Michael the Scheme Manager is on the phone outside the property. He raises a hand when he sees us turn into the close, then hurriedly finishes his conversation. He is hugging his clipboard as we walk up the concrete path.
‘I got no reply when I did my morning ring-around, so I knew something was up,’ he says. ‘The poor man’s past any help, lads. Even I can tell, and I’ve no experience of these things. This is my first one, in fact.’
He pauses, as if he wanted to say something else. But the thought turns into a deep breath instead; he gives himself a little shake, and turns round.
‘He’s just as I found him,’ he says, and leads us into the maisonette, up a narrow, plainly carpeted staircase onto a bare hallway. He gestures with his clipboard to an open door.
Gerry is lying on his back on the bed, the duvet rucked up around his legs. With his half-opened eyes, his slack mouth, his arms crooked up and his hands curled over just below his chin, he could be an old man cruelly mimicking a sad child. But the chilly lack of movement, the waxiness of his skin, the tide line of post-mortem staining – all these things darken the image.
‘He’s been dead a little while,’ says Frank, gently lifting the body at the elbow. The whole body moves, as fixed and frozen as a dummy.
‘Poor fellow,’ says Michael. ‘I’ll get you the folder with the details.’ You can hear his mobile go off as he clumps down the stairs.
‘Hello? Yes – No, I’m afraid not…’
The room is clean but bare, a magnolia cell with flowery curtains permanently pegged over the windows and a naked eco bulb hanging down from the middle of the ceiling, ruthlessly illuminating a varnished pine chest of drawers with a bottle of Irish liqueur, a shot glass and a tidy stack of medication blister packs on top; a small television on a low table with a chair drawn close up in front of it, a pair of glasses resting on a TV guide with the remote control; half a dozen empty beer cans neatly lined up on the floor to the right of the chair, a pair of outdoor shoes and a pair of slippers to the left; four linen shirts next to a couple of black trousers, all on wire hangers hanging from the picture rail, and two round kitchen clocks, both telling the right time, both on the floor and leaning against the wall either side of the chest of drawers.
Michael comes back up the stairs with a yellow folder.
‘I know he hasn’t spoken to his brother in twenty years,’ he says, thumbing through it. ‘All we know is he lives up North somewhere. I don’t know if we’ve even got a number.’
But after a while he stops looking, closes the folder and hands it to Frank.
‘Sorry,’ he says. ‘Here you are.’
He folds his arms back around his clipboard again, and stares at Gerry on the bed. At one point he even rocks on his heels and gives a little nod, as if he was agreeing with something the dead man was saying. But then he draws himself in a little tighter.
‘Shame,’ he says. ‘He was no bother. Anyway. So. What happens now?’