As a finisher, it couldn’t be better. Man, 30. OD. Brother on scene for access.
‘Load n’go’ says Rae, howling through the traffic.
‘Snatch n’ grab’
It’s been a busy day. Hot, busy, difficult. Finishing on time has become our only goal, the tape across the road we’re desperate to crash through, collect our winners medal, and be heading home covered in glory and a foil blanket.
Rae parks up outside the block and we both hurry in, past a group of teenage free-runners practising on the forecourt. One of them covers railings, steps, railings in three giant strides, balancing on the last rail with his arms out, before casually stepping off. I’m feeling so energised and focused I’m tempted to join in. How hard could it be?
And so much quicker.
They nod at us as we pass through the main entrance and into the block.
Luckily the door is on the first landing; we won’t have far to walk him out.
I knock again.
We check the address.
I bend down and look through the letterbox – guarded with brushes.
Rae sighs and folds her arms.
Just as I’m about to knock again, the door opens. A young woman, hastily dressed, frowning at me over folded arms.
‘What?’ she says. Then it sinks in we’re ambulance, and she suddenly looks worried.
‘I’m fine’ she says. ‘What’s the matter?’
‘We had a call to someone at this address. A thirty-year-old male?’
‘Thirty?’ she says. ‘I don’t think so.’
Rae taps me on the shoulder.
‘It’s street, not court’ she says. Then to the woman: ‘Sorry to have bothered you.’
I pick up my bag and we head for the stairs whilst the woman watches us from the doorway.
Rae checks her watch.
‘Still time’ she says.
Back outside, and the free-runners are making one-armed cartwheels over a metal bin.
‘No worries,’ says Rae. ‘It’s only a little way back up the street.’
I feel like cartwheeling all the way there.
James is waiting outside the house for us.
‘I waved as you went past but you didn’t see me’ he says.
‘We went to court, not street,’ says Rae. ‘Sorry.’
‘That’s okay,’ says James. ‘Sorry to have called you. He’s just upstairs. I think he really meant it this time. He left a note.’
He hands me a scrappy piece of lined paper torn from a pad. A confusing scrawl in different coloured pens, with a bunch of childlike flowers – circles, stems, leaves – just after the apology and signature.
James leads us up a series of bare boards to the first floor. It’s a narrow, cluttered house, oppressively airless. If I walked further along this landing I’d probably end up crouching as I reached the vanishing point, but as it is, James pushes open a battered door to the right, and shows us into Gerry’s bedroom.
Gerry is naked on the bed, his vast torso swelling like the crest of an unexpectedly steep hill we’re suddenly expected to climb. When I lay hands on him he rears up and starts flailing his arms about. Then he vomits, a noxious fluorescent outflow of tablets and Gatorade. We struggle to get him on his side. We call for back-up.
Control tell us that they have several outstanding emergency calls and can only spare us someone on a car. We know that Gerry is at least a four-man lift, but even that doesn’t address the difficulty of getting him in the chair to begin with.
‘Send a crew on a truck as soon as you can’ I tell Control. ‘We’ll keep you updated.’
Even putting a mask on Gerry is impossible. He wrenches it off his face, rolling around, grabbing sheets, thrashing about – all without making more than a few deep, diaphragmatic grunts. His eyes bulge; I’m sure if he sees us at all we’re simply tormenting creatures in a terrible dream.
The paramedic on the car arrives, followed soon after by another truck.
After a quick conference we decide to get a specialist search and rescue team running. They have the equipment and skills to manage a patient like this: a large, wrap-around vacmat with straps and carrying handles for eight.
‘We’re all on nights,’ says Callum, the paramedic on the car. ‘We’re happy to sit on this one if you want to get away.’
We thank them, collect our kit together and leave.
We pass James in the hallway, looking bleak and thoughtful, his arms folded.
‘Thanks for all you’ve done,’ he says. ‘I’m sorry it’s so difficult. Gerry’s had a few – problems.’
We shake his hand and then hurry back out to the truck.
We’re only three-quarters of an hour late.
A couple of days later I run into Callum at the hospital. He tells me how the job panned out. How the rescue team arrived in three vehicles, one a massive truck with chunky wheels and a daunting array of lights. They had to call in another specialist team to RSI Gerry as he was too combative to move. Then once he was chilled out they had to pretty well dismantle the house to get the angles they needed to manoeuvre him down the stairs.
He hands me his phone, some pictures he took of the scene in the road outside, all the vehicles lined up, even a police car for crowd control.
‘I tell you what – it was a major incident’ he says, looking over my shoulder as I scroll through. ‘It looked like the end of the world. It’s a good job you got away when you did. We were there a couple of hours or more.’
I hand the phone back to Callum. Nowhere in any of the pictures could I make out Gerry’s brother, but I had a sudden, strong image of him, standing discretely somewhere, the other side of the police tape, perhaps, his arms folded, watching the scene.
‘Were you very late?’ says Callum.
I shake my head.‘Nope. Well – forty-five minutes. The way it panned out, we were happy with that.’