#WEP/IWSG October Challenge – Grave Mistake

Crime never sleeps.

Fall fills the air here in Idaho, and Halloween creeps closer. I’m dreaming of autumn leaves back in the UK – well, Wales.

That should mean more Sparkle Anwyl mind games and the next chapter in the six-part story called Custody Chain’. Yes, that is below but a few confessions:

  1. My mind is not yet working at full deviousness. Well, I’ve been distracted by time-wasting games. Not health issues this time.
  2. I wrote this chapter soon after the last one appeared, and the comments inspired me to work on the story. I have edited it in the last day or so, but the changes were minor.
  3. However, Snowdon Shadows have not been absent from my thoughts as I’m devising a novella for NaNoWriMo 2020. The entry called ‘Lost Sheep’ has a premise linked to Sparkle: A retired Welsh farmer faces challenges to his faith when his legacy is threatened. [Clue: Grandfather.]
  4. Unfortunately, the revision of my first Sparkle Anwyl novel, ‘Fevered Fuse’  is more like an ongoing stoppage. Perhaps working on related tales might rekindle the fire – or sparkle in the gloom.
Graphics by Jonathan Temples – 

Without further excuses, let’s move on.

If you missed the first four parts of the story, or would like to refresh your memory, here are the links:

Chapter One – Café Terrace:


Chapter Two – Masterpiece:


Chapter Three – Cryptograph:


Chapter Four – Umbrage:


Please note there may be minor oversights/errors/omissions which editing of the final story into a novella will address. Writing new chapters throws up new clues to fathom.

Anyway, enjoy this new chapter, and if you wish, please comment, or suggest what happens next. Many thanks for reading.

Apologies if I’m slow to respond or slow to visit your posts.

Plus, ensure you visit all the other writers in this challenge via: 




Thursday, March 20th

Dappled sunlight plays among the trees as we return to the barn in Llanystumdwy. The tranquillity deceives and suggests Tesni and Urien’s haven is safe.

But it won’t be until the threat of Barangó Fekete is removed.

Urien had admitted that the extortionate debt arose as the gang leader had secured the papers for Csilla to leave Hungary – at a price.

The price is now Tesni’s artistic talent.

“Will Fekete use his contacts to kidnap Urien’s daughter?” I have my evolving idea but trust Kama’s opinion – always.

“Unlikely. He’ll know the barn is under police protection. And with his sister Tűzvirág in custody here – until his lawyers get her extradited back to Hungary – he’ll find another way.”

“Like threatening someone else Urien cares about. Aranka – Csilla’s sister – even if he’s married to her.”

“His record from Interpol shows his methods are ruthless, and Urien described the marriage as violent – Aranka being the victim. At least, he appears to care for their children.”

We approach the barn as PCSO Lleilu Dace opens the door.

“Mr Cadwallader is anxious about his daughter, as am I. She’s become obsessed with drawing the same images repeatedly. It’s been hard to persuade her to eat or sleep since you left on Tuesday with the suspect.”

My tattoos tingle and I tap out the first letter of a mnemonic. C for Compulsion.

“There must be a reason. Art is her life. Kama and I will see if we can help.”

Tesni is in the studio section of her open-plan home. Light from the picture windows floods the area, flickering across numerous sketches in charcoal and paint.  From sepia shades to vibrant colours, the swirling strokes are distinctively Vincent Van Gogh – and his wonderful cypress trees.

“Some of these I recognise,” says Kama, “but why those trees?”

I shudder. “Across much of Southern Europe, cypresses are most often associated with churches and graveyards.”

Tesni watches my lips, then nods and signs. “Vincent – final creations in Provence feature cypresses.”

Urien steps into the sunlight and gestures to an evolving painting. “Those swirls are rising to form halos around the crescent moon and solitary star. That has to be Road with Cypress and Star – painted just two months before Van Gogh’s death.” He grabs his daughter’s hands. “What does this mean? A final painting?”

“No. To save Aunt Aranka.”

My tattoos sting and I wince. But I tap out letter clues on my bracer. C for Cypress and Compulsion. A for Aranka and Artist. G for Grave and Grief – but also Gift and Grifter. A mnemonic forms: CAGE – E for Entrapment. 

“This buys her freedom? Or Barangó wants more.”

“He thinks that. But this is trap. We set together.”

I stare at the emerging painting and search for clues. No crow sigil in the corner? But as a forgery worth millions, it would be traceable with one.

Urien grins and embraces his daughter. “Clever and subtle. Hidden provenance.” He gestures at the cottage emerging on the upper right. A distant crow hovers between two cypresses. “Only an expert in bespoke forgeries would spot that.”

“Like Desmond Deckard.” Kama turns to me. “Do we trust him to negotiate the deal? Or would that be a grave error?”

Monday, March 24th

The owners of Orme Replica Masterpieces Emporium in Llandudno gaze at the painting in disbelief. Only screeching seagulls and early tourist traffic on the seafront break the silence.

Desmond and Carys Deckard glance at each other, nodding. The sister speaks first.

“If we didn’t know the original of Road with Cypress and Star was safe in the Kröller-Müller Museum in the Netherlands, we’d say this was genuine—”

“Instead of another exquisite Van Gogh replica by Turbulent Sky. Except—” Desmond peers more closely in the lower corners of the oil painting. “Her sigil is missing. Why?”

“So it can be sold as genuine – to the right collector.” I wink at Kama. “We even have a desperate buyer – in Hungary.”

“Or rather a dealer who doesn’t have your scruples or morals. Can we trust you to make the exchange – knowing what we’ve told you?”

The siblings smile. “We have terms.”

Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890), Road with Cypress and Star (1890), oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo. WikiArt.

Sunday, March 30th

Grave Mistakes as Priceless Van Gogh “Road with Cypress and Star” Painting Stolen

The Associated Press reported Friday that a priceless Van Gogh painting was stolen from a museum in the Netherlands, the home country of the post-impressionist painter, one of the most important figures in western art. Van Gogh died in 1890, when he was in his late 30s, committing suicide after a life of poverty, marred by mental illness and substance abuse.

The artwork – “Road with Cypress and Star” – was taken in a raid in the early hours of the morning. Dutch police have unmasked the culprits, according to AP.

Ironically, March 30 is Van Gogh’s birthday…he would have been 161 today.


Word Count 999: FCA

Comments are welcome as usual, and the following applies:

While exploring rabbit holes for this chapter, I found several fascinating and invaluable articles. When reality and fiction meet, sparks ignite the little grey cells.


25 thoughts on “#WEP/IWSG October Challenge – Grave Mistake

  1. Ha, ha, Roland, Van Gogh thefts again… Great. Cypresses can be found everywhere and anywhere in Southern France nowadays …. don’t know about the association with churches or graveyards … already not the case in the 19th century, I figure ….. tie-in with this months WEP …. hi, hi, hi. Love your Welsh landscape photo. Take care. Wishing you all the best for NaNoWrite.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sure you’re right about the cypresses. Susan. Even in Van Gogh’s paintings, the cypresses aren’t often in or near graveyards. However, they’re like the yew trees in England – associated with churchyards but found all over the place. So, I might have to amend what Sparkle says – paraphrased from an article on cypresses in paintings. All the best and take care too.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve admired Van Gogh’s art for decades, EC, ever since I was in my twenties and learnt about Dutch art. A tragic life too. I was lucky to see many of his drawings and paintings in the Netherlands – including the amazing collection at the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo.

      Glad the mnemonics work this time.


  2. Another great installment. I like where the story is going and how it fits the prompt. I like the continued use of mnemonics and the way they are aiding the plot. Sorry to hear the novel editing isn’t going as well, but just remember it’s a good story and you already have one fan just waiting for the final product, whenever you’re ready to release it. Best of luck with NaNo.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello Roland. Glad you were well enough to submit your continuing tale. It’s such a good idea to write in instalments and it’s amazing how you fit them to the prompts. Always love your photos. So both you and Nilanjana have offered homage to van Gogh this prompt.

    NaNo…all the best!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi, Roland. Great addition to the storyline. I once researched the Cypress for a story I wrote called Cypress, Like the Tree, (I used Cypress as the Detective’s name) and found they are or were common to be “planted in both Christian and Muslim cemeteries to help ward off evil spirits. It is believed that cypress was one of the woods used in Christ’s crucifixion cross.” I don’t know if that helps, but thought you’d be interested. So happy to hear you are feeling better!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Roland – you are bringing the instalments together so well … Cyprusses – to be found in graveyards, cemeteries … as yews here. Van Gogh – two stories today … great tie in – thank you … all the best – Hilary

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Van Gogh continues to be a wonderful inspiration for so many stories! I’m glad you were able to take part in WEP once again, and I hope this will lead to further inspiration. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The story continues to grip me and I absolutely love the van Gogh allusions. And I admire the way you serialise the prompts, I think I’ve said that before. 🙂 I’ve always thought cypresses had something to do with death and immortality and that’s why van Gogh used them. Symbolism was a big thing in the 19th century is my impression…

    All the very best with NaNo!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Very intriguing! I always enjoy serials.
    I have ADHD and it’s easy for me to fall into the trap of playing games or messing around on Twitter or Tumblr or such. I’ve limited myself to two games: the Fairyland game on Facebook and Best Fiends on my Android phone.
    ~Cie from Naughty Netherworld Press and Readers Roost~

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Apologies for not replying to everyone – or even visiting your posts. I’m still dragging myself through a mire of depression and crazy MS/health issues. My attempt to do a NaNo novella linked to Sparkle failed, and the last part of this case is in limbo – well, I have a vague idea.

    When I’ve written the conclusion, I will post a link here.

    Stay safe, sensible, and inspired. The future has to be brighter hopefully.


  10. Pingback: #WEP/IWSG December Challenge – Unmasked | Writing Wings

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