Here we are at the custody suite again. Modelled on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, the centre of it is dominated by a great circular dais marked out into separate counters each with its own computer terminal. The only thing lacking is Mr Spock leaning over a screen and rationalising a particularly dangerous reading. If the red lights start flashing on and off, I expect we’ll have to start throwing ourselves about.
What makes the suite seem even bigger is the group of teenagers who’ve been arrested. It’s absurd to see them here, being patted down. By rights the officer should be holding up lollipops, or at worst some unfinished homework. As it is, he holds up a batch of fat cigarettes and a Ziploc bag of herb.
‘This – this is very bad for you,’ says the officer, shaking it in the air. But even he seems suddenly to be overcome with apathy. ‘Name.’
But we’ve come for someone else - a psych patient called Mr Turner who was sectioned by the police earlier in the afternoon. Apparently he’d been behaving erratically in the shopping centre, shouting loudly and waving his arms about in a threatening manner.
‘We’ve picked him up before,’ says the Custody Sergeant. ‘Known schizophrenic. Was in around Christmas, similar deal, but went in for a week or two and everything calmed down. But it looks as if he’s been off his meds again so here we are. He might shout and carry on, but don’t worry, he’s never actually been violent. Will you be okay with that? You don’t need an escort, do you?’
He may as well be holding up subtitle cards: Please say it’s okay. We need the cell space. We can’t spare anyone.
‘Yeah fine,’ I say. ‘Forewarned and all that.’
‘Great. This way. Here’s his bag of stuff. I’ll need you to sign for the cash he had on him.’
Mr Turner is an extraordinary man. Six foot six, with a snow-cap of hair and icy goatee, he has the stringy but distinguished demeanour of a great explorer. If it wasn’t for the fact that they’ve taken away his belt and one hand is occupied holding on to his trousers, you’d have trouble getting anywhere near him. As it is, his left arm is constantly on the move, swinging his hand up to pluck some imaginary membrane away from his face, then swinging out again to pat and slap the air. His eyes are pale, a robin egg blue.
‘NO! I KNOW WHO YOU ARE! YOU’VE COME TO TAKE ME TO THE HOSPITAL. IS IT PRIVATE? I SAY, IS IT PRIVATE? ANSWER ME. DON’T LIE TO ME.’
‘No-one’s going to lie to you, Mr Turner. This is the ambulance crew and yes, they’re taking you to the psychiatric hospital, the NHS one. Now there’s nothing to worry about...’
‘NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT? NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT? DID YOU HEAR THAT? HE SAID THERE WAS NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT. WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE BEER? DO YOU DRINK BEER?’
‘London Pride,’ I tell him. ‘Guinness.’
‘WHAT ABOUT GOAT’S CHEESE? DO YOU EAT GOAT’S CHEESE?’
‘Not much. Sometimes on a salad. I’m not over-keen.’
‘I’M IN DISPUTE WITH THE BANK. I PUT THREE HUNDRED POUNDS IN THE CASH MACHINE AND IT WOULDN’T GIVE IT BACK. DID YOU KNOW YOU CAN PUT CASH IN AS WELL AS TAKE IT OUT? BUT I’M IN TWO DISPUTES WITH THE BANK. ONE ABOUT THE THREE HUNDRED POUNDS AND ONE ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE.’
‘Well let’s talk about that on the way to the hospital, shall we, Mr Turner?’
‘IT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.’
‘Well, only if you want to talk about it, of course.’
His voice is so loud it’s hard not to lean backwards. I look over in Frank’s direction. He smiles at me – and I can read the imaginary cards he’s holding up, too: Funny how you always ends up in the back with the difficult ones.
‘WHERE DOES MILK COME FROM?’ bellows Mr Turner.
I turn back to him, suddenly feeling tired.
‘I used to know. I really did. I’m just not that sure any more.’