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Authors: Rhys Bowen

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BOOK: Evans to Betsy
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The sky was the clear blue that only comes after rain. There was a softness in the breeze, too, with wafts of blossom, hinting that summer really might not be too far-off. The wind in Evan’s face felt good as he negotiated the Nantgwynant Pass. Down below him Llyn Gwynant sparkled in the morning sunlight. There were primroses growing beside the road and the fields were full of frisky lambs, jumping and dancing as if their limbs contained no bones.
Evan forced his eyes back to the road as the first of the hairpin bends approached. He knew too well how easy it was for a vehicle to misjudge the turns here. He had seen it happen. The bike, which had behaved itself perfectly on the ride up to Llanfair from Caernarfon, now felt as if it might run away with him on the steep descent. Trying to regulate his speed and remembering to lean into each of the bends, Evan found that he was sweating with concentration by the time he rode over the stone bridge and into Beddgelert. The attractive village was all decked out for the first spring tourists—tubs and wheelbarrows planted with spring flowers gave the place a festive air. A coach was parked outside the Goat Inn and tourists were already heading off to find Gelert’s Grave or morning coffee.
Then the village was left behind. The road narrowed through the
dark Aberglaslyn Pass. The roar of water from the river on his left echoed from the high rock walls that blocked out the sunlight and gave the place a chill, eerie feel. Even in a car he had found the place creepy. Now he was even more glad than ever to emerge on to the flat, green fields before Porthmadog. He skirted the town, then crossed the estuary by the narrow causeway they called the Cob, accompanied on his right by the little steam engine that went up the mountain to the old slate quarries at Blenau Ffestiniog.
On the other side the road wound through dappled oak woodland, then started to rise again. After a mile or so he came to impressive gateposts, each topped with a stone lion, its paw resting on a shielded crest. A discreet sign beside the gateway, carved from local granite, read, THE SACRED GROVE, CENTER FOR HEALING ARTS AND CELTIC SPIRITUALITY. As he passed through the gates and out of the sunlight, the wind in his face became colder. Over the crest of a little hill, and suddenly the most improbable of sights—an Italian-style bell tower, decorated with blue-and-white mosaic tiles rising from the green woodland. And beyond it the sparkle of the ocean. He rounded a corner and found the road ahead of him barred by a security gate. He looked around then spotted an intercom box on the left of the gate. He pressed it.
“Yes?” A male voice barked. “Can I help you?”
“It’s Constable Evans, North Wales Police, here on official business.”
“Hold on a minute.”
A long pause. Then the gate slowly opened. As soon as Evan had ridden through, it swung shut again with a loud clang. He could make out the roofs of buildings nestled among the trees. He came to a glass-fronted booth and a man in guard’s uniform slid open a window. “Leave your bike here, will you? They don’t allow motor vehicles any further. Disturbs their concentration.” He looked Evan up and down. “North Wales Police, is it? Who did you come to see then?”
“I’ve come to ask questions about a missing person,” Evan said. “Maybe I should start with the owners.”
“I’ll ring through and have you escorted down.”
“That’s all right. I expect I can find my own way,” Evan said.
The man gave him an unfriendly stare as he picked up the phone. “Someone will be up in a minute,” he said. “Wait here, please.”
Evan waited. He noticed there were several monitors in the booth and that the man was checking surveillance cameras.
A lot of security for a place that is supposed to be a center of healing and tranquility,
he thought. He looked up as he heard footsteps approaching on the gravel. A slim young man wearing a large dark sweatshirt and scruffy cords came into view. He was slightly built, and walked with the awkward, gangly gait of someone who hasn’t quite grown into his body yet. As he came closer, Evan noticed that the sweatshirt had the Sacred Grove logo on it—an old oak tree with roots entwined into a Celtic knot around it.
“Hello,” he said. “C-can I help you?” He peered at Evan shyly through round wire-rimmed glasses.
Evan was surprised to find that the voice wasn’t local Welsh but betrayed a recent stint at an English public school.
“North Wales Police. I’d like to speak to the owners, please,” Evan said.
“I think you’ve come to the wrong place. We haven’t reported any ‘incidents,’ as you would say, and I don’t think we have any c-criminals on the premises either.” Evan sensed an uneasiness behind the banter. He suspected that the boy was shy by nature, but had picked up the upper-class innate arrogance when dealing with authority.
“It’s about a missing person.”
“Nobody’s missing from here.” The young man grinned. “Everyone was p-present and accounted for at breakfast, I can assure you.”
Evan sensed that the boy might have been sent to hedge. “This person might have stayed here a couple of months ago. Now if you’d just take me to the owner.”
“All right. This way then. I think Annabel’s in her study.”
“And you are?” Evan asked.
“I’m Michael. General dogsbody.”
He set off at a brisk pace. Evan found to his astonishment that
he was walking down a narrow cobbled street lined with pink-and-white stucco cottages, tiled porticos, old archways, and battlements. It was as if he had been teleported to a mixture of the Italian Riviera, medieval Germany, and Disneyland.
“Bloody ’ell,” he exclaimed as the cobbled street came out above an area of reflecting pools and lawns. Rows of Greek columns lined the path. The lawns were bordered with statues. The pools were adorned with spurting mythical beasts.
“Yes, it does rather knock your socks off the first time you see it, doesn’t it?” Michael said. “The old man who built it was quite crackers, of course. But in a lovable kind of way. He created this fantasy around him. Was still working on it when he dropped dead.”
“His daughter owns it now, does she?” Evan asked. “That would be Lady Annabel?”
“She and her husband,” Michael said flatly. “Co-owners.”
Evan picked up his tone. “Her husband?”
“Her third husband. The American wonder boy. Randy Wunderlich.”
“Wunderlich?” Evan gave him an amused glance. He wondered if the boy was having him on.
Michael returned the grin. “His name really is Wunderlich. Isn’t that convenient? I bet it started out as plain old Smith. Randy Wunderlich, world-famous psychic and almost young enough to be her son. She married him last year.”
He cut up a flight of steps, past a medieval church, and under another archway. Evan found himself outside a very different building, this one with the simple elegance of the Georgian period, and genuine too. This was obviously the original stately home around which the fantasy land had been built. Michael led him in through a set of gracious double doors. “This is our main building. Offices, admin. The guests, when there are any, stay in the cottages.”
Evan shot him a glance. “I thought the place was heavily booked.”
“Not yet,” Michael said. “Cold, gloomy weather doesn’t encourage
meditation and dancing in the dew. We’re hoping it will pick up in the summer.”
They were in a tiled entrance hall with a grand chandelier over a curved dark wood staircase. “Wait here, please,” Michael said. “I’ll go and see if Annabel is receiving visitors. What did you say your name was?”
“I didn’t,” Evan said, “but it’s Constable Evans.”
“Right-oh. B-back in a jiffy.” The boy disappeared down a hallway, then returned almost immediately. “She’ll see you now.”
It was like being summoned to a royal presence. Lady Annabel was seated at a large desk. She had been reading but took off her glasses hastily as Evan was ushered in. “Thank you, sweetie,” she said to Michael. “Now please go and see if those idiots have got the loo in number eighteen unclogged.”
“You give me all the fun jobs.” Michael pushed his hair back from his forehead as he left.
“Now, Constable. Exactly how can I help you?” The voice was deep and very upper-crust. Lady Annabel must have been quite a beauty in her time but youthful curves had now given way to fat. Her rich auburn hair was impeccably styled around a large face with an extra chin or two. Her chubby hands were decorated with a lot of rings and she had a floating, flowered silk scarf at her neck. Spoiled rich girl gone to seed was written all over her.
“Sorry to trouble you, ma’am.” Did you say “Your Ladyship” these days? It sounded very feudal. “We’ve had a report of a missing girl, so we’re going around all the likely places in the area. She’s an American college student and it’s just possible that she came here earlier this spring.”
Lady Annabel’s eyes twinkled with amusement. “A college student? I think it’s hardly likely that she stayed here. We are what’s known as exclusive, which means expensive. Most of our guests are either famous or old or both. There wouldn’t be much here for a young person.”
“Maybe I could take a look at your guest book,” Evan said. “Just to make sure.”
“Of course. Come through to registration.” She led him to the other side of the building, where there was a hotel-style foyer, complete with front desk. “Show this gentleman the list of guests for the year, would you, Eirlys?” she said to the young girl sitting at the computer. “You don’t need to go back to last year, do you?”
Evan shook his head. The girl handed him a Rolodex file. “What name was it? They’re in alphabetical order.”
“Riesen. Rebecca Riesen,” he said. “And she probably would have come here in February or later.”
“We weren’t exactly overflowing with guests in February,” the girl said and got a frown from Annabel. She helped Evan flip through the cards. “There’s no Riesen here. Sorry.”
“I can’t imagine that she would have checked in under another name,” Evan said. “Of course, if she had come here with somebody—a bloke—maybe they’d have checked in under his name.”
“I don’t recall any young couples … .” Annabel began.
“But you don’t know his name?” the girl asked Evan. She gave him a shy but encouraging smile.
“Do you always work at the front desk?” Evan asked. She nodded. “So you’d be the one who checked guests in?”
Evan got out the flyer. “This is the girl we’re looking for.”
She studied it. “I didn’t check her in. I’d have remembered.”
“Sorry to have troubled you,” Evan said. “I thought it was probably a long shot. We don’t even know what part of Wales she went to. It’s just that she said something about Druids in the last postcard she wrote to her parents.”
“Druids?” Annabel’s voice sounded sharp.
“I noticed this place mentions Celtic spirituality so I thought that maybe …” He looked hopefully at Eirlys.
“We have a resident priestess,” Annabel said before Eirlys could answer. “She leads meditation sessions and guided imagery for our guests.”
“And what about Druid ceremonies? Any of those?”
“At certain times of year she leads celebrations, yes.”
“And are outsiders allowed into any of these—celebrations?”
“On certain occasions. She’s hoping for a large gathering on Midsummer Night, and May Day is one too, I think. And she holds ceremonies outside of our community as well.”
“May I please speak to her then?”
“Of course. I’ll take you down to her myself.”
“It’s all right. I don’t want to hold you up from what you were doing. Just give me directions. I’m sure I can find the way.”
“I was planning to go down that way. I’m trying to locate my husband. He won’t carry a beeper because he claims it disturbs the psychic vibrations he gets, but that’s little use to the rest of us, who possess no psychic ability whatsoever.”
She swept out through the revolving door, leaving Evan to follow in her wake. This time they took a paved back route, past a very modern-looking glass-fronted building. “The spa,” Annabel said. “We run a full-service spa here. A massage therapist on duty twenty-four hours a day and experts in any kind of hands-on healing. Our aim is to soothe the body as well as the spirit.”
BOOK: Evans to Betsy
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