A busy weekend so I’m a little late getting down to this week’s blog. Let’s go straight to the next episode of the Jasmine Frame prequel, Close-up.
Close-up: Part 11
‘Are you all right, Love. You had a bit of a fall.’
Jasmine knew she should open her eyes, see who the voice belonged to, but it seemed too much effort. Her head felt as if it was made of lead and her limbs of jelly. Then she felt the aches. Her body was twisted, her legs bent, one arm underneath her. Straightening herself became more important than keeping her head still. She opened her eyes. There was a wrinkled face above her, surrounded by grey hair.
‘Ooh, you are awake, Love. That’s good. Do you think you can move?’
She had to answer this time. There was no real pain in any part of her body except her head. She experimented with straightening her legs, putting out a hand to push herself into a sitting position. Her head felt as if it was going to roll off her shoulders. She squeezed her eyes closed, opened them again. Her view was clearer and the right way up. An old lady was leaning over her, examining her.
‘I heard you tumble down the stairs, Love. That was quite a fall.’
‘Harris?’ Jasmine mumbled, her mouth feeling disconnected to her brain.
Jasmine swallowed, tried again. ‘Did you see Harris? Which way did he go?’
‘I didn’t see anyone else, Love. Was there someone?’
‘He came down from up the stairs. He knocked me over.’
‘It wasn’t very nice of him to run off. Let me help you.’ The old lady held out her hand. Jasmine reached out for it, gripped it, then realised that she was more likely to pull the frail woman over instead of being pulled up. She summoned a huge effort and forced herself to her feet. Pain rattled around her head and she felt sick for a moment.
‘I’ve got to see upstairs,’ Jasmine said, placing a hand on the steel rail and hauling herself onto the first of the steps.
‘The top flat. Parnell.’
‘Don’t forget your bag, love.’ The old woman bent to pick up her bag which had fallen a couple of feet away. She held it out. Jasmine took it, slung it over her shoulder and began the climb. Each step sent her head ringing. It wasn’t solid lead after all, but a bell with the clapper bashing against the sides. Her breath was coming in short gasps and the nausea had spread from her stomach to her gullet by the time she reached the top landing. She paused and swallowed allowing her dizziness to lessen a little. The door to Parnell’s flat was open. She tapped on it, took a deep breath.
‘Parnell. Are you there? Police.’
There was no reply. She stepped inside, took two more steps into the lounge. She didn’t need to call again. Parnell was on the floor, face down. Blood had spread across the carpet from the wound on the side of his head. Jasmine went forward, glancing around to make sure she wasn’t going to stand on something that may be vital evidence. She crouched down beside Parnell, knew before she felt his neck that he was dead. There was no pulse.
The throbbing in her head retreated to the background as her training took over. She stood, backed carefully from the room, reached in her bag for her phone, thumbed the team’s principal contact number.
‘Hello, DS Palmerston.’
‘I am at Parnell’s flat. He’s dead.’
‘Frame? What are you doing there? Did you say he’s dead?’
‘Yes. Harris was here. I saw him leave.’
‘Why didn’t you stop him?’
‘He knocked me down the stairs.’
‘Are you sure Parnell is dead?’
‘Yes. No pulse. He has a blow to the head.’
‘Don’t touch anything Frame.’
‘Of course not.’
‘We’re on our way and I’d like an explanation for what you were doing there.’ The call terminated. Jasmine went out to the landing and rested both hands on the bannister. She tried to breath evenly, hoping the nausea would subside before Palmerston arrived with the scene of crime team.
‘Are you sure you shouldn’t go to A&E and get your head checked,’ Tom said
Jasmine sat at her desk trying not to move her head. She didn’t want to look around or up to see him in case her headache got worse .
‘I haven’t got concussion, just a sore head where I banged it. That’s all. It’s better than it was a couple of hours ago. I’ve taken paracetamol.’ Along with her hormone tablets; she had not forgotten that she could start her course of gender altering drugs. She tried to focus on the screen, to look as though she was doing something useful.
‘I don’t understand what you were doing there, Jas,’ Tom said, again.
‘I told you. After you said that Harris had dated and presumably had sex with both the girls that Parnell flashed at, I wanted to see his reaction, to see if it triggered any other stuff he might know.’
‘I’m not even sure you should have been thinking of releasing that information, Jas.’
‘Well, I didn’t get to see Parnell, did I. Not alive.’
‘You’re sure it was Harris.’
‘It was only a glimpse before he collided with me but he matched the descriptions.’
‘Well, we have a murder and a possible suspect. What are you doing now?’
‘I’m looking for Amber Markham.’
‘We need to find out where she’s been.’ And she needed to show she was doing something useful.
‘Of course we do. Where are you looking?’
‘At Aldermaston station. I’m into National Rail’s CCTV. Your notes of your interview with Ashley Stiles said she travelled by train.’
Tom nodded. ‘That’s right. It’s the best way to get from Kintbridge to Aldermaston without a car.’
‘And Stiles said she arrived about half-six.’
‘There were trains that arrived at six-oh-six and six-twenty eight. It’s about five hundred metres from the station to Coot Close, where Stiles lives, so Markham couldn’t have been on the latter.’
Jasmine tapped keys. ‘So I’m looking at the footage from six o’clock. There’s the train arriving. It’s on time. A few people get off; it’s a commuter train for people who work in Kintbridge.’
Tom leaned over her shoulder looking carefully at the screen. ‘I guess so.’
‘There’s Markham.’ Jasmine froze the picture and pointed. The small, slight, hatless, figure of Amber Markham in a short skirt, boots and fluffy jacket was blurry but recognisable.
‘She’s carrying something.’
Jasmine expanded the image. ‘A small suitcase.’
‘She didn’t stay overnight with Stiles. She was there for less than an hour.’
‘Hmm, why carry a case for a short, chat with a friend. Did Ashley Stiles mention Markham bringing any stuff to her? Or taking it away – baby clothes, that sort of thing?’
‘No, she didn’t mention anything like that. What does Markham do?’ Tom waved his hand over the keyboard. Jasmine advanced the recording frame by frame. They watched Amber Markham walk off the platform with the other travellers until she left the camera’s field of view.
‘She arrives at Aldermaston Station at six minutes passed six. She doesn’t arrive at Stiles’ house until around half past. It shouldn’t take more than about ten minutes to get to Coot Close even with a case to carry.’
Tom shrugged. ‘Perhaps she waited for a taxi.’
‘A taxi to travel half a kilometre! Anyway she’s hasn’t got much cash. The train ticket must have stretched her.’
‘I don’t know.’ Tom straightened up.
‘We need to ask Stiles what Markham was doing with the case.’
‘Yes, Jas, I suppose we do, but I reckon Sloane and Palmerston will be more interested in finding Harris now that we have a murder.’
‘But it all ties together doesn’t it?’
‘What does?’ Sloane’s voice growled. Jasmine looked up to see him looming over her computer screen.
‘Uh, Sir.’ Jasmine started to rise.
‘Don’t get up, Frame, just give me a reason why I shouldn’t suspend you for attending the scene of a crime without authorisation.’
Jasmine gulped. ‘I discovered Parnell’s body, Sir.’
‘I know. What were you doing there?’
‘I thought Parnell might have more information and I was in town not far away.’
‘You told me you had to pick up a prescription.’
‘That’s right, Sir.’
‘You didn’t say that you were going to visit a suspect as well.’
‘I didn’t know then, Sir. It was only when Tom told me that Harris knew both Parnell’s victims I thought he might have something more to tell us.’
‘Didn’t you think it was up to your superior officers to decide whether such information should be divulged and what questions should be put to Parnell?’
Jasmine didn’t reply. She knew she had been in the wrong.
‘I didn’t think, Sir, but…’
‘Harris, Markham, Parnell. They’re all linked, Sir.’
‘Obviously. They knew each other.’
‘And Jack Markham, Sir. The child is at the centre of this.’
Jasmine took a deep breath knowing that she had to get her ideas out in one go. ‘Markham involved Parnell in her plan to stage the fake abduction. Harris must have put her up to it since he was the one who knew where Parnell lived but he was living with Markham and her baby having previously been with Stiles and her child.’
‘I think the abduction is a cover for the killing of Jack by Harris or Markham or both.’
‘Possible. Where’s the body?’
Jasmine stabbed a finger at the still picture of Markham leaving the railway station. ‘In that suitcase.’
Painted Ladies: A Jasmine Frame Story is available as a paperback and e-book from all booksellers, including Amazon