Jasmine is resting

I think I have fallen into an alternative universe where nothing makes sense anymore. Brexit, Parliament, May – need I say more.

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I was given a stark example this week of how the law fails transgender people, those without a Gender Recognition Certificate, that is.  A woman was murdered, a suspect who was arrested was known to her.  That situation is familiar and far more common than it should be. Not something for newspapers to make a fuss about. Except, that when the suspect was taken to court and charged with the murder, the name of the victim read out was male. Despite having lived as a woman for many years the victim p1000037had been outed by the court as transgender.  I don’t know what she would have thought about that if she’d been alive but I think she might have been hurt to have her past existence revealed. Why was it released to the public? Because her female status was not respected by the legal system of the UK.  Only if you possess a Gender Recognition Certificate as a transman or transwoman, are you legally the gender you identify with and have that gender on your birth certificate and death certificate.  I do not know why the murdered woman did not possess a GRC, but there are plenty of reasons she could have given.  In fact only about 5,000 of the 500,000 transgendered people in the UK have a GRC (those figures are very, very approximate). Those figures suggest that obtaining a GRC is seen as a problem by many people living in the gender they identify with. Only those with a GRC have a secure legal status and the respect of the law.  That is why a revision of the 2004 Gender Recognition Act is necessary. I’m not sure whether self-identification as male or female is feasible or likely but I would like to see the option of a non-defined gender available.

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Another writers’ group short story this week.  The given topic was “Stars”.  I was probably expected to produce an SF story and I would have enjoyed that prospect, but I decided to do something a little different. Here is “Star” or possibly “Star-child”. Not sure if it works as a short story.  These days my short stories of around 1000 words read a bit like an excerpt or taster of a longer tale. However, I have enough novels in the machine already.

Star

Her feet were sore and her legs ached, but Papa urged her on.
“Not much further, child. The light is going. Look for some dry twigs for our fire.”
She tugged the fur of the ice bear around herself and looked up. Papa was right. The canopy was dark and there were no longer shafts of sunlight like spears of fire. She followed in Papa’s footsteps surveying the ground for kindling.
It wasn’t long before she noticed a change in the light. Although the day was ending her surroundings were lighter. The light came from between the tall tree trunks not from above. Papa gave a cry and hurried forward. She ran after him grasping her bundle of wood.
It was as if the trees would only grow if they were surrounded by their companions. Suddenly they were out in the open with the forest behind them. She scudded to a halt feeling grass on her legs reaching up to her waist. She turned slowly, seeing the line of conifers behind and ahead the grass plain studded with flowers of every colour. In the distance there was a line where the land stopped. Above it, hung the golden ball of the Sun. She looked up seeing the full dome of the sky for the first time in her life, blue-black above the forest, radiant blue above and red around the Sun.
She felt dizzy. “Papa!”
He ran to her, dropping his spear and scooping her into his arms. “I’m sorry, child. I forgot you have not seen all the sky before. It is dazzling isn’t it?”
“I didn’t know the sky was so big,” she said. “You told me that the gods had taken Mama above the sky. Is she way up there?” She pointed upwards.
“Yes, child, that is what I said.” There was a shake to his voice and a tear was in his eye.
“Thank you, Papa. You can put me down now.” She wriggled.
Chuckling, he set her on her feet. He picked up his flint tipped spear and hitched the boar skin over his shoulder.
“I think I see a stream a bit further on. We’ll camp near there. Come on, child, just a few more steps.”
Soon they came to a lazy, meandering brook with a clump of bushes nearby where the grass didn’t grow as tall. Papa removed the skin from his shoulder, took out the fire pot and carefully lit some tinder. Soon he had a fire started.
“Tend the fire child. I will try and find our supper. Do not wander. This land is unfamiliar to you and me.” He strode off with his spear at his shoulder.
She fed twigs to the fire which burned without smoke. Satisfied that it was alight she turned her attention to the flowers that grew amongst the grasses. She picked those that took her fancy and braided their stems together into a ring which she placed on her head of golden hair. Before the Sun had sunk completely below the horizon, Papa returned dangling a dead rabbit from his fist. He muttered approving noises at the fire and her crown, then sat beside her. She watched as he skinned the creature with his knife with the bronze blade and bone handle. He gave her strips of flesh which she fixed to a stick and held in the flames.
It was quite dark by the time they finished eating. She looked up and gasped. The whole dome of the heavens was studded with points of light.
“The stars, Papa,” she cried, “There are so many.”
Papa looked up too. “Wonderful aren’t they.”
“What are stars, Papa?”
He took a breath. “They are holes in the dome of the heavens through which the gods look down on us.”
She let out a sigh. “Does Mama look down on us too?”
“I’m sure she does. Now child, you must settle to sleep. We have more travelling to do tomorrow.”
She curled up alongside him in the grass, pulling the white fur around her.

She awoke with a start. A noise, a cry, had disturbed her. It was still dark but along with the starlight there was a gibbous Moon low in the sky. Papa was on his feet, two hands gripping his spear. It was pointing at two dark-haired figures clothed in dark furs. They edged towards him, stone axes held aloft. She crouched in the grass, watching.
Something caught her eye, high up. A bright streak shot across the sky. Overhead it exploded with a light bigger and brighter than the Sun. A few heart beats later there came a noise like a lion’s roar and wind blew flattening the grass.
She scrambled to her feet with red spots before her eyes and stepped towards Papa. She pointed to the stars.
“What’s happening, Papa?”
The two dark skinned men were immobile. They took one look at her and fell to their knees. They babbled and bowed their heads towards her.
“What are they saying?” she said. Papa came to her side and rested a hand on her shoulder. His other hand still held the spear.
“I don’t know, child. They speak differently to us but some words I recognise. I heard ‘star’ and ‘child’ and ‘light’. I think they believe you are fallen from the stars. They’re worshipping you.”

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Jasmine in the minority

New Year, same old chaos. It seems that the UK government and parliament has carried on where it left off before Christmas, with no chance of anything getting sorted on Brexit or any other subject because of the divisions between and within parties. Similarly, government in the USA is at an impasse because Trump and the Democrats cannot agree or agree to differ. Is it real or just my perceptions that divisions are becoming deeper and causing more and more violence?

Having spent Christmas with the family which includes the pleasure of watching grandchildren growing up, it seems to me that our understanding of our place in the world changes as we grow older. A child can only believe that they are the centre of their universe.  The attention of their parents, siblings and others is focussed only on them; their desires and emotions are purely their own. That is why even two year olds can be incredibly stubborn and forthright in expressing their wishes even if it is just a loud “No!” to any request addressed to them.

At some stage we become aware that people around us have desires and needs too but it takes longer before we realise that they may differ from our own. It is even later that we may come to accept that other people’s opinions may be more valid than our own. I think I had got to this stage by the time I reached adulthood but it is quite recently that I moved to the next (last?) stage and realised that a sizeable proportion of the population amongst whom I lived held views that were not only opposed to my own but that they could harm my way of life and that of my fellow country-people.

Prior to the EU Referendum I was able to accept that some people voted Conservative and some Labour and that from time to time the colour of the ruling party in government would change. However the result of the referendum revealed to me that half of the voting public held views I found abhorrent.  People who I had previously considered friends I now discovered were right-wing, racist, nationalist, bigots.

The other thing about the present divisions is that there is no majority for any policy. The Referendum produced an almost dead-heat of those that voted. Of course, less than two-thirds of those eligible bothered to cast a vote and another quarter of the UK population was too young to vote. No UK party has won a majority of the votes cast in a general election for decades and they usually represent less than 25% of the population. The same is true in the USA where the voting in the Presidential election was fairly evenly split between Clinton (the actual winner on votes cast) and Trump. Across Europe, where proportional representation at least provides a fairer distribution of parliamentary seats, governments are made up of minority parties agreeing to, temporarily, join together.

We are all members of minorities. Perhaps those who have  “protected characteristics” (as the Equality Act of 2010 refers to them including ethnicity, religion, disability, sexuality, gender reassignment) deserve extra protection from hate-crime, but everyone can find themselves in a group that is persecuted by others. It may be Remainer MPs frighteningly called “Nazis” by Brexiteering nutcases, or transwomen railed against by radical feminists. In some respects, minorities are more accepted by the majority today – I wouldn’t be free to live my gender-fluid life otherwise – but on the other hand some minorities (which the rabid Brexiteers are) are trying to force their opinions on the rest using detestable methods.

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p1000040I am still taking a rest from writing Jasmine Frame stories but here is another SF story.  This was written for another of my writing groups (which likes short pieces). Because it was January, Janus was chosen as the topic. A little bit of research showed that the two-faced Janus, was the Roman god of beginnings and endings and of gates and doorways. There was, in Rome, a ceremonial gatehouse with gates at each end which were closed in peacetime and opened in time of war. It was open most of the time.

 

The Janus Gate

“I can’t see the gate, Commander,” I said while staring at the screen. On a dark background devoid of stars was a faint ring of Hawking light revealing the position of the black hole that powered the gate, but no sign of the Janus Gate itself.
“It’s invisible to e-m radiation,” the Commander said, rising from the couch, “You can ask the ship to carry out a Higgs scan if you like. I’m off to rest. The ship will need us both to be alert when the gate opens. Take command.”
“Yes, Commander,” I replied in my best officer voice and as the Commander left the control cabin, I called up the suggested scan. A ghostly image gradually built up on the screen as the dark matter structure was revealed. It was a lot more complicated than I expected, but I suppose every Janus artefact is a lot more decorated and ornate than its function requires. The oval frame of the gate was a helix with countless curlicues attached. In the centre, masking the black hole, was the face of the Janus. It was unlike mine or that of any other alien race we had encountered. Roughly circular, it was covered with nodules, but which were eyes, ears or odour sensors it was impossible to tell. The Janus had at least three of each on either face. No mouth of course; the Janus stuffed the plants that were their food straight into their bellies. Apparently, it is possible to recognise an individual Janus by the pattern of nodules but all the representations I had seen looked the same. I presumed that the other face of the Janus looked out on the far end of the gate.

I soon got bored staring out into space. The Janus Gate wasn’t showing any apparent signs of opening. I found some other ways of entertaining myself, making sure that I was awake should the Commander return. Nevertheless, I almost shot out of my couch when the ship alarms went off. The Commander arrived moments later.
“The gate is opening,” the Commander said, falling onto the couch, “They’ll be coming through soon. Check the armaments.” I did as I was told. All our weapons were directed towards the space inside the Janus Gate which was rippling as the fabric of space within it was reconfigured.
“Why does the gate only open when there is conflict?” I asked.
“Why indeed,” was the reply, “It’s said that the Janus are the only prey species ever to achieve star-flight.”
“Prey species?” I said.
“Those two faces gave them all round sensing capability for detecting predators,” the Commander explained. “There is conjecture that they set up the gates as a diversion for all the predators they found in space. To get us to fight each other rather than go after them.”
“But the Janus don’t exist anymore. They’re extinct.” I said.
“Or they’ve gone elsewhere and left us squabbling over the gates. Perhaps if they were still here, they’d tell us how they arranged them so that these routes between stars only work when we’re out to kill each other.”
Another alarm sounded as points of light appeared in the Janus Gate. They soon took on the form of starships approaching us at a significant proportion of light speed.
“Fire at will,” the Commander said to me and the ship. Particle beams fired from our canons and from the thousand ships in the fleet lined up alongside us. They were answered by similar beams from our attackers. The screen filled with exploding ships. “Damn humans,” the Commander muttered, “Why do they always start it?”

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Jasmine and the new year

I’m sure there have been plenty of occasions when people have feared a new year but in all my sixty-six years this is the first time that I have been scared by the prospects for a year.  There are things that I am looking forward to: making use of the amenities of our new home; holidays; getting on with the various writing projects I have given myself. Nevertheless, it is the uncertainty about what is about to happen that is scary. Will the politicians see sense on Brexit? What will really happen if Brexit goes ahead at the end of March with or without a deal? With so many authoritarian, actual and would-be dictators in power around the world, what will happen when they all fail to get their way in making their countries “great again”? That’s before I worry about the worsening situation caused by climate change and environmental degradation. I don’t want to be a pessimist but it’s difficult to look on the bright side at the moment.

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WP_20181129_14_20_54_ProI’m taking a rest from writing Jasmine Frame stories for a while.  The fifth (and last?) novel is on my list of projects and I’m slowly developing the plot. The aim is to complete it in 2020, almost twenty years since I started writing about Jasmine. There will be prequel stories in the meantime. I hope.

Just a reminder that the three sequels –  Bodies By Design, The Brides’ Club Murder and Molly’s Boudoir are available in paperback form for £9.99 inc post and packing and a free copy of Painted Ladies. The complete collection costs £25 inc post & packing.  Write here with your order. All four novels are available on Kindle along with the novellas, Discovering Jasmine, Murder In Doubt and Trained By Murder.

What I am going to give you each week are the drafts of short stories and bits of story that I write alongside the novels and the articles. Here’s one written for one of my writing groups on the topic “Out of the comfort zone.” The idea isn’t totally original but I hope you enjoy it. Comments, as ever, are welcome.

Out of the Zone

Winston awoke to a jangling in his head. Only when he raised his hand to his temple to touch his headband did it stop. The movement convinced his wake-up alert that he actually was awake. He threw off the duvet and stood up. Sunlight streamed through the picture window. Winston smiled. It was a lovely day to go to work and he was happy. He notified his net friends that today was this month’s work day and he received numerous replies, some hoping he’d enjoy the day and many others bemoaning their lack of similar employment.
While he stood under the shower, the room reconfigured itself, stowing away the bed and opening the kitchen/diner unit. Ads cleaning products for himself and the bathroom circled round his head as he washed and then towelled himself. Feeling clean and fresh he pulled on his work clothes, the bright colours augmented by ads for his employer.
After a satisfying breakfast, with programmed taste enhancements provided by his headband, Winston left the pod to self-lock and self-clean. He descended in the lift to road level and stepped outside into the warm fresh air. Well, it was warm and fresh according to the perceptions provided by his headband. A travel pod drew up and the door opened.
“Good morning, Mr Smith,” the pod said, “Please get in and make yourself comfortable. Our journey to your first destination will take thirteen point two minutes.” The seat wrapped itself around Winston; a precaution against the vanishingly small possibility of a collision. They set off. The roads were quiet and Winston viewed the familiar streets augmented by ads, news and info-bits provided by his headband.
A brief message played in his head as he passed through the wall of the dome. “You are now leaving Zone 5.” Winston didn’t leave his Zone often, in fact this was the first time since his last day’s work, so he watched with delight the passing scene of green fields, woodlands, and a blue sky broken by small white fluffy clouds. In a few minutes the great white dome of his destination loomed ahead.
“Welcome to zone 4, Winston Smith,” he heard in his head. Zone 4 was very similar to his home zone with block after block of living pods, each building embellished with the same ads, and news but slightly different info-bits.
The travel pod slowed to a halt outside a smart neon-coloured block. The door slid open.
“I will remain here until you return,” the travel pod announced as Winston was released from his seat. His headband told him that his first task was in the vestibule of the block. The door opened for him as he expected. He stepped into the brightly lit, colourful foyer.
A small maintenance bot waited beneath a faulty light bulb. That was his job, replacing bulbs. There weren’t many jobs left for humans to do, not physical ones. Winston was grateful that the AIs managing the zone hadn’t decided that this job could be automated. Apparently, it was cheaper to get a human to stretch his hand up to the ceiling and replace a faulty bulb rather than design a machine to do the job. Winston guessed that it was because such a machine would have to be taller and bulkier than the typical ground hugging cleaning and repair bots. Winston quickly replaced the bulb and then the bot lead him up several floors to an unoccupied hab-pod which also had an inoperative ceiling light.
Winston returned to the ground floor with a sense of having successfully completed his task. The travel pod would take him to the next job. He left the block and crossed the pavement taking the opportunity to catch up on the activities of his net friends. Perhaps his headband was a little slow to alert him to the danger, perhaps he didn’t notice the warning. Whatever the reason, he tripped over a scuttling street-cleaner-bot.
Winston fell, arms spread out to break his fall, but he failed to stop his head cracking against the bumper of the waiting travel-pod. He lay on the pavement for a moment then sat up. Something wasn’t right. He wasn’t hurt. There was no feeling of pain in his arms, legs, body or head. He was grateful for that but that wasn’t what was wrong. Something was missing. The chatter of the news, the ads and of his net-friends had stopped. He raised a hand to his head and touched his headband. Two pieces of thin curved plastic fell into his lap. He looked at them with horror. There shouldn’t be two pieces, just one and it should be fixed to his head. He tried pushing the two parts together and holding them against his temples, but they fell off again.
Winston stood up, the pieces of his headband dangling from his hand. He looked around him. The street looked different. The pavement, the road, the building blocks were various shades of grey. There was no augmentation, no cheerful colours, no ads, no info-notes. There was nothing happening in his head. He was cut off from the net. Winston felt lost and adrift but a feeling bubbled up inside him. He must get back home to zone 5 quickly and get his link restored.
He stepped towards the travel pod. The door didn’t open. Winston tapped on it. The door stayed securely shut. Winston hammered on it with his fist but all that happened was that the travel-pod moved. An alarm sounded and the travel pod screamed “I am being attacked”. It drove away at speed with Winston staring after it.
He turned to go back inside the block. Perhaps the maintenance bot would help him. The doors were closed and remained closed despite him hollering and thumping on them.
It was no use. He guessed the problem. Without his headband he was not recognised by the machines or buildings of this zone. It wasn’t his zone. He had to get back home. There was only one way to do it – walk.
Winston had no recollection of the route the travel pod had taken from the entrance to the zone but he told himself that if he walked down the straight roads he would reach the edge of the dome and then could follow it around to the entrance.
It took him an hour to reach an entrance, an hour of walking the grey streets deserted except for a few passing travel pods. He wasn’t even sure that he was at the correct entrance. Nevertheless, the next time the doors opened to allow a travel-pod to exit he skipped through and started walking along the interzone road.
It didn’t take him long to start wondering if he was going in the right direction. The scenery looked different. Instead of charming farmland and woodland, the ground was a bare, dusty and brown with not a living plant to be seen. The sky was overcast with an orange tinge to the grey. Although he could not see the Sun, the air was hot and it stank.
Winston coughed, feeling the air burning his throat but he continued walking. Travel-pods passed from time to time, moving at high speed but totally ignoring him. Ahead he could see the dome of the adjacent zone. Was it his home? He couldn’t tell but it didn’t seem to be getting much closer as he plodded along. He noted that his brightly coloured uniform was in reality a light grey, gradually becoming khaki as it collected dust blown from the land alongside the road.
Without his headband he had no indication of the time, but Winston’s stomach told him it must be long after lunchtime when he finally reached the dome. The doors that admitted the travel pods were closed but displayed the number five. He was home. Well, not quite. He had to get in and find his way to his block before he could really say he was home, but this was as far as he could go for now. He crumpled to the ground by the doors, his feet sore, his legs aching and his throat raw. He wheezed as he drew the filthy air into his lungs.
Minutes passed before he saw a travel pod approaching. He got slowly to his feet, every muscle in his body complaining. The doors slid apart and he crawled inside as the travel-pod passed through. Now he just had to find his block, but how? The streets all looked identical, as did the grey blocks, although he was surprised to see that some had cracks and worn patches of concrete in their walls. Didn’t the maintenance-bots look after the homes of the millions of residents of the Zones? Perhaps they didn’t bother quite as much as he had taken for granted. Augmentation hid the wear and tear, but he didn’t have that distraction any longer.
He crept along the streets hoping he might recognise his home block. He saw no other pedestrians. Who bothered to leave their hab-pod when they had all home comforts to hand – food, water, entertainment, even friendship across the net.
His tiredness grew as the futile search for his home continued. At least breathing had become easier as the air was less dusty but there was an odour of decay. The streets became dark and the windowless blocks displayed no lights. Exhausted and despondent he lay on the pavement with his back resting against a doorway. Winston fell into a deep sleep.

A passing cleaner-bot encountered his sleeping form. Winston was bigger than the usual street litter such as dead rats. It put a call out for a worker to move the offending object. An hour later a travel pod drew up and opened its door. For Selwyn it was his first work shift for weeks. It wasn’t often that the zone 5 AI called on a member of its small workforce of human street cleaners. Disposing of waste larger than the bots could handle was a rare task but one that humans could accomplish. This wasn’t, however, the usual lump of masonry fallen from the decaying blocks.
Selwyn knelt beside Winston. “Hey, mate, what you doing? Isn’t the bed in your pod comfortable enough for you?” As he spoke Selwyn realised that his headband wasn’t giving him any information but about the recumbent person. Mystified Selwyn brushed his hand through the man’s hair. There wasn’t a headband. Mysterious.
Winston stirred. He opened his eyes and saw the face of the man looking down at him. He flinched and sat up. It was a long time that he’d been this close to an actual person.
“What’s up? Where’s your headband,” Selwyn said.
“It broke,” Winston croaked, his mouth dry and his throat sore, “I’ve been cut off from the net for hours. I don’t know where my hab-pod is.”
Selwyn frowned, then his face broke into a smile. “Well, we’d better get you to Central and have your DNA checked. Once you’re recognised, the AI will give you a new headband. Then you can get back to your lovely comfortable life.”

………………………….

Jasmine at year’s end

Well, we made it through Christmas. Actually at the time of writing (27th Dec.) I’m having a pleasant time with nothing to grumble about. It feels as if the world has stopped, although it hasn’t and probably there are things happening that we should be worried about. The big worries come with the new year. I really have no idea what 2019 will bring. If the UK falls off the Brexit cliff, it’s anyone’s guess. Similarly if Trump fires off in one direction or another, or Putin is emboldened to exert his power somewhere or other. It really is a dangerous time.

WP_20180927_16_21_24_ProPersonally, having moved to a new town we’re looking forward to continuing to develop our new lives and I hope to provide support to trans and gender-questioning folk in the surrounding area. Having published the fourth Jasmine Frame novel at my own expense to join the other three novels and three novellas/collections, I have to consider where to go next. There is one more novel in the pipeline but do I continue trying to think up plots for novellas to put on this blog – I’m not sure.

In the meantime I wish all my readers, family and friends a healthy, happy and worry-free 2019 and offer the following seasonal offering for your entertainment.

 

Christmas plc

Santa Claus was feeling fresh and eager as he walked across the ice. It was the 1st December and the start of preparations for Christmas. At the entrance to the North Pole operations centre he paused.  There was a new sign. In big letters it read “Christmas Delivery Systems plc” and underneath, in smaller letters, “A subsidiary of Festive Holdings Ltd.” Beneath that in a friendly italic font Santa read, “Helping you get the Christmas you deserve.”  It all meant nothing to Santa. He shrugged and made his way to his office.
That’s where he had a surprise.  The room had been given a new coat of paint, a thick carpet and contained a huge desk. In an executive chair sat a bald gnome with skin the colour of fresh grass.  He looked up as Santa entered and greeted him.
“Ah, there you are Claus. I was wondering when you’d turn up.”
“Who are you and what are you doing in my room?” Santa asked.
“Pippin Green’s the name. I’m CEO of Christmas Delivery Systems plc. I’ve decided this will be my office.”
Santa was bemused. ‘I don’t understand,” he said.
“Of course not, Claus. You’ve been on vacation haven’t you. For quite a while it seems.  Well, while you were absent, the government of Gnomeland decided to privatise the Christmas present delivery service. Festive Holdings won the bid for the franchise and we have entered into a public-private-partnership, hence the formation of Christmas Delivery Systems plc.”
Santa Claus muttered words privatise, partnership, and franchise not really understanding what it all meant.  “But it’s my job to deliver presents to the children at Christmas.”
“Yes, of course, Claus, but we must move with the times. There must be some changes. Modernisation, cost savings, that sort of thing.”
“What sort of changes?” Santa said feeling the hint of a worry.
“Well, for a start, look at you,” the Gnome said.
Santa looked down at his red coat and black boots. “What do you mean?”
“Time for a new uniform.  Corporate branding, you know.” The gnome pointed to a sequinned blue and gold leotard hanging from a coat hanger on the wall. “That’s your new suit.”
Santa gulped. He’d put a bit of weight on during his annual rest. “I’m not sure that will quite suit my shape,” he said
“Ah, that reminds me,” the gnome said, searching for a sheet of paper on his desk. “I have your occupational health report here. It tells me that you are obese. You’ll have to lose weight otherwise we cannot take the risk of keeping you in employment. Perhaps early retirement. . .”
“Definitely not,” Santa huffed, “You’ll be asking me to remove my beard next.”
Green shook his head. “No, no. Beards are in at the moment. It gives you quite a hipster look.”
Santa decided he’d heard enough. “Well, I’d better get on. I’d like to see the reindeer.”
“Ah, I’m afraid that won’t be possible,” The gnome said.
“Why not?”
“They’ve been sold to a wildlife park.”
“What on earth for?” Santa exclaimed.
“Well, the SPCR, that’s the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Reindeer, said that making the creatures fly throughout the night and haul that heavy load was cruel treatment, and as they are an endangered species they have to be protected.”
“Endangered species!” Santa blurted.
“Yes. How many flying reindeer do you see these days?”
Santa shook his head. “Well, what is going to pull the sled then?”
“Ah, that’s been condemned.”
“Condemned?”
“Health and safety. No seatbelts or air bags and being open-top it needed a roll-bar which it didn’t have.”
“How can we deliver the presents without a sled?” Santa roared.
Green waved his hands. “Now, Claus calm down. We’re leasing a fleet of drones to deliver presents to each individual home.”
Santa didn’t understand. “Well, how am I to get around to put the presents in the children’s rooms?”
The gnome sucked his teeth. “Ah yes. That was your modus operandi wasn’t, Claus. It has to stop.”
“Stop!”
“Yes, it’s a safeguarding issue. The Children’s Department weren’t happy about a man, with no personal connection to the family, entering children’s bedrooms in the middle of night without an escort.”
“But it’s always been me that delivered the presents to the children.”
The Gnome got out of his chair and went to the door.
“That’s another matter of concern. Come with me Claus.”
Santa followed wondering what the gnome was on about.  In the office next door there were three characters dressed in the sparkly blue and gold leotards.
“Who are these people?” Santa asked.
“These are your fellow Christmas Persons,” Pippin Green said. The two gnomes and the troll greeted Santa warmly. Green went on, “We thought that just having one white, male Christmas Person could be construed as discriminatory.  To improve the diversity of the service we have appointed a female gnome, that’s Gertrude here.”  A slim gnome with long green hair curtsied. “Then there’s Jerome. You can see why he’s in the team,” a blue-skinned gnome greeted Santa. Green turned to the troll who was bursting out of the leotard. “And this is Gerald.”
“But he’s a troll,” Santa said.
Green sucked in a breath. “Oh, you can’t say that. Gerald believes he’s a gnome trapped in a troll’s body and we respect that.”
“So, this lot are helping deliver the presents,” Santa said with a sigh.
“All of you together. It’s equality,” Pippin Green replied.
Santa shrugged. “If you say so. Well, let’s go and see how the elves are getting on with the packing.”
Green shivered. “Actually, there is a slight hiatus in that department.”
“What do you mean?” Santa said beginning to fear the worst.
“No elves.”
“What do you mean no elves.”
“Well, we discovered that some of the elves in your employment were actually migrant leprechauns and piskies. Under the terms of the withdrawal agreement. . .”
“Withdrawal agreement?” Santa exclaimed.
“Gnexit,” Green said. “While you were away, Gnomeland negotiated its withdrawal from the Union of Fairy-tale Kingdoms and closed its borders to migrant workers.”
Santa sighed and wished he hadn’t woken up this morning. “What about the rest of the elves, the ones born in Gnomeland.”
“They went on strike,” Green said.
“On strike at Christmas?” Santa roared, “Why?”
“They say they object to the zero hours contract.”
“What zero hours contract?”
“The one I introduced when Christmas Delivery Systems plc took over the franchise,” the gnome explained. “The elves said that meant they wouldn’t get paid for eleven months in the year.”
“But they work 48 hours a day in December,” Santa said.
“Not any longer. The working-time directive says shifts, must be no longer than eight hours in one day,” Green said.
Santa slumped. “It can’t be done. Christmas is a disaster.”
“Oh, no. Disaster is a word we don’t have in our dictionary,” Green said. “We have amended the target to delivery of 50% of the presents by 24th December next year. That way we can manage with fewer elves. With more Christmas Persons we will be able to make Christmas great again.”
Santa Claus heard the theme from Peer Gynt by Edvard Grieg and wondered where it was coming from.  Pippin Green pulled a smart phone from his pocket and held it to his ear. He rapidly turned a pale green, almost yellow. He lowered the phone and stared blankly.
“What now?” Santa asked.
“I’ve just been told that Christmas Delivery Systems plc has been declared bankrupt because the business is loss-making. Festive Holdings have pulled out of the partnership.”
“Who’s going to deliver the Christmas parcels now?” Santa said.
“Amazon of course,” Green said, “They can get into every home.”
“I’m not having that,” said Santa with a sudden feeling of determination. “Children expect a visit from Santa at Christmas and that’s what I’m going to do.”
“You’re going self-employed?” Green said.
“If that what it takes,” Santa replied, “Now I need to reclaim that sled and rescue my reindeer from the zoo. And I’ll need some helpers. How about you lot?” The three Christmas Persons nodded eagerly.
“Good. Go and round up some elves to help.”
“It won’t work,” Green complained.
“We’ll see about that,” Santa Claus said stomping off. “Christmas will come to every house and I’ll be there.”

………………………..

 

Jasmine goes in

It was the weekend before Christmas and all was a rush. I don’t know about you, but this year the festive break seems to be just a brief hiatus in gathering chaos. Here the Brexit disaster looms ever closer with a mad PM (a stupid woman indeed) apparently prepared to do anything at all in order to stay in power even if it damages the country and its people, whatever they may say they want. The US wallows in a quagmire of Trump sleaze and lies.  While in France, a President elected on an avalanche of popular support not long ago gives into violent mass protest and reverses his policies designed to tackle climate change and impending financial catastrophe caused by historical decisions on retirement and pensions. Of course giving in did not stop the protests which I am sure are encouraged by opponents of the ruling party inside and outside France. I don’t think 2019 is going to be an improvement.

What to make of the drones over Gatwick debacle? I was hardly able to believe the early reports but the result with the airport closed for 36 hours and a huge number of people delayed was staggering. At the time of writing the police apparently do not know who was responsible. I doubt that it was a couple of kids with toy drones.  It sounds exactly like a terrorist plot without the deaths and injury associated with terrorist incidents. Just the sort of chaos-inducing attack that would be favoured by enemies, whether they be other countries or activist groups. It shows that the government’s laissez-faire attitude to drone sales and use over recent years to be a total miscalculation. Let’s see what happens next.

……………………………

WP_20181129_14_19_05_ProThe next episode of Monochrome, the Jasmine Frame prequel, published below, is the conclusion to the story aboiut child-sex exploitation which is more in the news now than it was when the story is set in 2008. Writing these stories an episode at a time means that they are sometimes more like a soap than a finite story with a beginning a middle and a climax. In this case I could have drawn out the tale longer, but felt that a short and snappy ending was preferable.  So here it is.  Don’t forget that if you want to read more Jasmine Frame stories there are four full novels available on Kindle or in paperback versions available from me, Got to the Jasmine Frame Publications page to find out more.

 

Monochrome: Part 9

Jasmine retraced her steps along the corridor. The fire door in front of her opened abruptly and a large, swarthy, man in his late thirties swaggered towards her. He gave her a look as if he thought he might have recognised her, realised he didn’t, looked away and pushed passed her. Jasmine continued on but having passed through the door glanced back. She saw the man stop at the room Sid had entered, knock and enter. She hurried down the stairs.
Nat was waiting at outside the entrance. ‘I didn’t see anything on the ground floor, but I saw one of the guys that raped me going upstairs.’
Jasmine described the man she had just seen.
‘That’s him,’ Nat nodded. Jasmine took her arm and hurried back to the Fiesta.
‘I saw him enter room two-four-three after Sid went in there. That must be the room they’re using.’
‘He’ll be waggling his dick over Ffi by now I expect,’ Nat said.
‘What can we do?’ Angela said as they got in to the car.
‘This is where we inform the police,’ Jasmine said. She had decided. ‘We know a house where the girls are kept, the warehouse too and we know there’s abuse taking place here and now. That should be enough to interest them.’ She took her mobile phone out of her bag and dialled 999. She was put through quickly and then started a conversation with the police controller.
She put the phone down with a grunt of disgust.
‘They are coming, aren’t they?’ Angela said.
‘When they have a response team available,’ Jasmine said.
‘But it’s an emergency!’ Angela cried, ‘A girl, perhaps two girls are being raped.’
‘You heard me. That’s what I told them, but because I wasn’t actually witnessing it happening, they weren’t too convinced. I don’t think they can believe that child sex exploitation can actually be happening in their lovely little town.’
‘What are we going to do?’ Nat said, her face creased with anger.
‘First, I’m changing.’ Jasmine got out, went around to open the boot and returned with a carrier bag. She got back into the car, pulling off her long blonde wig, and slipping out of her miniskirt. She tugged on a pair of jeans and a jumper to go over her blouse. James wiped lipstick from his lips with a hanky.
‘Right we’re going in,’ he said in a determined voice.
‘On your own!’ Angela cried again.
‘No, with you as my sidekick, Ange. I want them to think the hotel is surrounded and that they should give themselves up.’
‘They’ll attack you,’ Nat said.
‘Not, if we frighten them enough,’ James said. ‘Look, we’ve got to do something. I can’t sit here and let Ffion, be raped. Again.’
‘It sounds dangerous, James,’ Angela said.
‘Perhaps, but we can’t let them get away with it,’ James insisted, ‘Look we know from Nat’s description that while they may use violence on the girls, they don’t tend to carry guns or knives. If we can surprise them, perhaps we can hold them until the police do arrive.’
‘OK. If you think we have to,’ Angela said doubtfully.
‘Nat, you watch out for the police car and get them up to room 243 as soon as you can. Even if the men escape and we rescue the girls that will be something.’ James took his phone from the bag and opened the car door. He and Angela crossed the car park.
James gave his instructions. ‘When we get outside the room and I start talking, I want you to make as much noise as you can. Feet on the floor, fists on the wall, shouting. Got it Ange?’
Angela nodded.
‘But stay behind me,’ James added
James raised a finger to his lips as they entered the building and climbed the stairs. They padded quietly along the corridor until the reach the door marked 243. James pushed Angela back a metre and mouthed “ready?” She nodded.
James hammered his fists on the door. ‘Armed police. You are under arrest for child sex exploitation. Do not move. Do not try to escape. This hotel is surrounded.’
Angela jumped up and down and bashed the wall of the room with her hands while shouting at the top of her voice. James repeated his announcement and continued banging on the door. There was the sound of people moving inside, shouts of surprise and anger.
James and Angela kept up the row for a minute before the door was dragged open. The big man that Jasmine had seen arriving, staggered out with his trousers around his thighs. He lifted his arms to fend James out of the way. James grabbed an arm twisted it around his back. His trousers dropped to his knees. He fell to the floor. James held him down with a knee pressed into the small of his back.
Ari appeared at the door.
‘Don’t move,’ Angela shouted, ‘We’ve got you covered. You’re under arrest.’
Ari looked up and down the corridor, saw no-on else and glared at Angela.
‘Who’re you kidding? What’s going on?’ He pushed past James and the fallen man, thrust Angela out of the way and headed down the corridor.
Sid came to the doorway. He glanced at Angela and James and the man on the floor, looked confused and hesitated.
‘We know who you are, Sid,’ James said still struggling to hold the other man down. ‘Don’t try to escape. You won’t get far.’
Sid looked uncertain, but then there was the sound of a siren. His face turned white and he retreated into the bedroom.
‘Keep an eye on him, Ange,’ James said. Angela stepped over the fallen man and stood at the door. She looked inside and let out a little cry.
‘Oh girls, get some clothes and come out now.’
James looked through the doorway to see Ffion and another girl of a similar age, standing naked.
There was the thud of heavy shoes on the floor and a police officer ran along the corridor.
‘What’s going on here?’ he said.
The man on the floor renewed his twisting but James added a tweak to his armlock. The man grunted.
‘You’ll need to arrest this guy for abusing the girls in the bedroom. There’s another man who’s been grooming them. A third one got away.’
‘Is that the bloke that’s unconscious on the ground floor. We found a young woman sitting on him.’
James grinned. It sounded as if Nat had got some of her retaliation in. ‘That’s him,’ he said. The PC stepped into the room and saw the two girls. They’d grabbed bed sheets but were still unclothed.
‘Is someone going to explain what’s been happening here?’ The officer said.

It was late evening and James and Angela took sips from their glasses of wine while sitting on the sofa in their hired cottage. The debris from a takeaway lay around them.
James felt exhausted, and he presumed Angela did too, but there was still too much buzzing around his head to think of bed. There had been many hours of questions to be answered and statements to be gone over, hours of waiting while the local uniformed police and CID had raided the addresses that Nat provided. James and Angela were relieved when they were told that arrests had been made and that Ffion and the other girl, Krissy, were being looked after having had medical checks. Nat too was in care, not that she had been particularly happy about that.
‘Do you think they got all the men that were abusing the girls?’ Angela asked.
‘Not yet perhaps, but they will. People will talk now, and the girls will have their stories believed.’
‘Those poor young things. Will they ever be able to have a normal life?’
‘Well, they have a chance now that they didn’t have. If they have half the initiative that Nat’s got, they’ll do alright. Fancy her, tripping Ari at the bottom of the stairs and thumping the daylights out of him.’
‘A successful result then,’ Angela said, ‘And Jasmine got away without being discovered.’

 

Jasmine in pursuit

Layout 1Three great 5 * reviews for Molly’s Boudoir.

“…The story line is gripping. You could read this as a stand alone book, but by reading the previous novels, you will get a much better sense of the main characters.”  Anonymous

“This was my first of the Jasmine novels. . . The narrative was so smooth and attractive, it felt seductive, so easily followed and I was very quickly immersed into Jasmines world.”  Alexander 

Really enjoyed this 4th instalment in the series. A really good detective story with a twist.” Lyn D

Many thanks to the reviewers.  You can get your copy of the e-book here, or write to me here for the paperback. Until the end of the year I will be giving a copy of Painted Ladies (the 1st novel) free with any of  Bodies By Design, The Brides’ Club Murder, or Molly’s Boudoir, (£9.99 each inc post and packing).

………………………….

So Theresa May survived and still has the steering wheel of the Brexit bus in her manic grip with her foot on the accelerator heading for the cliff edge. She thinks she sees a rickety bridge to future prosperity built from the crumbling bones of David Davies and Dominic Raab but the foundations in the DUP have been washed away and the bridge to nowhere has collapsed into the torrent. She hasn’t noticed and is helped towards the abyss by the Brexiteers pushing from behind. Corbyn and his mates sit behind her wondering when they can seize the initiative and put the lights on. Meanwhile the Peoples’ Vote mob are wondering who has the nails to spill in the path of the vehicle to bring it to a tyre-bursting halt. What is actually needed is for the other Conservative MPs to realise their responsibility to the nation and its people and throw themselves in the path of the vehicle in the hope that their heap of bodies will be enough to stop it in its tracks.

There, I think I’ve stretched the metaphor enough.  In brief, after this week we’re stuffed unless someone can make May see sense and stop Article 50.

………………………….

So, to take your mind off Brexit, Christmas, Climate Change or whatever, here is episode 8 of the Jasmine prequel, Monochrome.

Monochrome: Part 8

Jasmine and Nat crept back to the office window. Jasmine sneaked a look inside, but it was still empty. Minutes passed but no-one came or went.
Jasmine whispered, ‘What’s going on? Where are they?’
Nat replied, ‘There’s a room inside. No windows. They’ll be in there. Taking their turns with Ffi and the other girls.’
‘Other girls?’
‘They usually keep one or two here. What are we going to do?’
‘Wait and see what happens. Let’s go back to the road so we can see them when they leave.’
They crawled beside the building until they got to the front of the warehouse. They sat with their backs to the wall.
Time went by and Jasmine was beginning to wonder how long they would have to wait. She heard a beep on her phone and looked to see that Angela had sent a message.
<What’s happening?>
Jasmine tapped out a reply. <Waiting for someone to leave. Be ready to pick us up.>
More waiting. Cold was creeping into Jasmine’s limbs because of the inaction. She was thankful that it was at least dry. At last they heard the roller-door clanking open. Jasmine peered around the corner and saw the three suited men come out. They were chatting cheerfully as they got in their car. They drove off.
Jasmine had her phone in her hand; a text message to Angela ready to send. A car engine started inside the building. The Mercedes appeared. Jasmine was certain she saw Ari and Sid in the front seats. The rear windows were dark, but she thought she saw movement in the back seat.
‘Were there girls in the back?’ Jasmine said.
Nat nodded, ‘Yeah, two I think. I’m not sure.’
The warehouse door rumbled shut. Jasmine thumbed “send” on her phone and stood up.
‘Come on, Nat. We’ve got to get after them.’
She ran across the waste ground to the adjacent unit. The Merc had driven on ahead and was out of their line of sight.
With Nat puffing behind her, Jasmine ran on till she reached the T-junction. The red Fiesta pulled up. Jasmine dived into the passenger seat and waved to Nat to hurry. Nat arrived, pulled open the rear door and fell in, panting. Angela drove off.
‘Did you see the Merc?’ Jasmine said.
‘I saw it turn this way,’ Angela said pressing her foot to the accelerator. Nat pulled the door closed and scrambled into a sitting position. Jasmine fastened her seat belt.
The road wound around the industrial estate in wide curves. In moments Jasmine saw the Mercedes ahead of them.
‘Slow down Ange. We’ve got them in sight now. Just follow them.’
‘What are we going to do?’ Nat asked.
‘Find out where they are headed and then if they’ve got Ffion and another girl with them, see if we can rescue them. Any idea where they’re going, Nat?’
‘Could be a number of places.’
Jasmine wasn’t sure how they would do it, but she was determined to get Ffion and any other girls away from Ari and Sid. She was feeling guilty that they hadn’t succeeded before and it looked as though the girls had been abused again in the hours that had passed since. She wouldn’t allow it to happen again.
They were heading back through the town now, amongst traffic. Jasmine complimented Angela on keeping one or two cars between them and the Mercedes while not losing them completely at traffic lights and roundabouts. Then they were on one of the main roads out of town. Jasmine was prepared to settle down for a longer drive but the car they were following signalled left and turned off the road.
‘Where now?’ Jasmine said.
‘It’s a hotel,’ Nat said. ‘I know this place. They brought me here.’ Jasmine didn’t ask any further questions; she thought she knew what Nat’s answer would be.
Angela followed slowly, stopping short of the hotel building which had a lot of cars parked outside. The Mercedes halted at the entrance. Ari got out and went inside. The Mercedes moved off.
‘Sid will park round the back and take the girls in through the back door,’ Nat said.
‘We need to see which room they use.’ Jasmine said. ‘Follow him, Ange.’
They pursued the car around the building into a car park that was almost empty except for a few plots of shrub and hedge. The Mercedes stopped in a space close to the rear entrance.
‘Park here.’ Jasmine ordered. As Angela manoeuvred into a space, Jasmine watched. Sid got out of the driver’s door and opened the rear door of the car. He didn’t appear to look behind to see them parking. That was a relief as Jasmine knew they were exposed. Ffion got out followed by another girl. Sid took their hands and guided them towards the door of the hotel. The door opened revealing Ari. He urged them to get inside with a wave of his hand.
‘Come on!’ Jasmine called, getting out of the Fiesta and running. She heard Nat following. They reached the door to the hotel. Jasmine pulled it open. There was a stairway and inner doors to the hotel rooms.
‘You take the ground floor. See if you can see where they’ve gone.’ She bounded up the stairs leaving Nat behind. Luckily there were only the two floors.
She pulled the door at the top of the stairs open. The corridor went to the left and the right. The left was straight. She could see along it for forty metres or more. It appeared empty. The right-hand corridor turned after a few metres. Jasmine took the right. At the ninety-degree bend, she stopped and peered round. There was another fire door but through it she could see a man, probably Sid, stepping inside a room. She tried to get a fix on which door he had entered. Quietly she opened the fire-door and slowly made her way along the corridor. She got to the room she thought she had seen Sid use and paused. She could hear voices, a bass growl and a higher pitched moan. There was a sharp crack, the slap of a hand on a smooth surface, then a shriek. Jasmine stepped back from the door. This was the definitely the room. She noted the number.

……………………to be continued.

Jasmine in paperback

WP_20181206_12_52_45_ProThe paperback version of Molly’s Boudoir arrived sooner than I expected, thanks to speedy work by the printers. Now you can purchase your own copy from me by sending a message to me here. The e-book on Kindle is available here.

There have been some great reviews already. What wouldn’t I do for a best seller? (Well, quite a lot of things actually).

Part 7 of the Jasmine Frame prequel, Monochrome is below.

……………….

What to make of the debate on the Brexit “Deal”? What a mess.  Will it actually come to a vote as planned next week or will Conservative MPs find some way to wriggle out of their obligations to do the best for the county. While it was a referendum that got us into this mess, surely, whichever side you are on, the only sensible and democratic solution is to have another one, with May’s half-baked “deal” and Remaining in the EU as options  – there aren’t any others as “No Deal” is madness.

Taking one’s mind off all the troubling news (not just Brexit), I have been reading Trans Britain, edited by Christine Burns (pub. Unbound). It is a collection of essays that detail the course of transgender rights and action over the last seventy years. It highlights the discrimination felt by trans people in the past and present and doesn’t back away from referring to the growing problem of anti-trans factions who seek to push trans people back into a ghetto. It also makes clear that there isn’t one type of trans person. We are in fact all individuals.  While some might want to transition between binary genders, there are an increasing number of people who reject the old western stereotypes of masculine and feminine and are finding ways of being themselves without declaring a gender. I can see no reason why anyone should want to deny an individual the right to be themselves if they are not harming another person.

………………………

Monochrome: Part 7

Jasmine froze as she frantically weighed up what to do. Could she escape through the front door? Both men were bigger and heavier than she was. While she could possibly take one on, she didn’t think she stood much chance against the two of them. Then there was Nat and Ffion to think about. She had no chance of getting both through the door.
How about the rear entrance? Turn and make a run for it? She had no idea whether the back door was even unlocked or what they would find in the garden. They could be trapped. Again, getting the three of them away seemed most unlikely.
What about brazening it out? She was a plain clothes police officer and the house was surrounded. It wouldn’t take the men much effort to expose that piece of wishful thinking.
She was out of ideas and staring stupidly at the two men. While she was still dithering, Ffion skipped to the leading man, tossing her head of hair.
‘Hello Ari, have you brought something nice for me?’ She put her arms around his waist. He placed a hand on her shoulder.
‘Who are this pair of fuckers?’ he said.
It was Nat’s turn to step forward. ‘You know me, Ari. I’m Nat. Sid knows who I am. Well he ought to, he’s fucked me enough times.’
The guy behind, perhaps a little younger, Jasmine thought, blinked a couple of times and frowned.
‘What you doing here, Nat?’
Nat replied in a much lighter sing-song sort of voice to her usual tone. ‘Ffion’s my friend. I thought I’d drop in and see how she was doing.’
‘No, I meant. What you doin’ in town?’
‘Oh, you know that your mates dropped me off on the coast, do you?’
The leading man called Ari, nodded. ‘You’re that mad bitch. The one that said she was a lad now, even though you’ve still got a cunt.’
‘That’s me,’ Nat said cheerfully.
‘You need teaching a lesson.’ Ari released his grip on Ffion, shoving her out of his way. She stumbled back into the lounge. Ari took a step towards Nat. Nat retreated till she rested against Jasmine. The man stooped and peered at Jasmine.
‘Who’s this then? Do you know ‘er, Sid?’
‘Na,’ the younger man grunted.
‘This a friend of mine,’ Nat said, ‘She brought me back.’
‘Since when you ‘ad friends in the country, Nat,’ Sid said.
‘Wouldn’t you like to know,’ Nat replied.
Ari frowned. ‘You shouldn’t have come here,’ he growled. ‘Not with ‘er.’
Jasmine sensed that Ari wasn’t sure what to do. He obviously exercised power over the young girls, but someone older, mature, he was less sure about. Jasmine had to act before he decided he should impose himself.
‘Well, I’m sorry it’s not a convenient time to visit Ffion,’ she said, trying to sound as if calling into a drug and sex den where underage girls were abused was a daily occurrence. ‘We’ll be off and let you get on. I’m sure Ffion needs looking after. She doesn’t seem too well.’ She didn’t think that speech would have a useful outcome but at that moment there was a knock on the door. Sid being closest turned and opened it before Ari could stop him, if that had crossed the older man’s mind.
Angela stood on the doorstep.
‘Oh, hello. I came to tell Jasmine that she’s needed. We’d better get off.’
Jasmine took the cue.
‘Thanks, Ange, we were just coming.’ She grabbed Nat’s hand and strode down the hall, easing past Ari and Sid without having to push them out of the way. ‘Sorry to have taken your time.’ The two men stood, open-mouthed. Jasmine and Nat got to the door. Jasmine urged Angela to move. The three of them hurried down the path to the road. Angela had parked the Fiesta right beside the men’s Mercedes. They bundled in, and without waiting to secure seatbelts, Angela drove away.
Jasmine turned around in the front passenger to seat to see Ari and Sid appear at the door and stare after them. Angela drove them quickly away from the residential area.
Jasmine let out a long breath. ‘Thanks, Ange. I’m not sure how we were going to get out of that. You knocked at just the right moment.’
‘I got worried when I saw that pair get out of the car. They looked as though they could be violent.’
‘That’s what I was afraid of,’ Jasmine said, ‘Is she right, Nat?’
‘Sid’s a bit of a softy but Ari is nasty. Mind you they’ll all knock you about to bit if they think they’re not getting what they want.’
‘Did you see the girl you know, Nat?’ Angela asked.
‘Yeah. She’s there. Doesn’t know what’s happening to her. Out of her brain.’
‘And we’ve left her there with them,’ Jasmine said. ‘What will they do to her?’
‘Probably try to find out what we were saying to her,’ Nat replied, ‘Slap her around a bit. Give her some booze or skunk or something. Then use her. That’s what they want really.’
Jasmine was worried. She felt as though they had deserted the young girl. ‘If she tells them we were trying to get her away from there. Do you think they’ll hurt her?’
Nat shook her head. ‘I doubt if Ffi realised what we were doing. They’ve addled her brains. She thinks they’re looking after her.’
‘Even when they beat her up?’ Angela said as they pulled into a car park in the shopping centre.
‘She’ll think that it’s her fault; that she’s done something wrong. I used to think that until something clicked in my head.’
‘We’ve got to get her away,’ Jasmine said.
‘Well, they won’t keep her there,’ Nat said. ‘Ari will be suspicious about you two and he knows I’m awkward.’
‘What will they do with her?’
‘Take her to another place. They won’t leave her on her own again, that’s for sure.’
Jasmine was certain that the police must be alerted to Ffion’s predicament. ‘Do you know these other places?’
Nat shrugged. ‘Some of them. I’m not sure they took me to all the buildings they use. They’re not just houses. Some of them are in business places, and they took me to cheap hotels to meet other guys.’
‘We’ve got to report what’s going on to the local police,’ Jasmine said.
’Will they believe me?’ Nat sounded doubtful.
‘It’s not just you. There’s me and Angela now as well. I’ve seen Ffion and those two guys.’
‘I didn’t see Ffion,’ Angela said, ‘Don’t you think the police will need more evidence?’
Jasmine considered. ‘Perhaps you’re right. Nat, can you take us to one of these other places where they kept you?’
‘Yeah, okay.’
Nat directed Angela to drive to the edge of the town. They entered a small industrial estate with small factory and warehouse units.
‘It’s down there,’ Nat said, pointing down a side road. Angela stopped the car.
‘Have you got your camera, Angela?’ Jasmine asked.
Angela reached for her hand bag and dug out a small digital camera. Jasmine took it.
‘What are you going to do?’ Angela asked.
Jasmine opened her door. ‘Take a look around. Perhaps take some photos.’
‘I’m coming too,’ Nat said.
‘Okay, come on. Take the car out of sight, Ange, and keep your phone handy.’
‘Alright, but take care.’
‘Of course.’ Jasmine and Nat stepped out of the Fiesta and Angela drove off. ‘Show me which unit they used,’ Jasmine said to Nat.
They walked up the road that was devoid of traffic. The units they passed seemed unused, some were derelict. The metal clad building at the end did at least look in better condition with a name board over the vehicle access. Sammi’s International Foods it read.
There were a couple of windows at the side of the building. Jasmine guessed it was the office part of the warehouse. She looked around to check there was no one outside the unit and then crept up to the wall of the office with Nat behind her. She rested her head against the wall but could hear nothing from inside. Could she get a peek inside the window? She inched along the wall, pressed against it. She reached the window frame, leaned forward a few degrees. She had a view of a typical office, with desks and filing cabinets. It was unoccupied.
She heard a car approaching. She inched along the wall until she could see the entrance to the warehouse. A Mercedes had pulled up. It looked like the one that Ari and Sid had arrived in. The metal roller door clanked as it rose until the Merc was able to drive in. Another car arrived and parked. Three men in business suits got out and entered the warehouse.
‘What’s going on, Nat?’ Jasmine whispered.
Nat spoke into Jasmine’s ear. ‘They’ve come to do business. They’ll be handing out the girls.”

……………………….to be continued.