1. Breakfast at 'El Caballero's'
We sat, the three of us, in almost regal splendour at a pavement table outside the café and shredded the reputations of our friends.
It is said that, if you stand in Piccadilly Circus for long enough, you will see everyone you know pass by. I don't know about that but certainly sitting outside 'el Caballero' in Hampstead in the late 1970s we were definitely likely to see everyone we knew in the gay world sashay past, wave, shriek something probably slanderous and go about their business.
'We' were Paul Simmonds, who fancied himself as an artist, Jack Watts, who worked for an Insurance firm, and me, Simon Shields, at the moment unemployed known collectively as the three 'inseparables'. Actually not quite true we might always be in each other's company during each off-work day but, come night time, especially at the weekend, we scouted separately and quite selfishly, happy to filch a conquest by fair means or foul from under our best friends' noses. What can be worse, more demeaning, more frustrating than having to go home alone?
It was early Spring and the sun was shining. I guess the sap was rising practically everywhere. It meant that the Hampstead gays were even more predatory and searching after a long, perhaps not very productive winter. It was still rather soon in the year for forays after dark to the Hampstead Heath trolling ground though the weather hadn't stopped the extra desperate from patronising that walk through the trees and daring both police raids and bands of queer bashers in search of sexual companionship.
We three always pretended to maintain a dignified avoidance of such places though I know for sure that we had also sampled on occasions both its perils and products.
That morning we were discussing our recent successes, though keeping a weather eye open for anything new on the block.
"Are you still seeing Keith?" asked Jack of Paul. Keith was a buyer for Bally shoes and travelled all over Europe in pursuit of sales and future prospects. He and Paul were sort of an item though Keith's frequent absences on sales trips abroad meant that Paul quite often foraged elsewhere.
"He's in Geneva," said Paul. "Hopefully he'll be back at the weekend."
"We should travel," said Jack. "Why don't we all go to Europe this summer."
"Not Geneva," I said. "I'd like to go to Italy. I went once with a couple of friends, but it wasn't a total success. They didn't like the opera and just wanted to go to night-clubs."
"What's wrong with clubs?" asked Paul.
"Nothing, except they were just the same as the ones we go to in the West End - though the boys were prettier, I suppose."
"Talking of pretty boys," said Jack, slyly. "How's Brian." Brian was my boyfriend, on and off. Basically Brian likes black guys and I don't quite fit the bill being whiter than white. Why he had originally gone to bed with me, I wasn't quite sure and Brian couldn't explain either. As well as that Brian has a religious bent. He'd been a novice in a monastery but had come out, not being able to make that final step to becoming a monk. Perhaps I was just a intermediary, keeping him from what he knew were his real desires, God and black guys (in whatever order). I didn't feel secure in the relationship but found it impossible not to fall into bed with him whenever he beckoned.
"Brian is fine but unhappy and I can't do much about it."
"He's not for you," said Paul who was more intuitive than his flippant attitude to life suggested. "There's something weird about him."
Jack patted me sympathetically on my thigh. Both my friends cared.
"Keep your hands to yourself," I said archly. "If you want to grope me, you'll have to book an appointment and I tell you the list is long."
A young man with dark curly hair walked up the hill past us and waved.
"Harry, darling," called Paul, "come and have coffee."
"Sorry, sweetie. Got a hot appointment." He shimmied off up the hill and we watched him, his legs twinkling, steps scarcely a foot apart.
"Why does he walk like that?" I asked.
"Knickers too tight," said Jack shortly.
"They weren't tight at the party last Saturday," said Paul. "I've never seen a pair come off so quickly. Round her ankles before you could say 'legs up for Dorothy' and then kicked off into the chandelier."
"For whose benefit?" asked Jack.
"For no one in particular and everyone in general. She just likes showing off her bits."
"Whose party was it?" I asked.
"Oh, just a spontaneous gathering after the pub shut, mostly us girls," said Paul. "We went back to Slack Alice's." Slack Alice is a name we, rather unkindly gave to one of our friends, a solicitor called Michael, though not to his face. He has a large flat in Belsize Park just down Haverstock Hill and likes to throw impromptu parties.
"You mean all those sad people who didn't cop off with anyone," I said with a slight tone of envy.
"What happened to you, then?" Jack asked me.
"Brian," I said, with a sigh. "It wasn't a success."
"We should do something different," said Paul.
"I've been looking," said Jack, "but I can't find anyone."
"I'm not talking about 'trade'," said Paul. "Change our way of life." His long, rather horse-like face took on a serious look which made him resemble an ascetic monk. He had a tonsure-like bald patch which added to the similarity.
"As I said, let's go abroad," said Jack. "Different place, different people, different cocks."
"Don't be coarse," said Paul, pleasantly. "Who wants another coffee?"
"And a Danish pastry," suggested Jack. "What about you, Simon?"
"Brian wants me to join a religious community," I said.
They looked at me, Paul, seriously, Jack with a smile on his face, his dark hair, unruly from the breeze, or perhaps by design.
"Oh my God," he said. "I can't see you as a nun. You're more Anytime Annie."
"You mean from 'Oklahoma', 'I'm just a girl who can't say, No.'?" asked Paul.
"Much earlier than that," said Jack. "'42nd Street' I think the quote is: 'Anytime Annie? Say, who could forget her? She only said 'No' once, and THEN she didn't hear the question!'"
"Ah well you'd remember that, filmed in 1933."
I left them at it, and went into the cafe to order more coffee and Danish pastries which 'El Caballero' did rather well. My two friends were both film buffs and liked nothing better than to argue about films, the older the better. I hoped that by the time I came back they would have forgotten about my ill-advised confession. They hadn't though and they greeted me with a rendition of 'How do you solve a problem like Maria?' before treating it somewhat more seriously.
"I didn't know you were religious," said Paul, peering at me as if I were some sort of aberration.
"It's not settled," I said feeling slightly embarrassed. "It's just that this life we lead " I waved my hand at Hampstead High Street and coincidentally at a rather tasty piece of rough looking trade who happened to be passing up the hill "well, it's all a bit selfish. Brian says "
I was interrupted by Jack. "I knew it! Brian's the culprit. He's leading you into bad ways. Why should he want you to take the veil?"
"It's not him alone. I'm not getting any younger and I don't seem to have done anything with my life except try to get as much cock and arse between the sheets as I can."
"You're not that old," protested Paul. He is six years older than me and his fortieth birthday loomed.
"That's not the point," I said. "It's what I haven't done that I'm talking about."
"You can go into a convent when you're sixty," said Jack, who is one year younger than I am.
"It's a teaching community. The monks teach in schools but live together."
"So it's Mr Chips you see yourself as," said Jack. "You're not a teacher though."
"Goodbye, Mr Chips," said Paul, "the 1939 version with Robert Donat or 1969 with Peter O'Toole?"
"'39 obviously," said Jack, "the later one was a disaster tried to be a musical."
I sighed and took a bite of Danish pastry. A crumb almost caught in my throat so I sipped some coffee. "I've put my name down for a College of Education - as a mature student. If I'm accepted I could start in September."
"With all those 18 year old boys straight from leaving school," said Paul. "That'll be a bit of a temptation."
"They won't look twice at me," I said. "They'll think I'm older than God. And if I made a pass they'd probably throw up. Anyway that's not what I'm going for. I think I always wanted to be a teacher, just got diverted along the way."
Jack looked past me at Paul. "September," he said. "That means you've plenty of time to go abroad for a holiday before term starts. What about it? If Brian lets you go."
"He probably wouldn't care less," I said. "He'll find someone else and move to Notting Hill."
"Black?" asked Jack, who knew his tastes.
"So you'll turn to God on the rebound," said Paul.
I think they thought a holiday abroad, especially one which might be productive on the sex front, might turn me away from what they obviously considered a daft decision. Perhaps they were right but I liked the idea of a trip abroad, and, if I was accepted by the College, I would have some five months to fill in before starting.
"There's that hunk," said Jack and we watched the bit of rough we'd seen earlier going up the hill, now coming down again. His tight jeans were stretched over arse and groin and his genitals were clearly outlined by the denim as were his muscles by his T-shirt. He glanced in our direction and then looked quickly away.
"Naff," said Jack. "Not available for fucking."
"Don't you think so?" said Paul.
"I wouldn't mind having a try," said Jack.
I didn't say anything but privately I agreed.
Then we laughed as we saw Harry twinkling down behind him, his legs moving like pistons and his eyes almost bulging with lust. He didn't even glance in our direction as he passed.
"Well, you can't blame her for trying," said Paul.
* * * * * *
2. Morning After
Paul rang me the following morning.
Brian had stayed the night and we'd had sex. I won't say made love because it was really the sex that was important to him. In the mornings afterwards he always felt guilty and his attitude then was one of pained silence. I think he was fond of me but was always ashamed that sex had got to be part of this. I, of course, was desperately in love with him and did everything I could to excite his libido, even though I knew it would lead to doubts and recriminations afterwards.
We were up and having a rather uninspiring breakfast of toast and instant coffee when one of the other tenants in the house knocked on the door and told me I had a telephone call. The machine was up a floor and was usually answered by the girl who lived in the room next to it. She didn't seem to mind. In fact she often chatted to whoever it was that was calling and sometimes recognised the person.
"It's your friend, Paul," she said. "He said it was urgent." Her voice had a sort of breathiness as if she was personally excited about the gravity of the call.
"Hello, Paul," I said, wanting to get back to Brian so that I could try to salvage the day and, perhaps, persuade him to stay with me. It was after all Sunday and he couldn't use the excuse of having to go to work.
"Just heard," said Paul. "Harry's in hospital. He got beaten up yesterday. He's in a bad way."
For a moment, preoccupied with my own problems, I couldn't understand whom he was talking about. Harry? Then of course I remembered the young man who had shimmied past us the day before, once up the hill and then, more furiously, down it pursuing the hunk with the sprayed-on clothes.
"God," I said. "How did you hear?"
"Harry shares a flat with Slack Alice and another queen. The police came round in the night to tell them. They'd found the address in his wallet."
"So it wasn't robbery," I said.
"Course it wasn't. He was beaten up in the cottage in Belsize Park. He was stuffed into a cubicle and was there all day, they think. It was only when the guy came to lock up in the evening that he was found."
"Jesus," I said, shocked. "How is he?"
"The police won't say. Nor the hospital. You know how they are with anyone who isn't actually a relative, but they did say Harry's in intensive care. It doesn't look good."
"Jesus," I repeated.
Paul paused, then he said, "You know when we saw him yesterday . . ."
"Yes," I said and then realised what he meant. "He was after that butch guy, the one in the jeans."
"What if . . ."
I interrupted. ". . . Harry caught up with him at the cottage, made a move on him and then the guy turned nasty. Should we tell the police?"
"Let's meet. I'll phone Jack and we'll get together at Slack Alice's. She's a solicitor. She'll know what to do."
The girl popped out of her room as I replaced the receiver. "Not bad news, I hope," she said.
"A bit," I said. "A friend of ours got beaten up."
She looked sympathetic and waited, hoping, I suspected, for something more but I didn't want to share.
I thought of Brian downstairs and my hopes and plans for later today. Perhaps he'd come along with us, Harry was after all black or at least half and half but when I got downstairs, Brian had left. There was a scribbled note saying he was sorry he had to go no reason given and he'd be in touch no mention when.
I felt the customary lurch in my stomach I always felt when I knew he didn't want to be with me, but in a way I was glad. He'd only complicate things with Harry and I knew I probably wouldn't have been able to give all my attention with him being around.
Paul and I arrived at Alice's at the same time; Jack was already there.
Alice, whose name is really Michael, was a short, young-looking man, dapper in appearance, forty-something who usually looked much younger. Today he looked his age, dark circles round his eyes and two deeply indented lines between his eyebrows.
"There's not much we can do," he said despondently. "They won't let us see him and, from what the police said last night, they're not looking too hard for his attacker."
"But," said Jack, "having sex with another man isn't illegal any more, not if both of them are over twenty-one. It's years since they passed the new Sexual Offences Act."
"You're living in a fool's paradise," said Michael, putting on his legal hat. "Private sex between two adults is legal but the whole act is hedged with exceptions. It only exempts gay sex from criminal prosecution if it takes place between two consenting males aged 21 or over in private. Otherwise, the 1956 anti-homosexual laws still apply, with sex between men illegal in all other circumstances."
"And," said Paul. There was obviously more to come.
"Gay men involved in age of consent violations, cruising and meeting in public places, and sexual acts in toilets and parks are still committing illegal acts. If Harry tried to pick up someone in a toilet, he was breaking the law. He'd be charged."
"And the basher?"
"Well, obviously he was breaking the law as well but the police don't seem to be too interested."
"So we'll have to do something ourselves," said Paul.
We looked at him doubtfully, wondering if he was joking but he seemed perfectly serious, his long thin fingers curled around his coffee mug. "I mean it," he said. "I've seen that guy before. He probably does it all the time, acting as if he's gay and then waiting until someone follows him into a cottage. Then he bashes him."
"And you think one of us should follow him?" asked Jack.
"One of us 'appears' to follow him, but really we all are there. Four of us should be enough to deal out a bit of punishment, however hunky he may be."
Michael looked doubtful. He could obviously see the headlines: 'Local Solicitor in Punch-up in Public Lavatory', but the rest of us were supportive. "Who'll do the solo following?" asked Jack.
"Cut the pack for it," said Paul. "Highest card gets the honour. Aces High."
"Malcolm McDowell," said Jack, "Christopher Plummer, Simon Ward, John Gielgud, Trevor Howard. There was another Yank too. Ray Milland."
"Year?" asked Paul.
They argued amiably enough while Michael got a pack of cards and, suddenly serious, we cut.
Michael got a two, Paul and I both picked Queens which inspired a certain amount of hilarity. "It's either you," said Michael to Jack, "or they'll have to cut again."
He nodded and cut the pack the Ace of Hearts.
"Right," said Paul. "We'll look for him today and if we spot him then you follow him. If he goes into a cottage, you go after and . . . well, you don't need any advice on what to do then. As soon as he looks at all threatening, give a shout and we'll pile in after you and grab him."
"What if he attacks before I can shout?" Jack asked.
"We'll come in anyway if we don't hear anything. don't worry. You'll be all right."
Jack didn't look particularly sure about that but eventually he agreed.
As we went out, Paul said, "Director?"
"Jack Gold," said Jack.
* * * * * *
It was another fine Spring day, pink cherry blossom bloomed flamboyantly on those rather boring trees which are only of interest for about a fortnight each year. There was a freshness in the air and it was somehow difficult to appreciate that someone had so hated the idea of Harry's sexual orientation that he'd put him into intensive care, that we were about to look for this suspect and perhaps take our revenge. I think we were all regretting our decision but no one seemed to want to express it and we pressed on, going to the obvious first place, the King William IV pub, gay centre of Hampstead.
As every gay visitor knows the 'Willy' has a small beer garden and we sat there drinking our halves. The 'hunk' was not in the bar, nor was he in the garden. We could see the street from the garden so we watched the passers-by looking for our quarry.
Like the day before, when we watched from the pavement cafe of 'El Caballero', we saw everyone we expected to except, of course Harry, and the hunk. We did not seem to want to chat gayly. Jack especially was quiet and I think we all appreciated something of what he was feeling. An hour went by and the bell for closing time rang and Jack breathed what seemed to be a sigh of relief, when down the road, still in skin-tight jeans and T-shirt, came the hunk.
"There he is," said Paul.
"He's not wearing underpants," I said,
"He's very tasty," said Michael.
Only Jack said nothing but drained the last of his beer and stood up, face set, his lips in a thin line.
"You go ahead," I said. "We'll be behind. Not far, just far enough so that it doesn't look suspicious. don't worry."
"Morituri te salutamus," said Jack, who had a classical bent and had been to public school.
I patted him encouragingly on the shoulder and he set out following the seductive buns of the hunk as they moved easily, athletically with the cloth of his jeans, his shoulders, broad, his waist, narrow. From the back his head was almost square emphasised by his short-cut hair. He looked tough and rough. We saw him look back once and presumably notice Jack 'in pursuit'. It looked like there was an exchange of glances and certainly the hunk slowed down a little. Sunday lunch time meant that there were a fair few people around, either going to or coming from the pubs and restaurants, so the three of us were able to keep out of sight of the hunk whereas we could see Jack fairly clearly.
We were walking down Rosslyn Hill which turns into Haverstock Hill half way down and we all knew the locations of the public lavatories. There was one brick-built monstrosity outside the George public house but both our targets walked straight past. That was quite understandable as the place was generally considered to be a filthy, smelly spot and was unused except by the most desperate of gays.
The next one was outside Belsize Park Underground station. There was no hesitation and the hunk went straight in. Jack glanced back at us, caught our eye, and followed him. We broke into a trot and stood just outside the entrance, waiting for any call which would announce that Jack needed our help.
A minute passed, and then another. A small, dark man came out but it was neither the hunk nor Jack. He gave us a strange look obviously wondering what we were doing hanging around the entry. There was no sound from inside. We looked at each other.
"How long has he been inside?" asked Michael.
No one was sure. "Must be a few minutes," said Paul.
"Long enough," I said. "Let's go in. He might be unconscious."
We went in.
At first sight the space was empty, the smell of disinfectant scarcely disguising that of urine or worse. No one stood at the urinals. But there were three cubicles and the door to one of them was closed with the sign clicked over to 'Engaged'. I peered through the gap at the bottom of the door. Inside there was a tangle of limbs.
"Jack," I called.
A choking sound came from inside.
"Can you open the door?" called Paul.
Again there was the same low, slightly guttural sound. "G.......wa."
"Smash the door," said Michael pushing at it, but the fastening held.
Quickly I went into the next cubicle, climbed up onto the lavatory seat so that I could peer over the top.
What I saw explained the noise and the situation.
Jack was on his knees. The hunk, his jeans down to his ankles, had his cock well into Jack's mouth and was humping hard, his hand firmly on the back of Jack's head. He looked up and saw me. "You heard him," he said. "Go away." He made a sound, threw his head back and obviously came. Jack gargled again.
I jumped down.
"She's OK," I said. "The slut's enjoying herself."
We went out in a rather abashed bunch and waited outside.
Five minutes later Jack and the hunk also emerged. Jack didn't even have the grace to look embarrassed. The hunk was smiling broadly.
Jack introduced him. "This is Sam," he said.
"Huh!" said Paul. "You don't usually even find out their names." There sounded like a tinge of envy in the remark.
Sam however did not seem the slightest bit put out. He looked round at the three of us. "Perhaps," he said seductively, "we also can have the pleasure some time."
"I think we already have," said Michael. "Up on the Heath but it was very dark."
Paul though was not going to be won over so easily. "What about Harry?" he said.
Sam raised an enquiring eyebrow. "Harry?"
"Yesterday," I said. "He followed you down the hill."
Sam's face cleared. "Ah Harry," he said. "Dark boy. Very nice."
"What happened?" asked Paul.
"What do you think? We exchanged calling cards? He was most accommodating."
"And then . . . ?"
"And then I had to go home. He stayed here." He pointed to the cottage. "I guess he hoped for further good luck. Insatiable!"
"Harry was beaten up some time yesterday and is now in intensive care in hospital."
The colour drained from Sam's face. It wasn't a reaction that anyone could achieve by will power alone. Clearly Sam had not known. "God," he said. "Poor kid." There was a pause, then he said, "And you thought . . ."
"Well, we weren't to know," said Michael. "We had to find out."
"And you used Jack as bait?"
"Apparently as willing bait," said Paul acidly.
"We had to find out," said Michael. "The police aren't doing anything."
Sam nodded. He turned to go. "We'll keep in touch," he said. "I want to know how Harry gets on."
"How can we do that?" I asked.
"Jack's given me his telephone number."
"Oh really," said Paul, in a tone of acute and feigned disbelief.
* * * * * *
The weekend was over and we went back to work all except me who had no job to go to. Harry remained in intensive care and unconscious. We had no idea what to do except hope that when Harry came round - IF Harry came round, he would remember something for the police IF they were interested.
I didn't hear anything from Brian, Apparently he wasn't at home, or if he was, he didn't answer the phone because I rang him practically every hour.
Then on Tuesday afternoon when I was almost hysterical with worry, assuming that Brian, like Harry, must have succumbed to a serial gay-basher and was lying unconscious dead somewhere, he rang me.
"Where have you been?" I demanded furiously, which was quite the wrong thing to say as Brian hated to be pinned down.
"Oh," he said vaguely, "I had to go to Oxford on business." Brian worked for a charity organisation which took orphaned boys off the streets in some dreadfully poor South American country. I'd known him long enough to know when he used that equivocal tone of voice that he wasn't telling the truth but I didn't say anything.
"You could have let me know. I was worried,"I said sounding hurt and possessive. I didn't want to but I couldn't help it.
"Sorry," he said. Nothing more.
"Am I going to see you?"
"Sure," he said though he didn't sound particularly enthusiastic. "I'll call round this evening and we can go out somewhere."
I didn't want to 'go out somewhere'. I wanted to stay in and play happy couples and then fall into bed with him, but saying that would have sounded like whining so I agreed.
He arrived half an hour later than he said he would, during which time I again worried that he'd fallen under a bus or been kidnapped by aliens. I kissed him full on the lips as soon as he got through the door but the response was minimal, just the sort of kiss I might get from an affectionate aunt. And there was something different too. He smelled odd. Not unpleasant or anything like that but just not his usual one, which I'd got used to, more than that, which I loved. The smell of his maleness mixed with a faint scent of after shave. Now it was harsher, different, unfamiliar, the smell of someone else. He looked the same though. tall and blond, with that blondness that looks natural even though it might not be. His nose was straight and his eyes, were blue. He walked with a sort of athletic grace, his hips, slim and masculine, tight trousers showing off a really provocative bulge.
I made him a coffee, asked him where he'd been. "I told you, Oxford," he said.
There was an uncomfortable pause, then he said, "Any news?"
I told him about Harry being beaten up while presumably trying to pick someone up, but not our abortive effort to find his assailant. "He's still in hospital."
"Harry?" he said vaguely.
"I'm sure you met him," I said. "Coloured boy. Nice smile, curly hair. Very camp."
"Don't think so," he said. "Dangerous to go trolling in the cottages."
Had I told him that? In Hampstead the obvious trolling ground was on the Heath so why had he assumed Harry was doing the lavatories?
"Don't tell me you've never done it," I said.
A frown of annoyance crossed his face. For a moment he looked almost ugly, then it was past and the old Brian was back, smile revealing even white teeth, one eyebrow slightly higher than the other giving him that quizzical look that I loved so much.
My room was tiny with just about enough space for a bed, a chair a chest of drawers and a small table on which was perched, slightly precariously, the TV set. Brian was sitting on the bed. I went over to sit next to him. Did I imagine it or did he move slightly away as I sat down close.
"I think we must talk," he said, putting down his coffee mug on the floor beside him.
I looked at him, not really liking the sound of that. It presaged something serious, possibly something unpleasant.
"Harry's in a really bad way," I said, hoping to side-track whatever he wanted to say. "He's in intensive care."
"He's a silly boy," Brian said. "He flaunts himself, making himself obvious. No wonder he gets into trouble."
"He still doesn't deserve getting beaten up," I said, and then it struck me. Brian had just said he didn't know Harry, had never met him, so how did he know the risks Harry took?
At that moment, an awful thought struck me. Could it possibly have been Brian who had set on Harry. But why should he? Brian liked coloured guys. Brian was my own beautiful, gentle lover who wouldn't hurt a fly, but then I knew I was fooling myself. He wasn't mine at all. And once, I remembered how he had lost his temper when I had done something stupid, nothing terrible, just tried to hold his hand while we were out in the street. Brian had reacted angrily, shoving me away with such force that I'd been pushed against a brick wall and grazed the side of my face and the back of my hand. And he hadn't stopped there. It was almost as if he wanted to carry out more punishment, his fists clenched, his mouth twisted in anger. He'd pulled himself together almost immediately but I knew then that he didn't like public displays of affection, couldn't bear to show to others that he was gay. He didn't mind in the gay bars and clubs where everyone knew and no one cared, but in public, in the straight world he hated anything camp.
But he couldn't have been responsible for Harry's dreadful beating. Could he? I looked at him, stared at him. There was something so different about him, a hardness, a remoteness. I knew then that I'd lost him, though I wasn't yet prepared to admit it.
I took hold of his hand though I sensed he tried to pull away from me and I let it go again almost immediately.
"All right," I said, "You said you wanted to talk. Then talk!"
"I'm sorry," he said. He suddenly looked so distraught, almost guilty, that I thought again he was about to confess to the assault on Harry.
"Sorry about what?"
"I've something I must tell you."
Something died within me. I knew it must be Harry.
"We can't go on like this," he said. "Neither of us is happy this way. I think we should end the relationship."
I was confused. It wasn't what I had expected.
"We can work it out," I said weakly.
"I can't," he said. "I'm afraid I've met someone else."
When you are expecting bad news and then you hear something which is twice as bad, it's almost impossible to think clearly. "What . . ." I said.
"I didn't intend it to happen," he said. "I met him a couple of weeks ago and we sort of . . . clicked, I guess you could say."
"He's black," I said accusingly.
I knew it would happen this way. I could feel the tears of self-pity welling up.
"Where did you meet him?" I asked.
"He works at the place I do. Lives in Notting Hill," he added inconsequentially.
Somehow I knew he wanted to tell me about him, this guy who was taking Brian away from me and I didn't want to hear. I knew I'd break down if he told me any more.
And then I was angry.
"And I thought it was about Harry," I said.
The puzzled expression on his face proved that I was completely mistaken but words once spoken can never be withdrawn.
"Harry?" His expression changed from confusion to dismay as he realised what I meant. "You think I beat up someone, put them in hospital?"
"I'm sorry, Brian. It was just . . ." I knew I couldn't explain.
"You can't think much of me if you think I could do that."
"You can't think much of me if you just dump me as soon as you meet some new guy.:
I was spoiling for a row and Brian was angry too. He got up. "I think I'd better go," he said. "I hoped we could remain friends."
"You selfish bastard," I said.
He left and I let him go, then collapsed in a heap on the bed and cried bitterly, calling him all the names I could think of, yet realising that I was sorry only for myself.
* * * * * *
5. On the Heath
It was then that I did something very stupid.
In extenuation I can only say that I was hurt, that I'd made a fool of myself, that I'd been dumped and that I knew I couldn't get my own back on Brian. What I could do though was to go out to find someone to share my bed, or at least relieve myself of my sexual frustration.
So out I went, not to the King William IV where I might meet people I knew but to the doubtful delights of the Heath. Here I could find some anonymous sex without any commitment, no grief, no responsibility, no fidelity just sexual release. And then I could come home and feel guilty.
I took the East Heath Road which winds round the edge of the Heath and avoids the more populous Rosslyn Hill. The evening was mild, almost close, and cloudy. There was no moon and the stars were hidden, the road only being lit by the street lamps spaced fairly far apart, pools of light and deep shadows in-between. On my left were blocks of flats and big Victorian houses while the darkness on my right hid the Heath itself. But this wasn't the part where the gays went or at least not at night-time. Further over were Hampstead Ponds where people swam, men and women separately of course and where, on hot summer afternoons the young men posed on the banks in the area known, for obvious reasons, as 'the Meat Market'.
East Heath Road emerges into Heath Street, the steep hill which leads up to Whitesrone Pond where dads take their kids on Sunday lunchtimes to sail boats, which range from cheap home-made yachts with handkerchief sails to expensive radio-controlled models which weave across the water leaving a creamy wake.
To the right of the pond there is a footpath which leads down to the trolling area. The first part is lit from the street lamps, but as soon as the path reaches the trees darkness falls.
It took a little while for my eyes to become accustomed to the dark but of course a big city is never completely black and it was possible to make out the trunks of the trees, bushes and in between the figures of men standing looking or in pairs or even threes moving together, and hear panting and occasional words and soft groans.
I went on, walking up the curved path which still lured the way - a pale snake in front of me - further into the trees. Once there, though, it was darker than ever. A figure approached me but I could barely make out the features, could have been young or old, sixteen or sixty. A hand brushed the upper part of my leg and was withdrawn. I paused. The hand returned, lay flat against my thigh, moved round to the fork, cupped my groin. Even this close I could scarcely make out the features but it did not matter. My penis responded. The man's head was looking over my shoulder, keeping a watch, his fingers fumbling for my zip, finding, pulling down, entering, reaching, holding. A warm hand clutching my prick.
I was dimly aware of other people around, outside the trees, an uneasy scuffle nearer at hand. The man without warning dropped my cock.
"Fuck!" he said. "Fucking cops!"
He shot off to the left and, dimly, out of the corner of his eye, I saw two figures step out from behind a tree and grab him by the arms. There were people behind me, some running away, others running after. The only clear area seemed to be ahead, further into the wood. Was there an exit that way? I could not remember. I could not even think.
I set off at a run, by instinct tucking my cock back in my jeans and zipping up, pulling the fastener away from my body so that I did not catch myself. Someone behind me shouted but I did not stop.
I crashed through the shrubs, twigs catching at my clothes. I could hear footsteps behind me. A torch flashed, the beam aiming wild, missing me. Then I tripped over something, someone. It was a figure lying on the ground. I fell, the breath knocked out of me for the moment so that I could not make a sound. For a second I had the terrifying feeling that I had tripped over a body, another Harry, beaten up and left, but then it squirmed and lay still again, holding me so that I could not move.
Whoever was chasing, blundered on, the beam lighting up the branches of the tree above his head. The footsteps crashed away, past and away from us. It was suddenly very quiet. The guy, whom I was lying on top of, still had hold of me. I could just make out the pale oval blur of his face, and felt his body under me, young and hard-muscled. Was I going to get lucky after all?
The attack, when it came took me completely unaware. His fist came up and hit me on the side of the head. As he was lying under me, he wasn't able to aim very well but it still hurt.
"What the fuck?" I said.
"Get off me, you fucking faggot," he said and kneed me in what was obviously intended to be my balls. Luckily I was lying across him and most of his knee hit the air by the side of my hip. It was obvious though that he wasn't intending on indulging in some pleasurable cock to cock activity so I scrambled to my feet.
"What's the matter?"
"You think I want to suck your shitty cock?"
I couldn't understand what he was doing here if he didn't want to suck cock or at least have his sucked by someone else at least for a start.
But he didn't wait for an answer. Suddenly he launched himself at me, fists punching, kicking with his boots at my shins. The first one missed but the second connected and I felt agony. I collapsed and did the only thing I could. I shouted. I don't think it was words just an incoherent scream. My attacker took another kick and this time found my ribs. I heard them crack and felt a sharp pain as if something had pierced my lung. I gasped. This was it, I thought. This was what Harry had gone through perhaps from the same person. If the next kick is in my head, it'll burst like a pumpkin. I'll be dead.
Help, of a sort, though was at hand. There were confused shouts and the torch light flickered through the trees. One beam lit up my attacker's face and I saw the expression of hate which twisted his mouth, narrowed his eyes.
"There he is," shouted a voice. The police had returned.
My attacker turned and raced off through the trees - straight into the arms of a pair coming from the other side. Even in my confused and pain-ridden state, I could see him struggling in their arms, hitting out. Resisting arrest, I thought, and was pleased.
I wasn't sure what to do. I could lie there and hope no one found me, but I knew I needed medical attention. Suddenly I wished Brian was here. Yes, he'd betrayed me but he was always very good with invalids. Failing him, though, I guess the police would have to do.
"Help," I said. The sound, even to my own ears, sounded weak and ineffectual and certainly there were no Florence Nightingale footsteps coming to my aid.
I tried again and this time they heard.
"There's another one here," someone said, and then, "This one's hurt."
A face peered down at me and hands stretched. Then I felt myself lifted, a spasm of awful pain and I passed out.
* * * * * *
I woke from the blazing darkness that was filled with incomprehensible dreams, to find I was in an alien world - alien yet in some ways very familiar. I knew the language but couldn't understand the context. For a start I had no idea who I was. Yet the white ceiling, the curtains around his bed, the metal head frame, the plastic bag with a drip line leading into the back of my right hand immediately triggered the idea - hospital. And when a nurse came to see me, blue uniform, starched cap pinned precariously to a jumble of red hair, and a face which looked careworn and job-harassed, I wasn't surprised at all.
Events filtered themselves back into my mind. I remembered the walk onto the Heath, and the attack. Most of me ached but at least I was alive.
"You were lucky," she said. "Broken ribs, but they didn't puncture your lung." It felt as if they had, but I contrived to look thankful. "At last you weren't in as bad a state as young Harry."
Harry! Of course I must be in the same hospital. "How is he?" I asked.
The nurse gestured to the next bed. I scarcely recognised him; he looked so grey and drawn but he must at least be out of intensive care. He smiled and raised his thumb in greeting.
"I must look a mess," he said weakly. "They won't allow me to put any slap on."
The nurse bustled off after telling us to get as much rest as possible.
"You're as pretty as a picture," I lied. "You'll be back on the streets again before you know where you are."
Harry looked serious. "It's not safe out there," he said. Then trying to make light of it, he added, "for a hardworking trollop."
"Do you know who beat you up?" I asked.
"We didn't exchange names and addresses."
"No, I mean, could you describe him?"
"Probably, but not so as anyone could recognise him."
"Not even if the police have already got someone?"
Harry tried to sit up but then fell back onto the pillows weakly. "Have they?" he asked.
"They've got the guy who attacked me,"
"What did he look like?"
"Unfortunately I couldn't really see him only felt him but I saw him arrested by the police. If you can describe him and that matches up with the guy, we've got him for both assaults."
"Very butch, lots of muscles, big cock."
"That's not the sort of thing the police can use as a description."
"OK, I know. Taller than me. Thick eyebrows, big nose you know what that means. Short, cropped hair, oh and a cut on his right cheek."
"Scar or cut?"
"Cut, but it was only a couple of days ago, and deep. It won't have healed. He was quite tasty."
"Harry, you're incorrigible."
* * * * * *
7. Outside 'El Caballero's' again
By June, the 'basher' had been sent to prison, mainly we decided for punching the copper and ridding him of a few front teeth, rather than the more serious injuries he'd inflicted on Harry and me, but at least it was a start. By June, I'd been accepted by Feltenham College of Education to start teacher training in September. By June I felt I'd got over Brian to some extent. By June Paul, Jack and I had booked a trip to Italy.
So here we were again, Saturday morning in the café. I was still in some pain, my ribs bound up so that I couldn't breathe too deeply, but feeling much better. Harry was also out of hospital but was staying with his parents who lived in Essex somewhere and who were 'looking after him' much to his frustration. It's difficult to keep a good queen down.
It was summer now and we felt the need for the brightly-coloured umbrella with its advertising logo which sprung from the middle of each table.
Paul said, "You sit there, Simon. I'll get some more coffees."
He turned to go inside the shop but was distracted when Jack said, "This is probably the last summer we'll spend together."
"Oh come on," I said. "I'll be back in the holidays, pestering you, wanting to know all the gossip."
"Once you leave, you leave," said Jack prophetically.
"The trouble with you," I said, "is that you're too optimistic."
"The trouble with us all," said Paul, "is that we really don't know what to do with our lives."
"The trouble with Harry is that she's a slut," I said, trying to turn the conversation onto a lighter note. I regretted it.
It sparked off an immediate row between Paul and Jack.
"The Trouble with Harry," said Jack.
"Director: Alfred Hitchcock," said Paul.
"Edmund Gwenn and . . ."
"Wasn't it someone Forsythe? William?"
"1955," said Jack with certainty.
I sighed and went to get the coffees myself.
* * * * * *
If you wish to comment, please write to: email@example.com
Word count: 7,800
Date started: Saturday, December 17th 2005
Date finished: Saturday, March 11, 2006 14:31