Sally Spedding
11/26/17 09:02:14PM
9 posts

2009. March 2nd. 5 p.m.

Wales had lost to France in Paris, and now, to cap it all, Muriel, from Human Resources at Cymru Crisps, was extracting Danny Walters’ P45 from her file with a serious expression on her face.

Although for the past three years, he’d been on the production line dropping a small, red plastic dragon into each crisp packet before it was filled and sealed, it was at least paid work, when at Allt-y-Fedw, his parents’ farm, high up between Gwaen-cae-Gurwen and Pontardawe, there was nothing but sheep, bloody rain and never a penny for his labours..

“One too many mistakes, Daniel,” Muriel sounded genuinely sorry, handing over the fateful form. “A customer’s just complained about finding ten dragons in one packet and none in the other. Mr Richards says it’s bad for business. Specially now. And because this isn’t the first time, I’m afraid he’s right.”

Allt-y-Fedw and its dilapidated outbuildings loomed large in Danny’s mind. Also the last bad winter. His frozen hands, feet and everywhere else.

I’ll try harder to concentrate,” he promised her. “Honest.”

But she shook her permed head. Minds had obviously been made up. “Perhaps you should try something different,” she added as the familiar smells of cheese and onion and smoky bacon wafted through a nearby vent.

“There is nothing else,” he said. “Only the farm. And my da’s a real tightwad…”

She opened her desk drawer and pulled out a strip of newsprint from her drawer. Danny wondered why.

“If you do ever need a good reference from the boss,” she said, handing over what he could now see was a cutting from yesterday’s Western Mail. “I’ll try my best to twist his arm.”

“Thanks.” He blinked at the headline, then the details underneath which switched his pulse into top gear.


An established surveillance company

is looking to expand its nationwide workforce…

Even when Muriel’s phone began to ring and she gestured for him to leave, Danny was already visualising a new Mini-Cooper parked on the one clean bit of farmyard near the house. How Sara Thomas, whom he’d just met at the Pontardawe Arts Centre, might even agree to a date.


March 9th. 8.30 a.m.

“Not off out today?” his mam called up the stairs.


“Got a new job,” Danny shouted back. “Using my computer.”

Silence, save for that same rain as yesterday and it seemed, for ever, battering his bedroom window under the eaves. A black sky had turned the

morning into dusk. Danny knew what she‘d say next. That his da needed help birthing the late lambs. That he’d most likely catch his death out on the quad bike. But he didn’t hear it, because he’d already shut his door and turned the big, old key.


CamQuest, specialists in CCTV coverage in most major shopping centres throughout the UK, didn’t need references but a signed declaration online that he was over 18 and accepted their picky terms and conditions. Once this was processed, a trial period could begin at 3p.m. that very day.

Speedy reaction times and confidentiality were key. As was being able to discriminate between those customers merely browsing and those thieving; an argumentative or a dangerous one. Just up his street, Danny thought, smiling to himself. Hadn’t he, as a school prefect, often stopped playground fights before blood appeared? Or collared those smokers handing fags and worse to new kids behind the canteen? He recalled the adrenalin rush whenever the Head had commended him during Friday assemblies. When taunts of ‘grass’ and ‘brown-nose’ hadn’t bothered him.

So, here he was, with a screensaver photo of his hero, Gavin Henson, while he psyched himself up to put the world to rights. Thing was, though, he had more than six hours to go and it was still pissing down outside.


1.40 p.m.

Up in her tiny council flat in Milton Keynes’s Jubilee House, Shannon Smith

decided on pink lippy for a change, even though Marie McConnell, keen to be her best mate and never stuck for an opinion, said pink made your gob look like the top of an iced doughnut. The silver watch she’d nicked from Debenham’s last Saturday, said 12.30 p.m. It looked just right on her wrist, but no way would she be showing it off so soon. Not with what Marie had planned for today. Shannon’s one afternoon off work.

She slipped the watch into the box of Belgian biccies that had also found its way into her bag on Saturday. She’d meant her Gran to have them but she’d been admitted to the General Hospital with a suspected stroke. Shannon had visited her in the communal ward last night. The only family she had left. No way could Gran munch biscuits, and, seeing her like that had been a big shock.

As for the McConnell family, they took up a whole column in the Milton Keynes phone book. All practising Catholics except Marie who’d been expelled from her convent school for blasphemy and flouting its strict uniform code.

“No-one’s looking down on me any more,” she’d grinned at Shannon as they’d left WH Smith’s after a fruitful trip a fortnight ago. “Cool, yeah?”


Next, eye shadow. Lots. False eyelashes too, and enough spot concealer to render a house wall. Midsummer Place shopping centre banned hoodies, beanies and baseball caps, so make-up was the best disguise. Unless you fancied a niqhab instead. Something Marie had actually considered.

Ready now, in black jeans and top, Shannon’s dark brown hair lay smooth as sealskin over her ears and forehead. Her Zara bag ready by the door. She glanced out of her window to see how Jubilee House’s sharp shadow extended over the gravel walkways connecting with the bigger, dirtier Queen’s Tower. In the middle of it, with her ‘Lucky Bag,’ stood Marie. Identical hair and clothes as agreed. Still jobless, she needed every penny from selling her nicked gear on Ebay. Shannon guessed it was for buying drugs. Not her scene at all. In fact, she’d given most things away to the girls on the Happy Chicks assembly line, or to Gran whose old eyes had always lit up at a nice bottle of Eau de Toilette or a box of chocs with soft centres. Shannon wondered if she’d ever see those same eyes light up again and knew she should be visiting her, not doing this rubbish.

She waved down at the Irish girl, thinking Marie would soon have to find someone else to steal with. Although the chicken factory job was stinky and gut-

wrenching, it was a wage, and together with tax credits, meant she could afford to rent a decent roof over her head. She’d promised herself to start studying Accountancy on-line. In three years she’d be sorted. So what the Hell was she doing?


1.50 p.m.

Danny knew his da’s moods better than his own. This one wasn’t good.

I’m waiting for you to decide your priorities and obligations,” snapped Raymond Walters, checking the time on his wet watch outside the lambing

shed’s open door. “So, what’s it to be, son?”

Rain dropped from the brim of his hat. The kind that cowboys wore in the dry, wild west. Not here.

“I’m starting work soon. My one big chance,” Danny said, whereupon a knobbly finger pressed into his chest.

“You’ve had your chances, from the day we picked you up…”

Danny stared at those thin, cracked lips that rarely smiled.

“Picked me up? What d’you mean?” He kept searching that familiar, ungiving face. “From hospital?”

Faraway thunder filled the hesitation. Raymond Walters glanced towards the farm house as if about to add something else he shouldn’t.

“Nothing. Just roll up your bloody sleeves and help an old man out. We need as many live births as we can get. Prices are rock bottom and falling.”

“Two hours max. OK?” When Danny really wanted to say, ‘you’ve had most of your life and mine’s just beginning,’ but couldn’t. Instead, pulled on his waterproofs and, while his da revved up the quad bike, whistling for both sheepdogs, positioned himself behind him. As he gripped that taut, bony back, he realised that this man now churning out of the yard in a spray of mud and manure, had always seemed a stranger.


2.20 p.m.

Shannon sighed at Marie’s last-minute change of plan. The Virgin Superstore was now first on the list, just for the latest Adèle CD, nothing else. It was as if she didn’t exist.

“Amazing,’ it is,” Marie pushed her way into the noisy vastness with all the confidence of a seasoned ’lifter.’ “You coming?”

“I’m saving myself,” Shannon lied. There weren’t enough other punters. Marie would stand out too much. She scoured around for cameras then store detectives. She should warn her to stop looking over her shoulder all the time, but in her heart, she wanted her caught. Wanted out.

She slipped away into the sun-filtered arcade where, beyond its windows, a shimmering fountain seemed to spray the air with diamonds.


She was about to catch a bus to see her Gran in hospital, when a fist jabbed her back. It hurt.

“Don’t do that again. Geddit?”

Shannon turned to see the other girl’s angry face. Her red mouth puckered into a mean slit. “And now we’re off to the biggy.”

“I can’t.”

Marie pulled out five CDs from each of her jacket’s big pockets, and a further three from inside her sweater’s floppy polo neck. “Look. Bargain. And I’m

not finished yet. OK? I need new trackies, trainers and a sports bag… ”

“I said, I can’t.”

The ex-convent girl had finished storing her haul deep inside her ‘Lucky Bag,’ when without warning, Shannon felt a hand tightening its grip around her neck. “I’ll start squealing and say you’re my boss,” Marie hissed, looking at her sideways. Her irises bigger and blacker than ever. Eyelashes like rows of bats’ wings. “So?”


2.30 p.m.

Danny had been gathering up the last of the stragglers in Lower Field, when he’d fallen off the quad bike and hit a gate post. By the time he, his da, plus panting dogs and forty drenched Welsh Mountain ewes had been corralled in the lambing shed, he’d not only got a thumping headache and ruined jeans, but his imminent trial run with CamQuest was slipping down the pan.


Having helped deliver twenty-two live lambs with one poor little bugger strangled by its own cord, he slipped away and, having shed his sodden gear in the scullery, made his way into the kitchen where Heledd Walters was peeling potatoes.

He stalled, shivering. Even his boxer shorts were wet through.

“I’ve something to ask you,” he said to his mam, seeing the clock’s second

hand jerking onwards towards three o’clock. “What did da mean just now by saying you and him had picked me up?

His mam turned round, scraper in hand.

“I’ve a question too. Why aren’t you still helping him?”

Because I’m like a frigging nut in a nut-cracker. You on one side, him on the other. I can’t take much more, to be honest.” And with that, he ran upstairs, locked himself in his room again and opened up Internet Explorer on his computer. Only then, with five minutes to go, did he realise he’d not washed his hands and his fingernails still harboured the blood of the last lamb he’d pulled out.


3.08 p.m.

“I said, come on.”

Marie took Shannon’s hand as if nothing had happened between them. It felt hot, clammy, but Shannon kept hers there. For the time being, it was best to play along.


The HI-ACTIVE sports shop was the biggest in Buckinghamshire. Their 50% off Sale had, it seemed, drawn that whole county through its doors. Shannon felt immediately suffocated. Frightened.

“See that camera over the kiddies’ section?” Marie nudged her. “I know

what its range is, so we’ll be OK. Let’s move.”

Such confidence, thought Shannon, hating the pressing crowds tearing

garments off their hangers, letting them fall underfoot. She wanted to be anywhere but here. Her Gran’s bedside for a start. Even an extra shift plucking feathers from the line of stunned chickens.

Hey, look.” Marie held up a purple jogging top with a built-in bra. “Can you see me in this?”


“Or this?” Same style but maroon.

Shannon shrugged, boxed in by even more bodies. More smells…

I’ll have it anyway, and the bottoms.” Marie resembled a greedy raven, stuffing everything she could on top of her CDs in her ‘Lucky Bag.’ Its two drawstrings already stretched to the limit. “Here,” she said. “Hold it for a mo while I get my card ready.”


“Yeah. Don’t stress. I won’t be using it.”

But that bag suddenly felt too heavy, and when Shannon tried handing it back, saw that Marie had vanished.

Now what? Think…

Those items were worth a fair bit. She could make herself a few bob and tell Marie someone else had snatched the bag off her…

“Please come with me,” said a suited, middle-aged man, who’d appeared from nowhere to steer her firmly through the staring throng towards a door marked STORE MANAGER. “We’ve been watching you. Got you just in time.”


3.25 p.m.

Even ten minutes after alerting HI-ACTIVE’s security staff, Danny’s elation was still

bubbling. He’d spotted the heavily made-up young woman who’d been filling her rucksack-style bag with keep-fir gear, and his prompt response had resulted in CamQuest’s delighted Midlands’ co-ordinator asking him to continue surveillance until closing time. Moreover, he’d begin tomorrow’s shift at 8.30 a.m. at the same shop for an extra £200 per hit.

As he shut down his pc, a spear of lightning slanted towards the nearby hills, followed by thunder that juddered the farmhouse to its core.

“Danny? You there?” His mam yelled up the stairs. “I can’t find your da, nor the dogs. He went up the fields again…”

Within a minute, Danny was out in the storm alongside her keening cries, into a world where day had suddenly become night.


17th March 12.30 p.m.

Some 230 miles from where Raymond Walters’ badly burnt body had been air-lifted to the High Dependancy Unit in Morriston Hospital, Shannon sat in her Gran’s sheltered housing flat, grateful for the familiar touch of her old, freckled hand on hers. She tried not to look at the long-ago photo of her pretty mum, and of herself as a baby with the toy rabbit that still lay on her bed in Jubilee House. Despite her betrayer still being missing, she had to move on as best she could..

The police found heroin in her flat as well,” she volunteered, nibbling one of the Belgian biscuits she’d just brought over. “She’s been spotted in Truro, would you believe?”

“Cheats never prosper,” Gran said, battling slurred speech and a droop of her left eyelid. “And I hope what she’d said about you to the police before she scarpered, wasn’t in any way true. That you were a lifter, too.”

Shannon shook her head almost too quickly. “They believed me, didn’t they? How she’d threatened to cut my throat unless I took her her bag.”

Yet for how long could she keep lying?

Her Gran leaned towards her. “You possibly being sent to jail far away, and me having a worse stroke, made me think…”

“What about?” Shannon studied the woman who’d cared for her since her own daughter had had stood on a nearby M4 bridge before jumping under a Spanish lorry carrying tomatoes bound for Leicester.

“It’s time you knew… ” Those pinprick eyes had glazed over. “I’ve just seen your brother after all these years.”

Shannon blinked.


A nod.

“You never said.”

Gran looked pained. Struggled to speak.

I couldn’t. Our Jean - your mum - had him a year after you. Just before your dad walked out, and when I begged her to let me look after you both, she refused. ‘I can cope,’ she said. But that wasn’t true.” She eyed her again. “Then she died.”

Did you ever remember him?”

No. Nor her.”

Shannon saw how the day’s drizzle masked everything beyond the ground floor window. How Gran, who’d also kept a big secret for a long time, wiped her eyes with her cardigan sleeve.

I couldn’t cope either, not with your granddad’s lung cancer. We didn’t want you two going into care so…”

A sudden draught made Shannon turn to see the lounge door opening. A male voice speaking.

“They put us up for adoption. Me in Ponty. You in Milton Keynes.”

A skinny, black-haired guy had stepped into the room, avoiding her shocked stare. He had the same eye colour, same-shaped nose as her…

“Jesus.” She forgot to close her mouth.

“Danny’s here to apologise for your recent ordeal,” Gran beckoned him towards her. “He was only doing his job.”

“What job?”

Nothing was making sense.


“If only I’d known,” Danny Walters seemed close to tears once he’d relayed the whole CamQuest story..

It was Marie McConnell who’d been stealing!” Shannon protested. “She gave me that bloody bag of hers to hold. Deliberately. Or else…” She then repeated the cruel threat, plus a demonstration..

“I’m sorry, right? But it’s all come good. There’s a warrant out for her arrest and when she’s caught, she could get five years. For all the snow as well.”

“Is Raymond on the mend now?” Gran filled the strained pause that


“Yes. And wants to see you again. Says you’re both welcome to come and live at Allt-y-Fedw if you want. Breathe new life into it. Heal a few hearts. Mam agrees.”

The hugs which followed, erased the missing years, the sealed lips, but above all, for Shannon, the sense that despite Marie McConnell being still at large, the missing piece of her jigsaw life was in place.


June 11th 3 p.m.

The last of the llama flock had just arrived from Fleet in Hampshire, and were already settling into their new surroundings. Lower Field now boasted electric fencing against any possible rustlers, and the early summer grass was at its best. Danny and Shannon always laughed at how the comical creatures bucked and galloped round and round until lowering their heads to graze. How they gobbled up digestive biscuits, eating them whole.

Last March and its traumas seemed almost a lifetime ago, and thanks to her

vision to sell off of the unprofitable sheep and instead start a free-range chicken enterprise, Allt-y-Fedw had turned a corner. Danny felt life held a new purpose.

Money was coming in and although the man he still called da, was slowly on the mend, Heledd still struggled to forgive Danny for his accident. As for Gran, she’d decided to live in another sheltered flat in nearby Cwmgors.

Friendly folk there, and a nice village hall,” she’d reassured him. “I’ll be fine.”

That was before the weekend when Saturday had dawned fine and clear.

Shannon was helping Heledd prepare for a party in the now immaculate farmyard, home to various potted trees and pub-style tables and benches.

She seemed pre-occupied. Her expression like land darkened by passing clouds, Danny thought, deciding against asking her the reason. He’d already caused her enough misery. But he had asked Sara Thomas to come along, plus some mates from the Arts Centre where he still played snooker on Wednesday nights.

She’d said ‘yes.’

“I’ll go and fetch Gran,” he offered, having given Sara very precise directions to the farm. “Say, six o’clock?”

“Great,” Shannon murmured distractedly, spreading out the checked table cloths. Smoothing them down with her forearms. “Is Sara coming?”

A pause. The budding actress had been in his dreams too long, and his bed was plenty big enough for two…

Why not?”


5.30 p.m.

The sly bitch had phoned again, hadn’t she? Just as Shannon was taking a baking tray of sausage rolls out of the oven. The second threat since moving here. Worse than the first. Far worse, and once more withholding her number. But who could she tell? She was still joined at the hip to the girl who’d once snapped her own little crucifix in half and chucked it into someone’s wheelie bin outside Queen’s Tower. Who’d called poor Gran “a waste of skin.”

“You’ll never escape me. Never. You wait. Traitor. Big mouth… ”

Shannon knew she should have bought a new phone once she’d arrived at Allt-y-Fedw. Danny had advised it, even persuading Heledd to make the farm ex-directory. But there’d been too much going on. Too many things to adapt to. New people to get to know…


“What’s the matter, bach?” Raymond Walters had woken up from his armchair near the unlit fire. “Something wrong?”

“No. I mean, no thanks. I’m fine.”

He leaned back and closed his eyes again, letting his crumpled Farmer’s Weekly slide to the floor.

Shannon glanced at her silver wrist watch. The one she’d never dared wear when in Milton Keynes, but here it was admired and also usefully, kept perfect time.


5.50 p.m.

Too busy thinking of the last time he’d seen Sara, whose beautiful auburn hair had hung loose over her shoulders, dotted with tiny gold stars, Dan almost drove past Gran’s neatly kept place in Heol y Mynydd.

He rang the bell for her ground floor flat and waited, all the while watching

his Gran’s net curtain for signs of movement. He rang again, aware now of someone approaching from behind.

“She wasn’t out this afternoon like she usually is,” said another woman’s voice in a strong north Wales accent . “I did think to call in, but you know how difficult it is to intrude…”

Dan turned to see a smartly-dressed, blonde-haired young woman whose ringless left hand held a Waitrose shopping bag. She introduced herself as Mrs.Nia Lloyd from number 52.

“And I’m her grandson. Danny Walters,” he said, turning the door handle, still hot from the sun. “It’s not locked.”

“That’s odd,“ said the neighbour. “She’s certainly never forgetful… ”

“I’ll go and check.” Danny, who’d recognised something about her, but couldn’t quite think what. Nor wonder why she too,at her age, lived in sheltered housing. He heard his own heartbeat as he moved down the short hallway. A few letters lay scattered on the carpet runner and a neat row of various

shoes and slippers were lined up by the wall. He pushed open a door into a well-decorated longe/diner and kitchenette where everything seemed normal. He then noticed how the other less wide door leading off the far end, was ajar.

Hello? Anyone here?” He raised his voice. “Gran? It’s me. Danny.”

He was standing in her single bedroom. Tidy like everything else, but nevertheless, a strange smell hung in the still air. That same oblong biscuit tin featuring Bruges cathedral was still on her bedside table, while the framed photo of his and Shannon’s real mum stood on a kidney-shaped dressing table. He was about to pick it up as he always did, when the door behind him suddenly slammed shut. He whipped round to see Mrs Lloyd wearing black gloves gripping her Waitrose bag, blocking his way out. Dark eyes fixed on his. Pale lips kinked in a smile.

“’About time,” she said in a completely different voice with no trace of any Welsh accent. “If you’d not been so fucking nosy. So keen on snooping, I wouldn’t be in the shite I am now. Ever seen what saintly Shannon nicked? More than me most times. I’ve been stitched up good and proper. New bed every night. Can’t trust no-one. Even my family have dumped me. I’m now taking control.”

Danny felt blood leave his head.

“You’re Maria McConnell.”

You bet, and your gossipy Gran gabbed to the cops big time. Had a proper field day, she did. It was all over Milton Keynes’s Citizen newspaper plus photos. Didn’t she or your scumbag sister tell you?”

The way she’d snarled ‘sister’ brought another chill.

No. So where is Gran?”

A sick laugh.

Forget her. She’s history.”


Danny was suddenly back on his school rugby field, hurling himself at the enemy. Trying every trick to bring her down, but three years at Cymru Crisps popping little dragons into little packets had taken muscle from where he needed it most. When he needed it most.

She was quicker, and soon Waitrose’s warm freebie was smothering his head inch by inch, being swiftly tightened around his neck. Stealing his air…

His final scream stayed mute in his shrinking throat.


She snatched his ingition keys from his jeans’ pocket.

Allt-y-Fedw, here I come.”

“Not there,” he choked, as his lungs gave up. “Not there…”

“Oh yes. And by the way, did you ever see that nifty silver watch she nicked from Debenham’s same time as me? And all the other stuff? Thinks she’s got away with it, doesn’t she? Stupid cow… ”

That taunting voice ebbed away, followed by a succession of objects flung hard at him. A photo, a hairbrush. A metal tin…“Here, have a Belgian biscuit, why don’t you? Keep your strength up.”

Then she was gone, leaving silence and slowly, ever so slowly, nothing.



Shannon had just added the last red candle to the table nearest the lane leading into the farmyard, when she heard Danny’s new Fiesta rounding the bend. She began to walk towards it, looking forward to meeting Gran again and curious to see if he might also brought the fabled Sara Thomas with him. But instead of any Gran, her brother or his new flame, the driver was blonde, female and around her age.

Who the hell?

She parked facing the lane, and stepped out of the car, all smart in a suit, high heels, the works. But nothing could disguise those eyes.


“What d’you want? Shannon croaked, staring the empty car. “Where’s Danny and…?”

“Never you mind. It’s the last chance saloon for smarty-pants. At least I’ll save taxpayers coughing up for you in the slammer.”

Before Shannon could react, a black-handled screwdriver glinted from that suit’s jacket pocket. “You told the fucking cops I’d threatened to cut your throat. Well, dreams can come true, you know.” Its squared-off end pushed into the side of Shannon’s neck. “And if you and your scummy lot ever try and find me, remember what it’s like to bleed.”

An early image of Jean and Derek Smith and one of her adoptive parents jostled on her rising panic. They’d emigrated to Sydney two years ago,and never kept contact.

“I said, remember.”

A violent, stinging jab brought a rush of red sunset, making Shannon’s feet slide and skid on the cobblestones towards the farmhouse.

Heledd was too busy putting home-made pork pies in the hot Aga to hear her moans and turn round, while her husband blissfully snored on.

“Won’t be long,” the cook called out to her. “Be nice to have everyone here, won’t it? Specially for Raymond...”

But no-one was listening, and all the while, that white Fiesta wound its way south over the cloudless land. A gleaming maggot in summer’s glut.


© Sally Spedding

updated by @sally-spedding: 11/26/17 09:02:57PM