A hectic start to the :Leominster Festival. On Saturday (31st May) we held a Writers’ Slam with fifteen writers (me included) reading their work. It went well although we could have done with a larger audience and a few more people prepared to spend money on books. There are more events during the week. Should be fun.
Further news from Elsewhen Press. The links from their menu to my pages are now live, so to find out more about Evil Above the Stars go to http://elsewhen.alnpetepress.co.uk/ and look up under “catalogue”. It’s going to be a few months yet before there is much more news but it’s a good start.
So to return to Jasmine Frame, transsexual detective and the prequel to Painted Ladies, The Switch. We’re up to part 10 already and perhaps it’s beginning to hot up a bit…
The Switch: Part 10
Jasmine was too stunned to answer for a moment. Was it really Daniel on the line? The thin high-pitched voice was familiar, but having set out to search for him she could hardly believe that he was contacting her.
‘Uh, hi, Daniel. Is that really you?’ What a stupid thing to say, she thought.
‘Yeah, um,’ was his equally uninformative reply.
‘Where are you?’ Jasmine finally asked something important.
‘What are you doing there?’
‘Not much. I just couldn’t stay at home with Kyle and his gang everywhere.’ He’s mentioned Kyle as if he’s still a threat. Does he know?
‘Daniel. Do you know what’s happened?’ It was another silly question but perhaps would give Daniel a chance to reveal what he did or didn’t know.
‘Happened? What do you mean? Is my mother alright?’ Jasmine heard the pain in Daniel’s voice and hurried to reply.
‘Your mother’s fine; worried about you, of course. Why haven’t you been in touch?’
‘I didn’t know what to say. She’d want me to come home and I can’t do that,’ there was a pause. ‘What did you mean? What has happened?’
The only sound from the phone was background noise, incoherent voices. Finally.
‘He’s dead? How?’
‘He was found in a pond up on the Common, last night. It wasn’t an accident.’
There was a gasp on the other end of the line.
‘Someone killed Kyle? Who?’
‘That’s what the police would like to know. You’re a suspect.’
‘Me?’ It sounded like a genuine exclamation of surprise. ‘Why me?’
‘Because you’ve been missing since before Kyle was killed and the police know about him pursuing you.’
‘But that’s why I left home. To get away from him. I couldn’t kill him. You don’t think that do you Jasmine. You’re the police.’
‘No, I don’t think you would, Daniel. But the police need to speak to you.’
‘No. I can’t. They’ll put me in a cell. They’ll say I’m a girl.’ Daniel’s voice trembled. He was really afraid.
‘No, they won’t Daniel. You’re a boy.’
‘They’ll put me in a cell with other men who’ll think I’m a girl.’ It was obvious that Daniel was scared to death of things that the police wouldn’t do.
‘No, Daniel, listen to me. The police will treat you as a boy. They will protect you. They won’t let you be abused by other people. They want to talk to you.’
‘No, I can’t. I won’t.’ The voice faded and came back. Jasmine could imagine him shaking his head violently.
‘OK, Daniel. What if I come and meet you and we have a talk about it?’
‘Oh, please, Jasmine. But don’t tell anyone where I am.’
Should she agree? As a police officer she should inform her boss of the contact she’d made, but she needed Daniel’s trust to find out what had happened to him since he left home on Saturday morning.
‘No, I won’t Daniel. Where shall I meet you?’
‘I’m in the shopping centre. Shall we meet in Starbucks?’
‘That’s fine. What time?’ Jasmine glanced at her watch and was surprised that it was passed midday. How long would it take to drive to Basingstoke at this time on a Monday? Then she remembered. Angela had gone off in Rose, the Fiesta, this morning. She didn’t have a police vehicle because she was on leave. She would have to catch a bus to Basingstoke. How long would that take?
‘Look, Daniel. I’m going to have to come by bus. I don’t know when I’ll get there. I ring you when I’m at the shops, OK.’
‘Keep out of the way. Don’t draw attention to yourself. The police have probably put out a call for you so officers may be keeping their eyes open for you.’
‘I understand. I’m good at avoiding people.’
‘Good. I’ll see you as soon as I can.’
The connection was broken and Jasmine put the phone down. It was only then that she realised that she was naked, her shower interrupted. She needed to hurry. She didn’t want to leave Daniel on his own for too long, but she felt sticky after her run. She must shower, but first she must make a note of Daniel’s mobile number. She skipped downstairs to pick up her own mobile and ran back upstairs to get the number off the phone. Then when she was sure that she had Daniel’s contact secure she went into the bathroom. Hot water had been spraying into the shower cubicle all the time she had been speaking to Daniel. The room was full of mist. She washed herself quickly, removing the stale sweat from her run. Then she dried herself, hurriedly, and, still damp, pulled on her knickers, tucked herself away, and fastened a bra around her flat chest. She tucked in the falsies and then looked in her wardrobe. She must be as unobtrusive as possible. She mustn’t draw attention to herself or Daniel. A knee-length summer dress drew her eye. Bright summer colours but appropriate for a bright summer day. It was cut modestly with short sleeves so wouldn’t attract too many eyes. She dressed quickly and pulled a pair of flat sandals onto her feet. She couldn’t rush out of the door yet though. Her make-up had to be done carefully. Nevertheless, it was under half an hour from Daniel’s call when she left the house, tossing her bag over her shoulder.
It was about a half mile walk to the bus-stop and when she got there the timetable told her she had half an hour to wait for a bus to Basingstoke. She stood as patiently as she could with sunglasses shading her eyes and perhaps adding some anonymity. The last thing she wanted was for a car containing one or more of her colleagues to be driving by and stop to offer her a lift. But no one did. As the time for the bus approached a few other people joined her in the queue. As always she felt self-conscious, forced to be on show in a queue. From behind her shades she checked if anyone was taking an interest in her. They weren’t. She was just another, fairly tall, young woman waiting for a bus on a beautiful, warm afternoon.
The bus was only a couple of minutes late and quite empty. Jasmine stepped on and fumbled in her wallet for the fare, unfamiliar with the process. The driver didn’t look at her as he handed her a ticket. She took it and walked down the aisle sitting in the first empty pair of seats. The other new passengers followed behind her and found their own spaces. She was relieved that no-one had taken the spare seat next to her.
The journey along the familiar road was uneventful but Jasmine found it interesting. She was used to driving along the busy road, not being a passenger, so she enjoyed looking out at the fields and buildings that they passed. They stopped a few times and passengers got off and got on but Jasmine remained alone.
At last they entered Basingstoke and the bus pulled up at the stop for the shopping centre. Jasmine got off and as she walked towards the entrance doors pulled her phone from her bag. She found Daniel’s contact and pressed ‘call’. What if she couldn’t get a connection inside? Her heart rate rose for a few seconds until she heard the call tone and Daniel answered.
‘Yes, Daniel. I’m here. Sorry it’s taken a while. I’ll see you in Starbucks in a few minutes.’
‘OK.’ She cut the connection and set off, trying not to hurry but looking relaxed and casual – an afternoon shopper. The layout of the mall was complicated but she thought she remembered from previous visits where the Starbucks was – always supposing there was just one. Her memory proved to be accurate and as she entered the door she scanned for Daniel. He wasn’t visible from the entrance but as she approached the counter she saw him. He’d sensibly kept away from the windows and was sitting at a small table in a far corner almost shielded from view by customers at other tables. She purchased a coffee – black Americano, no sugar, medium, and moved in as unhurried a manner as possible to join Daniel. She saw a small empty cup in front of him.
‘You’ve had a coffee,’ she said as she sat down opposite him.
‘Yeah. I had enough cash for a small one.’
‘You’re out of cash?’
‘Just about. I’ve got more in my bank account but after you said the police were looking for me I was afraid to use my card. They can trace your movements by following your card use, can’t they?’ Yes, and by logging your phone calls, Jasmine didn’t add, but rather doubted that DCI Sloane would have yet gone to those lengths to trace Daniel.
‘Are you OK?’ She examined the young man. Dishevelled, a little grubby, he didn’t look too out of place for a youth in a cheap coffeehouse. There was a bag by his side. Jasmine recognised the small sports bag from his mother’s description.
‘Yeah, I s’pose so. A bit knackered.’
Jasmine sipped her coffee.
‘So, what are we going to do?’
‘Don’t know.’ He looked down at his empty cup, his shoulders drooping.
‘First of all, tell me what you’ve done since you left home on Saturday morning.’
‘Because I want to hear your alibi so I can tell you if it will convince the police.’
‘I didn’t kill, Kyle.’ Daniel had to stop his voice from being raised. He glared at Jasmine.
‘I know, but tell me all the same.’