"I have an inoperable brain tumor," he says incredulously.
"Yes, I know."
I wonder if my words sound as hollow to Malcolm as they do to me. I used to believe all this stuff. A lot can change in ten days.
Malcolm interrupts me. "Are you a doctor?"
"Tell me again why should I come down?"
"Because it's cold and it's dangerous and I've seen what people look like when they fall from buildings. Come inside. Let's get warm."
He glances below at the carnival of ambulances, fire engines, police cars and media vans. "I won the spitting contest."
"Yes you did."
"You'll talk to Mum and Dad?"
He tries to stand, but his legs are cold and stiff. The paralysis down his left side makes his arm next to useless. He needs two arms to get up.
"Just stay there. I'll get them to send up the ladder."
"No!" he says urgently. I see the look on his face. He doesn't want to be brought down in the blaze of TV lights, with reporters asking questions.
"OK. I'll come to you." I'm amazed at how brave that sounds. I start to slide sideways in a bum shuffletoo frightened to stand. I haven't forgotten about the safety harness, but I'm still convinced that nobody has bothered to tie it off.
As I edge along the gutter, my head fills with images of what could go wrong. If this were a Hollywood movie Malcolm would slip at the last moment and I'd dive and pluck him out of midair. Either that or I'd fall and he'd rescue me.
On the other handbecause this is real lifewe might both perish, or Malcolm could live and I'd be the plucky rescuer who plunges to his death.
Although he hasn't moved, I can see a new emotion in his eyes. A few minutes ago he was ready to step off the roof without a moment's hesitation. Now he wants to live and the void beneath his feet has become an abyss.
The American philosopher William James (a closet phobic) wrote an article in 1884 pondering the nature of fear. He used an example of a person encountering a bear. Does he run because he feels afraid, or does he feel afraid after he has already started running? In other words, does a person have time to think something is frightening, or does the reaction precede the thought?
Ever since then scientists and psychologists have been locked in a kind of chicken-and-egg debate. What comes firstthe conscious awareness of fear or the pounding heart and surging adrenaline that motivates us to fight or flight?
I know the answer now, but I'm so frightened I've forgotten the question.
I'm only a few feet away from Malcolm. His cheeks are tinged with blue and he's stopped shivering. Pressing my back against the wall, I push one leg beneath me and lever my body upward until I'm standing.
Malcolm looks at my outstretched hand for a moment and then reaches slowly toward me. I grab him by the wrist and pull him upward until my arm slips around his thin waist. His skin feels like ice.
The front of the safety harness unclasps and I can lengthen the straps. I pass them around his waist and back through the buckle, until the two of us are tethered together. His woolen hat feels rough against my cheek.
"What do you want me to do?" he asks, in a croaky voice.
"You can pray the other end of this is tied on to something."
Excerpted from Suspect by Michael Robotham Copyright © 2005 by Michael Robotham. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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