I spent Thursday evening visiting Gender Matters in Wolverhampton. It is a wonderful centre that supports transgendered people in the West Midlands. It is Gender Matters that has put together the brilliant Mapping My Journey exhibition at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery which runs till 20th of this month. The reason for my visit was to take part in a creative writing workshop with members. This gave me a chance to talk about Jasmine Frame, how I got Painted Ladies published, what’s going to happen with Bodies by Design and generally have a great time promoting my work. Everyone was very appreciative and intrigued by the possibilities of a transsexual detective. I am very grateful for the opportunity. It was also great to hear the contributions of other writers who are transgendered.
And so to the penultimate episode of Blueprint. At least I think it is the penultimate. Next week I will bring it to a close. I’ve also roughed out a cover. As ever comments would be most welcome.
Blueprint – part 27
There were bangs and clatters from the kitchen where Tom had been instructed to make a cup of tea. In the lounge, DS O’Shaunessy perched on the edge of an armchair while Jasmine sat next to Caroline on the sofa. Caroline was gripping her damaged wrist with her head bowed.
‘Come on Caroline,’ Jasmine said, ‘tell me why you ran away.’
Caroline didn’t answer nor did she move.
‘We know it’s got something to do with Petula,’ Jasmine went on, ‘because we talked about her yesterday.’ She paused but there was no response from Caroline. ‘Were you worried because you felt responsible?’
Caroline made a noise, which may have been a sob or a snort. Jasmine was pleased as it was the first response she’d got out of Caroline since they’d got her back into the house.
Tom entered carrying a cup and saucer.
‘Here’s a nice hot cup of tea,’ he said cheerfully, ‘I’ve put milk and sugar in.’
Caroline looked up at him. ‘I don’t take sugar.’
‘I found the sugar in the cupboard so I thought you used it,’ Tom added offering her the cup and saucer. Caroline didn’t move her good hand but O’Shaunessy took the cup and saucer from Tom and placed it on the occasional table beside the sofa.
‘The sugar’s for guests,’ Caroline said.
‘Such as Petula? She was a guest wasn’t she,’ Jasmine said. Caroline lowered her head again and made another sobbing/snorting noise. ‘Tell me about the photos, Caroline. I’m sure if we examine your computer we’ll find them there. Photos that you printed off and posted to Petula.’
Caroline looked at Jasmine with an expression of horror.
‘I asked you about your camera yesterday,’ Jasmine went on, ‘It didn’t strike me as odd at the time that you didn’t ask me why I was interested. It was because you knew exactly why I was asking questions about photography since it was you who sent the photos to Petula. The photos that made Petula kill herself.’
O’Shaunessy glared at Jasmine but didn’t say anything. Jasmine knew she was jumping to conclusions, pushing Caroline hard but she had to get a response, to get her talking. It worked. Caroline began sobbing, her shoulders shaking, tears running down her nose and dripping onto her dress.
‘She wasn’t supposed to die,’ Caroline said through grunts and gasps.
‘Tell me about it,’ Jasmine insisted, ‘What were the photos for? Tell me all about you and Petula.’
‘It was a joke,’ Caroline paused to allow another couple of sobs to emerge. ‘No, not a joke. To stir her up. Make her look at herself.’
O’Shaunessy was scribbling in her notebook and Jasmine, too, had her pocketbook on her lap. Tom watched from the doorway.
‘What do you mean, Caroline?’ Jasmine said quietly, ‘Tell me all about it.’
Caroline sniffed and drew in her breath. She sat up straight and looked directly at Jasmine.
‘I thought she was like me… and you.’
‘What do you mean?’ Jasmine struggled to see herself as similar to Caroline – an older woman, in an ankle-length flowery dress.
‘I thought she wanted to be a woman, full-time.’
‘Go on,’ Jasmine urged.
‘When we met at Betty’s a couple of years ago we seemed to have so much in common. We were almost the same ages, similar jobs in the banking business, similar taste in clothes. We were both married; well, I’d lost my wife by then, but we’d both had settled married lives.’ Caroline paused and her eyes lost focus. Perhaps she’s thinking of her wife, Jasmine thought.
‘So you got on together,’ Jasmine urged Caroline on.
‘Yes. She was confident, a good talker. We had a lot to chat about. After meeting up a few times with Betty we decided to organise our own little trips. We invited Rosalind the first time because Petula felt sorry for her, but she didn’t have much in common with the two of us. We didn’t invite her again.’ Caroline stopped to draw breath, then continued. ‘It became a regular arrangement. Once a month on a Thursday morning I would meet Petula at the shopping centre in time for a coffee. We’d do a bit of shopping, at least I would. Petula rarely bought anything at all. Then we’d go off somewhere for lunch. I started to use the bus so that we only needed Petula’s car, that old Rover, to go off in. It was my job of course to find a different place for lunch each month. At first we used to hang about in the restaurant or pub until Petula decided it was time for her to leave after dropping me off here. Of course I invited her in for a cup of tea. We began to come back earlier and earlier and she left for home later and later so we had more time just the two of us here, in my home.’
‘And that was how you began to find out more about Petula,’ Jasmine said.
‘Yes. I didn’t make anything of it at first but gradually I saw we weren’t alike at all.’
‘What do you mean?’ O’Shaunessy butted in, ‘You said you had similar tastes.’
Caroline turned to look at the small detective sergeant.
‘Oh, we had that. The differences went much deeper.’
‘You were different types of trans,’ Jasmine said. Caroline turned back to her and nodded, her face showing relief. Jasmine understood.
‘You know what it’s like don’t you,’ Caroline said, ‘to spend all your life wanting to be the person you feel yourself to be. My wife knew about me and supported me so in return I never transitioned. Since she died I’ve been Caroline nearly all the time and that’s fine. I’d like to be a complete woman but I don’t think I want to go through all the surgery and stuff now.’
‘I understand,’ Jasmine said, nodding her head. She understood Caroline’s feelings but was not sure that she could spend a whole lifetime trading off wanting to be female with staying as Angie’s husband. How had Caroline done it?
‘Petula was different,’ Caroline said, ‘She loved dressing up and going out once or twice a month but that was all. She had no wish to become a woman, she told me so. That was why she kept it secret from her wife; she didn’t want her to know anything about her feminine side. So when she was at home she kept Petula packed away in her suitcase; that was the reason why she didn’t buy much – she had nowhere to store lots of clothes.’
‘I don’t understand,’ Clodagh O’Shaunessy said, ‘how were you different?’
‘There are lots of labels for what we do,’ Jasmine said. ‘Transsexual, transvestite, cross-dresser, gender queer. They all mean something slightly different but no single title applies to any one person. We’re all individuals, every one of us, you and Tom included, somewhere on the spectrum that runs from male to female. To an observer Caroline and Petula looked the same, elegant, middle-aged ladies, but close up they were blokes in dresses.’
A look of thunder crossed Caroline’s face but then she shrugged and nodded. Jasmine went on.
‘But actually I think Caroline is saying they really were at different points on that spectrum. Caroline says she’s transsexual, she wants to live as a woman and if circumstances were different would have had the medical intervention that would make her body feminine.’
‘And you’re the same?’ O’Shaunessy asked.
‘Yes,’ Jasmine replied, ‘It’s taken me a long time to get here but I want to be me.’
‘And your suicide victim? Where was she on this spectrum?’ O’Shaunessy said.
‘She was more a cross-dresser,’ Caroline said, ‘She liked the dressing up but had no wish to become a woman full-time. I think she enjoyed the risk-taking, the secrecy. She wouldn’t admit it of course, but it’s a bit like a drug isn’t it.’
‘Except that she over-dosed,’ Jasmine added, ‘Why did you send the photographs, Caroline?’
Caroline’s face sagged, the corners of her mouth drooped.
‘It was after the last time we met, in September. I said that Petula really should try and come out to Linda, her wife; that she couldn’t go on living this secret life for ever; that it would be better to tell her than for her to discover it by accident sometime. Petula wouldn’t have it. She said that Linda must never know. She couldn’t bear it if Linda found out that she liked dressing up in women’s clothes. I thought she was being stupid.’
‘You argued?’ Jasmine said.
‘We had words and she left earlier than usual.’
‘And so you sent the photo.’
‘I know it was a stupid thing to do. I’d been playing with my new scanner and learning how to enhance pictures – being retired can be boring sometimes. I just took a photo I’d taken of Petula not long after we first met. I scanned it and extracted her head and put it on the body of a model.’
‘But why post it to Petula?’ Jasmine asked
‘I don’t know. It was silly but she’d annoyed me and I wanted to show her that she could be an attractive woman. I thought she would realise it came from me, get in touch and have a laugh.’
‘But she didn’t.’
‘No. So I sent another one.’
‘And another. Each week.’
‘Yes,’ Caroline said softly.
‘Getting more risqué with your choice of body model.’
‘Yes,’ Caroline whispered.
‘Just because Petula turned out to be different to you.’
‘But what happened last month? You told me that you met as usual, but you didn’t.’
‘She didn’t turn up. I waited at our usual time in the coffee shop but she didn’t come.’
‘Don’t you email or send texts to arrange meetings.’
‘Not a lot. Petula said she didn’t want to risk Linda reading them.’
‘She really was paranoid,’ O’Shaunessy said.
‘She didn’t contact you to say she couldn’t come, that she was filling in unexpectedly in Banbury,’ Jasmine said.
‘I never heard anything from her.’
‘So you sent her the last photo. The pornographic one.’
Caroline bent her head, avoiding Jasmine’s and O’Shaunessy’s eyes. She nodded almost imperceptibly.
O’Shaunessy stood up and beckoned Jasmine to follow her out of the room.
‘Sit with her, Tom,’ Jasmine said as she passed him in the doorway. She followed the detective sergeant into the back garden.
‘Well, you’ve got your confession,’ O’Shaunessy said, ‘But I don’t know what you can do with it. There were no notes, no threats of blackmail, no intimidation.’
Jasmine shook her head.
‘Nothing like that. Caroline just sent the prints in a plain envelope.’
‘How did Thwaite not guess who they were coming from?’
‘I don’t know,’ Jasmine said. She recalled how mystified Petula had been, just over a week earlier when she had handed over the photos. ‘She didn’t recognise the photo of her head. Perhaps Caroline had never shown the original to her.’
‘But after such a regular relationship with Barclay, why didn’t she realise it was him/her?’
‘I don’t understand it myself,’ Jasmine said, ‘Perhaps it never occurred to Petula that the one other trans person she knew well, Caroline, could actually do this to her. She really was terrified of her wife finding out about her and was very secretive. She didn’t give me the full story.’
‘You didn’t know her well then?’
‘I only talked to her once.’
‘So you’ve got no proof that it was these photos that drove her to suicide.’
‘No, but there’s nothing else. No work problems, no financial difficulties. We haven’t uncovered any other secrets.’
O’Shaunessy stroked her chin and pondered. Jasmine waited, the cold northern November air starting to cut through her grey jacket and blouse. At last the DS spoke.
‘I don’t think you’re going to get anything else from Barclay. He/she, whatever, sent the photos, full stop. It’s apparent that he had no real intentions of causing Thwaite harm, he hadn’t thought through what he was doing at all. A sad case but I don’t think a criminal one.’
‘Hmm.’ Jasmine was uncertain. She could see that O’Shaunessy was right but she was reluctant to accept that they had reached the end of the case. ‘Tom and I have a report to write and then I suppose it’s up to Sloane what happens.’
‘Well, perhaps you’d better head back down south and get that report done. I’ll take Caroline to get her wrist checked. If your boss does decide he needs a formal statement from her, I’ll do it for you.
‘Thanks, and thanks for helping out today.’
‘A pleasure – it got me out of the office, but I can’t spend much time on this, especially as it doesn’t look much like a crime.’
‘You’re probably right.’
‘Well, it’s been nice meeting you.’ O’Shaunessy offered her hand. Jasmine took it in hers and they each held tight for a moment. ‘Oh and I hope things go well for you when you transition.’
‘Thanks. I’ve got to face Sloane over that as well.’