When we pull up outside the smart block of flats, there are two patrol cars and a video surveillance unit double parked either side. Rae puts the ambulance where she can, and we hurry up the steps into the lobby, a neat little area with a leather sofa, a potted plant, and a table with a spread of pamphlets.
‘Just going in now,’ says the young buzz-cut officer into his shoulder radio; his black flak jacket, radio and tattoos all of a piece, like an outfit rented from a fancy dress shop.
The call had been dramatically concise: Female, 76. Collapse behind locked doors. Son on scene. Police en route.
The son, an extruded beard of a man in a tired blue jumper and sandals nods anxiously as we join the back of the queue outside his mother’s door.
‘Go for it!’
Buzz Cut draws his enormous boot back and starts kicking at the door. As he draws away each time and slams repeatedly into the panels, we all lean in to study the way the door shudders, passing comment on the locks and bolts that may or may not be employed on the other side.
‘She wasn’t well when I left her,’ the son says. ‘Puffing and blowing. I phoned to say goodnight and didn’t get an answer.’
We wait to one side as Buzz Cut redoubles his efforts. Another team comes through the lobby carrying an iron battering ram between them.
‘We’ve brought the key,’ one of them says.
Suddenly there is a shrill cry from the entrance.
‘What the hell are you doing?’
An outraged woman stands in the frame of the glass doors, her bag slack on her shoulder, her keys held up in mid-air, as if they held some power to make things explicable.
‘Don’t! Don’t you dare do that!’
She hurries forward, brushing aside anyone not in direct contact with the carpentry.
‘What on earth do you think you’re doing?’
The son comes forward and puts his hands on her shoulders.
‘Mum. I didn’t know what had happened to you.’
‘I was at the bingo,’ she cries.
The buzz-cut officer wipes his forehead and presents himself to the woman.
‘Your son thought you may have collapsed,’ he said. ‘He was worried.’
‘I went to the bingo,’ she shouts. ‘Is that such a crime? Get away from my door.’
She puts her keys in the lock and begins rattling them speculatively.
‘She seems fine,’ I say to Buzz Cut. ‘We’ll be off.’
I pick up the resus bag and discreetly reverse down the hall.
Everyone leaves quickly; when I look back, the only people left standing there are Buzz Cut and Sandal Son, leaning back from Angry Woman, who is shaking her keys in their face, and swinging her tresses from side to side like a mop of blanched snakes.