It’s been quite a few months now since I started making sure I posted something every week and Blueprint, the Jasmine Frame prequel has reached epsiode 16 (I didn’t know it was going to be so long when I started it). So, as this is the last post before 25th December I would like to say thnk you to everyone who has read the blog or is receiving the updates and wish you all a very Merry Christmas or Winter Festival, whichever it is you celebrate. There’s still time to download the e-book of Painted Ladies – a Jasmine Frame story (by P R Ellis) and if you order the paperback it’ll be with you by New Year, and since I’m doing the plugs I’ll remind you that I am available to do my “entertainment” called Jasmine and me – adventures in murder and frocks.
The news is that, not having any other pressing work, I’ve been able to get on with the second Jasmine Frame, transsexual detective, novel, Bodies by Design, and have actually reached the end. It’s not finished and there’s a lot of work to be done on it yet, but the complete story does now exist.
So, finally, here is the next episode of Blueprint.
Blueprint – Part 16
The rain had got harder as Jasmine satnaved her way from the city centre out to the suburbs of Manchester following the address that Audrey had written down. At last she turned into a street of 1930s semi-detached houses. The road was narrow with just space for one car when there were parked vehicles on either side. A short drive led up to the garage beside of each house but the houses were tightly packed. Jasmine peered through her rain-obscured window looking for the numbers. Some had numbers on the gate post, some on the front door and some none at all.
At last she found the number she wanted, fifteen, in large white figures on a door painted dark green. There was a small car, a Nissan, in the short drive but there was a space outside the house on the road. Jasmine parked and turned the engine off. She got out and ran to the porch to lessen the amount of rain that fell on her wig. She pressed the bell-push. A bell rang inside.
She had to wait for a minute before she saw through the patterned glass a figure approaching. The door was opened by a short lady who appeared to be in her late sixties or even early seventies. She had grey hair tied up in a bun and spectacles perched on the end of her button nose, but was smartly dressed in blouse, cardigan and plain pleated skirt all in cheerful browns and reds.
‘Hello. Can I help you?’ The lady said.
‘Hi,’ Jasmine said, ‘I hope I’ve got this right. Is this Betty’s boudoir?’
The little lady looked Jasmine up and down and Jasmine felt she was being assessed. Her hair style, make-up, dress sense were each being graded and the data filed away.
‘I’m Betty,’ she said. ‘I don’t think you’ve made an appointment have you?’
‘No,’ Jasmine replied. ‘I’m Jasmine Frame from Kintbridge in Berkshire. I’m a police officer.’
Jasmine held up her identity card as proof. Betty took a close interest in it.
‘I see. It says Detective Constable James Frame. Is this an official visit or have you come for advice because you are a transvestite.’
‘I’m on police business,’ Jasmine said,wincing as she did not consider herself a transvestite but a trans-woman.
‘Oh dear. Well you’d better come in, young lady, and tell me what it’s all about. Then perhaps I can give you some advice. Your skirt is a little short.’
Jasmine felt herself colouring up and tugged the hem of her skirt down her thigh. Betty held the door wide and ushered Jasmine in. She closed the door behind her and led the way into the front room. It was a small lounge, with a floral three piece suite and glass cabinets filled with small china and glass pieces.
‘Take a seat, love,’ Betty gestured, ‘I have another client with me at the moment. I’ll be back in a minute or two. Can I bring you a cup of tea?’
‘Yes, please. No sugar.’ Jasmine sat obediently in an armchair and was careful to jam her knees together. Betty left and Jasmine examined the room while she waited. There were a few photos on the wall breaking up the floral wallpaper. They appeared to show Betty with a tall man of similar age to her. The photos showed the couple at various ages from a black-white wedding portrait where they looked very young to a colour photo where both appeared middle aged. Jasmine noted that Betty’s hair was not completely grey in that photo so it must be a few years old.
Betty returned carrying a small tray with a cup and saucer and a small plate of fairy cakes. She placed the tray on an occasional table alongside Jasmine’s chair.
‘My client may join us soon, but she is a little nervous of meeting someone she doesn’t know,’ Betty said sitting down on the end of the sofa, ‘so how can I help you.’
Jasmine drew the increasingly crumpled photos from her bag.
‘I’m looking for anyone who knew this person.’ She passed the photos to Betty. Betty pushed her glasses up he nose and examined the images.
‘That’s Petula,’ she announced. Jasmine stomach leapt. At last, she thought, someone who knew her.
‘That’s right. Petula or Peter Thwaite.’
‘I only ever met Petula although of course I knew she was a transvestite and lived most of her life as a man.’
‘She was a client?’
‘Yes, for a time.’
‘Oh. That doesn’t sound as though you have seen her recently.’
Jasmine’s stomach ceased its excited clenching.
‘Can you tell me when you last saw her?’
‘Oh, I’d have to look at my notes. I keep details of all my clients. But it must be well over a year since Petula visited me.’
Dash, Jasmine thought. Not recent at all, but Petula was still coming north up to the last month.
‘Did you know her well?’
‘Oh yes. I know all my ladies very well. It is part of my service to get to understand them. I find out what they get out of dressing; what their purpose is; what their likes and dislikes are; where they want to go if indeed they want to leave my house dressed.’
‘So what did you find out about Petula?’
Betty looked thoughtful for a moment then spoke.
‘I would have to go through my notes on her but it must be four or five years ago since she wrote to me and asked for an appointment. I don’t know how she found my address but someone must have given it to her.’
‘I was told you don’t advertise.’
‘Oh no. That would be vulgar. All my ladies come by personal recommendation and I decide after a first meeting if I can be of service to them.’
‘What does your service involve?’
‘Advice on appropriate clothes to wear to suit their age and figure. I keep a small stock. I suggest suitable undergarments to help the clothes look their best. I also advise on hairstyles, and keep a number of wigs if required. I also do their make-up and train the ladies how to do their own. Then if they are satisfied with their appearance, and they usually are, we may go out to a shopping centre and have some lunch or tea.’
‘You do this for all transgendered people?’
‘Trans-women. Transsexuals becoming full-time and transvestites who only dress occasionally.’
‘May I ask how you got into this business?’ Jasmine was impressed and intrigued by Betty’s description of her service.
‘It was necessity,’ Betty said firmly, ‘My Tommy died suddenly leaving me with very little pension. I wanted to keep this house so I had to find a way to earn some money.’
‘Oh, I see, but how did you choose to help trans-women?’
‘I saw a couple out shopping in Manchester one day, when I was desperately trying to think of things I could do at my age. It was nearly ten years ago now. These ladies stuck out like they had flashing lights on their head. Their styles were all wrong for a day of shopping. I watched them then while they were talking over a dress that suited neither of them I told them so. We got talking and that was it. Betty’s Boudoir was born.’
‘That’s quite amazing,’ Jasmine said.
‘It is, isn’t it. I can hardly believe how bold I was myself. But I’ve done very nicely, thank you very much, and I have lots of lovely ladies who visit me and go out with now.’
‘And what about Petula?’
‘Well, I arranged for her to come for her preliminary visit. I knew she had to come a long way but she seemed determined.’
‘You said you didn’t know her as Peter, so she must have come dressed as Petula.’
‘That’s right. I can remember her now standing on my doormat. She had some quite good quality clothes on but oh, her colours. Nothing matched and she looked a bit like a sack of potatoes.’
‘So you offered to help her.’
‘Yes. She was very shy at first but she followed my suggestions. She arranged to come up once a month, always on a Thursday. Gradually I got her appearance to improve and she relaxed enough for us to start going out. I helped her choose decent lingerie to wear underneath and she bought some very nice, classic outfits. She became a smart, mature woman.’
‘Did she talk much?’
‘Her life in Kintbridge? Her wife?’
‘I knew she was married but she was very secretive. Although she became much more confident out and about she was very scared of being discovered by her wife. She didn’t think her wife could possibly understand her urge to dress as a woman.’
‘That was what troubled her most I think.’
‘Now Detective Constable. I’ve told you quite a lot. Perhaps you can tell me why you are asking these questions. Has something happened to Petula?’
Jasmine drew in a lungful of air before replying.
‘I’m afraid so. She died last Friday. She killed herself.’
Betty raised her hands to her cheeks.
‘Oh dear me. Why did she do that? Did her wife find her dressed?’
‘No. She did it to stop her wife finding out.’
‘Oh dear, dear. The poor woman and poor Petula. The wife still doesn’t know?’
‘That’s right but I’m afraid that it is going to come out at the inquest.’
‘Because Petula was driven to suicide by something that made her suspect that she was about to be outed.’
‘What was that?’
‘This photograph of her was one of a series sent to her home by post at weekly intervals. This first one is mild enough although it shows her clearly enough as a woman. But the subsequent pictures become increasingly pornographic.’
Betty looked confused.
‘But that doesn’t sound like Petula. She was very shy of showing her body.’
‘That’s right. They’re fakes. A collage of Petula’s head on a different body.’
‘And she thought if her wife saw them she would be horrified and she couldn’t face the consequences.’
‘That seems to be the reason why she killed herself.’
‘But that’s horrible. Who would do such a thing,’ Betty paused as her face turned white. ‘You don’t suspect me?’
‘No. I don’t think so. But I need to find out who she was meeting up here after she stopped coming to you. Why did she stop?’
‘I don’t know. I got a letter saying she wouldn’t be attending one of our sessions and that was the last I heard from her.’
‘But she carried on coming up here on those Thursdays. She must have been meeting someone.’
‘That’s true… I wonder?’
As Betty pondered, Jasmine felt her stomach take another leap. Did Betty have an idea?
‘What is it?’
‘Well,’ Betty began hesitantly, ‘As she became more confident we began to go out as a small group of ladies, three or four of us. We’d take lunch together in a pub or restaurant after a little bit of shopping. Ladies that lunch – that sort of outing.’
‘The same group every time.’
‘No… but there were one or two ladies who came more frequently. Petula became quite friendly with them.’
‘Can you remember who they were?’
‘I’ll have to check my diary. I always record who my appointments are with and who I accompany.’ Betty got up. ‘I’ll go and get my books and look through them. I’ll see if Geraldine would like to come to have a chat.’ She left the room.
Jasmine lifted the cup of tea and put it to her lips. It was now only lukewarm but she drank it down and then selected a fairy cake. Was she really on the threshold of finding the person who Petula had met? She seemed so close.
The door to the lounge opened and a tall figure entered wearing a smart, knee-length black dress.
‘Hello, I’m Geraldine,’ she said in a husky whisper.