Sunday, July 12, 2009

forty quid

The window of the All Night store is heaped with a selection of goods you can expect to find inside. Jumbled and incoherent, it looks like the window dressing equivalent of a supermarket dash, a bored employee given sixty seconds to swipe as much as they can from the shelves and throw it in the window. And if this is a representative sample, what’s mostly on sale in this shop is beer and spirits. Dusty pyramid piles of bottles and cans rise up precariously against a background of dessicated celebrity magazines, boxes of sanitary products and a toy ambulance standing by in a yellowing plastic bubble. The whole scene is back-lit by the strip-lighting from within, and a purple neon sign that flashes on and off throughout the night and day: 24… Hour… Off… Licence.
Next to the store is a battered black doorway. It stands open to reveal a cavernous hallway with letters on the floor, as if the postman had thrown them there, too scared to go any further. A flight of stairs rises steeply upwards at the back of the hall. We step inside and walk up.
‘Hello? Ambulance?’
‘Up here.’
Short stubs of staircase switch back on themselves seemingly without logic, following the hidden architectural demands of the shop underneath. But eventually they lead us up to a large sitting room where two men hang back against the far window and a young blond girl lies motionless on her back on a wide, dark green tartan bed.
‘Help her, man. She gone. I think she dead.’
‘Yeah. Help her.’
The two of them have an enervated watchfulness about them, like husbands on a shopping trip outside a changing room. The difference between this girl being alive or dead is another tedious distraction.
‘She owe us forty quid.’

I can see from here that the girl is not dead. She’s not even unconscious. Her breath rises and falls evenly, her pulse beats in her neck and tummy, and her eyelids flutter as she resists the urge to sit up and look at us as we come closer around the bed.
‘What’s her name?’
‘I don’t know, man. We only met her tonight. At a club. Y’understand?’
‘So what can you tell me about her?’
‘Nothin’. She say she want coke. We come back here and get her some. She put it up her nose then gets well freaked and crashes out on us, man. What’s the matter with her? I swear no more. Last time.’
‘Anything other than coke?’
He tips his head back.
‘What’ya mean?’
‘It doesn’t make any difference to us. We’re not the police. We just need to know what she took so we can figure out what’s the matter.’
‘Ya listen ta’ me. Nothin’. A little bit a’ coke, vodka and the Bull. Thassit.’
‘The name on her credit card is Christina,’ says Frank, holding her shiny black purse.
I call her name, and when that doesn’t work, apply some painful stimuli. When she opens her eyes she starts to cry.
‘What’s happened to you, Christina?’
‘I don’t know,’ she sniffs. ‘I want my mum.’
‘I want my forty quid.’
‘I tell you what we’ll do. We’ll go down to the ambulance, check you out there and then decide what we’re going to do. Okay?’
She nods, her bottom lip clenching upwards as she cries, making her look like an eight year old caught in her older sister’s party clothes.
‘Come on. Take my arm.’
The second guy steps towards us.
‘What about our money?’
‘We just need a few minutes to ourselves on the ambulance, then we’ll let you know.’
The two men study us as we lead Christina down the stairs. She goes barefoot, hanging onto my arm, with Frank following behind carrying the response bag and a pair of black stiletto shoes.

‘Who are those men?’ I ask her as I wrap the blood pressure cuff around her arm.
‘I don’t know,’ she says. ‘I don’t like them. I was with some friends at a club. We got chatting to them. They said did I want some cocaine, so I said yes. We all started out together but somehow we got separated. I ended up in their flat. And when I took the cocaine, it made me feel bad. I felt all choked up and panicky. Then I must’ve collapsed. And when I came too they were standing over me, staring down, and I was scared.’
Frank gives her a roll of tissue to wipe her face. She looks at us.
‘Please don’t tell my mum.’
‘How old are you?’
‘Twenty one.’
‘Then it’s up to you whether you tell her or not. But I think you should come with us to the hospital and give yourself space to think about what to do next. I don’t think you’re safe here with these guys.’
She blows her nose.
‘Frank? I think we’re about ready to go. And if you see the guys outside…’
‘Yep. I know,’ he says. ‘Leave it to me.’


Anonymous said...

Scary. But she is lucky they called you.

Mum's the word said...

That post should be titled: "My hero!"
I don't think that girl realizes how lucky she was.
I've lost a couple of friends to bad coke.
You do amazing things Spence.

petrolhead said...

If I was Frank and the guys came and gave the girl hassle, I'd have shown them the full weight of the truck!

I do feel sorry for the poor kid. She was stupid for going off with random guys she doesn't even know and for taking drugs, but if she hadn't crashed out and they hadn't called an ambulance, who knows what they'd have done? And to think they only gave a damn because she owed them £40! I hope they never got it back.

Anonymous said...

I can just imagine the next bit, Spence. An epic, comical car chase through the streets at night, your ambulance with Frank at the wheel, not breaking a sweat as he dodges through traffic, with the two gentlemen following close behind in a clapped out escort. And somewhere not far behind them, the local boys 'n' girls in blue, like a scene from the Keystone Cops.


Spence Kennedy said...

Hi KMK - I guess they called a) because they hadn't quite given up on their 40 quid and b) how were they going to get rid of her otherwise? She was certainly lucky it ended as well as it did.

Thanks MTW - I often think that a lot of what we do is more social than medical. A kind of specialised removals!

Hey PH! I hope they didn't get their 40 quid, too. They were very dodgy geezers. I think you can guess that I didn't take to them...

Terrierandy7 - That made me laugh! I often feel like the ambulance equivalent of the keystone cops. Or Laurel and Hardy with a yellow bag. Poking the stethoscope into my eye / squirting the GTN in my face. ;0)

loveinvienna said...

Sounds like they were very creepy men. As the rest of the comments say, she was very very lucky they called you; anything could have happened to her! Will teach her a valuable lesson, I hope (although she didn't intentionally lose her friends).

The image I have of Frank in my mind now is a hulking great ex-Forces type with arms like Popeye. One flick of his pinkie and the baddies are done for :D I'm very probably wrong, but he just seems that way when you write about him.

Hope you're ok!
Liv xxx

Spence Kennedy said...

They did give me the creeps! The kind of guys that make you check where the exits are.

I did make a rather fatherly attempt at a safety lecture in the ambulance, I'm afraid. I hope she does learn from what happened, though. She certainly seemed scared enough.

Frank is a composite character of a few people I work with. Yeah - I imagine him as a dependable, ex-forces character, big feet and hands and an old dog way of looking at the world.

I'm good, thanks. Off camping soon, so I hope the weather improves.

:0) x