It is mid-day in Hunt, Nebraska, where Jeff Collins, the Assistant District Attorney for Johnson County, is about to present his Predator Prevention seminar to a group of women. Jeff tries to hold one of these seminars every quarter. Still, there has been an increase in missing children lately, causing him to add this additional course. Jeff is a tall, skinny man that loves the fact he can tower over almost anyone. It made him feel as if he was more powerful than anyone else.
As he is walking down the hallway of the city hall offices, he receives a text message. He stops to read it. While reading the message, a familiar woman approaches him from behind and startles him when she touches his arm.
“Mr. Collins,” she said. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“No, that’s quite all right, Laura. I was just reading a message from the boss.” Jeff knew Laura from the meetings with the city and county. She has sat on the county board of directors for years. She thought of herself as the savior of the county. While others could clearly see her hypocrisy and condescending mannerisms. People would often try not to laugh at her 1950’s fashion choice and hairstyle.
“I just wanted to thank you again for having this seminar,” she said. “I know how educational they are for the public. Especially during these times.”
“My pleasure, Laura,” Jeff replied. “Anything to help our community stay safe. Will you be attending?” Jeff already knew the answer. She would always have a reason not to participate in seminars that she believed to be for the common people.
Laura’s head tilted to the side. “Oh, no. I’m sorry,” she said. “I have a previous meeting that I must deal with. I will definitely try to be at the next one, though.”
“No worries,” Jeff said. He looked at his watch. “I need to be going. The seminar starts in only five minutes. It was nice seeing you again.” He turns and walks down the hallway towards the auditorium.
He enters the room where several women have already gathered. Jeff could hear the chatter in the air about the recent kidnappings and missing children. He felt this was the perfect time for a seminar to educate people on the dangers lurking.
In recent months, Hunt, Nebraska, and the other cities and towns of Johnson County had seen an increase of missing children. Mostly white females, ages 14 to 24. There has been such an increase, Adam Mosely, the District Attorney for the county, had started a task force led by Jeff to reduce the numbers. He was also tasked to figure out why there has been such an uptick in these crimes.
“Okay,” Jeff said from the front of the room. “Shall we get started, ladies?” He took a quick glance at the space and noticed one older man was sitting in the back. “Oh, and gentleman. Sorry, I didn’t notice you back there.”
The man sat there with his legs and arms crossed. He wore old clothes and no facial expression.
“Sir,” Jeff said, “this seminar is geared more for the female public, but you are welcome to stay if you’d like.”
The man said in a raspy and worn voice, “I have three daughters who could not be here. I’m doing this for them.”
“Okay, that sounds great.” Jeff was slightly concerned. Even though he did his best never to judge people, this guy looked questionable. Jeff knew that some predators attend these seminars to get educated on what their victims were looking for. Then they would adjust their tactics.
As everyone took their seat, Jeff was pleased to see the first row almost full. “I’m going to pass this form out. I use it only for my records on who attended. There is also a place to enter your email if you want additional information.”
The man in the back spoke up. “Do we have to fill out one of these forms?”
“No, but the county gets state credit based on the number of people who attend,” Jeff replied. “All I need is the first half of the form. You don’t have to complete everything.”
The man had a disgusted look on his face, which concerned Jeff. He was not acting as a father of three, but more of a man that did not want anyone to know he was there.
Jeff continued his class. “First, let’s define what a predator is.” He opens the slide show on the large screen that is set up on stage. “If you Google ‘predator’ for a definition, you will get two responses. First is the animal that preys on another. Like a wolf is the predator to a rodent. The second definition: A person or group that ruthlessly exploits others. That’s the one we will focus on today.” A hand goes up from one of the women in the group. “Yes?”
“Do you think these missing girls are being taken by a predator in our city?” she asked.
“That’s a good question,” Jeff replied. “We have no evidence of that. But we feel educating the public on these types of people will help keep everyone safer.”
Another voice from the crowd speaks. “Do you have any leads on the missing children?”
“No,” Jeff replied nervously. “Not at this time.” He was starting to feel as if he was in a press conference and not giving a class. “I would like to stay on course and educate you on predators. If you want to ask specific questions of the missing children, I can do my best to answer those questions at the end of this class.”
The man in the back yells, “What’s the crime for shooting a son of a bitch that does anything bad to one of my daughters?”
The question being asked by the strange man in the back surprised Jeff. “I want to go on record saying we do not want people shooting anyone. Or hurting a person forcefully in any way. If you believe you have a family member that has been a victim, please call your police department.”
Jeff did his best to regain control of the seminar. The attendees asked several good questions, and in the end, he felt it was a very productive session.
After the seminar, Jeff returns to the county office building and sits down in Adam Mosely’s office on the fourth floor. He waited patiently as Adam finished the phone call he was on.
Adam was in his early sixties and had an old man demeanor that resembled a cranky old man that had been let down by life. Even when he smiled, it looked more like a scowl. His life had been riddled with several divorces and bad luck. There were even a group of patrons that believed he bought his way to the position of District Attorney, but they had no proof. Adam accredited his raspy voice to years of smoking cigars. While others just thought it was from him yelling so much.
Adam got off the phone. “How was the class?” He asked.
“Not bad,” Jeff replied. “It was a good turnout. There was one man there that I thought was odd. But he said he had three daughters who couldn’t attend. So, he was there for them. I did see Laura there.”
Adam had a surprised look on his face. “In the seminar? I thought she had a meeting with the mayor today to discuss funding?”
“No,” Jeff said. “Not in the seminar. In the hallway before the class. She said she would attend the next one we have.”
“Good,” Adam said. “These seminars were her idea in the first place. She could at least attend one.”
“Have you seen her daughters?” Jeff said. “I don’t think she has anything to worry about.”
Adam started to laugh. “Let’s not go there, Jeff.”
“Sorry,” Jeff said. “I couldn’t help myself.”
“No worries. But, yes, I know what you mean. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, huh?” Adam opened his notebook. “Let’s get down to business, shall we?”
“Yes, let’s.” Jeff pulled his laptop out of his case and started it up. He was more of the techie of the two of them, while Adam liked to do things old school with pen and paper. That irritated Jeff sometimes because it meant he had to print everything out for Adam. But a small thing to do in the scheme of things.
“Do you have the latest numbers for the state?” Adam asked.
“Yeah,” Jeff replied. “They’re up in the major metro areas. Our county saw one of the largest hikes. That concerns me.”
“I agree,” Adam said. “We’re going to have to level that off as best we can. I know it’s all about supply and demand, but we don’t want our county to get flagged as a high-risk area. It would drop the number of implants as well as tourism.”
“Speaking of that,” Jeff said, “I received a text message from the hub just before the seminar. They are looking for more inventory. Do you want me to hold off on that for now or provide them with what we have?”
“Let’s clear our warehouse,” Adam said. “We can always get more stock to give them later. But I don’t want our inventory sitting on the shelves longer than necessary. Speaking of that, what is our current inventory?”
Jeff looked on his computer at the current numbers. “We have a total of fourteen for the city. Forty-five for the county. All of which are in the higher price range. And then several others in the mid-range area.”
“Okay,” Adam said. “That should be good enough for us to push until next quarter to replenish. Just in time for the holidays.”
“Sounds good.” Jeff typed a few notes on his computer. “We should get a reply by tonight or early in the morning at the latest if they accept our offer. Do you want me to provide a discount if they ask?”
“Ten percent,” Adam replied. “But only if they ask. Let them know our inventory is low, and we have other interested clients. That should help us get the full asking price.”
“Alright, sounds good.” Jeff looked at Adam. “Is there anything else?”
“Yeah,” Adam said. “I did get a special request. They’ll pay top dollar if we can get what they want by the end of the week. You think you’re up for it?”
“Sure thing.” Jeff looked at the note handed to him by Adam. “16, huh? Extremely specific on their requirements. I’ll get one of the guys on it, and we’ll get this order taken care of.”
“Thanks, Jeff,” Adam said. “Hey, let’s do golf this weekend. I can make reservations at the club.”
“Promise not to cheat this time?” Jeff asked.
“Never,” Adam replied with a smile.
Jeff laughed as he picked up his laptop and left.
In a quiet neighborhood of Hunt, Nebraska, Michelle Adkins is a sixteen-year-old girl in her bedroom doing homework. It upset her that her parents would not let her go out tonight with her friends. She did most of her homework, but the more she thought about going out, the madder she got at her parents.
“They never let me do anything,” she said to herself. She decided to forego the rest of her homework, got on her computer, and found a dating website. Before signing up, she browsed through some profiles and saw many cute guys available. The site offered a free week membership with no credit card needed. She knew she would get in trouble, but she did it anyway and signed up.
Her profile was about as dishonest as she could get away with. Stating she was an eighteen-year-old in her first year of college looking for companionship. The only actual piece of information she supplied that was true was the photo she uploaded. It only took a few minutes before her profile brought in messages saying they were interested in meeting her. She browsed through the first few she received and found one that caught her interest.
A twenty-year-old boy named Steve attended the same community college she said she did. His photo was cute, and she liked what his profile said about loving animals. She noticed he was online and sent him an instant message via the website to say hi. Moments later, she received a reply.
His message said he wanted to meet her at a pizza parlor in town. Michelle thought that was a great idea. But she also thought, “If I’m going to sneak out, I would rather hang with my friends at Joey’s,” a hamburger joint on the main street. Her friends were meeting there to decide what they were going to do that night. Michelle felt meeting this guy where her friends were at would be safest since she had never met Steve in person.
Steve agreed and offered to pick Michelle up at her home. Michelle did not want any chance of her parents seeing her being picked up by a stranger and offered to meet him at a street corner a block away from her home. Steve said he would pick her up there in thirty minutes.
Michelle knew she had to create a decoy to get out of the house. She thought for a moment and came up with a plan. She went downstairs to talk with her parents.
Her parents were sitting in the living room at the base of the stairs. Her dad was reading the paper while mom was engulfed in her latest mystery novel.
“Mom, dad?” Michelle said, approaching them in the living room. “I wanted to apologize for earlier. I know you are only trying to do what’s best for me.”
“Thank you, Michelle,” her dad said. “You’re right. We are only looking out for your best interest. You know we love you very much.”
Her mom looked at her, “Maybe next weekend, we can let you hang with your friends.”
“Okay,” Michelle said. “I’m tired. I’ve been working on my homework all night. I think I’m going to go to bed.”
“Sounds good,” her parents said. “Get a good night’s sleep. Love you.”
“Love you, too,” she replied as she turned to go back up the stairs.
When Michelle got back to her room, she arranged the pillows under her bedsheets to appear as if someone was sleeping in bed. She retrieved her jacket from the closet and her purse and left through the window. Escaping out the window down the trellis was something Michelle had done many times before. She thought her parents were not very bright to have it there, but thankfully it was.
She turned off all the lights and left.
Michelle’s father was privy to the trellis escape. It was how he and his brother used to leave his house when they were kids. Because of that, he made sure to check on her before he went to bed.
It was an hour after Michelle had said goodnight that her parents retired for the evening. The two of them went upstairs to their bedroom. “I’ll be one second,” the dad said, “I’m just going to check on Michelle.”
“Okay,” mom said. “I’ll meet you in bed.”
Michelle’s dad opened her bedroom door and saw all the lights were out and, what appeared to be, a person sound asleep in bed. He quietly closed the door behind him and went to his bedroom.
Meanwhile, unknowingly to Michelle’s parents, a strange man that went by the name Steven had picked her up in his car. Michelle wanted to meet up with her friends at the burger joint, but Steve had other plans.
Michelle never made it to Joey’s burger joint to meet her friends. It would not be until late the next morning that her mom would discover the pillows in Michelle’s bed. And moments later, a frantic mother calling 9-1-1 to report a missing child.