“Gavin, nice to meet you,” said Oliver, extending his hand.
“You too, Oliver isn’t it?”
“It is but everybody calls me Olly, except my wife, but then she is Welsh.”
“OK, Olly it is then,” grins Gavin.
As they shake hands, Oliver sees a very fit-looking specimen, thirty’ish, a shade over 6′ with close-cropped hair and the bottom couple of inches of a jet-black tribal tattoo peeking out from beneath the short-sleeves of the smoky-blue shirt, miniature sergeant’s stripes stretched over bulging biceps. The scuffed and unpolished black combat boots are a bit of a giveaway too: highly-polished footwear and petrol bombs don’t mix; not if you’re the poor bugger wearing them. There’s a bit of the paramilitary about Gavin.
“Come up to the apartment, Angie’s desperate to hand over to you.”
Oliver almost keeps up with Gavin over the four flights and they’re soon standing with Angie around the body of the deceased. “Hi Angie, long time no see,” he says with genuine warmth.
“Hello Gavin, I don’t go out in the meat wagons much since my promotion so I miss some of the action.”
“It’s about time the high-ups recognised your talents. I heard a whisper that you were thinking of jacking it in.”
“Fortunately for me so did they,” she replied with a wink. Maybe that message found its target with a bit of help.
“One of the best is Angie,” this to Oliver, “there’s nobody better in a crisis and we’ve been together in a few over the years.”
“I know that from very painful personal experience.”
Gavin glances quizzically at Angie who replies, “confidential Gavin, confidential.” A confidence sure to be giggled over when they next meet up for a beer.
“Right Gavin, let’s get this show on the road so I can get back into circulation. Oliver here’s done most of the work for us, we just need to swap signatures and I can be off.”
“Poor cow,” says Gavin, lifting the duvet, exposing Deborah to their collective gaze. “Nobody deserves to end their days like this.”
“When I found her she was partially up against the door and I pulled her away so I could fully open it. She’s still in the same face-down position as she was though,” adds Oliver. An encouraging nod from Gavin.
“Looks as though she’s died about twelve hours ago, wouldn’t you say Angie?”
“About that, yes. I reckon she got up for a wee and tripped before she made it to the bathroom, hit her head on the door on the way down. You can smell the booze and Oliver tells me it’s not the first time she’s fallen.”
“Can’t argue with that assessment, Angie, she’s naked and the bathroom light’s not on. You haven’t moved anything else have you Oliver?”
“No, I just covered her up with the duvet.”
“OK, I’ve seen enough, let’s do the paperwork Angie.”
Oliver hands over Gavin’s set of photocopies together with his and Deidre’s contact details.
“Is it alright for me to disappear now, Gavin? I got a few things to do in the office.”
“Yes, but don’t be more than ten minutes or so. I need to stay here until the undertaker arrives and it’s preferable if I’m not left alone.”
“OK, it’s only a couple of phone calls. I’ll make some tea when I get back.”
Oliver hasn’t been in the office long when Angie appears in the doorway.
“Right, Olly, I’m off. Thanks for the help and I’m glad your rear end is behaving itself. No doubt I’ll be back before too long helping you to pick up a resident. See ya.”
“OK Angie, take care.”
Oliver deals with the phone calls as well as a couple of inquisitive residents and is soon on his way back to Gavin. He finds him just about to finish a phone call of his own and does his best to mime ‘tea’ and receives a smile, a thumbs-up and a silent ‘no sugar’ in return. They are soon together at the table, tea in hand.
“Decent tea for a change,” enthuses Gavin.
“Why did you say that’s it’s preferable that you’re not left alone?”
Well Olly, believe it or not, it’s thought possible that a police officer might be tempted to steal something if left alone in an empty property; it’s not as if Deborah over there counts as a chaperone is it? So, are you able to stay with me until we can get a family member here or the undertaker removes the body? Otherwise I’ll have to get a PCSO here but they’re not usually a bundle of fun to spend time with.”
“Of course. There’s an outside chance of another emergency occurring and then I might be called away but our Careline people can deal with most things. What’s the sequence of events now?”
“While you were downstairs I sent a bobby round to the son’s address to break the news and bring him here. I also primed one of our tame undertakers to expect a call. Sometimes the family have something in place already, especially if they’ve had the sense to take out a funeral plan. Usually though they’re only too pleased to leave it to us.”
“Well Gavin, I’ve got some bad news. I checked my diary downstairs and the elder son, the one who lives locally, is currently somewhere in the Indian Ocean on a cruise with his wife and kids. The other son lives in Scotland. You could always phone him.”
“No can do Olly, we’re only allowed to use the phone to break this sort of news in exceptional circumstances, it’s got to be by a police officer, in person. I’ll get his nearest police station on to it. There’s no hurry now though, it’s a long drive from Scotland. What I must do is phone our undertaker and get the body removed. Then, I’d like you to help me search the flat for any obvious valuables. I’ve already taken some photos of the body in situ and I’m satisfied that nobody else was involved in her death.”
“If you mean actively involved then I agree with you but involved by omission is another matter.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that that toe-rag of a son who lives, well from the top floor you can see his house, rarely visited his mother. Once a month if she was lucky and then only for about half an hour. He never took her anywhere, I never even saw him with a bunch of flowers in his hand. I’m sorry Gavin, I shouldn’t vent my spleen on you. It’s one of the more unpleasant aspects of life in these places — the children dump the elderly parent, it’s usually the mother, in a retirement scheme so they don’t have to put them up for the rest of their life. They’re a comfortably safe distance from the growing-old shit and pain — they can safely invite their friends to dinner and not have to worry about the smelly, dribbling old lady in the corner. And then they usually cop for a nice bonus when they sell the flat and inherit the proceeds – don’t believe the Daily Mail, prices here are always increasing. Sorry Gavin, I’ll put the kettle on.”
“Some good news for a change,” says Gavin, fishing for his phone.
Oliver returns, mugs in hand, just as Gavin is pocketing his phone.
“That’s that done, the station is sorting out Scotland and the Co-op will be sending a team out within the hour so we should have time to drink our tea and tie up the loose ends here before they arrive.”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” says Oliver. “Amazingly, our lift isn’t big enough to take a trolley. It’s a nightmare getting people out and into an ambulance. I dread to think what will happen if anybody here has a spinal injury, the paramedics will have a real problem on their hands. The undertakers will find it easier if they use the side staircase. They’ll have to collapse the trolley and carry it down into our undercroft car park. Less chance of meeting residents that way too.”
“They’re pretty resourceful, they’ll manage. They are going to phone me when they arrive and you can tell them where to park. Come on, let’s have a look round. We’ll probably find her handbag in the bedroom.”
As he passes Deborah, Oliver finds it impossible not to recall the first time he met her. Her currently nautical son had brought her to see the apartment just over a year ago when it had come on the market following the death of the previous resident. He remembered that she seemed very reluctant saying that she would much rather stay in her own house. The son was obviously very persuasive, he called a couple of days later offering the full asking price and Deborah moved in about ten weeks later. No doubt, Oliver thought, he’ll be back soon asking me to sell it again.
“Here it is Olly, tucked under the bed. Will you watch me open it and count the contents?”
“I can’t believe you’re not trusted to do this alone Gavin.”
“Well, we occasionally get a relative trying it on so we’re really just covering our backsides. It’s a lot cheaper than going to court. I make it ten pounds and twenty-seven pence, a few receipts, one Visa debit card, ditto credit card and a Tesco loyalty card. Hardly a shopaholic was she? There’s a key ring with one Yale-type key and a black plastic fob.”
“That’ll be the key to the apartment and the fob is for the three external doors.” Said Oliver.
“There’s also a small nail file and a man’s gold wedding ring, her husband’s no doubt.”
It didn’t take long to realise that Deborah had very little to show for her sixty-four years but in the kitchen they found her secret treasure trove. Gavin had made straight for the cupboard under the sink’
“No imagination, Olly, smack-heads, stoners, boozers, they’re all the same, no imagination. It’s only the dealers who make a bit of effort to hide their stash. There’s got to be a dozen bottles of Tesco’s-own sherry here, not forgetting the one in the bedroom.”
“You missed the one in the lounge then. Her husband died young too. She told me that he just dropped dead in the street, no warning, fit as the proverbial, a brain tumour. Deborah was only eighteen months older than me — there’s a sobering thought. There but for the grace and all that.”
“Winners and losers Olly, winners and losers. And I don’t see many winners in this job.”
A quick look through the kitchen cupboards discloses nothing of value, just the usual sad assortment of ready meals, bottled condiments, a barely-troubled packet of dried pasta, some pots and pans and cleaning materials. Oliver recognises the gift box of Sunday-supplement Sicilian sauces, exquisitely wrapped and beribboned. Deborah had won it at the Christmas party raffle. It must have been one of the last prizes. He couldn’t help thinking that Deborah wouldn’t have passed on the usual vast quantities of alcohol on offer; just her luck. The small fridge held a half-litre carton of milk, some cheese slices, a tub of pretend butter and a just-opened loaf of sliced bread. Not a five-a-day lady.
They finish their tea in silence. Oliver thinks about the cleaning he’ll have to do after Deborah is taken somewhere more comfortable; he can’t wait for the son from Scotland to arrive, the smell will only get worse and begin to wander down the corridor. Gavin’s tweeting on his phone.
The tranquil calm is disturbed by a gentle warble from Gavin’s top-of-the range iPhone and he listens mostly, with just the odd word of acknowledgement in reply. He finally hands over to Oliver, whispering, ‘Co-op’ as he does so. Oliver explains about the parking before returning the phone.
“So, about twenty minutes depending on the traffic in the High Street. Do you want to show me the lie of the land Olly? Let’s try and make this as stress-free as possible.”
They trace Oliver’s preferred route along the corridor to the other end of the building and down the four flights of bare concrete steps to the under-croft parking area.
“They shouldn’t have too much trouble Olly but I’m glad it’s not me carrying her down the stairs — at least they’re dry.”
“I’ve told them to reverse their van through the gates there so they’ll be able to get close to the steps. If I go back up I can lock open all the corridor fire doors to save time and wait in the apartment. Is that OK with you Gavin?”
“Sounds like a plan Olly. How do I open the gates when they arrive?”
“Just wave your hand in front of that box on the wall, the photo-electric cells will do the rest. You may meet a resident while you’re waiting but they don’t bite although some of the old ladies are a bit partial to a uniform.” They exchanged smiles and Oliver began the long climb back to the fourth floor.
© William 2023