Azure Spark – Act Three finale

Azure Spark

ACT THREE

TREACHERY – Sunday 26th July – 1 AM

Tossed. Tumbling through turbulent water toward treacherous rocks. Thunder in my head. Eyes seared by the explosion. Nothing, not even stars.

Dead. That was their intent. Arms around me, tugging me. Kama towing me.

“Don’t thrash.” A shout penetrates the storm that tramples my mind. “I can see. I’ll get us ashore.”

“Where? A cove? I remember only rocks and cliffs.”

“There has to be one nearby. I glimpsed Bardsey Island from the yacht.”

Doubt. Before we sailed to the dive site. Then cliffs. Cold and tired.

“Relax, cariad. We’re a team – survivors.”

“If you can see, I’ll swim behind. I can hear – sense you ahead. Swimming will keep me warm – alert. Please, thozhi.

Kama fastens a tether strap around my wrist. “I’ll attach the other end to my ankle. Safety 101.”

Tremble and smile. Warmth. Her ankle with a rose tattoo that matches mine. Our eternal love.

We swim together. Trust.

A sound. Waves slapping on a clinker-hull. A voice – robust. Welsh.

“There. Alive and swimming.” Guto Thomas, and he shouts at us. “Genethod, we heard the explosion – muffled but definite. What happened?”

“Rescue us and we’ll tell,” Kama says. “But officially we are dead. In reality wounded. Sparkle was blinded – still is.”

Arms pull us aboard. A second voice says, “Back to Port Meudwy then.”

“Padrig. We must vanish,” I say. Smiling in the total darkness.

“Your new secret is safe with me,” he says. “Just as your earlier ones were – cousin. Us Pughs are a smart family.”

Even if I feared his kinship, he’s true. Not every Pugh is as prejudiced as my thaid, my grandfather Hywel Pugh.

Plan. Move ahead of the Swedish smugglers – and the traitor in NWP. Lure them out.

In front of the fire in Guto and Padrig’s cottage, we eat bowls of Cawl – lamb and vegetable stew. Warmth, and with my eyesight returning, we devise tactics.

“First, messages to our DI, Ffion Baines and to Inspector Uthyr Varley to activate tracking of our concealed transponders.” Kama writes the coded message. “Officially, we have to be missing or dead.”

“We can retrieve some of the wrecked boat,” says Guto. “Evidence – your people will know what sort of bomb.”

“Forensics will come.” Kama anticipates what I suspect. “Then some detectives – perhaps even the one that betrayed us.”

“Kama and I can’t stay here. We have to get to Tyn-y-llyn.”

“Ivor Pugh’s farm,” Padrig says. “I’ve been there a few years ago. I’ll take you. Covert?”

We all laugh.

“My family are used to my weird ways. So, if we turn up at the Pugh farm hidden in some trailer – no surprise.”

N for Nightmare and Nemesis. K for Killed and Kinship. P for Pugh and Protection. U for Unseen and Uncle. I for Ivor and Intent. C for Covert and Code.

UNPICK. Unscramble the tangled threads hiding our traitor.

When we make sense of Pia’s parting words.

UNDERMINE – Sunday 26th July – Midday

Unarmed, unaware and useless. My decisions. Why come here? Unsound understanding of my tattoos.

Kama’s tongue traces the heart where only she goes. Licks her way inside. Inviting me inside her.

I’ve betrayed her. Making love is impossible now. Even if my brain wasn’t scrambled.

“You’re distracted, cariad. Why? Sunday guilt? Your grandparents’ disapproval? They don’t know. Adjoining rooms don’t mean we’re lovers – even if we are.”

Peaceful sounds. Sheep. A tractor.

But nothing is normal now.

“My grandparents suspect – but don’t want to know. But I’m doubting myself. Stupidly blaming my tattoos–”

” -which have always led to the right conclusion.”

Shake my head. Crush her pillows.

“Only when I unscramble their weirdness.”

Each tattoo is a watershed moment in my life – becoming a goth, my first girlfriend, that first heartbreak. Culminating in our secret hearts. But upheavals – always.

Passion postponed, I dress in black – jeans, T-shirt and Doc Martens. Focus on positives. Ignore the pounding in my head.

Undetected. We can still thwart the Swedes and their NWP informer.

Outside, an ultramarine Land Rover Discovery draws up. We go downstairs and greet Uthyr Varley.

“Glad you got the coded message, sir.”

“Uthyr, please. Especially as this is unofficial – and you two are presumed dead. ‘Unacceptable fatalities’, the Chief Constable stated to the media.”

“Best if Sparkle and I remain dead until we’ve outwitted the suspects. Undercover and unseen beyond here. How much has the Marine unit uncovered so far?”

Without the involvement of the North West Police Underwater Search and Marine Unit, I know that NWP is in an unwinnable situation.

We sit on the wooden bench outside, overlooking a view I will always love. Mountains speckled with sheep.

“Forensics identified the explosive used from the wreckage recovered by Messrs. Thomas and Pugh as untagged Semtex – used primarily in blasting.”

“Traceable?” I suspect not, even if the Chief Constable is alerted.

“No resources, I’m afraid. We’re tracking the cargo you raised and tagged. The four containers are still on the yacht Njörðr Hämnaren in a marina between Llandudno and Conwy. No attempt has been made to unload them. What do you suspect is in them?”

Our dilemma. My unease. “Unsure at present.”

A white Peugeot 308 pulls into the farmyard and parks by the new farmhouse built for my grandparents and mother.

Uthyr looks at his watch. “Ffion Baines on time as usual.”

Our DI points down to the llyn – the lake that gives the farm its name: Tyn-y-llyn. The lake where I learnt to swim – and we still do.

Snowdonia

“Coffee, tea and gossip can wait. Today it’s urgent that we unmask whoever betrayed my officers. Ugly prejudice taken to unacceptable lengths. But why?”

“Money,” says Uthyr. “usually the ulterior motive.”

M for Money. P for Prejudice. Unlikely. We are missing the reason.

“Anyone behaving unexpectedly?” asks Kama. “The team must be devastated – or should be.”

“When officers die, everyone pulls together. United – as we are in Porthmadog. Wiley Yates and Vivian Utkin volunteered to investigate your murders. I gave them access to some – but not all – of your files.”

Who do we trust? Wiley knows our secret and understands. Vivian is an unknown.

U for Understands and Unknown.

Her surname Utkin is familiar. From where? Another case? A chill. My stomach seethes. Like my mind. Shredded, ever since the explosion.

“Pia Pilkvist said something in Swedish before attempting to kill us. Kama?”

“It sounded like ‘larger victory’ as if they had accomplices elsewhere acting underhand–”

“–like in other police forces,” says Uthyr.

Silence. Even the sheep are unvoiced.

“Or it was another attempt to undermine us – sow doubt.” I shake my head. “But it makes no sense killing us then.”

K for Kill. V for Victory and Volunteers. A for Accomplices and Anxious. T for Traitor and Threats.

KVAT means nothing. My tattoos are failing us.

“We have grounds to arrest the Pilkvists,” says Ffion, tensing her shoulders. “I’m desperate as they intended to kill you both. But I can’t until we’ve uncovered their informer and other accomplices.”

Our safety requires uncertainty. Remaining hidden. Blood from chewing my lips. Gritted teeth instead. Not inactive if we want to lure them out. Think. Untangle my mess.

“Thwarted.” Uthyr clasps his hands behind his head. “I’ve asked HMRC if they have grounds to seize the canisters, but they were inside UK waters when raised. Nothing to point conclusively to their overseas origin. Too circumstantial. But we’re primed to respond.”

“And if they contain drugs or worse?” My skull vibrates. Just tight. Weak. “Time was imperative, they said. Why?”

T for Time. V for Victims.

VAKT.

Head spinning. Brain swamped. As my knees fail, I remember. “Väktare. Pia said Lagens väktare.”

Falling. Where’s Kama?

VENDETTA – Sunday 26th July – 1 p.m.

Vague visions vex me as they vanish. Memories return as Kama kisses me.

“You fainted, cariad. You need more time to recover.”

She’s kneeling on the grass with my head in her lap. She caresses my face.

“No. We haven’t got time. I fear what Lagens väktare means.” I look up at Ffion and Uthyr, their brows creased. “I need to go online. On my sister Gwawr’s computer.”

We sprint to the house and I sign to my deaf sister.  

Upstairs in her room, the four of us squeeze behind Gwawr as she types Lagens väktare  into Google Translate.

“Guardians of the Law”

“Above the law. Vigilantes. That’s their motivation. And my hyper-active tattoos are screaming Arms.”

“Explosives?” asks Ffion. “Like they used on your boat? Or guns?”

“The canisters were not tall enough for long weapons,” says Kama. “But disassembled ones, handguns, or components would be a viable guess.”

Uthyr waves me to the doorway. I trust my sister, but guessing she can lip read, Uthyr asks, “Should we talk outside?”

“Gwawr’s my trusted researcher – and my late tad knew that – as does Ffion. She knows more than mam-“

“-About you and Kama as well?” His smile eases my racing pulse. “Yes, I suspected when I arrived. You make a great couple and my unit would validate that.”

As they look over at us, we call the others over and suggest grabbing tea or coffee and sitting outside.

Drinking as we sit on the wooden bench overlooking the farm, I attempt to relax. This is almost home – this working farm. The sound of sheep. The glistening water where Kama and I swam before not making love. Better to dive in again to banish the nightmare.

Utkin. Xander Utkin.

“Ffion, does Vivian’s personnel file show any relationship to Xander Utkin, the guy Kama and I put away for arson, earlier this year?”

Our DI closes her eyes. A long pause when I wonder if this thread is coincidence.

“Vivian admitted Xander was her brother when she applied to join CID, three months ago. However, she was estranged from him and said he deserved to be locked up.”

Connected. Disapproval.

“Any sign that she feels that we are too soft on crime?”

“None. Like all of us she sympathizes with the victims. Works tirelessly to resolve cases. I suspect that’s one of the reasons that Wiley-“

“-Obsesses about her,” says Kama. “Those two are inseparable. Perhaps another team.”

Perhaps vigilantes. Or are they virtuous?

“Their follow-up on your deaths,” says Ffion, “has been exacting and sensitive.”

V for Vigilantes or Virtuous. E for Exacting and Explosives.

A mobile phone rings. Uthyr’s.

“Varley.” He listens, one hand rubbing his neck. “On the move? Which direction?” He nods then glances at his watch. “I’m forty minutes away at least. Follow them and keep me informed.” He snaps his phone closed.

Njörðr Hämnaren has cast off?” I ask. “Heading where?”

“East. Possibly towards Liverpool so outside the NWP’s operational area. But not my Marine Unit’s. If necessary, I’ll contact our colleagues at Merseyside Police. We’ll continue monitoring the transponder signals. Ffion, your team must find the vermin that think they are above the law.”

M for Merseyside and Monitor.

Uthyr leaves us strategizing beside the llyn.

“If we’re to draw them out,” says Kama. “Sparkle and I are the prime bait and-“

“-Your usual jeopardy approach,” says Ffion. “Last time nearly got you both killed.”

“Nearly is not stopping me. Fainting was just a memory recall device – that worked.”

Like my tingling tattoos.

W for Weapons. A for Arms. E for Explosives. S for Strategy.

V for Vendetta. Ours.

WAVES. Staggering ashore having survived the watery nightmare. Where?

“Sparkle and I must return to Aberdaron Bay and drown again.”

WHIPLASH – Monday 27th July – Dawn

Wounds washed by waves, we lie waiting. Bodies wrapped around each other in what remains of our splinter-lacerated wetsuits. The wind carries the sound of an outboard motor approaching.

A boat draws near to the rock island in Aberdaron Bay. Seabird residents watch our rescuers – the two detectives investigating our deaths.

“Thank God,” says Wiley in English as he rushes forward. “We were on the Llŷn when control alerted us.”

“Some locals reported glimpsing bodies out here on Ynys Gwylan-bach.” Vivian stares at us, eyes wide. The rips and gashes? “Actually, the two guys that found your wrecked boat. Helpful.”

I wriggle from Kama’s embrace. Wiley lifts me and Vivian assists.

“If you can walk, we’ll get you to the boat. Then we’ll return for you, Kama.”

I stagger. Feign weakness but drag myself upright. Wary, but there’s a witness. Padrig watches from the boat and hoists me as I struggle aboard.

“Welcome back. I feared my lessons had been wasted when we found your wrecked boat.”

While Wiley and Vivian retrace their steps to Kama, Padrig continues in Welsh.

“They show concern, but I’d watch out. They’ve been asking strange questions.”

Subtle tingling. A for Alert. W for Warning.

“Like what?”

“For one, how we found the boat and where? That was okay until today. They asked about this rock island – Ynys Gwylan-bach. Why here so far from the wreckage? Currents should have carried you and the wood from the hull in the same direction.”

“We swam towards the bay.”

He nods as our detective allies return. A for Allies. W for Weasel.

“We need to get those wounds treated,” says Wiley. “Splinter slashes might get infected.”

Once aboard, Vivian sits beside Wiley, knees touching as Padrig heads to Aberdaron.

“We have your belongings from the B&B in our squad car,” she says. “We went to Penrhos yesterday – in case you had both returned there.”

I shiver, apprehensive but not from the cooler air. E for Evidence.

Ashore, Padrig says, “I’ll be in the bar if you need me, genethod. Dywed yn dda am dy gyfaill, am dy elyn dywed ddim.”

Do our English colleagues understand? ‘Speak well of your friend; of your enemy say nothing.’ It doesn’t matter. He verifies the tremors – our quarry is near.

In the National Trust car park, Wiley opens the white Ford Focus’s tailgate, and nods at two suitcases with stickers promoting Patagonia.

“Apologies.” He palms his forehead. “We should have collected more suitable gear at your home. But nobody knows the codes –”

“–for our weird security doors,” says Kama. Not exactly true as Ffion does have them. “I’m okay with these colours – for a few hours.”

We change in the pub’s washroom. Wearing pastels instead of black is an acceptable price if we expose the vigilante. I repeat Padrig’s warning on the island to Kama – in Tamil. Public toilets have ears.

Outside, Wiley leads us back to the car park. “DI Baines wanted us to get you checked by a doctor. So were going to Tremadog – as it’s near the station.”

But with minimal facilities.  Why are no paramedics here? No A&E arrangements? Ffion knows our injuries are superficial. But who cancelled routine medical response?

O for Orders. M for Misdirection.

Wiley hands Vivian the keys to the Focus, then climbs into the backseat beside Kama.

Are we being separated? I’m motioned to the front passenger seat by an unsteady Wiley.

“All this messing around in boats is exhausting,” he says.

Vivian laughs and fastens her seatbelt. Then drives off along the B4413 towards Pwllheli.

“How long were you swimming before you reached the island? All night?”

Suspicious of our story. Both? Or just Vivian?

S for Suspect and Swimming.

I smile back. “Most of Tuesday night. We tried to land but there were rocks and cliffs. Hard to find anywhere at night.”

“Ynys Gwylan-bach was the first place we saw where we could land. By then it was light,” says Kama. “We slept for hours. Until you found us.”

“Keeping each other warm seems – strangely sensible.”

Our secret relationship is illicit in her eyes. AMOURS or ARMS?

Time this right. Wrangle it out. Wary.

“Basic survival. Our wetsuits were useless in the cold air.”

Silence. Vivian seems satisfied. Wiley is dozing.

Sweat on her forehead. She’s thinking. Plotting? Remembering?

The case that convicted her brother for arson?

“Have you seen your brother recently?”

She grits her teeth. Blinks but stares at the road. “He took me to the races at Chepstow on a recent day-off. Backed a few winners. He’s taking me to Ffos Las for Ladies Day later this month.”

Intentional evasion. She’s talking about her brother Quincy the goading polo player.

“And Xander?”

“Deservedly locked up – unlike the women that put him there.”

Her fingers grip the steering wheel tighter, turning white. Hate. Kama and me? Xander’s ex-wife and her queer partner? All of us?

“He set fire to the stables and poisoned their horses. Unprovoked and the jury found him guilty.”

“And ignored what drove him to breaking the law. You and your partner were the arresting officers. You ignored the provocation. Failed to report all the facts. Scorned divine law. I can’t forget, but enough said – for now.”

Impassive but sweating.

So, divine law makes me guilty. I’ve been a sinner for years – in chapel eyes. Even if I attend – when crime allows. Guilty. Vigilantes against Gay Pride? Unreal and yet too possible.

West of Mynytho, Vivian throws a left onto the smaller B4415. We’re thrown to off-balance as she weaves to straighten up down the lane between two stone walls.

Wiley is sound asleep. Trees close in.

“Where are we going?”

“Bangor – the A&E. Or aren’t you really injured?” She smirks as she accelerates. “You two are such fakes – except for your disgusting perversion.”

I try to grab the steering wheel, but she just wrenches it to the side again, scraping the stone wall.

“This time, I’ll dispose of you properly – and Wiley.”

A belt whips around her neck and I wrest the wheel from her, steering us onto the rain-soft verge where the wall ends.

“Never let an officer sit behind you with a whip for a belt. Wisdom 101.”

I blow a kiss at my colleague as I cuff Vivian, then drag her onto my side of the squad car.

“What did you give Wiley? A sleeping draught?”

Another sick laugh. “Nothing so inept. Diluted weever fish toxin sweetened with xylitol – no known antidote. But he knew the risks of not punishing criminals. Death.”

“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot. Why? Pric pwdin.”

“I don’t have to say anything. Not to you two dikes. To our DI, Ffion Baines – perhaps. Then, I will mention everything that I will rely on – if this ever gets to court. If anyone survives to witness this.”

A warped version of our police caution. Do we need to warn her officially? Yes.

Kama does as she secures Vivian inside the squad car.

X for Xylitol and Xenial. A for Amours, Arms and Alert. N for Nervous and Names. D for Directions and Deception. E for Envenom and Embittered. R for Retaliation and Revenge.

XANDER. How is he connected to murder? Is he the real threat?

XANTHIPPE – Monday 27th July – Mid-morning

Xylitol, xerostomia, x-rays, xerosis? I’m confused by the medical jargon. Wiley’s unconscious, and his skin is yellow and dry. Xanthic xerosis?

“Doctor, without the medical jargon, how is our colleague?”

He glances at his watch. It’s an hour since we brought Wiley into the A&E at Ysbyty Gwynedd, Bangor – and another squad car took Vivian, restrained, to Porthmadog.

“He is unconscious but breathing. All his vital signs are acceptable. The x-rays show nothing is fractured. I cannot detect the supposed toxin – yet. There are more tests I need to run.”

I try to breathe steadily. Hope Wiley’s okay. He has to be.

“So, his pallor? His skin. What’s that from?” asks Kama.

“Xerosis or abnormal dryness can occur in the eyes – xerophthalmia – on the skin – xeroderma – and in the mouth – xerostomia. Of these, he exhibits the latter two. So, we will test for asialism, ichthyosis and other causes. Also-“

“Keep us updated via our PCSO,” I say, smiling as the same female officer who helped before.

Protection for one of our own? In a coma? But not with a gaff. An unknown toxin? Is that what’s in the canisters? A biological or chemical weapon?

Shivers set off my tattoos.

A for Abnormal and Avenger. B for Breathing and Biological. C for Coma and Chemical. D for Dryness and Death. V for Victim and Vigilante. I for Intent and Identify.

BAD? DIVA?

Vivian or Pia? We need answers.

Monday 27th July – Midday

Njörðr Hämnaren is moored at Liverpool Marina?”

Uthyr answers on speakerphone in Ffion’s office.

“Yes, within a short walk of the city. But we are ready to stop them unloading.”

“If the canisters are biological or chemical hazards,” says Ffion. “The Swedes can release them from the boat – into the air or the harbour. I’ve alerted NaCTSO, but we need more evidence.”

The National Counter Terrorism Security Office will rely on us to keep them informed so they can co-ordinate the appropriate units. But we are acting on suspicions. My gut feelings.

“Has your rogue officer said anything helpful?” asks Uthyr.

“She’s evasive and shrewd. Playing with us. But she’ll talk.”

“I pray it’s in time to stop whatever the Swedes have schemed.”

“It will be, Uthyr. You know my dynamic-duo and rate them suitable for your unit.”

I wonder who leaked that. Have they discussed our future?

Ffion rings off and motions for us to follow to an interview suite – our only one with a two-way mirror. CPS approved.

“Suggested questions? I’ve tried the vigilante angle and DC Utkin wanting to dispense her own justice.”

Utkin. Xander. That triggered her reactions.

“Ask what drove her brother Xander to commit arson. And what divine law guides her.”

Ffion motions to the viewing room as she steps into the main interview suite along with the police sergeant who was inside guarding the door.

Vivian is sitting with the defence lawyer she has requested. Ffion switches the recorder on.

The lawyer plays his hand. “My client will only answer questions that relate to her arrest.”

“The attempted murder of two officers. The canisters on the yacht. Why she’s put another officer in hospital. So – everything.”

“Circumstantial associations,” says Vivian. “Evidence massaged by two officers that resent me and my colleagues.”

“Officers that arrested your brother Xander for arson. Valid? Or tampered evidence?”

Vivian stares hard at the mirror. Eyes burning into ours. Accusing.

” I know this room and that ridiculous mirror. They’re listening – your pet officers who arrested him. Yes, he deserved to be put away for his crimes. But they drove him over the edge.”

Ffion opens a file. Xander’s case?

“By ‘they’ you mean his ex-wife Dinah Quinlan and her partner Aerona Ogilvy? What did they do to pervert the law?”

Vivienne hesitates. Her lawyer shakes his head, then whispers to her. Does he suspect what she might admit? Vivian glares at him, at Ffion, at us. Anger triggered.

“The Lord’s Law. 1 Corinthians 6:9 – ‘Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men’. This is a Christian country and I respect that.”

“So, your fellow officers become legitimate targets – even if they attend chapel like Sparkle. Or Wiley Yates who is as heterosexual as you.”

Vivian shakes her head. “He agrees with your dike pets and does nothing to correct their delusion. Unlike my friends. Their belief is firm.”

Ffion pauses and flicks through the file. Page by page. Vivian shuffles and sweats.

“Who is next? Me, another Christian who believes in her officers? This vendetta won’t end with two or three dead colleagues. What’s in the canisters, DC Utkin? Or are you as immoral as your brother? A criminal and not one of my officers?”

Fists on the table, Vivian shakes her head.

“And if I help, what do I get? I only did this to correct what our system failed to do – protect people. Without the police presence, vigilantes are dangerous. I can stop that. With me involved, they will help us.”

“Help us do what? Do we need the containers? Do we want them?”

“Xanthippe, they called me – confrontational. The Swedes thought I wasn’t to be trusted. I challenged their aims too much. But I know the best way to deal with misfits not them. This was my chance.”

“Now I’m offering you the chance to stop this – earn respect.”

My mobile rings. The PCSO at the hospital.

“DS Yates is recovering. The doctor says there was no venom. Just a heavy sleeping draught. When he is well enough to talk, I’ll get Wiley to call.”

A bluff. Vivian is the fraud spinning a yarn.

R for Respect and Revenge. Y for Yacht and Yarn. A for Abnormal and Avenge. D for Death and Duplicity.

YARD. A railway goods yard?

I message Ffion. “Wiley okay. Say he died. Not her intention. So will break her.”

Ffion sits back, shakes her head and cries.

“Wiley. Why him? Didn’t he love you enough?”

Vivian claws her head, body shuddering.

Another red herring.

C for Casualties and Cons. K for Kisses and Kudos. O for Opportunists and Objectives.

DOCKYARD. My tattoos convulse me.

Knees buckling. Mind churning letters and clues.

Kama’s arms around me. “Cariad. Not again?”

YOKE – Wednesday Mid-Evening

Yachting yarns yearn to be clues but they’re not. Njörðr Hämnaren is the decoy along with the containers. Vivian has been wasting our time. Under orders.

We are parked in the shadows at Holyhead Docks. My hunch must be correct.

“Trust me, Ffion. Three mnemonics told me to come here.”

“That mental Scrabble board is very accurate. If it wasn’t, we’d still be at Porthmadog – assessing our minimal leads.”

What happens if I’m wrong?

“And the mnemonics were?” asks Wiley. “I always trust you.”

Another voice of confidence. Fired up on his release from Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor.

“If it helps – DESPATCH, LARCENY, and GEMS. Our contact here in the port confirmed that the shipment of gemstones is due from Eire on the next boat. The handling agents are also taking action.”

Will that satisfy their insurers if we fail?

“G for Gnomes and Gaff. E for Elaborate and Evasive. M for Manifest and Mirrors. S for Smoke and Sailing,” says Kama, interpreting my thinking process.

“And the yacht with the containers,” asks Wiley, catching up after missing the briefing. “Are they coming here? Did Vivian know?”

I shake my head. “She was totally confused. Thought the containers were contraband. The Pilkvists promised her a cut if she helped. Part of their extensive ploy to keep our other divisions distracted –”

“– Even counter-terrorism,” says Ffion. “Vivian folded and called the Swedes manipulative zealots. Their yacht left Liverpool heading West, but Marine are following. Armed response is alerted, but they need justification to attend.”

Will our Swedish victims show? Is my intuition valid? Are the wrong resources being diverted?

The penny counters will make me pay – with my career.

Can we afford not to respond?

“Exposing me and Sparkle was personal revenge for Vivian – a fringe benefit.”

Kama squeezes my shoulder – reassurance.

http://holyheadport.com/

Ffion glances at her watch, then checks that uniform are hidden across the arrival area.

Stefan Mikaelsson and Ivan Tjäder stroll by us, oblivious to our squad car in the darkness.

As I surmised. Deceivers not victims.

Dressed as customs officers, they wait for the courier with two colleagues. They check some cars but stay clear of the main customs area.

“Courier’s yellow Toyota Yaris approaching now,” says a uniform officer over the radio.

The four thieves spot the vehicle and obstruct its path. Stefan accosts the driver as Ivan approaches the passenger side. They draw pistols from their jackets and throw the doors open.

They pull the courier out and force him into the back seat between the two sidekicks.

“Don’t tackle them yet,” says Ffion. “We don’t want innocent bystanders shot. Or the courier killed. Tail at a distance.”

As Ffion orders uniform to follow, I keep two car lengths behind the Yaris. Stefan turns out of the port into the town centre.

My tattoos thrum. M for Marina and Y for Yacht.

“I’m contacting Uthyr,” says Kama. “If the yacht left Liverpool heading west, where is it now?”

“Good call, Kama,” says Ffion. “Wiley, see if the local force has other support they can spare. I’m advising armed response again. This is escalating. With £10 million in gems plus guns, we’re at PIP three level.”

Ffion is an experienced Senior Investigating Officer – and respected. But NWP are spread thin and these crooks know that. No thanks to Vivian. Ffyc.

The Yaris drives along the opposite side of the harbour, past the railway station, then left towards the Marina.

W for Water. S for Swim.

The marine unit updates us.

Njörðr Hämnaren has just dropped anchor west of The Skerries, due north of Holyhead. We will await orders to board her and we have a customs officer with us.”

“That may be necessary, Uthyr,” says Ffion. “You are our only marine unit if these thieves escape us.”

Moonlight glistens of waves and boats. The Yaris slows and I drop back.

Imminent confrontation. Adrenaline. Jeopardy.

“Local cannot spare more uniformed officers. We’ll have to depend on the two behind us.”

Ffion expels her breath hard. “And armed response is still too far away.”

Only the guns outnumber us – except in the water. Who swims best?

As the thieves park the Yaris near a sailing club slipway, I ease onto the embankment, cutting the lights.

“They’ve brought their Aberdaron boat for their escape,” says Kama. “We need to borrow a boat or –”

“– Swim, if we need to. If we drop in off the quay there, they won’t see us. Head to the breakwater.”

Ffion nods and turns to Wiley. “Two of them seem to be staying with our courier. Arrest them. The armed guys must be taking the gems to Njörðr Hämnaren.”

I sidle out of the car with Kama.

As Stefan and Ivan launch the clinker boat, we slip into the water. Fully-clothed is a routine swim – some mornings.

Night hides our smooth passage out into the Marina harbour.

Headlights stab at the Yaris. Flashing blue lights add to the distraction.

Stefan and Ivan hesitate.

They fire warning shots into the blinding beams. Officers are diving for cover as we head for a channel marker buoy.

Our fleeing thieves raise their sails – at the third attempt – then tack towards the channel.

“They’d make better progress with oars,” says Kama. “Or an outboard. We’d better intervene before they hit another boat.”

We approach underwater, pulling ourselves aboard over either side. The boat rocks and the crooks come alert. Both go for their guns.

We time our tackles to avoid capsizing.

The Swedes are strong.

My choke hold slips in the wet. Stefan’s knee jabs my stomach. Gasp for air.

But one arm slips around his neck. He squirms, yet the hold tightens. Without hesitation, I slam his head up against the boom.

“I used my fist,” says Kama. “More satisfying but painful. Next time, I’ll whip them into shape.”

Stefan and Ivan are cuffed while unconscious, and Kama retrieves the gem pouches.

We row the boat beyond the other craft and yachts, then sail out to the Breakwater Lighthouse.

Ffion and Wiley are waiting as planned.

“Guessed you’d stop them. Uniform took the other guys to the local station,” says Ffion. “Seems the courier conned these guys – risked his life.”

Kama opens the pouches – cut glass fakes. Costume jewels.

“The handler’s security agent sent a second courier. Ours is the decoy.”

“These rocks will do for the Pilkvists. We’d be remiss not delivering them.”

Ffion hands me our radios. “And arrest the zealots. We’ll ensure Uthyr knows to expect your boat off The Skerries. And take these as they’re no doubt armed – but you’ve been trained in their use.”

Tasers. Z for Zealots. A for Assault. P for Police.

ZAP. Our response must be realistic.

ZOO – Monday 27th July – Five Minutes to Midnight

“Zakuski, zucchini, zwieback, zereshk, zrazy, ziti, zander, zerde, zabaglione –”

“With Zinfandel wine,” adds Kama. “You planning a Zenith Party? Dancing? Zamacueca, zambra, zapateado and zydeco?”

“Distracting myself from mnemonic overload. A party sounds great when we’re done with this case. And a Polish inspired zebra –”

“Zebra?”

“Wait and see, thozhi. Ship ahead.”

Will our disguises work? The customs uniforms from Stefan and Ivan are a loose fit in places but adequate.

As we heave closer, Pia hails us – in Swedish.

Har du ädelstenarna?

Adeltsarna’ must be the stones, so we give a thumbs-up.

Peder throws a line from the stern and we haul ourselves in. The ladder is familiar, and we climb aboard, heads lowered.

Pia is waiting in the cockpit as Peder punches buttons to raise the sails.

I toss over the three jewel pouches.

She stares at us, eyes flicking between the two zombies.

“Your colleague was meant to finish what we started.”

“As ineffective as your explosives. So, we’re here with the gems instead of your inept divers.”

She hesitates then picks up the pouches.

“Well, seems you have a price as well. We thought DC Utkin was a rare find. Three in one force is somewhat – American.”

We let her open the pouches as I arm my Taser X26, and Kama unfastens her Savuku belt.

Pia tips out the costume jewellery as I step beside Peder.

“Fakes – like you two bitches. Where are the real gems?”

“On their way to the lawful client in Bangor with another courier. Too many decoys these days.”

I zap Peder and he slumps to the deck. Kama’s whip curls around Pia’s wrist before she can draw her hidden pistol. Then she restrains the Swede with an arm lock.

We handcuff them and read them their rights.

“Uthyr, one pirate vessel secured,” I say on my radio. “The canisters are exactly where we left them. My guess is – gnome trinkets.”

More deceptions – like Lagens väktare, the illusionary Guardians of the Law.

Friday 31st July – Evening


food artby SydnieN – 
The food for SydnieN’s aunts wedding, isn’t it awesome!

The glass of White Zinfandel compliments the zany cosmopolitan spread. I savour the strange blend of raspberry, coconut, spices and fish. But I miss my velvet favourite – and the heat of Kama’s Ennai Kathirikai Kulambu.

As the sun sets with reds and oranges over the Bae Ceredigion and the Llŷn Peninsula, I turn to Ffion, who is balancing her glass on her plate of select morsels.

“One more case resolved – 10 more to tackle.”

Paperwork alone never ends – especially all the justification demanded for every penny spent

“As your tad always reminded us, ‘crime never sleeps – even during Chapel.’ Did you get the email?”

My mind scrolls through the questions, comments and helpful spam messages.

“From?”

“The security company handling the shipping of the gems – from France.”

“Yes. They thanked us for ensuring the safety of the Azure Stones. The message said we came recommended. But not by whom. Just that Zoo Sécurité would be in touch. Do you know more?”

A new mystery. The name meant nothing to me or Kama. Who suggested us?

Ffion shakes her head and frowns. “Can’t bear to have you two leaving my team. Being head-hunted by a security outfit is serious.”

“Thought you were thinking of joining my unit,” says Uthyr, bringing over a bottle. He tops up our glasses.

Kama takes my arm. “Sparkle and I are committed to helping CID for a good few years. Dawn swimming from the nearby beach is all we need.”

Our future draws other concerned friends.

“You acquired that Aberdaron boat,” says Wiley, arm around the PCSO from Bangor hospital. “That’s more than swimming.”

“It cost us – the accounts department wanted blood for it,” Our friends laugh, but it’s almost true. I lift my glass to my cousin and his partner.  “Now, we’ve a regatta to practice for – when Guto and Padrig have repaired her. And next year – watch out.”

The strutting of our jackdaw, Negesydd announces the start of the serious dancing at our Zenith celebration.

Zithers, drums and flutes echo into the Welsh night.

Midnight approaches and disappears. Nobody leaves. Is crime asleep, or just lurking in the shadows? Dancing to its own rhythm.

Kama pulls me closer, and her scent of vanilla and bergamot embraces me.

“Must I wait to discover about this Polish-inspired zebra? Or can we sneak away?”

Ti eisiau dawnsio noeth?

Azure Spark – Act Two

First snow on Snowdon – Juanita Clarke

Azure Spark

ACT TWO

JEOPARDY – Tuesday 21st July Evening

Jackdaw jigs keep us entertained as Kama and I relax on our patio, enjoying the evening sun and breeze. Negesydd had adopted us and even assists on cases.

“He’s entitled to time off too – and I’m glad your fraud case is nearing a conclusion.”

“Once Wiley and Ffion think we have enough material for CPS.”

Unless the Criminal Prosecution Service feel a judge and jury would dismiss the case. A chill settles over me. My stomach is heavy.

“I need a witness to the assault on Stefan and Ivan – and identities for their rich assailants if my Aberdaron case is going to progress further.”

“But you’ll find them and the motive.”

An idea sparks in my head and my tattoos. R for Regatta.

“Want to enter the Aberdaron regatta? Late entry.”

Kama leans against me and whisper-kisses my ear. “Sounds like one of your typical ploys. A risk. And An adrenaline rush. So yes.”

I snigger and kiss her, tasting grape and lemongrass. Breathing in vanilla and bergamot.

“If our rich Swedes want divers who can sail, we can oblige. Ffion should endorse the sting. With Stefan in supposed custody and Ivan on the run –”

“– They might bite. Our lives in jeopardy as usual.” She winks and caresses me. “So, early to bed tonight. Exercise. Tomorrow, and early swim session. Then you devise a plan with Ffion.”


Wednesday 22nd July – Morning

Ffion reads my satisfied grin as I bring her a cup of mint tea.

“Hopefully your colleagues don’t interpret joyous rapture for what it is. Remember keep that at home. So, I presume the case has progressed due to our custody visitor’s revelations.”

I’m outmanoeuvred so I hand her the flash drive with my plan. She studies the details, her expressions ranging from a grin and nod to pursed lips with a long frown to close.

“The money guys will balk at this – unless most of it is done off-duty. Your lives will be in jeopardy as usual – but I expect that with you and Kama.”

“We’ve agreed to do the training off-duty – but I fear time is short so –”

“– We might need to fast track your diving licenses. What’s your current status?”

Our wild water swimming is already challenging. Ffion knows that. Lying isn’t necessary.

“More than proficient. We need more deep-water hours.”

“I can arrange that with the North West Police Underwater Search & Marine Unit – and adjust your off-duty days. Issuing a license won’t be a problem. You want to leak the bait through the press?”

My body thrills at the thought of decisive action. My fingers tap bracer studs.

 L for Lure. O for Off-Duty. And J.

“Our tame journalist will spread the fake news. She’s reliable – despite her jealousy at our not-so-glamorous jobs.”

We laugh together. The plan will only work if the rich couple are desperate after losing Stefan and possibly Ivan.

Too many variables.

“Why do you think the Swedish couple need divers and a fishing boat?” Ffion raises her eyebrows.

Our wildcard. “The freighter jettisons its illegal cargo off Aberdaron. Divers are needed to recover the goods.”

“Interesting lateral thinking. What inspired that? Wine or passion?”

Her teasing eyes prompt an honest answer. “Both.”

Memories of our evening – after Negesydd hopped away – blood my cheeks and send finger spirals up my spine.

I force them down and let my tattoos feed in.

K for Knowledge and Kama. I for Intrigue. L for Lure and License. J Journalist and Jeopardy. O for Off-Duty and Ops. Y for Yield and Yester-eve.

KILLJOY. Our penny-counters or someone else?

Ffion’s smile turns serious.

“When this case is closed, I have a new mystery for you both. It’s minor – non-CID incidents now. But ones I’m watching. Seemingly unrelated jewel thefts – low value items, trinkets but from tourists.”

“Intriguing. When you want our input, let us know. Meantime, I’ll work on the diving scheme.”

“I’ll monitor the jewel incidents – perhaps let you see something in advance. Unofficially. Get some judicious feedback.”

KNUCKLE-DUSTER – Wednesday 22nd July Midday

Kama’s knowledge of kickboxing keeps me alert to her moves in the gym. One hesitation and I’m a flattened dosa pancake. She gives no quarter. Nor do I.

 Sweat washes off as she soaps my hair.

“How soon is the deep-water course – and the regatta?”

“Tomorrow is the training on Ynys Môn. Anglesey has great dive sites. Friday, we try out our Aberdaron boat. Saturday, we race. So, no pressure.”

“Just that spot where your palm is playing on my right cheek. But enjoyable.”

I kiss her. “Just returning your attentive touch. We better sneak out separately. Remember the warning.”

There are strange looks when I return to the office, even though Kama is back conferring with Wiley. He’s proved one of our understanding friends – even if he’s captivated with Vivian. Supportive friends are too few. If only others were like PC Megan Matthews and her husband Cefin who protect our secret.

A new email arrives. Kristina Yoxall, our tame journalist.

“Story understood and appearing as attached in this afternoon’s online edition. If you approve. I expect my usual kickback – advance details of another successful outcome.”

The story is brief and baited:

Returning Tremadog athletes, Sioned Wilkins and Rashmi Sharma, 23 and 28, have announced they are entering the Aberdaron Regatta. Their first race is on Saturday afternoon. They paid special tribute to Guto Thomas of Porth Meudwy, who restored the boat they are racing. In advance of their practice day on Friday, the former champion divers said, “Our return to the Llŷn Peninsula, where we grew up, is a great honour.”

If the lure isn’t taken, I’m stumped. For now, my heart surges. Suggesting a few word changes, I email Kristina. Then ring Guto.

“Mister Thomas, this is Sparkle Anwyl. Did you get my message?”

“About a boat for our regatta? Yes. I have the perfect one. Bit fancy and she should turn heads like any fine lass. But she won’t win anything else.”

“Other than catching the right breeze, the aim is to catch our attackers.”

“Suppose you know what you’re doing. What about in a boat?”

We are more familiar with being in the water, but I refrain from saying that.

“All advice is welcome. Can you help us? We aim to collect the boat early Friday –”

“– If you are here at 5 AM, we can help. Won’t breathe a word about you being Heddlu. You’re one of us. Goodwill. And good sailing.”

“Thanks. We’ll be there prompt – Sioned Wilkins and Rashmi Sharma. Former champion deep-sea divers.”

A chuckle confirms Guto is our man – our boat builder.

A pleasant tingle as I press my bracer. G for Guto and Goodwill. L for Llŷn and Lure. A for Aberdaron. E for Edition.

LEGAL. Are we? Will CPS approve of our actions? Does it matter if the Swedish kingpins use every weapon against us? Not just gaffs, staves and knuckle-dusters, but guns. Lethal force.

LETHALITY – Wednesday 22nd July – Afternoon

Legal loopholes challenge us. CPS must prepare for canny lawyers. I need to ensure we have everything.

Eyes closed, my mind plays games with scenarios. Be prepared.

Ivan Tjäder, our runner might be more than the loophole. Did he see me? Was this coma a pretence? The doctor would’ve known. But Stefan fooled him.

My shudder is premature – if Ivan is found by us first. I check the latest sightings – nothing.

But Ffion has sent me the petty theft incidents. Nothing expensive. Nor anything the pawnshops will bother with. Very likely gift shop purchases. Sentimental trinkets the professional jewel thief would ignore. An opportunist petty thief? A spate that merits monitoring. So, I give Ffion my assessment.

I’m assessing my next lateral step, when a message flashes up.

“Detective Dike Anwyl. We are watching you and your lesbian bitch. No perversion in NWP. Resign or regret staying.”

I shiver. My heart beat races. Dizziness. Pain.

The first stone, and we’ve only been doing our jobs. Is this hatred or jealousy?

Rigidity dissolves. The bitter tang in my mouth. Spit. My lip bleeds.

I can’t tell Kama.

No. I must tell Kama.

Ffion?

Not yet.

Are we safe at the regatta?

No cop would dare expose us – would they? To be rid of us? If we fail that proves our lack of worth.

Focus on the case. Ignore the haters. I’m queer and proud.

Lost cargo – jettisoned overboard. My hunch. I open the message from HMRC in Pembroke. The manifest from the Scandinavian freighter shows items missing – washed off by waves during a lightning storm. ‘Medical supplies.’ Drugs?

But no loss report or insurance claim shows in any records I can access. Buried or dismissed?

Diving might reveal more. And probing.

I ring forensics.

“Liam, our guest confirmed they were attacked with gaffs and staves.”

“Do we have a crime scene?”

“Nothing definite. A jetty, perhaps a marina near Llandudno. We haven’t the resources to search for a scene. Not yet.”

“Austerity biting at your budget too. Crazy with crime not sleeping.”

“That’s what my late tad would say.”

Tears come freely at his memory. Cancer was the crime that took him. The toughest adversary.

“Wise man.”

“He was – the best.” I close my eyes. Breathe. “I’ll ring when I have more. Oh, they had been sailing.”

Waves of tingling as I replace the phone.

A for Austerity and Adversary. M for Medical and Manifest. L for Lightning, Lesbian and Legal. U for Unknown.

MAUL. Who is wanting to maul us? Lethality unleashed. No matter. The trap should be set. I check the online news.

“Champion divers choose Aberdaron Regatta.”

MAYHEM – Thursday 23rd July – Morning

Melodious murmurs mingle with the churning surf and rival bird calls. Makes these memories matter. Kama and me – melded.

“The dive ship will take us out to the final wreck. This will be your last dive and will test your capability at depths of nearly 30 metres. But be prepared for the unexpected – this is not a tourist excursion. And I won’t be easy on you.”

The training officer, Inspector Varley, hasn’t let up all morning – not since our 4 a.m start. Intensive workouts, testing dives, and mental mazes to tax us – and prepare us. No normal course.

“Move. We’re not on a shopping trip. Anwyl, you push us off with that boat hook. And put some muscles into it – if you have any.”

Ignore the windup. My wetsuit moulds to me for warmth and protection but it sculpts and reveals. Kama’s toned body is as marked.

I push us off. The coxswain steers the ship out beyond a rocky promontory. But Kama and I must row us further in an inflatable towards a jagged outcrop – even though it has an outboard.

Our scuba gear rechecked from tank to goggles, we descend into the majestic depths.

The corroded metal merchantman looks vibrant with fish and seaweeds. The ripped hull and damaged superstructure indicate the mayhem of the storm that wrecked her on the rocks above.

Varley indicates we are to enter through the main breach in the hull. Kama on point, me behind – ahead of our mentor-taskmaster.

Tattoos tingle. Nerves jangle. I dive down and left as a black- clad figure with a tinted mask fires a spear gun at Kama.

I surprise the second attacker by dolphin-kicking into him. Improvised Jiu-Jitsu stuns him.

Kama anticipates the spear, weaving into attack mode. She disarms her attacker gesturing with the grabbed spear-gun for him to swim up to our deep compression rendezvous.

I follow with my captive at the point of his gun.

Varley gestures at his watch and shakes his head.

Resolved too fast. That’s just us.

Back on the dive ship, he struggles to suppress his chuckle.

“Fastest resolution to my ambush ever. You ladies are good enough to be in my Marine unit – not in CID.”

“Is that a job offer?” Kama raises her eyes as she looks towards me. “We come as a team.”

One of the unmasked officers laughs and thumps her on the back. “With your manoeuvres, I’d be out of a job. I’ve never seen some of them. What are they?”

“A melange of my Tamil martial art of silambam and Sparkle’s jiu-jitsu.”

“As my partner said, we’re a team so train as one.”

Inspector Varley gestures for the coxswain to return to shore.

“You two moved as one unit through that rupture. Instinctively prepared. You’ve passed – and yes, if you ever want to become maritime police and face marauders at sea, I’d welcome you. But I suspect CID won’t let you go. So, good luck on tomorrow’s nautical challenge and get those crooks.”

My stomach churns. We’ve colleagues that want us gone. Ones that despise minorities like us. And moving to another force won’t resolve that.

Tap my bracer.

M for Mayhem and Minorities. A for Ambush. S for Silambam. N for Nautical. E for Exertion.

NAMES.

“That your secret weapon, Anwyl?”

“Mnemonics are my mental ally. Keep me ahead.”

If we can identify the real attackers and what they are smuggling from Sweden. Narcotics?

NARCOSIS – Thursday 23rd July – Afternoon

Nurturing natural nooks enhances our wild Welsh landscape. The sea looks unspoilt, but we fear what lurks unseen. Humanity the criminal.

Crime never sleeps.

Not this weekend. At 4 p.m. there are reports to tackle and the NWP nicks are filling up.

Ensure we are ready for tomorrow. Check everything, While Kama confirms that Wiley is ready to submit the fraud case to CPS.

“It won’t be a late night,” she says, her tone reassuring. “We’ve an early start.”

“Nemesis draws nearer for our criminals – if they show.”

“They will, cariad. They need divers – and we’re qualified.”

What am I overlooking? Unknown nightmare scenarios.

Stifle fear and suppress the nausea. Ignore glances from possibly dangerous colleagues. Kama has zero probable names. Hoax or hazard? Nerves jangling.

My phone rings. Our new desk sergeant – the one who replaced my tad.

“Uniform have a prisoner you need to interview. Ellis Evans. Arrested in Nannau near Dolgellau for dealing drugs.”

A new development. Relax. Prioritise.

In the interview room, seated beside a uniform colleague, I switch on the tape recorder, giving the time and my name.

“Suspect is Ellis Evans. No lawyer has been requested.”

I place eight bags of cannabis on the table. “These yours? For sale?”

He squints. “I never sell narcotics. These are a friend’s for keeping safe.” He shrugs and crosses his arms over his chest.

“And your friend’s name?”

“Vic Vaughn. He’s in hospital, so I keep for him.”

String him along.

“Bangor? When did you see him last?”

“A few days ago. I can’t remember.”

“Amnesia. Narcosis. Ever been treated for those?”

“No. I’ve never been in hospital. I not register with NHS.”

I lean forward. Open his file. Produce a photo of him injured and in a coma. Slide it over.

“Never? Not at Bangor Hospital?”

His face goes ashen and drops. Sick at the sight of his injuries. And more.

“I only remember leaving the building. I had to get outside and breathe. To escape everything.”

“The drugs?”

“We never knew what is happening. They never told us nothing.”

“Never told you and Stefan Mikaelsson – your friend. His drugs? You ready to tell him that, Ivan Tjäder?”

He shakes his head and cries.

“I sell drugs to escape, to go home back to Sweden. I won’t dive for them. Where is Stefan?”

“Safe. Tell me everything, and you will be safe here to.”

His confession tallies with his friend’s. One less loose end, but the kingpins remain unidentified.

As I walk back upstairs, Ffion waves me into her office. She pushes a file across her desk.

“I fear the jewellery incidents have escalated a level. This time it’s not a petty crime but arson. Can you investigate this evening? The fire officer has asked for you specifically.”

Do we have a name?”

Her look fills me with dread. I start tapping my bracer furiously.

D for Drugs and Dread. U for Untimely and Urgent. S for Sailing, Smoke and Sweat.

“Owen Anwyl.”

O for Opportunist and Owen. I for Insensitive and Investigation.

ODIOUS.

My odious brother. That’s a mutual objection.

OBSTRUCTIONS – Thursday 23rd July – Late Afternoon

Odious odours and smoke obscure the scene at the junction of Snowdon and Madog. I thread my way through the onlookers and under the police tape. The fire was fierce, destroying most of the corner building’s façade. A charred signboard hangs dangerously loose.

A group of North Wales firefighters are dousing down. One appears officious.

“Late as always, Meinwen. I solved this hours ago.”

Unlikely. Owen Anwyl might be a fire investigator, but his solutions depend on others.

I’ve known him all my life, but I’m the eldest sibling by a year.

“Some of us have other cases to occupy our hours.”

His smirk prepares me for more taunts.

But a man in blue slacks, red shirt and white flannel jacket pushes his way through the barrier towards us. 5 foot 11, athletic, tanned, dyed black hair.

“Hugh Arbuthnot. I own this shop.” His voice pronounces every word like another royal invader. His icy stare flicks between us, then he selects my brother in his dusty uniform – casts me away. “Officer, I need to know what happened here.”

His equally posh lawyer will be next – or his accountant to count the losses.

“A car mounted the pavement and skidded into your shop front. Then the ruptured fuel tank exploded. Petrol – that’s the acrid odour. A simple accident.”

Owen leads the owner around the burnt out 4×4 – torched by the ram-raiders. No accident. Nor the petty thief we at CID are tracking.

I assess the interior. Any robbery evidence is obliterated by arson. Convenient – for the perpetrators.

Tattoos tingling, I tap my bracer. A for Arson. R for Robbery. O for Organised. Deliberate. ROAD. But not road rage.

“Why the police tape? Do you suspect a crime?”

“No, just routine to keep onlookers back.” More Owen bull-shit.

“I disagree, this is a crime scene.”

“Who are you?”

I’m not dressed as a cop. So, I reach inside my biking leathers for my warrant card.

“An opinionated observer who’s operating without her lezzie partner – for once.”

I scowl at Owen, but the posh Englishman flinches – one gesture short of crossing himself.

“I’m Detective Sparkle Anwyl, CID. This officer requested our involvement in this suspected arson, which I believe was a ram raid robbery.”

Glancing at my ID, Hugh Arbuthnot frowns, hands behind his back. “I demand another detective – a second opinion. Not from someone like you.”

“So, not Welsh,” I say, twisting his insult. “Not easy in North Wales. But my partner is Tamil – her family immigrated from South India. And she’s a more senior detective. Plus, our boss, Detective Inspector Ffion Baines approves of our teamwork. Now, do you want to obstruct us or resolve this case?”

I’m out of order but annoyed. Ffion would agree. Owen is stirring. He requested me on purpose. Petty sibling rivalry.

A for Arson and Arbuthnot. R for Ram-raid and Robbery. O for Owner and Obstructions. D for Disagree and Disgrace.

ROAD. Ignoring the rage, where to? Trace the 4 x 4.

“Officer Anwyl, finish off your fire investigation, then please allow our forensic team to gather what they need – like that vehicle.”

At the outside corner of the shop, I wait for Hugh Arbuthnot. He will talk to me. He has no choice.

I gather more evidence. The angle of the crash is deliberate. The torched vehicle designed to obliterate evidence but not destroy the building. Measured. Observed in advance.

Hugh interrupts.

“My official objection will be lodged. I can give my opinion but no more than that.”

“That’s your right, sir. For now, I need to know how long you’ve owned this shop, what would the robbers take, and have there been any other occurrences?”

He paces, throwing glances at the building and the burnt-out car.

“My wife bought The Jewel Box two years ago.” He grits his teeth and taps his left foot. “She died in the spring. I’ve attempted to run this gift shop, but I have my own work. I’m a movie producer with a demanding professional schedule.”

He hands me a fancy card – Hugh B Arbuthnot, Oriole Productions, Executive Producer.

“Who runs the shop when you’re working?”

“My daughter, Olivia and her husband.” He snorts, head held high. “Poulsen.” He slaps his left palm to his forehead. “He mixes in shady circles. Some of his cronies did this.”

Opportunistic thieves? Or convenient coincidence? Whose production?

PREJUDICE – Friday 24th July – Early Morning

Police protection is deemed too pricey for our pay grade. Detective Inspectors might justify paying. Someone’s counting the police pennies again. And we’re not police for this practice day. We’re on our own as Sioned Wilkins and Rashmi Sharma – divers.

No bikes. A nondescript rental Vauxhall Astra parked outside a cheap B&B in Penrhos.

When I reported to Ffion that my investigation into the arson-robbery would have to wait, she agreed, “The assaults are our priority. Progress that case first and prove our strategy best.”

“Finding the right clothes is a challenge. Black or black.” We laugh. “I’m not dressing in pink.”

“Pink is pretty. But maybe not you. Just add a few spots of acceptable colour. A perfect performance requires sacrifices – all round. From disgruntled gift shop owner to officers undercover.”

Words we are acting on.

Shiver as a pungent reek pervades the air. Poop or performance? Like our two victims checking themselves out. Said they felt safe.

Are we?

The padlocked path to Port Meudwy is open. We drive down to where fishermen are unloading their catches of lobsters and crabs. They pack the crustaceans into containers on pallets to be delivered by vans around the region.

Guto approaches us and points to a freshly painted clinker-built boat on a trailer.

“Your practice starts with pushing that trailer into the sea – if you know how.”

“By tractor.” Kama gestures at an ancient salt encrusted machine. “I’ll drive and Sioned will hitch us up.”

Guto nods then turns to the watching fishermen.

“Told you guys these genethod were smart. Now to see if they can handle an Aberdaron boat.”

The genethod – lasses – is said with praise. Relax.

“My uncle Pugh could never abide women in boats,” says one man who resembles my uncle, Ivor Pugh. “But he’s dead now.”

My uncle, Ivor Pugh, is alive and runs the family farm. Is this a distant Pugh relation? Is my cover blown? Or have we disguised ourselves enough? At least, Pugh politics have kept us apart from most of my family.

My attention shifts to my allotted task.

With the boat afloat, I secure her with the painter as ‘Rashmi’ parks the tractor and trailer under Guto’s direction.

My Pugh relation and Guto board another boat. Guto shouts across as Rashmi and I push off.

“Padrig is the man to prove yourself to. I build while he perfects the handling. Partners like you two.”

Like us. Unlikely. Guto only knows parts of our secret – the professional aspect.

Guto and Padrig row out some yards then hoist their sails. We do likewise and head south following the coastline of the Llŷn Peninsula.

Choppy waves and an erratic breeze test us. Gusts and becalming lulls to prove our worth. I probe Rashmi’s face as our teamwork makes up for lack of sailing time. This is a new phase – a giant leap from playing in dinghies for fun.

“You need to learn how to right one of our Aberdaron boats,” says Padrig. “Not hard but different. Do I need to show you how to capsize?”

We demonstrate that skill. Sit on the same side and let the boom out too far.

The water is our second home. Even when we are told to swim under the capsized craft before following the correct procedure to recover our previous position.

“Glad we wore our wetsuits underneath now.” I grin at Rashmi.

“Your colourful top and slacks will never dry in this weather.”

Weak sun and cold air. Discomfort is acceptable. Would Sioned worry about appearance as a pro-athlete?

“We need to polish up if photographers appear.”

She smiles in agreement as Guto points north and mouths, “Aberdaron“.

The wind picks up – but a headwind. We tack and tack until the manoeuvre becomes routine. Precision.

“Impressive, but racing is never so precise,” says Padrig. “Beware other boats performing moves to fool you. Weather and sea factors will keep you alert.”

“Like diving,” says Rashmi. “We’ve learned to prepare. Performance ploys.”

Even more so as police. Alert keeps us ahead of the offenders – if we can only identify them.

We approach Aberdaron beach. Guto indicates where the water is shallowest and sandier.

“Pull her ashore over there. Then we can wander up to the pub. Final pointers over a pint – if you genethod drink.”

“We do. Always.”

Even on-duty – where necessary. But this time I’ll resist ordering my unusual favourite.

We pull the two boats ashore and wander at a purposeful pace up to the same pub where I began my investigation.

My stomach sinks when I see the proprietor. Will he recognize me despite the garish outfit and streak-dyed hair?

Guto steps forward. “These are our new arrivals – Sioned Wilkins and Rashmi Sharma. They’re competing in the regatta, tomorrow. A round of your best Llŷn pale ale – four pints of Houdini.”

The publican studies me.

My heart flips. Recognition.

A wink and a nod.

“On the house, Guto.” He smiles. “Sioned, Rashmi, how far have you come? Not many visitors race here. Except the rare brave ones. Most tourists just watch.”

Glance around. Check the watching faces – holidaymakers. Locals. Listening. Gossip spreads fast.

“South America,” I reply, praying my Welsh lilt is buried under my pseudo-Spanish accent. “Patagonia. But we were born on the Llŷn near Pwllheli.”

“That makes you locals almost,” says Padrig. “Learn any Welsh before you left?” “

Breathe. Was our preparation too hasty? Does he suspect?

“If they went to Chubut Province in Argentina, they must know some,” says another voice. “Patagonia has a large Welsh community and the main colony is there.”

Recognising the voice, I say, “That’s why our families went there. Swimming took us to Puerto Madryn on the Golfo Nuevo, which is formed by the Península Valdés and the Punta Ninfas.” I pause my tourist talk to add for the Welsh speakers, “Mae’n wych bod yn gartref.

The locals all raise their pints.

Our tame journalist, Kristina picks up on the tourist confusion. “These ladies say it’s wonderful to be home. But Puerto Madryn has strong ties to here. It is twinned with Nefyn, just 13 miles away on the north coast of the Llŷn Peninsula. Excuse me as I need to interview these professional athletes. Make sure that you are here tomorrow, when they are competing in one of the first races of the Aberdaron Regatta.”

As people drift away, Kristina shakes hands with us.

“I’m Kristina Yoxall. We spoke on the phone. Please can we talk more – I’ll write a great story.” She holds up a camera. “And get a photo. Love those patterned tops. They must be traditional.”

She chats and helps us develop our personas further as our party finds a table outside overlooking the beach and sea.

Holidaymakers are gathering in the village. Not crowds like Llandudno or Porthmadog but those drawn by the simpler pastimes like sand castles, playing in the sea, and the regatta.

The interview probes and provides colour to our profiles – culminating in key questions.

“Can our wanderers challenge tomorrow?” asks Kristina. “Are they contenders?”

Guto and Padrig shrug.

But my relative says, “Perhaps. As I’ve said there are factors – including local advantage. They have skills and guts. Maybe one day.”

“And you are a favourite, Padrig. As in past years,” says Guto.

We all laugh, and I slap Padrig on the back.

Recognition. My heart beats faster.

The Swedish woman is watching us. Pretending to peer out to sea.

Precisely as planned. Bait taken.

Kristina follows my gaze. Takes out her mobile. Glances at the screen.

Pric pwdin. Idiot colleague. I need to hurry. Can we do the photo by the boats, then I must leave you.”

We stride down to the beach and pose with our boats. Group photo, then us – the two pretenders.

We part, Kristina to her pretend assignment, Guto and Padrig to Porth Meudwy.

Genethod, Padrig and I will go ahead. We have work to do – boats to paint. Follow when you’re ready. Practice as much as you need to along the coast. And master that boat – with skills not force. She’s another geneth.

Our builder is as quick as our journalist. Our secret is safe.

We prepare to launch, but I play for time.


Puerto Madryn, Chubut, Argentina – 
Banfield

“Do we need provisions, Rashmi? Or will our B&B in Penrhos provide everything?”

“Only basics. Anyway, I need a better face cleanser for this climate. And we need diving supplies – but they can wait. We’ve no diving competitions for a fortnight.”

“Maybe we can help each other.”

We turn. The Swedish couple smile at us.

“That would be kind,” I say. “You’re local?”

The woman laughs. Potent, poisonous, and the trigger for my tattoos.

L for Lies and L for Lure.

“Not exactly. But we know the Llŷn Peninsula. We’ve been here awhile. And our yacht is moored at Llandudno.”

The man steps forward. 6’3″. Blond sun-scored hair. Tanned. Athletic and muscular. Like a panther.

“We have a small job for divers that pays well – especially the way you to handle that boat.”

Curb enthusiasm. But reel them in.

I let Rashmi continue as planned. “Interesting. We’re open to persuasion. But we have questions –”

“– As do we.” He hands us both GEE business cards – Peder & Pia Pilkvist. “Can we meet for a quiet meal? Pick you up at 6 p.m at your place. Our treat.”

Presumptive means desperate. Time must be tightening. What is the cargo?

My tattoos twist in pain. But only D for Drugs and that feels wrong.

“If there’s money on offer,” says Rashmi. “Sioned and I have expenses. So, yes – if you’re buying.”

“Always,” replies Pia. “One initial question. Wales or Argentina? Where are your loyalties?”

Where is this going? My heart pounds, nerves jangle. A test of what? Not rugby.

“We dive for ourselves – for the country that rewards us best. Patagonia yesterday. Maybe Wales tomorrow. I have only one loyalty – my dive partner. Rashmi.”

The Swedes study us, then whisper to each other in Swedish – something about ‘älskande‘. Lovers. Us or them? What do they know about us? Has the office prejudice seeped out from a jealous colleague?

U for Unwary and Unexpected. Q for Queer and Questions. E for Evasion and Evaluation.

QUELL. The fire for my lover? Or the fear building?

QUAKE – Friday 24th July – Evening

Quiet meals in quaint country restaurants can sap resolve. Not tonight when we all have questions. Like what are the sea jewels? Not drugs.

Peder and Pia Pilkvist collected us as arranged, taking us to a French bistro well above our normal budget. Somewhere we aren’t known.

We are encouraged to choose anything – and the wine flows freely.

“Did you eat Latin food in Patagonia? Or Welsh?”

“Welsh with an Argentinian twist.” I smile and add, “seafood became our favourite as it was fresh from the sea at Puerto Madryn.”

“Perfect, I recommend Quenelles de Homard.” Pia explains. “The lobster is local, maybe from off the Aberdaron coast.”

“I prefer Caille en Escabeche,” says Peder. “With the quail, I’m partial to the blend of Latin and French – fusion is an art form. Spare no expense when you order. We can afford this luxury.”

And the yacht. GEE is not an overtly rich company. No high value electrical or engineering items. Certainly not garden gnomes.

“I’ll have the Escabeche,” says Rashmi.

I choose the quenelles, but my mind is tapping my bracer. Q for Q-ships. Not what they seem. A disguise to hide weaponry. Like Quenelles de Brochet and pike bones.

“Great choices require the right wines, “says Peder who then talks with the sommelier in passable French.

We aren’t meant to understand. But policing tourist areas has advantages. But nothing triggers alarms – yet.

If G is for Garden Gnomes, is W for Weapons? H for Herrings and more bones?

“Before the wine leaves us unfit to race tomorrow, what do you need me and Sioned for? As divers or sailors?”

Pia dips her head to her husband. We’re not meant to see as he is asking the sommelier for a bottle of vintage rosé Champagne.

“Divers primarily,” says Pia. “Your competitive reputation is impressive. But you will need your boat.”

Our doctored qualifications were straightforward for NWP to upload on the Internet. Our Q-ship.

“After we race tomorrow? No sooner I hope.” Although our participation is not vital. But I falter as if dismayed.

“Race, but then we need you. We will bring our yacht,” says Peder. “Then we’ll take you to the dive site.”

Late afternoon or later? Warning qualms kick in.

“Before the regatta ends?” Rashmi plunges deeper. “Or later when people disperse? A night dive will cost you more.”

Pia smiles and I shiver.

“After your race, join us on our yacht. No need to spoil this quiet meal with details.”

N for Night – W for no Witnesses. And for Warnings.

They suspect us. No more quizzing them tonight. Maybe not even on their yacht – their Q-ship. Or is that the freighter? The ship that is meant to be in Sweden.

Or is it? Another loose end. But we’re alone as money rules.

I attempt to quell my fears with food. By quenching a thirst for information that alcohol only stimulates.

Keep them chatting. They’re digging too. Why? Do they know we’re police? Queer and a threat? Quislings.

We are being interrogated with a smile. About Patagonia. About diving competitions.

“How long have you two been together – diving? Amazing, your families are both from the Llŷn.”

Pia pushes – gently. A for Attitude and Alarm.

“Fate – except our families left together, so it was inevitable we were friends at school. And on the swimming team together.”

Rashmi is inventive, but Pia’s face indicates the story is disbelieved. Why? Who are they? More than smugglers.

S for Sail, Swim and Smugglers.

I shiver. Quake as my fears build. No coincidence.

I for Inside Information and Interrogation. R for Renegade – the cop that ratted on us.

Who?

RAIS – raison d’être. Why betray us? Prejudice or high-value goods? Or both?

Or RANG – ranged weapons?

In too deep without backup. The jeopardy thrills again. Quivering and riled.  Rats.


Photo by Peter Ainsworth – Aberdaron Sailing Club http://www.hwylio-llyn.co.uk/home.htm

ROGUE – Saturday 25th July – Afternoon

Regatta races are never routine. Padrig’s factors are in play as he leads us rank and file racers. We were warned. That includes the risk awaiting us on the Swedish yacht. Ffion tried to alert us, but thrills win every time.

Evading rivals, we jibe too violently. Lose ground – and the wind.

Patience. Rationalize. But we like to win – whatever the odds.

As I steer us back into the breeze, my mind dual-tracks. Sailing and strategy. Both risky but only one roils my stomach.

Rashmi shifts her weight as my next jibe is precise.

We’re no longer last.

Will Peder and Pia Pilkvist expect better? Reject us for shit boat-handling? Fail us – with the case wide open?

Unlikely. They implied time was tight. But They know something.

A boat closes on us. The next turn needs to be tight. No room for error.

Setup perfect. Jibe gentle. Danger passed.

Smiles. For now.

Mistakes have been made. We know we have a renegade copper. A police officer with a price. Our heads?

No suspects before we left Porthmadog. None now we are on our own.

We cut inside another boat on the next turn. Gain another place.

Sailing might become a serious pastime. Rashmi’s beaming’s face underlines that – if we can abandon swimming.

Never.

I glance at my watch. Not long left

Raucous cries ring from the shore. Local fans and tourists. Drowning out the roars from crews exhorting their partners for a final push.

 Our interaction is mental. Written on our faces and in our pounding blood. We are a team. Unstoppable.

Except in a regatta. Trailing in mid-pack – also-rans. Padrig and his racing partner win again.

“Do we congratulate them?” I ask. But Peder and Pia Pilkvist are waving us over to the night-black luxury sailing yacht that looms offshore.

We lower our sails as we draw alongside. Peder motions to the stern which rears over us. He throws us a line, and we secure our Aberdaron boat.

A metal ladder hangs off the yacht. We climb up, past the blood red name

“Welcome aboard the Njörðr Hämnaren,” says Pia, simpering like a snake. “She can out-sail most yachts in her class – when we choose to compete. Not today though.”

The couple lead us to the cockpit which I recognise as highly automated. A necessity with a minimal crew.

“Did you sail her here alone?” I ask, wondering if we are expected to help with the yacht.

“All the way,” says Pia. “With all the technology installed, especially the computer-controlled electric winches controlling the sails, it was leisurely.”

State-of-the-art navigation equipment from what I can tell. Someone has money from somewhere. Illegal goods?

“All we lack,” says Peder, “is a submersible.” He laughs. “Human divers are preferable – especially at night and close to the rocks.”

So, a night dive. No witnesses. What does that mean? Has the rogue cop set us up? Rocks are treacherous too.

Cold fingers crawl up my spine. T for Treachery.

“Our money. The risk – deep diving at night close to the shore.” My lowered voice is not fake concern. Every tattoo screams. “Five thousand pounds at least.”

Am I provoking a fight? Or testing their commitment? Our worth?

“Acceptable.” Without hesitation. “But first, we move the Njörðr Hämnaren around the coast.” Pia’s mask slips. Warning light. “While you two check the equipment we acquired for you. Best scuba gear available.”

An attachment on the sonar depth indicator catches my eye. Like a vehicle tracker. My glance shifts to an out-of-place garden gnome. On a yacht? An electronic component smuggled into Wales?

But the gnome is staged. For us.

Peter taps his watch.

“Time to run those safety checks in the aft cabin. Go below and it’s the one nearest the stern. We will tell you when we’ve reached the dive site.”

As we head into the plush space below, Rashmi says, “Every sense says get off this ride. Our cover is blown. But we are reduced to one choice. Dive.”

I squeeze her hand as we reach the smallest cabin and inside find the scuba gear.

Brand-new with labels still attached. Staging? Sizes are right. Air tanks are full. We run through all the checks Varley taught us.

“These gloves, boots and hood fit snugly. But we use our own special wetsuits – for luck,” says Rashmi. “And certainty.”

S for Safety and Security. T for Treacherous and Tanks. E for Electronics. P for Price.

STEP. Forward or into the unknown?

SABOTAGE – Saturday 25th July – Midnight

Stars shining on the sea should settle our nerves. Impossible now we are sure the scheming stinks.

“How will we find these containers you say were swept overboard during the storm?”

Peder hands Rashmi an electronic tracker.

“Switch this on and our cargo will be transmitting a signal. Simply follow that. When you find the cargo attach the items to the rapid deployment lift bags. Once inflated they will bring the cargo to the surface for retrieval. Straightforward.”

Mind racing. Hesitate from asking what the salvage is. My senses say don’t.

“How many containers? You’ve given us eight small bags.”

“Four to search for. Two lift bags per canister.”

Pia strides over, tapping her watch. “You better leave now.”

At the stern, we climb back down to our boat, already loaded with the scuba tanks and lifting devices.

We cast off and raise the sails. Our craft slices apart the sheen on the water from the moon and stars. Perfect weather.

Sudden dread as spasms seize me.

P for Panic but also Precautions. Slow breathes.

The mini-sonar directs us over the area where the cargo should be. We lower the sea anchor and release the rapid deployment lift bags – weighted to sink steadily on a long hawser.

A last scrupulous check of each other’s equipment, then we drop backwards over opposite sides into the serene darkness. The beams of our head-lamps stab into the depths.

The strengthening beeps guide our cautious descent.

When we reach the bags, we lower them. Deeper, past jagged rocks. Seaweed. Curious fish.

Containers – canisters designed for underwater recovery. Not just for the deck of a Swedish ship in the storm. Not swept overboard but jettisoned.

I sign Rashmi to strap two balloons to the first container as I adjust their regulator pressure gauges for the correct depth. Then we scrutinize the containers. No signifying marks. Nothing to divulge the contents. But designed for lifting straps.

However, there is a suitable slit where I insert our own tracker – a signal we can follow. Security 101.

We open the valves on the two scuba cylinders that inflate the bags. Swim clear as the bags lift and carry the container towards the surface.

Same procedure with the second canister – and second transponder. Two more balloons. Then the final two canisters.

A for Ascent.

Almost over. Tension not disappearing. Breathe slowly. Don’t waste precious air.

Our ascent takes longer as we need a stage decompression. Longer climb than our descent and time working on the seabed. Time enough for the waves to have picked up above.

The beginning of a squall.

No sign of the rapid deployment lift bags.

P for Panic as my stomach churns.

But the Njörðr Hämnaren has sailed closer. They’ve already winched the cargo aboard.

Relief and Apprehension.

We take off our tanks to simplify our return journey.

Tattoos hammer T for Timing.

“Too easy,” I say to Rashmi. “Be prepared for anything.”

Like the semi-automatic shots that spray the sea. R for Revenge.

Pia hails us. “Time to stay where you are, detectives. Yes, we know who you are and thank the North Wales Police for their assistance. Lagens väktare. May you swim in peace.”

I dive at Kama as I spy the carelessly stowed spare sail and scream.

TRAP. The boat is ripped apart.

Tune in later today for Act Three, the Finale of Azure Spark

Azure Spark – Act One

As promised, I am posting Azure Spark, my A to Z short story/novella in one easy to read post – well, three so it’s not so unwieldy.

This is version 2 as I’ve made some corrections, primarily adding specific dates, correcting when the Aberdaron Regatta is, and amending two sub-threads.

Please read and enjoy Azure Spark, and then let me know if this works as a standalone piece, or do you need more ‘backstory’. Should this be part of a novel or not? A prequel to the main event?

Anyway, be thrilled and entertained. (And here’s some of the music I work by.)

Azure Spark

July 2015

Act One

ASSAULT – Sunday 19th July – Midday

Appalling abrasions are more than I expected from the headlines – Another Aberdaron Assault.

But not from our photos.

I wince. Muscles clench. Concentrate.

The victim’s face shows signs of deep scratches like claws as well as multiple angry bruises as if he was beaten up. More than the two bloodied and black eyes. Arms. Shoulders. Legs. Aggravated assault.

He is asleep. Or worse. Breathe.

Has he regained consciousness, doctor?”

“Not since he was brought in, Detective Anwyl. We treated his injuries as best we could, but he remains in this coma. I will inform NWP when he regains consciousness.”

Another Aberdaron Assault. Those attention-grabbing headlines missed that detail. The reporter ran with ‘second man found assaulted on the beach at Aberdaron’. But even the North Wales Police has minimal information. Two unidentified athletic men in their twenties sprawled comatose on Aberdaron beach.

“And the other victim?”

The doctor gestures across the corridor where a Police Community Support Officer is stationed.

“The same. They’ve both received serious blows to the head.”

I nod. Amnesia when they regain consciousness is my fear. “Where are their clothes?”

He points to a neat pile on the shelf. “Your forensic team examined them, I believe. Removed some. Ask the senior nurse if you need additional medical information. I have more patients requiring my attention.”

The doctor leaves. Little I can do here until the two men regain consciousness. My tattoos are tingling.

A for Aggravated Assault and Attire.

Clothes. Nothing unusual. Except the jeans have a dark stain. Blood? Darker – the colour of my biking leathers. Black. Tar? Although forensics will have removed any evidence, I need to visit the crime scene at Aberdaron. Bike across to the end of the Llŷn Peninsula. Find what I can. This was aggravated assault and my tattoos confirm my suspicions. What connects these two men?

I finger my bracer, tapping on its studs. A for Assault. C for Coma. F for Forensics. E for Evidence. T for Tar. FACET or FATE.

Clench my teeth. I must control my future – my life.

The PCSO relaxes as I approach. “I was hoping another female officer would be assigned to the case. Some of our male colleagues demand too much.”

“Agree. I just need you to watch both victims while I investigate – and report anything suspicious to me.” I hand her my card. “Or my partner – her number is on the back.”

Outside Bangor hospital, I check-in with the case’s supervisory officer, Detective Sergeant V Kamatchi Pillai.

Breathe slowly. Deep. Remain professional – like she does so well.

“Both victims are still unconscious. The doctor will inform us when they are awake.”

A sigh. Perhaps a smile.

“But you have a hunch, Sparkle. Your tattoos again?”

I smile. Kama knows me so well. Her voice is as dark and sultry as her looks. My blood races. I close my eyes. Focus on the case not my lover.

“Yes. I’m going to Aberdaron. To the crime scene – to the beach.”

Not our special Morfa Bychan beach. But later. Once I’m home with her.

BLOOD – Sunday 19th July – Afternoon

Beautiful beaches have two facades. One under an azure sky invites tourists and recreation. The other wild and electrifying like the storm.

Was that when the victims were both tossed up here? The sea was turbulent on Friday, and waves battered the shoreline. In local harbours numerous boats were damaged, and a few were sunk.

Eyes closed, I see our beach, the beach where we met. Heart pounds. Blood races. Our beach – where we first challenged biased beliefs. Ffyc prejudice.

Focus. The case calls. Two victims need resolution.

The injuries are violent. But were the two men washed overboard from a ship or attacked on the beach. There was no blood visible at the scene. Washed away? Waves and rocks might have done more damage if the victims had been swept in by the storm.

Steady steps along the shoreline, thinking and looking. Do forensics have everything? Ring them.

“What do we know so far, Liam? I’m at the beach now.”

“Still early, DC Anwyl. Too many cases – and we are constantly short-staffed. All we know is that the bodies and clothes were wet from salt water. But we don’t know how the injuries occurred.”

My tattoos tingle. Something is missing. We can’t wait. I need answers.

“The bodies can’t have been in the water for too long in that storm or they would’ve drowned. Agree?”

“That’s likely, especially since the medical report doesn’t show any signs such as hypothermia. But they had been in contact with seawater and the weatherproof gear that we took was saturated.”

W for Weather. B for Blood. S for Seawater.

“What sort of gear?”

“Fishing or sailing clothes. So, the men could’ve been swept off a pier somewhere, although our evidence doesn’t support them being in the sea long.”

Unidentified and not reported missing – yet. Or whoever attacked them was attempting to keep their identities hidden. But without killing them. To gain time for something? Or robbery?

“You left some clothes – jeans and a T-shirt. Why? I detected some dark substance. Tar?”

“We removed the weatherproof gear covering the men and we took fabric samples from their other clothes. Including that substance. Possibly bitumen or some derivative. I’ll let you know. Is that all, detective?”

I let him go and continue my slow pacing along the shoreline. Does the tar mean that the second man was a mechanic or road worker? Or is it from somewhere else? Is it even relevant?

I failed to check the other man’s clothes. Slipping. My throat constricts. Why did I miss that? Who will know? A serious oversight I can rectify.

A family is playing cricket on the beach. I stop and watch. My motorcycling leathers are out of place against their summer seaside attire. Out of place alongside most of my colleagues who dress more formally – except Kama in her Indo-Western pant suits. But her Tamil heritage is an excuse.

“Unusual to see a biker here.” The father smiles at me. “And female ones are even rarer. Do you play cricket?”

“I’m Welsh so I know rugby. But I spend more time in the water.”

“Oh, so you’re a sailor. We try not to miss the local regatta next weekend. Do you sail in that one?”

I’ve forgotten the Aberdaron Regatta weekend. A clue? Like the weatherproof gear our two victims were wearing?

“More of a wild water swimmer. But I might give the regatta some thought.”

W for Wild and Weather. S for Swimming and Sailing. A for Aberdaron. L for Llŷn.

The Llŷn Peninsula has some unique boats that may well use tar or pitch.

C for Clinker-built Craft. C for Caulking,

CLAWS. Like the strange injuries?

COMA – Sunday 19th July – Late Afternoon

“Coma complications?” Not what I want to hear. “Still unconscious?”

The doctor is quick to clarify. “No, they’re awake but confused. It may not be worth you coming back in – at least not again today. I’ll tell your uniformed colleague to call you.”

“Can they talk? What have they said?” My tattoos stab me. I dread his reply.

“Nothing significant. They are rambling and can’t even remember their names and I would prefer that they are not pressured into remembering. My preliminary diagnosis is retrograde amnesia. They have both lost a substantial proportion of their declarative memory, especially their autobiographical recollections.”

He launches into a detailed description of how the brain functions. Enough for me to know they have post-traumatic brain injuries from a blow to the head. Concussion.

Unravelling their identities is my task. Heart beats quicken. My case, my challenge.

“Keep me informed of their condition, doctor. I’ll ring if I discover anything. We have created composite images from the photos that forensics took. Somebody will know who they are.”

Mobile off, I consider the best course. Calm the clamour of scenarios. Alone is best – or with Kama. She must wait.

Aberdaron is a small village although tourists swell the numbers, but someone might recognise our two men.

St Hywyn’s Church sits just above the beach, but its congregation has dispersed. Sunday. My tad said, ‘crime never sleeps – even during Chapel’. Like today. Faith challenges convictions.

Is that why I head across the road to the pubs?

One seems more frequented by the locals and I approach the bar.

“Myrica Gale,” I say in Welsh, hoping they stock the seasonal stout. I’m on-duty but who is going to report me.

The barman smiles and pours me a pint. “Perfect Welsh but not local. Nor a tourist. Journalist?”

I chuckle. “Heddlu.”

His brows lift. “Not your average copper, more like a biker chick. Investigating the assaults?”

“I’m impressed, but publicans are a sharp lot. First, I need to identify them.” I call up the photos on my smart phone and show him. “Do you know them? Either of them?”

He shakes his head. “Never seen them before, and nobody seemed to know them when the bodies were found. I don’t think they were even tourists.”

Not what I want to hear, but there are no easy cases. That’s the challenge – the charge to my life.

“I also need to find a local boat builder – clinker boats.”

“Our Aberdaron beach boats, not many of those left. Even fewer builders. You’re best asking at the Porth y Swnt Visitor Centre – they have one of the boats there. And they might have a list of builders.”

With his directions, I find the centre and the clinker-built exhibit.

A guide approaches me.

“Beautiful boat,” she says in English.

I detect her lilt and reply in our mutual tongue. “Clinker built. She must be old. Are there many builders left?” I show her my warrant card.

Relief floods her face. “I expected you to be a tourist. Sorry. I’ve never met a police woman like you.” Her blushing face appeals, but it’s not attraction. “Over 100 years old and there are very few builders. Most of the boats are restored in Porth Meudwy, but this exhibit was restored at Felin Uchaf Educational Centre in Rhoshirwaun near Pwllheli.”

Stay focused. “And are the restoration techniques unchanged? I’m following a lead into boat building.” Attractions are dangerous. But one risk was worthwhile.

“Pretty much traditional. Best to ask the builders themselves, starting with Guto Thomas at Meudwy.”

*

The National Trust track to the cove is closed to the public vehicles but not to me or my motorbike. Clinker built lobster boats on trailers line one side near a single stone cottage. Beyond beside the sea are a couple of old Land Rovers and the tractors for launching the boats including the ferry to Bardsey Island.

I find a man working on a boat – he’s about forty, five foot six, black hair and wiry. Clean Celtic blue coveralls.

“Guto Thomas? I’m DC Anwyl,” My Welsh relaxes him. “The Visitors Centre said you might be able to help.  I’m investigating the Aberdaron assaults and I need to learn about the Aberdaron boats. One of the men may have been building one.”

A long shot but my instinct – my tattoos – have never lied. Maybe they’re misleading if I misread them. Caution is for colleagues. But my head says careless kills.

His dark eyes read me. “Well. our traditional Aberdaron beach boat was clinker built, transom sterned and single masted, and under 15 feet in length so they could be handled by two men.” He pauses but I don’t curb his enthusiasm. “Each one was slightly different as they were built specifically for the individual fisherman who would be using them. We only restore them now…although there a few replicas. Not the real boat.”

Memorise the details. My tattoos cry ‘continue’.

“Do you all use traditional materials in the restoration? Pitch or tar for instance.”

“Most do, but some take short cuts – not that a layman would notice. I still use pitch over the caulking. Others use the modern alternatives. You suspect a builder was involved?”

“One of the victims might have been in contact with pitch.” I hand him my smartphone with the photos.

Guto studies the two guys. “These guys asked my advice as they wanted to rebuild an old lobster boat, one of them had bought.”

“Did they give their names or where they were from?”

“Not local but from the Llŷn – Nefyn area. They said they were… Ellis Evans and Vic Vaughn.”

Fairly common names but a valuable step forward.

“Did they come here more than once? When did you last see them?”

He glances at a chandler’s calendar. “Last week, on Monday. I showed them how to seal the hull with caulking and pitch.”

A sigh. Relief my tattoo hunch works.

P for Pitch. But no motive for A for Assault – or A for Accident. Minimal evidence and confused victims. E for Evidence. C for Confusion.

PACE. Never waver. Dig deeper.

“Were they far enough advanced with the boat to try to launch during the week – before the storm?”

Guto shakes his head. “Impossible. They were slow workers. Enthusiastic but amateurs who might have ignored the storm warnings. But they said they had to go to Cardiff for a midweek deep-water diving course.”

Cardiff is almost 200 miles from Aberdaron. Did they go on the course?

As a wild swimmer, I know about the dangers of diving. Decompression?

DEATH’S DOOR – Sunday 19th July – Evening

Diving dangers are numerous and as many as driving too fast along the curving Welsh roads back to Porthmadog. Most can be avoided with less haste and with the correct training.

Speed feeds my adrenaline desire. Directed.

Is discipline why the two guys went on a deep-water course in Cardiff? Which course?

When I reach CID, I report my thoughts.

“If our victims were on a diving course in Cardiff, it should be possible to discover which centre and when they finished.”

Kama agrees to contact her former SWP colleagues.

“A friend from the Pontypridd station is now with a Cardiff division, so will do me a favour.”

A twinge of jealousy. Broken breath. Burning stomach.

But friend means working relationship. Like the demeanour we display for our colleagues. Do any of them really know or suspect? Unlikely. We’ve tried to be discreet.

“While you make the call, I’ll check if there any responses to our public request for information on the photos we released of the two guys.”

I scan the feed-back. I weed out the helpful-unhelpful suggestions that we usually receive. Not quite hoaxes but well-meaning time wasters. However, there are two confirming what I learnt from Guto Thomas, that the two men were from the Nefyn area. But three others claim that the men were from Dolgellau.

Were our victims using aliases? Who are they? Were their reasons for attending a diving course coincidental?

The sea has her moods. She needs to be treated with deference. Restoring a boat and learning how to dive responsibly are decisive moves.

I shiver. Close my eyes. Death awaits us if we make mistakes in the wild water. Invigorating yet powerful. Waves break over me as I drive my path forwards. Thrills. Diving is another step I should embrace more. The deep-sea depths tempt me. Warm shivers up my spine.

A shared smile.

“My friend received confirmation from one of the South Wales training centres that Ellis Evans and Vic Vaughn were on a two-day Advanced Open Water course from Wednesday.”

“Before the storm. Did they complete the course?”

“Yes. They had already done a weekend. So, all phases were completed, including the final deep-water assessment in Saint Bride’s Bay. We were lucky that the course trainer took the call from my friend and the trainer said that Evans and Vaughn left with a couple in a 4 x 4 on Thursday evening.”

“Any description of the driver?”

“A middle-aged couple. The woman driver was described as exotic. The 4 x 4 had sign-writing – Göteborg Electric Engineers.”

I squeeze Kama’s hand across our linked desks as she leans forward and hands me her notepad.

On it are the details from South Wales, including the company name. Plus, a red heart. Our smiles will have to last us until we are in bed at home.

Focus.

I enter the search for our lead. Minimal Internet presence, just an address in Caernarfon.

E for Electric and Engineers. A for Aliases and Assault. D for Diving and Dangers. G for Göteborg.

EGAD for the English. But for us Welsh, GAED. Am I on the edge of a discovery?

ESCALATION – Monday 20th July – Early Morning

Entwined in each other’s embrace starts a hectic day, equipping us with the energy to cope with the traumas dug up at CID. Our Aberdaron assault case is bogged down with confused victims, inflicting identities, and other cases taking precedence. Most are evaluated – by money powers – as more ‘exigent’.

Results that use less resources. Austerity 101. Ffyc restraints. My case means my rules.

We have found no addresses in the Nefyn area for the two men, and their occupations remain vague. Evidence is elusive.

While Kama rides her Ducati motorbike into Porthmadog, I ride my Ninja to Caernarfon, heading for the address of Göteborg Electric Engineers.

The unit is on an industrial estate that exposes the decline in UK industry. Rust and decay. Boarded up windows, chained gateways, abandoned cars, and a few thriving businesses. GEE is not one of them.

The weeds cracking the concrete steps are the healthiest evidence of life. Yet, the iron mesh gateway is wide open despite the other signs the business is dead.

Heart sinking, tattoos jangling, I park the bike then try the front entrance. Nothing – as expected.

I check the windows and side doors. Nothing. My heart ebbs. I grit my teeth. Another dead end.

I walk back to my bike, intending to report in.

A delivery van pulls up by the unit, and the driver carries a large box to the front door, then leaves. Does he know the unit is abandoned? What were his instructions – if any?

I check the package, but there are no indications of what it is. A 2x4x5 shipping box. The only clue are two labels. One shows the sender’s address – GEE in Sweden, who must know their UK subsidiary’s correct address. The second is a FRAGILE – FREIGHT label.

My tattoos warn me to leave so I drive to a position from where I observe the building. Report in as I watch.

“This address for GEE is an abandoned unit. But a van has just made a delivery as if it will be collected. Number plate and details memorized. I’ll wait and see. Smiles.”

Time drags with background traffic noise and seagulls. Beach noises win. Visions of sand and beautiful shells.

My mobile rings. The PCSO on-duty at the hospital.

“We endeavoured to stop him, but Ellis Evans checked himself out without giving us a clear idea of where to reach him. Vic Vaughn is still here and making no sense. If he attempts to leave in similar circumstances, I will attempt to dissuade him more effectively. I’m sorry I let you down.”

“You didn’t. Nobody knew that he would do that. I’ll make sure we locate him.”

Diolch. I believe that with your reputation.”

Ellis Evans – the man whose clothes I failed to check. My stomach tenses – twists. Too late now. Forensics should have done their job anyway.

I close my eyes. Another fail DI Ffion Baines will struggle to explain to the Chief Constable.

The sound of a vehicle turning into the unit’s yard pulls me back to my stakeout. It’s a Skoda Octavia Estate 4 x 4 with GEE signage. The driver gets out and retrieves the package. She’s tall, elegant and athletic, 5’11” – fitting the exotic description the diving trainer gave our SWP colleague.

“Package retrieved. Following vehicle and suspect matching SWP description. Will send photo of licence plate. Track me please, cariad.”

The 4 x 4 is unaware of the tail and leads me to an industrial park on the outskirts. Smarter, newer, flourishing businesses, including the North Wales offices of GEE. Security is evident everywhere, from CCTV to guards.

What is being protected? GEE hardly registered in our checks. No alerts. No criminal records. No evidence of felonious intent. Who are they?

F for Freight, Felony and Fragile. G for Göteborg. E for Electronics and Ellis Evans. Plus, Escalation and Evasion. I for Identity and Instructor.  N for Nefyn and Nowhere.

FEIGN. Who is attempting to deceive us? Someone is playing games and my tattoos say we are not the Home team nor is this Eirias Stadium.

FRAUD – Monday 20th July –  Midday

Faking a way inside GEE’s building is as fruitless as forced entry. Nothing illegal has occurred. I have no search warrant and no reason to act on a feeling – even if the tingling tempts me.

Even before I got my first tattoo as a teenage Goth – angel wings across my shoulders – the sensation was a guide to follow or flout with fallout.

Teeth grinding, my report is curt, and I head the bike towards Porthmadog. The speed limit on the A487 is an urge to be challenged. Wind buffeting as I lean into the bends. Blood pumping as the bike roars. Foresight urges I watch out for patrol cars.

I reached CID undetected.

Kama gestures to our Detective Inspector’s office door and signs, ‘Trouble’. I nod and point to the kitchen. Mint tea will help.

Ffion Baines stands up to the Chief Inspector, but there must be a point at which her position is untenable.

We knock then enter, and I bring over Ffion’s mint tea.

“Thanks, Sparkle. A pity the Chief Inspector doesn’t drink a fitting tea. Or even black coffee like you two. I fear your current case is using too many police hours – well, according to our penny counters at HQ. Fatuous when I have my best team unravelling it.”

“So, we’re off the case?”

“No, Kama. They say just one should remain – and working from the office. I have my thoughts, but what do you suggest is the best approach?”

My eyes hold my partner’s. Tears are hiding there. And the answer.

“I will move off the case. Only one person can resolve this – Sparkle. Her mind can fathom this maze.”

Ffion beams at us. “My thoughts exactly. Officially, you will be assigned to another existing case, Kama. DS Wiley Yates needs someone with your contacts assisting him on a fraud investigation. However, I cannot stop you two continuing to discuss this case after hours. That’s impossible when you live together, but I urge caution around this office.”

My stomach groans. Our worst fear – excepting the other’s death.

Who knows? We’ve suspected Ffion ever since she and Marc Anwyl, my tad, persuaded me to join CID. But suspicions would’ve remained in this office.

“Cautious around whom? Kama and I always discuss things quietly.”

“That may be where the snide insinuations began. You’ve both figured I know you’re a couple as your tad did. But we said nothing. You have every right to be lesbians in the NWP, and nobody in this office or station has any right to abuse you for your convictions. I’m just warning you for the sake of your relationship.”

“And Wiley? How will his team react? Not that their frame of mind will stop me.”

“Wiley is firm. You can trust him, but I can’t be sure of everyone he interacts with. Just be careful, please. Thank you.”

Back at our desks, Kama messages me the latest forensic report, then walks over to Wiley’s desk.

My eyes are unable to focus. Fuzzy. Working on the same case was a blessing. The sting in my eyes must be hidden. Even if the pain remains – unless our hours remain similar. Bed, beach and breakfast.

At least she won’t be distracted by Wiley, the office catch – dark, tall and single. The new DC, Vivian Utkin, is welcome to dote on him. Focus.

Forensics confirm that the two victims may have been in the seawater – but not for long. The black substance is pitch and there are traces of timber as in boatbuilding. There are no new leads. Another road block.

I ring the hospital. Vic Vaughn is still behaving confused and now fearful.

“He’s afraid that I want to sedate him,” says the doctor. “But he won’t say why I might do that. A curious case of amnesia might cause such behavioural frustrations, but there are so many variables. The flux following his friend fleeing. Unknown factors.”

Fearful of another lecture, I say, “please let me know as soon as someone can interview him, please.”

“Have you found Ellis Evans?”

“Not yet, Doctor. All our units have been alerted, never fear. I’ll be in touch soon.”

Göteborg Electric Engineers is the only remaining lead.

The Skoda Octavia is one of theirs – a fleet vehicle. No traceable driver.

Ffyc.

Stretch that frayed mind. How was the package sent? We have the delivery company’s details.

I ring them.

“Detective Anwyl, North Wales police here. I need to know about a package delivered to GEE today. We know it originated in Göteborg, Sweden, but please can you tell me where it arrived in Wales? And the contents – were they divulged?”

“I’ll check that, but I will have to call you back. CID where?”

“Porthmadog.”

Always suspicious when we ring, but we could be anybody – even the Fraud Squad. That would be an irony if our case was fraud like Wiley’s. I message my suggestion to Kama. I can visualize the grin.

The phone rings.”Dashiel Gofer here. That package originated for our company at Pembroke Dock in South Wales. I believe that it came off a freighter from Göteborg, over the weekend. The contents were recorded as garden products. Vague, I’m afraid. I do very much hope that I have been of assistance, Detective.”

F for Fraud and Freight. G for Göteborg and Garden. A for Amnesia.

“Very much so, and we always appreciate the help.”

GAFF. From a trick to even nautical meanings. Were the marks made by a metal hook? Whatever the game, there were victims.

Is Göteborg the lead? Or part of the gaff?

GREED – Monday 20th July – Mid-afternoon

Göteborg is well outside my remit, but that won’t stop me. Kama might have Interpol contacts, but gentle persuasion gestures. Garden products will be on the manifest of the correct Scandinavian ship unloaded at Pembroke Dock. And customs will have the details.

The message request to SWP permits me to go direct.

“Detective Anwyl from North Wales Police. I’m checking on some garden products from Göteborg and wondered if you can tell me anymore about them, the ship and the day they arrived. The goods were dispatched to Caernarfon yesterday.”

“I can see what we have, detective. Stay on the line while we check.”

While the music plays, my mind delves into options. Göteborg is one, but gaff as a weapon is another. The forensic report doesn’t mention a weapon, but something caused the injuries and the knock-out blows.

Or does gaff mean, in slang terms, someone divulged a secret. A motive for attempted murder? Is Ellis Evans on the run from his attacker?

“I found your shipment, Detective Anwyl. The products referred to garden gnomes.” My mind spins as he continues. “The freighter from Göteborg docked on Saturday, some hours after the storm.”

Gnomes don’t sound electrical. Glowing eyes? Garden glitter doesn’t justify assault.

“Was the freighter carrying anything of concern to HMRC? Was this the only consignment for Göteborg Electric Engineers?”

A click of a keyboard. “Nothing to alert us. It was a routine import, and the garden gnomes were the only consignment for Göteborg Electric Engineers. Anything else I can do for you, detective?”

Regular shipment or one-time?

“Have there been other goods for GEE in the last few months?”

More keystrokes. “Not for that company. The freighter from Göteborg has docked here once before – last month. Do you need those details? That might take a few minutes. Anything else, detective?”

“You can email them to me at North Wales Police. If I have further questions, I’ll call back. Otherwise, many thanks for your help.”

Close my eyes and tweak threads. Heartbeat growing.

First reaction, drugs. The only thing that might justify assault. Unless I am being led astray. Minimal clues, minimal evidence. One man is missing, and one man is confused – or he is pretending to be that way. No leads on my screen, and my tattoos are silent.

Reverse gear.

I need an excuse to leave the office to interview our remaining victim. But he needs to say something that the penny-pushers class as ‘germane’.

His wounds. Forensics must know something relevant.

“We know there were extensive claw-like wounds on the victims. Do you know what caused them, Liam?”

“An item made of steel, but they are uneven so not a claw-like weapon. We found no sign of anything else that might assist our inquiries into that. Do you have a lead?”

“A theory. A gaff – a steel hook with a handle for landing large fish. Could that have been used?”

The suggestion stumps Liam for a moment.

“Have you found one? Send it over if you have. We need to analyse all possible assault weapons. And a gaff has a stout handle that can be used to hit someone, causing a concussive blow to the head.”

“As I said, it’s a theory. Now a lead that I’ll pursue. Thanks Liam.”

But where? A vague hope that might be a red herring.

Or herring as in the fishes caught by some Aberdaron boats.

Kama walks over to my desk and places a bag beside me, winks, then heads back to where Wiley’s team are gathered. The bag is my lunch that I forgot to buy.

Dates, ham sandwich, and haloumi cheese.

D for Dates and Docks. H for Ham, Haloumi and Holyhead.

Why didn’t a freighter from Göteborg dock further north? Pembroke makes no sense.

Ellis Evans knows perhaps.

I for Injuries and Interview. E for Evasion and Evidence.

HIDE. Is he hiding out of greed or fear? Greed if he doesn’t want to share with Vic Vaughn. Fear if there are people after him – hired hands.

HALESTORM – Tuesday 21st July – Morning

Holyhead hides hindrances I need to fathom. Reasons for the GEE package to go via Pembroke Dock. The harbourmaster confirmed ships from Scandinavia do dock at Holyhead, although more often in Liverpool. Still, a better port for North Wales.

I’m being hoodwinked. Taken in by a bloody herring. My tattoos tingle, and my finger taps my bracer.

N for North Wales. B for Boats. I for Indecision. NIB or BIN.

My coffee is empty, so I leave the café. Walk along the harbour seeking inspiration. Seagulls screech and lorries honk. Hail has driven shoppers inside as missiles hammer wet streets.

Officially, I’m not here – not to the penny pinchers. Damn their interference. They are my biggest hurdle. But it’s my day-off, when I get to relax at home – or power though bends with Kama. But she is on-duty with Wiley – in Holyhead hearing out suspects in the fraud investigation.

Cadging a lift was easy. A chance to be with Kama – for the drive.

So near to the hospital in Bangor, yet miles away. Interviewing Vic Vaughn is still hindered by money counters. Austerity sucks. Ffycin nhw.

The hail lets up. A brief reminder of Friday’s storm. Where was the Swedish freighter during the storm? Further north. Acting normally, even though an online search reveals the freight line and GEE have the same parent company. Harmless? Honest?

The hunch – the stab of tattoos screams guilty. Why?

Lateral moves.

Visualize the coastline. Places to avoid. Rocks. Wreckers in another century. Treacherous areas in the storm. The Llŷn has a few – most notably Hell’s Mouth, or Porth Neigwl.

Valuable cargoes looted. Hijacked.

Smugglers. Defrauding customs.

The drab office block where I meet Kama and Wiley overlooks the thrashing sea.

“We’re done here, cariad.” Kama kisses me openly. “Wiley has a digression planned – unofficial.”

He directs us to the squad car in the building’s carpark.

“A lead at the Bangor hospital – your lead.” He grins at me. “Tenuously connected to ours But Bangor is on our way home.”

My tattoos tingle as warmth builds in waves.

R for Rocks and Reasons. E for Evidence and Evasion. D for Decisive and Divers.

Plus, I for Intent and Investigation. B for Boats and Buildings. N for North Wales.

INBRED. But in which way? Inherent or from inbreeding?

Wiley tunes the squad car radio to a local station playing my music.

Kama beams. “Halestorm. Lzzy rocks.”

INTENT – Tuesday 21st July – Afternoon

Intuitive interviews are rare, but I have an instinctive partner. Wiley keeps the doctor and nurses entertained – distracted – while we talk to Vic Vaughn.

Vic attempts confused and almost succeeds. Nonsense phrases and swaying head suggest insanity or evasion.

“Where are you from in Sweden?” I ask. His feigned English is inadequate to con us.

Vic shrinks. “I’m no illegal immigrant. I’ve valid visas from your embassy. Expensive but I pay, legally.”

“And your present job?” Kama studies him intently. “Where is it?”

“I can’t go back – yet. I’m Stefan Mikaelsson, a landscaper from Ince-in-Makerfield. They know.”

His gaze flicks from side to side. Kama and I interchange our probing inquiries.

“Near Wigan. Who knows?” she asks.

I taste his fear and feel the trauma.

“The guys that need us to dive. Their identity is unknown. Rich and Swedish but that’s all I know.”

Blood races and tattoos tingle. Inbred? Resist hasty conclusions. There must be more.

Breathe. Don’t rush him.

“Your friend ran. Do you know why? Ellis Evans – what’s his real name?”

“Ivan Tjäder. He fears them too. But he’s a fighter and challenges them once. All we wanted was to race the boat.”

What does a Swedish company want with an Aberdaron fishing boat? And divers? Not treasure. Smuggling?

“What did the couple demand?” asks Kama. “After you completed the course?”

Stefan’s eyes dart between us. “They pay for the training. They expect us to dive at night – for sea jewels, they say. Ivan accuse them of lies and refuse. Call them gangsters. We all fight.”

“Where? With fists?”

My finger taps G for Gaff as he replies.

“On their yacht before sailing, by a jetty near Llandudno. We use fists, but they have hooks and staves.” His head droops with my heart. “Then I wake here. Confused until memories come. I can’t leave.”

I anticipate Kama’s reply.

“You will be safe with us in Porthmadog.”

I tap my bracer studs.

I for Identity, Ivan and Intent. J for Jewels and Jetty. G for Gaff and Gangster. S for Stefan and Staves. A for Assault and Aberdaron. W for Wigan and Waterlogged.

JIGSAW. The investigation coming together. Or sawn into pieces?


Team Deep Sea Flying Butt Gaff 

Tune in later today for Act Two of Azure Spark

Z for Zoo – Azure Spark. Part 26

[Don’t miss the Music treat at the end. A revised version of this story will be posted in full after the Challenge for those of us that like to read everything in one complete telling,]

ZOO – Wednesday Five Minutes to Midnight

“Zakuski, zucchini, zwieback, zereshk, zrazy, ziti, zander, zerde, zabaglione –”

“With Zinfandel wine,” adds Kama. “You planning a Zenith Party? Dancing? Zamacueca, zambra, zapateado and zydeco?”

“Distracting myself from mnemonic overload. A party sounds great when we’re done with this case. And a Polish inspired zebra –”

“Zebra?”

“Wait and see, thozhi. Ship ahead.”

Will our disguises work? The customs uniforms from Stefan and Ivan are a loose fit in places but adequate.

As we heave closer, Pia hails us – in Swedish.

Har du ädelstenarna?

Adeltsarna’ must be the stones, so we give a thumbs-up.

Peder throws a line from the stern and we haul ourselves in. The ladder is familiar, and we climb aboard, heads lowered.

Pia is waiting in the cockpit as Peder punches buttons to raise the sails.

I toss over the three jewel pouches.

She stares at us, eyes flicking between the two zombies.

“Your colleague was meant to finish what we started.”

“As ineffective as your explosives. So, we’re here with the gems instead of your inept divers.”

She hesitates then picks up the pouches.

“Well, you have a price as well. We thought DC Utkin was a rare find. Three in one force is somewhat – American.”

We let her open the pouches as I arm my Taser X26, and Kama unfastens her Savuku belt.

Pia tips out the costume jewellery as I step beside Peder.

“Fakes – like you two bitches. Where are the real gems?”

“On their way to the lawful client in Bangor with another courier. Too many decoys these days.”

I zap Peder and he slumps to the deck. Kama’s whip curls around Pia’s wrist before she can draw her hidden pistol. Then she restrains the Swede with an arm lock.

We handcuff them and read them their rights.

“Uthyr, one pirate vessel secured,” I say on my radio. “The canisters are exactly where we left them. My guess is – gnome trinkets.”

More deceptions – like Lagens väktare, the illusionary Guardians of the Law.

Saturday Evening

The glass of White Zinfandel compliments the zany cosmopolitan spread. I savour the strange blend of raspberry, coconut, spices and fish. But I miss my velvet favourite – and the heat of Kama’s Ennai Kathirikai Kulambu.

As the sun sets with reds and oranges over the Bae Ceredigion and the Llŷn Peninsula, I turn to Ffion, who is balancing her glass on her plate of select morsels.

“One more case resolved – 10 more to tackle.”

Paperwork alone never ends – especially all the justification demanded for every penny spent

“As your tad always reminded us, ‘crime never sleeps – even during Chapel.’ Did you get the email?”

My mind scrolls through the questions, comments and helpful spam messages.

“From?”

“The security company handling the shipping of the gems – from France.”

“Yes. They thanked us for ensuring the safety of the Azure Stones. The message said we came recommended. But not by whom. Just that Zoo Sécurité would be in touch. Do you know more?”

A new mystery. The name meant nothing to me or Kama. Who suggested us?

Ffion shakes her head and frowns. “Can’t bear to have you two leaving my team. Being head-hunted by a security outfit is serious.”

“Thought you were thinking of joining my unit,” says Uthyr, bringing over a bottle. He tops up our glasses.

Kama takes my arm. “Sparkle and I are committed to helping CID for a good few years. Dawn swimming from the nearby beach is all we need.”

Our future draws other concerned friends.

“You acquired that Aberdaron boat,” says Wiley, arm around the PCSO from Bangor hospital. “That’s more than swimming.”

“It cost us – the accounts department wanted blood for it,” Our friends laugh, but it’s almost true. I lift my glass to my cousin and his partner. “Now, we’ve a regatta to practice for – when Guto and Padrig have repaired her. And next year – watch out.”

The strutting of our jackdaw, Negesydd announces the start of the serious dancing at our Zenith celebration. Zithers, drums and flutes echo into the Welsh night.

Midnight approaches and disappears. Nobody leaves. Is crime asleep, or just lurking in the shadows? Dancing to its own rhythm.

Kama pulls me closer, and her scent of vanilla and bergamot embraces me.

“Must I wait to discover about this Polish-inspired zebra? Or can we sneak away?”

Ti eisiau dawnsio noeth?


food artby SydnieN
The food for SydnieN’s aunts wedding, isn’t it awesome!

For further details on this theme visit my Blogging from A to Z Theme Reveal, and on the evolution of Sparkle Anwyl visit Snowdon Shadows.

Other A to Z Bloggers can be found via the Blogging from A to Z website’s Master List –
http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/2019/03/link-to-view-master-list-and.html

^*^

And now for something completely different.

“Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” William Congreve – The Mourning Bride

Zamfir, Master of the pan-pipes

Y for Yoke – Azure Spark. Part 25

[Don’t miss the Music treat at the end. This story will be posted in full after the Challenge for those of us that like to read everything in one complete telling,]

YOKE – Wednesday Mid-Evening

Yachting yarns yearn to be clues but they’re not. Njörðr Hämnaren is the decoy along with the containers. Vivian has been wasting our time. Under orders.

We are parked in the shadows at Holyhead Docks. My hunch must be correct.

“Trust me, Ffion. Three mnemonics told me to come here.”

“That mental Scrabble board is very accurate. If it wasn’t, we’d still be at Porthmadog – assessing our minimal leads.”

What happens if I’m wrong?

“And the mnemonics were?” asks Wiley. “I always trust you.”

Another voice of confidence. Fired up on his release from Ysbyty Gwynedd in Bangor.

“If it helps DESPATCH, LARCENY, and GEMS. Our contact here in the port confirmed that the shipment of gemstones is due from Eire on the next boat. The handling agents are also taking action.”

Will that satisfy their insurers if we fail?

“G for Gnomes and Gaff. E for Elaborate and Evasive. M for Manifest and Mirrors. S for Smoke and Sailing,” says Kama, deciphering my thinking process.

“And the yacht with the containers,” asks Wiley, catching up after missing the briefing. “Are they coming here? Did Vivian know?”

I shake my head. “She was totally confused. Thought the containers were contraband. The Pilkvists promised her a cut if she helped. Part of their extensive ploy to keep our other divisions distracted –”

“– Even counter-terrorism,” says Ffion. “Vivian folded and called the Swedes manipulative zealots. Their yacht left Liverpool heading West, but Marine are following. Armed response is alerted, but they need justification to attend.”

Will our Swedish victims show? Is my hunch valid? Are the wrong resources being diverted?

The penny counters will make me pay – with my career.

Can we afford not to respond?

“Exposing me and Sparkle was personal revenge for Vivian – a fringe benefit.”

Kama squeezes my shoulder – reassurance.

Ffion glances at her watch, then checks that uniform are hidden across the arrival area.

Stefan Mikaelsson and Ivan Tjäder stroll by us, oblivious to our squad car in the darkness.

As I surmised. Deceivers not victims.

Dressed as customs officers, they wait for the courier with two colleagues. They check some cars but stay clear of the main customs area.

“Courier’s yellow Toyota Yaris approaching now,” says a uniform officer over the radio.

The four thieves spot the vehicle and obstruct its path. Stefan accosts the driver as Ivan approaches the passenger side. They draw pistols from their jackets and throw the doors open.

They pull the courier out and force him into the back seat between the two sidekicks.

“Don’t tackle them yet,” says Ffion. “We don’t want innocent bystanders shot. Or the courier killed. Tail at a distance.”

As Ffion orders uniform to follow, I keep two car lengths behind the Yaris. Stefan turns out of the port into the town centre.

My tattoos thrum. M for Marina and Y for Yacht.

“I’m contacting Uthyr,” says Kama. “If the yacht left Liverpool heading west, where is it now?”

“Good call, Kama,” says Ffion. “Wiley, see if the local force has other support they can spare. I’m advising armed response again. This is escalating. With £10 million in gems plus guns, we’re at PIP three level.”

Ffion is an experienced Senior Investigating Officer – and respected. But NWP are spread thin and these crooks know that. No thanks to Vivian. Ffyc.

The Yaris drives along the opposite side of the harbour, past the railway station, then left towards the Marina.

W for Water. S for Swim.

The marine unit updates us.

Njörðr Hämnaren has just dropped anchor west of The Skerries, due north of Holyhead. We will await orders to board her and we have a customs officer with us.”

“That may be necessary, Uthyr,” says Ffion. “You are our only marine unit if these thieves escape us.”

Moonlight glistens of waves and boats. The Yaris slows and I drop back.

Imminent confrontation. Adrenaline. Jeopardy.

“Local cannot spare more uniformed officers. We’ll have to depend on the two behind us.”

Ffion expels her breath hard. “And armed response is still too far away.”

Only the guns outnumber us – except in the water. Who swims best?

As the thieves park the Yaris near a sailing club slipway, I ease onto the embankment, cutting the lights.

“They’ve brought their Aberdaron boat for their escape,” says Kama. “We need to borrow a boat or –”

“– Swim, if we need to. If we drop in off the quay there, they won’t see us. Head to the breakwater.”

Ffion nods and turns to Wiley. “Two of them seem to be staying with our courier. Arrest them. The armed guys must be taking the gems to Njörðr Hämnaren.”

I sidle out of the car with Kama.

As Stefan and Ivan launch the clinker boat, we slip into the water. Fully-clothed is a routine swim – some mornings.

Night hides our smooth passage out into the Marina harbour.

Headlights stab at the Yaris. Flashing blue lights add to the distraction.

Stefan and Ivan hesitate.

They fire warning shots into the blinding beams. Offices will dive for cover as we head for a channel marker buoy.

Our fleeing thieves raise their sails – at the third attempt – then tack towards the channel.

“They’d make better progress with oars,” says Kama. “Or an outboard. We’d better intervene before they hit another boat.”

We approach underwater, pulling ourselves aboard over either side. The boat rocks and the crooks come alert. Both go for their guns.

We time our tackles to avoid capsizing.

The Swedes are strong.

My choke hold slips in the wet. Stefan’s knee jabs my stomach. Gasp for air.

But to one arm slips around his neck. He squirms, but the hold tightens. Without hesitation, I slam his head up against the boom.

“I used my fist,” says Kama. “More satisfying but painful. Next time, I’ll whip them into shape.”

Stefan and Ivan are cuffed while unconscious, and Kama retrieves the gem pouches.

We row the boat beyond the other craft and yachts, then sail out to the Breakwater Lighthouse.

Ffion and Wiley are waiting as planned.

“Guessed you’d stop them. Uniform took the other guys to the local station,” says Ffion. “Seems the courier conned these guys – risked his life.”

Kama opens the pouches – cut glass fakes. Costume jewels.

“The handler’s security agent sent a second courier. Ours is the decoy.”

“These rocks will do for the Pilkvists. We’d be remiss not delivering them.”

Ffion hands me our radios. “And arrest the zealots. We’ll ensure Uthyr knows to expect your boat off The Skerries. And take these as they’re no doubt armed – but you’ve been trained in their use.”

Tasers. Z for Zealots. A for Assault. P for Police.

ZAP. Our response must be realistic. Time to break their yoke.

For further details on this theme visit my Blogging from A to Z Theme Reveal, and on the evolution of Sparkle Anwyl visit Snowdon Shadows.

Other A to Z Bloggers can be found via the Blogging from A to Z website’s Master List –
http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/2019/03/link-to-view-master-list-and.html

^*^

And now for something completely different.

“Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” William Congreve – The Mourning Bride

#WRiTECLUBDFW – WRiTE CLUB 2019


Although I’m struggling through the Blogging from A to Z tail end/aftermath, I’m about to follow  WRiTE CLUB 2019.

Just what is WRiTE Club? In short, it “started off as a modest competition loosely derived from the movie FIGHT CLUB, and from there it has grown into a writing community sensation…”

Here’s the link for all the details: https://www.dlhammons.com/p/write-club-2019.html 

Monday April 29th is the start of the competition and hard work/thought for us reader-followers:

WRiTE CLUB Calendar

“Over the course of the next eight weeks, we’ll hold daily bouts (M-F) right here on this blog – randomly pitting the anonymous 500-word writing samples against each other. The winners of these bouts advance into elimination rounds, and then playoffs, quarter-finals, and then ultimately a face-off between two finalists to determine a single champion.”

There were a record-breaking 189 WRiTE Club entries from 137 writers!  They received writing samples from writers around the globe that represent 40+ different genres and sub-genres. The twenty clever and avid slush pile readers have narrowed the entries down to the 30 contestants for the daily bouts.

Now it’s our turn. Anyone who visits the WRiTE Club blog during the contest can vote for the sample that resonates with them the most – leaving a critique to help writers hone their craft.

Plus, the readers can win too – if we vote. If you check out all the cool prizes at https://www.dlhammons.com/p/write-club-2019.html  you will find all the rules, prizes and links.

So, if you are tempted to read and vote for some great pieces of short writing, visit  WRiTE CLUB 2019 from Monday April 2019. You might even pick the WRITE CLUB Champion or be a reader/voter winner.