Sitting at the bar in Juanita’s, I was working on my third Sam Adams. I’d always liked the atmosphere in there. Some of the best bands in the state of Arkansas were trying to claw their way to the top on Juanita's small, but locally legendary, stage. The food wasn’t half bad either. I fidgeted with a business card I’d found when fishing though my pocket for a tip to give the bartender. It read, Detective Baggins McAlister: L.R.P.D. I thought about when I was a kid . I would often ask my Dad to tell me once again the story of how I got my name, because I was the only Baggins I’d ever met. My dad would always patiently tell me again about the great J.R.R. Tolkien. He would go on to point out his favorite character in all of Tolkien’s books, Bilbo Baggins.
Dad always finished by saying, “Bilbo Baggins was but a hobbit, yet he lived a life of adventure.”
Then my father, would say, “And, thats why you are named Baggins son, so that you will never forget to live everyday like a new adventure.”
As I sat in the crowded bar and listened to the band on stage finishing their set, I thought, this is probably not the life my dad had dreamed of for me.
It was a particularly humid August night. The cold beer went down smooth and fast. I had come to Juanita’s betting that my suspect, Terrance Randal Jacobs the Third, was going to make an appearance. Mud Flapp, a local gritty southern rock band fronted by the stringy haired Ricky Flapp, was set to take the stage at ten thirty. I knew from a recent, although not technically legal, excursion into Jacobs’s rat nest apartment, that he was a follower of the band. He had their homespun C.D. covers tagged all over the celling above the tattered futon mattress where he slept. My bet was that he would be at Juanita’s guzzling Jack and Coke’s mesmerized by the beat of the band and hopefully have his guard down.
At ten o’ five my hunch became a sure bet. Jacobs walked though the door and sat at one of the tables in the back. I would spend the next two and a half hours watching him get too drunk to drive and too caught up in the music to know he was being watched. I didn’t think Jacobs would recognize me even if he did see me. I’d been tailing him now for close to two days, most of which I’d spent practically living out my car. He finally figured out he had a tail but I was pretty sure he hadn’t seen my face. Jacobs popped up on my radar for the first time nearly two years prior to that.
I was working a case where we found a nine year old boy’s body lodged under the dock leading out to the U.S.S. Razorback. The Razorback was a small World War II sub that sat permanently affixed just below the main Little Rock/North Little Rock bridge in the Arkansas River. It served as a small but intriguing tourist trap. However, on November 12th, 2009, it had trapped more than a tourist. The body of young Kevin Saunders had been carried by the river under the dock leading to the sub. Forensics later determined the cause of death to be strangulation. My former partner and I worked that case for six months, but with no witness, no D.N.A., and only one weak lead to work from, we finally filed it as a cold case.
Just over two years later, nine year old Jenny Green disappeared from her home in Maumelle, a Little Rock suburb. When I saw the Amber Alert go out over the wire, something about her age sparked an ember of memory in my mind about the Kevin Sunders case. I pulled his file and sure enough he had lived just two blocks away from Jenny Green’s home. Our partial lead on the Saunders case had been a report from a neighbor that lived down the street from the Saunders family. She said she heard screams on the night of Kevin Saunders disappearance coming from an abandoned house next door to her home. We checked the place out and found nothing that indicated anyone squatting or even entering the abandoned and dilapidated house. Another neighbor reported seeing a man, who then lived a block away, walking his Pit Bull around the estimated time of Kevin Saunders disappearance. That man turned out to be Terrance Jacobs. I liked him as a possible in the Saunders case, but we never managed to find one solid lead connecting him to the disappearance or murder.
Two kids. Same age. From the same neighborhood. That had to be something. Arkansas law enforcement spread a statewide net for two days searching for Jenny Green. Cases like Jenny Green’s that had a missing person not found in forty-eight hours, usually did not turn out in the victim’s favor. I dropped all of my other current cases and set out in pursuit of Terrance Jacobs. My gut told me that Jacobs was our guy. So, against the counsel of our Chief Detective, Lenny Barns, I focused all efforts on finding him. Within eight hours, I had him. I stuck on him like dried paint after finding out that he’d moved to a ratty little apartment on the fifteen hundred block of Maple, in North Little Rock. After two exhausting days of watching Jacobs and getting nowhere, he managed to give me the slip when he went into a local package store and never came out. The owner told me he asked to use the restroom in the rear. When we checked, no one was in the store’s bathroom. Jacobs had taken a back door out into the rear alley and left me dangling. It wasn’t until breaking into his apartment, without a warrant, that I found the lead that brought me to Juanita's the following night. Jacobs had left laying on his kitchen table a flyer that boasted Mud Flapp would be playing Juanita’s the next night. When I saw the homage he paid the band above his bed, I was laying odds he would show at Juanita’s to hear the band. What I didn’t find was any evidence that Jacobs had Jenny Green. She had been missing now for over seventy four hours, and our chances of finding her had grown about as dim as the light above my stool at the bar.