Monday, June 19, 2023

Bottom Girl, fiction by Michael Bracken


A thick blonde, half as wide as she was tall, sporting a bouffant that added three inches to her diminutive height, stood behind the screen door and stared up at me like I was that day’s blue-plate special. In a voice that dripped southern honey, she asked, “Can I do for you, hon?”

I introduced myself as I pressed a 4” x 5” print of Elka Schubert’s high school graduation portrait against the screen. “Do you know this girl?”

“Can’t say as I do.” Dixie Lynn Hollis unlatched the screen door. “Y’all want to come in out of the heat, Mr. Johnson, maybe have some sweet tea? I could look at that there picture a bit closer.”

I drew back the photo of Elka, and the woman behind the door pushed it open.

“No, thank you.”

She batted her false eyelashes. “I can surely show you a good time, hon, take your mind off that young thing.”

I pressed one of my business cards into her soft hand. “You see her around, you call me.”

Without looking at the card that identified me as a private investigator, she stuffed it into her ample cleavage and smiled. “Could have been you in there.”

I thanked Dixie Lynn for her time and returned to my SUV. She was still standing in her open doorway when I drove off, but her expression had hardened.

* * *

“I’ve talked to everyone living in a three-block radius,” I told Elka’s mother later that evening, “and no one knows anything.”

Anna Schubert and I spoke over mismatched mugs of black coffee while sitting opposite each other at the kitchen table in her two-bedroom brick ranch. Though I had tasted mine, my client’s coffee had not been touched since she’d placed the mugs on the table.

“Didn’t the police already talk to everyone?”

“Not everyone,” I explained, “and they won’t put much more effort into finding Elka until they have a good reason to believe she isn’t just avoiding you. I’ve been trying to find that reason.”

“But it’s been three weeks, and I’ve called her friends, and—”

I reached across the table and placed my hand on my client’s forearm. “You told the police about your argument. That’s why they think she ran off.”

All parents establish rules that their children resist, so Anna and Elka’s argument had not been unusual. Anna and her eighteen-year-old daughter had disagreed about the curfew Anna had set and Elka had violated once too often. The argument had included variations of “my house, my rules” and “if you can’t abide by them, you should leave.” After that, Elka stormed off to her room and slammed the door. Anna did the same.

The following morning, Anna opened her daughter’s bedroom door intending to apologize for the more egregious things she had said, but Elka wasn’t there, her bed had not been slept in, and her purse was missing. Calls to her daughter’s friends yielded no information about Elka’s whereabouts, so Anna phoned the police, who made a cursory attempt to locate her, and two weeks later she phoned me.

I had made no more progress during the week I raced through my client’s retainer than the police had made with their half-hearted efforts. I didn’t want to tell Anna that her daughter likely wasn’t coming home, but someone had to.

So I did.

The last glimmer of hope drained from Anna’s face.

“But, Stu, you promised—”

“I did all I could.”

“I can get more money. I can—” She twisted at the wedding ring and diamond solitaire engagement ring on her left hand, which she still wore despite her husband’s death in Afghanistan a few years earlier. “I can—”

“I can’t take any more of your money,” I told her. I was younger then, idealistic enough to chase every lead but honest enough to know when they weren’t leading anywhere. “Do you have someone you can call? Family? Friend? Pastor?”

She shook her head.

And then she stared into my eyes.

“Stay with me,” she said. “Hold me. Just for tonight.”

* * *

As the years passed, I thought of Anna Schubert and her missing daughter less and less often. I might have eventually forgotten them if I had not flipped open the Waco Tribune-Herald one morning ten years after abandoning the case and seen Dixie Lynn Hollis staring back at me from a photograph under the headline “Seven arrested on sex trafficking charges.”

I dug through my files and found a folder containing a compact disk and Elka Schubert’s high school graduation photo, and I was staring at the photograph when my desk phone rang. I didn’t need the caller to identify herself.

“Did you see this morning’s paper?” Anna Schubert demanded. “That woman lived three blocks from us. Three blocks! Did you even talk to her?”

“I did,” I said.


“She gave me no reason to think she knew anything about your daughter’s disappearance.”

“And now? What do you think now?”

What I thought was that I had failed Anna. That I had failed her daughter. That I had failed myself. What I said was, “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry doesn’t begin to atone for your inability to find my daughter, you son-of-a-bitch.” Anna still had a landline, and she slammed the handset down, disconnecting the call.

* * *

My former client’s neighborhood had aged. Once a well-established middle-class area populated by the original homeowners, it had degenerated into a hodgepodge of rentals, where absentee landlords cared as little for the property as the tenants did. When Anna opened her door, I saw that time had taken a greater toll on her than on the neighborhood.

Her pale blue eyes widened when she saw me standing on her broken concrete porch, and she moved backward as I pushed the door open wide enough to step into the living room. She had replaced her quality console television with a larger flat-screen mounted to the wall, but little else had changed. Her dead husband’s Army Ranger School graduation photograph remained on one end of the fireplace mantle and her missing daughter’s high school graduation photo on the other. I did not push any further, but I suspected that little had changed in the rest of the house and that Elka’s bedroom remained much as it had been the night she left home.

The anger Anna had vented on the phone earlier that morning had not dissipated, and she glared up at me. “Why did you come here, Mr. Johnson?”

I wasn’t entirely certain. Perhaps I needed to gaze into Anna’s eyes and see all the pain that remained. Instead of answering her question, I asked one of my own. “Why are you still here? The memories must be—”

“Because I need to be here when my daughter comes home.”

Anna had used the money from her husband’s Department of Defense death gratuity and Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance policy to purchase the house and the now twelve-year-old Dodge Caravan parked in the drive. She had put some aside to pay for Elka’s college expenses, and she and her daughter had been living off the remainder when we first met. I suspected the money was gone, or nearly so, and that she could not have afforded to move even if she wished to.

She said, “So why are you here?”

Until that moment I’d been uncertain myself. I said, “I’m going to try again.”

* * *

I stored my case files electronically, and I realized after Anna Schubert’s telephone call earlier that morning that Elka’s files had been moved to a compact disc for which my new Macintosh lacked an appropriate drive. After I left Anna’s home, I purchased a CD drive at Best Buy, expecting to return to my office, hook it up, pop in the CD, and review all of my notes from back then.

What I did not expect was finding Dixie Lynn Hollis standing at my office door, the business card I had given her ten years earlier grasped between her pudgy fingers. She had, at some point, removed it from her ample cleavage and retained it for no reason I could fathom.

I unlocked the door and pushed it open. The two rooms I rented in the Alico Building included a receptionist’s area and my office on the other side of it. I’d never had a receptionist, but I ensured that the desk always looked as if someone had just stepped away. Dixie Lynn followed me through the reception area into my office and, as I put the bag containing my new CD drive on my desk, I asked, “What do you want?”

“To hire you.” The southern honey I remembered had disappeared from her voice. The bouffant had also disappeared, and her dishwater blond hair hung limply to her shoulders.


“You see this morning’s Trib?”

The open paper on my desk told her I had.

“I done a lot of things in my life I ain’t proud of,” she said, “but I never done—”

I glared at her and she swallowed the lie she was about to spew.

She pulled ten sweaty hundred-dollar bills from her cleavage and spread them across my desk—dirty money, not only from where she kept it but also from how she earned it.

“I don’t want your money.”

Dixie Lynn took another tack as she pointed at the photo of Elka Schubert on my desk next to the newspaper. “You never found her, did you, that girl you were looking for?”

My eyes narrowed but I didn’t answer.

“I had nothing to do with that,” Dixie Lynne said, “but maybe by helping me you’ll find out who did.”


“I can point you in the right direction,” she said. “There ain’t much more I can do.”

I still had not sat, and I did not offer her a seat. “What do you think I can do for you?”

She hesitated, as if trying to determine which of several stories she might tell me. Finally, she said, “I ain’t done what I done because I find enjoyment in it.”

“So what do you get out of it?”


That made no sense to me, and I said so. “You get convicted for sex trafficking, you’ll likely spend the remainder of your life behind bars.”

“Beats the needle.”

“You’re telling me you did something that could get you the death penalty?”

“My father died when I was seven,” she said. “My mother remarried when I was nine, and when I was thirteen, puberty caught my stepfather’s attention. I’m not about to tell you everything he did to me, but he certainly wasn’t gentle. My mother wouldn’t do a thing to stop him, and I was too scared to tell anyone else what was happening.”

I listened carefully. Her recitation didn’t sound well-rehearsed, but it did sound as if she’d told the story before.

“I put on weight, hoping that would discourage him. It didn’t. He laughed and told me the bigger the cushion the better the pushin’, and it was too late. I drank to numb the pain, but I could never drink enough. By the time I was seventeen, I looked like this”—she spread her arms to ensure I grasped the enormity of her—“and I’d had enough.”

I couldn’t help myself. “What happened?”

“My stepfather’s best friend found me on my eighteenth birthday, waking up from a blackout drunk in my parents’ living room with a .38 in my hand and my stepfather on the other side of the room with two bullet holes in his chest.”

“You shot him?”

“Somebody certainly did,” Dixie Lynn said. “Trevor took the gun from my hand and told me to wait until he left before calling the cops. He told me to tell them the truth—that I woke up from a blackout drunk and found my stepfather dead in the room with me. He told me not to tell anyone about the gun, that he would take care of it. He told me not to tell them he was there.”

I glanced down at the front page of that morning’s Waco Tribune-Herald and found Trevor Cash’s mugshot printed two to the right of Dixie Lynn’s. I tapped my index finger on it. “And the police never cottoned to him or to the gun?”

She shook her head. “My stepfather had a record, and there were enough people who carried grudges against him that the cops had at least a dozen suspects. They weren’t able to pin his murder on any of them, and nobody—not even my mother—mourned his loss enough to push them to do their job. After that, my mother kicked me out, and I would have been living on the street if Trevor hadn’t taken me in. He never touched me, but—” She took a deep breath and stared past me.

After a moment of silence, I prompted her. “But?”

Her attention returned to me. “He wanted me to get him girls. He said if I didn’t, he would tell the police I killed my stepfather and he would give them the gun as proof. He’s held that over me ever since.”

“So what do you think I can do for you?”

“Get the gun. Get the gun before Trevor can use it against me.”

“And then you’ll tell me what happened to Elka Schubert?”

“That was her name?” Dixie Lynn shook her head. “I didn’t remember. There’ve been so many girls.”

She told a hell of a story. It might even have been true. Then she went a step too far.

“The thing is, these girls, a lot of them, they want what happens to them. At least, they think they do. They think they want to be wild and crazy and have sex with older men and by the time they find out what’s really involved, it’s too late for any of them to get out.”

“So, what happened to Elka?”

“When she got too old for our clients, we sold her to a guy in Dallas,” Dixie Lynn said. “I don’t know if she’s still with him, but it’s a place to start.”


“You have to help me first.”

We stared at one another for a moment, and then Dixie Lynn turned and walked out of my office. When she was gone, I stood in the window and stared down at Austin Avenue. After several minutes passed, I turned and used the eraser end of a pencil to push the sweaty hundreds into my top desk drawer.

* * *

After spending some time searching the internet, I made two phone calls, the first to a homicide detective in the Waco Police Department. I asked her about the murder of Reggie Wilson. She didn’t recognize the name.

“It was well before your time,” I said.

“Cold case?”


Templeton Walker laughed. She had a pleasant laugh.

“I’ll have to poke around,” she said. “What’re you really after?”

I told her.

“This’ll cost you.”

“How much?”

“Dinner,” she said. “Tonight.”


“You read my mind.”

* * *

I made my second phone call to Alfredo Martinez in Dallas. Alfredo ran a shelter for runaways, and a year earlier I’d sub-contracted work from a Dallas private investigation firm to help locate a young boy who had disappeared from the shelter. Ricky had left behind everything but the clothes on his back and some friends who said a man in a blue van promised to take him to see the mammoths. The man had kept his promise, and I arrived at the Waco Mammoth National Monument just as they were leaving. Ricky was surprisingly none the worse for his experience, having been rescued before the man could molest him.

I told Alfredo about Elka Schubert and that she might have been sold to a guy in Dallas sometime during the previous ten years. “She’d be twenty-eight now,” I said, “so a little old to be one of your clients.”

“Still, I can ask around. The kids we take off the streets see things most people never notice,” he said. “Send me a photo?”

I promised I would, but first I had to hook up my new CD drive. After I did, I sent Alfredo an email containing the JPEG I’d made when I scanned Elka Schubert’s graduation portrait ten years earlier.

* * *

Over dinner I learned that Dixie Lynn’s story—at least as much of it as the police knew—checked out. When she was a teenager her stepfather had been shot twice with a .38.

“The only witness was his stepdaughter,” Templeton said, “but she’d apparently been passed out drunk when it happened.”

“Any suspects?”

“A dozen or more, but nothing concrete. The investigators assigned to the case had more pressing responsibilities and lost interest after a couple of weeks. I checked Reggie Wilson’s rap sheet. No cop wants to let a murderer walk the streets, but whoever shot Wilson did the world a favor.”

“You know his stepdaughter was arrested as part of that sex-trafficking ring on the front page of today’s Trib.”

“That why you’re interested?”

“Indirectly.” I told her about my aborted search for Elka Shubert. “Dixie Lynn Hollis was one of the people I spoke to ten years ago. After seeing her picture in the paper, I decided to take a closer look at her, see what I missed back then.”

“And what you missed was her stepfather’s murder?”

“What I missed was her involvement in a sex trafficking ring,” I said. “What caught my eye, though, was her stepfather’s death. I thought I’d follow-up on that, see if it gives me any leverage with Dixie Lynn.”

“Who’s your client on this one?”

“Anna Schubert, Elka’s mother.”

“You exhausted that retainer a long time ago, though, didn’t you?”

I nodded.

“So you’re really doing this for yourself.”

I didn’t mention the ten sweaty hundreds Dixie Lynn had given me. “Yeah, I guess I am.”

She reached across the table and laid her hand on my forearm. “I get it,” she said. “We all have cases that haunt us, things we missed or think we might have missed.”

I didn’t admit that I’d nearly forgotten the case until that morning’s newspaper brought everything rushing back.

Templeton stared deep into my eyes. I’m not certain what she saw, but she said, “Why don’t you spend the night at my place, and we’ll exorcise those demons.”

* * *

Templeton had already left for work by the time I awoke and returned to my own place for a shower, a change of clothes, and a few thoughts about how I would approach the day.

I had a lead—a tenuous one—but I wasn’t about to share the news with Anna Schubert. I had failed her once and I had no desire to fail her again.

Because I couldn’t drive up to Dallas and walk the streets asking about Elka, I chose instead to work Dixie Lynn’s case. That meant locating Trevor Cash, who had already posted bail, and having a fist-to-face conversation. A quick internet search and a phone call to confirm the information I’d found was all it took to locate him.

I didn’t want Trevor to know the real reason for my visit, so I pocketed a copy of Elka’s photograph. Then I drove to a tumbledown duplex in Beverly Hills—a small town completely surrounded by Waco—and leaned into the bell.

Uglier in person than in the mugshot printed in the newspaper, Trevor jerked open the door and growled, “Yeah?”

“We need to talk.”

He looked me up and down. “You somebody’s daddy?”

I grabbed a fistful of Trevor’s shirt, lifted him to his toes, and walked him backward into the living room. I kicked the door shut with the heel of my boot and pushed him down. He landed on the couch and sprang back up. He wasn’t prepared for the fist in his chest that stole his breath, made his eyes bulge, and crumpled him back onto the couch.

I flipped my wallet open just long enough for him to see my private investigator’s license, but too fast for him to realize I wasn’t a peace officer. “I saw your picture in the paper,” I said, “and I thought you could help me find someone.”

He caught his breath. “Find who?”

I showed him Elka Shubert’s high school graduation photo.

He shook his head. “Don’t know her.”

“Ten years ago,” I said. “Dixie Lynn probably recruited her.”

“Still don’t know her.” He seemed to have caught his breath but he wasn’t moving.

“But you know Dixie Lynn.”

“Hard to deny that,” he said, “our picture in the paper and all.”

“You’ve known her a long time,” I said, “since she was a kid.”

Trevor was slower to answer this time. “Yeah. And—?”

“She says you killed her father.”

“She says I—?” He sprang from the couch. “She’s lying!”

I pushed him back down.

“She had the gun in her hand when I found her. Her fingerprints are all over it.”

He had easily convinced a scared young woman who wanted her step-father dead that she had killed him, and he had lorded it over her well into middle age. I suspected the truth lay elsewhere. I asked, “Why’d you kill Reggie Wilson? What did he have that you wanted? And why’d you try to pin it on Dixie Lynn?”

Trevor made yet another attempt to deny the obvious. I wouldn’t let him, and after some additional back-and-forth that made my knuckles sore, he came clean.

“We were working a deal and he tried to screw me out of my half. I confronted him and he drew on me. One thing led to another and I took his gun away. I had to shoot him to protect myself.”

“You’re saying it was self-defense?”

“Yeah.” Trevor nodded rapidly, thinking I was buying the story he was selling. “Yeah, it was.”

“So why’d you put Dixie Lynn in the middle of it?”

“It wasn’t until after I’d shot Reggie that I noticed her passed out in the corner. I wiped my prints off and put the gun in her hand, figuring the cops would tumble to her, but she came to. I had to do something, so I convinced her she’d done it, and I told her I would get rid of the gun.”

“And later?”

He looked at me blankly.

“You convinced Dixie Lynn to help you find young girls by threatening to give the gun with her prints on it to the cops.”

He smiled. “Yeah. That worked out pretty good. All this time she’s been afraid I’d do just that. There ain’t no statue of limitations on murder, is there?”

There’d never be a statue honoring his brain power, either.

“So, where’s the gun now?”

He smiled. “That what you’ve come for?”

I said nothing, letting him answer his own question.

“It ain’t here,” he said. “The cops already tore this place up looking for—”

I grabbed the front of his shirt and lifted him off the couch. “Take me to it.”

Turns out we didn’t have to go far, and I left with the .38 that Trevor said Dixie Lynn used to kill her stepfather. I locked it in the gun safe in my office.

* * *

I was pondering what to tell Dixie Lynn when my cellphone rang. I checked the screen, saw Alfredo Martinez’s name, and answered. After greetings and pleasantries, he said, “One of the girls we took in said she thinks she knows the young woman you’re looking for.”

Alfredo told me the girl who might have seen Elka had been living on the streets for six months before becoming a resident at his shelter, kicked out of her mother’s home when her mother’s new boyfriend seemed more interested in her than her mother.

“If it’s the same young woman,” Alfredo said, “she’s working as a bottom girl for Buddy Clarke.”

I’d never heard of Buddy Clarke, but I knew bottom girls were women who acted as mid-level management in the hierarchy between pimps and their stables. They communicated with customers, rented hotel rooms, and managed the day-to-day lives of the girls in the stable. Often, they had worked on their backs before aging out.

“How do I find him?”

Alfredo could provide only a few suggestions, based on what he knew and what the homeless children in his shelter had told him, but it was enough to put me on Interstate 35 headed north.

I stopped first at Alfredo’s shelter, and he introduced me to the girl who said she’d seen my client’s daughter. I showed her Elka’s high school graduation portrait to confirm for myself that she had seen Elka.

The girl pointed to a tiny scar beneath Elka’s left eye that I had thought was a blemish in the original print. “She’s older now, but she still has that scar.”

I asked if she knew Buddy Clarke.

She shook her head. “But I know where she shops.”


She named a strip mall with a grocery store at one end, a discount clothing store at the other, and a variety of smaller shops between them.

* * *

I had no other leads, so I planted myself in the strip mall parking lot and sat in the Texas heat monitoring grocery store visitors from open until close for the next three days. Mid-morning the fourth day I saw Elka. She was accompanied by a large, intimidating gentleman. I needed to find a way to separate the two so that I could talk to her, confirm she was the young woman I sought, and get her away from the situation.

Her escort stuck close to her most of the way through the store. When they neared the restrooms, he told to her wait. “You tell Buddy I left you alone for even a minute and you know what’ll happen.”

He didn’t wait for a response before he ducked inside.

I approached but remained a reasonable distance from the young woman. “Elka.”

She turned toward me.

I repeated her name.

“No one calls me that.” She glanced around and then lowered her voice. “Who are you?”

I told her my name. “Your mother sent me.”

“My mother?” She snorted with derision. “That bitch doesn’t care about me.”

“She does. She misses you.”

“She kicked me out. She—”

“She hired me to find you ten years ago,” I said. “I—I gave up too soon.”

“So why now?”

“Dixie Lynn Hollis was arrested.”

“She told you how to find me?”

“Not exactly, but she’s in trouble and thought I would help her if she helped me find you,” I said. “I’m here to take you home.”

“Who’ll protect me?” she asked. “Buddy will find me. He has ways.”

“We can—”

“Get away from me,” she said. “Mason’s coming back.”

“I—” I didn’t have time to say more. Mason was within earshot. “Thanks,” I told her. “I’ll try that.”

As I walked away, I heard Mason say, “What was that all about?”

I left the store and returned to my SUV. Twenty minutes later Elka and her escort finally finished shopping and loaded their purchases into the back of a white minivan. I followed as they drove away.

They didn’t go far—less than thirty minutes from the grocery store—and most of that time was spent waiting for red lights to turn green. Their destination was an unimposing, single-story white building surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with razor wire. The alley-side fence slid open as the van approached and closed again after it entered the parking area.

I watched from a comfortable distance as Elka and Mason unloaded the groceries and carried them into the building through a steel door held open by a second man. Once the groceries and all three people were inside, I moved closer, examining the windowless building from all four sides. The single door appeared to be the only way in or out, and cameras mounted at each corner allowed the occupants to monitor activity in the lot surrounding the building.

There was no way I was pulling Elka out. Not alone, and probably not with help. But there was another way to get her. Maybe.

I called Alfredo and told him I needed a second pair of eyes and another vehicle.

Alfredo left the shelter under the watchful eye of his assistants and an hour later joined me. We positioned ourselves at each end of the alley where we could watch the building, and we waited.

Shortly after eight that evening the door opened and Mason walked to the minivan. After he slid open the minivan’s side door, out trooped six young women followed by Elka. The young women squeezed into the back, and Elka settled into the front passenger seat. Alfredo and I kept a loose tail on the minivan, keeping in touch via cellphone and trading places as we went so that the driver would only spot us if he knew to look for us. In an area roughly bordered by Harry Hines Boulevard, Walnut Hill Lane, Shady Trail, and Southwell Road, Mason dropped off the young women.

After the last girl exited the minivan, Mason pulled into the drive-through lane of a fast-food restaurant. I pulled in behind him. When he rolled his window down to place his order, I ran up, reached through his window, and grabbed the back of his neck.

“I can take your order whenever you’re ready,” said a tinny female voice through the speaker.

I bounced Mason’s head off the steering wheel and shouted at Elka. “Get out! Get out now!”

She hesitated.

“I’m sorry,” said the voice. “I didn’t understand what you said. Would you please repeat your order?”

Elka opened her door. As soon as she did, Alfredo was there beside her. He pulled her out of the van, pushed her into his car, and drove away.

Mason looked at me. “You, again.”

I stepped back as Mason pushed open his door. He was too close to the speaker stand and couldn’t open it far enough to get out. By the time he realized that, I was in my SUV, driving away.

Alfredo took Elka to the shelter, and I joined them a few minutes later. Then Alfredo phoned the Dallas Police and told them of the girls we’d left behind.

After we explained who we were and that our intent was not to harm her, Elka told us what had happened during the ten years since she’d left home: how Dixie Lynn had offered her safe harbor, which turned out to be anything but; how Trevor Cash had turned her out; how she had been sent north to work for Buddy Clark; and how she had become his bottom girl. What I heard sickened me, and I knew without doubt that I had failed her. I had failed her, I had failed her mother, and I had failed every girl Dixie Lynn and Trevor Cash during the subsequent ten years.

The next morning, one of the women on Alfredo’s staff helped Elka clean up and then found her a fresh set of clothing. I returned with her to Waco.

Halfway there, Elka finally spoke. “I was so angry when I left,” she said. “I said some terrible things. I—”

“I don’t think your mother cares about any of that,” I said.

“But what about all the things I’ve done?”

“You’re still her baby girl,” I said. “She’s still your mother. Start there. You can work through everything else.”

“Yeah,” she said as she turned away and stared out the window. “Maybe.”

We didn’t speak for the rest of the drive, and soon I pounded on Anna’s front door. She jerked it open, and the look on her face let me know she wasn’t happy to see me. Then she saw her daughter standing behind me and everything changed. Anna pushed me aside, wrapped her arms around Elka, and began crying.

The moment wasn’t mine, so I left them alone.

* * *

That afternoon I removed the .38 from my gun safe. I couldn’t give it to Dixie Lynn because it would disappear, and I couldn’t give it to Templeton Walker without explaining how it had come into my possession. So, I returned it to Trevor Cash, only he didn’t realize it. Then I let Templeton know where she could find it.

After she arrested Trevor Cash and charged him with the murder of Reggie Wilson, I visited Dixie Lynn and told her what had happened.

“All this time?” she asked. “All this time I been doing what I been doing because he lied to me?”

“I think there’s more to it than that,” I told her. “I think you believed that if you turned out other girls you wouldn’t feel singled out. You wouldn’t feel special anymore. You’d believe it happened to all kinds of girls.”


“Elka Schubert remembers you,” I said, “and she’ll testify against you. She’ll tell the police, the prosecutor, and the court how you seduced her with promises of easy money and—”

Dixie Lynn interrupted. “I only gave her what she wanted, a way to escape the life she was leading.”

“What you didn’t give her was the freedom she so desired as an eighteen-year-old. You took away the little freedom she had.”

Dixie Lynn nodded. “You think I have a chance?”

“I think you’re going away for a long, long time on the trafficking charge,” I said, “but if you flip on him, Trevor will get the needle for your stepfather’s murder.”

* * *

I returned to my office, stood at my desk, and stared down at all the people going about their business on Austin Avenue. I thought about Dixie Lynn and the life she had been coerced into by the man who murdered her stepfather. I thought about Elka and Anna Schubert and how much they had to overcome before they had any hope of ever again becoming a normal family.

And I thought about what to do with dirty money.

I turned and opened my desk drawer. The sweat soaking Dixie Lynn’s money had finally dried, so I stuffed the hundreds into an envelope and mailed them to Alfredo Martinez.

Michael Bracken ( is the author of several books and more than 1,200 short stories. An Edgar Award and Shamus Award nominee, his crime fiction has appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, The Best American Mystery Stories, The Best Mystery Stories of the Year, and many other publications. Additionally, Bracken is the editor of Black Cat Mystery Magazine and several anthologies, including the Anthony Award-nominated The Eyes of Texas.


  1. A wonderful story, full of justice, understanding and redemption.

  2. Love this story. Couldn't put it down.