's 2017 Horror Write-off:

A Succession of Masks

Submitted by Huw Saunders

The sky is the colour of a bruise. Along most of the coastline, there would be the plateau of the motorway to look down on - but out here there is nothing between them and the churning sea below but flat sheet rock, all the gravel long since worn off and swept away.

"Reggie!" cries out Rupert, sweeping the beam of his torch around to take another look across the bare purple stone of the clifftop and the little patches of lichen, and then throws up his hands.

"He probably fell," says Ciaran, his wary eyes on the edge of the cliff while keeping at a healthy distance. "I mean, where is there to hide up here? We're wasting our time."

"Does that sound like him to you? He's been doing this twelve years. You think he's suddenly going to get careless?"

"No! I'm not trying to defame the dead, right? I'm saying it only takes a second!" The wind gets up, making their coats flap and pull at them. "Right there, see that? You put a foot wrong up here, and-" Ciaran does a long, descending whistle, then a noise that is half splash and half splatter. "Only takes a second, and that's it."

Rupert looks away, out over the water. Nothing between them and the horizon out here. "Sun's nearly gone. We should call it a day."

"Tomorrow, we should get back to checking the rate of erosion down the valley. If Reggie's - if he's still out here, he'll spot us."

"He might have just gone AWOL. Taken a few days off."

"What, here? Oh yeah, it's all sun and sand round here. Listen to yourself." They turn away from the cliff-edge, already gritting themselves to march back up to the car. Rupert still holds his torch out in front of him, not to search - not even needed, in this dusky watercolour of purples and greys - and the beam lands squarely on a figure that makes them both stop in their tracks.

It stands above them, where the path ends - wearing a formal man's hat and black from the neck down. It has no face. Just two black holes in a blank white patch where you might expect a face to be.

When it starts pacing towards them, Rupert actually turns, as if looking for somewhere to run. It moves with an odd gait - twisting painfully this way and that while half-hunched, as if it were fighting its own body. The two men say nothing as the figure draws closer, scarcely even seeming to breathe. Its long shadow touches them and creeps up their bodies until it stands before them. There is no sound but the wind and open air.

It raises an arm - not much, just bending it at the elbow, not even able to reach straight out.

"Oh," gasps Rupert, his shoulders dropping from their fight-then-flight tension, "it's just a hood!" And, cheerily, he reaches out himself and lifts the fabric from the being's face.

Ciaran blinks at the wrong moment. The next thing he knows, Rupert screams, and takes a reflexive step back, and his leg falls further than it was meant to. He overbalances, but his head doesn't hit the ground. The rock of the ground hits him in the back, then in seconds he slides down the face of the cliff and out of sight.

By the time Ciaran looks over the edge, Rupert is gone. He turns back to the figure, which is now flinching back, and grabs the front of his coat, roaring "What did you do?"

But what the being did he doesn't discover. From nowhere a child starts punching him in the flank and hip, piping - as angrily as her little lungs can muster - "Get off him! Leave him alone! Leave him! Leave him alone!"


"Come on! Quick!"

Huge shafts of white light glare through the murk of the woods. The many-fingered web of each tree gets thrown up in shadow in turn before returning to the darkness. Off in the distance dogs bark, hungry for the chase.

"Spread out. We know they went this way."

Down in the bracken night creatures scurry for cover as boots crash through the undergrowth. At the brow of the hill, the torchbeams cruise along a dry-stone wall, then jerk to a stop when they hit two silhouettes mounting a stile - one twisted, the other half-sized, helping the first up and over. With them in the sights, all those pale pools of light converge on the one spot.

Moments later all those torches swing over the top of the wall like a firing squad and catch a glimpse of their prey staggering along before they vanish into the trees. The white glows begin to make their way cautiously down the other side, in one steady relentless line.

Ahead of them, out of the open below a tree root that sweeps up from the ground like a natural umbrella, two people breathe heavily in the darkness - exhausted and too wary of the rough ground to press on. Over endless agonising seconds they see the edges of those beams of light, still after them, still following.

They crush themselves down into that hollow, trying to become part of the landscape and sink into the moss. Murmurs of "lost them" and "bloody Christ" drift to them through the trunks. They dare not speak, nor breathe or swallow, and the temptation to do either mounts with every terrified thump of their hearts. A mob's worth of footsteps crush the ground as they draw nearer and nearer.

Suddenly another sound is thundering through the air around them - the police helicopter alights from behind the mountain, its searchlight piercing down into the trees, one circling patch suddenly bright as day. The deafening industrial thrum of its flight obscures even the sound of their hearts pounding in their chests and the blood surging in their ears. In this sudden burst of white light they can see every shivering breath rise in the air.

The helicopter has swept by, the overwhelming light begins to pass, and the two people under the root begin to relax. Then a darker patch of black walks by their hollow and turns its torch on them.

"There!" the shouting begins. Voices coming from all around while they're still blinded by the light. "Get up! Stand up!" Harsh roars, then hands on their bodies. Unable to see, barely able to think, they are slowly led away.


The gavel cracks twice.

"You are hereby charged that on the twelfth day of November, you did encounter Mr Rupert Stanstead walking on the cliffs West of Penmaen, whereupon you did throw him from the clifftop to his death below. In addition, the prosecution have requested that the recent disappearance of Mr Reginald Perrin be taken into account. How do you pl-"

A mild consternation washes over the court as the judge pauses, having looked up and actually beheld what sits in the dock.

"Would the defendant please remove their face covering?"

At the back of the courtroom, Eleri - a journalist - bites down on her smile, turns away, and walks out. The gasps and cries of shock follow her through the door before it snaps shut behind her. She crosses the lobby of the court - no fanciful pillars and polished brownstone here, this court is all brutalism, glass, and Dutch angles - and steps outside to light a cigarette.

"Su mae," Inspector Morgan greets her, already out there in the shade of a corner.

"Iawn gont," she replies easily. "You don't wanna see how this turns out?"

"'ess not like the match. You don't gorra sit there through the gory details and cheer when they knock in some really damning bit of evidence."

"Just seems like a 'he said, she said'kind of thing to me. He isn't talking, that's for sure. Christ, you think he can speak? Poor bugger's probably got the whole Elephant Man voice going too."

"Well, you say 'he said', but..." Morgan stops himself. "If you say this is off the record, should I believe you?"

"I'm insulted. You should know me better than that."

"Fine, right, well, just don't give my name - the witness, the surveyor, he's not taking the stand. All he said was that he and his pal ran into the guy on the cliffs, his pal went over the edge, never said nothing about a fight, never called it a murder."

Eleri blinks. "Then why even take it to trial? What case they even got?"

"There's a body and there's one obvious candidate," shrugs Morgan. "Seems somebody's pushing it - if there's a crime to solve, then..." He shrugs again.

"Is there a body?"

"Somewhere. There's divers been out looking for it."

"With the tides out there, though..." Eleri clicks her tongue. "Not like finding it would make much difference."

"No, but there's his family - aye, aye, who's this..."

Both of them lock on to the figure that walks brazenly along the opposite side of the road, and then stops, facing the court. From the eyebrows down, he is the quintessential secret service agent or man in black, from the sunglasses to the suit to the polished shoes. What has ticked their interest is the large straw hat crowning it all, doubly inappropriate for being both in this temperate climate and being out at night.

He holds up a device - not a phone, bigger than that, and with a handle - in front of his face, aimed directly at the court. Morgan's eyes narrow. Then, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, he turns away and keeps walking down the road.

"One of yours?" Morgan finally asks Eleri.

"Dos i ffwcio," she spits back. Morgan nods gravely, and flicks his dog-end away. They go back in, but the judge is already cracking his gavel again and declaring court adjourned - and they know this because people are already spilling out of the courtroom itself, leaving at a fair speed and then slowing to a crawl in the lobby, like fat through an artery.

"Here he comes," says Morgan.

Two uniformed policemen march the defendant out of the courtroom, towering over his hunched stature. All the photographers rear up like cobras, converging as one, and the policemen have to start shouldering them aside. Behind this first mass, another policeman leads the girl out as she stares coldly ahead. She has been tentatively identified as the defendant's granddaughter, but beyond that is of little interest. "Step back!" screams one of the policemen at the forefront-

And then an arm reaches out of the throng and clutches hold of the sack on the defendant's head and yanks it off. Instantly the crowd goes wild, camera flashes going in every direction as the people wielding them press in further. The crush happens so fast Eleri and Morgan do not even glimpse the defendant's naked face - but they are pretty sure that's him bellowing in distress underneath it all.


The next day, Morgan is looking down at a corpse.

"Shock," says the pathologist, simply. They hold up an empty pill bottle. "Fairly soft as meds go, and I know it looks like he chug-a-lugged the lot, but he was due to refill them tomorrow. No wounds, nothing underlying - his heart went, is all." The old man is still upright in his armchair - only his head, lolled back against the cushioning, gives it away. Instead of the expression of eternal sleep, he wears a look of slight distaste, with his eyes still open and staring at the ceiling.

A newspaper lies crumpled by the dead man's feet. Morgan squats, and uses the blunt end of a pen to flip it over. Then he curses and averts his eyes.

"The hell is that meant to be?" asks the pathologist, tilting their head. "That modern art, or something?" Morgan does not reply. As he was tearing his eyes away from the image, he had spotted the headline - CONTINUATION IN 'FREAK'MURDER TRIAL. He rises from the floor and takes another long, hard stare at the body, to ensure it is in fact there and he isn't simply seeing things or imagining it.

As he walks outside, he calls Eleri. "Yew-er paper run that picture of the man?"

"They figured he wouldn't cry invasion of privacy. That he has problems of his own."

"Iesu grist."

"Yeah, it''s not good. Apparently the newsroom's had the phone off the hook with complaints. Nothing about jumping him and taking the picture, all saying that it's too graphic." She gives a snuffled laugh down the phone. "Too graphic, they're saying, that it's too much for them, and he has to live with it."

"They might have a point. Not that it's his fault, far today we've had three bodies, all of them looking at the paper when their hearts went." He hesitates before adding "So not everyone can live with it, then."

He expects a laugh, a 'not cool', or both, but instead Eleri is silent for a moment. "So is that a formal statement from the force, that they died of fright?"

"Are you always on? They're natural deaths, Eleri, they were ready to go, and it turns out this is what kicked them over." He turns back to look at the house, at the darkness beyond the windows, then spies a sobbing relative and immediately lowers his voice. "I put this squarely on them bastards that took the photo. That was wrong when it was common assault, now it's killing people."

"Wouldn't mind trying to see you get that to stick. I tell you what, I'll see if any of my team want to run it in the gossip section, take the sting out of it."

And then there is a laugh, from Morgan.

"You want to get lunch?"

So he starts to walk, down the hill towards the middle of town. Before long he is at the stinking tunnel that leads from one side of the bypass to the other. It is a relatively recent development, but that's by local standards, the bypass has been there as long as he can remember, slitting the town in two. The one side, the side he is heading for now, hugs the coast, and inside the old city walls it is mostly luxury apartments and bright bold chain store-fronts. The part behind him, the neighbourhoods and the estates - cut off from the town centre - that part reaches back towards the mountains.

When he comes to the bottom of the hill, the little valley, it changes abruptly from a gradient to the cold concrete steps down into the underpass. It doesn't even get graffitoed much, it's too windy and inhospitable for loiterers. As he descends into the tunnel of it - that stretch lit day and night by a flesh-yellow barred lamp - he hears voices approaching from round the bend.

", yeah! You see him?"

"Fokkin'freak, yeah!"

Morgan freezes up. Despite everything - despite the exercise routine and the kickboxing and the weight of the law on his side - he freezes up.

"You reckon he killed them people?" says a third voice, and then a fourth:

"Woulda fokkin'banged him out if it was me, yeah..."

When they round the corner, all four of them are a good head shorter than Morgan, and most of them have bad acne. They awkwardly quiet down as he passes.

Not long later, Morgan's through the door and into the warmth of the historic bar at the Black Boy. The name comes from the days when they were objects of shock and curiosity, like a King's head. As he orders - just a half, because it's midday - he idly wonders how a pub called 'the Unnameable Horror'would do.

He sits facing the door, waiting for Eleri. Because of this, he sees the young man in the back of the bar - too thin, and spots, not like those kids in the underpass, not borne of hormones and unfamiliar grease but of general neglect. With Morgan there watching, the guy is joined by someone wearing the same kind of unhealthy sportswear, who slides him something over the table, and then is up and out the door not two minutes later. Meanwhile the kid is already repairing to the toilets.

Briefly Morgan toys with calling this in, then dismisses the idea, worried about pulling people away from yet another pensioner who's died of fright. He tries to forget it and reaches for a newspaper, which brings his train of thought thumping back onto the tracks. Luckily Eleri arrives before he's alone with that for too long.

"Su mae," she murmurs as she joins him at the bar. "I threw the idea around, everyone's really on board with saying the guy's picture is killing people. All that Dorian Gray stuff, real popular at the minute."

"For Christ'sake, no," groans Morgan, and then his expression rapidly changes and he adds "That's not how Dorian Gray worked."

"Hey, yew started it. Don't natural deaths mean less work for yew, anyway?"

Morgan snorts. "Cynical."

"Oh, yew liked that one, then quiver in anticipation. I got an address for the surveyor, the one who should have witnessed but didn't."

"Oh yeah?" Over her shoulder, he spots the junkie leaving the toilets - completely at ease now, bliss written on their face. "What yew reckon? Go down there and get me to make him talk?"

"Something's up with all this. I don't know what, but it is. Why wouldn't he testify?"

"Ah, I don't know...didn't want to get tied up in the legal system? Better things to do than hang around a court for hours on end? Not like us."

Somewhere off to the side, the junkie swaggers up to the bar and halfway collapses onto a stool. They don't really notice.

"Fiver says he just tells us to piss off," concludes Morgan.

"Yew in for this, then?" asks Eleri.

"Yeah, sod it. Seems more relevant than going around all the day's bodies."

And then, one seat along from them, the junkie orders a pint, sweeps up the newspaper and opens it with one extravagant motion, and immediately pukes his guts out. It hits the centrefold with such force that it spews upwards off the paper as well as downward, spackling the glasses hanging above the bar.

The man himself is propelled backwards off his stool, or otherwise just loses the will to stay upright. One of his feet gets tangled and the back of his head hits the ground first with a crunch that turns Eleri's face grey. For a moment his is still on the floor, thick black blood mixing with the stray vomit, then he leaps to his feet and reaches over the bar, trying to grab for the landlord and snapping his damp jaws. But when he slams against the bar, it knocks loose a bottle of gin from above - a big green one-and-a-half-litre job - that lands squarely on his head.

The gin hits the bar top and rolls in a slow circle until it stops against the pumps. While it isn't broken, nobody present can say the same for the guy's skull. And next to him, the newspaper - now saturated - floats down a river of what was once food and is now unmentionable to fall and flop on the floor.

Eleri and Morgan look at it, then look at each other. "I'm not looking what page he was on," he says finally.

"No. I know. We both know."


Ciaran lives a way out of town, nearer to the other side of the peninsula, in a converted farmhouse that suddenly became more important to the economy once it ceased to function as a farm. When Eleri and Morgan roll up, he speaks to them through a barely cracked door.

"You've got the wrong guy," he says, eye darting between the edge of the door and the lintel. "I was a surveyor, two years ago. Then a bunch of frackers hired me as a consultant."

"I'm a reporter," says Eleri, "and this one's a pig. We know all about bullshit. Yew were there when yew-er pal died, and yew're not coming forward. Why is that?"

"I think you need to get off my property," says Ciaran. But when he goes to close the door it finds Morgan's boot.

"I think yew need to stop obstructing the course of justice," replies Morgan easily. "Man's on trial. He's charged with murder. Yew got a responsibility, here. When people start thinking they can sit by and let responsibilities slide on past that's when it all starts to go." Ciaran stops pressing on the door, so he carries on: "We won't drag yew into court and make yew say it. Just tell us. Off the record."

Ciaran opens the door maybe an eyelash further. "Fine. Won't make any difference, anyway. This suit came up the house, like you're doing now. All polite and friendly. Knew my name, obviously knew where I lived, and he starts telling me I have to go and testify. Swear it was all just an accident, otherwise - what'd he say? He can't vouch for my safety."

Eleri squints. "The suit wanted yew to let the guy off?"

"Yeah. It actually was all just an accident, but fuck if I know how he's supposed to know that. Then, not two hours later I get visited by this gang of hard-heads. From Llanabba way, sounded like. And they're saying when I testify I got to drop the guy in it. Say he went mental and shoved Rupert. Otherwise they're gonna come back and chop me up. So I thought about it, and what I decided is, I'm going to stay out of the trial, wait here, and hope they turn up at the same time and all kill each other."

Morgan coughs. "We can offer yew protection-"

"Yeah, I bet, so I can go into court and say what you want." With Morgan's boot shuffled ashamedly out of the way, Ciaran takes the opportunity to slam the door.

"Christ," says Morgan, drawing the word out as his shoulders slump. "How'd all this happen?"

"This is dirty as hell. You know any hard-heads from Llanabba?"

Morgan twists up his mouth and tuts, and they turn to begin the walk back down the path. Ciaran couldn't have picked a better place to live to be quietly murdered - in the middle of thick woodland and ten minutes'walk from the nearest track wide enough to take a car.

"Alright, so, we can ask around, see what we can find out. Bunch of tough-nuts trying to tamper with a court case, they've got to stand out a bit-"

She's instantly silent when Morgan raises a hand. Around the blind bend up ahead, something is loudly rustling along the path towards them. They mutually consider Ciaran's recent list of visitors, and then hop over the dry-stone wall to cower.

"Would be now, wouldn't it," says Eleri softly, and Morgan moves his hand again, as if physically pained. Over the wind and their own pulses they hear it - drawing closer, the movement of the leaves and the heavy paces rising, more agonising every second, each sound that little bit louder. Then, after a heart-thumping moment, it is past them and continues along the path.

Moving painfully slow, they rise on their haunches, looking over the top of the wall. Creeping along the path is a tall figure, head to toe in black - with a rough cloth bag over their face. Eleri mouths a long, slow "Christ" with no noise coming out.

Something is wrong, though. The figure on the path moves with a normal human gait, not the twisted, fighting-himself pace they remember on the man who walked out of the courtroom. Morgan is about to say "Isn't he still locked up?" - but he never gets that chance, because then, the figure trips. They lands flat on their face, their hat falls off, and the bag along with it, revealing a completely average-looking man's face, not even slightly deformed.

"Fuck!" he says, hissing with pain. "Fucking...shit!" Eleri and Morgan watch, mesmerised, as he delicately gets to his feet, pats himself down, then pokes the spot on his arm that took the brunt of the fall and hisses again. Furious, his expression like thunder, he snatches the hat and the bag back up, and violently pulls them over his head.

Morgan stands up. "What are yew doing?"

He turns. "Fuck!"


While their new friend refuses to speak further, when Morgan turns out the man's pockets it reveals a driving licence belonging to a Tom Jones - which Eleri snuffles at. As they walk him down the path back to their car, a Land Rover idling down the road suddenly takes off at top speed.

"So what was the plan?" Eleri asks on the drive back. "Turn up at the guy's house in costume, put the fear of God into him, try and get him to testify that way? I mean, it's not Halloween." Tom meets her gaze in the rear view mirror, then looks away sharply. "What's the sentence for perverting the course of justice, again?"

"Anything up to life," says Morgan, only halfway thinking about it, more focused on the road.

"Yeah, see, yew can steal things, stab people, kill people, but if yew try and mess with the British justice system they bite and don't let go. The inspector here'll push for a heavy sentence, and ironically, this time your pal up there might actually be willing to testify. So before we get yew down the station, yew have a free choice between telling us what's going on and this just being a breach of the peace, or the other way."

Tom meets her eyes again. "They wouldn't give me life for this."

"Excuse me?" says Eleri, turning to actually look at him.

"There's a reasonable doubt. You don't know I'd have gone up his house. And given that, you taking me in is on shaky ground. Oh, you could say it's suspicious in the current climate, but nothing more than that."

Completely silently, Morgan pulls the car over to the side of the road and turns the engine off. The road snakes high along one side of a valley. Over on the other slope is a busier road, cars drifting by regularly - absolutely unable to see what's happening on this side. Tom watches Morgan walk back, and then open the door, still impassive until he is grabbed by the collar and physically torn from the vehicle. He lands face-down on the road.

With his wrists cuffed together, it's an ordeal to turn over. By the time he has, Morgan has taken a stone from the wall alongside the road. Now he stands over Tom, saying nothing, just holding it.

"You really expect me to believe you'll use that?" asks Tom.

Eleri stays in the car, facing straight ahead - as if she has been stopped. She delicately reaches over to the central console, and turns on the radio. Then she hears the cry of pain, and curses herself for not turning it up further.

A few moments later Morgan is back in the car, and Tom is back in the back seat - paler now, and unable to sit comfortably. "Yew ever heard of the Salazar brothers?" Morgan asks Eleri.

"The Sa- what now?" she laughs. "These are our Llanabba boys, are they? The Salazar brothers?"

"I know, I know. But Tom 'yur swears to it, they sent him here."

"They told me stuff about him," says Tom, a bit of life returning to his eyes. "The monster, him. They said he lives way up in the mountains, completely off the grid. They said he never talks and he looks like his skeletal structure's all off underneath. That he's...different." When this draws amused sneers in the mirror, he defensively adds "And he's hanging around with that little girl, what's going on there, you know?"

They drop him off at the police station and explain how when he tried to run he fell and hurt himself. Then they drive over to Llanabba.


Llanabba is, technically, a city, but this is due to the writ of ancient charters rather than anything to do with population or size. Hemmed in to the south by a mountain, it has spilled out in a line along the coast, out from the little port where the slate barons made their millions. Now a good third of the population live in the housing blocks that awkwardly stretch around the corner of the mountain, opening up into huge concentric rings of houses which were meant to build a community.

What this playful brutalism has actually achieved is roads that are barely wide enough for one car, and are already heavily overparked on most days - leaving Eleri and Morgan crawling along holding their breath for fear they'll hit a kerb.

"This is grim," says Eleri, watching a teenager pushing a double buggy overtake them. She puts on a dopey look and hoots "Llanabba, la'!"

"Don't take the piss. He said they live over on Penchwintan Crescent," mutters Morgan, crouched low over the steering wheel as they swerve along this curve and that. "Where's the bloody street signs..."

They find themselves drifting out into the centre of the estate like a boat into becalmed waters. Out here there is one big open circle with a road through the middle of it - one semicircle of concrete, the other livened up slightly by a patch of dying grass. Halfway across it, in the eye of the storm now, their exit is blocked when a Land Rover pulls out in front of them from behind another row of identical pebble-dashed houses.

Morgan's eyes flash up to the mirror, dreading what he knows will be there, and sees a yellow hatchback with flame decals down its sides pulling in behind them to cut off that way out as well.

"Okay," he nods, then takes a split-second decision, spins the wheel, and goes to escape over the grassy patch. Eleri jolts in her seat as they begin to mount the kerb, but no sooner have they done that than their tyres burst with aspirant gasps and they begin to sink. Morgan opens the door a crack to look out, and his heart sinks right along with the car - for the edge of the kerb is lined with fragments of broken bottle.

Barely two metres from where they find themselves stranded, sits a bench, where a stringy-haired lout in black leather from head to toe watches with amusement. When he is certain they've made eye contact, he beckons them over with an impertinent jerk of the head.

"I really don't want to get out of the car," says Eleri.

"Look on the bright side," says Morgan, "it isn't as if it'd stop them burning you alive." They walk over to the lout. "We're looking for the Salazars. Yew work for them?"

"Pwy s'isha gwbod?"

"Inspector Morgan," he snaps back, flashing his warrant card, not daring to hold anything back now. "We're investigating an obstruction of justice."

"Got obstructions of our own 'yur," says the teenager with the double buggy, reappearing as if from nowhere. Her eyebrows flash wickedly towards the cars at either end of the street, and she continues "Fokk-ehn potholes all the way down to the main road. Any law against those? Any law about how the council inn't doing their fokk-ehn job?"

Eleri looks about, testing the waters for if they have to cut and run. The doors of the tiny yellow hatchback open, and two huge men unfold from inside - one a mass of bloat and muscle, the other rangy and funereal in the face. She looks the other way, and sees an unbroken wall of terraced houses, which have her despairing even before she sees the people watching from the rooftops.

The lout fishes an old cigarillo case out from an inside pocket, extracts a joint the size and approximate colour of a sausage, and sparks it up. Morgan's eyes narrow. "You want me to caution you?"

"Dos i ffwcia! People's Republic of Llanabba 'di hon."

"I know this one," says the teenager suddenly, grabbing for Eleri's arm and making her jump back. "Seen her loiter-ehn on doorsteps when someone's died. That what this is about? About someone die-ehn?" The girl reaches into the depths of her double buggy, and comes back up holding a knife - not the kitchen knives that are the stock in trade around here, but a long high-carbon number, cruelly serrated down its back.

Morgan steps out in front of Eleri, prompting not a trace of weakness in the teenager's dark piggy eyes. Eleri doesn't take any comfort from it anyway, as the two from the hatchback are now nearly upon them, stopped at the edge of what would be an invasion of personal space. Now the lout stands as well, his leather creaking, and vomits a lungful of sweet-smelling smoke into their faces.

"Put that away," says a voice of resignation - not a trace of Llanabba in this one. They turn. A short man in denims, young-looking despite his bristly grey hair, is sitting on the bonnet of their stricken car.

"Yew sure, Ant'ony?" asks the teenager.

"Ofyn eto, dy gont wirion," croaks the lout. "Gweld be sy' digwydd." The teenager shrugs, her knife vanishes, and she carries on along the pavement as if on her way to playgroup.

"I apologise for this reception," says Ant'ony. "But you did brutalise my man. Normally I would break your fingers for that, but these are unusual circumstances."

"Yew're Salazar?" asks Eleri in pure disbelief.

"Only by marriage. You can say it's emasculating if you like, I just got bored of being one Jones out of ten thousand."

"Yew like to be different. That's good, that's good. So why are yew trying to get a guy banged up for being too different for comfort?"

"This is - oh, I forget his name - this is the deformed fellow, is it? I understood he'd been charged with murder."

"We all know that's horseshit."

"Know? I know not know. With this justice system you people are so fond of, it's luck of the draw what happens to who anyway."

Morgan comes forward, and as he does, the lout changes position, prepared to spring if needed. "The man yew're trying to intimidate is a witness. He knows the charges are bollocks, he knows they're gonna prosecute an innocent man, and because of yew he's not coming forward. You happy with that?"

Ant'ony is silent for a long moment. Behind them, the lout grumbles and rustles and pulls hard on his joint. "That changes things somewhat."

"Too bloody right it-" Morgan starts forward, to be emphatic more than anything, then is stopped in his tracks when the lout seizes him in a half-Nelson from behind. Bent painfully backwards, with the lout's hair and hot smoke against his face, he gets a few seconds of Ant'ony's smug expression swimming in front of his eyes, before the man nods assent and he is released.

"I'm not in the business of fucking with innocent men. In a 'he said, she said' situation, well, all's fair in love and war, and for one thing there's plenty of dirtier tricks to be used. But as I say, this is different - and I'm inclined to think the monster's been through enough." He chews it over, jaw moving slightly. "Alright. We were paid by - well, our man was acting on behalf of Billy the Yid."

"Aren't any of you gangsters actually Welsh?" explodes Eleri, still not quite over having a knife pointed at her.

Ant'ony chuckles. "Young Billy is a student of theology. And I'm a good deal more Welsh than you as a hack, and you as a foot soldier of a hostile foreign government."

"Dafad y ffocin' Sais," adds the lout.

"Reuben here just called you-"

"I know what he called us," snarls Eleri. "Where are we meant to find this Billy the Yid?"

Morgan touches her shoulder - gently. "He said a student of theology. The guy's going to be up at the university, isn't he?"

"Brilliant, detective!" says Ant'ony, clapping his hands together. "Unfortunately I see your car seems to have been fucked. I tell you what - Reuben, give them a ride up to the university."

Reuben coughs, gets to his feet, takes one last drag then flicks his joint at Morgan. He starts moving toward the Land Rover and jerks his head again, gesturing to follow.

"Oh, detective?" says Ant'ony, with a placid smile. "Police or no police, you ever take a stone to one of my workers again, I'll castrate you and turn a squad of sex offenders loose on your pal there. After all, this isn't the '70s."


They do not speak much as they bump through the middle of town - which gives Reuben the opportunity to turn up the volume on some loud bass sounds. After a few minutes' listening, they resolve themselves into Welsh nationalist rap.

"Christ," says Eleri inaudibly as they head up toward the university.

The main university building is younger than it looks - a sandstone edifice built in imitation of Oxford's Balliol. With the mining barons far more concerned with their own holiday homes, it was the miners themselves who had to scrimp and save to build it. It rests on a hill looking down at Llanabba proper, a reminder of everything that has traditionally been done to its population.

Reuben takes them whirling around the back, through the far less attractive modern extension, and drives the Land Rover across the centre of the quad before coming to a stop seconds before he crashes into the sundial.

"Billy should be upstairs in the library," he says, in the same measured, neutral tones as Ant'ony spoke in.

"Thanks," says Morgan, awkwardly. Reuben nods, and fishes out his cigarillo box again.

Despite looking nothing like students, they aren't hassled at the front desk, and head upstairs to the long main room of the library, all great vaulted ceilings and shelves of ancient hardwood. They keep their tread light and respectful as they walk through.

At the very end of the room, a figure is hunched over a selection of tomes - the hair coming from under their skullcap is a mass of unkempt ringlets dropping well past their shoulders, and they wear a religious-looking white scarf. Morgan clears his throat, and softly asks "Billy the Yid?"

"Why's everyone fucking call me that?" she booms, turning to glare at them out of a face covered in acne scars and a few normal ones. Eleri recoils, as she had expected a beard. "The fuck you hairdressers want?"

"The Salazars sent us-"

"Oh, those cunts. Fucking honour among thieves, eh? Take my money and drop me in it. Alright, alright, I'm cooperating."

She turns and puts her hands down on the table, as if preparing to be searched, then whirls back around and catches Morgan on the chin with the full weight of an unexpurgated edition of The Sword of Moses. He drops instantly.

"Let's have it then, fucker!" she roars as Eleri shrinks back, wondering desperately if she should ever have looked into this.

"Wait!" Eleri finds herself screaming - and is then shushed from a nook to her left. "We just want to talk," she continues, trying to balance respectful hush against blind terror.

"So talk," says Billy. She stands even shorter than Eleri, but her fists - raised from her sides, ready to move - look like rocks.

"Yew paid the Salazars to frame up the deformed guy," says Eleri, breathlessly. "Why? What have you got against him?"

Billy's solid frame drops out of attack mode, and she sniggers a little. "I'm trying to save him, you fucking dimwit."

Eleri mouths, empty of words, and finally manages "By sending him to prison?"

"Yeah! By getting him in the system, getting him out of the firing line - think of it as protective custody, right?"

"So who is after him?"

"Does that matter? Look, how do you think freaks like him have traditionally been treated? Not too long ago they'd just have left him out for the jackals. Now we're civilised, so we got some bastard QUANGO or something circling like a fucking vulture wanting to cut him open."

"These the suits we've heard about?" asks Eleri, cautious now she's hit the main vein.

"I don't fucking know. Maybe they're some crook government bastards, maybe they're from a megacorp. Who the fuck knows any more. Now, if you're quite done, I was reading." Before she takes her seat again, she hauls Morgan to his feet, slaps his face chummily, and says "Sorry, son. Thought you was after me."


As they walk back outside, Eleri does her best to fill in Morgan, but he's still rattled in the skull - seeing more than stars by this point. The Land Rover is where they left it. Reuben sits on the grass, leaning against one of the wheels and reading a student newspaper.

"Can yew give us a lift back?" she asks him. "We'll bung yew a few quid for petrol - I can't promise we'll keep yew from being done for driving stoned, but-"

She tails off when she realises he is sobbing. The joint falls from his pale fingers to smoulder forgotten in the grass.

"Be da ni 'di wneud?" he bawls. "Be ti 'di wneud?" The paper lies open on his lap, and even upside down, they can recognise that notorious photograph by now. He rises unsteadily from his feet and stares at them with pink, swollen eyes. "This should not be! It should not be!"

"Alright, calm down there," says Morgan, trying to take his arm. Reuben violently brushes him off, reaches into his jacket once more, and draws free a revolver. The few students who were taking in the spectacle now run for cover.

"Should have fucking known!" he rages, spit and froth flying from his mouth, pronouncing and gesticulating with each stab of his gun as punctuation. "Couldn't trust you - couldn't ever trust you! It should not be!"

And then, before they can stop him, he puts the muzzle of the gun to his own chest and pulls the trigger.

Morgan hazily returns to full consciousness amidst the smell of cordite. He sees the grisly red pointillism splatted across the side of the Land Rover, sees Reuben's crumpled body on the ground with a smoking gun in its hand, and then -

"Fuck me!" Teeth gritted, cords bulging from his neck and blood still falling from the hole in his chest, Reuben attempts to push himself up onto his elbows. All Morgan's trained instincts are to try and help - even if there's no way to tourniquet a sucking chest wound - but as it is, he just watches in fascinated horror.

With a bump and a howl of pain, Reuben successfully flips himself over and lands on his back. He lifts his arm and aims the gun at the sky - as if he intends to kill God like so many before him - then loosens his elbow, points it into his own chest again, and fires.

This prompts another scream of pain. Grinding his teeth now, blood vessels bursting in his eyes and turning them even redder, he fires twice more.

Morgan waits a moment, watching Reuben closely. His chest does not move, all life does now seem to be extinguished. Finally, Morgan says "I think we'd better call this-"

The newspaper bursts into flames, ignited by the discarded joint. At the same time, Reuben shoots himself one more time, then his arm flies out in a wild spasm - which must squeeze the trigger again, because the final shot goes wild. Morgan and Eleri both jump back, checking themselves over, but it has missed them. Off behind them, glass breaks, and then they hear a faint cry of "Ow!"


"Do yew know," says Eleri, trying to be sardonic about it even as her voice trembles, "I should have gotten into this sort of thing a long time ago. Make the news with one hand and write it up with the other. This is great, this is absolutely fucking quality."

One man is dead, a senior professor of geometry is severely injured in hospital, and they are making their way back to town in the Land Rover, which bears a patina of blood and viscera. Even without Reuben at the wheel singing along to songs of sectarian hate in his gravelly contra-basso, they are still currently rolling reasonable suspicion - yet the roads seem oddly quiet and tranquil.

"Yew suppose everyone else feels like this?" asks Morgan. "Like, those guys broke Watergate open, or them who found out Rupert Murdoch was hacking their phones. Yew suppose they all end up wishing they'd been wrong and there was nothing fishy going on?"

"Oh, probably. What'll really spin yew-er head, though, that's all the ones we don't even know about. They've got the guy on trial now, but yew reckon they've ever taken a run at him before?"

"This the mysterious they, is it? All those shadowy figures who secretly control the world, or the economy, or something?"

"We've just met a few of them, they seemed mysterious enough for me."

When they get back into town, they peel off straight to the police station. Morgan sits down and begins to dial up the Chief Constable, intending to split this whole mess wide open, or at the very least get some real protective custody for the man in the dock. Before he can punch in the last number the door opens again.

"Morgan," says the brisk voice of Inspector Hopkins of the complaints. "You know someone called Tom Jones?"

"Hangs around Las Vegas, doesn't he?" says Morgan, not putting down the phone, hand still poised over the number keys.

"Don't get smart. You brought him in earlier today with blunt-force trauma and broken ribs."

"He fell," say Morgan and Eleri in unison.

"Is that a fact? Because he says you went about him with a rock, and now he wants to press charges for brutality."

"Oh, right. Ok then." Morgan puts down the phone, looks Hopkins dead in the eye, and holds up a hand as if swearing loyalty. "He come at me. He made sudden, exaggerated violent motions that made me fear for my physical safety. Had I not acted-"

"He's seventeen!" The words expand to fill the room.

"Bullshit," says Morgan weakly, thinking of Tom's huge, broad frame and craggy face, but still going grey and feeling lead in his guts.

"You're done. I know this one's tame, but there's plenty of nonce journos out there who'd run wild with a story like this. Respected police inspector, knocking around a little kid?" Eleri snorts at that, but Hopkins continues unabated, "They love that fall from grace shit. So if you make a fuss, that's the way it'll go. Pack your things."

Hopkins sweeps out. Morgan begins to collapse down into his chair, seeming more like he is collapsing in on himself. Then, before they can really react, Hopkins pops his head back in.

"Word to the wise, don't leave through the back door. Owen brought in some cokeheads earlier, and for some reason they can't stop pissing."

"He didn't give them a newspaper, did he?" asks Morgan vaguely, not looking up.

"Think so - well, what they actually asked for was toilet paper."


Eleri leaves Morgan to his thoughts, and on Hopkins's advice, exits through the front door - but must still dodge around an expanding, steaming puddle. She notices the Land Rover being ticketed, so gives it a wide berth, but completely misses the man in the straw hat watching from the other side of the street.

All the investigative powers of the state are now off-limits to her, but there is one avenue left. So she places a call and then walks over to a building on the edge of town that's only a few dozen rooms off being a castle. In the lobby, one wall is given over completely to a bad mural - all too-bright colours and human figures with subtly off proportions. The faces leer down at her, rictuses that are meant to look happy but actually look hungry.

Two tired-looking children in sportswear sprint by, nearly knocking her over. A couple of minutes later, a slightly older child comes out and says "You the journalist?"

"Yeah. With the Post."

"And you want to see the Hughes girl, you said?"

Eleri silently passes over a couple of folded notes and the child stuffs them away. They nod, and lead her upstairs - the bannister is clearly a couple of centuries old and carved of good hardwood, but a good few of the supports have been kicked through.

"She's had a tough time of it. Not used to state care, not used to town life, I don't think. And obviously they all know why she's here. They think it's funny, o'course, because they're at that age where compassion doesn't make sense yet-"

The minder opens a door, and reveals the girl, who Eleri last saw in court - fighting with two other children at once, punching one and biting the other.

"Catrin!" explodes the minder. The two other children up and run in seconds.

"Fockin'freak!" one of them spits over their shoulder - he's no older than ten.

"Watch your bastard mouth, you little shit!" says the minder, aiming a cuff at him. "Sorry about this. To be honest this is a relatively good day. Alright, Catrin, this here's Eleri from the Post."

Catrin's little eyebrows crease instantly. "Yew published that photo of my taid."

"Not me personally," says Eleri.

"Oh, I see you two are going to get on great," says the minder, and makes a sharp exit. Eleri walks into the room - four beds in there, not much other furniture. A sheet of lined paper on the wall has a crayon drawing of a man on it, formally dressed and face covered, with a smiley face over the bag on his face. Catrin rips it down and meets Eleri's gaze once more.

"So your name's Catrin," says Eleri. Meeting only stoicism, she fumbles in her handbag. "Would yew like, a..." After a floundering silence, she shamefacedly produces a pack of twenty Rothmans and holds them out. Catrin snatches them and gives a curt nod. "I've been looking into what happened to yew-er taid. There's something - well, there's a whole lot fishy about it. I think he was set up."

"I know that," sneers Catrin, giving her a flash of teeth. "I know he was set up, because I was bloody there. That surveyor, the one they say he killed? He took a grab at him, then he fell over his own feet. I told them, I told everyone, and they didn't care."

"There's...Jesus Christ," sighs Eleri, pinching her nose, between her eyes. As she does, she hears Catrin unwrapping the Rothmans and tapping one on the box like a seasoned pro. "There's some powerful group out there. I don't know who, but they're the ones framing up your taid. They reckon the government's after him or something, and they want him in prison so he's not in danger."

"They want him in prison so he's not in danger," repeats Catrin slowly.

"If he's out in the open-"

"He was out in the open, then he got framed for murder and they put us both in prison before even charging him. You got a light?" Eleri shamefacedly holds out her lighter. Catrin's little cheeks go hollow as she inhales. "You know what they did to him, in jail? Psh, you'll find out. Bet you'll find out."

"Look, the reason they're doing this is..." Eleri shakes off the fact she's trying to explain these murky motives, or doing anything other than trying to comfort this child, and continues, "whoever it is that's after him, they're trying to get him found innocent so they can get at him. It's not...there's method to the madness."

Catrin silently blows a long plume of smoke.

"I'm sorry if-" Eleri stops, unsure as to exactly what words she's looking for.

"Whatever way the trial goes, I'll be staying here. Them bastards who arrested us made that clear enough. 'Ooh, yer can't raise a child here, it inn't got Sky news'...fucking pricks." And Eleri's heard plenty of children swear before, but she's never heard any of them mean it before. "Look, I'm sorry. I realise you're trying to help here. It's just, I know there's stuff going on around all this. Had some greasy cunt wander in here and tell me not to testify or he'd have me battered. Then some accountant-looking bloke comes in and says if I do testify, he'll get me put in a better home." She seems to laugh, but it sounds like a wheeze and the mirth doesn't reach her eyes. "Still waiting on that."

By now, Eleri can't meet the cold stare, not even through the smoke. "I can ask around. See if social services know, do anything."

"Yeah. Cheers, yeah. No, I think you've all done enough. Thanks for the fags." Catrin retreats onto her bunk. Eleri turns to leave, and comes face to face with an aging liberal arts graduate - tweedy, thick-bodied, and iron-grey.

"How did you get in here?" the woman asks, and then - "Did you just give Catrin those cigarettes?"

Eleri is grasping for an answer, when Catrin explodes "Fucking hell!" The black-and-white portable tv in the corner, quietly flickering away, is now displaying the picture that went out in the paper - a twisted chaos of pixellation and static. Eleri grabs for the remote, turns the sound on, but the voiceover speaks only of "...accused of murdering a surveyor. The trial continues," before cutting to the weather.

There is a sound from outside. In the stairwell, a boy with spots stumbles from his room and vomits copiously over the banisters. It falls three floors to impact on where all the residents'shoes are lined up in the hall. As wails and moans of distress erupt all through the building, Eleri slips away.


Later that day, she eases her way along the bench - feeling safe and semi-anonymous in the pre-game murmuring that fills the court - and sits down in the furthest corner. All day she has been trying to think of how to even begin writing all this down, and has come up with nothing. With all the juiciest parts remaining conjecture, hearsay, and putting two and two together rather than any hard evidence, there is little more than the disability angle - which, with a national newspaper now openly calling the defendant 'the monster', seems like low-hanging fruit.

Grudgingly, she begins to script out how to best combine calling another newspaper irresponsible and also scum, but then the woman in front of her turns around.

"Ant'ony says hello," she says, showing her teeth. "When this is over, he wants to talk to you about how his brother died."

"Talk, huh?" says Eleri.

The woman snickers - and now Eleri recognises her, having been thrown without the double buggy to go by. "He said to break your fingers first." She turns away. Eleri looks about the room, vaguely hoping Morgan will be here. Instead, her gaze lands on the broad-brimmed hat of Billy the Yid, lounging in the back next to an ill-looking man with one arm badly out of proportion. She shoots Eleri a harsh glance, then looks straight ahead.

Now surrounded by threats, she reaches for her phone, wanting to call Morgan for backup - but then remembers he is no longer in a position to have people taken away and beaten up. As she resignedly tucks her phone away, she sees a buttoned-down figure in a large straw hat swagger up the aisle, backed by half a dozen other suited men, and gently dislodge a pensioner from the front bench.

With them in place, the judge taps his gavel and begins proceedings. When the defendant is brought forth, there is a gasp of both shock and awe. He has been mistreated, that is evident from his torn clothes and even-more faltering gait. But mainly it is that an unkind person has drawn a big broad smiley face on his bag, dot eyes and a mouth grinning from ear to ear.

"Are you Mr Dylan Hughes, lately of Yr Llaethdy, Nant-yr-Iar?" asks the judge. The man in the dock makes a faltering gesture with his hands, seeming to concede it.

As a last resort, Eleri tugs on the young mother's shirt. "Yew know about the other side of this, right? The guys trying to keep him out of prison?"

"Who?" she asks. "The monster?"

Eleri bites down the obvious response to a woman with a knife and tattoos on her jaw calling anyone else a monster, and says "Yes, him" as evenly as she can.

"Fuck-ehn killed a man, though! Who's trying to get him off? You fuck-ehn do-gooders?"

"Them lads up the front. Him in the hat."

"Why?" she asks, eyes squinting with piggy suspicion.

"Why do you go around getting up to trouble?" Eleri responds.

"Fuck-ehn bitch," says the young mother, but with no venom, almost as a reflex - distracted as she tries to weigh all this up in her mind.

At the front, the prosecutor rises with a flap of wig and robes. "The crown had intended to call a Miss Catrin Hughes - the defendant's daughter - as a witness. Unfortunately she has been unable to attend, having been taken ill in mysterious circumstances."

"Christ," mumbles Eleri, but nobody hears. The grey suits on the front jump to their feet and begin to loudly register their outrage. At the same time the young mother gives a bawdy rugby-club cheer, and so does Billy at the back. The judge gets to his feet too, pounding his gavel furiously, bellowing for order.

"If it please the court?" asks the defence, somehow coming off like they're speaking at a normal volume despite having cut through the previous aural melee.

"Who the fuck's that?" says a woman two along from Eleri, who she recognises from the local press.

"Harry Magnum, QC," responds her companion - a British correspondent for the Washington Post. "Normally deals with high-end libel cases down Whitehall. Fuck knows how the monster can afford him."

"Harry Magnum?"

Eleri is already reflecting it all sounds far too good, when Harry pipes up - now actually speaking at a normal volume - with "A lot has been made of my client's unfortunate condition. We have all, by now, seen the photograph published in the local Mail newspaper - a photograph that was produced when a gang of reporters assaulted my client outside this very courtroom. And yet, you have all, throughout, identified him as a masked man. At no point has anyone even attempted to prove that this man, Dylan Hughes, my client, was in fact the same man who murdered the tragic victim. Indeed, there has been no attempt to prove that Mr Hughes was even present on that clifftop on the day in question. To wear a mask is not an admission of guilt, your honour. From time to time we may all have a reason to wish to conceal our faces."

"Bet you do," snarls the young mother.

"This is spurious logic," says the prosecution. "Mr Hughes was apprehended not two hours after the death of Rupert Stanstead, and not five hundred metres from the spot where it took place..."

With the factions now settling down, on a knife-edge waiting for the next development, Eleri tries to slip out. She eases her way past the knees of what feels like the entire press corps - jostling boxes of popcorn and being muttered at to sit the fuck down - then escapes into the aisle, and is nearly out the doors when another badly proportioned man blocks her path. He has a bullet-shaped bulldog head, and a thick neck emblazoned with a skull-and-crossbones to go with it - but from the collar on down, he appears thin, his suit hanging loose on whatever frame he has in there.

"Sit down," he says, gently. Something in his eyes makes her obey.

"Absolutely preposterous," the prosecution is now saying. "My learned friend appears to have forgotten the precedent set in R v. El Santo - and besides which, this is some pretty big talk coming from a crook who defends little-Hitler celebrities-"

"You're five seconds away from contempt," the judge warns.

The defence rises, the hungry look of a boxer in their face ready to go on the attack - but they stop in their tracks when Dylan holds up a hand.

"Do you wish to address the court, Mr Hughes?" asks the judge. There is a low-level buzz of comment, a lot of it seeming to use the phrase 'the monster'. Awkwardly, as if he might fall over, Dylan stands in the dock, the smile drawn on his mask looking out at everyone, and he speaks:

"It'ff true my form iff ffomething odd

But blaming me iff blaming God

If I could make myffelf anew

I would not fail in pleaffing you.

If I could reach from pole to pole

Or graffp the offean with a ffpan

I would be meaffured by the ffoul

The mind'ff the fftandard of the man."

Nobody speaks for a long time. Billy the Yid begins to cry. Then, finally, the prosecution raises their hand and says "Is it not the case that it may harm your defence, if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court?"

"Oh, objection," says the defence, "this is only tangentially related to the actual facts of the case-"

The prosecution turns to the jury. "Did that, or did that not, fill you with sympathy and admiration?" Somehow they are visibly shuffling their feet, even with the lower halves of their bodies concealed by the jury box. "I must formally demand that, as my learned friend suggested only minutes ago, we verify the defendant's identity!"

And how they intend to do that instantly makes itself clear - the bailiff does not move, but the grey suits in the front row leap to their feet once more and converge on the dock. With them already having swarmed Dylan, the bailiff does go to intervene, but one of them stops the man in his tracks by grabbing his throat.

In front of Eleri, the young mother curses voluminously and whips out her knife, but now the rest of the crowd is surging and protesting, and she finds herself blocked in. Billy the Yid and her mismatched companion have made it into the aisle, but so have a lot of other people in front of them - who are in the weird no-man's-land of having wanted to jump into the situation, but now that they're in a position to are thinking twice about it.

With chaos not quite reigning, but certainly on the verge of a major breakthrough, Eleri feels something move up her leg - under her clothes. She rounds furiously on the man behind her, but he is currently engaged in trying to wrestle his way past a senior citizen.

"Motherfucker!" someone says above the din, in a strong American accent. At the front, the suits all fall back from the dock. Dylan has vanished, leaving only an empty set of man's clothes - his mask wilts in one of their hands.

"Right!" announces the one in the straw hat, "Nobody leaves this room!" - just as, at the back, Billy stands tall, probably actually standing on the bench for added emphasis, and shrieks "They killed him! They killed him right in front of everyone!"

"They killed the monster!" a voice screeches out of the crowd, sounding genuinely outraged. Even the people who didn't come in here with their allegiance writ in stone look like they're itching all round the knuckles by now.

Up at the front, as if emceeing it all, straw hat now reaches inside his jacket - but before he murders anyone, the judge pops up behind him, and leathers him with the gavel. Then the beating starts.


Eleri scrambles out the window of the ladies'toilets, and lands in a bush. Her shirt is torn and she considers herself incredibly lucky. She makes her way through the undergrowth at a fair lick, then emerges around the front of the building, slows to a half, and raises her hands. A machine-gun squad, lying in wait out here, now have her in their sights - a man who's either sweating profusely or actually melting, and a woman whose arm fades into bruise-purple below the elbow.

"You with the foundation?" they scream at her.

"I'm just with the press," she pleads, arms straight up now, feeling something shifting and tickling under her clothes. "I don't even know, fully, what's going on."

Laughter fills the car park - gentle warm laughter, then violent coughing, then laughter again. "British press! You can't beat them." A painfully thin woman walks forward, into the sodium light - her crutch clicking on the ground, as one of her legs is missing below the knee. "I mean, granted it's all a bit weird, but you'll have some lovely feature material, right?"

"Low on pictures," says Eleri. "But then again, they're what caused half the trouble."

"Plus, most people probably think they're shopped anyway." The thin woman - not much more than a girl, now Eleri can see her properly - stumps closer. "How's the trial going? Anyone taken a pop at Dylan yet?"

"They tried. But I think" - the itching on the skin of her navel, from something she can't see, becomes unbearable - "he got out. Not sure how, exactly."

The thin woman walks up the steps to measure Eleri up. She is pale and drawn, her head bobbing, eyes half-lidded and mouth frozen in a doped grin. So it is with uncanny speed that one of her hands flicks out and pulls out the front of Eleri's shirt. She takes a quick look down it, and says "'ello, matron" in a silly voice. Eleri tries to take a look down there too, but the woman has already released her.

She turns back to the machine-gunners. "She's fine. Let her go."

And Eleri starts off across the car park, feeling as if the weight as lifted. But the man on the gun, acting on primordial instinct, track her progress. This is why, when Morgan appears in the pool of light, he immediately falls upon the man and punches him in the jaw.

Eleri instantly freezes. Suddenly she finds herself in the tinderbox again. The woman with the purple arm rises to stand over Morgan. Eleri looks over at the thin woman, but her heavily medicated gaze gives nothing away.

"That's an offensive weapon, that," Morgan says, gesturing towards the machine-gun. The thin woman begins to laugh again.


It is a month later. Ciaran sits in his armchair, a glass of middling whisky in one hand and a cigarette in the other, watching the tv. Even so soon afterwards, the news makes no mention of a courtroom full of people passing out and contracting short-term amnesia, in one of those strange phenomena. However, it does mention the slow recovery of hundreds of drug addicts all across the country who went into fits of rage and sexual confusion after witnessing a now-controversial news item.

"One day I'll tell yew what really happened," says Eleri.

"For god's sake do not do that," says Ciaran.

"I will. I'll tell yew everything, including the bits covered under the Official Secrets Act."

The news moves onto an item about one Reginald Perrin, a surveyor, who was under investigation as a missing person before, to everyone's shock, returning from taking an unscheduled holiday in the low countries in the manner of a famous actor. Unlike famous actors, he is being roundly mocked for it.

"Knew he wanted a holiday," says Ciaran.

And then finally, before it moves onto softer news, there is also an item about a Muslim woman in Bolton, who had her veil forcibly removed by a gang of street bastards.

Ciaran nods towards the screen, and says "Same as it ever was, eh?"

"Not really. Seems more like one similarity between two cases that hinge on fairly different reasons and motivations."

"Still pretty fucked up."

"It certainly is - and it's not my problem." She wanders out the front door. It is cold but it is bright, and Morgan sits out here polishing a construction of wood and metal. She kisses him on the cheek. "Yew always wanted somewhere out in the country."

"What I wanted was a bit of a lawn," he says, looking out down the path. On the side facing the house, they have cut down all the trees to deny cover to anyone approaching. He slots the curved limbs back into the crossbow, hauls the string back, and pulls the trigger. The mechanism releases with the sound of a single helicopter blade, and he says "That's the stuff."

"Something else you always wanted, wasn't there?"

Catrin pulls a bolt from the lathe, blows imaginary particles off the pointed tip, and throws it in an overflowing bucket of bolts by Morgan's feet. "Last one," she says. "Can I go up to the top field?"

"Stay where we can see you," says Eleri - and, as soon as the girl is gone, nudges Morgan with her elbow.

There is no wall behind the house - it opens directly onto the mountainside. Catrin's youthful run soon gives way to laboured trudging on the increasing gradient. But it is not far to go to get to the scarecrow, leaning back into the rocks and surrounded by starlings. She stands beneath it, the painted smile on the sackcloth of its face looking down on her.

"Hope it's not too cold up here," she says. After a bit of reflection, she adds "Or too boring." She sits down and curls up, resting against the scarecrow's pole, and looks down the mountain. The clouds hang heavy over the mountains, but in the cleft of the valley, the sun burns and bubbles through, orange and angry.

"Ffeen worffe viewff," a little voice says above her as the grey mists churn in the sky. On the horizon, a helicopter emerges from behind a cliffside and begins slowly to circle.