Ten past six in the morning. A late job. Shit.
‘Load and go,’ says Rae. ‘Okay? Load and go.’
An attack helicopter wouldn’t be quicker.
Police cars in the street.
Up on the landing to the door with the fist-sized holes and a police battering ram resting on its end amongst the debris.
Shouts and wild screaming beyond.
I knock and push the door open.
A police officer just inside.
‘Great,’ he says, moving towards us. ‘This is mad, mate. Absolutely crazy. It’s difficult to make out, but what we’ve got are three people, a guy, two girls, all naked. They came back to the hostel for a threesome or something, who knows? But this girl, Belle, she started to freak out and smash the place up. Neighbours called us, we called you ‘cos she’s obviously on something. She’s possessed, mate, completely out of her box, rolling round on the floor, cuts from all the glass, vomiting, just terrible, basically. Prepare yourself, ‘cos it’s not easy in there.’
We follow him into a sparsely-furnished room. Four other officers are struggling to restrain a young girl on her back on the floor. She breathes heavily, her black hair in a tangled sweat, her cheeks flushed, her eyes rolling like she’s crashed into the room from the core of a tornado. Her pale flesh is smeared with blood from the little cuts she’s sustained rolling around in all the broken glass. She’s quiet only for as long as it takes to build up enough energy, but then her screams are truly appalling –open-throated, her tongue straining out from the root, tinted copper green like the organ of a hellish parrot. Even the police are struggling for control; as it is, the quilt they’ve thrown over her gets wrested aside. In her nakedness, she is the embodiment of pure rage, a devil baby, primal, formidable, terrible. She would kill us all if she could.
‘Belle! Belle! Calm yourself! Be calm! We’re here to help, okay?’
The guy part of the trio appears at the door.
‘Leave her alone, you cunts,’ he says. ‘Leave her alone, yeah? All you big guys for one girl. How’s that right? Just leave her alone.’
The officer who showed us in tries to move the guy back out of the room and along the corridor to the other woman who is screaming in the background. He only gets half-way when the guy attacks him. Belle has fallen quiet again, so the four officers pile out of the room and there’s a huge fight. We lift Belle into our carry chair, swaddle her in blankets, strap her legs onto the foot rest, buckle her up, and head for the door, making vague, soothing noises as we go, like we’re kidnapping the ogre’s baby and we’ll be killed if she wakes up and screams.
A neighbour, appalled, on the landing.
‘Hi!’ I say, trying to sound reassuring. ‘You couldn’t do me a huge favour, could you? You see that ambulance bag and clipboard just inside the door?’
The neighbour nods.
‘You couldn’t grab that for me and bring it out to the ambulance? That’d be great. Thanks a lot. Cheers.’
The neighbour goes inside, whilst a little further down the corridor the police fight with the other guy.
‘Thanks a lot. That’s kind of you. Great.’
He follows us down the stairs.
Belle comes to again and struggles madly to get out of the chair. By some miracle of balance – strengthened by our desperation to get out of there – we make it down the stairs and out into the street.
Belle writhes and screams and curses like the very spirit of damnation.
There are a group of elderly people waiting at a bus stop, nicely dressed, maybe on their way to church. They watch as we struggle on one wheel over to the ambulance. I wouldn’t be surprised if they crossed themselves. Who knows – maybe it would help? I’m open to anything at this point.
Belle has almost made it out of the chair now, her arms and legs thrashing around. I wrestle with her on the ramp as it goes up. I don’t know how I manage to keep upright but by luck and main effort we get her inside. Top and tail on to the trolley. More blanketing, straps. All the while Belle screaming, cursing, laying those frantic black eyes on us like she’s being abducted by a team of sulphurous goats.
I call ahead to the hospital.
We’re met by security, who help restrain her.
The consultant leads the handover in resus.
‘So. Who do we have here?’ he says.
I’m sweating, breathing as hard as Belle.
His urbane, early morning savoir faire is extraordinary, wonderful, and utterly stalls me.
For a moment I look at him much as Belle does.
Then she starts screaming again.
‘Oh-kay!’ he says. ‘A mattress on the floor, I think, people. And let’s not bother with needles and things just yet.’