Five o’clock in the morning and there are five male students in the farmhouse kitchen – two on the sofa, one either side of the old pine table, and one on the floor, propped on his side with pillows and duvets, a saucepan and some tissues by his head.
Frank asks them how much Justin has had to drink. They all chip in.
‘I don’t know. You don’t really keep track of what other people drink, do you?’
‘Ball park? Embarrassingly little.’
‘Some beer. Wine.’
‘Spirits. Eighty per cent spirits.’
‘What? Eighty per cent proof?’
‘No! Eighty per cent of what he had to drink was spirits. The actual measures ¬¬- well, I wouldn’t have thought they were big enough to account for this horror-show.’
‘We’ve been trying to sober him up for a couple of hours now, but nothing seemed to work. We thought maybe he might choke or something so we called you guys. I hope you don’t mind. I expect you get a lot of this sort of thing, do you?’
The four of them are a pleasant mixture of bored and entertained, poised on a yawn between the Adventure of Justin and the Ambulance, and the prospect of both sets of parents finding out – the ones that own the farmhouse, and Justin’s family.
‘My mum and dad are due to land in a couple of hours. They’ll be here by seven.’
We all check the antique station clock above the fireplace.
‘I phoned Justin’s dad. I told him Justin was unconscious. He told me to call the ambulance and he’d come right over.’
But Justin isn’t unconscious. He’s not even close, batting Frank’s hand away and then rolling himself up more securely in the duvet.
‘We tried feeding him coffee,’ says another friend.
‘We were at our wit’s end.’
‘God knows what Mr Cooper will do when he gets here.’
‘Shoot us, probably.’
‘No. God. Seriously. Like he’d seriously do that.’
‘I’m not even kidding. He’s going to absolutely murder us.’
‘My arse is grass.’
‘He’ll blame us for everything.’
‘No – he’ll blame me for everything. He always does.’
‘He’ll say we made him do it. He won’t care that we’ve been practically like a nanny to him since.’
‘I just don’t understand it.’
‘He didn’t have any more than us. And we’re all sober as judges.’
‘Oh my god we are so dead.’
If it wasn’t for the body on the stone flags, you’d think you’d stepped into a glossy feature in a society magazine – four young gentlemen up past dawn, sponsored by Jack Wills.
Frank quickly checks Justin over and everything’s fine.
‘How soon before Mr Cooper gets here?’ he asks.
‘Not long. Any minute now I should think.’
‘I don’t think we’ll be taking Justin to hospital. But we’ll wait for Mr Cooper to arrive, explain the situation and discuss with him what he’d like to be done.’
‘Dispose of the corpse,’ says one.
‘Whose – his or ours?’
‘Don’t even joke about it. Seriously. I’ve seen what Old Man Cooper is capable of.’
‘He’s a legend.’
‘Just don’t even think about it.’
‘Why the hell did you even call him?’
‘What should I have done, then?’
‘Not call him, maybe?’
Frank sighs, takes a seat at the table and begins writing up his report.
‘Don’t worry,’ he says. ‘You were concerned about your friend. That’s good enough for me, and I’m certain it’ll be good enough for Mr Cooper.’
Justin starts to snore – not the seriously obstructed kind, but the contented nasal song of the casual drunk.
‘He sings in the choir, you know,’ says one of the guys on the sofa. ‘No seriously, he really does.’
‘Tenor or baritone?’
We all listen to the snoring.
Suddenly a car’s lights swing past the kitchen window. There’s a shocked pause, the slamming of a car door, heavy footsteps on gravel heading our way.
The two guys at the kitchen table put down their coffee mugs; the two on the sofa shrink about an inch.