The notes tell us we will be met.
As we push through the revolving doors into the hotel lobby there is a fierce haircut of a man in white shirt and red waist coat standing in the centre spot of the circular parquet floor, his legs apart and his hands lightly clasped in front of him. He makes no gesture of recognition, or sign of any kind.
It hardly needs saying, but: ‘Ambulance.’
Without moving anything other than his lips, he says:
Then with a lean limbed economy, pivots and strides off up the main staircase.
‘So what’s happened here tonight?’
‘They tell you.’
He leads us onto the first landing where a young girl is lying in the recovery position. A select audience of hotel staff have lined themselves up in order of seniority along the opposite wall, from Chamber Maid to Manager. I could be a detective entering a murder scene. I should be saying: ‘Nobody leaves until I say so,’ but instead begin with the usual: ‘What’s happened?’
The Manager, a Praying Mantis in a stripy three piece and shiny shoes, steps forward.
‘My security staff were alerted to a disturbance in room 44, this lady’s room. People had heard loud voices, crashing noises, and so on and so forth. My staff had to force their way into the room, found this lady on the bed and her partner in the bathroom. When they helped the lady out of the room, she complained of feeling dizzy, so they assisted her to the floor, which is where you find her now.’
‘And did anyone call the police?’
‘I am assured they will be here soon.’
I kneel beside the patient. A heavy set girl in her early twenties, her age weighs more heavily in her face than it should. She seems embarrassed rather than distressed, reluctant rather than unable to talk. No apparent injuries. We sit her up.
She puts one hand to her face as if she is trying to remember something, then suddenly stands up decisively.
‘Let’s go to the ambulance,’ she says.
The manager and his staff almost applaud.
The ambulance sits outside the hotel, a cosy box of light amongst the feral noises of a Saturday night, flowing round us, moving on.
Leila says he’s attacked her before. Last time with a knife. Leila shows us a tiny scar just underneath her chin. Tonight they were arguing, she doesn’t remember what about. He grabbed her, threw her against the wardrobe, bruised her arms where he held her, scratched her breasts. She tells us this with a muted attention to detail that would seem casually conversational were it not for the context.
There is a knock on the door.
I let a policewoman on board.
‘Could one of you go back up and have a look at Ken, the other party? He’s had a bash to the head and an eye injury.’
En route to the hospital. Leila is back at the hotel being questioned by the police, Ken is on the ambulance, a head wound from an ashtray and an eye that’s been poked with a fingernail.
‘This is shit, man,’ he says.
The policeman riding with us says nothing. He looks exactly like the guy who met us in the lobby at the beginning. How could that be?
I hand in the paperwork at reception.
‘Is Scoot still there?’ I ask Zoe.
‘Yeah – come on.’ She opens the door and lets me in.
Scoot is exactly where he’s been all night, bundled up in blankets beneath the desk in the storeroom.
‘Hey Scoot. What d’ya say, what d’ya know?’
He looks up, gives my hand a sniff, then grants a dab or two of his head.
‘I dunno, Scoot. People, ay?’
Suddenly Scoot looks up, as if he is listening to a command from far away. But then he relaxes again as the impulse fades, gives a jaded smack of the lips, and settles himself back down amongst the blankets.
Scoot the Merciful at peace again, the fluorescent lights of the A&E department burning on through the night around him.