A somewhat busy week not helped by me taking on some work I didn’t really want. Anyway today I’m at Shrewsbury’s celebration of LGBT History Month. I think I am almost the token trans element but there’s lots of events happening. I’m at the new University Centre at the Guildhall, signing copies of Painted Ladies and Bodies By Design (and hopefully selling a few copies). I’m looking forward to meeting lots of people.
And so to the next episode of Resolution, the eighth of my prequels to Painted Ladies. Perhaps this episode is a bit predictable but let me know what you think.
Resolution: Part 4
James called out as he entered the flat. There was an answering cry and Angela appeared from the living room. She flung her arms around him and they kissed. Just as James was running out of breath, Angela pulled her head back.
‘Well, how did it go? Your first day as a DC.’
‘Great. We got called to a suspicious death.’
‘A murder?’ Angela grinned as if it was the best thing ever.
‘Yes. I’ve been working on it all day. That’s why I’m pretty late.’ He glanced at his watch. It was already gone seven.
Angela frowned. ‘I suppose this is what it’s going to be like. No standard shifts for a detective.’ James nodded. ‘So it’s just as well that I’ve got some other news,’ she said smiling.
‘We’ve exchanged contracts. Number seven, Bridle Lane, Kintbridge is ours, or will be when we complete in a couple of weeks.’
James was stunned. Angela had handled all the paperwork and negotiations. All he had done was tag around a few houses, agreeing on the one they wanted.
‘That was quick. Wasn’t it?’
Angela shrugged. ‘So-so. It’s still a buyers’ market after the crash so we’re in a good position. The vendors wanted a quick sale and there were no hold-ups.’
‘Our own house.’ It was a strange concept. It gave James the feeling of being a normal married couple.
‘Soon, but I’d like to eat before we move. I haven’t had a chance to think of food so how about we go out and celebrate. It’s a lovely evening.’
‘Yes, you can be Jasmine. Go and get ready, I’m starving.’
James hurried to the bedroom. ‘Thanks Ange. I really wanted to get out of these threads.’ He stripped, showered briefly and dressed in a summer frock in bright yellows and blues. Jasmine applied minimal make-up and pulled the lightest of her blonde wigs on to her head. She joined Angela in the living room.
Angela looked up from the magazine she was reading. ‘That’s nice. Ready?’
‘Uh, yes, almost. I just want to make a quick call.’ Jasmine returned to the bedroom and pulled the acknowledgement card from her jacket pocket. She rang the number on her mobile.
A woman’s voice answered. ‘Tania Portman.’
‘Hello, Tania. We haven’t met but I knew Camilla. I’m James Frame.’
‘Frame? I know the name. I’m sure Milla mentioned that name. Did you say James?’
Jasmine took a gamble. ‘Or Jasmine.’
‘Ah, yes. Now I remember. You’re a cop who’s trans. You worked with Milla.’
‘Yes, but just for a few days. I only heard today about her being, er, killed. I’m so sorry.’
There was no reply but Jasmine thought she could hear a distant sob as if Tania had put the phone down.
‘Tania? Are you still there?’
‘Sorry,’ the voice was shaky, ‘It still gets me when I’m reminded that she’s not going to walk in.’
‘She was a great detective and very good to me, especially about the trans thing.’
‘She told me all about it. You’re not out to your colleagues.’
Jasmine shuddered, ‘No. Especially as I’m now in Milla’s old unit.’
‘Look, I’m sorry to bring it up. It must be very painful for you, but can you tell me what happened?’
‘There’s not a lot to tell,’ Tania sniffed, ‘Milla was walking home. She was just a few yards away. A car came screaming down our road, mounted the kerb and ran her down. Then the driver reversed over her and drove off.’
‘She died there and then. At least that was something. She didn’t suffer.’
‘It doesn’t sound like an accident.’
‘No, it doesn’t, does it.’
‘What do the Birmingham police say?’
Tania snorted. ‘Not a lot. You see I wasn’t Milla’s next of kin. We were planning a civil ceremony later this year but as far as the officials are concerned we were just housemates. The Police have been in touch with Milla’s parents but they’re not interested in the details. They’re still in shock.’
‘I’d like to find out more. Would you mind if I came to see you?’ Jasmine waited for the reply hoping that Tania would agree.
‘Yes, I’d love to meet you, Jasmine.’
She said “Jasmine”. Jasmine felt a lurch inside her. Tania expected to see her feminine persona.
‘Thanks. It’ll be this weekend. If I’m not caught up with a case.’
Tania managed a chuckle. ‘Oh, I remember how weekends and days off used to disappear, but if you’re free I’ll be here. Not a lot to do now there’s just me.’
Jasmine took the address and they said their goodbyes. She ended the call, dropped the phone into her shoulder-bag and re-joined Angela.
‘Who was that?’ Angela asked. Jasmine explained. Angela gasped as Jasmine described how Milla Sparrow had been killed.
‘Who would do something like that?’
‘Someone she had annoyed, seriously annoyed.’
They chatted as they ate, sitting overlooking the river in the warm evening. Angela nattered about the decoration and furnishings she wanted in the new house. Jasmine listened, occasionally put in a word but generally relishing simply relaxing and being herself. She thought about it. More and more the life she led as James felt like a piece of character-acting. She was looking forward to getting into the part of “detective constable” but being a man increasingly felt false. Here and now, in a loose, thin dress with bare legs and strappy sandals, chatting over a glass of white wine with her partner, surrounded by other couples and groups, she felt normal. The wig was something of an irritation, the weather being warm, but it was a necessity in giving her confidence in her feminine appearance. Was this how she wanted to be in the rest of her life? She wasn’t certain – yet.
The conversation came round to her first day amongst the detectives and then to Milla Sparrow
‘I’m going up to Birmingham on Saturday to see Tania,’ Jasmine said, ‘If Sloane doesn’t keep us working on this murder.’
‘Why, Jas? To give your condolences?’ There was a doubtful note in Angela’s voice. Jasmine wasn’t surprised. Angela knew her well.
‘Well, there’s that, but I want to find out what happened to Milla. Or, to put it bluntly, who killed her.’
Angela nodded and smiled, satisfied that her guess had been proved correct. ‘Isn’t that a job for the Birmingham Police?’
‘It is, but I can’t wait until reports filter back to us. I don’t even know if they’re investigating it as a premeditated murder.’
‘It couldn’t be anything else could it. Who would plan to kill a police officer?’
Jasmine pondered. ‘I suppose it could be someone in Birmingham wanting to make a point by getting rid of a new threat.’ She paused, ‘But I think it was more likely to be ordered by someone who knew her already. Someone who knew her from past cases.’
‘You mean from round here,’ Angela said. She glanced around as if expecting criminal masterminds to pop up from behind the tables.
James made sure he was at his desk early next morning; it was even earlier than the seven-thirty that Tom had said they should start. He looked at the wedding photo of Elizabeth and Michael Hargreaves and the portrait of her taken after death. What had happened to the husband? He noticed the photo albums in their plastic wallets sitting in the tray on his desk. He hadn’t looked at them yet as there hadn’t seemed any point. Now, with nothing else to do while he waited, he took them out of the evidence bags and started flicking through. There was the usual mixture of scenery, places Elizabeth had visited, portraits of individuals and groups. Frequently there were snaps of Michael or Elizabeth or both; never any of children. He turned a page and leaned closer. Who was that? There was Elizabeth, standing next to another woman. They were both wearing wide-brimmed hats and knee-length sleeveless dresses as if they had been to some smart event: a garden party, the races, an outdoor concert. Both wore high heels but the other woman was a tiny bit taller than Elizabeth. She had thick dark brown hair but her face was shaded under the hat. James peered even closer, then looked again at the wedding photograph. He was certain of it. Yes, the other woman was Michael.
He turned over the pages of the album. There she was again, alone this time, leaning against a tree in a park. No hat this time, hair brushed into a dark halo around her face. Short sleeve top, mid-thigh skirt, smooth bare legs, an attractive woman, but it was definitely Michael. A few more pages and there were other photos, sometimes alone, sometimes with Elizabeth, all seasons, a variety of outfits. James searched through the album looking for dates but couldn’t find anything recorded that said when the photos were taken. Elizabeth looked a little slimmer, younger than she had laid out on the floor of her terrace house. James guessed that the photos were a few years old, probably taken with a film camera before the days of digital. Nevertheless, it revealed the truth about Michael. He was trans.
James’ fingers skipped across his computer keyboard. DS Trewin came in followed soon after by Tom Shepherd. Both said hello to James. He murmured a reply but didn’t take his eyes off the screen. The office filled up with other detectives. There was a hum of conversation. DCI Sloane strode in and immediately approached the trio of desks occupied by Trewin and his pair of DCs. All three of them rose to their feet.
‘Well, gentlemen, what line of enquiry are we following today?’ Sloane said in his deep bass voice.
Trewin cleared his throat and opened his mouth.
‘I think I’ve found something,’ James interrupted. Trewin, Tom and Sloane gathered around him.
‘Well?’ Sloane said.
‘Michael Hargreaves is or was transgender.’ James stated.
Tom Shepherd grimaced, ‘What does that mean?’
‘It means a bloke who likes wearing women’s knickers,’ Alan Trewin said.
‘It’s bit more than that,’ James said, silently groaning.
‘Explain, Frame,’ Sloane said.
James lifted up the photo album and pointed to a print of a figure in female dress.
‘I’m sure that is a photo of Michael Hargreaves.’
‘It looks like a woman,’ Tom said.
‘Are you sure?’ Trewin said.
James held up the wedding photo. ‘Compare them,’ he said. Three heads leaned forward.
Sloane straightened first. ‘You appear to be correct, Frame. What does this information tell us?’
James took a deep breath. ‘With the knowledge of his wife, Michael Hargreaves spent at least some of his life as a woman. There are a number of photos of him, or rather her, in this album so it wasn’t a one-off outing or a fancy dress thing. The photos are a few years old so I wondered if things had moved on.’
‘Moved on?’ Tom asked, still confused.
‘I wondered if being a woman had become, er, more habitual for Michael Hargreaves.’
‘Hmm, what are you saying Frame?’ Sloane pressed.
‘I wondered if he was transsexual.’
‘You mean if he’s had a sex-change?’ Trewin said.
‘Er, perhaps,’ James replied.
‘Out with it, Frame,’ Sloane was sounding impatient now.
‘I’m not sure,’ James said, ‘I can’t quite make out how far Michael Hargreaves has gone but she’s Michelle Greaves now.’