The first time I go round to see Mr Supple there’s no reply. I do the usual things – knock a little louder, ring the landline, peer through the windows to see if he’s on the floor. In the notes it mentioned a keysafe, but I hadn’t been able to find it. It’s only by chance when I’m straightening up from peering through the letterbox that I finally notice it, tucked away behind a pillar. So I retrieve the key, open the door and let myself in.
I shout a couple of times as I close the door behind me – and suddenly someone appears at the top of the stairs to my left, a middle-aged man in boxer shorts and a faded t-shirt, both hands on the rails, staring down at me with a slack and hostile expression.
‘Sorry to disturb you,’ I say. ‘My name’s Jim. I’m with the Rapid Response team, at the hospital. And I’ve come to see Mr Supple. To do his blood pressure and so on. And to take some blood.’
‘A phone call would’ve been nice.’
‘Yes. Sorry. It’s just – things are so manic first thing. If I stopped to ring everyone I was going to see, I’d probably still be in the office.’
‘Oh! What – a hospital appointment or something?’
‘No. Out out. He’s gone to the beach.’
‘Yes. With my sister. A phone call could have told you that.’
‘Right. So – what time will he be back, d’you think?’
The man shrugs.
‘It’s a nice day,’ he says. ‘Your guess is as good as mine.’
‘Like I say – if you call first, you might find out.’
‘Okay. So what I’ll do, then – I’ll give you a call later on, and I’ll budget for a visit around five.’
The man stares down at me impassively.
‘Maybe I’ll see you then?’ I say, as brightly as I can.
‘Maybe,’ says the son. ‘Maybe not.’
I ring a few times in the early evening. Each time I get the answer machine, and each time I leave my number with a request for a call-back to let me know how things stand. In the end I decide to take pot-luck and go round anyway. He’s last on my late calls list, and on the way back to the hospital, so I figure what the hell.
Mr Supple Jnr answers the door. He’s still in his boxers, but at least he’s changed his t-shirt. He stares at me as I say hello and ask if his father’s back from the beach.
‘It’s someone for you, Dad,’ he says, relaxing his hold on the door, ‘Some bloodsucker from the hospital.’ And thrusting his hand down his boxers to re-arrange his testicles, he waddles through to the lounge and throws himself down on the sofa, sweeping up the remote control in one smooth move.
There’s a marked difference between them – and not just in terms of Mr Supple’s obvious senility. Mr Supple Snr is smartly tricked out in a two piece suit and sharply ironed shirt pinched at the cuffs with dark, Masonic cufflinks. I can’t imagine him dressed like this on the beach. But then again, maybe I can.
‘Hello!’ he says, his eyes a misty blue. ‘What do you want?’
Whilst I’m examining him, Supple Jnr is slumped on the sofa, flicking through the various sports channels they subscribe to. With each one he offers an expert piece of advice – what Lewis Hamilton did wrong; the problem with the Premier League; the trouble with the Masters.
‘Talking of golf,’ he says. ‘The last time you lot came round I was just teeing off at the ninth. One of you guys rang me up and I said Would you mind calling a little later? Only I’m playing golf and I’d like to just finish the round, please. He said something about having to go and get a file or something. I said whatever. And then about an hour later I was just about to putt a birdie when the phone goes again. I said to him What? I said, Some of us are trying to play golf! I mean – honestly! It’s like they think we don’t have a life of our own…’
‘I don’t know. I think it’s because anyone who gets referred to us is generally speaking in some distress – you know, pretty sick and vulnerable, and struggling at home…’
‘Well, I don’t get it,’ he says.
‘No. Nor me,’ I say. ‘Besides which, I did phone you this afternoon before I came and the phone went straight to voicemail.’
‘No it didn’t.’
‘I rang a few times.’
‘No you didn’t.’
He goes to the phone and jabs the button.
No new messages.
‘Well – I don’t understand that,’ I tell him.
‘No. Nor do I’
And keeping one eye firmly on me, he throws himself back down on the sofa, and turns up the volume.