Picture This is the second short story I wrote in which Jasmine Frame is the lead character. It was some years ago now and doesn’t really fit into the sequence of novels that begins with Painted Ladies. Nevertheless, the story develops the character of Jasmine a little and introduces the dour and abrasive DCI Sloane and the helpful DS Tom Shepherd. I’ll post the story in three parts over the next three weeks and, as always, comments are very welcome.
Picture This – part 1
Jasmine scraped the last stubborn hairs from her thigh, swished the razor in the water and began to sink down into the bath. A sharp stern rapping on the door to her flat jerked her upright.
‘Damn,’ she muttered. ‘OK, OK, I’m coming,’ she called through the open door of the bathroom. She stood up and the water cascaded down her smooth body. She stepped out of the bath and grabbed her long fluffy bathrobe. Wrapping the robe around her and hurriedly running fingers through her hair to lift it, she paced to the door. She found the hallway filled by two tall, burly, young police officers. The one closest looked her up and down.
‘Are you, Miss Jasmine Frame,’ he asked. Jasmine noted a slight emphasis on the Miss.
‘That’s right. What can I do for you boys?’ She leaned on the ‘boys’ a bit just to remind them that she was their senior by a few years.
‘Chief Inspector Sloane wants to see you.’
‘Oh, does he? When?’ Not again, Jas thought, what does he want this time?
‘Now.’ The officer answered with a hint of impatience.
‘Well, I suppose I had better get dressed. Are you two coming in while you wait?’ The policemen shuffled into the living room while Jas sauntered into her bedroom.
Now what should she wear to meet her ex-boss, she pondered. She had grown weary of wearing provocatively short skirts and skimpy tops to incite his rage – it was just too easy. More than once he had accused her of being on the game rather than doing the business – detective business that is. Jasmine decided on the purposeful, executive look. She used her robe to finish drying off, moisturised and powdered her body. She chose a black bra. As she slid the straps on her shoulders she glanced in the mirror. Yes, there was a hint more bust, so the tablets were working. Nevertheless she slipped a pair of falsies into the cups. She slipped on black satin panties, carefully tucking her unwanted bits away, and a pulled a pair of sleek black tights up her newly shaved legs. A crisp white blouse, black and white hound’s-tooth skirt, just above the knee, the matching jacket and black ankle boots created the image she intended.
She was aware of the police officers pacing around her living room, but she was determined not to be hurried. Make-up was important. Although her skin was still youthful she needed the confidence that foundation, eye make-up and lipstick gave her. A final flick of her blonde hair and she was satisfied. She dropped the lipstick into her handbag and stepped out of the bedroom. She caught a glance of near approval in one officer’s eyes but the other simply made straight for the door.
Arriving at the familiar police headquarters, Jasmine allowed her escort to open doors for her and lead her to Sloane’s office. Barely a year ago, she had thought she had left this place for good, but circumstances seemed to thrust her into Sloane’s presence rather more often than she liked. The police officer tapped on the door and received a gruff ‘Come in’ in response. He pushed the door open and stood aside for Jasmine to enter. Sloane was almost hidden behind piles of files that filled his desk. He didn’t rise but looked up as Jas entered. She noticed the same look of distaste as when she had originally told him of her plans to become Jasmine.
‘Ah, Frame, at last. I’ve got a job for you.’
‘A job?’ Jas was mystified.
‘Well, it’s my wife really. She works in a charity shop and they have been losing certain items.’
‘Well, hasn’t she reported it? I mean, officially.’
‘You know the situation, Frame. We haven’t got the manpower to investigate the disappearance of a few items of second hand clothes. But Deirdre insisted that I do something about it. So that’s where you come in. Don’t worry; you’ll be paid.’
‘Thanks a lot.’ Jas was about to say that actually she was busy on a case, but as she wasn’t and cash was short, she changed her mind. ‘So what are the facts?’
‘Don’t bother me with questions. Here.’ Sloane passed over an A4 envelope ‘Deirdre has written it all down; she’s organised like that. That’s all, you can get to work.’
‘Thanks a lot, Chief Inspector. Since your boys dragged me in here, what about a lift home.’
‘Sorry, Frame, everyone is busy. You’ll have to catch a bus. I’m sure you’ll add the fare to your expenses.’ Sloane looked down at the file in front of him and dismissed her from his consciousness. Jasmine summoned up her most withering look of loathing and stomped out of the office. She had been dumped by Sloane far too many times.
A bus finally rolled to a halt at the bus stop and Jasmine found a seat on her own. She opened the envelope and read the neatly word-processed report by Mrs Chief Inspector Sloane. It was simple really. Items of women’s clothing had been disappearing steadily from Mrs Sloane’s store and other charity shops in the vicinity. They didn’t have surveillance equipment or alarms and the dotty old volunteers that helped run the shops for the most part were not observant enough to catch the thief in the act. There was no pattern to when the thefts occurred. One thing that Mrs Sloane had noticed however was significant; all the missing clothes were size 22. Jasmine smiled. Presumably there was just one persistent thief who was a rather large lady, or perhaps not…
Later that afternoon, Jasmine had visited all the charity shops on the High Street and she was beginning to feel weary. All the shop managers had confirmed Deirdre Sloane’s story but shrugged their shoulders and considered it one of the facts of modern retail life. Shoplifting happened. Mrs Sloane on the other hand seemed to be affronted that it should be happening in her shop and was quite amused that she had been given her very own private detective. She obviously knew all about Jasmine.
‘Oh, you’re that transsexual policeman that my husband told me about,’ was her greeting when Jasmine introduced herself. Jasmine had explained that she was no longer in the police service. She had been given a top to toe inspection by Mrs Sloane, who eventually nodded her head and admitted, ‘Well you make a pretty good young woman, to my eyes.’ Now Jasmine was back with Deirdre Sloane in the shop’s stock room
‘The only thing to do is for me to watch and wait, I suppose,’ Jasmine sighed, anticipating hours and days of boredom surrounded by racks of slightly out of fashion clothes. ‘We can try to encourage our thief by laying a lure however. Do you have any particularly eye catching items in size 22.’
‘I thought you might have that idea. I’ve picked out a few things.’ Mrs. Sloane pulled a number of hangers of the overstocked rails. There was a lime green, off the shoulder, evening dress, a startling, black, crocheted mini skirt and a polka dotted 50s style skirt. Jas thought they were all absolutely ghastly but seemed to fit in with the style of clothes that had gone missing.
‘I’m sure they will do fine. Hang them on a rail in the shop where our thief is likely to see them and think they can get away with walking off with them. I’ll be back in the morning to start watching.’