‘Just slow it down, mate,’ I say to him.
‘Let’s have a look.’
But even from here I can tell it’s not an epileptic seizure. There’s an artful focus about the way she flops her arms and legs about, the way she arches and relaxes her spine to bang her head comfortably in the lap of the guy on his knees cradling her. The setting could hardly be more public, and the fact that her skirt and top have ridden up, the way her arms are scuffed and dirtied from the road, all these things give the scene a shocking plausibility.
I’m like a street performer claiming his patch. And if the girl is The patient, I must be The patient whisperer, the figure in green with TV-levels of ability to take control, to sort things out. I’ve played this part before and I know how it goes. I have to get her into the ambulance as soon as possible, with the minimum of fuss. I know that the more direct and authoritative I can be, the more chance I’ll have of success. Conversely, I know that the longer we’re on show like this, the more chance there is the trick will be revealed and the scene become unmanageable.
None of the people with her are related; I identify Isaac as the friend sober enough to help. He stands behind me as I squat down, put one hand at her wrist to feel her pulse and one on her shoulder. She stares up at me, and stops thrashing around to listen for her cue.
‘It’s the ambulance. My name’s Spence. Can I ask what your name is?’
‘Gillian – have you fallen down and hurt yourself?’
She shakes her head.
‘Good. Now. We need to get you on the ambulance where it’s warm and safe. Sit up for me.’
‘Now bend at the knees – good. That’s it. Hold my arm. And stand.’
The crowd parts to give us room as we walk over to the ambulance where Frank waits with the door open and everything ready.
As Frank settles Gillian on the trolley, I tell Isaac to wait outside so we can chat in private. I tell him I’ll be out again in five minutes. He looks crestfallen when I slam the door shut.
Inside, the down-lighters above the trolley are warming and good. Gillian lies covered in a white blanket. She picks strands of hair from her face. Her pupils are saucerous and dark, whilst above her the ECG monitor jumps along at a clip.
‘Have you had any recreational drugs tonight, Gillian? We don’t care – we’re not the police. But we need to know so we can get you the appropriate treatment.’
‘No. Just alcohol.’
It’s hardly worth telling her that a blood test will reveal everything, but I’ll let the nurses at the hospital deal with that.
‘Ever happen to you before?’ I ask, writing down the last of the results Frank calls out.
‘A few. I’ve been for scans and stuff but they still don’t know what causes it.’
‘And how old did you say you were?’
‘Psychology. Can Isaac come? I want him with me at the hospital.’
‘Okay. Let’s get him on board.’
Isaac seems excited at the prospect of a trip to hospital in an ambulance. He sits forward on his chair, jiggling his legs up and down, his jacket on his lap, mobile phone in one hand, Gillian’s hand in the other.
‘This is wild,’ he says, looking around, his eyes as wide as hers. ‘It’s just like Holby City. How are you feeling, hon?’
She squeezes his hand. ‘Oh – you know.’
‘Who shall I call? Jazzer and Stoofus know already. I’ve told The Arch Meister. Crick says he’ll meet you there later. Ellie says hi.’
Gillian is lit up as much by his attention as by the down-lighters.
‘I’m lucky I’ve got such good friends,’ she says, and smiles at me. ‘God, I need a drink.’
‘You greedy bitch,’ says Isaac, thumbing another text. ‘You nearly died on me and now all you care about is booze. Honestly, girlfriend – you!’
He sends the text then looks at me.
‘How long have you been doing this job, then?’ he says.
‘About seven years.’
‘Yeah. It’s interesting.’
‘I bet you see some things.’
‘Oh - you know.’
‘Us for example.’
He laughs, stuffs his phone in his jeans pocket, then holds up the jacket he had on his lap.
‘What do you think of that?’ he says to me.
‘I found it. Didn’t cost me a penny. It’s a Ben Sherman.’
‘Do you know, I haven’t actually bought a jacket in years. Every one of the last three have been found. Two by me, one by my sister.’
‘That is lucky. Three jackets. And look. Not any old shit.’ He turns the jacket inside out and presses the label towards me. ‘Ben Sherman. That’s quality. Look at the lining. Feel it.’
The ambulance rolls as we turn up the hospital slope.
‘We’re here,’ I say.
Isaac puts the jacket on.
‘Come on, girlfriend,’ he says, standing up and slapping her leg through the blanket. ‘Not the big night out I was hoping for, but whatever.’