Laurence is lying beneath a blanket on the sleeping platform on the opposite side of the cell. From here, it looks like the police have 136’d a grizzly.
‘It’s the ambulance, Laurence. They’ve come to take you to Oakview.’
He opens his eyes, slowly sits up, yawns, stretches. I half expect him to let out a roar, but instead he smacks his lips and says in a sleepy voice: ‘Thank you for coming.’
‘Laurence hasn’t been any trouble at all,’ says the police officer, reading our thoughts. ‘Good as gold, in fact. So if you’re okay to transport without an escort...’
‘That’ll be fine.’
‘Great. Thanks.’ He seems relieved.
Together we all go out into the custody suite itself.
The officer retrieves Laurence’s personal possessions from a locker, zip-fastened into a clear plastic bag. The booking sergeant hands down the papers, and the officer runs through the salient points.
‘Good luck, Laurence,’ he says, after he’s accompanied us back out to the ambulance. ‘All the best.’
Laurence waves a massive paw.
‘How are you feeling?’ I ask him as we move off.
He speaks quietly.
‘Not bad. Just a little tired.’
‘You can have a snooze if you like. It’ll take us about half an hour to get to Oakview.’
‘Okay. Thank you.’
He settles back in the chair, ducking his head to accommodate the ceiling.
* * *
The forecourt at Oakview is deserted; the abstract modern sculpture that dominates the turning circle bone-white in the moonlight.
The ambulance seems to rise about a foot as Laurence steps off. He takes a massive lungful of air, and looks around, adjusting the blanket round his shoulders.
‘Hm,’ he says. ‘Nice.’
We all walk over to the main entrance and buzz the ward mentioned on the section papers.
After a while, someone answers.
- It’s the ambulance. With Laurence. From the Custody Suite.
- The ambulance service. We have a patient for admission.
- Just a minute.
‘They really are very good here.’
We wait for so long it begins to feel like we’ve been forgotten.
I buzz again.
- It’s the ambulance. Could you let us in please?
- With an admission you say?
- Come round the back, please
- The back?
But the voice has gone.
‘It’s probably the late hour,’ I say to Laurence. ‘Normally we go through this door, into the reception area. I haven’t actually been round the back before...’
‘No problem,’ says Laurence.
If the front of the hospital is sensitively landscaped, with an elegant glass canopy to shield you from the rain, architectural steps leading round and up, neatly clipped lawns and shrubs, the back – as you might expect – is the opposite. A functional zone, comprising a secure enclave for the paladins, next to a chain-link fence that rises up fifteen feet, protecting a floodlit concrete yard. The door to the hospital is on the other side of the yard; you have to buzz the intercom by the fence to be allowed through to the yard, and then buzz again to get through the door.
‘Don’t worry, Laurence. Not the most auspicious start, but it’ll get better.’
- Well, we've made it round the back. Can you let us in please?
The gate remains closed.
I buzz again.
- Yes? What do you want now?
- Can you let us in, please? We have a patient for admission.
- Just a minute. Just a minute.
Laurence is looking up to the top of the fence, like he’s gauging the drop.
‘I don’t know if I’d climb over or tunnel under,’ I say.
‘Climbing is better,’ says Laurence.
‘They’re not usually as bad,’ I tell him. ‘It’s the first time I’ve ever had it like this. But really – it’s unacceptable.’
‘It’s not your fault.’
‘As first impressions go it’s pretty rubbish.’
‘So. How was your stay at the custody suite?’
‘It was okay.’
‘Did you get enough to eat?’
‘The food was good. Yes. Ample portions. I have no complaints.’
‘So they took care of you?’
‘Yes. It was good.’
Still no movement from inside.
Even if we’re on CCTV – which we undoubtedly are – I’m betting there’s no-one monitoring the screen.
I buzz again.
- Look – is anyone coming to let us in or not?
- We’re getting a team together.
- Well can’t you let us in whilst you do that? Only it’s not fair to leave us standing out here like this.
But there’s no answer and I don’t think he heard me.
‘Where are you from originally, Laurence?’
‘Originally? From Bavaria. But this is a long time ago. Why – is my accent bad?’
‘No, not at all. It’s better than mine. I just thought I could hear a little bit of German there.’
‘Yes. But many years ago now.’
‘I like Germany.’
‘Yes? You like it there?’
‘Yeah. Germany’s a nice place. Not that I’ve seen much of it.’
‘No. Baden Baden.’
‘Yep. Baden Baden. Well – Tubingen to begin with. Then Baden Baden. They had the most amazing spa there. Like something out of the future. Utopia. There were these big gleaming limestone pools, outside and in. And they had these amazing wave machines, flumes, saunas, plunge baths, power showers, you name it. Everyone wandering around completely blissed out. It was great.’
We both look up at the fence.
‘I think I would like to go there,’ he says.