‘I could break the code.’
‘What code’s that then, Mandy?’
‘The street code. The code of honour. I could break the code and blow this city apart. I know every dealer, every smack head, prostitute, bent police. I know where they work, I know where they live. I could take you right there. I could solve every fucking crime that’s ever been committed in this dump if I wanted to.’
‘Okay. But first let’s sort out the cat.’
Eight o’clock in the morning. The plane trees along the street have dumped most of their leaves now; the dark pollarded stumps bristling with shoots make them seem like filter feeding animals at high tide, dragging their filaments in the run of air above the houses.
Mandy is sitting in the back of a patrol car with a tabby cat on her lap. Mandy is as strung out as the cat is inert; it sleeps peacefully, accepting the bangle-jangling strokes of its mistress.
‘I aint doing nothing without my cat.’
‘She can’t go up the hospital though, Mandy,’ says the police officer. ‘Wouldn’t it be better if we dropped her back indoors?’
‘What do you care? You weren’t there when I needed you. You didn’t answer my call.’
‘We responded as soon as we heard you were in trouble, Mandy. I don’t know about the other time – let’s talk about that later and focus on what’s happened just now.’
‘Like you fucking care.’
‘We do care, Mandy. We’ve arrested someone; we’re here with you, and we’ve got three other units working on the case. I think that shows a reasonable level of commitment.’
‘A reasonable level of commitment,’ she spits, and strokes the cat a little harder.
I’m standing by the open door of the patrol car.
‘Mandy? Come on. Let’s put the cat back in the flat and get you on the ambulance.’
When she talks she looks up and off to the side, her face slack. There’s a hostility to her, something hard and bitten down, as if she had spent years fighting something so terrible it could never be looked at straight. In her white cowboy boots, buckskin skirt and plaid blouse, she has the raddled look of a rodeo girl ten years too long on the circuit.
I squat by the open door. ‘Just tell me what happened again.’
‘He held a knife to my throat, yeah? He punched me unconscious, kicked me out cold. So I chased him outside and followed him back to his place.’
‘That’s the flat we attended,’ says the police officer. ‘The flat where you were staying. Is that right, Mandy?’
She nods, strokes the cat a little harder, then flares again.
‘Like you were there when I needed you. I had a knife to my throat, yeah? They cut me – look. They beat me bad – here, here, here. Like you fucking care.’
The only sign of trauma I can see on Mandy are three cat-like stripes on her forearm.
‘Let’s get the cat back indoors and then check you over properly,’ I say to her again. ‘You don’t have to come to the hospital with us, but if you don’t it’s against our advice.’
‘I’ll come,’ she says, passing me out the cat, smiling in its sleep as if it were dreaming of flying with all four paws hanging down. ‘No thanks to the fucking police. And I don’t want her coming with me, neither.’
On the ambulance travelling in to hospital. Mandy is sitting on a side seat, digging around in her handbag or biting her nails, one bare and mottled leg crossed over on the other, a cowboy boot tapping in mid-air, kicking the trolley from time to time. She ignores my questions, but uses them instead as bizarre points of connection to a shapeless and general misfortune. The police officer – a colleague of the first, a woman who has been sitting on the seat behind Mandy with a look of emotional ballast about her - sighs and folds her arms.
Mandy snaps her head round.
‘Just ‘cos you know me doesn’t give you the right to judge me,’ she spits.
‘No one’s judging anyone, Mandy. Just answer the paramedic’s questions, can you? We’re all here to help.’
Mandy turns back again.
‘Fucking police,’ she says. ‘Only get involved when it suits. I know how things are. You think you know it all but you don’t know nothing. I could tell you stuff but I wouldn’t dirty myself. I wouldn’t piss on you.’
‘And mind your language,’ says the police officer
Mandy stares off to a spot just beyond my right shoulder. Her volatility is a strange thing. It’s not that she calms down so much as she suddenly forgets what it is she’s angry about, and drifts on.
‘You’re a paramedic,’ she says softly. ‘You know about suicide, right?’
‘How do you mean?’
‘My mum died,’ she says.
‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
‘Yeah. Well. Not as sorry as me.’
‘What did she die of?’
‘Drink and drugs. Do you think it was suicide?’
‘I don’t know. It depends whether she meant to do it or not. Do you think she did?’
‘Did she leave a note?’
Then as if she had suddenly remembered why she was sitting there, she tips back her head.
‘He cut me. He held a fucking knife to my throat. Here.’
I lean in. But there’s no sign of anything at all.
She lowers her head again, gives a little shiver, then begins to unbuckle her seatbelt.
The police officer sits up.