more tea if you want to be useful. Seren," he turns back to her. "You said you burned the car. How did you manage it? Didn't anyone see the fire?"
Seren doesn't appear to have heard him. "Not her," she mutters softly to herself. "They won't kill her. It's the lover they kill and they make her into an owl." Sean looks puzzled. Seren shakes herself and smiles weakly. "Sorry. The car. One of our barns was burned about six months ago - Dafydd blamed Cymdeithas though we could never find anything out for sure - and that's what gave us the idea. When it happened last time no one came to help so we expected it to be the same and it was. People saw it, of course they did, but no one said anything, not until we reported it as arson, and no one looked too close. Afraid they might find something to incriminate one of their mates, the police were."
Sean takes out a packet of cigarettes then changes his mind and pushes them back into his pocket.
"So, you knew Gwyneth wanted to run away with Barnard, you thought her father and husband might turn dangerous if they found out and you burned their car to hide their traces," Dexter summarises.
Seren nods agreement. "We let them have our son's old car. We bought him a new one when he went to university so we didn't need it."
"What type of car?"
"Just a mini. White."
"Right," Sean stands up. "Lets see how the others are getting on outside. And, Seren, if you think of anything else, you will tell us, won't you?"
Another hour goes by before the group are ready to return to the village. Sean is scowling, disappointed that he found nothing suspicious in the burnt-out remains of the old car, now safely reburied. Dexter and Donovan, both filthy, are smiling and Lady Judith is proudly carrying a bag full of pieces of metal, glass and earth.
"For analysis," she explains.
When Sean suggests they should get cleaned up then go on to the Llewelyn for a drink, everyone agrees.
"Where do we go from here?" Judith asks, sitting down next to Nate. "Dexter, you've got your concert tomorrow, haven't you?"
He grins and nods. "Who's coming? Donovan? It'll be a good chance to look for aliens."
"I'll be taking Judith out for dinner," Nathan says, his expression warning the others not to argue.
"And I've got the Cymdeithas meeting," Sean adds. "So that leaves Donovan and Tankgirlie to check out the site while you're doing your bit. I suggest we split up in the day as usual - I intend having a wander round on my own."
"Good," Heater mutters, pushing her glasses up and reaching for an ashtray. Sean grins at her.
"Tell me, Tankgirlie, do you dye..."
Sensing another fight about to start, Judith sits forward. "I've got a theory. The man in the garage said there was a bunch of flowers in Barnard's car. I think it was Gwyneth in disguise."
"In what?" Sean snorts, forgetting Heather for the moment. "Your theories get battier every day, love. How's a full-grown woman going to disguise herself as a flower, for God's sake?"
Judith's moth sets stubbornly. "I just think we ought to see if Barnard bought any flowers locally."
Dexter is more sympathetic. "We'll leave that to you," he tells her. "Is there anything else?"
"I want a list of all the people who drowned in the lake," Sean cuts in. "How many were winners of that poets prize? How many were young girls, or virgins." He flicks a glance in Heather's direction. "Also, the name of the girl who saw something in the lake and names of anyone who have lost boats."
Judith jumps in again. "While we're talking about the lake, it was uric acid that was found - and uric acid is excreted only by birds and reptiles. It's insoluble so it could be the result of a long build-up, but it's more likely to be caused by a lot of birds, or one large reptile."
"Piss is piss," Sean grumbles. No one takes any notice.
"We'll check that out tomorrow too," promises Nate. "Sean, while you're eyeing up the barmaid why not ask her for another round of drinks?"
"Donovan," Dexter says quietly as the two walk back to the hotel together. "I've got something to tell you. I got a look in Sean's bag today and Nate's right, it's full of communication equipment, and there was a note-book with "McCabe" written on it..."
"McCabe." Donovan's eyes widen. "But that's my name. I... Oh no." He looks visible shaken.
Dexter claps him on the shoulder and walks on.
The next day begins with Dexter's can of shaving foam exploding in his hands. Sean watches smugly as the big man tries to scrape up the mess, only commenting, "Looks like the aliens have a thing for shaving foam."
Nate is downstairs, giving out copies of Gwyneth Morgan's photograph. "I've updated SITU on what's happening," he says as Sean and Dexter come in almost together. "Sean, now you're here have you got any of the Cymdeithas group's names? I can get them checked out."
Sean shakes his head, muttering something about tonight. Nate shrugs. "Wales must be a bit of an anti-climax after Mexico," he says sarcastically.
"Somewhat. Do you realise that's a turn on?" he asks Heather who is combing through the ends of her hair with her fingertips. She raises her head and glares at him.
Dexter brings his fists down hard on the table. "That's enough!" He crosses his arms and stares around fiercely. "We've got a job to do here, so how about we stop bickering and get on with it? Now, I intend visiting Hywel Owen again and finding out about How Lloyd's stone. Who else wants to come?"
"Bad idea," Sean says. But he is serious this time. "This guy is dangerous. What's the point of letting him know we're on to him? Besides, if he does know where the stone is he won't tell us."
Nate agrees and suggests they start with the vicar instead, and the archery club.
Eventually, Dexter sighs and nods. "That's settled then."
The little vestry room at the back of the church is brightly lit and comfortable with two armchairs and a pink carpet that would be more suited in a bedroom. A filing cabinet under the window is piled high with books - most of them Bibles, Nate notices. More Bibles fill the shelves that line two of the walls. A larger book is open on the desk.
The vicar smoothes the pages back and straightens. "There you are, Hywel Owen's family tree."
Lady Judith reads off the list of names quickly. "How far does this go back?" she asks.
"A hundred years. If you want anything more detailed you'd have to go to the records office in Porthmadog. Hywel Owen's family have lived here for generations, though, I'm allowed to tell you that."
"What about Bryn Morgan?" Nate is studying the books on the far shelf and finding nothing interesting there. The vicar frowns at him across the desk.
"I can find his records too. But why all this interest in him? It's a bit excessive for a charity, isn't it?"
"The Empty Chair? No - we always take a full interest," Judith says vaguely.
"Another thing we were interested in," Nathan adds, "is Huw Lloyd's stone. Purely a tourist interest. We went to see it and it's been moved. It's not ended up here, has it?"
The vicar looks startled. "I should hope not. The stone was used for magic ritual, you know. Not the sort of thing we'd want on display in a church. I'm afraid I can't help you there."
"Do you think the old Bards really had magical power then?" Judith asks him.
He shakes his head, then nods, then shrugs, running his hands over his hair. His veins are a prominent blue, the skin very white. "Who can tell?" he sighs. "The devil comes in many guises. But the Bards today are poets, nothing more, there's nothing to fear from them."
"So you don't think someone's planning another ritual," Nathan persists.
"Not at all." The vicar turns away from them, closing the books on his desk. "Was there anything else you wanted to know?"
Judith starts to thank him, but Nathan has one last question. "Cymdeithas yr Iaith. Have they really been bothering tourists, or is it all talk?"
The vicar's smile remains fixed. "Now that is something that is definitely not my territory. I keep well out of politics. They've never bothered the church, that's the most important thing."
"Never mind," Judith says, slipping an arm through Nate's as they leave together. "This is a beautiful little church, isn't it? Just the place for a wedding."
"Mr Morgan?" Dexter intones thickly. His hand over the phone distorts his voice even more. "We're onto you. We know what you're up to, we know where she is..."
"Who is this?"
Dexter hangs up, grinning broadly to himself. A moment later he's rewarded. Sean's recording equipment buzzes once and Bryn's voice comes through clearly. A mixture of Welsh and English, but it's easy enough to tell the man is frightened, and easier still to recognise the voice of the man he's calling. His father-in-law, Hywel Owen. After listening for a few minutes, Dexter picks up the phone again and punches out a different number.
"Richardson? You're at the hotel? Good. I want to talk to you again."
Mark Richardson has little new to report. He promises to get the details Sean asked for and to see if he can find out anything about the missing stone. "And then if there's time," he adds cheerfully, "I'll take another look at our friendly Mr Owen. He's the one behind all this."
Dexter wonders whether he should pass on Sean's warning and decides against it. If Richardson wants to get himself into trouble it won't hurt the group. Thanking him briefly, he leaves him there.
Donovan runs his hand lovingly down the length of bow and imagines himself dressed in Lincoln Green lycra with a hat with a feather in it. Nate nudges him impatiently. "We're supposed to be here to ask questions, remember," he hisses.
Just in time. "Can I help you?" asks a polite, Welsh-accented voice.
Donovan swings round, fixing a broad smile on his face. "Yes, a friend of mine recommended this place. Anthony Barnard."
"The bloke who vanished? Bad luck." The assistant's face rearranges itself into an expression of sympathy.
Donovan perks up. "You knew him then?"
"Sort of." A shrug. "He came here once or twice. I think he gave up when he realised he wasn't any good. Couldn't hit the target when he was standing two feet away."
His fixed smile is starting to worry Donovan. He peers at him anxiously, looking for signs wires and isn't at all reassured when he doesn't see any.
"There were supposed to be a few others in his group," Nate says. "Did you see them, or did he always come here alone."
The assistant's brow creases. "Never saw anyone with him. But then, I didn't see him that much at all." His eyes light up a fraction. "You say you're friends of his? I don't suppose you'd fancy settling his bill, would you?" Fifty pounds outstanding, he tells them. Paid for by credit card at the time. "But the card people canceled it the moment he was declared missing. I doubt we'll ever see the money now."
"Bad luck," Donovan says unsympathetically.
Judith taps nervously at the Owen's door, glad of Heather's presence with her, if only for moral support. Sean said to keep away from Hywel Owen, she knows, but he didn't say anything about Mair.
The door starts to open and she takes a deep breath and fixes a smile on her face. "Mrs Owen, forgive us calling again, but we wanted to see how things were going with you. Our friend Donovan tried to join the search party for your daughter and was turned away. Apparently it's men only, and local men at that. Or was he mistaken?" She stops.
Mair Owen peers out at the two of them. Her face is a mixture of fear and suspicion. "I don't know," she says at last. "My husband is organising those things. You shouldn't be here."
"Why not? Are you worried about your son-in-law. He does seem a little aggressive."
"You shouldn't be here," Mair repeats. Then she adds, "Please. I can't talk to you."
Heather steps forward. "Why not? Is it your son-in-law you're afraid of, or your husband?"
The door is already closing.
The air is turning cold. Sean pulls off the black leather gloves he's wearing and shoves them into a pocket. What to tell the white shirts, that is the question. He grimaces. He does have a bloody past. But he's not going to tell these plonkers! The SAS and various other organizations think he's dead and that's how it's going to stay. He pauses in front of the pub. A history of the Fathers of the Irish movement, maybe. That should keep them interested without giving away anything about himself. Tell them what they want to hear and keep them all eager.
Smiling, he walks on through the swing doors into the building.
"Ready?" Nathan asks.
Judith beams at him. Her blue velvet evening dress might look out of place in the hotel bar room but she hasn't felt as excited about an evening out since her husband died - since long before her husband died, if she's honest with herself. She slips her hand into Nate's and smiles up at him.
"How do you manage to be so clever?" she asks him. "You can work out so quickly what's going on here. It's no wonder Sean thinks my ideas are batty compared with yours."
Nate smiles down at her. "I don't think you're batty," he assures her. "Just the opposite..."
"Please release me..." Dexter is crooning.
Donovan watches from one side. A few other people have stopped to listen. Some are jeering, but a few have sat down and are listening properly. Donovan watches them all, looking out for signs of aliens or androids. Everything seems normal, he thinks, scratching his head.
A blonde girl dressed in impossibly tight jeans sways past him and stops to stare back. Despite himself, he finds himself grinning. He looks over to the stage where Dexter is working himself up to 'Jailhouse Rock.' He seems to be enjoying himself enormously. And if Dexter is enjoying himself, Donovan thinks, sauntering after the girl, why shouldn't the rest of them have a good time too?
The learner pavilion must be the most boring place in the entire world, Heather has decided. Some man who must be at least sixty demonstrates clog dancing on a makeshift stage, a few dozen people watching in bored embarrassment. Bookstands everywhere full of Welsh phrase books and dictionaries, even a 'teach yourself Welsh' computer program set up on a table at the back. Heather sits down to give it a try and immediately finds herself flanked by two sales assistants competing with each other to tell her how much better a computer is than a book or lessons.
She peers closer at the screen, pretending interest. "How does this thing work?"
"Like this. Here." One of the girls makes a few quick keystrokes. "Are you just starting to learn?"
Heather looks up and smiles brightly. "That's right. I came here on holiday, got interested in local history and then the language. I was reading about Huw Lloyd today."
"The magician? You're not the one who's taken his stone, are you?" Heather shakes her head, but the girl is already laughing. "Of course not. Some people are seriously pissed off about that, I can tell you. First the bard goes missing and now the stone. It'll be Hywel Owen himself next."
Heather taps in a few words, looking at the Welsh translations as they come up. "Hywel Owen? He's one of the organisers, isn't he?"
"I'd say. The big boss himself. Him and his son-in-law practically run these thing. And it was his daughter that was set to be this year's bard before she vanished."
"Yes, I heard." Heather looks up, blinking slowly behind her glasses. "There's a flat patch of ground left bare outside. Is that where the crowning would be?"
"You've got it. That and the staging of Blodeuwydd. Are you interested then?" She nods at the computer.
"Maybe. I read somewhere that Huw Lloyd was the reincarnation of Gwydion the magician from that story. Is that right?"
"So the story goes. Try the next exercise. Magicians are always reincarnated according to the stories. He's probably still around somewhere." She giggles at the thought.
Heather is about to answer, but a sudden shout from outside forestalls her.
"The lake!" A boy bursts into the tent. "I saw something in the lake."
"And so I say the Irish and the Welsh have much in common," Sean finishes and pauses for effect. Thirty four - he counted them as he came in - faces stare back at him. All of them men and not one of them over thirty by the look of them. Sean grins around him. "Our struggles for independence are the same. Any questions?"
Someone at the back raises his hand. "Yes. It's all very well talking about independence and stuff but what we need is practicalities. How do we fight for independence? What do we do to make people sit up and take notice of us? What worked for you?"
"Blowing buildings up generally has an effect," Sean answers dryly. "What have you tried so far?"
"Not enough, that's what. There was a campaign to burn foreigners' homes from underneath them, reclaim the land as our own. But that was years ago. Now they're talking about assemblies in Cardiff and deals with the English, but what about us? Best we can do is try to frighten tourists off and some people don't even like that because they say it harms the industry."
"So the question is do you want to be reliant on foreigners' money? Maybe when it costs people more to take money from foreigners than to refuse it they'll change their minds." Sean glances round. "You'll have to do better than buckets of goat's blood."
A couple of them start guiltily, others applaud. Sean hides a smile and steps down, joining Ian Rees, the local leader, at the bar.
"Nicely said," Ian congratulates him, passing him a beer.
He drinks it down in one. "Thanks. So tell me, what have you people been up to?"
"Little enough." Ian has had too much to drink already, Sean notes. His eyes look glazed and he is leaning heavily on the bar. "Problem is," he says, "we're organised okay now, and our membership's growing, but we don't have the weaponry the Irish have got. What we need is someone who can put us in touch with the right people." He pauses and looks and Sean expectantly.
Heather dashes out of the pavilion door and thrusts her way through a group of people. The lake is flat, almost black. She shades her eyes with her hands and stares hard. Was that a shadow she saw moving?
A trail of white foam suddenly appears across the middle of the lake and spreads and melts.
Donovan grabs her arm, making her jump. "There! Did you see it? It was the monster - I saw her." The Canadian is almost hysterical with excitement."
"What happened?" Heather shouts.
"Dexter was singing. He got a couple of people to join in and just as they got to the chorus the lake opened up and this... this enormous great thing came out. It was as big as Godzilla at least. It breathed all over us then it swam away."
Wondering how much of this is true, Heather runs to find Dexter.
To her disappointment, he didn't see a thing. "I had my back to the lake at the time," he explains, "and I was getting well into my act. By the time I realised people were yelling all that was left were waves." He stands and stares at the lake and sighs heavily. "Whatever it was, it's gone now," he concludes.
Judith giggled tipsily and clutches Nate's arm for support as she walks.
"There's another bird," she says, pointing. "I asked, and there are lots by the lake. The tourists feed them bread and things." She giggles again. "Birds seem to be important, and flowers."
Nate agrees, only half listening. He is still wondering who let down all four of his tyres this evening. No matter, he reflects, it means he has the chance to walk Judith home under starlight. Music drifts in their direction from the lake: the eisteddfod continuing.
Judith is saying something about the Barnard family not being able to sue because no one knows who's fault his disappearance is. Her words are becoming jumbled. Nate pats her hand.
"Nearly back," he tells her.
"Good. My feet are killing me." Judith teeters forwards a few more steps then stops dead, putting a hand up to her throat. "Nate, look!"
Nathan stops in the gateway to the Llyn-y-Ddraig, his stomach twisting.
Flapping weakly, its outspread wings almost silver in the moonlight, an owl gazes at them with dim yellow eyes. Four long nails pin it to the door of the hotel.