The paramedic car has its hazards flashing, but we know exactly which house we need.
‘I haven’t been to Stanley’s for a little while,’ I say to Rae.
‘No. Perhaps he hasn’t been well.’
As I park the ambulance behind the car I wonder whether this might be the one time I visit the man and find he actually needs some help.
Although there is already a paramedic on scene, when we ring the bell there is the usual schtick about who we are and what we’ve come for.
‘Who do you say you are? The ambulance?’ As if an ambulance was the last thing anyone could have expected, despite Stanley having made the call not ten minutes ago, and despite the fluorescent bulk of one of our colleagues right there on his sofa, surrounded by kit. But finally – heroically - he buzzes us through into the hall, where we wait another couple of minutes by his flat door.
‘I’m just getting my keys,’ he says finally, pressing his mouth to the gap. ‘Now where are my trousers. The keys must be in the trousers.’
CJ the paramedic lets us in.
‘All right?’ he says, wearily. We follow him back into the sitting room.
Dookey, Stanley’s springer spaniel, flies over the back of the sofa to frisk us for affection, driven to heights of ecstasy never before seen in a dog.
‘Dookey!’ growls Stanley like some grumpy old stage manager somewhere off in the gloom. ‘Decorum!’
CJ gives us an exhausted look.
‘Just this shift and I’m nine days clear,’ he says. ‘Count them.’
Dookey licks him clean in the chops.
‘Yeuch! Anyway, guys, listen. I know this is one you’ve maybe come across before. But the story is, he rung up with DIB. He’s sounding a little bit crackly and his SATS are a touch low. So that and his previous means it’s inevitably a trip down the old choky. Sorry and all that. I have done some paperwork for you, though.’
‘He won’t go,’ says Rae, making a blue glove ball and tossing it for the dog, who almost demolishes a sideboard of antique glass in his eagerness to retrieve. ‘Oops.’
‘Well, he assures me that this time he means business.’
‘I definitely do,’ says Stanley, dragging himself into the room by the buckle of his belt. ‘I’ve never felt so rough.’
He looks slack and grey, but then his smoking and his reclusive lifestyle means he would never make too many demands on a palette of healthy colours. He regards Rae and me with disappointment.
‘Haven’t I seen you before?’ he says.
‘Come on, Stanley. We’re taking you to the hospital, apparently.’
‘Yes. I need to go. I’ve never been so ill. I just can’t get my breath.’
‘Have you had a cigarette recently?’
‘I may have had a consolatory puff or two. Look – this is not easy, you know. You really shouldn’t make fun of me like this.’
‘We’re not making fun of you, Stanley. We’re just trying to get the full picture.’
‘Yes. Well. The full picture as you say is that I’m not breathing at all well, and I’m quite possibly dying. You know how I feel about my darling Dookey, but even she cannot keep me from my appointment with the doctors at the hospital tonight, because I’m afraid that if I stayed here I would expire and that would be that.’
‘So let’s go, then.’
‘Look. Don’t rush me. I’ve simply got to find my keys.’
‘Keys are in the door,’ says Rae, turning Dookey onto her back and scrunching her fingers around on her tummy.
Incredibly, they are, right there in the lock.
‘Oh. Fine. Well then. I just need my shoes. Dookey! Un peu de l'étiquette s'il vous plaît.’ Then he turns to me and says:
‘Where is your chair?’
‘I don’t think you need a chair, Stanley. You’re moving about like an antelope. Let’s try a walk out to the vehicle, shall we?’
‘I don’t care for your tone,’ he says, ominously. Then after giving Dookey a series of instructions in English and in French, he shuffles out with us into the hallway.
Stanley lives on a road with a crow’s view of the city. It lies spread out before us, a thousand points of light below an ink blue sky.
‘What a night!’ I say, offering my arm.
‘For you, perhaps,’ he says with a sniff. ‘For me, a vision of hell. I’m not enjoying this, you know. And I most certainly will not manage those steps.’
‘Let’s just have a go and see. If you can’t, we’ll have a rethink.’
Stanley pulls his arm out from mine.
‘Really. This is ridiculous. So you’re refusing to take me to hospital.’
‘Not at all. If you need to go, we’ll go. But I’m not carrying you in a chair, Stanley. You don’t need it.’
‘Then I’m not going.’
He turns round and marches back inside, slamming the door behind him.
The paramedic joins us over by the ambulance.
‘That went well, then.’
‘He’s just an arse.’
‘Why wouldn’t he come?’
‘He insisted on a chair.’
‘Oh well. No doubt he’ll call back in a second or two. I’d wait here if I were you.’
I talk to Control and they stand us down from the job. Just a minute later, though, we get it back again. Control ask us to give him a severe talking to.
‘Tell him it’s you or nothing,’ they say.
When Stanley answers the door and sees me standing there, his mournful expression drops a clear foot.
‘You!’ he says. ‘You’re the one who refused to take me to hospital.’ Then he notices Rae and says: ‘But you, my dear. You have been the epitome of helpfulness and humanity throughout this entire ordeal. You I don’t mind.’
‘Stanley. This is your last chance. Either you walk out to the ambulance with us now and we take you to hospital, or you find some other way to cope with your illness tonight. We’re not a taxi service. We’re not here to answer to your every beck and call.’
‘Don’t be cruel,’ he says. ‘I’ve never been so ill.’
But he seems to lose a measure of haughtiness, takes my arm, and allows himself to be led out of the flat and down to the vehicle.
Dookey watches us go from her lookout behind the window.
I half expect her to wave.