First of all, an invitation.
I would be delighted if any readers would like to join us at The Star, Dylife on Saturday 25th June, to visit the sites that inspired scenes in Unity of Seven, the final part of my Evil Above the Stars fantasy trilogy.
We will begin at 11a.m. with tea/coffee and cake. Then I will give a short introduction to the plot before we set off to visit the sites (not too far, level ground, reasonable paths). Afterwards, we return to The Star for a light lunch. Later, there will be an optional walk to the top of the ridge (weather permitting) to see some more sites and sights. Cost is £10.
The Star is on the mountain road between Llanidloes and Machynlleth in mid-Wales and is probably one of the remotest former pubs. For more details, email me at email@example.com
I’ve just received the feedback from the Wishing Shelf awards on Seventh Child, the first book in the trilogy. It was read and judged by 28 young booklovers of whom 25 said they wanted to read more. It was given 10 out of 10 for plot and 9/10 for style. A composite comment says:
‘A fascinating fantasy adventure with strong elements of Welsh mythology. A finalist and highly recommended.’
Now to return to Jasmine Frame in the fourth episode of the story, Aberration, set a few years before Painted Ladies and Bodies By Design.
Aberration: Part 4
James gasped. ‘That can’t have been Andrea.’
‘What do you mean?’ Kevin asked.
‘I was there. This morning I was with the crowd by the river watching it.’
Kevin shrugged, ‘So?’
‘How do you know it was Andrea?’
Kevin nodded to the phone. ‘Her father rang an hour or so ago. Said she wouldn’t be in, then he cracked up and said her mother had rung the police because Andrea didn’t get home last night and when she gave a description the police came for them to identify the body.’
Listening to Kevin hammered it home to James that it was really true that Andrea was dead.
‘How did she end up in the river?’ he asked himself more than Kevin.
‘Don’t ask me mate. That’s one for the cops.’
James shook his head. It didn’t fit with anything he knew of Andrea. She didn’t have to go near the river to get home after leaving the pub.
The door of the pub was pushed open and a police officer entered encumbered by his anti-stab jacket bearing radio, baton and other accoutrements. He looked from James to Kevin and settled on the latter.
‘Are you the Manager?’
‘Yes.’ Kevin said.
‘Can I have your name please, Sir,’ The PC took a notebook and pen from his jacket pocket and prepared to write.
The officer sighed. ‘I’m asking questions in connection with a death.’
‘You mean Andrea?’ Kevin said
‘That’s right,’ the officer looked at his notepad, ‘Miss Andrea Pickford. Your name, Sir.’
‘Uh, Kevin Ashton. What do you want to know?’
‘Miss Pickford worked here?’
‘Yes, behind the bar.’
‘Was she working yesterday, specifically last evening.’
‘What time did she leave.’
Kevin looked vague for a moment. ‘It must have been twelve thirty when she finished clearing up.’
‘Did you see her leave?’
‘Yes. She asked if that was all, and I said yes.’
‘How was she when she left?’
Kevin shrugged, ‘Same as she always was. Tired I suppose. It had been a busy evening. She doesn’t say much, um, didn’t say much.’
‘Did she say where she was going after work?’
‘Er, No. She never did. I thought she went home.’
‘Could you describe her appearance when she left?’
‘Clothes, that sort of thing?’
‘She wore what she always wore, jeans and a t-shirt. If it was wet or cool she had a short, black zip-up jacket. What is it called? A blouson? Yeah, I think she had that on when she left’
‘Trainers I suppose. That’s all she ever wore.’
The PC looked at James who was wearing pretty much the same outfit. ‘That was standard dress for your employees was it, Sir.’
‘Sort of. I asked her to wear a skirt but she never did.’
‘She definitely wasn’t wearing a skirt when she left last night?’
A confused look passed across Kevin’s face. ‘No, I don’t think so. I never saw Andrea in a skirt. Not once.’
James had listened to the exchange. ‘Is this a murder enquiry, Officer?’ he asked.
The PC looked at him as if seeing him for the first time. ‘Who are you, Sir.’
‘James Frame. I worked with Andrea.’
The officer scribbled in his notebook. ‘I see, Sir. Were you working last night?’
‘No, it was my day off.’
‘So you didn’t see Miss Pickford last night when she left the pub?’
‘Did you meet her afterwards.’
‘Thank you, Sir.’ The constable closed his book.
‘Was she murdered?’ James asked again.
The PC frowned. ‘I’m not at liberty to discuss the case, Sir.’ He looked away from James to Kevin, ‘Thank you for your help, Sir. There may be some more questions later.’
‘Yes, okay. Anything I can do,’ Kevin blustered. The officer turned and left.
Kevin let out a breath through pursed lips. ‘Phew. That’s brought it home, hasn’t it? She isn’t coming back is she.’ He returned to his stocktake.
James stared at the closed door. She isn’t, he thought, but what happened to her? How did she end up in the river and what was the point of the questions about her clothes? Was the gossip about her wearing a short skirt when she was brought out of the water true?
James performed his duties that evening through a haze of sadness and a carousel of questions spinning through his mind. Luckily it wasn’t that busy so he and Kevin coped with the customers. A few had heard the news of the body in the river and its identification and were discussing it. Some expressed their condolences, other pressed for the gossip but most hadn’t registered the connection with the rather plain, short haired girl who served them most days.
By the end of the shift, James was burning with desire to find out more. He wasn’t sure how, since he had no access to the police investigation, but speaking to Andrea’s parents would be a start.
‘Can I have Andrea’s address,’ he said to Kevin just before leaving.
‘I want to send her parents a sympathy card.’
‘Oh, yes. I suppose they’d appreciate that. I’ll make a note of it for you.’ Kevin disappeared behind the bar for a few moments then reappeared with a small slip of paper torn from a pad.
He handed it to James. ‘You didn’t know her well did you? You didn’t talk much.’
James shrugged. ‘Not really. She was pretty quiet wasn’t she.’
Kevin nodded. ‘Yeah. I thought that was because she didn’t get on with blokes. I guess she fancied girls. She was a bit butch.’
James didn’t show agreement or dissent.
‘I don’t think she had girly side,’ Kevin added.
‘No,’ James agreed. You’re definitely right there, he thought. He said good night and left to walk home.
Angela was asleep when James got back to the flat. He felt he had to tell her about Andrea but didn’t want to disturb her. He slid into bed beside her and lay thinking about Andy. He was gone too. Was Andrea’s death anything to do with her second life as Andy? He needed answers.
James stirred from a light sleep when Angela started moving in the morning.
‘Ange?’ he murmured with his brain full of fog.
‘Oh, James. Sorry did I wake you>’
‘No, it’s OK.’ James forced his eyes open and watched Angela pulling her knickers on. ‘Did you hear the news?’
Angela paused with her thin panties halfway up her thighs. ‘What news?’
‘Andrea, Andy, is dead. His body was pulled out of the Kennet yesterday.’
‘What?’ Angela hurried to the bed, sat down and looked with a worried frown at James. ‘How?’
‘I don’t know,’ James said pushing himself up onto his elbows, ‘I want to find out.’
‘I’m going to call on her mother and father. See if they know anything.’
‘Was he Andy or Andrea when she died?’
‘I don’t know, although there was talk of her wearing a skirt.’ James explained how he had seen the activity by the river and talked to onlookers and about the visit to the pub by the policeman.
‘But she never wore a skirt, even when she was Andrea.’
‘I know. That’s what’s so odd, and she should have been nowhere near the river if she went home after finishing at the pub.’
‘The poor thing. I wonder what happened?’
‘So do I.’
Once Angela left for work, James did not doze on as he often did. He was too keen to meet Andy’s parents and find out what they knew. He showered, dressed and ate some breakfast then set off for the fairly long walk to Andrea’s home. The sun was shining although it was cooler than it had been when he set off.
The distance was about twice what he had to do to get to the pub, as Andrea’s home turned out to be on the opposite side of town. He walked passed the shops of Broad Street not pausing to look longingly at the women’s fashions as he did at other times. He had to refer to the map he’d printed off the computer before he found Albert Street. It was in a similar Victorian-era warren of terraced houses as their own home.
He stopped at number 12. It was like most of the other houses in the street: a small, tidy front garden and tiled path to the front door, painted green. He pressed the doorbell. Just a few moments passed before it was opened by a short, slim woman in her late forties. She had light brown hair held by an elastic band at the back of her head and she was wearing a pale blue dress. If this was Andy’s Mum he must have got most of his looks and build from his father, James thought.
She greeted him with a ‘Hello,’ but her face showed the tale of many tears.
‘Hello. Mrs Pickford?’ James said.
‘Yes. Can I help you?’
‘I’m sorry to bother you. I realise that this is a very difficult time for you, but I did want to see you. You see, I worked with Andrea.’
‘At the pub?’
‘Oh. Andrea never talked about who she worked with except she did sometimes mention her boss, Mr. Ashton.’
‘That’s right, Kevin. I’m James, James Frame. We didn’t work together for long. I started back in August, but we did quite a few evening shifts together.’
‘You’d better come in,’ Mrs Pickford said pushing the door wide, ‘I still don’t believe what’s happened to her, but it would be nice to talk to someone who knew her. I know she was a bit shy.’
James stepped through the front door straight into the small front room of the house.
Mrs Pickford stopped in the centre of the room and turned to face him. ‘Do you know what happened to Andrea?’ Her voice was plaintive and her face longed for an answer.
James decided to be bold. ‘No, but I would like to find out. What have the police told you?