Constable Evans Mystery Book 7

Evan Only Knows

 

Chapter 1

The Land Rover pulled up abruptly at the side of the narrow road. A young man jumped out, his mouse brown hair and pasty face blending in with the beige of his raincoat. It was midsummer and the sky was cloudless, making the raincoat a strange choice of garment. Equally strange, it was coupled with a pair of large green gumboots that appeared too big for him. He paused, looking and listening in both directions up and down the pass, before grabbing something from the seat of the Land Rover and sprinting to a nearby stile. He looked around once more before starting to wrap the stile, spiderweb fashion, with bright yellow plastic tape. The tape read KEEP OUT. When the stile was effectively blocked, the young man ran back to the Land Rover and took off, tires spraying gravel. As he drove up the pass, he picked up a mobile phone and pressed the redial button.

“Sector Three now secured, sir,” he said.

“Well done,” came the crackling voice down the line. “Now get the hell out of there before they notice.”

 

At that very moment an elderly Rover was driving up the Llanberis Pass at a sedate twenty-nine miles per hour, clearly infuriating the driver of a white van behind it. The van bore the inscription LEEKS–THE PROUD SYMBOL OF WALES, STOPPING LEAKS–the proud aim of Roberts-the-Plumber, Bangor. It tried unsuccessfully to pass on numerous occasions but was reduced to impotent horn honkings, which the driver of the Rover didn’t seem to hear.

At last, beyond the small village of Nant Peris, the Rover finally turned off the road to a parking area outside an old churchyard. Three sheep that had been cropping grass around the lichen-covered gravestones leaped up in alarm at the sound of the car and trotted away to safety behind the old church. The Rover’s doors opened and three elderly gentlemen got out, each straightening creaky joints slowly and cautiously. Although they weren’t wearing clerical collars but weatherproof windcheaters and stout walking boots, they had an aura of innocent surprise and unworldliness in their faces, usually seen in choirboys or monks. These three were, in fact, Church of England vicars and knew nothing of the austere lifestyle of the monastery. They stood, breathing deeply and looking around with expectation.

“I bet these old stones could tell many a tale,” one of them said, walking over to the moss-grown wall that surrounded the churchyard.

“If they could, you wouldn’t understand it, because it would be in Welsh.” The second, the most cherubic-looking of the three, chuckled.

“Anyway, we’re not going to take time to explore now.” The third, leaner and fitter looking than his companions, hoisted a rucksack onto his back. “We want to make the summit before the weather changes.” He raised his eyes to the mountains that rose steeply on either side. The sky was a perfect blue, without a cloud in sight.

Then turning his back on the churchyard, he crossed the road where the sign indicated a footpath up the green slopes beyond. His companions followed him until they came to a stile, straddling a drystone wall. Behind the wall was a rising pasture, dotted with sheep, but the stile was impassible. It was tied across with yellow plastic tape.

The first clergyman stopped and waited for his companions to catch up.

“They can’t do this!” he exclaimed, his face pink with anger as he pointed at the taped stile. “It’s a public right of way, that’s what it is. It’s always been a public right of way, and if any bolshie farmer thinks he can stop us from crossing his field just by putting up a piece of tape, then he can think again.”

“Easy now, Ronald,” the cherubic vicar said, putting a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “Maybe this path is under repair, or is waterlogged. I’m sure there are plenty of alternate routes up to the summit.”

“He’s right, old man,” the third clergyman said in languid, aristocratic tones. “No sense in raising your blood pressure over nothing. Remember what the doctor said.”

Ronald sighed and turned away. “You’re right. Let’s take a look at the map and see where the other paths start.”

But ten minutes later they were at a similar stile farther up the pass, facing a similar strip of yellow tape and the words KEEP OUT scrawled on a piece of cardboard. This time Ronald nearly exploded.

“That’s it. Back to the car. We’re going to find the nearest police station and make this farmer open up his damned public right of way!”

 

“Sorry about this, lads, but my hands are tied.” Superintendent Meredith spread his hands in a gesture of apology, seeming to refute what he had just said. He was a big man with multiple chins that quivered as he shook his head. “We’ve had a directive from the powers-that-be that we’re to give the Min of Ag all possible cooperation in carrying out this unpleasant task.”

“It’s not going to be easy,” a voice from the audience muttered.

“Look, I know it’s not going to be easy, especially for those of us who work closely with the community, but it has to be done.” The superintendent attempted an understanding smile. “I feel just as badly as you do about this. But it has to be stopped now. It should have been stopped before it got to Wales. It could have been if they hadn’t sat there twiddling their thumbs until it was too late.”

“Bloody English, when have they ever sent us anything but bad news?” came another growled mutter from the back of the room.

If the superintendent heard this, he pretended not to. “So we’ve just got to buckle down, all pull together, and make sure that there is no unpleasantness, right?” He was the only one who nodded. “The Min of Ag inspectors are already in the area. You’ll be approached for assistance as needed.” He looked around the audience of blank faces, then went on, “So that’s about it. Let’s make this go as smoothly as possible, shall we then? And if it looks as if there’s going to be trouble, don’t hesitate to call for backup. Got it? Right then.” He stood up, brushed off his hands as if they had crumbs on them, and strode from the room.

“All in this together, my arse,” one of the young policemen muttered over the scraping of chairs as they got to their feet.

Constable Meirion Morgan fell into step beside a fellow officer. “All right for him, isn’t it, Evan–sitting here in his office. I bet he’s never been within twenty miles of a herd of sheep in his life.”

The fellow officer he had spoken to, Constable Evan Evans, smiled in agreement. He was a big chap with the build of a rugby player and a boyish face women found appealing. “You know what I’m counting on, Meirion?” he muttered confidentially. “I’m just hoping they’ll take their time before they get to us up on the mountain.”

Meirion Morgan returned the grin. “Oh, that’s right. You’re transferring to plainclothes, aren’t you?”

“I’m due to start my course next week.”

“Lucky bugger,” Meirion said. “Still, I’m not saying that you don’t deserve it.”

“I’ve been waiting long enough for the transfer to come through,” Evan said. “I applied over a year ago. I was beginning to think they’d never accept me.”

“They’d have been daft if they hadn’t, seeing the kind of help you’ve already given them.”

“People don’t always take kindly to outside help, do they?” Evans commented.

They joined the crowd filing from the briefing room. “You really want to do that kind of thing, do you?” Meirion asked. “Can’tsay it appeals to me. Too much stress and terrible hours. I dare say I lack ambition, but I like being home at a reasonable time and not being called out at three in the morning.”

“I think I’ll like it just fine,” Evan said. “I did start a CID training course once, when I was on the force down in Swansea.”

“Did you now? I never knew that. What in heaven’s name were you doing in Swansea? You don’t look like a South Walesian, don’t sound like one either.”

Evan laughed. “I was born up here, but my dad got a job with the South Wales Police, so we moved down there when I was ten.”

“And you were on the force down there then? What made you decide to move back?”

“Several things.” Evan left it at that. “My mum still lives down there.”

“Can’t say I’d want to,” Meirion said as they drew level with the cafeteria door. “I’ve only been to a city once and I felt hemmed in, if you know what I mean. Coming for a cuppa?”

“No thanks, I’d better be getting back,” Evan said. “I’m a one-man shop up in Llanfair, and something always seems to happen when I’m away.”

“You’ve got several farms around you, haven’t you?” Meirion grimaced. “So have we. I’m not looking forward to it one bit, but I suppose the super is right. It has to be done.”

He gave Evan a friendly nod as he pushed open the swing door into the cafeteria. Evan got a pleasant whiff of sausage and chips before the door swung to again. He paused and looked back longingly. He’d been surviving on his own for a couple of months now, and he wasn’t the world’s best cook. After a lifetime of living at home and then being looked after by Mrs. Williams, he was discovering that cooking wasn’t as simple as it seemed. Things that looked easy enough usually required ingredients he didn’t possess and never turned out like the pictures in the cookery books. Of course he could always buy a meat pie or bangers and chips at the Red Dragon across the road, but that was defeating the whole purpose of this exercise. The whole reason he was putting himself through this was for Bronwen. She had made it very clear that she wouldn’t marry him until he’d had a taste of fending for himself.

Evan came out of the Caernarfon Police Station and went to retrieve his motorbike. Another good thing about transferring to the CID, he decided, would be giving up that bloody motorbike. It had been issued to outstation officers as part of an efficiency drive, so that they could cover outlying farms more easily, but Evan had never really taken to it. Not that he minded the wind and rain in his face. He’d been brought up in the mountains, after all. He just didn’t feel any affinity for motorbikes.

He kicked it to life and pulled out of the station yard. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he’d been issued an impressive 1000cc model, but this bike was so underpowered that it barely made it up the hill to Llanfair. Any burglar could easily outrun him up a mountainside.

The last of the housing estates was left behind, and green uplands soared on either side. A stream danced merrily beside him. Flowers grew in profusion, spilling over the drystone walls. The high pastures were dotted with sheep. It was the perfect pastoral scene, one that he usually relished, but today he looked around with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. This was the calm before the storm. Maybe nothing would ever be the same again.

The town of Llanberis was chockablock with families on holiday. The ice cream vendor and the souvenir shops were doing a roaring trade. There was a long line waiting for the next train on the little rack railway up Mt. Snowdon, and a cheerful toot-toot announced that it had just started its climb to the summit. Evan slowed as holiday makers strolled across the road, trailing children and dripping ice cream. He wondered what would be happening to them. Would they all be sent home? Would the whole area be quarantined?

He negotiated the holiday crowds successfully, then let the throttle out as the road narrowed and the pass rose ahead, snaking up to the high country. He felt the exhilaration of wind in his face. Green walls rose on either side, topped with sheets of scree and the rocky crags he knew so well–Snowdon and its outcroppings on his right, and, beyond the thin finger of lake, the twin peaks of the Glydrs on his left. Evan knew every route up the mountains, every challenging climb in the area, but there hadn’t been much time for climbing recently.

Nant Peris, with its old church and graveyard, passed on his right. Then there were no more houses until Llanfair. As he pulled up outside his little police substation, he saw a car parked outside it and a white-haired man standing at the station door. On hearing Evan he marched toward him.

“Are you the officer who is supposed to be on duty here?” he demanded in a well-bred English voice.

“That’s right, sir. Constable Evans. How can I help you?”

“Aren’t police stations supposed to be manned at all times?”

“Sorry, sir. I’m the only officer stationed up here, and I was called down to headquarters,” Evan said. “There’s an telephone outside, and they will always send up a squad car in an emergency. So what can I do for you?”

“What you can do is go and talk to some damned farmer,” the man said. “We’re here on a walking holiday, and we were just about to hike up Glydr Fach when we found the path had been blocked off.” Evan glanced over at the car where two other elderly men with round cherubic faces watched from wound-down windows. “My fellow members of the clergy and I have been coming here every summer since 1956, and until now we have had no problems.”

Evan was just realizing the implications of the man’s complaint. “The path was blocked, you say?” he asked.

“Taped across, more like it,” one of the other elderly gentlemen chimed in from the car. “Lots of yellow plastic tape. And not just one path either. We drove up to the second footpath, and it had tape across it too. And the words ‘Keep Out.’”

“Some bolshie farmer trying to deny an ancient right of way,” the first man said. “It happens from time to time. Some chap thinks he can ignore a public footpath across his land. But we never let them get away with it. We’d like you to go and talk to him, Constable. Let him know that it’s against the law to block off a right of way.”

“I’ll come down and see it with you,” Evan said, “but I don’t think the farmer had anything to do with it this time. I don’t know whether you’ve been reading the papers, but I’m afraid that foot-and-mouth disease has spread to this part of Wales. I was just at a briefing in Caernarfon, and it doesn’t look good. It seems it’s only a matter of time before the farmers here have to slaughter their flocks.”

The man’s bluster evaporated. “But that’s terrible,” he said with concern. “So you think that was why they’ve blocked off the footpaths?”

“I would imagine so, sir. I understand the Ministry of Agriculture’s men are already in the area doing inspections, and they’ll be doing everything they can to stop the disease from spreading–which would mean closing footpaths, I expect.”

“Of course, I quite understand,” the vicar said, nodding to his fellows. “They wouldn’t want to risk having anyone carrying infected soil on his boots. Well, this is a setback, I must say.”

“It will completely spoil our holiday,” one of the men in the car said.

“I should think it will spoil a lot of holidays,” Evan said. “The timing couldn’t have been worse, right at the beginning of the school summer holidays too. It will be a disaster for all the local business people.”

“Yes, I suppose it will. Never thought of that.” The vicar stood staring up at the mountains with a wistful look on his face. “So what do you suggest, Constable? Do you think we should get out as soon as possible and try somewhere else?”

Evan glanced up at the hills, from which came the sporadic bleating of sheep. “You’re all clergymen, you say? Then I suggest you gentlemen do some serious praying. We’re going to need it.”