A varied week this week. I’ve been editing Bodies by Design, the second Jasmine Frame novel, continuing with the writing of the third volume of Evil Above the Stars, and of course writing this week’s episode of Close-up. I’ve even done some marketing of Painted Ladies by offering my presentation “Jasmine and me” to writers’ groups. I wonder if it is a good idea to have a number of projects going simultaneously – but I like it. So here is the next episode of Close-up.
Close-up: Part 9
DCs Kingston and Money sauntered into the office closely followed by DCI Sloane with DS Palmerston tagging along behind. Sloane stood in front of the whiteboard and gestured impatiently to the team to gather round.
‘Report please, Detective Sergeant,’ he said as they assembled in a rough semicircle.
‘Still no sign of Markham, Sir,’ Denise Palmerston said.
‘What about the child?’ Sloane asked.
‘No leads there either, Sir,’ Palmerston replied raising her hands to indicate her frustration.
‘Are we even sure the kid exists?’ Keith Money said. ‘’The buggy Markham was pushing was empty. Perhaps it’s a phantom baby like some women have phantom pregnancies.’ Derek Kingston giggled.
‘Don’t be an idiot,’ Palmerston said, ‘Markham’s parents and the boy’s father talked about him and social services confirmed that Jack exists, and we only have Parnell’s word that the buggy was empty.’
‘And Jasmine’s analysis of Amber Markham’s movements,’ Tom said.
Palmerston’s nose wrinkled in a sneer. ‘Oh, yes, Frame’s “analysis”.’
Jasmine felt anger rushing through her arteries and veins. She wanted to respond to Palmerston’s dismissal of her work but gritted her teeth and said nothing.
‘Are you suggesting that Parnell may be lying to us?’ Kingston asked.
‘It’s a possibility but unlikely,’ Sloane said with a raised eyebrow at Palmerston. ‘You found the pushchair cover where Parnell said it would be. It matches the one in the CCTV on Markham’s pushchair. Soco have taken his flat apart overnight but found no evidence that a child has been in the flat. I think we have to take his word, at least where the child is concerned.’ Palmerston looked as though she wanted to disagree while Kingston and Money nodded.
‘Jasmine’s got a lead,’ Tom said. The other four detectives looked at Jasmine with wide-open eyes. Palmerston’s cheeks coloured.
Sloane spoke, ‘What have you got, Frame?’
‘The other girl that Parnell flashed at, Ashley Stiles, lives in Aldermaston, Sir. I have her address.’
‘Why didn’t we know about this Stiles woman?’ Sloane said, glaring at each of his officers.
‘None of Markham’s family or neighbours mentioned her,’ Palmerston said. ‘There’s no evidence that Markham and this woman are still in touch. It is six years since Parnell was in court.’
‘At the time, they were close friends,’ Jasmine said, ‘I see no reason why they shouldn’t still be even though Ashley has moved away from Kintbridge.’
‘Denise. You and Shepherd, get over to Aldermaston, now,’ Sloane said. ‘Let’s find out from Stiles how much contact she has had with Markham.’ Palmerston started to move with the reluctant acceptance that this was an obvious thing to do. Jasmine passed to Tom the address she had scribbled on a sticky-note. Tom winked at Jasmine and hurried to open the door for the DS.
Sloane turned to Kingston and Money. ‘Get back to Markham’s address and ask the neighbours again when they last saw Markham with her child. We need to establish exactly when the baby disappeared, if indeed it has. Also, detailed sightings of this man Markham was supposed to be dating. What’s his name?’
‘Ryan Harris, Sir,’ Kingston said.
‘I want him traced a.s.a.p.’
‘Yes, Sir,’ both officers chorused.
‘Well, go on then.’ Sloane waved for them to depart and started to make his way to his office.
‘What about me?’ Jasmine said finding herself alone again. Sloane turned to look at her apparently having forgotten she was still standing just a few feet from him.
‘I want more on this Stiles woman, Frame. How much contact has she had with Markham? And this Harris, fellow. Why has he made no appearance even though he was supposed to be living with her?’
‘Do we have a description, Sir?’
‘It’s in the files. Look for it Frame.’ Sloane resumed his walk to his office.
‘What about Parnell, Sir?’ Jasmine called after him. Sloane paused again.
‘What about him?’
‘We still have him don’t we Sir?’
‘He’s down in the cells. I need to decide if we charge him with anything. We can’t keep him much longer and Soco have completed their search.’
‘Can we speak to him again, Sir?’
‘He might know if Amber has had contact with Ashley Stiles. Amber might have mentioned her when she confronted him and got him to help her with the buggy.’
Sloane turned and stepped back towards Jasmine, stroking his chin.
‘That is a good point, Frame. You had better accompany me down to the interview room. We’ll have a few more words with Mr Parnell.’
Excitement gripped Jasmine. She was going to interview a suspect. Sloane hadn’t let her get this close to an interviewee since she transitioned. The fact that there was no-one else on the team left to ask was beside the point. She hurried after Sloane as he took big strides towards the door.
Jasmine followed Sloane into the interview room. Parnell was already sitting at the table. He looked up angrily as Jasmine and Sloane took their seats.
‘When can I go home?’ Parnell asked. ‘I haven’t done anything wrong.’
‘Apart from causing a hazard to navigation in the canal, you mean,’ Sloane growled, ‘or wasting police time by colluding with Amber Markham in the fictional abduction of her baby.’
‘She made me do it,’ Parnell whined.
‘Well, we’ll think about releasing you after we have asked you a few more questions.’
‘About what?’ Parnell looked defensive, unsure about what was going to come next.
‘Ashley Stiles.’ Sloane said. Parnell’s eyebrows rose. ‘You do remember the name?’
Parnell dropped his head.
‘Yes, I remember the name. She was Kylie’s friend.’
‘Kylie?’ Sloane said
Jasmine leaned towards Sloane. ‘That’s Amber’s former name, Sir.’
‘Oh, yes. Did Kylie/Amber mention her to you, Mr Parnell?’
‘Are you sure?’
‘I said, no.’
‘Have you had any contact with Ashley Stiles since you were in court?
‘Of course not.’ Parnell shook his head violently.
‘Why of course? You weren’t expected to have contact with Markham but you have.’
‘She recognised me and followed me home.’
‘That is what you told us she led you to believe.’
Parnell looked mystified. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, I find it quite hard to believe that she recognised who you were when she saw you out in the street dressed as a woman. Frame here looks very different to her former self and she is not even wearing a wig.’
Acute embarrassment gripped Jasmine, mixed with anger that Sloane could make reference to her former existence as a man.
‘Well…’ Parnell examined Jasmine then shook his head.
Sloane pressed on. ‘That is unless you are an unusual transvestite who makes no attempt to pass as a woman despite wearing female clothes.’
Parnell was affronted. ‘I do my make-up well and I have some very good wigs. I’ve been told I look very feminine and pass easily.’
‘Who tells you that?’ Sloane snapped. Jasmine knew that Parnell lived alone and had no family nearby. She had had the impression that he was a loner and she couldn’t see him as one who socialised in transgender groups.
‘Who, Mr Parnell? Who do you meet dressed as a woman? Who told Amber Markham where you live and that you cross-dress?’
Parnell’s face showed confusion. He shook his head. ‘No, it can’t be.’
‘Who can’t it be?’ Sloane insisted.
‘It can’t be Ryan.’
Jasmine’s heart beat rapidly when she heard the name.
‘Who is Ryan?’ Sloane said.
‘We met after my case. I visited a counsellor to help me to stop. She had group sessions. He was in the group.’
‘What’s his surname?’
Jasmine almost couldn’t believe it. Another connection with Amber Markham. It couldn’t be a coincidence. Surely not. Sloane turned to her.
‘Ryan Harris. Is he on the sex offender’s register, Frame?’
‘I don’t think so, Sir. If he was and he’s being living in the locality I’m sure his profile would have come up.’
‘Hmm.’ Sloane turned back to face Parnell. ‘Tell us all about Ryan Harris. What was he seeing the counsellor for?’
‘He had been warned about following people.’
‘I suppose so. A few women had complained about him hanging around their homes.’
‘So just a warning. He didn’t have any convictions?’
‘I don’t think so. He never admitted to having any.’
‘OK. So you met, you talked. How well did you get to know him?’
Parnell smiled. ‘He was a good friend. He was sorry that those girls had got me arrested. We hung out together. He came to my flat.’
‘How did he find out about you being a transvestite?’ Sloane asked.
‘He knew from the start. In the group sessions we had to talk about ourselves and what we’d done. I spoke about dressing. We talked about it after. Ryan was interested.’
‘But it wasn’t just talk was it. You said you were complimented on your appearance.’
‘Ryan persuaded me to dress for him. He said I looked as good as a real woman.’
Jasmine wondered how honest Ryan Harris had been if Parnell was telling his story truthfully. How well did Parnell pass for female when he was dressed? The pictures of him in his brightly coloured mac on the CCTV didn’t provide much evidence of his skills. He was short and stout, not a very feminine shape.
‘So Harris knew about your conviction, the statements of the two girls, your transvestism and he knew where you lived.’
Parnell nodded. ‘Yes.’
‘Are you still friends? When did you last see him?’
‘I don’t know what happened. He stopped coming round, he changed his phone. I couldn’t contact him. I haven’t seen him for over a year.’
‘He dropped you.’ Sloane said. Jasmine thought he was being unnecessarily heartless.
‘Perhaps,’ Parnell said forlornly.
‘Right. Well we’ll need a description of Ryan Harris. See if it matches. You take over, Frame. I’ll get a uniformed officer to join you.’ Sloane stood up and walked out.
‘DCI Sloane has left the room,’ Jasmine said for the benefit of the recording.
‘Why are you so interested in Ryan?’ Parnell asked.
‘He could be important. We’re not sure. You dressed for him?’
‘Yes. He said he liked how I looked.’
‘What sort of things did he like you to wear?’
A blush came into Parnell’s face. ‘You know. You went on about what I wear yesterday afternoon. You know what it’s like dressing up. You’re one.’
‘I am transsexual. I am not a transvestite.’ Her response was unnecessary she knew, but Parnell had riled her by suggesting they were similar. Parnell screwed up his face. ‘What did Harris want you to wear?’
‘I know that, but what sort of female wear.’
‘He brought me some stuff to try on.’
‘Mini-skirts, leather-look, tops with sequins.’
‘And you wore those with stockings and suspenders.’
Jasmine had to stop herself from grinning. She tried to imagine the plump, middle-aged Parnell in a short, shiny skirt with his stocking tops showing and couldn’t without grimacing.
‘He got you to dress like a tart.’
‘He said I looked great.’
Jasmine suppressed a laugh. ‘Perhaps he thought you did. Did he come on to you?’
‘Oh, no. He was straight.’
‘So why was he so keen on seeing you dressed up?’
Parnell shook his head and suddenly looked very sad. Jasmine had the impression of a loner grateful for the companionship of a younger man.
‘Did you offer him sex? Is that why he stopped visiting you’
‘No! You may fancy it with a man but I’m not gay. I just like being dressed.’ Jasmine hadn’t yet worked out whether as a woman she wanted sex with a man but the vehemence of Parnell’s denial almost convinced her that he thought he was certain he didn’t, but she wondered whether Parnell himself understood his desires. Perhaps she had pushed him enough.
‘OK. We’d better just get his description down then I can see if it matches with the other statements we have.’
‘Can I go home then?’
‘Perhaps. That’s up to DCI Sloane.’
Painted Ladies: A Jasmine Frame Story is available as a paperback and e-book from all booksellers.