#IWSG – Word View

Created  and hosted by the Ninja Captain himself, Alex J. Cavanaugh, theInsecure Writer’s Support Groupmonthly blog post is here again – and so am I, insecure, although a notch less.

I finally got my entry for the 2019 Annual IWSG Anthology Contest in with a day to spare. Finally, I suppressed my fears, switched off my urge to edit, edit, edit, and edit forever. I managed to integrate almost all the comments from my wonderful beta readers. However, my step kids were no shows as readers. But I had an awesome MG kid-reader from the UK – thanks Rebecca, for some awesome suggestions.

Insecurity postponed until the results appear next year.

Now, I’m stressing about my Pitch Wars 2019 submission – Fevered Few. The required query letter, one-page synopsis, and the first chapter of my completed manuscript are achievable by the September 25th-27th deadline. But I’m unsure if I have a “completed and polished full-length, fiction manuscript”. Complete perhaps, but ‘dusted’ might fit better than ‘polished’.

So, another insecure month. Or maybe, I’ll work on my short stories and the drug cartel in Bolivia.

Anyway, on to the IWSG monthly question.

September 4 question – If you could pick one place in the world to sit and write your next story, where would it be and why?

 I’m writing this in an office shared with my wife, that overlooks a suburban US street – not my dream location.

Requirements for change:

  1. Water view: by a river would be good or overlooking a beach or ocean.
  2. Mountain view: looking out onto green alpine meadows or something with a snow cap.
  3. Log cabin: a feel of being in the woods, surrounded by trees.
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, USA, Phantom Ship – Photo by Brian W. Schaller
Published under the Creative Commons license – CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

In my mind, I see a cabin on Crater Lake in Oregon, USA. We once looked at murals to create some of that on the wall behind/beside our desks. Sound effects? We were planning to move to a mobile home park with houses overlooking a lake – but that’s not happening.

Of course, our house and office in North Wales was on the edge of woodland, overlooked Ceredigion Bay, and had a view of Snowdon. Plus, we had jackdaws in our garden. Just try ignoring our neighbours-from-Hell.

My wife’s photo may not show the estuary or the tip of Harlech Castle, but we could see them, especially from our landscaped garden. But the memories are there – and inspire my writing about Detective Sparkle Anwyl of the North Wales Police/Heddlu Gogledd Cymru in my Snowdon Shadows series.

And that photo has been enlarged, so it hangs above my desk with a red Welsh Dragon in front. Outside the window, beside our new rose garden, is a fountain of running water. Good enough for the next story, especially as we are spending the last weekend of September in a cabin in the mountains surrounded by pine trees.

*

The awesome co-hosts for the September 4 posting of the IWSG are Gwen Gardner, Doreen McGettigan, Tyrean Martinson, Chemist Ken, and Cathrina Constantiner!

(I so admire these guys as I know they have commitments too. Ticker-tape applause.)

Purpose of IWSG: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting!

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say. 

#WEP/IWSG August Challenge – Red Wheelbarrow

Once again, this is a standalone tale – or is it. There’s a subtle link to my ‘Jewel Box‘ story – if you spot it – and some characters may appear again. Plus, the setting is probably Wales or the Borders.

WARNING – there is blood, but be brave…like Mina. Remember, the dragon is red, and so is the beetroot of shame – and some wheelbarrows.

Enjoy.

Blood Bridal

The shooting had been tough.

Yet, Mina was relieved. Her life was changing, although not as planned after her parents died.

Still, she had a few weeks off before Oriole Productions needed her and Dafydd back for dubbing. By then she’d no longer be Mina Westenra, but Mina Glyndwr.

Biting her lips didn’t bury her pre-nuptial nerves as the limousine pulled up outside the grey-stone church.

“You can still call it off, although the family might kill you after all they’ve arranged.”

A shiver washed over her at Victor Frankel’s words. Her director was standing-in for her deceased father. If only her mum hadn’t died of grief or her dad had survived the blood disease.

She swallowed and attempted bravery.

“No more killing – fictional or real. I’m marrying Dafydd. I just wish one parent was here.”

“I can never replace either in there.” Vic pointed at her heart. “They are watching and proud. Dafydd isn’t just a fine actor – perfect for a classic remake. He’s genuine – like the Glyndwrs.”

Their bloodline was as ancient as the yew tree guarding the grounds. Descended, as Dafydd claimed, from the famous Owain Glyndwr, the last true Prince of Wales.

Y Ddraig Aur (The Gold Dragon), c. 1400 – c. 1416, the royal standard of Owain Glyndŵr, Prince of Wales, famously raised over Caernarfon during the Battle of Tuthill in 1401 against the English. It is evident in Glyndŵr’s privy seals that his gold dragon had two legs. –
Copyright ©Rhŷn Williams

They climbed out of the limo, then walked up the path through the graveyard. She drew strength from the man who had guided her career.

Ahead some late comers dashed out of the rain towards the sanctuary. An elderly man greeted them. He was about seventy from the grey hair, white beard and old-style tweed suit and waistcoat.

Standing outside, he braved the foul weather. So much for a summer wedding with blue sky.   

The man smiled at Mina and reached into the basket on his arm.

“A first gift on your bridal day. Our custom, since Dafydd brings us new blood.” He handed her a circlet of lilies, entwined with roses and sprigs of rosemary. “Gwna dda dros ddrwg, uffern ni’th ddwg – or as the English say, Repay evil with good, and hell will not claim you.”

Did he mean to sound so archaic, thought Mina – like the Count in their movie. Her skin prickled and icy fingers crawled across her.

Had anyone noticed?

Vic was chatting with the old man as he took the petals the creepy man removed from a blood-red wheelbarrow.

“You’ll be a needing these. Better than confetti for the ground. Food for the soil so play on, as my friend Will said.”

A poet gardener not a legendary creature. She relaxed and let Vic guide her into the packed church for this best day of her life. Marrying the man, she loved. Witnessed by friends she valued. The family welcoming her.

Petals strewn underfoot, crushed releasing their scent, suppressing all else.

Her glances as she was walked down the aisle showed the old man hadn’t joined them.

Why not?

Only a gardener.

Except vampires couldn’t step inside a holy place – according to the script.

The vicar banished the misleading thought. The blissful moments grew as the wedding service lifted her and her heart. She made her vows committing her future. Dafydd’s lips sealed the union.

Here before her, hands cupping her face, was the dream guy who was worth putting her BAFTA dreams aside for.

Their identical Welsh gold rings were their eternal bond. Her blood warmed her as they walked out of the church arm in arm – united forever. Into the sunshine which bathed the churchyard, banishing the last vestiges of a dead writer’s imaginings and a scriptwriter’s fantasies.

Petals showered them. Joy and warmth. Heart bursting. Congratulations flowed as their photographer posed them.

On the edge of the graveyard, the abandoned wheelbarrow. And the thought – vampires don’t like churches or sunlight.

She laughed – cracked and shaking.

“The photos are a formality and a memento.” Her husband sounded reassuring but then asked, “Or did something else unnerve you?”

She needed an excuse. “I wondered where the gardener was.”

“Gardener?”

“The elderly guy who gave me the circlet as we arrived. He wasn’t in the church, so I presumed—”

Dafydd laughed. “You mean Great Uncle Owain. He’s never been inside that church. Old but not the gardener. But he likes plants, and creatures though, bats especially. Creatures of the night and their ilk.”

He laughed again. Her head and heart churned but wedding customs propelled her through cheering people to the limo.

Dafydd kissed her in the back seat.

“Great Uncle Owain will be at the reception – it’s in the garden of his old ancestral home. Well, the house he’s lived in since before the Great War. He’s a true war vet – valiant as a lion, Will said.”

Over one hundred years old. Yet she’d guessed seventy. Age was deceptive.

Great Uncle Owain’s house felt forgotten. Ancient. Nature had overrun it, with ivy and Virginia creeper vying for the prime masonry.

However, the garden was more ordered.

“You asked if Great Uncle was the gardener. Well, this is his creation – over many decades.”

“How many decades? He must be older than he looks.”

“He keeps young. The family trait – passed down the generations. A secret like my love bites – hidden from view.”

Warmth spread across her face at the memory. She laughed, right hand caressing her neck where the marks had been.

Her excuses for the pinpricks where he had drawn blood.

Like the Count.

She suppressed the shivers as they walked into the crowded marquee.

Tables – their white linen surfaces decorated.

Gifts on the wedding table at one side.

Flowers in green and red wheelbarrows.

Laughter. Music. Chatter.

Great Uncle Owain leaning in for a kiss. Breath on her neck. Lips hovering.

She stiffened.

He kissed both her cheeks.

His voice – rich and smooth. Relaxing. Hypnotic.

He raised a glass of crimson liquid.

 “Welcome to the Glyndwr Dynasty. Don’t let the rumours of my addiction to blood disturb you, my dear Mina. It’s kept me alive for generations. We all get used to its taste. You will too. Try some.”

Word Count 1000: FCA

Comments are welcome as usual and the following applies:

Kindled Casket

https://www.walesonline.co.uk/

Here is the continuation of my Jewel Box story featuring Detective Constable Sparkle Anwyl of the North Wales Police. I posted the opening on April 17th as O for Obstructions – Part 15 0f Azure Spark: https://rolandclarke.com/2019/04/17/o-for-obstructions-azure-spark-part-15/

However, I revised it slightly when I edited ‘Azure Spark’ at the end of April – https://rolandclarke.com/2019/04/17/o-for-obstructions-azure-spark-part-15/ . I intended to continue the story for the June WEP/IWSG Challenge but have something else for ‘Caged Bird’.

Rose Gold Pendant –http://celticandwelshjewellery.co.uk/product/rose-gold-pendant-26/

Kindled Casket

Saturday 1st August 2015 – Early Morning

Swimming settles hangovers.

Kama and I race out of the swell and across the sands of Morfa Bychan beach.

“Your turn to make breakfast, cariad,” she says as I overtake her. “Your full Welsh to prepare us for work. Ffion will await us bright and eager.”

We sprint towards our cottage. “Even if our DI was partying late at our party. I’ll have no excuse to not confront my backlog.”

Resolved one crime – dozens more emerging. Plus, the never-ending paperwork. Stifle the sinking stomach. This is the price of criminal detection with CID.

Bacon, sausages, mushrooms, eggs, cockles and laver bread sets up the day.

Cloudless weather boosts our motorbike ride to Porthmadog.

The paper on my desk has spread overnight. My Email in-box has overflowed again. Fight through this. Make space for the arson.

In forty minutes, I can focus on the case file.

Two conflicting reports on the incident lead. Liam’s forensic analysis suggests arson. Although, Fire Officer Anwyl’s notes claim it was a traffic accident. Did I count on any support from my brother?

No.

Yet, both mention ‘excessive petroleum splashes’. However, Liam detected traces of a silvery powdery crumb that was not a firefighting residue.

P for Petroleum and Powder. A reason to tackle Owen at the Caernarfon fire station.

I scan the ‘unrelated jewel thefts’ – low value pieces. There are mixed reports from uniform colleagues. Three statements are meticulous, but the other two are vague. No arrests. Just familiar suspects – including Poulsen Leach.

My tattoos set my skin tingling, and my fingers tapping my bracer.

Hugh Arbuthnot, the gift shop owner, accused his son-in-law of ‘mixing in shady circles’.

Poulsen’s record includes a spell in gaol and fines. Further, it shares a name with uniform’s suspicions. Despite this, we have not recovered any stolen items – yet. Not even at known fences.

A for Arbuthnot, Accusations, Arson and Accomplices.

S for Suspects – and for Suspicious. SAP.

Too S for Simple. Delve deeper and search sideways. Interview Poulsen and his wife, Olivia as she ran Y Bocs. Check if someone stole the 4×4.

*

I power along the A487 towards Caernarfon, gritting my teeth. Owen. Can I work with him, even with the approval of DI Ffion Baines? I must. He agreed to meet on the phone. Since he wanted me investigating. Why?

I park alongside the two-storey fire station, answers vying for dominance. My head throbs in time with my churning guts. Relax. Breathe. He’s like a fellow officer.

“Meinwen, let’s talk over a drink.” He smiles as he meets me at reception. Relaxed and confidant. “We have a great café nearby – not instant muck.”

He shows me back outside and nods at the black motorcycle. “Still a biker. No changes then.”

“Another major incident resolved. On to our burnt-out shop inquiry so I need your help. Why can’t we chat in your office?”

“I’m done arguing in front of my teammates.” He gestures to a red North Wales Fire and Rescue van. “Besides, we’ve family issues to discuss.”

The conversation I don’t need today. The usual blame. You were tad’s favourite. Meinwen did this…

“As long as we still review the arson case.”

*

The coffee is fresh brewed, and the brownie is a decadent treat.

“Talk, brawd dewr,” I say, forcing a grin.

He continues in our mother tongue. “Did our tad want you in the force over me? I never knew.”

The question he should have asked tad before he died. Owen buries his anger – but it’s simmering.

Don’t feed it. “No. He was scared whoever followed him into the police might have family problems like—”

“—him and mam, but that came later. In your mid teens, you were talking about joining—”

“—the force? I was only a vigilante.” I sip the rich brew, searching for a path around the sleeping flames. “That’s what tad called the Goth Patrol – before he inspired us. He must have dropped hints to your class too.”

He sputters. “Community service lectures – from every single emergency service. I never realised tad was behind those.” His turn to bury himself in his mug, then take a final swig.

I order more coffee – without tempting chocolate brownies. Will our chat end the sibling rivalry?

“That road traffic accident might not be arson. I presume you read my exhaustive report.”

I switch into case gear. “Yes. Our forensic guys agree with the ‘excessive petroleum splashes’. What could cause those in your experience?”

“A leaking petrol container.” He hesitates, rapping his knuckles together. “If the vehicle reached the right-hand side of the shop. I’ll run a test back at the station. Maybe a simulation. A smash-raid requires speed to damage the fuel tank.”

“Although, wasn’t it half inside the shopfront?”

Owen nods. “And not all the splatters were there. The raiders might have incinerated the car to destroy its identity.”

“We can still trace it.” If someone from NWP hasn’t yet run a search. “Our senior forensics guy, Liam Rhys detected the remains of a white dust. Not drugs or a harmless household product. Did you take a sample?”

My brother stares at me, eyes ablaze. “You accusing us of missing evidence? The powder is our dry chemical agent, stupid. I will send your Rhys what he needs to strike that off your suspicions, Meinwen.” He drains his coffee and stands. “I need to get back and investigate other incidents – pressing ones.”

Dismissed again. I follow him to the van. We don’t speak until we reach his workplace.

He smoulders as he parks, then slams his door when he gets out. “Thus, a smash-raid gone wrong. Your thieves torched the vehicle and caused a fire – not arson. I’ll put your forensics guy right and you can close your file.”

No fond farewell. He stalks away as if renewing our absurd rivalry.

R for Rivalry and Ram-raid. A for Arson and Anger. P for Petrol and Powder.

RAP sheet or PAR for our relationship?

If I add E for Evidence and Excuses, then PARE. Shave off the distracting details, for now.

I dial Forensics as I walk to my Kawasaki Ninja.

“Thanks Liam, for the detailed report on Y Bocs – The Jewel Box crime scene. I’ve just talked with the Fire Investigator – my evasive brother. He insists that the crumb was their chemical agent.”

“A chemical, but an unidentified incendiary.”

Why is Owen ignoring blatant evidence? To provoke or obstruct me? Petty most likely. Does he expect us to do his work? Although, he’s a professional.

“He’ll send you a specimen. Can you help find the actual powder?”

He chuckles. “On it. I’ll email you my conclusion.”

The station doors open and one appliance leaves heading towards town.

“Any identification found on the vehicle used? Or was it too badly torched?”

“The perpetrators tried to erase the plates and other marks. But not thoroughly enough. The 4×4 was a 2012 Dacia Duster registered to Poulsen Leach – reported stolen a week before the fire.”

My heartbeat rises, but tattoos sting. More convenient evidence – more questions for Poulsen and Olivia.

*

Half-an-hour weaving through lunchtime traffic focuses my racing mind.

Kama points at the new row of post-its across my desk. “Compliments of your friends stuck in this hot office. Enjoy.” She winks and takes half. “I desire you home early tonight.”

“For one of your tasty Tamil treats. As you’re cooking.”

More emails too – including Liam’s analysis of the crumb.

Material is an industry standard pyrotechnic flash powder composed of aluminium dust and potassium perchlorate. The natural colour is dark grey, but someone doctored this composition. Hence, it simulates the dry fire suppressant. Look for a pyrotechnician.

As Executive Producer of Oriole Productions, Hugh B Arbuthnot has the special effects contacts. So, the means to frame the son-in-law he belittles.
Too obvious?

R for Ram-raid and Relations. U for Unreal and Used. F for Flash and Film. A for Accusations and Arson. D for Dacia Duster and Deception.

FRAUD. By who?

**

Sleuthing Snowdon Shadows

Where is Detective Sparkle Anwyl of the North Wales Police heading?

Or rather where do I start her story? What comes first? The goth teenager or the quirky detective?

For the Blogging from A to Z April (2019) Challenge, I wrote a 19,000 word Sparkle story in twenty-six parts – Azure Spark. It is a standalone case that some readers have said I should publish as a novella. However, that throws up some complications.

First complication: although Sparkle & Co., resolved the Azure Spark case, an arson investigation was left ongoing – my ‘O for Obstruction’ post,  for the bi-monthly WEP/IWSG Challenge. April’s theme was ‘Jewel Box’ which became the name of the torched gift shop. Initially, I planned to continue the investigation with the June theme, ‘Caged Bird’ and then in the three subsequent WEG/IWSG posts, culminating with ‘Footprints’ in December. But that means holding back Azure Spark’. Doesn’t it?

Or I can write that arson case now as a ‘bonus’ incident.

Second complication: backstory. I can add a few pieces of backstory in ‘Azure Spark’ when I re-draft the story. What do readers need to know? Why did Sparkle become a cop? How did she meet her lover, Kama? However, all these incidents exist as short stories. Sparkle’s backstory unfolded as various shorts I developed as a collection with a framing investigation for NaNoWriMo 2018, titled “Fevered Few” – including a case I wrote for the WEP/IWSG Challenge last year.

What do readers want now?

Third complication: ‘Azure Spark’ references a key case in ‘Fevered Few’but in a way I hope gives all that the reader requires. Or does the case need more detail? How much detail is too much? Or should ‘Azure Spark’ be part of the collection?

Okay, my gut feeling is that ‘Azure Spark’ the novella is my starting point. Test the water/market with that, then continue with the other Sparkle Anwyl stories.

Do you, dear reader, agree?

I intended ‘Fevered Few’ to be the opening of Snowdon Shadows, a series of mystery novels set around Snowdonia in North Wales. However, in the beginning of that WIP, Sparkle doesn’t know she’s a policewoman – or Heddlu as the Welsh police are called. Amnesia is the antagonist blocking her memories of her first cases and more. So, ‘Fevered Few’ was the start of the series – before April 2019’s A to Z Challenge.

I also have three novels to complete in order: “Fates Maelstrom”, “Seeking A Knife”, and “Ruined Retreat”. I’ve drafted FM five times, SAK is still incomplete, and RR was my 2018 NaNoWriMo novel (draft one).

So how do I make ‘Azure Spark’ fit into the release schedule?

Does anyone want to read more?

#AtoZChallenge Reflections 2019

Have I really survived six Blogging from A to Z Challenges? According to my website, yes. Go HERE if you want to read more of my A to Z posts. As for 2019 all the posts were up on time, plus a compilation/edit in three acts – Act One here. However, that is not the end of the Challenge – next comes this Reflections post.

The Reflection post is a tradition at the A to Z Challenge. It gives all us participants a chance to look back at what worked, what didn’t, what we’ve done, what was learned, and where we hope to go from here. At the end of this post, I’ve added a list of direct links to other people’s Reflections. 

But wait. My theme reveal was my downfall. What hurtyn chooses to write a 26-part episodic short story that will read like a novella? Well me. And that was my first mistake. Second was when my keyboard died on me mid-March. Okay, I got all my posts scheduled in time – with a few days to spare at the end of April. But I’m now struggling in a quagmire of emails for fascinating A to Z posts.

Next year, I’m starting in February – or choosing a simpler theme than I’ve ever done – maybe.

Anyway, this year, in honour of the Challenge’s Tenth Anniversary, the brilliant A to Z Team produced a list of ten questions we could use for our posts. Here are my answers:

1. What did you love about the challenge this year?

First, the Challenge kept me writing – the commitment I made, plus the comments. So, there’s more tales to spiel.

Second, I read some great informative pieces [The Great Raven], amazing poems [Liz Brownlee] & [Life In Poetry], great facts [The Old Shelter], invaluable writing tips [Operation Awesome], engrossing tales [Tasha’s Thinkings] and folklore [The Multicoloured Diary], plus, so much more – like the theme I downgraded from ‘Music’ [Wolf of Words].

2. What would you change about it?

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. And it isn’t. I’ve read one intriguing suggestion that we reduced the pressure and make it March-April – might help or increase/spread the stress. Even us that prepare badly.

3. What was the best moment for you during this year’s challenge?

Making my ‘O’ post for A to Z and the April WEP/IWSG post around the theme of ‘Jewel Box’ work, even though my overall theme had nothing to do with jewels. But it was Crime and the comments approved of the episode.

4. What is the best comment your blog got during the challenge, and who left the comment?

It’s hard to choose one, from those that persisted with my short story/novella – like Ronel Janse van Vuuren who looks forward to the Arson posts [WEP/IWSG Challenge] and Liz Brownlee, to those from sites I read consistently who were regular commentators – including the Ninja Captain, leader of IWSG. Okay, two made me blush and amp up my fiction writing:

“Wow, I don’t know if it just comes naturally or you did it on purpose, but I loved the numerous uses of D words, then C words, then B words creating a kind of reverse A to Z musical crescendo as the clues to the plot pile up !” Susan Rouchard

“Very interesting, Roland. I picked up on snippets of alliteration sprinkled here and there. (I love alliterative writing).” Michelle Wallace

5. Will you do the challenge again?

Can I stay away? Am I addicted? Of course.

6. Was it well organized and were the hosts helpful? (Did you fill out the after survey?)

Well organised as always. Hosts so good some dropped by to check my glass was topped up and I was enjoying the canapes. I didn’t need to hassle them once – even for some ink for my pen. And yes, I filled out the survey.

7. How did you and your blog grow, change, or improve as a result of this challenge? Did you find new blogs out there to enjoy?

I chose the wrong theme to attract many new followers, but I signed up for a few new sites. My writing has probably improved, but my site has only been tweaked – I may make changes/updates over the year ahead. But those new sites are expanding my horizons.

8. Were you on the Master List? (If you did the challenge last year, was it better this time without the daily lists?)

I was on the Master List but didn’t use it – so, I can’t compare it to last year. In fact, I’ve got a backlog of A-Z blog emails/sites to visit – apologies to those awaiting a visit and a comment.

9. Any suggestions for our future?

Not anything practical at the Team A to Z’s end. At mine – get organised earlier.

10. Any notes to the co-host team? A word of thanks to Jeremy for all his hard work on the graphics? A picture with your A to Z shirt, if you ordered one?

Congratulations and thanks to you all: J Lenni, Jeremy – I loved the badges and used them –  Jayden, Zalka and John, plus last but vitally they key, Arlee for making all this possible ten years ago and counting.

What have I missed/evaded? What questions do you have?

To find, and hop to, all the blogs officially participating in REFLECTIONS, click the following LINK TO REFLECTION LIST:
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1BakdXuadi9VJE1JM3mcnR9H8ooleTRoX9JGHlF-OYy4

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?