Mark flags us down from the side of the road. A jumpy figure in denim and pointy boots, his hair wild and white, he looks like an aged cowboy who had to run into town when his horse died. I wind the window down before I get out; Rae leans forward against the wheel to take a look, keeping in drive just in case.
‘She punched me! In the mouth! I’ve been going in and out of conscious.’
He tips his head back and uses a filthy finger to hook his lower lip down.
‘Art ee i a arf. Oo.’
‘We’ll have a look at that in a minute. So you’ve been assaulted, then?’
He lets his mouth go back, and stares at me through the window. ‘Yes,’ he says.
‘Have you called the police?’ I ask him. As much for our benefit as his.
‘I don’t want the police,’ he says. ‘I just want someone to kick her door down so I can get my stuff.’
‘Well we’re not really in the door-kicking business. We’re the ambulance. I think you’re probably going to need the police.’
He glosses over that.
‘I went round to get my gear and they wouldn’t come to the door. But I knew they were in. I could see them through the curtains. So I was banging and banging, and the next thing I know she’s out on the front step screaming. I didn’t do nothing. I just wanted my gear back. And then she punches me. In the mouth. And then slams the door and won’t open it.’
He hooks his lip back again.
‘Okay. Let’s get you on board and see what the damage is. And let’s get the police running, too, because something’s obviously happened.’
‘You’re muckin’ right something’s happened. I want my stuff, that’s what’s happened. She’s got no right. She knows what I’m like. She knows I’d never hit a woman. Never. And that muckin’ useless boyfriend standing in the back of her, laughing his face off. I want my stuff!’
I show Mark round to the back of the ambulance and onto a chair. But he’s so pumped-up it’s impossible to get him settled. He can’t focus on my questions. He goes to take his jacket off but then thinks better of it. He shifts and stands and sits and crosses his legs, all in time to some furious internal metronome.
A police car pulls up and two officers get out.
‘All right?’ says one.
Mark immediately swings himself out of the ambulance.
‘Come with me!’ he says, striding out into the road, straight in front of a car that somehow manages to stop a denim’s thickness from his legs. Mark holds a hand out, pats the bonnet, and hurries on.
‘Hey! Fella! Easy!’ says the police officer, whilst the other one waves an apology in the direction of the driver.
The three of them head off in the direction of the woman’s flat.
We lean against the ambulance and wait.
It’s dawn, the edge of town, and although everything’s quiet here now, if you close your eyes you can feel the pull of the late night clubs in the city centre threading beneath your feet like neon mycelia. Nothing seems real, not Mark, us, the shops and streetlights – even those seagulls, squabbling over a spilled kebab.
One of the police officers strolls back.
‘Stand down,’ he says. ‘I haven’t a clue what’s going on, but Mark’s pretty emphatic he doesn’t need you.’
He yawns, takes off his cap, stretches, puts his cap back on.
‘In fact, our friend Mark’s emphatic about a lot of things,’ he says.