Jasmine takes a break

And still it goes on – the news I mean. I’m writing this a little early this week but already we’ve had Farage resigning, again, He’d done his job, so he says. No thought about the aftermath or what responsibility he might have. And Chris Evans resigning from Top Gear. I haven’t watched the new series and neither, for a long time, did I watch the old version.  I like James May and Richard Hammond but Clarkson increasingly got on my nerves with his views. But a TV programme is unimportant compared to what is happening to the government of our country. I’ve read and heard Europeans comment that they thought us Brits were calm and thoughtful and wouldn’t, couldn’t, make such a mess of things as leaving the EU. Well, all I can say is that they haven’t met the ones that voted Leave because if they holiday abroad at all, it’s likely that they stay in hotels and camps that are shut off from the country they are in and the only “foreigners” they meet are the waiters, chambermaids, etc. Doesn’t apply to all of them of course.  We shall see what the next week brings.

Having finished Aberration last week I have decided to take a break from writing Jasmine Frame stories for a few weeks.  Writing the stories is fun but each episode takes up a considerable time each week. I also feel I need to give Jasmine a rest so I can get the imagination and creativity going again. I am writing another fantasy novel which I need to devote more time to. I also want to get the third Jasmine novel ready for publication, and perhaps prepare another of the prequels for e-book publication,  so that will keep me busy. It is almost three years since I started writing the prequels and I have finished nine of them (I thought it was just eight!). For those of you that are interested, the table below lists all the Jasmine Frame stories, written, published or planned. There are still a few gaps in Jasmine’s life story, particularly her first years in the police force. However, I don’t really like writing police procedurals and her opportunities for investigations as a uniformed PC may be limited – but we will see.

This blog will continue nevertheless, with comments on the world outside fiction, especially my experience of transgenderism and news about the Jasmine publications (perhaps some free or reduced price offers soon) so I hope you will continue to pop in for a read.

To show how things change in three years here are a couple of photos of me during that time.

2013, shortly after the publication of Painted Ladies

2013, shortly after the publication of Painted Ladies

2016, at Hay Festival.

2016, at Hay Festival.

Provisional title date situation crime Publication & length Publication date
Discovering Jasmine 2000 James experimenting with his gender identity Transwoman intimidated by youths Ebook, Discovering Jasmine

20,000w

2015
Soft Focus 2001 James meets Angela at Uni. Transman dies; suicide or murder? Ebook, Murder in Doubt

21,000w

2016
Aberration 2004 James & Angela living together post- graduation Transman killed 16,000w  
Flashlight 2009 James seconded to V&SCU, meets DCI Sloane for the first time. Woman killed by drug overdose supplied by transwoman 24,000w  
Resolution 2009 James appointed to V&SCU. Meets DC Tom Shepherd Colleague (from Flashlight) murdered 23,000w  
Blueprint 2009 James reveals he is trans Crossdresser suicide 38,000w  
Self=portrait 2010 Start of transition Young transman accused of murder 27,000w  
Close-up 2010 Jasmine back at work. Conflict with DS Baby alleged to be snatched in high street 23,000w  
Split Mirror 2011 Separating from Angela, move into flat. Conflict with DS Transwoman disappeared 22,000w  
Painted Ladies 2012 Jasmine working as private detective. Divorce from Angela. Serial killer targeting trans women Ebook & paperback, Painted Ladies 80,000w 2013
Bodies By Design 2012 Biorchidectomy, start of relationship with Viv Transwoman murdered Ebook & paperback, Bodies By Design 72,000w 2015
The Brides’ Club Murder 2012 Electrolysis. Planning to move in with Viv Leader of Bridal wear group murdered t.b.d

76,000w

2016/17
Molly’s Boudoir 2013 Breast augmentation. Living with Viv Arson at trans shop t.b.d. ?
Impersonator 2014 GRS. Female impersonator killed t.b.d. ?

 

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Jasmine breaths a sigh of relief

I’ve had cause to make use of the NHS this week – 3 visits to the doctor, 3 prescriptions – a small dent in the extra £350 million per week they are not going to get. I have to say that the service has been excellent despite sitting in and pacing the waiting room for an hour when my head felt it was about to explode. Emergency appointments were made available for within an hour or two of calling and thanks to the computer records each doctor was able to review what had gone before. I won’t go into the full diagnosis but a series of interconnected symptoms which were either excruciating or extremely irritating have made my week somewhat miserable. My darling Lou has, however, looked after me with love and care, making me once again thankful that we are together.

Of course, I would have been pretty miserable this week because of the outcome of the referendum. I’m not going to say any more about the appalling campaign (on both sides), or how sad I am that so many people succumbed to the propaganda put out by the right wing press. I have however two thoughts. First, the difficulty the BBC had in reporting the campaign. They were so bound by the “balance” rule that they couldn’t explain the blatant lies told by the Leave side without allowing them a chance to repeat them, and yes, I know the Remain side, well Cameron & Osbourne, also bandied some outrageous figures too.

My second point is the behaviour of the politicians of the Conservative and Labour party who, after the country delivered such a world-shaking verdict, descended into warfare with their own colleagues such that the important job of planning the country’s future was practically forgotten. I don’t think anyone on the government or opposition (what opposition? I mean Labour) benches has come out of this fiasco with a reputation worthy of respect.

From a few weeks ago. copyright BBC.

From a few weeks ago. copyright BBC.

Anyway, despite being “under the weather” I have managed to complete Aberration, the latest prequel to Painted Ladies and Bodies By Design. I hope you think the following is a fitting ending after last week’s exciting episode.

Aberration: Part 10

James was worried. He was worried about when he could get back to work in the bar with his broken, plastered wrist, and even if Kevin would keep the job for him. He was worried about Josh and his friends – if he persuaded the police that he had nothing to do with Andy’s death, would they come after him and Angela? Finally, he was worried about being revealed as Jasmine and how that would affect his career in the police. He’d had two days of worry. It was Monday, and he was hanging around the flat trying to find things to do which didn’t involve using two hands, waiting for Angela to return from the office because he had another day off. He’d wanted to dress as Jasmine as he usually did when Angela was at work but struggling to put on a bra and fit his falsies in was just too difficult with only one hand. As Angela had already left when he got out of bed he had had to struggle to dress on his own and a pair of shorts and t-shirt was all he had managed.
It was almost noon when the doorbell rang and James leapt out of the sofa with surprise. They didn’t have visitors. He went to the door and opened it just a crack. It was then that he was thankful that he wasn’t dressed as Jasmine because Detective Constable Vickers was standing in the hallway of their block of flats. There was another person, a woman, with him who James didn’t recognise. He pulled the door wide.
‘Oh, hello,’ James said.
‘Hello, Mr. Frame,’ Vickers said, ‘Do you remember me? We talked when you reported that you thought Andrea Pickford’s death was a murder.’
’Yes, I remember. DC Vickers isn’t it?’
‘That’s right. This is my colleague DC Adams. Can we come in and have a chat, please?’
‘Uh, yes, of course.’ James stood aside and let the two police officers step into their bedsitting room. ‘Have a seat. Can I get you a cup of tea or something?’  James saw the man and woman looking at his plastered arm.
‘No, it’s okay. You’ve injured your arm, Mr Frame.’  It was statement of the obvious but James could see that they were both curious.
James looked at his arm. ‘Yes, I fell over and broke my wrist.’
‘When was that?’ DC Vickers asked.
‘Saturday,’ James replied, ‘I had to go to A&E.’
‘It must have been painful,’ Vickers added. James nodded. ‘How did you do it?’ Vickers added.
‘Oh, it was silly. I tripped over and put my hand down to save myself,’ James explained, ‘Why don’t you sit down.’ The two detectives lowered themselves side by side onto the sofa while James pulled up a dining chair and sat down. ‘What can I do for you?’ he said, trying to look as innocent and puzzled as he could.
Vickers took a breath. ‘When we spoke a few days ago you said you thought Miss Pickford had been killed deliberately rather than drowned accidentally.’
James nodded.
‘On Saturday afternoon,’ Vickers glanced at his notebook, ‘Angela Madison rang me and said that the perpetrator of this crime was a Josh Smith and gave us his address. Angela Madison is your partner I gather.’
‘That’s right,’ James nodded again.
‘How did Miss Madison come by this information?’
‘I’d seen Smith speak to Andy, er, Andrea, in the pub where we both worked and we asked around until we found someone who knew him and could tell us his address.’
‘Miss Madison or yourself?’
‘Both of us.’
‘But it was your partner who rang in with the information.’
James could see where Vickers was going. He had made the original contact with the police so why hadn’t he passed on the additional information when they had tracked Josh down. He shrugged, ‘Angela had her phone handy. Did you investigate Josh Smith’s address?’
Vickers nodded slowly. ‘We did. His friends answered the door and when he appeared he seemed rather on edge. We did a search of his home and do you know what?’
‘What?’
‘We discovered a pair of jeans and a vest shoved in a rubbish bin, which we think forensics will show belonged to Miss Pickford.’
‘A vest?’ James queried. Andy’s clothes. He knew that he must have changed at some time before he died.
‘Yes,’ Vickers said, smiling, ‘A special vest, made of a very strong, elastic material.’
‘A chest binder,’ James said realising what Vickers was describing – the vest would compress a woman’s breasts and give her a more masculine upper-body profile.’
‘Exactly.’
‘You knew what it was?’ James was surprised that a policeman or woman had even noted the garment’s special properties.
‘Its elasticity puzzled us at first but DC Adams has a friend who is, um, transsexual, and she recognised what it is used for.’  Vickers glanced at the woman by his side. She gave James a thin smile. ‘Smith was unable to give a convincing explanation for why it was in his possession, so we took him in for questioning.’ Vickers continued.
‘He’s under arrest!’ James felt elated. Josh Smith’s arrogance had caught him out. He hadn’t expected a call from the police so had done nothing to get rid of Andy’s clothes.
‘He is now,’ Vickers said. ‘We took a DNA sample from him and asked for a quick comparison with the DNA of the semen found in Miss Pickford’s vagina.’ James felt Vickers’ eyes watching him, waiting to see his reaction. ‘It needs confirmation, but it looks as though they match,’ he concluded.
James felt elated; his suspicions justified; Andy’s death explained.
‘He’s confessed,’ James said almost joyfully.
‘He’s admitted having sex with Miss Pickford but denies killing her.’
‘He’s not a Miss; Andy was a man, he wanted to be one and he should have been one,’ James cried.
‘So you say, and the chest binder would back that up.’
‘Other people knew Andy. The girl in the coffee shop.’ James almost added the people who ran the transgender night at the club but stopped himself. He must not reveal his own transgenderism.
‘Yes, we know that,’ Vickers said, ‘but her parents were unaware of it and so was her employer.’
‘But. . .’ James couldn’t think of any other argument he could put.
‘There is other evidence,’ Vickers said. James let out a gasp of relief. ‘We have searched Andrea’s, er, Andy’s, bedroom and found other garments like the vest. Mrs Pickford didn’t know he, um, she, shit, this is getting complicated. . . His mother didn’t know anything about them. The bar manager, Kevin Ashton, is quite convinced that Andrea wasn’t wearing the vest when she was at work on the Wednesday evening but we have CCTV of her walking down the street outside and she has a distinctly flat-chested appearance so we think she changed before leaving work. She was picked up in a car which we have now identified as belonging to one of Josh Smith’s friends.’
‘You’ve got him then,’ James felt elated.
Vickers half shrugged, half nodded. ‘The fact that she had enough alcohol in her body to knock out a horse is another factor. She was sober when she left work so Smith and his friends who picked her up must have practically force-fed her. The pathologist thinks it unlikely that she could have walked to the river unaided.’
‘So why hasn’t Smith been charged?’ James said.
Vickers and his colleague appeared crestfallen. ‘The evidence for murder is circumstantial at the moment. We have proof that Andy/Andrea was at Smith’s home, which is on the river, and that he had sex with her, probably without her consent since she was out of her skull. But we need his confession to make the murder charge stick.
It was as if the balloon had popped. James had no evidence that Josh Smith had carried Andy semi-conscious to the river and dumped him in the water but he was sure that that was what had happened.
‘Don’t worry,’ Vickers said cheerfully, ‘DCI Sloane is working on Smith. He’ll get the confession. He always does.’
‘Sloane?’
‘My boss. Head of the Violent and Serious Crime Unit. He’s old school, been doing this job for years. If he’s sure someone’s committed a crime he’ll keep at them until they wish they’d never been born. Not that he’d use violence of course,’
‘Of course,’ James agreed, wondering about this Sloane character. What kind of boss was he?
‘Oh, there is something,’ Vickers said.
‘What?’
‘Smith keeps on mentioning someone called Jasmine. Do you know who she is?’
James felt the blood drain from his face but managed not to blurt out the truth. He shook his head. ‘No. I don’t know anyone with that name.’
‘It’s strange. Smith seems to think this woman, Jasmine something or other, lead us to him. It’s a handle Sloane is using to make him confess.’
‘Oh.’ James shrugged.
‘Well, there’s nothing else to tell you. We’ll need a statement about you knowing that Andrea really felt she was Andy.’
‘We just talked after work, that’s all,’ James said.
‘Yes, well it was enough for us to make this a murder investigation. Thank you Mr Frame.’  The two detectives stood up.  James showed them out and closed the door with relief.  Did Vickers suspect that he knew he was Jasmine? Even if he did, it seemed he wasn’t going to press the matter. If DCI Sloane was as persistent as Vickers said, then Andy’s death would be avenged. He felt a small sense of satisfaction.

A few hours later, Angela returned and found James looking through the papers and handbooks relating to his application to join the police. James leapt up and kissed her.
‘They think Josh killed Andy and are pushing him to confess,’ he said.
Angela looked confused. ‘How do you know?’
James described the visit of DC Vickers and his partner.
‘So Jasmine is still a secret,’ Angela said when he had finished.
‘It looks like it,’ James said feeling relief. ‘And there’s something else I want to say.’
‘Oh?’ Angela’s eyebrows raised.
‘Let’s get married. We’ve been together so long, we’re partners. Let’s do it.’
Angela smiled and made a cheeky grin. ‘Who’s asking, James or Jasmine?’
‘Same sex marriage isn’t allowed. Good knows when it will ever be.’
‘OK, but are you sure you don’t want to be Jasmine?’
James paused, his mouth open. He was about to say, no, but found he couldn’t. He considered. What would his answer be?
‘I want to be Jasmine, but not all the time and I do want us to be together, officially, so I’m happy to be James and Jasmine. Is that enough for you.’
Angela flung her arms around him. ‘I love James and Jasmine. Perhaps the law says I can only marry James but I consider myself engaged to both of you.’

THE END

Jasmine in a jam

I’ve been feeling pain and anguish this week. Mentally, because of the run up to the referendum and the aftershock of Jo Cox’s murder and literally because of a blocked salivary gland (it hurts). As I am writing this on Referendum Day, I cannot tell whether my fears have been averted or not but what I can say is that the last month or two has shown the so-called democracy of the UK to be very sick indeed and, whatever the result turns out to be when you read this, there are some repairs to be made. The legitimisation of bigotry and the hate and fear of minorities that has been aired during the campaign is one thing that makes me afraid for the future. I hope that good old British toleration will re-surface soon. I may have more to say on this in the coming weeks. . .

Out in public at Hay and feeling accepted.

Out in public at Hay and feeling accepted.

While my concentration has been broken by stabbing pains to my jaw I have managed to complete what is probably the penultimate part of Aberration, a prequel to Painted Ladies and Bodies By Design featuring transgender detective Jasmine Frame..  Warning – there is some violence and strong language. Enjoy!

Aberration: Part 9

Jasmine said nothing, looking at the man and wondering if he had murdered Andy.
‘Nothing to say?’ he said. He pulled a new slim Nokia from his jeans. ‘I’ve been getting calls from my friends around town saying that a girl called Jasmine was looking for me.’ He leaned down and placed a hand on Jasmine’s bare thigh. ‘I get all the attention I need from pretty girls but they don’t usually go round all the pubs looking for me. What’s it with you?’
Jasmine swallowed, trying not to look afraid. ‘I wanted to ask you about Andy Pickford.’
Josh stood up and shook his head. ‘Don’t know the name.’
‘I think you do,’ Jasmine said, feeling more confident. ‘His body was pulled out of the Kennet on Thursday morning. I’d guess, not too far from here.’
Josh shrugged again. Jasmine knew he was feigning incomprehension.
‘And I know you talked to him twice on Wednesday,’ she went on.
Josh frowned, his jaw sagged. Got him, Jasmine thought. He didn’t know I knew that.
‘A right little detective aren’t you,’ he said. ‘Surprising for a fluffy haired little cunt.’
Jasmine ignored the insult. ‘You spoke to Andy twice and a few hours later he was dead.’
Josh snorted. ‘You said, Andy, but that wasn’t her real name. She was Andrea, a fucking girl.’
‘He believed he was a boy. He wanted to be a boy,’ Jasmine insisted.
‘Yeah, he said that. But his parents didn’t know it nor did her boss. I wonder what they would have done if they’d found out.’
‘You were going to out her!’ Jasmine realised what Josh had intended.
‘Only if she didn’t play the game.’
‘Game?’
‘Yeah. I gave her the option to join us for, er, a bit of entertainment, or find that everyone knew that she was a sick in the head tranny.’
‘She was worried to death her father might find out. I think she thought he’d beat her up.’
‘Maybe he would have, perhaps that’s why she was so eager to accept my offer.’ Josh was grinning at her now, enjoying recounting his triumph. Jasmine doubted Andy’s enthusiasm.
‘Accepted what?’ Jasmine said in a quiet voice, almost not wanting to know what Andy had let himself be used for.
Josh went on with his story. ‘Just in case she changed her mind I picked her up when she finished work for the night. Brought her back here for a few drinks to loosen her up.’
‘You got her drunk?’
Josh shrugged, ‘A bit tipsy. It made her obliging.’
‘What do you mean, obliging?’ Anger bubbled up in Jasmine’s throat.
‘When we got those jeans and shapeless t-shirt off her she was quite a pretty girl. Nice pair of tits and a juicy slit.’
‘You raped her.’
‘She’d agreed to have fun.’
‘You got her drunk and then raped her,’ Jasmine insisted.
Josh leaned down, face level with Jasmine’s, one hand gripping her thigh, the other, the back of her neck. ‘She was gagging for it.  She just needed a cock up her to prove to her she was a girl not a fucking boy.’
‘She was a boy,’ Jasmine spat out, ‘you forced her. She didn’t want sex with you.’
Josh grinned at her. ‘Every girl wants sex with me, you blonde tart. If they know what’s good for them.’ His hand slid a few inches up her thigh under her skirt.
‘Did Andy resist even though you’d got him drunk? Did he not find you irresistible?’
‘When she’d had enough, we dressed her up and put her out.’ His hand crept further up her leg.
‘You mean you dumped her in the river.’
‘She fancied a swim.’
The fingers were in her groin, pulling at the elastic of her knickers. Jasmine bit her lip. She stiffened knowing that she was going to have move in a moment. A finger slipped inside feeling for what wasn’t there. It found something that was. The hand stopped moving.
‘Well, what have we got her? The little girl isn’t a girl.’  The hand withdrew from her knickers and he released her neck. He swung his arm and the hand slammed into the side of her head. ‘Disgusting pervert.’
Jasmine rocked on the chair, her head ringing.
‘Think you can fool Josh do you? You want to be a girl? You want cock. I’ll give you cock.’  He swung a leg over hers and crouched astride her. His hand went to his flies and started to pull down the zip. The other hand grabbed her nick and pulled her head forward. Jasmine put her hands on his chest and pushed but his weight pressed forward.
Some commotion in the hallway filtered through her terror of what Josh was attempting to do. Footsteps approached.
‘Josh! The police are here. They want you.’ That was one of the men who had kidnapped Jasmine.
Josh straightened up, dropping his hands. Jasmine pushed back, gasping for breath to fill her lungs.
‘What they doing here?’ Josh roared and stamped off towards the door.
The window was revealed clear and unimpeded before Jasmine. She didn’t look behind. She didn’t plan. She leapt up, took three steps forward and launched herself through the open frame, arms outstretched.
A glimpse of green then her hands hit the ground. She heard a click in her left wrist and then she was tumbling, somersaulting, rolling over the grass and then tarmac. She lay for a moment on her back looking up at the clouds in the sky. She put her left hand down to push herself up and cried. Pain pulsed up her arm. Her wrist was definitely broken.
Jasmine struggled to her feet. The river was in front of her, a lock to her left. Away to the right was where Andy’s body had been pulled from the water, and the route home. She set off, slowly, limping a little, her left knee felt sore as well as the side of her face and the wrist which she cradled in her other arm. Walkers along the riverside path looked at her, wonder and disapproval in their eyes. She realised that her wig, though still, miraculously, on her head, was lopsided. She guessed that she wasn’t looking at her most feminine or attractive.

It took considerably longer than on one of her runs to get back to the flat. She didn’t feel like running, in fact, walking had become more of an effort than she wanted. There was even a feeling of nausea. At the door she remembered she didn’t have her bag or her door key. Where had that gone? She tapped with her good hand.
The door was opened almost immediately and there was Angela, worry showing in her frown and set mouth.
‘Jasmine!’ she cried, ‘What happened?’
Jasmine staggered through the door. ‘Let me sit down and I’ll tell you.’
Angela took her arm to help her into the room, but Jasmine winced.
‘What’s the matter?’
‘My wrist’s broken.’ Jasmine sank into the sofa and sighed. ‘I had to dive through a window to get away.’
‘From Josh? It was his mates that took you from the pub?’
Jasmine nodded. ‘He did it. He got Andy drunk, raped him and then dumped him in the river.’
‘He told you!’
‘He was gloating. I think he was planning the same for me until the cops turned up.’
‘They did. Good. They didn’t take long then.’
‘You knew?’
‘Yes. Look let’s get you to A&E and get that wrist sorted and I’ll explain.’
‘I suppose I’d better change if we’re going to see a doctor,’ Jasmine said, reluctantly hauling herself to her feet.
‘I’ll give you a hand.’ Angela knelt to unfasten Jasmine’s sandals, then helped her stand and loosen her skirt. It slipped down over her hips while Jasmine used her good hand to remove the wig.
‘So how did the police know where to come?’ James asked as Angela pulled a pair of shorts up his legs.
‘When I came out of the loo and found you gone I wondered what you were up to but then I saw your bag on the floor and I knew something was wrong.’
‘Good deduction,’ James said as Angela removed his silicone breasts from his bra.
‘That’s when I started making a noise asking the barman and the other people what had happened.’
‘A few people must have seen me being escorted out.’
Angela unclipped his bra. ‘Yes, but they were a bit slow to speak up until I started saying if it was this Josh bloke it was connected to a death.’
‘Bold.’
‘Yes, well, the barman finally gave in. He knew Josh well but I think he realised that this was one affair he wanted no part of. He admitted that Josh’s mates had taken you out and he gave me his address. I rang the police and asked to speak to Constable Vickers.’
‘The detective I spoke to?’
‘Yes,’ Angela pulled a t-shirt over James’ head taking care not to jar his injured wrist. ‘You must have got him and his boss thinking after you spoke to him yesterday. He was interested to hear about Josh’s contacts with Andy. I gave him the address.’
‘You didn’t mention me?’
‘Not Jasmine. Come on let’s get your wrist fixed.’

……………………

Jasmine searches for her lead

It’s a week ago now, but I have to mention Orlando. It is impossible to imagine the horror of experiencing someone firing deliberately to hit people for such a period of time and causing so many deaths and injuries. It’s true that it could have been anywhere, another club perhaps filled with straight young people as happened in Paris, but this particular gunman targeted a venue where the majority of clubbers were LGBTQ. Adding another class of hate onto the urge to kill people is like adding infinities to make another infinity – it is meaningless and incomprehensible. There is no excuse or justification for any act that deliberately causes harm to any person.  Unfortunately many of the factions in the USA can’t see it like that and the grief has been muddied by politicking.

rainbow flagAs the Pulse club has been referred to often as a LGBTQ club I have wondered how many trans people were among the victims but have not seen any mention of a figure or of specific individuals. Not that it matters, dead bodies don’t need labels. I send my sympathy to all the injured and the families and friends of the deceased and indeed to everyone who was involved in any way.

I have been asked if we should be frightened here. Well, I suppose there is sufficient reason to be worried. Anyone could be a target anywhere, as the murder of MP Jo Cox showed. There have been attacks on gay bars in the past and there could be again. Indeed, someone with a hate of gay or trans people could have been emboldened by the footage from Orlando to have a go themselves. I do hope that our gun laws will at least reduce the chance of a potential killer possessing such an armoury, but a hand gun or a knife can cause enough harm.  It is easy enough for someone to discover when gay and trans people will be meeting, for example at Pride events, but there are opportunities every day to target people of any interest or inclination. I suppose we have to live with a degree of fear. As I said last week, perhaps it is a sign of getting older or perhaps the world is getting to be a scarier place. We must face our fears and defy those who would try to spread their hate.

So, following the deaths in Orlando, and of Jo Cox, and in all those other places that may not have made the news this week, let us have hope and seek ways to work for a lessening of hate and a growth in respect for the right to live the life one wishes.

I hear no hate

I hear no hate

To happier thoughts.  It is just a week till I lead a walk through the sites near Dylife, Mid-Wales, that inspired scenes in my novel Unity of Seven. Go to my SF & Fantasy page for information on how to join us.

And here is the next episode of Aberration, the Jasmine Frame novella. Unfortunately the theme is also hate but it’s fiction.

Aberration – Part 8

They’d been into a dozen pubs and wine bars already and there were plenty of other places to call on not counting the clubs that only opened in the evenings.  Jasmine glanced at her watch. It was nearly two p.m.
‘I feel like some lunch, don’t you?’ she asked Angela.
‘Yes. Pub or café?’ Angela responded, drawing a hand across her forehead.  Jasmine noticed that they were a few yards from the café where she had met Andy on a few occasions.
‘Let’s go in there. We can have an iced coffee if you like.’
‘OK. You’re buying.’
They joined the queue at the counter and Jasmine thought through their morning’s efforts. There wasn’t much to review really. They had asked the bar staff and some of the customers in each place they had visited if Josh was known to anyone. All they had had was denials and some strange looks at Jasmine. It was a warm sunny day so she had dressed like Angela – short skirt, crop top, strappy sandals, but, with her long blonde wig on, her face was dripping with sweat. She was sure it was that that marked her as different to Angela who looked as cool and attractive as always.
They reached the head of the queue. Jasmine recognised the young woman that served them from her visits with Andy.
‘Oh, hello,’ she said, ‘You’re Andy’s friend aren’t you.’
Jasmine wasn’t too surprised at being recognised as he and Andy had met at the café on a number of occasions in the last few weeks.
‘Yes, that’s right,’ she said smiling.
The girl looked glum. ‘You know he’s dead.’
Jasmine nodded, losing her smile. ‘Yes, it’s awful.’
‘I hear he was found in the river on Thursday morning.’
‘That’s right. I can’t think what he was doing there after work.’
‘You were in here with him on Wednesday, weren’t you,’ the girl stated. Jasmine nodded. ‘But you’d gone when the other guy came in and spoke to Andy.’
‘Uh, no. Which other guy?’ Jasmine’s heart was beating faster.
‘I don’t know who he was. He was older than you and Andy, but shorter. Oh, and bald.’
Josh, Jasmine thought. It must be him.
‘What did he say to Andy?’
‘I don’t know. I just saw them sitting down together with a coffee. Andy didn’t look very happy. He got up and hurried out soon after.’
‘Have you seen this man before?’
‘He’s been in a couple of times but we’ve never had a chat. Bit of a miserable git really.’
‘Hmm. Thanks. I wonder what he had to say to Andy.’
‘So do I. What can I get you?’
Jasmine gave her their order and then followed Angela to a table.
‘I can’t believe Andy met Josh, here.’ Jasmine said.
Angela shrugged. ‘It sounds as if Josh deliberately approached Andy.’
‘But why? What did he say that made Andy walk out?’
There was a call from the counter that their drinks and food were ready. Jasmine collected them and set them on the table.
‘You know what it means don’t you?’ Angela said.
‘What?’
‘This Josh guy knew that Andy was trans.’
Jasmine froze with the sandwich halfway to his mouth.
‘God! You’re right. When I met Andy here he was as male-looking as he could be. He even darkened his chin to look as though he needed a shave. There was no way that Josh could have mistaken him for a butch lesbian.’
‘So what happened when they met at the pub later in the evening?’ Angela asked.
Jasmine puffed out her cheeks. ‘I can’t imagine. But we’ve got to find him. Let’s get back to doing the pubs.’
‘When I’ve finished my lunch,’ Angela said before taking a big bite out of her sandwich.

Jasmine was finding that her summer sandals were not as comfortable as she thought after a few hours tramping round town. They were in another pub having visited a few more since their pause in the café. Despite redoubling their efforts to ask everyone they met if they knew Josh or his mates they still had no leads.
‘Let’s have a drink and a sit down,’ Jasmine said. Angela agreed and went to the bar to get a couple of half pints of beer.
Jasmine took a sip. ‘We’ve got to find him,’ she said.
‘I agree, but we’re running out of pubs.’ Angela sagged in her seat.
‘There are still the clubs.’
‘But they don’t open till later.’
‘I know,’ Jasmine paused. ‘I think I need the evening off. I’m going to have to ring Kevin and tell him I’m sick.’
‘’It’ll be better if I do it for you,’ Angela said. She took hold of her shoulder bag and dug in it for her phone. ‘What’s the number?’  Jasmine got her phone out, looked up her list of numbers and showed the pub’s number to Angela. She dialled it in but didn’t press “call”. ‘I won’t do it here. The background noise might tell him we’re out having a good time. I’ll go and see if I can get a signal in the loos.’ Angela got up and made her way to the toilets.
Jasmine relaxed back in her seat and drank her beer.
‘Hey, you.’
She looked up to see two burly men in tight t-shirts standing either side of her.
‘Yes,’ she said feeling nervous.
‘Someone wants to see you.’
‘Someone?’
‘Yeah. Come with us.’ They each leaned down and took one of Jasmine arms each. They hauled her to her feet and before she could think of a response she was being half carried half dragged from the pub.
The men dragged her down an alley beside the pub. One of the men produced a linen bag which he pulled over Jasmine’s head.  She wriggled trying to release herself. A thump in her stomach stopped her struggle. She gasped for breath.
‘Don’t think of getting away. Josh wants a word with you,’ one voice said. Jasmine didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t see anything and her arms were being gripped firmly. She knew she couldn’t escape – yet. She allowed herself to be marched along. Then her head was being pushed down and she fell onto the seat of a car. It moved off. The hands kept her head and shoulders down, resting against muscular thighs.
They were travelling for just a few minutes with a number of stops and starts. Just around the town centre, jasmine guessed. The car stopped and she heard the door being opened. She was dragged out. Her legs buckled as her feet hit the ground but the arms held her up. They carried her into a building – she felt the change of temperature and quality of sound.
Her bottom was placed on a chair, an upright dining chair, and then the bag was pulled off her head. She was in a typical living room. There was carpet on the floor, a sofa and a couple of easy chairs, and a large TV in the corner. Sunlight streamed in through the tall sash window she was facing. She could see town centre buildings some distance away but no view of ground level.  The lower window was open letting in the sounds and smells of the town.
Her arms were free; her legs were unimpeded. She could have stood up but as she considered what to do she heard footsteps behind her. She swivelled on the seat. A short bald-headed man had entered the room.
‘I hear you’ve been wanting to meet Josh. Well, here I am.’
……………………

Jasmine finds a lead

Is becoming fearful about the future a sign of getting old? When I was younger during the 60s to 80s there was the threat of nuclear war hanging over us or of a Soviet invasion of Europe but the fear, if there was any, was an abstract thing and I don’t recall being bothered by it. Also, I don’t recall being too emotional about the financial situation although I do recall watching the Share index falling to about 150 points in a mid-70s crisis. Despite being a fairly keen Liberal and interested in politics, I never felt worried that the world may collapse around me. Perhaps I was just too concerned about my own state.

Now, I feel beset by problems although my own situation, being retired, happily married and pretty well out as transgendered, is pretty calm. The turmoil of the referendum nonsense and its possible dire outcomes, the threat of terrorism, the rise of a belligerent Russia, an expansionist China, and the general sickness of the Earth, all just add together to make one big bundle of worry. On top of that I have developed a deep loathing of the majority of politicians, leaders of big business, and anyone who spouts extremist/populist propaganda on right or left.

Perhaps it is a feature of growing old that we fear for the world of our children and grandchildren and it’s when we lose youthful optimism it’s time to hand over to the young.

At How the light Gets In, Hay, May '16

At How the light Gets In, Hay, May ’16

Right. After that depressing interlude, on with the story.  Here is the next part of the Jasmine Frame novella, Aberration. I realise that in this story she has spent rather longer as James than Jasmine but as it is from a period where she is still uncertain of her gender identity and resisting the idea that she is transsexual I think it is appropriate. Here he/she is getting somewhere at last. Don’t forget that Painted Ladies, Bodies By Design, Discovering Jasmine and Murder In Doubt are all available to buy.

Aberration – Part 7

Despite a rush to grab something to eat, James started his shift at the pub on time. Kevin was there as usual and Mel, another young woman who James had worked with occasionally. Mel pleased Kevin rather more than Andrea as she was slim with long hair and long legs that were largely bare thanks to the cute shorts that she wore. Her vest clung to her breasts. James noted how the eyes of the male drinkers followed her around the room when she emerged to pick up glasses.  Being Friday it was a busy evening and it was while James was wiping tables and Kevin was filling the dishwasher when he spoke to James conversationally rather than giving an order.
‘Did you send that card then?’
‘Card?’
‘To Andrea’s parents.’
‘No. I called on them and met her mother.’
‘Oh. How was she?’
‘Upset.’
Kevin shrugged, acknowledging that that was the obvious response.
‘I don’t think she could believe it was an accident or suicide,’ James added.
Kevin stared, ‘Suicide?’
‘Well, do you think she would end up in the river by accident? She doesn’t have to go near the river to get home.’
‘Well . . .’
‘You saw her on Wednesday evening. It was my day off. What mood was she in?’
Kevin considered for a moment. ‘Pretty much the same as always. Didn’t say much.’
‘Pretty much? What does that mean?’
‘I suppose she was a bit grumpier than usual.’
‘Grumpier?’
‘Well, edgy. She was in more of a hurry to get off.’
‘Why?’
‘She didn’t say. Never did explain her moods did she.’
James could have given reasons for Andrea’s reticence but he didn’t. Revealing too much of his connection with Andrea might have caused questions about his own personality.
He nodded. ‘She kept things to herself, but did anything happen that evening to make her, er, edgy?’
Kevin straightened up and thought. ‘Yeah, well, Ben and his mates were in.’
‘Ben?’
‘They had a go at Andrea before.’
James nodded. Now he knew who Kevin was talking about; the four thirty-plus louts who had teased and groped her.
‘Your friends,’ he accused.
Kevin shook his head. ‘No, we’re not friends, not really. I’ve known them for years. They come in from time to time and act as if they own the place.’
James wasn’t sure whether to believe Kevin’s denial. They seemed just the sort of blokes who Kevin might count as his mates.
‘What happened then? Did they have a go at Andrea?’
Kevin shrugged. ‘A bit, I suppose, but Mel was on too, so they had an eyeful of her. She could take it though.’
Doesn’t mean that she liked it, James thought. Mel was happy in her female body and perhaps had learned how to respond to randy, older men. Andrea didn’t because she didn’t feel female.
‘They spoke to Andrea as well as Mel?’ James asked.
Kevin shook his head, ‘I don’t know, yes, a bit I think, at least one or two of them did. Why is it important? She’s dead.’
‘That’s right – she’s dead. She ended up in the river an hour or two after leaving here and being hounded by those guys.’
‘They weren’t hounding her.’
‘Alright, but you said she became edgy later.’
‘Er, yeah.’
‘So, perhaps the one or two of your friends who spoke to her said something that got her worked up.’
‘They’re not my friends.’
‘OK, but am I right?’
‘Hey, hold on Jim boy. Why are you getting a heat on? You hardly knew the girl.’
James realised he was getting hot and bothered. He tried to brush it off.
‘Yes, well it’s not everyday someone you work with is fished out of the river.’
Kevin nodded and bent to put a few more glasses in the washer.
‘That’s a fact,’ he muttered.
‘So who was it, that tried chatting Andrea up?’ James insisted while trying to keep his voice cool and calm.
‘I wouldn’t call it chatting up. I only saw them exchanging a few words.’
‘Who?’
‘His name’s Josh. I don’t know him well but he often hangs round with Ben and the others.’
‘Does he live round here?’
‘No idea, but they’re all Reading guys so I ‘spect they live in town somewhere.’
‘They don’t come in here that often. Where else do they hang out?’
‘How should I know. I told you I’m not one of their mates. There are dozens of pubs and clubs around town; you know that. They move around looking for the talent.’
James considered what Kevin had told him. It seemed clear that he needed to meet this Josh and find out what he said to Andrea.  He tried to remember what the four men looked like but his memory was vague.
‘Which one was Josh?’ he asked.
‘The bald, short-arse,’ Kevin said as he slammed the door of the dishwasher.  James nodded as he saw the man in his memory of the four around the table.

James stirred as Angela moved around the flat. Of course, it was Saturday so she wasn’t at work. He groaned.
‘Oh, sorry James,’ Angela said. She came and sat on the edge of the bed. ‘I didn’t mean to wake you.’
James rubbed his eyes. ‘What time is it?’
‘Gone nine. Go back to sleep if you like. I’ll try and keep quiet.’
James pushed himself up the bed. ‘No, I’m awake now and I want to see you.’ They hadn’t seen each other awake since his day off on Wednesday apart from the sleepy conversation about Andrea’s death.
‘I want to see you too. It’s a nice day. Perhaps we can go out somewhere before you go to work.’
James grabbed Angela around the waist and pulled her on top of him.
‘Or perhaps we could just stay in,’ he said, leaning forward to kiss her.  Angela giggled. They kissed and cuddled. Angela slipped a hand between his legs. She pulled away.
‘Your mind’s not on it. What’s the problem?’ she said.
James sighed, ‘I’m sorry. I keep thinking of Andy, Andrea.’
Angela sat up, looking concerned. ‘Oh, is there news?’
James described his conversations with Mrs Pickford, the detective and Kevin.
‘Do you think this Josh guy killed Andy?’ Angela summarised.
James screwed up his face. ‘I don’t know. I am sure Andy was killed and Josh is the only lead I’ve got, but I’ve no idea what happened between them, if anything.’
‘You need to find him.’
‘But all I’ve got is his first name, a pretty vague description and that he often hangs out with the other three.’
‘And he visits the pubs and clubs in town.’
‘It’s a big town, Ange. I could be wandering around for months and never come across him.’
‘If he’s out a lot, other people may know who he is.’
‘So there’s a lot of people to ask.’
‘If you want it to be you that solves Andy’s murder yes. Or you could just tell the police.’
‘And they’d think I was nuts because there’s no evidence that Josh had anything more than a few casual words with Andy while he was doing his job.’
‘I don’t think you’re nuts.’
‘But the police will. They want a nice easy accidental death, or a slightly more troublesome suicide.’
‘Don’t you think they want the truth, James?’
‘I wonder.’
‘Well, if you’re joining them I hope you won’t take the easy path.’
James looked into Angela’s unblinking eyes. She gave him determination.
‘No, I won’t and I will get the truth about Andy’s death. Jasmine Frame will find it.’
Angela nodded. ‘I think you should be Jasmine. She was Andy’s friend. Come on, get dressed. I’ll come asking questions with you. It will be an excuse for getting out of this flat since we’re not going to be doing anything else while you’re in this mood.’

……………………….

Jasmine informs the Police

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aberration – Part 6

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

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

………………………

Jasmine keeps a secret

Grange Court, Leominster - Bookfair Mon. 30th May 12 - 4 p.m.

Grange Court, Leominster – Bookfair Mon. 30th May 12 – 4 p.m.

This is the weekend when I get to meet lots of writers and show off my own books – it’s the Leominster Festival.  First there’s the Awards Ceremony for our writing competition – mainly primary schoolchildren, with Deborah Moggach giving out the certificates. That is followed by Deborah’s talk (perhaps I’ll have more on that next week as I’m writing this before it happens).  On Monday we have the Bookfair with about fifteen local authors (and publishers) displaying their books and hoping for sales.  That will be opened by local author of historical fiction, Anne O’Brien. She is an example to us all having started writing only after she retired ten years ago and now has a publisher eager for her work and a burgeoning reputation.

I’ll be offering all my books that are in paperback – the Jasmine Frame novels, Painted Ladies and Bodies By Design as well as the three volumes of Evil Above the Stars. Let’s hope there are some people who actually want to buy books.

By the way, if any readers live nearby, there are still vacancies for the  writing workshops run by Simon Whaley and Fay Wentworth on Monday starting at 11a.m. in Grange Court. They are on the theme of writing about nature and landscapes  in fiction and non-fiction.

copyright BBC.

copyright BBC.

Despite the festival taking up some time this week I have for you quite a long episode of Aberration, the latest Jasmine Frame novella length prequel.  Here James/Jasmine is questioning Andrea/Andy’s mother following the discovery of the body.

Aberration: Part 5

Mrs Pickford turned away and sobbed.  James noticed a bruise on her cheek and realised that he’d been a bit abrupt with his question.
’I’m sorry, Mrs Pickford. I didn’t mean to upset you.’
Andrea’s mother sniffed and turned back to face him. ‘It’s not your fault. Every time I think of my dear girl, I cry. I want her to come back through that door, but the Police came and took us to see her body. I know I’m not going to see her again.’ She cried again.  James felt awkward. Should he put an arm around the grieving woman to comfort her? He decided against it. Perhaps if he could get her to talk.
‘You rang the Police because Andrea didn’t come home.’
Mrs Pickford nodded. ‘We were usually in bed and asleep when she got home from work. You know how late it is when the pub closes?’
James nodded. ‘Yes, I do the late shift. It’s nearly one when I get home.’
‘Sometimes I hear her come in and go to her room but usually its morning when I see her. Tony leaves early – he’s on the bins.  I do afternoons at the Spar down the road so I’m always around in the morning when Andrea gets up.’
‘When did you realise that she wasn’t home?’
‘It was nearly midday and I was about to go to the shop. I was surprised that she hadn’t appeared so I went upstairs and knocked on her door. I wondered if she wasn’t well but she didn’t answer. I opened the door and she wasn’t there.’
‘You didn’t think that she might have stayed overnight with friends?’
‘Andrea never did that and she always gave me a call if she was out for a while. She liked to check I was okay.’
‘You?’
Mrs Pickford waved her hands and looked flustered. ‘It doesn’t matter. I just know Andrea wouldn’t have stayed out without telling me.’
‘So, did you ring the Police then?’
‘No. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t think what Andrea was doing. Look, I was always worried about her, her father was too, really.  I know she had problems. . .’
‘Problems?’
‘Well, you know her. She’s always been a tomboy and never had a boyfriend, do you know what I mean?’
James knew what she meant but also realised that she didn’t have much idea about her own daughter’s, or son’s, inner turmoil.’
‘What about girl friends?’ James made sure he separated the “girl” from the “friends“ to spare Mrs Pickford’s embarrassment.
‘I haven’t seen Andrea with friends since she left school, but, um, I thought that she might be, you know, a le. . .  Her father thought so too.’
‘You didn’t talk about it, either of you, with her?’
The woman’s eyes opened wide.  ‘Talk? Tony? With Andrea? Tony’s not a talker.’
‘Andrea didn’t speak to you.’
She shook her head. ‘I suppose she got that from her father too.’
James took a deep breath. ‘So when did you call the Police?’
‘I waited till Tony, got home. I should have been in the shop but I rang in and said I wasn’t well. Mr Patel wasn’t very happy. But by the time Tony got in I was frantic. I couldn’t understand why Andrea hadn’t been in touch.’
‘She had a mobile.’
‘Yes. I tried her number but there was nothing.’
‘So, your husband, Tony, got home . . .’
‘He was angry. He gets like that when he’s tired after a hard day on the lorry. He said a few things about my girl, which I know he didn’t mean, really. Then he said if I was so worried I’d better call the Police; so I did.’
James waited for her to continue.
‘I suppose I expected them to say they couldn’t do anything but the woman took my description of Andrea. It was less than an hour later when a policeman rang back and asked me some questions. Then they came round and took us both to see. . . to see her body.’ The tears welled up again and her voice croaked.
‘So you were sure it was Andrea?’
‘Oh yes. Tony was too. She looked as if she was asleep. Well, not really, but her face was like when she was in bed.’
‘Did the Police tell you what had happened?’
‘They said they’d got her out of the Kennet.  What was she doing there? Oh, and they showed us some clothes.’
James’ heart beat faster. ‘Clothes she’d been wearing?’
‘That’s what they said, although I didn’t recognise them.’
‘What were they?’
‘A mini skirt, a lace bra and a pink vest.’
‘You hadn’t seen Andrea wear things like that?’
‘Andrea hasn’t worn a skirt since she was in junior school. In high school the girls were allowed to wear trousers, so she did, every day. You didn’t see her dressed in stuff like that did you?’
She looked imploringly at James as if hoping to be proved wrong.
James shook his head.
Mrs Pickford spoke again. ‘You said you’d worked with her for a short while but you seem very interested in her. Did she talk to you at the pub?’
‘Not really.’ James was happy to confirm their lack of communication at work. ‘There wasn’t time most nights and you’re right I haven’t known Andrea long but doing the same job, the late nights, I suppose I felt a bit of a bond with her.’
Andrea’s Mum produced a thin smile. ‘Well, thank you. I don’t suppose there will be many others who are sorry she’s gone.’ She sniffed.
James wondered if he could ask a favour that might be seen as an intrusion. ‘Do you think I could have a look in her bedroom? Just to have something to remember her.’
Mrs Pickford appeared slightly surprised but then nodded. ‘I don’t know what you might see that reminds you of her, but come upstairs.’ She went to the stairs which rose steeply against the side of the room. James followed her up to the small landing which had just two doors. Mrs Pickford went to the first door on the left, slowly turned the doorknob and opened the door. She stood by it and nodded to James to enter. He stepped passed her into the front bedroom of the house.
‘There. There’s not much which shows it’s a girl’s room is there?’ Andrea’s mother said.
James looked around and nodded. She was right on that point. There was a single bed against the front wall of the house under the window with a bright orange bed spread. A small wardrobe was against the far wall with a chest of drawers next to it. Closer, on the right, was a desk that doubled as a dressing table. James stepped into the middle of the room and turned around. There was small set of bookshelves beside the bed with a mirror above it. Above the bed was a poster of the Reading football team, last season’s squad. On the other available wall space were posters of heavy metal bands that James didn’t recognise. He crouched to look on the shelves. There were CDs of the bands on the walls along with fantasy novels and superhero comics. There was nothing anywhere to suggest that this room belonged to a woman in her early twenties, not a feminine woman. There were no cosmetics on the desk-cum-dressing table, just a deodorant and hair-brush alongside a CD player.
James itched to fling open the wardrobe and search through the drawers but knew that would be too intrusive while Andrea’s mother was looking on.  She saw him glance at the band posters.
‘I don’t know why she liked those groups, but at least she wore ear phones most of the time. Tony hated the noise they make.’
‘Her father got angry with her?’
Mrs Pickford pursed her lips and nodded almost imperceptibly. ‘He never hit her though.’  James noted the accidental emphasis.  ‘He just wanted his little girl back.’
‘Little girl?’
‘The girl with long dark hair that we dressed in pretty dresses and who loved her teddies.’
‘. . .and dolls?’ James added.
‘No, she never played with dolls. She ignored the Barbie we gave her one Christmas. She gave up wearing skirts and dresses when she could choose her clothes and then she cut her hair short. That made Tony really annoyed.’
‘What did he do?’
‘He blamed me for making Andrea the way she was.’ Mrs Pickford sucked in a breath as if realising that she was on the point of revealing more than she should.
James explained, ‘I don’t think it was anything you did that made Andrea the way she was. She just didn’t think or feel girly.’
‘No,’ her mother sighed.
James wanted to tell her about the conversations that Jasmine and Andy had had over coffee in the last few weeks, but he didn’t. He felt that while she seemed to accept that Andrea may be lesbian she wasn’t ready for the full truth of her gender identity. Perhaps she would never learn the truth. He glanced around the room again, fixing it in his mind.
‘Thank you for showing me this, Mrs Pickford. Did the Police tell you anything else, such as how Andrea got into the river or how she died?’
‘Didn’t she drown?’ The woman looked surprised as if she hadn’t considered any other possibility.
‘I suppose so. I don’t know,’ James said.
She shook her head. ‘They said they couldn’t tell us anything else. They asked a few questions such as when we’d last seen her and what she was wearing and what her mood was. I don’t think we helped them very much. She had just seemed normal.  The detective said they were still investigating and would let us know what they found out.’
‘So the police don’t know much. There’ll be a post mortem to prove that she drowned.’
Mrs Pickford raised a hand to her mouth, ‘Oh, will they have to cut her?’
‘I’m afraid so. It’s normal in cases of unexpected death. The coroner will need to know.’
‘You mean there will be an inquest?’
James nodded. Unless it turns out to be a murder case, he thought, and if they find a killer it will go to court; but he didn’t tell Mrs Pickford that.
‘I’d better go. I’m sorry I’ve taken so much of your time.’
Mrs Pickford tried to smile. ‘It’s no trouble. It’s lovely to meet someone who cared for Andrea even if you haven’t known her long. Will you come to the funeral? I don’t know when it will be yet.’
‘Yes, of course. You’d better have my phone number to let me know.’
They returned downstairs and Mrs Pickford wrote down James’ mobile number on a scrap of paper. Then they said farewells and James stepped out onto the street. He took a deep breath and strode away down Albert Street. His head was full of thoughts. What was Andrea doing wearing those clothes when she died? Where did they come from? James was quite sure that if he had searched Andrea’s bedroom he would not have found any similar items. What were the Police making of her death? There was a lot more he wanted to know.

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