Perfection. That’s what she was, and I was sure that today
would work out just the way I’d planned.
I first saw her on the castle walls and our eyes met, just
for a second. I yearned to catch up and
not to lose sight, but her tour party was turning the corner, and mine was five
minutes behind and still being forced to listen to the John Major impersonator
who masqueraded as a tour guide. I knew
the history of the King’s Tower as well as he did. When you live in a tourist location and have a
season pass, you tend to come every day, just for somewhere funky to eat your
lunch. This is my place, and I knew she’d come today.
But I stayed with my group of misfits for a little longer:
the elderly and the bored, the kids who wanted to be on the beach, and the mums
who wondered if incorporating education into their annual vacation was
necessarily a good idea. As if to
answer, a boy of about six elbowed his mother in the thigh. She turned to glare
as he moaned ‘This is boring’ at the top of his little voice. Donald, the tour
guide pretended not to hear, but I knew how often such things happened, especially
It didn’t matter. She was the one, and today was the day. My
shoulders hunched as the tour guide droned on about the monks who had built the
castle’s brewery and had supported their order with the proceeds. I followed
each word, and mouthed them along with him.
I adjusted the hoody around my face, then smoothed it down
around my waist. It was of a snorkel style that wasn’t at all appropriate for a
summertime holiday destination, but it suited my needs.
Pushing a black curl behind my ear I tried to disregard the heat
emanating from beneath the matching fleecy black fabric of my hoodie. It was
too bad that the day of her visit was also the warmest day of this Welsh
summer, but I had coped with worse in my life, and for worse reason.
Walking like a drunken crab, I followed the tour party,
while poking my head round each gate and turret and wall to catch a glimpse of the
girl and ensure I didn’t lose her. I
thought I’d been mistaken and she’d gone already, but no. We arrived at the
second west-facing tower as the girl’s tour party was just leaving. She
lingered, just a little, at the rear, and I took advantage of the crowds to
change my tour group allegiance. It went without a hitch.
There were only two more stops to go on the tour. We’d just
been to the north tower with views over the kelp-covered rocks of the defended
coastline, and our group were passing in and out of the gatehouse dungeon, before
being directed to the inevitable gift shop and tea shop. Never a café. Always a tea shop. I moved closer to the young lady, and we
stood alongside each other at the entrance to the dungeon. I nudged her
Indian-cotton-clad arm with intention.
She turned, expectant, and smiled at the face inside my
‘You’re Tarim.’ More a statement than a question.
‘Marta,’ I said. ‘Shall we do it?’
She nodded with vigour. ‘I’ve built myself up to this for
weeks and can’t change my mind now. It’s the right time.’
The tour party had already begun to move off, and I could
see my original party leaving the north tower to walk over to join us at the dungeon.
We didn’t have long but I was ready. My camera was ready. Marta was also ready.
Allowing the remainder of the earlier party
to leave ahead of us, I stood with my back against the now-closed heavy wood
door and sighed deeply. We’d be lucky if we got a couple of minutes. As agreed,
Marta moved to the far end of the underground room – the end with the wonderful
sunlit rays emerging through the skylights – and speedily arranged herself on
the straw-covered stone slabs. She placed the chains next to her arms and legs.
With just a little Photoshopping, I
could make it look just as it should. I
took photograph after photograph, as I walked over to Marta and gently pushed
up her skirt.
‘Tasteful, Tarim,’ she said, posing as I clicked.
Suddenly, the dungeon’s door creaked open and a Scottish
couple giggled about finding us alone in there.
Marta raised herself from the straw bed, brushed down her
skirt, and in a calm, unflustered voice announced to the couple ‘Sex pics. For
an art magazine. We pose somewhere different every day. You should try it’. She
winked, and the bearded, anoraked man watched with clear admiration as she left
the dungeon. ‘Lucky sod’ he said to me as I followed Marta out. For that he
earned a slap on the head from his lady.
But I was not lucky. Things weren’t as Marta had said.
In 1998, precisely twenty years earlier, the body of Marta’s
mother had been discovered in the dungeon, bloodied and beaten. Marta had been five
then, and a little girl, but now, as a young woman, she was the spitting image
of her lost parent. We’d met on a cold crime web forum and it didn’t take long
before we got talking properly. Eventually I persuaded her to meet me, and she agreed
to come to the castle on this special day. She’d wear her mother’s clothes, and
style her hair just as her mother had. I’d dress myself in a black hoody
because, on the murder day, there had been a man creeping about in one just the
The murder had quickly sunk to the realms of forgotten and
unsolved, and not even into infamy – as not once had any of the tour guides
mentioned the fate of Marta’s mother or responded to questions asked by the
tour parties. A woman’s death had been forgotten and a little girl was forced
to live her life without her mother. No cold case team had ever been assigned
to discovering more. So it was down to us. The pair of us would make things
For the first time in years, I was putting my journalistic
skills to good use. My article was written and scheduled for publishing the
following day, and the reconstruction photos would be a perfect accompaniment
to the headline: ‘Who Can Solve This Twenty Year Old Mystery?’
Marta and I walked together towards the exit, flushed with
excitement at our recent activity and with anticipation of tomorrow’s headline .
‘Fancy joining me for tea and a scone?’ I asked. ‘A tribute to your mum?’ She
nodded with enthusiasm. ‘I’ll pay,’ she said.