Today, viz. Saturday 2nd December, I am spending two hours at the Castle Bookshop in the fine Shropshire town of Ludlow. The idea is to sign copies of Cold Fire that visitors to the shop purchase. The difficult bit is persuading them to buy. I like meeting potential readers but I am not the best salesman. I could talk about September Weekes, Cold Fire, the settings and the plot for hours but making that vital sale, well, it doesn’t come naturally. Still, I’m looking forward to the session and it is very kind of the bookshop owner, Stanton, to allow a relatively unknown, if local, author the opportunity to take over (a little bit of) the shop for a couple of hours.
One boost is the delightful review published on the Rising Shadow website (read it here). It is very gratifying to find someone who has enjoyed my previous September Weekes books (Evil Above the Stars vol, 1, 2 & 3) and who appreciates the features I included in Cold Fire. I do hope the review gets read widely and spurs many people, of all ages, to buy and read it. Here is the “headline” quote.
“This is . . .a well-told fantasy story that will intrigue adult and young adults readers alike.”
Of course I will also have my other books with me – Evil Above the Stars and the three Jasmine Frame novels (Painted Ladies, Bodies By Design and The Brides’ Club Murder). You don’t have to travel to Ludlow to buy them – just email your order (with the delivery address) to firstname.lastname@example.org.
They are £9.99 each except for Painted Ladies which is £8.99 (including postage). In fact I am giving Painted Ladies away free with either (or both) of the other Jasmine novels.
Oh, and they are all on Kindle.
And so to the freebie – the next episode of Reflex, the Jasmine Frame prequel.
Reflex: Part 6
‘Are you sure about that Mrs Chapman?’ DS Sharma said, glaring at the woman. He pushed his chair back and stood up. ‘Come on Frame. We’re done here.’ He took the few steps to the door, turned and spoke to the sobbing woman. ‘You can go Mrs Chapman but we’ll have more questions for you.’
James followed him from the room. He wanted to comfort the woman, tell her he understood a little about how Melissa felt, how she felt. But he didn’t. In the corridor, Sharma faced him.
‘Any thoughts, Frame?’
‘She’s overwrought, Sir. She’s lost her husband and her child’s been taken away.’
‘You’re right. We’re not going to get much from her until she’s settled a bit. Perhaps if we let her see the boy, she’ll be less emotional. Thank you for your assistance, Frame.’
‘Is that all?’ James felt as though he was being cast off.
‘For now. I’ll call you in when we interview the boy again. You can go back to your duties.’
He walked away. James went in search of PC Ward, his partner, but she had gone out in the car. He sighed and settled at a desk to deal with paperwork until she returned.
James parked outside the secure unit for young offenders on the edge of Abingdon. He should have been heading home to Angela. She would be waiting for him as it was a Saturday afternoon. Having just completed a morning shift following his afternoon shift yesterday he was feeling quite tired. Nevertheless, he felt he had to make this call. He pulled his anorak around him and got out of the Fiesta. There was a cold, northerly wind blowing leaves into the drab vestibule of the building. James pushed the door open and entered a small foyer with a bored looking man in a uniform sitting at a reception desk.
‘I wonder if it is possible to see Matthew Chapman?’ he asked.
‘Are you family?’ the security guard/receptionist asked.
‘No, but I have an interest in his case. I’m a police officer, PC James Frame.’ James showed his warrant card.
‘A bit irregular,’ the man muttered but lifted a phone. He spoke into it, listened, then looked at James. ‘Someone will come out to see you.’
James thanked him and stepped away from the desk. A few minutes passed then the automatic security doors leading to the interior of the building swung open. A woman emerged. James recognised her as the person who had accompanied Matthew/Melissa at the interview the day before. He hadn’t looked at her much then but now he noticed that she was probably just a few years older than himself, was dressed in a casual pair of trousers and jumper and had a smiley, welcoming face.
She held out a hand. ‘PC Frame, we met yesterday. I’m Karen Finlay.’ James shook her hand. ‘Are you on duty?’ she added.
James looked down at his civilian clothes. ‘No, I’ve left my gear at the station. This is a personal call. I wanted to see how Melissa, er, Matthew is.’
Karen gazed at him, her head cocked to one side, as she considered. ‘Um, I’m not sure. . . but you said you knew someone who was transsexual?’ James nodded. She paused again. Finally, she spoke. ‘OK. It might do some good to see someone who understands. Come through.’ She lead James through the double set of doors into the building. They entered a communal area with brightly coloured chairs and a soft carpet.
‘Stay here,’ Karen said and left him. James examined the pictures of superheroes on the walls. A few minutes later Karen returned accompanied by a girl. James did a double-take before he recognised Melissa. She was wearing a short denim skirt with a sparkly top showing a hint of breasts, and her hair had been back combed into a mass of curls with tiny bows placed randomly. She wore eye liner and lipstick and her nails were painted bright purple.
‘Melissa!’ James cried. ‘How are you feeling?’
The girl stood in front of him, smiling, with Karen at her side.
‘They’ve let me be me,’ she said, grinning.
‘So I see. I like your hair.’
‘That was Jude.’
Karen answered. ‘One of the girls who is, um, resident here.’ James nodded understanding that Karen meant that she was one of the young offenders.
‘Yeah, she says she wants to be a hairdresser when she gets out,’ Melissa said.
‘I’m pleased for you,’ James said.
‘Do you really know someone who has transitioned?’ the girl asked.
James thought about the question. While at university he had met a few trans women at various stages in their transition, but Tamsin was supposed to be a reflection of himself and transitioning to live fulltime as a woman was a fantasy he toyed with.
‘Yes,’ he said.
‘Were they happy?’
There wasn’t a simple answer. ‘Transitioning is hard,’ he replied, ‘harder for some than others, but I think all transgender people want to be themselves, just like you do. You look as though you’re happy.’
The girl beamed at him, ‘I am. I will be if I can stay like this always.’
He addressed Karen, ‘Will the court let her be herself.’
‘We’re looking into that,’ Karen said. ‘Early days yet, but it was felt that Melissa needed the opportunity to express herself while she comes to terms with what has happened.’
‘She’s been charged,’ James stated.
‘Yes, manslaughter. Her defence lawyer will be hoping to change that. I don’t think we can discuss that here, PC Frame.’
‘Call me James. Yes, I understand.’ He looked at the girl, ‘You look fantastic, Melissa. I’m sorry you have to go to court.’
The girl’s face darkened. ‘I didn’t mean to hurt him.’
James shook his head. ‘I know. You were defending yourself. If that knife hadn’t been there. . .’
‘That’s what I don’t understand,’ Melissa said,
James was confused, ‘What do you mean?’
Melissa shrugged. ‘Why was the knife there? I’ve been thinking about it ever since that Asian guy asked me those questions about it.’
‘Wasn’t it just left on the worktop?’
‘Mum wouldn’t do that.’
‘She’s a bit OCD about keeping the kitchen tidy, and she was manic about knives.’
‘Well, I suppose just once. . .’
‘No really manic. She was always going on about how easy it is to cut yourself on a knife.’ ‘Oh.’ James wondered what it meant.
‘She was right, wasn’t she,’ Melissa went on, her smiles gone. ‘If it hadn’t been there just by my hand, I wouldn’t have picked it up and, and . . .’ She covered her face with her hands.
‘But god knows what might have happened to you and your mother, if you hadn’t stopped your father. Discovering your mother helping you, he could have killed her.’
Melissa shook her head. ‘But he shouldn’t have found us. Mum said he was doing overtime and wouldn’t be back till late.’
‘Maybe his plans changed. It’s a terrible tragedy, Melissa.’
The girl clung to Karen with tears running down her cheeks. James felt that he’d made things worse by stirring her feelings up again.
‘I’m sorry Melissa. I shouldn’t have come. There’s nothing you can do now, but we’ve got to make sure that the charges are dropped and it’s recognised that you were defending yourself, and your mother for that matter.’
Karen looked questioningly. ‘Do you think that’s likely?’
James shrugged. ‘I don’t know. DS Sharma was talking about a charge of murder. Look, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be talking about it.’
The woman wrapped her arms around the girl. ‘Of course. Look perhaps it wasn’t a good idea letting you see Melissa; not this soon. Perhaps when we know a bit more.’
‘Yes. I’d better go.’
‘I’ll let you out.’ Karen released Melissa and told her to return to her room, then she unlocked the doors and let James out. He hurried from the building, distraught at the upset his presence had caused. He got into the car and sat gripping the steering wheel. The things Melissa had said bounced around in his head. Why had that knife been lying around waiting to be picked up and why had Eric Chapman been able to surprise his wife and child?
James put his key in the lock and opened the door. Angela came running and flung her arms around him.
‘At last! I thought you were caught up in some incident or other.’
He kissed her on her lips, then paused for breath. ‘No, I stopped off to see Melissa at the centre. That’s why I’m late.’
‘The transgirl. Matthew. Killed her father when he attacked her. Remember?’
‘Yes, of course. Should you have done that? Gone to see her.’
‘Not really, but I wanted to see how she was. They’re letting her dress as a girl. She’s happy – when she forgets what has happened.’
‘Good, but you mustn’t get too involved.’ Angela showed her concern. ‘Unless you want them to find out about Jasmine.’
‘No, of course not. Now where’s that cup of tea?’
‘What cup of tea?’ Angela grinned.
‘The one you were going to offer me when I walked in.’
‘Of course, Sir.’ Angela walked into the kitchen while James slumped on to the sofa. ‘You have remembered, haven’t you?’ she called out.
‘That group, Butterflies, meets tonight. You do still want to try it out, don’t you?’
Things clicked into place in James’ mind. It was Saturday afternoon, which explained why Angela was at home, and she had discovered that a trans group met somewhere near on this Saturday evening. Jasmine was going to have an evening out.
…………………..to be continued.