We pull up outside the fast food restaurant. I nod to the security guard and to the guy waiting with a plastic chair just the other side of the door. When we’ve hurriedly pulled all the bags we think we’ll need out of the side of the ambulance – this is a respiratory arrest, after all – I turn to speak to the security guard.
‘Through here?’ I say.
He laughs and tips his head behind me in the direction of the guy with the chair.
‘Are you the patient?’ I ask him.
‘Mate. Sorry. I didn’t know what to do, yeah? I felt so bad.’
‘Let’s get you on board then and we’ll have a chat.’
‘What do I do about this?’
He holds up a black plastic stacking chair.
‘It’s an antique’ he says. ‘I paid two hundred quid for that.’
‘Bring it on board. It’ll go walkies otherwise.’
I hold the chair whilst he strides up the steps onto the ambulance, then pass it up to him. Rae has prepped the trolley; he stretches out, takes the cap off his head and clutches it with both hands in the centre of his chest.
In his collarless shirt, neckerchief, braces, boots and Burberry cap, he looks like he’s hurried off the set of a photo shoot for Country Living: special Autumn fashion pull-out – Channelling Your Inner Poacher.
‘How can we help?’
‘I took a hit about an hour ago.’
‘Smoked or injected?’
‘Injected. I’m normally fine, but this gear must’ve been bashed with something nasty ‘cos I had a bit of a reaction.’
‘My heart went mental. I felt all flushed, like I was going to explode. I felt itchy all over. It was terrible. I tried riding it out but in the end I had to call someone ‘cos I really thought I was gonna die. What d’you think? Am I allergic or summit?’
‘Could be. Who knows what they cut this stuff with.’
‘He’s my usual man. I’ve known him for years. He’s good as Sainsbury’s. He never sweetens the gear. Not by much, anyways. But this – this was definitely bashed.’
‘That’s always a risk you’re going to run, of course. You know that better than me. Even if your guy’s the King of Denmark, at the end of the day he’s just passing on what he’s picked up. He can’t test it all, can he? Who knows what they might’ve shoved in there to bulk it out.’
‘I know. I know. But you know what? I’m feeling a bit better now. How’m I looking on the machine?’
‘Your heart rate’s a bit up, nothing spectacular. ECG’s fine. You haven’t got a rash. It’s all pretty good.’
‘That’s a relief. ‘Cos I really thought that was it. Thanks for coming out. I think I’ll just get home and have a rest now. This has proper freaked me out.’
‘It might be worth speaking to your doctor or someone about the whole drug thing. You’re running all kinds of risks – the big one being unconsciousness and death, of course. But then there’s infection, the gear cut with evil stuff, the gear that’s unexpectedly pure, and then all the social stuff. I don’t suppose it’s easy, paying for it all.’
‘Tell me about it. I’m holding down three jobs as it is. I’ll die of overwork before overdose.’
He signs our paperwork, flamboyantly, like he’s giving an autograph, then buttons up his shirt, straightens his neckerchief and gets ready to leave the ambulance. I step down first with his chair.
‘Two hundred quid?’
‘Yeah! Do you know about chairs.’
‘No. Not really.’
‘Fair enough. Anyway, that’s an antique.’
He takes the chair and looks right and left along the street.
‘I don’t suppose you’re going north, are you?’ he says, putting the chair back down so he can pull on his cap.
‘No. Sorry. Once we clear up we’ll be off on another job.’
He picks up the chair again and heads off towards the bus stop.
The security guard is still standing outside the restaurant. I catch his eye and he smiles.
‘I thought that was one of your chairs’ I say to him.
He smiles and shakes his head.
‘No, my friend,’ he says. ‘Ours are all screwed to the floor.’