Jasmine at rest

IMGP5962I’ve been on holiday and had a thoroughly relaxing time. So relaxed in fact that I have not done any writing, which is unusual when I am holiday. There’s been lot’s to do like reading and walking and gazing at the glorious views and lying on the sand with my eyes closed listening to the waves and watching the sunset (not the sunrise – haven’t been up early enough). It has been lovely just being. We have kept up to date with the news and there have been plenty of emails to delete every day but for once we have just not felt like bothering. I know that getting home will change all that but perhaps this feeling of “let it be” will continue. We have decided one thing – that I must do more to market Jasmine but how remains to be seen.

To fill in the gap, here is another of my older short stories. This one is fairly recent. I wrote it as a test to see if I could write an SF story based on an article in a random edition of New Scientist. The trouble is I am not sure how fictional it is or how far into the future it is set..

Potential for Evil

The room I was shown into reflected the contradictions of the British Security Service. An antique comfy sofa and dark wood panelling denoting the history of the service while the holographic projector on the mahogany desk signalled that technologically it was up to date. The projection blinked off as I entered like a bubble bursting and the figure behind the desk rose to greet me.
‘Ah, Professor Isabella Boyle.’ He pronounced each syllable of my title and name as if making sure he wouldn’t forget it. He was tall and dark and, I suppose, handsome in a 2020s sort of way. It looked rather dated today, like the pale blue summer suit he was wearing. He indicated the sofa and invited me to sit.
I settled into the soft, low cushions, thankful that I had chosen to wear trousers rather than a skirt despite the continuing summer heatwave.
‘You know who I am but I do not know your name,’ I said, perhaps showing a bit of irritation in my voice.  I had been summoned by my comm implant which let it be known that I couldn’t really refuse but with no information whatsoever about why my presence was required.
‘We don’t go in for identities here,’ he said lowering himself onto the sofa beside me, ‘It’s an historical thing I suppose. You can call me N if you like.’
‘N?’
‘It comes after M. Now Professor I want you to watch this.’
He wiggled his fingers and the projection formed in the air in front of us. ‘Resume, rewind, start,’ he said.
I saw a planar view of some dusty middle-eastern town. There were lots of people, men, women, children going about what seemed to be their normal business. They were surrounded by a cloud of buzzing insects which seemed to hover over or near each person.  As the picture moved I realised we were following one particular character, a young man. He seemed to know where he was going as he strode through the awning-covered streets until he came to the steps of a white concrete building. It appeared to me to be a meeting place where people got out of the extreme heat to eat, drink, chat, play games and do business.  The man we were pursuing stopped, took the bag he had been carrying off his shoulder and drew out a compact automatic firearm, bigger than a pistol. He held it in one hand and started firing.  Immediately people fell to the ground, bleeding, dying. Some fled but he shot them in the back. He turned, shooting continuously, spraying fire into every corner of the building, the gun automatically selecting targets, aiming and firing without any likelihood of missing. The assassin stepped forward and our viewpoint moved with him deeper into the shadows. Many people had no escape because the exits were blocked by those who had the time to start to flee. He carried on shooting, mercilessly cutting down everyone in line of sight.
He reached the far end of the building and paused. Now as well as the cries of the dying and the incessant chatter of his gun there was another noise – answering fire from outside the building. He stopped shooting, held up his hands and exploded. The image disappeared.
‘So?’ I said looking at N, ‘an act of terrorism in some foreign town. I can see plenty of those on newsfeeds if I wish – many closer to home.’
‘Of course,’ N said, a thin smile playing across his lips. ‘Didn’t you notice anything unusual?’
I thought for a moment, ‘The point of view followed the killer. You had a surveillance drone on him. Why couldn’t he be stopped?’
N smiled. ‘It wasn’t one of ours. We hacked it after the incident. The state follows everyone over the age of twelve with flybots but while it stores the uploads it doesn’t have the AI power to analyse them in real time so they’re only good for reviewing events not influencing them. The incident happened three days ago but what was interesting was who committed the atrocity.’
I was surprised at his use of the word “atrocity”.  It reminded me of my childhood when events like we had watched were not daily events. What had happened to make an atrocity an everyday occurrence?
‘A member of a rival faction?’ I suggested.
‘Could have been. There are plenty of jihadi groups vying for the reputation of being the most barbarous. Not that this was any more deadly than many others – just a hundred dead. No he wasn’t with one of them. His home was one of our supposed allies.’  He seemed particularly gleeful by that revelation.
‘How do you know? Whichever country he originated from he could have been a radicalised member of one of these terrorist organisations.’
‘Ah, that’s where you are wrong. You see we have accessed his i.d. He worked for one of our “friends”.’
‘How did you find out?’
N smiled broadly. He was enjoying showing off. ‘We’re not as out of touch as the public sometime think. We have agents in the field. One of them managed to get hold of the bomber’s body, well, his head actually. It arrived here yesterday.’
‘So you were able to read his implant.’
‘Yes, we know exactly who he is, what he’s been doing, what porn he’s accessed, everything. Except we don’t know what this is.’  N reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out a small, clear plastic bag. He handed it to me.
The bag appeared empty until I held it up to examine closely. Inside was a bundle of fine wires, each much thinner than a human hair, almost too thin to see. Attached to the wires were slightly larger nodes.
‘Where was this found?’ I asked although I was beginning to get ideas.
‘I think it is called his prefrontal cortex – the PFC? Separate to his comm implant anyway.’
‘Why are you showing this to me?’ I asked although I was pretty sure of the answer now.
‘You’re a top neuroscientist, Professor,’ N said, beaming at me and taking care to look at my face and not my breasts. ‘We think you can explain what this was doing in the agent’s brain and what it has got to do with his actions on behalf of our “ally”.’
I took a deep breath. ‘I suppose you realise that it was connecting to the neurones in the part of the brain that you named. The PFC is responsible for our higher functions – rational thought, decision-making, that sort of thing.’ I dangled the packet in front of me. ‘This is a behaviour modification device.’
‘I guessed that. But what is it doing exactly?’
‘Ah. I would need to know exactly where it was situated.’
‘I can help you there,’ N said, and began waving his hands in the air again. A new image appeared in front of me, 3D this time, – a full colour scan of the brain. ‘You can manipulate it,’ N said.
I raised my hands and fingers to hold the image of the brain, turn it, expand it. I reached in to grasp the piece I wanted to examine more closely.  The silver neural modifier stood out from the grey brain cells.
It was as I thought. ‘It’s made him evil,’ I said.
‘Really?’ N said as if I had confirmed his own guesses.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘A couple of decades ago it was discovered that a part of the PFC was involved in giving the person the potential for evil. That is the ability to perform violent acts frequently and without emotion and be willing to follow orders and adopt the belief system of the group which they have joined. It’s called Syndrome E.’
‘Your typical jihadi,’ N said nodding.
I pointed to the image that hung in the air. ‘This part of the PFC was found to be active in suppressing the moderate, altruistic, risk-averse instincts of other parts of the brain.  It seems that someone has engineered this implant to control the function – turn the evil on and perhaps off.’
‘So it seems. Thank you Professor. I suspected as much but needed your opinion as proof. You see N stands for Neurological Section Leader.’
I was confused. ‘But why would someone do that? Why put that thing in someone’s brain?’
N smiled again. ‘It seems that our ally has decided that trying to bomb our enemies into submission isn’t working. It isn’t. We’ve known that for decades but there hasn’t been any acceptable alternative. So they’ve decided to copy the enemy’s tactic of indiscriminate brutality.  Give them back the terror. But they needed a single minded, evil assassin happy to blow himself to bits if it killed enough innocent bystanders.’
‘Would they be able to find such a person?’ I asked realising immediately that I was being naïve.
‘Of course they could. Think of the Nazis, Irish IRA and protestant militia, Serbians in Bosnia, numerous American college boys.  Every nation has its reservoir of easily led, homicidal maniacs. The problem is controlling them.  With this device the guys in charge, like me, can turn anyone, or almost anyone, into a multi-murderer whenever we wish.’
I suddenly felt cold. ‘You said “we”.’
He gave me that broad grin again, like the cat that not only had the cream but a tasty dead bird as a side dish. ‘You don’t think we’re going to let our “friends” go on with this on their own do you? The Prime Minister wants our own Syndrome E Squad a.s.a.p. and as the leading authority on neural implants you are the person we are relying on to provide it, Professor.’
‘But how will releasing our own programmed killers end the war on terror?’ I asked.
‘It won’t,’ N replied.
‘Then, why?’
‘Because it will be a damn sight cheaper than operating the current fleet of drone bombers. Now, Professor, you’re not getting moralistic qualms about this are you? Not after developing the neural implant that has connected the whole population to the internet and allowed governments and corporations into everyone’s heads.
My uncertainty surfaced as an ‘Umm.’
‘I am sure I don’t have to remind you that under the state of emergency that has existed for the last twenty years your citizenship is dependent on you carrying out your government’s, that is my, wishes.’
I had no choice, unless I wanted to be deported from my own country. Any other that took me would make the same demands on my knowledge and skills. It appeared that from now on I would be harnessing the evil present in most, if not all minds, but perhaps I would also be able to insert an off switch.
‘When do I start?’

…………………….

Inspired by Roots of brutality, Laura Spinney, New Scientist p.40, no.3047, 14/11/15

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Jasmine is busy

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

Strong & Stable

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

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

Dust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jasmine is still away

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

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

 

 

The Necessity of a Raincoat

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

Jasmine in paperback

WP_20170310_15_03_46_ProIt’s been a busy week with the e-book of The Brides’ Club Murder going live (have you bought your copy yet?) and then on Tuesday, a boxful of the paperbacks arrived a week earlier than expected.  So, if you want an actual hard copy of the third Jasmine Frame novel, get in touch (go to the Jasmine Frame publications page for details.)

I also spent a pleasant evening with the members of a university writers’ group. It was an opportunity to ramble on about how Jasmine got created, me being trans, and what I have learned from self-publishing the Jasmine stories, having the September (Evil Above the Stars) series published by a small independent and working for educational publishers. I enjoyed myself and I hope they did too. It was interesting to hear about their writings – quite a variety of crime, fantasy and romantic/literary.  I’m sure some of them will achieve more financial success than I’ve managed.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: writing a novel is only part of the story; not even half of it. The publishing process is time-consuming (and expensive if you’re self-publishing as professionally as possible) and then there is the marketing. I can see why many people make a career of marketing because if it is to be done properly then it is a full-time job. I freely admit that I am useless at it. I get embarrassed about singing the praises of my own work even though I do actually think it’s pretty good and I struggle to find ways to reach out to the potential customers who I am sure are out there amongst the seven billion inhabitants of this planet.

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Here’s one way I’ve tried to promote Jasmine Frame – the weekly episodes of prequels to Painted Ladies. We’ve reached episode 7 of the latest, Darkroom.

Darkroom: Part 7

Jasmine and Debs reached the relative quiet of the entrance vestibule. Angela emerged from the Ladies’ loo with Diana behind her. Angela saw Jasmine immediately and gasped.
‘Jas! What’s happened to you? Your face is covered in blood.’
Jasmine touched her forehead.  It was sticky.
‘He’s here,’ she said.
‘Who?’ Angela frowned.
‘The guy who attacked Diana. He attacked me in the end quiet room.’
Angela’s face screwed up in a mixture of horror and pity. ‘He abused you lie he did Diana?’
Jasmine shook her head violently. ‘No. I got away and locked him in the room.’
Angela peered closely at her face. ‘It’s his blood?’
‘Yes, I made a mess of his nose.’ Debs pushed passed them towards the main entrance. ‘We’ve got him, Ange. We can call the police and get him locked up.’
Diana shook her head violently. ‘No. No police.’
‘Are you feeling alright?’ Jasmine asked, wondering if Diana still needed attention. ‘I didn’t call an ambulance because I couldn’t get a signal. That’s why I ended up with “him”.’
Diana appealed. ‘I feel, um, alright. No police and no ambulance. Please.’
Angela spoke for her. ‘Her pupils look normal so I think perhaps she doesn’t have concussion.’
‘Well, what are we going to do with the guy?’ Jasmine said feeling at a loss.
‘Think about it Jas,’ Angela said. ‘If you get involved with the police it will come out who you are.’
‘And word that I’m trans will get back to my senior officers.’
‘Yes.’
Debs approached with two security men behind her. One was the senior of the pair of doormen and the other was a younger, heavily built man that Jas had not seen before.
‘Take us to him then,’ Debs said.
Jasmine shrugged. She turned and led the small party back into the dance hall and across to the quiet rooms. They passed through the room which still had the snoggers in it.  They looked up as Jasmine lead the group to the door but showed little interest.  The key was still in her hand. She unlocked the door, pulled it open and stepped back for the security men to enter. Debs followed and flicked a switch on the wall. Small ceiling lights came on providing a dim illumination over the whole room.  Lying sprawled across a space between the chairs and sofa was the man. He was wearing a dark overcoat over dark trousers and black leather shoes.
Jasmine, Angela and Diana followed Debs and the security men into the room.
‘Is this the guy?’ the senior bouncer asked.
‘If he’s got a broken nose, then he’s the man that attacked me,’ Jasmine said.  The guard approached the prone body, bent down and nudged him. There was a groan and the man twitched his arms and legs. He started to lift himself up revealing, in the semi-darkness his ruined face. The two guards grabbed him under the arms and pulled him to his feet. He hung on them, his legs crooked.
Jasmine turned to Diana. ‘Is it the man who attacked you?’
Diana shrugged. ‘I don’t know. He shone the light at me. I couldn’t see his face. The only bit of him I saw was his penis when he thrust it at me.’ Her voice trembled.
‘I don’t think you’ll recognise that now,’ Debs said with an ironic chuckle, ‘I doubt that he’s aroused at this moment.’
‘He used the torch to dazzle me too,’ Jasmine said. She picked up the torch from where it lay on the floor. She flicked the switch. A bright beam shone across the room.
‘I’m sure that’s the same torch,’ Diana said, not too certainly.
‘Seems it’s the same guy, then,’ Debs said. She approached the man slumped in the arms of the two guards. She peered closely into his bloody face. ‘You disgusting piece of shit. I’m not having people like you attacking my girls.’
‘What can we do?’ Jasmine said. ‘Call the police?’
Debs turned to face Jasmine. ‘Leave him to me. We’ll make sure he doesn’t trouble trans-girls again.’ She turned back to face the guards. ‘Take him out of the back exit.’
The guards took a firm grip on the limp body and hauled him out of the room, his toes dragging against the hard floor.
Debs went too. Jasmine started to follow but Debs stopped and turned to her.
‘There’s no need for you to come. I’ll handle this now. Go and clean up. Have a drink. Enjoy the party.’  She turned on her high heels and strode out after the guards and their captive.
‘But. . .’ Jasmine began. Angela took her arm and pulled her back.
‘Leave it Jas. Here’s your bag and phone. They were on the floor. Let’s go and get this blood off your face.’ She led Jasmine back across the hall to the toilets with Diana trailing behind.
Angela dabbed a wet paper towel at Jasmine’s face.  Jasmine winced.
‘Ow. Actually, that’s a bit sore.’
‘You headbutted him?’ Angela leant forward to examine Jasmine.
‘It was the only way I could get at him.’
‘You’ve got a bit of a bruise but concealer will hide it.’ She gently rubbed a little cream onto the affected area. ‘At least the blood doesn’t show up you’re your dress.’
Jasmine looked down at her purple tulip dress and noticed that though a little creased it seemed to have survived the ordeal pretty well.
‘There. I think you’ll do.’ Angela stepped back to admire her rescue work. Jasmine looked in the mirror and saw herself looking back. Her image didn’t reveal the turmoil that was going on in her mind: the memory of what the attacker had intended for her; what he had done to Diana; and now, what Debs and her men had planned for him. Should she have allowed him to be dragged off to suffer whatever punishment Debs had in mind. She was a police officer, supposed to enforce the law. But if Diana was unwilling to speak to the police or even reveal herself to an A&E nurse, and with her own identity a worry to herself, what else could she have done?  She applied her dark lipstick and forced a smile onto her reflection.
‘Shall we dance?’ Angela said cheerily, although Jasmine could sense a false edge to her voice.
‘I don’t think I’m in the mood anymore,’ Jasmine said.
‘What about you Diana?’ Angela said, turning to the girl who was standing behind them, silently watching, or thinking. She shook her head.
‘Shall we get a taxi then?’ Angela asked, ‘Do you want to join us Diana? You came from the same direction.’ Diana nodded.
‘Are you staying in town or catching a train?’ Jasmine asked
‘Train.’
‘Will there be one at this time.’ Jasmine glanced at her watch, ‘It’s not one yet.’
Diana shrugged. ‘I’ll wait,’ she muttered.
‘At the station? At night?’ Angela shook her head. ‘Why don’t you come back to the hotel with us, at least until there’s a train due.’
Diana managed a thin smile. ‘Thank you,’ she whispered.
‘Let’s get our coats and find a taxi then,’ Angela was spurred into action.
…………………to be continued.