Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The man in the dark suit

I acknowledge the message, book us mobile, then scroll down to read the details. The first part of the message: OS Red Spot Casino, The Marina. Overdose/Poisoning/Psychiatric/Suicide attempt.
J. groans. 'This night just gets better and better.'
Then an addition: Warning - weapons involved. Pls stand off and await police assist.
And again: Man armed with explosives. Hearing voices. Wearing a Brazilian football shirt.
J. calls up Control to get an ETA for the police on scene. Is told approximately ten minutes. As an afterthought he says: 'This patient is obviously insane. Argentina are a much better team.'
The airway crackles blankly.
'Joke,' he says, but the radio is a tough audience tonight, and remains silent.
He groans again and makes himself comfortable as I head off down the road towards the marina.

A few streets from our destination J. tells me to stand-off on the ramp that leads down to the supermarket at the edge of the marina. 'The police will have to pass us to get to the scene, and it's high enough up so we can see what's going on,' he says. Uncannily, just as he finishes explaining his plan, Control sends us another message: Rendezvous with police in supermarket car park.
'Crap idea,' he says. 'But if that's what they want...'
I turn on to the ramp and follow it round and down towards the mini roundabout at the end where we need to turn left into the car park.
As I reach the end of the ramp I see a man in a Brazilian football shirt walking towards us from our right.
J. is immediately awake, slapping me on the arm and mock-squealing. We are straightaway two schoolboys on the dodgems.
'Go round! Go round!' he screams.
'Argh! He's following us!' I shout back.
'Go round again!'
'He's heading us off!'
'Quick! Turn left! No - right! No - Left! Go into the car park and drive to the other side.'
The crazy man in the football shirt makes an ineffectual lunge at the vehicle as I pass, but I make it through and drive off around the supermarket car park. I drive way out across to the other side. As our giggles subside I notice a tall, smartly dressed figure in a dark suit and white shirt standing on his own in the centre of the carpark by a trolley station. He makes a minimum turn of the head to watch us as we drive past.
'What's wrong with everyone tonight?'
J. sighs and rubs his face.
I reach the far side of the car park and stop the vehicle. The engine clicks as I stare out across the bleakly illuminated space.
'Is he coming?'
'I'm not sure. He's thinking about it.' Then: 'Yep. He's headed right this way.'
We scan the car park. No police.
'This is ridiculous,' J. says. 'We can't keep driving round the car park. It's like the Benny Hill Show.'
The man in the football shirt is half way across to us by this point.
'I can't see any thing that looks like a bomb.'
Almost at us, walking with a purposeful slouch, like a player walking back to the bench after a red card. Disappointed, tired - but homicidal? I don't know enough about these things to tell. Does anyone?
J. hits the central locks button and the mechanism engages with a reassurring thunk.
The man stops, his arms straight down by his sides, and stands neutrally, a little away from my window.
I smile at him and nod, polite to the last.
He waits for me to lower the window.
So I lower the window.
'Why did you drive away from me?' he says. He shivers and folds his arms.
'Sorry about that,' I say. 'We've been told not to approach you because you're armed with explosives.'
He shrugs.
'Have you got any explosives on you?' I am profoundly conscious that this is probably the first and last time I will ever ask anyone this question.
He shrugs again, reaches into his pocket and pulls out a mother of pearl cigarette lighter. 'This is all I have. I only said what I said because I need help. I have to go to hospital tonight.' He taps his head. 'I'm not well up here.' He takes a tentative step closer. 'Please. Can I come on board? It is very cold.'
J. leans across me and says: 'Well - you shouldn't go telling people you're going to blow yourself up, mate.'
'I'm sorry. It was a mistake.'
J. makes an irritable gesture to a bench a little way ahead of us. 'Go and sit on that and wait til the police get here.'
The man does as he is told. He sits on the bench, folds his arms and legs, and stares at us.
J. gives Control an update. 'Further to this call at the Marina - we've found the patient - or rather, he's found us. He's now sitting on a bench a couple of yards in front of us. Don't think he's armed. Looks quite harmless. Can you tell the police where we are?'
There is a pause. J. searches for some music on the radio.
Suddenly the man stands up and comes over to the ambulance again. I wind the window down.
'Couldn't you give me a blanket at least? It's so cold.'
J. makes the same gesture back to the bench.
'You really should have thought about that when you started shouting about bombs in your pocket. Maybe when you've sat back down I might throw a blanket your way. But you've got to go and sit down first. Go on.' And then: 'Go on.'
The man retreats to the bench. J. groans, climbs out of the vehicle, grabs a blanket out of the back and tosses it across to him. He wraps it around his shoulders, J. climbs back in, I lock the doors again and we all settle into our positions to wait for the police.
The man in the centre of the car park watches us as before, his face and shirt white beneath the lights.
'What does he want? He's crazier than any of us.'
We slide further down in our seats.

After another quarter of an hour a police van turns the corner off the ramp and cautiously glides to a halt on the far side of the car park. For a moment the night seems strung with a thinly glistening web of distrust - between the police in the van, the man on the bench, the man in the centre of the car park, and me and J. in the ambulance. Then it is just as quickly broken as the police van starts moving again; a minute later the van draws alongside us. The man on the bench stands up and pulls his blanket tightly around himself, ready for the next stage.
I wind my window down and tell the policeman what has happened so far, about the ludicrous chase around the mini roundabout, the cigarette lighter, the world's closest stand-off.
'So who's that guy in the middle of the car park?'
'I have no idea.'
Three policemen and a policewoman get out of the van, put their hats on, and go to talk to the man on the bench. We follow on behind.
Suddenly, as if sensing a bigger, more responsive audience than the hopeless ambulance people, the crazy man immediately begins to talk nonsense, very quickly. Something about God, and knowing his plans, and how he has been given a mission to kill people. The senior policeman makes a calming gesture with his hands, just as if he is directing a car to pull over.
'That's enough of that,' he says, flatly.
'So what do you want then? DO YOU WANT ME TO SHOUT?'
'No, I don't want you to shout, either. I just want you to tell me what all this is about.'
The crazy man immediately reverts to the subdued, rather deflated tone he used with us.
'I need to go to a hospital tonight. I'm not well. I need help.'
The other officers have already lost interest and are chatting to each other or looking round the car park. One notices the man in the middle.
'Who is that?'
'Nobody knows.'
Meanwhile, the senior officer discusses things with J. and his next in command.
'We're not taking him,' says J.
'He's hardly a 136.'
'But still...'
The senior officer speaks to the man again. 'If you'd like to come with us, sir, we'll make sure you get to where you need to get to tonight.' And then to us: 'Thanks for your help, guys.'
The crazy man snaps us a look that is one part victory, three parts disdain.
We complete our paperwork and drive off.

The man in the dark suit watches us all as we leave.


PattiL007 said...

Hello again Spence,
I hope you and your family are well and happy. I was just paging through older posts to make sure I'd read everything and when I came across this one (which I had read previously), and again I laughed till I peed.

It really must have been a real-life Benny Hill scene...I only wish it had been caught on a security camera and you could have released the video; however, your talent for words actually makes me feel as if I had been there.

This is the one that hooked me originally...after reading this, I became a subscriber and have enjoyed your blog since. Sometimes I have to use Google or Wikipedia to find out what you mean by a certain phrase or a word but I can usually figure it out in context. Perhaps someday I will ask you some of the questions I have...most regard innocuous things such as what your ambulances look like as opposed to ours (US) and the like, but I will save that for another day.

Keep up the great work, both your day job and your writing...and stay safe and healthy!


Spence Kennedy said...

Well - Patti - you certainly win the award for commenting on the earliest blog ever! I'm so impressed - thanks for taking all that trouble. Honestly - I owe you big time.

It was very much a Benny Hill scene as I remember. We were screeching like school kids whilst he chased us round the mini-roundabout, ostensibly with a bomb under his football shirt.... :/

Our ambulances are looking pretty good these days. We just had a delivery of some new Merc trucks - not as broad and square as the Chevvies you prob use, but quite roomy inside, with everything tucked away behind doors, everything white and clinical looking. The funny thing is - the waste bag is just the other side of a Staywell catflap. The coachbuilders prob found that that was the most economical answer to the problem - but now what we find is that just about every pt / relative / friend who comes on board asks us where the cat is!

Thanks again for all your support and encouragement all this time. I really appreciate it. x