‘You’ve were outside my flat, bleeding on the carpet.’
‘Who found me?’ he asks, ‘You?’
‘Yeah, aren’t I the lucky one? You must’ve dragged yourself up there after you were attacked. The nurse reckons you’re lucky to be alive. Do you remember anything?’
When he speaks, it’s like he’s squeezing words from a toothpaste tube. His jaw is wired up and his eyes are so swollen he can barely open them. He’s wrapped in bandages like a mummy.
‘Just bits, I don’t remember getting to your door at all.’
‘Slattery wants to speak to you but the doctor told him you’re to rest until later today.’ I pull up a chair and sit next to the bed. ‘You look like a train wreck,’ I tell him.
‘Thanks for the sympathy,’ he says.
‘Still, it could’ve been worse.’
‘How could it?’
‘It could’ve been me, your “junior colleague,” remember?’
He wants to know everything I can tell him. I think he’s planning another story already. This guy lives for stories, even if he has to be his own headline.
‘We’d arranged to meet about eight o’clock.’ I say.
‘Yeah, I remember that much.’
‘Well, it got to half past and then quarter to nine and you hadn’t arrived. I’d just about given up on you when I heard a sound outside the door, a sort of scratching and grunting, like a scene from a low budget horror film. I wasn’t too keen to rush and see what it was in case Manny had been transformed into a giant hog and was out there waiting. Then I heard a knock and a scuffle and I guess curiosity overcame fear. God, you left a hell of a mess on the floor outside – a trail of blood all the way from the lift which, incidentally, looked like an abattoir.’
‘Did I say anything?’
‘Nothing I could make out; a broken jaw puts paid to clear communication. You looked like someone dropped an anvil on your face. They’d stamped on your hand too. I think that was a warning against any more articles.’
‘Fucker got that wrong,’ he says, half raising the bandaged limb. ‘I’m left handed.’
He tries to laugh but gives up quickly; too much trouble.
He starts to speak again but his words are accompanied by a flow of saliva which he can’t control. It’s not a pretty sight.
‘Try to be economical with words,’ I suggest.
It seems ‘fuck you,’ squeezes easily through a wired jaw.
‘Anyway, I called an ambulance and got you here.’
‘It was the least I could do for my carpet. I’ll bill you for the cleaning.’
‘I need my laptop,’ he tells me. ‘It’s in my flat. Get the key from my pocket.’
‘Fuck off, Simon. You nearly got yourself killed. I’m not going near your flat.’
‘You’ve got to. Everything is on it. Just get the key.’
I root in his blood-stained jacket, which someone’s dropped on a chair beside the bed, and emerge with keys and a wallet.
He fumbles, one handed, through the wallet until he finds a card with his address.
‘You can be back in an hour,’ he says.
I want to tell him I’m not a messenger boy but I guess a junior colleague just does what he’s told.
‘I want to see everything you’ve got,’ I tell him.
‘Yeah, yeah, ok.’
He’s not in a position to argue.
‘Did you see who attacked you?’ I ask.
He shakes his head. ‘Not clearly.’
By the time I get back with the laptop, it’s almost midday and Slattery is sitting by the bedside, about to take a statement.
‘Shall I wait outside?’ I ask him.
He shakes his head. He looks even more dishevelled and unkempt than normal and the application of a jacket only has the effect of a plaster on gangrene. I see a difference in him, though. He looks tired, stretched thin. ‘No point,’ he sighs. He draws a notebook from his pocket and licks the point of a small pencil. ‘We’ll not catch the fuckers. Still, we’ll go through the motions.’ He looks around with distaste.‘Make it quick, though. I fucking hate hospitals. They’re full of contagious people and germs.’
Slowly – and painfully – Simon tells him what he remembers.
He sets out about 7.30 and is outside my place at about ten past eight. He parks down the narrow street at the side of the apartment block. He’s barely managed to lock the car when he sees a man running towards him from the main road – hooded, wearing dark clothes.
‘You mean just one person did this to you?’ Slattery says, ‘I thought it was a football team.’
The guy moves pretty quickly, hits him full on. After that it gets a bit sketchy. The hooded guy doesn’t say a word. Simon tries to get to his feet but the guy stamps down on his curled fist and then kicks him, over and over. Simon just lies there and waits for him to stop. There’s nothing else he can do. Eventually it stops and he hears footsteps heading down the road and there’s a strange silence and all he’s aware of is him, lying there. He doesn’t know if he can’t move or if he just doesn’t want to. After that, he has a vague recollection of tarmac, a lift, a carpet and a door opening, but that’s about it.
The next thing he knows he’s waking up in hospital.
‘Did he take anything?’ Slattery asks.
‘So, it was just a random, meaningless attack,’ Slattery says.
‘I doubt it was either random or meaningless,’ Simon mumbles and dribbles.
‘Yeah,’ Slattery says, ‘I doubt it too. Well, you’ve not given me much to go on, just a man wearing a mask and dark clothing, someone who can run fast and knock people over. Is there anything else, his name, maybe?’
‘What are you going to do now, Simon?’ I ask.
If he could grit his teeth I think he would.
‘I’ll write my fucking story,’ he spits, ‘and you’ll go out there and fill the fucking gaps.’
Slattery nods and it’s almost like approval.
‘You don’t take no for an answer, do you?’ he says, ‘like someone else we know. Where is Wayne, by the way?’
‘Fucked if I know,’ I say.
I don’t want to talk about Wayne, so I change the subject. Who knows where conversations like that might lead?
‘I’ll type up a summary of what I’ve got,’ Simon tells me. ‘Come back later. All I can do is type - and only with one hand - so it’s up to you. You’ll have to be enough.’
I told you he was arrogant.
I want to swear at him but sympathy subdues me.
Slattery’s moment of sympathy, however, has passed.
‘You look like shit,’ he says. ‘No offence, but if you were my dog I’d have you put down.’
‘I’ve got to get out of here. I hate hospitals. People die in these places.’
Simon’s head is sinking into a spotless, white pillow and his eyes are closing. It’s a good time to leave. Slattery stands up and heads out of the ward, so I follow him.
‘That’s some bedside manner you’ve got there,’ I tell him.
Years of practice, Phil,’ he says, ‘years of practice.’ He checks his watch. ‘One o’clock,’ he mutters. ‘You want a coffee, something to eat maybe?’