Marta forked another piece of sausage between her perfect lips, and began chewing.
‘How long d’you think it’ll be before they find the body?’ she said, between munches.
‘Well,’ said Steve, sat beside her at a window table in the Red Lion, his notepad on the table in front of him. ‘I’ve brought up a map of the river, and found that there’s a weir about five kilometres downstream. So it can’t get any further than that. If the river is flowing at, say, one metre per second, it’ll get there in about an hour and a half.’
‘They’ll find it soon enough,’ said Vin, taking a long look down the length of the lounge bar, where a few people sat quietly with their drinks.
Marta pushed away her plate. ‘D’you think anyone saw us back there?’ she.asked. ‘The park was closed. I didn’t see anyone.’
‘Somebody probably saw us somewhere. Maybe when we were leaving,’ said Vin. ‘Whether they took any notice is a different matter.’
‘What will the police do when they’ve find the body?’
‘They’ll rapidly discover that the cause of death is a single .38 bullet just above the heart, and they’ll launch a murder enquiry. And they’ll start looking for the murder location. And they’ll appeal for witnesses.’
‘If the body ends up at the weir, they’ll have five kilometres of river bank to search,’ said Steve.
‘No,’ Vin replied. ‘They’ll know that it was most likely somewhere beside the park, which runs for only two or three kilometres. He was a park warden, and he was on duty.’
A waiter came and removed the dishes.
‘Would you care for a sweet?’ he asked. ‘We have a delicious apple crumble.’
Marta and Steve shook their heads.
‘No, we won’t have anything else,’ said Vin. ‘Would you bring us the bill.’
The waiter began to walk away, when Vin called after him, ‘And an ashtray.’
The waiter returned to the table. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said, rather anxiously. ‘But smoking is not permitted. It’s the law.’
‘The law just changed,’ said Vin, lighting a thin cigarillo. ‘This is now a smoking area.’ He waved an arm towards the lounge.
The waiter scuttled away rapidly behind the bar. Marta and Steve lit up too.
‘We can use this as an ashtray,’ Marta said, lifting a floral jug off the window ledge beside her, and placing it in the middle of the table.
‘Where was I?’ Vin asked.
‘The police were looking for the murder site,’ Steve said.
‘Yes,’ Vin said. ‘And most likely not finding it. We were very thorough at picking up litter and washing away any other traces.’
‘They’ll dredge the river,’ said Steve. ‘He might have dropped something as he fell.’
‘The notebook he was writing in!’ Marta said, her eyes widening.
‘I’ve got that,’ said Vin. ‘It fell on the riverbank. I retrieved it immediately.’
‘Then they’ll have almost nothing.’
‘So then they widen the search,’ said Vin. ‘They knock on doors. And they eventually knock on Mrs Marchant’s door. And what does she tell them?’
‘She tells them about her party,’ said Steve.
‘And she’ll remember me, of course. She knows me quite well.’
‘And she’ll remember me too,’ Marta said, rolling her eyes. ‘But she doesn’t know me though. That was the first time I ever met her.’
‘That’s the only link they’ve got to us,’ said Vin. ‘And it’s a very long and tenuous link that leads another kilometre further up the river, and into a crowd of two hundred people at a buffet lunch party. If they widen the net that far, it’ll be weeks before they start interviewing the guests.’
‘If they get that far, they’ll definitely want to interview me,’ Steve said.
‘So we need to get our story right,’ said Vin. ‘But there’s no need to think about that yet.’
Steve glanced down the lounge.
‘Hey, look!’ he said.
At the far end of the bar, two men sitting at a table had also lit up. As they watched, a door swung open nearby, and a large man with a beer belly came into the lounge. He immediately noticed the two men, and went over to them, and began to remonstrate with them.
Then beer belly saw them and started waddling across the lounge towards them. Vin glanced towards him, and carried on talking.
”We’re probably okay for a few weeks. But it would be a good idea to take a look at the weir tomorrow morning, or for a police presence anywhere along the river. Police cars, cordons, tents. That kind of thing.’
‘Put those out!’ The gruff voice came from beside and above Vin, where beer belly now stood, his fat tattooed arms by his side, his face sprouting stubble.
‘We should do that first thing tomorrow morning,’ Vin carried on, unblinking.
‘Did you hear me?’ the gruff voice came again, louder. ‘I said put out those cigarettes!’
Vin turned his head slowly towards beer belly, and said, ‘Go away. We’re having a conversation.’
‘And anyway,’ he added, ‘This is a smoking area now.’
‘I can’t allow smoking in my pub,’ said beer belly, wiping his mouth.
‘And can you stop us?’ Vin asked, looking up at him. ‘Just you, on your own? And three of us?’
He took a long pull on his cigarillo, and exhaled a long, slow stream of smoke.
Beer belly looked at Vin, and then at Steve and Marta, and wiped his mouth again.
‘I’ll call the police,’ he said eventually, backing away.
‘Good,’ said Vin quietly. ‘You do that. And while you’re about it, bring us an ashtray.’
‘Mightn’t we be tempting fate a bit?’ Marta asked, as beer belly waddled away.
‘Not really,’ said Vin. ‘The police have got more important things to do. After all, someone was shot dead today about 30 miles from here. And they may already have found him.’
‘Just in case,’ Steve said, pulling out a mobile phone. ‘There’s something we can do about it.’
He began tapping in a number.
‘Oh, hello,’ he spoke into the phone. ‘I’d like to report.. Yes, police… Hello, is that the police?.. Police? Yes, I’d like to report two people smoking inside a pub. A pub called the Oak. O. A. K, Oak… What? Call a helpline? This is an emergency!.. No, I’m not wasting police time… This is serious!’
Steve switched off the mobile, and put it down.
‘The police are too busy,’ he said. ‘But they said they’d file a report. Fatso is probably getting nowhere fast on an automated helpline. By the time he’s finished, the police will have two reports of smoking in two separate pubs.’
Marta steered her Mini through a long bend in the road, as they sped away.
‘Where next?’ she asked.
‘Your place?’ Vin asked. ‘We need to talk some more.’