Cold Fire

cover mediumThis week is all about Cold Fire – my new fantasy novel for young adults and above, which is now available in paperback.  I am holding a launch at Leominster Library from 2 – 6:30 on Thursday 19th October and there will be some sort of launch at Novacon in November.

Cold Fire features September Weekes, the heroine of my trilogy, Evil Above the Stars. It follows on from the final paragraph of vol.1 Unity of Seven but is a free-standing novel, which I think can be read on its own.

The story takes place mainly in 1680 in the Wales and London  of a parallel universe to our own. Aeddon is a young man in the service of an alchemist. The alchemist learns about the discovery of “phosphorus” and desires to make it himself to see and make use of the cold fire it produces.  Aeddon describes the quest to find the ingredients to make the cold fire and witnesses the awful results that bring September into the story.

There are appearances by famous scientists of the period, Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke; there are dragons and unicorns and mermaids; there are Welsh legends and heroic action. Can September find the magic that will enable her to overcome the Malevolence in this world?

Copies can be obtained from any bookseller or the publisher Elsewhen Press.  Or you can order copies from me for £9.99 including post and packing.  Send your order with a postal address to this email address  . I will post your copy/ies and give you options of how to pay. Cold Fire is also available as an e-book in all formats.

Copies purchased from me will include a postcard of one of the water colours by Katie Ellis of scenes from the story.

Here is a short excerpt from Cold Fire

Cold Fire

Chapter 1
I am given a task by my Master

“Boy! Boy! Where are you? I have need of you!” My Master’s voice came to me from below. He was in the crypt where he performed his manipulations. I was in the kitchen, searching through the sorry remains of our larder for something my Master would find acceptable for his table. There remained just a few parsnips, some herbs and a piece of mutton that the flies had settled on. My Master rarely troubled himself about the source of his food but relied on me to set it before him, unless of course he was too deeply involved in his work to think of food at all. How we would obtain new food supplies, I knew not.
I answered his call immediately as I did not wish to feel a stroke of the birch rod that he kept to punish my many misdemeanours, real or imagined. I hastened down the stone steps into the dimly illuminated crypt of the old abbey. The pale March sun slanted through the small windows at the top of the vaulted walls revealing a space cluttered with urns, jars, chests, furnaces and shelves filled with the Master’s precious glass apparatus and other contrivances. The floor, which I had swept only the previous evening, was already covered in detritus from the Master’s experimentation as well as the droppings of the mice and doves that he kept for testing his nostrums.
My Master, Ezekiel Soulbury, was sitting at his table which was covered in papers, vellum rolls and books but he held in his hand a letter, which I presumed to be that which he had received with great excitement earlier in the day. It had been sent by his cousin from the city of London and such epistles invariably stirred my Master into some kind of activity, although usually of the ‘grumbling and muttered oaths variety’.
“Ah, there you are boy,” he said at the sound of my feet on the flagstones, “stoke the furnaces. We have much work to do. Stir the putti and set them tasks. Where are those mischievous cherubs? Come on, come on, don’t be idle. I need heat.”
This torrent of words poured out of my Master as he shook his head and beard of long grey hair. He waved his hand bearing the letter which stirred the dust floating in the air. It seemed that the letter had brought news of something that had inspired him to a new venture. I wondered what my part would be in it and how much more pain and suffering would be inflicted on me. My search for edible food was inevitably to be set aside as the Master embarked on this new enthusiasm.
I was unsure whether to follow the Master’s first instruction and collect wood for the furnace or his second which was to find his other assistants, the putti. They at least could take some of the effort from the first task if they could be so persuaded, but where were they?
“Yes, milord,” I replied, “I will set to immediately.”
“That you must, while I assemble the necessary apparatus.” The Master got up from his stool, momentarily catching his foot in the torn and threadbare robe which he wore over his rough woollen garb. Once he had had fine clothes of silk and satin but these had been scorched by fire, burned by acids or sold to raise funds for his endeavours.
The putti were obviously not down here in the cellar so I returned to the ground floor, whistling and calling for them. They had not come into the kitchen while I had left it nor were they in the cold dark hall. I climbed the wooden stairs to the upper floor and entered the Master’s little used but grand bedroom. There they were, dancing in the sunlight that shone through the unshuttered, glazed window. Three small, naked, plump boys with feathered wings fluttering a few hands-widths above the floor, circling and weaving as if engaged in some galliard or other.
“Quickly. Come with me,” I said, “The Master has tasks for you and me.”

………………………..

20170930_130251 (2)Last week was spent in the wonderful countryside of Scotland’s Loch Tay. I took the opportunity to test the inclusiveness of the local community, especially the town of Aberfeldy and was not disappointed. Also for the first time I attended a family event, a wedding, in a dress. It was a wonderful occasion, I felt great and I don’t think I stood out that much, especially as most of the men were in kilts. My thanks are due to my step-niece and her new husband for showing wonderful understanding.

There will be more opportunities for purchasing Cold Fire and my other novels, starting with a Meet the Authors day in the library Wellington, Shropshire on 14th October. Following my launch on 19th October I will also be in The Castle Bookshop, Ludlow on 2nd Dec.

 

 

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Jasmine recalls

I’m not, I’m really not going to mention that name.  Putting President in front of it makes an oxy-moron that I refuse to write. I am not going to repeat all the reasons why he is unfit to be President. The fact remains that by the system of the USA, stupid though it may be these days, he has been elected, and for the second time this year I felt sick over a vote. I hope that my (and many other people’s) worst fears aren’t realised.

Everyone is asking how it happened. The same as we asked how Brexit happened. There are lots of reasons but it is a bit disingenuous of the people in politics and government and any sort of authority to express their wonder. The fact is that in the USA, UK, and elsewhere in the West conditions have conspired to, to use a crude phrase, piss a lot of people off.  They have seen their jobs disappear, their earnings and savings shrink, public services deteriorate, while those “in charge” appear to get richer and richer. They have got more and more disillusioned and angry and this feeling has been fed by the media (of all sorts). For some reason the people who should notice didn’t, or thought these people didn’t matter.  Even the pollsters have failed time and time again to factor in the under-current of despair and anger. So, I fully understand the unrest bubbling under the surface and why in democracies the discontented masses became a majority (sort of).

What I fail to understand is why so many people put their faith (yes, that’s the right word) in people who are far removed from them and, despite them mouthing the words, cannot possibly share their experiences. These populists pumping up the fear and loathing are rich and have few if any ideals. Here I am including  Txxxx (no I can’t write it), Boris Johnson, Nigel Farrage and the rest of the leading Brexiteers, although I am unsure of the background of the Le Pens and the other rabble-mongers across Europe.

Why have no leaders arisen from the populace as in days gone by? Do you have to have money now to have a voice?

……………………..

I don’t often mention my fantasy novels in this blog but I am delighted to show a new portrait of September Weekes, the heroine of Evil Above the Stars (1, 2 and 3). It’s by my niece-in-law, Katie, and I hope she’ll do some more. Thanks a lot Katie.

katie-ellis-drawing-copy

September discovers the power of the Maengolauseren

©Katie Ellis

 

I am approaching  the end of another September novel; a different setting although it is a sort of continuation. More news soon I hope.

Below we have the second episode of Falloff, a Jasmine Frame prequel novella. The title may seem a bit crude given what happened in episode 1, but it is in fact a photographic term as all the prequel titles (but one) have been.

Falloff: Part 2

James and Angela lay in each other’s arms just covered by the thin cotton sheet. James couldn’t sleep; what he’d seen kept on going through his head.
He whispered to Angela, ‘The girl. I can’t believe that the girl we saw first at the airport Sunday morning is dead.’
Angela answered, as awake as he was. ‘I know. She and her friends seemed to be having a good time. Mind you, I wasn’t really awake enough to take much notice.’
James smiled. He had been the same.
It was the morning after the wedding.  They’d barely had an hour in bed at the hotel where they’d had the ceremony and reception. He’d wondered whether it was a good idea to book a flight early in the morning, and now he was convinced that it hadn’t been; but it was cheap.  The whole honeymoon thing was cheap. Angela’s parents and his own had contributed to the celebrations but the week away was their own responsibility. After just a few months as a police officer following three years at university, James hadn’t built up any savings. Angela’s finances were hardly better despite an earlier start in her accountancy career. Ibiza was inexpensive and they fancied the dancing in the clubs despite the downside of the resorts being filled with young people escaping from their regular lives. Why not, they were young too.
They had arrived in the departure lounge at around seven a.m., bleary-eyed and still feeling the effect of the long day of celebrations. All James wanted to do was sleep but even that was impossible.  The hall was full of people, many a similar age to themselves but there were also families with children under school age and older couples. All were taking advantage of the lower prices before the school holidays began. They did find a pair of seats that proved to be too uncomfortable to sleep in. It was probably just as well as they did not want to miss the call for their flight.
Instead James drowsily watched the other holidaymakers. Most of them seemed very wide awake despite presumably having had early starts to get to the airport for the morning series of charter flights. There was the group of boys and girls who appeared to be just a little younger than their own twenty-two years. They had been in front of them in the baggage drop-off queue They were in good spirit, no doubt aided by the spirits they were imbibing despite the early hour. Were they university students, or young workers or perhaps post-A level students? James couldn’t decide. The girl with the long blonde hair stood out mainly because she was draped around one of the boys, a muscley hunk of a lad. They were hooting and calling to each other, finding lots of mysterious objects for laughter.
The same group of boys and girls were in the queue to go through security, and the passport check. When the call for their flight came, James noted that the blonde girl’s group also made a move and as he suspected they were on the same plane.  He and Angela followed them up the steps and the girl and her guy dropped into a pair of seats together.  Thankfully, the flight was calm and James managed to get the sleep he desired.
They were together with other young people on the connecting coach which delivered them to the Hotel Arena and James wasn’t too surprised that his and Angela’s room was adjacent to the rooms occupied by the girl’s party. They hadn’t seen them again for the rest of the first day. All he and Angela had wanted to do was relax. The week before the wedding had been tense as they struggled to get all the preparations done on time. The wedding itself had been joyous and he had been jealous of Angela in her simple but attractive white dress.  The reception and party after was fun but exhausting: trying to speak to all the guests; knocking back all the drinks that were offered and taking the lead in the disco dancing.
For the rest of the Sunday, James and Angela lounged around the pool and carried out a gentle exploration of the hotel’s neighbourhood.  They had a quiet dinner for two in a small taberna they found in a back street and then headed for an early night, well, early for the Med.
The girl and her group had not been seen at breakfast the following day but James did notice them heading for the beach later in the morning as he and Angela prepared to explore the town. On their return, he had seen boys and girls coming and going from the adjoining rooms so he didn’t know which of them were occupying a particular room.
That evening they planned for their first venture to one of the dance clubs. For James, it was an opportunity to be Jasmine. Together Jasmine and Angela had prepared for the evening, donning similar light, short dresses and colourful make-up. Angela persuaded her that she did not need to wear her long blonde wig which would have been unbearable in the oven-like environment of the dance floor. Jasmine spiked her hair and agreed that it didn’t look any less feminine. They had set off to El Danza arm in arm and met the blonde girl and her friends at the entrance. They had barely glanced at Angela and her partner being far too interested in each other.
The dancing had been fun and exciting. Jasmine relished the feeling of the loose dress swishing over her thighs as she danced. Angela’s enjoyment of dancing with her as a girl and not as a hunky guy added to her feeling of contentment. The experience was not even marred by approached from a few unattached but hopeful boys, dismissed effortlessly by Angela. Nevertheless, Jasmine and Angela left the club while the dancing was at its height. Jasmine wondered whether she could possibly be feeling old already or whether she was just tired from pressure of starting a new job and the marriage. Perhaps it was just the urge to fall into bed together.
Despite all the sightings of the girl and her friends Jasmine hadn’t really taken much interest in them. The more she thought over the last couple of days she could not recall seeing the girl looking upset or depressed. So why had she jumped off the third-floor balcony? If it was an accident, what were the causes? And if not an accident, what did that leave?
The image of the body was clear in James’ mind. Except she hadn’t been just a body when he found her. She was breathing her dying breath. Something didn’t seem right.
‘I remember something about that girl,’ Angela said dreamily.
‘What?’
‘She had fantastic finger nails. She must have spent hours with the varnish.’
James tried to recall seeing her hands. A different image came into his mind. The girl spread out on the lawn, her arms and hand splayed out.
‘They weren’t fantastic after she’d fallen,’ he said, ‘I think the nail on every finger was broken.’
Angela lifted her head from his chest. ‘How did that happen when she fell?’
‘I don’t know. In fact, I think some of her fingertips were quite bloody.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘It means she didn’t have an accident or jump off the balcony. It was murder.’
…………..to be continued.

Jasmine 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.

……………………….

Jasmine has questions

First of all, an invitation.

I would be delighted if any readers would like to join us at The Star, Dylife on Saturday 25th June, to visit the sites that inspired scenes in Unity of Seven, the final part of my Evil Above the Stars fantasy trilogy.IMGP3706

We will begin at 11a.m. with tea/coffee and cake. Then I will give a short introduction to the plot before we set off to visit the sites (not too far, level ground, reasonable paths). Afterwards, we return to The Star for a light lunch. Later, there will be an optional walk to the top of the ridge (weather permitting) to see some more sites and sights.  Cost is £10.

The Star is on the mountain road between Llanidloes and Machynlleth in mid-Wales and is probably one of the remotest former pubs.  For more details, email me at evilabovethestars@btinternet.com

I’ve just received the feedback from the Wishing Shelf awards on Seventh Child, the first book in the trilogy. It was read and judged by 28 young booklovers of whom 25 said they wanted to read more. It was given 10 out of 10 for plot and 9/10 for style. A composite comment says:

A fascinating fantasy adventure with strong elements of Welsh mythology. A finalist and highly recommended.’

Unity of Seven, cover design by Alison Buck

Unity of Seven, cover design by Alison Buck

Now to return to Jasmine Frame in the fourth episode of the story, Aberration, set a few years before Painted Ladies and Bodies By Design.

Aberration: Part 4
 
James gasped. ‘That can’t have been Andrea.’
‘What do you mean?’ Kevin asked.
‘I was there. This morning I was with the crowd by the river watching it.’
Kevin shrugged, ‘So?’
‘How do you know it was Andrea?’
Kevin nodded to the phone. ‘Her father rang an hour or so ago. Said she wouldn’t be in, then he cracked up and said her mother had rung the police because Andrea didn’t get home last night and when she gave a description the police came for them to identify the body.’
Listening to Kevin hammered it home to James that it was really true that Andrea was dead.
‘How did she end up in the river?’ he asked himself more than Kevin.
‘Don’t ask me mate. That’s one for the cops.’
James shook his head. It didn’t fit with anything he knew of Andrea. She didn’t have to go near the river to get home after leaving the pub.
The door of the pub was pushed open and a police officer entered encumbered by his anti-stab jacket bearing radio, baton and other accoutrements. He looked from James to Kevin and settled on the latter.
‘Are you the Manager?’
‘Yes.’ Kevin said.
‘Can I have your name please, Sir,’ The PC took a notebook and pen from his jacket pocket and prepared to write.
‘Why?’
The officer sighed. ‘I’m asking questions in connection with a death.’
‘You mean Andrea?’ Kevin said
‘That’s right,’ the officer looked at his notepad, ‘Miss Andrea Pickford.  Your name, Sir.’
‘Uh, Kevin Ashton. What do you want to know?’
‘Miss Pickford worked here?’
‘Yes, behind the bar.’
‘Was she working yesterday, specifically last evening.’
‘Yes.’
‘What time did she leave.’
Kevin looked vague for a moment. ‘It must have been twelve thirty when she finished clearing up.’
‘Did you see her leave?’
‘Yes. She asked if that was all, and I said yes.’
‘How was she when she left?’
Kevin shrugged, ‘Same as she always was. Tired I suppose. It had been a busy evening. She doesn’t say much, um, didn’t say much.’
‘Did she say where she was going after work?’
‘Er, No. She never did. I thought she went home.’
‘Could you describe her appearance when she left?’
‘Appearance?’
‘Clothes, that sort of thing?’
‘She wore what she always wore, jeans and a t-shirt. If it was wet or cool she had a short, black zip-up jacket. What is it called? A blouson? Yeah, I think she had that on when she left’
‘Shoes?’
‘Trainers I suppose. That’s all she ever wore.’
The PC looked at James who was wearing pretty much the same outfit. ‘That was standard dress for your employees was it, Sir.’
‘Sort of. I asked her to wear a skirt but she never did.’
‘She definitely wasn’t wearing a skirt when she left last night?’
A confused look passed across Kevin’s face. ‘No, I don’t think so. I never saw Andrea in a skirt. Not once.’
James had listened to the exchange. ‘Is this a murder enquiry, Officer?’ he asked.
The PC looked at him as if seeing him for the first time. ‘Who are you, Sir.’
‘James Frame. I worked with Andrea.’
The officer scribbled in his notebook. ‘I see, Sir. Were you working last night?’
‘No, it was my day off.’
‘So you didn’t see Miss Pickford last night when she left the pub?’
‘No.’
‘Did you meet her afterwards.’
‘No.’
‘Thank you, Sir.’  The constable closed his book.
‘Was she murdered?’ James asked again.
The PC frowned. ‘I’m not at liberty to discuss the case, Sir.’ He looked away from James to Kevin, ‘Thank you for your help, Sir. There may be some more questions later.’
‘Yes, okay. Anything I can do,’ Kevin blustered. The officer turned and left.
Kevin let out a breath through pursed lips. ‘Phew. That’s brought it home, hasn’t it? She isn’t coming back is she.’ He returned to his stocktake.
James stared at the closed door. She isn’t, he thought, but what happened to her? How did she end up in the river and what was the point of the questions about her clothes?  Was the gossip about her wearing a short skirt when she was brought out of the water true?
James performed his duties that evening through a haze of sadness and a carousel of questions spinning through his mind. Luckily it wasn’t that busy so he and Kevin coped with the customers. A few had heard the news of the body in the river and its identification and were discussing it. Some expressed their condolences, other pressed for the gossip but most hadn’t registered the connection with the rather plain, short haired girl who served them most days.
By the end of the shift, James was burning with desire to find out more. He wasn’t sure how, since he had no access to the police investigation, but speaking to Andrea’s parents would be a start.
‘Can I have Andrea’s address,’ he said to Kevin just before leaving.
‘Why?’
‘I want to send her parents a sympathy card.’
‘Oh, yes. I suppose they’d appreciate that. I’ll make a note of it for you.’ Kevin disappeared behind the bar for a few moments then reappeared with a small slip of paper torn from a pad.
He handed it to James. ‘You didn’t know her well did you? You didn’t talk much.’
James shrugged. ‘Not really. She was pretty quiet wasn’t she.’
Kevin nodded. ‘Yeah. I thought that was because she didn’t get on with blokes. I guess she fancied girls. She was a bit butch.’
James didn’t show agreement or dissent.
‘I don’t think she had girly side,’ Kevin added.
‘No,’ James agreed. You’re definitely right there, he thought. He said good night and left to walk home.

Angela was asleep when James got back to the flat. He felt he had to tell her about Andrea but didn’t want to disturb her.  He slid into bed beside her and lay thinking about Andy. He was gone too. Was Andrea’s death anything to do with her second life as Andy? He needed answers.
James stirred from a light sleep when Angela started moving in the morning.
‘Ange?’ he murmured with his brain full of fog.
‘Oh, James. Sorry did I wake you>’
‘No, it’s OK.’ James forced his eyes open and watched Angela pulling her knickers on. ‘Did you hear the news?’
Angela paused with her thin panties halfway up her thighs. ‘What news?’
‘Andrea, Andy, is dead. His body was pulled out of the Kennet yesterday.’
‘What?’ Angela hurried to the bed, sat down and looked with a worried frown at James. ‘How?’
‘I don’t know,’ James said pushing himself up onto his elbows, ‘I want to find out.’
‘How?’
‘I’m going to call on her mother and father. See if they know anything.’
‘Was he Andy or Andrea when she died?’
‘I don’t know, although there was talk of her wearing a skirt.’ James explained how he had seen the activity by the river and talked to onlookers and about the visit to the pub by the policeman.
‘But she never wore a skirt, even when she was Andrea.’
‘I know. That’s what’s so odd, and she should have been nowhere near the river if she went home after finishing at the pub.’
‘The poor thing. I wonder what happened?’
‘So do I.’

Once Angela left for work, James did not doze on as he often did. He was too keen to meet Andy’s parents and find out what they knew.  He showered, dressed and ate some breakfast then set off for the fairly long walk to Andrea’s home. The sun was shining although it was cooler than it had been when he set off.
The distance was about twice what he had to do to get to the pub, as Andrea’s home turned out to be on the opposite side of town. He walked passed the shops of Broad Street not pausing to look longingly at the women’s fashions as he did at other times.  He had to refer to the map he’d printed off the computer before he found Albert Street. It was in a similar Victorian-era warren of terraced houses as their own home.
He stopped at number 12. It was like most of the other houses in the street: a small, tidy front garden and tiled path to the front door, painted green.  He pressed the doorbell. Just a few moments passed before it was opened by a short, slim woman in her late forties.  She had light brown hair held by an elastic band at the back of her head and she was wearing a pale blue dress. If this was Andy’s Mum he must have got most of his looks and build from his father, James thought.
She greeted him with a ‘Hello,’ but her face showed the tale of many tears.
‘Hello. Mrs Pickford?’ James said.
‘Yes. Can I help you?’
‘I’m sorry to bother you. I realise that this is a very difficult time for you, but I did want to see you. You see, I worked with Andrea.’
‘At the pub?’
‘That’s right.’
‘Oh. Andrea never talked about who she worked with except she did sometimes mention her boss, Mr. Ashton.’
‘That’s right, Kevin.  I’m James, James Frame. We didn’t work together for long. I started back in August, but we did quite a few evening shifts together.’
‘You’d better come in,’ Mrs Pickford said pushing the door wide, ‘I still don’t believe what’s happened to her, but it would be nice to talk to someone who knew her. I know she was a bit shy.’
James stepped through the front door straight into the small front room of the house.
Mrs Pickford stopped in the centre of the room and turned to face him.  ‘Do you know what happened to Andrea?’ Her voice was plaintive and her face longed for an answer.
James decided to be bold. ‘No, but I would like to find out. What have the police told you?

…………………………

Jasmine under cover

It’s been a bit busy this week; there’s been this seasonal festival happening. . . Anyway I’d like to send readers seasonal greetings and best wishes for 2016.

A great day out at the Hay Festival in May '15 and one of the last times I wore a wig.

A great day out at the Hay Festival in May ’15 and one of the last times I wore a wig.

2015 has been pretty busy. I published three novels and a novella. (Vol.1 & 2 of Evil Above the Stars published by Elsewhen, and Bodies By Design and Discovering Jasmine under my own imprint, ellifont). In addition there have been the weekly episodes of prequels to the first Jasmine Frame novel, Painted Ladies, of which Flashlight is the sixth. I’m not sure how many more I can fit into the ten years or so when Jasmine/James is adult but before her transition. Nevertheless, next year will be busy with the publication of vol.3 Unity of Seven of EAtS and perhaps the 3rd Jasmine Frame novel, The Brides’ Club Murder and one or two of the novellas.

Anyway, here is the next episode of Flashlight,  approaching a climax.

Flashlight: Part 12

 There was a queue for the club when Jasmine arrived with Milla; not a long one, but the checks by the security guards on the door were sufficient to delay their entry. Milla took her hand in hers to make it look like they were a couple. They had nearly been three. Angela had been determined to come along too, especially when Jasmine let slip that there might be some danger as Milla was convinced the new drug gang was based at the Marquis. It had taken some persuasion to get Angela to accept that jasmine and Milla together could handle themselves and that Jasmine didn’t want Angela put at risk. They didn’t exactly look like a pair of tough detectives. Jasmine was in a short, strappy summer dress that flared out a little alarmingly when she spun around revealing her newly shaved legs while Milla wore a boob tube and short skirt which revealed her midriff.
After a few minutes they reached the door. The bouncers looked them up and down, winked and let them in. Milla tugged on Jasmine’s hand and headed straight for the dance floor.  It was already fairly full, mainly with men in shorts and t-shirts or shirts un-buttoned to the navel or no shirt at all. Jasmine observed the flesh on display.
Milla leaned close. ‘Let’s dance. I want to have a good look around the place.’
With the lasers and the flashlights Jasmine wondered how Milla could see anything at all but she started to move to the beat. Milla didn’t. Jasmine had never danced with anyone other than Angela. They had always had an understanding of each other’s movements and had danced as if they were one. Now Jasmine began to appreciate what she and Angela had going on between them. Milla was barely moving and certainly not with the rhythm of the music. Jasmine felt that they were not really dancing together at all. She put her arms around Milla’s waist and pulled her in.
‘What are you doing?’ Milla shouted in her ear.
‘I thought we were supposed to be a couple? I’m trying to make us look like one.’
‘Okay, but move around so I can see what’s going on.’
They moved as one, well almost. Jasmine stepped and jiggled with the beat with Milla forced into similar movements while held tightly in Jasmine’s arms. They travelled around the dancefloor giving Milla a good view of the dancers and the occupants of the shadowy edges. While Milla watched, Jasmine thought.
Earlier Milla had told Jasmine what had happened when she returned to the office. DC Money had completed interviewing Amy Baker. He’d shown her photos of various known gang members known to be involved in drug dealing. Amy had said she had not recognised anyone but, Money noticed, so he told Milla later, that she had delayed on photos of two men who matched the description of her attackers. Money knew the men and their connections and was pretty sure they had ransacked Amy’s flat and probably been involved in Natalie Peck’s death.
‘Kiss me,’ Milla said abruptly turning her face to Jasmine’s.
‘Why?’ Jasmine responded. Kissing was taking the role play a bit far wasn’t it?
‘Jefferson. I hope he doesn’t recognise us.’ Her lips clamped on Jasmine’s. Milla made a good job of looking like she was snogging Jasmine. In fact, was there a hint of tongue there? Jasmine tried to act like a willing participant but she felt odd. Angela kissed her as she would a man, even when she was dressed as Jasmine. Milla kissed her as she would a woman. There was a difference but Jasmine had problems working out precisely what it was. Perhaps it was the way their bodies pressed against each other.  Whatever it was, it felt different
Milla broke away and spoke into Jasmine’s ear. ‘I’m going to keep an eye on Jefferson. You go and see whether your drug dealer is operating in the loo.’
They parted and Milla disappeared into the mêlée of bodies. Jasmine carried on dancing for a few moments. The guys paid her no attention being focussed on each other. The few other women on the dance floor gave her appreciative looks and one seemed about to approach her. Jasmine moved quickly into the shadows at the edge of the dancefloor. People were entering and leaving the side rooms singly and in pairs. Jasmine ignored them and headed for the toilets.
Unlike on the trans nights, there were just a couple of women attending to their make-up in the mirrors. The doors to two of the cubicles were open revealing them to be empty. Jasmine pushed on the door of the middle cubicle. The bearded young man she had seen earlier in the week was there, sat on the loo seat cradling his post bag.
‘You buying?’ he said looking up at Jasmine.
‘Could be,’ Jasmine replied not committing herself.
‘What do you want?’
‘Well, look, it’s not for me,’ Jasmine began, ‘But I’ve got quite a few people I know who need stuff. What do you say to us doing a deal?’
The young man looked at her with his brow creased in a frown. He was weighing up her suggestion.
‘You mean you want to buy in?’
‘Yes, sort of,’ Jasmine replied.
‘How much?’
Jasmine thought quickly. What sum of money would attract his interest and would not sound ridiculously huge?
‘A thousand?’
‘A grand?’ He nodded. ‘Hmm, what you after?’
‘H.’
He shrugged. ‘Look we had a few problems getting the cut right but it’s sorted now. We’ll have to talk to the boss. See what she thinks of you. Come on.’  He stood up hanging the bag over his shoulder. He was a couple of inches shorter than Jasmine. He urged her out of the cubicle then lead her from the lavatory.  Jasmine was thinking; he’d said “her” referring to the boss. It wasn’t Jefferson then. Perhaps it was the girl who’d been with him this afternoon.
The drug dealer lead Jasmine up the stairs to the entrance of another room. He tapped on the door and got an answering invitation to enter. He pushed the door open. They stepped into a small room which was more store room than office. There was an assortment of containers filling most of the space – cardboard boxes, plastic storage bins, suit cases, brief cases, carrier bags, all of various sizes. There was also a card table and behind it was sitting Amy Baker.
Jasmine stifled a gasp and followed the man into the room. He stood in front of Amy.
‘This tranny has been asking about selling the stuff. She wants to buy in?’
Amy looked up, the bruise around her eye a vivid pink. She glared at Jasmine.
‘Do I know you?’
Jasmine fingered her long black hair. ‘Don’t think so,’ she said trying to put on a London accent in a higher pitch to her usual voice. She had no idea if it sounded true to life but Amy seemed convinced.
‘Why do you want to sell then?’ Amy said.
‘I need to make some money,’ Jasmine replied.
‘What for?’
‘I need to get things done,’ Jasmine was thinking hard. What might sound like a reasonable story?
‘What things?’
‘Tits, and my nose and chin, and I don’t want to wait for ever to get, er, down there done.’ Jasmine waved in the general direction of her crotch.’
Amy nodded. ‘Costly.’
‘Yeah, to say nothing of lasering my facial hair, and getting my legs waxed and so on.’
‘Being a woman is expensive,’ Amy agreed, ‘becoming one, more so. Hmm, so you think you can sell do you?’
‘Yeah, there’s loads of people I know who want stuff.’
‘Hmm, right,’ Amy considered then turned to the man, ‘Go and get Kel off the door. Let’s see if he knows this girl. What’s your name?’
Jasmine chose the first name that came into her head, ‘Kylie.’
The young dealer turned to leave.
‘Oh, Dick, find Jerome too. Tell him we have a potential recruit.’
Dick left.
‘We call him Dick because he hasn’t got one,’ Amy said, chuckling, ‘Like you he wants to get some things done. You want to lose your cock; he wants to have one made for him. Come and take a seat while we wait. Tell me about yourself.’
There was one other chair not occupied by packages. Jasmine sat down, and prepared to answer Amy’s questions. The transsexual was much more confident and assured than she had been when surrounded by the wreckage of her home. Was that all an act, Jasmine wondered? Here she was the fixer, the manager of a team of drug pushers.
Amy asked about her background, whether she took drugs herself, her transition. Jasmine made it all up, all except for not being addict. She based her story on the tales of young transsexuals she had read about – the discovery of her transgenderism, rejection by family and friends, hard times, struggling to get by, the urge to remodel her body – that bit was fairly true as it featured in her fantasies almost daily. Amy seemed satisfied with her answers.
‘I don’t think you need all that secondary stuff, Kylie,’ she said in a motherly tone. ‘Actually you look pretty feminine already. You do need to get your voice trained – your accent and pitch is all over the place.’
The door opened and Jefferson entered followed by one of the burly door guards and “Dick”
‘Is this the one?’ Jefferson said nodding at Jasmine.
‘Yes,’ Amy said, ‘Know her? She’s a tranny.’
Jefferson shook his head, but Kel the bouncer spoke up.
‘Saw her when she arrived with a dyke.’

Jasmine seeks a lead

I don’t say this very often but thank you.  Thank you for reading this weekly ramble and serialised scribbling.  A special thanks to the person, I think it is just one, who accessed a lot of the archived pages this week.  I hope that gave you a good insight into Jasmine Frame.  You can of course purchase the latest novel, Bodies By Design by going to the Jasmine Frame Publications page.

IMGP4329(2)This weekend I’m putting on my “published by Elsewhen Press” badge and my “Seventh Child” t-shirt (if I can find it) and setting off for Nottingham for this year’s NovaCon – one of the biggest SF&F conventions in the calendar. I don’t think I’ll have any exclusive opportunities to promote Evil Above the Stars (vol. 3 Unity of Seven isn’t due out till the new year) but I hope to meet people, introduce myself and catch up with the gang from Elsewhen. Elsewhen are publishing an anthology of short SF stories with contributions from most, if not all, their authors. I’ve got a story in it – a landmark for me in that it is actually my first SF story in a professional publication. More of that when it appears.

This week I have been delighted to make good progress with the third Jasmine Frame novel, The Brides’ Club Murder. What to do with it when it’s finished is one question and another one is what do I write next – more of that next week.  Here though is the next episode of the Jasmine Frame prequel, Flashlight. Jasmine is now a temporary addition  to DCI Sloane’s investigative team and she, or rather he, is learning more about Sloane and his new partners.

Flashlight: Part 6

James followed DC Sparrow down the stairs and into the secure car park. It gave him a chance to look at the young police officer. Although wearing black trousers and sensible flat shoes, she hadn’t adopted the male detective uniform of dull suit, shirt and tie. She wore a grey blouson leather jacket over a pale blue scoop-necked t-shirt and wore her dark hair long and loose. James felt poorly dressed in comparison. He’d removed his police jacket with all its kit when he’d got back to the station with Gavin. Now he just had the showerproof jacket that he wore to and from work over his shirt and his uniform trousers.
Sparrow stopped at unmarked Ford Focus. ‘Get in Jim,’ she said.
James slid into the passenger seat beside her and in moments they were driving through the security gates and out into the town. Milla drove swiftly but safely through the busy traffic until they reached a scruffy part of town – a 50s former council estate now largely housing association run social housing and private lets. They drew up at a three story apartment block. Some of the windows were boarded up but James could see that there were occupants.
‘This is where the gay lad was found?’ James asked.
Milla turned off the engine. ‘Yes, one of the ground floor flats. A right dump. Murray’s flatmate, may be there or he might be out servicing a client or hunting for drugs himself. We’ll give him a try shall we?’
They got out of the car and walked through the rubbish and bits of bicycles and push-chairs to the door of the block. The lock was broken so Milla pushed the door open and stepped inside.  She tapped on the door on the right. There was a moan from inside which James translated as a ‘who’s there?’
‘Lawrence Offiah? It’s the police. DC Sparrow. We met last week when your friend died. We’d like to talk to you.’
There was further moaning but James also heard movement. It was a few moments more before the door opened a crack. Filling the gap was young dark-skinned man, shorter than James, thin, naked but for a pair of grey boxer shorts with a significant bulge. His shaven head was a glistening black
‘Can we come in, Lawrence,’ Sparrow said in a gentle voice, ‘It’ll be easier to talk inside. This is Constable Frame. He’d like to ask some questions.’
The boy shrugged and wandered away from the door leaving it ajar. Sparrow pushed it open and stepped into the room. James wasn’t surprised by the state of the bedsit but he wondered how people could live in such a fashion. A thin, much-stained carpet covered the floor. A grubby duvet was heaped on the three-quarter sized bed. A few bits of crockery and empty plastic cartons filled the sink. An old Dralon-covered sofa faced an almost new 60-inch flat screen TV with a game console on the floor in front of it.
Offiah slumped onto the sofa and scratched his crotch. ‘What do you want now? I told you everything when Guy died.’ His London gangsta drawl cracked a little when he said the name of his dead partner and James saw real sorrow on his face.
Milla soothed him. ‘Yes, Lawrence. You helped us a lot last week and I know it was difficult for you. James here, thinks you can help us find out why Guy died.’
‘He got a bad batch. It happens.’ Offiah shrugged.
‘But where did he get it?’ Milla asked.
‘I said I didn’t know,’ he insisted, ‘it wasn’t from any of the usual pushers because he didn’t have any money.’
James butted in. ‘How do you know he hadn’t just seen a client and been paid?’
Lawrence sneered at him. ‘Because he was sick. No punter would fuck him. Not even the most desperate. I was looking after him but I had to go out and earn some dough.’
‘You were out all night,’ Milla said.
Lawrence slumped and tears appeared in his eyes. ‘Yeah. I got back in the morning and found him. You know all that.’
‘How was Guy, when you left him?’ James asked.
‘He said he was feeling better,’ Offiah said, ‘I told him to have a bit more rest. Make sure he was well before, you know.’
‘But he went out?’ James said.
Offiah shrugged. ‘Must have gone somewhere to get a packet. They don’t do home deliveries.’
‘If he didn’t have enough cash to go to your usual suppliers where would he gave gone?’ Milla asked.
‘I don’t know,’ Lawrence said.
‘Do you know any new sources?  A new venue perhaps?’ James knew he was leading the boy on.
Lawrence looked thoughtful. ‘Yeah, perhaps.’
‘Such as the new club at the Marquis?’ James said.
‘Could be,’ Lawrence shrugged, ‘We took a look in there a couple of weeks ago when it opened. They made a fuss about it being gay-friendly. It was okay. We might have gone again if Guy hadn’t got sick.’
‘You didn’t go back to pick up anyone?’ James asked.
‘Didn’t need to. I’ve got me regulars.’
‘Were you offered drugs at the Marquis?’ Milla asked.
‘Didn’t ask. We just spent a while having a drink, a dance and a kiss and a cuddle. They’ve got some nice cosy corners.’ He smirked at Milla. She sent an enquiring glance at James. He nodded. He could see the two boys getting off in one of the Marquis’ private rooms to the delight of voyeurs.
‘Did Guy leave you at any time while you were there?’ James enquired.
Lawrence turned to James and glowered at him. ‘He might have gone for a pee.’
‘And he didn’t mention anyone dealing from the loos.’
Offiah shook his head. ‘No. Look have you finished. I’ve got to go and meet someone.’
‘You’re sure you don’t want to tell us more about the Marquis?’ Milla said, in a tone rather firmer than she had used previously.’
‘I told you I don’t know anything about that place. Now I’ve got to get ready so I’d like you to leave.’ The young man started to pull his boxers down over his hips.
Milla began to retreat to the door. ‘Okay, Lawrence, but we may be back. This isn’t just about Guy anymore.’
James followed her out of the door and pulled it closed behind getting a glimpse of a dark pair of buttocks as it clicked shut.
‘He’s lying,’ Milla said as they walked back to the car.
‘Yes,’ James agreed, ‘He knew more about what goes on at the Marquis than he admitted.’
‘You were offered drugs in the loo, by Natalie, were you, Jim?’
‘Yes, and the guy I bought them off last night.’
‘A trans-man, you said.’
‘I think so.’
‘You have an eye for transgender, Jim?’
‘Sort of.’
They got into the car. Milla froze with her hand on the ignition key.
‘So there is definitely a link with the Marquis even if we haven’t yet got proof that Guy Murray went there after Offiah left him for the night. Let’s have a go at Butler’s cleaning lady, Mary O’Reilly. With any luck she might have finished for the day.
James glanced at his watch. It was gone five p.m. He only had a couple of hours left on his shift.
‘What time do you finish, Milla?’ He asked as they drove off.
The DC glanced at him. ‘When we’re done for the day, Jim. You don’t get regular hours when you work for DCI Sloane. Is that a problem?’
James shook his head. ’No, no, not at all.’ He was thinking of Angela being at home and wondering where he was. As a uniformed officer he often didn’t get off when his shift was due to end but he usually managed to send Angela a text to let her know. He didn’t want to do that now while he was accompanying Milla.
‘Have you worked with Sloane for long?’ he asked as they joined the Reading rush hour queues.
‘Over a year,’ Milla answered, ‘but not for much longer.’
‘Oh?’ James wasn’t sure whether to enquire further.
Milla drummed the steering wheel in impatience. ‘I’ve got a transfer to the West Midlands force,’ she explained. ‘My partner got moved to Birmingham a while back. It took a bit of time but they finally found a place for me. Sloane was very helpful actually.’
‘Really,’ James expressed his surprise, ‘I’d heard he was, um, difficult to work for.’
Milla chuckled. ‘Oh he is. He’s bad tempered, impatient and old-fashioned but he looks after his team.’
‘Is your partner in the force too?’
‘No, she’s an IT geek. Earns far more than me.’
‘She?’ James blurted out then was embarrassed that he’d said it.
Milla looked at him with a frown. ‘Yes, Jim. I’m a lesbian. Is that a problem for you?’
James shook his head vigorously. ‘No, no, of course not. I’m sorry I was surprised, I mean, I shouldn’t have reacted like that. It’s not important.’
‘Oh, yes, it is Jim. I’ve had to face the insults and the “jokes”. You’re a bloke so I expect you and your mates have fantasised about two girls having it off.’
James denied it as Milla went on.
‘I tried keeping it quiet but you know what the force is like. It’s difficult to keep a secret for long, particularly if it concerns who you’re living with. Actually I think it’s getting better. People, blokes included, are accepting different lifestyles more. Even gay officers are being open now.’
James remained silent. Are they ready for a transgender colleague though, he wondered?
As they edged forward, Milla continued. ‘I think Sloane was uncomfortable. He’s always avoided any mention of my sexuality and never asked about Tania. So long as I was doing a good job he was pleasant enough. But perhaps the reason why he helped me get my transfer was so he wouldn’t have a lezzer on his team.’
‘Do you really think he’s prejudiced?’ James felt a sickening worry in case his own secret was revealed.
‘Prejudiced? No, I don’t think so. He goes along with all the diversity stuff, but he’s old-school. I think he’s just uncomfortable with openness about sex and sexual oddities – despite coming across all sorts of depravity in his job. Ah, at last. Let’s get moving.’ She revved the engine and they moved forward with the traffic.
………………………………..

Jasmine joins the team

Since writing the last blog we have spent a day in London visiting two exhibitions – The Celts at the British Museum and Cosmonauts at the Science Museum.  There are no connections between the two other than my interest in Celtic history, art and culture and anything to do with space. Celtic civilisation influenced my vision of the Land, Gwlad, in Evil Above the Stars but you won’t find any direct links to Celtic history there.

What did strike me about both exhibitions was the possibilities for “what if”. The Celts defeated Rome early in its history. What if they prevented the rise of the Roman Empire? The Russians were almost ready to go for the Moon except their big rocket kept failing. What if the Russians got to the Moon before the Americans? So many possibilities for alternate histories.  Ideas, ideas . . .

butterfly

Anyway back to ideas that I have got round to developing – the latest prequel to Painted Ladies and the origins of Jasmine Frame, transsexual detective.  Here is the next episode in Flashlight.

Flashlight: Part 5

‘Inspector Metcalfe said you had asked for me, Sir,’ James said aware that there was an uncertainty in his voice.
‘Yes, Frame,’ Sloane replied. ‘We need some extra staff on this case. My sergeant and the rest of the team are otherwise engaged. You know about the Marquis club which may be the source of the drugs that killed the victim and you seem to know something about these transsexuals.’
James saw DC Money’s eyebrows rise.
‘I hope I can assist you, Sir,’ James said.
‘I hope so too, Frame. Now Money, you’d better start your summary again.’
The detective constable looked at his notebook. ‘Preliminary lab tests show that Peck was killed by a massive overdose of heroin. It looks like she was injected with a dose that was much purer than the average street supply but the post-mortem suggests that Peck wasn’t a frequent user.  There were no signs of hypodermic marks on the body. Peck isn’t on any list of known addicts.’
‘Thank you, Money,’ Sloane said. ‘What have you got, Sparrow?’
The female officer looked at her own notebook. ‘There is no sign of drugs in the victim’s flat other than the dregs in the syringe used to administer the fatal dose. But SOCO think it looks as though the victim’s belongings have been searched, Sir. The drawers and wardrobe had signs that they’d been disturbed.’
‘Are you sure he wasn’t just untidy?’ Money asked.
James noticed Money’s use of the male pronoun.
Sparrow frowned. ‘The friend says that Natalie was meticulous about her clothes – a bit OCD in fact. Everything had its place.’
‘Alright’ Sloane said interrupting before Money could respond. ‘Let’s accept that Peck’s flat has been searched and items possibly removed. It reinforces the differences between this death and the others.’
‘Others?’ James found himself blurting out.
‘Yes, Frame. Sparrow will get you up to speed soon.  This investigation started out looking at the deaths of two known addicts in the last week. Like Peck they were killed by an overdose of unusually pure heroin. But it looks as though Peck was murdered using the drugs that he was dealing.’
‘Were the other victims trans?’ James asked.
Sloane looked surprised as if the idea had never arisen. ‘Money?’ he said.
Money shook his head. ‘No Sir.  Murray was a rent boy, pulling tricks to pay for his habit. Butler was a single bloke, occasional user, bit of a loner.’
Sloane scratched his chin as he mused, ‘the only link is that the heroin that killed each of them probably came from the same pure batch.’
‘The sample Constable Frame provided was the same, Sir.’ DC Sparrow said, reaching behind her to pick up a sheet pf paper from the desk she was resting her bottom on.
‘You have a lab report already?’ Sloane said.
Sparrow nodded. ‘Just a preliminary one, Sir. You did ask for it to be fast-tracked. It’s confirmed as being heroin of unusual purity. It’ll take longer to get a full analysis and comparison.’
Sloane turned to James. ‘Well there you are Frame. The sample you purchased has suggested a link between this Marquis place and the three deaths, including the murder of one of the dealers.’
James felt a glow as if he had already made a contribution to the team’s work
‘What does it mean Sir?’ Money asked.
‘Can’t you work it out, Money?’ Sloane said with a note of exasperation. ‘We’ve got a new batch of heroin probably being sold by new suppliers muscling in on existing dealers’ territory. I’d surmise that Peck was killed by the oldsters using his own stock and that his death was a warning to the incomers. If we don’t get to the bottom of it soon we could have a major gangland feud on our hands.’
‘That’s serious, boss.’ Money said.
‘You’re right for once. So we’ve got to get to work.  This link with the Marquis suggests that the new owners may be involved. You get on to them Money. See if they have any history.’
‘Yes, Sir,’ DC Money said pushing himself erect and moving around the desk to sit at the computer.
‘What about, me?’’ Sparrow asked.
‘Go over the files on Murray and Butler, with Frame, here. See if you can find out who their supplier was. Perhaps there is a link with Peck.’
‘Yes, Sir.’ Sparrow said. James felt pleased that he was going to work with the young woman instead of Money.
‘Well, get on then,’ Sloane said impatiently as he headed for the door, ‘I need to report to the Superintendent. Warn him that we might have an intrusion from outside the area and the consequences that could bring.’  He departed.
DC Sparrow went to sit at Sloane’s desk. ‘Come and sit down next to me she said smiling at James, ‘Oh, we don’t have a spare chair.’
‘Don’t know why we have to work here anyway?’ Money grumbled. ‘We could just as easily do this investigation from Kintbridge.’
‘Oh stop grumbling, Keith,’ Sparrow said grinning, ‘don’t mind him, uh, I don’t know your first name Constable?’
‘It’s James. I’ll go and find another chair. I know this building pretty well.’
James hurried out into the corridor feeling elated. He was part of a plainclothes investigation team working on a big case involving drug gangs and murder. It was what he’d always wanted.
It took moments to find a vacant chair and return to the office. He placed the chair next to DC Sparrow who was sorting through the papers that Sloane had left on the desk.
‘Well done, James,’ she said and again James received a warm smile, ‘By the way I don’t think DCI Sloane introduced me fully. My name is Camilla, but most people call me Milla.’
‘Oh, thanks. My friends call me Jim,’ James replied.
‘Glad to have you with us, Jim. I’ve got a feeling we’re going to be pretty busy. Sloane likes to get results quickly.’ Milla picked up a sheaf of papers. ‘Have a look through these.  This is what we’ve got on Murray and Butler.’
‘I thought it would all be online,’ James said.
‘It is,’ Milla said, ‘but Sloane likes paper. He’s a bit old-fashioned.’
Money, head close to his screen, grunted. ‘A bit?’
‘We don’t have a spare computer here at the moment, Jim. I need this one.’ Sparrow pointed to the screen pushed to the edge of the desk. ‘I know it’s cramped in here but make yourself as comfortable as you can.’
‘I’ll manage,’ James said. He put the pile of papers down on the edge of the desk leaving plenty of room for Milla to work. He began reading the reports on the deaths of the two overdose victims. Most of it was factual reports of the discovery of the bodies and the reports by scene of crime officers and the pathology team. James looked for clues about the victims lives. Murray’s body had been discovered by his flatmate in the shabby bedsit they shared. It was clear that they were both gay, sometime partners, and both selling themselves to other gay men to pay for their drug habits. There wasn’t much on where they picked up their clients and James realised he would have to speak to the surviving partner himself.
There was even less on the other victim who lived alone and apparently had a decent job in the town. He’d been found by a middle-aged woman who he employed to clean his flat one day a week. He didn’t seem to have any close friends – no-one at his place of work had shown much interest in his death and all his family lived up north. I wonder if the cleaner knows more about his lifestyle, James thought, cleaners usually have an opinion or two on their employers.
James put the papers down. ‘Do you think we should talk to this partner of Murray and Butler’s cleaner again?’ he said to whichever of Money or Sparrow was interested. He hadn’t yet worked out which was the senior. Money was the older but Sparrow seemed most switched on and alert.’
‘Yeah, if you like,’ Money said, eyes still locked on his screen.
Sparrow looked at James. ‘Why, Jim? What do you think they can tell us?’
‘Perhaps they know more about the victims than they’ve said so far. We may find a link to Natalie and the Marquis.’
‘Good idea, let’s go.’ Milla tapped a key, reached down for her shoulder bag and stood up. ‘You didn’t think Sloane would let you out on your own do you?’ She said to James’ surprised face. ‘We work in pairs when we’re out of the office, Jim. This is the Violent and Serious Crime Unit. You never know what we might come across.’

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