Jasmine shivers

WP_20170616_16_16_42_ProIt’s strange that during the hottest June days for forty years I have been writing about Jasmine shivering with cold (see below). But at least I have been writing. It’s been lovely to have a week when I can get on with the business of authoring.  Apart from the second part of Viewpoint that follows, it is has included completing the final (?) edit and extra bits for Cold Fire, the fourth September Weekes novel out soon, and starting to plan a promotional push.  I may even get further with Jasmine’s fourth novel, Molly’s Boudoir.

I’ve signed up for the UK Indie Lit Fest in  Bradford  https://www.ukindielitfest.com/  on 26th Aug.  It promises to be a huge gathering of independent authors, and I hope general public looking to buy books.  That follows the smaller, but closer, Llanidloes Tattoo Festival  (yes, tattoos and books!) on 8th/9th July.  Looking forward to both but if you run a lit fest or any other fest for that matter and want a speaker, someone to complete a discussion panel, or simply to run a book stall, then get in touch (paintedladiesnovel@btinternet.com) – I’m up for it.

That’s enough of the self-promotion, let’s get on with the story.  Viewpoint is the latest novella that is a prequel to Painted Ladies, the first Jasmine Frame novel.  It’ll also be the last chronologically as it takes place just a few months before Painted Ladies starts.

Viewpoint: Part 2

She stamped her feet, wrapped her arms around herself and tried jogging on the spot but nothing could stop the shivering. Her legs felt as if they had bags of sand tied to them and her feet didn’t belong to her. While the cold numbed her mind, Jasmine’s eyes were filled with the pale shape of the body lying on the towpath. Through the veil of drizzle and her blurred vision some details registered on her consciousness. The body was naked and the person, she had to remember that this lifeless object had been a person, was female. Something didn’t seem right though, and then it penetrated to her – the chest was flat.
Jasmine leant down, almost stumbling over the corpse as the shivering affected her balance. There were scars that suggested breasts had been removed. Short black hair framed a face marred by bruises and grazes.
She overcame the urge to rest down beside the body and pushed herself upright. The wail of a siren came from across the canal and, shortly after, a blue flashing light appeared through the rain and stopped just short of the opposite bank. A uniformed figure ran across the hump-backed bridge over the channel and approached.
‘Did you report a body in the canal near here?’ The police officer called when he saw her. He negotiated the approach to the bridge and came along the towpath towards her. Jasmine pointed a shaking hand at the corpse. The PC halted, looked down and then up at Jasmine.
‘God!’ he said, ‘Are you alright?’
‘C..c..cold,’ Jasmine mumbled.
‘Shit! You’re soaked. Did you go in the canal?’
Jasmine nodded, unable to speak. The PC bent down to look at the corpse. He shook his head and stood up.
‘Can’t do anything for them. Let’s get you to the car.’ The officer put his arm around her and supported her. They staggered towards the bridge and went over to where the police car waited with its light still flashing and driver speaking into his phone. He looked through the rain spattered windscreen, and seeing them approach, opened his door.
‘Is this the casualty?’ the driver asked.
‘No, there’s a body on the bank. I think this is who reported it. She may be suffering hypothermia.’
‘Get her in the back. I’ll get the blanket from the boot.’
The PC opened the rear door of the Vauxhall Astra and eased Jasmine in. The other officer came up with a silver blanket which he unfolded and passed into the car to Jasmine. With shaking hands, she wrapped it around herself.
The officer who had escorted Jasmine rummaged in the boot.
‘I’ll set up the tapes. We have to make the site secure and stop other walkers bumbling into it. Although who else would be out on a morning like this I don’t know. You stay and watch her. See if she can tell us what happened.’ He ran off, back over the bridge.
The partner resumed his position in the driving seat, started the engine again and turned the heating control. He twisted in his seat to look at Jasmine.
‘How are you feeling?’
Jasmine was grateful to be out of the cold but she was still shivering and her limbs felt dead. ‘B..better,’ she managed.
‘I’d better call a paramedic to see you.’ The PC reached for his phone again and put in the call to the control centre. The car’s fan was blowing hot air over Jasmine and she managed to clamp her jaw so that her teeth didn’t chatter.
The policeman twisted round to face her again. ‘Was it you who reported the incident?’
Jasmine nodded.
‘Do you know the, er, victim?’
Jasmine shook her head.
‘They were in the water, were they?’
Jasmine nodded again.
‘And you went in and dragged them out?
Another nod.
‘Dead?’
And another.
Jasmine found she could take a deep breath rather than the snatched gasps which her uncontrolled shaking had allowed, but her limbs and body still trembled. The officer looked over her out through the rear window at something, and reacted by turning around and opening his door.
‘At last, the plainclothes guys show up.’ He got out. ‘Stay there. I’ll check on you in a mo.’ He closed the door, leaving Jasmine gratefully enjoying the growing fug of hot air in the car. She sat with her eyes closed, grimacing as the feeling returned to her fingers and toes with agonising prickling. There was a tap on the window beside her. She saw a familiar face through the pattern of running raindrops. She wound the window down a little.
‘Tom!’
DC Tom Shepherd peered through the gap.
‘Jasmine? What are you doing here? It wasn’t you that found the body was it?’
‘Yes, it was me.’
‘What were you doing here?’
‘I was out for a run.’
‘In this weather? The officer says you’ve got hypothermia.’
‘Rain doesn’t bother me when I’m running. I didn’t expect to be wading in the canal or standing around.’
‘How do you feel?’
‘Getting warmer.’
‘Good. Look stay there. I’d better go and check on this body you found and make sure they’ve got it cordoned off.’
‘Are you on your own?’
‘No, Derek’s in the car, reporting in. I’ll get him to come and join you and find out what happened.’
Jasmine nodded and Tom’s head moved away. She wound the window up and breathed deeply. She was relieved that it was DC Derek Kingston on duty with her friend and former partner. Kingston accepted her as a woman which wasn’t too surprising since as a young black officer he had no doubt experienced some prejudice himself. She was relieved it wasn’t the cynical older DC, Terry Hopkins, and especially not her nemesis, DS Denise Palmerston.
A few moments later the front passenger door opened and DC Kingston, dressed in a thick anorak, got in. He twisted to speak to Jasmine.
‘Hi, Jas. Tom says we’ve you to thank for this call out. What happened?’
Jasmine explained how she had noticed the body in the water and had gone in to check it wasn’t alive.
‘I’m not surprised you’re suffering from hypothermia. It’s bloody freezing.’
Jasmine shook her head. ‘I don’t think I’m that bad.’
‘No? Well, I think that’s the paramedic turning up. They’ll check you over.’
Jasmine noticed another flashing light reflecting off surfaces inside the police car. Kingston opened the door.
‘I’ll send him to you. Speak to you again soon.’ He got out.
A few moments later the paramedic, a her not a him, opened the door beside Jasmine and peered in. She asked Jasmine questions, did a few simple tests, and pronounced her fit.
‘But stay in the warm and get out of those wet clothes, a.s.a.p.’ She withdrew and closed the door. Once again, she was left alone for a few minutes until the driver of the police car returned.
‘I’ve been told to take you home so you can get dry,’ he said buckling himself in, ‘That’s if I can get us out of this congestion.’ Jasmine gave her thanks and tugged a seatbelt round herself.
With repeated backwards and forwards movements, the police car turned and manoeuvred around DC Shepherd’s car and they set off along a straight, rough track along the edge of a field. Jasmine estimated that it was about half a mile before they came to a cluster of buildings and a metalled road. The police officer turned left, picked up speed and soon they were in the outskirts of Kintbridge. The morning rush hour traffic delayed their passage through the town but soon they pulled up in the carpark outside Jasmine’s flat. The driver got out and opened Jasmine’s door.
‘I’ll see you in, make sure you’re okay,’ he said. Jasmine was reluctant to leave the growing warmth of the police car but realised she couldn’t stay put. She stepped onto the tarmac and pulled the foil blanket round her tighter. She hurried to her door, fumbling in her bumbag for her keys, her hands already starting to shake again.
‘Here let me help,’ The PC said from beside her. He took the key from Jasmine’s hand and inserted it in the door lock. He pushed the door open. ‘There you go.’ He followed Jasmine into the small, dismal flat. ‘Hey, it’s not very warm in here. Haven’t you got the heating on.’
‘I don’t usually have it too warm,’ Jasmine said, her voice beginning to wobble. She didn’t add that it wasn’t her preference but a means of saving money.
‘Well, I think you need it a bit warmer now. Where’s the controls?’
Jasmine nodded to the electric fire. The PC bent down and switched it on; all three bars. He stood up, turned and faced Jasmine.
‘There, I hope that’ll warm you up soon. DC Shepherd said you worked together.’
Not any longer, Jasmine thought.
‘I thought I recognised you,’ The officer went on. ‘Aren’t you the DC who’s having a sex change?’
Jasmine sighed. Why couldn’t she just be recognised for who she was and not her gender history. Who else would be asked such personal questions so early or even at all in a conversation.
Jasmine nodded. ‘That’s right. Look I need to get these clothes off.’ She let the foil sheet fall from her shoulders and started to unzip her running jacket. Waterproof it may have been but that didn’t allow for wading into canals.
The officer’s face showed horrified anticipation. He backed towards the door.
‘That’s right. Look, I’ll let you get on. I’m sure one of the detectives will look in on you soon. I’d better be getting back.’ He let himself out closing the door behind him. Jasmine let out an audible sigh, stepped closer to the electric fire and started to strip off her wet running clothes.

…………………to be continued

Jasmine goes to a festival

I am not going to write a political comment this week, not here anyway. Instead I want to tell you about the Leominster Festival. Now I know readers of this blog come from all around the world and have no interest in where Leominster is and what’s happening in its annual Festival.  That’s as it should be – this blog is about my writings and not about where I live. Nevertheless I would like to urge anyone who lives close enough to come and have a look at this lovely pace and join in our yearly extravaganza – in particular come and join in our literary events.

The Leominster Festival is a much smaller affair than well-known Festivals like Edinburgh Fringe, Hay, or Glastonbury but it has a bit of the flavour of each.  There is music, there are a variety of theatrical events and there is literature. The last is where I have an interest.

We run a writing competition. This year the theme was “Paint the town – with words” as the theme of the whole Festival is “Paint the town”. We don’t have huge prizes but we do have some vary nice certificates for all the shortlisted entrants courtesy of our sponsors, Orphans’ Press (there’s a story there). The entry isn’t large, which is good as there are just three of us doing the judging, and mostly comes from our primary school. We have an Awards Ceremony which I compere.  I am always delighted to find that the children on the shortlist have a wide variety of backgrounds and characters – and as many boys as girls are winners. We have a guest of honour to hand out the certificates. This year it is Anne O’Brien. She is a local author who writes historical fiction based on the lives of the formidable women who were daughters or wives of medieval kings. There are a number of writers that occupy the same genre but Anne is successful – a top ten best selling author no less. We have a short break after the ceremony and then Anne will give her talk – that’s a ticketed event.

On Saturday 10th June we will be holding our Bookfair which this year is part of the Family Funday.  As well as bouncing on the bouncy castle and eating ice creams and watching the various entertainers and the dog show, children can come to our tent and be enthralled by storytelling. Meanwhile, the parents and older children can browse the books by local authors that will be on display and for sale. The authors will be on hand to chat about their work and there will also be discussions on topics such as fantasy fiction, short stories and romance, and writing memoirs.

The Bookfair is an opportunity to sell.  All my books will be on sale and I hope, that just for once, people come with some cash in their pockets.

Bookfair poster

From what I’ve just described, perhaps you can understand why I haven’t done much writing recently. For a couple more weeks I am raiding my box (well, computer file, actually) of discarded stories, but then I will get down to writing: a new Jasmine novella in which she finally resigns from the police force (that’s not really a spoiler because that is where Painted Ladies, the first Jasmine Frame novel, starts), Molly’s Boudoir – the 4th jf novel, and a new project (I do like to have a few things on the go.)  Here, then is this week’s stopgap.  This is a short, light-hearted piece. I can’t remember precisely when I wrote it but it was a task for one of my writing groups. The assignment was to write a short piece for radio.

5 minute theatre –  Mission to Mars

[ theme music]
Presenter:  Welcome to this special edition of the Universe Tonight when we are going live to the USA for an interview with Professor Zarkov of NASA who is leading the team directing the Mars rover Curiouser and Curiouser. Good evening Professor.
Prof.Z (East European accent):  Good afternoon.
Presenter:  Thank you for joining us Professor.  I gather this is a busy time for you.
Prof. Z:  It is.  As you know the rover is currently traversing the Wells crater which has provided us with some interesting results.
Presenter:  What results are those Professor
Prof. Z:  Well, initially we noticed that the floor of the crater is completely flat and only covered with dust.
Presenter: That is unusual?
Prof. Z: Definitely.  Nowhere is completely flat and Martian landscapes usually have rocks and boulders in them.
Presenter:  So what does it mean?
Prof.Z:  We are about to find out.  Curiouser is using its moveable arm to drill into the surface.  We have a sound and vision feed from the rover.  Of course with the time delay we are hearing what happened about fifteen minutes ago.
[sound of metallic screeching]
Presenter:  That’s not a very nice sound, Professor.
Prof.Z:  It is a most unexpected noise.
Presenter:  Why?
Prof.Z:  Because it reveals the surface of the crater is not made of Martian rock at all.
Presenter:  What is it made of then?
Prof.Z: It seems to be…I can’t believe it… the spectroscopic instruments are saying that beneath the dust the surface is a mixture of iron, nickel, chromium.
Presenter: Those are metals.
Prof.Z:  Yes.  It’s stainless steel.
Presenter:  Does that occur naturally.
Prof.Z (getting  heated) : No of course not.  Are you stupid?
Presenter (flustered):  I’m sorry Professor Zarkov.  What is your opinion on this discovery?
Prof.Z:  Well, obviously it shows … good lord.
[Deep sounds of a tray being scraped across a floor]
 Curiouser’s position is changing.
Presenter:  You mean the rover is moving?
Prof.Z:  No, the floor of the crater is moving and carrying the rover with it.  I think I can see… (speaks away from microphone) yes, tell it to move the camera.  Yes, damn it I know it will take half an hour.  The floor of the crater seems to be, um, opening.
Presenter:  You mean the floor is hollow.
Prof.Z : Apparently.  A section some twenty metres in diameter has opened up.  I can just see down inside.  It’s dark but I think something is moving.
Presenter:  You mean there is something alive under the crater.
Prof.Z:  I didn’t say it was alive, you fool.  I just said it was moving.  Hold on. It’s climbing out of the hole.
[sounds of feet shuffling through sand together with other rustling, slurping noises]
Presenter:  This is remarkable Professor.  What is happening?
Prof.Z:  I don’t know.  It’s gone out of the field of view. The Rover is pointing its camera in the wrong direction.  Oh, it’s coming into sight.  Urgh!  It’s disgusting.
Presenter:  What does it look like?
Prof.Z:  It is difficult to describe.  Sort of crab-like, with an insect-like head and octopus-like tentacles.  It’s huge.  Purple goo is dripping from its legs and abdomen and orange smoke is rising from its carapace.  Oh, no, it’s tentacles are reaching towards the rover.  It’s lifting the rover up holding it close to its head.  Those must be eyes
[ booming noise which rises and falls in pitch]
Presenter:  What’s that noise, Professor?
Prof.Z:  It’s coming from the creature.  I think it may be speaking.
[The sound changes to a garbled voice which quickly resolves into English.
Creature:  This planet is an area of special scientific interest.  Fly-tipping is not allowed.  This material will be disposed of sustainably and a fine imposed on the owners.  Our bailiff is empowered to confiscate goods to the value of the fine plus expenses.
[noise of metal being compressed]
Prof.Z: It’s damaging Curiouser.
Presenter: Can’t you stop it? Tell the creature to leave it alone
Prof.Z: Of course not.  The rover wasn’t built to make conversation.  Good heavens, what’s happening now.
Presenter:  What Professor?
Prof.Z:   Something is rising from the crater.  It’s like a rocket except there aren’t any exhaust gases.  It’s rising into the sky. Oh. The camera feed has gone.  Curiouser and Curiouser has been destroyed.
Presenter:  This rocket-thing, Professor.  Where is it going?
Prof.Z:  You heard the creature.  They want to collect the fine.  The Martians are coming here.
[theme music]
The End.
…………………………..

Jasmine recalls

I’m not, I’m really not going to mention that name.  Putting President in front of it makes an oxy-moron that I refuse to write. I am not going to repeat all the reasons why he is unfit to be President. The fact remains that by the system of the USA, stupid though it may be these days, he has been elected, and for the second time this year I felt sick over a vote. I hope that my (and many other people’s) worst fears aren’t realised.

Everyone is asking how it happened. The same as we asked how Brexit happened. There are lots of reasons but it is a bit disingenuous of the people in politics and government and any sort of authority to express their wonder. The fact is that in the USA, UK, and elsewhere in the West conditions have conspired to, to use a crude phrase, piss a lot of people off.  They have seen their jobs disappear, their earnings and savings shrink, public services deteriorate, while those “in charge” appear to get richer and richer. They have got more and more disillusioned and angry and this feeling has been fed by the media (of all sorts). For some reason the people who should notice didn’t, or thought these people didn’t matter.  Even the pollsters have failed time and time again to factor in the under-current of despair and anger. So, I fully understand the unrest bubbling under the surface and why in democracies the discontented masses became a majority (sort of).

What I fail to understand is why so many people put their faith (yes, that’s the right word) in people who are far removed from them and, despite them mouthing the words, cannot possibly share their experiences. These populists pumping up the fear and loathing are rich and have few if any ideals. Here I am including  Txxxx (no I can’t write it), Boris Johnson, Nigel Farrage and the rest of the leading Brexiteers, although I am unsure of the background of the Le Pens and the other rabble-mongers across Europe.

Why have no leaders arisen from the populace as in days gone by? Do you have to have money now to have a voice?

……………………..

I don’t often mention my fantasy novels in this blog but I am delighted to show a new portrait of September Weekes, the heroine of Evil Above the Stars (1, 2 and 3). It’s by my niece-in-law, Katie, and I hope she’ll do some more. Thanks a lot Katie.

katie-ellis-drawing-copy

September discovers the power of the Maengolauseren

©Katie Ellis

 

I am approaching  the end of another September novel; a different setting although it is a sort of continuation. More news soon I hope.

Below we have the second episode of Falloff, a Jasmine Frame prequel novella. The title may seem a bit crude given what happened in episode 1, but it is in fact a photographic term as all the prequel titles (but one) have been.

Falloff: Part 2

James and Angela lay in each other’s arms just covered by the thin cotton sheet. James couldn’t sleep; what he’d seen kept on going through his head.
He whispered to Angela, ‘The girl. I can’t believe that the girl we saw first at the airport Sunday morning is dead.’
Angela answered, as awake as he was. ‘I know. She and her friends seemed to be having a good time. Mind you, I wasn’t really awake enough to take much notice.’
James smiled. He had been the same.
It was the morning after the wedding.  They’d barely had an hour in bed at the hotel where they’d had the ceremony and reception. He’d wondered whether it was a good idea to book a flight early in the morning, and now he was convinced that it hadn’t been; but it was cheap.  The whole honeymoon thing was cheap. Angela’s parents and his own had contributed to the celebrations but the week away was their own responsibility. After just a few months as a police officer following three years at university, James hadn’t built up any savings. Angela’s finances were hardly better despite an earlier start in her accountancy career. Ibiza was inexpensive and they fancied the dancing in the clubs despite the downside of the resorts being filled with young people escaping from their regular lives. Why not, they were young too.
They had arrived in the departure lounge at around seven a.m., bleary-eyed and still feeling the effect of the long day of celebrations. All James wanted to do was sleep but even that was impossible.  The hall was full of people, many a similar age to themselves but there were also families with children under school age and older couples. All were taking advantage of the lower prices before the school holidays began. They did find a pair of seats that proved to be too uncomfortable to sleep in. It was probably just as well as they did not want to miss the call for their flight.
Instead James drowsily watched the other holidaymakers. Most of them seemed very wide awake despite presumably having had early starts to get to the airport for the morning series of charter flights. There was the group of boys and girls who appeared to be just a little younger than their own twenty-two years. They had been in front of them in the baggage drop-off queue They were in good spirit, no doubt aided by the spirits they were imbibing despite the early hour. Were they university students, or young workers or perhaps post-A level students? James couldn’t decide. The girl with the long blonde hair stood out mainly because she was draped around one of the boys, a muscley hunk of a lad. They were hooting and calling to each other, finding lots of mysterious objects for laughter.
The same group of boys and girls were in the queue to go through security, and the passport check. When the call for their flight came, James noted that the blonde girl’s group also made a move and as he suspected they were on the same plane.  He and Angela followed them up the steps and the girl and her guy dropped into a pair of seats together.  Thankfully, the flight was calm and James managed to get the sleep he desired.
They were together with other young people on the connecting coach which delivered them to the Hotel Arena and James wasn’t too surprised that his and Angela’s room was adjacent to the rooms occupied by the girl’s party. They hadn’t seen them again for the rest of the first day. All he and Angela had wanted to do was relax. The week before the wedding had been tense as they struggled to get all the preparations done on time. The wedding itself had been joyous and he had been jealous of Angela in her simple but attractive white dress.  The reception and party after was fun but exhausting: trying to speak to all the guests; knocking back all the drinks that were offered and taking the lead in the disco dancing.
For the rest of the Sunday, James and Angela lounged around the pool and carried out a gentle exploration of the hotel’s neighbourhood.  They had a quiet dinner for two in a small taberna they found in a back street and then headed for an early night, well, early for the Med.
The girl and her group had not been seen at breakfast the following day but James did notice them heading for the beach later in the morning as he and Angela prepared to explore the town. On their return, he had seen boys and girls coming and going from the adjoining rooms so he didn’t know which of them were occupying a particular room.
That evening they planned for their first venture to one of the dance clubs. For James, it was an opportunity to be Jasmine. Together Jasmine and Angela had prepared for the evening, donning similar light, short dresses and colourful make-up. Angela persuaded her that she did not need to wear her long blonde wig which would have been unbearable in the oven-like environment of the dance floor. Jasmine spiked her hair and agreed that it didn’t look any less feminine. They had set off to El Danza arm in arm and met the blonde girl and her friends at the entrance. They had barely glanced at Angela and her partner being far too interested in each other.
The dancing had been fun and exciting. Jasmine relished the feeling of the loose dress swishing over her thighs as she danced. Angela’s enjoyment of dancing with her as a girl and not as a hunky guy added to her feeling of contentment. The experience was not even marred by approached from a few unattached but hopeful boys, dismissed effortlessly by Angela. Nevertheless, Jasmine and Angela left the club while the dancing was at its height. Jasmine wondered whether she could possibly be feeling old already or whether she was just tired from pressure of starting a new job and the marriage. Perhaps it was just the urge to fall into bed together.
Despite all the sightings of the girl and her friends Jasmine hadn’t really taken much interest in them. The more she thought over the last couple of days she could not recall seeing the girl looking upset or depressed. So why had she jumped off the third-floor balcony? If it was an accident, what were the causes? And if not an accident, what did that leave?
The image of the body was clear in James’ mind. Except she hadn’t been just a body when he found her. She was breathing her dying breath. Something didn’t seem right.
‘I remember something about that girl,’ Angela said dreamily.
‘What?’
‘She had fantastic finger nails. She must have spent hours with the varnish.’
James tried to recall seeing her hands. A different image came into his mind. The girl spread out on the lawn, her arms and hand splayed out.
‘They weren’t fantastic after she’d fallen,’ he said, ‘I think the nail on every finger was broken.’
Angela lifted her head from his chest. ‘How did that happen when she fell?’
‘I don’t know. In fact, I think some of her fingertips were quite bloody.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘It means she didn’t have an accident or jump off the balcony. It was murder.’
…………..to be continued.

Jasmine informs the Police

It has been difficult to find time to write this week (I’ve done this week’s episode though, see below) but it’s been a great time. The Leominster Festival events have gone well.  Deborah Moggach was great both in awarding the writing competition certificates and in her talk. The Choral Society rendition of Haydn’s Creation was fun and well-received. The Bookfair went well with more people looking around but it was difficult to make them part with their cash.  A performance by Canadian folk singer, Ian Sherwood, was brilliant.

Relaxing in the sun (yes, sun!) at Hay

Relaxing in the sun (yes, sun!) at Hay

We’ve also been to Hay twice. The first time was to How the Light Gets In. Some interesting talks but the performance by Marry Waterson, folk singer was dull. On Thursday we had an inspiring day at the Hay Lit Fest, in particular a talk about the bid to make the slate quarrying industry of Gwynedd a UNESCO world heritage site. Talks on the sunken cities of the Nile delta and the development of civilisation across Eurasia were also interesting. Finally, performance poet Roger McGough and his band Little Machine were excellent. The band’s musical settings of classic poems was worth hearing alone and Roger’s poems were hilarious or poignant or both.

A few more events in Leominster to get through over the weekend and then we can get back to normal. Normal?

Oh, and by the way, it’s just 3 weeks to Myth & Magic in Mid-Wales. Come and join us (see my SF & Fantasy page for details)

And so to the next episode of Aberration, the prequel to Painted Ladies and Bodies By Design set in the time when Jasmine is about to join the police force.

Aberration – Part 6

James walked back through the town barely paying attention to traffic or noticing passers-by. The conversation with Andrea’s Mum disturbed him. Neither she nor her husband apparently understood the turmoil Andrea/Andy had been going through, confusing her gender uncertainty with sexuality. The relationship with her father concerned James too. He was obviously violent on occasion even if Mrs Pickford insisted that it was never directed towards his daughter. There was nothing in their conversation that persuaded James that Andrea’s death was an unfortunate accident; the circumstances were too suspicious.  But what were the police thinking?
James took himself to the doors of the Police Station. He looked forward to the time, not many months hence when he would be entering this building as a police constable. Now though he felt nervous as he pushed the door open and joined a short queue at the desk.  It was a few minutes before the civilian employee looked up at him.
‘Can I help you?’
‘Yes, please. I have some information concerning the death of Andrea Pickford,’ he said trying to keep his voice level.
‘Death?’ The woman, was confused.
‘Her body was pulled out of the Kennet yesterday,’ James explained.
Understanding dawned, ‘Ah, that one. Are you a member of the family?’
‘No. I’m, er, a friend.’
The woman scribbled on a pad of forms.  ‘Can I have your name, sir?’
‘James Frame. Do you want my address too?’
‘Yes, please, sir, and a phone number.’  James supplied the details. ‘What information do you have, sir?’
‘I’d like to speak to the investigating officer.’
‘I’m not sure they’re available, sir. If you tell me what you want to say, I’ll pass it on.’
James set his face into a frown. ‘I think I need to discuss a murder with a police officer.’
‘Murder?’ her face looked paler.
‘Yes. I am sure Andrea was murdered.’
‘How do you know it was murder, sir?’
‘I’ll tell that to the investigating officer,’ James said, trying to be authoritative.
‘Alright, sir. I’ll see if there is anyone available.’  She got up and went to the back of the office. James watched her pick up a phone and speak inaudibly. She turned to glance at him a couple of times then put the phone down and returned to face James.  ‘Take a seat, please, sir. Someone will be down shortly.’
James thanked her as politely as he was able, which wasn’t much. It seemed that they had Andrea’s death down as an accident and his intervention might have stirred things up. He had just sat in one of the fixed seats at the side of the room when the door to the inner station opened and a man in a dark grey suit and red hair emerged. James thought that he didn’t look much older than himself but a couple of inches taller. He looked straight at James and still holding the door open spoke in a gentle, southern accent.
‘Mr Frame?’  James nodded and rose. ‘Come with me please.’
James stepped through the heavy door which closed behind them with a clunk of locks operating. He followed the young man down a corridor and through another door, that was held open for him, into a small interview room.
‘Take a seat please, Mr Frame. I’m Detective Constable Vickers.’ He pointed to a chair at a table. James lowered himself into the chair, sitting upright.  ‘Now, I’m told you have some information about the circumstances surrounding the death of Andrea Pickford.’
James took a deep breath. ‘Yes. I think she was murdered.’
DC Vickers eyebrows rose a few millimetres. ‘What evidence do you have for that statement. Were you with her when she died?’
‘No, I haven’t got any concrete evidence, but there was no reason for Andrea to be near the Kennet after work, and she wouldn’t have been wearing a mini-skirt. Not if it was her choice anyway.’
Vickers shrugged. ‘How do you know she was wearing a mini-skirt?’
‘Her mother said that you asked her if she recognised the clothes Andrea was wearing when she was pulled out of the water and they included a mini-skirt, a lace bra and a crop top.’
The DC nodded imperceptibly. ‘You’ve spoken to Mrs Pickford?’
‘Yes. I’ve just come from her house.’
‘Did you tell her your theory?’
‘No. I didn’t want to upset her any more than she is already.’
‘Why are you so sure that Miss Pickford was murdered?’
‘They weren’t Andrea’s clothes. Her mother said so. I know Andrea would never wear such stuff.’
‘You know her well? Are you in a relationship with her?’
‘No. I haven’t known her long and I’m certainly not her boyfriend.’
‘Because she was a lesbian. That’s what her father said she was.’
‘No. Because she was a trans-man.’
‘A what?’
James sighed. He’d have to explain it all. How much would that reveal about himself? ‘Andrea was a transsexual. She believed she was a man. He called himself Andy.’
‘I thought guys that wanted to be women were transsexuals?’
‘It happens the other way too,’ James said feeling depressed. It was 2004 and the Gender Recognition Act had been passed yet people like this young detective were still ignorant about the transgendered.
DC Vickers’s face showed confusion. ‘Did his, um, her parents know about this?’
James shook his head. ‘No. Andy was afraid to tell them because she was worried about her father’s reaction. He gets angry. I think he hits his wife. Andy kept his feelings secret from his parents letting them think he was gay, that is, that she was a lesbian.’
‘But she told you. Why?’
‘We met outside work when he was Andy trying to be as masculine as he could. He wanted to transition but couldn’t break it to his parents or afford to move out and get all the treatment.’
‘Er, treatment?’
‘Hormones, mastectomy, hysterectomy, phalloplasty.’
Most of the words passed the young officer by but he reacted to one. ‘You mean she wanted to have her breasts cut off?’
‘Yes. That’s usually the first stage for F to Ms.’
‘She wanted that?’
‘He did. Andy was a bloke inside. He played an act to his family and the people he worked with but he would never have dressed like a sexy girl. It revolted him.’
Vickers was shocked. ‘What do you think happened?’
‘I don’t know. Someone made Andy wear that stuff, killed him and dumped his body in the river.’
Vickers shook his head. ‘No, she definitely drowned. There were no marks on her body that suggested an attack. She’d drunk a fair amount of alcohol though, and had sex.’ He smacked a hand against his forehead. ‘Oh, god. I shouldn’t have said all that. Sloane will kill me.’
‘Sloane?’
‘The DCI. This is my first case. Just a simple case of accidental death he said. Prepare the evidence for the coroner.’
James shook his head. ‘Well, it’s not. You need to find out who got Andy drunk put him in those clothes, had sex with him, against his will I’d guess, and then pushed him in the river.’
The young detective looked bemused. His face was covered in a slick of sweat. ‘Look, don’t tell anyone that I let out those details.’
James shook his head. ‘No, I won’t but don’t you think I should make a statement.’
‘Um, yes. Sit still for a moment. I’ll be back.’ DC Vickers got up and hurried from the interview room. James remained sitting, still wondering if Vickers or the other officers, perhaps even this DCI Sloane, would believe him.  It was five minutes before Vickers returned. He looked as though he had regained his composure.  He placed a pad of paper on the table and sat down.
‘Okay. Let’s get this down.’

An hour passed before James at last left the police station. He’d set out what he knew about Andy and managed to do it without mentioning Jasmine. Vickers hadn’t thought to probe him on how he met up with Andy. James glanced at his watch. He didn’t have much time to get home, grab something to eat and get out to work. He hoped he had left Vickers and his fellow officers reassessing the case. They only had his word that Andrea was really Andy inside but surely the evidence from Mr and Mrs Pickford, backed it up. The task now was to identify the killers and James had no clues to go on.

………………………

Jasmine has questions

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.IMGP3706

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 evilabovethestars@btinternet.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.’

Unity of Seven, cover design by Alison Buck

Unity of Seven, cover design by Alison Buck

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.
‘Why?’
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.’
‘Yes.’
‘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?’
‘Appearance?’
‘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’
‘Shoes?’
‘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?’
‘No.’
‘Did you meet her afterwards.’
‘No.’
‘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.
‘Why?’
‘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.’
‘How?’
‘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?’
‘That’s right.’
‘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?

…………………………

Jasmine questions Milla’s partner

Layout 1There have been two things that have lifted me this week and will encourage me to go on writing and publishing (I hope that prospect doesn’t terrify you too much). The first was a good review of Bodies By Design on the Eurocrime website. Go to my Jasmine Frame publications page for the link.

Seventh Child cover, designed by Alison Buck

Seventh Child cover, designed by Alison Buck

The second item was the news that the first volume of my fantasy series, Seventh Child, is a finalist in the Wishing Shelf awards (for teenage fiction). There’s more about that on my SF&F page.

 

 

With that news out of the way, here is the next episode in the Jasmine Frame prequel, Resolution. After the climax last week, we’re onto the other strand of the story here.

 

 

Resolution: Part 7

Jasmine yawned as she pulled up outside the smart, recently-built, detached house. It was still mid-morning and the little red Fiesta had made a good job of swallowing up the miles between Reading and Birmingham. Nevertheless, it had been a fairly early start after a late arrival back home. Despite what DS Trewin had hoped it took some time to charge Michelle Greaves and put her into custody. Only then could they begin the drive back to Kintbridge from Sheffield. They had been elated at their success in getting a confession from Greaves but James had felt exhausted when he finally joined Angela in their bed.
She checked her make-up in the vanity mirror and got out of the car, smoothing the cotton skirt down her thighs and making sure that the plain white vest covered her bra. It was turning into a hot day and she was pleased that she had dressed appropriately. The blonde wig was feeling a bit warm though. She recalled Milla Sparrow saying she could pass as a woman even with her short fair hair but Jasmine felt more confident with the disguise the wig provided. She brushed hairs from her face, locked the car, tossed her bag over her shoulder and advanced up the driveway to the front door.
The door opened before she got to it. Jasmine was a little surprised to see that Tania Portman looked older than she expected. She was in her late thirties, a few years older than Milla, and had short, dark hair and tired eyes.
‘I saw the car pull up and guessed it must be you. Jasmine Frame?’ Tania said, pulling the door wide and holding her hand out.
Jasmine extended her hand. Tania took it and shook it gently.
‘Thank you Tania. I hope I’m not too early,’ Jasmine said, stepping into the bright hallway. Tania gazed at the road and then closed the door.
‘No. I’ve finished breakfast and all that. On Milla’s days off, we used to hang around in bed for ages. Not that she had days off very often. Now though I just want to get up and get on. Come on through. Coffee?’
‘Yes, please.’  Jasmine followed Tania into the spacious and well-equipped kitchen. ‘You’ve got a lovely place here.’ Jasmine was comparing the house with the one she and Angela were purchasing in Kintbridge. Though she was delighted with their move into their own property it was small and cramped in comparison to this.
Tania looked around as if seeing her surroundings for the first time. ‘Yes, I suppose it is. It was meant to be a fresh start for Milla and me. Our own place, decorated how we liked; and of course we could afford a better place up here than in Kintbridge.’
‘House prices down there are pretty ridiculous,’ Jasmine agreed, wondering when the inconsequential talk would be finished.
‘But now. . .’ Tania went on, ‘It doesn’t feel right. It wasn’t meant to be just for me.’
‘You miss Milla?’ What a stupid thing to ask, Jasmine thought. Of course she misses her partner and lover.
Tania gave her a polite smile and busied herself with making the coffee. Although the question needed no answer she did respond. ‘I miss her terribly. She was the one person who I could talk about anything to and her to me. We both lead busy lives of course and police work meant a lot to her but at the end of the day, or most days, we ended up curled up together on the sofa or in bed just enjoying being in each other’s lives.’  Tania filled a mug from a coffeemaker. ‘Black or white?’
‘Black please,’ Jasmine took the mug from her and Tania proceeded to pour another.
‘Her death must have been a great shock.’ Oh, not another silly, obvious statement, Jasmine remonstrated with herself. Why was it so difficult to talk about death sensibly? She could do it when the death meant nothing to her personally, but here . . . well, she felt bound by convention.
Tania put a splash of milk in her mug and grunted. ‘I still can’t believe it’s happened. It’s over a month now but I still I expect her to walk through the door at the end of a long day and just call out “Hi”.’
Tania lead Jasmine into a lounge, sparsely furnished with a big, soft sofa and a thick, furry rug over wood flooring. ‘It all happened so soon after we’d moved up here that we hadn’t even finished unpacking or buying stuff. I don’t feel like doing either now.’
They sat next to each other on the sofa. Jasmine carefully crossed her bare legs. Tania slumped with her jean-clad legs stretched out in front of her.  Tania examined Jasmine over the rim of her steaming mug.
‘So, you’re James Frame to the police force, but Jasmine the rest of the time?’
Jasmine nodded. ‘That’s about it.’
‘None of your colleagues know about Jasmine?’
‘No. Milla was the first and only one. Did she tell you how she got to know?’
‘Yes,’ Tania said, ‘She didn’t talk about all her cases, couldn’t a lot of the time, but I remember clearly when she came home and talked about meeting you first as James then how you became Jasmine to deal with those drug deaths.’
Jasmine smiled at the memory. ‘She was great. It made sense to be in my femme mode because so many of the people involved in the case were trans in one way or another but she really worked hard to keep my secret from the guys in the force.’
‘And now you’re a detective yourself.’
Jasmine grinned. ‘Yes. It’s what I wanted to do and I think I can thank Milla for helping me to get the posting.’
‘She did say that she thought you’d make a good detective. Do you think you’ll tell DCI Sloane about Jasmine?’
Jasmine shivered despite the warmth. The thought of revealing herself to the stern, old-time-copper was horrific.
‘I don’t think so.’
‘So you’re happy with the double-life.’
Am I, Jasmine wondered. It was a question she avoided asking herself as the wrong answer created all sorts of other questions about work and her life with Angela.
‘Yes,’ she said hoping that uncertainty didn’t show in her voice.
‘But you’re married?’ Tania went on.
‘Yes. Angela has known about Jasmine from the time we first met. She met Jasmine before James actually. She’s very relaxed about me being both male and female.’  Is she really? Jasmine wasn’t certain about that either. What would Angela do if she decided to transition to the woman she almost certainly felt herself to be? Surely she wouldn’t be as obstructive as Michelle Greaves’ wife.
‘Milla was unsure about coming out at work but once we started living together it became silly not to,’ Tania said.
‘Did she have any problems?’
Tania shook her head. ‘Not really. One or two male officers looked at her in a leery sort of way, so she said, but the police force today is pretty careful about getting diversity right. I’m sure you’d have no problem if you decided to become Jasmine full-time.’
Jasmine nodded and sipped her coffee.
‘But you didn’t come here to hear my opinions on your prospects in the police service,’ Tania said.
‘Um, no.’ Jasmine had been waiting for the chance to get on to DS Sparrow’s death and it seemed Tania was making the move.
‘You want to know what happened to Milla.’
‘Yes, if you don’t mind talking about it.’
‘I don’t. Perhaps talking about her will get it out of my head and stop it going round and round with me wondering if there was anything I could have done.’ Tania paused and looked faraway for a moment. Her eyes focussed again. ‘How much do you know?’
Jasmine shook her head. ‘Not a lot. A few comments from people but that’s all. Why don’t you tell me all that you know?’
Tania took a mouthful of coffee, swallowed and thought. She took a big breath. ‘We hadn’t had time to get settled in. It was just a week after Milla started work here. I’d already been here a few weeks in my job, getting the house liveable. Of course as soon as Milla started she was up to her eyes in work but that day she got home at a similar time to me, about six. We decided to go out for something to eat. There hadn’t been a chance to find decent places but the local pub looked pretty okay so we thought we’d give it a try.’
‘Pub?’ Jasmine interrupted.
‘The Shakespeare. On the main road. Less than half a mile.’ Tania pointed out of the front window in no particular direction. ‘We walked there, had a fairly reasonable meal and a bottle of wine. It was pretty busy as it was a good summer’s evening, but we felt comfortable. It was just getting dark as we wandered home, arm in arm.’ She paused and Jasmine saw cracks appear in her face. ‘It happened so fast. I didn’t see everything that I could have done, should have done.’ Her voice croaked.
‘Take your time, Tania. I don’t want to upset you.’ Jasmine shuffled along the sofa and took Tania’s hand in hers.
‘The car just appeared, coming towards us, fast. It hit the kerb then just flew at us. Milla shoved me out of the way. I fell on the pavement and the car shot by. I heard a thump which I realised later was the car hitting Milla. Then it stopped, reversed and drove off. They went over Milla twice. I was dazed and sore, I’d banged my knee. I felt sorry for myself, then I saw her lying there, blood all over the place. I crawled to her. I wouldn’t have recognised her except for her yellow skirt. She was already . . .’ The tears had been building for a while but now they came, flowing freely down Tania’s cheeks. Jasmine put her arm around the older woman’s shoulders and pulled her to her. Tania sobbed on Jasmine’s false breasts. ‘She saved me but couldn’t save herself.’
……………

Jasmine in a fix

Watched the programme of Michael Portillo’s railway journey through Israel the other day. It wasn’t just a light historical travelogue. He laboured the point that the three religions that have squabbled over the region, Judaism, Christianity and Islam share a considerable amount of theology, scripture and sacred places and so should get on. What he didn’t reflect on is that it’s the minute diffrences that cause the conflicts and that it isn’t really just three religions as each is riven by factions squabbling over the “true vision”. What would it take for all peoples to live peacably together – I don’t know. Perhaps it is an impossible vision.

keeping up to date

keeping up to date

Anyway to my writing.

With this post I reach the final episode of Discovering Jasmine, the earliest prequel to Painted Ladies. There have now been four prequels all together, the others being Blueprint, Self-portraits (previosuly The Switch) and Close-up focussing on various periods in Jasmine’s evolution and transition from James to the transsexual detective she is in the novels. My main aim is to keep writing the sequel novels and Bodies By Design will be available in some form in the not too distant future. The third novel is also in preparation. So there is plenty of life in Jasmine Frame. I’ll be starting another prequel novella sometime soon, but here it is – the last part of Discovering Jasmine.

Discovering Jasmine – Part 12

Flames bloomed on the end of the stick like a fiery candyfloss. Jasmine was already launching herself across the foyer as Stash thrust the burning cloth through the broken letterbox of Cleo’s flat. She thudded into Stash’s legs as flames roared out of the hole accompanied by a whump!
They sprawled across the floor of the foyer towards the entrance. Jasmine’s skirt was around her waist and one of the bags spilled out of her bra, burst and shed grains of rice. She held on tightly to Stash’s legs trying desperately to prevent him from moving. Stash wriggled, flexed his knees, thrust against her. He was bigger, stronger than she was. One foot slipped out of her grasp. He kicked and his trainer slammed in to Jasmine’s shoulder. Her grip on his other leg weakened. He was free and on top of her, sitting astride her, one hand on her throat, the other holding something. What? It glinted in the yellow light of the flames flickering out of the door. The knife!
Heavy leather shoes pounded on the vinyl floor. In the corner of her eye Jasmine saw the bottom of two pairs of dark-trousered legs approach but her focus was on the silver blade hovering a few centimetres from her face.
‘Come closer and she gets it,’ Stash growled. The legs stopped moving.
A deep voice spoke. ‘Let her go lad. You know you’re not going anywhere.’
‘Get back I said. I mean it.’ The blade approached her cheek. The legs receded.
Stash’s head lowered and Jasmine saw him examining her.
‘You’re the cunt who got in the way last night. Another fucking tranny.’
Jasmine didn’t reply and held still although her heart was thumping and all the muscles in her body were trembling with fear. The point of the knife moved down to the side of her neck and pressed against her skin. She dare not move in case the blade penetrated. As if in a distance she heard the crackling of fire and cries. The acrid smell of smoke oozed out of gaps around the door.
Stash leaned closer. ‘We’re going to get out of here, you and me,’ he whispered in her ear. ‘You’re going to do as I say. Now stand up!’ Stash shifted his weight off her. His fingers pressed into her throat so that her breath came in strangled gasps. Cold steel touched her neck. The point wobbled. There was a sharp pain as the tip penetrated. Jasmine felt blood trickle down around her neck.
The knife moved away a little as Stash rose onto his feet. Jasmine pushed her hands against the floor to help her keep her balance and take the pressure off her throat which he maintained a grip on. They were both on their feet and Stash shifted to stand behind her his left arm locked around her neck and the stubby knife in his right hand pressed against a spot below her right ear.
Two policeman stood three metres away just inside the main entrance. They were poised ready to leap forward but there was fear in their eyes. Fear for her. Stash shuffled backwards, dragging Jasmine with him. One small step, two.
A crunch of something hard hitting bone. A groan, Stash’s not hers, and they were falling sideways, Jasmine dragged down by Stash’s arm. The point of the blade scratched her neck. They hit the floor; the knife slipped from Stash’s hand; the arm around her loosened. She rolled free, lay still, gasping for breath, pain in her neck, blood dripping. There were arms on her turning her over. She couldn’t see. Everything was confused.
‘That was risky, Ma’am. He had a knife to her throat,’ the male voice.
‘I had to do something. She’s not hurt is she?’ Bartrum’s.
‘There’s blood. It could be serious. We’d better get them out before this whole place goes up.’ The bass voice again.
Jasmine felt arms pushing under her body, lifting her. She realised her eyes were closed. It took an effort to open them. A burly, bearded police officer was holding her in his arms, lurching towards the entrance. They were out in the cool air; air that had been fresh but was now tainted by smoke. Her rescuer staggered up the path to the road. There was shouting, sirens, people, lots of people, milling around. At the edge of her vision there was flickering orange, yellow, red.
The policeman laid her on the road, knelt down beside her.
‘Are you okay, Miss.’
Jasmine considered. Her shoulder ached but she could breathe normally again. Her limbs felt weak but they were under her control. Her heart beat was slowing.
‘Yes,’ she croaked, her mouth dry.
A torch shone in her face. ‘Let’s check your neck. I think it looks worse than it is. There’s blood but I don’t think he caught your artery.’
There were other people around her, looking down, faces anxious. DC Bartrum was there. She leaned closer.
‘Jasmine. Are you alight?’
Jasmine pushed her hands against the tarmac, trying to sit up.
‘No, don’t move,’ Bartrum said, ‘The cut might tear. The paramedics will be here in a moment. They’ll wash the blood away, see how deep the cut is.’
‘Cleo?’ Jasmine said.
‘She’s okay. We got her out of the window. The fire’s taken hold.’
‘Stash?’
‘We’ve got him.’
‘You hit him.’
‘She clobbered him with a length of two by four,’ the deep-voiced police officer said. ‘Knocked him out cold. Took a risk though. The knife could have slit your throat.’
‘I had to do something,’ Bartrum said, ‘it looked like he was going to kill you if he couldn’t get away.’
‘Thanks,’ Jasmine said. There was movement near her. A bag was placed beside her and a different coloured uniform knelt to peer at her.
‘Hello, Miss. How do you feel?’ the paramedic said. His face came close to hers, a light shining from his forehead.
‘Okay,’ she replied and decided it was true. Her breathing was back to normal and while her shoulder and neck felt a bit sore she couldn’t identify any major pains.
‘I’ll just clean you up a bit.’ He dabbed gently at her neck with something cool and damp. ‘Ah, there’s some bruising and a couple of superficial cuts, but the bleeding has almost stopped. A plaster will fix you up, Miss.’ He rummaged in his bag for a few moments then placed a sticking plaster on her neck. She felt it more than the cuts. ‘You had a lucky escape,’ the paramedic went on, ‘a little bit deeper and lower and your carotid artery would have been severed. Take care of yourself.’ He moved away from her. ‘Where’s the next casualty?’
‘Over here. He’s unconscious,’ another voice said.
She had no reason for lying still anymore and the surface of the road was rather hard. Jasmine sat up. DC Bartrum was crouching beside her.
‘Can I help you up?’ she said offering her arms.
Jasmine grasped Bartrum’s hand and levered herself on to her feet. ‘Thanks.’ A wave of nausea passed through her and then she was standing straight and feeling almost normal. She brushed her skirt down her thighs, noticed that she had only one boob again and looked around. Flames were shooting out of the windows of Cleo’s flat making a bright contrast with the darkening sky. People had moved back to the far side of the road, the gang corralled behind a circle of police officers. A fire engine arrived, siren blaring and fire officers leapt out. The paramedic was at work on the prone form of Stash who also lay in the road. Approaching her from the other side of the road was Cleo accompanied by a female police officer. Cleo was wearing a lacy white minidress covered in dark smudges.
‘Jasmine?’ the question was tentative.
‘Yes, it’s me, Cleo. Jasmine/James.’
‘They told me it was you that told the police that they were going to petrol bomb me.’
‘Yes. I didn’t want you hurt. Are you okay?’
Cleo waved her hands. ‘Yeah, I was out of the window as soon the fire started and the cops appeared.’
‘I’m sorry about your flat.’
‘It wasn’t up to much. The housing association will have to find me a decent place now.’
‘But your clothes and other stuff?’
‘Charity shop gear. I can soon pick up some more.’
‘I thought the police would have stopped it happening.’
‘We had to catch Wright and his gang in the act,’ Bartrum said, ‘but we didn’t mean for him to actually torch the place.’
‘He should have been apprehended with the petrol can and lighter.’ Jasmine recognised the angry Scottish tones of DI MacNeil as he joined the trio. He wore an anti-stab jacket over his casual shirt and trousers. ‘And you were supposed to remain well away from the action with DC Bartrum,’ he continued.
‘I worked out how he planned to get inside the building,’ Jasmine said.
‘You should have told Bartrum who would have called through to warn us.’ It was obvious to Jasmine that she wasn’t being congratulated. Not that she felt like a hero.
‘Uh, Yes…’ She put a hand to her neck, feeling the sticking plaster. She trembled. Stash could have just slit her throat rather than attempt to use her as a hostage. Cleo could have been trapped in the smoke filled flat. Perhaps if she had spoken to Bartrum and she had alerted the police team they could have stopped Stash before he ignited the petrol. She had endangered herself, Cleo and possibly the police officers. What an idiot. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said, her voice quavering.
The scowl slid from MacNeil’s face and he spoke more soothingly.
‘Well, we can lay a few more charges in front of Wright, when he’s recovered from the headache Bartrum gave him, and the whole gang will face a conspiracy charge. So, thanks for your help.’ He held out his hand to shake Jasmine’s.
‘Yeah, thanks, Jasmine,’ Cleo added, flinging her beefy arms around her and hugging her.
‘I’d better get you back home, Jasmine,’ DC Bartrum said, ‘while we clear up here. Come on.’ She hooked an arm around Jasmine’s and gently dragged her away from the scene.

Back in the small Rover, driving across town, Bartrum glanced across at Jasmine.
‘You okay?’
Jasmine had been sitting quietly. ‘Yes,’ she said, but a vision of the knife sliding into her throat kept on replaying in her head. She didn’t think she’d ever forget it.
‘Still thinking about a career in the Police Force?’
‘Perhaps.’
‘You reacted fast back there,’ Bartrum said. ‘Perhaps not the right action but with training you could be a good officer. Think about it.’
…………………..

Painted Ladies: A Jasmine Frame Story is available as an e-book and paperback from all booksellers including Amazon

Painted Ladies front cover jpeg