Wednesday, September 12, 2007


We can tell from a distance there is an argument going on as both the fluorescent jacketed policeman and the man in the pinstripe suit are leaning in towards each other and gesturing a great deal - the policeman with a notebook and the man with a carrier bag stuffed full of clothes. He also seems to have a large painting in a heavy gilt frame tucked under his other arm. A policewoman is standing off to the side as if she is embarrassed by the whole scene; she chews the aerial of her radio and smiles at me as I climb out of the cab with my clipboard. The policeman makes an exasperated, pacifying wave of his notebook, a gesture I also try to use when I want our dog to sit and be still, then tucks it away and strides over to me. He nods for me to come close so he can tell me something important.
'This gentleman is an arse,' he says. 'We pulled him over because he failed to appear at the station with the correct documents following a traffic misdemeanour earlier in the week, and now he's accusing us of harrassment...'
The man has stepped over to us.
'Don't you try to drag him into your pathetic little conspiracy,' he spits.
'Now, now. Take it easy,' both the policeman and I say together.
The policeman asks me if I would check the man over because at some point during their conversation he appeared to complain of chest pain.
'I'm going to make a very serious and formal complaint about this and you're going to be sacked,' he says, almost dropping the painting. 'This is victimisation, harrassment... this is a police state. It's unbelievable.'
I touch the man on the shoulder to lead him into the ambulance. 'Let's just take things a step at a time,' I say, 'Let's just give you the once over to see you're okay, and then we can think about the rest of it after. What's your name?'
'Okay, Alexander. Have you got any chest pain at the moment?'
'No. I'm fine. Well - I say fine.'
He stamps up the steps and throws himself down on the trolley. I take his belongings from him and put them on the floor. The painting is a study of some boats at low tide, in oils. The man pushes his heavy blond hair back from his face and looks up at me. 'They're all absolute bastards.'
He seems as moneyed and unconvincing as his painting. He has a pin striped suit, a tan and a rugged, Captain Hurricaine-style cleft chin, but there is something a little off-balance about the whole ensemble.
'I own an antiques shop in the Quarter,' he says. 'They know that. They know exactly who I am, and they don't like it.'
As he readjusts his fringe, a heavy gold bracelet slides down his thick forearm.
'They cannot accept it.'
And then, incredibly, a tear spills onto his cheek. Rae hesitates as she turns on the blood pressure monitor and looks at me. 'My father died, I've got endless money worries. And now this.' He fumbles with his shirt buttons with his other hand to reveal a broad expanse of chest hair. 'How's my heart? If they've killed me, they're going to pay.'
'Well, no-one's dying at the moment,' Rae says, widening her eyes at him like someone flashing their headlights. 'Your blood pressure is up, but then you're obviously stressed.' She fetches out a razor to shave off some hair for the ECG dots. 'This won't hurt.'
'My blood pressure's up? Right. I want that written down. I want that in writing. They've made me ill.'
There is a knock on the ambulance door and the policeman looks in.
'How are we getting on?'
'You bastards have made me sick. Tell him what you just told me.'
'Alexendar's blood pressure's raised, but nothing you wouldn't expect from someone under stress. Otherwise, everything's looks okay. He doesn't have any chest pain, but we're just doing a quick ECG to make sure it's all fine.'
The policeman nods at us and then makes a gesture at the man.
'After they've finished, we'll talk about what you need to do, and then you can be on your way.'
'What's going to happen to my car?'
'Well, without the correct documentation you won't be able to drive this car any further, sir. It will be impounded, and you can collect it following the usual procedures. I'll explain it all when my colleagues have finished with you.'
The policeman retreats again and shuts the door.
The ECG is completely normal, and we tell Alexander that as far as we're concerned everything has checked out and he's fit enough to go. As he buttons his shirt back up I collect his belongings together and hand them to him. He tucks the painting back under his arm and stands up quickly like a soldier with his orders. Rae opens the door for him and helps him down the steps. I can see the policeman and woman straighten up by their squad car, unfolding their arms as he looks across at them. Then, just before he rejoins this battle, he hesitates and looks back at us.
'Ssh,' he says. The carrier bag swings from his wrist as he puts a finger up to his lips and says in a pantomime whisper: 'I'm taking delivery of a BMW M5 tomorrow.'

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