There are two people under section at the hospital to go to Southview. One of them needs a police escort, and as a unit still hasn’t been assigned to the job, Control have asked us to take the quieter one. As we walk through into the unit a nurse jumps out, almost throwing us onto a bed in her eagerness to know who we’ve come for.
‘Please say Aleksandr,’ she says. ‘He’s such a problem and we can’t get anything done. Please, please, please say you’ve come for Aleksandr.’
‘Actually we’ve come for Nigel.’
‘Nigel’s easy,’ says Frank.
‘I’ve got chocolates! Look! I’ll even make you some tea whilst you wait.’
‘I’ll get Control and lean on them.’
I call them up on the radio as the nurse leads us round the corner to her station. Just across from it there is a bare chested young man being held in a wheelchair. His arms are out to the side, firmly gripped by two security guards, who nod at us as we take up position in two office chairs.
‘Not bad. You?’
‘Yep. Good thanks. Busy night?’
‘So so. You?’
‘Not so much.’
Control say it’s okay to wait for the police escort, but to keep them updated.
‘Thank god for that,’ says the nurse. ‘Thank god.’
Aleksandr has been looking ahead, inert but intensely focused, the muscles of his chest and abdomen defined. He looks sprung, acutely aware, but his face is passive.
The nurse hands me and Frank a chocolate each, and then sits above us on the desk to whisper his story.
‘Aleksandr’s a language student. A few weeks ago he was doing fine, nothing untoward, quite happy, but then for no apparent reason started acting strange and withdrawn, not going to lessons, talking to himself and the rest of it. Eventually he flipped. Smashed up the host family’s house, ran into the sea, picked up by the lifeboat. Treated for hypothermia, and everything else checked out physically. He’s been sedated for a while now, but we can’t really give him too much more before you take him. He does need an escort, though. He’s been a nightmare, a real handful.’
At that moment, as if to illustrate the point, Aleksandr struggles to his feet and starts wresting his arms from side to side like a wild cat in chains, but all completely silently. The guards hold him firm.
‘Come on, Aleksandr.’
‘Just calm it right down, fella. We’re not letting you go.’
After a few seconds he relaxes again, slumping back into the wheelchair and resuming the same, passive posture.
As things settle down again an inflated, raw-faced man suddenly appears from nowhere, tottering across to sit down with us at the station. The way he smiles identifies him as Nigel before he even speaks – oblivious, mildly amused, like an indulgent friend who knows the real reason behind the visit.
‘I just couldn’t stop the drinking,’ he says, slapping his belly. ‘Blew me right up. Organ failure. The shits. Voices and headaches. I don’t suppose you’ve ever been to Scotland?’
I smile at him. ‘Me? I’d love to go to Scotland. Overnight sleeper train. Pile of books, bottle of whisky. Or maybe orange juice. All the way to the top and fall off. All the way to the Orkneys.’
Frank flicks his chocolate wrapper over to a bin, but it bounces off the rim.
‘You’d need a boat for the Orkneys,’ he says.
Nigel laughs. ‘A boat!’ he says. ‘Classic.’
Aleksandr struggles some more, but the guards maintain his position.
Pilar, a Spanish nurse, comes over.
‘Do you know if the planes’ll be back in the air at the weekend?’
‘Where are you off to, then?’
‘Home. Gran Canaria.’
‘Gran Canaria? Is that Spain?’
Frank puts his hands behind his head.
‘Well, mate, yes, it is Spain, but really it’s Africa. An island off the coast of Morocco, if you must know.’
‘Let’s have a look.’
I spin round on the chair and call up Google Maps. In a few clicks I have the satellite version, the cobalt blue of the North Atlantic ocean ruffled with deep water mountain ranges. I use the hand tool to drag the picture so the bottom half of the UK shares the screen.
‘There you go, Pilar. That’s where you’re headed.’
‘I hope,’ she says, checking her fob. ‘I wish.’