Emma is lying on the walkway in a tragic heap of distressed hair, cream taffeta and lace, gold heels and a silver clutch bag. There is a crowd of young clubbers around her, as if she had fallen to earth like a debutante from another time zone, scattering bystanders in a star shape. A boy kneels by her head offering encouragement, one stands and looks round with a mobile pressed to his ear, the rest josh and push and carry on, passing the time, keeping warm in the chill midnight air.
‘They’re here!’ says the boy on the phone as he sees us approach, and immediately presses it off. ‘Can we go now?’
‘What’s happened? Did she fall?’
‘No. She was turned away by the bouncers because she’s drunk, I think. She staggered over here and just kind of crumpled up. What’s the matter with her?’ But he adds quickly ‘She’s not with us,’ as if I might hold him up further by telling him.
‘Don’t know. But we’ll find out. If you need to get off now, thanks for your help.’
‘No worries. Hope it works out. Come on, Stephan.’
He wrenches his friend away from the girl and they rejoin the rest of the group. It moves off, shouting and jumping like some hyper-active, twenty-four limbed animal, happily entering the club pen and funnelled with the rest towards the bouncers and their doors of thumping white mist.
Emma has been crying so hard she looks as if she has been bobbing for apples. But despite her distress she senses a change in her immediate vicinity and lifts her head.
‘Please, please, please don’t let this get in the papers,’ she sobs. ‘It would ruin the family and I couldn’t do that to them, I just couldn’t. Please – it won’t get in the papers, will it? I’ve got money. I can pay you whatever it takes to get me out of this. My uncle is Sir Nonesuch. I’m his niece. My mother is Sir Nonesuch’s sister, I’m his niece and he’s my uncle. Sir Nonesuch. He’s an international celebrity. You’ve heard of him, haven’t you? He’ll kill me if he finds out. Oh, God – don’t let this get in the papers.’
‘Emma – it won’t get in the papers. We just want to know if you’ve hurt yourself. Do you have any pain anywhere?’
‘If it got in the papers I’d be in so much trouble. This is so embarrassing. I’ve got to get out of here. Can you help me? I’ve got money. I can pay you whatever it takes. But I have to get out of here. Oh God – I’m in such trouble. My uncle’s Sir Nonesuch. I’m his niece.’
‘Yes – you said. Look, let’s get you up and in the warm. We can have a good chat there.’
‘You won’t let anyone see me, will you? You won’t let them call the papers. It’s just the kind of thing they love. It mustn’t get in the papers. My uncle is Sir Nonesuch. He’s an international celebrity. Please, please, please don’t let this get in the papers.’
‘I can’t see any head injury,’ says Frank. ‘But I can maybe hear one.’
We help her up, gather her stuff together and lead her past the cheering crowd.
‘You won’t let this get in the papers,’ she rambles. ‘My uncle’s Sir Nonesuch. He mustn’t find out. He’d kill me.’
‘I don’t like to play the famous relative card, but hell – my uncle is Sir Nonesuch. You must have heard of him. Well - I’m his niece.’
‘I can pay. I’ve got money. Look. I can pay you whatever it takes. But please, please, please keep this out of the papers.’
As we walk together up the ramp to the ambulance, the club drills on behind us with its heavy machinery of dance, deeper and deeper into the night, thump, thump, thump.