As we climb out of the cab, the heat of the afternoon lays down heavy on our backs. In just the few seconds it takes to pull out our bags, open the little iron gate and walk up the path, our delicious, air-conditioned frosting is burned clean away.
I ring the bell.
Dogs furious. Commanding words, and a door firmly closed inside. A pause, and then a white shirted figure moves into focus behind the leaf patterned glass of the front door. An elderly man, trim and precise, waves us in.
‘She’s just through here,’ he says, turning and leading us through into the curtained bedroom where his daughter died last night.
She is lying on her back on a single bed, the counterpane neatly rolled and folded at the end, and even the single sheet she had been lying under drawn across and to the side in a wide triangular fold. She looks asleep, her arms out to the sides, palms up, a martyr to the night’s heat who found respite in the early hours.
I touch her forehead, but the dark staining along the lower edges of her arms and legs tells the story well enough.
‘I’m very sorry to say that your daughter has died, George.’
‘I thought so. They said to put her on the floor before you arrived but I knew it would do no good.’
‘It’s not much comfort I know, but at least there are no signs of distress. I don’t think she could have suffered at all.’
He leads us out of the room and into the sitting room. Dogs barking and scratching even more frantically behind the kitchen door.
‘We don’t mind if you let them out, George. We’re okay with dogs.’
‘If you’re sure. They like to know who’s here and whatnot.’
The moment the door is opened two small black and white mongrel terriers bowl across the carpet in a frenzy of wagging and sniffing. The smaller of the two immediately launches into a campaign to jump up on the sofa. The other seems more wary, running in and out and around until she’s sure she knows how many there are of us and what we might do.
‘Nutmeg is an absolute pain,’ George says. ‘She knows she’s not allowed. Jenny will settle eventually.’
And she does, taking up position between his legs. Nutmeg inspects my boots.
‘I don’t know what’ll happen to them,’ he says. ‘They’re rescues. They were everything to Mary. But they’ll have to go back.’
I make a start on the paperwork. George strokes Jenny’s head and scrunches her ears as he answers my questions. He spoke to Mary last night before she went to bed. Everything seemed fine, nothing out of the ordinary. They were due to go shopping this morning. She didn’t show. She didn’t answer the phone. He drove round and used his spare keys to let himself in.
I tell George that I need to make a phone call to the police, the next stage of the procedure for a death at home. George says he knows.
‘I went through it all when my wife died a few years back. Don’t worry.’
His face is flushed and damp with sweat.
Rae bats Nutmeg away and leans forward to touch George gently on the shoulder.
‘Can I get you a cup of tea? Anything at all?’
‘No. I’m fine,’ he says, taking off his glasses and wiping his face with a handkerchief. ‘I’m fine. But I don’t know how the boys will take it.’
When the police arrive, Rae helps George put Jenny and Nutmeg back into the kitchen as I answer the door. I tell them what has happened, and take them into the room to see the body. They put on latex gloves and make a quick inspection for themselves, then I hand them the paperwork.
Back out in the hallway, George is standing with Rae.
‘We’ll be going now,’ I say to him. I shake his hand. ‘I’m very sorry for your loss.’
He thanks us for coming.
We pick up our bags, one of the policewomen holds the door open for us and smiles. We step back outside.
It’s so bright I can hardly open my eyes.