The last time I was in this park, the sun had been high in the sky. Then, walking in through the sandstone arches had been like walking onto a wide, intensely animated canvas. Every available space on the lawns around the little café in the centre of the park was taken up by people - sunbathing, dozing, reading the paper, cradled in stripy deckchairs or sprawled on the grass, methodically working round ice cream cones, smoking or picking over the contents of a cooler bag, old people in brilliant whites bowling on the green, children chasing each other with water pistols, shouts of order numbers from the café, shrieks from the boating lake, the gentle pock-pocketing from the tennis courts, a chef in black and white check trousers running out to meet us with a dripping bag of ice, and everywhere around us the rich, cut-grass, honeysuckle sweetness of the summer air.
Now, the park is utterly silent and dark.
Frank pulls up just this side of the café. We wait for an update.
Can we get the police running on this one?
They should be there soon.
And the patient really can’t make it to the entrance?
He says he can’t move. He’s somewhere over by the children’s playground. He doesn’t sound aggressive.
I suppose we could take a look, then.
Proceed with caution.
Frank hands me a torch.
Outside the truck we stand for a moment exploring the darkness, the cut of our torch beams bright at first but dimming off into the gloomy reaches of the park.
We start walking.
The flickering, black and silver patterns of the branches and leaves.
A child’s hat on the railings.
A plastic bag.
A can beside a bench.
This is ridiculous.
It’ll kill a bit of time, though.
Another update on the radio.
The patient says he can't give us his name because he's in breach of his parole.
Parole? What do you mean, parole?
He says he's got a history of self-harm and violence. Maybe you should withdraw and wait for the police.
Every now and again I turn round suddenly to catch anyone creeping up behind me. At the far edges of the park I can see the lighted squares of windows and the passing of car lights along the street, but here in the middle the night is thick and close up and still.
Watch your back.
What’s that over there?
A wood pigeon crashes out of a bush right by our heads and we both almost throw our torches in the air with fright.
Let’s wait for the police.
We head back to the ambulance.
The radio rumbles.
The patient says he can see your lights.
And then: He’s up a tree.
Back in the ambulance we hit the central locking button. I have a sick feeling that someone has climbed into the back of the vehicle, so I have to unlock the doors and go out to check. The thunk of the locks re-engaging as I climb back into the cab again is as beautiful a sound as I’ve heard all night.
The patient says he is going to hang himself.
I wind down my window and lean out with the torch.
What’s that? Is that something?
A branch. It just looks like something.
This is ridiculous.
I bet he’s not even in the park.
Frank tells Control he’s going to give a blast of the sirens to see if they can hear them on the patient’s phone.
No. Nothing. I think you can probably stand down, guys. We need to do a bit more exploratory work on this one.
Good – because we’ve done more than enough.
He makes a swift three-point turn, and the headlights sweep ahead of us through the empty park.