Jasmine reluctant

Well, that was a surprising week wasn’t. Fancy Federa losing at Wimbledon from matchpoint! Then there was the government in turmoil over Brexit. Actually that is normal, but the resignations of Johnson and Davies were a bit unexpected. Of course they couldn’t do the honourable thing and resign when asked to back the PM. No, first they gave her their support, then they resigned. But that behaviour is not really a surprise since they have both lied and squirmed since before the referendum. But where does it leave May and the Brexit negotiations? I’ve no idea.

Then there’s Trump’s visit to the UK after causing mayhem at NATO. Nothing surprising there either (I’m writing this  on Thursday evening – perhaps he’s declared himself king of Engerland by the time you read this). I’d have thought that, by now, skilled politicians would have worked out how to neutralise his disruptive behaviour. Apparently they haven’t, which is worrying. The thing is – he’s dangerous. Satire is a useful weapon but just considering him a joke is not. I don’t think he’s particularly bright or the “ideas man” but he knows how to stir things up and sow discord. Other leaders have not found a way to counteract his rudeness, his willingness to tell outright lies and his immediate recall to Twitter to spread his chaos. Our “leaders” whatever their political colour have to find a way to cope without the spin-doctors and the protocol experts.

………………………..

WP_20180414_09_47_33_ProToday I am (I hope) at BLISS in Southport, joining a couple of dozen other authors at the Prince of Wales Hotel displaying and signing our books. I hope there will be people attending who are not only keen readers but who also have deep pockets. I have 10 titles for sale – viz. the 3 Jasmine Frame novels – Painted Ladies, Bodies By Design and The Brides’ Club Murder – the Evil Above the Stars trilogy and Cold Fire, my two Angela Meadows erotic novels and the Elsewhen SF anthology. That’s plenty to keep your bedside table creaking on its legs.

However, for free you can read the next episode of the Jasmine Frame sequel/prequel, Negative, here.

Negative: Part 5

Jasmine felt a wave of nausea pass through her, as if she’d drunk too much alcohol. It wasn’t alcohol, she hadn’t had a drink since she’d arrived here, but she knew the cause of her discomfort – a body, a death, a victim. Perhaps Tegan’s death was an accident, but the tone of the police officer’s questioning suggested a mystery. It wasn’t a simple road accident then.
Ceri seemed as nonplussed as Jasmine. ‘How?’ she asked.
‘I’m afraid that I can’t tell you that,’ the PC replied. Perhaps he didn’t know the whole story, Jasmine thought, definitely not all the details. The SIO, the senior investigating officer, would be keeping important facts secret if there was any crime contributing to the woman’s death.
‘The last time you saw Tegan Jones was Tuesday evening?’ The officer went on.
‘Yes,’ Ceri replied in a quiet voice.
The PC turned to the proprietor. ‘Was she working yesterday?’
The little man flustered. ‘I think so. I wasn’t here. I wasn’t told of a problem. Myfanwy. . .’
‘Myfanwy?’ The officer interjected.
‘Our stand-in waitress,’ the owner continued, ‘she didn’t report anything being wrong yesterday.’
Jasmine coughed. The other three people turned to face her. ‘Tegan Jones was waiting at dinner last evening,’ she said.
The officer turned a page in his notebook. ‘Who are you?’
‘Jasmine Frame. I’m a guest. I had dinner here last evening. Miz Jones was here while I was.’
‘What time was that?’ The PC asked while scribbling notes.
Jasmine had to think. She hadn’t noted the exact timings of her movements the previous evening. What had she watched on TV when she returned to her room?
‘It was quite early, I think, when I finished dinner – seven thirty-ish,’ she said.
‘Thank you, madam,’ the PC said. ‘You didn’t note what kind of mood she was in did you?’
Jasmine shook her head. ‘I’m sorry, she didn’t serve me and I didn’t have any conversation with her. Miz Jones didn’t seem to converse much; not with guests. I couldn’t say what her emotional state was or whether it was different to normal.’
‘Thank you, I think that’s all for now.’ The officer completed his note, turned and left the dining room with the proprietor on his heels. Ceri approached Jasmine. Her face was drained of colour.
‘I can’t believe she’s dead,’ Ceri said, her voice shaking.  Jasmine got up from her seat and wrapped her arms around the girl. ‘I’ve wished her dead any number of times for being so nasty to me, but. . .’
‘It’s okay. You can’t blame yourself for thinking those things. She was nasty.’ Jasmine was trying to be comforting. ‘Her death means she’s not going to bother you again.’
Ceri sniffed. ‘But how? What happened to her? Why did the police come asking questions?’
Jasmine was thinking the same things. She didn’t want to think about another death but she couldn’t help it. Questions about the investigation just kept popping into her head. She released Ceri from her hug.
‘There is obviously some doubt about when and perhaps how Tegan died. The police can’t have witnesses from the time of death; not yet anyway. That’s why they’re trying to trace her last movements.’
‘I want to know what happened,’ Ceri said firmly.
‘The police won’t be letting much out yet. Not until they have the story straight. But there are other ways of finding out some things.’
‘How?’
And so it begins, Jasmine thought. No I am not investigating this woman’s death, but she could see that Ceri was eager to know more.
‘This is a small town,’ Jasmine said, ‘How do you normally find out what’s going on.’
Ceri didn’t have to think for long. ‘Facebook and my mother.’
‘There you are then. I expect you’ll know more than that police officer soon.’
The girl looked around her. ‘I’d better clear up here. Then I’ll ask around.’
‘You do that,’ Jasmine said starting for the door.
‘Shall we meet for coffee?’ Ceri called.
Jasmine paused and turned. ‘Yes, if you like. Same place?’
Ceri nodded and began stacking plates.

Ceri didn’t appear at the time of their previous meetings but Jasmine didn’t wait on the pier because a wind carrying flurries of rain was blowing in from the sea. She went into the café, queued for a coffee then sat in their corner seat.
Her cup was empty when Ceri strode in. She came straight to Jasmine.
‘I’m sorry. I was stuck on my phone. I was on Facebook and texting my mates, then my mother rang to tell me the news.’
‘The news?’
‘About Tegan. She held me up.’
‘That’s okay. Sit down, I’ll get the coffees.’
Jasmine returned to the table with Ceri’s cappuccino and another black coffee for herself. She sat down and smiled at the young woman.
‘Well tell me. What’s the town got to say?’
‘It’s all over Facebook,’ Ceri said, not really surprised. ‘It’s the most exciting thing that’s happened here in months. Usually it’s what tourists get up to but the season hasn’t really got going yet.’
‘So what is being said about Tegan?’
Ceri took a deep breath. ‘Well some of the posts name her and some don’t.’
‘That’s to be expected. For some people it’s just an exciting event and they don’t know or care who the victim was. What are they saying? Is there a location?’
‘A location?’
‘Where her body was discovered.’
‘Oh yes, On the Undercliff.’
‘Where’s that?’ Jasmine had an idea but wasn’t certain.
‘The road round the headland.’
‘Oh yes. I walked it the other day. It’s a few miles long, do you know where?’
Ceri was looking at her phone, her thumb flicking over the screen.
‘Yes, here we are. It’s about a mile out of town on the east side.’
Jasmine frowned as she recalled her walk. ‘I know. The cliff’s pretty sheer there. The road is tucked right against the rock.’
‘That’s the place.’
‘Any suggestions of how she died?’
Ceri’s face creased. ‘There are all sorts of ideas. They can’t all be right.’
Jasmine grinned. It was as she expected. ‘It’ll all be supposition,’ she said. ‘The police won’t have released details, but gossip gets out. Perhaps there’s some truth there somewhere. What do they say?’
‘Oh, that she was knocked down while out walking, or jogging. That’s nonsense, I don’t think Tegan ever jogged anywhere and she wouldn’t have gone for a walk after work last night or before the breakfast shift.’
‘Okay, so we can reject a typical hit and run. If she’d been hit by a driver who stopped, the police wouldn’t be asking questions about where she was last night. What else?’
‘She fell from the cliff.’
‘From what you said about her not going for a run or walk, that sounds pretty unlikely too.’
‘That’s what I thought.’
Jasmine pondered. ‘Anyway, it seems we know that Tegan’s body was found on the road a mile out of town, under a cliff, and not in a car.’
‘That’s right, Jasmine.’ Ceri nodded.
‘So how did she get there? Is that where she was killed or was her body dumped there?’
‘Dumped!’
‘It’s how bodies are got rid of.’
‘Do you mean? No, you can’t. . .’
‘Tegan was murdered. Yes I do.’ Jasmine felt a mixture of excitement and resignation. Too many deaths had impacted her life in recent years. If it wasn’t actually normal to be thinking of causes of death and motives for murder it was certainly a familiar state of mind for Jasmine. ‘What did your mother have to say?’
‘Uh, Mother? Oh she said, “good riddance”. She knows what Tegan’s been like to me.’
‘Did she think Tegan’s death was suspicious?’
Ceri’s eyes opened wide. ‘I thought she was joking. She said “I expect her partner’s got fed up with her and bumped her off”.’
‘Your mother said partner, not husband? Tegan’s not married?’
‘No, didn’t I tell you? Tegan’s partner’s a woman. Tegan’s a lesbian. I mean, she was.’

 

 

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Jasmine’s day out

I couldn’t let it pass without comment, could I. The big topic of the week. No, not that. School uniforms, of course. First there was the now annual revolt of boys adopting skirts because they were denied shorts as an alternative to long grey trousers in the hot weather. Then there was the discussion about school uniforms in general. Apparently some schools have imposed a supposedly non-gendered uniform policy on pupils i.e. they have to wear a stereotypical western male uniform of trousers and shirt, (and probably a blazer and tie). This is justified with some derogatory comments about skirts or dresses being “embarrassing”. The main reason for choosing trousers is supposed to be to prevent “upskirting”.

20180621_185132Having taught in boys’, girls’ and mixed schools, as well as being genderfluid with a predilection for wearing skirts and dresses, it won’t surprise you that I have an opinion on this. Only one school I taught at did not have a uniform. Dress code was smart so no jeans (at least I think that was it). While most students were sensible, a sizeable number, particularly girls but not exclusively, treated dress as a competitive sport. They were little rich kids so they could afford very expensive and trendy stuff. I recall one girl wearing a £500 (1980s prices) leather jacket to my practical chemistry class. Girls who arrived without an up-to-the-moment wardrobe were ridiculed.

It’s always been one of the arguments for uniform that it takes away this competitive element, stops the morning arguments about what Olivia (or Oliver) should wear and makes the school’s kids easy to pick out when outside school (that happens less often now there are fewer trips). But some schools have got tied up in knots about the actual dress rules and are struggling now that gender is an issue. Many schools are still stuck with a girls having a choice, skirts or trousers, while boys don’t policy. It is sexist as well as a restriction on those who want to express their gender questioning.

While there might still be a case for some uniform element, I think it is restrictive and displays a lack of acceptance of diversity on the part of the school management. There should be no distinction between male and female; boys should be allowed to wear skirts if they like and girls shouldn’t be forced into trousers. The upskirting argument is spurious – boys should be taught how to behave in modern society and that intruding on a person’s (girl or otherwise) privacy is not allowed. But I also feel that the western style of male dress is too narrow. In many cultures across the world, men wear forms of gowns or kilts. Young people should be able to adopt those styles if they wish.

So, let’s allow much more variety in our schools, even if there is an element of uniformity in colours or badges.

……………………..

In one week I will be at BLISS at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Southport, Lancs. where all my (paper) books will be on sale. I’m hoping for a good crowd of browsers (with some money to spend).

We’ve reached episode 4 of Negative, the Jasmine Frame sequel/prequel that fits between Painted Ladies and Bodies By Design. Things are warming up.

Negative: Part 4

‘When’s your day off?’ Jasmine asked, changing the subject.
‘Tomorrow. Hey, we could meet up and I could show you around.’
Jasmine felt her spirits lift. It would lovely to spend a day with this attractive and vivacious girl. ‘That’s lovely. Any ideas?’
‘Let’s jump on a bus and look over the castle. The old town’s got lots of lovely shops and cafes.’
‘Great. What time? Do you have a lie-in on your day off?’’
Ceri grinned. ‘Definitely. I don’t get up before six on my one day of freedom. Shall we meet at the bus station at nine-thirty?’
‘Suits me.’
They chatted for a bit longer before Ceri left to do some errands for her mother. Jasmine set off to walk around the headland. It was a good distance and she was pleased to feel her muscles working. The cliffs and the ever-changing view across the sea entertained her.
A bath followed by dinner completed her day. Ceri was cheerful when she served her. Myfanwy was again a jolly colleague. At the end of the meal Ceri said, ‘See you in the morning.’ Jasmine nodded and headed back to her room.

Tegan was back on duty at breakfast and spreading chill with her dark frowns. Jasmine did note that she was polite to the older woman filling in for Ceri. Was Tegan a bully who picked on more junior colleagues or was it because Ceri was trans that she persecuted her? Jasmine wasn’t certain but was happy that it was Myfanwy who served her with a smile and a chuckle.
As Jasmine got up to leave the dining room, Tegan approached her.
‘You’ve been meeting Ceri,’ Tegan said.
‘I have,’ Jasmine replied. She had considered saying it was none of Tegan’s business but decided to see where the glum woman was going with this conversation.
‘We have a rule that staff should treat all guests the same.’
‘That’s what I would expect of any hotel,’ Jasmine said.
‘So we don’t allow staff to meet up with guests socially,’ Tegan went on.
Jasmine felt a flush come to her cheeks. ‘I think you’ll find that what a member of staff does in their own time is their own business, and who a “guest” or anyone else meets outside of this building is none of yours or anyone else’s concern.’ Jasmine pushed past the woman and marched somewhat faster than she intended from the dining room.
She got herself ready for a day out and was at the bus station with plenty of time to spare. She was still angry at Tegan’s effrontery but decided that she wouldn’t mention it to Ceri. The bus drew up at the stop and Jasmine got on. She glanced at her watch. It was nine-thirty and there was no sign of Ceri but the bus was not due to leave for another ten minutes.
With a minute to go, she saw the girl running towards the bus with her golden hair blowing out behind her. As she leapt on, her short skirt rose revealing her smooth, tanned thighs and a flash of large knickers. She flopped down beside Jasmine.
‘Sorry I’m late. I knew I had time to catch the bus but I got stuck with my brother.’
‘Oh, what did Alun want?’
‘Nothing really. Just checking on me I suppose.’
The bus pulled away. Ceri fidgeted beside Jasmine but pointed out places that related to her lifetime in the town. Then they were on the road along the estuary and approaching the bridge into the old town with its castle a prominent landmark. Soon they were disembarking and Ceri lead Jasmine through the narrow streets. Jasmine enjoyed her guided tour but felt there was something behind Ceri’s never-ending chatter and constant impatience to show her something else.

They stopped their tour for a late lunch in an olde-worlde café which Jasmine cheerfully paid for. She felt she had to repay Ceri for her company.
‘I’ll have to catch the bus back soon,’ Ceri said putting down her fork.
‘Oh, that’s okay,’ Jasmine replied feeling a little surprised because she had thought she had Ceri for the day. ‘I mustn’t take up all your time.’
‘No, I’m sorry. I didn’t know. There are things. . .’
‘It’s really no problem. It’s been very good of you to show me round.’
Ceri started to get up. ‘You don’t have to come with me, now.’
‘Oh,’ Jasmine hadn’t considered what she would do. ‘Are there buses later.’
‘Oh yes. Every hour until late this evening. But you’ll want to be back at the hotel for dinner won’t you.’
‘Mmm, yes.’
Ceri stood up. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow then. Breakfast.’
‘Yes, ‘Bye Ceri. Thanks.’
The girl was gone in a flash of gold hair. Jasmine was left contemplating her sudden departure. Had she known all along that she would have to leave at this time? What was it that demanded her return? Had she read a text while Jasmine wasn’t looking that made her decide to leave? It was probably of no concern of hers. She should be grateful for the young woman giving up the time she had on her one free day of the week. Jasmine finished her drink and decided to resume her wandering around the town, at a slower pace than Ceri had set.

Despite Myfanwy’s smile, dinner was served in the gloom caused by Tegan’s scowls and curt responses to queries from guests. Jasmine ate quickly and returned to her room for a quiet evening of TV and reading. She realised that she had fallen into a comfortable routine of sightseeing, meals and relaxation, with her meetings with Ceri a highlight of stimulating conversation. Not that they discussed weighty matters. The closest they got to that was comparing notes about their transitions and their hopes for their future lives as women.
Jasmine was still getting tired at the end of the day despite her lack of stress. Would she ever be ready to go back to investigating? She hoped so.

Jasmine woke the following morning to find the light entering her room, dull. There were raindrops on the window and grey clouds in the sky. She stayed in bed until it was almost too late for breakfast. There was only one laid-up table, her own, when she entered the dining room. Just one other couple were finishing their meal. Other tables were still covered with the detritus of breakfast eaten. Neither waitress was in evidence.
Jasmine sat in her usual seat and waited. A few minutes passed before Ceri appeared from the kitchen. Some of her long golden hair had escaped from her bun and she looked harassed. She approached Jasmine.
‘Good morning, Ceri. How are you after your day off?’ Jasmine asked feeling that as Tegan wasn’t in sight she could be friendly.
Ceri took her notebook from her pocket. ‘Oh, er fine. What would like this morning.’ Jasmine gave her usual order which Ceri jotted down. Tegan had still not appeared to glower at them.
‘Isn’t Tegan on duty today?’ Jasmine asked.
‘No, she isn’t. I’ve had to do everything.’ There was an impatient tone to Ceri’s reply.
‘Oh. Is she ill?’
Ceri shrugged. ‘I’ve no idea. I don’t think she called to say she wasn’t coming in. I’ll get your breakfast.’ She hurried off. She returned with the coffee jug, and then with toast and Jasmine’s cooked breakfast. In between she dashed around clearing tables, doing the job of two waitresses.
Jasmine was alone now, taking her time over her bacon and egg. Ceri passed close to her with her arms loaded with crockery.
‘Does this happen often?’ Jasmine said.
Ceri paused. ‘First time. I’ve never known Tegan miss a shift.’ She departed for the kitchen.
Jasmine had finished her final piece of toast, washed down with black coffee when the door to the dining room opened. The proprietor of the hotel, a short man with thin strands of black hair plastered across his bald head, entered followed by a uniformed policeman.
They both glanced at Jasmine, the hotel owner perhaps surprised to see a guest still at breakfast. Ceri emerged from the kitchen and stopped dead. An ‘Oh,’ escaped from her lips.
‘Hello Ceri,’ the owner said, ‘the police officer would like a word with you.’
‘With me? Why?’ Ceri looked confused.
The policeman stepped forward. ‘You normally work with Miss Tegan Jones.’
‘Yes.’
‘When did you see her last?’
‘The day before yesterday,’ Ceri replied still bemused.
‘Not yesterday?’ the officer said, ‘Wasn’t she at work yesterday?’
The owner raised his hand. ‘Oh, I forgot. Yesterday was your day off wasn’t it Ceri. Myfanwy was on with Tegan yesterday.’
Ceri nodded in agreement. ‘Yes, why? What’s happened?’
‘The body of Tegan Jones was found earlier this morning. We’re trying to trace her movements.’
Ceri stared. ‘The body?’

………………………..to be continued.

 

 

Jasmine surprises herself

Hardly a day goes by without something else to worry about. Perhaps I shouldn’t read the papers or watch the TV news.  There was Turkey, with a chance to democratically overthrow a dictator, but no, the majority apparently voted for Erdogan and more restriction on free speech and more power for the religious zealots.  Then there was Airbus, BMW, Nissan, the CBI etc. saying they needed some certainty about the future and what do they get from the brexiteers? “We don’t need to be friends with business. They can fxxx off.”  They probably will or at least freeze their investment so that employment will decline. Since most of the big business in the UK is multinational or foreign owned, (Conservative governments encouraged  foreign takeovers) there is no such thing as “taking control”.  What will happen? Who knows? The government certainly don’t. My worries are selfish – what will happen to my pensions when the country goes broke?

20180621_185126I have another worry, a lesser one and perhaps it isn’t a worry at all, more of a release. I have to cull some of my books. With the move to a smaller property maybe imminent (I’ll believe it when it happens, actually) I need to fit my books into less room. I’ve got well over a thousand SF books, purchased over the last 55 years. Which ones will I get rid of? Probably the more recent ones actually. I don’t think I can part with my ancient Aldiss, Anderson, Asimov, Ballard, Blish, Brunner, Cherryh, Clarke, Heinlein, McAuley, McCaffrey, Niven, Simak, Wells, Wyndham, to name just a few of my favourite authors. That’s not mentioning my complete collection of Banks (with and without the M).  There’s also a lot of history of science books including several biographies.  Surely I can make space. . .

……………………………

And so to my writing. Just a fortnight to go now to the Southport Bookfair (BLISS) and a chance to sell a few Jasmine and September books, I hope.  With the move beginning to take precedence, I haven’t got any further with the novels but at l am still ticking over with Jasmine’s prequels (and sequel) so here is the third episode of Negative.  As I promised it is more reflective than action-packed, but I hope still readable.

Negative: Part 3

Jasmine looked at the young woman. Ceri’s fresh face and that gorgeous, long blonde hair gave her a feeling she did not expect. She wanted to hug her, kiss her on the dark red lips, feel her hair run through her fingers. What did it mean? She’d always loved Angela but thought that becoming a woman, taking the hormones, meant that she’d be attracted to men. That hadn’t happened yet, not really. Was she lesbian then? She put the question on hold. Ceri was still talking.
‘There were a few kids at school, boys and girls who didn’t get it, but I had some good friends who looked after me. So, it was some positive some negative. I also had my brother.’
‘You had a brother that supported you?’ Jasmine had Holly, her older sister, but even she hadn’t found out about Jasmine until she left home.
‘Yeah. Alun’s four years older than me. He’s a sweetie really but he always defended me, from back when I was a little cissy boy. He had a bit of a reputation at school, so after I transitioned one dark look from Alun and the bullies went to find someone else to torment.’
‘Is he still around?’
‘Yeah. Works in one of the huts along the front selling buckets and spades. He’s still there if I need him.’
‘But he can’t be with you everywhere. Are you planning on staying here too?’
‘God no! I wanted to get away from people who knew me as a boy. When I was sixteen I left school and went to college. I didn’t know anyone there, so I could start my transition seriously.’
‘How’s it gone?’
Ceri shrugged again. ‘College was ok. I’m waiting for the results now. Then I can get away full-time.’
‘Waitressing is a holiday job then.’
‘God, yes! I wouldn’t want to spend my life doing it like Tegan, the old cow.’
‘She doesn’t like you?’
‘I don’t whether it’s me, because I am who am I am or whether she just doesn’t like young people, or any people for that matter.’
‘Does she know you’re trans?’
‘Of course. Everyone does in this town. Tegan knows my Mum.’
‘I can see why you want to go somewhere else.’
Ceri looked a bit sheepish. ‘I can’t wait, but. . .it’s a bit scary too. Starting in a new place. College was the same, but I came home every day.’
‘Your mother. . .’
‘I’ll miss her. I’m not sure if I could have done this without her.’
Jasmine felt the same about Angela, but they had to part too. ‘How’s your transition going.’
Ceri nodded her head from side to side. ‘It takes so long. I was already on the list before I turned sixteen, so I thought I’d be there with my prescription on my birthday. But, no, it took six months before I got my first supply. Now I’m waiting for the surgery.’
‘Like me,’ Jasmine agreed. ‘You should get priority, being so young. You’re looking good though; the hormones are working.’
‘Yeah. I’ve even got tits.’ Ceri drained her cup of coffee.
‘They’re all yours?’ Jasmine said gazing longingly at Ceri’s curves.
“Well, no. I’m still using fillers, but I’m up to a B.’
Jasmine snorted. ‘Lucky you. I had problems getting my antiandrogens balanced. The nausea and the moods. . . Well, you don’t need to hear about all that. Let’s just say I’m sorry I’m not ten years younger, like you.’
They chattered on about Jasmine’s life, Ceri’s plans for uni., what there was to do in the area. At last Ceri got up.
‘Sorry, I’ve got to go, Jas. I said I’d meet my mate, Gwen at lunchtime. We’ve got some clothes to swap. She’s not as tall as me but we can share some things.’
Jasmine felt awkward. ‘I’m sorry I’ve kept you talking Ceri.’
‘No, it’s been great. It’s lovely to share with someone like me. Look, I have a day off on Thursday. Perhaps I can show you around this place. There’s some gorgeous scenery. Unless you’ve got your own plans.’
‘No. No plans at all. That would be great. Thanks Ceri.’
‘See you at dinner then. Unless Tegan the witch stops me serving you.’
‘Would she?’
‘Oh, yes she would. Bye.’
Ceri skipped off. Jasmine watched her go, admiring the way her short dress swayed from side to side as she swung her hips. She walked like a girl, with grace and sexiness.’

Jasmine enjoyed a walk on the headland recommended by Ceri. It was some weeks since she had been running so she felt out of condition. The steep climb got her breathing deeply again and made her conscious of her leg muscles. She paused in various places to enjoy the views across the sea and the mountains. She especially enjoyed the solitude. Despite the fine weather she met no-one on her walk until she reached a small shop and café at the summit. She joined the tourists who had arrived by cable-car but after a refreshing drink she set off alone again.
As she wandered, taking paths almost at random, she thought about Ceri, comparing her tales of transition with her own story. Both had had a steady and secure home life while commencing the changes that would lead to them presenting as well as identifying as female. They were the lucky ones, Jasmine knew. There were many who struggled against prejudice and without support, but Jasmine was also aware that Ceri had faced problems and would have more to confront in the future. Her boss, Tegan, was just one amongst many.
It was late afternoon when Jasmine finally returned to the metalled roads of the town and arrived, footsore and tired back at her hotel. She relished a long bath before making herself ready for the evening meal.
Ceri served her but was subdued and barely said a word. Jasmine tried to engage her in conversation but noticed her casting worried glances to where Tegan was serving other guests. After dinner Jasmine retired to her room to read and watch TV before finding herself getting sleepy.

The grumpy waitress was not to be seen at breakfast. Ceri skipped around the dining room with a broad smile on her face. She was assisted by an older, plump woman who also had a cheerful demeanour. Jasmine was interested by how the atmosphere of the dining room was different this morning. The weather outside was sunny again and now it seemed to have spread inside as well. As Ceri cleared the last of Jasmine’s plates, Jasmine decided to ask a question.
‘Would you like to meet for coffee again?’ She hoped she hadn’t read too much into their pleasant encounter the previous morning.
‘I’d love to,’ Ceri replied with a smile.
‘Same place and time?’ Jasmine asked.
‘Super.’ Ceri staggered away with am armful of dirty crockery.

Jasmine decided to wait outside the café. The incoming tide was again providing an interesting pattern of waves on the wide beach. Ceri approached after just a few minutes, her golden hair again released from the elastic bands that held it captive in the dining room.
They sat with their coffees at the same table as the previous day.
‘You were happier this morning than you were last evening,’ Jasmine observed.
‘You can guess why,’ Ceri replied with her lips covered in foamy milk.
‘No Tegan?’
The girl nodded.
’Is it her day off?’
Ceri put her mug down. ‘Yes. The one day of the week when I can get on with the job without her grumbling. Myfanwy is lovely to work with. I wish she’d do more than the two days.’
‘Two days?’
‘She covers my day off too. She’s retired really. Says she doesn’t want to do more than two days a week.’
‘I could see the difference in you. You weren’t a happy bunny last evening.’
Ceri frowned. ‘I wasn’t. Tegan had a go at me.’
‘What about?’
‘Us.’
‘Us?’ Jasmine didn’t know what Ceri meant.
‘You and me. Meeting like this. Apparently, she was hanging round the pier when we met yesterday and saw us come in here together.’
Jasmine shrugged, ‘So what?’
‘Tegan says staff should not fraternise with the guests. She thinks I’m trying to get a better tip from you or something.’
‘It’s none of her business.’ Jasmine was annoyed that another person should have an opinion on her relationship with her new friend.
‘It isn’t, but she is my boss, so she thinks she can have a go at me for anything. She’s glad she’s found something else other than just my work to go on about; as well as being trans of course.’
‘Does she know I am too?’
‘Oh, yes. She used some words for both of us.’
Jasmine felt herself stiffen at Ceri’s statement. ‘You do know that if she is intimidating you and using derogatory trans terms that could be a hate-crime. You could report her.’
Ceri looked horrified. ‘I don’t want to go to the police.’
‘They are on our side.’ Well, most of them are, Jasmine thought. There were a few of her ex-colleagues who couldn’t see past their own gender certainty.
‘Yeah, perhaps. I can sort it. I won’t have to work with Tegan for much longer.’

………………….to be continued.

 

Jasmine makes a friend

WP_20180516_13_29_08_ProDo you have hate-figures? Hate is a very negative emotion and one shouldn’t place that feeling on any person but there are definitely some people or groups of people that I am more than irritated by. Certain politicians who I won’t name are one group. Estate agents used to be another. We’ve bought and sold house a number of times and the agents always seemed an obstacle to movement rather than a help. However at the moment, our current agents are delightful, working day after day to secure the move we want to make. No, the figures who have risen to number one in my list of detestable characters are solicitors.

In the past I have accepted that they have a job to do. They’ve done it and been paid handsomely for it. Perhaps it took them longer than we hoped but they seemed to get on with the task without causing unnecessary hindrance. The last time we moved was nine years ago.  The situation seems to have changed since then. As in all walks of life, the internet has interfered. Now you can contract with an on-line solicitor probably based in a town far from where you live. Apart from not having a solicitor close enough to call on for face to face meetings it means that you are dealing with a call centre staffed by legal assistants (assuming they have any qualification at all). All they can deal with is what they see on their screens. The result – delay after delay; letters, emails and phone calls unanswered; each solicitor in the chain waiting for the next in line to do something.

We went with a local solicitor but at least one member of our chain of four has used an online solicitor. A process that could take as little as three weeks, that usually takes six weeks has taken three months and counting (that’s not counting the other delays due to people dropping out, partly we suspect because of the delays). Our impression is that all solicitors have lost sight that they are serving clients who are engaged in the stressful business of moving from one home to another. They sit in their offices and call centres awaiting the post – yes, despite the possibility of transferring letters and documents online they still seem to rely on the mail.

Frustration is just one of  the words I’d use to describe the emotion of waiting for completion.

……………………………

I’m still writing! Below is the second episode of Negative, both a sequel and a prequel to the Jasmine Frame novels.

Negative – Part 2

‘Yes, please,’ Jasmine replied giving the young waitress a broad smile.
The girl looked at the empty seat. ‘Is there someone else. . .’ she said hesitantly.
‘No, I’m on my own.’ How Jasmine wished that Angela was with her. The memories of fun times together, the companionship, the love, the sex, startled her with their force. She gasped.
‘Are you alright,’ the waitress asked.
Jasmine sucked in air. ‘Yes, well, a glass of water. . .’
The girl hurried away and returned moments later with a jug of water and a tumbler. She placed them on Jasmine’s table. ‘Would you like more time?’ The girl’s voice control had slipped a little, descending a few tones.
Jasmine smiled at her. ‘No, sorry about that. I’m not sure what happened. I am ready.’ She picked up the menu and read off the soup and a fish dish. She was ready to eat but didn’t want anything too heavy.
The waitress scribbled in her notebook, gave Jasmine a smile and left her. Jasmine noticed the other waitress’s eyes following her. There was a scowl on her face.

The food wasn’t bad, better than your average cheap hotel fare. Jasmine felt that it had been prepared with care for her personally rather than being mass produced slop. She wished she had brought something with her to read as in the gap between courses she had nothing to do other than sit and listen to conversations while trying to avoid looking like she was eavesdropping on the private chat. Other than the waitress no one else spoke to her. Was that because all the pairs were just focussed on their own relationships or because as a single person she was considered odd, an interloper, who might have a divisive effect on a couple. None of what she heard was particularly interesting. She discovered a few places in the town to avoid and learned of some others worth a visit.
When she had finished she thanked her waitress who looked surprised to be acknowledged. The older member of staff glowered at them. Jasmine pushed her chair back, stood and casually walked from the dining room. She returned to her room, watched a bit of TV, read her book and then discovered that like previous evenings since her stay in hospital she had become tired and was ready to settle into bed much earlier than she was accustomed to.

She woke early. The morning light was shining through the thin curtains even though her window faced north. She got up, went to the window and pushed the curtains back. The sky was blue and cloudless. A sunny day by the seaside. What could be better? It should have filled her with joy but there was a darkness inside her. What did she need to dispel it? A companion? Someone to chat to? Someone to tell of her dreams that came every night – the blade that slashed at her arms defending herself, her chest, abdomen and her penis and testicles. The presence of the last was perhaps the worst part of the nightmare.
She made a cup of coffee using the room’s facilities and went back to bed. It was too early for breakfast. She read again and listened to the sounds of the hotel waking up.
It was approaching nine-thirty when she descended to the dining room for breakfast. There were still a few couples there eating. She sat at the same table as the previous evening. The young trans-girl approached.
‘Good morning,’ the waitress said, ‘What would you like?’
Jasmine decided, ‘Scrambled eggs, toast, fruit, coffee, please.’
‘There’s fruit on the buffet table. Help yourself. I’ll bring your coffee.’ The girl departed. Jasmine explored the breakfast bar and collected a bowl of mixed fruits. The girl was pouring coffee into her cup when she returned.
‘You’re on breakfast and dinner times?’ Jasmine said.
The waitress smiled, ‘That’s right, six days a week.’
‘We’re going to see a fair bit of each other over the next couple of weeks, I think. I’m Jasmine and you are . . .?’
‘Ceri,’ she replied but glanced to the other side of the room where the older waitress was standing glaring at them with her mouth in a grimace. ‘but she doesn’t like me talking to guests.’
Jasmine followed Ceri’s gaze, ‘She?’
‘Tegan.’
‘She can’t stop me talking to you,’ Jasmine said and then realised that was unfair on the young woman. If the older waitress was vindictive to Ceri for some reason, then Jasmine befriending her would not improve her situation. ‘I’m sorry, I won’t get you into the trouble.’
Ceri gave her a sad smile. ‘It’s not your fault. It’s, er, complicated.’
‘I understand,’ Jasmine said in an almost whisper, ‘I think we have something in common.’
A startled look passed across Ceri’s face. She took the coffee jug to refill another guest’s cup. A few minutes later she returned with Jasmine’s plate of eggs and a rack of toast.
‘Enjoy your breakfast,’ she said and hurried away.

It was a lovely warm morning on the seafront. Jasmine walked along the beach which was occupied by couples with young children digging in the sand and older people snoozing in deckchairs. She felt herself drawn to the end of the beach where the pier jutted out into the sea. She climbed the steps up to the wooden deck and walked past the stalls selling holiday goods until she was over the water. Below her the rollers were sweeping into the shore, breaking over the mixture of pebbles and sand that made up the beach. It was hypnotic watching them and she stood for minutes in a sort of trance.
Eventually she looked up, back along the pier and saw a woman walking towards her. Her long golden hair flowed out behind her. She wore large round sunglasses and brightly patterned dress that although it had a fairly high neckline left her shoulders and arms bare and hardly covered her long legs at all. She had flat, white sandals on her feet.
Jasmine stared at the girl, then realised that she was familiar. It was Ceri.
‘Hi,’ Jasmine called as the girl drew near to her. Ceri paused, looked at her, and took a step closer.
‘I’m sorry. I was far away. I didn’t notice you, um, . . .’
‘Jasmine,’ she reminded her.
‘Oh, yes. You told me your name at breakfast.’
‘So, Tegan let’s you out sometimes then.’ Jasmine wondered if the cliché would irritate the young woman.
Ceri smiled. ‘Thank goodness. Breakfast is usually done by ten-thirty and I don’t have to be back to set up for dinner until five-thirty. The day is mine to do what I want.’
‘And what do you want?’
She shrugged, ‘Well, I just love this old pier, especially when it’s not too busy. It’s packed in August, if the weather’s good.’
Jasmine gazed at the sea and the mountains in the distance. ‘It’s certainly a stunning view.’
‘I look into the distance and think about where I might be sometime in the future.’
‘You have plans?’
Ceri shrugged again. ‘It depends.’
‘As you said earlier. It’s complicated. I know what you mean.’
The girl frowned. ‘You said we had something in common. Do you know I’m . . .? Are you . . .?’
‘I think we need to talk. Would you like a coffee?’
‘Um, yes. There’s a decent café at the end of the pier.’
They walked side by side to the low, wooden building. There were a few people inside, but Ceri and Jasmine were able to take a quiet, corner table with a view over the open sea. They ordered their coffees – Jasmine a black and Ceri a frothy cappuccino.
‘You guessed I was trans,’ Ceri said. There was disappointment on her face. ‘I try so hard.’
‘You look fantastic,’ Jasmine wanted to encourage her, ‘but you know there are the little signs. I’m aware of them because I know I have them too – facial features, broad shoulders, not much waist.’
‘And the voice. I know. I try to keep it up but it slips.’
‘It’s difficult, I know. I’ve taken lessons from a speech therapist and still I have problems. But, you’re young, how long have you been transitioned?’ she paused wondering how ready the girl was to talk about herself. ‘I’m sorry, I’m being nosey. You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.’
Ceri’s eyes widened. ‘No, I want to. It’s fantastic to find someone who understands. There aren’t many trans-people in this small town.’
‘You grew up here?’
‘Yes. All my life. I still live with my Mum and Dad.’
‘They support you?’
‘Mum, yes. Dad less so.’
Jasmine nodded. ‘That’s common. My father never knew I was trans. He died before I started to transition. It must have been difficult for you.’
Ceri shrugged. ‘I knew there was something different about me when I was a kid, but I was fourteen before I told my Mum. I was getting scared and angry about the things that were starting to happen. You know, hair, voice breaking, getting erections.’
Jasmine nodded. She remembered those things very well indeed. She encouraged Ceri to continue.
‘When I told my Mum, she understood immediately. I’d always insisted on keeping my hair long,’ She stroked her golden tresses, ‘and I was never really into playing boys games.’
‘Your Mother helped you.’
‘Yeah. She took me to the doctor, googled it, got in touch with Mermaids. School agreed for me to go into Year 10 as a girl. I wanted to go on the puberty blocking drugs but the time it took to get an appointment at the gender clinic and then they said I must wait to be certain I wanted it. . .’ she shrugged. ‘I wished I’d come out years sooner so that it could have been sorted when puberty kicked in.’ She sighed, ‘Anyway, I was living as a girl, at home and school, and I only had to wait until I was sixteen.’
‘How was it, at school, living here?’
‘What do you think?’
‘Difficult?’
‘Yeah.’

…………………….to be continued

Jasmine’s back

WP_20180414_09_47_33_ProIn four weeks I’ll be at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Southport, Lancashire for the BLISS Book Lovers event (Sat. 14th July.)  It’s another of those bookfairs where the authors display their books and engage visitors with enthralling chat about their work. It really works best if there are lots of people wandering around who aren’t the participating authors. For that reason I have a few free entry tickets available for anyone wanting to attend.  Just send me a message on paintedladiesnovel@btinternet.com and if they haven’t all gone I’ll see that you get a ticket. Also send me a message if you want to pre-order any of my books for delivery at the event.  They will all be priced at £8 on the day except for Painted Ladies, which is free with either Bodies By Design or The Brides’ Club Murder. The Evil Above the Stars trilogy will be £21 for all three volumes.  There will also be free bookmarks and postcards of scenes from the September novels, particularly Cold Fire.

Of course, if you can’t get to Southport you can order the books direct from me by sending a message to me at the same email address above.  All books are £9.99 inc p&p each and the free offer for Painted Ladies stands. The package of the three Evil Above the Stars books is £25.

……………….

And so Jasmine returns. I’ve had a rest from writing Jasmine Frame stories for a couple of months although the fourth novel, Molly’s Boudoir, is still on the stocks. This new story is something of an innovation.  It is both a sequel and prequel.  It fits into the short period of time between the events of Painted Ladies and Bodies By Design. I am not going to give away any of the plot of Painted Ladies other than to say Jasmine is recovering.  You’ll have to wait and see how the story develops but I do want it to be a little more reflective.  Jasmine is stuck at the stage in her transition where she’s living as a woman and taking hormones but the body she wants is a distant goal because of the time it takes to get Gender Confirmation  Surgery. She’s alone and self-employed and has just completed a traumatic case so she has reason to be reflective.

By the way I’d welcome beta readers for Molly’s Boudoir.  If you would like to read it in its pre-copyedit state and are prepared to make comments (positive and negative) then please send me a message on the email address above. In  return you’ll get my grateful thanks and a signed (yes, really) paperback copy when it is published.

So here is the first episode of Negative.

Negative: Part 1

The forest of wind turbines on the horizon in a flat calm sea seemed to be unchanging. It was only the rattle of the railway carriage that told her that she was moving. She kept her face close to the window gazing at the scene. It had been a long time since she’d seen the sea, but it was almost like coming home having grown up in a coastal town. This was a different bit of sea though and turning away to look out of the other side of the carriage she could see that she was travelling through unfamiliar country. Hills clothed in bright green grass and dark trees rose steeply from the narrow coastal strip and beyond, partially hidden in cloud, were the dark blue hints of higher mountains.
Jasmine looked back at the sea. She needed a holiday, a break, a change of scene, but it felt a little like she was running away. Angela had recommended it, as did Jilly, her GP. While her injuries were healing, the dreams still disturbed her nights. She woke feeling she couldn’t breathe. The media interest in her, though lessening, was irritating and stopped her from getting back to work. Not that she was sure she would have much work. Frame Investigations might be defunct. Who wanted a private investigator whose picture had appeared in the local and national newspapers and on the internet?
She’d argued. She didn’t want to go away. She wanted to curl up in her drab, small flat. She was alone. What was she going to do on a vacation? Anyway, she couldn’t afford it.
Angela had argued back. The change would do her good, refresh her. She’d meet new people; people who didn’t know her. She had some money coming from the Police for her work and in victim compensation, and why didn’t she use some of her savings. That was for her transition, she’d responded.
Angela had replied, ‘Your wellbeing now is more important than having money in the bank for whatever surgeries you decide you might need in the future.’ Jasmine had wanted to retort that future treatment was what was going to make her what she wanted to be, but she had accepted Angela’s point.
So here she was, on a train to somewhere unfamiliar. On her own because, of course, Angela had her own career she couldn’t desert at short notice and anyway they were divorced now. There was no-one else.

The train pulled into the terminus station. Jasmine collected her small case and stepped onto the carriage accompanied by a couple of dozen fellow travellers. It was summer, but not yet school holiday time so the season hadn’t really taken off. Her companions were largely grey-haired. Though they might have noticed her in her t-shirt and short skirt, none seemed to take any interest in her. She checked the map on her phone and strode out of the station towing her case behind her. The hotel she’d booked wasn’t far. It was in one of the streets that lead down to the seafront, but she noted, didn’t have a direct view of the sea. It was a small independently run establishment. The grey stone Victorian building looked as though it had had a coat of paint applied to its woodwork but didn’t seem to have had any recent improvements. Not seedy anyway. She’d booked it because it was cheap, offered breakfast and dinner and had a single room spare for a fortnight – that was as long as she thought she’d survive being on holiday.
The owner showed her into the room. Its narrow window looked out at the row of buildings in the next street with just a peek at the hill that rose beyond the town. He was welcoming and explained the idiosyncrasies of the plumbing and informed her of the mealtimes. She examined his face. Had he guessed what she was? Did his eyes display any sense of judgement? No, he was treating her as she thought he would any other guest who happened to be a single woman, taking care not to fuss over her in case it was interpreted as being sexist.
After asking if there was any other assistance she needed, the proprietor left her alone. Jasmine unpacked her bag and then decided to explore. She left the hotel and walked down to the seafront. Although the sun was still shining it was now late afternoon, her journey had taken most of the day, and there was a cool breeze blowing in off the water. Her bare arms and legs felt a bit chilly. To keep warm, she strode out along the promenade. She passed retired couples and families with young pre-school children, but the wide concreted pavement wasn’t crowded. On one side were the large, at one time grand, hotels and on the other, brightly painted wooden huts offering the usual seaside goods for visitors – buckets and spades, sunhats, ice cream, soft drinks, and fast food accompanied by the sickening smell of over-cooked fat.
She went to the iron rail that marked the boundary between the shore and beach and gazed out at the curve of the bay with the mountains on the right and the headland to the left. Why was she here? She knew no-one and knew nothing about this area. It was simply a retreat, somewhere to be herself, unknown and hopefully unbothered. For a moment she wondered what the attitude of the locals was to transitioning transwomen. Were they likely to be more or less accepting than in the cities and towns she was familiar with? She didn’t know, and it gave her a little anxiety about what she might discover. Holiday-makers, surely, were only interested in their own enjoyment so would be unconcerned by her, that is unless there were some young, single men looking for women to satisfy their vacation lust. She’d have to avoid them.
She wasn’t sure what she would spend her time her doing. There were plenty of things to do and see, walks to do and she’d brought a few books. Swimming in the sea was out. No bathing costume helped her look more feminine, and her scars would show. Relax, that was the main thing – and recuperate; dispel the nightmares of the slashing knife, ripping through her skin, chopping at her penis and scrotum. Yes, she wanted rid of them, but in a controlled, clean, anaesthetised manner where they would be used to build her new genitalia. She shivered, not just with the breeze on her shoulders, and turned to walk back to the hotel.

After kicking off her shoes and lying on the bed to read a not very interesting novel for a while, her watch told her it was time for dinner. Did one dress for dinner in hotels these days? She wasn’t sure but decided to change from the clothes she had travelled in. Instead she put on a calf-length dress with a thin cardigan. She powdered her face and re-did her lipstick. She looked in the mirror. What impression did she give? A young(ish) woman on her own in a small holiday hotel. Would people wonder why she was alone and perhaps examine her for reasons for her aloneness? Would their examinations note the wide shoulders, the mannish angle of her nose, and firm jaw-line? Would they suspect her for what she was?
She was used to these worries although it was the first time for a long time that she had been in a new place to test them. She took a deep breath, picked up her bag, checked her new smart phone was in it and stepped outside her door.
The dining room was half full. Most of the occupied tables by couples although one had two pairs sitting at it. Glances noted her entry, but none lingered. A waitress, dark hair, probably in her forties, indicated that she could sit at any of the smaller tables set for two, and left her to choose. She went to a table at the corner of the room which, while unobtrusive, gave her a view of the diners. She sat, pulling the hem of her dress under her bottom and looked at the brief menu.
There was a buzz of conversation around her. She caught snippets of conversation about the day’s activities, and discussions of the news of the moment – the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations and preparations for the London Olympics, now less than two months away and the media, at least, becoming frantic that the organisation was incomplete.
Jasmine was approached by the second of the waitresses on duty. She was young, slim and tall, at least as tall as Jasmine’s five foot nine. Her long blonde hair was tied in a bun so that it wouldn’t flop into the dinner plates when she served the diners. Like the other waitress she was dressed in the typical waiting uniform of short, black skirt, black tights and black pinafore but the younger girl’s skirt ended higher on her thighs. She gave Jasmine a thin smile but there was a nervousness about her, her eyes not looking directly at her, that caused Jasmine to examine her. She noted the heavy foundation on her chin and cheeks, and the bold colour of her eye and lip make-up. The shirt was tucked into the skirt but the girl didn’t have much of a waist. The hand that gripped the notebook had painted nails but was large with stubby fingers.
“Are you ready to order?” the girl said in a way that Jasmine suspected she’d prepared herself to speak rather than just spill the words out. She smiled at the girl and the thought came to her, what were the chances that the hotel I chose to stay in had a trans employee?

………………………..to be continued.

 

Jasmine is waking

I could start this week’s piece with a rant about inept solicitors but I won’t. Let’s try to be positive.

There was the lovely news about the person in the Netherlands who has become the first legal non-binary person. They were born with an intersex condition and has spent time living as male and female but now has settled for a non-gendered life.  It was a struggle but the Dutch government finally accepted it. Perhaps it opens the way for other intersex people to adopt a similar life-style. However, I don’t think it offers too much hope for those like me who are not intersex but identify as gender-fluid or gender-variant and want to reject labelling as male or female.

Then there was the great day we had at the Hay Literary Festival last week. We always have a good time at Hay but this was different as I was contributing to a workshop on Gender, Sexuality and Identity organised by the young people’s mental health charity, Strong Young Minds. In fact I was asked to introduce the topic and guide the audience into the discussion groups. We had a good and varied audience who took part enthusiastically and the group facilitators and notetakers did a fantastic job. We hope the outcomes are greater awareness, a network for LGBTQ+ youth and further opportunities to spread the message viz. BU (i.e. be yourself).

Of course there was another highlight to the day – a peer inside the Green Room at Hay where all the speakers relax. Actually a bit more than a “peer”. We were welcomed in, given a glass of wine and had a sit down to eat our packed lunch.  Oh, and the loos were pretty smart too.

IMGP6569 (2)………………………………..

This week we reach the concluding part of my SF story, Benefactors. Well, it’s the last part so far. When you get to the end you will see that it’s not really the end of the story. I have been thinking about a millennia spanning tale taking humans out to perhaps meet the Benefactors but it has rather ground to a halt at the moment. Meanwhile, I have been thinking about Jasmine Frame’s return.  Yes, she will be back in a new transgender-themed crime story next week – I just have to write it. . .

Benefactors: Part 9

The change in engine note after the helicopter touched down was what woke Jock. Moments later the door opened revealing another helmeted military figure standing on a small landing field of old and cracked concrete. Jock undid his harness, stretched his arms and legs and stepped out into a cloudy evening that was considerably colder than the previous stop. Not having had his personal possessions returned to him Jock had no idea how long the journey had lasted. He looked around, seeing that they were in a valley between moderately high and rugged mountains. Scotland, Jock decided.
There was a row of single storey huts on one side of the landing field. From the distance, they looked practically derelict relicts of the Cold War or even earlier. A figure was striding towards him from the buildings. Jock thought the person was familiar. He began to walk to meet her. A few steps confirmed his hopes.
‘Professor Patel,’ Jock called, his words drowned by the roar of the helicopter taking off behind him. He turned to see it rise and turn and head off down the valley.
‘Jock!’ Helen called and ran towards him. They met and embraced in an awkward but emotional hug. ‘Thank goodness you’re here,’ Helen said when they parted.
‘I don’t know where “here” is, Professor. What’s going on?’
‘It’s Helen. We don’t need titles here and I think we’re going to be together for some time. I don’t know where “here” is either and it hasn’t got a name but it’s where we’re going to study the data in the tree genome.’
Jock stopped walking, shivered and shook his head. ‘I don’t get it. They killed my guide, destroyed the last tree, and shut me away. I thought the next stop was an unmarked grave. Now you say they want to know what the tree’s all about.’
Helen nodded. ‘I’ll explain all I can, but let’s get you inside. It’s a colder autumn here wherever we are.’ They entered the nearest building. It had paint peeling from the concrete walls and the vinyl covering on the floor was lifting in places.
‘What is this place?’ Jock said.
‘I think it was a research station from the 60s. Biological warfare I expect. It’s been mothballed for half a century but that doesn’t mean it’s been looked after. I think the government thinks it’s remote enough to keep our work secret.’
‘So we’re working for the British government,’ Jock shrugged.
‘I think so.’ Helen explained how she and Darmaan had been arrested or kidnapped depending on your point of view and how she had been facing a memory wipe given some sort of legitimacy by government anti-radicalisation laws. ‘But I convinced them that they needed to take the tree data seriously.’
‘How did you do that? They seemed to be paranoid about any of it getting out.’
‘They are but they’re more scared of others using the data first. I suggested that there may be more examples of hidden messages in genomes waiting to be found in other parts of the world.’
Jock shook his head. ‘I don’t think so. The Rift Valley was where modern humans evolved. There’s the pinch point where they almost didn’t make it. You know we’re all descended from one female. Well, perhaps there were other women in that surviving group but their descendants died out. Something happened to improve the odds of survival for that bunch of humans a quarter of a million years ago. I think it was the Tree. We were given one chance.’
‘Shh,’ Helen held a finger to her lips. ‘Keep that to yourself I don’t think they’ve had time to install surveillance yet. Let them think that we’re in a race to decode the data.’
‘Maybe we are. The Chinese mining operation that destroyed the grove could be a cover. Perhaps they took samples too.’
‘So we’ve got our work cut out.’
‘But there aren’t any trees. They’re all gone.’ Jock shook his head sadly.
Helen stopped at a steel door. She pushed on the handle. The door swung opened as if recently greased. They stepped into a small laboratory. There was plastic sheeting draped from the ceiling and covering the windows. It felt warmer than in the corridor. A bench in the centre of the room was covered with trays of small glass jars.
Jock let out a gasp of glee. He leapt forward bending to peer at the bottles. ‘They’re . . .’
‘Tissue cultures,’ Helen said leaning to look inside a bottle at the short pale shoot and the tiny leaves that were just beginning to open.
‘How. . .?’ Jock asked almost speechless as he examined jar after jar.
‘Your employers. Your un-named drug company. They had started the cultures to obtain the neuroactive drug you discovered. All their work has been transferred here along with their staff. I think the government has done a deal with the company to keep it secret.’
Jock straightened up. ‘The God-tree survives.’
Helen took Jock’s hand and tugged him back to the corridor. ‘Yes, but that’s not what we’re here for. Come on.’
They walked a little further until Helen pushed open another door. Jock was dazzled by the colours and flickering illumination. The room was filled with holographic displays hanging in the air, moving, changing, flicking off, new ones appearing. In the centre of the room, almost hidden by the maze of pictures and text, was a figure.
‘Darmaan. Jock Fraser’s here,’ Helen called. The displays disappeared revealing another drab, decaying room with a single pendant light hanging over Darmaan Adams. Darmaan stepped towards them arm extended.
‘Jock! At last. Helen’s said so much about you.’ Darmaan grabbed Jock’s hand and pumped it vigorously. Jock always considered himself an action man, a fearless explorer always prepared for the unexpected but the way today had turned out was too much for even him. He collapsed onto an old wooden stool and stared at Helen and Darmaan with his mouth open.
‘I’ll explain,’ Helen said. ‘The government guy who was organising my memory wipe believed my story of what the Tree meant. I have to hand it to them. Once they make up their mind to act things happen. I was left alone in a comfy cell for less than two days. Then they came for me and brought me here. That was yesterday evening. Darmaan arrived this morning long with the drug company guys and gals. That’s it for now except for a company of soldiers who are guarding the perimeter. I’m not sure if they are keeping snoopers out or us in.’
‘Probably both,’ Jock said. ‘Where are the tissue team now?’
‘Having some supper in the common room,’ Darmaan said.
Helen nodded. ‘We were going to join them until I heard the helicopter.’
‘And I was too engrossed here to stop,’ Darmaan added.
Jock looked around the bare and decrepit laboratory. ‘But you said this place was out of action for fifty years.’
‘It was,’ Helen nodded vigorously, ‘It’s a mess but the soldiers cleaned up some of the rooms, rigged up a power feed and brought in a water supply. As I said, they did a lot in two days. For now, we’re going to be living rough. You’re used to that aren’t you, Jock?’ Jock nodded, ‘’But we have the Tree and the data Darmaan extracted from the genome. We can make a start on understanding it.’
‘Working for the government.’ Jock said.
‘Yes, but we’re still alive with our minds intact and we have an amazing task in front of us.’
Jock didn’t look as grateful as Helen expected. ‘The drug in the Tree enabled the people to work together for the good of the race. It gave them the edge over their competitors and here we are today. We don’t know who planted the trees but what did they expect to happen when their protégés became successful enough to decode the genome.’
Darmaan said, ‘That’s what we’re going to find out.’

……………………..The End (for now)

Jasmine and the end of the world

IMGP6557 (2)Earlier this week I spent an enjoyable day at How The Light Gets In, the “other” Hay festival. I attended some interesting talks and discussions but the last got me hopping mad. The topic “Out of the Apocalypse” was billed as a discussion  about:

“From climate change and superbugs to nuclear strikes, visions of man-made apocalypse fill the headlines. Is this because we don’t really believe them and as a result are simply entertained? Should we see impending apocalypse as very real and act with more urgency? Or is apocalypse a perennial human narrative that sells books, magazines and news and is mostly fantasy?”

Unfortunately the contributors circled around the subject although none appeared to be climate-change-deniers. First there was discussion of the meaning of the term “apocalypse”.  Apparently it is derived from the Greek word for Revelation as used in the last book of the Bible and so refers to religious hopes for the end of the world where God triumphs, believers get their reward and the rest get punished or annihilated. It perhaps doesn’t quite mean what the title was intended to mean.  This meant that apart from a bit of discussion about nuclear holocaust we never dug into the impending disasters facing us. The chair even asked at one point why we “don’t see any evidence of the coming apocalypse.”  I felt like shouting out “how many more pictures of retreating glaciers, disappearing Arctic ice, burning rainforest, turtles with stomachs full of plastic bags, heaps of rubbish, city smogs, etc., etc., do you need?”. The participants seemed to approach the Apocalypse, or whatever it is, in an almost religious manner i.e. that it was all about an abrupt death. Yes, it is about people (and wildlife) dying, but that’s not the worst part of it.

The coming Armageddon, (another term of dubious applicability) will not be a one-off event. It will be a slow (in human if not geological terms) process, as the environment dies, food becomes short, order breaks down and people gradually die of starvation, disease, “accidents” and violence. The causes are numerous.  Here are just a few:  climate change caused by excessive use of fossil fuels and deforestation leading to drought, violent storms (causing landslides), mass extinctions et al; death of marine life by pollution (not just plastics) and acidification; soil degradation (we’re losing a massive amount every year); air pollution; pollution of fresh water sources; invasive pests and diseases (e.g. flu, ebola); etc.

I don’t see governments making any real attempts to solve these problems.  I hope I am being pessimistic but what I see does not give me cause for optimism. In the future we will see rising prices for food, increasing unrest in areas where food and water are in short supply, leading to break down of law and order, wars, refugees and migrants. In richer countries, those with power (corporations, the wealthy) will take steps to protect their interests (perhaps by supporting populist groups that give them the tools of government), while the ordinary people will see their standard of living and rights slowly eroded.

It sounds like a dystopian novel. I wish it was, but I fear it is a forecast for the next hundred or so years.  I hope I can see out the rest of my life in relative safety and comfort but I fear for my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

One of the speakers wants to cut the world population by reducing births. While a reduction of numbers is essential, a lack of young people with new ideas and energy will only hasten the descent into chaos. So, I don’t know what the answer is.

I don’t have any solutions, but welcome ideas.

………………………….

So, let’s look the other way, forget reality and delve into my fictional world of Benefactors.  Here’s the next episode.

Benefactors: Part 8

Chapter 8

Helen didn’t know how long she had. It turned out to be what felt like a couple of hours before the lock clunked and the door opened. A young man appeared with a tray. He was unimportant, a junior, a servant perhaps. Behind him stood a pair in military style dress though without any badges or insignia. One was male and the other female although they looked almost like twins with short hair, bulging muscles and coms implants in the side of their heads. They both held weapons.
Helen wasn’t sure which of them to address her words to. Perhaps none of them. Perhaps there were invisible listeners who would act on the message.
She spoke loudly and clearly. ‘I need to see someone. The man that visited me before or someone else. I have important information I must divulge. It is vital that you pass this message on. If my memory is wiped before I am able to speak then the future for this nation is dire.’
The servant and the guards made no sign that they had heard her. The tray was placed on the desk and then he withdrew. The door closed and the lock clunked again. Helen sat and tasted the food – a tasty chicken casserole. She found she had an appetite.
She had only just put down the blunt plastic fork when the door opened and the gaoler entered.
‘I understand you have something to say to me, Professor,’ he said in a bored voice that did not take Helen in. The speed of his response showed his interest.
Helen stood up, composed herself as she would before delivering a talk to a packed lecture theatre, and began.
‘I do and I think you will be interested. First of all let us put aside this idea that the tree’s genome is a hoax designed to fool me. Your involvement shows that this matter is far bigger than my reputation.’ She paused for a breath and to examine his face. He was impassive, but listening. ‘I can understand the concern about how people would react to the news that someone or something visited us eons ago and left us a secret message. I am not sure what effect that information would have on the populations around the world.’ The man’s headed nodded almost imperceptibly. ‘I also understand the government’s fears about what might happen if some of our, um, competitors made use of the information in the genome more successfully than ourselves.’ Helen noticed the man stiffen slightly. That indeed was his principal concern. ‘You think that by removing me and Darmaan and Fraser from the picture, by destroying the trees and the people who tended them, that the secrets can be hidden for ever. I’m sure you are also aware that history suggests that that course of action is not going to work. You can never be certain that the secret will not get out, and that has got nothing to do with whether, Darmaan or Jock or I managed to spread the word before we were, er, taken out of the picture.’ The man’s eyes flickered; a hint of anxiety. ‘How do you know that it was only Jock Fraser who took samples from the trees and got a hint of the secret that they hide. Who was it that destroyed the trees and killed their gardeners?’ The man shifted his weight on his feet as if uncomfortable. ‘But just think for a moment about the people or creatures, or whatever they were who planted the message in the trees all that time ago. How do we know that they just left the message once? Why just one tree in the Rift Valley. They could not be certain that the people they left tending the trees would survive for ten thousand generations. Okay, that is where we think modern humans originated and spread out from. But wouldn’t it have been sensible to leave copies in other plants in China, say, or South America, anywhere, to ensure that they would be found when we were capable of it.’
Helen stopped talking and watched the man. He had taken his eyes off her. He was thinking. She continued. ‘Our benefactors, let’s call them that shall we, did their best to see that our race progressed. As well as the message in the DNA they provided a drug that helped the people cooperate and work together. Yes, I’m sure that is the purpose of the toxic narcotic that you mentioned. They knew that it would be a long time before we were ready to understand their gift and I am sure they would have taken every step to ensure that when the time was right it would be available to us.’ The man was definitely agitated now, his mouth moving and his hands clenching and unclenching.
Helen went on. ‘If we are the first we must do what we can to interpret the message, and very carefully let the news out so that others do not try to stop us, steal it or keep it to themselves.’ She had made the case, now her statement had to get personal. ‘I, and Darmaan and Jock are already involved but what a waste it would be to wipe our memories. You need me, us, to lead the work of using this gift. I’m not being boastful but my main talent is running teams of researchers. I learnt it on the Human Genome Project. Now you need me on this which is far, far more important. Please give me, all of us, a chance to help.’
She finished and stood waiting for a response. The man looked at her then turned and departed without a word. Helen flung herself on the bed, her heart beating fast as it did at the end of any presentation. Had she said the right things? Had she done enough to save her mind? Had she saved the world?

Chapter 9

Jock had spent time in various prison cells in nations across the world. Sometimes his papers had not been “in order” or landowners had got upset at his “trespassing”, or rivals had had words with the authorities. It had never been more than a few days but he was familiar with bare walls, lack of furnishings and amenities, unpalatable water and food. This wasn’t one of those simple gaols in a developing country. This had freshly painted, strong walls, a bright light in the ceiling (which didn’t go off), an effective lock on the door, and was so insulated from the outside world he couldn’t tell whether he was still in the tropics or had been ferried to one or other of the poles.
Time passed. He rested on the hard rubber bed fixed to the wall. He was fed by a bowl pushed through a letterbox sized slot in the wall. Most of the time he lay thinking, feeling anger and remorse for the death of Ekuru Lengabilo and wondering at the fate of the boy and the old woman. He wondered what Professor Patel had found in the genome but realised that it must have been as special as he had guessed to have brought Special Forces all the way to the Rift Valley to extract him.
He was actually beginning to get bored with his company, particularly as he had no means of writing or recording his thoughts, when the door to the cell swung open.
‘Please step out of the cell,’ a voice said from outside. Jock jumped to his feet but walked very slowly to the doorway and looked through it. There was an honour guard of helmeted, armed and uniformed but unidentified personnel on both sides of the short corridor.
The squad leader at the far end of the corridor spoke with a firm but unthreatening voice. ‘Come with me, please, Dr Fraser.’ He beckoned Jock to join him. Jock walked passed the soldiers examining each. Their dark visors prevented him from seeing if there was any emotion at all in their eyes, but they held their weapons at the ready, with fingers on triggers. Jock joined the officer who turned and pushed the door open and they stepped out on to a small parade ground. A one-man quadcopter rested on the tarmac with its canopy raised. The seat was empty.
‘Get in,’ the officer commanded. Jock did as he was told, settling into the body hugging, memory foam seat. The canopy lowered. The craft took-off vertically, the four rotors whirring but the electric motors silent. Jock rose above the roof of the surrounding building and then the craft began moving horizontally.
‘What is the destination?’ Jock asked. Perhaps there was a communications link with the drone pilot wherever he or she may be or perhaps the craft was autonomous and would tell him itself. There was no reply. Jock looked out trying to interpret what he saw. He soon worked out that they were travelling north and the landscape looked as if it could be British but could equally be northern Europe or even some parts of North America. Britain was most likely. The small craft didn’t travel in a straight line and Jock presumed it was avoiding urban areas. He guessed that being battery powered the journey would not last long and indeed after an hour they descended to an air field. A helicopter stood alone on the concrete with a guard of soldiers around it similar to those at the prison.
The quadcopter landed and the rotors slowed to a stop. The canopy opened. Without waiting for an order Jock got out. Having recently been in Africa and then confined inside, he shivered in the cool breeze. One of the helmeted soldiers beckoned him towards the helicopter whose rotors were already turning slowly. The door in the side was open and Jock climbed in. There were no other passengers. Jock took a seat and the door was closed on him. At once the engines grew louder and Jock felt the slight lurch as they left the ground. He hurried to fasten the safety belt. The windows had been opaqued so he had no sight of the disappearing airfield and no way of determining the direction of travel. The change of transport persuaded Jock that he was in for a somewhat longer journey and with no companions to talk to decided that sleep was the best pastime for the journey.

…………………to be continued.