Evans has found the most delightful shepherd’s cottage. At the moment it’s just four stone walls with gaping holes for doors and windows...but what a view! But as Evans attempts to seal the deal, duty calls. A five-year-old has vanished from a seaside caravan park—and Detective Constable Evans must consider all the suspects. There’s the child’s estranged father, who may want to spirit her back to his native Russia—and the German tourists in a hurry to flee the scene.
Evans wonders if the abduction is related to the disappearance of another girl, twenty-five years ago—especially since that girl’s relatives have just returned to Wales for a family reunion. Now, as he and his fiancée try to rebuild their dream house, he must also build a difficult case against a possible double murderer...
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By Rhys Bowen
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2004 Rhys Bowen
All rights reserved.
Suzanne Bosley-Thomas sat in her car, staring out at the bleak landscape. Snow had dusted the peaks of the Snowdon Horseshoe, and leaden clouds were heavy with the promise of more snow to come. Bloody Wales, she thought. It's supposed to be the middle of bloody May and instead it's like the middle of bloody winter.
"God, I hate it here," she said out loud to herself. "I wish I'd never come."
You don't have to go in, a voice whispered inside her head. You could start the engine and drive straight home. Nobody would ever know that you'd been here. The thought was so appealing that her hand strayed toward the car key. Then she snatched the key from its slot, dropped it into her purse, and zippered her anorak right up to her chin. She couldn't risk not going in, not being part of this whole farce. There was too much at stake.
The wind was so strong that it almost snatched the car door out of her hand as she opened it. It took her breath away and made her eyes water as she hurried across the car park toward the Everest Inn hotel. As she got her first good look at it, she started in surprise and wondered briefly whether she was hallucinating. The Everest Inn resembled a giant Swiss chalet, complete with carved wooden balconies and pots of geraniums, so different from the plain gray stone houses in the villages she had passed. The snow-dusted mountains behind it added to the Swiss fantasy.
"Surreal," she muttered. Surreal was a good word to describe how she was feeling at this moment. At the etched-glass front doors she hesitated again. Last chance, the voice in her head repeated. Back to the car, down the pass to the A55, and then only an hour before you're back in England.
She took a deep breath, pushed her hair out of her face, and stepped inside. Warmth and soft music greeted her. The hotel foyer was a large, cavernous area with a stone fireplace taking up most of one wall. Her gaze swept over the brass and polished wood reception counter, the broad, carpeted staircase. No expense spared here. Then she froze as she saw them. That group of three men seated at the round coffee table near the fire — it was them, wasn't it? Yes, she recognized her brother, Henry. He looked just like her father at the same age. In fact the resemblance was so remarkable that she shivered and glanced back at the front doors. It was raining now, a mixture of sleet and rain peppering the glass.
"Can I help you, madam?" the girl at the reception desk asked at the same moment that one of the men at the table looked up and said, "There she is now." He got to his feet. "Susie!" he exclaimed, coming to meet her. "It has to be Suzie. You haven't changed one bit. God, your hands are freezing. Come over by the fire."
"Bloody Wales," she said, laughing in embarrassment as he took her hand. "It wasn't always this cold, was it?"
"We were always here in August and I don't think it snows in August, even in Wales. Come and get warm. We've a fresh pot of tea and would you like something to eat?"
"Tea would be lovely, thank you." She perched at the edge of the leather armchair he had pulled out for her. "And forgive me if I sound very rude, but I'm not sure which one you are."
The man laughed. He had the sort of attractive face usually seen in cologne commercials, with white, even teeth, a great tan, dark hair curling over his collar, cut just a little too long to be socially acceptable. He was wearing a designer sweater, knitted in vertical lines. Suzanne had seen one in a fashion magazine and knew they were horribly expensive.
"I'm your long lost cousin Val, dearest," he said. "You'd make a rotten detective, old girl. You must know your brother, which makes only two of us to choose from, and one is a priest."
Suzanne blushed as she glanced at the third man and saw that he was, indeed, wearing a dog collar.
"I'm sorry," she said, as the third man rose to his feet also. "So you must be cousin Nick, then. I didn't realize you'd become a priest."
"Well, we haven't exactly stayed in touch, have we?" Nick extended his hand to her. He had a pleasant, open face, with a shy, boyish smile. "How nice to see you again, Suzanne."
"All I heard from Mummy was that you'd gone to Canada years ago."
"That's right," he said, and now she detected the Canadian accent. "I went to Toronto the moment I got out of university. I moved to Montreal a couple of years later and I decided to study for the priesthood. I've been a priest for about five years now."
"God knows this family needed someone holy," Val said, and laughed again.
Suzanne's eyes had gone to her brother, who had said nothing so far. He was not smiling. Now that she had a chance to study his face, she was horrified at how old he looked. He couldn't be more than thirty-seven or so, but his appearance was distinctly middle aged. His hair was graying at the sides, as their father's had done, and deep frown lines were etched into his forehead. He caught her staring at him and nodded gravely.
"Hello, Suzie. Good to see you again. How has life been treating you?"
"Can't complain, Henry."
"Still working for whatshisname?"
"Yes, I'm still with whathisname."
"What is his name then?" Val asked. "Why all the secrecy?"
"No reason at all. I seem to remember Henry always pretended he couldn't remember the name of any of my friends." As if by not giving them a name he had proved that they didn't matter, she thought.
"I know he's that archaeologist chappy, but I really can't remember his name. Sorry," Henry said. "Wrote those books about Tunisia, didn't he?"
"Toby Handwell. Sir Toby Handwell these days."
"Still married, is he?" Henry asked, leaning forward to pick up his teacup.
"Why, do you fancy him?"
The other two men laughed, and she realized with a rush of pleasure that she had thrown her brother off balance. He wasn't going to find her such an easy target as he remembered.
"Here, have your tea before it gets cold." Nick handed her the cup. "Milk and sugar?"
"No sugar, thank you. Bad for the waistline."
"I shouldn't think you'd have to worry about that," Val said. "You look terrific. Still like the teenager I remembered. Unlike old Henry here, who looks as if he's got the cares of the world on his shoulders."
"My law practice is quite demanding, you know," Henry said, "and I seem to have acquired the running of the family affairs since Dad abdicated the position. Grandfather's estate and the properties here have proved most complicated."
"He's made his will then, has he?" Suzanne tried to sound only mildly interested. "Is this what it's about?"
"His will was made years ago. Very straightforward. I get Maes Gwyn. Everything else is to be sold and you get equal shares."
"Exactly how much more is there, beside the farm, I mean?" Val asked. "I have no idea at all how much Grandfather is worth. To look at him, you'd think he didn't have two pennies to rub together. Does he still wear that awful cloth cap?"
"Absolutely." Henry laughed. "Look, I shouldn't really be telling you this. The old man's not dead yet, and he's not going to die for some time by the look of him."
"You've seen him, then?" Nick asked.
"Yes, I'm staying at the farm."
"You are? Then how come he didn't invite us?" Suzanne demanded.
"I invited myself. If I'm going to inherit one day, I felt that I needed to get acquainted with the running of it."
"Does he still farm it, at his age?" Nick asked.
"He's got a manager, but he gets about surprisingly well," Henry said. "Of course he lost most of his sheep in the foot-and-mouth epidemic, but he's enthusiastic about restocking."
"You're not seriously thinking of living at Maes Gwyn someday, are you?" Suzanne asked, staring at her brother.
"Grandfather doesn't want it sold, and it's a good property. I may want to take early retirement from the law and playing at country squire sounds like a nice notion."
"But could you do that, after what happened?" Nick asked. "I know I had to think long and hard about coming back here at all, just for this visit."
"So did I," Suzanne confessed. "I almost turned around and drove straight back home."
"Oh, come on you two. It happened so long ago," Val said. "It was awful, but there's nothing we can do about it now. It doesn't make sense to dwell on the past so much that you can't get on with the present. If Henry wants to live at Maes Gwyn, I say good luck to him."
"It's probably a moot point anyway. By the time Grandfather dies, I'll be walking around with one of those Zimmer frames myself," Henry said, and this time he attempted a dry laugh that came out more like a cough. "You wait until you see him. You'd never believe he was turning eighty."
"So that's what we're here for, is it?" Suzanne persisted. "He really wants a big eightieth birthday party?"
"So I'm to understand," Henry said. "We're having a marquee, and the whole thing's being catered."
"God — a marquee. It will probably collapse under the weight of the snow," Val said with a chuckle.
"So where are the rest of you staying?" Suzanne asked.
"Right here," Val said. "Seemed convenient and comfortable."
"But isn't it — awfully expensive?" Suzanne glanced around.
"Costs an arm and two legs, but hey, what the hell? You only live once and you'd not catch me staying in one of those dreary bed-and-breakfasts. So where are you staying, Suzie?"
"In one of those dreary bed-and-breakfasts," she said. "And you, Nick?"
"I'm sure Nick's found some spartan monastery to give him shelter," Val said, with a smirk at his brother.
"As a matter of fact I'm staying here too," Nick said, his face lighting up with that boyish grin again.
"Good God. Then they must pay the clergy in Canada more than they do in England."
"I live very frugally for the rest of the year." Nick blushed. "I see no reason why I shouldn't enjoy myself when I travel."
"Following the example of all those Borgia popes, no doubt," Henry said dryly. "And they didn't exactly stint on the Vatican, did they?"
"Built for the glory of God, Henry," Nick said. "You wouldn't want to stint on Him, would you?"
"If he exists, Nick." Henry reached forward and filled his empty teacup again. "Which I very much doubt. More tea for you, Suzie?"
"Please. I hadn't realized how cold I was. This place is so delightfully warm, isn't it?" She took the cup of hot liquid and cradled it with her hands. "So who's coming to this bash? Not Father?"
"Oh yes. He'll be here."
"With his current wife?"
"No wife, current or otherwise, since I'm sure Mother's not coming."
"Wild horses wouldn't drag her here; I think those were her words. And what about your wife, Henry?"
"Not coming either. She thought this should be an occasion just for family members, seeing that it might be a bit awkward. Camilla runs from anything awkward."
"No significant others then," Val said. "Just the four of us again. How cozy. You're not married at the moment, I take it, Suzie?"
She tried to stop herself from turning red, but didn't succeed. "No, Val. I haven't been married for the past sixteen years. Not since Carl and I split up."
"And the kid? There was a kid, wasn't there?"
"Charlie? He's in the army."
"What on earth made him go into the army? What a ridiculous idea," Henry said.
"No money for university," Suzanne said, looking directly at her brother. "Options are limited when there's no money, and he's keen on mechanical things."
Nick leaned forward in his seat. "You have a son in the army? I had no idea. Has it been that long?"
"She was very young when she had him, remember," Henry said, and this time there was a hint of a smile on his lips.
"No children of your own yet, Henry?" Suzanne responded. "You'd better get busy. It would be sad if there was no one to inherit all that lovely property."
She saw him wince as if she'd struck him. I've scored a point, she thought, pleased with herself.
"I notice that Val wants to know about everyone else but divulges nothing of his own personal life," Nick said, with a quizzical look at his brother. "Isn't it about time you got hitched, Val, old man? You won't be young and lovely forever, you know."
"All the more reason to make the most of it while I can," Val said easily. "Shall we dine here tonight? I gather they have a fine wine cellar and I, for one, don't feel like braving the elements to find anywhere better."
"I'm not sure whether ..." Suzanne began when Val patted her knee.
"It's on me, of course," he said.
"Good idea," Nick said. "It is something of a celebration, after all. The first time we're all together since — since we were kids. That's definitely worth celebrating. In fact let's order a bottle of bubbly right now." He waved for a hovering waiter.
Suzanne watched him with interest. Not exactly the humble priest, the way they were in England, riding around on bicycles and living on donated food. And Val wasn't exactly the starving artist, either. How come the rest of her family had done so well when she was still living in an upstairs flat in Clapham? How come they all seemed so at ease? They were debating the merits of the champagne list now, animated for the first time. Had they forgotten all about Sarah? Why are we here? she wanted to shout.CHAPTER 2
The wind hit the two men full in the face as they reached the bluff halfway up the mountainside. One of them, a skinny fellow wearing a plastic poncho over his business clothes, was panting heavily.
"Quite a climb, isn't it, Mr. Evans?" he managed between gasps. "Can't think why you'd want to live up here." He looked with distaste at the shell of an old cottage, now reduced to four stone walls with gaping holes where the front door and windows used to be.
"Ah, but look at the view, Mr. Pilcher." Evan Evans turned his back on the cottage and surveyed the horizon of snow-clad peaks. "And you should see it at sunset. Quite spectacular on a fine day."
"You'll change your mind when you have to traipse up here with the groceries after the Saturday shop," the first man said, grinning.
"You forget, I'm used to it." Evan Evans smiled. He was younger, broader, fitter than the other man, with unruly dark hair and healthy, boyish good looks that women seemed to find attractive. He was clad in a navy jersey and corduroy trousers and seemed oblivious to the misty rain. "I was born and bred around here. We have mountains in our blood."
"Rather you than me, mate." Mr. Pilcher pulled up the hood to his poncho.
"You're not from these parts, then?" Evan asked, although he could tell the man wasn't from the accent and from the fact that they were speaking to each other in English.
"I'm from Lancashire, mate. I was working in the Lake District National Park until I was transferred here. It's not too bad because I can still nip home to the parents at weekends, but they're a funny lot the Welsh. Take some getting used to, don't they?"
Since he was clearly a Welshman himself, Evan thought this wasn't exactly a tactful remark, but he had come to the conclusion that National Parks personnel found politeness to be an unnecessary part of their job. He had to humor this pen pusher or he wouldn't get anywhere.
"So it looks hopeful this time, does it?" he asked. "Planning permission's finally going to be granted? I've been waiting to hear for a year now."
"In theory, yes." Mr. Pilcher sucked through his teeth. "Of course you'll have to have the listed buildings bloke take a look at it."
"Listed building? This?" Evan stared incredulously at the tumbledown ruin. "It was an old shepherd's cottage before some English people gentrified it."
"Ah, but look at those walls, lad," Mr. Pilcher said. He made his way gingerly across to the cottage and gave a halfhearted kick at the stonework. "Look at the thickness. Look at the mortar they used. These have to be pre-eighteen-hundred, maybe even pre-seventeen-hundred, which would make it automatically listed. And who knows about the foundation? It may have been built on the original foundation of a hill fort."
"A hill fort?" This was becoming more ridiculous by the minute. Evan had had several encounters with the National Parks Authority now, and each time he'd ended up feeling that he'd stepped into a twilight zone of bureaucracy.
"Look, it's just a bloody shepherd's cottage, and all I want to do is put a roof on it again and live in it," he said.
"Hold your horses, mate," Mr. Pilcher said. "I understand your frustration, but these things can't be rushed. It's up to us to make sure that the integrity of the National Park is preserved."
"I don't want to add a pagoda or a swimming pool or even put plastic flamingos around it." Evan could feel his temperature rising. "I just want to make it livable again, the way it always was. Now what is so complicated about that?"
"Look, lad, I can turn you down flat if I've a mind to," Mr. Pilcher said. "The Parks Authority is all for reducing the number of residences within the park."
Excerpted from Evan's Gate by Rhys Bowen. Copyright © 2004 Rhys Bowen. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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