#WEP/IWSG June Challenge – Great Wave

Crime never sleeps.

Post III in this year’s WEP/IWSG challenge and on the theme, the Year of the Art. 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

STORM STEALTH

2014

Thursday, January 2nd

Kama and I shine torches across the runway invaded by the turbulent waters of Cardigan Bay. Three figures wave from the top of a stranded Land Rover, so the flood rescue coxswain steers towards them.

“Thank God, you found us before this flood rose higher. Our vehicle died on us—”

“Where were you going this late?”’

“Back to Llanbedr. We’d just repaired our plane in a hanger when the storm hit.”

The team makes room in the inflatable for the three men, but then, despite the storm, I hear distressed animal noises from a nearby barn.

“We need to investigate.”

One of the men shakes his head. “It’s just a stray dog. We tried helping it earlier, but it just growled at us, then slunk off.”

“We’re shivering,” says another rescued man. “We need to get home, please.”

The men don’t want our interference but I ignore their protests. Who are they? Were they repairing a plane? Access to the Snowdonia Flight School is not difficult.

But to them we’re their rescuers – not off-duty police.

Glancing at my partner, I swing my legs over the side. “We can do this. If we have to swim, we can. We’ve handled worst conditions.”

Kama whispers to the coxswain, before lowering herself into the flood waters.

She shouts back to the team as thunder echoes around us. “Sparkle’s correct. It’s our job to save any life. We’ll catch up later.”

We wade through the rising water towards the barn. The sounds are not just a dog.

“Was that a growl?” asks Kama. “Sounded more like a macaque.”

As we approach the barn door, the alarm calls increase.

“But here? You know—”

“—because my relatives in Tamil Nadu live near a troop. But they’re endangered macaques.”

We ease the door ajar and slip inside. Our torches shine on four piercing golden eyes in black faces surrounded by silver-grey manes – large canines bared

Caged.

A male lion-tailed macaque, showing its canines as a threat display. – Photo: Kalyanvarma

And other cages with exotic creatures.

The floor ripples. Rising water. And writhing snakes trying to escape drowning.

Plastic water bottles float. I shiver. Bottles with captive birds.

“We have to call this in. Those guys were smuggling illegal wildlife – by plane if they even had one. The National Wildlife Crime Unit won’t be open until the morning. RSPCA has a 24 hour hotline.”

My colleague reports our find to control, who reassure us that the RSPCA will be alerted.

“Can we at least get the creatures above the water?” I pick up two bottles and put them on a nearby shelf.

“ Are you leaving the snakes for the Indian charmer?” Kama nudges me.

I point to handles at the end of the plastic containers with the struggling serpents. “The scumbags took some precautions even if it wasn’t through concern for these poor guys.”

When we have moved every creature above the flood, we head outside into the storm.

“If our smugglers are in Llanbedr, we need to arrest them now—”

“I asked the coxswain to call uniform and ensure they watch their home, until we relieve them.”

Wading to firm ground is harder now. In places we have to swim – no challenge, even clothed.

However, the rain and sea water has made the fields boggy between access roads.

It’s only when we reach the road from Shell Island to Llanbedr that we can walk, then jog. Kama contacts uniform and updates them.

“A squad car will meet you at the rail crossing in five.”

The smugglers haven’t bolted, guessing the extensive flooding will divert attention – wrongly.

When the door opens, the leader looks beyond us at the uniform support.

“Shouldn’t they be fighting crime?”

“Smuggling wildlife is a crime.” Kama produces her warrant card. “We’re arresting you for offences under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Please read them their rights PC Anwyl.”

Friday, January 3rd

Emergency services continue to be stretched in the morning, and Porthmadog Heddlu are in demand. Our colleagues are exhausted, but the phones keep ringing. From serious crimes to breached seawalls and flooded front-rooms, people feel we should be resolving their problems. The situation is exacerbated with the main coastal railway line closed, and many key A roads impassable.

Perfect conditions for crime.

Someone is pinning a poster to the wall – a reminder of the flood of assignments we face.

And for Kama and me, our task has escalated. Crimes involving wildlife are generally not seen as “serious”, or are not thought of as “real crimes”.

But these smugglers have been identified. We want to see them prosecuted – not fined a few pounds and slapped on the wrists..

“We need stronger sentencing guidelines in Wales,” says DCI Ffion Baines. “That would result in more appropriate punishments for such horrible crimes. And more likely deter potential offenders. If you present your case, then I’ll back you with the CPS.”

But with no sentencing guidelines, the Crown Prosecution Service may find this case impossible to deal with effectively.

“Smuggling might be the stronger avenue. Evading customs. Contravening flying regulations, maybe. Lateral approach might throw up other crimes – crimes carrying a real sentence.”

“Time to send a clear message to the rest of the world that this part of the UK is doing its bit to address the devastating impact of the illegal wildlife trade.”

I point at The Great Wave poster. “Time to unleash our own tidal wave.”

The Great Wave off Kanagawa, by Katsushika Hokusai

908 words FCA

Although the initial inspiration for this flash was The Great Wave prompt, my mind was swept up with images of the storm surges that hit North Wales in December 2013 and January 2014. We were due to move into our new home there on March 1st (St David’s Day), so we were concerned as Harlech is on the coast,

When we arrived, there were still signs of the storms, although nothing akin to the damage done in the Great Storm of 1987, which scarred the landscape in the SE, around my family home. However, the Welsh storms left their mark – here’s how the BBC reported the storm on January 3rd 2014:

https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-wales-25583295

Conservation and environmental threats have concerned me for decades, so a chance to involve Sparkle and Kama was inevitable.

A policeman holds a water bottle containing a yellow-crested cockatoo (REUTERS/Antara Foto/Risyal Hidayat)

For more on the despicable trade in illegal wildlife, visit:

https://www.traffic.org/

Finally, if you want to learn more about Lion-tailed Macaques, here’s a documentary made around Kama Pillai’s ancestral home:

#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 December Challenge – Unmasked

Crime never sleeps.

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:

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/

Chapter Five – Cypresses:

https://rolandclarke.com/2020/10/21/wep-iwsg-october-challenge-grave-mistake/

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

Anyway, enjoy this final 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 SIX – SEASCAPES

2014

Tuesday, April 8th

We’re apprehensive.

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.”

**

1093 words FCA

*

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.

https://marine-cafe.com/a-legacy-of-love-fishermen-in-vincent-van-goghs-art/

http://www.vangoghreproductions.com/art-techniques/van-gogh-art-techniques.html

On the theme of art, check out the amazing WEP/IWSG Challenges Calendar for 2021, which will yield some great pieces from colleagues:

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

#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 April Challenge – Antique Vase

Crime never sleeps.

As the Year of the Jackdaw unfolds, it’s time for more Sparkle Anwyl mind games as we continue the six-part story called ‘Custody Chain’.

Enjoy this 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

CHAPTER TWO – MASTERPIECE

2014

Monday, March 17th

Masterpiece. Same colours. Same brush-strokes. Smells original.

The stolen replica of Van Gogh’s Café Terrace at Night? I study the painting on the easel – and Tesni Szarka’s face. Expressive as her gestures.

The artist smiles and signs, “Once each masterpiece. Stay priceless.” Then she motions to seats by a picture window with a view through the trees towards the rippling stream. “Coffee?”

Kama nods. When we’re alone, and as I scrawl notes, she asks, “Did you pick up more?”

“Yes. Hidden meanings I need to interpret. Patience.”

I grew up learning the connotations beneath sign language. An advantage Kama needs.

My tattoos tingle. R for Rationale and Robbery. U for Unique and Urgent.

Kama is scanning the room.

My focus is on Tesni’s work desk positioned in the natural light. Her current project isn’t a painting.

A blue cracked ceramic pot. No clay. But a sanding tool. Smoky epoxy stings my nose.

R for Repair and Restoration – not Replica. C for Cracked Ceramic.

My analysis is interrupted by Tesni’s return with a cafetière, mugs, jug of milk and sugar bowl on a tray. But she’s noted my observation of her workspace.

“I broke. Repair. Return later.”

E for Epoxy and Excuse. S for Sander and Smoky – and Sapphire.

She pours the coffee and passes us mugs of welcome black warmth.

Kama points to the painting and signs. “And that?”

Tesni sips her coffee, brow furrowed.

“Painted for Urien. Someone try steal. Safer here. We protect. Together-please.”

A mnemonic forms – SECURE. Or RESCUE?  Both. She rescued the painting, so secure – if we help.

We need more and Kama delves.

“You in Uriel house? When?”

“To stop thief. I broke urn on head.”

U for Urn.

Hand Painted Plum Blossom Ceramic Cremation Urn – One World Memorialshttps://www.oneworldmemorials.com/products/ceramic-cremation-urn-blossom?utm_source=Pinterest&utm_medium=Social

More notes, then I scroll through my smart-phone to the active CSI report. Chips of pottery…ash.

Tesni tackled the thief – she was at the scene. I show Kama the evidence. “We’ll need her DNA.”

As Kama explains to Tesni about the sample, I examine the ‘weapon’. On closer inspection, the urn looks old – or aged with the same techniques Tesni uses.

“You made this? Another replica?”

She shakes her head and gestures distance. Then signs ‘Abroad’.

Another artist. From the plum blossom, I guess a replica of an antique Oriental vase.

“Whose ashes?”

“Urien’s wife.” Tesni drops her head in her hands and sobs.

L for Loss and Lonely. A for Ashes.

She calls the collector by his first name. Did she know his wife? Is that why she was at his house? Is he a loner too?

W for Wife. F for Familiarity.

Kama reaches out a hand and squeezes Tesni’s knee. The artist looks up and wipes her tears. She stands, then fetches an A4 pad and a calligraphy pen.

On the paper she writes in flowing italics, ‘You need more. My written statement?

We nod and let her write.

FLAW.

In our approach? Her story? The CSI report?

We leave with her detailed statement, which needs corroboration. Plus, the painting and the urn – vital evidence. Tesni hesitates over us taking them, but we reassure her they’ll be protected in police custody.

W for Witness or S for Suspect? A for Attack.

SAW

For now, we have to class her as a vulnerable witness. Disabled, even if she did fend off the intruder.

Have we increased her danger? Even if my uniform colleagues now watch her house?

*

Tuesday, March 18th

A return trip to Llandudno to talk to Desmond Deckard arises as Tesni’s statement claims he imported the urn.

“Bespoke so unique. Ordered specially for Mr Cadwallader – after his wife passed. It’s a replica of an antique Chinese vase. However, as it was crafted abroad, you must talk to my sister and co-owner. Carys handles our imports.” He escorts us to her office.

Carys Deckard is younger than Desmond – and fitter. Early forties. 5 feet 11. Tall and slim.

She smiles as we enter.

“I missed meeting you appealing ladies, when you called before. What can I do? Any excuse to assist you.”

Kama ignores the beguiling undertones.

“Is the artist who made the urn a regular supplier? And where are they based?”

Carys hesitates, then looks at her computer monitor.

“In Hungary. The artist calls herself Aranka.” She scrolls her mouse and clicks. “I wish I had more. Is this important?”

R for Relevant. I write down the name. A for Aranka. But I let Kama pursue.

“Yes, more details could help resolve this. Anything.”

“Aranka is not one of our craftspeople. I only expedited the import of the urn for Mr Cadwallader.” She stares at the view, hand on her lips. “His contact…and the urn was a gift – no charge, except import costs.”

G for Gift. 

Kama’s phone rings – DCI Baines.

We move out of earshot and listen, heads together.

“Forensics fast-tracked their analysis. Same ashes in the urn as at the scene. Plus, Tesni Szarka’s DNA is all over the house.”

T for Tesni Traces.

“Her statement implied she visited often” says Kama.

“There’s more – she shares DNA with the dead wife and Urien Cadwallader. She might be their daughter – if she knows.”

F for Family. GRAFT. By who? Why?

“Urien Cadwallader is conscious. Interview him – gently. He may not know either.”

***

Word Count 988: FCA

Comments are welcome as usual, and the following applies:

WINNERS UPDATE – 30th April 2020: Many congratulations to the winners of the April 2020 Challenge. This month there were more talented writers on view. Details of all the entries and winners have been announced here:

https://writeeditpublishnow.blogspot.com/2020/04/winners-post-april-challenge-antique.html

And many thanks to those at WEP who awarded me this, again. And especially Olga for designing another great badge.