The room brightened and Tom glanced round. Two more men came in, closing the door quietly. They stayed near the door, speaking in Welsh and occasionally glancing Tom’s way. He felt like every eye was surreptitiously on him.
When he turned to his drink again the barman looked away, but for a fraction of a second it seemed as if he had been nodding at Tom, indicating something to the others in the bar. The fact that he looked momentarily guilty when Tom nearly caught him seemed to confirm that something was wrong. The atmosphere was pregnant with expectation. But for what?
Tom stood up. Immediately there was a subtle – but noticeable – edging closer of the people sitting or standing near the door; a readiness. On the surface they seemed nonchalant, but Tom felt as if they were blocking his exit.
He needed time to think, and didn’t want to test his suspicion yet, in case it led to a confrontation. “Where are the toilets, please?” he asked his ginger-haired neighbour.
“Through those doors, then left,” he said, pointing to the corner opposite the pub’s entrance.
On the other side of the door was a staircase going up, and a small room on his left with two more doors; the left one said Merched and the right, Dynion. Tom remembered the men’s toilets in his favourite Newtown pub said Dynion, so pushed against that creaking door.
The toilets were as unpleasant as he’d expected. A smell of sour piss, and chipped tiles around the urinals. Tom moved quickly to the only toilet cubicle, locked the door, put the lid down, and sat on it.
What were the villagers planning? Or was he imagining it? His civilised self told him he was overreacting, but his instincts screamed that there was a threat here. But what? Would they mug him? Or something worse?
When he was younger, someone told him stories of an isolated moor where the army sent new recruits for survival training, and where the recruits sometimes disappeared, just leaving their pitched tents and equipment behind. No sign of them was ever found. In another version, the soldiers were found – but dead, with their throats cut, in a church. That apocryphal tale usually blamed Satanists, though neither version explained how a whole unit could be overpowered, except perhaps by a lot of people.
A lot of people in on something together.
As unlikely as the tales had seemed to him, the thought of them chilled him now.
Surely he couldn’t be killed? To what end? People would find out, wouldn’t they?
Then again, he had only mentioned to his mother where he was going this weekend. And if he disappeared, there would be no proof he ever actually got here – he had travelled a long distance. If everyone in the village denied seeing him, no investigation would get anywhere. The only likely outcome would be that his elderly mother would come herself to investigate … which didn’t bear thinking about.
He thought back to the rusting car, owners long gone after something happened.
Of course it was all stupid, he was a loony just for thinking of that. What would Mike say back in Newtown?
There was a noise outside the men’s toilets. Whispers. Sounded like a few people. Tom froze. No-one came in, and the voices went quiet. He could feel himself panicking.
Climbing soundlessly up onto the toilet lid, he was able to examine the dirty window. It looked like it could be opened, but hadn’t been for many years. Dead flies and moths lay on their backs all along the filth of the sill. The opening was small but a man might fit through.
The window was on the side of the pub, and Tom could see there was a wide gap between the pub and the next building – a garage with an old petrol pump in the forecourt.
He could also see a building further away – some kind of junkyard with a chain-link fence, off the smaller southern road of the village.
A few men dashed around there; the first people apart from Brandy to show any speed. Tom recognised the man who had said he could rent a house, apparently giving urgent instructions. He was reminded of a disturbed wasps’ nest. A red pickup pulled out of the junkyard and halted by the men.
The driver jumped out – it was the man with ginger hair and the Shell baseball cap, Wil, who Tom had sat next to in the bar. Immediately he lifted something heavy out of the back of the pickup, helped by two men. It looked like a large, flat, stained piece of wood, with things dangling in the corners, possibly handles? Or straps? Someone else grabbed a toolbox, and they all moved out of sight towards the back of the pub, heaving the wooden thing with them.
Time must be running out, Tom thought. There were only two choices. Run or stay. If he ran and it turned out he was just being paranoid … well, it was a minor embarrassment, which he would gladly suffer. If he ran and was right to do so, it could save his life. No contest.