We can see Mr Collins through his lounge window. He’s sitting on the floor, resting up against the electric wheelchair he fell out of about an hour ago. He looks like Santa Claus – ten years after The Big Red One went off the rails, sold all his plush, thought bad thoughts, drank, smoked and stopped washing. He has a phone pressed to his ear, the mouthpiece lost in the mangy old hedge of his beard; when we knock on the window, he looks briefly in our direction, then irritably waves us away with a yellowing claw.
We walk back round the front.
At least the main entrance is open, letting us through into the c-shaped courtyard of this Victorian block. A black iron walkway circles overhead, shining wetly in the mist. In the middle of the courtyard, a raised flowerbed in brick, with a single, leafless tree. From one of the lower branches, someone has strung up a tatty straw object, the kind of thing a witch might hang as part of some dreadful territorial spell. It’s only when I get a bit closer I can see it’s actually a rustic bird-feeder.
Control get back to us.
He says he doesn’t know the keysafe number. We haven’t been able to get in touch with the carer, so it’s looking like you might have to force entry.
‘Have you asked him if he’s all right with that?
I crouch down by Mr Collins’ letterbox and lift the flap to hear his side of the conversation:
‘Well if you don’t have the keysafe number you’ll have to break the door down... Yes I am hurt, thank you very much. My leg is excruciating.... No I can’t wait any longer.... I have to say you don’t sound in much of a hurry. I’m not impressed with your sense of urgency.... All I’m saying to you is I think it’s not like off the telly.... So when can I expect some help? Christmas? Because I’ve already been on the floor an hour and you don’t seem that bothered...’
I drop the flap and straighten up.
‘We’re going to have to kick the door in.’
Just as I say this, Control ring us back.
You’re going to have to kick the door in
I take a step back and then kick just below the lock as hard as I can. The noise reverberates around the courtyard. Three more attempts, and still the door remains intact.
‘It feels like a deadbolt or something,’ I say to Rae as I bend down to rub my knee. ‘We’re going to need the police.’
Whilst Rae is calling Control, a door opens off to my right and a guy in a wheelchair rolls out.
‘S’up?’ he says.
‘Sorry to wake you. Mr Collins has fallen out of his wheelchair and we can’t get in.’
‘You do know he’s got a keysafe, don’t you?’
‘Yes. We do. But unfortunately we don’t know the number.’
‘Ring his carer, then.’
‘Yes. Yes – we’ve tried that. But unfortunately the carer isn’t answering.’
‘We’ve tried, but he doesn’t know it.’
‘Ask the guy across the yard. He’s got a keysafe.’
‘It won’t be the same number. Otherwise it wouldn’t be a safe safe.’
‘You’ll have to try kicking it in, then.’
‘Yes. I’ve tried that, but it’s not worked.’
‘No. It won’t. They’re tough these doors. What are you going to do then? Call the police?’
‘Just on it.’
He slowly rolls back inside.
After five minutes or so the police arrive – in impressive numbers. They stride into the courtyard carrying an iron battering ram, a huge jemmy, thick gauntlets, lump hammers and a pair of safety goggles. After we’ve told them what we know, they examine the lock. One of them favours smashing the safety glass to reach round and flip the bolt, but another just wants to smash through with the ram. He puts on the gauntlets and goggles.
‘Stand back, ladies,’ he says. With three colossal, shuddering assaults on the door, it splinters at the jamb and flies back.
‘Don’t all rush at once,’ he says, putting down the ram.
The other one steps inside and examines the wreckage.
‘Yep. Should’ve gone in through the glass,’ he says.
‘Hello Mr Collins. Ambulance,’ I say as we all walk through into the lounge.
He bares his teeth.
‘Who’s paying for the door?’ he says.