The fact that it's a regular occurrence doesn't make it any more comfortable. At least once a month, there's a call into the Custody Suite at one of the local police stations. The word "suite" belies the stark reality of concrete boxes with no more than a tiny window and an open toilet. The stench of both the current resident and all those who had spent miserable hours in the grey, gloomy cells is often overwhelming, sometimes bearable, but never pleasant. Calls to this place are more often than not an attempt to fake an illness or injury in order to end hours claustrophobic hell. Five minutes is more than enough for me.
This time the call was for leg pain, post fall.
A police van was parked in the middle of the car park, just by the entrance to the cells. There was some yelling from the van, an incoherent babble about police brutality. Threats and promises of revenge, complaints about treatment and talk of lawyers all doing nothing to rattle the officers standing outside. I thought to myself that he'll probably be our next customer, when he also gets bored of the solitude. Between the van and the building is a wire cage, just large enough for a prisoner and two accompanying officers, leading to the heavy blue door with the one-way latch. We step in to the wire cube, the crew and I, and as we are about to enter the building itself, a call from the van spins us round.
"He's in here!" I'm thankful not to have to step back into the cells.
We walk back, and a sergeant quickly fills us in on events.
"We nicked him for shoplifting. He saw us coming, ran for about a mile, and after running down something like forty stairs, he fell over a simple kerb. Ironic really." The sergeant couldn't hide the smile. "He kept going for another hundred yards, then fell to the floor. Once we got hold of him, he walked to the van, assisted by these gentlemen, and only started screaming about his leg as we pulled into here. Probably the usual trick, but he won't let us move him, and every time we try, he screams like a woman in labour!"
Rob's still in the back of the police van, shut in the cage that will make a custody cell seem like a penthouse. As soon as the van doors open, his rants become louder and he starts to spit at the officers. As well as the metal housing, the cage is surrounded by perspex, so the spit just rolls down the plastic and onto the floor. One of the officers shouts at him.
"We've got the ambulance here for your leg. Now shut up, calm down, and stop behaving like an idiot, and then we'll let the crew look at you!"
A different person answer from inside.
"Yes, sir." His tone was suddenly calm, he sat bolt upright, and waited for the cage door to be opened. Three officers stood by the door, just in case he ran.
"Where do you think I'm gonna go?" He laughed. "Have you seen my leg?"
The police stood back, and let us in.
"A word of warning." I said to Rob, taking a wary step forwards. "You spit at me, and police witnesses or not, I'll knock you out!" I've never knocked anyone out, but if anything's likely to bring me close, it'll be a spitter.
"No way, sir. I'd never do that to you guys. I respect you too much!" The alcohol on his breath could have knocked out a rhino at a hundred paces, and I was concerned that intoxicated, he'd soon change his behaviour again.
"Right, well you make sure you remember that then."
Rob smiled and rested his head back on the wall of the van. As we tried to remove his boot, Rob screamed in agony, even with all the alcohol on board. A pair of shears, a lot of entonox, a touch of morphine, and some choice words from Rob, and we could finally see the problem. Both bones of his lower leg were visible through the skin, the sharp edges of a traumatic fracture making easy work of the thin flesh. How he walked anywhere after his fall was a miracle.
Once the pain killers joined the alcohol, Rob was calm enough for us to pull his leg straighter, splint it and move him to the ambulance. I didn't dare risk much more of the morphine, not wanting to take the gamble of stopping Rob's breathing all together, so I handed him back the entonox.
"The police told me that you were screaming like a woman in labour. So here's the stuff they give them, should you need it."
"Thanks," he answered, and took a large, deep breath on the gas.
He refused to give us too many details. He either didn't want to give us an address, or genuinely didn't have one. He gave his date of birth as the 31st of September.
"There isn't a 31st of September!" said one of the crew.
"There was in the year I was born. It was a double leap year." After we all laughed, he clammed up completely, until we opened the doors at the hospital, ready to take the trolley off the back.
"It's not my fault that I steal, you know," he started, "it's my parents'. Just look at the name they gave me! I mean, what do they expect if they call me Rob?"
"Surely it's short for Robert?" asked the accompanying officer.
"Well it is, but they've always called me Rob. It's obviously my destiny."
"Not with that leg it isn't", mumbled the officer as we stepped out of the cold air and into the hospital.