In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
Outside The Door
I was almost level with the man on the pavement when he made a half step into the road and waved at me. “Excuse me.” I braked the bike to a stop about a dozen yards further on, selected neutral and switched off the engine. Twisting in the saddle, I looked over my left shoulder. “Yes, mate.”
He walked quickly up to me. “I’m sorry to stop you like that, but I’m worried about the old man who lives upstairs to me.”
I had an hour to the end of my shift and had planned some shopping with my wife. I had a feeling her shopping trip might be delayed.
“What’s worrying you?”
“Well, I’ve been away for the weekend, but I haven’t seen him for a few days, and I haven’t heard him either. It’s unusual as he is normally a noisy old bugger.”
“Where do you live?”
“Just down the street a bit. Number fifty-six. I live in the ground floor flat, he’s upstairs.”
“Have you tried to contact him?”
“Yes, but there’s no answer. You’d better come and see.”
We walked back to 56, a nondescript terraced house, probably built at the end of the Victorian era. He led me in to the hallway. “What’s your name?” I asked.
“Jones, Billy Jones.”
“And the man upstairs?”
“That’s all, just Mr Godfrey?”
The young man shrugged and nodded. “Yeah, that’s all, that’s what I called him. That leads to his place.” He pointed to a heavy looking door that was situated strangely about halfway up the stairs
I went and banged on the door loudly. ”Mr Godfrey” I called out, also loudly several times. I tried the door. It wouldn’t budge. I put my shoulder against the door and shoved. The result was a half-dislocated shoulder.
“Officer”, Jones said apologetically, “It’s no good doing that. It opens in this direction, because of the stairs.”
“Ah, yes, thanks mate.” To myself I snarled, “You daft prat, of course it must open outwards.” I came down the stairs. “Who’s the landlord?”
Jones indicated upwards with his thumb. “He is.”
“Is he on the phone? Does he have any relatives?”
Jones shook his head. “No, he’s got no phone. I think his daughter comes to see him from time to time, but I don’t know where she lives.” Few people did have phones in the early 1960’s.
“I don’t suppose you have a key to this door?”
“If I had, I’d have opened it.” He seemed indignant.
“Sorry, mate. Just had to ask. You’ve no idea what some folks are like. Anyway, round the back then.”
“I’ll show you.”
We went through his lounge and kitchen to a small back garden. I studied the rear of the house. There was a shaky looking lean to which went up roughly to the first floor and then a series of drainpipes from underneath what I took to be the kitchen window. “I don’t suppose you’ve got a ladder?”
“Just a pair of steps” he replied, almost apologetically.
“Thanks, they’ll do.” I removed my tunic and helmet and gave them to Jones. I clambered up the steps and heaved my self on to the roof of the lean to, which bowed alarmingly. “Christ! Don’t fall through, you dickhead, you’ve made a big enough prat of yourself already.” The drainpipes were, thank God, very old and very solid. I looked in the kitchen window. Nothing. I knocked hard on the glass. Nothing. Right, time for brute force and ignorance. I took out my truncheon and smashed the window. Not without difficulty, I scrambled into the kitchen and stood breathing heavily. My right hand was bleeding and I wrapped my hankie around it.
The kitchen was empty, as was the toilet and bathroom. The bedroom was also empty, the bed unmade. I turned to what I supposed was the lounge and stood for a moment with my hand trembling a little. I thought I knew what I would find, but if I didn’t, I would need to explain what the hell I was doing breaking into someone’s house.
He was there, in an armchair facing the television, from which the test card flickered. It looked like he was asleep, eyes closed, mouth open, hands folded in his lap. I touched his face. It was cold and stiff. I went down the stairs and unbolted the heavy door.
“Billy, please go and find a phone box. Call the operator and ask her to put you through to the Police Station. You are calling on my behalf, PC 656J. Ask them to send the duty officer to this address. OK?”
“Yes. Is he, is he dead?”
“Afraid so. Please go and find a phone.”
He hurried away.
I went back upstairs. There was a gas ring on the tiled hearth and a small saucepan on it. It had contained milk which had boiled over. There was a mug beside it, with something that looked like chocolate. The gas ring was switched on but there was no gas. In the hallway I checked the meter. It showed empty. Back in the lounge I gathered up a handful of net curtain and sniffed deeply. Gas. It was a little trick I learned from a North Thames Gas man. I sat down on the settee to make some notes. He had fallen asleep in front of the box while waiting for the milk to boil. It had boiled over and put out the flames. The gas continued until the meter ran out.
Poor old sod. There you were, Mr Godfrey, on your own at the end. I guess that we are all alone at the end, with our hands trembling on the door as we move from life to death.
Written by BM