A cinnamon brown Oldsmobile Cutlass crawled up Edgewood Avenue, the windows lowered, the driver hunched down in his seat. The lights from the console showed narrow, beady eyes tracing along the line of girls standing under the street sign. Jane. Mary. Lydia. The car stopped. Predictably, the man tilted up his chin toward Kitty. She trotted over, adjusting her miniskirt as she navigated her spiked heels across the uneven asphalt. Two weeks ago, when Juice had first brought Kitty onto the corner, she’d told the other girls she was sixteen, which probably meant fifteen, though she looked no older than twelve.
They had all hated her on sight.
Kitty leaned down into the open window of the car. Her stiff vinyl skirt tipped up like the bottom of a bell. She always got picked first, which was becoming a problem that everyone but Juice could see. Kitty got special favors. She could talk men into doing anything. The girl was fresh, childlike, though like all of them, she carried a kitchen knife in her purse and knew how to use it. Nobody wanted to do what they were doing, but to have another girl—a newer girl—picked over them hurt just as much as if they were all standing on the sidelines at the debutante ball.
Inside the Oldsmobile, the transaction was quickly negotiated, no haggling because what was on offer was still worth the price. Kitty made the signal to Juice, waited for his nod, then got into the car. The muffler chugged exhaust as the Olds made a wide turn onto a narrow side street. The car shook once as the gear was shoved into park. The driver’s hand flew up, clamped around the back of Kitty’s head, and she disappeared.
Lucy Bennett turned away, looking up the dark, soulless avenue. No headlights coming. No traffic. No business. Atlanta wasn’t a nighttime town. The last person to leave the Equitable building usually turned off the lights, but Lucy could see the bulbs from the Flatiron glowing clear across Central City Park. If she squinted hard enough, she could find the familiar green of the C&S sign that anchored the business district. The New South. Progress through commerce. The City Too Busy to Hate.
If there were men out walking these streets tonight, it was with no amount of good on their minds.
Jane lit a smoke, then tucked the pack back into her purse. She wasn’t the kind to share, but she was certainly the kind to take. Her eyes met Lucy’s. The dead in them was hard to look at. Jane must’ve felt the same. She quickly glanced away.
Lucy shivered, even though it was the middle of August, heat wafting off the pavement like smoke from a fire. Her feet were sore. Her back ached. Her head was pounding like a metronome. Her gut felt like she’d swallowed a truckload of concrete. Cotton filled her mouth. Her hands felt the constant prick of pins and needles.
CHAPTER ONE Faith Mitchell dumped the contents of her purse onto the passenger seat of her Mini, trying to find something to eat. Except for a furry piece of gum and a peanut of dubious origin, there was nothing remotely edible. She thought about the box of nutrition bars in her kitchen pantry, and her stomach made a noise that sounded like a rusty hinge groaning open. The computer seminar she’d attended this morning was supposed to last three hours, but that had stretched into four and a half thanks to the jackass ion the front row who kept asking pointless questions. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation trained its agents more often than any other agency in the region. Statistics and data on criminal activities were constantly being drummed into their heads. They had to be up -to -date on all of the latest technology. They had to qualify at the range twice a year. They ran mock raids and active shooter simulations that were so intense that for weeks after, Faith couldn’t go to the bathroom in the middle of the night without checking shadows in doorways. Usually, she appreciated the agency’s thoroughness. Today, all she could think about was her four-month- old baby, and the promise Faith had made to her mother that she would be back no later than noon.
The clock on the dash read ten after one o’clock when she started the car. Faith mumbled a curse as she pulled out of the parking lot in front of the Panthersville Road headquarters. She used Bluetooth to dial her mother’s number. The car speakers gave back a static-y silence. Faith hung up and dialed again. This time, she got a busy signal. Faith tapped her finger on the steering wheel as she listened to the bleating. Her mother had voicemail. Everybody had voicemail. Faith couldn’t remember the last time she’d heard a busy signal on the telephone. She had almost forgotten the sound. There was probably a crossed wire somewhere at the phone company. She hung up and tried the number a third time. Still busy.
Faith steered with one hand as she checked her Blackberry for an email from her mother. Before Evelyn Mitchell retired, she had been a cop for just shy of four decades. You could say a lot about the Atlanta force, but you couldn’t claim they were behind the times. Evelyn had carried a cell phone back when they were more like purses you strapped around your shoulder. She’d learned how to use email before her daughter had. She’d carried a Blackberry BlackBerry for almost fifteen years.
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