Jasmine is busy

Here is a comment on the UK General Election. I promise there won’t be many more between now and 8th June.

Strong & Stable

I have been an avid follower of general elections since 1966, or possibly 1964 (I recall Harold Wilson edging to victory).  Sometimes I have been dismayed at the result, a few times pleased, but this year I am dreading the result as it seems a victory for Theresa May is more than just likely but a certainty. Her repeated refrain of “strong and stable” I find sickening.  For her, strong seems to mean belligerent and the ability to ignore all doubt and concern at her actions. I’m not sure we want a strong leader like that. Someone who considers themselves strong can continue on a misguided course because they have bludgeoned the opposition into ineffectiveness. Stable government is another questionable entity. Portugal and Spain had stable government from the 1930s to the 1980s, Russia from the 1920s to 1990 and now again under Putin. Erdogan wants to give Turkey stable government – his own. A government that does not have to worry about the opposition can do what it likes. It is interesting how dictators soon want to change their country’s constitution to make their own power more “stable”. Putin did it in Russia, Erdogan is doing it in Turkey and Trump has already complained that the USA constitution should be changed to allow him to do what he wants.
It seems to me that May’s decision to seek re-election (or election in her case) with apparently little consultation with her colleagues is one sign of a megalomaniac.  It took Maggie Thatcher about 8 years to achieve the staring eyes of the power-crazed despot. Tony Blair took about 6. May has managed it in 9 months.
So, yes, I am scared, wary, despondent and for the first time in my life not particularly interested in the minutiae of this election.

…………………….

WP_20170505_15_05_43_ProRight onto the main business – writing.  Jasmine is busy with her case that will be recounted in Molly’s Boudoir (Jasmine Frame 4), so here is another of my short stories. This one is SF about Mars which I wrote before I saw The Martian or read the book it is based on.

Dust

Hello Houston, Marsbase, Sally Armstrong speaking.  We have a bit of a problem.
I don’t know why I’m sending this.  You can’t do anything to help and you probably can’t even hear me since the main antenna went down.  I’m patching this through the Yinghuo and hope the ground to orbit link can punch through the sandstorm.  That’s the problem you see, this effing dust cloud.  If we’d had warning of it blowing in then Mei and Svetlana, sorry, Commander Ying and Mission Specialist Leonova, wouldn’t have set off in the rover.  But without the geostationary satellite we’re blind whenever Yinghuo is over the horizon and only see a short distance when it’s up.  How many times have we regretted the failure of that satellite? But you’ve heard all that before.

Fact is Mei and Svetlana had no warning.  They got one message through when the storm hit.  They said the dust was getting into their motors and they’d lost power.   Damned dust.   Of course we knew it would be a nuisance.   A billion years of rubbing together has made the particles so small that they get through the finest filter.  The air’s thin and the force of the wind is puny, but it blows the dust into every nook and cranny.   Mei and Svetlana will have to sit still and hope that when the storm has passed they can get the motors running again.  I don’t hold out much hope though because they’re already on the spares after their first trip.   They’ll probably have to walk back.  I just hope the dust hasn’t got into their air supply.

I didn’t feel lonely on my own until the storm started.   I think we’ve proved those psych tests were correct, the ones that showed that an all-female crew would get on better than an all-male or mixed team.  Even when the time-lag got so that conversations with you guys back home became impossible, the three of us have chatted constantly.  Now the com is silent and I’m feeling that I’m on my own for the first time; on my own, with a whole barren planet beyond the airlock.

Unless it blows over soon the main antenna may not be our only problem.   If the dust gets into our power system I’m stuffed.  The dust cloud has cut our solar power generation to zero so I’m relying on the batteries but they can only keep the heaters and air supply going for two or three days and the storm could easily last that long.   If we’re without power the mission profile says we get back in the lander and blast off to rendezvous with the Yinghuo.  I can’t think of doing that and leaving Mei and Svetlana behind.

It’s all due to this dust.  Even when you go through the scrubber you still bring the stuff into the base with you.  It sticks to everything and that’s just the start of the problem.  Your eyes and throat are sore because it’s so abrasive and it eats away at plastics.  Thing is we knew all this before we arrived; the mission was designed with the dust in mind, but nothing the engineers thought of has solved the problems.  Just as well that we’re only supposed to be here a couple of weeks.   We always knew it was a political stunt really, a demonstration of Sino-Russo-American friendship. Ha!  Nine months in a steel can, 2 weeks on the surface and another nine months shut up inside again.  That’s the equivalent of two pregnancies – what they used to call a confinement.  Perhaps that’s what makes us women the most suited to long missions.

Mind you, I grabbed the chance to book a place on the mission.  I’ve wanted to come to Mars since I was a kid in the 20s.  Then it was all doom and gloom about global warming and no country was thinking about manned space missions.  Things have changed a bit since then haven’t they.  I discovered all the old reports of the moon landings in the 1970s and it’s been my ambition to go further ever since.  Svetlana and Mei were the same.

It hasn’t been a disappointment.  How could I live without seeing the Martian dawn.  First there is the bright red haze on the horizon while the sky overhead is still black and the stars are shining. Then this small but fiercely intense Sun climbs above the crimson crags.  I’ve discovered so many shades of red since I’ve been here.  I think our eyes have adjusted to the monochromatic scenery and found variations which we didn’t see when we arrived.

Damn.  It’s got quieter all of a sudden.  The white noise of the dust hitting the dome is still there but something is missing. The air pumps have shut down.  It’s a closed system with no interface with the Martian atmosphere but, as I say, this dust gets everywhere. Time to strip the pumps down, again.  The bearings last for no time once the dust gets into them.  There’s enough air in the dome and the lander for a couple of days, especially with just me breathing, but if I don’t get the pumps working again it’s another reason for aborting the mission.  Damn this dust.

I thought Mei and Svetlana were the lucky ones as they get to do the expeditions, but leaving the base for more than an hour or so is really uncomfortable.  You’ve guessed it – the dust.  It gets inside the pressure suits and collects in the creases and seams.  It irritates like, well, a speck of dust in an oyster. After their first trip they couldn’t wait to strip the suits off.  Their skin was blotchy with allergic reaction and they were covered in tiny scratches where the creases had been.  They’re like tattoos because the dust gets beneath the skin.   Mei looked like an old Ming vase with tiny cracks in her porcelain skin.  They weren’t happy about going on this second trip but you guys insisted.  You had to have some scientific data didn’t you, to make this trip more than just a propaganda exercise, and we have to feed the Net’s demand for pictures and sensational discoveries.
Life.  That’s the big one isn’t it, what everyone back on Earth is hoping for.  Well I think people’s hopes have been built out of nothing. Even if Mei and Svetlana do make it to that strange outcrop of not-so-red rock, I don’t think it will be the hiding place of Martian life.   You weren’t really convinced either, were you, but it keeps interest in the mission alive. Now we’ve secured our future on Earth there is less interest in escaping to other worlds.  Only people like us want to get out, spread our wings, see places no-one has seen before; with our own eyes not robot cameras.  Who knows Yinghuo 11 may be the first and last mission to bring real people to Mars.  We’ve certainly proved that it will be pretty impossible to live here.

I’d better go and look over those air pumps. Want them working for when Mei and Svetlana get back.   If anyone is listening, Sally Armstrong signing off.

Hi Houston, Sally Armstrong here.   I’m in the lander, setting up the launch countdown.  That’s if the dust hasn’t buggered up the systems like it did in the dome.  Still no sign of Mei and Svetlana.  The storm blew over yesterday after two whole days. They had to make it back by now because they only had air for three days.   I’m trying to save power and air so that I can wait till the last moment before blasting off but it’s getting cold and my chest is starting to hurt.  If only I’d been able to get those pumps going again, or the solar cells.

I went outside after the storm.  It was against protocol with the other two still away, but I had to try.  The effing dust had etched the panels so that they were opaque and corroded the connectors.  No hope of getting any power.   While I was wasting time trying to fix the main antenna a seam went on the dome.  Dust particles burnt through the seal.  The internal pressure just ripped the skin open. If I’d been inside I wouldn’t have had a hope of getting my helmet on.   So I cheated death and have been sitting here since.
It’s strange the other two seats being empty.  I keep on looking to my right and left and expecting Mei and Svetlana to be there.   I reckon I’ve got another three or four of hours of air which means I have to fire the engines in the next two to rendezvous with the Yinghuo.

Half of me knows they’re dead but the other half is still waiting and hoping they’ll appear over the ridge and we’ll all be together again.  I don’t want to leave.  It’s not having to sit in that can for another nine months – I really wanted to explore this place.  It’s barren and lifeless and, yes, the dust is a bugger, but it’s new.  When I pick up a pebble in my hand, okay, I can’t actually touch it, but I can turn it over, feel its texture, its weight, and know that no one has picked up a piece of Martian rock before but us three. We have that in common.
I don’t want to go home on my own.  Not sure if I can.
The launch sequence has started.  At least the screen is telling me it has.  Come on Mei, Svetlana, I don’t want to go without you.

We’re into the final minute.  Houston, if you receive this and something happens to me I want you to know it’s been worth it.  I know I speak for Mei and Svetlana, too.  They’re dead now, I’m certain.  The dust got them, the bloody dust.  Now I’m relying on the launch systems working.
Twenty seconds.
We wouldn’t have missed this trip for anything.  Now Mei Ying and Svetlana Leonova, you will be out there forever, Mars is yours now.   I love you.
10…
Here goes.
7…
6…
5…
4…
3…
2…
1…
Oh f…

……………………………………..

Jasmine is resting

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

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

 

 

 

 

Ghost Image

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

Jasmine is still away

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

……………….

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

 

 

The Necessity of a Raincoat

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

It’s Easter – time for the first big rush of the year to the holiday resorts.  Last week there was a storm in a chocolate teacup about the use of the term “Easter” followed by the words bunny, egg, treasure hunt etc. Apparently leaving out the “Easter” was a denial of our Christian heritage and of being a sop to people of other religions. I didn’t follow the convoluted arguments closely but I did not notice any reference to what Christians actually celebrate at Easter. Not that there many that do.  The cars clogging the roads are filled with people just looking forward to a good time over the extended weekend; the religious significance means little.  Similarly I find little religious significance in the Easter bunny or chocolate eggs although of course any priest worth his/her cassock can find significance in anything. Rabbits and eggs recall the spring fertility festivals that predate the Christian era. Early Christians struggled to replace these joyous occasions with the sacred Easter celebrations but ended up adopting many of their symbols and traditions. Now it is largely just an early spring break.

Does it matter to our national identity what we call this weekend? I don’t think it so.  It is some years since the late spring bank holiday replaced Whitsun/Pentecost in the national consciousness and that doesn’t seem to have caused the world to end.  Let those who want to mark the religious occasion do so, and let the rest enjoy a few days of holiday, but don’t persist in attaching religiously charged words like Easter to secular money-spinning products and activities.

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IMGP5761Talking of breaks. Jasmine is still having one while I get on with Molly’s Boudoir but don’t forget that all three Jasmine Frame novels are available in paperback and e-book.

Instead of a Jasmine episode here is something else “what I wrote”.  This short piece was knocked off for a writing group meeting.  Although it was apparently not that long ago I cannot remember the task we set ourselves. It could have just been the start, “There was a boat. . .”. I am sure you will recognise the setting and the theme as incorporating both environmental and political issues. I hope you like it.

 

There was a boat . . .

There was a boat that rested, listing, on a shore that had not experienced the kiss of waves for a generation. Yuri entered through the jagged hole made to remove the diesel engine and all the metal fittings. He stretched his young legs to clamber up the lopsided wooden ladder. Sunlight made jagged stripes on his face and body as it streamed through the gaps in the wind-shrunken timbers. The boat would no longer float if the sea returned, not that that was likely to occur. Yuri reached the narrow bridge, held himself upright by hanging on to the wheel and looked out of the dirt-covered, cracked window. The barren sea-bed stretched to meet the brown sky at the distant horizon. Yuri was alone with his boat.  Alone with his thoughts and memories.
Yuri’s father had seen the approaching vehicles shrouded in their clouds of dust and exhaust fumes. He had sent Yuri to his hiding place above the ceiling of their shack. There Yuri peered through the gaps in the boards. He saw the battered four-by-four pickups draw up around their little house and the bearded men with the guns and blades get out. They crowded into the one room and demanded things of his father. Things he did not have. Yuri didn’t recognise the men but they had been before. Last time they had taken his mother in exchange for his father’s life, taken her Yuri did not know where. Now he lay on the boards listening to his father argue and plead. The men shouted and then his father had made one last sound; a brief shriek that cut off abruptly.
There was more noise as the men smashed up the hut with the butts of their guns, then they left, laughing and hailing a god Yuri did not know. Their vehicle engines spluttered into life and they were gone.  Yuri waited just in case the men returned but after many minutes of silence except for the whispering wind, he crept from his hiding place.
Yuri’s father was sprawled on the floor, the blood from his almost severed neck soaking into the earth. His guts spread across floor, stinking, already attracting buzzing flies. Yuri took a single glance and left the home he had shared with his father, mother, baby sister and grandfather. They were all gone now. He was alone. He went to the only other place he knew – the boat.
The sun turned red and bloated and sank below the featureless horizon. Yuri remained standing watching. The sky darkened and the stars came out, so many stars that Yuri couldn’t comprehend their number. Though the long-dried out, wind-scoured bed of the former sea was as dark as dark could be, the sky was bright with the stars.
Yuri gripped the wheel and turned it to port and starboard. He was sailing, not the fish-filled waters that the boat had navigated with his grandfather at the wheel, but the heavens, like the cosmonaut who he was named for who had died decades before he was born. In his boat of dreams Yuri soared among the stars and planets, visiting places where there were foods and drinks he had heard about but never tasted, seeing animals and plants that he was told existed away from the poisoned shores of the dried-up sea, and meeting his father and mother and sister and relatives and friends that once had inhabited the shore which was home. Upon the starry main, he found peace and happiness.
The boat remained at its mooring. Its keel broken as it slumped into the dust. Its timbers crumbled and the atoms of the wood and of Yuri mingled and were sucked into the air. At last, Yuri sailed away on the wind that blew across the waterless sea.

Jasmine is away

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

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

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

Latte tales

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

Support for populist power-seekers is gathered by generating fears: the migrants/refugees will take our jobs/homes; all muslims are radicalised terrorists out to kill us; women are being attacked in public loos by men in dresses. None of these assertions are true and I refuse to use the current term of “alternative facts” for them as anything called a fact has evidence to verify it. By encouraging these fears, the alleged perpetrators can be turned into figures of hate and the people’s anger used to boost the support of those peddling the lies. That is the tactics of the Brexiteers and Trump-fanatics.  In certain parts of the USA it is also being used to build suspicion of people whose gender identity doesn’t match their birth anatomy.  Some states have passed laws that forbid transgendered people from using the lavatories they feel comfortable with although how the law-enforcers are supposed to prove who is entitled to use a particular toilet escapes me.

As with all things American, thanks to the media, social and traditional, similar issues are beginning to arise in the UK. Here however the law is different.  The UK has the 2004 Gender Recognition Act. A bearer of a gender recognition certificate is, in law, the gender they say they are, regardless of the bits of anatomy between their legs. Those people are also protected from the discrimination by the 2010 Equality Act.  For the rest of us the picture is less clear.  Transsexual men and women who have not had time to get the certificate or have not met the criteria and gender fluid people like myself who flip, have no such protection. Nevertheless, we occasionally have to use a loo and we choose that most appropriate for our appearance. Although we may not have the weight of the law behind us anyone wanting to stop us has to be certain that we are not the gender we are presenting as. The evidence is hidden in our knickers and very few people have the right to delve in there. Thus no transgendered person should ever have their gender questioned by an ordinary citizen.

imgp5648I don’t believe that there has ever been a case of a man in a dress attacking a woman in a wash room. The fear is completely unwarranted. Neither do I think anyone would be harmed at seeing another person washing their hands, combing hair or applying make-up and appearing a little effeminate or masculine, depending on which facilities we’re talking about. In other words it is a manufactured fear which is being used by some to generate anger towards those whose are in a minority.  The solution is to accept people for who they say they are rather than ban them or provide them with alternative facilities (as is happening in some schools). This only serves to discriminate by setting the minority apart from the majority.

I hope sense will prevail, but I doubt it.

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The Jasmine Frame story, Darkroom, was concluded last week, so before I began a new novella I thought we’d take a look at the new novel, the 3rd., The Brides’ Club Murder.  The novel is a traditional whodunit set in a country hotel.  Jasmine is called in to help solve the murder of the the leader of the Wedding Belles. She meets the suspects who are members or partners of members of the group and finds that they have a selection of motives and opportunities which take some sorting out.

There is one 5* review on Amazon but there are two other reviews:

Another great story and Jasmine becoming more understandable and sympathetic all the time. I like the way you brought out all the characters and their location on the non-binary spectrum, and the fact that there were all the loves, hates, power struggles, resentments,wishing the boss dead, that you get in any group of people( club,workplace,etc). V. Wood-Robinson

The 3rd JF novel . . . is a terrific read, a whodunit with a setting that will be familiar to many BS members, a transgender weekend.  I’m glad that we’ve never had a murder at one in real life. The novel is filled with interesting, well-portrayed characters and Penny Ellis has done well to introduce enough friction between the en-femme guests to leave a reader guessing as to the culprit’s identity. . . This is the best novel in the series so far. . . Beaumont Magazine

So, here is a excerpt. where Jasmine, known as Sindy undercover, is meeting the Belles for the first time.

‘Tell us about yourself, Sindy,’ Melody said reaching for her glass. ‘We don’t know anything about you at all.’
‘Um,’ Jasmine took another slug of wine and soda while composing her reply.
‘Well, who is this gorgeous creature, you’ve found, you love birds?’
The loud but slurred voice with the Irish accent made Jasmine turn her head and she found a figure looming over her.  She had a wig of brown hair that cascaded over her shoulders with highlights that matched the lemon yellow of her lace dress. The capped-sleeve dress clung to her prominent breasts and slim but waistless body, ending at mid-thigh. Her legs were cased in sparkly sheer stockings and she wore an impossibly high pair of black patent leather, platform stiletto shoes. Possibly it was the shoes but more probably it was the alcohol that caused her to sway unsteadily while desperately trying to avoid spilling the sparkling wine from the glass she held.
‘Hello, Samantha,’ Geraldine said with a note of resignation in her voice. ‘Do you think you had better sit down? Here, have my chair.’ She started to rise.’
‘No thank you, Geraldine,’ Samantha had difficulty pronouncing the name, ‘I want to sit next to this delightful person.’
Geraldine continued to stand up. ‘Alright, I’ll find you a chair.’ She went in search of another vacant and moveable seat.
‘This is Sindy,’ Melody said.  Samantha put her spare hand on the arm of Jasmine’s chair and leaned down.
‘How do you do, Sindy?’ She wavered like seaweed in the tide, ‘I don’t seem to have a spare hand to shake with you.’
‘That’s alright, Samantha.’ Jasmine was sifting through her memory of names and facts about members of the Wedding Belles. She came up with Samantha Nolan, cross-dresser recently separated. There was also something about a brief exchange with Valerie Vokins. ‘You’re one of the Wedding Belles?’ she went on.
Samantha’s head hovered over Jasmine, wobbling as if it was attached to her neck by a spring. Her words came out in a drunken garble. ‘That’s right. Are you? I don’t think we’ve met before.’
Here I go again, Jasmine thought. ‘It’s my first time. Valerie fitted me in. I wanted to thank her but now she’s dead.’
Samantha swayed. ‘Miserable old goat. Do you know what the old fart did? He let it out to my wife that I dressed. She walked out on me.’
‘Was it deliberate? Perhaps Valerie-Vernon didn’t know that your wife was unaware that you were a cross-dresser.’
‘Oh, the bugger knew what he was doing alright. He wanted me out of the Belles but I showed him.’
‘Really? How.’
‘By coming here of course.  He couldn’t refuse my booking. I’m making the most of this weekend now that I don’t have to hide. But I’ll be skint once she’s taken me to the cleaners.’
‘She?’
‘My wife.’
Geraldine appeared behind Samantha carrying a chair. She placed it on the floor carefully behind her legs. ‘You can sit down now Samantha.’
Samantha swayed and wine slopped from her glass.
‘Careful!’ Geraldine said, as the drops of wine fell onto the carpet.
Samantha’s knees bent and she slumped into the chair. She recovered and bent towards Jasmine. ‘That’s better. Now we can have a lovely girly chat can’t we.’
Geraldine returned to her seat and took Melody’s hand.
Geraldine called across the table. ‘Give the girl a chance, Samantha.  She’s only just arrived and she hasn’t been before.’
Jasmine wanted to interrogate Samantha some more about her relationship with Valerie Vokins but wondered whether the cross-dresser was in the mood for questions. She seemed more determined on flirting.
‘That’s a lovely dress. I like sequins,’ Samantha said, reaching out a hand to touch the shoulder of Jasmine’s dress. Her face was so close that Jasmine could see through the wig and the thick make-up.  Samantha was considerably older than her slim figure, high, pert breasts and young woman’s dress suggested. Mid-fifties perhaps? Trying to live the youthful female life she’d never had?
‘Are you dressing more now that you are separated from your wife?’ Jasmine asked as innocently as possible.
‘I’ll say,’ Samantha replied, giggling. ‘Every chance I get. And I’m buying clothes. Spend it before she gets her hands on it, I say. I’ve got a sexy new wedding dress for tomorrow you’ll see. Now why haven’t I caught up with you, you gorgeous young thing, before.’
‘I haven’t been to one of these events before,’ Jasmine answered truthfully.
‘Where do you live, darling?’
‘Hastings.’
‘Don’t you go up to the clubs in London? I’m sure I would have seen you there.’
‘No, I don’t.’
‘You must. We’d have so much fun. Let’s get another drink. I want to spend more of Jill’s divorce money.’  Samantha lurched unsteadily onto her platforms.  Jasmine realised her own glass was empty.
‘Don’t you think you’ve had enough, Samantha?’ Jasmine said.
Geraldine chipped in, ‘Yes, Samantha, you’re drunk enough already.’
Melody warned, ‘You’ve got to be fit to show off your new dress tomorrow.’
Samantha wobbled towards the bar. ‘I’m going to get another drink and I’ll get you one too, Sindy.’
Jasmine got up and took Samantha’s arm to support her. She called over her shoulder to Geraldine and Melody, ‘I’ll look after her.’
Geraldine and Melody were also rising from their chairs. ‘Thank you, Sindy,’ Melody said, ‘We’re off to bed. See you in the morning.’
Jasmine escorted Samantha through the crowd to the bar. There they stood next to a tall, thin, coloured woman with a massive afro-style hair-do and a very short white dress.
‘Ha!’ Samantha shouted, ‘My room-mate. Hi there, Tammy!’
Tammy’s expression did not show delight at seeing Samantha. ‘Oh, hello, Samantha. Sloshed again, I see.’  Her sober male voice reminded Jasmine of Viv with his Caribbean lilt.
‘This is Sindy,’ Samantha slurred, ‘she’s new. Isn’t she gorgeous and young?’
Tammy looked Jasmine up and down, examining her obvious wig, her colourful but relatively thinly made-up face compared to most of the other “women”, and her figure.  After a pause she held out a dark hand with pale blue nails.
‘Pleased to meet you Sindy. You’re not a Belle are you?’
‘Yes, she is,’ Samantha said before Jasmine could reply, ‘Vokins fitted her in late. What do you think of that?’
Tammy’s eyes widened. ‘The conniving old bigot.’
‘Why do you say that?’ Jasmine said.
‘Because he is, or was,’ Tammy said. ‘He put me off for weeks before he gave me the last bed available, so he said; sharing with Samantha. Filling the spaces became more important than keeping the gathering racially pure.’

………. Buy the e-book from Amazon Kindle or go to Jasmine Frame Publications for details for purchasing the paperback edition.

 

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Jasmine’s choice

I was wondering whether I should comment on the London terror attack. What can one say?  These things are going to happen because it is impossible to stop every single maniacal fanatic who sets out to kill and maim. Perhaps there are some precautions – bollards at shortish intervals on pavements to prevent rogue drivers having a clear run at pedestrians – but nothing must alter our freedom to live our lives as we wish.

It was the death of the policeman that made me decide to discuss it here.  Coincidentally I have spent sometime this week with police officers.  They are like you and me in that they are all sorts – men, women, short, tall, all types of personality. Although, I don’t think they are exactly like you and me because of their training. I have no doubt that all would follow orders to protect the public and do all they could to bring down an assailant. I help to scrutinise police procedures and behaviour. Now and again, protocols have to be revised and attitudes modified to allow the rest of us to be ourselves but I have a huge respect for the work they do and the manner in which they do it.

Jasmine Frame was a police officer.  How she measures up can be gleaned from the stories I write. I haven’t tried to make her a paragon of public service. We’ve reached the last episode of Darkroom. At least I think it is the last episode. What do you think? Gosh, how I’d like some response.

The Brides’ Club Murder is available as e-book and paperback.  Get it if you like relatively cosy whodunnits, this one with a trans twist.

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Darkroom: Part 9

Jasmine lay beside Angela, listening to her soft purring as she slept. Her mind wouldn’t rest. The events of the evening kept on repeating in her mind – the attack on her and Diana, and the fate of their assailant. At some point, when a grey light was already filtering though the curtains, she drifted into sleep but the same thoughts reappeared in her dreams.
She stood on a railway line as a train approached her. It was a steam train which she knew was odd but nevertheless she was unable to move as it roared towards her through a cloud of steam and smoke. The train was upon her when she flinched and woke up.
‘Are you alright?’ Angela asked. Jasmine saw her looking at her with a worried look. ‘A nightmare?’
Jasmine gave her a reassuring smile. ‘Yes. It’s gone now.’
‘Good. I’m ready for breakfast. We didn’t get a lot to eat last night.’
It hadn’t occurred to Jasmine that she hadn’t eaten for a long time but now her stomach let her know it was empty.
‘Me too.’  The need for food overcame her desire to stay in the cosy bed with her arms wrapped around Angela. They got up, showered, dressed and headed down to the street and the café attached to the hotel.
Jasmine and Angela sat opposite each other, eating their sausages and fried eggs; not talking. Eventually Angela put her fork down and spoke.
‘What do you want to do today. Sightseeing or shopping?’
‘Hmm.’ Jasmine was non-committal.
‘You do want to stay tonight and go to the other place? You said you wanted to visit a straight club.’
‘That’s what I said. I was looking forward to dancing to some great music and to being just one tranny amongst lots of real girls.’
‘And real boys,’ Angela added. ‘You realise that they’ll be eyeing us up – two unattached girls.’
‘Yes, I know.’  Jasmine hadn’t been sure she wanted the attention of a young man, with spunk in his balls. Now she was sure she didn’t. ‘Look, I’m sorry, after last night. . .’
‘You don’t want to.’ Angela gave her a sad smile. ‘Don’t worry Jas. I understand. After what you went through, I don’t think I’d be in the mood for another night in a dark, noisy, sweaty shed packed with hormonal kids. I don’t think I am anyway.’
‘I’m sorry. It was supposed to be our weekend of R and R.’
‘Well, we can have that. It doesn’t have to be here and involve dance clubs.’
Jasmine nodded.
Angela began to move. ‘Let’s check out, go home and relax there. We might even get something back on the hotel room.’
Jasmine felt a weight falling from her and she realised that she had been anxious about the proposed second night out even though it had been top of her list of things to do when they planned their weekend. She stood up, took Angela’s hand and headed back to their hotel room.
It was a dull, wet morning when James reached the small police station he was currently assigned to.  He let himself in, not surprised to find he was the first to arrive. He took his uniform jacket from the metal locker and then sat down at the station computer. Once he’d put in his six-letter password he was into the system. There were a couple of emails and some general notices which he ignored and started to delve into incident reports. He didn’t have access to the Metropolitan Police records but having sifted through numerous request for information on missing persons he found what he was looking for.  It was a request for help in identifying the body of a male, late 30s/early 40s. found on a railway in south-east central London. James was sure it was the incident that the station worker had referred to.  The time that was stated looked right, early hours of Saturday morning, but there were few other details other than a brief description. He was white with short dark hair and he wore a black overcoat over black trousers, a black jacket and a black shirt.  James could see the figure in his memory, a dark shadow, held between the two club bouncers; a bloody patch in the middle of his pale face. It wasn’t conclusive but James was sure that the body belonged to Diana’s and her attacker.  The report didn’t give an exact location of where the body was found but it appeared to be less than a mile from The Engine Shed. The report said there was no identification on the body, no wallet, phone or anything.
James was certain now that Debs had made good her promise that the attacker wouldn’t trouble them again. James trembled at the apparent nonchalance with which she and her guards had disposed of the troublesome man, obviously confident that the body couldn’t be linked to the club.
‘Hi, Jim. Early this morning.’
James jumped at the gravelly voice of Sergeant Wilkes. He had enough presence of mind to close the tab and turn around.
‘Morn’ Kev. Just checking the reports.’
‘Good lad. A pretty quiet weekend. A couple of drunk lads broke a window in the newsagent in the High Street on Saturday night was all. We can take a walk down there now. Check things over.’
‘Oh, yes, of course.’ James stood up and went to get the standard issue coat that was needed given the weather.
‘You have a good weekend off?’ the older officer asked as he too pulled on his coat.
‘Yes, thanks. A good rest.’
‘A rest? Why do you youngsters need a rest. You’ve only just got married, haven’t you?’
‘Six months ago.’
‘Well, there you are.’
The sergeant continued his gentle joshing as they left the station unattended and started their stroll up the small town high street.
James was home before Angela, after his shift. He paced around the living room debating furiously with himself about what he should or should not do. When the door opened and Angela entered he rushed to her and grabbed her shoulders.
‘It was him, I’m sure of it!’
Angela extricated herself from his arms and took off her coat.
‘Who was?’
‘The body on the railway line. It was the man who attacked me and Diana.’
‘You’re certain?’
‘Not one hundred percent, but I’ve seen the Met reports, well, a part. The description of the body matches him, but they have no way of identifying him unless they get a DNA match.’
Angela shrugged, ‘So?’
James slumped onto the old sofa. ‘It’s my duty as a citizen let alone a police officer to tell them what I know.’
‘You don’t know who he is.’
‘But I know how he got onto the railway line.’
‘No, you don’t. You’re guessing. They could have dumped him outside the club and he made his own way across the lines.’
‘Was he in a fit state to do that? I’d bashed his face in and knocked him out. Do you think Deb’s guys just escorted him to the exit and said goodbye?’  James’ heart was racing and his breath was coming in gasps.
Angela glared down at him. ‘So, you want to tell the police that Debs and her guards murdered this man by putting him on the tracks in the path of a train.’
‘If they hadn’t killed him first.’
Angela sat beside him and took his hand. ‘There, you don’t know what happened after Debs took him away. You know if you report what happened to you and Diana, Debs and the guards will be arrested and probably charged with murder, and your, our, part in it will come out too. Do you want that?’
James shook his head, his chest heaving. ‘No.’
‘Well, say nothing and nothing will happen.’
James looked at his wife, the kind, loving girl he’d known and adored for years. ‘How can you be so cool when the guy is dead?’
Angela scowled. ‘Because he was a total shit. He attacked you and Diana. Goodness how many others he’s raped or intended to. I’m glad there’s one fewer of people like him on the planet.’
James stared at her, amazed at her depth of feeling, her cold attitude to a murder.
‘They could find my DNA on is body. I headbutted him, twice. There could be Diana’s on him too.’
‘You’re the police officer. Is that likely?  They have a mystery body apparently mangled by a train. I don’t think a bloodied nose will mean much. They’ll try to identify him from his DNA, dental records, whatever. Perhaps he’ll be reported missing or someone will come forward to identify him, perhaps not. Whatever happens I can’t see the police taking a great interest in another railway death, whether its suicide or a gangland killing as the guy at the station said.’
James said nothing but breathed deeply and thought. Angela was right. It would mean the end of his career if it was revealed that he was Jasmine and he admitted his part in the man’s demise.
Angela squeezed his hand. ‘Leave it. Let it sort itself out. I know you want to do the right thing. In this case this is it.’
James gave her a thin smile. He had relied on her support from the moment they first met and now she was giving him the strength to put this dilemma to one side and get on with their lives together. He felt himself again in the dark room with the man’s hands groping up his thighs. Probably, he’d never forget that moment when he had to decide to be a victim or to fight, nor would the knowledge that the attacker had been disposed of ever leave him. They were part of his history, Jasmine’s history.
…………………..the end.