Unfinished stories…

Posted on August 21, 2010 by

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Prologue

Night swept sleepily over the county of Pembrokeshire, in the south of Wales. It had been an unusually warm Aprils day, and it was proving to be a similarly balmy night. Along the coast, the tide swept in, roaring and crashing into the rocky shores.
Robert Llanelli, a local man and land developer by trade, was cheerfully meandering along a footpath. He stopped every now and then to listen to the distant waves, or sniff the sea breeze. He was particularly happy on this fine evening, as he had just left a meeting of the local council. They had, after some months of deliberations, come to a decision regarding his proposal.
Llanelli had spent years buying apparently useless chunks of land for small sums of money, a result of which was that he owned a considerable swath of land across the county. He had then put it to the council that tourism could be greatly increased with a new stretch of road, which would link the pleasant coastal town with a nearby motorway, and that he just happened to own a suitable stretch of land just waiting to be developed.
And so, despite some protests, the plans were to go ahead. Llanelli whistled tunelessly as he walked along. A little way behind him, another figure, robed, hooded, silent and stealthy as a shadow, followed cautiously.

It was the next morning. The sun glistened in the sky above, and the police had cordoned off the general area. A thick morning dew had settled on the grass around the slumped body, which was being photographed by two policemen who were discussing the rugby.
There was no sign of a wound on the body. No sign of a struggle, and only one set of footprints leading off in the crisp grass. The police had checked the man’s wallet, and had called the local hospital, who informed them that Robert Llanelli had no health problems, and no history of heart problems in the family, either. It was baffling. A coroner had arrived, and was waiting by his van, smoking a cigarette.
As Llanelli’s body was loaded onto the van, one officer wandered along the grass, following Llanelli’s footsteps. After a while of watching the steps in reverse, he stopped. Crouching down, he carefully examined the second set of footprints that had appeared out of nowhere. Or rather, disappeared. They followed Llanelli’s, and then stopped. No sign of having turned back, although of course, it was possible whoever followed him had started stepping where Llanelli had stepped, but that didn’t explain why there no prints leading away from the body afterwards. Would someone really go to the trouble of walking backwards along Llanelli’s steps to make their getaway?
He radioed his superiors, who reluctantly came to examine his discovery, and to chastise him for being daft. The second footsteps were, Inspector Bale told him, ‘clearly’ not as recent as Llanelli’s, and, though they would be noted, were ‘clearly’ not permissible evidence. The officer disagreed, but there wasn’t anything he could do about it, so he tried to put it out of his mind.

1
The motorcycle rasped its way into the town of Manobier, Pembrokeshire. It was a pleasant town. It was three days after Llanelli’s death, and by now it was big news about the town. Many were worried that there was now a murderer running loose, despite the Police insisting that there was no murderer, and that he had most probably died of a heart attack.
The police had found no evidence of any kind, and the Coroners office was performing a lengthy and immaculate test of the body, trying hard to find a cause of death, of which there didn’t seem to be any sign. Llanelli’s few enemies all had impeccable alibi’s, having all been at the same party, and the last people to see Llanelli, the district councillors, said he seemed perfectly normal and healthy when he left the town hall.
The vintage motorcycle came to a juddering halt in a small lane on the towns outskirts. It’s rider dismounted, and deployed the kick-stand. He was a young man, in his mid-twenties, with tousled brown hair, and wearing a long brown coat that rustled about him. He pulled down his goggles and let them hang about his neck as he inspected the wooden plate bearing the name of the house he stood in front of. ‘Dumroamin’.
He opened the small wooden gate, and meandered his way up the garden path, squeezing through some overgrown lavender. He knocked on the front door, which seemed to be riddled with woodworm and/or dry-rot. There was a distant ‘coming!’ from within, and a certain amount of shuffling, as things were moved away from the door. A key clicked in the lock, and the door opened a crack, and a small tremulous face peered out at him. 
“Owen Colwyn.” Said the man, holding up a wallet with a card in it. “You called yesterday about the death of Robert Llanelli?”
Small, bright eyes scrutinized the card, and the door slammed shut. There was the sound of a chair being removed, and the door swung open again all the way, revealing a small,elderly woman with tightly curled silver hair. Who looked Owen and up and down.
“You’d better come in, then.” she said, shuffling away into the bowels of the dingy little cottage.
Owen followed her inside, and found that his movement was hindered by the large number of boxes piled up everywhere. He passed on box with a phone resting on it, and a battered copy of the local phone book from 1985. It was open, and sure enough, there was his advert. He had paid a small fortune to an enchantress in kent to cast a spell that would ensure that whenever someone in south wales had a problem he could solve, his advert would always appear on the first page of the phone book, even one from 1985.
“So-” came the elderly ladies voice from an unknown location. “Did you take over the business from your father?” The old woman had clearly assumed from the fact that the ad was in a phone book from nearly thirty years ago, he was not the original O. Colwyn, occult investigator. He was perfectly happy to let her continue to assume this, as it made his life easier.
“Absolutely.” He said, examining a china cat that was sitting precariously on a mantle. “Dad passed away a few years ago, but people still needed help, so I took over.”
This was not technically a lie, in itself. Owen’s father had indeed died three years previously, but he had been a roofer from Cardiff. Owen had indeed taken over his position from another occultist, but he had been an ancient and rather eccentric man who wore a very long scarf, even in the middle of summer. Owen worked, officially, under the Magicians council of the United Kingdom, and was one of many free agents allocated to areas of the UK. He had been allowed the whole of south Wales because, historically, nothing very much ever happened there.
The old lady bustled into view with a cup on a saucer, and handed it to Owen. The liquid inside resembled milky tea, which, after a cautious sip, Owen decided also tasted more or less like milky tea, too.
“Find your way down here allright, did you?” She asked, leading him into what was presumably a sitting room, and directing him to an old tattered armchair covered in old newspapers.
“Yes, thanks. Although it did seem like quite a long journey. This area doesn’t seem to have any A roads.” Owen said, shifting uncomfortably on the newspapers.
“And it might stay that way, now.” said the old lady, mysteriously. “The man who was murdered, Llanelli, he was going to build a big new road that would link us up to Pembroke. No one’s sure what’ll happen, now.”
“I see…” Owen said, intrigued. “But, why d you say he was murdered? From what I heard, the Police say the only thing they can be sure of is that he wasn’t murdered.”
“No one around here believes that for a second. Young Rita’s lad, Davy, he’s a police officer. Rita says he found a second set of footprints following Llanelli, but they just stopped about a hundred yards behind where they found Found Llanelli.” Supplied the old lady, who was stroking a raggedy mass of fur that Owen had taken for an old hat, but which he now realized was a moth-eaten cat.
“Where can I find Davy?” he asked. Until now, this had sounded like a strange case, but not really worthy of his attention. It could have been possible for Llanelli to have simply died of a hitherto unknown heart problem, but vanishing footprints? The game was afoot!

2

Happy to be out of the musty little cottage, Owen decided to walk to home of PC Davy Harkin, which wasn’t too far. And the fresh air would, he decided, do him good. Manobier wasn’t a large town, and seemed to Owen to be more like an overgrown village. It had it’s own castle, or at least, the ruins of one, which he determined to visit later if he had the time, as well as the Neolithic burial site he had been told lay down by the coast. When he stopped and strained his ears, he could hear the sea, crashing against the distant cliffs.
As he wandered amiably toward the town centre, he noticed clusters of locals, talking in hushed tones, who would change the subject when he got near. He continued into the town, admiring the architecture and making a mental map. He was sure it would come in handy later on to know where things were. After a while, he was striding through the town centre. There were a few small cafes, outside which a number of police officers were taking lunch. Among them, Owen spotted a man with an Inspectors insignia, sitting alone. Owen approached him, and took the seat opposite the man. After several seconds, the man lowered his copy of the Western Telegraph.
“Yes, lad? Can I help you?” He asked, neither warmly nor coldly.
“Are you in charge of the Llanelli investigation?” Owen asked, getting straight to the point.
“I might be.” Said the officer, who put down his newspaper and eyed Owen. “Inspector Fluellen Bale. Why do you want to know?”
“I’m interested.” said Owen, nonchalantly. “Seems to be the talk of town.”
“Unless you’re a press official, I’m not telling you squat. And if you are a press official, I’m telling you less than squat, savvy?” Said Bale equally nonchalantly.
The officer looked to be in his sixties, Owen decided, and was probably close to retirement.
“Besides, one man dying is hardly interesting. Why don’t you go and see the castle? Or visit the beach, it’s a very nice day for it.” Bale suggested.
“I just might do that.” Owen replied, getting up and leaving. The inspector wasn’t going to tell him anything, which was annoying. He headed off in the general direction of the home of Davy Harkin.
Twenty minutes later he was walking up Harkin’s driveway, and was knocking on his door. Owen knocked and has happy to find that Harkin was in.

They sat in a comfortable and well-furnished conservatory; the windows all swung wide open to tease a the gentle cooling breeze from outside to sate the biting heat of the sun.
“It was the strangest thing I ever saw.” Harkin was saying. “They just stopped, like. No sign that whoever had made them had turned away, and I checked along them, the only other way they could have been left like that is if someone, for no reason, walked backwards for nearly a mile in the same footsteps. Does that sound likely to you?” He asked.
Owen considered this. “Not very.” he conceded. “But, consider instead, what does it mean if there are there no footprints leading away from the body? It seems strange; if someone were, hypothetically, able to follow Llanelli, say, in his own footsteps, how did they get away?” He asked, fiddling with the tassel on a cushion.
“I understand,” he continued “That Llanelli was going to build a new road through here. I’d like to know about that.”
Harkin sat and thought for a moment. “You’d need to visit the planning office, in Pembroke. They should have the proposals and plans and whatnot.” he advised. “Although, I can’t say I can see how it would make any difference, look you. He was well liked, more or less. Everyone thought it would be a good idea to put a new road in. Those people who were… against the idea all have impeccable alibis and such like.”
“I see. Thanks, I wont be intruding on any more of your time.” Owen said, getting to his feet and shaking Harkins hand.
“You wont say anything about this to anyone, will you? I’m not supposed to talk to civilians about this sort of thing.” Harkin asked, nervously.
“Not a word.” Said Owen reassuringly. The footprints only made things more complicated. What was he dealing with here? To the best of his knowledge, the area didn’t have a history of super-natural goings-on, so that ruled non-human species out, who didn’t leave footprints anyway, and never came near human settlements. He decided to visit Pembroke. He could go to the planning office, and check out the proposed route for himself, and drop by the coroners while he was there. Two birds, one stone.

3
Fuchsia Wilde hadn’t wanted to become a coroner. She’d wanted to be a doctor. But while she had an excellent theoretical knowledge, her practical skills had left a lot to be desired, to say nothing of how quickly she would buckle under stress. She had been sent to work as a coroner because at least then she couldn’t do any harm. Everyone she met was, more or less, dead. She had long red hair, which was kept tied in a no-nonsense bun. She wore a white coat, splattered decoratively with a number of blood stains, with the rest of her attire being various shades of black.
She had been examining Llanelli’s body for three straight days now, and was becoming deeply frustrated by the fact that she couldn’t find anything wrong with him. He had, to all intents and purposes, been in excellent good health until he had simply stopped living. She had become so annoyed with the whole damn thing that she was now hurling scalpels at a picture tacked to the door with surprising accuracy. At least, she was until Owen walked in and nearly got his ear sliced off.
She got up hurriedly and helped him up from the floor, where he’d hurled himself for safety. “Oh, god I am so sorry-” she said as he got to his feet.
“Forget it.” he said, rubbing an elbow he’d landed on rather hard. “Happens all the time; you’d be amazed.”
Remembering herself, Fuchsia said “My name’s Fuchsia, I work here. Obviously.” she stared at him. “How exactly can I help you?”
Owen finished dusting his coat off, and elected to take refuge in audacity. “I’m here on behalf of Inspector Bale. He wanted to know how you were getting along.”
She eyed him suspiciously “Why didn’t he just call?”
“Okay.” Owen sighed, theatrically. “I’ll be honest with you; he knew you weren’t getting results. He sent me to hurry you up.” Owen lied, making for the body on the slab. “He sent you an email to tell you all this stuff.” he added, needing her to be looking in the other direction.
She took the bait, and made for her computer, which Owen had recognized as a particularly old and slow model. While she was busy cursing the machine and engaging in some percussive maintenance, he took out a small brass device, which resembled a pocket watch. He held it roughly six inches over the lifeless chest, and a dial on it, which had been prickling quietly on it’s own, spiked. Owen smiled and stuffed the device back into a pocket.
“What was that?” Said Fuchsia from just behind Owen’s left ear. He nearly leapt out of his skin, and let out a little wail.
“How did you do that?” he demanded, attempting to change the subject.
“It’s a gift. What were you doing?” Fuchsia said, not letting him.
“I… Um…” Owen stammered. He was starting to realise that he wouldn’t be getting out of this. Instead, he elected to try telling the truth. It was a novel approach, and had the virtue of being untested.
“It’s a Thaumatugic reader. It picks up magical energy. I was using it to see if, instead of conventional means, Robert Llanelli was murdered by magic.” He said calmly.
Fuchsia stayed silent for several seconds, deciding if this new information would fit into her general world-view. Eventually she managed to untangle the speech centre of her brain and said “Oh, I see. Was he?”
Owen decided that she wasn’t about to yell for help, and slowly turned to face her. They stood, faces four inches apart, staring at one another. 
“What do you think?” he asked, curious as to why she wasn’t reacting the way normal people would after being told something as patently ridiculous as that.
“I think it would make a lot of sense, since there’s absolutely no sign of anything wrong with him at all.” She said, staring unblinkingly back at him. 
“Y’know, besides being dead…” She added after a moments consideration.
Owen side-stepped out from between Fuchsia and the body. Her serious, inquisitive stare was making him uncomfortable. He indicated a small area of Llanelli’s chest. It was ever so slightly discoloured, you wouldn’t notice it if you weren’t actually looking for it. 
“Exit wound. There should be a similar patch on his back. Why aren’t you bothered by this?” He said, asking the question quite calmly while still looking at the discoloured path of flesh.

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Posted in: Writing