#WEP/IWSG June 2019 Challenge – Caged Bird

Originally, I had planned to write a Sparkle Anwyl case for the 2019 WEP + IWSG Challenge starting in April and ending in December. I wrote the first episode in April, but then posted the next episode of Kindled Casket, last month. There is a ‘caged bird’ in the episode but not as planned – that follows in the next episode. That case will unfold over the next few months.

Hence, the attached standalone short – Fettered Air. A departure from my Welsh police procedural, so your responses will interest me.

Fettered Air

I slide ski-swift across the winter’s blanket under the Blood Wolf’s Moon. Beside me the chicken-legged hut creak-crashes through the forest.

We’re alone in the taiga.

No sign of Baba Yaga. She’s vanished as have the denizens. No howling wolves. Nor snow leopard scents. No eagle-owl hoots. Nor honking swans. No ice-crawlers corpse feeding.

For nothing breathes in the wailing wind.

Yet, Nature writhes in pain, dragon’s bile dripping on her from mortal fangs.

I am Skaði. Goddess, giantess, huntress and snow-stealth specialist. Size is not the issue. Speed is.

The house is noisier, but we make a team. This hut can track her mistress better than even I, its feet scratching up clues, windows watching for signs.

Our mission came from Svetovid, seer and guardian god – and we had no choice.

“Find Baba Yaga before this world rebels.”

Why me, a giantess from Jötunheimr? Because neither Odin nor Thor will ask me ever since the marital strife with my spouse, Njörðr.

“Nobody else volunteered,” added Svetovid. “Besides those deities I posted on separate operations.”

He’s as secretive as my Vanir and Aesir brethren. Not just Loki plays with intelligence. Our trickster-thief and clown has too many imitators.

“Others are missing?” I asked, expecting evasion.

“Find Baba Yaga. That’s all.”

So, a need-to-know answer means Skaði is disposable. Nothing has changed.

Am I that terrible?

I had my reasons for smashing my husband’s sand sculptures. The whale-way was a prison with seabirds flaunting freedom.

But he called my majestic mountain retreat a dreary cell. “I’m trapped here. I can’t ski or snowboard like you.” He ranted and ripped down my hunting trophies.

“Skadi Hunting in the Mountains” (1901) by H. L. M – Foster, Mary H. 1901. Asgard Stories: Tales from Norse Mythology. Silver, Burdett and Company

Marriage dissolved.

Thus, I get the menial tasks. Unless Odin sends his ravens or wolves with heart-baits.

Not this occasion. A telepathic eagle with four heads.  

“Find Baba Yaga.” Svetovid’s orders resound in my brain.

The wilderness wrestles promethium chains. That is enough reason to pursue the quarry.

So we scour Siberia.

The creak-crashing hut spins above the earth-coat. We have the crone’s spoor. 

Calls and cries clamour on the snow-breath.

Ahead a green clearing by a lake glows bright. Invisible to vicious human eyes, but I see the torches, tents and throng bridging the veils.

Baba has parked her mortar by a host of other vehicles, one that is familiar – my stepdaughter’s pantherine-drawn chariot.

With groans and creaks, the chicken-legs spin the hut to a halt by the pestle-guarded mortar. Shutters slam shut. A fence of human bones topped with skulls encircles them.

My gaze shoots arrows at the polytheistic conclave nobody invited me to.

Goddesses gathered from the Nine Realms. They have abandoned their posts to feast. Brews flow, dice roll and deities chatter. Everyone distracted as Midgard clamours for release.

Baba knocks back vodka, cackling to another crone – Hecate, clutching a goatskin of wine. Their dice are corpse-stones, and Hel’s are soul-vessels. 

Are they oblivious to the desolation? Among the feasting, denizen envoys are airing their anxiety.  

My pounding heart settles. Mind muses past irritable white-out.

Not all the deities are wizen and wild in their attire and behaviour. Some goddesses appear serious.

Freyja, stepdaughter and party animal rises – statuesque and sober, despite her goblet of mead.

Her eyes seize mine as she silences the symposium.

“Sisters, the snow-dancer is here. The world cries, and we have battle-sweat to spill. But when shall we three score meet again?”

“When the chaos is banished, when the spear-din is won,” Hel replies.

I add my voice, realising their design. “Ere midnight. After the sleep of the blade claims those flouting our laws.” Faces flash in my head. I smile. “Nature’s justice must wield the icicle of blood against false leaders poisoning life.”

My sisters nod. Creatures yowl.

Freyja smiles and summons her champions. “I come, Durga and Adrastea. We have fangs to extract.”
Her pantherines roar in response.

We will shatter the fetters on Nature. No more will humans build cages entrapping our laughter and song.

Yes, this is my #WEP/IWSG post for June so part of the 2019 WEP/IWSG ChallengeThis a standalone short, although Skaði appears in my novel Eagle Passage, which I wrote the first draft of for NaNoWriMo 2016.

Word Count 660: 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

#IWSG – Language Power


C for Challenge but also for Creator and Captain. As in…

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.

Except this is not the A to Z month even if I’m still recovering – INSECURE as I have a vast backlog of emails/blog posts (260+), reviews to write, WRiTE CLUB bouts to read, and fog like the Sargasso Sea.

Anyway, on to this month’s question.

May 1 question – What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

Reaction 1 – pass. My brain won’t engage.

Response 2 – can I cheat? Latest? During Blogging from A to Z, one of my followers admired my alliteration – I had fun with repetitive use of the letters. And a review led me to buying a copy of Mark Forsyth’s The Elements of Eloquence – so more ‘unforgettable phrases’ to follow.

Rejoinder 3 – when I read J.R.R Tolkien’s work as a teenager. His use of language was phenomenal with deep roots. (Strange synchronicity as I’m sitting her listening to soundtracks from the Lord of the Rings movies). Anyway, I tried to emulate the Professor’s style, but my writing tutor, the late Roger Woddis, accused me of ‘purple prose’ – justified. With his guidance, I learnt to pare my effusive outpourings to create more power.

The awesome co-hosts for the May 1 posting of the IWSG are Lee Lowery, Juneta Key, Yvonne Ventresca, and T. Powell Coltrin! 

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. 


On a parallel track, I must thank all those that made my WEP April 2019 Comments Champion award possible:

The Joint Team at WEP: Denise Covey – Founder/Host; L.G. Keltner – Co-host; Nilanjana Bose – Blurbs; Olga Godim – Badges; at IWSG: Nick Wilford – judge; C. Lee McKenzie – liason IWSG/WEP; Pat Hatt – tweets and promo.

Plus, of course, all the participants without whose wonderfully, inspiring pieces, I wouldn’t have been able to comment. Your creations made my thoughts possible.

Azure Spark – Act Two

First snow on Snowdon – Juanita Clarke

Azure Spark

ACT TWO

JEOPARDY – Tuesday 21st July Evening

Jackdaw jigs keep us entertained as Kama and I relax on our patio, enjoying the evening sun and breeze. Negesydd had adopted us and even assists on cases.

“He’s entitled to time off too – and I’m glad your fraud case is nearing a conclusion.”

“Once Wiley and Ffion think we have enough material for CPS.”

Unless the Criminal Prosecution Service feel a judge and jury would dismiss the case. A chill settles over me. My stomach is heavy.

“I need a witness to the assault on Stefan and Ivan – and identities for their rich assailants if my Aberdaron case is going to progress further.”

“But you’ll find them and the motive.”

An idea sparks in my head and my tattoos. R for Regatta.

“Want to enter the Aberdaron regatta? Late entry.”

Kama leans against me and whisper-kisses my ear. “Sounds like one of your typical ploys. A risk. And An adrenaline rush. So yes.”

I snigger and kiss her, tasting grape and lemongrass. Breathing in vanilla and bergamot.

“If our rich Swedes want divers who can sail, we can oblige. Ffion should endorse the sting. With Stefan in supposed custody and Ivan on the run –”

“– They might bite. Our lives in jeopardy as usual.” She winks and caresses me. “So, early to bed tonight. Exercise. Tomorrow, and early swim session. Then you devise a plan with Ffion.”


Wednesday 22nd July – Morning

Ffion reads my satisfied grin as I bring her a cup of mint tea.

“Hopefully your colleagues don’t interpret joyous rapture for what it is. Remember keep that at home. So, I presume the case has progressed due to our custody visitor’s revelations.”

I’m outmanoeuvred so I hand her the flash drive with my plan. She studies the details, her expressions ranging from a grin and nod to pursed lips with a long frown to close.

“The money guys will balk at this – unless most of it is done off-duty. Your lives will be in jeopardy as usual – but I expect that with you and Kama.”

“We’ve agreed to do the training off-duty – but I fear time is short so –”

“– We might need to fast track your diving licenses. What’s your current status?”

Our wild water swimming is already challenging. Ffion knows that. Lying isn’t necessary.

“More than proficient. We need more deep-water hours.”

“I can arrange that with the North West Police Underwater Search & Marine Unit – and adjust your off-duty days. Issuing a license won’t be a problem. You want to leak the bait through the press?”

My body thrills at the thought of decisive action. My fingers tap bracer studs.

 L for Lure. O for Off-Duty. And J.

“Our tame journalist will spread the fake news. She’s reliable – despite her jealousy at our not-so-glamorous jobs.”

We laugh together. The plan will only work if the rich couple are desperate after losing Stefan and possibly Ivan.

Too many variables.

“Why do you think the Swedish couple need divers and a fishing boat?” Ffion raises her eyebrows.

Our wildcard. “The freighter jettisons its illegal cargo off Aberdaron. Divers are needed to recover the goods.”

“Interesting lateral thinking. What inspired that? Wine or passion?”

Her teasing eyes prompt an honest answer. “Both.”

Memories of our evening – after Negesydd hopped away – blood my cheeks and send finger spirals up my spine.

I force them down and let my tattoos feed in.

K for Knowledge and Kama. I for Intrigue. L for Lure and License. J Journalist and Jeopardy. O for Off-Duty and Ops. Y for Yield and Yester-eve.

KILLJOY. Our penny-counters or someone else?

Ffion’s smile turns serious.

“When this case is closed, I have a new mystery for you both. It’s minor – non-CID incidents now. But ones I’m watching. Seemingly unrelated jewel thefts – low value items, trinkets but from tourists.”

“Intriguing. When you want our input, let us know. Meantime, I’ll work on the diving scheme.”

“I’ll monitor the jewel incidents – perhaps let you see something in advance. Unofficially. Get some judicious feedback.”

KNUCKLE-DUSTER – Wednesday 22nd July Midday

Kama’s knowledge of kickboxing keeps me alert to her moves in the gym. One hesitation and I’m a flattened dosa pancake. She gives no quarter. Nor do I.

 Sweat washes off as she soaps my hair.

“How soon is the deep-water course – and the regatta?”

“Tomorrow is the training on Ynys Môn. Anglesey has great dive sites. Friday, we try out our Aberdaron boat. Saturday, we race. So, no pressure.”

“Just that spot where your palm is playing on my right cheek. But enjoyable.”

I kiss her. “Just returning your attentive touch. We better sneak out separately. Remember the warning.”

There are strange looks when I return to the office, even though Kama is back conferring with Wiley. He’s proved one of our understanding friends – even if he’s captivated with Vivian. Supportive friends are too few. If only others were like PC Megan Matthews and her husband Cefin who protect our secret.

A new email arrives. Kristina Yoxall, our tame journalist.

“Story understood and appearing as attached in this afternoon’s online edition. If you approve. I expect my usual kickback – advance details of another successful outcome.”

The story is brief and baited:

Returning Tremadog athletes, Sioned Wilkins and Rashmi Sharma, 23 and 28, have announced they are entering the Aberdaron Regatta. Their first race is on Saturday afternoon. They paid special tribute to Guto Thomas of Porth Meudwy, who restored the boat they are racing. In advance of their practice day on Friday, the former champion divers said, “Our return to the Llŷn Peninsula, where we grew up, is a great honour.”

If the lure isn’t taken, I’m stumped. For now, my heart surges. Suggesting a few word changes, I email Kristina. Then ring Guto.

“Mister Thomas, this is Sparkle Anwyl. Did you get my message?”

“About a boat for our regatta? Yes. I have the perfect one. Bit fancy and she should turn heads like any fine lass. But she won’t win anything else.”

“Other than catching the right breeze, the aim is to catch our attackers.”

“Suppose you know what you’re doing. What about in a boat?”

We are more familiar with being in the water, but I refrain from saying that.

“All advice is welcome. Can you help us? We aim to collect the boat early Friday –”

“– If you are here at 5 AM, we can help. Won’t breathe a word about you being Heddlu. You’re one of us. Goodwill. And good sailing.”

“Thanks. We’ll be there prompt – Sioned Wilkins and Rashmi Sharma. Former champion deep-sea divers.”

A chuckle confirms Guto is our man – our boat builder.

A pleasant tingle as I press my bracer. G for Guto and Goodwill. L for Llŷn and Lure. A for Aberdaron. E for Edition.

LEGAL. Are we? Will CPS approve of our actions? Does it matter if the Swedish kingpins use every weapon against us? Not just gaffs, staves and knuckle-dusters, but guns. Lethal force.

LETHALITY – Wednesday 22nd July – Afternoon

Legal loopholes challenge us. CPS must prepare for canny lawyers. I need to ensure we have everything.

Eyes closed, my mind plays games with scenarios. Be prepared.

Ivan Tjäder, our runner might be more than the loophole. Did he see me? Was this coma a pretence? The doctor would’ve known. But Stefan fooled him.

My shudder is premature – if Ivan is found by us first. I check the latest sightings – nothing.

But Ffion has sent me the petty theft incidents. Nothing expensive. Nor anything the pawnshops will bother with. Very likely gift shop purchases. Sentimental trinkets the professional jewel thief would ignore. An opportunist petty thief? A spate that merits monitoring. So, I give Ffion my assessment.

I’m assessing my next lateral step, when a message flashes up.

“Detective Dike Anwyl. We are watching you and your lesbian bitch. No perversion in NWP. Resign or regret staying.”

I shiver. My heart beat races. Dizziness. Pain.

The first stone, and we’ve only been doing our jobs. Is this hatred or jealousy?

Rigidity dissolves. The bitter tang in my mouth. Spit. My lip bleeds.

I can’t tell Kama.

No. I must tell Kama.

Ffion?

Not yet.

Are we safe at the regatta?

No cop would dare expose us – would they? To be rid of us? If we fail that proves our lack of worth.

Focus on the case. Ignore the haters. I’m queer and proud.

Lost cargo – jettisoned overboard. My hunch. I open the message from HMRC in Pembroke. The manifest from the Scandinavian freighter shows items missing – washed off by waves during a lightning storm. ‘Medical supplies.’ Drugs?

But no loss report or insurance claim shows in any records I can access. Buried or dismissed?

Diving might reveal more. And probing.

I ring forensics.

“Liam, our guest confirmed they were attacked with gaffs and staves.”

“Do we have a crime scene?”

“Nothing definite. A jetty, perhaps a marina near Llandudno. We haven’t the resources to search for a scene. Not yet.”

“Austerity biting at your budget too. Crazy with crime not sleeping.”

“That’s what my late tad would say.”

Tears come freely at his memory. Cancer was the crime that took him. The toughest adversary.

“Wise man.”

“He was – the best.” I close my eyes. Breathe. “I’ll ring when I have more. Oh, they had been sailing.”

Waves of tingling as I replace the phone.

A for Austerity and Adversary. M for Medical and Manifest. L for Lightning, Lesbian and Legal. U for Unknown.

MAUL. Who is wanting to maul us? Lethality unleashed. No matter. The trap should be set. I check the online news.

“Champion divers choose Aberdaron Regatta.”

MAYHEM – Thursday 23rd July – Morning

Melodious murmurs mingle with the churning surf and rival bird calls. Makes these memories matter. Kama and me – melded.

“The dive ship will take us out to the final wreck. This will be your last dive and will test your capability at depths of nearly 30 metres. But be prepared for the unexpected – this is not a tourist excursion. And I won’t be easy on you.”

The training officer, Inspector Varley, hasn’t let up all morning – not since our 4 a.m start. Intensive workouts, testing dives, and mental mazes to tax us – and prepare us. No normal course.

“Move. We’re not on a shopping trip. Anwyl, you push us off with that boat hook. And put some muscles into it – if you have any.”

Ignore the windup. My wetsuit moulds to me for warmth and protection but it sculpts and reveals. Kama’s toned body is as marked.

I push us off. The coxswain steers the ship out beyond a rocky promontory. But Kama and I must row us further in an inflatable towards a jagged outcrop – even though it has an outboard.

Our scuba gear rechecked from tank to goggles, we descend into the majestic depths.

The corroded metal merchantman looks vibrant with fish and seaweeds. The ripped hull and damaged superstructure indicate the mayhem of the storm that wrecked her on the rocks above.

Varley indicates we are to enter through the main breach in the hull. Kama on point, me behind – ahead of our mentor-taskmaster.

Tattoos tingle. Nerves jangle. I dive down and left as a black- clad figure with a tinted mask fires a spear gun at Kama.

I surprise the second attacker by dolphin-kicking into him. Improvised Jiu-Jitsu stuns him.

Kama anticipates the spear, weaving into attack mode. She disarms her attacker gesturing with the grabbed spear-gun for him to swim up to our deep compression rendezvous.

I follow with my captive at the point of his gun.

Varley gestures at his watch and shakes his head.

Resolved too fast. That’s just us.

Back on the dive ship, he struggles to suppress his chuckle.

“Fastest resolution to my ambush ever. You ladies are good enough to be in my Marine unit – not in CID.”

“Is that a job offer?” Kama raises her eyes as she looks towards me. “We come as a team.”

One of the unmasked officers laughs and thumps her on the back. “With your manoeuvres, I’d be out of a job. I’ve never seen some of them. What are they?”

“A melange of my Tamil martial art of silambam and Sparkle’s jiu-jitsu.”

“As my partner said, we’re a team so train as one.”

Inspector Varley gestures for the coxswain to return to shore.

“You two moved as one unit through that rupture. Instinctively prepared. You’ve passed – and yes, if you ever want to become maritime police and face marauders at sea, I’d welcome you. But I suspect CID won’t let you go. So, good luck on tomorrow’s nautical challenge and get those crooks.”

My stomach churns. We’ve colleagues that want us gone. Ones that despise minorities like us. And moving to another force won’t resolve that.

Tap my bracer.

M for Mayhem and Minorities. A for Ambush. S for Silambam. N for Nautical. E for Exertion.

NAMES.

“That your secret weapon, Anwyl?”

“Mnemonics are my mental ally. Keep me ahead.”

If we can identify the real attackers and what they are smuggling from Sweden. Narcotics?

NARCOSIS – Thursday 23rd July – Afternoon

Nurturing natural nooks enhances our wild Welsh landscape. The sea looks unspoilt, but we fear what lurks unseen. Humanity the criminal.

Crime never sleeps.

Not this weekend. At 4 p.m. there are reports to tackle and the NWP nicks are filling up.

Ensure we are ready for tomorrow. Check everything, While Kama confirms that Wiley is ready to submit the fraud case to CPS.

“It won’t be a late night,” she says, her tone reassuring. “We’ve an early start.”

“Nemesis draws nearer for our criminals – if they show.”

“They will, cariad. They need divers – and we’re qualified.”

What am I overlooking? Unknown nightmare scenarios.

Stifle fear and suppress the nausea. Ignore glances from possibly dangerous colleagues. Kama has zero probable names. Hoax or hazard? Nerves jangling.

My phone rings. Our new desk sergeant – the one who replaced my tad.

“Uniform have a prisoner you need to interview. Ellis Evans. Arrested in Nannau near Dolgellau for dealing drugs.”

A new development. Relax. Prioritise.

In the interview room, seated beside a uniform colleague, I switch on the tape recorder, giving the time and my name.

“Suspect is Ellis Evans. No lawyer has been requested.”

I place eight bags of cannabis on the table. “These yours? For sale?”

He squints. “I never sell narcotics. These are a friend’s for keeping safe.” He shrugs and crosses his arms over his chest.

“And your friend’s name?”

“Vic Vaughn. He’s in hospital, so I keep for him.”

String him along.

“Bangor? When did you see him last?”

“A few days ago. I can’t remember.”

“Amnesia. Narcosis. Ever been treated for those?”

“No. I’ve never been in hospital. I not register with NHS.”

I lean forward. Open his file. Produce a photo of him injured and in a coma. Slide it over.

“Never? Not at Bangor Hospital?”

His face goes ashen and drops. Sick at the sight of his injuries. And more.

“I only remember leaving the building. I had to get outside and breathe. To escape everything.”

“The drugs?”

“We never knew what is happening. They never told us nothing.”

“Never told you and Stefan Mikaelsson – your friend. His drugs? You ready to tell him that, Ivan Tjäder?”

He shakes his head and cries.

“I sell drugs to escape, to go home back to Sweden. I won’t dive for them. Where is Stefan?”

“Safe. Tell me everything, and you will be safe here to.”

His confession tallies with his friend’s. One less loose end, but the kingpins remain unidentified.

As I walk back upstairs, Ffion waves me into her office. She pushes a file across her desk.

“I fear the jewellery incidents have escalated a level. This time it’s not a petty crime but arson. Can you investigate this evening? The fire officer has asked for you specifically.”

Do we have a name?”

Her look fills me with dread. I start tapping my bracer furiously.

D for Drugs and Dread. U for Untimely and Urgent. S for Sailing, Smoke and Sweat.

“Owen Anwyl.”

O for Opportunist and Owen. I for Insensitive and Investigation.

ODIOUS.

My odious brother. That’s a mutual objection.

OBSTRUCTIONS – Thursday 23rd July – Late Afternoon

Odious odours and smoke obscure the scene at the junction of Snowdon and Madog. I thread my way through the onlookers and under the police tape. The fire was fierce, destroying most of the corner building’s façade. A charred signboard hangs dangerously loose.

A group of North Wales firefighters are dousing down. One appears officious.

“Late as always, Meinwen. I solved this hours ago.”

Unlikely. Owen Anwyl might be a fire investigator, but his solutions depend on others.

I’ve known him all my life, but I’m the eldest sibling by a year.

“Some of us have other cases to occupy our hours.”

His smirk prepares me for more taunts.

But a man in blue slacks, red shirt and white flannel jacket pushes his way through the barrier towards us. 5 foot 11, athletic, tanned, dyed black hair.

“Hugh Arbuthnot. I own this shop.” His voice pronounces every word like another royal invader. His icy stare flicks between us, then he selects my brother in his dusty uniform – casts me away. “Officer, I need to know what happened here.”

His equally posh lawyer will be next – or his accountant to count the losses.

“A car mounted the pavement and skidded into your shop front. Then the ruptured fuel tank exploded. Petrol – that’s the acrid odour. A simple accident.”

Owen leads the owner around the burnt out 4×4 – torched by the ram-raiders. No accident. Nor the petty thief we at CID are tracking.

I assess the interior. Any robbery evidence is obliterated by arson. Convenient – for the perpetrators.

Tattoos tingling, I tap my bracer. A for Arson. R for Robbery. O for Organised. Deliberate. ROAD. But not road rage.

“Why the police tape? Do you suspect a crime?”

“No, just routine to keep onlookers back.” More Owen bull-shit.

“I disagree, this is a crime scene.”

“Who are you?”

I’m not dressed as a cop. So, I reach inside my biking leathers for my warrant card.

“An opinionated observer who’s operating without her lezzie partner – for once.”

I scowl at Owen, but the posh Englishman flinches – one gesture short of crossing himself.

“I’m Detective Sparkle Anwyl, CID. This officer requested our involvement in this suspected arson, which I believe was a ram raid robbery.”

Glancing at my ID, Hugh Arbuthnot frowns, hands behind his back. “I demand another detective – a second opinion. Not from someone like you.”

“So, not Welsh,” I say, twisting his insult. “Not easy in North Wales. But my partner is Tamil – her family immigrated from South India. And she’s a more senior detective. Plus, our boss, Detective Inspector Ffion Baines approves of our teamwork. Now, do you want to obstruct us or resolve this case?”

I’m out of order but annoyed. Ffion would agree. Owen is stirring. He requested me on purpose. Petty sibling rivalry.

A for Arson and Arbuthnot. R for Ram-raid and Robbery. O for Owner and Obstructions. D for Disagree and Disgrace.

ROAD. Ignoring the rage, where to? Trace the 4 x 4.

“Officer Anwyl, finish off your fire investigation, then please allow our forensic team to gather what they need – like that vehicle.”

At the outside corner of the shop, I wait for Hugh Arbuthnot. He will talk to me. He has no choice.

I gather more evidence. The angle of the crash is deliberate. The torched vehicle designed to obliterate evidence but not destroy the building. Measured. Observed in advance.

Hugh interrupts.

“My official objection will be lodged. I can give my opinion but no more than that.”

“That’s your right, sir. For now, I need to know how long you’ve owned this shop, what would the robbers take, and have there been any other occurrences?”

He paces, throwing glances at the building and the burnt-out car.

“My wife bought The Jewel Box two years ago.” He grits his teeth and taps his left foot. “She died in the spring. I’ve attempted to run this gift shop, but I have my own work. I’m a movie producer with a demanding professional schedule.”

He hands me a fancy card – Hugh B Arbuthnot, Oriole Productions, Executive Producer.

“Who runs the shop when you’re working?”

“My daughter, Olivia and her husband.” He snorts, head held high. “Poulsen.” He slaps his left palm to his forehead. “He mixes in shady circles. Some of his cronies did this.”

Opportunistic thieves? Or convenient coincidence? Whose production?

PREJUDICE – Friday 24th July – Early Morning

Police protection is deemed too pricey for our pay grade. Detective Inspectors might justify paying. Someone’s counting the police pennies again. And we’re not police for this practice day. We’re on our own as Sioned Wilkins and Rashmi Sharma – divers.

No bikes. A nondescript rental Vauxhall Astra parked outside a cheap B&B in Penrhos.

When I reported to Ffion that my investigation into the arson-robbery would have to wait, she agreed, “The assaults are our priority. Progress that case first and prove our strategy best.”

“Finding the right clothes is a challenge. Black or black.” We laugh. “I’m not dressing in pink.”

“Pink is pretty. But maybe not you. Just add a few spots of acceptable colour. A perfect performance requires sacrifices – all round. From disgruntled gift shop owner to officers undercover.”

Words we are acting on.

Shiver as a pungent reek pervades the air. Poop or performance? Like our two victims checking themselves out. Said they felt safe.

Are we?

The padlocked path to Port Meudwy is open. We drive down to where fishermen are unloading their catches of lobsters and crabs. They pack the crustaceans into containers on pallets to be delivered by vans around the region.

Guto approaches us and points to a freshly painted clinker-built boat on a trailer.

“Your practice starts with pushing that trailer into the sea – if you know how.”

“By tractor.” Kama gestures at an ancient salt encrusted machine. “I’ll drive and Sioned will hitch us up.”

Guto nods then turns to the watching fishermen.

“Told you guys these genethod were smart. Now to see if they can handle an Aberdaron boat.”

The genethod – lasses – is said with praise. Relax.

“My uncle Pugh could never abide women in boats,” says one man who resembles my uncle, Ivor Pugh. “But he’s dead now.”

My uncle, Ivor Pugh, is alive and runs the family farm. Is this a distant Pugh relation? Is my cover blown? Or have we disguised ourselves enough? At least, Pugh politics have kept us apart from most of my family.

My attention shifts to my allotted task.

With the boat afloat, I secure her with the painter as ‘Rashmi’ parks the tractor and trailer under Guto’s direction.

My Pugh relation and Guto board another boat. Guto shouts across as Rashmi and I push off.

“Padrig is the man to prove yourself to. I build while he perfects the handling. Partners like you two.”

Like us. Unlikely. Guto only knows parts of our secret – the professional aspect.

Guto and Padrig row out some yards then hoist their sails. We do likewise and head south following the coastline of the Llŷn Peninsula.

Choppy waves and an erratic breeze test us. Gusts and becalming lulls to prove our worth. I probe Rashmi’s face as our teamwork makes up for lack of sailing time. This is a new phase – a giant leap from playing in dinghies for fun.

“You need to learn how to right one of our Aberdaron boats,” says Padrig. “Not hard but different. Do I need to show you how to capsize?”

We demonstrate that skill. Sit on the same side and let the boom out too far.

The water is our second home. Even when we are told to swim under the capsized craft before following the correct procedure to recover our previous position.

“Glad we wore our wetsuits underneath now.” I grin at Rashmi.

“Your colourful top and slacks will never dry in this weather.”

Weak sun and cold air. Discomfort is acceptable. Would Sioned worry about appearance as a pro-athlete?

“We need to polish up if photographers appear.”

She smiles in agreement as Guto points north and mouths, “Aberdaron“.

The wind picks up – but a headwind. We tack and tack until the manoeuvre becomes routine. Precision.

“Impressive, but racing is never so precise,” says Padrig. “Beware other boats performing moves to fool you. Weather and sea factors will keep you alert.”

“Like diving,” says Rashmi. “We’ve learned to prepare. Performance ploys.”

Even more so as police. Alert keeps us ahead of the offenders – if we can only identify them.

We approach Aberdaron beach. Guto indicates where the water is shallowest and sandier.

“Pull her ashore over there. Then we can wander up to the pub. Final pointers over a pint – if you genethod drink.”

“We do. Always.”

Even on-duty – where necessary. But this time I’ll resist ordering my unusual favourite.

We pull the two boats ashore and wander at a purposeful pace up to the same pub where I began my investigation.

My stomach sinks when I see the proprietor. Will he recognize me despite the garish outfit and streak-dyed hair?

Guto steps forward. “These are our new arrivals – Sioned Wilkins and Rashmi Sharma. They’re competing in the regatta, tomorrow. A round of your best Llŷn pale ale – four pints of Houdini.”

The publican studies me.

My heart flips. Recognition.

A wink and a nod.

“On the house, Guto.” He smiles. “Sioned, Rashmi, how far have you come? Not many visitors race here. Except the rare brave ones. Most tourists just watch.”

Glance around. Check the watching faces – holidaymakers. Locals. Listening. Gossip spreads fast.

“South America,” I reply, praying my Welsh lilt is buried under my pseudo-Spanish accent. “Patagonia. But we were born on the Llŷn near Pwllheli.”

“That makes you locals almost,” says Padrig. “Learn any Welsh before you left?” “

Breathe. Was our preparation too hasty? Does he suspect?

“If they went to Chubut Province in Argentina, they must know some,” says another voice. “Patagonia has a large Welsh community and the main colony is there.”

Recognising the voice, I say, “That’s why our families went there. Swimming took us to Puerto Madryn on the Golfo Nuevo, which is formed by the Península Valdés and the Punta Ninfas.” I pause my tourist talk to add for the Welsh speakers, “Mae’n wych bod yn gartref.

The locals all raise their pints.

Our tame journalist, Kristina picks up on the tourist confusion. “These ladies say it’s wonderful to be home. But Puerto Madryn has strong ties to here. It is twinned with Nefyn, just 13 miles away on the north coast of the Llŷn Peninsula. Excuse me as I need to interview these professional athletes. Make sure that you are here tomorrow, when they are competing in one of the first races of the Aberdaron Regatta.”

As people drift away, Kristina shakes hands with us.

“I’m Kristina Yoxall. We spoke on the phone. Please can we talk more – I’ll write a great story.” She holds up a camera. “And get a photo. Love those patterned tops. They must be traditional.”

She chats and helps us develop our personas further as our party finds a table outside overlooking the beach and sea.

Holidaymakers are gathering in the village. Not crowds like Llandudno or Porthmadog but those drawn by the simpler pastimes like sand castles, playing in the sea, and the regatta.

The interview probes and provides colour to our profiles – culminating in key questions.

“Can our wanderers challenge tomorrow?” asks Kristina. “Are they contenders?”

Guto and Padrig shrug.

But my relative says, “Perhaps. As I’ve said there are factors – including local advantage. They have skills and guts. Maybe one day.”

“And you are a favourite, Padrig. As in past years,” says Guto.

We all laugh, and I slap Padrig on the back.

Recognition. My heart beats faster.

The Swedish woman is watching us. Pretending to peer out to sea.

Precisely as planned. Bait taken.

Kristina follows my gaze. Takes out her mobile. Glances at the screen.

Pric pwdin. Idiot colleague. I need to hurry. Can we do the photo by the boats, then I must leave you.”

We stride down to the beach and pose with our boats. Group photo, then us – the two pretenders.

We part, Kristina to her pretend assignment, Guto and Padrig to Porth Meudwy.

Genethod, Padrig and I will go ahead. We have work to do – boats to paint. Follow when you’re ready. Practice as much as you need to along the coast. And master that boat – with skills not force. She’s another geneth.

Our builder is as quick as our journalist. Our secret is safe.

We prepare to launch, but I play for time.


Puerto Madryn, Chubut, Argentina – 
Banfield

“Do we need provisions, Rashmi? Or will our B&B in Penrhos provide everything?”

“Only basics. Anyway, I need a better face cleanser for this climate. And we need diving supplies – but they can wait. We’ve no diving competitions for a fortnight.”

“Maybe we can help each other.”

We turn. The Swedish couple smile at us.

“That would be kind,” I say. “You’re local?”

The woman laughs. Potent, poisonous, and the trigger for my tattoos.

L for Lies and L for Lure.

“Not exactly. But we know the Llŷn Peninsula. We’ve been here awhile. And our yacht is moored at Llandudno.”

The man steps forward. 6’3″. Blond sun-scored hair. Tanned. Athletic and muscular. Like a panther.

“We have a small job for divers that pays well – especially the way you to handle that boat.”

Curb enthusiasm. But reel them in.

I let Rashmi continue as planned. “Interesting. We’re open to persuasion. But we have questions –”

“– As do we.” He hands us both GEE business cards – Peder & Pia Pilkvist. “Can we meet for a quiet meal? Pick you up at 6 p.m at your place. Our treat.”

Presumptive means desperate. Time must be tightening. What is the cargo?

My tattoos twist in pain. But only D for Drugs and that feels wrong.

“If there’s money on offer,” says Rashmi. “Sioned and I have expenses. So, yes – if you’re buying.”

“Always,” replies Pia. “One initial question. Wales or Argentina? Where are your loyalties?”

Where is this going? My heart pounds, nerves jangle. A test of what? Not rugby.

“We dive for ourselves – for the country that rewards us best. Patagonia yesterday. Maybe Wales tomorrow. I have only one loyalty – my dive partner. Rashmi.”

The Swedes study us, then whisper to each other in Swedish – something about ‘älskande‘. Lovers. Us or them? What do they know about us? Has the office prejudice seeped out from a jealous colleague?

U for Unwary and Unexpected. Q for Queer and Questions. E for Evasion and Evaluation.

QUELL. The fire for my lover? Or the fear building?

QUAKE – Friday 24th July – Evening

Quiet meals in quaint country restaurants can sap resolve. Not tonight when we all have questions. Like what are the sea jewels? Not drugs.

Peder and Pia Pilkvist collected us as arranged, taking us to a French bistro well above our normal budget. Somewhere we aren’t known.

We are encouraged to choose anything – and the wine flows freely.

“Did you eat Latin food in Patagonia? Or Welsh?”

“Welsh with an Argentinian twist.” I smile and add, “seafood became our favourite as it was fresh from the sea at Puerto Madryn.”

“Perfect, I recommend Quenelles de Homard.” Pia explains. “The lobster is local, maybe from off the Aberdaron coast.”

“I prefer Caille en Escabeche,” says Peder. “With the quail, I’m partial to the blend of Latin and French – fusion is an art form. Spare no expense when you order. We can afford this luxury.”

And the yacht. GEE is not an overtly rich company. No high value electrical or engineering items. Certainly not garden gnomes.

“I’ll have the Escabeche,” says Rashmi.

I choose the quenelles, but my mind is tapping my bracer. Q for Q-ships. Not what they seem. A disguise to hide weaponry. Like Quenelles de Brochet and pike bones.

“Great choices require the right wines, “says Peder who then talks with the sommelier in passable French.

We aren’t meant to understand. But policing tourist areas has advantages. But nothing triggers alarms – yet.

If G is for Garden Gnomes, is W for Weapons? H for Herrings and more bones?

“Before the wine leaves us unfit to race tomorrow, what do you need me and Sioned for? As divers or sailors?”

Pia dips her head to her husband. We’re not meant to see as he is asking the sommelier for a bottle of vintage rosé Champagne.

“Divers primarily,” says Pia. “Your competitive reputation is impressive. But you will need your boat.”

Our doctored qualifications were straightforward for NWP to upload on the Internet. Our Q-ship.

“After we race tomorrow? No sooner I hope.” Although our participation is not vital. But I falter as if dismayed.

“Race, but then we need you. We will bring our yacht,” says Peder. “Then we’ll take you to the dive site.”

Late afternoon or later? Warning qualms kick in.

“Before the regatta ends?” Rashmi plunges deeper. “Or later when people disperse? A night dive will cost you more.”

Pia smiles and I shiver.

“After your race, join us on our yacht. No need to spoil this quiet meal with details.”

N for Night – W for no Witnesses. And for Warnings.

They suspect us. No more quizzing them tonight. Maybe not even on their yacht – their Q-ship. Or is that the freighter? The ship that is meant to be in Sweden.

Or is it? Another loose end. But we’re alone as money rules.

I attempt to quell my fears with food. By quenching a thirst for information that alcohol only stimulates.

Keep them chatting. They’re digging too. Why? Do they know we’re police? Queer and a threat? Quislings.

We are being interrogated with a smile. About Patagonia. About diving competitions.

“How long have you two been together – diving? Amazing, your families are both from the Llŷn.”

Pia pushes – gently. A for Attitude and Alarm.

“Fate – except our families left together, so it was inevitable we were friends at school. And on the swimming team together.”

Rashmi is inventive, but Pia’s face indicates the story is disbelieved. Why? Who are they? More than smugglers.

S for Sail, Swim and Smugglers.

I shiver. Quake as my fears build. No coincidence.

I for Inside Information and Interrogation. R for Renegade – the cop that ratted on us.

Who?

RAIS – raison d’être. Why betray us? Prejudice or high-value goods? Or both?

Or RANG – ranged weapons?

In too deep without backup. The jeopardy thrills again. Quivering and riled.  Rats.


Photo by Peter Ainsworth – Aberdaron Sailing Club http://www.hwylio-llyn.co.uk/home.htm

ROGUE – Saturday 25th July – Afternoon

Regatta races are never routine. Padrig’s factors are in play as he leads us rank and file racers. We were warned. That includes the risk awaiting us on the Swedish yacht. Ffion tried to alert us, but thrills win every time.

Evading rivals, we jibe too violently. Lose ground – and the wind.

Patience. Rationalize. But we like to win – whatever the odds.

As I steer us back into the breeze, my mind dual-tracks. Sailing and strategy. Both risky but only one roils my stomach.

Rashmi shifts her weight as my next jibe is precise.

We’re no longer last.

Will Peder and Pia Pilkvist expect better? Reject us for shit boat-handling? Fail us – with the case wide open?

Unlikely. They implied time was tight. But They know something.

A boat closes on us. The next turn needs to be tight. No room for error.

Setup perfect. Jibe gentle. Danger passed.

Smiles. For now.

Mistakes have been made. We know we have a renegade copper. A police officer with a price. Our heads?

No suspects before we left Porthmadog. None now we are on our own.

We cut inside another boat on the next turn. Gain another place.

Sailing might become a serious pastime. Rashmi’s beaming’s face underlines that – if we can abandon swimming.

Never.

I glance at my watch. Not long left

Raucous cries ring from the shore. Local fans and tourists. Drowning out the roars from crews exhorting their partners for a final push.

 Our interaction is mental. Written on our faces and in our pounding blood. We are a team. Unstoppable.

Except in a regatta. Trailing in mid-pack – also-rans. Padrig and his racing partner win again.

“Do we congratulate them?” I ask. But Peder and Pia Pilkvist are waving us over to the night-black luxury sailing yacht that looms offshore.

We lower our sails as we draw alongside. Peder motions to the stern which rears over us. He throws us a line, and we secure our Aberdaron boat.

A metal ladder hangs off the yacht. We climb up, past the blood red name

“Welcome aboard the Njörðr Hämnaren,” says Pia, simpering like a snake. “She can out-sail most yachts in her class – when we choose to compete. Not today though.”

The couple lead us to the cockpit which I recognise as highly automated. A necessity with a minimal crew.

“Did you sail her here alone?” I ask, wondering if we are expected to help with the yacht.

“All the way,” says Pia. “With all the technology installed, especially the computer-controlled electric winches controlling the sails, it was leisurely.”

State-of-the-art navigation equipment from what I can tell. Someone has money from somewhere. Illegal goods?

“All we lack,” says Peder, “is a submersible.” He laughs. “Human divers are preferable – especially at night and close to the rocks.”

So, a night dive. No witnesses. What does that mean? Has the rogue cop set us up? Rocks are treacherous too.

Cold fingers crawl up my spine. T for Treachery.

“Our money. The risk – deep diving at night close to the shore.” My lowered voice is not fake concern. Every tattoo screams. “Five thousand pounds at least.”

Am I provoking a fight? Or testing their commitment? Our worth?

“Acceptable.” Without hesitation. “But first, we move the Njörðr Hämnaren around the coast.” Pia’s mask slips. Warning light. “While you two check the equipment we acquired for you. Best scuba gear available.”

An attachment on the sonar depth indicator catches my eye. Like a vehicle tracker. My glance shifts to an out-of-place garden gnome. On a yacht? An electronic component smuggled into Wales?

But the gnome is staged. For us.

Peter taps his watch.

“Time to run those safety checks in the aft cabin. Go below and it’s the one nearest the stern. We will tell you when we’ve reached the dive site.”

As we head into the plush space below, Rashmi says, “Every sense says get off this ride. Our cover is blown. But we are reduced to one choice. Dive.”

I squeeze her hand as we reach the smallest cabin and inside find the scuba gear.

Brand-new with labels still attached. Staging? Sizes are right. Air tanks are full. We run through all the checks Varley taught us.

“These gloves, boots and hood fit snugly. But we use our own special wetsuits – for luck,” says Rashmi. “And certainty.”

S for Safety and Security. T for Treacherous and Tanks. E for Electronics. P for Price.

STEP. Forward or into the unknown?

SABOTAGE – Saturday 25th July – Midnight

Stars shining on the sea should settle our nerves. Impossible now we are sure the scheming stinks.

“How will we find these containers you say were swept overboard during the storm?”

Peder hands Rashmi an electronic tracker.

“Switch this on and our cargo will be transmitting a signal. Simply follow that. When you find the cargo attach the items to the rapid deployment lift bags. Once inflated they will bring the cargo to the surface for retrieval. Straightforward.”

Mind racing. Hesitate from asking what the salvage is. My senses say don’t.

“How many containers? You’ve given us eight small bags.”

“Four to search for. Two lift bags per canister.”

Pia strides over, tapping her watch. “You better leave now.”

At the stern, we climb back down to our boat, already loaded with the scuba tanks and lifting devices.

We cast off and raise the sails. Our craft slices apart the sheen on the water from the moon and stars. Perfect weather.

Sudden dread as spasms seize me.

P for Panic but also Precautions. Slow breathes.

The mini-sonar directs us over the area where the cargo should be. We lower the sea anchor and release the rapid deployment lift bags – weighted to sink steadily on a long hawser.

A last scrupulous check of each other’s equipment, then we drop backwards over opposite sides into the serene darkness. The beams of our head-lamps stab into the depths.

The strengthening beeps guide our cautious descent.

When we reach the bags, we lower them. Deeper, past jagged rocks. Seaweed. Curious fish.

Containers – canisters designed for underwater recovery. Not just for the deck of a Swedish ship in the storm. Not swept overboard but jettisoned.

I sign Rashmi to strap two balloons to the first container as I adjust their regulator pressure gauges for the correct depth. Then we scrutinize the containers. No signifying marks. Nothing to divulge the contents. But designed for lifting straps.

However, there is a suitable slit where I insert our own tracker – a signal we can follow. Security 101.

We open the valves on the two scuba cylinders that inflate the bags. Swim clear as the bags lift and carry the container towards the surface.

Same procedure with the second canister – and second transponder. Two more balloons. Then the final two canisters.

A for Ascent.

Almost over. Tension not disappearing. Breathe slowly. Don’t waste precious air.

Our ascent takes longer as we need a stage decompression. Longer climb than our descent and time working on the seabed. Time enough for the waves to have picked up above.

The beginning of a squall.

No sign of the rapid deployment lift bags.

P for Panic as my stomach churns.

But the Njörðr Hämnaren has sailed closer. They’ve already winched the cargo aboard.

Relief and Apprehension.

We take off our tanks to simplify our return journey.

Tattoos hammer T for Timing.

“Too easy,” I say to Rashmi. “Be prepared for anything.”

Like the semi-automatic shots that spray the sea. R for Revenge.

Pia hails us. “Time to stay where you are, detectives. Yes, we know who you are and thank the North Wales Police for their assistance. Lagens väktare. May you swim in peace.”

I dive at Kama as I spy the carelessly stowed spare sail and scream.

TRAP. The boat is ripped apart.

Tune in later today for Act Three, the Finale of Azure Spark