Connor stares at Karen, the police sargent, through the safety glass panels of the basement door, his arms down by his side, gently swinging a carton of milk in his left hand. His eyes are two perfectly scribed, bright blue animalistic buttons. In his peaked sports cap, with his twitchy movements, he could be a gaunt bird of prey, a self-lacerating eagle cornered in a zoo. Both Connor’s arms are a mess of stripes and bloody, elliptical wounds.
He flicks his head and smiles coldly at the police sargent. She holds her right hand off to the side, waving for me and Frank and the other police officers to stay concealed off to the side and up the basement steps.
‘Come on, Connor. Let us in. You know me. You know what I’m like.’
‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘I know what you police are like. You make me crazy. You make me want to do bad things.’
‘Come on, Connor. The last thing I want is to have to break down the door.’
‘You better not.’
‘I won’t, mate. Not if you let us in. We’re worried about you. That’s it. That’s all I’m here for. We’re worried that you’ve hurt yourself.’
‘Hurt myself? You haven’t seen nothing.’ He takes a swig from the carton. ‘I’m not going down no custody suite. I swear to you on my life. I’m not gonna be locked up in no cell. I won’t answer for my actions if you try to take me down the custody suite again.’
‘That’s not what I want. All I want is to make sure you’re okay. That’s it. That’s the only thing. But you’ve got to meet us half way. Come on, mate. Open the door and let’s have a proper chat.’
‘No way,’ he says, taking a step back. ‘No fucking way.’
The care centre manager appears at the top of the steps. ‘Hi,’ he says, shivering in the early hours cold, tightly folding his arms. ‘Hi.’ Then settles in to stand-off with the rest of us.
‘Come on, Connor,’ says Karen. ‘Why won’t you let me in?’
Connor takes a step towards the glass, holds a bloodied hand out and mouths the letters POLICE written across the sargent’s stab vest. Then retreats again.
‘I’ve got the paramedics with me,’ says Karen. She gestures for me to step into the little pool of light that spills out through the glass. I smile and hold my hand up.
‘Hello, Connor,’ I say.
‘Who the fuck is that?’
‘It’s the ambulance, Connor. We want to make sure you’re okay.’
‘OK?’ he says. ‘OK? Read my lips: FML. FML, mate.’
‘FML? Sorry, Connor. I don’t know what that means.’
He sneers. ‘Call yourself an ambulance man.’ He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. ‘FML. Fuck my life. Fuck my life. I’ve had enough. I’ve done bad things. You’ve no idea. FML. That’s what that means.’
He suddenly reveals a small craft blade in his other hand. He puts it in his mouth, takes a long slug from the milk carton, then throws the carton back down the corridor.
Karen gives a big sigh. ‘Mate – we’ve got to get you some help.’
‘I might let you in,’ he says, ‘but only after I’ve finished my coffee.’
Then he turns and goes back into the room just off to the side.
Karen asks me what the consequences of swallowing a blade like that might be, but before I can say anything a young girl comes out of the room and reaches out to open the door.
‘He’s gone out the back,’ she says.
Karen and another police officer go inside, the others hurry back up the stairs, jump into their cars and drive off right and left. I follow Karen into the basement, but stay in the room to ask the young girl some questions. She studies me with a curiously neutral expression, like a hard white sugar-coating. She stands swaying coquettishly from side to side in front of a tatty old poster for The Nightmare before Christmas.’
‘So - you’re the ambulance,’ she says. ‘Is that interesting work?’
‘Charlie,’ says the centre manager. But then he seems to run out of energy. ‘Charlie,’ he says again.
Outside, heavy boots along the road above us.