THE PHONE CALL
The phone rang at 4:17 in the morning on October 13, 2003. It has always been my
experience that early morning calls bring bad news. I was lying on the floor when the ringing
awoke me. I'd fallen asleep a few hours before in front of my fireplace, opposite the wall where
Shelby's picture hung over the sofa. I often fell asleep there, comfortable with the thought that
she was watching over me.
Sorry to ring you so early, Nicola said when I picked up, but the paper has had a call I
thought you would want to know about. I never minded getting calls from Nicola, whatever time
of day. She was a freelance reporter in Ireland, working for the newspapers there. She had been
instrumental in getting articles about Shelby and me into those papers, stirring up a lot of public
sympathy for my cause, where before there had been only suspicion and apathy. She had single-handedly kept us in the news.
What call? I was immediately awake, knowing she would not have phoned at this hour
without just cause. A woman has rung the news editor saying she thinks she knows where
Shelby is, Nicola exclaimed! I was on my feet and walking out onto the balcony as I listened,
trying to keep calm and concentrate on what she was telling me, finding it hard to believe my
ears. This was the first time in six years anyone had come forward with any information on
Shelby's whereabouts. I was instinctively careful not to become optimistic, for fear it would
prove to be a false lead; disappointment becomes increasingly hard to bear with time.
I have spoken to her, Nicola was saying, and she sounds frazzled. Could it be a prank
call? I hesitantly asked. Possibly, but something about her voice made me think it was not,
Nicola insisted. I stared out at the still, dark, pre-dawn ocean waters and took some deep
breaths. What do I do?, I asked, as my mind started racing. You need to handle her with kid
gloves, she advised. You don't want to frighten her away.
I could hear the excitement in Nicola's voice and my own heart was pounding like it
wanted to escape from my chest. This could be the break we had been hoping and praying for so
long. It would be unbearable to frighten this woman away before we had even found out what
What's her name, I asked. She won't say, Nicola shared disappointedly. That was even
worse. If we lost her now we would never be able to find her again. She insists on speaking to
you, Nicola went on and my hands began to sweat. I gave her your phone number and she says
she'll be calling you shortly. I then hung up as my nervous shaking fingers betrayed my
excitement. It would be early evening in Ireland, a good time for her to call. If it was indeed
from Ireland she was calling.
I sat staring at the phone; feeling like my willingness alone would make it come alive
with the call I had been waiting on for 6 years. Ring it did, right on cue. With immense selfcontrol,
I allowed it to ring twice before I picked up. Hello, Josef speaking. The woman at the
other end spoke quietly. It sounded like she had been crying. Hello, she said, I hope this isn't a
bad time. It certainly isn't, I assured her, desperate not to frighten her away. There was a moment
of awkward silence as I waited to see if she would speak first. Thank you for contacting the
newspaper, I said eventually. I'm so sorry. I didn't know. I really didn't know. She said, her voice
full of emotion.
I wondered if she was a member of Catherine's family who had been told one story and
had then found out another from a newspaper article about me. Maybe she didn't know whom to
believe. Are you related to Shelby's mother? I asked, as gently as possible. No, she responded.
What is your name? I coaxed. I can't tell you. I wish I'd never seen the article. This could put my
family in a very compromising position, she said, almost fearful. I did not fully understand
what she meant, but I kept quiet. Tell me about Shelby and yourself, she said.
Relieved to have a chance to talk about my favorite subject I told her everything from Shelby's
birth, to her baptism. I explained how I'd met Catherine and anything else I thought would help
her build a picture of how my family had been five years before. However, I was doing all the
talking. She still hadn't told me anything about where Shelby was now or how she was doing.
Could you be happy just knowing your daughter was okay and healthy? She asked, as
though she was praying I would say yes and relieve her of the decision she had to make. No, I
admitted firmly, I couldn't. This game of cat and mouse went on for about fifty minutes and
every time I asked her a specific question she would say, I can't answer that at this time. It
required every ounce of self-control I possessed not to lose my temper. If she hung up I might
never be able to get through to her again.
She continued to ramble on about how her family would have to move if she gave away
vital information about Shelby's whereabouts. I begged her to tell me something about Shelby. I
could hear she was close to tears as she replied, She's tall and slim and very pretty, and my own
eyes began to water up. Not knowing whether my child was alive or dead for years and then to
hear her described by someone who possibly knew her and had recently seen her was
overwhelming. Was like a bolt of energy shooting thru my entire body. You’re just finding out
after the longest 6 yrs of your life that your baby girl is alive and healthy!
When was the last time you saw my daughter? I asked calmly, as my insides were
churning. About ten minutes before I called you, she said and I felt the final dregs of my
composure drain away. I did not know whether to sit or stand, laugh or cry. I was numb. I have
to go, she said, I'll call you back.
This isn't a prank is it? I pleaded, not sure how I would be able to cope if it was. No, I
promise it isn't a prank. I'm just trying to do what is in my family's best interests. If telling you
where Shelby is will cause them any problems, then I won't be able to do it. Please respect my
feelings, she pleaded with me.
I had no choice but to agree, but I felt so frustrated I wanted to scream. I'll call you back
in two hours, she promised, and then I was alone in the apartment. My good friend, April, was
down in San Diego visiting her parents. I wanted to hear her soothing voice, but it didn't seem
reasonable to ring her before sunrise with a lead that might turn out to go nowhere. I didn't want
to get anyone else's hopes up because I knew how hard it was going to be if this all came to
Unable to stay in the apartment for a moment longer, I went down to the ocean shore and
walked as the sun came up, trying to make sense of the jumbled thoughts that were racing
through my head. I wanted to go over and over the description she had given me of Shelby. I
needed to form a clear picture in my head of what my Munchkin might look like now. It was so
hard to banish the memories of her that I'd been treasuring for so long and replace them with a
new, imagined picture, based on such meager details from someone else’s description.
I'd walked that route so many times with Shelby on my shoulders and Catherine holding
my hand, that every step brought back memories. Every time I looked at my watch, the hands
seemed scarcely to have moved.
Two hours were going to take forever to pass. I forward my home phone to my cell for couldn’t
take the chance of missing that call incase she called sooner.
After an hour and a half, I was back in the middle of my living room floor, the phone
inches away, staring at the clock as if waiting for the ball to drop on New Year's Eve. I began a
countdown in my head; "ten, nine, eight, seven, six," and then the phone rang. I snatched it up
before the first ring had finished.
Hello? Mr. Cannon, it's me. Is this a bad time? She asked hesitantly. You have
information about my missing daughter, there is NEVER a bad time, I assured her. She explained
how she'd come upon the article about me which had alerted her to Shelby's real identity.
We were on a family holiday in Scotland that weekend. We were supposed to go the week
before but I was ill and we had to postpone it….she shared with me. I kept encouraging her to
talk, even though the details of her family life were the last things I wanted to hear about at that
moment. All I wanted was a name and an address where my Munchkin was, but I knew if I
wasn’t patient with her, I ran the risk of getting nothing.
We were at the airport, she started, and I was flicking through a newspaper I found on
the seat beside me, when I noticed a picture of Pierce Brosnan. It caught my eye because he's my
favorite movie star. Then I noticed the picture of your daughter at the bottom of the story and I
knew immediately it was the same girl I've seen almost every day for the last three years in my
son‘s class at the school he attended. I became quite ill on the way home and hardly spoke to my
children or my husband.
I continued to listen intently, jotting down notes just in case she gave a hint as to which
city she lived in, but she was being very careful with her words.
Though I understood how shocked she must have been by the discovery that a child she knew
was actually the victim of abduction, I really wasn’t concerned at that moment about her "inner
struggle", but I couldn't let my impatience show in my voice.
What do you want me to do? she asked when she'd finished her story. You want me to
contact the authorities, don't you? She asked, almost accursedly. Yes I do, I stated flatly. Silence
fell between us again as I tried to figure out the best way to maneuver through this verbal chess
Is it possible for me to sleep on this? she asked quietly. Of course, I replied, as
encouragingly as I could, although I did not know how I would be able to bear another wait.
Thanks again for contacting me. I hope you find it in your heart to do the right thing, I said,
trying to motivate her, without insulting her. The right thing is always subjective, she said and
hung up. I felt a terrible emptiness inside.
When members of my family rang during the day to see how I was doing, I tried not to
mention the conversation or the news of a possible lead. I did not want to have to handle all their
emotions as I walked the tightrope of give and take with this woman. I needed to keep my head
as clear as possible.
I couldn't sleep and I couldn't eat. All I could do was pace back and forth like an
expectant father outside the delivery room. The hours dragged by and I watched tapes of Shelby
that I had put away years before because they were too painful. It felt like I was being
continually punched in the stomach every time she smiled at the camera. By the time night
arrived, I was surrounded by boxes of photographs, videotapes and toys that had belonged to
Shelby. Reminiscing seemed to energize me, as I waited for the next phone call that might
actually bring me closer to my Munchkin.
I tried not to think about the woman who held the key to ending the misery I had been suffering
for the last six years, but could not make up her mind whether to give me the precious gift.
My instincts told me it wasn't a hoax, that there just might be a light at the end of the
tunnel, which was not an on-coming train. However, the light could so easily be snuffed out
before I had anything tangible to go on.
When my friend April stopped by, she had to step over the mountains of Shelby material
she knew immediately something was not right. I had to share the emotions and thoughts with
someone, so we went out for a walk. When I explained what had happened she became thrilled
and angry at the same time. She thought the mystery woman was being cruel by refusing to give
me any information.
It's like she's saying, "I've got some good news and some bad news; the good news is I
know where Shelby is, the bad news is I'm not going to tell you." I could see April was right, but
I could not afford to let my mind go in the direction of anger in case I made a mistake and
frightened the woman away.
The phone rang like clockwork again, and this time the woman's voice sounded clearer
and less choked with emotion. I won't be talking for long, she said, but I just wanted to ring like I
promised. I am still not sure what to do. I want to talk to my priest to help me clear things up in
my mind. Can I have another day to think things over and talk to my husband?
Now I was beginning to feel angry and my voice rose. Why are you playing with me like
this? As a mother yourself, you should understand the pain I’m going through, I shot at her! .I'm
not trying to hurt you, she insisted, I'm so confused. Please give me until later this evening and
I'll have an answer for you. I'm talking to my priest in a few hours., she implored
This seemed like total madness. I felt like I was being held emotional hostage, but what
could I do? I have respected your privacy, I said, forcing my voice to remain calm. I haven't
called the authorities. I've waited patiently, I said, almost whispering at this point. I truly
appreciate that, she said, I will have an answer for you later, I promise.
Once I had hung up, I rang Nicola in Ireland. She was as outraged as I at the delay. We
wondered what we would do if she chose not to disclose where Shelby was. All we had was the
knowledge she was visiting Scotland when she spotted the article. No clue on where she had come
from other then an accent. That could have come from many areas in that region and would not
be enough to track her down.
At nightfall, the mystery woman rang again. I've spoken to my priest and he told me to
follow what was in my heart. She began to cry and I feared the worst. April was listening in on
the other phone, wearing an expression of total shock as the woman went on. This has been the
most difficult two days of my life. I want to do the right thing but I have to think about the wellbeing
of my own family. I wish I had never seen that article, she cried. .
My eyes swelled with tears because I could see clearly now where we were heading. I
was racking my brain for something to say which might change her mind at the last moment, but
nothing would come to me. You would feel differently if it were your children in this situation, I
reminded her and she cried even harder. Why are you doing this to me? That is not fair, she
choked. Fairness was no longer my principal concern. I sensed she felt guilty and I was going to
have to twist the knife as deeply into that wound as I could. I had no other choice. April was
shaking her head in despair as she saw me go on the attack.
Every day you see my daughter, I accused, I want you to look her in the eyes and know
you have information about her father, but you choose to keep us apart. If anything happens to
your children, I hope you are not relying on someone like you to help. She gasped as if I had
punched her. That was a mean thing to say!, she said thru tears.
Before she could say anything else, I hung up the phone, snapping the only connection
I had with Shelby. I did not want to speak to anyone else, so I left the house and walked down by
the boats, sitting on the edge of the pier for hours. April sat down behind me, wrapping herself
around me as a blanket, placing her head on my back, and silently rocked me for the entire
evening, as I glared out over the ocean.
At around four thirty in the morning I heard the phone ring and realized April had
brought the handset with her from the apartment. She brought it over to me. It's Nicola, she said.
I've just got off the phone with the husband of the mystery woman. He claims they've "taken care
of everything", Nicola says, almost breathless with excitement. When I asked what that meant he
just said, "everything's been taken care of, so please don't call us any more”, Nicola shared.
It was as if I had been brought back from the brink of madness. April and I ran into the
house and sat on the living room floor going over repeatedly what these words might possibly
have meant. It was too early to call the U.S. State Department but the moment we thought they
were open, we phoned. Shelby Cannon has been picked up and placed into protective custody,
they confirmed. I did not know what to do. It was finally over, or so I thought…….
Don't Worry, Daddy's Coming (c). 2008 Josef Cannon. No part of this document may be used without the express permission of Josef Cannon