Mark is staggering along the narrow street, crashing from the doors on one side to the doors on the other. His shirt is long since gone, and the belt of his jeans hangs behind him like a tail – that, and the strange way he lopes along, almost dragging the backs of his hands along the pavement, makes him look like some crazed, denuded monkey. There’s a big patch of bloody hair on the top of his head, a freely flowing cut over his left eye, scuffs and red patches all over his torso, but none of his injuries seems to have done anything to dampen his drive to get along. Every so often he stops and gives out an open-throated bellow, swatting at the space around him like he’d blundered into a hornet’s nest. Then his spine straightens again, enough to give him the spring and the gravitational wherewithal to carry on, this time headfirst into a post box.
‘I think he must’ve taken something,’ says the woman who called us, hanging over the terrace of the bar that overlooks this street like a nervous punter at the zoo.
We thank her for the call, park up, and approach.
Mark has come to another stop, propped up against a wall with one straight arm; with the other he has lobbed his penis out, a gross appendage, hairless as his chest, blanched by moonlight.
‘Can you put that away and talk to us, Mark?’
He sniffs the air, his arm retracts, leaving him upright just long enough to stuff his penis back in his pants. Then with one tumultuous heave of his jeans, he frees his legs sufficiently to start moving away from us, further up the street.
He howls and roars.
Two steps more and he almost pitches backwards through a plate glass window.
When we try to calm him down and guide him back towards the ambulance, he spits, bunches his fists, and tries to focus on the threat.
We call police to scene, but there’ll be a delay.
Whilst we’re waiting, another man appears. Rangy-looking, with a wild beard and dirty teeth, like he’s not just been drinking in the park but running a still.
‘Jab him,’ he says. ‘He’s had a legal high, that’s all. Jab him and chill him out. He’ll be fine.’
‘We’re just a bit worried about his head injury. He should really go to hospital to get checked out.’
‘What are you, ambulance or police?’
‘Ambulance. But we have called the police. He almost went through that shop window.’
The man’s beard twists into a sneer.
Meanwhile, Mark has moved on. He leaves the side street and staggers out onto the main road. He lies down in the middle and starts rolling around, slapping the tarmac. Buses are brought to a stop. Taxis scuttle away down alternative routes.
ETA on police, please?
Mark’s friend has grabbed him and hauled him to his feet. Mark responds by jumping up, hooking his legs round the man’s hips, then lying backwards with his arms resting on the tarmac.
‘Jab him!’ says the friend.
‘Sorry. It’s not something we do.’
‘Fucking ambulance,’ says the friend. Somehow managing to keep his balance, he sets Mark upright again and props him up against another shop window.
‘Careful now,’ I say.
The friend is leaning in to Mark and talking urgently into his left ear, whilst he takes Mark’s belt out of the remaining loops, and coils it round his knuckles. Every so often Mark laughs, showing a rack of bloody teeth. He tips his head back and howls when the friend leaves off.
I heard it all. What he said to Mark was this:
You take the tall one, I’ll take the shortie, yeah? You go up, and you punch him, hard as you can, right in the middle of the face? Yeah? Hard as you can, mate. Hard as you can. Smash his nose. Let’s make some blood.
Then he straightens up, looks at me and smiles.
We turn and walk back to the truck, Mark’s friend following. We get in the cab and lock the doors just as he reaches us. I expect him to start punching the windows, but he doesn’t. Instead, he looks up and down the street, smiling and shaking his head. Then he turns to look at us.
‘Can you help me with my bag?’ he says.
‘My bag. I put it down over there somewhere and I, err... I can’t seem to find it.’
We move off.
A bottle bounces off the side.