In this series, we invite our Crime Cymru authors to showcase an excerpt from one of their books. This week, Dylan Young explores the consequences of trauma and embraces the early days of Covid in his story.
The Welsh Connection.
TRAUMA: Dylan Young.
Cameron Todd is recovering from a serious brain injury. A trauma suffered the same night his girlfriend Emma plunged to her death from a clifftop. The damage erases all memory of the incident and his previous life.
Both the police and Emma’s relatives are hunting for someone to blame and question whether his amnesia is a convenient fabrication.
Desperate to understand what happened that fateful day, self-doubt creeps in when Cameron learns his relationship with Emma might not have been picture-perfect. Is he a victim, or the perpetrator?
Can he trust his injured brain’s version of events? Or will unearthing the truth reveal something far more sinister?
This excerpt takes place about a third of the way through the book. Cameron lives in London but depends upon a photographic memory wall for the link to his previous life. His sister, Rachel, is a key to that, too. She lives in Penarth and mothers him, with good reason. She insists on connecting with him, checking in, making sure he’s okay. But he’s also being pursued by a private investigator hired by his dead girlfriend’s family. At Rachel’s insistence, he’s stayed away from Stamford, the PI. But that’s about to change.
Trauma is also a book that faces up to the onset of Covid and the effect it had on people right at the outset. The surreal uncertainty that permeated those early months is especially difficult for Cameron whose grasp on reality has been tenuous since the incident that saw his girlfriend plunge to her death. Even though Rachel is his anchor, here he’s about to make a decision from which there is no way back. In terms of style, I think the excerpt shows a little of the humour that runs through my books, too, especially in the exchanges between Cameron and his mate Josh. Does Cam make it to the Pommelers Rest before everything shuts down? That you’ll have to find out for yourself. Oh, and before the apostrophe police charge me, Pommelers Rest is written as per the actual name of the pub. Any objections should be directed towards JD Wetherspoons.
There’s a message on the landline when I get home at a little after 8pm. I press the play button and listen.
‘This is John Stamford. Thanks for returning my call. Best we meet face to face because I don’t discuss anything over the phone. How about The Pommelers Rest. I’ll stand you a Wetherspoon’s breakfast. 9.30 tomorrow morning. You can text your answer to this number.’
I write the address down. I’ve never been to The Pommelers Rest, so I flip open my laptop and surf to the website and up pops a pub on Tower Bridge Road. A big pub from the looks of it. And not only the building; the breakfasts look gigantic.
While I’m in the shower, Rachel messages me. She wants to FaceTime. I change and go into the kitchen where the Wi-Fi is at its strongest and call her up.
Rachel answers on the third ring. She’s sitting in her kitchen with a glass of red wine on the table in front of her. I recognise the Welsh, patterned oilcloth and note the flotsam of plates and soup bowls pushed to one side ready for the dishwasher. I can hear some extraneous noise. The sounds of children laughing punctuated by a rich fruity cough. The backdrop is a kitchen dresser painted in cream with natural oak tops. Rachel did the painting. It’s her thing. A life’s project given that the house they live in was built in 1889, has five bedrooms and views over the Bristol Channel to Weston-super-Mare and North Devon on good days. Brown water and Channel fog on bad ones. Rachel and Owen are working on the house room by room. They hope to finish by 2060. I suspect that’s a joke but given the size of the place I would not be surprised.
‘Hi Cam, cariad.’ Rachel looks a little tired in jeans and shirt.
‘Hi Rache. Aren’t the kids in bed?’
‘I wish. No point much before ten. We’ll dose Rosie up with Calpol and hope for the best. But Ewan’s cough is better.’
‘Is that him I hear or a dog barfing? I mean barking?’
Rachel gives me a long-suffering look. ‘Barfing works just as well after Rosie’s performance last night. She was up half the night.’
‘Poor her. And poor you.’
‘They’re playing games with their dad.’ Rachel turns and shouts. ‘Hey, you two, come and say hello to Uncle Cam. Yes, now. FaceTime.’ The scene shifts and spins before a face dips into view. My brother-in-law, Owen.
‘Cam, how they hanging?’
‘They are hanging well, thanks. Several feet off the ground as always.’
Owen grins. He always talks to me this way. As if nothing has ever happened. I like it. His way of coping. He hasn’t said so, but Rachel has. In whispers when Owen’s flippancy annoys her. Which is often, though I suspect she affects that annoyance. Owen makes Rachel laugh. After what she’s been through – thanks largely to me – humour is a gift not to be scoffed at. He, on the other hand, tells me it is his role in life not to mollycoddle.
‘How are things in the big smoke, Cam?’
‘I’m stocking up on essentials with my one eye on the zombie apocalypse. I also have garlic and wooden stakes.’
‘You need to work on your mythology, but otherwise that all sounds good. We, too, are replete when it comes to toilet rolls and handwash. Costco was like a war zone.’
‘Are you okay, Owen?’
‘You know me, Cam. Enduring, as always, under immense pressure.’ He flinches as my sister clips him a playful one around the ear.
‘Yeah, well I’m working from home for the foreseeable. Now that both kids are ill.’
The phone is jostled again. Owen steadies it with a, ‘Whoa, savages at six o’clock.’ Two more faces cram together to appear on-screen. My nephew, Ewan and niece, Rosie. Rosie’s cheeks appear eponymously flushed and she has slight shadows under her eyes. Ewan looks like his dad. For five minutes I listen to a breathless account, in Welsh, of their day at home with Rachel. Making posters, pice ar y maen (Welsh cakes), and playing hide the teddy with Sibli, their dog. Behind them, Rachel makes rabbit-ear fingers above Rosie’s head until their performance becomes too competitive and some pushing and shoving enters the scene. At that point, Rachel calls a halt. ‘Okay, that’s enough. Back to the dungeon.’
Ewan, with the pedantry of a six-year-old, objects. ‘We don’t have a dungeon.’
‘You sure about that?’ Owen says and drops his voice into cartoon Dracula. ‘Would you like to find out?’
More squeals and I see Owen’s blurred form chase the kids from the room.
Rachel takes a slug of wine and puts the phone back to its stable place on the table. ‘As you can see, despite casualties, we are fine. But how about you? Are you okay? I got your text. So the drive and the visit to Emma’s practice turned out well?’
I’ve thought hard about this moment. About what to say to Rachel. No point lying. She’s a human polygraph.
I say, ‘It was good. I met someone there who remembered me. A colleague of Emma’s. But I didn’t remember her. We had a toffee. A coffee.’
‘That sounds good. You had no trouble finding the place then?’
‘Google Maps found it for me.’
‘But it was worth the trip, was it?’
‘Yes, definitely. Afterwards, I remembered going through the barrier at the reception desk to a room that Emma must have used. I didn’t recognise it at the time, but the memory came back later.’
Rachel is smiling. ‘That’s just the way Adam said it might happen. Visiting old haunts will push some of these memories to the front of your brain. Anything else happen?’
‘Josh says the last piece of work I did for him was good.’
‘He says I should consider doing some freelance stuff. He’ll help with it.’
‘Are you sure you’re up for that?’
‘I need to do something.’
‘True, but remember what Adam said about overdoing things. Stress is not the friend of recovery from brain injury.’ Rachel’s head snaps up and to the left. She yells, in Welsh, ‘Ewan, do NOT play quidditch in the passage! Do you hear me?’ When her face appears in shot again, she shakes her head. ‘They are so wound up. Owen is reading them The Prisoner of Azkaban and they’re obsessed with Hogsmeade and Butterbeer. He’s told them that if they don’t behave, they’ll get turned into chocolate frogs. I swear he’s worse than they are.’
‘I don’t think it’s me that’s stressed, Rache.’
‘Ha, bloody ha. Anyway, baby steps, Cam.’
‘And don’t forget the nappy, yeah, yeah.’
That’s an unpleasant in-joke from the time I was in a coma. One that both of us would prefer to forget.
She assures me again that she is available any time if I need her, adding that I can come down and stay with them until this virus thing is all over. I decline.
‘Understandable,’ she says. ‘Chances are the kids have or will have it so Owen and I are toeing the line.’
‘When did Owen self-isolate?’
‘Today. We decided it was the right thing to do. Even if we were extra careful with the kids and the dog… Sibli knows sod all about social distancing and if there was ever a perfect vector, she’s it.’
Sibli, the Griffiths’s golden lab, wavers into shot as Rachel swivels her iPad towards the floor. A wet nose and smiling eyes appear two inches from the camera.
‘Hi Sibli,’ I say.
Then Rachel is back, veering into shot. ‘Look after yourself. Cadw’n saff.’
I text John Stamford and agree to the meet at the Pommelers Rest tomorrow morning. It feels impulsive. I suspect the two-and-a-half beers I’ve had has helped.
Later, I watch one of Josh’s recommendations. This one is, ‘A simple tale of a mother and son relationship gone apeshit. With a bit of the supernatural thrown in. You’ll love it because it blurs the lines between reality and the unreal. In fact, if it was ever remade, you’d get a part no trouble, given your talent for mental wanderings.’
It’s only when Haley Joel Osment says, “I see dead people” that I realise just how much Josh has excelled himself with cryptic sarcasm this time. Later, when Bruce Willis finally realises his mistake, I wonder if whoever wrote the film had fugues too. After all, faceless Emma who always appears with me in the rooftop bar must be dead. Perhaps everyone there is. Or there’s the possibility that I am Bruce Willis, and that I’m dead already, but I won’t admit it to myself.
I text Josh and tell him that. His reply is,
No mate, you’re not in The Sixth Sense. You’re the lead in No Sense.
I text back an emoji of a bell and the word end.
Josh texts back ROFLOL.
You can discover Trauma and Dylan Young’s other books on his Amazon page.