The hotel manager is spooked. It’s difficult to keep pace with him as he covers the lobby in long strides and jogs up the stairs to the first floor.
‘He booked in last night. We don’t know much about him beyond the basics I’m afraid. Everything seemed fine. Then the desk took a call this morning asking for an ambulance.’
He swipes the door with his card and pushes it aside.
‘He must have bought the stuff himself,’ he says. ‘This isn’t a brand we use.’
Michael is sitting on the floor of the tiny bathroom just inside to the right, one arm supporting himself on the rim of the toilet, the other in his lap. He’s sitting stock still, his face as white as the porcelain, speckled with beads of sweat. He groans pitifully, looking up at us as we all come in. There are two bottles by his side. One, an empty half-bottle of whiskey, the other, a plastic bottle of drain cleaner.
Rae passes it up to me. Ninety-seven per cent sulphuric acid. There’s a pale and puckered semi-circular burn to Michael’s lips, just like the pattern you get when you swig from a bottle of milk. We haven’t bought a chair up with us, but he’s able to walk – in fact, he’s so desperate to get moving it’s a job to stop long enough to throw a bathrobe over his back.
We take the lift. There are people in there, guests going down to breakfast or heading out for early meetings. The conversation dries immediately and we ride down in silence. Michael’s expression hasn’t changed, a trembling, appallingly inward-looking thing.
The lift doors open and we hurry across the lobby. One of the receptionists hands me a sheet of information. There is a set of revolving doors in the centre. I steer him away from those to the disabled access off to the left whilst Rae hurries ahead to open up the ambulance. On the vehicle we decide not to hang around. Hospital is three minutes from here so we set off immediately.
Michael’s groans become more strangulated and high pitched. He retches but doesn’t vomit, like the mechanism doesn’t exist anymore. A dreadful smell emanates from his mouth, scorched, almost fecal. His pupils are deep and black and round and fixed on me.
‘Help me,’ sounds like.
‘Almost there’ I tell him.
I touch his hand, but I suddenly realise I’m still not wearing any gloves and the skin of my hands have started to tingle.
Michael is screaming as we wheel him through the main doors.
A team is waiting in resus.
They crowd round.
Later when we ask one of the nurses what happened with Michael.
‘Oh, drain cleaner man? They tubed him and packed him off to ITU. There’s nothing they can do for him, though. He’s just gone up there to die. But at least now he’s unconscious.’
She finishes writing something, hands it over to reception then sticks the pen in her pocket.
‘I mean – drain cleaner’ she says. ‘Come on, now. Jesus Christ. That’s got to be way down the list.’