A Happy New Year to all my readers whether you are a regular visitor or have just found your way here. I hope you’ll come again and again.
It’s resolution time although I don’t go in for those lists of unattainable goals that are forgotten after a few weeks (or days). I do have a to-do list though and plenty of desires. The most pressing is to market my books more successfully although I am pretty short of ideas of how to achieve that. Suggestions will be gratefully received and considered.
Being the start of a new year I should have a striking new photo but I don’t – there weren’t any opportunities for posing over the break. So here’s an old one.
And now the main event – the next episode of Flashlight – the Jasmine Frame, transsexual detective, prequel to Painted Ladies and Bodies By Design.
Flashlight – Part 13
Fear washed through Jasmine like a breaking wave. Had they seen through the cover she and Milla had given themselves?
‘We’re friends,’ she offered.
Kel commented in gruff voice, ‘Looked a damn sight more than friends.’
‘That was so you’d let us in,’ Jasmine said, forcing a cheeky grin.
‘Where’s your “friend” now?’ Amy Baker asked.
Jasmine shrugged as if she didn’t care. ‘Oh, I don’t know. She’s bi-curious. Thinks of me as a bloke in a dress because I’ve still got my you-know-what. She’s gone off to find a real girl who wants to get it on.’
Baker nodded as if she accepted the story.
‘You think she’s being straight with us?’ Jefferson appealed to Baker.
Amy examined Jasmine. ‘Oh, she’s trans alright. I can tell. I thought you could too, Jerome, with your experience even though you’re a man now.’
‘Yeah, well you’ve spoken to her. We could do with someone to replace the Peck girl. But what if she’s a stooge for the competition?’
‘Then we’ll deal with her like we did that runt of a rent-boy and that tranny-fancier.’
Jasmine realised that Baker was referring to Murray and Butler, the two overdose victims; so they were murders not accidental deaths, killed because they worked for the rival drugs gang. She realised that she was dealing with a ruthless operator in Amy Baker. She would have to be very careful to avoid being unmasked or rather de-wigged.
‘It doesn’t do business much good if our stuff gets a reputation for being unreliable,’ Jefferson said.
Baker snorted. ‘We’ve got to show the other lot that we mean business. They did for Natalie because she was stupid enough to take work home with her. They turned my place over looking for stuff. If they’d found any I wouldn’t be here now. I take precautions so they just thought I was a mate of Natalie and roughed me up for the fun of it.’
‘What if the pigs stick their noses in what we’re doing?’
Baker looked unconcerned. ‘As far as they’re concerned a few druggies got a bad dose. They couldn’t care about a bit of business rivalry.’
Jasmine breathed easily again. Baker and Jefferson had underestimated the police interest in the deaths of Murray, Butler and Peck, so she was in the clear – so long as they didn’t decide she was with the established drug suppliers, she was safe, for now.
Baker glanced at her watch. ‘Look the delivery is due soon. I need to check the merchandise. I’ll take Kylie here with me. Give her a test run. Kel can come to make sure she knows her place.’
Jefferson nodded. ‘OK.’
‘You and Dick watch things here. Look out for late entrants. They could be the competition trying to find out where we’re marketing our stuff.’ Amy turned to Jasmine, ‘Come on Kylie, you wanted to find out about the business. But I warn you, one false move and you’re toast. Kel, keep hold of her.’
The beefy bouncer grabbed Jasmine’s arm enthusiastically and dragged her from the room, with Baker, Dick and Jefferson following.
‘Hey, I’m with you, there’s no need to be so rough,’ Jasmine complained. Kel glared at her but loosened his grip. They went down the dimly lit stairs to the rear entrance. The sound of the dance music came through the wall to her right. They emerged into the dark yard where a small Transit van was parked. Kel yanked open the passenger door and pushed Jasmine up into the middle seat. Amy climbed into the driver’s seat then Kel squeezed his bulk in beside Jasmine, jamming her in. Amy set off without a seatbelt having been fixed. Luckily they didn’t have far to drive. Amy took back streets to the edge of a former council housing estate. She turned into the lane between a double row of graffiti-daubed concrete garages.
The Transit pulled up and Jasmine was immediately dragged from her seat by Kel. The three of them formed up in a row facing a garage door illuminated by a small torch held by Amy Baker in one hand. In the other, she had a small key fob which she pressed with her thumb. The whining of an old and much abused electric motor started and the roller door in front of them began to wind itself up.
Jasmine peered into the garage but it was so dark she couldn’t see anything. Then she realised that there was another barrier behind the flimsy old roller door. Amy stepped forward, shining her torch on dark, smooth steel. She inserted a key into a lock. It turned with a deep clunk and the door swung ajar silently. Amy passed through the gap and Kel grabbed Jasmine’s hand dragging her inside with him. The lights went on as the steel door closed with a clang.
Jasmine saw a largely empty space that was not the area of one lock-up garage but three. The walls to the adjacent garages had been replaced by RSJs and breezeblock walls built up behind the old up and over doors that were now just a fake façade. Jasmine looked around. There were a couple of packing cases standing on the concrete floor and in one corner a desk, office chair and an armchair on a square of blue carpet.
Baker sat down behind the desk and looked at her mobile phone.
‘They’ll be here soon,’ she said. ‘Get the kettle on, Kel. Sit down Kylie.’ She pointed to the armchair. Jasmine did as she was told rubbing her bare arms. The night-time air was cool and she’d dressed for the dance-heated atmosphere of the club not a chilly storeroom. Kel busied himself with kettle, mugs and cartons of coffee, sugar and milk.
The kettle had only just whistled when Jasmine heard another noise – a vehicle engine outside the garage.
‘Open the doors,’ Amy ordered, ‘quickly!’ Kel hurried to obey, swinging the steel doors inwards. Immediately a van backed into the garage far enough for Kel to close the doors. The engine stopped and the driver got out. He wore a leather jacket and grubby jeans and had a dark, East European or possibly Turkish appearance. He noticed Jasmine immediately.
‘Who is she?’ he asked in a thick accent.
‘A new recruit,’ Amy Baker said leaving her desk, ‘Don’t worry about her. Get the van unloaded. I don’t want you hanging around.’
The man grumbled but went to the rear of the van and opened the doors. From where she was sitting, Jasmine could see that the van was jammed full of packing cases.
‘On your feet you,’ Amy said to her, ‘You can help even if you are dressed as a party-girl.’
Jasmine helped the dark man and Kel remove the cases from the van and stack them on the floor in the available space of the triple garage while Baker watched, checked labels and gave orders. The labels meant nothing to Jasmine but she guessed that each case contained a sizeable stash of illegal drugs.
Soon the van was empty. Kel started to move towards the kettle.
‘No,’ Amy said, ‘Time for refreshment later. Let’s check out the consignment. Open that box, Kel.’ She pointed to a particular packing case. Kel went to it and ripped the top open. He took out a small package wrapped in clear plastic. Amy went to the desk and opened a drawer. She took something out, closed the drawer, then pushed the office chair from behind the desk and into the space in front of it.
‘Sit down Kylie,’ Amy said.
Jasmine looked suspiciously at the chair and at Amy Baker. She was getting an unsettling feeling about what Baker intended.
‘I’m fine standing,’ she said.
‘Make her, Hassan,’ Amy ordered. Jasmine had no time to think of escape. The dark man grabbed both her arms and dragged her to the chair. He pushed her into it. Jasmine felt fear, surprise and incomprehension. What did Amy mean to do?
‘Hey, I thought I was helping you,’ she said, ‘I want to sell your stuff.’
‘Oh, you are helping,’ Amy said with a hint of glee in her voice, ‘and you will get the chance to use your marketing skills if you and this consignment pass the test.’ She took the package from Kel and ripped it open on the desk. ‘Kel, help Hassan, stop the “lay-dee” from wriggling.’
Jasmine found herself with a man on either side of her, each with a hand holding her forearms against the arms of the chair and their other hands pressing down on her bare thighs. She found it almost impossible to move but decided to sit quietly for a moment and see what Amy intended. She busied herself for a few moments then approached Jasmine carrying a hypodermic syringe.
As the woman approached, Jasmine had an idea of what she intended. She trembled.
‘What are you doing?’ she said unnecessarily.
‘You said you wanted to sell H, heroin. Is that true?’
Jasmine swallowed, ‘Yes, but . . .’
‘Don’t you think you should try out the merchandise before letting your friends buy it from you?’
‘But I’m not a user.’
Amy shook her head in mock dismay. ‘Oh. Come now Kylie, one little shot won’t make you an addict and afterwards you’ll have a better idea of what you are offering your purchasers. There is one little problem, however, and you will be doing us a favour.’
‘Some of our batches have been a little bit over-concentrated. Some of our clients have suffered a tinsy-winsy overdose, somewhat as Mr Murray and Mr Butler did. It’s not good business to kill your customers so it will be very helpful if you test this batch for us.’
‘No . . .’ Jasmine strained against Kel and Hassan’s hands.
‘Hold her still, boys,’ Amy called as she stepped forward.
The needle approached Jasmine’s left arm. She tensed, ready for one last effort.
‘Open up! Police!’ Voices repeated the cry outside the garage. A heavy object crashed against the steel doors.