It looks like Pieter died in his sleep. He’s lying on his front on the floor with his face turned to the side, a duvet beneath him, a blanket on top. The window is open, warm air stirring the curtains. The radio is plays softly. I reach over and turn it off.
‘He often slept on the floor because of his back,’ says Abla, one of Pieter’s flatmates. ‘It was more comfortable for him.’
He stares down at his friend and then shakes his head sadly.
‘Ah, Pieter!’ he says. ‘You were like a brother to me.’
Then he turns and leads us back down the stairs.
The house has a warm and generous feel. Brightly painted walls crowded with photos, guitars propped up in corners, a piano in the sitting room, drapes and pictures and mementoes from a hundred gigs and parties. The long kitchen overlooks a patio garden with a miscellany of iron and wood chairs round a tatty wooden table. There’s a plump ginger cat draped on the far wall. A blackbird singing in an apple tree by the back door.
‘Can I make you some tea?’ says Abla.
‘Thanks. That’s kind.’
We take a seat at the kitchen table. Rae starts the paperwork. I call Control to request police to scene.
‘Nothing to worry about,’ she says. ‘It’s just what happens when there’s an unexpected death anywhere. They take over from us.’
‘I understand,’ says Abla. ‘Sugar?’
He pauses for a moment by the cups, like he’s momentarily forgotten what it was he was supposed to be doing. But then he takes a breath and carries on.
‘I would not have believed this could happen,’ he says. ‘It is so unexpected. Pieter! Ah – man!’
He puts the cups in front of us, then joins us at the table, resting his chin on his hands and staring out of the open door at the apple tree.
‘A brother. He was like a brother to me,’ he says.
The house is something like a commune. Stefano, one of the other residents, is already busy on the phone to anyone he can reach, telling them the awful news.
‘Pieter works till late,’ says Stefano, between calls. ‘He came back in the early hours and went to bed. I heard the radio playing this morning but when I knocked and he didn’t answer I just thought he was sleeping. God! Why didn’t I go in?’
‘You must not worry about that,’ says Abla. ‘Why would you go in? This is so unexpected.’
‘But I might have made a difference?’
He turns back into the living room and blows his nose before making another call.
After a pause I talk to Abla about the house.
‘Yes. It is a wonderful, wonderful place,’ he says. ‘We have been together for many years. It is like a family. Some years ago we played in a band, and then we ended up staying here.’ He smiles and shrugs, gesturing with his hands. ‘Some people stay, some go, but it is always a big, happy place.’
The front door opens and Ken comes in, struggling sideways with two shopping bags.
‘What’s happened?’ he says, putting them down and looking at me and Rae with alarm.
‘Pieter has died,’ says Abla.
‘Yes. I found him lying dead on the floor.’
Ken looks at us again.
‘There’s no sign of anything,’ I tell him. ‘I’m really sorry.’
‘What did he die of, d’you think?’
‘It’s impossible to say. Was he complaining of feeling unwell lately?’
Ken puts one of the shopping bags on the counter and starts to unpack – sliced bread, milk, butter, tangerines.
‘Just his back. He said his back was playing up. But he’s been having trouble with his back for years.’
He turns to look at us with a jar of pickles in his hand.
‘I’m afraid so.’
He stands motionless for a second or two. Looks at Abla, who is shaking his head sadly.
‘I thought we could try these,’ he says, holding out the jar to him. ‘I thought they looked interesting.’
‘They do look good,’ says Abla.
‘Hmm,’ says Ken, puts them in a prominent place on the side, then carries on unpacking.
‘Wanda’s going to take this very hard,’ he says from over by the vegetable rack. ‘She’ll go crazy,’ he says.
‘How many people live here?’ I ask Abla.
‘At the moment we have ten. All nationalities. French, American, Tanzanian, Lincolnshire.’
‘That’s me,’ says Ken, filling the potato bin.
Behind him on the main window ledge is a line of glass Buddhas, half a dozen colours, radiant in the sunlight. Just in front of them is another, plastic version. This one must have a solar cell, because he’s busy nodding his head and waving a little fan that busily click-click-clicks against his rounded belly.
‘That one, he is busy saying yes to life, to anything that may happen,’ says Abla. ‘Whatever that may be.’
Stefano comes back into the kitchen.‘Wanda’s on her way,’ he says.