Excerpt from Book 3: 2009/11 On the Edge

Simon's friend James faces up to the abuse he suffered as a boy but his reaction almost draws a terrible price.

2009/11 On the Edge

Simon drove over to Cliffport. Elaine was there, and James, who seemed unsettled. The police officer was due to interview James about Colin Duncan.

"You mustn't hang back," advised Simon. "Say exactly what he did, no half measures. If you show any doubt and it goes to court, the defence will tear you apart."

"Ok, don't tell me what I already know," snapped James, his nerves evident.

"I'll stay in if you want me to," offered Simon.

"No, I'd rather do it myself," said James, adding, "Thanks though."

The female police officer arrived at just after ten o'clock. Simon was introduced as James's friend.

"You can stay if you like, if James would like that," she said after a brief chat in which she ascertained that Simon knew all that was going on James's life.

James said, "I'll do it myself."

So Simon left the room, and later took Elaine to the shops in Cliffport while the interview went on. Simon had assumed it might take an hour, but time dragged by. He started to get anxious. At three in the afternoon he sent James a text, "How long?" The reply came back "30 minutes". Simon arrived back at the house to find them still at it so he waited in James's bedroom off the lounge while they finished.

Then he heard raised voices from the lounge. It was James's grandmother Delia, who lived opposite, pouring a torrent of vitriolic hatred at James, blaming him for all that had happened, saying he was not welcome and should leave, that nobody would forgive him, nobody wanted him. He was useless, always had been, was no good to anybody. The police officer tried to explain that James had paid the penalty for his wrongdoing and that he should be left alone.

"Nobody round here will leave him alone while he's here, he should just bugger off," shouted Delia. Elaine had often said how her mother-in-law was two faced, nice to your face, bad mouthing you when your back was turned, and Delia was obviously unaware that Simon was behind the door listening to this bile. Simon wondered whether to go out and confront her but decided that it might make matters worse. He heard Delia leave, and he went into the lounge. James looked shaken.

"That is your grandmother, isn't it?" questioned Simon.

James nodded.

"I mean, not by remarriage or anything, but your blood relative grandmother?" he asked again, just to make sure because of the complexities of James's family.

"Yes, she is," said James.

"I don't know what to make of your family, James," said Simon.

"Well, we're finished now," said the police officer. "It's been a long haul but it's all done now. Thirty one pages of your statement, but it should mean I won't have to keep coming back to check things when we interview Colin Duncan."

"You have an address for him?" asked Simon.

"Yes, and we think it's genuine, but we haven't interviewed him yet. Well, I must get away back to Thirlham and get on with the job. Thank you James." She left.

"That was a marathon. I am really proud of you, James," said Simon.

"Let's get away," said James. So they drove swiftly out of the town. They went to Bilthaven and Simon parked the car. They enjoyed a nice late lunch at an American style restaurant. James liked the young manager there, wishing he could know him better. They both agreed he was gay. He made up a special cocktail for James that he had done on previous visits.

"I bet he's got a boyfriend," said James.

"Probably," said Simon, who could certainly see what James saw in the young man.

"He's young to be manager," said James.

"I'd guess mid twenties."

"Younger," said James with certainty.

At the bar James took the direct route. "Can I ask, how old are you?"

"Twenty-one," said the manager, smiling.

"You've done well, to be manager at twenty-one," said Simon.

"Thank you," came the smiling response. He then went off to serve other customers.

They decided - or rather James decided - to go bowling. It was cheap before six o'clock and it was now five. Simon edged in to the lead on the first game, and then gained a huge lead in the second. James was becoming more frustrated. Simon knew it wasn't the bowling or even the young restaurant manager. His mood seemed darker and he was wasting his shots, hammering them down the lane without a care, more often than not going into the gutter. Simon won the game by a huge margin. The third game was the same, and they abandoned it half way through. Simon was worried about James, but he seemed to recover.

"Let's go for a drink," he said.

"OK, but one, I need to get back to Karen."


"Maybe two," said Simon.

They walked through the city to a bar and while Simon stuck to orange juice and the like, James was buying cheap bottles of booze. He was obviously deeply unhappy. Simon tried to talk to him, to reason with him, but he would not listen. He wanted to go from bar to bar, desperately trying to drown his inner anguish.

"I just wanna have a good time," James argued when Simon urged restraint. They met a man in a bar, a white South African now living in Bilthaven. He seemed educated and interesting to talk to, clearly gay, which he confirmed. More drink. Then the man started trotting out conspiracy theories, saying that global warming was a myth by the 'world government' to levy more taxes but the most ludicrous being that Barack Obama was a plant, he had not grown up in Hawaii but was really Nigerian and a secret Muslim, pointing out his middle name was Hussein (a very common Muslim name, Simon pointed out) and that Obama was really a code for Osama. Simon just wanted to get away, James wanted to go with the man to meet his friends, but the man left.

So they moved to another bar. Simon kept protesting and wanted to leave, but he knew that James was in no state to be left. Simon did not want a repeat of the previous October. So he stayed with his friend, past midnight and into the small hours.

Outside another bar they met a young man struggling with his cigarettes. There is a bond among smokers which Simon of course did not share. This man, Kevin, was already the worse for wear, but James gave him a light and he gave James a cigarette. They went into the bar for more drink and then out onto a smokers' roof terrace.

"Why don't you come with me?" slurred Kevin.

"Why?" asked Simon, cautiously. He seemed a nice enough man, who had phoned his girlfriend to say he was out and had met this young gay man and his older friend.

"Have a good time," said Kevin.

"James, I need to get home."

"You go home then, I'll be OK."

"I'm worried about you."

"Don't be."

They went back into the bar from the roof terrace, at least it was warmer, if a lot noisier. James and Kevin went to the bar, Simon following. He saw James was looking at him intently, he said something that Simon couldn't hear for the loud music.

"What?" he called.

"I love you," said James more clearly.

"He'll be OK with me," shouted Kevin in Simon's ear. "We'll have drink or two, get a kebab and he can go back to my place. You pick him up in the morning."

Simon's will to resist was weakening. He was tired, having been up since half past six the previous day.

He beckoned James closer. "Will you phone me if you feel at all unsure?" he said into James's ear.

"Yes, I will. Go home to Karen."

So with a heavy heart, Simon left and drove home to Thirlham. He took the bed in the spare room to avoid disturbing Karen. He dare not take a tablet so did not sleep but lay and turned over in the bed.

At four o'clock his phone rang next to the bed, it was James.

"He's buggered off, I don't know where he is," said James. "Can you come and get me."

"I'm in bed," said Simon.


"OK, where?"

"Meet me at the bus station."

Simon quickly dressed and drove rapidly back to Bilthaven along empty roads. It wasn't frosty so he didn't have that to worry about.

At the bus station, there was no sign of James. Each time he tried James's phone, he got put to voicemail. Repeated attempts had the same result. He sent James a text, "Please answer the phone, I am in Bilthaven. Where are you?" There was no reply so Simon drove round the empty city centre. Now terrified he drove to the City Bridge, it was deserted. He drove slowly over, looking all round.

Then a text. "I luv u and Mam." Simon's heart sank. His anxiety level was now sky high. Not again, please not again. He parked up and tried James again. He answered! At least he was alive!

"Where are you?"

"On the edge."

"Edge of what?" It was windy where James was and it was hard to hear.

"Edge of my life."

"Please James, let me come and get you."

"I had everything I wanted before, home, friends, family. Now I have nothing. Just you and my Mam, and I'm not even sure about her."

"She loves you James. I love you. Please, where are you?"

"It's too late. I love you, Simon."

The phone went dead. Simon was screaming in the parked car, he felt so helpless. The man he loved was going to die and he could do nothing. Perhaps he was already dead. "No! No!" he screamed. But there was no-one to hear. Just then a police van and a car, blue lights blazing, went tearing past toward the City Bridge. "Oh God, no!" Simon knew in his gut it was James. He followed them to the bridge and to his horror they pulled up on the right where a police officer was leaning over the heavy wrought iron rails looking into the water far below. Simon pulled up behind the police van and rushed to the side where the PC was.

"What's going on?" he called. But as he did so he saw James, sitting on the outside of the rail with his back to the roadway, low down on a tiny ledge, nothing between him and the dark waters a hundred feet below, staring at the oblivion. "James, I'm here for you. Please!" he called. He could only see the back of James's head, but he moved his head in such a way that Simon knew he had been heard.

The police officer waved him back, but now at least was armed with James's name. Another cop came up to Simon. "Let the officer do his job."

Simon stepped back. Another officer was talking to a young man who was saying how he and his girlfriend had been walking cross the bridge when they heard a voice saying he how he had once had all he wanted and now he had nothing and his life was over. Puzzled they looked over the rail and had seen James sitting precariously above the river. They dialled 999. Lucky, they said, he had been on the phone talking or they would never have seen him. Simon recognised his own conversation with James a few minutes earlier. Thank God for his timing.

The officer continued to talk to James while Simon, shaking, unable to contain his terror, could only watch, his eyes fixed on the back of James's head low through rail in case it was the last sight he would ever have of his love alive. Officers took his details and he also gave them James's details and a brief resumé of his troubles. Simon knew that James's life was on a knife edge, the waiting was agony. All James had to do was slightly straighten his thighs and he would slip off into eternity. Simon knew he would be unable to bear this. To steady himself, he was shaking now, he took one of his blue trifluoperazine tablets he always carried. If only James could see how valued and loved he was. Simon thought of the great gift James had given him, that of self acceptance, to cease fighting his sexuality and accept himself. He thought of the shining light dream - had that been James? Simon prayed for James's life on that cold empty bridge with only the police vehicles and his own car there.

Suddenly James was standing up and turned to face the waiting police officers, the first officer holding James's arm. Other officers started forward but James put his hand up to stop them, which they did. He could still fall backward, Simon was holding his breath, praying. James looked at Simon, their eyes met briefly. He spoke to the officer holding his arm and then, to Simon's immense relief, swung his right leg up and over the parapet, then his left and he was safe, surrounded by officers. At that moment, Simon's phone went, it was Elaine, distraught.

"What's happening? Deirdre's had a text from James saying he was going to jump!"

"Elaine, it's OK, he's safe. I'll call you back."

Simon rushed forward, putting his arm on James's shoulder. "It'll be OK, James. I'll help you, you know I will."

James appeared frightened as he was ushered to the police van. "What happens now?" he asked.

"We'll take you to the police station and a doctor will see you," said the officer who had been with James; PC Hunter, Simon could read his name tag now.

"Is he being arrested?" asked Simon as James was placed in the van.

"No, it's for his own safety."

"Can I go with him?"

"No, he is in police custody now, he'll be taken to the police station."

"I was able to stay with him last time."

"Sorry, you can come to the police station yourself but you won't be able to see him."

The door of the van shut and Simon lost sight of James. He did follow the van to the police station but had to find somewhere to park. He waited in the front office.

Later PC Hunter took Simon into an interview room.

"Thank you so much, you deserve a commendation."

"It's nice to get thanks for a change," smiled PC Hunter. "Actually, I'm glad you turned up. I felt a change in James after he knew you were there. It was a turning point. You're obviously very close."

"We love each other. I wish I could help him more."

In the interview, Simon filled in many details about James, confirming PC Hunter's assessment that James was gay, placing that night's actions in the context of James's overall trauma.

"Will I be able to see him at all?"

"No, he's in the custody suite. You'd better go home. He's got to get the alcohol out of his system first."

"Tell him I love him, won't you?"

PC Hunter smiled. "Of course I will."

Next afternoon, later that same day in fact, Elaine phoned to say James had just been brought home. Simon was shocked. He knew James needed help, and had expected a transfer to hospital for a time. He drove over. James was lying in bed, looking very tired. Simon gave him a hug and a kiss.

"James, I am so glad you're here. I really thought I'd lost you."

"Still here worse luck."

"I'll help you. I told you before it'd be tough and not quick, but stay with me, and I'll do whatever I can."

"I know you will. Thanks. I never knew real love until I met you. Everybody else has just used me. You're a mint friend."

"So are you."

"I don't do much for you, except give you grief."

"James, you have taught me self acceptance, to understand male-male love, you have given me the most wonderful gift. And it was by talking to you that I was able to talk about when I was raped. You helped me confront my past. I will always love you for it."

Later at home, Simon wrote a letter to the Chief Constable praising PC Hunter for his expertise and professionalism.