A poorly-lit, crescent-shaped driveway, sloping gently round and down by the side of an elegant municipal office. The chestnut trees planted around the garden arch wetly overhead, back-lit in orange from the neighbouring street. The rain has stopped, but its echo continues in a fall of water from the saturated canopy. A dog is barking insistently somewhere – that, and the ambulance and police car parked a little further ahead, tells us this must be the place. We turn our vehicle around for a quick getaway, and walk down to meet the crew.
Finally we see the dog, a black Staffie, wearing a large hooped collar, tied off on some railings. At the fullest stretch of the lead, it barks once every couple of seconds, its fat head jerking up and its body recoiling like a howitzer shelling the area with alarm.
‘Poor thing’ I say as I pass. It doesn’t even look up.
There are two drug users in respiratory arrest – lying on their backs sneaker to sneaker in the arched doorway of a cellar entrance. The two paramedics from the original truck have had to split up, one per patient. As soon as we say hello they ask if we’ll take the other.
‘That security guard found them when he came out to investigate all the barking.’
‘Watch out for needles. It’s a fucking spike-fest round here.’
I see one. I pick it up and shove it point down into the raised flower bed behind us as I go over to take over the bagging of our patient. I press behind his ear and above his eye to stimulate a response, but he’s way too flat. Behind the mask his face shines dully in the artificial scene light, like it’s been roughly pressed out of clay. He breathes with me as I press the bag, timing it to my own pattern. Rae preps the Narcan. We spend the next quarter of an hour or so monitoring his progress, bringing him up. Finally, after the third shot, he starts to show signs. Groaning, he makes a sudden effort to sit up, blindly batting a hand around his face trying to locate the airway. I pull it out for him, and he makes a graa-cch kind of sound, like a man fighting his way out of a swamp. There is a dark patch of liquid spreading around his jeans; at first I think he’s been incontinent, but when he sits up some more I realise it’s actually beer.
‘It’s the ambulance. You stopped breathing. How are you doing?’
His head seems too big for his neck; it flops around as he tries to locate the mechanism for keeping it up and making words.
His mate still hasn’t come round sufficiently so the other crew are loading him on the trolley. Rae helps them, whilst I watch our guy.
‘You’re the second heroin OD I’ve done in a couple of days,’ I say to him, retrieving the needle from the flower bed and slotting it into our sharps bin. I stand up and shake the cramp out of my legs. ‘I think there must be some strong gear going round.’
He leans back against the brick wall and makes a face.
‘What do you mean, gear?’ he says. ‘We were surprised, yeah? This guy comes over. He jabs me and my mate in the leg. Next thing, you’re fucking having a go.’
‘You don’t have to worry about a story, mate. Honestly – we don’t care. It makes no difference to us.’
‘I’m telling you. This guy – I’ve never seen him round here. He followed us. Next thing you know – zup! Me and my mate. Both of us. In the leg. Right there.’
‘Listen. The Narcan’ll wear off pretty quick. I think you should come to hospital to be monitored. Just to be safe.’
‘Nah, mate. Fuck that. Hospital? Nah.’
He tries to stand up, and I have to grab his collar to stop him falling backwards into the bushes.
‘You’re not in any state to do much else, mate.’
He’s leaning away from me and I’m holding on to him.
There’s a pause, and suddenly I’m looking over my shoulder before I really know why.
It’s the dog.
The dog has stopped barking.I’m holding on to the man’s collar, he’s leaning away from me, and the dog is there, suddenly quiet, scrutinising me from the railings.