A rain storm as crazy as a car wash has lowered itself across town. Just one minute more and we’ll be paddling like rats. My torch picks out a series of flat numbers. The sequence isn’t encouraging; I’ve parked the wrong end of the block. But now that we have come this far, it makes more sense to carry on to the incident and move the truck later if I need to.
We may as well be hunting for an address on Mars. The colony – it feels like a colony – rises up around us a bleak stack of flats whose every face, every angle has been exposed to its starkest line by a designer with one hand on a balance sheet and one hand on the Geneva Convention.
Rae finds some concrete stairs and we scurry up, along a cruelly exposed balcony to where an elderly neighbour stands half in and half out of a door, waving us on.
‘They’re in there,’ he says. ‘I’m just here if you need me.’ And he’s gone.
We stamp and shake ourselves in the hallway. A policewoman and an elderly woman watch us from the other end.
‘What an entrance,’ says the woman. ‘You poor things.’
‘Hi guys. This is Mrs Turnbull. I’m afraid her son Jeremy has had a bit of funny turn tonight. He got quite violent, shouting and swearing and carrying on, punched the television off its stand then threw poor Mrs Turnbull up against the wall.’
‘I’m all right,’ she says. ‘I’m all right.’
‘He’s in the sitting room just now with my colleague and a neighbour, quite unresponsive, with his head in his hands. Can you have a look and tell us what you think?’
Mrs Turnbull, a woman with that dry economy of movement you sometimes see in people used to living alone and closely ordering their affairs, leans in to tell me something.
‘Jeremy woke me up a few nights ago, the early hours. Shook me by the legs whilst I lay asleep. When I opened my eyes his face was right up against mine – like this. But he didn’t say a word. When I asked him what the matter was he just put his finger to his lips and said sshh. Then he crept back out of the room, got in his car and drove off along the coast. Got a ticket for speeding.’
She re-adjusts her heavy glasses.
‘I don’t know what’s wrong with him. He’s not happy. He had a bit of a do two years ago when he was in Spain. Drove his car into a vineyard, then got hit by a car when he wandered back into the road. He was in a psychiatric hospital there for a couple of weeks, after they fixed his legs. I’ve tried to get him to see the doctor here about it, but he just won’t admit anything’s wrong. I wish he could get better and be well. He’s such a talented boy.’
We go through into the living room. Jeremy is sitting forward on the low brown sofa, his elbows on his knees, his face buried in his hands. A policeman is next to him on a low wooden stool just to the side. In front of them both, knocked backwards off a rustic blanket chest, a TV lies face up, a fist-sized dent in the centre of its screen.
The room has an austere simplicity: a plain wooden bookcase with a selection of reference books - history, engineering, art, Europe on a budget; a drop-leaf table with a laptop, a scattering of closely scrawled notes and a book on the money markets; a crate in the corner marked DE, and a poster of a medieval icon tacked to the wall above the gas fire –shining angels playing lutes and fiddles in heaven.
The storm moans beyond the window.
‘Come on, Jeremy. Tell us what’s wrong,’ says the policeman, laying a hand on his shoulder and nodding at us as we come further into the room. ‘The ambulance is here. We’re all a bit worried about you, mate.’
But Jeremy maintains his position.
Whilst Rae goes over to him, Mrs Turnbull taps me gently on the elbow and motions for me to come back into the hallway.
‘Some other things you ought to know,’ she says. ‘He’s been filling up his head with all sorts of nonsense from the internet. Lots of guff about ancient societies, secret international organisations and this kind of thing. How they’re all keeping the little man down, making plans, deliberately starting wars for this, that and the other. He started to get mad at me for watching television, reading the Daily Mail, for goodness sake. The Daily Mail! He said they were feeding me lies, controlling me. That’s why he punched the television. He said it was trying to take over. He’s not well. And he didn’t get the job he was going for. After all that re-training. It’s definitely made it worse.’
‘Do you think you’re in danger from Jeremy?’
‘Oh yes. No question. I can’t have him in the house. He was only supposed to be staying a couple of months whilst he got himself back on his feet, but it’s gone on too long now and you know he’s become such a tyrant about everything.’
The policewoman joins us in the hallway.
‘No change, I’m afraid,’ she says.
‘He really can’t stay here, you know.’
Back in the living room Jeremy is sitting as before, his face covered with his hands. He is like one of those figures from Pompeii, fixed in an attitude of despair as the ash came roiling down the slope.
‘Come on, Jeremy. Let’s go to the hospital and find you someone to talk to. Come on. Help us to help you. Let’s get your socks and shoes on, for a start.’
He ends up putting them on for Jeremy, who passively allows the policeman to dress his feet.
‘There you go, mate,’ he says. ‘Let’s get going, then.’
But Jeremy will not talk or move.
The policeman stands up.
‘Let’s be clear, Jeremy. You either walk out nicely with us now, or we get a load more people over to carry you out. That won’t be nice, for you or for us. So this is your last chance. Are you going to walk out with us?’
Mrs Turnbull sighs, and touches my arm.
‘Right,’ says the policeman. He touches his radio.