When the sun set it dragged all its heat down with it, and the night rushed in deep and cold. The main streets leading down to the seafront, the promenade and the beach front walkway are suddenly massing with people, gangs of men shouting out, jumping up, running across, climbing up, smoking and walking tough; girls with arms folded against the chill high-heeling it across the road in threes and fours like raw, bare-legged birds wading out to feed.
We park up and take a torch down with us onto the beach.
The blaze of the seafront lights eases off the further out we walk. The creamy white lace of the breakers as they move in to shore are picked out in the moonlight, and the generalised roar of the traffic and crowds away up behind us on the promenade merge down into the sussurant rush and pull of the waves. Right up on the tideline Frank’s torch picks out the fluorescent stripe of a jacket, so we turn that way. We meet a group of clubbers standing back in a group.
‘She’s over there,’ a guy says, so quietly it’s hard to catch what he says. ‘We stopped her going in.’
‘Do you need us for anything else?’
‘Not unless the police do?’
‘We’ll be off then.’
‘Thanks for helping out.’
Two female police officers are crouching next to a seated figure. The waves are almost at the feet of one of the officers; every time another one comes in, she stands up and shifts her feet fractionally, but still she keeps between the woman and the sea.
Three torch beams light the scene erratically, swinging about as people change their positions, but they’re enough to show us a well-dressed woman in her forties, her long blond hair expensively mussed, diamond flashes on her fingers, fitted skirt and black patent slingbacks. If it wasn’t for the fact that it’s just past midnight, and both her arms are held by the officers, she could be a business woman taking a post-conference break on the beach before her train leaves for the shires.
‘Madeleine was seen acting rather distressed, and then those guys stopped her running into the sea.’
She shivers and shakes her head.
‘I was not running into the sea. I’m fine. Will you let me go?’
‘You’re obviously not fine, Madeleine. We’re all a bit concerned, to be perfectly honest.’
‘But why? There’s nothing wrong. I just want to go on my way, thank you. What have you done with my purse?’
‘It’s just here look.’
The officer momentarily lets go of her arm to reach for the purse. Madeleine immediately launches herself up, hurling herself forward in the direction of the water.
The other officer has a strong enough grip to stop her making the distance. They both retake their hold, just as another wave rushes up and slops over the first officer’s boots.
‘Let’s all move further up the beach or we’re all going in the drink.’
We half lead, half drag Madeleine up the beach. Up on the beach walk there is a raucous cheer, but it may not be for us.
‘Come on, Madeleine. Let’s get you up to the ambulance and have a chat.’
‘I’m fine, honestly. This is all a misunderstanding. I just want to go home.’
‘Where’s home, Madeleine?’
‘Please. Let me go.’
‘I’m afraid we can’t.’
‘No, Madeleine. Come on up with us to the ambulance and we’ll all have a chat.’
She sobs – and then makes one last desperate heave back in the direction of the sea. But the officers have a firm hold, and she quickly exhausts herself.
‘Just walk nicely now,’ one of them says. ‘We can’t let you go. You know that. We wouldn’t be doing our job if we did. So let’s just walk quietly and calmly to the ambulance, Madeleine. The alternative is we carry you there, and that won’t look great in front of all these people now, will it?’
She looks up and around at us all, her face porcelain white in the moonlight.
‘You don’t know what you’re taking me back to,’ she whispers.