[Since this is contemporary fiction, and it may not be obvious, all persons and events in this story are fictional. Any resemblance to actual persons or events is purely accidental.]
Bob Smith was known as a boring, nuts and bolts, systematic, detail oriented, workaholic detective. He had gone through a period in his life when he wanted to change his name, perhaps to something slightly more exciting like “Smythe,” but he decided that “Smythe” was much too bold, and that he truly like being just plain Bob Smith.
He worked as the chief Robbery/Homicide detective in a small city police force, which also suited him. He liked being in charge of his own cases and having the full responsibility for solving them. He enjoyed being ordinary and invisible in his lifestyle, but he didn’t mind taking the heat about his job. He was good at it.
When angry city politicians or distraught citizens came to complain, and wondered who was responsibility for the state of an investigation, Bob would say, “I am.” There was something about the calm, matter of fact way he said it that made people believe that he truly was responsible, and that it was a good thing that he was. Probably that was because Bob Smith was so deeply convinced that justice was well served when he was on the job.
Bob liked facts. One could almost say he adored them. He liked them when they were listed on his white board, or on little sticky notes all over his desk, but he especially like them when they lined up and he could put them together like a puzzle. “There’s nobody quite like Bob for putting an ornery fact in its place during an investigation,” said his colleagues.
Bob attended church faithfully every Sunday morning. It wasn’t because he enjoyed church much, but he had promised his wife when he got married that they would go to church and take their children to Sunday School, and so he did it. He didn’t see this as some sort of heroic effort on his part, even though he really didn’t like it at all. If someone had asked him, which they never did, he would have been surprised that there was another option. It wasn’t the sort of thing he thought about.
On Sunday morning, the pastor preached on the topic of the raising of the widow’s son in Nain. Bob asked him about it after church when they shook hands.
“Do you really think that Jesus raised that boy from the dead?”
“But you’re an educated man. You know that people don’t come back to life just because someone touches their coffin.”
“They did when Jesus touched them.”
“How do you know that?”
“I read it in the Bible, and I know Jesus. I know he could do it, so I don’t doubt the story.”
“Just because something is in print doesn’t make it true.”
“Yes, but just because you don’t understand it doesn’t make it false, either.”
“True, though I’ve found that facts tend to make sense once we have them in the right place.”
“Jesus makes sense, Bob, once you have him in the right place.”
Bob said his goodbyes, and the pastor watched him go. There was no real point arguing with Bob. He wasn’t belligerent, but once he was done with a conversation, it was over. He’d go think about it.
Sunday afternoon Bob was called in. There was a report of a girl missing. He wasn’t usually assigned to missing persons, but in the small department, it was occasionally necessary to cover for one another. Another detective was out sick, and Bob got the call. His captain was very happy that Bob would be on the case. He knew that if anyone could find the girl, Bob could. The captain had to confess that he was even more pleased that Bob would talk to the parents. Parents who talked to Bob believed that their child would be found, or that the criminals who hurt or killed someone they loved would be brought to justice.
But in this case the facts were few and far between. Eight year old Alicia Allen had simply disappeared. She had been outside playing after church, in her own yard in a peaceful, quiet neighborhood, where people tended to notice strangers and report them. A thorough canvas of the neighborhood failed to turn up anything at all. The only missing neighbors had good explanations for where they were. The ones who were there had seen nothing. One moment Alicia Allen was in her yard; the next she was gone.
It was well after dark when Bob was driving home. He was only planning to get a change of clothes and return. Other agencies were being notified, the Amber Alert was out, but there was almost nothing to work with. A number of folks in the department were suggesting that the parents must be involved, but Bob simply couldn’t see it. There were no facts pointing in that direction at all.
Now he was not so fond of facts that he couldn’t use his imagination. So he had considered what the parents might have done and the facts that those actions would have produced. and he’d started looking for them, but there truly was no sign at all to suggest the parents had any involvement.
As Bob was driving home, he suddenly heard a voice. It was so clear that he looked at the seat next to him before he realized that there was no one there and never had been. He was alone in the car. The voice said: “Stop at the green house on the right.” There was no green house on the right.
He shook his head. I must be under more stress than I thought. This case is getting to me already!
He drove around the next corner and there was a green house on the right. It startled him, because he had forgotten it. A slightly faded “For Sale” sign was in the front yard. I had just forgotten the house. My subconscious dredged it up. I’m imagining that it would be a good place for a kidnapper to take a child, but it’s not. It’s not possible for her to have been brought here without someone noticing. They’d have to go right through her whole neighborhood, then downtown, and through this one. Somebody would have noticed.
So Bob kept driving. Almost immediately he heard a voice again. “Call for backup, and go to the green house.”
Bob pulled off to the side of the road. This was impossible. He didn’t follow the orders of voices. Hell! He didn’t hear voices. He wouldn’t hear voices. Insane people heard voices. He reached out his hand to put the car back in drive.
“Do you care more about a little girl’s life or about your sanity?” said the same voice.
Bob was furious now. He was certain that he was going nuts, though why he should fixate on one green house, he didn’t know. It had to do with some television program. He’d probably watched one where a kidnapper took a child to an abandoned house. He liked to watch those shows and chuckle at their errors.
Once again, he reached to put the car in drive. He was not going to follow a voice. He’d follow a hunch in a pinch, but even then he preferred a solid explanation for why he should take a particular action. He would never follow a voice.
“Call for backup, and go to the green house. Now!”
Bob was trembling now. I’ll have to call a psychiatrist. They’ll need to replace me. I’m no good if I’m going nuts. No! I’m not crazy! I’m going to go home and get my clothes and get back to work!
He reached for the lever again to put the car in drive, but the voice interrupted him.
“It’s too late to wait for backup now. If you want to save the girl’s life, you will go to the green house with your gun out. She’s in the left rear room.”
Bob immediately could picture the house. I must have been there before. That’s how I can see just how to get to the room in my head.
He was sweating and trembling. He thought he might die. He jumped out of the car and ran back to the house, straight up to the front door and kicked it open. It gave as though it was not even latched. He ran across the living room and down the hallway. The last door on the left was open. Forgetting all procedure he simply barreled into it, practically flying into the room.
A man he knew in a police uniform he knew was looking up from the prostrate form of Alicia Allen. He was reaching for a gun lying on the floor and Bob saw a knife falling to the ground that he must have just dropped. Bob fired two shots and the man fell to the floor.
The investigation of the site was completed quickly and Bob set about writing his reports. The man was a former police officer Bob knew who had been asked to resign because he was unreliable. In the garage they found one of their own departmental vehicles. Those responsible for security in the motor pool had grown lax. None of the girl’s neighbors had thought to report a police car passing through the neighborhood. They assumed the police knew that. Nobody near the green house that was for sale remembered seeing the police car, though it was in the garage.
Bob was hardly a part of it. When asked how he had known the girl was there, Bob simply kept repeating, “It was the only option. It was just the only option.” The captain assumed he meant that somehow that one green house was the only possible option for where the girl could be, given the time and evidence available. Bob, however, meant he couldn’t ignore the voice.
The next Sunday at church the pastor was preaching about John the Baptist, but when they shook hands after the service, Bob didn’t ask him about his sermon.
“Pastor,” he asked, “Do you think God would take time to solve a crime?”
“I imagine he might,” said the pastor, concerned about what might come next. “Would you like to talk about it?”
“Not now,” said Bob, “But soon. I think God might be very good at it.”
Copyright © 2007, Henry E. Neufeld