Just one thing I’d like to comment on this week as I don’t think it has appeared in the mainstream news. According to New Scientist, the International Olympic Committee have agreed that transsexual men and women can compete in their chosen gender without having to undergo gender reassignment surgery. FtM can compete immediately, while MtF must have a test to show that their testosterone levels are within the normal range for females. That means that transwomen must at least be on anti-androgen drugs. I think that is a huge and welcome step for a worldwide body and shows acceptance of a broad definition of gender identity.
Now to this week’s episode of Resolution, a prequel to the Jasmine Frame novels Painted Ladies and Bodies By Design. This is a longer piece than usual as the case needed to get moving. Perhaps you can guess where it’s going.
Resolution: Part 3
James watched as Dr Gupta drove off then turned to see DS Trewin emerging from the house followed by DC Shepherd.
‘Well, Frame. Did you find who discovered the body?’ Trewin asked.
‘Yes, Sir. It was the neighbour, Mrs Wilson,’ James pointed to the front door directly next to the victim’s house. ‘and PCSO Oakham here was the first on the scene.’
Peaches Oakham looked a little scared as James recounted what she had told him.
Trewin smiled at Peaches, ‘Well done Oakham. We may have more questions for you later. Now though we’ll have a word with Mrs Wilson. Shepherd with me.’ He started to pull off the overalls. ‘Frame, go back in and have a good look around the house, upstairs too. See what you can find that tells us something about Elizabeth Hargreaves. If you come across anything get a SOCO to bag it up.’
James re-entered the victim’s home. He paused in the front room taking in the appearance. The room was recently decorated with white painted walls and a plain, innocuous carpet in a terracotta colour. There were no pictures on the wall and just a mirror on the chimney breast. The room was small but nevertheless sparsely furnished with just a small sofa, coffee table and a small flat screen TV on a stand. He decided not to go into the rear room where the body lay and a pair of SOCOs were still working. Instead he went up the stairs. He glanced in the back bedroom and saw the same white walls, a double bed with a single pillow in the middle, duvet neatly spread. There was a small fitted wardrobe and dressing table.
He turned to look in the front bedroom and felt a little surge of excitement. It was decorated the same but unfurnished. Instead there were four large, cardboard packing cases sitting in the middle of the carpet. James bent down and looked in the nearest box. It contained objects wrapped in newspaper. He and Angela would be doing this soon, he thought, packing up their present home into packing cases and then moving into their new home in Kintbridge. Elizabeth Hargreaves had been living in her new house for a few weeks though. Why hadn’t she unpacked?
James unwrapped a few items. They were largely ornaments: bits of china, flower vases, framed pictures. He looked in the next box. That too contained wrapped objects, this time a complete dinner and tea set, along with some cooking utensils. The third box contained books, mainly romantic and classic novels with a few popular chicklit titles, along with a couple of loose cushions.
James crawled to the last box and looking in saw a record of Elizabeth Hargreaves life. There were old school photographs dating from the 70s, a patched and threadbare teddy, a Barbie missing an arm and most of her hair. At the bottom of the box James could see a couple of photograph albums but they were under a glass-fronted picture frame. It was a wedding photo. James lifted it out and examined it carefully. The bride was blonde, young and dressed in a long white dress. It was hard to compare her with the distorted features of the victim lying downstairs but James was pretty sure they were the same woman. Standing beside the youthful Elizabeth Hargreaves was a young man. He was just an inch or two taller than her, slim, and had a thin, clean-shaven face with dark brown hair almost as long as his new wife’s.
‘Frame? Are you up there?’ Trewin’s call carried up the stairs.
‘We’re heading back. Are you coming?’
James grabbed the photo albums and the wedding photo. ‘Coming, Sir.’ He hurried down the stairs. Trewin was standing in the front room.
‘What have you got there, James?’ Alan Trewin said.
‘Photos. I thought they may be useful even if they’re old.’
Trewin nodded. ‘Get them bagged up and recorded. Meet us in the car.’
James and the other two detectives were clustered by the white board that covered one wall of the V&SC office. Currently there was only one photo stuck to the board, taken by the pathology team, showing Elizabeth Hargreaves’ face in death. Written underneath were the words, “strangled – cable”.
DCI Sloane emerged from his office and joined the trio.
‘What have you got, gentlemen?’ he said.
Trewin spoke up, ‘Deceased is Elizabeth Hargreaves, female in her fifties. Recently moved in to 12 Railway Terrace. Tell us what the neighbour said, Tom.’
Tom Shepherd blushed and pulled himself up straight. ‘She, uh, that is Mrs Wilson of 13 Railway Terrace, um, they’re next door neighbours, not opposite. The houses are on just one side.’
‘Yes, Shepherd, I know the location,’ Sloane said.
Tom looked at his notebook. ‘Mrs Wilson said that she had gone into Mrs Hargreaves’ house this morning because the radio had been left on all night and she assumed Mrs Hargreaves had gone away leaving it on by mistake.’
‘Mrs Wilson had a key?’ Sloane said.
‘Yes,’ Tom replied, ‘She befriended Mrs Hargreaves when she moved in just over a month ago and Mrs Hargreaves asked her to hold a spare just in case she locked herself out.’
‘They were close friends?’ Sloane asked.
‘Not really. Apparently they chatted a bit if they met on the doorstep and Mrs Hargreaves had been into Mrs Wilson’s house for a coffee once, but that was all.’
Again Sloane posed a question. ‘Did the victim have any visitors?’
Tom smiled. ‘Well, Sir, just one. Mrs Wilson said she was not aware of Elizabeth Hargreaves having any guests until yesterday afternoon when a woman called on her.’
‘The neighbour saw the visitor?’
‘Yes, Sir. The houses are small terraces right on the street. Mrs Wilson said she was in her front room when the woman walked passed and rang the doorbell next door. She heard Elizabeth let her in.’
Trewin spoke up, ‘Apparently sounds pass through the adjoining wall, Sir, although not well enough to make out conversation.’
‘So this woman is your chief suspect?’ Sloane said.
‘The only suspect at the moment,’ Trewin said. ‘There could have been another caller that the neighbour didn’t see, but there was no sign of forced entry so the victim must have let her killer in.’
‘Unless they also had a key,’ James added.
Sloane nodded, ‘Ah, yes, a good point, Frame. The neighbour is also a suspect especially since she apparently discovered the body. What else have you got to tell us Frame?’
James took a breath, ‘Elizabeth Hargreaves was married, at least she got married about thirty years ago.’ He reached behind him to lift the wedding photo in its clear evidence bag from the desk and handed it around. James continued, ‘Although she has been in the house a few weeks now she hadn’t put this photo on display nor had she unpacked any other ornaments or pictures. I got the impression that she had moved into a recently decorated house but done nothing to make it personal or “lived in”. She doesn’t appear to have enough furniture to fill even a small house.’
Sloane frowned and stared at James, ‘What does that tell you, Frame?’
James looked from Sloane to Trewin, uncertain whether he should speak what was on his mind. ‘I don’t think she was really happy about being in her new house. She may have been lonely in a new environment without visitors – until yesterday.’
‘What about this husband?’ Sloane said.
‘He may have died or perhaps they have just separated and divorced. They may have split the contents of a joint property. Maybe that’s why she’s feeling alone.’
‘A thoughtful assessment, Frame. Well, it seems to me, Trewin, that you need to learn more about Mrs Hargreaves, trace this husband if he is still alive, and find out who her visitor was.’
‘Yes, Sir.’ Trewin said, ‘We’ve got officers doing house to house. Shepherd come with me. We’ll see if Mrs Wilson can tell us some more about this mystery visitor and see what the talk is on the street. Frame, see what you can do to trace Elizabeth Hargreaves past and find her husband.’
Sloane nodded and returned to his office. James was a bit disappointed to be relegated to the computer but he was keen to find out what had happened to bring Elizabeth to this lonely end.
By the end of the afternoon, James was feeling frustrated and his eyes ached. He leaned back in his chair, stretching the muscles which were stiff from lack of exercise. Tom Shepherd returned alone.
‘Where’s Trewin?’ James asked.
‘Gone to see Gupta, the path doc.’ Tom replied easing into his chair. ‘He told me I could pack up for today. We’ll need to start at 7:30 tomorrow. How are you doing?’
‘No case-solving insights,’ James said. ‘I’ve followed bank details and papers that the SOCOs found. Elizabeth Hargreaves moved from Staines where she did indeed share a house with her husband, Michael. She gave up a part-time job in M&S to move here alone.’
‘That was quite a life-changing move.’
‘Yes, but I don’t have a lot more. She was born and grew up in Putney where she got married in 1978, aged twenty-three. Michael Hargreaves was a year older and was born in Wembley. He worked for BT and they stayed in Putney until they moved out to Staines in 1990.’
‘That’s pretty good, Jim.’
‘It’s OK, but I can’t find anything on Michael Hargreaves now. Since they closed the joint bank account and gave up the mortgage on the Staines house, there’s no trace of him, not even a death certificate.’
Tom shrugged. ‘Surely something will give a lead to him. Perhaps tomorrow. . .’
‘I suppose so.’ James sighed and started closing down his computer.
‘Well, that’s our first day as detectives done,’ Tom said. ‘Coming for a drink to celebrate, Jim?’
James was tempted, feeling he wanted to get to know this tall, friendly colleague but he was eager to get back to Angela and out of his male clothes. He also felt uncomfortable surrounded by high-spirited male colleagues that habitually stopped off at the police local.
‘Sorry, not tonight. My wife will be waiting to hear all about the first day and it’s a bit of drive home.’
‘You live in Reading?’
‘Yes. Moving to Kintbridge soon I hope.’
‘Oh, well, perhaps we can get to know each other soon.’ Tom got up and set off to the exit. James began to follow but noticed DC Terry Hopkins at his desk.
‘DC Hopkins?’ James began.
The older man looked up. ‘Oh, hi, Frame. How’s your first day gone? I hear you’ve got a murder.’
‘Yes. It’s a bit slow at the moment. Do you mind if I ask you a question?’
‘I don’t know anything about your case.’
‘Yes, I know. This is different.’
Hopkins frowned and glared at James. ‘What is it?’
‘You worked with Camilla Sparrow for a while, didn’t you?’
‘Yeah, a good detective despite being a dyke.’
James was surprised by Hopkins answer, and his choice of term. ‘You knew she was a lesbian.’
Hopkins grinned, ‘She didn’t talk about it but she didn’t hide it. Gave some of the blokes hard-ons whenever she appeared.’
James felt a bit sick but pressed on. ‘You know she’s been killed?’
James was pleased when Hopkins showed a little remorse. ‘Yeah, I heard. She didn’t deserve that. We had a whip-round for a wreath. It was just after we collected for her leaving present but all the guys chipped in.’
James was a bit cheered. ‘Do you know how to contact her partner? Tania, I think it was.’
‘No, but she sent a thank you card. It’s probably still on the wall over there by the coffee machine. There may be some contact details on that.’ Hopkins pointed to a corner of the office that James had not yet explored.
‘Thanks. Do you know anything about the accident?’
Hopkins shook his head. ‘Nah, just that it was a hit and run. I heard that a witness said the car had an RV number.’ His eyes examined James. ‘You two got on pretty well on that drugs bust.’
Sadness filled James, ‘Yes, we did. She was very, uh, helpful. That’s why I’m here now, I think.’
‘Yeah, well, good luck with it.’ Hopkins returned to staring at his screen.
James sauntered over to the corner of the room where the coffee maker quietly steamed. There were birthday and celebrations cards blu-tacked to the wall, some curling with age. James looked at them until he found one that was just a plain card with some printed words and a handwritten message thanking the V&SC staff for their wreath, signed by Tania. At the bottom there was a mobile number. James pulled the card off the wall, stuffed it in his pocket and then hastened from the office. There was something he needed to do when he got home.