#WEP/IWSG August Challenge – Freedom of Speech

Crime never sleeps.

My apologies for the late appearance of Post IV in this year’s WEP/IWSG challenge – the Year of the Art. My first Covid-19 vaccine knocked me sideways and I’m still recovering – and dreading the second one.

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.

So, once more I’m going down the stand-alone path with my dynamic Welsh duo.

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:

https://writeeditpublishnow.blogspot.com

DISRUPTED DIRECTIVE

2014

Friday, 9th May

This shadow is ideal. Perfect for surveillance without drawing attention to ourselves.

Jeans, sweatshirts, and suede jackets ensure Kama and I merge into the crowd gathered in the hall.

The debate has been civil, although the candidates have all made it clear where they stand on Europe.

In versus out. Vocal arguments with tinges of indecision.

But no sign of the anticipated public order threats – yet.

A smartly dressed man in a pale suit smiles at the gathering, pleads with weaving gestures. “We’re British, we’re not European. One language ensures we remain the United Kingdom. Do you want to be ruled by other nations? Forced to speak other languages? We must reject their unjust directives.”

The Green candidate appeals for calm as several people shout from the audience, pointing at the outspoken man.

I turn to Kama. “He’s deliberately provoking us – the Welsh.”

“He’s the intended target – supposedly. Watch for trouble. He’s setting himself up for attacks.”

Two young women leap up, dressed in our norm of black leathers, and shout – in Welsh. “You’re the invader forcing us to accept your rule – talk your language.”

“Speak English, please, not your foreign gibberish. Nobody can understand you. We don’t have translators here like the European Parliament.”

Another candidate, the woman from Plaid Cymru stands and asks first in Welsh. “Stand if you understood these sisters.” Then as almost everyone stands, she adds in English. “Our Brexit colleague has the right of free speech…” She pauses, then continues, “But not the right to claim his language should dominate us. Cenedl heb iaith, cenedl heb galon.”

“My apologies. However, isn’t the law upheld in English. What do my seated friends say?”

Before Kama or I can correct his legal presumption as officers who caution bi-lingually, some seated guys leap to their feet.

They mask their faces as they throw projectiles at the dais and into the crowd.

Flour bombs explode.

“Not just flour.” I choke as Kama shoves a scarf on my mouth.

“Tear gas. We need to protect the bigot.”

“Unless he planned this evening.” Blinded by flour and tears,we stumble towards the platform.

No sign of the candidate. Abducted or scarpered?

We keep searching amidst the confusion. No sign of him or the masked bombers.

Image: Bert Kaufmann/Adam Walker

Monday, 12th May

A bolt hole for a scared politician? Or for a devious one?

But the campaign office echoes others I’ve seen. Diligent drones. Harassed helpers. Flyers and posters everywhere. Clicking keyboards.

“Morning officer. Have you arrested those protesters? The ones trying to challenge my freedom of speech?” The instigator ignores my initial attempt to reply and ploughs on. “Flour bombs and tear gas are offensive weapons—”

“We have a couple of protestors in custody.”

He smiles, continuing to ignore the plain clothes officer beside me – Kama. Did he see us at the meeting – together? And standing with the other Welsh speakers? Obviously not.

“Is this one of them? Come to apologise?”

Kama produces her warrant card. “I was hoping you could answer a few questions as I’m leading the investigation. Provoking unlawful violence is a serious offence under the 1986 Public Order Act. A person guilty of such an offence could face imprisonment for six months or a hefty fine. Shall we talk here or have you a separate office, please?”

His demeanour and voice waver. “Well, um… You’d better follow me…officers. Anything to help…resolve any misunderstanding.”

His office is spacious and uncluttered, except for the electoral material promoting his attempt at election in ten days.

He sits behind his desk, waving us to the seats on the other side.

The desk is meant to be formidable and intimidating. But Kama has dented his defences already.

“Those hooligans misunderstood. I have the right to say what I believe – as do they. But throwing an offensive missile must be a crime—”

“As is orchestrating this event. The statements from your supporters make it clear what you intended—”

“My supporters? You must be mistaken. Those were Welsh Nationalists – they deliberately attacked me. My human rights were violated, as they have been throughout this campaign. Abuse, slander, and lies.”

Kama smiles, then turns to me. “Did the flour bombers speak any Welsh, PC Anwyl?”

“Only a few badly constructed and pronounced curses. But they declared their allegiance to a British nationalist cause – like yours, sir.” Then, I give him the statutory caution and warning against further incitement to violence and electoral fraud, adding, “Or we will be obliged to report you to the relevant European authorities.”

He leans forward, but his threatening gesture is empty. “I don’t recognise that authority, but I will prove the people are on my side at the polls. Trust me. Thank you, ladies.”

Dismissed, we stand, satisfied the press coverage of the incident will undermine his chances.

As we leave his bolt hole, I notice a framed print on his wall. Norman Rockwell’s famous “Freedom of Speech” painting. I point at the print, then turn back towards our English fanatic.

“Free Speech – a right none of us should abuse. And to close the debate, I’ll add, Cenedl heb iaith, cenedl heb galon – meaning, ‘A nation without language is a nation without heart’. Remember that.”

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), “Freedom of Speech,” 1943. Oil on canvas, 45 3/4″ x 35 1/2″. Story illustration for “The Saturday Evening Post,” February 20, 1943. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections. ©SEPS: Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis, IN.

878 words FCA

The ‘Freedom of Speech’ prompt triggered thoughts about political hustings in England and Wales as I was involved on the fringes of politics for decades.

As I said in my last WEP/IWSG Challenge post, conservation and environmental threats have concerned me for decades – peace issues included. I was a member of the Green Party for years, involved in various elections – once as a candidate – and worked with Green politicians in other countries, including some elected members of parliaments (Mps and MEPs).

So, I welcomed a chance to involve Sparkle and Kama in an election incident, one that slotted into their storyline – preferably an election I voted in. After some rabbit-hole research into Welsh elections, I chose the 2014 European Elections: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_European_Parliament_election_in_the_United_Kingdom.

In this fictional scenario, I envisaged the provocative right-wing candidate losing – and in reality, the most extreme candidates did lose. But sadly, in my opinion, Britain later left the European Union. Although green in my beliefs, I voted in 2014 for the Plaid candidate, Jill Evans as she was an effective MEP and an active  member of the Green / European Free Alliance (EFA) Group.

#WEP/IWSG April Challenge – Freedom Morning

Crime never sleeps.

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.

Many thanks for reading. Please note, my writing situation is in a poorly state – more details here: https://rolandclarke.com/2021/04/07/iwsg-co-author-search/

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: 

https://writeeditpublishnow.blogspot.com

STIRRED EMBERS

2015

Saturday, March 21st

Kama slips a hand across the table, candlelight glinting on her teasing eyes.

She squeezes my fingers. “The other diners are too engrossed in enjoying the food. That’s why this is the best place to celebrate your 21st.”

“With promised enjoyments to come.” I kiss her hand.

“You deserve a weekend of pleasure, before returning to Detective Training. Not that you need any—”

I grin as she knows there were few setbacks.

Raised voices break our focus. Two couples are arguing from separate tables.

Amser ichi adael Cymru,” shouts a grey-haired man as his partner gesticulates.

A tweed-suited customer retorts, “Speak English – not your foreign gibberish.”

“You’re the damn foreigner. I said, ‘Time for you to leave Wales’- in Welsh.”

“This is our home. We’re staying. What can you do? Torch our house as you did thirty years ago? Hopefully, this time they’ll lock you up for good.”

The Welshman raises his fists. “Or I can—”

A colourfully dressed man intervenes. “If you can’t be civil to each other, I must request you leave my restaurant. Or I’ll call the police.”

“He started this,” shout both men. The owner holds them apart.

As they continue to quarrel, turning their abuse on the coloured owner, Kama and I cross over.

We show our warrant cards.

Kama tries to calm the situation. “If everything stops now, we can continue to enjoy what should be a relaxing evening.”

“You can’t understand. You’re like this darkie,” says the Welshman, “Another outsider.”

She laughs, replying in our mother tongue. “Cefais fy ngeni ym Mhontypridd – I was born in Pontypridd.”

“And my family have farmed here for centuries. We don’t condone arson, but this man has served his time—”

“—and you have a right to live here. Let’s all get on then”.

“Like you two dikes?” The English woman jabs a finger at us. “The police shouldn’t take people like you – slobbering across the table at each other.”

I suppress my frustration. “Shame you don’t respect the law – or the arresting officers. Incitement to violence is—”

The woman glances around the staring restaurant. She grabs her belongings and slips out, leaving her husband to pay.

One gesture from Kama, and the Welsh couple go as well.

“Thank you. I can do without customers like that. I thought I’d left prejudice behind in Trinidad. Having mixed race parents prepared me for the worst.”

“From the food, I’d say a fusion of African, Chinese, and Indian.” Kama points at the reproduction painting near our table. “And that.”

“Claude Clark’s Freedom Morning has guided my approach to life. Indirectly the reason I named this refuge Nalaikku—”

Tomorrow in Tamil,” we reply.

453 words FCA

For more on the theme of art, check out the amazing WEP/IWSG Challenges Calendar for 2021 with designs by Olga Godim:

https://writeeditpublishnow.blogspot.com/2020/12/announcing-wep-2021-calendar.html

For more on Claude Clark see:

https://www.claudeclark.com/

And for other April entries visit:

https://writeeditpublishnow.blogspot.com

#WEP/IWSG February Challenge – The Kiss

Crime never sleeps.

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: 

https://writeeditpublishnow.blogspot.com

LIP SERVICE

2015

Friday, January 9th

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.

1077 words FCA

For more on the theme of art, check out the amazing WEP/IWSG Challenges Calendar for 2021 with designs by Olga Godim:

https://writeeditpublishnow.blogspot.com/2020/12/announcing-wep-2021-calendar.html

For more on Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss see:

For details on St Dwynwen’s Day:

https://www.visitwales.com/info/history-heritage-and-traditions/st-dwynwens-day

And for other February entries visit:

https://writeeditpublishnow.blogspot.com

#WEP/IWSG October Challenge – Grave Mistake

Crime never sleeps.

Fall fills the air here in Idaho, and Halloween creeps closer. I’m dreaming of autumn leaves back in the UK – well, Wales.

That should mean more Sparkle Anwyl mind games and the next chapter in the six-part story called Custody Chain’. Yes, that is below but a few confessions:

  1. My mind is not yet working at full deviousness. Well, I’ve been distracted by time-wasting games. Not health issues this time.
  2. I wrote this chapter soon after the last one appeared, and the comments inspired me to work on the story. I have edited it in the last day or so, but the changes were minor.
  3. However, Snowdon Shadows have not been absent from my thoughts as I’m devising a novella for NaNoWriMo 2020. The entry called ‘Lost Sheep’ has a premise linked to Sparkle: A retired Welsh farmer faces challenges to his faith when his legacy is threatened. [Clue: Grandfather.]
  4. Unfortunately, the revision of my first Sparkle Anwyl novel, ‘Fevered Fuse’  is more like an ongoing stoppage. Perhaps working on related tales might rekindle the fire – or sparkle in the gloom.
Graphics by Jonathan Temples – 
http://jonathantemples.co.uk/

Without further excuses, let’s move on.

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

Chapter One – Café Terrace:

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

Chapter Two – Masterpiece:

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

Chapter Three – Cryptograph:

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

Chapter Four – Umbrage:

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

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

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

Apologies if I’m slow to respond or slow to visit your posts.

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

https://writeeditpublishnow.blogspot.com

CHAPTER FIVE – CYPRESSES

2014

Thursday, March 20th

Dappled sunlight plays among the trees as we return to the barn in Llanystumdwy. The tranquillity deceives and suggests Tesni and Urien’s haven is safe.

But it won’t be until the threat of Barangó Fekete is removed.

Urien had admitted that the extortionate debt arose as the gang leader had secured the papers for Csilla to leave Hungary – at a price.

The price is now Tesni’s artistic talent.

“Will Fekete use his contacts to kidnap Urien’s daughter?” I have my evolving idea but trust Kama’s opinion – always.

“Unlikely. He’ll know the barn is under police protection. And with his sister Tűzvirág in custody here – until his lawyers get her extradited back to Hungary – he’ll find another way.”

“Like threatening someone else Urien cares about. Aranka – Csilla’s sister – even if he’s married to her.”

“His record from Interpol shows his methods are ruthless, and Urien described the marriage as violent – Aranka being the victim. At least, he appears to care for their children.”

We approach the barn as PCSO Lleilu Dace opens the door.

“Mr Cadwallader is anxious about his daughter, as am I. She’s become obsessed with drawing the same images repeatedly. It’s been hard to persuade her to eat or sleep since you left on Tuesday with the suspect.”

My tattoos tingle and I tap out the first letter of a mnemonic. C for Compulsion.

“There must be a reason. Art is her life. Kama and I will see if we can help.”

Tesni is in the studio section of her open-plan home. Light from the picture windows floods the area, flickering across numerous sketches in charcoal and paint.  From sepia shades to vibrant colours, the swirling strokes are distinctively Vincent Van Gogh – and his wonderful cypress trees.

“Some of these I recognise,” says Kama, “but why those trees?”

I shudder. “Across much of Southern Europe, cypresses are most often associated with churches and graveyards.”

Tesni watches my lips, then nods and signs. “Vincent – final creations in Provence feature cypresses.”

Urien steps into the sunlight and gestures to an evolving painting. “Those swirls are rising to form halos around the crescent moon and solitary star. That has to be Road with Cypress and Star – painted just two months before Van Gogh’s death.” He grabs his daughter’s hands. “What does this mean? A final painting?”

“No. To save Aunt Aranka.”

My tattoos sting and I wince. But I tap out letter clues on my bracer. C for Cypress and Compulsion. A for Aranka and Artist. G for Grave and Grief – but also Gift and Grifter. A mnemonic forms: CAGE – E for Entrapment. 

“This buys her freedom? Or Barangó wants more.”

“He thinks that. But this is trap. We set together.”

I stare at the emerging painting and search for clues. No crow sigil in the corner? But as a forgery worth millions, it would be traceable with one.

Urien grins and embraces his daughter. “Clever and subtle. Hidden provenance.” He gestures at the cottage emerging on the upper right. A distant crow hovers between two cypresses. “Only an expert in bespoke forgeries would spot that.”

“Like Desmond Deckard.” Kama turns to me. “Do we trust him to negotiate the deal? Or would that be a grave error?”

Monday, March 24th

The owners of Orme Replica Masterpieces Emporium in Llandudno gaze at the painting in disbelief. Only screeching seagulls and early tourist traffic on the seafront break the silence.

Desmond and Carys Deckard glance at each other, nodding. The sister speaks first.

“If we didn’t know the original of Road with Cypress and Star was safe in the Kröller-Müller Museum in the Netherlands, we’d say this was genuine—”

“Instead of another exquisite Van Gogh replica by Turbulent Sky. Except—” Desmond peers more closely in the lower corners of the oil painting. “Her sigil is missing. Why?”

“So it can be sold as genuine – to the right collector.” I wink at Kama. “We even have a desperate buyer – in Hungary.”

“Or rather a dealer who doesn’t have your scruples or morals. Can we trust you to make the exchange – knowing what we’ve told you?”

The siblings smile. “We have terms.”

Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890), Road with Cypress and Star (1890), oil on canvas, 92 x 73 cm, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo. WikiArt.

Sunday, March 30th

Grave Mistakes as Priceless Van Gogh “Road with Cypress and Star” Painting Stolen

The Associated Press reported Friday that a priceless Van Gogh painting was stolen from a museum in the Netherlands, the home country of the post-impressionist painter, one of the most important figures in western art. Van Gogh died in 1890, when he was in his late 30s, committing suicide after a life of poverty, marred by mental illness and substance abuse.

The artwork – “Road with Cypress and Star” – was taken in a raid in the early hours of the morning. Dutch police have unmasked the culprits, according to AP.

Ironically, March 30 is Van Gogh’s birthday…he would have been 161 today.

**

Word Count 999: FCA

Comments are welcome as usual, and the following applies:

While exploring rabbit holes for this chapter, I found several fascinating and invaluable articles. When reality and fiction meet, sparks ignite the little grey cells.

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

#WEP/IWSG June Challenge – Urban Nightmare

Crime never sleeps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back though to Custody Chain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CUSTODY CHAIN

CHAPTER THREE – CRYPTOGRAPH

2014

Tuesday, March 18th

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

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

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

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

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

He falters. Tears streak his cheeks.

Seated beside his bed, Kama pats his arm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urien gestures at me. “Your personal cryptograph?”

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

“And the new angle?”

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

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

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

M E T

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

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

T for Turbulent Talent. S for Sky Sigil.

METS?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

METSUPI = IMPETUS

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

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

He collapses into the pillows, eyes closed.

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

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

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

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

***

Word Count 998: FCA

Comments are welcome as usual, and the following applies:

#WEP/IWSG February Challenge – Cafe Terrace

At the end of last year, I was in a dilemma over the themes for the 2020 WEP/IWSG Challenges and what I should do. I even ran a poll with 3 options, but it left me wavering between Skaði and Sparkle as the Facebook votes balanced the ones here.

I envisaged some Skaði tales in my Viking Age Alternative History timeline. I sketched a story with Skaði and a successful Vincent Willem van Gogh. But would such a devout Christian have allowed himself to be saved by a Norse goddess? Antique Vase in the desert and Agatha Christie?

Crime never sleeps.

Anyway, it’s now the Year of the Jackdaw, so Sparkle Anwyl returns in a six-part story called ‘Custody Chain’.

Enjoy this opening, and if you wish, please comment or suggest what happens next. Many thanks for reading.

Plus, ensure you visit all the other writers in this challenge via: https://writeeditpublishnow.blogspot.com/2020/02/wep-february-challenge-cafe-terrace.html

CAFÉ TERRACE

2014

Sunday, March 16th

Waves sigh up the beach as I gaze into the starry night over Cardigan Bay.

But I’m distracted.

Where is Kama? She’s late and I feel exposed in the black dress she insisted I wear for my 20th birthday meal.

Some customers at Surf’s Up have attempted pick-up lines. But saying I’m waiting for the woman of my dreams scares them off.

The bar is packed, so escaping onto the balcony was my only option. I’ve kicked off my ankle boots and when I need my glass refilled, the owner Heilyn Trevor appears.

Followed by Kama in an emerald and black Kandangi Saree.

“Sorry cariad, Ffion assigned me a new case. I pulled the files as your insight is devious. But after our meal.”

I silence her with a long kiss. “For you, I might wait.” Her excuse triggers questions. “Tempt me with a taster. Then we eat.”

We laugh.

“In brief. A collectible forgery of a Van Gogh painting was stolen last night from a connoisseur’s Llanystumdwy home. And he was savagely assaulted. The files are at home so can wait. First, our tryst at Agnelli Trattoria.”

*

I’m sated by the celebratory Italian meal – and our after-dinner exertions. But I want more. My mind switches from caresses to clues.

So far, the burglary details are minimal.

“Professionals if they breached the victim’s high-tech security.” Crime scene photos present another angle. “Vicious pros. The assault looks–”

“—excessive.” Kama paces. “The collector, Urien Cadwallader is unconscious in hospital. CCTV tapes wiped. No prints. No witnesses as the house is hidden in a wood.”

C for Collector. E for Expert. R for Replica. T for Tapes. A for Art.

TRACE

“Did the crime scene assessment produce anything to show the art’s origin?”

I lean over Kama as she opens her laptop and accesses the case on the internal North Wales Police site.

“This contract suggests our connoisseur wanted to ensure the provenance – even for a forgery.”

“A replica by a ‘reputable artist’ with the pseudonym Turbulent Sky. My tingling tattoos imply it’s relevant.”

Kama strokes my face.

“Then it is. The painting was acquired from Orme Replica Masterpieces Emporium in Llandudno six months ago.”

I groan. A dealer on West Conwy Coastal’s patch. My involvement slips away. I’m a PC with no standing outside South Gwynedd.

Kama reads my dejection. “But I’m a Detective Sergeant, so as our DCI, Ffion can authorise I interview the dealer – with my PC assistant.”

True, even if we risk questions about our relationship.

*

Monday, March 17th

Behind his glasses, Desmond Deckard’s eyes study us as we show our warrant cards.

Neatly dressed, even if the plaid flannel suit fails to hide his anxiety. Guilt or habit?

“Always happy to oblige the Heddlu,” he says in posh English. “Especially when they send such exquisite coppers. Another inspection? You’ll find everything in order.”

He grandly gestures around his gallery at familiar masterpieces and obscure art pieces. Forgeries?

“Every replica is genuine and documented as required. All legal, ladies.”

Kama leads. “By genuine you mean by artists working openly making copies.”

“Paying tribute to the Masters and making accurate replicas for art connoisseurs. Each one carries a subtle statement that it is not a forgery but an object of devotion.”

Glossy words to hide the reality? Or genuine talent? Manipulated for profit?

Kama will get to the truth. “So, all traceable. Tell us, Mr Deckard, about these artists, especially Turbulent Sky, please.”

My fingers tap studs. T for Turbulent Talent.

 “Every artist is a modern master with temperament burning from the canvas, clay, or chosen medium.”

“And Turbulent Sky. What can you tell us about them?”

Deckard shakes his head. “I’m afraid details on my artists and clients are confidential. I’m their confessor.” He grins.

“Unwise when a reproduction of Van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night has been stolen, and its collector’s in hospital.” Kama hands him a copy of his contract. “We appreciate your assistance.”

S for Shamefaced Suspect.

“Turbulent Sky is a unique talent I’ve nurtured. Well, I encourage them all – even if some galleries are outraged by my support. Antagonism forces artists to adopt alter-egos. If I supply Turbulent Sky’s details, treat her gently, she’s had it rough.”

We promise, so he scrawls on a compliment slip.

“Anything else, ladies?”

“What’s the value of the reproduction?” asks Kama.

“Turbulent Sky’s crow sigil commands exceptional prices, as does an original Van Gogh. He died penniless – a fate never to be shared. She tries to emulate all elements, so Cadwallader paid five thousand in this instance. If this was an attempt at forgery, the work would have earned her millions.”

A for Affluent. R for Rarity. S for Sigil.  

STARS.

Van Gogh’s star-filled sky reproduced by Tesni Szarka.

In Llanystumdwy.

Llanystumdwy, with its pretty bridge across the Afon Dwyfor.
http://people.virginia.edu/~hnw/Lleyn/Lleyn3.htm

*

Tesni’s home is a barn in the same woodland as the crime scene.

“A witness we missed?” Kama points through the trees to a walled retreat. “Uniform overlooked this barn.”

“I suspect my colleagues never realised it was converted.”

I press a button beside the yellow door. An oscillating buzz echoes inside.

Cautious footsteps.

The door camera lights up, so we show our identity.

A young woman, my age, opens the door. Dark, high cheekbones, sculpted face. Riveting eyes. 5 foot 6 inches in jeans and sunflower T-shirt – Vincent’s work.

She says nothing but touches her ears and mouth.

Then, she signs. “If you understand BSL, come in. What can I do?”

I sign back, “We both know British Sign Language – my sister taught us. We’re investigating the theft of a Turbulent Sky painting. We have questions.”

She smiles, then leads us into her studio home.

The smell of paint, varnish and coffee percolate the air. Her workspace is a chemistry lab to age her art decades in days.

On the wall are Van Gogh masterpieces. All with the crow sigil.

On an easel is Café Terrace at Night.

***

Word Count 991: FCA

Comments are welcome as usual, and the following applies: