I don't know what made me think about this. It's been close to seventeen years.
Late afternoon and a girl calls in from a public phone; she's got our number off a card that lists "crisis lines". She sounds scared. She's fifteen, hanging out in a rough part of Detroit, across town from where I am. She's a runaway and wants to come in off the street. We talk for a while and I hear voices.
"What's that?" I ask.
"There's a couple of guys bothering me."
She argues with them for a moment, one of them wants her jacket. I manage to get her attention. "Don't argue with them," I say. "Listen to me...don't argue. Is there a store around you somewhere?"
"Yeah, I'm outside a party store."
"Okay, go in the party store. Tell the manager who you are and ask to use the telephone. If he won't let you, then give him the card you have and ask him to dial it for you. Or ask him to call the police."
She's arguing again. Things become heated. I feel the situation becoming more serious. I get her attention once more, convincing her to go immediately into the store, hoping she'll be safer there. The girl agrees. As soon as she hangs up I call 911. The 911 operator tells me that since I am calling for a location across town that she can't help me. I will have to call a police department where the problem is occuring. Disbelieving, I identify myself as a crisis worker. She's unmoved.
Several minutes later, after figuring out which precinct she is in, I call the police and ask for assistance. The man answering the telephone doesn't sound too concerned. "She went into the store?" he asks.
"Yeah, I think so."
"Well, I'm sure she'll be okay. Look, we'll send a car over there. She's a runaway, so we can pick her up."
I hang up and dial a runaway shelter closer to where the runaway is at. No one is ever allowed to go and pick up a teenager. The shelter worker and I discuss a way around this. The van can go to the party store, then wait there until the police arrive. Then, they can get the police to transport her to the shelter. It's not a perfect plan; the worker and I know we are both on shaky ground.
As I hang up the phone rings again. It's her.
"Are you in the store?" I ask.
"No, I'm at the pay phone."
"Why aren't you in the store?"
"The guy there wouldn't let me use the telephone."
"Did you tell him what was going on?"
"Yeah, but he still wouldn't let me use the phone."
"Did you ask him to call the police or to call me?"
"Yeah, he wouldn't do it."
The voices again. She is arguing. This time I can hear the situation becoming tense. Yelling. I hear her shouting and then nothing. The phone hasn't been hung up, but she's no longer there. I call for her repeatedly, but there's no response. I call the precinct again, talk to the same police officer. The other telephone rings. I hit the line and a man is calling, he has a deep voice and sounds nervous.
"The girl told me to call this number," he says.
"You're the store manager?"
"Yes. I didn't want her to use the phone. I just didn't know. I didn't want to get involved. I didn't know what was going on. "
"Where is she now?" I ask.
A long silence follows. I can hear him breathing.
"I watched her get on the pay phone," he says. "I watched her through the window. Then she starts arguing with these two guys. Next thing I know a car comes up and they force her in. The car drives away."
He hangs up. I hang up.
The telephone rings again. This time it's a teenager asking for information about the emancipaton laws.