“What’s going on Chief?”
“Alright Simon” John smiled at the ambulance driver and patted his shoulder, “I didn’t see you arrive.”
“Are you surprised? I had to park her up by the fountain, they wouldn’t let me get any closer, said it was too risky.”
“Sorry about that. Sir, can you step back behind the tape.” John gave his best hard man stare and the shopper took a step back towards the tape that had been hastily strung from a bench to a tree on the edge of the pavement.
“What’s going on? You can’t just close off the street like this; I’ve got to get home.”
“I can’t tell you what’s going on Sir,” the last word was said without the respect it implied, “and if you need to go down the road you’ll have to go back up to the fountain and around.” The shopper looked as if he was about to continue the conversation, but the narrowing of PC John Simm’s eyes suggested it would be best to take his advice and move away. He slipped under the tape and pushed his way back through the crowd that was beginning to gather.
John turned back to the paramedic who had been watching the exchange with interest. “So what’s the scoop, do you really know what’s going on?” he asked quietly.
John pulled a face and shrugged. “I probably know as much as you do, I got a call about 20 minutes ago telling me to get over to New Street and close it off. All I know is that there’s something going on at the donor centre. One of our people went in about 5 minutes ago to try and find out what was happening. All the call said that there was a situation, not much else really.”
They both looked up to the 2nd floor of the 60s block. There were lights on, but the blinds were drawn and it was difficult to see if anything was happening. The blue lights from the police car parked behind them pulsed out and up, washing across the shoppers massing behind the tape and lapping faintly at the door of the donor centre. Normally, the blue light would have dominated, but it blended in and was diminished by the Christmas lights that gloved the trees running along the street.
“It’s probably nothing,“ John said continuing to stare up at the windows as if he could see through the blinds to the truth they were hiding, “probably some drunk giving 80% proof rather than A+. I don’t know about you but it seems to get worse every year. They seem younger, more lairy and in the end more messy. Maybe it’s me, getting bored of it all. There doesn’t seem to be much festive spirit anymore.”
Simon glanced across at the policeman, he sounded tired, “I don’t know mate, I think we like to imagine things were better when we were young but I seem to remember being pretty rowdy myself when it was Christmas and I was a teenager. I don’t think it’s any worse or better than in the past.” They stood for a few moments in silence each contemplating past Christmases.
There were now at least 3 police cars and a dozen policemen holding back the crowd in a 10 metre circumference from the entrance to the office. This didn’t seem to upset too many people, there was a festive mood helped by the German market further up the street. Here the stands were doing a brisk trade in Glühwein, lager and frankfurters. The novelty of being encouraged to drink in the city centre, under the stars, was too much of a chance to miss. In the cool evening air the mulled wine was freeing up the chilliest soul, Christmas cheer was spreading as quickly as the smell of onions and the police presence was providing an interesting spectacle.
John turned away from the donor centre and looked longingly up the street, “I could do with a beer and sausage.”
Simon’s gaze followed John’s, “I know what you mean. What time are you off?”
“Not for another couple of hours, after the market has closed unfortunately,” he sighed and murmured to himself, “come on, I’m getting cold standing here.”
When asked to think back about that evening neither man could be completely certain what happened next, normal life was suddenly and dramatically replaced with something that could not be defined or delineated. An explosive pulse of sound snapped out from the donor centre. Overwhelming all other noise it smacked off the walls of the buildings opposite and then ricocheted widely through the crowd. There was a moment of confusion before a sense of panic began to spread.
Both men gazed up in horror at the gaping, jagged hole that had appeared in one of the second floor windows and at the body now wedged in the crook a tree. Glass began to snow down onto the street, a staccato to the initial thuggish pulse. John wiped away a dark tear as the sharp cascade of glass was superseded by a gentle rain of warm blood.
As the crowd closest to the tape began to understand what they were being showered with, their panic became an overwhelming urge to escape. Those further away were desperate to find out what was going on and the crowd quickly became a screaming press. The blood continued to fall polka dotting the police cars and spotting the uniforms of the police and ambulance men.
“All that blood can’t be coming from…” John didn’t look up towards the tree; he knew the policeman rocking slowly in the arms of the tree.
“It isn’t, he’s wrapped up in bags of blood. They’re hanging around him.” Simon shielded his eyes from the dark drops and looked back up to the broken window. The blinds were flapping, grasping uselessly at the night. For a moment he could make out a figure, a shadow before the second floor lights failed and the donor centre slipped into gloom.
Sue still couldn’t believe how such a mundane, boring Tuesday had so quickly turned into the most bizarre day of her life. She was beginning to clock watch, willing the hands to move more quickly towards five; there were no more patients to distract her, just the dull routine of tidying and preparing for the following day. She hadn’t even seen the couple arrive.
Sue looked up from the notes she was making, “Have you got anything planned for this evening June?”
“An evening in front of the telly I think.” The older nurse stopped packing away bandages in a cupboard.
“Come for a drink in the market, you deserve if after the day we’ve had.”
“What do you mean, it’s been the same as every other day?”
“Exactly, we need to restore our belief in the unexpected.”
“I’m married with 3 kids, there is no room left for the unexpected.”
“Just imagine how shocked they’d all be if you turned up late and half cut?” Sue giggled.
“You’re right, I deserve it, but only one, Gemma has a field trip tomorrow and I promised I’d help her pack her rucksack.”
“I promise, I’ll release you after one drink.”
“Is there anything else we need to do before we go?”
“No I don’t think……”
Sue never got a chance to finish her sentence because she was interrupted by raised voices at the reception desk on the other side of the office.
“I’m sorry, as I’ve already said to you we’re now closed, however if you want to make an appointment for tomorrow I’d be more than happy to do that for you now.”
“Is everything ok Wendy?”
“Yes Sue, I was just telling this lady and gentleman that we were closed and they should come back tomorrow.”
Sue looked at the couple. There didn’t seem to be anything exceptional about them, they were young, early 20s, maybe, a little unkempt and grubby perhaps, both wearing hoodies, so you really couldn’t see their faces.
“But we’re not here to give blood, we’ve come to make a withdrawal.”
Sue was pretty certain she’d misheard but Wendy’s agitation suggested she hadn’t and a situation was about to develop. “I’m sorry what did you say?”
“You heard exactly what he said.” There was no threat or anger in the girl’s voice, only a quiet determination and sadness, almost as if she would rather be anywhere else.
“I really think you should leave before this becomes something more than a joke.”
“I’m not joking, do you think I’m the sort of the person that bothers wasting time with jokes?” As he said this the boy slipped off his hood and for the first time Sue saw the hunger and desperation in his young face.
“Wendy can you call the police?”
Sue was tired she didn’t like confrontation at the best of times and this definitely wasn’t the best of times. She was pretty certain her partner John was having an affair, or at least he was behaving so strangely that she couldn’t think of any other reason for his furtiveness. Hours spent in front of the computer screen, scrabbling around whenever she came near the screen and all that beeping from his bloody mobile phone, notifications from Yahoo and LinkedIn apparently. And she couldn’t even remember the last time he had held her without feeling a frigidness in his body. All this flittered through her head as she tried to work out why these kids were starting to make her feel nervous.
“I’m going to have to ask you to leave and I would suggest you take up my kind invitation, my colleague is phoning the police and when they arrive they won’t be so polite.”
“So where is all the blood?” The boy had been looking at her when she spoke and seemed to be listening but clearly he had barely noticed what was going on around him. There was something not right with either of them, some sort of disconnect as if they weren’t really seeing her or Wendy.
“Did you hear what I said, you’ll have to leave, we’re closed.” She tried to guide them to the door, but they wouldn’t move and her hand brushed against the girl’s shoulder and she felt the coldness of her body radiating through her thin clothes. The warmth of Sue’s touch seemed to bring the girl to life and her face filled with what Sue could only describe as longing.
“Really. Actually you don’t need to tell me where the blood is, I can smell it.”
The girl sighed deeply, “I can almost taste it.” They pushed past Sue and walked across the office, passing the beds and donor paraphernalia.