Post II in this year’s WEP/IWSG challenge and on the theme, the Year of the Art. As before, this theme ties in to my novella for last year’s challenges, the six-part story called ‘Custody Chain’.
Although this year’s posts are not another ongoing case for Sparkle Anwyl and Kama Pillai of the North Wales Police, I’ve attempted something else involving them.
Another Snowdon Shadows novella was too daunting – and a commitment too far. Although I managed to eke out the end of ‘Custody Chain’ sentence by sentence, I wasn’t in the right space to do that again.
So, once more I’m going down the stand-alone path with my dynamic Welsh duo.
Apologies, the word count was over the limit – but then I over-edited it…………………. or something. With the deadline imminent, I’m resisting the urge to put the details back. Sorry.
If you wish, please comment, or suggest what could be missing.
By friends-request, last month’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group post was not farewell. So, I’m back grinding keys – well, mis-stabbing…hunt & peck fails. Hence, this post has been assembled over time so bear with the weirdness.
On one score, there has been little progress on Fevered Fuse – and other writing. That- has ground to almost nothing. To recap: at first, it was distractions, until I realised my health had taken a dive too. I had problems typing, even when my brain was frazzled.
Basically, I fear Fevered Fuse will never be ready for my editor, let alone a publisher. It seems even less likely the graphic novel concept will progress, or any of the subsequent novels in the Snowdon Shadows series. My Unfinished Oeuvre? The first sequel, Fates Maelstrom was written as the opener, but after draft 5 I decided Fevered Fuse was needed to establish the series. However, FM needs a rewrite to reflect events in FF and to change the POV.
However, none of these scribblings will reach an audience now – even if I resolve some of the problems by using Dragon Naturally Speaking. [Voice recognition doesn’t work so well if one’s speech is slurred by health issues. So, this post has necessitated multiple typing sessions.]
But there may be another solution: find a co-author who relates to my characters and can make sense of my ‘vision’. When I thought about that idea, I wondered about my beta-diversity reader. So, I approached her and although she declined due to her workload, she suggested a young not currently employed lesbian college grad / English major could be a good partner. I accepted her offer to ask around among her friends who have kids about that age.
If that route doesn’t work out, does anyone have a suggestion? Is anyone out there interested? Or do you know someone who would be able to help?
The key aspects: this is a police procedural series with two lesbian MCs, set in North Wales, UK. Much of the research has been done, although more is sure to be required. Although some elements like specific towns are real, I’ve created elements – like the family farm. I’ve devised much of the backstory and plots across those first four novels mentioned above.
But I’m open to fresh ideas.
Anyway, I’m stopping here before my brain or fingers freeze.
I’m back at the keyboard and ready to address the other reason I’m here – the monthly IWSG post.
First, thanks to the Ninja Captain, Alex J. Cavanaugh for all you do – and thanks for creating the Insecure Writer’s Support Group without whom my writing would be non-existent…and last month’s post might have been ‘farewell’.
Second, my thanks to all those whose encouraging comments added to Alex’s gentle push. Many thanks too, for the reading guidance and support. I just wish I’d helped you guys as much.
Anyway, don’t forget to visit real writers via the IWSG site, and for better answers to this month’s challenging question.
Although the question is optional, I’m again tempted to answer.
April 7 question – Are you a risk-taker when writing? Do you try something radically different in style/POV/etc. or add controversial topics to your work?
Risk or radical? Sounds more like my pre-retirement career choices/actions. Attempting to sell organic produce 40 years ago was ‘cranky’…but not my writing.
My journalism was non-controversial – except one piece on a high-profile doping case.
When I focused on fiction, I chose the mystery genre, although as a teenager I wrote SF and fantasy. I admit I’ve wandered into other genres – like alternative history- but no risks. Unless the hunting debate in Spiral of Hooves is deemed controversial – the real-life debate can be violent.
Controversies were evaded in my writing – murders aside. Until my current project – the Snowdon Shadows series.
At first, the series started with another 3rd person POV, mystery set in the UK – Fates Maelstrom. Then my rebel detective emerged – Sparkle Anwyl.
She wanted me to write 1st person – a radical change, but not a risk as we had our reasons. But the next revision/rewrite of FM will mean major POV shifts, from multiple 3rd person to 1st. However, for now I need to focus on earlier Sparkle cases in Fevered Fuse – drafted in 1st person POV from the start.
Typically, Sparkle refused to conform – not surprising for a girl from a nonconformist (Welsh Presbyterian) family. Except her rebellion proved radical – and challenging to write. Mid-case, she chose to identify as a lesbian. Controversial in her family and areas of her world, but not in the writing world – although, some readers might refuse to read such stories.
I’d already explored the fringes of diversity in the early drafts of Fates Maelstrom, with a Romany female MC and a mixed-race male MC. But researching and understanding the lesbian psyche and writing from Sparkle’s POV has proved challenging – and rewarding.
However, that means I need help if my writing is not relinquished.
How can I be repetitive asking you to agree these guys are the best? Especially as they all have concerns, fears, and insecurities. But they struggle on, so ticker-tape applause for all of them – plus toasts with the best brew available.
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.
For more on the IWSG monthly post and links to other participants visit:
This year’s WEP/IWSG challenge theme, the Year of the Art, ties in to my novella for last year’s challenges, the six-part story called ‘Custody Chain’.
I was wary of attempting another ongoing case for Sparkle Anwyl and Kama Pillai of the North Wales Police, but I sensed many of you would expect something else involving them.
However, another Snowdon Shadows novella was too daunting – and a commitment too far. Although I managed to get there, I had to eke out the end of ‘Custody Chain’ sentence by sentence – sometimes one each day.
So, I’m going down the stand-alone path, although there will be a few links – beyond my dynamic duo.
Apologies, the word count is over the limit – but let’s move on.
If you wish, please comment, or suggest what links are ongoing.
Many thanks for reading.
As always, apologies if I’m slow to respond or slow to visit your posts.
Plus, ensure you visit all the other writers in this challenge via:
Surf crashes onto the beach, churning the sand and tossing seashells aside. Rollers rush the rocks bordering the bay.
Perfect for thrill-seeking surfers, but treacherous for casual swimmers. Deceptive currents.
Another challenge for Kama and me. Nothing deflects us from our dawn swim.
We race into the roiling sea, limbs driving us out until Morfa Bychan disappears.
Then we turn for shore and breakfast.
A familiar figure waits for us. A brunette in uniform, with sparkling eyes – and a worried expression.
PCSO Lleilu Dace, the police community support officer, who proved so invaluable on an art theft case the previous year.
She waves as we walk ashore.
“I knew you’d both be here, so wanted to catch you off-duty. Sorry for the intrusion—”
“—anytime. What’s the problem?” Kama’s tone is calm and encouraging.
I find myself reading Lleilu’s lips. The case had involved Tesni Szarka, a deaf painter.
“Don’t take this wrong. I’m not proper uniform and certainly not a detective—”
“But you’re part of the team with vital input. What’s happened? Sexism?”
“Too often – some of your colleagues expect me to make their tea, even when they are capable. No, it’s the paperwork. It has to stop.”
I share her frustration. Time sheets, surveys, assessments, as well as our regular case reports.
“We do depend on non-police staff to type up our Smartphone notes.” Kama shakes her head. “But only if we’re stretched and we shouldn’t expect PCSOs to do that. You have key support roles – and you’ve proved invaluable. You should talk to DCI Baines – she’d understand.”
Lleilu shakes her head. “It’s just my observation, not an official complaint. That would require triplicate form-filling. Paperwork will be the kiss of death for real policing. Anyway, I’m going for a swim.”
She slips out of her uniform, down to a swimsuit and a lithe body. Warmth spreads up to my face and I glance at Kama. Resist, her face says.
Lleilu plunges into the sea and begins to carve her way through the turbulent water.
Pounding. My chest. She’s disappeared. Undertow.
Kama and I dash in, diving underwater. Searching.
I find Lleilu fighting to surface. Fighting to breathe. Choking.
As I reach her, she collapses. Remain calm. Slow my racing heart.
I slip hands under her armpits, then kick to the surface, swimming parallel to the shore – out of the undertow.
Kama is beside us, guiding us back to the beach once we’re out of the undertow.
We lay Lleilu on the sand. Her pulse is weak. Not breathing. Kama presses her lips to another. I shiver. No. Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
Kiss of life.
Kama continues the methodical airway-breathing-circulation then chest compressions. Lleilu’s eyes flutter. No gasp for air.
My partner motions for me to take over. I press my mouth to Lleilu’s, pinching her nose – and praying.
She chokes up seawater, then forces a smile.
Sunday 25th January
Kama and I kiss, lips soft as tongues tease. Then we zip up our leathers over evening glad rags.
The front-door bell rings.
Lleilu – with a large package.
“Dydd Santes Dwynwen Hapus. I have a gift for you both – for saving me.”
She kisses us on both cheeks, then hands us the wrapped gift.
We undo the protective cloth, revealing a painting we will cherish.
“Tesni Szarka painted this replica. Dropped everything to finish it for—”
“St Dwynwen’s Day. Our own version of St Valentine’s Day – which we’re about to celebrate—”
“Join us – unless there’s someone—”
“Not yet, but he’s out there.”
I place the replica of Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss on our mantelpiece.
For more on the theme of art, check out the amazing WEP/IWSG Challenges Calendar for 2021 with designs by Olga Godim:
Winter must be here as we have settled snow here in Idaho, although later than a few places in the UK – well, they’ve had the first snow in Snowdonia days. Anyway, time to conclude my WEP/IWSG challenge novella, even though this challenge is not ‘official’.
Well, I had to conclude the case.
When Sparkle Anwyl and Kama Pillai began investigating the ‘Café Terrace’ theft, we didn’t know where their six-part story called ‘Custody Chain’would lead. However, Snowdon Shadows always throws up rabbit holes to test me. So, unsurprising, the villain of the case was shrouded in mystery.
But we have reached a conclusion, although it’s taken weeks of writing. NaNoWriMo 2020 was a related tale meant to rekindle the fire – or sparkle in the gloom. But that failed and since last month, I’ve had to eek out the end of ‘Custody Chain’ sentence by sentence – sometimes one each day.
But, as an inspirational postcard on my desk – from Writing.com – says:
A little progress each day
adds up to big results.
Despite everything, I finished, although the word count is over the limit – so, apologies. Anyway, let’s move on.
If you missed the first five parts of the story, or would like to refresh your memory, here are the links:
Tesni and Urien have left the Llanystumdwy barn’s safety, although PCSO Lleilu Dace is still with them and in touch with backup. We’ve ensured Tűzvirág had minimal contact with her brother, Barangó Fekete, and all attempts by her lawyers to have her sent back to Hungary failed.
Kama and I park our motorbikes in the dunes overlooking the shingle beach west of Criccieth. We’re far enough from the town for the area to seem deserted, bar a solitary woman with a dog.
Out in Cardigan Bay, a boat bobs on a sea anchor. A figure clutches a fishing rod at the stern.
I scan the boat with my binoculars. Suspicious?
“Shark fishing is dangerous, Sparkle. We knew the risk.”
“We were warned about Barangó Fekete’s long reach. It’s what we counted on – and on his greed.”
In a sheltered spot among the dunes, Urien and Lleilu are sitting on a rug with a picnic hamper – like holiday makers. Tesni has an easel with a canvas on it and is applying oil paint with a palette knife.
The distinctive bold Van Gogh strokes flow fast, although the image is Welsh – the boat in the bay. The blue and white waves have streaks of green and yellow, brightening the scene.
“The sea and fishermen. A tribute to his passion.” Tesni turns to explain, then signs. “In Vincent style. Not replica but Mediterranean colours. Changing as we are.”
“My daughter seems to be moving on. She insisted on coming here – and painting for herself. Is it safe? Are you the backup Lleilu mentioned?”
I need to reassure her, even if I’m uneasy. “We’ve someone watching this area – the backup is hidden. So, why this spot? It’s secluded and beautiful–”
“—Tesni received a postcard from her aunt Aranka.”
Urien produces a card of a Van Gogh seascape, with writing on the back in what must be Hungarian.
‘Most ugrik a majom a vízbe.’
“It says, ‘The monkey will now jump in the water’, meaning now we will see what happens.”
Tesni turns from her artwork and gestures at the card. “Seascape near Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. Painted by Vincent in June 1888 – from the beach, as sand grains found in the paint layers. Done at a fishing village in the south of France.” She points with her palette knife at the boat. “Real fisherman. Not our watcher. Here as expected. Vincent say, ‘There is safety in the very heart of danger’.”
Kama nods towards the boat. “That fisherman appears unwelcome. I suspect Aranka knew what would happen. We’ll investigate.”
Another morning swim is welcome, so I peel off my leathers. Forewarned we’re both wearing our neoprene costumes, so tumble like tourists into the surf.
The plunge invigorates. Cool and inviting.
When the bottom drops away, I dive, arms streamlined like an arrow. Slice underwater in a smooth breaststroke with a strong dolphin kick. Surfacing, I switch to a crawl away from the beach. Kama keeps pace beside me.
My head dips under the surface after each breath and we carve through the waves. A normal swim except we are on duty.
As we draw parallel to the boat, the fisherman watches intently. Although dressed the part, his gear is freshwater not sea angling. He jerks his rod up, tugging his line, then drops all the tackle and grabs a gaff, which he brandishes.
“Stay away. This here catch is mine.” His Black Country accent has a foreign edge – and menace. “Leave us now, or else.”
We tread water as he prowls. A splash behind the boat alerts me. I duck dive – deep and towards the sound.
A figure in scuba gear is working their way around the boat, spear-gun in their hands. As the weapon is levelled at Kama, I grab the diver and wrench it free. The figure whirls as another one surfaces by Kama.
But she back flips and lashes at him with her right foot. Then she grabs him in a neck lock, as I fend off the first with the butt of the spear-gun. Resist the blood pounding urge to use the spear. An arm-hold works – until a gaff forces me to duck.
Outnumbered – even in our element.
A blue and yellow shape powers up. Backup. POLICE HEDDLU on the air-tube sides.
An officer leaps from the rigid inflatable boat at the gaff-wielding fisherman and disarms him.
Our colleagues from the North West Police Underwater Search & Marine Unit haul the divers on board.
“Your DCI Baines told Inspector Varley you might have company.” As Kama and I board, the senior officer unmasks the two divers, then smiles. “Well, these guys are known to us – for evading smuggling charges.”
Once we have read the trio of attackers their rights and charged them, Kama confronts the fake fisherman. “Who arranged for you to be here? And don’t claim you were just fishing.”
“Anonymous request to be here.”
“In English? What for?” His twitching face glancing at the beach answers. “So, a passenger – and in Hungarian. Correct?”
He nods and I turn to Kama and speak in Tamil. “The long shadow – Barangó Fekete’s reach. Guess the painting wasn’t enough on its own. Time to close the trap.”
As night enfolds the barn at Llanystumdwy, we wait with Tesni, Urien, and Lleilu for news on the ‘art theft’.
The kidnappers are in custody – keeping Tűzvirág company.
The phone rings and Kama answers. As expected, it’s her friend in Interpol, Krystian Skala who heads the unit handling ‘the theft’.
“Arrested…attempting to sell the replica as genuine. To whom?”
She allows Krystian to explain, then updates us – facing Tesni so she can read her lips.
“Seems Fekete sold Tesni’s painting as the real one. He approached a collector of stolen art with a convincing explanation of how he acquired it—”
“Mentioning Tesni or the theft?”
“He described the theft in detail – the fabricated details the Dutch police ‘leaked’ on Interpol’s suggestion. Fortunately he was too greedy to realise the collector was co-operating with our continental colleagues.”
I laugh. “”Guess Fekete believed he’d get more for the stolen painting,so he had to create a fake custody chain. Foolish. Even if he secures a reduced sentence, his credibility as a criminal mastermind is unmasked. But he will be watched so you are always safe..”
Tesni smiles, then signs, “One must work and dare if one really wants to live – as Vincent said.”
One of my commentators gave me this link, which is brilliant: Doctor Who and Van Gogh:
As for other rabbit holes encountered while researching this chapter, I found several fascinating and invaluable articles, which helped me write this piece. I often say, when reality and fiction meet, sparks ignite the little grey cells.
Fall fills the air here in Idaho, and Halloween creeps closer. I’m dreaming of autumn leaves back in the UK – well, Wales.
That should mean more Sparkle Anwyl mind games and the next chapter in the six-part story called ‘Custody Chain’. Yes, that is below but a few confessions:
My mind is not yet working at full deviousness. Well, I’ve been distracted by time-wasting games. Not health issues this time.
I wrote this chapter soon after the last one appeared, and the comments inspired me to work on the story. I have edited it in the last day or so, but the changes were minor.
However, Snowdon Shadows have not been absent from my thoughts as I’m devising a novella for NaNoWriMo 2020. The entry called ‘Lost Sheep’ has a premise linked to Sparkle: A retired Welsh farmer faces challenges to his faith when his legacy is threatened. [Clue: Grandfather.]
Unfortunately, the revision of my first Sparkle Anwyl novel, ‘Fevered Fuse’ is more like an ongoing stoppage. Perhaps working on related tales might rekindle the fire – or sparkle in the gloom.
Without further excuses, let’s move on.
If you missed the first four parts of the story, or would like to refresh your memory, here are the links:
Dappled sunlight plays among the trees as we return to the barn in Llanystumdwy. The tranquillity deceives and suggests Tesni and Urien’s haven is safe.
But it won’t be until the threat of Barangó Fekete is removed.
Urien had admitted that the extortionate debt arose as the gang leader had secured the papers for Csilla to leave Hungary – at a price.
The price is now Tesni’s artistic talent.
“Will Fekete use his contacts to kidnap Urien’s daughter?” I have my evolving idea but trust Kama’s opinion – always.
“Unlikely. He’ll know the barn is under police protection. And with his sister Tűzvirág in custody here – until his lawyers get her extradited back to Hungary – he’ll find another way.”
“Like threatening someone else Urien cares about. Aranka – Csilla’s sister – even if he’s married to her.”
“His record from Interpol shows his methods are ruthless, and Urien described the marriage as violent – Aranka being the victim. At least, he appears to care for their children.”
We approach the barn as PCSO Lleilu Dace opens the door.
“Mr Cadwallader is anxious about his daughter, as am I. She’s become obsessed with drawing the same images repeatedly. It’s been hard to persuade her to eat or sleep since you left on Tuesday with the suspect.”
My tattoos tingle and I tap out the first letter of a mnemonic. C for Compulsion.
“There must be a reason. Art is her life. Kama and I will see if we can help.”
Tesni is in the studio section of her open-plan home. Light from the picture windows floods the area, flickering across numerous sketches in charcoal and paint. From sepia shades to vibrant colours, the swirling strokes are distinctively Vincent Van Gogh – and his wonderful cypress trees.
“Some of these I recognise,” says Kama, “but why those trees?”
I shudder. “Across much of Southern Europe, cypresses are most often associated with churches and graveyards.”
Tesni watches my lips, then nods and signs. “Vincent – final creations in Provence feature cypresses.”
Urien steps into the sunlight and gestures to an evolving painting. “Those swirls are rising to form halos around the crescent moon and solitary star. That has to be Road with Cypress and Star – painted just two months before Van Gogh’s death.” He grabs his daughter’s hands. “What does this mean? A final painting?”
“No. To save Aunt Aranka.”
My tattoos sting and I wince. But I tap out letter clues on my bracer. C for Cypress and Compulsion. A for Aranka and Artist. G for Grave and Grief – but also Gift and Grifter. A mnemonic forms: CAGE – E for Entrapment.
“This buys her freedom? Or Barangó wants more.”
“He thinks that. But this is trap. We set together.”
I stare at the emerging painting and search for clues. No crow sigil in the corner? But as a forgery worth millions, it would be traceable with one.
Urien grins and embraces his daughter. “Clever and subtle. Hidden provenance.” He gestures at the cottage emerging on the upper right. A distant crow hovers between two cypresses. “Only an expert in bespoke forgeries would spot that.”
“Like Desmond Deckard.” Kama turns to me. “Do we trust him to negotiate the deal? Or would that be a grave error?”
Monday, March 24th
The owners of Orme Replica Masterpieces Emporium in Llandudno gaze at the painting in disbelief. Only screeching seagulls and early tourist traffic on the seafront break the silence.
Desmond and Carys Deckard glance at each other, nodding. The sister speaks first.
“If we didn’t know the original of Road with Cypress and Star was safe in the Kröller-Müller Museum in the Netherlands, we’d say this was genuine—”
“Instead of another exquisite Van Gogh replica by Turbulent Sky. Except—” Desmond peers more closely in the lower corners of the oil painting. “Her sigil is missing. Why?”
“So it can be sold as genuine – to the right collector.” I wink at Kama. “We even have a desperate buyer – in Hungary.”
“Or rather a dealer who doesn’t have your scruples or morals. Can we trust you to make the exchange – knowing what we’ve told you?”
The siblings smile. “We have terms.”
Sunday, March 30th
Grave Mistakes as Priceless Van Gogh “Road with Cypress and Star” Painting Stolen
The Associated Press reported Friday that a priceless Van Gogh painting was stolen from a museum in the Netherlands, the home country of the post-impressionist painter, one of the most important figures in western art. Van Gogh died in 1890, when he was in his late 30s, committing suicide after a life of poverty, marred by mental illness and substance abuse.
The artwork – “Road with Cypress and Star” – was taken in a raid in the early hours of the morning. Dutch police have unmasked the culprits, according to AP.
Ironically, March 30 is Van Gogh’s birthday…he would have been 161 today.
Word Count 999: FCA
Comments are welcome as usual, and the following applies:
While exploring rabbit holes for this chapter, I found several fascinating and invaluable articles. When reality and fiction meet, sparks ignite the little grey cells.
Despite the disturbing world situation, I’ve found bits of time to devise more Sparkle Anwyl mind games as we continue the six-part story called ‘Custody Chain’. Meanwhile, the revision of my first Sparkle Anwyl novel, Fevered Fuse progresses in sporadic spurts too.
She said, “Sparkle’s character is so strong and is so appealing, esp. to the younger generation who also love anime and comics, I wondered if you have considered getting an illustrator to have a look at your book and possibly create a comic book character out of her as well?…”
After the feedback on the original image, the illustrator made some changes based on comments. My beta readers should spot the imagined scene from Fevered Fuse – with artistic licence.
What do you feel about the new image? An improvement? Hooked or confused?
Back though to Custody Chain.
If you missed the first two parts of the story, or would like to refresh your memory, here are the links:
Please note there may be minor oversights/errors/omissions which editing of the final story into a novella will address. Writing new chapters throws up new clues to fathom.
On my April Challenge post, some people again commented that Sparkle’s mnemonic usage needed to be explained better – comments echoed by my beta readers for Fevered Few. I have attempted to introduce an explanation in this episode, which I intend to use and evolve elsewhere – if the idea works.
Anyway, enjoy this new chapter, and if you wish, please comment, or suggest what happens next. Many thanks for reading.
Plus, ensure you visit all the other writers in this challenge via:
Kama and I interview Urien Cadwallader in his private hospital room. Will he allay our suspicions?
“I don’t remember much. Didn’t your colleagues discover more?”
“Anything you can add helps. Did you see anything before you were attacked?”
I flip open my notebook as Kama probes. The CSI report and Tesni’s statement pose questions.
Urien shakes his head. “I’m usually alone – since my wife died. I have my art collection. Comfort—”
He falters. Tears streak his cheeks.
Seated beside his bed, Kama pats his arm.
“Take your time, sir. Your wife must have been special.”
“For 35 years – until…” He shudders. “I prayed Csilla would survive the treatment but— too invasive. I could do nothing so lost her—”
As he starts to cough, I reach for his glass of water, passing it when he stops shaking.
“Lungs – damaged from her childhood back in Miskolc.”
“Hungary?” The names slots together – Aranka, Miskolc, Csilla, Szarka.
He stares at me. “You know already? I thought those records lost decades ago.”
“A deduction. Please, apologies if I’m wrong.”
He shakes his head, then leans back, head lolling. “So, nobody told you. How?”
“Sparkle thinks laterally. Give her clues and she finds new angles.”
Urien gestures at me. “Your personal cryptograph?”
I laugh. “Fancy word for my mind games – but worth adopting. I juggle the initial letters of clues to get a mnemonic so I remember them—”
“And the new angle?”
“Triggered by the mnemonic. Like say M for Miskolc, A for Art, G for Generosity, Y for Yearn, A for Analysis, R for Replica, S for Stars. Spelling M A G Y A R S – as in Hungary where Aranka is from. Plus, Csilla sounds Hungarian as does Szarka. Correct?”
Urien palms his hands and nods. “Impressive.” He closes his eyes. “We met in 1988 when I travelled to Hungary as a mineralogist – my initial career. I was looking for the Herman Ottó Museum and Csilla helped me. A nineteen-year-old engineering student, Csilla captivated me, so I helped her flee the country when it broke from the Soviet bloc.”
M for Minerals, E for Engineer, T for Travel.
M E T
“You married in Hungary?” Kama reaches a shared conclusion. “The missing records. And your child?”
Urien confirms our suspicions. “Born in 1994 – talented and special – our joy in turbulent days. We named her ‘warmth from the sun’ in Welsh. She’s worth everything I spend.”
T for Turbulent Talent. S for Sky Sigil.
“Does Tesni know she’s your daughter? Or only that her mother was Csilla Szarka?”
Tears return to streak his cheeks. “I’ve failed to confess my relationship, although I’ve always felt she senses all that matters. Her art is everything in her world. Yet Tesni visits often.”
“That’s why her DNA was all over your house. And why she pressed your panic pendant. Did you or Tesni switch off the security you’ve installed? We must identify your attacker.”
“Tesni would never leave me unprotected. The attacker must have disabled the CCTV so he remained invisible. Didn’t Tesni see him before summoning help?”
Kama scrolls on her phone. “Her statement reads, ‘The figure was in black and masked. When I cracked the vase on the masked head, the figure fled…’ Then she helped you and rescued the urn pieces.”
“With her mam’s ashes – Csilla helping still. Did Tesni repair the urn?”
I smile and bow my head. “An invisible repair. The painting is secure too.” U for Urn, P for Protection, I for Invisible. “A mistaken theft that triggered our investigation.”
METSUPI = IMPETUS
“Your case must be closed then. I’m anxious to return home, where my daughter has Csilla and our painting.”
“My cryptograph raises concerns. What compelled your wife to flee Hungary? Her health? Yet she left family behind. Aranka?”
He collapses into the pillows, eyes closed.
“Yes, Csilla was suffering. Her father worked in the steelworks, coming home covered in toxic dust. Love offered a route out of her urban nightmare. Economic recession was sweeping those industrial heartlands behind the Iron Curtain. Her sister, Aranka stayed with her profiteering husband.”
“Could your attacker have been Hungarian? They didn’t try to take the painting – just attacked you. Why?”
Urien shakes his head, but his glance wavers between us. We sense his fear.
“I made mistakes – and enemies. And my assailant must realise who Tesni is – even living apart. Help me protect my daughter, please?”
Word Count 998: FCA
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