A step forward to publication of Evil Above the Stars: vol.1 Seventh Child this week with the editorial comments and suggestions from the publisher Elsewhen. Glad to say there was nothing too difficult to amend. Also worked on volume 3 Seven Times Seven. Gave some time to article writing, particularly to mark the announcement of the Nobel Prizes for Physics and Chemistry. I like to see if I can write something to make the chemistry of the prize work understandable for school kids (OK, more able ones). You can see if I’ve been successful by going to http://freedomtoteach.collinseducation.com/ this coming week
Of course, I’ve also written the next episode of the Jasmine Frame prequel, Close-up, which is below. We’ve reached the 10th!
Close-up: Part 10
A uniformed police officer entered the interview room while Jasmine was noting down Parnell’s description of Ryan Harris. When she had finished she stood up.
‘Can I go now?’ Parnell asked, again.
‘Perhaps. I’ll have to check with DCI Sloane,’ Jasmine replied. She moved to the door and spoke to the officer. ‘Look after Mr Parnell here, please, until we decide whether he can leave.’
Jasmine returned to the team office and knocked on Sloane’s door. He called for her to enter and as she did so saw him putting his phone down. He looked at her with his glaring eyes as if expecting her to transfer her report telepathically.
‘Parnell’s description matches the others we have of Ryan Harris. It must be the same man.’
‘Hmm. This is an interesting development along with what I have just heard.’
‘What’s that, Sir?’
‘Forensics have found traces of blood and tissue in Markham’s flat. In the child’s bedroom to be precise. The room had been cleaned thoroughly but not well enough. They found traces of other bodily fluids, vomit, faeces, urine. Probably the child. They haven’t matched it yet, but it looks like we may have a murder or serious assault to solve.’
‘Yes, Sir.’ Jasmine was thinking through who the suspects might be; Amber Markham and her supposed boyfriend, obviously; the child’s father, possibly; Parnell? ‘What should we do about Parnell, Sir?’
‘Let him go for now. He seems to be a pawn in the game. This fellow Harris, must have told Markham of Parnell’s whereabouts. I wonder what he’s up to?’
‘Harris. I want you to find out all you can about him; and get on to Palmerston and the others. Tell them that the child was probably injured, perhaps killed, in Markham’s flat. We need to find the child alive or dead.’
‘Yes, Sir.’ Jasmine hesitated wondering if Sloane had any other instructions.
‘Get on with it then.’
Jasmine returned to her desk and began calling up records while thumbing her phone. Denise Palmerston didn’t answer but Tom Shepherd did.
‘Hi, Jasmine. Got some news?’
‘I have. Jack Markham may have been hurt or even killed in Amber’s flat. Forensics found blood where he slept.’
‘Oh, right. That makes it more serious.’
‘Yes, and Amber’s boyfriend, Ryan Harris, knew Parnell and probably told Amber where he lived.’
‘Are you with Ashley Stiles?’
‘Yes, Palmerston’s talking to her. I slipped out to answer your call.’
‘What has she said?’
‘Well, you were right. She has kept in touch with Amber. They met up from time to time. Amber called on her a couple of days ago actually. Stiles thinks she seemed a bit upset but wouldn’t talk about it.’
‘How did Amber get to Aldermaston? She doesn’t have a car. Did someone, her boyfriend perhaps, give her lift?’
‘Oh, and see if Stiles knows anything about Ryan Harris.’
‘I will. Is that it? I’d better get back in there.’
‘That’s all. Let me know what you find out.’
The call ended and Jasmine rang Derek Kingston to pass on the new information. Then she phoned downstairs to arrange for Parnell’s release. At last she was able to look for information on Ryan Harris.
Two hours later she was following a trail of clues and becoming more and more interested in the young man. Her mobile rang and Jasmine picked it up expecting one of her colleagues but it was Dr Gould.
‘Hello, Jasmine. I thought I’d give you a personal call to let you know that your prescription is ready to pick up. You’ll be getting an official email of course.’
‘That’s great. Thanks for letting me know.’
‘You can start taking the pills straight away but we’ll need to keep an eye on the effects. Let me know if you don’t feel well. We may have to adjust the dose of the oestrogens or the anti-androgens.’
Jasmine was excited. She could start the course of drugs that would help make her female.
‘Thanks, Jilly. That’s great.’
‘Got to go. See you soon.’ The connection broke. Jasmine stared at the phone. She had to get out to the chemist and pick up her pills; she was so eager to start her treatment. Of course it would be months before the changes became obvious, but that didn’t matter. She was on the way to becoming the woman she knew she was. But how could she get out? Perhaps if she reported what she had learned to Sloane he’d allow her a few minutes to run into town. She left her desk and approached his office.
When Sloane had replied to her tap, she opened the door.
‘Sir, I’ve found out a few things about Ryan Harris.’
‘Well, don’t stand there. Tell me.’
Jasmine took a step into the office and looked at the notepad she had in her hand.
‘I looked back at the records and found that around the time that Parnell was arrested, there were a number of complaints from young women about a young man watching their homes. One of the women recognised him and identified him as Ryan Harris. He was only sixteen at the time so he was just given a warning and advised to speak to a counsellor. I rang Parnell’s counsellor and she confirmed that Ryan Harris had been on her list about five years ago and that he did attend group sessions with Parnell. She wouldn’t give me details over the phone but she did say he had something of an obsessive personality.’
‘Good. So you’ve confirmed Parnell’s story. Anything else?’
‘I have an address in Reading, Sir, where he lived when he was having the counselling sessions. It looks like it’s his parents’ home.’
‘Let me have it. We need to speak to that young man.’
Jasmine handed over the slip of paper with the address written on it. Sloane picked up his phone and poked at the keys. She guessed that Sloane wasn’t going to send her off to find Harris.
‘Thank you, Frame. Is that all?’
‘Yes, Sir. Except, do you mind if I go out for a few minutes. I have to pick up a prescription.’
‘What. Oh, yes, if you must. Don’t be long. This case is moving.’
‘Thank you, Sir. I won’t.’
Jasmine backed out of Sloane’s office, hurried back to her desk grabbing her coat, bag and phone.
It only took a few minutes at a fast walk to get to the High Street from Police HQ. There were few shoppers around as it was still not yet ten o’clock, but it was a dry morning after yesterday’s rain. The local chemist’s shop that she used was almost empty and it took moments for her to pick up the packet of drugs. Jasmine grasped it in her hand as if it was a prize she had won. She was eager to return to the police station, rip off the packaging and take her first daily dose but as she left the shop her phone rang. She pulled it from her bag and answered. It was Tom.
‘Hi, Jas. Thought you’d like to know.’
‘We asked Ashley about Ryan Harris.’
‘She knew him.’
‘She did! How?’
‘Ashley met him in a café, here in Aldermaston, a little over a year ago, soon after she’d had her baby. Her child is a bit older than Markham’s.’
‘They just met?’
‘Well apparently, Harris was friendly, they got chatting. She was feeling a bit lonely and worn out having to look after the kid on her own.’
‘They became friends. Harris visited her at her house. She never went to his home and of course, with the child to look after, she couldn’t get out much.’
‘Were they lovers?’
‘I guess so.’
‘But they’re not together now?’
‘No. Ashley said he got a bit demanding, obsessive. She finally threw him out and told him it was all over.’
‘Did he leave her alone?’
‘No. That was the point. He pestered her for weeks then suddenly stopped calling on her.’
‘Sounds like about the time he started going out with Amber. Does Ashley Stiles know that Amber was seeing Harris?’
‘No. Ashley says she knew Amber had a new man but Amber hadn’t told her who it was. They didn’t meet up that often.’
‘How did Harris behave with Stiles’ child?’
‘Apparently he was very good with the kid at first but later urged her to get child minders to take the kid so that they could be on their own together.’
‘Sounds like he was nice to the child to get in her good books.’
‘Well, I found an old address for Harris, and I think Sloane is sending Kingston and Money to check it out.’
‘That’s great. We’re getting somewhere. We’re heading back in a few minutes. See you at HQ.’
The call ended. Jasmine stood in the street, prescription in one hand, phone in the other, thinking. Parnell would probably be home by now. What would he make of Harris’ liaisons with both the girls that he’d flashed at? Perhaps it would stir up some other useful information from his memory. Decision made, Jasmine dropped the mobile and drugs into her bag and strode down Waggoner’s’ Passage towards the river and the old mill where Parnell lived.
In a couple of minutes she reached the old brick building and started to climb the steel staircase. As she reached the first landing, she heard the crash of a door flung open above her and feet running down the stairs making the steel ring like a bell. She looked up as a figure appeared on the flight of steps above her, a young man, scruffy beard and long hair, dirty jeans and sweatshirt, thin. Instantly she knew it was Harris. He leapt down the steps two or three at a time towards her.
‘Harris. Stop!’ she said stepping into his path. He raised his arm, not slowing at all. His hand hit the side of her head and his body cannoned into hers. She was lifted off her feet by the impact. Spinning round she grabbed for the hand rail; missed. Harris was passed, leaping down the last flight. Jasmine tumbled down the steps, head over heel. Her head cracked against the steel post at the bottom. Darkness descended before the ground ended her fall.
Painted Ladies: A Jasmine Frame Story is available as a paperback and an e-book from all booksellers