One of the things I have found most difficult in the last eighteen months (i.e. post-referendum etc.) has been the division and growing anger directed from one side to the other. This is mainly down to the media and especially those newspapers on the side that apparently “won”. I have never liked the Daily Mail but used to ignore the fact that some people obviously found it readable. I occasionally looked at the Telegraph but mainly because its sports coverage was comprehensive. Now, with the repeated vile and rabble-rousing attacks on anyone who invokes the democratic institutions of the UK to get the government to think again about its ruinous approach to Brexit, the EU, and foreigners, I am finding my patience sorely tested. It is increasingly difficult to respect anyone who shares those organs opinions and I detest the path the country is taking. It seems that those people in power, and by that I mean in the cabinet and in the media who persist in pushing for this mad divorce and doing down anyone who opposes them, have scant regard for the breaks and balances that have been installed in our unwritten constitution over the centuries. They are on course to provoking serious unrest, particularly when their ill-planned policies (actually un-planned is probably closer to the truth) are enacted and the consequences become clear. And as for the USA . . .
Having got that off my chest let’s get on with what I prefer to spend my time doing – writing stories. The penultimate episode of Reflex is below. I am planning to include the complete story along with three others in a volume of Jasmine Frame prequels that will be available on Kindle in the spring. No title yet – still thinking!
Reflex: Part 8
Days passed by in the body-clock confusing pattern of shifts. James became familiar with the work of a response officer – every call different, every day the same. He developed a respect for the professionalism and efficiency of his partner PC Ward and she in turn came to trust him as her buddy. Every day brought fresh cases to test his knowledge of the law and police procedures, so he found himself with little time to think about previous callouts. Nevertheless, in the rare moments when there wasn’t some work to be done he wondered about Matthew/Melissa. He had worried that there might be consequences of his visit to Melissa while she was in custody, but after a few days his fears subsided. There was no news because there was no contact from DS Sharma or anyone else involved in the case. Nevertheless, he wondered what had really happened on that evening and who was responsible for the tragic results.
James was on a morning shift two weeks later when walking through the police station he saw DS Sharma approaching him. Sharma saw him and paused.
‘Ah, PC Frame. I’m glad I’ve seen you. I have some news for you.’
‘Oh,’ James managed.
The DS frowned at him. ‘Yes, the charges against Matthew Chapman have been dropped. We took your view that given the evidence of repeated physical attacks on the boy by his father, the use of the knife in self-defence was unfortunate but justifiable. We expect the coroner to judge the death a case of misadventure.’
‘So Melissa is free?’ James said feeling a burst of joy.
‘The boy has gone home to his mother.’
‘That’s wonderful news. Er, what was the evidence that convinced you and the CPS?’
Sharma pursed his lips deciding whether he should pass on the information. ‘The medical examination of the boy revealed bruises and other marks consistent with beatings over a period of time. Mrs Chapman confirmed that her husband frequently hit her son.’
‘She should have reported it and not let it go on.’
Sharma nodded. ‘That’s right, but women often suffer abuse and allow their children to be abused, for a long time without alerting us or the Children’s Services. If that knife had not been left on the worktop it is probable that Eric Chapman would still be beating his son now.’
‘Thank you for your assistance, Constable.’ The detective moved on leaving James thinking. It was that knife that made the difference. He went to the office and sat at the computer.
James changed out of his uniform and got in his car. He was ready for the drive home and he’d have a few hours before Angela got back from work. He was looking forward to spending the rest of the day relaxing as Jasmine. But there was something in his thoughts as he drove across the town towards the A34. His mind made up, he turned off the main road and into the housing estate. A few minutes later he drew to a halt outside 18 Milton Drive. It looked very much the same as the last time he had been here, although that had been at night.
He got out, paused on the path then strode towards the front door. He pressed the doorbell. There was a wait of a few seconds before the door was opened by Mrs Chapman. She looked at him, puzzled, then recognised him.
‘You’re that policeman that was with that Asian detective.’
‘Yes. I’m PC Frame.’
‘What’s wrong?’ she raised a hand to her face, ‘Nothing’s happened to Melissa has it?’
‘No, Mrs Chapman, I’m not on duty.’
Now she looked slightly angry. ‘Why are you here then?’
‘I heard that the charge had been dropped. I wanted to ask about Melissa. You used her femme name.’
Wendy Chapman’s eyes explored James. Finally, she pushed the door wider.
‘You’d better come in.’
She led James into the lounge and urged him to sit on a well-used sofa.
‘Melissa said that you visited her when she was in that children’s prison.’
‘The secure unit, that’s right. I shouldn’t have but I needed to know how she was. I was delighted that they were letting her dress.’
Wendy replied dreamily, ‘Dress as a girl. Yes. It’s what she wanted. What she always wanted.’
‘And you’re letting her live as Melissa full-time?’
The mother nodded. ‘It seemed to thing to do. She hasn’t gone back to school, not yet anyway. She started at the special unit in town yesterday.’
‘I see,’ James wasn’t sure how to answer as he didn’t know anything about the facility Mrs Chapman had referred to. He presumed it was for the children who had problems in mainstream schools, perhaps with bullies.
Wendy was looking at him closely. ‘I remember now. You were one of the police who got here after it happened, when Melissa had run off.’
‘That’s right. My colleague and I picked her up over by the marina.’
She shook her head. ‘I don’t know what Mel might have done if you hadn’t.’
James nodded. ‘I was glad we found her fairly quickly.’
‘And then you were with Detective Sharma. . .’
‘He asked me to sit in on the interviews.’
‘. . .because you knew someone who was trans. That’s what he said wasn’t it?’
‘A girl called Tamsin?’
‘You understood what Melissa was feeling. It was you that said that what Melissa did wasn’t deliberate.’
‘That’s right. She was defending herself,’ James said, ‘Her father had hit her so often for dressing up as the girl she felt herself to be, that she just grabbed the only weapon that was available to stop him hurting her again. That was what happened, wasn’t it?’
Wendy Chapman, sniffed and nodded. ‘You know how strong the urge was for Melissa to be herself.’
‘It didn’t matter how often Eric found out what she was doing and punished her for it. She couldn’t, wouldn’t stop.’
‘But you encouraged her didn’t you,’ James said.
The woman stared at him. ‘What do you mean?’
‘You bought stuff for her, clothes, make-up. You helped her. That evening you were styling her hair.’
‘She wants to be a girl so much. I had to help her.’
‘But didn’t that make her father even more angry?’
‘He beat you too.’
She nodded again.
‘So why did you stay. Why didn’t you take your child away to keep her and yourself safe?’
She gave him a look of surprise. Was it because she had never considered escaping her abusive husband or surprise that he should ask the question?
‘Um, er, he wasn’t a bad man. Often, he was a good father. He just had these rages when he thought that Matthew wasn’t behaving as a boy should.’
‘You could have got help, advice.’
She shrugged. The thought had never occurred to her.
‘Something was different that evening wasn’t it?’ James said.
Wendy looked at him, uncertain. ‘What do you mean.’
‘Well,’ he began, ‘you were down here in the kitchen where Mr Chapman would see you the moment he came into the house. You could have been doing Melissa’s hair upstairs where you’d have a few seconds warning of his arrival.’
‘We weren’t expecting him to come home then.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Yes. He was due home soon after eight. He was doing overtime. Melissa and I thought we had a couple of hours at least.’
‘Melissa might have thought that but I’m not sure you did.’
Mrs Chapman glared at him, ‘What are you saying?’
‘I checked with the factory. There was no overtime planned for that evening. Mr Chapman’s shift finished at its scheduled time of five o’clock. Either Mr Chapman told you a lie about the time he was due home, or you knew he would arrive home while you were doing Melissa’s hair. You were expecting him to walk in on the pair of you.’
……………………………..to be concluded