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If this were any other street corner, she might look like a lost farm girl. She wants a date. A forest-green Ford Explorer slows, and the driver nods at her. A gold cross dangles from a chain just above the black, zipper-front sports bra that she wears all the time. Her stomach edges over the waist of her tight jean shorts. Darlene knows that she could end up in an abandoned house or floating in the Missouri River.
She has been in the Northeast drug trade for 15 years as a user and a dealer and has been selling sex for seven. Most patrol cops know her by sight, if not by her first name. Some neighbors call whenever she walks past.
The Explorer stops back at Ninth and Benton, and Darlene gets out. Her brown, wavy hair is fixed into a ponytail that sits high on her head and makes her ears stick out.
She has a gaptoothed smile, and the bridge of her nose is scarred from when a man bashed her with brass knuckles a few years ago.
She makes her way down Benton toward the 7-Eleven on Independence Avenue to refill on ice. Ten minutes later, a tan Chevy Tahoe creeps past, and the driver signals with his hand. Independence Avenue is known for its drugs and prostitutes. Over the past two years, though, neighbors have noticed things getting worse.