I don’t say this very often but thank you. Thank you for reading this weekly ramble and serialised scribbling. A special thanks to the person, I think it is just one, who accessed a lot of the archived pages this week. I hope that gave you a good insight into Jasmine Frame. You can of course purchase the latest novel, Bodies By Design by going to the Jasmine Frame Publications page.
This weekend I’m putting on my “published by Elsewhen Press” badge and my “Seventh Child” t-shirt (if I can find it) and setting off for Nottingham for this year’s NovaCon – one of the biggest SF&F conventions in the calendar. I don’t think I’ll have any exclusive opportunities to promote Evil Above the Stars (vol. 3 Unity of Seven isn’t due out till the new year) but I hope to meet people, introduce myself and catch up with the gang from Elsewhen. Elsewhen are publishing an anthology of short SF stories with contributions from most, if not all, their authors. I’ve got a story in it – a landmark for me in that it is actually my first SF story in a professional publication. More of that when it appears.
This week I have been delighted to make good progress with the third Jasmine Frame novel, The Brides’ Club Murder. What to do with it when it’s finished is one question and another one is what do I write next – more of that next week. Here though is the next episode of the Jasmine Frame prequel, Flashlight. Jasmine is now a temporary addition to DCI Sloane’s investigative team and she, or rather he, is learning more about Sloane and his new partners.
Flashlight: Part 6
James followed DC Sparrow down the stairs and into the secure car park. It gave him a chance to look at the young police officer. Although wearing black trousers and sensible flat shoes, she hadn’t adopted the male detective uniform of dull suit, shirt and tie. She wore a grey blouson leather jacket over a pale blue scoop-necked t-shirt and wore her dark hair long and loose. James felt poorly dressed in comparison. He’d removed his police jacket with all its kit when he’d got back to the station with Gavin. Now he just had the showerproof jacket that he wore to and from work over his shirt and his uniform trousers.
Sparrow stopped at unmarked Ford Focus. ‘Get in Jim,’ she said.
James slid into the passenger seat beside her and in moments they were driving through the security gates and out into the town. Milla drove swiftly but safely through the busy traffic until they reached a scruffy part of town – a 50s former council estate now largely housing association run social housing and private lets. They drew up at a three story apartment block. Some of the windows were boarded up but James could see that there were occupants.
‘This is where the gay lad was found?’ James asked.
Milla turned off the engine. ‘Yes, one of the ground floor flats. A right dump. Murray’s flatmate, may be there or he might be out servicing a client or hunting for drugs himself. We’ll give him a try shall we?’
They got out of the car and walked through the rubbish and bits of bicycles and push-chairs to the door of the block. The lock was broken so Milla pushed the door open and stepped inside. She tapped on the door on the right. There was a moan from inside which James translated as a ‘who’s there?’
‘Lawrence Offiah? It’s the police. DC Sparrow. We met last week when your friend died. We’d like to talk to you.’
There was further moaning but James also heard movement. It was a few moments more before the door opened a crack. Filling the gap was young dark-skinned man, shorter than James, thin, naked but for a pair of grey boxer shorts with a significant bulge. His shaven head was a glistening black
‘Can we come in, Lawrence,’ Sparrow said in a gentle voice, ‘It’ll be easier to talk inside. This is Constable Frame. He’d like to ask some questions.’
The boy shrugged and wandered away from the door leaving it ajar. Sparrow pushed it open and stepped into the room. James wasn’t surprised by the state of the bedsit but he wondered how people could live in such a fashion. A thin, much-stained carpet covered the floor. A grubby duvet was heaped on the three-quarter sized bed. A few bits of crockery and empty plastic cartons filled the sink. An old Dralon-covered sofa faced an almost new 60-inch flat screen TV with a game console on the floor in front of it.
Offiah slumped onto the sofa and scratched his crotch. ‘What do you want now? I told you everything when Guy died.’ His London gangsta drawl cracked a little when he said the name of his dead partner and James saw real sorrow on his face.
Milla soothed him. ‘Yes, Lawrence. You helped us a lot last week and I know it was difficult for you. James here, thinks you can help us find out why Guy died.’
‘He got a bad batch. It happens.’ Offiah shrugged.
‘But where did he get it?’ Milla asked.
‘I said I didn’t know,’ he insisted, ‘it wasn’t from any of the usual pushers because he didn’t have any money.’
James butted in. ‘How do you know he hadn’t just seen a client and been paid?’
Lawrence sneered at him. ‘Because he was sick. No punter would fuck him. Not even the most desperate. I was looking after him but I had to go out and earn some dough.’
‘You were out all night,’ Milla said.
Lawrence slumped and tears appeared in his eyes. ‘Yeah. I got back in the morning and found him. You know all that.’
‘How was Guy, when you left him?’ James asked.
‘He said he was feeling better,’ Offiah said, ‘I told him to have a bit more rest. Make sure he was well before, you know.’
‘But he went out?’ James said.
Offiah shrugged. ‘Must have gone somewhere to get a packet. They don’t do home deliveries.’
‘If he didn’t have enough cash to go to your usual suppliers where would he gave gone?’ Milla asked.
‘I don’t know,’ Lawrence said.
‘Do you know any new sources? A new venue perhaps?’ James knew he was leading the boy on.
Lawrence looked thoughtful. ‘Yeah, perhaps.’
‘Such as the new club at the Marquis?’ James said.
‘Could be,’ Lawrence shrugged, ‘We took a look in there a couple of weeks ago when it opened. They made a fuss about it being gay-friendly. It was okay. We might have gone again if Guy hadn’t got sick.’
‘You didn’t go back to pick up anyone?’ James asked.
‘Didn’t need to. I’ve got me regulars.’
‘Were you offered drugs at the Marquis?’ Milla asked.
‘Didn’t ask. We just spent a while having a drink, a dance and a kiss and a cuddle. They’ve got some nice cosy corners.’ He smirked at Milla. She sent an enquiring glance at James. He nodded. He could see the two boys getting off in one of the Marquis’ private rooms to the delight of voyeurs.
‘Did Guy leave you at any time while you were there?’ James enquired.
Lawrence turned to James and glowered at him. ‘He might have gone for a pee.’
‘And he didn’t mention anyone dealing from the loos.’
Offiah shook his head. ‘No. Look have you finished. I’ve got to go and meet someone.’
‘You’re sure you don’t want to tell us more about the Marquis?’ Milla said, in a tone rather firmer than she had used previously.’
‘I told you I don’t know anything about that place. Now I’ve got to get ready so I’d like you to leave.’ The young man started to pull his boxers down over his hips.
Milla began to retreat to the door. ‘Okay, Lawrence, but we may be back. This isn’t just about Guy anymore.’
James followed her out of the door and pulled it closed behind getting a glimpse of a dark pair of buttocks as it clicked shut.
‘He’s lying,’ Milla said as they walked back to the car.
‘Yes,’ James agreed, ‘He knew more about what goes on at the Marquis than he admitted.’
‘You were offered drugs in the loo, by Natalie, were you, Jim?’
‘Yes, and the guy I bought them off last night.’
‘A trans-man, you said.’
‘I think so.’
‘You have an eye for transgender, Jim?’
They got into the car. Milla froze with her hand on the ignition key.
‘So there is definitely a link with the Marquis even if we haven’t yet got proof that Guy Murray went there after Offiah left him for the night. Let’s have a go at Butler’s cleaning lady, Mary O’Reilly. With any luck she might have finished for the day.
James glanced at his watch. It was gone five p.m. He only had a couple of hours left on his shift.
‘What time do you finish, Milla?’ He asked as they drove off.
The DC glanced at him. ‘When we’re done for the day, Jim. You don’t get regular hours when you work for DCI Sloane. Is that a problem?’
James shook his head. ’No, no, not at all.’ He was thinking of Angela being at home and wondering where he was. As a uniformed officer he often didn’t get off when his shift was due to end but he usually managed to send Angela a text to let her know. He didn’t want to do that now while he was accompanying Milla.
‘Have you worked with Sloane for long?’ he asked as they joined the Reading rush hour queues.
‘Over a year,’ Milla answered, ‘but not for much longer.’
‘Oh?’ James wasn’t sure whether to enquire further.
Milla drummed the steering wheel in impatience. ‘I’ve got a transfer to the West Midlands force,’ she explained. ‘My partner got moved to Birmingham a while back. It took a bit of time but they finally found a place for me. Sloane was very helpful actually.’
‘Really,’ James expressed his surprise, ‘I’d heard he was, um, difficult to work for.’
Milla chuckled. ‘Oh he is. He’s bad tempered, impatient and old-fashioned but he looks after his team.’
‘Is your partner in the force too?’
‘No, she’s an IT geek. Earns far more than me.’
‘She?’ James blurted out then was embarrassed that he’d said it.
Milla looked at him with a frown. ‘Yes, Jim. I’m a lesbian. Is that a problem for you?’
James shook his head vigorously. ‘No, no, of course not. I’m sorry I was surprised, I mean, I shouldn’t have reacted like that. It’s not important.’
‘Oh, yes, it is Jim. I’ve had to face the insults and the “jokes”. You’re a bloke so I expect you and your mates have fantasised about two girls having it off.’
James denied it as Milla went on.
‘I tried keeping it quiet but you know what the force is like. It’s difficult to keep a secret for long, particularly if it concerns who you’re living with. Actually I think it’s getting better. People, blokes included, are accepting different lifestyles more. Even gay officers are being open now.’
James remained silent. Are they ready for a transgender colleague though, he wondered?
As they edged forward, Milla continued. ‘I think Sloane was uncomfortable. He’s always avoided any mention of my sexuality and never asked about Tania. So long as I was doing a good job he was pleasant enough. But perhaps the reason why he helped me get my transfer was so he wouldn’t have a lezzer on his team.’
‘Do you really think he’s prejudiced?’ James felt a sickening worry in case his own secret was revealed.
‘Prejudiced? No, I don’t think so. He goes along with all the diversity stuff, but he’s old-school. I think he’s just uncomfortable with openness about sex and sexual oddities – despite coming across all sorts of depravity in his job. Ah, at last. Let’s get moving.’ She revved the engine and they moved forward with the traffic.