The late night, mini-supermarket security guard is too big for his shirt. The collar squeezes his neck so hard it seems to distort his head, like someone has taken a partially deflated pink balloon, nipped it half way and drawn a face on the bulge.
‘He was all right when he came in. Well – drunk,’ he says, rubbing his nose on the back of his hand and staring down at the man who is lying half in and half out of the doorway. ‘You couldn’t just drag his feet inside a bit, could you? Then I can shut the doors.’
The moment after we do that a small crowd of zombied clubbers run up against the glass. ‘Let us in. Come on, man. We only want a few things. It’s not eleven yet.’
The guard glares at them and gestures with his hand.
‘Piss off. Can’t you see it’s an emergency?’
They move away, but one of them stays to press her face up against the window, making a shielding bridge with her hand to see inside. Then she takes a step back, and clatters off to catch up with the others.
Meanwhile I’m attending to the patient. He lies on the floor like a washing machine tipped on its side with the door open, a prodigious mess of blood, beer and noodles emptying out of him, fanning in noxious waves across the floor and on into the store. He snores horribly, ropes of blood and what looks like wallpaper paste spattering out of his nose.
‘Tell me what happened again?’ I ask the guard as I fiddle around trying to get an airway in. I could be James Herriott in a barn; any minute now I expect to land a bloody calf on the anti-static mat, but then he vomits copiously again and feebly tries to bat me away.
The guard takes a step back.
‘Jesus Christ. Okay. Yep. He wandered in, headed for the booze aisles, obviously drunk. I politely turned him round by the shoulders and led him back to the door. We even had a little laugh and a joke. Then he seemed to stumble at the entrance, slid down the wall, passed out, and started being sick.’
‘Did he have a fit at all?’
‘You mean did he shake? No. Not that I saw.’
‘Have you seen him before? Do you know his name?’
I’m on the car, so I strip off my gloves, stand up and radio for back-up.
‘There’ll be an ambulance along in a minute,’ I tell the guard as I clip the radio back on my belt. ‘Whilst we’re waiting, I’m just going to get a couple more bits of kit. Are you all right here for a second?’
‘Yes. Yes. You get what you need, son.’
He pulls a bunch of keys out of his pocket with a silver chain, then shakily activates the door again. I’m parked right outside, so I don’t have to go far.
When I come back, the guard is arguing with a young guy who wants to go in to the supermarket.
‘I only want one thing,’ says the guy.
‘How many times do I have to tell you? We’re closed.’
‘But it’s not eleven yet.’
‘It’s a medical emergency.’
I come up next to him and for a second there’s the guard, me with a squawking radio, the body on the floor surrounded by a lake of bloody vomit, and the guy. He looks at all three of us, hesitates, then goes to step over the body. The guard grabs him by the shoulder, hauls him back, and shoves him outside again.
‘Out you go.’
‘But I only want one thing,’ he says, then stands back on the pavement, breathing heavily, flexing and bunching his fingers, like a stunt man screwing himself up to take a long, running jump.