The call has been passed from another ambulance service. A man rang to say his friend, Jez, had taken an overdose, so we’ve been dispatched to investigate.
We know the hostel. I’ve been here several times over the years – the last, to a woman threatening to throw herself out of a first floor window. Rae had coaxed her away from the ledge by talking about Barbra Streisand.
‘We might have to use something else on Jez, though. What d'you reckon? Bublé?’
It’s an awkward call. The hostel doesn’t have any night-time staff. Each of the ten or so residents has their own room, five upstairs, five down, shared use of bathroom, kitchen and lounge. Even to get in to the building means we’ll have to ring the front door bell and wake someone up. At half-past three on a freezing morning, that’s a risky thing.
‘If they’re not psychotic they soon will be,’ says Rae, zipping her jacket as far under her chin as she can, leaning back and looking up at the moon. The freezing air draws her breath up in a cloud.
I ring the bell, knock loudly, repeat.
We radio Control for guidance. They say Jez’ phone is going straight to voicemail, so could we make every effort to gain access.
I ring and knock some more.
A light goes on in the lounge. Rae climbs on to a low wall to look in.
‘Oh my God it’s Barbra Streisand,’ she says.
‘What’s she doing?’
‘Just standing there, staring. Go on – ring again.’
A few minutes later, the hall light goes on and a blurry figure shuffles towards the door.
‘I’m so, so sorry for bothering you – Jane, isn’t it? Anyway, sorry for disturbing you, but we’ve been told one of the residents here has taken an overdose. A guy called Jez. Do you know him?’
Jane stares at me, a thin line of drool dangling from her mouth. She coughs, once, a thick and corrupted growl.
‘Oof! That sounds rough,’ I say. She carries on staring at me.
‘Anyway, erm… do you know if there’s a guy called Jez staying here?’
She moves to the side and slowly raises her hand to point up the stairs. What with the early hour, the full moon, the dark circles under Jane’s eyes, her eerie silence, it’s like being shown something by the Ghost of Christmas Future.
‘Oh! Great! Any idea which room…?
She shakes her head from side to side, keeping her eyes fixed on me.
I close the door quietly behind me and we head upstairs. Jane watches us go.
Unfortunately, once we’re upstairs on the landing we’ve still got to find out which is Jez’ room. I pick the nearest and knock.
Some grunting from inside, but nothing intelligible. I knock again.
‘Sorry to disturb you,’ I say through the door. ‘It’s the ambulance. We’re looking for someone called Jez.’
Heavy footsteps, the door thrown open.
A heavy-set, hairy-backed man in saggy pants, frowning so hard it’s like his forehead has subsided onto the bridge of his nose.
‘Hi! Sorry. Sorry. We’re the ambulance. We’re trying to find someone called Jez. There aren’t any names on the doors or anything, so…’
We cross the landing and knock.
I try the handle.
He’s lying on his bed, surrounded by pill packets. Jez is probably eighteen stone; we’re lucky he’s rousable enough to walk with help down the stairs, otherwise we’d have to call for help, and things are so stretched tonight the moon is closer than the nearest available crew.
When we reach the lobby Jane is still there. She opens the door for us and stares blankly as we pass.
‘Thanks!’ I say to her. She doesn’t reply.
We’re just about to clear up at the hospital when the radio buzzes.
Strange thing – but I don’t suppose when you were at that last address you noticed a middle-aged woman…?
- Yep. She let us in.
I don’t suppose you couldn’t do us a favour, could you?
- Go back and pick her up?
‘Fraid so. When you’re ready…
Rae brings out some coffees.
‘What did they want?’ she says, handing me one.
‘Well –seeing as you seem to know so much about Barbra Streisand…’