#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 – 
http://jonathantemples.co.uk/

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:

https://rolandclarke.com/2020/02/19/wep-iwsg-february-challenge-cafe-terrace/

Chapter Two – Masterpiece:

https://rolandclarke.com/2020/04/15/wep-iwsg-april-challenge-antique-vase/

Chapter Three – Cryptograph:

https://rolandclarke.com/2020/06/17/wep-iwsg-june-challenge-urban-nightmare/

Chapter Four – Umbrage:

https://rolandclarke.com/2020/08/22/wep-iwsg-august-challenge-long-shadow/

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: 

https://writeeditpublishnow.blogspot.com

CHAPTER FIVE – CYPRESSES

2014

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.

https://safehaven.com/news/Breaking-News/Priceless-Van-Gogh-Spring-Garden-Painting-Stolen.html

#WEP/IWSG June Challenge – Urban Nightmare

Crime never sleeps.

Despite the disturbing world situation, I’ve found bits of time to devise more Sparkle Anwyl mind games as we continue the six-part story called ‘Custody Chain’. Meanwhile, the revision of my first Sparkle Anwyl novel, Fevered Fuse progresses in sporadic spurts too.

I’ve also had a graphic image of Sparkle and Kama created, which I blogged about last month: https://rolandclarke.com/2020/05/31/sparkle-anwyl-comic-book-heroine/ – inspired by  my diligent queer diversity reader.

She said, “Sparkle’s character is so strong and is so appealing, esp. to the younger generation who also love anime and comics, I wondered if you have considered getting an illustrator to have a look at your book and possibly create a comic book character out of her as well?…”

After the feedback on the original image, the illustrator made some changes based on comments. My beta readers should spot the imagined scene from Fevered Fuse – with artistic licence.

Graphics by Jonathan Temples – 
http://jonathantemples.co.uk/

What do you feel about the new image? An improvement? Hooked or confused?

Back though to Custody Chain.

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

Chapter One – Café Terrace: https://rolandclarke.com/2020/02/19/wep-iwsg-february-challenge-cafe-terrace/

Chapter Two – Masterpiece: https://rolandclarke.com/2020/04/15/wep-iwsg-april-challenge-antique-vase/

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.

On my April Challenge post, some people again commented that Sparkle’s mnemonic usage needed to be explained better – comments echoed by my beta readers for Fevered Few. I have attempted to introduce an explanation in this episode, which I intend to use and evolve elsewhere – if the idea works.

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

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

https://writeeditpublishnow.blogspot.com/2020/06/wep-june-challenge-urban-nightmare-sign.html

CUSTODY CHAIN

CHAPTER THREE – CRYPTOGRAPH

2014

Tuesday, March 18th

Kama and I interview Urien Cadwallader in his private hospital room. Will he allay our suspicions?

“I don’t remember much. Didn’t your colleagues discover more?”

“Anything you can add helps. Did you see anything before you were attacked?”

I flip open my notebook as Kama probes. The CSI report and Tesni’s statement pose questions.

Urien shakes his head. “I’m usually alone – since my wife died. I have my art collection. Comfort—”

He falters. Tears streak his cheeks.

Seated beside his bed, Kama pats his arm.

“Take your time, sir. Your wife must have been special.”

“For 35 years – until…” He shudders. “I prayed Csilla would survive the treatment but— too invasive. I could do nothing so lost her—”

As he starts to cough, I reach for his glass of water, passing it when he stops shaking.

“Lungs – damaged from her childhood back in Miskolc.”

“Hungary?” The names slots together – Aranka, Miskolc, Csilla, Szarka.

He stares at me. “You know already? I thought those records lost decades ago.”

“A deduction. Please, apologies if I’m wrong.”

He shakes his head, then leans back, head lolling. “So, nobody told you. How?”

“Sparkle thinks laterally. Give her clues and she finds new angles.”

Urien gestures at me. “Your personal cryptograph?”

I laugh. “Fancy word for my mind games – but worth adopting. I juggle the initial letters of clues to get a mnemonic so I remember them—”

“And the new angle?”

“Triggered by the mnemonic. Like say M for Miskolc, A for Art, G for Generosity, Y for Yearn, A for Analysis, R for Replica, S for Stars. Spelling M A G Y A R S – as in Hungary where Aranka is from. Plus, Csilla sounds Hungarian as does Szarka. Correct?”

Urien palms his hands and nods. “Impressive.” He closes his eyes. “We met in 1988 when I travelled to Hungary as a mineralogist – my initial career. I was looking for the Herman Ottó Museum and Csilla helped me. A nineteen-year-old engineering student, Csilla captivated me, so I helped her flee the country when it broke from the Soviet bloc.”

M for Minerals, E for Engineer, T for Travel.

M E T

“You married in Hungary?” Kama reaches a shared conclusion. “The missing records. And your child?”

Urien confirms our suspicions. “Born in 1994 – talented and special – our joy in turbulent days. We named her ‘warmth from the sun’ in Welsh. She’s worth everything I spend.”

T for Turbulent Talent. S for Sky Sigil.

METS?

“Does Tesni know she’s your daughter? Or only that her mother was Csilla Szarka?”

Tears return to streak his cheeks. “I’ve failed to confess my relationship, although I’ve always felt she senses all that matters. Her art is everything in her world. Yet Tesni visits often.”

“That’s why her DNA was all over your house. And why she pressed your panic pendant. Did you or Tesni switch off the security you’ve installed? We must identify your attacker.”

“Tesni would never leave me unprotected. The attacker must have disabled the CCTV so he remained invisible. Didn’t Tesni see him before summoning help?”

Kama scrolls on her phone. “Her statement reads, ‘The figure was in black and masked. When I cracked the vase on the masked head, the figure fled…’ Then she helped you and rescued the urn pieces.”

“With her mam’s ashes – Csilla helping still. Did Tesni repair the urn?”

I smile and bow my head. “An invisible repair. The painting is secure too.” U for Urn, P for Protection, I for Invisible. “A mistaken theft that triggered our investigation.”

METSUPI = IMPETUS

“Your case must be closed then. I’m anxious to return home, where my daughter has Csilla and our painting.”

“My cryptograph raises concerns. What compelled your wife to flee Hungary? Her health? Yet she left family behind. Aranka?”

He collapses into the pillows, eyes closed.

“Yes, Csilla was suffering. Her father worked in the steelworks, coming home covered in toxic dust. Love offered a route out of her urban nightmare. Economic recession was sweeping those industrial heartlands behind the Iron Curtain. Her sister, Aranka stayed with her profiteering husband.”

“Could your attacker have been Hungarian? They didn’t try to take the painting – just attacked you. Why?”

Urien shakes his head, but his glance wavers between us. We sense his fear.

“I made mistakes – and enemies. And my assailant must realise who Tesni is – even living apart. Help me protect my daughter, please?”

***

Word Count 998: FCA

Comments are welcome as usual, and the following applies:

Sparkle Anwyl: Comic Book Heroine?

I’m busy revising my WIP, Fevered Fuse – Book 1 in my Snowdon Shadow series – following some invaluable feedback from my three beta readers, which is allowing me to hone the novel some more.

Among the comments was an intriguing one from my diligent queer diversity reader:

Sparkle’s character is so strong and is so appealing, esp. to the younger generation who also love anime and comics, I wondered if you have considered getting an illustrator to have a look at your book and possibly create a comic book character out of her as well? I have a background in merchandising and I just kept thinking how unique and sexy Sparkle is – she could be perfect for merchandising, if you were interested in going that direction.

So, I pursued the idea – well, the first step on an intriguing road. I approached Jonathan Temples http://jonathantemples.co.uk/ – the illustrator who did the cover for my debut novel, Spiral of Hooves and much more for other clients, and I asked him for a concept image.

What do you think of his image below? What does it say to you? What mood does it evoke? Which character is which? Where are we? Do you want to open the pages and read on? Or is this not how you envisage my characters?

Graphics by Jonathan Temples –
http://jonathantemples.co.uk/

Okay, I’m trying to let you react before I say more.

This echoes a scene in the novel – with a little bit of artistic licence. For me – and my wife – it captures the right mood, the Welsh setting, and the two main characters. Jonathan made some suggested changes, but his initial drawing provided the right starting point.

But where do WE go from here?

Sparkle Anwyl and Kama Pillai need your input, please

Y for York

My 2020 Blogging from A to Z Challenge revisits my best posts from the 2014 to 2019 Challenges.

Y for York (2015)

If one side sacks a capital is that a victory? Or not if the enemy takes revenge? The capture and sacking of York did result in retaliation – the burning of the White House – but neither proved decisive.

However, since Gregory Wendell, the author of the diary in ‘Seeking A Knife’in my Snowdon Shadows series, was an RN officer stationed there, it impacted on him.

How much do you know about the War of 1812? Were you aware of where York was? No, not York as in Jorvik. The York in Upper Canada. Does burning the White House even seem feasible?

Links to my other 2020 A to Z posts can be found here: https://rolandclarke.com/blogging-from-a-to-z/blogging-from-a-to-z-challenge-2020/

To visit other participants see The OFFICIAL MASTER LIST: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1YphbP47JyH_FuGPIIrFuJfAQiBBzacEkM7iBnq6DGDA/

U for United States Navy

My 2020 Blogging from A to Z Challenge revisits my best posts from the 2014 to 2019 Challenges.

U for United States Navy (2015)

Although there were few victors, the War of 1812 saw a power-shift at sea, from the Royal Navy to the burgeoning US Navy. Although today, the Royal Navy remains a force not to ignore.

Gregory Wendell, the author of the diary in ‘Seeking A Knife’ in my Snowdon Shadows series, is an RN officer who encounters the USN on the Great Lakes.

How much do you know about the War of 1812? Do you envisage the US Navy as always as powerful as today? Have you seen any of the early ships?

Links to my other 2020 A to Z posts can be found here: https://rolandclarke.com/blogging-from-a-to-z/blogging-from-a-to-z-challenge-2020/

To visit other participants see The OFFICIAL MASTER LIST: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1YphbP47JyH_FuGPIIrFuJfAQiBBzacEkM7iBnq6DGDA/

T for Treachery

My 2020 Blogging from A to Z Challenge revisits my best posts from the 2014 to 2019 Challenges.

T for Treachery (2019)

 At last I can give you the Final Part of Azure Spark, the investigation featuring my Welsh detective Sparkle Anwyl and her partner Kama Pillai.  I hope you’ve already joined these main characters in my Snowdon Shadows series.

The case evolved into a novella as I edited the posts into three acts. I suspect not everyone got to read ‘Azure Spark’ last year so this will be your chance to catch up. Enjoy.

Links to my other 2020 A to Z posts can be found here: https://rolandclarke.com/blogging-from-a-to-z/blogging-from-a-to-z-challenge-2020/

To visit other participants see The OFFICIAL MASTER LIST: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1YphbP47JyH_FuGPIIrFuJfAQiBBzacEkM7iBnq6DGDA/