A knocking sound issued from the phone. I continued driving, starting to mentally map a path from Julie's house to Barb and Sadie's. "Should I stop, Julie?"

"Just a minute, I've got somebody at the door. It looks like ... maybe a trick-or-treater. Although it's late for that. I usually get them early in the evening. Hold on." There was a pause and I heard noises: a rustling sound, a laugh, someone saying, "Trick or treat" in a far-away voice. Then I heard Julie say, 'That's such a pretty outfit. It reminds me of Cinderella.' Then she came back on the line. "I don't think I'll need to have you stop because ..." Julie laughed. "What? Would you like some candy? I've still got quite a bit left."

I heard a woman's voice, sounding distant. Julie probably held the phone at her side because the sounds alternately were louder then quiet, as though she was moving. Someone said, '... not worth it. You shouldn't ...' Then the voice faded.

I suddenly heard Julie. She didn't speak directly into the phone but her voice was louder and clearer. "We need to discuss this. Why are you so upset? He said you didn't mind. Rita--"

A sharp noise buzzed through the phone, making me jerk it away from my ear. Then it was repeated, a popping sound echoed in my head. I thought I recognized that distinctive sound.

"Oh, shit." I glanced at the map and made a left turn, but realized quickly that was wrong when I saw busy Interstate 35 in the distance. That highway didn't appear on Julie's map. "Julie! Julie, are you there?"

The only sound I heard from the phone was footsteps and moaning.

"Julie? Julie, what's going on?" I turned around in someone's driveway and headed back the way I came, losing precious moments as I hesitated at street corners, looking for Roselawn Street. I made another wrong turn and it took me three or more minutes to discover I was in a looping cul-de-sac with no outlet. I retraced my path, made a wrong turn but quickly corrected myself before finally finding Roselawn. I made a left onto 86th Avenue, a broad street overhung with tall trees giving it a tunnel-like feeling and trolled slowly down the dark street, peering at house numbers.

I pulled up to 4640, my phone still pressed to my ear. The open front door spilled light out onto the stoop, illuminating the woman sprawled on the porch. I raced up the front sidewalk but I suspected I was too late when I saw the blood pooling around her head.

Then I saw the wound on her chest, high above her neckline and under what was her chin. The chin was gone, and so was most of her throat.

It appeared the conference curse was alive and well, but I was pretty sure Julie Garza was dead.