It’s only been a month since I was last here, and I’m surprised to see Avocet Court under wraps. In fact, everything – Plover, Curlew and Sandpiper, the four cutely named concrete blocks of this estate, along with the shuttered newsagent and community centre in the hard-bitten little precinct between them - everything has disappeared behind a vast network of metal poles, wooden walkways, yellow bucket rubble chutes and ragged, blue nylon mesh.
Peter is waiting for us at the end of the ramp that leads to Avocet.
‘I’m afraid it’s not pretty,’ he says.
‘Who’ve we come to see?’
‘My mum. She fell sometime last night and she’s been on the floor ever since. There’s blood and shit everywhere. I’m embarrassed, to tell you the truth.’
‘Don’t be embarrassed. That’s what we get paid for, to deal with things like this.’
‘Yeah, but still. It’s pretty bad.’
‘Tell us what happened.’
He walks ahead of us to the lift. The door slides open, and we step into a chill metal box, a single, reinforced light in the ceiling and a burnished metal mirror at the back.
‘We only got back from holiday yesterday. I was straight on the phone to let mum know, but she didn’t answer. I didn’t think much of it to begin with ‘cos she often goes out shopping. But I knew something must be up when she still wasn’t answering by lunch, so we came round. The chain was on the door and I had to kick it in. Lucky I used to be in the SAS.’
He smiles at me. I can’t figure out if he means it or not. It could be true, looking at him.
‘She’s lying on the hall floor. We haven’t moved her. We called you as soon as we were in, so we haven’t had time to clean her up. Sorry.’
‘What’s your mum’s name?’
‘Does Annie have any medical problems?’
‘She had a stroke a few years back. Apart from that, nothing, really. Her hip. And depression. She’s been threatening to kill herself for years. Ever since I was a kid.’
He smiles at me again, just as the lift door slides back and we step out onto the eighth floor. Number forty stands open, the door frame splintered at the lock.
Inside, it’s difficult to know where to put the bags. There’s a noxiously sweet, faecal drag to the air that the energy-saving bulb in its inverted cone overhead only seems to accentuate. Beneath its dreary light, the carpet is a chaotic pattern of splashed browns and reds, dried pools of matter. There is a wide smear of blood along the nearest wall where Annie must have fallen and then dragged herself back along the hallway. She has come to rest half in and half out of what looks like the bedroom door. A middle-aged woman is kneeling beside her now, cradling her head. She looks up at us as we pick our way further into the hallway.
‘Mind where you tread,’ she says. She looks back down at Annie, and picks a few bloody strands of hair clear of her face. ‘It’s hard to believe,’ she says, to herself more than anyone else. ‘This time yesterday I was sipping a cocktail by the pool.’