"How you doin', baby?"
I could hear the terror, barely suppressed, in the girl's voice ... the sharp intake of breath before she answered. "O-o-okay, I guess."
The cops would be telling her to stay on the line, keep the caller talking.
"Remember me? Huh? I told you you'd hear from me again. We had such a good talk the other night." I gave her a moment, and then continued. "I've been watching you, baby. I seen you around. I told you that already. Right? I know where you go, what you do. You're lookin' good, you know that?"
She couldn't control her terror anymore, and I could hear her voice break as she tried to say something.
Just like Laurie had been scared, when the man started calling her. She had told me about it, and I told her she should call the police.
"Yeah, lookin' real good. Know what I think? I think you and me, we should get together. I think you're wastin' that fine body. Body like that, it's made for lovin'. Ain't that right?"
"Please," she tried. "Please just leave me ... leave me alone." This girl was more scared than I thought, if she were telling me this when the cops must have been right there with her, urging her to keep me talking. Of course, I had spent time building her up to this terror, so maybe it wasn't all that surprising.
Just like Laurie had been called for weeks and weeks.
After the first week, Laurie had taken my advice. Gone to the police. Sheriff Roberts was a gruff old man who'd had his job since Reagan was in the White House ... He told Laurie that she was just overdramatizing. Teenagers do that, he explained to her. "What you need is a boyfriend," he'd said. "Then you wouldn't have to make up things like this."
It never would have happened that way if Laurie had come with me to DC, but her mom got custody and wanted to stay in Arizona, in that small town two hundred miles from anywhere.
And I thought had to go where my career took me. If only I hadn't.
"Oh, I'll leave you alone," I told the girl on the other end of the phone. "Don't you worry. But first, we're going to have some fun together." I paused again. "First things first, right?"
I was watching the stopwatch. I knew that Caller ID would have instantly identified the number the calls were coming from, but I was about eight miles from the cops. It would take them some time to get here. It had to look like a mistake, like I didn't know the police could see who was calling even if I used the *67 "Private number" feature.
It had to look like I thought all that technical stuff was garbage.
When Laurie was getting her calls, the sheriff's department didn't even know how to capture call traces. Laurie learned this on her third visit to the sheriff's office. "Daddy," she had told me, "they still won't listen to me. The Sheriff says that equipment like that costs a lot of money, and he won't ask the town to spend it for one overactive teenager's imagination." She was crying on the phone. "He said they haven't had a serious crime here in twenty years. He said I had seen too many movies. He says all those technical things are garbage anyway."
I had tried to comfort her, planned to call the sheriff myself.
Then it was too late for me to help her.