The door to the hostel is set back from the road in a recessed arch that’s not deep enough for an alley but too deep for a porch. There’s a video camera in a globe like a fierce robotic eyeball glaring down at me just above the intercom. I buzz and wait.
– Hello. It’s Jim from the Rapid Response. Come to see Vince.
The door clicks and I go through.
There’s a serving hatch to the hostel office immediately to my left.
‘Vince doesn’t live here’ she says. ‘If we’re talking about the same Vince.’
‘He’s been discharged from hospital today. He went in with his feet.’
‘Well, he would.’
I nod and look around.
‘I’ll ask Natalie. She’ll know.’
The hostel has been here for years. You wouldn’t think such a narrow door would conceal such a busy stack of rooms. It’s like a hive, accessed by a bee-shaped hole at the front.
‘Where’s Vince living now?’ says the first woman.
‘Lovely Vince!’ says Natalie. ‘Why? What’s he been up to?’
‘He went into hospital the other day and this guy’s from the Rapid Response.’
‘Vince hasn’t lived here in a few months,’ says Natalie, putting her clipboard down and re-doing her ponytail. ‘He’s at the other place down the road.’
‘I didn’t know there was another place.’
‘I’ll show you.’
She takes me outside again and points to a building about five hundred yards down.
‘If you come to the shop you’ve gone too far,’ she says. ‘Give him my best when you see him.’ And she goes back inside.
The second hostel is even more anonymous. A plain black door, with one tape-repaired buzzer on the side. I push it. If it does actually ring (I don’t hear anything) no-one comes. After a few more goes I give up and try the mobile number I’ve been given. I’m sorry. The number you have dialled has not been recognised.
Just as I’m wondering what to do next, two guys appear on the steps behind me. They look like a tall and short version of the same person: prickly stubble, blackened teeth, hoodie under jacket, filthy hands, scuffed trainers, shiny jeans.
‘All right?’ says one, whilst the other runs his tongue along the edge of a roll-up. ‘Whassup?’
‘I’m from the hospital, come to see Vince.’
‘Vince? How is the ol’ bastard?’
‘I don’t know. I haven’t seen him yet.’
‘We called the ambulance to ‘im the other day.’
‘We did. He was in a right state. With his feet.’
‘Is he back yet, d’you know?’
The man shrugs, takes the baccy pouch off his friend and starts rolling one for himself.
‘I can let you in if you like,’ says the tall guy, his voice surprisingly low. ‘He has trouble getting about.’
He lopes up the steps and gives the door a strategic kick.
‘Special security shoes’ he says. ‘Vince’s room is that first one on the right.’
They stand outside smoking whilst I go through and knock on Vince’s door. When he doesn’t reply, I gently push the door and put my head round the side.
A single room with no en-suite bathroom or toilet. Obviously empty.
I close the door and go back outside.
‘Didn’t fancy it?’ says the tall guy.
‘He wasn’t in. Maybe he hasn’t come out of hospital yet.’
The other one leans against the railings and watches the traffic edging past along the road.
‘Mebee he’s out there somewhere. Hobbling around. Where The Vince goes, nobody knows.’
‘Aye. Y’know what they should do?’
‘They should tag him, like they do wi’ geese.’
‘They couldn’t do it,’ says the short guy. ‘No way.’
‘Use your head, man! Wi’ feet like Vince? Where the hell would they put it?’