‘I’m well battered, me.’
Jaime is ticking with coke. Everything about him – his sudden, drawn smiles, the way he laughs and dabs at his swollen face with a beer towel, the way he ducks and changes direction as each new thought comes to him – every beat of him seems tapped out by a frantic chemical metronome.
‘I only came down here ‘cos I heard it was a chilled out place, and now look at me. I’d have stayed where I was if I’d known. Jesus.’
Jaime has the bony, drawn out face of a young deer. He comes out of the club foyer, blinking and scanning the early morning streets like he’s stepping out of a forest into a clearing.
‘My mother’ll just die,’ he says. Then: ‘Where’s Cal? I want Cal.’
‘Cal’s just talking to the security staff. Come on to the ambulance, Jaime. We need to check you over.’
We lead him up the back steps and sit him down. There is a fug of smoke and booze about him that rises up gently into the astringent glare of the ambulance.
‘I was doing a line or two in the toilets, like. Everything was fine, everything was lovely. A wee drink or two, you know? A night out, that’s what I’m saying. You know what I’m saying.’
‘So then what happened?’
‘Well, we’d gotten friendly with these guys. They bought us two a drink, we bought them a drink. Fine. Lovely. I went to do some coke in the toilet. They were there. I gave them a bit. Fine. Lovely. Then back upstairs one of them says to me did I want to come outside for a ciggie? So I says okay, right enough. So I follow him outside, he leads me round by the bins, then before you know it he has me by the throat up against the wall and he says “I kill people for a living”. So I says okay, fair enough. And he says “Give me all your drugs” and I says that was all I had, there, you saw it, I shared it with you, that was everything.’ He looks up at me as if I’m the guy in the alley, then looks down again as the moment passes.
‘So then some other guys turn up, and they throw me on the ground, start jumping up and down on me like I’m a kiddie trampoline, screaming they were going to kill me. Then they took my wallet and went. I had a hundred pound in there. All my cards. Oh my god. My mum’s going to kill me. And my little bro sick, too.’
Rae carries on cleaning his wounds. I step back outside.
Cal is waiting. A tall, lean black kid, he leans against the side of the ambulance smoking with self-possessed economy, blowing out a thin line of smoke, studying the police car as it turns down towards us from the top of the street.
‘Did you see what happened?’
‘Did I see what happened? No. Mate. Listen to me. If I’d seen what happened, it wouldn’t have happened. D’you understand me?’
‘Do you think Jaime was knocked unconscious?’
‘I have no idea about that. You’re the doctor. I think he must’ve been, yeah. He was well battered.’
‘He’s going to need treatment up at the hospital. Are you coming with him?’
Cal takes one more drag on his cigarette, then flicks it away up the alley. Before he goes up the steps onto the ambulance he turns and leans into me, angling his head past my shoulder as if he were about to give me a hug.
‘Things would’ve worked out very different if I’d have been there,’ he says in a low voice.
I give him a couple of encouraging slaps on the shoulder, and leave my hand there in case I need it.
‘It’s a shame he was on his own,’ I say, sounding to myself strangely flat and out of key, like an extra in a film suddenly given a line. ‘I’m sure Jaime wouldn’t have got into trouble if you’d have been there.’
‘No, mate.’ He looks me full in the eyes. ‘I would’ve stabbed the guy.’