Picture This, part 2

Another important milestone in the path to the publication of Painted Ladies – the print and layout style has been decided.  So now we’ve got the outside and the inside design agreed.  All that’s left is to put all the letters in the correct order…

Here’s the second part of the Jasmine Frame short story, Picture This.  The conclusion will come next week.

Picture This, Part 2

Jasmine arrived at the shop shortly after it opened. Today she had chosen a nondescript outfit of skinny jeans, comfortable pumps and a grey jumper. She hoped she would blend into the scene as a typical charity shop browser. She meandered amongst the rails ignoring the volunteer saleswomen. Mrs Sloane was not in today. Jasmine entertained herself with imagining the vices and secret desires of the boringly plain people that trickled in and out of the shop. Was that grey haired, fifty-year-old woman a sex-crazed swinger? Perhaps the old chap fingering the check jackets liked a bit of bondage? Time passed and although a few size 22s flitted, or rather waddled, in, none made a beeline for the trap. The day ended with Jas tired, bored and fed up.

Next day she resumed her watch. Deirdre Sloane was on duty, giving orders to the other helpers and carefully avoiding eye contact with Jasmine. It was late in the afternoon when Jasmine noticed two people enter the shop. Both were size 22s. One was a short woman, probably younger than the 40 years she appeared to carry like a burden. The other was a bald man in his sixties. The woman first went to the rack. She drew out the mini skirt. Jas watched as she carried it to the changing room. As Jasmine watched her pull the curtain there was a screech from Mrs Sloane.

‘Get him, he’s taken the skirt.’

Jasmine looked around. The man had gone, the door to the shop closing after him. Jasmine ran to the entrance and looked first to the right up the High Street and then to the left. There he was, hurrying towards the multi-storey car park, with the 50s skirt draped over his arm. Jasmine ran but other shoppers got in her way. She wasn’t catching up her quarry. He reached the car park and disappeared inside. Jasmine realised that she was unlikely to catch him amongst the cars so she hurried to the vehicle exit instead. There was an automatic barrier, which lifted when a ticket was inserted. Jasmine leaned against the wall and waited. Three cars emerged driven by two young women and a young man. Next, a 59 registered Nissan drew up at the barrier. The bald headed driver was instantly recognisable. She didn’t move, but reached into her pocket for her phone. She dialled the number of Police HQ.

‘Hi, I’d like to speak to DS Shepherd please. Tell him it’s Jasmine Frame.’  There was a pause.

‘Hello, is that you Jim, um, ah I mean Jasmine.’

‘Will you never get it right, Tom,’ said Jasmine exasperatedly. ‘Yes, it’s me. Look I need a favour.’

‘Not again. I’m always doing you favours which involve me breaking the rules.’

‘Yes, well this one is too, but it’s got Sloane’s backing.’

‘What on earth are you talking about? Life was much simpler when we were partners.’

‘For you may be. I was pretty confused. Remember? Anyway I haven’t got time for reminiscence. I need the owner and address of this car registration.’ Jasmine read out the number of the Nissan, which was now driving out of the car park. After a bit more argument from Tom she had the name and an address, in a smart district on the edge of town. Jasmine hurried to her own dilapidated Ford Fiesta.

Jasmine found her way to the address without a problem and was soon drawing up outside a well looked after, 1930s detached house. The Nissan was parked in the drive. Jas rang the doorbell. She heard footsteps inside but it was a minute before they approached the door. The door opened half way.

‘Hello. Eric Chapman? I’m a detective and I think we have something to talk about.’ She shoved the door open and before Chapman could react she was in the hallway. The bald man looked confused and scared.

‘What is the meaning of this?’ he blustered. Jasmine strode towards the door, which she assumed opened into the living room.

‘You know what it’s about. A certain polka-dot skirt.’ She reached the door and froze. Draped over every chair and table around the room were items of female clothing – skirts, blouses, dresses, coats. The floor was covered with shoes, sandals and boots. Jasmine stepped into the middle of the room and spun around taking it all in. Mr Chapman came to the door a shrunken forlorn figure.

‘Are you a police officer? I knew I would be caught one day but always hoped….’ Jasmine looked at the man who was crumpling before her.

‘No, I’m not the police, but I am investigating the theft of certain items of female clothing, and I think you had better tell me your story.’

Chapman collapsed into an armchair, but not before carefully lifting a grey pleated skirt to one side.

‘I suppose so. You see I’m a t..t..transvestite. For years I’ve had a few items hidden away that I put on whenever my wife wasn’t about.  It got more often after I retired and she was out doing voluntary work. Then a month or two ago she came home early one lunchtime and found me – dressed. She went completely barmy and walked out. I haven’t been able to speak to her since. She’s staying with her sister across town. I went a little mad too, I suppose. With her gone, I started dressing more and more and wanting more clothes. I found things in the charity shops but I was too embarrassed to buy them. I just walked off with them. It’s got out of hand, but I’ve just got to dress up. Now I suppose I’ll have to go to court, it will get in the papers, all the neighbours will know.’

Jas looked at the sobbing pensioner and remembered her own confusion and yearnings before she had made the decision to become a woman, full-time. A decision that had driven away her own wife and ended her career.

‘It may not come to that. As I said, I’m not the police, just a private detective hired to find the clothes thief.’ He brightened.

‘What do you mean?’

‘Well, we may be able to stop the shops prosecuting if you give the stuff back and make a large donation to them.’

He was smiling now.   ‘Oh yes, I’ll happily pay them.’ Then his face clouded and he looked around at the clothes. ‘But do I really have to give the clothes back?’

‘It’s a powerful obsession isn’t it? Dressing, I mean.’ Jasmine knelt in front of the man. ‘Would you like to dress now? For me?’ She asked softly.

‘I, um, don’t know. No-one has ever seen ‘Erica’.’

‘Well, I think it’s about time she made an appearance.’

Eric smiled, and stood up. ‘Yes, well if you’re sure, I think I’d like that.’ He rose to his feet and headed towards the hall. ‘I won’t be long, make yourself comfortable.’

Jasmine sat in the chair Eric had vacated and looked around the room. The clothes were mostly brightly, even garishly, coloured, with ruffles and lacy bits. All far too fussy for her. They reminded her of things her mother wore when she and her father went out to parties, back when she was a young boy.

Eric was more than a few minutes, but eventually Jas heard heels clopping unevenly down the stairs. She stood and turned to look at the door as Erica appeared. Jas wasn’t surprised. She’d seen pictures of closet TVs before, but she was appalled. ‘She’ wore a blonde wig with long hair piled up over her shoulders; a short black cocktail dress which may have been a 22 but fitted in all the wrong places, black fishnet stockings obviously held up by the ill fitting girdle that showed beneath the dress, and black strappy sandals with at least a four inch heel. Erica was unable to stand up straight and her bulging body formed a sort of S curve from her pale face with the dark red lips to the tips of her size 10 shoes.

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