I glance over the notes that Control send through, but I hardly need to. We’re both very well aware who Jasper is.
The radio buzzes.
‘Sorry guys. We tried to deal with this one our end, but he started speaking in riddles, so we had to pass it to you.’
‘Yep. No worries. We like a good riddle.’
The last time I saw Jasper he was roaring like an outraged banker, face down in the A&E car park, Geoff the security guard sitting on his legs. Geoff had waved pleasantly as we parked, comfortable enough. Apparently Jasper had attacked one of the nurses with his stick – an ineffectual attempt, but unpleasant nonetheless - and then run off. Geoff had rugby tackled him just before the ramp.
‘So much for the Parkinsons or whatever it is he claims to have.’
Frank pulls up outside the address.
‘Here we are then. This should finish us off nicely.’
There is a finely needled drift of rain in the air; a Christmas tree lies next to a shining black paladin, one red bauble and a few scraps of tinsel hanging from its branches, as if the thing hadn’t been dumped so much as jumped out of the tub and run away. The whole street has a post-event feel; the half-drawn blinds of the house make it look hung-over.
Jasper lives in the basement, down a dark and precipitous drop of stairs.
‘Just right for a patient with mobility problems,’ says Frank, clicking on his torch.
‘Let’s get this over with.’
I knock on the door – a scarred and battered affair with the number painted on in black with a decorator’s brush. I ring the bell, too. After a long pause, I knock again.
‘He’s working on his laptop,’ says Frank. ‘I can see him through the curtains.’
I bang on the window.
‘Yes? Who is it?’
‘It’s the ambulance, Jasper. Can you open the door please?’
‘But I called to cancel. Look this is simply ridiculous. Are you sure you need to see me?’
‘Well you rang to say you had chest pain. Is that right?’
‘Yes, I do have chest pain, but look – this is outrageous.’
‘Are you saying you don’t want to see us? Because that’s fine, Jasper. We just need you to sign our paperwork.’
‘Oh for goodness sake.’
He carries on talking, a bitter and bothered kind of mumble, but the shadow behind the curtain finally draws back and we can’t hear anything else. Eventually we hear a shuffling coming towards us along the hallway, and the door opens.
‘What do you want?’
He stands swaying in the gloomy light from the hallway, immaculately dressed in a formal white shirt and dark trousers, and a pair of slip on shoes with fancy silver buckles. In his right hand he clutches an ornate black walking stick and a plastic yellow grabber. His face is doughy and unremarkable, with an affronted hang to his eyes and mouth, like a sulky child called in too early.
‘How are you feeling?’
‘How am I feeling? How do you think I’m feeling? I’ve got excruciating pains in my chest. I can’t breathe. My doctor couldn’t care less. I’ve got business to attend to and now this. What did you want?’
‘If you’ve got pains in your chest, Jasper, you should let us check you out.’
‘Check me out? Whatever do you mean?’
‘You should come up to the ambulance and let us do an ECG. And really you should come up to the hospital to see a doctor.’
‘This is ridiculous.’
‘But you don’t have to do any of that if you don’t want to. It’s a free country. Sign the paperwork and we’ll leave you alone.’
‘Oh – come in, then. If you must.’
‘You only need to get your keys, wallet and a jacket, Jasper. Then we’ll go straight back out to the vehicle.’
‘But can’t you do all your checks here?’
‘We can form an impression of what’s wrong, but the only definitive way to rule out any heart problems is to come to hospital for a blood test. I’m sure you wouldn’t want to risk anything happening tonight.’
‘No. Of course not. But they all hate me up at the hospital.’
‘I’m sure they don’t.’
‘They’re all tenants. They’ve all got their little axes to grind.’
He shuffles back along the corridor and I follow reluctantly.
‘Just get the essentials,’ I say.
‘Don’t rush me,’ he snaps over his shoulder. ‘I’m not so sure this is a good idea. I don’t know what you think you’ve got to achieve by making me do all of this.’
Frank loiters in the hallway. Above him, a tangle of electrical wires and heating ducts run exposed along the top of the wall; the flat feels half-finished, an abandoned project. Inside, Jasper is living in one room, an unmade double bed in the centre, a pine kitchen table over by the window covered with letters and magazines, a laptop whirring in the middle of it all.
‘It’s not my flat,’ he says, rootling around in the paperwork. ‘Excuse the mess.’
‘Just your keys, phone and some money for a cab home,’ I say, checking my watch.
‘Just a minute, just a minute,’ he says. ‘Now. Where are my cuff links?’
As he dresses he huffs and sniffs; now and again he seems to stagger – an unconvincing detail, like a poor actor forgetting his limp.
‘How’s that chest pain?’
‘Like I keep telling you, it’s absolutely crushing. I can’t breathe, I feel sick.’
‘All the more reason to come to hospital.’
‘Yes. Yes. Look. Could you hold these, please?’
He dumps into my hands a Blackberry, a glasses case, a packet of chewing gum, five pounds in loose change and a letter from his doctor. Frank smiles at me and delicately extracts the letter.
‘It says here you refused an ambulance yesterday, and ignored the doctor’s advice to go to hospital for investigations.’
Jasper tips his head back and with his eyes half closed seems to sniff the air, like a snake exploring the size of a mouse by the heat it gives off.
‘Well that’s my useless doctor for you,’ he says finally. ‘What does she know?’
‘You don’t have to come with us,’ Frank says, placing the letter carefully back on my precarious pile. ‘You’re perfectly at liberty to refuse treatment.’
But Jasper has found his cuff links. He snaps them on expertly, then swings his jacket over his shoulders.
‘Let’s go,’ he says. ‘You first.’