Caught in the Net

He waved at the fourteen-year-old girl crossing the motel parking lot. She looked great: shorts, a little white blouse, her brown hair in a ponytail that bounced as she walked toward him. He was high as a kite on the methamphetamine that he'd promised her would make for a better fuck. But somewhere on the trip from Loveland to Denver to hook up with another bus that would get him to the motel in Wheat Ridge, the speed had disappeared into his arm.

He'd have to do some fast talking about the meth, just as he had in their e-mails and telephone conversations. He enjoyed playing the girl, had her wrapped around his finger. It wasn't hard; like a lot of kids cruising the chat rooms, little Katie had been looking for something she wasn't getting at home. Her dad was out of the picture, her mom a drunk who had a new boyfriend hanging around the apartment all the time. Mostly, Katie just wanted someone to care about her. She doesn't really care about you, baby. Not like I do.

Back in June 2000, he'd found her under the nickname Cutie2kewl in a chat room. He'd checked out her America Online profile and liked what he saw. A typical teenager. In the space provided for "member name," she'd written Katie T-hahahaha; under marital status, give me a break, single, 14 years. For hobbies she listed hanging; asked what computer she used, she answered like whoooo cares. Her personal quote: party on babe even if u gotta skip skewl.

He'd taken his time on the girl, nice one moment, nasty the next. A speed freak, he'd wanted to stay with her on the computer and, later, the phone for hours, late into the night. The longer he'd kept her on, the more meth he'd injected, the more graphic and violent his sex talk -- hard sex, rape fantasies. He'd told her not to worry, the meth would make it great. She'd do things she'd never dreamed of doing.

Their discussions had gone on for three weeks. Finally, after Katie told him her mom was going camping for a couple of days with her boyfriend, he'd suggested they meet. He had hoped he could just come over to her mom's apartment -- save the motel money -- but Katie had worried that the neighbors might see him and instead had suggested a motel close to her home.

Then he'd found one right across the street, even cheaper. More bang for the buck. He was seven hours late by the time he got to Wheat Ridge, but when he'd called Katie, she'd been real nice about it, said she'd be right over.

Just come to the motel playground in the middle of the parking lot and I'll see you, he'd told her. And now here she was, the girl of his fevered dreams. He recognized her from a photograph she'd scanned into her computer: Katie lying on a park bench in jeans and a leather jacket. He waved again from the walkway outside the second-story room, his eyes bright with meth and anticipation, but she didn't seem to see him.

Finally, he caught her eye. "Come on up," he called. She waved back and smiled. But then she dropped her backpack, and she took her sweet time picking everything up before she finally made her way to the stairwell. His eyes locked on the spot at the top of the stairs; when she appeared, she commanded every last molecule of his attention. She was almost his. He pulled out his room key and fumbled at the lock, his eyes hardly leaving Katie.

Suddenly, Katie shrank away, and he was shoved to the ground. He'd been so intent on the girl that he hadn't heard anyone else approaching.

He heard them now. "POLICE! You're under arrest!" Mike Harris of the Jefferson County District Attorney's Crimes Against Children unit shouted at 38-year-old Jeff Beebe.

Harris's knee was killing him from the sprint up the stairs. He'd felt a snap and heard a pop, but kept going; he had to get to Beebe before the man got to the girl. Harris never knew when one of these guys might have a gun, and the last thing he needed was a hostage situation.

He looked at the girl backing toward the stairwell. "Grab her," he shouted at the two back-up officers just reaching the top of the stairs. "I want to talk to her."

Mike Harris had always wanted to be a cop. Growing up in a high-crime area of Albuquerque, he disliked bullies -- small in stature and half-Hispanic, half-Anglo, he'd experienced his share of them -- and liked the idea of helping people. After high school, he'd come north to Denver, where he got a job first with the Arapahoe County Sheriff's Office, then the Littleton Police Department and, in 1989, the Lakewood Police Department.

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Steve Jackson