Jasmine waiting

I am not going to comment on the UK General Election partly because at the time of writing there are no results and partly also because I do not think I am going to be happy with the outcome. Instead I want to write about matters closer to me personally.

This week I have been on holiday with family and having one of the infrequent opportunities to watch my (step) grandchildren growing up. Not having witnessed children of my own growing day by day, seeing these small persons grow into individuals has been and is endlessly fascinating.  The expressions on the face of a two year old indicating his emotions and his thoughts – needs, wants, opinions – and talking (in two languages) sometimes unintelligibly but in great earnest are wonderful to watch. Then there is the five year old, coping with ease with conversations in those two languages and while not yet able to read, in possession of a tremendous memory of many if not all of the numerous books read to him and able to follow, faultlessly graphic instructions for a Lego model amongst other skills.

I don’t feel sentimental about childhood innocence. I’m not sure what age it begins but children are very young when they learn how to behave to get certain reactions from their parents and other adults. Stubbornness and a sense of their own needs come very early. They quickly learn envy and the joy of winning and a feeling of injustice if deprived of something, but prejudice towards any particular group of people is only learned from the people around them. They are amazing.

…………….

WP_20170505_15_05_43_ProThe next Jasmine Frame novella will start next week, though I haven’t sorted the plot yet, so this week is the last for the time being when I’ll “treat” you to one of my other writing efforts.  This is a short piece for a writing club assignment on gothic romance. It’s not particularly original and it isn’t complete, but perhaps it will occupy a couple of minutes pleasantly.

 

 

Desire

The wind off the sea swept her long, blonde hair from her face leaving beads of moisture clinging to each strand. Ignoring the rain-flecked gale, she looked down at the waves crashing over the dark rocks far below and then her gaze lifted to the boundary between the dark green, angry sea and the narrow band of red-hued dawn beneath the glowering clouds. No masts broke the smooth line of that horizon, no ship was tossed on the roiling ocean.
‘When will you come?’ she whispered. The question was superfluous. There was no answer. Her wait would end when it would end. There would be no precognition. One day, perhaps like now at dawn or perhaps at sunset, the sails would appear and then, soon after, she would be in his arms, their lips touching.
A cry made her turn. The house brooded in the vale a couple of hundred paces from the cliffs, crouching low out of the storm winds. The glass in the windows of the top floor just now reflected the light of the early morning, but the fiery glow hardly lifted the gloom of the stone, as dark as the rocks of the cliff, from which it was built.
Another cry, and now she saw him fighting his way along the narrow, over-grown path from the house to the cliff-top. He beat at the nettles and brambles with his crop as he strode towards her.
She shivered, not with the cold, though her thin woollen shawl hardly prevented the cold easterly from freezing her pale skin. It was anticipation that made her shake. She turned again to face the sea and looked down to where the jagged rocks withstood the besieging tide.
‘Jump,’ part of her told herself, ‘Leap to oblivion. Leave this world of pain and sadness.’ She remained motionless, limbs frozen not by cold but by indecision. Her eyes rose again to the distance. If she ended it now, what would he feel when he returned? Did she want to give up all hope of love and happiness?
Hands thudded into her shoulders. Arms encircled her, dragged her back from the edge, spun her around. She looked up into his bearded, scarred face. The single open eye, glaring at her.
‘I’ve told you before, Emily,’ he growled, ‘There is no point to you staring out to sea. He’s not coming back. You are mine.’
She dropped her head. There was no response to give. Declaring her last remaining iota of hope would bring her no joy, more likely a stroke from the crop tucked under his arm. His hand grasped the hair at the back of her head and tugged. Her face tilted up and his rough, chapped lips descended to hers. His tongue forced her lips apart and she tasted the stale, last night’s whisky. She gagged and coughed. He pulled back, straightened, grabbed her wrist in his hand and dragged her back down the path towards the house. She stumbled along behind him, emptying her mind of the dread of whatever he had planned for her this miserable morning.

…………………………………

Jasmine in mourning

Social media is probably awash with comments about the Manchester bombing but I can’t let the week pass without adding my thoughts. It is awful to think of the suffering of those children, young people and parents, killed and injured. They and their families and friends have my sympathy. I don’t know how I would react if I or someone close to me was caught up in a terrorist outrage.  The nearest I’ve been was driving with my girlfriend a few streets away from one of the IRA pub bombings in Bristol in 1975 and that hardly affected me at all. Despite my lack of any authority or intimate knowledge I do nevertheless have some thoughts on the incident and its consequence.

It is often said that bombers, suicide or not, are cowards, and they are, for targeting innocent and unprotected people, particularly the very young, as in this case. We would hail a soldier a hero for giving  his/her life on behalf of their fellows and their cause, but it requires little courage for a terrorist to blow themselves up if they have been persuaded that death is just a door to eternal happiness and that the rewards for their act are great. For those with such deeply held beliefs any horrific atrocity has point and meaning. They do it not only to kill and maim but to draw attention to themselves and their cause and to disrupt the lives of others. They succeed.

The Manchester bomber has got exactly what he intended: the newspapers, TV and radio dominated by the event and its aftermath and immediate reaction from the government. I’m not sure whether seeing armed police and soldiers guarding buildings makes anyone feel safer – it doesn’t have that effect on me. I jus think that the terrorists will either sit back for a few weeks (probably looking to act itn a different country) or alternatively will look for a different method or less well-guarded site as happened in France with the truck killings after the shootings.  Police forces always have armed response teams ready at a moments notice so I don’t see that dispersing their manpower thinly around the country has any great effect.  It can’t be maintained – it’s too expensive. If the UK was to persist with a high level of security for an extended period the cost of the extra manpower would cut into other budgets for example the NHS, education  or social care.  The most important response is the one we don’t see, behind the scenes, in secret –  the eavesdropping, surveillance and the infiltration of terrorist groups by truly brave officers.

The only response to terror is to ignore it. I don’t mean ignore the deaths, they must be mourned, and the injured looked after. No, we must learn to carry on our lives the way we want to live them.  Terror will continue as long as people hold different views and beliefs.  Thanks to the world being awash with arms, courtesy of governments’ support for regimes and rebels around the globe, determined groups will always be able to find the weapons they seek. We must ensure that our security services do what they can, as indeed they have done quite successfully. That is, to sniff out the terrorists before they can act, but shows of strength by increasing security are meaningless and pandering to the terrorists desires. While being wary and observant we must carry on doing what we want.  On that point I was appalled that Birmingham Cathedral closed on Wednesday for security reasons and cannot understand their reasoning.

We must also ensure that that while being aware that the terrorists live amongst us we do not blame innocent members of the ethnic or religious groups from which the terrorists come. All Irish people were not held responsible for IRA or UDA murderous acts. Not all animal rights campaigners were blamed for the ALF outrages. Similarly, Moslem people must not be accused of all being jihadi extremists. Anyone who does react by attacking ordinary Moslem people is just doing what the terrorist wanted and heightening tension. Human nature being what it is I don’t think there is a complete solution to terrorism and while we must do all we can to remove the opportunities for terrorist acts and the causes which the terrorists espouse we must accept that atrocities will occur but must not be allowed to deter us from living our lives.

So, difficult as it might be we must look forward to a warm and pleasant bank holiday weekend.

………………………..

IMGP5960-2Last Saturday I attended an excellent workshop on marketing self-published books. I was reinvigorated and will be re-examining by strategy and re-launching my books – but not yet.  The next couple of weeks are going to be busy with the Leominster Festival, particularly our Bookfair on 10th June on The Grange. But after that . . .   That is also when I will be starting the next Jasmine Frame novella (I’m getting some ideas).  Here, therefore is another older short story.  It was written at and for a different time of year than now but is, I hope, something completely different and light for this week.

1 in 1461

 I can’t argue that it had never crossed my mind.  When you reach your late twenties, I expect every guy begins to wonder if they’ll get married and “settle down”.  I suppose I was waiting for that special moment, a suitable occasion, when everything would fall into place.
It’s an important step, “getting hitched”.  Changes things, doesn’t it.  Makes two people into a family.  Soon it’s children, one, two, more!  I suppose I was a bit scared.  I like excitement and thrills but I do like things to get back to normal afterwards, back as it was, steady, untroubled, and, after all, I quite liked the life I had.
 I got up early that day.  It was always early, six a.m., dark and cold; well, it was still February, just. It was the worst thing about the job.  What am I saying – it was the only thing about the job that was less than fun.  I had to get up at that time to be sure of getting a seat on the train.  Kate, as usual, made breakfast, still in her p.j.s and her old, pink dressing gown – how long has she had that?  She didn’t have to leave for her school for over an hour or so but every day she made sure I had something to eat before I left home.
“I’ll be a bit late this evening,” I said, going out of the door, “important meeting.”
I glanced at her as I picked up my briefcase and a look of disappointment flashed over her face but it passed and she said,
“Okay, take care.”  She blew me a kiss as I stepped outside, as she always did.
It was that routine that I loved about Kate.  We’d been together since student days.  Back then we’d shared the house with Russ and Chris but they left to buy their own place.  We could have moved to a better postcode, I suppose, but, well, it was handy for the station and for Kate’s school. Kate loved the area as it was so different to her father’s country parish.  Mind you, you can take the girl out of the church but not the church out of the girl.  She was so honest and fun-loving but a little bit uptight about some things.
 ……………….
I can’t say my mind was on work much.  I signed off on a few deals, set a few other things in motion, just a few mil., nothing special.  I left the office soon after five and picked up the flowers I’d ordered from the stall down by the station.
Becky was already in the restaurant when I arrived.  As usual she’d found a table that couldn’t be seen from the entrance or from most of the other tables.  We’d been there once or twice before but Becky was always keen that we shouldn’t become well known in places.   Her new dress looked just like the bunch of spring flowers that I handed to her.  She smiled so cheerfully that I knew that this meeting was going to be special.  She gave me a hug and big, sloppy kiss and cooed over the flowers.  We sat down; she poured me a glass of wine, spoke the usual pleasantries then she said.
“It came through today.  It’s all over.”
“That’s fantastic news,” I said, genuinely feeling happy for her.
“I’m no longer married to that man,” she said with a sense of relief that was so apparent on her face.
“Has he been in touch,” I said guardedly.  I knew that even hinting that he might have sought her out could set her off in hysterics.
“No, thank god.  He hasn’t got my new address or my mobile number, and he won’t get them either.  I’m free of the vicious bastard at last.”
She took a sip of her wine and the cloud that had covered her face evaporated.
“Now we can get on with our lives.”
The waiter approached and took our order and then we talked about our shared memories and our plans.  It was when we’d finished the dessert that Becky bent over and rummaged in her handbag.  She placed a small box on the table in front of her.   It was square and covered in black leather.  I should have recognised it at once for what it was, but, well I suppose I can be as dim as the next guy sometimes and the significance of the date hadn’t occurred to me.
“I’m so glad that the divorce went through so that I can give you this today,” she said, “the one chance in four years a lady gets to propose.  You’ve been so good for me these last years, helping me get through it, not minding when I’ve got a bit anal about keeping our meetings secret.  I love you and I want you to marry me.”
She lifted the box up and handed it across the table to me.  I took it from her but in fact I was choking, speechless.  I opened it and there was the engagement ring.  Well, not an engagement ring with diamonds and sapphires and things like girls wear but a man’s signet ring, white gold with her initials and mine engraved in it.
My mind was racing.  Of course, I had known her divorce was due; we’d talked about it often, but I hadn’t planned for a change in our relationship at least, not straight away.  I loved spending time with her, we were good together but marriage hadn’t entered my head.
“What do you think?”
“It’s, um, gorgeous.”
“Does it fit? Try it on.”
I took it from the box and slipped it on my third finger.  Of course it fitted.  She knew me so well.  I looked at it and looked at her.  She was glowing with happiness.
“Well?  You haven’t given me an answer.”
“To what?”
“My question, silly.  It’s the twenty-ninth of February and it’s a lady’s prerogative to ask her lover for his hand in marriage.  So, what do you say?”
She was so expectant, so full of joy, I couldn’t say anything else could I.
“Of course.  It’s what we always planned isn’t it.  You beat me to it.”  Actually, despite all our plans to do things together I can’t recall discussing getting wed.  I looked at my watch.  “Oh, dear, it’s that time already.  Look I’ve got to go, got to meet a client.  I’m sorry, love.”
She looked disappointed for a moment then brightened.  She was used to me dashing off to “meet clients” and after all how was I expected to know that she was going to propose that evening.
The waiter got my coat and I paid the bill.  I kissed Becky on her cheek and made a pretence of having to run to make the meeting on time.
……………….
 Sitting on the train, I looked at the ring on my finger and tried to imagine having another one, simpler, a wedding band.  In some ways, the idea was attractive but although Becky may have been sure, was I?  I took the ring off, placed it back in its box and dropped it into my suit pocket.
 Night had fallen when I reached the house of course, but strangely the house was dark as well.  I put my key in the lock and opened the front door.
“Hello,” I called into the unlit hallway.  Kate opened the door from the kitchen diner.  The yellow glow of candles silhouetted her but I could see she was wearing the gold lame dress she’d worn at the New Year, with her blonde hair flowing over her shoulders.  She looked stunning.
“Hi, I’m glad you’re not too late,” she said, approaching me, kissing me on the cheek and taking my briefcase from my hand.  She took my hand in hers and led me into the candlelit room.  The dining table was laid for dinner for two, there were daffodils in a vase and a bottle of red wine breathing.   She pulled my overcoat off my shoulders and signalled for me to sit.
I was nonplussed.  We evidently weren’t expecting guests to join us so what was the special occasion?  Kate poured wine into two glasses and sat opposite me.  Her right hand enclosed something.  Something small.  She lifted up her glass.
“Knowing you, I knew you would never do anything about it, and this chance only comes around once in four years so I decided it was now or never.”  She reached out her hand towards me and uncurled her fingers.  A small red box lay on her palm. “Will you marry me?”
I stared at the box.
“Take it,” she urged, “try it on.”
It was a simple silver ring with two threads engraved around it, criss-crossing and forming a never-ending knot.  I slipped it on my finger.  It fitted perfectly.  I knew it would.
“Well?”  She said giving me one of her large-eyed smiles.
“Well what?”
“Stop kidding,” she giggled, “you have to answer.  On the 29th February, you’ve got to.  Will you marry me? Yes or no?”
My right hand fell down to my side brushing the pocket of my jacket.  I felt the box containing Becky’s ring.  I looked at Kate’s on the finger of my left hand. I didn’t like decisions. Which future should I choose? I cursed the calendar for adding this day every four years.
………………………………………..

Jasmine is resting

I don’t believe in miracles but I think we’re going to need one to get out of this mess – the landslide Tory victory, that mess. We’ve had them before of course – during the 80s when Maggie was at her regal peak and Labour was examining its navel, like now. But this could be even worse than then because now the press seem more virulently right wing than they were thirty years ago and many people only see the opinions they want to see on social media. I’d like to close my eyes and ears to the fascist claptrap and just get on with enjoying life, but it can’t be done. The fears about where we are headed keep bubbling up and it seems too few people are aware of the course we seem to be on. Why do so many ordinary, good, people go on believing the false promises of the rich and powerful? It happened in the USA and it has happened here. OK, May is not quite as mad and offensive as Trump (nor as rich) but in the space of ten months since she came to power she has shown herself to be a deluded, two-faced, megalomaniac who will only speak to those who agree with her and views all who oppose her as enemies of the state – her state.

WP_20170421_15_16_17_ProPlease excuse this rant and now let me entertain you.  The fourth Jasmine Frame novel has been using up my creative juices so the next novella is still somewhere in the future. Here though is a short story I wrote some time ago for an assignment on ghost stories.  I was quite pleased with it and even entered it in a competition – it didn’t win.

 

 

 

 

Ghost Image

I didn’t go to the funeral.  Presenters and editors were there, and his old celebrity mates, most of them looking like it should have been their funerals.  It wasn’t really my scene.  I saw it on the evening news though.  Ron would have loved that – to be “on the box” one more time.  It caused a stir when Graham turned up leading the mourners.  How Ron managed to keep it quiet that he had a partner, I don’t know.  All those years when he was the housewives’ pin-up; what would they have thought if they’d known he was having it off with a younger man?  But I suppose that was the thing about Ron “the Box” Boxall; there was a lot going on behind the scenes.
I got to see quite a lot of him these last couple of years since he got shunted into regional breakfast TV.  I’m the night duty engineer.  I get into the studio first thing, check over all the kit, switch on the lights, cameras, monitors, intercom and so on.  I’m in an hour or so before the editorial staff and usually the presenters come in later, but not Ron.  He was there soon after me, making himself comfortable in his seat on the set, practising his expressions for the camera, sombre for bad news, a smile for good, a sardonic leer for the wannabe celebs.  I suppose he just couldn’t get enough of it – being “on the box”.  While I worked, he talked.  I got his life story – well the life in broadcasting anyway.
He’d been in it from the start, the re-start that is, after the war.  He was a runner on the broadcast of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation.  Probably keeping Dimbleby fed and watered.  He got his big chance in the sixties doing light items for the Tonight programme and national news.  The seventies were his heyday, Nationwide, It’s a Knockout, That’s Life, a day-time chat show and his very own prime-time slot, “You’re on the box”.   I remember it from when I was a kid – one of those hidden camera progs. They’d film someone conned into doing something daft then Ron would leap out and shout “You’re on the box”.   That’s when he got his nickname.   It was on for years but once it was axed it was a slow drift to obscurity for Ron – occasional pieces on the news, a stint on regional evening programming.  He should have retired gracefully, years ago, but he wouldn’t.  He had to be “on the box”.    Who says broadcasting bosses have no heart; they could have let his contract run out, but no, they offered him the regional slot on the early morning news bulletins.  Perhaps they thought it would be beneath him and he’d give up at last, but Ron took it as if it was a major step in his career.
There wasn’t much to do of course.  Most of the input was pre-recorded reports.  All Ron had to do was simply put in the links.  That’s why the studio wasn’t up to much.  One chair and desk, one camera, producer, editor, assistant editor, engineer (me) and a runner.  Still, Ron treated it as if it was his big show and he was the star.  Every morning he appeared dressed immaculately in suit and tie – a different one every day I think.  Grey hair slicked back and make-up in place – he had to do that himself as our budget didn’t run to a make-up assistant.
So, each morning I’d fuss around getting things ready while he talked.  He didn’t like the way TV was going – of course he didn’t, when they didn’t really need him anymore.  He didn’t like these new flat screen TVs either, not the same as having a big box in the corner.  He couldn’t see himself as Ron “on the wall” Boxall.  If it was obvious I wasn’t listening he’d hum his old theme tune.  “You’re on the box, on the box, da di da, Ron the Box, de dum.”  It got pretty irritating after about the sixth time through.  When everyone else arrived he’d do his stuff and as the closing credits ran he’d be up and gone.  No hanging around chatting when his time on the box was finished.   That was until about a month ago, a Thursday, it was.
The producer stopped him as he was about to leave and there and then, casually, in front of the rest of us told him that his bit of the show was being axed.  The next day would be his last day on the box.  He didn’t argue, just left, and next morning there he was as usual.  He did his links, perfectly timed and phrased as always, but as the theme tune played he sort of slumped.  When he left he wasn’t just an old man, he looked as though he had already died.  I wasn’t surprised to hear a fortnight later that he was dead.  Nothing suspicious about it, a heart attack, the news bulletins said, but I knew that he had just given up.
The next morning I was in the studio.  No presenter now of course, so just the monitors and computers to warm up for the editor and his assistant to programme in the recorded bits.  But as I was sitting in the editor’s chair watching the computer going through its boot sequence, I noticed that the spotlight on the set had come on.  I looked through the window at the empty chair and desk in their pool of light and scratched my head.  Then I saw that the studio camera “on” light was, well, on.  I glanced at the monitor and had a shock.  There was Ron.  On the box.  A sort of faint, transparent image of him sitting in the chair, hair as slick and suit as smart as ever.  His eyes looking straight at the camera.  I checked the video tape decks; no, there wasn’t an old tape of Ron playing.  I went through the computer files, but there wasn’t any old footage of Ron running.  He was just there, live, well, not alive as such.  I flicked the microphone on and there amongst the white noise was that damned theme tune.  “You’re on the box, on the box, da di da.”  I switched it off and sat staring at the screen.  Ron didn’t move; just stared back at me.
A few minutes later the assistant editor arrived and the monitor went blank.  The spot went off.   I didn’t say anything to her. What could I say – we’ve got a ghost in the studio.  She’s a young switched on, going places, girl.  She’d have laughed.
The next morning it was the same.  When I switched the gear on, there was Ron, on the box.  A bit firmer, more defined.  This time he sort of smiled at me from the screen.  And so it went on day after day, Ron’s image becoming more and more kind of real, and each day it would disappear as soon as anyone else showed up.  That is until yesterday, the day of his funeral.
He was there when I switched on and this time he had that sideways half grin on his face which he reserved for people he had no time for.  He was there on the screen for over half an hour before disappearing when the assistant arrived.  Not surprisingly the running order for the bulletin had a brief piece about Ron’s funeral , a few words one of his old comrades had recorded.  The time came, the editor cued the piece and the assistant pressed the play button on the keyboard.  At the same moment the spotlight came on.  The producer said something like “what the f—“, and reached for the switch.
The electric shock sent the producer backwards across the studio.  His head thudded against the brick wall and he folded up in a heap on the floor.  The others rushed to him but as I turned to join them my eye caught the camera monitor.  There was the pale, faint image of Ron, smiling broadly.
The paramedics came and took the producer away and the others got back to work muttering to me about health and safety and wasn’t I supposed to check those things.  I didn’t say that it was electrics that were my responsibility not poltergeists, but I decided that something had to be done.   It would have been okay having Ron himself in the studio but the ghost wasn’t Ron.  Ron didn’t know how to send an electric current back down the line to a switch or put a spotlight on remotely, he barely knew how to operate a radio mike.  So that thing that sat in the monitor had to be got rid of.
This morning, I got in a little earlier than usual.   Nevertheless, as soon as I switched the lights on, the studio spot lit up, the camera monitor flickered into life and there was Ron chuckling like I’d never seen him chuckle before.   I tried switching things off but that didn’t work – he was still there grinning at me from the screen.  I got a stepladder and set it up under the spotlight, then collected my heat resistant glove from my tool kit.  It was needed now and again when bulbs blew and they had to be replaced immediately.  I climbed the steps and unscrewed the bulb.  Even with the glove it was bloody hot but I twisted it until the circuit broke and the studio went dark. There was a cackle of laughter and that infuriating song, “You’re on the box, da di da”. The bulb slipped out of my gloved hand and exploded as it hit the floor.  My heart was racing and my temples were pounding.
I was careful getting down off the ladder now it was a complete blackout, and felt my way back to the control room.  Ron was still there, on the monitor, and somehow still bathed in white light.  I flicked the on/off switch on the monitor, still no response, and I couldn’t shut the sound off either so I had Ron singing his tune over and over again.  It carried on even when I pulled the plug.  Somehow Ron was drawing electricity to the monitor from another source.  I took a few deep breaths. There was only one thing I could do.  I pulled on a pair of latex gloves.
It was a heavy old monitor, a cathode ray tube, housed in a square metal box.  I tugged it out of its supporting framework and set to work on the screws holding the housing together with my insulated screw driver.  The back cover came away and Ron paused in his monotonous singing to bawl with laughter.  I began to unscrew wires and circuit boards and pulled them out of the box.  Still Ron went on giggling and singing. At last I could see the back of the tube.  There was no way it should still be running but the phosphor screen flickered and the cathode glowed.  I glanced at the front of the screen.  Ron was there in the chair, not a hair out of place, still quite clearly “on the box”.  For a moment his eyes seemed to catch mine and the grin slipped away.  I froze.   His lips moved but no sound came. Then his eyes moved away and he resumed his laughter and another chorus of “You’re on the box”.  I breathed again.
There’s a big hammer in my tool box, kept there for real emergencies when subtlety no longer works.   I picked it up now, raised it above my right shoulder while shielding my face with my left hand.  I swung it down on the back of the CRT.  There was an almighty implosion as the glass cracked and the vacuum was breached.  The tube shattered, sucked in the air, and just then there was a puff of white.  My first thought was that it was the phosphor powder escaping but perhaps not.  The light in the tube went out and the singing and laughing stopped.
I was still clearing up the debris when the others arrived.  They looked at the bits of the old monitor , the casing ,the circuit boards and the broken glass and wondered what I was up to.  I told them some story about obsolete equipment, worn wiring, health and safety and anyway since we weren’t live anymore the old kit wasn’t needed.  They bought that, and without further comment sat down at their keyboards and stared at their flat screen monitors.  There were no more boxes for Ron to appear on.
……………………..

Jasmine is still away

Not much to say this week as I want to get on with the fiction.  However. . . as I accidentally opened a A….. Prime account last week we decided to watch the much-praised Transparent before I cancel it – the Prime account, that is.  I’d really wanted to see Transparent for its representation of an ageing, transitioning MtF transsexual.  Having seen 6 episodes I am disappointed. The trans bits are fine and in fact Mora seems to be the only normal person there.  It’s just that her kids are dysfunctional – the son is a sex addict, the elder daughter is (re-)discovering that she is a lesbian married to a bigoted husband, and the younger daughter (apparently the brightest) is a drug addicted weirdo (that is not being prejudiced because I haven’t quite worked out what her angle is). The programme has a lot of gratuitous sex while lacking laugh-out-loud humour.  Also I didn’t know that American college professors were so well off. Although retired, Mora is apparently able to hand over her amazing house to her kids while going to live in a small apartment.  So, not the enjoyable, thought-provoking exercise I was hoping for.

……………….

IMGP5764Here is another of my writers’ group efforts from a few years ago. The task was to follow the first paragraph that was given to us. As you can see it turned into a sort of parody or pastiche of a type of detective story (not Jasmine Frame). I’m not sure whether it counts as a complete story or an incomplete novel(la) but it is a bit longer than my usual blog offerings. Enjoy it, if you can.

 

 

The Necessity of a Raincoat

It was 3 a.m. I’d missed the last bus. I hadn’t enough money for a taxi and it had started to rain.  My raincoat was hanging in the hall cupboard at home.
My mother always said, ‘don’t forget your raincoat, you never know when you might need it’.  She was right.  It was one of the essential tools of my trade.  Mine was not the stereotypical trench coat.  Pale beige with concealed buttons, it had two diagonal outside pockets.  It just reached my knees, a compromise between the possibility of wet trouser legs and being able to run, and it had a thin collar just wide enough to put up and stop raindrops dripping off the brim of my hat.  I can’t say I was that attached to it as I had a habit of going through raincoats rather rapidly.  Keeping rain off was just one of its assets but it was not much use in the cupboard when I was stranded five miles away.
     I hadn’t intended leaving home without it of course but I didn’t get much choice in the matter. It was nine o’clock; the theme tune to Softly, Softly, Taskforce had faded out and I was thinking of bed – you have to make up for the night work sometime – when there was a sharp tap on my front door.  I opened it and found myself lifted off my feet by two goons, 6 foot and 18 stone, the pair of them.  They carried me kicking and squealing to a car, a big one, a Wolseley I think.  They shoved me in the back seat and got in, one on each side of me.  The driver drove us off with no hesitation.
“Hiya boys,” I said trying to appear relaxed about being dragged out of my own home.
“Shurrup,” Gus, on my left, said, or it may have been George; with identical crew-cuts and black suits, they were easy to get confused.
“Where are we going?” I tried again.
“Shurrup,” said George, or it may have been Gus, and for added emphasis showed me his fist complete with brass knuckle duster.  I had a fair idea where we were headed unless this was my last trip in which case I was bound for a shallow hole in a remote field.  I was somewhat relieved when we headed into town and not at all surprised when we drew up at the “Golden Chip”; not a fish restaurant but the town’s brand new casino.
The two burly boys marched me down an alleyway, through a side entrance and pushed me into a dark space.  The lock clunked and I groped around finding that I was in a small store room.   I tried out my locksmithing skills, such as they are, but was defeated.  In fact, it was rather a secure door for a simple store room but the smell suggested it was used for holding animate or previously animate stock rather than mere paper goods.  I sat down on the concrete floor to wait, knowing that my kidnapper was intending me to stew for a few hours.
It was gone 2 a.m. by the luminous dial of my watch when the door was flung open and my two friends dragged me out blinking into the dim electric light.  They escorted me up a couple flights of scruffy stairs to their boss’ office and stood me in front of them facing his large oak desk.
“Hi, Boyd,” I said cheerily, not adding the ‘Big’ that usually went with the occupant of the leather chair behind the desk.  He tended to get a bit sensitive about his nickname.  5 ft 4 in his built-up shoes, big in stature he certainly wasn’t, but he was big in the business of fraud, extortion, and any other illegal activity you care to mention.  Big Boyd was the biggest big man in town.  He’d even bribed the council planning officers to turn the town’s third best cinema into a casino.  He wanted to bring 1970s Las Vegas to a part of middle England that hadn’t yet discovered the 60s.
He glared at me from the tiny dark eyes under his thick bushy brows and Brylcreamed black hair.
“Henley, isn’t it; private dick,” he sneered.
“Joe Henley,” I nodded, almost adding ‘at your service’ but there was no way I wanted to be in his service.
“You’ve been snooping,” he said.
I didn’t answer.
“I don’t like people nosing around my property, particularly good for nothing losers like you.”
I was a bit offended by his assessment of my skills but still I said nothing.
“What’s your story?” he went on, his neck beginning to turn pink as his level of frustration grew.  I didn’t speak while I tried to think of a suitable answer.
“Look, you may think you’re tough,” he went on, “but my lads can soon have you chatting away as if your life depended on it.”  He didn’t add ‘which it may’.  Actually, I’m your original ten stone weakling, so being tough is not one of my attributes.
I felt hot breath on the back of my neck as Gus or George panted with anticipation of a bit of violent recreation.
“I’m on a case,” I said at last.
“Aren’t you the lucky one.  I’m surprised anyone would choose you to pack a case let alone solve one,” he laughed at his little joke and Gus and George chuckled.
“It’s a missing girl,” I went on ignoring his banter.  I thought I might as well tell him as I was damn sure he knew the story anyway.
“So why have you been snooping around my business?”
“She was last seen coming into this place.”
“Hundreds of people come here every night.  The Golden Chip is a popular recreational establishment.”
“But most come out again.  This girl apparently didn’t.”
“Oh, come now,” Boyd smiled and shrugged, “Everyone leaves sometime.  She probably went off with some new friends.”
“Perhaps,” I conceded.  It was exactly those new friends that I was concerned about.
“I’d certainly know if someone was hanging round when we closed up, so you’ve no reason to be concerned on that score.”  He gave me his widest smile, the one that reminded me of a crocodile just about to snap.
“None at all, as you say.”
“Well, I’m glad that’s settled.  Gus and George will see you out with a little reminder of what we think about snoopers.” He nodded to my companions and dropped his head to read some papers.  I was lifted by strong hands under my armpits and carried out.  We returned to the side entrance.  I suppose I hoped to be just thrown out but Gus and George were keen to carry out Boyd’s final order.  How do you brace yourself for a beating?  I’ve never found an answer.  Gus or George held me up and George or Gus hit me in the stomach, first with his right and then his left.  Then they threw me out.
I lay winded for a few minutes before I summoned the energy to haul myself to my feet then staggered to the main road.  It was quiet.  The lucky and not so lucky punters had all left.  The last bus was long gone.  I had no money for a taxi, and it was starting to rain.
       It was gone five when I made it home, wet, exhausted and sick.  My front door was still open and the lights were on but speculative thieves had not made use of the opportunity, which was one cause for celebration.  I crawled up the stairs, pulled off my soaking clothes and fell on the bed.
The alarm clock woke me a couple of hours later.  I flung it off the bedside table feeling like death but forced myself to sit up.  My abdomen ached and I was cold but a long hot shower helped me feel something like human.  I couldn’t face food but a hot, sweet cup of tea brightened up my morning and I felt ready to contemplate the case.
Why was Big Boyd so concerned to warn me off the Lucy Miller case?  Lucy was a nineteen-year-old student who considered university an opportunity to party. To Mr and Mrs Miller, nevertheless, she was still their little princess, as pure and spotless as a fairytale heroine. When Lucy didn’t ‘phone them for a day or two they got worried.  Of course, the police weren’t interested –  how many students ring their parents every other day.  So, the Millers came to me convinced that Lucy was missing. It didn’t take me long to find out that she was.  None of her student friends or lecturers had seen her for days but, as I told Boyd, I had traced her as far as the Golden Chip.  She’d told a girlfriend that she was going there but who she went with I had yet to discover.
Perhaps Boyd thought that his warning would be enough to deter me, in which case he knew me less well than I knew him, especially as I now knew that my investigations had set his alarm bells ringing.   I dressed, took my raincoat out of the cupboard and got the Austin 1100 out of the garage.
I parked a few streets from the casino and wandered down the High Street with my raincoat over my arm. It was a fine, early spring morning.  The overnight rain had cleaned the place up and given it a fresh odour. There were more people around than at 3 a.m., quite a lot in fact, in and out of the butchers, bakers, grocers and hardware stores.  I went into a little cafe opposite the Golden Chip and sat in the window sipping a hot, sweet tea.   Nobody went into or came out of the old cinema building and there was no sign of the big Wolseley or Boyd’s own Roller.  I decided this was probably as good a time as any to do some real snooping.
I crossed the road and looked carefully left and right.  At the end of the alleyway beside the casino I noticed some rubbish bins.  It’s always worth looking at what people have thrown out and my luck was in.  Among the potato peelings and empty whisky bottles was a black and white mini dress.  It was creased and dirty but there no stains that were obviously blood which was heartening. It was Lucy’s.  How did I know?  Well the name tag obviously sewed on by her loving mother gave it away.  If her dress hadn’t left then there was a chance she hadn’t either.  I had to give the casino itself a good going over notwithstanding Boyd’s warnings.
I drew my pistol from the pocket and wrapped the raincoat around my hand.  A raincoat makes a satisfactory silencer and conceals the weapon from casual inspection.  Then I tried the side entrance.   It wasn’t as strong as the door to the storeroom where I was locked up and gave with a good shove of my shoulder. I slipped inside, pulled the door closed and listened.  There were no sounds of movement.  I was hoping that the nocturnal crooks were safely tucked up in bed.   I moved along the narrow corridor trying all the doors.  Most were unlocked and opened to reveal nothing of interest.  I climbed the stairs and searched the upper floors.  I was getting a bit nervous of the time I was taking when I climbed the final flight to the attic rooms.  The first door opened to reveal piles of old film cases and rolled up posters; a treasure trove for movie buffs but not what I was after.
I got to the last low door cut to fit the roof line.  I tried the handle.  It was locked.  I thought I heard a noise and placed my ear against the wood.  There were sounds muffled by more than the thickness of the door.  I stepped back and charged.  The door jamb splintered and I fell through.  Something sharp hit my forehead and I struggled to regain my balance.  I lifted the pistol ready to fire.  The small room, a cupboard really, was lit by a hurricane lamp that had hung from the roof just inside the door and was now on the floor, fuel spilling out, catching alight.  I grabbed my raincoat in my spare hand and beat at the fire, smothering the blue flickers before they became roaring orange flames.   Panting, but reassured that I had not set off an inferno I looked around.  It was pretty dark now but what I could see was pretty significant.  On the floor with ankles and wrists tied, dressed in just knickers and a bra was a young woman.  A pair of tights, hers I presumed, was tied around her mouth.  She was wriggling and mumbling.  Her eyes stared at me, wide open and scared.
“It’s OK, Lucy,” I said, “I’m a friend.  I’ve come to get you.”   I bent down feeling in my jacket pocket for my Swiss army knife.  It took quite a few moments to cut through the ropes around her wrists then I set to releasing her ankles while she tugged at the gag.  At last after much effort she was freed and struggled unsteadily to her feet, shivering.
“Are you the police?” she asked, quite understandably.
“No, and we need to get out of here quick before someone comes back for you.  Put my coat on.”  I offered my raincoat, now a little singed and covered in soot.  She put her arms in the sleeves and wrapped it around her torso.  I grabbed her arm with my left hand and dragged her from her cupboard, leading with my pistol.
There wasn’t opportunity for conversation as we went down the flights of stairs, pausing on each landing to listen for sounds of other occupants of the building.  My heart was thudding in my chest as I anticipated Boyd, Gus and George or any of his other bully boys appearing, but we reached the ground floor without incident and exited through the shattered side door.
The alleyway, enclosed on both sides by tall buildings seemed to stretch to infinity but it was our only route back to the civilised world of the High Street.  I kept Lucy behind me trying to hide or shield her just in case one or more of Boyd’s employees appeared.  I could hear behind me her miserable sniffles and stifled squeals as her bare feet stepped on the sharp gravel.   I dragged her along as fast as I could, waving the pistol in front of me, my trigger finger tensed.  I wasn’t afraid to fire in order to make our escape and thoughts of innocent bystanders barely passed through my head.  I suppose it took us ten seconds to get to the road but it felt like ten years.  We burst out into the hustle and bustle of a daytime shopping neighbourhood.  I pocketed my pistol, drew Lucy to my side and hurried down the pavement, zigging and zagging around shoppers and tradesmen.   No doubt people looked at us and wondered, but we had passed them before it occurred to them to question us.
We reached my parked 1100 and I bundled Lucy into the passenger seat.  I ran around to get into the driving position and had the key in the ignition, engine running and in gear in one smooth movement.  I pulled into the traffic and glanced at my passenger.  She had folded in on herself with my raincoat wrapped tightly around her.
“I want to hear your story,” I said as calmly and kindly as I could manage, “but we must get you somewhere safe.”  The question was where that might be.    My house was the first place Boyd would think of looking when he discovered his loss, and Lucy’s digs would be the second.   A police station would be the normal, respectable answer, but in this town, Big Boyd’s fiefdom, I wasn’t certain of where the loyalties of the boys in blue lay.  I’d rescued Lucy, at the expense of one raincoat but I wasn’t certain I could keep her safe. This story had some life in it yet.
……………………

Jasmine is away

I recently read a book called Prisoners of Geography: ten maps that tell you everything you need to know about global politics (by Tim Marshall, pub. Elliott&Thompson) and, boy, was it depressing. It gives an outline of the history and present day situation in ten trouble-spots, or rather areas, around the world. Most of them are pretty familiar to anyone who follows the news – the Middle East, Korea and Japan, Russia, etc. and the newest one to watch for the future, the Arctic. The principal message is, nothing changes. No conflict is ever resolved, it’s just put on hold for a while until one or other party feels tempted to open up again. They are all concerned with security (i.e. a sense of being safe from invasion) and/or securing access to resources.  What they all display is a complete lack of trust between members of the human species or any appreciation that we’re all inhabitants of one finite world.

I read the book because I thought it would be useful to discover the background to the various conflicts we hear about but really it just added to my despair at the current world situation exacerbated by Brexit, Trump, and other political nonsense.  I wish I could be like most of the population and close my eyes and ears and brain to what is happening and just live a relatively comfortable and enjoyable life.  Unfortunately, I can’t ignore it all or forget what is happening or going to happen around the world, and, almost certainly, close to home. But what to do? What, indeed, are the solutions? Are marches a way of raising awareness, or what about standing on street corners with a sandwich board saying “Doom!”? Does this blog do any good? Probably not.  Suggestions will be gratefully received but I fear we are all doomed, but I hope it’s later rather than sooner.

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IMGP5546And now for something completely different, as they used to say. I haven’t begun a new Jasmine Frame prequel yet as I have started writing the fourth novel and I can’t really cope with developing two plots, sets of characters, scenes; at least not yet. So while Jasmine is taking a rest for a short while I thought I’d dig out some of my other fictional pieces.  These have largely been written for the writing groups that I have attended over the years. As such they are often rushed and incomplete, sometimes lacking even an ending, but perhaps it is worth bringing some of them out into the glare of online publication to be picked over by readers.  The first one dates from about seven years ago and I think was a general assignment about meeting for coffee, hence the title . . .

Latte tales

I hadn’t planned to kill Catherine.  Why should I, she was my best friend, so everyone said.  She was always coming round to my house to drink my coffee and we would laugh at her new acquisitions – a new dress, dining suite, loo brush or a new man.  It had always been the same.
In school, Catherine invariably came to sit next to me and look over my shoulder as I wrote in my exercise books.  Working together, was her name for it.  At break times, if I was chatting to a boy, who would come wandering up but Catherine, flicking her blonde hair out of her eyes and smiling sweetly.  What the boys saw in her, I didn’t understand when we were young, but they always went after her. Still, she was good for a laugh and a drink in the pub – her parents were loaded.
Later when other friends had taken jobs in other parts of the country, we were the only two of the old crowd left.  Geoff and I always said we would move when he got his promotion but it never happened, and Catherine inherited her parents pile after they were killed in a car crash.   Somehow along the way she got married to Will.  Why she married, I don’t know because monogamy wasn’t a word in her dictionary.  She always said that Will was quiet and a bit dull; I think she saw him as a live-in handyman; he’s certainly transformed their old house.
Anyway, she took to calling round for that coffee whenever she wasn’t off on some shopping expedition or enticing some sexy fellow or other.  To be truthful I often looked forward to her visits as they lightened the boredom of being at home looking after the kids;  and we did laugh about the antics she got up to.
On that morning we had got onto our second cup.  The first had been taken up with the tale of the new sofa.  Taking a sip of the second she launched into the tale of her latest assignation. She described the most intimate details, humorously as always, of their bedroom frolics. Then, I think it was because she was so used to stealing my boyfriends when we were at school, that she forgot herself completely – she revealed her lover’s name.
‘Geoffrey,’ she said.
‘Geoffrey,’ I replied, ‘what a coincidence.’
She suddenly stopped laughing and I noticed that for the first time in her life she was blushing.  She stared into her cup.  A horror gripped my chest.
‘You don’t mean, my Geoffrey?’ I asked, slowly, deliberately, in a hoarse whisper forced between my gritted teeth.
She didn’t reply.
‘You do, don’t you,’ the pitch and volume of my voice rose.  She started to get up from her stool.
‘I think I had better go now,’ she said in an unfamiliar mousey tone. I tugged at her arms and forced her back down.
‘No you don’t.  You are going to tell me that it’s my Geoffrey you’re shagging.’
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…’
‘…to let it out that it’s my husband that’s your latest conquest.’
For some reason the red Le Creuset frying pan was on the table close to hand.  I think I had been drying it when Catherine arrived and just put it down to let her in.  I didn’t really think about it, just sort of picked it up and swung my arm.  It made a very satisfying thud when it hit her head.  She fell backwards off the stool and hit her head again on the floor.   I knew she was dead as soon as I looked at her.
Will and I buried Catherine alongside Geoffrey in the back garden.  Will has laid a lovely thick concrete foundation for the new patio that Geoffrey always wanted but did nothing about. All our neighbours are sympathetic about how Catherine and Geoff have run off and left us, and actually it turns out that Will isn’t as boring as Catherine suggested.
…………………………

Jasmine has a shock

Back to a familiar subject – the media and transgender. In the last couple of weeks there have a been a few items that have given me cause for thought.  First was Jenni Murray’s comment that trans-women aren’t real women. I haven’t heard the full context of what she said but it seems that she fell into a trap of disclosing her prejudice. My first thought was what does she mean by a real woman?  It can’t be someone with breasts and a vagina because many trans-women have those.  Perhaps it’s the presence of ovaries, but what about the women who have had them removed for various reasons – do they cease to be real women.  I can’t think of a single feature or lack of it that makes a woman real or fake unless we’re talking about the possession of two X chromosomes (even that is complicated by various chromosomal abnormalities). I’m sure Jenni doesn’t want to lump all women together in some outdated stereotype but she is reinforcing the stereotypical view of women with her discriminatory opinion.

Victoria Coren Mitchell did a piece in the Observer on Jenni Murray’s comment. I can’t recall her main point, if there was one, but she seemed to be commiserating with Jenni for being trapped in one of those topics where voicing an opinion is not allowed. The situation where speakers get banned from university campuses because their views may cause offence. We ought allow ourselves to be offended and respond with a reasoned argument and not close our minds to the views. I am offended my nearly every statement that emerges from this Conservative government, but that’s another matter. I don’t agree with shouting someone down simply because I think they are wrong. So I think Jenni Murray should be responded to but not gagged.

Which brings me to my last point.  There has been some discussion about Ricky Gervais.  Apparently, he made fun of transgendered people, specifically Caitlin Jenner, in a comedy skit. Was it offensive? I think we all need to be able to laugh at ourselves and perhaps all comedy has a degree of offence in it.  Being transgender has its ridiculous moments but I don’t like being ridiculed. My rule is to replace “trans” or some other term for a minority group with “black” or “disabled”.  If the joke becomes offensive to those groups then the original was obviously offensive too.

…………………………..

imgp5544That’s enough of that.  Don’t forget to go to the Jasmine Frame publications page to find out about the new novel, The Brides’ Club Murder. Here however, is the next episode of the prequel novella, Darkroom.

Darkroom: Part 8

The tube was quieter than earlier in the evening. Most of the passengers were single people, wearing work clothes, slumped in their seats. Jasmine guessed they were night-workers, cleaners, restaurant and bar staff, tired after a long shift. There were a few other people like themselves heading home after an evening of entertainment or perhaps going on somewhere.  Jasmine reflected on how different she felt now compared to earlier on the train. She wondered if Diana shared her feeling. Instead of the anticipation of showing off herself off as a woman, of meeting others like her enjoying themselves, there was the sense of being sullied by their attacker, a reinforcement of the worries that probably every woman and person trying to be a woman faces on a night out.
They arrived back at the mainline station and having checked that there was no train for Diana until after four a.m. they took the short walk back to the hotel. Diana stood in the middle of the room and stared, vacantly at the double bed.
Jasmine pointed at the couch under the window.
‘Look that’s a bed too. There’s spare pillows and blankets in the wardrobe.’
‘Why don’t you lie down and have a rest. We’ll make sure you get to your train,’ Angela said.  Diana nodded, went to the couch and sat down. She took her shoes off and lay on her side, tucking her legs up against her chest.
Angela took the blanket from the wardrobe and lay it over Diana.
‘There you are. Get some sleep if you can.’
Diana muttered a kind of thank you and lay with her eyes open.
Jasmine unzipped her dress and let it drop to the floor. She covered her underwear with a thin dressing gown and got into the double bed. Angela copied her and quickly climbed in beside her.
‘I hope Diana is alright,’ Jasmine said, looking at the curled-up figure.
‘I don’t think her head injury is serious,’ Angela whispered, ‘She was walking okay from the station, but I’m sure she’s troubled by what happens.’
‘I suppose we’ll see if she wants to catch the early train.’
She did. The rustle of Diana’s shoes on the carpet was enough to alert Jasmine that she was moving. Although she felt exhausted, Jasmine couldn’t fall asleep because of all the thoughts about the evening that passed through her mind.
‘Are you going for the train?’ Jasmine asked as quietly as possible to avoid disturbing Angela.
Diana froze as if she had not expected to hear her voice.
‘Yes,’ she said.
‘I’ll come with you,’ Jasmine said, swinging out of bed. ‘I don’t think stations are pleasant places in the early morning.’
Angela’s spoke her voice groggy with sleep. ‘I’ll join you.’
‘Sorry, I was trying not to disturb you,’ Jasmine said.
Angela gave her a tired smile, ‘I wasn’t sleeping very deeply.’
Jasmine pulled on the skirt and a thick top she had worn on the previous day’s journey and Angela quickly dressed too.
‘There,’ Jasmine aid, glancing in the mirror and deciding her make-up would do for a dark, cold morning, ‘We’re ready.’
The station was even more deserted than it had been a couple of hours earlier. Jasmine glanced at the departures board and noticed that a number of trains had “CANCELLED” beside them.
‘What’s up?’ she said, ‘There weren’t any problems earlier.’
‘My train’s OK,’ Diana said, ‘The cancelled trains were heading south. I’m going east.’
‘South?’ Angela queried, ‘That’s where we were isn’t it? Where the club is?’
Jasmine nodded. ‘I wonder what’s happened.’  They escorted Diana to her train and saw her through the barrier. Just before boarding her carriage, Diana turned and raised a hand.
‘I hope she’s safe?’ Angela said as she waved in return.
‘Safe, yes. Feeling safe, probably not. I think it will be a while before Diana is confident enough to take another night out; as Diana at any rate.’
Angela nodded and they turned away to return to the hotel. As they crossed the concourse, Jasmine saw a railway worker walking on a path that intersected with their own.
‘Why are all those trains cancelled?’ she asked.
The middle-aged man sniffed and looked at her. His eyes showed that he suspected she wasn’t a real girl. ‘Body on the line.’
‘A body!’ Angela gasped.
The man shrugged. ‘Happens all the time. Driver reports hitting something and when we turn up we find bits spread from here to Timbuctoo.’
‘Suicides?’ Jasmine asked.
‘Mostly. Selfish cunts who don’t care what it does to the driver. Sometimes though they’re dead first.’
‘What do you mean?’ Angela said.
‘Handy way of getting rid of body isn’t it. Have a train mash up the corpse for you, if you’re a murderer, that is. The gangs and criminals do it to cover their traces.’
Jasmine found certain thoughts running through her head.
‘Where was this body found?’
‘Why you lost one?’ The railway man chuckled. ‘I can’t say exactly,’ he went on, ‘somewhere down towards The Tower.’
‘That’s. . .’ Angela began. Jasmine grabbed her arm and dragged her away.
‘Thanks. We’ll have to wait till they’re running again, ‘ Jasmine said, walking away and leaving the railway man staring after them.

They were back inside the hotel before Angela spoke again.
‘That body. . .’
‘Yes, I know,’ Jasmine interrupted, ‘it was found near where we were.’
‘The club, the Engine Shed, was right on the lines.’
‘Of course, it was.’
‘You don’t think? Surely Debs didn’t intend. . .’ Angela froze as they climbed the stairs.
‘. . .killing the guy who attacked Diana and me.’  Jasmine shook her head. She didn’t want to entertain the thought.  ‘Look, we don’t know that this body on the line was him. It could be just a coincidence. The man at the station says it happens all the time.’
Angela was shaking now, her voice cracking. ‘But Debs said she would make sure he didn’t trouble girls again. She got her men to take him out the back exit. That probably opens onto the railway lines.’
Jasmine wrapped her arms around her and urged her up the stairs.
‘She wouldn’t be so daft to dump him close to the club. As I said it’s probably a coincidence.’
They returned to their room and quickly stripped off their clothes.  They fell into bed arms enclosing each other.  Soon Angela’s breathing showed that she was asleep but Jasmine kept on thinking.  What had Debs meant?

…………….to be continued.

Jasmine opens a door

I’m in one of those periods when there’s a lot on the go but not one main, all-consuming activity. I’ve all but finished a bit of work for an educational publisher; the contract for Cold Fire is signed but I doubt much will happen for a few months;  The Brides’ Club Murder is with the printer and I’m working myself up to start the promotion; I’ve started thinking and researching for the 4th Jasmine novel, Molly’s Boudoir; I’ve looked over my talk, Salt, Soap and Soda which I’ve given this week; and there have been tasks for all sorts of different organisations. It’s exciting in some ways but also leaves a feeling of not actually having done much. Writing this blog is the one thing I do every week. Why? Well, I was informed that to sell one’s books one has to have an online presence. This is it, but I’m not sure it has much visibility or penetration of the market. I suppose I am just useless at marketing – that’s a statement, not an excuse.

imgp5551Another reason for setting myself the weekly  deadline of this blog is that I like it. It means I have to think about what to write about (or not as this bit of rambling shows) and most weeks, it means writing an episode of the Jasmine Frame stories. I’ve heard that to become a something like a competent writer you need to have at least written a million words. Well, thanks to nine novels, eleven novellas and uncountable short stories I think I’ve done that.  Note, I said competent, not good or best-selling.  You need to have learnt something over the million words to become that. I’m certainly not troubling the best-seller lists but hope that my writing has developed. You can tell by reading the next (the fourth) episode of the Jasmine Frame story, Darkroom, below.

Darkroom: Part 4

Jasmine shook her head. Why had the girl dropped an earring in this nondescript street? The brick wall of the warehouse and the pavement were uniform. There was no apparent reason for her progress to be interrupted.  Perhaps she had just lifted a hand to her head and brushed her ear, knocking the clip from her earlobe.  Then she saw it. It was set back a few centimetres into the dark wall –  a wooden door.  Jasmine took the few steps towards it and tried the handle. She expected to find it locked and was surprised when the handle turned and the door moved a little. The door fitted tightly in its jamb but with a bit of a shove it opened revealing. . . well, not revealing, in fact. The inside was as black as a cellar. The dim streetlight only penetrated a metre across a dusty wood floor.
‘I’m going to have a look inside,’ Jasmine said.
‘Why?’ Angela asked from behind her.
‘Because it’s open. I’m wondering why.’
‘You’ll need this then.’ Angela held out a small torch.
‘Where did that come from?’
‘My bag of course. Real girls keep all sorts in their handbags.’
Jasmine shrugged and took the torch from her, turned it on and directed the beam through the doorway. A narrow corridor was revealed.  Jasmine took a step inside.
……………………..
I open my eyes. What’s happened to me? Where am I? I can’t see anything. Am I blind? I’m lying on my side, still. I tense my arms but my wrists are still bound tightly behind the chair. My hands feel numb and my shoulder aches. My head throbs. I can’t think straight.
Then, a sound. Footsteps. Is he coming back? A moan escapes from my throat. What’s he going to do next? Is this it? Is he going to kill me?
…………………….
Jasmine swung the torchlight from side to side as they advanced slowly along the corridor. She stopped at a doorway on the left. She scanned the light around the room. It was empty, except for dust, and probably spiders and other animals. She resumed the slow progress along the corridor with Angela at her back.
‘Did you hear that?’ Jasmine whispered.
‘What?’
‘I don’t know. A sound. Ahead I think.’
‘Be careful.’
Jasmine took a few more steps. The torch lit up another door ahead of them, closed. She reached her hand forward; touched the door. It swung open. The cone of light lit up more dusty floorboards and something else; the legs of a bentwood chair lying on its side, and two other legs.
Jasmine leapt forward to the side of the girl. The torch showed that her wrists were tied to the back of the chair with packing twine.
‘Are you alright?’ Jasmine said, stooping over the girl’s head. The black wig was askew covering her face.  She moaned.
‘We need to get her untied,’ Jasmine said, looking at the binding but not sure how to start. The knots looked as though they had been tugged tight.
‘I’ve got a penknife,’ Angela said, digging into her bag again.
‘I need to get a larger bag than this,’ Jasmine said, brandishing her small clutch bag in her hand.
‘Here. It’s not a big one.’ Angela handed her the knife which, with the blade pulled out, was no more than ten centimetres long. Jasmine gave her the torch
‘It’ll do. Shine the light on her wrists.’ Jasmine began hacking at the plastic cords. The blade wasn’t particularly sharp but it took just a few moments to cut through the bindings.  The girl’s arms came free and sagged.  Jasmine stood up and pulled the chair away. For a moment, she looked down at the girl. Her knickers and what was left of her stockings were around her ankles, but her shoes were still on her feet.  Her skirt was pushed up revealing a white expanse of thigh and buttock. She still had her red leather jacket on but it was open and her blouse was ripped open. False boobs poked out from the black lace bra.
‘Are you hurt?’ Jasmine asked leaning down.  There was mumble that could have been a no. There was no sign of blood so Jasmine decided to take a risk. She tugged the torn knickers from the girl’s ankles.
‘Help me get her up, Ange. We’d better get her out of here.’
She pushed her arms under the girl’s body and lifted. Angela took her arms and helped her into a sitting position. Together they hauled her onto her feet with their arms supporting her. She lolled against Jasmine’s shoulder.
Almost inaudibly the girl mumbled, ‘You’re not him?’
‘No, we’re helping you,’ Jasmine replied, taking a firmer grip on her waist.
‘Where can we take her?’ Angela asked as they stumbled along the narrow corridor.
‘It’ll have to be the club. There’s nowhere else round here.’
‘We should call the police; and an ambulance.’ Angela added.  They reached the door onto the street.
‘Yes, but let’s get her inside first. You can see she’s freezing.’  Jasmine heaved her up and with Angela draping the girl’s arm around her neck they set off up the road to the Engine Shed. They crossed the road to the entrance. The queue had grown and the waiting clubbers stared at them.  The security guards saw them immediately.
‘What’s up?’ the elder bouncer said.
‘She needs help. Can we get in, please?’
‘Yeah, of course.’ The guard pushed the queue back and stood to the side of the door as Jasmine and Angela helped the girl through. ‘What happened to her?’ he asked.
‘We don’t know, but she was attacked by someone.’
‘She’s trans?’
‘Yes.’
‘Well, you find the weirdo who did this to her and we’ll sort him out.’
‘Thanks,’ Jasmine grunted as they pushed through the doorway.  There was a crowd around the ticket office and cloakroom, and the corridor passed the loos was milling with girls coming and going.  The sound of the music seemed even louder than it had been earlier. Jasmine found that her head was spinning so she wondered how the t-girl felt.
‘Let’s get her to a quiet room,’ Angela shouted. ‘Then we can see what she needs.’
Jasmine nodded and they lifted the almost dead weight of the girl.  They carried her across the now thronging dance floor to the row of quiet rooms.
Jasmine lowered the girl onto a sofa as Angela pushed the door closed.
………………………..
I felt the cold as if watching snow from the other side of a window.  The music was random noise that hammered at my ears. The lights dazzled and confused me. None of it affected me. Now, I am in the almost quiet, the almost dark, lying on a soft settee. The air is warm but I shiver, partly from cold and partly from the memory of what has happened to me. These people saved me. How? One has gone leaving the other leaning over me. She speaks with a voice that reminds me of myself. She’s trans too.
‘Are you OK? Did he hurt you?’
There are pins and needles in my hands and arms. The blood returning to my arteries and veins. My wrists hurt where the cords cut in. I push myself into a sitting position. I shake my head. That hurts. Which question am I answering?
‘What’s your name?’ he/she asks.
‘Dave. . .’ I pause. That’s the other me. The one that isn’t pounced on by sex monsters. ‘Diana,’ I say.
‘Diana, I’m Jasmine. I’m with my wife Angela. We’re at The Engine Shed. The Be Club. Do you remember?’
I nod. Yes, I remember. I was on my way to the club. When was that? Eons ago. Before. . .
‘Do you mind me asking? Are you TV, like me, or TS?’
I open my mouth to answer. Nothing comes out. It’s not a question I’ve ever been asked before. I cough and swallow. My mouth is dry.
‘TV.’ It comes out as whisper.
‘Right. Ah, here’s a drink for you.’
The other woman, comes and stands over me. She’s holding a glass of water. I raise my hand to take it but my hand shakes, and water starts to spill.  She grabs it and helps me carry it to my lips. I sip the water. It’s cold but refreshing.  My head clears a little.
‘Thank you,’ I say.  The wife, Angela, sits beside me. The TV, Jasmine is still kneeling in front of me.
‘Are you injured?’ Angela asks.
My whole body aches, my wrists are still sore, the side of my head is tender, but after I explore my senses I decided that physically I’m not badly hurt. But inside I am shaking with fear and anger.  I shake my head and take another sip.
‘Can you tell us what happened?’ Jasmine asks, ‘Or do you want to wait to tell the Police.’
I have an image of sitting in a bare room with a policeman asking questions and writing down what I say. The thought appals me. How could I tell a policeman what has happened to me? He’ll laugh and say it’s my own fault for going out dressed as a girl.
‘Not the Police,’ I mutter.
‘OK,’ Jasmine says, nodding her blonde head.  Is it a wig? It looks much more real than mine. I realise that my wig is perched on the side of my head. I push it straight.  Jasmine smiles at me.
‘That looks better,’ she says. ‘Do you want to tell us instead? You might feel better if you share it.’
Angela puts her arms around my shoulders and gives me a squeeze. I feel her soft, real breast against my shoulder.
Jasmine is right. I should tell them what happened, but I wonder if I can describe it. The shame is numbing. I nod and try to find the words.
……………….to be continued