The streets are shining with all the rain that’s fallen tonight. The front desk of the police station closed at twelve, so we drive round the back. It’s bigger than you think. Once you come in off the road – slowly, checking the large reflective screens positioned high on the walls, gently across the speed humps, between the chicanes of parked response cars, vans, civilian cars and unmarked pursuit vehicles – the building rises up around you, a hulking letter C, alternating lines of long, narrow windows and yellow PVC cladding, stacked like the layers of a cake, capped with a roof of concrete icing and a cluster of aerials.
A police officer is waiting for us by the back door. He waves us into position, then comes round to the passenger door and holds it open as I climb out.
‘What it is – we sectioned this sixteen year old girl this evening. Found in the street, very distressed. She’s cut her arms up some, and then the other thing – she’s tied off her right hand with some cloth, really, really tightly and it’s looking bad. We would’ve taken her up the hospital ourselves, but to cap it all she says she’s taken some pills, so we had to call you.’
‘No worries. Where is she?’
‘I’ll take you there. Her name’s Casey.’
We follow him along a series of anonymous corridors to an interview room. He opens the door.
‘I think they just took her to the loo. Shouldn’t be long.’
‘What do we know about Casey, then?’
‘Registered as missing from a home for disturbed teenagers up country. Some previous – petty theft, shoplifting, drugs.’
Frank perches on the corner of the only table in the room. There is the sound of a slamming door and then voices approaching from further along the corridor. I move over to the window.
‘Here she is.’
He stands aside, and two, blue gloved police officers come in holding Casey upright by either arm. She has a sulky, smudged look to her, a school disco casualty in black halter neck top and crudely painted eyeliner. There is a thick stud in her lip, an agricultural thing, as if the authorities had decided to start tagging teenagers like cattle.
‘Not more police,’ she says, dragging her feet.
‘Casey, this is the ambulance. They’re here to help you.’
‘I don’t need no help. I just want to be left alone.’
Frank gestures to one of the chairs.
‘Have a seat, Casey and let’s have a chat.’
‘You sure you’re not police?’
‘Yep. Look at me. Do I look like police? They’d never have me.’
She grunts, the police officers release her arms, and she throws herself down in the chair.
Both of her bare arms are striped with cuts, some of them gaping and needing stitches. But the most compelling thing about Casey is her right hand. She has used a strip of cotton material to tie off the circulation to her hand at the wrist. The hand balloons inertly beyond the tourniquet, puce-red and ghastly.
‘Why have you tied-off your hand like that, Casey?’
‘Don’t you touch it! Don’t you come near it!’
‘I just want to know why you’ve done that.’
‘If I tell you, you won’t do anything about it, will you?’
‘All I want to do is find out what’s going on with you tonight, Casey. That’s it. That’s all I’m interested in. So come on. Why have you tied off your hand?’
She cradles it in her lap.
‘It had to be punished. It stole things. It has to come off.’ She looks up at him. ‘It’s like the Arabs. If you steal, you lose your hand.’
‘Have you hurt yourself anywhere else? Apart from your hand and your cuts?’
‘How long’s that tourniquet been on, do you think?’
‘You’re not taking it off!’
‘I just want to know how long it’s been on, that’s all.’
‘About two hours.’
‘Okay, Casey. Okay.’
Frank stands up. He turns his back to Casey and looks at me intently, quietly slipping out a pair of shears from an inside pocket and handing them to me.
‘It’s coming off,’ he whispers. I nod.
He turns back to Casey and we both walk quickly over to her.
‘What are you doing? Fuck off.’
‘You’ll lose your hand, Casey. I’m sorry, darling, but the bandage is coming off.’
‘No! No! Don’t! Please!’
He has hold of her shoulders. I’m standing close in now so she can’t draw up her legs and kick me. The other two police officers hold her arms. She wrests beneath our control so violently it’s difficult to cut through the tourniquet without hurting her, but somehow I manage to work my way through the layers of material; one final cut, and it springs apart. We all relax our hold; she cradles her arm to her chest, crying and catching her breath in great, wretched sobs.
‘You promised! You promised you wouldn’t!’
‘I didn’t promise, Casey. I’m sorry we had to do it, but we were worried about your hand.’
‘I don’t want it.’
Over the next few minutes she gradually regains control of herself. Frank speaks to the police officers about arrangements to take her to hospital.
‘I’m not going,’ she says. ‘Forget it.’
One of the police officers kneels down beside her.
‘Casey? You’ve got to go to hospital and that’s the end of it. You have two choices. Either you go with these ambulance guys, or you go in the back of a horrible old police van. That’s just the way things are. So – what’s it going to be?’
She thinks for a second, then slowly raises her eyes to look at me.
‘I’ll go’ she says. ‘But not with him.’
Outside, there has been a fresh shower of rain and the night seems colder. I walk on ahead of the group and make the back of the ambulance ready. As they approach, I make sure I’m out of the way as Frank and the police officer with Casey between them climb inside. I slam the door shut and go round to the driver’s side of the cab. When I turn the engine over, the radio comes on: You are the sunshine of my life.
I call backwards over my shoulder through the partition window.
‘Ready to go?’
I check the mirrors and turn the wheel.