I pull alongside the scene and put the side lights on. They illuminate Taz, lying on his side on the pavement, his legs drawn up, his bloodied head pillowed on his arm. A young girl is shouting and pulling at his jacket: Don’t do this to me, Taz; Come on breathe, mate. Stay awake.
A large woman in a wide brimmed hat is parked alongside on a mobility scooter. She backs up a little so her shadow doesn’t overlie the scene, then rests forward on her handlebars, smoking a fag and taking in the action with the equanimity of a frontier Marshall.
‘It was one of Sam’s in-laws,’ she says as we walk in. ‘Weren’t it, Taz?’
‘Yeah. Something like that,’ he mutters. ‘Just leave me alone.’
Frank taps the girl on the shoulder and asks her to step aside.
‘The paramedics’ll take care of you now, Taz. Let them do their stuff. They’ll fix you up.’
‘I don’t want nothing,’ he says. ‘I just want to be left alone.’
Frank squats down.
‘Keep nice and still, mate’, he says, placing his blue gloved hands around Taz’ head. ‘Just in case you’ve hurt your neck. Now – no, no, quite still – whilst we give you the once over. Tell me what happened.’
‘Fuck knows. I was coming out of the party. And the next thing I know this geezer starts battering me. I went down, and he kicked me in the head.’
‘He’s an animal,’ says the girl. ‘A fucking animal. No way he deserved that. No way.’
The woman on the scooter laughs and flicks her cigarette away.
‘I’m off home, Taz,’ she says. ‘Good luck mate. See you later.’
‘Were you knocked out, d’you think?’ says Frank.
‘I’ve no idea. I don’t remember.’
‘He was completely out of it,’ says the girl. ‘I thought he was dead.’
Frank sends me back to the truck to get together the trolley, scoop, vacuum mattress, head blocks – all the kit for immobilising a trauma patient.
‘Now Taz,’ says Frank. ‘You’ve had a lot to drink, you’ve been assaulted, fallen to the floor, maybe lost consciousness. All of that means we have to keep you nice and straight for the ride in to hospital, so the doctors there can see if you’ve damaged anything. Okay?’
‘You’re joking,’ spits Taz. ‘I just want to go home.’
‘Maybe later,’ says Frank. ‘But you need some attention in hospital.’
‘He’s a paramedic,’ says the girl, ‘Don’t you give him no trouble and do what he says. I’m gonna call Sam to meet us up there.’
‘No – don’t. I’ll see her later.’
But the girl turns away with her phone.
‘Oh man!’ says Taz. ‘This is fucking unreal. I can’t believe he did that. One minute it’s all happy, happy, falling out of the party, the next he’s like a fucking mentalist. I tell you what, mate – first thing I’m doing when I leave hospital is go straight round there and rip his head off.’
‘Yeah? Well if you keep waving your head around your ripping days are over,’ says Frank. ‘So keep still. I know it’s uncomfortable, but it’s for your own good.’
‘Yeah, easy mate – whatever.’
The police are on scene now. Two of them interview the girl and some bystanders; one helps us parcel Taz up and get him onto the stretcher.
‘Fuck me,’ says Taz. ‘This is too fucking weird.’
Whilst we strap him to the trolley the police officer who helped us takes off his bloodied glove, pulls out a notebook and leans in.
‘All right, Taz?’ he says. ‘Who did this?’
‘Ask Kelly. She’ll tell you,’ he says. ‘Wanker. I weren’t doing nothing.’
‘So why did he start, then?’
‘I don’t know. I’ve got no idea. I was coming out of the party, messing about, then suddenly he comes up, stands next to me and he’s like: Oh, so – that’s how it goes, is it? and he lamps me as hard as he can and I go down. He’s fucking dead, mate. I tell you that much for free.’
Frank sighs and shakes his head.
‘Who knows why these things happen?’ he says. ‘Come on, mate. A few bumps.’
We load Taz onto the ambulance. Kelly finishes her phone call, but just before she climbs up into the back she pauses and bends her leg back to look at the sole of her shoe.
‘I think I’ve stood in dog shit,’ she says.
‘Here. Put some gloves on and wipe them with this,’ I say to her.
‘Nah. Cheap Primark specials.’ She slips them off and chucks them out behind her where they clatter away into the dark street. She climbs in barefoot and plumps herself down in a seat facing the trolley.
‘Is he going to be all right?’ she says, crossing her legs, resting her phone on her knee and flicking through the screen.
‘I expect so. This is all precautionary.’
‘What d’you mean? I’m always all right,’ says Taz. ‘I’m better than superman.’
‘Show us your pants then, darling,’ she says, her laugh as light and sharp as her ear-rings.
‘I’m not showing you no fucking pants.’
‘Thank god for that,’ says Frank. ‘Now, Taz. It’ll feel a bit weird riding like this in to hospital, but it’s important we keep you flat. If you feel like you’re going to be sick, let me know and we’ll deal with it. Okay?’
‘This is dead exciting,’ says Kelly, flicking her fringe. ‘I’ve never been on an ambulance before.’ Then she bends back over her phone, scrolling through options, searching for something.
Frank nods to me and I turn to jump out and drive. But just as I’m pulling my gloves off, Kelly says: ‘I knew you shouldn’t have done it, Taz, mate.’
‘Done what?’ he says.
‘Booted that hedgehog.’
‘It was a joke,’ he says. ‘And anyway - what the fuck it’s got to do with him, I don’t know.’