‘Ten years in the army, fighting for my country. Ten years. For what? To be beaten up by some copper for no reason? How’s that fair? Such big men. Hard men, yeah? Picking on a drunk, hiding behind your uniforms. That’s right, mate. I’d turn away and be ashamed if I was you...’
The policeman accompanying us sighs and peers out through the slatted window of the ambulance.
John rests his head back momentarily, drawing down heat from the examination lights.
I catch the eye of the policeman; he smiles and raises his eyebrows. We both know what he’s facing. John is a ticker tape machine of complaint; the policeman will be sitting next to him for the next three or four hours watching it reel out in spools onto the cubicle floor.
John has been arrested for D&D, but to make things much worse, he swung a fist and caught an officer in the mouth. The others promptly put him on the floor where he banged his head and passed out. We’ve bandaged the cut on his forehead and he doesn’t seem too bad, but as an alcoholic with a head injury he’ll need monitoring at the hospital.
John looks over at the policeman again.
‘Ten years I fought for this country...’ he starts in.
The policeman shifts in his chair.
‘Oh yeah? What regiment?’
John pauses a moment, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, looks at it, and as if he were reading something written there, then looks across at the policeman and says a name.
The policeman straightens.
‘No shit! Me too! When?’
‘Before you were born, mate. Nineteen-eighties.’
‘Yeah? Where did you serve?’
‘All over. You name it. Last place was that Spandau prison, guarding Hess.’
You would think the lights in the ambulance had brightened. The narrow gap between the trolley and the side seats no longer seems like a crocodile-filled moat. John sits up on the trolley, and I raise up the back to support him better. He folds his arms and starts chatting with the policeman, the two of them suddenly two old muckers, swapping army stories.
‘Yeah! Rudolph Hess,’ says John. That was a strange gig, that was. You’d see him marching around the yard on his own. Then sometimes he’d stop and stare right up at you, up in the tower. It was like guarding a ghost. An old Nazi ghost. I felt a bit sorry for him, all on his own like that, but what can you do? We had to stay clear. It did seem strange though. I mean, the guy had given himself up, hadn’t he? He landed in Scotland. At least that’s what they said. That’s what they wanted you to believe. You never really know, do you? I tell you something else that happened. A mate of mine nicked his jacket – the Luftwaffe uniform he wore when he flew over. He tried to sell it in the market, but they caught up with him and he got sent to prison himself. But of course, as it turned out, Hess was never supposed to have kept any of that Nazi stuff in the first place. It was all supposed to have been taken off him. So my mate got let out again, on the basis that you can’t nick what isn’t there. And he got a nice little pay out, too. Yeah. Goes to show.’
In the pause that follows I say: ‘Just coming up to the hospital now.’
The lights dim again.
John rests back on the trolley.
‘Yeah. I felt a bit sorry for Hess – but at least he didn’t get beaten up by his own police,’ he says.