Monday, May 30, 2011

the look

They must be using subliminal advertising between TV shows – a micro-flash of The Happy Eater logo, an upturned pill pot, lightning pink letters: take what you have.
Everyone, everyone, is taking an overdose tonight. This is our fourth.
Such a liberal scattering, I’m thinking of adding a dustpan and brush to my kit.

The streetlamps in this side street have been partially absorbed by the plane trees, to the extent that the heavily pollarded crowns seem to glow like monstrous, irradiated asparagus tips. Frank grumbles and drives slow, sweeping each house front with the side lights.
‘What number?’
‘Twelve. There. Back up.’
A scuffed, plumped-up building. Some kind of hostel? TV on in the lounge, but no-one watching. I ring the bell and wait for someone to come, but nothing moves. We ring and wait some more. The only sign of life is a spider squaring off to a strange kind of bug on the handrail. Whilst I ring Control to advise them of the situation – the lack of response, not the insects - we crouch down and get a close-up of the action. I wonder what anyone watching us would think: There are two paramedics crouching down and looking at something. One of them’s on the radio. It looks serious.
‘This is one of those superbugs I was telling you about,’ says Frank, blowing on the two combatants. They both hunker down and look up.
‘What super bug?’
‘The one with all the spots.’
Control get back to me.
I’m afraid it just goes to answer phone. You’ll have to force entry.
You want me to kick the door down?
I’m afraid so.
Just as I foot the door to explore the lock situation, a light goes on at the top of the stairs and we hear people clumping down.
‘Fuck sake. Who is it? What do you want?’
‘Ambulance? Jesus Christ.’
I look back down at the insect match: the superbug has gone and the spider is glaring up at me with all his hands on his hips.
The door opens. A man stands there with the same expression as the spider.
‘We had a call that someone here has taken an overdose?’
‘An overdose?’
‘Valerie somebody or other.’
‘Who’s Valerie? Do you mean Jean?’
‘Why? Has she taken an overdose?’
‘It sounds more like her.’
‘I’d have to check that.’
‘Do you have a room number?’
‘I’ll check that too.’
‘You don’t have much do you?’
As I call Control again, a young woman drifts into the hallway and stands alongside the man. She takes speculative sips from a can of cider and stares at us with enormous eyes.
‘Hello,’ says Frank. She shrinks back into the can.
Control get back to me: Room number seven.
‘Number seven?’ says the man. ‘It’s empty. But Jean’s moving there next week. Maybe she’s confused.’
‘Where is Jean now?’
‘Ten B. Round the back. I suppose you want to go there.’
‘Go on, then.’
We follow him through the house, past the piles of uncollected letters, the fire notices and alarm consoles, the extinguishers and the social board fluttering with courses and help-lines. The girl ghosts after us. The man opens a back door and shows us to a beaten up old white door with 10B nailed to the centre. There is a dim light showing through the curtains and the muted sound of a radio. The young woman bites the rim of her can as the man leans between us and knocks on the door.
‘I think it must be Jean,’ he says standing back again. We all wait.
After a minute the radio shuts off. A minute more and the curtains suddenly snap aside. A sallow face looms up to the pane like an aged carp probing the surface of a pond. We all draw back.
‘Did you call the ambulance, Jean?’
‘The ambulance? Did you call them?’
She presses an eye against the glass. The girl almost bites her can in half.
‘No!’ she says. ‘Why?’
‘We’ve been told you took an overdose?’
‘A what?’
‘An overdose.’
The face withdraws, and the curtains fall back across the window. Before anyone can say anything, Control calls me again.
It’s number twenty three.
What do you mean, number twenty-three? We’re at number twelve.
Yeah. But she’s got a really quiet voice.
‘Sorry,’ I say to the man. ‘Wrong number.’
He wants to swear. I’d prefer it if he did. But the look he gives me instead. The look.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


This must be the fifth time I’ve heard Adele’s Someone like you on the radio today. But now, driving on lights and sirens across town at rush hour, it’s suddenly the perfect soundtrack. Forget heavy metal and rock n’roll - this is the stuff to get us there: banal, operatic melancholy. I sob through lights, nod tragically through petrol station forecourts – I know, I know – make Adele hand gestures as we bounce across traffic islands, shake my head sadly as cars indicate left and turn right. I understand all and I forgive all. By the grace of Adele, routes become available to us through the five o’clock chaos that only someone with bad mascara and a taste for tragedy could ever see. She possesses me utterly. Driver and Diva are one.
We get there in six.

But. Contrary to the notes, there is not a woman lying on the floor, questionable life status, forced entry required. Sheila is sitting up, swearing at the care assistant - and us - as we walk in the door.
‘Hello Sheila.’
Frank sits down on a Moroccan pouffe. I take the rattan chair.
Sheila nods at us, and almost pitches forwards again.
‘Whoa there, dobbin,’ says Frank, making it there in time and propping her up against the writing desk. ‘Okay?’
‘Go away. I don’t want you.’
I’m still coming down from the journey. And besides, I’ve been here so often it’s hard to know where to begin or what to say. There is a stack of ambulance sheets over on the cabinet, as proudly and neatly folded and as a billionaire’s hoard of bonds and stock options. I cross my legs and look around. Framed prints of ducks and orchids. Italianate alabaster nudes, an ancient mirror so beautifully carved the gilt folds around the oval seem to stir in the breeze from the door.
‘How are you, Sheila? What are you doing on the floor again?’
‘I found her,’ says the carer, coming in from the kitchen with a couple of bags of rubbish. ‘She couldn’t get up so I call. She very drunk. Again.’ She carries the bags outside; we hear such a loud clatter it sounds as if she’s decided to throw herself in there with them.
‘Your carer’s nice,’ says Frank.
‘I hate her.’
‘Why do you hate her, Sheila?’
‘Because she called.’
Sheila’s pattern of speech is always the same: one sentence school mistress, one sentence unhappy child.
‘She had to call us. You were on the floor. You’re still on the floor.’
‘What do you know about the state of my knees?’ she spits. Then: ‘I’m in so much pain and nobody cares.’
‘We do care Sheila. We care. The carer cares.’
None of this will work and we both know it. No amount of charm or chill, no hectoring, reasoning, bullying, no fancy word play or hilarious mime will make a difference. We’ll get her up. She’ll refuse to go to hospital. She’ll buy more vodka via the minicab that goes to the off licence for her and pushes it in through the cat flap. She’ll drink the vodka and pass out again.
‘Let’s at least get you up,’ says Frank. We do that. She screams and wails. The carer watches from the door.
‘She go to hospital?’
‘What do you think?’
‘You make report? The doctor he do something?’
‘Don’t hold your breath. It’s frustrating for everyone.’
Sheila dabs at her eyes, and her knee.
‘Oh just get out,’ she says. Then: ‘Is there nobody in the world who cares?’

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

no, kirk, no

‘Let’s take the lift next time.’
‘There isn’t a lift.’
It’s a long way up, time, height, life.
The man in front of us, the man who opened the street door, is as easy in his frame as an elephant in sweats. He puffs and blows and hauls himself up tread by tread, making it seem like an expedition to find the apex of the planet rather than a trip to the top flat.
Finally, we arrive outside a beaten white door, with the tell-tale signs of previous forced entries. The man stands to the side, too exhausted to make any kind of gesture, his gills flapping, his lank ginger beard waving like a filter-feeder on a rock at high tide.
‘In there,’ he squeezes. ‘Good luck.’
I knock and push at the door.
‘Hello. Ambulance.’
A continent of unmade bed. On it, Dorota, cross-legged in red satin hot pants and a Fairytopia t-shirt. She blinks out at us from a canopy of blond hair.
‘Please. Help him.’
‘What’s been going on then? What’s the problem?’
A man sits on a beer crate facing the bed, nodding forwards and then straightening just as suddenly, like one of those toys where you push in at the base and the whole thing collapses.
‘I don’t need nothing. I didn’t call no-one.’
‘He was eating pills like sweet, goddamn. I give them to man across hall.’
‘Fuck off, did I.’
‘You kill yourself. See what happen.’
‘What have you taken, Norman?’
‘Nothing. Leave me alone.’

It’s like in Star Trek. Captain Kirk, Spock and maybe Mr Sulu, or Bones (I didn’t have favourites; I loved them all equally, for different reasons. I loved the whole goddamned family). The team, fresh from the bridge, landing on the planet of danger, phasers out, paws up, Spock checking his man-bag for readings as soon as he moved from the spot. Picking up an anomaly, Captain. Frowns, quips. Always a glossy shine for the dangers they faced.
I loved them, but even then, small and clueless as I was, deep down I knew I’d never have made it that far. I knew even the Klingons would have been twitchy and calling for more psychological tests.

‘Did you take these pills to hurt yourself, Norman?’ says the Captain, holstering his weapon.
‘Like you care.’
‘We’re paid to care, Norman.’
‘Fuck off.’
‘What have you taken?’
‘Four Fluoxetine.’
‘I took them before he could take more,’ says the woman, lighting another cigarette and toking on it like a spot-welder.
‘I’ll be needing them later,’ says Norman.
The fat man, watching over us with his foot in the door, takes a step into the room.
‘Don’t think I’m holding on to these tonight,’ he says, waving the blister pack in the air and then dropping it onto the floor. ‘I’m not having Norman banging on my door in the early hours.’
‘He’ll eat them all.’
‘I need my sleep,’ says the fat man. ‘It’s important to me.’
‘Norman?’ I say. ‘Norman?’
My eyes glitter.
Jim,’ snaps Bones.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

special offer at The Tally Ho

The battered sign over The Tally Ho! still illustrates the name in the old style: a pack of dogs leaping over a hedge onto a fox. But if the name and sign have lasted, the old boozer has not. Half of the chairs have been ripped out and a laminate floor put down for dancing, the bar is backlit in ice-blue, the backroom has a security pad, and if you asked one of the men clustered round the door what the pub name meant, they’d probably say it was some kind of gamey rent boy.
On any weekend night the interior of The Tally Ho! is a sweated box of foxes, but we never seem to get that far, thank goodness. For whatever reason, if any of the punters collapse in The Tally Ho!, somehow they always end up outside on the pavement before the ambulance gets there. Tonight there are two of them, a brace of middle-aged men dressed and pressed in leather jackets and jeans, stretched out nose to tail, face down and motionless on the pavement, their trainers glowing in the headlights of the ambulance. A spill of similarly dressed men clutch their drinks and offer conflicting advice from the doorway; as we kneel down to inspect the patients, the pub windows move in and out above us like speaker membranes.
‘Breathing, but GCS three,’ says Frank.
‘Same here.’
‘We’ll need another truck.’
‘Did anyone see them fall?’
A skinhead with boots up to his groin and a clip-on moustache takes a half step forwards and nervously gestures with his Beck’s bottle.
‘They slid off the chairs in there. I don’t think they hurt themselves, officer.’
His friend digs him in the ribs and he sways coquettishly.
With another ambulance just round the corner, airways secure and oxygen running, we put them in the recovery position and try to find out what they’ve taken. An extravagantly proportioned man as easy as the Jolly Green Giant made-over in GAP chinos and a white V-neck saunters across and peers down at my patient.
‘Do you know this guy?’ I ask him.
‘I know of him.’
‘What’s his name?’
‘I don’t know him that well.’
‘What’s he taken tonight?’
The man looks round, and as the second ambulance blues up the street towards us, he hands me down an Evian bottle with a little clear liquid in the bottom.
‘They’ve been drinking this,’ he says.
‘What is it? GHB?’
‘I wouldn’t know, mate. I found it on the floor. It’s definitely not spring water, though. Are they gonna be all right? That’s the second lot this week.’
‘We need to get them away as quickly as possible. Would you and your mates be all right to help us lift this one onto the trolley?’
‘I’m with you one hundred per cent.’
He immediately leans in and grabs the patient under the arms. The others round the door cheer.
‘Whoa! Whoa! Let’s get the trolley alongside first. I’ll say when.’
He backs off.
‘Right you are.’
The second crew come over.
‘What have we got here, then?’ says the attendant.
‘Special deal tonight,’ says Frank. ‘Buy one get one free.’
‘You guys,’ says the giant, hugging himself and swaying slightly in the spinning blue lights. ‘I just love all this shit.’

Friday, May 13, 2011


Richard’s daughter Melanie opens the front door.
‘I found him on the bathroom floor,’ she says. ‘I’m worried he’s had a stroke.’
‘What does your father suffer with?’
‘Parkinson’s – that’s pretty much it.’
Ropes of thick greying hair hang down over the shoulders of her flowery waistcoat. She has a rubbed and faded look, like a boho teenager who took forty years to make it back from Woodstock.
She turns and walks ahead of us through her father’s perfectly ordered flat. The sunlight lays in through the windows, illuminating shelves of history and travel books neatly arranged in height order, ceramics, masks, wooden totems, and a selection of family photographs in simple gilt frames. We pass a South American figure meticulously lit in a recess – a strange sculpture, something like an ancient, terracotta astronaut, his eyes closed but his mouth sagging open, his crooked arms and feet transforming into snakes.
Melanie stops, gestures to the bathroom door, then moves off to the side and starts chewing a fingernail.
I knock.
‘Richard? It’s the ambulance.’
I manage to push the bathroom door open enough to put my head round.
Richard is lying on his left side with his legs drawn in, tangled up in a toilet surround and a high washing seat.
‘Are you in pain?’
He shakes his head.
‘Okay. Let me just – get – in and I’ll say hello properly. Blimey, it’s a squeeze.’
To cheat a couple more inches of clearance I unclip the radio from my belt and hand it back to Melanie, then begin threading myself in through the chaos. Finally I put myself in a position where I can start freeing him up. I put the toilet stand in the bath, right the chair and put it in the one square of available space left in the bathroom, then squat down to have a better look at the patient.
‘How did you end up on the floor like this?’
Richard is naked, his wrinkled skin dusted with a fine, white scurf. There is an unwholesome tackiness to the air, a cloying mixture of soap and sweat and the insipid, honey-sweet odour of the sick.
‘How long have you been on the floor?’
His answer is thin and indistinct.
‘Okay. Let’s get you out to the ambulance, Richard. I’ll just slide your legs in a bit – like this.’
I cheat enough room for Frank to squeeze in through the door. He passes me some oxygen, and after I’ve got that running, we consider our options.
As always, there’s a trade-off to be made. Richard is poorly. It doesn’t seem as if he has hurt himself in the fall, but his blood pressure is low, and it would be better to take him out as flat as possible. There’s no room to get a trolley into the house, let alone the bathroom. We could spend some time taking the door off, but even if we managed it quickly, and had the trolley waiting by the front door, we’d still struggle to keep Richard flat as we negotiated the narrow hallway.
‘If we stand him up, sit him on the high chair, you could get the carry chair in and we could run him out to the ambulance.’
‘Okay. Let’s do it.’
Between us we manage to stand him up. I hang on to Richard, one hand on his chest and the other on his belly. Frank manoeuvres the high chair into position behind him. When Frank goes back outside to bring in the carry chair, Richard stops breathing.
‘Richard? Richard!’
No pulse at his neck. He voids his bladder, the urine jumping and splashing around me.
I thump him in the middle of his chest and call out for Frank to bring the defibrillator in. I hear him say to Melanie: ‘Just a moment…’
The thump seems to have worked, though. His pulse returns, and he makes a reasonable effort at breathing. We attach the defib pads in case he goes again, then Frank fetches in the chair. We lower Richard into it, wrapping him up in a blanket and strapping his legs. I tip him right back, Frank opens the door as far as it will go and together we lift, bump and angle the chair out into the hall. Melanie is there, clutching my radio in one hand, the other to her mouth, her eyes wide and glittering.
‘I’m afraid Richard’s heart stopped working for a moment in there,’ I say. ‘Could you get together all his medications and whatnot and meet us in the ambulance?’
She nods, but says nothing.
‘If you could stand just a little off to the side – great. Thanks.’
We hurry him out through the hallway. I glance to my right, and in the blur of passing I could swear the terracotta figure was now more snake than man.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011


Emma is lying on the walkway in a tragic heap of distressed hair, cream taffeta and lace, gold heels and a silver clutch bag. There is a crowd of young clubbers around her, as if she had fallen to earth like a debutante from another time zone, scattering bystanders in a star shape. A boy kneels by her head offering encouragement, one stands and looks round with a mobile pressed to his ear, the rest josh and push and carry on, passing the time, keeping warm in the chill midnight air.
‘They’re here!’ says the boy on the phone as he sees us approach, and immediately presses it off. ‘Can we go now?’
‘What’s happened? Did she fall?’
‘No. She was turned away by the bouncers because she’s drunk, I think. She staggered over here and just kind of crumpled up. What’s the matter with her?’ But he adds quickly ‘She’s not with us,’ as if I might hold him up further by telling him.
‘Don’t know. But we’ll find out. If you need to get off now, thanks for your help.’
‘No worries. Hope it works out. Come on, Stephan.’
He wrenches his friend away from the girl and they rejoin the rest of the group. It moves off, shouting and jumping like some hyper-active, twenty-four limbed animal, happily entering the club pen and funnelled with the rest towards the bouncers and their doors of thumping white mist.

Emma has been crying so hard she looks as if she has been bobbing for apples. But despite her distress she senses a change in her immediate vicinity and lifts her head.
‘Please, please, please don’t let this get in the papers,’ she sobs. ‘It would ruin the family and I couldn’t do that to them, I just couldn’t. Please – it won’t get in the papers, will it? I’ve got money. I can pay you whatever it takes to get me out of this. My uncle is Sir Nonesuch. I’m his niece. My mother is Sir Nonesuch’s sister, I’m his niece and he’s my uncle. Sir Nonesuch. He’s an international celebrity. You’ve heard of him, haven’t you? He’ll kill me if he finds out. Oh, God – don’t let this get in the papers.’
‘Emma – it won’t get in the papers. We just want to know if you’ve hurt yourself. Do you have any pain anywhere?’
‘If it got in the papers I’d be in so much trouble. This is so embarrassing. I’ve got to get out of here. Can you help me? I’ve got money. I can pay you whatever it takes. But I have to get out of here. Oh God – I’m in such trouble. My uncle’s Sir Nonesuch. I’m his niece.’
‘Yes – you said. Look, let’s get you up and in the warm. We can have a good chat there.’
‘You won’t let anyone see me, will you? You won’t let them call the papers. It’s just the kind of thing they love. It mustn’t get in the papers. My uncle is Sir Nonesuch. He’s an international celebrity. Please, please, please don’t let this get in the papers.’
‘I can’t see any head injury,’ says Frank. ‘But I can maybe hear one.’
We help her up, gather her stuff together and lead her past the cheering crowd.
‘You won’t let this get in the papers,’ she rambles. ‘My uncle’s Sir Nonesuch. He mustn’t find out. He’d kill me.’
‘Ssh, Emma.’
‘I don’t like to play the famous relative card, but hell – my uncle is Sir Nonesuch. You must have heard of him. Well - I’m his niece.’
‘I can pay. I’ve got money. Look. I can pay you whatever it takes. But please, please, please keep this out of the papers.’

As we walk together up the ramp to the ambulance, the club drills on behind us with its heavy machinery of dance, deeper and deeper into the night, thump, thump, thump.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


‘Watch your step.’ But the little halogen clip-light on the policeman’s shoulder shines right in my eyes and makes it even more difficult. I feel my way up towards his voice.
‘They could’ve made this a bit harder,’ says Frank, striding up from the vehicle with a torch, suddenly illuminating the difference between the gate, the shrubs, the trash, the scaffolding, and the weirdly syncopated concrete steps. ‘All we need now is a boulder rolling down from the top.’

Inside, the house is a ruthlessly lit box of laminate flooring and cigarette smoke. Two men are chatting in the front room, the first a jaded and roughened older version of the other – a cherry-cheeked kid of twenty with glycerine curls and the choleric lines of an overfed pet.
‘She’s in the kitchen,’ the father version says, pointing with his fag. ‘Good luck.’
‘Relative of yours?’
‘And she’s taken some pills...?’
‘She’s always taking pills.’
‘Do you know what exactly?’
‘Here, give him the pack.’
He taps his son on the shoulder; the boy dips down and bobs up again with an empty blister pack and a carrier bag of assorted boxes and bottles.
‘A half bottle of vodka to wash them down with,’ he says.

Gloria is in the kitchen clutching on to the sink with a couple more police officers right and left. If her husband and son have been eating well, Gloria can only have been watching. She is a clawed and freeze-dried stick of a woman, a wig of bouffant blonde hair on a prematurely aged frame.
‘Fuck off. Leave me alone,’ she screams. ‘I’ll bite you.’
She turns her head to the side, bobs down her head and draws her lips back from a set of crooked yellow teeth; strings of foamy spittle thread the gape of her mouth.
‘Come on now, Gloria,’ says the police officer on that side, easily deflecting her attempt by manipulating her arm and shoulder. ‘Don’t be like that. It’s silly.’
‘You cunt.’
‘We just want to help you, Gloria.’
‘You pig.’
She tips back her head and yells up at the ceiling in a sing-song voice. ‘All police are bastards. All police are bastards.’
‘Easy, Gloria. Easy. Look. The paramedics are here.’
He smiles at us as we come into the kitchen.
‘Hello Gloria,’ I say, coming round to face her. ‘My name’s Spence and we’ve got Frank here as well.’
‘You can fuck off, too,’ she says. ‘I’m not going. I just want to die here.’
‘I understand you’ve taken a few pills tonight.’
‘No. I haven’t done nothing.’
‘You really need to come with us to the hospital, Gloria.’
‘I’m not going. You can’t make me. I know my rights.’
‘We can’t very well leave you here, can we?’
She sags a little and the police officers hold her up.
‘Come on, Gloria. Let’s go out to the ambulance.’
‘We have to get her in,’ I tell the officers. ‘With everything she’s taken, the sooner the better.’
The police officers shake their heads.
‘Breach of the peace,’ they say, unhooking Gloria from the sink and guiding her out. It’s a strangely passive experience, like watching two police officers arresting a mop.
‘Can I at least get my shoes?’ she whimpers, her bare feet scarcely touching the floor.
‘Of course you can, Gloria,’ says the first officer. ‘Are they in the hall? You’ll need a nice, warm coat, too.’
The husband and son watch as we pass through the front room, the husband smoking, the son holding a remote control, tapping it impatiently, like a baton, up and down in the palm of his hand.

Sunday, May 01, 2011


Shelley is lying in the hallway, groaning under a dirty brown blanket, her right arm crooked into a fleshy pillow and her head in the vee of it. Only her back-combed black hair shows over the top, like a fright wig tossed on a pile of earth after a day’s digging. She takes up most of the hallway, and Rae has to step over to get to the business end.
We’re caught in a crosswire of attention: her husband Dez, squatting like a hunter on the last step of the stairs, his massive, tattooed arms wrapped around his knees, leaning back against the wall; her three teenage children sitting in reverse age order on the top three steps, and behind a baby gate in the kitchen, two dogs – a husky with pale, psycho-alien eyes, and a mastiff, up on his haunches, violently still, like the activated bronze of a Greek monster. A low growl rumbles at the core of it.
‘Sabre. Chill. Sabre.’
The mastiff slaps a tongue around his muzzle, narrows his eyes.
‘So what’s happened?’ says Rae.
‘I got a call from the club and they said Shell had passed out, which is so not like her. I mean, she can really hold her drink. Like, really. When I got there she was all over the place. It took five of us to carry her out. That’s not right. Why would it take five of us?’
‘Cos I’m a fat cunt,’ she says from beneath the blanket. ‘Leave me alone.’
‘So what is the problem tonight, Shelley? Why have we been called?’ says Rae. The mastiff ignores her, intensifying his watch on me. He growls again, and shifts his weight hungrily from paw to massive paw.
‘It’s cos you’re a man,’ says Dez. ‘Sabre. Chill. Sabre.’
‘Come on Shelley,’ says Rae. ‘Let’s sit up and have a chat.’
‘I’ve never seen her like this before,’ says Dez. ‘Do you think her drink was spiked?’
‘Well she’d have to go to hospital to find that out. It’s unlikely, though. Come on, Shelley. Why don’t you sit up and talk to us? We just need to make sure you’re okay, then we’ll get out of your hair. Shelley?’
‘Come on. Open your eyes. I need to shine a light in them.’
‘Go away.’
‘She’s not right,’ says Dez.
‘Leave me alone.’
‘You can’t very well sleep here all night? Can you?’ adds Rae.
‘Why not?’
‘What about the children?’
‘I’m not moving.’
Rae straightens and looks up to the audience on the stairs.
‘Isn’t it past your bedtime?’ she says.
‘Why – what’s the time?’ says the first in line.
‘It’s three o’clock in the morning,’ I tell them. Sabre widens his eyes, outraged that I spoke. ‘It’s past my bedtime, I know that much.’
‘Is that all it is? Three o’clock?’ says the second in line.
‘I thought it was later,’ says the third. None of them moves. The only two who seem ready to sleep are Shelley, who pulls the blanket over her head, and the husky, who clicks off to its bed by the fridge. Sabre’s fury intensifies. His massive head drops an inch, and another, thunderous growl rumbles out a second later.
‘Sabre. Chill. Sabre.’
‘Would it help if I turned sideways or something?’ I say. The kids laugh.
‘No, mate. He’s a guard dog, a trained killer. If it weren’t for that gate you’d be ripped to pieces. And me here, of course,’ he adds. ‘It won’t do a thing without me saying.’ The dog sneers.
‘Anyway,’ says Rae, pulling a tiny corner of the blanket clear of Shelley’s face. ‘What are we going to do with you?’
‘Nothing. Leave me alone.’
‘Well. She’s made it pretty clear she doesn’t want our help,’ says Rae, standing up. ‘There’s not much we can do. She sounds pretty coherent, though. I doubt it’s anything more than the drink.’
‘She can really drink, though. That’s the thing.’
Rae shrugs.
‘We’ll be on our way.’
‘Can you see yourself out? I’m a bit stuck here,’ says Dez. ‘Thanks for coming.’
‘No problem.’
I turn to open the door.
The growl that follows is like a tube train passing underneath.
‘Sabre. Chill. Sabre.’
He doesn’t.