Well, after a week off I couldn’t wait any longer to start a new Jasmine Frame story. This month’s Writing Magazine includes an article by Simon Whalley quoting me as saying that I like to have a few projects on the go, and it’s true. I’m currently writing the third volume in the September Weekes, Evil Above The Stars trilogy/series, I’m thinking about the next Jasmine Frame novel and a few other ideas, and now I’ve added another prequel to the mix. I don’t know whether it helps or hinders my writing to swap between stories, characters and even genres but I like it. When I get a bit tired of writing one story I can go to another.
Close-up is the third prequel to Painted Ladies and is set a few months after The Switch (which I am going to re-title, Self Portraits when I revise it). It’s still over a year before the events of Painted Ladies so there’s space for yet more cases. As usual with these episodic tales we’ll see where it goes. Let me know what you think.
Close-up: Part 1
Jasmine looked up from her screen covered in rows of numbers. What had disturbed her concentration? The answer was DCI Sloane, flinging the door of his office open and striding across the floor, his polished shoes squeaking. He reached the middle of the long white board that filled one wall, turned and faced the rows of desks, some of them occupied by Jasmine and her colleagues.
‘Gather round, ladies and gentlemen,’ he said in his gruff but polite voice. It wasn’t always polite.
‘What’s up Boss?’ asked DC Keith Money, the eldest of the team, hauling himself out of his chair. Jasmine stood, too, smoothing her grey skirt down her nylon-covered thighs. She gave the hem an extra tug to pull it closer to her knee. She saw Sloane’s eyes glance in her direction then flick away.
‘We’ve been asked to investigate a missing child,’ Sloane answered. Money slouched against the front desk and Jasmine stood by his left side. Money flinched away from her.
‘Is that really a job for the Serious and Violent Crime Unit?’ Money said in a mutter.
‘Shut up Money,’ DS Palmerston said, taking up a position on his right, ‘DCI Sloane will explain if you keep your mouth shut.’ The big blonde woman gave him a jab in the ribs with her elbow to emphasise her point.
The other two members of the team, Detective Constables Shepherd and Kingston joined the ragged row.
‘Thank you, Palmerston.’ Sloane said pausing to take a deep breath. ‘Since the child has allegedly been abducted it is likely to be an S and V, so you can put aside your present work for the time being.’
Jasmine sighed with relief. Her head had been buzzing trying to come to terms with the balance sheets, invoices, expense claims of their current money laundering case.
‘That’s good news, isn’t it, Jas,’ Tom Shepherd leaned to whisper in her ear.
‘What was that Shepherd?’ Sloane asked.
‘Hope we can assist, Sir,’ Tom said.
‘I hope so too, Shepherd, otherwise you don’t deserve to be on my team,’ Sloane said. Jasmine noticed Tom’s face redden while Palmerston sent him an arrow-like glare and Derek Kingston gave him a nudge.
‘Enough,’ Sloane said, ‘Two CSOs on routine street patrol in Kintbridge High Street were approached by a woman in a state of distress saying her baby had been taken, along with the pushchair, from outside a shop near the Kennet Bridge.’
‘When was this, Sir?’ Palmerston asked, raising her head from her notebook.
Sloane glanced at his watch.
‘About forty-five minutes ago at ten thirty a.m. Uniformed officers are with the woman now in the High Street and we’ve been asked to coordinate the search for the child and determine what, if any, crime has been committed. As our current investigation is not at a crucial phase I have agreed to commit all the unit, at least for a few hours.’
There were general mutterings of agreement as all five members of the team asserted their willingness to join the search.
Sloane went on, ‘Palmerston. Meet the uniformed officers in the High Street. Interview the woman, find out all you can about her, whether she noticed anyone watching her, what she was doing when the chair and its occupant went missing. Take Shepherd with you. Money and Kingston, I want you in the High Street questioning passers-by. The CSOs and other officers will assist. I hope to have a description of the baby and the pushchair with you by the time you get there.’
‘Where do we meet the uniforms, Sir,’ Money asked.
‘They’re outside M and S,’ Sloane said, ‘should be about half a dozen of them by the time you get there. I’ll be coordinating the investigation from downstairs, initially.’
The four detectives started to move leaving Jasmine feeling left out and a bit silly. Sloane turned and took a step towards the exit.
‘What about me, Sir?’ Jasmine said. Sloane turned and looked at her. His top lip curled in distaste.
‘What’s the matter, Frame?’
‘What do I do, Sir? Can I join the search?’
Sloane cleared his throat. ‘No, Frame, I want you here. Take reports from the team. In the meantime, assuming the worst and we do have an abduction, start getting together information on the sex offenders that are in town, and anyone convicted of child snatching. Oh, and collect as much CCTV as you can get.’ He turned away from her and strode out of the room.
Jasmine groaned and returned to her seat. She thumped the desk. Another office job. When would Sloane let her out to join an investigation? Not once since she started her transition three months ago had she been allowed out to a crime scene let alone speak to a victim, witness or suspect. She closed down the files on the finance case and typed in her password to the national records. Stretching back in her chair, while the system loaded she felt her silicone breasts move against her chest and start an itch. She slipped a finger inside her low-necked woollen top and bra and gave the skin a scratch. At least there was one advantage to being left alone in the office.
She lifted her phone, dialled the CCTV monitoring centre and using the soft and feminine voice she’d been practising, requested copies of the discs for the relevant cameras that kept watch on the town centre. When she put the phone down she fed in her search terms on the sex offenders register and watched the screen as the list of names grew.
The phone rang and Jasmine snatched it up.
‘Jas, Tom here.’
‘Hi, Tom. What’s up?’
‘Jas? I can’t hear you.’
Jasmine sighed and spoke louder, losing the feminine tone, ‘I’m here Tom. What is it?’’
‘Sloane said to speak to you.’
‘That was nice of him.’
‘What’s the matter? You sound peeved.’
‘So would you be if you’d been left behind again to do the IT stuff.’
‘Oh, I see. I’m sorry Jas. I’m sure Sloane will come round eventually.’
‘It’s taking a time. Anyway, what have you got?’
‘Palmerston is talking to the woman; well she’s barely more than a girl. Her name’s Amber Markham. The missing baby is Jack, seven months old. It’s pretty cold and wet out here.’
‘Well, it is November. I wouldn’t mind a bit of cold and wet. Anything would be a change from this dump.’
‘You’re welcome to it. We’re bringing Mizz Markham back to the station. Hope that we can get her to give us a sensible account.’
‘Good. I’ll need a picture of her so I can search for her on the CCTV.’
‘You’ve got that job have you?’
‘Do I ever have anything else to do but stare at a screen?’
‘It’s not that bad is it, Jas?’
‘We’re on our way. See you in a couple of minutes.’ The connection was cut. Jasmine put the phone down and stood up. At least she could meet Tom, Palmerston and the Markham woman as they arrived. She took her mobile out of her bag and walked out of the office.
The temperature in the public area was a few degrees below the office. Jasmine felt the restricted entry door lock loudly behind her. Desk Sergeant Geoff Gorman looked up from his paperwork at the front desk.
‘What are you doing here, Frame?’ He said.
He acts like I shouldn’t be here, Jasmine thought. She felt his X-ray eyes seeing through her female dress to the male bits she still had underneath. She shuffled uncomfortably.
‘I’m meeting Palmerston, Shepherd and the mother of the missing baby.’
‘Oh, well, don’t make the place look like a freak show.’
Anger knotted Jasmine’s stomach and she was about to say a few words to the grey haired older officer which might have got her into trouble for insubordination. The entrance doors opened letting in a gust of icy wind. DS Palmerston entered, followed by Tom guiding a slim girl in a mini skirt and inadequate shiny zip up top.
‘Take Amber through and get her something to warm her up,’ Palmerston said, turning to the desk. Jasmine held her i.d. to the door and pulled it open for Tom and the girl to enter. Amber glanced at her as she passed, her eyes seeming to linger on her.
‘Come in, please Amber,’ Tom said leading her into the more pleasant of the interview rooms, the one with white walls and padded seats. The girl flung herself onto one of the chairs looking dazed.
‘Tea or coffee?’ Tom asked.
‘Coffee,’ Amber said. ‘Can I have a fag?’
‘Not in here. I’m sorry,’ Tom said. ‘I’ll leave Miss Markham with you, Jas, while I get the coffee.’
He left. Jasmine stepped forward and pulled a chair from behind the desk so she could sit close to Amber without it looking like a formal questioning.
‘I’m sorry about your baby, Mizz Markham. Jack is it? I’m sure we’ll find him.’
Amber looked at her with her wide, tired and painted eyes. She didn’t say anything.
‘Do you mind if I take a photo of you? It’s so I can check the CCTV. See if we can spot you and whoever may have taken Jack.’ She held up her phone.
‘You speak weird, like a bloke. Are you a fucking tranny?’
Painted Ladies: A Jasmine Frame Story is avaialble as a paperback or e-book from all booksellers.