Eric has had three falls in forty-eight hours, the last one early this morning. According to the notes he refused hospital, so the ambulance crew referred him to us to follow up first thing and see what we could do. This being the case, it’s worrying the key from the key safe won’t open the front door.
I stand in the porch jiggling it around, trying all the usual feints – pulling the door towards me as hard as I can, pushing it away, rattling the key frantically, easing it backwards and forwards VERY slowly to get a feel for what the mechanism is doing, or not doing, cheating the key up, cheating the key down, pausing, looking around, repeating everything again with exaggerated focus.
‘Can I help you, please?’
There’s a carer standing behind me. He’s fierce looking, wiry and intense, the kind of beard you might draw on a photo with a black marker, tattoos on his forearms, geometric patterns and numbers that look like clues from a Dan Brown novel.
‘I’m Jim, from Rapid Response, at the hospital.’
‘Aleksy,’ he says, shaking my hand.
‘Eric had a fall this morning.’
‘I know this.’
‘The ambulance referred him to us but I’m afraid I can’t get the key to work. I think he may have flipped the latch.’
‘Come. Give here.’
I step aside and let him try. I’m guessing Aleksy has been here many times before. He probably has the knack.
Aleksy jiggles the key around some, then hands it back to me.
‘He flip latch,’ he says. ‘Why he would do this, I do not know.’
We both step back from the porch and scan the front of the building. All the windows are firmly shut. There’s a high wooden gate to the left screening off the back of the house, but that’s locked, too.
‘Any good at climbing?’
‘I am excellent climber,’ he says. And without even taking a run up he springs forward, catches the top of the fence, presses himself high enough to swing his left leg over, pushes off the top and disappears over the other side. There’s a pause, the sound of a bolt being thrown, and the gate swings open.
‘You weren’t kidding’ I say to him.
‘I have can-do attitude,’ he says.
The back of the house is as securely locked-up as the front. There is one window open, though. Too high and central to climb, I would think, even for Aleksy.
I stand on a garden wall and shout up at the window.
A weak voice answers.
‘It’s Jim. From the hospital. Aleksy’s here, too. Are you alright?’
‘Have you fallen over?’
Are you unwell?
‘I’m sorry to hear that, Eric. The thing is – the key won’t open the front door. We think the latch might be down.’
‘Is there any way you can make it downstairs to open the door?’
‘Otherwise we’ll have to break in.’
‘Do you think you can come down and let us in?’
‘He has stair lift,’ says Aleksy. ‘But he might have heart attack and cannot move.’
‘Is there a ladder anywhere?’
I check the outhouse at the bottom of the garden, but it’s locked, too. Meanwhile Aleksy has rung his office to report the delay and ask for advice.
‘No ladder,’ I tell him.
‘My office will ring his daughter, but she is far from here, and even if she arrive with key, this is same position. Truly.’
‘It’s difficult. At least he’s talking, so that’s something. He clearly said he was unwell, though. And he’s had all these falls. Anything could be going on. We might have to break in.’
‘You have license for this?’
‘Well. Only in as much as we think there’s someone unwell we can’t get to. We’ll get the police and the ambulance running, but they’ll be a while getting here, and it might be too late. Besides. I quite like breaking in.’
‘There aren’t many perks.’
I take a look at the back again. There’s a sliding patio door that’s part of a dilapidated conservatory. The metal door and lock are still good and won’t budge, but the wooden frame is wormy and it wouldn’t take much to pull it down. There’s an inner door to get through as well, though. It might end up being a serious demolition job, so I don’t launch into it immediately. Whilst I’m wondering what to do, Aleksy has climbed onto a water butt to look through the kitchen window. There’s a net curtain blocking his view, so he puts his ear to window instead, his hands splayed on the glass like the suckers of some hypersensitive reptile.
‘I hear lift,’ he says. ‘Eric coming. Do not destroy back of house.’