Jasmine decides

As I said last time, I spent last weekend at the Nine Worlds convention (or “geek fest” the organisers call it) in Hammersmith, London.  I enjoyed myself chairing a Q&A session 9Worldswith John Gribbin and Zoe Sutra who were launching their books, published by Elsewhen.  I attended a number of other sessions, some better than others, the highlight being a talk on how to build a spaceship that generated quite a few ideas (and arguments). There were lots of people in costume, most of whom meant nothing to me but they impressed me with their dedication and handiwork. Perhaps most noticeably, both in the convention programme and simply looking around was the emphasis on diversity.  This showed up in a variety of ways – there were as many women as men of all ages, there were a variety of ethnicities represented, there were people with disabilities, and most important for me, there were a good number of non-binary people.  It was an opportunity for everyone to be whoever they wanted to be, whether it was Princess Leia, a fairy, or someone proud to be neither overtly male or female.  I’m looking forward to next year.

Next up is the UK Indy Lit Fest in Bradford on 26th August.  There will be over forty authors like me there, with books to sell either self-published or published by small independent publishers. I really do hope that there will also be plenty of people looking around, browsing and buying books. If you are going, you can pre-order my books by completing this form.

UK Indie fest banner

My latest Elsewhen book, Cold Fire, is now available as an e-book on all platforms.  The paperback will be available soon – watch this space as they say.

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And so to Jasmine Frame’s latest adventure in Viewpoint. Here is episode 9.

Viewpoint: Part 9

The pale autumn sun hung over the canal, glinting off the murky water. Jasmine’s feet pounded the towpath. It had stopped raining and the air had a freshness to it. She was running to dispel the frustration and anger and also to overcome the feelings left by yesterday’s jog with its macabre conclusion. Another unexpected wade through the cold water was not on her list of desirables. She was approaching the bypass bridge and there, underneath the roadway, was Harold’s old boat and Harold himself stroking a paintbrush along its multi-coloured wooden superstructure. His wiry haired dog of no identifiable breed sat patiently beside him watching as he worked.
Jasmine slowed to a stop when she drew level with the old boatman. The dog approached her and lowered its head to sniff her running shoes. Harold turned and spoke to her in his Yorkshire accent.
‘Hello again lassy. Don’t often see tha at this time of day.’
Although Jasmine had occasionally stopped to chat she was surprised that Harold was familiar with her routine of early morning or evening runs.
‘I needed to get out. I finished early today,’ she said.
‘Ah well, no doubt you think it does tha some good.’
‘Running lets me think,’ Jasmine said.
‘Well now, a gentle walk with Robbie here before closing up for t’night does that for me,’ Harold said.
‘Which way do you usually go?’
Harold nodded to the setting sun, ‘Away from the town, lass.’
‘As far as Renham lock?’
Harold looked into her eyes. ‘That I do. Give Robbie a chance to do his business and nose around after rabbits. You’ve a ken for what I saw a couple of nights ago.’
Jasmine’s stomach churned. What had he seen? ‘Tuesday night, yes. Did you see anything, er, unusual?’
‘Now what does tha mean by unusual? I saw three fellas up at the lock dropping stuff in the water. Tha’s not so unusual. Plenty of them fly-tippers thinking that the canal makes a useful rubbish dump.’
‘Did you see what it was?’
‘No, but it was quite a weight. Took two of them to heave it off the bank. I reckoned it was a dead sheep or summat.’
‘You know a body was found there yesterday morning.’
He nodded. ‘Aye, and it was thou what found it, weren’t it? I saw you run past, earlyish, and didna see you come back. Then there wus all them sirens. I wandered up to have a look but when I saw the coppers I turned back. Some other dog walkers said what was happening and I put two and two together.’
Jasmine shivered at the memory of the cold water. ‘I saw the body in the water. It had come back to the surface. I went in and dragged it out. Did the police officers come to speak to you?’
‘Na. Why would they trouble themselves to walk all the way down here to hear what I had to say?’
It should have been Terry and Derek who’d been asking questions but they had focussed on the possibility of eyewitnesses on the track from the road. Unless you knew the canal, like she did, you wouldn’t know that there were people like Harold on it at all times of the year.
‘Could you describe the men, Harold?’
Harold sniffed. ‘It was nigh on dark. They wuz shadows more than anything, but definitely three fellas, one of them small and he had a limp.’
Jasmine was excited. Riley? With Taylor and someone else perhaps?
‘What about their vehicle, Harold? Did you see that?’
‘Like I say, it was dark. I couldn’t get a number.’
‘No, I understand. But the type of vehicle?’
‘Oh, it was one of them old Land Rovers, short wheelbase, pick-up.’ He had described Taylor’s Land Rover. Of course, there were plenty of them around, but it confirmed her suspicions well enough for her. Harold’s observations could be vital evidence.
She asked him a question. ‘You’ve moored here a while, haven’t you?’
Harold nodded, ‘For as long as the Board will leave me be. No doubt they’ll be along in a day or two to move me along a bit.’
‘You’ll still be on the canal though?’
‘Oh, aye. I only move as far as I have to. Perhaps a couple of miles the other side of Kintbridge or back towards Thirsbury.’
‘I’ll be able to find you again, then.’
‘Tha might have to run a bit further lass.’
‘No problem.’ She turned to face back into the town.
‘Not going on this time then?’ Harold asked.
‘No, there’s work to do,’ Jasmine said, taking her first stride.

On her return to her flat, Jasmine undressed. She replaced the brightly coloured vest, shorts and shoes with black tights, a short black skirt, black polo neck and black ankle boots. She glanced out of the window. The sky was darkening but it wasn’t yet fully night-time. Not time yet. She toasted some bread and spread it with peanut butter. As she munched on it she felt excitement. Denise Palmerston would be furious if she knew what she planned, but that, sort of, made Jasmine more determined to follow through with her plan.
Harold’s information confirmed for her that Taylor and Riley were responsible for Alfie’s death. She was sure they had held him before he had died, either at the farm or at the park home site. She was going to look at the latter first. Tom had said that Riley’s hut was small but there were plenty of others on the site. Embarking on a search alone was against her instructions and contrary to police protocol, but she felt she was on her own now. If Palmerston wasn’t going to take Alfie’s death seriously then it was up to her.
It was dark now and the evening rush hour would have died down. After putting on her dark puffer jacket and black leather gloves she left the flat, checked that she had a torch, with batteries, in the glove compartment of the Fiesta and set off. Retracing her journey the previous evening, she drove to the edge of town and turned along the lane past the park homes. She drove on a couple of hundred yards and pulled off the road on to a suitable verge. She locked the car, dropped the keys into the pocket of her jacket and set off back up the road gripping her torch.
Before she reached the entrance to the park she climbed over a gate into a ploughed field and walked alongside the hedge that bordered the site. At the corner, there was a wooden gate. It was locked but Jasmine quickly clambered over it and dropped into knee-high grass. The shadows of the huts loomed against the night sky with the glow of the town beyond.
She crept to the nearest cabin. The grass was trimmed neatly around it and there were pots of shrubs either side of the front door. Jasmine moved onto the second. This too looked cared for and occupied. She continued along the well-spaced row until she came to the hut closest to the far hedge. This one was smaller than the others and the long grass grew up above the columns of breeze blocks that supported the floor of the hut. Jasmine crawled around the hut not daring to use her torch but feeling the ground. The grass was beaten down in front of the doorway and in two narrow strips. A vehicle had parked here not many days ago.
Jasmine approached the hut, raising her head to peer through the dirty windows. There was nothing to see as curtains covered the windows. She pressed her ear to the window and listened. No sounds from inside. Surely the hut was unoccupied. She moved to the front door, tested the handle. It was locked. That wasn’t surprising but perhaps she would have some luck round the back of the hut. Her reward was finding a small window open an inch or two. She inserted her hand through the gap and was able to lift the latch. The window swung open. It was a small gap but with her slim figure she could wriggle through. She entered head first, groping with her hands for the floor to support herself before she tumbled in.
She folded herself into a crouch and waited. There was no sound. The hut was empty. As she suspected, she was in a bathroom; a none too clean bathroom. There was the stink of mould, urine and faeces. She took her torch from her pocket and turned it on. The light revealed a grubby wash basin, loo and bath. Were the stains merely dirt or blood? They looked suspiciously like the latter to Jasmine.
She pushed on the door and it swung open. A scan with the torch showed a small bedsitting room with an old, iron-framed single bed against one wall with a bare mattress. There was a threadbare rug covering part of the rough wood floor, a small dining table and chairs and no other furniture at all. In one corner was a sink unit and old gas cooker. Jasmine could hardly imagine living here and she wondered whether in fact anyone did, voluntarily. She crossed to the bed and shone the torch on the head and foot. There were cords looped around the rails at the four corners, with loose, cut ends. Someone had been tied down, hand and foot, spread-eagled. Had it been Alfie? She was looking closely at the stains on the mattress when the front door creaked open.
Jasmine spun around, her heart thudding, her legs ready to run. But there was no escape. Two figures filled the doorway: a short man and one that was taller. The light bulb hanging from the centre of the ceiling flicked on giving out a dim, yellow light.
‘What the ‘ell?’ The shorter man said in a distinct Irish accent.

……………………….to be continued.

 

 

 

 

Jasmine follows a hunch

So Jeremy Corbyn supports self-identification for transgender people. He says the Labour Party would support a Bill to modify the Gender Recognition Act to remove the requirement for medical tests as part of gender reassignment. May’s government says it is considering the change but has not committed to making it.  (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jul/19/let-trans-people-self-identify-gender-corbyn-urges-may)

What would it mean?

The most important effect would be the demedicalisation of gender identity.  Like sexuality, it would become a personal matter.  Changing gender would be as easy as changing your name.  Once upon a time being gay was not only a crime but a medical condition which some doctors thought could be treated.  Now, while identifying as something other than your birth gender is not a crime, transitioning to the gender you identify with does involve jumping through various medical hoops including proving that your mental health is good enough to make the decision.  Already, the GRA allows transgender people to transition without undergoing surgery or hormone treatment but insists on a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. The proposed change would allow the individual to make the decision on their own, by right.

Self-identification could have wider beneficial effects. If gender is no longer seen as a medical issue then it could accelerate the breakdown of gender barriers and improve gender equality. Why demand a statement of gender to open a bank account, store account et al, if gender can be changed by personal decision?  Why demand to know someone’s gender when they apply for a job hence bringing all sorts of bias into play?  With many modern names gender neutral, a person’s character will be at the forefront not their gender.

I hope any changes to the law will not perpetuate gender stereotypes by insisting that a person declare themselves permanently male or female.  If gender identity is demedicalised then it must become possible to declare that one has no gender, both or a mix. That would please me a lot.  Let’s hope Corbyn and the Labour Party stick to their word and the Tory government (backed by the DUP) are not persuaded by the reactionary elements in their ranks.

……………………………………

cover mediumYou might have seen my news elsewhere that the cover of my new fantasy/speculative fiction novel, Cold Fire, has been revealed by Elsewhen Press.  The e-book will be available in August and the paperback in October.  It is a September Weekes story involving Welsh myth, C17th science, and my own vision of fantastic creatures.  I love the cover and the interpretation of the creature – it’s red, flies and spits fire, so what is it?

 

 

 

 

 

Back to Jasmine Frame in Viewpoint, the prequel to Painted Ladies.  Jasmine is investigating the death of a transman.

Viewpoint: Part 6

Hazel shook her head slowly and shrugged. ‘I don’t know. Alfie missed an appointment once before we saw him for the last time in October last year. I remember him being depressed and uncommunicative. We did get out of him that he was struggling to get by – no job, limited benefits, few friends in Weymouth.’
‘And getting nowhere with his transition,’ Jasmine added.
The nurse nodded. ‘That’s right. We couldn’t recommend him for medication and surgery in the state he was in. I worried if he was becoming suicidal.’
Jasmine flinched. She hadn’t considered suicide. Was she mistaken? No, she was almost certain Alfie hadn’t killed himself.
‘I’ve been assuming he was murdered,’ she said, ‘His body looked as though it had been dumped in the canal.’
Hazel looked grim. ‘Well, I can’t say what has happened to him in the last year. He didn’t come to his appointment; he hasn’t replied to emails and the last letter we sent was returned to us as “unknown at this address”.’
‘You think he moved from Weymouth?’
‘Seems like.’
‘Where would he have gone?’ Jasmine was struggling to put herself into the mind of a depressed and lonely transman.
Hazel shrugged again. ‘The only other address we have is where he grew up. His father’s home. Despite everything his father was still his next of kin.’
Jasmine felt a surge of interest. Another lead perhaps. ‘What’s the address?’
Hazel flicked through the file. ‘Ah, here it is. Yew Tree Farm, Cindersworth, Hampshire.’
Jasmine gasped. ‘But that’s no distance from where Alfie’s body was dumped.’
‘Really?’ The nurse’s eyebrows were raised.
‘I don’t know the farm, but Cindersworth is a village south of Kintbridge. It can’t be ten miles to the canal. Surely, he wouldn’t have -’
‘What?’
‘Gone home to his father and killed there.’ Jasmine couldn’t understand how the young man could return to the parent who had abused him, but of course Alfie wasn’t the man he wanted to be, he was a confused and depressed transsexual.
‘His father was the only family he had,’ Hazel offered, ‘Sometimes the devil you know is the only one drawing you in.’
Jasmine jumped from the sofa. ‘I’ll have to call there. Can I borrow your computer – I need to find the location of this farm.’
‘Yes, of course. Let me call up Google Maps for you.’ Hazel returned to the seat behind her desk and started tapping keys. Jasmine looked over her shoulder.
‘There we are,’ Jasmine said, stabbing a finger at the screen. ‘Can you print it off?’
Hazel nodded and the printer under the desk started chuntering. Jasmine grabbed the sheet of paper and scampered towards the door.
‘Thank you for all your assistance,’ she called.
‘I hope you find out what happened to Alfie,’ Hazel cried after her.

Jasmine was in her car and about to set off when her phone rang again. She glanced at the small screen. It wasn’t Palmerston this time but Tom. She decided to pick up.
‘Hi Tom.’
‘Jas! Where are you?’
‘Exeter. Just interviewed a nurse at the GIC that knew Alfie.’
‘That’s good, but you know Palmerston is furious don’t you.’
‘When isn’t she.’
‘Well, I suppose she is whenever your name is mentioned. She wants you back here.’
‘I expect she does.’
Tom’s voice became conspiratorial. ‘It may calm her down a bit if I tell her what you’ve found out.’
Jasmine considered for a moment. ‘Okay. Well Alfie Benson has been on the clinic’s books for six years but they haven’t heard from him in the last year. He wasn’t getting far with his transition because he was depressed.’ She paused. How much more should she tell Tom now?
‘Is that it?’
‘His birth name was Lucy Taylor. What have you got?’
‘Not a lot. That Weymouth address got us nowhere. Palmerston got the local cops to look in on it. The current tenant didn’t know an Alfie Benson and neither did any of the neighbours that they managed to speak to.’
‘Or they said they didn’t.’
‘Well, okay, perhaps. We haven’t managed to contact the landlord yet.’
‘So, you’ve got no leads on Alfie’s movements before he died.’
‘No, but it was definitely murder. Pathology says he was dead before entering the water and he’d been beaten severely.’
Jasmine was saddened by the news but wasn’t surprised. Was Alfie’s father the murderer? She wanted to find out.
‘Are you coming back then?’ Tom asked.
‘Yes, on my way.’ She glanced at her watch. It would be late evening by the time she got back to Kintbridge even without any detours.
‘We’ll be gone by the time you get here. Palmerston has called a meeting for seven tomorrow morning. She doesn’t think there are any leads to follow tonight.’
‘Even though she knows for certain that it’s a murder case?’ Jasmine was surprised at the DS’s lack of urgency.
‘As I said, no leads.’
Jasmine knew the real reason for the half-hearted attitude of her boss; the victim was TS and in Palmerston’s mind didn’t warrant her full attention.
‘Well, we’ll see about that. Bye Tom.’ She ended the call and turned off her phone. Peering through the windscreen into the dark, drizzly evening she didn’t relish the return journey but she turned the key in the ignition and pushed the gear lever forward.

The drive was frustrating and exhausting. Her eyes ached from peering through the drizzle and light rain, and she met lorry after slow lorry on the single-track stretches of the A303. It wasn’t surprising she was tired, she thought, after the day she’d had – a run, a ducking, mild hypothermia, the tension of a murder to investigate and the journey across country. Nevertheless, it wasn’t the fatigue which occupied her thoughts it was a mixture of her anger at Palmerston for . . . well, for being DS Denise Palmerston, and then there was Alfie Benson. What had he’d been thinking when he left his home in Weymouth? Had he returned to his father’s farm and was it there that he’d met his death?
A road sign reflected the not-so-bright headlights of the Fiesta. Straight ahead was her quickest way back to Kintbridge, the sensible route to her bed, but the sign reminded her of an alternative route, shorter if slower. It would pass near to Cindersworth and Alfie’s childhood home. She found herself taking the turning and joining the new road. It was a darker and narrower but quieter. The rain and the old Ford’s imperfect wipers caused her to lean forward to see the road ahead while looking out for signs.
A signpost to Cindersworth indicated a left turn. She braked hard, turned the wheel and was bumping up a steep, narrow lane. A traditional wooden sign loomed out of the darkness announcing that she had reached the village. She drove slowly past unlit cottages. Then she was back amongst hedges and trees and wondering what to do. The sensible thing would be to head on home but she saw the sign on a wide gate. It was a battered wooden board hanging from frayed ropes but the name was painted in white paint that stood out even through the mist. Yew Tree Farm.
She pulled up alongside the tubular-steel gate, wound down her window and peered into the night. There was a rutted track and a few dozen yards away the brooding presence of buildings. There were no lights, no suggestion that the farm was occupied. She got out and pulled the hood of her puffer jacket over her head and examined the gate. It had no lock or bolt, not even a piece of string looped over the gate post. She placed her hands under the top bar and lifted. The gate moved with a creak and whine of complaining hinges.
‘And who might you be?’
The gravelly voice caused Jasmine to drop the gate. She turned, trying to make out who had spoken. The shotgun attracted her attention first, the barrel glinting in the light from her car. It was hung over the shoulder of a man in an old waxed jacket with a tweed cap on his head. His face was dark and unshaven. He was an inch or two shorter than Jasmine but there was a sturdiness about him. The shot gun strap slid down his arm and the barrel rotated to point towards her.

……………………..to be continued.

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?

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