#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

#IWSG – Beta Author-Author?

August has been a low month as I fell ill a few weeks ago – MS related. The multiple sclerosis MonSter ensured all work was scrapped – except I did post my WEP/IWSG flash entry:

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

I’ve been steadily working on this month’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group post in advance of the due date. Can’t disappoint the Ninja Captain himself by calling in absent – even if I’ve been sick. Anyway, thanks Alex J. Cavanaugh for creating the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

Visit their site for exciting posts. Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

And, before I forget, here are the details if you want to enter the 2020 IWSG Anthology Contest. It’s a challenging theme again – Dark Matter –but I’m sure you’ll be inspired. For the contest visit:

https://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/the-2019-annual-iwsg-anthology-contest.html

Anyway, on to the monthly question which is another challenge – and possibly a chance to digress – as usual.

September 2 question – If you could choose one author, living or dead, to be your beta partner, who would it be and why?

The idea of one of my ‘idol writers’ as a beta partner is intriguing – and daunting.

Would Ray Bradbury have felt my convoluted tales worth wasting feedback time over?

Would J R R Tolkien have related to my crime stories and minimal world-building?

What would Mary Shelley have made of my 21st century morals?

However, I realise their input would be as professionals and rise above our genre/era/style differences. But I’m looking elsewhere – well, to the living.  

I have recently had my WIP, Fevered Fuse read by three fellow authors/writers.  One was fellow IWSG Anthology author Rebecca Douglass, one fellow WEP/IWSG writer Toi Thomas – winner of the last Challenge, and the third and ‘diversity reader’ was screenwriter/producer/director Dawn Ostlund. And the feedback was first class.

So, if I was raising my expectations and seeking names?

Well, my debut novel was endorsed by Kristina Stanley, best-Selling Author of the Stone Mountain Mystery Series – https://kristinastanley.com/. I also use Fictionary the creative editing software she has developed for fiction writers and editors – https://fictionary.co/. So, Kristina would be a choice, although maybe as my Story Editor.

If I had to choose a living successful author, who would relate to my current Welsh series, it would have to be Harry Bingham, best known for his Fiona Griffiths crime series set in South Wales – https://harrybingham.com/. Fiona Griffiths is a quirky detective who might have some interesting interactions with Sparkle Anwyl. And Harry Bingham runs Jericho Writers, which offers writers expert editorial assistance – https://jerichowriters.com/. So, Harry it is.

Best get moving on approaching that next beta reader. As Sergeant Marc Anwyl says, ‘Crime never sleeps.’

*

The awesome co-hosts for the September 2 posting of the IWSG are PJ Colando,J Lenni Dorner,Deniz Bevan,Kim Lajevardi,Natalie Aguirre, and Louise – Fundy Blue!

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.

A special shout-out to Louise – Fundy Blue who runs the IWSG Anthologies blog this year, keeping me on my toes.

Visit the IWSG Anthologies blog at:

https://iwsganthologies.blogspot.com/

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

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

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

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

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

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

#WEP/IWSG 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 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.

#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:

Sparkle or Skaði

My mind is already churning around the themes for the 2020 WEP/IWSG Challenges. There are 3 options:

  1. Standalone Stories inspired by the individual themes. Six separate spontaneous seasonal stories.
  2. Sparkle Anwyl case. Six episodes of a new Snowdon Shadows case for my Welsh detective and her partner-lover, Kama. The threads for this are scribbles with substance.
  3. Skaði, Goddess, giantess, huntress and snow-stealth specialist. More Norse mythology with a twist – and a few more kennings. Not sure why Skaði is at a cafe with my favourite artist or his sunflowers.
Skadi by Michael Jorvik
Eve Myles as Sparkle Anwyl

I could try doing a poll but comments seem better – if I get any. Tell me what you would like to read, please.