Sunday, April 15, 2007


We have trouble locating flat number 32, the scene of female 40 assault/lacerations/ dangerous body area. It's dark, it's late, we're transparent with fatigue. Eventually we figure out that all the even numbers must be located round the side of the flats that face the street. The flat we want is a few buildings back, so I reverse into a convenient parking bay. I press the KRS button - which allows the engine to keep running even though you take the key with you - and follow Rae up the path to the hidden door.
She knocks, waits, knocks again.
Eventually a bolt is drawn back and the door opens a crack. A woman peers out from the harshly lit interior, holding a blood-spotted kitchen towel to her forehead.
'Oh. You.' She sounds disappointed.
'Come in.' She shuffles back to the sofa, sits down, and picks her cigarette back up from the ashtray. She makes no dabbing motions at the wound on her head; it's as if her left hand is frozen there. But there is so little blood, either on the kitchen towel or on her T-shirt - one penny-sized spot on the right shoulder - that I think the wound cannot be serious.
'Could you put that out, please?', Rae says.
'What? Really? Oh.' Her face crumples along with the cigarette. 'What's next?'
This is peculiar. I feel like a policeman. I self-consciously uncross my arms.
'I don't know,' says Rae, 'You tell us. I mean - you called us, didn't you?'
The woman nods. I exchange a look with Rae.
'First things first,' Rae goes on. 'What's your name?'
'OK, Lynette. Now, can you tell us what's happened tonight?'
I glance around the room. From the sofa Lynette faces a TV/video combination crammed precariously onto a maple-veneer stand along with a cluster of videos whose titles have been writtten and crossed out a number of times; a bad painting of a ship on one wall; an oval mirror on another, and then a beaded curtain separating the living room from the kitchen area. Another door leads off, presumably into a bedroom and bathroom. The whole is no bigger than a generous hotel room, and is just as anonymously furnished.
Lynette purses her lips. In her baggy brown T-shirt and her saggy cream trousers she sits on the sofa like a badly drawn bear. We wait for the story.
'A man came round. He wanted me to pay him the money I owe, but when I told him I didn't have it he punched me in the head. He said if I didn't have it when he came by again tomorrow he'd put all my windows in.' A pause, then she adds: 'And then break my legs with a brick.'
'When did this happen?'
'I don't know. An hour ago, I suppose.'
'Did you call the police?'
'No. I couldn't. He took the SIM card out of my phone.'
'Couldn't you have gone next door and asked them for help?'
'I didn't want to bother them.' Lynette reaches for another cigarette, and then draws her hand back slowly. I want to ask her how she called for the ambulance, but for some reason I don't. 'Anyway,' she continues, 'I know this is all to do with that stupid package I found when I moved in here. Letters and such. Drugs. I threw them all away but they won't believe me.'
'Well - let's have a look at your head, Lynette.' She peels away the kitchen towel.
There, in the middle of her forehead, is an extraordinary L-shaped incision. Full thickness, its puckered edges can be moved apart to reveal the skull beneath. There is very little blood from the wound, now, though it must have bled considerably when it was made. And it would seem by its condition to have been made longer than an hour ago.
'Lynette - this is quite a wound you have here. I'm afraid you're going to need a trip to hospital to have it sewn up. Tell us how you came by it again? Did the guy have a knife on him or something?'
'No. Just his fist. I was getting up from the sofa and he punched me back down. He had a big gold ring on, I think.'
'Janet - I have to ask you a few things. Have you been drinking tonight?'
'Okay. And are you on any medication?'
'Not really. I have some mental health issues, I'll admit. I don't see any sense in lying about these things. So I do take a few things for that. I've got a list somewhere.'
'And have you taken any recreational drugs tonight?'
'Oh. I suppose you saw the pipe, then.'
'No. I didn't see any pipe. I just have to ask these things as we need to know all the facts so we can treat you appropriately.'
'Well, I'll admit that I am a user. I have had a bit of a drug problem in the past, I may as well admit, but nothing serious. When they stitch this up - will I have a scar?'
'I think you probably will,' says Rae, 'Like Harry Potter - a little lightning stroke there.'
Lynette is impassive. She does not seem to know Harry Potter. She sighs, and begins hauling herself up from the sofa. She stuffs her pockets with her tobacco and lighter and purse.
'Let's get going,' she says.
'Will you be reporting this to the police?', says Rae, taking her arm as she stumbles towards the door.
'The police?,' she snorts. 'They wouldn't believe it.'

No comments: