A quick visit to Malvern this week to take part in another of Jill’s promotional events, this time in the Malvern Lounge. I read two short pieces from Painted Ladies – different excerpts to my usual offering. They seemed to go down well – and secured a sale, so that was good. Lovely to meet some other lovely writers and artists who were very welcoming of me as Penny, and thanks again to Jill for her energetic efforts.
And so to the next episode of Soft Focus, the prequel to Painted Ladies dating from Jasmine’s first days at university.
Soft Focus: Part 11
Outside the burger bar Angela caught up with Jasmine and linked arms with her.
‘Are you sure about this?’ Angela asked.
‘Yes.’ Jasmine didn’t hesitate in her stride.
‘You’re happy to go into a police station and speak to them?’
Jasmine turned her face to Angela. ‘Yes, why shouldn’t I.’
‘Well…’ Angela hesitated. ‘You’re Jasmine. The police will need to know who you are. You’ll have to tell them you’re real name.’
‘Are you sure they’ll, um, be alright with you.’
‘Do you mean, you think the police may be just a little bit “prejudiced”?’ Jasmine was surprised by Angela’s assumption.
‘Well, might they be? How many years is it since the Stephen Lawrence thing and the police were found to be, what was it, “institutionally racist”?’
Jasmine laughed. ‘It’s two thousand and one now Angela. The police persecuted trans people in the past, but that was before I was born. They’re more understanding now.’
Angela’s eyebrows rose. ‘Are you sure? I thought transsexuals are fighting for changes in the law to be recognised in the gender they live as.’
‘Yes. I know but that’s a matter of the law. The police are much better. I know.’
‘I’ve worked with the police, at home, in Hastings.’
Angela stopped walking, tugging Jasmine to a halt. ‘You’ve done what?’
‘I’ve helped with an investigation. Come on.’ Jasmine started walking again drawing Angela with her.
‘Oh, it was nothing really.’
‘Come on Jasmine. You can’t do that to me. How did you, Jasmine, get involved with the Police?’
‘Well…’ Starting hesitantly but steadily becoming excited, Jasmine told the story of her previous encounters with the police. When she had finished her tale the modern office block that was the Bridewell Police Station was in front of them across a busy road.
‘So you want to join the Police and become a detective,’ Angela said as they stopped on the kerb waiting for traffic lights to change.
‘Yes, I’d like that. I think it would be an interesting career.’
‘For Jasmine or James.’
‘James of course.’ Jasmine hadn’t imagined working as a woman.
The green man lit up and they crossed to the entrance to the Police Station. They entered a foyer furnished with a few uncomfortable-looking chairs and approached a glazed counter. A woman in a uniform turned from a desk to greet them.
‘Hello. Can I help you?’
Jasmine took a deep breath. ‘Yes, please. We have information about Silla’s death.’
There was a confused expression on the woman’s face. ‘Silla?’
‘She fell from the suspension bridge last night,’ Jasmine explained.
Comprehension appeared in the woman’s expression. ‘Oh, that case. The suicide.’
Jasmine shook her head. ‘No. We think it was murder. Silla was pushed or thrown from the bridge.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘We’d like to speak to the investigating officer,’ Jasmine said, ignoring the desk officer’s question.
The woman frowned. ‘You have some information?’
‘Yes,’ Jasmine said, clenching her fists with determination.
The woman examined first Jasmine and then Angela. ‘What are your names?’
‘Jasmine Frame and Angela, uh…’
‘Madison,’ Angela filled in.
The woman moved back from the window. ‘I’ll see if anyone is available. Take a seat.’
Jasmine retreated to one of the low upholstered chairs and sat down. She pulled her skirt down her thighs and made sure her knees were together, then sat upright.
Angela sat beside her and leaned towards her. ‘What information do we have?’ She whispered.
‘We can tell them that we know that Silla was not suicidal and we can tell them about our interviews with Martie and Rachel.’
‘I’m not sure they were even that.’
Minutes passed and in the cool, unwelcoming atmosphere of the police station entrance Jasmine didn’t feel like making chat with Angela and she apparently felt the same as she too remained silent. Jasmine looked at the posters on the walls, warning of thieves, the dangers of drink-driving and to be on the lookout for suspect packages in this period of increased anxiety about terrorism. Angela sat beside her curling her hair around her finger then pulling it out.
After what had seemed an interminable time but was in fact, as Jasmine confirmed by glancing at the wall clock, just ten minutes, the door from the interior of the police station opened. A man in a dark grey suit appeared. He had short brown hair with a tinge of silver at the temples and carried himself like an athlete, walking almost on his toes. However a slight paunch suggested that his athletic days may have been in the past.
‘Miss Frame and Miss Madison?’ he asked, releasing the door and stepping towards them. Jasmine and Angela jumped to their feet side by side and nodded energetically.
‘I’m Detective Constable Thomson. I’m told you have some information about Silla McBride.’
Hearing Silla’s surname for only the second time reminded Jasmine of her conversation with her, still less than twenty four hours earlier.
‘Yes, that’s right,’ Jasmine replied. ‘She was murdered.’
Jasmine saw the police officer’s eyebrows flutter but otherwise his face remained expressionless. His eyes seemed to bore into her looking for evidence for her statement. He blinked and a hint of a smile crossed his lips.
‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I don’t think this is the best place to discuss this. You’d better come through to the interview room.’ He turned to the door and fingered the key pad beside it. The lock made an audible clunk and he pulled the door open. The detective waved them through. Jasmine and Angela stepped into a narrow corridor. They stood looking bewildered while DC Thomson walked around them and opened another door. He held it open for them and they entered a small windowless room. There was a simple steel-framed table in the middle of the floor, four chairs positioned around it and a light directly above. Thomson indicated for them to sit down.
Jasmine crossed the vinyl floor and sat in a chair with Angela beside her. She tried to pull the chair up to the table and found that it was fixed to the floor, as was the table.
DC Thomson sat opposite them and took a notebook and pen from the inside pocket of his jacket. He placed them on the table in front of him.
‘Now why do you think Silla McBride was murdered?’
Jasmine replied, ‘She must have been pushed or thrown off the bridge. She wouldn’t have jumped.’
‘Why wouldn’t she?’
‘She wasn’t suicidal. She was looking forward to completing her transition and to fighting for her rights.’
DC Thomson smiled gently at Jasmine. ‘She told you this, did she?’
‘Yes,’ Jasmine replied with confidence.
‘Last night. In the Union. It was an LGBT party.’
‘How long have you known, Silla McBride?’
Jasmine opened her mouth to speak, stopped, dropped her head. ‘Only last night,’ she said quietly.
The police officer leaned forward. ‘Sorry, I missed that. Did you say you met her for the first time last night?’
‘Yes… but I understood her,’ Jasmine was regaining her confidence, ‘I knew what she was going on about. We’re sort of similar.’
‘You’re a transsexual too.’ It wasn’t a question. Jasmine realised that she had been speaking with a masculine tone. The detective had read her at once.
‘Not transsexual, but I am trans.’
‘But on the basis of one evening’s meeting you feel able to diagnose Silla’s mental state.’
Jasmine didn’t think she should say it was just a few minutes, not even a whole evening.
‘Yes,’ she said, her voice faltering. DC Thomson turned his head to face Angela.
‘What about you Miss Madison. Do you agree with your friend?’
‘Uh, yes, I think so, I mean Silla never struck me as depressed.’
‘You knew her for longer than one evening?’
‘I met her a few times.’
‘Well two or three.’
The detective let out a sigh which was more like a groan. ‘OK, so neither of you think that Silla McBride was disposed to killing herself,’ Jasmine nodded vigorously while Angela dipped her had slowly. ‘Let’s just assume for a moment that despite barely knowing her, that you’re right,’ Thomson continued, ‘Do you have any theories about who might have done the deed?’
Jasmine perked up. ‘We know that she had a tussle with Martie and he didn’t like her at all.’
‘Um. I don’t know his surname.’ Jasmine looked to Angela for help but she merely shrugged. ‘He’s gay, lives in Pembroke Rd. He hates trans people.’
‘Yes, me too.’
‘Do you think this Martie guy could get an unwilling transsexual over the side of the bridge? There’s quite a high fence you know.’ Jasmine could see that DC Thomson was sceptical.
‘Perhaps some of his friends helped or perhaps he drugged Silla.’
DC Thomson sat back in his chair and folded his arms.
‘Were you there? Did you see them?’
Thomson turned his palms up. ‘Without evidence…’
‘There’s the Radical Women and Rachel, they didn’t like Silla either.’
‘Rachel?’ The detective repeated.
‘Wise,’ Angela interjected, ‘She’s leader of the Radical Women and Jasmine is right, she didn’t consider Silla was a real woman.’
‘So you think she and her radical girlfriends chucked Silla over the bridge?’
Angela didn’t reply and Jasmine remained silent thinking that they weren’t going to convince DC Thomson.
The detective stood up. ‘Come with me girls. I think you need to see something.’
Painted Ladies: A Jasmine Frame Story is available as e-book and paperback from all booksellers including Amazon