A satisfying week of writing but the big news is that I now have an agent! It’s a great feeling to know that someone else is now seeking a publisher for my Jasmine Frame novels and pushing her merits. In today’s publishing world it is difficult to get an agent but there’s no guarrantee that they’ll come up with a decent deal from a publisher. Nevertheless, it’s a great step forward. One thing publshers like is to have a series well into production so my Jasmine prequels are important. Speaking of which here is the next episode of Close-up.
Close-up: Part 6
Jasmine followed DCI Sloane into his office just as he got an answer.
‘Palmerston. Shepherd is still with Miss Markham? Good. Tell him to bring her in. We need to question her. And get on to Money and Kingston; tell them to bring in that fellow Parnell. He needs to give us some answers too. What? I’ll explain when you get back up here. Frame has found something.’
He slammed the phone down and looked up at Jasmine.
‘I want more on Parnell and Markham, and circulate that sequence you’ve put together. Those exact timings are important. Get on to the pub; see if they’ve got any exterior CCTV from this morning.’
‘Yes, Sir.’ She returned to her seat and sent out the film of Amber Markham in the High Street to her colleagues and then phoned the ‘Waggon and Boat’. The early evening business was at its height so it was a few moments before the manager picked up the phone. He immediately dashed her hopes by informing her that the CCTV was turned off in the morning. She thanked him, put down the phone and returned to watching her sequence in real time. There was something about Amber’s movements with the pushchair that was odd but she couldn’t work out what it was.
The ring tone of her mobile sounded from her bag. She reached down beside her chair and dug it out. It was Tom calling. She put the phone to her ear.
‘Hi, Tom, what’s up?’
‘Oh, Jas. I need your help. Sloane’s going to kill me.’
‘What’s the matter?’
‘Markham’s done a runner?’
‘She went to her bedroom a while ago. Palmerston rang me and said Sloane wanted to see her again so I went to tell her. She wasn’t there and the window was open. It’s a ground floor flat. Why would she take off, Jas?’
‘It’s not a straightforward abduction case, Tom. She’s not an innocent victim.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘Get back here. Sloane will explain.’
‘I suppose I have to tell him, don’t I.’
Jasmine felt Tom’s trepidation. Admitting that you’d lost the person you were meant to be guarding wouldn’t go down well with Sloane.
‘You weren’t to know, Tom. We all thought she was a worried mother worried with a missing baby.’
‘Perhaps. But why did she go?’
‘Did she have any contact with anyone?’
‘Yes. She had a couple of calls on her mobile. I was by her when she answered just in case it was the abductor, but she shook her head and went off to her bedroom to talk. She said it was just friends calling.’
‘We’ll have to see who it was she spoke to. Someone must have said something that spooked her.’
‘I don’t know.’ Actually she had an idea and she feared it might have been her own actions that precipitated Amber’s flight, but she wasn’t going to let that out yet.
‘Hmm. Well I’d better speak to Sloane. See you soon, Jas, if I haven’t been fried.’ The connection broke. Jasmine felt sorry for Tom. Sloane’s hair-dryer tirades were notorious in the station and being on the end of one was not an experience to be relished. She returned to her screen. A muffled outburst from Sloane’s office made her involuntarily duck her head. Moments later, Denise Palmerston dashed across the office and joined Sloane.
Jasmine looked at the image of Amber Markham on the screen. She was in the middle of the High Street, standing out from the crowd in her short skirt and shiny red jacket, inadequate though they were. Her hands were on the handles of the pushchair which was completely covered in a bright yellow cover. The baby was hidden from view inside. Jasmine had looked at this scene over and over again but now she had a different view of it. Amber was not just a mother taking her baby shopping. She was going to get rid of the pushchair; Jasmine was sure that was planned. It put a whole different storyline to her movements.
Sloane and Palmerston emerged from the office and started to cross the room.
‘Sir,’ Jasmine called. The pair stopped and looked at her.
‘I’ve got an idea.’
‘What do you mean?’ Palmerston said in a manner that suggested that she didn’t expect Jasmine to have ideas.
‘What is it, Frame?’ Sloane said taking a few steps towards her.
‘I’ve been looking at Markham’s movements again.’
‘I think they’re a deliberate attempt to draw attention to herself, while she had the pushchair anyway.’
‘Why do you think that?’ Palmerston said.
‘Her dress is noticeable and she goes to and fro across the High Street, never stepping inside a shop, until she finally goes into the deli at ten-ten. Then she makes a big show of running around when she comes out and the pushchair isn’t there anymore.’
‘You think she wants people to see her with the pushchair and her baby?’ Sloane stroked his chin.
‘Yes, sir, but I’m not sure there is a baby.’
‘No baby!’ Palmerston exclaimed.
‘Explain, Frame,’ Sloane said.
Jasmine took a deep breath before launching into her speculation. ‘You can’t see the baby, at all inside the rain-cover, Sir, and not once during the half hour or so that Amber is in shot does she pause to look at the child.’
Sloane slowly nodded his head. ‘That is unlike the behaviour of a concerned mother. So she’s wheeling an empty pushchair around, letting lots of potential witnesses see her, until, she gets rid of it, then she enters a shop to give her an excuse for supposedly leaving it unattended and makes a fuss over its disappearance.’
‘That’s it, Sir.’
‘It’s crazy,’ Palmerston said, tossing her hair.
‘It’s certainly preposterous but possible,’ Sloane said. ‘I think Parnell will have some interesting things to tell us. Let’s ask him the questions. I want more information on him, Frame.’
Sloane strode off with Palmerston in pursuit.
Jasmine leaned back in her chair. Her idea had gone down well with Sloane if not Palmerston, but they were a long way from finding reasons for Amber’s behaviour. Perhaps Parnell would have some answers. A yawn surprised her. She had arrived in the office at six in the morning expecting to finish her shift before she went for her appointment at two-thirty. It had been a long day and looked like being even longer.
The search for data on Stephen Parnell was her next task. The court papers on his flashing conviction proved interesting. A look at a few other records were even more so. She leapt from her seat and hurried out of the room to the stairs down to the ground floor interview suite.
Money and Kingston were lounging outside casually looking through the one way glass.
‘Hey, Frame, what’re you doing down here?’ DC Money asked.
‘I’ve got some information for DCI Sloane. Is he questioning, Parnell?’
‘Yeah. He and Denise are in there. Not getting much out of the perv though. He’s “no commenting” or denying ever seeing Markham.’
‘I’ve got to speak to, Sloane.’ Jasmine stepped up to the door and tapped loudly. There was no audible response so she opened the door and stepped inside.
Parnell was sat on one side of the table facing Sloane and Palmerston. He was wearing the same jeans and rugby shirt as earlier. What did he have on underneath, Jasmine wondered, a bra, stockings, suspender belt and lacy knickers perhaps.
‘What is it, Frame?’ Palmerston said looking irritated.
‘I need to speak to DCI Sloane.’
Sloane turned to face her.
‘Is it important, Frame?’
Sloane rose, his bulk towering over the seated Parnell. Sloane followed Jasmine from the interview room.
‘What have you got? Parnell’s has not been very forthcoming so far. Acting as if he must have been blind.’
‘I’ve been looking at his case, Sir.’
‘His conviction for gross indecency in front of those girls? When was it, five or six years ago?’
‘Six, sir. It’s the girls who are interesting. They were both thirteen. One of them was called Kylee Barton.’
Sloane shook his head. ‘So?’
‘Kylee’s middle name is Amber and her mother’s name is Susan Markham.’
His eyebrows crawled up Sloane’s forehead. ‘One of the girls that Parnell flashed was Amber Markham.’
Painted Ladies: A Jasmine Frame Story is available in paperback and as an e-book from all booksellers