We had some guests to stay for the first half of the week and so spent quite a bit of time doing the tourist thing in our own locality. It was quite eye-opening. I knew our area was very attractive but on sunny days, with the trees in full leaf, the fields green and lush, the hills folding over each other and wild flowers in the hedgerows, I felt a deep joy at being able to live here. The town too looked marvelous, showing off its heritage and I was able to ignore the litter and the dog shit for a while. It was useful, for a writer, to hear people who were strangers to the area comment on its attractions; it helped me to think outside myself.
In my Jasmine Frame stories I am trying to reveal the life of someone who doesn’t exist but who like everyone has desires and joys and problems. Jasmine is different because of her gender identity issues but is not me although we share aspects of transgenderism. This week I have started a new prequel short story/novella. Unlike the last one it is from later in Jasmine’s life and set in Kintbridge, a short time before the events of Painted Ladies, Bodies By Design and the current novel I am working on. We’ll see where it goes but I hope it will explore another aspect of transgender life as well as being a valid crime adventure. By the way, all the titles of these prequels are provisional. When I edit and publish them I may change the titles.
Split Mirror: Part 1
Jasmine lifted the last box from the rear of the Fiesta and placed it on the tarmac. She slammed the hatch closed.
‘Can I give you a hand with that?’ Angela called emerging from the entrance to the flat in the drab concrete block.
Jasmine bent her knees so that her short skirt didn’t rise up the back of her thighs too revealingly and lifted the box. ‘’No, it’s OK. It’s not too heavy.’ She staggered across the carpark avoiding the few patches of ice that remained from earlier in the morning. She mounted the few steps and went through the open door of her flat.
Angela reached out her hands. ‘Here, let me help you.’ Together they lowered the box to the floor to add to the other boxes and carrier bags that they had brought in earlier. The room was barely warmer than the outside since the door had been open for so long while they unloaded.
‘Do you want me to help you unpack?’ Angela asked as she looked around the living room floor which hardly had room to stand.
Jasmine glanced at the watch on her wrist. It was nearly 11:30. ‘No, there’s no time. I’m on duty in half an hour. Thanks for your help though.’
Angela gave her a sad-eyed look. ‘Well, I couldn’t let you move out all on your own could I. After all it’s an important decision – separating, living apart.’
‘Almost as important as starting my transition,’ Jasmine said.
‘For me I think it is more important,’ Angela said. ‘After all, I’ve lived with Jasmine since we first met but this sort of signals the end.’ A tear dribbled down her cheek.
Jasmine too found herself choked with sadness. She gathered Angela into an embrace.
‘Look, we’ve talked this over time and again. We have to divorce so I can get my GRC and you don’t want to spend the rest of your life with a woman.’
Angela sniffed. ‘It sounds as though I’m desperate to find a man with a working cock.’
Jasmine felt a mixture of emotions; regret at failing to satisfy Angela’s sex-drive but relief that her medication had all but removed the embarrassing response of her male genitalia.
‘You’ll find someone soon enough, Ange.’
Angela stepped back and pulled a hanky from the pocket of her jeans. ‘I don’t want another man. Not yet. I’m not ready.’ She blew her nose and dabbed her eyes, while giving the room another inspection. ‘I do wish you’d bought some new furniture for this place or taken some from our place.’
Jasmine looked at the small, well-used sofa and dining table that would double as a desk. ‘The furniture in the house wouldn’t have fitted here, and I’m trying to save money. I need as much as possible to pay for parts of my transition that the NHS won’t support.’
Angela nodded and shivered. ‘I know, but you can see why this place is cheap. It’s a bit of a dump, and cold.’
‘It’ll warm up when I get the heating on,’ Jasmine said, ‘and I won’t be here much, with work taking up so much time.’
‘Yes, but you’ve got to look after yourself,’ Angela smiled and Jasmine knew she was recalling all the meals missed and late nights when she had failed to get off duty on time. ‘You will come to dinner on Saturday,’ she added.
‘Yes, of course – if I can get away. Look I must get changed and get off.’
‘I put the suitcase with your clothes in the bedroom.’
‘Well, I’d better let you get ready then.
‘I’m afraid so.’
Angela stepped close, placed a kiss on Jasmine’s cheek, then picked up her bag from the table and headed to the door. ‘Be careful,’ she said and left, pulling the door closed behind her.
Jasmine stepped around the boxes and went into the small bedroom. As Angela had said the case containing most of her clothes was sitting on the bed. She opened it and looked at the heap of female clothing. There was nothing here that suggested she had once been James Frame. She no longer owned anything that belonged to James, other than her running shoes and they were in a carrier bag somewhere. Angela was right; this was an important moment; the start of her life as Jasmine Frame, a single, independent woman.
She pulled off the old jumper, denim skirt and opaque tights that she had worn for the move and dressed in her work outfit – sheer tights, smart knee length skirt, fresh cotton shirt and jacket. She looked at herself in the mirror on the second-hand wardrobe. Now where had her extensive collection of cosmetics ended up? She wasn’t quite sure. Oh, well, she would have to search for that later. She returned to the living room and dug her powder compact and lipstick from her shoulder bag. She repaired her make-up, pushed fingers through her blonde hair to lift it and gave a final look around the piles of possessions that she would have to find a home for. That was a task for later. Now, work beckoned.
Jasmine pushed open the door to the office of the Violent and Serious Crime Unit and saw that DCI Sloane was calling a briefing. DCs Shepherd and Money were rising from their desks and DS Palmerston stood beside the white board.
Sloane looked in her direction as she entered and addressed her with a growled. ‘Ah, Frame. Just in time.’ Denise Palmerston glared at her as if she had been skiving for the morning. Tom Shepherd flashed her a smile while Keith Money scowled at her. She joined the other officers around Sloane.
‘First of all well done to Shepherd and Money for putting a stop to that car crash scam.’ Palmerston gave a little clap while Tom and Keith looked smug. Jasmine recalled that she had actually been the one that had viewed the CCTV footage that identified the drivers who had been setting up crashes to claim insurance cash, even if it had been Shepherd and Money who had made the arrests.
‘I want the paperwork done a.s.a.p.’ Sloane went on. The faces of the two male officers drooped. ‘Now, we have been asked to help with a small case of a missing person. Before anyone says anything, I know it’s not within our usual remit but the uniform branch are short-staffed at the moment.’
‘How can we help?’ Palmerston asked, keen to oblige the boss.
‘There’s a woman downstairs who says her partner has gone missing. She is somewhat upset. Palmerston, you find out what it’s all about. Her name is Deborah Stretfield. Frame can take notes.’
Oh, thank you, Jasmine thought. I get to leave the office and assist Madam Palmerston.
‘That’s it everyone. Back to work.’ Sloane said striding off to his office.
‘Come on Frame. Dump your coat.’ DS Palmerston said to Jasmine as she headed towards the door. Jasmine ran to her desk and dropped her overcoat over her chair.
Tom settled his tall frame in his seat at the desk alongside hers. ‘Move complete?’
‘Yes, I’ll catch up with you later.’ Jasmine hurried after Palmerston.
In the corridor outside the interview room, Palmerston paused and turned to Jasmine. ‘I’ll talk to Mrs Stretfield. We don’t want her confused, do we. You take notes.’
Jasmine felt her cheeks become hot. She knew exactly what the Detective Sergeant was referring to. She hadn’t begun speech therapy yet so her voice still sounded somewhat male. She usually tried to raise her tone but knew that her control was not perfect. Perhaps the woman would notice and wonder at her gender but it was still annoying of Palmerston to refer to it. The police force had, after all, affirmed her post while she was going through transition.
Palmerston stepped into the interview room with Jasmine behind her still seething. A woman was sitting at the table. She seemed to be in her mid to late forties with straight black hair cut in a bob. She was still wearing her coat although she had undone it revealing a plain cord skirt and woolly jumper. She made a move to stand up but Palmerston waved to her to remain seated. Jasmine joined the DS in the seats opposite the woman. Jasmine took her notebook and pen from her jacket pocket and prepared to jot down what she heard.
‘I’m DS Palmerston, Mrs. Stretfield…’ Palmerston began.
‘It’s Miss not Mrs. I am not married,’ Deborah Stretfield said.
‘I’m sorry,’ the DS apologised, ‘I understood you are here to report that your partner is missing.’
Miss Stretfield nodded. ‘That’s right my partner, Diana.’
Jasmine scribbled the names and noted “same-sex partnership”.
Palmerston drew a breath as she took in the statement. ‘I see. When did you last see Diana?’
‘At lunchtime yesterday. Then I went to work. Diana was going to leave shortly after.’
‘And when did you expect her home?’
‘By the evening. She only went to Reading to do some shopping.’
‘She went by car?’
‘Yes. The car wasn’t there when I got home.’
‘Can you give us the car’s details, please<’
‘It’s a Nissan Micra, white, RV02HDC.’ Jasmine copied the words into her notebook.
‘Were you worried when she did not arrive home last evening?’ Palmerston asked.
Miss Stretfield looked at her then her eyes moved away. ‘Yes, but I thought she might have called on a friend or perhaps the car had broken down, and she’d get back later.’
‘Doesn’t your partner have a mobile phone Miss Stretfield?’
‘No, we can’t afford one of those things.’ Some colour came to Deborah Stretfield’s cheeks showing some embarrassment.
‘So you left it to this morning before informing us of Diana’s disappearance.’
‘I…I didn’t want to bother you. I thought she would definitely be home this morning or would have phoned from somewhere. But…but….’ Miss Stretfield started to sob.
‘I’m sorry Miss Stretfield…’
The woman mopped up her tears with a tissue. ‘Please call me, Debbie.’
‘We’ll do our best to trace your partner, Debbie. What is Diana’s surname?’
‘Oh. You have the same name. You are in a civil partnership.’
‘No, not yet. We have just kept the same name. I have a photo of Diana, if that will help.’ She passed an envelope across the table. Palmerston slid it to Jasmine who picked it up. Jasmine opened the envelope and took out the small photo print. It gave her a bit of a shock.
‘This photo looks like you,’ she said. Palmerston glared at her and then looked down at the photo in Jasmine’s hand. It showed a woman with a straight black bob hair style identical to Debbie Stretfield’s.
‘People do say we look like sisters,’ Debbie said.
Painted Ladies: A Jasmine Frame Story is available as an e-book and paperback from all booksellers, including Amazon