Cliff Hanger

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  • Published: 13 May 2015
  • Updated: 18 May 2015
  • Status: Complete
6307200 crimes are recorded in the UK every year. This is one every five seconds. They happen all over the country. From London to Cardiff; from Cornwall to Glasgow. Most are never solved. But what if they were all connected - what if there was something, someone, tying them together?


2. Ali

Ali stood in front of his family, shaking. It had taken a long time for him to work up to this and decided that he would rather have to only do it once. That was why his mother, father, aunt, uncle, sister and three cousins were crammed into the living room in their tiny terrace house in East London. Ali swallowed dryly and looked down at his bitten fingernails. He did not know what would happen if he went through with this; they could disown him; they could throw him out on the streets. Or they could accept it. Either way, it had to be done.

“Come on, Ali,” snapped his uncle. “Spit it out.” His uncle had always been the sharpest one on his father’s side. Ali couldn’t think where it had come from. Grandpa was one of the sweetest old men that Ali knew.

            Ali lifted his eyes back to his uncle. All he had to do was open his mouth and say the words he had been dying to say for months.

“I…” No. his uncle was far too scary. He switched his gaze to his mother. Surely she would understand? But if she didn’t – he couldn’t stand the disappointment in her eyes. His sister then. Yes, his sister would never turn from him. He allowed himself a slight smile, and focused on his sister.

“I’m gay.”

            He had said it! He had finally said it! And it hadn’t been nearly as hard as he had thought. As wave of relief rushed through him as his sister grinned at him. Ali looked at the rest of his family. His cousins looked uncomfortable, as did his aunt. But his father – he was unreadable. He sat still like a statue. His mother looked around for comfort with tears in her eyes. She looked everywhere but Ali. It was better than his uncle. His uncle was on his feet with fire in his eyes.

“Get out.” Ali’s uncle spoke quietly and under his breath. Ali wasn’t quite sure it had been said until his uncle repeated it louder and with yet more ire;

“Get OUT!” he screamed. Ali stood there, tears forming in his eyes. Would no one speak for him? His mother still looked away.

“Who are you to give orders?” the voice was that of his sister. She had always looked out for him, even though his cousins teased them both for it.

“This isn’t your house,” she continued. “You have no right to say who comes and goes here.” Ali’s uncle turned on the girl with a feral snarl.

“Watch your mouth,” he growled.

“It’s okay,” Ali shuddered. “I’ll go.” His boyfriend would put him up for the night. His parents were more understanding. His sister would bring him clothes later. Then he would… Ali didn’t know what he would do. Ali headed towards the door.

            “Do not talk to my daughter that way.” A movement in the corner of Ali’s eye. His father had stood up. “She is right. This is my home. I will decide who leaves. If they leave.” Ali couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Could it be that his father had accepted him? But there was no swaying his uncle.

“Are you really going to let her stand there and defend that faggot? He is a disgrace” he roared.

“He is my son!” yelled Ali’s father. “I think that you should leave.” Ali’s uncle stared incredulously at his brother in law. Then at his sister. Then at his wife and children. When no one came to his aid, Ali’s uncle turned and left the room, slamming the door behind him.


                Ali’s aunt and cousins left soon after with an apologetic smile and awkward explanations. Ali tried to talk to his dad, but he wouldn’t listen. His mother still hadn’t said a word. Eventually he just went to his room and lay on his bed. The raised voices echoed way into the night, with one word above all:



                It had been three weeks since the living room incident. Ali’s mother had finally started talking to him again. Just snippets like passing the salt or laying the table. Despite Ali’s father defending him to his uncle, father still refused to be in the same room as son. Ali didn’t think he would have survived without his sister.

“Just give him time,” Ali’s sister often said. “He still loves you, he just needs time.” So Ali had spent the majority of his time at his boyfriend’s house. At least his boyfriend’s parents cared about him. Sometimes Ali hated him for it, but he couldn’t wish this kind of misery on anyone, especially on someone he loved.

They were out now, the three of them. Ali, his sister and his boyfriend. An ice cream van had passed, tinkling its merry tune, so they had all gotten one. Ali kept getting it on his nose and his boyfriend kept kissing it off. Ali’s boyfriend was sweet like that. He took any chance he could to show some kind of affection, especially now with all that Ali was going through. Ali’s sister squealed as they passed W.H Smiths. A slim, pretty girl was hanging up a truly ginormous poster in the window, advertising a new stock of books.

 “We are not going in there,” said Ali in a final sort of tone, even though he knew his sister would get what she wanted in the end. She always did. “Please, Ali!”  

“No. Besides, they don’t allow food in there.” Ali gestured pointedly to his ice cream.  “Fine,” she huffed. “You don’t have to go in there but I’ve finished my ice cream so you can’t stop me.” And with that, she turned and flounced into the bookshop.

Ali made to go after her, but his boyfriend pulled him back.

“Leave her to it,” said Ali’s boyfriend. “You know what she’s like. She’ll be in there for ages.” The honey sweet waves of scent coming of Ali’s boyfriend made him calm down. What was that cologne he was wearing? Ali would have to make sure he wore it more often.  Ali leaned in closer, eyes fluttering.

  “I need to pee,” said Ali’s boyfriend. Ali sighed and rolled his eyes.

“Way to kill a mood.” Ali’s boyfriend only shrugged as if to say when you gotta go, you gotta go! Ali sighed again and pointed down the road towards a public loo. Ali’s boyfriend grinned and chucked the rest of his ice cream in the bin before sauntering off. What a waste of ice cream; Ali had paid £2.50 for that!

                Ali had just taken a lick of ice cream that gave him brain freeze when he became aware of someone standing close to him. Uncomfortably close to him. Ali turned his head and froze. It was his uncle. Ali hadn’t seen his uncle since the living room incident. He had been too scared of what his uncle would do. But he seemed perfectly calm now. Ali eyed him again. Too calm.

“Hello Ali,” said his uncle. Ali didn’t reply. “Now then,” his uncle continued. “You are going to come with me. You are not going to yell. You are not going to fight. You are simply going to come with me for a friendly chat. Is that understood? Good.” Ali’s uncle walked off. Ali knew he shouldn’t follow, but it was like his legs were not his own. He was a puppet without stings, following the instructions of an invisible master. And it scared him.


            Ali and his Uncle had made gone halfway down a secluded alleyway before they stopped. Ali was terrified. He didn’t know why his uncle had come to see him, or why Ali had followed him. It was possibly the stupidest thing that Ali could have done! This man meant nothing good. Neither of them spoke. Ali’s eyes darted around the backstreet, trying desperately to find a way out of this. But there no doors or windows that he might escape from and no one passing either end of the alley. Ali’s uncle had chosen the place well to do.... whatever it was he was going to do. Perhaps he was overreacting? His uncle wouldn’t actually hurt him, or anything. Would he? His uncle was still staring straight at him. Finally, Ali found the strength to speak.

“What are you doing here, uncle?” he croaked. Ali’s uncle glared at him for a moment then began to talk.

            “When I was young, there was a poufter like you who lived around the corner from us. He was a nice guy. Larry Clarke. That was his name. And everyone thought he was absolutely normal. He had a nice wife and two kids. But something happened. Mrs Clarke moved out. No one could understand it. Why would she move out? They had both seemed happy enough and no one had heard any arguments. Perhaps she had gone to visit her mother. Everyone knew that Larry’s mother in law was sickly. But why hadn’t she said anything, if that was the case? They got a divorce. That was shocking enough as it was. Perhaps the missus had been sleeping around? And then it all came out. Larry wasn’t quite right in the head. He was wrong. He was like you, you see. He had a boyfriend.” Ali felt the blood drain from his face. His uncle could do anything he wanted to Ali, but if he touched his boyfriend.... Ali couldn’t think about it.

And suddenly Ali couldn’t even breathe. Ali’s uncle reached into his jacket and pulled out a gun. Ali didn’t know where he had got it. Ali’s aunt hated guns and would not have them in the house. And didn’t you need a licence to get a gun. Ali shook his head, eyes wide open. He opened his mouth to speak; only a strangled sort of guttural noise emitted. Ali’s uncle carried on talking.

            “No one could quite believe it. Larry? A queer? But no matter how shocked the rest of us were, none were more horrified than Larry’s son. A few days later, Larry was found in his kitchen with a vegetable knife stuck in his chest. We all knew who did it and we denied all knowledge when the coppers came calling. My father said something to me and your father that night. He said that if either of us were a poufter, then we should leave now. Because if any queer entered his house then he would end the same as poor old Larry Clarke.” Ali’s uncle raised the gun. “I’m surprised your father hasn’t done this already.”

It was too late to run, too late to scream. There was no one to hear him even if he did. Ali stared at his uncle, pleading with his eyes.

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