The police car rushes past, lights but no siren. Frank groans and sits upright again, puts the ambulance into drive and we pull away from the bus stop in the high street where we’ve been sitting waiting for back-up. The police car ducks off to the left down a narrow tributary; I watch its lambent blue lights splashing around the smaller shops there, the newsagents, fast food counters, antique shops and other, more obscure businesses, and against the dark windows of the maisonettes above. We park behind the police car, blocking the street. Apart from the diesel thrum of our engines, the street is utterly silent; it’s like we’ve been miniaturised and tossed into a dimly lit fridge.
‘Geezer with a knife?’ says one of the police officers, spanking his gloves together and working his chin deeper down beneath his muffler.
‘After you,’ says Frank.
His colleague, bigger, more restrained, nods to us unenthusiastically as he rocks from side to side with his hands in his pockets, like an old robot trying to free up its joints.
‘Blimey O’Reilly,’ he says. ‘It doesn’t get any warmer.’
‘Yeah, but look at you with your vests and your whatnots.’
‘Only in the winter, mind.’
The enthusiastic officer hops up the steps to the front door.
He runs his torch over the little stack of buttons, then confidently stabs the last. We hear it ringing from far off inside the building. He stands on the step waiting, his colleague wandering up behind. I fetch a dressings bag from the truck; by the time I’ve rejoined them, a young girl is standing by the open door, waving us in.
‘Right at the top I’m afraid.’
‘How is he?’
‘Oh. Calm, I suppose. I don’t think he’ll be any trouble.’
‘Has he still got the knife on him?’
‘No. I took it off him and put it back in the kitchen.’
‘Great. Look – we’d better go first.’
‘Okay. But please go gently. I don’t want to scare him.’
‘We’ll be discrete.’
But I’m not sure how discrete it’s possible to be for two police officers and two paramedics on a narrow and creaking staircase at two o’clock in the morning.
‘No. There’s another staircase tucked just round the corner.’
‘It’ll get your blood flowing again,’ I say, then immediately picture a guy standing waiting upstairs with a knife. ‘Or something.’
There is a small landing at the very top of the stairs and a battered door standing ajar immediately in front of it. The police officer knocks gently, nudges it fully open and stands for a second looking intently into the bright interior. Over his shoulder I can see a young man standing against the far wall. He has on a loose fitting jungle green t-shirt with a monkey face design, and a pair of pale blue jeans. The t-shirt has a palm-sized blood stain spread just below the monkey’s chin on the left.
‘Terry – it’s the police and ambulance, mate. First things first – do you have any weapons on you right now?’
‘No. Gill took the knife.’
‘Terry we need to make sure that everything’s safe in here for you and us. Just put your hands up above your head and we’ll quickly check it all out. Is that okay? Will you do that for us right away, mate?’
‘Fine. Of course I will, officer.’
He raises his arms up, puts his hands flat on the top of his head, and shuts his eyes.
The police officers walk briskly in; the older one controls Terry’s arms whilst the other pats him down.
‘Sorry to do this, Terry, but we have to take these things seriously.’
‘I completely understand, officer. But you needn’t worry. I’m not a danger to anyone.’
We come into the room, followed by Gill, who goes to stand in the doorway of the adjoining kitchenette. We watch as the police officers finish their search. There is something unconvincing about Terry, an unsettling chill to his acquiescence that puts us more on edge than if he had been wilder and more emotional.
‘Okay, Terry. You can put your hands down now.’
‘Have a seat.’
‘Thank you very much, officer.’
He sits down on a low sofa, his long legs drawn up and his hands resting inertly on his knees. With his floppy black fringe obscuring his face and his chin dropped down onto his chest, he looks like a sulky child dragged in off the street.
‘I understand you may have stabbed yourself tonight, Terry.’
‘That’s right, officer. I stabbed myself with a kitchen knife.’
‘Why did you do that, then, Terry?’
He shrugs, then inspects his bloodied hand, and begins gnawing at the quick of his thumb.
Gill folds her arms and leans against the doorway. ‘We had a quarrel and Terry got upset.’
‘Is that right, Terry? Did you have an argument?’
‘Okay, mate. Will you let the paramedics take a look at you? See what the damage is? Would that be okay?’
‘If you think it’s necessary. But I really don’t think it’s that serious.’
The police officer nods to us, and we both step over to the sofa.
Frank hitches up the t-shirt and I shine a light on the puncture wound he reveals in his abdomen – a puckered little incision an inch below the lower line of his ribs. I gently probe around the wound trying to gauge the depth.
‘How far in do you think you went?’ I ask him.
‘Not far at all, officer. Just the point.’
We dress the wound, and then whilst Frank takes his blood pressure I go over to Gill in the kitchenette.
‘Can you show me the knife?’
She reaches up on top of the fridge-freezer and takes down a short handled vegetable knife, the very tip of the blade stained red.
‘He was in such a rage. I thought he was going to kill himself in front of me,’ she says, hugging herself.
‘Has he done anything like this before?’
‘I don’t know. We haven’t been together long.’
I go back into the lounge.
‘Terry? You need to get some treatment up at the hospital.’
‘Sure. No problem,’ he says, immediately standing up. ‘I’ve had some alcohol this evening, but I’m sure that won’t be a problem.’
Down on the ambulance Frank helps settle Terry and Gill in their chairs, then prepares to jump out again. ‘All right? Need anything? Throw another log on the fire, Spence, and let’s get going,’ he says. ‘See you the other end.’
He slams the door.
‘Okay. So. Can I take your last name, Terry?’
He looks up, staring straight at me for the first time, his gray eyes preternaturally clear in the flat white light of the ambulance.
‘Plunger,’ he says.
And before I make any kind of response – before I’ve made anything of it at all - he carries on excitedly, talking loudly and quickly: ‘Plunger, that’s right. Ha, ha. I can see you appreciate the correspondence. Little boy Plunger, plunging a knife in his stomach. Great. How appropriate. How deliciously ironic.’
Gill looks down.
‘Leaving scene two forty three,’ shouts Frank back through the hatch.
The ambulance rolls forward, and after a moment, the heater cuts noisily into life.