I’m standing at the door to the flat with a policeman next to me. He already has his hand to his face, because the hallway is thick with foul air. There are a couple of massy black flies lolling around the letterbox; I put the resus bag down because I don’t think I’ll be needing it.
‘Police. Open up.’
Rae shouts from the pavement that runs along the front windows to the flat. ‘I can see legs on the sofa – kind of.’
‘Are you happy kicking the door in or do you want me to help?’ I ask him.
He shakes his head confidently, takes a step back, braces himself with both hands against either wall, then lays into the door with one then two great flat-footed kicks. It splinters at the lock and swings backwards.
‘Ambulance’ I call out and step into the flat.
The air seems to ripple around us with fatty, cloying vapours. I move further along the cluttered hallway, breathing through my mouth. ‘Ambulance’ I say again, with much less vigour. The door to the sitting room is open. I can see the body of a large Alsatian dog lying on its side against the wall, the flesh along the length of its wasted body sinking into the gaps between its bones. Its eyes are bored deep and black. I walk into the room and see the dog’s owner lying on the sofa. He was naked when he died; now he is blown up with decay, spilling and blackened like a monstrous, over-cooked sausage.
I leave the room and walk back, passing the policeman in the hallway.
‘Very obviously dead,’ I say to him. He squeezes past me to see for himself as I move quickly outside. After a minute or two I start finishing the paperwork.
The policeman comes outside and asks me if I’ve got any chewing gum, or some mints.
A scattering of neighbours are being drawn outside by the police and ambulance lights. The woman in the flat next door to the dead man comes out in her white towelling dressing gown. She clutches it round her neck as she speaks to me.
‘What’s happened? Is he all right?’
‘No. I’m afraid he’s not. He’s – erm – he’s died.’
‘Oh my god.’ She puts her hand to her face. ‘What about his dog?’
‘I’m afraid the dog has died, too.’
‘Urgh. What’s that smell?’
‘He died a while ago. When did you last see him?’
‘George? I don’t know. Must’ve been a couple of weeks or so.’
‘Did you hear anything? See anything?’
‘I do remember the dog barking for a while. Come to think of it, that’s unusual. He’s always such a quiet dog.’
She looks out at the second police crew to arrive and hugs her dressing gown to her even tighter.
‘Oh my god.’
A woman comes out of the flat next door to hers on the other side and asks what’s going on as she locks the door.
‘That George has died. And his dog.’
‘Oh that’s awful,’ she says, pocketing the key. ‘I thought his truck hadn’t moved for a while. He’s normally so - out and about. Oh that’s terrible.’ She hurries off up the concrete steps. I turn back to my form and write ‘decomposition’ in the box that asks for signs incompatible with life.
‘That poor dog’ says the woman.
A policewoman comes over to us, and two more go into the flat with thick white masks on.