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April 2019


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Strickland couldn’t sleep. He could not get Rhea out of his mind. He had thought of her almost every day since she was sixteen but not like this. From the midnight he’d first met her on the dusty border in Tecate Mexico up until last night, his thoughts had always been about protecting her. But seeing her in the moonlight brushing crumbs off her breast, gave a jolt to his groin he’d never expected. He shook off those thoughts, got out of bed at five decided to go to work. He grabbed a raspberry yogurt from his fridge and left. He had to walk past Rhea’s apartment to get to the garage. He slowed a little and looked; her sheer curtains were closed but he could see her silhouette inside, bent over her table, asleep next to an empty Tommy’s bag.

He got to headquarters by five-thirty. He still hadn’t gotten used to the newness of the building. The cleanliness. The sterility. It was an environment that demanded precision and utility. It did not scream instinct or passion like the Hollywood Division on Wilcox but here was where exploited kids dept. coalesced with the global network. So here he was. He got to work.

At six-thirty, a ray of sunlight poured through Rhea’s window and onto her head. She resisted it and stayed asleep until her phone beeped five minutes later, waking her. She had a text. From Manny. He wanted her to come in at eight. She hoped it was good news, she hoped he liked what she’d sent him and was going to pay her. Today.


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An hour earlier, at a little after eight in the morning, Daisy Valentine walked the half mile down from her house to The Village Café, a quaintly hip diner in Beachwood Canyon village, a cluster of five shops cradled just below the Hollywood sign. The casual trendiness of the regulars reflected the old Hollywood hood, mostly peopled with mid-scale movie industry peeps who liked their eggs without yolks, their bacon without fat and their coffee organic.

Daisy picked up a Hollywood Pulse from a stack of already-read newspapers loosely scattered on a front window ledge. She took it to her usual seat at the counter, where she ordered a cappuccino and a donut with rose petals in the glaze. Her nod to the waitress was nominal. She was a regular but not really. Cordial but not chatty. She opened the pulse to the ads. Scanning them, she found an ad for a local landscaper: “Bernardo’s brush clearance and Landscaping.” It was just what she was looking for.

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