There is a middle-aged woman waiting for us by the front door of the Mardi Gras bed and breakfast. She gives us a terse smile.
‘Thank you for coming,’ she says, then looks down and begins searching in her soft leather shoulder bag for something. ‘The police are in there with Emanuel. I expect you’re aware - it’s a Section Three. Twenty-five years old. Very paranoid. Thinks he’s in the SAS. He’s been on the phone to the police on a daily basis about death threats and so on. Not violent, as such.’
The social worker has an unfortunate manner, brittle and administrative, like a harassed teacher collared by a parent when all she wants to do is get home to her cats. I wonder if it’s just the stress of this situation that’s making her so unapproachable – or maybe the deeper, longer term effects of intervening in awful situations like this. She finds the section papers and waves them briskly in front of us.
‘Okay? His mum’s with him.’
‘Is there anything medically wrong with Emanuel?’ asks Frank, as neutrally as he can. The social worker straightens an inch. ‘No. Why do you ask?’
‘Because if there isn’t any medical need for an ambulance, it might be safer if he went in a police vehicle.’
‘No. Absolutely not. Sections must always travel in an ambulance. That’s the agreement.’
‘I only ask because if Emanuel’s a bit feisty and needs restraining and so on, it’ll be easier to load him onto a police van. The back’s lower, both doors open nice and wide, and there’s less equipment for him to grab in the back.’
‘No. The police are never to be used to convey. It’s inappropriate. No.’
‘Okay. I just thought I’d point out how it’s been in the past sometimes. Of course we’re happy to take the patient.’
The social worker looks at Frank with a glittering focus that reminds me of the robot Gort in The Day the Earth Stood Still.
‘It’s the agreement,’ she says finally, then turns and leads us inside.
Frank sighs and shakes his head. We follow.
We pass through a narrow reception area to a bare-boarded dining room. Between the neatly stacked shelves of breakfast cups, plates and aluminium tea pots, are a series of energetic paintings, as frenetic as if a carnival parade had reached a pitch of excitement, exploded and splashed against the canvases.
Emanuel is sitting at a bistro table outside on a sunny patio, smoking a filter tip cigarette and speaking urgently into a phone. Two female police officers stand in the room watching him, along with a small, capable looking woman in a blue housecoat.
‘It’s just that there are details that concern me,’ says Emanuel. ‘It doesn’t add up and I’m ringing you for clarification.’ He pauses momentarily to suck in more smoke and to throw us all a glance over the top of his purple-tinted glasses. ‘No. No. Listen to me - please. It’s vital that you understand. There are people here pretending to be the police and I believe they intend to do me harm. All I require from you is verification. Why won’t you give it to me?’
‘Immy, darling’ says his mother, holding a jacket out in his direction. ‘It’s okay, Immy. I’ll be coming with you.’
‘Come on, Emanuel,’ says one of the police officers. ‘We’ve shown you our warrant cards. Look. The paramedics are here. They’re the ones who’ll be taking you to the hospital.’
Emanuel holds up his hand. ‘Wait a moment. Just wait,’ he says. Then back into the phone: ‘Why won’t you? I am a citizen of this country and I have my rights. I’m telling you my life is in danger. I need you to reassure me that these people are in fact police officers. Because their numbers don’t add up, they have the wrong uniform, and I know for a fact that they are here to do me harm, perhaps even to kill me.’
‘Immy!’ says his mother. ‘Immy – I’ve got your jacket.’
‘Let’s go, Emanuel,’ says the Social Worker. ‘We’ve talked about this. We have to go now.’
‘No,’ he says, standing up and stepping warily into the breakfast room to be nearer to his mother. When he talks into the phone again, it seems they have hung up. ‘Wait a moment – just wait!’ he says, as the police officers move a little closer. ‘Wait! I just want to ring Control again. You have to let me ring them again. It’s my right. I just want to check something.’
‘Look. Emanuel. We’ve shown you our warrant cards and we’ve played along with this for long enough. I know you’re upset and that’s perfectly understandable. But you have to come with us now. We can’t stay here any longer.’
‘No. You can’t make me.’
‘I’m afraid we can. That’s why we’re here. You really do have to come with us to the hospital. Once we’re there, we’ll leave you with the staff. We’ll go as soon as we know you’re safe. But it’s our job to make sure you come with the social worker and the paramedics to the hospital. Okay?’
‘No. Don’t you dare come a step closer. And don’t you lay a finger on me. I just have to make this phone call. Please. Just let me make the call.’
‘No. No more phone calls, Emanuel. Let’s go.’
He goes to hit redial on the phone, but the police officer takes it off him.
‘That is assault!’ he says. ‘Mummy!’
‘No more phone calls.’
‘Give it to me!’
‘Come on, Emanuel. Let’s go out to the ambulance.’
‘No! You cannot take me if I don’t want to go.’
‘I’m sorry, Emanuel,’ says the social worker. ‘That’s why we’re here. You’re not well and you need treatment.’
‘Emanuel? Listen to me. I want you to walk out to the ambulance quietly and calmly. Will you do that for us? Come on.’
‘No! Don’t you touch me. Don’t you touch me! No. Get off. Get off.’
‘Put your hands down, Emanuel. Hands down.’
‘Please don’t fight them, Immy,’ says his mother, laying her hands on his arm. ‘Please don’t.’
He resists, pulling back from her, confronting the police officers with his fists clenched, and then suddenly lurching off to the side as if he had seen something he could defend himself with. The two officers jump on him, spin him face down onto a sofa that lies against the far wall, and eventually manage to turn his arms behind him using wrist locks. One of them produces a pair of handcuffs and snaps them on.
‘Nice and calm, now,’ she says. ‘Just slow it all down.’
‘You’re hurting me,’ he roars into the cushions. ‘I can’t breathe. You’re breaking my arms.’
‘Calm it down, Emanuel,’ she says. ‘As soon as you relax we’ll stand you up and you’ll feel more comfortable.’
‘I’m calm,’ he pants. ‘I’m calm. All right? Sorry. I was just upset.’
‘I know. It is upsetting,’ she says. ‘Okay? Ready to stand up, then?’
‘Yes. Please. Ow! You’re hurting me.’
Between them they help him to his feet. They are all breathing heavily, but of the three of them, Emanuel seems the most exhausted. His tongue keeps flicking out to wet his dry lips; his glasses have slid down his nose, and he scrunches up his face to try to edge them up again. He has the outraged, bedraggled look of an animal that’s been captured by vets at the zoo.
‘My baby,’ says his mother, gently stroking his face and helping him with his glasses. ‘I’m coming with you.’
The ambulance lurches from side to side.
‘Sorry it’s so uncomfortable,’ I say to Emanuel. He is sitting on one of the side chairs, his arms still cuffed behind his back.
‘Can you take these things off me?’ he asks the police officer.
‘No. Not until we get you to the hospital,’ she says. ‘Not long now.’
‘I need to make a phone call.’
‘No more phone calls.’
‘I need to call Papa and tell him goodbye.’
His mother is sitting in the chair next to him. She strokes his knee. ‘I spoke to Papa this morning, darling. He knows all about it. He’ll be coming to visit you later.’
‘I need to tell him goodbye. He’ll be upset.’
‘It’s okay. I told him all about it. He knows.’
‘No. Sorry,’ says the police officer.
The ambulance lurches again and I put out my hand to steady Emanuel.
‘Almost there,’ I say.’
We travel in silence for a while, Emanuel periodically scrunching up his face and casting his eyes around above his specs.
‘Lovely little bed and breakfast you have there,’ I say to his mother. ‘Keeps you busy, I expect.’
‘Oh – in the summer it’s mad. Quietens down a lot over the winter months, though. We usually manage to get away then.’
She smiles and pats Emanuel on the knee again.
It has been raining all afternoon, but suddenly the weather lifts, and we’re riding through streets drenched in sunshine.
‘Do you know – it’s twenty years since I was last in an ambulance,’ says his mother, smoothing strands of hair away from Emanuel’s forehead. ‘Not nearly as nice as this one, though. Twenty years – imagine that. Just about to give birth to Ivan, his younger brother. All this equipment you have now. It’s amazing. Something for every eventuality, I expect.’
Emanuel tenses and looks across at the police officer again.
‘Please? Can’t I just phone Papa?’ he says.
She shakes her head.