He ruined her life once; will he do it again?
The rest of the story, from the author of Tatia’s Tattoo.
Tatia and Jesse have a perfect life in Chicago. Her testimony put Eric in prison in Texas twenty years ago. How could anything go wrong?
A mysterious envelope invades their home with news of a trafficker’s parole, and a handwritten note asks the ominous question: Is Joy as brave as her mother?
An old black van. A missing child. Tatia and Jesse race through the city streets with a band of bikers while Johnny and Jade dig through the dark web and Detectives Nelson and Martin pound on doors.
Will it be enough? Or will Joy become another statistic?
P R E F A C E
Thursday – 3:00 pm
Tatia stepped out the back door and stood quietly for a moment, watching her two children play tag in the small back yard. She smiled as Joy slowly jogged between the swing set and the sandbox with her younger brother in hot pursuit. Daniel lunged toward her, but she swerved at the last moment causing him to belly flop onto the soft grass.
“I almost got you,” he pouted.
Joy leaned over him and gloated, “You missed me by a mile, short stuff.”
He grinned up at her, touched her arm, and rolled away from her under the swing set. “Tag, you’re it!” he shouted in triumph.
Tatia laughed at the stunned look on Joy’s face and clapped her hands. “Nice move, Daniel! Now, recess is over, and we have a reading lesson to complete before we quit for the day. Dust yourselves off and get the mail on your way in.”
“I’ll get it,” yelled Joy as she took off for the front of the house.
“No!” wailed Daniel. “I won! I get to get it.”
“Okay, I guess you’re right,” said Joy, slowing down to let him catch up. Then, she tapped him on the shoulder. “But now you’re it!”
Tatia shook her head and went back into the house as the two tagged and shouted all the way to the mailbox. Joy must have been in a charitable mood, because a few moments later the front door slammed open and Daniel strutted into the living room with several envelopes clutched in his fist. He presented the mail to his mom as if he were handing her a dozen roses, and then headed to the refrigerator for a bottle of water.
“Joy, did you see that old van across the street?” he asked his sister. “It must have been about a hundred years old.”
“I didn’t see any old van, and I wouldn’t care if I did,” said Joy, her charitable mood long gone.
“Well, you should. The driver was staring at you.”
“There wasn’t a van and there wasn’t a driver! You need glasses!”
“That’s enough, you two,” said Tatia, hoping to restore some peace. “What kind of van was it?” she asked Daniel.
“I’m not sure, Mommy. I’ll go check.” He knelt on the couch and peered out the window as Tatia looked over his shoulder. “It’s gone now,” he said with a shrug.
“Good! Now we can talk about something important,” said Joy. “Like birthday cards! Mommy, did I get any more today?”
Tatia dismissed the uneasy feeling that tried to insinuate itself into her mind, and made a mental note to talk with Jesse about the van later. Right now, she had an almost-nine-year-old girl dancing from foot to foot, waiting for her to sort the mail. It was two days before Joy’s birthday, and she had received more mail in the last week than she had in the previous nine years. She loved the emails and ecards her mom and dad shared with her, but she loved the cards that came in the mail even more. They felt more like they belonged just to her. Tatia flipped through the small stack of envelopes and handed two of them to her daughter.
“It looks like there’s one from Alicia at school and another one from Grandma and Grandpa G. How many is that from them anyway?”
“Seven! One every day for a whole week! What about that one? Is it for me?” she asked pointing to the plain white envelope Tatia was staring at curiously.
“No, it’s addressed to me, and it doesn’t have a return address or a stamp.”
“Probably a bill,” said Joy, and she took her cards to the couch to read them.
Tatia opened the envelope and pulled out a single sheet of notebook paper. On it was taped a small article from the Cameron Morning Telegraph dated the previous Sunday.
Cameron, TX. After serving twenty years of three concurrent sentences for murder, aggravated statutory sexual assault, and human trafficking, Eric Hall was paroled from the Texas State Penitentiary at Huntsville this week. His conviction was the first of several that resulted from the testimony of a very brave young woman, later identified as Tatia Robins in her book, Groomed for the Streets. These convictions freed Cameron from the human trafficking trade that had plagued our city for years.
Below the article was a short, hand-written message:
I wonder if Joy is as brave as her mother.
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