We turn into a quieter tributary.
Half way up on the left hand side a tall man in a light blue tracksuit top is standing in the middle of the road, smoking a cigarette. He makes no sign that he’s the one we’re looking for, but simply turns and steps back onto the pavement between two parked cars. We draw level and get out.
He is standing over a much smaller guy who is lying on his back on the pavement. He has his hands folded in his lap and his legs neatly placed side by side with the toes up, like an alabaster knight on a tomb – except instead of armour he has a Fred Perry Tee and chinos, and instead of a helmet, a boy-band haircut.
The tall man stares down at him, and carries on smoking.
‘So – what’s been going on?’ I ask them both.
Adam, the smoker, tells me.
‘We’ve both taken Ketamine. Simon’s had a bad reaction to it. I think it’s messing with his bi-polar. He said he wanted to kill himself and started acting all weird. He’s not safe. I think he needs taking to hospital.’
Simon opens his eyes.
‘I took Ketamine, okay? Is that a crime? All I want to do is go back to my hotel room – the hotel room in my name – tuck myself up in bed and go to sleep. What’s wrong with that? Isn’t that the law? Aren’t I free to go back to the room I’ve paid for?’
I squat down next to him.
‘Simon. Don’t worry, mate. All we want to do is make sure you’re okay. We’re not going to do anything you don’t want to do.’
Adam sighs and turns a little to the side, as if he can’t bear to hear these things square on. ‘No, man,’ he says. ‘You don’t get it. Why do you think I called you? He’s tripping, yeah? He’s out of it. You didn’t see him. You didn’t see what he was like.’
Simon pushes himself up onto his arms and throws his focus around.
‘Leave me alone!’ he says. ‘Just leave me alone! God! All I want is to get some sleep.’
‘Well you can’t very well lie in the middle of the pavement like this,’ I say. ‘Why not come onto the ambulance – we won’t go anywhere. We won’t even shut the door if you don’t want. Let us make sure that everything’s okay, then we’ll think about getting you to bed.’
‘He’s not coming back with me,’ says Adam, quietly. ‘He’s not. I’m not accepting the responsibility. He’ll throw himself out of the window, or some shit. He needs locking up. Why the fuck do you think I called you?’
He takes a step backwards and smokes intently, looking up and down the street as if he expects something more effective to turn up.
‘Simon – you can see how worried Adam is, can’t you? We’ve never met before, so obviously we’ve got no way of knowing how you are in yourself normally. But Adam is a good friend – yes? – and he says he’s worried that the Ketamine has had a bad effect on you. We don’t care what drugs you’ve taken. We just want to reassure ourselves that you’re okay.’
Simon staggers up to his feet and almost pitches backwards through a shop window. I grab his collar to keep him upright.
‘Jesus Christ!’ says Adam – but still with that icy remove, as if he were phoning his anger in from a long way away. ‘See what he’s like?’
‘I’m fine!’ shouts Simon, pushing my hands away and standing swaying with his legs planted far apart and a line of saliva swinging from his bottom lip. ‘I’ve had some alcohol, and I’ve had some Ketamine. Fine. Big fucking deal.’ He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and frowns, seeing me for the first time. ‘What do you know about it?’ he says. ‘Have you ever taken Ketamine?’
‘I’ve taken drugs before but not Ketamine. I’ve always stayed away from those hard-core psycho-tropic ones. I was always a bit worried how they’d affect me.’
‘Yeah. Well. I’m fine.’
A group of four drunk guys, shirts unbuttoned and untucked, bottles in their hands, strolls up the street and slows to see what the scene is. Adam immediately flicks his cigarette at them, steps off the pavement with his arms out to the side and his palms out.
‘What the fuck are you looking at?’ he says, as quietly as ever, but with such an edge to his voice that even the four drunk guys are appalled. ‘Do you think is the fucking TV? Come and have a good look, then!’ he says. ‘Come on!’
They carry on walking.
Adam turns his attention back to us.
‘So what are you going to do?’ he says.
‘I’m not going to hospital!’ wails Simon. ‘They’ll section me and I’ll go to the cells. And then my mum’ll hear about it, and I’ll lose my job.’
‘What do you do, then?’ I ask him, trying to smother his fire with banality.
‘I sell carpets,’ he says. ‘I’m good. You could carpet the world with what I’ve sold.’
‘That’s a lot of carpet,’ says Rae.
‘Please!’ he wails. ‘I only came down here to forget about things. But that bitch sold me that fucking K and I swear I’m never taking it again. All I wanted was a good time, some alcohol, a little drugs, maybe a vagina I could park my thing in then get to bed and get some fucking sleep.’ He straightens up unsteadily and looks about. ‘Where are the vaginas? There must be vaginas round here somewhere. What about an escort agency? I bet you know where there’s an escort agency. No? I bet you do.’
‘Come on, Simon,’ says Rae, stepping forwards and resting her hand on his shoulder. ‘Look. Here’s the thing. Adam says he’s not happy taking you back to the hotel in the state you’re in – no! Just hear me out. Adam knows you very well and he’s worried about the effect the Ketamine has had on you. So here’s what I think. You’re exhausted and you need some sleep. God knows I sympathise. So why not come with us to the hospital and sleep it off there? You’ll be surrounded by doctors and nurses who can keep an eye on you and make sure you’re okay. Okay? They’ve seen every variety of drug you can think of. They’re well used to all this, so you don’t have to worry. And no-one need ever know. How about it? Come on, Simon – you know it makes sense. And face it – how are you getting back to the hotel anyway? It’s too far to walk, and no taxi is going to take you like this.’
‘No!’ he says, and staggers away down the road.
‘Aren’t you going to stop him?’ says Adam. ‘Fuck sake! What’s the point of calling you if you don’t do anything?’
Before we have a chance to explain, Adam strides away after his friend, grabs him in a bear hug and pulls him to the pavement. The two of them thrash around, Simon screaming, Adam as cold as ever.
Rae sighs and talks to Control on the radio to update the police. Control tells us the police are tied up with a massive fight on the front and don’t have anyone to assign. By this time, Adam has given up trying to hold Simon down. Simon stands up, straightens his shirt, then carries on walking. With one last look in our direction, Adam follows on behind.
Two hours later and the sky is sufficiently light now to say the night has passed. We’re sitting slumped in the cab in the middle of town, dozing with the radio on, waiting for that one last job to finish us off.
I open my eyes and see a slight figure walking across the road just in front of the ambulance.
I open my eyes a little wider.
His hands are jammed in his pockets, and he walks purposefully, at a precarious dog-trot, his chin out and forwards as if an invisible lead was pulling him along from the neck.
He doesn’t see us.
He doesn’t see anything.
In fact, I think he’s asleep.