It couldn’t be more public. Two street drinkers fighting outside the pizza restaurant overlooking one of the busiest intersections in town. We have a big audience – people eating pizzas just the other side of the glass, Christmas shoppers and lunchtime workers hurrying past on the pavement, people in cars queuing at the lights, and a woman filming us on her phone.
‘Please don’t,’ I say to her. She zooms in.
It’s impossible to know what the fight was about. It seems to have something to do with a tatty, empty Adidas bag, but really that could just be the focus of all the tugging and pushing and ineffectual roaring. The call came through to us as a male, fitting. We wondered if it might have been a mis-type, but one of the cops who’ve stopped by to help says that Paulie, the guy who seems to be the centre of all the fuss, was seen at the start of it all to fall to the ground and start shaking.
‘Apparently he smoked something. A legal high of some description,’ says one of the cops. ‘He looks a bit out of it, but I wouldn’t say he was dangerously intoxicated. What do you think?’
‘Shall we get him on the ambulance and check him out there?’
It’s easier said than done. The scrappiest drinker – a guy with a face that would make an ogre wince – harries us around the second cop as we herd Paulie up the steps into the back. He’s submissive to begin with, enough to get a satisfactory blood sugar reading. Unfortunately the scratch on his finger awakens the beast again. He starts swinging his fists and kicking out, so we let him get off.
‘I won’t fight you, Paulie,’ says one of the cops. ‘Are you listening to me? I won’t fight you. I’ll just tazer you. Do you understand?’
If he does, he hides it well. He crashes out of the door and staggers around outside; we form a moving barrier round him again whilst we review our options.
The cops don’t want to arrest him. They’re supposed to be undercover, chasing sharks not sprats. If they arrest him, they’ll have to take him down the custody suite. The nurse there will be duty-bound to refer on to the hospital, just in case there’s something else going on. The hospital is completely overrun; an aggressive, intoxicated Paulie is the last thing they want. All in all, it would be better for all concerned if Paulie simply refused aid and went on his way, preferably with a sober friend.
Miraculously, the sober friend appears on a bike.
‘Hey!’ says Lance, jumping off and doing a little run to a stop. ‘Paulie? Whassap?’
Lance is as weathered as Paulie, but he’s so perfectly polite and helpful, we couldn’t be happier if St Francis had walked out of the pizza restaurant dabbing the sauce from his chin and politely inquiring if we needed a hand.
‘Mate!’ he says, turning to Paulie and laying a hand on his shoulder. ‘You’re a little bit fucked, aren’t you? Whad’av you been smoking? Not that bad shit again?’
Lance hugs Paulie round the shoulders and smiles at me.
‘It’s called Spice, but I tell you what, it’s not coriander. It’s pure evil. They put it in the water to make Koi carp swim straight.’
It takes a while, but Lance persuades Paulie to go back to the squat with him.
‘He just needs to sleep it off,’ he says. ‘He’ll be fine. I’ve got college this afternoon, but I’ll be with him most of the day.’
‘What are you studying at college?’ I ask him.