I had a really great time at NAWG Writing Festival last weekend. I attended informative and enjoyable workshops run by Veronica Heley and Tim Wilson and there were also good talks by Steve Bowkett, Paul Dodgson and Richard Denning. Jane Wenham Jones carried out very amusing interviews with the committee and speakers and David Nobbs was a superb after dinner speaker. As I expected I came back fired up to push my writing further and do more to get Jasmine more widely read – watch this space.
So on with the prequel to Painted Ladies feturing Jasmine Frame, transsexual detective.
Close-up: Part 5
Parnell’s face clouded with anger. ‘There’s no law against what I wear, or about having a wank.’
‘No, there isn’t,’ Jasmine said, ‘if you don’t do it in front of members of the public, specifically teenage girls.’
Parnell glowered at her. ‘I told you, I’ve stopped that.’
‘But not in private. The female underwear that DC Money saw here is yours isn’t it, and I think I see a bra under that rugby shirt.’
He crossed his arms across his chest and avoided looking at her.
‘Look, after I was done for it I tried to give it up, I really did, but I couldn’t. I had to do it, dress up that is, but I’m really careful about it now.’
The thought of putting on bra and stockings to get aroused disgusted Jasmine but it brought back memories she’d prefer to forget. As a child she had thought she was a girl like her older sister, Holly, and like the other girls she met at the playground and at school. It was disconcerting when in her early teens her body began to change and the frequent erections appalled her. She wanted a female body without the male bits. She had started to “borrow” Holly’s clothes to give herself a feminine appearance when she was alone, but was mortified when her hated appendage poked from the thin cotton knickers and there was just one way to subdue it. Thankfully that phase had soon passed and putting on dresses, blouses and skirts became a way to reaffirm her sense of feminine identity and definitely not a means of excitement.
It seemed that Parnell had never moved on from the association of female underwear with sexual pleasure, but she knew that it was almost impossible for a person to throw off a trait which was so ingrained in their personality. The existence of the pink mac showed that his fetish had evolved in some respects.
‘You still like to go out to be seen by people in the street.’
Parnell nodded and spoke in a hiss. ‘Yes, but I do it properly. I dress up and wear a wig and all that. I was out this morning. There’s nothing wrong in that. ’
‘No, there isn’t.’ Jasmine was forced to agree recalling her early trips outdoors when her choice of dress and make-up wasn’t as well-developed as her female contemporaries. A wig hid a lot of things but couldn’t alter male posture or voice.
Parnell looked at her as if seeing her for a first time.
‘Why are you asking all these questions anyway? It’s got nothing to do with this missing baby.’ He stared into her face. ‘You’re one too, aren’t you? You’ve been going on about what I do but you’re a trannie too.’
‘I’m transsexual.’ Jasmine stepped away from him. ‘I don’t get off on what I wear, the clothes are part of my identity. I’m a woman.’
‘Huh, I suppose you want the NHS to cut off your cock and give you a fanny. And you think what I do is disgusting. Well, get lost. Go and pry into someone else’s private life and let me get on with mine.’ He advanced towards her. Jasmine retreated into the hallway and out onto the metal landing. The door slammed shut.
Well, that was successful, she muttered to herself as she descended. Had she got anything out of the exchange with Parnell other than a severe dose of embarrassment? No. She decided not to use her authority to enter the restricted area around the lock. She didn’t want to meet any of her colleagues who would wonder what she was doing at the scene. She crossed the river and strode quickly through the streets back to Police HQ.
DCI Sloane was standing in the doorway to his office when she returned to her desk. He saw her and frowned.
‘Back at last, Frame. I need that analysis of the CCTV footage. See if there are any characters showing an interest in Markham and her child.’
‘Yes, Sir.’ Jasmine sat in her chair trying to make herself as small and inconspicuous as possible. She didn’t want Sloane to question the time taken up by her appointment. It was nearly four o’clock. She woke up her computer and reloaded the CCTV recordings. There was also a transcript of Amber Markham’s statement. She read through it and made a note of the times mentioned. It was a slow, tedious task correlating the sightings of Amber and the pushchair from various camera viewpoints with her reported movements. The more she looked the more she became confused.
Amber said she had left home about nine-thirty and walked from her home to the north end of High Street. She said she had walked down the pedestrianized shopping street stopping at a few places before she arrived at the delicatessen. Because it was busy she had left the pushchair outside and gone inside to make her purchases. That was about ten-fifteen. Amber said she had left the shop, found her child missing and run around searching for him until she bumped into the CSOs at ten-twenty. The problem was that her appearances on CCTV didn’t match her story, not exactly.
Jasmine went through the recordings once again, zooming into the picture to watch Amber in close-up and following her in slow-motion. Something caught her eye. A pink blob.
She copied the relevant snippets of video and stitched them together to produce a continuous record of Amber’s movements from nine-forty when she first appeared to her meeting the CSOs. She sat back in her chair, rubbing her eyes. The clock on the wall above the whiteboard caught her eye. Seven p.m. Had three hours passed almost without her noticing? She got to her feet, easing the stiffness from her back and neck, and went to knock on Sloane’s door.
She pushed the door open.
‘Ah, Frame. Got that report I asked you to do this morning?’
His tone gave her the feeling that he thought she’d been idling while the rest of the team worked. Or was she imagining it?
‘Yes, Sir. I think you should look at it.’
‘What have you got?’ Sloane rose from his chair.
‘I think the case is not quite what we thought.’
‘What do you mean?’ Sloane circled his desk and followed Jasmine back to her own workstation. She sat at the computer and he leaned down behind her, staring at the screen.
‘I’ve put all the sightings of Amber Markham in a timed sequence, Sir.’
‘Good. Let me see.’
Jasmine pressed start and the film began to run. She pointed to the screen.
‘There she is, Sir, with the pushchair at nine-forty. She criss-crosses High Street, taking her time but doesn’t go into any shops. She crosses the bridge to the deli. Unfortunately I haven’t got any shots of her actually at the shop. Then she reappears, still with the pushchair, going back along the High Street.’
‘What time is that, Frame?’
Jasmine froze the frame. ‘Seven minutes past ten, Sir.’
‘Go on. What does she do next?’
Jasmine restarted the video. ‘She turns into Waggoners’ Passage. I haven’t got a view down there, Sir. The Waggon and Boat may have an exterior camera.’
‘Get on to the pub. See if they have anything. So she’s going to the lock where the pushchair was found.’
‘Yes, Sir, but she reappears in the High Street inside a minute,’ Jasmine froze the picture again and pointed to the recording time. ‘There. It’s still ten-oh-eight. But she hasn’t got the pushchair.’
‘By God, she hasn’t. What has she done with it? She couldn’t have had time to get beyond the lock and push it into the water.’
‘What does she do next?’
Jasmine restarted the film. ‘She walks at a normal speed back towards the bridge and again disappears, presumably into the deli at about ten-past-ten. She comes out of the shop at ten-fifteen, as she said she did, and runs around in circles, stopping other people until she meets the CSOs.’
‘But, let me get this right, she’s already got rid of the pushchair at this point?’
‘Yes, Sir, She left it somewhere or handed it over to someone when she went into Waggoners’ Passage.’
‘And someone else tipped it into the river.’ Sloane scratched his chin.
‘That’s right, Sir. There’s something else, Sir.’
‘What’s that, Frame?’
‘The pushchair had a rain cover over it. You can’t see the child. I don’t think the cover was on the pushchair when it was found in the canal.’
‘That’s correct. It hasn’t turned up in the search either. I think we need to have some words with Miss Markham.’ Sloane straightened and took a step away.
‘There’s one more thing, Sir,’ Jasmine raised her voice to bring Sloane back.
‘Yes, Frame?’ Sloane stopped and turned.
‘Look at this, Sir.’ Jasmine rewound the video until she got to the point she wanted and froze it. Sloane leaned down to look. The picture showed Amber Markham with the pushchair turning into Waggoners’ Passage.
‘What am I looking at, Frame?’
Jasmine zoomed in. The picture enlarged but became blurred.
‘Behind Markham. Standing on the corner of the alleyway.’
‘That pink blob. What is it?’
‘I think it’s Stephen Parnell wearing a woman’s rain coat.’
‘Parnell? The flasher who lives by the lock?’
‘How do you know that it is Parnell?’
‘Because he has a mac like that and he goes out in female dress, Sir.’
‘How do you know that, Frame. Is he one of your trans friends?’
‘No, Sir. I called on him.’ Jasmine took a deep breath waiting for Sloane’s response. It came after a pause during which she held her breath.
‘You called on him?’
Jasmine breathed out. He hadn’t shouted at her. Yet. ‘Yes, Sir, a few hours ago after my appointment.’
Sloane’s nostrils flared. ‘Why did you take it on yourself to call on Parnell after Money said he found nothing at Parnell’s place?’
‘He only thought he was looking for a baby, Sir.’
‘DC Money thought Parnell had a female partner because he saw some feminine clothes in Parnell’s flat. He only knew that Parnell was a flasher not that he was a TV.’
‘Yes, Sir. I wanted to confirm my suspicions.’
‘And did you?’
‘Yes, Sir. He admitted to going out dressed as a woman and I saw the pink mac.’
‘But what has that got to do with Markham and her child. Why are you wasting time investigating your transgender fraternity? Eh, Frame?’ Jasmine recognised the look on Sloane’s face. She was going to get a lecture on insubordination if she wasn’t careful.
‘Watch this, Sir.’ She zoomed out of the picture again, rewound it a few seconds and then played it forward. Amber and her pushchair approached the Passage. Parnell in his pink rainwear stood out now, standing by the building on the corner of the alley. Amber turned down the narrow gap and Parnell followed her. Several seconds later, Amber reappeared without the chair.
Sloane took three slow, deep breaths before standing up straight. ‘So, in those few seconds, Markham gets rid of the child and the chair. Parnell must have seen what she did or even took it from her.’
‘We need to speak to Parnell as well as Markham.’ Sloane strode off into his office and lifted his phone.
Painted Ladies: A Jasmine Frame Story is available in paperback or e-book from any bookseller