As this weekend is going to be somewhat busy I am setting this up on Friday morning with the next (the thirteenth!) episode of Soft Focus below.
This week it has all been about the Leominster Festival. This afternoon and evening I will be with Jasper Fforde, the best selling author of the Nursery Crime, Thursday Next and Last Dragonslayer books. First he’s helping out at a workshop at our local primary school. Then he’s presenting the certificates at the awards ceremony for our Writing Competition and finally he gets to talk about his writings and perhaps sell a few books.
Tomorrow (Saturday) it’s our Bookfair at Grange Court with contributions from about twenty local authors – displays, talks, book selling (we hope!) – and writing workshops. I’m hoping for a good crowd of visiting booklovers.
Finally in the evening I’m performing at the Festival Open Mic night – presenting a very brief “Jasmine & Me” and hoping for renewed interest in Painted Ladies. It will be interesting to see what response I get when I take the mic.
After all that it will be nice to have something of a rest next week and get back to writing the third Jasmine Frame novel – but more of that later. Here’s the next episode in the prequel, Soft Focus.
Soft Focus: Part 13
A ringtone sounded from DC Thomson’s jacket pocket. He reached into it and pulled out a mobile phone that he raised to his ear.
‘Thomson,’ he said then listened for a few moments, then said, ‘OK. On my way.’ He thumbed the off button and dropped the phone back into his pocket. He looked at Jasmine and Angela.
‘Look, girls, I’ve got to go.’
‘But, what did Patricia tell you about Silla?’ Jasmine asked.
‘I’m sorry, there’s no time,’ Thomson said moving to the door, opening it and standing there waiting for Jasmine and Angela to leave. ‘Anyway, I think I’ve told you more than I should,’ he added.
‘What do you mean?’ Angela asked as she took Jasmine’s hand and dragged her towards the doorway.
‘I shouldn’t really have shown you that video or mentioned Patricia, but I wanted you to understand that Silla McBride wasn’t murdered.’
‘But who is Patricia?’ Jasmine said resisting Angela’s tugs. ‘What’s her phone number?’
‘I can’t tell you that,’ Thomson said.
Angela had got Jasmine through the door but Jasmine looked back over her shoulder at the detective. ‘How can we get in touch with her then?’
‘All I can tell you is she works, volunteers, for a group called TransWest. Now come on, I’ve got to show you out and move on.’
Less than a minute later Angela and Jasmine were standing on the pavement outside the police station.
‘That’s it then,’ Angela said, ‘Silla did kill herself. It wasn’t Martie’s or Rachel’s fault or anyone’s.’
‘I wouldn’t say that,’ Jasmine said, frowning. ‘We’ve got to speak to Patricia.’
Angela sighed. ‘Why? Haven’t you had enough of investigating?’
‘I want to know why Silla did it. It seems this Patricia woman knew a lot about her. She can tell us what happened to Silla.’
‘But we don’t know who or where she is?’
‘We’ve got to contact this TransWest lot.’
‘How? Who are they?’
‘They’ll be a transgender self-help group. There’s lots of them all over the country. Some are national organisations, others just work locally.’
‘This sounds like a local one. West country perhaps.’
‘That’s right. It may be a group of trans-people or perhaps just one or two, maybe just Patricia. I’ve come across organisations like that elsewhere.’
‘Oh, right. How do we contact them?’
‘They might have a phone number in the directory or have a website. I need to get to a computer that’s on-line.’
‘We’d better head back to the Union then,’ Angela said, taking Jasmine’s hand.
‘You sure you want to come. I’ve taken up your day with all this questioning.’
Angela grinned. ‘I’ll come with you. It’s been quite fun playing at detectives and I’m getting to learn more about you, Jasmine.’
‘Oh,’ Jasmine said, not sure what Angela was learning. They set off retracing their steps back to the university area at the top of the hill.
“There it is!” Jasmine leaned in to the screen. Having found a spare computer in the Student Union’s internet café it hadn’t taken long to find the TransWest website.
‘A bit dull and simple,’ Angela said looking over Jasmine’s shoulder at the lines of text on a plain pink background. The website was just a single page which described the organisation as providing support for transsexuals, in particular those considering and going through transition from male to female. There was an email address and phone number – a landline. Jasmine put the number into her mobile phone and closed down the computer.
‘Let’s give it a go,’ she said, rising from the chair.
‘Here?’ Angela said.
‘No, somewhere more private,’ Jasmine waved her hand at all the heads crouched over computer screens and keyboards.
‘The Common Room’s probably quiet at this time on a Saturday,’ Angela said.
‘Yeah, let’s go.’ Jasmine followed Angela out of the computer room down a wide corridor and into a large room furnished with stained and battered easy chairs and sofas. It was, as Angela had predicted, empty. Jasmine crossed the room to a window and looked out onto the city. The November daylight was already fading. She retrieved the number she had stored and pressed “dial”. Jasmine held the phone to her ear and heard the beeps as the connection was made and then the ringtone. It continued ringing for quite a while until Jasmine was about to give up. There was a click.
‘Hello?’ a soft, breathy voice said
‘Is that TransWest?’ Jasmine said.
‘Yes, it is. Can I help you?’ The voice seemed more confident and lower in tone.
‘I am trying to contact someone called Patricia,’ Jasmine said.
There was silence for a few moments. ‘Who is speaking please?’ the voice trembled slightly.
‘My name is Jasmine. I’m trans.’
‘I see. Have you rung us before?’
‘How did you get the name of Patricia?’
‘Um. It was through Silla, Silla McBride.’
There was a silence that dragged on until Jasmine wondered if the phone line had gone dead. Finally the voice spoke again, but in a quivery whisper.
‘Did you know Silla, Jasmine?’
‘Yes, I met her.’ Jasmine thought of crossing her fingers but she hadn’t told a lie. Not yet.
‘Silla is dead.’
‘Why do want to speak to Patricia?’
‘I was told that she knew Silla. Knew her well.’
‘Who told you that?’
Jasmine bit her lip. If she said the police had told her about Patricia then the speaker may be frightened and put the phone down. Also Thomson seemed to regret having given so much information away to two members of the public. Perhaps she should keep her informant’s identity secret.
‘I’m sorry I can’t say over the phone.’ Jasmine almost expected the phone to be put down on her. ‘Look perhaps I can explain. I was with Silla last evening. When I heard this morning that she was dead I couldn’t believe that she had killed herself. I want to find out why she did it and I think Patricia may have some ideas.’
‘Why didn’t you think Silla could kill herself?’
‘Because she seemed so alive. Angry, yes, but she seemed determined to get her transition completed and to fight for the rights of transsexuals.’
‘You’re right but there was more to it than that. She had her problems.’
Jasmine heard the sadness and the knowledge in the voice. ‘Are you Patricia?’
There was another pause. ‘Yes, I am, and you’re right. I did know Silla well, I think.’
‘Can I meet you? I really do want to know more about Silla.’
‘Hmm. I don’t know. I don’t know who you are. Are you really trans? You could be someone from the papers for all I know. A Sun reporter digging for a story about Silla.’ The voice broke up into sobs and then faded.
‘Patricia? Patricia, are you still there? I’m not a journalist. I’m a student like Silla. I just want to know what happened to her. Please can we meet?’
There were sniffles on the line before Patricia spoke again. ‘Alright, I suppose I could do with talking about Silla to someone who knew her. When do you want to meet?’
Jasmine felt excited and eager. ‘Now. This afternoon.’
‘Oh. Yes, well I suppose so. Do you know the café in Debenhams in Broadmead?’
‘Um, yes, I suppose so.’ Jasmine had never been there but thought she could remember where the store was.
‘I could meet you there in an hour. Will that do you?’
‘Yes, thank you, Patricia. I really appreciate it.’
‘How will I know you?’
How could she describe herself? ‘Well I’ve got short blonde hair. I’m wearing a denim miniskirt and black tights and a puffer jacket?’
‘A quilted anorak thing.’
‘Oh, I see.’
‘And I’ll be with my friend,’ (she almost said girlfriend), ‘Angela.’
‘Is she trans too?’
‘No, she’s a Real Girl.’ Jasmine glanced at Angela who was looking at her intently and following the conversation. ‘And really pretty,’ she added. Angela smiled.
‘Alright, I’ll see you there in an hour.’ The line went dead. Jasmine dropped her hand holding the phone from her ear.
‘We’re meeting this Patricia?’ Angela said.
‘Debenhams café, in an hour.’
‘We’d better get moving – it’s quite a walk there, back down the hill again.’
‘We could catch a bus.’
‘Probably wait an hour to get one.’
‘OK. Let’s walk.’ Jasmine took Angela’s hand in his and set off from the Common Room.
‘So it was Patricia who answered the phone?’ Angela said as they hastened out of the Students’ Union building.
‘Yes. I sort of guessed it was after I asked to speak to Patricia.’
‘She was wary of you?’
‘Yes, I don’t know why. Do I sound threatening?’ Jasmine was mystified.
‘No, but I’m not surprised. Just think about it. Someone who she has been close to – remember all those phone calls that DC Thomson said she had with Silla – has just killed herself by jumping off the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Apart from the shock of that she must know that the media are going to be interested especially as the person is a young transsexual.’
‘Hmm. Yes. She did wonder if I was with the Sun.’
‘There you are. She has a right to be wary. But she’s agreed to see you, us.’
Jasmine felt cheered. ‘Yes, so perhaps we will find out what was really going on with Silla.’
Painted Ladies: A Jasmine Frame Story is available as an e-book and paperback from all booksellers including Amazon