“Llanfair.” The driver read out the battered sign beside the road. “I thought this might be a good place to start.” He changed down a gear and the Jag slowed with a discontented growl. A village appeared ahead—a mere cluster of cottages, nestled under the steep, green walls of the mountain pass.
The woman in the passenger seat leaned forward to peer through the windscreen. It was hard to tell her exact age—the long straight hair and lack of makeup, coupled with the jeans and T-shirt, made her look, at first glance, like a teenager, but a closer inspection put her in her thirties. She studied the gray stone cottages, the sheep on the high hillsides, the mountain stream dancing over rocks as it passed under the old stone bridge. “It’s worth a try,” she said. “Certainly remote enough. No supermarket, no video store, and no satellite dishes on the roofs. And it’s got the proverbial pub where jolly locals meet.”
The Jag slowed to a crawl as they approached the square black-and-white-timbered building. A swinging pub sign outside announced it to be the Red Dragon. “I don’t see too many jolly locals around right now,” he said. “The place looks deserted. Where is everybody?”
“Perhaps it’s the Welsh version of Brigadoon. They only come out once every hundred years.” She laughed. “Oh, wait a second. Here’s somebody.” A young girl with wild blond curls had come out of the pub. She began hopefully wiping off the outdoor tables, although the sky was heavy with the promise of rain. A loud yell from across the street made her look up. There was a row of shops directly opposite the pub. G. Evans, Cyggyd (with the word “Butcher” underneath in very small letters), R. Evans, Dairy Products, and then, preventing an Evans monopoly, T. Harris, General Store (and Sub Post Office).
A large, florid man in a blood-spattered apron had come out of the butcher’s shop, and was now shouting and waving a cleaver. The two occupants of the car looked at each other uncertainly as the cleaver-waving and shouting continued.
“Jolly locals?” He gave a nervous chuckle.
The young girl appeared to be unfazed by the tirade. She tossed her mane of blond hair and yelled something back and the butcher burst out laughing. He waved the cleaver good-naturedly and went back into his shop. The young girl glanced at the Jag, then gave the last table a halfhearted wipe before going back into the pub.
“What the hell was that all about?” The woman in the car asked. “Was that Welsh they were speaking?”
“I don’t suppose it was Russian, honey. We are in the middle of Wales.”
“But I didn’t realize people actually spoke Welsh! I thought it was one of those ancient languages you study at Berkeley. You might have warned me. I could have taken a crash language course. It’s going to make things more difficult.”
He put out his hand and patted her knee. “It will be fine. They all speak English too, you know. Now why don’t you hop out and test the waters, huh?”
“You want me to get hacked to death by a cleaver? Do you suppose they’re all violent up here in the mountains? I’d imagine there’s a lot of inbreeding.”
“There’s only one way to find out.” He grinned as he gave her a gentle nudge. “And this was your idea, remember.”
“Our idea. We planned it together.”
He looked at her for a long moment. “I have missed you, Emmy.”
“Me too. I didn’t think it would take so long. I’m damned jealous, you know.”
“You don’t have to be.”
An elderly man in a cloth cap and tweed jacket came down the street at a fast pace and disappeared into the pub. A couple of women walked past, deep in conversation, with shopping baskets on their arms. They wore the British uniform for uncertain weather—plastic macks and head scarves over gray permed hair. They paused to give the car an interested glance before settling at the bus stop.
“I should get out of here,” the man said. “I shouldn’t be noticed. There’s a big hotel higher up the pass—you can’t miss it. It looks like a damned great Swiss chalet—ugly as hell. I’ll wait for you up there, okay?”
“All right. Give me about an hour.” She opened the door and was met by a fresh, stiff breeze. “Gee, it’s freezing up here. I’ll need to buy thermal underwear if we decide that this place will do.”
“Start at the pub,” he suggested. “At least we know somebody’s there.”
She nodded. “Good idea. I could use a drink.” Her thin, serious face broke into a smile. “Wish me luck.”
“Good luck,” he said. “This is a crazy idea, Emmy. It damned well better work.”
EVANS TO BETSY. Copyright © 2002 by Rhys Bowen. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.