Jasmine decides

As I said last time, I spent last weekend at the Nine Worlds convention (or “geek fest” the organisers call it) in Hammersmith, London.  I enjoyed myself chairing a Q&A session 9Worldswith John Gribbin and Zoe Sutra who were launching their books, published by Elsewhen.  I attended a number of other sessions, some better than others, the highlight being a talk on how to build a spaceship that generated quite a few ideas (and arguments). There were lots of people in costume, most of whom meant nothing to me but they impressed me with their dedication and handiwork. Perhaps most noticeably, both in the convention programme and simply looking around was the emphasis on diversity.  This showed up in a variety of ways – there were as many women as men of all ages, there were a variety of ethnicities represented, there were people with disabilities, and most important for me, there were a good number of non-binary people.  It was an opportunity for everyone to be whoever they wanted to be, whether it was Princess Leia, a fairy, or someone proud to be neither overtly male or female.  I’m looking forward to next year.

Next up is the UK Indy Lit Fest in Bradford on 26th August.  There will be over forty authors like me there, with books to sell either self-published or published by small independent publishers. I really do hope that there will also be plenty of people looking around, browsing and buying books. If you are going, you can pre-order my books by completing this form.

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My latest Elsewhen book, Cold Fire, is now available as an e-book on all platforms.  The paperback will be available soon – watch this space as they say.

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And so to Jasmine Frame’s latest adventure in Viewpoint. Here is episode 9.

Viewpoint: Part 9

The pale autumn sun hung over the canal, glinting off the murky water. Jasmine’s feet pounded the towpath. It had stopped raining and the air had a freshness to it. She was running to dispel the frustration and anger and also to overcome the feelings left by yesterday’s jog with its macabre conclusion. Another unexpected wade through the cold water was not on her list of desirables. She was approaching the bypass bridge and there, underneath the roadway, was Harold’s old boat and Harold himself stroking a paintbrush along its multi-coloured wooden superstructure. His wiry haired dog of no identifiable breed sat patiently beside him watching as he worked.
Jasmine slowed to a stop when she drew level with the old boatman. The dog approached her and lowered its head to sniff her running shoes. Harold turned and spoke to her in his Yorkshire accent.
‘Hello again lassy. Don’t often see tha at this time of day.’
Although Jasmine had occasionally stopped to chat she was surprised that Harold was familiar with her routine of early morning or evening runs.
‘I needed to get out. I finished early today,’ she said.
‘Ah well, no doubt you think it does tha some good.’
‘Running lets me think,’ Jasmine said.
‘Well now, a gentle walk with Robbie here before closing up for t’night does that for me,’ Harold said.
‘Which way do you usually go?’
Harold nodded to the setting sun, ‘Away from the town, lass.’
‘As far as Renham lock?’
Harold looked into her eyes. ‘That I do. Give Robbie a chance to do his business and nose around after rabbits. You’ve a ken for what I saw a couple of nights ago.’
Jasmine’s stomach churned. What had he seen? ‘Tuesday night, yes. Did you see anything, er, unusual?’
‘Now what does tha mean by unusual? I saw three fellas up at the lock dropping stuff in the water. Tha’s not so unusual. Plenty of them fly-tippers thinking that the canal makes a useful rubbish dump.’
‘Did you see what it was?’
‘No, but it was quite a weight. Took two of them to heave it off the bank. I reckoned it was a dead sheep or summat.’
‘You know a body was found there yesterday morning.’
He nodded. ‘Aye, and it was thou what found it, weren’t it? I saw you run past, earlyish, and didna see you come back. Then there wus all them sirens. I wandered up to have a look but when I saw the coppers I turned back. Some other dog walkers said what was happening and I put two and two together.’
Jasmine shivered at the memory of the cold water. ‘I saw the body in the water. It had come back to the surface. I went in and dragged it out. Did the police officers come to speak to you?’
‘Na. Why would they trouble themselves to walk all the way down here to hear what I had to say?’
It should have been Terry and Derek who’d been asking questions but they had focussed on the possibility of eyewitnesses on the track from the road. Unless you knew the canal, like she did, you wouldn’t know that there were people like Harold on it at all times of the year.
‘Could you describe the men, Harold?’
Harold sniffed. ‘It was nigh on dark. They wuz shadows more than anything, but definitely three fellas, one of them small and he had a limp.’
Jasmine was excited. Riley? With Taylor and someone else perhaps?
‘What about their vehicle, Harold? Did you see that?’
‘Like I say, it was dark. I couldn’t get a number.’
‘No, I understand. But the type of vehicle?’
‘Oh, it was one of them old Land Rovers, short wheelbase, pick-up.’ He had described Taylor’s Land Rover. Of course, there were plenty of them around, but it confirmed her suspicions well enough for her. Harold’s observations could be vital evidence.
She asked him a question. ‘You’ve moored here a while, haven’t you?’
Harold nodded, ‘For as long as the Board will leave me be. No doubt they’ll be along in a day or two to move me along a bit.’
‘You’ll still be on the canal though?’
‘Oh, aye. I only move as far as I have to. Perhaps a couple of miles the other side of Kintbridge or back towards Thirsbury.’
‘I’ll be able to find you again, then.’
‘Tha might have to run a bit further lass.’
‘No problem.’ She turned to face back into the town.
‘Not going on this time then?’ Harold asked.
‘No, there’s work to do,’ Jasmine said, taking her first stride.

On her return to her flat, Jasmine undressed. She replaced the brightly coloured vest, shorts and shoes with black tights, a short black skirt, black polo neck and black ankle boots. She glanced out of the window. The sky was darkening but it wasn’t yet fully night-time. Not time yet. She toasted some bread and spread it with peanut butter. As she munched on it she felt excitement. Denise Palmerston would be furious if she knew what she planned, but that, sort of, made Jasmine more determined to follow through with her plan.
Harold’s information confirmed for her that Taylor and Riley were responsible for Alfie’s death. She was sure they had held him before he had died, either at the farm or at the park home site. She was going to look at the latter first. Tom had said that Riley’s hut was small but there were plenty of others on the site. Embarking on a search alone was against her instructions and contrary to police protocol, but she felt she was on her own now. If Palmerston wasn’t going to take Alfie’s death seriously then it was up to her.
It was dark now and the evening rush hour would have died down. After putting on her dark puffer jacket and black leather gloves she left the flat, checked that she had a torch, with batteries, in the glove compartment of the Fiesta and set off. Retracing her journey the previous evening, she drove to the edge of town and turned along the lane past the park homes. She drove on a couple of hundred yards and pulled off the road on to a suitable verge. She locked the car, dropped the keys into the pocket of her jacket and set off back up the road gripping her torch.
Before she reached the entrance to the park she climbed over a gate into a ploughed field and walked alongside the hedge that bordered the site. At the corner, there was a wooden gate. It was locked but Jasmine quickly clambered over it and dropped into knee-high grass. The shadows of the huts loomed against the night sky with the glow of the town beyond.
She crept to the nearest cabin. The grass was trimmed neatly around it and there were pots of shrubs either side of the front door. Jasmine moved onto the second. This too looked cared for and occupied. She continued along the well-spaced row until she came to the hut closest to the far hedge. This one was smaller than the others and the long grass grew up above the columns of breeze blocks that supported the floor of the hut. Jasmine crawled around the hut not daring to use her torch but feeling the ground. The grass was beaten down in front of the doorway and in two narrow strips. A vehicle had parked here not many days ago.
Jasmine approached the hut, raising her head to peer through the dirty windows. There was nothing to see as curtains covered the windows. She pressed her ear to the window and listened. No sounds from inside. Surely the hut was unoccupied. She moved to the front door, tested the handle. It was locked. That wasn’t surprising but perhaps she would have some luck round the back of the hut. Her reward was finding a small window open an inch or two. She inserted her hand through the gap and was able to lift the latch. The window swung open. It was a small gap but with her slim figure she could wriggle through. She entered head first, groping with her hands for the floor to support herself before she tumbled in.
She folded herself into a crouch and waited. There was no sound. The hut was empty. As she suspected, she was in a bathroom; a none too clean bathroom. There was the stink of mould, urine and faeces. She took her torch from her pocket and turned it on. The light revealed a grubby wash basin, loo and bath. Were the stains merely dirt or blood? They looked suspiciously like the latter to Jasmine.
She pushed on the door and it swung open. A scan with the torch showed a small bedsitting room with an old, iron-framed single bed against one wall with a bare mattress. There was a threadbare rug covering part of the rough wood floor, a small dining table and chairs and no other furniture at all. In one corner was a sink unit and old gas cooker. Jasmine could hardly imagine living here and she wondered whether in fact anyone did, voluntarily. She crossed to the bed and shone the torch on the head and foot. There were cords looped around the rails at the four corners, with loose, cut ends. Someone had been tied down, hand and foot, spread-eagled. Had it been Alfie? She was looking closely at the stains on the mattress when the front door creaked open.
Jasmine spun around, her heart thudding, her legs ready to run. But there was no escape. Two figures filled the doorway: a short man and one that was taller. The light bulb hanging from the centre of the ceiling flicked on giving out a dim, yellow light.
‘What the ‘ell?’ The shorter man said in a distinct Irish accent.

……………………….to be continued.

 

 

 

 

Jasmine office-bound

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

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

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

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

Viewpoint: Part 8

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

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

………………………..to be continued.

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