We’d been joking about it in the office.
‘Good cop, bad cop.’
‘How about Good cop, better cop?’
I put on my coat and throw my shoulders back.
‘How do I look?’
‘I don’t know. I think if we’re attacked by anything tougher than a crocheted rabbit, we’re in trouble.’
Truth is, Sarah looks anxious. She’s been a bit twitchy since she was attacked a couple of weeks ago at a similar scenario. An elderly woman with dementia who’d suffered some kind of acute episode, wasn’t coping at home and needed urgent assessment. On that occasion Sarah had gone in with a mental health nurse. They had been expecting threats and bad language; the kick to her side when it came took the wind out of her physically and spiritually.
‘Will you be okay?’
‘Oh – sure! What can happen? I’ve got a bodyguard!’
We have other jobs to do so we travel in separate cars. A rough idea of the rendezvous time, but we’ll text when we know for sure.
A couple of hours later I pull up outside the house and wait for Sarah. She’s finishing an assessment the other side of town, so I have ten minutes to myself. The engine clicks and cools, and a fine, saturating rain plays softly across the skin of the car.
I lean across the passenger seat and use my sleeve to clear the window.
An ordinary, semi-detached house.
Sometimes you go to addresses and the house does have something worrying about it. Rags for curtains, maybe, a tumble of junk in the garden, or a scrawl of notices in the window three levels of torment down from a simple No Canvassers or Salesmen Please. But this house has none of that. It’s pleasant, orderly, nondescript. It bodes well.
I settle back in the seat and mess about on my phone for a while.
A car pulls alongside me and for a moment I think I may have taken somebody’s spot. I wind down the window. Sarah is smiling across at me.
‘Won’t be a minute!’ she says.
‘No worries!’ I wave the phone, like I’m in the middle of something important.
She goes off to park.
We meet on the steps.
There’s no porch, so we set about getting in as quickly as possible.
I ring the bell to let the patient know we’re here, then lean in to punch the code into the little keysafe off to the side. I take out two keys, a mortice and a Yale.
A light goes on inside the house, a diffuse skein of yellow through the heavy frosting of the door glass. I wait to see if she’ll come to the door to open it, but when nothing else happens, I carry on.
I unlock the mortice, then put the Yale key into the lock. It fits, but won’t turn. Sometimes the keys are badly cut and you have to fiddle about. I rattle it in and out, changing the angle and the depth, but nothing seems to work.
‘Here – you have a go.’
Sarah steps up and takes the keys from me. She holds the Yale up and looks at it, turning it left and right like an expert locksmith, then puts it back in and starts wiggling it about some more.
Suddenly there’s a crash and we both jump back, the keys falling onto the steps.
An elderly face is pressed hard up against the glass, two palms flat either side.
‘Get out!’ it screams. ‘Get out! Leave me alone!’
‘Well that’s pretty clear,’ says Sarah, bending down to retrieve the keys. ‘Gosh.’
The wild woman on the other side of the door moves her position, sliding up and down a little, whilst still keeping her face pressed up to the glass. There’s something horribly animalistic about the way she hangs there – listening, no doubt, but something else, like she’s trying to taste us through the glass.
‘Put them back!’ she screams again. ‘Put them back! Leave me alone!’
Sarah hands me the keys. I put them back in the keysafe.
We retreat back down the path to the road.
Sarah re-shoulders her bag and hugs her folders.
‘Don’t worry,’ she says. ‘I’ll refer this on to the psych team. No doubt we’ll have to get a section order and force entry. I’ll see you back at the hospital.’
We walk out onto the road, and just as I throw my bags into my car and go round to get in the driver’s seat, Sarah gives me a sad shake of the head.
‘I’m getting a bit of a reputation for this,’ she says.
‘No you’re not. It’s my fault. I think I overdid the Bad Cop thing.’
She smiles, but she can’t really see me. The rain has speckled her glasses so much she has to take them off and rub them on her tunic.
‘There you are!’ she says, but then with nothing else to say and the rain coming down harder, she turns and hurries off to her car.