I know it’s a woman, because I can see her sand-sprinkled feet. One is bare, but the other has a shiny red sandal dangling from the toes. The rest of her is covered by our picnic blanket, and the policemen are annoyed with Dad for ‘interfering with a crime scene’.
Dad is angry too. He jerks his head at me and Annie, then at the body, saying it was to protect us.
It doesn’t stop them being angry, though.
“Take him down the station,” bawls the older policeman.
“Look after Annie,” Dad shouts at me before a policewoman starts dragging us down the beach, away from Dad.
Annie starts kicking and screaming. “I’ll tell the police over you, we’re not supposed to go with pervies,” she shrieks, kicking the woman’s shins.
That’ll hurt, I think – the kick, not the ‘pervie’ tag – and sure enough, the woman screams and releases Annie’s arm.
Off goes Annie, like a greyhound.
Annie’s very young. And maybe not very bright. So she takes the shortest distance between herself and Dad, ending up sprawled on top of the body. When she realises this, she goes mental, wets not only herself but the dead woman too, and scrambles off the body to get to Dad.
The policeman sinks to his knees and puts his head in his hands.
Back at the caravan, Mum’s headache appears to have gone, and she’s sitting on the step when we appear with the limping policewoman.
“What have you been up to now?” she says, sounding really fed up.
“Mrs Molloy?” says the policewoman.
“Yes,” she snaps.
“These are your children?”
It’s a daft question. We all have bright red hair, and Annie’s the spitting image of Mum.
“Of course they are.” Mum seems to think it’s a daft question too.
“I’m afraid there’s been an incident on the beach,” says the policewoman, “and their father is helping us with our enquiries.”
Mum’s face goes white.
“Please keep the children with you, we’ll need to talk to them later.”
It’s quite late when Dad gets back to the caravan. We’ve all had our tea, though Mum hasn’t eaten much, and our bunks have been curtained off. Annie’s asleep, but I can hear them whispering.
“We just came across her,” Dad is saying. “We’d had our picnic and were having a bit of a knockabout with the ball. Rosie kicked it right down the beach, she’s really quite good with a football, you know…”
I feel a warm glow. He’s noticed then.
“…. anyway I ran after it, and found this young woman lying there, obviously in a bad way. So I went for the picnic blanket, covered her up to keep her warm, and rang the police. I told the girls to stay with our things, but you know what they’re like, and before I knew it they were only a few feet away. By that time, I’d realised she was dead and …”
“How?” says Mum.
“Well, all the blood, I suppose, and her chest wasn’t moving.”
“You touched her chest?” Mum sounds snappy.
“Only as long as it took to make sure she wasn’t breathing….” He pauses. “Then I covered her face, so’s not to frighten them. And the police seem really pissed off at me.”
“I can imagine.” Mum sounds very cold.
“They want a sample of my DNA,” he says. “I hope they don’t think I did it.”
“Who was she?”
“I don’t know,” he says, “never saw her before.”
And then I fall asleep.
Next day, two policewomen come to talk to me and Annie. They want to know everything we did yesterday, from getting up in the morning to when we were taken back to the caravan. Annie willingly obliges, and the policewomen soon lose the will to live. There’s only so much ‘teddy-walking’, ‘tig-playing’ and ‘eating chocolate-chip ice-creams’ that a grown-up can take.
When they get round to me, I say pretty much the same thing.
Only I’m older, and a bit cleverer than Annie.
Annie has forgotten that we saw Mum on the beach earlier yesterday morning, and that she was talking to a young woman wearing shiny red sandals.
So I don’t mention it.
And since Annie wasn’t with me earlier in the week, when I saw Dad and the woman in the red sandals lying together in the sand dunes, I don’t mention that either.
I’ve been told I must always look after Annie. And that’s what I’m going to do.
Annie needs a Mum and a Dad.
And if they ever talk about splitting up again, I know exactly how to keep them from doing that.
One of 23 crime fiction stories included in Murder in the Sun, on sale now in W H Smith’s. My original story was runner up in a Writers’ Forum competition, and the editor bought it for inclusion in a one-off summer crime fiction magazine published in July 2015.