It’s been an interesting week, writing-wise. First of all I spent last Saturday at the World Science Fiction Convention, LonCon3, at Excel. It was my first time at an SF convention so it was fun to see many people in costume, to see the displays of SF and Fantasy art and the dealers stands. Best of all was meeting Pete and Al of Elsewhen Press and a number of their authors. They are a variety of ages and backgrounds and write across the sub-genres of SF and Fantasy. They made me welcome and I am looking forward to the publication of the first two parts of Evil Above the Stars – Seventh Child and Power of Seven.
Then we had a visit by Elizabeth Gowing, who was speaking to our U3A group about her love of Kosovo and the Edwardian English traveller Edith Durham who preceded her. We had a good chat about publishing. She had a publisher for her first book but set up her own company for the second while her partner has a publishing contract for his Victorian spy novels. She has put a tremendous effort into publicising her books and giving talks. She puts me to shame and makes me feel I really must do more to get “Jasmine and Me“, my talk about transgenderism including readings from Jasmine Frame stories, more well known, and I must speed up getting Bodies By Design, the second Jasmine Frame novel, published in some form.
Anyway, on to Close-up, the third of my prequels to Painted Ladies.
Close-up: Part 3
Was not finding baby Jack alive or dead, good news or bad news? Jasmine wasn’t sure but DC Kingston seemed to need some reassurance.
‘I think so, Derek, but …’
‘Shepherd, Frame, pay attention.’ Sloane’s voice boomed out as he strode into the room with Denise Palmerston at his heels. ‘Money tells me they’ve found the pushchair.’
‘We heard, Sir,’ Jasmine said, ‘I’ve got DC Kingston on the line.’
‘Good, keep him on,’ Sloane said.
‘Did you hear that, Derek?’ Jasmine said into the phone.
‘Loud and clear,’ Kingston replied.
‘Tell Kingston and Money to wait by the lock. Keep gawpers away and wait for Soco to arrive. We’ll have to call in the divers to search the river for the baby. Tell Kingston not to let any boats through the lock. We don’t want them churning the water up.’
‘Have you got that, Derek?’ Jasmine asked again.
‘Palmerston, I want you down there supervising. Organise a proper search of the area. Shepherd, pick up a female officer from Family Liaison and take Miss Markham down to the lock to have a look at the pushchair. See if she can identify it. Then take her home. Perhaps she’ll be a bit calmer and able to give us a full story in her own surroundings. Any questions? No. Right. Get on with it.’
Denise Palmerston and Tom headed for the exit. Sloane headed for his office. Jasmine was about to say goodbye to Derek Kingston and put the phone down but a couple of questions came into her head.
‘Hey, Derek,’ she called down the phone.
‘I’ve got to go, Frame. Money is calling me.’
‘Wait a second. How was the pushchair found? They don’t float too well.’
‘There’s a boat coming up through the lock. They found it jammed against the lock gate when they tried to open it. A couple of officers were searching the area for the missing kid as the boaters were dragging it out of the water.’
‘Where’s the boat now?’
‘We’re holding it in the lock. I heard Sloane say not to let any boats through.’
‘What state is the pushchair in?’
‘Looks okay. Can’t have been in the water long.’
‘Is it folded or open?’
‘Uh, difficult to tell. Half open I guess. Why?’
‘Oh, I don’t know. I just wondered.’
‘Well, I’ve got to go. There’s a crowd forming and Money needs me.’ The line clicked off. Sloane’s voice roared from inside his office.
‘Have you got that list of sex offenders yet, Frame?’
‘Yes, Sir,’ Jasmine called back, grimacing at the maleness of her raised voice.
‘Any addresses close to where the pushchair has been found?’
‘I’ll search, Sir.’ Jasmine returned to the list and called up a map with the addresses of the named offenders tagged. She zoomed in on the map until only the area around the lock was visible. One flag remained.
‘There’s one, Sir.’
Sloane emerged from his office at a considerable pace, rounded the desks and stood behind Jasmine looking at the screen.
‘Who is it?’
Jasmine leaned close to the screen to read the small print on the tag.
‘Don’t know the name,’ Sloane said shaking his head.
Jasmine remembered his name from the list.
‘He’s only on the register because he exposed himself to a couple of teenage girls, Sir.’
‘How close is he?’
‘About as near as he could be, Sir. He lives in the flats in the old mill beside the weir, a hundred metres from the lock.’
‘Hmm. Well, we’d better check him over. Never ignore what’s under your nose, Frame. Give his details to Money and tell him to give this Parnell fellow a call. See if he will let him have a look over his place. Tell him not to give too much away. We’re still looking for a missing child.’
Sloane returned to his office while Jasmine called Money and passed on the instructions. As she put the phone down one of the civilian workers entered carrying a jiffy bag. She dropped it onto Jasmine’s desk and went out with hardly a word spoken. Jasmine broke the seal and took out a dvd disc. She loaded it onto her computer and was soon reviewing the recorded CCTV views. Flicking through the different camera files she noted which views were available. It was soon apparent that there was no direct view of the delicatessen on the bridge. The CCTV control room had been unmanned during the morning so the cameras were on automatic – recording the scene in the frame of the camera lens but not moving around or zooming in and out. She had a view of the side of the road and the bridge opposite the deli and views up and down the High Street on the other side of the bridge from early morning until after Amber Markham had declared her baby missing. It was going to be a long job trying to track her movements and observe whether there were any suspects in the passers-by. She glanced at her watch. It was already 1 p.m. She’d come in early today so she could finish her shift by 2:30 when she had a doctor’s appointment. It didn’t look as though anyone was going to get away today, unless baby Jack was found alive and well, but this appointment was important to her. She sighed and set the recoding running.
She tried not to blink in case she missed a fleeting appearance of Amber Markham on the screen but after an hour Jasmine was forced to freeze the recording and rub her eyes. She had already tagged Amber on the recordings from most of the cameras. Usually she was seen pushing the pushchair but a couple of times she was on her own, presumably from when she was searching for her missing baby. This had been a quick scan. A more thorough search would be needed to detect anyone showing a suspicious interest in the child and his mother. She was getting anxious. The time of her appointment was approaching and she needed to ask Sloane whether she could go off-duty for an hour in order to keep it. Sloane, though had left the office for the control room and she was reluctant to ring through and ask his permission while he was with other officers. The phone rang. She picked it up and recognised DC Money’s gruff greeting.
‘Sloane told me to report to you since you are looking into the sex offenders,’ he said.
‘Well, I’ve called on Parnell. Smarmy bugger, fell over himself to be obliging once he’d answered the door. He was wearing a dressing gown and said he was about to have a shower. Invited me in immediately when I said we were looking for a missing child, as if he wanted to prove he had nothing to do with it. There was no sign of the kid in his flat and he denied seeing the woman and the child.’
‘So he’s not a suspect, then.’
‘No evidence to suggest he is, Frame, but that’s up to Sloane. Mind you it amazes me.’
‘A thicko perv like Parnell still has a girl.’
‘How do you know?’
‘There was a pair of stockings and a bra on the bed and woman’s dresses in the wardrobe. She wasn’t there though. Got to go. The divers have turned up at last.’ He ended the call.
Jasmine sat, pondering. What Money said had set her thinking. She returned to the sex offender’s list and called up Parnell’s file.
Sloane burst through the door, heading at speed to his office.
‘Sir?’ Jasmine called. Sloane slowed a little.
‘What is it, Frame?’
‘I have an appointment with my GP at two-thirty, Sir. Can I keep it, please?’
Sloane stopped mid-step. A flush rose up from his tight white collar. Jasmine imagined him thinking how on earth one of his team could possibly think of leaving their desk during an investigation. Then he seemed to remember that this was the twenty-first century and people, even transsexuals, had rights. He slumped and continued his march across the room.
‘If you need to, Frame.’
‘Thank you, Sir.’ Her words were lost as the door to Sloane’s office slammed closed. Jasmine looked at her watch. She could make her appointment if she was quick. She picked up her bag and hurried to the door pausing to grab her coat off the hook.
She left the building almost at a run. There was no quick way to reach the surgery. It was across the town centre and would have taken as long to drive there and find a parking space as it was to run. Anyway she was a runner; she enjoyed running, though not in knee-high boots and encumbered by tights, a skirt, and winter coat. It was cold and wet and she had to serve around shoppers that shuffled along looking pretty fed up. Traffic on the streets that weren’t pedestrianized, deluged the pavements as they passed through the puddles stretching from the blocked gutters. Despite being fit it took her several minutes to cover the mile to the health centre and she was feeling hot and sweaty when she finally pushed the door open and entered the reception area. The clock told her that she had arrived with a couple of minutes to spare. She approached the desk.
‘I’m Jasmine Frame. I have an appointment with Dr Gould,’ she said to the bored-looking receptionist.
‘Can you sign in on the screen,’ the young woman said pointing to a large TV screen beside the desk. Jasmine fliustered and followed the on-screen instructions until she had confirmed her arrival. At least her name appeared correctly and gave her gender as female. She went to sit in one of the many empty seats and drew an envelope out of her bag. It was the subject of her meeting with Dr Gould. She had been accepted onto the gender reassignment programme. Now she could start to achieve her dream.
Painted Ladies: A Jasmine Frame Story is available in paperback and as an e-book from any bookseller.