The church has been converted into a hostel for the homeless. The old, iron banded oak doors stand open, but the security doors at the far end of the lobby are controlled by staff from behind a Plexiglas control room. We’re buzzed through. A young female warden with a radio shows us up a wide steel staircase that leads up a couple of turns to the first mezzanine floor and its living quarters. But there is another female warden kneeling on the floor on that landing, beside the supine figure of a man. The bottom part of the central stained glass window of the church rises up beyond them; behind a dirty grill, crapped up, barely distinguishable, a huddle of angels looking up with dread towards the next steel joist.
‘Nick has had a lot to drink. He suffers from psychotic episodes, which the drink only makes worse, obviously. We were escorting him off the premises because he’d been aggressive to some of the other residents, and he fell down a couple of steps and landed with a bit of a thump. We just wanted you to reassure us he was all right, really. I think he is, but there you are. We’ve called the police but we’ve no idea when they’ll get here. Could you find out for us?’
Frank radios control whilst I check Nick over. He opens his eyes to look at me. He’s obviously drunk, but seems oriented and doesn’t have any obvious injuries. He hasn’t fallen far, and I’m not about to try to restrain a drunk psychotic patient on a back board. He sits up of his own accord, then pulls himself up to full height.
‘Take it easy, Nick.’
I move the bag and board off to one side, out of the way.
‘What are you doing?’
‘We’re just checking to make sure you’re all right, mate. You had a bit of a fall.’
‘I want to go to my room.’
The second warden puts her hand on his shoulder.
‘You can’t go back, Nick. You’re going to have to leave for the night. You know why.’
‘We’ve been through all this.’
He looks around him with low-lidded vacancy. He’s wearing a denim cut off jacket but no shirt; his skin is covered with crude tattoos pricked out in blue black ink. Dragons, skulls – and the word GOD, with the O centred on his belly button.
‘I want to go to sleep. I want to go back to my room.
‘Why don’t you come with us to the hospital so someone can keep an eye on you, Nick?’
‘I don’t want no fuckin’ hospital.’
‘The police haven’t got any units to assign just yet,’ says Frank. ‘They’ll update us as soon as they can.’
The second woman looks at me.
‘What do you think? Do you think he’s all right? He went down with a crash, but he didn’t knock himself out or anything.’
‘I would think he’s probably okay, but I can’t say for sure because of the drink.’
‘We’ve got to have him out, I’m afraid.’
Nick turns slowly to look at her.
‘You throwing me out?’
‘Not throwing you out, Nick. You just can’t stay here tonight. You know why.’
‘You throwing me out?’
‘I have to go back and get my fags.’
‘You can’t go back to your room, Nick. I’ll get your fags for you if you go with these gentlemen down to the lobby. I’ll fetch your fags.’
‘I want my fags.’
‘We’ll get your fags. Just go with these kind people.
Frank steps in.
‘I’ll give you one of mine outside and we can have a smoke. Come on. Let’s go.’
Nick turns to walk down the stairs. I’m by his left side, with Frank and the two wardens going ahead. I hand one of them the board and bag. ‘Hold these for us, would you?’ I say.
Two steps down and Nick suddenly climbs up onto the railings and tries to launch himself down the stairwell. I just manage to grab the lapel of his waistcoat – enough to slow him up and for Frank to reach over and grab the belt of his jeans. We have him suspended over the drop, twenty feet down onto the tiled lobby below. Nick whips and turns, trying to free our grip, reaching out beyond himself and grabbing on to the railings the other side of the drop; he tries to pull himself out of our control, and then go. But with my other hand I manage to loosen his grip, and then with one main effort we haul him back over the railings and down onto the stairs. As soon as he lands he starts trying to get up, to punch Frank, kicking and writhing, but I’ve still got hold of his top half and block off his swing so he can’t connect; Frank kneels on his side and finally we manage to close down his options. We’re all sweating, and breathing hard.
‘Could you get the radio out of my pocket?’ Frank asks me. I alter my grip enough to free a hand up to do that. Frank makes a Code 20 emergency call.
‘Police back up urgently, please.’
One of the female wardens is sobbing in a corner of the staircase. The other one speaks to her and she runs off to the office.
‘Are you guys okay?’ she says to us.
‘Yep. We’re fine.’
Nick lies beneath us breathing heavily. Then he slows down and starts to talk.
‘I’m a freak. I’m not afraid to die,’ he says. ‘I’m a freak and I’m going to find out where you live. I’m going to put you in so much pain. I’m going to put you in pain you wouldn’t believe, and then I’m going to kill you. Are you afraid to die, my friend? You will be.’
I try to counter his aggression with banality.
‘Dear oh dear,’ I say to him. ‘I think that’s a bit of an over-reaction? We’re only here to help, Nick. I think you’re being a bit silly.’
‘Silly?’ he says. ‘You’re silly, you cunt. You’re silly and I’m going to kill you.’
The remaining warden says: ‘I can hear sirens.’
We all listen.
‘Sirens – or seagulls,’ I say.
‘Don’t’ she says.
But it is sirens. A minute later two police officers come running up the staircase. Frank briefs them, and they take over control of Nick with brutal efficiency. When Nick is safely cuffed and trussed, we help them haul him down the stairs.
Outside in the street, we watch the van arrive and Nick get loaded up. Frank smokes his fag. The moon is full and bright in the sky.
‘So where are all these football jobs then?’ I say, arching my back, stretching my arms left and right.
Frank spits into the gutter.
‘They’re all too fucking depressed to be any trouble,’ he says.