A change is as good as. . .?

Not a lot of time to write this week as I am experiencing the wonders of Scotland. We are staying in the small village of Kenmore at the end of Loch Tay where the River Tay commences its route to the sea. Although the hilltops have been lost in mist we have had dry weather in which to explore. Our walks have taken in the lakeside, a steep climb alongside a dark but attractive waterfall; tracks through Tolkienesque woodland with snatches of views across glens; and traverses of hillsides.  We have not, and do not intend to tackle any munros but are astounded by the beauty of our surroundings. The apparent remoteness is striking.  We drove the seventeen miles along the single-track road following the southern shore of the loch and the twenty or so miles through Glen Lyon. Both were dotted with houses (lived in and for holidays), farms, forestry works,  even a school,  all many miles from a shop and most over thirty miles from anything resembling a town. There’s a heck of a lot of driving done in this idyllic wilderness.
The vegetation is lush, and not-so-wild animal life (sheep, cows, pigs, pheasants, partridges) very visible. We have seen hares but so far no red squirrels. We have also spotted various tourists like us taking advantage of the midge and child free almost off-season.

……………………………

WP_20170824_11_55_17_ProI haven’t had the opportunity to watch this week’s Horizon on gender reassignment (or confirmation) so cannot comment on it. However I did catch a possible storm in a teacup about a researcher whose proposed investigation of reversal of gender reassignment was refused by Bath Spa Uni, apparently on the grounds of it “not being PC”. I will be very annoyed if that is the reason. For a start the term “political correctness” is a red herring (or a stinking kipper). Behaving in a PC fashion merely implies allowing a person their right to a safe, unmolested life and that is all. Anyone who complains that something is “PC gone mad” is usually a bigot who wants to deny someone their basic right.
However, back to the main point – investigating the reversal of a transsexual transition. I am quite sure that a significant proportion of people who have transitioned find that it was a big mistake. People change their minds about things, even life-defining matters, all the time. I would not be surprised to learn that this is particularly true of those who transitioned more than 10 years ago. Then, declaring oneself transsexual and going through all the stages of transition was the way one could express one’s conflict with one’s birth gender, unless one was content to be labelled a transvestite or crossdresser with the attendant threat of ridicule and worse, if found out. Today, I think, society has moved somewhat and there are more options; being non-binary, gender-fluid, agender are alternatives to transitioning with all its medical implications. While more people are recognising that they are trans, and at younger ages, I wonder if as big a proportion want to go “all the way”. Whatever the statistics, those who do realise they have made a mistake should not be vilified as traitors to the trans cause and given the help they need. Research on the matter would be useful.

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No Jasmine episode this week or fill-in. Just a reminder of the publications available.
Discovering Jasmine:  James is 17 and learning how to be Jasmine, but a chance meeting with a mature transsexual draws her into a life-threatening conflict and her first contact with the police.
Novella. Available only as a Kindle e-book.

Murder In Doubt: James is starting his university career and venturing out as Jasmine. She meets Angela Madison. When they hear that a trans student has died Jasmine is convinced she has been murdered and sets out to investigate.
Novella. Available only as a Kindle e-book

Painted Ladies: Jasmine is sore from having resigned from the police force but is drawn into the investigation of a killer who is targeting transgendered people by her former boss, DCI Sloane. She joins her old buddy Tom Shepherd in the investigation but finds that she could be the next victim.
Novel. Available in paperback and as Kindle e-book.

Bodies By Design: Jasmine is about to clear a significant hurdle in her transition but is invited to join the investigation into the death of a young person of uncertain gender. Jasmine find herself in the world of she-males and transgender prostitution where she presents a tasty target for the killer.
Novel. Available in paperback and as Kindle e-book.

The Brides’ Club Murder.  A country house hotel, a murder, ten suspects. Jasmine is called in to infiltrate the Wedding Belles and identify the killer of their leader. She is forced to participate in a transgender ritual that she finds distasteful, but with time running out she must reach a decision on who is the murderer.
Novel. Available in paperback and as Kindle e-book.

…………………………………….

 

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Jasmine in the earth

WP_20170826_14_01_13_ProWe had a lovely day at the UKIndieLitFest in Bradford last weekend. There were lots of writers competing for the book buyers which were always going to be scarce.  Nevertheless we gave away a few copies of Painted Ladies, sold a few others and did lots of good promotional stuff.

Now it’s NAWGFest weekend; two full days at Warwick Uni.  I hoping  to see some familiar faces and make some new friends, and even sell a few more books.  I’m also looking  forward to going to Sandbach on 23rd Sept for their Author-Book-Signing Day – more opportunities.  Soon after that we will be into the launch of Cold Fire in paperback (it’s already available as an e-book).  I’ll have some interesting things to show you when the time is a bit closer.cover medium

Back to our brief visit to Bradford.  We had a evening in the city centre looking for somewhere to eat. Bradford is of course a very diverse community and I felt it very welcoming. Just before we went we watched one of the BBC Gay season programmes about the abuse of and vicious attacks on LGBT people, some very recent. It is dreadful what harm a very small number of people can do and knowing that these things can happen can make people fearful of stepping outside their door. The fear of terrorist attacks has a similar effect. But I am sure (I hope) the number of serious hate-crimes against gay and trans people is relatively low.  I don’t want to feel threatened every time I go out but I am wary, and fairly selective of where I go.

Talking of attacks, Jasmine is in the hands of a vicious trio in Viewpoint. Does she survive?  Of course she does.  It’s a prequel to Painted Ladies and the other novels.  But you can find out what happens by reading part 12 below.

Viewpoint: Part 12

A shadow of a figure crouched down beside her.
‘God! You are alive, aren’t you?’
Jasmine fluttered her eyelids to show Tom that she was indeed living. It was about all that she could move.
‘Can you breathe?’ Tom inserted a finger to pull the cord from her mouth but only succeeded in making it dig into the back of her head even more and pushing the cloth down her throat. He pulled a penknife from his pocket and flicked it open.
‘Lie still. It’s going to be difficult to cut the string without nicking you.’
Lying still was okay. Tom slid the blade between her cheek and the binding and sawed at it. The cords broke and Jasmine felt release but the cloth was still wedged in her mouth. Tom tugged it out and she at last felt cold air enter her lungs. She breathed in deeply and closed her eyes in relief. Tom moved to her wrists and then her ankles, freeing her limbs. Excruciating pins and needles in her arms and legs were the result. She groaned.
‘Are you alright, Jas? They didn’t hurt you, did they?’
Jasmine managed a shake of her head but no words would come out of her mouth yet.
Tom bent down to her and scanned his torch over her body. The light dazzled her and she screwed up her eyes.
‘Are you sure you’re okay?’
Jasmine gasped and said in a hoarse whisper, ‘I’ll be fine. Now.’
Tom stood up. ‘Derek! Read them their rights then get them to a car. Keep them apart. Don’t let them talk to each other. There are questions they need to answer.’
Jasmine heard Derek Kingston reciting the arrest. Tom leant down to her with an arm outstretched.
‘You must be soaked. Can I help you up?’
Jasmine hadn’t given a thought to where she was lying. Now she noticed that the leaf litter was sodden and she was too. She lifted a leaden arm. Tom took hold and gently pulled her to her feet. Her knees buckled rather than take her weight and she started to slide down Tom’s body. He grabbed her with both arms and hauled her upright.
‘Sorry,’ she muttered, ‘My legs don’t seem to want to hold me.’
‘That’s okay, Jas. We’ll head back to the car.’
Tom half dragged, half carried her through the woodland to where the Land Rover was parked. Tom’s unmarked Mondeo was there too and three police cars. Jasmine rested against the roof of Tom’s vehicle while he opened the doors. The three men, handcuffed and lead by police officers followed and were taken to separate cars.
Tom, opened the rear door and helped Jasmine into the seat. DC Kingston joined them.
‘You stay here, Derek,’ Tom said, getting into his driving seat. ‘That Land Rover needs looking at and we’ll need photos of the digging they were doing. You should have assistance soon.’ As he finished a police four-by-four arrived and two more uniformed officers got out.
Tom turned the key in the ignition and closed his window. Jasmine felt the warm air from the heater and recalled that it was less than two days since she had experienced a similar welcoming blast.
They drove along the rough, dark track until they reached a road. Jasmine peered into the blackness. If Tom had not appeared when he had, she thought, it would have been a long time before her body was found, buried in the depths of the wood.
‘Thanks Tom. You saved my life.’
She caught Tom’s eyes in the car mirror.
He didn’t respond to her gratitude. ‘What were you doing there, Jas?’’
‘They brought me in the Land Rover.’
Tom sighed. ‘I know that. What I meant was, what were you doing at the cabin?’
And so it starts, Jasmine thought. My inquisition.
‘I was sure that Alfie had been held captive at that park,’ she began, ‘but Terry Hopkins had said that Riley’s hut was too small for him to have been kept there. I guessed that there would be an empty cabin that they had used. I didn’t think Palmerston was concerned so I thought I’d have a little look myself.’
‘You found it.’
‘Yes. It was obvious really. The hut appeared to have been unoccupied for some time but there were fresh tracks in the grass outside it. I managed to get in to have a look round. Then Riley and his mate turned up and I was stuck.’
‘You shouldn’t have gone on your own, Jas. You shouldn’t have gone at all. Denise took you off the case.’
‘I couldn’t let it be, Tom. She wasn’t going to do anything.’ Jasmine was annoyed at the whine that had crept into her voice.
Tom twisted his head round to glance at her briefly. ‘Actually, she did, Jas. She thought Taylor required watching. Derek and I drew the evening shift. We spent a couple of hours sitting outside his farm gate twiddling our thumbs until he left in the Land Rover. We tailed him to the park. He stopped off at Riley’s place but there was no one in. He got back in the car and headed further into the park.’
‘You followed him?’ Jasmine asked getting excited by Tom’s tale.
‘Well, I thought we’d be noticed if we drove in. Derek went on foot. He found Taylor’s car parked outside the hut. Riley and his friend were loading something onto the back; he didn’t know then what it was. Taylor set off and Derek had to run like Bolt to get back to me. We almost lost them then but luckily Taylor wasn’t driving fast. Perhaps his old crate can’t go at speed. We tailed him all the way to the wood and luckily none of them noticed. Derek followed them in and came back and reported what they were doing.’
‘Preparing to bury me.’
‘Well, we didn’t know it was you, but yes.’
‘So you called in back-up.’
‘That’s right, but told them to arrive without sirens and lights.’
‘Just in time.’
‘Yes. I’m not sure how much time we had left. That hole they dug was plenty big enough.’
Jasmine shivered. She could almost feel the cold wet earth around her but couldn’t imagine being dead. Tom drove on in silence. When they got in to the centre of Kintbridge Jasmine noted that Tom was not heading to the police station.
‘Hey, Tom. Where are we going?’ she cried.
‘I’m taking you home, Jas, unless you think you need the hospital.’
‘No, I’m fine.’ In fact, her arms and legs were still sore and she felt lousy but that wasn’t the point. ‘But we need to question Taylor, Riley and Gary; get their confessions to Alfie’s murder.’
‘You’ve forgotten something, Jas.’
‘What?’
‘You’re off the case. You’re not going to be doing any questioning.’
‘Aw, Tom.’
‘Don’t do that. DS Palmerston is in charge and she’d have my balls if she found I’d let you take part in the interrogation.’
‘But, they said things when they had me in the hut. I know they kept Alfie there and they killed him.’
‘And we’ll need to know what you heard, Jas. Do you really want to face Palmerston, or even Sloane now, in the state you’re in?’
Jasmine became conscious of her wet and mucky clothes and then remembered.
‘Er, Tom, we can’t go to my flat.’
‘Why not?’
‘I haven’t got my key.’
‘Where is it?’
‘In my bag, in my car.’
Tom braked and pulled into the side of the road. He turned around to face her.
‘And where’s that.’
Jasmine managed a thin smile. ‘Back at the cabin site, well, a few yards from it.’
Tom sighed, twisted back, glanced in his mirror and pulled the car round in a U-turn.
‘Okay, we’ll go and pick it up.’

It took a few more minutes to drive out of the town again and onto the lane that lead to the park-home site. Tom slowed as they approached the gates. There was a police car parked at the entrance with its lights on and there were lights showing at various parts of the grounds.
‘Can we. . .’ Jasmine began.
‘No, Jas, we’re not going in. SOCO will be going over both huts and Palmerston may even have got officers questioning the other inhabitants. Where’s your car?’
Jasmine pointed through the windscreen. ‘Another hundred metres or so.’
Tim drove on slowly until the dark outline of the Fiesta appeared, parked on the verge. Jasmine felt in the pocket of her jacket and was relieved to find her key was still there. The car stopped and Tom got out to open the rear door. Jasmine swung her legs round, put her feet on the tarmac and tried to stand up. She almost made it.
‘O..oh. Careful there, Jas.’ Tom caught her as she crumpled up. He lowered her back onto the back seat. ‘I’ll get your bag. Give me your keys. Where is it?’
Jasmine fumbled in her pocket feeling bemused by her weakness. She pulled out the car key and placed it in Tom’s waiting hand.
‘Um, thanks, Tom. It’s under the passenger seat.’
Tom moved away and Jasmine contemplated her fatigue. She felt sore all over and so lethargic that ever moving again seemed impossible.
Her bag dropped onto her lap.
‘There. Let’s get you home.’
‘What about my car key?’
‘I’ll keep it and get your Fiesta brought back into town. Is that OK?’
As Jasmine wasn’t in a mood to make plans herself she indicated her agreement.

Tom drew to a halt at the steps to her flat. He got out and opened her door.
‘Go and have a shower and get some sleep. I’m sure Denise will want to speak to you early in the morning. One of us will come and pick you up I expect.’
Jasmine slid across the seat noting that she was leaving a damp and grubby patch on the upholstery. This time, Tom helped her to her feet and escorted her to her door with an arm under her armpit. She inserted the key into the lock and pushed the door open. Tom’s arms guided her into a dining chair.
Jasmine looked up at him. ‘Okay, Tom. I’ll manage now. Thanks for looking after me, again.’
‘Don’t expect me to make a habit of it, but I’m glad we got to you before. . .’ He turned away and pulled the door closed behind him. Jasmine sighed and faced the challenge of getting to her feet.

……………………..to be continued.

 

Jasmine finds a lead

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

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

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

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

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

Viewpoint: Part 4

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

…………………….to be continued.

 

 

Jasmine returns

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

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

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

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

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

Viewpoint: Part 3

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

…………………..to be continued.

 

 

Jasmine 3 – an excerpt

No, I’m not going to comment on that and that. . . (you know what). Here’s something else that has exercised my rant cells this week.

I was at a meeting on diversity and minorities. I was told quite forcefully that sharing “fundamental British values” was the way forward for community integration. I didn’t know much about FBV so I’ve looked it up. It’s a policy from the dying days of the coalition in 2014 when Cameron was running scared from UKIP and promising all sorts of things (like a referendum on EU membership) if re-elected.  The DfE was given the task of introducing FBV into the curriculum of all schools in England.  I can find no trace of this happening in Wales and Scotland. The DfE seems to have forgotten that there was already a  subject called Citizenship in the National Curriculum which tackles what it means to be a citizen of the UK. Instead, FBV was tacked on to “spiritual, moral, social and cultural development” across the curriculum. That word “fundamental” sticks out doesn’t it. It’s a bit too close to fundamentalism for my liking meaning, as my old Oxford dictionary says – maintenance of traditional orthodox beliefs in opposition to modernism. To be fair, “fundamental” merely means the base, the foundation, getting to the root of the matter, or a rule. Still sounds a bit authoritarian to me.

So what are these FBVs that we (or rather people living in England) should apparently share?

The first is democracy. This was invented by the Greeks (or perhaps earlier). Britain claims to be the first parliamentary democracy but it was the 1920s before women got the vote and 16 year olds are still denied a vote despite paying  taxes, being able to marry and die for their country in the armed services. A democracy where an unelected chamber can delay and attempt to modify new laws. A democracy where most MPs were voted for by a minority of electors and in most constituencies the winning party is unlikely to change from one election  to another.  That’s something to be proud of is it?

Second is the rule of law. This from a government that has refused to comply with a court ruling that it must do something to improve air quality. A rule of law that in living memory saw police officers being used to oppose striking miners, trap gay men in little used public loos, and infiltrate law-abiding protest groups with forged identities. At least we have an independent judiciary, but that means it’s a self-perpetuating white male judiciary. Something to be proud of?

Next there is religious freedom and acceptance and tolerance of other faiths. Yes, you can  believe what you like but the encouragement of faith schools is hardly encouraging a meeting of minds and the last time I checked the CofE was still the state-religion with bishops in the House of Lords. Something to be proud of?

Finally, there is identifying and combatting discrimination.  That’s all – the guidance doesn’t say how or what discrimination. This from a government that has targeted the poor and needy for the bulk of the austerity cuts, done nothing to stop the expanding gulf between the rich and the rest of us, and is now encouraging the view that immigrants are lazy scroungers. Something to be proud of?

They are fine ideals to aspire to but I would find it difficult to cheer the UK’s record in these areas throughout recent history particularly in a competition with other nations, particularly some of our near neighbours. Apparently they don’t have to be values unique to Britain, so what is the point? I am proud to be British, like I am proud to be Welsh, European and human, but I will not have my Britishness tested by how loudly I cheer for these fundamental British values.

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There that’s over.  Now to Jasmine.  Here’s a tiny taster of the soon-to-be-published novel number 3 – The Brides’ Club Murder. Actually this excerpt it doesn’t feature Jasmine at all, but here you are:

The Brides’ Club Murder

Chapter 1
 ‘Good afternoon. I’m Vernon Vokins. I have a reservation.’ Vernon’s booming voice alerted the receptionist while he was still some feet from her, as he intended.  Reaching the desk, he released the handle of the case he had been towing and used all of his six foot three inches to loom over the young woman. She looked up and gave Vernon a welcoming smile.
‘Welcome to Ashmore Lodge, Mr Vokins,’ she glanced at the screen hidden below the reception desk, ‘You have the suite in the Pang Wing booked.’
‘I should hope so,’ Vernon said, ‘and I trust all the preparations have been made for our weekend activities.’
‘I am sure the Manager, Mr Adams, has everything under control, Mr Vokins.’
‘I will ensure that he does. This is a very special occasion.’
‘The Ashmore Lodge is very experienced with special occasions, Mr Vokins.’
Vernon glared at the woman, wondering if she was being insolent. Deciding not to upbraid her, he took the pen she offered him and signed the registration card on the desk.
‘Ah, Vernon, you’ve arrived.’
Vernon turned his head to see a buxom woman in a flowery dress and shoulder-length, shiny black hair approaching him. He put down the pen and held out his hand.
‘Belinda. Pleased to see that you’re on the ball as always.’ Vernon’s hand received a powerful squeeze.
‘Well, as I’m no distance away I like to be here to welcome our guests.’
‘Of course. You have always been the perfect host, Belinda.’
‘How about your journey, Vernon. Not too exasperating I hope.’
‘The train was six minutes late, but one has come to expect that these days.’
Belinda gave Vernon a sympathetic look.
‘Well, you’re here in good time. Some of the girls have arrived but I haven’t see any of your group yet.’
‘Good. They were told not to arrive before two so I could get here first and check arrangements.’
‘Ah yes, Vernon. You’ll want to make certain everything is tip-top, especially as you have a real wedding as part of this year’s programme.’
Vernon felt a stab of annoyance at the thought that the official ceremony should take precedence.
‘Hmm. Yes. Well, that is an exception. Is your good wife here as usual?’
‘Oh, yes. Taking advantage of the calm before the storm to have a swim. Now I had better get on. I want to make sure the ballroom is ready. Shall we meet to go over things?’
Vernon glanced at his watch. ‘How about four-thirty.  I should have completed my transformation by then.’
‘Very well. Four-thirty it is.’ Belinda swept off towards the doors into the ballroom. Vernon turned back to the receptionist who was holding out a plastic card.
‘Here is your key, Mr Vokins.’
‘That’s a card.’
‘We’ve gone electronic since your last visit. You just need to hold the key close to the sensor beneath the handle of the door, it will let you into your room. If you do the same as you leave it will lock.’
Vernon took the card from the girl and looked at it suspiciously. ‘I’m not sure what’s wrong with old-fashioned keys. I hope this thing works.’
‘We haven’t had any problems,’ the young woman said.
‘Hmph. You’ll be the first person to hear if there are.’ Vernon reached down for the handle of his case and turned away from the desk. He noticed a slim woman in a pale blue skirt and jacket coming through the doors dragging a scuffed suitcase. She paused, straightened up and flicked her highlighted brown hair out of her eyes. Vernon recognised her. His upper lip wrinkled in annoyance.
‘Nolan. You’re here early. It’s only just two.’ Vernon said.
‘I’ll say I’m early,’ Samantha Nolan replied with a male, Irish voice. ‘Want to get my money’s worth out of this weekend. Cash is a bit tight since my wife threw me out. But you know all about that, don’t you.’ There was a quiver of emotion in Samantha’s voice.
‘How your wife and you resolve your problems is your affair.’ Vernon replied and turned towards the doors leading to the Pang Wing.
‘If only you had thought that before you told her I was a TV.’ The retort resounded across the vestibule but Vernon ignored it…

 

 

Jasmine climbs in

I’m posting this on the last day of 2016 which I suppose means that a review of the year is called for. Well, I am not going to go on at length about how awful it’s been. There have certainly been events which seem to foreshadow the descent into a dystopic future but perhaps I read too much SF. Let us hope that all our fears come to naught (or nought?) although my hope is a little weak. Also, in the last year we have lost a lot of people who have entertained us well in their lives.  It may be just a matter of statistics or, as one reporter said – our heroes are getting older just like us. Here’s a few of the names that made me feel sad for a moment or two – Victoria Wood, Alan Rickman, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, Robert Vaughan, Carrie Fisher.

The year has had its good times though.  The Olympics was one, although realising that it was four years since I was  Gamesmaker was a bit of a shock. Personally, there was the publication  of the third part of my fantasy series Evil Above the Stars, Unity of Seven; my first visit to Scotland; and celebrating Lou’s significant birthday. It was also the year when I decided to stop pretending to be something I am not; I gave up the sham of wearing silicone false breasts to give myself a more female figure, like I previously stopped wearing a female wig. Now I’m presenting the feminine me through my choice of clothes, accessories and make up and loving it. What that makes me in terms of labels – trans, gender-fluid, non-binary – I don’t know, but who cares.

Now we have to look forward to 2017. Though we may enter it, trembling with fearful anticipation, we have to look for the positives. I will be publishing  the third Jasmine Frame novel, The Brides’ Club Murder (more of that in the next few weeks) and hoping to persuade my fantasy publishers to take Cold Fire, the 4th September Weekes novel (though separate to Evil Above the Stars). I’ve got ideas for at least five articles on the history of chemistry for Collins Freedomtoteach blog.  Once Cold Fire is put to bed and Brides’ is published it will be time to choose my next project – the 4th Jasmine or something else? Don’t worry, I’ll tell you all about it here.

So, here we go, another rollercoaster of a year coming up, I think.

Best wishes for 2017

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And so to the penultimate (probably) episode of Falloff, the Jasmine Frame novella.

Falloff: Part 9

‘No! It couldn’t be Gemma or Carrie,’ Jess cried. ‘They were both very close to Raquel.’
Jasmine shrugged, ‘Perhaps, but nevertheless they are the main suspects.’
Andy hauled himself to his feet. ‘I’ve had enough of this. Are you coming Jess?’
Jess looked up at him. ‘Where? Bed?’
Andy took her hand and pulled her to her feet. ‘No, somewhere, anywhere away from this place. All this talk of murder pisses me off.’  He tugged Jess’ hand and with some reluctance she followed him out of the hotel.
‘Well, I’m ready for a good night’s sleep,’ Angela said with a yawn to follow.
‘Me too. If Alvarez wants to question Gemma or Carrie that’s his job.’ Jasmine replied, finding that she did indeed feel drained of energy.  They went to the lift, hand in hand, and pressed the button for their floor.
The lift doors opened and they stepped out into their corridor.  Inspector Alvarez was there, thumping on a door two rooms beyond their own.  He stopped when he saw them.
‘Ah, Seňoras. You have come to settle for the night?’
‘Yes,’ Jasmine said. ‘Is that Gemma’s and Carrie’s room?’
‘That is so. I would like to question them but they are not replying to my call.’
‘Perhaps they’re not in,’ Angela said.
‘Perhaps not.’ The policeman shrugged and stepped away from the door. ‘I shall return in the morning.’  He walked passed Jasmine and Angela, towards the lift. ‘Good night.’
Jasmine and Angela waited till the lift door had closed on the Inspector before entering their own room.
‘But Gemma and Carrie came up, didn’t they?’ Angela said, frowning.
‘We saw them get into the lift. Perhaps they just didn’t want to talk to Alvarez and kept quiet.’ Jasmine crossed their bedroom to the French windows and stepped on to the balcony. She looked to the left, across the balcony of the adjacent room from which Raquel had fallen, to the next. There did not appear to be a light on but by leaning out over the balcony rail she was able to see that the door on to the balcony was open. She listened carefully. Over the night-time noises of traffic on the road below, music from the clubs and bars, and voices of the many people still out on the promenade, it seemed that she could hear voices from the room. One of the girls was speaking loudly in a tone that made Jasmine come out in goose-bumps.
She looked at the gap between their own balcony and that of the adjoining room. It was barely a foot wide. Jasmine pulled her dress up to the top of her thighs and swung her leg over the rail, putting her foot down into what had been Carl and Raquel’s balcony. She glanced down. The ground around the swimming pool was dark but she recalled the sight of Raquel’s pale body lying on the grass last night. She put the memory and the fear of falling out of her mind.
Jasmine transferred her weight on to the foot and brought her other leg over. Angela appeared at the door.
‘What are you doing Jas?’ she called.
‘Shh!’ Jasmine said holding a finger to her lips. She walked slowly and silently to the other end of the balcony. The voice was louder but she still could not make out the words or which of the girls was talking. She repeated the manoeuvre, climbing onto the girls’ balcony and advanced to the open door.
There were no lights on but, in the moonlight, she could see one of the girls kneeling facing the other who was standing with her back to the window. Jasmine wasn’t sure who was who but she knew that what she was seeing wasn’t a tender love scene. The standing girl had both hands wrapped in the kneeling girl’s long hair and was tugging it, eye-wateringly hard. The dominant girl was speaking in a voice that hissed with malice.
‘You will do as I say, Carrie. You will tell that policeman that we were together all last night.’
‘Yes, yes, Gemma. Stop it, you’re hurting me. Please.’
‘You won’t say anything about Raquel?’
‘No, Gem. Ow!’
Jasmine stood in the doorway. ‘What shouldn’t Carrie say, Gemma?’
Gemma opened her hands and span around.
‘Who! What are you doing here?’
‘I thought I heard someone was in trouble and came to help,’ Jasmine said as calmly as possible but now that she could see the expression of fury on Gemma’s face, her heart was beating fast.
‘It’s none of your business.’
‘Oh, I think it is. If one person is hurting another then it’s everyone’s duty to stop it.’
The situation confused Jasmine. She was expecting it to be Carrie who was the aggressive one because if it had been her name that Raquel had whispered in her dying breath then surely, she was the killer. It had been Carrie who had been surly in the club while Gemma was full of bonhomie. But Carrie was on the floor rubbing her head. It was Gemma who stepped towards Jasmine, her face twisted into a grimace of hate. What had gone on between these two girls and Raquel?
‘What shouldn’t Carrie say about Raquel?’ Jasmine repeated, ‘That they were lovers?’
‘Nooo.’ Gemma launched herself at Jasmine, her hands outstretched. She hit Jasmine on her chest, squashing her false boobs. Jasmine fell back across the balcony. Her back hit the handrail sending a bolt of agony through her. Gemma was on her, fingers groping for her neck, pushing her head back over the void.
Jasmine felt her weight shifting, her centre of gravity moving over the pivot of the rail against her back. She reached up with her arms, but shoving Gemma away only pushed herself further over the drop. Lifting her feet to kick at Gemma made her sense of losing her balance worse. She felt herself teetering as Gemma’s hands closed around her throat.
‘Stop Gem!’
The pressure on Jasmine lessened. The hands released her neck. Her knees buckled and she slid down the rail until her bottom touched the floor of the balcony. Carrie had her arms around Gemma’s waist and was pulling her backwards while the girl flailed her arms.
Jasmine pushed herself to her feet and made a grab for Gemma’s wrists as she struggled to free herself from Carrie’s grip. Gemma kicked out wildly but Jasmine stepped between the girl’s legs and pushed her and Carrie back through the door into the bedroom. The maul toppled, Carrie released her grip and rolled free as Jasmine pinned Gemma down, pressing her hands to the floor.
‘Get Angela,’ Jasmine gasped as she struggled to hold the wriggling Gemma down.  Carrie scrambled to her feet and ran to the door, fumbled with the lock, pulled the door open and went.
Jasmine pressed down on the girl with all her weight, just holding her until she gradually subsided and lay still.  Padding feet announced arrivals. The ceiling light came on.
‘What’s happened? Jasmine? Are you alright?’ Angela said.
Jasmine shifted her weight onto her knees, taking it off the girl who lay on the wooden floor. She continued to hold Gemma’s wrist and was ready for any sign that the girl was going to resume her struggle. Gemma lay still, her face turned to the side.
‘Help me hold Gemma,’ Jasmine said, ‘She may just think she can run away.’  Angela came to her side, knelt down and took Gemma’s hand. Jasmine swung herself to the side of the girl while still holding her other arm. Jasmine got to her feet and with Angela helped Gemma to stand.
‘What’s been going on?’ Angela said.
‘I think we have Raquel’s killer,’ Jasmine said.
Gemma twisted, wrenching her hand from Angela’s grasp. She swung her arm with the weight of her body behind it, slamming her hand into Jasmine’s face. Jasmine’s grasp slipped from Gemma’s wrist. She raised a hand to cup her injured cheek. Gemma turned and ran to the balcony.
‘No, Gemma!’ Carrie cried.
Jasmine turned and through one eye saw the girl vault the rail and disappear into the darkness.
……………to be continued.

Jasmine warned

Are you offended?  Do you think you have the right not to be offended?  A few things have come my way this week which caused me to think about taking offence.  First of all an article by Eddie Mair in the Radio Times referred to those warnings you get before TV and radio programmes about language or nudity. In particular he was troubled by the warning before a talk show of “opinions which some viewers may find offensive”.  Mair questioned what these opinions might be and why he needed to be warned. Why did someone have to pre-guess what opinions listeners may be offended by?

Today I saw a clip on Facebook of an interview on American TV with one of Trump’s team. He didn’t care whether anyone was offended by anything that Trump or his supporters said.  He thought that for too long people who took offence have been pandered to and that in the Trump future people who had these feelings didn’t matter. This seemed to give a free-rein to racism, homophobia, etc.

Finally I saw a report of a BBC radio programme with Nick Grimshaw and David Walliams during which they played a game of trying to guess the gender of callers from their voice. Not surprisingly, trans people were offended that people’s gender should be questioned and ridiculed for the sake of a few minutes of entertainment. It might encourage people to point (and do worse) to people who didn’t fit their stereotypical view of male and female.

Penny ears

I hear no hate

I have often told people that I can’t be offended if they ask me questions about what it means to be trans. I don’t want people to be put off by the thought that I might be hurt because they don’t understand. I hope that by asking the questions they can learn, even if they use words or express opinions that I don’t agree with.

A lot is made of our right to freedom of speech (and freedom of the press). I have disagreed with attempts to deny certain people (for example radical feminists who deny that MtF transsexuals are women) a platform to express their ideas. So long as there is a debate and that both (or more) sides have a chance to give their opinions, backed up by explanation, then I am happy. What does annoy me, I might even say offends me,  is the wild sloganising that characterised the American election and the Brexit referendum; slogans with no basis in fact and often downright lies accepted as truth. I am worried that people in power in the USA, UK and elsewhere are feeling confident enough to spout baseless, hurtful opinions that can only be socially divisive.

I believe we have the right to give opinions. We do not have the right denigrate someone for their race, religion, abilities, sexuality, gender, gender identity, age or any other personal attribute. I believe we have the responsibility to back up our opinions with reason and fact. I believe we have the duty, not to feel offence, but to refute any opinions which we disagree with or which we think are harmful. If we do feel hurt and offended what people say it is not sufficient to simply complain about it, instead the offensive opinions must be opposed and answered.

There, that’s todays rant over. I hope you weren’t offended.

And now to part three of Falloff, the Jasmine Frame prequel. It’s July 2005,  Jasmine and Angela are on honeymoon, enjoying sun, sea, sand and dancing, but a death disturbs the peace.

Falloff: Part 3

James looked up into Angela’s face lit by the pale night-time light diffusing through the curtains. Her expression showed horror.
‘Murder?’ she said.
James pulled her down against him, wanting to hold her tight and feel secure.
‘Her nails must have got shattered fighting an attacker, and scrabbling to hold on to the balcony.’
‘That’s awful. Someone deliberately made her lose her grip and let her fall?’
‘It fits.’
‘But who? One of her group?’
‘They were in and out of each other’s rooms.’
Angela shook her head as far as she could while held in James’ arms. ‘But they seemed to be having a good time. They were all friends. Weren’t they?’
‘I wasn’t watching them closely enough to know, but they seemed okay with each other.’ He paused. ‘Mind you she was all over that big guy at the airport but I don’t remember seeing her actually with him yesterday.’
They were silent for a few minutes but James knew that Angela hadn’t fallen asleep.
‘What are you going to do?’ she said eventually.
‘What can I do? I’m just a visitor here on holiday as far as the Spanish police are concerned.’
‘But you could tell that detective, Alvarez, about her fingers.’
‘I’m sure he’ll have noticed them himself.’
They were quiet again until James had another thought.  ‘There was another thing though.’
‘What?’
‘She wasn’t dead when I got to her. She was still breathing and said something. Well, she made a sound.’
‘What kind of sound?’
‘Well, it may have been just a groan. It was very soft but it sounded like a name, or part of one.’
‘What name?’
‘Car.’
‘That’s something else for you to tell the detective.’
‘Hmm, yes, if he comes to question us again.’
They fell silent and while thoughts continued to pass through James’ mind, he drifted into sleep.
There were more people in the dining room for breakfast than there had been the previous day. For the late and all-night revellers, it was an unaccustomed gathering. Looking around the pale, tired faces and the quiet talk, James guessed that the news of the death had circulated and the young people wanted to discuss it, to make some kind of sense of the tragedy.   A few people who they had nodded to or spoken a few words to previously approached them and asked if they knew about the girl who had fallen. James and Angela nodded but he didn’t reveal his part in the discovery of the body or his suspicions.
The whispered speculations made James feel uncomfortable so after hurriedly eating a croissant and drinking a coffee they made a speedy return to their room.  As James bent to put the key in their lock a familiar voice spoke from behind him.
‘Ah, Seňor and Seňora Frame.’ It was Inspector Alvarez, the detective.
James straightened up and turned. The policeman’s eyes were heavy and his face a little more grizzled than it had been in the night, but he still seemed alert.
‘You have had breakfast perhaps?’ he continued.  James and Angela nodded. ‘And you slept well?’
‘No, not really,’ James admitted.
Alvarez nodded slowly, ‘Well, that is not a surprise. No doubt you were thinking about the girl. Your neighbour.’
‘Yes,’ James said wondering when the policeman was going to get to the point.
‘I am sorry your holiday has been affected by this incident.  May I see in your room please?’
‘Of course,’ James replied. He pushed the door open and invited the detective to step inside. He and Angela followed.
James watched as Alvarez scanned the room. He eyes paused on the unmade bed.  I bet he’s wondering if we had sex after returning to bed last night, James thought. His eyes moved on to the two dresses and sets of female underwear still lying scattered on the floor. Then Alvarez went to the window, pushed the curtain to the side and stepped through the open door onto the balcony.
‘You had the door open when you were in bed last night?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ Angela replied. ‘The room was still hot when we got back but there was a nice breeze blowing.’
‘There’s no air conditioning in the room,’ James explained.
‘Ah, Hotel Arena is not expensive,’ Alvarez said.
‘That’s right,’ James agreed wondering what the point was.
‘So affordable for young people with not a lot of money, Right?’
James shrugged, ‘Yes, that’s why we booked it.’
Alvarez turned and stepped to the rail around the balcony. He looked to the left from where the girl had fallen and then leant over to look at the ground. He turned around and returned to the bedroom.
‘You said you heard a cry and then a thud.’
‘I did,’ Angela said.
‘I didn’t notice it. Angela told me,’ James added.
‘Because your concentration was on other things,’ Alvarez said without a smile.
‘I suppose so,’ James said not wanting to go into details. Was the guy being voyeuristic?
‘But you didn’t hear anything else from the room next door?’
‘I don’t know,’ Angela said, ‘Nothing that caught my attention.’
‘There were all sorts of noises. Like now,’ James said. They all froze listening to the sounds that surrounded them. There was traffic noise from the road along the seafront, and from people around the pool. There were sounds of conversations, of taps running, of loos being flushed, of beds creaking from rooms above and below and to the right of their room.
‘Even in the middle of the night?’ Alvarez said.
‘Yes. You know that lots of the people were coming back from the clubs at all hours, partying in their rooms, and the traffic never stops.’
Alvarez nodded. ‘The walls are thin.’
James recalled the noises from their first night, the rhythmic thumping of a mattress above them as a couple had vigorous intercourse.
‘It’s a cheap hotel,’ James repeated.
Alvarez cocked his head to one side and looked at Angela. ‘So why did you notice the cry the girl made as she fell and the thud as she hit the ground?’
Angela’s mouth dropped open. ‘Um, I don’t know. I suppose they were different types of sound.’
The detective nodded, ‘The cry that escaped the girl’s lips as she lost her balance and the impact of her landing would have a different quality to the more familiar sounds.’
‘That’s the reason,’ James said a little more forcefully than he intended. He couldn’t decide whether Alvarez was doubting them.  The policeman gave him a thin smile.
‘Let us see if you can remember more. Sit down please, Seňor, Seňora.’  James and Angela sat side by side on the edge of the bed. Alvarez eased himself into one of the two small armchairs by the window.
‘Now, you arrived back in the room before most of the other guests.’
‘Yes.’ James agreed, ‘We were still a bit tired and not up for really late night dancing.’
‘Ah, you like the dancing to the music the clubs play.’
‘It’s one of the things we like doing together,’ Angela said. James caught her eyeing the crumpled dresses they had each worn.
‘So you came back and got into bed?’  James and Angela nodded. ‘But you didn’t fall asleep?’
James answered. ‘No. We weren’t quite that exhausted and it is our honeymoon.’
‘Of course,’ Alvarez kept a straight face, ‘Now remember. You are in bed, your minds may have been on other things, but think about the noises.  Did you hear a door open?’
James’ mind was a blank. He recalled sliding under the thin sheet and beginning to explore the familiar contours of Angela’s body. That totally absorbed him.
‘Yes, I may have done,’ Angela said.
‘The girl’s room, on that side?’ Alvarez pointed to their left.
Angela nodded slowly, ‘I think so.’
‘Once, twice, more times?’
‘What?’ Angela said.
‘The door. Did you hear it open and close more than once?’
Angela sat rigid, her eyes closed. James watched her as her brow crinkled.  ‘I think so. Yes, a while after the first time.’
‘And was there conversation?’
Angela shook her head slowly, ‘I don’t know, there may have been. There were voices from various places, I couldn’t tell.’
Alvarez let out the smallest of sighs. He stood up. ‘Thank you Seňora Frame.’ He started to move towards the door.
‘Wait!’ James said. The policeman paused, looked at him and frowned.
‘Yes, Seňor?’
‘What do you think happened to the girl? What was her name?’
‘Her name is Raquel Thomas,’ The detective replied immediately, ‘And I think she fell to her death.’
‘But how? Was it an accident, suicide or, um, murder?’
The detective glared at James, unblinking. ‘That is my job to find out, Seňor Frame.’
‘Which do you think it was?’
‘I am sorry. I do not discuss my thoughts. Do you have an opinion?’
James opened his mouth, paused. Should he say what he had observed? He took a breath, swallowed. ‘I think she was murdered.’
The policeman’s expression did not change. ‘Do you have evidence for that conclusion, Seňor Frame.’
‘Her fingernails were broken and her fingertips were bloody.’
Alvarez smiled. ‘Ah, you noticed that. You are a detective Seňor Frame?’
‘I’m a police constable, at home in England.’
The detective took a deep breath and frowned. ‘Well, PC Frame, thank you for your opinion and observation but please remember that you are on vacation here. The death of Seňorita Thomas is my case and I do not allow interference.’
James shook his head violently. ‘No, of course not.’
‘Enjoy your honeymoon Seňor, Seňora. Do what honeymooners do.’ Alvarez turned, pulled the door open and departed.
……to be continued.