There have been two things that have lifted me this week and will encourage me to go on writing and publishing (I hope that prospect doesn’t terrify you too much). The first was a good review of Bodies By Design on the Eurocrime website. Go to my Jasmine Frame publications page for the link.
The second item was the news that the first volume of my fantasy series, Seventh Child, is a finalist in the Wishing Shelf awards (for teenage fiction). There’s more about that on my SF&F page.
With that news out of the way, here is the next episode in the Jasmine Frame prequel, Resolution. After the climax last week, we’re onto the other strand of the story here.
Resolution: Part 7
Jasmine yawned as she pulled up outside the smart, recently-built, detached house. It was still mid-morning and the little red Fiesta had made a good job of swallowing up the miles between Reading and Birmingham. Nevertheless, it had been a fairly early start after a late arrival back home. Despite what DS Trewin had hoped it took some time to charge Michelle Greaves and put her into custody. Only then could they begin the drive back to Kintbridge from Sheffield. They had been elated at their success in getting a confession from Greaves but James had felt exhausted when he finally joined Angela in their bed.
She checked her make-up in the vanity mirror and got out of the car, smoothing the cotton skirt down her thighs and making sure that the plain white vest covered her bra. It was turning into a hot day and she was pleased that she had dressed appropriately. The blonde wig was feeling a bit warm though. She recalled Milla Sparrow saying she could pass as a woman even with her short fair hair but Jasmine felt more confident with the disguise the wig provided. She brushed hairs from her face, locked the car, tossed her bag over her shoulder and advanced up the driveway to the front door.
The door opened before she got to it. Jasmine was a little surprised to see that Tania Portman looked older than she expected. She was in her late thirties, a few years older than Milla, and had short, dark hair and tired eyes.
‘I saw the car pull up and guessed it must be you. Jasmine Frame?’ Tania said, pulling the door wide and holding her hand out.
Jasmine extended her hand. Tania took it and shook it gently.
‘Thank you Tania. I hope I’m not too early,’ Jasmine said, stepping into the bright hallway. Tania gazed at the road and then closed the door.
‘No. I’ve finished breakfast and all that. On Milla’s days off, we used to hang around in bed for ages. Not that she had days off very often. Now though I just want to get up and get on. Come on through. Coffee?’
‘Yes, please.’ Jasmine followed Tania into the spacious and well-equipped kitchen. ‘You’ve got a lovely place here.’ Jasmine was comparing the house with the one she and Angela were purchasing in Kintbridge. Though she was delighted with their move into their own property it was small and cramped in comparison to this.
Tania looked around as if seeing her surroundings for the first time. ‘Yes, I suppose it is. It was meant to be a fresh start for Milla and me. Our own place, decorated how we liked; and of course we could afford a better place up here than in Kintbridge.’
‘House prices down there are pretty ridiculous,’ Jasmine agreed, wondering when the inconsequential talk would be finished.
‘But now. . .’ Tania went on, ‘It doesn’t feel right. It wasn’t meant to be just for me.’
‘You miss Milla?’ What a stupid thing to ask, Jasmine thought. Of course she misses her partner and lover.
Tania gave her a polite smile and busied herself with making the coffee. Although the question needed no answer she did respond. ‘I miss her terribly. She was the one person who I could talk about anything to and her to me. We both lead busy lives of course and police work meant a lot to her but at the end of the day, or most days, we ended up curled up together on the sofa or in bed just enjoying being in each other’s lives.’ Tania filled a mug from a coffeemaker. ‘Black or white?’
‘Black please,’ Jasmine took the mug from her and Tania proceeded to pour another.
‘Her death must have been a great shock.’ Oh, not another silly, obvious statement, Jasmine remonstrated with herself. Why was it so difficult to talk about death sensibly? She could do it when the death meant nothing to her personally, but here . . . well, she felt bound by convention.
Tania put a splash of milk in her mug and grunted. ‘I still can’t believe it’s happened. It’s over a month now but I still I expect her to walk through the door at the end of a long day and just call out “Hi”.’
Tania lead Jasmine into a lounge, sparsely furnished with a big, soft sofa and a thick, furry rug over wood flooring. ‘It all happened so soon after we’d moved up here that we hadn’t even finished unpacking or buying stuff. I don’t feel like doing either now.’
They sat next to each other on the sofa. Jasmine carefully crossed her bare legs. Tania slumped with her jean-clad legs stretched out in front of her. Tania examined Jasmine over the rim of her steaming mug.
‘So, you’re James Frame to the police force, but Jasmine the rest of the time?’
Jasmine nodded. ‘That’s about it.’
‘None of your colleagues know about Jasmine?’
‘No. Milla was the first and only one. Did she tell you how she got to know?’
‘Yes,’ Tania said, ‘She didn’t talk about all her cases, couldn’t a lot of the time, but I remember clearly when she came home and talked about meeting you first as James then how you became Jasmine to deal with those drug deaths.’
Jasmine smiled at the memory. ‘She was great. It made sense to be in my femme mode because so many of the people involved in the case were trans in one way or another but she really worked hard to keep my secret from the guys in the force.’
‘And now you’re a detective yourself.’
Jasmine grinned. ‘Yes. It’s what I wanted to do and I think I can thank Milla for helping me to get the posting.’
‘She did say that she thought you’d make a good detective. Do you think you’ll tell DCI Sloane about Jasmine?’
Jasmine shivered despite the warmth. The thought of revealing herself to the stern, old-time-copper was horrific.
‘I don’t think so.’
‘So you’re happy with the double-life.’
Am I, Jasmine wondered. It was a question she avoided asking herself as the wrong answer created all sorts of other questions about work and her life with Angela.
‘Yes,’ she said hoping that uncertainty didn’t show in her voice.
‘But you’re married?’ Tania went on.
‘Yes. Angela has known about Jasmine from the time we first met. She met Jasmine before James actually. She’s very relaxed about me being both male and female.’ Is she really? Jasmine wasn’t certain about that either. What would Angela do if she decided to transition to the woman she almost certainly felt herself to be? Surely she wouldn’t be as obstructive as Michelle Greaves’ wife.
‘Milla was unsure about coming out at work but once we started living together it became silly not to,’ Tania said.
‘Did she have any problems?’
Tania shook her head. ‘Not really. One or two male officers looked at her in a leery sort of way, so she said, but the police force today is pretty careful about getting diversity right. I’m sure you’d have no problem if you decided to become Jasmine full-time.’
Jasmine nodded and sipped her coffee.
‘But you didn’t come here to hear my opinions on your prospects in the police service,’ Tania said.
‘Um, no.’ Jasmine had been waiting for the chance to get on to DS Sparrow’s death and it seemed Tania was making the move.
‘You want to know what happened to Milla.’
‘Yes, if you don’t mind talking about it.’
‘I don’t. Perhaps talking about her will get it out of my head and stop it going round and round with me wondering if there was anything I could have done.’ Tania paused and looked faraway for a moment. Her eyes focussed again. ‘How much do you know?’
Jasmine shook her head. ‘Not a lot. A few comments from people but that’s all. Why don’t you tell me all that you know?’
Tania took a mouthful of coffee, swallowed and thought. She took a big breath. ‘We hadn’t had time to get settled in. It was just a week after Milla started work here. I’d already been here a few weeks in my job, getting the house liveable. Of course as soon as Milla started she was up to her eyes in work but that day she got home at a similar time to me, about six. We decided to go out for something to eat. There hadn’t been a chance to find decent places but the local pub looked pretty okay so we thought we’d give it a try.’
‘Pub?’ Jasmine interrupted.
‘The Shakespeare. On the main road. Less than half a mile.’ Tania pointed out of the front window in no particular direction. ‘We walked there, had a fairly reasonable meal and a bottle of wine. It was pretty busy as it was a good summer’s evening, but we felt comfortable. It was just getting dark as we wandered home, arm in arm.’ She paused and Jasmine saw cracks appear in her face. ‘It happened so fast. I didn’t see everything that I could have done, should have done.’ Her voice croaked.
‘Take your time, Tania. I don’t want to upset you.’ Jasmine shuffled along the sofa and took Tania’s hand in hers.
‘The car just appeared, coming towards us, fast. It hit the kerb then just flew at us. Milla shoved me out of the way. I fell on the pavement and the car shot by. I heard a thump which I realised later was the car hitting Milla. Then it stopped, reversed and drove off. They went over Milla twice. I was dazed and sore, I’d banged my knee. I felt sorry for myself, then I saw her lying there, blood all over the place. I crawled to her. I wouldn’t have recognised her except for her yellow skirt. She was already . . .’ The tears had been building for a while but now they came, flowing freely down Tania’s cheeks. Jasmine put her arm around the older woman’s shoulders and pulled her to her. Tania sobbed on Jasmine’s false breasts. ‘She saved me but couldn’t save herself.’