[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,]
PREJUDICE – Sunday 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.
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. He 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 same barman. 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 barman 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 on the first day 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.
“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 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?
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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