The retirement block is frankly laid out in new red brick, but a stand of young ash trees planted in front are already softening the geometric lines of windows and walkways, and there are vigorous bushes of jasmine hauling themselves up from the small patches of garden at the front. The sounds of children playing in a nearby park drift across to us, and to the group of elderly women standing by the open front door. It’s a cardigan-wrapped, whisperingly tight little huddle, although as I open the gate and walk up the path towards them, they chip in brightly enough:
‘Turn right as you go in, dear.’
We make our way along a narrow corridor to number eight. The runner is rucked up outside the open door. ‘Ambulance’ I call out, and make my way inside. Another confined space, but this one strewn with a pair of broken glasses, the contents of a toppled plant stand, a discarded jacket. We pick our way through towards the voices we can hear in the sitting room.
‘In here, guys.’
Stanley is sitting on the edge of a flower-patterned arm chair. He looks up at us, and dabs at a small cut above his right eye with a blood spotted handkerchief. A policeman stands next to him; over in the kitchen a policewoman looks round the door and waves at us. They’re both wearing rubber gloves.
‘What’s happened here, then?’
Stanley – an eighty year old with a full eighty years of gravity expressed in his face – lowers the handkerchief.
‘I’ve been beaten up, threatened, locked in a cupboard and had all my savings taken. That’s what’s bleedin’ happened.’
The policeman puts a hand on his shoulder and tells us the story: two guys knocked on the door, when Stanley opened it they pushed him backwards into the flat and onto the floor. They punched him in the face but he wasn’t knocked out. They threatened him with further violence if he didn’t tell him where his safe was, then they locked him in the broom cupboard and stole his money. He managed to escape from the cupboard by undoing the hinges with a screwdriver.
‘I don’t understand how they knew I had a safe’, he says, dabbing his eye again. ‘How would they know that?’
We clean his wounds and check him over. He seems to have come through the ordeal reasonably intact. We offer to take him to hospital but he refuses.
‘They can’t do nothing. They can’t get me my money back,’ he says. ‘What I really need is a glass of brandy and a cigarette. Can I have those, do you think?’
I tell him he’s in his own home and he’s perfectly at liberty to have what he likes.
‘My own home,’ he echoes, closing his eyes and waggling his jaw slightly, as if he were rolling those words around in his mouth for the first time.
‘No good will come of these people,’ I say to him, packing my stethoscope away. But no-one in the room, not the neighbours looking in from the hallway to pay their respects, the Scene of Crime officer arriving with a detective, not Rae, and not the police completing their paperwork – no-one can say that this will be so.
I shake Stanley’s hand, give a copy of the PRF to the police, and we leave.
Outside, the day has moved on. The children in the park have gone and the sky has deepened. The air seems colder. For the first time I really notice that the trees have started to lose their leaves; I scuffle through a patch or two back to the ambulance. There is definitely, definitely an autumnal pinch about the place.