Mr Petersen’s short red hair stands up in spikes; with his soft round nose, widow’s peak, raisin eyes and tiny mouth, he looks like an illustration from a tougher Beatrix Potter: Mr Tiggy Winkle on the Social, his paws stuffed in the zipper pockets of a black puffa-jacket, trembling in the hallway of a sheltered housing project in the early hours.
‘Hello,’ he says. ‘I’m having a stroke.’
‘Let’s go inside and have a chat.’
He turns and shuffles ahead of us into the shared living space, a spare, functionally lit cube with a synthetic Christmas tree subsiding under a pile of tinsel in the window. Mr Petersen settles himself neatly on the edge of a battered armchair and waits for us to begin.
‘So. What’s happened tonight?’
‘I was just going to bed when I had this funny feeling. A numbness, spreading down from the right side of my face, round my mouth, and then on into my arms. I’d been reading about strokes and how to spot them. F – Face. A – Arms. S – Something. And T – erm - Trembling. So I thought I’d better call for an ambulance.’
‘Okay. Any pain anywhere? Nausea? Shortness of breath?’
‘No. Just this funny feeling.’
‘Let’s have a look.’
We run through the protocol.
‘Everything seems fine, Mr Petersen. But the fact remains you’ve got this funny feeling, so we need to check it out. Why don’t we go out to the vehicle and carry on there?’
‘Yes. I think that’s probably best.’
‘Any other health problems?’
‘Asperger’s Syndrome, Generalised Anxiety Disorder.’
‘Right. Have you got your keys, then? Phone – the usual stuff?’
‘I need to get them from my room. Will you come with me?’
We follow him back across the hallway to a scuffed white door. He smiles as he pushes it open.
‘Please excuse the mess,’ he says. ‘It’s not normally like this.’
The room is quite bare, except for isolated heaps of clothes piled up on the floor; the bed itself is a bare divan, with a lumpy, yellowing pillow at the far end.
‘Won’t be a moment,’ he says.
He scuffles across the room to sweep a bunch of keys from off a pine sideboard.
‘Do you watch The Bill?’ he says.
‘I thought it wasn’t on any more.’
‘Well – technically no. But are you familiar with one of the main characters, PC Amber Johannsen?’
‘I’m afraid not.’
Well – she’s been visiting me, helping me out.’
‘What – do you mean the actress?’
‘No, no. PC Amber Johannsen, not her spirit, but her character, from the spirit side. She comes and helps me in various ways.’ He gives me a shy smile. ‘Satisfies me in others. She said to tell you sorry she couldn’t take me up the hospital herself, but now she’s just a spirit she’s no longer able to drive the patrol car.’
He nods, then busies himself looking for his mobile phone, picking speculatively through the mounds of clothes like a bird through piles of raked leaves.
‘Mr Petersen? Have you been up to A&E before?’
He pauses momentarily and looks across at me.
‘Yes. About two months ago.’
‘Was it for something similar?’
‘No. It was – for something else.’
He carries on hunting for his phone.
I pause for him to tell me, but he seems reluctant.
‘What was wrong that time?’ I say.
‘I tied a boot lace round my organ, rather too tightly,’ he says, suddenly straightening up. ‘Ah! Here it is!’ He holds up the mobile phone, and gives it a triumphant little wiggle in the air.