A little early this week as the weekend is going to be busy. On Saturday I’m at LonCon, The World Science Fiction Convention, mainly to visit the stand of Elsewhen Press who will be publishing my Evil Above the Stars series (well volumes 1 and 2 anyway). So with no more ado here is the second episode of my new Jasmine Frame prequel.
Close-up: Part 2
Jasmine felt the anger and embarrassment grow in her like a hailstone turning into a block of ice. She knew her voice wasn’t perfect yet. It kept slipping down an octave. Was she really so obviously trans? She didn’t need to wear a wig because her own hair had been growing for a few months and was styled in a lovely, flattering bob. She dressed as femininely as possible although Sloane made it obvious that he thought she showed too much leg and she tried to make her make-up not appear like a mask even though she had sometimes to go for too many hours between shaves. She so wanted to be accepted as the woman she felt herself to be but still the little unconscious slips let her down.
She could have reacted to Amber Markham’s accusation, made a fuss, asserted her rights as a transitioning transsexual, but she stopped herself blurting out a denial. She was a police officer trying to assist this woman who was understandably distraught at the disappearance of her baby. Jasmine took a breath and tried to speak as calmly and softly as possible
‘I am a woman, Ms Markham. May I take your photo?’ Jasmine raised her phone to frame the young woman, thumb poised on the record button.
Amber leaned back in her chair, turning her face away from the phone.
‘I’m not having no freak taking my bloody photo.’
‘What’s going on here?’ Palmerston’s voice was authoritative though not an uncontrolled shout. Jasmine hadn’t heard her enter the interview room and she turned now to see the detective standing in the doorway. Jasmine had admired her since she’d joined the team a month ago. She was a strong, independent woman who seemed sure of her position as a rising star of the police service. DS Denise Palmerston was obviously female but preferred to wear trousers when on duty. She hit back at men who tried to bully her with usually a cutting and witty comment. DC Money had soon met his match. Sloane had been a little suspicious of her at first but now seemed to respect her as his number two.
‘I don’t want a fucking perv eyeing me up on his phone,’ Amber said, her face contorted into an ugly sneer.
‘DC Frame is doing her job,’ Palmerston said, ‘The photo is to aid the search for Jack. Can you please stand up, Amber. I’ll take it if you like.’ She took the phone from Jasmine’s hand. Amber slowly got to her feet, twisting her body so that she faced Palmerston rather than Jasmine. The phone flashed, twice.
‘There, DC Frame, one of those should be sufficient. Go and get on with your work.’ Palmerston returned the phone to Jasmine’s hand and pointed to the door.
Feeling a blush rising up her cheeks and a bitter, acid taste in her mouth, Jasmine took the phone and strode out of the room. In the corridor she met Tom carrying a steaming paper cup.
‘Are you alright, Jas?’ he said.
‘Don’t ask,’ Jasmine replied, hurrying passed him.
Jasmine sat at her desk looking at the photos she had downloaded from her phone. She examined the image of Amber Markham. She was young but looked tired, exhausted even. She was thin and with bare legs, the polka dotted miniskirt and the thin, shiny red jacket, seemed totally unprepared for a cold, wet November day. Jasmine expanded the image of her face. The dark rings around the eyes, the lank hair, the expression of misery. Was that due to her feelings towards Jasmine, her anxiety at the loss of her child or something else? She zoomed out again. At least her appearance was distinctive enough that she should be able to pick her up on the CCTV recordings when they arrived.
She saved the photos and returned to the list of sex offenders. It was a surprisingly long list, more than filling the screen. They were drawn from an area of five miles radius from the centre of Kintbridge. She read down the list, noting the addresses, their record of attendance at monitoring sessions and their offences. There were the rapists and the groomers and the child molesters who had served their time in gaol, and the other less severely punished characters, the flashers and those who perhaps through opportunism or simple stupidity had found themselves arrested for having sex with an underage girl or boy. Some of them no doubt had IQs considerably lower than their victims. Nevertheless their names were now listed and cropped up whenever a sex offence was recorded. Jasmine could see none with a known interest in babies or who had been charged with stealing a child, for any reason. There were no obvious suspects.
Tom Shepherd sauntered into the open plan office and wandered over to Jasmine’s desk.
‘You OK, Jas.’
‘Fine, thanks. How’s Ms Markham?’
‘She’s calmed down a bit. I gather from Palmerston that she had a go at you.’
Jasmine sighed and grimaced. ‘She read me straight away, Tom. What can I do? I try so hard.’
‘You’re doing fine, Jas. You look really good.’
‘But until I get on the hormones, get my own breasts, have the op, I’m still a bloke in drag.’
Tom shook his head. ‘No Jas. Look I can’t understand what you go through, but every day that passes makes you more of a woman.’
‘But you’ve got used to me. You just see Jasmine now, not a man who’s trying to be a woman. But when I meet new people, and they have a good look at me, they see through me. No wonder Sloane won’t let me out let alone interview anyone.’
‘Oh, come on Jasmine. It’s not that bad.’
‘Yes, it is. One close look from Amber Markham and she was accusing me of being a pervert and working herself into a state.’
‘She was already in a state, Jas.’
‘So how can I be an effective detective if I can’t calm down someone like that.’
‘It’ll come, Jas. As you say, once you get on your programme, get all the things done you say you need, nobody will know you were once a guy. Sloane will come round. He knows you’re a good cop.’ Tom laid a hand on her shoulder and squeezed. It was the first time he’d touched her since she’d transitioned. It was more reassuring than she could have expected.
‘Thanks Tom. Look we’ve got work to do. What’s Amber told you?’
Tom rolled a chair from an adjacent desk to sit beside Jasmine. He sat and spread his legs comfortably.
‘She says she walked into town with Jack in the pushchair. She lives on the estate over the other side of Reading Road.’
‘She says she wanted something from the delicatessen on the bridge, but because it was busy and there wasn’t much space inside, she left Jack in the buggy outside. When she came out it was gone. She says she ran up and down High Street until she bumped into the CSOs. You know the rest.’
Jasmine mulled over the story.
‘She’s a single mother, nineteen. Lives in a one bed flat. Survives on benefits.’
‘Not on the scene. Lives in Reading apparently. She says she hasn’t seen him since Jack was born. There is boyfriend but she says he doesn’t live with her.’
‘I guess Sloane is following them both up.’
‘He will be, you can bet on it.’
Tom’s account went round and round in Jasmine’s head.
‘What was she doing in the deli?’ she asked.
‘Buying something, I suppose,’ Tom replied.
‘I don’t know. I could check. Why?’
‘She’s on benefits. What’s she doing shopping in the deli, Tom?’
‘What’s wrong with that, Jas?’
‘The deli is expensive. She’s managing on a tiny budget. Unless she’s got some unusual tastes I can’t see her as a regular, upmarket delicatessen shopper.’
‘Just because she’s poor, Jas, doesn’t stop her going into a posh shop if she wants to.’
‘I’m not being classist,’ Jasmine said. ‘I shop in that place. I often call in to pick up things that Angela has asked me to get – stuffed olives, Italian salami, that sort of thing. You don’t see many single mothers like Amber Markham in there.’ She was sure she wasn’t being prejudiced. People’s behaviour and shopping patterns were somewhat determined by their backgrounds, and how full their purses were.
‘Well, I don’t know why you’re making a fuss, Jas. The girl says she was in there and the shop assistants say she was there – that was the first place the CSOs asked questions.’
The phone on Jasmine’s desk rang. She grabbed it and put it to her ear.
‘Frame? It’s Kingston. We’ve found a pushchair. It looks like the description of the missing one.’
‘Where did you find it, Derek?’
‘In the canal, just above Town Bridge Lock.’
‘No sign. I think that’s good news isn’t it?’
Painted Ladies: A Jasmine Frame Story is available in paperback and as an e-book from all booksellers.