Lia froze. This couldn’t be happening. She glanced at Harry who was pale and wide eyed staring at Larry. She grabbed his hand instinctually. Larry was stood in the doorway, still except for his jaw which was trembling. No one seemed to know what to do or how to react. Things like this just don’t happen in real life.
Someone pushed through the small crowd and grabbed Larry into a tight hug, but he stayed rigid in her grip. The bundle of people shifted and seemed unsure whether to look away or try and take charge of the confusing situation they found themselves in.
“Where is he?” Asked the man who had been leaning against the car, “I mean, I suppose, where’s the body?”
“Upstairs.” Said Larry, wiping his face.
“Did you touch anything in there?” Said the woman who had hugged him, who must be his partner, their intimacy was obvious.
“No. Why?” Larry frowned at her.
“Well, it’s a crime scene isn’t it?” She whispered, “I don’t want you to…” she stopped, leaving the rest unsaid, but clear as day in everyone’s minds. The shifting intensified as suddenly everyone wanted to help and flee all at once.
“We should call the police.” Said car leaning guy, and there was nodding.
“Good idea, Tim.” Larry nodded. Car leaning guy, now Tim, moved away to make the call. Lia looked back to Larry who seemed to have aged a thousand years in the last half an hour.
“What do we do?” Harry asked, his voice shaking a little, “Presumably we need to stick around to give statements? Or is that just something that happens on TV?”
No one seemed to know. A gentle rain was falling and Lia couldn’t remember whether it had been raining the whole time or if this was a new thing. It was very surreal being in the centre of something she had seen as drama so often but never expected to experience. No one was shouting or arguing, if anything, it felt like one of the calmest groups of people she’d ever been in. Everyone just seemed bewildered.
“Do you think we can go inside?” Larry’s partner said to him, Larry having seemingly become the defacto leader of the scene since his announcement.
“I don’t know,” Larry shrugged, still deep in his shock, “I guess we’re all regulars? Our finger prints are already all over the pub? How much worse can we make it?”
“A lot worse!” A voice shrieked from the back of the group, “I’m not going in there. No way. What if it’s haunted?”
Heads whipped around to look at a scared looking man.
“We’d stay downstairs, obviously.” Said Larry, “Not going to go tramping through a crime scene.”
“No way!” The man insisted. “No way am I getting mixed up in something. Look, I’m sorry for Paul and everything - he was a top bloke.”
“Stop it.” Said Tim, rejoining the group, “No one is going to make you go in Mike, but that’s enough. Not the time. Go or stay, but shut up.”
Mike left, and no one objected either to his leaving or to their own entering of the pub, although more because the rain was intensifying than because they actually thought it was a good idea to go in. There was a double horror in Lia’s mind of being in a building with a corpse, and of possibly mixing herself unwittingly into the potential suspects.
The pub was gloomy, but Tim marched over to the enormous pad of light switches and flicked them all up - bathing the room in electric light. The enormity of electric light gave the scene a normality that Lia was definitely craving. It was still cold - the heating wasn’t on and lighting the fire seemed too much, even for a bunch of strangers trespassing in a murdered man’s pub.
“Are you alright?” Harry asked, and Lia nodded without hesitation despite not knowing. What counted for alright in these circumstances?
“I just can’t believe it.” She whispered, “We only saw him this morning. Oh god, Harry, what do you remember of seeing him this morning? We might get questioned?”
“Lia, calm down. We just waved to him stood in his own car park. That was it.”
“But we don’t have an alibi for the afternoon?” Lia’s panic was beginning to build to an insane point where she was having to actively remind herself she had nothing to do with it. With the murder. Her world, already upside down, had swiftly done another about turn and rather than righting itself had gone through a wormhole to another dimension.
BANG BANG BANG.
There was a loud and insistent knock at the door and everyone in the pub jumped, especially Larry’s partner who let out a loud squeak. Lia almost bit off the the end of her own tongue.
“Police! Open the door!” Came a voice, and every head in the pub turned towards Larry. He stood up, a little shakily and headed for the door, pulling the large handle and opening it. Two police officers stood in the doorway peering in to the pub. Lia felt the fear run through her again that by entering the pub they had made themselves far more connected than they should have.
“Where is the body?” The taller officer asked, while the other seemed to be making notes of how many people she could see in the room. Lia practised her innocent face.
“Upstairs.” Said Larry, “I shall show you?” The taller officer nodded and followed Larry out of the main room of the pub towards the back stairs to Paul’s living area.
“Did he live alone?” Lia asked Larry’s partner, who was sitting alone now, right next to them.
“Yes.” The woman nodded, “He split from his wife a few years ago and she left. Are you the ones staying in the van?”
Lia nodded and Harry replied, “Yes, we’re Harry and Lia.”
“Gina.” The woman offered a polite hand to shake and Lia and Harry took turns to briefly shake it and smile. They fell back in to silence. It felt a little like being in a detention for something. As close to being in an Agatha Christie as they were every likely to get, or so Lia fervently hoped.
The shorter officer was left looking at the pub full of frightened people. Lia was happy to see she wasn’t the only one shifting uncomfortably in her seat: perhaps some of the others had also seen all the true crime documentaries she had seen about people being wrongly accused and losing their freedom. She squeezed Harry’s hand.
“We don’t want you to worry,” the officer said, pulling out a chair and sitting at an empty table nearest the door, “But we are going to ask you all to remain here. We have apprehended a man on suspicion of the crime, but at this early stage it’s impossible to be sure of the details and therefore we remain open to following any line of enquiry. If you are open to answering some questions I would like to collect as much detail as possible.”
One by one the huddled punters in the pub made their way over and gave as much information as they could. Lia and Harry went together but couldn’t offer much more than that they’d had a nap and walked over.
“And you didn’t hear anything?” The officer asked, raising an eyebrow at Lia.
“No, not a thing.” Lia shook her head vehemently and then worried that her denial would look like over acting. “We have a dog in the camper van too - she didn’t hear anything either.”
“Have you checked with her?” The officer asked.
“No we didn’t think…” Lia started but then noticed that Harry and the officer were smiling. How were they so calm? She understood how the officer was calm; she did this sort of thing all the time, but Harry? How was he suddenly so surprisingly comfortable being on the scene of a murder?
Eventually a group of four or five crime scene specialists arrived. It had taken them a little while to scramble and make their way from Cardiff and some of them looked very annoyed at not being at home for the evening off they presumably thought was in store. The taller officer and Larry came back downstairs, leaving them to gather their samples and take pictures. Larry took a seat and grasped hands with Gina.
The taller officer cleared her throat, “Thank you very much for your patience this evening. We completely understand how traumatising and shocking this must be for you all. Paul was a very much loved member of this community and we will miss him dearly.” Lia realised with a pang that while the crime scene specialists might come from the city, these two officers were locals and just as likely to have been regulars in this pub as any of the rest of the people here. “We apprehended a man this evening who has made an admission of responsibility for the events here tonight. It’s too early to say any more than this, and we ask you to try not to spread any rumours or gossip in order to allow the legal process to play out justly. We only make you aware so that you can feel as safe as possible in your homes this evening.”
Lia shivered. The thought of going back to the thinly walled motor home now made her feel very unsafe. Perhaps they should head home, or try to find a hotel?
“Now we are going to have to ask you to leave, but please make sure you leave contact details with myself or my colleague as there may be more questions we have to ask you.”
There was general rustling as people began gathering coats and bags and making their way to the door of the pub. Lia and Harry looked at each other and stood up.
“Back to the van.” Lia said shakily and Harry nodded, frowning.
“We could go to a hotel?” Harry offered, and Lia began considering it but a voice broke in on her thoughts.
“Oh! Of course, you don’t want to be alone in your van this evening. Please, we have a spare room and we would happily host you so you don’t have to be alone?” It was Gina, Larry’s wife and her eyes flicked beseechingly from Lia to Harry and back again.
“Oh! That’s so kind, but, we have our dog with us and -“
“It is no bother.” Larry said, standing behind Gina and rubbing her upper arms, “We have two dogs and would be happy to have all three of you to stay if you would like company?”
Lia felt like it was a definite yes but looked to Harry for confirmation. He nodded slightly and she jumped at his agreement. And that was how Lia, Harry and Florence found themselves in the back of Larry and Jean’s car and on the way to a house they had never seen, to seek comfort after the murder of a man they barely knew in a town they had only just arrived in.