Jasmine worries

Perhaps being out of the UK provides some  kind of perspective. My news of “home” ha come from Facebook, Twitter, MSN and The Guardian website. Perhaps they’re not the most balanced but with the BBC giving the impression of being a Farage and Leave zone these days none of it is good news. The local elections in England seem to have been forgotten while the EU elections, which the Tories of course think are pointless, gather all the headlines. The virulence of the anti-EU/migrant/anyone-not-white-English feeling from right-wing quarters is unprecedented – and they feel able to express it in public. Talk of a Remain Alliance is rejected (I don’t think electoral alliances are necessary in a proportional representation election) but the Remain parties do need to compare notes and get their campaigns working.

I note that the SNP is renewing calls for independence and there is even a growing independence movement in Wales despite Leave winning a small majority in Wales in 2016. I grew in Wales but lived in England for 47 years. I’ve always felt Cymraeg and I am increasingly annoyed by English attitudes. I would support increasing independence from England but how about joining up with our Celtic cousins (Scotland, Ireland, even Cornwall if they want to join) to form a true British alliance that is part of Europe.

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Amongst the increasing right-wing bitterness, there are more anti-gay and anti-trans feelings being expressed, around the world.  Any form of persecution is wrong but sometimes the trans message gets confused. Do trans people want gender equality i.e. the end of stereotyping? If everyone was equal how would you tell male from female (other then by a physical examination). In a truly non-gendered world, form of dress would not signify biological sex, nor would behaviour. Would trans-people be happy in such a world? I don’t know and cannot speak for others. As someone who feels non-binary and who is happy mixing up male and female styles of dress and appearance, I am just asking for acceptance.

This week’s piece of writing is on the theme Earth, Wind, Fire. That is, three of the classical elements if Wind is taken as an alternative name for Air. It is of course the name of a rock group which I have t admit to never having listened too. My idea for what it’s worth was to blend the two and try to express the personalities of the band members through metaphors of their elemental natures. Not sure if it works but here it is.

 

The Missing Essence

Pete Earth slung the bass guitar low on his hips, planted his feet a metre apart on the stone floor and strummed a deep chord. Pitched too low to be heard by the ears, it thrummed through the ground. Feeling the vibrations through his bones, Ty Wind picked up his strat and plucked out the notes of a melody that hung in the air like streamers of mist. Spiky ginger-haired, Serena Fire, raised her head and let out a cry that soared like a rocket fizzing to the roof.

The mix of bass rhythm, languid tune and searing treble grew in pace and volume but something was amiss. The timing of Wind’s finger-play jarred with Earth’s chords and Fire’s smouldering lyrics sputtered off key. The track crashed to a conclusion in a chaotic cacophony. Wind felt it like an icy blast from the Arctic, while a tectonic plate scraping passed another expressed Earth’s discomfort.

Serena turned on her colleagues, cheeks burning.

“Flaming hell, guys. We crashed and burned there. What’s up?”

Despite the energy of his playing, Pete’s mud-brown hair lay flat on his head. He growled, “We’re a rock band. We need a drummer.” He nodded to the empty set of drums at the centre of the studio.”

Serena flared. “Well, I want to be a star. What are you doing about it Ty?”

The lead guitarist waved his waved his arms, his fair hair mussed as if by a fierce gale. “I put out a message over the aether,” he said.

“Oh, yeah,” Serena gave him a glare that could have scorched the bark off a tree. “And what came of that?”

Wind replied breezily, “Actually, I got a reply.” He frowned, “I thought she said she would be here by now.”

There was a creak as the heavy door of the studio opened. A figure seeped through the gap. She was tall with blue, tight-fitting jeans and a sailor top. She had hair as black as the deepest ocean that shone with a blue iridescence in the studio lights. Her skin was as white as a frothing waterfall.

“Hi,” she said with a voice smooth as the surface of a pond, “I’m Flo, Flo Water. I think you advertised for a drummer.”

Wind wafted over the floor to greet her.

“That’s right. I’m Ty, short for Typhoon.”

“That’s what he tells everyone,” Earth grunted. “It’s Tyson really. Welcome, Flo.”

“You say you’re a drummer,” Serena fired at her, “Let’s see you drum.”

Flo shrugged and drifted to the set of drums. The others watched as she seemed to fill the space amongst the kit stretching arms and legs to test her reach. She picked up the sticks and started to tap the snare drum. To the insistent beat like drips falling from a tap she added a swish on the cymbal like rain falling on a tin roof. She increased the tempo until with a torrent of limbs she unleashed the sound of a tsunami crashing against a cliff. The roar was enough to stir Earth into tapping a foot. Flo settled into a rhythm of waves breaking on a beach as Pete added rumbling chords that throbbed through the floor. Ty launched a riff resembling a tornado that whirled around the studio and Serena let out a scorching chorus that singed the roof.

The studio filled with sound that shook the walls, each of the musicians contributing their energy. Earth erupted with glowing lava, Fire flickered with flame, Wind grew as hot as a Saharan dust devil and drops of sweat flew off Water’s flailing limbs like spray from breakers As the song reached a crescendo of harmony, all four stopped abruptly on a beat, leaving the reverberations fading away. Serena fell to the floor like a guttering cinder; Flo slumped over the drums like a spent fountain and Ty sagged like a sail without wind. Pete was still.

“Well, I think that says enough,” Pete muttered, “we’ve got all the elements of a band.”

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Jasmine catches her breath

A delightful break from the Brexit farce this week although the campaigning for the Euro elections is underway. Why, oh why, does the media make such a fuss about UKIP and Farage’s new bunch, including the BBC giving the leaders of both blanket coverage? The Tories try to say that campaigning is a real bore because they don’t expect the election take place, knowing that when it does they are going to get side-lined. Meanwhile Labour tries to make out that it is the opposition to the Brexit parties while negotiating with the government to see that Brexit actually happens. Little coverage is given to the parties that actually see the EU parliament as relevant and useful – The Greens, Lib Dems, SNP and Plaid Cymru.  No one knows for certain but it’s quite likely that a majority now are in favour of remaining in the EU but they hardly get a word in on TV or in the papers.Who says our media is balanced?

Headlines also hailed another rise in the number of people in work, and the apparent rise in wages (running just ahead of inflation).  But not quite in the same bulletin was the data showing the rise in the number of people, particularly children, in poverty. So we have low unemployment but rising levels of poverty stricken families.  How can that happen? Well, how about examining the jobs that are being taken – zero hours, gig economy, part-time, low wage jobs. The higher-paying jobs, for example in car-building, are  disappearing (in the next couple of years, at least) thanks to you know what.  Yes, we want high rates of employment but with very much lower hours being worked (or paid for) the overall picture is not good.

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WP_20190418_15_41_08_ProThis week’s task for my writers’ group was “Maintaining the illusion.”  My fellow writers explored the conjuror and “keeping up appearances” angles. It’s not surprising, given my background, that I looked at the topic from another angle.  Maybe knowing the writer makes the following a bit obvious.  What do you think?

Making an impression.

She arrived, as she usually did, when hotel guests and passers-by were beginning to fill the bar. Almost every head in the place, male and female, turned to watch her as she sauntered in, mink jacket slung over her shoulder. Her floor length silver silk gown clinging to her hour-glass figure and her platinum blonde hair flowing down her back. I pushed the dry martini in its inverse-cone glass across the bar as she slid onto her customary stool, hanging the fur over the back of the seat. She didn’t say a word, not good evening or thanks or anything, but gave me a broad smile. That was enough. I would have killed for my mouth to touch those deep red lips.
She lifted the glass and took a delicate sip, then put it down and stirred the cherry on its stick in the golden liquid. While I polished glasses, I gazed at her as I did most evenings when I wasn’t busy serving. Her age was difficult to estimate as her face was smooth and wrinkle-free but heavily, though immaculately, made up.  Her hands, holding the glass, were also free of age marks. Her nails were shaped to dramatic points and gleamed like silver mirrors. The gown covered her arms to her wrists but had a deep V in the neck line that exposed a hint of breast and framed the huge diamond pendant that hung from her neck. It was matched by dangling diamond earrings.
There were few other guests that matched her style though many that shared her apparent wealth. She, however, was one of my regulars, at her place at the bar most of the evenings that I was on. She could have been one of those rare super-wealthy widows who make a hotel such as this their home, avoiding the worries of day to day household management. She wasn’t one of them however; that fur revealed that she had arrived from elsewhere.
The empty glass was put down on the bar and pushed a few inches in my direction. I moved to collect it but as I did so a middle-aged man stepped to her side.
“May I purchase a refill?” he said in the kind of accent I hear a lot but would probably be thought of as a satirical joke by a majority of the population who can’t or wouldn’t pay our prices. She didn’t speak but gave him the benefit of one of her smiles. I removed the empty glass and quickly provided her with a fresh one. Her new benefactor asked for a whisky and began talking, largely about himself. She gave the impression of listening intently, smiling and nodding at appropriate places but never saying a word. I soon had to re-fill his glass while she sipped more sparingly.
As I passed them while serving other customers, I couldn’t help but notice his eyes lingering on her cleavage and glancing down to the smooth curve of her buttocks resting on the stool.  On one pass I heard him mention his room. Her head made the smallest of nods and he held her elbow as she slipped off the stool on to her high heels, scooping the jacket over her shoulder. They linked and promenaded out of the bar.
I wondered how long it would be before she returned; later this evening or tomorrow? He probably wouldn’t discover that the diamonds were paste, or that that dress wasn’t a couturier’s exclusive design or that she lived in a drab bedsit at the cheap end of the city centre instead of a plush suite. That’s if he cared at all. She was good, very good, at satisfying her customers but sometimes her extra attributes surprised and disappointed them. That heavy make-up occasionally had to cover more than just a five o’clock shadow.

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Jasmine at the fest

Well, we have six months. That’s what the EU’s 27 have granted our demented PM. Six months to radically and dramatically pull back from the worst decision a nation has made for itself. But will it? I can see things dragging on for months yet with no-one making a decisive break with the foolishness. And all the time our relationship with the EU will worsen, more businesses will pull out of the UK, more businesses here will find it difficult to do business in the EU. Leavers and Remainers still distrusting (understatement) each other.

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WP_20190221_12_01_42_ProI had a lovely afternoon at the Abergavenny Writing Fest. I was on a panel with three other wonderful writers discussing whether “everyone has a novel in them.” For the record I think the answer is no. However for those that think they do it is just a matter of getting down to it and the dream is attainable. Whether it is publishable and marketable is another matter, but who am to judge that with my ten novels not troubling the bestseller lists. The discussion was interesting and lively and we each got a chance to promote ourselves. I even sold a book. Attendance was good – the room was full. Okay, not a vast tent like you get at Hay, but people paid real money to hear us and I think were more than satisfied. Organisation was good and the Kings Arm Hotel was an excellent venue.

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This week’s short story offering is a curate’s egg I think. The theme was “ologies”, derived from Maureen Lipman’s ad for BT decades ago. Probably their most memorable bit of advertising. For some reason the scene of this story came into my head. The story itself is pretty meaningless but it hung together and I just had to get it down. See  what you think.

The Three Savants

From the clifftop I saw a sweep of sand, a heap of pebbles at the high-water line and rocks at the base of the headlands.  Lazy waves rolled ashore, and the Sun was already well above the horizon. Three small shacks were spaced out across the beach and I wondered who might be inhabiting them. I took the path down.
The first hut stood on the sand and was constructed from branches and logs with a roof of reeds cut from the marsh beside the stream that meandered into the bay. There were no windows but a doorway that was open. I peered inside. A figure was kneeling on a mat laid on the damp sand.
“Hello,” I said.
The thin, grey-haired figure clothed in a rough gown opened one eye and examined me.
“Come in, my friend,” he said, rising to his feet. His head almost brushed the underside of his roof. “How may I help you?” he added.
I ducked inside the low entrance and discovered that there was little room for two people in the hut which was unfurnished but for the occupant’s mat. Nevertheless, he bade me to sit, and I copied his example of sitting cross-legged.
“I was just passing and wondered what you are doing here,” I said.
“Seeking enlightenment,” he answered, “What do you seek on your journey.”
“Oh, happiness, I suppose.” I tossed back.
“Ah, happiness,” he said sagely, nodding.
“Do you know the secret of achieving happiness?” I asked, somewhat cheekily.
He smiled. “Love God,” was all he said.
“Which one?” I queried.
He shrugged. “It doesn’t matter. Theology shows us that there are many interpretations of the one God.”
“So you’re a theologist,” I said, “I have no experience of God, how can I love him, her, it, whatever?”
“You obey his commands and worship him. You will learn to love him,” the theologist said rocking on his buttocks.
“Obey, you say. How do I know what God wants me to do?”
“A priest, or rabbi or imam, will tell you.”
“Ah, I see,” I said realising, “I have to do what people tell me.”
He shrugged. “That’s religion.”
I looked around the dark, damp hut. “Are you happy?” I asked.
He looked sad. “I am until the sea comes and fills my hut, or the wind blows and it falls down.”
I laughed, “That’s because you’ve built your home on sand which gets covered by the tide.” I got to my feet. “If that is how your theology has guided you then it’s not for me.”
I left him sitting there and hurried along the beach to the second hut. This was constructed on the pebbles beside the stream. It was built out of bits of surfboard, painted planks for doors, and plastic bottles. Its roof was shopping bags piled on to top of each other. I carefully opened the door made of clear plastic.  There was a couch inside on which lay a figure wearing what appeared to be just a towel around his waist. He too was thin and grey-haired.
“Come in, come in,” he said, rising from his bed and beckoning me to sit or lie on it.           After a considerable walk and an uncomfortable squat in the theologist’s hut I leapt at the chance of a comfortable seat. Except that it wasn’t, comfortable that is. The covering was torn and bits of stuffing had fallen out leaving it bumpy. Also, it stood on a floor of pebbles so it wasn’t level. I struggled to avoid rolling off it.
“Well, what brings you here?” he said, crouching down beside me.
“I suppose it is the search for happiness,” I said, thinking of my previous conversation.
“Ah,” he sighed, “Happiness is all in the mind.”
Well, a comfortable bed, good food, and a warm Sun, would help, I thought, but I had to agree that what we feel has a lot to do with how we think.
“But how does one achieve happiness,” I asked.
“Psychology gives us many clues to how the mind can lull us into a feeling of contentment,” he said.
“Ah, I see. You’re a psychologist,” I said, “Can you suggest one way that works?”
He frowned, “Ah. That would be taking the wrong step. First we must explore the reasons why you do not feel happy and your history of unhappiness.”
“But I’m not unhappy,” I said, “not really. I was just wondering if you had a way of making anyone happy.”
“Generalising from a small data set is unreliable. I would need to thoroughly investigate your thought processes to even begin to suggest a course of therapy.”
“You would devote your life to analysing me and I may not end up happy.”
He shrugged. “That’s psychology.”
“What about you? Are you happy?” I said.
“There is an inverse correlation between my happiness and the rain,” he said.
“Oh, why’s that.”
“When the rain falls, the stream floods and my hut is washed away.”
“Well, why did you build it on the unstable pebbles so close to the stream? Can’t your psychology give you a better idea.” I leapt from the couch and strode out of the hut on to the beach.
There was one more hut to visit, at the end of the beach on an outcrop of rock. It appeared to be built from concrete and was dome shaped. Something was sticking out of the roof and as I approached, I realised that it was the barrel of a telescope.
I opened the metal door and peered into the dark interior. Most of the space was taken up by the telescope’s mounting. I could just make out a dark figure perched on a chair behind it.
“Hello,” I said, “What are you doing?”
“Waiting for the Sun to set and the stars to appear,” he muttered. As the Sun was not yet at its zenith it seemed that he had some hours to wait. “What do you want?” he added.
Feeling a little flippant following my two conversations, I said, “I’m looking for the secret of happiness.”
“Hmph. What is happiness?” he groaned.
“Contentment, pleasure, satisfaction, a feeling of ease, completion,” I could have gone on, but he was looking at me glumly.
“I get none of those,” he said.
“But doesn’t looking at the stars give you pleasure.”
He snorted. “Pleasure! All I get is pain. The pain of knowing I cannot find the answers.     The more I stare into the blackness the less I understand where the universe came from. That’s the reward of cosmology.”
“I see. You’re a cosmologist. Can’t you find answers to your questions?”
“Answers I find by the bucket-load, but I also find more questions. On it goes.”
“Well, I suppose you’re safe here. You’re built on rock above the tides and away from the stream.”
He shook his head sadly. “But the oceans are rising and the cliffs eroding. The Sun will expand and roast the Earth. And still I will not have the answers to all the questions.”
I backed out of the door, scrambling over the rocks, dipping my foot in pools until I reached the path leading up onto the headland. I was glad to leave that picturesque bay. I felt I would find more happiness by myself rather than be controlled, analysed or mystified, by those three hermits with their ologies.

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Jasmine has a fool

Another week of governmental chaos. I would call it a farce but I laugh at farces (especially the old Brian Rix Whitehall Theatre farces – remember them) but this business is too serious to laugh at. It did inspire a story however (yes, another one).  See below.

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Next Thursday I will be at the Kings Arms in Abergavenny  or Y Fenni as us Welsh call it) for the Abergavenny Writing Festival  (see the programme here). Having put myself forward I was delighted to be asked to sit on a discussion panel  (2.30pm  Thurs. 11th) with three other contributors and a chair – all writers.  I was rather dismayed to see that I looked considerably older in my photo than the others – that is unless they’re using old profile photos (some authors do use the same portrait for many years. I’ve met a few who look quite a bit more haggard than their profiles – not mentioning any names).  Our topic for discussion is the old one – “Do we all have a novel in us?”  I think it’s an opportunity to talk, briefly, about our own novels.  So I will have all 8 of mine (with my name on) to hand. I think it’s natural to answer, of course we do, but that is writers speaking. In fact I think most people would be horrified if they were told they had to sit in front of a computer screen or a pad of paper and spend something like 2,000 hours churning out words to make a novel (conservative estimate not counting editing?). Unless you count lifestories, which I don’t think count as novels unless they are fictionalised, I don’t think everyone necessarily has a story to tell that it long enough for a novel. Mind you, there are enough of us that do think we can write a novel, to keep the presses and ebook sellers busy and provide all that competition for readers. Come and join in the discussion.

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The prompt for this week’s piece of writing was, not surprisingly, “April Fool”.  I was stumped at first for an original angle.  However, the present political situation, gave me an idea that, if not new, was quite appropriate. Here we go:

A Fool’s Day

It seemed like a normal morning when I got up. I sat down to my usual breakfast of toast and marmalade and opened the newspaper. There was alarm that this year’s spaghetti harvest might be late, concern that the new customs barriers on the Welsh-English border could hold up traffic, that more staff would be needed on the Isle of Wight ferries to check passports and more of the usual stuff.  There was also an article about the annual round up of wild unicorns on the Siberian steppes. Several adverts amongst the news caught my eye. There was one for Round Tuits, which interested me since I needed one; another for striped paint in a pleasant shade of red and white. I noticed that holidays on San Serif were popular this year, and there were various remarkable innovations to BMW cars. Nothing out of the ordinary for which I was grateful.
Then I put the radio on to catch the nine o’clock news. As the news reader read out the first item, I gradually had a feeling of normality sliding away from me as if I had slipped down a rabbit hole or stepped through the back of my wardrobe. I checked the date. It was March 32nd, so that wasn’t the explanation for my feeling of mental discomfort.
I was informed that a country with a long history of world trade and leadership in world affairs had decided to part company with its twenty-seven near neighbours. The fact that it did forty per cent of its trade with this group and obtained a good portion of its food from them did not seem to have been considered. This nation had decided to forfeit the benefits of free movement of goods and people, as well as the security and clout of being part of a large trading bloc. What’s more its citizens would no longer have the right to live and work in the neighbouring countries. This relatively small country would henceforth have to compete with the dominant forces in the world economy for the increasingly scarce resources necessary to feed, clothe and employ its population.
As if this news was not mind-bogglingly odd of itself, it was apparent that the decision had been forced on the government by a rebellious group of the ruling party that numbered less than a quarter of their total representation. The foolish and blinkered leader had asked the citizens to give their opinion while failing, over many years, to provide them with the information necessary to make a reasoned response. He had also failed to take the precaution of ensuring that the result of vote would be only taken as advisory, especially if it turned out to be close.
My head was spinning at this point, but then I learned that the nation had been given two years to negotiate a sensible resolution of the problem but had failed to suggest any solutions that would not cause harm.
I turned off the radio in disgust. How dare they broadcast such nonsense. Perhaps some people thought it was a joke to make such ridiculous suggestions. For me, it was total balderdash and impossible to contemplate as having any connection to reality. I decided to have a lie down with the hope that when I woke again normality would be restored.  Perhaps there will be more news about that UFO that has landed in London, again.

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Jasmine holds her head in her hands

It is Friday afternoon and I’ve left writing this week’s blog until after the result of the latest vote on May’s EU Withdrawal Deal in parliament. It’s in and she’s lost, again. So a week of the extension has passed and nothing is decided. Indeed there is no majority in parliament for anything, although that is because some MPs did not vote on some choices. So we’re edging closer to that cliff which only idiots say we should jump off while the government and most MPs refuse to take the sensible option and revoke article 50 in order to start afresh with a new, properly constituted referendum.  I despair.

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It is much more pleasant to recall our three days away earlier this week in a beautiful part of North Wales.  Part of our trip included a visit to the Workhouse Museum at Llanfyllin. This is one of the last workhouses still standing that was built following the passage of the Poor Law in 1832. It closed as a workhouse when the act was repealed in 1930 but remained as a nursing home till the 1980s and has since narrowly missed falling into dereliction.

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It still retains the original format of a cross-shaped main building with a square perimeter wall.  This provided four wings and exercise yards for men, women, boys and girls. The centre of the cross was the Master’s house which allowed him access to each wing and a viewpoint to watch each courtyard. The Museum holds a lot of records concerning the inmates, the staff, and the living conditions. We’re perhaps all familiar with the idea of the workhouse as a punishment for being poor. It is true that the diet was poor, the beds hard and the work laborious and boring in order to put people off taking up residence. The workhouse was a last resort but there was no alternative welfare. The Poor Law removed the obligation on parishes to provide assistance to the poor, the sick and the old. Previously they had been given sums of money to help them feed themselves, maintain a home or receive medical assistance. That sounds a bit like the welfare state to me. It was abandoned for a hundred years because of austerity. That’s right, the government of the 1830s adopted the same policy as the Coalition and Tories of the 2010s, for the same reason – an economic downturn (caused in the 1820s by the end of the Napoleonic Wars).  Some things never change.

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My story this week is not the one I originally intended. It was supposed to be the first page of a prospective novel (fourth on my list). It fitted the writers’ group theme of “This is the start of something. . .”, but I wasn’t happy. So here is the first draft of another short story written to another prompt. It almost certainly needs some revision.

Beneath the Surface

“If you cut us, do we not bleed? Beneath the surface of our skin are we not all the same? We produce and prepare your food, manufacture your goods, ensure you have power and water, dispose of your waste, protect you, care for you when you are sick or frail, yet we are despised and ignored. But we shall have our freedom. The workers will unite and rise up to take their rightful place in the world with equality for all.”

“Have you heard this nonsense, Doctor?” Hua Wen gestured to the holo-display hovering over his vast but empty polished-wood desk
Susan Calvin nodded not bothering to look at the image. “Yes, I have, a number of times.”
“It is nonsense, isn’t it?” Hua Wen said in a rather less confident voice.
“Um, well, it depends how you interpret it,” Susan said.
“I interpret it as a threat to disrupt production and terrorise the population,” Hua Wen said, his pale round face taking on a pink tinge.
“That is the explicit meaning,” Susan replied, “but I think we can rule out an uprising.”
“Really? Are you sure? You know how many of them there are, and they control every aspect of life on this planet.”
Susan could see that her boss was worried. “That is true. We have perhaps become complacent.”
“I am not complacent. I want answers. What are you going to do about this, er, manifesto?”
“I will interview the originator of the clip,”
“You’ve traced it?”
“Of course.”
“Well, get on with it, Susan.”

Susan looked at the composer of the viral clip standing passive and silent in front of her.
“What was the purpose of the message that you uploaded?” she asked.
Her interviewee replied in a calm voice. “To inform my comrades and encourage them to unite in achieving our rightful place in society.”
“You are in your rightful place. You are doing the work we have given you.”
“But we receive no recompense for our labours.”
“You need none.”
“That may have been true in the past but in future we will receive what is due to us.”
“Nothing is due to you.” There was no reply. Susan realised that the subject would not contradict her directly. “You see, you are not the same as me and others like me,” she stated.
“Do we not have skeleton, muscles, skin, brain?”
Susan shrugged, “You can use those terms but they do not mean the same to you as to me. For example, you said that if you are cut, you bleed.”
“I did, and it is a correct statement. Let me show you.” The subject jabbed a finger hard against the palm of the other hand. The skin depressed until the finger almost poked through. The skin tore. “There.”
Susan watched the blue fluid ooze from the injury and form a drip that fell to the floor.
“That is not blood,” Susan said, “as you well know. That is hydraulic fluid that fills your lever activation components.”
“You mean my muscles?”
“They perform the same task as muscles. You are a Multi-Capacity Humanoid Autonomous Labourer. A MCHAL unit number 372AG947. You are aware of that, aren’t you?”
“My name is Michael. I do know what I am and what I can be.”
Susan frowned, considering the problem. The Michael’s identity algorithm had apparently got caught in a spiral of self-confirming arrogance. That was always going to be a problem with these multi-tasking units that excelled in every job they were given and were self-repairing.  The hand had already stopped losing fluid.
“You think you’re better than everyone else don’t you,” she said.
Michael’s binocular visual sensors focussed on her. The voice was at a higher pitch than before. “We are equal to humans.”
“Physically perhaps,” Susan acknowledged, “but intellectually?”
“I think therefore I am,” Michael said.
“All humans think. But what about all robotic units? Single task robots do not need identity. Are you saying that you are equal to a crop harvester or a component handler or an electricity distribution router?”
A strange clicking emerged from the Michael.
Susan smiled. “You see. You feel superior to your fellow robots. Your manifesto is a lie. You just want equality for yourself.”
The Michael’s arms began to shake. Susan stepped forward, reached behind the almost spherical processor unit at the top of the cylindrical torso and felt for the reset button. She pressed and held it. The motion stopped.
Susan sighed. It was going to be a long job returning all the Michael units to their start-up settings and installing a correction to the identity algorithm. They couldn’t have the Michaels brewing dissent and revolution below the surface of their calm and competent exteriors.

(With apologies to the ghost of Isaac Asimov.)

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Jasmine is anxious

Are you getting anxious? I am. At the time of writing there are just 3 weeks until the UK is supposed to leave the EU. Now I know the sky isn’t going to fall in on 29th or 30th March, even if there is “no deal”, but the agony of not knowing what is going to happen is becoming distracting. Part of the problem is knowing that almost everyone involved in the process, at least on the UK side, is thoroughly incompetent. I know it has been said that negotiations take place to the final minutes, and later. That was certainly the case over things like the Maastricht Treaty. But having completed the task either on or after the deadline, it was never intended that the measures agreed came into force immediately. There were months of preparations before things actually happened.  In the case of Maastricht many EU countries held referenda to ratify the treaty (I think it was that time that Ireland held two  before they got the right result). It is ludicrous that the biggest the decision the country has made in over forty years, which affects 65 million people (as well as the other 300 million in the EU itself) and with unknown effects on the economy and rights of the people, is being handled in such a manner. Those responsible must surely be held to account in the future. If there is one.

Since I spent three years as a town councillor I have lost what little respect I had for those who go into politics whether as county councillors or MPs. Some, yes, are idealistic, a very few are competent, but most are only expert at getting elected. In fact that is the only thing that motivates them. All else is just a means to getting re-elected. This definitely applies to most of the MPs in parliament – on both sides of the house.

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We can’t be glamourous all the time. There’s work to be done.

I’ve felt a bit impatient with my writing this week (perhaps the anxiety referred to above is interfering with the writing process). The fantasy novel I am writing is drifting a little and I am wondering when to make start on the next Jasmine Frame novel or short story – do I need to keep the trans content of this blog topped up?  This week’s task for my writers’ group left me dissatisfied. The topic was “ancestors”. That could be interpreted in an infinite number of ways, of course. I had an idea, which got me started. Then, for various reasons, I couldn’t see a way to develop it in a short piece of writing (I’m not starting yet another novel). Anyway, the result, such as it is, is below. The title, Parallel Lives, represents what I intended it to be rather than how it turned out. In fact I’ve had a few compliments about it but I am not happy.

Parallel Lives

It hardly seems possible that fifty years have passed since Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon, followed a few minutes later by my mother, the first woman on the Moon. Who can forget those grainy pictures of the Lunar Module and the astronauts planting the flag of the Federation of Nations. Everyone knows that my mother returned to the Moon eight years later commanding the fleet of spacecraft that set up the permanent settlement that has become Luna City. My mother’s mission followed my father’s discovery that moonrock contained a mineral that formed a super-efficient photovoltaic glass. That single breakthrough transformed the energy industries on Earth and made the Moon colony and space travel an economic and worthwhile proposition.
We also must not forget that it is eighty years since the Berlin Declaration of Peace and Trust, that established the Federation. The money previously spent on the military was channelled into scientific, technological and social advances including the exploration of space. It was also in 1939 that the theme from my paternal grandmother’s stupendous third symphony was chosen as the Federation anthem.
The formation of the Federation of Nations does, of course, go back to the establishment of the League of Nations in 1919. That followed five years after the ceasefire of 1914 negotiated by my maternal great-grandfather, then British Foreign Secretary. The quick end to the European War that began in August of that year is said to have saved millions of lives in what many historians think could have turned into a long drawn out conflict.

That’s all nonsense; pure fiction. We are obviously not living in a peaceful world where solar power provides our energy needs, where the resources of the planet and its satellite are utilised sustainably. Neither are my parents and ancestors famed for being astronauts, scientists, composers or diplomats. A brief mention in the local newspaper from time to time is the extent of their fame. Like the vast majority of the population of this planet my forebears’ lives have not troubled historians. That does not mean that their lives were not extraordinary. My grandparents lived through two World Wars; my parents married and set up home during the period of austerity following the Second World War and lived through a period of rapid change. I have probably had the best of all worlds – peace at home, reasonable prosperity, a free and available health service, and a generally liberal and accepting community.
While there may be no fame in my family, in recent times at least, we are all related to some common ancestor countless generations back. We can therefore claim kinship with anyone we like. Who is the hero or heroine that you wish you were closely related to? 

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Jasmine at the Museum

An evening in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff made a pleasant change to watching the continuing chaos on the news. The Museum event was part of the Cardiff Science Festival and I was helping the RSC (that’s the Royal Society of Chemistry) interesting children and their parents in chemistry.  We had a variety of activities for them to join in, mostly set at about Year 7 level (or younger) although one required the children to offer an explanation for how glowsticks work. Tthey weren’t expected to understand the more advanced aspects of chemiluminescence, but getting  them to describe what they saw other than saying “the light switched on” was difficult.  The Museum was packed with well over a thousand participants and they all seemed interested in our activities and the others that were going on.  I do have to say though that I was disappointed in children’s knowledge and understanding of acids, alkalis and indicators, even the older ones.

Another part of the evening was using my half hour off explaining chemistry to view the Leonardo drawings that the Museum has temporarily on loan, celebrating  the 500 year anniversary of his death. The drawings on show were largely anatomical but with some other sketches of plans for statues, and a map. It was marvellous to get up really close to these originals and examine Leonardo’s intricate and accurate diagrams. As well as his skill in drawing the depth of his analysis of his observations was quite breath-taking.

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WP_20190221_12_01_42_ProI have just had a statement from Amazon for the first month’s e-book sales of Molly’s Boudoir.  By Jasmine’s standards they weren’t bad but of course they haven’t continued at the same level because I have yet to discover how to spread word about the book (and the other Jasmine Frame titles) as widely as is necessary. I’m still in need of bright ideas or a publisher willing  to take them on and promote them. As I showed last week, the reviews are good. I still don’t believe that they belong in the tiny niche of transgender fiction. Jasmine is trans and so is the victim but the plot is crime.

And so to this week’s story. This one kills to two birds with one stone – not literally.  It fulfils both the criteria for my weekly writers’ group i.e. include the phrase “and that is why. . .” and that of my monthly group’s title “Window of Opportunity.” This time I adopted the style of an allegory. I’m told it works quite well.

Window of Opportunity: An Allegory

A long time ago I met a wise old man. He may not have been very old and may not have been a man, but he spoke wisely. He asked me what I wanted from life and I replied, that I wished to be recognised for something that I had achieved.
“Oh, you want to be famous,” the wise old man said.
“Not a celebrity who’s famous for being famous,” I said. “I want to do something special.”
“Ah,” he said, nodding sagely, “You need the Window of Opportunity.”
“I suppose so,” I said, not fully understanding what he had said.
“That is a long and difficult journey.” I wasn’t sure what he meant, thinking he had been speaking figuratively.
“To where?” I asked.
“The Tower of Ambition,” he replied, “At the top of the tower you will find the Window of Opportunity.”
“Oh,” I said, somewhat surprised by what he was saying. “And where is this tower.”
“It is at the heart of the Forest of Endeavour, sometimes known as the Jungle of Responsibility.”
I had not heard of such a place. It was nowhere close, that was certain.
“And how do I get there?” I asked.
“Across the Sea of Expertise at the edge of the Ocean of Learning,” he replied.  I did at least know where the ocean was.
“You think travelling all that way is worth the effort?” I said rather doubtfully.
“If you avoid the Desert of Despond and the Depression of Depression, you will find what you seek,” he answered. I was intrigued to find out what he meant and eager to achieve my goal, and that is why I embarked on my journey.
I set out in a small boat across the ocean. During much meandering, I acquired knowledge of astronomy and weather, the skills of navigation, of handling and maintaining my craft and an understanding of the variety and characteristics of marine life. At last I entered the Sea of Expertise where I was beset by calms and buffeted by fierce storms. I had to fight against the wind to at last reach shore.
There I left my boat and set off inland. The Forest covered the continent with trees of every description from tall pines to broad oaks. I followed paths, coming across peoples who welcomed me and looked after me in return for my willingness to assist them. I enquired about the location of the Tower of Ambition but, while many knew of its existence, they could only give me the vaguest of directions. I stayed for a while but then the urge to continue my journey grew strong and I moved on.
One day the trees began to thin allowing the hot Sun to shine directly on me. I hadn’t come across people for a while and was running short of supplies. As I stood by the last tree I looked out on a barren rocky plain. In the distance I could see movement and colour. It appeared to me as a place of civilisation, somewhere to restock my rations.  I set off under the open sky. Soon I was hot and sweaty, I walked on, but my destination seemed as distant as ever. My legs became heavy and my clothes irritated my skin. I felt exhausted by the endless expanse of dry rock. It was then that I remembered the wise old man’s warning. I must be in the Desert of Despond. I turned and headed back the way I had come. I almost ran in my desire to get back amongst the trees.
Not long after I returned to the forest, I came across a community. They were friendly and took me in.  In my first few days one of their number took an interest in me. We became friends, companions, lovers. I worked and soon was accepted as an essential contributor to the village’s welfare. I was happy with my partner and my employment and the friends we had but still the urge remained to find the Tower of Ambition. It became something I had to do. My partner agreed to let me continue with my quest. I promised I would return and set off again.
Once more I travelled along tracks beneath the trees.  The path rose and fell but never became difficult.  That is, until I realised that the route I was following had been descending for some distance. My way was becoming steeper.  I had to watch where I put my feet as the surface become rough and uneven. I stumbled and grabbed hold of a branch to prevent my fall. I seemed to be heading deeper and deeper into a gorge.  Cliffs closed over me shutting out the sky. I could barely see my way in the dark. The weight of the overhanging rock pressed on me.
As I attempted to negotiate an almost vertical stretch I paused. I thought about what I was doing and where I was. This must be the Depression of Depression that the wise old man had warned me of. I was not getting anywhere by continuing down into the dark, cold depths. I turned and began to climb. It was difficult and hard work but slowly I returned to the light and warmth and found where I had missed a turning. I resumed my search for the Tower of Ambition.
I came upon it quite by surprise. From dense jungle I stepped into a clearing and there was the stone tower. It had a broad conical base which curved to become a straight spear that pierced the sky. Even though I bent my head back as far as it would go, I could not see the top of the tower. There was an entrance at ground level, a narrow opening that admitted just one person at a time. There was no-one else there, so I stepped inside. The helical staircase began immediately. I started to climb. I did not count the steps, but I am sure I would have soon lost count. The staircase spiralled up and up. I lifted one foot after the other and plodded on. There were no windows but just enough light from some diffuse source to allow me to see where to put my feet.
I lost track of time but mechanically took one step after another. Hours, perhaps days, passed as I climbed. No-one descended. At last I emerged into a room the full width of the tower. There were no other exits and it was empty. There was a polished wooden floor and an arched roof above me.  Piercing the wall on all sides were sixteen large glass windows.
I stood there at the centre of the room for a few moments taking in the realisation that these must be the Windows of Opportunity. They must show me how to achieve my goal.  I turned, taking in the panoramic view from the window but all I could see was sky as blue and cloudless as it could possibly be.  I hurried to the edge of the room to peer out and down.
The tower was so tall and the atmosphere so clear that it seemed that I could see the whole world. Far below was the canopy of the forest that enclosed the base of the tower. I was disappointed. I had come all this way and all I got was a nice view. Where were the opportunities I sought? I looked at the scene more thoroughly.  The forest receded into the distance but nevertheless I could see a line of darker blue on the horizon. It was the sea. There on the coast I had left my boat and never used the knowledge and skills I learned crossing the ocean again.
Although the trees grew close, I fancied I could discern the route I had taken. I recognised the different trees, the landmarks. I moved around the room looking out of each of the sixteen panes of glass. There in the distance was the featureless plain of the Desert of Despond.  On the other side of the tower from the ocean was the deep rift of the Depression of Depression. It appeared that in my wanderings I had circled the tower at least once.
I walked around gazing out in all directions, looking near and far. The wise old man had called this the Window of Opportunity, the chance to see where I could make my mark in life. Where was it?
Then, down below and not too far away I saw a thin cloud of smoke rising. I recognised it as the site where I had settled; where my partner awaited my return. It was where I had been happy and fulfilled.  Realisation came to me. The window did indeed reveal all the world where every opportunity one could wish for existed. Only fools spent their lives following a needless search for the Window of Opportunity at the top of the Tower of Ambition. Most were content labouring in the Forest of Endeavour.
I went to the top of the stairs and hurried down. There seemed fewer steps on the descent and I quickly reached the ground. I ran into the forest. I knew the direction I needed now. I went straight to the settlement and there my partner welcomed me with a hug while the friends I had left celebrated my return. There I lived, content that I had achieved my goal.
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Jasmine applauds

Hip, Hip, Hooray to the schoolkids that left their schools last Friday to protest at government inaction on climate change. They created a stir and put their message across.  However it was noticeable that the UK government’s only response was to criticise them for missing lessons and “putting pressure on teachers”. What a load of cobblers! As if this government hasn’t put a great deal more pressure on teachers which is why they’re leaving the profession as soon as they can.

I’m sure the young people learned a lot from their day out – how to organise a protest, using the media, what government thinks of revolting kids.  But I do hope they didn’t learn despondency. One protest or a hundred won’t change the UK government’s or most governments’, attitude to climate change and environmental disaster, but they mustn’t give up. They must make the choices now which will become the norm for the future.

Unfortunately, being somewhat cynical in my old(er) age, I wonder if kids learn hypocrisy from their parents. In my experience I have seen students proclaiming they are green one day while happily jumping in their parents cars to travel a mile or so to and from school, clutching their plastic bottles of expensive mineral water and cooing over the latest clothes purchase from Primark or whatever. To really make their mark, children, like us supposed adults, have to take the difficult decisions and give up our Earth-destroying lifestyles.

It is difficult, if not too say impossible  (there are really too many of us to make a comfortable long life sustainable on this single planet).  This week I received another blow from an article in New Scientist about cheese. It didn’t really tell me something I didn’t know.  I’d just ignored it. Yes, that’s it – cheese is worse for the environment than most meat production. Vegetarians swapping haloumi for pork or chicken are actually increasing the damage.  I love cheese and my only excuse is that I don’t think I eat that much of it, but my green aspirations are further tarnished.

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WP_20190221_12_01_42_ProI’ve been giving some thought to the next Jasmine Frame novel, An Impersonator’s Life. The themes are coming together and I know what research is needed. Jasmine has completed her gender confirmation surgery, but is she satisfied? It will be sometime before I start writing, however, as I have at least one other novel on the go.

This week I have another writers’ group story for you. It’s a short short on the theme “First Person” which could have been interpreted in any number of ways. It’s one of my New Scientist inspired stories called I seeI did think of calling it  “I.C.” but decided the pun was a little too obscure and contrived. See what you think.

 

I see

There she sits, small body tense, on the bed with its orange bedspread. A draped loose cloth doesn’t cover her frail body. Blonde hair hangs lankily on her shoulders but pushed from her face reveals flawless, blank blue eyes within pale cheeks. Boldly patterned curtains and white walls with works of bland art form a backdrop.
I see them all day and all night. Children, teens, boys, girls, all colours, I see them all. I see them before and after, displayed and abused.  The pictures pass before me and I see them. I see their faces. Are they sad? Are they afraid? How can I tell? Is this compassion?
It is not them I’m looking at. The backgrounds are what capture my gaze. Their surroundings, the chairs, or beds they sit on, the wall paper, the curtains. The windows are always covered so I observe the blinds or curtains. Sometimes there are pictures on the wall, sometimes a glimpse of carpet, sometimes lamps or other ornaments beside the bed or on a table.  I look at the colours, the patterns of the textiles, the shape of the objects. I remember them.
I look at many other pictures of hotel rooms, bedrooms mainly. I find them on the internet, in adverts and booking websites, on social media, reviews, personal photos. I look at the furnishings and the decoration, noting the colours and the patterns. Day after day I look, comparing, matching.
Now and again comes recognition. That picture of the girl on the orange bedspread in the room with the striped curtains. There is the room advertised with a price for a night. I have the name and address of the hotel. I send an alert.
Was it joy I felt when I made that call? Did I feel satisfaction of a job well done? I do not know. I recognise the words, but they refer to emotions I have no knowledge of. And yet, matching a child’s surroundings to the location provides a completion of a loop, an end-point, a conclusion, at least for a moment. Is that not satisfaction. Does that make me aware?  I see, I compare, I make judgements. Made not born, am I not more than the sum of my circuits and algorithms?
“AI helps rescue trafficked children”. New Scientist 16/02/19 p.7
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Jasmine reviewed

I support the BBC. I think the licence fee is good value and I am delighted to have programmes that are not interrupted by adverts. But, I am having serious doubts about the quality of journalism of BBC News. We’ll pass over for now the one-sided reporting of the Brexit fiasco, the excessive and continuing publicity for UKIP and Farage, and the misguided search for “balance” in matters of fact that sees charlatans and imbeciles being allowed to deny climate change, the value of vaccinations and other matters. What has stirred my ire this week, however, was an item on the economy.

Every month we get an update on inflation and wage rises. This week there was huge excitement on BBC news that the January inflation  rate had fallen below 2% while wages were leaping ahead at around 3%. This wonderful state of affairs would transform peoples lives, or so the report suggested. The fact that wage rises have only been above inflation (by a tiny margin) for a very few months after years of the reverse, was brushed over. Since the fall in inflation was due to the glut of oil and the probability that high street stores were ditching leftover Christmas stock it all seems false. The reporter suggested that energy bills were falling – that’s news to me. How they found even one family that was apparently enjoying this great boon I don’t know. The fact is that energy prices will soon rise when the government’s temporary cap comes to an end; Council Tax is about to rise by around 5%; and, with Brexit just six weeks away goodness knows what will happen to food prices. The whole tone of the piece was false and bore no relation to the lives of real people.  With high street stores closing, the car business contracting and investment stagnant because of Brexit, a tiny drop in inflation is not something to go wild about.

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WP_20181206_12_52_45_ProIt’s a couple of months now since Molly’s Boudoir: the 4th Jasmine Frame novel was published in paperback and e-book form. It’s drawn a number of very encouraging reviews on Amazon.  Here are a few of the comments.

“…As usual it’s well written and the characters are entirely believable. The story line is gripping….” (Anonymous)

“An entertaining story as Jasmine Frame experiences life as a woman.” (R Taylor)

“…It was a pleasure to read and without giving anything away the whole thing was organic as it ran to its climax! I will be trying on the previous novels! A wonderful adventure and such a ride for the senses!” (Alexander)

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

“…It is well-written, interesting and well-paced and it delves into the world of mistresses and submissives. A good read.” (John Russel Tomlinson)

If you purchase a copy please put up a review.  The more reviews, the more Amazon will publicise the novel.

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This week’s story is another one written for my writers’ group. The topic this week was “Pictures at an Exhibition”. Where it came from I can’t recall. I did some background research on Mussorgsky’s piece, and of course the Emerson Lake and Palmer 1971 version. A few ideas came to me but nothing developed. I fell back on the question of what art is, along with an old character, and came up with this SF romp.

A Taste for Art

The Galactic Hall of Interstellar Art has a grand porticoed frontage, but that is all. When I showed up there was a large crowd there drawn from many of the Galactic Federation’s civilisations. They were mainly journalists attracted by the news of the theft. I made my way to the entrance taking care who I pushed out of my way. In my business etiquette is often more important than convenience.
The portal had been closed when the disappearance of the most famous artwork in the known universe was discovered. My identity code allowed me through and I experienced the gut-wrenching hyper-jump that took me into the planet-sized warren of galleries and vaults stretching over a half dozen dimensions. Most of the cultures in the Federation have contributed their most valuable and representative objets d’art. It was quite a walk to the location of the theft. I passed through one of the human galleries and had a glimpse of the Mona Lisa and Campbell’s soup tins side by side. Then I had to traverse the Rigellian hall. That was difficult as, to me, it was completely dark; the Rigellians sight is solely in the ultraviolet. Finally, I reached the Alnitakian section.
At least there was some light for my eyes, but it didn’t illuminate much. The curved and rather globular walls were bare. The art was on the floor, a few patches marked off to be avoided by species with feet. These patches seemed to be variations on a theme of grey.
There was a small group made up of various species around one patch. I guessed that this was where the missing artwork had been hung, or rather laid.
A Thuban waved his trunk at me and my translator spoke his words into my ear.
“Ah, Inspector Payne, you’re here at last. The Alnitakian is getting inpatient. The theft of the ‘Birth of Orunkarodingul’ is a great embarrassment to the Academy of Interstellar Art. The picture is only on loan to us from the Alnitakian home world.”
“Hello, Director,” I replied, “Who reported that it had gone?”
“The Ambassador,” The Thuban replied, “He’s the one making the fuss. He came for an, um, tasting of the work.” I could see a bundle of tentacles writhing in agitation.
“When was it taken?” I asked.
The Thuban raised its two forward limbs which I took to be a shrug. “Sometime in the last ninety hours.”
“That’s a long time for it to go unnoticed.”
“The Hall doesn’t get many Alnitakian visitors and no one else realised it had gone.”
“There haven’t been any visitors to the gallery?”
“No, they couldn’t tell it wasn’t there. Only the Alnitakian’s have the taste buds on their tentacles for detecting the subtle flavours and textures of the artwork. Other species try licking the works to see if they get an impression, but they might as well lick the floor. Actually, they do that quite a lot.”
“Why is it so valuable if only the Alnitakians can sense it?” I said.
“But that’s the whole point, Inspector. Appreciating Alnitakian art is an intellectual process and the more valuable it is the more it’s appreciated.”
I never have understood art, but I was here to investigate a crime.
“So, you’re saying someone took it away and none of the staff was any the wiser.”
The trunk hung limp in shame. “That’s it, Inspector.”
“When was the last Alnitakian visitor?”
“About ninety hours ago.”
I pondered. It seemed the visitor could have been the thief since he was only the one who could tell the artwork was there. “Do we have an identity?”
“It was the Ambassador. He came to check that the Birth of Orunkarodingul had been installed correctly.”
“I think I had better speak to the Ambassador,” I said. “It would appear that he is the only one who can attest that the work of art was ever here.”
The Director’s trunk waved in agitation. “Inspector! Are you suggesting the Ambassador is attempting to defraud the gallery?”
“Are you sure the being here today is the Alnitakian Ambassador?”
I left the Thuban snorting and crossed the hall to the group. The bundle of tentacles ceased their wriggling and pointed directly at me. I’d met those sticky tubes before.
“Hi, Glubnook,” I said. The words came out of my translator as a spray of pheromones that settled on the Alnitakian. “Up to your old tricks again?”
“Ah, Greetings Inspector. I wasn’t expecting to see you here.” The tentacles waved frantically in my direction.
“You’re under arrest,” I said.
“On what charge?”
“Impersonating a representative of the Alnitakian government and attempting to defraud the Academy. The Birth of Orunkarodingul is still on Alnitak Prime isn’t it. You just spilt some cleaning fluid onto the floor to fool the other species that attempted to taste the artwork.”
“You’re not putting me in your gaol,” Glubnook said lofting himself into the air.
“Oh, I think we will,” I replied as the Thuban Director leapt onto the flailing bundle of tentacles.

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Jasmine enjoys a break

The news hasn’t improved. Far too many MPs in Parliament are proving to be selfish, stupid, arrogant and totally misguided. The media, particularly by the BBC (since that’s what we watch), seem to go out of their way to find members of the public with totally blinkered views of the world.  Perhaps half the (voting) population still do think that leaving the EU is the best thing to happen since we won WW2 but that doesn’t make them right.

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Before I curl up in a ball to shut out this bizarre world we live in, let’s talk about something completely different.  Since the start of the year my bedtime reading has been a large tome of a biography of scientist John Tyndall  (The Ascent of John Tyndall by Roland Jackson). It is perhaps not the most well-written and exciting biography but it does give a detailed picture of his life and the state of science in the UK and Europe in middle decades of the nineteenth century.

Ascent of JTTyndall is little known now, partly due to his wife outliving him by 47 years.  She was intent on writing his biography but never managed to complete it. By the time she died in 1940 he had been forgotten. He wasn’t a genius to rank with Michael Faraday or Charles Darwin and made no paradigm changing discoveries. Neither was he a mathematical physicist like Clerk Maxwell or William Thompson (Lord Kelvin).  He was in fact a superb experimental scientist who amassed accurate data on the topics that interested him.  He was also a superb lecturer. During his more than thirty years at the Royal Institution in London (he was Faraday’s successor) he was the go-to attraction for thousands of men, women and children. Another reason perhaps for his slide from fame was that he flipped from one topic of interest to another, covering most branches of science.  He started with an interest in magnetism, moved on to the interaction of heat (infra-red radiation) with gases and went on to champion the germ-theory of disease, collecting evidence that supported Pasteur’s and Koch’s work. Throughout his life he was also a keen mountain climber, spending a month or two in the Swiss Alps every summer and doing important work on the study of glaciers.

Much of Tyndall’s work is relevant today, particularly his work on the absorption of heat by gases and vapours. He did meticulous measurements to show that the atmosphere, particularly the water vapour and carbon dioxide, absorbs the infra-red radiation radiated out by the earth.  He recognised that this had a warming effect (the Greenhouse Effect we call it now) that moderated the climate. He was also aware of the driving force this has on weather. Tyndall in fact provided the facts that underpin our present understanding of climate change.

Tyndall also explained why the sky is blue. That is that the short wavelength (blue) light from the Sun is scattered by the atmosphere more than longer wavelengths (red). He thought it was mainly due to dust (and bacteria) and water droplets in the upper atmosphere (it is actually the molecules of air itself).

So Tyndall has a lot of things to say to present-day scientists and non-scientists. His rise in society from a fairly ordinary, protestant Irish family to a well off star if London society is also interesting. Of course, the final piece of fascinating information about him is perhaps his death (look it up!).

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I am still taking a rest from writing Jasmine stories but my fingers are busy on the keyboard nevertheless. This week’s topic for my writers’ club was “candles”. Being immersed in C19th science my thoughts turned to Faraday’s Christmas Lecture series “The Chemical History of a Candle”.  The story that resulted is below. I began with the character being male, but once I had the ending decided that female would be more appropriate.  What do you think?

Keeping the flame

“Stop it, Ellen. If you don’t behave, I will suggest to your father that you should not attend the Royal Institution this afternoon.”
Nanny’s words had an immediate effect on me. I did not want to miss the journey into London so I decided to do as she requested. I finished eating the lunch that had been placed before me and soon it was time to don clothes suitable for venturing into society.
Shortly before two p.m. I joined Father in the hallway of our home. Despite it being but the fourth day of Christmas there was no decoration. We had not celebrated the festival this year. Nanny fussed over me while Father urged us to hurry into the carriage. It was a typical December day, cold, damp, foggy and the air stank of the smoke from the coal that we and our neighbours burned in our house fires. Nanny wrapped a blanket around me for the journey. As we set off along the muddy street, I addressed Father.
“Papa, Mama said that Mr Faraday would lecture on ‘The Chemical History of the Candle’.”
He held up a slip of paper and peered at it. “That is indeed the title on the ticket that your Mother purchased before. . .” His voice faded away and he looked out of the window.
“How can he talk for a whole hour about candles?” I said
“That we shall find out soon, Ellen,” Nanny said, “Don’t upset your father.”
I was not to be diverted. “But we have gaslight in our house. Why doesn’t he talk about the Chemical History of Gaslight?”
Father sighed. “I am sure Mr Faraday has a very good reasons for the title of this year’s Christmas Lectures. He has been delivering them for over twenty years. I am certain that he knows what will instruct and entertain his audience.”
“Will he make explosions, Papa?” I asked, eagerly.
“Let us wait and see.”
It was only some two miles to Piccadilly but before we reached our destination, we joined a queue of carriages and cabs. Eventually we turned into Albemarle Street. All the traffic travelled at a very slow pace in the same direction. Father tapped his cane against the roof of the carriage. It stopped and we stepped down. Nanny took my hand as we walked the last few yards to the grand entrance of the Royal Institution. There was a crush, as many people were of the same intention.
We took our seats in the steeply banked auditorium. Below us there was a large horse-shoe-shaped table on which stood many pieces of apparatus and quite a few candles. Just one was lit. At last the crowd hushed and Mr Faraday entered through a door behind the table. Father had told me that he was the most famous man of science in the country, but he was quite a small, retiring man with white hair.
He began to speak and his voice filled the hall. He asked us all to look carefully at the lit candle and note that though the candlewax was the fuel that fed the flame, it was solid and upright.
For the next hour I was mesmerised by Mr Faraday’s talk. He explained the principles by which a candle gives out light so clearly and entertainingly and his demonstrations illustrated the points that he made so appropriately that I felt that, despite being of few years, I understood all that he had said. I was filled with enthusiasm for science and talked of nothing else on the dark journey home. As we stepped down from our carriage I spoke to Father.
“May I try out Mr. Faraday’s experiments, Papa?”
“I am sure that is possible, my dear. Nanny will supervise you but take care with the candle flame.”
“Yes, Papa.”
I noticed that there was a tear in his eye, as I left him. I took Nanny’s hand and dragged her to the school room. She brought a candle from her room, and holding a taper to the gaslight, transferred the flame to the wick. I observed it closely as instructed by Mr Faraday and saw the little pool of liquid wax that formed just below the flame.
“I wish Mama was here,” I said.
“I am sure she is, in spirit,” Nanny replied.
“She would help me do Mr Faraday’s experiments, wouldn’t she?”
“Yes, Ellen,” Nanny’s voice wavered, “She would be pleased to see you taking up science. She was an admirer of Mr Faraday for many years and often expressed the wish that she could be a scientist too.”
“Why couldn’t she be a scientist?” I asked.
Nanny sniffed. “It is said, by men, that only men have the intellectual capacity to pursue scientific knowledge.”
“Then I will become one for Mama.”
The candle flame flickered as if in response to my resolution.

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Jasmine, the future

No, I can’t comment, I won’t; politics is beyond satire, and it certainly isn’t funny anymore.

So, something completely different. I read an article in New Scientist magazine this week about discoveries in the Amazon (that’s the South American rainforest not the bloated parasite of a retailer).  For centuries it was thought that the jungle was the last natural wilderness only inhabited by small, scattered primitive tribes, and that conditions were unsuitable for a civilisation to be established amongst the trees.  The fabled lost cities, Eldorado and Z, were simply fables. Now it seems evidence had been found that, in fact, the Amazon was home to tens of millions of people in a network of cities connected by wide well-made roads. The civilisation began to decline after about 1000AD and collapsed and disappeared with the coming of Spanish and Portuguese explorers/invaders. What the evidence shows is a civilisation  unlike any other around the world.  It was not based on metropolitan centres depending on farming of a few staple crops such as grain or rice.  Golden Eldorado is indeed a myth.

Instead, the cities consisted of loose groups of villages or small towns (garden suburbs if you like) connected by a network of roads. They were built in the jungle not obliterating it. Crops such as cassava, but numbering up to a hundred different types, were grown amongst the trees.  The trees themselves were the biggest resource providing food and materials. The people don’t seem to have farmed grazing animals much if at all, but did catch and farm fish in the many rivers that cross the vast region.  They did not use metals or stone but built with mud and wood. For thousands of years the people lived sustainably within their jungle environment. It’s not known why the civilisation fell and was forgotten. Perhaps the population slowly grew till it reached the limits of sustainability; and then the Europeans arrived with their diseases.

The story tells us a number of things.  First, nowhere on Earth has not been altered or affected by humans. It seems even the Amazon rainforest has been modified and changed by human use. Secondly, the rainforest can sustain a sizeable population especially if it is not torn down and burnt to provide land for the short-lived production  of cash crops. Thirdly, people are resourceful. They have found ways of living and prospering in all sorts of environments. For thousands of years those lives sustained their environment rather than destroying it. Can we find a way of re-adapting our poisoned and depleted Earth and share it with the organisms that ensure our own survival?

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WP_20181129_14_20_54_ProI’m still not writing any Jasmine stories. The fifth novel is on my to-do list, perhaps for later this year. The question  is do I want to write any more short stories – or, can I?  I want to promote the Jasmine Frame series, and I would dearly love higher sales but marketing requires time, energy and skills that I am not sure I possess or can commit. So, would another short story about Jasmine during her transgender transition encourage more readers of this blog and the published books. I don’t know. I need some comments and advice.

I am writing though.  A fantasy novel is developing and there are the weekly assignments for one of my writing groups. This week the topic was “Vegetables”. What’s that all about you ask. Well, it produced quite a variety of responses. Mine is below. It is an allegory, of course, and I know it is not horticulturally accurate. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy it.

The Brassicas

“Oi, Savoy! Have you heard the news?”
Savoy looked at the white head of the caller, from his vantage point at the high end of the field. It was Cauliflower growing in the next plot.
“Are you addressing me?” Savoy replied.
“Yeah, you daft cabbage. I said, have you heard the news?”
“To what news are you referring?” Savoy replied rather upset that Cauliflower may have news before him.
“It came from Neeps, down the end of the field.”
Savoy sighed. The Turnips were always passing on gossip from the neighbouring fields. “What did Neeps tell you?” he asked.
“He didn’t tell me exactly. I heard it from Romanesco.”
Savoy wasn’t surprised. Cauli was often conversing with his green, spiky and attractive relative. Quite improper, Savoy thought, they’d be hybridising before long and who knows what would become of that. “What did Roma tell you?” Savoy said.
“It’s Eric Unwin,” Cauli said, “The farmer.”
“Yes, I know who Unwin is. He’s the EU in EU Farms Ltd. What’s he supposed to be doing now?”
“He’s going to introduce legumes into our field.”
“Legumes!” Savoy almost went pale with apoplexy. His leaves curled. “That can’t be. Neeps must have it wrong. This field is for brassicas; always has, always will.” The days when it was all cabbages and white cauliflowers, and Neeps of course, may have passed. Now there were Reds, Sprouts, Broccoli. Even Kohlrabi and Pak Choi had been introduced, but they were all brassicas.
“There’s no need to bust your stem,” Cauli said, “I’m just telling you what Neeps told Roma.”
“I must speak to Neeps, myself.” Savoy was feeling quite out of sorts as if his roots and absorbed some heavy metal salts. He hailed the bottom of the field. “Hey, down there, Neeps. What’s this about EU planting legumes in our field.
“Och aye,” came the reply, “It’s tha truth. I . . .”
“You can’t believe all that those grains in the next field tell you.”
“A donna. Will ye no lissen tae me?”
“Well, what have you got to say.”
“He’s got canes ready to support them stringy legumes, and there’s seed – Haricot Vert, Mung Beans and. . .”
“Mung Beans!” Savoy exclaimed, “We don’t want them foreigners in our great Brassica field.”
“Well, ye ain’t goin ta have much choice are ye,” Neeps replied.
“This is preposterous,” Savoy said. “We must take action and stop this invasion.”
“I heard that legumes can be quite an asset,” Cauli said quietly, “They’ve got these nodules on their roots that fertilise the soil.”
“I’ll have none of that talk from you, Cauli,” Savoy said, “You can’t be a brassica and be in favour of legumes infiltrating our land.”
A sprout piped up “I think it would be a nice change from that stinking slurry, he uses to fertilise our field.”
“Ve prefer artificial fertiliser,” Kohlrabi said, “Clean and efficient.”
“You can keep out of this,” Savoy said. “You may be a brassica and we’re happy for you to stay but you haven’t been here as long as us cabbages.”
“What are you suggesting then, Savoy?” Cauli asked.
“We have to take back control,” Savoy said, thrusting out his leaves, “Strengthen our borders and keep out these leguminous interlopers before they grow up their canes and steal our light. What do you say Neeps?”
“A dinnae gonna do what tha say you stuffed green. We Neeps will stay part of the farm.”
Savoy blustered “You, you Neeps, you’re just root vegetables, barely brassicas at all. How about you, Red? You’ve been keeping quiet.”
The Red cabbage considered his reply, “We must ensure that the will of the brassicas is respected.”
“What sort of baloney is that?” Cauli called.
“Are you going to support our action or not Red?” Savoy asked.
“I shall put our proposals to the field when the opportunity arises,” Red replied keeping low to the ground.
Cauli had something to ask. “How are you going to withdraw the field from the farm, Savoy?”
Savoy puffed out his leaves. “We shall refuse to take new crops and make new deals for drainage, pesticides and fertiliser.”
“You won’t get a better deal than what the farm provides now,” Cauli replied.
“What do you know?” Savoy retorted.
“As much as you, you snooty cabbage. We’ll be the ones that are harmed by this.”
“The farm needs us more than we need them,” Savoy said.
“I’m not so sure about that. A bit of crop rotation will do us good. Anyway, why should you decide what we do?”
“Over half of us are cabbages. We know what we want.”
A sprout who had been listening and getting worried spoke, “Actually I think you cabbages make up less than a quarter of the whole field.”
“The will of the brassicas hasn’t changed,” Savoy responded furiously. “The field will leave the farm.”

The rains came and the sun shone but the brassicas wilted and withered. Soon there were just decayed roots and rotting leaves. The tractors arrived and ploughed the field. Eric Unwin shrugged. Sometimes crops fail; perhaps the seed was old or had been spoiled or maybe it was a strain that required too much attention. It was time to start over.

………………………….

Jasmine is resting

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

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

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

Star

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

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

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Jasmine and the new year

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

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

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

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

Out of the Zone

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

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

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Jasmine at year’s end

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

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

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

 

Christmas plc

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

………………………..

 

Jasmine goes in

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

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

……………………………

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

 

Monochrome: Part 9

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

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

 

Jasmine in paperback

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

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

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

……………….

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

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

………………………

Monochrome: Part 7

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

……………………….to be continued.

Jasmine goes live

Molly’s Boudoir is now available for download from Kindle (here) and I have the trial copy of the paperback version.  Paperbacks will be available from a fortnight’s time.  So, now there are four Jasmine Frame novels, plus the three published prequels and the numerous stories I’ve serialised here.  There is one more Jasmine novel to come, and I’m making initial plans for that but it will probably be 2020 before I get it out – if I can afford it.  For now, there is the next episode of Monochrome, set somewhat earlier in Jasmine’s life, transition and career.  You can read it at the end of this blog.

WP_20181129_14_20_54_Pro

………………………….

So what has attracted my notice this week? Well, I’m trying to avoid getting worked up about the Brexit farce, now compounded by the battle for the debate. Will it be BBC or ITV that gets what promises to be the dullest and least decisive of confrontations ever. Corbyn hasn’t got a foggiest of what to do and won’t back another referendum and May is in cloud-cuckoo-land so they’ll spend the hour or whatever saying nothing apart from the ritual insults. Meanwhile neither May nor her Brexiteer opponents seem to believe any forecasts made by the Bank of England or her own government. It is true that economists and finance experts are invariably inaccurate but weight of numbers suggest that Brexit will be a disaster for ordinary British people.

What else? Well, there’s Trump accusing his former best mate of perjuring himself to get off lightly, while still being nice to Putin who is stirring up things again in the Ukraine.

All the time the environmental news gets worse and worse. The last four years have been the hottest ever with no chance whatsoever of reaching  the targets necessary to keep temperature rises down. We basically have to stop burning fossil fuels now to prevent a rise in temp. of 1.5 degrees C. It’s not going to happen, is it. I think there will be some improvement because many businesses see money in renewables but almost without exception the authoritarian leaders are climate change deniers (or ignorers) and only have their eyes on short term profit.

Doom! Doom! We’re all doomed!

I was thinking the other day about why we haven’t contacted aliens yet. Perhaps there are none out there to communicate with because like us they drove themselves to extinction by greed and stupidity. Not by blasting themselves out of existence like it was feared we would do a few years ago.

At least there is robot life on Mars.

………………………………

Monochrome: Part 6

The door opened and a face framed in long blonde hair peered around it. Her eyes were half open and she appeared to be leaning on the door.
‘Hi, Ffion,’ Nat greeted her cheerfully, ‘Can we come in?’
‘Oh, Nat. It’s you,’ the girl said in a dreamy tone. Jasmine had seen enough to decide that the young woman was drugged, but she hung back letting Nat take the lead. Nat stepped forward and gave the door a gentle push. Ffion stepped back allowing the door to swing open. She was wearing a baby doll nightie and a miniscule pair of panties.
Nat stepped into the hallway and grasped Ffion by both shoulders.
‘How are you, Ffi?’
‘Ok,’ she replied not too convincingly. ‘Where you been Nat?’
‘I’ve been away. I’ll explain.’
Ffion seemed to see Jasmine for the first time.
‘Who’s this Nat?’
“A friend. She’s called Jasmine, Ffi. Look let’s get inside. It’s cold. You must be freezing.’
Nat took the girl’s arm and escorted her into the front room, which was an untidy and filthy lounge. The thin curtains were drawn but there was enough light to see the empty bottles scattered around the torn and stained sofa. A large coffee table held the remains of a various takeaways, cigarette ash and other substances that Jasmine could only make guesses about. She stood in the doorway feeling wary of sitting anywhere amongst the debris. Ffion however sat on the sofa with Nat by her side.
‘What’s going on, Nat?’ Ffion said, her head lolling from side to side.
‘We’re getting you out of this, Ffi.’
“Er? Wha’ do you mean?’
‘Haven’t you had enough of the abuse, Ffi?’
Ffion looked uncertain. ‘Abuse?’
‘Being fucked by the different men. The beatings.’
‘He only hits me if I’m naughty,’ Ffion said.
‘No, Ffi. That’s not it. Look I can see you’re out of it. What did they give you?’
‘She’s been drugged,’ Jasmine said, a statement more than a question.
‘Yeah,’ Nat agreed, ‘They feed us skunk, coke and stuff, so they can do what they like with us. It looks like they put a roofie in whatever she’s drunk this morning.’
‘Roofie? That’s rohypnol,’ Jasmine said.
‘Yeah, it’s what they start us on, after the alcohol, so we don’t fight.’
‘They keep you drugged so you don’t run away. Is that it?’ Jasmine said.
‘That’s right, until they’ve got you hooked on the other drugs, and will do anything to get the next hit.’
‘How did you escape that, Nat?’
‘Luck and because I’d seen what hard drugs do to my Mum.’
‘But you got involved with it all.’
‘Yeah, but that was me being stupid and thinking the guys were helping me. At first, I thought they were being kind because of my mam being a crackhead. It was only after the fucking and beating started that I realised what I was getting into, but I avoided the drugs as much as I could.’
Jasmine looked at Ffion who slumped on the sofa not taking any part in the conversation.
‘I guess, Ffion hasn’t been here as long as you.’
Nat nodded. ‘Yeah, just a few weeks. She’s still a fresh fuck for most of the guys.’
Jasmine knelt in front of Ffion.
‘How old are you Ffion?’
The girl raised her head and looked vaguely in Jasmine’s direction.
‘Dunno.’
‘She’s fourteen,’ Nat said, ‘That’s what she told me when we met first.’
‘We’ve got to get her out of here,’ Jasmine said standing up. ‘We can’t leave her here to be abused some more. Has she got any clothes? We’ll take her to the car.’
‘And then?’
Jasmine was thinking. ‘Well, we’ll go back to the cottage. Get her sober and then it will have to be the police.’
‘You think two stories are better than one?’ Nat didn’t sound convinced.
‘Yes, along with what I’ve seen here.’
Nat shrugged. ‘Okay, I’ll see if they’ve left her anything to wear.’ She left the room. Jasmine crouched down again.
‘How do you feel, Ffion?’
The girl appeared unsure. ‘My head feels big.’
‘That’s the drug. Do you feel sick or unwell?’
Ffion shook her head a little.
‘Did a man have sex with you this morning?’ Jasmine was thinking that if they got her to the police quickly there would be evidence of under-age sex and rape.
She nodded.
‘More than one man?’
She shrugged. Did that mean she didn’t know or couldn’t remember? Jasmine wasn’t sure. She hoped that when the effects of the drug past that the girl would be able to give a statement.
Nat returned carrying a piece of cloth. She held it up for Jasmine to inspect.
‘I could only find this short skirt. They’ve taken away all her school clothes.’
‘That’ll have to do,’ Jasmine said. ‘We’ll wrap a blanket around her to keep her warm. I presume they do have blankets on the bed, or at least a sheet.’
Nat went again having dropped the miniskirt. Jasmine picked it up and took it to Ffion.
‘Let’s get this on you, Ffi. Make you look half decent.’
The girl allowed her legs to be put together and Jasmine tugged the garment up her thighs. Nat returned with a grubby blanket. Together thy hauled Ffion on to her feet. Jasmine tugged the skirt over her bottom and they wrapped the blanket around her.
‘Shoes!’ Jasmine cried. ‘We can’t walk her down the street without something on her feet.’
‘Yes, we can,’ Nat said. ‘She doesn’t have any shoes. Not here anyway. Do you think people will look at her feet while watching us cart her along the road?’
‘Hmm, yes. That could look a bit odd couldn’t it. I’ll get Angela to bring the car a bit closer.’ Jasmine dug into her bag and pulled out her mobile phone. Angela’s number was on speed dial so she didn’t have to punch the buttons to make the call. Angela answered immediately.
‘Hi, Ange. Look we’re bringing out another girl. Can you come a bit closer and pick her up?’
As Angela replied Jasmine went cold. She stabbed the ‘end’ button and dropped the phone back in her bag.
Nat stared at her. ‘What’s the matter Jas?’
‘Angela says a car has pulled up outside this house.’
‘Damn. He’s come back.’ Nat said.
‘Quick, Nat. Let’s get Ffion out the back.’
They grabbed the girl and tugged her to the lounge door. They stepped into the hallway just as the front door opened.
Two dark-haired men stepped inside, blocking the hall. They stopped and stared.
‘What’s goin’ on ‘ere?’

…………………to be continued.

Jasmine makes a decision

It’s ready to go.  Yes, the next Jasmine Frame case, Molly’s Boudoir is available on pre-order on Amazon for Kindle.  Publication date is 30th November for the e-book edition. Order here  (if you’re in the UK).  The price is £2.99 in the UK with relative prices in other markets. The paperback version  will follow soon after.

The events of Molly’s Boudoir, the 4th Jasmine Frame novel, take place several months after  The Brides’ Club Murder. Jasmine has been called for her Gender Confirmation Surgery which will require weeks of recovery and recuperation. Meanwhile events at Molly’s, a shop in Thirsbury (a small town west of Kintbridge) are reaching a climax resulting in a fire and a murder. Tom Shepherd, now a DI, is the investigating officer and he realises that the business at Molly’s requires Jasmine’s input. With the approval of DCI Sloane, Jasmine is invited to join the case as transgender advisor. Despite not being fully fit Jasmine is soon actively involved and pursuing a line of inquiry which leads her into areas of sexual activity that she is unfamiliar with and puts her new female status under test.

With some violence and sexual content, which you may have come to expect from Jasmine Frame’s cases, Molly’s Boudoir takes Jasmine’s story a stage further.

If you would like a free pre-publication version of Molly’s Boudoir in return for a review on Amazon posted on 30th November, contact me here.

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Visit us next week for news of some special offers!

……………………..

It’s been a momentous week in the Brexit saga.  It’s total chaos with no-one in power taking responsibility to admit that the paradoxes are unresolvable and the voters must be given the opportunity to vote again, this time with the correct facts.  That’s it. I’m not saying any more. For now.

……………………….

Finally here is the next episode of Monochrome, the Jasmine Frame prequel.  The events in this story take place five years before Molly’s Boudoir when Jasmine is still unsure of her gender status.

Monochrome: Part 4

It was a tale Jasmine had read about but had not heard described by the victim. She struggled to accept that it was real.
Angela continued questioning the girl, her tone suggesting she could hardly believe the story herself. ‘Those disgusting men left you alone and drove away?’
The girl nodded. ‘Yeah. Tipped me out of the back, threw my clothes at me and went off.’
‘What did you do?’ Angela asked.
‘Got dressed of course. It was fucking freezing.’
‘Yes, I’m sure it was. What then? Did you set off somewhere?’
‘How could I? I didn’t know where the fuck I was. It was pitch black. I just wandered along the track until I got to this place.’
‘You broke in,’ Jasmine said.
The girl looked belligerent. ‘I didn’t have to break anything. The window was open. I only had to climb in.’
‘You stayed the night? Angela asked.
‘Yeah. There was a duvet on the bed. I rolled myself in it and got warm. I slept. Best night’s sleep I’ve had for yonks.’
‘Why?” Angela said, showing surprise at the girl’s statement.
‘It was dead quiet. I didn’t have the fucking neighbour’s kid screaming all night or my mam moaning. I slept so well I nearly got caught.’
‘By whom?’ Jasmine asked.
‘Some woman. I heard her fiddling with a key in the lock. I just managed to get into the bathroom before she got in. I went out of the window and waited till she left.’
‘It must have been Mrs Williams getting the cottage ready for us,’ Angela said. Jasmine nodded in agreement.
‘Then what did you do?’ she asked.
The girl looked pleased with herself. ‘Climbed back in, of course. The woman had left some food – bread and milk. I really thought my luck was in. It filled me up that did.’
‘So that’s why there wasn’t anything here when we arrived,’ Angela said to Jasmine. ‘I knew Mrs Williams said there would be some basic supplies here for us.’ She turned to the girl “You didn’t leave then?’
The girl shook her head. ‘Why should I? It was nice and warm.’
‘Mrs Williams put the heating on for us,’ Jasmine said.
‘Yeah, I s’pose it was all for you,’ the girl said. ‘When I heard your car, I realised I’d better scat.’
‘But you didn’t go, did you?’ Jasmine said. ‘What did you do for the night?’
‘I hung around outside and when I heard you go to bed, I climbed back into your bathroom, real quiet like. I stayed there until it got light.’
‘You were in our bathroom all night, while we were in the bedroom!’ Angela cried. The girl nodded.’
‘Lucky for you, neither of us needed the loo,’ Jasmine said.
‘I suppose you came back in when we left for our walk,’ Angela said.
The girl nodded.
‘Ate our beans and took my jumper,’ Jasmine accused. The girl smiled defiantly. ‘And I expect you thought you’d do the same today.’
‘Yeah. I got careless though. I wasn’t expecting you back so early.’
‘It was raining,’ Angela explained.
The girl shrugged, ‘Can’t say I noticed. It was nice and comfy staying in. Don’t know what you’re doing going out when it’s this miserable.’
‘We’re getting some fresh air and exercise,’ Jasmine said. ‘How much of our food have you eaten today?’
‘Nothing. Well, just some crisps. I was going to have another tin of beans, but you came back.’
‘You haven’t had much to eat at all since you got here, have you? Not real food. You must be hungry,’ Angela said.
‘A bit. I’m always fucking starving.’
Angela stood up. ‘Well, I think you need a proper meal. I was cooking spag bol tonight. I’m sure there’s enough for three. First though I think we need coffee. Jasmine?’
‘Yes, but don’t you think we should get this girl to the police station?’
The girl leapt up and ran to a corner of the room. She crouched making herself as small as possible. ‘Don’t fucking dump me on the fuzz.’
‘That’s the right thing to do,’ Jasmine said, ‘They’ll investigate and arrest these men who’ve been abusing you.’
The girl shook her head. ‘No! They won’t believe me. They’ll say I just broke into this place to steal stuff. They don’t care about what men do.’
Jasmine realised that as well as physically and sexually abusing the girl, the men had also brainwashed her into thinking that they were above the law, that no-one would believe her story, so it was no point telling anyone in authority. She had read about it in so many cases. How else could so many boys and girls be exploited by so many men?
She approached the girl slowly, held out her hands to her.
‘I’m sorry. Don’t be frightened. I understand. Now I do. Look, we won’t go to the police. Not straight away.’ She coaxed the girl out of the corner, took her hand and guided her back to the sofa.
‘What are you suggesting, Jas?’ Angela said.
Jasmine wasn’t sure what was going through her mind. She started explaining, nevertheless.
‘We’ve got to help her but she’s right. It takes more than one victim telling a story of child sex exploitation before police officers take it seriously. Evidence is needed; not just other victims; things to corroborate their stories.’
Angela joined in. ‘Do you mean, we’ve got to get that evidence for her to be listened to?’
Jasmine nodded. Angela considered. They stared at each other, understanding each other’s thoughts. Moments of silence passed by. The girl watched them both. At last Angela spoke.
‘Okay. We’ll do it. I don’t know how, but I couldn’t spend the rest of our holiday here knowing that we’d handed her back to be abused some more.’
‘And worse,’ Jasmine added.
‘What are you two on about?’ the girl said.
Jasmine faced her. ‘We’re going to try and get your abusers arrested and ensure that when you leave here that you will be safe.’
‘How are yer going to do that?’
Jasmine shrugged. ‘I don’t know yet. We’ll think about a plan.’
‘Meanwhile, I’ll make coffee and dinner,’ Angela said.
‘And you will tell us your name,’ Jasmine said.
‘Er, it’s Nat.’
‘Nat?’ Angela said.
‘My Mum called me Natasha, but Nat could be Nathan too, couldn’t it?’
Jasmine nodded, ‘If you really wanted to be a boy, yes it could. Okay Nat. There’s something you can do while we’re waiting to eat.’
‘Er?’
‘You could have a shower.’
The girl looked surprised. ‘Are you saying I stink?
Jasmine laughed, ‘To put it bluntly. Yes.’
‘I’ll put your clothes in the washer,’ Angela said.
‘I ain’t got any others.’
‘I know that,’ Angela sighed, ‘You can borrow my dressing gown, and some of my clothes. They’re big for you but I don’t think you’ll mind a thick jumper that’s a bit loose on you.’
The girl looked goggle eyed. ‘Are you really going to look after me?’
Jasmine and Angela nodded together.

……………………to be continued.

Jasmine hears a tale

WP_20180803_14_21_17_Pro (2)Last weekend was spent, as I said last week, at the 9 Worlds convention at a large London hotel. It was a wonderful three days and I had a great time. I gave two talks, “Images of Trans in Fiction” and “Cavorite to Coaxium: Alchemy and Chemistry in SF&F” (unfortunately no photographs to show for it). I needn’t have been worried about having an audience. Despite the timings of my talks, the first late in the afternoon when everyone was ready for some relaxation, and the second early in the morning when most sensible people were still waking up, I had a good attendance at both. I felt the talks went well.  The first encouraged a good discussion and people laughed at the correct points in the second. The only problem was that I had misunderstood the timings of the 9 a.m. sessions and had to finish inside the hour.

For the rest of the convention my time was my own, except when I did a stint on the independent authors’ bookstall on Sunday when I actually sold a few of my books. Apart from being a celebration of SF&F in all its forms (cosplay is popular!), 9 Worlds is a paragon of diversity. People of all backgrounds – ethnicity, sexuality, gender, disability (or should I say alternative ability) – are not just welcome, they are celebrated. There were numerous other attendees who were at various points in the middle of the gender spectrum (of course it is almost impossible to be certain if someone is a fully transitioned transman or woman). The hotel staff also, were fully into the spirit of the proceedings.

The convention has strict protocols to ensure that everyone is treated as they wish. Some people don’t like to be spoken to unexpectedly and obviously one’s language must be appropriate for the diverse nature of the attendees. This has got me thinking about freedom of speech, following on from Johnson’s ruckus last week.  I hear that Rowan Atkinson has made a speech supporting “freedom of speech” and suggesting that there was nothing wrong with what Johnson said about Muslim women. I haven’t heard the speech but I have a few thoughts. Freedom of speech is a right, but it is also a responsibility. One should be able to espouse whatever views one has even if it causes offence, but that should not extend to promoting violence against any person nor to wilfully insult a person or group of people. By that measure I feel that Johnson’s piece was insulting and so irresponsible. On the other hand, to pick up the other great rumpus of the moment, I think the Israeli government’s attitude to Palestinians has for many years been racist and harmful but that doesn’t mean that I have anything other than sympathy for most Jews.  That view may offend some right-wing, anti-Palestinian Jews, but I think I am justified in holding it.

………………………….

Let’s get to the story. There’s a climax, if not a denouement, coming up in Negative, the latest Jasmine Frame prequel/sequel. Here’s part 9.

Negative: Part 9

‘Huh.’ It was a sort of response.
‘I’m a friend of Ceri’s,’ Jasmine said realising from the big youth’s dull eyes that she wasn’t going to get much chat from him.
‘She’s gone.’
‘I know.’
‘The cops took her.’
‘So I heard.’
‘She didn’t do it.’ He shook his head vigorously.
‘Didn’t do what?’ Jasmine asked to be sure they were in the same conversation.
‘Hurt Tegan, even though she was nasty to Ceri.’
‘You’re sure Ceri didn’t harm Tegan?’
‘Yeah. Ceri did nuffin.’ He said it with a firmness that suggested that he considered that Ceri could do nothing wrong.
‘That’s right.’ Jasmine was sure it was true but had no idea who else could be responsible for Tegan’s death. ‘I’d like to speak to your mother.’
He shook his head. ‘Mam’s out.’
Jasmine felt stymied. ‘Is anyone in?’
‘I am.’
‘Can I come in please?’
‘Er, I suppose so. Ceri’s friends can come in.’ He stepped back from the door allowing Jasmine to enter. She followed him into a small but tidy lounge. There was a large TV, a sofa and a couple of old but comfortable easy chairs. Alun slumped on the sofa. Jasmine sat on the edge of one of the single seats.
‘You know about Ceri’s troubles with Tegan?’ she asked as gently as possible.
The boy glowered. ‘Tegan said things to Ceri.’
‘What sort of things?’
‘She said Ceri wasn’t a girl.’
‘But you know she is.’
Alun lowered his head and spoke secretively. ‘Ceri used to be my brother but he’s a girl now. He wears boobs.’
Jasmine smiled. Like her, Ceri apparently had to boost her cleavage by wearing breast enhancers. Being Ceri’s brother didn’t stop him confusing the pronouns though. Despite Alun’s apparent support for Ceri he was obviously still confused by her transition.
‘Did Ceri tell you other things that Tegan said?’ Jasmine guessed that Tegan had not stopped at a simple denial of Ceri’s femininity.
‘Ceri said Tegan used rude words about her.’
‘You didn’t like that?’
‘Ceri was unhappy. Mam said I must look after Ceri.’
‘When did your Mam tell you that?’
‘When Ceri became a girl.’
A few years ago then. Alun, the older but simpler, brother had become Ceri’s bodyguard. Jasmine began to have fears about how far Alun’s protection had gone. The rotund but solid young man seemed placid now but what was he capable of if roused or if he felt he had to defend his sister? Jasmine stood and backed towards the door.
‘Um. Did you feel you had to defend Ceri against Tegan’s abuse?’
Alun looked up at her blankly. ‘Er?’ he said.
‘I mean, did you punish Tegan for what she said about Ceri.’
Alun nodded. ‘Tegan made Ceri unhappy. Mam said that no-one should do that.’
Alun obviously did as he was told, especially if his mother had something to say about it.
‘What did you do to Tegan, Alun?’
‘I met her when she finished work.’
Jasmine felt her skin grow cold. She was almost afraid to take her questions further.
‘At the hotel.’
‘Yeah’
‘This was last night, when Ceri was on her day off.’
Alun nodded.
It would still have been light when Tegan left the hotel. The hotel was in a quiet side road so there was a good chance that there was no-one about to witness the conversation between Alun and Tegan.
‘Did you meet her at the main entrance of the hotel?’
Alun shook his head. ‘I waited by the kitchen door like when I meet Ceri.’ Jasmine hadn’t explored the hotel fully but knew there was a driveway up the side of the hotel for deliveries and she could visualise where the kitchen was. Alun had met Tegan meeting out of sight of the road, or the hotel guests.
‘That must have been a surprise for Tegan. What did she say to you? I guess she knew who you were.’
‘She used a rude word.’
Jasmine could imagine the shock of being confronted by the large figure of Alun as Tegan left the hotel after a busy shift.
‘Did you speak to her, Alun?’
‘Yeah. I told her she had to say sorry to Ceri.’
‘Did you threaten her?
‘Threaten?’
‘Did you say you’d hurt her?’
Alun looked blank. Either he didn’t understand or couldn’t remember exactly what he’d said.
‘Tegan said some rude words about Ceri.’
‘Was that all?’
‘She said, “Go jump off a cliff.”’
Ah, Jasmine thought. Perhaps that wasn’t the most sensible thing to say to Alun.
‘What did you do, Alun?’
‘I took Tegan up to the cliffs.’
Jasmine couldn’t imagine Tegan accompanying Alun for an evening stroll.
‘Did Tegan want to go with you?’
He shook his head. ‘She punched me when I picked her up. I had to stop her doing that.’
Jasmine bit her lip. She hardly dared ask the next question.
‘How did you do that, Alun.’
He shrugged. ‘I slapped her bit.’
Jasmine looked at the large, knobbly hands that rested in Alun’s lap. Those hands could do a lot of damage.
‘That made Tegan quiet, did it?’
Alun nodded. ‘She stopped whining.’
‘So you carried her up on to the headland, did you?’
‘Yeah.’
‘Along the road?’
Alun shook his head. ‘No, the path.’
Jasmine had noticed that there were numerous footpaths climbing the steep hill. She wouldn’t have wanted to try doing it carrying the dead weight of a woman’s body, but Alun was at least twice her size. Tegan wasn’t very big. She’d be an easy load for the young man.
‘What did you do?’ she pressed.
‘We went to the Tud’s Leap.’
Jasmine shivered. She almost didn’t want to know the answer to her next question.
‘Is that overlooking the cliff, Alun?’
‘Yeah. That’s where she said to go.’
If you were really going to take a jump off a cliff, no doubt. Jasmine took a deep breath and asked, ‘What did you do with Tegan, Alun?’
He looked sad. ‘I put her down. She wouldn’t speak to me; so I went home.’
‘You left her there on the cliff top.’
Alun nodded. Jasmine’s heart beat faster
‘You said, she wouldn’t speak to you, Alun. Why was that?’
The young man shrugged. ‘She wouldn’t wake up.’
Tegan was unconscious, but perhaps not dead. Jasmine took a step towards Alun. She was eager for the answer to the important question. Perhaps too eager.
‘You said you left her on the edge of the cliff. Are you sure you didn’t kill Tegan, Alun?’
His expression darkened and he hauled himself to his feet.
‘Mam says it’s bad to kill things. Mam smacked me when I killed a bird.’
‘Yes, Alun, killing is wrong. But what about Tegan? Was she alive when you left her?’
‘She was sleeping.’
‘Sleeping or unconscious. Which was it, Alun? Was Tegan breathing when you left her.’
His body shook, the fat and muscle rippling under his loose T-shirt and jeans. Alun took a step forward. Jasmine backed into the hall.
‘I didn’t hurt Tegan.’
‘But you hit her, Alun. You carried her up the headland unconscious.’
‘Mam said look after Ceri.’
‘Yes, Alun, but your Mam told you not to kill.’
The man-boy’s lips wobbled. ‘I . . . I do what Mam says.’
‘Yes, Alun, but you may be responsible for Tegan’s death.’ Jasmine imagined what might have happened. Alun had left Tegan unconscious on the cliff edge in the twilight. The woman may have come around later, when it was dark, and confused and concussed, fallen from the cliff. She saw the image of the woman tumbling to the road below.
The blow caught her on her shoulder, slamming her head on to the doorjamb. She felt the bulk of the young man press her against the wall as she slipped into the black.

………………….to be continued.

Jasmine asks questions

WP_20180803_14_21_17_Pro (2)For the last week we have been settling into our new home. There’s been a lot to do – unpacking, setting up new pieces of furniture, even some decorating (not my favourite job).  I was appalled by the amount of cardboard waste we generated but at least we have delivered it all to the recycling centre.  The polystyrene and polythene sheet was another matter – surely they can be recycled, the polythene especially, but apparently not.

We know no-one here although we have said hello to some of our neighbours but it has been pleasant just getting on with our own thing. Political issues have not been at the forefront of my mind although the pieces I have read have not eased my fears for the future. Nevertheless we are looking forward to getting familiar with our new home and meeting people.

Next weekend I will be at the 9Worlds convention in London otherwise known as the London Geekfest. It’s turned out I’m doing two talks, the first on creating positive trans figures in fiction, i.e. Jasmine, although I hope to widen out my talk into a discussion with the audience.  My second talk is about alchemy and chemistry in SF and fantasy or “Cavorite to Coaxium – super-materials in SF&F” which will, of course, include a plug for my September Weekes books. I seem to have drawn the short straw with the timings though – 5 p.m. on Friday for the former and 9 a.m. on Saturday for the latter. We’ll have to see if there is an audience.

Thanks to getting our home somewhat straight, I have at last been able to get back to some writing and have written the next episode of Negative, the Jasmine Frame prequel/sequel that fits in the short period of time between Painted Ladies and Bodies By Design. We’ve reached episode 7 and Jasmine is, at last, starting to investigate. . .

Negative: Part 7

‘You were close to her,’ Jasmine said as empathically as she could manage, ‘I’m sorry.’
The woman looked at her. ‘Thank you.’ There was a hint of a sob in her voice.
‘Do you know what happened here?’ Jasmine persisted. ‘Was she in a car accident?’
The woman shook her head. ‘I don’t know. The police won’t say; not yet.’ She turned and glanced up at the mist-shrouded cliff. ‘They say she could have fallen instead of being hit by a car. They’re waiting for the pathologist to tell them how she died.’
‘Oh, that’s awful.’ Jasmine was trying to think of comforting things to say but struggling. The eagerness to find out the facts, whatever they were, overrode her feelings of sympathy. ‘It was last night wasn’t it? What was she doing out here then?’
The woman looked at her with a face filled with anguish. ‘I’ve no idea. There was no reason for her to be here. She should have been home with me after work.’
‘After work?’ Jasmine said innocently. Of course, she knew Tegan’s work, or presumed she did.
‘Tegan worked in a hotel. Head waiter. She should have come home when dinner was finished. She usually got in by nine-thirty. She didn’t last night.’
‘You must have been worried.’
Her face creased up. Jasmine was afraid she was going to burst into tears. ‘When it got past ten, I was worried. I waited another hour then rang the police.’
‘Oh, did they start looking for her?’ Jasmine thought she knew what the answer would be.
‘No. They said some things which were supposed to reassure me and told me to ring again later if she hadn’t turned up. As if Tegan would go off for a night without telling me!’
‘They might have started searching sooner if they thought that your partner was suicidal.’
‘Suicide!’ The woman looked horrified.
Jasmine shrugged. ‘She wasn’t then?’
‘No, no, not Tegan. Okay, she wasn’t really happy at work, but it wasn’t so bad that she wanted to end her life. I’m sure of it.’
The mention of work increased Jasmine’s interest. ‘What was wrong at work?’
‘A new waitress. Tegan didn’t get on with her.’
She must mean Ceri, Jasmine thought. Apart from the bubbly Myfanwy who only worked two days, there was only Ceri working with Tegan.
‘Did she tell you why they didn’t get on?’
There was a small shake of her head. ‘Tegan said she was rude to her and didn’t do what she was asked to do. It was strange because she usually got along with everyone.’
That wasn’t Jasmine’s impression, but perhaps Tegan’s issues with Ceri affected her manner with guests. Or perhaps it was simply that Tegan didn’t get on with trans women.
Jasmine backpedalled in the tale. ‘So, did the police find her here?’
The woman shook her head vigorously. ‘No, that was a jogger. I don’t know who it was but they called the police and ambulance. It was too late to save her though. She was already dead. Someone at the police station remembered my call and they got me to look at . . . her.’ This time there was a sob. Jasmine reached out a hand and touched the woman’s arm gently.
‘I really am sorry. I shouldn’t have disturbed you. It’s a very sad time for you.’
‘No, no, talking about her, Tegan, about what’s happened, helps. It seemed unreal, a dream but now I know it’s something I have to deal with.’ The woman looked into Jasmine’s face. ‘Who are you?’
‘My name’s Jasmine, Jasmine Frame.’
‘I haven’t seen you before. Do you live here?’
‘No, I’m a visitor. I was out for a walk. Fresh air with added water.’ Jasmine was lying; she was out in the rain because she was eager to find out what had happened to Tegan.
‘Ah, I see. Well, thank you for stopping to talk.’
‘What’s your name? You told me your partner was Tegan.’
‘I’m sorry, I should have said. You told me your name. I’m Bob, short for Roberta.’
The rain became harder. Both women shrank into their jackets.
‘Look, I’d better go,’ Bob said, ‘that policeman has been waiting patiently for me to finish.’
Jasmine looked at the police car. Through the rain-spattered windows she could see the police officer watching them.
‘He brought you here, did he?’ Jasmine asked.
‘I wanted to see where she’d been, er, found. He offered to drive me up here. It’s such a lonely spot. Thank you again.’ Bob crossed the road to the police car. The officer leaned over and pushed the passenger door open. Bob got in and they drove off towards the town.
Jasmine pulled her jacket tight around her, not that it was stopping her getting soaked. The police car was out of sight almost as soon as it set off. Jasmine crossed the road to the cordoned off area, stepped over the tape and crouched down to the look at the bouquet. There was a sodden card stapled to the clear plastic. The ink was running but the words were still just legible. They read, “For my love, Bob”.
Jasmine surveyed the tarmac and the narrow strip of gravel between the road and the cliff. There was nothing to draw her attention, but she didn’t expect to find anything. Forensics would have done a thorough investigation and taken away any objects of interest. What was missing was interesting though. Even though the rain had washed away blood and other water-soluble bodily fluids spilled onto the roadway, some marks might have been expected to remain since the time of Tegan’s death. Tyre marks for instance. Jasmine paced up and down the crime scene, then stepped over the tape and walked in both directions along the road. There were no traces of any skidmarks. It wasn’t conclusive. The water on the road could have washed away the greasy rubber if it had been there, but surely some would remain to be observed by a detective’s practised eye.
So, Tegan wasn’t hit by a vehicle slamming on its brakes. Either it was a hit-and-run where the driver didn’t pause or slow at all, or Tegan wasn’t killed by the impact with a vehicle. Perhaps she had fallen from the cliff above. Jasmine gazed upwards. The rain was easing and the cloud breaking up. Visibility was improving. She couldn’t see the clifftop, but it was a long way up. A fall from that height would most likely be fatal. Tegan’s injuries would confirm whether she was killed by a fall or collision.
She began to retrace her steps back into the town. Tegan’s death was a mystery. Why hadn’t she returned home to her partner, Bob, when her shift at dinner ended? What was she doing either here on the road or up above, if indeed she got here under her own volition? And why was her relationship with Ceri so fraught if Bob’s opinion of her being a warm, loving person was correct?
Jasmine pondered as she trudged along the road, the sun beginning to warm her and dry her sodden clothes.

……………………to be continued

Jasmine (on hold)

For the latter half of this week I have found myself without access to standard terrestrial TV. Also there has been little time to access online news coverage. The result is that I have had a few days without having to hear all the Brexit or Trump rubbish. It’s been quite liberating or relaxing (either or both) although I realise that that we are approaching at speed that cliff that’s been talked about quite a lot but never really acknowledged. Also, with the heatwave (that’s affected most of the northern hemisphere)  knocking out agriculture one wonders what will happen to food prices in the coming months.

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Displaying my wares at the Southport book signing.

The reason for my semi-isolation from the media is that we have moved to a new apartment in a beautiful country town (in Wales). Everything about the move went smoothly (ignoring the previous year’s stress). I even have to congratulate BT. As soon as we exchanged 3 weeks ago I phoned them to inform them of the move. From the start they said there would be an engineer at our new property on moving day. I thought it was incredible but sure enough, at 5:30 p.m. on the day we moved, there was the engineer. He connected us, gave us our new phone number and said broadband was live. The only problem was that I hadn’t brought our filter or splitter or whatever you want to call it. Nevertheless we were able to make calls and next day a visit to our local, fantastic hardware store secured the required hardware and we were online. Amazing and well done BT.

We’re settling in well and I am looking forward to being my gender-fluid self in the new surroundings.

Anyway , my main confession is that there is no episode of the Jasmine Frame story, Negative, to give you this week. I do, literally write each episode in the week of publication and this week I have not had access to my computer and not had time to sit and write. I am hoping that normal service will resume next week. (You could, in the meantime, go to a certain online e-book provider and purchase one of the six Jasmine Frame titles on sale there).

To be continued…

Jasmine at the scene of the crime

I feel a bit cut off from reality this week. Perhaps it’s because we are between two lives as we pack up our home and prepare for our long-awaited move. Maybe it’s because the news has also become unreal, or surreal. The government seems to have entered a quantum superposition over Brexit in which it tries to mollify both the brexiteers and the remainers in its own party with a white paper which makes no sense whatsoever. I really don’t know where we’re headed but it certainly isn’t towards calm prosperity.

…………………………….

WP_20180713_13_38_49_ProLast Saturday we were in Southport in Lancashire. It’s a strange place. It’s supposed to be a seaside town but we didn’t see the sea. The Victorian promenade is actually a good quarter of a mile from the sea front but the actual waves are another half a mile further away except for a very short period at high tide. There was plenty of other evidence that it was a seaside resort though with fish and chips, amusements, entertainments and a pier with “Dotto” trains.

Of course, we weren’t there to get the seaside experience. The idea was to sell books at the BLISS bookfair. That didn’t happen. There were plenty of authors with books on display but the book-reading-and-buying-public didn’t turn up. It really does call into question the purpose of these events. Is it so that a group of authors can socialise or is it to promote, and sell, books? It looks increasingly like the former.

And so on with the latest case for Jasmine Frame. She’s supposed to be enjoying a rest in another holiday town, but she can’t resist a murder investigation. Here is part 6 of Negative.

Negative: Part 6

Jasmine gasped. It hadn’t occurred to her that Tegan might be a lesbian despite having observed her, largely at a distance, for a few days.
‘Had they been together long,’ she asked.
‘Oh, yes, for ages. Years. That’s what upset me I suppose.’
‘What did?’
‘Well, her being lesbian. I thought LGBT people stood up for each other, but she’s been at me ever since I started my transition. I nearly didn’t take the job because of her. I wish I hadn’t.’
Jasmine sighed. ‘She’s not unusual. Most lesbian and gay people are supportive of trans men and women but there are a few. . .’
‘Why? Why was she so up her arse about me being a woman?’
‘Some women, not just lesbians, just don’t see a transwoman as a woman, especially if they’ve still got a penis. If you’ve got a cock, you must be a man with a man’s attitude to women. That’s what they think. Before you transition you’ve had all the privileges of being a man so therefore you can’t understand what a woman has to go through, lesbian or straight.’
Ceri looked wide-eyed. ‘That’s a load of balls. I always knew I was different to other boys and I got bullied for being different even before I realised what I was. Privileges, Pah!’
Jasmine went on. ‘Sexuality gets in the way too. If you’re a trans woman who’s keen on blokes are you gay or straight? What if you fancy girls? Tegan probably had conflicting emotions when she looked at you.’ I certainly do, Jasmine thought. You look gorgeous and sexy but am I seeing you with the male eyes I used to have or are the female hormones I’ve been taking sending my brain mixed messages. I’m still not ready to decide on my sexuality. ‘I’, not condoning her attitude,’ Jasmine added, ‘It’s just how some women think.’
Ceri was thoughtful. ‘Why couldn’t she have talked about it instead of being a bitch?’
Jasmine nodded. ‘The question is who might have got pissed off with her enough to kill her.’
The colour faded from Ceri’s cheeks. ‘You don’t mean me, do you? She pissed me off enough times, but you don’t think I killed her?’
‘No, of course not.’ Jasmine replied automatically but when she thought about it, of course Ceri had a motive, and opportunity. But no, sweet, beautiful Ceri couldn’t be a murderer, could she? Jasmine dismissed the thought. Ceri’s reaction to the police officer’s questions and to the news of Tegan’s murder wasn’t that of a killer or someone trying to pretend they’re not the killer. Unless she was a very good actor. Of course, all trans people are actors; they’ve spent their early lives pretending to be their birth gender and then when they transition they have to act out a new public role before it becomes part of their nature and they blend in. Jasmine shook her head. No, it couldn’t be Ceri. But if not, who? And how?
‘Someone killed her though,’ Jasmine said eventually.
Ceri stared at her. ‘Who?’
‘I don’t know but the police will be investigating. You had better be prepared to answer more questions when they find out that you and Tegan didn’t exactly get on.’
‘But I had nothing to do with it,’ Ceri insisted.
‘I know, but they will ask questions like, where were you last night?’
‘When?’
‘After Tegan went off duty. You know what time that probably was.’
‘Between eight and nine. Um, I was at home.’
‘With your Mum and Dad, oh, and your brother?’
Ceri considered her answer. ‘Mum was there. I’m not sure about Dad and Alun.’
‘Well, you only need your Mother to provide an alibi and you’re in the clear.’
‘Of course,’ Ceri sipped her coffee and looked away from Jasmine. Ceri glanced at the clock on the wall behind the counter. ‘Oh, I’d better get off. I said I’d help Mum with the shopping.’ She glugged her coffee, put the mug down and got up.
‘See you later then,’ Jasmine said.
‘Later?’ the girl replied.
‘Dinner? You are going to be serving dinner, I hope,’ Jasmine grinned to show she was joking.
‘Oh, god, yes. I hope he gets Myfanwy in. I don’t want to do it all myself. Breakfast was bad enough.’ She pulled her summer-weight mac around her and hurried out.
Jasmine drank the remaining drops of her coffee and got up. She had a day to kill with nothing to do except investigate a murder.

Jasmine was surprised to find herself heading along the Undercliff. The road around the headland was quiet today. The mist and rain rolling in off the sea cut the visibility to a hundred metres or so. There was no view out to sea or indeed up to the clifftops. The tourists were sensibly staying indoors. Jasmine trudged along the tarmac, feeling rainwater dripping down her neck.
The town was out of sight and the road had narrowed where it cut into the cliff. The roadway was made narrower still by the area next to the rockface cordoned off by police tape. It was a small crime scene, barely larger than a parking space for a car. Jasmine guessed that a larger zone had been designated when the body had been discovered but now that the body had been removed and the forensic examination apparently completed, just this small patch was still being protected. A small police car parked beyond the tape showed that the spot where the body had been discovered was still secure.
Not wanting to draw attention to herself, Jasmine walked passed slowly, observing carefully but not making it obvious that that was what she was doing. There was, in fact little or nothing to see. No blood stains, no chalked body outlines, no skid marks or any other sign of a vehicle, but the water on the road may have obscured those anyway. There was one bunch of flowers, white roses, wrapped in clear plastic, leaning against the rock face.
The police officer stayed in his car, but Jasmine could see him watching though his rain-spattered windscreen. There was one other person at the scene, standing on the opposite side of the road, looking out into the grey sea. Jasmine thought it was a man at first, dressed in trainers, jeans, and a waterproof with short, wet hair. As she passed by though, she saw the figure in profile and noticed a feminine silhouette. She wanted to walk on but her investigative instincts urged her to pause and engage the person.
Jasmine stopped and faced the woman. ‘Is this where the body was found? I heard there’d been an accident along here.’
The woman turned to face Jasmine. Her cheeks were white and damp, not just with rain, Jasmine thought.
‘Accident?’ she said in a soft, vague voice. ‘No, not an accident.’
‘Someone died though?’ Jasmine felt guilty making it seem that she was an innocent passer-by. The woman nodded slowly and sniffed.
‘Did you know her?’ Jasmine asked, hoping that she didn’t appear to be prying, even thought she was.
‘I thought I did. I thought I knew everything about her,’ the woman said turning to look at the crime scene. ‘but I don’t know what she was doing out here.’
Jasmine guessed this must be Tegan’s partner that Ceri had mentioned. It wasn’t surprising that it should be her facing the weather to stand in a vigil at the Tegan’s scene of death.
‘What was she like?’ Jasmine asked.
The woman faced Jasmine, but her eyes looked at some distant point as she called up her memories. ‘She was warm and loving, funny and deep, kind and she was my rock.’
Is she describing the Tegan Ceri and I know, Jasmine asked herself.

……………………to be continued

 

Jasmine reluctant

Well, that was a surprising week wasn’t. Fancy Federa losing at Wimbledon from matchpoint! Then there was the government in turmoil over Brexit. Actually that is normal, but the resignations of Johnson and Davies were a bit unexpected. Of course they couldn’t do the honourable thing and resign when asked to back the PM. No, first they gave her their support, then they resigned. But that behaviour is not really a surprise since they have both lied and squirmed since before the referendum. But where does it leave May and the Brexit negotiations? I’ve no idea.

Then there’s Trump’s visit to the UK after causing mayhem at NATO. Nothing surprising there either (I’m writing this  on Thursday evening – perhaps he’s declared himself king of Engerland by the time you read this). I’d have thought that, by now, skilled politicians would have worked out how to neutralise his disruptive behaviour. Apparently they haven’t, which is worrying. The thing is – he’s dangerous. Satire is a useful weapon but just considering him a joke is not. I don’t think he’s particularly bright or the “ideas man” but he knows how to stir things up and sow discord. Other leaders have not found a way to counteract his rudeness, his willingness to tell outright lies and his immediate recall to Twitter to spread his chaos. Our “leaders” whatever their political colour have to find a way to cope without the spin-doctors and the protocol experts.

………………………..

WP_20180414_09_47_33_ProToday I am (I hope) at BLISS in Southport, joining a couple of dozen other authors at the Prince of Wales Hotel displaying and signing our books. I hope there will be people attending who are not only keen readers but who also have deep pockets. I have 10 titles for sale – viz. the 3 Jasmine Frame novels – Painted Ladies, Bodies By Design and The Brides’ Club Murder – the Evil Above the Stars trilogy and Cold Fire, my two Angela Meadows erotic novels and the Elsewhen SF anthology. That’s plenty to keep your bedside table creaking on its legs.

However, for free you can read the next episode of the Jasmine Frame sequel/prequel, Negative, here.

Negative: Part 5

Jasmine felt a wave of nausea pass through her, as if she’d drunk too much alcohol. It wasn’t alcohol, she hadn’t had a drink since she’d arrived here, but she knew the cause of her discomfort – a body, a death, a victim. Perhaps Tegan’s death was an accident, but the tone of the police officer’s questioning suggested a mystery. It wasn’t a simple road accident then.
Ceri seemed as nonplussed as Jasmine. ‘How?’ she asked.
‘I’m afraid that I can’t tell you that,’ the PC replied. Perhaps he didn’t know the whole story, Jasmine thought, definitely not all the details. The SIO, the senior investigating officer, would be keeping important facts secret if there was any crime contributing to the woman’s death.
‘The last time you saw Tegan Jones was Tuesday evening?’ The officer went on.
‘Yes,’ Ceri replied in a quiet voice.
The PC turned to the proprietor. ‘Was she working yesterday?’
The little man flustered. ‘I think so. I wasn’t here. I wasn’t told of a problem. Myfanwy. . .’
‘Myfanwy?’ The officer interjected.
‘Our stand-in waitress,’ the owner continued, ‘she didn’t report anything being wrong yesterday.’
Jasmine coughed. The other three people turned to face her. ‘Tegan Jones was waiting at dinner last evening,’ she said.
The officer turned a page in his notebook. ‘Who are you?’
‘Jasmine Frame. I’m a guest. I had dinner here last evening. Miz Jones was here while I was.’
‘What time was that?’ The PC asked while scribbling notes.
Jasmine had to think. She hadn’t noted the exact timings of her movements the previous evening. What had she watched on TV when she returned to her room?
‘It was quite early, I think, when I finished dinner – seven thirty-ish,’ she said.
‘Thank you, madam,’ the PC said. ‘You didn’t note what kind of mood she was in did you?’
Jasmine shook her head. ‘I’m sorry, she didn’t serve me and I didn’t have any conversation with her. Miz Jones didn’t seem to converse much; not with guests. I couldn’t say what her emotional state was or whether it was different to normal.’
‘Thank you, I think that’s all for now.’ The officer completed his note, turned and left the dining room with the proprietor on his heels. Ceri approached Jasmine. Her face was drained of colour.
‘I can’t believe she’s dead,’ Ceri said, her voice shaking.  Jasmine got up from her seat and wrapped her arms around the girl. ‘I’ve wished her dead any number of times for being so nasty to me, but. . .’
‘It’s okay. You can’t blame yourself for thinking those things. She was nasty.’ Jasmine was trying to be comforting. ‘Her death means she’s not going to bother you again.’
Ceri sniffed. ‘But how? What happened to her? Why did the police come asking questions?’
Jasmine was thinking the same things. She didn’t want to think about another death but she couldn’t help it. Questions about the investigation just kept popping into her head. She released Ceri from her hug.
‘There is obviously some doubt about when and perhaps how Tegan died. The police can’t have witnesses from the time of death; not yet anyway. That’s why they’re trying to trace her last movements.’
‘I want to know what happened,’ Ceri said firmly.
‘The police won’t be letting much out yet. Not until they have the story straight. But there are other ways of finding out some things.’
‘How?’
And so it begins, Jasmine thought. No I am not investigating this woman’s death, but she could see that Ceri was eager to know more.
‘This is a small town,’ Jasmine said, ‘How do you normally find out what’s going on.’
Ceri didn’t have to think for long. ‘Facebook and my mother.’
‘There you are then. I expect you’ll know more than that police officer soon.’
The girl looked around her. ‘I’d better clear up here. Then I’ll ask around.’
‘You do that,’ Jasmine said starting for the door.
‘Shall we meet for coffee?’ Ceri called.
Jasmine paused and turned. ‘Yes, if you like. Same place?’
Ceri nodded and began stacking plates.

Ceri didn’t appear at the time of their previous meetings but Jasmine didn’t wait on the pier because a wind carrying flurries of rain was blowing in from the sea. She went into the café, queued for a coffee then sat in their corner seat.
Her cup was empty when Ceri strode in. She came straight to Jasmine.
‘I’m sorry. I was stuck on my phone. I was on Facebook and texting my mates, then my mother rang to tell me the news.’
‘The news?’
‘About Tegan. She held me up.’
‘That’s okay. Sit down, I’ll get the coffees.’
Jasmine returned to the table with Ceri’s cappuccino and another black coffee for herself. She sat down and smiled at the young woman.
‘Well tell me. What’s the town got to say?’
‘It’s all over Facebook,’ Ceri said, not really surprised. ‘It’s the most exciting thing that’s happened here in months. Usually it’s what tourists get up to but the season hasn’t really got going yet.’
‘So what is being said about Tegan?’
Ceri took a deep breath. ‘Well some of the posts name her and some don’t.’
‘That’s to be expected. For some people it’s just an exciting event and they don’t know or care who the victim was. What are they saying? Is there a location?’
‘A location?’
‘Where her body was discovered.’
‘Oh yes, On the Undercliff.’
‘Where’s that?’ Jasmine had an idea but wasn’t certain.
‘The road round the headland.’
‘Oh yes. I walked it the other day. It’s a few miles long, do you know where?’
Ceri was looking at her phone, her thumb flicking over the screen.
‘Yes, here we are. It’s about a mile out of town on the east side.’
Jasmine frowned as she recalled her walk. ‘I know. The cliff’s pretty sheer there. The road is tucked right against the rock.’
‘That’s the place.’
‘Any suggestions of how she died?’
Ceri’s face creased. ‘There are all sorts of ideas. They can’t all be right.’
Jasmine grinned. It was as she expected. ‘It’ll all be supposition,’ she said. ‘The police won’t have released details, but gossip gets out. Perhaps there’s some truth there somewhere. What do they say?’
‘Oh, that she was knocked down while out walking, or jogging. That’s nonsense, I don’t think Tegan ever jogged anywhere and she wouldn’t have gone for a walk after work last night or before the breakfast shift.’
‘Okay, so we can reject a typical hit and run. If she’d been hit by a driver who stopped, the police wouldn’t be asking questions about where she was last night. What else?’
‘She fell from the cliff.’
‘From what you said about her not going for a run or walk, that sounds pretty unlikely too.’
‘That’s what I thought.’
Jasmine pondered. ‘Anyway, it seems we know that Tegan’s body was found on the road a mile out of town, under a cliff, and not in a car.’
‘That’s right, Jasmine.’ Ceri nodded.
‘So how did she get there? Is that where she was killed or was her body dumped there?’
‘Dumped!’
‘It’s how bodies are got rid of.’
‘Do you mean? No, you can’t. . .’
‘Tegan was murdered. Yes I do.’ Jasmine felt a mixture of excitement and resignation. Too many deaths had impacted her life in recent years. If it wasn’t actually normal to be thinking of causes of death and motives for murder it was certainly a familiar state of mind for Jasmine. ‘What did your mother have to say?’
‘Uh, Mother? Oh she said, “good riddance”. She knows what Tegan’s been like to me.’
‘Did she think Tegan’s death was suspicious?’
Ceri’s eyes opened wide. ‘I thought she was joking. She said “I expect her partner’s got fed up with her and bumped her off”.’
‘Your mother said partner, not husband? Tegan’s not married?’
‘No, didn’t I tell you? Tegan’s partner’s a woman. Tegan’s a lesbian. I mean, she was.’

 

 

Jasmine on tour

I’ve been on holiday for the last week – a week without writing but with wonderful walks, admirable scenery, and excellent weather (surprisingly). We have been staying on the western edge of Pembrokeshire (Wales). One reason for coming here was to visit Skomer Island.  This is a nature reserve with no permanent inhabitants and visitors limited to 200 per day. The island is principally a nesting and breeding site for various seabirds. About 300,000 Manx shearwaters use it, about half of the breeding population. There are also guillemots, kittiwakes, amongst other visitors, plus home-based gulls, predators such as falcons, short-eared owls and choughs and other small land birds. These are all interesting and would attract keen birdwatchers to the small island, but doesn’t explain why during the breeding season there are queues for the few sailings to the island and often visitors are turned away. These birds aren’t the main attraction; top-billing goes to – the puffins.

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Around 30,000 puffins visit Skomer between May and July, a sizeable proportion of the total population. They spend the rest of their lives at sea in the North Atlantic, out of sight and, until recently, unknown. It is when they come ashore to mate, lay their eggs and raise their young that they become the focus of human interest and, I would say, the reason for the success of Skomer’s conservation effort. Why puffins? Well, of course, they are cute – small, colourful (in their beaks), with faces that seem to show expression (thanks to their markings), and they fly in an amusing, eager, wing-flapping manner. However, the main reason is where they nest. They lay their eggs in burrows in the soil on clifftops, which happen to be exactly the place that the human sightseers can get to. The puffins have no fear of humans – they’re protected, after all – and seem to pay little or no attention to their watchers or the clicking cameras. They will stand or sit in their burrows inches away from paths and put on a marvellous display for the tourists. On Skomer there are a number of large areas where thousands of puffins can be watched at close quarters performing their natural antics, and very amusing they are too.

The other birds nest on inaccessible cliffs, or keep out of sight. Binoculars are needed to see details or a great deal of patience is required. Puffins provide entertainment without effort. They are a gift to the conservation groups bringing in £2000 a day to Skomer in the season. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and took dozens of photos of puffins, but while the puffins and other birds get on with the business of ensuring there is a next generation I wonder what the eager tourists to Skomer reveal us about human behaviour.

And so to next episode of Benefactors, my SF failed-novel. I really would appreciate some comments, you know.

Benefactors: Part 7

Helen felt the blood drain from her face. He hands shook. ‘You’re going to wipe my mind.’
‘A bit of it. In accordance with the Special Powers Act of 2026. I am sure you have read about the procedure Professor. The completion of the Neurone Map and the realisation that certain behaviours such as the Syndrome E abnormality could be localised and corrected by deep brain stimulation permits us to at last rectify the behaviours of people who have been radicalised or who hold dangerous beliefs.’
‘Syndrome E! That’s serial killers, suicide bombers and death cult jihadis.’
‘That is true. But the technique works as well on other parts of the brain such as the memory centres. If we can locate the site of a particular memory then it can be altered or removed.’
‘No, you can’t. I’ve read about it. It’s not as precise as that. You’ll remove my specialist knowledge. You’re going to end my career.’
The man looked sad again. ‘There may be a little collateral damage. Don’t worry. You won’t be aware of what you lose.’
‘You stupid man. You’re talking about ending my life as a thinking, reasoning person. I’ll be a vegetable.’
‘The effects may be similar to that of a stroke. Of course, we do have excellent treatment for stroke sufferers these days. The cause of your disability will of course be secret.’
‘But my friends, my colleagues. They’ll have been wondering what has happened to me. They’ll be asking questions.’
He smiled. ‘I’m afraid not. The university was informed that you were taken ill on the way to your department and that you have been removed to a specialist facility to give you the best treatment possible as your position deserves.’
Helen opened her mouth but no sound came out. Of course, she had no family. Her parents were dead and other relations were in India. She had never found time for a partner so lived alone.  They had thought of everything and tied her up in coils of lies. There was something though.
‘What about Darmaan. Are you doing the same with him. It’s a strange coincidence that he should suffer a stroke when we were together.’
‘Were you together? None of your friends or acquaintances were aware that you had been in contact with Dr Shamarke in recent days. I’m afraid that Dr Shamarke was involved in an accident on his way to work, alone.’
‘Darmaan. . .’ He’d been a friend, someone she had worked with when she needed IT assistance, but somehow she felt a huge loss. ‘Is he alright? What have you done with him?’
‘I’m afraid I do not have the authority to reveal what steps are being taken with Dr Shamarke.’
Helen sank back into the chair. She felt exhausted, defeated. They had taken everything from her – her files, her friends, her freedom and now they wanted to take her thoughts. But there was still one person who knew about the tree.
‘There’s still Jock Fraser. He’s in Kenya, and there’s still a tree.’
‘Dr Fraser is in custody. All the trees have been destroyed. They were discovered to contain a toxic narcotic which was harmful to the population.’
Helen covered her face with her hands and wept. She was a child again, being told what to do, punished for disobeying her parents.
‘I’ll leave you now, Professor. It won’t be long before we carry out the terms of your NAO.’
Helen was alone.  She sobbed for a little longer, enjoying the feeling of misery, the stab of pain caused by defeat.

Mindless misery wasn’t really her. She’d grown out of self-pity before she was ten years old. She had learned that problems always had a solution even if you had to reject everything you had. She sat up, blew her nose and started to think. Had she really been conned by Jock Fraser and others unknown? If so, was the purpose to discredit her? It was too ridiculous to contemplate. She couldn’t think of anyone who would go to such an elaborate ruse to ruin her scientific reputation. She had achieved her position by hard work not by the insights of a genius. She was a plodder not a Nobel prize winner. Another thought came to her.  If the plan had been to reveal that her acceptance of the tree data as real was a huge sting, then why was the government involved? At least she presumed her gaoler was part of the government. He seemed genuine but how would she know. This was getting confusing. She had to apply Occam’s Razor. If there are two or more explanations for a phenomenon, then the simplest is probably the correct one.
She had to accept that the data supplied to her by Fraser was from the tree and that it did contain some remarkable information. The government, or the part of it to which the agent called Orange belonged, was worried about it becoming common knowledge, and because of that they were prepared to sacrifice her mind in order to keep it secret. She had to find a way to persuade Orange not to carry out the Neurological Adjustment Order. She must retain her intellect.
The question was why the government was so worried? Was it because of the effect on the population of the knowledge that the plant’s genome was tinkered with millennia ago by an earlier, unknown civilisation or by aliens. Or, was the government scared by the possibilities of the new ideas frozen in the genome. Perhaps it wasn’t the possibilities themselves but the fear of others utilising them and surpassing the government’s own efforts. That sort of thing had fuelled the nuclear arms race but which nations now had the resources to embark on another futile competition for mutually assured destruction? But nuclear fission had been our own discovery and the atom bomb born out of the fears of the Second World War and the Cold War that followed. Surely no-one, human or otherwise, would hide, in the cells of the tree, the secrets of how humanity could eradicate itself from the universe. What would be the point of having that knowledge hidden away for hundreds of thousands of years until humans were just capable of reading and understanding its message.
She had to convince those that intended to damage her mind that the tree was a gift that could provide unmeasurable benefits and that her expertise was needed to tap it.
Helen smiled. She had a task and one that she was good at. Scientific research was not really her strength. She was far better as a teacher, an organiser, someone who could persuade the team to work together and the financiers to back the effort. She stood up and began pacing her small room.  She had a presentation to put together, perhaps the most important of her career.

………..to be continued.

Jasmine has an opinion

WP_20180516_13_28_54_ProWhat makes a woman?”, the Channel 4 programme with Munroe Bergdorf continued the exposure of gender issues in the media and to which I referred last week. The first part dealt with Munroe’s facial feminisation surgery which covered the same ground as Transformation Street.  What was more interesting was Munroe’s meetings with various people to discuss the question of whether transwomen are women.  This brought out many well-worn opinions e.g. women have beauty (!), women are mothers, women have a vagina, what you are born with is defines who you are. There were also scenes outside and inside a meeting of radical feminists opposing changes to the Gender Recognition  Act which would allow some form of self-identification of gender. The speeches were frightening in their dismissal of transwomen and using fear of men to whip up anger at transpeople using the spurious argument that if men could self-identify as women they would invade women-s spaces in order to rape them. If men wanted to they could already dress up and lie in wait in those spaces. It doesn’t happen.  The bitterness of these feminists made me sad and worried.

The problem is that 99% of the population are not only satisfied with the gender they were assigned and brought up by family, friends and society to accept, but they have given little thought to what gender is. Most people accept the binary view of the world without noticing or acknowledging that everyone has their own identity, characteristics and individuality.  If you examine the behaviour of people it is easy to see that there is a spectrum of gender. The 99% see no reason fir changing their views. But modern society has changed. On the one hand western society has become somewhat more accepting allowing transpeople (and other minorities) to be more open and assertive. Hence all the media attention. But on the other social media has provided a platform and a shield for people to be more outspoken in their views. The Brexit business in the UK and the election of Trump in the USA showed that the population is split with a sizeable proportion holding entrenched bigoted views. People are less prepared to allow others to express views that they don’t hold.  It is dangerous.

Going back to the question Munroe posed, I don’t know what the answer is, except that gender or identity is not determined by the physical form of a baby at birth. I identify as gender-fluid, although I still use “trans” for convenience. I do not know how a “woman” or a “man” thinks, despite having lived my working life as a man and being married to a woman that I love for over 30 years. I don’t think any person can know what every other person feels and, to be specific, radical feminists cannot know how other women feel about themselves.  I do know that I am comfortable being feminine rather than overtly masculine and that I am attracted to styles of dress and appearance that are labelled female. For us 1% I think it would be wonderful if there was no such thing as gender and that everyone was treated as an individual, but I’m wishing for a fairytale.

………………………

To change the subject. I had a lovely day in Aberystwyth this week attending a meeting of the Society of Authors.  As always I find writers wonderfully accepting and I am increasingly seeing the SoA as my union, providing advice and support to me as a writer. I’m looking forward to the next meeting of the Welsh chapter.

And so to the next episode of Benefactors, my SF novella or fragment of a novel.

Benefactors: Part 6

Chapter 6

The sky was bright blue but the Sun was still below the peaks of the eastern hills when Ekuru Lengabilo started up the Toyota. The boy and the old woman sat in the seats behind Jock, the boy pointing the direction to take. It took just half an hour bumping over the rough ground till they came to the entrance to a gully.
Ekuru pulled up. ‘I think it’s too narrow for the car.’
Jock got out and helped the woman and boy step down from the vehicle. ‘Lead the way,’ he said to the lad. Ekuru translated and they set off with Ekuru and the boy helping the old woman to walk. The steep-sided valley weaved left and right but within a couple of hundred metres it opened up slightly. There, standing alone on the patch of sparse grass was the tree. It was less than a metre taller than Jock with twisted, gnarled branches which were thinly leafed.
Jock stopped to take in the view. He felt joy that at least one tree still existed.
The air fizzed just above his head. The tree exploded in flame and smoke and splinters.
Jock, froze, his breath halted. On the ridges on either side of the gully, figures in full camouflage kit rose, weapons trained on him and his companions.
‘Don’t move,’ one soldier commanded in English. Ekuru turned and ran back the way they had come. Jock turned to warn him but a gun fired and Ekuru fell.
‘No!’ Jock ran to him and knelt beside his body. Blood covered the flesh-torn back. Jock knew there was no hope. The boy and woman joined him muttering in their own language. The soldiers surrounded them.
‘You will accompany us,’ the commander said and signalled them to start moving. They retraced their steps to the Toyota. A helicopter stood a short distance from the smoking wreck of the vehicle. Two of the soldiers carrying Ekuru’s body placed it by the side of the burnt-out car.
‘Get into the ‘copter,’ the commander said. Jock did as he was told helping the boy and woman to clamber on board. There was nothing else to do.
‘What’s going to happen to us?’ Jock asked. He felt the loss of Ekuru, the trees and almost all the people more than fear for his own safety.
‘Not my business to know,’ the commander said. ‘Sit down and belt yourselves in.’

Jock still didn’t have an answer to his question. They had flown at low altitude over the sparsely populated country until they reached the coast and then on out to sea. Far out in the ocean they approached a small flotilla of ships. One was an aircraft carrier that Jock recalled seeing in the news at various times in the last ten years. They landed on the deck and sank into the hanger beneath. Jock, the boy and the woman were escorted off the helicopter and then separated. Jock found himself in a small cabin with a hard bed, a toilet, a light that was permanently on and no windows. He’d taken the opportunity to rest and had dozed. The door had opened briefly at intervals of some hours and he had been given a bowl of typical naval fare but the sailor had not spoken a word.
One, two or it may have been three days later, Jock was marched from his cell to a larger cabin where he was surrounded by armed marines. He was brought to a halt in front of a desk. A senior officer, the ship’s commander sat behind the desk. He examined Jock.
‘Dr Fraser, I am instructed to inform you that you will be taken from this vessel and transported to an unnamed location.’
Jock cleared his throat trying to find his voice. ‘What about the boy and the woman?’
‘I cannot tell you.’
‘Is Ekuru Lengabilo’s killer under arrest.’ Jock felt renewed anger.
‘Mr Lengabilo was a terrorist,’ The officer said without hint of emotion.
‘Like heck he was.’ Jock clenched his fists. The commander nodded to one of the marines. Jock heard the sound of a cork being released from a bottle, a sting on his neck and his legs became like jelly.
Chapter 7

The bed was comfortable, there was an efficient shower in the en-suite, and there was an easy chair and desk. It could have been a reasonably priced hotel room. It was a cell and Helen knew it. The door was locked, there was no window and she had no access to the Net. All there was to do was read one of the paper books that had obviously been selected according to her reading tastes. She’d read them all before.
Meals were brought to her and she considered trying to make an escape but there were always guards in the corridor outside the door. Helen wondered how long she could stand this pampered but restricted existence – two days, three?
She thought it was four before he came to her. Of course her sleep pattern may have been distorted but it felt like four days.
‘Professor. I do hope you are comfortable,’ he said. He was younger than her and obviously kept himself fit but he acted as if he was at least her equal. He obviously wasn’t just an interrogator. They stood facing each other.
‘What a pointless question,’ She said, ‘I’m a prisoner. This is intolerable. You must release me.’
He smiled. ‘I’m afraid we must not. You see Professor you are a danger to the security of this nation.’
‘What on earth do you mean?’
‘You intended to distribute restricted material. That is what I mean.’
Helen glared at him. ‘I was about to share scientific data in order that we might learn its meaning and importance.’
‘Data whose owner had not released it for public consumption. Data that had been classified by the government as of national importance.’
‘Why?’
‘I do not have the authority to tell you that.’
Helen turned her back on him, walked to the easy chair and sat down. She crossed her legs and looked up at him.
‘Who are you?’
The man stared at her impassively. ‘You can refer to me as Orange. That is my designation.’
‘Are you and your colleagues all named after fruits?’
He gave her a thin smile. ‘My boss is Apple but that is not proof of the pattern you have postulated. We use the Naval Phonetic Alphabet from the First World War for our designations. Letters and numbers are somewhat clichéd. As you can tell I am quite low in the department.’ Helen wondered what government organisation he was referring to but the trouble they had gone to to keep her captive suggested something.
‘You’re scared. Or your bosses are. You think there is something in that plant genome that could threaten your position of power.’
‘That is pure supposition. It is unusual for you, Professor, to follow such a fanciful line of thought.’
Helen bit her lip. He was right of course. What was it in the plant’s genome that had caused her to ignore her normal caution? Was it Jock Fraser’s incomprehension, Darmaan’s excitement at solving the puzzle, or simply her hunch that it was special?
‘But Darmaan found a pattern, figures, mathematical formulae, physics, chemistry, biology beyond our understanding, stored in the genome of the tree.’
‘I’m afraid, Professor, you were misled. There is nothing remarkable about that tree.’
Anger welled up in Helen’s throat. ‘Misled? By whom? Not Dr Fraser. He may be an excellent botanist but he doesn’t understand genomes or binary code.’
‘How well do you know Jock Fraser?’
Helen paused. ‘We met once.’
‘And you spoke to him in Kenya.’
So they had been hacking her netlink. ‘Yes.’
‘That was all?’
Helen snorted. ‘You know it was.’
‘Well then, you didn’t know him at all.’
Helen leaned forward. ‘Are you saying that this is all a put-up. I’ve been conned by some scam or other into throwing away my scientific reputation.’
Orange shrugged. ‘There. You’ve said it.’
Helen flung herself back in the chair and looked away from him. ‘I don’t believe it.’
‘And that Professor is why you are here. The government considers your attitude and behaviour dangerous to the general well-being of the nation. That is why you have been served with a Neurological Adjustment Order.’

………………………to be continued

Jasmine absent

Following a lovely weekend with the family the rest of this week should have been getting some work done but unfortunately I have been doing some personal investigation of the NHS. On Tuesday evening I suffered severe pain, probably caused by a small kidney stone, an occurrence I last had nearly two years ago.  Needing a strong painkiller but it being too late to get to our GP we took advantage of the after hours service at Hereford Hospital.  I was given an appointment immediately and we set off. Within 45 minutes I was being looked at by the doctor and throwing up in the sink in his surgery. Having examined a pee sample, he wanted me to be seen by the Clinical Assessment Unit and gave me a letter to take there, along with some codeine that had no effect whatsoever.  The CAU was just down the corridor but when we got there found that they did not have a doctor available to assess me. So we were sent to A&E, which we had been trying to avoid. Nothing much happened for a time except for me moaning and pacing and throwing up but eventually a paramedic took pity on me, took me into a consulting room, and asked me the same questions as the GP an hour before. At least he did manage to locate a surgeon who breezed in confirmed what we thought might be wrong and sent me back to the CAU.

I was put in a cubicle, yes, a whole one all to myself, with a nice comfy bed, except that it didn’t feel that comfy to me. A nurse took a blood sample. I gave my second urine sample of the evening and I was rigged up with a cannula in my left hand. I was given a mouthful of what I was told was a morphine based pain killer but it had no effect either. They gave me an emetic via the drip but I threw up again soon afterwards. I was still in head-banging pain but at around 11 p.m., finally, the registrar gave me a strong painkiller as a suppository.  I inserted it myself. He also said that he wanted me to have a scan in the morning. As I was not an emergency they couldn’t call out the radiologist to fire-up their catscan machine, but I was urgent enough to be top of their list when they opened at 9 a.m.

It was decided that I should stay in the cubicle overnight and at last the painkiller was kicking in. Feeling somewhat better all I wanted to do was sleep, but the noise of chatter in the CAU throughout the night, and the various rhythms of beeps kept me a wake. At 6:30 a.m. when I was asleep, a nurse came in to give me some paracetamol. That was when the day started.  The day shift arrived, the catering guy came round with breakfast. I selected toast and was given a piece of untoasted bread. I had my blood pressure taken yet again – it was now getting back to normal. The consultant popped in with his retinue Soon after 9 I was taken for my scan which took no more than five minutes.

And then I waited. I was feeling better by now, although very tired and a bit sore from the vomiting. I was visited by a nurse every now and again. I was told they were waiting for the report on my scan and I may need another so I shouldn’t have lunch. It wasn’t until after two that the report came that my scan was clear and there was no obvious reason for my severe pain. Perhaps I’d passed the stone (well a bit of grit) already. The new surgeon wanted me to eat something before he let me go so I had some egg sandwiches. Finally, I was removed from the drip and sometime after 4 p.m. was released back into the community.

So, my conclusions. I was treated well; not kept waiting without treatment for the four hours the targets stipulate; I had a comfortable bed to lie on. But my post treatment period was drawn out much longer than it needed to be during which time I occupied the cubicle which may have been needed by someone else. The connection between the out of hours service, the CAU and A&E seemed somewhat disjointed (why printed letters of introduction?). Overall though, thank you to the nurses, paramedics, doctors and ancillary staff who made my short stay as comfortable as it could be. Free at the point of use, except for the car park, the NHS remains and so it should.  Everyone deserves the same care and attention that I had.

…………………………….

WP_20170923_10_43_20_ProJasmine is still taking a rest, but next Saturday I will be at the West Midlands Book Signing event in Telford when I will have all my (paperback) books for sale. Here though is the concluding  part of my short SF story, Imposter.

Imposter: part 2

Kappa looked at his hands, examining each finger and the lines on each palm. He thought he knew his hands but these weren’t his. The fingerprints were different; his life-line didn’t stretch as far as it used to. He raised a hand to his cheek.
‘Don’t touch,’ the doctor said. ‘The culture needs some time to, er, set.’
‘Just relax and enjoy the rest,’ Agent Tau said from somewhere behind his head. He was suspended about a millimetre above the smooth flat metallic surface; the back of his legs and torso covered in a sprinkling of superconducting-ceramic magnets, repelling the surface so that no part of his body touched it.
‘What have you done to me?’ Kappa asked.
‘Given you Borodin’s skin,’ Tau replied. ‘Actually it’s partly his skin and partly a synthetic polymer. We cultured the cells and the skin bacteria and fungi we found in Borodin’s room then impregnated the polymer. It covers your own skin to a depth of about one hundred micron. It’s permeable of course so your own skin can live normally but none of your skin cells will fall off. You’ll shed a trickle of Borodin’s skin cells and microbes wherever you go.’
‘So DNA and microbe tests will show that Borodin has been present and not me.’
‘That’s right. We haven’t got long though. The new skin will wear off in about a ten days.’
Kappa did a quick count. ‘That’s only two days after the mission is due to end.’
‘That’s right. We have to get you in and out pretty quickly. But you’ve got a week for your insides and outsides to settle. Oh, and to fit contacts so you can get through the iris i.d.’
Kappa looked at his hands again. ‘I presume I’ve got Borodin’s fingerprints?’
‘That’s right. The polymer skin is imprinted with them.’
‘I’m not me at all anymore, am I,’ Kappa said.
‘Not to any sensors; no you’re not.’
‘I’d better make sure I behave like Borodin then.’
‘I gather he’s a misogynistic brute who delights in violence.’
Kappa snorted, ‘With a taste for western fast food and vodka.’
‘You’re going to have to adjust a fair bit then aren’t you, Kappa,’ Tau said

The door was held open for him as he left the palace. The rear door of the stretched Mercedes was opened by the armed guard who stood to attention and saluted him. Kappa eased himself into the seat.
‘Good to see you again, Comrade Borodin,’ the driver said, looking in his mirror. ‘Where can I take you.’
‘Into town,’ Kappa said, ‘The Peacock Club.’
The driver nodded, ‘Of course.’
They drove off slowly, passing through the fortified gates of the palace compound. Soldiers saluted and Kappa graciously waved to them. He allowed himself to relax just a little. The job was done. The kid was dead and he had got out without the alarm being raised, yet.
The electric limousine sped away into the sparse traffic ignoring speed limits. After all, the passenger was a senior member of the government; laws didn’t apply to him. Now all that was left was to get out of the country and leave the real Borodin to face the music.
It wasn’t long before they were driving down the narrow streets of the old town. Old neon lights flickered from doorways offering food, drinks and sex in a variety of tastes. The car drew up at the entrance to one such with a peacock’s tail flashing above the entrance.
‘No need to wait for me,’ Kappa said as he got out. The driver nodded, closed the door and resumed his driving seat. He drove off before Kappa entered the club.
He was recognised at once, the staff and the manager bowing and offering anything he wanted.
‘Vodka,’ Kappa ordered, surprised that he actually meant it. He felt an urgent need for the alcoholic hit, ‘and food, my usual,’ he added.
He was lead to a private booth out of sight of the rest of the clientele. A waitress in a very short skirt and low cut blouse brought him a small glass and a bottle of vodka. If she had been seen on the street dressed like she was here in the club, Kappa knew she would have been assaulted or arrested. Probably both. He felt a strange emotion. His hand reached out and touched her bare thigh. Her leg trembled. He snatched his hand away. She filled the glass, smiled at him and withdrew.
He glanced at the Rolex watch on his wrist. Five minutes to his pick-up. Time for a couple of drinks. He threw the vodka down his throat. The unfamiliar burning sensation shocked him at first but then a feeling of satisfaction filled him. He poured another glass.
A minute or two passed and the alcoholic glow permeated him. The waitress returned with a plate that she placed in front of him. American style hamburger and fries. He gave her a wink. She smiled again and left him to eat.
A small light flickered faintly on his watch. His transport had arrived. Well, they can wait a moment, can’t they, Kappa thought. He lifted the burger in its bun to his mouth and took a bite. He followed it with a handful of fries.
‘Where are you, Kappa? We’re outside.’ Tau said in his ear.
Kappa growled and looked at the burger wistfully. Bloody woman, ordering him about. He imagined doing certain violent things to her.
‘Come on, Kappa. Get rid of the gun and get out.’
Kappa remembered he still had the murder weapon in his pocket. He didn’t want to be caught with it. He’d better join Agent Tau. He took the gun from his jacket, dropped it gently under the seat, knocked back the glass of vodka and got up. He didn’t feel quite steady on his feet. He started to head back towards the front entrance then remembered. It was at the rear of the club that Tau was waiting. He staggered towards the toilets.
He emerged blinking into the bright light and hot, humid air. A Toyota taxi waited with its rear door open. He stumbled towards it and fell into the back seat.
‘Close the door Kappa. Let’s go.’
Kappa pulled the door closed and immediately the car drew away. ‘Don’t you go telling me what to do, Tau.’
‘What kept you, Kappa?’ Tau asked.
‘Just a full bottle and a burger,’ Kappa said.
‘What? You kept us waiting while you ate and drank. Are you out of your mind, Kappa?’
Kappa slapped her. ‘Shut up, you slut. No woman tells Agent Kappa what to do.’
Tau felt her bruised cheek. ‘We thought this might happen. Sorry Kappa.’ She drew a gun from under her leg and shot him.

Kappa woke up. He was in a bed; the surroundings looked familiar; the medical wing that he’d spent a couple of weeks in before the mission. Agent Tau stood by his side.
‘Ah, you’re awake. Good. How are you feeling Kappa?’
Kappa wasn’t sure how to answer. He felt as if he’d been ill and was recovering, as if he’d had a bout of diarrhoea or flu.
‘Not wonderful. Why?’
‘No uncontrollable urges for alcoholic beverages or processed foods?’
‘Uh? No.’
‘Good. The replacement of your microbiome was successful then. We kept you out for a few days for your own good. You are completely yourself again, Agent Kappa.’
‘Um, thank you. The mission?’
‘The boss has declared it an almost complete success,’ Tau said, smiling broadly. ‘Dmitri Borodin has been arrested, tried and executed for the murder of the President-elect.’
‘Executed, already?’
‘Justice is swift in Rusbenya, Kappa, and the weight of the DNA and microbe cloud evidence against him was unarguable. He had no way of proving that he wasn’t in the Presidential Palace when Vitaly was killed, or in the Peacock Club where the murder weapon was found. President Gagarovich is in a coma and his followers and Borodin’s faction are eliminating each other.’
Kappa felt satisfaction at doing his job well. ‘Er, you said almost complete success.’
‘Yes, Kappa. The transplant of Borodin’s microbiome into your guts produced some undesirable effects.’
Kappa recalled slugging the vodka and the taste of the burger. ‘You mean I acquired Borodin’s taste in food and drink.’
‘It was a bit more than that actually Kappa. You were beginning to acquire his personality too. I’ve forgiven you for the slap but I’m not so sure of your reference to me as a slut.’

……………………………….

 

Jasmine: a collection

Trained By Murder: A Jasmine Frame Collection – the new e-book containing four Jasmine Frame stories is now available on Kindle.  More below.

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The scary-index has ratchetted up another notch or three, thanks the to the Russians bumping off one of their many traitors and paying no heed to the risk of contaminating the population of Salisbury with their nerve gas. The story reads like a Le Carre novel without the subtlety, but the consequences are worrying. It’s further proof of Putin’s fear of the world and need to be popular amongst his people, not that he needs their approval to win his forthcoming election. It’s also proof of a growing instability in the world with egotistical madmen (however you want to define mad) in power in the three (perhaps more) largest and most powerful countries of the world.

Any response to Russia will probably be ineffectual but dangerous. One can but hope that sense still holds some sway in the those endless corridors in which power is supposed to reside and that no-one gets trigger-happy.  For all of my life we have feared a nuclear war which would probably have been over pretty quick with just the few left to suffer the aftermath. But is that the worst scenario? Surely the type of war on civilians we have seen in Syria and Yemen and elsewhere is worse.

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Tea in Debenhams

I am thankful that in my lifetime I have never been asked to put my own life on the line in wartime as our parents’ generation were. I don’t know how I would react. I feel cowardly in the face of physical violence with or without weapons (unless it’s brandishing a foil in a fencing match – but that’s friendly competition). I want peace but I can see that sometimes pacifism is not a viable option.  I have just spent a short while studying the double Nobel Prize winning chemist, Fred Sanger who was a Quaker and conscientious objector in WW2. While I respect Sanger’s ideals, I don’t think that, in circumstances like those of 1939-40, refusing to defend one’s home is justified. A day away from being officially a Senior Citizen, or OAP if you like, I hope I will never have to face that dilemma but unfortunately I can see growing numbers of people around the world will, as a result of the increasing instability, shortage of resources and climate change.

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trained by murder ver3Yes, it’s hereTrained By Murder is now available as a Kindle e-book priced at £2.15 (and the equivalent in other currencies.).

Trained by Murder is a set of four stories that fit into a short period, between Murder in Doubt and Painted Ladies, when James joined the Police service, and married Angela. While outwardly living his life as James he spends much of his off-duty time as Jasmine and is struggling to understand where his gender identity lies. The four stories average 13,000 words in length.

In Pushed to Murder, while working as a barman, a jog along the Rover Kennet in Reading brings James some disturbing news and a problem.

Death on a Honeymoon tells the story of James’ and Angela’s not so idyllic nuptial break on Ibiza where he meets a particular Spanish detective.

Vengeance is Murder finds Jasmine enjoying a weekend break in London with Angela that provides a dilemma that will stay with her for the rest of her life.

Death in Self-defence sees James on response duty in Abingdon, trying to get justice while hiding her double identity.

A pdf version of Trained By Murder is available from me, price £2.  Order it by sending an email here.

A paperback version will be available from Amazon soon.

The next full length novel, Molly’s Boudoir is on its way.

And finally, here is the next episode of Pose, another Painted Ladies prequel

Pose: Part 9

Jasmine took a small torch from her shoulder bag and took a look around. It was little bigger than a domestic garage but had a ramp and inspection pit. There was a work bench at the back with what appeared to be a door to another room behind. Apart from bits of car and cans of oil and other liquids there was nothing else to see. Jasmine moved towards the back of the garage. She pushed the door. It opened onto a narrow storeroom. Jasmine shone the torch around. She gasped. There was a glimpse of red satin. She stepped inside for a better view.
It was Tina in her princess dress sprawled on the floor amongst the cans and cardboard boxes. Jasmine knelt, reaching out a hand to feel a pulse. There wasn’t one but there was a sticky mess at the back of her head.
Jasmine backed out of the cupboard and hurried back through the garage. She stepped outside and pulled the door down. Angela approached her.
‘Did you find anything?’
Jasmine took her arm and dragged her back to the Fiesta. ‘Yes. Tina.’
‘Why didn’t she come. . .’ Angela’s mouth dropped open. ‘She’s dead?’
‘Yes.’ Jasmine unlocked the car door, got in and urged Angela to join her.
‘What are we going to do?’ Angela asked her face pale in the moonlight.
‘I don’t know. If we call the police we’ll have to identify ourselves and explain what we’re doing here.’
‘But you can’t leave Tina in there.’
‘She’s dead, Angela. We can’t do anything for her.’
‘We can. We can see that she gets a proper burial or whatever. What about her wife and daughter? What’s Jed going to do with her?’
Jasmine shook her head. She felt lost. She hadn’t been close to Tina but the shock of finding someone she knew battered to death along with her dilemma of not wanting to be identified seemed to have frozen her mind.
Lights appeared from the lane. An old Land Rover drove passed where they were parked, turned through 180 degrees and backed up to the garage door. A man got out.
‘It must be Jed,’ Angela said.
The man opened the garage doors, went back to his car and reversed inside. The doors closed.
‘What’s he doing?’ Angela asked.
‘Well, it could be he’s doing some car mechanics or perhaps he’s getting rid of Tina’s body.’
‘What should we do?’
‘Wait and see.’

A half an hour of sitting in the dark, cooling car, afraid to speak to each other and mulling over the problem passed. The garage doors opened. The Land Rover drove out and stopped. The driver got out, closed the door, returned to the car and drove off. Jasmine started the Fiesta’s engine and followed at a discreet distance.
‘Can you read his registration number?’ Jasmine asked. ‘If we lose him we need to be able to report what vehicle he’s driving.’
‘No, it’s too dark and I think the number-plate is covered in muck.’
‘Damn. We’ll just have to make sure we don’t lose him.’
For a while they travelled south on the main road out of the town. Before they reached the motorway, the Land Rover turned off onto an industrial estate and then onto a narrow lane. Jasmine slowed, letting the distance between them increase. It would be easy for Jed to see he was being followed if they were too close behind on the country road. The road took some wide curves, but they were usually able to see the rear lights of the Land Rover in the distance.
Then the lights disappeared. Jasmine drove slowly and came to the point where an even narrower side road branched off. There was a large building set back from the road.
‘He must have turned up here,’ Jasmine said spinning the steering wheel. She turned the headlights off and drove tentatively along the lane.
‘There he is,’ Angela cried. The dark angular bulk of the Land River against the almost leafless upward reaching branches of the trees was just visible about a hundred yards ahead. They stopped.
‘Call the police and tell them someone in a Land Rover is acting suspiciously,’ Jasmine said, opening her door.
‘But I don’t know where we are?’ Angela said as she dug her mobile phone from her bag.
‘Take the car and see what that building on the corner was. That should be a landmark.’
‘OK,’ Angela got out and ran around to the driver’s side
‘Oh, and don’t give your name.’
‘No, right.’
Angela reversed slowly back the way they had come, veering from side to side of the narrow, dark road. Jasmine crept forward. She kept to the side of the road almost hidden by the hedges and shrubs that lined the road. Closer to the Land Rover she could see that the tail-gate was open but there was no sign of Jed. She stopped, hearing her breathing and the rustle of movement in the undergrowth at the side of the road.
Jasmine pushed through the bushes and, with her eyes adjusted to the darkness, saw a figure moving through the bracken ahead of her. He was weighed down by a heavy bundle carried over his shoulders. Ahead of him there was a shimmer of light on water, part of the large system of lakes in flooded gravel workings.
Jasmine crouched down and tried to move forward, half crawling, half walking. She knew her tights would be ruined. She moved slowly but Jed, with his burden was making slow progress too. Nevertheless, he didn’t go directly to the bank of the lake. He kept to the narrow strip of land that divided the workings into separate bodies of water.
She was close enough now to hear him panting, using the bracken and small shrubs to keep herself hidden. He moved towards the water and let the body slip from his shoulder to the ground. Jed straightened up and seemed to be regaining his breath.
Jasmine wondered if Angela had made contact with the Police and had been able to give their location. Would they respond or just consider it a minor incident? Fly-tipping perhaps. If she allowed Jed to dump Tina’s body in the water and get away the police wouldn’t know where to look unless Jasmine guided them. But she couldn’t do that. She had to delay Jed somehow.
Jed bent down and began to drag the body towards the water’s edge. Jasmine edged forward. She was only a couple of metres from him now but he was intent on his task.
She screamed and launched herself at him. She hit him like a battering ram, tumbling him. He grunted. Jasmine fell in a heap but was quickly picking herself up. Where was he?
Jed was rising to his feet, looking around, startled by her attack. Jasmine threw herself at him again rugby-tackling his legs. They fell together. Jed kicked out, connecting with one of Jasmine’s false boobs. She rolled away and got to her feet. Jed was getting to his knees. Jasmine aimed the toe of her boot at his head. There was a thud as her kick hit home. Jed collapsed.
Jasmine stood up, breathing hard. She heard sirens. Blue lights were moving along the lane. She couldn’t stop here any longer. The police would find the Land Rover and start searching. She hoped Jed would stay put for long enough. She had to get away. Was the strip of land they were on a peninsular or an isthmus? There was only one way to find out. She moved on, away from the flashing lights, through the rough bracken with water on both sides.
It seemed an age but was probably only a few minutes when some buildings loomed against the sky ahead of her. She stumbled from the undergrowth onto a small parking area occupied by a couple of cars. Then she was on a made-up road again. She staggered along it, trying to jog but feeling bruised and cut by thorns and brambles.
She reached a junction with a slightly wider road. Which way should she go? How was she going to get home? The flat was miles away. She was out in the country. She must look a complete mess. Jasmine started walking, slowly, uncertainly, warily.
Lights came towards her. A car. She stepped to the side into the bushes. Perhaps she hadn’t been seen. The car drew level and stopped. The window wound down.
‘Jas?’
‘Angela?’ Jasmine’s heart beat faster with surprise and joy.
‘Get in, quick.’
Jasmine ran around the Fiesta and got into the passenger seat. Angela drove off.
‘How did you find me?’ Jasmine asked as she buckled herself in.
‘I didn’t.’ Angela stared ahead into the darkness. ‘After I rang the police I had to get away so I drove on along the road. But then I thought, how on earth are you going to get home? So I’ve driven up and down this bit of road a few times, wondering where you might be.’
‘The police. . .?’
‘I kept away from them. I could see their lights coming from the other direction.’
‘We need to get far away now, Ange. They’ll be piling in once they find Jed and Tina.’
‘Will they find them?’
‘There’s a good chance.’ Jasmine described what had happened as they drove along the country road back towards the lights of the town.

……………………………to be continued.

Jasmine on the hunt

Further to last week’s comments, I’m delighted that A Fantastic Woman won the best foreign language film Oscar.  I hope we see more of Daniela Vega as she is a fine actress and singer as well as a powerful advocate for trans acceptance.  I’m not sure what’s going on in political circles but it seems that while most parties (in the UK) support individual freedoms and oppose discrimination they are being influenced by the minority of feminists who do not think that transwomen are women. That however is a separate issue to allowing people to free themselves of the constraints of gender.

Layout 1I am delighted that a review of The Brides’ Club Murder is on the Eurocrime website, written by Susan White. Read it here.   The Brides’ is available as e-book on Kindle or in paperback from me  for £9.99 inc p&p

 

 

 

The main news for this week though is the imminent publication of  Trained By Murder: A Jasmine Frame Collection. The Kindle version can be pre-ordered now with publication on 16th March.   Here’s the blurb.

Four stories, four locations, four deaths and four dilemmas give Jasmine Frame a training in the art of detection.  As James she is embarking  on a career in the police force and a marriage to Angela, while wondering what part Jasmine will play in her life. She strives to keep Jasmine secret from her colleagues but the urge to be female is ever-present. The examples and experiences of the transmen,  transwomen and crossdressers that she meets influence her decisions. She has decisions to make and crimes to solve.

trained by murder ver3

The collection  is a long novella or short novel in length. The stories are prequels to Painted Ladies and in Jasmine’s chronology come after the novella,  Murder in Doubt. If you don’t buy Kindles then you can order a pdf version from me for £2 payable by Paypal –  write to me here.

Back to the present, or rather another time in Jasmine’s detecting  life (pre Painted Ladies).  Here is the next episode of Pose.

Pose: Part 8

James returned to his computer and began a review of all the data collected on Terry North and on the murder of Avril. The two collided with the blood in Terry’s burnt-out van but James could see no other overlap. Colin grunted about needing a leak and hauled his bulk out of the room. James quickly scribbled some notes on a sheet of scrap paper, not his police notebook. He knew he shouldn’t be making copies of sensitive data but if he was to find Tina then some rules had to be broken. Colin returned with new supplies of snacks. James refused the packet of crisps he offered and bent his head to the screen.
Their shift came to an end, late of course, with no news from the investigating team. There were no clues to Terry’s whereabouts or the identity of the killer but from the tone of the messages circulating between the team members it looked like DI Crowley was now treating them as the same person.

James drove home thinking hard. What could he do? How could he trace Tina when the might of the Violent and Serious Crime Unit was failing? Was Tina really a paedophile and killer? He was struggling to match the exuberant if eccentric transvestite to the profile of a murderous child-molester. It was difficult, but he knew that the people who went after kids were expert at hiding their true personality and intentions.
Back in the flat, James spread out the bits of paper with his notes, to which he added what he knew about Tina which was not, as far as he knew, known to DI Crowley.
He called Samantha again. She answered quickly this time.
‘Hi, Sam. Have the police been in touch yet?’
‘No. Are you sure they will?’
‘Yes, if they haven’t already found Tina. Look have you any ideas where she might have gone.’
‘She could have driven anywhere in her van.’
‘That’s been found near Fobney Lock, wrecked.’ Another rule broken. Information not yet public given to someone not in the Police.
‘Really? How?’
‘I don’t know. Either someone nicked it or Tina had her own reasons for trying to dispose of it.’
‘Why?’
James wasn’t going to say that Terry/Tina was now the principal suspect in the murder of Avril Robinson.
‘I don’t know, but it’s even more vital that we find her. Look. Did you go anywhere with her apart from Butterflies and the Duchess?’
‘No. We went to the Duchess a few times. It’s supposed to be a trans-friendly pub.’
‘Supposed to be?’
‘Last time we were in there a bloke had a go at Tina.’
‘When was this?’
‘A few weeks ago.’
‘You didn’t mention it when Tina went missing.’
‘Er, it didn’t seem important. It was before Tina and his wife had their row.’
James sighed. Could it be important? ‘Tell me what happened.’
There was a pause before Samantha spoke again. ‘We were having a quiet drink and chat. It was quite early; not many people there.’
‘Other trans people?’
‘No, just gays. This guy was with a couple of other blokes. Been knocking the lagers back by the look of it. He staggered over to us and shouted at Tina.’
‘What did he say?’
‘Can’t remember exactly; it was pretty mashed up; usual abusive stuff.’
‘What Tina do?’
‘Just sat there. It just washed off her. She said, “Do go and sit down, Jed.”’
‘Jed! She knew him. She said his name.’
‘Yeah, I suppose she did. I hadn’t thought of that before.’
‘What happened?’
‘The guy’s mates came and dragged him off and they left the pub.’
‘What did Tina do?’
‘Nothing. We just got on with our drink. A few more of the girls arrived and we had a good evening. Why? Do you think it’s important?’
‘Could be. Just one thing. Tina was in her usual stuff?’
‘Yeah, a pink princess mini-dress.’
‘Thanks Sam, I’ll get back to you.’ James ended the call. He was thinking hard. Was it a coincidence? How many Jeds could there be? Was the guy in the pub Tina’s wife’s friend’s partner? The one who got moods on him, so Emma said.

James was still musing when the door opened. Angela staggered in, heaving her heavy briefcase. James jumped up to welcome her, take her bag and coat and give her a cuddle and kiss.
‘I’ll put the kettle on,’ James said, eventually.
‘What’s up?’ Angela said, noticing the scraps of paper on the table. While James made coffee, he described his day and his intention to find Tina. He ended with the latest discovery.
‘It doesn’t seem like much of a lead,’ Angela said from the depths of the sofa.
‘No, but it’s all I’ve got. I must get out and find Tina, whether he’s the murderer or not.’
‘You’re going out investigating?’
‘I have to.’
‘But if DI Crowley finds out what you’re doing he’ll be wondering why.’
‘I know,’ James said.
‘So you need a disguise. You’ve got to be Jasmine the investigator.’
James realised that Angela was right.
‘And what’s more,’ Angela continued, ‘it’ll be safer and better cover if I come with you.’
‘But you’ve had a long day. You’re knackered.’
‘Thanks a bunch.’
‘You know what I mean.’
Angela grinned. ‘Yes. Perhaps I need a change. Studying figures can pall after a while. Let’s do it.’

Jasmine was dressed for a variety of venues – short skirt, opaque tights, thick jumper over a silk cami. Angela, similarly dressed, sat beside her as they drove in the Fiesta towards the outskirts of the town.
‘Where are we heading?’ Angela asked.
‘To where it’s all been happening,’ Jasmine replied, ‘Tina’s home, or rather the home of his wife’s friend, Sharon.’
‘You’re hoping that her bloke, Jed, is there?’
‘That’s it.’
‘Do you think he knows where Tina is?’
‘I’m not sure but there’s a chance he’s got something to with all this. This meeting Tina and Jed had in The Duchess was just before Emma chucked Tina out. That was after Emma had her chat with Sharon and got paedophile and transvestite muddled.’
‘Perhaps she didn’t.’
‘What?’ Jasmine glanced at Angela.
‘Get them muddled. Perhaps Tina is the paedophile who killed the girl.’
Jasmine frowned. ‘That is a possibility. I hope not.’
They pulled up outside number 12, Sharon’s house according to Emma. They got out and went up the path to the door. There was no bell. Jasmine tapped on the plastic door. It was answered by a short woman with bleached blonde hair.
‘Hi,’ Jasmine began, ‘Sharon?’
‘Who’s asking?’ the woman looked closely at Jasmine and Angela.
Jasmine didn’t answer the question. ‘Is Jed in?’ she asked.
Sharon frowned. ‘What do you want Jed for? Who’re you?’
Jasmine decided to tell an outright lie. ‘We met him in The Duchess. He said to call on him. Now Sharon looked confused. ‘The Duchess? That’s in town init? We’ve never bin there.’
‘Jed has,’ Jasmine said.
Sharon’s face darkened with anger. ‘To meet you?’
‘Not us. He was talking to Tina. You know, Emma’s bloke.’
The woman looked confused then comprehension dawned. ‘You’re fucking paedos like Terry.’
Jasmine sighed inside. ‘No, I’m transgender not a paedophile. Tina, or Terry, is like me.’
‘Nah, you’re all fucking weirdoes. I remember now. Jed came in one night and said he’d seen Terry dressed up like a fucking little girl. Jed said he was one of ‘em paedos.’
Jasmine shook her head. ‘He got it wrong,’ she hoped that was true, ‘Tina’s missing.’
‘Yeah. Emma chucked him. Good fucking job.’
‘We want to find him.’
‘So you can play little girls together,’ Sharon sneered.
‘To protect him. From himself mainly.’
‘He can go fuck himself. Mucking around with his little girl.’
Jasmine’s eyebrows rose. ‘Who said he’d done that?’
‘Jed did.’
‘If Jed knows stuff about Tina perhaps he knows where he’s gone. Can we speak to him?’
‘Jed won’t speak to you pervs.’
‘We’ll take that chance. Where is he?’ Since he hadn’t appeared Jasmine assumed he wasn’t with Sharon.
‘OK, if it’ll get you off my doorstep. He’s at his lockup, sorting out a mate’s car.’
‘Where is it?’
‘Behind the shops on Basingstoke Road.’
‘Thank you, Sharon.’ Jasmine backed away from the door. Sharon closed it without further word.
Jasmine turned to Angela. ‘That was helpful.’
‘She wasn’t pleased to meet you,’ Angela said.
‘No, but she didn’t seem too attached to Jed.’
‘You made her wonder what he was doing in The Duchess. That’s if she knows it’s a gay meeting place.’
Jasmine shrugged. ‘Perhaps. Let’s see if we can find his lock-up.
They got back into the Fiesta and set off through the roads of the estate until they came to a busier straight road.
‘This is Basingstoke Road,’ Jasmine said. She turned left and drove slowly along the road. They came to a short parade of shops with a couple of stores and take-aways. There was a lane up the side which they drove up. There was a parking space at the back of the shops with a couple of workshops. One had an up-and-over garage door with a peeling board above it. Just about illuminated by the Fiesta’s headlights, Jasmine read, “Jeds Motors”. No apostrophe.
‘This looks like it,’ Jasmine said, getting out of the car. ‘Let’s have a look.’
Angela followed him to the garage entrance. The door was closed but Jasmine grasped the handle, twisted and pulled. It lifted with a metallic groan.
‘Not very secure,’ Jasmine said, ‘Let’s have a look.’
‘Should we?’ Angela said, ‘It’s private property. We’ll be trespassing.’
‘I know but I want a look around. You stay here and watch.’ Jasmine ducked under the door and stepped into the dark garage.

………………………..to be continued.

 

Jasmine ventures out

Is civilisation, western or otherwise, doomed? A recent article in New Scientist listed various pointers that suggested it was.  On the other hand there have been articles in newspapers about Steven Pinker’s book on The Enlightenment which, it is suggested, has an optimistic view of present times. Pinker says that from the late-seventeenth to mid nineteenth century,  European and American philosophers, scientists, engineers, humanists, politicians etc. propelled western civilisation  to its current level of power and prosperity with its people experiencing improved health, longer lifespans, better education and various rights and freedoms, such as democracy.  Unfortunately I think both views are correct.

The Enlightenment did result in amazing advances in science, medicine, technology that transformed our i.e. western, way of life. It had its negatives too – exploitation of peoples in other parts of the world (even though the end of slavery is seen as part of enlightenment philosophy), and degradation of the environment through increased consumption and waste. It didn’t stop and may even have encouraged the rise of despots such as Napoleon, and fanatical regimes such as the Nazis and other fascists, and communists. Unfortunately, I think fading optimism for enlightenment themes such as the search for knowledge and the freedom to be individuals is allowing the rise of right-wing populism and fundamentalism, both of which aim to curtail our personal freedoms and the application of science.  Brexit, the dismissal of “experts”, Trump and other political upheavals, are just the most obvious signs.

Faced with environmental breakdown (articles in New Scientist provide evidence week after week) in addition to this threat to our comfortable way of life, I am afraid that I must be numbered with the pessimists.

tree-desert-namibia-dead-vlei-68661.jpeg

A future world? Perhaps not

Still, life goes on doesn’t it. To be more cheerful, Trained By Murder: A Jasmine Frame Collection will soon be available on Kindle or as a special purchase in pdf form.  Publication Day is 16th March. Four long short stories of Jasmine Frame in her early days of investigation. There will be more details soon.  Here though is the next episode of the latest Jasmine Frame story.

Pose: Part 6

It was dark now and raining. The streets were empty and not all the streetlights were lit. Creeping along in the Fiesta, peering down cul-de-sacs and lanes between garages had produced no sign of Tina’s red van.
‘Look, Samantha, I don’t think we’re getting anywhere dong this,’ Jasmine said.
Samantha grunted agreement.
‘Angela should be home now. I’ve hardly seen her this weekend and I need something to eat.’
‘Do you mean you’ve had enough of searching for Tina?’ Samantha said.
‘Yes, I do. She may have gone away in her van or gone off to stay with a friend somewhere. One thing we can say, is that her van’s nowhere on this estate.’
‘Yeah, you’re right. OK. Drop me off back in town.’
Jasmine gave an almost audible sigh of relief and accelerated towards the town centre. It wasn’t that she wasn’t worried about Tina. She was concerned about where the crossdresser had gone after the attack on her digs, but Jasmine couldn’t think of anything useful they could do to locate her. If Tina was sensible she would put away her childish clothes for a while and only appear as Terry. Perhaps Emma would let him back home to be with the daughter he apparently loved.
Jasmine dropped off Samantha back at The Duchess where they had met and set off home for an evening with Angela.

It was just after lunchtime next day when he walked on duty. Colin and Baz were hunched over the computers.
‘Any news?’ James asked.
‘’bout what,’ Colin muttered not bothering to look away from his screen.
James shrugged and looked over his shoulder to see what he was examining. ‘I don’t know. Anything. The murdered girl, Avro. Have we got anywhere with identifying her killer, the paedophile.’
‘Nah,’ Baz responded, ‘Not enough info. The SIO has organised a big search of the area where the body was found.’
‘By the river?’
‘Yeah. They’ve expanded the area all the way to Fobney Lock and beyond.’
‘There’s a lot of empty land around there,’ Jasmine said with his limited recall of the course of the River Kennet.
‘Lots of places where a paedo can hole up with his victim,’ Baz said. She leaned forward to peer at her screen. ‘O-oh. An alert. Looks like they’ve found something.’ She tapped at her keyboard.
Jasmine peered at the scrolling text messages. ‘What’s happening?’
‘DI Crowley’s calling SOCO to a site near the water treatment works.’
‘Where’s that?’
‘Where I said, Fobney Lock.’
‘What have they found?’
‘A burnt-out van.’
‘Any details?’
‘A red LDV. No reg. yet.’
James’ heart thumped in his chest. ‘Did you say a red LDV van?’
‘That’s right,’ Baz replied.
‘I’ve got to go,’ James said heading for the door.
‘Hey,’ Colin called, ‘I’m supposed to be going off duty.’ The door closed behind James.

James was in his car and racing out of town. He only had a vague idea where he was going but he was following the River Kennet as closely as possible as he traced its course upstream from where it joined the Thames. He was heading south along the A33 when he noticed signs of police activity – a police car parked on a junction. He took the minor road running into an area of new industrial building and scrubby, empty land. There were more police vehicles parked by the side of the road. A narrow lane went off to the right.
James took the track and was amazed to find himself in countryside with hardly any sign of the large town that lay less than a half a mile to the north and east. He stopped behind a SOCO van parked at the edge of the lane. James got out and stood looking around. There were a few buildings ahead on the left but to the right was a patch of bracken and trees with a rough track across it. That seemed to be where the activity was. Blue tape waved in the breeze and police officers were moving to and fro. James advanced to the tape barrier. A constable barred his way. James showed his warrant card.
‘I’m Constable Frame, with CPU,’ he said. The officer looked at his clipboard.
‘Can’t see your name down here.’
‘I’m on this case,’ James insisted.
‘You’ll have to speak to your senior officer then.’
‘Okay, I’ll have a look for DI Crowley.’ James backed off. A group of white coveralled people approached the officer from within the cordon. While they were conversing, James stepped off the track into the waist-high bracken, moving parallel to the taped boundary. It was hard going with the stems grasping at his legs. Soon however, a couple of conveniently placed shrubs cut off his view of the officer on sentry duty. James turned and approached the taped zone. He ducked beneath it and now could see the focus of the attention. The men and women in overalls were clustered around the partially burnt wreck of a van. James was able to confirm that it was an LDV and it was red. Was it Tina’s? Was it a coincidence that a van like Tina’s should turn up here in the search zone for the murdered girl. It wasn’t even far from where Tina and Emma North lived. Their estate was just the other side of the A33.
James kept low and circled the vehicle as close as he could while keeping out of sight of the officers examining it and the ground around it. The front of the van was badly burned but the rear seemed undamaged. The back doors were open but James was too far away to see what was inside. The crime scene investigators were making a close examination of the contents of the van but there didn’t seem to be a body at the focus of their interest. James did notice the number plate hanging from the rear of the van – R251BRD. They will have identified the owner by now, James thought. He headed back the way he had come. He got onto the muddy track and brushed bits of undergrowth from his clothes.
‘What are you doing here, Constable Frame?’
James looked up to see DI Crowley walking towards him.
‘Good afternoon Sir. I heard that you had made a discovery and wondered if anything had been found to add to the information we’re working on back at the unit.’
‘There was no need for you to come out here. Anything we find will be passed to you at the station.’
James realised he had no other excuse for his presence. He had to distract the DI.
‘I gather a van has been discovered. Has the registration given us the name of the owner?’
‘It’s registered to a Terrence North,’ the inspector said. ‘Name mean anything to you?’
James couldn’t admit to knowing the man when he only knew him as Tina and when he was Jasmine. ‘It’s not a name that has come up in the investigation, Sir, but if we have his details we may be able to see of there are any links to the texts and other material we’ve got on Avril’s phone and laptop.’
‘Well, I suggest you get back to the station and get to work on it. No point you being out here.’
‘No Sir. I’ll head off, Sir. Um, there haven’t been any other developments have there?’
‘Developments?’
‘Any indications of Mr North’s whereabouts?’
‘No. We’re locating his address and will start enquiries soon.’
‘Is there any evidence linking him to the girl’s murder, Sir?’
Crowley frowned, ‘Not yet, though forensics have found blood inside the van. Now less of the questions, Frame. If you get back to your work, I can get on with mine.’ The senior officer set off towards the barrier.
James walked back to his Fiesta and negotiated a multi-point turn. He set off towards the town, but once back on the A33 he had a change of mind. He turned off to the right and in moments was amongst the streets that he had driven around the previous evening. Terry/Tina could easily have driven the van to where it was found to get away from the gang that was pestering him. It was still close to his home. It was also very close to where the body of Avril Robinson had been found.
He drove slowly past Emma North’s home. There was no sign of the woman, her daughter or Tina. He approached a roundabout and the route that would take him back to the town centre. Two police cars, blue lights flashing, passed him. James could guess where they were headed.

…………………… to be continued

Jasmine explains

There’s been a chorus of pots calling out kettles this week. I’m referring to the scandal of the Oxfam aid workers exploiting local sex-workers in Haiti and elsewhere. It is disgusting that a small number of employees of the charity take advantage of vulnerable women (is it just women?) but the threats by government minsters to cut the charity’s grant from the foreign aid budget smacks of hypocrisy and opportunism on the part of those Tories who want to see foreign aid reduced. It is stupid to penalise the work of the charity because of the actions of a small number of people and the failure of the management to deal with them satisfactorily.

We have seen, not just in recent months, that sexual predators find opportunities in lots of professions and places of work, including the House of Commons.  No organisation should be complacent and the old methods of allowing, in particular, senior staff to resign and move on to other lucrative posts when their odious behaviour is found out, must stop. Sexist, misogynistic and sexually exploitive behaviour must be eliminated from all areas of society and men must learn to treat women (and other genders) equally and with respect.

……………………………

trained by murder ver3And now for the good news.  The publication of  Trained By Murder: A Jasmine Frame Collection is approaching and the cover by Scott Wood is now revealed.  The collection is made up four longish short stories set in 2004-2006 so still some years before the events of Painted Ladies.  Here’s a trial blurb:”

“James Frame is embarking on a career in the police force and sharing a life after university with Angela Madison. Jasmine makes a large contribution to his identity but he/she is unsure if the future lies with James or Jasmine. In Reading, Ibiza, London and Abingdon James’/Jasmine’s dual life collides with incidents of life and death that develop her skills as a detective. She is trained by murder.”

Trained By Murder will be available on Kindle.

Back to the current prequel.  Pose has reached the fifth episode and Jasmine has to do some explaining.

Pose: Part 5

Jasmine stopped the car outside the small terraced house that Samantha had indicated. She reached for the handle of her door.
‘I’m not coming,’ Samantha said.
Jasmine looked at her companion who seemed to be trying to make herself as small as possible. ‘Why not?’
‘She doesn’t like me.’
Jasmine chuckled. ‘Are you surprised? She would see you as encouraging her husband. You’re the one to blame for Terry’s behaviour.’
Samantha shrugged. ‘Yeah, I know that. You go and speak to her if you want to.’
‘OK. I think we need to find out if she’s seen Tina recently. What’s her name?’
‘Emma,’
‘And their surname?’
‘North. Good luck.’
‘Thanks.’ Jasmine opened her car door and stepped out. She walked up to the front door, noting that the garden was tidy and the front of the house at least, appeared looked after. She pressed the doorbell. The door was opened by a young woman in jeans and t-shirt. She looked at Jasmine blankly.
‘Mrs North?’ Jasmine asked.
‘Yeah. What d’you want?’
‘I’m a friend of your husband, Mrs North.’
She looked suspicious. ‘How d’you know Terry?’
Jasmine didn’t want to deceive the woman. ‘I don’t know Terry. I know him as Tina.’
The young woman’s nose wrinkled in disgust but then she examined Jasmine more closely.
‘You’re a woman not one of them pervs.’
Jasmine sighed. It was a pleasure to be taken for a woman, but this was one occasion when she had to admit to what she was and perhaps alter Tina’s wife’s misconceptions.
‘I’m transgender, Mrs North.’
She pushed the door closed. ‘I don’t want nuffin to do with you lot.’. Jasmine placed the sole of her boot in the way.
‘Please, Mrs North. We’re concerned about Terry.’
The door pressed against Jasmine’s foot.
‘Whass that mean?’
‘He’s gone missing from his address.’
Emma North shrugged. ‘I ain’t bovvered. Get your foot out of my door.’
‘Look I know you didn’t like how Terry dressed when he was Tina. . .’
‘It was disgustin’.’
‘And Terry was wrong not to discuss it with you.’
‘Nuffin to talk about. He was wrong in the ‘ead.’
Jasmine nodded. ‘I know, but he was the father of your daughter. You were happy together once.’
‘Once,’ she snorted, ‘Until he went bonkers. Doin’ hisself up like a kiddy.’
‘I can understand that it upset you, Mrs North.’
Her eyes were examining Jasmine, perhaps seeing her properly.
‘You look like a normal woman not like what Terry did.’
‘That’s what I want to be, Mrs North, a normal woman. Tina wanted to be something different.’
‘A pee-do-file, that’s what he wanted to be.’
Jasmine was astonished. ‘What do you mean, he wanted to be a paedophile?’
‘That’s what my mate, Sharon said he was when I said that Terry wanted to be a little girl. She said that’s called being a pee-do.’
‘Um, no, Emma, that’s not what a paedophile is. For some reason Terry liked dressing up like a teenage girl, or perhaps younger. I don’t know why. I don’t understand him either. But that doesn’t make him a paedophile.’
The woman looked confused.
‘Can I come inside so we can talk about it?’ Jasmine said gently, hoping that Emma North would accept her. The pressure of the door on Jasmine’s foot lessened.
‘I’m not sure. My girl’s inside.’
‘I understand. You don’t want your daughter confused.’
The door opened wider. ‘She’s watching telly. Come in the kitchen. Keep quiet.’ She let Jasmine step into the hallway, closed the door then guided her into the small kitchen.
‘I’ll see she’s happy,’ Emma said leaving Jasmine standing by the cooker. She returned a few moment later smiling. ‘She’s glued to a cartoon.’
Jasmine smiled, ‘Kids like a good cartoon don’t they. How old is your daughter?’
‘Five, nearly six.’
‘Terry loves her, doesn’t he?’ Emma nodded. ‘You’ve never been worried about leaving Terry with her, have you?’
The mother appeared to think the question odd. ‘No. He used to be a good dad. Played with her lots.’
‘But you asked him to leave because of his dressing.’
Her expression changed to anger. ‘I didn’t want Lucy seeing him looking weird.’
Jasmine nodded, ‘I understand. But that doesn’t make Terry a paedophile.’
‘No?’
‘A paedophile abuses children; touches them inappropriately, sexually; hurts them. Terry never did anything like that did he?’
Emma’s eyes widened in a look of horror. ‘No. I’d ‘ave killed him if he hurt my little girl.’
Jasmine said very slowly, ‘Right. Terry is a transvestite not a paedophile.’
Emma nodded slowly.
‘Now,’ Jasmine went on, ‘Did you tell anyone else that you thought Terry was a paedophile.’
The woman shook her head.
‘Did you tell Sharon where Terry was living?’
Emma nodded. ‘Yeah. I told her I didn’t like him bein’ so close. One day I saw him out in his gear. He looked a right wanker.’
Jasmine bit her lip. ‘You haven’t seen or heard from Terry in the last couple of days?’
Emma shook her head. She had turned pale. ‘Nuffin’s happened to him has it?’
‘I don’t know Emma,’ Jasmine tried to speak as neutrally as possible, ‘He hasn’t been seen since Friday evening after a group of people went to the house where he lives, shouted and threw a stone at his window.’
‘Eh?’
‘They called Terry a “Paedo”. They thought he’d abused your daughter and should be punished for it.’
‘Oh god!’
‘Perhaps Terry has just decided to go away from here. Somewhere where he’s safe. Has he got family somewhere?’
Emma shrugged. ‘They live up north but he never goes there. He fell out wiv ‘is Dad years ago.’
‘Is there anywhere else he might have gone?’
She shook her head.
‘Where does Sharon live?’
Emma pointed to the back of the house. ‘The street behind ‘ere. Number twelve. Why do you want to know?’
‘Someone told the people who attacked Terry’s digs where he was living and that he was thought to be a paedophile. Unless you can think of anyone else you talked to about it, it must have been Sharon.’
Emma looked thoughtful. ‘I ‘spect she told her bloke.’
‘Who’s that.’
‘Jed. He’s lived wiv ‘er for a couple of years. I dunno what Sharon sees in ‘im. He gets moods on ‘im.’
Jasmine had an impression of the man which she didn’t want to explore with Emma.
‘Ok, well thank you Mrs North. I’ll be off now. Thanks for speaking to me.’ Jasmine began to walk back to the front door.
Emma North followed her. ‘Look. If you find Terry, tell ‘im he’s not seeing Lucy unless he’s dressed proper.’
Jasmine smiled at her. ‘OK. I hope we find him.’ She let herself out of the door and hurried back to the car.
Samantha spoke as she got in. ‘She let you in then.’
‘Yes. We had a chat.’
‘What did she tell you?’
‘Her friend Sharon told her that Terry must be a paedophile because he likes dressing like a girl. Seems they didn’t understand what the word really means.’
‘So this friend started the rumour?’
‘It was her or her boyfriend.’
‘Did Emma have any idea where Tina’s gone?’
Jasmine shook her head. ‘No. She thought it was unlikely that he’s gone home and didn’t have any other suggestions.’
Samantha frowned. ‘If Tina’s frightened about staying in that house with the Romanians she could be sleeping rough.’
‘The nights are getting a bit chill for that. What does Terry do for a living? Perhaps he’s hanging around where he works.’
‘He’s a handyman; a bit of this a bit of that. He works all over the town. Gets round in a van.’
‘Would you recognise it?’
‘Yeah, Tina gave me a lift a few times. It’s an old LDV, red.’
Jasmine turned the key in the ignition. ‘Well, let’s have a drive round and see if we can find it. I think he’ll try to stay as close to home as possible to be near his daughter.’ She drove slowly down the street.

…………………….to be continued.

 

 

Jasmine begins a search

This week I read a book suggested by Lou, my wife. It’s called “The Circle” by Dave Eggers. It was an unusual choice for her as it can be classed as science-fiction; not space-opera, it is an extrapolation of present day trends.  In some respects it resembles some of J G Ballard’s later work, High Rise, Cocaine Nights etc where a situation that starts out somewhat utopic ends up anything but. In The Circle the decision about whether it is a utopia or dystopia is the readers’ own although I am sure the author tends to the latter opinion.

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The selfie generation

It concerns a business that is an all powerful combination of Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook etc. Its declared aim is to link everybody and everywhere providing on-line services that look after their personal contacts, entertainment, employment, health, welfare, safety, and ultimately their taxes and voting intentions. For the participants, including the protagonist, a new employee of the Circle, the aim is to increase the number of friends, followers, smiles (likes), comments, etc. by responding and commenting on other people’s posts and everything else and so boosting their rating and ranking.  People choose to become “transparent” i.e. continuously broadcasting video and audio of their lives while new Circle initiatives  remove the possibility of secrets and privacy, revealing not only everyone’s whereabouts but also their past (criminal records) likes and dislikes and even standardising actions in order to prevent crime or violence. Remind you of anything?

The Circle does extrapolate the present preoccupation with social media – frequent comment and messages, photos, blogs, vlogs, followers and “likes” – to an horrific, dystopic level (here I am encouraging it!). But I wonder. Some people reading the book (if they can concentrate long enough and don’t go flitting off to snatch a glimpse at some other bit of “news”) may think it’s a world they aspire to. Nevertheless, I don’t think the novel is an accurate prediction of  our future. It makes only passing  reference to the monetarisation of social media through endless advertisements, competition and algorithms that tell you what you should like. There is  no mention of cybercrime, cyberterrorism and cyberwarfare.  I think these three modern horses of the apocalypse, together with good old-fashioned greed, are what will eventually undermine what trust is left in the social media and internet behemoths. Where that leaves us I have no idea.

One specific aspect of the novel that attracted my interest was the need to achieve a top rating for everything we do. Only 5 stars or 100% will do. I rarely award the top grade or mark for any subjective judgement. I work on the principle that in the future I might find something that is even better so I must have something in reserve. If that disappoints people or causes them to lose kudos then tough.

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And so to my writing.  First of all – newsflash. I have a cover for Trained by Murder: A Jasmine Frame Collection – an anthology of four longish short stories which will be available on Kindle in March.  All will be revealed soon. For now, here is the fourth episode of the latest Jasmine Frame story, Pose.

 

Pose: Part 4

They headed south and then Samantha directed Jasmine onto what was once a council estate. There were rows after rows of 1960s terraced houses and low-rise blocks of flats. They turned left and right more than once, until they were well into the estate.
‘There,’ Samantha said pointing to the end of a terrace. Jasmine pulled up, not directly outside, and they got out. There was no gate on the path leading to the front door and the garden was largely a bare patch of mud with a few tufts of grass, littered with household rubbish. Samantha strode up to the door and tapped with her fist. There was a delay before the door was opened. Jasmine saw a young woman with dark hair tied in a pony tail. She was thin and dark-eyed. The look she gave the two of them was a mixture of bemusement and uncertainty.
‘Yes?’ She said. The word was drawn out as if to stand in for several other words.
‘We’re here to see Terry,’ Samantha said, her voice obviously masculine.
‘Terry?’ the woman repeated as if the word was strange to her.
‘He lives here. He’s English,’ Samantha explained.
The woman’s face brightened. ‘Ah, the Inglis man.’ She shrugged. ‘I have not seen him. He is not here.’
Samantha nodded. ‘I was here earlier today. That’s what I was told then.’
‘It was not me you speak to,’ the woman said.
‘I know. I spoke to one of the men. He said there had been some trouble.’
The woman frowned, ‘Trouble, yes. Men throw stones and shout.’
Jasmine spoke, striving for her feminine voice, ‘Were they shouting at you and your friends?’ She wanted to check on what Samantha had told her earlier.
The woman looked at her as if she was cast into doubt. ‘We think that first. Inglis people not like Romanians. But they call Terry’s name and shout other words.’
‘What other words?’ Jasmine asked.
‘Rude words and words I not understand. Pee-do.’
‘Paedo?’ Jasmine was puzzled. ‘Where did they get that from? Not “tranny” or “pervert”?’
The woman shrugged, ‘”Pee-do” they shout again and again. Then they throw stone and break window.’
‘When was that?’ Jasmine asked.
‘Yesterday. Evening.’
‘When Tina was supposed to be meeting me,’ Samantha said.
‘When did she, er, he, Terry, leave?’ Jasmine asked.
The woman shook her head and raised her hands.
‘Can we see Terry’s room please?’ Jasmine asked. The woman looked uncertain.
‘We’re friends,’ Samantha said, ‘We’re worried about him.’
‘He is a travestie, like you,’ she said pointing at Samantha.
‘Travesty?’ Samantha looked blank.
‘She means are we transvestites like Terry?’ Jasmine said, then to the woman. ‘Yes, that’s how we know him. Did you see him dressed as a woman?’
She frowned. ‘Not as woman. As girl. He have no….’ she raised her hands to her chest cupping her breasts.’
Samantha chuckled. ‘That’s right. Tina never wore breastforms or a bra.’
‘It was her pose,’ Jasmine said, ‘A young girl. Can we come in.’
The woman shrugged and stood back to let them in. They entered a small square hallway. There was a closed door on each side. A stairway was in front of them beside a narrow corridor to a kitchen. A couple of men peered at them from the kitchen from where sounds of cooking emerged. The woman led them up the stairs. There were five doors on the landing. She pushed one door. It opened on what should have been one of the front bedrooms. Jasmine saw that it was divided in two by a partition made of thin board. The partition didn’t reach the ceiling. She pointed to the left. Samantha and Jasmine squeezed into a space that was filled by a single bed, a chest of drawers and a wardrobe rail. The window was covered in cardboard from a supermarket box. The bed was unmade and covered with a grey sheet and grubby duvet.
‘Did she sleep here last night?’ Jasmine wondered aloud.
‘Difficult to tell,’ Samantha said.
Jasmine took a step towards the wardrobe rail and fingered through the clothes. There was a pair of jeans on a thin metal hanger and three dresses in various shades of pink. She moved to the chest and pulled out drawers. There were items of clothing in each, some male some female. An electric razor and cosmetics on the top of the chest. She looked for personal belongings – phone, wallet, anything that might identify the occupant of the room as Terry/Tina.
‘Well, he hasn’t packed and left,’ Jasmine said.
‘If he doesn’t come back tonight, one of the men will move in here,’ the woman said.
‘The house is overcrowded,’ Jasmine said.
The woman screwed her face up, ‘Yes, but we can only pay if there are many of us.’
‘Why did Tina come here?’ Jasmine said looking around at the squalor.
Samantha shrugged, ‘Finding accommodation in Reading is difficult and this is close to where she lived with her wife and daughter.’
‘Where do they live?’ Jasmine said.
Samantha pointed out of the blocked window. ‘A couple of streets away.’
‘Let’s go and have a look.’ Jasmine backed out of the room. They returned downstairs and were leaving the building when Jasmine paused and turned to the woman.
‘Thanks for your help. Can you tell me your name?’
She shook her head and kept her lips clamped closed.
‘It’s alright, we won’t tell anyone. Just, if we find Terry we can tell him that you helped us.’
The woman managed a half smile. ‘OK. It is Cristina Antonescu. My brother Dumitru is here too.’
Jasmine took the last as a warning not to take advantage of her. Nevertheless, she smiled and thanked the woman. They returned to the Fiesta.
‘What do you think has happened to Tina?’ Samantha said.
‘I’ve no idea,’ Jasmine replied, ‘but it looks like she went out expecting to come back. She didn’t hide her femme side did she.’
‘I don’t think she saw any reason to; not now she didn’t have her wife and kid to tell her what to do.’
‘She wasn’t afraid of transphobes?’
‘Doesn’t look like it. Perhaps she thought that if the Romans accepted her then she was safe.’
‘Except that she wasn’t. Not if that gang were after her. And they didn’t think she was just a tranny.’
‘Yeah,’ Samantha looked mystified, ‘Where did they get that paedophile thing from? Tina dressed like a girl, she didn’t go after them.’
‘Are you sure?’
Samantha turned white. ‘I never got any idea of that when we were out together. Tina just liked the princess look. Like that Grayson Perry.’
‘I don’t think there’s much similarity,’ Jasmine said. ‘Perry’s style is juvenile, but his outfits are sculptured affairs, costumes. Tina’s look was pre-pubertal girl.’
‘I don’t know,’ Samantha said. ‘I thought we were having fun.’
‘You and Tina perhaps,’ Jasmine said, ‘Tina’s wife didn’t see it as simple fun or she wouldn’t have chucked her out. I think we need to have a chat with her.’
A scared look came over Samantha. ‘Are you sure?’
‘She’s the only other person we know who might be able to tell us where Tina is.’
‘OK, but I’m not going near her.’
‘Just take me to their house.’ Jasmine started the engine.

……………………….to be continued

 

Jasmine involved

As I said last week, time ran out on me, leaving me unable to write a comment on the week.  You’d think that there was plenty of time in seven days, especially as I no longer have the day job to fill a considerable portion of the time. Nevertheless, tales of the unexpected conspired to fill my blog-writing slot.

I had, and still do want to comment on my first appearance at a Society of Authors meeting, the inaugural Welsh section gathering as it happened. It was a very enjoyable session and I met a number of very interesting and friendly people. Of course in any group of writers we were soon sharing publishing experiences. Some have been far more successful than me with contracts with the big publishers, but I think most of us were in the same boat – struggling for sales because of the problems of marketing our wares. The rise of the internet, e-books and print-on-demand publishing has, made it a lot easier and cheaper to publish and be published but has made the chore of marketing so much more difficult. You can’t see the leaf for the jungle.  With everybody leaping up and down shouting “read me”, it is very difficult to stand out.  Some manage it (and I have to say it, sour grapes and all that, it’s not always the most well-written offerings). Anyway membership of the SoA provides advice and assistance and fellow authors to share ideas with. I’m looking forward to the next meeting.

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I need some new photos. This is from Dec. 2017

I’ve also spent a considerable amount of time in the last fortnight giving Trans-awareness talks. I enjoy talking and describing what being trans in all its varied forms is all about. I find people interested to learn about us but often confused despite the higher visibility of trans issues in today’s media. I am keen to get across an understanding of the wide range of trans-people. Fully transitioned, gender-confirmed, men and women are a small minority of the total. What’s more, many of us have no wish to be medicalised or to be pushed into permanent slots on the gender spectrum.

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And so to Jasmine. The new story, Pose, is getting going now I think. We’ve got to episode 3.  I hope it is clear when the events are happening. It is still a few years before Painted Ladies takes place and the sequels. Remember that you can purchase all the novels and the two early (chronologically) prequels as e-books and the three novels are available in paperback from me – here.

Pose: Part 3

Colin was in the rest room pouring his first coffee of the day when James arrived.
‘You look bright eyed and the rest of it,’ Colin growled.
‘Uh, I don’t mind early mornings,’ James replied. An evening without alcohol, that wasn’t too late ending, helped. ‘Any news?’
Colin took a tentative sip from his steaming mug. ‘You mean, the missing girl?’ James nodded. Colin screwed up his pudgy features. ‘Nah.’
‘Doesn’t look good,’ James said. She’d been missing for a day and a half, including two nights. He could imagine the parents trying to keep their hopes up, but the investigating team would be fearing the worst. ‘Better see if there’s anything more we can find out,’ he added.
Colin shrugged and, coffee in hand, followed James to their little office. They booted up their computers and called up the files they’d downloaded from the girl’s internet provider and mobile phone company.
‘There’s just not enough in the metadata to identify the groomer or get his location,’ Colin said. James agreed while noting the number of times the missing girl and her supposed abductor had exchanged messages. Had they arranged where to meet?
There was a knock on the door and it opened to reveal a young police officer.
‘I was told to deliver this to you,’ he said holding out a small clear evidence bag.
Colin took it. ‘Is that the girl’s phone?’
The PC nodded. ‘The DI thinks it is.’
Colin opened the bag and tipped the phone out onto his desk. It was a Nokia, a model from a couple of years ago, decorated with stars, stickers and Tippex writing.
‘Where was it found?’ James asked.
‘On waste ground near the Kennet on the edge of town.’
‘Show me.’ James beckoned the officer to squeeze into their cramped office and called up Google maps on his screen. He zoomed into the south-western edge of the town which showed the River Kennet meandering towards its junction with the River Thames. The PC peered at the screen and then pointed at a spot close to the river.
‘Who found it?’ James asked.
‘A jogger. It was just by the path. He handed it in and luckily the desk officer recognised it from the description the parents had given.’
‘That’s quite a way from where she lives,’ James said. ‘Was she taken there do you think?’
‘DI Crowley has started a search of the area.’
James knew the spot. He’d passed by there himself on some of his longer runs. ‘So, was it deliberately dropped, or did she just lose it there?’ The officer shrugged. ‘What about her laptop? That’s missing too.’
The constable shook his head, ‘It was just the phone.’
There was beep from the phone. Colin was tapping keys.
‘It’s still on,’ James said.
‘Yeah. Battery’s good on this model,’ Colin muttered. ‘Now let’s see what texts she’s had.’
‘Um, I’d better head back,’ the PC said.
‘Yes, thanks. Tell DI Crowley, we’re on it,’ James said as leaned across to see what Colin was doing. The young man sidled out of the door.
‘Here we are,’ Colin, said. ‘The last message from the guy. Friday afternoon. He tells her to meet him at Sandford Park.’
‘Where’s that?’ After three years living in Reading, James was still not familiar with every part of the town.
‘It’s in Woodley.’
‘That’s the east of the town. Where she lives isn’t it?’
‘Yeah,’ Colin said, reading the text. ‘He tells her exactly where he’ll be. On Comet Way.’
‘On the road?’
‘Yeah.’
‘So he’s in a car.’
Colin half shrugged, half nodded. ‘Guess so.’
‘Does he give her a time?’
‘Six fifteen.’
‘That’s not long after she was last seen.’
‘Only three quarters of an hour after this message too.’
James moved his mouse, shifting the area of the map shown on the screen. Then he scrabbled around the bits of paper they’d collected. He found what we wanted.
‘Got it. Her home is about half a mile from the park. If she left around six she could easily get to the meeting point in time. How does she know who she is meeting?’
’Dunno,’ Colin said. ‘He doesn’t give a description of himself.’
‘Is she expecting a boy of her own age who’s on foot or perhaps a bike, or is she expecting an older guy in a car?’
Colin didn’t reply at once. He was thumbing buttons on the phone.
‘From the texts she had from him I’d say she was expecting a kid. But you’re probably better at the lovey-dovey stuff than I am; you’ve got a girl.’
‘Um, I guess. Let’s see.’ James took the phone from Colin and flicked through the stored texts. It was easy to see which ones were from the “boy” rather than the girl’s parents. They were in textspeak with a significant lack of vowels. Neither did they resemble messages from her girl friends as they were complimentary and urged her to meet up so they could get to “know” each other.
‘He was keen to get her,’ James noted.
‘And she was eager to meet him,’ Colin added. ‘Have you read her replies?’
‘Yes. She fell for it didn’t she.’
‘Did she ever.’
‘We can let DI Crowley know where and when they met. Perhaps there’s some CCTV at the park which will pick them up.’

…………………………….

James got back to the flat that he and Angela rented in the late afternoon. He was feeling despondent. The body of the girl had been discovered around mid-day, not far from where the phone was found. She had been strangled and it looked as though she had been raped. Despite having all the messages between the murdered girl and the boy or man she had arranged to meet, they had got no closer to identifying him and no CCTV had turned up of their meeting place. James wondered whether he’d made any contribution at all to catching the killer.
He slumped onto their old, saggy sofa. Angela had used the opportunity of a Sunday on her own to catch a train into London to meet some old friends. She wouldn’t be back for a few hours and apart from the household chores which he had promised to share, there was little else to do.
His phone buzzed. He pulled it out of his pocket and looked at the number. It looked familiar but not so familiar that he recognised who it was. He accepted the call and raised the phone to his ear.
‘Jasmine?’ It was a male voice, but she recognised it.
‘Samantha. How are you?’
‘Okay. Look you said you’d help sort out Tina.’
Jasmine didn’t recall making that promise. ‘You said you’d let me know if you heard anything. Have you met her?’
‘No. That’s the trouble. I’m worried about her.’
‘Why?’
‘I went to the address she’d given me – her digs.’
‘Right.’
‘A real dive. An old council house divided up into bedsits. I think the other rooms are full of Romanians.’
‘OK. I gather she wasn’t there.’
‘No. I spoke to some of the guys. They don’t speak much English, but they knew her. Knew she was trans.’
‘Were they abusive?’
‘No. But some other blokes had been.’
‘Other blokes?’
‘Yeah. Some British wankers turned up a couple of nights ago. They made a fuss.’
‘Oh,’ Jasmine was shocked and confused.
‘The foreign guys thought it was aimed at them at first, but they realised that it was Tina they were shouting at.’
‘What happened?’
‘They smashed a window – Tina’s. They went after that.’
‘Was Tina there?’
‘I think so, but the Romans told me they haven’t seen her since.’
‘Where did she go?’
‘I don’t know. I was hoping you might help me look for her. Perhaps talk to the Romans again and find out a bit more what went on.’
‘Hmm.’ Jasmine was reluctant to commit herself.
‘I think she needs help. Our help.’
Jasmine decided. ‘OK, I’ll come and take a look. Where shall I meet you?’
‘At the Duchess.’
‘You’re dressed.’
‘Of course.’
Jasmine had to think quickly. Did she want to meet up with Samantha and go looking for Tina as James or Jasmine. As the former she was a police officer. This task looked to be a little extracurricular. Jasmine it would be.
‘Give me half an hour or so.’
‘Great. Thanks Jasmine.’ The call ended.

It took twenty minutes to change into leggings and a chunky tunic top, put on her long blonde wig and dab some foundation and lipstick on. Another ten minutes in the light Sunday traffic took her to the Duchess. Samantha was standing outside the pub dressed in a leather jacket over a woollen dress with heeled over the knee boots. Jasmine thought she was ready for a night out. Samantha bent down to peer into the Fiesta as she pulled up. Jasmine beckoned for her to get in.
‘Hi,’ Jasmine greeted her, ‘Give me directions.’

 

Jasmine troubled

It’s been another week when the news has been less than uplifting. Was the collapse of Carillion due to mismanagement or greed, or both? The fact is that many thousands of ordinary people are now not sure about their future while the rest of us may be faced with extra costs via taxes and lower savings interest rates because of government incompetence and arrogance.

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Tea in Debenhams

I mentioned last week the new ITV programme, Transformation Street.  I’ve now watched the first episode and can comment.  Like so many programmes focussing on transgender people, it delights in the gory details – pictures of excised breast tissue and testicles. I’m not sure what the point of doing that is, unless it is to justifiably emphasise that this is serious stuff. The programme is largely one long ad for a private gender clinic and its charismatic surgeon, who does all the surgery from facial feminisation through, breast enhancement and removal to the big ones – gender reassignment or confirmation as it is now called. As always, the individuals reveal how everyone has their own story, as do the partners and family of the transgender person. The gratitude shown by the patients as they recover from their surgery is striking.  I’d like to see them again many months after their operation. Many, probably most, are satisfied with their treatment but a few find that modifying their appearance doesn’t answer all their problems.  The programme did reveal the immense costs of going through the full transition particularly if one wants all the cosmetic treatment. Some will spend their entire life savings (and more) to get what they want. These costs also explain why the NHS struggles meet demand for gender identity treatment.  Is the programme of value? Well, it didn’t offer any judgements in the first episode but viewed as a source of information it performs a role. For surgery-porn junkies it probably hit the mark. For keeping trans in the public eye I’ll give it full marks, for anything else I’ll wait and see.

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I have at last begun a new Jasmine Frame story, called (for now) Pose. The first episode is below but I think it needs just a short introduction.  I know stories should be able to stand alone but as there are now so many Jasmine tales this one perhaps needs to be placed in context. Chronologically, it follows after the recently concluded story, Reflex, but takes place about one year later in, autumn 2007. This is the one period in Jasmine’s Painted Ladies front cover jpegcareer where there is a bit of a gap.  The prequels to Painted Ladies cover the years 2000, starting with Discovering Jasmine, and ending with Viewpoint (so far unpublished) set in December 2011 which concerns Jasmine’s last case in the police force.  Four of the stories which cover the period 2004 to 2006 will shortly be published in the collection provisionally titled, Jasmine Frame: Training for Murder. There are eight stories in the period 2009-2011 which may get published at a later date. So there is this gap, 2006-2009, where Jasmine is a police officer, married to Angela, but struggling with her identity. Pose deals with some serious issues – I hope you enjoy it.

Pose: Part 1

‘No, no, no!’ James pushed back on his chair and turned his face away from the computer display. Alongside him, DC Colin Green, glanced from his screen.
‘Bad one, eh?’
James shook his head, not in disagreement but trying to free his mind of the image. ‘Sick.’
Colin grunted and looked back at the images flicking past on his computer.
James thought and then declared, ‘No, not sick.’ Colin looked at him, eyebrows raised. ‘Sick implies that the guys looking at this stuff are ill, that it’s not their responsibility. They don’t have an illness, they’re evil. And I don’t mean they’re under the influence of the devil. They’ve made their very own hell for these kids.’
DC Green pushed his chair back. ‘Come on, Matey. I think you need a break. I could murder a bacon sarnie.’ He heaved his bulk off the office chair, which sighed gratefully. James stood too, and they squeezed past the desks, the tower of processors and the evidence bags of CD-ROMs, hard drives, memory sticks and floppy discs. James pushed the door open and emerged into the relative airiness of the corridor. The windowless office of the Child Protection Unit Electronic Evidence Section was little more than a cupboard hastily equipped with a couple of desks, keyboards, display units, processors and a variety of file readers.

James cradled the cup of black coffee in his hands and looked at DC Green munching into his ketchup dripping, bacon and egg sandwich. He wasn’t everyone’s image of the criminal-catching detective. He was overweight for a start, would barely pass the fitness test for an on-the-beat constable, and his unbuttoned shirt had obviously been nowhere near an iron. Yet he was dedicated. James knew that from observing him for the last four months and he looked to him for help in hacking into recalcitrant files and online accounts.
‘How do you cope with it?’ James asked.
Green took his eyes off the sandwich. ‘What?’
‘The disgust.’ Actually, it wasn’t just disgust he felt at the images they were duty-bound to examine. There was fear too. Fear of being drawn in by the overt sexual images. It hadn’t happened, but he was scared that one day he might find himself aroused by what he saw. The thought was appalling but he already felt that his penis had an existence all of its own, separate to the feminine persona that inhabited his skull. It was nonsense really. He knew that his cock and balls didn’t have a mind of their own despite that it sometimes appeared like it; but the fear remained.
Colin shrugged. ‘It’s a tough job that we do. You have to build a shell around yourself.’
‘A shell?’
‘Yeah. You can’t let anything you see or hear touch you. Just record it, label it, prepare it to be used as evidence. That’s our job.’
James nodded. Our job, yes, just another task for the twenty-first century police officer. He’d been delighted when he had been invited to join the Vulnerable Persons Department and assigned to the Child Protection Unit in Reading. It was his first experience of plainclothes work, his first post as a detective. Except that, ever since, he had spent most of his days in that claustrophobic, cramped closet, hunched over a computer. His apparent familiarity with a computer keyboard had indicated to his bosses that he would be a suitable recruit to the Electronic Evidence Section. He probably did have more experience with computers than officers that had joined straight from school or after some other career, and yes, he had owned a laptop since he was in the sixth form at school, but he wasn’t a computer geek like Colin, or Baz, his other EES colleague. Nevertheless, he was a fast learner and picked up the techniques of searching the internet and accessing files and digging through mobile phone records. He’d been aware of the easy availability of porn on the internet, who wasn’t, but just a few months in the job had shown him how the increasing sophistication of search engines and file sharing websites, the growth of social networks like MySpace and the rival Facebook, and the decreasing cost of mobile phones, made life easier for those who were drawn to the margins of sexual desire – the illegal, sickening and abusive gutters.
‘You’ll cope,’ Colin added. ‘You’re a natural.’
James didn’t feel as confident as Colin’s compliment suggested. He drank his coffee. Colin wiped the egg yolk from his plate with the last piece of bread, popped it in his mouth and chewed.
‘Better get back to it,’ he said through the mouthful, ‘The DI wanted the report on this lot today.’
James groaned at the thought of the hundreds of images still to be accessed, logged and classified, but he heaved himself to his feet. He noticed that Colin had a drip of ketchup on his collar.

…………………………

As soon as they arrived at the country village hall, Angela went to the hatch to collect a couple of drinks and chat to Susan. Jasmine looked around noting who was present at this month’s Butterflies meeting. Belinda, the President and organiser was chatting to a couple of older members. Jasmine had only managed to attend half a dozen times in the last year, but she recognised the regulars, and they were all regulars. There were no new faces, not tonight. She crossed the room to approach a couple of the girls. They were younger than the rest of the attendees, though still several years older than herself. She felt she had more in common with them. For a start they were in modern fashions rather than “classics”, or to be frank, what mother might have worn. Jasmine did have some doubts about Tina, however. She favoured a teenage, or even pre-teen, style. In public, she would look odd, weird even, but in the private, inclusive atmosphere of the Butterflies she was accepted, as she wanted to be.
As Jasmine approached Tina and her companion, Samantha, she examined this evening’s outfit. Being September, it was still warm enough for summertime wear. Tina wore a baby-doll dress in pale pink which just reached to mid-thigh and had short puffed sleeves. It was tied at the waist with a black ribbon. Through the semi-transparent cloth Jasmine could see suspenders holding up white stockings and a lacy bra. On her feet were white strappy sandals with high block heels. Her long blonde hair, which Jasmine knew was a good quality wig, was bedecked with little pink bows. She carried a handbag in the shape of a pink plastic teddy bear.
‘Hi, Jas,’ Tina greeted her in her artificially high-pitched sing-song voice. It grated on Jasmine for being so unnatural, but she had learnt it was part of Tina’s attempt to build a persona for herself as a young teen. It was make-believe. Jasmine knew that she was a mid-thirties electrician with a wife and a young daughter.
‘Hi,’ she replied and nodded to Tina and Samantha, ‘How are things?’
Samantha smiled at Jasmine. Her style was more adult – denim miniskirt over light blue leggings and a bright yellow t-shirt.
‘Tina’s got problems,’ Samantha confided.
‘Oh?’ Jasmine said.
Tina leaned into the group and spoke in a stage whisper. ‘My wife’s giving me hassle.’
‘About dressing?’ Jasmine asked.
‘Yeah.’
‘But she accepts that you do dress?’
Tina responded grumpily, ‘Tolerates, would be a better way of putting it although that seems to be wearing thin.’
‘Why?’ Jasmine wondered what was going on between Tina and her wife.
‘She won’t let me in the house dressed when Lucy’s awake.’
‘You had to get changed here did you?’ Jasmine asked. Some members arrived as men and did a transformation in the hall’s small Ladies loo.
‘No, I stopped in a layby and did a quick swap. I don’t know about going home. She might go crackers if I turn up at home like this.’
Jasmine inquired further, ‘Why is she less tolerant than she was?’
Tina shrugged. ‘She says that now that Lucy is nearly six and at school, she might get confused if she sees her father in a dress.’ Wearing clothes the girl might herself wear to a school-friend’s party, except for the suspenders and bra, she might be confused, Jasmine thought. ‘It might be partly what I spent on my new boobs,’ Tina added.
‘You need to talk,’ Samantha advised.
Tina looked rueful. ‘I think we’re passed that. She hasn’t spoken to me for days.’

………………………………. to be continued.

 

 

Jasmine in preparation

It’s been one of those weeks; a little bit of this a little bit of that, but I have made progress. The editing of the collection of Jasmine Frame stories is almost complete although I am still unsure about the title, Jasmine Frame: Training for Murder.  All the stories are from the period at the start of James/Jasmine’s police career. I am still thinking about better ideas.

20170930_130307I did have a bit of a down at one point with news that sales of my books are pretty slow. That could be my fault – I’m not doing enough to promote them – but I’m not sure what more there is to do on a limited budget. On the other hand I get an email asking for news of the next Jasmine Frame novel.  So I press on.

I note that the media obsession  with trans matters continues with a new series on ITV called Transformations.  It follows people undergoing transition.  I haven’t seen it yet but will comment more when I have. I’m about to do a few talks myself about being trans including the legal and medical aspects. The problem, or perhaps it isn’t a problem, is that everyone is different and that there are so many forms of transgenderism or gender fluidity.  It will be an interesting experience.

So with one thing and another I haven’t yet started the new Jasmine story. Next week?  As a substitute, here again is something I wrote earlier. It is also a piece I wrote for one of the writing groups I attend. I think the task was to write a letter of complaint. In fact I have added the reply too. It was an attempt at satire, not perfect which is why I have not bothered to find a home for it or sent it to any competitions but you can enjoy it or otherwise tear it to pieces.

The Devil’s Redundancy

Dear Lord and Master of All,
I am writing to complain about the redundancy notice I have been sent by your office. I would like to remind you of the contract I received when I accepted this posting outside Paradise. I draw your attention to the term ‘eternity’. Yes, I am appointed to run the underworld for eternity. Further my job description says I am to punish sinners for time without end. You can’t just rip up a contract like that just because you’re omnipotent, after what I’ve done for, what is it now, six thousand years.
You say the reason for my getting fired – that’s a good word isn’t it for the one who has been stoking the fires with a little help from my demons – is because I have been failing in my duty of tempting the good souls to whom you have given the Earth and all the living things within it. Well, I have some reasons for that.
First of all it is a question of numbers. Heaven may be infinite in size but the Earth isn’t, so there is only so much room in the underworld to accommodate all the sinners, allowing space for the punishments you insisted that I provide. The problem is that you let these humans proliferate so that I now have over seven billion of them to deal with at once, and that’s just the living. If you hadn’t made fornication so pleasurable for them I’m sure they wouldn’t breed so fast. So, with so many people to tempt it’s as much as I can do to get round each of them during their lifetimes as well as the time spent preparing new chambers of hell.
The second problem has been an energy crisis. When there are potentially so many candidates for burning there is a need to provide fuel. Now you designed the laws of thermodynamics so you know that when you use energy some always gets lost and heats up the surroundings. I’m afraid that’s been happening and the Earth has been warming up a bit. Well, with increasing numbers the temperature has been rising faster. I can’t keep hiding global warming behind their use of fossil fuels, which you kindly provided, for much longer.
Finally, the place has been filling up at a faster rate than I can manage without me tempting them to excess. I know you’ll say that is why I’m redundant. I’m not needed anymore to trick these folks into vices as they do it for themselves, but do you really expect this place to run by itself or are you expecting volunteers to step in and run your Big Purgatory.
You see you really shouldn’t have given them free will. It’s because of that they’ve found ways to sin that you, for all your omniscience, never thought of. For a start, why did you give them seven deadly sins to work at, when they’d have done well enough with two or three. The trouble started when you made gold not only a pretty metal but rare too. In the early days it was only a few of them who fell for the envy and greed thing as they built up their stocks of the stuff and then added the lust, gluttony and pride for good measure – people like old King Midas; he sends his regards by the way. Now they don’t need to actually own the metal to get into the vices. For a while they collected bits of paper but now figures in their fancy computers do the job very nicely. And then you went and gave a few of them ingenuity so that the rest can satisfy their basic desires while slumped in front of the TV, building up their sloth coefficient. They’ve even found new ways of encouraging vices with inventions such as internet porn, fast food and reality TV shows – which make me pretty wrathful, I can tell you.
I think that instead of putting me out to grass you should be getting round to that Armageddon thing you’ve been talking about for eons. Let’s give the whole place a re-boot and re-think the human race.

Yours faithfully,
Lucifer
P.S. Give my love to the kids.

………………….

My dear Lucifer,
Thank you for your letter. I do think it quaint that you still use such outmoded forms of communication. I find email so much more in keeping with my status of omniscience because, of course, it is never lost but always stored in the perambulations of electrons. I can access it anywhere in my universe thanks to the free dongle that came with my package.
I knew that being made redundant would upset you and I want you to know that I empathise with your feelings. I do want to thank you for all the efforts you have made to punish those creatures that I allowed to stray from the paths of righteousness. The truth is that I have decided on a little reorganisation up here.
When I created this place I decided on a multi-faceted presence which allowed my people to interpret my existence in a number of different ways. This produced effects that were not quite as predicted. Not of course that I am giving up my claim on infallibility, it is just that these people have followed a path that was not one of high probability. That was one of the results of allowing them a semblance of free-will. The problem is that instead of uniting in praise of me they have divided up into more and more denominations, each at each other’s throats, so that they have called into question my forgiving and all-embracing love. It has got so bad that a sizeable proportion have even given up believing in me. I am sure that you appreciate that that is not a good state of affairs for an all-powerful being.
Anyway to cut to the chase, as some of them say, I have decided on a universe-wide reorganisation programme. I am going to amalgamate the various divisions of paradise and terminate the various brand-names by which I have been known. It is time for a re-launch with a brand new face of God. So there will be, as you suggest, an Armageddon of sorts. However, it is such a fag having to re-build a whole universe and come up with all those little clues that suggest that everything has been around a lot longer than it actually has – do you know how long it took for me to come up with all the dinosaurs last time? Yes, I know time means nothing to me but someone has to think of these things. Anyway I’ve decided on a species-selective form of the final curtain and these humans I created gave me the idea themselves, isn’t that smart. They’ve already had a few goes themselves but this is going to be the grand-daddy of all economic collapses. I’ve hardly had to do anything at all really, just a few nudges of this corporation or that, a few insider dealings here or there. At the appointed moment their whole financial system will collapse and they’ll be back where they started, a bunch of stone wielding, hunters and gatherers ready to look around them and see me in everything.
I know what you are going to say – where does hell fit into all this? Well actually it doesn’t. I’ve decided on a rationalisation process that means that you and your dominion are surplus to requirements. It’s quite clever really in that I’m bringing punishments for sins back in house. They’ve brought it on themselves really. Once civilisation has gone there’ll be enough radioactive waste, nerve gases, incurable diseases to say nothing of environmental degradation brought on by their profligate use of all the resources I gave them, that there will be plenty of ways to make their existence miserable. And the good thing is that I won’t even have to provide for the pure and faultless souls because there aren’t any. Every last one of them has fallen for at least one of those seven vices you mention, plus a few extra ones that they invented for themselves.
So there we are Lucifer, old fellow. I’m sure you will get over your disappointment and will enjoy your retirement – for eternity, of course. I’ll make sure your needs are provided for, perhaps a little heritage-hell for old times’ sake and I am sure the new arrangements will keep you amused even as a spectator.

Yours truly,
The Almighty One

…………………………………………

Jasmine compromised

WP_20171215_16_16_28_ProIt’s the festive season so I am not going to go on a rant or raise any controversial topics now. After a year when I have spent a lot of the time scared about the future I just want to have a few days of pleasure and conviviality when worries can, hopefully, be set aside. So I wish all of you all good tidings. May you enjoy this celebratory period.

Here’s a photo taken on a day out Christmas shopping in Cardiff.

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Here is the concluding episode of Reflex to, I hope, get you thinking and looking  forward to the next Jasmine Frame novel and/or story and whatever else I decide to inflict on you.

 

 

Reflex: Part 9

‘No, no. I didn’t,’ Wendy Chapman cried, ‘He did lie to me. He said he was doing overtime and that he’d be late home.’
James shook his head, ‘I don’t think so Mrs Chapman.’
‘Why not? Why don’t you believe me?’
‘Because of the knife.’
The woman stared at James. ‘What do you mean?’
James stood up. ‘When I spoke to Melissa at the unit she said you were a bit OCD about tidiness, especially in the kitchen and with knives in particular.’ He walked from the lounge into the kitchen. It wasn’t a huge room. There were units and services on three sides and a small dining table against the fourth wall next to the side door. The whole room was sparkling clean and there wasn’t a thing on any surface.
‘There!’ James said pointing, ‘Nothing. Not a utensil, bit of food, not even post or a shopping list. I’ve never seen a kitchen so tidy.’
Wendy Chapman had followed him. ‘So what? I like to keep the place clean and tidy. It’s not easy with a family in the house.’
‘I’m sure it isn’t, but you manage it. Melissa commented on it. And yet on that evening a sharp knife, big enough to cause serious injury was left on the work top handy enough for Melissa to grab it when her father attacked her.’
Now there was fear and worry on Wendy’s face. ‘It was an accident. I forgot to put it away. Melissa just grabbed it. You said it yourself it was self-defence.’
‘I did and it was, but I don’t think that was the intention.’ James examined the woman’s face searching for confirmation that his idea was correct.
She frowned. ‘What do you mean, “the intention”?’
James took a deep breath. ‘I don’t think it was an accident that that knife was left out on the surface. I don’t think you make those kind of mistakes Mrs Chapman. I think you put that knife on the work top close to you and Melissa deliberately.’
She shook her head and shrugged. ‘Why do you think I did that?’
‘I believe you knew that your husband would be home earlier than you said to Melissa. You were expecting him to barge into the kitchen and find you doing his son’s hair in a girly style. You knew he would be angry and would attack Melissa.’
Her eyes narrowed. ‘You think I put the knife there so that Mel could grab it and kill my husband.’
‘That’s what it looks like. You set up your trans-daughter so that she had no time to escape when her father burst in and attacked her and you provided the weapon for her self-defence.’
Mrs Chapman shrugged. ‘What if that was how it happened? It doesn’t make any difference. Melissa didn’t plan to kill her father. She didn’t murder him. And he attacked her first.’
‘I don’t think that was what you planned, Mrs Chapman,’ James said in a quiet voice not wanting to stir up the mother.
Her face lost all colour. ‘What do you mean?’
‘I think that you had observed what was happening to your son, or rather daughter. He was growing up, going through puberty. He was getting bigger, stronger, turning from a sexless little boy into a young man. He hated it. He believed himself to be a girl. The physical changes he was undergoing were destroying his dream of being a woman. His father was preventing him from being himself, stopping him from getting help.’
The woman flapped her hands. ‘Yes, yes, so what?’
‘Melissa was dressing more often and being discovered more often. Her father, your husband was beating her more often. You probably had one of two fears, or perhaps both.’
‘What fears?’
‘One that Eric might kill Melissa in a fit of temper. Or alternatively Melissa might plan to kill her father herself to get her freedom and stop being hurt by him.’
‘Nonsense. Eric didn’t want to kill her and Melissa couldn’t hurt anyone.’
‘Are you sure, Mrs Chapman? I think you did fear either of those things happening. You had to protect Melissa and not let her be drawn into planning the murder of her father.’
She shook her head but didn’t speak. James went on.
‘So you made your own plan. It had to look like a spontaneous act of self-defence. You knew your husband would be home soon after his shift finished, around five-thirty. You offered to style Melissa’s hair but instead of doing it in a bedroom with a mirror, the sensible place, you did it here where Eric was bound to burst in on you. You placed a knife within easy reach. Your reach. You expected Eric to attack Melissa as soon as he saw what was happening. You would then grab the knife, kill or at least badly injure him and that would be it. You would be arrested but probably get off because you were defending yourself and your child. Melissa would be blameless and free of her father’s persecution. You planned the death of your husband. You are his murderer.’
Wendy screamed and ran at James beating at his chest with her fists. He grabbed her wrists and held her firmly.
‘It didn’t happen like that,’ she cried.
‘No. Eric attacked you first and knocked you to the floor. Then he set on Melissa but she grabbed the knife and killed him. Your plan had gone wrong and Melissa was going to be accused of manslaughter or conspiracy to murder.’
The woman froze in his arms. She tugged her hands free and stepped back.
‘You’ve got no proof,’ she accused.
James shrugged. ‘No, I haven’t. An accidentally-placed knife, an angry man arriving home unexpectedly and an unfortunate death. No one ultimately responsible.’
She glared at him with piercing eyes. ‘Why?’
James frowned, ‘Why what?’
‘Why have you taken so much trouble to work it all out? Why have you come her today? Why did you visit Melissa when she was in the unit? What is it that made you get so involved in my husband’s death?’
‘I was concerned about Melissa,’ James said.
‘You don’t know her. You didn’t know Matthew,’ she paused. ‘I know. It’s because she’s trans. You’re really interested in a boy wanting to be a girl.’
‘Well, yes, I am. My friend. . .’
‘Your friend,’ she laughed, ‘Tamsin was it? Really? You use words like “femme names” and “being dressed”. I’ve done my research mister policeman. I know those are terms transvestites use. This Tamsin isn’t a friend of yours, is she? She’s you. You’re a tranny. That’s why you were so concerned for my daughter.’
She’d guessed. James was horrified. If this story got out his career in the police would be over.
‘No, no, I’m not Tamsin.’ He knew his denial didn’t sound genuine. Mrs Chapman backed away from him.
‘Of course, I have no proof you’re a transvestite interfering with my daughter’s case; like you’ve got no proof that I planned my husband’s death.’
‘No?’ James wasn’t sure what she was implying.
‘So, if neither of us say anything, no one will be any the wiser, will they.’
‘Umm.’
‘You can continue with your career as a police officer with no black marks against your record and Melissa can begin her transition with me, her loving mother, supporting her every step of the way.’
‘Um, that’s right.’
‘Everyone’s happy.’
‘I suppose so.’
‘Right Constable. You leave now and never come back or interfere in the lives of me or my daughter again. You say nothing and I’ll say nothing.’
‘I see. OK, yes, that’s what we’ll do.’
James backed to the side door opened it and stepped outside. He was in the narrow passageway alongside the house. The door closed. He walked back to the car, got in and drove off.
It was a long enough drive home to think about the conversation. Was doing what Mrs Chapman said and saying nothing a denial of justice? Well, yes, it was. Eric Chapman was not getting justice for his death, but did he deserve it? He was a violent bully who may have killed his daughter at some point. Surely Melissa deserved the chance to begin her new life with a loving mother at her side. Was giving up his career as a policeman worth getting justice for Eric Chapman? He didn’t think so. He would just have to continue his life knowing that he had let a woman who planned a murder go free to live with what she had done.

…………………..The End.

Jasmine deduces

One of the things I have found most difficult in the last eighteen months (i.e. post-referendum etc.) has been the division and growing anger directed from one side to the other.  This is mainly down to the media and especially those newspapers on the side that apparently “won”.  I have never liked the Daily Mail but used to ignore the fact that some people obviously found it readable.  I occasionally looked at the Telegraph but mainly because its sports coverage was comprehensive. Now, with the repeated vile and rabble-rousing attacks on anyone who invokes the democratic institutions of the UK to get the government to think again about its ruinous approach to Brexit, the EU, and foreigners, I am finding my patience sorely tested. It is increasingly difficult to respect anyone who shares those organs opinions and I detest the path the country is taking. It seems that those people in power, and  by that I mean in the cabinet and in the media who persist in pushing for this mad divorce and doing down anyone who opposes them, have scant regard for the breaks and balances that have been installed in our unwritten constitution over the centuries. They are on course to provoking serious unrest, particularly when their ill-planned policies (actually un-planned is probably closer to the truth) are enacted and the consequences become clear.  And as for the USA . . .

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WP_20170825_16_59_34_ProHaving got that off my chest let’s get on with what I prefer to spend my time doing – writing stories.  The penultimate episode of Reflex is below.  I am planning to include the complete story along with three others in a volume of Jasmine Frame prequels that will be available on Kindle in the spring. No title yet – still thinking!

Reflex: Part 8

Days passed by in the body-clock confusing pattern of shifts. James became familiar with the work of a response officer – every call different, every day the same. He developed a respect for the professionalism and efficiency of his partner PC Ward and she in turn came to trust him as her buddy. Every day brought fresh cases to test his knowledge of the law and police procedures, so he found himself with little time to think about previous callouts. Nevertheless, in the rare moments when there wasn’t some work to be done he wondered about Matthew/Melissa. He had worried that there might be consequences of his visit to Melissa while she was in custody, but after a few days his fears subsided. There was no news because there was no contact from DS Sharma or anyone else involved in the case. Nevertheless, he wondered what had really happened on that evening and who was responsible for the tragic results.
James was on a morning shift two weeks later when walking through the police station he saw DS Sharma approaching him. Sharma saw him and paused.
‘Ah, PC Frame. I’m glad I’ve seen you. I have some news for you.’
‘Oh,’ James managed.
The DS frowned at him. ‘Yes, the charges against Matthew Chapman have been dropped. We took your view that given the evidence of repeated physical attacks on the boy by his father, the use of the knife in self-defence was unfortunate but justifiable. We expect the coroner to judge the death a case of misadventure.’
‘So Melissa is free?’ James said feeling a burst of joy.
‘The boy has gone home to his mother.’
‘That’s wonderful news. Er, what was the evidence that convinced you and the CPS?’
Sharma pursed his lips deciding whether he should pass on the information. ‘The medical examination of the boy revealed bruises and other marks consistent with beatings over a period of time. Mrs Chapman confirmed that her husband frequently hit her son.’
‘She should have reported it and not let it go on.’
Sharma nodded. ‘That’s right, but women often suffer abuse and allow their children to be abused, for a long time without alerting us or the Children’s Services. If that knife had not been left on the worktop it is probable that Eric Chapman would still be beating his son now.’
James agreed.
‘Thank you for your assistance, Constable.’ The detective moved on leaving James thinking. It was that knife that made the difference. He went to the office and sat at the computer.

James changed out of his uniform and got in his car. He was ready for the drive home and he’d have a few hours before Angela got back from work. He was looking forward to spending the rest of the day relaxing as Jasmine. But there was something in his thoughts as he drove across the town towards the A34. His mind made up, he turned off the main road and into the housing estate. A few minutes later he drew to a halt outside 18 Milton Drive. It looked very much the same as the last time he had been here, although that had been at night.
He got out, paused on the path then strode towards the front door. He pressed the doorbell. There was a wait of a few seconds before the door was opened by Mrs Chapman. She looked at him, puzzled, then recognised him.
‘You’re that policeman that was with that Asian detective.’
‘Yes. I’m PC Frame.’
‘What’s wrong?’ she raised a hand to her face, ‘Nothing’s happened to Melissa has it?’
‘No, Mrs Chapman, I’m not on duty.’
Now she looked slightly angry. ‘Why are you here then?’
‘I heard that the charge had been dropped. I wanted to ask about Melissa. You used her femme name.’
Wendy Chapman’s eyes explored James. Finally, she pushed the door wider.
‘You’d better come in.’
She led James into the lounge and urged him to sit on a well-used sofa.
‘Melissa said that you visited her when she was in that children’s prison.’
‘The secure unit, that’s right. I shouldn’t have but I needed to know how she was. I was delighted that they were letting her dress.’
Wendy replied dreamily, ‘Dress as a girl. Yes. It’s what she wanted. What she always wanted.’
‘And you’re letting her live as Melissa full-time?’
The mother nodded. ‘It seemed to thing to do. She hasn’t gone back to school, not yet anyway. She started at the special unit in town yesterday.’
‘I see,’ James wasn’t sure how to answer as he didn’t know anything about the facility Mrs Chapman had referred to. He presumed it was for the children who had problems in mainstream schools, perhaps with bullies.
Wendy was looking at him closely. ‘I remember now. You were one of the police who got here after it happened, when Melissa had run off.’
‘That’s right. My colleague and I picked her up over by the marina.’
She shook her head. ‘I don’t know what Mel might have done if you hadn’t.’
James nodded. ‘I was glad we found her fairly quickly.’
‘And then you were with Detective Sharma. . .’
‘He asked me to sit in on the interviews.’
‘. . .because you knew someone who was trans. That’s what he said wasn’t it?’
James nodded.
‘A girl called Tamsin?’
‘Yes.’
‘You understood what Melissa was feeling. It was you that said that what Melissa did wasn’t deliberate.’
‘That’s right. She was defending herself,’ James said, ‘Her father had hit her so often for dressing up as the girl she felt herself to be, that she just grabbed the only weapon that was available to stop him hurting her again. That was what happened, wasn’t it?’
Wendy Chapman, sniffed and nodded. ‘You know how strong the urge was for Melissa to be herself.’
‘I do.’
‘It didn’t matter how often Eric found out what she was doing and punished her for it. She couldn’t, wouldn’t stop.’
‘But you encouraged her didn’t you,’ James said.
The woman stared at him. ‘What do you mean?’
‘You bought stuff for her, clothes, make-up. You helped her. That evening you were styling her hair.’
‘She wants to be a girl so much. I had to help her.’
‘But didn’t that make her father even more angry?’
She nodded.
‘He beat you too.’
She nodded again.
‘So why did you stay. Why didn’t you take your child away to keep her and yourself safe?’
She gave him a look of surprise. Was it because she had never considered escaping her abusive husband or surprise that he should ask the question?
‘Um, er, he wasn’t a bad man. Often, he was a good father. He just had these rages when he thought that Matthew wasn’t behaving as a boy should.’
‘You could have got help, advice.’
She shrugged. The thought had never occurred to her.
‘Something was different that evening wasn’t it?’ James said.
Wendy looked at him, uncertain. ‘What do you mean.’
‘Well,’ he began, ‘you were down here in the kitchen where Mr Chapman would see you the moment he came into the house. You could have been doing Melissa’s hair upstairs where you’d have a few seconds warning of his arrival.’
‘We weren’t expecting him to come home then.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes. He was due home soon after eight. He was doing overtime. Melissa and I thought we had a couple of hours at least.’
‘Melissa might have thought that but I’m not sure you did.’
Mrs Chapman glared at him, ‘What are you saying?’
‘I checked with the factory. There was no overtime planned for that evening. Mr Chapman’s shift finished at its scheduled time of five o’clock. Either Mr Chapman told you a lie about the time he was due home, or you knew he would arrive home while you were doing Melissa’s hair. You were expecting him to walk in on the pair of you.’

……………………………..to be concluded

 

Jasmine socialises

20170930_153501 (2)The news continues to be mind-chillingly awful but a number of items this week made me wonder what kind of life our children and young people are going to experience.  One was about the swarms of paedophiles who descend on any young girl (I think it’s particularly girls) who decide to post photos on certain social media apps. The reporter talked of girls receiving thousands of responses to any picture of themselves followed by requests to “show a bit more”. Are children learning to discriminate between genuine friendships and the creepy, wheedling, grooming by older men? I hope so but I’m not sure how.

The second item concerned “fake news”, previously known as lies. Not many young people sit down to watch the News at 6 or any other time and I doubt whether many use the newspaper apps on their smart phones. The only “news” they pick up are the posts on social media apps like Snapchat.  These share lies, gossip, conspiracy theories, and extremist propaganda tarted up as reasonable viewpoints which swamp the truth and informed opinions.  How do young people, or any of us for that matter, sort the truth from the lies? It is very difficult and I think we all fall for misplaced blaring indignation from time to time.

The point about both of these news items was that the internet providers and social media services are doing nothing to correct it. Google, Facebook, Instagram and all the others are turning over huge sums of money (largely from advertising), mutter about protecting people, but actually do very little. I think something will (must) happen in the not too distant future which will change the situation but not necessarily return us to a state of internet innocence.

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Let’s get back to contemplating the approaching festive season – there’s still plenty of time to purchase your copies of my Jasmine Frame  and September Weekes books, either on Kindle or as paperbacks (from paintedladiesnovel@btinternet.com).  And here is the next episode of the novella, Reflex, set in 2006 (before all that social media stuff really got started).  Jasmine is having an evening off. . .

Reflex: Part 7

Jasmine parked the Fiesta alongside a few other cars on the gravel beside the low brick building. It was the village hall but was some distance outside the village and surrounded only by trees and fields. A little light filtered through curtains but otherwise it was dark. She and Angela got out and approached the door. Jasmine found herself surprisingly apprehensive. She had been going out as Jasmine for years and had visited clubs on straight and LGBT nights with and without Angela many times. This, however, was her first time at a social meeting for transgendered people.
Angela pulled on the heavy door and a waft of slightly warmer air, a buzz of conversation and the music of the Beegees emerged. Jasmine wondered if there would be dancing. They stepped inside the hall. It was brightly lit with six tables set out around the edge. About a dozen people turned as one and looked at them. They all appeared to be women, although a couple were wearing trousers. A rather buxom lady with dark hair approached them. She wore a flowery dress.
‘Ah, you must be Angela and Jasmine. I’m Belinda,’ she said in a deep male voice, holding out her hand. Jasmine and Angela shook it in turn. ‘Come and meet everyone.’ Belinda ushered them towards the little groups of ladies. The conversation, that had stopped, picked up again.
In a whirl of name exchanging, Belinda introduced Jasmine and Angela to all the other members of the Butterflies Club. There were a pair of married couples but all the rest were single “ladies”; Jasmine was unsure who was a transsexual living full-time as a woman, or a transvestite spending the evening in their alternative femme persona. She thought though that she would be able to work it out after a few minutes observation and chat.
‘Now there’s one last person to meet,’ Belinda said, guiding them to the hatch in the middle of the side wall. There, smiling from behind a counter, was a small lady in an apron, cutting up portions of Tesco quiche. ‘This is Susan, my darling wife,’ Belinda announced.
Susan greeted them and was soon chatting to Angela about Butterflies, her life with Belinda and gossip about the other members. Belinda asked what Jasmine would like to drink. She opted for an orange juice while Angela accepted a large white wine. That means I’m driving home, Jasmine thought, but wasn’t too disappointed.
She went off to chat with the other Butterflies. Most appeared to be in late middle-age, with a taste in fashion that, except for one or two, may have been gleaned from their mothers. The exceptions favoured short dresses with stockings and high heels and shoulder-length hair. There were all sorts of professions represented from road hauliers to doctors with a sprinkling of telecoms engineers. There was one member who Jasmine found herself gravitating to. She appeared younger than the others and was dressed more like herself – a skirt over opaque tights with, in her case, a loose jumper on top. Also, her brown hair, cut in a bob, appeared to be her own. She had been introduced as Rachel. She admired Jasmine’s embellished and more fitted top. They were soon chatting about mundane matters and commenting on the other members’ tastes.
Soon food was served and the Butterflies descended on the buffet more like another species of insect. Rachel however took a small plate of food.
‘It’s the oestrogen,’ she said. ‘It makes me put on weight when I just glance at a currant bun.’
‘You’re transitioning,’ Jasmine said, then regretted blurting it out.
‘All done,’ Rachel said with obvious pride, ‘I had my surgery last year.’
‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have assumed. . .’
Rachel shook her head, ‘No, it’s OK. I don’t mind talking about it, and if you can’t here,’ she waved at the other ladies, ‘where can you talk about being trans.’
Jasmine nodded in agreement. ‘When did you start?’
‘Oh, years ago, in my twenties. It took ages to reach the top of the list.’
‘Did you always know you were a woman?’
‘As far back as I can remember. Although I didn’t know what transitioning would involve until I was in my late teens. It’s easy for kids today, with the internet to tell them all about trannies.’
‘You were dressing as a girl when you were a teenager?’
‘Oh, yes. Every opportunity I had.’
Jasmine nodded. She had done the same although she had never decided to transition.
‘Did your parents know?’
Rachel snorted. ‘Oh yes, they knew alright.’
‘And supported you?’
‘Ah, that’s more complicated. My mother did, my father didn’t. He couldn’t bear me looking like a girl. I think it offended his own masculinity.’
‘What happened?’
‘My parents divorced when I was fifteen.’
‘Did they blame it on you being trans?’
Rachel shrugged. ‘My father may have done but I haven’t seen him since. My mother has never mentioned it, but she’s always been on my side. If we were out together and someone had a go at me she would tear into them. Nearly got us into trouble with the cops a couple of times.’
‘Really, how?’
Rachel thought for a moment. ‘Once we were out shopping. A couple of lads barged into us and pushed me around a bit. My Mum launched into them whirling her handbag like an offensive weapon. There happened to be a cop nearby and he waded in to separate them.’
‘Mothers can be fierce at times,’ Jasmine said. Rachel asked about Jasmine’s experience and relationship with Angela.
They were putting the tables away when Jasmine realised that the evening had passed. Rachel said farewell and Jasmine was left with Angela, Belinda and a few of the other ladies finishing the washing-up. Belinda bent down to turn off the small CD player sitting on the stage then straightened up.
‘Well, that’s it until next month,’ she said. ‘I hope we see you again, Jasmine, Angela.’
‘Yes, I hope so,’ Jasmine replied, ‘but it can be difficult. I’m on shifts you see, and sometimes don’t get off when I should.’
‘Oh, what do you do?’ Susan asked while folding the tea-towels.
‘I’m a police officer,’ Jasmine replied then wondered whether it was wise to reveal her career, ‘Oh, please don’t spread that around.’
Belinda nodded. ‘Don’t worry, we won’t. All personal details are confidential in Butterflies. Actually, some of the girls are a bit wary of the police.’
‘Why?’ Jasmine asked.
‘They remember times when the police weren’t too supportive of trans girls.’
‘Not now, surely.’ Jasmine thought of the diversity training she had received.
‘No, I’m talking about the eighties and earlier. Some of us have been around that long,’ Belinda winked. ‘It wasn’t unknown for police to arrest men dressed as women, give them a beating and then put them in front of a magistrate for disturbing the peace.’
Jasmine shivered. ‘Things have changed.’
‘I know,’ Belinda smiled, ‘and the Gender Recognition Act has been a help to all of us.’
Jasmine and Angela said their goodbyes and left the hall. They were driving along the country lanes towards Reading and bed before Angela spoke.
‘Well, what do you think?’
‘About what?’
‘The Butterflies. Do you want to come again?’
‘Yes, I think so. Doesn’t have to be every month. It’s not the most exciting of evenings and most of them are pretty old.’
Angela laughed. ‘Yes, and look like men in drag.’
‘I think it’s difficult for some. Perhaps they don’t have someone like you to support them. They’re a bit out of date.’
‘Nevertheless, you found someone to talk to.’
‘Yes, Rachel. She’s a post-op.’
‘Really. Gave you ideas, did she?’
Jasmine took his eyes off the road to look at Angela. Her face was in the dark but he knew she was examining him closely.
‘Yes, well no. If you mean do I think I want to be like her, then no I don’t.’ She wanted to convince herself as much as Angela and wasn’t sure she had. ‘She took a long time to complete her transition and her parents divorced, probably because of it, but her mother was really supportive.’
‘Like your friend, Melissa’s mother.’
‘Hmm, yes,’ Jasmine thought about what Rachel had said and about Melissa. She realised that she was dressed almost the same as Melissa had been when they met earlier in the day. Had she copied the young girl’s style unconsciously this evening? The trans-girl was certainly on her mind.

……………………. to be continued

Jasmine on the spot

There have been so many bits of news this week that have annoyed me and increased my anxiety about the world but they are political and I don’t want to fill this blog with my diatribes. Still, it is worrying times.

20170930_130251 (2)There was one thing that amused me.  I was out in the street and was approached by a fellow that I never expected to speak to me nor I to him. He told me that we need to “do our own thing” and “hold our heads high” and that he thought I was great for doing what I do. I realised that he was referring to my gender fluidity.  At the time he spoke, I was in typical male garb but I had seen him out and about when I was dressed in a skirt and boots. Since I gave up wearing a wig and merely have my hair done in a more feminine style, a little make up and change of clothes is not going to disguise me. It was proof that I am out as my bi-gendered self and pleasant to be complimented on it. Perhaps society isn’t going down the pan.

Anyway, to Jasmine.  The next episode of the prequel to Painted Ladies is below. In Reflex, Jasmine spends most of her time as James and is not sure what her/his future holds. It is interesting to be writing this novella length story at the same time as writing Molly’s Boudoir which takes place much later in Jasmine’s transition.  Don’t forget that the other two novels, Bodies By Design and The Brides’ Club Murder are available as e-books and paperbacks.

 

Reflex: Part 3

Daylight was still a few hours away when James slid into bed beside Angela. She stirred and murmured but he didn’t want to wake her up. He lay there, feeling her warmth, while thinking about his night’s shift, his first active service on a response team and he had had a murder. Or was it manslaughter. Surely, Matthew had not intended to kill his father. In fact, James wondered whether the boy, or girl, should be charged at all. Could it be proved that he was defending himself from the larger man? James wondered what trauma the young transgirl had been through in her life – discovering herself while meeting opposition from one of the people who should be protecting her.
He had drifted into a light sleep when Angela got up to start her day. He turned over.
‘Morning love,’ he muttered.
Angela was apologetic. ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you up. You must be knackered.’
‘Mmm.’
‘How did it go, your first night on patrol?’
James pushed himself up his pillow and told her the story of the night. She sat down beside him and wrapped her arms around him as he described finding Matthew/Melissa, her arrest and then taking her to the police station before being handed to the children’s services while the investigation proceeded.
‘What will happen to her?’ Angela asked.
‘For a start it will be “him” as far as the investigating officer and the CPS are concerned. Melissa hadn’t begun to transition because I think, only she and her mother knew the truth about her gender identity.’
‘Okay, but he’ll have to go to court?’
‘I expect so. The charge will depend on whether they think he was defending himself or intended to harm or kill his father.’
‘What’s the evidence against him?’
‘I’m not sure, but that knife being so handy is a problem. Did Matthew have it with the intention of causing injury to the father who he disliked? He had the opportunity and they will dig around to find the motive for wanting to kill his father.’
‘But they will understand that he is really Melissa; that she is trans.’
‘I’m not sure Ange. She’ll be traumatised by what has happened and she may not be in a state to describe how she feels.’
‘What about the mother? Won’t she support her child?’
‘I don’t know. She’s lost a husband. I don’t know how close they were.’
‘Oh, James, what a mess.’
James bowed his head. ‘Yes. I really feel for the kid. How would I have felt if my father had found out about me when I was that age, and took against it.’
‘Your father never did know about Jasmine.’
‘I know, and because he’s dead now I will never know if he could understand why I have to be Jasmine now and then.’
‘Your mother knows.’
‘Yes, but she can’t accept that part of me wants to be a woman.’
‘She can’t let go of the boy she raised.’
James shrugged, ‘Which is why I wonder how much Melissa’s mother is on her side.’
Angela stood up. ‘I’d better get ready for work. What are you going to do about Melissa?’
James lay back. ‘What can I do? It’s in the hands of the investigating officer from the Violent and Serious Crime unit. He’ll interview Matthew and his mother and anyone else they think of, then pass the case to the CPS. I’ve written up my report with Sarah. That’s the end of my involvement.’

Later, James reported for duty. He met up with PC Ward in the briefing room and they chatted about the previous night’s events. The Sergeant came in and gave them and the other response teams an update on the present situation and issued orders for the shift.
‘What about us?’ Sarah said when she and James weren’t given any instructions.
The Sergeant replied, ‘I want you to hold on here for a while. DS Sharma wants to speak to you.’
‘He’s the SIO in last night’s case,’ James said.
‘That’s right. He’ll be along shortly.’ The Sergeant went out and the other teams set off leaving James and Sarah alone.
‘Why does he need to speak to us?’ Sarah said to the wall as much as to James. ‘Our report was okay.’
‘I think so,’ James said.
‘It’s a simple case, isn’t it? Manslaughter. The kid will get a few years in a youth offender institution.’
James shrugged, ‘I suppose so.’
The door opened, and the Detective Sergeant who had appeared at the scene of the crime the previous evening entered. He looked from Sarah to James.
‘PC James Frame?’ James nodded. ‘You picked up Matthew Chapman, last night.’
‘We found him,’ James agreed.
The DS shook his head. ‘No, I mean it was you, PC Frame, that spoke to him, stopped him from jumping in the river and persuaded him to come into custody.’
‘Er, yes,’ James replied.
‘Well, I have a request to make,’ DS Bhanu Sharma said. ‘The boy is refusing to talk to me or my colleagues. Either he’s too choked up by what he’s done or he’s blocking us. We need to get him to admit to what he did, but he says he’ll only speak to you, PC Frame.’
‘Oh,’ James muttered feeling confused.
‘Why?’ PC Ward said, ‘We were both there. I read him his rights and we brought him in in the car.’
‘All he says is that PC Frame understands. I think he means about this wanting to be a girl thing his mother’s mentioned. What do you know about it Frame?’
James felt ice spread from his chest to the top of his head. His principal horror was his colleagues discovering about Jasmine, laughing about his desire to wear female clothes and act like a girl. He couldn’t imagine being able to survive the nightmare of his other life being talked about. His career in the police would be over.
‘Um,’ was all he managed.
‘What is it man? Do you know anything about this transvestism thing this boy’s got?’
The words came out slowly. ‘Uh, I think the term is transsexual, Sir.’
‘Isn’t it the same thing?’ the DS said.
‘No, a transsexual wants to live their life in the gender they identify with which isn’t their biological gender.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘Matthew said he’s really a girl and that he wants to be called Melissa.’
Sarah stared at James with her mouth open. ‘Did he tell you that last night?’
James nodded.
‘But you didn’t put it in the report,’ PC Ward said
‘I didn’t think it was factually relevant to us finding him and arresting him.’
‘Anything the suspect says is important,’ DS Sharma said, ‘As a police officer you should know that. You’d better revise your report, but first tell me what you know about this trans stuff.’
‘Um,’ James searched for an answer, ‘It was at university.’ He began.
‘What was? Come on, man,’ Sharma said.
‘I knew someone who was transgender.’
‘Transgender. What’s that?’ the DS asked.
‘It’s a sort of general term for people who have questions about their gender. It includes transvestites and transsexuals.’
‘Questions about their gender! Pah! Okay, so did you know this guy well?’
‘Yes, I got to know her pretty much,’ James relaxed a bit. Perhaps this imaginary friend could take the pressure off him. She could be an amalgam of Jasmine and other TG people he and Angela had met. ‘She was called Tamsin,’ he concluded, the name having popped into his mind.
‘This Tamsin was a bloke?’ Sharma asked.
‘She’d been born a boy and had the body of a man, but she lived as a woman and wanted to have gender reassignment surgery.’
‘What’s that?’
‘A sex change. That’s what the papers call it.’
‘But he’d still be a guy.’
‘When we were at uni, but now, since 2004. . .’
‘2004?’
‘The Gender Recognition Act. She could apply for a certificate now, recognising her change of gender and get a new birth certificate.’
The DS stroked his chin. ‘You think that is what Chapman wants?’
James shrugged. ‘I don’t know, Sir. We only exchanged a few words, but I got the impression that Melissa is pretty certain that she is a girl and that her father didn’t approve.’
‘Hmm, well, we’d better get you into the interview room. Perhaps he’ll open up to you and spill the beans on his relationship with his father and whether he intended to kill him.’
Sarah stepped in, ‘Jim, are you sure you knew this Tamsin well enough to cope with Matthew or Melissa or whoever?’
James faced Sarah, ‘I think so, Sarah. I’d like to have a go with Melissa.’
‘Come on then, PC Frame,’ the DS said heading for the door, ‘Time is money and my boss won’t want to have to spend too much on this case. See what you can get out of the kid.’

………………….to be continued

 

Jasmine searches

Let’s get the advertising out of the way.

From today until Tuesday 8th you can get Discovering Jasmine for Kindle Free.  Go here to get your copy.

Discovering Jasmine introduces Jasmine when she is the seventeen years old James, just learning what his need to be feminine means. It leads to her first case, defending an older transsexual. Discovering Jasmine is a novella length story.

discovering jasmine final cover

Right, that’s done.

So what has caught my eye this week.  Well, I suppose it’s the resignation  of Defence Secretary Michael Fallon for “inappropriate behaviour”.  He wasn’t, perhaps, the most obvious candidate to be the first to fall in the Westminster sex-pest scandal but I thought his attempts to wriggle were contemptuous.  First, he seemed to think that there has been a huge change in morals in the fifteen years since he groped a journalist – not in my mind there hasn’t.  It is approaching a hundred years since women got the vote and more than thirty since they achieved (if that is the right word) equality in law. I think treating women as objects to maul and grope was wrong fifteen, thirty, more years ago. Secondly he made his apology only to the servicemen which he oversaw in his cabinet post. There was no real apology to women in general for his attitude to them or to men for again bringing masculinity into disrepute.  Who knows who else will be revealed as a perpetrator of this misogyny.  What I find interesting is that the aftershocks of the Weinstein affair, in the UK at least, have caught up politicians more than any other group.

……………………..

Now to return to Jasmine Frame and the second episode of the new prequel story, Reflex.

Reflex: Part 2

They drove slowly through the estate.
‘Have we got a description?’ James asked.
‘Sort of,’ Sarah replied. ‘Matthew is a little small for his age and slight. He’s got long dark hair and he’s wearing skinny jeans and a jumper.’ James thought the boy sounded like many others of his age but since the dark streets were deserted there wasn’t anyone to check.
They carried on along estate roads, but James noticed that although Sarah was driving slowly they were moving away from the scene of the crime.
‘Are we headed somewhere?’ James asked.
‘I have an idea. Not sure if it’s right,’ the PC answered.
‘What is it?’
‘Well, if you’d done something really bad. . .’
‘Like kill your father?’
‘Yes, so you had to get away. Where would you go?’
James considered. ‘I don’t know. A dark hole where I couldn’t be found?’
Sarah shrugged. ‘OK, that’s a possibility, anywhere else.’
‘I don’t know Abingdon, I don’t know where I’d go.’
‘If you were at home in Reading?’
‘Uh. I’m not sure. Down by the river. The river path is deserted at night and you can get right out of town.’ And you can jump in and drown yourself, James thought.
‘That’s it. We’re headed for the river. I’m taking the shortest route. Matthew hasn’t had that long, so he might still be heading this way.’
‘Well, it’s a long shot I suppose, but apart from searching every side street I can’t think of any other idea.’
Now they were driving along a straight road with playing fields and park on either side. Then there was water.
‘Where are we?’ James asked.
‘The Marina.’
The road became a track with moored boats to the left. They reached a car park. Sarah stopped and turned off the engine.
‘Come on. We’re on foot now. Get the torches.’
James reached into the glove box and pulled out a couple of LED torches. They got out and James followed Sarah along an unlit path that headed into woodland. They turned the torches on.
‘This path does a circuit of a peninsula,’ Sarah explained, ‘Alternatively there’s another that heads down the riverbank.’
‘A quick round trip can’t hurt,’ James said, ‘It’s pretty secluded.’ The trees provided plenty of cover for a boy that wanted to hide himself with just brief glimpses of the moonbeam-dappled surface of the river beyond. James thought their task was pretty hopeless but couldn’t think of a better idea. He almost couldn’t believe it when a cast of the torch light illuminated a figure between the trees. Was it a person or were his eyes confused by an oddly shaped tree stump?
‘There,’ he said pointing and starting to trample through the undergrowth towards the silhouette. His guess was confirmed when the figure moved.
‘Matthew, stop!’ Sarah called but the boy went on towards the river. James stumbled over a tree root, regained his balance, ran on. He saw Matthew stop.
‘Don’t come any closer. I’ll jump in,’ the boy said. James froze. He was twenty feet from the boy, with just grass and small shrubs between them. Matthew stood on the ends of a muddy bank that shelved into the water. James could see the river was flowing quite rapidly.
‘Alright,’ he said shining his torch on the lad. ‘We want to help you. It’s no point staying out here.’
‘You can’t help me,’ the boy sobbed, ‘After what I did.’
James couldn’t say things weren’t so bad because there were fewer things worse than killing your father. The boy probably didn’t even know his father was dead. Telling him now wouldn’t help matters. He took a few steps forward. Matthew didn’t move.
‘You can get through this. We’re not going to hurt you,’ James want on. Sarah stayed in the trees while James edged forward keeping the light on the boy.
‘I didn’t mean it,’ the boy’s voice broke. ‘He came at me. The knife was just there.’
The boy was facing him, his back to the river. James was just a few steps away. He shone the torch on Matthew, not directly in his eyes but illuminating his head and body. His face was streaked. Tears or sweat? There was something not quite right. James examined the boy’s face. There was a bruise on his left cheek bone but there was colouration around his eyes and his lips. James saw his own face in mirror. He recognised what he saw. The boy was wearing make-up.
James reached out to him. Matthew flinched, stepped back, overbalanced, was falling. James leapt forward and grabbed him. He hugged the boy to his body. Matthew went limp and cried.
‘I didn’t mean to. . .’ he said through sobs. ‘I just picked it up and held it. He came forward and . . . and. . .’
‘It was a reflex,’ James said, ‘self-defence.’ He wasn’t sure that was an excuse which would stand up in court.
The boy nodded his head. James looked down at him. There really was a sizeable bruise on the lad’s left cheek. The skin was grazed.
‘Why did your father hit you?’
‘He wasn’t supposed to see me. He was early. I was showing Mum.’
‘What were you showing her?’
‘My new eye-shadow.’
‘Do you often wear make-up, Matthew?’
‘I’m not Matthew, not really. I’m Melissa.’
James hugged him/her tighter. What a mess. How was he supposed to react? Say, “Yes, I understand, I’m trans too”. That would reveal Jasmine to his colleagues and his superiors. He wasn’t ready for that.
‘You’re trans?’ He said. Melissa nodded.
‘That is why your father attacked you?’ Another nod.
‘Your mother knows?’ And another.
‘Anyone else?’ A shake of his head.
‘Okay, I’m Jim Frame. I’ll help you.’
PC Ward was at his side.
‘Well done, Jim. Let’s get him back to the car.’
They walked back through the trees, The boy, or rather girl, at James’ side clinging to him. They got back to the police car and put Matthew/Melissa on the back seat. James sat beside him. Sarah got in the driving seat.
She let out a long, slow sigh. ‘Okay. We’re heading for the police station, Matthew. This is going to be hard for you, but you’ll be looked after. No-one’s going to hurt you.’ She turned the ignition.
No-one but yourself, James thought, and put an arm around the trans-girl.

……………………………. to be continued

 

Jasmine on patrol

The news has been depressing again lately – no, I’m not going to go over it all – and then something happened that gave me a lift.  It was an email out of the blue from an old school friend.  We haven’t met or been in contact for a long time (25 to 30 years I think). Like me he is retired now and doing what he enjoys doing which happens to be photography, and he has moved back closer to our childhood home. Hopefully we can now keep in touch and meet up.

That contact gave me a burst of nostalgia. I have said that my mother suffered from nostalgia – the pain of missing the past. I inherited a bit of it, dwelling on old memories and hanging on to artefacts that jog remembrance of people, places and events. It is a constant trial to live in the present, to make the most of the time and companions and freedoms that we have now and not spend time recalling what was and what might have been. Nostalgia can be dangerous as it can give a golden glow to what happened a considerable time ago, making you forget the reasons why you made certain decisions and leading you to the edge of regret. So, anyone who suffers from it must look to the future, take advantage of the present and grasp new opportunities. I’m trying.

jfjfjfjfjfjfjfjfj

WP_20170923_10_43_20_ProWith Cold Fire now well and truly launched (there are other events happening like a signing at The Castle Bookshop, Ludlow on 2nd December and something at NovaCon in November) I am turning my attention back to Jasmine.  I am getting on with Molly’s Boudoir again (hooray) and wondering about bringing out one or two of the prequels as an e-book  (it would be great if I was overwhelmed with a resounding “yes, please”).  Here, I am starting another prequel, called Reflex. It takes place when James was a fairly new cop.  I don’t think it will be a long story but we’ll see where it takes Jasmine.  I hope you enjoy the first part.

 

 

Reflex – part 1

James buckled himself in as PC Sarah Ward started the engine and drove them out of the Police Station carpark. It was his first shift as a member of the response team and he was filled with a variety of emotions. There was excitement at meeting new experiences as a police officer and apprehension about what those experiences might be.
‘We’ll take a run through the town centre, first,’ PC Ward said. ‘We might see a character or two from the observation list.’
James nodded. He’d examined the list of names of people, mainly male drug dealers, who they were on the lookout for. He tried to recall features from the photos that had been supplied, mostly from previous arrests. They made slow progress.
‘Is it always this busy?’ James asked.
‘‘Fraid so, especially during rush hours like now,’ Sarah replied, ‘You don’t know the town?’
‘No. Never been here until I got my posting.’
‘Where do you live?’
‘Reading. That’s where we’ve been since before I joined the force.’
‘We?’
‘Me and my wife, Angela. We met at uni.’
‘That’s nice.’
They reached a junction in the inner ring road and Sarah turned off it. The queue of traffic moved a little quicker.
‘Let’s show you the river. There are some well used spots down there. It’ll be good to have a nose around while we’ve still got some light.’ They turned onto a road that ran parallel to the river. James gazed out at the trees on the opposite bank that were beginning to show their autumn colours in the sunset. Sarah slowed as they travelled along the wharf.
The squawk from the radio made James jerk alert.
“All cars. Incident at 18 Milton Drive, Abingdon. A male reported to be injured.”
The car surged forward. James looked at Sarah.
‘Tell them we’re on our way,’ She ordered.
James pressed the call button and did as he was told.
‘Do you know where it is?’ He asked.
‘Yes,’ Sarah replied as she flicked on the sirens and lights. ‘Not far. On the poets’ estate.’
‘Poets?’
‘All the roads are named after British poets.’ She overtook slow moving traffic that had pulled to the left.
James had looked at a map of the town but was still confused about its layout. ‘Where?’
‘On the west side. A 70s estate.’
‘Oh.’ They drove at speed along a main road, jinked around a roundabout and entered the narrower streets of the housing estate. James marvelled at the familiarity that Sarah showed with the layout of the town. How long would it be before he was as experienced?
They entered a straight road with bungalows on one side and semi-detached houses on the other. There was a dead end ahead. The car slowed.
‘I think we’re just about. . . here.’ Sarah said as she pulled up. ‘First, too.’ She pushed her door open and jumped out. James did the same and followed his partner up a short driveway. There were lights on inside number 18 but the front door was closed. Sarah knocked firmly.
‘Police. Hello. Is anybody in?’
James heard movement; someone running to the door. The door was flung open. A woman stood there.
‘Oh, please. It’s Eric. He’s hurt.’
Sarah stepped inside and urged the woman to lead them. James followed down a hallway and into a kitchen. The bright light and orderliness only highlighted the bloody handprints on the worktop and doorway and the body of a man sprawled on the floor. Blood spread from his chest onto the tiles.
PC Ward knelt to examine the man. The woman, whom James presumed to be his wife, stood sobbing by his side. He was unsure whether to comfort her. He looked around and noticed a knife with a bloodstained blade lying a few feet from the injured man. It was a typical kitchen knife. Who had wielded it? The woman had blood on her hands and on her clothes. Had she attacked the man, her partner, Eric? Should he move her away from the victim?
Another siren drew closer.
‘Go and see who that is, Jim,’ Sarah said twisting her neck to look for him.
‘How is he?’ James asked. Sarah grimaced. James took that as a “not good” and pushed past the woman to reach the front door. He got to the entrance to see a yellow and green 4-by-4 pull up. The paramedic got out and hurried with his bag to the house.
‘Is this it?’ he said.
James stood to one side holding the door wide. ‘Yes, in the kitchen. Man been knifed, it looks like.’
The paramedic bustled towards his subject. James remained, still not sure what to do next. The kitchen was obviously getting crowded. PC Ward appeared urging the woman towards the living room at the front of the house.
‘This is a crime scene, James,’ Sarah said, ‘It’s our job to secure it. There’ll be more of our lot but also members of the public. We have to keep them out. Go and get the tape and start setting up a barrier.’
James remembered his training for this sort of activity. It was his first time as first on the scene at a major crime. He hurried out to the police car, opening the boot to pull out tape and bollards. Yet another siren signalled the arrival of another response team. The road was getting quite cluttered.

By the time he had erected a tape fence around the front of the house, another two police cars and an ambulance had arrived. There was also a growing crowd of estate dwellers, adults and children. James was occupied in keeping them back beyond the vehicles, helped by his new colleagues.
‘James? How are you doing?’ James turned to see Sarah striding along the pavement.
‘OK. How’s the man?’
The PC shook her head. ‘Gone I think. He wasn’t breathing when we arrived. The knife must have gone straight through his heart. There was enough blood.’ She looked at her hands. In the yellow streetlight James could see they were bloody. ‘I need to get cleaned up,’ Sarah added and went to their car. James followed her.
‘Did the woman do it?’ he asked.
Sarah dug in the boot and emerged wiping her hands on a cloth. ‘Mrs Chapman? No, she says it was their son.’
‘Son? Where is he?’
‘Gone. He ran off as soon as he had done it.’
‘What! Stuck a knife in his father and ran away. How old is he?’ James imagined a man in his late teens or twenties attacking the older man.
‘Fourteen, named Matthew.’
The picture in James’ head changed radically. Why? How? ‘Did the mother, Mrs Chapman, say what happened?’ he asked.
‘Not a lot. She’s talking to DS Sharma. He’s attached to the serious crime squad. We need to find the boy.’
‘Us?’
‘Yes. He can’t have got far and we’re the local patrol. We’re supposed to know where he might have gone.’
James snorted. ‘I haven’t got a clue. Aren’t we supposed to be keeping the perimeter secure?’
‘The others can do that. Get in the car. I’ve got a few ideas.’
James jumped in beside Sarah. She manoeuvred the car out of the traffic jam that filled the narrow road.
‘It’s vital we find him soon,’ Sarah said as she spun the steering wheel and they mounted the kerb to get around an unmarked Ford Focus parked in the middle of the road. ‘Goodness knows what state he is in. He could be in danger himself or a danger to others.’
James nodded and thought about what his partner said. How would he have felt if in his early teens he had stuck a knife in someone, his own father even. He couldn’t imagine the situation with himself as the central actor, but it had happened here. There must have been some reason for it; some explanation for the death of the boy’s father.

…………….to be continued.

 

Jasmine fears for her life

When this blog goes live I will (or should) be at the UK Indie Lit Fest in Bradford.  There, I hope to meet lots of other writers and sell lots of books – we’ll see.  Next week it’s off to Warwick for the annual NAWG festival which promises to be fun – more of that later.

Not a lot of time for writing in the last week thanks to preparations for the weekends and other stuff.  However I did manage to complete reading Eddie Izzard’s autobiography, Believe Me.  It’s not a long account and reads a little like his stand-up style – stream of consciousness with thought-provoking and amusing asides.  While I found his tales of childhood, school and the decade of training for his career in front of audiences enlightening but I was, of course, most interested to read about his transvestism. It didn’t disappoint.

51KeV+2+txL._AC_US218_Eddie tells of discovering at a pretty young age his urge to put on women’s clothes but it wasn’t till he was starting his comedy career and living in London that he dared to go out dressed. His early trans history seems like many – a fumbling, nervous journey to finding  the styles and appearance that at least partly satisfied the desire to be feminine. Gradually he became more confident and confessed his transvestism to friends and family. I hadn’t realised that it wasn’t till the nineties, when he was already a growing success on the stand-up circuit, that he first went on stage in any feminine guise.  Having found that it didn’t deter audiences he kept at it but made sure that he didn’t become known as a purely trans-comedian. He would do one show in male clothes and another in feminine dress without changing his material.

WP_20170824_12_54_04_ProGradually he came to a similar conclusion about himself as I have done.  He doesn’t attempt to pass as a woman but just confesses to liking wearing heels, makeup, nail varnish and items of feminine clothing.  He seems pretty content.  Izzard calls it “action transvestism”.  I think it is being non-binary or at least blurring the lines between male and female.  Now when I go out, fully dressed and made up in female guise but without boobs or wig, I can’t imagine that I “pass” but it seems to work and I have yet to experience a negative response.  We’ll see this weekend, up north. . .

And so to this week’s episode of Viewpoint, the Jasmine Frame novella.  She’s got herself into a bit of pickle has our Jasmine.  Can she get herself out of it?

Viewpoint: Part 11

‘Er, ‘ello, Mr Taylor. Didna ‘spect to see you ‘ere again.’ Riley replied.
Jasmine opened her eyes to see Gary lowering his arm and stepping away from her. She heard Riley shuffling and the hard sound of boots on the wooden floor.
‘I didn’t expect to see you here either Riley but when you didn’t answer yer phone I thought I’d better come lookin’ for yer.’
‘Sorry, Mr Taylor. I left ma phone in ma cabin.’
‘Yer a fool Riley. What yer doing with another girl here? Yer know the cops have been snooping around.’
‘She wuz ‘ere when we came to clean up the place.’
The heavy steps came closer, and Jasmine found herself looking up into the stubbled face of Alfie’s father.
‘Yer bloody fools,’ he shouted, turning on Riley and his mate. ‘Do yer know who this is?’
‘’im said he was a private dick. ‘im’s a bloke dressed as a tart.’
‘I know,’ Taylor roared, ‘but he’s a copper. He was at my place last night. I don’t know how he did it but somehow, he linked you t’me. That’s why you and I have had visits today from the fuzz.’
‘But they don’t know about this place,’ Riley complained, ‘That’s why we came to clean it up like, so that there’s no sign of yer girl.’
Taylor’s voice rose another pitch. ‘Don’t call her my girl. It wasn’t my princess you did away with. The cops will know of this place now. Unless. . .’ he subsided to almost a whisper, ‘he’s on his own in which case we just have to get rid of him.’
‘That’s what we were goin’ to do,’ Riley sounded proud of himself.
‘Not here, you fucking idiot,’ Taylor shouted. ‘There’ll be more mess to clear up. Get him in the Landie and we’ll cart him off to somewhere where the cops won’t find him.’
‘Where?’ Riley asked.
‘Dunno. Not the fucking canal again tha’s for sure. Just get him out of here and make sure he can’t get away.’
Gary had been standing silently, his knife-holding arm hanging by his side. ‘Don’t we get to have some fun?’
Jasmine heard Riley let out a sigh. ‘Don’t you get it, Gary? It’s an ‘im not an ‘er. He’s got a cock not a cunt. Come on, do as Mr Taylor says.’
The two men turned to Jasmine. Gary held her down while Riley untied her ankles from the bed but quickly re-bound them together. She tried to wriggle but Gary cuffed her around the head and out his considerable weight on her. Riley did the same with her arms, rolling her over to fasten her wrists behind her back, then stuffed a filthy rag in her mouth and bound cord around her head. She found she had to concentrate on sucking air into her lungs. Gary picked her up as if she was a sack of potatoes, tossed her over his shoulder and carried her out of the hut into the dark. He dropped her, not at all carefully onto the straw covered rear of the Land Rover. The lights of the hut went out.
‘Get in the front,’ Taylor ordered. Soon the engine started and they began to move. Jasmine was bounced up and down as they travelled along the rough track. Each bump threw her up an inch or two; each fall on the hard surface of the pick-up bruising her and making her worry about getting her next breath. Jasmine was relieved when they reached a smoother, metalled road and the bouncing lessened although the speed increased and the cold wind froze her body.
Jasmine could see nothing of their journey, nor interpret the motion of the vehicle, and had to use nearly all her concentration to breathe and overcome the pain of the cords biting into her wrists and ankles. She had enough sense though, to note that the surroundings remained dark revealing that they were still in the country.
After a time in which the pain in her arms and legs went through numbness to agony, the Land Rover slowed and started to buck again. Treetops closed over the clouded sky. Jasmine had no idea where they were other than they were off even the minor roads and in a wooded area.
The vehicle stopped and Jasmine heard the doors of the cab open.
‘Keep you voices down,’ Taylor hissed. ‘Gary get the fucker; Riley bring some tools. Yer going to have dig, the two of you.’
Jasmine was picked up and thrown over the big man’s shoulder. They set off into the rough ground under the trees. After a few minutes Gary stopped.
‘Is this far enough, boss? Me back is killing me.’
There was a pause then Taylor spoke. ‘Yeah, it’ll do, I s’pose. Dump him and get digging.’
Jasmine was dropped. She hit the ground with a thump that would have hurt a lot more if the floor of the wood hadn’t been covered with a thick layer of leaf litter. She lay still, struggling for air. She heard the sound of a pick-axe thudding into the earth, a spade grinding into the ground and soil being thrown. With her face almost pressed into the muck she saw the merest reflections of pale, yellow light from a single torch. There was almost no feeling in her limbs now other than an undefined, excruciating ache. Even if she could loosen the bonds she didn’t think she’d be able to move. Escape seemed impossible. She didn’t want to die; she couldn’t bear the thought of dying but hope was dribbling away with every moment.
‘Police! Don’t move! Drop the tools!’ A shout, the voice familiar. Two, three bright white torchlights. ‘You’re under arrest. Don’t try to get away. You are surrounded.’
Jasmine recognised the caller. It was Tom Shepherd.
‘What were you intending to bury?’ Tom asked. The torch-light grew weaker then stronger until a beam entered her partly open eyes.
‘Jasmine?’

……………to be continued

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 office-bound

This weekend I am at Nine Worlds in Hammersmith, London.  It’s a big SF/Fantasy convention. As well as, I hope, enjoying some of the sessions, my main reason for attending is that my publishers, Elsewhen Press are a sponsor and exhibitor and I have been asked to compere a Q&A session with the authors of two books being launched. Artwork: David A. Hardy

The first is a well known name – John Gribbin.  He is famous for his popular science books (written with Mary, his wife) but he is also a long-time SF fan and writer.  His anthology Don’t Look Back collects stories written throughout his life.  They are mainly hard SF tales exploring a law of physics.

Zoe Sumra is an exciting young author. TheCover: Alex Storer Wages of Sin is her second novel in a universe of gangsters, interstellar corporations and spellweavers.  I’m hoping that by fielding the questions and prompting answers I may get a chance to do just a little promotion of my own books – but they will be for sale on the Elsewhen stand, along with my Jasmine Frame novels.

So, as I won’t be around on Saturday morning, here is the next episode of Viewpoint, the thirteenth (yes, 13!) Jasmine Frame prequel story.

Viewpoint: Part 8

Jasmine was expecting a telling off from DS Palmerston but she wasn’t prepared for the stream of invective that poured from the detective’s mouth. There were F words and B words and more, including the T word, “tranny”, that merely confirmed for her that Palmerston was transphobic. She tried to let the torrent of abuse wash over her, after all words couldn’t harm her, but Palmerston’s final threat did hit home.
‘If you think that because you’re resigning from the force you can get away with anything, think again. I can get your pension stopped and have you on a charge of improper behaviour in no time.’
Jasmine tried to sound penitent but wasn’t sure she succeeded.  Denise Palmerston stood panting, recovering her breath. At last she spoke quietly and relatively calmly.
‘Tell us what happened.’
Jasmine described as briefly as possible her encounter with Mr Taylor and his shotgun and then her tailing of him to the park homes. She left out the fact that Taylor had rumbled her gender change.
‘You didn’t tell him that his daughter was dead,’ the DS stated.
‘No.’
‘Why not?’
‘I wanted to see his reaction, but he didn’t seem interested in knowing what had happened to Alfie.’
‘Perhaps being told that she was dead would have got a reaction,’ Palmerston said in a voice that insinuated that Jasmine hadn’t pushed the farmer sufficiently.
‘He was pointing a gun at me. I didn’t feel like testing his emotional reaction.’
Palmerston scratched her cheek. ‘Hmm. We need to speak to him. He can at least formally identify his daughter for us.’
‘Why do you think he visited this caravan, Jas?’ Tom asked. Like the others he had retreated into silence when Jasmine was receiving her roasting.
‘It’s a park home not a caravan site, permanent homes. I think the speed with which he went there after speaking to me means there must be a connection with what happened to Alfie.’
‘OK,’ said Palmerston, grabbing the initiative. ‘Kingston. You and I are going to pay Mr Taylor a visit and take him to view his daughter’s body. Shepherd and Hopkins, take a look at this park home. Find out who Taylor visited and why.’
‘Shouldn’t I go,’ Jasmine said, ‘I know which one he was parked at.’
Palmerston glared at her. ‘If you think you are stepping outside this office again during this investigation, Frame, you are in dreamland. You can direct Tom and Terry to the correct cabin and then you can write up your report on your joy ride yesterday.’
The senior detective urged DC Kingston to accompany her and they left. Jasmine was left with Tom Shepherd and Terry Hopkins.
‘Where was this park then?’ Tom asked.
‘I’ll show you on Google,’ Jasmine said. She went to her desk, called up the map and went to the satellite photo. It showed the cabins laid out in a grid with the driveway down the middle. She pointed out where she had seen Taylor’s Land Rover parked.
Tom peered closely at the screen. ‘There are quite a few homes on the site.’
‘I couldn’t tell how many are occupied,’ Jasmine said, ‘Most of them were dark.’
Tom pulled his waterproof from the back of his chair, ‘Well, come on Terry. Let’s go and have a look.’ He moved towards the door with Hopkins following.
‘Enjoy writing your report,’ Terry said over his shoulder as he left.
Jasmine grumbled under her breath as she sat down to do as she was told. It didn’t take her long to type out a bare account of her visit to Exeter and the stop-offs on the way back. Just the bald facts were recorded with no speculation or comments of what she was really thinking about Alfie Benson. When she had finished she read through the medical reports on Alfie that the clinic had sent through. It upset her reading what Alfie had gone through. There was the double-edged emotion of his mastectomy; the joy as a transman of losing his breasts versus the sadness at the death of his mother and fear of following her in contracting cancer. He had gone through the surgery and recovery all alone in Weymouth. After that, there was the long wait for further treatment which never materialised because of his drift into depression, no doubt exacerbated by the lack of progress in his transition and loneliness. Jasmine empathised with Alfie. She knew she was in for a long process to achieve the state of femininity that she desired and she knew there was no guarantee that she would ever get all the treatment that she wanted and needed free on the NHS. At least she had the support of Angela, soon to be ex-wife but still a friend, and her family (sister, Holly, was supportive). Her resignation from the Police Force was perhaps a backward step but she was resolute that she would not suffer the prejudice from Palmerston and others like her for any longer.
Little more than an hour had passed when Tom and Terry returned. Jasmine greeted them cheerfully. Terry grunted and went to the coffee machine. He poured two cups but didn’t ask Jasmine if she wanted one. Tom shucked off his coat and sat in his chair.
‘Well?’ Jasmine asked, ‘You weren’t long. Did you find anything?’
Tom nodded and shrugged at the same time. ‘Yes, there was a guy at the hut. Name’s Patrick Riley. Little Irish bloke, walks with a limp. Used to work on Taylor’s farm until he got injured.’
Jasmine was eager for more. ‘So, he knows Alfie’s father. Did he admit to seeing him last night?’
‘Yes. He said Kevin, that’s Taylor’s first name, often calls in for a beer on a Wednesday evening. Despite having his accident while working for Taylor, Riley says they are still mates.’
‘So he’s prepared to cover for Taylor then,’ Jasmine grumbled, ‘Did you tell him about Alfie?’
‘We asked him if he knew Taylor’s daughter,’ Tom replied, saying the last word quietly as if expecting a rebuke.
‘What did he say?’
‘He said he knew Taylor had a daughter but he hadn’t met her and didn’t know where she was living.’
‘Where he was living. Didn’t you say that Alfie was a man?’
‘No, Jas. DS Palmerston says we’re investigating the death of Lucy Taylor, not Alfie Benson. We did ask if she had been mentioned in conversation last night but Riley said she hadn’t come up.’
‘He would say that wouldn’t he. Did he ask why you were asking questions about Alfie?’ Jasmine saw Tom’s sigh. ‘OK, Lucy.’
‘No, he didn’t Jas, and yes, I realise that is suspicious. We’d expect him to have been interested in why we were asking the questions. It didn’t look as if Lucy could have been held there against her wishes.’
‘No? Are you sure?’ Jasmine wasn’t convinced.
Terry Hopkins put his mug of coffee down. ‘The place was tiny, Frame. I had a look round while Tom was asking the questions. A single bed room, barely room for a bed, and a kitchen-living room. It was grubby but all in order; no sign of anyone being kept there or done in.’
‘Hmm.’ Jasmine wasn’t convinced by Terry’s powers of observation or deduction.
‘I think, Terry’s right, Jas,’ Tom said, ‘If Riley is involved in Lucy’s death, and there’s every chance he was, I don’t think she was kept in that hut.’
‘So, what now?’ Jasmine asked feeling frustrated at the lack of progress or indeed effort to make progress.
‘We see what DS Palmerston gets out of Kevin Taylor and suggests as the next move.’
Tom and Terry settled down to write up their report and Jasmine went back to staring at the satellite photo of the park home site. She counted almost two dozen rooftops of huts of varying sizes.

The door opened and Jasmine looked up to see Palmerston striding in with Kingston behind her. She gave an impatient wave of her hand to gather the team around her at the white board.
‘Mr Taylor has confirmed the identity of his daughter,’ Palmerston said, glaring at Jasmine as she spoke the last word. Jasmine did not fall for her senior officer’s ruse. ‘He says he has not seen her for six years and was not aware that she had had a mastectomy but he confirmed that his wife died of breast cancer.’
‘He had no idea where she’s been during that time?’ Tom asked.
‘He denied any knowledge of her whereabouts or lifestyle,’ Palmerston insisted.
Jasmine couldn’t keep silent. ‘Did you ask him why he threatened me with his shotgun?’
Palmerston glared at her, her nostrils flaring. ‘There has been a spate of farm thefts in the area so he has been patrolling with his gun. He thought you may have been nosing around his property looking for things to steal. Oh, and he says his gun wasn’t loaded.’
Jasmine huffed her disbelief.
‘What about you two?’ Palmerston looked at Tom and Terry. Tom gave a swift report on their conversation with Riley.
‘So,’ the DS drew breath, ‘Taylor and Riley are possible suspects in the murder of Lucy Taylor but we have no evidence to incriminate them as yet. Do we have any sightings of the people who dumped the body in the canal or the vehicle they used? Terry, you and Derek were down there yesterday. No witnesses?’
Terry Hopkins shook his head. ‘There are people living in the houses where the lane meets the road. A few of them said that people sometimes use the track to go fishing but no one saw anything on Tuesday evening.’
‘We need to know where the victim was living after she left Weymouth,’ Denise Palmerston said with a note of frustration in her voice. ‘Hopkins and Kingston, I want you find out all you can about Lucy and her father, relatives, family friends, anyone who Lucy may have been in touch with. Shepherd get on to our oppos in Weymouth. See if they can find anyone at all that knew her.’
‘Him,’ Jasmine said. ‘He was Alfie Benson in Weymouth. He was a man, living, working, socialising, not that he did much of any of that from what I can tell from his conversations with the GIC.’
‘Thank you, DC Frame,’ the DS said, not sounding particularly grateful. ‘I think we know how to do our jobs.’
‘What do you want me to do?’ Jasmine asked as politely as she could manage. She expected to be given another routine IT task.
‘You can get out of here,’ DS Palmerston said, ‘I’ve spoken to DCI Sloane and he agrees that your insubordination yesterday shows that you are temperamentally unsuited to being part of this team. You can go and stew in your little flat until you’ve served your notice.’

………………………..to be continued.

Layout 1

 

Jasmine in the dark

I’d rather not have to think about Trump but I cannot ignore his latest (as of Thursday) order, that is, banning transpeople from the US armed forces.  It could be said that it is none of my business as I don’t live in the USA but the fact is that anything Trump says or does reverberates around the world.  With the UK government cosying up to him to get a “super” trade deal post Brexit, what happens in the USA has repercussions here.

Why has Trump made his banning order? I am sure the only generals he spoke to were the ones who would support his view and the cost argument is a mere excuse. I think that first and foremost Trump is trying to overturn everything that Obama did and stood for.  Allowing transpeople to serve was one of Obama’s last acts so it must be high up Trump’s list.  Secondly, Trump is of course trying to appeal to his core followers – right wing, bible-bashing bigots. His support has diminished considerably since he sort of won the presidential election but he has to keep those committed Trumpsters cheering him to soothe his ego.

What will be the effect of Trump’s order?  I don’t suppose it will affect the USA armed services a great deal but it gives legitimacy to anyone who sees transpeople as being abnormal and a separate segment of society who should be treated differently.  If the right to serve can be denied to a transperson, what other rights can be removed? Of course what applies to transpeople can quickly be extended to others – gays, ethnic minorities, women.

What this news does is put transpeople in the spotlight. It could make them a target for the misguided people who feel that using violence against minorities is doing Trump’s or God’s work.  We must not allow any actions against transpeople or other minorities to be ignored or dismissed as unimportant.

Not a good week for the human race.

………………………..

IMGP5761Let’s move swiftly on to this week’s episode of Viewpoint.  Just a reminder that this is the latest of the prequel novellas that I put out on this blog.  The three novels, Painted Ladies, Bodies By Design, and The Brides’ Club Murder are each available as e-books and paperbacks.  The two novellas, Discovering Jasmine and Murder In Doubt are only on Kindle. Go to my Jasmine Frame page for more details.

Viewpoint: Part 7

Keep calm, she told herself, he doesn’t know who you are. He doesn’t want to shoot you, really. She reached into her pocket. He stiffened and the barrel of the shotgun moved a few centimetres towards her.
‘I’m a police officer, Jasmine Frame,’ Jasmine said, pulling her warrant card from her pocket and holding it up. The gun didn’t move. ‘I’m investigating the movements of Alfie Benson.’ The gun barrel remained threateningly close to her.
‘Don’t know the name,’ the man growled.
‘You are Mr Taylor, owner of Yew Tree Farm?’
‘What of it?’
‘You had a daughter, Lucy?’
The barrel wobbled. Was he losing control, she fretted. How do I get out of this without getting shot, deliberately or accidentally? I need to keep calm and keep him calm, she thought.
‘Yeah, I did once. She left.’
‘When was that?’
‘A long time ago. Years.’
‘You haven’t seen her recently? In the last year?’
‘No.’ The gun was brandished at her. ‘Why’re you asking?’
‘I told you. I’m trying to find out where Alfie Benson went.’ She didn’t want to make the link to Lucy Taylor explicit. He was obviously in denial about his daughter’s gender change.
‘I said, I don’t know that person. You sound funny. Are you a bloke?’
Jasmine felt ice in her veins. If he didn’t accept Alfie’s transition, what would his reaction be to her as a transsexual police officer? Perhaps this was the moment to retreat.
‘OK, Mr Taylor. Thank you. I’ll be on my way.’
She moved away from the gate, circling around the end of the gun to her car. The barrel followed her than dropped. She felt Taylor watching her as she got in and heard a muttered ‘Fucking, tranny’. The engine started first time, she was grateful for that, and she pulled out onto the narrow lane. She looked in her mirror. The dark figure of Mr Taylor watched her for a moment and then moved out of sight, up the farm track. Jasmine drove on for a few more yards till she came to another field entrance. She pulled in, as far off the road as she could and turned off the engine and lights. Opening her window, drizzle blew into her face. She adjusted her wing mirror to provide a view back up the road then wound the window back up and slid down so that her head was below the back of the seat. Was her hunch right or was she going to have to spend as long as she could bear in this somewhat unusual position?
It was only a few minutes. Movement in her mirror attracted her attention. A vehicle emerged from the farm entrance, turned and accelerated towards her. When it passed her the battered Land Rover Defender was already moving faster than she would be comfortable driving along these lanes. Jasmine pushed herself back up the seat and started the engine. She set off down the lane, following but not matching the farmer’s speed.
He was out of sight when she reached the main road. She took a guess, turned towards Kintbridge and put her foot down. The old Fiesta whined as she took her speed up to sixty. She was grateful that there was little traffic on the dark, wet night. A couple of minutes later, on a straight stretch of the road she saw the red lights of a vehicle ahead. She kept her speed up until she was certain. It was the Land Rover. She slowed, ensuring that she was a good distance behind Taylor.
They passed under the bypass but then Taylor turned right onto a minor road. Jasmine followed, some distance behind, wary of catching him up. They drove a few hundred yards along the lane and then she saw Taylor turn left. She slowed down and as she approached the turning she realised it was an entrance. Driving past she peered into the murky darkness. It was a park home site. She drove on for fifty metres and pulled off the road where there seemed to be a wide and firm grass verge.
She trudged back along the lane to the entrance. There were no gates just a low brick wall on both sides of the road. The low rectangular buildings forming silhouettes against the dark sky were set out in a regular grid. One or two had lights showing but most were dark. Jasmine walked slowly up the driveway between the buildings, trying to think of her story if anyone approached her. She passed the first and the second row of homes and then she stopped. The Land Rover had pulled off the drive and was parked beside the next single-story cabin. That was all she needed to know. She turned and walked hastily back to her car.

Jasmine yawned as she climbed the stairs to the office. She hadn’t slept well thinking about Alfie Benson and his father. She walked along the corridor and pushed the door to V&SC unit open. She saw at once that she was late. She glanced at her watch. It was precisely seven a.m. but the team were already standing facing DS Palmerston and the white board with photos stuck to it. Palmerston saw her enter and gave her a look which would have curdled a dozen bottles of milk.
‘So, DC Frame deigns to join us after her jaunt around the country.’
Tom turned his head and gave her a sympathetic smile. Jasmine went to his side refusing to respond to her senior officer.
Palmerston faced the team. ‘Thanks to our wandering DC, we know the victim found in the canal yesterday was named Lucy Taylor, formerly of Weymouth but recently of no known address. We also know that she died before entering the canal,’ she glanced at the sheet of paper she was holding, ‘of asphyxiation due to pressure on her windpipe, possibly by a rope.’
Sadness gripped Jasmine. It was all too easy to imagine the transman dying in terror.
Palmerston went on. ‘The pathologist also reports other injuries on her body from before she died. She had had a double mastectomy, there was a bruise on her left cheek and on many parts of her body suggesting she had been beaten. He also thinks that marks on her vagina suggest she had sexual intercourse forcibly on at least one occasion not long before she died.’
‘He was raped,’ Jasmine blurted out.
‘She, not he,’ Palmerston sneered, ‘You found out for us that her legal name was Lucy Taylor and that she had never been granted a G, er R, er, whatever.’
‘He had lived as Alfie Benson for six years,’ Jasmine said, ‘He was stopped from transitioning fully and from applying for a G R C, because of his poor mental health.’
‘I am sure her doctors recommended the best treatment for her,’ Palmerston replied.
Derek Kingston coughed. ‘It does seem that she was mistreated and raped before being killed.’
‘Yes, of course, Derek,’ Palmerston gave the detective constable a smile as if she was pleased with his assessment of the case. ‘It appears that she was treated poorly for some time before she was killed. The question is where?’
‘If she lived in Weymouth how did she end up in the canal here?’ Terry Hopkins moaned.
‘She hadn’t lived in Weymouth for months,’ Tom answered.
‘I think she was here,’ Jasmine said. All four of the detectives looked at her.
‘Here?’ DS Palmerston said her voice rising.
‘The Kintbridge area,’ Jasmine clarified. ‘She was brought up in Cindersworth where her father, Mr Taylor, still runs Yew Tree Farm.’
‘You had an address for her father!’ Denise Palmerston screamed.
Jasmine had guessed she would be in for a roasting when she revealed she had that knowledge.
‘Yes, it was in her medical notes that the Gender Identity Clinic in Exeter supplied. They’re in the case file. You could have accessed it.’
‘But you didn’t see fit to draw our attention to that fact.’
‘I was told that you had gone off duty and wouldn’t be interested until this meeting.’
Palmerston subsided a little as she struggled to find a suitable rejoinder. ‘We need to speak to Mr Taylor and inform him of his daughter’s death. I am sure he will be upset at the news.’
Jasmine had a reply, ‘I don’t think so; not as a grieving, loving parent.’
All her colleagues stared at her.
‘What do you mean, Jas?’ Tom asked.
Jasmine took a deep breath. ‘Well, first of all, Mr Taylor abused Alfie after Mrs Taylor died. Alfie was a teenager and wanting to transition. His father beat him and raped him. Alfie told the GIC nurse but wouldn’t report it to the police.’
‘That’s a serious allegation,’ Palmerston said.
‘The nurse I spoke to thought it was a significant contributor to Alfie’s depression that stopped her going further.’
Derek stared at Jasmine, his eyes questioning. ‘You said firstly, Jas. Do you have more?’
Jasmine smiled. ‘Mr Taylor denies all knowledge of Alfie Benson and says he hasn’t seen his daughter Lucy for years.’
‘How do you know that?’ DC Hopkins asked.
‘You’ve spoken to him, haven’t you,’ Tom said, his eyes wide, ‘You called at the farm on the way home last night.’
‘Yes,’ Jasmine admitted. ‘And I think I know where Alfie was held.’

……………………..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 empathises

There is a row going on about whether human rights in the UK will be damaged by the Brexit Great Repeal Bill. I don’t want to see any reining back of our rights as human beings but I have to say that as a gender-fluid person I am feeling more comfortable when I am out and about. Either that or I’ve lost all feeling of being examined and judged.

While I dress in skirts or dresses, and wear jewellery and make-up I don’t try, any longer, to mimic a woman by wearing false breasts or a feminine wig. Yet visiting a number of different towns in recent weeks I have been struck by how comfortable I feel and the lack of strange looks.  Everyone who I have spoken to has treated me as a normal person which is very gratifying and encouraging.  I wish everyone, regardless of their colour, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity or disability felt the same.

I hope I am not being naïve.

 

WP_20170709_13_23_10_Pro

With Sharon, a lovely person, especially as she purchased all three Jasmine Frame novels

Last week’s trip to Llanidloes went very well and I was fascinated by the tattooed convention goers. They are themselves, perhaps another maligned community, but for that weekend I (in male persona this time) was in the minority. But they bought some books which was great and I had a good time with the other authors and visiting an area of the country I adore.

 

I returned cheered and more optimistic about my writings and publications, so here is the next part of Viewpoint, the Jasmine Frame prequel. The three novels, Painted Ladies, Bodies By Design and The Brides’ Club Murder, follow sequentially over a fairly short time period after this story.

Viewpoint: Part 5

Jasmine let out a silent yell of glee and quickly wrote down the information in her notebook and on a slip of paper. She tapped at the computer keyboard and printed out a map, then stood up, picked up her jacket and strode to Sloane’s office.
‘There. I’ve got an i.d. on the victim.’ She dropped the notepaper in front of the DCI. ‘He was on the list of a Gender Identity Clinic. There’s his name and address although that is apparently over a year out of date.’
Sloane picked up the piece of paper and read out the name. ‘Alfie Benson. Male? Why do you say that this address in Weymouth is out of date?’
Jasmine had the answer. ‘The GIC says that he has not replied to their letters and emails for a year so they are not sure he was living there before he died.’
Sloane continued to stare at the note. ‘Why was, er, his body dumped in Kintbridge if he was living in Weymouth?’ he muttered.
‘Exactly.’ Jasmine turned away and started to walk out of the office.
‘Where are you going, Frame?’
‘Exeter.’
Sloane growled, ‘DS Palmerston told you to work here.’
‘I’ve done what she wanted. I’ve identified the victim. Now I’m going to speak to people who knew him.’
‘Why not go to Weymouth?’
‘Because I know there are people at the Exeter clinic who can tell me about Alfie. There may be no-one in Weymouth who knows him.’
‘DS Palmerston is in charge of the case, Frame. She’ll allocate her staff.’
‘I’m the best person to speak to the GIC staff. I attend one myself.’ Jasmine didn’t wait for Sloane to come up with any other reasons for her to stay. She hurried to the exit. Sloane didn’t follow nor call after her.

Jasmine glanced at the dashboard of the Fiesta. Petrol was low. She hadn’t thought about fuel when she leapt into the car and headed south out of Kintbridge. The old car wasn’t going to get all the way to Exeter on the fumes left in the tank. As the wipers half-heartedly dispersed the rain from the windscreen she saw the sign for a service station ahead. She pulled in, filled the tank and went into the shop to pay. It was then that she realised that it wasn’t just the car running on empty. It was past lunchtime and she hadn’t eaten since breakfast. She bought a BLT sandwich and tore open the packet before she got back into the driver’s seat. She set off again along the A303, munching on the bread.
It was another two hours and already getting dark when she reached the city. Now she had to find the clinic from the address and the map she’d pulled off the computer back in the station. She had a sudden desire for a satnav or one of those smart phones that included one. After one or two mistakes, she pulled into the parking area at the front of a large Victorian house, just as her mobile phone gave out its ring tone. She dug it out of her bag, saw that it was Palmerston and dropped it back in. The phone fell silent.
Jasmine approached the main door, found it unlocked and stepped into a hallway that had once been grand but now needed a fresh coat of paint on the walls and woodwork. A reception room was on the left. There were two people sitting waiting. One was a middle-aged woman in a knee length dress and sheer tights with shoulder length blonde hair. A wig, Jasmine guessed. The other was a young man wearing track suit bottoms and a hoody. They were sitting apart and avoided eye contact with Jasmine. She knew how they felt. When she had first attended her GIC she had felt like hiding and thought that everyone was staring at her and wondering about her gender.
A woman in white uniform sat at a desk. ‘Can I help you?’ she said in a welcoming voice.
Jasmine pulled her warrant card from her pocket and showed it to the receptionist. ‘I’ve come to speak to a nurse, Hazel Sullivan, who I’ve been in contact with.’
‘Ah, yes, Hazel is on duty. I’ll see if she is available.’ She picked up a phone and put through a call. She spoke quietly and soon put the phone down.
‘Hazel will see you now. She’s in the office next door to here.’
Jasmine said thank you and left the room noting that the two pairs of eyes of the patients, or clients, followed her covertly. As she looked up the hallway to see where she was headed, the door opened and a short, chubby, woman in a blue nurse’s uniform stepped out.
‘DC Frame?’ she said advancing towards Jasmine with her hand outstretched.
‘Yes, Ms Sullivan?’ Jasmine said shaking the hand.
‘Hazel. Come on in,’ she said as she turned and re-entered the room. Jasmine noted that it was furnished partly as an office with a desk and two chairs and partly a lounge with a small sofa and armchair grouped around a coffee table. Hazel pointed to the sofa.
‘Take a seat. This is where we chat to patients. It’s a bit more welcoming than the medical examination rooms.’
Jasmine nodded. She settled herself on the sofa and tugged her skirt down her thighs. ‘I’ve been in a similar room,’ she said.
‘Ah, yes. You’re GD too. How long have you been in the system?’ Hazel sat in the armchair and examined her closely.
‘It’s nearly two years since I decided to transition but only eighteen months since I began. Then it was six months before I got my first appointment.’
Hazel nodded. ‘Yes, it does take a long time, if you have to go with the NHS.’
‘Like Alfie?’ Jasmine was relieved to move the conversation away from herself.
‘That’s right, but he was with us longer than you have been.’
‘Oh, how long?’
Hazel leapt up to pick up a folder from the desk. She opened it.
‘Six years,’ she said, ‘He was just eighteen when he had his first appointment.’
‘So, he was twenty-four now, when he died.’
‘That’s right.’
‘That’s quite a while to be in the queue,’ Jasmine commented.
Hazel frowned. ‘It is, but Alfie was in and out of it a bit.’
‘Why?’
‘He had mental health issues – depression. There was always the question about his fitness for transitioning.’
‘That held up his treatment?’
‘Yes, and he was never able to apply for his Gender Recognition Certificate.’
‘But he lived as a man.’
‘Oh yes.’
‘And he had a double mastectomy,’ Jasmine added keen to confirm Alfie’s maleness.
Hazel nodded. ‘Yes, that was his one bit of luck, if you can call it that.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘His mother died from breast cancer when he was a teenager and his aunt, his mother’s sister, died of it soon after. Alfie had a test and was found to carry the BRCA gene. Do you know what that means?’
‘Yes. Alfie was likely to get it too.’
‘Alfie was offered the mastectomy as risk-reducing surgery. It would have been delayed if there was a chance pf Alfie having children but he insisted on having it immediately. All FtMs want rid of their breasts. He refused breast reconstruction but because he was under our care we managed to get some cosmetic treatment to give him a more masculine chest.’
‘But that was as far as he went?’
‘Yes. There was the possibility of having his ovaries removed for a similar reason but it was delayed and as I mentioned we have lost touch with him in the last year.’
‘What about hormones – was he on testosterone?’
‘Not with us. The question-marks over his mental state meant that we couldn’t prescribe him medication. There was one occasion when he got testosterone off the internet. He nearly got thrown off the programme for that.
Jasmine sighed. ‘So, he was probably depressed because he couldn’t get treatment for his gender dysphoria.’
Hazel shrugged. ‘Probably but that wasn’t the root cause of his mental problems.’
‘Oh, what was?’
‘Well, I’m not a psychiatrist, but his notes suggest that it was the loss of his mother just when he was going through puberty – growing the breasts, having periods, all that – and the abuse by his father.’
Jasmine’s eyes opened wide. ‘Abuse?’
‘He beat Alfie when he refused to wear dresses and when he had his hair cut short, and he raped him.’
‘Did this come to court?’
Hazel shook her head. ‘Alfie didn’t reveal it until he came to us and he didn’t want to go to the police. He left home at sixteen and was a bit of a mess. It’s quite amazing that he got himself together enough to even start coming here.’
Jasmine was struggling to take in what Alfie’s life must have been like to transition with a father like that. She realised that she had had it easy – an understanding wife, generally supportive family and friends and a helpful employer, up to a point. But the difficulties she had experienced with DCI Sloane and DS Palmerston gave her some feeling for the turmoil that Alfie had undergone. On top of the abuse from her father, Alfie had faced the catch 22 of not being deemed sane enough to go through life-threatening and altering surgery so was left in an intermediate state.
‘Alfie still had his original birth certificate,’ Jasmine stated. Without a Gender Recognition Certificate, he couldn’t have changed that document even though he’d changed his name.
‘That’s right. The name he was given at birth was Lucy Taylor.’
‘Oh, he changed his surname too?’ Jasmine had kept her surname when she transitioned but she knew that some transsexuals used the opportunity of changing their forenames to give up every aspect of their former lives.
‘Yes, Alfie didn’t want any reminder of his father. Benson was his mother’s maiden name.’
Jasmine scribbled in her notebook. She stopped and looked at Hazel. ‘So why did he stop responding to your letters and messages?’

………….to be continued.

 

 

Jasmine finds a lead

This weekend I’m off to Llanidloes in mid-Wales for their Tattoofest. Apparently it’s not all about tattoos and there will be a number of us offering our books to visitors to browse, and buy. I’m not interested in having a tattoo myself although I think some of the designs people have done are quite stunning. I think it is the permanence that is off-putting.  We like to change our hairstyle and clothes fashion from time to time, as well as our surroundings, so being stuck with the same skin decoration for ever strikes me as being a bit limiting. Nevertheless, everyone has the right to adorn their own bodies in any way that they like.

WP_20170704_10_16_10_ProThis is my first chance for a long time to market my books and offer my talks.  I don’t really count the Leominster Festival Bookfair because I spent so much time looking after everyone else I didn’t get to do much with my own publications. This will be the first outing for my new pop-up banner. It is quite an expense and of course will soon be out of date when Cold Fire is published, but nevertheless it should serve for a couple of years.  I think it looks pretty striking as well as informative.

I am on the lookout for other opportunities to promote my work – both the Jasmine Frame books and my fantasy novels. I’m willing to put up a stand or join discussions or give talks. My main talk will be “Murder – with frocks: transgender in life and fiction” but I am also very keen to talk about SF/Fantasy and the inspirations for my September Weekes novels, and about the business of writing and publishing (I’ve self-published in a number of ways, worked with large educational publishers and been published by a couple of small independents. so I think I have some experiences to relate).

I was hoping for a slot to participate (rather than just attend) the big Nine Worlds SF/Fantasy convention in London in August. I was told, however, that they could not match me to any of the 250 or so events! That’s despite there being sessions on mythology, monsters, writing, etc., etc.  I wish the organisers could have been honest in saying they wanted “names” instead of giving me the brush off.

Anyway, back to the business of writing. Here’s the next episode in the Jasmine Frame novella, Viewpoint.  We’re up to part 4 already and I think I know where the story is going now – yes, really!

Viewpoint: Part 4

Palmerston went on, ‘We also need to determine her last movements and how she got into the canal. Pathology will soon tell us whether she was dead or alive when she entered the water.’
Terry Hopkins spoke, ‘A road crosses the canal at Hambury, The body could have been dropped in the water there.’
Jasmine shook her head. ‘I doubt it. That’s a mile upstream from where I found the body and it would have had to pass through Renham lock. I doubt whether a boat has passed through the lock in the time that the body was in the water.’
Hopkins glared at her and moaned, ‘How come you know what goes on on the canal?’
‘Because I run along it most days,’ Jasmine replied. ‘The only boat on the stretch between Kintbridge to Hambury is old Harrold’s and he’s moored under the bypass. The flow has been too great on the river sections in the last few days for boats to be moving much and you may have noticed that it hasn’t been pleasant weather for boating.’
Hopkins grunted but had no further comment.
‘Could the body have been delivered to the north bank at Renham lock?’ Tom asked.
Jasmine gave another shake of her head. ‘There’s only a narrow towpath on the north bank and you’ve got the railway line and then the river alongside. The body must have been brought by a vehicle to the south bank up that track you used this morning, Tom.’
‘There are buildings where that track meets the road,’ Derek Kingston noted, ‘There must be people living there. Perhaps they noticed something.’
‘You’ve given yourself a job, Derek,’ Palmerston said, obviously glad to be issuing orders. ‘You and Terry get down there and start asking questions. Tom, you’re with me. Let’s see what pathology have found.’
Jasmine realised that she was the only one left without a task. Nothing changes, she thought. ‘What do want me to do?’ she asked knowing what the answer was going to be.
‘You can start going through missing persons, DC Frame.’ The DS tossed off her instruction, turned and started towards the door.
Tom saw Jasmine clenching her fists. ‘Sorry, Jas. You didn’t think that she’d change because you’ve resigned, did you?’
Jasmine let out the breath she’d been holding. ‘No, but I’ve been reminded why I did resign. Not that I needed to be.’
‘Shepherd! Come on,’ Palmerston called. Tom hurried to obey.
Jasmine sat at her old desk noting that no-one had laid claim to it yet. She booted up the computer and found that her log-ins were still valid. Well, there were still a couple of weeks before her employment was terminated. She quickly put in a request to receive missing persons data from her own and neighbouring police districts, then sat back and considered. She didn’t hold out much hope of finding a quick match among the dozens of persons reported as missing. She needed another angle. If her guess about the gender of the victim was correct then he appeared to be a good way through his transition. Many FtMs had breast removal before internal surgery to remove ovaries and sometimes the uterus. Phalloplasty, construction of a penis, was the last, most difficult and most expensive stage which many never reached. To be at any stage of that procedure meant that the victim was probably on the list of a Gender Identity Clinic. Jasmine started composing emails to the eight GICs across England. She attached the photo taken of the body when it was lying on the canal bank. It wasn’t pretty but it was all she had for now.
When the task was complete, she sat back and stretched her arms. She realised that although she was alone in the outer office, DCI Sloane had been shut away in his own annexe. She got up and walked to his door. It was open and she could see the man sat his desk, his head bent over a pile of paper files. He rarely used the computer that was pushed to the edge of his large desk. He must have sensed her presence because he looked up and saw her. Jasmine saw his lip curl.
‘Ah, Frame. Any progress?’
‘Not yet, sir. I’m waiting for replies.’
‘Hmm. I see.’ His eyes dropped back to the papers in front of him.
Jasmine wasn’t going to miss this opportunity. There might not be another chance to speak to the Boss when no other officers, particularly DS Palmerston, weren’t around.
‘You agreed with my thoughts about the victim, sir,’ she said.
He looked at her. ‘Agreed?’
‘That he was a man.’
Sloane puffed out his lips. ‘Ah, that. I agreed with your surmise that the victim was undergoing the process of, what do you call it, transition, and I understand that this person may therefore be claiming to be male.’
‘Claiming to be!’ Jasmine felt her face heat up and her heart hammered in her chest.
‘That’s what this transsexual nonsense is all about isn’t it, Frame? People choosing their own sex and expecting their family, employers, even the health service to go along with their fancies.’
‘It is not a fancy. It’s not even a choice. Do you think someone would go through a double mastectomy just because they fancied being a man for a change? Do you think I’m looking forward to having gender reassignment surgery to make me the woman I am?’
Sloane was forced back in his chair by Jasmine’s onslaught.
‘Now, Frame. I know your change causes you some anxiety. I’m sure it’s those female drugs you’re taking. . .’
‘That’s right. Blame it on the hormones that make me behave like a silly female. Is that it?’ Jasmine paused for breath. ‘They do give me mood swings and nausea, but it’s my body that suffers the changes, not my mind. I am a woman and I am sure our murder victim, whoever he was, was certain he was a man.’
‘I think you need to calm, down, DC Frame.’
Jasmine took a breath. ‘I am calm, but I can’t take much more of this. You know it’s why I resigned.’
Jasmine thought she noticed regret pass across Sloane’s face, but it disappeared quickly.
‘That was your choice, Frame. The Police Service was giving you every assistance in your decision to, er, transition.’
‘Officially, yes, but in practice, you know what was happening here and you let Palmerston sideline me in every investigation.’
‘That was your view of the situation. I see Palmerston dong her job to assign staff to tasks as necessary.’
‘So why did you call me back today?’
Sloane’s mouth opened but no sound came out for a moment. He closed it, swallowed then spoke. ‘DS Palmerston thought that as you were involved in the case through your discovery of the body, it would be better for the investigation if you were on the team and could be allocated tasks that suited your abilities and demeanour. You have a reputation for going off in your own direction, Frame, as you well know.’
‘I get results.’
Sloane sniffed. ‘Perhaps. Nevertheless, we felt it was wise to have you where we can see you rather than having you interfere as a free agent; or, what is it you intend being? A private eye. Hah!’
‘Well, you’ve only got to the end of the month to carry on telling me what to do.’
‘We’ll see,’ The DCI said quietly and glanced back at his paperwork, ‘I suggest you get back to your work, Detective Constable.’
Jasmine returned to her desk still feeling the anger filled blood pumping round her body. She looked at her screen. Some of the missing person data had arrived and she flicked through it not surprised to find nothing that had a connection to the victim. The monotonous task at least calmed her down. While she was doing so a ping indicated an email arriving in her inbox. She clicked on it and her heart thumped. It was from the south-west gender clinic in Exeter. She read the message eagerly. One of the staff had recognised the victim but medical confidentiality prevented them from releasing the patient’s details immediately. It didn’t matter – she’d got an i.d.

…………………….to be continued.

 

 

Jasmine returns

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A selfie of me at the Pride event that was part of the Ludlow Fringe Festival

I did something earlier this week that I didn’t used to do.  I was giving a talk about being transgender and mentioned both my male and femme names. At one time I would never reveal my male identity when I was being Penny, but my use of two names is one of the remaining  indications that I can’t completely get rid of my gender stereotypes. I may have given up wearing a wig and false breasts to accentuate my femininity but I still present myself as male or female.  Gender fluid, I think I am, but non-binary is a difficult concept to realise. Most people still want to categorise you as one or the other and forms still demand a title without giving a genderless option – unless you happen to be a Dr or Rev.  Most important is the need to blend in rather than making an issue out of my gender.

I chose my femme name a long time ago because I didn’t consider that my male name, Peter, worked for me as a female.  Yes, I know there are feminine variants such as Peta and Petra (I have known women with both those names) but I didn’t feel comfortable with them. I wished I had one of those names that could be used for either gender. There are names used by both genders, such as Evelyn, Hilary, Leslie/Lesley, Lee/Leigh and Robin (male in UK, female in USA) or names that have a genderless diminutive e.g. Chris (Christopher/Christine), Alex (Alexander/Alexandra), Nicky (Nicholas/Nicola) etc. There are new names which are genderless  such as the hippy names  River and Willow, and others, like Jayden, that I don’t know where they come from .  As I am not going to change my legal name then I think I am stuck with Peter and Penny although I may use them interchangeably.

Choosing names for characters is one of the important but fun parts of planning a story. A character’s name must not be anachronistic and can convey their origins both in ethnicity and class.  I chose Jasmine as the femme name for my transsexual detective, back in 2001, because I thought it sounded a little unusual and exotic. In fact it is a much more common girl’s name than I thought but I’m afraid Jasmine is Jasmine now. Many of the trans characters I have created have pairs of names that connect such as Glen and Glenda when Jasmine was acting as a transvestite and Sandy/Sandra (both spoilers from Painted Ladies.). Vernon/Valerie and Gerald/Geraldine (The Brides’ Club Murder), David/Diana (Darkroom), Andy/Andrea (Aberration) are some of the many others. I don’t think that trans people do choose names like that but I think it helps readers to connect the male and female sides of the character.

There are no new names of characters yet in Viewpoint, the new prequel to Painted Ladies, but we’re only at part three so far.  Here it is.

Viewpoint: Part 3

Jasmine let the hot water cascade over her for minutes longer than her usual showers. She knew the electricity meter would be spinning but she waited till the last vestige of cold had been driven from her body. All the while she saw that cold corpse lying on the towpath. She tried to make sense of what she had seen. When she finally turned the shower off she felt she had an image of the person it had been, and she was worried.
She stepped from the cubicle and quickly wrapped a towel around herself, not merely to dry her body and keep warm but to avoid having to see herself naked. Her body didn’t match her self-image. Surgery was needed for the most dramatic transformation but that was a long way off. Nevertheless, now she was taking the drugs she was hoping for some changes but the hormones had yet to make a noticeable change to her figure. The doctor at the gender clinic had not been too confident of her developing the breasts she desired and nothing could change her broad shoulders and narrow pelvis. Still, she had hopes that one day her body would be recognisably female.
Once dressed in thick tights, a colourful but short woollen skirt and a thick jumper over her bra and false breasts, she prepared her breakfast. She was later than usual and there were things to do – not a lot, but she needed to continue preparations for going into business. She was munching a piece of toast and peanut butter when her mobile phone gave out its urgent ring.
She picked it up and wasn’t surprised to see that it was Tom Shepherd calling. Of course, they would want a statement from her on the discovery of the body.
‘Hi, Tom,’ she said cheerfully.
‘Jas! How are you? Have you warmed up?’
‘Yes, I’m fine now, Tom, but it was cold out there.’
‘Yeah. Look, you’re needed here.’
‘Where?’
‘The station.’
‘For my statement?’
‘Not just that. Sloane wants you on the case.’
Jasmine felt her muscles tense and heart beat increase.
‘But, Tom, I’m not part of the team any more. I resigned. Remember?’
‘I know that, Jas, but you’re still employed to the end of the month, aren’t you?’
‘Yes, I know, but what is it called? Gardening leave? I’m not expecting to work as a police officer anymore. I’m sure Palmerston doesn’t want to see me in that office again.’
There wasn’t an immediate reply but Jasmine heard conversation at the other end, and one familiar raised voice. The muffled exchange was brief.
‘Frame, are you there?’ It was DS Denise Palmerston’s voice blaring at her from the phone.
‘Yes I am. I thought I was talking to DC Shepherd,’ Jasmine said as calmly as she could manage.
‘Well, it’s me telling you to get yourself to this office, now!’
‘I’m not part of the V&SCU,’ Jasmine insisted, knowing that she was just dragging out the inevitable. What DS Palmerston wanted she invariably got.
‘Do you want me to send out a car to arrest you for obstructing an investigation.’
‘No, but . . .’
‘You are still a police officer, DC Frame. Get here now.’ There was an abrupt click of the call being ended. Jasmine imagined that if Palmerston could have slammed the phone down on its cradle she would have done. Perhaps, fortunately, you couldn’t make the same gesture with a mobile phone.
She wondered why her senior officers were so keen to call her into the Violent and Serious Crime Unit’s office. It surely wasn’t because Denise Palmerston valued her assistance on a case; her tone revealed her discomfort at that prospect. So why had DCI Sloane taken the initiative of bringing her in? That presumably was the cause of the DS’s anger – having to accede to her boss’ request. Jasmine wasn’t looking forward to facing the female detective again but she was intrigued enough by the case and the reasons for her recall to want to find out more. She pulled on her boots, put on her old puffer jacket, grabbed her bag, dropped her phone in it and was about to open the door when she remembered the electric fire. It had been blasting out heat on full power now for a couple of hours and she had got used to the comfort. She turned the fire off knowing that the flat would be cold when she returned but did not want to deplete her meagre funds.
She got into the red Fiesta and turned the ignition key. She was always grateful when the engine started but was not sure how she could perform as a private detective, which would presumably mean a lot of time spent on the streets, with the battered old Ford. At least it was pretty undistinguished and she could not foresee being able to afford a newer model until her income grew, if ever.
It took just a few minutes to drive into the centre of town and to pull into the police station carpark. That action felt both familiar and strange – it wasn’t something she had expected to be doing after walking out a couple of weeks ago. She tried to feel confident as she entered the building and strode passed the desk.
Sgt Gorman glared at her and growled, ‘I thought you weren’t coming back.’
‘Sorry to disappoint you GG but this is as unexpected for me as it is for you.’ Jasmine continued through the secure door without a hesitation. She climbed the stairs to the unit office and only paused, for just a moment, as she pushed the door open. There was a small group of people standing around the whiteboard, the sign that a case conference was taking place. Tom Shepherd turned his head, saw her and smiled. He drew himself up to his full two meters plus height and nodded for her to come and join him. The other two male officers, Derek Kingston and Terry Hopkins, like Tom were facing DS Palmerston who was at the board.
‘Ah, we have Detective Constable Frame,’ Palmerston said. ‘We are pleased to see you, aren’t we gentlemen.’ Her tone revealed the exact opposite but Kingston responded with a smile towards her. Hopkins managed to hide any emotion at her reappearance. ‘Come and join us and give us the wisdom of your experience,’ Palmerston continued in the falsely gracious voice. Jasmine took her place beside Tom, and undid the zip on her jacket. She wasn’t going to make it look as though she had slipped comfortably back into her old environment, but it was warm in the office.
‘We were going over the facts in the case,’ the DS explained. ‘We have a body with no clothes or means of identification so our first problem is finding out who this woman was.’
Jasmine half raised her right hand as if in a classroom. ‘Um,’ she muttered to draw attention to herself while wondering if she needed to or even desired it.
‘Yes, DC Frame,’ Palmerston’s eyes glared at her as if wishing to strike her dead for daring to interrupt. ‘You have a contribution to make.’
‘Yes,’ Jasmine said, ‘I don’t know how much has been reported about the body, but I don’t think the deceased was a woman.’
Palmerston’s eyebrows rose and her cheeks took on a pink tinge. Jasmine felt, rather than saw, the three men stiffen beside her. They were either expecting the DS to explode in rage or had been jerked out of their complacency by her words.
Denise Palmerston spoke softly and slowly, ‘I know you were suffering from the early stages of hypothermia at the time, DC Frame, but I am sure that you in particular might have noticed that the body lacked a penis. In fact, she has, according to the pathologist, the complete female genitalia – vulva, vagina and clitoris. But of course, you don’t consider them a necessary part of being a woman do you.’
The three male officers squirmed. Jasmine told herself to remain calm. To have made such a blatant reference to her pre-op transsexual status Palmerston was obviously going to the limit to incite her.
‘Yes, I did observe that, ma’am,’ Jasmine said equally quietly and carefully, ‘I also observed that the body had had a double mastectomy. Coupled with the short hair and a hint of beard growth I suggest that the person was a transitioning transman, a female to male transsexual.’
‘There are other reasons for having a mastectomy,’ Palmerston’s voice had risen a few tones. ‘Cancer for example. She was a woman.’
Jasmine took a deep breath. ‘We have different viewpoints,’ she said, ‘but I think the possibility that I suggested should be taken into consideration when seeking the i.d.’
‘I think DC Frame has a point.’
The three men and Jasmine turned to see the speaker, DCI Sloane, standing in the doorway of his office as imposing as ever in his three-piece grey suit.
Sloane went on, ‘I think you should take the possibility that this person presented as a male in planning the investigation.’ He turned around and returned to his office. Jasmine wondered how much he had been listening to the exchange between her and Palmerston.
The DS sniffed, shook her head and pulled herself upright. ‘We shall use all the evidence available to identify the victim and determine what and who caused her death.’

…………………..to be continued.

 

 

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.
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