An hour from the end of the shift and another job comes through – minor injury RTC, moped vs. car, way over the other side of town. Rae makes the calculations out loud: ‘Rush hour – say, ten minutes on lights – walks on – obs en route – twenty minutes to hospital. This should do us.’
An update: Car making a first.
‘I wonder who it is?’
By which she means: Let’s hope it’s someone who won’t immobilise unnecessarily. Because that would screw up the calculations somewhat and put us over.
‘At least it’s a moped,’ she says. ‘At least he won’t need cutting out.’
We make it there in eight.
A group of people standing on a wide stretch of pavement with a moped between them.
‘Callum’ says Rae, and we breathe easier.
‘Wow! You got here quick!’ he says, then: ‘Finishing soon, are we?’
‘Half six. You?’
‘Eleven,’ he says, mugging a sad face. ‘Not sure if this is going to do you or not, then. What we’ve got is Graham, forty-four. Graham was on his way home when this car pulls a you-ee in front of him. He clips the back and skids off. All very low speed. Wasn’t KO’d or anything. The only pain he’s complaining of is a little soreness above his right knee. Maybe we could have a quick look at that on the back of the truck, out of the cold? But he’s already said he doesn’t want to go to hospital, so I don’t know how you want to play it.’
Graham is on the phone to his wife. A tall, managerial figure in an immaculate three-piece suit, it’s hard to believe he’s just come off his bike. There’s not a mark on him. I can only think he must have sailed through an open window and landed on an ottoman in the middle of a conference of personal stylists.
‘Sorry, can’t talk now, darling. The paramedics want to examine me,’ he says. ‘Yah. Could you come and pick me up? Okay great. That’d be smashing. Sorry to be a nuisance. Okay, darling. Love you lots.. By-ee. By-ee.’
He smiles at us, then limps up the steps into the back of the truck.
‘Here all right?’ he says, gesturing to a chair.
We’ve got him wired up to everything before he’s even sat down.
A traffic cop arrives and adds to the party in the back. He gets him to blow into his alcometer with all the professional patter of a table magician.
Meanwhile, I’ve got one eye on the clock.
‘We need to move this along if we’re going to have enough time to get another one in,’ she says, out of the corner of her mouth.
There’s another knock on the door.
Graham’s wife, Patricia.
‘The wife!’ says Rae. By which I take it she means ‘The lift home.’
‘Oh – gosh!’ says Patricia. ‘What’s this? A party bus?’
She gets a bit tearful when Graham tells her about the accident. ‘It could have been so much worse... I’ve told you, you have to be careful...’ We haven’t time for too much of this, though. We’re like tired bar staff collecting the glasses, taking them from your hand the moment you’ve drained them, putting stuff away, shutting cupboards emphatically, using every conceivable physical cue and vocal gesture to bring this to a conclusion.
‘So what do you think, then? Just Ibuprofen, rest, and a consultation with my GP if the knee doesn’t improve?’
‘Absolutely. Here’s your copy of the form. Nice to meet you, Graham. See you later.’
‘Not if I can help it,’ he says, and then laughs. ‘Oh - you know what I mean!’
Twelve hours. It’s a long shift. Finding yourself with half an hour to go and every prospect of a late job makes for a tense run back to base. Even the sky seems to reflect our apprehension – roiling grey clouds, a smear of feverish yellow in the west. The MDT screen between us tracks our pitifully slow progress. Any moment we expect details of another job, accompanied by the electronic barking noise that can freeze your heart if it catches you right We’re horribly aware that the longer the screen shows us heading back to base, the worse the overrun will be. We try to ignore our predicament, chatting about this and that, making jokes, or just ploughing on through the traffic, silent, strung out, willing ourselves not to glance down at the screen because we know for a fact it can smell our fear; the merest downward flick of an eye will cause it to change.Still the screen runs on innocently, the city we pass through simplified into a grid of black squares, named roads, bridges, and us, the ambulance, a little green circle with an arrow in the middle turning this way and that, but always optimistically, heroically, home.