Back home after three weeks away and looking forward to some promotional activity for Jasmine and September. Next month will see a double launch with the publication of Bodies By Design, the 2nd Jasmine Frame novel as a paperback and e-book and of Discovering Jasmine – the first stand alone publication of one of the prequel novellas, re-edited as an e-book and available as a special offer in pdf format. Discovering Jasmine is the story of James/Jasmine as a teenager finding out about him/herself and appeared here in serialised form. Here is a quick look at the cover.
But back to the present and the latest episode in the latest prequel.
Split Mirror: Part 9
Jasmine stamped her foot on the brake and pulled into the side of the road. A lorry passed with its horn blaring. Jasmine ignored the noise and stared at Debbie. Surely it was too much of a coincidence. The driver of the white van that she believed was involved in Diana’s abduction couldn’t possibly live on the same estate – it was highly improbable. Wasn’t it? But she had surmised that the driver lived somewhere locally. Perhaps either he or Diana recognised the other because they lived close to each other and that was why Diana was taken.
‘Are you sure? Did Palmerston describe the van?’ Jasmine asked.
Debbie looked certain. ‘She said it was a plain white Ford Transit high top. I didn’t pay attention at the time and didn’t quite understand what she meant.’
‘It’s a van with higher sides than usual.’
‘That’s what I thought. I’m sure I’ve seen one on the estate, parked on the pavement so it was difficult to walk passed.’
Jasmine sighed. ‘There are thousands of those vans, dozens if not hundreds in Kintbridge.’
‘I realise that,’ Debbie said, ‘but I wondered if Diana knew the owner before she met him at this . . . place.’
‘It’s a possibility,’ Jasmine conceded. ‘Let’s have a look for it.’ She looked in her mirror and when the road was clear performed a U-turn. They headed back towards Kintbridge.
Neither said a word for a few minutes. Jasmine was trying to dampen her hopes. It couldn’t be this easy to trace the van. They were back on the edge of the town when Debbie spoke.
‘You think Diana’s dead don’t you?’
Jasmine shook her head. ‘I haven’t given up hope of finding her alive yet, Debbie.’
‘But those other women you think were kidnapped by the same person – they haven’t turned up have they?’
‘And they disappeared months ago?’
‘So they are probably dead.’
Jasmine shrugged as she slowed approaching the turning onto the estate.
‘If there has been no ransom demand then surely he kidnapped them to kill them?’
Jasmine wanted to sound encouraging. ‘They met at sex sites. Perhaps they went willingly to have sex in a more private place. Maybe he wants to keep the women for sexual gratification or for trafficking. It’s not a pleasant thought but it’s an alternative to them being dead.’
‘It’s something,’ Debbie said.
‘Now where did you see the van?’ The road curved and twisted through the housing estate with short cul-de-sacs on the right and left. Jasmine drove slowly.
‘Further on. Beyond our house.’
Jasmine touched the accelerator. As they approached Debbie’s house she saw a small police car parked outside. She speeded up.
‘Your liaison officer is waiting for you,’ she explained, ‘I don’t want anyone to know I’ve been out with you.’
‘That woman detective would have a go at you?’
‘Yes,’ Jasmine said, certain that Debbie was correct.
‘Diana had a lot of trouble from her boss and colleagues when she was an electrician. They couldn’t accept her as a woman because they had known her as Don.’
Jasmine slowed as they rounded a bend and were out of sight of the police car. ‘That’s part of my problem too, but Palmerston has got it in for trans-women in general – she’s a feminist.’
Debbie snorted. ‘She obviously has no idea about the trials you people suffer. She probably thinks she’s had a difficult time as a woman but I know what you go through.’
Jasmine nodded recognising the devotion that Debbie had shown to her former husband, now her female partner. ‘Where was the van?’
‘Just here,’ Debbie said, pointing out of her window at a row of semi-detached 1970s houses. There were no vans visible now. Jasmine slowed to a crawl. There were no driveways or garages alongside the houses. She noted the house numbers.
‘Did you see the van more than once? It wasn’t just delivering?’
‘No. I’ve seen it a few times.’
‘Do you know the people in these houses?’
‘I don’t. Can’t say I’ve got to know many people at all since we’ve lived here. Diana and I have kept to ourselves. Of course we went out together but we didn’t want people prying into our affairs.’
Jasmine understood what Debbie meant. She didn’t want neighbours gossiping about the strange pair of women who looked alike and lived together. ‘The garages are in separate blocks aren’t they?’ she said.
‘Yes,’ Debbie pointed through the windscreen. ‘I think if you take the next turning left you’ll see a row of them.’
Jasmine accelerated and followed Debbie’s directions. They drew up between two rows of concrete garages with metal up-and-over doors.
‘You couldn’t get a high top in one of those garages. The door is too low.’ Jasmine said.
‘That’s right,’ Debbie agreed. Jasmine manoeuvred back to the road and stopped.
‘If he does live here, he’s not here now. I’d better drop you off and get back to the station. Palmerston may be wondering where I’ve been.’
‘I hope I haven’t got you in to trouble,’ Debbie said.
Jasmine shook her head. ‘It’s not a problem. I can handle Palmerston.’ She wasn’t sure that was true but she wasn’t prepared to admit it. ‘But don’t tell anyone that we’ve met. I’ll say you rang through with your information about the van.’
‘I’ll walk home from here and let you get back. Thank you for your support.’ A tear trickled down the woman’s cheek. She opened the passenger door and stepped out.
‘No. I must thank you,’ Jasmine said, feeling regret that she couldn’t immediately soothe Debbie’s anguish. ‘I’ll keep in touch with you. We’ll do all we can to find Diana.’
Debbie pushed the door closed and Jasmine drove off.
As Jasmine entered the Unit’s HQ she saw Tom Shepherd standing beside Denise Palmerston who was sitting at her desk. Both looked up and saw her and she watched a scowl crease the DS’s face.
‘Where have you been, Frame?’ Palmerston asked.
‘I took a break while I was waiting for replies from Cardiff and Swindon,’ Jasmine replied trying to act as casual as she could.
Palmerston wasn’t satisfied. ‘Kingston said you went out over an hour ago.’
‘I went out to get to get something to eat. I got in early this morning and missed breakfast.’
The Detective Sergeant considered for a moment, then appeared to change the subject. ‘I suppose it’s too much to ask if you made any progress in tracing the van before you left.’
Jasmine ignored Palmerston’s sarcasm. ‘I hadn’t but Debbie Stretfield phoned me. After your visit she recalled seeing a high side white van on the estate where she lives.’
Palmerston ignored the clue, ‘Why did she ring you?’
‘I gave her my number when I met her last night. I think she trusts me.’
Palmerton scowled. ‘Hmm. It’s unlikely it’s the same van.’
‘But it’s a possibility,’ Jasmine said, ‘We think the driver is local and perhaps he or Diana recognised each other.’
‘A very slender possibility,’ Palmerston said as she pondered. Jasmine glanced at Tom. He raised his eyebrows and gave a hint of a shrug. ‘I suppose we must act on any lead in the absence of some real information,’ she went on. ‘Tom, collect a couple of uniforms and get down there and look for this van. If it’s not there do some door knocking. Find out who the driver is and the location of the vehicle. I have other things to do.’ She got up and marched out of the room.
Tom looked at Jasmine with a suspicious expression. ‘Stretfield rang you?’
‘Yes,’ Jasmine replied but did not elaborate.
‘OK. Tell me where she says she saw a white van.’
Jasmine gave him the house numbers she had noted then hurried to her own desk.
‘What are you doing, Jas,’ Tom asked following her.
‘I want to see if Cardiff or Swindon have replied yet. You get off and do what “Denise” says. It may be a long shot but it’s our only lead so far.’
‘Why did you say “Denise” like that?’
‘Well, you’re “Tom” while I’m simply Frame. Getting on well now are you?’
‘She’s OK, Jas. It’s just you she doesn’t get on with.’
‘No, it’s not just me. She’s transphobic; she doesn’t believe we should have the right to call ourselves women. It’s war, Tom, and one of us is going to win.’
‘Hmm. I hope it’s not that serious as you might lose, Jas.’
‘Oh, it is,’ Jasmine was convinced that her future in the police force depended on her relationship with DS Denise Palmerston. ‘Now get off and find that van driver. Diana Stretfield has been in his clutches for nearly two days now.’
Tom moved off tossing over his shoulder as a parting comment, ‘I hope this whole scenario is not a red herring Jas.’
Jasmine woke up her computer and looked in her email inbox. Her heart beat faster when she saw that there were messages from both Cardiff and Swindon but her hopes subsided when she read them. Neither had any CCTV coverage of the public sex environments on the nights when the two women had gone missing so there was no information on the van. Neither was there anything useful in the files on the two women. They were just two spinsters, one in her thirties and the other in her fifties but, like Diana Stretfield, looking younger. The younger shared a flat with two other women but was not in a relationship while the elder still lived with her husband but they were no longer intimate and lived almost separate lives. The flatmates and the husband who had reported the women’s disappearance knew of their dogging but showed little concern for them. No clues to their whereabouts had been reported. Until Jasmine re-awoke interest the cases had been placed on a dust-collecting pile.
She sighed and began a search of vehicle details, sorting a list of white Ford Transit vans registered in the area. As she expected there were hundreds to go through. She entered the road name and house numbers she had noted. No vehicle appeared. She stared at the screen feeling frustrated. Was Debbie mistaken and the van driver was just a caller and not a resident? Then she had a thought. Many people referred to all vans of that particular type as a transit van, but there were other makes. She started the search again using the address rather than the make of vehicle.
Jasmine smiled. There it was – a white Renault Traffic van and the owner’s name. She reached for her phone and clicked on a frequent contact. She heard the ring tone and then Tom’s recorded message. She spoke after the beep.
‘Damn, I hope you pick up Tom. I’ve got the name of the van owner, Stephen Cox. Of course it may be the wrong van and he may not be our suspect but . . .’ She couldn’t think what else to add.
Painted Ladies: A Jasmine Frame Story is available as a paperback and e-book from all booksellers including Amazon