This week, I have given quite a lot of thought to Jasmine Frame as I do every week. Writing the weekly episode of the Frame prequels is a commitment I enjoy and over the two years or so since I started has resulted in the completion of six novellas and Flashlight is the seventh. That’s quite a lot of words on trans-based fiction.
I’ve also been thinking about my first literary love – SF. At the convention last weekend it was suggested (not too seriously) that modern SF doesn’t come up with the scientific and technological ideas that SF of the 1940s, 50s and 60s produced – spaceships, robots, powerful computers, rayguns, hand-held communicators (cf Star Trek), new worlds, etc. If that is actually true, is it a result of the move to more character-based storytelling or are modern SF writers just less interested (and knowledgeable) about scientific advance and invention? Whatever the truth or otherwise of the supposition and it’s imagined causes it got me thinking and writing SF stories again, using articles in New Scientist as a starting point for extrapolation and plot generation. We’ll see where that leads.
Back to Jasmine. Here’s the next episode of Flashlight. Don’t forget that Bodies By Design is available as an e-book and as a paperback (direct from Ellifont).
Flashlight: Part 7
DC Sparrow turned off the main road into a street of Edwardian terraced houses but they weren’t far from the city centre’s new apartment blocks. The narrow street had parked cars on both sides but Sparrow found a small gap and skilfully manoeuvred into it.
‘Is Butler’s place near here?’ James said looking at the well-maintained row of houses.
‘It’s not far,’ Milla replied, ‘but a century apart in style. He lived in one of those new smart apartments. This is where his cleaner lives.’ They got out and James jogged after Milla as she set off down the road. She turned into one small front garden with James at her shoulder and pressed the doorbell.
A few moments later the door was opened by a little woman with greying ginger hair.
Milla flashed her badge. ‘Hello Mrs O’Reilly. Do you remember me? I’m DC Sparrow. This is Constable Frame. We’d like to ask you some more questions about Mr Butler.’
Mrs O’Reilly looked sad but opened the door wide and led them into the small but tidy house. They went into the front room with a large three piece suite clustered around a bulky CRT TV. The woman signalled them to seat and then spoke with a lilting Irish accent.
‘Would you like a cup of tea? The kettle’s just boiled. I’m expecting my Bill any moment. He finishes at five.’
‘No, thank you,’ Milla said and looked at James for confirmation. He shook his head. ‘We won’t keep you long,’ Milla went on. ‘We’re just trying to find out a hit more about Mr Butler. His contacts. We know he had no family nearby and apart from his work colleagues he doesn’t seem to have had close friends. You’re the only person we know who visited him regularly.’
‘But I didn’t see him very often. Usually he was at work when I went in to clean. That’s why I had a key.’
‘Did you get to know him at all, Mrs O’Reilly?’ Milla said. ‘Do you know of anyone he saw – girlfriends, or manfriends? What did he do with his spare time? Perhaps you noticed things as you dusted.’
The woman looked thoughtful. ‘I don’t like to tell tales. I am trusted when I go into houses to not go gossiping about what I find when I clean.’
James could see that Mrs O’Reilly had something to tell them.
‘This isn’t gossiping, Mrs O’Reilly. You may have important information to help clear up Mr Butler’s death.’
Mrs O’Reilly nodded, ‘I understand, but, well, he liked those ladies who aren’t women but are men really.’
‘Transsexuals!’ James blurted out.
‘I don’t know that word,’ Mrs O’Reilly said, ‘Sometimes he left a picture of one on his table, and twice when I went into his flat to clean in the morning he hadn’t gone to work and was there with these persons.’
‘You’re sure they were transsexuals?’ Milla said and quickly added, ‘Women who were men.’
‘Oh yes, I’m sure. The second time it happened they were still in bed and I had a glimpse of the thing between her legs, but otherwise he looked like a woman. She had boobies.’
‘She-males. He liked she-males,’ James whispered. He had an image of Butler entwined with a sexy girl with an erection. Did Butler only seek trannies with functioning male equipment or did he go for transsexuals, either pre-op or when they were in actual fact, women. There had only been one photo of a living Tim Butler in his file. James couldn’t help being judgemental but it showed a man in his late 30s who lacked something in the looks department. He had lank, thinning brown hair, a squashed pug-like nose and a Habsburg-like protruding chin. Butler was a trannie fancier but perhaps his liking for young transgendered lovers reflected a lack of success with men or women of his own age group. James wondered whether it had anything to do with his death.
‘You don’t seem shocked by Mr Butler’s behaviour,’ James said.
Mrs O’Reilly gave him a patronising smile. ‘I’ve been cleaning homes for over forty years, young man. I’ve seen an awful lot of behaviour in that time. If it doesn’t hurt me it doesn’t bother me, except finding my gentlemen dead, and Mr Butler wasn’t the first of those.’
‘Oh,’ was all James could find to say. He felt that Mary O’Reilly had put him in his place as far as making judgements was concerned.
Milla flashed James a frown then asked, ‘You don’t know where Mr Butler met these women, do you?’
Mrs O’Reilly shook her head.
‘Or any places at all that he visited – pubs, restaurants, clubs that sort of thing?’
‘We hardly ever talked,’ the woman paused, ‘although a couple of weeks before he died he did seem to be excited about going somewhere. He said it had been a dive of pub but had been done up.’
‘The Marquis,’ James said.
Milla looked at him. ‘Could be.’ She turned back to Mrs O’Reilly. ‘Did he mention the name?’
The woman shook her head. ‘That was the last time we spoke. I cleaned for him a few more times then I found him . . . dead.’ Her face broke up and she sobbed gently.
DC Sparrow got to her feet and comforted the older woman. ‘I think that’s all for now, Mrs O’Reilly. Thank you for your time.’
James hauled himself up and followed Milla to the front door.
Mrs. O’Reilly wiped her eyes with her apron. ‘I do hope you find out what happened to Mr Butler. He was a funny sort but he was always very kind to me.’
‘We will Mrs O’Reilly, and what you have told us is very helpful.’
The woman sniffed and held the door open for them.
James and Milla walked slowly back to the car side by side
‘Well, we’ve got our connection to the Marquis, Jim,’ Milla said, ‘and it appears he liked sex with women who have a cock. I presume he could meet them at the Marquis as well as elsewhere. What do you think? You’ve been there.’
‘Yes, I’m sure he could.’ James was thinking of the man who had approached him, or rather her, at the Marquis last night. He was after the same as Tim Butler – sex with a girl with a bit extra.
They reached the car. Milla unlocked it and paused opening the driver’s door.
‘We’ll report back to Sloane, Jim, and see what he wants us to do next.’
It was nearly seven-thirty when James got back to the flat. Angela was there relaxing in front of the TV – a change from the studying she had been doing every evening for months. She jumped up and greeted James with a hug and questions.
‘How did it go, James? Did you hand in the drugs?’
James hugged her, recalling how he had loved this woman ever since they had met at university.
‘I did and now I’m a detective.’
‘What?’ Angela searched his face for explanation. James told the story of his interview with DCI Sloane, of his secondment to the plain-clothes detective team and his expedition with DC Milla Sparrow.
Angela gave him an extra squeeze. ‘That’s wonderful news. You always wanted to be a detective and now you are one.’
‘But it will be wonderful experience and help you when a permanent posting comes up.’
‘I hope so,’ James grinned, pleased that Angela had seen the possibilities. Then his worries re-surfaced and he frowned. ‘Except, it looks as though the Marquis is involved in all three deaths and there are a number of trans people caught up in it. I don’t know how I can keep Jasmine out of it.’
Angela released him and stepped away examining his facial expression and posture. ‘Do you want to?’
James felt himself tightening up as if trying to curl up and disappear. ‘I don’t know what I want but I’m not ready for everyone at work to know I’m trans. I’m not sure how Sloane would take it. Milla’s lesbian and out with a partner and all that but even she was unsure of Sloane’s attitude.’
‘Well, I’m sure you, we, can find a way through it. Go and get out of your work gear while I put some supper on.’
James went into the bedroom and tore off his shirt, trousers and underwear. He donned knickers, bra and a summer dress and soon emerged as Jasmine. He sat at the dining table and Angela placed a plate in front of him.
‘There,’ Angela said as she sat down with her own plate. ‘Does being Jasmine help you solve your dilemma?’
Jasmine had to admit that she felt relaxed, but whether that was from her apparent change in gender or just from being safe at home with her wife and love, she wasn’t sure.
‘I think I’ll have to play it by ear. We’re going to have to visit the Marquis but I don’t think anyone there will recognise me as Jasmine when I’m dressed as James.’
‘I think you’re missing something, Jas,’ Angela said.
Jasmine was confused. ‘What’s that?’
‘At least two of the drug dealers at the Marquis are or were trans. One of the victims was trans and another was involved with transwomen. It could be that your best way of getting into this case and finding out what is going on is by using your trans knowledge and persona. Jasmine needs to be the detective on this case not James.’
Jasmine thought about what Angela had said. ‘You could be right, but I can’t let Sloane know about me yet. I’m sure it would scupper any chance of getting onto the Violent and Serious Crime Squad permanently.’
‘Alright, but perhaps you can confide in the others.’
Jasmine imagined the conversation with the other officers in the team. ‘Not Money,’ she said forcefully, ‘I don’t think he’d understand. He couldn’t bring himself to refer to Natalie as “she”.’
‘What about the woman you worked with today. What was her name? DC Sparrow?’
Jasmine pondered, ‘Milla? Hmm. Perhaps. She’s leaving soon.’