The pink tutu Carl is wearing only accentuates his powerful, tattooed physique. He’s sitting on a chair in the lobby of the hotel, holding a tea towel to the side of his bloodied face whilst his friends fuss around him, arguing with the manager, making calls on their phones. There’s a general change of focus as we come through the revolving doors.
‘They’re here. Talk to you later.’
We get the story. How they were all up town for Carl’s stag-do. How they’d had a bit to drink. How Carl had pitched face first into the tarmac when he stepped off the kerb. No, he wasn’t knocked out. No, he wasn’t run over. His neck’s fine. He’s just chipped a few teeth and cut his eye.
Carl groans and takes the tea-towel away so I can examine the wound.
‘It’s quite deep, Carl. That’ll need some attention up at the hospital.’
‘It’s my teeth I’m worried about.’
‘They’ll give you some advice about them, too. Come on.’
He stands up, even taller than you’d think, at least six foot four, arms as thick as my legs.
‘Mind your head,’ I tell him as we open the door to the ambulance. The truck leans towards us as he climbs aboard.
‘Ellie’ll kill me,’ says Carl, holding the sterile dressing in place. ‘She’ll rip me to shreds.’
‘Nah, mate,’ says Rich, his Best Man, coming with him to the hospital. ‘Don’t forget, she’s got the hen party next week. God knows what that’ll be like.’
Carl shakes his head and stares at his feet.
‘I can’t believe it,’ he says. ‘This shit doesn’t happen to me. I’ve been so tired lately. What with the kids and everything. Really all I wanted was a good night out and a bit of a lie-in.’ He looks up at me. ‘Sad, in’it?’
‘I don’t think so. Whatever makes you happiest. There’s nothing wrong in that.’
He sighs and looks back at the floor.
‘I’ve just thought,’ he says. ‘We’ve got that photo-shoot tomorrow. Fuck knows what you’ll look like for that.’
Suddenly it’s apparent that Carl is crying a little. He uses the bloodied dressing to wipe his eyes, then sits back in the chair and takes a breath.
‘Sorry, mate. Sorry. It’s the shock of it all, I guess.’
‘Don’t worry about a thing, Carl. We’ll get you fixed up and back on your feet in no time.’
‘I’m just tired,’ he says. ‘All I wanted was a night out with the lads and then bed. And now this.’ He holds out the dressing as evidence. ‘Wasting your time. You’ve got more important things to do than dealing with fuck-ups like me.’
‘You had an accident, Carl. That’s what we’re here for. It’s good. It keeps us in a job.’
‘What, driving drunks around?’
He shakes his head.
‘I can’t believe it. Ellie’ll fucking kill me.’
‘Don’t worry about a thing. Leave Ellie to me,’ says Rich, hugging him round the shoulders. ‘It’ll be like nothing happened.’
Carl looks at him, then smiles a bloodied, crooked smile.
Rich’s phone starts to buzz.
He glances down at it, then back up at Carl. And even though I admit it might be more to do with a change of light in the cabin than anything else, his smile seems to lose about ten per cent conviction.
‘Oh Christ!’ says Carl.