Young then cut in, his voice lowered to a whisper, like some guy in an alley selling a hot watch. “Would you like to call your parents?” he asked. “Oh, wow, you don’t mean it!” she said. “It’s early in the morning, but I’d love to talk to my mother.” He slid the phone to her, and you could hear her dialing. Her mother answered, but you could catch only Marcy’s end of the conversation.
“Momma, this is Marcy,” she said in a rush. “Momma, you know Newsweek, you haven’t seen it, have you? Don’t let Daddy read it.” She then broke into sobs and had difficulty getting words out. “Please, Momma, please still love me when you read it. Oh, Momma, I really love you. I thought you wouldn’t love me anymore. I told them I loved you but they didn’t print that. It wasn’t like they said. Oh, Momma, don’t cry. Don’t cry.”
The conversation went on for five minutes, and I was feeling lower and lower. Young ended the program by saying that the next morning he drove Marcy and her friends over the George Washington Bridge and got them maps of the United States. “I last saw Marcy on the ramp of the New Jersey Turnpike,” he said. “Those maps don’t show where Marcy [big pause for dramatic effect] can be a child again.”
What a creep! I thought. But then, how did his interview differ from what I’d done, using her like some disaster mannequin? I’d given no thought to what it really must have been like jumping out of that car, venturing alone into an apartment for a botched abortion. I felt deeply crummy for caving to Hagerty, using her name, and her city. He’d said the story would have lost credibility without those details, but I should have argued, “So what?”
The years rolled by. I left Newsweek, became a magazine writer, and taught journalism. Now and then I’d think of the Marcy story, and the tape: “Please, Momma, please still love me when you read it.” Sometimes I’d play it for my class, as an ethics exercise, always hoping students would find some saving grace in what their professor had done. I mean, parents had to hear this stuff, didn’t they? I got few takers.
Then, a couple of years ago, after retiring as a professor at Columbia Journalism School, I ran into the documentary filmmaker Dan Loewenthal at a party in New York. I forget why, but I told him about Marcy, that I couldn’t get her out of my mind. “Well, why don’t you go out and find her?” he said. “And apologize.” He’d help me. And he’d make a film about our search.
Other than her first name, all we knew was that she had a brother, Arthur, and a sister named Jeanie. And there was that telephone call over the old rotary phone. We thought if we slowed down the tape and counted the clicks, we could come up with her number. Then, we’d look that up in a reverse phone directory from 1967, find the family’s name and address. They’d be long gone, of course, but we could nose around the neighborhood, locate someone who knew them, and maybe learn what had happened to Marcy. Piece of cake.
Not actually. There are no audible clicks. Rather, it’s a time-lapse thing—the number of milliseconds that elapse between dialing a nine, say, and when the rotary winds back to zero. The nine and zero are easy to distinguish, but not the nine from an eight, or a five from a four. Computer experts we found on Craigs-list translated the sound impulses to digital images, but none was confident he had the golden number.