An early post this week as I’m going to be a little occupied over the weekend.
A bit of a let down this week as we thought the BBC World Service, The Why Factor on “Cross-dressing” (their term) was going to be broadcast on Friday 6th. The trailer appear on their website along with a rather garish photo of two drag queens kissing. I sent a message saying I didn’t think the picture quite matched the content of our interviews. Anyway on Thursday the schedules were changed and a different topic was put in. So, what happens next is anybody’s guess.
Before we come to the next episode of Blueprint, just a reminder that Painted Ladies – a Jasmine Frame story is available as a paperback or e-book from all suppliers. It’s had some great reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Netgalley and Eurocrime.
Blueprint, part 14
Tom pulled the clothes out one by one. There was everything a woman could need – bras, knickers, slips, blouses, skirts, dresses, cardigans, coats. Then there were the additional bits not needed by real women – false breasts (Jasmine noted they were a larger size than what she used) padding to fit around the hips and buttocks (Jasmine couldn’t imagine wearing that) and jars of heavy foundation and cleanser. There was eye shadow, blusher, lipstick, nail polish and remover; and jewellery – bracelets, necklaces, rings, ear rings. There wasn’t a lot of each but it added up to quite an assortment when it was spread out on the lounge carpet.
‘Did he need all this?’ Tom asked.
‘Well, it’s not as much as it looks really. Think of it as a woman’s complete wardrobe.’
‘I’d have trouble getting all my clothes and stuff into that one case,’ Angela admitted.
‘Hmm yes, I’ve seen how much stuff Sophie has,’ Tom nodded in agreement, ‘But this bloke, Thwaite – he wasn’t a woman.’
‘No, he was a secret cross-dresser,’ Jasmine said, ‘but it seems he still managed to get out at least twice a month – one evening at Butterflies and his away day in Manchester. He needed a variety of clothes for his various outings, summer and winter.’
‘He went for quality not quantity,’ Angela said, bending to look closely at a skirt, ‘These are best high street purchases.’
‘I wonder,’ Jasmine pondered, ‘Did Petula do her buying on her Manchester trips?’
‘It would be impossible to tell,’ Angela said, ‘The big chains have shops everywhere.’
Tom reached into what appeared to be an empty case and drew out put a brown file. It was smaller than normal paper size but was quite thick. He flicked open the cover.
‘I think you may be able to trace some if not all the stuff,’ Tom said, ‘These are receipts.’
‘Let me see,’ Jasmine said eagerly stretching out her hand. Tom hesitated then handed over the file. Jasmine flicked through the sheaf of paper slips all neatly punched and filed. ‘They’re in date order, everything Petula purchased by the look of it. Right up to October,’ she pointed to the date on the top receipt.
‘Well, he was a banker,’ Angela said, ‘Obviously wanted to keep his expenditure under control.
‘Especially as he was keeping it secret from his wife,’ Tom added.
Jasmine continued to thumb through the papers, rapidly becoming frantic.
‘But it’s no use,’ she slammed the file shut, ‘They are just her purchases. There’s nothing here about where she stayed, ate or visited. She must have kept those records separate.’
‘If he kept them at all,’ Tom said.
‘So you still only have the list of places you made,’ Angela said.
‘Yes. There’s nothing here to help me track where Petula goes on her days out except for the shops where she buys her stuff.’
‘Perhaps that was all she did,’ Tom said, starting to pack the clothes back in the case.
‘Why go to Manchester every month if only to go shopping,’ Jasmine said, ‘No, I’m sure she was meeting someone, some people. I’ve just got to hope that it was at one of the trans venues.’
‘Well, good luck,’ Tom said, ‘Give us a hand here, I don’t think all this stuff will go back in.’
They put aside concerns about contamination and helped Tom stuff the clothes into the case, finally forcing it shut.
‘Well, if that’s all we can do, I’ll get off.’ Tom got to his feet lifting the case.
‘Wait a moment. I need car for tomorrow.’ Jasmine said.
‘I’ve got things to do tomorrow Jas. You can’t have my Clio.’ Angela complained.
‘No. I need a police car so I can keep in touch. I’ll have to use yours, Tom.’
‘Hey. How am I going to get home?’
‘I’ll give you a lift now, and pick you up on Monday morning if you like.’
Tom looked doubtful, ‘Well OK then.’
‘Let’s go then and make the most of what’s left of the evening.’
Jasmine was ready for a break by the time she reached the outskirts of Manchester. She was tired and stiff from the long drive from Kintbridge via the A34, M40, M42 and M6. She had passed the various roadside motels where Thwaite had spent nights before his away days. Jasmine had done the trip in one go, leaving before dawn and, thanks to the light Sunday morning traffic, it was still only 10 a.m. She made her way to the city centre and then to a car park on the edge of the Canal Street gay village. Most of the venues she had on her list were in or close to this area. First though, she needed coffee.
Jasmine was the only customer in the cafe when she sat down with her coffee. The young girl who served her smiled at her with thick glossy red lips. A T-girl? Jasmine wondered. She looked wonderful and perfectly natural. As Jasmine took a sip from her cup she wondered whether she would ever feel relaxed working as the person she felt she was. Perhaps though there was a difference in serving in a coffee house in a gay area and being a member of a largely male team in a police station.
She looked at her list and at the map she’d downloaded. Her first try would be Transmutations. “We change every element of your appearance” said the strapline on their website and went on to list all the latex enhancements, wigs, cosmetics and clothes that may be needed to make a man look and feel like a woman. It could be a place someone like Petula would go to purchase items for her transformation or meet up with someone to go shopping.
She downed her coffee, slung her bag over her shoulder and waved to the girl behind the counter as she left. The streets were only just starting to fill up with visitors on this dull, grey November Sunday as she began following her map. Transmutations was in a quiet back street, with a discreet frontage that barely hinted at the joys and mysteries that awaited the man daring to enter. Jasmine pushed the door open and stepped into a large area divided up into many alcoves offering all sorts of wares. Jasmine was just taking in the sight of row upon row of heads with wigs of all styles and colours and racks of glittering ball gowns when she was approached by a middle-aged woman dressed immaculately in classic black shop assistant garb.
‘May I help you Madam?’ The woman said. It wasn’t a deep voice so Jasmine was unable to decide whether she was a real woman or another T-girl. It seemed this was going to be a frequent dilemma for her on this mission. Why should I, of all people, care, she thought. Men, women they are just being the person they want to be and doing a job as well. The scale of the shop and the other assistants that Jasmine saw moving elegantly from one display to another, showed there was a market for catering for men’s need to be women.
‘I hope so,’ Jasmine replied, ‘I’m trying to trace someone.’
The woman frowned, ‘One of our assistants?’
‘No, one of your customers. At least she may be a customer.’
‘Well he, but, well, he may have come as she.’
‘I understand,’ the woman said with a cold edge to her voice, ‘but we do not divulge information about customers or indeed acknowledge whether people are customers. Certainly not to people unknown to us. I do not recall that you are a client yourself.’
Jasmine had feared that getting a lead would be difficult. Thwaite was secretive himself so he would have chosen places that were equally if not more confidential in their dealings with clients.
‘No I’m not a client. Would you recognise me if I was?’
‘Oh yes. We pride ourselves on knowing our regular customers,’ the woman stretched her neck lifting her head proudly, ‘I am sure we could offer you service. We have dressing rooms available this morning.’
Would she have resorted to a place like this, Jasmine wondered. A mega-store for turning men into the women they fantasised themselves as being. Perhaps if she hadn’t had Angela to talk to, to guide her, she may have needed the advice that was available at places like Transmutations, at a price.
‘No, as I said I’m looking for someone who may have known this cross-dresser,’ Jasmine thrust out the photo of Peter Thwaite that she had had at the ready in her coat pocket. The eyes of the woman did not flicker.
‘I said we cannot confirm or deny the identity of a client.’
‘Perhaps she came already dressed,’ Jasmine plucked out the photo of Petula. It was a bit fuzzy having been cropped and enlarged from the first of the anonymous photos. Still there was no sign of recognition in the woman’s face.
‘If you do not have business here I must ask you to leave,’ the woman said.
Jasmine sighed and dug in her bag for her warrant card.
‘Perhaps this will allow you to answer. I’m a police officer.’
The woman’s eyes focussed on Jasmine’s identity details.
‘That says Detective Constable James Frame,’ she said with a hint of a smile forming around her lips.
‘Yes, well I’m trans too, and I’m looking for anyone who knew this cross-dresser.’
‘Why?’ The woman asked.
‘Because she is dead and I’m trying to find out why.’
The colour disappeared from the woman’s face.
‘I see. You had better come with me.’ She turned and led Jasmine to the back of the shop where there was a row of doors a few feet apart. She opened one and showed Jasmine into a small room laid out as a dressing room, with a couple of compact easy chairs, a high chair at a dressing table with a full-length mirror beside it and a wardrobe rail.
‘Please take a seat,’ the woman said. Jasmine sat on one of the easy chairs and the woman sat beside her.
‘I am sure you understand why we do not divulge information about clients,’ she said.
Yes, I do and I’m sure that if Peter or Petula Thwaite was one of your customers he would have been very pleased to hear it. He was a secret dresser. His wife knew nothing, but he visited Manchester once a month until he committed suicide last week.’
The woman’s hand rose to her mouth.
‘Oh, dear,’ she sighed.
‘Do you know her?’ Jasmine insisted holding out both the photos.
‘No, I don’t recognise him or her,’ the woman replied.
‘And you are sure you would if she was a client.’
‘If she had been here more than once I would certainly recognise her. I’ve worked here for ten years. We photograph all our regular clients, with their permission of course, so that we can replicate styles and appearance when they return. I am quite sure that I have not seen this person here, but I’ll check the name in our records if you like. Thwaite you say.’ She rose to her feet.
‘That’s right. Peter. Petula was her femme name.’
‘I’ll just be a few minutes.’
‘Thanks.’ The woman left.
Jasmine was left to imagine how clients felt being shown into this room, stepping into dresses selected by the assistants, fussed over while make-up was applied and wigs fitted. Admiring oneself in the mirror and posing for the photographs. It wasn’t what she wanted but she could see how some, many, men would pay for the pleasure.