Roger has a gift he must use, but hates to. When a girl goes missing, he is called.
Roger Stengler's large torso occupies a stool at Lulu's where he is working his way through their top shelf bourbons and hefty plates of ribs. He is trying to eat and drink away his last adventure. Roger has a gift. Some give it paranormal psychological names, some called it ESP, but Roger calls it a nightmare. His gift allows him to see recent history. By applying it at crime scenes, such as kidnappings and murders, he locates victims and perpetrators. More often than not, he finds the victims dead, and the perpetrators--the scum of the earth. Cops are trained to deal with those people, he isn't. But he can't say no. His last case was a tough one because it involved a young girl, much like his own daughter.
Jennifer Randall was a blonde, blue eyed, intelligent twelve-year old; liked by everyone. She had one of those smiles that warms a room and had not yet developed a teenager's penchant for moping and pouting. Her parents loved and doted on her and her brother, but stopped short of spoiling them.
One evening in late October she didn't come home from visiting her best friend, Monica. Having the family dinner together was a requirement that Jennifer's mother and father held sacred from the time of their marriage eighteen years ago. Missing a meal in this family was damned-near a capital offense.
About six fifteen, Jennifer's mother called Monica to ask about Jennifer. No, she left for home about five thirty. If Jennifer knew anything, it was to be home for dinner. It was only a fifteen-minute walk at the most. Jennifer's parents were instantly worried. Her dad walked the route to Monica's and her mother drove around the neighborhood. They returned home less than half an hour later in shear panic. She was gone!
The police came and conducted a door-to-door search questioning of all the neighbors. Did you see anyone strange? Did anyone see Jennifer about five thirty today? Would she have run away? Someone thought they heard an old truck go by about that time, but since it was drizzling rain and dark, they didn't see anything. The police put out an Amber alert with an updated picture of Jennifer, but received few leads, none of them panned out.
That's where Roger came in. Jennifer's mother remembered seeing a story on TV about him, found his information and called. Fortunately, Roger was a local and knew the area well. He agreed to come to their home, but made no promises. It had been a few days since Jennifer hadn't come home, and he never knew if he could help.
He met this close-knit family at their four bedroom ranch-style house. It was located in a middle-income neighborhood of about five hundred homes. The residents were military members, retirees, teachers, cops and blue-collars workers. Police calls to the neighborhood were rare. The Randalls were obviously torn up. Tears flowed easily and both parents and brother looked desperate.
Being Jennifer's most intimate hideaway, Roger started his search in her bedroom and found nothing out of the ordinary. It appeared that she was a very happy young lady; certainly not one who would run away. He continued his search by retracing her path home that fateful night. The trip was little over a quarter mile, twenty-two houses exactly. Even in bad weather, walking time would have been fifteen minutes, max. He left Monica's at five thirty at a pace that would get him to Jennifer's as quickly as possible. Nothing. He retraced his steps and began again from Monica's at a much slower pace. He noticed everything: the small puddles of water left from this morning's shower, the leaves, pine straw and cones, crushed Bic lighters, McDonald's drink cups, an old napkin. Then he stopped cold.
Something happened where he stood. Cold fingers ran down his spine. Fog engulfed his head. A ghostly older Ford pickup truck slowly approached him. The transparent driver appeared to be a gaunt thirty-something dirt bag unfamiliar with the working side of a shower. He stopped beside a walking Jennifer, threw the passenger side door open, pointed a gun at her; and told her to get in. She did. His visions didn't have sound, so Roger couldn't tell if Jennifer screamed, but he didn't think so. The truck drove past her house and around the corner. She avoided looking at her house as they drove by. Maybe to protect her family.
He told her parents and brother what he had seen. Mrs. Randall fell to her knees, tears pouring down her cheeks. Breaths came in hard gasps. Mr. Randall choked back his tears and tried to appear strong for his wife. Jennifer's brother sat in a brown leather chair appearing as if he was in shock. AS they gained their composure, Roger explained that they must convince the cops to let him join the case. Mostly, cops were not interested in Roger's contribution since it was not accepted or proven police procedure, so convincing them was oftentimes difficult. This time the parents pushed and the lead detective relented agreeing to let Roger contribute what he saw. The detective assigned a newly-minted patrol officer to accompany Roger, but for two days only.
Roger provided a description of his vision to a sketch artist. It was foggy, but at least it was a description of the truck and driver. It was unfortunate that Roger's vision wasn't good enough to provide license numbers.
Roger began his search in earnest by walking along the kidnapper's route from his first contact with Jennifer and with the patrolman following in his car. The kidnapper took Jennifer out of the neighborhood and headed west on the main road, much too far for Roger to walk. In the patrol car they slowly followed Roger's faint image of the pickup, the kidnapper and Jennifer. The driver had pulled Jennifer next to him by yanking her hair. She was crying and showed her fear openly. That little girl, if she was still alive, had been in fear of her life for five days.
After ten miles the image of the truck turned south toward sparsely populated farmland, home to many similar pickup trucks and it would look like it belonged. And it probably did. The patrolman maneuvered his cruiser down the narrow two-lane state road lined with deep drainage ditches, between the recently stripped corn and soy fields, around sharp curves and across narrow bridges.
The image disappeared. Roger had to retrace his movements. Could he find them again? The officer let Roger out to regain his image. A faint path into the field appeared with tire tracks that led to an overgrown dirt road. The rain that fell since the kidnapping had almost obliterated the tracks. Even so, Roger faintly saw the truck going down the road but not coming back out. The officer pulled in behind Roger and joined him. They followed the path on foot into a wooded area, a mix of evergreen and hardwood trees. Dead leaves, weeds, and pine straw covered the road. Decaying flora, long-spent fertilizer and wet dirt filled his nostrils. It was not a pleasant smell.
In a clearing about half a mile ahead, a ratty pickup truck sat near an old, decrepit faded beige and black Mine-Winnie. Weeds had grown up around the wheels of the camper lending permanence to the site. The cop and Roger slowly moved to the passenger side of the truck leaving it between them and the camper. As the cop called for backup; Roger headed for the door. The cop joined him and directed Roger to stay out of sight. He removed the strap from his weapon, but didn't draw it. After all, Roger's vision was the only evidence the cop had.
While the cop stood at the bottom of the steps and knocked on the door, Roger sneaked around to the other side and look in. A dirty dinette and dirtier kitchen littered with beer cans and pizza boxes with no hint of cleaning, ever was as he expected. There was nothing incriminating.
The occupant had opened the door and was peering down at the cop; holding the door open with his right hand, hiding the gun behind the wall in his left. Roger quickly moved to the rear of the camper and peered between slits in the filthy back curtain, He saw a pair of bare feet and naked legs on the floor tied at the ankles. He couldn't tell whose they were, but they belonged to a younger person, probably female.
The cop asked to search the camper, which the kidnapper denied. Roger signaled to the cop about the gun in the kidnapper's left hand. The cop started to draw his weapon, but the kidnapper was quicker. He shot the cop in the right shoulder just as Roger reached the door. Roger grabbed the kidnapper's gun hand and yanked him out of it. He fell over Roger as they tripped over the wounded cop. The gun fired once again harmlessly. Hanging on to his arm, Roger rolled with him. Being about twice his size, Roger was handling him easily until the kidnapper yanked his arm free, jumped up, and brought the gun level with Roger's chest.
The kidnapper's mouth formed an evil grin. His finger tightened around the trigger. Three shots rang out and the kidnapper's body jerked, he fell forward hitting Roger on the shoulder with the gun, it fired next to Roger's ear. A cymbal clobbered the side of his head. It didn't just ring; it sent lightning strikes through his body. Fortunately, the bullet missed, and now the kidnapper lay on the ground a bloody mess. The wounded cop stood there still aiming his gun, blood oozing from his shoulder.
Roger rushed inside the garbage dump the slime bag called home, grabbed a knife from the kitchen, and into the back. He found Jennifer and two other little girls, all about twelve years old, tied, and gagged in various stages of undress. Roger cut all three loose and received three hugs he would never forget.