The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness

Daeth Y Nos Yn Gylfym

10.30 pm 7th April
The Hotel Llewelyn.

"Now, will one of you tell me what the hell is going on?" Sean says.

"How about you telling us just who the hell you think you are first?" retorts Heather. She stands up, jabbing her glasses back fiercely. "Nate, why don't you explain things to this arsehole - if he is from SITU, which I doubt. I'm going back to the Llyn y Ddraig."

"Well," Dexter says as the door swings shut behind her, "it looks like it's Sean's round then."

The American doesn't respond. He is staring around the bar room with an expression somewhere between boredom and disgust on his face. Dexter feels anger prickling at him. Even for a Yankee, that miserable git is...

"I'll buy," Donovan offers. "What are you having?" He comes back a few minutes later and sets a glass down. "Here. We brothers should look out for each other, right?"

Dexter stares at him in surprise. As far as he can make out, Donovan is serious.

Nathan is halfway through an account of the green mist. Lady Judith, having shifted to sit next to him, is paying him rapt attention but it seems that Sean is hardly listening at all.

"A bottle of Irish Malt, Love. Best you have," he interrupts, signaling to the barmaid. He whistles softly as she goes to the bar, grinning when Nate flashes him a disapproving glare. The girl's legs are probably the only thing worth looking at in the whole of this godforsaken village. He fills a glass with whiskey and takes a quick swallow. "So who's gonna tell me what the hell is going on?"

"But I was just saying..." Nate begins.

"Yeah, sorry. My mind was on other things. Start again, will you."

They take it in turns to talk, while Sean listens half-heartedly, gradually filling up the ash tray in front of him. when Judith mentions the Women's Institute meeting he all but chokes on his cigarette. "Bloody hell! Some investigator you are."

Judith flushes and falls silent. Nate puts a hand over hers and turns on Sean challengingly. "Listen, mate, we didn't ask you to come here. We've been doing fine so far and if you don't like it you can get out now."

"You've been doing fine.? There's nothing friendly about Sean's grin. "It appears to me that you have been chasing your tails on this one." He looks at everyone in turn before setting glass and cigarette down and sighing heavily. "It does appear that you have forgotten one of the most fundamental principles of investigation. Start at the beginning! Bernard stumbled upon something. We need to know what got him into trouble then the rest might start to make sense. It sounds he was doing a spot of investigating himself whilst trying to look like a tourist, hiring equipment that he never used etc. Any questions?"

"No, but I've something to say." Dexter leans forward, lowering his voice. "As Nathan here said, we didn't ask for you to be sent here. Now you're here if you'd like to show some manners we can fit you into the group, but we've managed so far without allocating a leader and you're certainly not taking charge. Now, does anyone have anything sensible to add? Judith?"

She looks pleased. "We should find out about the bits of metal we found - whether they're part of a car."

"Of course they're part of a car," Sean growls. "They..."

Nate cuts him off. "I'm inclined to agree. I think we should pay the farmers a visit and put the fear of the law into them."

"And we need to keep a watch on the lake," Donovan adds. "There's Teggie, that mist and Welsh people to look out for."

Dexter nods. "Cymdeithas yr Iaith," he mutters darkly. "I'd like to run into them again. I was going to suggest we find out where Barnard hired his gear from and get some ourselves. We can talk to the owner at the same time." He meets Sean's gaze. "Well, oh great detective? How are we doing?"

"It's a start," Sean shrugs. "I'll be taking a look around by myself tomorrow. But I'll take my turn at lake-watching tonight. Did any of you think to track down the car wreckage?"

Judith shakes her head irritably. "No, for the fourth time, we didn't. Which reminds me. Heather said she saw you in the library today. Did you find out anything useful?"

"Only what you've already got." He stubs out a last cigarette and stands up.

After a moment Nate follows him, muttering something about 'keeping an eye on him.'

"So, Mike," Heather says, "what exactly is going on at the lakeside?"

"The eisteddfod you mean?" The hotelier frowns then grins. "They'll be all over the place by now. Kids everywhere, and where you're not falling over them there'll be people trying to sell you things. Don't worry - it's easy enough to avoid them."

She chews a strand of her hair. "I don't want to avoid them. I thought I might take a look."

"Really? I'd say it's overrated myself." He takes a glass from under the bar. "What are you having? It's on me. Anyway, most of it's in Welsh. The red tent's for literature, the blue one is music, and there's an open air stage by the lake, and the small white tent with the dragon on is the learner's pavilion. Keep away from there unless you want to be pounced on by would-be teachers."

"Do you speak Welsh?" Heather asks.

"A little." He laughs. "Daft bloody language that it is."

"You're sure you won't touch anything?" the barmaid asks nervously.

Sean treats her to his best smile, laying a hand on her arm for a moment. "Course not. We'll just have a quick look around. If anyone comes you tell them you're showing us the room because we want to rent it. If it stops you getting into trouble, I will rent it." With a final, brilliant smile in her direction he leads the way in, Nate following more cautiously.

The room is tiny, plain. A double bed taking up most of the floor space, a wardrobe in one corner, another door leading to a cramped toilet and shower room. As Nate begins searching he finds himself looking at Sean more than once, wondering exactly who he is. The way he is going through the room is entirely too professional, as if he knows exactly what he's looking for and where it might be. A fellow investigator or a professional thief, Nate wonders.

Five minutes go by, then ten and they have found nothing. After about twenty minutes the barmaid taps on the door.

"Sorry, but you're going to have to finish. Did you find what you were looking for?"

Sean shakes his head, scowling.

"Time for bed!" Sean announces cheerfully to everyone at the Llyn y Ddraig. "Donovan and I are going to sit by the lake for a while. Do you ladies want to be tucked in first?"

Heather, still talking to Mike at the bar turns round and swears at him. He manages to feign a look of disappointment before going to stow his belongings in the room he'll be sharing with Dexter.

...When Sean returns early the next morning and finds his bag full of shaving foam, Dexter gives him a look of pure innocence. "Maybe it was the aliens," he suggests. "They've been after Donovan for ages, you know..."

He feigns sleep while Sean sorts out the mess of equipment and clothing that the aliens have pushed under the bed out of the way. Maybe this will teach the American to lighten up a little, he thinks. Somehow, though, he doubts it.

"We didn't see anything at the lake," Donovan tells the others. "Not even an alien. There was a bit of mist around seven again, and they've started setting tents and stuff up. No sign of Teggie, though, and this... ah... person spent most of the night fiddling with his computer."

"I was seeing if there was anything on the internet about Barnard," Sean informs them loftily. "As it happens, it was a waste of time, but it had to be done." He catches Heather's eye and grins. "Hey, tankgirlie, if you fancy stroking your hands over my laptop you can help me have another try today."

"I'll put my hands around your throat for you if you don't lay off," she snaps back, even more annoyed when he laughs the threat off.

"She's a lezzy," he tells Donovan confidently.

Everyone in the room breathes a sigh of relief when he wanders out, saying he's going to check out the village for himself and he'll meet them later so they can go to the farm together.

"See that black bag he's got," Nate says. "He keeps his communications devices in there, so he can make contact with his mother ship in orbit."

Heather sighs, but Donovan looks worried. "I didn't see him do anything last night."

"Ah, that's because he hypnotised you into not noticing."

Judith frowns at him before the fantasy can get out of hand. "So," she asks, a little too cheerfully. "What are we going to do today?"

The group agree that they'll watch the lake between bouts of investigating - it's unlikely that anything strange will happen there in the day anyway, Judith points out. Arranging to meet back at the hotel for dinner and to compare notes, they split up.

After spending an hour chatting to his backing band (a local rock group - not too bad, all things considered,) Dexter heads off to look for Mark Richardson the reporter. He finds him by the lakeside.

"I want a summary of everything you know," he says, getting straight to the point. "And I can give you a story in return. One of our party has had to cut his holiday short because the Cymdeithas yr Iaith has had his office done over. You reckon you can get that into tomorrow's paper?"

"Probably." A notebook appears in his hand. "Give me the details and I'll see what I can do."

Ten minutes and a pint of lager later, Richardson is talking enthusiastically. "I suspect Barnard was having an affair with Gwyneth Morgan," he says. "I can't prove it, of course, and I ain't going to print it while I'm still staying here. But the facts add up. He was here last year, right? He obviously met her then. She's a housewife, bored, she writes poetry so she must have a romantic streak. It's an affair waiting to happen. When he leaves she thinks she'll never see him again, then he comes back. The romance is rekindled."

"And then what?"

He shrugs. "Her husband finds out, kills him and then her. Or something like that. I don't know for sure. Her family are certainly playing it very cool."

"What about Hywel Owen?" Dexter asks, stretching himself out comfortably on the ground. "You'll need to do a lot more digging there."

"I know. So far I've got nothing on him. No one'll say a word against him and as far as I can tell he hasn't got so much as a parking ticket. He's too good to be true."

"Salt affects buoyancy, doesn't it?" Heather asks. "I read it in one of the leaflets you gave me, only it didn't say whether the lake is salt or fresh."

Paul shakes water and hair out of his eyes and grins at her. "It's fresh, mainly. A couple of the feeder streams are salty because they come through the mountains and pick minerals up on their way. You'll find the water's more salty directly around where those streams come in but it's not enough to make any difference here. Obviously, if you go diving in different places you'll need different amounts of weights on you but it all depends on where you are and what the conditions are at the time."

"Right." She twirls a strand of hair around her fingers. "What about sound? That travels differently through water. Have you ever heard anything strange?"

"What, besides these questions?" he laughs. "There are always strange noises. The movement of water, of rocks and stuff, boats disturbing the top layers. When you get deep enough it's so quiet you can hear your own blood roaring through your head like the sound was coming from outside of you. That's where the tale of the monster came from, no doubt. Now," he hauls himself out of the lake and rolls over onto his back. "I've got a couple of hours free time. Why don't I show you around the place?"

His eyes narrow a fraction as he looks at her and for some reason Heather is suddenly reminded of Sean. Still, she does want to see what's going on around the lake, and she'll probably draw less attention being part of a couple than by herself. Smiling her thanks, she allows Paul to take her hand.

Getting hold of the plans of the Llewelyn hotel proves no problem for Nate. He checks them over thoroughly. It's a thoroughly ordinary hotel as far as he can see. A dozen bedrooms, the downstairs lounge and bar that he's already seen, kitchens and toilets at the back, a cellar beneath the bar, the entrance from the kitchen. The owner is a man called Johnson who, according to records, is currently living abroad and uses the hotel as his own personal holiday cottage, leaving the running of it entirely to the manager. As far as Nate can tell there is nothing in the slightest about either of them. After making copies of the plans he turns his attentions to the missing girl.

"I'm helping with the search," he explains at the local newspaper office. He flashes his ID around for good measure and it seems to work. A few minutes later a girl comes out with a colour photograph which she gives him.

Gwyneth Morgan looks around twenty-five. Hair and eyes typically dark, she is smiling into the camera with a slightly nervous expression.

"Her father took that picture," the girl offers, "when she was chosen for the bard's prize. You can keep it - it's only a copy."

Thanking her, Nathan takes his leave. At the door he turns back, but the girl is already talking on the phone and doesn't appear to see him leave.

"Good morning," Judith greets everyone in the garage cheerfully. She smiles brightly though her hands are clenched tightly around the clipboard she bought five minutes ago. "I'm from DC car rentals." She waits for a reaction and when none is forthcoming she continues bravely. "As you're probably aware, one of our clients and the car he was renting disappeared some time ago. It was in the papers. We understand that he brought the vehicle here for a tyre replacement and we have a few questions we'd like to ask, if it's convenient."

The mechanic returns her smile, his gaze slowly travelling down her stockinged legs and back up before he answers. "Sure, love. Anything for you. Ask away."

Praise the good Lord for sexism, Judith thinks. She uncurls her fingers and takes out a pen. "Good. First, could I see the records of the repair work?"

Reading quickly through the records, she wishes she had Nate with her to help her out. As far as she can make out, the garage replaced the front right tyre and charged sixty pounds for the privilege which Barnard paid for by credit card. The number of the card is there, and his signature. She closes the book with as much authority as she can muster. "I'd like copies of that please. Was the tyre the only repair? Nothing else wrong with the car?"

"No, nothing. I checked it over myself." He is still leering at her and she sighs irritably.

"The car was in perfect condition when we leased it to Barnard, you understand."

"Then he looked after it well, love. I'll run off some copies of those records for you, shall I?"

Judith follows him into the office at the back of the building. "Is there anything else you can tell me about Barnard?" she asks, deciding on the direct approach. "We are still hoping to locate him. Anything you happened to notice might be of help. Did you see anything in the car, for example?"

He grunts, handing over a set of photocopied pages. "Wasn't a lot to notice. He was your typical loud American. Polite enough and he paid without arguing. Wasn't anyone in the car with him. A bunch of flowers in the front seat, I seem to remember, not that I paid much attention." He grins at her. His breath smells of cheap cigarettes. "Tell you what, love, why don't I buy you lunch? You could do with something inside you."

Judith stiffens visibly. "No thank you. I have other plans for today."

Donovan, already tired from a night staring at the lake, is getting more jumpy by the minute. Maybe Nate was right, he thinks. Maybe Sean is an alien sent to spy on him. He'll have to check out that black bag, and soon.

He rubs a hand across his eyes and drags his mind back to the present, plastering a look of polite concentration over his face.

"The police have already trawled the lake," the man at the front is saying, "so we're going to start the search from there and work outwards. Anyone with a vehicle is welcome to join in checking out the roads, everyone else will be split into teams and go out on foot." His gaze rests on Donovan and he frowns a moment before continuing. "Gwyneth's family especially appreciate everyone volunteering, but I must make it clear that this is not a sight-seeing trip. If you're not prepared to stick at this, then thank you very much but we won't be needing you." Again, that glance at Donovan.

Donovan sinks lower in his chair flushing slightly and wishing for the first time that he wasn't quite so conspicuous. The meeting breaks up around him, people splitting into smaller groups to chat and English and Welsh become blurred. Donovan stays where he is, looking around. Strange, he realises suddenly, the entire search party is made up of men. Not a single woman among them.

He is pondering this when the search leader comes over to him and he is forced to stand. "Hi. My name's McCabe. You might have heard of me. I'm an athlete. I gave a lesson at your school the other day and I couldn't help being concerned about this poor girl that's gone missing."

"And so you decided to help." The leader's voice is neutral. "Thank you for your trouble, but it isn't really necessary. As I said, this is a local matter and we need people who are properly committed to it."

"Oh, but I am," Donovan tries to interrupt. The leader won't listen.

"Thank you Mr McCabe, I'm sure when we find Gwyneth it will be reported in the papers. Good day to you."

Sean slides his hand from the underside of the post office counter, picks up the postcards he has selected and slaps down a handful of change. Staring past Bryn Morgan to the noticeboard he grimaces. "That's the worst picture I've ever seen on a missing persons! Anyone would think her husband didn't want to find her."

Bryn Morgan's face flushes dark. His lips tighten and he mutters something in Welsh.

"Pardon?" Sean asks politely.

"Nothing. Here, 20p change." He doesn't need to add 'get out.'

Sean stops outside and lounges back against the wall, holding his scanner loosely. He doesn't have to wait long.

"Da?" Bryn's voice is distorted, but clear. "Look, there's another American here now..." He lapses into Welsh. Grinning to himself, Sean walks on.

Barnard was into something, Sean is sure of it. It is only a case of finding out what. He begins with a tour of the sites the others have already visited. He wouldn't trust that bunch of tarts and lunatics to notice anything strange if they fell over it. All the time he is tensed, ready for trouble, only too conscious of the weight of the trench knife against his right side, the throwing knife strapped to the inside of his arm. He is almost disappointed when he is ignored completely.

In the fourth pub he orders another pint of Irish Black and settles himself next to a group of men wearing white T shirts and jeans. All of them are speaking in Welsh of course, the language close enough to Sean's native Gaelic to be familiar though completely incomprehensible. It is still early but the group is steadily getting drunk - some of them are already more than halfway there judging by the laughter when one of them falls over trying to stand up.

Sean smiles, which immediately draws scowls.

"What're you looking at?" one of them yells. "You..." the rest of the sentence mutates into Welsh.

Sean raises a finger and shouts back a curse in Gaelic.

There is a sudden, surprised silence. Finally one of them - the leader, Sean reckons - turns to face him and gets unsteadily to his feet. "You Irish?" he asks.

Sean nods.

"Then welcome to Wales! We're on the same side, mate. What're you drinking? Come and join us."

Heather stops in front of a giant flower sculpture in the shape of an owl.

"It's part of the Mabinogi thing," Paul informs her.

"I know." She looks around again, taking in the clutter of tents and small groups of people setting up stands or just standing in groups and chatting. A bare patch right at the lakeside catches her attention and she points. "What's that for?"

"No idea. Something to do with the play, I expect. Do you want a coffee or something?"

A cold wind catches her and she shivers. "Thanks, but no. It's time I got back."

The lake lies behind her flat and calm as glass.

Nathan runs his hand along a row of hunting knives. With SITU agreeing to foot the bill he's spoiled for choice. He lets his attention wander between the weapons around him and Dexter's voice.

"We hear people hire archery equipment from here. Is there a club or something?"

"There is. By the lakeside. Very popular with holiday-makers."

Nate selects a knife and wanders over to inspect the air pistols.

In the newsagents Donovan buys himself a paper and treats the girl behind the counter to his best smile. "We were talking about Anthony Barnard," he reminds her.

She giggles, never quite managing to take her gaze off the ring through his eyebrow. "I'm beginning to think you're in love with him or something. I really don't know a lot. He used to come in and buy papers and chocolates and stuff. He was all right, but the boss never likes me chatting to customers too much so I didn't talk to him that often. He gave me a tip once. Ten pounds."

"That's generous," Donovan agrees. He hands over a fiver. "I'd give you ten too but that's all I can afford."

There is a letter waiting at the Llyn y Ddraig.

Analysis of lake water, it says. Traces of sodium, chlorine, negligible other minerals. And some quantity of what might be uric acid - urine to you. Don't recommend drinking it.

Judith folds the paper carefully. Walking into the bar, she smiles at Rhiannon. "May I use the phone?"

Two phone calls later she goes up to her room to change clothes, humming to herself. Her family solicitor has contacts in the States, and even if he can't dig up anything on the lawsuit the Barnard family are threatening, the Empty Chair sounded confident they'd be able to find something out.

"Here," Dexter says when everyone is gathered together. "I've bought us all a present." He upends a bag, spilling white cotton onto the floor. "T shirts all round."

Nate smiles despite himself. "Cymdeithas disguises. I've done some research on them myself. Their name means the 'Welsh Language Society'"

"I know." Sean cuts him off. "I've done better than research. I've joined them." He grins at the surprised expressions. "Seems they have an affinity with the Irish. All I had to do was warn them off in Gaelic and they welcomed me like a brother. The leader of the group I met was called Ian Rees. He says they've been working to get the English out of the area for years and they're getting better at it all the time." He pauses to light a cigarette, ignoring Nate's frown. "Seems quite a nice bloke, actually. Completely off his head but a nice bloke."

Dexter and Nate exchange glances. "Best leave our plan to thump a few of them for now," Nate suggests.

Sean nods, blowing smoke at the ceiling. "They've invited me to a meeting tomorrow night," he says casually. "I let them think I was on the fringes of the IRA and they want my advice on explosives. Poor fools."

The discussion continues.

"Nate and I found Barnard's name on the list at the archery club," Dexter puts in. "So there's nothing suspicious about him hiring the equipment."

"Unless he did it as a cover," Heather adds. She slaps Sean's hand away from her with some force and moves to the other side of the table. "I had a good look round the eisteddfod site. Nothing interesting yet, but I'm sure there will be. I did find out that Huw Lloyd's stone was part of the druid's ceremony around here, but the ceremony hasn't been re-enacted for over fifty years."

"And so it's on to the farm," Nate finishes. He checks his watch. "Judith, if you and I are going to have dinner together later, we'd better get over there right away."

"Have you any idea just how much trouble you could be in?" Nate rages. "Or are you really stupid enough to think I'd believe this is just an accidental fire. Look at it."

Everyone looks, Seren and Dafydd Jones included. Tracks are clearly visible leading away from the burnt area in all directions, wide tyre marks that have to be made by a tractor. Sean has found a few pieces of broken glass and picks them up in a cloth.

"We don't know anything," Seren protests nervously.

Nate turns on her. "Of course you don't. Was it you - did you murder Barnard? If we have these ashes analysed - which we will - what are we going to find? Human flesh?"

Seren looks sick.

Dafydd stands in front of her. "Now, look -"

"No, you look. Your son's obviously implicated in this, and you're obviously protecting him. If I tell my superiors what he's been involved with around here he'll be going away for a very long time. Do you know the type of people he's been associating with?"

"Our son hasn't done nothing!"

"Then what the hell is going on?"

Seren's face is completely white. Donovan, of all people, chooses to take pity on her. "Listen," he says, "if you tell us what happened we might be able to help you. Otherwise our friend here will just go ahead with his investigation and then what will happen?"

Dafydd shakes his head stubbornly, but his wife's eyes fill up with tears. "We'll have to tell them, Daf," she says. "We did our best, and we knew we couldn't keep it a secret forever."

"We only wanted to help them," Seren says. "They didn't have anyone else, and with that husband of hers she was scared stiff he'd do something stupid, poor love."

Dexter holds up his hands. "Hold on. Start at the beginning. Who were you trying to help?"

"Gwyneth and Anthony. They were in love, you know, but terrified people'd find out and she wanted to leave with him only she was too scared to do that."

"So we agreed to help them," Dafydd continues. He holds his wife's hand as he talks. "That barn needed rebuilding anyway, so we let him put his car in it, filled it with straw and set it alight. We buried everything that was left. They wanted to make it look like they'd disappeared, see?"

"I see." Judith nods sympathetically. "I don't think you need worry, Mrs Jones. Believe it or not we are here to help."

She wipes her eyes. "Then you'd best let things be. All they wanted was to be left alone."

"So where are they now?" Sean demands.

She shakes her head. "That's the problem. We don't know. No one knows." She starts to cry again, in earnest.

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