EXCERPT: 'The Eleventh Victim'

The headlights blurred, flying by outside her window. She thought of LaSondra Williams, strangled, her slender neck marred by three long, angry scratch marks and her torso ripped open. If the papers had their way, her name ... and lifestyle ... would make city headlines, maybe further if the Associated Press picked up on the trial from the death-penalty angle.

It's the least you can do, she told herself, leaving her office and heading to the record room to start running rap sheets. By midnight, Hailey's eyes were red and irritated from squinting at the computer screen.

Fingerprints don't lie, and they told Hailey that Leola Wil-liams's first baby girl, just twenty-four, was a crack hooker.

LaSondra worked motels near the strip clubs on Stewart Avenue skirting Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the seediest piece of highway with the highest crime rate in the entire state. LaSondra was just part of the scenery outside strip bars, motels that rented rooms by the hour, and crack houses doing their business.

And LaSondra hadn't just been arrested. She'd been arrested over a dozen times for soliciting sex for the purpose of prostitution, pleading guilty or no contest under oath every single time.

In addition, her record was dotted with at least a dozen other charges for pandering, minor possession of cocaine, and one conviction for spitting on an officer at the time of arrest. They were all actually petty crimes, none warranting hard time ... maybe an occasional overnight in the city jail, maybe a fine.

Hailey could see how LaSondra's family had never known the truth. And what a series of mug shots. The girl was beautiful, thin, with gorgeous dark hair floating in waves down one side and pinned back on the other. But Hailey spotted telltale facial bruises on one mug shot and a gaunt, hollow-eyed searching stare in others. La Sondra was thin, all right. Cocaine thin.

As Hailey stared at the photos in the bright, overhead lights of the records room, the girl in the picture stared right back. She closed her eyes to block out the image, and another face, a beautiful face with chiseled features and deep blue eyes, appeared before her. Another murder victim.

Will.

It happened late on a beautiful, vivid, spring afternoon, three weeks before their wedding. Countless minor details were still etched in Hailey's memory, mundane things that unfolded in the minutes before her life was destroyed.

She remembered hurrying down the marble steps in the universi-ty's Psychology Department and out into the sunlight. She was elated, having just finished the last essay of her final exam for her Masters in Psychology. She'd actually finished a year early. Practically skipping home from campus, she burst through the door, tossing her books and her favorite coral-colored raincoat onto the scratchy plaid sofa.

Her last thought before she turned toward the answering ma-chine, with its blinking red light, was that she'd been wrong about the raincoat. That morning, she'd had the feeling she might need it, heedless of the forecast, but it hadn't rained after all. It was sunny.

The message was from Will's sister.

"Hailey—please call me. As soon as you can."

That was all there was to the message. Just nine strained words, and a click.

Hailey's hands shook as she reached for the receiver, fluttering over the dial like moths batting around a porch light in the dark. Instinctively, she knew.

Will was dead.

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