Hunting Concrete Lions
Prologue

With a glance in all directions, I tried to sit up but found my left wrist, then my right one, then both ankles strapped down by four-point restraints, and to a gurney, no less.

Hunting Concrete Lions

When I regained consciousness, I found myself lying flat on my back with a sizeable fluorescent light staring down at me from the ceiling.

Bloody painful that. The old eyelids would not stop blinking away against the glare.

Vaguely aware that I had been choosing my battles unwisely, I gave up the struggle and let my eyelids close.

Best to let the fog clear. Get my head around the current situation.

First things first: I made a mental note to do something about those bastard overhead lights – the minute I was better armed and back on the front foot.

A few seconds had passed when fear jumped inside me and my eyes snapped open again. Bloody hell. The fluorescents. The antiseptic-smelling air, and that dreadful machine bleeping behind me. Something was definitely not on the level here.

With a glance in all directions, I tried to sit up but found my left wrist, then my right one, then both ankles strapped down by four-point restraints, and to a gurney, no less.

Good God. What have I gone and done this time?

Alerted by a murmur of voices and something moving nearby, I tilted my head and saw more gurneys and people in white lab coats passing by out in the hallway.

Time for my best shot at a medical evaluation.

Location?…unknown. Circumstances?…unclear. Mental state?…a touch of terror on that front…

Conclusion?

Still alive, apparently. The rest of my status looked dodgy.

Figuring one of those blokes in the white coats might have an answer to this bollocks, I called out.

“What’s the craic here, mate?”

Silence.

Straining my neck further forward, I saw that my track pants had been pulled down around my knees. My designer t-shirt was up around my chest, leaving exposed my pasty underbelly and thighs. A bedpan of some sort was tucked under my Calvin Klein underwear.

Out of the jumble of voices and passing forms, a black lady with a greying afro appeared overhead and stared down at me. The fluorescent lights formed a halo around her whole head.

“Michael, do you know who I am?”

I stared up, racking my brain for an answer.

“Do you remember anything about yesterday?”

In the chaos of what passed for a grown man’s mind, I scrambled again, trying to piece together the previous few days, but nothing came to me.

“No…I…I don’t remember anything.”

“Nothing at all?” the lady said with a slow shake of her head.

I shook my head in return.

“Where am I?” I thought to ask.

“Santa Monica,” she said. “UCLA Medical Center.”

So, still in America, north of the Mexican border and in a reasonably respectable neighbourhood. Thank God for that.

I fought momentarily with the restraints and fell back against the bed.

“Would it be too much to ask to get me out of these bloody things?”

“Are you hungry?” she said in response.

“I’m ravenous.”

Another nurse soon appeared holding a wooden tray. The tray had three small bowls scattered on top of it.

That nurse left and the old black gal soon had a spoonful of quivering green Jell-O coming my way. I strained forward to meet the food. All I needed was for her to mimic an aeroplane.

A few shots of that Jell-O and I was done. The other nurse returned.

“Michael, I can release one arm and a leg from the restraints, as long as you show no signs of aggression.”

That old Indian bloke, Chief Joseph, came to mind. From where the sun stands now, I will fight no more forever. That was my new motto.

“No fighting,” I assured the nurse. “I’m done.”

She released my left arm and right leg, and I allowed them to dangle freely over the bed. That small allowance of freedom felt like quite a luxury.

“Can somebody tell me what’s going on?”

“We’re just trying to find you a bed in another hospital,” the nurse who had emancipated me said. “We’ve checked but there aren’t any available.”

I stared blankly.

“We have to follow certain procedures under the circumstances.”

“And what circumstances would those be?”

The anxiety in my voice had elevated with the question, along with the thickness of my Manx accent.

“You’re on an involuntary psychiatric hold,” she told me. “You’ve been very sick, so we’re legally required to hold you. It’s for your own safety.”

“I really need to go home.”

“Go home where, Michael?”

“The Isle of Man.”

“You must be kidding. No airline will take you in this condition.”

The look on my face said, “You’ve got to be takin’ the piss”, but she wasn’t. Both nurses went out, leaving me in my restraints.

My soul searching commenced. The self-recriminations and self-loathing. The desperate attempts to explain away my fall from grace. Only a few weeks earlier, I had been relaxing in a sprawling hacienda, a kept man in what was one of the wealthiest communities in California, or the world, for that matter, with a couple of acres under my arse that the well-heeled locals were cocky enough to call a ranch. The type of place where the rich go to pickle and only the gardeners can understand the street names.

The last thing I recalled, I was nicely stoned on OxyContin, a cold lager in one hand, my bare feet propped up while watching the baseball playoffs on Natasja’s home theatre system. Natasja was out there flipping filet mignons for two at the poolside bar. Her lovely face was smiling up at me from the cover of a glossy fashion magazine on the coffee table.

Easy to gloat back then. A big ‘fuck you’ to every teacher, employer and drunken bastard who had ever questioned my ability to succeed.

So how the hell did I get from there to here? As it turned out, the joke was on me. Only I could have ballsed up so much good fortune.

Before Natasja had bailed me out, I was holed up in Auckland, New Zealand, in a small basement apartment tucked away at the back of an old building, a fence for a view and a battered yellow Mitsubishi parked on the downslope out the front. The slope was spot on for jumpstarting the dead battery in the mornings. It also worked wonders with draining water out through the rusted floorboards whenever it pissed down with rain.

On the flip side of that downer, I found myself driving a white Corvette convertible and with the Fortune 500 types of the world as my neighbours. If you wanted to find me, start up around San Clemente way and motor down the coast. You couldn’t beat the journey. Carlsbad, Encinitas, Solana Beach and Del Mar. Turn left at La Jolla and amble up from the sea through rolling hills and citrus groves.

Catch me at the gate. I’d be installing concrete lions on the posts. Christmas cards were on the agenda – Natasja wearing a Santa’s hat, me a monogrammed smoking jacket with a brandy snifter in hand. Top it all off with the Pacific Ocean for a backdrop.

I had it made.

And then…

I felt a knife dig into me, remembering how I’d cocked it all up.

Several hours passed very slowly on that gurney. Then they rolled me out into a long fluorescent-lit hallway. At the end I was lifted into an ambulance. The lights and shadows of the city played on my face as we drove. I had two Deadhead types silently keeping an eye on me.

We pulled into the driveway of a small home, enclosed by a fifteen-foot fence. Barbed wire on top added a fitting touch. When the van stopped, I was wheeled out and assisted to my feet. Two nurses escorted me inside.

Locks and bolts slammed shut as each steel door closed behind me.

Within the otherwise quiet home, someone shrieked. Christ. I had spent most of my adult life fearing just this. Consigned to a nuthouse. And here I was, finally arrived.

In horror, my thoughts hurtled back to my youth on the Isle of Man. Mum with her Bible and the ol’ man with all that heroic Viking shit he had lumbered me with as a boy. Spears and rabbits in the woods, only I was the rabbit now, gored, my hind legs pumping wildly with the last jolt of nervous impulses emanating from my brain.

A nurse was talking to me.

“Michael, electro-convulsive therapy will be used if you show any signs of abnormal behaviour.”

This definitely got my attention.

Led to the communal area, I was further horrified to find coloured building blocks and an abacus waiting there to entertain me. A handful of the nut cases were watching TV – the final game of the World Series. That one hurt. In the space of a few weeks, I had gone from Natasja flipping mignon for me to One Flew over the Cuckoos Nest.

By the time I was escorted into my room, the drawstring from my track pants had been removed. So had the shoelaces from my trainers. No taking chances that I might hang myself.

The room was equally suicide proof, the bed, sink and toilet all moulded to the floor. There were no sharp edges on the furniture, no exposed wall sockets, no wires anywhere.

The room had a solitary window with wire mesh in it, in case you thought to break it, and steel bars, in case you were sane enough to try to escape. The sun was setting outside. A distant mountain range was lit up with an orange glow. I could have been on Mars.

I lay down on the bed in my designer sports gear. I had never felt so scared and alone. I didn’t know where I was. Nobody knew where I was. I wasn’t sure any of them still cared.

When a nurse passed, I remembered my manners and called out in my best BBC voice:

“Do excuse me, sorry to trouble you, but would it be possible to get something to help me sleep this evening?”

“No,” she said.

My foot and leg began to twitch like that speared rabbit.

“Okay, no problem,” I said.

She left.

“For fuck’s sake,” I mumbled to myself. “How do they expect me to get through the night?”