With my solo book promotion events out of the way (for now) my next focus is the Leominster Festival which I am helping to organise. First up we have a talk by Jasper Fforde (7p.m. Fri 5th June, Grange Court). His humorous but meticulously crafted crime stories in the Nursery Crime and Thursday Next series and his Herefordshire based Last Dragonslayer children’s books promise to make his talk an exciting event. Then there is the Bookfair, all day on Sat 6th also at Grange Court. There are writing workshops with Simon Whaley and Fay Wentworth and a host of local authors displaying, selling and talking about their work – me included. Should be a great day.
So with that bit of advertising out of the way let’s turn to Jasmine Frame. Being transgender is barely newsworthy any more, thank goodness, and most people know someone who is trans in some way or other. Nevertheless the media, social and otherwise, still get excited by an outing. I gather someone called Bruce Jenner, “famous” for something or other, has revealed that he is to become a woman. So perhaps Jasmine isn’t unusual anymore. Nevertheless I think she is still unique as a lead transsexual detective and people still do not understand what being trans means. Therefore I commend the next episode of Soft Focus to you, my readers.
Soft Focus: Part 8
As they passed the large Victorian houses that lined both sides of Pembroke Road Jasmine took hold of Angela’s hand. She was surprised when Angela pulled her hand away and instead hooked her arm around hers. They continued to walk arm in arm.
‘Lovers hold hands,’ Angela whispered. ‘Friends link arms.’ Jasmine was confused. She had known Angela for less than twenty four hours but already felt a close attachment to her. They weren’t lovers yet, but for the first time in her life there was a real person who she felt a desire to make love to – as a boy. She had thought Angela’s feeling were moving in the same direction. Hadn’t they held hands earlier?
While Jasmine debated the evidence for a relationship, Angela whispered again. ‘I’ll hold hands with James.’
Jasmine’s thoughts became more excited. Her dreams of lust may become reality, but what did Angela’s words mean? Why not hold her hand now? The answer came in a flash of insight.
Jasmine also spoke softly. ‘Does that mean you are more worried about being thought of as a lesbian than you are about being the girlfriend of a transvestite?’
Angela giggled and pulled on Jasmine’s arm. ‘You’re right. I just said that without thinking. There’s no reason why I should mind appearing as a lesbian; some of my friends are lesbians; but, I suppose I don’t want to seem to be one because I’m not. On the other hand you being a boy and a girl is exciting.’
Jasmine was reassured but a little confused. ‘I think we’ll have to pick over those words again sometime. Look we’re here.’
They had reached number 115. The house was not in such a good state of repair as its neighbours and obviously divided into flats.
‘Andy said the basement, didn’t he?’ Jasmine asked. Angela nodded, released his arm and strode down the driveway at the side of the house. Jasmine hurried after her and caught her at a pair of steps leading down to a doorway. They both looked for a bell but failed to find one. Angela knocked her knuckles against the door. There was a wait of a few moments before they heard shuffling noises on the opposite side of the door. It opened to reveal a pale, slight, young man, with curly blonde hair, naked but for a pair of baggy, white Y-fronts.
‘Oh, hello, girls. What brings you here?’ Jasmine wasn’t sure whether the camp accent was real or put on.
‘Is Martie in? We’d like to speak to him,’ Jasmine said.
‘You want to see Martie. Does Martie want to see you?’ The final ‘you’ was said with a screwed up nose as if the thought was a little distasteful.
‘Can you ask him, please?’ Angela said with just a hint of impatience.
‘Oh, okay.’ The young man turned away but kept hold of the door. ‘Martie! There are some females here that say they want to speak to you.’
A deep voice roared from somewhere deep inside the flat. ‘Females? What sort of females?’
The almost naked young man turned to face them again. Jasmine wondered that he wasn’t shivering with so much skin exposed to the November air. His eyes examined Jasmine and Angela.
‘Young women. Quite pretty actually,’ he called back.
‘What the fuck!’ the voice, presumably Martie’s, bellowed again. The shout was followed by the appearance of its owner. Martie wasn’t tall, maybe just an inch more than Jasmine, but he was heavily muscled as revealed by the skin-tight white T-shirt that he wore along with torn, stained jeans. His head was covered by the merest fuzz of hair and his face by a scruffy beard. Jasmine guessed he had had his head shaved not that long ago. She didn’t remember him from the disco the previous evening, but then her attention had been focussed on Sila sliding across the floor. He reached the door and shoved the slim boy out of the way.
‘Get back inside,’ he growled. The boy retreated.
‘Hello, Martie,’ Angela said in a sweet and friendly voice.
He glared at her. ‘Who are you?’
‘I’m Angela and this is my friend, Jasmine.’
Martie transferred his gaze to Jasmine. She felt him examining every part of her body, almost as if he could see through her clothes and her disguise.
‘I don’t know you. This is a gay zone. We don’t have girls, lesbian or otherwise. You don’t look like lezzers. What do you want?’
Jasmine blurted out. ‘We were wondering what you and Sila did last night after the party.’
Martie’s jaw dropped and his mouth gaped open. Angela’s elbow poked into Jasmine’s ribs. Had she posed the question in the wrong way?
When Martie finally answered, his manner was anger. ‘Sila? That fucking, tranny-arsehole. What d’ya mean, what did I do with her?’
Jasmine swallowed and decided to press on. ‘We know you and she had an argument which ended with you pushing her to the floor.’
‘So what? She was being fucking annoying.’
‘So did you meet her again later?’
‘Why the blazing fuck would I want to see that limp prick again. One minute with her at the start was enough.’ He paused for breath. ‘And anyway, why are you cockteasers asking me questions.’
‘We’re just trying to trace her movements after you had your row.’ Angela said as softly and calmly as possible.
Martie laughed. ‘I know her movements. She took a step off the bridge and forgot she hadn’t grown wings as well as tits.’
‘You know she’s dead?’ Jasmine said.
‘Yeah, I heard,’ Martie guffawed, ‘It’s all around the city isn’t it. So why are you two cunts asking questions?’
‘We want to know what happened to her. Why she fell from the bridge.’ Jasmine said. They didn’t seem to be getting anywhere with their conversation. There must be an art to asking the right questions, Jasmine thought.
‘She jumped because she was a mad bitch. Couldn’t make up her mind whether she wanted cock or cunt.’
‘She was transitioning,’ Jasmine said.
‘Transitioning, my arse. Yeah, she thought she should be a woman but the lezzers didn’t want her because she still had a dick, so she pestered us thinking we’d go after anything with a cock and balls.’
‘Did you?’ Jasmine asked. Martie stepped out of the doorway and thrust his head into Jasmine’s face.
‘No. I don’t go for wankers in a skirt even if their boobs are rubber. Give me a small tight arse and a hard cock. Is that straight talking enough for you?’ Martie’s gaze bored into Jasmine’s eyes. ‘You’re like her aren’t you?’
‘Uh, no. I’m not like Sila.’
‘Yes you are. You’re a tranny. A guy in frilly knickers and a bra.’
‘Sila was a woman, a transsexual woman.’
Martie grabbed the collar of her quilted jacket. ‘Trans-fucking-nothing. Didn’t know what she was or how to have it.’
‘She was waiting for reassignment.’ Jasmine gasped as the cloth tightened around her neck.
‘Why are you even bothered? Do you want to be like fucking Sila?’
Angela pushed her arm between them. ‘We just want to find out how and why Sila died.’
Martie released his grip and edged backwards. ‘You’re fucking nuts. I told you I don’t know what happened to her. She was a pain in the neck. Disturbed. She did for herself.’
‘Are you sure?’ Jasmine asked, tugging her jacket down.
‘What do you mean am I sure? Did I see her when she took her leap without a bungee? No I didn’t.’
‘Did you push her off the bridge?’ Jasmine stiffened waiting for Martie’s expected lunge at her.
Instead he laughed. ‘Have you got a death-wish like her? No, I didn’t give her a helpful push, I didn’t see her again after she was a pest in the disco. I don’t know or care why she topped herself. She was just a mixed up tranny.’
Angela intervened. ‘Do you know anyone who might have been involved in her death?’
‘Involved? You mean drove her to it. You could try the Radical Women. They hated her as much as me and my mates did. Now get lost you fucking tarts before I give you a pasting.’ He backed through the doorway and slammed the door.
Angela grabbed Jasmine’s arm and dragged her up the driveway to the road.
‘Well, that went according to plan,’ Angela said.
Jasmine shrugged. ‘What plan?’
‘Exactly. We should have worked out what questions to ask him first before blundering in there.’
Jasmine shook her arm free of Angela’s. ‘I thought we could have a quiet conversation and find things out.’
‘So you jump straight in with “what did you and Sila get up to after the party?”’
Jasmine realised Angela had a point. ‘That’s not quite what I said.’
‘I didn’t expect him to be so aggressive, so crude.’
‘Not all gays are cuddly softies, or nice boys like Andy.’
Jasmine began to trudge up the street. She’d messed up; failed to ask the right questions to obtain useful information.
Angela ran to catch her up. ‘Look it’s not all bad. We got some answers from Martie.’
Jasmine paused mid-step and looked at Angela. ‘Really? Like what?’
‘Like that Martie didn’t kill Sila.’
Jasmine shook her head. ‘How do you know? He hated her.’
‘I just got this feeling from hearing him going on badmouthing her. He didn’t like Sila. He didn’t want any sight of her. He’s only interested in the boys that give him what he wants like that kid that answered the door. He wouldn’t have wasted last night dragging Sila up on to the bridge and throwing her off.’
‘Are you sure?’ Jasmine felt that Angela was probably correct but Martie had scared and appalled her. How could someone who was himself a member of a minority group be so dismissive of someone in another?
Angela nodded. ‘Pretty certain.’
‘Why did Sila keep on at that sewer-tongued bully?’ Jasmine decided that she didn’t understand the dead transsexual at all.
Angela shrugged. ‘Who knows? Perhaps getting a response from Martie at least showed Sila that she was being noticed.’
Jasmine considered Angela’s words. How lonely must Sila have been as she faced her struggle to transition? ‘Well, where do we go next?’
Angela took hold of Jasmine’s arm again and they walked slowly up the road. ‘Well there are other gay boys that Sila may have attached herself to and then there’s Martie’s suggestion.’
‘The Radical Women?’
‘Yep. They can be a tough lot too.’
Jasmine snorted. ‘Well, for the sake of equality, let’s see how they react to being accused of murder.’
Painted Ladies: A Jasmine Frame Story is available as an e-book or paperback from all booksellers including Amazon