Stepan answers the door. His eyes are hooded, and he speaks with the slurred precision of a bottle of vodka and five o’clock in the morning.
‘Come. You help me, please. Is having diabetic problem.’
With an audible effort of will Stepan turns his body – a plucked and rangy affair in the ruins of a business suit – and shuffles back through the flat into the kitchen, where a man lies slumped across a melamine table.
‘A relative of yours?’ I ask him as Rae checks the guy over.
Stepan throws himself down in the opposite chair, studies the man for a moment, then flops his head back and shakes his hair out.
‘Kevin? Oh, please! I don’t know, honey! It’s first date.’ Then he ducks his chin back down again and lowers his focus onto me. His blue eyes seem to be covered in translucent skin. ‘Do you have somebody, baby?’, he drawls.
‘1.6,’ says Rae, tossing the kit back in her opened bag. ‘Can you draw up some Glucagon?’
I prep the syringe, bunch up the flesh of Kevin’s upper arm and jab him.
Rae makes some more checks and starts filling in the form. She speaks briskly to Stepan.
‘So tell us what happened, Stepan. How long’s your friend been like this?’
But Stepan doesn’t answer the question. He continues to stare at me. After a moment he waves vaguely behind him: ‘His medication is in box on fridge.’
‘On a first date?’ I say, going over to it.
Stepan absorbs the comment, then says: ‘You wearing ring like married man. You like women, honey?’
‘Stepan, let’s concentrate on your friend for a moment, can we? He’s not at all well.’
‘I know. I call you.’
‘So when did you become concerned?’
‘He diabetic. He tell me.’
‘How much has he had to drink?’
Stepan smiles and makes a proud gesture around the flat. There are bottles standing, lying down, all over the place. Suddenly he starts pulling on an old pair of blue examination gloves.
‘Count,’ he says.
‘Why are you putting the gloves on, Stepan?’
‘Is my business.’
‘Is my business.’
‘The glucagon we gave him is a quick fix, Stepan. It won’t last long. Kevin needs something to eat to bring his blood sugar back up to scratch. Could you make him some toast, please?’
‘Yes. Yes,’ says Stepan, frowning as he struggles to get his fingers in the correct holes of the glove.
‘Like now,’ says Rae. ‘It’s important.’
‘Yes! God!’ says Stepan, still wrestling and snapping the blue rubber gloves.
‘Do you have any food in the house?’
‘Of course I have food.’
‘Your friend will need to eat when he perks up. Can you please make him some toast, or something?’
‘You don’t speak to me like this.’
He gives up trying to get the gloves on and stands up. The chair scrapes backwards and topples over, and Stepan has to grab the table to stop himself falling with it. Kevin groans and stirs.
‘Okay. This is hopeless,’ says Rae. ‘Can you get the carry chair please, Spence?’
This galvanises Stepan.
‘No! What you say? You are not to take him to hospital. I am lawyer. This is my house. You do not do this please.’
‘But Stepan. Your friend’s ill. You’re drunk and in no position to do anything to help him. He’s not safe, so we have no choice.’
‘I know law. This is my house and you leave now please.’
‘Of course. With pleasure. With Kevin.’
‘No! Look! I make toast.’
He staggers over to the fridge and throws the door open. Inside, pathetically illuminated on a plastic tray, a couple of tomatoes and a single, mummified cocktail sausage. Stepan stares at this for a moment, then slams the door shut again.
‘I go to shops.’
He struggles to push his deformed blue hands into his trouser pocket, looking for change.
‘It’s not happening, is it, Stepan? I’m afraid we’re taking Kevin with us, and that’s the end of the story.’
‘No! You leave my house now please.’
Suddenly a young woman appears in the doorway, her hair all knotted up and her Snoopy night-shirt slack with exhaustion.
‘Stepan,’ she whispers. ‘What the fuck are you doing? What the fuck is going on?’
‘Fuck you!’ he shouts.
‘No. Fuck you, Stepan. Do you know what time it is? You’re fucking crazy. You’re a madman. I want you out of this flat tomorrow. Do you understand? Jesus fucking Christ!’
‘No! Fucking Jesus Christ fucking you! I not go anywhere. You go anywhere.’
‘Fuck you, Stepan.’
‘Can you call for some police assistance, Spence?’
The girl turns and silently withdraws, gliding like a sleepwalker back into the deeps of the night. Kevin sits upright suddenly and starts looking around. ‘What happened?’ he says.
‘You’ve had a hypo, Kevin, and we’d like to take you to hospital.’
‘Fine. Where are my trousers?’
‘No! You not call police! I cannot have scandals. I call you to help my friend, and now he’s better you can go, please. Thank you. Go. Go on.’
‘No. Stepan. Ssh now. It’s no good. Kevin is coming with us. We’ve called for police to make sure you don’t try to get in our way.’
Stepan produces a mobile phone from somewhere and struggles to hit 999 with his fingers bunched crazily in the glove.
‘I call police to have you thrown out.’
‘Fine. They’re coming anyway.’
He throws the phone across the flat.
‘What?’ says Kevin.
‘Why are you wearing the gloves anyway?’ I ask Stepan.
He stares at me again, breathing hard. But over the next moment or two his breaths slow and even out. He manages to right the chair, and when he sits back down, he tries to pick some strands of hair away from his face with a crazy blue hand.
‘One day I tell you,’ he smiles. And then playfully, he bites the slack blue rubber tip of his thumb.