A quarter to midnight and our first assault. I climb out of the ambulance and walk across to the man standing in a blood splashed shirt with a policeman on one side and a shivering girl on the other. When I ask his name he simply tips his head back and bares his teeth, and there's nothing else to do but stand there and look into his mouth. The police lights clatter on around us.
After a suitable pause I say: 'First things first, mate,' and then 'What's your name?'
'Paul,' he says, and turns to his girlfriend. 'I can't believe this, Chrissy. He's only gone and broken my fucking teeth. Look.' He suddenly snarls back at me again. 'I had them done last month. How much is this going to cost?'
We help him into the ambulance and sit him down. His girlfriend sits next to him, and hitches up her halter-neck. She has his blood on her hands and arms. She rubs his knee reassurringly as we check him over. The blood pressure cuff creaks around his thickly muscled arm.
'First night out in a year. Can you believe it? I knew it would be trouble, going out with a load of kids.'
'So what happened, Paul? Can you remember?'
'No. Not all of it. Some guy - he got arsey with one of the boys in the pub but I smoothed things over. He even shook my hand. I didn't think any more about it. But then outside, he started in like he wanted to fight him again. The bouncers didn't want to know. They didn't do anything. So I stepped up to sort it out. Then he smiled, shook my hand again - and wallop. He must have just hit me in the face, one hell of a punch. The next thing I remember I'm at the top of the stairs, Chrissy is hanging on to me screaming and the guy is chasing the boys across the car park. Unbelievable. Is my nose broken?'
Chrissy tugs her top up again, tells him that the man had jumped into a taxi with another guy, and the police say they have a witness who got the number.
'I just want to know who it is so I can pick him up myself and take him somewhere quiet. I mean - what a coward. Look at my teeth. He knew I wasn't expecting it. Couldn't ask me for a fight straight out. Just took advantage. Well, I'll recognise him if I see him again.'
A policeman looks in the ambulance and asks if he can get a statement. I tell him to meet us down the hospital, so he closes the door and we set off.
Paul cautiously dabs at his nose with some gauze and then says: 'Chrissy? If we go out tomorrow, let's go on our own. Somewhere quiet.'
Pigeonfist and Yellowtit
Pigeonfist is lying on the floor of the all-night takeaway pizza place beneath a silver thermal blanket. A security guard stands off to the side, chewing gum, occasionally repositioning his earpiece with a gloved finger, whilst behind him, slumped on a chair with a bloody wad of tissue pressed against his nose, sits Yellowtit.
I kneel down beside Pigeonfist. Tell him not to move whilst we check him over. Yellowtit tells us what happened.
'Bastards jumped us. God knows why. Animals, a bloody pack. We didn't say or do a thing. Absolutely nothing. Two of them started in on Mark, knocked him to the ground, no reason at all, started jumping up and down on his head. The other two threw me against the wall and kept me there. I had an armload of pizza boxes when they came in. It was all over in a minute. A pack of dogs. Is he all right?'
I can see a trainer tread pattern on the right side of Pigeonfist's face, and all around it the flesh is rising up mottled and plump. When he tries to talk it sounds as if his mouth has been reconstructed using a bathroom sponge, but incredibly, other than his facial injuries, he seems relatively undamaged. We help him to his feet.
Both men are wearing bright purple sweatshirts with their stag names printed cheaply in big yellow letters on the back.
'We're from Gloucester. We were having a good night of it before this. Bastards. What's everyone going to say?'
We lead them both on to the ambulance. Clean them up a bit and take some observations. Yellowtit may have had his nose broken. Pigeonfist seems concussed.
'I don't know how you do this job,' says Yellowtit. 'Dealing with arseholes every night.'
'Sorry?' I'm finding it difficult to understand him. 'What did you say?'
'It's my accent, isn't it?'
'Well - I'd say it was more to do with the state of your face.'
'Oh. Yeah,' he says, and dabs at his nose with the tissue as the ambulance moves off.
The Big I Am
'I'm standing there waiting for the bus and this gang of kids rolls up, giving it the big I am.' He tips his chin up, rocks his shoulders, holds his arms out from his body, turns his mouth down at the corners and squints, all in a cartoon imitation of The Big I Am.
'I tell them all to fuck off. Why would I be having time for any of that. Next thing I know I'm on the ground and there are four or five of them jumping up and down on me. And I remember - one of them kept saying to me "Do you know who I am? Do you know who I am?" Well, what do I care who the fuck he is?'
The man has a gash above his right eye, and the blood from this has run down to mix with the blood from his squashed nose. He speaks as though he has the flu, aching and swollen with fluid.
'Look at the state of me. What will my kids say when they see all this? I'm thirty three. What am I doing?'
He shakes his head as I help him onto the ambulance. His friend climbs on board, too. He is wearing a white shirt with not a mark on it. He keeps quiet as we drive on to the hospital.
In the centre of town, outside the Paradise Hotel, the police are talking into their shoulder radios and wandering round with their arms spread wide trying to shepherd the crowd on to the pavement. It isn't working. I can see our patient, a tough looking man sheltering in a doorway with his girlfriend, a policeman of their own waving us over. The man is holding a wad of tissues to the top of his head, whilst the girl is skipping from foot to foot with a jacket hugged round her bare shoulders.
'What's happened?' I ask as I approach.
The man smiles at me and raises the wad of tissues as if he's tipping his hat.
'I got bottled mate.'
'Nah,' he sniffs. 'Take a lot more than that to put me down, mate.'
The policeman help us load the two of them on to the ambulance where we go through the routine of checking wounds, cleaning up and taking basic obs. He has a gash on the crown of his head with a small raised skin flap. There are several other, smaller wounds where the glass has shattered; tiny fragments of glass glint like water amongst the thickly gelled strands of his short hair.
'So what happened?'
He winks at the girl. 'It's her birthday today.'
'Happy Birthday,' I say. She starts to cry.
'I just want to go home. I hate this. Why do people act like animals? I just want to go home. I'm never coming out again.'
He leans across to give her a hug, smiling at me as he does this. 'Come on, darl'', he says, 'let's go to the hospital, get patched up, and we'll still have plenty of time to meet up with the others and take the limo home like we said.'
The back door opens and one of his friends pokes his head in.
'All right, mate? When shall we see you, then?'
'I'll give you a ring when we're done at the hospital. Maybe you could come and pick us up, and we'll take it from there.'
'Okay,' and he shuts the door.
He asks me how long I think they'll keep him at the A&E. I tell him that I can't really say. It depends on how busy they are tonight - but being a Friday night, it might be a while. He settles back into his seat and groans. 'It's throbbing a bit, now. Although that might just be the drink.' He sniffs. 'Shame to waste a good night out.'
The policeman who led them over to us knocks on the door and leans in to ask if he wants to make a statement. The man grins. 'Nah - I know how these things work,' he says. 'Just leave it with me.'
The policeman slams the doors shut and we head off to the hospital.
His girlfriend cries again. I give her some fresh tissues.