EXCERPT: 'The Eleventh Victim'

It was all running through her head rapidly, like a home movie on fast forward. Hailey lit a fire under the Atlanta Police Department to at least attempt to make the women aware they were being stalked, but that was a daunting task. How do you effectively reach an underworld made up of streetwalkers, escorts, junkies chasing johns for a hit of crack, and strippers turning the occasional trick?

Finally, as a last resort and at Hailey's urging, the city's night court took action. Officials began reading a form warning to every woman processed through the city jail when she was booked in and fingerprinted for soliciting prostitution. The same warning, in writing, was then placed in the hand of every hooker at every guilty plea, court date, and trial. The Xeroxed warnings were subsequently found littering the courthouse steps, the ladies' bathrooms, sidewalks, and the bus and trains stations at the courthouse stop. But Hailey insisted that they continue handing them out. Begrudgingly, they were.

"Miss Hailey, I can't hardly bear you all calling her what you called her in the paper. LaSondra, she went to Mt. Zion Baptist real regular. She just got her a new job keeping the books for a man up in Tucker. She didn't walk no streets, Miss Hailey." The pain in Leola's voice cracked through the receiver, and Hailey's chest hurt hearing it.

"I know, Mrs. Williams, I know she was good." She tried her best to keep an impersonal, professional tone. She steeled herself. It was easy to forget that these women, these prostitutes, were once somebody's little girls.

But Hailey knew better than to let emotion get in the way of a case, or let sympathy cloud her decisions on a trial matter. Sentimentality in a courtroom angered judges. Anything but a cool head resulted in adverse rulings from the bench, botched cross-exams, bad trial tactics, and not-guilty verdicts.

Tonight, with a high-profile case looming on Monday's trial calendar, she couldn't afford to get emotionally attached to a voice on the other end of the phone line.

"You've got to make them stop saying those things about her, Miss Hailey. You don't know what it's been like for me, waking up every morning and remembering she ain't comin' home again."

Hailey swallowed hard. "No," she lied softly, "I don't know."

"Promise me you'll make them tell the truth about her. That she didn't walk no streets. Promise?"

Hailey didn't make promises she wasn't sure she could keep.

Instead, she said, "I'll get to work on it right now." Never mind that "now" was 10:30 p.m. on a Friday night, long past time to go home.

"Thank you, Miss Hailey." The woman's voice shook with gratitude as she gave Hailey her phone number. "You call me back, then, when you know more."

"I will."

"I'll be up all night."

"Oh, no need to do that, Mrs. Leola."

"Miss Hailey," the woman said flatly, "I ain't slept through the night since I found out about my baby girl."

"I ... I'm sorry" was all Hailey could think of to say. That, and I know. I know how you feel...

But she didn't—couldn't—say that. Even after all these years, she never verbally acknowledged that she still suffered the same grief, the same sleepless nights, the same nearly disabling pain. Hanging up the telephone, Hailey spun around in her desk chair, toying with the silver Tiffany pen hanging from a black silken cord around her neck.

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...
See It, Share It
PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin works out at Bocharov Ruchei residence in Sochi, Russia, Aug. 30, 2015.
Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
PHOTO: Director Wes Craven attends the screening of Life Itself at the ArcLight Cinemas, June 26, 2014, in Hollywood, Calif.
Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic/Getty Images