They make quite a jovial crew, the two police officers and Ian, the man slumped between them. Ian is a crudely tattooed man in his fifties, frizzy hair tied back in a pony-tail, the gold cuff-links of his shirt unclipped, tie at half-mast, grey winkle-pickers scuffed and spotted, the whole, sharp look liberally splattered with blood. When I open the back of the truck up, they guide their unsteady cargo towards the steps, laughing, shouting instructions, carrying on.
‘Poor Ian was assaulted this evening. Took a few punches, maybe a kick to the head, maybe knocked out, we’re not sure. No weapons involved. Up you go, mate!’
We help Ian on to our trolley, where he sighs and stretches out.
‘Sorry. Sorry to be a nuisance. I hope I’m not wasting your time,’ he says.
Apart from a few lumps and cuts, he doesn’t appear too bad, but because of the head injury/alcohol combination we’re obliged to take him to hospital.
‘There were seven of them,’ he says.
‘It’s going up,’ says one of the officers, sighing and pulling out his notebook. ‘You said five a minute a go.’
‘I know who it was. Raffie and that lot. I borrowed a pony off him twenty-five years ago...’
‘Sorry – what’s that? Twenty-five pounds, twenty-five years ago?’
‘So they come and beat you up for that?’
He nods again.
‘One of them had a riding crop.’
‘A riding crop? What’s he, then? A jockey?’
‘It might’ve been a walking stick. I was just out for the night, you know. Happy-Go-Lucky, minding me own. And I pass them by in the street. And one of them goes What are you looking at? So I goes Mate? Seriously? Have a nice evening. And I raise me titfer. Next thing you know – Wham! Bam! Thank you, Mam. He kicked me in the mouth, the bastard – ‘scuse my language. Look.’
Ian lifts his head forwards, draws back his bloody lips, and drops his jaw.
It’s like peering into the maw of a Great White that’s been dead on the beach a year, or the mouth of a medieval rat. To recreate Ian’s mouth, you’d have to sculpt a set of gums out of pink sugarpaste, put it on a compost heap for the summer, then press splinters of burnt and rotten wood around the edges in two haphazard semi-circles.
‘Look’ he says, hooking a corner of his mouth further aside. ‘Ah hink ah’ve lahst a carple...’
Later on in the journey he tells me about his other injuries.
‘I was shot,’ he says. ‘Twice. With a thirty-eight.’
‘You were shot? Who shot you?’
‘The police. Coming out of a bank, twenty year ago. But don’t worry. I never used to go for people like you, honest people, people who worked for a living. It was only them as wouldn’t miss it. I used to go into the bank with a bag over my arm and say: Give us all your money. And they did. But that one time, yeah, I got shot. Here, look, I’ll show you. You’re a medical man. You’ll like this.’
He starts to unbutton his trousers.
‘No – it’s okay, Ian,’ I say. ‘We’re just about there now. I don’t think there’s time...’
He unzips his fly and raises his hips.
‘Honestly, Ian – it’s okay.’
‘No. I want you to see. Your mate won’t mind. Look.’
He wriggles his trousers down, bends up his right knee and then rolls out towards me to expose the inside of his right thigh. There, mid-way – two round, grey patches of scar tissue.
‘Just there,’ he says.
‘Where are the exit wounds?’
‘Didn’t have none. That’s why they use thirty-eights, see? They’re designed to rattle around inside you, like shrapnel in a tin can, mashing you all up. Which is what they did. Smashed me leg to bits. Didn’t do much running after that.’
The ambulance parks up. Rae opens the back door.
‘Ian was just showing my his gunshot wounds.’
‘Would you like a gander?’ he says.
‘No. You’re all right.’‘Suit yourself.’ And he zips himself back up.