You say you have something to tell me?” Ruth Carter leaned across the desk. Was it her imagination or was Mr Johnson looking a little uncomfortable? He mopped his brow, confirming her suspicions.
“Yes, my dear, I mean Sergeant Carter.” She softened and smiled at the elderly man.
“It’s okay, you’ve always known me as Ruth. Remember how you used to tease me when I arrived at your house to play with Jen? Dippy Ruth you used to call me.” Hell, she knew she was stalling for time. Stalling in the attempt to put off whatever he had to say to her because she feared it might hurt her in some way.
His lips curved into a half smile and then the smile vanished as his face took on a grim look. The years had not been kind to Jack Johnson. No doubt the intervening years following his daughter’s murder had taken their toll. He looked a good ten years older than his sixty nine years. “I got his note…” he explained breathlessly, handing it over to her.
“It arrived a couple of days ago. I delayed bringing it here, really I did. I didn’t want to go through it all over again.”
She unfolded the piece of white paper, flattening it on the desk with her finger tips. Someone had taken their time to meticulously cut letters out of newspapers and magazines to form the words: Hi Jack, I’m back in town. Prince Charming is having a ball. Better let your friend Ruth Carter know. I’m having a killer of a time!
A rush of bile hit Ruth’s throat, she swallowed hard. She didn’t want to be sick, not at a time like this. “W…what day did you say it arrived?”
His forehead creased as though deep in thought. “Tuesday, I think. I am almost certain of it. Yes, it would have been then. I remember as it was market day in the town. You see I brought it down to the police station then but I couldn’t quite summon up the courage to come in, not after…”
Ruth patted his hand. “I quite understand.” Although Jen was murdered in 1980, sometimes it felt like yesterday. Yesterday, when they went to their first proper disco aged 14 at Tiffany’s night club in the heart of the shopping centre. The disco was aimed at teenagers and it had made them feel very grown up.
“The important thing is that you brought it now. You haven’t handled it?”
“Only when I opened the envelope, after that I put it straight in this plastic bag.”
She smiled. “Good. I doubt if the bastard, excuse my French, would have handled it without gloves. It looks as if he’s taunting the police and you again.”
Jack nodded. “He’s a cruel, calculating sod.”
Ruth had to agree. At the time of Jen’s disappearance, he had led the police a merry dance, leaving clues and red herrings all over the place, and most cruelly of all, allowing the Johnsons to believe that Jen was still alive. “Yes. I remember all that business when he demanded a ransom from you, knowing full well that Jen…that she was dead all along.”
Mr Johnson put his head in his hands for a moment, and then composing himself as if he didn’t want to break down in front of his daughter’s best friend, looked up and said, “But what if he’s at it again? It does sound like it, don’t you think? He has someone else in mind. Someone else’s daughter could be next.”
Ruth straightened. “It could be a hoax of course.”
Jack sat forward in his chair, his eyes searching hers for answers. “How do you mean?”
“Well someone might have read about the case or something and is doing a copy cat thing for attention.”
Jack let out a long breath. “You might be right. I could be worrying about nothing. The case was featured on a HTV late night crime series a few months ago. Let’s hope that’s what it is. The programme might have piqued some sick sod’s interest.”
Ruth took another glance at the plastic coated note. “I’ll get the forensic boys to take a look at this. There have been no murders in the area of late, thankfully.”
Jack let out a long breath. “Thank heaven for that. I’ll keep you informed if I receive any more notes.”
“Out of interest…how many notes like this did you receive when Jen went missing?”
Jack stood, placing his hands on the table, white knuckled with emotion. “Only the one.”
Her eyebrows knitted together in puzzlement.
“Only the one? I was led to believe there were more?”
“Yes, there were. All the others were sent to the police, baiting them. You wouldn’t have realised that then, being still at school. The only one I got said: I have your daughter. If you want to see her alive meet me at the main entrance to Cyfarthfa Park at 8 p.m. on Thursday night. Come alone. I want £30,000 in used notes. Put them in a carrier bag and come alone or she’s dead meat. Don’t tell the cops.Jack obviously knew the note by heart, he probably recited it inside his head every day.
She sat forward in her chair noticing that the note stressed twice for him to come alone. “He didn’t show up?”
Jack shook his head and twisted his cap in his hands. “Sadly no. I did tell the police though. I was wired up with a hidden microphone. An unmarked police car was parked at Pandy Close, with the fire arms squad, ready to pounce, but he didn’t show. I have a feeling he was watching me though…and enjoying it. He’d already killed Jen in cold blood. His enjoyment was in giving me and the wife hope and then snatching it away again.”
Ruth thought back to the moment Jen went missing. They had been enjoying themselves dancing at the disco. Every so often, they sat down to take a breather and take a sip of Coca Cola. One of the girls had slipped a small bottle of vodka in her bag and they’d topped up their glasses with it. Underage drinking was rife and they would never have got served any alcohol, they all looked so young.
Jen had complained of feeling unwell and Ruth had accompanied her to the ladies’ toilet where she threw up, probably the vodka had disagreed with her, she was unused to alcohol. Afterwards, when Jen felt better, they sat back down. Then, Michael Murphy had strolled over to their table and asked Ruth to dance a smooch with him. What could she say? It was a difficult position to be in. She knew Jen had a crush on the lad but she’d fancied him for ages, so looked at Jen for approval but the girl’s face was set in stone. In retrospect, the girl had been jealous as hell, but Ruth had got up and danced with Michael anyhow.
How she wished she could turn back the hands of time, then maybe Jen would never have gone off in a strop on her own that night and not been murdered at the hands of someone who called himself, Prince Charming.
“The bloke’s a psychopath!” Ruth surprised herself by banging her fist down on the desk. “I’m sorry, Mr Johnson, but I feel so angry about it all.”
Jack came around her side of the desk and put his arm around her shoulder. This was a boundary she wouldn’t normally break with the public, but this was no ordinary case was it? She had been involved. Maybe she still was. It was almost as if she had gone back to being fourteen once again…
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