There are three distinct voices coming through the battered black door of the flat. Rae’s modulated appeals; a drunken wail, and a loud, male monotone. We go in and find Rae standing with a middle-aged woman behind a sofa. Rae has her gloved hand on the woman’s arm to hold her upright, whilst the woman – her thick grey hair flattened with blood across one side of her head – furiously points and waves with her hands, almost pitching herself back down on the floor again. The object of both their attention is a thin young man in his twenties, pacing about the room. He has an extravagant mass of curly black hair and as he walks he jabs forwards with the blade of his nose. In his fake fur jacket, scarlet V-neck and drainpipe jeans, he could be a giant, exotic bird scavenging for food. And as he walks, he talks, lurching from affection to spite.
‘You know I love you like my own mother. You know I’d do anything in the world for you, Mary. Anything. You name it, I’ll do it. You know that.’
‘I want you out!’ she says. ‘Get out!’
‘Don’t worry about a thing,’ he carries on. ‘I’ll lock up. I’ll switch off the lights, take care of everything. I’ll even wash up. You don’t have to worry about a thing. I’ll set everything right. Then I’ll come and visit you in the hospital.’
‘Out! Out! I want him out!’
‘Though God knows why I bother, the shit you give me. Nobody else would. Nobody does. You’ll die here alone and no-one will care.’
Frank tries to guide the man out of the flat.
‘You’re not helping, are you? If you really care about Mary you’ll let us get on and treat her. Yeah? Okay – so just get your coat and give us some space.’
‘Don’t you come near me,’ says the man. Beneath the floppy fringe of his hair his eyes are tightly closed, and for a second in the smoky light of the flat it almost seems as if the skin has healed across them. He turns his beak from side to side, sensing the emotional currents in the air. ‘I’m not going until I’ve got all my things,’ he says. ‘I’ve got my dog in the next room. I’m not leaving him here. He’s six months old, a Staffordshire blue if you want to know. I’m not leaving him here all by himself. She wouldn’t look after it.’
‘Okay – so get your dog and go like Mary says. She’s perfectly entitled to ask you to leave, and I think you should respect that.’
‘And I’m not going without my vodka.’
‘That’s my vodka!’ screams Mary. ‘I bought that – for me – with my money.’
‘No. You’re wrong about that. I bought that vodka and I’m not leaving here without it.’
‘Mate – seriously. Just come back another time for the vodka. Mary needs to come to hospital to get her head treated, and you’re just getting in the way.’
‘That’s my vodka. I spent thirty quid on it. A reputable brand. I’m not wasting thirty quid’s worth of vodka on a deadbeat like her. You might as well pour it down the drain. Look at her.’
‘Get out!’ screams Mary.
‘He’s been dreadful,’ says Rae. ‘He picked up the phone, called her son and told him she was dead.’
The man has his eyes firmly closed, but he lifts his head and sniffs the air in Rae’s direction.
‘I hope all your children are still born,’ he says. ‘I hope you get cancer.’
‘Lovely. Thanks for that.’
‘That’s it. Out you go mate,’ says Frank.
But he’ll have to physically grab Joe and throw him out, and even Frank hesitates. I call Control and ask for police back-up.
The man stands there for a second or two more, then grabs a harness off the back of the door.
‘Fine. I love you, Mary. I love you like a son. You’re the mother I never had. So don’t worry about a thing. I’ll make sure the flat’s safe. I’ll lock up for you and keep it nice.’
‘Get out! Get out!’
He opens the bathroom door and a shy little staffy comes out, flicking its eyes around the scene, keeping its head low. The man slips the harness over the dog and stands ready to go.
‘And you can keep the vodka,’ he says to Mary. ‘Why don’t you stick it between your legs, you old witch. You’ve done nothing for me.’
‘Just go,’ says Frank. ‘And good luck for the new year. I think you’ll need it.’
The man strides out of the flat onto the landing, the dog jogging along behind him.
‘Nice,’ says Rae, then: ‘Thanks for getting here so quickly.’
‘Sorry it wasn’t sooner.’
‘Has he gone?’ says Mary. ‘Good. Now – get me my slippers.’