Murder at Downtown Alley, starring Tepulia Lark
© Peter Barnett
DCI J. Fedora surveyed the scene in front of him with an expert eye, but he could not put it into context of a murderous fight, as they were led to believe. There seems to have been some sort of struggle, with ornaments, pictures and even a broken umbrella but none of the furniture, apart from one small overturned chair, was disturbed.
Upstairs in the bedroom it was a similar scene but with the added complication of a blouse with a bloodstain in the wash basket and a ripped shirt in the small waste bin. Neither the husband, Mr. William Aster or his wife, Disa (strange name thought Jaunty) were to be found. Neither of their cars were in the drive or garage. There were no laptops or tablets around for them to trawl through and without a search warrant they wouldn’t really be able to anyway. They were here at the request and information provided by Mrs Aster’s sister, who thought that Disa might be in trouble from her husband, based on some Facebook posts and her inability to contact her.
In fact, had the back door not been wide open, they probably wouldn’t be inside the house at all. DCI Fedora was astounded at the lack of security which most people treated their home. Many a place he had entered through wide open doors at the back, the owners no doubt thinking that a solid front door would be all they needed, of course the master skeleton keys, he had tucked in his pocket might have been the real reason for an easy entry, but no need to dwell on that.
A half-eaten ready meal lay abandoned in the kitchen, that either meant a hasty exit or merely poor-quality food, purchased in haste. The husband, no doubt tempted by the glamorous photo on the packaging and the famous chef endorsement, had obviously been disappointed by the actual contents.
Jaunty tried again to phone the two mobile numbers, provided by Miss Aida, the sister, of the husband and wife, but they both went straight to voice mail. They had a picture of the wife standing in front of her Mazda sports car, from which they had captured the number plate which was being traced through their APNR system but so far without success.
There was nothing more to be seen inside, so Jaunty posted a uniformed policeman at the front of the house and returned to his office to talk to his team. If he could solve this mystery it would be a feather in his cap as well as an opportunity to progress his career which had stalled lately.
“Let me show you what we’ve got,” said detective, to his team when he had them all assembled. “A report of trouble between Mr and Mrs Aster, no sign of either of them. Signs of a struggle downstairs and no attempt to clean up. A blouse with blood and a torn shirt in the bedroom. Josh, any luck on social media?”
“Well there seems to be a short history of trouble in the marriage on her Facebook pages but more hints than direct statements.”
“Now the photograph the sister provided, gave us the registration number of the MX5. Any response from the APNR?”
“There is a sighting of the Mazda driving through the Thames Valley region and we’ve alerted local motor patrols.”
“What about the whereabouts of the phones?”
“No responses so far although the wife’s phone was last tracked to the Warwickshire area, but that was a couple of days ago.”
“That could mean nothing,” said Jaunty. “But we’ll alert the force up there to keep an eye open. I’m off to interview the sister.”
“Tell me again why you think your sister has been ‘done away with’ as you put it,” said Detective Fedora once he was sitting in her small lounge.
“We’re always in contact via messaging and Facebook and she just stopped a couple of days ago.”
“She wasn’t going on holiday or anything?”
“Not that I know.”
“We’ve seen the Facebook posts,” said Jaunty. “Can I see her messages?”
“I’ll forward some to you,” she said, holding her phone at a distance from him and tapping away at her screen.
“Thanks,” said Jaunty, seeing the messages come through and wondering why she was so protective of her phone. “We’ll contact you and if we hear anything please call us.”
Back at the station there was a bit of news from his team. “The MX5 has been found and they are arranging for it to be towed to our compound for examination.”
“Excellent,” said Jaunty. “Maybe now we can get that search warrant.”
“We’ve had a report of an accident victim in hospital who has not been identified,” said one of the team. “He’s been operated on and they are waiting for him to wake up.”
“Get over there then see if he matches the husband’s description,” said Jaunty. “If you think it could be him, then wait until he’s ready to talk. It’s a long shot but we need to confirm or eliminate him.”
The DCI and the team of crime scene investigators were back at the Aster’s home and had started a painstaking search of the house. when a red car came racing up the drive and slithered to a halt in the gravel drive. A break in the clouds highlighted a lady with short blonde hair as she leapt out of the latest model MX5 and started walking towards the house, hobbling along, until she stopped and tapped a stone out of her shoe.
“What’s going on here,” she shouted.
Jaunty rushed out to meet her. “Mrs Aster?”
“Of course, and who might you be?”
“DCI Fedora, we had a report of your disappearance.”
“What would she know, I haven’t talked to her in years.”
“Can we go back inside and continue our talk?”
Once they were in the comfort of the lounge and Jaunty had told his team to wait outside, he asked where she had been.
“I was away for a week for a spa holiday, a special birthday treat from my husband,” said Disa. “Do you know where he is?”
“No, we can’t find him at the moment.”
Disa pulled out her phone and called her husband. “No reply.”
Jaunty tried to phone Disa’s number with the same result. “Is this not your number?” showing her the call he’d made.
“No. Where did you get that number, my sister again I suppose.”
“Yes, and one other thing, that’s your new Mazda out there. What happened to this one,” said Jaunty, showing her the image of her next to an older mark 3 model.
“That looks like my previous model but it was always losing power so I had to trade it in.”
“I’m beginning to see a pattern here.” said Jaunty, getting a sinking feeling about the whole operation as it fell apart. “Do you have a laptop?”
“Yes, we weren’t allowed to take one to the retreat, it was part of the treatment to be away from all social media,” said Disa. “It’s kept in our safe I’ll get it.”
She returned with her laptop and set it up on the coffee table.
“Can I see your Facebook pages?”
“Sure,” she opened up her page.
“That’s different to what I’ve seen,” said Jaunty. “It’s not even in your name.”
“I never use my name on social media, much too dangerous.”
“I’ll show you what we were given by your sister.”
“I think you need to talk to her,” she said after looking at the pages. “It seems she is trying some identity theft scam.”
“I think it may be worse than that,” said Jaunty. “Can you explain the blood on you blouse?”
“I was tending some overgrown roses in the garden a got caught by some nasty thorns,” she said, showing him a healing scar on her forehead.
“And your husbands torn shirt?”
“He did that trying to extract me from the rosebush. Did your people make the mess down here?”
“No, it was like that when we arrived. We thought there had been a fight.”
“Probably the cat chasing squirrels again.”
At that moment Jaunty’s phone rang.
“Yes. Yes. I see we’ll be there as soon as we can,” said Jaunty, into his phone. “I think we’ve found your husband.”
“In hospital. He was in a car accident but he’s just been brought out of anaesthetics and asking for you.”
During the rushed trip to the hospital, Disa explained the rift with her sister, caused when she married William, whom Aida had fancied, even though it was not reciprocated.
They were standing by William’s bed as he slowly revived from operation.
Disa gave him a gentle kiss on the lips. “What happened darling.”
“How did I get here?” said William. “The last thing I knew was, I was driving over the crest of a hill, when this maniac in a red car came hurtling towards me and drove me off the road.”
“Where was this?” asked Jaunty, he had been told by the hospital staff, that he had been found by the side of the road but no car had been found. William explained where he was travelling and Jaunty despatched a patrol car to the scene to do a more thorough search.
“I thought it was you darling, but I think that was just a vision,” said William.
“Why did you think it was me.”
“Well I think it was the old Mazda you used to have,” said William. “And of course the flowing blonde hair.”
“You know I’ve had it cut short for at least a month.”
“Can I have a word Mrs Aster?” asked Jaunty taking her to one side, “I’m going to get your sister in for questioning. It’s obvious both of you are safe but I think she has some explaining to do which may solve this mystery. I’ll get back to you as soon as I have got to the truth.”
It was a month later that Jaunty sat with Mr and Mrs Aster in the now perfectly tidy lounge.
I hope you are recovering Mr Aster, I’m glad too see you out of hospital.”
“Yes, a broken leg, hip and some concussion but on the mend,” he said. “So what news of Disa’s sister?”
“As you now both know she was completely jealous of your marriage and as your business grew, her obsession grew and she made a complicated plan to either kill you both or kill one and have the other blamed,” explained Jaunty.
“Her first plan was setting up a new social image for you Mrs Aster. We found several pay-as-you-go phones, which were set up in both your names. And on a Tablet, she set up a new Facebook page where she and you had a so called ‘close’ relationship.”
“But she must have had access to what I was doing otherwise how come she knew I would be away.”
“Yes, I think she broke in here several times and collected information, including the old photo of you in front of the Mazda,” said Jaunty. “Probably knocking a few things over each time so you’d think it was a cat or squirrel.”
“She bought your car from the dealer under an assumed name and her plan was ready. She donned a blonde wig, not knowing you had cut your hair. Then she found out when you were going away.”
“How did she do that?”
“I think your husband and you were carefully enticed into knowing about the retreat with online ads and some pamphlets,” he continued.
“I think she may have phoned me at one stage pretending to be from the venue,” said William. “A not to be missed special price.”
“Sneaky doesn’t even cover it,” said Disa.
“Once you were booked in and knowing William’s normal route to work, drove the car at you on that tricky section over the hills.”
“You say you found my car.”
“Yes, it was unseen in a ditch.”
“She had all the luck.”
“Well you were also lucky to have been thrown from the car.”
“I don’t see how. I thought seat belts were designed to stop that.”
“Unless they’ve been cut,”
“What a wicked vindictive sister I’ve got.”
“Yes, she had all the bases covered. Fortunately, when we recovered the Mazda there was still a scrape of paint which matched your car Mr Aster.”
“So, what happens to her now?”
“She’s facing a string of offences, including attempted murder, perverting the course of justice and probably many other minor charges,” said Jaunty. “She will probably plead insanity but her carefully premeditation of her revenge, will rule that out.”
Jaunty sat in his car pleased, with himself, although he had been hauled up in front of this Chief Superintendent for starting a murder investigation without proof, after explaining how they had been played and how he had solved it, he was now in his good books again.