Chapter Twenty


Llanberis, Snowdonia. Thursday, November 1

It is almost three years since I’ve visited Neal in Llanberis. In many ways I envy him. He’s a popular figure there; in high regard as the local blacksmith even though his ironwork is largely ornamental. Neal is a big-hearted guy, and I remember how locals would often arrive with broken bits and pieces that required welding which he would do ‘in his spare time’ and not charge. But of course, he was repaid. A basket of eggs would be left on his step, or a chicken now and then, or perhaps a pound of bacon.

   He has even learned Welsh which was not as difficult as perhaps it sounds because our mother was Welsh, and she would often speak to us and encourage us to speak to her in what she termed our mother tongue. And at one-time Liverpool was even termed the capital of North Wales because of its Welsh population. So, although Neal was brought up in Liverpool, he has very much reverted to a native.

   And then there is the village’s spectacular location. Llanberis is on the southern bank of Llyn Padarn at the foot of Mount Snowdon, or Yr Wyddfa as it is known locally, the highest mountain in Wales and the second highest in the UK.

   Although Alex paid for the hire car, I elected to drive, and we arranged the insurance accordingly. I explained that Alex would not be accustomed to driving on the left and many of the narrow, winding, roads in Wales can be tricky for drivers new to the UK.

   As we drive through Caernarfon on the A486, the scenery becomes progressively more rugged as isolated farms give way to rolling hills and jagged peaks. I can see that some have a snow covering already which just adds to its serene beauty. Snowdonia is a gloriously beautiful place in summer, but that is transcended by the magnificence that autumn and winter brings.

   The wet Welsh weather is also legendary, and on previous visits I often felt as though a mass of black clouds sat atop the valleys like large cloth caps, dispensing a permanent wall of drizzle. They have a saying in Snowdonia that if you can’t see Snowdon, then it’s raining and if you can see it, it’s still raining.

   Alex is spellbound by the scenery as we near Llanberis. Her eyes are shining with pleasure: ‘This is just beautiful, Just beautiful. Do we have far to go?

   I tell her that we are only around ten miles away from the village. A silence falls between us, but it is an easy silence in which we are both content to think our own thoughts. I found my mind speculating about what it was Alex was going to tell me yesterday when she was interrupted. She evidently thought better of it because she didn’t continue the conversation when she had the opportunity later. My instincts tell me that she is something of an enigma and I hope that while we are in Snowdonia, she will learn to trust me enough to confide in me.

   I am happy to be away from the city with all its horrors of the past few weeks, and although I know Alex has been on the alert to anybody following us, I have not noticed anything suspicious as we drive down these narrow roads. Indeed, there have been no cars at all behind us for miles.

   As we arrive in Llanberis, I turn off the A486 to High Street to a white-fronted terrace sandwiched between shops. We pull up and get out. Before we can even ring the doorbell, Neal has opened the door and is standing there, hands on hips a huge grin on his weather-beaten face.

   We hug each other, and he studies me. He frowns. ‘You’ve lost weight. Are you looking after yourself?’ Before I can answer, he has ushered us into his sitting room, and he studies me again.

   He turns to Alex. ‘I worry about her you know. I’m sure she doesn’t feed herself properly. Typical bloody artist.’ And then he smiles. ‘You must be Alex. Naomi has told me all about you. Welcome. Please make yourself at home.’ 

   They shake hands solemnly.

   Neal is a big guy as is befitting someone who works in a forge. Well over 6ft, solidly built with hands that are accustomed to handling iron – or climbing the peaks of Snowdonia. But he has a kind, friendly face and his eyes dominate his looks.

   It is late afternoon and already dusk is beginning to creep along the valley as a fine mist rolls in from the lake. The clouds are low and only the nearest hills are visible.

‘You must be hungry. It’s a fair old drive from Liverpool.’

   Alex and I are sitting on a settee and Neal in a big old armchair that has seen better days. Last time I was here I tried to persuade him to get something a little more modern, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He declared that was like an old favourite jumper that you just could not bring yourself to part with.

   The sitting room is cosy. Apart from the settee and the armchair, there is a Welsh dresser that he has had for years. It was made by our dad who was a skilled carpenter and whose work sold far and wide before his death ten years ago.

   I glance at Alex. I can see she taken with Neal. She smiles back. ‘I could use a meal I guess.’ She looks at Neal and me. ‘What about you two. What do you want to do?’

   Neal claps his hands. ‘Good. Let’s go out then. There’s a pub just down the road that does good honest food at reasonable prices’ He turns to me, his face serious. ‘And you can tell me what has been going on in Liverpool.’

   We are sitting down in The Heights, a comfortable pub and restaurant. It has a long, narrow bar as well as a lounge with a picturesque bay window looking out onto High Street. We all opt for a real ale. Double Dragon. We order our food.

   While we are waiting I tell Neal about the events of the past few weeks. The murder of Parry so soon after my reading in the pub; the horrible way he died and then the attempted murder of Alex and finally the murder of the man in my apartment.

   Neal stares at Alex. ‘Why would someone want to kill you? I can’t imagine you harming anyone.’

   She glances at me and grins. ‘Apart from two wise guys on the river the other day.’

Neal looks puzzled, so I explain about two youths sitting down at our table in a pub and attempting to chat us up.

   ‘Alex was in the Military Police in Canada,’ I explain. ‘So, she’s no pussycat.’

   ‘I am really once you get to know me.’ She looks hurt and then smiles at Neal. He just laughs, but then he is serious again.

   ‘So, this is all a result of you seeing Parry and doing your psychic stuff?’

   I was about to answer, but Alex intervenes. ‘No, I don’t think so. Naomi is just peripheral. I think Parry would have been murdered whether he had seen Naomi or not. People were after him because of files he copied or stole from HAARP in Alaska.

    ‘And as for me. Well, I can only think that they believe I have some knowledge of where they are.’

   Neal looks puzzled. ‘Why try to kill you then? Surely, they would want you to lead them to the files?’

   It is then that it dawns on me. ‘It has to be because they don’t want you to find them.’ I look from one to the other.

   ‘Think about it. If the files are found, they are going to be returned to HAARP. And that could be the last thing they want. Whoever ‘they’ are.

 Alex stares at me. ‘Makes sense.’

   I continue my line of thought. ‘So, therefore, it follows that whoever is after the files wants to find them to sell them.’

   ‘Or to use them.’ Alex looks at me. ‘There were rumours at HAARP that the Russians are interested in what they are doing up there.’ She stops and looks apologetically at us both. ‘Not that I know what goes on. Nobody tells HR anything.’

   When we are back in the house, we have tea and then my phone rings. It is Inspector Salisbury.

   ‘Miss Richards. Where are you?

   ‘In Llanberis.’

   ‘Good. Just as well. I thought you should know that the Press have got hold of your names. I really am sorry. I have no idea how. All I can say is that it wasn’t us. They are camped outside your apartment as we speak. I advise you to lie low for a while.’

  ‘Thanks. I think we had already decided to do that Inspector. Is there any news about the dead man?’

   There is a slight pause. ‘We have finally been able to identify him. He is Russian.’ Naomi is thunderstruck. ‘Russian? Does that mean it is they who are looking for these wretched files? Could it be them who murdered Parry? And if so, who could have murdered the Russian?

   There is a short silence at the other end and then Salisbury responds: ‘I’m afraid I cannot answer any of those questions at this time Miss Richards. What is important is that you are safe in Llanberis because nobody could possibly know you are there. I will keep you posted if there are any developments.’

   But he is wrong about that. What Naomi and Alex do not know is that under the boot of their hire car is a very small magnetic device which has been sending a signal ever since they left Liverpool.

Published by pod1942

I am a cereer journalist having worked for the London Dail Mail, Reuters and latterly the Liverpool Daily Post on Merseyside as well as the journalists’ leader in the region. I have experience as a crime reporter, feature writer, business editor and latterly, a senior sub-editor. My qualifications include a BA (Hons) English, from the University of Liverpool; a BA (Hons) Fine Art and an MA in Creative Practice both from Liverpool Hope University. I now divide my time between art and writing. I will shortly be publishing my first full-length novel, The Poseidon Files and as a taster I have written a short story which features the same central female character in which she talks about her world and her life. It is, however, essentially a ghost story.

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