The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness
Daeth Y Nos Yn Gylfym
RHAN NAW (PART 9)
April 10th 3pm
Heather - the hotel.
Nate, Judith, Sean - Seren and Dafydd's farm
Dexter, Donovan - watching the Owens' house.
"What sort of trouble has the tankgirlie gotten herself in to now? Sean groans, following the others into the car. "Get a move on - we better go save her pretty ass."
Judith's expression is halfway between a smile and a frown. "I don't like to say I told you so, but if Heather and I hadn't visited Mair she probably wouldn't be wanting to talk to us now. Maybe you'll trust our investigation technique from now on?" This, with a particularly pointed look at Sean.
He grins back at her lazily. "Lady, I'm sure you've got some very pretty techniques, but keep them to the bedroom, all right? Although, if you're thinking of porking fat boy there I'd suggest safety-line, harness and a pair of crampons. Don't want to break your neck falling off the mountain of lard."
"Ignore him, Judith," Nate says. He starts the car up and swings it around without another word. But Sean, looking at him closely notes that his hands have gripped the steering wheel hard enough to dent it, and there is a distinct flushing around his ears. He sits back, grinning. Now all they have to do is get the truth out of Mair and everyone can go home...
"I'm really not sure I should be here at all," Mair says, worried.
Heather smiles reassuringly. "Why don't we go up to my room and you can have a cup of tea while you're deciding?" She gestures towards the stairs and, to her relief, Mair nods and go up in front of her, her head bowed. In the bedroom, she perches on the edge of on of the chairs, twisting the strap of her bag around her fingers until the flesh turns white. Heather picks up the hotel phone.
"Rhiannon? Do you think I could have a tea tray brought up? Two cups please." Replacing the handset she turns to Mair and pulls the remaining chair around in front of the door. Smiling again, she says, "What if you start at the beginning. Tell me about your husband."
Mair frowns at the marks on her hands and heaves a sigh. "I don't know why I should be telling you anything at all. You don't even belong here. But no one else wants to help. No one else would even believe me, for goodness sake." She stops. "I'm sorry, I -"
"I believe you," Heather assures her. "At least, I know there's something strange going on here, and that your husband is involved. Your daughter too, probably, which is why she ran away, isn't it?"
Mair ducks her head once. "Why does everything keep happening the same?" she asks plaintively.
Heather shifts close enough to reach out and lay a hand over hers. "Tell me about him," she urges.
"I didn't even want to marry him," Mair whispers. "Not really." She looks up. "That's a dreadful thing to say about your own husband isn't it? I was attracted to him, I suppose. He was good-looking in a fierce sort of way - and his family have always been important, right back for generations. You want anything done, you go to one of them and they'll get it sorted for you. My mother just kept on about how lucky I was and in the end I believed her and went along with it." She runs her fingers along the strap of her bag. "I'm not saying I was ever unhappy, you understand, just that, if I could go back and choose again I might..." she sighs. "What's the use. At least Gwyneth has found the courage to change things."
"Do you know where she is?" Heather asks gently.
Mair shakes her head. "She didn't even tell me what she was planning. We had no idea of it until the night she vanished. Then Hywel found out the American had vanished too and put two and two together. He's still searching for them." She shivers suddenly, pulling her cardigan tight around her shoulders. "What he'll do when he finds them I don't know."
Heather pauses a moment, waiting until Mair is staring steadily ahead before asking the next question. "Why does Hywel want your daughter back so badly? What is he planning to do?"
"Do?" Mair laughs harshly. "He's going to turn her into an owl, that's what." She smiles and shakes her head at Heather's startled look. "It's an old Welsh story, something you wouldn't understand. But there's truth in it all the same. Two men thought they could make a woman out of flowers and push her around, but she turned out too strong for them, just like my Gwyneth has." Her hands twitch on the arms of the chair. "I don't know exactly what he had planned, or what he thought would happen, but he's been preparing for this all year. He took Huw Lloyd's stone - did you know that? - and he made a big thing about the crowning ceremony having to be by the lake. But now she's gone and he can't find her. So much for his story."
The others come in while she is talking, Sean positioning himself by the door and leaving it open a crack so he can see into the corridor, Dexter putting himself deliberately between Sean and Mair.
"Go on," Heather encourages her.
She takes a deep breath and pushes the hair out of her eyes. "He wanted Gywneth crowned bard. Don't ask me why because he never told me, only it's got something to do with Bryn Morgan as well. They're all tied up in it together. What they never expected was the American turning up and snatching Gwyneth away from under their noses." She raises her hands slightly: a gesture of helplessness. "I don't know what to do for the best. Maybe you do."
Nate nods. "It all links back to your husband, doesn't it? How old is he, Mair? What do you know about his past?"
She raises her head and looks at him steadily. Her face appears suddenly calm yet at least twice she opens her mouth and then stops before finally speaking. "He was born in Bala fifty years ago," she says. "His parents were both from the village, both dead now. No brothers or sisters. The only time he's set foot in a church was when we were married and then we had to have a separate ceremony at the site of Huw Lloyd's stone. He has his own religious duties to attend to - decent Welsh religion, he calls it." She pauses a long time, then finishes, "And I've heard him claim the blood of Huw Lloyd, and of Gwydion run in his family. What's more, there are people who believe him."
No one speaks for a moment, then Dexter stands up abruptly. "Where is Hywel now, Mair?"
"I'm not sure. He said he was joining the hunt for Gwyneth again. Why?"
"Because I think our best plan of action is to have a look around your house now, before he comes back. Are you with me, Sean?"
Mair jumps to her feet at once, her face flushing, panicked. "No, you can't! He'll come back. What if he catches you?"
"He won't if you help," Nate suggests. "Give them your keys. They'll be in and out before you know it."
Everyone starts talking at once.
By the window, Dexter has the mobile phone to his ear. "Richardson," he says. "It's Dexter. How are you doing?" He listens for a moment then adds, "Another job if you're interested. Hywel Owen's house, fifteen minutes. Meet me there."
"Mair," Judith says, "I think you ought to go away for a while. I know somewhere you can stay where you'll be safe."
Mair's mouth sets determinedly. "No. I've made my bed, so to speak. It's for me to see it out here. I told Hywel I'd go to the eisteddfod today so that's what I'll do now. What you do is your own concern." She gets to her feet, clutching her bag in front of her as if she expects the group to try and stop her.
Heather stands up with her. "While you're going to the eisteddfod, I'll come with you, I've got an idea. Donovan, do you want to come and play bodyguard?" She picks up her jacket, winks at Sean, pats the side of his face and strides out of the room before he has chance to react.
A moment's silence.
Sean sucks in a breath. "Right. Elvis, you and I go to Owen's house. I'm sure her ladyship and loverboy here can keep themselves amused while we're gone."
Dexter glowers at him but doesn't argue. "You're the boss," he says reluctantly.
Mark Richardson is waiting for them when the two men reach the house. Sean greets him with a curt question.
"Have you got the information we asked for?"
"Here." He passes over a sheet of paper. "Names of everyone who's died in the lake. There's no pattern that I can see. No poet's prize winners have drowned according to this, about a third of the deaths were women and of them at least half were children. In every case the cause is accidental death. In all cases bar three - one man, two women, the bodies were recovered. The last one not to be found was two years ago, the other two happened seven and ten years ago." He pauses. "Are we really going to break into Owen's house in broad daylight?"
"That's the idea." Pulling on a pair of thin black gloves, Sean passes extra pairs to Richardson and Dexter then opens the black sports bag he's carrying and produces what looks like a random handful of wires and small metal sticks. "Here's the plan." He hands Dexter a small square of black cotton that turns out to be a lightweight balaclava. "Richardson, you stay out here to keep watch. If anyone comes, press this - " he gives him a small, silver box with a single lever set into the top. "It'll warn us. Dexter and I will go in. Shit, what's that." He swings round in the direction of the road.
The rumble of a car engine becomes clearly audible.
Sean gestures the other two back just in time. A dark blue escort eases round the corner and stops outside the house. Three men get out. Hywel Owen isn't among them, but Sean recognises one of them at once - he was at the Cymdeithas meeting last night.
The church is in shadow, only a crack of orange showing beneath the door to the vestry. Nate offers his hand to Judith and makes his way carefully between pews, his eyes slowly adjusting. The air smells musty with old flowers and specks of pollen have taken on a greenish hue in the shadows.
The vicar is sitting at his desk when Nate opens the door. He looks up, frowning - annoyed but not surprised, Nate thinks.
"You want to tell me about magic and druids again, don't you?" he asks with a sigh. "I told you last time, I really can't help you."
"So you said." Nate leans his full weight on the table and glares down at him. "Come on, you can't bury your head in the sand completely, you must know something about this. It isn't the first time that it's happened is it? You can't expect to ignore this kind of thing and leave the community that you're supposed to care for in fear of this sort of superstition." He slaps two pictures down in front of him. "Hywel Owen," he says, "and Huw Lloyd the sorcerer. You're going to tell me they look nothing alike, aren't you?"
Even Judith is taken aback by the outburst. The vicar looks at the pictures and swallows hard. "There is a... resemblance," he admits.
"There's more than that. It's the same bloody man. What exactly is going on here?"
"I don't know." He looks up, his gaze switching from Nate to Judith and back. "I'm telling you the truth. I don't know. All I know is there's talk of witchcraft and monsters in lakes. The local Mafia are scaring the tourists away and for all I know they're behind the whole thing."
Judith stares at him hard. "But you don't believe that, do you?" she asks.
The silence is heavy and smells of dust.
"No," the vicar says at last. "I don't."
"...She's not here," one of the men calls, coming back round from the back of the house. The other have given up on the front door and are climbing up to see in through the windows on either side. Dexter holds his breath, glaring at Richardson every time he moves.
"He said she'd be here or at the eisteddfod," the one from the Cymdeithas meeting says. "Best try there." He goes back to the car. The others follow.
"What if she's already cracked and gone to those people?" one of them asks.
The Cymdeithas man shrugs. "How the hell should I know? We tell Owen and let him sort it out."
A moment later the car has turned the corner and the road is silent again.
Sean uncurls himself slowly. "Elvis, get over to the eisteddfod, get Mair away and don't let her out of your sight. I'll check out the house while Richardson keeps watch."
"What I know," the vicar continues, "is that there has always been some sort of druid tradition in this area. It's been going on, on and off, for years. At the moment it seems to be enjoying some sort of a revival. Hywel Owen's one of the leaders of it, and Bryn Morgan's another - though you've worked that out for yourself, haven't you? Our official stance is to ignore it - treat it as a local custom. But these past years feeling seems to be growing in favour of it, and, to be completely honest with you, I haven't a clue what to do about it. So far I've ignored it and prayed it will stop of its own accord. So far it hasn't."
"Do the druids believe in reincarnation?" Nate asks.
"Maybe." The vicar studies the pictures again, frowning. "If these are right, I can see how Hywel Owen might think he's the reincarnation of Huw Lloyd. I'd have to say it's not true of course. 'A man dies and is laid low, he breathes his last and is no more.' Job fourteen, verse ten. We hope for the resurrection, not reincarnation." He stands up, holding out his hand. "You know, I'm glad we had this chance to talk after all. Maybe you're an answer to prayer - a way to put a stop to this madness once and for all."
He's obviously wanting them to leave, but neither of them move. "Huw Lloyd's stone," Judith says. "Why would Owen have taken it?"
The vicar pauses to run a hand through his hair. "You think he's got it? It's possible, I suppose. But what could he do with it except stage some sort of..."
"Magic ritual," Nate finishes for him. "Thank you."
"Mrs Owen said we could have a look around," Heather explains to the woman in the yellow caravan. "My friend and I both work in security. We'd like to see what your set-up is."
It's not the best alias in the work, she thinks, but the woman glances out of the door to where Mair is waiting nervously and shrugs unconcerned. "It's up to you, love. There's nothing fancy here, mind."
"Thanks." The two of them start at opposite corners of the caravan, pretending interest in the wiring. The woman was right: there isn't anything fancy. Even Donovan can work out that there are about a dozen cameras set up in various parts of the site, all linked into the single TV monitor here, and then a number of videos are obviously set to record everything from each camera. The control for changing from one view to another is on the desk.
Heather runs her hand along a metal shelf loaded with video tapes. They are all clearly labelled. Her fingers hover over one of the most recent ones, she glances round at the woman behind her and smiles. The only problem now is how to get the tape out without her seeing.
"I think there's something wrong with camera number five," Donovan says loudly. "Come and look at this."
The woman turns around.
Reminding herself to thank him later, Heather slips the video tape into her bag, leaving the empty box in its place on the shelf.
They leave the caravan and rejoin Mair outside. She is frowning uneasily. "I think I'd better leave you now that you've got what you want. If it gets back to my husband that I've been talking to you..."
"I understand." Heather nudges Donovan. "Stay with her," she hisses, "make sure she's all right. I'll find you later."
The lock is a standard one, probably the same as on most of the houses around here. Sean opens it without difficulty. He pauses inside. Where to start, that is the question. A man like Owen certainly wouldn't keep anything secret in the main living rooms of the house. There's got to be another room somewhere.
Cautiously, he makes his way along the hall, being careful that his shoes leave no mark on the carpet.
The lounge and dining room are as innocent as he'd thought. A desk with drawers full of personal letters a bills, an old computer that holds nothing more sinister than an old copy of 'Windows', several books on folklore, and not much else. Sean considers stealing one of the books as a present for Heather and shakes his head. No point letting Owen know anyone was here. If he wants to buy something for Heather - and he's not admitting he does, not even to himself - he'll stop in one of the shops on the way back to the hotel. Stupid, anyway, to be thinking about tankgirlie now. There's a job to be done. He starts up the stairs, testing each step before he puts his full weight on it.
The bedrooms reveal nothing. The main room is all white sheets and pale wood furniture, not even a picture on the wall. Hywel's wardrobe holds several suits in dark material - all pockets empty. A smaller room, presumably the guest room, is done out in flowered material. Sean finds a photograph of Gwyneth and looks at it a moment before replacing it exactly where he found it. He walks back out onto the landing and stands there. Something doesn't feel quite right and straight away he realises what it is. Looking at the house from the outside, there was a window set low down in the roof, as if there was a loft conversion. But there is no staircase going up to the loft, only the square entry hatch above his head.
Grinning in triumph, Sean opens his bag again and takes out an extendible rod and a small hook. The loft access panel swings down at the first try, revealing a set of folded metal steps.
Donovan is happily watching a girl in a red mini-skirt when Dexter pants up. "Where is she?"
He jumps. "Who?"
"Mair, you fool. There are people after her. And where's Heather? No - don't bother, you can explain it all later. We need to find Mair now."
She hasn't wandered far. She turns pale when Dexter explains what he saw at the house. "But, Hywel's my husband. He wouldn't do anything... would he?"
"I don't know, ma'am," Dexter says. "All I know is you'd be safer away from here. I suggest you come back to the hotel with us now and Judith will make arrangements for someone to come and collect you as soon as possible."
She bites her bottom lip and lets out a long breath. Finally, she nods shakily. "All right," she whispers. "But, please, you must promise me you'll find my daughter before he does."
"Have you ever thought about developing a diving area?" Heather asks Paul. "I was in Malta once and they've sunk a couple of trawlers for the divers there and put in a mini sub so the less adventurous people can watch the divers and wildlife. It worked really well."
"In Malta, maybe," Paul says. "I'm not sure about here." He takes a step away from her. "By the way, your boyfriend was here earlier. He's a bit jealous, isn't he?"
She flushes. "He's not my boyfriend."
"No," Nate adds from the door. "He's a dumb tosser who wouldn't hurt a fly and faints at the sight of blood. Just fancies himself as a hard man." He comes into the shop, Judith trailing behind him, clutching a bunch of red roses almost as big as she is. "By the way, Paul, I've got a theory about Teggie. I reckon she's a remote-controlled gizmo, designed to scare away your customers. You got any ideas?"
"No." Paul glances at Heather again. "You sure he's not your boyfriend?"
"Positive," she says, glad she sounds more certain than she feels. "Frankly, I can't stand the sight of him. Can you help us find Teggie, then?"
Paul looks at her blank a moment then grins at her. "Oh, the monster. Well, if she's remote-controlled, someone's got to keep her close by. Have you checked the boathouses?"
Nate nods. "Just came from there. We didn't find anything."
"Then she might be in one of the houses by the lake. Or they could sink her in the lake itself, of course, the middle's deep enough. Though the usual range of those remote things means they'd probably have to go out there in a boat every time they wanted her. What do you think?"
"It's a possibility," Heather agrees blandly. "I've got an idea. If you could get hold of a mini sub, we could go down there and take a closer look."
He hesitates, scratching his head. "I do have a mate who's got one. I could give him a ring, have it here tomorrow or the day after. That's if..." he blushes faintly. "If I get the sub, will you go out with me afterwards. You know, to a club or something?"
Heather wonders why she finds herself thinking about Sean as she agrees.
Nate drives everyone back to the hotel.
"I've had the car checked out and it's fine," he tells them. "And I'm expecting an e-mail that should give us some more information soon. Have you found anything out about the mini yet?"
Heather shakes her head. "I haven't had time. But I have got this." She produces the tape with a smug smile. "All we need now is a video player."
The curtains are drawn across the attic room window and there is no electric light that Sean can find. He takes a torch out of his bag instead and holds it in front of him like a gun as he looks around.
In the pale beam of light, white silk appears and disappears: robes, embroidered over in gold and scarlet. Sean touches one. A dragon curls around the shoulders, picked out in red thread, the mouth wide open, gold eyes glittering as the light from the torch passes over them. Sean releases the fold of silk and steps forward, making no sound. By the window, dried flowers and a box that is full of brown feathers. A table is spotted with dark red. He scrapes at it with a fingernail. Blood?
The torchlight catches the lines of a shallow chest on a shelf. Sean goes across to it. It is fastened with five locks fixed at regular intervals. His breathing coming faster, he sets to work. It takes him a full minute for each lock - twice the time it took him to get through the front door - but finally the last one is done. He moves to lift the lid then stops himself, takes a knife from his bag and slides it between the wooden edges instead, standing at arm's length to flip back the lid.
A curved black-hilted knife, as long as his forearm, gleams up at him. The slender blade appears to be made entirely of silver. Sean lets out a hiss of breath and reaches into his inside pocket for his camera. That is when he hears the creak of movement behind him.
He swings round, but no one is there.
Subject: Recent Enquiry.
Nothing to be found on Owen or Morgan. Parents of Owen died in their eighties, Morgan's father died of cancer at sixty-two, mother died a year after of heart failure. Nothing unusual.
Fingerprints you forwarded: have found a match with one. Known trouble-maker in North Wales, name of Llewelyn Bevan. Conviction for arson four years ago, served six months of a twelve month sentence. Nothing on him since.
The car: your timing is uncanny. It turned up this morning. Reported crashed on stretch of road between Bala and Beddgelert. Map attached to this file showing location. Apparently the road is little used, which will explain why it has been abandoned so long. The owners have been notified.
Nate studies the map for a few minutes then turns the computer off. Dexter and Donovan have returned with Mair in tow and the whole group are gathered in the TV lounge where the only video is. Nate pulls a chair round besides Heather. She looks startled when he smiles at her before reaching past her to turn on the video.
The tape is poor quality, black lines running down the image. It doesn't help either that it was taken at night. For a long time, all the group can see is the glare from the spotlight and the occasional person walking past. There is no sign of either Owen or Morgan.
"They weren't there," Mair explains. "Hywel said he had work to do, and I..."
"Look," Judith interrupts her.
Beyond the glare of the artificial lights, on the surface of the lake, something is rising. A dark shape, that could almost be an unnaturally large wave until it breaks the surface and, just for a moment, everyone sees the a pair of huge, oval eyes gazing back at them.
Donovan leaps up to press the freeze frame button. "I told you!" he shouts exultantly. "None of you believed me, did you, but I told you I saw her."
Sean frowns. Richardson would surely have pressed the alarm if he'd seen anyone coming, and yet the noise comes again: a sharp creak as if someone has taken another step across the floor toward him. His hand goes into his pocket automatically, drawing out the cool weight of his pistol. Gently, he closes the box containing the knife and starts toward the ladder down. Time to get out of here. The floor looks green in the torch light.
Sean hesitates a moment. Is it his imagination or...
Or is the floor shifting, blurring, becoming a green haze that is curling up around his legs? He coughs involuntarily. The air tastes metallic. He takes a step forward, stumbling in the mist. Then suddenly, inexplicably, the floor is right up against his face and there is no air in the room.
His torch rolls across the floor, the thin beam of light picking out white silk robes and a long mask in the shape of an owl's face.
"Don't worry," Donovan says, grinning reassuringly. "He's got a habit of taking off by himself. Anyway, he can look after himself. Or did the two of you have something planned for tonight?"
Heather shakes her head. "He should have been back hours ago," she mutters. She stands up and crosses to the window. The road outside is dark. And there is still no sign of Sean.
In the corner, Mair is teaching Judith how to knit with four colours at once. She still looks pale, frightened. "If Hywel gets back and finds him..." She doesn't have to finish.
Heather swings round on her and finds herself held back by Dexter's hand.
"I'll go and look for him," he offers.
He opens the door and walks straight into Mike Gaskin. The hotel owner also looks worried though he attempts a smile when he sees everyone.
"There's been more trouble," he says. "Have you heard? Some journalist who was staying at the Llewelyn was mugged at the eisteddfod site. Beat up pretty bad, they say. Nasty business. Oh, and there's a phone call for you, Mr Owara. A Mr Bevan. Says it's urgent."
Glancing back at the others, Dexter follows him out of the room.
"Dexter Owara here," he snaps. "What the hell do you want?"
"It's not what I want. It's what my boss wants." The voice is distinctly Welsh, the accent made harsher by a touch of anger. "You'd better listen. You and your friends will clear out of here tonight. Mrs Owen will go home where she belongs. And then with a bit of luck a certain friend of yours will wake up safely back in England. You have twenty minutes to discuss it. I'll phone you back."
The phone goes dead.
Sean wakes up slowly, the taste of metal still in his mouth. He is in absolute darkness, lying flat. When he tries to move, he realises his hands are chained somehow behind him. He rolls to one side and encounters a solid wall, tries to sit up and falls back at once, groaning. Whether he's still in the attic or not, he can't tell. What he does know is that he's locked in a box only just big enough for him.
"I'm in a coffin," he moans. "A bloody coffin."