“This is nice,” Gwen said as she reached for another bacon sandwich and Rhys poured more coffee from the flask. “It was worth getting up at four a.m. to be here in time for breakfast.”
“So, do I have good ideas, then?” Rhys asked.
“You have great ideas, and I love you.” She reached to kiss him. He reciprocated happily.
“What time does the action start?” she added when they surfaced for air.
“In about fifteen minutes,” Rhys answered. “You’ll hear the noise long before it gets here. Not just the Bore itself, but all the surfers and people running along the river bank.”
“We’re in a good spot here, anyway. Great view of the river.”
Rhys knelt behind her with his arms around her shoulders as they sat on the river bank and waited for the arrival of the phenomenon known as the Severn Bore. The fact that she had this quality time with her man was the chief attraction at the moment. She wasn’t really bothered about what else was happening. She had been slightly doubtful anyway since it had been Big Dai who had recommended this as a really great way to spend a bank holiday Monday. If she had been asked to state a preference, a nice hotel with room service and a long lie in with Rhys would have come much further up the list. Driving up through the countryside in the early hours of the morning in order to sit on a blanket surrounded by people just as mad as they were, watching a bunch of people who were even madder sitting on surfboards in the middle of a river was a very strange idea on the face of it.
“It’s coming!” The whole crowd around them started to get extremely excited. Everyone stood up, surging forward towards the edge of the river bank. Cameras and video cameras were put on stand by. Rhys was in charge of their video camera. Gwen was happy to watch with her own eyes.
And afterwards she had to admit it was exciting enough even for somebody who caught aliens for a living. The sight of the wall of water taller than the waiting surfers rolling upstream against the flow, carrying the surfers nearly a quarter mile from where they were waiting, was impressive. She wondered why she had never been to see it before, considering that she had lived where the Severn Estuary merged with the Bristol Channel all her life.
Well, anyway, thanks to Big Dai she and Rhys had got there in the end. And she was quite sorry when it was all over and the crowds started clearing.
“Beats subduing weevils?” Rhys asked her.
“Beats it hands down,” she answered. “Then again, LOTS of things are better than that. But it’s not all weevils, you know. Sometimes there are really nice things like…”
Rhys put his finger over her lips.
“It’s a Bank Holiday. You don’t talk about Torchwood and weird things from outer space, and I won’t talk about tailbacks on the motorway and transport deadlines. Ok… agreed?”
“Agreed.” She kissed Rhys and thanked her lucky stars that she had somebody who could, now and again, take her away from Torchwood. She was the only one. The others, they had no life beyond Torchwood. It drove them. Even Toshiko, all she had outside work was her baby. But she had Rhys to help her switch off and forget it for a little while.
“Come on,” Rhys said. “I think there’s a café open in the village. We can get a REAL breakfast and some proper coffee.”
“How was your bank holiday?” Jack asked Ianto as they ascended the tower block in the high speed lift.
“Pleasantly uneventful,” Ianto answered him. “Yours?”
Jack smiled widely, with just enough innuendo in the raise of his eyebrow and the twinkle in his eye to make Ianto blush. He remembered that look on his face when they were lovers and knew just what sort of weekend it had been.
“We were all lucky,” Jack added. “A whole three days without any threats, foreign, domestic or alien. Garrett and I both had zero messages on our voicemails all weekend.” He sighed as the lift pinged and the doors opened. “Until this morning!”
“Business as usual,” Ianto noted dryly as they saw the police tape around the door of the apartment they had been called to. They both stepped under the tape and into the hallway.
“What the bloody hell happened here?” Jack asked as he noted the damp wallpaper and the squelching underfoot. The carpet was soaking wet. There was a smell, too, that he would not have associated with a penthouse apartment in Cardiff’s tallest residential building.
“That’s why I called you,” replied DCI Swanson as she stepped into the hallway and waved them into the large drawing room of what was a very expensive piece of high rise living.
“I repeat, what the bloody hell happened,” Jack said. He and Ianto both looked around. Both were practiced at taking in maximum detail at a single glance. They noted that the room appeared to have been filled with dirty water. The pale cream wallpaper was stained a muddy green. Even the ceiling dripped, still. The soft furnishings and carpets were soaked. The double glazed plate glass French windows leading onto the balcony were wet on the inside. The power was off, which was just as well, because all of the electrical equipment would be lethal.
They both came to the body last, after taking in the scene of the crime – if it was a crime. They assumed it was at least a suspicious death given that a DCI had been called out.
“We haven’t moved him yet,” Swanson said. “SOCO have finished examining and photographing the body in situ, but I thought you might be able to bring some of your expertise to this.”
Jack and Ianto knelt either side of the body and examined it as it lay. He was a fairly old man, about sixty, but in good shape, his muscles well toned and a trim figure. He was dressed in a silk bathrobe and nothing else. The robe was soaking wet. So was his iron grey hair. The body was cold and damp.
He and Ianto turned the body. The police photographer stood by to capture the moment for posterity. DCI Swanson watched.
“What the fuck!” Ianto moved back instinctively as something silvery white wriggled and flopped in the pool of standing water underneath the body. He felt slightly foolish when he realised it was just a fish.
Then he wondered why a fish was underneath a dead man. As they stared at it, the fish flailed a few more times, gasped its last as it was exposed to the air and then lay still.
“Did he have an aquarium?” Jack asked, looking around for signs of broken glass.
“That’s not a pet fish,” Ianto told him. “It’s a barbel… a variety of carp. A quite young one. Adults can be found in the Severn up to twenty pounds….” He noticed Jack, DCI Swanson, and the photographer all looking at him with that glazed look reserved for conversations with train spotters. “My dad was an angler,” he explained. “I haven’t done it since he died…. Used to sit with him for hours.”
“Don’t talk about that around Owen,” Jack advised him. “He’ll tease you forever about it. But… you’re saying this is a fish that swims in the River Severn?”
“It’s famous for them. Barbel, bream, trout, salmon, of course. Though it’s a bit early in the year…” He was sounding geeky again. He stopped. “Yes, I’d expect to see a fish like that in the river. Or on a slab at the fish market…. But not… I mean how….”
Jack looked around at the soaking wet room, then he went to the French door and opened it. He stepped out onto the balcony. This was the top floor of the Altolusso, the beautiful, modern apartment block that was one of his own favourite high places when he wanted somewhere to think straight. He could see Cardiff Bay in the distance, and the Bristol Channel glinting in the sunlight. From the other direction, the River Taff wended its way through the city to join the freshwater lake that was the Bay. The Altolusso was a long way from either.
He stepped back inside. Ianto was looking inside the dead man’s mouth, noting that it was full of water.
“Get samples of the water in his mouth,” Jack said. “And from the carpet. Get the fish into a sample bag, too. And… the wallpaper.” He looked around wondering if there was anything he had missed.
“Where did the water go?” he asked. “The whole apartment was flooded. Enough water to fill a small swimming pool was in here. And it didn’t go out through the windows. The balcony is dry. Was there flooding in the apartment below?”
“No,” Swanson answered him. “The resident noticed damp patches on his ceiling and called the building superintendent. But it was like this when he opened it up. I don’t know where the water went. I don’t know how it got here in the first place. This is weird. Which is why I called you. King of the weird.”
“Fair enough,” Jack responded. “All right, we’ll take the body. Owen can perform the autopsy in case there is anything else.”
“Er…” DCI Swanson considered pointing out that they had no authority to do that, and that she still had to determine if a crime had been committed. She thought about telling him he was there in a consulting capacity only. Several other good reasons to tell him he couldn’t take over the investigation occurred to her, but she knew it would be a waste of breath. “I’ll send the police file to the usual place, shall I?” she added in a resigned tone.
“Yes, please,” Jack answered. “It will save us having to hack into the police computer.”
He knew his reply had annoyed her, but he didn’t care. This wasn’t a crime of the sort DCI Swanson and her team were accustomed to dealing with. This was something that Owen generally described as ‘weird shit’. He wasn’t entirely sure what had happened here, but he was sure it was up to Torchwood to find out.
When they arrived at the hub, Jack was surprised to see the rest of the team standing around Gwen’s workstation watching what looked like home videos. Alun was thumbing through a pile of the less reputable morning newspapers at the same time.
“Owen,” he called out. “There’s a body arriving by the back entrance any minute. I’m particularly interested in the stomach contents and your best guess of cause of death.”
“Ok, boss,” Owen said and went to do his bidding. Jack took his place and watched the video playback. It appeared to be a bunch of people surfing on a river. He was puzzled.
“The bank holiday was yesterday,” he said. “You’re on Torchwood time now. Can we get some work done?”
“This is work,” Toshiko answered. “Take a look at this.” She picked up one of the newspapers from Alun’s lap and pointed to an article on the inside front page. The story was about a ghost, claimed to have been witnessed by over two hundred and fifty people who had been watching the Severn Bore on Bank Holiday Monday. The ghost was captured on still and video cameras, digital, tape and film. The newspaper claimed to have received forty-seven different pictures all clearly showing the ghost hovering over the crest of the Bore wave as it ran up the river. Three different angles were printed in the newspaper.
“Trick photography,” Jack said dismissively. “Double exposure. Clever bit of work with photoshop.”
“It isn’t,” Gwen told him. “It’s real. I talked to some of the witnesses last night in the pub at Minsterworth…”
“In the pub?” Jack grinned as if that confirmed his first impression.
“No, seriously,” she insisted. “Look… see for yourself on this video.” She pointed to the screen. Jack watched the surfers on the oncoming wave. In amongst them, the figure of a near see-through woman dressed in a long gown that streamed out behind her, was unmistakeable. Even so, he was unconvinced.
“You know, the BBC have a bloody big studio in Cardiff. They have people who do special effects. CGI, model shots. And there are any number of specialised independent companies who do that sort of thing. You see them on TV every day. Ice skating cars, that sort of thing.”
“Yes, but Rhys took these pictures,” Gwen said. “We were there. It’s our camera. And it hasn’t been anywhere near the BBC. Well, apart from the time we took a narrowboat up the canal that runs behind the studio. It’s real, Jack. There was a ghost surfing up the river with everyone.”
“Sabrina,” Ianto murmured.
“You don’t mean the Teenage Witch do you?” For some reason that was the only cultural reference Gwen could think of.
“The spirit of the River Severn. It’s where the name comes from. She was the illegitimate daughter of Locrinus, king of England, and his mistress Estrildis. The queen, Gwendolen, had Estrildis and Habren – or Sabrina in Latin – drowned in the river, and because Habren was an innocent maiden her guiltless spirit stayed in the waters. She is said to watch over the bodies of those who drown in the Severn, whether by accident or design.”
They all knew about the notorious suicide rate off the Severn Bridge. If there ever was a river that needed a goddess watching over the dead, it was that one. But it was a story, a legend. Yes, they dealt every day with incredible things that most people would dismiss as fantasy. But aliens, UFOs, weevils in the sewers, people falling through time when the rift convulsed were all provable. They were scientific fact.
River goddesses were fantasy.
All the same, when Gwen ran the film back again, none of them could think of a better explanation than Ianto’s. Not even Jack.
“Well,” he said. “Toshiko, you can spend half an hour seeing if there is any rift activity that coincides with the time of this sighting. Ianto, you can have the same amount of time on Sabrina the river goddess. Then I need you both to get on with more important stuff. Gwen, I’m not disbelieving your ghost sighting, but it doesn’t look like something that is a threat to the Human race, so it goes on the back burner for now. Gloria should have sent us a file by now. Victim of a very unusual death. Do your usual profiling job. Alun, you’re due for sidearms proficiency test. I know, you could outshoot me any day. But I’ve got to take you through the procedure. See you in the bunker in five minutes.”
Gwen found the profile very easy to do. It was all done but the printing before Jack was finished with Alun in the bunker. She and Ianto found themselves waiting at the printer for the results of both their efforts.
“How do you know about these things?” she asked him as she saw the pages about the legend of Sabrina the river goddess collating in the printer tray. “I’ve lived here all my life, and never heard that story before.”
“My father,” he answered. “He used to know so many things. When he wasn’t busy in the shop he would read. And he used to talk to me about the things he had read. Anecdotes, stories, all sorts of things. Nothing of value to anyone else. There are no PhD’s awarded for a collection of trivia nobody else cares about. But it was like gold dust to him. He used to say to me, ‘Learn one new thing every day of your life, bachgen, and never think you know everything.’”
“That’s good advice. Clever man, your dad. He’s… dead, now, isn’t he?”
Ianto nodded, biting his lip as if remembering something painful.
“He had Alzheimers. Went from that brilliant mind full of information to not even knowing how to dress himself. When he died… it was… It’s horrible to say, but I think mum was relieved when it was over. So was I. She talked about an end to suffering. But it was our suffering not his. He died… everything that he was… died long before his body did.”
“You’ve inherited that brilliant mind,” Gwen told him. You remember things I never could. All those inventory numbers as well as all your dad’s old stories about river goddesses.”
“I just hope I don’t inherit… losing my mind like that… not being who I am… not even knowing I need to stand up from my chair and go to the toilet… I’d rather die quick.”
Gwen had no answer to that. Everything she could think of to say was trite and stupid. She reached and kissed his cheek. He smiled shyly at her and seemed grateful for the gesture.
“Your man there is a piece of work, isn’t he,” Ianto said as he looked down at the printer and saw Gwen’s profile of the dead man printing out on top of his river goddess material now. “Not sure if it tells us why he died. But Jack will be interested, anyway.”
Jack and Alun both noted the platonic intimacy at the office printer as they came up from the bunker. Both smiled. They had nothing to be jealous about. Then they were distracted by Owen calling from his lair. Jack went to see what he’d found. Ianto and Gwen both followed and looked down on the autopsy from the railing above.
“I don’t know what’s so unusual that it needed my attention,” Owen told them. “Stomach contents were steak and salad and a lot of muddy water. The same water that was in those samples you sent down. The same water the fish lived in. The level of fine silt in it points to the Severn. So what’s so unusual about somebody drowning in the river Severn, Britain’s favourite suicide point?”
“He didn’t,” Jack answered. “He died in his own high rise apartment, three and a half miles and seventy metres above the river even at high tide.”
“You’re joking!” Owen whistled through his teeth. “He was drowned in river water. Was the body moved? Dumped back home?”
“More like the river was moved,” Ianto told him. “The apartment had been filled with water at some time before the police got there. He drowned in his own living room.”
“Ok, so he does belong in the weird shit drawer after all.” Owen said. “What else do we know?”
“Gwen’s going to tell us all about him,” Jack answered. “But let’s hear it on the comfy seats in the boardroom with coffee.”
Beth brought the coffee and then vanished back up to the tourist office. Jack thanked her for it and wondered if he ought to find a way to make her more of the team in an active way. But for now the coffee was the best service she could provide. He sipped from his mug as he glanced at the printout Gwen distributed.
“The victim is Barry Marshall,” Gwen said and noted lips moving as the name was repeated soundlessly. “Yes, that Barry Marshall. The one who was mayor of Cardiff five years ago and was caught in bed with the deputy mayor’s wife.”
“Wonder what the attraction was,” Owen commented. “He’s an old fart.”
“If you live that long, and can still pull, then you’ll be doing all right,” Jack responded. “Go on, Gwen.”
“Marshall is a very successful businessman, with extensive properties around Cardiff and Swansea. He recently doubled his net worth when planning was approved for a major out of town retail development on a rundown farmland he bought at auction for a fraction of its value after the planning went through. He was investigated for possible insider dealing, but nothing untoward was….” Gwen stopped speaking. She had just noticed Alun’s expression. The phrase ‘if looks could kill’ came to mind. She looked at the information in front of her again and something clicked into place. “Alun… is that… ohhh…”
“I didn’t kill him,” Alun assured her. “Yes, the farmland that’s going to be Llewellyn Shopping Park used to be Llewellyn Farm…”
“You sold the family farm?” Jack asked.
“A nest egg, for our future,” Alun answered, his hand sliding over Ianto’s as he spoke. “If we actually live to retirement, we’ll have more than our Torchwood pensions to fall back on.”
It shook them all to think that Alun and Ianto were thinking in terms of nest eggs and pensions, a far future that none of them, even Jack, the only one of them who knew for certain he had a far future, really gave much consideration. But the salient point was to whom he had sold the farm.
“Do you mean to say this guy stiffed you?” Toshiko asked. “He didn’t pay you a fair price?”
“He paid a fair price for farmland,” Alun answered. “More than fair. It was sold by auction and there were two of them bidding at the end. They pushed the price per acre up way beyond what I was hoping for. I had no reason to complain. I still don’t. But it’s true that development land is way more valuable than farmland. When I sold the farm, there was no mention of any proposed retail park development.”
“And it’s more than a bit convenient that Marshall, who had never had an interest in agricultural land before, happened to buy a property that very soon after became subject to a major planning application,” Ianto added. He did look as if he would complain. Alun whispered something to him. He shook his head. “No, Alun, it isn’t all right. I don’t know how he did it, but I think he DID stiff you. He knew something before the auction. I think the other bloke did, too. That’s why they bid so highly. Neither of them were farmers. Even the man who owned the farm next door, who wanted the land in order to extend his own property, gave up bidding twenty minutes before those two. It went out of the pockets of farmers long before they were done.”
“Are you sure you and Alun didn’t bump him off?” Owen asked.
“How would Alun and I get a couple of hundred cubic metres of the River Severn into his apartment?” Ianto asked. “If we wanted to ‘bump him off’ we’d have run him over with a tractor or minced him up with the cattle feed or…”
“It’s always the quiet ones,” Owen commented as the team all giggled at the idea of Ianto and Alun committing a creative revenge murder. “They look like butter wouldn’t melt, and all the time they’re thinking about how to dispose of the body.”
Jack shook with laughter for a full five minutes before bringing them back to the point.
“Ok, it seems to me that his death is a job for Gloria, after all. This man must have made more enemies than just Alun and Ianto doing business that way. I don’t know how it was done, and I think the method of killing him is in our ballpark, still. But his killer is probably going to turn out to be some disgruntled former landowner. I think this one just has to go into the unexplained weird shit drawer. We’ve got other fish to fry than… what was it you said it was, Ianto?”
“Freshwater barbel,” he answered.
“Yeah, that. Owen, send the body up to the hospital morgue and let Gloria know where she can find it. Then I think we’ll get lunch. I’m in the mood for Chinese…”
The afternoon was an anticlimax after the promise of excitement in the morning. Toshiko found no scientific evidence to explain the ‘ghost’ or ‘Sabrina’ as she had been unofficially christened. The body was sent off along with Owen’s findings of a fairly ordinary drowning and he got on with dissecting a reptilian skinned alien with four separate stomachs found dead beside its one-alien space buggy. It had apparently stupidly forgotten to check whether planet Earth had an atmosphere compatible with a creature that usually breathed sodium chlorine gas. Alun and Ianto buried themselves in the archive as usual. Gwen helped Toshiko with her translation programme. Jack spent two hours on the telephone liaising with three separate government departments and a more pleasant half hour phone flirting with Garret. Everyone clocked off at much the same time any ordinary worker with offices above sea level did and went to their respective homes. Since there was no hint of any alien invasion of Earth or of domestic terrorism, Jack, who didn’t actually have a home, headed for his lover’s apartment.
If anyone else thought going home early was a bad thing, Gwen didn’t. Being there, snuggled up on the sofa with Rhys, their empty supper plates on the floor, in time to catch the early evening news, was a nice change for her. Neither her old job in the police or life as a Torchwood agent allowed for that kind of thing most of the time. And Rhys had been taking more than his fair share of overtime lately, too. Both of them being at home at the same time was a bonus.
“Seems ages since I heard that theme music,” Gwen commented as the local news programme came on. She looked with professional interest at the top story, the accidental death of local businessman and former Mayor, Barry Marshall. She wondered who had come up with the accidental electrocution story, and giggled as she told Rhys about Ianto’s ideas for bumping off the cheat.
The ‘ghosts’ on the Severn Bore were the second story of the night. Rhys complained that HIS video was way clearer than the one they had used and looked far more convincing. The reporters wouldn’t have been able to laugh it off as a hoax if Gwen hadn’t taken his film to work.
The third item, was an accidental death at Minsterworth, Gloucester, of a former Cardiff businessman. Neither would have taken any notice of the story except for the fact that it happened in the very village they had been visiting yesterday.
“We were in that pub,” Rhys said as a piece of stock footage of the village came up on the screen. “Bloody hell, we were in the pub when the bloke was dying. Twenty-past eight… poor bastard. What did he just say? He drowned in the bath? Fucking hell. If he’d had a shower instead he’d have been down there having a pint with everyone else. But…What was that? I missed what he said then.”
“The reporter just said that the bath contained four live fish as well as the dead body,” Gwen answered. “That’s….” Rhys was coming up with several lurid reasons why a man would take a bath with live fish, but Gwen wasn’t listening. She was on her mobile phone.
“Yes,” Jack replied when she asked him if he’d seen the news. “I saw it. Sounds like it might be connected. But I’m fucked if I feel like doing anything about it right now, and there’s no need to bugger up anyone else’s evening. You and Owen go and take a look at the place tomorrow morning. If it’s anything more than coincidence we’ll go over the Marshall evidence again.”
“Ok,” Gwen said. “Have a good evening, Jack.”
“You, too, honey,” he answered. She put the phone down and relaxed again with Rhys. She put drownings and fish and anything to do with Torchwood well out of her mind for several hours.
It was the late evening news that brought it all back again, and ensured that everyone’s plans for a work-free evening were scuppered.
Barry Marshall’s ‘accidental’ death had been moved down to item two on the agenda. The big story was a helicopter crash just outside Cardiff. That, in itself, was nothing to do with Torchwood, except for one fact. A few minutes later, when they were on a repeat of the ‘ghost’ story, Gwen’s mobile rang again. It was Jack to say he was picking her up in a few minutes.
“The crashed helicopter was piloted by a business man called Idris Cunnick who bid against Marshall for Alun’s farm,” Jack said as she climbed into the passenger seat of the SUV. Toshiko was in the back, working at the drop down computer terminal. Etsuko was sleeping in her portable crib strapped in beside her. Owen, Alun and Ianto were in communication from their respective cars as they all headed out to the crash site.
“You think there’s a connection?”
“Might just be coincidence. If it is, we can all be home by midnight. If not...”
“If not, it’s time you did start to consider unsociable hours bonuses, Jack!” Owen told him. Jack laughed in a way that suggested he wasn’t going to be considering the idea.
The crash site was fully sealed off, but Torchwood took no notice of that. The official air accident investigators were sent back behind the cordon as they went into action.
It was a strange helicopter crash, it had to be said. The four seater Bell Jet Ranger had come down hard, its underbelly smashing into the ground, but there was absolutely no explosion or fire of any kind. It sat there now, lit up by portable lamps, almost completely intact, though never to fly again.
“Fucking hell!” Owen swore as he pulled open the side door and wet mud spilled out over his shoes. The inside of the helicopter was soaking wet. Everything had been drenched. The electrics were shorted out.
And a fish that Ianto calmly identified as a common brown trout lay dead on the floor by the pilot seat.
“It smells the same as Marshall’s apartment,” Jack said.
“A bit fishy?” Owen quipped.
“Like the river,” Jack answered. Ianto, who knew the river better than he did, agreed.
“So he drowned in mid air?” Gwen queried.
It looks like it,” Owen said. “I’ll go chase up the body and see if we’re right.”
“But it doesn’t make sense,” Toshiko protested. “How can a helicopter, in the sky, fill up with water? I mean, look at it.” She shone a torch around the inside, noting that, even a couple of hours later, there was still water dripping from the roof.
“How can an apartment on the top floor of a high rise be full of water that came from the river? There’s no scientific explanation.”
“Then we’re not looking for a scientific explanation,” Jack said. “It’s something beyond science. Some things have no scientific explanation. Some things aren’t logical. They can’t be explained.”
“Like… the fairies…” Gwen ventured. “Corner of your eye stuff….”
“Yes, but… I mean the fairies… well, they’re sort of… nature… They made sense in a way. If you believe in fairies anyway. What do we have to believe in to make sense of this? Sabrina the river goddess?”
She meant it as a joke. But as she said it, something occurred to her. She turned on her heels and ran back to the SUV. By the time the others had caught up with her, she was sitting in the back seat with a web page open on the computer screen. Jack stood at the open door and looked at what she had found.
“Look,” she said. “These are the times when the Bore comes up on the high tide. Yesterday and today and tomorrow. It’s full moon and the tides are the highest. It’s been one of the highest on record, in fact. That’s why all the people who are mad about the Bore were all excited. But, look… twenty-past eight yesterday was when the man at Minsterworth was drowned. We still haven’t tied him in at all except that there were fish where there shouldn’t have been fish. But anyway, Marshall died this morning at around 9.35 – that was Owen’s best guess, anyway, based on the temperature of the body when it was examined by the police scene of crime people and what it had reached by the time he got it in the mortuary. The helicopter went down at 8.15 tonight. They all coincide with the Bore tides.”
“So your theory is…”
“I don’t have a theory. I just have another piece of the puzzle. Three people have died by drowning in the River Severn, even though none of them were near the River Severn, which has a ghost that appeared yesterday morning, that Ianto thinks might be the goddess of the river. And two at least of the three are connected by business…. And… Oh, I don’t bloody know. And I don’t think I care right now. I want to go home and see if Rhys is still awake and worry about it tomorrow.”
“I think you’ve got a point,” Jack said. “I buggered up everyone’s evening and there really wasn’t much any of you could do. I’ll drop you and Tosh off and then call Owen and see what he’s got. Ianto, Alun, consider yourselves off duty. Go home.”
He had dropped Toshiko and daughter off at their house and was heading to Gwen’s flat when he remembered something.
“The Bore… it’s connected to the full moon, high tide. So what time is tomorrow’s tide due?”
“Eight-forty five to nine-fifteen,” Gwen answered. “Depending on how far upriver you are. Why?”
“I’m just wondering if there will be a fourth victim and if there’s anything we can do to stop it.”
“But it can’t be that simple, can it? And why? Even if it is a ghost or a spirit or a river goddess, why would it be killing businessmen? I mean, Alun had more motive to kill Marshall. What motive would a river have to kill him? Anyway, I still can’t get my head around it. It can’t be.”
“If you’d seen some of the things I’ve seen,” Jack answered her. “Not just aliens. There’s far more out there. Fairies, vampires, werewolves. You know, Torchwood was founded after Queen Victoria was attacked by a werewolf. That was what opened her mind up to the possibility of things beyond scientific reason. A spirit of a river committing murders… It’s not the most unlikely thing I’ve ever heard.”
“If the story Ianto told us is right, though, she didn’t seem the murdering type. She was a victim of a murder. Why would she do that? Even if it was possible.”
“You believed in the ghost on Rhys’s video camera. I was the sceptic then. And I might have been wrong. We have to be more open minded than we’ve ever been before about this. And maybe we’ll get to the bottom of it. But never mind about it, now. Go home, and don’t worry about it until tomorrow.” He stopped the SUV outside her home. She said goodnight and got out of the passenger seat. He watched until she was inside. Before he drove off he called Owen and wasn’t at all surprised to learn that Cunnick apparently died of drowning before the helicopter ploughing into the ground broke every bone in his body. Even with that information he decided he might as well salvage something of his own plans for the night. Garrett was wonderfully accommodating in that way. But he intended to get into the Hub early the next morning and check some things out.
When he got in, at just after seven thirty, he was surprised to find Gwen there before him, busy at her workstation.
“Don’t tell me you and Rhys had a row about last night?”
“No, not at all,” she answered. “But I woke up this morning with an idea, and I think I’ve found something. A connection between the three dead men.”
“Which is?” He looked over her shoulder at the images of not three, but four men.
“They were all in business together ten years ago - Barry Marshall, Idris Cunnick, Trent Floyd – he was the man who died in the bath at Minsterworth - and this man, Neil Trahern. They were all directors of a company called Gower Partnership. They made a lot of money. They were like Wales’s answer to Virgin. When they broke up the partnership, all four of them were millionaires. Marshall and Cunnick still are. Floyd and Trahern don’t seem to have done so well. Floyd was living a much more modest lifestyle in Minsterworth. And Trahern was declared bankrupt in 2006. He wasn’t as smart in his business decisions after he went out on his own.”
“Why did they break up?”
“There’s no mention of that,” Gwen answered. “But there is something else. A murder connected to Gower Partnership. The victim was Marshall’s personal assistant, a woman called Nancy Gough. There are very brief statements made by all four men to the police, along with everyone else she had any connection with. None of them were formal suspects in any way. It’s an unsolved case, buried in police archives. Forgotten.”
“On the face of it, nothing to do with the deaths of the three men. My guess is that Trahern killed them because he was pissed off that he hasn’t got any money left and they were doing ok. Gloria can sort him out. Unless… How did the girl die?”
“Strangled,” Gwen said. “But… Ohhhh….” She pointed to the relevant line of the police report.
“Her body was dumped in the River Severn.”
“An innocent woman…”
“Left in the bosom of Sabrina the river goddess.”
“You mean…” Gwen looked at Jack with wide eyes as she thought about the possibility.
“Ok, the logical and sensible answer to all this is still Trahern doing them out of misplaced bitterness. But if this isn’t logical and sensible. If it’s something else…”
“Those four killed her and…”
Jack smiled as he watched Gwen’s face betray her thought processes.
“Then Trahern might not be the suspect. He might be a victim, too. He’s the last of the four.”
Jack was already reaching for his keys. Gwen grabbed her coat and followed him.
“Gwaelod-y-garth,” Gwen said as Jack programmed the route into the system that would ensure the SUV encountered no red lights on the way. “It means foot of the Garth.”
“Garth Hill, that is?” Jack asked as he looked at the dark, brooding ridge that was visible from almost every part of Cardiff.
“Garth Mountain,” Gwen corrected him.
“And the difference is?”
“National pride, Gwen replied. “Only the English call it a Hill.”
“Mountain it is. Who am I to argue with a Welshwoman? What time did you say high tide was this morning, by the way?”
“Eight-forty-five,” she answered him. He looked at his watch. It was eight-fifteen. They were only five miles away from the ‘Foot of the Garth’, though. And how big a village could it be?
Not very big at all, in fact. It was mostly a single street with houses either side, a church, shop and more pubs than one small village ought to need. As they approached the main street a Land Rover went by on the other side of the road, going rather too fast for this time of morning, with children walking the country road on their way to school.
“That vehicle is registered to Trahern,” Gwen said. Jack immediately did a wheel-spinning u-turn that scared the living daylights out of two school-children and their mother and pursued the Land Rover.
“He’s running scared of something,” Jack said as he kept far enough back for Trahern not to know he was being followed, but not so far that he might lose him. “I saw his face as the Land Rover passed. “Something has him in a panic.”
“He knows he’s going to die like his friends?”
“Maybe.” Jack saw the Land Rover turn off the main road, heading up an unmade road that lead directly to the Hill… Mountain. He followed, still keeping his distance, though Trahern would have to be very stupid not to realise he was being pursued now. They were the only two cars on this road.
“He can’t drive up the mountain,” Gwen said. “It’s protected… preservation…”
“I have a feeling he doesn’t give a stuff about that. He’s trying to preserve himself. Trying to get high enough to get away from Sabrina’s vengeance.”
“A high rise apartment and a helicopter weren’t high enough. Surely it won’t…”
“He’s going to try.”
The Land Rover might have reached the summit. It was certainly designed to take rough punishment. But when they caught up with it, some fifty yards from the top of the mountain, it had a broken axle – testament to just how recklessly Trahern had been driving. Now, he was running like a madman, determined to reach the highest point. Jack looked at his watch. High tide was ten minutes away.
“I’m not going to risk the SUV on this ground,” he said. “We’re on foot from here, too.” He dived out of the driver’s seat and gave chase. Gwen ran, too, but she wasn’t anywhere near as fast as Jack. He WAS faster than a fifty-five year old man, but Trahern had a head start. When Jack reached the top he was leaning against one of the bronze age tumuli that the historical societies sought to preserve. He looked triumphant.
“There’s still five minutes to high tide,” Jack told him.
“I’m safe up here.”
“I wouldn’t bet on it. But… while we’re waiting… just to confirm… The four of you killed Nancy Gough and dumped her body in the river. What was it? Sex? Did you gang rape her in the office?”
“No, it wasn’t like that. It was… Insider trading. We… made a lot of money illegally. Nancy found the evidence. She was going to blow the whistle. She… Marshall killed her. In the boardroom. But we… we stood and watched. We did nothing to help her. And… we were all there… we all drove out there with the body. We were all guilty. And now… It’s the river… she’s punishing us.”
“So it seems,” Jack said. He looked at his watch. One minute. He waited. He heard Gwen’s footsteps as she reached the summit. He heard her gasping for breath. But he kept his eyes on Trahern as the minute counted down.
“It’s….” He gasped suddenly and began to cough. “No….”
Jack watched as water started to spew from Trahern’s mouth. Greenish-grey, silt-laden river water. It was a trickle at first, then a torrent that Jack hastily moved away from. Trahern fell to his knees, eyes bulging, clutching his throat. Jack heard Gwen calling to him to do something, to help him.
“There’s nothing I can do,” he answered. He caught hold of her as she tried to run to Trahern’s aid. “There’s nothing anyone can do. Unless you can fight the forces of nature.”
“He’s going to die… Jack… Ohhh!” Her eyes were like saucers as she watched a live fish force itself out of Trahern’s mouth. Several fish, including one that must have been a good foot and a half long and which Ianto might have been able to identify, came out of his mouth. It was as if his body was a conduit from the river. He tried to breathe, but he was taking in water, not air. As the torrent of water and even more fish kept pouring out, Trahern was drowning.
“I can’t stop it,” Jack said. “I’m not sure I should try. Nature is having her way with him. The river is punishing him for what he did.”
“Oh!” Gwen gasped as she saw the water that had poured from Trahern’s mouth form into the nearly see-through, greenish figure of a woman with long hair and her gown trailing behind her. She stood over Trahern as he died, then she turned to Jack and Gwen and stared at them both.
“We’re nothing to do with this,” Jack said, instinctively reaching a protective arm around Gwen’s shoulders. “You’ve had your revenge, Sabrina. The ones who killed an innocent girl and put her body in the river… they’re dead now. You have avenged her, punished the guilty. Let her soul rest now, and yours. Go back where you come from. Back to the river.”
The goddess of the river looked at him and nodded just once. There was the ghost of a smile on her lips. Then the figure broke apart and fell as water into a stream that continued to pour from the dead body of Neil Trahern for several minutes more. The stream trickled downhill, as water tended to do. It might eventually join the Taff as it wended through Cardiff, then the sea, the ultimate goal of all river water.
Meanwhile Jack went back to the SUV and found a body bag to put Trahern into. Owen might want to examine him and find an official cause of death, then the body could be sent to the usual place.
“You didn’t even try to help him,” Gwen said. “I thought that’s what we came to do - save him.”
“I thought we did,” Jack replied. “At first. Then I realised, we just had to be witnesses. To see justice done. Not the justice the police and court system dispenses. That gets it wrong too often. The police failed to link those four with Nancy’s death. God knows why. Maybe money talks louder than justice. Anyway, they got away with it, until Sabrina came upriver looking for them. I’m not sure what took her so long. Maybe it has something to do with the tide – the height of the Bore, or something. But anyway, a kind of justice was done. If we’d interfered, tried to protect him, then we might have displeased Sabrina, too. And interfering with nature is dangerous.”
“You mean you’re glad he’s dead?”
“I’m not shedding any false tears. That poor girl. They killed her to protect their profit-making crime. I almost wish it was sexual. At least that kind of bastard I can understand. But to kill to save their own skins, to protect their illegal financial interests… I’m not glad he’s dead, but I’m damned if I’m going to pretend I’m sorry, either.”
“So… Now, what?”
“We go back to the Hub. We have some industrial strength coffee. You write a report that faithfully and truthfully records what we saw happening here for our records. I write some lies that make Trahern an accidental drowning.”
“Why not a suicide… leaving a note admitting that he killed Nancy along with the others?”
“Because that would raise their profile and let too many questions come up about how they all died. Lloyd drowned in his bath, Cunnick in a helicopter crash. Gloria has other things to do than worry about Marshall’s strange but apparently accidental death. That’ll just get filed and forgotten. Quiet lies are the easiest.”
“And the ghost… Sabrina… all those pictures of her…”
“They’ll be forgotten in a few days. She’ll pop up occasionally in TV programmes with titles like ‘Unexplained’ along with the Loch Ness Monster and the Marie Celeste. And that’s ok. The Human race carries on, blissfully ignorant of what’s real and what isn’t.”
“Ok,” Gwen sighed. “Come on then. The one part of this scenario I like is the hot coffee.”