‘It’s the ambulance.’
Come up. In the lift.
The lift is a substantial Thirties affair, with a steel door that clanks shut like the springing of a trap. It lurches up, makes two floors in so many seconds, bounces to a halt, and vomits us into the hallway.
Mrs Fontaine turns out to be as old and abrupt as the lift. She’s sitting on a wooden stool in the hallway of her flat, the door open, waiting for us.
There you are. Now look. I want you to take my blood pressure because I think it’s through the roof and I’m quite worried about it.
She talks emphatically, at an excitable rush that makes no distinction between important things and the stuff of casual conversation.
I’m sorry to drag you out in the middle of the night but I woke up and my heart was thumping and I thought I might be having a stroke. Do you think I’m having a stroke? A heart attack? Something like that? Well I must say you don’t look like someone who thinks someone might be having a stroke or a heart attack, so you’re either horribly callous or cool as a cucumber. I suppose you have to be cool as a cucumber in your job. It wouldn’t do to be flapping about at the slightest provocation, would it? Where shall I sit? Here okay? Here? Let me tell me you about my ailments. I have high blood pressure. I have arthritis in my knees. I am bi-polar. Bi-polar means you’re up one minute and down the next. It’s a damned nuisance but I’ve lived with it for fifty years so you could say I’m used to it, as are my acquaintances. Except they call it something else – eccentric, I don’t doubt. There goes St Agnes the Eccentric, and jolly good luck to her. My medications are listed here. I live on my own. I can make you tea if you’d like?
She stares at me as I take her blood pressure, breathing noisily through her nose, her lips pursed. She’s like a steam train in the siding, impatient to be off.
Ow! That’s quite tight, you know? Okay? Is it okay? Through the roof, I ‘spect.
‘Sorry. Almost done. There. Yep – I’m afraid it is a bit high, Mrs Fontaine.’
Yes I thought it would be. I lay there for ages thinking Damn Damn Relax, but then I just knew I’d have to call you chaps out and have something done about it. I’ve got a fluttery feeling in my chest, as well. Is that my heart, d’you suppose? Still, not surprising really, given my extreme decrepitude. What d’you recommend? A mallet? I can tell by your expression you think a mallet’s the thing. I expect you’ve got one in that bag of yours. You’re a professional sadist, that’s what you are. Rather too fond of inflicting pain for my liking.
Rae goes to get the chair. I carry on with some more observations whilst Mrs Fontaine chatters.
I don’t mind the heat. I lived in Africa for years, so one acclimatises. See that picture there? I took that.
She points to a framed photograph on the wall – a large spotted cat draped over a tree branch.
‘What is it – a cheetah?’
It’s a leopard, dear. Cheetahs can’t climb trees. Leopards often like to sleep like that. And they like to drag their prey up a tree to keep it safe from hyenas and so on. Hyenas are noisy, nasty brutes. I used to know a man who trained them, though. He got them to take meat out of his mouth.
‘Out of his mouth?’Yes. His mouth. Look – am I going to hospital or not? Because if you don’t do something about my blood pressure soon I’ll go pop. Although I’d bet you wouldn’t mind that, would you? A professional sadist, that’s what you are.