A busy week with lots to think about but unfortunately time has run away from me. To keep to my timetable of publication we must move straight to the next episode of Pose, the prequel to Painted Ladies and other Jasmine Frame novels.
Pose: Part 2
James knocked on the door and entered the cramped office. Colin and Baz were hunched over their keyboards. Colin looked up, grunted and hauled himself upright.
‘It’s all yours matey. Good luck.’ He squeezed himself past James and left without a further word. James sat on the vacated chair. It was warm. He looked at the screen. It was displaying lists of phone numbers. They meant nothing to him. It wasn’t the child porn that they’d been investigating for weeks.
Alongside him, Baz was focussed on keying something into her computer. She looked the same as she did every day, slashed jeans, black t-shirt, short, spiky hair, immersed in her work.
‘What are we doing?’ James asked.
Baz’s fingers paused. She looked at James.
‘Oh, hi. Colin’s gone.’ Typical Baz. The world could end and she wouldn’t notice if her mind was on an IT programme. Taking an interest in people was not her role as a police officer. Computers however were another matter.
‘I just came on duty,’ James offered as explanation, ‘What are we doing?’ he repeated.
‘Missing girl,’ Baz said. ‘We’re looking into her mobile phone records. Colin was looking at her call list. I’m hacking her SMS.’
‘Who is she?’
Baz shrugged, ‘The DI did say her name, but I didn’t take any notice. A teenager. They think she may have gone to meet someone. That’s why we’re looking for messages from anyone who wasn’t her family or schoolmates.’
‘You mean DI Crowley thinks she was groomed?’
‘That’s what he said.’
‘Do we have her phone?’
‘No, that’s missing too, presumably with the girl. The parents gave us the account details.’
James looked back at the screen. He wished he’d been at the briefing where the DI had given out the information. He wished even more that he was on the investigating team, questioning people, searching for clues, following leads, rather being shut in this cubbyhole. Nevertheless, they had a job to do, one that could provide the breakthrough that Crowley needed.
Now he could understand what Colin was doing. He was eliminating the calls and voicemail messages from known family members and friends and looking into what was left.
‘There are some numbers unaccounted for here,’ James said.
‘Yeah. I’m picking up texts from a few numbers. Seems this paedo was clever and kept changing the SIM in his phone.’
‘When did the girl go missing?’ James asked.
Baz looked at her notebook. ‘Around six last evening. That was the last time anyone saw her that they know of.’
James looked down the call list. There were a number of calls listed after that time, all unanswered and some with voicemail messages attached. They were all known numbers. No doubt they were the girl’s family trying to trace her. One of the numbers Colin had highlighted as being caller unknown was timed at five-thirty.
‘Did she say she was going out?’ James asked.
Baz continued staring at her screen. ‘What was that?’
‘Did the girl tell anyone she was going out?’
Baz took her eyes off the glowing display and re-focussed on James. ‘Er, I don’t know. We were just told to go through the phone records and see who she was in contact with.’
James sighed. This was the problem. He wanted to be a member of the investigating team, aware of all the facts of the case, attempting to draw the threads together to make a case. Out there in the cold, wet October. Baz and Colin however were totally focussed on IT data while shut away in their cosy redoubt. Perhaps he was supposed to be too.
He looked again at the call from the unknown contact. That call had been answered. There had been one other call from the same number, earlier in the day, which had not been answered but there was a voice message. Great, James thought, something to work with. He could use the skills he’d learned from Baz and Colin to access the message. Perhaps they would hear the voice of this contact.
It took him a while but finally he had it. He played the voice mail through the computer.
‘Hi, Avro. Looking forward to hooking up later. I’ll text you where we can meet.’ The voice was cheerful, light and obviously male.
Baz, looked at James. ‘That’s the guy we’re after?’
‘There’s no name and the number was not one of the known ones. How old does he sound to you?’ James played the message again.
‘The sound quality’s not good,’ Baz said, ‘A bit muffled. Could be that’s deliberate. He’s trying to disguise his voice; make himself sound young by introducing a bit of distortion.’
‘Is Avro the girl’s name?’
‘Um,’ Baz searched her screen, ‘no, it’s Avril Robinson, but. . .’
‘Avril Robinson, Av-Ro,’ James recited, ‘A nickname.’
‘Yeah, perhaps. There’s something. . .’
Baz scanned through pages stored on her screen. ‘Yes, there we are. It’s the name she uses on her MySpace account.’
‘The friends thing,’
‘Yeah, aren’t you on it? You can chat to your friends and share stuff.’
‘Sort of, except all your friends can see what you write. Facebook is similar, better actually. It’s almost as big as MySpace now.’
Ideas were careering through James’ head. ‘So this guy somehow gets on to Avril’s MySpace account. Reads the stuff she writes and starts making contact with her, using the name she gives herself.’
‘Yeah, that’s how grooming works, I guess.’
‘And it’s on her phone?’
‘Well, she’s just got an old Nokia. She can only do voicemail and SMS on it. She needs her laptop to do MySpace and other stuff.’
‘Where’s her laptop?’
‘You mean she took it with her?’
‘I guess so.’
‘Hmm. Can you find that text that he mentions?’
‘I’m on it.’ She began tapping the keyboard again.
James continued to think. ‘Giving kids a mobile phone makes them vulnerable.’
‘But they’re great for keeping in touch, with parents as well as friends.’ Baz said as she worked.
‘You think they’re good thing?’
‘Sort of. Actually, I can’t wait until I get an i-phone.’
‘That new Apple mobile? Why?’ James had heard about the new product but hadn’t taken an interest.
‘They’re so much more than a phone. Not just texts, but photos and you can move all your friends stuff like MySpace and Facebook and Twitter on to it. It’s like a computer in your pocket.’
‘They’re expensive though?’ James had noticed that much.
‘Yeah, but they’ll get cheaper and other manufacturers will copy them. I bet everyone will have a smart phone soon.’
‘Sharing photos and stuff?’
‘Yeah. All sorts.’
‘I wonder where that will lead?’
It was Butterflies night again and although Jasmine had been caught up in the investigation all day she managed to get the evening off. She was on her own this evening as Angela had the greater attraction of an evening with some of her friends.
Jasmine walked confidently into the hall. She felt she knew everyone, all the regulars anyway, and while she didn’t have much in common with some of the older TVs they were always welcoming. She greeted Susan and Belinda serving at the counter and collected a glass of water. No wine tonight as she was driving. She looked around and saw Samantha approaching her
‘No Tina this evening?’ Jasmine asked.
Samantha wore a worried frown. ‘No. I’m not sure what’s up with her.’
‘Her wife threw her out last week.’
Jasmine gasped. ‘Because of her dressing.’
‘You spoke to her?’
‘We exchanged a few texts. I was supposed to be picking her up this evening, but she didn’t show.’
Jasmine was struggling to keep up. ‘Where did she go when she got chucked out?’
‘She didn’t want to move far away, you know, because of her kid.’
‘I get that.’
‘Well, I think she had a couple of nights on a friend’s sofa then she moved into a b&b or a lodging house.’
‘Still in Reading.’
‘Where were you supposed to pick her up?’
‘In town, at The Duchess.’
‘The gay pub?’
‘That’s the one.’
‘She wasn’t there?’
‘No, and no-one had seen her.’
‘Have you tried calling her?’
‘Yes. She’s not picking up and hasn’t answered my texts.’
‘Hmm. Well, perhaps she decided she couldn’t face this lot after all. Maybe she hasn’t got her female clothes with her.’
Samantha shook her head. ‘Oh, she did. Her wife chucked all her stuff out with her. All those kiddies and teenies clothes she liked. Called her a few names too, so Tina said.’
‘It was pretty public then?’
‘Oh yes. The neighbours saw it all.’
Jasmine chewed her lip. ‘Well, I’m not sure what we can do?’
Samantha shrugged. ‘Neither do I. Perhaps if we exchanged mobile numbers I can let you know what I hear.’
‘Okay.’ Jasmine wasn’t quick to share her number but this seemed to be a special case. She dug into her handbag for her phone.
………………………. to be continued.