#WEP/IWSG December Challenge – Unmasked

Crime never sleeps.

Winter must be here as we have settled snow here in Idaho, although later than a few places in the UK – well, they’ve had the first snow in Snowdonia days. Anyway, time to conclude my WEP/IWSG challenge novella, even though this challenge is not ‘official’.

Well, I had to conclude the case.

When Sparkle Anwyl and Kama Pillai began investigating the ‘Café Terrace’ theft, we didn’t know where their six-part story called Custody Chain’would lead. However, Snowdon Shadows always throws up rabbit holes to test me. So, unsurprising, the villain of the case was shrouded in mystery.

But we have reached a conclusion, although it’s taken weeks of writing. NaNoWriMo 2020 was a related tale meant to rekindle the fire – or sparkle in the gloom. But that failed and since last month, I’ve had to eek out the end of ‘Custody Chain’ sentence by sentence – sometimes one each day.

But, as an inspirational postcard on my desk – from Writing.com –  says:

A little progress each day

adds up to big results.

Despite everything, I finished, although the word count is over the limit – so, apologies. Anyway, let’s move on.

If you missed the first five 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:


Chapter Five – Cypresses:


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

Anyway, enjoy this final 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: 




Tuesday, April 8th

We’re apprehensive.

Tesni and Urien have left the Llanystumdwy barn’s safety, although PCSO Lleilu Dace is still with them and in touch with backup. We’ve ensured Tűzvirág had minimal contact with her brother, Barangó Fekete, and all attempts by her lawyers to have her sent back to Hungary failed.

Kama and I park our motorbikes in the dunes overlooking the shingle beach west of Criccieth. We’re far enough from the town for the area to seem deserted, bar a solitary woman with a dog.

Out in Cardigan Bay, a boat bobs on a sea anchor. A figure clutches a fishing rod at the stern.

I scan the boat with my binoculars. Suspicious?

“Shark fishing is dangerous, Sparkle. We knew the risk.”

“We were warned about Barangó Fekete’s long reach. It’s what we counted on – and on his greed.”

In a sheltered spot among the dunes, Urien and Lleilu are sitting on a rug with a picnic hamper – like holiday makers. Tesni has an easel with a canvas on it and is applying oil paint with a palette knife.

The distinctive bold Van Gogh strokes flow fast, although the image is Welsh – the boat in the bay. The blue and white waves have streaks of green and yellow, brightening the scene.

“The sea and fishermen. A tribute to his passion.” Tesni turns to explain, then signs. “In Vincent style. Not replica but Mediterranean colours. Changing as we are.”

“My daughter seems to be moving on. She insisted on coming here – and painting for herself. Is it safe? Are you the backup Lleilu mentioned?”

I need to reassure her, even if I’m uneasy. “We’ve someone watching this area – the backup is hidden. So, why this spot? It’s secluded and beautiful–”

“—Tesni received a postcard from her aunt Aranka.”

Urien produces a card of a Van Gogh seascape, with writing on the back in what must be Hungarian.

‘Most ugrik a majom a vízbe.’

“It says, ‘The monkey will now jump in the water’, meaning now we will see what happens.”

Tesni turns from her artwork and gestures at the card. “Seascape near Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Painted by Vincent in June 1888 – from the beach, as sand grains found in the paint layers. Done at a fishing village in the south of France.” She points with her palette knife at the boat. “Real fisherman. Not our watcher. Here as expected. Vincent say, ‘There is safety in the very heart of danger’.”

Kama nods towards the boat. “That fisherman appears unwelcome.  I suspect Aranka knew what would happen. We’ll investigate.”

Another morning swim is welcome, so I peel off my leathers. Forewarned we’re both wearing our neoprene costumes, so tumble like tourists into the surf.

The plunge invigorates. Cool and inviting.

When the bottom drops away, I dive, arms streamlined like an arrow. Slice underwater in a smooth breaststroke with a strong dolphin kick. Surfacing, I switch to a crawl away from the beach. Kama keeps pace beside me.

My head dips under the surface after each breath and we carve through the waves. A normal swim except we are on duty.

As we draw parallel to the boat, the fisherman watches intently. Although dressed the part, his gear is freshwater not sea angling. He jerks his rod up, tugging his line, then drops all the tackle and grabs a gaff, which he brandishes.

“Stay away. This here catch is mine.” His Black Country accent has a foreign edge – and menace. “Leave us now, or else.”

We tread water as he prowls. A splash behind the boat alerts me. I duck dive – deep and towards the sound.

A figure in scuba gear is working their way around the boat, spear-gun in their hands. As the weapon is levelled at Kama, I grab the diver and wrench it free. The figure whirls as another one surfaces by Kama.

But she back flips and lashes at him with her right foot. Then she grabs him in a neck lock, as I fend off the first with the butt of the spear-gun. Resist the blood pounding urge to use the spear. An arm-hold works – until a gaff forces me to duck.

Outnumbered – even in our element.

A blue and yellow shape powers up. Backup. POLICE HEDDLU on the air-tube sides.

An officer leaps  from the rigid inflatable boat at the gaff-wielding fisherman and disarms him.

Our colleagues from the North West Police Underwater Search & Marine Unit haul the divers on board.

“Your DCI Baines told Inspector Varley you might have company.” As Kama and I board, the senior officer unmasks the two divers, then smiles. “Well, these guys are known to us – for evading smuggling charges.”

Once we have read the trio of attackers their rights and charged them, Kama confronts the fake fisherman. “Who arranged for you to be here? And don’t claim you were just fishing.”

“Anonymous request to be here.”

“In English? What for?” His twitching face glancing at the beach answers. “So, a passenger – and in Hungarian. Correct?”

He nods and I turn to Kama and speak in Tamil. “The long shadow – Barangó Fekete’s reach. Guess the painting wasn’t enough on its own. Time to close the trap.”


As night enfolds the barn at Llanystumdwy, we wait with Tesni, Urien, and Lleilu for news on the ‘art theft’.  

The kidnappers are in custody – keeping Tűzvirág company.

The phone rings and Kama answers. As expected, it’s her friend in Interpol, Krystian Skala who heads the unit handling ‘the theft’.

“Arrested…attempting to sell the replica as genuine. To whom?”

She allows Krystian to explain, then updates us – facing Tesni so she can read her lips.

“Seems Fekete sold Tesni’s painting as the real one. He approached a collector of stolen art with a convincing explanation of how he acquired it—”

“Mentioning Tesni or the theft?”

“He described the theft in detail – the fabricated details the Dutch police ‘leaked’ on Interpol’s suggestion.  Fortunately he was too greedy to realise the collector was co-operating with our continental colleagues.”

I laugh. “”Guess Fekete believed he’d get more for the stolen painting,so he had to create a fake custody chain. Foolish. Even if he secures a reduced sentence, his credibility as a criminal mastermind is unmasked. But he will be watched so you are always safe..”

Tesni smiles, then signs, “One must work and dare if one really wants to live – as Vincent said.”


1093 words FCA


One of my commentators gave me this link, which is brilliant: Doctor Who and Van Gogh:

As for other rabbit holes encountered while researching this chapter, I found several fascinating and invaluable articles, which helped me write this piece. I often say, when reality and fiction meet, sparks ignite the little grey cells.



On the theme of art, check out the amazing WEP/IWSG Challenges Calendar for 2021, which will yield some great pieces from colleagues:


19 thoughts on “#WEP/IWSG December Challenge – Unmasked

  1. I am pleased that you managed to do this! And yes, one sentence at a time can do the job—and it worth celebrating, when that one sentence is as hard as a thousand. Good work.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey Roland, you’re a champion posting so late in the year and under duress. I certainly hope 2021 is better for you! I see you got a start with the art insertion: “Seascape near Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Beautiful isn’t it? Loved that you wrote this whole story over the WEP year. But you say you may write standalones next year?

    Happy holidays!


    Liked by 1 person

    • I had to finish this case at least, Denise – and I’m aware of one from last year in limbo. Maybe I can use that in 2021, although standalone stories have a build in conclusion. Van Gogh’s paintings have been my ongoing thread this year so 2021 throws up some interesting art challenges. Happy Christmastide.


    • Sparkle and Kama will return somehow in 2021, although I’m vacillating between another ‘art’ case, standalone cases, and finishing a shelved case. Merry Christmas to you and yours, Susan. Stay safe, snug, sensible, and stimulated.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I was unable to leave the case unresolved, Toi – a conscience drove me. Unsure if my efforts in 2021 will be so single-minded. But I look forward to yours. Have a restful and inspired break as well as an uplifting 2021.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful Roland … sorry it’s taken me so long to be here. Excellent finishing off – setting the world to rights. I do hope you have an easier 2021 – all the very best and hope to see you at the next WEP – take care and stay safe – Hilary

    Liked by 2 people

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