Is becoming fearful about the future a sign of getting old? When I was younger during the 60s to 80s there was the threat of nuclear war hanging over us or of a Soviet invasion of Europe but the fear, if there was any, was an abstract thing and I don’t recall being bothered by it. Also, I don’t recall being too emotional about the financial situation although I do recall watching the Share index falling to about 150 points in a mid-70s crisis. Despite being a fairly keen Liberal and interested in politics, I never felt worried that the world may collapse around me. Perhaps I was just too concerned about my own state.
Now, I feel beset by problems although my own situation, being retired, happily married and pretty well out as transgendered, is pretty calm. The turmoil of the referendum nonsense and its possible dire outcomes, the threat of terrorism, the rise of a belligerent Russia, an expansionist China, and the general sickness of the Earth, all just add together to make one big bundle of worry. On top of that I have developed a deep loathing of the majority of politicians, leaders of big business, and anyone who spouts extremist/populist propaganda on right or left.
Perhaps it is a feature of growing old that we fear for the world of our children and grandchildren and it’s when we lose youthful optimism it’s time to hand over to the young.
Right. After that depressing interlude, on with the story. Here is the next part of the Jasmine Frame novella, Aberration. I realise that in this story she has spent rather longer as James than Jasmine but as it is from a period where she is still uncertain of her gender identity and resisting the idea that she is transsexual I think it is appropriate. Here he/she is getting somewhere at last. Don’t forget that Painted Ladies, Bodies By Design, Discovering Jasmine and Murder In Doubt are all available to buy.
Aberration – Part 7
Despite a rush to grab something to eat, James started his shift at the pub on time. Kevin was there as usual and Mel, another young woman who James had worked with occasionally. Mel pleased Kevin rather more than Andrea as she was slim with long hair and long legs that were largely bare thanks to the cute shorts that she wore. Her vest clung to her breasts. James noted how the eyes of the male drinkers followed her around the room when she emerged to pick up glasses. Being Friday it was a busy evening and it was while James was wiping tables and Kevin was filling the dishwasher when he spoke to James conversationally rather than giving an order.
‘Did you send that card then?’
‘To Andrea’s parents.’
‘No. I called on them and met her mother.’
‘Oh. How was she?’
Kevin shrugged, acknowledging that that was the obvious response.
‘I don’t think she could believe it was an accident or suicide,’ James added.
Kevin stared, ‘Suicide?’
‘Well, do you think she would end up in the river by accident? She doesn’t have to go near the river to get home.’
‘Well . . .’
‘You saw her on Wednesday evening. It was my day off. What mood was she in?’
Kevin considered for a moment. ‘Pretty much the same as always. Didn’t say much.’
‘Pretty much? What does that mean?’
‘I suppose she was a bit grumpier than usual.’
‘Well, edgy. She was in more of a hurry to get off.’
‘She didn’t say. Never did explain her moods did she.’
James could have given reasons for Andrea’s reticence but he didn’t. Revealing too much of his connection with Andrea might have caused questions about his own personality.
He nodded. ‘She kept things to herself, but did anything happen that evening to make her, er, edgy?’
Kevin straightened up and thought. ‘Yeah, well, Ben and his mates were in.’
‘They had a go at Andrea before.’
James nodded. Now he knew who Kevin was talking about; the four thirty-plus louts who had teased and groped her.
‘Your friends,’ he accused.
Kevin shook his head. ‘No, we’re not friends, not really. I’ve known them for years. They come in from time to time and act as if they own the place.’
James wasn’t sure whether to believe Kevin’s denial. They seemed just the sort of blokes who Kevin might count as his mates.
‘What happened then? Did they have a go at Andrea?’
Kevin shrugged. ‘A bit, I suppose, but Mel was on too, so they had an eyeful of her. She could take it though.’
Doesn’t mean that she liked it, James thought. Mel was happy in her female body and perhaps had learned how to respond to randy, older men. Andrea didn’t because she didn’t feel female.
‘They spoke to Andrea as well as Mel?’ James asked.
Kevin shook his head, ‘I don’t know, yes, a bit I think, at least one or two of them did. Why is it important? She’s dead.’
‘That’s right – she’s dead. She ended up in the river an hour or two after leaving here and being hounded by those guys.’
‘They weren’t hounding her.’
‘Alright, but you said she became edgy later.’
‘So, perhaps the one or two of your friends who spoke to her said something that got her worked up.’
‘They’re not my friends.’
‘OK, but am I right?’
‘Hey, hold on Jim boy. Why are you getting a heat on? You hardly knew the girl.’
James realised he was getting hot and bothered. He tried to brush it off.
‘Yes, well it’s not everyday someone you work with is fished out of the river.’
Kevin nodded and bent to put a few more glasses in the washer.
‘That’s a fact,’ he muttered.
‘So who was it, that tried chatting Andrea up?’ James insisted while trying to keep his voice cool and calm.
‘I wouldn’t call it chatting up. I only saw them exchanging a few words.’
‘His name’s Josh. I don’t know him well but he often hangs round with Ben and the others.’
‘Does he live round here?’
‘No idea, but they’re all Reading guys so I ‘spect they live in town somewhere.’
‘They don’t come in here that often. Where else do they hang out?’
‘How should I know. I told you I’m not one of their mates. There are dozens of pubs and clubs around town; you know that. They move around looking for the talent.’
James considered what Kevin had told him. It seemed clear that he needed to meet this Josh and find out what he said to Andrea. He tried to remember what the four men looked like but his memory was vague.
‘Which one was Josh?’ he asked.
‘The bald, short-arse,’ Kevin said as he slammed the door of the dishwasher. James nodded as he saw the man in his memory of the four around the table.
James stirred as Angela moved around the flat. Of course, it was Saturday so she wasn’t at work. He groaned.
‘Oh, sorry James,’ Angela said. She came and sat on the edge of the bed. ‘I didn’t mean to wake you.’
James rubbed his eyes. ‘What time is it?’
‘Gone nine. Go back to sleep if you like. I’ll try and keep quiet.’
James pushed himself up the bed. ‘No, I’m awake now and I want to see you.’ They hadn’t seen each other awake since his day off on Wednesday apart from the sleepy conversation about Andrea’s death.
‘I want to see you too. It’s a nice day. Perhaps we can go out somewhere before you go to work.’
James grabbed Angela around the waist and pulled her on top of him.
‘Or perhaps we could just stay in,’ he said, leaning forward to kiss her. Angela giggled. They kissed and cuddled. Angela slipped a hand between his legs. She pulled away.
‘Your mind’s not on it. What’s the problem?’ she said.
James sighed, ‘I’m sorry. I keep thinking of Andy, Andrea.’
Angela sat up, looking concerned. ‘Oh, is there news?’
James described his conversations with Mrs Pickford, the detective and Kevin.
‘Do you think this Josh guy killed Andy?’ Angela summarised.
James screwed up his face. ‘I don’t know. I am sure Andy was killed and Josh is the only lead I’ve got, but I’ve no idea what happened between them, if anything.’
‘You need to find him.’
‘But all I’ve got is his first name, a pretty vague description and that he often hangs out with the other three.’
‘And he visits the pubs and clubs in town.’
‘It’s a big town, Ange. I could be wandering around for months and never come across him.’
‘If he’s out a lot, other people may know who he is.’
‘So there’s a lot of people to ask.’
‘If you want it to be you that solves Andy’s murder yes. Or you could just tell the police.’
‘And they’d think I was nuts because there’s no evidence that Josh had anything more than a few casual words with Andy while he was doing his job.’
‘I don’t think you’re nuts.’
‘But the police will. They want a nice easy accidental death, or a slightly more troublesome suicide.’
‘Don’t you think they want the truth, James?’
‘Well, if you’re joining them I hope you won’t take the easy path.’
James looked into Angela’s unblinking eyes. She gave him determination.
‘No, I won’t and I will get the truth about Andy’s death. Jasmine Frame will find it.’
Angela nodded. ‘I think you should be Jasmine. She was Andy’s friend. Come on, get dressed. I’ll come asking questions with you. It will be an excuse for getting out of this flat since we’re not going to be doing anything else while you’re in this mood.’