You wake up in your cheap, slightly damp, slightly falling apart bedsit, paid for by a combination of housing benefit and hand-outs from your parents, to the sound of distant sirens. That’s not an uncommon occurrence, given that you live on the main road leading to the hospital. It’s Thursday – the day the local paper prints job vacancies – so you decide to throw on some clothes and walk round to the corner shop to pick one up. Yes, you have a job starting on Monday, but you’ve now got some measure of confidence that you could do better.
The air is still damp from yesterday’s rain, and the car tyres hiss as they pass through the still-draining surface water. The gutters are full of debris, and the drains are choked. You check through your pockets for the thirty pence you’ll need, and find a pound coin. Enough to buy the paper, and a pint of milk too. It’s a small victory, but that’s how it starts.
The newsagent raises his gaze from his counter as he’s looking at the front page of the same paper you’re buying. He recognises you, nods his head in greeting, and carries on reading. You stoop to pick up the folded paper from the bottom shelf by the door, tuck it under your arm, then go to the chiller cabinet and fetch out a pint of semi-skimmed.
It’s as you’re about to place the milk on the counter that you realise that the picture below the banner headline is of Pegasus Tower. And that the headline reads SECOND DEATH. The newsagent looks up, and sees you staring down. “Terrible business,” he says, scanning your purchases with a practised eye. “Eighty pence.”
You hand over your pound, vaguely remember having a twenty pence piece pressed into your hand, and stumble outside. You open your paper to find that a lone male, middle-aged, was found dead on the pavement outside the block, having fallen from the roof.
This is news to you. But reading on, you discover that the first death, some ten days earlier, was believed to be suicide: a troubled young man with an undisclosed history of poorly-managed mental health problems. Now, of course, the police are going to look at the evidence again.
Instantly, you know that the dead man is Mr Metcalf. You swallow against the tightening knot in your throat. You’re a witness now. The investigators are going to find your name on the fresh contract, and they’ll want to interview you. You decide that you don’t want them coming round your flat – the neighbours talk enough as it is. You’re hardly dressed for it, but you start to walk in the direction of Pegasus Tower.
As you trudge through the streets, it occurs to you that your job has evaporated, and that, honestly, you don’t think you mind. You’re back precisely where you started. But at least you’re not dead.