I’m getting really fed up with people. An article in today’s (7th Feb.) Guardian about free speech on university campuses really worked me up. Apparently it is becoming impossible for anyone with minority (i.e. non-PC) views to speak on a university platform as picketing and theats from those who are “offended” frightens the authorities into cancelling any such events. Whereas it used to be right-wing politicians who were denied the chance to speak it now applies to any speaker who might “offend” some group or other. For example Julie Bindel and Germaine Greer are stopped from speaking because of their views on trans-people (they don’t think trans-women should be treated as real women). I disagree with Mss Bindel and Greer but I think they should be heard and their views refuted in a proper debate. It seems to me that all sorts of people these days use the “I’m offended” complaint to stop any sort of reasoned discussion. Just don’t get me started on religion. I feel that “free speech” is a right that trumps most others. Yes, it is a responsibility and no speaker has the right to call for others to be harmed but no-one should be offended if someone says something they disagree with.
Anyway, let’s get on to more pleasurable things such as the next episode of the Jasmine Frame, prequel to Painted Ladies.
Discovering Jasmine: Part 9
A slow trickle of people came in and out, spending a few minutes talking to the police officer and civilian workers behind the desk but James was left to sit alone and undisturbed. He had plenty of thoughts going through his head, questions to begin with. What had the Crew made of his disappearance? How was Cleo coping with the gang camped outside her flat? Would the police do anything?
With time to idle James began to reflect on what he had seen and heard today. Cleo wasn’t much to look at as a woman but she was living her dream, or nightmare, all day, every day. James wasn’t sure he could take the constant abuse and threat of actual physical harm. Maybe he didn’t want to be a girl enough to accept that existence. Cleo obviously did. Perhaps that meant he wasn’t a transsexual like Cleo but a transvestite who simply got pleasure out of dressing up from time to time. Except that when he was a girl he just felt right, not excited or aroused. He stared at the vinyl floor pondering why he had these desires that set him apart from his friends.
He looked up. A young woman was looking at him while holding open the door to the inner part of the police station. She was dressed in black trousers and red and white patterned shirt and had short, dark brown hair. She held a file of papers
‘Yes?’ he said getting to his feet.
‘I’m Detective Constable Bartrum. Would you like to come with me so we can talk privately.’
James followed the detective through the door, into a corridor and then into a small room which had just two simple plastic chairs as furnishing. DC Bartrum indicated to James to sit in one while she sat in the other and opened the file on her lap.
‘I understand you have information concerning a possible threat to a Miss Cleo Starkey.’
‘Uh, Cleo, yes, that’s right.’ James said a little uncertainly.
‘You met Miss Starkey this morning and she said she was being threatened?’ The woman’s tone suggested a degree of doubt.
‘Yes, er, no.’ James felt confused.
‘Which is it, Mr Frame?’
James was under pressure. He had to get the story straight and make this detective understand that Cleo was in danger.
‘I met Cleo. She told me about all the hassle she gets.’
‘We know Miss Starkey. She’s complained a number of times of harassment. On the other hand we have also been called to her address to deal with arguments between her and her neighbours. So what was this “threat” she told you about?’
‘Oh, she didn’t tell me that. I heard that from Stash and Nicko.’
‘Stash? You mean Stephen Ashley Wright?’ DC Bartrum’s voice was quieter.
‘Yes. He said they were going to push something through Cleo’s letter box that would get her out, then they’d attack her?’
‘What do you think he meant?’
‘They’re going to petrol-bomb her flat and then knife her.’
‘Where’s your proof, James?’
James was speechless. How could he prove it? He’d heard what Stash and Nicko said, but there was no proof.
‘I can’t prove it, but I heard them talking about it.’
‘How? You’re not an estate kid. Why did they trust you with information like that?’
‘I don’t think they did trust me, but I told them I’d just moved into the area. They believed that and thought I wanted to join their gang.’
Bartrum’s eyebrows rose. ‘Why should they think that?’
‘Because I shouted at Cleo, nasty stuff, and said things about her being transsexual.’ The shame of his cowardice made James feel sick.
‘So they thought you were like them.’ Bartrum’s voice was calm and sympathetic.
‘Yes.’ A tear rolled down James’ cheek. ‘I shouldn’t have. Cleo is on her own. She’s got no one to protect her.’
‘OK, James. I understand. You were afraid for your own safety.’
That’s exactly what it was. He abused Cleo to save himself.
‘Tell me the whole story again,’ DC Bartrum continued. James took a deep breath and recounted again what had happened from the time he called on Cleo up to his escape from the Crew. The detective constable listened and occasionally scribbled in her notebook.
When James finished, the woman looked directly at him. ‘You think this threat to Miss Starkey is real? You’re not making it up? You know wasting police time is an offence?’
‘Yes, I do. I’m not imagining it. ’ James said without hesitation. ‘They really hate her for being trans and they want to hurt her, Stash especially.’
‘You said you have seen Wright before’
‘I didn’t know who he was then, but he was with the gang that attacked Cleo last night.’
DC Bartrum ruffled through her papers and pulled out a sheet.
‘Tell me again what happened then.’
James related the previous evening’s events thinking that it seemed such a long time ago now. The detective frowned while reading the notes.
‘But last night you were dressed as a woman.’
‘Yes. I was Jasmine then.’
‘So today when you met them, Stash and his mates didn’t recognise you?’ She seemed surprised.
‘It was dark and I look pretty different as a girl.’
The woman looked at him with unstaring eyes as if trying to imagine him as a girl.
‘Hmm. Wait here. I’ll be back in a few minutes.’ She got up and left the room. James wondered whether his re-telling of the story had meant more to DC Bartrum than the notes she had in the file. James slouched in the chair realising that the moments were counting off before Stash and the Crew would launch their attack on Cleo.
Only a few minutes passed before DC Bartrum returned with an older, male detective. He stepped forward and took James’ hand as he stood up.
‘This is Detective Inspector MacNeil,’ DC Bartrum said
MacNeil shook James’ hand. ‘Thank you, James, for coming in today and telling us your story.’
‘You are going to protect, Cleo, aren’t you?’ James said thinking that he was going to be dismissed with a thank you and goodbye.
‘Yes. We’ll look after Miss Starkey. To tell you the truth we have had doubts. She has been here pretty often with her tales of discrimination and rows with her neighbours. But what you have reported seems more serious than a bit of graffiti and name-calling.’
‘They want to kill her,’ James said.
‘Yes, well, we’ll make sure that doesn’t happen. Actually this gives us a chance to pick up Stash Wright and his gang. We know he’s up to all sorts of mischief but without witnesses who’ll speak up or formal complaints against him we have been unable to act. This threat gives us a chance to catch him in the act.’
‘So you’re going to let him attack Cleo and then arrest him.’
‘We’ll stop him before any harm is done,’ MacNeil said.
James blurted out, ‘Can I come and see?’ MacNeil and Bartrum looked at each other. There’s no chance they’ll let me near an ambush of the Crew, James thought, but he felt a deep need to be near Cleo when her persecutors were picked up
‘Hmm, it’s not police procedure,’ the DI said scratching his chin.
‘It could be helpful if there is someone there who Cleo Starkey knows and trusts.’ Bartrum said, ‘and can identify Wright as the knife holder from last night,’ she added. James wondered if Cleo did trust her after all that she had shouted through her window at her.
‘Another teenage male in the mix could cause problems,’ DI MacNeil said. ‘He could be mistaken for one of the gang,’
The answer leapt into James’ head.
‘I could be Jasmine,’ he said.
MacNeil’s face showed bewilderment, ‘What?’
‘I’ll be a girl,’ James said, ‘Cleo really will accept me then.’
‘You think they won’t recognise the kid who joined them today?’
‘They’ll see the girl, or the tranny who tried to defend Cleo last night.’
The Detective Inspector pondered for seconds before nodding slowly.
‘OK, but you’ll stay with DC Bartrum the whole time well away from the gang and from Miss Starkey until it’s all over. Is that understood?’
James nodded. He was actually going to be part of the police operation.
The detective went on. ‘Bartrum will pick you up from your home. We do have your address don’t we?’ Bartrum nodded and exchanged a glance with James.
‘I’m going to make the arrangements.’ MacNeil said turning away, ‘Bartrum you sort things out here.’ He departed.
DC Bartrum faced James. ‘Well, you have got yourself into it haven’t you. DI MacNeil doesn’t bend rules very often.’
‘I’ve got to make sure Cleo is safe,’ James said.
‘I understand, James. Now you’d better get off home if you’ve got to turn yourself into a girl. I’ll pick you up at seven so that we’re in place before dusk.’
Painted Ladies: A Jasmine Frame story is available as an e-book and paperback from all booksellers including Amazon