The door to the kitchen opens and two people hurry in. They are both so wiry and active they could have just blundered off-course in an orienteering race. The man has a bristle-top of grey black hair, the leathery skin of his face marked out in lines and folds that radiate direction; his wife, exactly the same except for a block of ice-white hair and discrete, rectangular glasses. They are both dressed in combat jerseys, olive green slacks and mountain-grade trainers. They split when they come in the door, Mr Cooper to his son on the floor, Mrs Cooper to secure the strategically higher ground of the kitchen table.
‘Hello,’ says Mr Cooper to us. ‘Lads,’ to the others. ‘What’s been happening?’
He kneels beside his son, putting a hand lightly on Justin’s shoulder. There is a directness to his touch and to the way that he leans in – the kind of super-sensate economy of movement you might see in a tracker.
‘Justin?’ he says to his son. Moves the hair from his face, then stands up and addresses Frank.
‘What’s the situation here?’ he says.
‘Justin had a bit too much to drink tonight. The guys did their best but called us because they were worried. We’ve checked Justin over and we’re not overly concerned. We’re more than happy to take him to hospital for observation if you’d prefer, but we’d also be happy if you decided to look after him yourself.’
‘I see. Thank you.’
One of the table two chips in.
‘It wasn’t our fault, Mr Cooper. We were just...’
Mrs Cooper holds out her hand.
‘Just a minute, James. We’re talking to the paramedic.’
She doesn’t raise her voice or even look at him particularly, but the effect is the same as if she had picked him up by the scruff of the neck and popped him in a cardboard box.
‘Sorry,’ he says, hiding behind his coffee cup.
‘Right,’ says Mr Cooper, addressing Frank again. ‘That’s good of you. Thank you.’
He turns to the guys on the sofa, who both blanch, trying to blend in with the cushions.
‘Richard. Anthony. Your role in all of this, please?’ he says to them.
‘Erm – seriously, Mr C. We didn’t make him drink all that stuff. He was fine. But then he wasn’t.’
‘He hardly drank anything at all. Honestly, Mr Cooper, it was like - so unusual. That’s why we got worried something might be wrong.’
‘But we took care of him. We lay him on his side like you’re supposed to. We helped him when he was sick. And we cleaned it up when he missed.’
‘I see. Thank you for that.’
Mrs Cooper addresses the second boy at the table.
‘Isaac. When are your parents due back?’
‘Erm – soon. I mean, quite soon. An hour or so? I think.’
‘And what do you think they’ll say when they hear what’s been going on?’
‘I don’t think they’ll be too pleased.’
‘No. I don’t think they’ll be too pleased at all. In fact I’d go as far as to say they’ll be jolly angry.’
‘I’m glad you agree.’
Mr Cooper stands in the centre of the kitchen and folds his arms.
‘Thank you so much for coming out to my son,’ he says to me and Frank. ‘It’s good of you.’
The boys in the room all contribute a muted thank you, but with an eye on Mr Cooper to see what he makes of it.
‘We’ll stay here with Justin and make sure he’s all right. We’ll have the place back to normal in no time.’
By the thin set to his mouth and the sudden, appalled silence, I’d put that at five minutes.