Malcolm is sitting on the crumpled bonnet of his car with his arms folded, like a man taking his ease in the moonlight.
‘Halloo!’ he says as we walk over. His teeth are wine-gray.
‘Hello. What’s happened?’
‘Life. Life has happened. I was just turning the car round when this other chap appeared out of nowhere and I went into the side of him. All terribly low speed, but there we are.’
In his long goatee beard, straggly hair, shapeless earth-pattern cardigan, shorts and flip-flops, he is the spit for the Big Lebowski. I ought to be handing him a White Russian, but feel his neck instead.
‘Nope. No pain. I’m completely fine, honestly. This is all very embarrassing. Is the other chap okay?’
Malcolm’s face is pretty banged up for someone who had a low speed crash, wearing a seat belt. It was a frontal impact but the air-bag didn’t go off, which means it was all probably slower than fifteen miles an hour.
‘You were wearing a seatbelt, Malcolm?’
‘And you weren’t knocked out?’
‘So how did you get these injuries? You’ve got a cut on the side of your head. Your nose is swollen and cranked over. You’ve got a black eye. Is anything coming back to you now?’
The police arrive. An officer knocks and comes on board the ambulance. When he takes his cap off he looks absolutely hairless in the bright cabin lights, like a plastic baby with a glowing core of enthusiasm.
I make the introductions, describe the situation.
‘Hmm,’ the officer says, peering at Malcolm.
Malcolm smiles back.
‘I’m required to ask you to complete a breath test. Have you consumed any alcohol tonight, sir?’
‘Oh – but that was hours ago!’
‘No worries. Just a moment,’ he says, unwrapping a mouthpiece and snapping it in to the top of the alcometer. Once it’s in, the officer gives his spiel, then holds it out for Malcolm to blow into.
‘Keep going… keep going… keep going … and stop. Good. Thank you.’
The machine beeps. The officer shows the read-out to Malcolm.
‘As you can see you’ve failed the breath test, which means I’m arresting you for drink driving.’ More spiel, whilst Malcolm says Well that’s just great and Unbelievable and I crash my car and now I’m being arrested. Arrested? I’m supposed to be starting a new job on Monday. I’m best man at a wedding tomorrow! Unbe-fucking-lievable. And so on.
It all slides over the officer’s shining head.
He makes himself comfortable in the seat opposite.
‘Tell me how you got those injuries,’ he says, when Malcolm calms down.
‘It’s nothing. Really. Let’s just – get on and get it over with.’
The officer looks at me and shrugs. Then back at Malcolm.
‘It wasn’t from the accident, was it?’ he says. ‘Have you been in a fight tonight, Malcolm?’
Malcolm sighs, shakes his head a little, as if the words are building up inside him but he’s still reluctant to let them out. He folds his arms. Taps his foot. Sighs again. Then looks straight at the officer.
‘Yes, yes. Okay? I was assaulted tonight. But I don’t want to press charges. It’s not going to come to anything. But yes – I had a stupid disagreement with a very good friend of mine. It got out of hand, we exchanged – blows – apparently. He went off, and now here I am, being arrested. Can I just say, officer, this is officially, unequivocally, without any doubt whatsoever, my night from hell. I’ve just got myself a job, starting Monday, but how I’m to supposed to get there once I’ve lost my licence I have no idea. I’ve had a fight with an old friend of mine. I’ve got a broken nose and a black eye and I’m the best man at a wedding tomorrow – no – today, actually. Tonight. So yes, I can quite honestly say that today is the worst day of my entire life. This is it. Here, now. With you two fine people. I’m sorry, but there you are. It’s fabulous. It’s absolutely marvellous. It’s happened, and there’s nothing to be done about it. So now, why don’t we just crack on? Because you know what? I’m genuinely interested to see what’ll happen next.’
The officer soaks it all up with radiant good humour.
Flips open his notebook.
‘I should be a detective,’ he says. ‘Straight in there.’