Chapter 1: Fire Water
When Mared got the call about Tom, she had been blissfully asleep, exhausted after two hours of anxious tossing and turning. She'd left him with that look in his eye, the one he got when he was trying to conceal the fervour that kept him awake at nights. That drive to make things right that necessitated the bottle of zopiclone tablets in his caravan big enough to put Ffion Bowen into a coma.
She knew he felt responsible for the girl’s suicide attempt, though, really, he had been one of the only people with the girl’s best interests at heart. Nevertheless, he would spend the evening and even into the wee hours attempting to find the person who'd killed the girl's mother as a way of making amends.
But she hadn’t felt that drive to find the truth this time. She'd felt exhausted. And at the back of her mind was that little thrill of satisfaction she always got at solving a murder case. Aron’s murder was solved. The perpetrator was in custody and it was time to go home. She needed to see her daughter.
The sight of Ffion, only a year older than Elin, comatose in a hospital bed had left her with a desperate need to let her own child know that she loved her, unconditionally, and that despite Mared’s own early start to motherhood, she had never felt Elin in any way a burden.
So she'd left him in the station, though it pained her to do so, knowing full well he wouldn't rest until he solved the case. And she'd come home to a daughter in a surprisingly good mood, greeting her mother warmly and letting her know they'd saved some dinner for her. Tears had pricked at the corners of her eyes at this, but she held them back, knowing how much it upset her daughter to see her cry.
They'd had a lovely evening, talking and laughing for the first time in a while. Elin even deigned to speak about school and her future a bit, which was usually like getting blood from a stone. After that, Mared had gone to bed with a smile on her face. But the sight of her mobile on her night table and the amount of willpower it took to not pick it up and call him had left her unable to settle herself to sleep.
Tom blamed himself, as he did nearly every time a case went pear-shaped and someone got hurt. Adding that on to the immeasurable guilt she knew he felt for the deaths of his daughter and Gwen Thomas, for abandoning his family and the break-up of his marriage, she was worried at what he might be capable of. One man could only take so much.
But she couldn't go chasing after him anymore. He'd been right, that day in the stairwell; she spent more time at work than she did with Elin. It'd been that way for years. But she was also a single mother who had been raising her daughter on a single income for far too long to start slacking off on the job now. She worked hard for her daughter, to keep her in clothes and trainers and to save for university, as Elin was clever enough, though she'd not yet expressed interest. But Mared wanted her to have the option to go nonetheless.
Her parents had helped out, sure, after she’d finally decided that a tiny flat was no place for a child to grow up and had accepted her mother’s offer to move back into the house Mared and her brother had grown up in.
But Elin was her daughter, not theirs. She'd brought her into the world as a seventeen-year-old who’d thought she had it all sussed. Oh, how wrong and young she had been. And now, at nearly thirty-four and certainly wiser than she’d been then, it was important to her to be a good provider for her daughter. Her parents wouldn't be around forever.
So she had worked hard to do that, had put her job on the line time and again for Tom Mathias. And what had it gotten her? Not very much. She wasn't sure if she could call them friends, even. He'd never opened up to her, confided in her, invited her and Siân and Lloyd out for drinks as a team, like a proper DCI would.
No, it had been straight from the station to his bloody caravan and they wouldn't see him until the next tragic case turned up. He'd be spotted jogging along the cliffs, pushing himself to the brink, punishing himself. Probably drinking himself into oblivion as well.
He hardly praised her, never thanked her. He worried her constantly with his inability to speak about the grief and guilt that plagued him and, occasionally, affected his work. Gave her a heart attack running into burning buildings, breaking down doors without backup, grabbing loaded shotguns out of people’s hands. He could be a real bastard sometimes.
So why, when Bronglais General Hospital called her, explaining that her number, written on a paper in his wallet, had been the only contact information they could find, and informed her that his badly beaten, slightly singed body had been found next to his burnt-out caravan, did she collapse onto her bed, letting out a wail that somehow managed not to wake the whole house?
Because she cared for him, she realised, as she dressed in the dark alone at 3:37 AM, the other occupants of the home sleeping soundly. Maybe a little more than she cared to admit to even herself.
The ride to the hospital was not a long one, but she was so distracted and this bloody town was so dark and wet in the middle of the night, she very nearly skidded off the road in more than one location.
When she got to his room, the sight of their seemingly fearless DCI lying unconscious and vulnerable, incipient bruises forming on his swollen face, his burnt hand wrapped in gauze, IV and oxygen tubes running from his body, she felt her knees go weak. She grabbed on to the edge of the window sill to steady herself as tears fell freely down her face. This is my fault, she thought. I shouldn’t have left him. This thought chorused through her head as she entered the room, sitting down next to his bed.
She watched him for a few seconds, the rise and fall of his chest, the occasional movements he made: a twitch of his hand here, a turn of his head there. “Tom?” she asked, her voice wavering in the silence of dim room. “Can you hear me?” On not receiving a response, she reached forward and slipped her hand around his wrist where the gauze ended, gripping it firmly.
She inched forward in the hard plastic chair, laying her tired head against his shoulder, his wrist still held tightly in hers. She listened to his steady breaths and felt his pulse beat strongly against her fingers, the fact that he was very much alive comforting her. “I'm so sorry, Tom,” she whispered. When he did not respond, she closed her eyes and let the rhythms of the life within him lull her to sleep.
Tom Mathias was swimming. But not, as it felt, through water.
He was swimming through fire.
Fire that swirled around him, burned him, suffocated him with its dry heat.
But he kept on swimming. The picture, the one of the girls together, as they should be now, not torn apart by circumstance and the frailty of the human body, swirled ahead of him in the fire-water. He swam toward it, his legs kicking furiously, his arms reaching for it, fingers brushing the edge of the paper but never quite able to grasp it.
He kicked and kicked and swam and swam but it remained just out of reach, his daughters’ smiling faces mocking him as he failed, time after time, to catch the photograph. Just as he’d failed to keep his little girl safe.
And then suddenly there was a blackness in the centre of the fire. The picture erupted into flames, curling up and reducing itself to ash in seconds while he wailed in agony. No no noooo—and then the blackness engulfed him, cold and wet, and he fell onto the hard ground. He breathed in the wet, salty air, feeling the heat on his back. He turned to see his caravan aflame, burning brightly in the cool night.
He stood, slowly, watching the fire as it raged through the little camper that had been his home for more than a year. And then there was pain. His head felt like it was split in two, like his brain was screaming out, and he turned—Brian Prosser stood in front of him, holding a weapon, a club or something, he couldn't quite make it out.
Prosser had hit him, he realised. He looked up at the man, eyes wide as the weapon came down on him again. He tried to scream, tried to stop it – but then there was nothing.
Chapter 2: Bronglais
Tom Mathias woke with a start in an Aberystwyth hospital bed, his head pounding, his mouth dry. His ribs ached and his right hand felt like a club—he couldn't move his fingers.
Panic crept in. How? What? He looked over to see a mop of black hair on the bed beside him. It was attached to a rather familiar red parka. He smiled, if only in spite of himself. Mared.
The panic drained away, his breaths slowing. Her warm hand was holding onto his forearm tightly, and he could feel her cheek against his neck. He sighed with relief. He couldn't remember how he'd gotten here. But he wasn't alone.
He shifted a bit in the bed. Whatever they'd given him was starting to wear off and he was becoming a little bit uncomfortable. His ribs hurt with every breath, his head pounded sickeningly with each heartbeat and his hand felt uncomfortably tight and sore.
He cleared his throat and eyed the plastic cup of water on the table by the bed longingly. He shifted again gently, trying not to wake his DI, still fast asleep against his shoulder. He tried to angle his left arm to grab the cup, but it was no use. He sighed. Then, very gently, he began to wrest his right arm out of Mared's grasp, only to find said hand incapacitated by a thick wrapping of gauze.
He groaned, dropping his arm back to the bed.
Beside him, Mared suddenly woke with a start.
He turned to look at her as she got her bearings, hair tousled and cheeks pink with sleep. He found himself unable to keep his lips from curling into a little smile at the sight of her completely without pretence.
It hit him then just how young she really was. On the job, she wore that practiced façade of professionalism, wanting to be taken seriously as an officer and an authority figure by her two junior officers. But with that stripped from her, her hair a bit untidy, her clothes rumpled, her expression open and almost innocent, years were taken off her appearance. He could see now that she couldn’t be that much older than Siân was, or even Lloyd, for that matter.
“Sorry,” he said to her, finding his voice scarcely more than a hoarse whisper.
“Oh,” came her soft, confused reply. She brushed the errant strands of dark hair from her face. “You’re awake,” she whispered, a broad smile blooming on her face. “Oh, Tom, thank god.” And with no warning, she wrapped her arm across his chest gently, the other circling the back of his neck, burying her head against his shoulder once more.
His eyes closed automatically at the feel of her against him. He sighed deeply, leaning his head against hers. God, how he had missed this. Just how long had it been since he'd been touched like this? Without any forethought, just two people who cared for one another and were unafraid to show it? Intimacy bred from trust and respect.
Even his embrace with Meg at the train station had been just a desperate, bittersweet goodbye. This was different. It felt so good just yield to her, revel in the feeling of being held; warm, safe, and for once, not alone.
He was surprised to find that there was no awkwardness at all between them. It felt almost like relief, like a barrier between them had been broken, finally. After nearly two years of working side by side they'd still been so far apart. There were times when he thought they'd never speak again, she'd been so angry with him, and he’d hated himself for being unable to make it right. There was so much he'd wanted to say but just...never had.
But, she was here now and she cared whether he lived or died. It was a start.
And he wasn't dead. He found himself happy about that, curiously. Another bullet dodged. He had to start being more careful.
He rubbed his cheek against her hair, trying to reassure her.
“I'm okay, Mared,” he said after a few seconds, “it's okay.”
She nodded her head beneath his, and after a few seconds raised it until her eyes were level with his. Hers were red-rimmed and tired, but the blue of them still shone brightly in the dimly lit room. He gave her a little smile as she rested against the edge of the bed, eyes still on him.
“I thought you were dead, Tom,” she said, her voice gaining strength. Her arms were still wrapped lightly around him, careful not to injure but still, apparently, unwilling to let him go. “Do you know how many times I’ve dreamt of horrible things happening to you? And then when they called I was so sure—”
“Hey,” he said, softly, “I'll be fine. And you're not my keeper, Mared.”
“No,” she said, so close he could feel her warm breath puff against his lips, “I am your partner. You needed me and I went home instead.”
“That makes us about even, then. For all the times I’ve let you down.” He moved his head back a bit, looking down at her. She closed her eyes and a soft smile graced her lips. “You really do deserve better.”
She let out a quiet little laugh before opening her eyes. “But I don’t want better, Tom,” she said, her voice low. There was a pause before she spoke again, looking him straight in the eye. “I can’t imagine working with anyone else.”
He chuckled softly. “Nor can I.” Mared smiled. He shrugged. “I guess we’re stuck with each other.”
She nodded, smiling. Then she set to slowly disentangling herself from him, much, he found, to his displeasure. Immediately he missed the warmth of her against his skin. He shivered slightly, and she pulled the thin covers up around his shoulders without missing a beat.
He found that it was really quite nice to have her here. It'd been so long since anyone had given two shits about him. Really cared, not just looked at him with disappointment and anger, as Meg had, or with that infuriating pity disguised as sympathy, as everyone else had. Even Mared had been guilty of that a time or two.
It was impossible, he supposed, not to pity a man so completely broken as he. But she’d always treated him with respect, even after he’d come back and taken her job. She’d always, always been there for him despite the many times he’d been inconsiderate and foolhardy.
And here she was at his bedside in the middle of the night. He’d known she cared for him, as he did her. As most partners did. But for some time now he had started to wonder just exactly the nature of her feelings for him. He wasn’t vain. And he knew that their co-dependency as partners bred a familiarity that could be almost like a marriage at times.
But there were times, alone, at night, waiting for the pills to work, or tossing and turning after they hadn’t, that he wondered. The way she looked at him sometimes. Almost like she could feel the aura of pain radiating from him and wanted, desperately, to help, but she couldn't think of what to say. The worry she showed when he was hurt, like now, and the tender concern in her eyes and in her touch when she’d come upon him in the marshes, covered in Dyfan Richard’s blood. He hadn’t forgotten about that.
And no man was an island; even if he often wished he could isolate himself from everyone for the rest of his life. No one truly wanted to be alone forever. Some endured a solitary existence. But he was not made that way. He needed people, as much as he tried to deny it. He felt that pull with Gwen Thomas, even if it was, in hindsight, merely a connection borne out of shared grief.
He and Meg were finished. He’d come to terms with it. They had been, really, since he’d left. They were two people who dealt with grief in totally different ways. There was no middle ground with them, no way for them to get through this together. They had to be apart to truly move on. And yes, he missed Hannah desperately. But it almost hurt more to be with her than it did to be away from her. Sometime in the future, he knew that would change. But for now she was better off without him.
He grieved for that family that he’d lost almost as much as he grieved the loss of his daughter. It got easier, as time went on, but he missed all those years as a part of something, when he had a role as a father and husband. He knew they’d never get that back. The dynamic between the four of them. The way the girls had been so alike, yet so different at the same time. The little inside jokes they all shared, the holidays and birthdays and the joy and the heartache. Everything being part of a family had afforded him.
He missed it so much it physically hurt to think of it.
And deep in his heart, hidden away, was the desire to have that again. A family, friends. He knew it would never be as it was, never be the same. What they'd had was lost and scattered, just memories now. But he still missed the way children filled a home with laughter and chaos. The busy schedule of football practice and piano lessons. Watching them grow, helping them understand the world.
And, how he missed having a woman who loved him, and whom he loved back, with all his heart. Someone to come home to at the end of the day, to bury himself in and forget about the horrors his choice of career provided him. God, he wanted that more than anything in the world.
Just as much as he wanted those things he was terrified to seek them out. He had lost his daughter. He'd lost Gwen. It could happen again. To love was to open your heart, leave it exposed to the elements, vulnerable to the dangers that lie in wait. After Gwen, he swore he would never get close to anyone again.
He still hoped, though, and dreamed. Every time he saw a little one or a happy family. He still looked for it in the world despite what he’d suffered. Despite what he’d seen. Despite what he knew human beings could do to each other, he still yearned.
Perhaps this was reason enough to open his heart again? He still loved Meg, he couldn’t deny that. But it was a different kind of love than it had been. Muted, distant. He knew he could have loved Gwen. But there was no future with either Gwen or Meg now.
But there was this woman at his bedside, who, despite their many disagreements and differences in opinion, still ran to him whenever he needed her to. She still cared deeply for him, even after seeing him at his worst. If anything, everything that had happened since he’d come back had only brought them closer together.
He was pulled from his thoughts when the woman in question spoke.
“Thirsty?” she asked. He nodded as she grabbed the cup of water from the table, tipping it to his lips. He drank it greedily.
“Thanks,” he said, when he’d had his fill, and she placed the empty cup back on the table. “I feel like I swallowed a mouthful of fire.”
“Well I'd say that's not out of the realm of possibility,” Mared said, her trademark disaffectedness returning, bringing a crooked little grin to his face. “Do you remember what happened?”
He thought back to the night before, but he could only see Mared’s face as she reluctantly left to go home. Abi Watkins’s file, Aron Bowen’s interview. The dead man's face in black and white. He’d been going over the case file again. That was the last of it, his last memory. Everything after swirled in his head like a fleeting mist that he could not catch. He shook his head slowly.
“Well, your neighbour noticed the flames and rang 999. They found you next to your caravan, unresponsive, your hands burnt, bleeding profusely from a blow to the back of the head. It would seem you were also beaten badly while on the ground. You’ve got two broken ribs and extensive bruising all over your body.” Tom could only stare at her. “You could have died, Tom.”
His caravan. Now he remembered. It had been lit ablaze. He had tried to get the photograph, just like in his dream. His heart rate sped up as the memories came back and he winced at the pain on the left side of his ribcage as his breathing quickened.
“In pain?” Mared asked, already out of her seat, “I’ll get the nurse.”
“Wait,” he said, and she turned to him expectantly. “Just…give me—in a minute. I remember the fire now,” he told her.
Reluctantly, Mared returned to her chair.
“I heard a noise,” he told her. “After I'd gotten out of the car. Like a rustling, or something. Like an animal moving about. I couldn’t see anyone.” He turned to look at her, frowning, raking through his brain for the memories. “The caravan just…exploded. It went up fast. Had to be petrol or some sort of accelerant. Definitely deliberately set, Mared.”
Her plump lips pursed together as she frowned. “How did you burn your hand?”
He looked down at it, sitting uselessly on the bed. He sighed. “I went in.”
“The caravan?” Her eyes were huge.
“Are you daft, Tom? Or do you just have some sort of death wish?”
His eyebrows went up, surprised by the intensity of the anger that had flared up in her.
“No, Mared, I don't,” he told her, unable to keep the irritation for his voice. He sighed, deeply. “Not anymore,” he said, softly, mostly to himself.
Her brow furrowed at this with what he realised now was not anger, but fear. She was terrified that one of these days he’d get himself killed. And, he supposed, her fears were not entirely unfounded.
“If you must know,” he started, finding the words very hard to get out, “I went to get a photograph. Of my daughters. Hannah and—Sara.” He breathed out a painful breath and winced again. Tears pricked at the corners of his eyes, both in frustration at the condition he found himself in and because it'd been months since he'd last said his daughter’s name. He didn't like to.
Meg would say it all the time; what Sara liked, what Sara would have thought of this or that. He couldn't. It felt wrong, somehow, to talk about her as if she was still present. Because she wasn't and would never be again. It felt as if they were just moving past her, like she'd never existed.
It was one of the first things he and Meg had rowed about, in those early months. Hannah had just cried and cried as they argued. He squeezed his eyes shut and cleared his throat, trying to get the image of his sobbing daughter out of his head. Then he turned to look at Mared.
She was brushing away tears almost shamefully, her cheeks shining with wetness. He bit the inside of his lip, hard, trying to resist the urge to turn away. He hadn’t meant to upset her.
“Mared,” he said. He wanted so badly to reach out and touch her, but the bloody bandages on his hand prevented that. He sighed with frustration.
“I'm fine,” she said, smiling with wet eyes. “I didn't know their names, Tom,” she told him, and he nodded with understanding. Their eyes met for a few, meaningful seconds. Then she looked away, wiped at her face and spoke again. “Did you get it?” she asked. “The photo?”
Tom shook his head slowly, mournfully, almost. He held up his cotton-wrapped hand. “Too hot. I stepped away, then there was another explosion. The propane, probably. After that…woke up here.”
Mared was perplexed. She looked up at him with a frown.
“Is there anything you're leaving out, Tom?” she asked. “You were found at nearly half one in the morning, and it didn't take very long for the ambulance to get there. I left you at eight o'clock. What had you been up to all that time?”
Tom frowned, leaning back against the bed. Mared had left, bid him good night. But he'd stayed. He'd gone through the whole case file again, reviewed Aron Bowen’s interrogation tape. He had been so sure that the answers were in there, in between the lines of Bowen’s story. But it'd been late and he'd been so tired…
"I was at the station,” he told her. “I must've come straight home from there. I don't remember anything else.” He wished he could feel the wound on the back of his head, survey the damage, as it were. Maybe it would spark his memory.
“Can you think of anyone who would want to hurt you?”
Tom scoffed, and looked up at her. “Only half of Ceredigion,” he said, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice. He was tired, and he was losing patience. The gravity of the situation was starting to hit home. Someone had attacked him. Burnt his home to the ground. Destroyed everything he'd owned and left him with nothing. Why?
Mared rolled her eyes. “I'm serious, Tom.”
“So am I! I've seen the way these people look at me. It doesn't matter that I was born in this country or that I speak the language. I'm an outsider. Spend a few years in London and you’re some sort of traitor. Nearly every case has produced some psycho disgruntled enough to blow up my home,” he said. Mared watched him, her expression dubious. “Iwan Thomas, Glyn Powell, Harri Jenkins, half of Penwyllt, for god’s sake.”
Now was her turn to scoff. “I’ve spent my whole life here, you remember? I know what these people can be like. But what I'm asking is why now? Thomas has had months to make you pay for his wife’s death. Why would he wait until last night? Who has the motive and the drive to do this now? I mean, I'd be more inclined to pin it on one of the Bowens. Annes or even Delyth. Or maybe the Watkins…what?” Mared asked, for Tom was sure he'd just gone as white as a sheet.
“Annes,” he told her. “I remember now, Mared. I did stay. I watched the tape over and over. Do you remember...when we interviewed her the first time, I asked her what she did after she sent Aron home? She said she'd gone to bed, but there was a hesitation there. I didn't realise it until after. I thought she just felt guilty for chucking her son out, but it was what Aron said on the tape about his mother—”
“She said he'd made a mess of his life,” Mared finished, realisation dawning in her eyes, “and she went out and fixed it for him. Annes killed Abi?”
Tom nodded slowly. “That's where I was. I went out to the boatyard to confront her.”
“You did what? By yourself? Christ, Tom, it really is a wonder that this didn't happen to you sooner. Why the hell didn't you call me?”
He sighed. “I needed her to know that I knew. Prosser won't allow us to prosecute her, you know that. She's an old woman. One son dead, the other in prison. Granddaughter in a coma because of it all. No evidence whatsoever. And he investigated the original case, Mared. Signed off on it. If I'd called you, I'd be putting your career in jeopardy as well as mine. And you don't deserve that.”
“Well that's very noble of you, Tom, but you didn’t you stop to think that confronting someone with their deepest, darkest secret at night, alone, could have consequences?”
“It wasn't Annes who hit me, not unless she had an accomplice. There's only one way to get from there to my caravan and I wasn't followed. Whoever did it knew I'd be at the station late, waited for me to get home, then…lit the fuse. And while I was distracted by the fire, beat the living shit out of me.” Mared sighed tiredly, leaning back in the cheap plastic chair.
And then suddenly an image flashed in his head. His dream. He'd fallen out of the fire into the grass, felt his head split in two and had turned around to see Brian Prosser staring back at him.
“Prosser,” he said, quietly and Mared looked up at him in alarm.
“You think our Chief Superintendent blew up your caravan and bashed your head in? Tom, you're not—”
“He's in trouble, Mared. I see it now. Back when we were investigating Alys’s murder, I did some digging on Iwan Thomas. Prosser seemed very keen on keeping him quiet, locking him up when he hadn’t done anything to warrant it. Did you know Thomas was the officer who originally investigated those sexual assault claims at Pontarfynach Children’s Home?”
Mared’s eyebrows went skyward. “He what?”
“You didn't know?” She shook her head.
“Prosser found me looking through the file. Made it very clear without saying anything at all that I was digging too deep. There was part of a performance evaluation in there. Nothing about the drinking. It was a glowing report. I think Thomas has something on Prosser, and that it has to do with the Children’s Home. And they fitted him up as an incompetent drunk to discredit him and keep him quiet,” Tom said. Mared frowned, looking down at her hands folded in her lap.
“Are you saying Prosser’s bent?”
“I’m saying he’s got a secret, and he’s desperate. I think Thomas is desperate, too. He’s lost everything; his wife, his daughter, his career,” he told her. “He came to me a few weeks ago.”
“Thomas?” Mared asked, surprised. Tom nodded.
“At the mobile home park while we investigating Kasia’s murder. I saw him just after I called you at the hospital. He asked me if I’d told Meg about my involvement with Gwen,” Mared’s eyes widened at this. “He was very keen to know. He’s been watching me, Mared, spying.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about this?” she asked, flabbergasted.
“At the time I thought he was just a broken man acting out his grief,” he said. “I still think that. But Prosser found me later that day. He knew, somehow. Warned me off Thomas, told me he was a dangerous man that couldn’t be trusted.” He sighed deeply and leaned back against the bed, squeezing his eyes shut. His head was starting to pound again and the pain in his ribs was making it harder and harder to breathe.
“So what else did Thomas say to you?” Mared asked after some time. She seemed to be having trouble digesting all of this. He couldn’t blame her. He hadn’t wanted to get her involved in whatever was going on with their Chief Superintendent. Desperate men could be dangerous, and while Tom hadn’t been particularly concerned about his own wellbeing, he would never forgive himself if anything happened to any member of his team. He sighed, going back to that rainy day in the trailer park.
“The usual things men say when they’re hurting. Blaming me for Gwen, accusing me of being ‘one of Prosser’s little boys,’” Tom told her. She frowned. “He asked me what I knew about Prosser, what the ‘big secret’ was. He seemed to think that I was kept on because I was bent, too. ‘People are being killed,’ he said. ‘Gwen, Mari, your own daughter.’” Tom heard Mared’s gasp at this. “Then Siân came to find me and he took off.”
“How did he know about her, Tom?”
Tom could only shake his head. “He used to be a cop. He could still have connections. Access to the tapes from our interviews with IPCC. Or at least someone who’d seen them. Maybe Prosser is feeding him information, little bits here and there to placate him, keep him quiet. I don’t know, Mared. There’s something going on and it all points back to my first case here.”
“Pontarfynach Children’s Home. Catrin John and Jenny James.”
Tom nodded. Suddenly something struck him.
“So, why did they call you when they found me? Why not the station?”
Mared sighed, with the air of someone reluctantly starting to believe what she really didn't want to. “All identifying information had been removed from your wallet, Tom. That’s what the nurse said when she called. There were only old business cards and a few bits of paper. But whoever took the ID missed the paper I’d written my mobile number on your first day here. You remember?”
Tom nodded. Gods, that day felt like a decade ago. He’d come into the station to fill out forms and get his particulars in order. Mared had been the only one in that day, with Siân off in Cardiff and Lloyd at home. She’d walked right up to him and shook his hand firmly, smiling, saying she was looking forward to working with him. She didn’t ask why he’d been sent there, what his story was. He knew the others were gossiping, going on behind his back. But Mared didn’t care about the blather. She never had. Only the work.
“So no one else knows I’m here?”
“Nobody. I asked the front desk myself. They said they were still trying to put out the fire. It had spread to some of the old buildings nearby. My guess is as soon as it’s out, I’ll be getting a call.”
“You should go back home. Now, while it’s still dark,” he said, and she looked up at him, alarmed.
“Because whoever did this to me was trying to kill me, Mared, or at least incapacitate me. They didn’t want me to be identified, but yet they left my wallet. They took my warrant card and all my police identification so that for all the hospital staff knew, I was just some poor sod who’d been robbed and beaten. And the culprit had burnt down the caravan to get rid of the evidence.”
“And we want to keep it that way?” she asked, though it was more a statement than a question.
“Yes. If Prosser or Thomas or whoever did this knows we spoke, you’ll be in danger, Mared. You and your family.”
She frowned, deep in thought. “You’re sure? You want me to lie to Prosser? To Siân and Lloyd, as well?”
Tom nodded. “If anything ever happened to you—”
“I know,” she said, rising from her chair. “I know, Tom.” She gave his shoulder a squeeze. “I’m going to send the nurse in. You need to relax, take whatever they give you. As long as they think you’re out of action, you’re safe,” she said. He raised his eyebrows at her.
“Catch on pretty quick, don’t I?”
He smiled. “Keep an eye out, will you?”
“I will,” she said, “I promise.” Then she bent down, and kissed the top of his head so gently, he couldn’t be sure it’d even happened. “Take care, Tom,” she said, and then she was gone.
He watched as she left the room, spoke to the nurse, then went off down the corridor. He kept his eye on her until he couldn’t see the red of her coat anymore.
He started to feel a little sleepy just then, and realised the nurse had come in and injected a dose of painkiller into his IV without him even noticing. Reluctantly, he closed his eyes and laid his head back, giving into the drowsiness of the drug, hoping that when he woke things would be a lot clearer.
Mared took the back exit when she left the hospital, keeping out of the light and surveying the area, feeling like an idiot, but then reminding herself of her partner’s current condition. Someone had tried to kill him, and their Chief Superintendent was involved in it somehow.
Her head was spinning by the time she got home, parking some ways down the street, headlamps off nearly all the way from the hospital. She snuck through the neighbour’s back garden, through the hole in the fence that Elin used to escape through when she was younger, and quietly entered through the back.
Everyone was still asleep, not surprisingly, as it was nearing five o’clock in the morning and still as dark as a dungeon. She made her way up to her room in silence, sitting down on the edge of the bed and sighing deeply.
Her visit with Tom had left her completely disoriented. She couldn’t say that his allegations about Prosser came at a total surprise to her. She’d had her suspicions. The meetings with the local higher-ups, the way he skulked about the station. The way he unfairly pressured Tom for results and interfered in their investigations. She, and she suspected Lloyd and Siân as well, had never felt totally comfortable around him.
But to think that he had been, possibly, influencing the outcomes of cases, circumventing the course of justice? She had put her trust in this man, thought he’d had her back all these years. The thought of it made her sick to her stomach. She changed out of her clothes, draping them over a nearby chair. She’d be needing them again in an hour or two.
She had to at least try to sleep, maintain the illusion that she’d been here all night. She didn’t want her parents or Elin getting involved in all this. It was bad enough that Tom was in danger, she didn’t want to have to worry about her family as well.
Tom, she thought, as she slipped back beneath the covers, switching off the lamp beside her bed. Tom bloody Mathias.
She was only a little embarrassed at her reaction to him when she’d woken to find he’d regained consciousness. She’d just been so happy to see he was alright. She had resisted the urge to embrace him so many times since he’d come back, to help ease the pain that sometimes radiated off of him in waves. There had just never been a right time.
But she hadn’t hugged him simply for his benefit, if she was truthful with herself. Sure, he infuriated her with his inability to follow procedure, going about it all the wrong way with Eluned Roberts and Daniel Protheroe, and then lashing out at her when she’d called him on it.
But he was passionate and he was dedicated, and his although his callous disregard for his own wellbeing left her constantly on guard, she’d found herself growing more and more fond of him. Especially lately, as she sensed the veil of grief had started to lift from around him. Ever since the Protheroe case, she’d seen a shift in him. He had a bit more jump in his step, seemed more focused on work and less despondent.
She supposed it was his tirelessness, really. How he couldn’t leave until the job was done, and not to impress his superiors or gain advancement in his career. He did it because he couldn’t stand to see a family who didn’t know what had happened to their loved one, or see someone innocent go to prison for a crime they didn’t commit. He was a good man. A good copper.
As she lay there in the dark, trying to get back to sleep for the third time that night, she knew something was true. She had reached the point of no return. There was a reason they called it falling. There was a time, a moment, when you could step back from the precipice, turn around and walk away.
But she knew, as the adrenaline high began to wear off and her eyelids became heavy, that there was no way she could turn back now. In for a penny, in for a pound, she was with Tom Mathias, no matter what the consequences. No matter if it left her heartbroken, alone, in the same condition she’d found herself in more than sixteen years ago. She couldn’t leave him as soon as she could leave Elin, or Aber, or her job.
He was part of her life now, and if she was honest, a part of her heart. How much so? She really didn’t know. It had been so long since she’d had feelings for someone that she'd need time to sort it all out.
But something had changed between them. The dam had burst. That wall between the two of them that had left friendship just out of reach had been finally knocked down.
And while it unnerved her, she found herself cautiously optimistic. No matter what happened between them, no matter what happened with this case, it would certainly be interesting, she supposed. Things were changing, coming to a head. The status quo was about to undergo an upheaval. She could feel it in her bones.
But as she drifted off to sleep in her big, empty bed, it struck her that things had been the same round here for a long time. Mared couldn’t help but feel a little bit of excitement along with the dread. A change might be nice.
Chapter 3: Morning After
When she got the call from Siân the next morning, predictably, about two hours after she’d fallen asleep again, she groaned, loudly. The events of the wee hours of the morning came back to her in startling clarity, and she was very sorely tempted to pull the covers back over her head and hibernate until July.
But Tom needed her now. They all did. A member of their team had been targeted and she was the only one left who could find out what had happened.
“Good morning, ma’am,” Siân’s voice came through, loud and clear.
“What is it?” Mared asked, not particularly keen on pleasantries after the night she’d just had.
“It’s DCI Mathias, ma’am,” Siân said, and Mared could hear the worry in her voice. She bit her lip.
“What about him?”
“He’s missing, ma’am.”
“Missing?” Mared asked with what she hoped was the proper amount of concern. She’d never been a particularly good actor. Keeping up this charade was going to be a bit of a chore.
“Yes,” her Detective Sergeant said, “well, there’s some confusion. Ambulance took a man away last night, but I’ve called all the hospitals in the area, ma’am. There’s no Tom Mathias at any of them. I’m trying to track down the medics that responded, but it hasn’t been very successful so far.”
“Try the hospitals again, DS Owens. Ask if there’s been any John Does in the last 24 hours. It’s possible he didn’t have any identification on him.”
“Right, ma’am, I will do,” Siân said. “Hadn’t thought of that. And there’s something else.”
“What?” Mared asked, pulling on her jeans for the second time in hours.
“His caravan, ma’am, it’s been torched.”
“I’d say so. SOCO is still going over it,” Siân said. Then she sighed. “And there’s blood. Not a lot, certainly not enough to kill him. But he’s been injured badly. Beaten, it sounds like.”
Mared sighed deeply. It all sounded quite dire in the cold light of day. “I’ll be there in 15 minutes. Call the hospitals again, please.”
“Yes, ma’am,” her DS said, ending the call.
Mared dropped her mobile back on the bed, pulling the top she’d only just removed hours before over her head. She sighed, heavily. She felt awful. But, she supposed, it wasn’t anything that coffee couldn’t cure. She pulled on her jeans, took a quick look in the mirror, making a face at what she saw there, and headed out down the corridor.
She knocked on Elin’s door on her way downstairs and received a grunt as a response. She smiled. Her daughter wasn’t much of a morning person.
But, five minutes later, as Mared chugged her second cup of coffee, the girl trundled down the stairs, rubbing her eyes blearily.
“Good morning,” Mared said, surprised.
Elin groaned, reaching for a box of cereal beside the fridge. She set to pouring herself some breakfast.
“Remember your Gran and Granddad are heading out to see Uncle Owain today,” Mared told her daughter and the girl nodded.
“I remember,” she said, mouth full of corn flakes.
“You’ll be here alone until I get back,” Mared said. She had tried to keep the apprehension out of her voice. But she couldn’t help but feel slightly paranoid.
Elin turned to look at her mother. “I’ll be fine,” she said, frowning. She watched her mother for a few seconds. “You okay?”
“Yeah,” Mared told her, though even to her own ears it sounded hardly convincing. “It’s just…DCI Mathias—”
“Is he the one who got your job?” Elin asked. Mared sighed.
“Yes,” she said, making a mental note not to speak of him in front of Elin again. “He’s been attacked. Beaten. He’s in the hospital, Elin, and we have no idea who did it.”
“So you think he might come after you?” the girl asked, her eyes wide.
“I, erm, I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t mean to worry you, sweetheart, but do you think you could stay at a mate’s? I can pick you up after work. I was going to go visit Tom in the hospital. He’s in pretty bad shape.”
“I could come to the hospital with you,” Elin said, surprising her mother.
“Maybe not tonight, love.”
“Well, then, yeah, I can go home with Emma after school,” Elin said.
“Her parents don’t mind?” Mared asked.
Elin shook her head.
“Okay.” She let out a sigh. “You may have to come to the station tomorrow, if we can’t find anywhere for you to go,” Mared said.
“What? Like a child minder’s?” Elin asked and her mother gave her a begrudging grin.
“I just want to keep you safe, sweetheart. This town is…it can be dangerous at times, yeah?” Elin nodded. “But they’ll be plenty of time for you to visit this week. You can meet Lloyd and Siân, finally.”
“Lloyd seems nice,” Elin said. “Sort of a bit awkward?”
Mared laughed. “That’s our Lloyd,” she said. “Alright,” she told the girl, leaning forward to give her a kiss on the cheek. “Have a good day, then, and I’ll call you when I’m on my way back from the hospital. I’ll pick you up? From Emma’s?”
Elin nodded. Mared smiled, then turned to grab her things. She glanced at the clock on the wall. Bollocks, she thought. She’d told Siân she would be there about five minutes ago.
“Have a good day!” she heard her daughter say as she slipped out the door, and she wished Elin’s words could make it true. But Mared knew better. This would be one of the most trying days of her career.
She was definitely not prepared for the scale of the destruction she witnessed as she stepped out of her car and surveyed the site where Tom had been living. The caravan itself was now nothing more than a blackened metal shell, and she was unable to believe that this structure had ever housed anyone. Everything he had, everything in the world except for Meg and Hannah, was gone. Ashes and dust.
The ancient buildings next to the caravan had suffered the same fate. She’d referred to them as ‘ten a penny’ round here and it was the truth, but there was a bit of regret at seeing something with so much history finally fall. Another one bit the dust as the old ways of Wales crumbled.
“You alright, ma’am?” Lloyd asked her as she appraised the damage.
“I am, DC Elis,” she said, turning to him. “This must have been quite an inferno. Have we got anything from SOCO yet on the fire? What started it?”
“Not yet, ma’am, but they should be finished soon,” Lloyd said, as Mared inspected the length of the caravan, trying to keep away from SOCO’s partition. There would clearly not be anything salvaged from this dwelling.
She turned and traversed the short distance from the burnt-out caravan to the spot where Tom had been found. Blood, now dark and brown, coated an area about the size of a dinner plate on the grass where he’d been lying. He really had been lucky, she saw that now.
“DS Owens,” Mared asked, and Siân looked up, mobile to ear, holding up a finger.
“Have we got a weapon?” Mared asked Lloyd. “Looks like a direct hit, one blunt object, probably. A beating wouldn’t produce such localised bleeding.”
“They’re searching, ma’am,” Lloyd said. “And looking for trails or spots where someone may have been hiding. But I suspect the fire and the firemen destroyed most of that.”
Mared nodded slowly. While she’d been snuggling up to her partner last night, valuable evidence was being washed away. She sighed. “Has Prosser been notified?” she asked Lloyd.
“That’s just it, ma’am, no one seems to know where he is,” Lloyd said.
Mared turned to him, eyes wide. “What do you mean?”
“He hasn’t turned up at the station. We’ve rang his home number and his mobile numerous times, but nothing.” Mared’s pulse quickened. What was Prosser playing at?
“Did he mention anything last night? He and his wife might have gone away,” Mared said. Lloyd shook his head. “Okay. Take someone and go out to his house, please, then, Lloyd,” she told him and he nodded. “One police officer has already been attacked, we have to rule out the possibility that someone’s targeting them.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Lloyd told her, and he turned and left.
“And Lloyd,” she said. He stopped and turned toward her. “Be careful, yeah?”
Lloyd nodded, giving her a smile before taking off again. Mared approached DS Owens, who had just gotten off her phone.
“That was Bronglais Hospital, ma’am,” Siân said, and Mared nodded, “they had a John Doe admitted last night at about three o’clock. Male, dark hair, late thirties, injuries to the back of the head and his ribs, slight burns.”
“That’s him,” Mared said, “let’s go.”
If Mared thought that a few hours of sleep would improve Tom’s condition, she would find that theory proven wrong when she approached his room with Siân in tow. In the hours since she’d seen him his face had swollen up considerably, and purple bruises that had been nascent earlier in the night were now dark and ugly, mottling his face and making him nearly unrecognisable.
Beside her, she heard a gasp, and turned to see Siân, tears pooling at the corners of her eyes, gripping the edge of the window sill like Mared had hours before. She wrapped an arm around her DS’s shoulder and gave her a quick squeeze.
“He’ll be alright, Siân,” she told her. Mared had spoken to the doctor briefly while Siân parked the car. The concussion was mild but still required a day or two of observation. They were mostly concerned about his broken ribs, which were keeping him in constant pain. They had ruled out any internal injuries, but the burn on his hand was third-degree and would need continual, painful dressing and redressing. “Looks worse than it is.” Siân nodded, wiping the tears away.
“I hate to see him like this,” Siân said. “He seemed almost unbreakable, you know?”
Mared nodded. “I do, DS Owens. But we’re all a lot more fragile than we think we are. He’s just been lucky so far,” she said, thinking of the blows to the head he’d suffered on the moors and his near-asphyxiation at the hands of Arlyn Parry. “But he’s going to be fine.” Siân nodded. “So let’s find out who did this to him,” Mared said, entering the room.
She approached his bed gingerly, reaching out to gently grasp his forearm again.
“Tom?” she asked. “It’s Mared and Siân, you awake?”
The man in the bed cleared his throat and opened his eyes. “I am now,” he said, and Mared noted his voice sounded hoarser than it had a few hours ago.
“How are you feeling, sir?” Siân asked, approaching the foot of his bed.
“Like I’ve been hit by a bus,” he said, shifting uncomfortably.
“Well it certainly looks that way, sir,” Mared told him. He laughed, softly.
“Do you remember what happened?” Siân asked, notebook at the ready. Tom glanced up at Mared and she gave him a smile, trying to reassure him that, for now, she had everything under control.
“I’ll let DS Owens take over, sir, if you don’t mind,” Mared said, and Siân stepped forward to sit in the chair next to his bed. “I sent Lloyd out to Prosser’s place.” She saw Tom’s eyes widen momentarily and lock onto her gaze. “He hasn’t been in yet, and he hasn’t answered any of our calls.” She bit her lip and tore her gaze away from Tom, turning to leave the room.
“There’s no one here, ma’am,” she heard Lloyd say. “No cars in the garage, no one’s answering the doors. We’ve searched the grounds, but there’s nothing. No signs of struggle. It looks like they up and left.”
“Thank you, DC Elis,” Mared said. “Keep a uniform posted at his place in case he comes back, please. It’s not like him to go AWOL like this.”
“I’m on it,” Lloyd said.
“Siân is in with DCI Mathias right now,” she told him.
“How is he?”
“Battered and bruised but he’ll make it,” Mared told him. “Could you send a couple of SOCOs down to here? We’ll need to photograph his injuries and take some samples for DNA. And his clothes and belongings will need to be taken into evidence.”
“Will do, ma’am,” Lloyd said. He paused and his tone softened. “Can I come see him later?”
Mared smiled. “After work, Lloyd. Right now, unfortunately, he’s the only evidence we have.”
“Does he remember what happened?”
“Not sure yet,” Mared told him. “We should be done here in a little bit. See you back at the station in half an hour or so.”
“Bye, ma’am,” Lloyd said, and Mared smiled.
“Bye, DC Elis.”
When Mared made her way back to Tom’s room after a detour to visit Ffion Bowen and check on her condition (no change), and to confirm that her grandfather had spent the night at the hospital (he had), he and Siân were just finishing up.
“So, just to recap for DI Rhys, to the best of your knowledge, you spent the night at the stationhouse, then drove home. Nothing happened, you weren’t followed. You heard a noise when you got home and then the caravan exploded,” Siân said. Tom nodded, catching Mared’s eye. She gave him a tiny nod.
“Correct,” he said.
“You tried to get a few things from the caravan, but it was too hot. You burnt your hand, and you stepped back, then—”
“Nothing. Woke up here.”
Siân nodded, marking something in her notebook. Tom caught Mared’s eye for a second before Siân spoke again. “Sir, if I could ask,” Siân said, with some hesitancy, “what were you and Iwan Thomas talking about at the mobile home park? You never did say.”
Tom sighed. “He holds me responsible for his wife’s death, Siân. Thinks I should have died instead of her, thinks I should be taken off the job,” he said. Siân wrote something in her book. “He’s just a grieving man who has lost everything."
Siân nodded. “Did he threaten you, sir? Have you seen him round your place or in town any other time?”
“That’s the only time I’ve seen him,” he said, glancing up at Mared. God, she hated this. Withholding evidence, telling half-truths to their own junior officers when Tom had always advocated complete honesty. She just kept telling herself it was to keep them safe. “But the things he said would indicate he had been watching me, or at least knew what had been going on in my life. He spoke of my wife visiting,” Tom said and Mared saw Siân’s eyebrows go up. “The only way he could know about her visit was if he was keeping tabs on me.”
“Or if he had someone on the inside tipping him off. He used to be a cop, after all?” Siân asked, looking at both her superior officers. Mared nodded. “True, DS Owens, but who?”
Siân shook her head. “I don’t know yet, ma’am. But at the very least, I’d say he’s a suspect.”
“I agree,” Mared said, nodding at Tom. “Siân, take DC Elis and go round to his place. Take back-up, okay?” Siân nodded. Just then there was a knock at the door. They turned to see two young SOCOs at the door, cameras in hand. “Hello, boys,” Mared said, turning to smile at Tom. “We’re going to need photos of his injuries and samples. And we’ll need to take his clothes and belongings into evidence, okay?”
The two men nodded, entering the room as Siân stood. “I’ll let you know if we find Thomas, ma’am,” the younger woman said. “Otherwise, meet back at the station in about half an hour?” Mared nodded.
“Good work, DS Owens,” she told her. “Watch yourself out there, yeah?”
Siân nodded as she left.
Mared watched, trying very hard not smile, as the two young SOCOs photographed the wound on the back of Tom’s head, and the bruising to his face and torso. Tom's face held the same expression as one undergoing a root canal for the majority of it. They swabbed the inside of his mouth for DNA, and took samples from under his fingernails. Finally, they were done, and Mared directed them to the nurse’s station to get Tom’s things.
Mared closed the door behind them and sat down in the chair Siân had vacated, sighing deeply.
“I hate this, Tom,” she told him. “I keep thinking that if they were in the loop they’d be better able to protect themselves, but I don’t think that’s true. They’re safer if we keep them in the dark.”
“I agree,” he said. He sighed, then turned to her. “By the sounds of it we won’t be able to keep them in the dark much longer. They’re sharp,” he said and she laughed, softly.
“Yeah, well, we’ve taught them well,” Mared said. It was a few seconds before she spoke again. “You think Prosser did a runner?”
“It’s possible,” Tom said. “But to leave that house and everything in it. If it turns out he’s a suspect we will find him. Seems a bit daft of him to think he’ll get away.”
“And daft he is not,” Mared admitted.
“No,” Tom said. She turned to look at him, wincing at his swollen, purple cheek. It would be a while before he started to look like himself again. “But you know, I think I see now why Prosser took you off the Davies case.”
She frowned and turned to him. “Why?”
“Because you’re better at this than me,” he said.
“I am not,” she protested. “Tom! You’re one of the best detectives I’ve ever worked with.”
“And I get too emotionally involved, bring my personal life into the workplace, make everyone else miserable just by osmosis,” he said.
Mared laughed. “You can’t be serious.”
“I am, Mared. Prosser wanted me in charge because he could control me. He knew I was just one reprimand away from losing my job. As long as he supported me, he had me in his debt. With you, you’re above reproach. Spotless record, upstanding member of the community, lived here all your life. Don’t you see?”
She shook her head. “Not really.”
“No, I see it now. It’s what Thomas said, about me being one of Prosser’s boys. Maybe I am, I just didn’t know it. Prosser kept me on despite everything, yet he sacked Thomas for one instance of drink driving, conveniently just after they investigated the case at the children’s home.”
“How do you know about that?”
“Gwen,” he said, and she nodded. “She told me about it just before Iwan showed up. She said he’d gone off the deep end after the Pontarfynach case. Started drinking heavily. Something happened there, Mared. Before either of us got here. I’m convinced it’s the key to all of this.”
Mared sighed. “I’m starting to agree with you, even if I don’t want to believe it.” She turned to look at him. “I’ve known him a lot longer than you, Tom. He’s been my boss since Elin was a little girl.”
“I don’t think he’s necessarily a bad man, Mared, I think someone is pressuring him. Someone behind the scenes. That, or he's protecting someone.” He sighed, tiredly, his eyes closing for a second.
“You really do look terrible, you know?”
He smiled beneath the swelling. It was a grotesque sight. “You sound like my wife,” he said. Then he sort of deflated, a little. “Ex-wife, now, I guess.”
Mared couldn’t help the surprise on her face. “Is it?” she asked. Tom gave a barely perceptible nod. “Well, I’m sorry to hear that, Tom. I really am.”
He gave her a wan smile. “It’s for the best.” He sighed, deeply and tiredly. Mared knew he was losing steam quickly now. She’d leave him to rest in a bit. But part of her could hardly move. He was finally starting to open up to her. She still had so many questions she’d wanted to ask him. She idly wondered how much of it was the morphine and how much of it was the blow to the head. “Doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt like hell,” he said, and she reached out and grabbed his arm again, giving it a quick squeeze.
“You’re tired, Tom,” she said. He nodded. “I should go. Lloyd and Siân will be back at the station. I doubt they found Thomas. He’s a slippery one.” Tom nodded. “You really think it was him who attacked you?”
He shrugged, tiredly. “I don’t know, Mared. I know he knows something, though.”
“I agree,” she said, standing. She placed her hand atop his head. His eyes closed at the contact. “I’m really glad you’re okay,” she said, dropping her hand back to her side.
“So am I, actually,” he said, smiling. She couldn’t help the wide grin that broke out on her face after hearing him say those words. There’d been a period of time where she'd dreaded every ring of her mobile, terrified that it would be Prosser calling her out to investigate the circumstances of her partner’s death. “Now get back out there, DI Rhys,” he said. “You’re in charge now.”
“I could use you out there, you know,” she said.
“You’re fine without me. Better, in fact,” he said, as she collected her things. “He should never have taken you off the Davies case. Mari might still be alive.”
Mared gave him a stern look. “Mari Davies was mentally unstable. You know that. She set light to her home with herself and her son inside. She would have jumped no matter what. You know that, Tom. Just...stop taking everything so personally. And stop feeling sorry for yourself.” He nodded, smiling up at her tiredly. “Now get some rest,” she told him from the door. “Doctor says your concussion is actually quite mild. No broken bones except for those ribs. You can be home in a few days if you behave yourself.”
He shook his head incredulously. “I don’t have a home to go to anymore.”
“We’ll figure something out,” she said. “Get some sleep.”
He nodded, and she turned to leave.
“Mared?” he asked. She stopped at the door.
“Do you think that Dr. Haydn Blake would have gone to Pontarfynach to help interview the children? Back when Thomas investigated it.”
Mared thought it over. She knew he had experience in psychiatry and had been used by Prosser in the past. “I don’t see why not. Why?”
“It’s nothing,” he mumbled, eyes closed. “Go solve my case,” he said and she laughed.
“Yes, sir,” she said. “I’ll be back to visit this evening. Now go to sleep.”
He nodded sleepily. Then she turned and left, a smile on her face.
Chapter 4: Senior Investigating Officer
Mared arrived at the stationhouse to find her Detective Sergeant busy at work.
“Thomas was nowhere to be found, ma’am,” Siân told her as she affixed some photographs to the board on the wall. “Flat was empty, no answer at the door. Landlord wouldn’t let us in without a warrant.”
“Wonderful,” Mared sighed, depositing her things on her desk.
“But we’ve put out an all-ports warning for him, and traffic is sending us all the CCTV they can get from last night until this morning. Should only be a matter of time before he’s spotted.”
“Good work, DS Owens,” Mared said, drifting over to the crime board that that’d been assembled in her absence.
There were photos of the burnt-out caravan, the damage to the ancient farmhouse next to it. The blood on the grass and the wound on the back of Tom’s head, which looked quite awful blown-up to twice its size. She grimaced at the detail in the bruising to his face and ribs. They’d really worked him over.
And then there was Iwan Thomas, in all his dishevelled, red-eyed glory. Mared stared at the man’s face, trying to get something, anything from it. He certainly looked the part. But could this man have attempted to kill Tom Mathias and burnt down his home over his role in Gwen’s death and over what he perceived as favouritism? She supposed he could have. He’d shown violent tendencies. But, never anything of this magnitude.
However, they never had quite figured out what had caused the dramatic change in Alys Thomas’s behaviour. Her father had been a drunk, sure, had lost his career and then had abandoned his family. True as well, she and her mother had grown apart, and she hadn’t been on the best of terms with her closest friend at the time, either.
So had it been her father? Something he had done or said? Had he confided in her, let her in on what had happened at Pontarfynach, and it had disturbed her so greatly she changed? It could have. Or had Thomas hurt her? Hit her, or worse, in one of his drunken fugues?
She wondered, idly, if they’d ever find out. Alys Thomas had kept everything close to the vest. She’d been distant from all the people in her life she could have confided in. And now she was dead.
And her mother, a woman that Mared had sensed from the very beginning knew more than she let on, was dead as well.
God only knew where her father was. Hiding, probably. Had absconded in the middle of the night up north, into England or even Scotland, and was planning to hide out in some little village until this all blew over. Or maybe he was hiding up on the mountain like Daniel Protheroe, poaching and stealing to stay alive.
Either way, they’d find Iwan. She just hoped it was soon, and before this case went cold. They didn’t really have any other suspects. And it wasn’t like they could do anything about Prosser, either. They had absolutely no evidence against him. They were alone in this, and down a man.
Mared sighed and stepped back from the board. She grabbed the iPad off the desk that held the crime scene photographs and started swiping through them, looking for something, anything. She wished Tom were here if only for some guidance. She had to admit his instincts were second-to-none. But she pushed that thought back.
They were doing fine. As soon as Prosser and Thomas were located they could let Siân and Lloyd in on Tom’s suspicious and then they could start investigating properly, with all the facts.
Lloyd came in a few minutes later, still wearing his coat. “Still no sign of Prosser, ma’am,” he said. Mared nodded. “I’ve got a uniform outside his house if he does come home. Perhaps he had a family emergency or something? Out of town, maybe, and he didn’t have time to let us know?” Mared shrugged.
Pretty big coincidence to be called out of town abruptly on the night that Tom gets his head bashed in, Mared thought, bitterly. “It’s possible, Lloyd,” she said. She placed the tablet back down on the table, not seeing anything she hadn’t seen before. “What about witnesses? Any luck? The area is isolated, but someone had to have seen something out there, even in the dark. You can’t set up explosives without a torch or switching on some lights.”
“We could canvass the neighbours, ma’am,” Lloyd said. “The ones with a view of DCI Mathias’s caravan?” Mared nodded slowly, something else coming to her. She strolled back over to the picture board, looking at the photographs again. “There are no tracks other than those of DCI Mathias’s Volvo. He didn’t see a vehicle when he got home last night. What does that mean?”
“Our arsonist arrived on foot,” Siân said, and Mared nodded at her.
“Exactly. And pending witness statements probably left on foot, too,” she said.
“They wouldn’t have taken the roads or someone would have seen them,” Siân offered. Lloyd nodded slowly.
“The cliffs?” he asked. “Could have disposed of the weapon into the sea,” Lloyd offered.
“Or taken the beach if they could find a way up and down,” Mared said. “That would offer more protection. People walk down the seaside all the time; no one would bat an eye.”
“So the suspect arrives, on foot, either by the beach or the cliffs, breaks into the caravan, which, I’m sure, wasn’t that difficult. Douses the place in petrol,” Siân said, turning to Lloyd. “SOCO figured out what started the fire yet?” Lloyd shook his head. “Okay, let’s go with petrol. Then lies in wait until DCI Mathias arrives home, then—”
“Lights the petrol, manages not to be seen by Tom, despite the massive conflagration lighting up the entire cliffside,” Mared, said, drifting back over toward their crime board, and looking at the pictures, “sneaks around behind him while he’s attempting to enter the caravan, lies in wait again, then…bam! The first blow incapacitates him,” Mared continued, pointing to the picture of the wound on Tom’s head, “and subsequent kicks and blows are just for insurance.”
“Then, they either fled along the cliffs, back into town—”
“Assuming that’s where they were coming from, DC Elis,” Mared noted.
“Right, so either escaped into town or back along the coast into the country. Maybe had a car parked a ways down the road for egress?” he finished.
All three nodded in unison. “But why torch the caravan, ma’am? If they knew he wasn’t in it, it wasn’t to kill him. Was it to warn him off? Or because there was something in the caravan they wanted destroyed?” Siân was looking at the other two expectantly.
“His laptop, probably,” Mared offered. “Case files, maybe. We’ll have to ask him tonight when we visit. But for now I think we should canvass the neighbourhood, see if anyone’s seen anything. We’ll also see if we can get a team down to search the beach, maybe the weapon was disposed of down there. Agreed?” Siân and Lloyd nodded. “Perfect, let’s go.”
A few hours later, Mared was absolutely exhausted. The erratic sleep she’d had the night before was coming back to haunt her, and she found herself suppressing yawns left and right.
They’d canvassed the neighbourhood, such as it was, but, unsurprisingly, no one had seen anything that night. It’d been a dark, cloudless night with no moonlight, and not a single person, including Tom’s landlord, Marc Downey, whose wife had made the original 999 call, had seen anything out of the ordinary before or even after the fire started.
The search of the beach and the cliffs was still ongoing, but Mared wasn’t holding out any hope that anything would be found. And, to make matters worse, clouds rolled in at about 2 o’clock and fat raindrops started to fall from the sky, likely eradicating whatever residual forensic evidence had yet to be found.
SOCO had determined the cause of the fire – petrol. Rudimentary. Their suspect was no sophisticated bomb-maker or arsonist; they had simply gone with what was on hand. Two large cans of petrol, which were found, burnt beyond recognition inside the caravan, had been doused all over the inside of the dwelling. A plain, silver Zippo lighter had started it, likely tossed through the window at the front that had been left open.
It suggested that this was a crime of opportunity, and that, likely, there was little forethought put into it. Grab a couple of cans of petrol, run down the cliffs, out of sight and douse the place. The weapon, which hadn’t yet been identified, but was determined to be a blunt object from the wound pattern on the back of Tom’s head, could have been scavenged from the inside of the caravan prior to the setting of the fire.
The attack on Tom had either been planned, with the assailant waiting until he arrived to start the fire in order to warn or scare him, or, Tom had, unfortunately, interrupted the arsonist as they set light to his caravan, and the attacker had found it necessary to incapacitate him in order to escape unnoticed. Depending on what the culprit’s intentions were, it spoke to two different motives. Was the fire set to distract them from Tom’s attack or was the attack to detract attention from the fire?
Mared sighed. She was leaning against her Land Rover, perched next to Tom’s car (which had undergone a thorough search but had turned up nothing except for a couple of his coats and one pair of shoes.) She gazed out to the sea, to the waves that were starting to kick up as the winds that’d come in with the rainclouds intensified. She glanced at her watch. It was nearly half past three.
Already? She wondered. Where had the day gone? That was the nature of police work, she supposed, heading from scene to scene, back to the station. Get a lead, rush out to another location. And then so much of it was spent standing around, as she was now, mulling over what they had so far, brainstorming. You didn’t just come to a conclusion right away. It took time, and evidence, and the cooperation of witnesses and suspects. Most of the time they’d be lucky to get one out of those three.
She heard the crunch of boots on gravel and turned to see Lloyd approaching from between the vehicles. His expression was unreadable, which was not out of the ordinary for DC Elis.
“What?” she asked.
“I just got a call, ma’am,” he said. “From Chief Superintendent Prosser.” Lloyd’s bewildered expression mirrored her own.
“He apologises for his absence. It was what we thought. Family emergency. Apparently his wife has taken ill and he’s accompanied her into Cardiff to see her doctor. Said he tried to contact DCI Mathias but there was no answer, ma’am,” Lloyd finished. He looked just as confused as Mared was.
“Why did he phone you?” she asked. “I’m the SIO with Tom out of the picture.”
Lloyd just shrugged. “I don’t know, ma’am. He sounded a bit odd, to be honest.”
“Just...stress, I suppose. Probably because of his wife.”
“Probably,” Mared said. “Did you tell him about DCI Mathias?”
Lloyd nodded. “He sounded quite concerned, ma’am.”
Yeah, I’ll bet he did, Mared thought, pursing her lips.
“He says he’ll be back in the morning,” Lloyd offered, and Mared nodded.
“Thanks, DC Elis,” she said. “Why don’t you and DS Owens head back to the station. See if they’ve got anything on Thomas. Pull out the file from Alys’s murder and see if we missed anything that could help us with the case, and Thomas’s police record, too.” Lloyd nodded. He paused, opened his mouth, but then closed it.
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, and Mared sighed with relief. Her DS and DC weren’t idiots. She could see that they sensed there was more going on here than met the eye.
“I’m going to go down to the beach, help out the search team. I’m sure the weapon’s got to be down there.” Lloyd nodded. “Meet you back at the station when I’m done.”
“Good luck, ma’am.”
“Thanks, DC Elis.”
She was sure she was going to need it.
When Mared trudged through the doors of Aberystwyth Police Station an hour later, sodden, miserable and chilled to the bone, she ignored the stares of her fellow officers and made a beeline for her office. Siân and Lloyd were nowhere to be found.
Mared tried to smooth down her hair, which was still fairly wet, grabbing her mobile. Nothing. Mared sighed, flopping down into one of the chairs in the meeting room.
She was absolutely knackered. And this was only day one. She just closed her eyes for a second, finally having a second to herself, no one wanting her time or her expertise for the first time.
She woke with a start. The voices of her DS and her DC were chatting animatedly. She looked up to see Siân and Lloyd watching her with alarm. It seemed that they hadn’t even noticed her.
“Ma’am,” Siân said, “didn’t see you there. Sorry for waking you.”
Mared shook her head. “It’s fine, DS Owens, just nodded off.” She yawned and shook her head, trying to wake herself up. “Forgotten how much work it is being SIO.” She stood, sighing deeply. “Where have the two of you been?”
“Wasting our time," Siân said with derision, picking up the tablet with the crime scene photos and flipping through them idly.
Mared looked to Lloyd for an explanation.
“False alarm, ma’am,” he said. “We got a call that Thomas was spotted in town.”
“Turns out it was just a scorned wife getting revenge. That, or she was so drunk that she legitimately thought that Thomas was her husband.” Siân shook her head.
“They did look quite a bit alike,” Lloyd explained. “But it wasn’t him, ma’am.”
Mared sighed, deeply.
“Lovely,” she said, trying to keep the disappointment out of her voice. She couldn’t help but think that if Tom were here this case would be moving along a little quicker. He always managed to see what the rest of them weren’t seeing, to think of something that they hadn’t thought of in a way they hadn’t thought of. But, to be fair to herself, she’d been playing second fiddle to him for so long now she’d almost forgotten how to lead. She’d done it before, and had done it well. She just needed practice. This was only the first day.
While Tom was adept at catching people off guard, taking them out of their comfort zone and waiting for them to stumble, he also liked to employ unorthodox investigatory methods such as visiting crime scenes middle of the night, trying to catch suspects in the act. It had gotten him into trouble a few times and they couldn’t afford that right now. Not only did Mared have her daughter to think of with her parents away, their team couldn't afford to be down another member, if one of them got hurt, or worse. They had to play this by the book.
She just wished the book could tell them what to do next. They could visit the boatyard, check on Annes and Delyth and question them about their whereabouts the night before. But it was getting late and Elin had been out of school for nearly an hour and a half now. And, besides, Mared was content to let the old woman stew for a couple of days. See what she got up to now that somebody knew about her dirty little secret. If Tom was right, and she had had nothing to do with his attack, then there was no urgency, even if she did have motive. They’d head over there tomorrow.
This was one area where she had to admit she was better than Tom—knowing when to call it quits and go home to bed, hoping that things would be clearer in the morning. And that time, she knew, was now.
“Well,” Mared said, turning to grab her bag from the chair. “It’s been a long day, for all of us. And while this is a very important case, for obvious reasons, I think we’ve reached the end of the road tonight. I have a daughter to pick up. SOCO will have most of the forensics done by tomorrow. Someone else may have spotted Thomas or remembered something they saw during the night. So, I want you both to go home and go to bed. Lock your doors and windows and keep an eye out. Back here tomorrow at eight. Agreed?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Lloyd told her. Siân simply nodded.
Mared nodded back, and smiled. “I’m serious. The only thing you’re going to get by trying to be a hero and solving who did this to Tom could be exactly what just happened to Tom. I want you both safe and sound, not to mention well-rested in the morning.”
“Don’t worry, ma’am,” Lloyd said. “I’ll make sure she gets home soon.”
Siân turned to give him a look. Lloyd just shrugged.
Mared smiled. “Thank you, DC Elis. DS Owens, good night.”
“Good night, ma’am,” they said, nearly in unison.