‘Weet, weet,’ says an man at the bar, the cuffs of his gabardine coat falling down his thin wrist as he necks down the last of a Grouse whisky.
‘Aye,’ laughs his pal, standing beside him and a few of the old guys nearby chuckle and looking into their pint. ‘She’s a cracker.’
Jaz allows himself to be helped up by the ambulance woman and inhales a mouthful of her perfume. ‘I don’t need any help,’ he splutters. ‘I’m no’ an invalid.’ It seems offensive to him being tended by someone so young and pretty. He looks into her dark eyes. She’s not fazed by his outburst, guides him like a wardrobe on fixed castors by holding his wrist, glides him over the crunch of broken glass, to the shiny seats by the door and she prods him with her fingertips into sitting.
In totter two policemen through the swing doors their eyes sweeping the room and quickly settle on Jaz’s marked face.
‘Does this hurt?’ says the ambulance woman, a roll call of afflictions her fingers poking and prodding and running over Jaz’s face like a lawnmower, ‘here, here, and here’.
‘Nah,’ says Jaz from burst lips, his nose smashed and running blood and his eye already turning purple. His breathing is ragged and audible in his ears. ‘I jist need to go and lie down for a bit.’ His jaw aches and he’s not sure it’s not broken and he feels like greeting.
The senior partner, a thicket man, hovers behind her. His belly overflows his shirt, and medic jacket is scruffy, and on his cheeks the florid marks of rosacea, ‘He might be suffering concussion,’ he says to her in a parental tone in way of instruction. ‘We should take him in.’
‘Nah,’ says Jaz flopping backwards onto the cushioned rest of the seat, sitting up straight and shaking his head. ‘I’m alright.’
‘Can I have a word, sir?’ the policeman guarding the door asks, grinning?
The other cop is by the bar talking to Drew, back the other side of the bar, and they look over to where he’s sitting.
There is an atmosphere of waiting, after the storm, silence. The policeman at the door had a faint moustache and fidgets, holding the crown of his hat and feeding it between finger and thumb.
‘Eh, no,’ says Jaz, his knees hits against the side of the table, with a dull thud. ‘I’m feeling a bit concussed and I cannae mind a thing.’
‘We just need to check out a few things,’ the older, jowly, cop says, picking his way deftly across the room.
The medics step out of the way and he stands facing Jaz. ‘Can you tell me your name, address and date of birth?’
‘I’m no’ sure I can remember all that, whit with the concussion and all that.’
He nods to his colleague and slithers between the next table and slides in next to Jaz, pulling him up into a standing positon and patting him down. His cigarettes and brass lighter appear out of his pockets and on the table. A bit of toilet roll from his back pocket and a cigarette coupon. Some loose change. Pound note. A fiver. A roll of ten and twenty pound notes draws everybody’s eyes to it.
The jowly cops smacks his lips. ‘That’s quite a bit of money, sir,’ he declares. ‘Do you mind telling us where you got it from, or are you too concussed to remember that too?’
‘Eh, that’s mine,’ says the man with the gabardine coat. ‘I jist gave him a loan of it for a minute.’
His pals snigger, until the two cops look over at them and then fall into stuttered silence, not meeting their eyes.
‘I won it at the bookies,’ says Jaz.
‘Oh, aye, which horses did you back?’ The senior policeman eyeballs him, sticks a forefinger out and pushes him on the breastbone. Jaz falls backwards and sits down.
‘Cannae remember,’ Jaz wipes blood and snot on the denim of his jacket.
‘We’re taking him in.’ The senior cop addresses the ambulance man and ambulance woman. ‘One of us will travel with him in the ambulance and escort him to hospital.’ He turns to look around at Jaz’s face. ‘Until he’s been treated and stops gabbin’ shite.’ He pulls out a set of cuffs. ‘You don’t mind if I cuff him, do you?’ But he doesn’t wait for an answer, already lifting a wrist and applying the bracelet to his left hand. He ratchets up his right wrist until the flesh puckers.
‘That’s sore,’ says Jaz.
‘You need to be safe, sir,’ says the cop.
The older ambulance man gives a belated shrug and the younger ambulance woman opens her mouth, but takes his lead and shuts it and falls silent. The policeman hauls Jaz to his feet and pushes him towards the door. The younger policemen take his elbow when they swing through the door and the ambulance crew follow at their back.
Seagulls from the canal soar and cry, angling their wings in the icy wind and swooping over their heads. The younger policeman gets into the back of the ambulance with the sits next to Jaz, thighs touching, on a gurney that rolls and wobbles when the engine kicks in. Across from them sits the pretty medic.
‘Can’t you take his handcuffs off?’ she asks when they’re moving.
‘Don’t have a key,’ the policeman says and smiles at her to lessen the blow. ‘My partner’s got it. We’ll get him up there.’
‘I’m dying for a pish,’ Jaz says, shoogling in the seat beside him.
‘Oh, well, if you’re dying, I better ask Jimmy to turn the siren on,’ she says, but her gaze isn’t for him, but for the young policeman sitting with his hat on.
He laughs on cue.
When they get to Causality he becomes more business-like. He waits for his partner and they push Jaz into reception. It’s not yet busy, a nurse with scarlet beneath her apron and sensible shoes patrols the aisles and they’re given precedence over other patients waiting quietly, smoking cigarettes, in plastic chairs, ashtrays nearby, and a woman with stringy hair parked near a plastic door that flaps open and shut as the medical staff pass through it. The young cop goes to talk to a nurse in charge through the aperture of plastic. The older cop sits beside Jaz.
‘Look,’ Jaz says. ‘I’m dying for a pish. If you don’t let me go I’m just gonnae sit here and pee myself.’ Up close and under the sodium lights he can see the beginning of a monk’s crown when the policeman takes his cap off and sits it in his lap.
‘Nurse, nurse,’ Jaz shrieks again and again. ‘I need the toilet.’
The nurse with sensible shoes comes half running, half walking, and the bustle of starch like fingers scratched across a blackboard. She stands in front of them, making eye contact. ‘There’s a toilet this ways,’ she says.
The older cop stands up and guides him by the elbow. She leads them outside and along a corridor, follows the dado of institutional greens, light and dark, a pace or two in front of them. When they reach a bottleneck of milling patients and white coats and they can no longer hear their own footsteps she points to where the toilets are and turns back and leaves them standing together.
The policeman leads Jaz into the men’s toilet, barging his shoulder through the door and dragging him by the cuffs behind him. A middle-aged man at one of the sinks looks over then quickly looks away. One of the cubicles has toilet roll soaked in water and excrement stinking the toilet and littering the floor. The policeman pushes Jaz towards the one next to it.
‘You’ll need to uncuff me,’ Jaz says. ‘Or are you one of those types that likes taking a man zip down and holding his cock?’
‘Fuck off,’ the policeman says, pushing him, until he almost trips and falls. ‘I don’t need to do anything. Whether you pish yerself in there has nothing to do with me.’ He pulls the door towards him with his shiny boots, shutting Jaz off.
‘Hi, wait a wee minute,’ says Jaz. ‘I want to tell you something that might interest you. My name is James Docherty and I’m in the same Lodge as your Chief Superintendent.’
The door swings open and he’s looking at the older cop, who waits for him to continue. Jaz makes himself small, adopts a pleading tone. ‘I don’t want to waste your time. You’ve got all my money and you’ve got my fags, which is fine. But you’ll find a phone number among the other stuff. I’d suggest you phone it.’
‘You’re in nae position to suggest anything,’ but already he’s reaching for the keys and pulling Jaz roughly to him to unlock them. ‘You’re luck I’m no’ one of them. You know, Papes. But if you’re bullshitting me I’ll smash you all over the place.’
Jaz rubs his writs. ‘Nae bullshit mate. Phone that number and they’ll put you right.’ He pulls the door towards him and locks it.